- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 19, 2007

Truth be told, the Rumor Mill is the newest hot spot in historic Ellicott City, Md.

Doors of the revamped restaurant and fusion bar opened in late April at the former site of Sidestreets. Rumor Mill features a Japanese-American menu that should appeal to any adventurous foodie.

The fusion bar, open for late night partying, has a unique cocktail menu. Martinis can include ingredients such as sake, green tea or Japanese lychee puree.

Geishatini brings to mind the faces of the Japanese beauties, combining coconut milk, Malibu rum, pineapple and cream in a creamy, tropical-tasting drink.

Blushing Geisha refreshes with grapefruit, vodka, raspberry liqueur and fresh lemon.

If you would rather encounter a Ninja, it is a mixed drink of double espresso, vodka, creme de menthe, creme de cocoa and cream.

Appetizers include rice balls, tuna tartare, crab dumplings and hoisin chicken skewers. The rice balls ($6) change almost daily, with a different featured ingredient.

This night it was salmon, so the center, a well-flavored salmon salad, was a creamy contrast to the solid surrounding of rice and the crispy, fried panko — Japanese bread crumbs — exterior. This was a wonderful, comforting dish that becomes even more exotic with the dipping sauce.

Tuna tartare ($9) was called “the Asian take on fish and chips,” by our waiter. The tuna was pleasing but not exceptional. The dish is a combination of fresh tuna chunks covered with fresh guacamole and surrounded by crunchy tortilla chips.

The crunchy, salty chips provided a great contrast to the other items and the guacamole dip was flavorful. Unfortunately, the tuna was quite lifeless. It was fresh but would have benefited greatly from some light seasoning — Asian or even crushed black pepper. It was understandable to avoid salt, since the chips covered that nicely, but something was needed to bring the dish to its full potential.

There are five main plates to choose from and three entree bowls.

Barbecued pork ribs ($24) are two racks of beautiful baby back ribs served with sweet potato fries. The slow-cooked ribs were melt-in-your mouth tender, and the thick sauce was sweet and just a little spicy — definitely finger-licking good. The fries were a nice contrast, cut thinly enough to provide a little crunch.

Cashew chicken ($24) featured nice large chunks of grilled chicken over rice, with plenty of peppers, carrots, broccoli and mushrooms to round it out. Cashews added extra crunch. The orange sauce was on the sweet side, perfect for some diners but more than others might appreciate.

Wasabi crusted snapper ($25) was a red snapper lightly breaded with a hint of wasabi, then baked and served with green beans. Some wasabi combinations can be overpowering, but this plate had just the right hint of the tanginess and the fish was a very nice portion.

Desserts are all made in-house. Wonton Thing was a nice contrast of crisp, sugary fried wontons and sweet cream. Accent was several pieces of battered banana, covered with chocolate. Overall the dish was tasty, but the banana pieces were a bit chewy.

Asian pear tart was a big hit. The tender pears had a slight but perfect seasoning to them, and the crust was very flaky. Green tea ice cream provided a cool, creamy accent. The texture was a bit unusual, but the flavor was exceptional.

RESTAURANT: Rumor Mill, 8069 Tiber Alley, Ellicott City, Md.; 410/461-0041; www.therumormillrestaurant.com

HOURS: Dinner 5 p.m. to 11 p.m. Monday through Saturday; bar 5 p.m. to 11 p.m. Monday and Tuesday and until 2 a.m. Wednesday through Saturday; lounge 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. Wednesday through Saturday

PRICES: Soups and salads $4 to $6; appetizers $4 to $9; bowls $14 to $16; entrees $24 to $29

CREDIT CARDS: All major cards accepted

PARKING: Nearby street parking

ACCESS: Wheelchair accessible

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