Thursday, August 28, 2014

Age Tofu At Sushi Sono -- Outside the Fish

Age Tofu at Sushi Sono
No one beats the sushi at Sushi Sono in Columbia, but I recommend the age tofu appetizer if you want to step outside the fish.

This is the kind of dish that makes me never fry at home.

I look to professionals like the Sushi Sono kitchen that turns our perfect crisp blocks of silky firm tofu.  They're crunchy, but not oily.  Hot pieces that are easy to lift onto your  plate and then spoon over with the dashi broth at the bottom of the bowl.  The flavor -- earthy and warm -- comes from that broth and the large slices of dried fish that actually wave as the heat from the tofu.

Your first piece of tofu will be hot and crisp.  The second will have rested a few minutes in the broth and become a bit chewier and more flavorful.  It's a terrific treat and another lesson about how Sushi Sono worries about texture and subtle flavors, far more than fancy sauces or spices.

If you like age tofu, I also recommend the same appetizer at Shin Chon Garden in Ellicott City.  They're different dishes, but it's a testament to the flexibility that age tofu contrasts equally well with a plate of tofu or a grill full of Korean barbecue.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Drinking A Flower: Le Comptoir's Lavender Iced Latte Has Become A Mrs. HowChow Favorite

The Le Provencal iced latte and a chocolate cookie
Narrow-casting here for the lavender lovers in Howard County.  For everyone else, there are still cookies.

Le Comptoir in Columbia offers an iced latte flavored with lavender that has become one of Mrs. HowChow's favorite things.  Le Provencal is pricey at $6, but it's her treat as we sit on the lakefront.  Done right, it's a revelation. Perfectly iced coffee with a waft of lavender.

Not the flavor of soap, which is a common problem when you cook with lavender.  This is a hint of flavor, more of scent than something strong.  We assume they use a lavender simple syrup, but we're happy to enjoy without knowing the secret.

And then there are always cookies if you want a treat without flowery flavors.  Le Comptoir makes a variety of baked goods that have made it one of our favorite places.  But those chocolate cookies have become our favorites -- crunch on the outside, moist inside.  Not cakey (because we're not a cake family).

Le Comptoir is a terrific place to stop before checking out the new Whole Foods on the lakefront.  Walk from the grocery down towards the lake and Clyde's.  Le Comptoir, Petit Louis and Sushi Sono are all perpendicular to Clyde's overlooking the lake.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Sometimes You Have To Get Out of Town To Find Something You Love; Cuban Coffee To Share

The colada at the Miami Dade College snack bar
Sometimes you have to get out of town to find something you love.

Cuban coffee culture has created the perfect mix of caffeine and friendship, value and flavor -- and I don't understand why I can't buy them all over America.

Behold above:  The colada, a huge shot of Cuban coffee served everywhere in Miami in a styrofoam cup with a half-dozen tiny plastic thimbles on the side.  Dark, sweet, espresso-like coffee.  Served so that you can share with your friends by filling thimbles and snapping them back.

What could be better than a cheap way to drink coffee all day?  I bought the colada above at a snackbar at Miami Dade College.  Truth be told, I used it as jet fuel.  I drank about two-thirds alone so that I didn't nod off during a morning spent listening to lawyers.  Huge caffeine boost, but small enough liquid that I wouldn't need the bathroom breaks that come with a venti-largo-grandi cup of coffee.

But the real fun comes from spacing them through the day.  I buy one for the group's morning coffee break.  You bring one back when you go pick up lunch.

These cost a little more than a dollar in Miami.  I assume they're making money, so I don't understand why the colada -- and Cuban coffee generally -- has never become a trend in American cities.  A Miami coffee bar serves espresso shots, the big colada, and then sipping drinks like a cafe con leche.  Come on people!  Someone should start the colada revolution around here.

The best Cuban coffee near Howard County is a Cuba de Ayer in Burtonsville, and I'm a big fan, especially of the pork chop and the Cuban sandwich.  They serve nice cafe con leche as well.  I have seen that Le Comptoir offers a "cordata" with espresso and steamed half-and-half, but I haven't tried it yet.  

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Comments About Whole Foods, Ananda, New Italian On Rte 40 And Breakfast Suggestions

The crab appetizer at Ananda
It has been a big week for Howard County food.  Just a new Whole Foods would be a banner event, and people have been comments about that grocery and a bunch of other news.

Andrew Mak, StevenC, Bren and others wrote detailed reports on the opening days.  I would love hear little things that people have found.  My main purchase was a rockfish that I did roast successfully.  I made a few other finds that I'll pepper in posts.  There should be many, many trips of fun eating.

Checking on other new joints, The Minx, SHZ, and several other people wrote their first thoughts about Ananda.  I'm a huge fan of the new restaurant in Fulton, and I love Todd Kliman's description as an fusion between Indian and a local-learning bistro.  In my original post, I forgot to highlight the crab appetizer, which is small cakes that hold their own against any others that I ate this summer.

Adam reports that a Squisito will also open next to Soft Stuff in the new construction on Rte 40.  It's apparently an Italian restaurant from Anne Arundel.

My rockfish
And there is more!  People are nice enough to share opinions about all kinds of places, including these below:

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Buy Crabs On Rte 40 Directly From The Eastern Shore Waterman Who Caught Them This Week

You can buy real Maryland crabs today from the folks who caught them this week if you head up to Rte 40 today in Ellicott City.

The photo above is Captain Bunky catching crabs Sunday.  He sends a truck up to the Normandy Crown gas station just east of Rte 29.

I had planned to be buying them right now.  But I hadn't emphasized at home that they're live crabs.  A bargain compared to other local sources and truly fresh from the Chesapeake Bay.

Then I learned that Mrs. HowChow really didn't want to steam live crabs in our house.  It's been a change over time.  She thinks she can eat them, so I'm going to buy hot crabs from Frank's Seafood in Jessup.  But she just couldn't have live crabs stored in the house and then cooked in our place.

More crabs for you.  If you can steam them, then this is the ultimate in local eating.  You're buying right from the waterman.  You get top-notch product for less than I'm going to pay at Frank's.  Maryland seafood matters if you like the idea of having a local industry, so it's a huge win for everyone.

Except the crabs.

Ask when you visit, but I understood that they'll send a truck to the Normandy Crown at least through Labor Day. I don't exactly which days. Crabs are delicious and heavy in September and October, but demand drops once people think that summer has ended.  The Normandy Crown gas station is 8505 Baltimore National Pike -- just east of Rte 29 on Rte 40.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Kliman Loves Ananda; That's Great, But I May Need To Post About 14th Street's Hooker History

Watermelon salad in the middle of nowhere
Todd Kliman actually drives to Howard County to try restaurants.  So we love him and won't need to have him flogged.

The restaurant critic for the Washingtonian wrote a rave about the new Ananda in an on-line chat this week.  Kliman is really good.  I have a vague smart idea, then I see that Kliman turned a similar idea into a concrete, descriptive passage that says everything that I thought and more:
Add to that the quality of the meats and fishes, which is several notches above that of the curry house, and you have a brand of cooking that is lighter and fresher than any Indian restaurant in the area not named Rasika. Given this emphasis, you might expect the dishes to experiment a little, to rethink traditional dishes in whimsical or dramatic ways. But for the most part Ananda is attempting a different, less obvious kind of fusion — the fusion of the local-leaning bistro with the conventional Indian restaurant.
Fusion of Indian with "local-leaning bistro" is a perfect description of Ananda.  You'll get some Indian dishes and some modern creations with true Indian flavors.  I think even an on-line chat by Klim will influence people to try the Fulton restaurant.

But then Kliman had to muddy my warm feelings with the kind of worn-out "slag the suburbs" barb that I thought had been abandoned by even the newbies at the Baltimore City Paper:
The restaurant itself is a showpiece. From outside, it looks a little like a castle and a little like a bank, and sits in the middle of nowhere, amid a still-evolving development of townhouses in Fulton, Md.
Seriously?  Middle of nowhere?  That doesn't seem necessary.  Especially because Ananda is just off Rte 29.  It is in sight of APL's new space sciences office building, and it's actually in the decade-old Maple Lawn development that includes more office buildings.

I can walk to Ananda.  So I'm allowed to josh Howard County by using a corn field as my Twitter icon.  But even that corn field became houses two years ago, and I don't slag Washington by constantly reminding folks that their hippest cuisine is served on blocks that were full of hookers when I was growing up.

But then again, maybe I should.

Seriously, you should keep an eye on Kliman's chats on the Washingtonian Web site.  He finds cool places.  He writes about all kinds of food.  And he has both terrific suggestions and well-turned ways to describe what he has eaten.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Shophouse Asian Kitchen Looks To Open Monday

The Columbia Mall is getting another new restaurant -- Shophouse that looks to be opening Monday, according to the mall Web site.

I don't know the restaurant.  Looks like ShopHouse is a Southeast Asian version of Chipotle -- brought to you by some of the people who started that chain.  It seems to follow Maggiano's and Seasons 52 as upscale chains with real aspirations in their kitchen.  I won't be able to check it out for a while, so please add comments if you give it a try.

Hat tip to Charles who emailed me the link.

Whole Foods Has Opened; The First Visit Left Me Overwhelmed, But I Finally Caught My Rockfish

The patio overlooking the Columbia lakefront
The couple was just behind me looking at the fish display.  Whole Foods opened in Columbia this morning, and we were in the lunchtime crowd.

They pointed.  They talked varieties.  They were clearly excited by just the idea of seafood because they were dressed for the office and clearly couldn't carry a fish with them.

Then the woman turned to the guy.  "Oh, wow," she said.  "We're in trouble."  He nodded.  "Yes, we are."

The pickle bar
If you're a Whole Food kind of shopper, then you are in trouble with the new store that opened in Columbia.  It's beautiful.  It's huge.  It's exactly the pricey temple to eating that you've seen in other towns, but now it's calling you from nearby

I barely looked at the central aisles today.  My first visit was a long circle around the edges where Whole Foods serves all kinds of convenience -- from ingredients like fish, sausages and meats to takeout like salads, fresh pasta, and olives to full meals like pizzas, bi bim bap, and sandwiches.

The meals seem as important to me as the grocery store.  Like Wegmans, Whole Foods offers tables after table of seating.  They want you to buy and sit.  They even have a deck and an indoor space that look over the lakefront.

I've said that this makes the Columbia lakefront a broad magnet.  People can shop.  They can just buy a meal.  In good weather, they can picnic outside.  Maybe stroll for a drink at Clyde's or our favorite cookie at Le Comptoir.

The cheeses
Today, I circled for things that I already know.  Some produce, a cheese, flowers, and the chicken sausage that will become a freezer staple for grilling, pasta sauces and more.   I planned to return for fresh pasta.  I gasped at the pickle bar.  A dozen kinds of pickled cucumbers.  Four kinds of kimchi.  A scattering of other cured vegetables.

I took my leap at that seafood counter.  I had two great fishing trips that both ended as fish-catching failures.  But Steve Vilnit talked up rockfish and showed me how they're caught in Chesapeake Bay traps.  I took the plunge on a small one that the fishmonger scaled, gutted and butterflied.  That's sitting now in the fridge with olive oil, roasted garlic, basil and lemon juice smeared inside.  Ready for the grill.

Does anyone else have stories from the Whole Foods opening day?  I'm sure that I'll post more as I try new items.  (Four kinds of kimchi!)  I'd love to hear about the actual meals -- the pizza, the lunch counter. . . .  Welcome to Whole Foods -- especially to the folks who moved to Columbia to work at the store.  I met a cheese guy who left California and felt duty-bound to warn him that this isn't the August heat that he should expect next year.

For more on the Whole Foods, check out the Two Dudes Who Love Food.  The teenaged bloggers made a short video about the store and making two healthy school lunches.  Just don't believe them about "wraps."  I love whole grains.  I love tortillas.  But America has ruined too many great sandwich ideas by switching bread for whole grain tortillas.

Great Takeout Salad: The Seasonal Hwae Dup Bop You Can Carry Out From Catonsville Lotte

Hwae dup bop from Rainbow Sushi inside the Catonsville Lotte
We have a new option for easy, healthy takeout now that we have learned about hwae dup bop carryout at the new Lotte in Catonsville.

This is a salad of shredded lettuce and vegetables served with sliced sashimi-style fish, rice and a spicy sauce.  We ate it at Yetnal House last month, but we enjoyed it again last night when the Cordis Couple invited us over for impromptu dinner.

It's super easy dinner in minutes.  You get a takeout container packed with shredded lettuce, carrots, cucumber and other vegetables along with bite-sized slices of tuna and other fish.  You also get a package of cooked rice and a dollop of spicy red pepper sauce.  Mix to taste with a dash of sesame oil, and we ate beautifully.

Pre-stirring
The Cordis couple buy the "sashimi salad" at the Rainbow Sushi stand in the back right corner of the new Lotte in Catonsville.  Order.  Then shop for 10 minutes while the sushi chefs slice the fish for you.

The package serves three adults, they said.  With a little more cooked rice, they mixed up a bowl that served four us comfortably.  That's a deal at about $11.
Apparently, Rainbow Sushi only sells hwae dup bop in the summer and fall.  So go try now.  I thought the ingredients were delicious.  Crisp vegetables.  Tasty fish.  They stirred until everything mixed, and the sesame oil made a light dressing with the spicy sauce and some of that orange roe.

Honestly, I enjoyed this as much or more than the Yetnal House version.  I don't think we mixed our first hwae dup bop well, and the shredded vegetables made it easier to ensure that everything was coated with dressing and that every mouthful came with fish and vegetables.  Lisbeth had posted about her favorite version, extolling the shredded iceberg lettuce at Han Sung.  She is onto something, and the Rainbow Sushi version mixed several kinds of lettuce with radicchio and other vegetables.

I really recommend the Lotte in Catonsville.  The Ellicott City branch work great for quick shopping, but the new Lotte is worth the drive because it's bigger and has enormous selections of Indian, Korean and other ethnic items.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Caffe Benne Appears To Be Going Next To Soft Stuff On Rte 40 In Ellicott City

Another coffee chain by way of Korea and Europe appears to be opening on Rte 40 -- this time Caffe Benne in the new construction with Soft Stuff.

Caffe Benne's plan to open in Ellicott City was spotted last year by Michael Gioioso of BMore, and the new location was spotted by Andrea, who posted on the HowChow Facebook page.  This is next door to Soft Stuff, the ice cream parlor that just re-opened in new construction on Rte 40 across from the Enchanted Village shopping center.

From the Web, it looks like Caffe Benne fits a mold of Korean chains inspired by European coffee and baking.  It looks like Shilla or Bon Apettit or the coffee shop part of Bean & Burgundy.  They're all great places to check out -- coffees, other drinks, lots of sweet baked goods, and a touch of savory ones.

Does anyone know the Caffe Benne chain?  Any ideas about whether or what makes it stand out?

(Update:  Fixed the typo in the headline. Thanks Dan.)

Whole Foods Opens Tomorrow!! I Can't Believe I'm Not Camped Out In Their Parking Lot

Whole Foods opens on Wednesday!!

Life has been so distracting recently that I don't feel like I've done this justice.  Wegmans changed the food options in Columbia two years ago.  Now, Whole Foods adds another dimension -- and really changes the lakefront.

I missed a media tour on Monday afternoon.  The Thrify Girl posted last night with descriptions and pictures.  I figure other folks went, and I'll link when I see posts.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Who Asked Me About Buying Squash Blossoms?

Are you looking for squash blossoms?

Someone asked me about this days ago, and I said that I hadn't seen them this year at the Maple Lawn farmers market.

Now Lisbeth has written about the culinary flowers -- and I can't find the email, Facebook post, or Tweet of the person who asked.  Either way, you should check out Lisbeth's post about buying the squash blossoms from Love Dove Farm.  She even has a recipe.

While you're clicking around, check out the other vegetable cookers at the CSA Creations and AnnieRie Unplugged blogs.  The local food blogs are so robust that I can no longer highlight every post, but I always recommend checking out the food page on HocoBlogs -- and love the report on Jailbreak Brewing on HoCo Rising and the photos on Lisbeth's other post about Grace Garden.

First Thoughts On Ananda: Really Good Indian In A Really Unusual Space For Howard County

Eggplant appetizer at Ananda
I don't want to get ahead of my skis on Ananda, but I'm really jazzed -- both for its food and for the new restaurant space in Fulton.

I'm a homer -- literally because this is one of the closest restaurants to my house.  But I think I'd be excited even if Ananda were on the other side of the county.

This is an Indian restaurant with familiar flavors and dishes, but a menu that aims to be different.

A few weeks ago, we started with a watermelon salad.  Three towers cut from the heart of a sweet melon, served over a small salad with a lime-and-chili dressing and pistachios.  A little feta for salt.  Those nuts for crunch.  It's a dish that I'd expect more at Range than an Indian restaurant, and it was perfect on a warm night as we watched the sun set.

We have friends who have gone every Sunday night for a month.  They're working through the menu -- delicious tandoori chicken a week ago, a cold summer squash soup with pear chutney last night poured at the table from a spout.  It's not perfect.  One night the report was that halibut was lovely and light, but she wished she had ordered the Goa fish -- even with bones -- because it probably had more intense flavors.  But they're excited by the dishes and the variety.

So are we.  Ananda plates dishes rather than serving family style.  That means you get side dishes with each entree, and I thought they were done smartly.  Spicy fish curry comes with spinach.  That's rich and earthy against the spicy sauce.  The mixed vegetable curry comes with lentils.  The lentil's zest contrasts the creamy vegetable sauce.  The vegetables are cooked perfectly -- fork-tender broccoli, peas and the fresh cheese called paneer.

The building on Maple Lawn Boulevard was forever under construction, but the setting was worth the wait.  For now, they're serving mostly in a patio room with three sides of open walls.  Notice the paneling, the ceiling fans, and the fireplaces.  It's comfortable enough to welcome kids in t-shirts, but special enough that several tables had women decked in night-out dresses.

If you squint, you can see only trees and ignore the sounds of traffic.

Again, I want to take it slow at Ananda.  The kitchen has been wonderful so far.  I figure we'll have time to take it's temperature.  But I recommend it as a special spot -- maybe date-night cocktails on the patio -- or as a regular stop where you could explore the menu and specials.  Either way, it's welcome in the neighborhood.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Check Out The Local Restaurant Cookbook Signing Wednesday At Grille 620 In Ellicott City

Folks who live local restaurants should check out the cookbook signing Wednesday for the new Baltimore Chef's Table, a cookbook by Kathy & Neal Patterson.

My schedule has been crazy so I haven't had a chance to cook from the book, but it's great fun to read.  Each spread highlights a local chef, including several from Howard County.  The authors tell the restaurant's story and include a recipe from each.

These are the same folks behind the Food Lover's Guide To Baltimore, which I wrote about last year.

Check out the Facebook posting for the event.  It will be 6-8 pm at Grille 620 in the Turf Valley development in Ellicott City.


Monday, August 11, 2014

Dive Into Pisco, Which Is Slowly Opening Off 175



Ceviche at Pisco
A new Peruvian restaurant Pisco is slowly opening in Elkridge -- bringing the upscale menu, classy interior, and strip mall location that has worked so well for Facci.

We stumbled into the soft opening last week.  Literally the first day.  They had intended to just have friends and family while the kitchen started up, but they offered us seats if we wanted to try.

I'm optimistic.  Pisco is owned by the same facts who run Facci .  It's a Peruvian menu and maybe a flashier interoir design than the other two.  Definitely memorable and full of ambition.

They missed some cylinders on the first night, but, again, they had said it was a soft opening and discounted everything 50%.  Among several dishes, we tried two ceviches, which are the Peruvian specialty that would bring us back again and again.  Fresh-tasting flavorful marinades on both dishes.  I assume that it is tricky to slice fish like I've had with excellent ceviche where it isn't chewy, and I'm sure that practice will let them improve.

We had a cool appetizer that was a composed ring of mashed potato, egg and what seemed like shrimp.  We also tried the grilled heart.  By which I mean, I ate the grilled heart -- antichucos -- because Mrs. HowChow passes on organ meat.  One of the skewers was perfect, grilled on the outside and moist inside.  Peruvian is a terrific cuisine because the building blocks are similar to lots of European or Latin American food, but you get all kinds of different flavors and dishes.  We'll go back and write in more detail when they're really running for business.

I don't know if Pisco is still in a soft open or if the grand opening happened this weekend.  This looked like a great place for a drink.  I imagine a lot of dates and ladies night with the decor and menu.  The outdoor seating is pretty, and a classic parking lot cafe -- the indigenous Howard County experience -- as you can see below.

(Update:  I removed mention of Xitomate.  That's owned by the folks who run Azul 17.  The Facci-Pisco empire is separate.)

Pisco
6630 Marie Cure Drive
Elkridge, MD 21075
(410) 312-4888

NEAR:  Pisco is in the shopping center with Perfect Pour and Trader Joe's.  This is at Rte 175 and Rte 108.  The post office says that is Elkridge.  Then it is right across from street from Columbia.


Sunday, August 10, 2014

Seasons 52 Has Opened In The Columbia Mall

Seasons 52 has opened in the Columbia Mall.  This is the outdoor walkway with Maggiano's and the terrific oils and vinegars at Secolari.

Seasons 52 is a national chain that I have seen mostly in upscale malls.  They do a seasonal menu with specials each week.  They do lunch and dinner every day.

Let me know if you visit.  Let me know what you recommend.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Breakfast Sandwiches -- Touche Touchet Does Croissants; Any Other Breakfast To Recommend?

Touche Touchet's sausage, egg and cheddar croissant
The Howard County dump makes for an invigorating Saturday morning, and a trip to the dump earns an automatic breakfast sandwich.

The county landfill off I-70 is really heaven-sent if you clean out your garage and end up with a car full of old paint, lumber scraps, rusted metal and such.  I got in and out in 20 minutes, even after stopped at the various stations to unload my various stuff.  Tossing metal off a one-story drop makes me feel like a hoodlum every time.

It also made me hungry, and I ended up at Touche Touchet just off Rte 29.  The bakery does most of its business on the sweet side with cakes, sugar cookies, and pastries.  But they make savory croissants, including one with a sausage patty and a small cheddar omelet wrapped inside the dough.

I could have enjoyed a spicier sausage.  I'm getting picky about bacon, sausage and similar stuff, figuring they might as well be spectacular if I'm going to splurge.  But the croissant was nicely made, and they have worked out a system that even a reheated croissant comes out warm and nicely crisp.  The egg and cheese made a real meal, and Touche Touchet is a nice place to linger with coffee and a little to eat.

Can anyone else suggest a cool breakfast spot?  I've highlighted the Mexican egg plates at R&R Taqueria.  That chorizo was worth the splurge.  I'd love any other suggestions because I don't eat breakfast out enough to have a repertoire to recommend.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Cafe de Paris Closing This Weekend in Columbia

Cafe de Paris is closing this week, according to a post on their Facebook page.

Any closing restaurant is a tough story, and the Cafe de Paris folks wrote a very nice post to customers saying how much they will miss the place.  Definitely read the post.

Bistro Blanc's Janny Kim Having Success In The Kitchen And In The Mason-Dixon Challenge

The chef from Bistro Blanc is carrying the Howard County flag into a local battle among restaurants.

Janny Kim has reached the semi-finals of the Mason-Dixon Challenge, a contest where chefs cook head-to-head similar to Iron Chef or other reality shows.

Kim takes on a Timonium chef on Monday in "Battle South East Asia" at the Inn At The Collonade in Baltimore.  You can buy tickets to the event.

We need to get out and give Bistro Blanc another try.  In April, the Glenelg restaurant got a resounding review from Richard Gorelick in the Sun.  Gorelick loved everything from small plates to fish to dessert.  It's another place on my list to re-try.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

What Food Is Best At the Howard County Fair?

What food do you recommend at the Howard County Fair?  It runs through this weekend, and I want to hear suggestions.

I've actually never been.  We're making plans for next year.

So recommend some food and check out Abigail's Instagram photo from the top of the ferris wheel.