Thursday, February 27, 2014

R&R Owner Going To The Big Time: Becoming Executive Chef Of A Dupont Circle Restaurant

Rodrigo Albarran of R&R Taqueria is getting called up to the big leagues -- becoming the executive chef at a new Mexican restaurant in Dupont Circle, reports the Washington City Paper.

Albarran will become the chef at a new place called Mission, reports Jessica Sidman.  You know that I love Jessup, but a Dupont Circle restaurant is a chance to feed first dates where both people think they'll become senators (or own senators) later in their Washington careers.

Special Oranges At Wegmans: The Sumos Were Scheduled To Arrive Last Night, Will Go Soon

Sumo countdown at Wegmans
If you want an indulgent treat, go to Wegmans  today and grab a box of the Sumo tangerines from the shipment that was scheduled to arrive last night.

(Update:  I actually recommend that you avoid the Sumos delivered this year to the Columbia Wegmans.  The oranges are delicious, and some people have had no problems.  But our box rotted.  An orange was liquid by Friday, and others were soft.  I know that happened to other people.  Wegmans was easy and friendly with a return, so I'm fine.  But at a minimum I suggest that you feel every Sumo in your box and then wash them as soon as you get home.)

Sumo are a brand-name for a delicious hybrid fruit -- a cross between an orange and tangerine.  They're special citrus.  The peel pulls away easily. The section have a skin so thin that it's almost like they're all pulp. You get a strong citrus flavor, less sweet than those tiny oranges and more flavor of great fresh-squeezed juice.

I wrote about Sumos two years ago when they were a top-secret project just coming to market.  Wegmans has joined the fun.  They had a countdown clock at the entrance this week, and they had an order for almost 600 boxes.  I don't know the price, but they won't be cheap.  But then, they're fruit.  Even expensive fruit will be a relatively-small splurge, and you deserve some excitement in the midst of winter.

Go soon because they'll sell quickly.  I'd ask Wegmans to save me a box, but I doubt they'll last far into the weekend.

Of course, if you're looking for citrus fun, then you need to know about Al Pong's orchard.  Pong has commented on prior Sumo posts, and he grows and breeds all kinds of fruit trees in Fulton.  Last year, Pong said he was getting some varieties that competed with the Sumo.  Kyle wrote a few years ago about getting a kaffir lime tree from Pong's orchard.  It's definitely a fun local place to know.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Korean 101: Take Two For Winter Warmth; Or "I Try Again To Entice Howard County Explorers"

Pork belly and a tofu stew -- a great way to try Korean food
Two years ago, I made a pitch for people who would want to try Korean food -- a step-by-step guide for trying barbecue at Shin Chon Garden.

That's still one of my favorite meals in Howard County, but I'm back with a second "Korean 101" pitch -- this time aimed at folks who might want to try something warm this winter.

Soon doo boo is a basic Korean stew made with tofu.  You can get all kinds of variations -- from mild to spicy, from mushrooms to beef to seafood.  Your key first step is going to Lighthouse Tofu BBQ on Rte 40 to try it out.

Lighthouse is an outpost of an Annandale restaurant that serves up a delicious food and offers newsbies the benefit of a limited menu.  As I wrote a few years ago, it's a simpler place than Shin Chon Garden.  But it is casual and friendly, and the food made Washingtonian's 2013 "Cheap Eats" list.

My big pitch for trying Korean food is that Howard County offers so many options that you can get more variety than almost any other cuisine.  But the virtue of Lighthouse as a starting point is that you'll be guaranteed warmth and flavor with just a few decisions.

Soon doo boo has a base of pepper-tinged broth filled with vegetables, firm slices of tofu, and your choice of mushrooms or meat.  The tofu alone makes the dish filling with a terrific texture.  They're firm enough to hold their shape, but soft enough to cut with a spoon.  Respect the spiciness.  They'll make soon doo boo from mild to super-spicy, and the top level is seriously fiery.

The meat provides a nice contrast.  Neither the beef or pork are as crispy as the grill-in-yourself meals at a barbecue speciality restaurant.  But they come marinated and cooked with onions.  Both bulgogi and pork belly have provided a meaty, toothsome match to the spoonfuls of stew.  Alternate with bites of kimchi and other panchan, and you can enjoy a full Korean meal in an easy setting.

Here's step-by-step to enjoy all the secrets of a friendly restaurant:

Monday, February 24, 2014

Mini Hungarian Sausages At Wegmans

Little sausages = little post.

What more can I say?  Wegmans sells these tiny Hungarian sausages.  They were about four for $1, and they are each a meaty bite.  They have a nice crisp edge that gives way for a juicy mouthful with maybe the taste of paprika.  They're not spicy, but the flavor of spices came through with the meat.

These were a great find -- especially because I have found that salamis that I used to love now have too much fat for me to really enjoy them.  These were full-flavored, but a leaner feel.  I love cooking with Wegman's smokey speck, but these Hungarian sausages serve different purposes -- packed in a lunch, placed on a cheese tray, etc.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

While I'm Asking: Anyone Catered From Urvi's?

Has anyone catered from Urvi's Kitchen -- an Ellicott City caterer owned by the same people who appear to run Rangoli's restaurant near Arundel Mills?

(Update:  I got an email that said Urvi's and Rangoli aren't related.)

Jessie X spotted the Urvi's Web site and tweeted it at me in January.  We haven't eaten there, but it seems like a big vegetarian menu with many different regional Indian cuisines with a focus on Punjabi and Gujarati dishes  It seems like a cool option if you were having a party, and I was wondering if anyone had ordered from there before.

Rangoli in Hanover seems like a long drive considering how many great Indian restaurants we have in Columbia.  But I'd take recommendations if anyone knows their food as well.  This has been a week of me asking about new places -- like the Wild Cajun Seafood that I asked about Monday.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Comments On New Restaurants, Kahlua Nachos, A Cocktail Served With Smoking Wood, And More

New options at the Great Wall supermarket in Catonsville
There are too many new restaurants opening for me to keep pace.  Can't get there to eat.  Can't get time to write.  So I really appreciate all the folks who have been emailing and commenting to report on meals.

AnnieRie and Deena took the lead by writing respectively about the new Facci in Turf Valley on AnnieRie Unplugged and about White Oak Tavern on Deena's Days.  But other people chimed in through comments -- from Eagle15 on Facci to rsi, JRick, Jess and Mike on White Oak to Anonymous on the Grille in Maple Lawn.

Kevlar51 reported on a Manhattan served at the new Gatsby's Bar American served under a bell jar with a piece of smoking cedar.  Jay, Anonymous and others described meals at the new Columbia restaurant.  At the same time, Travelinsnorkel reported on an early dinner at Petit Louis, and Gina says the Caffe Benne coming to Rte 40 had great hot chocolate and a cool atmosphere.

A few of Min's favorite things
Min and Anonymous both talked up the new Great Wall supermarket in Catonsville.  Anonymous comments about some Chinese items that aren't readily available at the Korean-run markets like Lotte.  Min emailed to say the Hong Kong roast pork was even better than Asian Cout's dim sum and to say they were happy to find some Taiwanese soy sauce brands, fermented black beans and other pickled items:
There's also this supposedly very yummy crispy skin duck (Pipa Ya 琵琶鴨) that my friends have been raving about. I was there around 2 pm, and they were all sold out! 
Chris and Edith both ate at Chutney, the Indian restaurant that replaced Akhbar's on Snowden River Parkway.  Chris commented on a post, and Edith emails:
I had dinner there last night and both food and service were excellent. Lots of freebies, too (although I'm not sure whether that's SOP while they're opening or if they just felt sorry for me, dining alone on Valentine's Day). 
Until now Royal Taj and Mango Grove have been my favorite Indian restaurants in Columbia but Chutney just catapulted to the top of the list.  Definitely going to visit their buffet lunch soon.
AnnieRie, Anonymous, Cindy, and Radha asked and got tentative opening dates for new spots --  Pisco (April)Buffalo Wild Wings (May 14) and Mission BBQ (June or July) and the new Royal Taj in "Restaurant Park" (8-9 months).  Adam even flagged another new restaurant -- or at least a Facebook page for BricknFire Pizza coming to Catonsville.  Looks like they're just getting their pizza oven and storing away wood for a spring opening.  Anyone know more?

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Trolling: Tim Finds Sushi At Katana In Clarksville, Nudges Me To Find Nicki's Foster's Country Store

Tim's sushi at Katana in Clarksville
Urbanspoon lead Tim to Katana in Clarksville, and I get a "trolling" post out of the fun.

Trolling on Tuesday is my attempt at a series where readers share three things with other HowChow readers -- favorite restaurant dishes, food to buy, food experiences, etc.  Click here for all the Trolling posts.  Click here for the explanation and the rules.  Anyone can submit.

This is a great way for people to hear about places where we have not eaten.  We eat out way less than the blog seems to make people think.  We hadn't been to Katana, so I appreciated Tim's report on Katana and on Maiwand Kabob -- along with reports on the new restaurants coming to Turf Valley and his nudge that lead me to discover another new place Nicki's Foster's Country Store in Ellicott City opens over the next two weeks.

But first, Tim on sushi in the western county:
We stumbled upon Katana in Clarksville, and I have to say we were impressed with the sushi.   Was not very impressed with the Pad Thai from the Thai menu, so next time we will try the Drunken Noodles.  We have still not made it to Sushi Sono, but it's high on the -- list, just not as convenient to get to from Western HoCo. 
At Katana, we started with a Negimaki Beef. One of my Japanese favorites, theirs was barely average. Then we shared a pad thai and three rolls; 8 piece Tim Rolll (from the special board), six-piece Hot Summer Roll and I think an eight-piece Sweet Heart Roll.  All three rolls were excellent.  Pad Thai was just okay. 
We have been really digging the Afghan pumpkin appetizer at Maiwand Kabob, in Columbia.  That is pan fried baby pumpkin topped with yogurt sauce and ground beef. Many Afghan places have this dish but it's truly amazing at Maiwand. 
We are anxiously awaiting the opening of Red Parrot and Mimi's Kabob at Turf valley, they both look really close to opening. I will say I was sad to hear that Mimi's will not be offering pizza at the Turf Valley location, according to someone at the Clarksville location, hopefully that will change. 
I mentioned to you last summer about the old Foster's country store on Rte 144.  They have been doing a lot of work on the inside, looks practically finished to me.  Maybe someone else knows something?
I didn't know anything about the new country store, but Google did.  I found a Facebook page for Nicki's Foster's Country Store on Rte 144 in western Ellicott City.  I can't tell the details there, but there is chatter about homemade donuts and fountain drinks.  Tim says they put a sign outside Monday that says: Quiet Opening, February 19; Grand Opening, March 1.

Monday, February 17, 2014

What Is Wild Cajun Seafood? Are They Serving?

What is Wild Cajun Seafood?  Has anyone eaten there?

Jack emailed me about a Web site for a restaurant in the Lotte shopping center at Rte 29 and Rte 40.  It's new to me.  Jack and I didn't even know if it is open.  The phone number doesn't go to a restaurant yet.

Does anyone know the story?

The menu that Jack found on-line has a lot of fried seafood -- along with salads, other seafood, and New Orleans dishes like gumbo and etouffee.  They promise po' boys, and that could be a delicious.  There is also a Facebook page where they seem to be recruiting job applications.

Jersey Mike's Coming To Elkridge At Trader Joe's

A sub chain called Jersey Mike's appears to be opening in Elkridge in the shopping center with Trader Joe's and Perfect Pour -- across from the Costco.

I don't know Mike, but I have received raves from several excited people.  I have always held up Philadelphia sandwiches as a gold standard when I think about good locals like C&B Italian Dely on Rte 40.  It sounds like Jersey Mike's has a South Jersey pedigree, as Zevonista wrote me:
Used to eat these on the Jersey shore - looking forward to their arrival! 
It's been quite a while since I've been to one - but my memory is that they're bigger, with a good amount of meat. Meat sliced as you wait. And the bread is (well, used to be!) great - fresh, baked in store. Hopefully they still do that. 
My experience around here is with pizza places, where they do subs kind of as a backup to pizza. They're fine, but it's not how they make their money. Meats not fresh, bread been sitting around for a bit...
Fresh bread and fresh-sliced meats will make these sandwiches stand up around here.  Marcia confirmed that and said she goes to a Jersey Mike's in Laurel:
I go occasionally to the Jersey Mike's in Laurel.  I don't know if you've been to one, their subs aren't the "stuffed with meat" variety but they use great quality real Italian cold cuts (mortadella, etc) in their subs. T he rolls are nice and crusty.  Head and shoulders above Subway.
This Gateway Overlook center is also the site of the coming-soon Peruvian place Pisco.  That's a few doors down.  Does anyone know the plan or the timing for Pisco or Jersey Mike's?

Hat tip to Randy, Kerri and several anonymous commenters who also saw the signs for Jersey Mike's in Gateway Overlook.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Is Royal Taj Moving To Restaurant Park?

There's talk -- including folks who spoke with the owner -- that Royal Taj is moving to its own building in the "Restaurant Park" part of Columbia.

Royal Taj is a white-table cloth place off Snowden River Parkway.  It's one of the great Indian restaurants around.  Talk is that they want to go more upscale.  Anyone know the plan?

The "Restaurant Park" is a development off Rte 108 just north of Rte 175.  There's an Applebee's, a McDonalds and some other stuff.  I don't know which one might be closing to be replaced by Royal Taj, although Sam wrote a comment that it's the Applebee's.

From Marcia:
The owner told Steve he'd always wanted to take "the next step up" with his restaurant and Royal Taj was doing well enough that he could do it. He is very excited ! I'm happy for him, we are big fans of the food at Royal Taj, but we always get carry out so can't speak to service or atmosphere in the restaurant. (Imagine prices will go up - sigh)

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Baltimore Mag To Howard Co.: No Sweet For You; What An Intern Could Have Found In One Day

CrunchDaddy popcorn -- That's sweet
Does Baltimore Magazine want us to stop us from buying their magazine?

I know that these "city" magazines have contracted into monthly shopping guides, but they can be really great ways to find new places.  I'm just bummed that Baltimore Magazine seems to be aggressively saying that they don't want subscribers in Howard County.

I can't figure out another message behind the "Sweets" article on the cover of the February edition.  The 10-page spread couldn't find a single Howard County bakery or restaurant to highlight.  Fifty recommendations.  None here.

Salt in the wound: They mentioned Bonaparte Bread, but only the Fells Point store -- not the Savage bakery where they sell and bake.  That seems like a conscious decision where they went out of their way to note the "multiple locations" of such culinary stars as Au Bon Pain and Maggie Moo's.

Au Bon Pan and Maggie Moo's?

But I digress.  It's actually a smart article that mixes haute, expensive joints with casual, old-time bakeries.  (My favorite is the sidebar "admitting" that Berger cookies aren't the uniformly-loved treasure most local journalists make them out to be.)  The many options would make me want to move north -- except that I know we're so sweet down here that I can only assume a Baltimore Mag editor drew a line to discuss only "the city," "the county," and a quota in Anne Arundel.

Baltimore Mag seems to know Howard County exists.  I can see ads for Victoria Gastro Pub and stores at the Columbia Mall.  But we got nothing more than a fine-print quote that says Great Sage makes vegan desserts -- not even a mention of what they bake.  So what could the magazine find with just an afternoon of an intern's time?
  • Bonaparte Bakery in Savage and Touche Touchet in Columbia.  The pastries at Bonaparte and the cookies at Touche Touchet would have fit perfectly into their mix of modern, high-end desserts.  Editor's pick: Frosted cookie with seasonal art at Touche Tochet.
  • Kolache Kreations in Ellicott City.  Here's a little niche item that anyone is welcome to tell their readers that they've discovered.  A pastry fond to European immigrants -- that's a Baltimore media speciality.  Editor's pick: Coffee and a cherry kolache.
  • Sweet Cascades in Ellicott City: Chocolate, chocolate everywhere.  The camp esthetic at Sweet Cascades would have contrasted nicely with the three chocolate shops that Baltimore Mag highlighted in Timonium.  (Road trip!)  Editor's pick:  The subtle bite-sized candies with flavors like rosemary, but we know people love the wacky stuff like Old Bay chocolate crabs, chocolate-dipped cheese puffs, and wine bottles covered with edible designs.
  • Shilla Bakery in Ellicott City.  Here's a stop that would have absolutely stood out on the Baltimore Mag list.  Korean folks make great sweets -- from French-inspired cakes to awesome sundae-like bing soo.  (Our bing soo adventure at the equally-interesting Bon Appetit down Rte 40.)  Editor's pick:  Red bean donut and a sweet potato latte.
  • CrunchDaddy and CookieRide.  Again, I appreciate the "how to find a place to shop" theme that has devoured city magazines.  I just don't see the service journalism in telling people in Baltimore that Berger cookies exist.  CrunchDaddy sells spectacular, unique sweet and savory popcorn from Columbia, and CookieRide will deliver cookies -- or run cookie parties -- all over.
Okay.  That's enough.  I just wrote about bakeries to check out on your weekend last month.  Plus, the scene keeps getting better with Columbia's Le Comptoir joining the absolute best group when it opened last month.  You could even click on all 160+ posts about sweets.  Find what you like.  Just don't cut us off the list.

I actually feel Baltimore Mag's problem with ice cream.  Maggie Moo's stands out on their list because it's really not made with a personal touch.  But they listed the local ice cream that I know, and I can't think of anything they missed.  Does anyone make ice cream in Howard County?  The closest that I know is Seibel's in Burtonsville.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Check Out Valentine Specials From Bare Midriff

Elizabeth from the Bare Midriff blog has compiled more than a dozen restaurant specials for Valentine's Day.  Special menus on everything from vegan food to French cuisine.  I'm terrible at lists, so I always appreciate when folks put them together.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Latest Word: Ananda Will Bring Indian To Maple Lawn; Mission Barbecue To Come To Columbia

The latest word is that the Indian restaurant Ananda will open in Maple Lawn in the near future.

That's what the Maple Lawn developer told folks at a race in the neighborhood over the weekend.  There was that weird point last week where the new restaurant building seemed to be listed for rent.  But the developer said the Indian restaurant would open, and the liquor board is still scheduled to consider Ananda's license on February 11.

In other news, Mission BBQ is coming to Columbia.  I have that from a reliable source, although I didn't take notes so now I'm not 100% sure of the location.  Mission is a local chain with locations around Baltimore.  They're replacing something that closed recently.

Buffalo Wild Wings is replacing the Don Pablo that closed near the Target off Rte 175.  Am I right that a Chicken Out closed in Columbia, maybe on the back side of that same Target?  My faulty memory says the Mission BBQ is replacing a Chicken Out.  Maybe someone knows the story or the timing.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Craving Now: Agua Fresca At Xitomate

Agua Fresca at Xitomate
I am thinking about dinner at Xitomate -- even though I can't exactly remember the drink that is making me crave a trip.

Agua frescas are a Mexican drink made with fruit juice often made by a kitchen that just blends fruit, water and ice.  They can be as standard as watermelon or as exotic as tamarind or tropical fruit mixtures, and they range from a lemonade consistency to a thin smoothie.  But in their many forms, they have become one of my favorite parts of Mexican dinners.  It's like a custom cocktail when I don't want alcohol.

My local spots for agua frescas are R&R Taqueria in Jessup and Xitomate in Columbia.  I highlighted R&R's during Cold Drink Week in 2011, but I'm craving a mid-winter warmup at Xitomate where I could settle in with some hearty food and a fruit drink.  I don't even remember what flavor agua fresca we got at Xitomate, but it's calling me back.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Petit Louis Cuts The Ribbon In Columbia

Petit Louis cut the ribbon its its Columbia location.  Ken Ulman, Mary Kay Sigaty and other local politiicans welcomed the restaurant on the lakefront.  We went into Le Comptoir to warm up.  At first, we just ordered two chocolates.  Then we added two macarons.  Then they brought out a tray of chocolate croissants warm from the oven.  And we had to try those!!  Amazing.

Seriously, you should come out Sunday to enjoy the warmth, coffee, pastries and sandwiches.

(Update:  You may want to call to confirm they're open Sunday.  The Web site says they open at 10:30 am Sundays, but there is a comment below that says they may be closed tomorrow.)

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.

Lunar New Year: Learn To Make Seafood Dumplings From Cha Ya's Growing Video Line

Cha Ya Asian Bistro has updated its cooking video lessons in time for the Lunar New Year.

Check out the video above to see the chef making scallop dumplings.  This one has even-more instructions about forming the steamed treats -- a perfect pair if you buy dumpling wrappers at an Asian supermarket and your own filling recipe.

My favorite dumpling resource is Andrea Nguyen's cookbook Asian Dumplings.

Hat tip to Jessie X who spotted the video.