Saturday, February 1, 2014

Quick News: Ananda Coming?, Paolino Taking Over Serafino?, And First Tastes Of Petit Louis

White Oak Tavern
Has anyone heard anything about the Indian restaurant coming to Maple Lawn?

They built a beautiful building, and folks applied for a liquor license for a restaurant called Ananda.  But then the building appears to have been briefly listed for rent earlier this week.  So far, I haven't heard anything more.  I know people are asking, so I think it is noteworthy that no one has publicly confirmed that the Indian restaurant will open as planned.

There are other bits of news around:
  • Cindy and others have heard a rumor that Chef Paolino may be taking over the space that used to be Serafino's in Ellicott City.
  • Trip Klaus posted that the folks who own Victoria Gastro Pub have announced that they'll join the brewing trend by opening Manor Hill Brewing.
  • Trip Klaus also emailed me that Bean & Burgundy was soft-opening this new dinner menu on Friday night.  This is a big space on Rte 40 with an ambitious mix of coffee house, wine bar and restaurant.  Apparently, a consulting company is on-site to help create an Asian fusion and tapas menu.
  • White Oak Tavern has opened on Rte 40 in Ellicott City.  Tom Coale has moved to Stage 2 in food blogging, and he snapped the photo above.  (Next step:  Photos of the food.  Step 4:  Moving the food on the table to get the best photography light.)  His quick report:
This is a place to put at the top of your "to eat" list. The good is great and the atmosphere is everything you would want from a local tavern. But don't let the comfort of this place fool you. The food is ambitious with things like "beer battered hake with creme fraiche on brioche" (what I had) on the menu. Notably, there are a number of vegetarian options, including a grilled cheese that I look forward to trying. 
Overall, a home run out of the box for these two owners (who were working the bar). I'm very happy for them and hope the community responds.
I'd love to hear comments below if anyone know more about Ananda, Chef Paolino or any of these other items.

And, of course, Petit Louis and its casual counter Le Comptoir are opening.  You should go now for those great Le Comptoir coffee and pastries, and the Petit Louis ribbon-cutting will be there this afternoon.  T.J. Mayotte actually got to eat during the soft opening this week.  He tossed together a report this morning, and I have posted it after the jump.  Check out his glowing report.

I will reserve comment except to note that we have reached the point in American culture where men comment on the beauty of bathroom.  I laughed when I got to T.J.'s excitement because I made an even-more detailed report ("sliding glass entrance door!") when I came back from my first trip to the bathroom at Range.

This is T.J. Mayotte's report about dining during the soft opening at Petit Louis in Columbia.  He eats well on Friday night, but he was on kid-duty this morning so this is unedited.  That seems quite appropriate for fine-dining in Howard County::
Most restaurants have some type of a soft opening, where they bring in a controlled flow of generally known customers just prior to the real open, so they can test their system. Soft openings are like a dress rehearsal and often have the same feel; not quite the real thing. Petit Louis, though, was impressive. By 8:00, the dining room was packed. We had full range of the menu. It was as close to the real thing as possible, except the dollars went to charity.
We had 6:00 reservations (the only thing available before 8:00 when I finally got around to calling) but, life being what it is (work, traffic, kids), we didn’t make it in until closer to 6:30. We had called ahead and told them we would be late, and the hostess couldn’t have been more gracious both on the phone and when we arrived. (When we walked in, another couple was trying to talk themselves in without a reservation. The hostess and manager patiently explained that they weren’t actually open, despite all appearance, and they could return soon. I have the feeling they had that conversation frequently.) 
The décor was well done; very classic. Marble topped tables with wrought iron pedestals, large mirrors, black and red trim. We overheard a few suited gentlemen discussing table placement. (Still working the details, clearly.) Tables were close together in our section, but no more so than The Charleston. 
Service is the hallmark of a Cindy Wolf restaurant, and Petit Louis Columbia is no exception. What I was most surprised at is everyone I spoke to that was actively working tables was local; although there were clearly old hands watching every move, it was HoCo out front for the waitstaff. They were mostly young, too. Working at Petit Louis would be a great start for any young adult in Columbia with culinary ambitions. (My favorite service moment: our waitress began answering the neighboring table’s wine recommendation. She started off rockily and a suited gent materialized, clearly ready to cut in. She recovered, though, and he walked off, grinning. “Passing grade?” I asked. “She almost crashed and burned, but she made it.”) 
If there was any complaint about service, it was that they were pretty insistent on steering meal choices; they definitely walked the line between strong recommendations and making you feel trapped. We started with the charcuterie du jour, a pate of pork shoulder and chicken liver, wrapped in bacon, packed into a terrine mold, and gently cooked. It was tremendous. We also had the potato soup, served with lardoons. I was skeptical, but really was well done. It was much thinner than you would expect for a potato soup, finished with a green oil and packing a smooth, delicate flavor set off by the salty bacon chunks. It was a deft hand that made that soup. I rank meals by how I remember them; I remember the taste of the soup over the pate, much to my surprise.

For the main course, we had the veal shoulder (blanquet de veau) and the duck confit (confit de canard). I will remember that duck confit for a long time. The skin was crispy, the fat beautifully rendered, the meat falling apart and moist. Duck confit can go so badly (greasy, fry, flabby), but this was perfect. The veal shoulder was the dud order of the night; it was ok, but not spectacular. Some bits were a bit dry, surprisingly, and I wonder if the plate sat for a bit waiting for the duck to come out. My favorite part was actually the pearl onions. 
Two table in our vicinity had the poulet a l’estrgon, a whole roast chicken basted frequently with duck fat, and carved table side. I can tell you this: if we go back, we’re getting that chicken. Between seeing the crispy skin and smelling it, you know why it’s Petit Louis’ signature dish.

The waitress had recommended a wine pairing for the pate that also went well with the duck. I don’t consider myself anything close to a wine connoisseur, so I’ll just say it was good and avoid making up anything about vanilla notes. 
For desert, we had the dark chocoloate pot de crème (pot de crème au chocolat) and profiteroles with coffee ice cream (profiteroles au café). The profiteroles were good, but the pot de crème was transcendent. I couldn’t get over the silky smooth texture and rich taste. It was another thing, like the soup and the duck, were the skill and craft in making it is obvious to even the most plebian diner. 
We were also pleased that they have a full service café; we were able to get both decaf coffee and a decaf macchiato to finish the meal. (There’s nothing worse than a place that claims to have full service coffee beverages doesn’t have decaf espresso. I have to sleep tonight!) 
I’m also pleased to report the bathrooms were lovely and my water glass remained filled throughout. (Second favorite service moment: during my last water refill, the waiter had trouble maneuvering around the check and I assisted by moving the water glass to a more readily accessible spot. Pouring water, it must be noted, involved careful placement of a folded napkin to avoid splashes, etc. “We”re just pouring water.” He grumbled. “Gotta be complicated.” I assume this was recorded and he was sent back the training camp for re-education.) 
After dessert, I inquired after macarons to take home; our waitress boxed up one of each flavor for us. They’re waiting for me on the counter. Petit Louis gave us the bill as it should have been and then one to actually pay; despite the idea of “price fixe”, they basically let you order whatever you wanted, charged fifty bucks a head, and donated the money to charity. It was pretty incredible. We had ordered above and beyond with extra glasses of wine, the coffees, and the macarons, expecting to pay above, but according to the waitress, “Tony wants everyone to enjoy their evening.” Pretty good deal for us and the charities, local HoCo institutions all, supported. What a way for the Foreman Wolf team to introduce themselves to Columbia. 
The crowd skewed older, with nearly all guests a good fifteen years older than us. I saw two other couples in the low thirties. This might change as the restaurant actual opens, but given the prices, Petit Louis will remain on the special occasion list. Still given the location and the possibilities for casual dining form the comptoir, I think there will be a lively crowd every weekend. It’s exciting to have a restaurant of this caliber right here in Columbia; I agree with HoCo Rising that this is likely to be remembered as a turning point five years from now. (Imagine Petit Louis, Whole Foods, and the Inner Arbor all realized in this one place? Wow.)


yts said...

Happily enjoyed a quick branch at the comptoir, coffee shop side of petit louis. I can't wait to try bistro side for a full meal.

Bclass said...

When I worked in Catonsville, I ate at Chef Paolino frequently. Food was pretty good, but there was a guy working the counter who fancied himself the Italian version of the soup nazi. And the food certainly isn't good enough to pull that off. I stopped going, because I don't like being yelled at when I order food. Having said that, Serafino's went way down hill before they closed, but I always liked the place.

Mike said...

I really can't agree with Tom C on White Oak. We went with group Friday with understanding that it would probably be crowded and there would be some growing pains. Good stuff - here was a wait for a table but young ladies at hostess stand did okay, waiter was inexperienced but polite and helpful, food did not take extraordinarily long to arrive (which was a bit of a surprise with crowd - although some was not very warm) and beer selection was good. Bad - none of us thought food was that good, portions were tiny (4 oz of brisket or steak may be healthier but not for relatively high cost - a couple of the dishes were a couple of dollars more that menu on line - which was already high).

My only suggestion is that since this is primarily a bar they should serve a mix - some ambitious entrees but have buffalo, wings, nachos, etc. so this is not a special occasion place.

Adam said...

Ok, general observation, with the disclaimer that I have not been to White Oak. But honestly, some of these restaurants need to learn that the “holier than you”, we source locally stuff does not always equate to a better product, and that it certainly doesn't equate to a more economical product which encourages diners. Attempting to guilt trip customers by asserting some kind of moral superiority about it doesn’t help. There is no way a bacon cheeseburger should be 15 bucks, which is what places like this and Grille 620 are charging.

s5 said...

Checked out Petit Louis comptoir over the weekend. The French Press coffee was novel (it's worth it just to watch the sugar fall through the timer). Tried the brioche with the banana caramel, buckwheat madeleines and the almond tart (with the candied orange). The tart was by far our favorite.

The cafe is very cute and the staff is very helpful.

Anonymous said...

I heard the rumor directly from "Chef Paolino" about 6 months ago when I was casually chatting with him. He said that the issue of taking over Serafino's location was one of parking and he was wondering if it would do well enough in that location.

Hopefully he'll do it. I drive to Catonsville to eat at Chef P's enough and it would definitely be closer in EC.

Anonymous said...

I just saw a man carrying a "Now Hiring: Chef Paolino Cafe" sign at the corner of Plumtree and Route 40.

Anonymous said...

Get over it, Bclass. Everyone in NY knows that if you leave a pizza parlor with your self-respect, you didn't get the real deal. Eat the pizza then cry in your car. Your feelings are secondary to me being able to get good pizza :)