Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Here Comes Wild Cajun To Ellicott City; Construction Underway, Soft Opening In May

Here comes Wild Cajun -- a new restaurant in the Lotte shopping center in Ellicott City.

The interior looks like a restaurant more than a construction site, although there is clearly work going on.  The sign ont he door calls for a soft opening over May 14-15 featuring five dishes like gumbo, cajun crawfish and seafood eggrolls.

I'd mentioned this place in February after Jack spotted a menu on-line.  In just a few months, Wild Cajun has renovated the former space of Chen Hibachi at Rte 40 and Rte 29.  There are some wall murals and a painted stream along the floor -- although there weren't tables or chairs when we walked past Saturday.

In comments, folks have said Wild Cajun appears to be a Vietnamese guy doing cajun seafood.  That seems cool to me.  Steamed crawfish could be a revelation, and po' boy sandwiches can be great fun -- although my stomach makes me impose high standards on fried food these days.  I love some Bon Chon chicken, but I cringed at the last po' boy because I ordered it at a place that just threw batter-crusted shrimp on a roll.

Does anyone know if the May 14-15 dates are going to happen?  I always understand when schedules slip a bit.  Does anyone know more about plans for the restaurant?

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Cooking Your Local Produce Brings Inspirations For Your CSA Or Your Farmers Market Shopping

I have to admit that I'm super-surprised that CSAs didn't take over my kitchen.  I have joined them for several years now, and I always figured that the shares would become a theme through HowChow with me writing about the dishes that I made.

It never happened.  I love Gorman Farm in Laurel.  I have posted several times about CSA options around Howard County.  But the new discoveries were few, and I felt bad when the cabbages rotted in the back of my fridge.

All that said, I recommend the adventure to anyone.  The vegetables have been terrific, and I know a bunch of people who get thrills along with good food -- including AnnieRie and Kat who blog about their CSA finds.

With more assistance is my friend Lisa from the Lisa B., Mrs. S. blog with a carry-along companion for your forays into CSAs and farmers markets:
The CSA and farmers market season begins soon. (May 7th here in Howard County.)  If you're new or even just relatively new to CSAs, at one point or another you will likely look at an item in your share and wonder, "How do I even cook that?" The answer is here:

My friend Greta Hardin has written Cooking Your Local Produce, and reading it had me feel like she was in the kitchen teaching me. 
The recipes are easy to follow -- even for the ingredients you may have never cooked before (garlic scapes, anyone?) -- while also offering variations to make the months of kale and collard greens more interesting.  One of my favorite recipes is the Warm Fennel and Purple Cabbage Slaw.  Traditional coleslaw is great, but try this if you're looking for something less sweet-and-sour, more savory and fresh.
This cookbook really shines in its organization.  Instead of sorting recipes by season or dish, chapters are organized by ingredient type.  Leaves and shoots, flowers and fruits, seeds and roots each get their own sections, and the resources in the back can't be beat.  Greta includes an ingredient guide with photos, descriptions, and quick cooking ideas to make those farmers market trips easier.  Follow Cooking Your Local Produce on Facebook to get more cooking tips and inspiration, as well as news about a future app.
If you're in this market, I also recommend Jacob Bishop's Vegetables Everyday that I reviewed several years ago.  He also organizes the recipes by the main ingredient.  He has really smart, interesting and simple preparations that you can follow or doctor with your own inspirations.  And check out the farmers market news and schedule on the county's Web site about the farmers markets.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Cafe Mezcla Restaurant Coming to Hickory Ridge With Sweet And Savory Waffles And Crepes

Oh, the sign says Cafe Mezcla, not "Cafe Mezilla"
Does anyone know the story behind this sign for Cafe Mezcla in the Hickory Ridge village center in Columbia?

Alicyn sent it to me.  It seems to say Cafe Mezcla and have the line "Free scoop of gelato with any sweet waffle or crepes." This is the storefront next to Meadows Custard.

That seems to be the same door that had a sign in January advertising Yog Coffee & Crepes.  Alicyn said late last week that she could hear drilling inside.  I did some terrible Google searches when I thought the sign said "Cafe Mezilla."  But then I looked closer and found a Cafe Mezcla Web site with a menu full of waffle and crepe options.

That's savory like fried chicken and waffles or chicken crepes.  That's also sweet ones with ice cream, berries and more.  It looks like all-day eating.  Does anyone know more?

Friday, April 25, 2014

A Splurge Dinner If You Love Dessert: Wit & Wisdom Starts A Monthly Tasting Special

The "Lemon" course with avocado sherbet and a perfect meringue
Dyan Ng's food doesn't taste like Baltimore, but I think that she'll fit in quite beautifully.

Ng is the new pastry chef at the Four Seasons in Baltimore, and she is the star of a new monthly special at the hotel's Wit & Wisdom restaurant.  It's a splurge night.  A five- or six-course dinner that calls itself "progressive dessert" and comes across as imaginative, delicious fun.

Dyan Ng
Envision four courses -- plus a special cocktail to start -- where Ng and her team take ingredients that you'd see in dessert and create a real meal.  No hard line between sweet and savory.  Dishes instead that play with that line, sometimes skipping across bite to bite.

Start off with the cocktail.  Strawberries with rhubarb, swimming in gin with diced cucumber.  Icy, refreshing and bursting with flavor.  We sipped a bit and then scooped out the dessert-y remains.  We learned the strawberries were injected with basil-filled syringes.  Pretty cool.

Two courses in, Mrs. HowChow said she was leaving me to live in Harbor East -- Handbags in the City, great food, and an easier commute to work.  That was the avocado sherbet talking.  Creamy.  Like a lighter fruit.  Taste of cilantro, grapefruit, crunch of almonds, and the crispiest, lightest meringue that I have ever tasted.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Ananda Update: It Seems Maple Lawn's Indian Restaurant Will Open; Chatter Says Next Month

Ananda over last weekend
The current chatter says that Fulton may actually get its Indian restaurant -- Ananda, a joint that has been under construction a long time on Maple Lawn Boulevard.

Construction seemed to stop over the winter, and there was a brief moment when the building was listed for rent on Craig's List.  But they got their liquor license, and a Maple Lawn Facebook page now includes talk of "pre-opening" meals starting in early May.

Early May seems unlikely considering the state of the restaurant last weekend.  There has been real progress with light fixtures and some chairs, the kind of progress that had been lacking over the winter.  But Ananda still looked like a construction site, not a restaurant.  So be patient.

Does anyone know more about the timing or the plans?

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Start Your Summer At Pars Market In Columbia; Go For Grilling, Grab Pistachio Nougat For Fun

Kabob skewers from Pars Market
Start your summer at Pars Market in Columbia for a quick way to jazz up your grilling -- plus a fun Persian sweet.

Pars is a small market on Snowden River Parkway in the same shopping center as Royal Pizza and the new Chutney Indian restaurant.  Pars has two cool items that should become standards in your grilling repertoire.

First, flat kabob skewers.  For a few bucks, you can pick up metal skewers that have long flat sides instead of just an "ice pick" body.  The shape makes it really easy to form kabobs and other decisions alternatives to a hamburger patty.
Pistachio nougat at Pars

Since I bought my skewers in 2010, I have really enjoy playing with different kabobs.  You can use all kinds of meat.  Pars does not have an in-house butcher, but you can get fresh-ground lamb at halal markets like Nazar Market just north of Pars.  That was one of the finds from a grilling week through a Steven Raichen cookbook several years ago.

Second, haloumi cheese.  This is a newer discovery for us.  It's a firm, mild cheese that holds its shape when cooked in a skillet or on the grill.  I cut half-inch slices, which I cook until they're piping hot and just starting to soften.  I pour a little pomegranate molasses, maybe a scattering of minced mint.

Haloumi is a terrific find.  It is also $7 at Pars, and they generally have it in the fridge.  Nazar has had real problems keeping haloumi in stock, and Roots Market charges $10 for the exact same product.  Pars is reliable and well-priced.  The cheese lasts forever in the fridge, so it's a pretty cool convenience food to take out on a weeknight.

While you're making plans to grill, enjoy a quick pickup by buying some of the pistachio nougat candy from the display just inside the door.  They sell it by the piece.  Plan on eating a handful in the car, so don't skimp.  This nougat was one of the first finds that inspired me to blog -- back in a Persian market that moved, expanded and closed since HowChow began.

Pars sells some of the best pistachio nougat that I have ever had.  Very soft.  Great flavor.  Nice crunch with the nuts.  These are a delicious quick treat, but they're special enough to serve to guests.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

New Peruvian Chicken Near Fort Meade, A Blogger Event At Petit Louis, And Recs For Ramen, Cuban, Sysco Shopping And More

Jeff from the Southern Skies coffee company made a new find recently just east of Howard County on Rte 175.

That's Peruvian chicken for the north county -- and just one of the great finds or bits of advice that people email me or leave in the comments.  Again, I'm trying to capture a bunch here so that more people can share.

First, Jeff's thoughts on Lima's
I wanted to tell you about a new restaurant on Rt.175. The other day, my wife and I were coming back after conducting some business on Ft. Meade and happened across a Peruvian chicken place called Lima's. It's located in the old Friendly's place at 2641 Annapolis Rd. 
We split a half chicken and had black beans and fried yucca on the side. I've been eating Peruvian style chicken for more than 20 years, so I can say with some authority that the chicken there was very good. The skin was nice and crispy and even the breast meat wasn't dried out. The beans would have benefited from more seasoning but weren't bad. I didn't try anything else on the menu, but I saw that they featured Peruvian specialties like ceviche and lomo saltado.
On Thursday, Petit Louis in Columbia will host a free event for bloggers and blog readers as part of their kickoff of their outdoor space n the lakefront.  Check out HoCo Blogs for the details and how to sign up.  Wine tasting and snacks from 4-6 pm, what more could you want?

Well, you could want ramen.  After my post last week, Anonymous reported that Nari Sushi in Columbia does a kimchi ramen, and Xani vouched for the ramen at Ichiban, which I had mentioned.  I can't wait for the new ramen restaurant to open on Rte 40.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Gadsby's Pleases The Bare Midriff With Cocktails; Chad Makes Blogger Hearts Beat To His Rhythm

I can't believe that I missed the HoCo Blogs event at Gadsby's Bar American last week -- especially now that I read the rave that Elizabeth wrote on The Bare Midriff about her cocktail.

Gadsby's is one several new places that we just haven't had time to try yet.  I'd written before that they've hired Chad Spangler, a serious bartender trying to create a real name for the place among people who like cocktails.

Elizabeth loved the place and especially loved the drink that she got from Chad:
It was heavenly. Light and floral, but not cloyingly so. A hit of acid from the lemon, a smooth sweetness from the honey. It was just perfect. And of course it has me rethinking how I'm going to make my own lavender-gin cocktail.
Check out the whole post on The Bare Midriff blog.  Check out her links for more Vine videos like the one above or the one where Chad uses a blow torch to smoke a Manhattan.

For more, check out AnnieRie's post about the same event -- and the same bartender -- on the AnnieRie Unplugged blog.  She has photos of food as well.

The $2 Gourmet: Bucatini From DeCecco At Wegmans Or "What I Learned At Italian Shabbat"

DeCecco Bucatini
I love a bargain, but a cheap indulgence can be just as rewarding.

Our friends try to promote a Friday night tradition that they call "Italian Shabbat."  That's a Friday night with friends and Italian food.  They put on terrific food, and I stole the easy part:  a thick, long pasta called bucatini.

That's thicker than spaghetti, but just as easy to make.  It's actually a long hollow tube.  Terrific with the meat sauce that our friends (let's call them "The Cordis Couple") served.  Terrific with all kind of pasta sauces that I have tried since I started buying bucatini in Wegmans in Columbia.

DeCecco's bucatini is a few dollars a box.  That's more than almost every other brand of pasta.  But the noodles themselves are delicious, and there is something fun in splurging on a luxurious shape.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Kloby's Gets Love From The Travel Channel For Jarbecue, Huge Burgers And More

The Travel Channel came to Kloby's Smokehouse, and they're celebrating the jarbecue, the huge burgers and more.

Check out the link above to see owner Steve Klobosits talk with one of Travel's personalites on a show that appears to be concentrate on bacon.  Or check the YouTube link where the channel listed Kloby's as #50 on their list of 101 places to chow down.

The '34 Act Gourmet and I were early proponents of the jarbecue -- a mason jar layered with pulled pork, cole slaw, baked beans and now bacon.  I'm a huge fan of Kloby's barbecue, especially the ribs and pulled pork.  It's my local for meat and bourbon.

Of course, the Travel Channel's narration forces me to make the point that Kloby's isn't in Laurel.  I know that's the mailing address, but HowChow's only political campaign rails against using "Laurel" for anything west of Rte 29.  And it promotes "Tribeco."

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Pink Plate Specials -- Restaurants Raising Money In April For The Local Cancer Center

I cannot post about all the specials and promotions run by Howard County restaurants, but how can I turn down the "pink plate" specials?

A bunch of local restaurants are running specials through April and donating money to the cancer center at Howard County Hospital.  See the list above or an Open Table page that lists the restaurants. Steve Wecker, a co-owner of the Iron Bridge Wine Company, has helped organize the week and has been trying to foment competitive fundraising against Aida Bistro and other local restaurants.

Ramen In Howard County -- Two Spots For Now, And Plans For "Uma Uma" Coming To Rte 40

Ichiban Cafe's ramen
I'm nervous to write about ramen, but we need to start the conversation because you can slurp bowls here in Howard County.

Ramen is a Japanese noodle soup that has had a long-standing spot with chefs and food writers who champion favorite places and talk up both tradition and innovation.  Chicken or pork broth.  Vegetarian versions.  Add-in ingredients like pork belly or poached eggs or . . . intestine.  Ramen is something more than a meal and less than a craze.

The New York Times wrote about ramen.  Artifact Coffee in Baltimore did a six-day special celebration.  David Chang talked it up on his PBS series Mind of a Chef and even offers his recipe in the Momofuku cookbook.

Now, you can get in on the movement closer to home.

We've eaten ramen at two local restaurants -- Ichiban Cafe in Columbia and Manna in Ellicott City.  Again, I'm scared to write too much because I can't claim much knowledge.  On the one hand, it's a humble dish -- noodles, vegetables, maybe some meat or other special items, all in a warm broth.  On the other hand, people get crazy about ramen.

A few weeks ago, a friend met me for dinner in Manhattan, and we met at 5 pm.  She and her daughter were in line even earlier because Ippudo NY is so hot that it fills shortly after it opens and stays full all night.

I can't claim that our ramen matches one of the places that the New York Times calls one of the 10 best in the city.  Ippudo's broth was exquisite, and the fresh noodles were even better.  But I'll talk up both our local options -- and welcome other people to join in with observations.

Manna and Ichiban Cafe are both casual places -- one a Korean counter-service in the Lotte food court, the other a Japanese-Chinese place with a sushi menu near Target.  In both places, we ordered without expertise.  Manna has one broth and options for "add-ins" like dumplings.  Ichiban had two broths, and I somehow lost the notes that I typed as we ate.

Manna's ramen
In both places, you get a great dinner for $10-15.  Bowls of salty, spicy broth with warm noodles and toppings.  As I remember, Manna's looked like packaged ramen that I ate in college while Ichiban's seemed a bit more unusual.  But I enjoyed both -- especially I alternated between spoons of soup, slurps of noodles, and little treats like sliced pork or mushrooms -- without knowing how to judge them against anything else.

Give them a try in the next few months so you'll be ready when the specialists arrive.  Emily Kim emailed me last week to talk about her plans for a ramen-and-grilled-chicken restaurant that will replace the Jerry's Subs on Rte 40.  Emily is a University of Baltimore business student who is building a business from an obsession:
Back in 2009, I stumbled upon a Japanese ramen shop in New York during my spring break. From the first sip of Tonkotsu ramen broth and noodles, I found my new addiction.  I found myself getting Mega Bus ticket every week to get ramen.  So from beginning of 2013, I started a business plan to open a restaurant in Ellicott City.
That business will be Uma Uma -- a restaurant that Emily plans to open to serve both the noodle soup and the Japanese grilled chicken called yakatori.  The current plan is for construction to start June 1 and the restaurant to open in late summer.

So ramen has arrived in Howard County.  Newbies can have a great time just reading link after link about the dish's variations.  But some experienced folks could tell us what they think about these two local kitchens -- and anywhere else that I have missed so far.

The food court next to Lotte clearly holds treasures that I still need to find.  Manna sits in the back, but there are other Korean and Japanese options as well.  Can anyone recommend other dishes at joints in the food court?

Ichiban Cafe
6250 Columbia Crossing Circle
Columbia, MD 21045

NEAR: Ichiban is in the Columbia Crossing shopping center with Target. This is off Rte 175 at Dobbin Road. It is near the Joseph A. Banks and across from the Dick's Sporting Goods.

inside the food court next to Lotte
11-A Golden Triangle
8801 Baltimore National Pike (Rte 40)
Ellicott City, MD 21043

NEAR: Manna is inside the food court next to Lotte.  If you're looking at the supermarket, there is a door to the left that leads through some stores in a food court with about four restaurants.  Manna is at the far back.

Manna Food on Urbanspoon

Uma Uma (coming late summer 2014)
9380 Baltimore National Pike (Rte 40)
Ellicott City, MD 21042

NEAR: Uma Uma is coming to the space currently occupied by Jerry's Subs on the north side of Rte 40.  This will be right next to Lighthouse Tofu.