Monday, January 31, 2011

Pure Wine Cafe in Ellicott City

Whenever I worry if I'm too tough on restaurants, I think about the small things that make me love places like Pure Wine Cafe in Ellicott City.

Friendly people.  Delicious food, and prices that encourage you to explore and come back again.

That's a short list, but it's a hard enough recipe that Pure Wine stands out for its success.  This is a tiny space with a tiny menu -- one room off Main Street with maybe seven tables and a short bar.  The list of small-plate dishes barely matches the cocktail list at some of your trendiest joints.

So why did we leave with huge smiles?

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Wegmans Submitted Permits To Start Building The New Columbia Store & Garage

Wegmans submitted permit applications on Friday to start construction on its new Columbia store -- describing a one-story grocery store with mezzanine and a two-story parking garage.

I'm steeling myself to the reality that Wegmans probably won't open until 2012.  But any progress warms my heart.  My parents came from Fairfax with Wegmans cheese on Saturday.  Absolutely spectacular.  The grocery aisles will be nice, but I'm really chomping at the bit for the cheese, vegetables and all the prepared and semi-prepared departments.

(Update:  I can now open both permits -- for the store (B11000259) and for the garage (B11000264).  Thanks to Lotsabogeys, who tipped me to two permits.  And thank you for noticing the missing zero.)

You can check Howard County's site yourself.  Anyone know more details or timetable?

Oh, What A Cake Has Cupcake Sale On Groupon

You can try a dozen Oh, What A Cake's cupcakes for $6 by using today's Groupon deal.

The Columbia bakery specializes in wedding cakes, but they sell a variety of cupcakes, including the $1 cupcakes that are the subject of this deal.  Oh, What A Cake is on Dobbin Road just south of McGaw Road.

Kloby's In The Snow: Sherringham Eats Meat

Bring trapped in the snow drives people to do crazy things -- after a few days they can find themselves with their hands wrapped around roasted meat as they gnaw on bones.

Or they can ordered the pulled pork, which is one of key items at Kloby's Smokehouse -- as Sherringham discovered this week:
After two days cooped up inside (we're both HoCo teachers), Ron and I realized that we needed a dinner out to give us our sanity back. Ever since last year's snow-craziness, I really hate that feeling of being snowed in.
We waited for our association contractor to clear our court and we were off to Kloby's Smokehouse. We both love BBQ, but we hadn't yet made it to Kloby's despite it being seven minutes down the road. Tonight was the night. We called to make sure they were open (Urban BBQ in Olney was not...) I expected the place to be empty, but when we pulled into the parking lot, i was shocked at how full it was. The place was packed!
We were seated at one of only two open tables. We got sweet tea and ordered our meals. Ron had a two meat platter with brisket, pulled pork, baked beans, and collards. He loved it and finished all but one bite of brisket, which I sampled for myself. So tender! The baked beans were sweeter that I expected, but I really enjoyed their flavor.
I got a one-meat platter with pulled pork, mac and cheese, and collards. The pulled pork was very tender, with almost no gristle, and the spicy sauce that topped it had the perfect amount of heat. The mac and cheese was okay--I like Famous Dave's and Urban BBQ's better,  and the collards were very salty and somewhat bitter. I don't normally order collard greens because they can be inconsistent from place to place. When we go back (and we certainly will) I'll be sure to get the baked beans that Ron had and try the slaw as well. The corn bread that came with the platter was very moist and creamy; I was a big fan!  I should have gotten a glass of Strongbow Cider (hard to find on tap), because the sweet tea was too sweet (if that's possible). 
We'll definitely be back, as this was a very good reason for an excursion in the snow.
This is part of a week of guest posts highlighting finds that other people have found around Howard County.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Flavors Of India Restaurant Coming To Columbia

A new restaurant Flavors of India is aiming to open in what looks like the former Aida Bistro in Columbia -- and it looks like it could be getting close, according to reports from the HowChow investigations desk.

Flavors of India on Columbia Gateway Drive will have a liquor board hearing on February 8, 2011.  Investigative reporter Mrs. HowChow spotted the legal notice in the Howard County section of the Sun that was delivered this morning.

I had heard from Kalpesh on the HowChow Facebook page that the owners of House of India were planning a new restaurant aimed at southern Indian cuisine.  Now we have a name, and the Flavors of India folks also have a building permit (B10003953) under review.

Anyone know timing or other details about the plan?

(Update: Flavors of India opened.)

Flavors on Indian (coming in 2011?)
7185 Columbia Gateway Drive
Columbia, MD 21046

NEAR:  This is the old Aida Bistro space that the Italian restaurant vacated for its expanded home.  Columbia Gateway is off Rte 175 just west of I-95.  It's a hidden spot, but very easy to access.  The signs say "Col Gateway," which I thought was Colonel Gateway Drive when I moved here.

Portalli's Lamb Shank Tops The Gourmet's Night

The '34 Act Gourmet can serve up his own standing rib roast, but he likes to get out of the kitchen as well -- and into Portalli's in Ellicott City where he and his wife ate last weekend with friends who drove up from Chevy Chase:
As soon as I arrived, I realized that the restaurant's performance would be sorely tested during Restaurant Week. The abnormal cold plus the prix fixe menu resulted in a packed restaurant and a half-hour delay between our reservation and the time we were seated. However, although Portalli's could have benefited from having more people on staff that night, it was absolutely worth the wait.  The hostess took us up the stairs to a dining room which I hasn't known existed.  A little more than a year ago, we had eat on Portalli's ground floor, which is very cozy but gives no hint to the huge space on the second floor.
Honestly, the only complaint we had (which was relatively minor) was the service was a little slow for drinks to arrive and for our server to provide menus and take our orders. Indeed, by the time the menus were put in front of us, we were inspired enough by other dishes that nobody in our party picked the Restaurant Week menu. 
We started by sharing two appetizers -- baked mozzarella and calamari. The baked mozzarella was delicious - very fresh mozzarella and a dollop of tomato sauce on top of crusty bread. The calamari also was prepared well -- the squid itself was very fresh and the batter was very light.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Link: River Hill Sports Grille On The New BBG

The River Hill Sports Grille in Columbia is the latest bar to really push a craft beer program, and the Baltimore Beer Guy wrote up River Hill's plan to expand to 30+ taps on his new Web site.

The BBG has shifted from Blogger onto a new site, but he remains the source for beer news -- like Victoria Gastro Pub's "tap takeover" on February 6 when Flying Dog will "program" all 24 of the Columbia restaurant's taps.

Pong's Orchard -- Kyle Gets His Kaffir Lime Tree From Fulton

Kyle was the first to tell me about the Asian fruit trees that you can buy in Fulton, and he finally hooked up to buy his own kaffir lime tree.

The trees come from Pong's Orchard in Fulton, a family-run business that grows fruit and trees on 27 acres:
I finally got my kaffir lime tree from Mr. Pong at his Fulton orchard.  I'm going to use the uniquely-flavored double leaf in some Southeast Asian recipes. 
Mr. Pong has a couple heated outbuildings where his citrus trees live in the cold weather.  There were dozens of different trees, and a lot had fruit on them in various stages of ripening.  He gave me half a satsuma tangerine off one of the trees. It was quite the treat eating it outside in the cold air with the setting sun.
Mr.  Pong figured out I was somehow associated with a nice blog. He wanted the blog to write about his go-to Chinese restaurant in Fulton -- Hunan China. He's especially fond of the chow foon, Singapore noodles and dumplings. I've had all those dishes from there, but it's been years since I've been.  I'll have to check it out again.
If someone wants to visit the orchard, I would email or call him at (301) 854-9969 to arrange a time to meet.
(Update: I fixed the reference to Hunan China above.  Kyle had heard Mr. Pong say Hunan Manor, then we thought it might be Hunan House.  But Al Pong confirmed in the comments that it's Hunan China.  Check out his comment for his contact information and for more details about the types of trees that you can buy.  Thanks for the fix.)

This is part of a week of guest posts highlighting finds that other people have found around Howard County.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Link: Alcoholic Whipped Cream On Sarah Says

Whipped cream fortified with grain alcohol -- Sarah found entertainment for your snow day at the Owen Brown Liquor & Spirits in Columbia.

Sarah blogs about "Whipped Lightening" and using it to top hot chocolate.  I assume this is available elsewhere.

Remember to check the bottles carefully.  Liquor stores sometimes try to pass off Whipped Lightening as the legendary 2005 vintage.  That hot dry summer in Provence brought out magical fruity notes in the alcoholic whipped cream.  It hasn't happened since, so don't pay top dollar for standard "whipanol."

Asian Treats At Costco -- Min Hunts Good Stuff

Fans of the blog know Min as the inspiration for my beginner's walk through the Korean joints on Rte 40, but she has also found Asian surprises at the most-American of stores -- Costco on Rte 175 in Elkridge.  

Min's post is actually a few weeks old, so the selection may have changed slightly, but keep your eye out for the Japanese, Taiwanese and other brands:
Today at Costco I' found more Asian surprises than the usual sushi trays, Kokuho Rose white rice, and frozen dumplings. 
The Japanese snack giants Meiji and Morinaga are packaging their products for the US markets!  Earlier, I've found Hello Panda, a chocolate creme filled cookie, by Meiji at Costco.  Today, I saw HK style sausages, small envelopes of seaweed snacks in a bucket (from China), Hi Chew fruit chews similar to Starburst by Morinaga, and Chocorooms (mushroom shaped cookies dipped in chocolate) and Yan Yan (cookie sticks in chocolate), by Meiji. 
Last summer, I tried a variety of flavors of Hi Chews in Asia: lychee, kiwi, blueberries and egg custard, to name a few. Here you get flavors of mango, lemon, green apple, strawberry, and orange in a whole pack. One other nice surprise today was the buckets of Taiwanese-made Japanese-style Mochi --  mango, strawberry, or red bean fillings, each wrapped individually.  At Costco, you gotta get the exotic stuff fast while you can. I've missed the short offering of Kimchi last year that my Korean friend raved about; today I brought a Mochi bucket home!
As a bonus, Min says that her friend recommends the rice cakes at Yetnal Asian Food Service, the mystery spot near Bethany Lane that I mentioned in my post about Korean spots on Rte 40.  Min's friend says her church members often order trays of Honey Rice Cakes (rice cakes with honey sesame fillings, appx. $25 each) for refreshment. She heard the food is good too, and the most memorable is Soon Dooboo.

This is part of a week of guest posts highlighting finds that other people have found around Howard County.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Great Harvest Bread: RDAdoc Makes Her Pitch

RDAdoc has been a fan of Great Harvest Bread Co. for more than 10 years -- starting in New Jersey and now down to the Rockville and Columbia locations.  Professionally, she studies nutrition.  So she always needs food to be good on the tongue and the rest of the body.  It's her regular place -- from the bread to the soup to the sandwiches.  Here is her pitch:
I am now on a mission to get HowChow to understand why I love Great Harvest so much. Now don’t get me wrong.  It’s not that HowChow doesn’t like Great Harvest.  It’s just that I have sensed that he doesn’t share my intense enthusiasm for their breads. 
My mission started back in the fall when the HowChows and several other friends were over for dinner. I served two loafs of Great Harvard challah -- one plain and one raisin -- that got compliments.  Of course, this prompted me to tell everyone about Great Harvest breads. In addition to the challah, which I pick up almost every Friday, some of my other favorite loaves are Apple Crunch, Honey Whole Wheat and Cinnamon Swirl. 

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Kim Bob Na Ra In Ellicott City: Korean Comfort Food Through The Beginner's Eyes Of Kyle

Veggie Kimbob
The Korean restaurants along Rte 40 offer an array of different experiences, and Kyle took up the challenge in the basic outsider's summary that I wrote and the insider lowdown from Kevin.  Kyle decided to check out Korean fast food, and he went to Kim Bob Na Ra over two weekends.  The portions are huge, and the prices are low:
For our first time at Kim Bob Na Ra, my wife and I went was a Sunday at lunch. We were the only non-Koreans in a dining room that filled rapidly and eventually overflowed. People were coming in and leaving due to lack of tables. Even though I had read the howchow pages and comments faithfully, I was not prepared for the all-Korean world. There was no English anywhere except some badly translated words on the menu. So I ordered the best I could and ended up with a cold noodle dish (Jjol Myun - thick noodle, egg, and spicy pepper sauce) on a cold winter day, and a boring soup (DDuk Gook - sliced rice cake soup). 
DDuk Bok yi
My perfect order was the kimbob -- Korean ingredients wrapped in rice then seaweed. Nothing raw about kimbob so don't call it sushi. It's longer and thicker than your normal Japanese sushi roll and no wasabi or ginger anywhere. Instead you have a bottle of soy sauce and rice vinegar next to a shaker of Korean red chile powder which I mixed all together in the small bowl supplied. The kimbob worked. It was fresh, crunchy and good. We got 2 banchan dishes of kimchi and yellow picked radish. Everyone in the restaurant got some kind of kimbob. The other popular dish was sliced rice cake and other stuff in a orange red sauce, DDuk Bok Yi - stir-fried rice cakes in spicy sauce.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Pudgies Pizza and Subs Coming To Clarksville

There are signs near the old Artie's locale in Clarksville that say they're opening a Pudgies Pizza and Subs in Clarksville, according to an anonymous comment.  Apparently, this is a small New York and Pennsylvania chain. Anyone have a report?

Link: Chen Hibachi on Swim Write Run

Check out the review of Chen Hibachi in Ellicott City on the Swim Write Run blog -- the chart is the kind of DIY fun that makes blogs entertaining.  They liked the sushi and hibachi.

BGR Burger Report: Jason Tells What To Expect

The Wellington w/onion rings
The BGR Burger Joint is coming to Columbia this spring, and I have been burned in the past by burger joints that filled me with anticipation but sub-par meals.

Jason says BGR won't disappoint.  In some email, I told him that I wanted to know what to expect.  He said the Bethesda and Dupont Circle joints are pretty similar -- tables mosaiced with video games or cartoons and framed posters of classic rock bands like The Police, Jimi Jendrix, Billy Idol or Queen.  But what about the burger?
Once you reach the front of the line, they have a chalk board with several burgers to chose from or you could "make your own."  The description of the burgers are listed in the menus scattered throughout the establishment. Every week they have a featured burger, one that is not on the menu. 
The burgers themselves are prepared to your order.  They're the juiciest burgers I have ever tried. Thick patties, delicious buttery brioche buns and fresh toppings. I personally have only ever tried two burgers. One time I "made my own" and every other time I have ordered The Wellington. This burger is made with onions, mushrooms, garlic, blue cheese and mojo sauce. It is quite rich but so delicious. I have quite an appetite and always order an extra patty for $2.  There are never survivors. Order it medium done, and the juices will burst out in every bite. Definitely the best burger I have ever had. 
The sides. The Yukon gold fries are my favorite.  They're thicker and similar to Wendy's fries.   The sweet potato fries are also quite tasty, but the one time I got them, they were small. The onion rings are colossal (as you can see in my picture). Very good as onion rings go, but they may fill up a small stomach. They also offer asparagus which I have yet to try but am intrigued by.  Finally, milkshakes.  They are rather expensive, a little too expensive for me to enjoy every visit but still very high quality. The vanilla is heavenly and the strawberry has small chunks of strawberry in it. They are excellent.
Okay.  Between Jason and Icolithic's comment on a prior post, I'm getting expectations that I need to tamp down.  Don't want to get too excited!

This is part of a week of guest posts highlighting finds that other people have found around Howard County.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Link: Gnocchi Knockdown (Facci v. Pazani)

Get advice about gnocchi in the Swim Write Run blog's weekly head-to-head comparison of Howard County food.  Today, Cindy of the Thoughts From a Swimmer blog guest-posts about gnocchi that she tried at Facci Ristorante at Rte 29 and Johns Hopkins Road and at Pazani Trattoria in Elkridge.

Firkins, Oysters And Kloby's Smokehouse News

I'm back to Kloby's Smokehouse -- a quick stop for my first firkin beer and oysters on the half shell.

Kloby's has been having special events where they bring in an oyster shucker and serve beer from an uncarbonated cask.  Flying Dog packed a cask of Raging Bitch India Pale Ale.  That was my favorite beer of last summer, and it's a cool variation out of a firkin.
Our Oyster Master

The beer pours without carbonation.  Still the fresh flavor and a bitter end.  But smoother than the bottled version.  The Baltimore Beer Guy mentioned a "sweet tea" vibe to firkin Raging Bitch.  I'll say it was delicious with the half-shelled oysters, which were mild and light.  Mrs. HowChow snacked on macaroni and cheese.  She added a pinch of salt, but then she does that for most of the food that I cook.

Kyle was at firkin night as well, and he said that fried oysters were even better.  We both liked the homemade cocktail sauce -- enough horseradish for a good bite.

These firkins are a craft beer happening.  Frisco Tap Room in Columbia introduced the idea to me, but I had some mistaken idea that the firkin involved filtering the beer through extra hops.  Instead, it's just a small key perched on the bar.  Slightly warmer than the regular taps and pouring fresh beer as long as it lasts.  If you want to hear about these events, keep an ear on Chef Kloby's Twitter feed.

Watch Kloby's for Super Bowl news.  Kloby's plans a pig roast tailgate.  Something like $25 will buy you a seat for the game, and Kloby's will offer up a buffet and a portable pig roast out in the parking lot.

And they're aiming to open their expanded space around St. Patrick's Day.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Links: El Nayar, Frisco Tap House And The Growing World Of Howard County Food Writing

A thousand flowers have bloomed among people writing about Howard County food, so people should check out several other sites that are reviewing or otherwise talking about local options.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Did Iceberry Close in Ellicott City?

Has the tart frozen yogurt fad started to ebb?  Iceberry -- one of several Rte 40 outlets for tart yogurt -- has papered windows and people tearing out the interior, says Little Audrey.

Little Audrey was the first person to mention the sign going up in July 2010, so it seems fitting that she would report about it coming to an end.  I'm still a fan of Tutti Frutti, across Rte 40 from Iceberry in Ellicott City.

Cuban Sandwich At Cuba De Ayer In Burtonsville

The Cuban sandwich at Cuba de Ayer is the rare sandwich that makes me want to look past a menu.

Roasted pork, ham, a mild cheese and just enough pickle to pick it up.  Cuba de Ayer presses the sandwich perfectly -- just enough to crisp the edges, but nothing greasy at all.  The bread stays crunchy, and the sandwich has a perfect mix of meat, salt and creamy cheese.

The real measure of Cuba de Ayer is that we don't share main courses at the Burtonsville restaurant.  We ordered two sandwiches and polished them both off.  We did share a side dish of "maduros" plantains and a dessert of tres leches cake.

(As Steve points out in a comment below, you shouldn't look past Cuba de Ayer's menu.  They have delicious food, as I sketched out in the original post about the restaurant.  I just looked past on the most-recent visit because I was infatuated with the idea of a Cuban sandwich.)

If you're looking for sandwiches worth a drive, everything starts at Bon Fresco.  You can also check out pit beef at Pioneer or the bulgogi panini at Riverside Coffee.  (And per Marcia's comment below, check out the pit turkey and other barbecue at the Town Grill in Lisbon.)  We really do need a place to serve Vietnamese bahn mi.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Momos At Gateway, Nepalese Pizzeria Of Elkridge

Gateway is a pizzeria that serves Indian food, but the treat that captivated me was Nepalese.

Momos are steamed dumplings filled with spiced chicken that Gateway sells as an $8 appetizer.  They're common across the moutainous area around Tibet, and the Gateway folks brought their versions from Nepal.

Gateway's momos are minced chicken spiced with coriander and ginger.   They're lighter, less bready than a version that I remember from a Tibetan restaurant in Boston.  The form would be at home in a Chinese steamer.  The flavors would be familiar on an Indian buffet.

That shouldn't be a surprise, but the flavors were a revelation for a spot between Food Lion and a thrift store.  Really delicious, a bright and balanced taste that would would hold their own with appetizers at the best Indian restaurants that I have visited.  Momos are certainly a great lunch.  We split an order with a buttery naan.   They're served with a tomato-based sauce, lightly spiced and so delicious that we dipped momos and bread until the container was bare.

Gateway is an unusual little restaurant.  One half of the menu is pizza joint -- pizza, subs, stromboli, salads, wings.  The other half is Indian food -- naan, paratha, biryani, and curries from vegetables to chicken to seafood to lamb.  I'd tried the pizza, but I would never have noticed the Nepalese food until Morty posted a comment suggesting the momos.

Gateway delivers through Ellicott City and Columbia.  The moms certainly inspire me to come back and try the Indian food one day.  Morty posted another comment yesterday with some compairsons to Akbar's and the observation that they'll make a pizza topped with paneer.  he still ranks Maiwand Kabob supreme among his takeout options, followed by Frisco Tap House.

Thanks again to Morty for the recommendation.  The best part of HowChow is hearing other people's suggestions and getting to find new delicious items.  (Morty -- fast enough to get a Gateway tag?)

6520 Old Waterloo Road
Elkridge, MD 21075

NEAR: Gateway is on Rte 108 just north of Rte 175.  It is between a Food Lion and CVS.  This is across the road from Columbia.  It's easy to reach from Rte 175 or Rte 100.

 Gateway on Urbanspoon

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Link: Head-to-head Kabobs on Swim Write Run

Grilled meats get the workout in the Swim Write Run blog's weekly head-to-head competition, and Maiwand Kabob in Columbia wins out with grilled chicken, salad, rice and naan.

As she notes, Maiwand's naan makes the meal when it pops out of the oven and directly onto your plate.  But she also liked the Chicken Shish Kebap sandwich at Turkshish Kebap, the casual joint on Little Patuxent Parkway that used to be Cazbar Kebap.  (I haven't been back since the change.)

Friday, January 14, 2011

The Sun Reviews Frisco Tap House, Then Just Starts Making Things Up About The Suburbs Because Who Is Going To Waste Their Time Actually Knowing About Food In The 'Burbs?

I can live with condescension about food in the suburbs, but the Sun could limit itself to insults that are actually based on the truth.

The Sun's Erik Maza reviewed the relocated Frisco Tap House on Dobbin Road in Columbia, and he liked the place.  He got in a clever dig about Frisco looking like a Chipotle, but then he paged through the Sun's manual for writing about Howard County and whipped out this paragraph:
Though there's not much near the bar — The Mall in Columbia is about five miles away — a drive here is worth it, and for Columbia residents, it's unlikely there's anything remotely as comprehensive around.
Seriously?  Two blocks from the new Frisco Tap is Sushi King, which is as good or better than any sushi in Baltimore, and, from the city, you have to drive past spectacular Indian.  You can pass an Akbar's, but that's fighting to be the third-best Indian in Columbia -- rather than being the top Indian on the Sun's Top 50 in Baltimore.  Anyone driving to Frisco should really stop for dosas at Mango Grove if they come from Rte 175 or House of India if they come from Rte 32.  That's not even mentioning the simpler sushi at Hanamura or sandwiches at Bon Fresco or the up-and-coming Indian at Royal Taj.

That's all within blocks of the new Frisco Tap.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Kloby's Smokehouse In (Sort-Of) Laurel 2011

Kloby's Smokehouse started as a replacement, and it is steadily transforming into a special place for beer and barbecue.

Kloby's opened about two years ago on the site of a shuttered BBQ joint on Johns Hopkins Road just off Rte 29. It started as takeout, and even the early days came with delicious pork and chicken sandwiches.

But the smoke has spread.  First, Kloby's added a seating area and a bar.  Then, they upgraded to a craft beer program with unique items on tap.  Now, it is expanding to add an ice cream parlor, a bar and a space for live music.

Kloby's stands out because of the smoke.  I have eaten much of the menu by now, and every plate comes with the flavor of the wood fire that they run every day in a hulking smoker in the kitchen.  That starts with strong BBQ staples like pulled pork and chicken sandwiches, then runs to some really unique smoked chicken wings.  Those come in a dozen varieties, but I have to recommend the "dirty" wings that are smoked and then quickly fried.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Korean Restaurants II: Barbecue, Bar Food And Soon Tofu So You Explore The Bounty Of Rte 40

Last week, I offered up my amateur knowledge about Ellicott City's Korean restaurants -- in the hopes of getting some advice from actual experts.

Kevin Rhee delivered. One of the authors of the hilarious, lamented Kevin & Ann Eat Everything blog, Kevin broke down the Korean joints along Rte 40 and suggested items to try -- including new places like Kimbap Nara and Blue Sky Cafe.  It's a great post and especially impressive considering that Kevin spoke no English before emigrating from Bulgaria in 2005. Luckily, the domination of Pyongyang-style eateries behind the Iron Curtain created a generation of experts.  Take it away, Kevin:

Howard County (Ellicott City) is unique in its Korean population. Until 1999, there were two small Korean grocers (one where Blue Sky Cafe is now and the other where the Domino's Pizza is behind Starbucks on Rte 40) and one Korean restaurant (the now-closed Han Sung Oak). The grocers were typical of what you can still see today outside of the large metropolitan areas. In a word: small. The Korean restaurant was also typical of the suburbs, it was a "little bit of everything" type of restaurant.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Paul and Dennis Promote Restaurant Weeks

Get a look at Cafe de Paris and Aida Bistro in Columbia through interviews by Dennis Lane and Paul Skalny created with HoCoMoJo to promote the Howard County Restaurant Weeks. It's a five-minute video where you can see dishes and hear from owners at both restaurants.

I posted about the restaurant weeks that runs from Jan. 17 to 31.  Dennis and Paul are really smooth, and they get friendly, casual conversations.  I'm super-impressed.  You really see some dishes, and the interviews are way more natural than I'd ever look on television.

Trolling: First Trip To The H Mart, Happy Return To the Crab Shanty

It's new food adventures and an old standard in this Trolling post from Marcia who struck out for H Mart in Catonville and took her mother-in-law to the Crab Shanty in Ellicott City.

It's the perfect Trolling because I have never been to the Crab Shanty even though it is a Howard County institution and I have been to H Mart so often that I can overwhelm new people when I explain what they can buy.  It's an email from November, but I'm just digging out from my email:
Popped rice bowls at H Mart
I finally got to H-Mart yesterday. Much to my relief, the clientele was varied, I was not the only non-Asian there. If anyone else is a bit nervous about going, I'd say I could identify about 95% of the items (not that I'd eat all those items, like the containers of blood, but I could figure out more or less what they were). The produce was very nice, I got a number of things including some beautiful tomatillos. I'll use those to make Tyler Florence's chicken echiladas with tomatillo salsa. Yum. 
Got some romaine lettuce, pea pods, and then spicy beef dumplings from the freezer case. I didn't get a ton - this time. Most of the produce looked really nice.  I saw some queso fresco in the dairy case that I want to try and so many types of frozen dumplings. So many different types of noodles, too, great for fall noodle dishes. I was surprised to see so many varieties of fresh mushrooms.  I'll be going back for those.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Howard County Restaurant Weeks 2011

The Howard County Winter Restaurant Weeks kick off on January 17 and offer you an excuse to get out of the house and explore some great food.

The theme for 2011 is "international flair," but the attraction from January 17 to 31 remains special prix fixe menus where you get to splurge.  You need to commit some cash -- $10-19 for lunch and $29-41 for dinner -- but you get an extra course or a special preparation.

As of today, I'd highlight the relocated Aida Bistro in Columbia.  This would be a fun way to try out the new, larger space.  I also like the menus that have been posted by Victoria Gastro Pub in Columbia ($29 dinners like a poached pear salad, chipotle and chocolate braised beef shortribs, and dessert) and Portalli's in Ellicott City ($30 dinners like calamari, a blood orange-poached snapper escabeche and s'more made with homemade shortbread).  To go all out, consider the $40 dinner at Ranzul in Fulton where you get four courses like a pear salad, fish tacos, short ribs and creme brulee.

Groupon Deal: Red Pearl's Dim Sum $12 For $25

Today's Groupon coupon for Baltimore is a $12 purchase that gets you $25 in dim sum from Red Pearl in Columbia.  I'm a fan of Red Pearl's dim sum, so I'd recommend the purchase.

Thanks to Marcia for the email and Matt for posting on the HowChow Facebook page.

Salty Sticks At Bon Appetit Bakery

Sweets are inspiring many comments from people about the new Bon Appetit bakery in Ellicott City, but don't overlook the salty sticks.

These are bread sticks -- thin, crisp and dusted with salt.  They'd impress people at a dinner party or just class up a bowl of soup.  They're not cheap at $4 a bag, but they're competitive with the bread sticks that we loved at Volt in Frederick.  That's high praise.

Don't pass up on the rice donuts at Bon Appetit.  I love red bean donuts, and comments on my prior Bon Appetit post have talked up sweets from the eclair to the yule log to the strawberry shortcake.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Pei Wei -- It's What The Kids Are Eating

People are jealous of you because you live in Howard County.  Chef Nudnik lives deep in Montgomery County, but the Wiggles came to Baltimore -- so the Nudnik stopped in Columbia for the dinner that his family and friends wanted:
Had a great family meal at Pei Wei on Dobbin Road after the Wiggles concert the other day. While we are big fans of PF Chang's, Pei Wei is a bit more manageable with little kids. We had three families, which meant a table for twelve for the early bird Saturday night. 
A special shout to the manager who helped navigate a surly customer who was insistent on sitting in the middle of a section with 12 opens seats. She was great at diffusing what could have been an unpleasant situation and a long wait. She also keyed us in on the fact that each of the wok cooked dishes that are normally coated in a starchy and delicious substance can also be done healthy and really didn't loose much flavor.
While waiting in line to order can take a bit, they time it so tables open by the time you pay and are ready to sit. Part of their secret is that once ordered, the food comes out especially fast. It reminded me of Chinese takeout in New York where the buzzer would ring moments after you hung up the phone.  Everyone loved what they got with the exception of their featured noodle selection which was a bit bland.  Kids and parents love the edamame to start and very reasonably priced kids meals were a big hit. While not ideal for a intimate night of lingering conversation, Pei Wei hits the spot for fresh flavorful pan Asian food without the wait and at very reasonable prices. We will be back. Something to note: Pei Wei does not accept the Warrior Card (free at which gives 10 percent off at their full service restaurants.
I have to be honest that Pei Wei wasn't my favorite on my single visit.  I'd push Mango Grove on the other side of Dobbin Road.  But the Nudniks know their food -- and have two little guys who are restaurant veterans.  So I'll take the advice.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Link: Korean American Mommy & Duk Mandu Guk

Starting with last week's post about restaurants on Rte 40, I'm enjoying a run of advice about Korean food and items to order.  In a comment on my post, Ray mentioned a terrific blog -- Korean American Mommy -- with recipes like duk mandu guk.

Lisa runs recipes and posts beautiful photos -- and has the taste to showcase a panfried mini-bun recipe from Andrea Nguyen, author of one of my favorite cookbooks Asian Dumplings.

And I hope it's just the start of more advice about Korean . . . 

Friday, January 7, 2011

Link: Old Bay Wings On Swim Write Run Blog

The Friday "food versus food" battle turns to chicken wings on the Swim Write Run blog -- and the Old Bay wings at Second Chance Saloon in Columbia edged out their rivals at Twist & Turn Tavern in Highland.

The post details the wing-by-wing battle.  Then Wordbones comments on about the similar wings at T-Bonz Grille.

Japanese Noodles - Udon, Soba, Somen, So Easy

The easiest place to start in a foreign market is to buy something that looks familiar.

At Asian markets, notice that Japanese noodles look like spaghetti.  But that can deceptive -- they're actually easier to cook, better for you, and often better-tasting as well.

The noodle selection can be intimidating, so start with the Hakubaku brand that sells udon, somen and soba noodles.  They're Japanese staples, and they go with flavors from all around the world from shikate mushrooms and traditional recipes in Kimiko Barber's The Japanese Kitchen to cayenne pepper and modern American cuisine like Heidi Swanson's Super Natural Cooking.  

Japanese noodles are a pantry staple that will adapt to your tastes.  You can add them to soup.  You can make chilled summer salads.  You get noodles that are different enough to be interesting, but you can find recipes in many places so that you eat them with the vegetables and meat that you prefer.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

The Secret Sandwich Menu At Bon Fresco

Bon Fresco Sandwich Bakery has a menu so secret that even the employees don't know about it.

Behold: The HowChow Special.

Bon Fresco has served some of Howard County's best sandwiches since it opened two years ago in Columbia, but they took it  to the next level by offering to let me make my own.  I was deciding between the roasted vegetables sandwich with tapanade or the turkey sandwich with Maple Lawn Turkey Farm meat.  The turkey sounded good, but I wanted the salty tapanade more than whatever condiments were on the official turkey version.

That's when the cashier told me that I could mix and match.  Turkey on ciabatta with a thin layer of the roasted vegetables and tapanade.  That was absolutely delicious.  Bon Fresco's menu items were already exceptional.  It just gets better now that I realize that I can shuffle the ingredients myself.  Turkey and roasted vegetables is the HowChow Special -- as long as you get the potato salad as your side.

On a similar note, 1ltkis left a comment on a prior post saying that he/she has called Bon Fresco and asked them to make rolls.  Ciabatta or French bread rolls?  That sounds terrific.  Has anyone else ever done this?  How far in advance do you call?

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Sushi Sono, Asean Bistro Top Washingtonian

The Washingtonian picked two Howard County restaurants among its 100 Very Best Places To Eat -- as listed in the January 2011 edition but not posted on the Web as far as I can see.

Sushi Sono and Jesse Wong's Asean Bistro are Columbia's representatives on a list that runs to the highest-end joints in DC.  Congrats to both places, and thanks to the Washingtonian for considering Howard County to be part of the city.

Sushi Sono is a no-brainer.  It made Washingtonian's 2010 list, and the sushi has made it one of our favorite splurges.  Asean Bistro is a more-surprising choice to me.  It's a fine restaurant, but Best of Washington?  It didn't make my most-recent Best of Howard County.

Welcome To The Howard County Party Blog!!

Welcome to the new Howard County blog covering the late-night scenes -- HoCo Hangover.

A "Power Hour" with $1 mixed drinks would pretty much knock down HowChow.  But HoCo Hangover gets the drinks, remembers it all, and writes it down.  First post -- Union Jack in Columbia.  And they have a bucket list of bars and restaurants that they need to hit.  This could be great fun -- definitely fun to have another blog writing about Howard County food.

I already see that they need to add Judge's Bench, Kloby's Smokehouse and T Bonz Grille, which all do craft beer.  They need to try Rainpia for beer and Korean fried chicken.  And they need to tell me about the secret place -- the one with blue lights above Johnny's Bistro on Main Street.  What other nightlife do you recommend?

Victoria Gets Take-Out Growlers And The Baltimore Beer Guy Gets A New Web Site

Victoria Gastro Pub has gotten 32 oz growlers, and they're finalizing plans to sell their craft beers for takeaway, reports the Baltimore Beer Guy.

The BBG posted a photo as the first entry on his new Web site.  I thought a new Blogger template qualified as a shake-up, but the BBG has struck out with his own URL.  If I had thought this would last three years, I might have gotten my own URL, but I think I'm a few hundred posts (and a few thousand links) committed here.

The BBG also notes that Victoria is running a special event with Belgian beers from today to Friday.  He has the full list.

Standing Rib Roast From Laurel Meat Market

If you're building a party around beef, then you need to buy it from someone who put as much effort in the butchering as you put in the kitchen.

Standing rib roast was the Christmas Eve centerpiece for my friend The '34 Act Gourmet, and he bought his beef from the professionals at Laurel Meat Market.

Unless you cook way more meat than I, you need professionals.  Roasts and steaks can be cut an endless number of ways, and they can be cut well or poorly -- a difference that will affect how your meat cooks, cuts and tastes.

The Gourmet's roast tasted delicious.  He had done research to know that he wanted a seven-rib roast and wanted the chine bone removed to make it easier to carve.  But the Laurel Meat Market butcher also suggested that they remove the ribs and tie up the roast -- something the Gourmet hadn't considered.
They did this and tied up the roast for me, which I learned is important - you want the roast tied up so that it stays together during the roasting process.  They estimated that a seven rib roast would be between 15 and 18 pounds.  I think the roast was close to 18 pounds.  Last year I bought a similar-sized roast from Harris Teeter because they offered a good deal on it.  I remember it tasting pretty good, but they did not tie the roast up.  I think the tying made a difference -- it kept the juices of the roast in.
With the roast in hand, the Gourmet was left to season, roast and baste for the day of the party.  He says he wishes that the butchers had left just a little more fat for basting, but the roast carved beautifully with my well-done pieces on the end and the red medium-rare through the center.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Korean Restaurants On Rte 40 -- Looking To Trade Advice About Ellicott City's World Cuisine

Pork belly and more at Honey Pig
There is a world of Korean food along Rte 40 in Ellicott City, and I'm looking to trade advice about what to try and where to eat.

You don't go to Rte 40 for some standard "Korean food."  We're past the point where restauranteurs offer up an identical menu of classics.  Instead, the restaurants are spreading out -- offering a range of dishes and offering atmospheres from classy to casual, from hip to dive bar.  They're all delicious.  They're all friendly to non-Koreans.  I'm outlining what I know in the hopes that folks will add more detail in the comments.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Dim Sum at Red Pearl in Columbia

Roast pork and shu mai
The ingredients for brunch should be good food, a relaxed pace, and just enough chatter in the restaurant to energize the day.

Our new brunch find is Red Pearl in Columbia, where the dim sum feast became the official meal of the HowChow holidays -- Christmas Day, one weeknight, then New Year's Day again.  Steamed dumplings with barbecued pork.  Roasted duck.  Shrimp in rice noodle sheets.  I could grab dishes off each cart that passed by, but I'm getting ahead of myself.

Red Pearl opened last year on the Columbia lakefront spot that used to be Jesse Wong's Hong Kong.  It's a modern space where they started with an authentic Sichuan menu that they've augmented since last summer.  The recent innovation was Hong-Kong-style dim sum with dumplings, roast meats and fabulous desserts.  You can order from a menu on weekdays -- even at dinner -- but the real drama is weekend brunch when waitresses push rolling carts.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

BGR The Burger Joint Coming To Columbia

BGR The Burger Joint is opening in Columbia -- in the shopping center with Target, Ichiban Cafe and Rack Room Shoes.

(Update: The opening is aimed for early spring, says a tweet by BGRBurgerJoint.

BGR is the kind of burger place that touts a simple menu of burgers, fries and shakes, but it opens in Dupont Circle and writes about its "story" on its Web site.  They talk up the quality, and I'm a fan of quality, mid-priced burgers.  I just got burned by my anticipation for Fatburger two years ago, so I'll wait to taste and see where I come out among the mixed Yelp reviews.

Thanks to Zevonista for the tip.  If you need a burger before BGR opens, check out Victoria Gastropub and Five Guys, which seems like the closest existing concept to BGR.

Buffalo Wild Wings in Columbia - What Happened?

Anyone know if the Buffalo Wild Wings is still coming to Dobbin Road in Columbia?

It has been almost a year since people were talking about the chain demolishing and replacing the former Rocky Run restaurant, but the shuttered building was still there last week.  Neither Wordbones nor I have heard anything.

New Year, New Food To Try -- Recommendations Like AYCE Hot Pot, Questions About Clark's Beef

In just the last few days, I have picked up weeks worth of food that I want to check out from comments or reports from HowChow readers.  Over the holidays, I culled old comments to make myself a new list of things to try:

  • All-you-can-eat hot pot at Hunan Taste in Catonsville.  This went on my list when I saw the photo linked from a comment by Yaka.  I have never had hot pot before, although I saw one at Red Pearl last week on another table.  Any advice on how to do it?
  • Nepali food at Gateway Pizza in Elkridge.  It's a shop selling pizzas and Indian food.  I had tried the pizza years ago, but I hadn't heard about the momos until Morty left a comment.
  • The turkey peppercorn sandwich at Bistro Blanc.  I hadn't been back since a disasterous dinner in 2009, but Adam talked up a sandwich with brie and apples.
  • El Hidalgo has been on my "to do" list for a while, but now I need to try the tamale that Michelle ordered.
  • The egg & cheese on a croissant that Jess had at Bon Appetit and wrote about on her blog Seeking Nutrition.
  • Sausage from Scittino's in Catonsville.  An anonymous commentor says they make their own -- from bangers to Lithuanian sausage.
On top of my "to do" list, there were a few other questions that people asked.  Specifically, has anyone tried the beef from Clark's Elioak Farm?  I got an anonymous question, but I haven't eaten it.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

China Chefs May Be Replaced By "Asian Palace" Serving Chinese, Japanese And Thai

Jessie X sent me a photo of a sign from the China Chefs space that says "Asian Palace Coming Soon - Japanese, Chinese, and Thai Cuisine."

Previously, a comment from Steve mentioned a sign saying that the Columbia restaurant was remodeling and would re-open in February 2011.  But it may open under a new name.  Anyone know the story?

Spotted: Leche Flan At Manila Asian Market

The Filipino market next to the Dutch Country Farmers Market in Laurel was selling leche flan this weekend, but Min just missed out on the last two.

Min snapped a picture as the last two packages went out the door.   They say that they're made in Gaithersburg, and Min got the idea that they were a special seasonal item.

Manila Asian Foods
9709 Fort Meade Road (Rte 198)
Laurel, MD 

NEAR: Manila Asian Foods shares a shopping center with the Dutch Country Farmers Market in Laurel.  They're east of U.S. 1 and just past a Home Depot.