Saturday, April 30, 2011

Richard Gorelick's Best Of Howard County

Richard Gorelick does a huge amount of busy work to keep his job as the Sun's restaurant reviewer.

We know that he really only wants to write about Howard County, but the bosses demand that he keep up with the city and other suburbs.

Case in point:  Gorelick picked his favorite 18 Howard County restaurants this week.  Then he had to camouflage them in a fake list of "50 Best" in Baltimore, Howard and Anne Arundel counties.

Luckily, we can reverse-engineer the Sun's display to show you the spots that really matter:
Sushi Sono - #6 on Gorelick's Best of Howard
  1. Iron Bridge Wine Company (3)
  2. Bistro Blanc (4)
  3. Great Sage (6)
  4. Tersiguel's (7)
  5. Victoria Gastro Pub (8)
  6. Sushi Sono (11)
  7. Portalli's (13)
  8. El Azteca (22)
  9. Elkridge Furnance Inn (24)
  10. Aida Bistro & Wine Bar (25)
  11. Mango Grove (26)
  12. Rumor Mill (28)
  13. Shin Chon Garden (30)
  14. Facci Ristorante (31)
  15. King's Contrivance (34)
  16. Cafe de Paris (43)
  17. Jesse Wong's Asean Bistro (46)
  18. Ranazul (48)
That's a great list, especially because I'm inspired to try some place (or try them again).   I have never been to Tersiguel's or Rumor Mill, and I always forget El Azteca and Bistro Blanc.  (Gorelick also listed Grace Garden at #23, and I claim that as close-enough to Howard County, along with Catonsville Gourmet that was #5 and all the Burtonsville spots.)

Lists mostly serve to start discussion.  My 2010 Best Restaurants post basically overlaps the cheaper end of Gorelick's list.  I add Bon Fresco and Maiwand Kabob, which are both counter service.  I add House of India, but Gorelick mentioned them in the Mango Grove description.  As I consider a 2011 list, I keep thinking about Pure Wine Cafe.

Anyone else have an opinion?

Friday, April 29, 2011

Fish Noodles At Grace Garden

My favorite restaurant dishes are the ones that I know that I could never make myself.

The fish noodles at Grace Garden in Odenton are one of my absolute favorites.  Mild fish somehow pureed and then reformed as rough noodles.  I love the texture, which is firm and light, and the fish is almost sweet.  Mushrooms provide an earthy flavor, and pork slivers give the plate a salty bite.

Grace Garden is one of the best restaurants around because it excels at little things like the mushrooms.  Mrs. HowChow couldn't get over how they tasted like mushrooms.  These weren't bland, reconstituted filler.  They were an equal part of the meal, holding their own against even meal.

All of the cooked vegetables have the nicest crunch.  They're not soggy or limp.  The sichuan pork belly comes out full of garlic and crispy with an unctuous, warm flavor of oil that I'd never put in my weeknight dinners, but no greasiness.

We hadn't been to Grace Garden in months, and our most-recent dinner shows that it hasn't lost a step.  There are only seven tables and minimal decor, but you don't want to miss the XO seafood if you like scallops and squid tossed with a rich sauce.  The squid was cooked perfectly -- tender enough to cut with a fork, still holding that perfect spot that is toothsome but not chewy.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Go To Daedalus To Check Out Cookbooks

If you have a little patience and a taste for cookbooks, make a short trip to Daedalus Books in Columbia.

Last weekend, I wandered the stacks for more than an hour with my brother-in-law, a book lover who is always an inspiration to stop at the bookstore that I drive past every week.

Daedalus sells remainders and other odd-lot books and music.  That means you can't guarantee what you'll find, but you might always discover something interesting.  Daedalus isn't selling dollar books.  It fills a spot where the books are cheaper than retail, but still good enough to worth your time and your money.

Last weekend, they had a pile of the Food Matters Cookbook that I recommend. Priced about the same as Amazon, but you can cook from it tonight if you stop at Daedalus today.  Plus, you can check out hundreds of other books, including some that I recognized like One Big Table by Molly O'Neill and Local Breads by Daniel Leader.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Scottish Burger Joint Coming To Maple Lawn -- Would You Like Fries With That New Urbanism?

Looks like Pita & Rye won't be the last new restaurant in the Maple Lawn development in Fulton.

Maple Lawn trumpets its "Traditional Neighborhood Development -- a town planning philosophy inspired by the small towns of the late 19th and early 20th centuries."

And that means McDonalds in Maple Lawn, according to the Web site of the company that runs 15 franchises around Baltimore, Brndancat Enterprises, Inc.

Hat Tip to John who found the Web site and DonkeyKong who let me know.

(Update: Denise noted on the HowChow Facebook page that it's a Scottish chain, not Irish.  I fixed the headline.)

Early Thoughts On Flavors Of India In Columbia

The newest frontier for Indian food in Howard County is an attempt to take on the entire continent.

Flavors of India opened in Columbia earlier this month.  It's still a work-in-progress according to the comments on a prior post, but it's serving up good food in Aida Bistro's original spot off Columbia Gateway Drive.

This is still a new restaurant so I expect it to change as folks work out the kinks.  But we drove to Columbia Gateway during the first week and certainly enjoyed ourselves.

Bottom line: It's good food.  It's a nice, casual atmosphere.  I'm not sure that it'll pull me away from Mango Grove, but that's just because Indian is one of the deepest cuisines in Howard County.

We ate off the vegetarian part of the menu.  Flavors of India is setting itself apart by serving up an enormous variety -- northern Indian tandoori chicken, southern Indian dosas, Indo-Chinese items like fried rice and chicken or cauliflower manchurian.  That's a smart way to stand out among many good Indian spots, but we stayed vegetarian to get a contrast with House of India in Columbia, one of our favorites and owed by the same people.

Papdi chat was an interesting appetizer.  Crisps mixed with potato, chickpeas and a spicy sauce.  Not that spicy, actually.  It was a friendly crowd with a bartender watching over us and a manager showing photos of his family to other tables.

We ordered a dosa.  A week later, I don't remember which one.  That can't be the strongest recommendation, but I scooped up the dosa, which had the contrast between crispe crepe and warm filing that makes me love these south Indian dishes.  Flavors was a little more oily than Mango Grove, a little less spicy.  Between our dosa, a curry and a naan, we left satisfied, although not convinced that the bread or the flavors lived up to the best Indian around.

Overall, the comments on earlier posts echo my impression.  Folks talk up the spinach pakora, the sambar and chutneys.  But there were some complaints about blandness and some observation about "new restaurant" issues like service.  (Check out here and here.)  As I have said before, HowChow is a hobby.  I don't trash people who are trying to serve good food, so please keep the rhetoric to useful and away from hyperbolic.

I'll go back to Flavors of India because the menu goes beyond the standards.  Recently, I have been trying to find new dishes beyond my take-out comfort zone of a chicken dish, baigan bartha, and a basic lentils.  Flavors has a dish of green chilis simmered in tamaring, peanut and coconut.  One of the commentators highlighted the "chttinadu" style dish that I have never heard about before.

For more, check out Rishoo on Yelp, who works across the street and talks up the ala carte menu, but not the buffet.

Flavors of India
7185 Columbia Gateway Drive
Columbia, MD 21046

NEAR:  This is south of Rte 175 just west of I-95.  Columbia Gateway is called "Col Gateway" on the Rte 175 signs, and you drop down to the road and then follow a fork sign into a shopping center on the west side of the road.  You can't see anything from the main road.

Flavors of India on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Whatcha Got In The Trunk? A Whole Pig?

A lot o' people don't realize what's really going on. They view life as a bunch o' unconnected incidents 'n things. They don't realize that there's this, like, lattice o' coincidence that lays on top o' everything.
Give you an example; show you what I mean: suppose you're thinkin' about a plate o' shrimp. Suddenly someone'll say, like, plate, or shrimp, or plate o' shrimp out of the blue, no explanation. No point in lookin' for one, either. It's all part of a cosmic unconciousness.
                   -- Miller

No point in looking for that plate of shrimp.  But if you start thinking about a whole pig, you're in luck.

I first noticed whole pigs at Laurel Meat Market, which actually needs two days notice to get you one.  They just have a sign offering pigs.  From 35 to 200 pounds.  That's a huge barbecue if you're cooking up a 200-pound pig.

Then I stopped at Kloby's Smokehouse and saw that folks without a pit in their backyard can have the whole pig experience as well.  Kloby's has got 'em and will smoke 'em, then offer them up with side dishes, paper plates and delivery.  Pigs are "market price."  A deluxe pig roast -- which comes with smoked BBQ chicken, beans, cole slaw, rolls and more -- is $16 a person with a 50-person minimum.

I'm sure that I'll see whole pigs everywhere now.  No explanation.  No point in looking for one.

Bonus points if you know what was in the trunk.  You don't want to look in there.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Dining At Large Listing Top 50 Suburban Restaraurant -- Howard Spots Making The List

Richard Gorelick has followed up on his "Top 50" list for Baltimore with a Top 50 list for Howard, Baltimore and Anne Arundel counties -- including a first installment (#50-41) that includes Ranazul, Jesse Wong's Asean Bistro, and Cafe de Paris.

Gorelick's Dining At Large blog is worth a regular read, but this week should be good fun as people jump in with protests and their own favorites.

Valet Parking At A Shopping Center Restaurant -- And Other News From South Of The Border

. . . and that means south of Columbia.  The restaurant scene off Hopkins Road has become so hot that they need valet parking.

Facci Ristorante has brought a taste of urban living to the suburbs, and it's a welcome sight considering that more than half of the shopping center at Rte 29 and Johns Hopkins Road will be restaurants -- Facci, Kloby's Smokehouse, La Palapa Too, and more.  The lot of fills, which is inconvenient but can also be unpleasant with cars racing for spots or trapped as people maneuver, wait, back up, etc.

Both Facci and Kloby's are in mid-expansion.  Peering into the windows on Saturday, they both look weeks away from hosting people in their expanded space, at the bourbon bar (Kloby's), or in the private room (Facci).  But construction continues.  In fact, Kloby's has applied to expend its liquor license to the new space.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

New Outdoor Patio Coming To Looney's?

Just in time for beautiful weather, Looney's in Fulton is asking to open its patio for alcohol service.

The issue comes up at a May 10, 2011 meeting of the county liquor board, according to an ad in Sunday's Sun.  At the same meeting, the board will consider the request for Kloby's Smokehouse to serve liquor in the space that it is expanding into off Johns Hopkins Road.

The patio at Looney's could be a nice spot.  You can watch traffic go past.  People get ice cream at the joint across the street.  It's a chance to create at least a shadow of the streetscape that the Maple Lawn developers could have created by investing in space where people might actually hang out.  Instead, they scattered and shoehorned outdoor seating at a few restaurants.

Good luck to Looney's and Kloby's on the expansions.  I just wish Looney's would get rid of the banners advertising discounted beer.

Link: Bangkok Garden on Good For The Palate

I'm getting back up to blogging speed, but while I do check out the Good for the Palate blog where Robin wrote up a night at Bangkok Garden.  She particularly liked the chicken curry puff, which has rounded out my plan for posts about "Fried Dumpling Week: Samosas vs. The World."

Monday, April 18, 2011

First, We Knock Down All The Supermarkets

Last week, I realized that the problem with Howard County's food options is that we have way too many supermarkets.

I spent much of last week in Manhattan.  I saw a single supermarket in days of walking around the island, and I ate wonderfully.  Some really expensive stuff.  But mostly, the food cost the same as around here; it was just better -- a brick oven pizza, a bahn mi sandwich, some French desserts called macaron.

The key to this abundance seems to be that New Yorkers are hungry.

They can't buy their own food.  So they flock to these restaurants.  We waited an hour to eat ramen on West 52d Street.  Somebody roughed out a basement and installed cooking equipment against one wall.  Hip youngsters pack the 18 seats to buy soup.  They stood around patiently in a rainstorm, way less jostling than the crowds at Facci.

You get a bowl of chicken-based soup, tricked out with noodles, some vegetables, and two slices of pork belly.  Delicious!  I'm not saying that we'll attract the three Japanese chefs in their urban kerchiefs, but someone could make some money selling ramen -- or bahn mi -- or macarons -- if we could make people hungrier around here.

First, we need to start knocking down the supermarkets.  Oh, I see you had the same idea.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Pickled Eggs By Mark Bittman -- They're So Easy, And You Can't Get Enough Magenta Eggs

One thing that impressed me about Mark Bittman is that you barely have to shop for even his most-interesting recipes.

Hard boiled eggs?  Got them.  Cider vinegar?  In the pantry.  Thin-sliced onion.  Check.  Grated beets and horseradish?  Okay, maybe grab those at the store.

I cooked a dinner party recently where one guest was newly vegan and one gets sick from gluten.  (And one just doesn't like the taste of cheese, but that was a footnote.)  An antipasto plate seemed like the perfect way to let people take whatever food worked for them, so I flipped through cookbooks looking for items that would be tasty, beautiful and could be cooked ahead.

Enter Bittman's pickled eggs from How To Cook Everything Vegetarian.  You basically peel your eggs and put them in a large jar or bowl -- something that can take the heat of boiling water, but preferably has a tight-fitting lid.  Then you cook a mixture of vegetables, vinegar, water, salt and sugar until the onions are soft.  Pour that over the eggs and refrigerate for two days to a week.

So easy, and you get magenta eggs.  Slice them in quarters, and the yellow yolk contrasts with the beet-stained whites.  They're a little more firm than regular eggs with a taste from the vinegar and horseradish.  Great on the antipasto plate.  Great sliced on salads.  Delicious enough to just eat in our lunches.

These eggs ended up on a plate with some cut vegetables, eggplant dip, and sliced chorizo from Roots.  For the beets, I used the huge storage beets from Super Grand in Laurel or one of the other Korean supermarkets.  You can get one beet -- all you need for this recipe -- for less than a bunch of the tiny beets with their greens at a regular store.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Let's Try Again: Flavors Of India Says It Opens April 14 -- New South Indian Joint In Columbia

Sign (By Kyle)
Flavors of India has a sign saying that it will open tomorrow, April 14, so we're looking forward to reports about the new southern Indian place in Columbia.

(They also had a sign last week that said they had already opened, so we take everything with a grain of salt.)

Flavors of India comes from the folks who own House of India.  I understand this will be cuisine similar to the dosas and other items at Mango Grove, another place that I love.

(Update: Flavors of India opened.)

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Maryland Crab Meat Has Arrived At Frank's

Maryland crab season kicked off this week, and Frank's Seafood in Jessup has started to sell the year's first crab meat -- according to a private tweet.

Private tweet!  Private tweet with Frank's!  I'm a celebrity!  Oh, wait.  They put the same news -- and a $2 coupon -- on their public feed.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Link: Frisco Tap Room On Kitchen Scribble

I still haven't been to the new Frisco Tap Room, but I'm hearing the basics from Kat on the Kitchen Scribble blog.  She talks pluses (chorizo pizza!) and minuses (parking).

While you're on Kat's site, check her posts about her CSA.

Comments About Authentic Japanese, Road Trips, A New Indian Option And More

Smelts! Almost as many as comments
I never get enough comments.  They're a terrific part of HowChow -- full of information and fun.  I know you can't read all the old posts, so I try to capture some regularly in a sampling package.

A whole bunch of people talked about the Fuji restaurant in Ellicott City.  There was a short debate about the value of "authentic" Japanese food.  Then some people about the food.  Anonymous had a bad experience, then Wonderful had a terrific night.  Earlier, Kim D and Dzoey had recommended their meals.

Another group commented about Belvedere Square.  I pitched the idea of a roadtrip.  They jumped in with other suggestions about soups, bagels, pizza, bread and more that you can pick up.

Avram earned his title as the official Moonlight Cafe correspondent of the HowChow blog.  He discovered the new menu and the change to an Indian place called Tandoor Grill, and he provided a series of comments about the new cuisine.

While that is coming, does anyone know where the new Moby Dick is coming?  Anonymous asked, and Moby Dick still advertises a new Columbia spot on its Web site.  Where?  When?

And there is more:

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Tino's Italian Bistro Coming To Columbia?

The former home of Strapazza has a sign saying that it will become Tino's Italian Bistro, according to a post by Kristi on the HowChow Facebook page.

Anyone know Tino?  Anyone know the plan?

Flavors Of India LookIng To Open, Maybe They "Soft" Opened Already in Columbia?

The new southern Indian restaurant opens in Columbia next week -- according to what the folks there are telling an anonymous commentator.  But it actually may have opened today -- according to a banner that Tanya reported on the HowChow Facebook page.

Flavors of India is opening in the space vacated when Aida Bistro moved to a larger spot.  It's owned by the folks behind House of India -- one of our favorites.

Anyone been?  Did they do a soft open?  Any first thoughts?

(Update: They didn't soft open.  Looks like April 14 is the day.)

Go Explore New Food -- Guaranteed That You Won't Be Shocked By What You're Eating

Soon doo boo
No one likes to be surprised by fork-full of organ meat.

I'm with you people.  I love to explore new food.  I do worry that the search for authentic can lead to the frontiers of what I really want to eat.  Add a language problem, and you might scare yourself from trying something new.

So here are some no-risk ways to try something new.  Vegetarian items where the cuisine may be exotic, but you have eaten all the ingredients before:
Veg sampler w/all-teff injera

  • All-teff injera at Soretti's Ethiopian Cuisine in Burtonsville.  A vegetable sampler is a no-brainer here.  The all-teff bread makes this exotic even for people who know Ethiopian food, but you could safely stretch to any of the meat tibbs as well.
  • Soon doo boo at Lighthouse Tofu BBQ in Ellicott City.  The spicy tofu stew makes a delicious dinner, and you don't have to worry about what lurks below the red, cloudy broth.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Hot Fudge At Williams Sonoma (And Danish Jam-Filled Pancakes If You'll Buy A Special Pan)

Williams Sonoma is a strange store for a cook to have ignored for so long.

On my own, I have a pretty off-brand kitchen.  A pot is a pot is a pot.  Maybe I invested in a few items, but mostly I followed Mark Bittman's mantra of no frills supplies and mostly I cooked from scratch.  So I really didn't shop for kitchen stuff in the mall.

It took Mrs. HowChow to teach me that the food was delicious.  We'd check out Williams Sonoma for samples as we walked around, and I saw how that store -- with its clear directions and its mixes and sauces -- got her excited about cooking more than anything else.

Baking more than cooking.  Sweets most often.  Mrs. HowChow isn't excited for Williams Sonoma's pot roast spices.  She wants new cookie sheets.  She also wants hot fudge.  Williams Sonoma's hot fudge has no equals around here.  No chemicals.  It's cream, sugar, butter, cocoa . . .  It heats beautifully and makes any ice cream into something special.  I cannot find anything that compares, and I have no idea how to make my own.

So we go to Williams Sonoma together.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Links: Long Reach Safeway In Tales of Two Cities And Chopstixx Gets Lauded On SwimWriteRun

Wordbones analyzes the future of the Safeway in the Long Reach village center on Tales of Two Cities.  No specific news, but he sees heavy competition and predicts change at the Columbia center.

Mo writes about Choptixx in Elkridge on SwimWriteRun.  This Chinese restaurant is on my list of places to try -- especially for its "street meals" menu of Asian street cuisine.

Today's Groupon is Portalli's in Ellicott City

Portalli's in Ellicott City is today's Groupon -- $40 in food for $19.  That's a fun place for upscale Italian food and definitely worth trying with a $20 discount.

Un Mondo Chorizo At Roots Market

At the groceries that sell healthy food, I'm always looking for the items that will taste delicious.

I got to Roots for the good stuff -- vegetables, Michelle's granola, and bulk grains.  So I'm justified to grab chorizo from the display right near the checkout.

Un Mondo chorizo has the taste of spices and fat.  It's a pork sausage that we sliced onto a antipasto plate with cheese, marinated vegetables and pickled eggs.

The chorizo was unctuous and tasty, but not oily at all.  Slivers of rich flavor that contrasted beautifully with cauliflower brined in vinegar and rice crackers dusted with seaweed.  A great example of how you can make a meal of flavor from a handful of meat.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Hanjoongkwan in Ellicott City

You can mix two foreign cultures and still end up with comfort food.

Hanjoongkwan is one of Ellicott City's restaurants that specialize in Chinese-Korean food -- or the "Chinese" food that you would expect to be served in Seoul.  It is no more authentically Chinese than General Tso's chicken, but it's just as delicious.

The real hit was noodles with black bean sauce.  That's jajangmyun (or some similar transliteration), and you get an enormous platter of noodles with a thick, rich sauce.

This isn't the fire of Korean BBQ or the elegance of sushi.  I understand that Hanjoongkwan doesn't make its own noodles, but these were tender and stood up to the mix of beans and onions in the sauce.  It felt more like a plate of pasta on a night when you just want something tasty and warm.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Want To See Wegmans Columbia Site Plan?

Want to see the site plan for the Columbia Wegmans?  Wegnow left a comment on a prior post with a link to a Howard County planning board Web page that shows a map of the site:
Check out this on the HC planning board website: It shows a picture of SR Pkwy with an image of the to be built Wegmans. Garage and clock tower are closest to SRP, store on the west end of the site. I think when this gets approved, permits are not too far behind. 

Friday, April 1, 2011

Hot Dogs & Fries Pizza At Pazani

Has anyone eaten the "hot dogs and fries" pizza at Pazani Trattori in Elkridge?

It almost seems like an April Fool's joke, but it isn't.  I took this picture last year, but I never got a taste.  (I didn't actually want one, but I'm clearing photos and still curious.)  The sign said it was hot dogs, fries, American cheese, ketchup and mustard.

Pazani's pizza was once one of my favorites, but it hasn't wowed me on the last few trips.  I need to update my 2009 "pizza in Howard County" post because I'm just not drawn as much.  Any new suggestions for good pizza?