Monday, June 30, 2008

Delicious: Super Mango Lollipop at El Patio Market

Like the Tamarind Maracas, this is a candy that would make children gasp.

A pretty standard lollipop shaped like a mango but then coated in ground hot pepper and maybe salt. It almost overwhelmed me at the start. But it's a fun flavor, and the bag is filled with an extra supply of ground hot pepper. So once you suck off the original coating, you can dip the moist lollipop back into the package to self-medicate the spices.

Imagine a smaller, spicier version of the Fun Dip candy so common in a 1980s convenience store. Not bad for 89 cents.

For more about El Patio, check out this post about the empanadas or read a comprehensive list of Howard County markets.

El Patio Market
7968 Washington Boulevard (U.S. 1)
Jessup, MD 20794

NEAR: El Patio is a few blocks south of Rte 175 on U.S. 1. It is on the west side, and there is a market attached to an Argentine restaurant.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

H Mart: Ten Easy Pick-ups

Two weeks ago, I wrote about the H Mart, my favorite place for food.

You can enjoy the H Mart even if you don't cook. There are prepared foods and foods that you can just eat off the shelf. Start there. Maybe you'll see other items that you want to try or see something that sparks your fancy. To keep this short, I'll just list th
em here.

1) Lunch: Against the right wall is a Korean takeout place
and a sushi counter. Have lunch. Try the beef soup.

2) Korean melon (right): Slice and eat one of these yellow melons or any other exotic fruit. In produce.

3) Kimchi: Take a refrigerated jar of pickled cabbage or other vegetables from the display in the back near produce.

4) Seaweed wrappers (right): Super-cool item to make dinner right out of the pantry with rice and tuna fish. It's like a sushi wrapper. Just make rice and pour on a little seasoned rice vinegar (also available at H Mart).
Moisten a can of tuna with the vinegar as well. Then, make little rolls with the seasoned rice and a dollop of tuna. Aisle Four near the front.

5) Edamame: Frozen soybeans, steam or microwave for a snack or appetizer.

6) Hai Reum brand dumplings: Delicious dumplings -- veg or meat -- to steam or pan fry. Generally in the open freezer in the middle of the frozen aisle.

7) Azuki ice cream: Red bean ice cream, eat it right from the container. In frozen.

8) Nong Shim potato-flavored snack: It's like an airy potato chip in the shape of a cheeto. Across from the dairy.

9) Choripdong soybean curd (right): Triangle pockets the size of a matchbook that come with a sauce. Season some rice with the enclosed sauce, then stuff in the pockets. In the refrigerated/dairy section.

10) Donut: On the way out, MoMo Bakery is in front. Take a snack for the road. Red bean donuts are spectacular. The "potato salad" donut is a lightly sweet treat -- no mayonnaise or anything gross.

Bonus Item: Check the vinegar aisle for Yoricho cooking vinegar, which turns vegetables into the easiest quick pickles.

If you want to try "ready-to-eat" items at other markets, check out Caezar's for Middle Eastern, Lily's for Mexican, Desi Bazaar for Indian or any of the other markets in Howard County.

H Mart
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.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Cuba De Ayer: Cuban in Burtonsville

Go south of the border for a little food from the tropics. Cuba de Ayer is in Burtonsville, one exit south of the Howard County line, and it offers a casual taste of traditional Cuban dishes.

Inside, the restaurant is brightly-painted with nice art and friendly waitresses. More modern than "old Cuban." But the menu includes the standards -- picadillo, roasted pork, and the shredded beef fish "ropa vieja" toped off with flan, tres leches and both cafe cubano and cafe con leche.

On a Saturday afternoon, we had sandwiches -- the roast pork sandwich and the Cuban sandwich with ham, pork, cheese and pickles pressed on a baguette -- with sweet plantains and a side order of mixed beans and rice (moros y cristianos). From the first forkfuls of the side dishes, I knew it would be delicious. They were flavorful without being greasy. Sweet plantains that cut with a fork, but stayed intact on the plate. Rice and beans subtly spiced, but mostly just earthy and filling.

Beyond sandwiches, Cuba de Ayer offers an array of main courses, specials, and even drinks like mojitos and fruity cocktails. Other nights, we have enjoyed a shrimp special and other dishes. In the end, the Cuban sandwich is still my favorite -- crisp bread, salty ham, a little bit of cheese and pickles. I also loved the tres leches dessert. A slice of cake magically soaked in condensed, goat and cow milks and topped with cream. The tres leches is my favorite kind of dessert -- sweet, but somehow flavorful instead of cloying. The texture is spectacular. It still tastes like cake, but it is moist without dissolving into a pudding.

Don't be put off by the ride down Rte 29 or by the outside of the shopping center. That stretch of Rte 198 has a coffee house that sells Ethopioan food, and branches of both Rita's and Maiwand Kabob. You also stop at the Dutch Country Farmers Market.

If you like Cuba de Ayer,
click here for the 2009 "best restaurants" in Howard County.

Cuba de Ayer
15446 Old Columbia Pike (Rte 198)
Burtonsville, MD 20866

NEAR: This is on Rte 198 just west of Rte 29. From Howard County, you take the first exit on Rte 29 south of the river. That exit puts you on an old piece of Rte 29 that passes an Indian temple and a garden center. Turn right on Rte 198 at the traffic light. Cuba de Ayer is a block up on the right. There is a sign.

Cuba de Ayer on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Delicious: Empanadas at El Patio Market in Jessup

A light pastry shell around solid, comfort-food fillings. Empanadas are a ubiquitous South American treat on the line of knishes or a Jamaican patty.

The empanadas at El Patio in Jessup are a bargain for $1.30 or $1.35 each. They're made with real talent with fillings that really differ. Each variety is folded slightly different -- one folded corner, two corners, special twists -- so you can recognize the filingeven without cutting them open. They were served at a restaurant next door, but that closed so they're just sold for takeout at the El Patio market.

I re-heated them in the oven, and six would have been dinner for the two of us. I had bought eight. You could buy a bag of them and cut them into pieces as party appetizers. We tried chicken, spinach, cheese & onion, and "tucumana," which was chicken and potato.

You can make your own empanadas by buying the frozen empanada wrappers at El Patio.  Or grab more snacks like a Super Mango Lollipop or the Santa Tecla peanut brittle. Or consider stopping for a taco, either at R&R Deli in the Shell Station or at one of the U.S. 1 taco trucks like Pupuseria Lorenita's  a few blocks north of Rte 175.  Click here for an entire post about the wonders you can find along U.S. 1.

If you like empanadas, you should check out the Jamaican patties at Golden Krust Bakery in Catonsville.

El Patio Market
7968 Washington Boulevard (U.S. 1)
Jessup, MD 20794

(NEAR: Just south of Rte 175 on U.S. 1. It's on the west side about a block south of the intersection. Very convenient from I-95.)

El Patio Argentine Grill on Urbanspoon

Monday, June 23, 2008

Hunan Legend and Hunan Manor: How Do You Order Chinese Food?

People say that Hunan Manor and Hunan Legend are the best Chinese around. I have to take their word for it.

ChowHound and other blogs are full of comments (1, 2) where people praise each restaurant and debate the subtle differences -- whether Hunan Manor has faded or gotten pretentious. People comment about ordering authentic, off-the-menu dishes.

I need to learn the secret password. Mrs. HowChow and I tried at Hunan Legend. I had asked for advice beforehand. I asked the waiter for suggestions. But nothing was good. We tried dry chow fun because it had been recommended. We tried a cold chicken with spicy sauce because it was the most unusual appetizer. We tried tangy chicken because it was on the "chef's specialties" page. Nothing was worth finishing.

It's frustrating because people love these places. Karen Nitkin liked Hunan Legend in a Sun review four months ago. If you know Chinese
food, you can probably get something delicious. I just don't understand why delicious things would be off-the-menu. Nobody hides the good stuff at Mango Grove, and the people there recommend dishes based on what you like and how much experience you have with Indian food.

Can I get some advice? I'll go back if someone could just explain what makes them love these places. Until then, the call of Bangkok Delight and An Loi Pho -- or even Jesse Wong's Asean Bistro -- will just be too strong.

(Update: You should definitely read the great comment below from Wai -- who talked about a Chinese-language menu at Hunan Legend. Wai said that the dishes off that menu were authentic home cooking. Wai translated the Chinese menu. I posted and sent it out. People used the menu, and at some point, the Hunan Legend owners published their own official translation. It has been my favorite part of HowChow.)

Click here for my overview on Chinese restaurants in Howard County. For my money, people who want authentic Chinese food should drive to Grace Garden in Odenton. It's a family-run joint with a chef who used to work at Hunan Legend, and they serve spectacular food -- with a printed "Eastern" menu with all the delicacies written out. Know it is a Spartan joint. Go for the adventure.

Hunan Legend
4725 Dorsey Hall Drive, Ste D
Ellicott City, MD 21042
NEAR: The Dorsey Hall shopping center is just off Columbia Road north of Rte 108. This is just west of Rte 29 and just north of the Columbia line.

Hunan Manor
7091 Deepage Drive
Columbia, MD 21045
NEAR: This is off Snowden River Parkway a few blocks where where Snowden ends into Broken Land Parkway.

Hunan Legend on Urbanspoon

Friday, June 20, 2008

Farmers' Market in Columbia: Fresh, Unusual Finds

I hear blackberries are coming this weekend to the Sunday farmers' market in Columbia.

The tastiest parts of a farmers' market are the fragile items about to go out of season and the rumors about what will come next. Last Sunday morning, Homestead Farm was selling the last of the spring seaweed. (Hydroponicly grown in Calvert County. I was so surprised I bought a bundle to chop into a salad and steam for a side dish.)

I also bought chard, some Brandywine heirloom tomatoes, four kinds of summer squash, and a citrus-tasting green called waterleaf greens. The tomatoes are thin-skinned. They look too fragile for middlemen and supermarkets, which makes them extra-special and basically demanded that I buy red onions and sandwich baguettes to grill hamburgers that night. (Burgers with tomato and onion slices with grilled squash and a salad made of waterleaf greens.)

The Sunday market in Oakland Mills is one of three in Howard County. Don't expect the JFX market in Baltimore, which is so large people post about the optimal way to explore. But the Sunday market had three produce stands, a bakery, and a flower-and-plant stand last week. The Bonaparte Breads bakery items alone are worth the visit -- chocolate croissants, elephant ears and other sweets for breakfast, plus rolls, sandwich loaves and nut- or fruit-filled breads for later. The flowers were beautiful, and the farmers' -- well, that's why you go to a farmers' market.

Nothing is cheap. I buy because the tomatoes ($3 a pound) were picked two days ago and the blueberries ($6 a pint) are so good that you can eat a handful without checking for a spoiled or tart one. At first, the chard looked wrong to me. Limp leaves instead of the huge, stiff stems that I normally see in the grocery store. That's when I realized that this was younger, more tender chard. Again, it wouldn't last in a packing crate. But lightly sauteed, it will make dinner.

And this Sunday? Who knows?

Check out an update from the farmers' market in August.  There are also farmers' markets on Thursday afternoons in Columbia and on Saturday mornings in Cooksville.  Definitely check out the South Mountain Creamery at the Saturday market.

If you want ethnic or organic markets, check out this comprehensive listing. If you want unusual and high-quality produce, check out the H Mart -- my favorite place for food.

If you want to visit Homestead Farm, consider the pick-your-own season that starts in about August. The farm has a niche in African produce.

(Updated: The East Columbia market appears to be on THURSDAY, not Tuesday as I had originally written. I fixed it below. Thanks Wendy! Sorry for the error.)

The Sunday Farmers' Market at Oakland Mills
9 am to 1 pm, May to November (May 4-Nov. 23, 2008)
Oakland Mills Village Center
5851 Robert Oliver Place
Columbia, MD 21045
NEAR: Just east of Rte 29 and south of Rte 175. The village center is off Stevens Forest Road.

The Saturday Farmers' Market at Glenwood Library
9 am to 12:30 pm May to October (May 3-Oct. 25, 2008)
2350 State Road 97 (Roxbury Mills Road)
Cooksville, MD 21723
NEAR: Just south of I-70, west of Rte 32.

The Thursday Farmers' Market at East Columbia Library
2 pm to 6 pm, May to November (May 1-Nov. 20, 2008)
6600 Cradlerock Way
Columbia, MD 21045
NEAR: Just off Broken Land Parkway, north of Rte 32 and east of Rte 29.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Sizar's Food Mart: Middle Eastern Groceries in Columbia

Talk about "Open O'Simsim." Sizar's Food Mart was a magical surprise for me.

I only passed by because I was taking two bikes to Race Pace, already muttering about how Columbia makes you drive a quarter mile to reach a store that faces Snowden River. That was why I was so aware that Sizar's -- which looks like a convenience store from the outside -- was faced away from Snowden River. No one can sell sodas and cigarettes this tucked away from the public, so there must be something inside that draws customers.

Behind Sizar's door is the best ethnic grocery store in Howard County. OK, maybe tied with Lily's Mexican Market. It is a small store, but stock tightly and smartly with everything you
could need for Middle Eastern food and more. Breads like pita, barbarry bread, a sweet Afghan rist loaf, and lavash the size of a small table. Teas. Spices. A dozen varieties of dried peas, beans and lentils. A dozen more varieties in cans. Farina. Bulgar. Forty-pound bags of rice.

This is a 13-year-old store with a staff that answered questions and joked about me taking pictures. The selection is breath-taking, and the place felt friendly from the moment that I walked inside. Check out the refrigerator with halal hot dogs, Greek yogurt, lebni cheese and more. Slide over to the freezers where you can get filo dough or already-made spinach-and-cheese filo appetizers. Or frozen falafel or halal chicken nuggets, or Deep brand samosas, or frozen lavash to take home.

The selections run from India to Greece with an array of Iranian items that I had never seen. Check out the raisins and dates in the fridge at the entrance. Consider the fun that you could have -- either as ice cream toppings or as cocktail mixers -- with the bottles of fruit syrups, including mint, mulberry, blueberry, and sour cherry. Sample the Iranian fruit roll-ups, expensive at $1.49 but adult flavors in sour cherry, plum and "sour curd."

Again, the world comes to Columbia. Then Columbia hides the world in the back of a shopping center. But once you discover it, you can return again and again.

(UPDATE:  Sizar's moved to Elkridge in early 2009 and changed its name to Ceazar's.  They opened a restaurant to go with the retail store.  The address below is for the Elkridge store, which is now open.)

Ceazar International Market and Restaurant (formerly Sizar's)
6801 Douglas Legum Drive
Elkridge, MD 21075

NEAR: Just off Rte 103 east of U.S. 1. This is just south of Rte 100 and less than two miles from I-95. From Rte 100, you take U.S. 1 south, turn left at the first light onto Rte 103 and follow it as it curves twice. Ceazar is in a shopping center on the left.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Delicious: Pumpkin at Maiwand Kabob

The appetizers convert Maiwand Kabob from a nice grill shop into a restaurant worth making a pilgrimage.

The samosas are top notch -- an order of six fried pastries filled with potatoes, peas and spices. The bowlawni is an Afghan speciality -- twin pastry shells with different fillings.

But the pumpkin is a dish that I would expect on a white-table cloth rather than in a Columbia shopping center where everything comes on disposable plates. Bright orange pumpkin, firm but tender enough to cut with a (high-quality) plastic spoon. It is sweet enough that it might be pie filing if you closed your eyes. But then, Maiwand Kabob dresses the pumpkin with some yogurt whose tart flavor marries with the sweet vegetable and with a spoonful of ground beef that adds a deeper, slightly spiced flavor.

Between the bread and the pumpkin, every trip to Maiwand Kabob is wonderful. The moistly-grilled meat and the rotating Afghan specialties makes this one of my favorite restaurants anywhere.

(Update: A new Maiwand Kabob opened in 2009 near Arundel Mills Mall and the BW Parkway. There is also a branch in Burtonsville just off Rte 198.)

Maiwand Kabob
Harpers Choice Village Center
5467 Harpers Farm Road
Columbia, MD 21044

NEAR: This is in central Columbia, west of the Columbia Mall. Harpers Choice is between Rte 108 and Cedar Lane / Little Patuxent Parkway. From the south, Cedar Lane connects Rte 32 to Harpers Choice. From Rte 29, Broken Lane runs into Little Patuxent, which runs into Harpers Choice Road. To spot the shopping center, look for a McDonalds up against Harpers Choice Road.

Maiwand Kabob on Urbanspoon

Maiwand Kabob
Arundel Mills Preserve shopping center
7698 Dorchester Boulevard
Hanover, MD 21076

NEAR: Take the Arundel Mills exit from the BW Parkway. That road only goes east. The Arundel Mills Preserve shopping center is on the left almost immediately. There is a Starbucks in that shopping center.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Mirocjo: Korean, Including Barbecue, in Ellicott City

While Shin Chon Garden was renovating, we set out to try a Korean alternative, and we came away happy from Mirocjo.

Don't let first impressions fool you. Mirocjo is on the second floor of the rundown Bethany 40 shopping center on Rte 40 just west of the Enchanted Forest shopping area. Inside, the restaurant has industrial fans over the barbecue tables and a floral wallpaper that suggests 1970s grandmothers.

But the food is delicious. The bulgogi meat was tender and flavorful without any of the fat or gristle that mars cheaper cuts. The dolset bibimbop came with a full-cooked egg, which I had never seen before, but the rice and vegetables crisped up in the hot stone bowl. That warm crust of rice makes bibimbop stand head and shoulders above any mundane friend rice.

Like most good Korean restaurants, the real excitement was in the panchan -- the little dishes put out as an appetizer and side dishes. Mirocjo laid out a feast of 10 bowls. Kimchi. Seaweed salad. Slightly-sweet black beans. Radish in a pepper sauce. Tender chunks of potato in a slightly-sweet sauce. Each was delicious, and together, they infuse the meal with the tapas-style fun of sampling a dozen tastes instead of just two main dishes. It was as good as Shin Chon Garden, which has been our top choice so far.

Definitely try to bring some friends along. If you order two servings of grilled meats, you can grill yourself at the barbecue tables. Although I always wonder if that's an American affectation. After Saturday night's thunderstorm, there were several tables of Korean guys clearly seeking shelter after golfing in the afternoon. The four-somes all had tables groaning with food, but regular tables with kitchen-made dishes.

If you like Korean food, check out the H Mart and Shin Chon Garden, which is renovating in June 2008.

Bethany 40 Shopping Center
10194 Baltimore National Parkway
Ellicott City, MD 21042

NEAR: On the north side of Rte 40 west of Rte 29. It is west of the Enchanted Forest shopping area. If you're driving west, you pass Enchanted Forest, then a wooded area, then the Bethany 40 shopping center is on the right.

Mirocjo on Urbanspoon

Monday, June 16, 2008

Pupuseria Lorenita's: "The Taco Truck" in Elkridge

Don't be surprised to get one of the best tacos of your life -- and one of the best meals in Howard County.

The "Taco Truck" has business cards. It has phone numbers, regular hours, four employees, and clear, well-drawn menus. It also serves superb tacos -- a generous spread of grilled beef strips, two corn tortillas, cilantro & onions, radish slices and a lime wedge to squeeze.

Now, you're eating them in your car in the parking lot of Paco's Paints. If that bothers you, don't go. If you're here for good food, then drive to U.S. 1 just north of Rte 175 any day between 9 am and 4 pm. The tacos are $2, and you choose between grilled beef, ground beef, sausage and tongue. Burritos are $5. Pupusas are $2. Join the line and ask any questions. This

is a professional joint where the owner takes pride in the food and the business. People talked Mexican food in English or Spanish.

I split each serving between the two tortillas and ate them while leaning against my car. They're better than the trendy taco takeout that opened near Union Station in DC. That place made headlines -- and does have a fish taco option -- but the meat was better on U.S. 1 and the servings were twice as large.

(In late 2011, the truck has normally been on the east side of U.S. 1 north of Rte 175.  Sometimes, it is parked in the grass across from the flea market site.  That Paco's Paint was demolished as part of a big construction project.)

If you like Mexican, check out Lily's Mexican Market in Columbia, the ceviche at La Palapa Too in Laurel, and anything at El Azteca in Clarksville.

Pupuseria Lorenita's ("The Taco Truck")
at Paco's Paint
7731 Washington Blvd (U.S. 1)
Elkridge, MD 21075

NEAR: On the east side of U.S. 1 a few blocks north of Rte 175.

Pupuseria Lorenita's on Urbanspoon

Friday, June 13, 2008

Bangkok Delight: Thai in Columbia

This is the one place that I can actually say tastes authentic.

Our honeymoon in Thailand was the only trip in which I came home without craving some familiar American food. Bangkok Delight captures the feel of Thailand -- from the pretty paper umbrellas hanging from the ceiling to the mango with sticky rice that we eat every time.

Start with chicken laab -- minced chicken dressed with lime juice, celery, red onion and herbs -- or one of the lemon grass ("tom yum") soups. Those capture the Thai flavor that balances salty, sweet and sour flavors and takes special advantage of lime, herbs and sometimes hot peppers. A first-time visitor will enjoy a chicken or pork satay -- skewers of meat served with a peanut sauce. The adventurous will savor spicy yum salads -- beef, chicken, squid other choices mixed again with lime, spices, celery and scallions.

Then order whatever entree looks good. You're choosing between noodles and rice dishes, picking different curries or stirfries, and deciding whether you want veggies, chicken, pork, fish, etc. Everything has been delicious, and there are specials that extend Bangkok Delight from a basic joint into a creative restaurant. Squash dishes, soft shell crabs and special curries. This kitchen wants to impress you, and entrees from $11 to $20 make it easy to come again and again. It's also great takeout, especially the noodles and curries -- most surprisingly the brown curry that we only tried recently because, well, it was called "brown" curry and "ruby," "red" or "green" sounded more appetizing.

Again, my post about the mango sticky rice.

(Update: My thoughts on Bangkok Delight have changed. For a while in 2008, I thought it was the best restaurant in Howard County. But I have been disappointed several times in 2009. There are comments below from The Minx, who was really disappointed in November 2009. I really don't know what has happened.)

If you like Thai food, go check out H Mart or check out (literally, from the library) "Thai Food and Cooking" -- the cookbook that I carry around the H Mart.

(If you want Thai, many other people -- including a handful who disparage Bangkok Delight -- swear by Bangkok Garden in the Oakland Mills Village Center. Check out a note and see the address is below.)

Bangkok Delight
8825 Centre Park Drive #A
Columbia, MD 21045

NEAR: The Giant off Rte 108 just west of Howard High School and east of Rte 29. Bangkok Delight is in the shopping area just north of Giant. Look for the Burger King on the corner.

(I promised myself that I wouldn't write many negative comments, but the Mexican restaurant next to Bangkok Delight is one of the worst that I have ever eaten. Eat at Burger King first.)

Bangkok Garden
5810 Robert Oliver Place
Columbia, MD 21045
NEAR: They're in the Oakland Mills village center.

Bangkok Delight on Urbanspoon

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Progressive Dinner: Walk The Street of Maple Lawn To Trapeze, oZ Chophouse and Ranazul

Choose your own adventure by staging a progressive dinner at the three upscale restaurants in the Maple Lawn development in Fulton.

Trapeze, oz Chophouse and Ranazul are each worth their own visit -- and their own review -- but the trendy, comfortable bars in each joint invite you to start by sampling your w
ay through all three. They're on three corners of the same intersection, so it's almost a city night walking from door to door.

We started with Trapeze's "New American" menu for a crab-topped fried green tomato and the "Bluestone" salad highlighted by bacon and a mustard dressing. Next time, I might try the flat iron carpaccio. (I love calamari, but we once were served the most rubbery disaster. Be stronger than we were and send that back.)

You could visit in any order because all three have nice selections and idiosyncratic beer/wine lists. But we crossed next to oz Chophouse for the tuna tartare, the calamari and a side order of macaroni and cheese. The tuna was the best savory dish of the night, and the waitress recommended a wine -- even let Mrs. HowChow sample -- with the fun, relaxed air that makes all three of the Maple Lawn places inviting. The crab dip has also been delicious. But realize that oz is the only bar where they blared the televisions. Sounds great if you're there for the ballgame, but it did cut down on the "night out" atmosphere of the other two.

We finished at Ranazul. Order the sopapias. Don't argue with me. We tried other desserts, and even though Ranazul has exquisite tapas, I recommend the good coffee and these fried triangles, dusted with sweet spices and drizzled with honey. (Ask for extra honey. Sometimes, they're drier than others.)

Overall, this is an expensive night. With three drinks, five small dishes, coffee and two desserts, I think we spent close to $100. But it was a slow night where we talked and adventured more than we would in any single restaurant.

(Update: Trapeze closed.)

Click here for a full post about Ranazul.  If you're in Maple Lawn, check out the i.m. Wine liquor store.  Or click for a working list of the best restaurants in Howard County.

8180 Maple Lawn Boulevard
Fulton, MD 20759
Trapeze on Urbanspoon

oz Chophouse
8191 Maple Lawn Boulevard
Fulton, MD 20759

8171 Maple Lawn Boulevard, Suite 170
Fulton, MD 20759
Ranazul on Urbanspoon

NEAR: The Maple Lawn development is on Rte 216 just west of Rte 29. From Rte 29, you pass through one traffic circle. Then you'll see the development on the right and enter from the second traffic circle. There is parking behind any of the restaurants.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Link: Fatburger Coming to Columbia on "That's What I Think"

The "That's What I Think" blog reports that the Fatburger chain is coming to Columbia thanks to former Raven Orlando Brown.  (Click here for all the Fatburger posts.)

Link: That's What I Think on Fatburger.

Today's Catch Seafood Market: Fish in Columbia

Let Today's Catch make you believe again in scallops!

Mrs. HowChow loves the sweet bivalves, but I have bought too many supermarket treats that I tasted flat. Nothing special about them except the exorbitant price.

The Today's Catch Seafood Market in Columbia made me believe again. The clerk told me that they don't always have the bay and sea scallops, but when they do, they're "dry" scallops - which means that they're just scallop. Never been treated. Never been injected with saline solution or however else the wholesalers extend their profits. Today's Catch's scallops were beautiful, a half-pound of sweet, firm flesh sauteed in nothing but butter and the juice of a lime.

Today's Catch has a minimal feel. Fish on ice, fillets in coolers. There is a small freezer and a display of spices, but mostly, it is a few clerks, a few fish and you. The smell is right,

more sea water than fish. The selection runs from mild tilapia and cod to sushi-grade tuna and strong-flavored mackerel. The clerk talked up wild salmon, whose season runs through August. Call ahead to see if Today's Catch has any in stock because supplies have been low. And ask questions. I asked what the clerk recommended for fish tacos and ended up with a mix of tuna, swordfish and other chunks, the left-overs from their fillets that made an exotic array for $10/pound.

Today's Catch Seafood Market
10451 Twin Rivers Road
Columbia, MD 21044

NEAR: It's inside the Wilde Lake Village shopping center. The center is in central Columbia near the mall. It's the shopping center with a Bagel Bin, the Melting Point restaurant and David's Natural Market (and a KFC).

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Link: New McDonalds on Tale of Two Cities

The Tale of Two Cities blog posted Friday about McDonalds filing plans to replace Boston Market at Snowden Square near the Home Depot.

It's Hot. Get Ice at KyKy's Hawaiian Ice

It's hot.  Get ice.  There is nothing simpler than KyKy's Hawaiian Ice -- a stand in a parking lot near the new Costco and Lowe's off Rte 108.

There is nothing inside but an ice-shaving machine, a teenager, and dozens of jugs of flavorings.  A few dozen flavors to be squirted into your cup of shaved ice.  Day-glo, unnatural colors.  My lemon-lime tasted less of citrus and more like the flavor company was trying to approximate Slice.

But it was cold, and, like Soft Serve in Ellicott City or Rita's in Columbia, the fun is in sitting outside with a treat.  Plus, the electric green color made me laugh as I puttered to my errands at Lowe's.  They're open 11-9.

KyKy's Hawaiian Ice
Lark Brown shopping center
6590 Old Waterloo Road
Elkridge, MD 21075

NEAR:  This is over a hill from the new Costco near the insection of Rte 108 and Rte 175.  From Rte 108, turn east towards the Costco at the intersection with Lark Brown Road.  (Lark Brown only goes one way.)  The shopping center is two blocks up on the left.

Monday, June 9, 2008

H Mart: My Favorite Place For Food

If you wanted five reasons to visit the H Mart, Asian food wouldn't make the list.

You can buy any Asian ingredients that I have ever wanted from Thailand to Korea -- wonton wrappers, coconut milk, long beans, three kinds of bok choy, 10 kinds of tofu, 10 kinds of rice, an entire aisle of sauces from soy to fish to chili. I found pickled plums. I discovered Asian pears. I bought bulgogi meat ready to cook.

But H Mart if my favorite place in the world for food because the opportunities are endless even if you don't cook Asian food. To keep this a blog post (and not my novel about supermarkets), these are five, truncated reasons why you have to drive Rte 40 east almost to I-695.

5) The Fruit
Eve wouldn't be able to decide what fruit to pick from the H Mart display. Year-round, I get a selection -- and a price -- that no one else beats. Watermelon, pineapples, berries, baby
bananas. The fruit lasts longer than anywhere else, and the in-season fruit comes in breath-taking arrays -- five kinds of pears, eight apples, six oranges, four plums. It is such a luxury to scoop up bags of fruit, knowing that the bill won't be high and that I can stockpile it even if I won't go grocery shopping again for two weeks. Have an apple taste-off between types. Make pies. Explore the seasonal exotics like rambutan, lychee and Korean melon. Just one transforms a fruit salad into something special. A small plate transports your table to another country.

4) The Frozen Food
You don't even need to cook. Walk down the central aisle and pick from two walls of freezers and the display case between. Dumplings. Shu mai. Ice cream. Bags of edamame
Fillipino pork marinated in 7-Up and skewered for easy grilling. Everything has a US label, so everything lists its ingredients in English. So try a few and come back for what you like.

3) The Mexican Food
No joke. Half the H Mart employees are Hispanic, and the store clearly caters to a Latin market with a mix of American and imported goods. Start in produce with plantains, jicama,
and the standard vegetables that people use across the continent. In Aisle 2, check out the Latin
wall with a full Goya collection of beans, sauces and rice, Coco Rico coconut soda, hominy, etc. In the freezer near the rear, look for fried plantains and blackberry pulp. In the dairy section, round out any Mexican shopping list with queso fresco, crema salvadorena, chorizos, and La Fe brand arepas. (Pass on the refrigerated tamales. The frozen ones at Lily's Mexican Market are better.)

2) The Vegetables
The vegetables just last longer. I don't know why. I have green beans that I bought 10 days ago, and I have been cooking them up in little batches still crisp and fresh. They're also cheap. I shop with a few items that I need, plus roving hands that just grab whatever looks good. Carrots, cukes, eggplant, cauliflower, perfect every time. Cilantro that lasts for weeks. A herb display up front with rosemary, Thai basil, etc. Bring Vegetables Everyday by Jack Bishop, and you can flip to the section for whatever looks good and find five simple recipes. Or bring an Asian cookbook and explore the new world of choy sum, bitter melon, fuzzy squash and banana flower.

1) The Fish
But the fish market is the spot that can't be replicated. They bring the world to you in an endless variation. Start with the absolutely familiar -- precut fillets and steaks of cod, tilapia, salmon and the species that swim on many menus. You order by the fillet or by the pound. Next time, check out the rest. Sushi-grade salmon and tuna for home-made sashimi. Packaged-up fish heads for stock.

The central offering is whole fish, which I have worked through slowly. The sign over the fish mongers shows you the ways that they'll prepare. They weigh the whole fish, then cut out whatever you don't want. Number Four is no head, no guts, no scales. That is the way that most recipes suggest. Whole fish steamed or roasted makes a delicious meal, and the H Mart offers a changing list of fish beyond the basics. Ask for help. People speak English, and they have answered dozens of questions as I watched.

Like every other department, the beauty of the H Mart is that everything is fresh and everything is reasonably price or even cheap. So I experiment. I tried kingfish. I tried a whole snapper. I bought one squid -- cleaning it from diagrams in How To Cook Everything -- to add to soup and to see if I could stomach cooking invertebrates. My friend's new husband loves clam chowder, so I splurged on bags of clams to cook New England chowder for a celebrating table of 10. The chowder was amazing, and I couldn't have even started if I were buying old clams at 50 cents each from the Giant.

There is still a world a fish that I haven't tried. Frozen squids. Live tilapia. Snails. Head-on shrimp. I figure that I have time.

You don't even have to cook! Check here to see that the H Mart offers prepared foods and delicious items that you can just eat off the shelf. Although, I do think that Lotte in Ellicott City has an even-better selection of prepared food because Lotte has a panchan bar that you can sample by the ounce.

If you're interested in exploring the H Mart, check out my review of Kimiko Barber's cookbooks The Japanese Kitchen and The Chopstick Diet. They're great guides to the Japanese aisle of our local Asian grocery stores.

For a full listing of ethnic and organic markets in Howard County, check here.

H Mart
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.

Hanahreum Asian Mart/Mannarang on Urbanspoon

Friday, June 6, 2008

Link: B More Sweet on Sugarbakers

The B More Sweet blog drives from Charm City almost to Howard County to write about the Sugarbakers bakery in Catonsville and its retail partner Catonsville Gourmet. It's blocks from the H Mart, which I claimed like a conquistador for HoCo. Certainly sounds worth the drive.

Link: The Fabulous Sugarbakers.

Summer Night: Maiwand Kabob and Rita's

It's summer, so you've got to go to Rita's (and Afghanistan).

The Harper's Choice shopping center is the perfect weeknight escape in the summer. It's the classic Columbia story because we might never have found it except that Mrs. HowChow was humming the Rita's theme song ("You've got to go Rita's, You've got to go to Rita's") and reminiscing about how she had loved the gelati when she was growing up in Philadelphia. Deep in the story, we realized that she was humming the song because she had been hearing it on the radio, then realized that people only pay for ads if they have a store somewhere nearby. We ran to The Google.

Twenty minutes later, we were sitting in Harper's Choice eating gelati -- cherry Italian ice layered with vanilla cream. It's a great scene. Families sitting out. Teenagers checking each other out.

Make this a simple night out. Go to Harper's Choice and start at Maiwand Kabob across the parking lot from the Safeway. Go simple with some kabobs, rice and tandoori bread.  Definitely start with an appetizer like the pumpkin or bowlawni.  The grilled meats are mouth-watering -- beef, lamb, dark-meat chicken tikka kabob, white-meat chicken kabob. On a summer night, you can feast at the outside tables for less than $10 a person, then walk across the parking lot for a cup of Italian ice at Rita's to end the night.

Some time, I'll write up Maiwand Kabob's whole menu, which includes wonderful appetizers like aushak and some complex lamb and chicken specials. It's a take-out joint, but the food is as good as you can find anywhere.

(Another option: Dinner & Rita's in King's Contrivance in southern Columbia. Rita's opened there in the summer of 2008. Have a pizza at Trattoria E Pizzeria Da Enrico, then have Italian ice in the center courtyard. The fountain there is even more pleasant than Harpers Choice.)

(Update 6/8/08: Took my own advice and got caught in Saturday night's monster thunderstorm while sitting in Maiwand Kabob!)

Rita's -- Harpers Choice
5485 Harpers Farm Road
Columbia, MD 21044
(and just opened in Kings Contrivance, see below)

Maiwand Kabob
5467 Harpers Farm Road
Columbia, MD 21044

NEAR: This is in central Columbia. Harpers Farm Village Center is on Harpers Farm Road east of Rte 108 and west of Cedar Lane. There is a gas station and a McDonalds right on the road, and the shopping center is behind. Maiwand Kabob is on left with a cleaner. Rita's is on the right in the main shopping area.

Rita's -- King's Contrivance 
8640 Guilford Road Ste B10
Columbia, MD 21046

NEAR: This is in the shopping center with the new Harris Teeter.  It is south of Rte 32 just east of Rte 29.

For a review of Maiwand Kabob's bigger cousin The Helmand, check out the Baltimore Food and Wine Blog here.

Maiwand Kabob on Urbanspoon
Rita's - Harpers Choice on Urbanspoon

(Update: A new Maiwand Kabob opened in 2009 near Arundel Mills Mall and the BW Parkway.  There is also a branch in Burtonsville just off Rte 198.)

Maiwand Kabob
Arundel Mills Preserve shopping center
7698 Dorchester Boulevard
Hanover, MD 21076

NEAR:  Take the Arundel Mills exit from the BW Parkway.  That road only goes east.  The Arundel Mills Preserve shopping center is on the left almost immediately.  There is a Starbucks in that shopping center.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Delicious: Lychees at the H Mart

It wasn't really a test, but lychees on the first date were certainly a good sign.

The first day that I met Mrs. HowChow, we paddled around Centennial Lake, and I brought a snack of trail mix and lychees. They're an Asian fruit with a tough skin loose over a firm, sweet flesh inside. They're moist and light-flavored. The consistency of a skinless grape, but with a tropical, slightly-tart taste and a dark seed inside.

That summer, they were my recent find at the H Mart in Falls Church, and I brought a bag for the blind date all the way in Howard County. I brought what I liked, and I figured it was good to know early if a woman doesn't like new experiences. On a broiling hot day, my date ate them up, talking and snacking as we sat beached in a little shade.

Lychees are back in season, and because of that date, I buy them at the H Mart in Catonsville. Worth every extra minute to drive east on Rte 40 for lychees and all the other great adventures that the H Mart offers.

H Mart
800 N. Rolling Road
Catonsville, MD 21228

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Tortillas: Hot off the press at Lily's Mexican Market

Fresh, warm tortillas are a luxury that you can now enjoy any time that you can drive to Dobbin Road.

Lily's Mexican Market is doubling in size, expanding next door into the space that Second Hand Books vacated to move down the shopping center. Lily's is adding a takeout counter to go with the existing butcher, and, in the last week or so, they installed a tortilla machine. The long metal machine presses dough and kicks out soft, warm tortillas, which cost about $1.50 for a bag of about 30. (Update: Now, you can buy takeout tacos that are out of this world. And you can drink horchata.)

Less than $2 for tortillas that are soft with a light smell like corn-on-the-cob grilled on a barbecue. They're a treat and an authentic flavor that you just can't get from factory-made food, and they are strong -- stretching, not splitting, around the filling. Wrap up any taco makings. Try the fajita meat from Lily's butcher. Try the cactus pads in the produce section for easy cactus tacos. Or borrow Mexican Everyday by Rick Bayless from the HoCo Library and explore Mexican food like I recommended in February.

The expansion improves a store that already offered a selection of Mexican and Salvadoran goods. With Caezar International for Middle Eastern's food, this is the class of local markets. Fajita meat and three kinds of chorizo at the butcher. Mild, soft cheeses. Jars of cactus or spicy, yellow aji peppers. Fresh cactus, avocados and other produce. Bags of corn meal. Mexican sodas and candy. The extended selection of Goya beans and sauces. I had an orange empanada Sunday morning from the bakery display case, and it was delicious -- a soft pastry with a filling like the best orange marmalade.

Now, Lily's is the standard for any ethnic market around. Great selection. Professional employees. You can get someone on the phone to answer questions in English or Spanish. The butcher was pleased to explain the difference between Mexican and El Salvadoran sausages. You could go to Lily's for basic ingredients, or you could treat it like takeout and buy tortillas, meat, salsa, cheese and some vegetables to chop.

You can even go if the only cooking that you do is reheating. Try the tamales in the freezer section. They're corn meal tamales wrapped in corn husks. They'll stay in your freezer. To make them, you just let them defrost in the fridge, then steam them for 8-10 minutes. Mrs. HowChow savors her memories of tamales at the the farmers market near the UCLA hospital. These aren't as perfect as her memories, but they're delicious served with salsa.
If you like Lily's, then go explore other ethnic shopping in a post about Middle Eastern, Indian, etc. markets.
If you want more Mexican shopping, then consider the Panam Supermarket in Laurel. Panam has full produce and butcher sections, offering a greater selection than Lily's. If you want another Mexican adventure, check out "The Taco Truck" (Pupuseria Lorenita's).

(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 Road
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 the DMV, Lily's and Sushi King restaurant is across Dobbins from the Blockbuster.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Soft Stuff: Ice Cream in Ellicott City

Soft Stuff makes memories out of the mundane.

Get out of your house this summer for an ice cream cone. Soft Stuff is a slice of Ellicott City history -- right across from the former Enchanted Forest amusement park. Get a cone -- vanilla, chocolate or a swirl. Bring some friends. Take your folks to sit at the picnic tables. Turn a hot summer night into the great reason to cool yourself down.

It's a beautiful place, even though the ice cream is just average and the picnic tables overlook traffic on Rte 40. It is just more fun than eating dessert in your own yard. You'll be surrounded by other folks, by kids dripping ice cream down their arms and couples licking cones as they sit in the open gate of their pickups. You nod hello. You smile at everyone. For $2.40, you can make a cone of your own summer memories. For a little more, you can go banana split.

Soft Stuff at the Forest Motel
10021 Baltimore Pike
Ellicott City, MD

NEAR: Soft Serve is attached to the Forest Motel. It is on the south side of Rte 40 west of Rte 29.

Soft Stuff on Urbanspoon

Monday, June 2, 2008

Delicious: Chipotle Peppers

Chipotle peppers are the easiest way to add Mexican flavor to anything.

They're smoked jalepeno peppers, and they're sold in cans packed in adobo sauce -- a dark red sauce made from vinegar, oil, garlic and onions. I assume it's the vinegar, but chipotle peppers last for weeks if not months in my fridge. I pour the entire can into a plastic tub and pull that out whenever I need one pepper or even just a teaspoon of the adobo sauce.

They're essential for cooking many Mexican foods. See my post about Rick Bayless' book Mexican Everyday. They're also delicious mixed into your favorite foods like omelets, chili, or salsas. Make BBQ sauce. Make chipotle mayonnaise. Or better yet, go buy some avocados, goat cheese and salted pistachios for Mrs. HowChow's Philadelphia Guacamole.

Inspired by guacamole at El Vez in Philadelphia, Mrs. HowChow has developed a guacamole with bite, heat and crunch. It took months of experimenting, so we don't know how far her changes have taken the guacamole, but the chipotles and their adobo sauce provide the basic flavor. There are enough nuts, but no so many that you get one every bite. So the crunch is a surprise.

"Philadelphia" Guacamole
2 avocados, flesh removed and put in a bowl
1/3 c. soft, white goat cheese
scant (just less than) 1/4 c. chipotle peppers, chopped
scant (just less than) 1/3 c. salted pistachios (out of the shell)

Mix all these ingredients together. You'll see little flecks of red from the peppers and white from the cheese. Taste. Add adobo sauce in 1 tsp. increments and stir. Taste each time to reach the heat that you want. A little sauce is essential because it spreads more flavor than the peppers on their own. But heat increases with each spoonful, so go slow.

You can buy Chipotle peppers at Lily's Mexican Market in Columbia, Tere's Latin Market in Ellicott City, or at the H-Mart in Catonsville. You can also find them in some supermarkets.