Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Hunan Taste in Catonsville

New food is so much fun, and the Hunan Taste restaurant in Catonsville opens a new part of China to me -- the Hunan cuisine filled with peppers and dishes that I have never seen before.

Let's start by admitting that I am not entirely open to this cuisine.  You can buy the entire animal at Hunan Taste -- lungs, kidneys, stomach and more -- and I'm still working up to the head-on shrimps.  (Plus, Mrs. HowChow and I were dining without any Hunan experts.  How were *we* going to know if this really good lung or really bad lung?)

But Hunan Taste has an enormous menu, and the food had clear, spicy flavor that beats any of the American-born dishes that I have eaten at my local Chinese joints.  They're enthusiastic about authentic Hunan food -- handing out two menus -- one American, one Hunan -- and leaving cards on every table asking you to raise any issues so they can "make arrangements."  Don't worry.  Just check other on-line reviews, which started as far as I can tell with a Chowhound post by DStattler and early comments by Warthog.  On our visit, we relied on a later Chowhound post -- especially the dish-by-dish section that describes a banquet that a bunch of Chowhounders attended.

We ordered preserved sausage with smoked bamboo shoots (#52), tea tree mushroom with pork casserole (#94), and eggplant on iron plate (#95).  A feast for two with more than enough for two lunches the next day.  Again, this is exotic fare even in vegetables.  Smoked bamboo shoots are a revelation.  The meat was more like pork than sausage, and it played second fiddle to the smoky flavor of the shoots, which were perfectly tender like all the vegetables.

The tea tree mushrooms were just as unusual.  The waiter brought a hot pot set over a little flame.  Inside was a pile of thin, chewy mushrooms, offset by some slivers of pork and bubbling in a delicious broth.  The earthy flavor contrasted wonderfully with the spiciness of the other dishes.  The broth was perfect on a cold night.

Despite those both, I think the eggplant was our consensus favorite.  The eggplant comes out on a hot iron plate -- protected by aluminum foil that we laughed at because "aluminum foil on the roasting sheet" was one of the compromises we made when I moved into Mrs. HowChow's kitchen.  The eggplant was perfect -- firm skin so that you could spear each piece, but so tender that the flesh almost melted in your mouth.  Like much of this food, the great mouth feel came from some serious fat.  Oils or maybe fat from the pieces of pork that flavored each dish.  This is one of the "meat as a condiment" dishes that I love, similar to the Afghan appetizers where a little ground beef flavors a plate of pumpkin or raviolis.  I need to check next time for truly vegetarian items, but I bet that you could get whatever you want from a kitchen this talented.

To award the highest praise in Maryland food blogs, this is Grace Garden territory.  Absolutely unique Chinese food.  In contrast, this isn't Grace Garden's spartan design.  Hunan Taste is a stylish restaurant that someone designed with  a talented eye.  The traditional dark wood and Chinese red translated into a modern design so nice that I thought that we would buy some of the art off the walls.  They also win points with the HowChows for some complimentary starts -- a plate of peanuts and a plate of sliced radish. Those touches make even a casual dinner seem luxurious, and we'll certainly be back for me.

Several of HowChow's favorites have also written about Hunan Taste, including Kwok's Blog, Dining Dish, TheMinx on Urbanspoon and This is Gonna Be Good.  If I missed other reviews, please link them in the comments.   Hunan Taste is the kind of place where blog reports are invaluable for people who don't know what to order.  Click here for my 2010 write-up of Chinese restaurants in Howard County.

(Update: I fixed the address.)

Hunan Taste
718 North Rolling Road
Catonsville, MD 21228-4135
(410) 788-8988

NEAR:  This is the shopping center with the H Mart in Catonsville.  It's a Rte 40 and Rolling Road.  If you drive from Ellicott City to Rte 40, watch for the signs for FedEx and Starbucks on the right.  Turn into the parking lot, drive past the H Mart and look for Hunan Taste a few doors down.

Hunan Taste on Urbanspoon


theminx said...

As far as I know, "ox lung" refers to a combination of various beef parts, like tripe, tendon, and tongue, and not actual lung. It's a Sichuan dish. I've never tried it because I never seem to dine with folks who are willing to try tripe and tendon. :)

brandon said...

It also gets a very good review this week from the sun.


Anonymous said...

we had a horrible experience here. sounded like a great authentic restaurant based on the review and a good place to experiment. My wife ordered filet fish in brown sauce. It had a lot of bones and we told our server that this was much more than we expected and was inedible. What followed was ridiculous. The server pulled up a sign that was hidden behind salt shaker and bottles of sauces that said we should expect some bones. He called the manager who just shook his head and said we should ask questions before we order and should not make assumptions based on how its served elsewhere. The waiter then tried to get the owner who looked at us and turned around and left. I insisted that I would only pay if the owner came and talked to us- the waiter said he couldnt get the owner to come and he feared getting fired if he tried again. We paid in full for our order. The owner was near the exit when we were leaving. As i approached him, he let out a big "neh",said something to seating host in a language i did not understand and left. The seating host tried to explain that owner had some other work to do, offered the first words of apologies and when asked if he was happy with the kind of service they provided, shrugged his shoulders and said that they were the only authentic chinese restaurant in the area. There was a lot more said by the server, manager and the seating host. They were defensive, sometimes outright belligerent or arrogant. They showed no desire to listen to us nor did they care that they were perceived as providing poor service. Perhaps we went with wrong expectations and perhaps we ordered poorly but they felt no guilt about ruining our evening out or working with us. obviously we are not going back.

sara said...

I had a similar experience. The service was awful and the food wasn't great either. These people have opened up the restaurant but have no idea what good service is. I am never going back their for sure.

Anonymous said...

We also had a strange experience with a take out order. We had gone shopping at H Mart the day before and had lunch at Hunan Taste. Everything was great, including a taro pancake that was not on the dessert part of the menu but should have been. Yum yum!
My husband went back for another run to H Mart the following day and decided to get something from the take out menu that we studied the night before.......cream of corn soup. Pricey, but we had great expectations. What he came home with was a watered down egg drop soup with four kernels of corn in a large container. I called and talked to the manager, and asked why this was called "cream of corn" and his answer was that "this is what the menu calls it". We might go back for a sit down meal, but no more take out.

Anonymous said...

your post gives an incorrect address... it's north rolling rd, not south. we're new the area and were in a rush and just google mapped the directions. instead of having a delicious chinese meal, we ended up in a very residential neighborhood!

HowChow said...

@ Anon -- I'm so sorry! I don't know how I got the wrong address. I fixed it in the post.

Govind A said...

Another negative experience to a growing list. Asked for vegeterian dumplings, got something with meat in it. No refunds, just a rude manager to add insult to injury.Please dont go there.

Anonymous said...

Authentic Chinese food is not for everyone. People who have never been to China think American Chinese food (sweet sour flavor, no bones, lots of what is called "brown sauce"...) is real Chinese food but it is NOT. Hunan Taste cooks authentic Chinese food and I love it!

Yaka said...

I recently passed by and saw a sign for AYCE Hot Pot at Hunan Taste (http://www.yelp.com/biz_photos/BdDutRu_2l0Cn1LBo36baA?select=liUTHR3tfiSTCfBbEu7dCg). Has anyone tried it?