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Red Pearl, in the old Jesse Wong's Hong Kong Space in Columbia - Closed

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The Red Pearl has opened on the Columbia lakefront. It's a Chinese place that fills the old Jesse Wong's Hong Kong site next to Sushi Sono.

I haven't been yet, but they have a Sichuan menu in Chinese and English. You may need to argue that you want authentic Chinese food. I have heard some reports that it's a pretty basic American-Chinese restaurant. But other people are getting authentic food.

The menu is attached. I'd love to hear if anyone has eaten off it.

REd Pearl Sichuan Cuisine-1.pdf

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A few months ago, I was wondering whether Howard County had much Chinese food worth eating.

I know people love their local joints, but average Chinese does little for me. Heavy sauces. Chopped up meat. Limp broccoli with the General Tso's chicken. I love Grace Garden in Odenton and enjoyed myself at Hunan Taste in Catonsville. But my old standard Jesse Wong's Asean Bistro was the only Chinese closeby that had drawn me back.

My tastebuds and my email say that I was wrong.

Red Pearl opened on the Columbia lakefront in May, and it drew me in with a menu of authentic Sichuan food. Last Saturday, we went for lunch and ordered across the menu -- kung pao from the "authentic" menu, a stirfried noodles with seafood from the standard menu, and a Chinese broccoli in garlic sauce from the specials.

This was a surprising hit. The broccoli was tender, but still crisp with a sauce that clung to the green but wasn't heavy at all. The kung pao was spicy, but tasted of ginger as much as it tasted of hot peppers. And the noodles may have been my favorite -- tender noodles crisped up on a wok and then mixed with shrimps, scallops and huge chunks of fish. The fish fillets were cooked beautifully. The focus really came from the seafood. We gorged at lunch, then had two lunches -- plus some extra broccoli that I snacked instead of having dessert on Sunday night.

On top of my meal, Red Pearl has been getting some raves from other folks. People have recommend potstickers with hot oil and flounder with soft tofu off the regular menu. The Minx of the Mix Eats blog had some authentic dishes along with Peking duck and crispy fried rockfish. And my real inspiration to visit was an acquaintance who wrote about how he had eaten Red Pearl's regular menu kung poa and then gone back for the same dish off the authenic menu: "The waiter repeatedly warned me about the spiciness. I assured him I was up for it. Well it was nothing like the American version with the gloppy sauce. The dish had lots of blackened dried pepper, ginger and other authentic ingredients. It was stir fried to smokey charred perfection with lots of flavor. The waiter warned me not to actually eat the dried peppers. I mostly followed his advice and the dish was complex and hot enough anyway. My mouth was numb at the end so I got the real experience. I can't go back to normal glop again."

Red Pearl isn't just a corner joint. This is a kitchen that wants to do something special. They put the authentic menu -- fully translated -- on every table. For now, I'll push that menu and the items, like the tea smoked duck, in comments to old posts. Our waiter warned us twice that the authentic kung pao was spicy, and he wasn't kidding. The dish had the chicken and peanuts of the kung pao I grew up on, but it had a drier texture and a spicier bite than those old dishes. But it's absolutely delicious, and I'm already thinking about how I want to go back again.

On top of it all, Red Pearl is bringing dim sum back to Columbia in August. We'll see how it compares to the Asian Court dim sum that sets the standard for now.

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As HowChowBlog remarked, I did visit Red Pearl last week. My party tried two items from the Sichuan menu and were pleased to find that both dishes had a nice dose of Sichuan pepper, although neither were particularly spicy. We also tried the Peking duck, which was pretty good, and a whole fried rockfish in Sichuan sauce.

So far, the place is no competition for Grace Garden, and I haven't tried enough items from the menu to know if it's worth switching from Asian Court. I am looking forward to the upcoming dim sum and only worry that the many partitions that divide up the space might hinder the progress of the carts. Thus hindering the progress of the food to ME. :)

Has anyone else been there?

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Red Pearl has added dim sum, and it delivers all the ingredients for brunch -- good food, a relaxed pace, and just enough chatter in the restaurant to energize the day.

Red Pearl dim sum became the official meal of our holidays -- Christmas Day, one weeknight, then New Year's Day again. Steamed dumplings with barbecued pork. Roasted duck. Shrimp in rice noodle sheets. I could grab dishes off each cart that passed by, but I'm getting ahead of myself.

Red Pearl started with an authentic Sichuan menu that they've augmented since last summer with Hong-Kong-style dim sum. You can order from a menu on weekdays -- even at dinner -- but the real drama is weekend brunch when waitresses push rolling carts. Bring a crew so you can share a table of flavors. For me, Red Pearl meets or exceeds the dim sum at Asian Court in Ellicott City or Oriental East in Silver Spring. A large selection, and terrific classics like shu mai, sticky rice, steamed BBQ pork dumplings, and fried sesame balls. The shrimp dumplings were filled with spinach and seafood that tasted fresh and sweet.

If Red Pearl beat out my old spots, it was because of unusual items like shrimp in rice noodles and roast pork with crispy skin -- a great texture considering that many dim sum can be starchy and soft. They even have special carts where a waitress crisped up chicken dumplings so that they hit our table sizzling. After two full tables, I still haven't tried the soft tofu dessert or the black "sesame rolls" that I saw after gorging last weekend.

Dim sum can also be a parade of meat, so I'd highlight two vegetarian items -- the large plate of Chinese broccoli and the vegetable dumplings. Those round dumplings have a delicate flavor Ask the waitresses what they have on their cart. Often, they'll just show you the best seller even though they have three or more items hidden in metal containers. Ask for anything that you don't see. We got the vegetable dumplings because a waitress went and found vegetarian items for us.

At least the last two weekends, it was a Chinese crowd in Red Pearl. The glass dividers create private areas, but the restaurant chattered with energy. (And it wasn't distracting because most of the conversation wasn't in a language that I don't understand.) That suggests they're pleasing people with more dim sum knowledge than I have

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