Monday, June 13, 2011

Tian Chinese Cuisine in Ellicott City

From the outside, Tian Chinese Cuisine looks like an anonymous hole in the wall Chinese joint, but it actually isn't any of those things.

Tian isn't really a Chinese restaurant.  It serves Korean food, the kind of menu served as "Chinese" in Seoul in the same way that General Tso's Chicken is sold as "Chinese" around here.  It also isn't anonymous.  The door opens into a bright, modern space with trendy stone-tile walls and an open kitchen.

Listen for the difference.

Thwack!  Thwack!  Thwack!  That sound from the kitchen is the reason that you should try Tian.

I'd read about Korean-Chinese cooking in Kevin's guest post about the options along Rte 40.  We had even eaten at Hanjoongkwan and started with the Korean-Chinese basics of kangpoongi (fried chicken) and jjajangmyun (noodles in black bean sauce).  But everyone lamented that none of the local places made their own noodles -- until now.

Thwack!  Thwack!  Thwack!  That sound is actually loud of enough to annoy the diners -- unless they realize that is the sound of handmade noodles being pounded out at Tian.  Min discovered the new housemade noodles and posted a comment.

That's how we ended up with our second night of Korean-Chinese.  Clearly, we're not the experts to comment on the intricacies of jjajangmyun, but the black bean noodles were delicious comfort food to me.  The noodles are tender and chewy.  They absorb the mild, black bean sauce, and it's a great contrast with the pickled radishes and onion that they serve as a limited panchan.

We had jjajangmyun (#1) and a cold noodle soup (#18).  Thinner noodles in the soup, also chewy.  They came in cloudy broth with some hard boiled egg, a few slices of beef and paper-thin radishes.  It's garnished with thin-cut vegetables, and you flavor it yourself with the clear vinegar that comes on the table and some excellent wasabi that comes in a small bowl.  With the cold and the hint of vinegar, the soup came across like gaspacho.  Refreshing and perfect after a hot day, although the taste is more mild and earthy rather than diced vegetables.

Overall, Tian is a fun, inexpensive evening.  Those two dishes would have filled us for less than $20.  We also ordered steamed dumplings, which were fine but not special.  Next time, I going for jjampong, the handmade noodles served in a spicy seafood soup.  Tian offers combo meals where you can get two half orders on a plate split into two halves -- an option my esteemed colleague Su K.'s wife dubs the "butt plate."

Not sure exactly what I'll order.  The other classic Korean-Chinese dish is kangpoongi, fried chicken that comes with a spicy sauce.  Last year, I loved the fried chicken at Rainpia, and lots of people were ordering kangpoongi at Tien last weekend.  But two young Korean-American women waved us away, saying that it wasn't the best.

I'd love more advice from anyone with experience on the menu.  It's a friendly, casual place.  Definitely fine for anyone willing to try something new.  The menu is completely translated, and the waitresses volunteered explanations, although they had more enthusiasm than English.

Three tips.  First, the three-sectioned dish with onion, yellow radishes and black bean sauce is panchan, sort of a side dish or appetizer.  Eat the onion and pickled radish.  Dip it in the black bean.  Second, make your own condiment in one of the small round dishes that they bring out.  Mix soy sauce, vinegar and hot pepper to your own taste.  Dip in radish, onion or fried chicken.

Third, if they serve a huge bowl of soup without a ladle, ask for a ladle.  Don't day dream about the difference between cultures as I was doing as I tried to serve us both soup using my own little spoon.  Luckily, the waitress saw me and hustled over with the ladle that she had forgotten.  It's different food, but it's not alien.

Tian Chinese Cuisine
8801 Baltimore Pike (Rte 40)
Ellicott City, MD 21043

Near: Tian is in the shopping center with the Lotte supermarket and the Shin Chon Garden Korean restaurant.  Parking can be tough in that lot.  Often we drive all the way down to the end past Shin Chon.

Tian Chinese Cuisine on Urbanspoon


EastCoastMatt said...

you should've just gone for the kangpoongi. it may not be "the best", but when it's hot and fresh, it's still pretty darned tasty. and honestly, along 40, i don't know if there's any specific restaurant that has "the best" kangpoongi. tien will stack up pretty well against any of the other ones.
and yeah, if you ordered the kangpoongi, your jjajangmyun would've been free.

thanks for the heads up about them making their own noodles now. I'll definitely be going back.

Anonymous said...

Is there a menu for this?

HowChow said...

@Anon - No menu online in English that I can find.

shinhj said...

This place is boss. Hands down the best jjajangmyun in Baltimore metropolitan area. The home-made noodles make all the difference.

J said...

Tried it yesterday. Love having the option of the 'dynamic duo' of jajangmyun and jjampong. The kangpoongi was super delicious and garlicky and the ingredients in all the dishes were fresher than most. Pleasant service and modern digs. Was a little disappointed though with the homemade noodles: they were a bit too soft and flour-y (reminiscent of kalgooksu noodles) for my liking. I think they needed to be beaten a little bit longer to make them chewier. My fave homemade jajangmyun noodles are at a place in Beltsville MD whose name I can't recall. Overall though, a solid option (and the menu says 'no msg')

EastCoastMatt said...

update. I went back there this past sunday for lunch, and the kangpoongi that i got was not the kangpoongi i had before. usually it's like a 1/2 drumstick that has the bone sticking out at one end, and the meat as a little ball - almost lollipopish. this time, i got wings. the meat to sauce ratio got completely thrown off, and was not as good as they had before. not what i wanted.

I also agree with J. the noodles, wasn't as ... (for lack of a better term) al dente as fresh noodles should be. he/she's right on when saying they're kalgooksu-ish noodles.

All in all, semi disappointing outing to tien, but still the best place for jajangmyun in hoco.

also, the place in beltsville that I like, (and i think J may be referring to) is called Da Rae Won on route 1. they're definitely good, but this is howchow. not pgchow :P

Anonymous said...

I think the address you have posted is incorrect???

HowChow said...

@Anon -- Whoops. Thanks. I have no idea how I got that wrong! I think it is fixed now.

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