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