Monday, November 30, 2009

Portalli's Opened In The Former Jordan's

An Italian restaurant named Portalli's has opened in the Ellicott City space that used to be Jordan's Steakhouse, according to Elizabeth Large's blog.

The email sent to Large says the restarant -- owned by the folks who own Diamondback Tavern -- had a soft open last weekend and an official grand opening scheduled for December 11-13.

(Update: Check out the comments below by earlier diners. Plus, a comment that appears to be from one of the owners. It's so informative, that I have to believe it's real. If that's true, then I'm glad that people are adding useful comments to HowChow. If it's not, then please email me so that I remove the comment.)

(Update II:  The comments below are really from Lee Biars.  He also wrote a post that I called "Thoughts From The Other Side Of The Check.")

Comments About The Gas Station Tacos, Donna's And Some Ideas For Good Deli

Sometimes, the news isn't all good on HowChow. The Minx wrote about her disappointing dinner at Bangkok Delight, a Thai restaurant that I once thought was the best around but that has disappointed me in the last few visits as well.

One of the reasons that I highlight comments is so that people don't rely on my opinion alone. I like finding new food in Howard County, but the comments are full of other news. For example, a bunch of folks talked up coffee shops in Howard County, and the Baltimore Beer Guy and msleibo wrote up their meals at the new Trattoria Montese in Waverly Woods -- counter service with good pasta. If nothing else, check out the comments on my "Best of Howard County" post -- Dave on Aida Bistro, Kristi on Kloby's hush puppies, Morty Abzug on Akbar's saffron rice, and more.

Of course, if you have the time, check out the detailed submissions like Trip Klaus' comment on a post about Vegegas Prime Filet. He started with a report about the Venegas opening, but then wrote about Bistro Blanc and Azul 17:
Second, in relation to the late Jordan's you mentioned the fact that many of the staff have been hired by Bistro Blanc. In theory this was to rectify the many service complaints reported both here and elsewhere. However, given the time the new staff will explain this to you and explain how much better they are. My main problem with Jordan's was it's pretentiousness over performance. These new waiters only bring that impression to Bistro Blanc. . . . I've said before that Bistro Blanc's food is my favorite in the county but I don't know that this is such an improvement.

Third, I visited the Azul 17 the other day and I have to say how underwhelmed I was. While the decor is appalling I was hopeful for the food and drinks. I love the movement to using agave nectar and fresh lime juice in margaritas vs. that premade sour mix garbage but Agave and Diablita are both doing this in the city at $2-$3 less. I resent being charged $4 for indiffernt chips and salsa at lunch plus $2 more to taste the habanero salsa that seems to have come out of an El Yucatan bottle. . . .
And on to some other comments:
And finally a review from Lisa, who sent me an email about Donna's in Columbia. I have no insights because Mrs. HowChow eats at Donna's in the city almost every week. It has been her nearest lunch place for the better part of 10 years. So she doesn't want more when she comes home. Sounds like Lisa doesn't want much more either.
We just returned from a meal at Donna's (on Snowden River Parkway, in the same shopping center as Victoria Gastro Pub), and I just had to e-mail you. I haven't seen too many reviews for Donna's on your blog, so I was wondering if you had any insights that we aren't aware of. Anyway, here it is:

Donna's -- our final assessment is... WOW (but not in a good way).

We had only been to Donna's twice in the last 4 years prior to today. Each of those times, we had either drinks or dessert and coffee (all of which we weren't too enamored of, since it seemed we were paying way too much for what we were getting, quantity- and quality-wise). Today, we decided we should try Donna's for lunch to make sure our previous judgments hadn't been to hasty.

We arrived around 12:30 PM and were presented with a brunch menu and a specials list that had more brunch items and two sandwiches (fish and veggie). My husband was disappointed, since he had hoped for more sandwich options. I ended up ordering the "Omelet with Portobello Mushrooms" (included sun-dried tomatoes and goat cheese in the omelet, with a side of roasted potatoes). It sounded delicious and looked decent, but the plate was a complete disaster. The omelet was very dry, and not moist like you would expect an omelet to be. It tasted like it had layers -- like someone had made a fried egg, folded it in half, and thrown pre-cooked veggies inside with some cheese.. The mushrooms were overcooked. The sun-dried tomatoes were sort of chewy (like the kind you have to "rehydrate" instead of the kind stored in a jar of oil). The potatoes were even worse -- they looked good, like they had been roasted for a while. But when I bit into them, they were dry and rubbery, like they had been pre-roasted hours (days?) ago and then microwaved to put on my plate. A quick toss in the deep fryer would have made them taste a lot better.

My husband ordered the breakfast pizza, which was... weird. It was layered as well. On the bottom: pizza crust (no sauce, as far as we knew). Then, a layer of onions and rounds of sliced tomatoes, topped with fried egg(s) covered with mozzarella cheese. The taste was just okay, but it didn't seem like a pizza due to the layering business -- mix it all up, why don'tcha?

It appears that the chef has good ideas on what flavors go well together, but the execution was sorely lacking. I did say something to the waitress about my dry dish, and was credited about 50% of the entree on our check. Unfortunately, we won't be returning, as we haven't been too impressed the three times we went. Hard to believe that place has been there for so long with the food they serve.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Coffee Shops in Howard County

I need coffee so badly that I'm a terrible person to ask for recommendations.

I love my morning coffee -- the jolt of caffeine and the ritual of unscrewing my thermos as my work day begins. But that means that I'm not the best customer for Howard County's coffee shops. I'm not a latte guy. I'm 30 miles away most weekdays. And I'm cheap enough to brew my own thermos rather than spend $2 on a cup each morning.

That said, I really like the coffee that I have bought on a tour of coffee shops from Rte 40 to Rte 216, including Java Grande and Bean Hollow in Ellicott City, Mad City, Lakeside and Riverside in Columbia, and Sidamo Coffee & Tea in Fulton. When we ran out of the Pele Plantation beans that we carried home from Hawaii, I went out looking for a Starbucks alternative. Strong flavor, but not bitter, I told each shop. I bought whatever each shop recommend, and I liked them all.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Two Youngs: Korean in Catonsville

Looking for new food -- like walking in snow -- is often easiest if you step in the footprints of people who know where they're going.

You should follow The Kwok's Blog to Two Youngs restaurant in Catonsville for basic Korean food. I stayed right with The Kwok's post and ordered soon du bu, and I spooned up the tofu and seafood stew -- spicy heat for a cold winter night. It's a strong dish. Not outrageously spicy, but thick and filling like any other stew. With kimchi, it was a tray of strong flavors that pleased me, but that did encourage me to grab a palette-cleansing dessert on the way home.

Two Youngs is a counter-service restaurant inside the Hanoori Town portion of the shopping center anchored by the H Mart. You order from the items posted on the wall above the counter. Then you wait for the number on your receipt to pop up on the electronic sign.

It's a casual crowd. Often, that Hanoori Town is dominated by folks who look to be college students or folks in their 20s. I get the vibe that it's an affordable place for Korean food, simpler food and cheaper bills than places like Shin Chon Garden. If you're at the stage of life where you schedule "date night," I wouldn't recommend Two Youngs unless you know your spouse loves to explore Korean joints. But on a weeknight, soon du bu was a great $9 dinner.

The soon du bu comes out in a cast iron bowl with a side of kimchi and a bowl of rice. It's a spicy red broth, thickened with soft pieces of tofu that were my favorite part -- as The Kwok predicted. There was also seafood, including a clam, some octopus and two shrimp. Two shrimp still in their shells. I was reading as I ate. As I chewed the first shrimp, I thought, "This seems familiar, but not familiar. It's like shrimp, but . . . . Oh!" I actually swallowed the whole thing rather than be the guy who spit shrimp out at the table.

Two Youngs offers sushi and a long line of Korean dishes. I'd recommended the restaurant in this same location last year when it was called the Beseto Food Court, but management has changed and turned the whole area into Hanoori, which includes Mangoberry and the kitchen store in Hanoori Home Plaza downstairs. It can't tell if there is a single restaurant or two restaurants in that area. Under Beseto, the area to the left of the entrance sold sushi, and the back area sold Korean.

Two Youngs is a great stop if you're stopping to shop at H Mart. If you're there, definitely check out the other places in that center, including Mangoberry and and Golden Krust for Jamaican takeout down the row. Also check out Hunan Taste, which is getting great reviews on Chowhound (1, 2) for authentic Hunan Chinese food.

Two Youngs
822 N. Rolling Road
Catonsville, MD 21228

NEAR: Two Youngs is in the Hanoori Town portion of the shopping center anchored by the H Mart. You walk inside past the Mango Berry and to the counter at the back of the restaurant.

Two Youngs on Urbanspoon

Monday, November 23, 2009

First Reviews of Venegas Prime Filet in Maple Lawn

No one should issue a final judgment on a restaurant from its first few days, but it's great fun to hear about the new places like Venegas Prime Filet in Fulton, which opened last Friday.

The beaujolais nouveau of restaurant reviews arrived this weekend, and Cathy & HowICook both spent real time to write their opinions -- and even snap cell phone photos.

First, HowICook reports on Venegas meal from beer to dessert. He highlighted that golden chocolate dome, which makes me file a complaint against Venegas about its lighting because the dessert photo looks more like a fuzzy UFO. Clearly, they're not lighting this place to maximize cellphone photos. It's a common failure. I can't snap a single roll
in Sushi King. How can they expect food bloggers to work in these low-light conditions? But enough about me. On to HowICook's comment about Venegas:
I took the family to Venegas Prime Filet tonight, Sunday (11/22/09). Sadly, the tree that was the trademark of Oz is gone and replaced by a modern oversized light. Being a beer guy, they have 4 drafts available with 2 from clipper city which was nice considering Ranazul (owner’s other restaurant just across the street) has none. Beware the price of a draft beer is a bit steep. They served 4 different complimentary breads with honey butter which were all good.
The menu has a nice variety of fish, meat and prime beef. The prime beef appears to be reasonably priced. We ordered the cheese plate (2 out of 3 were special) and 5 entrees (monkfish, rockfish, prime flat iron steak (wow!) with truffle butter (too subtle), citrus pasta & French short rib). All the dishes were nice presentations with nice garnishes. Additionally we ordered the reasonably priced accessories, cauliflower gratin (a really nice puree), mashed potatoes (still not serving the roasted garlic variety) and the brussel sprouts (wow
The standouts were the monkfish, flat iron steak and the short rib (actually a bit too fatty but wonderful beefy taste with nice fried shallots, and ‘to die for’ gnocchi). For dessert, we all got a taste of the unbelievable decadent golden chocolate dome. It too was ‘to die for’. The service was very good and almost too attentive. Finally, I asked the waiter about the chefs and the sous chef showed up at our table. She asked about our meal details (commented on the beef short rib dish being hers from beginning to end) and showed real interest in our comments.

This is a place where you need to savor the details. It’s not the overall great experience they’re striving for yet but if you look close, the details add up to a good experience. Trying to keep costs reasonable, we didn’t try any of the appetizers, soups or salads. Next time, I want to sit in the bar area and order these especially the interesting appetizers. They remind me of Ranazul.
Second, Cathy reports some hiccups on Saturday night at Venegas. Liked the bread. Liked the atmosphere. But nothing really grabbed her.
We tried Venegas tonight (Sat 21st.) Since I was familiar with the layout of Oz, I requested a table that was not near the kitchen on our Open Table reservation Thus, we were seated a table away from the kitchen. Perhaps Open Table does not forward our comments? It wasn't too bad, though.

They were out of an entree and side dish we wanted (chicken, and garlic mash (but they had regular mashed potatoes?) This was an early evening reservation, so not sure why they were out of these common items. Bread was good, and the honey on top of the butter was a nice touch. Atmosphere was decent, more modern casual than romantic. Staff was very pleasant, but I would have expected the owner to visit the tables on it's opening weekend. No personal touch.

Overall, it was an average experience, and there are not enough items on the menu that I personally liked, and nothing really special to make me want to go back. Still looking for a restaurant in Maple Lawn that I want to frequent!
Please do add your opinion below if you have eaten at Venegas. I love that HowChow is a place where people can exchange their views. I'll caution anyone that a restaurant changes over its first weeks and months. But it's still good to know what people are saying . . .

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Link: Chocolate in Baltimore on BMore Sweet

You have to read the primer on Baltimore's chocolatiers on the BMore Sweet blog. This is great food-writing -- a useful education on the best candies in town with a delicious center of Baltimore history and BMS's story-telling.

(She also mentions Sweet Cascades in Ellicott City, clearly to get that Howard County excitement into her post.)

Friday, November 20, 2009

Link: Cazabe In The Sun

A new Dominican restaurant Cazabe in Jessup gets love from Sun reviewer Richard Gorelick in yesterday's paper. He liked the food at Cazabe, although he complained that he got stuck in 2 1/2 hours of traffic to get there. Aren't you glad you're local?

Links: Some Homemade Blog Awards

If you enjoy HowChow, then you probably peruse other food blogs -- and, if you don't, then you should.

The fun of blogs is that we can be nice to each other, and Wendi at the Bon Appetit Hon blog has tried to start a cheeky little wave of blogs passing on kudos to each other. Wendi created her own blog awards -- the It's A Major Award!, which she promptly awarded to HowChow.

Wendi's inspiration is that her seven blogs were supposed to award blogs of their own. And so on. And so on. It's just fun, and I'm always eager to link to people who are writing good stuff. I have an entire list of recommended blogs in the right column, but here are seven local food blogs that I'll inflict with a Major Award, mostly because they're great blogs and people who I hope will be amused enough to continue Wendi's plan (please?) --

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Onion Rings at Bar-B-Que House in Laurel

The onion rings are at the front of that photo because they have been on the top of my mind for a while now.

The onion rings at the Bar-B-Que House in Laurel were the answer to days of craving. Crispy rings. A sweet onion taste inside. Thin, golden coating. Spicy barbeque sauce for dipping. The rings stayed warm and crisp while I ate a pulled pork sandwich, and each ring lived up to the hope that had driven me since last weekend.

How often does that happen? I don't deep fry anything at home. Every once in a while I crave fries or samosas, and they're disappointing far too often -- greasy instead of crisp and flavorful. The Bar-B-Que House served up the perfect treat.

I'd actually gone to the Bar-B-Que House inspired by a post on the Don Rockwell site that had touted the best barbeque in the Washington or DC. DonRocks himself talked it up, although that was from 15 years ago. This is a friendly little restaurant without the rough edges that make me unsure about some of the U.S. 1 joints. Counter service from the woman who fries up my onion rings. It's all smiles, completely kid-friendly and sweet.

Maybe a touch too sweet. My pulled pork was a really tasty sandwich, although it was more sugar and less vinegar than I normally want. But that's just personal preference. The meat was tender, and it had the real flavor and texture of pork. Mass-produced meat can be so soft that it disappears into the sauce. The Bar-B-Que House serves real meat, which I doctored with the spiciest sauce, and I didn't leave until I had dipped every bit of the every-day roll to savor that spice.

In the end, the sandwich was on par with the Kloby's Smokehouse sandwich, which the post office also calls Laurel, but which is actually between Columbia and Fulton on Johns Hopkins Road. That's well-cooked pork with an interesting sauce. The truth is that barbeque joints often make their name on side dishes -- mac & cheese, hush puppies, greens, etc., and Bar-B-Que House certainly delivers on that score. It'll be my place for onion rings, and maybe next time I'll go pit beef. Oooooooo.

Who else serves up great onion rings? What about french fries? People talk up the fries at Five Guys, but I have had hit or miss.

Click here for my post about the best kabobs and barbeque in Howard County. And if you check out the Bar-B-Que House, you should consider a drive along U.S. 1 -- the foodie frontier with great food all the way north to Elkridge.

Bar-B-Que House
9990 Washington Blvd N
Laurel, MD
(301) 604-2333

NEAR: This is on the southbound side of U.S. 1 right at the point where the road splits and has stores in the middle. That's south of Rte 32 and north of Main Street in Laurel. From downtown Laurel, you actually need to go past the McDonald's and then U-turn up the hill.

Bar-B-Que House on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Jack Bishop's Vegetables Every Day

Jack Bishop's Vegetables Every Day is a masterpiece because the books seems so simple, but comes jammed with so much more thought than most cookbooks.

Bishop wrote a book for people who want to eat vegetables. Any people, any vegetables. Grab any item from the produce department, and you can make several of Bishop's dishes from any stocked pantry. Even better, carry Vegetables Every Day to the store so that you can pick the best-looking vegetable and grab the few other ingredients to make the dish that catches your fancy.

Bishop didn't write a book based on some foreign cuisine. He has no celebrity to sell, no gimmick, no photographs. The book has thin chapters for almost 70 vegetables. Each chapter has a half-dozen ways to cook that vegetable, designed as side dishes or appetizers but most could be dinner if you grab some bread while you are at the store.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Welcome To Royal Taj -- Columbia's Newest Indian Restaurant (For The Second Time)

Welcome to Columbia's newest Indian restaurant Royal Taj -- which was also Columbia's newest Indian restaurant last summer when it opened as "India Delight."

The restaurant had a great buffet and got some good reviews from commenters. But it also had a name that was apparently too close to another Indian restaurant nearby. (I had wondered about a May comment that mentioned a Catonsville restaurant called "Indian Delight.")

I recommended India Delight's buffet, and I hear that nothing has changed except the name -- and that has only changed on the menus so far.

Thanks to HowICook for the tip and photo. Click here for my post about Indian restaurants in Howard County, which I'll have to update to fix the name.

Royal Taj
(formerly India Delight)
8874 McGaw Rd
Columbia, MD 21045

NEAR: McGaw Road is the light where Apple Ford sits on Snowden River. From Rte 175, turn right on McGaw. From Broken Land Parkway, turn left on McGaw. The shopping center with India Delight -- along with Cha Ya Thai, The Greene Turtle and Cheeburger, Cheeburger -- is on the right before the intersection with Dobbin Road.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Drink The Soda, Don't Swallow The Marble

The Japanese soda is sweet, sweet, sweet, but I barely noticed because I was making sure not to swallow the marble.

This is Shirakiku's ramune drink -- a soda imported from Japan that Mrs. HowChow first found at Ginza of Tokyo.

Ramune is a cool little experience. The soda is soda -- sweet and interesting enough in flavors like lychee, pineapple, and melon. But it's a cool experience because there is no bottle cap. The bottle is topped with a marble and a plastic lid. You punch down the marble with a plunger that is packaged inside. The marble rattles around a bit. As you drink, it rolls around a small chamber and get covered in carbonation bubbles. (You won't really swallow the marble because it can't fit out the top.)

Fun little diversion. Cute for a party. Great for a Japanese theme -- or if you know anyone who loves Japanese comics. I may stock some for the next visit from my nephews, although I don't know if they drink fruit sodas.

You can buy the ramune sodas -- along with sushi and Japanese steakhouse cuisine -- at Ginza of Tokyo on Johns Hopkins Road near La Palapa Too. I also found them in a half-dozen flavors in the H Mart in Catonsville. Ask for them, or look in the displays between the two lines of frozen food.

(Update: Dzoey says below that Sushi King and other Japanese restaurants sell ramune.)

For more information about ramune, check out Asian Aisle, a blog that Sheri turned me onto over the summer. Great photos of the bottles and the marble, and Asian Aisle profiles lots of items that you could find at Asian grocery stores. If you want to see the bottle, you can check out YouTube. If you're a juvenile delinquent, go back to YouTube to see how to melt the bottle cap to free the marble.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Link: Two Youngs' On The Kwok's Blog

With winter here, it's time for food to keep you warm, and The Kwok's Blog recommends the spicy tofu stew at the restaurant inside Hanoori Town in Catonsville.

The restaurant is Two Youngs, which I assume is the place on the ground floor of Hanoori Town. The stew is soon du bu, a spicy stew served with shrimp, oysters and squid. But The Kwok says the tofu stew itself is the reason to try it: "The flavors are bold and strong; I still have the flavors in my mouth hours after eating it and I still want more."

Hanoori Town is part of the shopping center with H Mart on Rte 40. It's very easy to reach from Howard County, and the H Mart is my favorite place for food. You can also buy kitchenware like bento boxes in the store downstairs. The Kwok's post is actually from October, but it's the perfect time for stew and it's a great entry into exploring the Korean food at Hanoori Town. He has other local reviews on the blog.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Trattoria Montese Opened At Waverly Woods?

Has anyone been to the new pizza place at Waverly Woods -- maybe called Trattoria Montese?

Alison first alerted me to the new place in June. But she has heard since then that the owners had problems with contractors. The Baltimore Beer Guy emailed me this week that Trattoria Montese has opened, but I haven't been there yet.

Any reports?

(Update: See below from the Baltimore Beer Guy --- loved the pasta, says it's a counter-service place that looks BYOB.)

Chick'n Pollo Still Under Construction

The new Peruvian chicken place in the Hickory Ridge Village Center looks almost ready to open, but they haven't fired up the grill yet.

CJB sent me these photos of the Chick'n Pollo last week, and I checked again Wednesday -- with the vain hope of getting
lunch there. Chick'n Pollo looks ready to open with menus artfully spread on the counter. But no one was in site, and the door was still covered with permit paperwork.

The signs say that Chick'n Pollo will have Mexican food on top of the Peruvian chicken.

Anyone know an ETA?

Until Chick'n Pollo opens, you need to get your Peruvian chicken at Pollo Fuego in Jessup. Or check out the great fried chicken at Chick N' Friends in the Long Reach Village Center in Columbia.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Ann's House Of Nuts Moved To Columbia

Eric emailed me that Ann's House Of Nuts has moved to Columbia -- specifically to 9012 Berger Road.

Has anyone been? Eric says they moved around November 2, and Google Maps shows them at the same address. However, I have not had a chance to drive past. Google Maps puts that address on the part of Berger Road off Oakland Mills Road. This is south of Snowden River Parkway. (There is another, unconnected part of Berger Road that actually intersects Snowden.)

Ann's House of Nuts had been in Jessup. Over there, they had limited hours, so I had never stopped at the right time. Some people swear that it's a great place to buy nuts and dried fruit. Some people caution that the prices aren't always lower than retail. Any thoughts on Ann's -- especially as the Christmas baking seasons approaches?

(Update: See below for several comments about Ann's -- including what people think are a deal.)

R&R Deli -- Tacos At The Shell Station

The takeout taco is the food discovery of my four years in Howard County.

Back in Arlington, I stopped occasionally at a stand that appeared on good weather weekends, but you can count on the joints around here for a front-seat feast of tacos, salsa and a squirt of lime. These are $2 treats that usually spice up a day when I'm out doing errands.

Now, you can count on the tacos at the R&R deli in Elkridge -- a new takeout spot for breakfast and Mexican food at Rte 175. R&R serves great tacos. I tried the barbacoa, the carnitas and the carne asada on Monday, and they're spectacular. Heaped meat, good tortillas, a nice salsa. R&R is near the Shell Station where Rte 175 hits U.S. 1.

Okay, let's admit it: R&R is in the Shell Station where Rte 175 hits U.S. 1. That's why Mrs. HowChow has not yet sampled the tacos there. But it's not like you're ordering food in a gas station. The restaurant's owners have a separate door, and they set up a bright commercial kitchen separated by a glass wall from anything automotive.

The tip about R&R came from a comment last month by Alberto A. Flores. The R&R tacos were stuffed, and they're in the league with the best takeout around, certainly in the league with my favorites at Pupuseria Lorenita's taco truck in Elkridge and Lily's Mexican Market in Columbia. R&R's big standout was the milkshake that I had with my tacos. The guys there whipped up milk and real strawberries in a blender, and it was a refreshing, delicious drink. Not the dessert of a milkshake at The Duchess in Ellicott City. It was more like strawberry milk, but real strawberries that they had pulled from the fridge and hulled right in front of me.

(Update: You should ask for a huarache -- a Mexico City dish with a masa base, cheese, meat and avocado.  You should also try R&R's ceviche special, which offers marinated fish and vegetables on top of a crisp tostada.)

The R&R Deli serves a pretty broad menu from American or Mexican breakfasts to tortas sandwiches to platters of beef, cajun chicken, or blackened salmon. I really liked the guys there, who chatted and gave off the vibe of folks who were really interested in serving good food. Now, I just need to convince Mrs. HowChow.

(Update: Mrs. HowChow approves.)

The R&R Deli joins a great run of food along U.S. 1. Check out my post about "U.S. 1: The Foodie Frontier" that tours you from Ceazar International Market in Elkridge down to R&R Deli's intersection where you're within a block of organic groceries at MOM's Organic Market, the empanadas at the El Patio Market, and more right.

R&R Deli / R&R Taqueria
7894 Washington Boulevard
Elkridge, MD 21075

NEAR: The deli is in the Shell station at U.S. 1 and Rte 175 in Jessup. It's really convenient from Rte 175 -- just go east from Columbia across I-95 and then look left at U.S. 1.

R&R Deli on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Venegas Prime Filet - Opening November 20

Venegas Prime Filet will open in Fulton on November 20 -- according to the restaurant's Web site.

Thanks to the anonymous tipster, who also said you can make reservations on Open Table. Venegas Prime Filet replaces oZ Chophouse in the Maple Lawn development. When oZ Chophouse closed in August, there were talks about a new steakhouse from the owners of Jordan's in Ellicott City and Ranazul in Fulton across the street from oZ. Now, Jordan's is closed, and Ranazul's co-owner Carlos Venegas is opening the new steakhouse on his own.

Anyone know if there is a soft open coming in the days before the 20th?

(Update: The first reviews are coming in about Venegas. Please put your opinions on the page with the early Venegas reviews. I'm closing comments on this post so that all the reviews appear together..)

While I'm mentioning the closed Jordan's, I noticed that Bistro Blanc has publicized that it hired four of the top servers from Jordan's. They actually mentioned them by name: Dale Davis, Michael Stagg, Gabrielle Cordone and Robert DiGiovanni. I figure those must be good waiters if they're mentioned by name, and I'm glad that they moved to a good restaurant. Improving service always helps -- especially in light of my last evening at Bistro Blanc where things didn't go smoothly.

Link: Sushi King on the CupcakeRN Blog

Kate of the CupcakeRN blog has started a tour of all the local sushi joints with a visit to Sushi King. For her first stop, she posted about getting the best sushi she has ever had in both quality and taste -- and got better cellphone photos than I have ever been able to get in the Columbia restaurant.

If you want to take your own tour, check out my take on sushi in Howard County -- and definitely check out the comments to that post because people gave detailed suggestions.

(Reminder bloggers: If you post about a Howard County restaurant, feel free to email me. I enjoy linking.)

Harris Teeter: Crazy Time In Produce

April Fool's Day comes off-season at Harris Teeter -- where they appear to be offering subtle humor in the produce section.

They're selling baby cauliflower. For $1.99. EACH.

That's right. Cauliflower just larger than a cherry for $1.99 each. They come in three colors, which is just so special. But they're smaller than a jalepeno pepper. This must be humor, right?

You're looking at $10 for a single side dish. You're looking at $40 for the entire display at the new Maple Lawn store on Rte 216, and that might feed a family of four. If that family liked cauliflower more than, say, an entire dinner of steak, vegetables,
La Brea bread, and dessert because that would actually be cheaper.

Hey, I'm a fan of Harris Teeter's exotic's fruits, but even I asked the produce guy if it was supposed to be $1.99 pound. He said no. He said he was surprised as well.

If you really want cool vegetables, check out my post about vegetable shopping in Howard County. That is part of my "What I Learned" series.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Returning To

The whole idea seems too good to be true, but you can really get a discount on dinner from this site that sells discounted gift certificates.

I have posted about this before, but there are more restaurants offering coupons now. And you can get a $25 gift certificate for $2 if you use the code ENTREE by November 12. (And they constantly offer 50-70-80% discounts to people on their email list, so you should never pay the "full" $10 price.)

Check out the list of 23 Howard County restaurants -- heavy on the "bar and grill" but including some unusual places like Iron Bridge Wine Company, La Palapa, Hidden Treasure, and the Elkridge Furnace Inn. They're also accepted at Cuba de Ayer in Burtonsville and both new Japanese steakhouses -- Maruha in Columbia and Ginza of Tokyo next to the Applied Physics Lab on Johns Hopkins Road.

(Update: Read the comments below. Several people, including Alex of the Technology & MSG blog and Kate of the CupcakeRN blog, talk about some hiccups with using the certificates. Brandon left a comment on another post about issues at Frisco Grille so call ahead if you have any questions. Agussman left a comment about buying gift certificates instead of specific restaurant coupons.)

RDA doc: Sidamo in Maple Lawn

Guest Post by RDA doc --

I need to start off every morning with a cup of coffee and over the last couple weeks I have been increasingly disappointed with the coffee from my usual spot. I was pleased to learn that Sidamo in Maple Lawn is now open and decided to give their coffee a try.

My son and I went there last Wednesday and not only was I very happy with my cup of coffee but the owner could not have been nicer. It was clear that he takes pride in his store and it's coffee. He told me that Sidamo’s coffee is fair trade and that it’s roasted in house daily. In addition to coffee they also sell food but I didn't have anything to eat.

We also talked about Ethiopia where he and his wife are from. He then took out an African children’s story for me to read to my son. The next day I went back and had an equally pleasant experience both with my cup of coffee and my conversation with the owner’s wife. We talked about the Ethiopian coffee ceremony that they are going to have at their store on Sunday.

I had never heard of a coffee ceremony so I looked in up on line afterwards and learned that it is a very important social occasion in the Ethiopian culture. Sidamo’s website says that every Sunday at 2:00 o'clock they present a traditional Ethiopian Coffee ceremony. However, their website hasn’t been updated to include their Maple Lawn location so I am not sure if this is just at their DC location or if they will also have weekly coffee ceremonies at their Maple Lawn location. I definitely plan to check it out at some point. I highly encourage everyone to try Sidamo’s coffee and I truly hope this wonderful couple’s Maple Lawn store is a success!

-- RDA doc

Monday, November 9, 2009

Azul 17 And The Issue Of Not Great Food

To find great food anywhere, you need to pick and choose -- and be willing to accept some disappointment.

At Azul 17, you would do well to sit at the bar, try something to drink, and snack for a while on the Tuna Azul, the ceviche or the tres leches cake. I really want the new Columbia restaurant to succeed, but we have had a bit more disappointment that we had hoped.

This is still a classy, interesting restaurant. It aims high, and the kitchen delivers with some delicious salsas and some small plates as it did on our first visit. I liked the Tuna Azul, and Mrs. HowChow liked the tortilla soup. We also liked the "aguas frescas" -- mixtures of fruit and water that they make with the same care and fresh ingredients that they use for the margaritas. Blackberry puree and lime juice made for a thick, refreshing drink. But that's a short list when you spend $70 on dinner, especially when the night includes waiting 20 minutes past our reservation and mistakes like not mentioning that almost everything costs extra. By the end, I was facing a waitress who was asking me if she should take a surprise $3 off my bill. At that point, I just wanted to go home.

Again, I'm worried that I hit Azul 17 on an off night. There were flashes of flavor. Ironically, the $3 surprise was for a salsa sampler that highlighted the meal, offering a high-end contrast of fiery
habanero with a minty cilantro. But those were exceptions. Apparently, the kitchen was short-staffed. That's how they explained making four couples with 7 pm reservations sit in the entry and stare at a half-empty restaurant for 20 minutes and more. The hostesses were really nice when they said they would seat us when the kitchen could take our order. Next time, seat us, let us pay you for drinks, and maybe comp us an extra basket of chips to get through the delay.

But a short-staffed kitchen doesn't explain the problem dishes or the service. The Tuna Azul was seared tuna served with a bunch of cooked vegetables. Quite good if you cut a piece of tuna, then fork up with some onions and tomato and a dab of the sauce. But our food was dropped without comment, and I started with a fork swirled in what turned out to be caramelized onion. An unpleasant mouthful. In the same way, the chicken mole was a complete disappointment. Mole on a half-chicken sounds interesting. But we ended up butchering a chicken covered in a thin layer of mole. The layer turned the skin gooey, and it wasn't enough to actually flavor all the meat. I tried to politely butcher a leg and thigh. The meat was fine; the skin and
gristle were unfortunate. Mrs. HowChow started on the breast, but gave it up as bland and moved on to the three crispy, sweet plantains -- flavored perfectly, but not oily. That's a nugget of inspiration on a $19 plate next to chicken, some forgettable rice, and three corn tortillas that were cold and seemed to serve no purpose at all.

I have been thinking about not-so-great food recently because Howard County lost the Margherita Wars. The Pizzablogger instigated a humorous contest last month to compare pizza in DC and Baltimore. He has been too overwhelmed to post the results, but I'm sure that we didn't win because our mid-afternoon stop at Coal Fire turned up not-so-great pizza. (Click here for the Pizzablogger's Margarita War posts.) Okay pizza, but dried out in the super-hot oven. Everyone politely ate a slice, but the PB pointed out the problems and noted that he didn't see Steve, the general manager who had baked the pie that the PB raved about in June.

Coal Fire has kicked off the most divergent comments on HowChow -- some people rave; some seem enraged. At Coal Fire, I was thinking about why I wasn't enraged when Steve joined our table. The poor guy had just taken a little time away from the oven. One of his apprentices had dried out our pizza. Steve and the PB examined our leftovers and talked pizza particulars. Steve couldn't have been nicer. No excuses, and an entertaining description of his new challenge of making mozzarella so that Coal Fire can serve house-made cheese on every pie. That lunch emphasized to me how the best small restaurants balance on a handful of people with real aspirations. The motivated ones are working -- often every day of the week -- to turn out great food, and a single bad night can drive away an entire room of customers (or an unreasonable blogger).

Somehow, my response to Azul 17 comes back to my $70 bill. I have eaten great pizza at Coal Fire, and we'll go back again. In the same vein, I have overlooked minor failures at places on my "best of Howard County list" like Bon Fresco and Mango Grove. But Azul 17 is a place where most women wear high heels on a Saturday night and where the only items highlighted by our server were $50 tequila shots. I want Azul 17 to succeed. I love the space and the cool design. I love the aspirations of modern Mexican cuisine. But like Aida Bistro, Tersiguel's or Bistro Blanc, they set the bar high with both price and expectation.

The question, in the end, is how many chances you can afford to give a place that seems hit-or-miss.

If you want more about local restaurants, click here for the 2009 "best restaurants" in Howard County.

As I have said, I want Azul 17 to succeed, and we may have seen a bad night. The Sun's Elizabeth Large gave Azul 17 two-and-a-half stars yesterday in a review that I studiously didn't read until I had written my own post. Large shared my accolades for the tres leches cake and for the ceviche and the grilled cactus that we had on an earlier visit. She also loved the carnitas patria entree enough that I'll be certain to order it if we go back. I notice that Large didn't write about the tacos, which we ordered and were so unremarkable that I forgot to mention them in the post. The Sun's photo has two beautiful tacos. Ours were mushy and colorless. I wonder if ours were served without enough chopped vegetables.

Azul 17
9400 Snowden River Parkway
Columbia, MD

NEAR: This is on the right if you're driving south on Snowden River. It's in the second shopping center after Oakland Park Boulevard -- in the center with Akbar and Pho Dat Thahn and not in the one with House of India.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Chicken Tamales Outside The Panam Market

Last night, I went trolling around Laurel and found myself a little piece of Mexico.

I was thinking about dinner after grocery shopping in the Panam Supermarket near U.S. and Rt 198. Just outside the door was a woman with two large insulated drink containers and a stock pot in a shopping cart. At first, I didn't understand what she was saying because I'd just exhausted my Spanish in the checkout (and bought nine more limes mostly because I was so please to have understood that they were 12 for $1).

Then, I realized she was selling food. She spoke very softly, and the music leaked out of Panam's doors. "Something in Spanish. Something else in Spanish. Y tamales con pollo." That was clear to my ears, and it was dinner too.

For $1.25 each, the vendor pulled hot tamales, wrapped in aluminum foil and still hot from the steam. Tamales are basically a corn dough mixed with meat and spices and then steamed in a plantain leaf. These were delicious with an almost-creamy texture and the full corn taste of a great cornbread. But peppery, not sweet. The chicken and pepper gave the tamales a strong
flavor, but the real pleasure was the warm, firm corn. That's comfort food in any language.

I still don't know what else the woman was selling. One of the guys standing around seemed to be eating stew from a plastic container. That would be good as it gets cold.

Definitely check out the Panam for produce, especially Latin items like guavas, cactus pears, etc. It also has a large butcher with chorizos, pork, shrimp and even live tilapia. Facing the checkouts, Panam sells cold soft drinks, including Coca Cola and Fanta imported from Mexico. Some people swear by the Mexican recipes -- as the New York Times wrote last month. I think the small glass bottles are cool.

Panam Supermarket
111 Bowie Road
Laurel, MD 20707

NEAR: Panam is across the line into PG County just south of Rte 198 off the north-bound lanes of U.S. 1. You need to go a block south of Rte 198 on U.S. 1, then U-turn. Panam is in a shopping center set back from the road. This is the same shopping center as Laurel Health Food. Panam is on the far right set back pretty far from U.S. 1.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Comments About "The Best," Lassis, Beer Joints, and The Diamondback Tavern

Time to return to the comment box and flag some feedback that you might have missed. As always, I appreciate all the comments. I especially enjoy helping people answer questions, and there are many that I can't do right.

First, Trip Klaus asked whether anyone knows where in Gaithersburg the second Coal Fire pizzeria will open. I had heard about Gaithersburg, but I don't know the exact address.

Second, Emily asked where can she get a great reuben in Howard County. Chuck said Charter Deli in Columbia. Etucker said Joe's Place Deli off Snowden River. Anyone else? Anyone? I'm still looking at these and at the NY Deli on Snowden itself.

If you can't answer Trip Klaus or Emily, you can still peruse all these other comments from the past few weeks:
I've been there twice. I found the restaurant is better than the food, if that makes sense. The food wasn't bad, and I like their commitment to local ingredients, but I haven't found the food to be particularly memorable either. Below is the review I left on TripAdvisor after our first time:

"I was kind of nervous about the location, tucked onto a windy street in Ellicott City's historic Main Street, particularly since we had my elderly mother with us. But dropping her off proved to be no problem at all, nor was finding convenient parking in the lot across the street. The dining room was booked for a private event, but the bar area proved to be very pleasant and had roomy seating. Our server/bartender Dustin was very knowledgeable and charming throughout the evening. They have a good draft selection including popular and local favorites. My wife was pleased to see they had Scotch eggs and was sure to order some for an appetizer. My mother commented on the fresh onion rings and was informed that almost everything was made in house. My mother enjoyed her flaky fish and chips (is everybody serving them with just one large fillet now?) My wife really enjoyed her savory brisket sandwich. I wish I had enjoyed my meal. I ordered the Low Country Shrimp and Grits. The grits were buttery and had a good texture, but the shrimp had tough skin. Perhaps that is how they are supposed to come out in this particular dish, but I just felt like they had spent too long under a heat lamp. So my dish may not have been great, but when we go back next time, I'll order something else, because we enjoyed the entire experience enough that we want to spend more time exploring their menu."

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Mrs. HowChow's House Wine House Wine

We're wine people, but not really liquor people -- which makes it hard to be real wine people because we can't handle our liquor.

But we know what we like, and Mrs. HowChow discovered her new house wine House Wine at i.m. Wine. To say that again: That's her new favorite wine, a Washington State variety called House Wine with two giant words and little house on the label.

Mrs. HowChow went back for more Monday at i.m. Wine, the liquor store in Maple Lawn. She likes dry red wines, smooth dry red wines. She likes House Wine for the taste and for the cute label. We went through several bottles at my birthday party, and she bought more to serve some medical students when they come visit. Mrs. HowChow was so effusive that another customer picked up a bottle based on her recommendation. It's the casual kind of wine that it easy to serve to people.

i.m. Wine is a casual store where it is easy to get some advice. I'm a fan of the Perfect Pour's beer wall, and they're both places where you can good advice on everything from $10 picnic wine to expensive bottles to age for a special day.

(Update: House Wine comes from The Magnificent Wine Company in Mattawa, Washington.)

i.m. Wine
8180 Maple Lawn Boulevard
Fulton, MD 20759

NEAR: In the Maple Lawn commercial area off Rte 216 just west of Rte 29.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Taste of Laurel This Sunday

Free food! Free food! You can taste your way around Laurel in a free afternoon this weekend

The Laurel Historical Society hosts its second "Taste of Laurel" from 1:30p to 3:30p Sunday. You pick up free tickets at the Laurel Museum, and you can try dishes from the Main Street Bar & Grill, Mango's Grill, Red Hot & Blue, Aunt Susan's Kitchen, and more.

For more information, check in with the Laurel Historical Society. The Laurel Museum is a few blocks "up" from Rte 216 on Main Street -- the opposite side of Rte 216 from downtown.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Venegas Prime Filet - Coming This Month?

Venegas Prime Filet sits like a birthday gift -- wrapped up and waiting to be opened.

The steakhouse announced by the owner of Ranazul to replace oZ Chophouse in Maple Lawn still says on the door that it will open in November. On Sunday, the windows were still covered in paper, but the name -- first announced in September -- is posted on temporary signs above the doors.

Opening a restaurant is hard work, so I don't always expect them to open on time. But I'm looking forward to seeing Venegas Prime Filet, and I know that the new Azul 17 in Columbia had a soft open weeks ahead of the public announcement. Has anyone heard talk about when the grills will fire up in Fulton?

If you're looking for something new in Maple Lawn, the Sidamo Coffee & Tea opened last week across from Venegas and Ranazul. If you need a steak before Venegas opens, click my post about local meat markets so you can pick out your own.