Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Revisiting Some Baltimore Favorites

There are several restaurants that I love going back to again and again to try out new items on the menu, so even though we have posted on these places in the past, I wanted to provide some updates.
One of the true great discoveries in the past few years is Grace Garden in Odenton, MD. Chef Li's place has now been rated the Best Chinese restaurant 2 years in a row in the local City Paper, and just recently, he updated his menu to include some items he's made for special dinners only.
I last had the Szechuan Dan Dan Noodles, a dish with warm noodles with sweet sesame sauce, but then covered with Szechuan spicy pork and veggies.
The Phoenix Purse is an item Chef Li often made for Chinese New Year, but it's now on his permanent menu. It is a delicate dumpling that uses a thin sheet of egg white for the skin, filled with chicken and vegetables in chicken broth.
He's also added pork chops to the menu, including the savory salt and pepper pork chop. I'm going to need to get back to try several new seafood items including conch and Cantonese seafood treasures with shark fin, shrimp, & scallops.

After a couple more visits to Columbia, MD's Bangkok Garden, I've found a few more items on the menu that I just love.
The first is Pla Muk Pad Kra Pow, or squid cooked in spicy Thai basil. My favorite item is Yam Makheua Yao, a salad of warm smokey Chinese eggplant with shrimp. It is particularly good to eat on a warm summer day.

Yet another spectacular dish at Catonsville's Hunan Taste is their fish head with red chili peppers. It is a 1/2 head of large fish, so you get to have parts of the cheek, the collar and some of the neck- all the best bits.

I feel so lucky that the Bluegrass Tavern is walking distance from my place, and I surely take advantage of that. Chef Patrick Morrow continues to change up the menu weekly with local, seasonal items that respect the nose to tail ideology.
He's started making taco trios which include items like beef heart, pork cheek and tongue. One week, I tried a wonderful venison heart tartare for an appetizer.
One of the most impresssive dishes is his fried chicken. In the spirit of Airline chicken, his fried chicken is completely deboned, the white meat is wrapped by the dark meat, and the whole cut is fried, and served cut into 4 large slices. The result is meat that remains juicy and delicious with a wonderfully crispy skin. The feat is just awesome.

Grace Garden
1690 Annapolis Road
Odenton, MD
(410) 672-3581

Bangkok Garden
5810 Robert Oliver Place
Columbia, MD
(410) 992-9553

Hunan Taste
718 N Rolling Rd
Catonsville, MD
(410) 788-8988‎

Bluegrass Tavern
1500 South Hanover Street
Baltimore, MD‎
(410) 244-5101‎

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Salt Tavern, Baltimore

I've been back in Baltimore for a few years now, and I am kicking myself in the head for not having visited Salt Tavern sooner.
I even went to a cooking demo with Chef Jason Ambrose, and was impressed by his flavors, but it was only last week that I finally ate dinner at Salt. While upscale, his restaurant still has a neighborhood bistro vibe to it, nestled near Patterson Park in the Butcher's Hill neighborhood of Baltimore.
We started with a cone of tasty duck fat fries accompanied by a trio of aioli sauces: chipotle, malt vinegar, & black truffle. Bigfatlar and I finished off the black truffle, while Kwan noted a preference for the chipotle.
I ordered the Boston Bibb lettuce salad, served with watermelon, goat cheese, and a thick syrupy balsamic vinegar. It was a great combination of sweet and savory seasonal flavors.

The best item I tasted was the foie gras & Kobe beef slider, topped with truffle aioli and onion marmalade. While a small bite, the rich combination of the ingredients were just do well combined that you would not want any more- it would be just too much.
Bigfatlar ordered the Cuban braised pork shank served on a bed of plantains, andouille, & poblano peppers. The pork slipped off the bone with minimal pressure.
I got an order of the lobster ceviche with passion fruit & mango. I was impressed with the size of the lobster tail- it was delicious.
I also ordered the chicken fried quail with an onion waffle stick & mustard gravy. The dish was an interesting take on chicken & waffles, and I loved the amusing, slightly pornographic presentation.

Our table ordered three different desserts. Bigfatlar got the strawberry shortcake.

I ordered the trio of ice creams. They came on mini sugar cones mounted in their own stand. The flavors were caramel with marshmallow, cherries jubilee, and milk chocolate. Hands down, the cherries jubilee was the best.
Kwan got the goat cheese doughnuts with vanilla sea salt.
After this meal, I am sure I will be back at Salt very soon.

2127 E. Pratt Street
Baltimore, MD

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Lunch at Morimoto, Philadelphia

The problems with living in Baltimore is no real authentic Japanese restaurants nearby. I need to go to DC for the closest sushi place because the places in Baltimore are all either Chinese or Korean run.
When I was in Philadelphia, I was lucky to have enough time to grab some lunch, so I went to Morimoto, the first name restaurant of Iron Chef Japan.
I ordered the Shoyu ramen with pork belly and soft boiled egg. Oh, it was so good.
I then ordered two pieces of sushi: the Madai (red seabream snapper) and the Uni (sea urchin roe). I had never had the Madai before, but it was so fresh and a perfect bite. Of course, the urchin was just like butter. Sigh- I wish I live closer to good sushi.

723 Chestnut Street
Philadelphia, PA
(215) 413-9070‎

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

The Burger at McCabe's Tavern, Baltimore

McCabe's Tavern, a neighborhood joint in the Hampden neighborhood of Baltimore, shut it's doors last year, but under new ownership, re-opened this spring.
With a new chef, they now promote a menu that is oriented to local food sources.
I stopped in for dinner one evening for a cheeseburger made of Springfield Farms beef on a brioche bun from Stonemill Bakery. I got mine with bacon and egg. It was an excellent burger.

3845 Falls Road
Baltimore, MD
(410) 467-1000

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Tacqueria La Placita, Hyattsville, MD

The menu at Tacqueria La Placita in Hyattsville, MD is funny. For some reason they chose to have pictures of every taco they make, but considering the size of the menu, every picture could basically be the same.
However, their tacos are some of the best I've had in the MD/DC/VA area. I ordered the pig cheek, pig ear, and lamb barbacoa tacos for lunch one afternoon. Because of the World Cup, the place was packed.
The meats were served on seared corn tortillas, and came with a green and red sauce as well as a side of spicy pickled onions and carrots.

There was a cart making Raspados, Mexican snow cones.
I ordered one with mango and strawberry, and dried fruit in between- perfect for the hot day

5020 Edmonston Road
Hyattsville, MD
(301) 277-4477

Monday, June 21, 2010

Curbside Cafe, Burrito Truck in Baltimore

Baltimore is just starting to hop on the food truck scene much more popular in cities like LA, New York & Portland.
The Curbside Cafe is a burrito truck that just started in the last few months, showing up mostly at local festivals and events instead of a regular rotation. I visited their truck at the Sowebo festival last month.
I tried their Chana Masala burrito, with avocado and cheese. It was pretty good- an interesting use of Indian flavors. I would love to try their pulled pork the next time I find them.

Friday, June 18, 2010

DaMoim Korean Restaurant, Annandale, VA

Korean fusion food can be great. Eating at the Kogi taco trucks in LA was one of my favorite eating experiences last year. When I heard that the Korean restaurant DaMoim in Annandale, VA was trying to serve Korean fusion cuisine, I had to give them a try.
We started with an appetizer of summer rolls. They came with rice paper loaded with vermicelli noodles, shrimp, mango and veggies. I particularly liked the spicy dipping sauce.
We ordered two sets of Korean tacos: the galbi (beef rib) and jaeyook (spicy pork). I was disappointed that the tacos were more like those from Taco Bell than from a tacqueria, using flour tortillas and loaded with shredded cheese and lettuce. I liked the spicy pork a lot, but would have liked it better with a fresh corn tortilla and possibly kimchi rather than the toppings they chose.
On the other hand, the DaMoim sliders were outstanding, and actually quite good sized. They were topped with cheese and yummy caramelized kimchi.
We also tried an order of their Korean style fried drumsticks. They only had a straight soy flavor, but their frying was just the right crispiness I love about Korean fried chicken.

7106 Columbia Pike
Annandale, VA
(703) 354-3211

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Icedgems, Cupcake Truck in Baltimore County

In Baltimore County, Icedgems Creations started selling cupcakes out of a food truck a few months ago.
I sampled some of their cupcakes after finding them at the Catonsville Farmer's Market.
I liked their Lemon Tang and Key West (lime) cupcakes, both of which had a good blend of tangy and sweet flavors.

My favorite was the peanut butter and jelly because the jelly was baked into the cake itself. It reminded me of the Tastycake jelly krimpets I had sometimes as a kid.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Rainpia, Korean Bar Food in Ellicott City

Being such a fan of Korean style fried chicken, I was excited to go to Rainpia, a small Korean bar located in Ellicott City, MD to try their version.

We ordered drinks first, starting with Kiwi fruit soju. It was freshly made and served from a bowl using a wooden spoon. You could barely tell that it was loaded with alcohol- very dangerous and delicious.

Rainpia offers three preparations of their fried chicken- the regular with a soy-based sauce, an unsauced straight fry, and a spicy soy-based sauce. The flavors are good, but alas, Rainpia's chicken is not as well fried/rendered as my favorite, Bon Chon. It is a little more messy.
My favorite was the straight fried chicken. It is served unseasoned, but then you can dip it into a mix of salt and pepper.

We also ordered a side of dduk bok-kee, the spicy rice dumplings with fish cake to go with the meal.
While decent, I would still make the trek to Annandale for the Bon Chon.

10194 Baltimore National Pike
Ellicott City, MD
(410) 418-8992

Monday, June 14, 2010

The Professor's Porkporken

My friend Claus had not heard of the Bacon Explosion when he invented his Porkporken. Rather, his inspiration was the Turducken. He wondered what it would be like to have pork inside pork, not a bacon overkill, and I think his end product is actually more edible than the Bacon Explosion.

The main reason is that the Porkporken has a pork tenderloin at it's base, making the end product less salty.
He starts with Italian sausage, pulled from the skin, cooked up in a pan. The sausage is then rolled into the tenderloin, and then the bacon is wrapped around everything, held together by toothpicks.
The whole item is then cooked in the oven, initially wrapped in foil. As it nears completion, the meat is unwrapped, coated with apricot preserves and finished in the oven to crisp up the bacon exterior.
When finished, the Porkporken is a lovely cylinder of bacon and pork. To serve, he slices it into 1" pieces. It was delicious.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Nomad Pizza, Hopewell NJ

On a lovely Saturday of Memorial Day weekend, Redneckhunter and I took a little drive out to Hopewell to Nomad Pizza. The adorable little wood-fired pizza place is right on the main street of downtown Hopewell, next to its garden where they grow many of the fresh ingredients that go onto their pizzas and into their salads.

We started off with a cool crisp Caesar salad with anchovies. Redneckhunter was also excited they had Mexican Fanta - much better than our domestic version.

There are 2 types of pizza - thin crust Romana, and chewy Napolitana. We ordered one of each - traditional Margherita in Romana and spicy sausage and caramelized onion in Napolitana. They were much bigger than we were expecting - I think sharing one pizza would have been enough! The thin crust was disappointing - it was thin, but not crisp at all - maybe too much sauce... The chewy crust, though, had a nice flavor and texture, though got a bit soggy as well.

What's nicest, though, about Nomad is just how charming the little place is. Kids run around the garden, the little cottage dining room is homey and inviting. Also, Nomad is thusly named, because they have a traveling brick pizza oven in a vintage 1949 REO Speedwagon truck. The truck is fully self-contained (sinks, fridge, hot water, generator, lights, sound system) and they will cater locations around the area - it's a pizza party on wheels.

Nomad Pizza
10 East Broad Street • Hopewell, NJ • (609) 466-6623

Monday, June 07, 2010

South River, NJ Food Safari

Brownie organized an excursion to South River, NJ. She had read about this small town close to New Brunswick that has had an influx of immigrants through the years from Mexico, Eastern Europe, Brazil and Portugal, the Middle East, etc. and has the food to show for it. The town itself is only 2 square miles, so just the few blocks on Main Street are an easy international walkabout.

We started off at Tapatio Restaurant and got some Mexican picaditos. We got an order of 3 sopes (ridiculously cheap!) and an elote and a pork tamale. The elote tamale was my favorite - really nice corn flavor, sweet but not too sweet, and really satisfying texture to the masa. The pork tamale had a finer masa, but I thought the filling could have been more flavorful. The sopes were disappointing because we had ordered them with pork al pastor (which I think got delivered to the table next to us), and the ones that showed up at our table were kind of bland dry chicken. Service all around was slooooow.... and we were anxious to get more eating on!

Next stop was the generically named Eastern European Bakery. In addition to bread and baked goods, they also had sausages - lots and lots of sausages. I brought one home for Redneckhunter for later. We also got a tasty berry crumble, a cheese roll and other assorted cookies.

Then it was down the street to another bakery - this time Portuguese -- Nossa Aldeia Bakery. They had both sweet and savory treats. We tried a variety of mini pies and croquettes. The texture of the potato in the croquettes was amazing!

I also couldn't resist getting a custard tart. I love the Chinese egg custard tarts, derived from China's Portuguese colonizers in Macau. This Portuguese version was creamier and less eggy than the Chinese kind I like.

There were also ginormous meringues. These were just so big and happy looking, we had to get one, though personally it was too sweet for my taste.

Tapatio Restaurant
56 Main Street
(732) 651-0204

Eastern European Bakery
46 Main Street
(732) 238-5877

Nossa Aldeia Bakery
30 Main Street
(732) 257-1029