Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Authentic Chinese at Hunan Legend in Columbia

One of my favorite parts of this blog has been sharing the Chinese-language menu from Hunan Legend. Last year, I had a horrible meal at the Columbia institution, and I posted about my frustration that I couldn't get the waiter to serve us authentic Chinese even when we asked. A reader named Wai sent me a copy of the Chinese menu that she had translated. I posted the menu. Since then, other folks have emailed me for the menu and then ordered the authentic Chinese dishes when they visited.

(Update: Hunan Legend has created an official translation. I think people like Warthog convinced them that Americans would be cool with authentic flavors.)

A HowChow reader nicknamed Warthog posted on Chowhound last week about the fun that he has had using the menu and getting to meet Hunan Legend's owners through convincing them that he really wanted to skip the Americanized food. Warthog talks up the authentic Chinese food -- and some Malaysian dishes as well. This was his opening post:

I have friends who I dine with frequently who love Grace Garden, but don't get done with work early enough to make the long drive worthwhile.
Luckily, HowChowBlog recently posted a translation of the "secret" Chinese menu at Hunan Legend in one of the Town Centers in Columbia (Dorsey ?).
As is depressingly often the case, it turns out that they are perfectly capable of cranking out really good, authentic Chinese food. The trick is convincing them that you WANT the real deal. The house specialty is more toward the milder Cantonese style of Chinese cuisine, as opposed to the spcier Szechuan focus at Grace Garden, but after several visits, I'd say these folks are right up there as far as quality - if you can convince them to forgo the "Americanizing".
The main difference is that the chef at Grace Garden is on a mission to "convert" the masses to "real" chinese food, and he's willing ot take a chance that the customer is ready for it. The Hunan Legend folks seem very wary, perhaps due to too many returns of "real" dishes from those wanting the same old gloppy, overly sweet Americanized stuff. It seems that you really have to work to convince them to let you into the "can be given the good stuff" club.
I would suggest that you find and print out that translated menu, take it with you, and be very obvious about consulting it. Then indicate to your waiter (or preferably the owner, if she's there) that you've heard very good things about their "real" Chinese food, and that you want to try it. Then go back a couple of times to convince them that you're serious.
I'd not call them better than Grace Garden, and I'd probably rank them slightly below G.G., but mostly because I prefer G.G.'s spicier style of food. For those who are much closer to Hunan Legend than to Grace Garden, or who prefer the milder and more subtle end of the Chinese food spectrum, it's an option well worth exploring.
G.G. fans, please believe me - I'm not trying to syphon customers away from G.G.! Instead, I'm hoping that we can "grow" the market for both of them, and perhaps convince more Asian restaurants in the are that there is a viable customer base for the "real" versions of their respective cuisines, in addition to the dumbed down version. It doesn't have to be all one or the other.
It turns out that the owners at H.L. are actually Malaysian, so my friends and I are now working on coaxing some authentic Malaysian dishes out of them, now that they know that we really appreciate the authentic preparations. If we are successful, I'll pass on info about what dishes we find out about. There is one Malaysian stif-fried noodle dish on the "secret" menu, and the owner has promised to let us try a "not on any menu" seafood curry that is popular with their Malaysian customers. Who knows what other wonders may await us?

I'm with Warthog that I think most Chinese restaurant owners think that Americans want Americanized dishes. Places like Jesse Wong's Asean Bistro turn those dishes into delicious meals. But Grace Garden in Odenton packs its tables with authentic Chinese food, and I would like to convince other restaurants that they could offer a page of new dishes or a "secret" menu. There are people who wants to try new food. Even here in Howard County.

Click here for the entire Chowhound post where Warthog describes dishes like bitter melon and beef or sausage and cabbage. Click here for my take on Chinese restaurants in Howard County.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Bon Fresco Sandwich Bakery in Columbia

Bon Fresco Sandwich Bakery has opened in Columbia and brought sandwiches and bread that rise immediately into my favorites in Howard County.

Great ingredients. It couldn't be more simple, but it feels less and less common to find delicious food that tastes like someone was paying attention. Certainly rarer at a casual sandwich joint -- where the chains make their money with interchangeable ingredients.

Bon Fresco's sandwiches are exceptional. Thick $6.50 sandwiches that each have several great ingredients. Thick slices of real roasted pork loin with grilled squash and a spicy sauce. A pile of salami that looks more like a gourmet deli than a sandwich shop, topped with

green-leaf lettuce and cream cheese. Cream cheese? We would never put cream cheese on salami, but Bon Fresco offers this kind of inspiration in everything from tuna to turkey, prosciutto to grilled vegetables. These are sandwiches with real flavors. Each ingredient stood out, and it came together with the beauty of Thanksgiving leftovers -- a simple sandwich made scrumptious because someone spent an entire day cooking the parts.

Of course, great sandwiches start with great bread, and Bon Fresco's baking is every bit as attractive as its meals. In the open kitchen, Bon Fresco bakes baguettes, ciabatta, focaccia and other loaves.  (Update: They added an Italian bread in 2010.)  You won't buy better bread in Howard County. This is the bread that I love -- crisp crust, light interior. They're sandwich breads so they don't have filings or flavors. We ate two ciabattas right out of the oven. So hot that the crust cracked rather than tore, and we juggled pieces as we drove home and wolfed them down. We brought home a separate baguette, and that bread holds it own with the local favorite Bonaparte Bread for sandwiches and French toast. Again, these are sandwich breads so the inside is more perfect white loaf than the famous, yeasty French bread of 2941, but they're spectacular warm and worth the trip over anything that I have bought in a supermarket.

This is a great place for lunch or to just pick up bread to bring home for dinner. Check out the salads. There is a rotating selection, and the Israeli coucous and the curried chicken salad looked spectacular when I visited. (Update: Try the potato salad!)  When a place pays attention to ingredients like Bon Fresco, simple dishes like tomato and mozzarella become worth a few minutes' drive.

Bon Fresco is just off Snowden River Parkway on Oakland Mills Road. Like so many Columbia joints, you can't see it from the main road, and I hope that people will search it out. As Jason1 noted on Chowhound, $6.50 is pricey for a sandwich without even chips, but I think Bon Fresco is worth the money. This is the kind of place that I hope would become a chain, and it has the clean, modern look of the renovated Maiwand Kabob, the perfect example of how to expand without losing the magic that made the first store so memorable.

(Update: Try the potato salad as your side.  It's very mild -- halfway to mashed potatoes from potato salad.  Just potatoes and something creamy, maybe a touch of vinegar.)

(Update:  Remember that you can make your own sandwiches.  I posted in January 2011 about how I added roasted vegetables and tapanade to the Maple Lawn turkey sandwich.  That's ideal.)

If you are looking for other options, check out my post about bakeries in Howard County or about the Pepperjack Deli in Laurel, which also serves good sandwiches. Or click for the starting page for my "What I Learned" guide to food in Howard County.

Bon Fresco Sandwich Bakery
6945 Oakland Mills Road
Columbia, MD 21045

NEAR: Bon Fresco is in the shopping center on Oakland Mills Road at Snowden River Parkway. The center with Race Pace bike shop and a Ledo Pizza overlooks Snowden, but you need to turn onto Oakland Mills at the intersection and turn right into the shopping center. Bon Fresco is in the out-building just to the right of the entrance.

Bon Fresco on Urbanspoon

Saturday, June 27, 2009

India Delight in Columbia Appears To Have Opened Quietly

Columbia's newest Indian restaurant appears to have opened quietly -- even while trying to fool the local food blogs with ads about a July 12 grand opening.

Several people left comments about India Delight's ads in the Sun and Post about a July 12 opening, but Amy G. says that she ate there last night and enjoyed herself. Shahi paneer was the best she has ever had. The naan was soft without being greasy. India Delight is on McGaw Road near The Green Turtle and Smoothie King. It replaces the California Tortilla that closed earlier in the year. (Update: Eric posted below Amy G. about the Saturday lunch buffet.)

Click here for my post about Indian restaurants in Howard County.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Link: Coal Fire Pizza on PizzaBlogger

The PizzaBlogger has written a treatise on Coal Fire Pizza that includes a review, a series of photos, an explanation of the oven, and a brief interview with the manager. I haven't progressed to real reporting, so you should definitely read the review. Also check out my original post and the detailed comments that people have written about their own experiences.

The PB's bottom line: Coal Fire Pizza just off Rte 108 is one of his favorite pizzas in Maryland.

(While you are at it, check out the PizzaBlogger's post about open-air movies in Little Italy in Baltimore. That sounds like great fun.)

What Do You Say About Health Code Violations?

Mrs. HowChow wants to see an "A" outside every restaurant where she goes to eat.

California has a health inspection system that puts a large letter on the window of every place that sells food. It's a grade for cleanliness. An "A" is the best. A "B" might work for a hole-in-the-wall. But they're rare in my brief experience, and you're going to need some special cuisine to lure Mrs. HowChow inside. Below that, I think my former Angeleno would cross the street to avoid a place rated "C" -- if they can stay open at all.

I was thinking about this letter system because we passed through Los Angeles on Monday, and I had just posted about Hunan Manor. It's a Columbia institution, but Channel 2 reports that it also has a history of health code violations listing mice and roaches. On the one hand, I don't write a free blog to smack around local businesses. But on the other, people know about these violations, and they probably should know more.

A local guy Fred Tancordo has been pushing the Howard County Health Department to pursue and publicize violations. Tancordo, a retired USDA inspector, has been writing up problems that he sees at places like the Lotte supermarket in Ellicott City. He wants the county to be more aggressive and to share more information. You can search your favorite restaurants on the Howard County Heath Department's Web site, but I agree with Tancordo that the site offers little useful information. The list of establishments closed this year still says "Coming Soon," and I couldn't figure how to see the inspection reports. The county seems to list the places that it inspected in the past 30 days, but I can't see the actual results.

Do you think this stuff matters? Why doesn't Howard County want us to know their findings? Is there some reason not to assume that, in this day and age, it takes conscious effort to have such a skeletal Web site? Anyone know how to get the information?

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Post Your Snowball Photos With B More Sweet

The B More Sweet blog is collecting photos of snowballs as part of a post/project to document the icy summer treats all around Baltimore. Check out the blog and add your photo to her Flickr group.

New Pit Beef, A New Bakery, And More

We went on vacation last week, so I don't have recent discoveries. But people are leaving great comments that make me want to try the new openings and the spots that I haven't had time to check out:

I think they opened today (Saturday). They are a pit beef place that offers pit beef, pit turkey, pit ham, grilled chicken breast, and pulled pork sandwiches, all for $5.79. They also offer "subs" of each for a buck more, with topping choices of BBQ sauce, horseradish, onion, mayo, honey mustard, and tiger sauce. Lettuce and Tomato are .50 each extra. I went there and got a medium-well Pit Beef sandwich with horseradish. It was cooked just to my order and for the most part I found the meat to

be flavorful and moist, just to my liking. It was not overly stringy and fairly lean (although I did find one large strand of fat) and pretty comparable to The Canopy. Unfortunately it was smaller than what I remember getting at The Canopy and they did not offer any other kind of bread aside from a kaiser role (I suggested in the future that they make rye bread available.)

I think this place has potential though. They offer 1$ off coupons with each order and I plan to go back in the future. They certainly got my order right and I found the girls behind the counter a lot nicer to deal with then the somewhat impatient staff at The Canopy. I'm not sure if they match the Canopy in taste but at the very least their pit beef is close, and it is certainly much better than Pig Pickers.

Thanks for all the comments. Other people asked questions or gave updates -- including a wine tasting option at Greystone Grill in Columbia:

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Link: La Boulangerie on B More Sweet

La Boulangerie in Ellicott City gets the thumbs up from the B More Sweet blog, which posted last week while I was out of town.

The Korean bakery across from the Lotte supermarket on Rte 40 offers Korean desserts and a selection of formal cakes. B More Sweet enjoyed the sweet potato cake topped with fruit. I actually haven't had the cakes, but I love all the pastries at the front of the bakery, and I also recommend the bubble tea.

For my posts about La Boulangarie, click here. Or check out my post about bakeries in Howard County.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Hunan Manor in Columbia

Hunan Manor is one of the basic ingredients of modern Howard County.

The Columbia restaurant serves good Chinese food, but, even more, it is an institution for people who have lived here. People went with their parents. They celebrated birthdays. They cherish the memories and their favorite meals. Hunan Manor is also a fount for local cuisine because its former owners and chefs left to start other restaurants, including the pan-Asian Jesse Wong's Asean Bistro and the authentic Chinese Grace Garden.

Both those joints exceed the original in my opinion, but Hunan Manor is still a nice restaurant. The dark wood and the carvings give it a classy casual feel. The kitchen does standard takeout, but it stretches for fresh fish dishes and Peking duck.  The menu is actually huge, and there is a photocopied supplement with authentic Chinese dishes with some pages translated into English.  They'll give you a copy if you ask.  Or email me, and I'll send you a copy.

In the end, Hunan Manor misses my Top 10 because I don't love all that Chinese food. There are delicious items. Chinese brocoli with a fresh taste and a light sauce. Chicken in oyster sauce with crisp water chestnuts. A pickle appetizer with fiery liquid flavoring spears of cucumber.

But other dishes suffer from the thick sauces that are far too common at Chinese restaurants. The crispy beef was horrible -- thin chewy slices of something that tasted of soft breading and sugary sauce. My wife and I split on the eggplant with ground pork from the Chinese menu. I was impressed by silky soft eggplant that held its shape and was flavored with something that I couldn't exactly place -- a little ground meat, maybe something fermented. I thought it was tasty both hot and then for lunch the next day. But I understood why the heavy sauce turned off Mrs. HowChow, who is extremely adventerous and didn't eat even a second forkful.

What are the best dishes at Hunan Manor?  I know this is a kitchen with real followers out there.  If you don't like Hunan Manor, where do you go for Chinese?

If you want more about the Chinese options nearby, check out my post about Chinese restaurants in Howard County.

Hunan Manor
7091 Deepage Drive
Columbia, MD 21045

NEAR: This is just off Snowden River Parkway just north of the intersection with Broken Land Parkway. From Rte 175, you can just go south on Snowden and turn right at the traffic light with a Manpower office next the Three Brothers Italian restaurant. That is Carved Stone Road.  Hunan Manor's red roof is a block up that road on the right.

Hunan Manor on Urbanspoon

Friday, June 19, 2009

Candied Fennel Seeds at Food Cravings

It is a revelation to eat the candied fennel seeds for sale at Food Cravings and other Indian markets.

Indian restaurants often have a bowl of seeds, some with candy coatings, at the door for a little breath-freshening treat. As I have written, Mrs. HowChow doesn't sample open bowls of anything, but I really enjoy the taste.

My revelation is that fresh tastes way better than stale. I opened a bag of the candied seeds, and I realized that they're naturally crunchy and way more delicious before they spend a few days softening in that bowl. Plus, the full bag of candied seeds have a better flavor than the restaurant standard where most of the seeds are au natural and only a few have candy coatings. Full candied seeds are sweeter, and the fennel taste is a touch less harsh.

Great treat for yourself. Nice to end any meal with garlic, spices, etc. Funny little gesture if you serve them in those plastic Chinese soup spoons.

If you are looking for Indian groceries, check out Food Cravings or Desi Market in Columbia or Apna Bazar or Eastern Market in Laurel. Or click here for all the posts about Indian food.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Where Can We Buy Premium Chocolate Bars in HoCo or Baltimore?

What stores around Howard County or Baltimore have the best selection of high end chocolate bars?

Frank Hecker, a mainstay on the HoCo Blogs scene, emailed me about finding speciality or unusual chocolates.  Like Frank, I'm a fan of really good chocolate bars.  They're small luxuries -- costing just a few dollars even if they're triple the cost of a Hershey's.  Frank writes:
I sometimes check out the list of top-rated chocolate bars reviewed at Seventy Perfect, and I've tried a couple of them, most notably the Michel Cluizel bars; they really are quite nice, definitely a cut above your typical "premium" bar (e.g., Ghirardelli, Green and Black's, etc.) and not much more expensive. I suspect the same is true for the other highly-rated bars I haven't had a chance to taste.

However the closest place I've found to get Michel Cluizel is Balducci's in Bethesda, and even they have a limited selection. I have no idea if anyone in Howard County carries these, but I'd really be interesting in knowing. High-end chocolate bars are a real bargain treat as far as I'm concerned, because a $5 or $6 bar will last me several days eating a piece or two at a time. It would be nice if some local business catered to my tastes, which I suspect might be shared
by others.
Can anyone suggest a good place to shop around Ellicott City or Baltimore?  Does Roots or any of the organic markets offer the good stuff?  As I remember, Produce Galore had shelves of chocolate, but they are regrettably a part of Columbia's history.  Is there a gift store or a coffee shop that filled the hap?

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Sarah and Desmond's Bakery and Cafe

Sarah & Desmond's Bakery & Cafe is the coffee shop that I wish was in my neighborhood.

(UPDATE: Sarah & Desmond's closed.)

The bakery and sandwich shop sits just off Main Street in downtown Ellicott City, and it fills on a Saturday morning with sunshine, slow-moving people, and the smell of muffins fresh from the oven. With the traffic just outside the plate glass windows, you could almost believe that you were in a city.

Sarah & Desmond's offers a robust menu for a small bakery. Sandwiches. Salads. Muffins. Cookies. Cupcakes. My most-recent trip was a morning when I really needed something good, and I bought a blueberry muffin that went straight from the baking tray into my takeout box. It was so warm that it crumbled, and I ate greedily in the car -- light and fruity cake with a sugary crisp top, nothing like the dense, plastic-wrapped muffins that haunt so many breakfast places.

With the muffin, you can get Zeke's coffee. For a dessert, you should definitely try the cupcakes. Like Touche Touchet in Coumbia, Sarah & Desmond's offers an adult cupcake -- delicious cake, a stiff frosting with flavor (not just sweet), and a size that you actually want to finish. If you want something more substantial, you can buys sandwiches, salads, quiches or soups.

By now, I hope that you're inspired to try out the joint. That's why I'll mention at the end that Sarah & Desmond's is a vegetarian bakery and cafe. They even do some vegan baking, and the vegan cookies are good although nothing beats a warm muffin. Vegetarian options should be an added plus for anyone who wants them, and it shouldn't scare of the meat-eaters among us. It's a bakery. Most baked goods are vegetarian. You'll eat well. I haven't tried the sandwiches yet, but there is a broad menu -- and nothing fake. It's good-looking vegetables with flavors like olives, goat cheese, artichoke hearts, etc. No one is tricking you with mock deli meats. Give it a try.

(Update: There are several suggestions about things to order in the comments below.  Apparently Sarah & Desmond's does gluten-free baking along with vegan options.)

If you are looking for baked goods, check out my post about bakeries in Howard County.

Sarah & Desmonds Bakery & Cafe
3715 Old Columbia Pike
Ellicott City, MD 21043

NEAR: Sarah and Desmond's is just off Main Street in downtown Ellicott City. It is a block up Old Columbia Pike. I don't know where you are supposed to park. I have either walked there from Main Street or parking in the lot behind the bakery, but on my most-recent trip, I realized that bakery is linked to the closed yoga shop -- not the bakery.

Sarah and Desmond's Gourmet Bakery and Vegetarian Cafe on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

La Palapa Too in Laurel (Really Fulton or Columbia)

We had a good meal and a fun Saturday night at La Palapa Too.

La Palapa is a local trio of Mexican restaurants that serve up good food and an energetic vibe in Ellicott City, Laurel and Burtonsville.  La Palapa Too isn't really in Laurel.  It's just south of Columbia off Johns Hopkins Road.

You should go for the ceviche appetizer.  The lime-infused fish inspired one of my first HowChow posts.  Chunks of fish, shrimp, avocado and onion.  A few pieces of squid.   Some minced hot pepper to add to your taste.  We
scooped ceviche with La Palapa's chips.  It's a terrific starter and the kind of intelligent zest that lifts a kitchen above chains and humdrum menus.

For the entrees, I suggest that you order for sauces.  Mrs. HowChow often returns to the mole sauce, which coats chicken slices in a slightly sweet, slightly nutty flavor.  Mostly recently, I really enjoyed a shrimp "al diablo" with a fiery red sauce.  I asked for some extra corn tortillas (60 cents) to dip out the sauce after I had eaten the five shrimp.

We had a great time sitting just inside from the patio.  All evening, a duo played guitar tunes -- Indigo Girls, Johnny Cash, Jimmy Buffett -- and kept an entire crowd in smiles and drinks.  The sun set.  The musicians played.  We didn't wait for a patio table, but we could still hear and feel the vibe from our table.

If anything, the vibe and the sauces overshadow the rest of the night.  You get rice, beans and salads with most meals.  They're basic, even uninspired.  I don't want to expect too much, but the entrees run $16 or more which feels like there could be snappy side dishes as well.  The margaritas are sweet.  I had actually had a perfect one the night before that tasted of just lime and tequila.  Next time, I'll stick with Pacifico.

Overall, I'm a La Palapa fan.  The ceviche and a Mexican beer are reason enough to visit, and you could spend a great night drinking and listening to music.   

La Palapa Too is one of my favorite "parking lot cafes" -- outdoor seating that overlooks the automobiles.  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.  Check out El Azteca restaurant in Clarksville or my post about the Mexican restaurants in Howard County.

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.

La Palapa Too on Urbanspoon

Monday, June 15, 2009

Is Waverly Woods Getting A New Pizza Joint?

Does anyone know details about a new pizza place coming to the office/retail building at the entrance to Waverly Woods?

Alison emailed me and said she had heard that the pizza place off Marriottsville Road north of I-70 would be called Trattoria Montese or Montrese.  She said the rumor is that it was another restaurant by the same guys who own the Trattorias in King's Contrivance and Dorsey's Search in Columbia. 

I'm planning a return to the Trattoria E Pizzeria Da Enrico in King's Contrivance because people really talk that place up.  Mrs. HowChow says I didn't do it justice because we have always eaten slices.

If you're looking for pizza now, check out my post about the best pizza in Howard County.

Pani Puri at Eastern Bazar (or any other Indian market)

Pani puri is an Indian snack food that I will always love because my friend's family took us out on our first night -- or maybe the second -- in Bombay.

To make pani puri, you buy the crisp hollow balls of impossibly thin dough.  You break a hole at one end, then you fill the hole with a mixture -- made as far as I understand of onion, potato and chick pea flavored with the pani puri sauce.  Bags of the
 crisp balls and jars of the sauce are available at local Indian grocery stores.  The bags in the picture are from Eastern Bazar in Laurel, but I have seen similar displays at Desi Bazar.

The "coolness" to "work" ratio with pani puri is off the charts.  You buy the crisps and the sauce.  You just cook up some potato and onion, add some canned chickpeas, some of the pani puri sauce and some water.  Then you serve them one at a time by cracking a hole in a crisp, spooning in a teaspoon or so of warm filling, and handing them out to enjoy.

Look for all the supplies at one of Howard County's Indian groceries, including Food Cravings in Columbia, Desi Bazaar in Columbia, Apna Bazar in Laurel or Eastern Market in Laurel.  In May 2009, someone was opening a new Indian grocery near the Gateway Pizza in Elkridge.

Pani Puri
This is a very general recipe based on how I made pani puri.  I'm sure you could find another recipe on the Web.

1 bag of pani puri crisps
1 jar of pani puri sauce
1 large new potato, diced
1/2 onion, diced
1 c. chickpeas

1) Boil a pot of water and add the potato.  Test them after five minutes to see if they're tender.  Cook until they're tender.  Drain the potato when its tender.

2) While the potato is cooking, saute the onion until it is soft.

3) Add  the potato and chickpeas to the onions.  Saute until everything is warm.  Pour all the vegetables into a bowl.

4) Add two tablespoons of the pani puri sauce.  Add about four tablespoons of water.  Taste the vegetables.  As far as I know, this is just personal taste.  The pani puri sauce that I bought was spicy with about two tablespoons.

5) With a spoon, crack a hole in one of the pani puri crisps.  Spoon in a tablespoon or so of the vegetables.  Eat.  Repeat.  (They're best crunchy and fresh.  I think they're best eaten right away like a snack.)

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Yogiberry Coming To The Columbia Mall

Yogiberry is bringing the flashy frozen yogurt fad to Howard County by opening at the Columbia Mall in July 2009, according to sources.

(And Yogiberry opened on August 28, 2009.)

By "sources," I mean a comment by Susan on an old post about the Yogiberry in Olney and an email from my friend Alisha who saw the signs when she was at the mall.

Yogiberry is a DC chain serving the frozen yogurt style from Korea and LA's Pinkberry. They sell slighly sour yogurt topped with fresh fruit, candy, cereal and mochi. That mochi is my favorite. They also decorate with a modern vibe with bathrooms that look more like clubs than shopping centers.

The Columbia Mall appears to be making big changes in the food court. There have been signs for a new Five Guys burger joint since March, and a comment below says there may also be a Chipotle and an Arby's on the horizon.

If you want to try this trendy yogurt, you can also visit a Mango Berry in the Catonsville shopping center with the H Mart. Plus, Mrs. HowChow found frozen yogurt that you can eat this weekend in Howard County -- flavor and fruit, but no mochi or flash. But that is a different post.

Yogurt and Smoothies at the Maple Lawn BP Station

The trendy sour frozen yogurt has come to Howard County in the most un-trendy of places -- a gas station in Maple Lawn on Rte 216.

The BP gas station off Maple Lawn Boulvard in Fulton has always had a standard mini-market inside -- drinks, coffee, even sandwiches. But Mrs. HowChow stumbled on the Korean-style frozen yogurt topped with fresh mangos, pineapple and bananas.

We had gone out for soft serve. We needed a pick-up, and Tuesday's approaching thunderstorms made it seem reckless to drive far for ice cream. So we ran into the BP and discovered both the frozen yogurt and smoothies. These are individually-made for each order. The yogurt came with artfully-sliced banana on top. No trendy art on the wall. No special bowls or spoons. (And no mochi or cereal toppings.) But the Maple Lawn BP delivers the sweets.

Mrs. HowChow rated the yogurt on par with Yogiberry, which is in Olney and coming to the Columbia Mall. She said the mango was so ripe that she'll order all mango next time. My smoothie was delicious as well with mango and other fruit. It seemed to be just yogurt and fruit -- a great breakfast or a summer treat. Until Yogiberry opens in the Columbia Mall, the BP market is the spot for the trendiest ice cream in Howard County.

If you're looking for the new style frozen yogurt, you should check out the Yogiberry in Olney (and coming to the Columbia Mall) or Mango Berry in the Catonsville shopping center with the H Mart.

If you stop at the BP Station, you should also look at the sandwiches and the breakfasts. I'm trying to forget that they sell egg and bacon sandwiches because I drive past here every morning on my commute.

Maple Lawn BP Station
8181 Maple Lawn Boulevard
Fulton, MD 20759

NEAR: This is in the Maple Lawn development on Rte 216 just west of Rte 29. You can also get there by taking Maple Lawn Boulevard from Johns Hopkins Road. Maple Lawn Boulevard is an extension of Cedar/Sanner Road, so you can drive on local roads from much of Columbia.

Maple Lawn BP Station on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Comments About Trendy Yogurt, Kim Barnes' New Book and More

I keep learning from comments.  I have discovered great items from cupcakes at Touche Touchet to, well, more cupcakes at Sarah & Desmond's in Ellicott City -- and I really appreciate when people take the time to share something that they enjoy.  Often, they're commenting on older posts, so I collected some here so that other people see the news or ideas:  

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Link: Restaurant Specials on Live in Howard County

There are very useful lists of restaurant specials on the Live in Howard County blog.  

BillZ has assembled the specials by the day of the week, so you can see the best place for any night to get a deal on all-you-can-eat ribs, discounted beers, or half-priced bottles of wine.

Aunt Susan's Kitchen in Laurel

Jamaican patties intrigue me -- a minced, sometimes spicy filling wrapped by a dry, flaky dough that stands out from the other turnovers that I love.

Empanadas and samosas are truly fried pastries.  Knishes are baked, but still with a thick dough.  Jamaican patties come out flaky even crisp on the outside, and they're a delicious snack at Aunt Susan's Kitchen in Laurel.

Aunt Susan's Kitchen offers the closest Jamaican takeout for Howard County, along with American comfort foods and a few vegetarian dishes that trend Indian.  There are a few tables to eat there, but most people seem to come in for carry out like jerk
 chicken, fried fish, oxtail stew, or curries.  The entrees comes with side dishes that range from greens to rice, green beens to macaroni salad.

On my last trip, I tried goat.  Not something I cook at home, and the meat came out tender and flavorful.  The curry is spicy and balanced nicely with sauteed cabbage and the collard greens. I ate a huge dinner and still had enough to carry for lunch the next day.  For me, Aunt Susan's is worth the drive for something unusual like the patties or the oxtail stew that I'll try on my next visit.  But I watched several people walk out with real basics like fried fish.  You can get the full meal or a fish sandwich on coco bread.

(Update:  Check out the comments where Jeremey and Bets each recommend other Jamaican places in Laurel -- Island Flavors and Red Snappaz.  I'm adding them both to my list.)

If you want Jamaican takeout but live north of Columbia, consider Golden Krust in Catonsville.  The takeout in the same shopping center as the H Mart serves up nice patties, other takeout and even Jamaican-style ice cream.

Aunt Susan's Kitchen
15101 Baltimore Avenue, Ste 111
Laurel, MD 20707

NEAR: Aunt Susan's Kitchen is just east of U.S. 1 near the intersection with Rte 198. It faces onto Rte 198, although you can only reach it from the north-bound lanes of U.S.1. From Howard County, you need to take U.S. 1 south past the Five Guys, then U-turn back onto north-bound U.S. 1 and turn into the last parking lot before the Rte 198 intersection. Turn left on a little access road parallel to U.S. 1, and Aunt Jenny's is on the corner of a shopping center that also includes Indian groceries at Eastern Bazar.

Aunt Susan's Kitchen on Urbanspoon

Monday, June 8, 2009

Bistro Blanc Gets A Nice Review -- And Offers Some Wine Dinners

Bistro Blanc got a very nice review Sunday from Elizabeth Large in the Sun.  She says the small plates paired with wine are worth a drive from Baltimore -- so this is certainly a place worth checking out if you're lucky enough to live closer.

The Glenelg restaurant is run by the former chef at Iron Bridge Wine Company.  I haven't been yet, but Bistro Blanc shares the Iron Bridge formula of small plates, refined food, and a focus on wine. 

Bistro Blanc is offering two wine dinners this summer where winemakers will actually come talk about their vintages over four-course meals.  On June 22, the dinner will cost $75 and feature wines from Wolf Blass in Australia.  On July 20, the dinner will cost $100 and feature California wines from Duckhorn Vineyards.

For more information, check out the restaurant's own blog.  BillZ of the Live in Howard County blog is working for Bistro Blanc and publicizing news and other items about the restaurant and its chef Marc Dixon.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Hidden Treasure Opens In Highland

A new coffee, sandwiches and salad place called Hidden Treasure opened in Highland at the corner of Rte 216 and Rte 108, according to a tip from Laura and an anonymous comment on another post.

Hidden Treasure also serves up ice cream and bakery items -- Laura vouches for the cupcakes. This is apaprently next to the Subway in the newish commerical development right at the Rte 216 and Rte 108 intersection. Easy to reach from Clarksville or from Fulton/Maple Lawn.

If you go past Hidden Treasure, you should check out Highland's landmark Boarman's -- a country grocery store at the same intersection with great sausages and crab cakes that you can make at home.

Dobbin Donuts and Deli Needs Your Support -- And You Need Breakfast

If you want to support Dobbin Donuts and Deli, it sounds like you need to go down there and eat something.

I got a very nice email from David, who says that the Dobbin Donuts and Deli folks might need to close because business has dropped so much. David touts this as one of the best places for a diner-style breakfast or lunch. "Big portions, nice people, good food."

I haven't done any reporting about Dobbin Donuts (Jack - Are you available?), so I don't want to panic anyone. I'm sure there are many local restaurant owners feeling the pinch. I'm just posting because David really likes the food, and he thinks that people need to visit in the next few weeks if they don't want the Dobbin deli to close like George's, Z Pizza, and the other local places that have just become memories.

(Update: There is a comment below that says Dobbin Donuts may be closing at the end of June.)

Dobbin Donuts & Deli
6656 Dobbin Rd # C
Columbia, MD‎
(410) 381-4092‎

NEAR: Dobbins Donuts & Deli is on Dobbin Road between Oakland Park and McGaw Road. So it's south of McGaw if you are coming from Snowden River Parkway.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Bon Fresco Opening in Columbia in Mid-June

A new restaurant called Bon Fresco will open in the Owen Brown neighborhood in Columbia around June 15, according to a tip from the Gonzo Journalist who runs the Columbia Blog Project.

I don't have many details, but I'm always hopeful about new offerings and happy to spread the word. It sounds like there will be sandwiches and baked items, along with Israeli cous cous.  The GJ posted about Bon Fresco , although the owner Gerald Koh hasn't told them the details of the menu. He is going to work there, so he should know more about the menu, atmosphere, etc.

Azul Restaurant and Bar Coming To Columbia

A new restaurant called Azul Restaurant and Bar has pulled building permits in Columbia for the Snowden River Parkway shopping center that already hosts Pho Dat Thanh.

An anonymous poster tipped me to the permits, which he/she found on the Howard County Web site. The comments says Azul Restaurant is going into the space that was formerly Boardwalk Burgers and Fries. Thanks for the tip.

Does anyone know more about Azul Restaurant and Bar?

Seibel's for Ice Cream in Burtonsville

The closest home-made ice cream to Howard County appears to be Seibel's in Burtonsville.

Seibel's is a family-style restaurant at Rte 198 and Rte 29 where they have been mixing up their own ice cream since 1939.  The ice cream was pretty good.  We visited after people mentioned Siebel's in comments on a post about ice cream joints for a summer night.  

Both the banana and the lemon ice creams were creamy and full of flavor.  The lemon violated the HowChow ice cream rules -- coming in a yellow tint that sure doesn't look like lemon juice.  But the flavors were real fruit, and they came in big waffle cones that we enjoyed in our car.

If you go to Burtonsville, you should also check out the two blocks of restaurants running along Rte 198.  That includes kabobs at a branch of Maiwand Kabob, Cuban at Cuba de Ayer, and both coffee and Ethiopian food at Coffee Oromia.

Seibel's Restaurant and Ice Cream
15540 Old Columbia Pike
Burtonsville, MD 20866
(301) 384-5661

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. Go through the traffic circle at the end of the exit. That 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. Seibel's is a block up on the right. There is a sign.

Seibel's on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Link: Coal Fire Pizza on GrubGrade

The GrubGrade blog reviewed the new Coal Fire Pizza in Elkridge and came away happy with the pizza.

Pricey and not great pasta or sandwich, says Adam of GrubGrade. But he says the pizza is one of the best pizza experiences in Maryland if you're looking for a balance between crust, toppings, sauce and cheese.

Check out the comments. If you want to talk about pizza, there is an interesting comment about whether coal-fired pizza should be made with dough so moist that it can't be tossed. There is a link to a Pizza Blogger interview with someone from Joe Squared, who argues for stretched, not tossed, dough. Then the Pizza Blogger himself comments.

For my take on Coal Fire (or to leave your own thoughts), check out my prior post.

Eastern Bazar Supermarket in Laurel

You don't need to leave Howard County for a good Indian grocery store, but the Eastern Bazar Supermarket in Laurel is worth a drive because it offers all the standards plus speciality produce.

Like the other local Indian markets, Eastern Bazar is a resource for both cooking and convenience food.  You can buy spices, rices, lentils, chickpea flour, and dozens of other items that you'll find in an Indian cookbook.  Or you can buy frozen naan, jarred pickles, chutneys, grill sauces, and boxes of ready-made curries for a packed lunch or a quick dinner.

The real difference is the produce arranged in coolers in the far left corner when you enter the store.  There are neatly-arranged boxes with items like long squash, curry leaves, spiny melon. methe, and daiku.  Even great local markets like Lily's Mexican or Caezar's International stock little or no produce.  So it's a treat to see that you could buy your vegetables -- including unique ones -- on a single visit.  Any basic vegetables that you can't find at Eastern Bazar are probably available at the Panam Supermarket in the shopping center that backs against Eastern.

The owner/clerk at Eastern was really helpful -- which I have found common at the Indian markets.  I stumbled on pani puri -- a snack that I ate on one of my first nights in India.  He explained to me how to cook the vegetables and where to find the jarred sauce that he stocks.  I'm not sophisticated enough at Indian shopping to spot the differences between the local stores.  I assume there is some regional variation -- Indian vs. Pakistani, northern vs. southern, or even just Coke vs. Pepsi if they stock different brands.

If you are looking for Indian groceries inside Howard County, check out Apna Bazar in Laurel, Food Cravings in Columbia or Desi Bazaar in Columbia.  In early summer 2009, it looked like Food Cravings might also be expanding to Elkridge.

Eastern Bazar
15101 Baltimore Ave # 100
Laurel, MD 20707
(301) 490-4666

NEAR: The market is just east of U.S. 1 near the intersection with Rte 198.  It actually faces onto Rte 198, although you can only reach it from the north-bound lanes of U.S.1.  From Howard County,  you need to take U.S. 1 south past the Five Guys, then U-turn back onto north-bound U.S. 1 and turn into the last parking lot before the Rte 198 intersection.  Turn left in the shopping center and drive past the Aunt Jenny's Jamaican restaurant to reach Eastern Bazar.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Bistro Blanc To Be Reviewed In The Sun

The Baltimore Sun is coming to Howard County this Sunday when Elizabeth Large reviews Bistro Blanc in Glenelg.  Her blog post says it is "well worth the drive" -- and you know the Sun means the drive from Pikesville or Roland Park, so it must be worth the drive from here.

I haven't been to this restaurant, which is run by a former chef from Iron Bridge Wine Company.  But BillZ at Live in Howard County raves about the place.  BillZ's dining update about Bistro Blanc is here.  (And I see that he noticed Large's blog post yesterday.)

Beer Sampler at Victoria Gastropub

Victoria Gastropub offers the perfect option for people who like to sample beers, but can't throw back pint after pint.

For about $12, you get five half-pours of the dozens of beers that Victoria offers on tap. It's a buck more for some special brews, but the five five-ounce glasses are a reasonable way to either try something new or build your own selection -- all wheat beers, a light-to-dark collection, etc.

For me, the best part of my sample was that I hated one of the beers that I tasted. My face looked like I had drank something rancid, but the horrified reaction made me realize that I had truly enjoyed the other four -- and not just drank them out of some "Emperor's New Clothes" belief that the beer must be good if I'm paying this much. Twenty ounces of beer was all that I needed. It went great with the best burger in Howard County. And I went home happy.

For more about beer in Howard County, click here for my take on the "Sudsy Triangle" or go right to the Baltimore Beer Guy's blog.

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

Monday, June 1, 2009

Link: Eggspectation on Food & Wine Blog

Greg posts about breakfast all day at Eggspectation on the Food & Wine Blog.  He and a friend each had eggs, then ordered the Chesapeake crepe as well.

Organic Shopping in Howard County

Organic food in Howard County starts at the three organic markets, and it is spreading out more and more every day.

The three big markets are Roots in Clarksville, David's in Columbia and Mom's Organic Market in Jessup (formerly My Organic Market). These are independent stores -- smaller than a Safeway but larger than most of the ethnic groceries -- offering produce, breads, cheeses, some meats, and aisle after aisle of packaged goods.

I'm not the perfect customer for these stores because I don't flock to the packaged goods. I love Muir Glen canned tomatoes, but I don't really crave the milk, juices, crackers, sauces and frozen foods that seem to appear in all three stores -- like they do at Whole Foods. These seem to be the core products. Many of them are delicious. Many are pretty pricey as well. I don't know if the prices differ between the three stores, although Roots certainly feels a bit more upscale.

They all have good bread, including Bonaparte baguettes at MOM's. I do love the bulk bins for beans and grains like oatmeal, quinoa and cracked wheat. I also go for cheese, although even the premier Roots cheese section doesn't have the excitement of the cheese at Wegmans.

Roots, MoM's and David's truly do offer some unique items -- both ingredients to cook and convenience food that you could cook tonight. I tried the Moorenko's ice cream at MoM, and commentators on a prior post talked about their personal favorites -- like local honey (Kikiverde), Trickling Springs Creamery chocolate milk, and a Neiman Ranch uncured ham steak.

Beyond the big three, you can find organic products at Trader Joe's in Elkridge and really at most of the standard grocery stores. Clearly, organic has become a trend that no one ignores.

Where do you buy organic or natural foods? What differences do you see between MoM, Roots and David's? Better prices? Better selection? Special goods?

One of the little treats at the organic markets is that they'll give you their trash. I call ahead and then pick up the produce or the salad bar scraps that the markets would normally throw away. Mixed with shredded leaves, they're perfect fuel for a compost heap -- although I have been weeding squash seedlings from my gardens all spring because I tossed pumpkins and butternut squash into my pile last fall.

For more information, check out my post about vegetable shopping in Howard County and click on any of these links for all the posts about each of the three markets: Roots in Clarksville, David's in Columbia, and My Organic Market in Jessup.

Roots Market
5805 Clarksville Square Dr.
Clarksville, MD 21029

NEAR: It's on Rte 108 just north of Rte 32. The Clarksville Square shopping center is on the west side filled with "crunchy" businesses owned by the same people -- a restaurant, a pet supply shop, a decorating place. Look for the Jiffy Lube on Rte 108.

Mom's Organic Market Columbia East
7361 Assateague Dr. #190
Jessup, MD 20794

NEAR: This is the Columbia East shopping center at Rte 175 and U.S. 1. There is a Starbucks and a Rita's facing Rte 175, and you'll see My Organic Market right in front of you when you pull into the parking area.

David's Natural Market
5430 Lynx Ln. #C
Columbia, MD 21044

NEAR: This is in the Wilde Lake Village Center near the Columbia Mall. The center is off Twin Rivers Road, which runs between Harpers Farm Road and Gov. Warfield Parkway.

This is part of the "What I Learned" series of posts. They're organized in rings. See below to continue on the ring about shopping in Howard County. Or click to switch to the posts about different cuisines or posts about areas and ideas.

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