Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Ruan Thai: The Ugly Duckling

At the end of the movie Shallow Hal, Jack Black realizes that Gwyneth Paltrow may be ugly and fat on the outside but once he sees past all of that, he finds her inner beauty. Such is Ruan Thai. From the outside, you may be tempted to keep on driving... but you would be missing a real treat if you did.

The rough edged exterior gives way to a delightful and intimate restaurant serving up some of the best Thai cuisine around. We've been "Eatin' in Wheaton" lately and Ruan Thai was on the docket for a try.

On your way in, check the specials board in the window. We heeded the chef's suggestions and were rewarded for our efforts. Yum Watercress is a delicious salad of crispy fried watercress, onions, fried squid and shrimp tossed in a spicy/ fish sauce. Yum is right! We were fighting over the last morsels on the plate.

Equally good are the curry puffs. Like a cross between a samosa and an empanada, delicate pastries are filled with a mild potato curry and served with the traditional cucumber pickle. Very nice.

Entrees were also real hits. I had the Pad Prik Khing with chicken. Tender chunks of white chicken sauteed in a fiery red chile sauce with green beans. There were some interesting notes to the sauce and I'm not certain, but I would bet it had ground dried shrimp in it. Truly addictive.

Steven ordered the Panang curry Shrimp. A luscious dish and as good a panang curry as I've ever tasted. Rich, thick, slightly sweet and quite spicy, the panang arrived in a beautiful clay crock. Once the shrimp were gone we enjoyed the remainder of sauce by either slurping up spoonfuls, or drenching the perfectly cooked jasmine rice with it. Like tastebud nirvana.

Service was very friendly and efficient. There are a number a great looking items on the menu that I've not seen at other Thai restaurants. I'm looking forward to many more visits to come.

She might not be prettiest girl at the ball, but she sure knows how to dance.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Another Visit to Grace Garden

Here are some addtional photos taken from a recent visit to Grace Garden. This is undoubtedly the best Chinese Restaurant I have ever encountered.

Braised Pork Belly with Preserved Mustard Cabbage, Shrimp Balls stuffed with Scallop in spicy Black Bean Sauce

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Fresh Lima Beans

Most of us only see these beautys in a bag at the back of the freezer with perma-frost on them. You know... they've been lurking there since last Thanksgiving's Succotash extravaganza. If you can find them fresh, however, it's a whole new ball game.

I sauteed mine with shiitake mushrooms and prosciutto ham. Delicious.

Farmer's Market Pooches!

It's hard to imagine a trip to the Farmer's Market without a multitude of dogs who come along for the trip. Here are some friendly faces at our most recent Farmer's Market excursion.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Summer's Bounty

Heirloom tomatoes are in and they are spectacular! Here's our "haul" from our recent visit to the Baltimore Farmer's Market. These beauties need nothing more than a couple of slices and a plate.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Chinese Perfection: Grace Garden

Ladies and Gentleman, we have hit the motherload! After reading the small blurb about Grace Garden in the Washington Post, Steven and I decided to give it a go. We did our research before going and consulted the Skillet Doux blog for information on what to order. Highly recommended.

Grace Garden has two menus, the first, their authentic Chinese menu and the second their American Chinese menu, which is really a holdover from days past, when they only considered themselves a carryout location. The carryout customers are still there, but they are completely missing the boat.

The Chinese menu is extensive with a large representation of seafood dishes and at least 10 different preparations of shrimp. We ordered the spicy wontons as an appetizer. A typical dish, but done so expertly that I don't know how to describe it. Like someone turned the volume up on a something you've heard a thousand times.

For entrees, I had the Mixed Seafood in XO sauce and Steven had the Tofu Hak-Ka. The seafood dish was expertly prepared and presented. The XO sauce having a gentle kick and tons of flavor. Shrimp, large scallpos and squid all cooked to perfection. The tofu dish was a real surprise. Large bites of silken tofu, flash fried then stuffed with a mixture of ground shrimp, pork and fish, then stir-fried with chinese sausage, mushroom and eggplant in a brown sauce. Heaven! My only regret is that we didn't bring more people here so we could try more dishes.

We carried on extensive conversations with the other diners in the restaurant and compared notes on what had been ordered. The Eggplant in plum sauce is on the list for another visit. There are also a number of dishes which require advanced ordering, such as Tea Smoked Duck (3 Days) Smoked Tea Chicken (2 Days) and Cantonese Sea Treasure (2 Days).
The place is small. Only 7 tables, two of which are large rounds with lazy susans, so this could be a challenge if Grace Garden gets too popular.

The entire family came over and introduced themselves, including the Chef/owner Chun Keung Li (adorable!). They are unbelievably hospitable and welcoming. They are very proud of what they are doing here and they should be. This ranks as one of top Chinese restaurants I've ever been to in my life, and I have been to many many Chinese restaurants in my time.
1690 Annapolis Rd Odenton, MD 21113
Hours of Operation
Monday - Thursdays 11:00am - 10:00pm
Friday - Saturday 11:00am - 10:30pm
Sunday closed.
Phone 410-672-3581 Fax 410-672-3580

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Restaurant Weeks Galore

The restaurant weeks are coming! The restaurant weeks are coming! It looks like August will be a great month for dining as there are no less than THREE count them THREE restaurant weeks on the horizon.

Bethesda-Chevy Chase Restaurant Week July 28 - August 3
Bethesda-Chevy Chase Restaurant Week returns to offer prix fixe lunch and/or dinner menus at 33 Bethesda area restaurants. A two-course lunch is $12 or $15 and three-course dinner is $30.

Baltimore Restaurant Week July 28 - August 3
Enjoy a variety of three-course dinners, for only $30.08, or three-course lunches at select restaurants for just $20.08.

Washington DC Restaurant Week August 11 - 17
Lunch: $20.08 for a three-course fixed-price mealDinner: $35.08 for a three-course fixed-price meal.

Follow the links to see who's participating and to make reservations. Reservations are strongly reccomended!

Tuesday, July 22, 2008


The fine folks who brought you Mendocini in Georgetown and Sonoma on Capitol Hill have done it again with their new venture, Redwood. In a word... spectacular. We were on our way to Uncle Julio's for Mexican food when I noticed that Redwood was open and serving. I've been stalking them through the pre-opening stage and have been anticipating this day. Steve and I ran in, just to get a peek at the menu... It was love at first site. Uncle Julio would have to wait.

The decor is upscale, chic, comfortable and elegant.

For a starter we had the chicken liver mousse with pickled figs. The mousse was rich and flavorful and the sweet figs, which seemed more like wine poached than pickled to me, made the perfect foil for the pate.

For my entree, I ordered the day scallops. The sweetest, plumpest most perfectly seared scallops I've ever tasted. They were served on a bed of mashed potatoes in a seafood and morel mushroom reduction studded with fresh herbs, roasted trumpet mushrooms and pea shoots. Steven had the Rosa Andes Pork Loin, served medium, over creamy grits with "melted" vidalia onions and demi glace. It also came with one roasted pork rib. Truly exceptional.

We loved the house bottled sparkling water, using the Aqua-Health System. We were brought lemon and lime for the water, but after one drink, I wouldn't have dared muddy that libation with citrus.

Moana, our server was delightful. I can count on one hand the times I've had service that was as personable, knowledgable and as, genuinely great. I would go back to Redwood just to see her.

Desserts are a MUST. I had the chocolate torte with peanut butter mousse. It was REALLY rich and if you aren't a chocoholic it may be too much. I, on the other hand, finished every bit of it and wanted more. Steven had the butterscotch pudding with pistachio cookies. Who knew butterscotch pudding could become something transcdendant. The holy grail of pudding.

They are still in soft-opening mode, but this was their first full night. If there were any bugs to work out, I didn't see them. This was as close to flawless as I can remember.

Redwood Restaurant and Bar
7121 BETHESDA LANE, BETHESDA, MD 20814 301.656.5515

Monday, July 21, 2008

Farmer's Markets I Love

Those of you familiar with my blog, know that I am a dedicated Farmer's Market aficionado. Recently noted in the satirical and humorous book "Stuff White People Like" if you release a white person on a Saturday morning, he will return to you with organic produce. It's true. It's all true.

Dupont FreshFarm Market

Simply the best. I can think of no better way to spend a Sunday morning than to peruse the stands at the FreshFarm Market at Dupont Circle. Specializing in fresh produce, regionally cultivated, often organic, the selection here can't be beat. We love the Mushroom Stand! Firefly Farms a MD cheese monger makes exquisite fresh goat cheese. Don't miss Keswick Creamery either. You will also find hormone free meat, eggs and even fresh made pasta here. Try to make it for one of the Chef's presentations. Local chef's of outstanding DC Restaurants preparing food that they have just culled from the very stands you are presently shopping. It doesn't get any better than this.

1500 block of 20th St., between Massachusetts Ave. and Q St., in the adjacent parking lot of PNC Bank

Takoma Park Farmers Market

One of the finest Farmer's Markets in the Washington DC metro area, the Takoma Park Market is true to its "hippie-esque" environs with vendors selling primarily regional, organic and sustainable produce, meats, baked goods and more. Don't miss Smith Meadow Farm for its cage free, chemical free beef, and pork products. Get there early if you want some of their eggs! They sell out quick. Keswick creamery from Pennsylvania makes a variety of cows milk cheeses, including a habanero cheese called Dragon's breath, that lives up to its name.Always great to do breakfast at Mark's Kitchen before the market opens then hit the floorboards. It's a great way to spend a Sunday morning.

Sundays, 10AM - 1PM

Cross Street Market

Cross Street has had it's ups and downs over the years, but a couple of it's mainstays, make this a perennial favorite. A myriad of produce stands populate the city market and most are just wholesalers of the same produce you would find in the supermarket, but there are exceptions. There are a couple of decent food stands in the market selling everything from deli sandwiches to fried chicken, but nothing holds a candle to the scrummy delights to be had at Nick's Seafood Counter and raw bar. Belly up to the bar and suck down a few raw oysters, or crack a few crabs if you would like. Nick's is a Baltimore institution. The sushi bar rocks! As for vendors: Nunnally Brothers Butchers have been in operation since 1872 and they deliver quality cuts of beef, pork and veal. Service at their counter is tremendous, too. Very helpful. Piedigrotta Italian Bakery & Pastry Shop makes a Ricotta Cheesecake that will make you slap your Italian grandmother. This is a great alternative to the Inner Harbor and the virtual bevy of local restaurants, pubs and shops which surround the market and the adjoining Federal Hill neighborhood, make this a true foodie destination.

Federal Hill Established 1846 1065 S. Charles St. Baltimore, MD 21230Mon. – Sat., 7 a.m. - 7 p.m.

The Market at Belvedere Square

Across from the Baltimore's iconic Senator theatre sits one of the regions greatest culinary secrets, the Market at Belvedere Square.While Balto tourists throng to the inner harbor and hit the markets at Fell's Point, uptown locals are going to the market at Belvedere square. Roughly 5400 square feet of space and sitting at the heart of a transformed shopping enclave sits the Market. Home to Atwater's bakery, a true boulangerie which carries a bevy of excellent baked breads, cakes and pastries. Don't miss their cheese selection, either, which focuses on regional or artisanal American cheeses. Cierello Fine foods will quench any Italian desires you may have from pastas, to oils, to olives and more, including one of the finest butchers I've seen anywhere. This place SCREAMS quality from every corner. Neopol Savory Smokery is a true delight and creates some of the best and most unusual smoked goods you've ever seen. Their savory smoked cheesecakes are are true standout. Don't forget to visit Steve at Planet Produce. He carries some of the finest selection of produce you can imagine. Also, the freshly squeezed citrus juices can't be beat. Literally squeezed and bottled in front of you, his blood orange juice is a favorite. Getting hungry? Atwaters has a homemade soup and sandwich counter that can't be beat or you can sample a little sushi at Ikan Sushi bar in the back of the market.

540 E. Belvedere Avenue Baltimore, MD 21212
Monday through Friday 10am - 7pm Saturday 9am - 7pm Sunday 9am - 4pm
NOTE: Market Bakery opens at 8am Monday – Saturday

32nd Street Market/ Waverly

One of my favorite outings is to hit the 32nd street Farmer's Market. This is Baltimores biggest and best Farmer's Market, open year round, but of course much enhanced in the summer. Parking can be a little difficult so it's best to get there early. Not all of the produce here is local, but a good deal of it is, so you will have no problem finding a great selection of regional and organic food here. Also, there is representation from some of Balto's finest food vendors, including Atwaters bakery and Neopol Smokehouse, which is a must stop. Neopol smokes everything they can think of. Try the smoked garlic, or their insanely thick cut bacon. The savory smoked cheesecakes are to die for, and they make some of the best smoked salmon you've ever tasted. There are a couple of noteworthy prepared food vendors as well. The Curry Shack makes a mean curry and Ethiopian delights is also a treat. If Mrs. Williams is there, take home one of her sweet potato pies!

32nd and Greenmount Ave, Baltimore
7AM -12PM Saturdays, year round

The Farmers Market at Westfield's Mall Annapolis

For those of us too lazy to get out of bed on Sunday morning to run down to the FreshFarm Market Annapolis, the fine folks at the Annapolis Mall have provided us with an alternative. The market will run Sundays, from 12PM - 3PM between now and September 28. If you've been to the market on Saturday mornings at Riva Road and Harry S. Truman Blvd, some of the vendors will be familiar to you, however, there are a number of new folks and an impressive variety of produce, meats, cheese, eggs, seafood and sundries to sample. Of particular interest was The Secret Garden, who, oddly sells no produce but rather high end olive oils, vinegars and a collection of salts, ranging from Pink Himylanyan, to black hawaiin sea salt to a cherry smoked salt. (about 17 different varieties) Also, the Pickle Guy has a huge selection of hand-crafted pickles. McCormack and Schmick's was on hand yesterday for the festivities, handing out free samples of grilled salmon and asparagus. What a way to open! Sure beats free sno-cones. I still prefer the FreshFarm market earlier in the day, but on those days when I'm not motivated to get my butt moving early, this is a great alternative.

2002 Annapolis MallAnnapolis MD 21401
Sundays 12PM - 3PM

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Carpaccio Tuscan Kitchen/ Wine Bar

We have been waiting with baited breath for the opening of the latest edition of the Monte Restaurant group's mini Italian empire here in Anne Arundel County. Each of their restaurants bears its own name and distinct/ unique concept. We've only made one visit, but the early buzz about Carpaccio is that this is MRG's finest hour.

The decor echoes some of MRG's previous restaurants, namely PomoGrille (Bowie) and 4Season's Grille(Crofton), but with a much subdued and more sophisticated slant. Housed on the curve of the new Park Place development on West Ave in Annapolis, the outdoor seating here reminds one of being in a chic cafe in Florence, Italy. I would typifiy the interior as decidedly elegant casual.

The menu is clearly "upmarket" when held against some of the other locations. 6 types of Carpacci are offered, including filet mignon, tuna, anchovies, eggplant and prosciutto. A nice selection of salads is offered. On our visit, my Steven and I, both ordered the Panzanella. It was very good, but I would have preferred a "breadier" presentation. This was more of just a good salad with homemade croutons, which is not a bad thing, just not what I think of when I think 'Panzanella".

Pappardelle Bolognese is one of those things that... if it's on the menu... I'm going to order it. I can honestly say this was the best Pappardelle Bolognese I've ever tasted. This is a real diet breaker. If I was at home I would have been licking the bowl.

Steven had the Monte Santo Pizza, one of the 9 choices of wood burning brick oven Neapolitan pizzas. All I can say is MMMMMMMMMMMMM! Mozzarella, Artichokes, Mushrooms, Peppers, Parmacotta on a crisp and snappy crust. It was equally good the next morning with eggs and coffee.

There are 18 homemade pasta choices (some classics and some not so classic) and 5 Risottos. That's all before you get to the fish or meat entrees. For dessert, we split a Tiramisu. Typically I wouldn't order Tiramisu as it is so overdone, and rarely done right, but this was the real McCoy. I watched one pass by our table earlier and I went all "Homer Simpson" for a minute. "Arrrghghghhhghg" Actual lady finger cookies, with espresso and rum and a heapin' helpin' of sweetened Mascarpone. DEEE-lightful.

Word is already out and it's difficult to get in on a weekend evening, so if you are going, I suggest you make a reservation. Lucky for us we live nearby and a weeknight visit is not out of the question.

As an added bonus, MRG has also opened Carpaccio Pizzaria 2 Go, right next door. Featuring brick oven pizza by the slice, panninis, salads and more!

Carpaccio Tuscan Kitchen/ Wine Bar Carpaccio Pizzaria 2 Go
One Park Place, Suite 10 One Park Place, Suite 11
Annapolis, MD 410-268-6569 Annapolis, MD 410-268-8646

post script: MRG is looking to expand the Pomo Grille concept with locations opening up soon in White Marsh MD, Sterling VA and Herndon, VA.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Chanterelles: Who needs Morel mushrooms anyway?

So I missed Morel season again! Last year, I bought a small bag of Morel mushrooms at the farmer’s market in Baltimore, and then somehow lost them without realizing it. It was the last week for Morels. Oh gloom and despair! Not to mention $10 down the drain.

Determined to find Morels this year I hit a couple of the farmers markets I know, but always came up empty handed. This past weekend, we revisited the Farm Fresh Market in Annapolis and to my delight, discovered that a mushroom vendor had joined the ranks of this newly launched market. However, when I queried about Morels, “We sold out of our last Morels last week” was the reply.

NOOOOOOOOOO! My disappointment was clearly visible. “If it’s any consolation,” the lovely mushroom girl said, “This is the first week for Chanterelles, and we should have them for a couple of months”

As a matter of fact, Chanterelles turned out to be a marvelous consolation!

Whole Wheat Pasta with Pan Roasted Chanterelles, Crab and Shrimp

1 lb Whole Wheat Spaghetti (Ronzoni is the best)
½ lb Chanterelle Mushrooms, rinsed and halved
2 Cloves Garlic
1 Tbsp Olive Oil
½ Cup Chicken Stock
12 Large Prawns, peeled and deveined, tails removed
Juice of ½ lemon
1 tsp lemon zest
1 Cup Jumbo lump crab meat
2 Tbsp Prepared Pesto Sauce

Bring 2 quarts of salted water to a boil and cover with a lid. In a large sauté pan, heat the olive oil until wisps of smoke appear and the oil begins to shimmer. Smash the garlic cloves, but do not remove their paper. Add directly to the pan. Rinse and halve the mushrooms, just prior to cooking. When the olive oil is ready add the mushrooms to the pan and stir to coat. Reduce the heat and let the mushrooms begin to caramelize, stirring only occasionally. When a fond has begun to appear on the bottom of the skillet, remove the garlic and add the chicken stock. Reduce to a simmer and let the mushrooms absorb all of the liquid. Once all of the liquid has evaporated, remove the mushrooms and reserve until later.

Drop the pasta in the water and cook until done.

In the same pan used to cook the mushrooms, add the large shrimp. You may need to add a little more olive oil. As the shrimp are cooking, squeeze the juice from the half lemon and add the lemon zest. Add the two Tbsp of pesto sauce and the crab meat. Return the mushrooms to the pan and stir. Using a ladle, add a small amount of the pasta water to the pan to remove any of the fond that has formed. Add the cooked pasta to the sauté pan, mix well and serve.

Cooking time: 15 minutes
Serves 4

*For my weight watchers friends, this turns out to be 5 points per serving.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Koreana: Little Mexico's hidden gem

I have a confession to make. The real reason I go to Korean restaurants is not for the Bulgogi (Korean BBQ Chicken), or the Kalbi (Korean BBQ Short Ribs) or even the dolsot bibimbap (Rice in Stone Pot). I go for the panchan; all the lovely little side dishes of pickled "this and that" of which, frankly, I haven't a clue of what's in half of them. Still, I love them and that's the real reason I go.

After reading a Yelp review of Koreana, by Su K one of my favorite fellow yelpers, we decided to give it a whirl. Steven and I are familiar with the neighborhood, having been frequent diners of the venerable Alamo Mexican Restaurant for years, so we were surprised to learn that a Korean restaurant had opened up in a portion of the space that used to house the Alamo lounge. Lucky for us we knew where to look, because the only sign Koreana has on the building is written in Korean.

The decor is funky, bordering on weird. You enter into a large empty room. It took us a moment to realize that we needed to keep going to actually find the dining room. You can tell that this used to be a Mexican establishment, but now it looks something akin to a Korean Hacienda. Feel free to form a mental picture of that before reading on.

The dining room is brightly lit and flanked on two sides by large flat panel televisions. We were "blessed" with the rantings of Lou Dobbs in stereo while we ate.

We ordered the mandoo dumpling as an appetizer. For entrees, I got the chicken Bulgogi and Steven had the dolsot bibimbap. The mandoo were perfect; thin, light wrappers, perfectly seared layering in a nice crunch which gave way to a luscious soft meat filling, made perfect with their soy dipping sauce. I had the chicken Bulgogi, which was passable but not the best I've ever had. The Bibimbap was exemplary. A large stone pot filled with rice, vegetables, shredded beef and a fried egg is brought to the table. It’s accompanied with a generous helping of Korean red pepper sauce. The trick to bibimbap is to let the rice on the bottom of the pot get crispy from the hot stone then stir in the pepper sauce and eat. It’s just the right mix of crunch, heat, spicy and savory flavors. The panchan are unbelievable.

Our lovely server did not let us run out of anything, constantly refilling the little panchan dishes and Miso soup as fast as we could gobble them up. We loved the Kimchee, the cucumbers, the fish cake and more. We were also served a dish of tiny fried fish. They were tossed with sesame oil and vinegar and very tasty. I loved them… Steven… not so much. Admittedly, they resemble fried guppies.

Service was flawless. Our server could not have been nicer and more eager to please. We felt like we were the only people in the place... oops, uh, yeah, that's right, I forgot. We WERE the only people in the place. That's right, no other customers the entire time we were there.

It may be alright to do signs in only Korean lettering in Annandale, but in little Mexico, that aint gonna fly. We don’t have a lot of quality Korean restaurants on our side of the beltway, so I sincerely hope they change this soon, because I would hate for this place to close due to a lack of customers. For all of its idiosyncrasies, this is a fine restaurant with great food, gracious and friendly service at reasonable prices. What more could you ask for?

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

FreshFarm Market Annapolis

Glory Hallelujah! FreshFarm has come to Annapolis! The folks who brought you the Dupont Circle FreshFarm market, along with several others, has opened a new location at the Annapolis harbor. Steve and I ran down for the inaugural launch and they did not disappoint.

Criteria for vendors at a Freshfarm Market include, that you must be located within the Chesapeake bay region and you may only sell what you have either grown or made yourself. With that said, there is a definite slant towards sustainable and organic product of high quality. Offerings include: Quail Creek Bakery, Cherry Glen Goat Cheese Co, Flower vendors, Springfield Lamb, Local produce featuring early tomatoes, mini cucumbers, herbs, sweet cherries, asparagus, strawberries and much more.

We also snagged some delicious homemade gazpacho and mushroom empanadas for later. Local favorite, Chef Jim Wilder of the Wild Orchid Cafe was on hand for food demonstrations. We watched as he prowled the market for ingredients but were unable to stay for his show.

There is plenty of room for expansion and we have high hopes that as the season progresses, even more vendors will join in. The market is open Sundays only, June 1 - October 5. 8AM - 12PM.If you live in the area and you are serious about food, then PLEASE don't miss this opportunity for yourself and for Anne Arundel County.
Donner Parking Lot, Compromise St, Annapolis, MD 21405 (202) 362-8889

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Catonsville Gourmet

This is exactly the type of restaurant I am always looking for, but regretably seldom find. Open for just 13 weeks, the Catonsville Gourmet is a restaurant and small gourmet market housed in a completely transformed former hardware store. Beadboard wainscotting and Robin's Egg blue walls are tastefully adorned with New England style signage and black and white photos. White clothed tables are topped with large shakers of Mediterranean Sea Salt, giving the place an almost beach resort feel. Who knew Catonsville, MD was a vacation destination.

The Market: Pre-made and pre-packaged versions of many of the restaurant offerings, like seaweed salad, crab cakes, smoked salmon et al. The meat case carries top of the line cuts of meat, steaks and chops dominating the selection. The Seafood case also carries much of what is being offered on the menu. It's fresh fish at it's finest, salmon, sea bass, black grouper and the like. An impressive selection of raw oysters, clams, shrimp and mussels is also available. If I lived in Catonsville, I would be in here everyday.

The Restaurant: An impressive selection of entrees with everything from Pepper crusted ribeye steak, Bouillabaise, to Meatloaf and Maryland Fried Chicken. Daily specials are offered and you should take note: this is where the good eats are. For an appetizer, we had the Pastrami style smoked salmon with fresh tomatoes, buffala di Mozzarella and warm foccaccia. That was followed by a lovely tray of raw oysters. We had the Blue Points and two other "off-the-menu" selections, one from Washington state and another from New England.

The real delight for me, though is the fresh fish choices of the day. 6 fresh fish selections are offered and they can be prepared either blackened, broiled or pan seared. Then you may top the fish with any of these sauces: Chimichurri Sauce, Hazelnut burre blanc, Lobster Sauce, Mango and Avocado Salsa, Sweet corn relish, Topped with Crab Imperial (add $5.99 for Crab Imperial) I had the Black Grouper, pan seared with Chimichurri Sauce. It was excellent. Perfectly cooked. Steven had the blackened Sea Bass with Mango and Avocado Salsa (One of the staff members in the market clued us in on that choice.) It was truly special.

For dessert we had the Smith Island Cake. An eight layer chocolate and peanut butter cake which could easily have been shared (but wasn't). Truly delightful!

It's amazing what one place can do for a neighborhood. Catonsville Gourmet is presently without a liquor licence, so it's BYOB. Throngs of people make the soujorn across the street to the liquor store to purchase their wine or beer before hitting the restaurant. All of their baked goods come from "Sugarbakers" just down the street, including that Smith Island Cake.

Service was fantastic! Everyone we encountered was friendly and knowledgeable. There is a definite "buzz" about the place and you can tell the staff was just as excited to be there as we were. I spoke briefly with Sean the owner, who is a Catonsville native, and he let us know the place is just getting going. In my mind, they are off to a great start!
Catonsville Gourmet Market and Fine Foods
829 Frederick Rd Catonsville, MD 21228 (410) 788-0003

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Short Shots

Every once in a while I get backed up on some of my restaurant reviews. Here are some short takes on recent experiences that you may find interesting.

"Bagels And …"

There are some good places for bagels in Montgomery County, but alas, DC and the remainder of the metro area have a distinct lack of decent authentic bagels. Let’s face the facts, while Einstein Bagels may provide a tasty breakfast sandwich, their bagels are no more than rolls with holes. A true bagel is a thing to be reckoned with. A true bagel is proofed then BOILED in water before baking. It has some bite, some chew. It shouldn’t just fall flat like a hamburger bun.

Bagel purists rejoice! Our beloved Annapolis is home to the aptly named "Bagels And…"
a true bagelry that knows what it is doing. All the varieties you would expect, including Bialys. All the schmears you would expect. We love the Veggie Light which is packed with hand cut vegetables. Great for breakfast, they also do sandwiches at lunch. What's Patrick's pick? Their Nova Lox are some of the finest I’ve ever tasted.

2019 West StAnnapolis, MD 21401
(410) 224-8686‎

Mia's Pizza

On our first visit to Mia’s we had just recieved our first blast of lovely spring weather so the patio was packed and it seemed like a festival was going on. I guess everyone knows that the chef Mia (actually Melissa) worked at seminal DC Pizza houses of worship, 2Amys and Pizzeria Paradiso. The menu is very similar to 2Amys and while I have to say she comes pretty damn close to the same quality product it falls just a hair short. That being said this definitely the best pizza in the Bethesda/Rockville area.

Salads are divine. I had the Roasted Beet, Mango and Orange Salad. It was spiked with a good douse of olive oil and fresh baby arugula. Fantastic. Steven had the arugula, gorgonzola and pear salad. Equally yummy.

For Pizza, I had the Di Mare Pizza, which consisted of Mozzarella di Bufala, red peppers, tomatoes and mussels in their shells. For good measure I asked that they add some anchovies. I was glad I did, the pizza was fantastic, flavorful, hot and chewy. As the mussels steamed open on the pizza they released their essence on the crust, just adding another layer of flavor. Steven had the Margherita pizza. He liked it but said he's had better. Service was delightful and it's an attractive place. I can tell that Mia’s will become a frequent stop for us! I spied a Puttanesca pizza on the menu that sounds scintillating! Always good to have a reason to go back!

4926 Cordell Avenue Bethesda, MD 20814 (301) 718-6427

Lemongrass Too

This is my favorite Thai restaurant and I have eaten at quite a few. Once inside, you would never think you were at the end of a strip mall sandwiched between the likes of a Best Buy and a Petsmart. The decor is hip and inviting. It has a very "Pottery Barn" feel about it.

I know everyone loves the West Avenue, Annapolis, location of this blossoming Thai restaurant mini chain, but I find that location to be too cramped and often difficult to get in. (I guess I suffer from suburban tendencies)

Start with the crispy duck salad, tossed with a spicy lime dressing that's downright addictive, or try the crispy calamari with its sweet and spicy dipping sauce. The squid is flash-fried, tender and virtually greaseless.

For entrees, you can't go wrong with the Pad Thai, which will remind you why you fell in love with Thai food in the first place. Also, their curries are outstanding. We love the Panang Curry with chicken. It's the perfect blend of sweet, spicy, creamy, peanuty goodness. For my money, though, Seafood is the real star. Shrimp Pik Khur will make your lips tingle with spiciness. Basil Mussels are another great entree choice if you are looking for something light. Pad Pik King is another great selection. Your choice of chicken, shrimp or beef is stir-fried in a hot red curry paste with green beans. Presentations are always artful and colorful.

Desserts are good, too. You can't go wrong with the Mango and Sticky rice. We have found the service to always be a strong suit for the place. They seem to have an endless supply of hip young people at each of their locations, adding to the overall chic vibe of the place. Casual, refined and delicious ... What more could you ask for? Oh yeah.. they have outdoor seating, too.

2631 Housley Rd Annapolis, MD 21401 (410) 224-8424
Big Fish Grille

If you are a devoted Rehoboth Beach Bum like myself then you are probably familiar with the Big Fish Grill on Route 1 in Rehoboth Beach, DE. When we saw the sign go up for the Big Fish Grille in our very own Crofton we had high hopes that it would be as good as our "fave-rave" beach stop of the same name, (sans the "e"). Please note the addition of the letter "e" at the end of "Grille". I guess that's an "e" for effort, which, in this case, may very well be a problem.

Please note, the restaurants are not affiliated.

So far I've had mixed feelings about the Big Fish in Crofton. The decor almost works, but it swings a little too much to the "kitschy" (wavy mirrors, hanging plaster of Paris fish, underwater color scheme complete with blue neon wave) That coupled with homemade signage lends itself to an overall "amateurish" feeling.

The food is good, but somewhat pricey for Crofton. Noted: they offer a fresh Hawaiian fish selection flown in daily from Honolulu and also offer some great local fish. On our last visit I had the blackened Rockfish. It was very good, although, arguably just a hair overcooked. Carlos was with us that night and he ordered a Philadelphia roll and crab stuffed mushrooms. Both were fantastic. We also got a half dozen raw oysters which were sweet and tasty.

My main complaint with the menu is that they try to do too much. In addition to the chef's selection of seafood and steak options they offer 6 fresh fish options with your choice of preparation. No where on the menu is a simple grilled fish selection. Everything is either smothered in spice or hidden under a sauce. Even the herb-crusted fish is topped with Panko bread crumbs and then sauced. I'm always suspect about a place that sauces everything.

Brunch here is very ordinary. Strap on the feed bag and load up on starch, starch and more starch. They put out a beautiful smoked salmon display, but then they serve it with cold, stale mini bagels that taste like they came from McDonalds. All in all this place is really close to being great, but they just don't quite make it. Service is always nice.

They need to retool the menu, slim down the preparations and offer honest, good seafood. That extra "e" at the end of Grille is really unnecessary.

1260 Crain Hwy Crofton, MD 21114 (410) 451-3133

The Parkway Deli

The Parkway is a long time favorite. A tried and true stand-by when you don't want to make a fuss, but you need some good ole fashioned Jewish comfort food, even if you're not Jewish. Great for breakfast, lunch or dinner, the Parkway is not going to win any awards for decor, but service is always fast, efficient and friendly.

I have a Parkway "routine" when I go. I ALWAYS order the 1/2 baked chicken with gravy and two sides, with a diet Cel-Ray Soda. Sides for me are ALWAYS a salad and potato pancakes. Then I order the "small" matzo ball soup (the "large" is enough to kill ya). The matzo ball soup is delicious, with fresh chicken stock and light matzo balls, real chunks of chicken, noodles and veg.

The potato pancakes are a must. Have them with the apple sauce. You also get your choice of roll, bagel or challah. Portions are HUGE and It's way too much food. I always take some home with me.

Every dinner entree gets a trip to the pickle bar, too, which features yummy, house-made, fresh and dill pickles among other briny things. The carrot and raisin salad is great! You won't have enough room to eat dessert when you leave, so stop at the counter on the way out and pick up a black and white cookie for later. Everything on the menu is great. Truly it's hard to go wrong. Deli sandwiches are not the "stacked" style you would see in a NY Jewish deli, so go to NY if that is what you're looking for, but if you're looking for a decent home cooked meal and mother is far away, this the next best thing.

8317 Grubb Rd, Silver Spring, MD 20901 (301) 587-1427
Lemongrass Four

Imagine our excitement when we discovered that Lemongrass had opened an outpost in our very own Crofton! We ran in on opening night. You can read my Yelp review of that experience by hitting the Yelp link below. It’s too early for a proper review, but you can expect to read something soon.

2225A Defense HWY Crofton, MD 21114

My Butcher and More

Think you can't find a great butcher anymore? I beg to differ. My Butcher and More, in Gambrills MD, brings back that old time quality and service that seems to be lost these days, and certainly not available in your local supermarket. My Butcher and More carries an outstanding selection of above average cuts of meat, with a definite nod to beef. Hand cut steaks, pork, sausage and nice variety of Boars Head Meats and Cold Cuts. Cheeses are also available, along with a nice variety of bbq necessities, sauces and even a limited selection of vegetables.

Aside from the excellent product selection is the outstanding service, which starts with Mike the owner. If you have a question about meat, Mike is your man. Don't see what you want in the case out front? Just ask, they probably have it in the back.

1334 Defense Hwy, Ste E, Gambrills, MD 21054 (410) 451-3296


So there you have it. What are some of your favorites? I would love to hear from you. Feel free to leave me a post, I'm always up for a dining adventure.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Slim Coq Au Vin

I love Coq Au Vin (Chicken with Wine), but when you're trying to watch your calories, all that butter and chicken fat in a tradtional Coq Au Vin can add up quick. Here is my recipe for Coq Au Vin that misses none of the lusciousness of the traditional recipe but with a fraction of the fat and calories. For those of you keeping track, this recipe is 6 Weight Watchers points per serving*.

2 Tbsp all-purpose flour
4 skinless, boneless chicken thighs
1 garlic clove, crushed
1 cup red wine
1 cup frozen pearl onions
1 cup mushroom(s), cut in half
4 cooked skinless, boneless chicken thigh
1 cup fat-free chicken broth
1 tsp thyme
1 leaf bay leaf
1 Tbsp parsley
1 tsp olive oil
1 tsp black pepper, to taste
1 tsp table salt, to taste

Instructions: Place flour in a plastic bag. Put the chicken in the bag and shake to coat the chicken with the flour. In a dutch oven, place the olive oil and heat until small wisps of smoke appear. Add the garlic and chicken. Salt and Pepper the chicken. Brown the chicken on both sides, approximately 2 minutes per side. Add the wine and chicken broth along with the herbs and let simmer for 20 minutes. Remove the chicken from the broth and add the onions and mushrooms. Let the sauce reduce by three fourths and then return the chicken to the sauce. The sauce should have body but not too thick. Create a slurry with 1 Tbsp of flour and a small amount of water and add to the sauce to thicken if desired. Serve immediately with noodles or mashed potatoes.

Serves 4*

*special note to my weight watcher friends, if you turn this into 2 servings (as we would at our house) then this has a point value of 9.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

La Limeña: A Peruvian Discovery

A couple of weeks ago, Steve, Carlos and I met our good friends Larry and Joe at El Mariachi Mexican Restaurant in Rockville. Larry mentioned that restaurant next to El Mariachi, La Limeña is also very good and definitely worth a visit. Larry’s going to kill me for going without him, but last night, Steve and I decided to make a stop on a whim.

It is essentially a Peruvian restaurant with some Cuban dishes thrown in for good measure. Not long on atmosphere, the restaurant is cozy, bright and clean with a large open counter that looks in on the kitchen. They only use plastic-ware, plastic forks, plastic plates et al.. but what they lack in style they more than make up for in substance. Service is incredibly friendly and helpful and the food is DIVINE.

We started with the Ceviche Mixtos. White fish, squid and shrimp are marinated in citrus with herbs and peppers. Here it is served with a chunk of sweet potato, a small ear of corn and homemade corn nuts. It is without a doubt the best ceviche I have ever tasted. Perfectly balanced, spicy, tart and refreshing. I would have the stuff for breakfast.

The Pollo a la Brasa (Peruvian Rotisserie Chicken) is good but certainly not the best Peruvian chicken around. However, the sides are incredible. Try the Cuban black beans; A revelation of creamy and whole black beans with bits of pork. They are soul satisfying and a heaping portion to boot. French fries here are extraordinary. Essentially steak fries, they are greaseless and full of great "potato-ness". Great when dipped in the complimentary sauces which are brought out. Both are mayonnaise based, one mild and the other quite snappy and spicy. La Limena is known for its Anticuchos (Beef Heart) We did not try them on this trip but will the next time we go in.

The star of the show for us was the Pollo ala Parilla. A marinated half a boneless chicken is pounded flat and grilled skin side down over a charcoal grill. It was crisp and moist and utterly delicious.

Everything here is made to order so you may have a small wait for your food. All of the ingredients are fresh. They do not employ the use of freezers so you know you are getting the best possible meal at that time.

Save room for dessert. We had the Alfajores, which are two anise flavored shortbread cookies with a thick layer of caramel sauce in between. Truly unbelievable. Other items in the dessert case looked equally enticing and when you consider that the owner provides the desserts to all the other Peruvian restaurants in town, you can rest assured that no matter what you choose it's going to be good. I'm already looking forward to my next visit.

La Limeña
La Limeña 765-B Rockville Pike (in Ritchie Center), Rockville
Kitchen hours: Open Monday-Thursday, 11-9, Fridays and Saturdays 11-10, Sundays 10-9

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Penzey's Spices

Have you discovered Penzey’s Spices yet? If you are not within driving distance of one of their outposts, I can only offer my condolences. The first time I stepped into Penzey’s I felt like Augustus Gloop facing Willy Wonka’s Room of Edible Everything. Penzey’s features over 250 herbs, spices and spice blends. All of their product is ground fresh in Wisconsin and is not allowed to remain on the shelf for more than 3 weeks.

Fear not, ye geographically challenged readers of mine! Penzey’s entire stock is available on line, direct from Wisconsin at http://www.penzeys.com/

There are two locations in the Washington DC Metro Area

Rockville, MD
1048 Rockville Pike
(301) 738-8707
Mon-Sat: 10:00AM - 6:00PM
Sun: 11:00AM - 5:00PM

Falls Church, VA
513 W. Broad Street
(703) 534-7770
Mon-Sat: 10:00AM - 6:00PM
Sun: 11:00AM - 5:00PM

Mandalay Cafe and Restaurant: Lost Gem Found Again

The country of Burma (Myanmar) borders India on one side and Thailand on the other. It’s interesting to see how these two titans have found common ground in the country of Burma which truly seems to be a culinary segue between the two lands.

Some years ago, Steven and I made a few visits to a College Park, MD restaurant called Mandalay, which featured Malaysian, or more specifically, Burmese cuisine. It was basically a “divey” hole-in-the-wall joint in an off-beat locale but with really good food. Alas, we discovered it too late as the restaurant was slated for demolition, it’s location to be turned into condos or townhouses or something. Furthermore, shortly thereafter we moved to Crofton and soon forgot all about this little gem.

As luck would have it, just the other day Steven eyed a short article in the Washington Post heralding the Ginger Salad at Mandalay in Silver Spring, MD. Eureka! We found them again!

We have a couple of regular dine out nights so this past Monday, when Steven asked me what I was thinking for dinner, I gave him a few ho-hum options then added, “but I would really like to go to Mandalay.” In a flash we were off.

The once “divey” hole-in-the-wall joint, has blossomed into a great big “divey” joint. Let’s just say the place is not long on atmosphere. Not to say anything unpleasant, it’s clean, it’s functional, it’s comfortable, but it’s certainly not going to win any prizes for décor… but with food this good, they could serve it out of the back of a pickup truck at the entrance to a dump and I would line up for it.

We started with the Ginger Salad, which is very similar to a Thai Green Papaya Salad. Shredded cabbage is topped with a spicy lime, fish sauce and peanut dressing with shredded ginger and fried garlic chips. You can ask for this dish “vegetarian” which means they will leave off the fish sauce. You can also ask for it “College Park” style, which means it will be really spicy. Apparently, they got complaints that the salad was too intense so they toned down the ginger. We ordered it “College Park” style and didn’t find it overwhelming at all. In fact it was absolutely addictive. As you sit in Mandalay, you will notice that the Ginger salad goes out to almost every table and I understand why, it is simply delicious.

We also ordered the Burmese Samosas, which are smaller than a traditional Indian Samosa with a thinner and crisper shell. They look like Spanakopita triangles filled with well seasoned mashed potatoes and peas and served with a snappy chili sauce that is slightly sweet and really spicy.

For entrees, I chose Mandalay KyetThar which is served room temperature. It’s described as “White meat chicken strips boiled, and served with lemon-soy, crushed peanuts, and sesame seed sauce”. Sounds pleasant enough… but they forget to mention that it’s spicy. The waitress advised that the sauce could only be served very spicy or moderately spicy. Mild was not an option. I like spicy, but I know better than to order something very spicy until I understand exactly what that means to a specific restaurant or cuisine. Steven ordered the Shrimp in Tomato Onion Curry, also ordered moderately spicy. We decided to split everything.

Thank God we ordered them moderately spicy. Both dishes had that sneaky burn that you don’t notice at first, but which continues to get spicier and spicier the more you eat, until your lips are tingling and your mouth is quite literally on fire. Water won’t help you, the rice is little comfort, and it tastes so damn good that you just keep eating making matters worse.

As an added bonus I unwittingly ordered a small bowl of the AChin Yay “Lemon and garlic with hot chili sauce”.

“It makes things a little hotter” said our lovely waitress.

I didn’t realize that Satan made a hot sauce, but apparently he does. It’s called A Chin Yay, and it comes from Burma. It definitely makes things a little hotter. I put some on the Shrimp Curry and the first bite actually made me cough. I am also smart enough to know not to douse my food with an unknown hot sauce until I have gauged the intensity of what I am about to eat. Needless to say, the AChin Yay was used only sparingly after that.

Despite the intensity of the heat, this is really fantastic food. Everything is fresh and tasty, with simple presentations that highlight the direct flavors of the dish. Service was incredibly attentive and friendly. Our waitress gave us many suggestions and we felt like she helped us to choose wisely.

We both had a dessert. In hind sight I would skip it next time around. Steven ordered the ShweJi “cream of wheat, coconut cream, sugar, raisins, and milk, topped with poppy seeds, then baked until light golden brown” and I ordered the Sticky Rice with brown Sugar & Coconut. Stevens’ dessert was the better of the two, mine having been overheated in a microwave. The ShweJi, however was unique and flavorsome, but I have some sugar free fudge bars at home that I would have liked more.

We are delighted to have found this little gem again, and I have the feeling this will be the first of many visits to Mandalay.

Mandalay Cafe and Restaurant
930 Bonifant Street
Silver Spring, MD 20910

Skinny Turkey Piccata

O.k. so this isn’t really a true Piccata, but it’s a great little weeknight dinner for two. I’ve added some things here to make the dish a little more interesting and I’ve replaced the oil and butter with chicken stock to make this “health-friendly”. It’s loaded with flavor, so you won’t miss the extra calories.

Turkey Piccata

4 Turkey Cutlets
¼ cup and 1 Tsp All Purpose Flour
1 Cup Sliced Mushrooms
½ cup Cherry Tomatoes, halved
Juice from 1 lemon
¾ cup Chicken or Vegetable Stock
Pinch of Salt
2 Tbsp Capers

In a wide bowl place the ¼ cup of all purpose flour. Dredge the turkey cutlets in the flour, making sure to shake off any excess, and set aside.
Over medium heat spray a large nonstick sauté pan with Pam (or any other such product) and add the turkey. Cook on one side until almost done and turn over, approximately 3 minutes per side. Remove from the pan and set aside. To the pan add the mushrooms. Make sure all of the mushrooms have contact with the pan and do not stir them. Let them brown a little before turning. Once the mushrooms have browned add the chicken stock and lemon juice and deglaze the pan. Let the sauce reduce by half and return the turkey cutlets to the pan. Add the cherry tomatoes. Stir in the remaining teaspoon of flour to thicken the sauce. Be careful here, you want a light sauce, nothing too thick. Use less flour, or none at all if your sauce has already thickened. Add the capers. Taste the sauce, and add salt if desired.

Serve immediately over Whole Wheat Penne Rigate. In my opinion, Ronzoni makes the best whole wheat pasta.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Playing with your Food

My old boss and good friend Peter sent these amazing photos. Look carefully, everything in these photos is composed entirely out of food.

Click on the photo to view larger.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Chocolate Indulgence

There’s great stuff going on in the Chocolate world these days. Artisan chocolate companies are popping up all over the country like mushrooms in spring.

In Columbia, Missouri, Alan McClure is producing an amazing product. Alan is the owner and solitary force behind Patric Chocolates (Yes, there is no “k” at the end. No, I don’t know why). Alan produces micro-batch chocolates from scratch, by hand, doing all the work himself from start to finish. He offers two varieties of chocolate bar. The first is a 70% dark chocolate bar, and the second being a 67% dark chocolate bar, the later slightly mellowed by cacao butter that Alan also makes himself from scratch by hand, culled from raw cacao beans.

The first bar has only two ingredients, chocolate and sugar; the second, chocolate sugar and cacao butter. As quoted in a recent article in the St. Louis Post Dispatch “If you have to add vanilla, the quality of the cacao you're using isn't good enough to begin with."

He has elevated the simple chocolate bar to highest level of culinary delights. The flavor of his product is almost indescribable. It’s as if you are tasting chocolate for the first time. Like a great glass of wine, the experience floods you with the flavors and aromas of citrus, chicory, berries, spice and more. You can purchase his products on the internet and they are well worth the investment.


Mai Thai: Carlos and Steve WERE Impressed

Guest Blogger: Steve Scott

We were impressed!

Confession: I am sick and tired of Thai restaurants. Partly because I am guilty of ordering the same things repeatedly and partly because mediocre Thai restaurants can be found on every corner nowadays.

Mai Thai is completely hidden by construction scaffolding. It is on the first floor of an office building that is undergoing a complete renovation. (I don't know why, it seemed to be a perfectly good building before). I have ignored Mai Thai countless times, even before it was hidden by scaffolding. Carlos and I decided to give them a chance.

Once you brave the scaffolding maze, you are rewarded by entering into a beautiful & peaceful dining room. The hectic street and construction disappear as soon you walk in. Service was perfect, especially for a hurried lunch crowd. How do they train people to be so attentive and competent?

We started with spring rolls. Two long, slendor spring rolls served with standard dipping sauce. OK, but in retrospect, probably not worth the calories.

Now to the good stuff. Carlos, our Pad Thai enthusiast, insisted it was really good and suggested I sample. He was not kidding! It made me love Pad Thai again. Fresh, perfectly balanced ingredients. I ordered the special, therefore, I don't remember the name and can't find it on the regular menu. Four large steamed shrimp in a bed of minced chicken and sprinkled with crabmeat. The minced chicken was slighty sweet and spicy. The shrimp had a perfect texture and the crabmeat was a heavenly treat. It was presented nicely and tasted even better. It was served with a bowl of white rice. My instinct was to skip most of the rice. Until I tasted it - yummy!

Since Mai Thai passed the "Carlos/Steve Pad Thai Test", we decided to give them the "Carlos/Steve Sticky Rice & Mango test". After the sticky rice and mango failure we experienced last week at another restaurant, I was a bit hesitant. Not to worry, it was the real deal. The sticky rice was exactly as you would want it. Just sweet, sticky, & warm enough. True comfort food. The mango was fresh and flavorful. If Patrick was around, we might have ventured into more exotic territory on the menu. But, Carlos and I like the standards. Mai Thai does the standards well. We will be back.

Mai Thai
1200 19th Street, N.W., Washington, DC 20036
(Also located at 6 King Street in Oldtown Alexandria)

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Butter vs. Margarine

A couple of weeks ago, I posted a poll posing the question “which do you prefer butter vs. margarine?”, and the overwhelming response (from the 10 or 12 of you that voted), was that butter was the spread of choice in your homes. My good friend Lisa sent this email to me, which had been emailed to her from our good friend Michael, which had come to him via email from an unknown source, as so many interesting facts do, emphatically supporting that butter is better.
Here is the email:

Pass the butter. Margarine was originally manufactured to fatten turkeys. When it killed the turkeys, the people who had put all the money into the research wanted a payback so they put their heads together to figure out what to do withthis product to get their money back. It was a white substance with no foodappeal so they added the yellow coloring and sold it to people to use inplace of butter. How do you like it? They have come out with some clevernew flavorings. DO YOU KNOW...the difference between margarine and butter? Read on to the end...gets very interesting!

  • Both have the same amount of calories.
  • Butter is slightly higher in saturated fats at 8 grams compared to 5 grams.

  • Eating margarine can increase heart disease in women by 53% over eating the same amount of butter, according to a recent Harvard Medical Study.
  • Eating butter increases the absorption of many other nutrients in other foods.

  • Butter has many nutritional benefits where margarine has a few only because they are added!

  • Butter tastes much better than margarine and it can enhance the flavors of other foods.

  • Butter has been around for centuries where margarine has been around for less than 100 years.
And now, for Margarine..!
  • Very high in trans fatty acids.

  • Triple risk of coronary heart disease.

  • Increases total cholesterol and LDL (this is the bad cholesterol) and lowers HDL cholesterol, (the good cholesterol)

  • Increases the risk of cancers up to five fold.
    Lowers quality of breast milk.

  • Decreases immune response.

  • Decreases insulin response.

And here's the most disturbing fact.... HERE IS THE PART THAT IS VERYINTERESTING. Margarine is but ONE MOLECULE away from being PLASTIC..This fact alone was enough to have me avoiding margarine for life and anything else that is hydrogenated (this means hydrogen is added,changing the molecular structure of the substance).You can try this yourself: Purchase a tub of margarine and leave it in your garage or shaded area. Within a couple of days you will note a couple of things: no flies, not even those pesky fruit flies will go near it (that should tell you something) It does not rot or smell differently because it has no nutritional value; nothing will grow on it. Even those teeny weeny microorganisms will not a find a home to grow. Why? Because it is nearly plastic. Would you melt your Tupperware and spread that on your toast?

Compelling stuff ... except that most of it is not true.

Margarine was not developed as a turkey fattener. Margarine was developed by a French man, Hippolyte Mege-Mouries in 1869 at the request of the King of France (Napolean III), who was looking for a substitute to butter. It does however contain polyunsaturated fat which can reduce both your good and your bad cholesterol and has been linked to colon cancer.

As far as the chemical properties being just one molecule different than plastic, this statement is really inconsequential. “Plastic” does not refer to a specific chemical compound but any number of chemical compounds which may have a myriad of inferences. The definition of “Plastic” simply means a compound which is malleable and can be molded into a shape. Both margarine and butter can do that. In that sense, they are both plastic. Many things are molecularly close to others, but that does not make them the same thing.

So the verdict is this: both butter and margarine are bad for you. Butter is high in saturated fats, which boils down to cholesterol, however, I believe that butter in moderation is better for you than margarine, simply because it is a natural, unprocessed product, and it sure tastes good. However, if you consider products like Benecol, Smart Balance or some the new Olive Oil spreads those are probably better for you in the long run than butter, but given that choice I would simply turn to Olive Oil, a truly good fat that can lower your bad cholesterol and help to raise your good.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Ode to a Grecian Olive Oil

After seeing my poll on which country produces the best olive oil my good friend John gave me a bottle of home pressed olive oil from his mother-in-law’s own olive tree orchard from the state of Patras in the Katoahaia region, near the Ionian Sea in Greece. The olive oil is fantastic; very fresh, clean and herbaceous with a nice peppery bite. At home we have been concentrating on eating healthy and I find olive oil to be essential in that endeavor. In honor of our new Grecian olive oil, I put together this very quick and easy recipe last night. Thanks to John and Katrin (John’s lovely wife) for the inspiration.

Grecian Lemon-Garlic Chicken

2 Chicken Breasts, sliced thin
4 Cloves of Garlic, pressed through a garlic press
2 Tbsp Grecian Olive Oil
½ Tsp Salt
Cracked Pepper
¼ cup Chicken Broth
Juice of One Lemon
1 Tbsp Capers
1 oz Reduced Fat Feta Cheese Crumble
Chopped Parsley

Place the chicken in a large bowl and top with the pressed garlic (if you do not have a garlic press, then simply mince the garlic very fine until it makes a paste consistency), 1 Tbsp Olive Oil (reserve 1 Tbsp), salt and pepper. Mix well to coat all the chicken. Let stand at room temperature for 10 minutes.

In a large sauté pan, heat the additional olive oil over medium high heat until you see it shimmer across the pan. Add the chicken and sauté until almost done, approximately 4 minutes. Add the lemon juice and continue to sauté until the juice of the lemon has reduced in half. Deglaze the pan with the chicken broth. Be sure to scrape up all the bits that have stuck to the bottom of the pan to bring up all that luscious flavor. Remove from the heat and add the Capers, Feta Cheese and Chopped Parsley. Stir to warm the remainder of the ingredients and serve immediately over Grecian Bulgur Wheat Pilaf.

Serves 3-4

Grecian Bulgur Wheat Pilaf

2 Cups Chicken Broth
1 tsp Grecian Olive Oil
1 Cup Uncooked Organic Bulgur Wheat
¼ Cup Kalamata Olives, sliced
½ Cup Cherry or Grape Tomatoes cut in half
¼ Cup Sliced Almonds

In a covered pot heat the Chicken Broth and olive oil until it boils. Add the Bulgur Wheat and the remaining ingredients and let the mixture return to a boil. Reduce the heat and cover. Simmer for 15 minutes or until all the liquid has been absorbed. Stir the mixture well and serve.

Serves 3-4

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Chilean Olive Oil: Who Knew?

Provided by Guest Blogger: Ross Davis

After a recent trip to Chile, Ross and his wife made this great culinary discovery;

"The same reasons that made the country Chile a wine and fruit leader in the world now apply to olive oil.

Elvio Olave is a wine world innovator who's recently turned to olive oil. Best, he's got Chile's magnificent geography on his side. Andes on the east, desert on the north, Antarctica on the south, and the Pacific on the west provide protection from disease and pests, as well as allowing Olave to grow many different olive varieties in the same region. A veritable UN in a bottle, Elvio is cultivating and blending pan-European varietals to produce his oil: Frantoio, Coratina, Arbequina, and Leccino. His oil is fresh, very fruity, and unique, with some high bitter tones in the finish. Very impressive."


Ross adds: "The bottles we brought back were very grassy and had hints of fresh herbs."

Malaysia Kopitiam: Carlos and Steve were not impressed

Written by Guest Blogger: Steve Scott

Many is the occasion that Carlos meets me for lunch since we work close to each other. We typically go the same one or two places, but for a change of pace, we decided to try Malaysia Kopitiam, a restaurant Patrick and I used to go to years ago and really liked.

We were not impressed.

Upon entering the restaurant, one is overwhelmed by the musky, bleachy odor often found in basement restaurants. The smell is blended with a raw chicken smell that I found offensive.

The waitress was friendly and professional, but the service seemed to move a bit slow, especially by the time we got to dessert. Maybe we were just in a hurry.

Like many Asian restaurants, I found it difficult to make a good "health conscious" choice for lunch. I asked the waitress for a recommendation of a popular dish. She suggested Chicken Curry, which is a particular favorite of mine. The Chicken Curry was bland despite being billed as spicy. The chicken was on the bone, which is something I detest. It looked as if they just chopped up part of a whole warm chicken and dropped it in the curry sauce. It was served with white rice.

Carlos ordered a dish he picked out on his own with a name that I cannot remember and cannot pronounce. I tasted it and liked it. He said it was 'ok'. Basically, it was beef chow fun (stir-fried beef and wide band rice noodles) mixed with spinach leaves and bean sprouts. It was not very interesting or inspiring, but, at least it looked and tasted better than mine.

The prices seemed high for a casual, Asian restaurant in a dark musky basement at lunch time. Of course, being downtown raises the price of everything.

For dessert Carlos ordered Mango and Sticky Rice and was really excited about it - until he got it. The mango was hard, not ripe at all. When we complained the staff insisted it was fine. The tiny glob of rice was drenched in a sickening gooey sauce. I had a little taste of the Mango (yuk) and the sticky rice (lame). It didn't really seem like sticky rice, just a glob of rice with a bigger glob of gooey stuff on top.

We both enjoyed going on the adventure, and it was still fun to break out of our routine. I don't know if they have gotten lazy, or we ordered the wrong things, or they simply offer crappy stuff for lunch, but, there is certainly no need to go back.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Crofton Restaurants: Dining in the 'hood

Sometimes, you just don't want to travel far for a good meal. Staying close to home is just what the doctor ordered, but when you live in the burbs, your options are not always "haute cuisine". People who know me well, know that I'm not a food snob, I just really love to eat. None of these places are going to be winning a James Beard Award this year, but they definitely have my won my heart. Here are some short takes on some of our favorite places in and around our beloved Crofton.

Fuji Japanese Steak House Hibachi & Sushi Bar

Fuji Steak House is the typical Teppan Yaki joint with table side cooking by Japanese chefs with big knives and cheesey jokes. We've seen it all before and if you're in the mood to set your eyebrows on fire, it's one of the better places for Japanese Steak House cuisine.But... the real reason to go to Fuji is for the sushi. We've been fans of the sushi bar here since their first days in business. Always fresh and artful presentations. If Live Scallop is on the menu that day, that it's a must try. We love the specialty rolls and the high quality sashimi. I love the Chirashi sushi, raw fish on seasoned rice. It always includes Tamago, the sweet egg omelet and delicious chunks of white tuna. Complete sushi dinners come with Miso soup and salad. You can request the Sui Mono (mushroom soup) for a change if you don't want Miso. If you love sushi... like I love sushi... then Fuji is the place for you.

1314 Main Chapel Way Gambrills, MD 21054 (410) 721-6880

Mi Casita

Mi Casita is a great neighborhood spot and definitely makes up for the lack of decent Mexican food in the Crofton area. Above average Mexican fare with a nod to traditional Tex Mex specialties, but with some decidely more authentic offerings. I love the Tacos al Pastor. Corn tortillas with marinated skirt steak and a snappy pico de gallo. Other interesting menu items include the Fish tacos (breaded and fried Tilapia ) or carne asada. Their carnitas are good and unusual, marinated with chunks of pineapple. Service is always friendly and efficient. Chips and salsa are also quite good.Warm and relaxed decor, which is a VAST improvement over Nick's Diner which held the space previously. Mi Casita is definitely a welcome addition to the 'hood, not just as a Mexican restaurant, but as another great place to eat in Crofton.

1334 Defense Hwy Gambrills, MD 21054 (410) 451-3296


Allison's Restaurant

Cozy and quaint, Allison's opened just about two years ago and is one of those places you almost have to know about to find. Located in the Priest Bridge strip center of Crofton MD on Defense Highway Allison's serves above average new American cuisine and remains one of the Bowie/Crofton/Annapolis area's "best kept secrets". We love the Fried oyster appetizer and typically fight over who gets to order the Hickory Grilled Pork Chop with Jalapeno Cranberry Sauce, Basil Red Skin Mashed Potatoes, & Creamed Spinach. Nightly specials are offered. Seafood entree's are a standout along with some of the pasta selections. Service is generally good, although we have encountered some inexperienced waiters on occassion. Overall a great neighborhood stop. However, our most recent visit seemed to lack some of the pizzaz of Allison's early days. We are hopeful that is not a trend.I know it's overdone, but their Tiramisu is fantastic. Everything a good Tiramisu should be and the perfect ending to good meal.

2207 Defense Hwy Crofton, MD 21114 (410) 721-0331


Hunan L'rose

This is a great "American" style Chinese restaurant with all of the classics, reasonably priced and done well. Fried Pot-Stickers, Orange Beef, Sesame Chicken, Seafood Bird's Nest and Beef Chow Fun are a few of our favorites. The restaurant decor is dated (lots of pink --- big aquarium--- cheesy music) but clean and service is always friendly, fast and efficient. Great neighborhood spot if you are not looking for anything too exotic.

1131 Annapolis Rd Odenton, MD 21113 (301) 621-9388

4 Seasons Grille

High style in the burbs. 4 Season's Grille is another quality link in the Monte Restaurant Group chain, which also operates Cafe Mezzanote, Pomo Grille, Carpaccio (soon to open) and Squisito Pizza (several locations). 4 Season's offers a heathy array of steaks, pasta and seafood with a mediterranean twist. It's hard to go wrong with any of the items on the menu. Try the Pappardelle pasta with Lamb Ragu. Luscious large ribbons of pasta with a deep and satisfying meat sauce. The double pork chop with caramelized pears,gorgonzola cheese and prosciutto is to die for. 4 Season's is also open for brunch, and lunch. Speaking of lunch... they make a "kick-butt" burger, 100% ground filet mignon, which at $7.95, including fries or a salad, makes me forget all about the herd of mediocre chain restaurants like Applebees, Chilis or Ruby Tuesday. Why not eat in style?

2630 Chapel Lake Dr Gambrills, MD 21054 (410) 451-5141

Nautilus Diner

Overlooking Highway 3, in a building which looks like a cross between a diner on steroids and a lighthouse, the Nautilus opened in Crofton a scant year ago, and quickly established itself as THE go to spot for casual fare in the area. It is the sister restaurant of a Timonium diner of the same name and everything you would expect of a classic east coast Greek diner. We love it for breakfast. The challah bread french toast is a standout. In the evening, it's anything goes with offerings ranging from chicken fried steak to lamb chops to a Gyro platter (and everything in between). One of my favorite entree selections is the crab stuffed shrimp. Ridicously large shrimp are stuffed with so much crab, it really looks like they just stuck shrimp under a crab cake. Desserts tend to look better than they actually taste, but you can't go wrong with a piece of fruit pie or a hand made milkshake. The owners are very friendly and the vast majority of the service staff go out of there way to be helpful.

1709 Transportation Blvd Crofton, MD 21114 (410) 451-8515


So there you have it! There is some civilization past the beltway. Come out and see us sometime. I know where we can eat.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Bob's 66 Noodle House

If you read my blog entry about Bob’s 88 Shabu Shabu, then you are already aware that there was an impending visit to Bob’s sister location Bob’s 66 Noodle House. Bob’s Noodle House is an authentic Taiwanese restaurant with many accolades from sources like Yelp, Zagat, Washingtonian Magazine and the Washington Post. I love Chinese cuisine in all of its incarnations so… this past Friday, Steve, Carlos and I decided to give Bob’s Noodles a whirl.

Located in a strip center, essentially across the street from Bob’s 88, the restaurant isn’t much to look at. It’s a fairly small space with very utilitarian tables and chairs set close together for maximum seating capacity. What you can say for Bob’s Noodle House is that it is bright (really bright… like all the lights full up bright) and clean.

Service is also somewhat “utilitarian”. Ultimately, Bob’s is an Asian restaurant for Asian people, so don’t expect a great deal of help from the staff when ordering. With that said, service is still friendly and efficient. Non-Asians are very welcome here. All of the menu items have English translations and apart from a specials board with a couple of items written in Chinese, I saw no evidence of a secret Chinese menu for Chinese customers only, which is so common here in Washington DC.

Much of the menu seems as though it were inspired by a hard-gore horror film with selections like, crispy intestines, fried duck tongues, stir fried pig ears or duck blood with vegetables. Hannibal Lechter would be so pleased. Despite the seemingly endless array of offal options there are just as many “more-accessible” selections for the faint of heart.

A bit daunted by the menu, I was having trouble making a decision as there were so many interesting choices. A pleasant Asian gentleman, who was sitting next to us, suggested that we order anything that was spicy. Well, I love spicy and if the locals are telling you what’s good, you should listen. I asked him what he was having to which he simply replied, “Oh, this isn’t for you”. I thought it was a plate of pig’s ears, but when I pressed the question, he almost regrettably confessed “no, this is stir-fried pig’s kidney”.

Apparently, Bob’s is one of the only places in the area you can get a good stir-fried pig’s kidney as it takes special preparation. Like chitterlings they need to be triple cleaned in order to be edible. I was assured that it was an “acquired” taste. I told our new friend, that, while I was not bothered by his menu choice, he was correct, I didn’t think the kidneys were for me.

This is Bob’s Noodle house so we all chose to order something with noodles. I ordered the Spicy Shredded Beef and Longhorn Chilies Soup with house-made noodles. The waitress was concerned that it would be too spicy for me, but I assured her it was ok. Steven ordered the Shrimp, Chicken and Pork Noodle Soup, while Carlos ordered the Stir-Fried Sa Cha Beef with house-made noodles and Chinese Broccoli.

The first thing you’ll notice at Bob’s when the food arrives is that the portions are enormous. There is no need to order appetizers here. A huge bowl of noodles topped with beef broth and delicious strips of beef which were tender and chewy was placed before me. The beef broth was unctuous and musky and LOADED with chilies that were spicy without being overpowering. Steven’s noodles came in a chicken broth that was equally unctuous and fragrant. Carlos dish was reminiscent of Beef Chow Fun, but with thick hand-made doughy noodles that must be considered comfort food for generations of Taiwanese people.

Oh, and by the way, Bob’s is ridiculously cheap. My entrée was the most expensive meal at $7.95 and it all came with complimentary hot tea. The total bill for the three of us was $26 tax and tip included. I’m anxious to return to Bob’s and try some of the other specialties. Perhaps next time I will be a little braver in my selection, still, don’t expect to be reading about kidneys anytime soon.
Bob's 66 Noodle House
305 N Washington St
Rockville, MD 20850
(301) 315-6668
Cash Only

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Tsunami: Saturday Night and No Reservations

We had just made a run to Petsmart. I was in the mood for seafood. It was still early on a Saturday night, around 5:45PM so Steve and I decided to hit McCormick and Schmicks at the Annapolis Mall for dinner. It’s my general policy not to blog about chain restaurants, but I have to say that I love McCormick and Schmicks and feel like they do a great job of presenting consistently fresh and well prepared seafood.

Steven pulled the car to the door and I ran in. The crowd of people were already choking the entry way and when I asked about a table, an hour and forty-five minutes wait was the reply. Oh well, they’re not THAT good.

So we headed toward Paul’s Homewood Café on West Ave in Annapolis. Recently renovated and just reopened, there is a lot of buzz about Paul’s right now. This time, we were smart and called for a table as we made our way.

They could take us at 8:30PM.

8:30PM? I would be dead from hunger by 8:30 PM.

Steven thought quickly and called Northwoods. They have a spectacular prix fixe menu for $35 per person that is seriously the best value in Annapolis.
No reservations?
Not tonight.

Dejected and forlorn we drove aimlessly down West Avenue trying to think of something, anything we could do for dinner. When stopped at a light, Steven glanced over at Tsunami and spied empty tables in their dining room. Like James Bond I jumped from the moving vehicle pushing small children and unsuspecting pedestrians out of my way to gain access to the restaurant’s front door. All of the tables were spoken for with future reservations, but the lounge area, including the bar was available on a first come first serve basis and yes the entire dinner menu available. The place was completely empty except for one other party, so we bellied-up to the bar and settled in for a fantastic meal.

Good thing we got there when we did, because, within a half hour the place was packed and by the time we left, customers were “jockeying” for our soon to be empty barstools.

Tsunami serves pan-Asian fusion cuisine in a very hip atmosphere. While the décor is hip and the music a little too loud, service is extremely friendly, knowledgeable and helpful. Not affected in any way. We decided to have a combo of appetizers; sushi and salad instead full entrees.

We started with the shrimp and crab pot stickers. More of a fried dumpling than an actual pot sticker, they are filled with a crab and shrimp mousse and lightly fried, then served with a mango-chili sauce. They were light and tasty and a nice start to the meal.

That was followed by our salad. Spinach and Tatsoi salad with crushed cashews, strawberries and lightly dressed with Asian inspired vinaigrette.

It’s funny that I have never blogged about sushi before. Sushi is my absolute, all time favorite food, but for some reason I haven’t got around to blogging about it. I could eat sushi for breakfast lunch and dinner and then top off the evening with a late night sushi snack. I cannot say that Tsunami has the best sushi I have ever tasted, but I will say that they serve a very high quality sushi at stunningly good prices, making them, not necessarily a cheap indulgence, but certainly a great value. We enjoyed four rolls, with nothing over $10 and most of them priced between $4 and $8.

Finally, we finished the meal with one of the appetizer specials of the evening, sautéed calamari with chilies and smoked paprika. It was served over a bed of greens with grated beets and fresh ginger. Wow! What a kick. Each bite was like a little explosion of flavor that just kept coming up with more nuances and levels of heat. The dish was too much for Steven, who liked it at first, but had to stop. The squid was perfectly cooked, without even a hint of “rubberiness”. (I might add, too, that it is so nice to have an alternative to the ubiquitous fried calamari) I found it addicting.

It's almost suspect that we had never been in Tsunami before now. They have been open for a few years now and they really set a new tone for "Uptown" West Avenue when they opened. Now West Avenue has become THE place to be in Annapolis. Let the tourists eat at Buddy’s Crabs and Ribs; this is where the locals hang, even if they don’t have reservations.

51 West StAnnapolis, MD 21401
(410) 990-9868