Monday, August 31, 2015

While I've Been: Victoria's Burger Is Such A Tasty Old Friend That I Never Order Anything Else

Burger and fries
I swear that I planned to order something when we took my parents to Victoria Gastro Pub for my father's birthday.

Our restaurant trips have been fewer in 2015, and many stops have been old haunts where we know that we'll find something good for everyone.  Victoria Gastro Pub fits that bill.  We have been enjoying the food and beer since it opened in 2008, but I focused on their burgers and fries on those early trips and never took my eyes off the meat.

The entire table actually ordered burgers during our August visit.  Except for Lil' Chow who emptied a kid's order of pasta and asked for a second.

Victoria's bicuit
It's just that simple.  Everyone read the menu.  Everyone saw options.  But we each returned to the burgers because they're ideal.  Thick patties that are juicy and meaty without being greasy.  Hearty buns that hold up to the holding and biting.  Fresh, simple tomato, lettuce and pickles.

This is part of my "While I've Been Out" series to restart the blog.  Late last year, the blog got some serious competition.  I'm still working out how to keep writing while I'm doing so many other new things as well.  Tomorrow, I'll follow this old friend with my favorite place that is "new for 2015."

That burger is a success every time, and it's the kind of relaxation that I want from a dinner out.

I added to the fun last month by trying my first Manor Hill beers -- brewed up by the same Marriner family.  I sampled two and forgot to write down my selection.  I'm drifting from the hops stream that had carried me from IPA to IPA for many summers.  I asked for something with flavor, but less bitterness.  I can't remember what I got, but it worked exactly as I wanted.

If you haven't been to Victoria before, then you should also go for the biscuits that they offer once you order.  They're perfect.  Tender but not crumbly.  Rich but not greasy.  I believe they bake them in-house, and it's a terrific advertisement for the care that Victoria takes with their food.



Wednesday, August 26, 2015

While I've Been: Facci Ristorante Surprised Us With Even-Better Pizza And Even-More Pasta

Pizza and pasta at Facci
While I've been out, Facci Ristorante turned itself into an even-better restaurant -- and surprised us into making it one of our go-to dinners.

The Italian restaurant on Johns Hopkins Road has been a popular spot since it opened more than five years ago, but it never welcomed or excited us as much as we expected -- especially since it is one of our closest options.

While I've been slow with the blogging, we have eaten a few times at Facci, and we loved all the dishes.  First, we remembered that wood-fired pizza is so much better right out of the oven.  We've done take-out a few times.  It's good, but Facci's pizza is crunchy magic when it skips right from the fire to your plate.

The wood-fired oven
All of these gourmet pizzas depend on the skill of the specific person who throws your pie.  As I have written about other places, quality can vary.  But Facci's quality has run recentlyfrom really good to absolutely perfect.  They do a pistachio pizza with sliced red onions that came out slightly charred and perfectly topped.  The crust was still hot and crisp that I was pleased when Lil' Chow declined a slice.

This is part of my "While I've Been Out" series to restart the blog.  Late last year, the blog got some serious competition.  I'm still working out how to keep writing while I'm doing so many other new things as well.  Tomorrow, my suggestion for a great local adventure for exercise and delicious food.  (Plus puppies!!!)

Lil's Chow never declines noodles.  So he has been pleased by our second discovery:  That Facci now makes many more pastas in-house.  I assume Facci expanded the pasta-making when they opened a second location in Turf Valley in Ellicott City.  Instead of two or three options, there is an entire menu section -- from simple fettuccine through gnocchi and stuffed ravioli.

Spaghetti with all-the-parmesan-he-can-get
Your first try should be the sacchetti cheese pears.  These are small pockets of pasta filled with pears and gorgonzola cheese.  There's technique in the pasta-making.  There's 're in balancing fruit with blue cheese.  The pasta was sweet, salty and perfectly toothsome.  It makes me confident to explore other parts of the restaurant because I can tell that they're paying attention to the details.

I'd recommend an exploration even if you're one of the people who hasn't visited in a while.  Facci had rough service in the early years.  I remember being turned away so brusquely that we didn't return for a long time.  But the Facci folks were really great on both visit.  On one visit, our waiter worked with the bartender to find a wine that fit exactly what Mrs. HowChow wanted.  On both visits, folks have catered to Lil' Chow with multiple cheese gratings -- each Parmesan shower making him happier to suck up his spaghetti.

Facci has changed impressively over the years.  They expanded onto a patio.  They added a special bar with artisan meats and cheeses.  I'm not at a happy hour stage of my life, but I recommend it for anything from fancy dates to casual happy hours, from 5 pm toddler dinner to late-night drinks.

The second Facci is in the Turf Valley shopping center.  The original is on Johns Hopkins Road in a shopping center full of food, including Kloby's Smokehouse for barbecue, La Palapa Too for Mexican, and Tandoor Grill for Indian.  In the blog's main political statement, I need to emphasize that they aren't in Laurel.  The post office thinks they're in Laurel, but the center sits west of Rte 29 just south of Columbia.  As I've written, I love Laurel.  This just isn't Laurel.  This is Tribeco.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

While I've Been: New BBQ, Rum Bar, And Bakery, Plus Stuff Keeps Coming (With A Few Losses)

What's coming to the new construction in Maple Lawn?
So what have I missed?

One of the great parts of HowChow has been collecting news and rumors that I hear in emails and comments on the blog.  People have been sending news even though I haven't been posting, and it's time to share what I know and ask folks to add more in the comments.  We're looking at new barbecue, a new bakery, hopefully new ramen, and probably a new rum bar.  Plus, there is more news and some good-looking spots where I hope restaurants will open.

This is part of my "While I've Been Out" series to restart the blog.  Late last year, the blog got some serious competition.  I'm still working out how to keep writing while I'm doing so many other new things as well.  Thanks to everyone who has kept reading, emailing and commenting.  Tomorrow, my report on the restaurant that surprised me the most this year.

Let's start with the things that I know -- or at least have heard about:
  • Urban BBQ is coming to Ellicott City -- specifically to the shopping center with Coal Fire Pizza off Rte 108 near Snowden River Parkway.  Months ago, Mike sent me a link to Urban BBQ's Web page where they list a location coming soon.  Who has a report on Urban BBQ?  Who knows a timeline?
  • In other barbecue talk, there is chatter that Mission BBQ will be one of the businesses taking over the former Shanty Grill on Rte 40 in Ellicott City.  That's a great location for a barbecue place that opened a spot in Columbia and had such long lines on the day that I went for lunch that I couldn't wait with a toddler.  Think about March or early spring 2016 for the new location.  Anyone know details?
  • Smashburger is coming to Ellicott City, as I posted in July. Tim reports that a new Barakat Kabob looks to be opening nearby on Rte 40 next to the Yama Asian Bistro.  He said they have a menu in the window, but paper still covered them last week.  Tim also talks up the new Carroll Farm meat stand on Rte 144.  I have been there yet, although I assume it is the farm with this Web page.  He reports nice beef and pork selections, including different sausages.  They also sell chicken that you can buy on the day that they're processed.
  • That Rte 40 development is really hot.  Glory Days Grill also opened there, and the Two Dudes Who Love Food blogged about a sneak peak in July.   They talked up wings, fried pickles, pizza and salmon.
  • Primo Hoagies says they're opening a shop on Dobbin Center Way in Columbia.  Dori and I would like to know more.  Anyone know when?  Anyone eaten their sandwiches?  I lived in Philadelphia so I'm very cautious when people claim to be selling Philly-level hoagies.
  • Coho Grill has re-opened.  The Columbia restaurant closed during renovations at the golf club's clubhouse.  I haven't heard details about the new space or menu, but Stan Rapport wrote a profile with some video.
  • Renata's Tasty Bites has taken over the bakery on Snowden River Parkway that used to be Linda's Bakery.  I haven't been yet, but I saw that we're going to become regulars once the weather gets a little colder.  They're open at 8 am on weekend mornings.  Coffee and a pasty could entertain us and Lil' Chow on our way to grocery shop or some toddler classes.  Renata's has been around for several years, so please let me know what you'd recommend that I try.
  • Paper Lantern Asian Grill & Sushi has opened on Marriottsville Road.  JJ tweeted about the opening, and I'd love to hear about good Asian food in the western county.
  • Uma Uma is still aiming to bring ramen and yakitori to Rte 40 in Ellicott City.  This is across from the former Shanty Grill next to Lighthouse Tofu and a Boston Chicken.  The owners have been working to renovate a former sub shop since last summer.  I hope to slurp noodles there this fall, and I'll keep you up to date.
  • Highland Inn closed.  It's heartbreaking because I saw the years and clear money that people put into opening that restaurant on Rte 216.  They were going for a real upscale experience, but it doesn't seem to have worked out.  We ate there.  I wish that I could have blogged positively about the experience.
  • BrickNFire Pizza won a recent competition with Marriott where they were picked as the best restaurant concept and get a six-month tryout in the Marriott near Camden Yards.  Richard Gorelick wrote up the contest in June.  (Hat tip to CrunchDaddy -- whose Columbia-made popcorns are spectacular.  His butter-rum and cranberry flavor got a write-up in the June edition of the Food Network's magazine.)
Then some stuff that I am hoping that you can answer:
A great space on  Main Street
  • What's the timing and plans for the new Bulk Head brewery that is supposed to open on Old Annapolis Road in Columbia?  Sarah Meehan wrote up the plans in June and described a beach-themed brewery from two founders who did home brewing.  Meehan talked about a fall opening.
  • What are the plans for FoodPlenty -- the Clarksville restaurant being planned by the folks behind Victoria Gastropub?  The place-holder website says they're aiming for 2016.  Anyone know more? 
  • Is Black Eyed Susan Brewing open for business?  The website doesn't seem definitive.  Has anyone tried the beer?
  • What's the timing on Mutiny Pirate Bar, which still has a sign saying that they're coming to downtown Ellicott City?  It's a spot just off the major intersection of Main Street and Old Columbia Pike.  When I posted in March, the signs said "Summer 2015."  They say its a rum bar.  It didn't look close when I biked past in August.  This is the second location of a restaurant by the folks who run Iron Bridge Wine Co. so I have high hopes.
  • Anyone know if a restaurant has signed to open right at the Main Street-Old Columbia Pike intersection?  That's the old Taylor Antique Mall, and I had linked in December to a Sun article where the landlord's agent talked about Joe Squared opening there.  I haven't seen any progress, and the sign still offered the space for rent on my last visit.
  • What is going into the new Maple Lawn construction?  I hear that the buildings going up near the Harris Teeter are slated for at least two restaurants.  At one point, there had been talk of the Looney's folks getting into brewing their own beer, but I don't know whether anyone has signed up for the space.
In other news, check out the "Farm To Fork Frederick" events that run August 28 to September 7.  Restaurants, farms, breweries and others in our neighboring county have gathered together to schedule specials and events that celebrate Frederick-grown foods.  Their Web site is here.  It looks like fun for folks who enjoy a food adventure -- and who don't have to juggle naps or 7:45 pm baths.  It's not Howard County, but we outer boroughs need to stick together.

If you know more news, please add comments below.  I'm still working through email so I'm sure that I'll have more posts with news and questions.

I hope to blog more regularly going forward.  It's great fun.  It's a great inspiration to try new food.  And it's always a blast to get emails or comments with news about Howard County food.  So please stay with me.

Monday, August 24, 2015

While I've Been Out: Reporting On Lil' Finds And Starting To Catch Up On Openings and Closings

Gyro at Hickory Ridge Grill
While I've been out, the good food has kept rolling.  Even when I couldn't post, I appreciated all the comments and emails, and I'm trying to start blogging again.

Let's start with the gyro at the Hickory Ridge Grill in Columbia.  Over the years, the little diner has renovated itself into a nice, casual restaurant off Cedar Lane.  In our early weeks home, we took a posse there for Sunday breakfast -- eggs, pancakes

Our last visit was dinner on a summer night.  Lil' Chow and I were part of my new reality -- sitting down at 5:30 pm and looking first at the kid's menu.  It's a tough schedule for blogging, but we still eat well.  He went kid's spaghetti.  I considered something light, but went gyro under the idea that I try to eat good versions of food that might be bad for me.

This is part of my "While I've Been Out" series to restart the blog.  Late last year, the blog got some serious competition.  I'm still working out how to keep writing while I'm doing so many other new things as well.  Saturday, I noted that Wegmans seems to be trying again to open a liquor store in their Columbia location.  Tomorrow, a full post about new places opening, old places closing, and big questions that I hope folks can answer.

The gyro made my night.  Gyros can be a come-on with great smells, then provide more grease than flavor.  In contrast, the Hickory Ridge gyro was meaty and nicely charred on the edges, and it came with a fresh topping of tomatoes and lettuce and salty cheese that cut through heaviness.

I ate all the fries.  You can see the heap in the photo above.  I promised myself that I'd stop halfway through.  I gave a few to Lil' Chow, who preferred his pasta.  Then I kept dipping fries into the tzaziki until there was nothing left of either.

Lil's Chow's birthday on Ananda's watermelon salad
We have had a good year even though I haven't been able to write as much as I hoped.  The long adoption wait may prepare some new parents for the changes.  It didn't prepare us.

Along the way, we have had great food.  Lil' Chow's birthday dinner at Tian Chinese Cuisine in Ellicott City with black bean noodles that are always a hit there or at Da Rae Won in Beltsville.  His birthday brunch with family at Ananda in Fulton, truly become one of the best restaurants around.

We had a spring brunch at Ananda that is truly the great "lost HowChow post" for the ages.  As I have noted before, I got a few lines of notes into my phone, then never had time to write more.  But it was a perfect mean.   A warm morning on Ananda's open-window patio with the Cordis Couple -- a table where Lil' Chow discovered Ananda's  French toast and I ate a special duck dumplings.

The French toast is a regular, and it's reason enough to go to Ananda for a weekend brunch.  Cooked in the oven and lightly twisted with a cardamon maple syrup.  It's a perfect example of how Ananda succeeds.  It's full of flavor, yet fresh, lighter than you'd expect.  It's a dish that you'd recognize, yet done with a twist that I wouldn't do at home and I can't find anywhere else.

I hope folks will be patient with HowChow's new reality.  I'm going to try to start again this week.  I have tried to collect news for tomorrow and then some posts for the next two weeks.  As always, I love comments and would love people to propose Trolling posts to augment my opinions.  See the rules for Trolling posts here.

See you tomorrow!

Thanks to Mrs. HowChow who ran a long Saturday morning through a gymnastic class to Sushi Sono to give me time to write posts.  We're trying hard.  Mostly, it's working out.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

While I've Been Out: Is Wegmans Trying Again For A Liquor Store? We Have A Sign, Not The Story


Among the many tweets and emails that I overlooked during the summer is the post above asking if the Columbia Wegmans is trying again for a liquor license.

Does anyone know?

The tweet seems to show a poster advertising a July 20 liquor board hearing for something called The Loft Wine & Spirits.  I see a county Web page that mentions a hearing, saying it was for Thomas quick.  I see decisions from July 21 and July 28, but nothing that mentions the Loft.

One aside, I did notice the extension that Petit Louis got so that you can now order liquor on their entire patio.  I have dreams about a relaxed fall evening with a glass of wine and dessert from Le Comptoir.  I also saw that Ananda has asked for a refillable container permit, which I assume means growlers.  That sounds great too.

But back to the big question: Does anyone know about plans for the Loft Wine & Spirits at Wegmans?  What have I missed?  I just searched a bit and don't see Web mentions of the Loft Wine & Spirits.  I'm agnostic on Wegmans opening a store.  I love Wegmans.  I buy very little alcohol, but I'm happy when I buy from a nice store with good stuff and good advice.  I go out of my way to check Perfect Pour in Elkridge because I get fair treatment and good advice.

Wegmans has a huge space on the second floor.  So I could see why they want to try again.  If they do, I would expect a similar fight from liquor store owners who don't want a massive competitor that people would visit as part of their regular shopping.  On the one hand, I don't buy the "save the children" arguments that seem to suggest liquor shouldn't mix with groceries.  On the other hand, the 2012 application seemed to just flout the law by installing a straw owner.

This is part of my "While I've Been Out" series to restart the blog.  Late last year, the blog got some serious competition.  I'm still working out how to keep writing while I'm doing so many other new things as well.  Thanks to everyone who has kept reading, emailing and commenting.  Monday, I'll be back with a gyro at Hickory Ridge Grill and the brunch at Ananda that was my great "lost post"

While I've Been Out: Sushi On A Picnic Table And Other Unexpected Adventures This Summer

Sashimi lunch on a picnic table at Lake Elkhorn
Just when I think I have everything under control, life -- and a toddler -- teach me that they're in charge.

Above is a luxurious lunch that I had planned to eat at Sushi King.  Lil' Chow and I did errands one summer day, and I patted myself on the back as we walked into the Columbia restauran.

Lil' Chow loves soups, especially Asian soups like miso, soybean paste, and miyok guk.  We would eat lunch.  I'd draft a blog post.  I was a brilliant father who would enjoy a relaxed meal and restart his food writing.

Note that the photo above is a picnic table at Lake Elkhorn.  I gave Lil' Chow a spoon just a few minutes early.  The miso soup was too hot.  He screamed, reasonably.  And then he was inconsolable, loudly.  Really loudly.  It was the first time that I retreated from a restaurant because was embarrassed to be bothering the other customers.

That sashimi lunch special was delicious.  In recent years, Mrs. HowChow and I have become infatuated with Sushi Sono -- it's amazing rolls, its exciting specials, its lakefront location.  But Sushi King was our first Columbia spot for fish, and they still slice delicious pieces into a special lunch with rice and soup.  Sushi is one of those restaurant meals that I seek out because I don't have those skills at home.  Even simple sashimi shines when someone like the Sushi King chefs do the right things with slicing and pairing fish with lemon and crunchy radish pieces.

The Sushi King folks were also really nice when I abruptly shifted my order to go.  I ended up at a shaded picnic table at Lake Elkhorn, perfectly happy as Lil' Chow nosed around the pavillion and I thought about how even a parenting disaster work fine on a beautiful summer day.  Give me a picnic table in July over any freezing day in February.

So things haven't worked out the way that I planned.  I had thought that I'd keep blogging even with last fall's toddler adoption.  I even thought once or twice this year that I had my feet under me enough to start posting again.  I was wrong then.  We'll see if I'm right now.  Look for more HowChow next week -- and hopefully going into the future. 

This is part of my "While I've Been Out" series to restart the blog.  Late last year, the blog got some serious competition.  I'm still working out how to keep writing while I'm doing so many other new things as well.  Look for more posts next week.  Thanks to everyone who has kept reading, emailing and commenting.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Smashburger Coming To Ellicott City; Rte 40 Getting Some Delicious New Development

It looks like the fancy fast food burger joints are moving into Ellicott City.  Smashburger has posted a "coming soon" page about a new burger joint they'll put in the Arcadia Square development coming to Rte 40.

Smashburger is one of these new chains offering made-to-order burgers and competing with folks like BGR The Burger Joint. They specialize in thin burgers that they smash -- as you'd expect.  I haven't eaten there, but Serious Eats gave them a rave several years ago.  At a minimum, this is more fun along Rte 40.

David Brown Enterprises announced the Smashburger on a Web page about the ground breaking that looks like it went up in April.  That page says they hope to complete the construction by the third quarter of 2015.  But I hadn't heard about the new place.

Hat tip to Shelley!  Thanks.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Pizza And Ice Cream In Downtown Ellicott City; Top Of My To-Do List -- If I Can Work Around Nap

The folks who brought weekend outdoor pizza to downtown Ellicott City have re-opened the nearby ice cream shop to make a dangerous duo -- to your waistline.

River House Pizza is Nathan Sowers' mobile wood-fired oven that turns the courtyard near the Main Street parking lot into an outdoor pizza restaurant.  For several years, they have served one of the highlights of the monthly market.

Now, that monthly market has become the weekly Ellicott City Old Town Market -- every Saturday offering music, farmers stands and more.  Check out their Facebook page for hours and details.

At the same time, Sowers has expanded River House to Friday lunchtime (11:30-2) and all day Saturday and Sunday (11:30-7).   He has also re-opened the ScoopAHHdeedo ice cream shop that operated down the row for a few years, but I think was shuttered for the last one or two.  The scoop shop will be open Wednesday to Sunday, noon to 7 pm.

I've been remiss writing up the expansion.  I keep wanting to go.  We really loved the BrickNFire mobile pizza oven that operates across the river at the Breadery in Oella.  Now you can get pizza and the Taharka Brothers ice cream.

Have people been to the weekly Old Town Market?  What do you recommend?  This is now on my list -- waiting for a Saturday when I can get Lil' Chow down there before or after nap.  For a real report, check out Katie's post updated in 2014 on the Cupcake RN blog.

You can make real fun all weekend in downtown Ellicott City.  On top of the pizza and the Saturday market, one of the highlights is the weekly movies shown outdoors by the Wine Bin.  Check out their schedule on their site to see titles starting on May 22.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Chutney Restaurant Raising Money For Nepal Relief; Julia Hit The Buffet For A Good Cause


The folks who run the Chutney restaurant in Columbia  have family connections in Nepal, and they're holding a fundraiser this week to support relief efforts.

Julia of the Village Green / Town Squared blog hit up the Chutney lunch buffet to help the cause  This is the restaurant on Snowden River Parkway that replaced Akbar's.  As I wrote in 2012, Indian is one of Howard County's deepest cuisines -- from House of India to Mango Grove to Royal Taj.  Julia and her hon HoCoHouseHon enjoyed Chutney, and she wrote up a guest report:
Chutney is decorated in a sunny yellow and feels airy and spacious.  HoCoHouseHon and I were greeted right away and our service throughout was friendly and helpful. Once we got our food from the buffet, we were brought the a basket of warm naan, and they kept our water glasses filled without any uncomfortable lags. I drink a lot of water.

There are three buffet tables laid out. I didn't photograph the one with main course items because someone was serving himself and I didn't want to breathe down his neck. There was plenty to choose from: vegetable samosas, rice, vegetable dishes at the first table; salads, chutney, and raita plus desserts at the second; and vegetable biryani, chicken tikka masala, tandoori chicken and something with goat in it. (I don't eat goat.)
The buffet was immaculate, and all the menu items were well-stocked. The food was tasty and fresh. No feeling of warmed-over or tired out anything. For $11.95 it is an extremely good deal. And from now through the 17th, 30 per cent of your buffet check goes to Nepal. Don't want the buffet but still want to help out? They have a box at the bar for your donations.

My husband and I love House of India and Flavors of India, so although we know Chutney is there and have enjoyed it, we don't get back as much as I'd like. I would definitely go again, even after the fundraiser is over.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Make A Plan For Your Local Veggies Using Advice From AnnieRie, Plus More Local Food Writing

If you care about food in Howard County, you should be reading the AnnieRie Unplugged blog -- especially its coverage of CSAs, the Food and Friends company, and other options for sourcing produce, meats and more.

Last week, Annie gave an update on how she is using Friends and Farms, farmers markets and other sources to push for good-tasting, often-local food.  If you like that, click around on the tags at the bottom of her posts -- like all her posts about CSAs.  Or check out the Kitchen Scribble blog's CSA posts.

Beyond Annie, there are a bunch of people writing about local food.  Links feel more important as I have less time to write and as all the newspapers and magazines seem to shrink their local coverage:
As always, HoCo Blogs is a great place to start if you're looking around for local writing.  The local food blogging appears on the HoCo Blogs page about food.

(Update:  I fixed an error above where I had meant Friends and Farms and written Food and Friesnds.)

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Food Matters: Learning To Eat From A Toddler, Getting A Gift From This Blog And Jeff's Family

Every time that I feel the blog fizzling out under the weight of so much else to do, I remember that food matters -- even the humblest dishes.

Lil' Chow came from his foster family loving seaweed soup.  We knew that, but I couldn't make the soup.  I could buy seaweed.  I could put it in soup.  But Lil' Chow ate little and never seemed to be in love.

I learned from Jeff Givens' mother-in-law that I just had to make it right.

Jeff runs Southern Skies Coffee just over the county line in Finksburg.  We met through HowChow and have emailed for years. He flagged the French Twist Cafe in Sykesville.  But we probably had met only once or twice when Jeff volunteered late last year that his kids loved miyok guk -- seaweed soup -- and eat bowl after bowl cooked by his mother-in-law.  Then he hand-delivered frozen soup to our front door.  Twice.

Lil' Chow went nuts for Jeff's mother-in-law's soup.  This was real Korean soup.  Meat and seaweed in broth.  Lil' Chow had eaten mostly formula at his foster family's home, but he had an expert's hand to spoon rice into his soup and then scoop, scoop from the bowl into his mouth -- and onto his bib, shirt, pants, the floor and high chair.  It's the only vegetable that he seems to really want to eat.

That kept my hope alive until last month when Lil' Chow and I passed a woman sampling seaweed soup in the new H Mart in Ellicott City.  He drank three samples, then cried when I pushed the cart away.  I couldn't explain that I'd grabbed two bags of dried seaweed to cook the soup.

My payoff came the next night when I put down my seaweed soup.  Lil' Chow picked up his spoon and said "guk."  That's Korean for soup, and it's a word that he hadn't heard since October.  But it was there on his tongue.  Just waiting for someone to serve miyok guk and bring it out.

He still likes her soup more. 

I defrosted our final quart Monday because Lil' Chow was home with a fever.  I hyped him up by saying that we would "eat guk" for lunch.  "Eat," Lil' Chow said.  "Guk."  He ate rice and miyok guk.  So did I.  It's my first food introduced by Lil' Chow.  I'd eaten exceptional Korean soups at joints like Lighthouse Tofu in Ellicott City and Hang Ari in Catonsville, but not this homestyle soup thick with the reconstituted seaweed and the tastes of sesame oil and thin-sliced meat.  We ate quietly at lunch.  It was the only time of our nap-less day that Lil' Chow was quiet.  He used two spoons to accelerate his pace.

And I was grateful for this blog, which connected me to Jeff and his mother-in-law and to miyok guk.  A little food that matters.


So far, the other food that matters: Frozen waffles.  I'm a short-order cook in the morning.  I make pancakes.  I offer cereals, fruits, eggs.  But Lil' Chow's eyes open widest for frozen waffles with syrup.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Wine In The Woods Next Weekend: Assemble Your Crew For A Downtown Columbia Institution

Wine in the Woods kicks off this weekend, and it's worth assembling your crew to taste wine and join a Columbia institution.

The annual festival on May 16-17, 2015 is basically an adult carnival -- wine tasting, music, art to show, food to buy.

Check out the Wine in the Woods web site for all the details.  Mrs. HowChow and I went years ago on a date.  We're not in a wine-tasting stage of life at the moment, but I recommend the show if you can carry a few beach chairs to enjoy yourself with friends.

Can anyone share Wine in the Woods advice?  When to go?  Where to set up your chairs?  How to find the best wines to taste?

Friday, May 8, 2015

Signs? We Don't Need No Stinking Signs! Not When Ananda's Food Fills The Tables All Week

Ananda -- So you'll recognize it without a sign
I loved the food from the beginning, but for some reason, I now love Ananda's attitude as well.

The Indian restaurant opened in Fulton last year to terrific reviews.  Like a national magazine's list of the 25 most outstanding restaurants of 2015.  We have loved it from the beginning...

But Ananda's spot is unusual.

Duck dumplings
It's great for me.  It's the closest restaurant to my house.  But Ananda sits on Maple Lawn Boulevard out of sight from the main roads.  And it has no sign.  A striking open-windowed dining room in good weather, but no sign.

We always figured they were waiting on a sign delivery.  But then Mrs. HowChow asked owner Binda Singh this week, and Singh told her there won't be a sign.

He doesn't believe in them.

The Ambassador in Baltimore doesn't have a sign, he said.  And he doesn't think Ananda needs one either.

Now, I have to admit that I'm friendly with Singh.  I don't out myself normally in restaurants, but Singh is super-friendly and knew from emails that we were coming on his opening day.  It was a thin crowd.  So we said hello, and we have enjoyed ourselves ever since.  (Well, except for Lil' Chow's first nice restaurant meal when we tried to take him there at 6:30 on the Sunday daylight savings ended.  He was exhausted! That's another story.)

Singh doesn't believe in signs.

Citrus salad
Somehow, I love this.  It feels like a bad-ass rejection of the way most retail runs.  And it's working.  The place was packed on Tuesday when Mrs. HowChow took some students for dinner.  We're going back for Mother's Day.  We'll do dinner, but I heartily recommend the brunch.  One of the "lost" meals from my three months with few posts was a terrific March brunch with the Cordis Couple where I ate the perfect dumplings.

Those dumplings are pictured above.  My notes just say "duck, dumpling, chili sauce, sesame seeds, four, M."  I must have thought that I'd blog that afternoon. Some toddler madness must have gotten in the way.

Seriously, check out the Ananda menus if you haven't been yet.  Mother's Day looks like a buffet brunch.  That French toast casserole merits a visit all on its own.  Just keep your eyes peeled as your heading to eat -- because they're not putting up a sign.

You can see all my posts about Ananda.  You should also check out Jennifer Waldera's HerMind Magazine profile of the Kaur sisters, including Kinday Kaur who is the chef at Ananda.  Her sister is the chef at the "sister" restaurant The Ambassador in Baltimore.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Can You Buy Coffee And Quiet On A Weeknight?

Where can someone buy coffee and quiet on a weeknight?

Maria sent me an email weeks ago asking for suggestions about where folks might hang out on a weeknight -- open past eight, quiet enough to talk, maybe a coffee shop or diner.  Says Maria:
So a mom friend and I are looking for a good coffee spot that is open a little later during the week and wouldn't mind if we hung out for an hour or two. You know open past 8 and quiet. A diner would work also. Any ideas? Bonus points if it is close to King's Contrivance neighborhood. Mommies need time to catch up with their friends too.
For Columbia, I'm trying to think of a restaurant.  Most coffee shops here are breakfast and lunch joints.  The closest diners are probably on Rte 40. 

Hickory Ridge Grill was my first choice.  They're only open until 9 pm, but that's a friendly spot with coffee and room enough that they probably wouldn't mind you lingering over dessert or appetizers.  One of my "lost posts" from the past six months was a breakfast at Hickory Ridge where we got good eggs and a friendly vibe like Maria wants.

From there, I started to think about bars.  Not a packed joint like Looney's or the Green Turtle.  But an adult bar where a bartender might have enough empty stools to welcome coffee drinkers who tip. Ranazul and the Grille at Maple Lawn are both an easy drive south from King's Contrivance.  Their kitchens are open late.  They have bars that I can't imagine are packed on a weeknight.

Can anyone else recommend a local spot to get coffee and chat on a weeknight?  I was trying to think of Columbia restaurants that would welcome Maria.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Sushi Buffet Has Returned To Rte 40; Bean & Burgundy Is Adding Lots Of Fish To The Menu

Bean & Burgundy Bread has added fish to the menu -- an all-you-can-eat sushi lunch that started last month and runs on special through May.

Check out the Bean & Burgundy Facebook post.  I haven't tried the fish yet, but Chris was nice enough to highlight the buffet to me.

I mourned the loss of Kimko Seafood's lunch buffet when it closed on Rte 40 a while ago.  I have to admit that my sushi eating has tended more towards Sushi Sono than all-you-can-eat.  But there is fun in gorging, and it does make for a talkative, extended lunch if you check it out with friends.

Katie posted Tuesday on the CupcakeRN blog about her visit to Bean & Burgundy.  She reports that the buffet had everything from pasta and Korean food to the 20+ sushi options.  She says the fish to rice ratio was decent, and the sushi was tasty.

May promotion is $13 per person with a free drink.  After May, it will be $13 during the week and $15 on weekends.

What have people found at the Bean & Burgundy sushi buffet?  Any recommendations?  What else have people liked at Bean & Burgundy?  I have been infatuated with the new Tous Les Jours on my few recent trips to Rte 40, so I haven't stopped at Bean & Burgundy recently.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Celebrate Summer! Sonic Milkshakes -- Half Priced After 8 -- Cool You Down For Change

Sonic milkshake
Here comes the relief!!  Warm weather has freed us from the indoors, and you should be thinking about how you will celebrate summer.

How about turning the change in your glove compartment for something delicious?  Adam has come through again with a HowChow guest post.  He hit up the relatively new Sonic on Rte 40, and he gives the full recommendation to their milkshakes, especially if you can hit up the half-priced promotion after 8 pm.  Take it Adam:
Look, I get it. It was only a few weeks ago we were dealing with snow and 20 degree days. Ice cream might be the last thing on your mind right now, and with the spring season ushering in its short-lived but no less attractive bounty of produce, you're looking to eat "farm to table," not "supply truck to chain."

Oh well, more for me, I guess.

In all seriousness though, the best milkshake in Howard County is is one you don't even have to leave your car to enjoy, and probably affordable enough to pay for with the change in your glove compartment. I'm talking, of course, about Sonic's half-priced milkshake promotion after 8 pm.

Don't believe me? Well consider for a second that Sonic isn't serving soft serve, they're serving "real" ice cream. If you're a fan of Alton Brown's classic Good Eats you'll recognize this is code for something with at least 10% milkfat. It's not just something you notice in the taste of Sonic's milkshakes, but in the texture. They give you a straw to drink these from, but it's about as helpful as chopsticks at a steakhouse. No, you'll want a spoon, because the indulgent and thick mixture of ice cream, whipped cream, and yes, that classic maraschino cherry, is built more like what the Midwesterners call a 'concrete.'

My personal go-tos are vanilla and fresh strawberry -- the former bursting with vanilla and sweet cream flavor, the latter plump with strawberry puree and pieces.  But Sonic advertises 25+ shakes complete with peanut butter flavors, cheesecake flavors, and even the option to add 'secret' additions like bacon, cookie dough, and turtle pecans. They're running the promotion through September, and damn if I don't break with tradition one of these nights and at least try tater tots in there. When you're running under a buck fifty for a premium shake, what have you got to lose?

Well, maybe your waistline. But everything in moderation I say!
Where else will you celebrate summer? Lil' Chow loves ice cream.  Luckily for us, he doesn't have enough body mass yet to pull open the freezer on his own.  I don't think we'll hit the late-night promotions with a toddler, but we want to get him soft serve and milkshakes and other summer fun.  I did "Ice Cream Summer" round-ups in 2009 and 2011.  I'd love to update the list. 

Monday, May 4, 2015

Centre Park Grill Has Opened In The Former Cafe De Paris; Upscale Cousin To Mt. Airy Tavern

The new Centre Park Grill
Centre Park Grill has soft-opened in the former Columbia home of Cafe De Paris offering an upscale variation on their work at the Mt. Airy Tavern.

I haven't had a chance to stop at Centre Park yet.  I was chuckling recently when I remembered that I once had so much free time that I stopped at Gadsby's on opening day.
The bourbon that I'll try when I get there

Centre Park is run by Jim DiChiara and the folks behind the Mt. Airy Tavern.  They took over the space that used to be Cafe de Paris on Rte 108 near Rte 100.  They renovated, and Jim was aiming to stretch in his new kitchen -- a little more culinary flair, a little less bar food.

I had to laugh because the Centre Park folks sent me a few photos, including a bourbon that I really want to try on its own.  It was exactly the come-on that I need -- although I have to admit that our eating out has been just toddler quickies.

Check out Centre Park on their Web site or on Facebook.  I'd love folks to try to new place and leave comments with reactions and suggestions.

Azul 17 Closed In Columbia; Shuttered Mexican Leaves Two Slots Open On Snowden River

Several people have reported that Azul 17 has closed in Columbia. 

I am always bummed when a restaurant doesn't work out.  I know how much work that they take, and they disappear with people's jobs when they go.  Azul 17 closed down the row from where Korshi Buffet opened and closed quickly last year.

Azul 17 was a Mexican place that opened in 2009 as an upscale, unique option.  Mrs. HowChow and I had had great hopes, but it was one of those places that we passed by.  We never ate out as much as people seemed to think, and the Azul 17 prices meant that it had to compete with restaurants that always wowed us.

Does anyone know if restaurants will fill the Korshi and Azul 17 slots on Snowden River Parkway?

Thanks to Jim S. and other folks who left updates about restaurants.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Go Tour The World In Howard County; The CA Starts Stamping Their World Food Passport

If HowChow were a business, not a hobby, then I would try to do something as cool as Columbia Association's new "World Food Passport" program.

The CA has recruited a few dozen local restaurants to join a game that encourages you try new places.  You pick up a free passport.  You eat in participating restaurants.  You get your passport stamped when you pay your bill.

Some people will win a raffled gift certificate.  But I love the "World Food Passport" for encouraging folks to try something new -- an untried restaurant, a novel cuisine.  The CA wants to expose people to new cultures and wants to drum up new business for restaurants.  They reached out to all kinds of restaurants.  You can see the ones who volunteered to donate a gift certificate and buy a passport stamp on the program's Web site.

There are great spots on the list.  If it's mostly new to you, I would probably start with South Asian food.  Most of the county's Indian restaurants have joined, and many of those are exceptional.  But you could search HowChow for posts about many of the restaurants.  Look in right column for the search bar or for the list of links by restaurant name.

Personally, I think the CA folks need help.  I know how much effort Laura Smit and others put into the planning and outreach.  But they have a handful of Asian restaurants -- and no Korean ones -- in a county full of great Asian food.  Many restaurants have been hesitant about a novel idea.  Laura has an advisory board helping on multicultural programs, and I'd love for her to get help from a HowChow reader with connections to Chinese, Thai or Korean restaurants.  You can reach her at 410-715-3162 or International@ColumbiaAssociation.org.

Check out the CA Website for details and instructions on picking up your passport.  You can get them at Columbia village centers and Howard County libraries, so they're convenient.  I'm optimistic that more restaurants will join now that the program is real and diners will be coming around.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Now The Hard Stuff Is Coming To Howard County! Plus Manor Hill Brewing Releasing Beer Monday

Small production liquor is just great fun, and Howard County gets to join the party some time this summer where Lost Ark Distilling will start making rum and whiskeys in Laurel.

You young people may find it hard to believe that there was an epoch when we thought "interesting, unique" alcohol included Killian's Irish Red.  It took me years to learn it was brewed by Coors

Now, you could drink well all summer on beer brewed just in Maryland.  You could go for several weekends just trying different beers made in Howard County -- now at Jailbreak Bewery in Laurel and coming tomorrow from Manor Hill Brewing.

At least that's the news about Manor Hill on Randy Marriner's Twitter feed.  Please add a comment if you know the plans for the release party or if you try any of their beer.  I assume the Manor Hill beers will first appear at the Marriner family's Victoria Gastro Pub in Columbia.

(Update:  MoCoBeer tweeted me a link to the release party poster.  Looks like 10 Manor Hill beers!  I just realized that *I* linked yesterday to a poster that mentioned the release party.  I'm working fast here.  I can basically read and write for a third to half of a nap.)

The Lost Ark folks want to add some harder stuff to the mix.  They signed a lease on U.S. 1 in Laurel, and they're aiming to start distilling in Summer 2015.  I, for one, welcome our new hard liquor overlords, expecially for a local whiskey.  I've only discovered bourbon and rye in the past two years, but they're now my main drinks.  I'll celebrate with as local a Manhattan as I can make.  I also know that setting up a business comes with challenges that can slow a schedule.

Speaking of those challenges, does anyone know the prospects for Black Eyed Susan Brewing?  After some early articles, I don't think I have heard anything in almost a year.