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  1. I don't know exactly what is happening at Hanoori Town, so I'm looking to stir up interest to help us all figure it out. New and revamped restaurants are opening in the Catonsville space. One is a unique hand-cut noodle restaurant opened by folks who own a similar spot in Los Angeles. Just next door is a restaurant doing sushi, Korean kimbap and Korea's Chinese food -- including the addition of hand-made noodles at the base of our favorite, black bean noodles. Bottom line: This is a spectacular find if you like good food. You can eat for $10-15 a person. Casual. Accessible. Completely kid-friendly, and you can hope for the entertainment of seeing a guy bang out the Chinese noodles. This is one of those places like R&R Taqueria -- worth your visiting and hopefully worth a run up the media chain. Let's back up. I'll tell you what I know, and I hope people will try these places and fill in the details. Hanoori Town is a space in the same shopping center as H Mart at Rolling Road and Rte 40. Downstairs, it is a kitchen goods store along with people selling housewares and clothing. The kitchen store is worth checking out -- especially for bento boxes to pack your lunch. Upstairs are three restaurants and a tea and doughnut joint. They're all Korean. The restaurants have revamped in recent months. One closed. It was replaced by Hang Ari, the hand-cut noodle restaurant coming from LA. One revamped their restaurant and may have recruited a chef from Jang Won in Catonsville. My first inkling came from Lisbeth of Lisbeth Eats. She sent me information about Hang Ari and the Hanoori Town restaurants. When we visited last month, the whole place seemed changed in an exciting way: Bu Du Mak is closest to the window. They specialize in a cold noodle soup called naeng myun, Korean blood sausage called soon dae, and traditional Korean soups and stews, according to Lisbeth. We recommend naeng myun, but we haven't tried this yet. Chan Mat is facing you as you walk in. In the past, I think they had been limited to Korean dishes, but they now do Korean foods along with sushi, Korean rolls called kimbap and Korean-Chinese dishes -- including those black bean noodles. Hang Ari sit between them. This is the LA import, specializing in hand-torn noodles that they make in the kitchen. Most are served in soups variations. The scene is completely casual. You order at one of the three counters, pick a table to eat, then go back for your order. Most of the dishes are under $15, so it's a terrific place to try Korean food -- especially if you might want to explore a few menus at once. Hang Ari's dumplings The food is absolutely worth that exploration. Hang Ari alone is worth a trip from Howard County or Baltimore. For lunch, we split pork dumplings and a basic soup with hand-torn noodles. It's one of the best meals that I have eaten recently. A rich broth filled with thick sheets of noodle, potato, zucchini, green onions, kabucha squash and seaweed. Each vegetable is cooked perfectly. The noodles and potatoes are filling. The thin pieces of squash are slightly sweet. The onion gives a little bite. I'm unabashedly hoping that bloggers or critics will check out Hang Ari because the other soups -- seafood, clam, spicy and other variations -- look like you could fill a table with delicious flavors. These kal guk su noodles are an absolute find. Fork tender, but thicker than most noodles. Like getting great pasta at Cinghale, except you can feast for under $15. They're unique as far as I know in this area. And I think Hanoori Town has more. Chan Mat sports a special cooking station that looks like a place to make noodles for black bean noodles or jajangmyeun. I've talked these up before at Tian Chinese Cuisine in Ellicott City, which also makes its own noodles. They're delicious. They're earthy. They're not spicy so they're accessible to anyone who likes pasta. Chat Mat has posted a clipping of a 2006 Sun article by Karen Nitkin about chef Chang Yon Huh making noodles at another restaurant. It looks to me like Chang is handmaking the noodles here. You'll know when you hear the bang, bang, bang of jajangmyeun noodles being stretched. The traditional pair for jajangmyeun is a sweet-and-sour pork dish. Fried pork, so done right it tastes like an Asian cousin to clam strips. Red-bean-filled donut holes Oh heavens! I almost forgot the donuts! Go to Hanoori Town for all that food, but leave room for the donuts. Just to the right when you enter is a little store that I think was selling bubble teas and donuts. Fried donut holes filled with sweet red bean paste. Save room, and split an order as you leave. Two holes was a perfect sweet. Again, this Hanoori Town lineup seems worthy of the type of food writing scrum that spread the word about Grace Garden in Odenton. Noodles are accessible to anyone willing to try new food. The prices make this friendly to families, students, anyone else around. This weekend, Lisbeth posted her own description of Hang Ari, complete with photos and descriptions of dishes. Now, I hope other people could tell us more. I'm looking at you restaurant writers -- maybe a little reporting here, some interviews? Any other food bloggers want to weigh in? Anyone else want to add comments to this post? Recommended dishes? Back story about the change? I am imagining some Korean-American student at UMBC who has worked through these menus with more expertise than me. How are Chan Mat's noodles? What did you think about Hang Ari's soups? Your comments are welcome here on Don Rockwell or on the HowChow blog post.
  2. Hangari Noodle Company appears to be ready to bring house-made Korean noodles this weekend to Hanoori Town, the cluster of restaurants a few doors down from the H Mart in Catonsville. As I have been told, the owner/chef has been in the restaurant business for more than 20 years in LA, including a hot restaurant in Koreatown called Hangari Kalgooksoo. The new Hangari Noodle follows the concept of his current LA restaurant -- focusing on two types of noodles (kalgooksoo and mil myun) and serving them in a variety of broths and sauces. This sounds like a cool addition to the Rte 40 corridor -- noodles that are rolled, cut and boiled only after you order. I hear soft opening on Friday, then public opening as early as Saturday.
  3. I tamped down my excitement when I first wrote about Ananda. The Fulton restaurant is the closest food to my house, serving a cuisine that I love. And I'm just a hobby blogger, which makes me reticent to act like I know exceptional food after a meal or two. But the professionals love Ananda, so I'm letting myself wax poetic. It's a new restaurant, but I think it already matches the best restaurants in Howard County. If you're nosing around Don Rockwell, then I think you're the type of person who would be very happy with a 30-minute drive to Ananda. So that makes this place open to a wide circle of people in Baltimore and DC's Maryland suburbs. We had another amazing dinner last weekend. Great cocktails. Spectacularly flavorful shrimp, chicken and dessert. The class of white tablecloths and subtle waiters, paired with the friendliness of a veranda full of families and kids. All as the cool evening rolled in through open walls. It's a magical combination, and it's getting notice. Todd Kliman of the Washingtonian mentioned Ananda on-line a few weeks ago -- distilling the observation that the kitchen fuses Indian cuisine with a local seasonal vibe of a city bistro. Then Kathy Patterson of Minx Eats enjoyed both the drinks and food. Then Richard Gorelick gave Ananda four stars in the Sun: Boom. Now I can say that I love the food without feeling like I'm infected with amateur-writer puppy love. We have eaten three meals at Ananda, each better than the last. This time, I ate the shrimp dish jingha karari and used rice and bread to lap up every drop of the sauce rich with ginger and garlic. My wife ate a chicken kabob that was juicy white meat chunks, cooked perfectly and then served with an herb sauce. We finished with a special peach crumble that rivaled our favorite seasonal desserts at Woodberry Kitchen. Read the professional reviews. They all capture the place -- and Gorelick goes respectful when he describes the Maple Lawn development. I had harrumphed after Kliman summarized the area as being the middle of nowhere I'm amazed that Ananda's kitchen is serving recognizable -- even traditional -- Indian food in ways that seem unique. It's a bit in the food itself. A bit in their offering plated entrees. My shrimp came with a choice of lentils or spinach as a side dish. A bit in the local and seasonal specials like the watermelon salad that we ate on an early visit and that Gorelick raved about. We're not the only ones raving. The table next to us last night ordered three watermelon salads for three diners. It's so good that they didn't share. We have neighbors who have gone with their toddler every Sunday night since Ananda opened. They love the food, and they're making a family tradition. This is a link to all my blog posts about Ananda.
  4. Ananda has opened. Right now, they're in a "soft" phase with a $20 three-course dinner from a limited menu. Over the next few weeks, they'll roll out the full menu, add a sign, etc.
  5. This is a great Indian restaurant -- in a field of strong Indian restaurants in Howard County. The lunch buffet is worth slipping away for a long lunch. When I have gone, they have a guy making dosa fresh. One note: Royal Taj will move. The owners are taking over the former Applebee's in the "Restaurant Park" near Rte 108 and Rte 175. I believe that Royal Taj will move to that space once they renovate.
  6. Dyan Ng's food doesn't taste like Baltimore, but I think that she'll fit in quite beautifully. Ng is the new pastry chef at the Four Seasons in Baltimore, and she is the star of a new monthly special at the hotel's Wit & Wisdom restaurant. It's a splurge night. A four-course dinner that calls itself "progressive dessert" and comes across as imaginative, delicious fun. Envision four courses -- plus a special cocktail to start -- where Ng and her team take ingredients that you'd see in dessert and create a real meal. No hard line between sweet and savory. Dishes instead that play with that line, sometimes skipping across bite to bite. Start off with the cocktail. Strawberries with rhubarb, swimming in gin with diced cucumber. Icy, refreshing and bursting with flavor. We sipped a bit and then scooped out the dessert-y remains. We learned the strawberries were injected with basil-filled syringes. Pretty cool. Two courses in, my wife said she was leaving me to live in Harbor East -- Handbags in the City, great food, and an easier commute to work. That was the avocado sherbet talking. Creamy. Like a lighter fruit. Taste of cilantro, grapefruit, crunch of almonds, and the crispiest, lightest meringue that I have ever tasted. Again, the "progressive dessert" is a splurge meal. The tasting menu -- offered on the third Tuesday of every month -- costs $69 for four courses with an optional wine pairing that runs another $40. But you're not going for dinner. You're going for adventure. And you're getting something genuine. Ng's food tastes like she is really excited. We played with our food -- cracking through a sugary lid on the "olive" course into a bowl that mixed white chocolate and olive, pine nuts and golden raisins. The entire atmosphere is classy without being haughty. It's infectious fun to be served something like a chocolate risotto touched with foie gras. It made us think of DC food, or New York food, a surprise for Baltimore. Of course, we had an unexpected advantage. I was invited to Wit & Wisdom last month as Don Rockwell's representative. I misunderstood and thought we were going to a reception. It turned out to be the full dinner at our own table, which Wit & Wisdom gave us for free. So I have to admit that I didn't pay when I say you should really get the wines. I'm neither a big drinker nor a wine expert, but the paired wines absolutely improved the night. Ask about each glass. The sommelier has an enthusiastic explanation for each choice, and the wines really provided the contrast that she predicted -- sweet to a course that with salty olives, acid to a course that was rich. Dishes had one flavor on their own, then something different when I followed the food with wine. The last wine was actually bitter. I would not drink a bottle on its own, but a small pour contrasted beautifully against the earthiness of the "tomato" course. Back to that food. That final course plate could have looked just like ice cream. But the ice cream was made of blue cheese, and the dish rounded out with dried tomatoes, goat cheese, and ketchup crisps. That's the test. You'll love Ng's "progressive dessert" if you're the kind of diner who is intrigued by the idea of crunching ketchup crisps. This dish wasn't "sweet and savory" like salt on oatmeal cookies. We literally couldn't tell if the dish was sweet or savory. Tomato is sweet. Goat cheese is savory. Blue cheese sounds savory, but the ice cream was probably the sweetest part. Each bite was different. Wit & Wisdom's fun reminds us of a splurge dinner years ago at Minibar. Minibar's game is structure. The flavors are clear and accessible -- it's just that the form is surprising and one course made "smoke" come out our noses. Ng's table displayed all kinds of modern technique, but her game emphasizes flavors. New combinations that made us more active than I remember being at a meal. Amazed by how a dish looked, then talking about how it tasted. As we ate the "risotto" course, my wife wondered aloud if she really liked the chocolate-pate taste. The flavors are so unusual that it felt natural to question each bite. But Ng pulled off the adventure. It was really delicious and unique, so the spoon kept going back for more. To try Dylan Ng's "Progressive Dessert," you should make reservations through Wit & Wisdom's Web site. Make plans now for Tuesday, May 20. They serve from 6:30 to 8, and Wit & Wisdom will just get more beautiful as the days extend and dinner comes with a sunset over Baltimore. You can also try Ng's work throughout at the Four Seasons -- in pastries of the Lamill coffee shop or desserts at Pabu.
  7. I'm nervous to write about ramen, but we need to start the conversation because you can slurp bowls here in Howard County. Ramen is a Japanese noodle soup that has had a long-standing spot with chefs and food writers who champion favorite places and talk up both tradition and innovation. Chicken or pork broth. Vegetarian versions. Add-in ingredients like pork belly or poached eggs or . . . intestine. Ramen is something more than a meal and less than a craze. The New York Times wrote about ramen. Artifact Coffee in Baltimore did a six-day special celebration. David Chang talked it up on his PBS series Mind of a Chef and even offers his recipe in the Momofuku cookbook. Now, you can get in on the movement closer to home. We've eaten ramen at two local restaurants -- Ichiban Cafe in Columbia and Manna in Ellicott City. Again, I'm scared to write too much because I can't claim much knowledge. On the one hand, it's a humble dish -- noodles, vegetables, maybe some meat or other special items, all in a warm broth. On the other hand, people get crazy about ramen. A few weeks ago, a friend met me for dinner in Manhattan, and we met at 5 pm. She and her daughter were in line even earlier because Ippudo NY is so hot that it fills shortly after it opens and stays full all night. I can't claim that our ramen matches one of the places that the New York Times calls one of the 10 best in the city. Ippudo's broth was exquisite, and the fresh noodles were even better. But I'll talk up both our local options -- and welcome other people to join in with observations. Manna and Ichiban Cafe are both casual places -- one a Korean counter-service in the Lotte food court, the other a Japanese-Chinese place with a sushi menu near Target. In both places, we ordered without expertise. Manna has one broth and options for "add-ins" like dumplings. Ichiban had two broths, and I somehow lost the notes that I typed as we ate. In both places, you get a great dinner for $10-15. Bowls of salty, spicy broth with warm noodles and toppings. As I remember, Manna's looked like packaged ramen that I ate in college while Ichiban's seemed a bit more unusual. But I enjoyed both -- especially I alternated between spoons of soup, slurps of noodles, and little treats like sliced pork or mushrooms -- without knowing how to judge them against anything else. Give them a try in the next few months so you'll be ready when the specialists arrive. Emily Kim emailed me last week to talk about her plans for a ramen-and-grilled-chicken restaurant that will replace the Jerry's Subs on Rte 40. Emily is a University of Baltimore business student who is building a business from an obsession: Back in 2009, I stumbled upon a Japanese ramen shop in New York during my spring break. From the first sip of Tonkotsu ramen broth and noodles, I found my new addiction. I found myself getting Mega Bus ticket every week to get ramen. So from beginning of 2013, I started a business plan to open a restaurant in Ellicott City. That business will be Uma Uma -- a restaurant that Emily plans to open to serve both the noodle soup and the Japanese grilled chicken called yakatori. The current plan is for construction to start June 1 and the restaurant to open in late summer. So ramen has arrived in Howard County. Newbies can have a great time just reading link after link about the dish's variations. But some experienced folks could tell us what they think about these two local kitchens -- and anywhere else that I have missed so far.
  8. No. The former oZ became something else. This is new construction on the other side of the Maple Lawn development. It is on Maple Lawn Boulevard just south of Johns Hopkins Road.
  9. I think it is new ownership. I remember people talking about a change. I haven't been back since the change, but now it has to go back on my list. Thanks.
  10. Justin -- I think that he is around. I wrote about barbecue a few months ago, and I feel like someone recommended Dave again. His Web site doesn't seem active, but this was his phone number if you wanted to reach him: 240-535-6785
  11. There is a very expensive-looking restaurant built in the Maple Lawn development of Fulton, and there is still hope that it will open as an Indian restaurant called Ananda. Last I heard, Ananda got a liquor license last week (end of March 2014). So that's good. But the construction has been delayed all winter, and there have been several rumors that Ananda might never open. At one point, the building was listed for rent. It's a big space with lots of wood panelling and an entire room built with garage-door-style windows so that it can convert into almost outdoor space in good weather. The exact outcome -- and certainly the timeline -- are unclear. But Ananda is owned by the folks who own the Ambassador in Baltimore, so it should be great food if they can get off the ground.
  12. Two years ago, I made a pitch for people who would want to try Korean food -- a step-by-step guide for trying barbecue at Shin Chon Garden. That's still one of my favorite meals in Howard County, but I'm back with a second "Korean 101" pitch -- this time aimed at folks who might want to try something warm. Soon doo boo is a basic Korean stew made with tofu. You can get all kinds of variations -- from mild to spicy, from mushrooms to beef to seafood. Your key first step is going to Lighthouse Tofu BBQ on Rte 40 to try it out. Lighthouse is an outpost of an Annandale restaurant that serves up a delicious food and offers newsbies the benefit of a limited menu. As I wrote a few years ago, it's a simpler place than Shin Chon Garden. But it is casual and friendly, and the food made Washingtonian's 2013 "Cheap Eats" list. My big pitch for trying Korean food is that Howard County offers so many options that you can get more variety than almost any other cuisine. But the virtue of Lighthouse as a starting point is that you'll be guaranteed warmth and flavor with just a few decisions. Soon doo boo has a base of pepper-tinged broth filled with vegetables, firm slices of tofu, and your choice of mushrooms or meat. The tofu alone makes the dish filling with a terrific texture. They're firm enough to hold their shape, but soft enough to cut with a spoon. Respect the spiciness. They'll make soon doo boo from mild to super-spicy, and the top level is seriously fiery. The meat provides a nice contrast. Neither the beef or pork are as crispy as the grill-in-yourself meals at a barbecue speciality restaurant. But they come marinated and cooked with onions. Both bulgogi and pork belly have provided a meaty, toothsome match to the spoonfuls of stew. Alternate with bites of kimchi and other panchan, and you can enjoy a full Korean meal in an easy setting. Here's step-by-step to enjoy all the secrets of a friendly restaurant: Step One: Go to Lighthouse. It's on the north side of Rte 40 west of Rte 29. It's next to Jerry's Subs and Boston Market. Turn before Boston Market and consider parking in the side lot. There are few spots right in front of Lighthouse, but not many. Step Two: Order up. I'd recommend that you split between orders of the tofu stew and orders of meat -- sliced beef (bulgogi) or short ribs (kalbi) or pork belly. On our last visit, we did a mushroom soon doo boo and an order of the spicy pork belly. Bonus move: Ask for hot tea if you're interested. Often I have seen waitresses serve hot barley tea to customers who look Korean and ice water to those who don't. The barley tea is warm and mild, and it's free. Step Three: Little free dishes. Most Korean dinners come with panchan. You'll get a few small dishes with a few bites in each. Some kimchi. Some pickled cucumbers. Maybe a seaweed. Maybe a little piece of fish. They're sized to eat with chopsticks, but they'll gladly give you forks. You can snack before your entrees arrive. Step Four: Here comes the food. You'll get your two entrees -- the meat on a metal platter, the soon doo boo in a metal bowl. You'll get rice, which the waitress will scoop out of a stone bowl and into individual metal bowls for each diner. More on that later. You'll also get an egg, which you can crack into the stew where it will cook -- stir it up to get "egg drop"-style strands or just spoon hot stew on the egg to submerge it and get a a poached egg. If you have kids who like to try new foods, then Lighthouse can be perfect. It's cheaper than Shin Chon. Dishes hover around $10-15, and there are familiar parts to hot soup and sliced meat. The restaurant itself is casual and modern with a cool wallpaper of Korean text. Very kid-friendly. Step Five: Eat up. We generally share the dishes. We just passed the stew bowl, but you could ask for smaller dishes and spoon out stew. Bulgogi is a safe bet for a first meal. It's thin-sliced beef, marinated and broiled. On our last visit, we had the spicy pork belly to try something new. Ask for more panchan if you eat up the ones that you like. The waitresses are generally attentive and will refill panchan if you ask. Bonus: Korean diners don't expect waitresses to check in as often. In other restaurants, they leave you alone until you push a button on the table. Lighthouse doesn't have those buttons, so feel free to make eye contact and call over a waitress. Step Six: "Burnt rice" tea to settle your stomach. Once the waitress scoops out the rice, she will pour water into the stone rice bowl. That will brew while you eat. When you're done, pour a little of the burnt rice tea into the small plastic bowls next to the rice. It's a palate cleanser. It tastes like crispy rice. Red bean donut at Shilla Bakery Step Seven: Dessert across the street. When you walk outside Lighthouse, look across Rte 40 for Shilla Bakery. That's too close to miss. You can U-turn on Rte 40 and be enjoying coffee, sweet potato lattes, and all kinds of desserts. My starter suggestion: The red bean donut. But they have all kinds of cakes, cookies and pastries. Seriously, I recommend Shilla as much as I recommend Lighthouse. Lighthouse can serve you a quick dinner, but coffee and a sweet at Shilla can extend your date -- great for chatting in the coffee shop atmosphere.
  13. The new Petit Louis on the lakefront in Columbia is certainly a sweet spot, and they're still working hard to hit the sweet spot in every aspect. I can't talk enough about the desserts -- both in the restaurant and at its casual counter Le Comptoir. We have eaten almost everything that they offer. Probably a dozen trips in a single month -- mostly to carry out a box of cookies or pastries. I think that I'm being even-keeled when I say that I have eaten 15 different cookies, eclairs and pastries and every one ranks among the best desserts around. Just last month, I emphasized how many great sweets are available in Howard County. But Petit Louis and Le Comptoir immediately leapt up to the absolute top tier, and you can't check it out fast enough. Macarons with a changing run of imaginative flavors. Eclairs and financiers that shame regular pastries. Tiny fruit gels that are brilliant $1 bites. Cookies that even taste exceptional. My wife almost passed on the chocolate cookie after we walked around the lake. How special can a cookie be? It turns out that they can be amazing with a crisp exterior and a soft inside, rich with chocolate and perfect with coffee (and with a second cookie like the rosemary-scented heart-shaped one). And don't get me started about the macarons. These trendy French pastries are basically sandwich cookies with merengues on the outside and a flavored filling. We have been infatuated for several years. I have carried macarons home from New York City. But I have never had better ones that Le Comptoir. The merengues are perfectly dry without cracking. The flavors are fresh and intense, strong with banana, peanut butter, pistachio-grapefruit, etc. They're the symbol of what I love about Petit Louis' sweets -- simple desserts that are so clearly not simple to create. Now, a friend told me that he thinks Petit Louis became Howard County's best restaurant as soon as it opened. I'm excited if that is true. It may have been a mistake for us to eat there on a Monday night, but we were celebrating that day. Five occupied tables couldn't fill the room with any energy, and we got a waiter who was growing into the role. As it was, we unintentionally ordered two fried dishes. I asked if the beignet was like the doughy fritter that you'd see in New Orleans. Now, I realize that the waiter's nod was probably based on politeness, not agreement. I got shrimp and vegetable tempura. Terrific tempura, but that wasn't what I had wanted. Then we got surprised again when Mrs. HowChow's desire for fresh fish got her fried cod. Again, real skill to fry that perfectly. Just not what she was looking for. I remember servers at other Foreman-Wolf restaurants, and I think they would have led us to dishes that we wanted. Of course, the entire meal leads you to dessert, so you go out on a bang without any risk of translation. We went with Gateau Aux Fruits Exotiques and Pot de Creme Au Chocolat. They're intense flavors, rich but light enough that we walked out smiling and bubbly. Honestly, the fruits aren't that exotic -- passion fruit, coconut and pineapple. It's talent that intensifies the flavors in layers of cake and cream. As I'm sitting here trying to explain why we're au septieme ciel over Petit Louis' sweets, my best explanation is that they don't taste of butter and sugar. You can always win over a table with dessert heavy with cream or sharp with sweetness. Each Petit Louis dessert leads with a flavor -- a fruit, an herb, that chocolate. They run from crunchy to creamy to gelled, but they each taste fresh and unique. Seriously, you need to go check this out. Petit Louis serves high end French dinners, and the Foreman-Wolf team have been spectacular to offer you smaller options -- maybe just dessert in the restaurant, definitely sandwiches, quiche, coffee and sweets as takeout or sit down at the casual Le Comptoir next door.
  14. The Taste of Aloha has brought the taste of Hawaii to the border of Howard County, and it's worth the drive to bring a little sunshine into your winter. This is a small family-run restaurant in Arbutus that brings casual Hawaiian food -- with its mix of Asian and American influences, its range from light raw fish dishes through noodle soups to hearty burgers and "plate lunch." I don't want you to go with heightened expectations, but Taste of Aloha reminds me of R&R Taqueria. It's a guy who wants to cook authentic food. Bare-bones seating. A short menu that changes with the ingredients. And a real focus on making things from scratch. Let's just say that we left disappointed that we had passed on macaroni salad because lunch made us realized that we had probably underestimated it. Saimin and fish tacos First, you need to hit up Taste of Aloha just for the raw fish. Hawaiians make these wonderful dishes called poke where fish is cubed, then mixed with vegetables and often a dressing. There are endless varieties, and they were one of our favorite parts of vacation. Last weekend, Taste of Aloha was serving a poke cousin called spicy tuna chirashi zushi. A scoop of warm perfect rice surrounded by cubed tuna mixed with a spicy emulsion. A touch of creaminess, but mostly a bright, light spiciness. A dash of furikake gave a little salt and crunch. As a $6 appetizer, it was one of my favorite dishes that I have eaten this year. On a china plate, it would have been at home at a high-end restaurant. Second, you should come expecting authenticity. Hawaii has developed a unique culture with input from places like Japan, Korea, the Philippines and Portugal. During out single meal, we listened to two other tables exclaim about how the food tasted just like they remembered from their time on the islands. The menu included kalbi, chicken katsu, several burgers, and kahlua pig served as a hoagie or as a big plate lunch. My wife ordered mahi-mahi tacos that had perfectly grilled fish with a kimchi slaw and pineapple salsa. I tried saimin, a noodle soup that starts with a mushroom-vegetable broth and then lets you add spam, shrimp, tofu, dumplings or a bunch of other proteins to bulk it up. It was a cloudy broth and a filling soup perfect for a cold day. I jazzed mine with a dash of soy sauce and a squirt of hot sauce. Again, this is the vibe of R&R Taqueria where the folks take the food seriously even though they're cooking in a gas station. We heard folks talk about how the chef makes his own sauces and marinades, including his own teriyaki sauce. That's the kind of effort that we tasted in all our dishes and that makes me want to go back to try the kalbi, the roast pork, and maybe even the dishes made with spam. That was also when we realized that the macaroni salad side dish was homemade -- and probably delicious. Don't go with crazy expectations. This is a casual place with a one-man kitchen. But Taste of Aloha is really worth checking out because they're making an effort to do something special. Plus, it's a unique menu that will give you a little taste of the islands without even driving to BWI. If you're going to make a special trip, I recommend following the restaurant on Twitter or on Facebook to see when they announce poke, chirashi zushi or other raw fish dishes.
  15. I'm infatuated with Yet Nal House, and I haven't even scratched the surface yet. This Ellicott City restaurant is a casual Korean place tucked in the first-floor corner of a shopping center at Rte 40 and Pine Orchard. It doesn't have an English sign, and the front door -- down from Bippy's Pub -- opens onto a takeout area. But you walk through into a cozy dining room with a bar and a big selection of Korean dishes. Friend of the blog like Min had turned us on to Yel Nal with suggestions of rice cakes and the brisket casserole. With the weather chilling, I convinced Mrs. HowChow that the season had arrived to try new soups to stay warm. We got huge bowls of spicy beef soup (yuk gae jung) and seafood-tofu stew (soon doo boo), and we gorged ourselves surrounded by a crowd that ranged from families with small children to a table of young adults enjoying soju, beer, and a platter of seafood and noodles to some older couples who lingered over a table of dishes that looked amazing. Our dishes seem like fine introductions if you like some heat. The soon doo boo has a low, warm spiciness. It isn't aggressive. The base soup has a rich seafood flavor. Not fishy, but more brine with clams and shrimp. The smooth tofu pieces work like noodles in chicken soup, and Mrs. HowChow added spoonfuls of white rice that soaked up the flavors and left her with a take-home bowl as full as her original stew. My yuk gae jung was spicier. You get shredded meat in the red-pepper and beef broth, along with scallions and what I thought were fernbrake. It's earthy and delicious. Perfect for a chilly night. We really didn't need the boiled dumplings that we had ordered because Yel Nal puts out the small plates of panchan on every table -- some kimchi, some noodles called chapchae, fish cakes, a seaweed with spicy sauce. . . . We had more than two lunches in plastic containers when we walked out. I can't suggest Yel Nal enough if you have already tried Shin Chon Garden and a few nights of Korean 101. People waiting for a table seemed initially surprised to see non-Korean-speakers come through the door. But they -- and then everyone in the restaurant -- were friendly. The menu has English descriptions, or you could look for suggestions on Yelp and just repeat the Korean names. For a few years, we have nosed around other Korean spots in Ellicott City looking to see what we find. Yet Nal and Lighthouse Tofu are the two that most called me back with a welcome feel and delicious food. Lighthouse specializes in soon doo boo, and both places offer a bit of theater with the dish. You get white rice in a really hot bowl, and you're supposed to scoop out most of the rice, but leave a thin crust. That cooks for 10-15 minutes, then you pour in a few inches of water. By the time you're done eating, you have a palate-cleansing, stomach-settling tea. Next time, I'm going to try the rice cake soup at Yel Nal. I need to see a baseline because I'm hoping to cook this for the Korean New Year in the winter. I also need to figure out the brisket casserole and the LA short ribs. I'm up for any suggestions. I have heard that Yet Nal has a good reputation with Korean diners, so I'd love to know what people enjoy. Years ago, Yel Nal House was a very different business. I stopped there in 2008, when it was basically a takeout shop with kimbop, kimchi, soups and other dishes. Since then, the space has been completely renovated, and the restaurant is warm and casual. But there are still takeout coolers, and I bet you'd do well with the soups, kimchi, or other items.
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