There has been a trend in my restaurant visits as of late – more frequent visits to the suburban ones and an avoidance for dreaded Washington D.C. with all its logistic and parking issues that tend to ward off the suburbanite for a nightout in town. With that in mind I recently saw an online offer for an eatery in Baltimore, and I decided to give it try, giving me an excuse to ventur off the well-beaten path and hoping to find new sites. Located near the Baltimore Harbor, Shiso Tavern sits in Canton, a rather quaint neighborhood that has a couple blocks chocked with gunshot-style row houses that have been converted into rather trendy eating establishments. Touted as an Asian-Fusion/Japanese restaurant, I took my seat by the light-flooding window area during lunch recently.
Online reviewers suggested to start with the Sushi Nachos. What arrived was a trio of small bites, consisting of fried wanton skin, seared tuna, avocado, salmon tataki, and dressed with a spicy mayo. The wanton skin was a nice touch instead of the regular nacho chip which added a flakier and more delicate feel to the bite. The tuna and salmon were clean tasting, perhaps a bit too clean with no distinctive seasoning added except for a bit of spiciness on the tuna sear – but I wanted more to enhance their mild flavors. The mayo added the spiciness as written on the menu, but it overwhelmed the mild fish flavors. Perhaps some citrusy flavors (yuzu?) would have taken these up another notch and would have made them more successful. Overall, it was not a bad opener.
Many online suggested the Ramen Bowl and it was a photo of it in the online offer that tempted me at first. The bowl arrived as shown: a mound of noodles covered with beansprouts, a boiled egg, shredded pork butt, slabs of pork belly, and a garnishing of red chilies and green onions. The noodles were a bit overcooked for my taste (al dente is not just an Italian preference, but a Japanese one too), the egg beautifully boiled as it oozed out its barely cooked yolk into the soup, the pork butt moist and well seasoned with its slight fatty unctuousness, echoed by the same qualities found in the pork belly with its crispy exterior and savory inside, and the red chili added a fresh mild zing to the bowl along with its vegetal pepper note. Ultimately, it has to be the broth that steals the prize. The version here had a mild sweetness from the use of chicken to make the stock, and a slightly smoky sour note from the use of smoked pork. Although it was not the usual traditional ramen bowl, I was thoroughly enjoying all the above qualities (sans slightly overcooked noodles) and I nearly sipped on the broth until its last drop. I would say this bowl is worth coming back for.
My waitress told me that I had some credit left on the offer, and so, I ordered something sweet to end the meal. Initially, I was honing in on the Jasmine Tea White Chocolate Tart, but, since they were out of it, I chose the Mochi Sampler. What arrived was a dish on par with Japanese culinary aesthetic with the mochi ice-cream balls sliced and beautifully fanned on the plate. The ice-cream flavors comprised of vanilla, which tasted like it should, strawberry, a bit fruity but artificial, and mango, which tasted totally artificial and candy-like to these well-conditioned Southeast Asian taste buds. But it was the stretchy glutinous rice dough around the frozen bites that impressed me with its smooth and gummy texture that I expect from a good mochi. Not always one for desserts (and also on a slight diet), I passed the rest on to another diner who seemed to be transfixed by these cold bites.
Shiso Tavern is rather nice find. It is a quaint place with little pretense and its food does not steer too far away as it maintains respect for culinary tradition. The Sushi Nacho was quite tasty with the different textures and flavors coupled with the fresh seafood, the Ramen Bowl a savory and satisfactory sip that was full of flavors and porcine heavenliness, and the Mochi Sampler that was quite a treat with that elastic dough surrounding some funky ice-cream. I think that Canton is a delightful find, away from challenging Washington D.C. or downtown Baltimore, and I know I will heading up to this area more often in the near future.