Sunday, February 28, 2010

Sun Reviews Venegas Prime Filet

Venegas Prime Filet got a review in the Sun today, but they might not have wanted this kind of attention.

The reviewer liked the steaks, but didn't love much else.  Provided some serious criticism about sauces, side dishes, service, and so much else.  I still haven't eaten at the new Fulton restaurant, and I still want to give it a try.  Other folks were talking it up as recently as last night.  (Comment, DK?  Pick a Blogger nickname!)

Friday, February 26, 2010

Five Guys In Columbia

Somewhere between gourmet and fast food, Five Guys is serving up burgers and fries that make tasty casual meals.

At one point, Five Guys was a cult joint growing in northern Virginia.  Now, it's a solid chain, and it settled into Howard County over the past year with locations at the Columbia Mall and off Dobbin Road.

There is something authentic about a Five Guys.  You can watch them fry up potato slices, and you can peek into the back where piles of meat wait to be shaped into burgers.

Real food makes a good burger -- although one that you can't red or pink inside.  On our last errand trip to the mall, we split a burger as a snack.  Good beef flavor that comes close to my own grill.  A bun far better than most burger joints.  Really good pickles and mushrooms.  This isn't my favorite burger at Victoria Gastro Pub, but that one costs triple and frankly doesn't have fries that match Five Guys' offerings when they're hot from the oil.

The truth about these little chains is that they can vary.  The Fatburger in Elkridge hasn't inspired me to return.  I'm hoping that Sonic lives up to expectations if it comes to Ellicott City.  So far, Five Guys met the standards that lured me to Laurel before the Columbia locations opened.  I'm hoping that continues.

Five Guys at Columbia Mall
10300 Little Patuxent Parkway
Columbia, MD  21044

NEAR:  This is in the Columbia Mall food court.  It is on the ground floor at the end of food court closest to the stores.

Five Guys - Columbia Mall on Urbanspoon

Five Guys at Dobbin Center
6435 Dobbin Center Way
Columbia, MD 20145

NEAR:  Five Guys is in the shopping area with a Blockbuster off Dobbin Road.  This is the backside of the large shopping center that faces Rte 175, but you get there by going south on Dobbin Road from Rte 175 and then turning left at the second light.

Five Guys - Dobbin Center on Urbanspoon

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Don't Throw Out The Baby With The Beer Water

The Looney's Pub in Fulton has a hearing in March before the liquor board, and I'm hoping that no one over-reacts.

Looney's appears to be an enormous success, filling the Maple Lawn lots most nights and bringing foot traffic to a development that is still in progress.  Apparently, Looney's has also served liquor to an underage police cadet and let people drink outside.  The Sun wrote a story in December about a two-day alcohol suspension, and there is another hearing scheduled for March 4, 2010.

I'm very glad that I spent my 20s in cities where I could walk home from the bars.  I drank like the crowds at Looney's, and, in my current, drier days, I wonder how those crowds get home.  Looney's actually impresses me by having a van that will shuttle home drunk patients (and amused us to no end on the night we followed the van to one of my neighbors' homes).

The March hearing says it is to "fine, suspend, or revoke" Looney's liquor license. [See update below]  I don't know what Looney's has done, but I hope underage drinking isn't enough to shut a business down.  It's illegal.  But I'd rather have 18-years-olds drink in public, and I'm still touchy about the three years when I was eligible for the draft but couldn't sit at a bar.  Personally, I drank less when I paid for pints instead of the grain alcohol that we cherished when we were underage.  (My college housemates eventually matured into five classy people.  When we couldn't legally drink, we once threw a party with a trash can of punch made of grain and Ecto-Plasmic Hi-C.  That was a scene way worse than anything Looney's could ever imagine.)

[Update: Bill Larney, the owner of Looney's, writes a comment below that the hearing is an appeal of that two-day suspension. The Sun's article did describe a suspension planned for January, and that seems to be what Looney's has appealed.  Larney also says that the "drinking outside" was a smoker holding a beer.  So no revocation or any of the over-reaction that I was wondering about.  Larney talks about new management and about the free shuttle that they have to get customers home.]

Thanks to HowICook for the links.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Taco Dinner From The 1970s

I come from a world where Mexican food came in a bright yellow box.

Before Taco Bell, before El Azteca in Clarksville, before R&R Deli served a dozen spectacular dishes from the Shell station, there was Old El Paso.

Old El Paso delivered Mexico in a box.  Or at least that was the idea.  Hard shells in a box, taco seasoning in an envelope, taco sauce in little bottles.  This was the world before salsa.  Taco sauce was thin and mild and left the fridge only on taco night.  We didn't even have refried beans until our babysitter taught my mother about them.

You can recreate the 1970s even in these days of "no trans fat.  Mrs. HowChow liked the burgers made with Laurel Meat Market's ground chuck, but she requested an Old El Paso night as well.  To be true OT, you need to limit yourself:  Old El Paso hard shells, the taco seasoning, iceberg lettuce, diced tomatoes and shredded cheddar.  Consider the canned green chilis, which were an innovation in the early 1980s.  But don't serve avocados, which are ubiquitous today but tasted inauthentic when I added them to our table.

No soft tacos.  No authentic corn tortillas from Lily's Mexican Market.  No chipotles.  Mrs. HowChow and I shared the same childhood strategies to put the cheese on the beef so you get a little melting along the way.  Top with the vegetables and crunch away.  It's not just nostalgia.  We really enjoyed dinner.

The final authentic touch would be eating until your stomach hurts.  As I remember, taco night involved no portion control.  My brother and I crunched taco after taco by the box, then made "taco salads" with the leftover fillings and the inevitable broken shells.  (The Old El Paso that I bought today had no broken shells.  They have clearly improved the packaging in the past 25 years.)

Next time, I might just whip up an appetizer that I remember from the same time -- slice green olives, stuff them with ground beef, then deep fry.  That's party food.  I'd get one before I was hustled off to bed.  It's the 1970s on a toothpick.

Old El Paso is a General Mills brand, so you can buy them at almost any grocery store -- and at Laurel Meat Market for a one-stop shopping with that delicious ground chuck.  For real Mexican, you should start at Lily's Mexican Market -- or just read all my posts about Mexican cuisine.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Link: The BBG Pushing The Food At Frisco

The Baltimore Beer Guy had a funny story about Frisco Grille and more suggestions about reasons to go *eat* at Columbia's key craft beer bar.  Check out the BBG post.

Three Howard County Restaurants Make Baltimore Magazine's Top Rankings

Three Howard County restaurants make the Baltimore Magazine Top 50 list in the March 2010 edition.

Their top choices are Tersiguel's (#15) in Ellicott City and Iron Bridge Wine Company (#30) and Victoria Gastro Pub (#46) in Columbia.  It's a really good edition.  There is also  a review of Hunan Taste in Catonsville that also suggests some additional dishes to order.

This again me want to try Tersiguel's.  I can't rate places I haven't visited, but you can click here for my best restaurants in Howard County.

Yorkie Chocolate Bars at Harris Teeter

What is with the British?

You can buy a Yorkie bar because you want the chocolate.  It's a pretty good milk chocolate, creamier than a Hershey's bar.  Five good squares of dessert.

But you really want the wrapper: "IT'S NOT FOR GIRLS" in white print across the bottom.  The "O" in Yorkie has the international sign of a woman crossed out by a red line.

Why?  I have no idea.  I don't even really want to know.  I found the Yorkie in the British section of the Harris Teeter, and I thought it was funny enough to bring home.  Mrs. HowChow laughed as well.  And we ate well.

Look for the Yorkie bar in the international food aisle of Harris Teeter -- one in Columbia and one in Fulton.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Burrito Brothers in Columbia Closed

The Burrito Brothers in Columbia closed.  I'm not sure when.  I saw the sign on the door when I stopped at King's Contrivance Sunday for bagels at Bagel Bin.

Burrito Brothers had a lonely location -- on the end of the shopping center as far as possible from the Harris Teeter.  Although Columbia town centers seem limited in their ability to support restaurants, Kings Contrivance always felt like an exception with its tree-lined courtyard encircled by Bagel Bin, Rita's Italian Ice, Michael's Pub, and Trattoria E Pizzeria Da Enrico.  Looks like Burrito Brothers couldn't make that grouping work.

(Update: Check out the comments below that recommend burritos at Frisco Grille and Lily's Mexican Market in Columbia.)

If you want an interesting lunch on the Mexican theme, check out the R&R Deli for spectacular tacos at Rte 175 and U.S. 1.  A little closer to King's Contrivance is Bon Fresco at Snowden River Pkwy and Oakland Mills Pkwy-- spectacular sandwiches.

Pho Redux: What Do I Want In My Bowl?

Could I ask a basic question?  What am I looking for when I search out great pho?

I recently posted about Pho 89 in Laurel and made plans to try Pho Saigon 54 after reading good reviews.  People added spectacular comments about Saigon 54 and other places like Pho Nam on Rte 40 in Catonsville, Pho Real in Burtonsville or Pho Hiep Hoa in Wheaton.

We are going to warm ourselves with some Vietnamese soup, especially because I read a recent Chowhound string about pho that talked up Pho Saigon in Catonsville.  We know that An Loi in Columbia isn't the last word on Vietnamese food, and that string has some nice distinctions between the pho from different regions of Vietnam.  It made me wonder what I should be looking for -- what flavors, what garnishes, what makes a great pho -- other than just soup that I think tastes good.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Help! I *Didn't* Find Shaoxing Rice WIne

Yesterday morning, I celebrated my discovery at the H Mart of Shaoxing rice wine -- the one missing ingredient from Andrea Nguyen's Asian Dumplings cookbook.

Yesterday afternoon, Nguyen posted about Shaoxing and coincidentally pointed out that I bought the wrong item.  She recommends Pagoda brand rice wine and says "Whatever your price point, avoid Shaoxing 'Cooking Wine' which is salted and tastes awful."

One look in my pantry confirmed that I had bought cooking wine.  My prior pride in last week's pork and cabbage dumplings crashed down around me.  Inauthentic and salty!  The memory tastes like shame.

Help me!  Nguyen was very nice in emails saying that sherry can substitute for the Shaoxing rice wine.  But a few pulls on the bottle clearly got her tipsy and honest enough to blog that I do need Shaoxing for "an extra authentic boost."  I have all the ingredients for kimchi and tofu dumplings.  I want to be extra authentic!

Has anyone seen Pagoda brand rice wine?  (Photo from Nguyen's Web site.)  H Mart?  Lotte?  The Chinese supermarket on Rte 40?

Friday, February 19, 2010

Shaoxing Rice Wine - Finally Found At H Mart

I finally sniffed out the Shaoxing rice wine at the H Mart.

I'd wanted Shaoxing because I'm cooking a storm out of Andrea Nguyen's spectacular Asian Dumplings cookbook.  Nguyen assured me that dry sherry substituted for the Chinese rice wine, but I became infatuated when I was able to find agar agar, ground pork and all the ingredients -- except for the Shaoxing.

Basically, I turned around.  I had gone bottle by bottle through the vinegars and sauces on one side of the H Mart's sauces aisle.  That's the left if you're walking from the fish section towards the front of the store.  No Shaoxing.  No Shaoxing.  No Shaoxing.

Last weekend, I turned around.  The Shaoxing was at eye level in the first section of shelf.  That took 30 seconds.

(Update:  I didn't find the right product.  A few hours after this post, Andrea Nguyen posted about Shaoxing and her favorite brand Pagoda.  I bought "cooking wine" -- which is salted and tasted terrible!  Please help me find Pagoda brand.)

Thanks to Lisa who emailed and everyone who left comments on the prior post with recommendations about where to find Shaoxing.  That confirmed for me that I had to just be overlooking it.

Link: Frisco Grille Is Moving And Expanding

Frisco Grille -- the Columbia beer bar and southwestern restaurant -- is moving down Dobbin Road and doubling in size, according to the the Baltimore Beer Guy.  Check out the BBG post with all the details and look for the new location in late spring or early summer.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Link: Yates Market To Become A Deli

The Yates Market in downtown Ellicott City will shift from selling groceries to selling deli sandwiches and other food around March 1, 2010, according to Kay on the A Walk To The Past blog.

Kay is excited for the new Yates Deli on Main Street and recommends the Pfefferkorn coffee, which Yates will continue to sell.  Yates is combining with the upholstery store next door and will run the business as a joint venture, according to Kay. 

Folks, this sounds legit.  Kay's blog is regular and serious.  But the concept of "deli and upholstery" means that there is always the chance that I'm not getting a joke here.

Yates Deli & Upholstery
8249 Main Street
Ellicott City, MD

NEAR:  Yates is on Main Street about halfway up the hill.

Comments About Sonic, Tacos, And Sushi

I'm always pleased when people post comments on HowChow, although I'm often surprised at what kicks up the most dust.

I figured that people would respond to Lee Biars' post about restaurants, and Sarah led several people who added their two cents to Lee's observations from the other side of the check.  I did not expect 20 great comments about liquor stores last month and was shocked that a tiny post about Sonic would trigger excitement from Danita, emkenton, Simon and others.  I'm suspicious because of the hype about Fatburger, which Craig F says still doesn't deliver.  What makes people love Sonic so much?  Mrs. HowChow says the limeade.  What else should excite us for the future Sonic in Ellicott City?  Anyone know where the Sonic will open?

If HowChow had a single great mission, it would be proselytizing about takeout tacos.  MaybeKathy loved the chicharronnes tacos at Lily's Mexican Market, and the new joint -- R&R Deli in Elkridge -- got compliments on several posts from Southern Skies, dzoey and bboyneko and from Michelle and fultie.   (Okay, maybe our great mission is ridiculing the area west of Rte 29 that the post office calls Laurel.  Fultie joined that mission as well with a link that shows the crazy zip codes around there.)

The funniest comment was only funny because The Minx was correcting my mistake.  I had gone on in the Hunan Taste post about "ox lung" and how I would know if it was good lung.  Turns out that "ox lung" actually refers to a combination of beef tripe, tendon and tongue.    Whoops.  My mistake, although I still don't know that I'm rushing to order.  And then there were comments galore:
I've taken 2 cooking classes recently at Cafe de Paris and enjoyed them very much. I haven't had a meal there since Laurent came on board yet which is why I asked if you had -- I wondered what you thought. I plan to but just haven't gotten around to it yet. I can tell you that Laurent conducts the cooking classes, it's hands-on so the students help prepare the meal, you make 3 courses, and you get to eat what you make which they pair with different wines. 
Both times I thought the appetizers we made were excellent, there has been a protein course each time (one time I liked it the other time not so much) and a dessert course which were great.  I am not in any way affiliated with the restaurant would be happy to post something once I've dined there. I would recommend a class if you're in to that kind of thing. It's fun to actually prepare food in a commercial kitchen which is something I had never done before.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Link: Aida Bistro on Brewnotes

Aida Bistro in Columbia gets talked up by Ben on Brewnotes -- where he reviews a bunch of craft beers and a bunch of local restaurants.

Aida is a pricey joint, but Ben recommends the bone-in veal chip, a risotto and more.  He says he has never  been disappointed with the food.  That's a key.

Hot Food For A Great Cause

The Howard County libraries are having a night of Latin-flavored books and food as a fundraiser next week at the East Columbia branch.

Go to the "Evenings in the Stacks" on February 27, 2010 and enjoy food from local restaurants and caterers, including Azul 17, the Elkridge Furnace Inn, El Nayar, La Prima Catering, On the Border, Parfections, and the Lincoln College of Technology, which runs a cooking program in Columbia.  (If only they could also get the spectacular tacos from R&R Deli in Elkridge.)

Those people are supporting a great cause in the libraries, which I think are a terrific source for cookbooks. I have been burned so often that I'm often loathe to buy new cookbooks.  The library lets me test-drive a stack so that I go out and buy the ones that I have to own.

Tickets are $100, which isn't for everyone.  But you get get all that food, plus a night listening to three authors Francisco Aragon, H.G. Carrillo, and C.M. Mayo.  For more information, click on the library's Web site.

Hilarious E. Large With An Ellicott City Angle

You need to get the last few weeks of Elizabeth Large, so you should be reading her Dining at Large blog.

But even if you aren't a regular, you need to check out a short story she told today about dining at Cacoa Lane in Ellicott City years and years ago:
Very early in my career, before I imagined I would be returning to restaurants years later, my husband and I reviewed Cacoa Lane in Ellicott City under the first owners. It was just the two of us. After dinner the husband of the owner/chef came out and sat at our table. (We were the only customers there.) He lounged back and talked at length to my husband, asking him questions about his job and so on, while completely ignoring me. Hey, it was the early '70s. . . . .
Clcik for the whole story and the punchline in Large's post on Dining at Large.

Link: Bon Fresco Gets A Rave From The WPost

Bon Fresco gets a rave in today's WPost -- talking up the spectacular bread and the thoughtful sandwiches. Owner Gerald Koh gets congratulated both for baking terrific breads and then name-dropped so that you know he used to work for people approved by the Post's Food section.

I still stand by my comment that Bon Fresco in Columbia is one of the best restaurants in Howard County.  And Koh says again that he is hoping to add breakfast in March.

My favorite part of the review was the short trip back down memory lane to when I was a newspaper reporter and nothing actually happened until I wrote about it in the newspaper:
Bon Fresco is a hidden gem. With zero street presence (it's tucked behind a somewhat larger cluster of stores) and no Web site yet, it's the kind of place you would have to discover on your own.
You have to discover Bon Fresco on your own -- or from the repetitive HowChow posts pushing the bread and sandwiches since last summer or from Yelp or from Chowhound or from DonRockwell . . . . . .

Honey Pig In Ellicott City - An Update

From the parking lot, Honey Pig Gooldaegee Korean BBQ in Ellicott City looks ready to start grilling meats in its hipster atmosphere, but, up close, it's still a construction zone.

(Update: Looks like Honey Pig is opening on April 1, 2010.  Check out this later post.)

I rolled past Sunday afternoon.  The sign is up, and there is already a banner advertising grand opening specials.  But they're still building the restaurant inside.  Tables and grilling vents have been installed.  But there are tools scattered everywhere along with the corrugated metal that Honey Pig installs on the wall to import the feel of a cool university neighborhood in Seoul.

People were working inside even on a snowy Sunday afternoon.  That's good, but the place still looks weeks away from opening -- although I'm terrible at those estimates.

Honey Pig will open in the Princess shopping center on Rte 40 just west of the Soft Stuff ice cream stand and the Forest Diner.  From east-bound Rte 40, you turn right at the red sign for Quest Fitness and drive up hill.  The Princess shopping center is up behind Double T diner that directly faces Rte 40.

If you want Korean food before Honey Pig opens, definitely check out Shin Chon Garden or all of my posts about Korean food in Howard County.

Honey Pig Gooldaegee Korean BBQ
10045 Baltimore National Pike (Rte 40)
Ellicott City, MD 21041

NEAR:  Honey Pig is going into the shopping center behind the Double T diner.  From east-bound Rte 40, you turn right at the red sign for Quest Fitness and drive up hill.  This is west of Rte 29 near the Soft Stuff ice cream stand and the Enchanted Forest shopping center.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Educated Guess: Columbia Wegmans Opens First Quarter 2011

We're all guessing about the future, but I may not have been crazy to hope to shop in the Columbia Wegmans on Valentine's Day 2011.

Wegmans people were talking about opening Columbia in October 2010 or maybe first quarter of 2011 during the opening of the Leesburg store in November, according to a food industry source who was nice enough to talk to me.

Everything depends on construction.  With all our bad weather, the source figures that first quarter 2011 seems more likely.

This isn't real news because Wordbones said the same thing last year.  But this adds a guess more educated than mine -- and based second-hand on comments from Wegmans.  The company only opens 2-3 stores a year, and 2010 already has two scheduled for Malvern, PA and Landover, MD on to the company Web site.  So join the "I Want The Columbia, Md. Wegmans" Facebook group, and pray for good weather.

Candy Covered Chickpeas At Ceazar's

I'm a big fan of candy coating, but even I wouldn't have expected chickpeas to turn into a cute little dessert.

Ceazar's International Market in Elkridge sells a ton of dried beans and lentils as part of the largest local selection of Middle Eastern foods.  It sells some chickpeas covered with pastel candy coating in the sweets aisle.

I thought these were better than just a gimmick.  They're cousins of the Jordan almond, and I thought the chickpeas were better than almonds.  All of the mild nutty flavor with none of the bitterness that you can get in candy-quality nuts.  The candy coating is really firm, so they crunch hard if you bite them right away.  I sucked them for a minute or so and kept instinctively crunching the slightly-thinner shells like that owl in the old Tootsie Pop commercials.

Definitely check out the candy coated chickpeas if you go to Caezar's.  These would make a pretty candy bowl, especially if you're doing a pastel theme on a spring or Easter table.  And no trip to Ceazar's would be complete without buying the pistachio nougat -- a rose-water flavored candy that is absolutely worth the money.

Ceazar's is a great resource for food that ranges from India through Greece.  They also have a halal butcher, which makes it a great spot if you want lamb or goat.  If you want to read more about local eating, click for the starting page for my "What I Learned" guide to food in Howard County.

Ceazar International Market and Restaurant
6801 Douglas Legum Drive
Elkridge, MD 21075

443-755-9442 (market)
442-755-9444 (restaurant)

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.

Monday, February 15, 2010

The New Five Guys Is Open On Dobbin Road

The new Five Guys on Dobbin Road has opened, according to Kevincool who commented after eating a burger and fries there for lunch.  This is the second Five Guys in Columbia, and the franchises are good spots for burgers when they're well run.

Mushrooms Of All Shapes At H Mart

Mushrooms have sprouted everywhere at the H Mart in Catonsville, and you could add an exotic look to your table.

Yesterday, it seemed like H Mart had mushrooms everywhere -- fancy shapes for a few dollars.  I have no idea whether this is mushroom season, whether it's a special buy for the Lunar New Year, or whether I just noticed something that happens all the time.

But I bought mushrooms.  A package of regular buttons for 99 cents.  Then packages of enoki ($0.99) and beech ($1.99.)  It was hard choosing because there were actually multiple packages (and prices) of enoki and then a half dozen other varieties including oyster, king oyster, and shiitake.  The enoki and the button varieties are in the first produce aisle, and others -- like the shiitake -- are in the refrigerated case that runs perpendicular to the fruit.

My Valentine's menu abruptly converted to mushroom risotto.  I added some dried shittake, which I had in the pantry but you could also buy for a few dollars at the H Mart.  I thought the shittakes added the most flavor, and they have a toothy texture that contrasts well with fresh mushrooms.  With one great sausage, this became one of the best risottos that I have ever made.

What else do I do with mushrooms?  I bought three packages, and that was at least double what I needed for risotto.  Any other recipe ideas?

Click here for all my posts about H Mart.  If you go to Catonsville, definitely stick your head in the Hanoori Town next door -- for the home store downstairs or for Mango Berry frozen yogurt.  And consider stopping for lunch at Hunan Taste, the authentic Chinese restaurant in the same shopping center.

Mushroom and Sausage Risotto
This recipe is best with sausage.  You saute some good sausage, which adds some fat to the pot and a lot of flavor to the risotto.  I suggest you buy the sausage at one of Howard County's great butchers or at Whole Foods.  Handmade sausage is worth the drive.  I recommend a mix of mushrooms.  Button and beech were terrific.  The enoki shrank to the size of threads.  Cool, but I recommend you try something else.

Five or six dried shiitake mushrooms (less than a full one ounce package)
About 3/4 c. hot water
4 cups chicken or vegetable stock
1 link of mild pork sausage (about a quarter pound) or 2 TBL olive oil
1 medium onion, minced
2-3 cups of fresh mushrooms, with large ones chopped
1-2 TBL butter (optional)
1 1/2 cups Arborio rice
Salt and pepper

1) Soak the dried mushrooms in the hot water.  Heat the stock to simmering, then reduce the heat to just keep the stock warm.

2) Once the mushrooms are soft, slice them and save the hot water.

3) Break up the sausage.  Handmade sausage should be inside a casing, and the raw sausage will break up if you slice the casing open and pull out the filling.  Heat a heavy pot over medium heat, then add the sausage and saute it until fat starts to appear in the pan and the meat just starts to brown.  It doesn't need to be cooked through.  (If you want vegetarian, skip the sausage and add the olive oil.  Add a 1/2 tsp salt with the onion and mushrooms.)

4) Add the onion and about 2/3 of the mushrooms.  Saute them until the vegetables are tender -- about 10 minutes.  Add the butter.  Once it melts, add the rice and stir until the rice is coated with butter.  The rice will lighten on the edges so that you see a dark spot inside.

5) Add the hot water that you used to soak the mushrooms.  Let the liquid bubble.  Begin adding the stock about 1/2 cup at a time.  Stir every minute or so.  Add more stock when the liquid is almost absorbed.  Look for the time when your spoon creates a line on the bottom of the pan that takes a moment for the liquid to fill.

6) After you have added about two cups of stock, add the remaining mushrooms.  After about 15 minutes, start tasting the rice.  You want tender rice with a firm spot in the middle, but it's a matter of personal taste.   Once the rice reaches the level that you like, add salt and pepper to your taste.  (You may have some leftover stock.  Save it.)

Variation: Buy two one-ounce dried shiitake packages.  You could use those to replace all the fresh mushrooms.  That converts this recipe into a "pantry staples" idea.  If you keep a few sausages in the freezer, you could make risotto when you're trapped in a snow storm.  Like in June.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Grace Garden Closed Temporarily By Snow Damage, Acc'd To Chowhound Posts

Commentators on Chowhound are saying that snow damage to the roof has closed Grace Garden -- one of the best Chinese restaurants in the area -- for the foreseeable future.

The post on Chowhound comes from a regular poster, who says he had talked to the owners of Grace Garden.  This is a truly spectacular restaurant, and it is family-run, which makes it seem very vulnerable to problems like this.  I hope they can re-open quickly.

(Update:  The Grace Garden Web site now says that they are temporarily closed during the reconstruction.  That sounds like they're going to try to reopen in the same place.  Good luck to them!)

Columbia Wegmans: 365 Days Until I Go

It's one year until I'm showing up at the new Wegmans being built on Snowden River Parkway in Columbia.

As I announced last month, I will be outside the Wegmans in Columbia on Valentine's Day 2011.  I'm not saying that they'll be open that day, but I'm either shopping for dinner that morning or pitching in on the construction.

You can join the fun by following the blog for news of the Howard County Wegmans or by joining me on Facebook where you can join the existing 86 members of the "I Want The Columbia, Md. Wegmans" group and RSVP for the HowChow blog's "I'm Opening The Columbia Wegmans" event.

I'd love to hear if you have any updates about the Wegmans construction.  I'm psyched for Wegmans in Howard County, so I created a one-button link for all the news about the Columbia Wegmans.  (Sorry about the ad on the widget.  I'm saving my money to spent on groceries, so I used the free version.)

Friday, February 12, 2010

Link: Sonic May Come to Ellicott City

Sonic has plans to come to Ellicott City, according to Jessica on the Examiner.  She has a short piece about the first Sonic in Baltimore County and mentions plans for the city and Howard County.

Thanks to Brian for the tip.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Will Walk For Food -- Especially Ribs

Food always tastes better if you have walked a cold two and a half miles to take your seat.

Still trapped in St. Louis, I had to get out of the hotel Wednesday so I arbitrarily walked to a barbeque place mentioned in the local city magazine.  First, I walked to the famous Arch.  (Love the steel structure; still mildly phobic about heights and edges; bought good taffy in the fake general store underneath.)  Then, I set off for Pappy's Smokehouse.  St. Louis has the most striking downtown -- individual buildings and businesses dropped among blocks of commercial ruins.  I walked dozens of blocks, many lined by vacant or boarded-up buildings, and didn't pass a single store or restaurant enticing enough to make me break stride.

Now, I was walking for barbeque, which keeps a mind focused.  After 90 minutes on my feet, I had earned my half rack of ribs even after a stellar hamburger the night before.  I went with potato salad and beans after last night's fries had been so disappointing.  Pappy's sells delicious ribs.  They're firm textured and smokey.  Nothing falls off the bone.  I gnawed each rib, which I'm happy to do for this kind of smoked flavor.  You get a real meaty flavor with nothing burned, nothing overwhelmed by barbeque sauce.

The sides were top-notch as well, especially the beans which had flavor but none of the sugar that ruins many barbeque plates.  The white bread under the ribs surprised me.  It was firm as well, a real loaf that held up to -- and was even better than -- the three barbeque sauces that Pappy's lets you apply by yourself.

Pappy's has the feel of real institution.  St. Louis seems empty in most ways, but the line stayed steady at Pappy's even in early afternoon.  I had walked in thinking that I might sample some beef brisket as well, but my single basket left me full and satisified.  Definitely worth a visit if you're trapped in -- or just passing through -- St. Louis, and the $2 bus ride back downtown made it practical even if this week's frigid weather.

If all the snow has put you in a carnivorous mood, check out my 2009 take on the best barbeque and kabobs in Howard County

I hope you're digging out.  As of late Wednesday, United still has my flight leaves for Dulles at 8 am on Thursday.  Seems unlikely.  I hope they'll just make a decision before I need to check out and catch a cab.  A day waiting at the airport would make me nostalgic for the day that I could spend walking around the casino and downtown.   

Pappy's Smokehouse
3106 Olive Street
St. Louis, MO  63103

Pappy's Smokehouse on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Elizabeth Large Is Retiring

The Sun's restaurant critic Elizabeth Large is retiring and ending her wonderful blog Dining at Large.  Click here for the full retrospective.

Large sounds upbeat in her post, but this is very bad news for people who like restaurants and reading about them.  Large wrote her own reviews for the Sun, but she also created a real place on Dining at Large where other people had their say and even became personalities in their own right.

Personally, I am indebted to Large.  I sent her an initital email because, as a former reporter, I thought it was fun to tip her to news.  I would have been happy to have her write about the Howard County restaurants, so I was stunned when Large linked to HowChow and delivered all kinds of readers to me.  It was a significant act, and I hope that whoever takes over the Sun's restaurant blog will foster the same kind of audience participation.  It's a large act to follow.

Some Clouds Have A Meaty Lining

I'm trapped in St. Louis.  The government shut in DC, but I caught a flight Monday to do some work here -- and now can't get home until Thursday at the earliest.

I'm going to visit "The Arch."  I'm taking advantage of a luxury hotel willing to accept $110/night.  And, last night, I had the best burger that I ever remember.  For sure, I haven't had better.  I stopped at the Burger Bar in the (depressing) casino attached to my hotel.  It's one of those celebrity-chef restaurants.  I loved Hubert Keller on Top Chef, but I figured that he was only barely aware that people are using his name -- and some really obnoxious text  about "how he lives his life, in grace and charm"-- on the menus of this (depressing) casino.

I might be wrong.  The burger cost $11, but it was absolutely perfect.  Some type of "black angus" beef served perfectly medium, juicy and full of flavor but not greasy in the least.  Topped with cheese and tapanade.  Served with lettuce, onions and tomato.  It tasted like someone was really paying attention.  Probably not Keller on a frigid Tuesday in St. Louis, but someone with talent to best even my home-made with the ground chuck from Laurel Meat Market.  (Skip Burger Bar's thin fries though.  Completely forgettable.  I should have asked for onion rings.)

Along with the brilliant hint of salty tapanade, Keller's secret might just be the size.  Victoria Gastropub is my best burger in Howard County.  Still a favorite, but not as perfect as the Burger Bar.  The meat was even better here, and the burger was a little smaller.  Last summer, I finally accepted that 1/3 pound burgers just cooked better than the jumbo patties that I had made before.  I wonder whether the smaller burger let the Burger Bar's chef cook it just right.

The one downside of the Burger Bar is that the entire casino smells like smoke.  Did everything smell this horrible before states passed the no-smoking laws?  Is it possible that I didn't notice because I thought it was normal to smell death and ash?

And, hey, don't listen to me about the casino.  I hate cigarette smoke.  I know just enough math to think the games are state-sponsored trickery.  I'm intimidated by poker players wearing hoodies and scowls.  So I'm down on casinos generally, and this beauty is dropped in downtown St. Louis -- a town where the rich people moved to the suburbs and left behind stadiums and commercial ruins.  I'm sure that our casino at the Arundel Mills Mall will be a civic treasure.

Burger Bar
at the Lumiere Casino
999 N. 2d Street
St. Louis, MO 63102

Burger Bar on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, February 9, 2010


HowChow may be slow this week.  I'm in St. Louis and likely to be stuck while it storms at home.  Please check back.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Link: Michael's Natural Market cafe on Kevin & Ann

David's Natural Market has a cafe!!  I'm the most ridiculous blogger about food in Howard County, and I had no idea that you could buy meals at David's in Columbia.

(In my defense, I love the cheese, meat and vegetables customer at organic markets, but I'm not a heavy shopper at the places that very reasonably concentrate on packaged and frozen goods.)

But the Rheelyfats have eaten repeatedly at David's cafe, and Kevin wrote it up for the Kevin & Ann Eat Everything Blog.  If you're new to HowChow, let me again recommend Kevin & Ann.  That's the fun you want if you read food blogs.

Five Guys On Dobbin To Open Feb 15?

There was a sign on the new Five Guys in Columbia saying it would open on Monday, February 8, according to a comment by Kevicool on a January post.

But a comment below says the sign now says that it will open on February 15.  So I updated this post.

The restaurant is on Dobbin Road south of Rte 175 where the Party, Party, Party store closed last year.  Today's snow may slow them down, but, otherwise, the burgers and fries may be flipping next week.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Cookies and Purple Corn Drink At Chick'N Pollo

I'm going to Chick'N Pollo in Columbia for takeout chicken, but I'm grabbing their house-made cookies on the way out the door.

It's a really simple dessert with a cookies on top and bottom and a caramel layer inside.  Think upscale Oreo with a dusting of powered sugar to boot.  As noted in the comments below, they're called alfajores, and they're normally displayed right next to the cash register.

These are a treat for $1.95.  They also make flan in house.

Although Chick'N Pollo offers the standard Mexican sodas, it also offers one soft drink with a real Peruvian flavor.  Apparently, chicha morada is a common Peruvian soft drink made from purple corn.  A New Jersey company bottles it under the "Chicha Limena" brand, and you can buy them from the counter.

On the plus side, Chicha Limena appears to be all natural -- listing ingredients of water, sugar cane. purple corn extract, pineapple, lemon, cinnamon and cloves.  But I have to say it's an acquired flavor.  Pineapple, lemon, cinnamon and cloves make for a subtle flavor and then an aftertaste that is more unusual than refreshing to me.  But that was just my first bottle.  I'm sure Peruvians would be shocked by their first taste of my Diet Dr. Pepper as well.

(Update: I fixed the name and the price based on the comments below.)

There are lots of comments on my first post about Chick'N Pollo -- many positive, but some real critics of Peruvian chicken.  There are some mythical places closer to DC with loyal followers.  I think this is a great takeout dinner.  Mrs. HowChow likes the chicken, but it isn't one of the meals that gets her most excited.

Chick'n Pollo
6470 Freetown Road
Columbia, MD 21044-4016
(410) 531-8689

NEAR:  This is in the back side of the Hickory Ridge Village Center.  It is off Cedar Lane north of Rte 32.  You can park around back, or you can park near the Giant and walk through the center.  Very convenient.

Link: Venegas Prime on Brew Notes

I still haven't eaten at the Venegas Prime Filet in Fulton, but Ben liked his steak and talked it up on his Brew Notes blog.  Good food, although pricey enough to be just a special occasion place.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Link: Facci In The WPost and the Sun

Let's start with the truth:  Facci Ristorante isn't in Laurel.  I know that's the post office's designation for Johns Hopkins Road west of Rte 29.  But that is a sliver between Columbia and Fulton.  It isn't Laurel.

But it is in the Washington Post and the Baltimore Sun.  The Sun's Elizabeth Large highlighted Facci in her weekly column -- and skillfully identified the location as "just south of Columbia."  The Post's Tom Sietsema wrote about Facci  in today's Food Section.  He liked his pizza, pasta and veal, and he says that he is going back.  That's pretty great for Facci.

Thanks to emkenton for spotting the WPost article.  Again, the WPost proves I'm wrong that that they *totally* ignore us.  I updated this after a comment below pointed out the Sun article.

Pho 89 In Laurel (And A Plan For Pho Saigon 54)

Winter is our season of pho, and we're trying to branch out because we know that An Loi isn't the last word on Vietnamese food.

Last month, we started a shopping trip by stopping at Pho 89 in Laurel.  Alex from the Technology & MSG blog had commented about Pho 89 -- and posted about it previously.  I'm so aware that longtime Columbia folks bemoan the fact that An Loi's original owners sold the place, so I'm willing to try somewhere new.

Pho 89 gave us the warm cozy lunch that we needed.  This is a super-casual place like An Loi.  I ordered a large bowl of pho.  Mrs. HowChow ordered noodles with grilled chicken and a Vietnamese coffee.  They're both good, and I love the self-help meal where I add Thai basil, hot sauce, and bean sprouts to tailor the soup to my mood of the moment.  But I don't know that I'd drive all the way from Howard County -- or drive past An Loi.  Mrs. HowChow loves An Loi's lemongrass chicken, and she wasn't sold on Pho 89.

The comedy moment was Mrs. HowChow having me promise in the future to discourage that Vietnamese coffee.  Delicious.  But the condensed milk is so dense that all the sugar and caffeine couldn't stop her from falling into an afternoon haze.

But I'm still going back to Laurel for pho.  Casting about on Yelp, I realized that there are some very positive reviews of Pho Saigon 54 on U.S. 1 at Contee Road.  I'm no expert on Vietnamese broth, but I have several more cold months to check around.

Any pho experts -- or non-experts -- want to recommend the right places to eat and the right dishes to order?  I have seen the Korean page in An Loi's menu, so I get the idea that it isn't completely traditional Viet.  If you're looking for local Vietnamese, you should also try Pho Dat Thahn on Snowden River Parkway just up from An Loi.  The Chowhounders also bemoan that Pho Dat Thahn's original owners sold too.

Pho 89
3507 Fort Meade Road (Rte 198)
Laurel, MD 20723
(301) 362-2288

NEAR: Pho 89 is on Rte 198 just across the county line into Anne Arundel.  From U.S. 1, you pass the Home Depot and the Laurel Dutch Country Farmers Market.  Then you'll see Pho 89 at the end of a shopping center on the right.  It is across Rte 198 from several car dealers.

Pho 89 on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Link: Coal Fire On MSG & Technology

Coal Fire Pizza gets a full review from Alex on the MSG & Techology blog -- photos, descriptions, and tastes of the pizza and more.

Coal Fire in Ellicott City inspires as many comments as any other restaurants.  People split on the sauce and the charred flavor.  I'm a fan, although I know that it isn't easy to turn out good pies every time.

R&R Deli Converts Mrs. HowChow To Gas Station Tacos

Mrs. HowChow has eaten lunch at a gas station, and she actually turned to me at the end and said, "I'm surprised that you didn't push this harder."

The R&R Deli in Elkridge serves my favorite tacos, and the punch line is that they're served from a gas station.  Not really in the gas station.  R&R has a separate entrance and a glass wall that separates it from the Shell Station at U.S. 1 and Rte 175.

I love R&R's tacos, but Mrs. HowChow and I had been joking for months about eating at a gas station.  I only forced the question because we had just suffered from a "try new food for the blog" disaster -- an Indian paan that was a perfect mouth-freshener except that it used some floral oil that must have been added to 1970s cleaning supplies.  Objectively, it tasted fine, but we immediately thought about furniture cleaning.

The tacos were perfect.  For $4, we got two -- one chicken, one carne asada.  Soft tortillas, meat cooked to order, and a topping of onions, cilantro and handmade salsa.  "Who would expect fresh vegetables in a gas station?" said Mrs. HowChow.  They're really large for $2, and R&R serves a variety of meats, including chorizo, carnitas and lengua.  Mrs. HowChow thought the chicken was delicious, butchered well so there was none of the gristle that you can get in chopped meat.

We split a Mexican orange soda.  Next time, I will buy her a milkshake - like I had on my first visit.  I'm almost shocked that there will be a next time.

(Update: You should also try R&R's ceviche special, which offers marinated fish and vegetables on top of a crisp tostada.)

The R&R Deli joins a great run of food along U.S. 1. Check out my post about "U.S. 1: The Foodie Frontier" that tours you from Ceazar International Market in Elkridge down to R&R Deli's intersection where you're within a block of organic groceries at MOM's Organic Market, the empanadas at the El Patio Market, and more.

R&R Deli
7894 Washington Boulevard
Elkridge, MD 21075

NEAR: The deli is in the Shell station at U.S. 1 and Rte 175 at the Elkridge/Jessup border. It's really convenient from Rte 175 -- just go east from Columbia across I-95 and then look left at U.S. 1.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Link: Grace Garden on Cheap Eats In Charm City

Another food blog has joined the parade through Grace Garden for authentic Chinese food in Elkridge.  The Cheap Eats in Charm City blog talks up their meal, and they didn't even have the fish noodles -- which has been the dish on my mind most recently.

Link: Victoria GastroPub on Taste of Baltimore

Check out the Victoria Gastropub review on the Taste of Baltimore blog.  Even the cool kids from the city are coming out for brunch.  Every time we go for burgers, we say "We really should come back here for brunch."  Nakiya does make it look delicious.

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

Ground Chuck at Laurel Meat Market

Despite what your eyes saw outside this weekend, I had a little taste of summer in my house.

As snow fell Saturday afternoon, I made hamburgers.  Mark Bittman's cast iron skillet recipe with some oven fries, a pickle, and sauteed mushrooms.  I had to walk next door to borrow ketchup because we were out of season, but burgers were a real pick-up meal on a day when we stayed indoors.

The key was ground chuck from Laurel Meat Market.  You can probably get similar meat at any of Howard County's best butchers like Boarman's, Treuth, or Beiler's at the Laurel Dutch Country Farmers Market, and it is worth the effort because ground meat makes all the difference.  Laurel Meat Market grinds meat for its hamburger.  Real cuts of meat.

I didn't know the difference until the New York Times started writing about industrial techniques used to scrape extra pennies from each cow.  Literally scrape.  Smart businessmen are figuring out ways to use fatty scraps -- formerly used for pet food and cooking oil -- to mix with meat for restaurants and supermarkets to sell as hamburger.  The NYT is writing about problems with the processes, but I was thinking, "What am I eating when the process works right?"

Seriously, I'm not preachy about food.  I won't repeat the NYT details here.  But I'm going to buy my hamburger in Laurel where they take pieces of chuck and grind them.  No pink slime.  (Okay, that's one detail.)  It's $3 a pound, but they'll give me exactly what I want so I save overall.  Plus, the burger was delicious even though it wasn't from the grill.   Four months to Memorial Day!!!

(Update: You should also consider Laurel Meat Market if you're looking for a large cut like a standing rib roast.  My friend got great advice and a nice piece of meat for Christmas Eve 2010.)