Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Sidamo Going To Be Up And Roasting

Sidamo Coffee & Tea will soon be roasting their beans in the Fulton store -- in the bright red machine delivered there late last week.

On Saturday, people did not know when the roasting would start.  Sidamo now roasts at the original Washington location.  For summer, the blended tea lattes are a great treat, but I'm a traditionalist buying Sidamo's whole beans.

All three of the Ethiopian varieties are wonderful -- strong and flavorful, but not as bitter as Starbucks.  These are delicious coffee.  I'm alternating between the Sidamo and Yhrgacheffee blends.

Sidamo sells coffee, breakfast and lunch in the Maple Lawn development on Rte 216 just west of Rte 29.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Red Pearl's Sichuan Menu - Already Translated

Another door has opened for people who want to try authentic Chinese food in Howard County -- Red Pearl's Sichuan menu is on the Web thanks to an email from Jeff.

Red Pearl opened last month in the Columbia lakefront spot between Sushi Sono and Clyde's.  I haven't been yet, but people have been leaving some reviews on a prior post.  Jeff's party filled a table with dishes, including some items off the Sichuan menu.  He recommended some American-style items like General Tso's, along with some others including chow foon noodles, cho san shein (sp?).

Jeff also emailed that the Red Pearl folks talked about opening an outdoor section.  They were apparently waiting for a landlord to approve planters.  Great view!

When I get to Red Pearl, I would love any recommendations.  For now, I'm hyped up on an anoymous comment that recommends a smoked duck and fish.
We tried the tea smoked duck that ben informed us was the best seller, as well it should be. It was delightful, full of smokey flavor and a crunchy skin. We also tried some of the new szechuan dished that was recently incorporated into the menu.We had the beef tendon and tripe in the spicy sauce for an appetizer. Let me tell you, this new szechuan menu, although it is limited, is very authentic. The spiciness numbs the mouth, which is how real szechuan cuisine should be. For an entree from the szechuan menu, we had the popular szechuan cuisine of water boiled fish, or fish fillet on top of a bed of vegetables and marinated in a very hot and spicy sauce that smothers the items to make the perfect combination.
(Update: If you want real Sichuan food, I suggest that you emphasize that to your waiter.  Emphasize that you like spicy food.  Maybe even tell the manager.  I suggest this at any Chinese restaurant because restaurant owners appear wary about serving serve authentic food and having Americans complain.  For example, we haven't eaten Chinese food in Howard County in more than a year because Hunan Legend served us glop -- even though I know through people like Warthog that the same kitchen serves terrific food.  There are lots of positive comments about Red Peal (including some so positive that I worry if they're real), but I'm also getting private emails from people who got Americanized, not-so-spicy dishes.  They're politely trying to figure out how to get the good stuff.  My only advice: Be assertive.  I'd love any other techniques people have tried.)

Red Pearl gives the menu to everyone.  But I posted a copy of the Red Pearl's Sichuan menu on the Don Rockwell site because Blogger doesn't let me attach PDFs.  Don Rockwell is a great place to check out DC restaurants and food.  He is trying for Baltimore and Howard County, but it's tough to reach critical mass.

(Update II: Thanks for the photo Kyle.  Everyone: I love cell phone photos if you're sending me emails about a place.  Great to post.)

I'm trying to check back on some Chinese places.  For now, I can vouch for the authentic menus at Hunan Taste in Catonsville and Grace Garden in Odenton.  People swear by the Chinest menu -- including Malaysian items -- at Hunan Legend in Columbia.  You can read a bunch of posts and detailed comments about Hunan Legend's Chinese menu, but I had to admit that my first meal there was so bad that I am still working on coaxing the team for another visit.  I want to try the Hunan Legend, Red Pearl, and Noodles Corner, which apparently has Taiwanese dishes.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Link: Mason Dixon Master Chef Tournament

If you like Top Chef, you should check out the Mason Dixon Master Chef Tournament, where you can be part of the competition.

I had meant to post weeks ago about this brilliant little competition where local chefs are competing over the summer at the Belvedere in Baltimore.  It slipped my mind until I saw a post on Minx Eats.  You can buy tickets -- including special judging tickets -- that get you dinner, a seat to watch the competition, and (for $20 extra) a taste of the competitors' food.

Howard County has joined the fray.  On Tuesday, Michael Ledesma of Leelyns in Columbia is one of the competitors.  There are dates all summer, including Marc Dixon of Bistro Blanc in Glenelg competing on August 3.  Minx has the basics, and you can also check out the Mason Dixon Master Chef Tournament Web site.

Meadows Custard in Columbia

Rita's has some competition now that Meadows Custard has opened in the Hickory Ridge village center in Columbia.

The little chain opened Saturday with its take on Italian ice, custard, frozen yogurt, and other treats.  I probably don't have to tell you.  The employees were talking about serving 2,000 people for the free cone promotion on opening day, according to Morty Abzug.

If you weren't in those crowds, then you should definitely stop by.  Meadows sells custard and Italian ice, and they swirl it a thousand ways -- sundaes, banana splits, and shakes.  They even sell espresso, and they have several variations where they pour coffee over custard or swirl them together.

Even with the coffee, it's pretty much like Rita's.  We tried a gelati -- the Rita's-style creation with layers of ice and custard.  They're both delicious -- good flavor, smooth texture.  With all this summer heat, it's just a fun to sit outside and eat something cold.  Mrs. HowChow and I probably prefer Rita's black cherry ice, and we love the King's Contrivance fountain.  But the desserts are close enough that I'm not sure that I'd drive past Meadows to get that black cherry. The Meadows custard will taste delicious on the benches there.

There is a great dinner to be had at the Harper's Choice village center.  You eat dinner at Maiwand Kabob and then walk across the parking lot to Rita's.  Meadows just went into a shopping center with a bunch of restaurants.  Where would you eat before walking over to Meadows?

Meadows Custard
Hickory Ridge Village Center
6470 Freetown Road
Columbia, MD 21044

NEAR: This is in the Hickory Ridge center near the Giant.  It's off Cedar Lane north of Rte 32 and south of Howard County Hospital. Meadows Custard on Urbanspoon

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Link: Soft Stuff on Kevin & Ann Eat Everything

With all this heat and the new Meadows Custard, it is time for me to revise and re-post my suggestion about where to eat ice cream outside on a summer night.

But until I get that done, go read Kevin's love for Soft Stuff in Ellicott City -- at the bottom of a post that also talks up Catonsville Gourmet. That should get you off the couch and onto a picnic bench to make your own summer memories.

Kevin & Ann Eat Everything is a great blog for people who want to read about food around here. Kevin eats well, and he writes with the humor and positive tone to which I aspire -- although I wouldn't have survived dubbing my wife "Mrs. Rheelyfat."

You can check out my 2009 version of Ice Cream on a Summer night. I do need to revise and repost.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Mango's Grill in Laurel

I want a Mexican restaurant with the uncompromising spirit of Grace Garden.

For now, I'm enjoying Mango's Grill in Laurel, a spot on U.S. 1 that pulls off casual Mexican with a little flair.  The flair is in the food.  The decor is super plain -- plastic table cloths, ingredients in sight of the tables, view of traffic.

But I was sold when our first plate arrived filled with fried yucca and chicharron.  That's little chunks of pork, juicy and flavorful.  Mango's tops it off with pickled cabbage, which tasted fresh and bright on a heavy plate.  I say "heavy" with love.  Fried yucca beats even french fries, and chicharron are delicious.  Mrs. HowChow stopped after a few, but I speared pork and yucca until our main courses arrived.

I went for tacos al carbon.  Mrs. HowChow went light with chicken tamales.  She still dreams of tamales from an LA farmers market, but she said Mango Grill's had good corn flavor -- a strong B+.  My steak was my favorite from any of the local Mexican joints.  Charred and slightly salty, it came with avocado and went great with the salsa that Mango's serves with warm chips.

Mango's Grill has prices so low that many other reviews compare them to Chipotle and Don Pablo's.  Those chains are no competition even though Mango's lunch specials start at $7, and you can eat dinner for less than $10.  Frankly, I don't think you'll actually stay that low.  If nothing else, you want an appetizer because they're interesting -- either that yucca, the tamales, or the pupusas that I have my eye on for our next visit.  And then there is horchata, a delicious Mexican soft drink.  And desserts.

So why do I pine for Grace Garden where every dish pops with flavor?  It's Mango's rice and beans.  They're fine.  The beans are firm, red pintos.  I ate them all.  But the rice was bland.  My steak was so much better than anything else on the plate.  The tortilla tasted like it came from my fridge.  That's not a crime, but why can't there be a Mexican place where everything comes with a zip?  I'll take basic food.  I'll take a small menu.  I'd just love everything as delicious as the cabbage or the horchata.

For future visits, I'm going to lean towards the more unusual items where they're obviously putting a focus.  We should have ordered the ceviche that the Mixed Stew blog highlighted.  Chrysalis recommended the grilled salmon as well.  The high points rank Mango's Grill above La Palapa Too.  Maybe at the same level as El Azteca.  I need to try a few other places and redo my Mexican rankings.

Click here for my 2009 take on the best Mexican food.  Pound for pound, nothing beats R&R Deli's takeout tacos and lamb soup.  

Mango's Grill  (The restaurant moved south on U.S. 1 in 2012.  Look for newer posts.)
600 Washington Boulevard
Laurel, MD 20707

NEAR:  This is on U.S. 1 at Rte 198.  From Howard County, you take U.S. 1 south from either Rte 32 or Main Street.  Mango's Grove is on the left just before the turnoff from westbound Rte 198.

Mango's Grill on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Dehydrated Food (And More) Coming to Columbia

REI will open a new store this fall to sell dehydrated camping food in Columbia, reports Columbia Talk.

Apparently the store will offer REI's full line of outdoor equipment, bike repairs, and even equipment rentals at the Columbia Crossing center near Rte 175 and Dobbin.  But let's concentrate on the food.  This should be the best place in Howard County to buy dehydrated strawberries, which still have the magic of "space food" from the first time that I ate them.

Check out Columbia Talk for all the REI details.  I can't figure out exactly where the REI will be.  Is this the former Expo Design / golf store behind the Target?  (Update: In a comment below, Jess guesses that it is the old CompUSA.)

(Update II: Sarah points out below that REI also sells cherry-flavored energy goo.  Also food!  We could almost view this as an ethnic grocery.)

Salazon Salted Chocolate At Roots, Mom's, David's

If you tried the Lindt salted chocolate at Target, you should grab a Salazon chocolate bar at one of the local organic markets.

Salazon is a local company that makes chocolates in Pennsylvania.  They're adult bars.  Dark chocolate bar with salt on the outside.  Larger crystals and dusted in a layer across the bottom, not mixed into the chocolate like the sea salt Lindt.

The flavor depends on how you pop it in your mouth -- chocolate then salt, salt then chocolate, depending on which side you put on your tongue.  It's fun.  It's expensive, but it's a deep chocolate taste with a salty contrast.

Salazon is based in Eldersburg, MD.  They sell through Roots in Clarksville, Mom's Organic Market in Jessup, and David's Natural Market in Columbia.  Roots had all three varieties -- the salt, a version with salt and pepper, and a version with salt and turbinado sugar.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Meadows Custard May Open Saturday

Meadows Frozen Custard may open in the Hickory Ridge village center may open this Saturday, according to an anonymous comment from someone who met the owner yesterday.

(Update: It's open, and it's worth a visit.  Please comment on that post.)

Trolling: Diet Busters Like Potato Salad, Deviled Eggs, And Breakfast At The Forest Diner

Marcia offers up diet busters for this week's Trolling post.  She found Boarman's through Chowhound, which is a great resource for people who want to hear about local food.  I have been to Boarman's for the sausage and crab cakes, but she found homemade side dishes that sound perfect for summer picnics.  Then, she suggests a place for lunch and a place for breakfast.

I've been driving by Boarman's grocery on Rt. 108 in Highland for a few years now and thought I'd stop in after reading on Chowhound that they have good potato salad. What a spot - they have a little of everything crammed into a very tight store. In the back is a small meat counter and deli both doing a brisk Friday afternoon business. They probably had 4 different potato salads, tuna salad, a good-looking seafood salad (not too much mayo) and DEVILED EGGS!!! I tried the potato salad with egg, a Red Bliss version (very little mayo) and the German potato salad. When I mentioned that I'd read that their potato salad was good, the woman said she had just finished making the one with the egg. All were yummy, as was the tuna salad. Not sure if these were all homemade, I am going to stop again and chat when it's less busy. The meats over on that side looked very good.  Worth checking out if you are out that way !
Another favorite of ours is Nora Cafe in the Normandy Shopping Center in Ellicott City.  Breakfast is nothing special, but we really enjoy their lunch sandwiches. I love their panini. Service is fast, and sandwiches are tasty.
Another spot we like, after NOT being impressed a few years ago: The breakfast at Forest Diner in Ellicott City. The home fries are really yummy, I believe I overheard the cashier say they are made in a pressure cooker? Not sure. They have a bit of spice on them, not hot. I like fried eggs over easy - the cook gets them just right. We always joke that the Ellicott City cognizenti (sp?) seem to breakfast there on weekends, and I keep my ears peeled for the local news. The last time we were there, a group of us got into a discussion about Honey Pig after overhearing someone ask the cashier about it. If you haven't been there in a few years, as was the case with us, the Forest Diner another try!! I've never had Henny Penny fried chicken, but I saw signs that it is served there, FYI.  [Forest Diner sold its property and has a five-year lease now to operate there.]

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, June 21, 2010

Catching Up On The News And Comments

I have been out-of-town and busy here, so I fell behind in trying new places and sharing comments.

Cazbar Kebop House opened in Columbia, and several people have emailed me with thoughts.  Misha liked a pomegranate relish-type mezze ("fragrant and with a little kick").  John liked the baklava and the vertical spit-broilers.  And Stacy got a chicken doner off one of those vertical broilers.  I'm definitely going for a doner sandwich.  Cazbar is in the Columbia Professional Center on Little Patuxent Parkway near Howard Community College.  Wordbones wrote that the owners have licensed the menu from Cazbar in Baltimore, but it will be a scaled down version.

Meadows Frozen Custard was supposed to open in mid-June in the Hickory Ridge village center in Columbia.  Has anyone seen it?  Jeremy peeked at the end of last week and said it looked days or weeks away.  He sent the photo of a sign promising free custard on opening day.  That sounds good. (Update: They may open June 26, acc'd to comment below.)

In the same vein, a Moby Dick's kabob place is supposed to open off Dobbin Road in Columbia.  I haven't heard the exact address.  Marcia saw no Moby Dick signs when she looked last week.

Many of the recent comments were about other new places that I still haven't tried.  Talk about Smokin' Hot in Glenwood split on whether portions are large, but the casual barbecue and even crab cakes get recommended.  Reviews for Red Pearl, the new Chinese place on the lake in Columbia, ranged from disappointed to elated.  Dzoey, Clayton and others suggest specific items to order.  Similarly, people wrote about the Stanford Grill that opened in Columbia overlooking Rte 175.  Dzoey has been eating out these days, placing the new join between T-Bonz and Greystone Grill.

That's just the tip of the comments.  I appreciate them all, and I collect some here so that you can see what other people have been saying:
It is literally a hole in the wall. There are two tiny counters with 2 bar stools each for sitting. Sooooo not really a place to dine-in unless you are by yourself. . . 
I ended up ordering two "tacos al pastor" and the wife got two "tacos de carne asada." I also got their soup of the day since they offer two tacos plus soup for only $5. The soup was lamb. Delicious! Broth was savory with tiny onions and cilantro. There was rice and plenty of lamb meat. Soup was served with a lime wedge on the side.
My tacos were incredible. Tacos al Pastor is "pork marinated with a blend of different chili peppers, spices, and herbs." Their tacos are served in a soft corn tortilla. Both of my tacos kinda fell apart as I was eating them. It was like the shells weren't strong enough to hold all the moist meaty goodness. That's probably my only negative of the food. Big pluses: the food is served with a couple of lime wedges and a spicy salsa verde that is delicious!

Friday, June 18, 2010

First Thoughts On Twist & Turn Tavern

Highland got a new restaurant when the Twist & Turn Tavern opened, promising a neighborhood pub.  I haven't visited yet, but Amber emailed with some first thoughts.  She went Tuesday night for half-priced burgers, which sounds right for a neighborhood pub.  Of course, one of the burgers was bison:

I went to Twist and Turn Tavern with my boyfriend and his sister for half-price burger night.  First of all, the burgers were really good. I had the mushroom and swiss Angus burger, ordered medium, and it actually CAME medium!  I was so pleasantly surprised, as that rarely happens. My boyfriend tried the bison burger, which he loved, and his sister seemed to like her turkey burger as well. The onion rings are obviously made there and definitely have a lot of beer flavor in the batter. Not so sure the sweet potato fries were fresh, but they were good.
Now the bad: the restaurant is obviously new. The table next to us ordered five burgers, but the server only put in the order for four. The guy without food ended up leaving without eating, and they brought out his food in a to-go box later. Here's hoping they comped it, too. Two of our meals came with the sides reversed, which the server acknowledged but made no effort to fix, so we awkwardly picked up our burgers and shuffled plates. It was no big deal, but I was surprised that he didn't offer to take it back to the kitchen to fix.
The place was packed by the time we got our food. It's not super big inside, and the tables are very close together and cramped. Many people came in and ate at the bar since they couldn't get a table. Unfortunately there isn't really any place to stand and wait for a table without being uncomfortably close to someone eating. I think the restaurant would benefit from a vestibule being built on the outside, as some tables are pretty close to the door and I can see it getting really cold in the winter. The restaurant was also VERY noisy--it's all wood inside, so there aren't any sound dampeners. It was nearly impossible to hear our own table for conversation.  The service was also very, very slow, but that's to be expected during the first week of service.
We're uncertain if sides are charged or free with burgers--we got two with sweet potato fries and one with onion rings, and only one of the fries was charged ($2). We didn't ask because we were in a rush to get out of there (and, honestly, didn't want to have to pay a few bucks more if they were mistakenly left off the bill. We are bad people.).
That said, the food was pretty great, and for $5.50 a burger on Tuesday nights, I will definitely be back.
Looking forward to hearing others' opinions!

And so am I.

Twist & Turn Tavern
13380 Clarksville Pike (Rte 108)
Highland, MD  20777

NEAR: This is on Rte 108 just north of Rte 216.  It's an easy ride from Laurel, Fulton, Clarksville or points west.  And easy enough from Columbia.  If you go to Highland, check out Boarman's Meat Market at the corner of Rte 108 and Rte 216.  They make their own sausage and crab cakes.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Meals On Wheels Benefits When You Eat Classy

The Meals on Wheels that covers Howard County will get a donation from every prix fixe lunch and dinner served this month at Tersiguel's in Ellicott City.

I meant to post this weeks ago, but you shouldn't wait to try Tersiguel's June menu that features dishes frm southern France, including crispy cod and potato cake and a stew of bacon, black olives and beef.

Meals on Wheels gets 10% of every prix fixe meal.  Lunch is $21.95.  Dinner is $30.95.

Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter At Giant / HTeeter

No one should spend $5 on a jar of peanut butter, but your sweet tooth might push the purchase of Peanut Butter & Co.’s natural varieties.

In theory, I’m a fan of fresh peanut butter.  In reality, I never loved the taste or the endless stirring of oil that floats to the top of the jar.  Peanut Butter & Co. offers a middle ground where the peanut butter tastes delicious and comes without industrial ingredients like hydrogenated oil.

Not that this is health food.  PB & Co’s palm oil will clog an artery, and PB & Co. adds sugar and chocolate as well.  These are thick, sweet spreads – standing out more as a adult ingredient than beating Jif crunchy in a PB&J sandwich.  A heaping spoonful of Cinnamon Raisin Swirl or the Dark Chocolate Dreams turns sliced apple into dessert.  You could jazz up oatmeal or bake great cookies.

In the end, peanut butter isn’t a deep-thought food.  We really like this stuff.  We really like the texture of the Cinnamon Raisin Swirl.  It tastes more homemade – or at least it did until I just tasted it again for this post and wondered whether the texture is actually crystals of sugar.  We don’t want to know.

See the comments below.  Peanut Butter & Co.’s varieties are available in Harris Teeter and at Giant.  They’re also available at Whole Foods.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Link: Coal Fire On Daily Goods

Coal Fire Pizza's margarita gets the thumbs up from Ashley on the Daily Goods blog.  She liked the light cheese and the thin crust.

I'm a fan of Coal Fire on Rte 108 in Ellicott City, although I have noticed that the pizza really varies.  The Pizzablogger says these hot ovens take real skill, and Coal Fire's pizzas seem to vary based on the person wielding the peel.  Vivek emailed me saying that he was trying to figure out what days/times Coal Fire's owner makes pizzas.  Does anyone know?

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Trolling: Snowballs, Burgers and Pulled Pork

K8teebug -- who comments often and blogs at Ramblings of A Former -- provided a perfect list of deep summer eating -- snowball, burger and barbecue.  I'm a huge fan of both meat sandwiches, and we need to make a pilgrimage out to Woodstock because people love the Snowball Stand out there.
Egg Custard Snowball with marshmallow from the Snowball Stand in Woodstock:  I have lived in Maryland all my life, and these are the best snowballs I've ever tasted.  They don't dilute the syrup here, and put just the right amount over the ice.  They don't hold back on the marshmallow here, either.  A perfect warm weather treat.
The burger with blue cheese at Victoria Gastropub.  I've been blogging about burgers I've eaten for a few years now.  This one is in the top five of those I've tried all over the country.  A tasty burger on a brioche roll, with a zesty spread.  It doesn't get much better than this.
The pulled pork sandwich at Kloby's Smokehouse in Fulton.  Sure, most of the crowd is headed towards Facci for their delightful pizzas.  But, if you're annoyed with the wait, might I suggest walking a few doors down for one of the best pulled pork sandwiches you'll ever eat?  It's cheap, topped with fantastic coleslaw, and you can even order an ice cold beer served in a mason jar!  This BBQ rivals them all, even those in North Carolina.
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, June 14, 2010

Link: Watching The World Cup In Howard County

Wordbones posted about places to watch the World Cup on Tales of Two Cities -- specifically Looney's in Fulton that is showing every game and Trattoria Amore in Columbia that hosts World Cup viewing parties.  Looney's is even opening for the early games and serving breakfast.

I bet that you could have real fun watching a South Korean game over beer and fried chicken at Rainpia on Rte 40 in Ellicott City.  Or maybe barbecue at Shin Chon Garden.  Both joints show Korean television in their dining rooms, so I assume they'll show South Korean games.

Any other suggestions?  Feel free to promote your local.

Link: Asian Court On The 97mph Blog

Asian Court's dim sum went head-to-head with a Washington favorite Oriental East in a review yesterday on the 97mph blog.

The KitchenGeek says the food was similarly delicious and authentic at both places.  (I agree.)  They particularly liked Asian Court's sticky rice wrapped in taro leaves and a flat noodles with beef and scallops.  They also liked a pork and peanut dumpling that I have never noticed before.

But the real find was a clams in black bean sauce that just put Asian Court back on my "need to visit soon" list.  Those sound terrific.

Photo pulled right off the 97mph blog.  The KitchenGeek also writes the Kitchen Geeking blog.

If you're interested in dim sum, check out my original post about Asian Court and remember that you can order any dim sum off the menu for weekday lunches.  If you're going to be near Silver Spring, both Kitchen Geeking and I recommend Oriental East.

Mimi's Kabob Could Be Your Neighborhood Joint

Mimi’s Kabob could be your neighborhood joint if you live in the south county – a real option for quick meals or takeout on Rte 108 in Clarksville.

Mimi’s is the classic ethnic spot in a strip mall, and it stands out because they’re paying attention to the food.  Half the menu is Afghan, similar enough to Maiwand Kabob to qualify as the sincerest form of flattery.  Half is pizza, the result of taking over an existing pizza spot.

So far, we have stayed on the Afghan side of the border, and we keep leaving happy.  Long ago, I started with a lunchtime sandwich, but Mimi’s has become our place when we want something delicious but simple.  A late-lunch mezze of appetizers with Mrs. HowChow’s family.  Grilled kabobs and chicken curry when we wanted dinner, but not the heaviness of burgers or cheesy Mexican.

Most Mimi’s meals are a variation on grilled meat, a vegetable, rice and bread.  You should go for the bread alone.  I may prefer Maiwand’s bread just a touch for its delicious char, but hot bread turns every meal into something special.  At Mimi’s, you can wrap that bread around grilled chicken, lamb or beef, plus variations and specials like the chicken curry, which was a mix of shredded and chunked meat in a tasty sauce.

Afghan food – at least as offered around here – is an accessible cuisine.  The meat is juicy and flavorful, but it’s not spicy.  The pumpkin and other vegetables are interesting enough that I can’t make them at home, but mild enough for someone who doesn’t relish the spices in Indian food.  On our last visit, a couple was serving out three preschool boys from a table with pizza, grilled chicken and rice.

That rice shows the skill that makes Mimi’s stand over most other places.  Even spots that promote interesting entrees often plop tasteless boring side dishes.  For example, the rice and beans at La Palapa Too keep me from going there often.  In contrast, Mimi’s rice is light and tasty.  Somehow, they add a sheen of oil and herbs to make it feel luxorious, but no oily taste and no heaviness.

In the same way, white meat chicken comes out juicy, and the pumpkin side dish is tender and rich.  With the bread and homemade sauces, it’s hard to think of a comparable place for $7-9 a person.  Better yet, it all travels pretty well, which makes Mimi’s nice when you want to get out of the house or when you need to bring dinner home.

If you go to Mimi’s consider asking them to substitute a vegetable side dish for the salad.  I know Maiwand in Columbia will substitute.  The salad is fine, but the pumpkin and other vegetables can be exceptional – and certainly bring more flavor to the plate.

If you are in Clarksville, definitely check out Great Sage for vegetarian food or El Azteca for Mexican.

Mimi's Kabob
12345 Wake Forest Road (Rte 108)
Clarksville, MD 21029

NEAR:  This is a block south of Rte 32 on Rte 108.  It is a shopping center on the east side of Rte 108, and the entry is from a side street, so you need to turn just south of the shopping center.  This is a great place to stop if you have been shopping at Roots Markets farther north on Rte 108.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Mom's Organic Market Starts Fighting Plastic

Earlier this month -- while Comcast was keeping me off the Web and phone -- Mom's Organic Market announced a plan to ban bottled water and re-make operations to cut down on plastics.

First, they stopped selling water in plastic bottles.  They're installing filtering machines so you can use reusable containers for water -- including the first gallon for free.  They're also eliminating some vegetable bags, plastic bags in the bulk section, and getting biodegradable bags, wax paper and more.

Of course, the best recycling that you can do at Mom's in Jessup is pick up organic vegetables to toss in your compost heap.

My real question is about these "biodegradable" plastics like the clamshells Mom's (formerly My Organic Market) will use for salads.  Can you just throw those in a compost pile?  How can I tell which plastic-looking items are compostable?

Has Pizza Fresca Closed in Fulton?

Has Pizza Fresca in Fulton closed? 

The pizza shop has had erratic hours for several months, but Jeremy wrote me about several days when they were closed last week.  Then he wrote back to say it looks cleaned out inside and sent a photo with a printed “closed” sign.

I feel a compassion for anyone trying to run a restaurant.  It seems hard in Maple Lawn, where the office buildings haven't sprouted as quickly as hoped.

The developers of Maple Lawn talked a big game about old-fashioned town planning and creating walkable development.  But sales pitches about "urban life" seem to turn into cookie-cutter shopping centers.  The new strip across from the Harris Teeter couldn’t look more vanilla, and the new plans along Rte 216 dump drawings of city-looking retail blocks for drive-through fast-food.  Literally, drive-through fast food.  

When Greenberg and Rose gives you Taco Bell, you'll miss even Pizza Fresca.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Second Chance Saloon Gets A Big Recommendation

Second Chance Saloon in Columbia gets a recommendation from the chef at Oceanaire Seafood Room, Harbor East joint near the classy top of the food chain.

Chef Benjamin Erjavec told Laura Vozzella of Dining at Large last week that he goes to the Second Chance Saloon in Oakland Mills Village Center after work or on his days off.  He apparently lives nearby.  One of the owners says he favors the Old Bay wings.

Anyone else know where professional chefs eat around Howard County?

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Cookies at Bon Fresco and Touche Touchet

Bakeries become famous for their exotic offerings, but they make people very happy with a good cookie.

Bon Fresco makes wonderful breads and sandwiches.  Touche Touchet does amazing sweets, including pies, bear claws and cupcakes.  But my most-recent finds at both Columbia bakeries were cookies -- homey chocolate chip and exotic cayenne chocholate.

Bon Fresco goes homey and pulls off the hardest cookie -- the chocolate chip.  Most chocolate chip cookies that we eat have just come out of my oven, so you need to bake a great specimen to make us happy about paying cash.  Mrs. HowChow and I think Bon Fresco delivers.  Delicious even at room temperature with the fresh quality that makes Bon Fresco's bread so delicious.

Touche Touchet goes devilish.  The chocolate cookie comes spiked with hot pepper.  That's an adult taste, and it works beautifully.  Mostly, you taste chocolate and sweet, but the aftertaste comes with the direct sharp flavor of cayenne.  Touche Touchet and Bonaparte in Savage serve the most beautiful desserts with tables for coffee, hot chocolate or milk, and the chocolate cayenne cookies adds another reason why you should stop at either one for an afternoon treat -- either as an adult snack or a sweet kid's activity.  Just keep the cayenne for the adults.

Touche Touchet is also selling several flavors of Tommy's Naked Soda.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Dried Limes & Lemons As Seen In The NYT

Dried limes were last week's "power ingredient" in The New York Times, and HowChow's official NYT correspondent sent me an email saying that we should give them a try.

Hard to find dried limes in the hinterland near Gramercy Park.  But Howard County is a food mecca.  I had them two hours later from Pars Market and Nazar Market in Columbia.  They're $3 a bag.  I mailed a sample to The City.

Nazar had bags marked "dried lemons."  Pars had "dried limes" and "dried lemons."  They looked the same to me, and no one could explain the difference.  Still no chance to try them, but John Willoughby has recipes for chicken stew, lentil salad and broiled shrimp.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Grilling Week At The Mexican Market: Shepherd's Tacos And Grilled Corn With Cheese

The recipes that pushed me over the top for Steven Raichlen's Planet Barbecue were tacos al pastor and grilled corn with cheese.

Lily's Mexican Market was one of my original food finds in Howard County, but Raichlen's book led me to ingredients that I had never noticed before.  It let me pair Lily's house-made corn tortillas with pork marinated in Mexican flavors, grilled thin-sliced, then served with pineapple for a dinner that felt more like a restaurant than my patio.

All week I have been posting about Planet Barbecue and promoting the book for people who want to explore Howard County's ethnic shopping.  You have to know Lily's Mexican Market in Columbia, and you will want to taste these tacos.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Grilling Week At The Halal Butcher: Lamb Kabobs Are Delicious, Even If I Can't ID The Cut Of Meat

In the short history of HowChow, the single greatest introduction to local food has been the halal butcher -- first Caezar International, then Columbia Halal Meat, and now Nazar Market.

Beyond the religious imprint for Muslims, the butchers open new opportunities to anyone who wants goat or lamb.  Ironically, the hardest part for me has been figuring out how to talk meat.  There are some language issues when the butcher was born in Turkey or Pakistan, but the real problem is that I was born in a world where meat comes wrapped in plastic.  I barely know how to order steaks, so I'm at a loss about what to do with a lamb shoulder.  Actually, I'm not sure that I had a lamb shoulder.

Let Steven Raichlen start you off.  All week, I'm posting about Raichlen's Planet Barbecue because the new cookbook's recipes offer gateways into Howard County's ethnic shopping.  Lamb kabobs should be your gateway into the halal butchers.  With one problem that I'll explain below, Raichlen gives you a hamburger alternative -- a ground meat patty flavored with parsley, onion, coriander and cumin.  The skills are nothing harder than forming a burger.  The flavors are new, but still accessible.  And you get to grill with long flat skewers that you can call "my swords."

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Grilling Week At The Asian Supermarket: Whole Fish and Bacon-Wrapped Enotake Mushrooms

In celebration of Grilling Week at HowChow, I am reviewing Planet Barbecue by Steven Raichlen and suggesting some ways to introduce yourself to local ethnic shopping.

Planet Barbecue offers truly interesting ways to cook everything from meat to vegetables, and it is the perfect book for someone who wants to explore the local Asian grocery stores but doesn't know what to buy.

Any of Raichlen's Asian recipes are a fine starting point because he proposes authentic ingredients that you can find easily -- chicken flavored with lemongrass or fish sauce, pork belly cooked with Korean chili paste, rice vinegar and an Asian pear.  But I started with fish.  Whole fish are still a challenge for me, and Raichlen proposed a Loatian recipe that called for small snappers, oyster sauce, garlic and lime.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Great Sage Goes Vegan, Acc'd To Dining@Large

Great Sage -- the Clarksville restaurant known for vegetarian cuisine -- went completely vegan on January 1, according to Laura Vozzella on Dining @ Large.

Vozzella correctly notes that it isn't an enormous change because 90% of the menu had been vegan.  They just removed the dairy options, including a cheese-based mac-n-cheese.  If you're interested in food around here, Dining @ Large remains a nice option -- even though (Elizabeth) Large is dining as a civilian now.

SnowBalls is open in Clarksville

The Snowballs stand in Clarksville opened this weekend, and 2010 appears to be another excellent year for artificial color and flavor.

I went lemon and blood orange in my first snowball of the summer.  Mrs. HowChow went black cherry.  Not as cherry natural as Rita's, but they were both nice ways to cool off after a day of gardening chores.

They'll just get better as the summer gets hotter.

The Snowballs stand is outside Kendall Hardware on Rte 108 in Clarksville.  Watch the line.  We arrived when only one teenager was working, and it took more than 20 minutes to fill orders for the three groups in front of us -- okay, the two groups in front of us and the teenager who obliviously cut in line to order a giant snowball with Nerds.

If you like snowballs, you need to check out at least the Snowball Stand in Woodstock and Pete's Snowball Stand in Columbia.

Planet Barbecue by Steven Raichlen: It's Grilling Week At HowChow And Time To Try New Food

Grilling season has arrived, and you should check out Steven Raichlen's Planet Barbecue if you want to get beyond the burger rut -- and maybe open the door to Howard County's ethnic shopping.

I have tried to find a better grilling cookbook.  Literally.  I got a paperback copy of Planet Barbecue, and I'm leery about reviewing a book just because someone sent it for free.  Generally, I avoid TV chefs and paperback books, so I cooked from Planet Barbecue while pulling a half dozen other books from the library.

Planet Barbecue stands out because it's actually creative.  For weeks, I have been flipping page to page and thinking, "Oh, I want to eat that."  It's techniques and dishes that are unusual, but accessible enough that I'm raring to try.

Grinding my own lamb for kabobs.  Baking bread wrapped on a flat skewer.  Stuffing small eggplants with bacon.  Coating grilled corn with cheese.  By the time that I served up tacos of marinated pork and grilled pineapple, I realized that I was not only going to priase Raichlen's book -- but I am going to have to buy a hardcover copy so that it can survive a few years in my kitchen.

Anyone could cook from Planet Barbecue.  But I love writing about the local ethnic markets, so I'm going to particularly recommend this book for anyone who wants an excuse to explore this summer.  Whole fish at an Asian grocery.  Lamb from a halal butcher.  Spices from a Mexican market.  Skewers at the new Persian store on Snowden River.  Raichlen does a wonderful job of talking about ingredients that are beyond a supermarket, but absolutely within your reach and guaranteed to bring new flavors to your grill.