Wednesday, December 31, 2008

One More Restaurant Wish: Grace Garden in HoCo

I'd like to add one more wish to yesterday's list: It would be great if we could convince Chef Chun Keung Li at Grace Garden to bring his skills back to Howard County. Grace Garden really is serving some of the best, most authentic Chinese food in the area. The reviews and comments from HowChow (and here), Chowhound, Baltimore City Paper (see the review and 2008 Best Chinese Restaurant winner articles), Baltimore Sun and Washington Post have been glowing for good reason.

Chef Li cooked at the Hunan Manor in Columbia for 13 years before leaving to open his own restaurant in 2005. The buzz for Grace Garden has grown steadily, especially in the past year. The food really is quite good and worthy of the plaudits and enthusiasm. It rekindles my faith in the quality and variety of true Chinese cuisine.

The location of the restaurant, however, in a rather seedy part of Odenton is not very inviting, and it's certainly a hike from my neck of the woods. I'd love to try more of Chef Li's specialties on a regular basis, but the location and storefront ambiance make it an infrequent destination. It would be so much nicer if Chef Li's talents were on display in a more pleasant and accessible location, and as long as it's my wish I'd prefer that it be in Howard County.

It would also be wonderful if Chef Li's ideas of serving quality Chinese dishes would raise the sights of a few other local chefs and restauranteurs. But maybe that's asking too much all at once.

So, what do you say? Anyone willing to start a petition? Or an investment group?

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

2009 Restaurant Wish List

Here are some of the things we're wishing for in 2009 for the Howard County restaurant scene. Let us know if you agree or have your own wishes to add to the list.

We wish for a wider choice of seafood restaurants in the county. Right now it seems like there's Crab Shanty and Red Lobster, then you're on your own. We especially wish we could find a good grilled or broiled whole fish and an authentic take on fish and chips.

A respectable barbeque joint would be nice. Something to give Bare Bones some competition -- even a Red, Hot and Blue would be an improvement, but I'd really like something with local character and decent ribs, chicken and pork with a variety of sauces and styles.

We wish for a broiled Peruvian chicken somewhere in the county. Also a good arroz con pollo, Cuban style (I know Cuba de Ayer is just south of our border, but I haven't gotten there yet).

An everyday tapas or small plates place. Ranazul, Iron Bridge, Bistro Blanc and Aida's all offer tapas or small plates but it feels like a major investment to order more than a few, and they're generally pretty fancy. In Spain, tapas are often cheaper and more straightfoward, and it's easier order a bunch for the table (the really inexpensive wine doesn't hurt either). LeeLynn's seems on the right track, but even there they seem a little pricier and more ambitious than they need to be.

A Five Guys, please. Love them burgers and fries, and the peanuts, too.

And, in the end, we just hope that all of our favorites can weather the economic storm and make it through the year.

Monday, December 29, 2008

2008 Restaurant Recap

It's been fun to get this blog started to highlight the best of Howard County restaurants and living choices. Here's a look back at some of the best restaurant moments we'll recall from 2008.

Welcome Newcomers: Bistro Blanc tops our list with inventive dishes, a friendly atmosphere and even a live string quartet on weekends. It's the most ambitious new restaurant in the county and quickly becoming one of the best. Victoria Gastro Pub technically opened in December of 2007, but over the course of this year quickly went from being an unknown quantity to becoming an old friend and busy destination dining spot. The Diamondback Tavern is a very recent welcome addition in Old Town Ellicott City. Other newcomers that we wish well include the Ten Oaks Tavern, Waverly Grill, Mamma Lucia's, Mimi's Kabob, River Hill Sports Grille, Second Chance Saloon and Cha Ya Cafe.

Best Meals: The slow-cooked salmon we had at Bistro Blanc stands out as the most memorable dish we had this year. Succulent and pillow-soft, it was part of the best single meal we've had locally this year. The meal we've gone back for most frequently is the grill-at-your-table bulgogi and brisket at the Shin Chon Garden. It's hearty, satisfying and complimented with a table full of intriguing small dishes (banchan) that are fun to try. For the best meal overall, though, we snuck in a road trip this year to the Inn at Little Washington for an anniversary dinner that was out of this world. If you've never been, it's worth saving up to splurge for one of the best dining experiences you'll find anywhere.

Best Restaurants: We'll stick with our lists of Best Restaurants and Nearly Best Restaurants in Howard County for the time being. But we're looking forward to trying more places and updating our lists later in the year.

Dearly Departed: It's no secret 2008 was a tough year for restaurants, and we lost a few good ones in Howard County. We'll miss the dim sum at Jesse Wong's Hong Kong, the seafood at Trapeze and the family fare and brews at the Rocky Run Tap & Grill. A number of others have changed hands and started lives under new names or management (pace M.D.'s Country Pub, Mangia's, Luna C Grille, Tiber River Tavern, Last Chance Saloon and the Red Parrot). We hope 2009 will see an improvement, but it looks to be off to a very rough start. We hope when you decide to go out you give top consideration to your local favorites.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

New Year's Day Ideas in Howard County

I've been looking for brunches or other activities for New Year's Day, but have pretty much struck out. If you know of anything, please leave a comment. Perhaps the best advice is to sleep in and give yourself over to parades and football, or maybe a movie (there're finally some decent ones in general release for a week or two).

Here's one activity to consider: The Freestate Happy Wanderers are hosting three New Year's Day walks, one 5k and two 10k's, all starting at the Owen Brown Community Center anytime between 9am - 1pm. This is a Volksmarch event, but anyone is welcome to show up and start walking. Bring a non-perishable food item as a donation to a local food pantry.

Friday, December 26, 2008

New Year's Eve Restaurant Events

Ring in 2009 in Howard County (Columbia, Ellicott City and more) with a special evening! Have a safe and joyful New Year!

Tersiguel's has a special New Year's Eve Chef's Menu (no a la carte service) with seatings at 5:00, 7:00 and 9:30. Reservations required.

Jordan's Steakhouse has live jazz, specials to complement its regular menu, and TVs tuned to Times Square for the ball drop. If you wish to stay past midnight, please reserve a table for dinner after 9:00pm.

Aida Bistro brings together its Best of 2008 dishes in three and four course prix fixe menus, with live jazz entertainment from 9:00pm until 1:00 am. Reservations required.

Victoria Gastro Pub hosts a New Year's Eve party with a very special menu, extensive open bar and entertainment from Doug Segree. 8:00pm - 2:00 am. $200 per person. Or, choose from the chef's special a la carte menu. Reservations required either way.

Bistro Blanc hosts a New Years Eve bash. Two seatings, both offering a 5-course wine tasting meal or a la carte choices with entertainment. 6:00 ($125) and 9:00 ($150). Reservations required. Open bar package, group discounts and limo service available. Parties of six or more receive a 15% discount.

The King's Contrivance has a New Year's Eve gala prix fixe menu from 5:30 - 10:30 pm. Reservations required.

oZ Chophouse has its regular dinner menu plus chef specials from 5pm. Watch the ball drop in the bar where there is a $50/person open bar option from 9:00 pm - 1:00 am. Reservations required.

The Turf Valley Resort has a full-blown New Year's Eve celebration with full dinner buffet, dancing to music by the Klassix, a champagne toast, ball drop and breakfast buffet. $135 per person, reservations required.

Sonoma's Bar & Grille has a New Year's Eve celebration with the band Misspent Youth starting at 9:30. Reserved tickets $15 ($20 at the door); party of four minimum to reserve a table.

Michael's Pub has music from the band Voyager, party favors and a champagne toast all for $10. There's a special entree menu as well.

The Second Chance Saloon is having a Mardi Gras New Year's Eve party with special menu items, live music and complimentary champagne at midnight.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas!!

Merry Christmas to All!

Eat Well, Stay Safe and Have a Great Holiday!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Last Minute Shopping

Looking for those last minute gift items and burned out on the Columbia Mall?  Here are a few alternative ideas.

Try Main Street Ellicott City.  If you haven't been in a while, there are new shops and restaurants to check out. has a good interactive listing of shops in upper, middle and lower Main Street, so you can scope out your targets before you wander, but there are even more choices when you get there in person.  And you can grab a bite at The Diamondback Grill, Tersiguel's, Jordan'sLa Palapa, Johnny's Bistro on Main, Ellicott Mills Brewery , The Rumor Mill, or any of the other fine choices on Main Street.

If you don't want to brave the cold, fresh air, give Savage Mill a shot.  This directory lists the several dozen different shops for antiques, gifts & collectibles, fashion & jewelry, fine arts & crafts, and furniture & home design, all in five interconnected buildings.  You can eat at the Rams Head Tavern or Bonaparte Bistro.  Shopping hours are extended from 10:00 am - 9:00 pm through December 24.

And don't forget two of our favorite western county shops, Casual Gourmet and the Pink Cabbage.  Both have lots of unique items you won't find elsewhere.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Ten Oaks Tavern

The Ten Oaks Tavern is now officially up and running, removing all vestiges of M.D.'s Country Pub it replaced. The website shows their full menu and has some pictures. The menu is geared toward bar food favorites likes burgers, wings, ribs and sandwiches. There are weekly specials of lobsters on Tuesday, crab cakes Wednesdays and prime rib on Thursdays. There are also some additional printed specials nightly like jambalaya.

We stopped in the other night and found the place busy with lots of M.D.'s regulars. It took a while for us to get service, but once we did, the food was quick and plentiful. We didn't find any real standouts on the menu -- it's your basic American bar food and plenty of it -- but it seems to be done competently and with a friendly dash of local spirit. Speaking of spirits, the bar itself appears popular in a Cheers-ey kind of way.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Coupons for Howard County Restaurants and Shops

I've noticed a lot of searches for free printable coupons for various Howard County establishments. I don't have any coupons on this blog, but here are some sites that do. has a pretty good set of printable free coupons for local restaurants, currently including Cafe de Paris, T Bonz, The Waverly Grill, Iron Bridge Wine Company, Hickory Ridge Grill, eggspectation, Canopy, and Michael's Pub. has free printable coupons for a variety of local shops and a few restaurants, including MD's Country Pub (now Ten Oaks Tavern). offers free coupons from a few restaurants, including Ellicott Mills Brewery, T Bonz, Phoenix Emporium, and Sarah & Desmond's Cafe.

BooRah gives you free access to Entertainment Book coupons (typically 2 for 1 or 50% off). You have to give them an email address for 14 days free access, or buy the book. Restaurants currently include Greystone Grill, Mango Grove, Donna's Snowden, That's Amore, Kelsey's, T Bonz, LeeLynn's, and The Rumor Mill.

ValPak has a few free printable coupons from restaurants such as Kelsey's, E.W. Beck's, Hunan Lion, Roma's Pizza lets you buy discounted coupons/gift certificates (e.g., $25 gift certificate for $10) at a dozen or so area restaurants, including Greystone Grill, La Palapa, Alexandra's, LeeLynn's, Diamondback Tavern, and Rumor Mill.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Resources for Newcomers to Howard County

If you are new to Howard County, Maryland or considering moving here, there are lots of resources available to help you find your way. Here are just a few to get started. If you have other suggestions, please add a comment.


The HowardLife or Howard County Tourism site is an excellent and up-to-date resource for activities, businesses and events around the county. It should be your first and best stop for county information. They also publish a HowardLife Visitors Guide that is quite good, along with a complete relocation package that I haven't seen yet, but is probably worth getting.

The MDHomeTownLocator site offers a ton of automatically generated links to other sites; not a lot of detail on the site, but the links are pretty useful. is an interestingly arranged site with more than 300 local links and especially a decent set of coupons for local restaurants and shops. There's a companion blog, too, that has sporadic postings.

The is an extensive but slightly dated site developed by Patuxent Publishing (who bring you the Columbia Flier, Howard County Times, and website). It's got a few decent articles for background, at least, and lots of links.


The Newcomer's Club of Howard County is primarily for women and offers lots of ways to meet new people and make friends. Check out all their regular clubs (bunco or canasta, anyone?), day trips and activities.

The Howard County branch of Parents at Home is not just for newcomers, but offers tips and activities for parents of small kids.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Best Steak in Howard County

Sometimes it's hard to beat a nicely cooked steak and potatoes, especially when it's tough to grill at home during the winter. When we're in the mood, here's where we head for Howard County's Best Steaks, more or less in my order of preference.

Jordan's Steakhouse: Prime and choice cuts of beef including Filet Mignon, NY Strip, Porterhouse, Cowboy (Rib Eye) and a marinated Flank Steak. The prime cuts get very pricey, but the choice cuts taste great to me, and they're grilled to order in an 1800 degree infrared broiler. Sides are good, too, with a choice of standard but well-prepared potatoes and steamed or grilled veggies. Jordan's also has a substantial wine list to complement your choice. It's a worthy local alternative to a Morton's or Ruth's Chris type of meal.

oZ Chophouse: Here you can pick the size of your cut of beef (though I've never done it -- the standard cuts seem fine to me), but what I especially like are the range of sauces available. You have six different choices, including my favorites, brandy peppercorn and chimichurri. Sides at oZ are especially good and can be ordered in single or shared portions for the table.

Cafe de Paris: We sought out Cafe de Paris long ago when it was in Laurel because of its steak and frites. Now that it's become a Columbia fixture, the steak is still my wife's first choice (and I get to share). The grilled rib eye is consistently good, but it's the frites that we can't get enough of. The steak and frites are available for lunch, part of the dinner "formule" or a la carte, and are always a happy reminder of Paris for us.

Greystone Grill: A solid choice for a good cut of beef; you can get a filet, NY strip or rib-eye cooked to order in their 1800 degree broiler. Greystone also has a good marinated flat iron steak that comes with a honey mustard sauce. The choice of a side and a very substantial salad (I like the Wedge) are included with the meal, making Greystone a better value than most of the others.

T-Bonz Grille & Pub: An honorable mention here to T-Bonz, though I admit I haven't been in a while and am overdue. Given the name, you can expect an emphasis on steaks, and they deliver a whole range of choices including a filet, NY strip, top sirloin and a gongonzola rib-eye. T-Bonz also has prime rib regularly, which can be hard to find. The quality of the overall meal may not be quite as high as some others on this list, but the prices are good and T-Bonz has a more everyday informal ambiance that may just hit the spot.

Outback Steakhouse: I'm not a big Outback fan, and the last time I ate there I felt as processed, regimented and corporatized as the beef. But I will admit that every now and then we call in an order to their Ellicott City branch drive-thru line and take a ready-made steak meal home. It's a guilty pleasure that beats cooking once in a while.

Got your own thoughts or suggestions? Post a comment. Most of these restaurants also appear on our list of Best Restaurants in Howard County.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008


A long-time Howard County eatery, Serafino's has been in its current location near the Crab Shanty on Rt. 40 for several years. It's a decent source of pizza and pasta specialties -- not high cuisine but solid family fare.

The pizzas are hand-tossed and cooked in the wood-fired oven that has a featured location in the restaurant. They're usually quite good though a recent Margherita had too much mozzarella for my taste (which I wouldn't have thought possible). A linguine with clams order was chock full of clams and garlic and very tasty. The Caprese Sliders are an appetizer that suffices for a meal, or a good choice to share.

The restaurant's ambiance is industrial but functional. The fireplace is pleasant in winter and the separate bar is roomy. Serafino's handles the basics pretty well and makes for a good weekday or family choice.

Serafino's on Urbanspoon

If you like Serafino's, or are closer to the eastern side of the county, give Mamma Lucia's a shot.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Howard County Winter Classes and Activties

One of the great things about Howard County is the wealth of education, fitness and entertainment activities available to residents. Three major catalogs for winter classes and activities arrived over the past week or so. If you haven't received them, here's how to track them down, along with deadlines for registration. Have a look and I'll bet you'll find a few classes that make sense for you.

The Columbia Association Activities Guide for Winter/Spring 2009 offers a host of kids and adult fitness and indoor activities. This is also the main guide to all of Columbia's sport facilities, including its three gyms, four indoor pools, ice skating, tennis, racquetball and more. The Guide also includes discount coupons to a number of the facilities. Registration for classes varies, but all can be reserved now either by phone or via the web site.

Howard Community College's Continuing Education department has published its Winter 2009 Noncredit Classes catalog which includes hundreds of informative and entertaining single day or multi-day classes. There are business, computer & information technology, health care, English, lifestyle & leisure classes and more. The classes are usually very reasonably priced and are held at facilities throughout the county from January through March. Registration is open now.

Howard County Recreation and Parks has published its Winter 2009 Program Guide with several hundred more fitness classes and other activities for kids, adults and seniors. Like HCC's, some classes meet once but many are multi-week and are very reasonably priced. Registration is open now.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Christmas '08 Restaurant Events

Here's a reminder of some of the restaurants having special menus and events for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Do something special for the holidays!

Wednesday, December 24: Tersiguel's has a special Christmas Eve menu, 12:00 - 8:00 pm. Reservations required.

Wednesday, December 24: Aida Bistro has a special Feast of Seven Fish menu, an ancient Italian Christmas Eve tradition. $34 per person. Reservations required.

Wednesday, December 24: The King's Contrivance has a special Christmas Eve a la carte menu from 2:00 - 8:00 pm. Reservations required.

Check out our full list of December '08 Restaurant Events, including New Year's Eve and daily events.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Hunan Legend

The Hunan Legend has been our go-to takeout Chinese place for many years (does that make sense?). We used to live near its Dorsey Hall Village Center location but now we sometimes drive the extra miles to get better quality than we've found at any closer Chinese places. The choices are mostly the Americanized versions of Chinese dishes, but they do pretty well with the basics. Basil chicken is my standby, and there are sometimes specials worth seeking out.

Dining in the restaurant is rarer for us. HowChow seems to have had a poor experience there and I can sort of understand why, but I'd also suggest giving it another try. The Hunan Legend may not be a destination dining location it is a better than average neighborhood Chinese place.

There does not appear to be a website for Hunan Legend, so here are the particulars:

Hunan Legend
4725 Dorsey Hall Dr
Ellicott City, MD 21042

Hunan Legend on Urbanspoon

For more Chinese/Asian choices in the area, check here. The Asean Bistro still tops the list for me.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Hunan Manor

The Hunan Manor has long been Columbia's flagship Chinese restaurant. It's large, often busy, and has a full menu of most every Americanized version of Chinese dish you can think of. There's also a set of "authentic" Chinese selections that let you feel a little more adventurous (though I always wonder about the Chinese authenticity of jalapeno peppers -- don't they at least have a different name?). The quality of the food is consistent if rarely stellar, but it's someplace you can easily take a group of friends and always find some dishes you'll like. The sizzling dishes with black pepper sauces are fun and tasty.

The Hunan Manor has been doing business in Columbia for so long it's easy to take it a little bit for granted. They do a booming take out business, too. I sometimes wish the place was a little more innovative (or took reservations), but we would miss it if it was gone.

For a little bit better quality Chinese or pan-Asian meal, I still prefer the Asean Bistro. We've also been hearing good things from HowChow and others about the Grace Garden in Odenton, home to one of Hunan Manor's former chefs.

Hunan Manor on Urbanspoon

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Diamondback Tavern

The Diamondback Tavern is now open (a few weeks ahead of schedule, even ahead of their website, for the moment...) in the former location of the Tiber River Tavern, just off Main Street in old town Ellicott City. I stopped in for lunch this week and found an eclectic and interesting menu of bar foods, sandwiches, salads and a homey set of reasonably priced ($13-18) entrees.

Highlights include crab and corn fritters, scotch eggs, fried oysters, bangers & mash, shepard's pie, and shrimp & grits. The chef seems to have an affinity for the deep fryer, not that there's anything wrong with that. The cholesterol-wary can investigate salads, a rockfish wrap and a few other items. The ingredients are local and fresh where possible. For now the same menu is available for lunch or dinner, but evidently some additional dinner specials will be coming soon.

Our friendly waitress informed us that the owners and chef hail from the Greystone Grill, while many on the staff are refugees from the recently closed Trapeze. The basic layout of the place will look familiar to former Tiber River patrons, but the new paint job and decor are pleasant. The good-sized bar is still there, separate from the main dining rooms.

If you needed another reason to get down to old town Ellicott City for some shopping and a nice lunch or dinner, give the Diamondback Tavern a try. We wish them good luck and will be back to try more soon.

Tips of the hat to Wordbones and the Baltimore Beer Guy for noting that the Diamondback Tavern was already open. And evidently the Second Chance Saloon is open too, so now there's another place to try!

UPDATE: The Diamondback's website is here, and you can see more about them at The restaurant also has an active Facebook page. Here's their contact info:

The Diamondback Tavern
3733 Old Columbia Pike
Ellicott City, MD 21043

UPDATE: See this review of the Diamondback Tavern for some good photos of their dishes.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

The Canopy Pit Beef

The Canopy is take-out only spot for good pit beef and pit turkey sandwiches. Their fries are also mighty good, reminiscent of Boardwalk's or Thrashers. The Canopy also has BBQ ribs and a few other items, but I frankly never get beyond the pit beef or turkey sandwiches and the fries.

If you look on the web, you won't find a Canopy web site, but you will find a lot of foodie discussions about the relative merits of Canopy vs. other pit beef places. I won't get into a religious war over whether this is the best pit beef in the area, but it is plenty good for me, especially with the right mix of toppings. It also helps to be able to get home in time to eat the fries while they're nice and hot -- once they cool they get soggy and it's not the same.

The Canopy in Ellicott City had a fire a few years ago and was closed for a long time, so it's good to have it back. There used to be some other Canopy locations in the area, but I think they're down to this one and Glen Burnie. In any case, I'm glad there's a year-round place for a good pit beef fix.

The Canopy
9319 Baltimore National Pike (Rt. 40), Ellicott City, MD
Tel: (410) 838-1201

Canopy on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Indoor Tennis in Howard County

With the cold weather upon us, you may be looking for indoor activities to keep you warm, fit or just have fun. If tennis is your game, you have three choices in the county and two more nearby.

Each of these facilities usually has some open court times available, but you typically have to be a member to reserve them, and for some you need one member playing to bring guests. Each also has kids and adult clinics that can offer a less expensive way to get your foot in the door. Definitely call ahead to check availability, restrictions and costs.

The Columbia Association has two indoor tennis facilities: four courts at the Athletic Club (410-720-0149) and five at the Owen Brown bubble (410-381-7255). The Athletic Club courts are a little nicer and have better temperature control than the bubble. You have to be a CA member to reserve them, typically around $30/hour.

The Circle D Farm (301-854-6651) in western Howard County (in Woodbine, near the Western Regional Park), is a private facility that has four indoor courts in a warehouse-type building. Non-members can play for $8 per person in addition to the court time, which runs $34-38 per hour.

Just outside the county in Catonsville, the Forty West Racquet Club (410-747-5683) has four indoor courts, also in a warehouse-type building. Prices run between $24-31 per hour, and members can bring guests for $7/person.

South of the county in Laurel, the Fairland Tennis Bubble (301-362-6060) has six courts operated by the Prince George's County Department of Parks & Recreation. Prices vary depending on time and your residency (PG and Montgomery County residents pay less). Prices for Howard County residents range from $26-34/hour.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Mamma Lucia

Located in the Gateway Overlook shopping center near Trader Joe's and Costco is the Howard County and newest branch of the regional Mamma Lucia empire. The original Mamma Lucia opened in Rockville in 1997 and there are now ten restaurants in Maryland and Virginia serving "down home Italian cooking."

Mamma Lucia's is one of the better places in the area for family friendly Italian cooking. The menu is extensive, with a full complement of pizzas, pastas, chicken, veal and seafood dishes. The portions are large and the quality is pretty good. It's not fine Italian cuisine, but they do the basics well. We liked the complimentary garlic bread and dipping oil that appeared just after we sat down. There's a full bar slightly separated from the dining area, service is friendly and the decor is pleasant in a pre-fab kind of way. Mamma Lucia's is also a good place to visit at lunch, when prices are lower and portions a little more manageable.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Iron Bridge "Red Envelope" Giveaway

Here's a pretty clever promotion just announced by the folks at Iron Bridge Wine Company.
During the month of December, every time you dine at The Iron Bridge Wine Company, you will receive a "Red Envelope" surprise package good for fabulous savings in the month of January 2009!

The prizes range from free glasses of wine and food, to Dinner for Two every month of the year in 2009!

At the end of your meal, your server will give you a sealed Red Envelope with a card detailing your prize. Bring the envelope back unopened, in the month of January and when you are seated for lunch or dinner we'll open the envelope and see what you've won...
So, if you go for dinner in December then return in January with the unopened envelope, you're sure to be a winner of something. You can collect multiple envelopes in December, but can redeem only one at a time per evening in January. It's an innovative way to generate traffic in what is typically a slow month of January.

The Iron Bridge Wine Company regularly holds special dining events. Check for them in our Monthly Restaurant Events listings.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Kids Cookie Camp

Not sure what to do with the kids during the Christmas break?  Thanks to Liz at What's to Eat Baltimore for pointing out the Cookie Camp being run by Ellicott City's Culinary Kids Cooking School on December 22, 23 and 24.  The camp features Rich Karoll, Dessert Master from the Ace of Cakes show on Food Network and is held in the kitchen of Chef Nikki McGowan.  Kids in elementary or middle school are welcome to attend one, two or all three days.  The Camp runs from 10:00 am - 1:00 pm with lunch included.  To register, call 978-223-3068.  Looks like fun!

Friday, December 5, 2008

The Melting Pot, Columbia

Well, OK, it's a chain and it's more expensive than I think it ought to be, but you have to give The Melting Pot a few points in its favor. It's hanging in and generating traffic at the Wilde Lake Village Center (which is its own sad separate story), it's on OpenTable, it's a pretty restaurant once you're inside, and best of all, fondue is fun.

The menu choices at the Melting Pot can get a little overwhelming, with big-ticket feasts, combinations and cooking styles to choose from. We tend to stick with the individual entrees which themselves are combos of meats like Shrimp and Sirloin or the Land and Sea that also has chicken. We really enjoy the unlimited vegetables that come with the entrees, and the accompanying salads are not bad. We enjoy sharing the food and trying the various dipping sauces to customize things to our own taste.

Usually the entree is plenty of food, but sometimes that doesn't stop us from ordering the chocolate fondue for dessert. It's always good, but we always feel stuffed afterward. One time we tried to get through a cheese/entree/chocolate combo and we didn't come close...and doggie bags don't really work so well for fondue. So we stick with the basics and usually have a good time at The Melting Pot, but it's still more of a special event than an everyday place for us.

Melting Pot on Urbanspoon

Thursday, December 4, 2008

River Hill Sports Grille

Here's a sports bar that aims for a little bit more. Tucked into the back of the River Hill village center, facing the Columbia Gym, is the River Hill Sports Grille. It's been a tough location for previous restaurants over the past few years, but the current owners have put in 30 flat screen TVs, a big emphasis on football, sports and family friendly community events. The bar is roomy and sports-intensive, while the dining room is separate and a little more laid back. There's also a good sized private room for special events.

The menu is pretty typical bar fare with a few twists including regular, bison or kobe burgers, a pretty good take on fish and chips, and wings with nine different toppings. There are also nightly specials like half-price burgers on Mondays, lobster on Wednesdays for $18.95, and steak and shrimp on Thursdays for $15.95. The River Hill Sports Grille is a decent local alternative to the chain restaurants nearby. Give it a try.

River Hill Sports Grille on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Shopping and Craft Events for December '08

Here are some Holiday Shopping and Craft Events to make your season a little brighter. Support your local shops and crafters!

December 4:
Winter Arts Market at the Bain Center in Columbia from 9:00 am - 3:00 pm. 410-313-7469

December 4 - 14: Local art and holiday items valued under $150 at Singular Sensations annual holiday art exhibit by the Columbia Art Center. Opening reception on December 4 from 5:30 - 8:30.

December 5: Midnight Madness in Old Town Ellicott City. Shops on Main Street open until midnight with many specials available.

December 5: The Howard County Arts Council holds its Annual Open House and Holiday Sale from 9:00 - 9:00 pm. Find jewelry, fabric crafts, sculpture, photographs, paintings, prints, cards and much more. This reception/sale is in conjunction with the Art MD 2008 exhibit which runs until December 12.

December 6: The Howard County Conservancy hosts its Holiday Sale and Nature Crafts event from 10:00 am - 4:00 pm.

December 6: Howard County Parks and Recreation hosts the 36th annual Holiday Mart featuring seasonal crafts and merchandise from over 130 juried artisans. Centennial High School, 10:00 am - 5:00 pm. Tickets $4 at the door, $1 for ages 3-12.

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

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

December 13: The Glenelg High School Marching Unit will hold a Holiday Bazaar in the school cafeteria from 10:00 am - 2:00 pm.

December 15-24: Historic Savage Mill extends its shopping hours from 10:00am - 9:00pm.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Howard Magazine Best Medical Providers for 2008

Howard Magazine (formerly Columbia Magazine) recently published its Best of Howard '08 survey results. Here are their winners in medical fields, along with some of my own comments.

Best Dental Practice: Dobbin Dental
Honorable mention: Dr. David Halpern, Katkow Dentistry, Alan Epstein & Associates, Dr. Bill DeLong

My comment: I'm sure these are fine practitioners, but I've never used them. I've been very pleased with the dentists we've used for a number of years. I go to the Roschella & Zinger Dental Group, which moved last year to new offices in Marriottsville. I have been very happy with Dr. Zinger and the staff. Similarly, for many years my daughter has gone to Dr. Casey Crafton at Crafton Dental in Columbia and we've been delighted with his whole office's service and style.

Best Pediatric Practice: Kenneth Klebanow & Associates
Honorable mention: Parnes, May & Associates, Dr. Aruna Khurana, Pediatric Center

My comment: I fully concur with the choice of Kenneth Klebanow & Associates in Columbia. We've been taking our daughter to Dr. Marinelli at that practice since she (our daughter) was a baby. They've always been responsive to our occasional medical worries and small emergencies, and they even get all those school health forms done on time.

Best Ob/Gyn Practice: Drs. Esposito, Mayer, Hogan & Associates
Honorable mentions: Capital Women's Care, The Women's Ob-Gyn Group, Dr. Jeri Shuster

My comment: I don't really have one...

These were the only three categories listed. No general practitioners or other medical services were included in this survey, but perhaps they were covered separately by the magazine. If I find out, I will let you know.

For more results from this survey, see also Howard Magazine's Best Foodie Places for 2008.

Monday, December 1, 2008

December '08 Restaurant Events

We keep you up to date on special events at area restaurants. As you'd expect, December has a long list. Do something special for the holidays!

Monday, December 1: Iron Bridge Wine Company is hosting a Beaujolais Monday wine tasting with snack. $20 per person, which gets you 10% off your dinner that day. Reservations required.

Saturday, December 6:
Tersiguel's hosts a Pancake Breakfast with Santa, with three seatings at 9:30, 10:00 and 10:30. $5 for children under 5, $7 for all others.

Monday, December 8: Elkridge Furnace Inn has an Afternoon Tea, 11:30 am - 2:30 pm,$26.50 per person. Reservations required.

Monday, December 8: Iron Bridge Wine Company is hosting a Many Faces of Pinot wine tasting with snack. $20 per person, which gets you 10% off your dinner that day. Reservations required.

Tuesday, December 9: Iron Bridge Wine Company offers a four-course Bubbles Wine Dinner featuring sparkling wines. $80 per person. Reservations required.

Wednesday, December 10: Holiday Tea at Historic Oakland with entertainment by harpist Kristen Meyer, 4:30 - 6:00 pm. $20 per person. Historic Oakland is located at 5430 Vantage Point Road, Columbia, MD. To register, please contact Historic Oakland at 410-730-4801 or Historic Oakland Website

Wednesday, December 10: Victoria Gastro Pub celebrates its One Year Anniversary with 10% off any adult beverage, free drawings and prizes, and a free amuse bouche with every entree.

Sunday, December 14: Iron Bridge Wine Company is hosting a Bubbles Open House tasting of sparkling wines and Champagne. $10 per person, which can be applied to your order or dinner that day. Reservations required.

Monday, December 15: Iron Bridge Wine Company is hosting a Bubbles Wine Tasting of sparkling wines and Champagne. $20 per person, which gets you 10% off your dinner that day. Reservations required.

Wednesday, December 17: Holiday Tea at Historic Oakland with entertainment by guitarist Chris Dunn, 4:30 - 6:00 pm. $20 per person. Historic Oakland is located at 5430 Vantage Point Road, Columbia, MD. To register, please contact Historic Oakland at 410-730-4801 or Historic Oakland Website

Friday, December 19: Jordan's Steakhouse features a Johnnie Walker Scotch Dinner. Four course meal paired with selections of fine Scotch whiskeys, $125 per person. Reservations required.

Tuesday, December 23: Aida Bistro has a special Feast of Seven Fish menu, an ancient Italian Christmas Eve tradition. $34 per person. Reservations required.

Wednesday, December 24: Tersiguel's has a special Christmas Eve menu, 12:00 - 8:00 pm. Reservations required.

Wednesday, December 24: Aida Bistro has a special Feast of Seven Fish menu, an ancient Italian Christmas Eve tradition. $34 per person. Reservations required.

Wednesday, December 24: The King's Contrivance has a special Christmas Eve a la carte menu from 2:00 - 8:00 pm. Reservations required.

Friday, December 26: Elkridge Furnace Inn has a special Dickens Christmas Carol Tea, 11:30 am - 2:30 pm,$26.50 per person. Reservations required.

Sunday, December 28: Elkridge Furnace Inn hosts a Champagne and sparkling wine tasting, 5:30 - 7:00 pm for $40 per person. Guests can stay for a $30 dinner with choice of wine from the tasting. Reservations required.

Monday, December 29: Elkridge Furnace Inn hosts two Kids Interactive Cooking Classes at 9:00 am and 1:30 pm for $75 per person. Reservations required.

Tuesday, December 30: Aida Bistro brings together its Best of 2008 dishes in three and four course prix fixe and a la carte menus. Reservations required.

Wednesday, December 31: Tersiguel's has a special New Year's Eve Chef's Menu (no a la carte service) with seatings at 5:00, 7:00 and 9:30. Reservations required.

Wednesday, December 31: Aida Bistro brings together its Best of 2008 dishes in three and four course prix fixe menus, with live jazz entertainment from 9:00pm until 1:00 am. Reservations required.

Wednesday, December 31: Victoria Gastro Pub hosts a New Year's Eve party with a very special menu, extensive open bar and entertainment from Doug Segree. 8:00pm - 2:00 am. $200 per person. Reservations required.

Wednesday, December 31: Bistro Blanc hosts a New Years Eve bash. Two seatings, both offering a 5-course wine tasting meal or a la carte choices with entertainment. 6:00 ($125) and 9:00 ($150). Reservations required. Open bar package, group discounts and limo service available.

Wednesday, December 31: The King's Contrivance has a New Year's Eve gala prix fixe menu from 5:30 - 10:30 pm. Reservations required.

Wednesday, December 31: oZ Chophouse has its regular dinner menu plus chef specials from 5pm. Watch the ball drop in the bar where there is a $50/person open bar option from 9:00 pm - 1:00 am. Reservations required.

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.
Mondays: Aida Bistro hosts Neighborhood Pasta Night, with a range of pasta entrees from $9.99 up.
Mondays: Waverly Grill has 1/2 price pizzas.
Mondays: Clyde's of Columbia has 1/2 price bottles of wine.
Mondays: LeeLynn's has Crab Cake Monday, $11.50 for a sandwich or $13.50 for dinner.
Mondays: Mama Lucia has Pasta Night: buy one pasta entree and get the second for $3.99.

Tuesdays: La Palapa offers All You Can Eat Tacos.
Tuesdays: Waverly Grill has 1/2 price burgers.
Tuesdays: Greystone Grill has 1/2 price bottles of wine.
Tuesdays: LeeLynn's Burger Night, $6 burgers with any two toppings.
Tuesdays: Mama Lucia offers Pizza Night: buy one large pizza and get the second for $2.99.

Wednesdays: La Palapa offers 1/2 priced appetizers.
Wednesdays: Waverly Grill has 1/2 price bottles of wine and kids under 10 eat free (with adult entree).
Wednesdays: LeeLynn's has 1/2 price bottles of wine.
Wednesdays: Mama Lucia has Wine Night: 1/2 off any bottle with purchase of an entree.

Thursdays: La Palapa offers Free Dessert.
Thursdays: Victoria Gastro Pub has 1/2 Price Bottle of Wine night after 5pm.
Thursdays: Waverly Grill has 1/2 price pasta (excluding seafood).

Fridays: Waverly Grill has Early Bird special 10% off entire bill between 4-6pm.

Saturdays: Waverly Grill has 1/2 price bottles of wine and 1/2 price appetizers (excluding seafood).

Sundays: oZ Chophouse offers Sunday Football in the Bar from noon.
Sundays: Waverly Grill offers 10% off your entire dine-in check.
Sundays: Greystone Grill has Prime Rib for $19.