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Oriental Manor 2.0?

t
tombradyqb Jan 10, 2008 10:09 AM

According to my mother (who is Chinese), she heard from a friend who also heard from a friend that Oriental Manor's replacement is now open for business. Is this a rumor or has anyone confirmed this? Haven't had a chance to drive down to Ellicott City yet but I'm really interested in this latest development in the saga of Oriental Manor. If it is indeed open for business and someone has been there, can anyone comment on the quality of this the replacement?

  1. w
    Warthog Feb 15, 2008 04:29 AM

    After giving them several tries, I've got to issue one caution - there are *major* service problems. In particular, all the times I've gone, they've decided that everything ordered arrives at once. Maybe not a problem when dining a lone, but last night with three of us at a small four-top, the wait staff happily piled two orders of eggrolls, soup (large serving bowl, with three individual bowls, and no ladle - another recurring problem), three individual rice bowls, the sauces for the egg rolls, three entrees and a tea pot.

    It got a bit ridiculous. While we were munching on the appetizers and soup, and they began bringing the main courses and rice, we protested that it was too soon, and things would get cold before we finished the soup, the waiter's attitude was ""oh, no, everything will fit." It eventually did, as long as one was careful to not get one's elbow or sleeve in any of the dishes, but that was beside the point.

    Additionally, when asking for the spicy dishes to be made properly spicy (prior visits having shown that even dishes marked on the menu with the "spicy warning" chili pepper were remarkably bland,, we got an argument about that. We indicated that all of us at the table liked the dishes spicy, and requested that the kitchen prepare them that way, the waiter said that he would bring hot chili oil on the side. Our attempt to convince him that this was a less-than-ideal solution, and that cooking the dishes with proper spice to begin with was the way to go got met with No, other people won't like", which made no sense, as we weren't planning on sharing it with anybody else.

    We also like to eat in traditional style, holding individual rice bowls, adding pieces of the various dishes to the bowl, eating rice and tidbits together, and refilling the rice from a larger bowl as needed. We specifically requested a larger rice bowl for refilling, but again, we got an argument, and the refill bowl only appeared at the end of the meal after most of the food was gone. Even then, the only reason it showed up was that when the waiter (who pretty much disappeared for most of the time we were there, including when we were waiting for the check) happened to pass by and ask "How is everything?", one of my companions noted that the extra rice we specifically requestred never appeared. This was met with "It's coming right out!", ignoring our cries of "But it's too late, now!"

    One last indicator on the actual food, other than the no-spice issue - when the last time your Mah Po Dow Fu came with what appeared to be frozen peas and diced carrots mixed in?

    I really want to like this place, but the service and the fear of spicing in the kitchen add up to putting it on my "not sure this is gonna work out" list.

    2 Replies
    1. re: Warthog
      baltoellen Feb 15, 2008 05:53 AM

      I'm not sure this helps explain away the service problems, but I do know from sharing many meals with Chinese people in Singapore and Malaysia that there's generally no such thing as courses or pacing a meal. My experience is that the food comes out and is eaten when ready, with the only real etiquette being getting the food from the plate to your mouth as quickly as possible! (Of course, this doesn't exactly give a pass to a restaurant in the 'burbs of the US of A....and one that specifies apps, main, etc....)

      I think the carrot and peas problem, however, is a pretty big one.

      1. re: baltoellen
        w
        Warthog Feb 15, 2008 06:39 AM

        I had thought of the "Chinese/Asian vs. American/Western" meal structuring issue, too. The issue there is that even if it is authentic, it then behooves the restaurant to either make customers aware that this is going to happen. If the diners want "American style" pacing, they can then order soup and apps, and tell the waiter "We'll decide on the rest after we're done with the soup and apps!".

        And if the "bring it all when ready" model is to be followed, they should have tables large enough to accomodate all that a party of that size might be reasonably expected to order. In other words, I don't think we ordered an outlandish amount of food, but when it was all brought at the same time, there was a *big* problem finding a way to fit it all on the table, and all three of us were in "elbows up" mode for quite some time until we were done with the bowls and plates for the soup and the appetizers.

        Like I said, I really want to like this place, and I think they are capable of being really good. But they have to be willing to assume their customers can handle food that is not totally bland (unless it's a dish that's *intended* to be delicately flavored), and they need to resolve the service issues.

        We ended up having to get up and go to the front counter to get our check due to the "invisible waiter", and it's the first time in a long time I've seen my dining companion so irritated as to not leave a tip, and complain to the management.

        I'm beginning to wonder if I'm jinxed. I seem to be running into a lot of restaurants lately that fall into the category of "This could be really good, but they need to get their act together!" It feels weird to recount all the things going wrong, and yet still want to be able (someday) to recommend the place without any warnings.

    2. t
      tombradyqb Feb 8, 2008 07:42 PM

      OK, so I stopped there with Mrs. TomBradyqb tonight around 8pm and the place was well patronized by customers. Not very crowded but had MORE folks there than I've ever seen at Oriental Manor. The place has cleaned up nicely and the owner has put in a nice decor of blue and yellow theme. Service was okay. It was kind of hard to find a waiter or waitress at times. Nobody stopped by to help us top off our glasses with ice water and the staff seemed new to the menu and hesitated to make some suggestions. But this review is not about decor or service. It's about food!
      We ordered a steamed chicken dish with chopped ginger/scallions/garlic sauce, minced shrimp with tofu and stir fried clams (AKA typhoon shelter clams). The restaurant gave us a complimentary dish of sweet soup to top off the meal at the end. The steamed chicken was perhaps our favorite. Moist and plentiful, the flavor was nicely infused into the chicken and even the white meat parts were nice and tender. Mrs. Brady said that it didn't even need the condiments they provided. Although the chopped ginger and scallions are our favorite. The minced shrimp tofu was fried and topped with a nice lobster sauce that was probably not enough. We could barely taste the shrimp but there were some nice sized chunks of lobster in the sauce. Who would have ever heard of real actual lobster in lobster sauce anyway. But the portions again were generous. The dish was surrounded by a nice helping of chinese vegetables. The stir fried clams were on just about everyone's table so we figured it was the popular dish around. These clams are stir fried with lots of garlic and topped with minced pork in a brown sauce. It was spicy and the sauce was pretty flavorful. Went very well with our dish of white rice. Somehow the kitchen forgot to include the pork in this dish. Mrs. Brady caught this and we had it sent back. They apologized for the mistake and kindly fixed the issue. Overall, it was a good experience and we anticipate on returning for dim sum and HK wonton soup someday.

      *** I should also note that I called earlier in the day and asked if they had a menu available on their website www.asiancourt.net but the person who answered the phone said that it wasn't up yet. They kindly faxed me a copy of the menu and when the whole fax didn't go through they faxed it again. IMO they went out of their way to do this and it really impressed me.

      1. w
        Warthog Feb 6, 2008 05:19 AM

        I went last night with two friends.

        Short summary: *Extensive* menu, some hits and some misses on the items we had, service will need to get the kinks out (both language/translation issues and actual performance), but overall, I'd put it down as strongly worth exploring further.

        For starters, two of us had hot and sour soup, and one of us ordered the vegetable soup.

        Hot and sour had neither the vinegar kick nor the black pepper tingle that should be present. Decent flavor, but sort of insipid compared to what hot and sour soup should be. One plus - it did not have the gloppy texture from overuse of cornstarch as a thickener, a trend that we were glad to see carried over to the sauces on all their dishes.

        The vegetable soup was a wonderful, flavorful borth filled with a bountiful selection of the sorts of vegetables one would expect in a Chinese restaurant. Definitely one of the high points of the meal. Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately) it's also the only soup on the menu that is not listed as "for one". I noticed this, but didn't say anything, because I assumed that when the waitress made no mention that she was just going to bring out a single-person portion for my friend. WRONG! The big "for sharing" bowl was delivered with a spoon. We later tried, with no success, to have a ladle brought, though they did bring a single portion soup bowl. My other friend and I helped out the cause by refilling our bowls tediously with our soup spoons. The soup was worth the effort, despite the service issues.

        For drinks, we had hot tea, along with glasses of water, and that one of the water glasses be brought with no ice for one of my friends. What showed up was the hot tea, and the one "no ice" glass, our repeated attempts at explanation of "Please bring one of the water glasses with no ice, and that one goes to her" having been taken to mean "One with no ice, the others don't want any". Another service battle lost in translation.

        For dinner, we had sauted eggplant in spicy garlic sauce, Chinese sausage with choice vegetable, Salt fish chicken with chive flower, and snowpeas/waterchestnut/mushroom stir fry.

        My friends liked the eggplant best, though I would have rated it near the bottom of our list of four. It was not at all spicy, despite the "chili pepper" warning mark on the menu. I think if you like things spicy (whether spicy hot or spicy savory), you're going to have to be emphatic - the kitchen seemed to be in "Americans are wimps" mode. The other explanation would be that they are Cantonese, and don't really do spicy much, but the menu did not read like having a strong Cantonese base. Anyway, the dish had nice sauce, lots of garlic, and the Asian eggplants were well cooked (no undercooked/raw sections, which sometimes happens).

        Salt fish chicken with chive flower turned out to be shreds of chicken in a big pile of one inch sections of chives. I was expecting garlic chive (which are usually sold with the flower end on), but I couldn't tell if these were garlic chives or merely regular chives. I'm not sure where the salt fish was physically, but the flavor was very much present. A very nice dish.

        The snow pea, mushroom and waterchestnut medley was a solid example of a fairly common dish, but with a bit more water chestnut (diced, not sliced) than I would have expected, which made for a nice texture balance between the pea pods, the mushroom chunks, and the water chestnuts. The one surprise was that the mushrooms seemed to be plain old fresh button mushrooms (same size dice as the water chestnuts) rather than any of the Asian mushrooms one might expect. Still good, though.

        When my friend saw Chinese sausage on the menu, he really lit up. He said he hadn't had lop chong (hope I came close on the spelling ) in a long time. He described how he used to cook it at home, steaming a pile of bok choy with slices of the sausage on top, so that the fat from the sausage mingled with the greens below. As he ordered, he said "We'd like the Chinese sausage with choice vegetaqble - I think it would be really good with bok choy" The waitress agreed, and scribbled that part of the order down.

        As it turned out, the menu really did mean "choice vegetable" as in "these are really nice vegetables" rather than "choice of vegetable" as my friend assumed. I should also note that he was stumped by "head-on shrimp with <something>" until I suggested that it was probably mangled grammar for "shrimp with the heads on"
        the lop chong arrived mixed in with an array of large dice of red onion, celery, and bell pepper. Nice, but the bok choy would have been *much* better.

        On the whole, good (especially given the lack of competition in the area, but not outstanding. Still, it has potential, and I intend to go back and explore the menu further to find out where their strong suit lies. In a menu this large, with Japanese, sushi/sashimi, Chinese noodles, faux meat vegetarian Chinese, American Chinese, and more esoteric Chinese, one assumes that there are going to be some things that are just placeholders, and some things that are really their best genre. I think it's worth finding out where the strengths are, and one can always ignore the rest.

        I do hope the service and language issues get improved, but on opening night with a largely not-fluent-in-English staff, one expects such things. In time, one expects that the wait staff will get in the groove.

        I still wish I could just move China Star up here from NoVA!

        6 Replies
        1. re: Warthog
          baltoellen Feb 6, 2008 05:58 AM

          Thanks for the comprehensive review, and being so bold as to go there on one of their opening nights. I will definitely check it out soon, and will be prepared to pantomime if needed to try to get what I want!

          1. re: baltoellen
            w
            Warthog Feb 6, 2008 06:04 AM

            To their credit, even with the communications difficulties, there was absolutely none of the "You no like that, try this instead" attempts to steer us to the sorts of things that "Americans will like". That is definitely a plus in my view.

            1. re: Warthog
              t
              tombradyqb Feb 7, 2008 06:07 AM

              WOW!! Thank you for the extensive report. It does sound promising and I can't wait to get down there myself. Mmmm...just in time for Chinese New Year!

          2. re: Warthog
            c
            Chownut Feb 6, 2008 01:25 PM

            Did you dare to try the sushi?

            1. re: Chownut
              w
              Warthog Feb 6, 2008 02:34 PM

              Nope, just the stuff I described in the post

              1. re: Warthog
                sistereurope Feb 7, 2008 07:40 AM

                Thanks for the news and the extensive review. As you said, compared to the competition, this is VERY promising. There are really no decent (I'm not even talking good) Chinese places in the Catonsville/Ellicott City area. I live 10 minutes from OM and miss it so I am really excited and definitely plan to check out the new incarnation.

          3. w
            Warthog Feb 5, 2008 12:23 PM

            The Sun blog had an update a while back with the new owners predicting an opening today (5 February 2008). Anybody who live in the area able to confirm or deny?

            1. w
              Warthog Jan 10, 2008 04:52 PM

              I drove by there tonight, hoping to be the first to report on the new regime, but they're still remodelling. The new lighted sign says
              Asian Court
              Dim Sum Noodles Sushi

              (or something close to that)

              One of the workman was out having a smoke, and though he had a very thick accent and didn't seem to be all that good with English, I think I understood him to say they are targetting opening on the 28th.

              Another potentially promising sign is that there were signs on the door, all in Chinese characters, rather than Korean, as best as I could tell. The only parts I noticed in English were "New Management" and a phone number. I don't read Chinese, so I'm not sure if the non-English portion of the signs on the doors were meant for the work crews, or for potential customers, but if it's the latter, they may be targeting a Chinese customer base, which could be good for those of us hoping for another "real" Chinese outpost in the Baltimore area.

              If anybody goes by there regularly, updates would be welcome as the end of the month approaches.

              4 Replies
              1. re: Warthog
                baltoellen Jan 10, 2008 05:35 PM

                This is exciting news, indeed. And, nice to learn that they're dropping "Oriental" for "Asian." Signs of other great things to come, I hope. I look forward to the first reports, and thanks for this head's up.

                1. re: Warthog
                  t
                  tombradyqb Jan 11, 2008 07:41 AM

                  Warthog, thanks for the detailed info. Here's hoping that Asian Court is a winner! I'm a bit perplexed about the sushi though. Generally, non-sushi Asian restaurants and carryouts only serve sushi (and Americanized Chinese food) as an insurance plan. The reasoning is that if the authentic stuff doesn't doesn't sell, sushi is always a dependable product that generates business and pleases the masses. I wonder if they are either unconfident about their menu or if this is just a backup business strategy.

                  1. re: tombradyqb
                    w
                    Warthog Jan 11, 2008 08:20 AM

                    My own guess is that they may be trying to cover the bases. If one were an investor looking at the Baltimore restaurant scene, one might conclude that there is not a sufficient customer base to focus on one cuisine, based on how many "cuisine specific" places have bitten the dust.

                    A combo of dim sum, noodles, and sushi might have several advantages. Each is distinct yet focused enough that one could easily have prep and supply for each without breaking the bank, or requiring extravagant amounts of floor space or kitchen space. You can hit multiple customer groups - Chinese for dimsum and perhaps noodles, possibly Vietnamese, Japanese or Korean for noodles (depending on what sort of Asian noodles one is talking about), and Japanese for sushi. And of course, the rest of us might be tempted by all three.

                    It might be a "saftey net" approach as you conjecture, in the hope that at least one of the three will catch on, but it may also be a very well thought out assessment of what is missing from the local market. There's no good dim sum in the Baltimore area any more, the noodle choices are mostly Korean or Vietnamse, and if you think about it, there's only two real competitors in the Route 40 corridor on the sushi front - the place in Normandy shopping center (I'm blanking on the name), and Fuji. So if the market doesn't quite support any one cuisine, a way to selectively target more than one might make sense.

                    Combining the three *could* be a masterstroke, assuming the quality level on each is fairly decent. And even if one of them is effectively an afterthought as you suggest, it's not a major investment that would automatically take away from the rest.

                    Time will tell, I guess.

                    1. re: Warthog
                      b
                      bamboofan Feb 5, 2008 09:57 PM

                      The one on Normandy is called Niko's Japanese Restaurant. As for the Vietnamese food, I have to say it is lacking which is an understatement. The only good Pho place is Pho Nam but the place is not very "pretty" so it turns people off.

                      As for Oriental Manor/ Asian Court I have to drive there sometime to see if they're open yet to get some dim sum. I hope it is better than before. I will update if go.

                2. k
                  kcnkate Jan 10, 2008 10:20 AM

                  Ooh! I hope it's true and I hope it's good. I am really craving some good Cantonese food that I don't have to cook myself. :)

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