Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Shin Chon Garden: Korean in Ellicott City

(UPDATE 7/29/2008: Shin Chon has renovated and reopened.) 

When I have to wait in line, I figure that a place serves good food, and the trick is learning what part of the menu draws everyone inside.

At Shin Chon Garden, I stood outside in the cold on my first visit. Families spilled out of the front door, and we had to work our way into even the entryway. Since then, I have never waited more than a few minutes for a table, but I still feel fortunate when I get inside and get my seat. It's an energetic place. Full of people, most who appear Korean. Outfitted with utilitarian tables and some basic decorations that split Shin Chon into a few separate spaces. Overseen by televisions playing what looks like Korean cable news. (The morning news from Seoul sometimes plays over dinner in Ellicott City.)

If you can, go with someone who knows Korean food. Most tables are laden by family-style feasts where people are grilling meat, spooning out stews and otherwise enjoying themselves on food that I'm sure they could explain to you.

If you can't, go anyway because you can enjoy yourself from the start.
First, enjoy the banchan. They're 5-7 small dishes with room-temperature food. Free appetizers. Everyone shares them, and they'll include a kimchi, some marinated vegetables, tofu, a potato salad, and maybe tiny fish. Ask the waitress what they are. Sometimes, they're unsure of the English word, but you'll get the gist. Try them all. The banchan alone are a reason to try Korean food -- a half dozen flavors that make everything else sparkle. (And read about them at en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Banchan)

Second, start with the basic dishes. My suggestions: bulgogi (sliced, marinated BBQ beef), dolset bi bum bop (rice and vegetables, topped with an egg and served in a hot stone bowl), and chap chae (glass noodles with vegetables). Eat the bulgogi in little rolls -- wrapped in lettuce and topped with a spicy sauce that they're serve you. Stir the dolset bi bum bop with the different sauce and let it sit a few minutes. The rice crisps against the hot stone, and it's delicious to pull that up. For a real BBQ experience, you could add kalbi (rib meat) to the bulgogi. From there, you can leap into the rest of the menu.

Shin Chon doesn't rise to the level of the best Korean restaurants in Annandale, but the food is still worth waiting to get inside.

If you like Korean, try Mirocjo farther west on Rte 40 or create your own take-out dinner from the panchan and meats at Lotte supermarket in the same shopping center.  If you visit Shin Chon, check out La Boulangarie Bakery across the parking lot in the Lotte shopping center.

Shin Chon Restaurant
8801 Baltimore National Pike
Ellicott City, MD 21043

NEAR: The far end of the Lotte shopping center on Rte 40 just east of Rte 29.

HocoLoco Girl on Shin Chon Garden - a listing and comments

Shin Chon Garden on Urbanspoon

Friday, February 15, 2008

Bagel Bin and Deli

There is nothing like a New York bagel. I accept this, even though I don't believe the endless theories about why. It's not the NYC water. My sister-in-law lives north of the Hudson, and no bagel outside New York has matched the shopping center bagel place nearest her house. We crowd around them when they arrive for visits, hoping for a paper bag filled with the bagels that they consider routine.

But Bagel Bin works for me. Really works. The authentic skin around a bagel with real flavor and the dense texture that says, "This is not sandwich bread formed into a circle." At times, the bagels are inconsistent, but they're normally quite good and certainly the best that I have found out here in Howard County.  They're served in a variety from the old-line salt and poppy to the sweet newcomers like blueberry.  Plus, you can find little treats like bialy or even challah on Fridays.

I have worked my way through Bagel Bins. I started at the Wilde Lake location. It was one of the first errands that I did when Mrs. Howchow and I started to date. Weekend morning runs for some everythings, maybe a bialy, and if they're hot from the oven, maybe eat one in the car on the way home. Now, I have branched out to the ones in King's Contrivance and River Hill. 

I deduced that this is all part of a small chain, owned by someone crafty enough to build an empire but not interested enough to create a Web site. It's an interesting choice, and one that I actually respect. What do I want in a bagel Web site? They sell bagels, cream cheese, coffee. What would I want to look up? I want to go to a bagel shop, and I like that it feels like a local place. Local people at the tables. Odd photos on the wall. (Advertising a local photographer?) Local high school kids smiling behind the counter and making it impossible to really mind when they slow down the process or screw up an order.

Nothing beats a New York bagel, but I'm glad these places are here for me.

If you are looking for a Bagel Bin, look up the locations on the Web site for the Columbia shopping centers: www.columbiavillagecenters.com.  If you want more breads and cookies, check out my post about bakeries in Howard County.

Bagel Bin - Wilde Lake near downtown Columbia
Wilde Lake Village Greene

NEAR: Right near the Columbia Mall and the Wilde Lake High School.

Bagel Bin -- King's Contrivance in southern Columbia

NEAR: South of Rte 32 east of Rte 29. The shopping center is hidden in the King's Contrivance neighborhood, but it's worth the trip there for the bagels and soon for a Harris Teeters.

Bagel Bin - River Hill in Clarkville

NEAR: Just north of Rte 32 on Rte 108. River Hill shopping center is just north and across Rte 108 from the car dealerships.
Bagel Bin on Urbanspoon

Thursday, February 14, 2008

im Wine: Interesting Wine in Fulton

The i.m. Wine store feels like a friendly place, and I think I'd like it even more if I knew what anyone was talking about.

The i.m. Wine store in Fulton is a small place with large windows. Windows are rare in a liquor store, and I think there are rare treasures to find in i.m. Wine. Unfortunately, I wouldn't recognize them. I love wine. I love beer. I love liquor. Or at least, I enjoy the idea of them, the thought of stocking a wine cellar or serving up cocktails to guests. The truth is that I drink so little that I have never learned the details.

That is why i.m. Wine works so well for me. I go in for suggestions, and I always leave happy with the straight-forward answers. An inexpensive wine to drink today. A wedding gift that will age well and be something special on the 5th and 10th anniversaries. Mrs. HowChow bought a six-pack of mixed beers, and the owner walked her through the entire selection, picking things based on the beers that she had seen me enjoy. (The beer selection -- and the make-your-own-six-packs -- does make im Wine stand out from most liquor stores. It's a craft-beer selection, not so much on the foreign labels that you can get most places. I'd lobby for Pacifico, but my consumption can't warrant stocking anything specific!)

The owner and his folks do a great job at explaining without being snooty or sounding like they're trying to sell me the most-expensive option that they can get away with.  There are always specials just inside the door that cost $9-15.  The rest of the stock runs the normal range from $10 with lots in the $20-40 range and then more expensive for the real experts.  For me, answers are exactly what I want. If you're more "in the know," go ask questions, and I think the same i.m. Wine employees will engage you in a conversation that you'll like even more.

i.m. Wine
8180 Maple Lawn Boulevard
Fulton, MD 20759

NEAR: In the Maple Lawn commercial area off Rte 216 just west of Rte 29.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Ethnic Markets and Cookbooks

Ethic groceries are a luxury of modern life. For $10, you can walk out with a slice of somewhere far away -- a sauce, a spice, a cheese. For immigrants, that slice can be a taste of home, but for anyone else, it is a chance to explore without paying for an airline ticket.

This is a brief summary of three markets that I have come to like -- Mexican, Middle Eastern and Asian. I hope to return to each in detail and visit an Indian market in Columbia, but for now, I paired some with cookbooks that would help you take advantage of the things that you'll find.

(Update: I profiled three more markets, including an Indian one, in May. Or check out a comprehensive list of organic and ethnic markets.)

Mexican: Lily's Mexican Market in Columbia

Lily's is a small, professional market at the end of the shopping center with the Express DMV and Sushi King. It has well-stocked shelves and a butcher in the back. Although there is a small amount of produce, the shelves are mostly cans, jars and packages labeled in Spanish and English and sold by national or international brands.

Terrific for finding Mexican staples like masa, the soft and crumbling cheeses, and both thin and hand-made tortillas. There are some unique items like fresh cactus, but mostly, it is Mexican brands of things you know -- sodas, cookies, chipotle peppers, beans, etc. There is a broader selection of Goya products, including recaito and several types of refried beans.

Buy a copy of any cookbook by Rick Bayless and see if the butcher can hook you up with something new. In Mexican Everyday, Bayless cooks mostly with fresh vegetables and simple recipes. I prefer it. But in earlier books, he preached an authenticity that probably calls for some visits down Lily's Market's aisles.

(Update: I had an old address here. Lily's is at 6490 Dobbin -- in the same shopping center as the DMV.)

Lily's Mexican Market
6490 Dobbin Center Way
Columbia, MD 21045

NEAR: The DMV off Dobbins Road just south of Rte 175. Look for the intersection with a Blockbuster. The shopping center with DMV, Lily's and Sushi King restaurant is across Dobbins from the Blockbuster.

Blog link to Lily's Mexican Market: http://www.toomanychefs.net/archives/001848.php

Greek and Middle Eastern: Aladdin in Laurel

Start with the bread, olives and yogurt. Aladdin is a small shop steps from Rte 1 in downtown Laurel. The shelves are mostly cans, bottles and bags, but you can start with fresh pita and lavash breads, including a whole wheat lavash that tears into delicious strips to be dipped in Greek-style yogurt or eaten with spicy olives. The yogurt is thicker than American yogurt, mild but somehow more flavorful than Dannon.

I don't have a Middle Eastern cookbook, but the shop is a no-cook dinner party waiting to happen. For $30, you could assemble a feast and unpack it right to the table. Fill bowls with with those olives and yogurt, then faugment the table with feta or Kashkaval cheese, baba ganoush and hummus. You can buy the dips canned, or you can buy the ingredients -- tahini, chick peas, even canned eggplant. Add a can of foul, the Egyptian-style fava beans, and six people could graze with a bag of bread. Dessert could be some figs or baklava (fresh from Canada or refrigerated from a Greek bakery apparently in Cleveland).

On top of the ready-to-eat, you can buy basic ingredients for your own cooking -- lentils, bulgar, lupini beans, rose syrup, pomegranate molasses. There are juices, including a Marco Polo brand pomegranate/sour cherry. There is an entire wall of spices (including black, dried lemons that I want to learn how to use) and a freezer with spanakopita and other heatable treats. Try the spicy samosas. I cooked them over high heat in a Pam-coated frying pan rather than deep-fry them as the package suggested. Spectacular flavor. The type of spiciness so intense that I stopped reading my newspaper, but still full of flavor and not discomfort.

Aladdin Food Mart
308 Main Street
Laurel, MD 20707

NEAR: Downtown Laurel off U.S. 1. You can take Rte 216 East from I-95, then turn left at the light on Main Street.

Asian: H Mart in Catonsville and Lotte in Ellicott City

These supermarkets -- or at least the H Mart -- are worthy of long posts extolling their value and giving some suggestions. The H Mart is better, but both offer an enormous array of fruits and vegetables, large seafood sections, and an encyclopedic selection of Korean, Chinese, Vietnamese, Japanese and Thai packaged goods -- sauces, rices, noodles, canned vegetables and fruits, etc. Lotte really excels at prepared food -- marinated meats and panchan -- that you can buy in whatever amounts you want.

Buy Thai Food and Cooking by Judy Bastyra and Becky Johnson. Great recipes that taste like the food I ate in Thailand. Great pictures, and I am often suspect of any cookbook that invests so much in the showing. An opening section describes and shows various rices, noodles, vegetables, etc. You can carry it through the H Mart and pick up everything you need except maybe kaffir lime leaves, which should be available online.

800 N. Rolling Road
Catonsville, MD 21228

NEAR: Rte 40 just west of I-695. If you are driving from HoCo, you'll see a Starbucks and a FedEx at the end of the shopping center. Turn right immediately after the Starbucks. If you miss it, just turn right at the next intersection.

Lotte Market
8801 Baltimore National Pike
Ellicott City, MD 21043

NEAR: On Rte 40, just west of Rte 29. From Rte 29 south, you take the Rte 40 East exit, then stay in the left lane on the exit ramp. That takes you into the shopping center.

Monday, February 11, 2008

An Loi Pho: Vietnamese in Columbia

Drive past the KFC and the Pizza Hut and go warm yourself with soup and a twist on lemonade.

It's pho. It's bun. It's a drink made with salted plums. An Loi Pho serves up friendly, accessible food with enough authenticity to make the trip worthwhile.

Outside, it is a shopping center anonymous even for the suburbs, and inside, the decor isn't much more complex. Plastic tables. Minimal artwork. Silverware and condiments laid in on every table. The menu is simple and affordable, more of a soup and grill joint than a full display of Vietnamese cuisine with its sauteed vegetables and clay pot cooking. Most dishes are $6-$10, and most everything is a variation on noodles, meat and a sauce or soup. It's a fine selection if you know Vietnamese food, and it's easy to navigate if you want to figure it out.

The basic menu sections:
  • Pho: a beef soup with noodles and a meat of your choice. Eye round, brisket and flank are all easy to recognize. Tendon and tripe may be delicious to you, but they were easy for me to avoid. They're served with a plate of bail leaves, sprouts and a lime wedge. Tear up the basil, squeeze the lime and add the spouts to your taste, along with any of the spicy condiments on the table. A bowl is a meal. A large bowl is gorging, but I don't leave overly full.
  • Bun: white, soft noodles. They're in the pho, but if you order bun, you get a bowl of noodles with the meat of your choice and a sauce to pour overtop. The sauce coats everything, and the flavors are more grilled and lemongrass.
  • Everything Else: an array of grilled meats served with rice and variations of soup and noodles. On my last visit, the Vietnamese families seemed to be eating grilled pork and chicken.
Start off with a summer roll or beef wraped in grape leaves. They're both delicious. I prefer the shrimp rolls, which are served cool not fried and dipped in a peanut sauce.

And order the "salted plum soda." Mrs. ChowHow stepped up and discovered this delicious offering. It's a hand-made drink, not a bottled soda. Club soda mixed with a little sugar and a few salted plums at the bottom. Imagine a lemonade with a touch of salt instead of sour. Refreshing and delicious. Exotic, but really not that strange.

Any An Loi meal should end with the "French coffee" that I wrote about earlier.  If you want a broader Vietnamese menu, check out Pho Dat Trahn, which is just a few shopping centers north on Snowden River.

An Loi Pho
7104 Minstrel Way
Columbia, MD 21045

NEAR: On Snowden River Pkwy north of Broken Land and south of the Home Depot. Minstrel Way has a gas station and a KFC at its intersection with Snowden, and An Loi is in the shopping center behind the gas station. Look for the red neon signs.

HocoLoco Girl on Vietnamese -- a listing of places

An Loi on Urbanspoon

Friday, February 8, 2008

Delicious: Ceviche at La Palapa Too

On weekends, La Palapa Too serves a ceviche appetizer that transforms the place into a special restaurant.

It's a restaurant that serves nice main courses like chicken mole and beef tacos with the added fun of live music many evenings. But the beans and rice are too mundane for the place to be great. It's the weekend ceviche that raises the entire experience. 

Tangy chunks of fish and shrimp that scoop beautifully with La Palapa's crispy chips. Firm fish, shrimp, an occasional squid, acidic dressing, salty chips. Order with a beer or a margarita, and you're having a great dinner from the first bites.  Order it outside on a warm evening, and you can have a great night overlooking the parking lot -- as I have written, the classic Columbia parking lot cafe. 

If you like Mexican food, stop at Lily's Mexican Market in Columbia for fresh corn tortillas, a Mexican butcher, great baked goods and all kinds of Mexican and Central American groceries.  Or check out El Azteca restaurant in Clarksville.

La Palapa Too
7500 Montpelier Road
Laurel, MD 20723

NEAR: Off Johns Hopkins Boulevard just west of Rte 29. The address says Laurel, but it's just north of Fulton and just south of Columbia at the end of a pink-painted shopping center.

The original La Palapa is in Ellicott City. http://www.lapalapagrill.com/
La Palapa Too on Urbanspoon

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Red Bean Desserts

Red bean may not replace chocolate, but you can get interesting, tasty desserts by checking out some local Korean-run bakeries.

Red bean paste mixes real beans and sugar into a mixture a little thicker than the filling of a cream donut. (Donut! Wait and hear about that!). It's not as sweet as a "Boston cream" or a jelly filling, but it has my favorite type of unusual, new flavor without being strange or really that exotic. These are great fun to enjoy on your own or to bring a selection to someone's house for dessert.

La Boulangarie Bakery off Rte 40 in Ellicott City sells fresh-made pastries filled with red bean for under $2 each. There is a baked version that tastes like a French dessert. There is also a steamed version that I actually preferred. A light cake in the shape of a bun with a walnut-sized dollop of red bean paste inside. They're fun to cut into pieces and serve to a bunch of people. (They're also individually wrapped in the picture.) La Boulangarie offers incredibly sweet-looking cakes and an assortment of other pastries, including a banana-shaped, banana-flavored cake that would be fun to serve kids.

But the four-mile drive east on Rte 40 is worth your time. Inside the H Mart supermarket is an outpost of the Momo Bakery. You'll see it right at the entrance with a similar display of formal cakes and other pastries. Momo has a separate cashier who you pay for the baked goods. First, try the red bean donut. "Fried but light" sounds like an oxymoron, but this is a delicious donut filled with the slightly sweet red bean. Eat it right out of the bag in your car. It is that good.

Then, go back inside to see if you feel a little more adventurous. Koreans make a rice-based sweet that they fill with various things, including red bean paste. They look like little dumplings. The consistency is like marzipan, but with a clean, lightly-sweet taste that makes me grab them whenever I see them at Momo. Mrs. HowChow loves them. Look at the packaged green and white sweets in the picture. That tray costs $3-4. The red bean sweets were the hit of my nephew's first birthday party.

Don't refrigerate the Korean sweets. They last 2-3 days on the counter, but they get hard if you put them in the fridge. As a practical matter, you can find the red bean sweets by either asking the Momo cashier or reading the ingredients on the label.

Click here for a list of other organic and ethnic markets in Howard County. Or here for all the posts about Korean restaurants and grocery stores. If you're looking for food while you shop, the Lotte is just down the shopping center from Shin Chon Garden, and the H Mart shopping center has a Korean place Beseto that has good food, but no table service.

La Boulangarie Bakery
8815 Baltimore National Pike
Ellicott City, MD 21043

NEAR: Rte 40 and Rte 29 Intersection. The bakery is across the parking lot from the Lotte supermarket in the Lotte shopping center on Rte 40.

Momo Bakery
inside the H Mart supermarket (right in front)
800 N Rolling Rd
Catonsville, MD 21228
443-612-9020 (H Mart)

This is a short profile of the H Mart, and this is a longer post about why it is my favorite place for food. If you go there, definitely check out the popped rice bowls.

NEAR: Off Rte 40 just outside I-695. If you are driving on Rte 40 from Ellicott City, you'll see a Starbucks and a FedEx at the end of the H Mart shopping center. Turn right immediately after the Starbucks. If you miss it, just turn right at the next light.

La Boulangarie Bakery on Urbanspoon

Red Bean on Foodista

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Delicious: Tamarind Maracas at Lily's Mexican Market

Great fun, but don't give to any children that you actually like.

The Tamarind Maraca is a sweet, tart and spicy candy. Imagine a chewy lollipop with the consistency of gummy bears. It's tart, almost sour, and sweet. But dusted with hot pepper. A treat for an adult. An impolite trick for any child accustomed to taste "Power Berry" or "Cran-Apple-Sugar."

Tamarind is a popular flavor in Mexican food, especially candy and sodas like the "Boing!" soft drink pictured with the Tamarind Maraca to the left. The paste tastes sour to me, but, like lemon, the flavor mixes well with sugar or used in sweet-sour cooking.

The "maracas" are a two-lollipop package sold for $1.69 at Lily's Mexican Market in Columbia. They're named for those "shaker" instruments.

For more about Lily's, check out
this profile or read all the posts about Lily's.  Or look through a comprehensive list of Howard County markets.

(Update: I had the wrong address here.  Lily's is in the shopping center with the DMV.)

Lily's Mexican Market
6490 Dobbin Center Way
Columbia, MD 21045

NEAR: The DMV off Dobbins Road just south of Rte 175. Turn into the center at the intersection with a Blockbuster. Sushi King and the DMV are in the same shopping center.

Recipes that use Tamarind pulp that you can also buy at Lily's: http://recipes.epicurean.com/asc_results.jsp?ingredients=Tamarind

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Beseto Food Court in Catonsville

The sign outside says "Beijing-Seoul-Tokyo" and offers a food court, but you should get off the plane in Korea and stay there for a while.

The Beseto Food Court ("Be-Se-To") is an L-shaped space in the shopping center with the H Mart on Rte 40 in Catonsville. (Not HoCo, but the H Mart is worth the drive.) At lunch, the Beseto offers a $20 all-you-can-eat sushi buffet in the restaurant's front half. Tiny rolls and sushi with a buffet of Chinese food and fruit. Skip it. This is a Korean-run restaurant, and on my visit, the buffet was all white and black Americans while the back area was filled with Korean-Americans ordering off the menu. (Update: See below about possible improvements to the sushi in June 2009.)

The menu says "Cham Mat," and this is a Korean cafeteria. You order at a tiny window beneath changing red numbers. You pay cash. (Although there is an ATM that charges only 45 cents in fees.) You watch for your number to appear above the window, and you go back for your tray.

My tray certainly was all-I-could-eat for $8.50. Squid cooked in a red-pepper sauce with cabbage, green onions and hot peppers. It was served with rice, cool noodles, soup and a small plate of kimchi and picked squash. They were all delicious, as good as any Korean food that I have had in hotbeds by Annandale. The back seating was filled with people eating everything from grilled meat to tofu casseroles. The order before mine was a bubbling fish dish that the menu called "grilled hairtail with beat paste casserole."

Don't be put off by the few newspapers on empty tables or by the Korean-American teenagers. But expect a cafeteria, not a restaurant with ambiance. Everything was clean. You sit on stylish blue chairs, and the entire menu -- available at the window -- is in clear English. Highlights are even posted with pictures on the wall. I asked questions, and the young woman happily answered questions and offered advice.

An adventerous eater could try anything on the menu, and you should definitely check out the wall and the paper menu. There was a spicy beef soup Yookgaejang (#17) that I almost ordered from the wall, but I don't see it on the paper menu. A new-comer might want to start with Kal Bi (grilled ribs), Bul Go Gi (grilled spices of beef), or Dotset Bi Bim Bop (a hot rice bowl with beef and vegetables - and called Bolsot Bob on the Cham Mat menu). Spice and hot peppers are the fuel of Korean cuisine, but you can avoid them and still enjoy yourself by trying one of those beef dishes along with Mandoo (dumplings) or the BBQ Chicken.

The menu also has a line of "Kimbob" items described as "seaweed rice rolls" with different fillings. I don't know what they are. I didn't see them this time. But I'm definitely going to check them out next time.
(Update: Patricia wrote a comment below commending the sushi buffet in June 2009. My original post was more than a year before that, and there have been big changes in the Beseto area of that shopping center. If Patricia says the sushi is excellent, then you should definitely check it out.)

Beseto Food Court / Cham Mat
822 N. Rolling Road
Catonsville, MD 21228

NEAR: The H Mart supermarket on Rte 40 just west of I-695. It's a few miles east of the Howard County line, but it's worth it. If you're driving from HoCo, you'll see a Starbucks and a FedEx sign at the end of the shopping center. Turn right immediately after the Starbucks. If you miss it, just turn right at the traffic light.

Beseto Department Store and Food Court on Urbanspoon

Monday, February 4, 2008

Delicious: Vietnamese Coffee at An Loi Pho

Go to An Loi Pho off Snowden River Pkwy for a meal and then "French coffee."

You get a coffee cup with a metal strainer on top. The boiling water has just been poured inside, and you sit watching as it drips through the coffee grounds and into your cup. It's a nice rest, a moment to talk. Then, you pull off the strainer to reveal a surprisingly thick, sweet drink.

Condensed milk. Probably a Big Mac's calories mixed with the coffee th
at just brewed into your cup. The coffee is strong, sweet and condensed milk tastes different than anything in the latte, steamed milk family. You also get a tea pot of hot water to thin out the coffee if you want. I added a dash, but I don't suggest much. Enjoy the difference. I don't know if the French drink this way, but it tastes and looks like the coffee in Hanoi.

An Loi's meals are worth a post on their own. Simple decor, but delicious food. Great if you already have a taste for Vietnamese food. If you don't, you can't go wrong ordering a summer roll, a bowl of pho (soup) with the meat of your choice, and bun (vermicelli) with the meat of your choice.

If you want cool instead of warm, try An Loi's salted lemon and salted plum sodas.

An Loi Pho -- a longer review
7104 Minstrel Way
Columbia, MD 21045

NEAR: Off Snowden River Pwky north of Broken Land and south of the Home Depot. Look for the traffic light with a gas station and a KFC. An Loi is behind the gas station in a shopping center with a Pizza Hut Express and a nail salon.

HocoLoco Girl on Vietnamese -- a listing of places

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Delicious: Mango Sticky Rice at Bangkok Delight

The sweet taste of coconut milk, the dense texture of a pudding, and fruity bite of mango slices spread across the top.

Mango sticky rice is a wonderful dessert that you'll have after a great dinner if you order it at Bangkok Delight. It's sweet and delicious, exotic enough to be exciting but normal enough to please even someone without an adventurous palate. And light light enough to enjoy even if you gorged on Thai dinner.

And it travels well, so it's great for takeout. We have hosted several dinners where we served Bangkok Delight curries, then mango sticky rice. Don't refrigerate it because the rice gets hard.

Check here for a full post about Bangkok Delight or check out the H Mart for Thai ingredients and other eating spendors.

Bangkok Delight
8825 Centre Park Drive
Columbia, MD 21045

NEAR: The Safeway on Rte 108 near the entrance to Rte 100. Bangkok Delight is in the strip shopping center up from the Safeway's center. Look next to the Burger King.


Friday, February 1, 2008

Victoria Gastro Pub in Columbia

It turns out that you can eat too many french fries -- but only if they're extra delicious.

Victoria Gastro Pub is a new restaurant with an unfortunate name and really fun food.

Start with the name because everyone else does. As we walked in the last visit, my friends couldn't stop talking about "gastro pub" and why anyone would chose a name that made them think of Immodium and that cruise ship diarreha. Stop it. It's a British term for quality not intestine, at least according to the Victoria and Wikipedia.

Five steps inside the former Bennigans and you'll stop thinking about the name. Goodbye chain space. Hello, small dining rooms, a few private booths, and a bar with space to spread out. It's a classy pub that -- celebration music -- like every other restaurant, will be smoke-free thanks to Annapolis starting today.

(Update: I posted again about Columbia's Victoria Gastro Pub in 2010.)

And the food is better than the decor. I return again and again to the burger. The best burger that I have had in years, and it comes in two varieties -- $9 in angus beef and a $12 in kobe beef. This is exactly the burger that I want. Small, but perfect. Perfect roll. Good cheese and bacon options. Home-made pickles that are so crisp and flavorful that I ate them alone. And served in a real restaurant with a span of beers and the subtle noise of conversations, not the chaos of Red Robin. The kobe did taste different, although I ordered angus on my second visit because I wasn't sure kobe was better.

Victoria gives every reason to go back again and again because most things are as smart as the burgers. Bisquits that beat anything I can remember. Onion soup that my friend loved. Beers and wines for any taste, including a "tasting special" where you can get five five-ounce beers for about $12. (My friends loved seeing Hoegaarden Witte beer, and I could tell it was a treat even if it wasn't my taste. Our waiter let us sample several, and the Chimay is absolutely worth $9. That is the "can't make this at home" flavor that makes me want to drive somewhere on a cold night.) And a menu that run from $9 sandwiches to $22 fish with everything done with a nice detail -- a homemade cocktail sauce on the oysters, duck confit on the spinach salad.

The menu is one of those unusual ones that is short enough to fit on a single page, but interesting enough that I could order more than half the items. Mrs. ChowHow and I split a Lobster Grilled Cheese, an interesting idea with cheese and panini that would have been perfect on their own. I didn't taste enough lobster to bring me back, but that is really because the cheese and charcuterie plates, the BBQ rib sandwich and the "DLT" (duck, lettuce and tomato) are calling my name. On every visit, the waiters have extolled the fish & chips, which are sea bass stuffed with shrimp and crab. I'll be getting that as well.

This truly lives up to the British meaning of its name. Casual enough that you're comfortable in jeans and can eat sandwiches for $10 a head, but serving food so well-thought that I'd order a $9 beer and $22 fish and chips because they'll be worth every dime. They're even serving late at the bar (1 am according to the menu, 2 am according to one waiter).

But be warned about the fries. Duck is everywhere on the menu, and they promote a "duck fat frites" appetizer and even a "poutine" variation -- potatoes, fried in duck fat, then covered with duck confit, cheese and gravy. I ate the frites (more than my share, according to Mrs. ChowHow). Then I ate the fries with my burger. Happily, but probably too much of a good thing.

[Update: My friend sat at the bar for dinner and couldn't say enough good things. He just made happy sounds while trying to describe the poutine, and he enjoyed the lobster grilled cheese. Like us, he really liked the employees. A bartender enticed him with samples of some unusual beers and really encouraged him to get what he liked and enjoy himself. In contrast, reviewers for the WPost and the Baltimore City Paper both sort of panned the place -- saying some nice things, but damning with faint praise to say, in the end, that Victoria wasn't worth driving all the way to Columbia.]

[Update: Victoria now offers a really nice outdoor patio -- with the Columbia special of being able to watch your car while you eat.]

If you like Victoria, check out Eggspectations across the road for breakfast or Bangkok Delight a little farther up Rte 108 for Thai. For a step up the expense scale, also check out Iron Bridge Wine Company for imaginative American food.

Victoria Gastro Pub
8201 Snowden River Parkway
Columbia, MD 21045

NEAR: Rte 100 , Rte 108 and Snowden River Parkway. Down from Eggspectation and next to the McDonalds.

Victoria Gastro Pub on Urbanspoon