Monday, August 31, 2009

HoCo Chefs in Restaurant Weeks Videos

I just came across two videos of local chefs that were produced for Howard County's Restaurant Weeks.  The theme for this summer's promotion was fresh local produce and suppliers.  That's why one video is Bistro Blanc's Chef Marc Dixon preparing a hamburger using local beef, and the other is the Elkridge Furnace Inn's Executive Chef and owner Dan Wecker's Chicken Ventura featuring herbs straight from his garden.  Have a look.  Next stop: Food Network!

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Jordan's Steakhouse RIP (?)

What a long, strange couple of weeks it must have been for Jordan Naftal.  First he and Carlos Venegas (of Ranazul) announce they are taking over the space of oZ Chophouse in Maple Lawn. Then a dispute with his landlord leaves Naftal locked out of his namesake restaurant, Jordan's Steakhouse in Ellicott City.  And soon followed criminal charges filed against Naftal due to nonpayment of wages to a former worker, along with reports of unpaid taxes.  The latest news is that Jordan is pulling out of the Maple Lawn venture with Venegas, and it seems that Jordan's Steakhouse is closed permanently.  

It's a series of sad developments, not only for Jordan, but also for what appears to many former employees who have not been paid for weeks or months.  Jordan has been a fixture in the Howard County restaurant scene, including active roles with the Restaurant Association and the board of Howard County Tourism.  It remains to be seen if and how he will rebound.  

You can find some virulent comments about Jordan and his restaurant on some other sites, but I can't believe he was trying to con or deceive anyone.  The reputation, identity, and presumably financial well being of Jordan and his family were wrapped up in Jordan's Steakhouse.  I hope he finds a way to "figure out how to take care of everyone and to figure out our plan."  It can't be easy.  And the Howard County community is a poorer place for his absence.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Bon Fresco Brings Great Bread and Sandwiches to Columbia

It took me a little while to get around to trying Bon Fresco, but once I did, it's been hard to stay away. The place makes great fresh breads baked on the premises in several varieties -- baguette, ciabatta, foccacia, a delicious plain white loaf, and my recent favorite, a soft, pillowy flatbread. We were recently offered a cinnamon bun that put the gloppy mall versions to shame.

Sandwiches at Bon Fresco are inventive with fresh, top quality ingredients including fresh roast turkey, pork loin, nice grilled vegetables and much more. The sandwiches come out hearty but not over-stuffed. You can feel good that you're eating well, but not eating too much. Sandwiches are served with a little side of lentils or cous-cous, which I like for a change of pace. But some folks really wanted chips, so now Bon Fresco offers a choice of good-quality potato chips if you get a drink, too.

In addition to the sandwiches, Bon Fresco has some terrific salads (the curried chicken salad is especially good) and you can choose your own mix of toppings and greens. They also have several freshly made soups that look great but I frankly haven't tried yet. The counter staff is friendly and eager to make suggestions to help you make the best choice. Bon Fresco has enough seats to eat right there or you can take your treasures back to your home, office, picnic or wherever.

Bon Fresco is precisely the type of fresh, home grown eatery that folks often say they want as a quality alternative to fast food chains. If you're one of those folks, seek Bon Fresco out and put your money where your mouth is. If you're not one of those folks, give it a try anyway and you may find yourself coming back, too.

6945 Oakland Mills Road

Columbia, MD 21045


(no website I can find)

From Snowden River Parkway, go west on Oakland Mills Road and take the first right into the shopping/office park. Bon Frescos is tucked in to the right, and they've put up a few small signs to help you find them. It's worth looking for!


  • How Chow has two positive posts (post 1, post 2) about Bon Fresco.
  • Urbanspoon readers give Bon Fresco a 100% rating based on 19 votes and 3 user reviews (as of 8/11/09)
  • Bon Fresco on Urbanspoon
  • Yelp readers five Bon Fresco 5/5 stars based on 2 reviews as of 8/11/09.
  • Chowhound has 5 comments about Bon Fresco as of 8/11/09.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

B&O American Brasserie

We ventured into Baltimore last weekend to try the brand new B&O American Brasserie at the brand new Hotel Monaco Baltimore. This is a formidable restaurant with a high-powered chef, E. Michael Reidt, whose resume includes Food & Wine's Best New Chef of 2001 and top restaurants in Boston, Miami and Santa Barbara. It's a welcome addition to the Baltimore scene, and far more than a typical hotel restaurant, though it is saddled with the responsibility of offering breakfast, lunch and dinner daily. The B&O American Brasserie is a destination in its own right and provides ample reasons for locals to give it a try.

The restaurant, located in what used to be the headquarters building of the B&O Railroad, has a handsome bar, lounge, kitchen and a few tables on the ground floor, with more seating in a loft area upstairs. We were initially seated at the rail of the upstairs loft, but found the noise and music from the bar area a little overpowering, so we moved further back into one of the more secluded banquettes. The restaurant wasn't full, so it was easy to move, but one wonders what the sound level might be like on a truly busy night. And it probably will get busy.

The focus here is on Chesapeake regional food and ingredients. The menu is not as extensive or adventurous as the Woodberry Kitchen, but there is a welcome emphasis on local farms and suppliers. As their website says, the restaurant is "committed to sustainable and socially responsible practices...[using] non-intrusive, high quality, eco-friendly products, ingredients and services as well as organic and local foods whenever possible." Their menu is not yet available online, but includes starters and salads, brick oven flatbreads ($8-11), sandwiches ($11-15), and main couses ($17-27, or up to $34 for a ribeye steak). You can also get a number of interesting-looking snacks at the bar from $6 up.

Our meal started with Summer Corn Chowder soup that was a smooth and satisfying beginning. Smoked Carolina Trout was good, not great, but complemented with a wonderful potato salad that left us wanting more. A Ricotta Flatbread with asparagus and a fried egg on top was a disappointment, with the bread coming out tough and too crunchy, and the flavors nondescript.

Our entrees were top-notch. The Chesapeake Rockfish was well prepared, but the smoked shrimp-pea risotto with arugula pesto upon which it arrived was a dream. BBQ Beef Shortrib was succulent with a delicious, smoky barbeque sauce and rich, creamy potatoes. The Culoutte Steak from Vande Rose Farms (in Iowa, not exactly local, but plenty good) was cooked just right, as were the accompanying Duck Fat Fries which put all others I've had to shame. The Rice-Crusted Diver Scallops were fine and recommended by the waitress, but were frankly were the only entree that didn't competely win us over. The Garlicky Spinach we had as a side was certainly fresh, but not very garlicky.

The desserts were inventive and we couldn't resist trying a few. My daughter had a lot of fun with a Pop Rocks Root Beer Float. Apple Tart with Honey Ice Cream proved to be a mini apple pie that would have been a meal in itself (most of it's still in our fridge) but the honey ice cream was very satisfying. Another dessert, which I can't recall, featured Pepper Ice Cream. We ordered just a scoop of the ice cream and it was a revelation -- I've never had that combination of ice cream sweetness with black pepper tang. I'll be on the lookout for it again.

The restaurant has not yet completely found its feet. Our server was pleasant, but it took a while for utensils and other items to appear. Music volume and lighting levels seemed to vary up and down through the evening. And one last quibble: there's only a single unisex bathroom for the entire bar and restaurant. That's going to be a problem that I hope they can soon remedy.

The B&O American Brasserie is located at 2 N. Charles, between Baltimore and Fayette Streets. Valet parking is $5 for restaurant guests. Take a few minutes and wander up the marble steps to the lobby of the Hotel Monaco -- there's a very nice lounge area and it's great to see this landmark building restored.

2 North Charles Street
Baltimore, MD 21201

B & O - American Brasserie on Urbanspoon

Monday, August 10, 2009

oZ Chophouse Sold to Jordan's

oZ Chophouse in Maple Lawn closed its doors August 8 and sold the restaurant to Jordan Naftal, owner of Jordan's Steakhouse in Ellicott City. The sale is confirmed by the oZ website. How Chow via Elizabeth Large reports that the new restaurant in the space will be a joint project between Jordan and Carlos Venegas, owner of Ranazul's, called "Carlos and Jordan's Steakhouse." We were fans of oZ's, as our most recent review in March indicated, but word of mouth even then was turning against the restaurant, not to mention the economy. We will miss oZ but look forward to a collaboration between the owners of Jordan's and Ranazul, targeted for November 2009 according to a tweet from Jordan. Burning questions: will the tree remain in the dining room and will the rocks still be in the bathroom sinks?

Also see our original thumbnail post on oZ Chophouse.

Get thee to the Fair!

The Howard County Fair is underway through August 15. Head on out to the fairground from 8am - 11pm each day for a dose of food, fun and farm animals. The Fair website could use a little help with its schedule information, but there's plenty going on each day. Guess you just have to wander down to find out. If anyone knows of a better schedule posted online, please let me know.

While you're in the neighborhood, consider a stop at Jenny's Market or Bistro Blanc (but not on Mondays for either one...though Bistro Blanc is hosting a special wine dinner tonight featuring Mt. Airy's Elk Run Winery).