Saturday, December 31, 2011

Anyone Know If Estrellita Market Closed?

Has anyone noticed if Estrellita Market in Jessup is open?

This is the small Mexican market over R&R Taqueria in the Shell station at U.S. 1 and Rte 175.  I loved the candied fruit there.  Sylvia left a comment saying Estrellita has closed.  I haven't been able to drive past to confirm.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Cooks 'N Cakes Wants Feedback; People Share About Cupcakes, Caterers and Shrimp Heads

The comments here are always a way for you to give people your opinion about local restaurants and markets.  The new Cooks 'N Cakes bakery in Ellicott City even solicited more -- posting their email and asking people for feedback, especially from folks who weren't charmed at first bite:
As a new store, we want to make sure our customers are pleased with our products. We would love it if those of you that thought it was dry would expand on it a little for us. We tend to get comments that the cupcakes are good, moist, but not dry and want to know what makes them dry to you.
It's very nice to hear from the professionals.  I always appreciate owners, waiters, chefs, etc. to chime into the comments.  I'd appreciate if you would disclose your connection if you're talking about your own place.

But the amateurs have been commenting as well.  My big concern is Bmorecupcake's report that Red Pearl said the dan dan noodles only came with meat.  I know we ate them with vegetarians.  It certainly tasted like a chopped fermented vegetables on top.  I'm still checking that out.  And there was more advice in the comments:

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Mechanical Bull At Union Jack's In Columbia

Bored by the holidays?  Union Jack's in Columbia has trucked in a mechanical bull for tonight.  They're talking it up on Facebook.  Go if you're looking for a little mid-week bar scene!

The Woman Who Had No Wedding Cake And The Cupcakes That Seduced Her To Bethesda

Let's start with two facts:  No one promotes local food more than this blog, and no one has been able to get Mrs. HowChow to like cake.

Okay, there were a few exceptions.  Sweet Street Desserts in Pennsylvania ships a carrot cake so moist that Mrs. HowChow will eat it any time.  But most cakes make her say "dry" and look around for a bread pudding or another dessert that suits her fancy.  At our wedding, I vetoed cake and had them surprise her with a giant rice krispie treat instead.

Georgetown Cupcakes has won over Mrs. HowChow and set a standard that all of the local cupcake bakeries should be proud to emulate.  The cupcakes are tiny and expensive.  They're also incredibly delicious.  Light, moist cake.  Big, interesting flavors.  They all taste different, and they all taste fresh without fronting just sugar.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Bon Chon Korean Fried Chicken Coming To Ellicott City - Crunch Arrives As Soon As January

Bon Chon Korean fried chicken is coming to Ellicott CIty -- opening as early as January.

The news appears on a Facebook page that says the Bon Chon will open in "approximately" January 2012.  It's coming thanks to John Kim, who also brought Tutti Frutti to Rte 40.  The address says 3419 Plum Tree Toad.  That's also the address of Serafino's Italian Market.  Anyone know how this will work?

Tian Chinese Cuisine brought Korean fried chicken to Howard County earlier this year.  You can go there now for the double-fried crispness and the spicy sauces.  But people drive all the way to Annandale for the Bon Chon for the chain that helped start the craze.  There is room for all these options with chicken this much fun.

I posted a review of Bon Chon this summer after eating takeout from there in New York.  Check that out for the link to Henry Hong's review as well.  Thanks to Kimi for posting the news on my prior post.

Rosemary Lemon Bread At Bonaparte Bakery

Rosemary lemon bread at Bonaparte
With all the sweets bakeries opening, it just doubles the impressiveness of Bonaparte Bread in Savage, which turns out French pastries and some of the best bread around.

Imagine rosemary lemon bread done perfectly.  A flavor so strong that you can smell herbs and lemon when you slice into the loaf, but gentle enough that the bread goes well with vegetable soup.

That's talent.  That's bread that I couldn't bake at home.  It's a bread that I might have been dubious about if I'd known the lemon and rosemary would bubble out so strongly.  But it was exceptional and would pair with all kinds of foods.  Worth every penny of almost $5.

The Bonaparte bakery is a fun little place in the Savage Mill development.  Go for breads.  Go for pastries like coconut macaroons.  They had a yule log that looked like fun for Christmas.  Go for a lunch of quiche or sandwiches.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Why Don't Restaurants Make Cafe Con Leche?

Cafe con leche at the Miami airport
Why don't restaurants offer cafe con leche when they serve breakfast or dessert?

I lived in Miami during the years when Starbucks absorbed America.  So I learned to drink Cuban coffee before I ever met a barista.  The regular stuff is sweet jet fuel like espresso.  For a little more, you get the coffee mixed with warm mix as a cafe con leche.

This is a great stuff.  You can charge a fortune for coffee these days.  I was sitting this month in the Miami airport asking myself why I can't get cafe con leche generally around here.  And while we're at it, why don't a few restaurants offer Vietnamese style coffee with condensed milk and those cool "on the table" brewing filters?

Forget restaurants.  Why not one of the new bakeries popping up like Linda's or Cook n' Cakes? Easy way to create a unique spot.

I know I can get Vietnamese coffe at An Loi in Columbia and get my cafe con leche fix at Cuba de Ayer in Burtonsville.  But it seems like most restaurants already have the equipment -- or could get some Vietnamese filters for a few bucks -- and could offer something unique.

(Update: See the post from Southern Skies Coffee Roasters about Cuban coffee.)

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Congrats to Sushi Sono, Red Pearl -- Neighbors Make The Washingtonian's 100 Very Best List

The January Washingtonian is on the newsstands, and two Howard County spots make the "100 Very Best Restaurants" list -- next-door neighbors Sushi Sono and Red Pearl.

Todd Kliman and other reviewers highlighted a bunch of dishes at Red Pearl that we have enjoyed and an entire list at Sushi Sono that are new to us.  I need to try the horse mackerel next time.  You can find both these places on the lake in Columbia.  I can't find the link to the "Very Best" list yet, but this is Washingtonian's Web site.

Bonus view on Sushi Sono: Check out the review on the Thirty-Something Lindy blog.

Boarman's: Report From The XMas Front Line

Boarman's Meat Market in Highland was jumping this morning with people picking up and ordering meat, fish and turkeys for the weekend.

The pick-up line for pre-orders was against the produce.  New orders snaked up a central aisle.  Boarman's had a crew working so that waits were reasonable, and people loaded up on steaks, hams, turkeys, and the house-made sausages.  Guy in front of me ordered three big steaks and picked up his Maple Lawn turkey.

They were sold out of flank steak, so I grabbed a pound of Maryland crab meat to use this weekend.  I need to cook because Mrs. HowChow is working the entire weekend so we can't return to the Red Pearl for a Christmas Day dim sum.

Then I had a last-second inspiration and asked for clams.  Boarman's has them in the back for 50 cents each.  Mrs. HowChow talked about thick clam chowder earlier this week, so I picked up onions and potatoes to work on that tonight.  Plus a sausage to flavor either the chowder or pasta.

Bonus item at the cash register: Boarman's stocks the breads and pies from the Lovebirds bakery that I had seen before at Roots and Gorman Farm.  Lovebirds apparently bakes in Howard County.

Links: News On Redevelopment And Blog Posts About Beer & Cookies, More Beer & Cookies

It's a slow time of year, but there is still news that touches on Howard County food.

There is a new plan for Wilde Lake village center, home of David's Natural Market and Today's Catch, as reported by David Greisman on Explore Howard.  Similarly, the CA has started talking about revamping the Columbia waterfront, as noted by the Sarah Says blog, which has links to the news.

While you're poking around on those, take a break with other local blogs.  The new AnnieRie Unplugged blog has fun posts about eating local, and other local blogs seemed focused recently on beer and cookies:

Friday, December 23, 2011

Tomorrow, Go Get A Fresh Waffle -- Sweet Or Savory -- At Thomas Waffles In Clarksville

Start your weekend with a real treat by grabbing a fresh waffle in the parking lot of Kendall Hardware.

That's where you'll find the Thomas Waffles truck -- profiled last month by Explore Howard -- offering fresh waffles and a few other dishes on Saturday mornings.  They run about $3.  That's an easy splurge to chow down on hot, handmade food for breakfast.

They sell two kinds of sweet waffles with variations on sugar, fruit toppings, Nutella, and maple syrup.  They also sell other items like pre-baked quiches and "waffle pops" where they dipped a waffle into chocolate.

Even with those choices, I went savory last weekend.  For $3, I got a small breakfast sandwich.  Two warm, slightly-sweet waffles holding in an egg and a few thin strips of bacon.

"Did they offer Lipitor with that?" joked Mrs. HowChow when I came home.

But she is wrong.  The thin bacon pieces were just a salty jolt to the sweet waffles.  This wasn't the grease-dripping "sausage in a sliced donut" sandwich that the Fractured Prune used to offer.  The waffles are warm and light.  This is a unique little item, made by folks with real talent.

Start your holiday weekend with a trip for a waffle.  Thomas had a sign saying they'd be open 8 am to noon on December 24.

Thomas Waffles -- open Saturdays
in the parking lot of Kendall Hardware
12260 Clarksville Pike (Rte 108)
Clarksville, MD 21029

NEAR:  This is on Rte 108 just north of Rte 32.  The Thomas Waffle truck sits in the parking lot of Kendall Hardware, which is a great store on its own.  Definitely worth walking in if you need home improvement items and someone with the experience to answer your questions thoroughly.  Plus, great for canning supplies.

Thomas Waffles Truck on Urbanspoon

Thursday, December 22, 2011

First To Film R&R Taqueria -- YouTube Video Beats Food Network With A Short Video

We're still waiting for the Food Network to broadcast their show about R&R Taqueria in Elkridge, but the Destination Guide has posted a short video with shots of the Mexican food and a nice interview with Rodrigo.

Matt Boyle posted a link on the HowChow Facebook page.  I don't know the Destination Guide, but it's fun to see.

Falafel at La Mia In Laurel

Falafel at La Mia in Laurel
Hot falafel falls among the perfect street foods -- piping chick pea fritters wrapped in pita bread and augmented with some shredded salad, a touch of hot sauce, and a creamy sauce to bring it all together.

(Update:  Sorry.  La Mia closed.)

The new La Mia restaurant on Main Street in Laurel kicks out a nice falafel sandwich.  It's certainly the rival of anything that I have found inside Howard County, so it's worth a quick drive into Laurel, especially if you want to nose around the Aladdin Food Market next door or pick up something from the Laurel Meat Market.

La Mia is a new takeout following the trend of serving pizza and an ethnic food.  At La Mia, the ethnic food is mostly Middle Eastern, including a few special-order items like masakhan, ka'ik, and maoul that looked new to me and that Wikipedia says are Palestinian dishes.

I want La Mia to be terrific because they're really nice.  For now, I recommend the falafel sandwich.  The falafel comes out hot and flavorful -- right in that "Goldilocks" moistness where it isn't too greasy and it isn't too dry.  The sandwich had lettuce, mildly hot peppers, some hot sauce and a really nice sauce.  I suggest that you request pita bread because they wrapped mine once in a tortilla, which was all kinds of "American fusion" wonderful but not nearly as delicious.

I'm going to go back and try the schwarma again.  We ordered it with high hopes because La Mia has real meat turning on a spit in the open kitchen.  But our order didn't work.  The restaurant was freezing cold, and we got an aluminum takeout tray with lettuce and a few ounces of shaved, unremarkable meat. They were so nice, and we were too cold to argue.  I'm going to try again.

Where do you go for falafel or schwarma?  I don't have a place in Howard County, maybe because I have a few amazing sandwiches in my memory that set the standard.  I don't want just a pile of lettuce, a pita from the bag, and the main item dumped on top.  A few people have mentioned Turkshish Kebap in Columbia.

La Mia
310 Main Street
Laurel, MD 20707

NEAR:  This is on Main Street in Laurel a few doors west of U.S. 1.  You can park on Main Street anywhere between U.S. 1 and Laurel Meat Market.  The Aladdin market next to La Mia sells Middle Eastern groceries and breads.  Laurel Meat Market butchers its own steaks, ground beef and sausage.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Link: New Food Writing On AnnieRie Unplugged

New blog -- and a new blog about food -- from Annie who has retired and has been writing about cooking and local ingredients.  The recent posts on AnnieRie Unplugged have been about CSAs, including a winter CSA that started this week.

Check out Annie's list of local resources for food -- from vegetables to cheeses to flour.

While you're reading, check out the 2 Dudes Who Love Food blog for a review of the new Jason's Deli in Columbia.

Macarons Have Come To Howard County -- Spotted At The New Linda's Bakery In Columbia

Macarons from Linda's Bakery
We're getting on trend now in Howard County with French-style macarons offered up in Columbia even as these bakeries pop in places like DC and Bethesda.

The new Linda's Bakery that opened on Snowden River Parkway this month offers several flavors of macarons.  These are basically sandwich cookies made with meringues connected with a cream or other filing.

They're light, often fruity sweets.  Perfect as a tiny treat.  Beautiful on dessert plate.  They're also a current post-cupcake trend among pastry shops and cookbooks.  The Sugar Baby cookbook caught Mrs. HowChow's eye because she had searched out macarons when we visited Manhattan.

Mrs. HowChow hasn't worked up to the complex recipe yet, but Linda's pops out macarons with raspberry, almond, coffee, and chocolate chip.  They're not the perfectly uniform pastries from New York's Macaron Cafe.  A few were so brittle that they shattered or had air spaces inside.  But they're light with the burst of intense flavor that makes macarons so special.

This is the kind of experimentation that makes me glad to see all the new bakeries.  Linda's could create a niche for this kind of pastry, which I haven't seen closer than Bethesda until now.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Spectacular Roadside BBQ From Dave In Savage

Pulled pork sandwich and a piece of crackling
Grab a roll of paper towels and make plans for an early lunch on the side of the road.

Right outside the entrance to the Savage MARC station is a guy with a pull-behind barbecue serving up delicious meats at roadside prices.

I ate pulled pork Monday after being clued in by George Berkheimer of the The Business Monthly.  David Welch had platters of meat cooking, and he pulled the pork off the bone to build an enormous sandwich for me.  Then he left me to doctor it up with spicy sauce and his personal spice mixture.

This is moist, firm meat coming right off the heat.  It is a rich smokey flavor, but it's truly just pork.  You really want to add spice and sauces -- maybe sauce in the bottom of the container -- so that you can dip and alternate flavors.  My $6 sandwich was so large that I couldn't finish it off.  I ate until full, then shredded the leftovers into soup last night.

Terrible photo.  Sorry.
Dave runs a weekly rotation -- pulled pork Mondays, beef brisket Tuesdays, big pork chops Wednesdays, ribs Thursdays, and chicken Fridays.  Six bucks for each except the $9-19 ribs.  He also sells kielbasa, half smokes and sodas.  He worked originally in upscale hotel kitchens, then started a hot dog stand and moved onto the current deal where he works this lunch crowd and does catering through Dave's BBQ and Catering out of Laurel.

Dave was a generous host, searing a piece of skin into crackling.  He talked about his competitive barbecue wins, including a 2006 Maryland state championship.  The other customers talked up the brisket and a once-a-month special of jambalaya.  Dave starts selling at 9 am.  I assume he gets business from the truckers who start their days early between the wholesale markets in Jessup down through all the business parks along U.S. 1.  Some days, he is sold out before noon.

This is a perfect spot if you work somewhere near Fort Meade, and it's off-and-on Rte 32 so it's doable from anywhere in Columbia.  I'm going back as soon as I can figure out how to be home on a different weekday.  Expect posts on brisket, chops and ribs over time!  The catering -- which includes sides, utensils, etc. -- seems like a deal starting at $11/13-a-head if you pick it up and running to $21/23-a-head with all-you-can-eat spreads run by a catering crew.

The one flaw in my plan was that I didn't get a napkin from Dave.  I ate in a parking lot before my next errand, and I was glad to find a clean rag after chomping through juicy meat that had soaked through the light roll.  So get those paper towels and start driving.

Thanks again to George for mentioning Dave to me.  How did I go this long without someone sending me an email?  Roadside meats are right up the HowChow alley!  This looks like it's right up Strobist's as well.

Dave's BBQ and Catering
just outside the Savage MARC train station
Dorsey Run Road just south of Rte 32
Savage, MD

Near:  Dave parks on Dorsey Run Road just south of Rte 32.  From Columbia, you take Rte 32 over I-95 and U.S. 1.  Take the Dorsey Run Road exit, then turn right at the light.  From Fort Meade, you take that exit and turn left back over Rte 32.  Dave is the guy with the barbecue set up before you reach the MARC parking lots.  Park on the side of the road.

Dave's BBQ & Catering on Urbanspoon

Monday, December 19, 2011

Link: Aida Bistro Updated On Explore Howard

Aida Bistro gets something between a review and an update from Explore Howard.  Donna Ellis recommends everything from the meatballs to a seafood pasta dish.  This is a great Columbia restaurant that we have enjoyed, but I never got the photos to knock off an entire post.

180 Days To Columbia Wegmans: Signs Are Up

It's 180 days to the scheduled opening of the Columbia Wegmans -- June 17, 2012.

You can see the sign above on Snowden River Parkway.  They have similar ones along McGaw Road as well.

Check back for all the HowChow posts about Wegmans.  Or join the Facebook group I Want The Columbia, Md. Wegmans.  People post pictures and news there, and any group member can add anyone to the group.  So feel free.

Pub Dog In Columbia -- Pizza, Beers And All The Drinks Come In Pairs; Is This How Bars Work Now?

Bars are so much better now than when I was a regular in younger days -- no smoke, better beer and much better food.

We re-engaged with bar life last weekend with dinner at Pub Dog in Columbia.  They brew their own beers, and they serve a limited menu that plays to their strengths.  By limited, I mean pizza.  They serve pizzas, a few appetizers like hot pretzels, and a few salads as well.

That's good pizza.  It's a thin crust with terrific toppings.  We had a "Fox & Hound" that came with mozzarella and smoked gouda, then sliced red pepper, sausage, and mushrooms.  No one scrimped on ingredients.  Smoked gouda gave a unique flavor, and everything else had the taste and look of fresh food.

The pizzas run $8-10 for 10-inch pies.  We actually split our pizza and an order of hot pretzels.  Most people could probably finish off their own.  I saw several that looked terrific -- two white pizzas, several with barbecued or grilled chicken, and the "Spinach Pizza" that sounds healthy but pairs the green stuff with mushrooms and bacon.  Personally, I prefer the crust cooked crisp (even charred like Facci), but Pub Dog has a soft-crust style that works.

I also liked the beer.  I laughed at myself when our waitress arrived with two beers.  That would have seemed awesome in my volume-drinking days, but my first reaction was "Why?"  Honestly, they're small mugs.  A happy hour bargain at $3.50.  But it's not two pints.  Even I cheerfully drained two mugs of the hoppy IPA.  Not the bitter revelation of my favorite Flying Dog Raging Bitch, but a refreshing craft beer that matched nicely with pizza and pretzels.

Pub Dog qualifies as a bar because of how it limits its menu and how it picks and dresses the waitresses.  But this is a fun place to eat.  The pizza is worth a drive.  There is an entire run of booths, and they have outdoor seating -- which is dog friendly to go with the name.  On a Friday night, I didn't see kids, but I assume it's fine to drop in for pizza with little ones earlier in the day.  Even on a weekend evening, this was a placid, adult crowd.

Pub Dog isn't connected with the short-lived Dog House Pub & Grill that operated in Long Reach village center.  The original location is actually on Federal Hill in Baltimore.

Pug Dog
8865 Stanford Boulevard
Columbia, MD 21045

NEAR:  Pub Dog is in a shopping center just off Dobbin Road south of Rte 175.  This is the center with Noodles Corner and Hanamura Sushi.  Mango Grove is renovating space a few doors down.  From Rte 175, turn south on Dobbin Road.  Turn left on Stanford Boulevard, then right into the shopping center.

Pub Dog Pizza & Drafthouse (Columbia) on Urbanspoon

Sunday, December 18, 2011

ISO: A Brunch Caterer In Howard County

My friends need to hire a caterer for a baby naming.  They're thinking 75-100 people for the ceremony and brunch foods.  Anyone have a suggestion?

Gift Idea: Local Southern Skies Coffee

A cloudy Sunday morning should be all you need to remember the value of a great cup of coffee.

If you're still looking for presents -- or just looking for caffeine -- consider ordering a few pounds of coffee from Southern Skies Coffee Roasters.

Southern Skies is Jeff Givens, who roasts the coffee personally just across the line in Carroll County.  Jeff has commented occasionally on HowChow, and we met in person watching the Travel Channel film R&R Taqueria last month.

Jeff gave me a pound of coffee that day, and this is delicious coffee.  I say "delicious" because I'm still new to coffee whose flavor I liked.  Until a few years ago, I larded Starbucks with milk and sugar, thinking that dark, bitter roast meant quality.  A brush with Hawaiian coffee made me change my ideas, and Southern Skies coffee has the strong flavor that I like without any of the burnt taste.

The revelation with Southern Skies was that Jeff roasts coffee when it is in season.  Coffee is always in season somewhere, but the plants mature differently in different parts of the world.  Somehow, I hadn't thought about that in the past.  Jeff posts about the flavors and sources of his rotating varieties with the detail and enthusiasm of a legitimate geek.  For the coffee geek in your life, this could be a fun gift to goose up next Sunday morning.

Check out the Southern Skies Web site.  He has three varieties now.  Coffee runs $14 a pound now.  That's in line with the coffee that I have been buying from Sidamo's in Fulton.

Bistro Blanc Opening Chef's Table & Private Dining, Plus Mirocjo News And Hot Dog Stand

The "cellar" room at Bistro Blanc
One bit of news for local diners -- Bistro Blanc in Glenelg is opening a new "cellar" room next week for private dining and a chef table looking into the kitchen.

This is a standard these days in city restaurants.  But I don't know another "chef table" in Howard County (although I admit that most of my meals aren't spent in high-end places).  Rajneesh emailed me about the new space, which they have renovated and will soon outfit with a custom chef table.

(Update:  See Mary's comment below.  Aida Bistro has a chef table for two to four, and that would be a great place to eat as well.)

The new space is on the same level as the main dining room, but renovated out like a stone cellar.  Rajneesh says they will be able to accomodate 18 for private dining and eight for the chef table looking into the kitchen.  We actually chose Bistro Blanc for my birthday, and I'm months late to write an update post.

(The open kitchen made me remember again Marc Maron's great interview with Anthony Bourdain and the snippet where Bourdain talked about missing the days of closed kitchen when he could scratch himself anywhere without diners watching.  If you like podcasts, check out Maron's adult interviews of comedians and other entertainers -- 50 free on iTunes and 150+ more through his app.)

Others news, questions and comments from the past week:
  • Does anyone know about an ice cream shop / hot dog cart opening in downtown Ellicott City, asked s5.
  • What about tamales?  Ted emailed me asking if I knew anywhere to buy tamales.  He remembers a Columbia Flier article about a local woman who makes thousands of tamales at the holiday season.  Ted wants tamales.
  • And what about Nora's Kabob?  Kevin emailed to say he has seen a sign on the shopping center on Rte 40.  But he couldn't find the restaurant.
  • There will be a new restaurant in Gateway Plaza in Columbia called Rudy's Mediterranean Grill, reports Junior Barnes.  He said last week that it looked like it might be opening soon.
  • Egg crepe at Wong Gee in Wheaton
  • Several folks posted about the Frostberry frozen yogurt place on Rte 40 in Ellicott City, including Brian in EC.  Unclear if it is actually open.  This is the spot that used to be called Iceberry.  Kmmalloyzz said the manager said last fall that the name changed because of their bubble tea recipes.
  • Min emailed me that Micocjo in Ellicott City was renovated this fall and recently reopened.  That was  Korean restaurant with a generalist / barbecue menu.  Has anyone been to the new place?  Min went outside HoCo for her recommendation -- egg crepes with durian cream on the Sunday dim sum menu at Wong Gee in Wheaton. Another place I need to try.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Pasta Blitz Keep Changing - Welcome To The New Anthony's In Clarksville And Vittorio in Glenwood

The local Pasta Blitz chain always seemed like a group that shared a name, but not a coherent identity and apparently not a single set of owners.

The one on Johns Hopkins Road became Facci Ristorante.  This week, the Clarksville location has changed its name to Anthony's -- as shown in the photo that Dave sent me.  Now Gianni has left a comment raving about the Italian wines at Facci and saying that the hostess there said the Pasta Blitz in Glenwood will take on a new menu and name as Vittorio.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

The Private Room At Sushi Sono: A Special Place To Gather Friends For A Night Of Fish And Fun

Some of the best things in life are free -- like the private room at Sushi Sono.

The paper-walled room at the Columbia sushi restaurant can be reserved on a first-come, first-serve basis.  At its single table, you get personal attention in a beautiful setting, screened off from the other diners and enjoying your friends and platters of fish.

We went last weekend with four friends and had one of our favorite meals of the year.  For two hours, we worked from miso soup through several rounds of sushi rolls and other delicacies.  It's cozy.  You can sit cross-legged.  You can laugh loud.  You don't have to be self-conscious about the quantity of fish that you're popping in your mouth.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Link: Iron Bridge On BW Food And Drive

New blog BW Food and Drink hit up the Iron Bridge Wine Company in Columbia and posted a strong recommendation -- cheese plate, sirloin, and dessert.

Welcome to the new bloggers!

Link: Java City Cafeteria in Columbia

Wordbones found a cafeteria in the Micros building in Columbia Gateway, and he wrote up a short review on Tales of Two Cities.  The Java City cafeteria served up a sandwich and shrimp etouffe for Wordbone and his friend.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Fortune Star Buffet Has Closed, And I'm Catching Up On Comments And Emails You Should Read

Fortune Star Buffet in Jessup has closed -- apparently a while ago.  There was talk of a temporary closing in June, but they're still papered over.

Fortune Star was one of the first places that drew many comments on HowChow.  It was a quantity joint.  You can get better Chinese at Red Pearl in Columbia or Grace Garden in Odenton.  But no closing makes Howard County a better place to eat.

Thanks for all the comments.  They're definitely worth something checking out -- for news, for ideas, and for opinions other than some blogger.  Remember that I love guest posts.  All they require is a cell phone photo and a few paragraphs of description (along with a disclosure of any connection that you have to the place).

Here's a collection of recent news, reports, recommendations, and questions -- along with some detailed emails after the jump:

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Cooks N' Cakes Has Opened In Ellicott City

The new Cooks n' Cakes bakery has opened on Rte 40 in Ellicott City and has cupcakes for sale today, according to their Web site and the guy who just answered the phone.

That makes this a big weekend for new sweets because Linda's Bakery opened yesterday as well.

Cooks n' Cakes is a cupcake specialist spot opened by two former public school principals.  They took over the space vacated on Rte 40 when The Breadery moved to Catonsville.

We haven't stopped by Cooks n' Cakes yet.  I'd take any reports below on early cupcakes.  As I just wrote in the Linda's post, these new folks join a raft of nice sweets bakeries, including Oh What A Cake and Touche Touchet in Columbia, Bonaparte Bread in Savage, and Kupcake & Co. in Elkridge.

Cooks n' Cakes
9251 Baltimore National Pike (Rte 40)
Ellicott City, MD 21042

NEAR:  Cooks n' Cakes is on the south side of Rte 40 west of Rte 29.  It's the shopping center with a Starbucks facing Rte 40.  The stores are actually perpendicular to the road.  Turn at the Starbucks and then look a few doors down.

Linda's Bakery Has Opened In Columbia

Linda's Bakery opened yesterday on Snowden River Parkway, and you should make an excuse to go try another spot for sweets in Howard County.

Our first taste:  A chocolate chip meringue as perfect as I have ever tasted.  Crisp on the outside.  Light and airy, but a touch of chewiness inside.  And delicious chocolate chunks throughout.

Meringues are basically egg whites and sugar, so they are easy to make tooth-achingly sweet.  Linda's come in sweet, but they're skillfully kept on the tasty side -- especially with the exceptional chocolate inside.  Go get one, and tell them that you saw Linda's in HowChow!

Linda's covers the spectrum for sweets -- from cookies and brownies through eclairs and croissants to custom cakes in dozens of varieties of cake, icing and fillings.  Owner Linda Cheng has been selling custom cakes for a while, so the retail spot expands the opportunities.

We also bought a cupcake, although only a single variety because we already had a dozen cupcakes in the house.  (Long story.)  When we sliced that up among some friends, people rated the Linda's cupcake in the same sphere as the locals like Oh What A Cake and Touche Touchet in Columbia.

Sweets bakeries keep popping up around Howard County.  (Update:  Cooks n' Cakes opened yesterday as well in Ellicott City.)   In addition to the Columbia bakeries, you can find interesting stuff at Bonaparte Bread in Savage and cupcakes at Kupcakes & Co. in Elkridge.  Only Bonaparte does bread and sweets.  For bread, I always recommend the organic markets and Bon Fresco Sandwich Bakery.

Linda's Bakery
9350-G Snowden River Parkway 
Columbia, MD 21045

NEAR: Linda's is in the same shopping center as House of India and New York Deli. It is accessible from southbound Snowden River Parkway south of the Home Depot.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Link: Cool Story On Crab Meat In The Sun

If you're interested in Maryland food, check out Richard Gorelick's story about jumbo lump crab meat and how the recent demand has changed the way restaurants buy crab.

Bottom line: People have come to demand jumbo lump so much that most restaurants buy Venezuelan or Indonesian crab rather than serve a local product.  Gorelick talks to people who prefer the Maryland crab.  Then he followed up with two blog posts about how he thinks the "jumbo lump" craze started and a Maryland company that sells packages that contain meat from the whole crab.

I certainly think that I can tell the difference.  I buy Maryland crab at Laurel Meat Market because the sweet flavor makes special meals.  I pass on the Venezuelan packages because I'd rather cook something else.  Bland crab cakes are still bland.

The package of story and blog posts is a great example of how newspapers could take advantage of the Web.  They can have the main story and then niche blog bites with the real information that only comes from effort and reporting.  It's too bad that the Sun's Web site is so cluttered and crazy.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Howard Magazine's Best Of 2011: A Reader's Choice List Of Local Business And The Best Blog

If you're looking for new places to buy or eat in Howard County, check out the readers' votes in Howard Magazine's Best of Howard County 2011.

The annual poll includes advice about where to find the best bakeries (Touche Touchet), place to buy seafood (Today's Catch), place to buy alcohol (Decanter Fine Wine), and more.  They even named a top blog -- HoCo Rising.  Thanks to the folks who voted HowChow into honorable mention!

Hunan Manor Has A NEW Chinese Menu

Hunan Manor in Columbia appears to have a new menu in Chinese -- this time a page on their Web site that Kiran brought to my attention.

Two years ago, I had a great time when Wai translated Hunan Legend's Chinese menu into English.  People got a chance to try authentic dishes that the restaurant owners didn't seem to recognize would interest some slice of the non-Chinese crowd.

Hunan Manor had a Chinese menu, but they translated it.  Now Kiran found a different document on the Hunan Manor Web site.  Neither of us can read Chinese, but it looks like a menu.  There might be some cool adventures on the page.

Is this a menu?  Has anyone ordered off it?  Any recommendations?  Any help translating a line or the page?  For Hunan Taste, Wai printed the menu and then hand-wrote English translations.  She sent me a scan.  Even that simple work was invaluable.  Post comments below or email translations HowChowBlog at Gmail.

(Update:  See below that Anonymous has read the menu and says it is a new font, but no new dishes.  He or she provided a list of the dishes.)

For now, you can find the new Chinese menu on the Hunan Manor Web site.  I also imbedded a larger JPG version after the jump.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

New Maiwand Kabob Coming To Rte 175?

Anyone know details about a new Maiwand Kabob maybe opening in January next to Pier 1 in the shopping center at Rte 175 and Dobbin Road?

I posted about talk in June, and Reed emailed me a few days ago that people at the original Afghan restaurant in Columbia were talking about the new location.  He said they were talking about opening in January.  (Update:  See the comment below that points out Maiwand Kabob has advertised a new Columbia Crossing location on Twitter and its Web page.)

I think they're talking about the empty space down from Pier 1, but I haven't been there recently to look inside.

Has Anyone Else Noticed Chowhound Drying Up?

Am I the only person who feels like Chowhound has been drying up over the past few years?

When I started HowChow three years ago, I read Chowhound daily.  The DC-Baltimore board had dozens of posts a day, and people would pass a topic back and forth with great suggestions about where to eat and shop.

In recent months, there are days with fewer than 10 posts in a day.  I go weeks between checks, often because there isn't much to entice me back.

I blame Yelp.  Reed and I were recently emailing, and he said that he had put the first review of the new Nari Sushi on Yelp.  I wonder if people post single-restaurant reviews these days instead of posting questions and answers on Chowhound.

Don't get me wrong.  I post on Yelp.  You can track local writers like Reed or Yaka K. to see what they think of local places.  But Chowhound and DonRockwell's Baltimore board serve a different role.  Instead of just asking "How is Restaurant X?," you could ask where to watch a Ravens game in Howard County or where to find the best deli for catering.  I never would have looked up Grace Garden on Yelp because I didn't know it existed, but I found the spectacular 2008 chain and basically ordered right from the suggestions.

When I first explored Howard County, writers like Jason1, Warthog,  Little Audrey, Elgringoviejo and DiningwithDoc were generous with their knowledge, and I learned from Chowhound -- especially from topics that were broader than a single restaurant.  One person would offer an idea.  Others would chime in.  It's fun to answer questions and share ideas.  I don't really know what changed.

Anyone know what is happening on Chowhound?  Is this another place that people left because they spend so much time on Facebook?  Anyone have questions that they want answered?

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Pizza With Clams, And It's Not A Joke; Facci Ristorante Has Created Something Special

The weird part about Facci Ristorante is that I didn't go to a restaurant that I really enjoyed for the better part of a year.

Facci opened in early 2010 on Johns Hopkins Road, and the crowds immediately packed the place for casual Italian and wood-fired pizza that stood a notch above most places around.  It became so crowded -- and the hostesses were trained to be so uninviting -- that we stopped even thinking about the place.

They won us back this year with expansion.  More seating, longer menu.  We tried carry out from the dedicated entrance.  We walked in a few nights.  If anything, the food has gotten even better, and we love a place where you're guaranteed a special night.

Imagine a pizza with clams on top.  Littlenecks in their shells.  Honestly, it sounded like a gimmick, but it tasted superb.  Sweet shrimp and parsley, then a few dozen clams.  I pulled those off by hand, and they were plump and salty even though the fire had cooked them through.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Candy Cane Joe-Joes At Trader Joe's

Better than Oreos.

There, I've said it.  I will start with the heresy.  Trader Joe's has created a sandwich cookies for Christmas that isn't just a good knock-off.  It's better than the original.

Not that you should go to the Columbia Trader Joe's and buy the Candy Cane Joe-Joes.  Mrs. HowChow wants you to leave them alone so that there are more for her to buy and sock away for winter.

The Peppermint Joe-Joes are absolutely terrific.  Crisp chocolate cookies with a cream inside.  Except this filling is more creamy, less grainy that even the Oreo original.  Plus, it is laced with shards of peppermint candy.  This is a "sealed box" type of cookies -- as in "you need to keep the box closed or you'll eat them all."

Trader Joe's sells a separate product where they have dipped the Candy Cane Joe-Joes in chocolate.  That's great too.  It's good chocolate and the right ratio of coating to cookies.  But it is an extra that isn't worth getting only 10 cookies in a box.  The original Joe-Joes -- or at least the original knock-off of the Oreo -- is all you need.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Update: What's Coming To Howard County

To me, it feels like the drumbeat of new restaurants and bakeries has picked up in the past six weeks.  People often leave comments here, and I try to track them.  Here are a few reasons to keep your appetite up:
  • Mango Grove / Mirchi Wok is renovating space off Dobbin Road in the same Columbia shopping center with Pub Dog and Noodles Corner.  Its former spot at Dobbin and Rte 175 was demolished to make way for a drive-in Starbucks.  Last month, I ran into the Mango Grove owner, who said he was hoping to open by Christmas.
  • YogiCup is another tart frozen yogurt shop to the Columbia landscape.  It's the same shopping center as Mango Grove.  A comment this weekend says they're aiming to open in December.
  • Nari Sushi is coming to the Kings Contrivance village center in Columbia.  Last time I walked past, they looked close.  (Update:  See the comments that Nari is open.)
  • Linda's Bakery in Columbia and Cooks N' Cakes in Ellicott City were both looking to open this fall, but their Web sites suggest that the timers are still counting down.  They're both sweet bakeries -- cakes, cupcakes, etc.  Linda's is working on space next to House of India on Snowden River Parkway, and Cooks N' Cakes is filling the Rte 40 spot vacated by The Breadery.
  • A new joint La Mia opened in downtown Laurel serving pizza and subs along with schwarma and falafel.  I had a falafel sandwich there yesterday and can't stop trying to adjust my Sunday chores to justify a return trip for the schwarma, which was still cooking on its spit when I hustled through.
  • Another hybrid -- this time pizza and Indian food -- has opened in the Long Reach village center in Columbia, reports Diane Z.  She emailed me the menu.  The place appears to be called Long Reach.  Diane gives a thumbs up to the chicken tikka masala.
  • Wegmans has announced that the Columbia store will open June 17, 2012.  The company has opened an employment center for people who want to apply for a job.  But there is a comment on the I Want The Columbia Md. Wegmans Facebook page that says the storefront may not open until January 3.
And, of course, there is the report -- still not officially confirmed or denied -- that Whole Foods is negotiating to open its first Howard County store in the former Rouse Company headquarters.  That would put them right on the lake across from the mall.

Anyone know anything else that is new or coming soon?  (Update: See the comments below for more news.)

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Report: Wegmans Has Opened An Employment Center

Wegmans has opened an employment center at 10211 Wincopin Circle, according to Janice Maketa Orlik on the "I Want The Columbia, Md. Wegmans" Facebook page.

The countdown clock tonight says 197 days to the Wegmans opens.