Friday, May 30, 2008

Link: Columbia Dog Talk on "Pub Dog"

The Columbia Dog Talk blog posts -- fittingly -- about Pub Dog, a pub off Dobbin Road in Columbia. I have never been, but CDT offers a review and dog photos!

And the Columbia Dog Talk has both a prior post about the new Rita's Italian ice joint in Kings Contrivance and a listing of dog-friendly restaurants, coffee shops and bakeries.

Dog Pub
8865 Stanford Boulevard
Suite 100
Columbia, MD 21045

NEAR: This is in the shopping center off Dobbin Road just north of McGaw Road and south of Rte 175.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Ethnic Markets and Cookbooks II

An Indian market was the glaring hole in my February post about local ethnic markets and cookbooks to bring for inspiration. Along with a small Tere's Latin Market on Rte 40, I found friendly, accessible Desi Market in Columbia, and I plan on returning over and over to explore. Also, I found an African market on Rte 175, although that place wasn't accessible on my first visit. I'll go back to try again, but I can't say that I knew what to buy or even to ask.

(Update: Check out a comprehensive list of ethnic markets in Howard County.)

West African: Afia International Market
I would love anyone else's suggestion about Afia International Market in Jessup -- in the shopping center on Rte 175 just east of Rte 1 that My Organic Market calls "Columbia East."

The store seemed filled with dried goods and packages from Nigeria and Ghana, but it wasn't accessible for me. I don't know the cuisine, and, honestly, the smell set me back. More like a butcher in Bangkok than in Columbia, and the smell made the sight of carved goats seem far more off-putting than the same display at Lily's or the Laurel Meat Market. Then, no one said anything as I circled the shelves under the blare of televisions bolted above. The talking stopped as I came near, then started again as I passed. I retreated.

I want to go back. Can you suggest anything? A cookbook? A treat like the samosas that I suggest at the Desi Market? A staple to try? The first time that I went into Aladdin, I had only a few minutes and endured a similarly cold experience. For the second, I brought a recipe and took my time to inspect the shelves and to ask questions. It has been welcoming ever since, although I still haven't finished the pound of roasted watermelon seeds that I bought on the owner's recommendation. (Nice crunch, little flavor other than salt. I can't eat more than a handful at a sitting. Still cheap at $3.49 to connect with the owner.)

Afia International Market
7351 Assateague Drive
Jessup, MD 20794

This is actually the address for My Organic Market in the same shopping center.

NEAR: IT's on Rte 175 just east of I-95. There is a large shopping center on the right just after you cross Rte 1. Look for the Starbucks. Turn right into the shopping center, then turn right and go past the Starbucks and the Rita's Italian Ice. Afia International Market is around the far side next to the Goodwill.

Indian: Desi Market in Columbia
The Desi Market should be a Bhutanese market because it is hidden in a commercial area north of Rte 108. But instead of selling food from the "Hidden Kingdom," the market offers everything that you need to have fun with Indian food. Mangos ready to eat in the car. Samosas ready to be baked tonight for dinner. Frozen foods. Flours, rose water, and spices.

Spices are the bedrock for Indian food and the first reason to visit Desi Market. You'll get a far wider supply than any supermarket. You'll also get a bag of spices for the price of a 1 ounce tube by an American spice company. Start with whole peppercorns, whole mustard seeds, whole cumin, whole coriander, and cardamom -- either whole pods or the tiny seeds already broken from the pods. If you like those, branch out to tumeric, fennel, cloves, or fenugrek. Or ask for tamarind pulp, a tart part of cuisine from India through Thailand that you can store in your pantry.

If you want to start with Indian food, borrow or buy Mangoes & Curry Leaves by Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid. They're Western photographers who have travelled in Asia for 20 years and have been writing cookbooks since 1985. Their site. Their book Mangoes & Curry Leaves has recipes that range from simple to complex and that cover almost every Indian food that I have enjoyed. The recipes are clear and written for an American kitchen, using the tools and the ingredients that you could get at Desi Market -- with substitutions that you could get anywhere. It has the most beautiful photos and short writings. By general rule, I discard photo-heavy cookbooks as precious and not useful. This book is the exception that makes me question the rule entirely.

Desi Market is just as friendly as the Mangoes & Curry Leaves. The young couple running the place were friendly and talkative. They answered questions. They suggested a recipe for a refreshing drink. If you walk in with a cookbook, I think they'll help you locate ingredients and even suggest what else you could buy.

Buy spices. Buy a bag of frozen naan. Check out the vegetables or stop somewhere to buy your own. You could be cooking Indian tonight. But while you're there, try a samosa -- either fresh or a box of frozen. Try the papad that I wrote about. Pick a bottle of rose water and Indian-style yogurt for the lassi recipe below. If you have a friend from India, buy a $1 bottle of Limca, the lemon-lime soda that Coca-Cola sells there. The glass bottles were on the floor facing the freezer case, and they're a nostalgic moment for anyone who has stood next to a Bombay vendor drinking soda from a straw.

If you are looking for Indian groceries, also check out Food Cravings a few blocks from Desi Bazaar and Apna Bazar or Eastern Bazaar in Laurel. And in the comments below, check out Askok's comment about Food Cravings.

Sweet Lassi from Mangoes & Curry Leaves
2 c. plain yogurt (full- or reduced-fat)
2 c. plain cold water
pinch of salt
sugar to taste
1/2 tsp. rose water

Whisk the yogurt and water together in a deep bowl until frothy. Add the other ingredients and beat in. Serve cold over ice. (Variation: Replace the rose water with 1 or 2 coarsely chopped bananas and mix all the ingredients in a blender.)

Desi Bazaar
9179 Red Branch Rd # H
Columbia, MD 21045
(410) 997-8400

NEAR: This is in a commercial area off Rte 108 just east of Rte 29. You can't see anything from Rte 108. You turn north on Red Branch Road at a traffic light, and Desi Bazaar is in a commercial building on the right. The parking is actually before the store, so we had to U-turn and go back.

There is another Indian store on Red Branch Road, but it was even harder to find out where to park. I had frozen food in my car, so I didn't go in.

Mexican: Tere's Latin Market
Tere's is a small Mexican market on the south side of Rt 40 in Ellicott City. It has a basic supply of spices, tortillas, and vegetables like plaintains, onions, tomatoes and avocados. It's a great stop if you need dried peppers -- costenos, japones, guajillo, chipotle, arbol, all on the back wall -- and the woman working when I visited was solicituous in fluent English. She would have answered any questions.

But Lily's Mexican Market in Columbia has far broader offerings with extras like the meat counter and larger freezers. Tere's -- with its supply of Mexican pharmacy and cleaning items -- is probably just as useful to a person who grew up with Mexican food and needs the basics. But there is less to explore.

Tere's Latin Market
8525-A Baltimore National Pike
Ellicott City, MD 21043

NEAR: Tere's is on Rte 40 east of Rte 29. Just east on an Acura dealer is a shopping center that faces Rte 40. Tere's is next to a Quizno's.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Delicious: Grains at the Organic Markets

If you want to cook grains, start with plastic containers, then go to a crunchy supermarket.

Oats, bulgar, brown rice, couscous, etc. are delicious if you can find them and if you can keep them organized. I always ended up with a tangle of plastic bags and half-empty boxes. Until I bought tall containers, I never knew what I had, and I was never inspired to use them. I bought Decor Tellfresh containers, and they're great because you can jam more tall, thin containers on a pantry shelf. But buy anything that seals. The Container Store is expensive.

Grains are cheap. They're fun to try. They're super-nutritious. And you can get a world of beauties at Roots in Clarksville, David's Natural Market near downtown Columbia, or My Organic Market in "Columbia East."

Pick four or five grains to try. Start with two or three cups each to see what you like.

Go back for more of what tickles your fancy. Couscous for a simple side dish. Bulgar for salads. Barley for a
risotto variation. Rolled oats, quinoa and millet for breakfast cereal, then later for inspirations like "quinoa and carmelized onions." Wild rice for an exotic touch.

Borrow How To Cook Everything Vegetarian by Mark Bittman from the library. He has descriptions and basic directions for two dozen grains. Then, he has 40 pages of recipes. (He also has recipes for lentils, which you should buy in bulk when you're trying the grains.) Or borrow Whole Grains Every Day Every Way by Lorna Sass. Her recipes are a little less accessible, but she has a brilliant section where she talks about making large pots of grain, then freezing them for future use.

My whole-grain weekend breakfast -- make several servings because you can store in the fridge and microwave a bowl for 2-3 mornings:

  1. Put six cups of water in a pot and bring to a boil. Lower the heat to a simmer.
  2. Set the timer for 40 minutes. Then add one cup of steel-cut oats. (They're different from rolled oats. Trader Joe's sells containers of steel-cut oats in the cereal section.)
  3. Cover the pot, but leave a crack so that it doesn't boil over. Stir occasionally throughout the rest of the time.
  4. When the timer says 25 minutes, add 1/3 cup of amaranth.
  5. When the timer says 20 minutes, add 1/3 cup of millet.
  6. When the timer says 15 minutes, add 1/3 cup of quinoa and 1/2 or more cups of raisins or other dried fruit.
  7. As the timer runs out, the cereal should be moist without standing water. It should be soft, but still have a little "bite to it. You can add a little water if it dries out or stick to the pot. You can cook it a few minutes more.
  8. When the cereal is done, add honey or brown sugar to your taste.
Try that once, then adapt to what you like. Use the grains in the mix that you like. Add wheat germ at the end if you want. Add fresh fruit like bananas or apples -- either early if you want them to disintegrate or late if you want a crunch. I'll eat this without sweeteners. Mrs. HowChow would consider that a punishment, not a treat.

You can borrow How To Cook Everything Vegetarian or Whole Grains Every Day from the Howard County library. Or you can buy either book on Amazon through these links (which means Amazon would pay me a referral fee):

My Organic Market (Columbia East)
7351 Assateague Dr. #190
Jessup, MD 20794

NEAR: It's on Rte 175 just east of I-95. There is a large shopping center on the right just after you cross Rte 1. Look for the Starbucks. MoM is in that shopping center. It's a bit tricky to return home. You have to exit east-bound on Rte 175 and U-turn at the next light.

David's Natural Market
5430 Lynx Lane
Columbia, MD 21044

NEAR: It's in the Wilde Lake shopping center near the Columbia Mall. The shopping center is on Twin Rivers Road. Turn in at the light with a KFC. David's is on the right in a building separate from the main village center. David's has a main store with dairy and packaged goods, then a separate produce store down the row.

Roots Market
5805 Clarksville Square Drive
Clarksville, MD 21029

NEAR: It's on Rte 108 just north of Rte 32. The Clarksville Square shopping center is on the west side filled with "crunchy" businesses owned by the same people -- a restaurant, a pet supply shop, a decorating place. Look for the Jiffy Lube on Rte 108.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Delicious: Biscuits at Victoria Gastropub

The biscuits are so good that you may try to steal your friend's.

Victoria Gastropub markets itself as an upscale place for unusual beers and pub-style food. But the gratis basket of biscuits and butter stand out as far as any of the flashy food.

Baked on premise, our waiters have said. They're fresh with delicious crumb, more like a cake than layered biscuits. Plus, they're small enough that slathering them with butter doesn't feel excessive. Eat up before someone at your table tries to take yours.

(Update: I posted again about Columbia's Victoria Gastro Pub in 2010.)

Monday, May 26, 2008

Ranazul: Tapas with a Mexican Flair

Come to Ranazul expected to be pleased, not filled. The tapas are exquisite, a mix of Mexican and American dishes with the traditional Spanish.

This Tuesday, three of us split a parade of tuna tartare, arepas, patatas bravas, sauteed scallops, and shrimp in tequila sauce. Each one was exquisite -- a subtle spice to the tuna, a delicious sauce to the shrimp. The perfect fried potatoes -- crisp on the outside, almost pillowy in the center.

It's a beautiful space. Modern decor. It is a city restaurant experience, far more like Harbor East or Penn Quarter than Columbia Mall. It's a dress-up dinner, but not a stuffy place. (Except for the offer to rent a liquor locker to people who buy $1,000 in wine.) Jeans are fine. The bar is friendly with a happy hour and strong sangria. Jazz musicians play Tuesday nights.

But don't go to fill up. Ranazul has a 301 area code, and it has Bethesda prices that make each plate a touch more expensive that I'd expect. Bread is a $1. Completely forgettable olives are $3. You don't want to order the shrimp if you mind cutting the two shrimp into pieces for multiple people. The draw is that everything is thoughtful and fun. End the meal with sopapias, fried triangles dusted with cinnamon, drizzled with honey, and topped with a generous scoop of ice cream.
(Update: The owner of Ranazul is aiming to open a steakhouse at the former Oz Chophouse in late 2009.)
8171 Maple Lawn Boulevard #170
Fulton, MD 20759

NEAR: In the Maple Lawn commercial area just north of Rte 216. Maple Lawn is just west of Rte 29. The oz Chop House and Trapeze are on the same intersection. This is one exit north of the Montgomery County line in southern HoCo.

Ranazul on Urbanspoon

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Delicious: Papad at Desi Bazaar

This is alchemy -- buying a $1.49 package that can sit in your pantry, then creating crisp, peppery crackers in minutes by
dangling them over a gas range.

Papad is the crispy, peppery cracker that many Indian restaurants serve as an appetizer or even offer to each table like bread and butter.

You can buy them at the Indian grocery Desi Bazaar in Columbia for $1.49 per package. They're soft, thin discs, studded with pepper. Pull one out. Clip it with tongs, then hold it
vertically over a gas burner. The edges wrinkle. The entire disc breaks out in tiny bumps. A few spots scorch or even catch fire for an instant. Toast every part, then put it on a plate. In seconds, it will be room temperature and so crisp that it shatters under a fingertip.

We ate them for dinner with samosas ($1 each) sold right near the front counter. (Heat at 450 degrees for 6-10 minutes.) You could eat papad as a snack or serve them with drinks. Easy to make ahead, or high drama to toast with your guests in the kitchen. And if you can cook Indian food, they would be an authentic way to start the meal.

(Update: The proprietor at Apna Bazar in Laurel -- address here in the list of markets -- taught me to microwave the papad. Put one on a plate. Microwave for a minute or two. They're delicious, and they're easy. You cook them one at a time and can pile them on a plate.)

Desi Bazaar -- a profile of Desi
9179 Red Branch Rd # H
Columbia, MD 21045
(410) 997-8400

NEAR: This is in a commercial area off Rte 108 just east of Rte 29. You can't see anything from Rte 108. You turn north onto Red Branch Road, and Desi Bazaar is in a commercial building on the right. The parking is actually before the store, so we had to U-turn and go back.

There is another Indian store on Red Branch Road, but it was even harder to figure out where to park. I had frozen food in my car, so I go in.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Jesse Wong's Asean Bistro

For my money, Jesse Wong's Asean Bistro is the best Chinese restaurant in Howard County. It isn't the authentic Chinese of Grace Garden in Odenfon. But I have a soft spot for the Asean Bistro because I went on an early date with my wife. It's a surprisingly nice decor for a shopping center joint. Live piano music most nights. Elegant design.

And they have scrumptious General Tso's chicken under the name "Chef Xu's."

That's my guilty pleasure. I like going with a group where you can order an array of dishes. General Tso's is like hamburgers -- better to get them at a good place than settle for greasy ones. With a crowd, I can balance off the friend chicken in brown sauce with Szechuan green beans and some other, more-healthy fare.

The truth is that the Asian Bistro has such a broad menu that I never order Chef's Xu's when it's just me and Mrs. HowChow. This is Chinese food as served in most American restaurants, but well-made and served in a nicer atmosphere than your normal shopping center. We love those green beans, the spicy black bean chicken, great tofu dishes, the chow fun noodles. Recently (late 2008), we discovered the red sauced wonton appetizer and the duke chicken entree. The first is a bowl of mild wontons stuffed with pureed scallops, chicken and pork and then sitting in a soy-based sauce that gives a really nice flavor. The entree is spicy, sauteed chicken with peanuts. A cousin of kung po, but strips of white meat instead of diced chicken.

When we lived in Ellicott City, the Asean Bistro was our delivery joint. The black bean chicken, a chow fun, and hot & sour soup with a wax-paper bag of crispy, fried noodles. You can't get those noodles at the restaurant. Only delivery. That was great eating for nights when we just couldn't open the refrigerator. Now, we drive to the restaurant.

(Update: By late 2010, I wouldn't say Asean Bistro is the top restaurant anymore.  Asean Bistro can't touch Grace Garden in Odenton, and my most-recent meals at Asean Bistro haven't been as good as I remember from five years ago.  It's still a fine place to eat, but it has come back to the pack even while places like Red Pearl in Columbia serve good dishes.  Check out my 2010 post about Chinese restaurants in Howard County.)

Asean Bistro was one of Elizabeth Large's "Top 10 Restaurants in a Strip Mall" in her blog, which is great fun. Check out the restaurant's Web site, which generally has a coupon you can print for $5 off a $50 tab.

If you're looking for Chinese, I definitely recommend Grace Garden, although only for people who want an adventure. I'd also recommend dim sum at Asian Court. Some people love Hunan Manor and Hunan Legend. I'm still trying to figure out what to order so that I can enjoy the good stuff, but you can try Hunan Legend's "secret" menu. Or click for a 2009 "best restaurants" in Howard County.

Jesse Wong's Asean Bistro
Columbia Palace 9
8775 Centre Park Drive
Columbia, MD 21045

NEAR: In the shopping center just off Rte 108 between Howard High School and Rte 29. Very convenient from Rte 100. There is a Giant on Centre Park Drive, but Jesse Wong's is actually the closest store to Rte 108 near a dry cleaner and Dunkin Donuts.

Asean Bistro on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Eggspectation: Breakfast (and more) in Ellicott City

I'm a simple man at a restaurant breakfast - two eggs over medium, hash browns, bacon, coffee and could I please have the Tabasco sauce?

That's ironic because Eggspectation on Rte 108 near Snowden River Pkwy is the best place that I have found, and it trumpets its enormous menu. Omelets. Eggs Benedict. Pancakes. Waffles. You can even get eggs on a bagel instead of the traditional English muffin. I keep coming for crisp bacon, good coffee, and eggs and hash browns that I didn't have to cook myself.

This is the spot to take houseguests. A neighborhood place where you can relax over breakfast and no one hassles you when people linger over a second cup of coffee. (Of course, that means there can be a 10-20 minute wait at the rush hour.) It is also an all-day joint. Quite good burgers at lunch and dinner. A bar that often seems happily full of people eating at the bar or watching sports on TV. I would have recommended the burgers more before the Victoria Gastropub opened across the street, but the breakfast still can't be beat. The perfect place to take visiting in-laws.

It was the closest restaurant when we lived in Ellicott City. I'd love any other breakfast suggestions down in Columbia.

(Update: In October 2008, the burgers had gone downhill. I still recommend it for breakfast, but the burgers weren't the thick, flavorful patties that I remember from earlier.)

(Update: In May 2009, Greg on the Food & Wine Blog posted about breakfast all day at Eggspectation -- including the Chesapeake crepe.

Check out Victoria Gastro Pub across Rte 108 from Eggspectation. If you're at Eggspectation, you're also just a few blocks from great Thai at Bangkok Delight or the Chinese at Jesse Wong's Asean Bistro.

6010 University Boulevard
Ellicott City, MD

NEAR: Rte 108 just east of Snowden River Parkway. It's super-convenient off Rte 175. Take the Snowden River exit and then turn left on Rte 108.

HocoLoco Girl on "breakfast" -- a listing of breakfast joints

HocoLoco Girl on "Sunday brunch" -- a listing of Sunday brunch places

Eggspectation on Urbanspoon

Monday, May 19, 2008

Mango Grove and Mirchi Wok

Mango Grove and Mirchi Wok are the ultimate restaurant duplex. Two restaurants in a single building, offering everything in pairs --
  • vegetarian southern Indian food at Mango Grove with northern Indian food at Mirchi Wok highlighted by chicken, lamb and fish
  • traditional dosas, oothappam and curries with Chinese-Indian fusions
  • sophisticated, sometimes-exotic flavors with friendly, casual staff that makes it feel like home
Mango Grove and Mirchi Wok are each among my favorite restaurants. The naan is perfect. The people are nice. Each menu is broad, and, together, the two restaurants offer variation that you could spend months exploring. These are simply-decorated, shopping center restaurants. But they're each a spicy date spot or a reasonably-priced place to become a regular.

Start with a mango lassi. Mrs. HowChow does. We normally start with one of these sweet yogurt drinks and an order of the vegetable samosas. The perfect fried food. Crisp on the outside. Warm, flavorful, but not greasy on the inside. Cut them open and dip with the mint and date sauces that come on the side.

Then, try anything. More than in any other HoCo restaurants, I have ordered all across these menus and never been disappointed.

To start, go to Mango Grove and try a masala dosa and a curry -- maybe baigan bartha if you like eggplant or palak paneer if you like spinach and a firm, mild cheese. The dosa will be an enormous thin crepe wrapped around a potato and onion filling. The curry will be delicious, simmered vegetables, perfect to scoop up with pieces of bread. Naan is our favorite, although the paratha and chappati are also good. (Poori is so fried that I prefer naan.)

Watch for the specials and tell the waiters about your preferences and your experience with Indian food. One night, we ate a jack fruit curry. Firm pieces of fruit that had a meat-like consistency, but a tender feel and the spicy flavor that makes Indian food so exceptional. More like perfect potatoes than the sweet, ripe jack fruit that you can buy in a can.

When you try Mirchi Wok, you can cross the sub-continent for the tandoori chicken of northern India and the Chinese-Indian fusion foods of the big cities. Chicken korma had a scrumtuous sauce -- again to be scooped up by naan. The fun standout was a rice dish whose name I can't remember. It was rice and chicken cooked together with spices so that it came out moist and full of flavor. Almost a jambalaya or a biryani. Note that it was dark meat, which I love but which doesn't excite everyone.

There is a lunch buffet, which was good one day when I had to wait for my car to be served across Dobbin Road. Take-out works well, although I have read complaints elsewhere about the time that it takes. I got dinner once in 25 minutes -- exactly when promised -- even though Mango Grove was filled by a wedding party. It seemed a reasonable wait, and my only regret was that I hadn't ordered an extra naan that I could eat in the car on the way home.

If you like Indian food, check out my post about Indian restaurants across the county or my profiles of the markets -- Desi Bazaar and Apna Bazar.

Mango Grove
Mirchi Wok
6365B Dobbin Center
Columbia, MD 21045

Near: On Dobbins Road just south of Rte 175. It is in a outbuilding of the Wal-Mart shopping center next to the McDonalds and the Chik-Fil-a.

Mirchi Wok on Urbanspoon