Friday, April 30, 2010

Weekday Dim Sum Lunch At Asian Court

Weekdays at Asian Court lack the drama of the rolling carts, but the dim sum lunches offer all the flavor and some of the best Chinese eating around.

Asian Court in Ellicott City already stands out for its rolling-cart dim sum on weekends.  But we stopped there for a quiet lunch this week amid a day of painting and errands.  We bypassed the full menu for the small, yellow dim sum list, and we split a tasty, affordable lunch by picking three items that the kitchen cooked to order.

Steamed BBQ pork buns (#9) are Mrs. HowChow's absolute favorite, and Asian Court does a perfect version with a puffy bun wrapped around chopped pork.  We paired that with steamed dumplings with shrimp (#31) and the steamed sticky rice wrapped in lotus leaves (#23).  The sticky rice comes packed with some pork and sweet sausage, but the real star is the leaves' flavor steamed deep into the rice.  Asian Court offers 32 dim sum, and our three dishes were delicious.  None of the cloying glop that discourages me from most Chinese restaurants.  The shrimp was especially sweet and a revelation after my recent shrimp purchases have been tasteless (supermarket) or fishy (Trader Joe's).

Also, that's $11 for three dishes -- lunch for two, a feast for one, a real bargain and better than almost anything else if you need lunch on Rte 40.  (Skip the Diet Cokes.  We're addicts, but even we were taken aback that it's $2.50 per can -- almost as much as three pork buns.)  Hearty, warm food was perfect on a rainy, chilled afternoon, and we left with enough energy to get back on our ladder and paint.  More like the light feel of pho than some heavy BBQ lunch.

In 2009, Asian Court won a "Best of Baltimore" from the City Paper. Click here for my 2010 write-up of Chinese restaurants in Howard County.  If you want to explore Asian Court's neighborhood, check out my post about all the restaurants along Rte 40.

Asian Court
9180 Baltimore National Pike
Ellicott City, MD 21042

NEAR: This is on Rte 40 west of Rte 29. From Rte 29, you turn RIGHT into the Chatham Station Shopping Center and then right again into the shopping area with Asian Court, Goodyear Tire and Davis Cigars.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Fresh Almonds at Caspian

If you're looking for fresh almonds, they're available for now at the Caspian Supermarket in Ellicott City.

Fresh almonds are a Middle Eastern snack.  They're sour with the texture of unripe peaches.  New for me, but they're apparently a standard snack topped with salt.  A few grains of sea salt really improved the flavor, so bite off a little almond and dip the inside fruit in a little salt.  (Other people cook with them.)  Beautiful green color, and you crunch through the entire thing.  They're young enough that there is no nut inside, just a translucent disk where the nut would have matured.

I'll post more about Caspian, but the fresh almond season only runs a few more weeks.  Not my favorite find of all time, but I'm a sucker for seasonal stuff.  So run over now if you want to try them.

Caspian Supermarket
9191 Baltimore National Pike
Ellicott City, MD 21042-3933

NEAR:  Caspian is next to the Burger King on Rte 40 west of Rte 29.  It's the same building as Tutti Frutti.      From east-bound Rte 40, your turn in at the Burger King, then turn left and right so that you drive next to the drive-in lane.  Caspian is in the back facing the drive-in.

Nazar Going More Meat, Less Produce

The new Nazar Market is Columbia is bringing on the meats and dialing down the vegetables, according to HowICook.

Nazar opened just off Snowden River Parkway as a Middle Eastern market with Turkish concentration.  It opened as Nazar Produce Market, but the produce turned out to be less profitable than expected, the owners told HowICook.  Instead, HowICook reports that they have added a halal butcher:
The butcher is packaging the meat and putting it in the case next to the sausage. He's not good at labeling but one of the guys said wait a week or two when they really get going. The open air butcher and packaged meat is not what I'm use to at ethnic markets but it's cool. I still think this place has promise.
The new sign -- Nazar Market -- is up.  For more about Nazar, read my initial post and all the comments, including a long one from HowICook.  Don't leave with trying the soujouk to add to your scrambled eggs.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Honey Pig Gooldaegee Korean BBQ in Ellicott City

Everything is an open kitchen at the Honey Pig in Ellicott City, which has added a casual, boisterous barbecue to Howard County's deepest ethnic cuisine.

Everything is an open kitchen because everyone at Honey Pig grills their own meat.  This is a place to go for fun and meat.  It's a limited menu.  It's a modern, almost-industrial feel.  Tables fill with young people, and servers work the floor offering more meat, more kimchi, more soju.

Honey Pig is a great option for casual food.  It's a lower price point and a smaller menu than standards like Shin Chon Garden.  No bi bim bop, which is one of the dishes that I recommend for a Korean feast.  But that's the point.  Consider Honey Pig like a pizza joint or a burger spot.  You go for the house specialties and the casual vibe -- either an easy meal for the aficionado or a low-key introduction for people new to Korean barbecue.

I'm no expert, so I invited advice in a prior post asking "What Do You Order At Honey Pig?"  The consensus is that you need to start with the pork belly (samgyupsal) and either the brisket or kalbi.  Unfortunately, Honey Pig's service was so fast that I didn't have time to download my own blog page, so we ordered the thin-sliced pork belly and the bulgogi.  Say "yes" to the kimchi that they'll add to your grill. You'll get a small plate of panchan, the kimchi and small dishes.  You'll get a spicy red sauce for bulgogi and a two-sided dish with clear sauces to dip your pork belly.

You can't really go wrong with Korean barbecue.  It's thin-sliced meat.  You can tell raw from cooked.  Let them char, plus the Honey Pig servers will barbecue the meat for you.  They aren't all fluent in English, but they're happy to answer questions.  You can eat the meat straight with just dipping sauce.  You can get a rice bowl, then add little pieces of meat and kimchi to eat from the rice.  Mrs. HowChow and I like the plates of lettuce, and we make little rolls with lettuce, a piece of meat, some rice, some sauces.

Honey Pig offers that all, and next time, I'm trying the spicy pork and seafood recommended by Matthew.  Generally, I agreed with the comments that Honey Pig was less spicy than other Korean places.  The side dishes are smaller and less varied than full-menu restaurants.  But the meat was delicious, and Honey Pig is exciting because it's different.  Korean restaurants run on Rte 40 from Bethany Street to Catonsville, and they truly differ -- even to my uneducated eyes -- in ways that make Korean a broader range than any local ethnic food except for maybe Italian.  Shin Chon or Mirocjo for the barbecue feast.  Rainpia for fried chicken and a beer.  There are Chinese-Korean and cafeterias.  

Honey Pig fills the spot for the casual joint.   A small menu done well, done affordable for the young and the curious.  More Looney's or Eggspectations than Bistro Blanc or Aida Bistro.  Go get some pork belly and make yourself part of the fun.

(Update: I hear on Chowhound that Honey Pig now offers bi bim bap as well as the barbecued meat.)

I'd love someone to guest post about the special reasons to visit other Korean places.  We fall into the Shin Chon pattern.  What dishes or experiences should draw me away to Chum Churum, Yet Nal House, or some other place?

Check out Kevin's great comment about service at Korean restaurants -- pushing the point that you need to ask for items and not expect pre-emptive questions like you get from American waitresses.  Suddenly, it makes sense.  If you're looking for more about Korean food, check some of my prior posts about Shin Chon Garden, the fried chicken at Rainpia, or Bethany Seafood Restaurant.  Or check out all the posts about Korean food.

Honey Pig Korean BBQ
10045 Baltimore Pike (Rte 40) 
Ellicott City, MD 21042 

NEAR: Honey Pig is in the shopping center behind the Double T diner. From east-bound Rte 40, you turn right at the red sign for Quest Fitness and drive up hill. This is west of Rte 29 near the Soft Stuff ice cream stand and the Enchanted Forest shopping center.

 Honey Pig (Gooldaegee) on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Trolling: Trattoria de Enrico's Pizza, A Trifecta of Frozen Yogurt, And Homemade Potato Chips

Sherri and her fiance have just moved deeper into Columbia from King's Contrivance into Hickory Ridge.   She submitted the first "trolling and pimping" post, and she started it off simply with her favorite pizza, her favorite dessert, and a spot for homemade potato chips and her favorite beer.  These "trolling" posts are meant to give you opinions other than my own, although I am linking to my prior posts if you want more.
The pizza at Trattoria de Enrico in Columbia: As a couple from a little farther north, it's tough to find pizza that reminds us of home, but the pizza at Trattoria de Enrico really makes us happy. The crust is crisp and chewy in all the right places, the way my mom always said they can only make in New York City because of the city's public water.  (She may be making that up, but it's my mom, I have to believe her . . .)  The sauce isn't too sweet, and the amount of cheese is juuuust right. The trip is more than a 30-second drive now, but it's more than worth the seven minutes to King's Contrivance.  I haven't had pizza this good since I was a kid!
Dessert at Tutti Frutti: I cannot get enough of this stuff, not the yogurt, not the mochi. I mix a trifecta of green tea, original tart and death by chocolate. I don't really like when my flavors interact, but I manage to eat the stuff so fast that they don't really have the opportunity to mingle too much. I top the chocolate with almonds, I top the tart and the green tea with mochi and more mochi. It's a good thing this place is "all the way" in Ellicott City because I've been there three times in 10 days. If it was closer, I'd have to buy new pants.
LeeLynn's in Columbia: When my book club meets at LeeLynn's near Dorsey's Search, my first order is the homemade potato chips. They're crunchy kettle style chips tossed with herbs and served with a chipotle ranch sauce. I follow that up with the chicken satay, an inexpensive yet filling five skewers of chicken doused in the best peanut sauce I've ever had. LeeLynn's is also one of the few places that has Rising Moon, Blue Moon's spring seasonal, and my favorite beer, on tap in the spring.
Trolling on Tuesday is my attempt at a series where readers would 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.  

Monday, April 26, 2010

Schorr's Pickles at David's Natural Market

Special sandwiches deserve special pickles, and I'm captivated by the Schorr's Pickles at David's Natural Market in Columbia.

They may be available at the other Howard County organic groceries, but they're worth a drive wherever you have to go.  They're clean, fresh cucumbers turned into crisp pickles.  Hard for me to translate into words.  They're fresh, clearly pickled but still tasting more like vegetables than even the best supermarket spears.  They remind me of the pickle bar at Harold's in Edison -- the greatest compliment that I can pay to any Jewish-style deli food.

Pair Schorr's Pickles with a takeout corned beef sandwich from New York Deli in Columbia.  Or improve your grilling with pickles and a burger made from Laurel Meat Market's ground chuck.

If you are considering a stop at David's, check out all my prior posts about things to try.  Also check of Kevin & Ann Eat Everything where Kevin posted about David's lunch counter.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Link: Shaw Farm In The Sun

The Sun profiled Brian Hughes of Shaw Farm in Columbia as part of its Earth Day coverage yesterday.

Hat tip to Tales of Two Cities, which posted about the article yesterday.  Shaw Farm is one of the local options for CSAs, but it is so established and popular that it already sold out its shares.  You can sign up for the waiting list.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Moby Dick Coming to Columbia?

The Moby Dick kabob chain may be expanding into Columbia, according to Marcia who emailed me after her husband saw a sign at the Moby Dick in Olney.

One of the workers told Marcia's husband that the Columbia location was near the Wal-Mart.  Presumably, that means somewhere near Dobbin Road and Rte 175.  Last week, I posted about an online real estate ad offering slots at the Dobbin Center, and Patrick posted a comment pointed out the specific stores that appear up for lease.

Howard County Food on Facebook

I have updated the HowChow Facebook page with "favorite pages" wherever I could find local restaurants with Facebook pages.

Several people gave me suggestions, but I pulled half from the Facebook page of real estate agent Alicyn DelZoppo, who clearly knows her way around Howard County food.  (Alicyn also has two recent house listings if you're looking to move here for the cuisine.)

My Facebook search skills are pretty basic, so I'm still looking for the links to the pages for Soft Serve, Facci and El Azteca.  Or for any other restaurant that I'm missing.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Lessons From Portalli's: What I Learned From A Night On The Other Side Of The Table

I realized how much I like sitting down somewhere around the 10th time that we pushed through the swinging doors into the clatter of Portalli's kitchen.

Chairs are a big part of my restaurant experience.  I get a chair every time.  I sit, and everyone comes to me.  That was until I took Lee Biars' offer to spend a night watching a restaurant from the other side.  He amused himself challenging folks who write about food to see how it is actually made.  That glimpse had me shadowing a waitressing pro from Portalli's sedate dining room into the bright lights, big pressure of the restaurant's kitchen.

My lesson from the night:  Restaurants are a business for the young.  Everything else was questions.

How did it get so bright in here?

Eating is easy.  Everything else in a restaurant is harder than it seemed.   I'd never noticed that waitresses run between the quiet clink of the dining room and a noisy, bright kitchen.  Portalli's kitchen is tiny.  There is no chaos -- at least not on the relatively quiet Good Friday when I visited -- but it's busy and bright and constantly overseen by screens counting the time since every dish had been ordered.

I want the kitchen to deliver my food at the perfect moment.  But I don't want waiters running around or arriving covered with sweat.  I hadn't noticed the tension until I followed a veteran server named Sara as she wove from the dining room through the swinging door -- call out "coming in" or risk having the door jammed into your face -- through the kitchen -- squeeze past the runner assembling a tray of entrees -- and back into the dark of the bar -- be good to the bartender because he is filling your orders while serving diners himself.

On a busy night, Sara said, you pause to assemble yourself before you walk back to the diners.  Or you wipe off the sweat when the nights get worse.  Lee's original idea was that I would actually do jobs at Portalli's -- host for an hour, run food for an hour, bus tables for an hour . . .   Lee was insane.  I would have ruined some nice person's night or at least some nice waiter's tips.  Every meal in Portalli's main dining room is carried up a flight, then has to cross a down-a-step, then up-a-step threshold that looks like it was designed to trip contestants on a reality show.

The whole feel of a restaurant changes when you stand the whole time.  I noticed the lights, the noise, the computer.  (Heavens, I eat out to escape the computer!)  I watched the runner going with bread, the hostess at her computer, the way servers deal with 20 people at once where I'm normally focused on my wife or a few friends.

Who is coming to dinner?

Every restaurant has answered 100 questions that I never realized to ask.  Who says hello?  What do they say?  Who delivers food -- the waiter or dedicated runners?  When do you clear -- as soon as each diner finishes or only once everyone is done?  Do you track each meal by the seat of the person who ordered?  At Portalli's, waiters key each seat into the computer.  Runners serve the food without asking "Who ordered meatballs?" It's subtle, but it is a classy touch not to "auction" off the food when it arrives.  How long do you plan on people to stay?  My favorite nugget of the night:  Valentine's Day diners eat fast.  They're in and out -- like they have somewhere to go.

The key question:  Who do we think will show up tonight?  That estimate dictates how many people work, how much food is on hand.  Good Friday during Passover turns out to be slow for a restaurant selling meat and pasta.  None of us thought about that before.

Portalli's runs its reservations through Open Table.  A free Web site for diners.  A software gem for restaurants, who use reservations to predict crowds and who use Open Table to actually pre-assign a table to each guest.  On my visit, they were planning a night when they'd have two large parties -- including a 90-year-old's birthday that could not be upstairs in the main dining room.  Lee also saw a regular on the list, so he had someone run up to Diamondback Tavern -- their casual joint on Old Columbia Pike -- to get a shepherd's pie that he knew that she loved.

Are they done yet?

When I go to dinner, I know exactly what I want from the night.  I know if this is a quick bite or a long celebration.  I know if we're drinking, if we came to order an old favorite, or if we want to explore the menu for a long time.

Standing in Portalli's dining room, I realized that I didn't know anything about the people who Sarah was trying to serve.  Do they want to talk detail about the wines or be left alone?  Do they want another drink?  Are they done with that meal?  Everyone acts different.  Everyone is different.  Sarah has a few tricks -- like standing the check holder on the table so that she can tell from across the room when they have added their credit card and laid it down -- but mostly, she was figuring out strangers on the fly.  Trying to be there when they needed something, but never rush them along.  It's like endless first dates.

What is going to go wrong today?

I try not to be overly criticall.  I'm pretty empathetic, and I eat out to relax, not to whip myself into tension about the perfect meal.  (We gasped last weekend at a different restaurant when the neighboring table sent back their wine because it wasn't as fruity as they had expected.  Really?  You think the restaurant owes you a second bottle of wine?)  But I am even-more aware now of how much restaurants can't control.

It's a crazy business where snow wipes out 12 days in your first winter, including four Saturdays when you figure in Christmas.  On my night, a Portalli's employee fell so suddenly ill that he ended up in the hospital.  Everyone else picked up that role, and I don't think any diners noticed at all.

How was the food?

I really enjoyed Portalli's food.  Mostly, I spent the night talking to Sara, other servers, Lee, and Lee's partner Evan.  But I tried a great summer cocktail with Firefly sweet tea vodka and San Pelligrino Limonata, and I sampled a meatball that Lee and Evan had cooked after a diner had complained.  (Tasted delicious to me.)  And I eventually joined Mrs. HowChow and our friends with a plate of scallops and risotto of my own. They had been chuckling as I walked behind Sarah with my hands nervously clasped behind my back.

I'm a fan of those scallops, and my folks enjoyed their meals and a table of desserts that we shared.  Great cannoli, and I loved the puff pastry.  Portalli's kicked up some comments when it first opened last year.  It's a fine dining place with fine dining prices so people expect more than a neighborhood joint.  Lee said that they're listening.  He served at Charleston, and his partners came out of the Greystone Grill operations so this isn't new.  They're training on all those little decisions about cooking, serving, clearing, etc.  They even won over one of the folks who posted one of the original negative comments.

And they certainly won me over.  It was fun to see a restaurant from the other side.  Now, I'm going to sit down.

(Correction: There was a reference above that said "Facci's dining room" instead of "Portalli's dining room."  Comments below caught it.  As noted, I was distracted from the error by my supposed job.  And my proof-reader didn't notice either.)

Thanks especially to Sara who just had her boss announce that you're going to be followed around by a blogger.  That sounds like a night to paraphrase King Julien XIII: "Hello freak!"  Hope it wasn't too bad.  I was horrified to learn that Sarah read HowChow before and recognized one of the commenters as complaining -- unfairly she thought -- about a meal she had served.  Thanks also to Lee, Evan and everyone else at Portalli's who talked to me and walked me around.  You can follow Portalli's on Twitter or on Facebook.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Trolling: Fish Noodles, Samurai Roll, And The First Snowball of The Summer

I'm trying to start a "Trolling" series where people share three food items that they love.  If people take up the call, then I'll introduce them with a few sentences.  Then, I'll list the three items that they want to pimp -- like this:
Fish noodles at Grace Garden:  Firm noodles made of ground fish.  Sauced and flavored in a way that I love, but I could never make at home.  Fish noodles and pork belly make me always ready to eat at Grace Garden in Odenton
Samurai Roll at Sushi King.  A tempura shrimp, wrapped in a roll and topped with tuna, fish eggs and a chef's sauce.  It's an expensive treat, but it's all the crunch, fish and flavor that makes me love the unusual rolls at Sushi King in Columbia.  Always ask about their specials.  Try to reserve one of the two private rooms.
The first snowball of the summer:  Summer fills you with fresh vegetables so that your body won't mind a snowball or two.  Shaved ice, squirts of artificial flavor.  It's simple.  It's fun.  It's the way that summer should be -- check out Shaved Ice in Clarksville, the KyKy's trailer on Rte 103 in Ellicott City, or the Original Snowball Stand in Woodstock.  Or open your own.
Trolling on Tuesday is my attempt at a series where readers would 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.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Community Supported Agriculture in Howard County -- The 2010 Version Now That I'm Signed Up

Okay, people.  I signed up for my "community support agriculture" last week so now I can write without worry that you'll push me aside.

I posted about CSAs in 2009, then couldn't get a slot with South Mountain Veggies because there was so much demand.  (Not from HowChow.  Other demand.)  This month, I saw a comment by Jessie X -- the mentor of Howard County blogging and mastermind of Hoco Blogs-- about her friend who grew up in Columbia, ran a co-op, managed a catering business and was now going to run a CSA with drop-off at Jessie's home.

Jessie X emailed me that her friend was "making a go of it with her sweetheart to create a lifestyle and business on the value of locally-sourced food."  Remember that Jessie is in marketing.  She hooked me.  I signed the check.  And, then, I read the Buckland Farm blog and learned that Jessie had meant to say that Dan and Carrie have never done this before.  They just got the farm in January.  They still haven't put seeds in the ground.  Jessie sells a good story, but let's summarize the lesson: Blogs are your source for truth.

All joking aside, I'm sold on Buckland Farm's CSA.  CSAs are about giving up control.  Farmers pick what to plant.  Weather dictate what thrives.  RDAdoc and I will just grab our bags from Jessie's porch and go home to find new recipes.  I love being part of Buckland's first year, particularly because they're focusing on unusual varieties.  (Plus, they have cool chickens, see on Jessie's blog.)  If you want to join, you can check out the Buckland Farm CSA Web page.

If you want other options, you can check out other CSAs near Columbia or Ellicott City.   With some variations, the basic idea is that farms or groups sell "shares" that entitle you to a piece of the harvest. You get the produce when it comes ripe. Most CSAs are organic (or at least don't use pesticides even if they aren't certified yet). All are aimed to support local farms. So it's not the cheapest way to buy vegetables -- but it's a way that gives you product that never saw a refrigerated warehouse and is probably a few days (or hours) out of the field.
  • Gorman Farm in Laurel runs a CSA.  Last week, they were full and taking names for a waiting list.   You pick up your box on Thursdays or Fridays.  They also sell from a roadside stand, although they haven't decided on 2010 hours yet.
  • One Straw Farm runs a large CSA and one of its drop-offs is the My Organic Market in Jessup. Their season runs from June to November.
  • Breezy Willow Farm appears to run a CSA with pick ups at the farm in West Friendship.  They also have pickups at the Miller and Elkridge libraries, Fulton Elementary, and Sinai Hospital.
  • South Mountain Veggies created a new option for 2009 because they deliver boxes of vegetables to your home. This family brought you South Mountain Creamery, which delivers dairy products and sold its milk, cream and cheese at the Saturday farmers market in Cooksville. They're buying produce from local farms and then delivering to customers. Last year, they had limited slots.  I can't tell from the Web site, but it seems like they have expanded.
  • Shaw Farm in Columbia also sold out its 2010 CSA.  You can be added to their mailing list.
All these options are aimed at people who want to cook vegetables. This isn't the potatoes, tomatoes and green beans that you buy 52-weeks-a-year in a supermarket. This will be whatever is ripe now, and there are tons of blogs where people talk about their CSAs, share recipes for unfamiliar produce, and chat about whether it was worth the investment -- like this and this and Nina's local Yet Another Food Blog. If you try one, buy a copy of How To Cook Everything Vegetarian by Mark Bittman or Vegetables Every Day by Jack Bishop. Those are my bibles when I have a vegetable and need a recipe to cook right away.

If you commute south, you might want to look at the Sandy Spring CSA, which has a pickup place in Sandy Spring on Wednesday.

Please post below if you have any experience with local CSAs or know of some that I missed.  I'm thinking about a series seeking updates about people's 2010 CSA experiences.  If you're new to HowChow, check out my post about Vegetable Shopping in Howard County or my posts about the local farmers markets.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Link: Iron Bridge Wine Co. Has A Fire, And You Could Help By Getting A Little Tipsy

HoCo Rising is leading an alcohol-based fire brigade to help out Iron Bridge Wine Co. in Columbia.

The restaurant / wine store had a fire at one of its auxiliary buildings on Wednesday.  They don't need help extinguishing the fire.  But HoCo Rising noted that they were closed for food on Thursday, so they could certainly use your patronage -- either buying some wine or going for dinner now that they're re-opened.

Two New Howard County Farmers Markets For 2010

Howard County will have five farmers markets for 2010 with two new ones opening at the Miller Branch library and Howard County General Hospital, according to the markets' Facebook page.

The established markets at the East Columbia library (Thursday afternoon), Glenwood library (Saturday morning) and Oakland Mills Village Center (Sunday morning) should open in May 2010.  The two new markets will open in June.

I'll post more about the farmers markets as the season starts.  Click here for my 2009 summary post about the markets.  Click here for all my posts about the markets.

Parking Lot Cafes 2010: Eat And Watch Your Car

I don't like to just throw around the term "My Contribution To World Civilization," so let's just say that the post about "parking lot cafes" is my favorite HowChow idea to date.

Last spring, I pointed out that Paris has sidewalk tables, DC has rooftop dining and country inns nestle you in gardens.  But Howard County has it's own indigenous experience for al fresco dining:  The parking lot cafe.

Victoria Gastropub offers a perfect example of the parking lot cafe.  A patio seat to enjoy dinner on warm, breezy night -- and a view of your car.  This isn't a view of the street.  This is a restauranteur that knows we like their food, but we love our cars.  So we want to be close.  Close enough that the key fob can unlock your car from your seat.  This is le cuisine voiture.

The May 2009 post introduced the term and listed a half dozen places where you could dine and watch the waves of automobiles crest upon the parking lot.  Maiwand Kabob's two tables overlook cars to the horizon.  Mad City Coffee almost lets you put your feet up on your bumper as you sip your brew.  Another year of observation has turned up new examples to show our dominance of this oh-so-American way to dine:

  • Strapazza in Columbia had seats last year that looked across the parking lot at Rte 108.  The view was free as was the live jazz on Friday and Saturday nights.
  • The new Sidamo coffee shop in Fulton just put out tables and chairs.  A few are, unfortunately, aimed at Maple Lawn Boulevard, so the parking that you see is uncomfortable far away on the other side of the development.  But the tables near the front door cover the Looney's lot where you can park.
  • Facci mirrored La Palapa Too in their shopping center on Johns Hopkins Road.  We can disagree whether that neighborhood should be called Laurel, Scaggsville or Fulton.  But you have to admit that it's exciting to be able to choose which part of the parking lot you want to watch.  (Plus, the new patio offers a few extra seats in a crowded restaurant, and Facci did it up in style with landscaping.)

But the revelation of the "parking lot cafe" post was that other people joined in the fun.  They proposed their own places, and many got in on the joke.  Rdonoghue talked up Donna's on Rte 108 and notes that "on a clear day" you can see all the way to Eggspectations.  BillZ noted that River Hill Grille let you eat, watch your car, and see the Columbia Gym where you should be working out.

So what others can you suggest?  A place where you can sit outside and see the parking lot.  Extra points if you can touch a car.  Funny comments are always appreciated.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Link: Pure Wine Cafe in Ellicott City

Pure Wine Cafe is on my list of places to try, but Harriet from the Food & Wine Blog got her first for a wine lesson.  She describes the wine selections and talks up a cheese and charcuterie plate that is going to make this the next new place that I try.

Overseas Sodas In Your Backyard

Soda from around the world is available in your backyard.  It makes for a fun grab if you check out ethnic markets, and I feel like there is a cool idea that I haven't worked out yet.

I'm not talking about gourmet Tommy's Naked Soda at David's Natural Market or the retro McCutcheon's sarsaparilla at Larriland Farm.

This is just soda.  Colas, fruit sodas, the Indian knock-off of Sprite.   These are the assembly-line soft drinks from other countries.  Exotic mostly because of the label not the flavor -- although the tamarind drinks from Mexico can be pretty unusual and somewhere we approach carbonated yogurt soft drinks, which are the only HowChow "find" that I actually can't stomach.

But back to the soda.  Sitting here, I can think of sources for soda from Mexico, India, Turkey, and Japan.  The Mexican is pretty common, both at Mexican carryouts like R&R Deli in Jessup and at markets like Lily's Mexican Market in Columbia.  The Jarritos brand is pretty common and great with a taco lunch.  The Indian varieties don't seem to reach the restaurants, but they're common on the market shelves at places like Food Cravings in Columbia and Eastern Bazar in Laurel.

Limca was one of my first introductions to foreign sodas.  Post-college, we visited my friend's family (and some great Indian sites), and I remember standing at the vendor's stall drinking lemon-lime soda from a straw.  The glass bottles were refilled, so you couldn't just walk away.  I stumbled on those same glass bottles of Limca and Thumb's Up cola at Desi Bazar in Columbia.  A $1 trip back 20 years.

Since then, I grab a soda at new places.  My current find is Uludag orange soda from Turkey, which I picked up at Nazar Produce in Columbia.  It's orange soda.   Good, but mostly interesting for the label and because it's thicker, slightly less carbonated.  It's nothing as exotic as the ramune drinks you can get at Japanese restaurants or the H Mart.

For now, I tend to drink these as a treat, maybe with a sandwich for lunch.  I feel like there is some cool idea just over the horizon -- some kind of theme party or maybe a way to use an unusual soda in a mixed drink.  Not that you need a new use, but I'd love suggestions about other brands or other uses for the foreign drinks.

(Update: Check out the comment below from Trevor-Peter about D&G Ginger Beer.  That's Jamaican soda, and I used to buy a variety at the now-closed Julie's International Market.  That is another interesting alternative like the tamarind.)

The one real effort that people seem to make is to find Mexican Coke or Pepsi.  I have seen both at Lily's or at Panam Supermarket in Laurel.  Supposedly, Mexican bottlers use cane sugar instead of corn syrup.  Some people prefer the taste.  Or just the hype.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

What Do You Order At Honey Pig? Or Shin Chon?

I still haven't been to Honey Pig 2 in Ellicott City, but AGussman posted a question that I thought should be answered before I get to try Ellicott City's newest Korean BBQ:  "This sounds like a cool place, but I'm completely unfamiliar with Korean BBQ.  Does anyone have recommendations what to try?"

Personally, I have some recommendations.  As I said in a Shin Chon Garden post, we tend to order either bulgogi or kalbi and the dolset bi bim bop.  That's barbecued meat and a stone bowl of mixed rice, vegetables and a little meat.  If we can work up a group, we order the feast where you get a couple meats to grill yourself and augment with that bi bim bop.  Either way, you get a table full of panchan -- the little bowls of vegetables, tofu, shredded meat, and other side dishes that make Korean so spectacular.

But I'm no expert on Korean food.  Yelp seems full of young people who grew up with Korean cuisine, and I have loved reviews like AK J's live lobster sashimi post about Bethany Seafood Restaurant.  I'd love if anyone wants to answer AGussman's question in the comments.  What do you think makes a good introduction to Korean food?  What do people miss when they stick to the tried and true?  Anything special at Honey Pig?  Please comment below.

(Update I: I inspired myself to go to Honey Pig.  I'll post later, but I my big discovery is that this is a limited menu.  It's great, but you can't get the dolset bi bim bop that I mentioned above.  My advice for a beginner at Honey Pig is to order a thin-sliced pork belly and the bulgogi.  As Lee says in the comments, you can order anything.  You pick a meat.  They grill it in front of you.  You can't go wrong.  I'm just starting with basics.  I'll add more later.)

(Update II: Check out the photos and post on This Is Gonna Be Good.  Spectacular photos.  These folks aren't running around my little cell phone camera.)

(Update III: My full review of Honey Pig is now up.)

My real advice is that you ask for help.  Shin Chon Garden has always been wonderful to us.  The first few times, I asked for help knowing when the meat was grilled, and the waitresses showed us exactly what to do.  I pointed out the rice noodle wrappers, and the manager explained them.  You might hit a few people with limited English, but you're just as likely to find a waiter who grew up in Howard County and has been explaining Korean food to non-Koreans for 20 years like the guy who explained the great fried chicken at Rainpia.  If you like vegetables, meat and pickles -- and especially if you like some spice, then you could happily eat for years in Korean restaurants.

Comments About Facci, Halal Foodies, And Union Jack's

The rate of comments has increased so much that I'm not keeping up as well as I did before.  (Thirteen comments on a post about potato salad!)  But I still love them.  I appreciate people's time, and I really appreciate when people can talk -- and disagree -- without devolving into Internet nastiness.

A quick link to the Sun's Facci review kicked off 25+ comments.  The worst look like plants, but Rida, K8teebug, DanaSr, Chrysalis and others gave detailed reports on their experiences.  Then YumPo and Anonymous had an extended exchange about food blogs and diner's expectations.  On the actual food, I'm listening to the Pizzablogger, who says the pies have improved.  On the parking, I'm wondering about Renfield1969's suggestion that there is parking "just across and down the street via a connected sidewalk."  Where is that?

A comment originally tipped me to the new Red Pearl planned for the old Jesse Wong's Hong Kong space in Columbia.  Then, Kristi and Dzoey posted about meals at the two restaurants owned by the people opening Red Pearl.  Kristi has eaten at Far East in Rockville -- and says they have a "secret Chinese menu" and lots of food that she likes.
This is a restaurant where you can get the most Americanized dishes or the most authentic, but it will depend on your knowledge of Chinese dishes. Obviously if you go in and order the General Tso’s chicken or Orange chicken, it’s going to be Americanized. But choose one of the vegetable or seafood dishes, and you’re more likely to get a different sauce than you’re used to.
Nazar Produce has opened the first Turkish market around -- a broad array of Middle Eastern items, but a focus on Turkish stuff.  HowICook gave some great suggestions about items to buy and a cookbook to try them out.  Then two Anonymouses shared what seems like some experienced advice.  The first noted that halal beef cuts can be limited and that Nazar sells rib-eye and filet mignon.  The second said the baklava -- which I think it superb -- qualifies in his/her mind as average at best.  (If you're the first Anonymous, please email me because I would love a guest post aimed at Halal foodies. Someone else pointed out that the re-born Dobbin Donuts and Kabob Korner will have halal deli -- "It's very hard to find a halal roast beef sub.")

And there's more.  Definitely check out some comments, which have good information and might lead to old posts.  This isn't a comprehensive list, but I'm trying to highlight some recent ones that are worth the click:

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Baja Fresh in Dobbin Center: News?

An anonymous comment highlighted an online real estate ad that appears to be offering several slots at the Dobbin Center with the Wal-Mart in Columbia.

The comment says that one of the spots is the Baja Fresh.  Can anyone confirm?  Can anyone identify the stores referenced in the ad? I overlooked this a few weeks ago.

Trolling: Indian Fish, Ethiopian Coffee, and Snacking On Rte 175 After Errands

I guess that I am HowChow.  I never actually said that I was "HowChow."  Blogger signs my posts that way, but I always thought of that as "blog owner" not a name.  Then I started mentioning "Mrs. HowChow," and the emails arrived addressed to "Mr. HowChow."

I spend some free time trolling Howard County for places to add spin and then pimp them on this Web site.    Guilty as charged.  What can I say?  I'm just curious.  Now, I'm hoping to start "Trolling on Tuesday" and invite you to share three things with other people looking for good food in Howard County.  Below is an explanation of the trolling project.  This is my first attempt at examples to follow:
Fish Angaar at House of India in Columbia.  A whole rockfish cooked in the tandoor over, served beautifully with charred skin and a delicious sauce laced with ginger.  The fish is moist and flavorful, and you use tongs to lift the fillets off the bone.  Then pick the delicious meat up near the head.  House of India is a real treat.
Yhrgacheffee coffee at Sidamo Coffee in Fulton.  I like bold, but not bitter coffee, and Sidamo's Ethiopian variety makes delicious cups.  Strong flavor.  No need for sugar.  At $12 a pound, it's pricey, but the steady jolt to my morning.  Sidamo offers a full coffee shop menu on Rte 216, but the whole beans are worth the trip.
Snacking after errands on Rte 175.  I always need something at Lowe's -- home repair, gardening, cleaning supplies.  You probably go to Costco or Target or Petco.  So reward yourself with a snack on your way to the next errand.  East on Rte 175, stop for tacos at R&R Deli or empanadas at El Patio Market.  South on Snowden, check out Bon Fresco's sandwiches.  South on Dobbin, get an Oh What A Cake cupcake.  West on Rte 175, consider circling around the mall to buy fish -- okay, not really a snack -- at Today's Catch.
Trolling on Tuesday is my attempt at a series where readers would share three things with other HowChow readers -- favorite restaurant dishes, food to buy, food experiences, etc.  Click here for the explanation and the rules.  Click here for all the Trolling posts.  Anyone is allowed to submit.

Trolling & Pimping: Come Write For HowChow

HowChow is a hobby.  I have written a few times that I blog because it inspires me to find good food.  It's also great fun to email with or see comments from people who have also moved beyond the "Howard County only has chains" meme and found some local food worth giving a try.

I'm looking for help from those people.

I'd like to start a regular (weekly?) series where I post short lists of three cool things that you want to share with HowChow readers.  Three small things.  A dish you love at your favorite restaurant.  A find you made at some market.  A food experience -- like "Maiwand Kabob and Rita's on a warm summer night" -- that you really enjoy.  You write 3-4 sentences about each.  You attach a passable photo of one of the items.  You email me with maybe two sentences about yourself and the name that you want to use in the post.

I'm going to post a few to give people the idea of the format.  Format matters.  Don't write a review.  Write the name of your thing, then specific advice about what to order/buy and why.  Look at the style of my "Best Food Experiences" post.  Funny is great.  Creative is great.  Two sentences about why you love some item or experience are perfect.  Vague comments that spit out a restaurant's marketing materials are uninteresting.  Nasty or negative will just be deleted.

I embraced the concept of "trolling and pimping" after someone got an anonymous nuclear wedgie about my post about "Dobbin Donuts & Kabob Korner."  Yes, I troll Howard County looking for new food onto which I can put a little spin.  Then, I pimp them on HowChow.  It's a hobby, and now you can troll and pimp as well.

The Rules: 1) The three items should be in or very near Howard County.  2) You can't use the name "Anonymous."  You can use anything else.  First names or funny pseudonyms are fine.  I'd love if you use your Blogger nickname so that people can identify your comments even if they don't know who you.  3) You have to tell me -- and disclose in the piece -- if you have any connection to one of the places.  Just say, "XXX, where I work" or "XXX, which is owned by my friend Janet."  The connection is fine, buy you have to pimp two other places along with your own.  4) To submit, you email your three items and a photo -- knowing that they'll be posted on HowChow and out of your control.

This idea was inspired by Metrocurean's Five Bites series in which Amanda has a reader recommend five great restaurant dishes.  I want your favorite restaurant dishes, but I'd love a little more broadly -- the place you take your in-laws for brunch, the place your kids love, the place to watch football or English soccer, a "dinner and dessert" combo like Maiwand/Rita's or Rainpia/Tutti Frutti.  Bloggers or Yelp posters are absolutely encouraged, and I'll link to your blog or Yelp profile just like Metrocurean did for me.  Click here for all the Trolling posts.  

(Update: The comments below won't make sense unless you realize that "got an anonymous atomic nuclear wedgie" above was originally "got their anonymous panties in a bunch.")

Monday, April 12, 2010

Link: BBG Says T Bonz Is One Of The Top Beer Bars

T-Bonz Grille & Pub in Ellicott City has turned itself into one of the best beer bars in Howard County, according to the Baltimore Beer Guy -- my source on the subject: 
Hidden gem T-Bonz in Ellicott City keeps doing good things. So many, in fact, that I've had to adjust my Howard County beer stratification to include them. Gone is the Holy Trinity, arrived is the Big Four, the Mighty Rectangle of Liquid Delight the ... anything to do with four, basically. T-Bonz has ascended and can now safely join Frisco Grille, Victoria Gastro Pub and The Judges Bench as craft beer elite in Howard County.
I stumbled on T-Bonz two years ago and thought it would be a great place to watch the NFL.  The BBG writes about improvements that T-Bonz has made, including 12 craft beer taps (with more planned), an updated Website, and special events.  There is also talk of May 22 pub crawl with a bus stopping at all of the BBG's top four. 

This announcement means that I need to update my post about Beer in Howard County.

Mediterranean Kabob in Laurel

There are times when a casual dinner can make all the difference in the world, when you just want some fresh bread, a little grilled meat, some flavor that you don't have to whip up with your own hands.

For example, imagine that you come home every night on the MARC to Laurel.  And imagine that your wife is, say, an orthopedic surgery resident at the University of Maryland.  She is sleeping at the hospital every third night, so you're driving home wondering what you should do for dinner.

Well -- David, yes you David -- you should stop at the Mediterranean Kabob on U.S. 1 just north of Main Street and just over the line in Howard County.  Casual place with counter service and a basic menu of grilled meats.  Kabobs, gyros, side dishes and rice.

It's a basic version of Maiwand Kabob.  Mediterranean doesn't have the vegetables side dishes that make Maiwand one of my Top 10 restaurants, but it's a friendly place that serves a nice sandwich.  I have had the kabobs and the gyro.  Both times, they met my expectations -- delicious grilled meat, crisp fresh bread, and none of the overwhelming grease that comes on cheap gyros.  Gyros rely on fatty ground meat.  It might be dinner that you don't mention to your wife the doctor.  But the good ones leave you satisfied without feeling gross, and Mediterranean kabob threads the skewer right down the middle.

While you're at Mediterranean, consider the kabob-e-kubideh.  I haven't tried it yet, but Shaheen emailed me to talk up that ground beef kabob, the gyro and the baklava.  He and I also hope that there will be outdoor seating in the courtyard outside the front door.  It isn't scenic, but it's relatively peaceful and certainly qualifies as a parking lot cafe.

There is one wild card here: Mediterranean may have completed changed.  I pulled a link from Yelp because you should read the review by Su K., who talks up chicken kabobs in the funny, substantive style that makes him one of my favorites.  The review below Su K.'s said Mediterranean Kabob had hired a new chef in February -- a Thai woman who had added spring rolls and Asian chicken.  That sounded spectacular until I actually emailed with Teacherme, who said new management took over since that review.  Different managers?  Different chef? Totally different place?

Well, David, you'll have to check it out and let me know.

If you're checking out Mediterranean Kabob, you'll probably drive past a bunch of other great food.  I wrote two "tours" that run you past cool places -- one along U.S. 1: The Foodie Frontier and one of southern Howard County that runs through Main Street Laurel.

Mediterranean Kabob
10095 Washington Blvd, Ste 107
Laurel, MD 20723
(301) 498-5000

NEAR:  Mediterranean Kabob is in the ground floor of one of the new apartment buildings in the middle of U.S. 1 just north of downtown Laurel.  One entrance faces the northbound lanes, and another entrance faces the central courtyard where there is parking.

Mediterranean Kabob on Urbanspoon

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Link: B More Sweet Goes To Charleston

OK, Charleston isn't in Howard County or a place to visit often, but it is a place to dream about -- and perfect for a food blogger.

The B More Sweet blog is one my favorites for the writing and for the photographs.  She covers her own baking (like this) and places where you can buy your own (like this).  You have to be a little subtle at Charleston, so she took her backup camera to record her dinner.  Still better than most of the shots that I post, and it's a great description of the sweets of Cindy Wolf.

B More Sweet taught me to love Touche Touchet in Columbia.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Link: Facci Gets Written Up By The Sun

The Sun's review of Facci went up on the Web today -- and should be in the newspaper Sunday -- as JJ alerted me.

I'd suggest that you go tomorrow to beat the crowds, but the crowds already found Facci.  Richard Gorelick really liked the place, especially a pasta with clams and a meatball appetizer.  Ironically, we tried to eat at Facci on the same night he went, but we got turned away because they couldn't make a table for six at 5:45 pm on a Tuesday.

I love Facci's food, and the casual, classy atmosphere makes it one of my favorite places.  But my recent visits haven't involved the fun that Gorelick describes.  If you get a seat, everyone is so nice.  If you're in line, the hostess and managers are all defensive.  We know there are no reservations.  We don't understand why we get a vibe that is more "take it or leave it" than "we want you to join the fun."  For the last three visits, the atmosphere was unwelcoming enough that we ate somewhere else.

As Trip Klaus pointed out to me, Facci also got a post in Washingtonian -- also highlighting the meatballs.  I'll try them eventually.  I'm really underplaying our unhappiness -- and the details of how we were treated -- because I know that we'll eventually go back.  Maybe we're the only people feeling the vibe.

(Update: From the comments, I see I'm not the only one feeling the vibe.  To be clear, I really like Facci.  I even think the parking is fine.  Circling for five minutes isn't that different from driving somewhere, and I love that there are four successful restaurants there.  But I can really enjoy Facci's food while joining in the great anonymous line below: "Waiting could be just as much fun as eating.")

(Update II: I have been reading the comments below.  Yes, several read like Facci employees defending their place.  Let's just take it with a grain of salt.  Real people are commenting too, and YumPo and one anonymous poster traded civil opinions.  That's worth keeping the comments open.  You can judge the other posts by their tone and their content.)

Red Pearl Returning Chinese Food To Lakeside

Apparently, a new Chinese restaurant called Red Pearl will open next to Sushi Sono in Columbia -- the lakeside spot that formerly held Jesse Wong's Hong Kong.

The sign says that the owners also own Far East in Rockville and Jade Billows in Potomac, according to Wai.  She said that she hasn't eaten at those restaurants, but online reviews suggest that the cuisine is more Americanized.  Wai is the hero who translated Hunan Legend's Chinese menu, and she is hoping that Red Pearl will broaden the authentic Chinese menus around here:
Hopefully, it will take a cue from surrounding authentic Hunan and Szechuan Chinese restaurants and take up the charge to represent authentic Southern Chinese cuisine in Howard County! I'm hoping this will be a great place for wedding banquets, particularly with that lovely scenery. If the owners of Red Pearl are reading this, cook authentic, awesome Southern Chinese cuisine and you'll already have a wedding banquet lined up for the next year. :-) 
Thanks also to bmorecupcake who put up the original comment about Red Pearl's sign.  Has anyone been to Far East or Jade Billows?  Any idea when it will open?  Any photos of the sign?

(Update: MJ2010 added the first comment below.  If you want to add more comments about Red Pearl, please add them to the post announcing the opening.)

Unleash The Kraken

HowChow needs your help -- if you're going to Clyde's or Sushi Sono this weekend.

There is a great anonymous comment on an old post that says there is a sign on the former Jesse Wong's Hong Kong that says a new Chinese restaurant will open there.  This is the spot next to Sushi Sono on the lake in downtown Columbia.  Apparently, the sign says something like "Coming soon from the owners of Restaurant A and Restaurant B."

Unleash those HowChow readers.  The commentor apologized for not taking better notes.  Now, we need the information -- a cell phone photo of the sign, maybe the name of the place, what restaurants are mentioned there, what it looks like inside.  Please.   Please.  Please.

(Update: An hour later, we had the comments below.  The restaurant is going to be Red Pearl in Columbia.)

The Salif Juicer By Alessi

I was thinking about why anyone would need a review about how to use a citrus juicer. gave me a deal on an Alessi juicer with the idea that I would write a review.  The first time, my oranges sprayed a little on the counter around the glass between the juicer's feet.  So I was juicing limes a few days later for ceviche, and I was thinking that my review was going to be something about how you need to juice over a low, wide bowl.  You put the cool metal feet inside the bowl, and the bowl captures the juices and all the spray.

I was congratulating myself when a low, wide bowl of lime juice shot across my counter, shattered against the cabinets, and sprayed sticky juice across the floor.

Advice One:  Don't juice over a low, wide bowl.  It captures the juice, but it also captures all the torque from your wrist and slides like a hockey puck when you bear down.

Advice Two: You need to hold the Alessi juicer.  One hand pushes down the fruit.  The other one holds the cool metal feet.  The design is perfect -- with juice and pulp flowing down the sides and into the glass that you set between the legs.  If you juice in the sink, the light spray won't bother anyone.

With this MENSA advice, you can juice anything in style -- as long as you have $96.  That's expensive unless you're the type of display cool modern stuff in your kitchen.  We're in because we got a $75 discount and because we're the type to leave a polished aluminum juicer on the counter because it looks cool.  It also works great.  My ceviche recipe suggested eight limes to squeeze a half cup of juice.  My shattered bowl carried at least three limes' juice to the floor, but the Alessi juicer squeezed my half cup from just four of the remaining limes.

We have had fun with the juicer.  It sits on the counter, so it inspired me to buy navel oranges when our family visited.  Two mornings of fresh-squeezed juice was great fun.  A luxury certainly, but a juicer that will last forever.

Check out's Alessi juicer here.  It's a quality site that we have used before to shop for modern furniture.  If you'll even read a review about a modern juicer, then you should check out the used modern furniture at Home Anthology in Catonsville.  (Update by Mrs. HowChow: Not USED modern furniture....VINTAGE.)  One of my favorite places.  A terrific place to find cool, reasonably-priced furniture.

(Update:  Check out Nigel's comment below about a Williams-Sonoma juicer.)