Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Restaurant News Update: November 2010

Restaurants are opening, closing and moving all over Howard County.  It's impossible for me to truly catch up, but I can at least collect the basics here:

  • Openings: Bon Appetit Bakery opened last week on Rte 40 in Ellicott City.
  • Movings: Aida Bistro was scheduled to open in its new Columbia home on December 2.  The new Frisco Tap Room in Columbia was scheduled for an early December opening as well.
  • Expansions: Facci and Kloby's Smokehouse have both announced expansion plans for the same shopping center on Johns Hopkins Road just off Rte 29.
  • And there is massive shifting on the Indian food front.  Bombay Peacock closed in Columbia.  But a new Indian restaurant is opening tomorrow in Ellicott City, says Suzanne on the HowChow Facebook page.  She says it's in the Taylor Village shopping center.
  • At the same time, a new Indian restaurant specializing in southern Indian food will replace Aida Bistro in Columbia, according to Kalpesh on the HowChow Facebook page.  He says the new place will be owned by the folks behind House of India.
  • There is talk that a new Mexican restaurant may replace the coffee shop in the Waverly Woods shopping center.  Todd emailed to say there is talk that the new restaurant owners already have two Mexican places in the area.
Anyone know any other details -- about the new Indian or Mexican especially?  Or other news on the horizon?

What The Heck Is Freekeh? Or "How To Find Ingredients When The Grocer Doesn't Know Them"

I'm not the only one who loves Nazar Market in Columbia.  Since the Turkish market opened this year, I have found myself a regular for meat, breads, snacks and lots of ingredients.  (Click here for all the Nazar posts.)

So has Kyle.  The regular HowChow contributor has been working through some Turkish food, and he finds -- as I have -- that the guys who sell ethnic groceries rarely actually cook with the ethnic groceries.  They're shopkeepers, not cooks.  But Kyle has kitchen skills, so he went from recipe to freekeh to pilaf:
Back in September, the Washington Post food section did a front-page article with back-page recipes on Turkish cooking. So I naturally thought of Nazar. Even though I already had a lot of Turkish ingredients, there were some I did not have. So off to Nazar I went with paper in hand. I wanted to make the Post's green wheat pilaf.
The recipe called for some unique ingredients:  freekeh, Aleppo pepper, red pepper paste and coarse bulgur. I already had Aleppo pepper from Penzeys (internet or trip to Rockville), which was good because Nazar didn't stock it.  It's slightly chewy and oily with a nice burn. I think the Maras pepper is the best substitute to be found at Nazar's.  Both Nazar and I have coarse bulgur (also known as bulgur #3 or #4), so my search was for red pepper paste and freekeh.
At Nazar, my usual guy wasn't working, but two new ones were. I told them I was looking for roasted green wheat, freekeh. You gotta love an ingredient that has "freak" in the name plus a smokey taste. First stumbling block: These Turkish guys had no idea what I was talking about.  I had to show them the recipe. They ended up recommending peeled wheat based on the picture. I was pretty sure that was wrong and picked up a bag labeled "firik bulgur (firik wheat)." They weren't sure what that was but again recommended the peeled wheat. They had no problem finding the red pepper paste. It's called "Biber Salcasi (mild pepper paste)."
When I got home, I looked up freekeh  and, lo and behold, the Turkish name for freekeh is firik. Apparently freekeh is the Arabic word -- a still more interesting than "firik." Back to Nazar I went later that week. My usual guy (I really should learn his name) was there, and I told him about my quest for freekeh aka firik. All he said was basically that he carries firik, people buy it, but he has no idea how you use it. I told him you make green wheat pilaf. He said that the Post was good for business since  he had three people buy red pepper paste in a single day.  They were making another recipe, green lentil soup with noodles and mint. Even though the Post recipes recommend Iranian markets, I had less luck at Pars Market down Snowden River Parkway.  I love the attitude of the guy who works there but they just don't have the variety of Nazar.
I guess Turkey is like America; one region may not know anything about ingredients in another region. Try looking for okra in New England. The green wheat pilaf was good. You could really taste the smoke. I didn't return the peeled wheat, I can make something  called noah's pudding with it. And you can make the green wheat pilaf recipe for yourself.

Monday, November 29, 2010

A&W Pit Beef At Duvall's Marketplace in Jessup

Pit beef just tastes better on the side of the road.

All summer, Duvall's Marketplace in Jessup sold produce on Rte 175 in Jessup, and the A&W Pit Beef trailer has offered sandwiches to eat at some outdoor tables.

Don't think the cold will chase A&W away.  They plan on serving up pit beef Monday to Saturday -- for lunch until about 4 pm.  It's a handmade sandwich.  The owner cuts up the meat and cooks it himself.  He reheats servings for each sandwich.

It's not Pioneer's slices right off the roast, but that Woodlawn institution is one of the best sandwiches around.  A&W's is a meaty, solid sandwich, almost a BBQ-style with shredded meat.  Ask for light sauce because the beef stands on its own -- and stands up to the horseradish that I require on a pit beef sandwich.

At this time of year, Duvall's is shifting from vegetables to Christmas trees.  So it's a fine outing to buy your tree and get a sandwich.  It's also a great place for lunch if you're doing errands, going to Arundel Mills Mall or driving home from the airport.

Call ahead around Christmas week.  The owner was talking about taking some time off around the holiday.

A&W Pit Beef at Duvall's Marketplace
2846 Jessup Road (Rte 175)
Jessup, MD  20794

NEAR:  A&W is on Rte 175 between the railroad tracks and the BW Parkway.  It is on the north side of the road.

A&W Pit Beef at Duvall's Marketplace on Urbanspoon

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Bon Appetit Bakery Opens in Ellicott City

The Bon Appetit bakery has opened on Rte 40 in Ellicott City after six months of waiting. The early reports sound like a mix of Asian and American pastries, and Treetop Tom sent in this report this morning:
I went to the long-awaited grand opening of Bon Appetit in Ellicott City yesterday and was very impressed. I got a sampling of various donuts, breads and cakes. The two stand-outs were the Soporo Bread (like a small coffee cake about the size of your palm) and the red bean donut (not sickeningly sweet like many others I've tried.) The baked goods are individually portioned and wrapped and run the whole gamut from the common (pound cake) to the exotic (green bean buns.) Nice selection, more diverse than the offerings at some of the other Asian bakeries around. Another fun touch - with every purchase on opening day you got to pick a fortune cookie that revealed another free goodie. The cafe side of the business was empty and dark - not sure if it was open yet or not and I didn't see any menus. The display cases had gorgeous cakes, tortes and gateauxs. Between this new bakery and Kolache Creations (which I still need to visit) at the old consignment shop at Kiwanis-Wallis ballfields it looks like my days of griping about the lack of quality local bakeries here in in my corner of EC may be over.
I love red bean donuts. In fact, I love all red bean desserts. I need to check out Bon Appetit on my next run on Rte 40. If you're looking for other bakeries, check out my 2009 post aboutbakeries in Howard County, which lists several other Korean bakeries in Ellicott City.
Thanks to Eric and everyone else who sent emails or left comments about the opening. Please add reports below and feel free to email me a photo.

Bon Appetit Bakery & Cafe
10155 Baltimore National Pike
Ellicott City, MD 21042-3669
(410) 203-2071

NEAR: The bakery is on Rte 40 near the intersection with Bethany Lane.  This is west of Rte 29.

Friday, November 26, 2010

You Gorged. Now Go Eat Vegetables

You gorged at Thanksgiving -- meat, wine, stuffing and dessert.  Now, go eat some vegetables, but don't compromise.

You can eat delicious food while balancing your diet and enjoying flavors far from the leftover turkey and cranberries in your fridge.  Get out of the house.  Three suggestions:

  • Soretti's Ethiopian Cuisine in Burtonsville.  Order the vegetable combo plate for lentils, greens, cabbage, carrots and other vegetable dishes.  I love the injera bread.  It's filling, and the vegetables will leave you full and refreshed.
  • Mango Grove in Columbia.  Get a dosa and maybe baigan bartha.  The dosas are large crepes filled with potato and other fare.  Try the Mysore masala dosa for a variation.  All the lentils and curries are good.  I crave the eggplant in the baigan bartha -- and always keep my eyes out for the jack fruit special.  (If you just want lentils and curries, you could hit up any of Howard County's high-quality Indian restaurants.)
  • The veggie sandwich at Sidamo Coffee & Tea in Fulton.  A thoughtful sandwich with avocado, cucumber, tomato, lettuce, lentils and pesto.  Enjoy a coffee or buy some beans to brew at home.  Sidamo should be on your list for breakfasts and lunch.
If these don't spark your interest, consider the cafe at David's Natural Market in Columbia or, of course, the vegan menu at Great Sage in Clarksville.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Facci Has A Sign Announcing Expansion, I Hear

Facci in Laurel has a sign annoucning plans to expand their restaurant to the adjoining space next spring, according to an anonymous comment on a prior post.

I had heard chatter about an expansion in October.  There are some wildly divergent reviews of Facci, and I have had some bad experiences with the people who work there.  But there is no question that it's a valuable part of the restaurant scene.  An expansion that allows for takeout will be great -- except for the fact that the parking lot is already full most nights.

Link: Voltaggio Opening Second, Casual Spot?

The Fred Foodie blog says that he has heard about plans for a "Volt Jr." -- a casual restaurant in Middletown by Bryan Voltaggio.

(Update: People who have tried to confirm this post have heard denials from Voltaggio's people.)

If you're a Top Chef fan, you should check out the All Top Chef site run by Baltimore's own TheMinx.  She has the perfect tone to cover a reality show -- informative, but not too serious.

Tiny Lamb Chops At Nazar - Tell Me About Them

Nazar Market in Columbia offers tiny lamb chops for about $6 a pound.  They're butchered on site, and they look like "product" that could become a delicious dinner.

Just not at Casa de HowChow.  It turns out that everyone here isn't up on eating lambs.  Something about Mary and images of frolicking pet-sized sheep.

So I'm working through Steven Raichlen's Planet Barbecue, but I'm skipping the recipes for lamb chops.  Instead, I point them out for you because Nazar's butchering seems to leave them ready for a quick grill or some other preparation.  And I'd love to hear a report if you try them out.

At the far end from these tiny chops, you can buy thick loin lamb chops at J.W. Treuth in Oella.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Link: Tersiguel's on 1000 Words Blog

Tersiguel's sits near the top of Howard County dining, but it is still on my "to do" list so I was interested in the review by TeeJay on the 1000 Words blog.

TeeJay compared Tersiguel's to Volt, which is a tough one for any restaurant.  But he really appreciated the ambiance and service, and talks up dishes like duck and flourless chocolate cake.  It is really tough to serve high-end food when you're sitting between two cities where people can drive to splurge -- what I have called the "Woodberry Kitchen Problem."

Trolling: Cooking Resources From Columbia Foodies

Nothing fits a food blog better than enthusiast amateurs, and today's Trolling comes from George, who has helped create an entire group of food-loving locals in the Columbia Foodies.

The Columbia Foodies are 14 people who meet once a month, alternating between hosting dinners and dining out.  There are a few professional cooks, but the rest are, as George says, "amateur but dedicated cooks of varying skill levels."

In October, the group showed off those skills by cooking for 24 people at the American Cancer Society's Hope Lodge.  The lodge provides free housing for cancer patients undergoing long-term treatment at Baltimore hospitals.  They don't provide food, but they have a large kitchen where the Columbia Foodies cooked up squash soups, beef lentil soup, glazed chicken breasts, two kinds of lasagna and fresh-based breads.  They finished up with a crepe bar outfitted with ice creams and homemade fudge and caramel sauces.

I asked George to recommend some resources for local chefs.  He went beyond the Howard County line for a few places that I haven't visited -- and straight to U.S. 1 for the Sysco basics:
The European Market at 7428 Muncaster Mill Rd, in Derwood (near Gaithersburg), Md.  This grocery store specializes in Portuguese and Brazilian products as well as some Mediterranean foods.  They have fresh Portuguese breads and pastries, Portuguese sausages and clay cooking pots as well as a full line of Portuguese and Brazilian groceries.  They also have some terrific prices on olives.  Kalamata olives are $3.99 a pound.
Penzeys Spices at 1048 Rockville Pike in Rockville is an entire store devoted to spices and herbs.  They have an amazing selection in a variety of sizes at good prices.  I have been very happy with the quality and freshness of there products.  They also do catalogue and online sales.
Sysco Discount Food Store at 7540 Washington Blvd. in Elkridge has some good values in meats and canned goods and decent prices on commercial cooking utensils.  In the back of the store they often have merchandise from broken cases that are very good value.Co
The Columbia Foodies are trying to keep their group small, but they occasionally consider new members.  For more information, contact George at 410-290-8380 or gershonr at comcast dot net.

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, November 22, 2010

Aida Bistro Moving To Its New Home This Week

Aida Bistro moves to its new, larger location the weekend after Thanksgiving, so Wednesday night is their last night of service at the existing place.

The plan is to open for dinner on Thursday, December 2 with lunch starting the next Tuesday, according to the last email that I saw.  But they're subject to the final inspections and permits.  So check their Web page for details.

HowChow Holiday Guide 2010: Food Gift Ideas

Are you making a list? Are you checking twice for someone who likes food?

HowChow has gift ideas -- some great cookbooks and some local spots for cooking items.  Start off with some cookbooks.  I pull tons of cookbooks from the library, but there are three that worked their way down to my first shelf this year.
  • Andrea Nguyen's Asian Dumplings.  The most-thoughtful cookbook that I have ever seen.  Delicious dumplings -- from simple to complex.  The flavors are delicious.  The techniques are explained clearly, and you can cheat with some store-bought dumpling skins -- although Nguyen's handmade dumplings are worth the effort.
  • Steven Raichlen's Planet Barbecue.  I bought a hardcover copy because I knew that I'd wear out the paperback review copy.  Imaginative additions to your repertoire -- ground lamb, whole chickens, vegetables, and more.  It's the perfect gift to someone who would want to explore the local ethnic markets -- as I blogged about using the recipes to check out Nazar, Lily's Mexican, and the Asian supermarkets.
  • Kimiko Barber's The Japanese Kitchen.  I keep returning to this book and Barber's The Chopstick Diet.  It's light food, simple recipes.  It's a great guide to checking out the Asian supermarkets.
Beyond the ideas, you need some stuff to turn out great food.  Williams Sonoma exists for kitchen splurges.  We love the brittles, the cool vinegars, and the gadgets.  Even in a cold season, the Zoku popsicle maker is a terrific gift.  Easy, delicious and kid-friendly.  But you can leave the mall for some offbeat ideas:
  • Buy a chef's jacket at Sysco Discount Food Center in Elkridge.  They sell white, black and red.  They also sell basics like measuring cups, knives, bowls, etc.  Mark Bittman says these supply stores can outfit a kitchen for $200.
  • Buy some Asian items at Hanoori Home Plaza in Catonsville.  They sell knives, chopsticks and other kitchen items.  Consider pairing a two-level steamer with the Asian Dumpling book or a sushi-rolling mat with The Japanese Kitchen.  But they also sell some cool Asian stuff -- bento boxes to pack a lunch, molds to turn hard-boiled eggs into cow faces, etc.
  • Cool chocolate bars.  You can browse for sweets at a bunch of places -- Salazon salted chocolate at the organic markets, sea salt Lindt at Target, or several brands at i.m. Wine in Fulton.  You can even get Old Bay chocolates at Sweet Cascades in Ellicott City.
Think about your own little basket.  A book, some gadgets, some chocolate or a Williams Sonoma vinegar.  Remember that I get a cut if you buy from Amazon -- either the items above or the other cookbooks that I recommend.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Link: Sushi Sono Reviewed In The Sun

Sushi Sono gets a writeup from Richard Gorelick in the Sun that has to make them smile:
If you've ever worried that you might not be able to tell the difference between very good sushi and excellent sushi, then you owe yourself a trip to Sushi Sono. Order something you've had before at your perfectly fine neighborhood sushi joint — say, the hamachi (yellowtail) — take a bite, and you'll know. You can tell the difference. It's better here.
 I have said that Sushi Sono was one of the best.  And I love the two new rolls!

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Some Perks Of The Blogging World

I do enjoy some of the perks of an established blog.  CSN has approachd me to promote bar tables and stools.  The new Wegmans In Lanham wants to promote a Coca-Cola fountain that has 109 flavors.  Feel free to send me pitches or offers.  I shy away from restaurant specials and just announcing events, but I'm always open to cookbooks to try!

Vinotrip Blog Hosts A November Happy Hour

Introduce yourself to the Pure Wine Cafe in Ellicott City and to the folks behind the Vinotrip blog at a happy hour on November 30.

HocoBlogs has promoted these happy hours for bloggers or people who just like reading blogs.  Matt from Vinotrip has planned a wine tasting and general hanging out from 6 to 8 pm.  Check out the details on Vinotrip.

Lunch Buffet At The Maiwand Burtonsville

Maiwand Kabob in Burtonsville now has a $9 weekday lunch buffet that they started in late October, reports Kyle.

Kyle and his wife were in an Afghan mood for lunch and were pleasantly surprised to find the buffet.  This is the Maiwand Kabob on Rte 198 in Burtonsville, just west of Rte 29 and right near Soretti's Ethiopian Cuisine and Cuba de Ayer.

The food hit the buffet between 11:30 and noon, Kyle reports:
Most of the food arrived by 11:45 with the last dish at noon. Don't arrive early, but the wait was worth it. We went on a Thursday, and the buffet included salad, chicken kabob, lamb curry, kofta (spicy ground beef) kebab, eggplant, pumpkin, white rice, brown rice, sweet white rice with carrots and raisins, tandoori bread and a dessert (tasty sweet orange colored cream of wheat?).
We liked it. Weekday lunch for us is a rarity but we would do this one again.
The Burtonsville Maiwand is somehow connected to the original Columbia restaurant.  It's casual Afghan food -- but there are exceptional items like the mantwo appetizer and the pumpkin.

(Update: See the comment below that Maiwand Kabob has put the buffet on hold.  But Soretti's is an Ethiopian place right next door.  That would be delicious.)

Friday, November 19, 2010

Is There A New Restaurant In Savage Mill?

Is there a new restaurant in Savage Mill?

Bonaparte Bread used to run a restaurant in the upper part of Savage Mill, and I snapped a few photos there the last time that I was there.

Literally, I was running through the shopping areas to grab a Bonaparte baguette.  I snapped photos for some theoretical post.  So I only realized this week that the signs on the upper floor say "Whatchamacallit" and that it appears to be a new restaurant.

Does anyone know Whachamacallit?

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Pregaming Thanksgiving At Maple Lawn Farm

You can still get your local turkey from Maple Lawn Farm -- and you can go poultry-wild for sausage, ground meat, smoked meat and all the trimmings to make a great meat stock. 

Just listen to Kyle, a regular HowChow contributor and another person willing to check out new places for food.  Even while recovering from surgery last weekend, Kyle had his wife drive him to Maple Lawn for a pre-Thanksgiving pickup:

Every year I go to Maple lawn farm in Fulton the day before Thanksgiving and get everything I need for turkey and stock. This year I decided to check out things  early, sort of a pregaming Thanksgiving. According to the website, Maple Lawn farms opened on Nov 12, 2010 for the Thanksgiving holiday season. In addition to regular turkey, they advertise smoked turkey, ground turkey, turkey sausage, dark meat, wings and necks.

My wife and I parked in front of  barn and checked out the cows and turkeys as we walked to the official turkey building. Things were in full turkey production. I told them I was interested in "extra" items and was told they had everything but the turkey sausage. For dark turkey, they had turkey "saddles", a breast-less turkey for $5, shrink-wrapped. I got one of those, a pound of ground turkey in a plastic tub for $4 and a really pretty shrink-wrapped 5 pound ready to eat smoked turkey breast for $5.50/pound.The saddle and ground turkey were frozen but the smoked turkey was not..

I plan to start using the smoked turkey and ground turkey soon for pre-Thankgiving turkey meals. I'll defrost the saddle closer to Thanksgiving so I can make stock earlier. So this year, I can get into the Thanksgiving spirit early with local turkey stuff.
Check out my prior post about other local ideas to jazz up your Thanksgiving.  And watch for more posts from Kyle because he shares the HowChow spirit of trolling [for new food places] and pimping [them].

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Spicy Chicken Sausage at Harris Teeter

Good food takes time, so the quickest ways to inject flavor are ingredients where other people have already invested time like cured bacon, spiced sausage and pickled vegetables.

I don't remember where I read that thought.  Probably Michael Pollan.  But I do know that the next thing I read was the nutrition box on a package of pork sausage -- 10 grams of fat and 180 calories each.

That's how spicy chicken sausage from Harris Teeter became the new staple in my refrigerator.  They're a quarter the fat and all the flavor of standard sausage, and they have become the base for meal after meal.

Easiest, you just grill them.  On the grill or in a pan, the sausages cook up firm and make an easy dinner with a roll and a side dish.

But often, I press the sausage out of the casing for ad hoc recipes.  Loose, it browns beautifully.  Add a single link to greens like chard.  Add two links to jarred pasta sauce or to top a pizza.  A little fat makes food more rich, and the spicy sausage provides flavor without making anything greasy.  It's versatile.  I crumbled a pound into lasagna -- my go-to recipe when I'm dropping food off for friends.  It's way more flavor and even better texture than the white-meat chicken that had been my first choice in the dish.

You can come up your own outlets for Harris Teeter's chicken sausage.  Now, I keep a few links in the freezer.  With this discovery, I pass on the national-brand sausages because the pork ones have way more fat and the chicken ones are bland, sometimes even mealy.  If I understand right, Harris Teeter makes the sausage in-house and delivers them fresh, never frozen.

HowChow's Chicken Sausage Lasagna

Note: I make lasagna in two disposable aluminum 8x8 pans when I am dropping off food.  One can go straight in the oven, and the other can be frozen for the future.  You could layer a single 9x13 pan instead.  As you'll see below, the ratios are very forgiving so you can adjust.  A little more or less of any ingredient won't hurt.  And a little more spice might fit your tastes.  This is consciously simple.

1 lb. ricotta cheese (low-fat if you want)
1 c. mozzarella cheese
1 egg, beaten
10-16 oz frozen spinach, thawed and pressed to drain water
salt and pepper
1/2 tsp oregano (optional)
1 pound chicken sausage or 1 pound chicken, cut into bite-sized pieces
1 jar (about 32 oz) spaghetti sauce
about 1 lb. uncooked lasagna noodles
1 c. water (split use)

Saute the sausage or the chicken (in a little olive oil, if using chicken) until just cooked through and starting to brown.  Break sausage up.  Take off the heat and set aside.

Mix ricotta, half of the mozzarella, beaten egg and spices.  Add spinach and mix.  Set aside.

Take two 8x8 baking pans and layer both at the same time:  1) one-third of the sauce and the meat, 2) enough noodles to cover the sauce (probably three in each pan with some broken ones to fill gaps), 3) one-half of the spinach/cheese mixture.

Repeat all three layers.  Then top with a third layer of noodles, the rest of the sauce and the remaining mozzarella.

At this point, you could freeze the lasagnas.  Defrost when you want to eat.

To cook, preheat an oven to 350 degrees.  Pour 1/2 c. water down the side of each the lasagna, cover tightly with foil, and bake for 60 to 75 minutes.  The ingredients are all cooked, so you're just waiting until the noodles have softened and the flavors have mixed.  Let stand 15 minutes before slicing.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Sneak Peak of The New Frisco Grill On BBG Blog

The new Frisco Tap Room will be even-cooler than I expected.

The Baltimore Beer Guy posted a nine-minute video with an interview of Frisco's owner Adam and tour of the new Columbia restaurant -- 50-tap bar, pizza oven, on-site brewery, 21-foot community table, private dining room . . . .  It's still under-construction, but the latest word is that they'll open in early December.  Check out the video.

Trolling: The Cravings Of Out-Of-Town Visitors

Back to Trollings and back to suggestions from emkenton.  Em recently hosted another family visitor from Texas -- eight years after they left the Lone Star state -- and realized that she had an angle for another guest post:  What local dishes are requested by the out-of-town crew?  With all those holiday visitors on the way, these could be your go-to foods for come-her people:
  • Fact: Texans know Mexican food. So I'm not really sure what possessed us to take my father-in-law out to eat Maryland Mexican sometime years ago, but the man hasn't stopped talking since about the cheese enchiladas at Zapata's in the Harper's Choice Village Center.  He claims they're the best cheese enchiladas he's ever eaten, and seems to attribute this in great measure to the fact they're made with Oaxaca cheese.  Unlike a traditional Tex-Mex cheese enchilada that is covered in a red chili sauce, Zapata's version features a green tomatillo sauce along with a drizzle of sour cream, cilantro, and red onions.  Delicious.  A bit of a heads-up so you aren't surprised:  they serve their salsa warm.  Odd to me at first, I now find it addictive.  And their margaritas aren't too shabby, either!!
  • Trying to be as adventurous as possible on our honeymoon back in the day, we wandered into a Indian restaurant from our San Francisco hotel . . . . and fully adopted our official "married life" cuisine!   We are loyal fans of Mirchi Wok in Columbia, having been regulars at the owner's styrofoam-plate-and-plastic-utensil Curry & Spice years ago when it was in the strip off Dobbin where Qdoba is now.  We were thrilled when their new restaurant finally opened in the space with its sibling, Mango Grove, and it ranks at the top of the list when my family is in town.  (Upon deciding recently to come visit for Thanksgiving, my mom actually suggested that we do a big Mirchi Wok feast rather than "going to any trouble" with a turkey dinner!)   We've never had a curry dish we didn't like, but sometimes you just want something a wee bit less heavy, right?  Enter my favorite dish:  Hazarvi Tikka.  According to the menu, it's "juicy white chicken meat grilled on skewers with roasted garlic, cheese and very mild spices."  According to me, it's the perfect foil to the richer Indian dishes.  The succulent pieces of chicken are flavorful but not in any way spicy...and dare I say they could even be healthy?! 
  • And, finally, on the opposite end of the dining spectrum:  the Fruit and Nut Chicken Salad at Harris Teeter.  Did I really just suggest a grocery store prepared item (and not one from my beloved Wegmans)?  I know-- crazy!  But my mother asks for this every time after sampling it at her friend's house near the Teeter homebase of North Carolina.  Being a bit wary of deli goods behind the counter, I was suspicious-- until I tried it and found chunky meat surrounded by a dressing that is kept from being too creamy/blah by the massive bits of various dried fruits and nuts.  As much as I like to concoct dishes in my own kitchen, I would definitely serve this chicken salad in lieu of a homemade creation.  And of course, if your mother happens to be visiting on a Thursday, you can even score a deal: 5% off all groceries at Harris Teeter on Thursdays for those 60 and better!  
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, November 15, 2010

Honey-Nut Sundaes WIth Nazar's Balli Cerez

Repurpose some Turkish nut spread by using it to create a honey-nut sundae with vanilla ice cream.

The Omak brand balli cerez is a thick spread made of crushed nuts soaked in honey.  Crushed pistachios, walnuts, hazelnuts and more fill the small jars at Nazar Market in Columbia.  They're doused in honey, and I have no idea how Turkish people use them -- other than that they're a "snack," according to the guys at Nazar.

I used them as a sundae topping.  I spooned a few tablespoons over vanilla ice cream, then poured on a few tablespoons of honey because the balli cerez is more nut than sauce.  That made for an ice cream parlor dessert -- crunchy, sweet and way more natural than that Magic Shell that I loved as a kid.

Nazar Market has become a delicious source for unique items.  You get fresh meat -- including ground lamb -- from the halal butcher, along with many Turkish items that are great on their own or work well in recipes.  Plus, you can walk across the parking lot for a sandwich at Bon Fresco.  Check out all my Nazar posts.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Is Frisco Tap Room Still Set To Move Next Week?

Anyone know when the new Frisco Tap Room will open -- and usher in a new era for the craft beer and burrito scene that started at Frisco Grille & Cantina?

The word on Twitter in early November was that Frisco was targeting Thanksgiving for the move.  They're going to have more space and even more options for interesting beers and southwestern food.  People rave about everything from the brew to the children's menu.  Once they're open, I want to update the post about beers.

(Update: See the comments below.  The Baltimore Beer Guy says the latest word was that the current location will close in November and the new one will open in early December.  Check below for more.)

Friday, November 12, 2010

Laurel Tavern Donuts in Laurel

The flavor in a donut comes from sugar and oil, but the magic comes from making fried food that tastes light.

The donuts at Laurel Tavern Donuts comes out soft and puffy, topped with the simplest cinnamon or frosting and easily the best part of a cold morning.  Even the cake donuts are light.  They have a sweet crust that supports the strawberry frosting, then gives way to airy cake inside.

If Laurel Tavern Donuts were owned by some 21-year-old college grads, it would have a marketing story about old-fashioned technique and artisan donuts.  They'd hit up a local farm for some berries, and they'd push a tale of locally-grown produce to get some of the love that food writers have blindly lavished on cupcakes and lawyers who quit to make food.

But this is Laurel.  The "tavern" sits on U.S.1, and its immigrant owners offer coffee and a dozen variations on fried dough.  You should go for a donut worth the calories.  Sweet, slightly oily, but still light enough to make Dunkin Donuts taste leaden and tired.  Check out the donut holes as well.

The Laurel Tavern is in the former location of the Little Tavern chain.  They also serve up breakfast sandwiches and mini-burgers along the lines of the Little Tavern speciality.  I haven't tried those yet.

Laurel Tavern Donuts
115 Washington Boulevard (U.S. 1)
Laurel, MD 20707

NEAR:  The donut shop is on the south-bound side of U.S. 1 where it separates in downtown Laurel.  It is a few stores south of the light at Main Street.  Look for a converted Little Tavern -- and thus a tiny white building with green trim -- on the right side of the road.

Laurel Tavern Donuts on Urbanspoon

Anyone Know Where To Find Venison Sausage?

Anyone know where to buy venison sausage?  Amelia picked up some pork sausage from Boarman's to spice up her Thanksgiving stuffing.  I haven't seen venison there or at the Laurel Meat Market.

Anyone have a hookup for deer sausage?  Or German sausage of any kind?  The folks at Ellicott City Brewing told Amelia that they get their venison sausage from a place called Baker's.  Does that ring a bell? Anything closer than the German Gourmet in Falls Church?

Thursday, November 11, 2010

New Rolls - And Masterpieces - At Sushi Sono

Sushi Sono has added two new rolls -- master pieces of fish and vegetables that push their already-imaginative food.

The new rolls come on top of one of the best restaurants in Howard County.  It's pricey.  About $50 for three large rolls, a soda, and edamame.  But those rolls are unique and inventive:
  • The "sunshine roll" -- tuna with crunchy seaweed topped with spicy tuna tataki and a dallop of mango sauce.  It's a spectacular roll.  Fish with the spicy edge, the sweet of fruit, and the crunch of the seaweed.  Special seaweed, the Sushi Sono folks explained.  Cooked to create the crunch.  Not the crackling of a cracker, but more the crunch of bean sprouts.
  • The "sushi nugget" -- cooked tuna with onion, topped with scallop and then baked.  You get five pieces laid on their side.  It's rich and cozy.  The wrapper has a slight crunch, but the real flavor comes from the fish and, I think, some type of sauce.
The sunshine roll matches the No. 12 roll that the Columbia restaurant introduced earlier this year.  That was a delicious roll with a tempura shrimp topped with tuna and a spicy sauce.  The sunshine is light and flavorful.  The tuna is spiced, then seared before its sliced on top.  The roll fulfills sushi's best promise of fresh fish dressed up for a party.

In contrast, the sushi nugget was a complete surprise.  The roll comes hot.  It's not the clean, light notes of most sushi.  The warm, mellow flavor comes more like a winter soup, a restaurant soup where someone with skill has balanced ingredients into some special.  It's closer to Volt than a sushi bar.  Rich and concentrated like a stuffed mushroom, but sweet with the scallops on top.

I don't throw Volt around lightly.  This was a dish that someone thought about.  "Small plate" cuisine where some chef has experimented and turned out bites that I couldn't figure out, let alone replicate.  Hustle over.  It's worth your while.

Sushi Sono is really one of the best restaurants in Howard County.   Rolls have gone up about a dollar on the new menu, but it's still one of the great splurges.  Casual and relaxed, but classy enough to make even a Wednesday special.  Order green tea.  It's gratis, and it is absolutely delicious tea.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Anyone Know If The Bon Appetit Cafe Opened?

The Bon Appetit Cafe & Bakery on Rte 40 has been under construction since at least last spring.  Does anyone know if opened yet?  Know the story?

(Update:  It opened in November 2010.)

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Shopping For Your Howard County Thanksgiving

Time to think about your Thanksgiving weekend -- whether you're hosting here in Howard County or carrying the holiday out of town.

I'm an advocate for non-traditional Thanksgiving.  Thai Thanksgiving comes to mind.  But that gets vetoed by my better half and my equally-traditional sister-in-law. Whatever way you go, you can get the good stuff close to home.

And if your family is open-minded, consider just spicing up your entire meat.  That Thai Thanksgiving would come from the H Mart.  Or you could go Mexican.  Lily's Mexican Market sells spices to rub on the turkey.  Mexican chorizo for the sausage.  Maybe cactus for a side dish?  I can't serve that here, but there's always hope for you!

Monday, November 8, 2010

Did Maruha Japanese Steakhouse Close?

Has anyone been past the Hickory Ridge village center to see if Maruha Japanese Steakhouse is still serving sushi and hibachi?

There was a tweet yesterday from Theycallmef where he reported Maruha "dark and shuttered" on a Saturday night.  Maybe they were just closed for a night.  The restaurant only opened last year.

Link: El Hidalgo On HoCo Rising

El Hidalgo in Elkridge starts off with homemade salsa and kept pleasing HoCo Rising and Jane -- as reviewed on the HoCo Rising blog yesterday.

I still haven't been to the new, family-run restaurant.  I keep hearing a steady report of "good, authentic food" and "spotty service."  That was Rob Kaspar's review in the Sun, and it sounds like that was the scene when the bloggers ate Saturday night.

Twitter and Snapper From Frank's Seafood

I'm getting new fangled news from Frank's Seafood -- even as I'm trying to learn some old-fashioned grilling techniques.

The Jessup fish market has jumped on the Twitter bandwagon and started offering specials.  The retail outlet inside the wholesale fish market has more than 60 years experience, but they're on the new trend with their own Twitter feed -- which you can follow.

I stopped at Frank's Saturday and picked up a whole snapper.  Grilling whole fish remains one of my quests.  Everyone says it keeps the fish moist, and I have all kinds of cookbooks with suggestions to effortlessly lift fillets right off the bone.

The Laotian snapper tasted delicious.  Steven Raichlen's Planet Barbecue has lived up to my early review -- everything is delicious.  But I basically shredded the meat taking it off the fish.  (Mrs. HowChoe doesn't relish the tail, the skin or the eye socket on her plate.)  Served up with beets, chard from my garden, and a sliced baguette from Bon Fresco Sandwich Bakery in Columbia.

Frank's still has crabs.  For $30, you got two dozen #1 males.  Frank's sold me delicious crabs in August, and they were saying that they're even better at this time of year.  They also had oysters.  Several varieties, including a small wild Maryland variety and some farmed, larger bivalves from Virginia and beyond.

Are there any other Howard County restaurants using Twitter regularly?  DiamondbackTvrn, NottinghamsMD, Touche TouchetGrilledCheeseCo, ChefKloby and VictoriaGPub come to mind.  Anyone else that you recommend?

Friday, November 5, 2010

Touche Touchet Has Samples All Weekend -- As Discovered By A Hoco Politico Blog Investigation

Hoco Politico talks up Kloby's Smokehouse -- particulary the smoked turkey platter -- and then stops by Touche Touchet for coffee, carrot cake cupcakes, and samples in a post today.

The big discovery is that this weekend is the Columbia bakery's "open house."  They will have samples on Saturday and Sunday.  Touche Touchet is always worth your time, and you should enjoy a cool weekend with a sweet and a hot drink.

Sources say that early versions of the Hoco Politico post had photos of Hoco Politico buying two carrot cake cupcakes.  He appears to have revised so that he can tell Mrs. Politico that he only got one.  Oh, wait.  That's my plan for tomorrow.

Link: Sarah Says' Wonderful CSA

Sarah Says posts again about her CSA delivery and what she does with the vegetables.

I had figured that my CSA was going to inspire the same kinds of posts.  Unfortunately, mine was more of a learning experience -- new farmers, new consumer.  Good to have tried, but you need to read Sarah Says if you want real CSA inspiration.

(Hat tip to Hoco Rising, who does a great daily post where he writes himself and links to others.)

Link: Winter CSAs By Breezy Willow, Martin Herb

Two local farms will try to continue to sell local produce through the winter, reports the Ellicott City Patch, although they're not both really farm-based CSAs

Read the details carefully.  The Breezy Willow Farms in West Friendship will run a CSA from March to June.  Martin Herb Farm, which runs CSAs at Centennial High School in Ellicott City and at Pointers Run Elementary School in Clarksville, will run from December into early summer -- and it will mix local herbs and root vegetables mixed with locally-stored apples and produce imported from Florida.  Think of it as "thoughtfully-imported" rather than an actually locally-farmed.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Columbia Wegmans -- The Building Is Going Up

After so much, the construction of the Columbia Wegmans has started to go up.  After years of waiting and months of knocking down trees and old warehouses, they're starting to build up, reports M.R. who took a photo yesterday.

Incredible that we need to wait until 2012, but it is good to see that they're pushing out.  Join the Facebook group.

(Update: It turns out that they're building a retaining wall.  I have never been so excited by a retaining wall.)

Remember that the Baltimore Sun's Mobbie's contest runs through Nov. 12 so please vote for HowChow.  You can vote once a day!

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Did Curry N Spice Reopen In Columbia?

Poking around the Mango Grove Web site, I saw a map referencing the Curry N Spice carryout and Indian grocery.

Did this reopen?  I seem to remember that the Mango Grove owners started with Curry N Spice, but it had closed by the time I started driving around Columbia in 2005.  But the map says "Now Open!" with an address on Dobbin Road.

Best Lunches Around Columbia; Help The Patchers

With AOL's new Patch site, Columbia gets a new daily journalist -- and one who needs somwhere to eat.

David graduated from Wilde Lake a decade ago, and he is back now to cover his old home town.  Lunchtime, I'm mostly in Washington, but I was recently tweeting with David about lunch and thinking about Sidamo's sandwiches.  Even though reporters never got paid enough to eat out every noon, it's fun to grab a bite and to show the journalistic flag.

There are good options in Columbia.  Start with sandwiches -- New York Deli for corned beef, Bon Fresco for everything, and Riverside Coffee for that bulgogi panini.  Consider a side trip to Maiwand Kabob , a splurge at Sushi Sono, or maybe An Loi's pho on a cold day.  Work your way up to the Indian buffets.  House of India is wonderful, and I have heard great things about Royal Taj on McGaw Road.

Where do you go for lunch?  People talk up some Columbia delis, although I haven't tried them all.

Lunch ideas outside of Columbia will have to be for other folks.  HowChow covers the entire county, but AOL has divided the world -- a separate Patch for Ellicott City and others for Savage and Elkridge.  That's four journalists who need lunch ideas, although they aren't allowed to travel far.  AOL actually forbids David from leaving CA's jurisdiction during business hours.  Journalism jobs are so scarce that these folks agreed to implanted GPS technology that warns their editors if they veer from the hyper-local.  If you leave your assigned census tract . . . you're fired.

So Elizabeth will have to eat all the tacos at Elkridge's R&R Deli.  Brandie can't share her pork belly from Honey Pig on Rte 40.  And Brian will be all alone at Savage's Bonaparte Bread.  Since you can go anywhere, where do you crave for lunch?

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Vote For HowChow . . . Once A Day!

Click here to vote for my blog ... early and often The Sun has resurrected The Mobbies for 2010 -- so it's time to vote and to vote for HowChow.

You can vote once a day until November 12 by clicking on the image above or by perusing the Mobbies list of food blogs.  That list includes a bunch of good food blogs, but I have better campaign promises.  If you vote for HowChow, then Columbia will get a Wegmans . . . eventually.

The Sun creates real buzz with this second annual blog beauty contest.  If it were a real Maryland election, we would be out creating slates of multiple candidates -- like a Vote Howard County slate where you can click for folks like HoCo Rising and Tales of Two Cities in the sections for the neighborhood blogs or the politics blog.

Start voting or we're going to get desperate.  You'll come to home to robo-calls from Mrs. HowChow on your answering machine.  Or she'll fill your front lawn with those signs.

Ask HowChow: A Quiet Sunday Lunch For Ten

An anonymous commenter asked for a recommendation -- a Sunday afternoon lunch spot where the food is good, the atmosphere is quiet, and the folks are relaxed enough for separate checks.
I would appreciate suggestions for a Sunday afternoon location for a group of 10+. The criteria would be a quiet environment so we can hear each other talk, separate checks and located in the Columbia area. I love Bon Fresco and promote their delicious sandwiches all the time, but there is a noisy drink? machine. Plus a group of 10+ relaxing would take up too much space. We enjoy Bangkok Garden located at Robert Oliver Place but looking for other possibilities. Sidamo would be super but a little too far. Thank you. 
Any ideas?  Sidamo is really a great choice because the sandwiches are delicious, and you could get counter service and space to spread out.  Same at Kloby's Smokehouse just off Rte 29 on Johns Hopkins Road.

But if they're too far, then I would think about slightly-larger joints up north.  Coal Fire Pizza has a bar area that might be perfect for 10 people sit in peace.  Pho Dat Trahn on Snowden serves reasonable food, and I bet there is space at lunch time.  And the Indian buffets charge a set price, so the check is easy to split even if it comes combined.  Start with House of India, where I have seen them make large tables for groups.

Any other suggestions?

Link: El Hidalgo Reviewed In The Sun

Now, I need to go to El Hidalgo in Elkridge.  I have two Mexican places that I want to try, but Rob Kasper's review of El Hidalgo highlights a Mexican dish that neither he nor I had had before -- tlacoyos.

Kasper says the new restaurant on Marshalee Drive compares with his visits to Arizona.  Still sounds like the service is getting up to speed, but it sounds like El Hidalgo is going for more than your average Tex-Mex.

Link: Great Sage Reviewed In The Sun

Great Sage in Clarksville got reviewed Saturday in the Sun as a vegan restaurant with a "demilitarized approach."

Richard Gorelick gives a generally positive report -- highlighting the fact that Great Sage offers some food that looks like meat and some that doesn't.  In the past, I have thought that the straight-vegetarian items were more successful than the "looks like a meat dish" options.  But Gorelick liked them all.

Sidamo Sandwiches: Hotter Than The Coffee

Sidamo Coffee & Tea has such good sandwiches that it needs a new menu.

Literally, a new menu.

The chalkboard with single-line descriptions doesn't do justice to the real sandwiches that the Fulton coffee shop offers at lunch.  They're so much more than just "chicken salad" or "veggie."

The veggie sandwich came with avocado, cuke, tomato, lettuce, cheese, lentils and a pesto.  So many vegetables that it was hard to keep them all in the sandwich.  Luckily, they give you a fork for the pasta salad.

The chicken salad came zested with onion and spicy mustard.  Good lettuce and tomato even in October and bread that rivaled Bon Fresco.  In fact, the entire sandwiches rivaled Bon Fresco, the same little details and flavors that come from a shop that wants to serve something unique.  The cuke comes lightly pickled.  The bread comes toasted.  The lentils are marinated and make a meaty contrast that I have never had before.

Which brings us back to the menu.  Sidamo has a sign outside advertising the sandwiches.  But it really needs a menu or just a bigger chalkboard where they can share the details of their creations.  They have probably 10 varieties and an equal number of salads, and I'll happily work my way through the grilled cheese, tuna, and cold cuts.  Sidamo is my destination for coffee, and it should be a destination for sandwiches -- not just a place for lunch if you happen to be in Maple Lawn.

Sidamo Coffee & Tea
8180 Maple Lawn Boulevard
Fulton, MD 20759

NEAR: Sidamo is in sight of Rte 216 in the Maple Lawn development.  You need to drive around the back of Looney's to park and walk into Sidamo.