Chopstix Gourmet is so much nicer and prettier than the typical strip-mall Chinese restaurant, it’s partly because the three-year-old Honeygo Village Center where it’s located is not a traditional strip mall, or even a shopping center. It’s more of a trees-and-sidewalks lifestyle center. It looks a lot like a mini version of the nearby Avenue at White Marsh, not quite suburban but not really a small town, more a place in between. There sometimes seems like there’s no in-between with Chinese restaurants – they’re either dumps or discotheques – but Chopstix is comfortable and cheerful without being slick and loud.
Inside, there are traditional elements like shoji screens but contemporary influences like a subdued lighting scheme that doesn’t make you feel as if you’re eating dinner in an ice cream parlor. Chopstix is just pretty enough to make you feel like you’re going to get an efficiently served, well-prepared meal that won’t break your dining-out budget. This turned out to be exactly the case.
The menu is extensive. Chopstix features Chinese and Japanese cuisines and offers plentiful choices in both. This is something that’s probably rougher on a restaurant reviewer (who’s trying to order a representative meal) than a regular customer, who might be happy to have so much to choose from: teriyaki and tempura dishes; sushi rolls, regular and specialty; sushi bar entrees; and dozens of Chinese entrees, themselves divided up into sizzling specialties, healthy entrees (lower in sodium, and served with brown rice), fried rice and noodle dishes, and sauteed entrees sorted by chicken, pork and fish. And then, a list of chef’s favorites.
The good news is that you can’t really go wrong. The only thing that might disappoint you at Chopstix Gourmet is its version of the most familiar Chinese menu items; at least that’s what I thought about the kung pao shrimp. My theory is that this is the kind of thing that tastes best the worse it is for you. A kung pao dish prepared with lighter oils, and tricked out with fresh vegetables, like the version at Chopstix, can never be as guiltily satisfying as the bad-news glop you get in that hole in the wall.
Go instead for something a little more elaborate, such as the basil seafood combo. More or less a typical stir-fry dish, what made it nicer was the abundance of vivid green, from the basil, of course, and from string beans, snow peas and green peppers. Chopstix does a great job with presentation, particularly in delightful garnishes like a flower formed from a radish. The basil had a hard time competing with the dish’s salty tendencies, but it did come through.
It’s hard to resist a sizzling dish, especially if one gets carried by your table on its way somewhere else. The one we ordered, a seafood combination over pan-fried noodles, delivered, with a sensuous mix of crunchy and velvety textures, hot and warm temperatures, mild and strong flavors. The seafood we saw on these dishes looked good to us.
The balance of our meal was pleasurable, too, everything just a little better than ordinary because of the extra time the kitchen or sushi bar took in preparing it. Sunomono is a very simple Japanese vinegared salad, often made with slivered vegetables, but here made with fish. This one was lovely, a fan shape of glistening fish, flecked with sesame seeds. Simple appetizers, such as fried shrimp-filled shumai and a jellyfish salad, are nicely turned out, too. Jellyfish salad is not as scary as it sounds – it’s just a spicy seaweed salad, flavored with dried fish.
Chopstix Gourmet was crowded on the weeknight when we visited. This made it seem lively, even a little hip. More people I mentioned it to seemed to know about it than I would have thought. But White Marsh isn’t the remote location it used to be. This region is still growing quickly, and more decent restaurants like Chopstix are sure to follow.
By Richard Gorelick | Special to The Baltimore Sun