Saturday, July 31, 2010

Link: New Wilde Lake Plans In Columbia Flier

The owners of the Wilde Lake village center in Columbia have announced their plans to knock down the old Giant and several other buildings to redevelop the parcel, as reported in the Columbia Flier.

Don't count on all the talk about what will be in the village center after the renovation.  The plan leaves the building that houses the Bagel Bin and others.  It demolishes the buildings that hold David's Natural Market and Today's Catch seafood market.  Kimco talks about maybe keeping David's and the fish market.  But I have seen enough real estate development to know that people can't predict the future, often can't work out even the deals that they want to do, and sometimes aren't telling the full truth.

Hat tip to the Columbia Maryland's Future blog.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Sushi King: New Rolls At An Old Favorite

There are new rolls at Sushi King -- additions to the two-page list of complex rolls that are a key to Columbia-style sushi.

For me, the wrapped and sauced rolls were a revelation when I started dating Mrs. HowChow.  Until then, I ate a standard mix of sushi and rolls like spicy tuna or California.  Then Mrs. HowChow took me to Sushi King, and I began eating creations like tuna wrapped around a tempura shrimp or a thin-sliced roll dotted with hot sauce and coated with popped brown rice.

Columbia's top two sushi joints -- Sushi King and Sushi Sono -- offer these unique experiences.  Large rolls often with two kinds of fish, tempura or roe, sauces and a vegetable of fruit.  Personally, I love the ones with tempura shrimp like Sushi Sono's No. 12 that includes warm shrimp, cool spicy tuna and roe.  From all these imaginative rolls, you get wonderful mixes of fish flavor, crunchy texture, and salty or spicy condiments.

Last night, we discovered some new options at Sushi King, where we hadn't been since last fall -- Happy Together, Nuta, Tango, and Treasure.  Of the two we tried, I'm a big fan of the Happy Together, which is a variation on my favorites with a coconut shrimp and squash wrapped in rice and then topped with a mix that includes mango, lobster, cucumber and roe.  The plate was drizzled with a yellow, faintly sweet sauce that seemed to be mango, but almost tasted lemony.

The King serves large rolls cut into eight generous pieces.  They're $15-19 each, which is okay because three rolls feed two people.   The bummer is that the same bill buys a few extra rolls -- although probably not more food because the rolls are smaller -- at Sushi Sono.  I liked Sushi King's Nuta roll, but crab stick isn't a flavor that competes with the menu's mainstays like Pretty In Red, Spicy Grilled or Samuri.  I would have been just as happy with six thinner slices and an option to order a fourth roll.

Next time, I have my eye on the Tango roll: tempura eel, mango, avocado and onion topped with seared pepper tuna and a salsa sauce.

Click here for all my posts about Sushi King.  I need to re-post overall review because it's really one of my favorites.  My major impediment to posting had been the dim lighting that kept me from getting appetizing photos.  My new phone has a better camera!  If you're checking out the sushi scene, click for all my posts about Sushi Sono or my August 2009 post about trying new sushi places.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Target in Ellicott City To Sell Produce in October

The Target in Ellicott City has signs saying that they'll start selling produce in October, according to Jenny's comment on a January post.

Has The Rita's In Jessup Closed?

Does anyone know if the Rita's in Jessup has closed?  There is a new comment from bl86 saying that the store was closed Sunday and looked cleaned out.

I assume that this is the Rita's in the Columbia East shopping center with Mom's Organic Market and Pollo Fuego's Peruvian chicken.  I'm a huge fan of Rita's black cherry ice, although we normally visit the ones in Columbia or Burtonsville.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Local Joints In The Baltimore Mag

Two shout outs to Howard County eateries in the August 2010 Baltimore Magazine -- a story about the sun sandwich in the cafe at David's Natural Market in Columbia and a short piece about Pure Wine Cafe in Ellicott City.

Pure Wine is still on my "to do" list, but Karen Nitkin talks up a flatbread with duck, shallots, asparagus and chevre and a pair of meatball sliders.

I can't find links yet, but it's the Best Of Baltimore edition.  The Best Of section is almost hurtfully devoid of Howard County spots.  Eventually, I found a paragraph on The Good Life Market, but apparently the editors couldn't find anything else that they liked here.  Tell them about us Karen!!

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Trolling: Thai, Pizza And Vegetarian Indian - The Old Favorites Still Serve Up Bob & Ivy's Favorites

Bob and Ivy have been in Howard County for 11 years.  They're always in the market for new modestly-priced ethnic options, but they recommend some old favorites for Thai, pizza and Indian.  All three cuisines seem to kick up comments -- people who love or despise specific places -- and Bob suggests some dishes for anyone who wants to try their favorites:
Our favorite Thai restaurant in the area is Little Spice in Hanover (on the other side of Rte 100 from the Arundal Mills Mall), a family-run place with great service and great food. We like all of the noodle dishes, especially their version of drunken noodles. The eggplant with basil is terrific, as are all of their green and yellow curries. Spicy, flavorful, but not too spicy.
There's a lot of fuss about the new pizza places in the area, but our dependable standby remains Pasta Blitz on Rte 108 in Columbia, which serves a true New York Style pizza.  Lightly-sauced (and very tasty) with a thin but chewy crust.  We get it for take-out.
And we're fans of the interesting vegetarian dishes at Mango Grove in Columbia.  Try any version of oothappam, their rice and lentil pancake entree, to get a sense of their unique cooking.
Trolling on Tuesday is my attempt at a series where readers would share three things with other HowChow readers -- favorite restaurant dishes, food to buy, food experiences, etc.  Click here for all the Trolling posts.  Click here for the explanation and the rules.  Anyone can submit.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Chinese Restaurants in Howard County 2010

This post started a few months ago as the question: "Is there any Chinese food worth eating in Howard County?"

I wrote up Chinese restaurants in early 2009, but the truth is that we rarely eat the stuff around here -- opting for other cuisine or driving a little farther to check out better restaurants.  A horrific dinner at Hunan Legend and some takeout failures made me expect glop on every plate, and I wondered if there was anything worth trying.

The answer: "Yes."  But, to get the food that I want, you have to ask.

To get the Chinese food that I want, you need to find restaurants with a separate, authentic menu -- and you need to really emphasize that you want the authentic version.  This frustrates some people, and it really frustrated me when my Hunan Legend waiter lied and denied that the Columbia restaurant had a separate menu of authentic dishes.  But that led to a wonderful series of posts where Wai provided and translated the Chinese menu, then other people like Warthog used it enough that the restaurant put out an official version.

I have decided that Chinese restaurants are just different from other places.  My Chinese-speaking friend said that Chinese people are very aware that foreigners can be put off by their food, and he said people seemed surprised that he wanted real Chinese food -- even in China where he had clearly made an effort to speak the language and live there.  My friend joked that Americans assume that everyone in the world wants to eat a hamburger and commute in their own car, but Chinese people are so aware that foreigners might be put off by spices or flavors or ingredients that they often just don't want to risk making you unhappy.

The flip side is that they can be very happy if you try.  Noodles Corner in Columbia invested the time to translate its second menu of authentic items, but the managers were still visibly surprised when we ordered authentic dishes.  They confirmed twice that we wanted Chinese versions.  We did.  They smiled.

But, with that said, I totally respect people like Little Audrey who points out that she can get terrific tacos at R&R Taqueria without knowing a secret password.  She likes Hunan Legend for a quick kung pao, but she doesn't want to prove her worthiness to order authentic stuff -- so she drives the extra miles to Grace Garden.

You should drive there as well because Grace Garden tops my spots for local Chinese.  I'm a complete novice, but I know where I have found fresh, interesting dishes that make me think you can get several provinces of special meals if you know where to ask:
Grace Garden in Odenton:   Chef Chun Keung Li serves luxurious flavors in a Spartan room. This is a place for people who want to explore, who want to drive a little extra to enjoy tea-smoked duck, sliced pork belly, steamed whole fish, and fish noodles.  Grace Garden stands out because of its skills and becomes it welcomes everyone.  Ingredients familiar to anyone who eats Chinese -- chicken, fish, vegetables -- become stellar meals, and the exotic touches are there for anyone who wants to try.  I understand that the menu tends towards southern Chinese cuisine.  Check out my posts and search Chowhound or other local food blogs.
Red Pearl in Columbia: This authentic menu at this new lakeside place runs to spicy Szechuan food.  Lunch at the Red Pearl was a hit for me -- a dry kung pao that was delicious and different than the American variety, a special vegetable (Chinese broccoli) that was crisp, and the Red Pearl posts have some detailed recommendations and comments, including ColumbiaJ who recommended potstickers with hot oil and flounder with soft tofu.  (Update:  Red Pearl added dim sum, which I think is absolutely delicious.)
Noodles Corner in Columbia:  This is our newest find, and our single takeout meal wasn't enough for me to offer even my uneducated opinion.  Apparently, this authentic menu is heavily Taiwanese, and I recommend the shredded pork appetizer, the asian chili wrap, and the pan-fried noodles with beef, chicken and shrimp.  I was turned onto Noodles Corner by people like Wai, Jade's MamaDavid P., Little Audrey, and William.  From those folks, I have a "to do" list of fish fillet with XO sauce, black mushrooms with bok choy, the seafood or beef hot pot, and the northern Chinese noodles (even though Wai would like them spicier and saltier).  William also recommended the tea -- no giant pot in the back; they put tea leaves into the pot that they serve to the table.
Hunan Taste in Catonsville.  Although it's not Howard County, the extra miles are worth checking out the Hunan menu.  This is the place that really got me excited for authentic Chinese because dishes like preserved sausage with smoked bamboo shoots were a revelation.  New flavors.  New combinations.  I thought it was a tasty, classy, casual place, although you can get cultural clash with your meal.  Several comments describe food that they didn't like and management who didn't seem to care.  Another got great food at lunch, then watered-down takeout soup the next day.
Hunan Legend in Columbia:  This is an odd recommendation because my only meal here was terrible.  But that was off the American menu, and other people really love Hunan Legend's authentic dishes that trend Cantonese and Malaysian.  People like Warthog convinced the owners to give the translated Chinese menu to everyone, and the Hunan Legend posts include lots of comments that recommend specific items.  Also, Warthog sparked a long Chowhound string that lists dishes and discusses the whole stereotype that Americans don't really like Chinese food.
Asian Court in Ellicott City:  This is for lunch-time dim sum -- rolling carts on the weekend and from the menu on weekdays.  We think this matches the famous places in the DC suburbs, and we'll go again and again for steamed BBQ pork buns, steamed dumplings, sticky rice, and even for desserts like coconut jelly and sesame balls.  You can explore beyond into chicken feet, head-on shrimp, and bitter melon rounds stuffed with shrimp paste.
That isn't to say that you need to worship authentic Chinese.  That's my taste these days, but Chinese restaurants make people happy every day with dishes that never saw China.  A single kitchen could serve "authentic" to one customer, "comfort food" to another, and just give you a bag of takeout on a night when you can't face the stove.
Jake's recommendation brings me back to the Big Three because no discussion of Howard County Chinese could be complete without the established trio of Hunan Manor, Hunan Legend and Jesse Wong's Asean Bistro.  When we lived off Rte 108, Jesse Wong's American-style dishes were our go-to takeout, and the pretty ambiance still makes it a nice place to take people for a casual, but classy night.  Hunan Manor has been a family mainstay for people like Kevin of Kevin & Ann Eat Everything, and some people even swear by Hunan Legend's regular menu.  These are places that serve memories along with the food, although there are disputes with all three about whether they have declined over time.  Two years ago, I would have held Asean Bistro up against any other kitchen, but I don't think that anymore.  For now, I would rather explore my six places than go back to the old standbys.

What do you think about Chinese food in Howard County?  Are there places that you recommend?  Specific dishes?  I think the most-useful advice is a description of a few specific dishes so a newcomer can start off with something delicious.  Are there other places with Chinese menus?  Other places where you love the American versions?

Specifically, has anyone been recently to Garden Gourmet in the Long Reach Village Center in Columbia?  There is a 2006 Chowhound string between Warthog and Elgringoviego that makes me want to try their Szechuan food.  Both those guys are thoughtful writers, and I wonder if Garden Gourmet still has special dishes.

This is an update to the "What I Learned" series of posts from 2009. They're a bit out of date by now, but they link to many other posts. They're organized in rings. See below to continue on the ring about different cuisines. Or click to switch to the posts about shopping in Howard County or posts about areas and ideas.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Cheese On Sale At The Harris Teeter

Harris Teeter has put its specialty cheese on sale through Tuesday -- which mostly brings them back to the realm of reasonably price, but seems worth noting if you wants to try something new.

Emkenton pointed out the sale to me.  We both shop at the Teeter, but that cheese section doesn't have the excitement or prices of our long-delayed dream (or the employees with that seductive enthusiasm that convinces me to try new items):
Just wanted to pass along that all the specialty cheeses at Harris Teeter (which appears to be all cheeses in their case) are 25% off through Tuesday.  I totally missed it when I was in there on Wednesday, but today at KC, they had a big display on ice right at the front of the store.  I've always found their cheeses to be quite expensive so, honestly, 25% off might just get it down to Wegmans prices, but hey-- I'll take what I can get!  Sure makes trying new cheese a little easier on the wallet!
Funny aside:  we really liked a sample of some sort of basil cheese we had in there a few weeks ago, so I asked the lady about it today.  She pointed immediately to a giant wrapped block with "Basil" in huge letters and cut me exactly how much I wanted.  (Which wasn't much since the regular price is $19.99/lb--gulp!)  It wasn't until we walked away that I realized it was Basil's brand smoked cheese.  Just tried it upon getting home and, sure enough, it is not the cheese with basil actually in it that we had sampled.  Oh well.  Glad I like smoked cheese!
(Update: I fixed the first sentence to say "Tuesday," not Thursday.  Thanks em!)

Friday, July 23, 2010

Link: Cazbar Kebap House In The Sun

The new Cazbar Kebap House in Columbia gets a review from Karen Nitkin in the Sun -- a similar rave for the beef kebap, but some concerns about the service and some of the dishes.  She also talked up the fruit nectars.

Good to see Nitkin back writing about Howard County food.  I hadn't seen her reviews recently.  I still remember when her husband arrived in the little glass press room at the back of the Hollywood City Hall.  Those were the days . . . .

Red Pearl's Hong Kong Dim Sum Starting Aug. 15

The new Red Pearl in Columbia will kick off dim sum service on Sunday, August 15, according to a sign photographed by Kristin.

The Red Pearl opened in May near the Columbia mall in the location where Jesse Wong's Hong Kong formerly served dim sum.

Based on the sign, it looks like the new dim sum will be the same southern Chinese style.  We'll have to see how it compares to Asian Court in Ellicott City, which has carts on the weekend and terrific dim sum off a menu for weekday lunches.

Click here for my 2010 write-up of Chinese restaurants in Howard County.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Fresh Corn From Family Affair in Catonsville

This is the season when fresh produce pops up around the county, and you should check out the sweet white corn at Family Affair Produce in Catonsville -- or at the Diamondback Tavern where they're serving it up.

The corn on the cob has been terrific this year, emailed Lee Biars who helps run the Diamondback in downtown Ellicott City.  They buy produce from the Family Affair stand, including the corn that they're serving as the "veg of the day" with Old Bay butter.  "It's about the sweetest corn I've ever had," Lee wrote.

(Update: Wordbones recommends the supersweet corn at the Baugher produce stand in Ellicott City on the Tales of Two Cities blog.  Blogger won't let me imbed a link, so copy this:

Has anyone else made food finds among the produce stands this summer?  I wrote before about the Gorman Produce Farm on the Laurel-Columbia line.  If you stop by Family Affair, look for their homemade pickles, which I loved but haven't bought in a while.

Family Affair Produce
2302 Frederick Rd
Catonsville, MD 21228
(410) 788-6167‎

NEAR: This is on Rte 144 (Frederick Road) on the way from downtown Ellicott City to Catonsville. Family Affair is on the left as you drive towards Catonsville. They're open about 10 months a year -- just not in the deep winter. 

Diamondback Tavern
3733 Old Columbia Pike
Ellicott City, MD 21043

NEAR: Diamondback is in downtown Ellicott City.  It is on Old Columbia Pike just up the hill from Main Street.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Ulkerin Chocolate Wafers At Nazar Market

I have been thinking about the sugar wafer cookies that I loved as a kid, but that turned out not to be so delicious.

Rectacular, waffled wafers with a chocolate cream -- or a white vanilla or a pink something else -- in the middle.  I remember loving them, but realizing later that the wafers were dry and the filing wasn't great.  This was about when I discovered Milanos and realized that I could afford adult cookies.

Now, I'm back to those sugar wafers thanks to a Turkish bar that took that cookie to the next level.  Ulkerin bars take those sugar wafers and fill them with a hazelnut cream.  Then the whole thing gets wrapped in chocolate.   It's halfway between a cookie and a candy bar.  I ate through an entire bite-sized bag of Ulkerin over the past three weeks.  Two bucks for a few dozen little bars that I tossed in lunches and chomped after dinner.

You can find the Ulkerin chocolate wafers at the Nazar Market in Columbia.  If you considered checking out the new Turkish market for the baklava, the sausages, or the ground lamb, then just go for the chocolates and see what else catches your eye.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Fage Greek Yogurt - With Honey - At Many Stores

Fage Greek yogurt is fast becoming the breakfast of choice for the sweet tooth in the HowChow household.

Fage is one of many brands pushing new variations on old fashioned yogurt.  Greek yogurts tend to be thicker, often made with cream and milk, and often fewer unprounceable ingredients.

Fage meets those standards. The yogurt is made from nothing more than milk, cream and active cultures.  Then, Fage adds honey.  Or it adds a little container of honey next to the container of yogort.  You spoon the honey on top, and it's creamier, sweeter and more natural than the supermarket brands that you grew up on.

It's also more expensive.  Pushing $2 each.  But that's a small price to pay if it actually gets you to eat breakfast in the morning.

You can find Fage at many stores.  I bought at Harris Teeter in Fulton and Columbia, Roots in Clarksville, and Whole Foods in Baltimore.  (Update: Comment below says some Giants and Safeways have Fage as well.)  We found more varieties as the store got more expensive -- two or three at Harris Teeter, a half dozen at Roots and then all those varieties plus the ellusive chery at Whole Foods.

(Update: Check the comments for a yogurt recipe and several other options.  I thought yesterday's yellow peppers were a great find, but the local passion seems to focus on yogurt!  As always, thanks for the comments.)

Monday, July 19, 2010

Aji Amarillos At Lily"s Mexican Market

The back of the refrigerator shouldn't be where food goes to die -- but instead a place where a few staples live to spice up your meals.

Stock your fridge with aji amarillo peppers at Lily's Mexican Market in Columbia.  They're spicy.  That surprised me.  I grabbed them on a whim, and I ate the first one out of the jar because it looked like a sweet yellow pepper.  Shocking heat!  Since then, I have used them more to zest up a meal.

Added them to greens and to pasta sauces.  Sprinkled diced pepper over a salad.  Cut them up for tacos.  They're less spicy than jalepenos, but the real value is that that they're sort of preserved in a salty brine.  Not pickled, but they have lasted weeks, and the clean, bright flavor is a great alternative to the smokey chipotle peppers that I also stock up at Lily's.

Aji amarillos are apparently a Peruvian staple.  Great if you wanted to learn traditional dishes, but I recommend them to anyone because they could zip up your own food.  They were a key part of the best crab cakes that I have ever cooked.  You could add the peppers to almost anything -- omelets, sandwiches, hummus -- for something different and hot.

Lily's is one of the great food outlets in Howard County.  Go for some takeout tacos, and you're guaranteed a good trip.  Then check out the shelves for things to buy -- the fresh made tortillas, the cactus for tacos, the different peppers, the sauces, and on.  Click here for all the posts about Lily's Mexican Market.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Sour Cherry Nectar At Nazar Market

We stumbled on Turkish cherry nectar at the new Cazbar Kepab House in Columbia, and it has become a fun

Let's be honest: This isn't juice.  It's water, sugar, then sour cherry concentrate on the ingredient list.  But it's a cherry flavor just a touch sour enough to be unique.  It's more soft drink than a health food.

But it's a fine soft drink.  We first drank cherry nectar with sandwiches at Cazbar.  But Nazar Market in Columbia sells a bunch of varieties -- cans to drink right away or boxes that pour from the fridge.  Several brands, even other flavors of nectar like mango.  Definitely an easy buy if you're looking to check out Nazar for the first time.  Try it full strength.  Try it cut 50-50 with water for a lighter flavor.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Wegmans - By Twitter - Says Columbia, MD In 2012

Good news -- It's an official comment.  Actually, there isn't good news.  Just cold hard confirmation.

It's so tough to think that the Columbia Wegmans won't open until 2012.  But I'm glad that work progresses.  I want to get past "off-site road improvements" and get to "cheese section installation."

Click here for a Twitter search that includes the Wegmans comment that they're hoping to open the Columbia store in 2012.  It's copied below.

Wegmans Food Markets Wegmans

@HowChowBlog Some off site road improvements are scheduled 2 begin this summer. Currently we're hoping 2 open in 2012. Thx 4 your patience!

The Columbia Wegmans: Let's Be Honest, It Looks Like We're Waiting To 2012 For Danny To Open

I drove to the site of the Columbia Wegmans this week to prove the naysayers wrong.

In March, people had quoted a Wegmans employee as saying the shop on Snowden River Parkway wouldn't open until 2012.  But I had dreams.  I had hopes.  I saw myself strolling through the aisles next year.  Maybe not really at Valentine's Day, but 2011 at least.

Unfortunately, the Columbia site looks dead to me.

I parked on McGaw Road, and the chain link fence seems to protect a few construction vehicles and a lot of dusty ground.  Nothing looked like a rush to serve me deliciacies.  I assume the real action is taking place in Frederick where Wegmans Web site lists a 2011 opening date.  Columbia remains "to be determined" -- along with a pack of stores like Germantown, MD and Northborough, MA that weren't on that list when I started checking.

Anyone know more about a starting date?  I need to re-think my plans for a Valentine's Day roundup at the Columbia store.  I thought I was being optimistically humorous.  Now, that just seems sad.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Pints & Pancakes Returns To T-Bonz On July 18

Pints & Pancakes returns to T-Bonz with a morning -- and then an afternoon -- of breakfast, beer and bands, reports the Baltimore Beer Guy.

The events starts at 10 am, and the two bands run until 6 pm.  Beers are craft lines with a Christmas in July theme.  (They're listed on the BBG site.)  For a $5 cover, you get pancakes and music.  T-Bonz will be serving a la carte food as well.

T-Bonz Grille & Pub in Ellicott City has become one of the better local beer bars, according to the experts.

Red Pearl in Columbia

A few months ago, I was drafting a post in my head about whether Howard County had much Chinese food worth eating.

I know people love their local joints, but average Chinese does little for me.  Heavy sauces.  Chopped up meat.  Limp broccoli with the General Tso's chicken.  I love Grace Garden in Odenton and enjoyed myself at Hunan Taste in Catonsville.  But my old standard Jesse Wong's Asean Bistro was the only closeby Chinese tasty enough to check out.

My tastebuds and my email say that I was wrong.

Red Pearl opened on the Columbia lakefront in May, and it drew me in with a menu of authentic Sichuan food.  Last Saturday, we went for lunch and ordered across the menu -- kung pao from the "authentic" menu, a stirfried noodles with seafood from the standard menu, and a Chinese broccoli in garlic sauce from the specials.

This was a surprising hit.  The broccoli was tender, but still crisp with a sauce that clung to the green but wasn't heavy at all.  The kung pao was spicy, but tasted of ginger beneath the hot peppers.  And the noodles may have been my favorite -- tender noodles crisped on a wok and then topped with shrimps, scallops and huge chunks of fish.  The fish fillets were cooked beautifully.  The focus really came from the seafood.  Three of us gorged at lunch, then had two lunches of leftovers -- plus some extra broccoli that I snacked instead of having dessert on Sunday night.

On top of my meal, Red Pearl has been getting some raves from other folks.  ColumbiaJ commented about potstickers with hot oil and flounder with soft tofu off the regular menu.  The Minx of the Minx Eats blog had some authentic dishes along with Peking duck and crispy fried rockfish.  (She takes great photos.)  And HowICook was my real inspiration to visit -- emailing about how he had eaten the regular menu kung poa and then gone back for the same dish off the authenic menu:
The waiter repeatedly warned me about the spiciness. I assured him I was up for it.  Well it was nothing like the American version with the gloppy sauce. The dish had lots of blackened dried pepper, ginger and other authentic ingredients. It was stir fried to smokey charred perfection with lots of flavor. The waiter warned me not to actually eat the dried peppers. I  mostly followed his advice  and the dish was complex and hot enough anyway. My mouth was numb at the end so I got the real experience. I can't go back to normal glop again.
Red Pearl isn't just a corner joint.  This is a kitchen that wants to do something special.  They put the authentic menu -- fully translated -- on every table.  For now, I'll push that menu and items that you can see recommended like the Minx's rockfish or the tea smoked duck mentioned in comments to old posts.  Our waiter warned us twice that the authentic kung pao was spicy, and he wasn't kidding.  The dish had the chicken and peanuts of the kung pao I grew up on, but it had a drier texture and a spicier bite than those old dishes.  But it's absolutely delicious, and I'm already thinking about how I want to go back again.

On top of it all, Red Pearl is bringing dim sum back to Columbia.  We'll see how it compares to the Asian Court dim sum that sets the standard for now.

(Update:  Red Pearl's dim sum was spectacular -- maybe even better than Asian Court.)

Click here for my 2010 write-up of Chinese restaurants in Howard County.

Red Pearl
10215 Wincopin Circle
ColumbiaMD 21044


Near:  Red Pearl is on the lake across from the mall in Columbia Town Center. From Little Patuxent Parkway, you turn into a large parking lot that says "restaurant parking." Then you walk down to the lakefront. The view is actually quite nice, and Red Pearl is between Sushi Sono and Clyde's.

Red Pearl on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

New Filipino Restaurant in Ellicott City / Catonsville

A Chowhound poster is looking for information about new Filipino restaurant on Rte 40 in Ellicott City or Catonsville.   That sounds good to me!

Does anyone know about a new Filipino restaurant? Anyone? Anyone?

Help Greg: Do You Know A Salad Bar Restaurant?

Greg wrote me with a question: "Do you know of any all-you-can-eat salad bar restaurants in the greater Howard County/Baltimore County area?  I am looking for something like the Souplantation or Sweet Tomatoes.  There was a restaurant in Columbia (across from the mall with a view of the lake) about 8 years ago that closed."

I can't think of a salad bar restaurant.  I have used the salad bar at Roots, but I can't think of a restaurant.  Anyone?

Trolling: Frog Legs At Victoria, Iced Cafe Americano, And Great Harvest's Rye Bread

Adam from GrubGrade is home for the summer and back on the local scene.  Adam recommends some places even when he doesn't love the food -- like Victoria Gastro Pub, which gets a rave for adventure even if it isn't one that Adam would hop into again:

Victoria Gastro Pub in Columbia: One of the best things about having a place like Victoria around is that you can try new and potentially 'exotic' or 'unconventional' menu items. For a foodie with the desire to push the boundaries of the "did you really just eat that?" question the addition of Frog Legs to the menu this summer was a definite draw for me. Well, lets just say I guess I liked the idea of trying frog legs a whole lot better than actually trying them. Sure, they looked like my childhood favorite of chicken tenders, but the breading was oily and fell apart too easily, whle the meat itself was a bit slimy and largely tasteless. They gave me some kinda funky aioli, but not even a fried food standby condiment like ketchup could save this venture into the unconventional.
Sweet: A Bakery and Cafe in Ellicott City: Ok, so the Iced Cafe Americano may be a couple more bucks than what you could get at a Dunkin Donuts, but is there any better way to cool off on a hot Maryland day?  (Ice creams fans: don't answer that.)  Milky and brimming with vanilla flavor, after having this you'll know why this place gets the name "Sweet."
Great Harvest Bakery Co. in Columbia: For a place which routinely turns out scrumptious breads and baked good that feature fillings from gourmet cheeses to every kind of grain under the sun, a simple rye bread probably doesn't sound like the most intriguing option. But do yourself a favor and stop by for a loaf of the Onion Dill Rye on Tuesdays this summer. This bread has literally made me an herb-fanatic.The nuttiness of the rye base works extremely well with the fresh and slightly sweet undertones of the dill, while the bread serves as a perfect base for any summertime sandwich. My personal favorite? Spread a little cream cheese, red onion and cucumber on a slice and enjoy something the very quintessence of freshness. 
Trolling on Tuesday is my attempt at a series where readers would share three things with other HowChow readers -- favorite restaurant dishes, food to buy, food experiences, etc.  Click here for all the Trolling posts.  Click here for the explanation and the rules.  Anyone can submit.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Summer Restaurant Weeks And Film Feastival

Start skipping a few desserts so that you can splurge in the Howard County summer restaurant weeks that kicks off on July 26, 2010.

This year's weeks repeats the local produce theme.  More than 25 restaurants are creating special menus at prices ranging from $10.01 to $40.10.  They're using local produce, meats, flowers and other items from July 26 to August 8, 2010.

The restaurant weeks kick off with the Howard County Film Feastival on July 20 at Clark's Elioak Farm in Ellicott City.  They'll have a small farmers' market, samples of restaurant food made by local produce, and a screening of the 2009 documentary "Ingredients."

Admission is free, but they're looking for donations to provide families on the WIC program with coupons for the local farmers' markets.  You need to register.  It's limited to 100 guests.  For more information, call 410-313-6500 or 410-313-2707.

Click below for a full list of the 2010 Howard County summer restaurant weeks.

Howard County Farmers Markets - Early Summer Update: 2010 Peaches Will Be Small But Tasty

Even the great peaches are going to be small this year.  They're still the perfect fruit -- juicy and full of a flavor that I can't find in a supermarket aisle.

But they're small because of the drought, said the farmers at the Sunday farmers market in Columbia's Oakland Mills village center.  They're three weeks early too.  The same farmers had early apples already along with the plums and peaches that I would have expected.

Sunday's farmers market is really a place for people who want to shop.  There isn't a scene like the massive market under the JFX in Baltimore with its prepared food and semi-celebrity vendors.  But yesterday morning, Oakland Park's market had two vegetables stands, one fruit stand, plus Great Harvest Bread, a pie and sweets bakery, and a stand selling beef and pork.

I bought my first tomatoes of 2010 and bought a $6 basket of peaches.  Nothing beats a warm peach, a real peach like the ones that we may try to pick next weekend at Larriland Farm in Woodbine.  I nicked one on the ride home so I was forced to eat it right away.  Even sweeter than the first batch we had received from a friend last week.  Perfectly firm and ripe.  Absolutely worth a Sunday morning drive.

The meat was a new alternative to me at the Sunday market.  I'll check that out next time.  As I said, go to shop.  You'll get produce, bread, flowers, and more.  You'll be disappointed if you're looking for a big city farmers market scene, but quite happy if you're in the mood for a peach.

Any observations about the local produce markets -- especially the weekday farmers markets which I haven't visited?  What seems like a good buy?  What seems too expensive?

There are five markets in Howard County -- including new ones this year at St. Johns Church on Wednesdays and at Howard County General Hospital on Fridays.  Click here for a full list of the markets.  Other options include Clark's Elioak Farm in Ellicott City and the Gorman Produce Farm in Laurel.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Gorman Farm Update: The Vegetables (And Honey) Are Starting To Arrive Despite The Heat

The Gorman Produce Farm's produce stand has started to pick up steam -- even as the steamy weather makes it harder and harder to grow vegetables this summer.

This week, the Gorman Farm was seling corn, fennel, eggplants, beets and squash from their own fields.  They're offering lemon cucumbers and yellow beets, although it's mostly standard -- organically grown -- vegetables.

They're selling melons and tomatoes from the Eastern Shore, and they're saying that their own tomatoes are just a few more days away.  Pole beans after that.  I'm also looking forward to some sweet peppers.  I walked away with a bag off vegetables -- including a dozen ears of "day old" corn that made corn and sausage risotto and still filled half of my grill.

Lydia and Dave Liker are in their second year leasing the farm on Gorman Road -- just a yellow beet's throw from Columbia and Rte 29.  As I have said before, if you read a Howard County food blog, then you should go check out the local vegetables at Gorman.  (Although watch the cost.  My $2 fennel was so small that it chopped into four pieces.  Good flavor, but tiny.)

This is a rough year to grow vegetables.  I know from my own parched patch, along with my CSA, which has been mostly greens and lettuce.  Gorman's strawberries were a fun way to start the year, and I love that they're selling the first batches of honey from their own bee hives for $8 a pound.  I'll keep an eye out for more interesting buys in the weeks ahead.

Gorman Produce Farm
11051 Gorman Road
Laurel, MD 20723

NEAR: This is on Gorman Road east of Rte 29 and west of U.S. 1. This is south of Rte 32, just minutes south of Columbia and almost walking distance from King's Contrivance.

From Broken Land Parkway, take Broken Land south of Rte 32 until it deadends. Turn left and then right on Murray Hill Road. Take that until it deadends into Gorman Road. Turn right on Gorman. You'll see the farm's sign on the left just before a point where the road bends to the right.

From Rte 29, take the exit for Johns Hopkins Road, which is also marked for Gorman. Turn left at the top of the ramp and go through the next traffic circle. The road changes name to Gorman, and you just drive until you see the farm's sign on the right at a point where the road bends to the left.

From U.S. 1, go west at the light for Gorman Road. You'll pass the Savage library. Gorman Road actually turns right. The "straight ahead" changes name to Skylark Boulevard as you enter a housing development. After you turn right to "stay" on Gorman, the road curves and curves. You'll see the farm's sign on the left just before a point where the road bends to the right.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Victoria Gastro Pub in Columbia 2010

I keep coming back to Victoria Gastropub even thought I return to a corner of the restaurant's menu.

Victoria wants to push the high cuisine side of pub food.  Its theme is a classy twist on simple foods -- lobster in the grilled cheese, duck fat on the fries, and kobe beef in the burger -- and that menu packed in the crowds.  On a summer Tuesday, we had to wait 20 minutes for a table.

I have had many good nights at Victoria.  It's a casual scene, but nice enough that I have recommended it to people for dates or taking out-of-town family.  The bar has an energetic buzz.  The patio is great on a warm night.  Dinners start with biscuits that excite Mrs. HowChow every time.

In the end, I recommend the burger and a beer.  As I said, Victoria wants to upscale pub dishes.  I have eaten a bunch of the menu, and it's good.  The French dip was meaty and dunked beautifully in jus.  The lobster grilled cheese has its fans, although it seemed like a gimmick to me.  And my most-recent night with short ribs and filet was a classy meal -- with the restaurant reward of a plate that I couldn't cook myself.

But I left wishing that I had ordered Victoria's burger.  Not even the kobe one.  Even with its standard meat, Victoria puts together the best burger around.  The right burger on a light, flavorful bun that I wish I could buy for my own grilling nights.  Lettuce, superb pickles, and a half plate of crispy fries.  Send the fries back if they're not perfect.  Victoria wants to serve you high end food, and the fries at their best are a salty, crispy treat.  In January, the burger and fries are a way to warm up in a friendly place.  In July, the same meal tastes summer fresh.

The real change for the seasons is the beer.  Victoria prides itself on dozens of beer choices, and it pleases connoisseurs like the Baltimore Beer Guy who posts regularly about Victoria's rotating craft beers.  But it also caters to lightweights like me -- people who like beer, but don't know enough to pick from the huge menu.  I appreciate the smart advice that the staff has given me every time, really listening to what I wanted and suggesting beers that I have loved.  The last one was Wihenstephan Hefe Dunkel, which hit my "wheat beer" spot.

I know the recommendations are good because I haven't liked every beer at Victoria.  Victoria sells a beer sampler, and I love picking wide varieties, making sure to get something I wouldn't buy if I only had one glass.  It's great fun.  With the five-beer sampler, I have had beers that I hated.  Nothing bad.  But bitter, strong beers maybe aimed at brew crazies like the BBGuy.  Victoria wants to serve interesting food -- not just the basics that you'd get at a neighborhood bar.

I really recommend Victoria, and you should check out the whole menu, which I have said was small enough to fit on a page and smart enough to make half of the items interesting to me.  Try those entrees.  And definitely try the desserts.  We have had several great desserts,which they bake in-house and sometimes augment with herbs or fruits from their own garden.  But when in doubt, have a burger, a beer, and one of my favorite nights out in Howard County.

(Update: Read the comments below.  People are recommending a few of their favorite things.)

Victoria Gastro Pub
8201 Snowden River Parkway
Columbia, MD 21045

NEAR: Victoria is easy to reach from Rte 108 or Rte 100.  It's at the intersection of Rte 108 and Snowden River Parkway, so you can take the Snowden exit from Rte 100 or come from either direction of Rte 108.  It's down from Eggspectation and next to McDonalds.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Ground Lamb At Nazar Market: The Easiest Way To Add A New Flavor To Your Grilling Routine

I went back to Nazar Market last weekend looking to solve the problem from my last visit.

Test driving Planet Barbecue by Steven Raichlen, I followed a recipe by buying lamb shoulder and then grinding the meat in our food processor.  The kebobs had delicious flavor, but they had chewy texture that we assumed came from gristle or other pieces attached to the meat.

So when I went back to Nazar in Columbia, I wanted to be careful about my purchase.  I talked slow.  I want to buy lamb, I said.  Lamb, the butcher agreed.  I want lamb for ground meant, I said.  Ground lamb, the butcher agreed.  I want to make kabobs, I said, and the butcher nodded and got busy.  He took meat from the cooler.  He started to chop and slice meat from the bones.  I walked away to shop, then returned to find that all those meat chunks had disappeared.

That was when I realized that I was talking to the butcher across a meat grinder.  A giant metal grinder the height of my chest.

I had come to Nazar looking to repeat my mistake -- buy lamb shoulder and grind my own meat at home.  But Nazar's butcher is a professional.  He was grinding the meat himself.  He cut exactly the meat that I needed, then ran it twice through the industrial grinder that I was too much of an amateur to even identify until it was spitting out perfect-looking ground meat.

This is so easy that everyone should try some lamb kabobs.  Nazar's butcher turned out ground lamb that developed a char on the outside while staying moist inside.  A little more fat that my normal ground beef (like a little fire from dripping fat).  But all the authenticity and safety of Laurel Meat Market's ground chuck -- plus a flavor that, if anything, is better than a hamburger.  Planet Barbecue has several kabob recipes, and you can find ideas from three continents if you look on the Internet.

This "order ground meat" option is so obvious that I assume it's available at Columbia Halal Meat on Rte 108 and Caezar International Market just off Rte 100 -- both officially in Elkridge.

Over the next few weeks, HowChow is going to look like Nazar Market's house blog.  I stopped several times and found great items on each visit, including a cherry nectar drink, a coffee-flavored sparking water, and jarred pickled cabbage that goes great with a burger.  I'll post those later.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

El Hidalgo Bringing Mexican Food To Elkridge

A new Tex-Mex place called El Hidalgo looks about ready to open in Elkridge in the strip with Katana Sushi and Pazani Trattoria, according to an email from Joshua.  He reports:
The blinds are still closed, but I take it from the menu posted on the door and the fact that there is signage both on the restaurant and on the large billboard at the entrance to the parking lot that it will open soon.  If you Google it, it shows up under Google maps and the yellow pages, but there is no web site that I could find. 
 The menu was pretty standard Tex-Mex, but hey – I am a big Mexican food fan and it is only 2 miles from my house so I am excited.  I will let you know how it is once it opens. 
I just wrote that I'd love a Mexican place -- even one with a basic menu -- where everything on your plate tasted special.  Mango's Grill in Laurel was my most-recent visit, and you can't go wrong reading all the posts about R&R Taqueria in Elkridge.

The Lyndwood Shopping Center is just north of Rte 100.  It is next to the new hotel that you can see on Rte 100 west of I-95.  To get there, exit form Rte 100 onto Rte 103 North.  Turn right at the light for Mashalee Drive and look for the shopping center on the right.  These restaurants are in the section past the Giant.

Best Fried Chicken In Howard County?

Where is the best fried chicken in Howard County, asks Bob James who commented on an old post after discovering that his place for chicken has become a "seafood and steak" joint.

It seemed like a great summertime question, but my recommendations feel a little thin -- Chick N' Friends in Columbia for takeout chicken and a sweet potato pie or Rainpia in Ellicott City for Korean fried chicken in a fun "wings & beer" atmosphere.

Any other suggestions?  On the Korean side, people have recommended the spicy fried chicken at the H Mart.  Any takeout to compete with Chick N' Friends?  Any restaurants that serve a nice plate?

(Update: Anyone know if Rainpia is still open?  I got an email saying that it might have closed.)

Monday, July 5, 2010

Iceberry Coming To Rte 40 in Ellicott City?

When it rains frozen yogurt shops, it pours frozen yogurt shops.

An Iceberry franchise looks to be opening in Ellicott City in the Mars shopping center on Rte 40, according to a comment by Little Audrey.  Last spring, I was driving to Olney for this trendy frozen yogurt, but Howard County is now covered with yogurt.

Iceberry will sit right across Rte 40 from Tutti Fruitti.  And if those aren't convenient, you can hit up Yogiberry at the Columbia Mall or Mangoberry in Catonsville.  (I still love buying my own mochi at H Mart to really top that Mangoberry yogurt.)  Anyone know how Iceberry compares?

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Dim Sum Coming To Red Pearl?

Jade's Mama left a detailed comment on a prior post -- mostly complimenting Noodles Corner in Columbia, but also reporting that a sign at the new Red Pearl says they'll offer dim sum in August.

Anyone know more about dim sum at the Red Pearl, which has opened on the lake next to Sushi Sono in Columbia?  That's the former home of Jesse Wong's dim sum joint, which closed and left Asian Court in Ellicott City as the best local dim sum.

(Update: Photo by HowICook.)

Friday, July 2, 2010

R&R Tacqueria On Chowhound

The Mexican takeout in the Elkridge Shell station has changed its name to R&R Tacqueria, but it continues to turn out great Mexican food.

I recommended R&R's ceviche.  But my next meal will be the sopes con carne pastor recommended by Elgringoveijo on Chowhound.  He is one of several really good voices on Chowhound about food near Howard County.

Pottery Stop And Coffee Shop in Ellicott City

At the newest Howard County coffee shop, you can make your cup and sip it too.

The Pottery Stop on Rte 40 has been a paint-your-own pottery shop for years.  The Java Grande cofffee shop closed last year in the same shopping center, and the Pottery Shop expanded into that space.

Now, it's The Pottery Stop and Coffee Shop -- two businesses at once.  For our food theme here, the key is the coffee shop.  They're serving coffee, smoothies, and blended drinks, plus muffins, cookies, brownies to eat.  They're waiting to fix the freezer before starting the serve the bagels that Java Grande used to sell.

Owner Lisa Feltz says some people do seem confused.  She says coffee drinkers peer into the windows.  But they're welcome inside.  Anyone can come for a drink or a snack, and Lisa said people are welcome to sit unless there are painters waiting for a table.  There's less space on weekends, but Lisa says there is generally weekday space for people to relax.

The Pottery Shop is open even days -- 8 to 8 Monday to Saturday with later hours Thursday to Saturday, and 9 to 6 on Sunday.  This is the shopping center just west of Rte 29 on Rte 40.

The Pottery Stop And Coffee Shop
9050 Baltimore National Pike #103 (Rte 40)
Ellicott City, MD 21042

NEAR:  This is just west of Rte 29 on Rte 40.  From Rte 29, you turn north on St. Johns Lane, which is a traffic light.  Then you turn right into the parking lot.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Cute Offers From Portalli's And Iron Bridge

As a rule, I don't post restaurant offers, but there are two simple and powerful ones right now for summer dining.

From now to July 17, Iron Bridge Wine Company in Columbia will sell $100 certificates valid through Labor Day for $76.  It's 17 days at $76.  Get it?  From now to July 4, Portalli's in Ellicott City will go even beyond that by selling $100 certificates for $50.  No patriotic numbers, but half-price seems beautiful for spacious skies.  I'm not sure if they expire.

If you're interested call Iron Bridge at 410-997-3456 or Portalli's at 410-720-2330.  Both restaurants will sell in person or mail the certificates to you.

Link: An Loi On The Baltimore Snacker

The city folks keep coming to Columbia for culture -- at least a play and a Vietnamese dinner for the Baltimore Snacker.

The Snacker posted about An Loi where he and friends ate pho, pork with vermicelli and salty lemon soda.     An interesting find: He discovered that An Loi makes its own fish sauce.

I have written before about An Loi, which is on Snowden River Parkway.  The pho makes wonderful takeout because they package the broth, noodles, and vegetables separately.  When you get home, you assemble it as fresh as you would have it in the store.  And the salted plum and lemon sodas were one of my original finds for HowChow.  I recommend those and the Vietnamese coffee.

Cazbar Kepab House in Columbia

Good food often comes without waiters in Howard County, and the new Cazbar Kabob continues the trend with casual Turkish that makes a great lunch or takeout in Columbia.

(Update: Cazbar appears to have been replaced in Fall 2010 with Turkshish Kebap.  New name.  New menu.)

Cazbar opened a few blocks east of Howard Community College and the hospital, offering a streamlined version of the original Baltimore location's menu.  This is hearty Turkish specialities like sour cherry soda and lahmacun (pizza with ground beef).  But much of the basics will please anyone who likes Maiwand Kabob -- grilled meats, vegetables and interesting bread.

Cazbar follows the Maiwand and Bon Fresco model -- casual counter service and fresh food, some unique ethnic items but accessible to almost anyone.  The basics are meat.  Kabobs of grilled meat.  Doner of seasoned sliced and pressed meat similar to gyros.  There are variations of chicken, lamb and beef.  Wrapped in thin bread as sandwiches.  Served with a yogurt sauce.  Paired with salad or fries.

After our lunch, we recommend the doner over the kabobs.  The lamb doner was tasty without being greasy.   The kabobs were moist, but not that flavorful.  Maiwand Kabob and Mimi's Kabob in Clarksville both marinate the chicken more, and the meat comes out more interesting.  Next time, Mrs. HowChow will try the chicken doner.  And go salad, not fries.  The fries were average.  The salad was crisp and interesting with a nice dressing on top.

Obviously, the difference between Turkish and Afghan cuisines is 2,200 miles.  Cazbar brings Turkish items like boat-shaped pizza called pide and a salad with tomatoes, pomegranate and peppers called acili ezme.  I'm ready to try every appetizer, from the hummus to the salad of feta and parsley.  The fresh salads are a revelation.  My favorite parts of the Afghan joints are cooked vegetable side dishes like pumpkin.  In contrast, Cazbar served up those fresh vegetables -- in the salad and in the sandwiches -- that really brought the meal alive.

Although I keep talking about meat, Cazbar is vegetarian friendly.  You could mix and match appetizers, or you could go with falafel instead of meat.  Also check out the drink options.  We really liked the Tamek sour cherry nectar -- basically an uncarbonated soft drink with a lightly sour taste.  (Also available at Nazar Market in Columbia.)  They import Turkish waters and a "carbonated coffee" that I'll get next time.

One cool touch at Cazbar:  Free hot tea in modern little cups.  To the left of the soda dispenser is a tea pot sitting on top of a hot water dispenser.  You use of the strainers to pour tea from the pot into your small cup -- but leave a little space.  The strainer will catch the loose tea.  If the brew has gotten too dark for you, you use the extra space to hot water.  Add sugar to taste.

Cazbar Kebap House
10840 Little Patuxent Parkway
Columbia, MD 21044

NEAR: This is on the north side of Little Patuxent Parkway just east of Howard Community College.  From Rte 29, take Rte 175 west and pass the mall.  Keep going straight and look for Cazbar on the right just after the white building with the sign for Patuxent Publishing.  It is next to a bank in a shopping center that sits perpendicular to the road.

Cazbar Kebap House on Urbanspoon