Thursday, December 31, 2009

Sarah and Desmond's Appears To Be Closed

Sarah & Desmond's Bakery and Cafe in downtown Ellicott City appears to be closed. I had heard comments about this, and Wordbones found a district court notice taped to the door yesterday -- as he posted on the Tales of Two Cities blog. Wendi of Bon Appetit Hon emailed me that she saw vendor invoices taped to the door as well.

Sarah & Desmond's was a unique little cafe and coffee shop. I always hope that people's troubles are temporary, but the shop will be missed if they're truly gone.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Want To Buy Java Grande?

The Java Grande coffee shop in Ellicott City may be for sale, at least according to Ken who pointed to the following advertisement on Craigslist:
COFFEE HOUSE FOR SALE. Turn Key Coffee House business for SALE. This beautiful, spacious, 2 year old coffee house is ripe for a new enthusiastic, sales focused owner. This coffee cafe is located on a busy route, at a light in a prime location for thousands of travelers to pass everyday. . . . This coffee house is beautifully decorated with large windows that allows customers to enjoy memorable sun rises and sunsets. . . . For a $229,000 investment, the new owner can simply turn the key and begin a new venture in the coffee business. . . .
The ad doesn't identify the coffee house. Ken's comment says the ad is for Java Grande. Certainly, the description -- Ellicott City, busy route, at a light, large windows -- sounds like Java Grande and not really anything else that comes to mind. I had posted in early December about a commenter who had heard talk about a combination of Java Grande and the pottery shop a few doors down -- although an anonymous comment there said Java Grande wasn't closing.

Click here for my take on coffee shops in Howard County.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Have You Heard About a Downtown Ellicott City Cafe Closing?

Not 100% sure what is going on, so I'm fishing to see if anyone has news about a downtown Ellicott City cafe closing.

I'm being coy about the name because I don't want to wrongly say that someone closed if they're just taking a week off for the holidays. But someone posted a credible-looking comment saying they're closed for good, and no one is answering the phone at the cafe. Email me if you know more.

(Update: Sarah & Desmond's Bakery & Cafe appears to have closed.)

Monday, December 28, 2009

Link: House of India on Technology & MSG

House of India turned out great food, and Alex of the Technology & MSG blog turned out way better photos than I can ever get at the Columbia restaurant.

Alex wrote a positive review about House of India's lunch buffet -- noting the "subtly regal" interior and highlighting the quality and variety of the buffet.

Click here for my post about the best Indian restaurants in Howard County.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Facci Ristorante -- Wood Fired Pizza Replacing Pasta Blitz In Laurel

A piece of the local Pasta Blitz chain will be changings its name and menu -- and they're bringing wood-fired competition to Coal Fire Pizza.

Beth sent me an email yesterday about stopping at Pasta Blitz on Johns Hopkins Road to discover people building a wood-fired pizza oven and planning a January name change to Facci Ristorante:

I stopped in at my local Pasta Blitz today to get a gift certificate today and the owner (Mr. Gino Palma-Esposito-per his business card) told me that the name and menu are changing January 6th. It will be Facci- ristorante-wood fire pizza-winebar. The fire hearth was being built as I stood there.

He assured me that the gift certificate will be good at the new place and that they will make anything from the current menu that's not on the new menu. Great for my elderly neighbor who loves the place.

Pasta Blitz is a big deal around here, although it hasn't been a regular place for me. So I broke my "no reporting for the blog" rule and called the Clarksville Pasta Blitz where Esposito was happy to talk about the new Facci Ristorante.

The Pasta Blitz on Johns Hopkins Road will be changing to Facci and going for a "city feeling," according to Esposito. They're going to have a bar and full service. He says they're trying to keep prices down, but they sound like they're aiming to compete with casual dining places like La Palapa Too, Victoria Gastropub, etc. They're aiming for a private, soft opening on January 6 and a public opening around January 11.

Facci's wood-fired pizza oven could be spectacular. Esposito is from Naples, and he is importing tomato, cheese and flour for an authentic taste that he says require Italian ingredients. Think $10 for a personal margherita pizza. As I have written before, I know it is hard to deliver reliable, great food. But I'm a fan of Coal Fire on Rte 108 even when it isn't perfect, and Johns Hopkins Road is close enough that I could walk there in the next blizzard if the pizza is good enough.

Again, Facci is only replacing the Pasta Blitz next to the JHU Applied Physics Lab. Officially, it's Laurel, but it is really caught between Columbia and Fulton. If Facci is a hit, Facci said he might change the Clarksville location, but that's in the future. First, we'll need a review of Facci by the Pizzablogger.

Facci Ristorante (as of January 2010)
7530 Montpelier Road
Laurel, MD 20723-6014
(301) 604-5555

NEAR: This is on Johns Hopkins Road just west of Rte 29. It is a shopping center that includes La Palapa Too and Kloby's Smokehouse. This is just south of Columbia and just north of Fulton.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Halal "Rice Crispies" At Columbia Halal Meat

The rice crispy treat is a holy dessert in the HowChow family. Mrs. HowChow doesn't like cake, so we cut a giant rice and marshmallow treat in the midst of our wedding reception.

Columbia Halal Meat in Elkridge specializes in, well, halal meat, but they have a pretty good rice crispy treat for sale at the cash register under the brand Halal Crispy Treats -- 59 cents each, two for a dollar.

Most pre-packaged treats are failures, either too sweet or a soft texture that misses the original. Mrs. HowChow loved Starbucks' version, but someone messed with that recipe about a year ago. In our taste test, we split on the Halal Crispy Treat. I thought it was good -- noticeably less sweet than the official supermarket Rice Crispie Treats and a definite snack options. Mrs. HowChow wants her told Starbucks treat back. She thought the Halal Crispy Treat still had a chemical taste common to prepackaged versions. (They're all still better than the Cheerios and Tang bars that my healthy mother served in decades past.)

If you're looking for more-traditional baked goods, check out my post about the best bakeries in Howard County.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Grace Garden For Christmas

'Tis the season to try some authentic Chinese food.

Grace Garden in Odenton says that they'll be on open on Christmas, and this is your chance to sample -- or to go back for -- the authentic dishes that get so many people up in a twist.

For more than a year, I have thought Grace Garden was one of Howard County's best restaurant although it is actually a little east of the county line. Even with that, our dinner two weeks ago was better than anything that we have ever had before.

For the first time, we tried the fish noodles and the braised pork, and I haven't eaten anything better all year. The noodles are literally noodles made from ground fish. They have the texture of rustic pasta, and a mild flavor that says meat without being fishy at all. I have no idea how Chef Li puts that together, and, if anything, the pork is an even greater mystery. This is pork belly -- the same cut that people use for bacon. But Grace Garden serves pork that is crispy and tender, a flavor of pork and the spicy sauce. No greasiness at all. We
rounded out with the pea shoots to get some vegetable on the plate, and we packed up containers with leftover pork and pea shoots. (The fish noodles don't reheat well, we were told. So we finished them happily.)

After my first review of tofu pockets and braised beef, I thought this was the best Chinese restaurant in Howard County, but Mrs. HowChow stayed loyal to Jesse Wong's Asean Bistro. The fish noodles and pork pulled her across. While we were still at the table, we were already talking about a Christmas return. Still haven't tried the head-on shrimp that Kevin talks up, but we'll try something new.

Click here for my original post about Grace Garden, which links to a bunch of other bloggers and directions to the Odenton restaurant.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Three Months To Free Rita's (And Spring)

Three months until spring. Just three months until spring -- measured officially by opening day at Rita's when they give away Italian ice from noon to 10 pm. For more about the March 20, 2010 giveaways, click the Rita's Facebook page. Hold on -- the warmth will return.

Thanks to Brian G for the reminder that spring will come. If you need another reminder of spring, check out my 2009 post about places to enjoy ice cream on a summer night.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Chick'n Pollo To Open Jan. 7 In Columbia

The Peruvian chicken place in Hickory Ridge Village Center should open on January 7 -- at least according to the guys walking out of Chick'n Pollo on Tuesday evening.

I reported by accident. I went past Chick'n Pollo in the hopes of grabbing dinner, but I arrived to find three guys locking up the doors. The restaurant looks just as ready to go as it did in mid-November. But the guys -- who looked like a manager/owner and a contractor -- said that they just got their final approval from the county.

They said they'll open on January 7. The menus suggest that they'll sell Peruvian chicken, along with Mexican food. They're on the back side of Hickory Ridge -- closer to the Luna Bella Pizzeria than the Giant.

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

HowChow: The Worm Edition

I'm reviewing garbage. Seriously.

When you want food for yourself, you'll find great stuff at Howard County's organic markets. But you should ask at the same markets to get some food for your worms. Roots in Clarksville and MOM's Organic Market in Jessup will happily give you their old produce to add to your compost pile. They're crucial at this time of year when I have piles of shredded leaves, but no grass clippings on the horizon.

 Last winter, I got two pick-up loads of leaves and mixed in a dozen or more boxes of old vegetables over the course of the winter -- turning the pile every week or two and adding more vegetables when nothing recognizable remained. By spring, I had spectacular compost to start my own vegetable garden and a few thousand worms happily crawling through the pile.

Of course, this is a review. All trash is not created equal -- at least, it isn't packaged equally. First, Roots has a salad bar, so half of the trash is trimmings and cutting that break down fast. Second, Roots stores its trash in plastic bags. I'm super-grateful to MOM's for giving me their stuff, but it's often in open-slat produce boxes, which have leaked liquid in my car. Not a crisis, but you want to put down plastic to catch the liquid.

No  matter where you get the vegetables, you can break up any whole fruit by either stamping on it or cutting it with the edge of a shovel. Apples, squash, and cucumbers all compost faster if you bust them up and expose their inner flesh to the worms and bacteria that do your composting work.

In all seriousness, nothing improves a garden like compost, and nothing makes better compost than a mix of organic fruits and vegetables. Your worms will love you for it.

If you're going to get old vegetables, call ahead in the morning, and the produce folks will generally set aside a few bags/boxes for you. They like you to pick up in the afternoon.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Biscuits At Victoria Gastropub

The photo is terrible, but the biscuits at Victoria Gastropub are one of the great food trinkets that you'll get around here.

House of India puts out papad as you peruse the menu. But that's the only competition that I remember for the square biscuits that I ate as I faked reading the options at Victoria.

Like I was going to order anything other than the best burger in Howard County. They put out a basket right after the water glasses. I had the time to split the biscuit in half and spread butter thinly across each piece in turn. Absolutely delicious, then a smile when Mrs. HowChow asked for a second basket.

(Update: I posted again about Columbia's Victoria Gastro Pub in 2010.)

Monday, December 14, 2009

Bon Fresco To Start Breakfast This Week

The talk at Bon Fresco Sandwich Bakery in Columbia is that breakfast service may start as early as this week, including egg sandwiches on the bakery's own breads.

(Update: See Momteachs comment below that breakfast hasn't happened and isn't on the plans in May 2010.)

Bon Fresco on Oakland Mills Road at Snowden River Parkway is a real treasure. They serve fresh, flavorful fillings on their own baguettes, ciabattas, and other breads. These are interesting, intelligent sandwiches that really qualify as one of my best restaurants in Howard County.

Saturday, we stopped to split a sandwich on the way to Target, and we were very happy to see every table full. We stopped back for a baguette that became French toast on Sunday morning.
Breakfast will be another way to get our Bon Fresco bread!

"Japanese" Peanuts At Panam Supermarket

Imagine an M&M remade by some crazy modern chef.

You enrobe a peanut with a tasty coating and crunchy shell. But instead of sweet milk chocolate and a candy shell, you create a savory shell from flour and starch and then dust each one with chili powder.

That savory shell makes a snacks that classy enough for a cocktail party. That chili powder provides a zesty bite -- so zesty that my stomach noticed after about the 10th handful. I put the peanuts aside to avoid a chili overdose.

Mexican snackers eat these peanuts by the bag. For some reason, they call them Japanese peanuts -- and the only explanations appear on Web sites that seem less than credible.

You can pick up the El Chilar brand Japanese peanuts at the Panam Supermarket in Laurel. Bags are about peanuts are a about $2. If you stop by Panam, definitely check out the produce and the meat department. Also watch for a woman outside the door selling hot tamales and other Mexican food.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Tutti Frutti Has Opened In Ellicott City

The tart yogurt trend expanded again without my noticing -- which is why it's lucky that the Kevin & Ann Eat Everything blog wrote last week about the new Tutti Frutti on Rte 40 in Ellicott City.

This is yogurt like the Yogiberry in the Columbia Mall and Mangoberry in Catonsville, but it's better because Kevin reports that there was non-stop mochi. (Although they charge by weight so heavy mochi eaters should still consider buying their own toppings at the H Mart.)

Thanks also to Eric who posted a comment about the opening last week.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

WPost Critic Says Bistro Blanc "Worth The Drive"

If you want to go to Bistro Blanc soon, you had better make your reservations today.

On Sunday, food critic Tom Sietsema will publish a two-star review of the Glenelg restaurant in the Washington Post Magazine -- full of comments that you shouldn't miss certain dishes and under a headline saying "worth the drive." Thanks to Trip Klaus for alerting me to the oncoming review. Thanks to HowICook, I got to share the early read.

Congratulations to Raj, Marc and everyone at Bistro Blanc. Originally, I posted the entire review because it was on a public page of the WPost's Web site, but one I was concerned might be linked back to my source. This is just a taste because BillZ found the official page:

Bistro Blanc? The name of the wine shop and restaurant in rural, wealthy Glenelg comes as a bit of a surprise when I make the establishment's acquaintance. Everywhere I look, I see dark evidence to the contrary: red wines, burnt-orange walls, amber lighting and servers in black uniforms.

WPost To Review Bistro Blanc?

There is talk that the WPost's restaurant critic is writing about Bistro Blanc -- the restaurant on Rte 32 in Glenelg that serves the small-plate, seasonal-vegetable trend.

Trip Klaus mentioned the possible review in a comment last week. He says it might be a group review, not a profile of Bistro Blanc. But he says Tom Siemesta has had several telephone interviews, presumably with the restaurant owners.

I have had one terrific evening at Bistro Blanc, but so many other people bolster my good memories that I still think it is one of the best restaurants in Howard County. Any attention from the WPost has to be good -- except, of course, a real pan.

(Update: Bistro Blanc's owner mentioned in a comment that Baltimore Mag is reviewing them too.)

(Update2: Siemesta's review will be out this weekend in the WPost Magazine, but you can also read the Bistro Blanc review here.)

"Secret" Menu At Frisco Grille

The Baltimore Beer Guy tipped me to Frisco Grille's secret menu back when I was bemoaning the fact that Hunan Legend's secret menu wasn't a secret anymore now that I had circulated a translation and the owners had done their own.

To truly parallel the Chinese "secret" menu at Hunan Legend, Frisco's menu would only be readable by people with a slight beer buzz. But the "secret" menu is actually handed to everyone as a little sheet titled "adaptions and new items." Anyone can ask for specials like buffalo chili and a flank steak sandwich with chipotle barbeque sauce, sriracha sauce, avocado and goat cheese.

I have had Gus' Green Tacos -- firm white fish sauted in a mixture of tomatillo sauce and the house-made green hot sauce. It's a nice taco, and I especially liked the mango salsa on the side. I always love food that surprises me. I don't know that I would have ordered tacos with a creamy sauce lined across them. But Gus' Green Tacos had a really nice balance -- little
creamy, little lime-sour and just enough heat to be refreshing. That's a nice addition to a restaurant that serves a southwestern menu with highlights in the burritos and the pub items like onion rings and a unique spicy mustard. The food compliments a beer selection that is more curated and aimed to please beer aficiandos.

Most of the Frisco Grille secret menu is modifications of the regular menu, and they warn that they're mostly served spicy. I doubt they're hitting the heights of the Two Youngs' soon du bu, but that Adam Bowl lists chipotle, two hot sauces and spicy mustard in a single dish.

As the BBG reported last week, Frisco Grille is expanding into the tailor next door. They'll double their beer taps from 20 to 40. (Still no reliable report about where the tailor is going.)

Frisco Grille is one of Howard County best places for beer in Howard County. It is also in a shopping center with several strong places, including Hanamura, Riverside Coffee, Noodles Corner and Pub Dog. Great place to check out some casual food.

Frisco Grille & Cantina
8865 Stanford Boulevard
Columbia, MD 21045

NEAR: Frisco Grille is off Dobbin Road south of Rte 175 in a shopping center with Pub Dog. From the north, take Rte 175 and turn south on Dobbin Road at the intersection with a Chik-fil-A and a Kmart. The shopping center is on the left after the second light. From the south, take Snowden River Parkway and turn left on McGaw Road at the light with Apple Ford. Turn right at the light with Dobbin, then look for the shopping center on the right.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Feast at Shin Chon Garden

Tables have collapsed under less food that Shin Chon Garden spreads out for its sliced meat barbeques.

The restaurant renovated last year to add grilling tables from wall to wall. Each table has a built-in grill with a vent sitting overhead like something from a science fiction movie.

Go to Shin Chon with four people. Pick two orders of meat -- the basic sliced beef bulgogi, some sliced brisket, maybe the kalbi rib meat or the sliced pork. Supplement with something with a few vegetables like the rice and vegetable bowl called dolset bi bim bop.

You'll be shocked at the way that the food flows. First, you'll receive your appetizers like steamed dumplings or a thin omelet. While you're still looking at that, your waitress will clatter down panchan, a half-dozen little bowls of side dishes. Mostly, vegetables like kimchi, seaweed, or lightly-pickled items like cucumbers or radish. A tofu. Maybe potato salad. Maybe shredded meat or a tiny dried fish. Once, we had a salad made with octopus, but you can ask if anything looks too adventurous for you.

Then comes the meat. The waitress will light your grill and bring out a plate with your thin-sliced meat. She'll cover the grill with meat. Then one of you can take the tongs and turn the meat yourself. You don't need to be a top chef. The meat is cut so thin that you just watch it color from raw to cooked. Then, you start serving it out to everyone at your table. Take your time. Grill in three or more rounds so that everyone enjoys a leisurely pace.

You'll get other plates as well -- covered metal bowls of rice and small plates of lettuce leaves. With bulgogi and dolset bi bim bop, we got a bowl of miso soup and an omelet in a cast iron bowl. You want to sample both. Just use a spoon to scoop out omelet. It's extremely hot, but deliciously light. We also got about three different sauces -- one to put on the bulgogi, one to mix into the bi bim bop, and an oil/salt/pepper mixtures that I think was dipping sauce for the brisket.

The beauty of Shin Chon Garden is that you have a dozen flavors -- the panchan, the omelet, the main courses, the sauces. You pick and choose. For bulgogi, you make little wraps with lettuce, rice, meat and the spicy sauce. (Ask for rice noodle squares for an alternative to lettuce.) For the brisket, we dipped in the oil/salt and made more wraps. Alternate with tastes of panchan, which you can just pass around the table.

Shin Chon is one my best restaurants of Howard County because every feast has been delicious. Waitresses are happy to answer questions -- to match each sauce with the appropriate use. Panchan change and offer small new treats. It can also be a bargain. For four people last week, we ordered a steamed dumpling appetizer and three main dishes: two meats and dolset bi bim bop. You're eating a huge shot of vegetables so you leave satisfied, but not engorged.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Is Java Grande Closing/Moving?

Has anyone heard about changes at Java Grande, the coffee shop on Rte 40 near Rte 29?

Kevin posted a comment on my post about coffee shops in Howard County that he had heard about a combination of Java Grande and the pottery shop a few doors down. Either the coffee equipment would move to the potter stop, or the pottery stop would move into Java Grande.

Anyone know more?

(Update: There is an anonymous comment below that says Java Grande is not closing. I'm unclear if I'm supposed to read into the use of "any time soon" and "right now." I'm probably paying too much attention to the details.)

Rick Bayless' Mexican Everyday

I went to Rick Bayless for simple Mexican recipes, but he has lured me deeper and deeper into Mexican cooking because flavors outweigh the work in every recipe.

I braised a lamb shoulder last weekend. I hadn't intentionally braised anything before. I hadn't even seen a lamb shoulder. Ironically, Mexican Everyday is Bayless' cookbook of relaxed, simple meals. His Chicago restaurants and his prior books introduced Americans to many Mexican ingredients, but Bayless had a reputation for demanding that people spend hours looking for specific chili varieties and fruit that didn't have English names.

Mexican Everyday (and the accompanying PBS series) was Bayless' chance for accessible recipes. It is worth buying just for the straight-forward tomatillo salsas-- one fresh and one roasted. Tomatillos are available year-round at Lily's Mexican Market or any of the Asian grocery stores, and they still firm a long time in the crisper. The fresh salsa is basically a puree of tomatillos, garlic, chilis and cilantro, and Bayless' instructions have made countless weeknight meals where the salsa is the main flavor with tortillas, cheese and some chicken or beans. That is the entry-level drug that will soon have you trying your hand at jalapeno-baked fish, chipotle shrimp, and a fresh lime sorbet that were all clear and successful.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Columbia Halal Meat in Elkridge

Howard County's butchers have added a spiritual flavor with Columbia Halal Meat that has opened on Rte 108 and stands out for lamb, goat and some other cuts perfect for winter cooking.

Columbia Halal Meat is actually just across the line in Elkridge, but it's worth crossing Rte 108 if you want halal meat or if you're just looking for cuts like the lamb shoulder that I purchased over the weekend.

Columbia Halal Meat is a small Indian grocery store with rice, spices, boxed meals and other items that you can get at any of Howard County's Indian grocery stores like Food Cravings and Desi Market in Columbia and Eastern Bazar or Apna Bazar in Laurel.

As the name promises, Columbia Halal's claim to fame is the small halal butcher in the back. Obviously, the meat is crucial for Muslims who follow the religious rules. But it's an asset for anyone who wants to step outside the supermarket meat section. First, Columbia Halal sells cuts -- like whole lamb shoulders and whole goats -- that you can't just pick up in a plastic tray. Second, the butchers at Columbia Halal handle your order personally.
They're running a bandsaw right in view, and they'll cut your order however you want.

Clearly, not the spot for vegetarians (although I did see Mango Grove flyers next to the cash registers). But it's a resource for people who want that special attention. I bought a lamb shoulder. Initially, I couldn't find the "shoulder" on their list of cuts. I'm such a child of the supermarkets that the butcher had to point out that "leg" and "shoulder" mean the same thing on a sheep. It's not like sheep have arms.

Overall, it's a nice store. A good resources for the basic Indian ingredients if you live near Rte 108. The butchers let me stand around for a while probably because I didn't look their regular customers, but they were happy to help once I explained what I needed. They sell chicken, beef, goat and lamb. Next time, I need to ask if they grind their own beef in the store. I'm looking for a source for hamburger that didn't come from a factory, and Columbia Halal might just be my partner to grill.

For other butchers, check out my post about meat markets in Howard County. The other local option for Halal meat is the Ceazar International Market in Elkridge near Rte 100 and U.S. 1. I haven't looked for meat there in months, but they advertise on their Web site that they have bulked up the offerings.

Columbia Halal Meat
6520 Old Waterlook Road #J
Elkridge, MD 21075

NEAR: This is in the shopping center next to the Food Lion on Rte 108 near Rte 175. Turn into the Food Lion from Rte 108 and turn curve left into the shopping center that also includes a Chinese restaurant and a

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Link: 100 Foodie Ideas For Baltimore

Grab today's Sun for Elizabeth Large's list of the 100 things that a Baltimore foodie must try.

You can also check out the list on the Web. Howard County makes the list, but not well. No. 57 (Image 44) is to check out the Super H or Lotte in Catonsville. No. 64 (Image 47) is to eat pit beef from anywhere without a door -- but the photo is Uncle Grube's in Elkridge. There must be some Howard County gems to replace a few stops on the Sun's tour of "Old World delis."

Definitely check out the Dining @ Large post where Large asked for people's ideas. Inspired by Large's original post, I took a shot in October at a Top 20 "Food Experiences" for Howard County. What else do you suggest?

Coal Fire Pizza Reviewed By The WPost

Coal Fire Pizza got a positive review in today's Washington Post Food section. Writer Martha Thomas liked the signature sauce, and she noted that Coal Fire is making mozzarella in-house daily.

I'm a Coal Fire fan, although people should both peruse the mixed feedback from people who love or hate the crisp coal-oven crust and read the PizzaBlogger's observation that the pizza quality depends on who cooks your pie. I wrote last month about the difficulty of creating consistently great dishes.

I'm doubly impressed that Coal Fire's pizza survived a drive back to Thomas' home. Based on the WPost's abandonment of Howard County, I assume she drove a long way. Long ago, Columbia was so important that the WPost sent interns to cover the regular staff's vacation. (I drove three-hours roundtrip from Virginia for two weeks, and they were too cheap to cover even a penny of mileage.) But I gave up on the WPost covering anything around here. Last time I checked, the Going Out Guide editors hadn't found a single restaurant to recommend in Howard County -- except for Great Sage that they think is in "nothern Montgomery County."

Thanks to emkenton for alterting me to the review. Although the Going Out Guide ignores us, the WPost Food section has, if anything, improved even as newspapers suffer. I read it religiously until the WPost removed its machines from the Laurel MARC station.

If you want to comment about Coal Fire Pizza, please do it on the original post with all the other comments.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Frisco Grille To Expand, Says BBG Blog

Frisco Grille in Columbia will expand and double its beer taps from 20 to 40, according to the Baltimore Beer Guy blog. No firm date, but it's a big plus for one of Howard County's best places for beer.

(Update: The BBG says in a comment below that Frisco is taking over a tailor next door.)

Monday, November 30, 2009

Portalli's Opened In The Former Jordan's

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Coffee Shops in Howard County

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Two Youngs: Korean in Catonsville

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Two Youngs
822 N. Rolling Road
Catonsville, MD 21228

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

Two Youngs on Urbanspoon

Monday, November 23, 2009

First Reviews of Venegas Prime Filet in Maple Lawn

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Link: Chocolate in Baltimore on BMore Sweet

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

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

Friday, November 20, 2009

Link: Cazabe In The Sun

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

Links: Some Homemade Blog Awards

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

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

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

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Onion Rings at Bar-B-Que House in Laurel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bar-B-Que House on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Jack Bishop's Vegetables Every Day

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 16, 2009

Drink The Soda, Don't Swallow The Marble

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Link: Two Youngs' On The Kwok's Blog

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

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

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

Friday, November 13, 2009

Trattoria Montese Opened At Waverly Woods?

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

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

Any reports?

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

Chick'n Pollo Still Under Construction

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

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

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

Anyone know an ETA?

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

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Ann's House Of Nuts Moved To Columbia

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

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

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

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

R&R Deli -- Tacos At The Shell Station

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Update: Mrs. HowChow approves.)

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

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

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

R&R Deli on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Venegas Prime Filet - Opening November 20

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

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

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

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

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

Link: Sushi King on the CupcakeRN Blog

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

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

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

Harris Teeter: Crazy Time In Produce

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

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

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

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

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

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