Sunday, November 30, 2008

Bare Bones Grill & Brewery

Bare Bones is built on ribs and beer, and they do a pretty good job with both. The ribs, pulled pork and barbeque sauce are smoky sweet. The onion loaf is sinful. Across the board the food is big, indulgent, and guaranteed to fill you up. The quality is a little up and down sometimes, but that doesn't seem to deter the crowds that often fill the place.

The eight or so local microbrew selections are a welcome alternative to the regular national brands. The bar is a major attraction at Bare Bones, and though it can get crowded and noisy with its own scene, it is walled off separate from the dining room. Bare Bones also has a take out counter if you don't want to brave the crowd.

Bare Bones Grill & Brewery on Urbanspoon

Friday, November 28, 2008

Howard Magazine Best Foodie Places 2008

The Howard Magazine December issue includes results of their "2008 Best of" survey for a large range of Howard County services and merchants. I still can't find this magazine or its lists anywhere online, so here is an excerpt of the winners in several food categories. Congratulations to all!

Best Bakery: Touche Touchet Bakery & Pastry Shoppe
Honorable mention: Panera Bread, Great Harvest Bread Co., The Breadery

Caterer: Putting on the Ritz Catering
Honorable mention: Bun Penny Food & Wine, Elkridge Furnace Inn, Rehm's Catering

Place to Buy Dessert: The Cheesecake Factory
Honorable mention: Touche Touchet Bakery & Pastry Shoppe, Rita's Ice, La Madeleine Bakery & Cafe, Maggie Moo's

Place for a First Date: Clyde's
Honorable mention: Lakefront activities, The Melting Pot, Iron Bridge Wine Company, AMC Theatres Columbia

Place to Buy Health Food/Supplements: David's Natural Market
Honorable mention: Roots Market, Trader Joe's, MOM - My Organic Market

Meal Assembly Store: Let's Dish
Honorable mention: Let's Eat

Place to Buy Seafood: Today's Catch
Honorable mention: Frank's Seafood Wholesale Market, Crab Shanty/Sea King, Harris Teeter

Place to Buy Wine: Decanter Fine Wines
Honorable mention: i.m. Wine, Iron Bridge Wine Company, Vintage Cellars

See the Howard Magazine List of 2008 Best Dining survey winners, as well as my own list of Best Restaurants and Nearly Best Restaurants in Howard County.

p.s. A special thank you to Patuxent Publishing and my local carrier for special delivering the December issue of the magazine to my driveway. There's hope for you yet.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving!

We hope you have a great Thanksgiving!

Just in case you're still looking for a place to dine, check out our list of local Thanksgiving restaurant specials.

Best wishes, and eat well!

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Shin Chon Garden

The Shin Chon Garden restaurant was Howard County's first Korean barbeque spot when it opened about five years ago. It was closed for a few months earlier this year to remodel, but it reopened in June and is now prettier and seemingly busier than ever, with more tables available for barbeque. We stopped in on a recent Saturday night and had to wait a while, but once we got a table the food came quickly and was very enjoyable.

I'm no expert on Korean cuisine, but I like the adventure and new tastes, especially the array of small dishes or banchan that accompany each meal. The assortment we received was plentiful and tasty, but had few real standouts -- several variants of kimchee, namul and a scoop of potato salad that seemed to wander in from Costco. We played it safe with the entrees, going with beef brisket and marinated bulgogi, and they were fine. It's fun to cook them on the table top "grill" (more of a steamer, really, but it does the job) and wrap the results and condiments in lettuce leaves or have them with rice. Toward the end of the meal a steamed egg dish and a hot soup arrived, both of which were big hits with us.

Next time I'll want to branch out or bring friends. The galbi, or ribs, and spicy marinated pork barbeque both looked good. And there's a large selection of non-barbeque rice and noodle dishes that were very appealing. The largely Korean clientele like to bring large groups and linger over a variety of dishes; that's clearly the way to go. Lunch is also a good time to try the non-barbeque dishes or even some of the Japanese bento or sushi items.

The Shin Chon Garden does not appear to have a website. It's located in the Lotte Plaza or Golden Triangle shopping center at Rt. 40 and 29.

Shin Chon Garden
8801 Baltimore National Pike
Ellicott City, MD

HowChow has a good review of Shin Chon from earlier this year. So does Elizabeth Large at the Baltimore Sun. There are also some helpful reviews of Shin Chon Garden on Yelp.

Shin Chon Garden on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

oZ Owner's Email: Rumors of Closing Untrue

The owner of oZ Chophouse in Maple Lawn, Katie Buscher, found it necessary to send a special email to patrons today. The gist of it is here:
I have been receiving several phone calls asking if oZ. is closing it's doors soon. This is disheartening to me and concerns me greatly. As the owner of oZ. I wanted to let everyone know that what has been said is completely untrue. All of us at oZ. are working hard to make it through these tough economic times and I am confident that oZ. will survive it. Everyday we are trying to come up with new ideas for our guests so that we can keep all of you coming back. We have started new specials and promotions and we just put a coupon out in the Smart Shopper Magazine. We realize that these times are hard on everyone and we are working on "economizing" our menu so that our guests feel more comfortable coming here for a night out. We will be releasing a revised menu after the first of the year.
The restaurant business is rough even in the best of times. In today's economy it's especially hazardous. We've already lost some favorite local restaurants in recent months, including oZ's neighbor, Trapeze. Last night I happened to read Columbia Compass's elegy to the Rocky Run Tap & Grill and all the comments to it. It's a reminder of the sense of community a good restaurant can foster, and how much wider is the loss when one closes.

I'm glad that oZ Chophouse appears healthy, and I especially applaud the concept of a revised, more economical menu in the works. The looming storm will be difficult for everyone, but I like the idea of a restaurant being willing to meet its customers halfway. An innovative menu of smaller items, lower priced but still well prepared, would be welcome. Goodness knows, Americans can afford to lose a few calories off the plates when they go out. But it's also important that folks still find a reason and the will to go out and spend some money from time to time. We have precious few quality restaurants in the county and we don't want to lose any more.

oZ Chophouse is on our list of Howard County's Best Restaurants.

The Pink Cabbage

Here's a unique little shop for those on the lookout for antiques, accessories and home decor for the holidays or every day. The Pink Cabbage is actually home to 12 shops within the shop, ranging from stained glass to vintage clothes to jewelry to all sorts of decorations and gifts. There's even a little foodie section.

The Pink Cabbage has multiple online personalities. There's a website that gives an overview of the shop, a blog that has more detail and lots of pictures, and a new online store that's just getting started.

The Pink Cabbage is at 11707 Frederick Road, at the corner of Rt. 144 and Triadelphia Rd.

The Pink Cabbage is hosting a Wine and Cheese Open House on Sunday, December 7 from 9:00 am - 8:00 pm.

The Pink Cabbage is running a Toys for Tots promotion: bring in a new toy and receive 15% off one regularly priced item through December 21.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Mangia Morphs into Waverly Grill

Another restaurant in transition (see our post on the Ten Oaks Tavern) is the Waverly Grill, formerly Mangia Italian Grill in the Waverly Woods shopping center in Woodstock. The signs outside still say Mangia, but the menu is new and the identity change is ongoing. I stopped in for lunch recently and found a full slate of burgers, sandwiches, pizza, pasta and bar food appetizers. The fajita wrap I had was tasty and served with home-made crab chips that were thick, crunchy and progressively addictive.

The Waverly Grill has a large dining room, bar and covered patio. The bar and dining room boast a bunch of TVs, making it a good spot to follow your favorite sport. The rest of the decor is a little bare at the moment, but that may hopefully change as the identity transition progresses. The Waverly Grill also hosts live music and other events from time to time, including The Kelly Bell Band on Thanksgiving evening, in case you want to work off that turkey dinner.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Thanksgiving Restaurant Specials

If you haven't already made plans for Thanksgiving, you may want to consider one of the following local restaurants for their special holiday offerings. Check for reservations and availability.

Victoria Gastro Pub special Thanksgiving dinner menu served from noon until 8:00 pm (bar stays open until 2:00 am).

The King's Contrivance special Thanksgiving menu served from noon to 7:00 pm.

Jordan's Steakhouse features a locally raised free-range turkey dinner with all the trimmings, in addition to their regular menu.

Tersiguel's offers a Traditional Thanksgiving dinner along with a limited a la carte menu from 11:30 am to 7:30 pm.

Clyde's of Columbia offers a traditional turkey dinner with all the trimmings.

Ram's Head Tavern in Savage Mill is offering a choice of Thanksgiving turkey preparations: traditional, "Shore Thang" (oyster stuffing), and deep fried.

Take-Home Thanksgiving Dinner packages with all the trimmings are available from the following restaurants, but you may have to hurry to place an order. Call for details: Bistro Blanc, Elkridge Furnace Inn,

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Mongolian Grill

Mongolian Grill, Columbia
This is the ultimate "have it your way" place. At the Mongolian Grill you get to choose from a wide array of meats, seafood, fresh vegetables, noodles, rice, sauces and spices. You can mix and match to your heart's content in the bowl, then hand it off to the cook. In a few minutes the dish comes piping hot to your table, fresh from the "grill" (griddle?). If you don't like what you get, you can only blame yourself...but it's easy to start over again. It's all you can eat, and there's an extensive salad bar, too. We've never left hungry. The Mongolian Grill is not the most elegant place in town, but it is family friendly and locally owned.

Mongolian Grill on Urbanspoon

Friday, November 21, 2008

Asean Bistro

Asean Bistro, Columbia
The Asean Bistro has been a gem for Asian cuisine in Howard County for a decade. Chef and proprietor Jesse Wong hails from Malaysia and takes you on a pan-Asian tour with dishes from China, Taiwan, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, and more. We have a lot of favorites on the menu; picking out a few for dinner is always hard, so it's fun to come with a group and sample a wider variety. Harkow dumplings, Tom Yum soup, Peking Duck, Thai curry, and the choices of various seafood and sauces have all been winners with us. The filet mignon with mustard sauce and spinach doesn't seem very Asian but has been delicious, too.

The restaurant is very nicely decorated with dark teak wood, and even the dishes and place settings are a step up from the ordinary. Service is usually quite good, and the live entertainment is a treat except when the sax gets a little too loud. There's also a separate carry out counter that does a lively business.

Asean Bistro is on our list of Nearly Best Restaurants in Howard County.

Asean Bistro on Urbanspoon

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Howard Magazine Best of Dining 2008

Howard Magazine (formerly Columbia Magazine) publishes an annual reader survey of Best Restaurants in the county. The magazine is distributed with the Columbia Flyer and Howard County Times, says the publisher, Patuxent Publishing Company. But I wouldn't know, since I only sporadically get the Howard County Times at home and can't remember the last time I got the magazine. The publisher was kind enough to send the most recent (October 2008) copy at my request, and lo and behold, there were the 2008 Best of Dining survey results.

Good luck trying to find this or previous lists online, however. I think I stumbled across the magazine once in an electronic format, but I've not been able to find it since. If you can, please let me know. Because I can't find it anywhere else online, and with apologies to Patuxent Publishing, I'm posting a subset the results of the 2008 reader's survey here (there are 37 categories overall). Griping aside, it's a good list, and congratulations to the winners!

Best Restaurant (Overall): Victoria Gastro Pub
Honorable Mentions: Elkridge Furnace Inn, Clyde's of Columbia, Aida Bistro

Fine Dining: The King's Contrivance
Honorable Mentions: Tersiguel's, Elkridge Furnace Inn, Jordan's Steakhouse

New Restaurant: Victoria Gastro Pub
Honorable Mentions: Ranazul, Mimi's Cafe

Best Value: Maiwand Kabob, Rocky Run (now closed)
Honorable Mentions: Carrabba's Italian Grill, Outback Steakhouse

Asian (other than Chinese): Asean Bistro
Honorable Mentions: Sushi Sono, P.F. Chang's China Bistro, Noodles Corner, Sushi King

Chinese: Hunan Manor
Honorable Mentions: P.F. Chang's China Bistro, China Chefs, China Legend

Indian: House of India
Honorable Mentions: Akbar, Bombay Peacock Grill, The Mango Grove

Mexican: El Azteca
Honorable Mentions: La Palapa Grill, Mi Casa, Don Pablo's, Zapata's

Sushi: Sushi Sono
Honorable Mentions: Sushi King, Fuji, Hanamura

Wine List: Iron Bridge Wine Company
Honorable Mentions: Victoria Gastro Pub, Aida Bistro, The King's Contrivance

Also see my own lists of Best Restaurants and Nearly Best Restaurants in Howard County.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Clyde's of Columbia

Clyde's, Columbia
A DC regional mainstay for decades, and a Columbia landmark since 1975, Clyde's continues to produce reliable, popular American standards. Clyde's holds one of the prime restaurant locations in Howard County, lakeside near the nominal heart of Columbia. It was one of the first places where we dined in the area, and is still an easy spot to meet guests for lunch, dinner or brunch. Their steaks, lobster, chili and crabcakes are consistently good, and their menu changes frequently enough to offer interesting surprises for repeat customers. The bar is big and often busy, and there used to be a notorious wait for tables. But now with reservations and OpenTable it's a much more convenient proposition to have a good time at Clyde's.

Clyde's of Columbia is on our list of Nearly Best Restaurants in Howard County.

Clyde's of Columbia on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

M.D.'s Country Pub Becomes Ten Oaks Tavern

A fixture in western Howard County since 1990, M.D.'s Country Pub has changed hands. It is now the Ten Oaks Tavern. The restaurant and bar have been redecorated a bit, but for the time being is still serving M.D.'s menu of burgers and pub food. Some of the staff has stayed as well, and say the menu will change soon to reflect the new ownership. M.D.'s had a lot of regulars and was a local hangout. We'll keep an eye on the transition and see what happens.

Mimi's Kabob

Mimi's Kabob offers Afghan and other specialties in a no-frills, order at the counter style. The chicken, lamb, beef and kofta (seasoned ground beef) kabobs are all grilled on the spot and served with rice, salad and fresh-baked tandoori bread. The chicken and kofta appear to be the favorites, and the bread is great. There are a few tables for the eat-in crowd, but there's at least as much carry out business. At lunch, the menu actually expands to include a selection of subs, wraps, sandwiches and pizza, along with gyros and an occasional curry.

Mimi's kind of steals a page from the more venerable Maiwand Kabob in Columbia, but it's good to have a new Afghan alternative in the county. Mimi's Kabob does not appear to have a web site (UPDATE: it does below). It is located in Clarksville, on Route 108 just south of Route 32, directly across from the St. Louis church and school.

Mimi's Kabob
12345 Wake Forest Road
Clarksville, MD 21029
Phone: 410-531-2000

Mimi's Kabob on Urbanspoon

Monday, November 17, 2008

Maiwand Kabob

Maiwand Kabob, Columbia (Harper's Choice village center)
The county's pioneering provider of Afghan specialties is still the best bet for kabobs and other Afghan treats. The grilled meats are nicely complemented by the seasoned rice and freshly baked Tandoori bread. The appetizers are consistently good and help make this one of HowChow's favorites, too. The ambiance is still more of a take-out joint than a fine restaurant, but that doesn't detract from the food.

Maiwand Kabob on Urbanspoon

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Maryland Solar Energy Grant Deadline 11/30/08

The Maryland Solar Energy Grant program has issued a deadline of November 30, 2008 to get on the list of projects eligible for the current level of grants. The current program offers $2,500 per kilowatt of solar energy installed, up to a cap of $10,000.

Because the program has proven very popular and the Federal tax credit will no longer have a ceiling beginning January 1, 2009 (as part of October's $700B financial bailout package), the Maryland program will be revised and will probably not be as generous in the future.

So, if you want to take full advantage of both the Maryland and Federal programs, you need to get a solar project under contract with a down payment by November 30...and probably the sooner the better to get higher on the waiting list for funds. The project must be installed between January 1 and June 30, 2009, as I understand it.

It's not clear to me whether the state of Maryland guarantees that all eligible grants will be fully funded, but it appears that is the intent. The funding money comes from Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative auctions, the first of which in September generated $13 million. Two more auctions are scheduled in December and March.

If you don't make the November 30 deadline, you can still be eligible for the Maryland program for next year, but the levels of grants are yet to be determined.

See my earlier posting on solar incentives and tax credits.

OpenTable Appetite Stimulus Plan

From November 17-21, three Howard County restaurants (Aida Bistro, Iron Bridge Wine Company, and The Melting Pot) are participating in OpenTable's Appetite Stimulus Plan. They will offer specially priced three course menus for lunch ($24) and dinner ($35). You also get 200 OpenTable points for every reservation you honor.

Greystone Grill

Greystone Grill, Ellicott City

There are now four Greystone Grills in the region, but this Howard County location was the first. Located in a somewhat unlikely office building near Route 100, the restaurant serves good upscale American food. Grilled meats are best, and fish is offered with your choice of preparations and sauces. All dinner entrees come with a large fresh salad and choice of sides. Many of the appetizers are good for sharing, but the Blue Crab and Roasted Corn soup is our favorite. The wine list is deep, with a number of selections by the glass. The Greystone Grill has settled in as a reliable place for a business lunch or dinner, and a nice place to take friends.

Greystone Grill is on our list of Nearly Best Restaurants in Howard County.

Update: Greystone Grill makes our list for Best Steak in Howard County.

Greystone Grill on Urbanspoon

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Casual Gourmet

A friendly oasis for foodies in Glenwood, Casual Gourmet offers fine food shopping, breakfast and lunch items, and gourmet gifts all in one spot.

You can fill your hankering for exotic sauces, dressings, dry goods, cheeses and more, as well as pick up some great ideas for snacks and dinner. Many of the items have recipes or tips right alongside, or you can ask one of the helpful and informative staff for their suggestions.

If you want something great right away, choose a freshly made sandwich, crepe, or pastry (via Bonaparte Bakery) from their counter. Sandwiches of top-quality ingredients are made to order. Sweet and savory crepes are available Friday - Sunday, or anytime with an order of two or more. Casual Gourmet also has a full range of hot and iced drinks, including coffee, lattes and chai with lots of different flavorings.

While you're there, browse the aisles for all manner of cool goodies for your favorite chef or wannabe. Casual Gourmet features items from All Clad, Nordicware, Norpro and Mario Battali in a wide range of prices. You never know when that exotic cake mold or martini mixer will come in handy.

Located just south of the Glenwood Library and Community Center on Route 97, Casual Gourmet is a convenient stop in western Howard County for the food conscious.

Friday, November 14, 2008

In Praise of Open Table

The worst thing about eating out in Howard County is having to wait in line. On some nights it seems like the whole county wants to eat at the same places at the same time. (Don't get me started about the waits for the chain restaurants at Columbia Mall...)

OpenTable is a terrific website that helps you see what restaurants have reservations available at any time. You can check for times the same day or months ahead, and make the reservation without picking up the phone. And you collect points for each time you use the service -- effectively you get a dollar back with each reservation you fulfill, and there are opportunities for bonus points as well.

Open Table covers hundreds of restaurants in the Baltimore and DC region, and thousands around the country and worldwide. It's great for travelers. For several recent trips out of state I've made reservations at hard-to-get-in places, and saved us the worry of having to choose a place when we got there.

There are currently eight [Update: now ten] Howard County restaurants that participate with OpenTable. I say take advantage of this service whenever you can.

Aida Bistro [OpenTable Link]

Clyde's of Columbia [OpenTable Link]

Iron Bridge Wine Company [OpenTable Link]

The Melting Pot - Columbia [OpenTable Link]

Greystone Grill - Ellicott City [OpenTable Link]

Jordan's Steakhouse [OpenTable Link]

Tersiguel's [OpenTable Link]

oZ Chophouse [OpenTable Link]

Diamondback Tavern [OpenTable Link]

Elkridge Furnace Inn [OpenTable link]

Sakura Steakhouse

Sakura Steakhouse, Ellicott City (Enchanted Forest shopping center)

This is the Howard County branch of the regional Sakura chain, a teppanyaki and sushi staple. Crowded on weekends (though they do take reservations) and family friendly, Sakura sometimes feels like a factory but the food can be quite good. Steak, seafood and chicken combos are cooked in front of you on the teppan tables with customary flambeed flourishes. My personal favorite is the salmon. The sushi and rolls offer an alternative, and some folks come just for sushi -- it's also a quicker way to get a table.

Sakura is about to begin opening for lunch with a "light and quick" menu. We'll keep you posted.

Sakura Japanese Steak & Seafood House on Urbanspoon

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Howard County's Nearly Best Restaurants

Our list of Howard County's Best Restaurants focuses on the very best dining locations in the county and are great places for a special night out. But there are a number of other restaurants we like that didn't quite make the list. Each of these establishments offer good, affordable meals and are worth seeking out.

Bistro Blanc, Glenelg
Recently opened up-and-comer

El Azteca, Clarksville
Our favorite Mexican place in the area

Great Sage, Clarksville
Making vegetarian safe for the rest of us

Greystone Grill, Ellicott City
Upscale food, good for business meals and guests

LeeLynn's, Ellicott City
Nice small-plates and entrees in a friendly dining room and lounge

Rumor Mill, Ellicott City
Adventurous fusion of tapas and sushi

Asean Bistro, Columbia
Pan-Asian specialties in a pretty dining room

Clyde's, Columbia
Reliable fixture on Columbia's prime lakefront location

Sushi Sono, Columbia
Elegant Japanese cuisine

Sushi King, Columbia
Family friendly Japanese cuisine

Update: Also see the Howard Magazine Best of Dining 2008 list.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Thai Aroma

Thai Aroma is one of the few choices for Thai food in Howard County, but it's a good one. It offers a fine mix of standard Thai dishes, with sauces and spices light enough to let the fresh ingredients shine through (though you can get more heat if you ask for it). We especially like their curries, chicken, duck and noodle selections. The decor is nothing special, but the service is usually good and we've rarely encountered a wait to get in.

Thai Aroma does not appear to have a web site. It is located in the Golden Triangle Shopping Center (across from Lotte Plaza) at the intersection of Route 40 and Route 29.

Thai Aroma
8815 Baltimore National Pike
Ellicott City, MD 21043
Phone: (410) 480-5100

Thai Aroma on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Gallery 44

Gallery 44, Ellicott City
Run continuously for more than 30 years by Marian Berman and her colleagues, Gallery 44 provides fine art and framing to Howard County. The showroom on Route 40 always has a nice selection of original oils and prints, and catalog access to many more. They also provide custom framing, from basic styles to museum quality. Above all, though, it's the friendly, expert people and service that makes Gallery 44 a fixture in Howard County's art scene.

The Gallery runs frequent special events.

UPDATE: Gallery 44 hosts a Jewelry and Chocolate event from 1:00 - 4:00 pm on December 7. Enjoy chocolate confections and preview the handcrafted jewelry of Marie Glaser.


LeeLynn's, Ellicott City
LeeLynn's is one of our favorite neighborhood places in Howard County. Its space is divided into a dining room, lounge and (almost) all weather patio, but the menu is the same throughout. There's a nice selection of small plates, mostly under $10, from which you can easily build a meal. A limited but tasty set of entrees are supplemented by a variety of sandwiches and salads, and the crabcakes are worth seeking out. It's a fine destination for lunch or dinner. The lounge is a comfortable area with live music on Thursdays. LeeLynn's can get busy, but they do take reservations.

Update: LeeLynn's is on our list of Nearly Best Restaurants in Howard County.

Lee Lynn's on Urbanspoon

Monday, November 10, 2008

Fuji Restaurant

The Fuji is a small, homestyle Japanese restaurant and sushi bar. The sushi and rolls are generally quite good and fresh, and tend toward traditional selections. Cooked dishes of tempura, teriyaki, and the large, hot bowls of sukiyaki are also quite good. It is a family-run operation and the service, usually by local students, can vary but it makes for a friendly neighborhood place.

The Fuji Restaurant does not have a website, as far as I can tell. It is located in a small strip of shops on the north side of Route 40, about a quarter mile west of the Enchanted Forest and Centennial Lane.

Fuji Restaurant
10226 Baltimore National Pike
Ellicott City, MD 21042-3667
Phone: (410) 750-2455

Fuji Japanese on Urbanspoon

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Cha-Ya Cafe

If you have a hankering for Asian food but can't decide between Japanese or Thai, now one place has both. The Cha-Ya Cafe is a sushi and Thai restaurant that has taken the space of the former Red Parrot restaurant on McGaw Road, near Cheeburger Cheeburger and the Greene Turtle. It offers a menu that's pretty evenly divided between Thai and Japanese standards including an extensive sushi and roll list, teriyaki, hibachi, noodles, curries and vegetarian choices. They have a good lunch selection, too, including bento boxes.

The space is small but nicely decorated, with a substantial sushi bar front and center. The service on my first visit was friendly and attentive. And they mean it when they ask how spicy you want your food. My "medium" spicy Basil Chicken came with an authoritative kick and was quite good. The Cha-Ya is a pleasant alternative to the nearby chains, and we wish them better luck than the dead Red Parrot.

Cha-Ya Cafe on Urbanspoon

Saturday, November 8, 2008


Katana, Clarksville
A pleasing Japanese restaurant in Clarksville, Katana is located on Ten Oaks Road just off Route 108. You can find all things Japanese here, including an extensive variety of sushi, sashimi, lots of regular, hand and specialty rolls, and plenty of teriyaki, hibachi, tempura and noodle choices too. I like to experiment with the various imaginative rolls, and keep coming back to the simple but satisfying udon noodle soups. Katana has a large sushi bar and two private rooms that are good for groups 8 or more.

Katana on Urbanspoon

November '08 Restaurant Events

We keep you up to date on special events at area restaurants.

Monday, November 10: Iron Bridge Wine Company is offering a Tuscan wine tasting with a snack for $20, which also gets you 10% off dinner. Reservations required.

Monday, November 10: Bistro Blanc is hosting a prix fixe Wine Dinner at 6:30 pm.

Tuesday, November 11: Iron Bridge Wine Company is offering a Rhone Rangers Wine Dinner, $80 per person for a four-course meal paired with US-grown Rhone varietals. Reservations required.

Thursday, November 13: Elkridge Furnace Inn is hosting a Wines of Loire Tasting from 6:30 - 8:00 pm. Cost is $29 for the tasting and appetizers, and you have the option of a $30 prix fixe dinner after. Reservations required.

Monday, November 17: Elkridge Furnace Inn offers The Gourmand Club Goes to Belgium, a special five-course beer dinner for $90. Reservations required.

Tuesday, November 18: Aida Bistro hosts its Holiday Wine and Beer Tasting from 6:30 - 7:30 pm. Cost is $25 for the tasting and appetizers, or $32 for a three course meal with wines from the tasting. Reservations required.

Thursday, November 20: Elkridge Furnace Inn hosts an Afternoon Tea with Twins Silver Dream. Have a full English tea and shop for silver gifts from 11:00 am - 2:30 pm for $26.50. Reservations required.

Thursday, November 20: Tersiguel's welcomes Le Beaujolais Nouveau, all day.

Friday, November 21: Elkridge Furnace Inn hosts Murder & Mayhem at the Manor, a buffet dinner and murder mystery from 7:00 - 10:00 pm for $56. SOLD OUT!

Monday, November 24: Iron Bridge Wine Company is offering a Great Wines for Turkey wine tasting with snack, which also gets you 10% off dinner. Reservations required.

Tuesday, November 25: Elkridge Furnace Inn holds an Adult Cooking Class from 7:00 - 9:30 pm for $80. Reservations required.

Sunday, November 30: Elkridge Furnace Inn hosts two Holiday Caroling Dinners, the first from 1:00 - 4:00 pm, and the second from 6:00 - 9:00, each for $40. Reservations required. The 6:00 dinner is SOLD OUT!

All Month Long

Mondays: La Palapa offers 1/2 price pitchers of sangria and margaritas.
Mondays: Victoria Gastro Pub has its Beer Club night from 5pm to close.

Tuesdays: La Palapa offers All You Can Eat Tacos.

Wednesdays: La Palapa offers 1/2 priced appetizers.

Thursdays: La Palapa offers Free Dessert.
Thursdays: Victoria Gastro Pub has 1/2 Price Bottle of Wine night after 5pm.

Sundays: oZ Chophouse offers Sunday Football in the Bar from noon.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Bistro Blanc - Dining Review

Bistro Blanc is a newcomer in the wilds of western Howard County offering fine wines and food. At dinner recently we experienced some of the delights of local ownership, a young staff and ambitious chef working to carve their own space.

The restaurant is in an unlikely little strip off Ten Oaks Road near the construction of new roundabouts and a bridge over Route 32. You may get lost in the roundabouts before you find it, but have patience. Once you do, the interior is attractive, with two seating areas slightly separated from the wine bar and store. You can browse the wines and liquor for sale while you wait, or sample wines from the automated wine tasting dispenser.

Chef Marc Dixon's menu at Bistro Blanc is seasonal and already ahead of what's currently posted on the website. It's New American cuisine with a focus on fresh ingredients and sometimes complicated sauces. There's a welcome emphasis on presentation and texture as much as taste. When all three come together, it's a real treat.

Highlights of our recent visit included a grilled flatbread appetizer with portobello mushrooms, gruyere cheese and caramelized onions that was pizza-sized and ample for sharing. An entree of slow cooked salmon paired with a lobster reduction was exquisite -- it simply melted in my mouth while the flavors were rich and complex. Other diners raved about their entrees of lamb chops and wild rockfish.

Not every dish is a knockout. The clam chowder, grilled shrimp and scallop appetizers have each looked wonderful when they arrived at the table, but were merely good, not great. None of the dishes were misses, exactly, but they didn't quite match up with our expectations.

The desserts made in-house and cheese plates appeared nearly as ambitious as the starters and entrees. We honestly didn't have room for them after this visit, but we'll give them a try in the future, for sure.

On some visits, the servers at Bistro Blanc were impressively professional and well informed about the menu and wines. On others, we seemed to hit the rookie squad. In time, I expect they will become more consistent.

Bistro Blanc is a young restaurant that is still getting its feet on the ground. If you come in with high expectations, you may find some disappointments, but you'll also find some dishes that really hit the spot and offer a solid foundation for growth. It's wonderful to see a restaurant of this quality in western Howard County. It's not yet one of the very best in the county, but it's already getting close. We're eager to see it mature and find success.

Starters at Bistro Blanc run between $10-15, while entrees are between $17-23. An extensive list of wines by the glass are available between $7-25, with most in the $10-14 range. The wine tasting machine works off a $20 card available for purchase, with pours of a taste, half glass or whole glass.

See our capsule description of Bistro Blanc.

Update: Also see our Bistro Blanc - Dining Update posting.

Update: Bistro Blanc regularly holds special dining events. Check for them in our Monthly Restaurant Events listings.

Bistro Blanc on Urbanspoon

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Studio Inspire - Dance and Fitness for Adults

I'm no expert on dancing, though I have carted my daughter to dance classes for nearly a decade. It seems like there's no shortage of dance studios for kids in Howard County -- here's a good list -- and some of them take adults as well. But now there's a studio that focuses on dance and fitness mainly for adults. It's Studio Inspire located on Dobbin Road in Columbia.

Studio Inspire is owned by a friend of mine, Shara Patty Darden and her husband, Ed. They have a full roster of dance classes, including modern, jazz, hip-hop, swing, ballet, line and country. They've assembled a strong set of instructors with impressive professional credentials. The emphasis is on fun, fitness and health. The studio operates on a membership basis that gives you unlimited access to any of the classes, so you can experience a variety of dance styles and have the flexibility to fit your own schedule. It sounds like a great idea to me.

You can check out Studio Inspire at their free Open House and Ribbon Cutting Ceremony on November 14 (RSVP by November 12).

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Craft Fairs for November '08

Get a head start on Holiday shopping and support local businesses by visiting a local craft show.

The Howard County Craft Spectacular is coming up this weekend, November 7-9 at the Howard County Fairgrounds. More than 200 exhibitors will be there. Hours are 9:00 - 5:00 daily and there's a $5 admission fee for adults.

There's a smaller Holiday Boutique show a couple of miles away at the Glenelg Country School on Saturday, November 8 from 11:00 - 3:00.

The Oakland Mills High School 20th Annual Craft Fair is also Saturday, November 8 from 10:00 - 3:00 at Oakland Mills High School.

UPDATE: The Glenwood Community Center is hosting two Holiday Vendor Fairs on Saturday, November 15 and 22, from 10:00 am - 1:00 pm. Fifteen different local craft, gift and home decor vendors will be at each one.

Columbia Town Center hosts its Holiday Craft Fair at Historic Oakland on November 22 from 10:00 - 3:00.

UPDATE: The Hawthorn Center at the Hickory Ridge Village Center hosts a Holiday Craft Shop on November 23 from 2:00 - 5:00 pm. Call 410-730-7327 for information.

UPDATE: Temple Isaiah in Fulton hosts a Hanukkah Bazaar on November 23 from 9:00 am - 1:00 pm. Call 301-317-1101 for information.

Rt. 32 Burntwoods Interchange

Erase two traffic lights from Route 32! The interchange for Rt. 32 with Burntwoods, Ten Oaks and Pfefferkorn roads is now substantially complete and the traffic lights were removed October 30, 2008.

Rush hour traffic on Rt. 32 should be marginally smoother, and local drivers will no longer have to wait at the interminable lights to make left turns. Drivers making left turns from Rt. 32 will no longer have to fear for their lives, either.

We now have a series of roundabouts that can be dizzying and will no doubt be confusing to newcomers. It's already cringe-inducing to watch big semi-trucks maneuver around and over the roundabouts. But in all I think it's better than sitting at the lights wasting fuel.

There is still more than a year to go in the overall construction project -- this is phase 4 of 5. But the most important work is behind us and traffic can start to flow a little more smoothly. Hooray!

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Going Solar in Howard County: Battery Backup

If you've ever thought of using solar power, Howard County offers one of the best deals in the U.S., and tax breaks make early 2009 a great time to do it. I'm going to do several posts about it.

One of the coolest unexpected features of solar power for our home is the battery backup option. I didn't know anything about it when I got started, but for us it's proven to be one of the most gratifying aspects of the whole system.

Our home in western Howard County is on well and septic, which means if the power goes out, it can get real inconvenient real fast. Thunderstorms, wind and construction all seem to have an effect on our power supply from BGE. Actual outages have been fairly rare, thank goodness, but we get fluctuations and spikes that can get mighty annoying.

When we built our home, I considered putting in a gas generator, but was never comfortable with the cost or maintenance. I did get the home wired for a portable generator, though, which meant running selected circuits to a separate panel in the basement. I just never got the generator and fortunately the power has not gone out for more than a few hours at a time.

Under normal circumstances, all you need for a solar installation are the panels on the roof and an inverter that changes the solar direct current into alternating current for your home. The AC power feeds directly into your existing home circuitry. If it happens that you generate more electricity from your panels than you are using at any moment in your home, the excess power feeds back into the neighborhood electrical grid and your electric meter actually spins backward (a very cool thing to see).

As an option, you can add a battery backup system that can store several kilowatts of power to drive critical circuits in your home. We got a small one that stores 5 Kw and cost around $6K. The battery backup option does not qualify for the solar tax credits or incentives, but it has proven to be a very worthwhile investment for us.

The great thing is the battery is totally silent, maintenance free, and kicks on within milliseconds. Now, when we have power spikes and hits, the circuits that are on battery backup operate without a hitch. My wife can be watching TV in the bedroom and not even know that something happened. Likewise, our water pump, refrigerator and freezer operate without interruption.

We haven't had an outage of more than a few hours, well within the capacity of the battery. But if we did, the system would be able to recharge at least partially whenever the sun comes out, and continue doing so indefinitely. I'm hoping never to have to go and get that portable generator, or the gasoline and noise that go with it.

See the other posts in this series:
Going Solar in Howard County - My Experience
Going Solar in Howard County - Taxes and Incentives

Monday, November 3, 2008

Going Solar in Howard County: Taxes and Incentives

If you've ever thought of using solar power, Howard County offers one of the best deals in the U.S., and tax breaks make early 2009 a great time to do it. I'm doing several posts about it.

This post is about the important tax breaks and credits available that make solar power so attractive right now. As a disclaimer, I am no expert and you should check with your vendor and tax adviser for more reliable information. But the information below is correct to the best of my knowledge, and reflects my experience so far.

There are four major incentives currently in place to encourage residential solar power in Howard County: federal, state and county incentives and Renewable Energy Credits. I'll deal with each in turn, and also look at two other factors in the payback equation: power usage offset and conservation.
  • Federal Tax Credits. You can deduct 30% of the installation cost of a solar electric system from your Federal tax return. There is currently a cap of $2,000 on this incentive, but one of the sweeteners used to pass the $700B "bailout package" was extending the credit and removing the cap beginning in 2009. Since my system was installed in 2008, I'll be taking $2,000 off my 2008 federal returns.

  • Maryland Solar Energy Grant. Maryland will pay you up to $2,500 per kilowatt of solar energy installed, up to a cap of $10,000. That cap was recently raised from $3,000 when my system was installed just 6 months ago. Nevertheless, I've already received a check from the state for $3,000.

  • Howard County Property Tax Credit. Howard County will deduct 50% of the cost of a solar electric system from your property tax, up to a $5,000 cap. Since my system was installed in May 2008, I've received a letter from the County assuring me that $5,000 will be deducted from my 2009 property tax.

  • Renewable Energy Credits. RECs are a little hard to explain because the system is convoluted and still evolving. The basic idea is that the power companies will pay homeowners in Maryland and some other states for solar energy production. But they will do so through "aggregators" that bundle 15-year credits from multiple homeowners. In my case, the state has certified that my system will produce 18 RECs; my vendor estimates each REC is worth $186 so my RECs should be worth $3,348. That transaction is still in progress, though, and I don't have my hands on the money yet...but there does seem to be progress.

  • Power Usage Offset. The fact that you generate electricity from your solar panels means you buy less from BGE or whomever. My small system offsets less than 10% of our average usage, but that represents money I keep in my pocket rather than paying BGE. And as BGE rates go up, that represents more savings.

  • Conservation. Since we installed our sytem we are much more conscious of our energy consumption. You can argue that we should have been more conscious before, but the fact is you do pay more attention when you have panels on your roof and a meter in the basement. And the real-world result is that our electricity usage is down 35% since we installed our system. Your results may vary, but I bet you'll be surprised. I know there are steps we could take to be more efficient, like changing our more light bulbs or getting a programmable thermostat, so perhaps we'll get even better in time.
The Bottom Line: This combination of credits more than paid for my entire small system, except for the optional battery backup. Now that the caps have been lifted for the federal and state incentives, you could justify an even larger system in 2009, probably 2Kw or so. Check with a solar vendor! The current package of incentives means they are giving these systems away!!

Check out these websites for more information:
Standard Solar - Available Incentives
Chesapeake Solar - Financial Incentives
Howard County Incentives

See the other posts in this series:
Going Solar in Howard County: My Experience
Going Solar in Howard County: Battery Backup