Friday, May 27, 2011

HowChow Is On A Short Hiatus

The blog is a short hiatus until Memorial Day.  I just need time to recharge the batteries . . . and eat.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Hammond's Candies, Cascal Fermented Soda, And Wondering About Where To Get More Like That

No one roots for Howard County food more than me, but I have to admit that we could use some spots for exciting discoveries.

Usually this happens after Mrs. HowChow returns from Whole Foods.

Hammond's marshmallows and caramels have been favorites since we first found them in Capogiro in Philadelphia.  They thrive on wonderful gelato, but they also curate a handful of candies and cookies on the counter.

The marshmallows are softer than the ones we pop from the bag and toast for s'mores.  They come wrapped in caramel.  They're also in a plastic bag that you cannot open quietly.  Seriously.  She hears even if she is already asleep on the couch.

The new find is Cascal, a soda that pushes towards the world of adult beverages.  The label talks about how they use fermented juice.  There is no alcohol, but the flavor comes like a hard cider, maybe slightly lighter.

Right from the fridge, it's like light and fun.  A perfect toast with people who don't drink liquor.  A refreshing break on a summer patio.  More than the other sodas that I've picked up in ethnic groceries, Cascal truly has an adult taste, which is impressive and makes me want to try more.

Where do I get more surprises nearby?  None of this is a necessity, but it's the kind of fun that I hope we'll get from the Columbia Wegmans.  The local organic markets certainly have some interesting items, but I love new items like stumbling on candied fruit at Estrellita in Elkridge.  I want more.

Any suggestions other than Whole Foods?  Any little shops in Ellicott City?  Anywhere off the beaten path that has something impressive and different?

Okay.  One update.  Cascal says on the back that it's "crafted by independent brewers for Nexstep Beverages LLC" of Houston.  Apparently, you rearrange those letters, and it spells out "Made By The Coca-Cola Company."  I'm fine with drinking a Coca-Cola product.  I'm suspicious about why they don't want me to know.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Kyle Goes Old School With Stuffed Ham -- And Goes To Trueth's For That Brined Meat

Kyle's family is invited every year to a large family Easter dinner.  It's a Polish/German Catholic family that they're related to only through marriage.  Each family is asked to bring a dish, and this year, Kyle got the ham.

Big pieces of meat aren't my wheelhouse.  But Kyle went exotic.  He grew up in southern Prince George's County where he had learned about Southern Maryland stuffed ham.  So he went unique and local.  (And he used a bungee cord.)
The ham is pretty famous in St Mary's and surrounding counties especially at church suppers. I even made the stuffed ham once back in the 90s. I had to take advantage of a large gathering to make it again.

The main ingredient is a corned ham, whole bone-in uncooked brine cured leg of pork that has not been smoked or dried. This isn't a common find.  I immediately thought of Trueth & Sons butchers in Oella.  If anyone had it, they would. I called a week before Easter, and they said they had to order it. If they could get it, it would arrive on Wednesday.  I asked about weight and price and was told they would call on Wednesday. 

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Shrimp From Today's Catch In Columbia

Shrimp should make for easy cooking, but it's hard to find seafood worth shelling out the money and popping in my mouth.

In theory, shrimp should be a perfect food.  Quick to cook.  Healthy to eat.  Easy to pair with all kinds of cuisines.

In reality, I have been burned by too many shrimp deals where my meal tastes like cardboard.  I tried supermarkets.  I tried frozen from Trader Joe's.  I already carry images of fetid shrimp farms, so I don't want to risk pesticides and a tasteless dinner.

The recent success was Today's Catch in Columbia.  The small fish store in Wilde Lake village center has been my place for scallops -- or for the trimmings that they often sell for $10/pound and that can make great fish stews.  But I risked shrimp two weekends ago, and it paid off.

Today's Catch shrimp were firm and sweet.  I basically simmered a large can of Muir Glen tomatoes with sliced garlic and shallots.  Then I stirred the peeled shrimp in the pan when the timer rang on my pot of linguine.  The pasta gets drained and swirled into the sauce as the shrimp turns pink and opaque.  Served up with slices of Jim Lahey's bread.

That's dinner.  That's easy.

Where else do you get great seafood?  Frank's Seafood in Jessup is my spot for crabs, oysters, fish and more.  They are way bigger than Today's Catch, although both offer people who can answer questions and recommend how to cook their wares.  Laurel Meat Market often has crab meat, shrimp that they say is wild, and scallops that they say haven't been injected.  I like these places, but I remain really suspicious of seafood -- mostly because I don't know how to check anyone's claims.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Did BGR The Burger Joint Soft Open Today?

BGR The Burger joint in Columbia will open on Tuesday, and they soft opened today -- according to the breaking news desk at the Sarah Says blog.  (Update: Here is Sarah's post.)

Curses!  I'm too far away.

I originally posted about a little confusion between the company's Web site that said the Columbia location was opening Tuesday and the company's Twitter feed that said it would open Wednesday.

Echoing a comment from PSeto, I was wondering if BGR "soft opened" today to make sure they're ready for tomorrow's official date.  Sarah stumbled on free food while checking on Tutti Frutti, which is next door in the Columbia Crossing shopping center with Target off Rte 175.

(Update: Early review on Yelp from Barefoot Blonde.)

Link: The Sun Drinks Deeply At Rumor Mill, But The Food Does Not Make Gorelick As Happy

The Rumor Mill got a pretty friendly write-up in the Sun on Sunday, but the bad news is the review that wasn't enthusiastic about the food.

Richard Gorelick clearly liked chef Mathew Milani and his ambition, and he recommends the infused vodkas and rums that the Rumor Mill makes in-house.  But that didn't translate into the food Gorelick ate.  A tiny chunk:

. . . I have run into few chefs as eager to please as Milani, who paid a pleasant visit to our table and who appears absolutely in earnest about his restaurant's mission. It would be much easier to turn a buck in Ellicott City with pub grub. I admire Milani for sticking to his guns.
But I find myself without a single dish to lavish praise on. A duck dish came very close: This was a simply presented dish of cardamom-infused sous-vide duck breast, thinly sliced, served with brined cherries and pomegranate oil. If it suffered from anything, it was being in such uninspired company.
Oddly, Gorelick had just listed Rumor Mill as the 12th best restaurant in Howard County (and 28th best in his Top 50 in Baltimore, Howard and Anne Arundel counties).  That had kicked off comments from people like Ken Oh, who talked up Johnny's and complained about Rumor Mill's inconsistency.

I have actually never been to the Rumor Mill.  HoCo Rising recommends it and already defended the bread pudding against charges of density.  The bread pudding was HoCo Rising's #3 favorite food in Howard County -- ahead of burgers and lobster grilled cheese!

Two Weeks To Pita & Rye: Deli Sells Sandwiches At Half Marathon, Aims To Open By Memorial Day

Two weeks (or so) to kosher deli in Fulton -- and the early signs look good.

By early signs, we mean "pickles."  Pickles are a quick way to see whether a deli is aiming for excellence, and Pita & Rye's don't just look good.  They taste good -- correctly sour and smacking of New York, not a food court.

I'm still trying to tamp down my expectations, but Pita & Rye sold sandwiches Sunday after the half marathon in Maple Lawn.  It was $8 for corned beef or pastrami, $6 for salami and a few others.  We split a corned beef on a bench, and the details were good -- good meat, good bread, good mustard, good pickles.

They're aiming to open before Memorial Day -- maybe in two weeks.  I know that restaurant owners can't pinpoint their dates as they balance contractors and inspections.

Pita & Rye is trying to be something special.  They're already unique since they'll be the county's only kosher restaurant, but the owner Jay talked to us at length about his plans to bring stuff from New York and Baltimore, including bagels, breads, meats and more.  They're even going to make their own turkey and corned beef, which sounds terrific.

Their purchased corned beef was really good.  Very lean and thin-cut.  I often think of New York corned beef as heavily spiced like Harold's.  This flavor was more meat than "corned," but it went perfectly with soft rye, the zesty mustard and lettuce.  I'm soft-selling because this was a single sandwich sold from the sidewalk, and lots of people have commented about how a deli needs to sell great food to really stand out.  Give Pita & Rye some time to open and work out the kinks before people make up their minds.

Pita and Rye is going to be a lunch and dinner spot with a deli menu along with shish kabobs, falafel and other Middle Eastern items.  That'll be regular meals, along with takeout and catering.

On top, they're hoping to offer some off-the-menu items like selling bagels or loaves of bread.   Jay clearly hopes to have some unique items to make sandwiches, and he wants to work with people who might want to pick them up in bulk.  They also hope to have a kosher shopping service where you could order meats or other items on-line, then pick them up at the store.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Maryland Crab And The First Harvest Of 2011

We ate the first contributions from the vegetable garden Monday night -- lettuce in a salad to go with Maryland crab cakes.

The Maryland crab has arrived at Laurel Meat Market.  It is $16 a pound for lump or backfin, and I went simple with crab cakes assembled with just a minimum of egg, breadcrumbs, scallions and mayonnaise.

Crab is a fun luxury.  Cakes are easy enough for a weeknight, and you can easily make four meals from a single container.  I'm sure the Maryland crab is available at Frank's Seafood in Jessup as well.

The garden has tons of lettuce this year.  It actually has tons this week.  I went crazy right after the thaw and seeded with enthusiasm.  Instead of leaving space for multiple plantings, I quickly exhausted my small garden.  So it's all ready at the same time.

I actually went back to the Main Street market last night for my favorite ground chuck.  I'd love to learn some more-intricate grilling, but I warmed up for the season with 1/3 pound burgers, sliced potatoes and eggplant.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Tutti Frutti Has Opened In Columbia, And BGR The Burger Joint Looks Close To Opening Next Door

Tutti Frutti has opened its Columbia location -- bringing sour frozen yogurt and do-it-yourself toppings to the Dobbin Road area.

Tutti Frutti started out with a shop on Rte 40 in Ellicott City.  The second location is in the Columbia Crossing shopping center near Dick's and Target.  The new store shares the "son of Pink Berry" modern decor that dominates the yogurt trend, and it has been one of my favorite spots for a summer treat.

Next door, construction continues on BGR The Burger Joint, a small chain of burger, well, of burger joints that announced its Howard County spot in January.  (For a fan's predictions, check out Jason's guest post.) On Sunday, it looked like they had already delivered kitchen equipment, so I hope that it will open in the next few weeks.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Link: Restaurants.Com Ideas On B The B Blog

Check out some local spots that offer discounts in a post on the Brent the Brewer blog.

I have had some luck buying discount coupons from, although I agree with Brent that you need to watch the fine print to see when you can use the coupons and what you can buy.  The first rule is that you should never get less than 80% of the coupon.  The site offers discounts all the time.  Just sign up for email.

Anyone else have a favorite place offering deals?  Brent lists three, but the stable of restaurants has been growing.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Extend Your Cinco De Mayo In Elkridge

You can enjoy a day of Mexican food and music tomorrow at El Nayar in Elkridge.

The Mexican restaurant just off U.S. 1 plans a day of games for outdoor grilling, kids, music and "Comida Rifa."

(You might spend a while trying to translate "Comida Rifa" from El Nayar's sign.  Rich food?  Party food?  Neither your college Spanish nor Google would understand.  Only then would you would realize that it was two words -- food and raffles.  Whoops!)

I actually stopped at El Nayar last weekend.  We ordered tamales and a plate of tacos that we split with my parents.  I'm not a huge side dish fan at most Mexican restaurants.  Just order tacos because the beans and rice are often pedestrian.  El Nayar's tacos are delicious, especially served with chips and the homemade salsa.

The party is Saturday, May 7, but the sign didn't actually say when.  I think all day, but call to confirm.  Thanks to Thierry for the nudge.  I had the photo last weekend, but I had forgotten until he emailed.

Café de Paris Fights The Big Boys And Scores Big WIth French Onion Soup, Tuna And Crepes

Café de Paris in Columbia made Richard Gorelick's list of the 50 Best in the Baltimore suburbs, and it also pleased DonkeyKong, a Howard County native who lives here with his wife and two kids.

A few weeks ago, he wanted a special weeknight dinner to celebrate his wife's birthday.  A sitter was near impossible, so they decided to go local, but try a high-end spot.
With a grandparent showing up to give us a few hours to go out, we opted to try Café Du Paris off Rte. 100 and Rte. 108. We’ve always wanted to try it, but honestly -- and maybe it’s the conditioned inferiority complex I have about Howard County’s restaurant scene -- we have reasoned, if we are going out to eat then “WE ARE GOING OUT TO EAT”. That means a $100 meal in DC or Baltimore to fill out the illusion of date night where the ambiance must match the drive, the sitter, and the brief escape from reality that dining out provides. 

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Tea-Smoked Duck At Red Pearl In Columbia

The beauty of friends is that you can split a meal that might be too much for you alone.

Red Pearl in Columbia has become one of our favorite places, and I was jazzed by Todd Kliman's review in the Washingtonian because he highlighted new dishes, including a tea-smoked duck that he described as "rich and juicy as the best spare ribs."

Problem:  Mrs. HowChow doesn't eat duck.

Solution: Dinner with the '34 Act Gourmet and his wife.  As a foursome, we ordered a table of food headlined by that tea-smoked duck.  I have to admit that I didn't realize that neither woman liked duck until I tried to offer pieces around.

It became a two-man job.  The bone-in meat is rich and flavorful on its own, but set against a layer of fat and a crispy skin.  You can see Red Pearl's ambition in the way that they turned out such an unusual dish.  The meat was firm but still moist.  Slightly-sweet steamed buns peeled open so that we tucked meat inside and ate them as sandwiches.  I couldn't eat a plate on my own, but we dented the pile as a team -- and it made perfectly fine leftovers as well.

Check out Kliman's review, which mentions a lobster dish and a hot pot that sound spectacular.  Red Pearl serves up all the classics of an American Chinese restaurant, but it pushes into dishes that are more unusual, more nuanced, more exciting.  With my favorite Grace Garden, these are Chinese kitchens competing with the best food around.

Red Pearl's dim sum has become our go-to spot to take houseguests for brunch.  It's great food -- and easy to please everyone because you can order an array of items.  Roast duck appears on the carts, but it was not the same tea-smoked dish.  Okay, but I prefer the roast pork and the dumplings.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Link: 10 "Must Eat" Foods On HoCo Rising

What are your 10 favorite foods in Howard County?  HoCo Rising posted its list today, starting with french fries and ending with a burrito.

I need to try the chicken mole at El Azteca, and I have never had the coldcut sandwich at Boarman's.  HoCo Rising's post is definitely worth a look, as are all the local blogs that dabble in food occasionally.  Check down the right column -- food blogs at the top and then Howard County general blogs at the bottom.

If you have just three favorite local food (and one cell phone photo), you could write a Trolling guest post. Check here for the explanation and rules.  Or click here for all the Trolling posts.

Takeout From Facci - Available Now (Sort Of)

I love a woman who quotes the Godfather.

As Nora Ephron so sagely noted, the Godfather is the sum of all wisdom.  The Godfather is the answer to any question.  At least for many boys.

Facci Ristorante famously hasn't offered takeout.  They'll oblige once their current expansion is done.  But Mrs. HowChow got takeout from Facci last month by confiding to our waiter that she was too stuffed to eat dessert at the table, but would love a cannoli to take home.

Facci makes the cream in house, and they're absolutely delicious -- although they're being caught by Facci's expanding dessert menu that included a real success of lemon gelato wrapped around a limoncello cream.

We had a delicious dinner at Facci with family.  The waiter discretely delivered Mrs. HowChow's package, and she ordered us out the door and towards the fork that she knew she would find in our kitchen.

"Leave the gun," she said.  "Take the cannoli."

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Durian Candy At Super Grand: Sweet And Souring

Would you buy a candy if I told that the flavors hint of garbage?

Not a subjective hint like "I don't like this."  But the objective smell of rotting, a slightly acrid taste that fades quickly into a sweet flavor similar to banana or custard.  But never losing the acrid note entirely.

Durians are an Asian fruit whose flavors create millions of impassioned eaters.  But those same flavors -- and more, the accompanying smell -- have caused durians to be banned from some hotels and public transportation.

I once watched two men meet each other over durian in the H Mart.  One Indian, one maybe Filipino.  One of the guys had discovered the frozen durians by chance.  His excitement -- maybe it was his first durian since he had immigrated -- had broken the normal stranger shell, and they were bonding over their infatuation.  They regaled each other with stories of durians until they realized that they were blocking an entire aisle.

The durian candies from the Super Grand in Laurel are your gateway drug to exotic fruit.  Individually-wrapped candies with the consistently just a bit stiffer than salt-water taffy.  That first taste almost seems wrong, but it melts into a sweeter, smoother flavor.  Not as universally delicious as jackfruit, but it's certainly worth a few bucks and an experiment.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Howard County Farmers Markets Opening 2011

Peaches aren't here yet, but the Howard County farmers markets open this week -- starting with a Wednesday market in Ellicott City.

For 2011, I think there will be five markets:
  • Wednesday afternoons at St. Johns Episcopal Church in Ellicott City.
  • Thursday afternoons at the East Columbia library.
  • Friday afternoons at Howard County General Hospital in Columbia.
  • Saturday mornings at the Glenwood library.
  • Sunday mornings at the Oakland Mills village center in Columbia.

Buffet Lunch At The Local Indian Joints

Tiny bits, many dishes
The buffet lunch has become a standard at Indian restaurants around Howard County -- popular both for a weekend grab or a weekend leisure.

I have done a few over the years, but I'm far from an expert.  Most recently, I loved the Royal Taj buffet in Columbia with David.  Hands down, this beats the Indian buffets near my office that bored me years ago by offering just a handful of options.

Royal Taj fills two tables with food, and it has unusual options, particularly a chef making dosas on the line.  Those crepes wrap around spiced potatoes, and they're served up with other crisp treats like pakoras that Royal Taj replaces in small batches so that they don't go limp.  You can get several curries.  You can get tea ("chai").  At any buffet, you should sample everything that looks good so that you can explore more of the menu when you could back for dinner.

Fans say Royal Taj competes even in the strong field of local Indian.  I have enjoyed the buffet since this place opened two years ago under a different name, although I still haven't been there for the regular menu.

At a minimum, I think you can get a buffet at Royal Taj, House of India, Akbar, Mango Grove, Mirchi Wok, and the new Flavors of India -- all in Columbia.  You need to watch out.  People have critiqued some buffets as bland.  You can also end up with naan that gets soggy or rice that gets cold.

Anyone have a favorite lunch buffet?  Any local places have something unique?  Do they rotate so that certain days have special food?  Anyone have advice for people trying them?  I plan on two plates, so I always start with a tiny bit of many dishes.  I have also asked for naan when the display was empty and always found people happy to deliver it to me.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Did Iceberry Reopen? Matt Says "It's Alive!"

Did Iceberry reopen on Rte 40 in Ellicott City?  I had written that the frozen yogurt place closed, but Matt wrote a comment saying that it had reopened and that he had eaten there.

Link: Burgers On HoCo Connect

Spring makes Duane think about burgers -- places to buy them and how to make them -- on the HoCo Connect blog.  He suggests a few half-price places, and he needs to try that Victoria Gastro Pub burger.

For me, the key to making good burgers is buying freshly-ground meat -- either Laurel Meat Market for ground chuck or Nazar Market for lamb.

Needed: Restaurants Hungry For Big Parties

Korean BBQ is perfect for large groups
What restaurant do you suggest for someone who has a big appetite?  I mean an appetite hungry enough for a dozen people.

Clayton -- like all local bloggers -- fills bank vaults with Krugerrands by running a blog about arts called Felis pushkini.  But on the side, Clayton has a job, and he runs a casual group for folks in the office that meets on a Saturday night for dinner every month of two.  He emailed looking for advice about how to get space for large groups --
We've enjoyed many different places: Aida Bistro, Red Pearl, Sushi Sono, Royal Taj, Bangkok Delight, Stanford Grill, Mango's Grill (in Laurel), to give you an idea of the kinds of places we've tried. (Stanford does not take reservations, but we took advantage of their call-in-advance arrangement and split the group between two booths.)  
I am noticing more and more, as I look for new prospects, that many places either don't take reservations or don't want to deal with a large dining group. I get anywhere from 10 to 16 people sign up each time. I've learned to make sure that a place takes reservations and is ready for a large group before I make plans for a specific destination, and I know better than to consider some of the smaller places that obviously can't take a larger group.  
So, my questions:  
1) Is it unreasonable to expect a restaurant that normally doesn't takes reservations to accept reservations from a larger group of about 12 to 16 people?  
2) Can anyone recommend any restaurants in the Columbia-Baltimore area that would be better suited for larger groups?