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Last week Dahlink reminded me of a suggestion by Regina for a Top Ten: places I would go back to on my own dime. After the roller-coaster thrills of this week's Top Ten, maybe it's time for a more sedate choice. Places good enough for me to be willing to pay for the meal sounds just fine.
I think no one will go too crazy as long as I don't make RA Sushi one of them.
I'm going to start with the restaurants I've reviewed since January 2007 and hope there are 10 of them. That way it won't be just a list of my favorite places, which is different.
For once it doesn't make much sense to say suggestions welcome.
(Lloyd Fox/Sun photographer)
That was the subject line of an e-mail my daughter just sent me. She has a good friend who's a Marine helicopter pilot stationed in Anbar province. Before that he was at Miramar, so that's how he knows Southern California food. She forwarded the following e-mail from him: ...
As I was scarfing down dinner (missed lunch on a 5-hr flight), I was
> thinking of how much I'd rather be at Urth. Then I noticed a small
> dead fly mixed in with my veggies, and that just made my day.
> So, before you check
> out of LA, you'll have to go there again and have a bowl of gazpacho
> and a half sandwich. At least one of us can enjoy a good meal.
Faithful readers of this blog know how fanatical I am about Urth Caffe in Beverly Hills (technically a chain; there are two other locations). I'll probably have two lunches there before the road trip begins to fortify myself, and maybe take an Urth salad with La Brea Bakery bread with me.
(Photo of Urth Caffe by Gailor Large)
I just hung up the phone from talking to Regi Elion, the original Regi of Regi's. (She sold the restaurant more than a decade ago.) She was calling to ask me to give a plug to the Enchanted Herb and Tea Room (9131 Reisterstown Road, 410-998-9200) in Owings Mills.
"It's a lovely place," she said, "and the poor man is struggling. He's just a dear."
The "poor man" is Clinton Spellman, the owner and a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America whose offbeat little establishment offers herbs, good teas and comfort food lunches. (The soups in particular sound really good.)
Apparently he was having problems with the support staff when Regi ate there yesterday. (Well, what restaurateur doesn't.)
Regi raved about the food, and while I don't know her personally, I do think she knows what she's talking about. ...
She and her companions had a lunch of salmon and a turkey burger that she described as "like a little meatloaf."
"The scones are to die for, and he makes his own clotted cream."
Regi, by the way, is now working as an interior designer.
I loved the tea room when I went awhile back for its quirkiness and dainty afternoon tea; but it may not be everyone's, you should excuse the expression, cup of tea.
I also think the location is a killer. It's hidden in back of the Valley View Shopping Center when it ought to be in a Victorian house in Roland Park.
The Enchanted Herb and Tea Room is open Tuesday through Sunday from 10:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. If you want a proper English tea, you should make reservations. And it's good to call ahead on the weekend because Mr. Spellman often has tea parties. Don't go when you can't linger; it's pretty much a one-man show.
I just called Mr. Spellman to get his hours, and immediately fell under his spell. When he asked who I was and I told him, he said, "Where have you been all my life?"
How often do people say that to you?(Lloyd Fox/Sun photographer)
Linwood and I wanted to let you know that we've launched an updated website for our restaurant, which also features a "blog" of our own! On the blog, I pass along news from Linwoods, as well as our views and comments about food and the wild world of restaurant ownership and operation.
Perhaps you'll pass this news along to your readers.
The Dames aren't the first restaurateurs to have a blog locally. ...
Pazza Luna has one, as does Tabrizi's. Tony Foreman has one on the Pazo Web site, and Cindy Wolf has one on Charleston's, although she hasn't updated it in awhile. I'm sure there are many others; these are just the ones I knew about already.
I can't imagine trying to run a big-time restaurant and blogging, but I guess everyone wants to get in on the fun. It's worth looking to see if your favorite place has one. I wonder if the chefs or owners actually write them. I only ask that my chef can cook, not that he or she can write in an interesting way.
What would you have them write if you were their PR person? I'd tell them to put on a recipe of the week, an amusing anecdote every week, posts that make readers realize how hard it is to get a lot of meals out of one kitchen (without whining), and something to make them more sympathetic to servers.
I also want to know the details of how you figure out how much to buy for any given night if you're not using the freezer when you don't know how many people you'll be serving what.
(Kenneth K. Lam/Sun photographer)
Isn't this sweet? My daughter sent me my luggage for the week of the cross country road trip -- a gimme bag/gym pack from Nike. I asked Midnight Sun Sam Sessa to model it for me. If this would hold a mouse's clothes for a week, I'd be surprised. I put one sweater in it and it's almost full. I'm just hoping she doesn't actually make me wear the pack in the car to take up less space.
Speaking of jambalaya, I got an e-mail from Christopher saying how much he liked 3 Chefs in Towson, which had gotten a good write up in the Afro-American. I hadn't heard of it, but I gave the place a call. It turns out that David Hill is the only chef at the moment.
Pretty much everything is made from scratch, including the barbecue sauces, and the menu includes, yes, jambalaya, crab cakes, jerk chicken, barbecue and the like. There are 25 or so seats, and Mr. Hill also has a busy catering and carryout business. ...
3 Chefs is located at 912 Taylor Ave. in Towson near Loch Raven (410-823-2433). I think that's the spot where an Asian restaurant used to be.
And speaking of late-night noshing, the hours are 9 a.m. to 11 p.m. Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday; 9 a.m. to 3 a.m. Thursday and Friday; 10 a.m. to 3 a.m. Saturday; and 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Sunday.
I asked Mr. Hill if he had a liquor license, and he said no. I asked if it was OK to BYOB, and he said, "We don't do that."
Please let me know if you've tried 3 Chefs and how the food is. It's been open awhile and totally slipped under my radar.
OK, I got the official latest word on the Morton's The Steakhouse leapling controversy. Here's what the PR person e-mailed me:
I noticed there is some confusion and frustration among some of your blog posters, regarding Morton's Steakhouse leapling promotion.
Why would Robert Fritz call any other Morton'ses but the ones in this area?
Because he said he called "both places," I assumed he lived here. But maybe he's in another state and was just enjoying stirring things up. Or maybe he assumed it would be the same in Maryland and had a legitimate rant.
By the way, this would be a good place to post if you know of any other restaurants that are having Leap Year specials. (I heard from Downtown Diane that Einstein Bros. Bagels is also giving a free meal. Not quite in Morton's league but...)
(Photo courtesy of Morton's)
Ex-deskmate Steve (who has moved over to work in metro) was looking for a place to go for late-night food after a play and complaining that nothing has quite replaced Louie's the Bookstore Cafe.
I did a Top Ten on late-night restaurants in August. (It seems so weird now that it generated only six comments.) I'm sure since then many more places have opened up. ...
Didn't someone post a comment on this blog saying that he or she had eaten at RA really late? Harbor East probably has several places that weren't even on my radar in August. I think the new Baltimore Pho across from the Hollins Market also has a late-night menu. The new Meli in Fells Point serves food until 1 a.m., and would be a particularly good place to go for dessert.
As I've said before, late-night noshing isn't really my thing, so Steve will have to rely on all of you for other recommendations. Any info you can give us on the late-night menu would also be welcome.
(Gene Sweeney Jr./Sun photographer)
You may have missed this exchange under an earlier post between Robert and me, and Owl Meat's subsequent challenge:
Suddenly reading your blog is more and more like a 19th Century Russian novel, in length. Has your hit rate suddenly gone up? I know I am having to come back more times each day, and my lips are getting very tired.
Posted by: Robert (the Single One) | February 5, 2008 3:16 PM
Well, last week there were 34,073 page views; but I think the increased number of comments is more significant. You can entertain each other now. Pretty soon I'll be able to post one word, like "veal," and then just sit back and publish comments.
Posted by: me
You should try that and see what happens.
Posted by: Owl Meat Gravy | February 7, 2008 9:38 PM
Well, the time is coming, boys and girls. ...
Fairfax, Hal, a couple of others and I have been discussing this in bits and pieces in the comments, so it seemed like I should make a separate post for it. In case any of you don't know about the road trip, I'm flying to LA at the end of March and driving back with my kid and all her worldly possessions. I am not allowed to bring anything with me because she's not sure even I alone will fit into the car.
I learned from our Italian trip that some people liked to hear about our travels and some just want to talk about Maryland restaurants, so since then I've been most successful combining the two when I leave town. I'm thinking that every morning I'll have a topic such as "I love restaurant chains" that will generate a lot of conflict and interesting comments (OK, at this point "milk and cookies" would also have that effect), and let you guys loose on it. Then whenever I get a chance later in the day, I'll post something about our trip ("No, we haven't killed each yet," "Gailor ate all the Cheez Doodles," and so on).
My biggest worry is publishing comments, which is turning into the most time-consuming part of my workday but also the most entertaining. Plus it's like finding Easter eggs when I sign on. When there aren't any (and I must say that's happening less and less), it feels as if I've failed somehow. I hate to turn that over to anyone else, even for a week. Not to mention that they might forget to publish them when they get busy.
We will have my daughter's Macbook, but our crack blog software hates Macs. I think it doesn't like efficient software because it's so deficient. To post I have to use a weird combination of browsers: Safari, Firefox and Opera (thanks to whichever commenter alerted me to Opera). They all have their glitches: one won't let me upload photos, one disappears on me from time to time, one won't let me link, etc. etc. And then there's the internet access problem as we cross the Badlands or whatever we're going to do.
Of course, I could just take off for a week, which is what people who have never blogged before keep telling me to do; but I've gotten sucked in even more than any of you. Food editor and parenting blogger Kate once said to me when I was complaining about not having time to write some story, "It would be OK if you did one fewer posts a day."
Now she has her own blog and ha ha she's posting six times a day. She thinks it's because her blog is new and she's just getting started. Little does she know it's like crack cocaine.
Faithful readers of this blog know how the discussions of some subjects take strange turns. Case in point: Restaurant chains somehow generated posts on pop songs about food or restaurants. We have Voodoo Pork, Janet and bra1nchild to thank for this.
My husband and I were trying to name others over dinner last night and came up with a few more. The trick is not to look on the internet. Of course, you'll come up with a thousand if you do.
Also, of course, songs about food are usually songs about sex or places that have a food name (Blueberry Hill). Only a very few are actually about food. I wonder why? Surely food is as worthy to have a song written about it as love. ...
Brown Sugar (Rolling Stones), Milkshake (Kelis), Blueberry Hill (Fats Domino), Sunset Grill (Don Henley), Mashed Potatoes (Dee Dee Sharp), Margaritaville (Jimmy Buffett), Alice's Restaurant (Arlo Guthrie), Strawberry Fields Forever (Beatles), Red, Red Wine (Neil Diamond and UB40), Tutti Frutti (Little Richard), Know Your Chicken in honor of OMG (Cibo Matto), Fishin' (Taj Mahal), Home Grown Tomatoes (Guy Clark), Banana Boat (Harry Belafonte), Lady Marmalade (Patti LaBelle)
As faithful readers know, I very occasionally have guest reviewers. OK, once before. I'm a jealous woman.
But John Lindner, Multimedia Editor and Resident Cheeseburger Expert, has sent me a review and photos, and, no, it's not of a burger place. He was out Frederick way, and I was glad to get his thoughts because I don't get out west as much as I'd like to. Some very good restaurants have opened in Frederick, and Baltimoreans who think nothing of driving to Annapolis for dinner tend to forget about it.
I reviewed Acacia Fusion Bistro five years ago, but I was delighted to get an update. (Actually, I reviewed Acacia, a New American restaurant, so clearly things have changed.)
Anyway, here's John's review:
Testing the new GPS toy Sunday afternoon. Punched in Venuti’s in Frederick. The unit talked us to Venuti’s door. Success. But we decided Venuti’s lunch menu lacked magnetism. We snuck out and walked a couple blocks, window shopping restaurants till we came to Acacia Fusion Bistro, 129 N. Market St.
We were offered two seating choices: the bar area or the dining room in back. The bar space looks out to the sidewalk, providing people watching opps. We chose the back dining room, feeling like we’d watched enough people for one day.
It was around 2 p.m. Our server, Morgan, handed us the brunch menu. Uh oh, that meant the items from the full menu posted in Acacia’s window that lured us into the place were missing. Dang.
However: the brunch menu was inviting, with seven egg dishes, a glazed salmon, and pad thai for entrees. Four sandwiches -- including a tempting bacon cheeseburger ($12? I’ll get back to you on that) -- assorted appetizers and a trio of desserts rounded out the menu. The brunch specials menu offered a soup, two entrees and a dessert.
Bon, my wife and assistant photographer (she owns the camera), ordered the stuffed French toast ($11). Acacia folds the toast to form a boat which it fills with spiced mascarpone cheese and blueberry compote then tops it with a blessedly restrained dusting of powdered sugar. The overall effect was surprisingly light and not oversweet.
I had the "wok-bronzed mahi mahi accompanied by garlic wilted watercress and lump crab" with a melted tomato ponzu emulsion drizzled over the top which also served as a coulis for the scallion infused sticky rice. Yum. Because some people consider it bad manners, I did not lick the plate. I wiped it with the linen napkin and sucked on that. Still drew frowns. Go figure.
Oh, yeah, our appetizer: “five spice sesame seared tuna with sake drunken tomatoes, crisped ginger, wasabi aioli and sesame chili oil.” Wanted more of that, too.
I mentioned our server, Morgan. Delightful, unobtrusive, helpful, declined our offer to adopt her.
Of the dessert choices, we went with the Turkish coffee crème brulee, because, wherever crème brulee is offered, I get it, because I love it. But.
(Rant alert) What is it with crème brulee in MD restaurants and the window pane thick crust of carmelized sugar???? I’m not dissing Acacia’s crème brulee specifically. It was as good as any I’ve had in MD. (Also, bear in mind, I’m not as well versed in MD restaurants as the author and many of the readers of this blog, so take this with a cellar of salt.) However, in restaurants outside this state, the carmelized top is less a crust than a web and brilliantly light. Or, my memory is playing tricks on me. I seriously don’t remember crème brulee being as treacly sweet as the examples I’ve had in MD. It’s too bad, too, because I can’t say no to the stuff so I’ll probably order it again when we return to Acacia, which we’ll do the first chance we get.
I paid $27 for the mahi mahi. I typically dine at joints where 30 bucks covers lunch for two and a generous tip. But said dives tend to lack the finer restraints of civility, if you get my drift. Acacia’s dining room, with its linens and light and absence of a music track, presents a respite from ultra casual. While there wasn’t a tie in the place and I wasn’t the only one wearing jeans, we didn’t encounter the shipwrecked wino look either.
Entrees on the regular brunch menu ran from $9 to $15 with the exception of the salmon, which was $19. Dinner entrees run from $8 to $28. Lunch will cost you $9.99 (sans tax and gratuity, I assume).
Wine list? Yes they have one. No, I’m not qualified to judge it. Don’t expect many bargains. Mark up aside, I can vouch for several of its offerings throughout the $20 to $162 price range. (The ones with which I’m familiar are closer to the $20 end.)
Acacia Fusion Bistro is one of four Frederick restaurants run by Fountain Rock Restaurant Management Group. The others: Brewer’s Alley Restaurant and Brewery; Isabella’s Taverna & Tapas Bar, and G. Hunter’s Restaurant and Raw Bar.
(Photos courtesy of John Lindner)
Dahlink got an error message yesterday when she hadn't posted since early morning that said:
it's a known bug with IE - if you enter the Captcha code incorrectly, you get that message. then if you're using IE and you hit the back button, the old captcha code is displayed, not the new one
I bet the commenter didn’t type in the Captcha code correctly and that’s why they got the message.
Here's how I ended a review of a chain restaurant one time:
Sometimes I want quirky individuality and local color. Sometimes, when I'm tired, I just want a decent, trouble-free meal at a place that keeps the water glasses filled.
I think many of us have been at that point, especially if we have kids. As Happy Eater Rob said when we were talking about the problems with making up this list, "The times I ate in chains was when I was schlepping a kid to and from a sporting event."
That's pretty much true of me, too. Without a kid at home, I can eat anywhere I want to, so some of the places on this list haven't been visited lately. I also haven't eaten at some of the places some of you recommended, like Kobe.
One caveat about the few chains I've reviewed for the paper: I've heard some chains bring in their best staff from other locations to open a new restaurant, so it's never as good as it was in its first few months of existence. If so, that would give me a slightly skewed perspective, because that's when I would be reviewing.
Here's my list: ...
These are the three chains I reviewed and gave three stars to:
* Bonefish Grill. I praised the grilled fish.
* M & S Grill. I liked it better than its parent company, McCormick & Schmick, because it's a little more intimate. The prices seem to be lower.
* P. F. Chang's China Bistro. I like the menu of specialties from a particular province.
* I'll always have a soft spot in my heart for Chili's because when we were on the road for my daughter's junior tennis tournaments, she could find food she liked while I had fajitas and a margarita.
* Don Pablo's is another good choice for Tex-Mex. It's a cuisine that chains seem to do very well with.
* I sometimes eat breakfast at Cracker Barrel on road trips for one reason: They serve real butter. Also I have a fondness for turnip greens, pinto beans, and cornbread made with white cornmeal and no sugar. The negative: My husband and I may be the only two people ever kicked out of a Cracker Barrel for bringing in a bottle of wine.
* Our food was decent at Bahama Breeze (Caribbean-style shrimp, chicken, mango, avocado, coconut, lime, pineapple), but it was so big and so crowded we never hooked up with our guests, who were seated in another part of the restaurant, so I gave it a mixed review.
* When I covered the wholesale furniture market in High Point, N.C. for the paper, the only restaurant within walking distance of my hotel was a Bennigan's. (I didn't have a car.) It was cozier than many chains, they were nice to a single woman, and it seems to me I got a ribeye steak there that was pretty good.
*I shudder to think of recommending a chain barbecue place, but Famous Dave's did get Midnight Sun Sam's vote over several local places for best ribs when he was doing the takeout column for the food section.
(Kim Hairston/Sun photographer)
Wal Mart (the poster) raised a question worth discussing. Are restaurant chains the equivalent of Wal-Mart? That is, do they drive out what's best about eating in America? My position on chains, if I haven't made it clear already, is pretty much what Hal's is: It's just boring to see the same places everywhere I go. I also don't like eating in big restaurants, chain or not. But I'm not a chain hater, just a bad chain hater.
When a Wal-Mart opens, the mom-and-pop places (and the Hutzler'ses) that are selling tubes of Crest toothpaste and T-shirts from China -- the same thing only more expensive -- are probably going to get squeezed out. But does this happen to restaurants? ...
I've heard coffee shop owners argue that when Starbucks appeared on the scene, their business actually increased because people got more knowledgeable about coffee and more willing to buy expensive coffee drinks. I'm not sure if that's just whistling in the dark, but we do seem to have a lot more independent coffee houses than we used to in Baltimore.
My thought is there's room for both chains and the kinds of restaurants I personally love. If chains have squeezed out small restaurants, it's most likely because they weren't good enough to attract the foodies that would support them. I may be wrong about this, but I've lived in small towns in Ohio and Tennessee, where the local restaurants were godawful. You would be thankful if you could find a Ruby Tuesday there.
So my feeling is, why not let people who want to talk about chains talk about them and point others who are interested to the best of them?
I'm not going to spend a lot of time reviewing chains (although I usually review the first of a sit-down chain that moves into town) because I have a limited amount of space in the print edition. But the nice thing about this blog is that we can go on and on about any subject that's even vaguely food-related ad nauseum. And if the subject doesn't interest you, you can just skip to the next post.
Here's the other side of the argument, in case you have trouble located Wal Mart's post:
Chains are a boon for the community. Sure, we might edge out local mom and pop places where people put their heart and very soul into what they do, but don't forget we provide jobs. And a consistent product you can enjoy wherever you travel. Podunk, IA, Orlando, FLA, Denver, CO. Same thing. You'll never feel uncomfortable or challenged to try new things or enter into an environment with which you aren't already familiar. Thanks EL! We might spend gazillions on advertising, but a local endorsement by the local food critic - bloomin' priceless!
Posted by: Wal Mart | February 25, 2008 12:12 AM
What I'm hoping to get started under this post is a discussion of whether chain restaurants drive out good local places, as Wal Mart in his post implies.
We learn that "butter is the darling of the French culinary new wave." (Who knew it had ever gone out of style in French cooking?) We get a list of Saveur's 30 favorite butters. And so on.
They actually call it "the ultimate ingredient." Much as I love butter... Someday we'll have to have a discussion of what the ultimate ingredient is.
This issue also has directions on how to bake "the world's best pound cake." That's so silly. Only I have the recipe for the world's best pound cake.
I know when my love affair with butter started. For some reason in my family my parents...
...ate butter and served my brother and me margarine (probably because of the cost). For a few years I even thought I preferred margarine until I was old enough to know better. To this day I can't bear the stuff.
Awhile back I wrote a story for the food section on European-style "boutique" butters. These are the premium butters that have more butterfat and a more intense flavor. It surprised me that when I did a blind taste test, people didn't automatically prefer the butters costing twice as much. Maybe it's all what you're used to, but good old non-boutique Land o' Lakes scored surprisingly well. Only Happy Eater Rob and I preferred the highest butterfat butter (Vermont). He expressed my feeling exactly when he said, "Wonderful mouth feel, but none of them would I kick out of my refrigerator."
I learned one interesting factoid when I talked to the Land o' Lakes PR person. I asked if the salted butter had a significantly longer shelf life than the unsalted. She said no, because the salted version doesn't contain that much salt. After that I was more careful about buying it when I needed it and not letting it sit in the back of my fridge.
Algerina Perna/Sun photographer)
I almost forgot to tell you about next Sunday's review, which will appear in the Arts & Life Today section. In honor of Chains Week, as this is turning out to be, I'll be reviewing the city's newest, Arizona-based RA Sushi in Harbor East. This is the rock-n-roll sushi bar and restaurant that specializes in whacko maki rolls like the one pictured (Viva Las Vegas).
If you can put aside for the moment that this is the loudest restaurant you've ever been in, and probably the reddest (not the most soothing combination) -- and if you're over 30 you probably won't be able to put the ambience aside for a moment; that's the point -- you may be wondering how the food is.
I'll tell you everything you need to know.
Last night my husband and I went to a good restaurant (I'm not going to say what it was in case our server puts two and two together), and I was struck once again by a chef's salt problem. By that I mean if you are an artiste, you don't want your customers salting away at their food before they taste it. So you don't allow salt shakers to be put on the tables. But fine tuning salt often doesn't work, as I realized all over again when I tasted our overly salty greens last night.
Other seasonings don't seem to me as difficult to gauge as the amount of salt a particular diner thinks tastes good. Sometimes when I eat out, other people at the table will complain a dish is bland and it tastes just right to me. I love salty foods, but if it's not popcorn or whatever I want to taste the other flavors.
I don't think either is right or wrong, but I do feel the chef is caught in the middle. He or she might as well just suck it up and put a salt shaker on the table. That way maybe the tendency wouldn't be to oversalt.
If you've gotten bored discussing Rachael Ray, how about Robert the Single One's guilty pleasures idea? I don't think it counts if you, say, enjoy a Reese's Peanut Butter Cup more than you should when you're given one, but you don't actively seek them out. It has to be something you crave fairly regularly and indulge in but know you're bad, bad, bad for giving in. People might think less of you if they knew. (If you have a better definition, feel free to post.)
I suppose in the interest of full disclosure I should present mine. I don't think it will surprise faithful readers of this blog that it's animal fat. Lovely butter, of course. Then...
...there's the crispy fat on the edges of steaks and chops, crisp duck skin with its edge of fat (but not too much), just the right amount of fat on a sparerib, and so on. Bad Elizabeth. This totally disgusts my daughter and husband, who carefully trim their meat.
The only reason I'm not dead of a heart attack is that I enjoy, and therefore eat, so many entrees that involve lean meat or no meat at all.
Remember, you can use a nom de plume for your nom de plume if you don't want to sully the one you usually post under.
Note the butter that steak is sizzling in.
(Photo courtesy of RuthsChris.com)
Somehow it's Friday afternoon, and we haven't decided on next Tuesday's Top Ten topic yet. I was talking to deputy arts editor Tim about this (he promos it in the paper for me so he needs the topic in advance), and he made a suggestion.
Tim, a 20-something, lives in the city, and he feels city dwellers are exactly the opposite of suburban folks. ...Going to a chain restaurant is a treat for him because there aren't many downtown. He craves the "cheesy bread" at Red Lobster, and thinks the salad bar at Ruby Tuesday is kept well stocked. He wants to know what the 10 best sit-down chains are. (I'm guessing he doesn't mean Ruth's Chris.) You know, is Olive Garden better than Romano's Macaroni Grill? And if so, why? Think categories.
So how about it? Is this a worthy Top Ten? Before you dismiss the idea out of hand, remember that there are a heck of a lot of Tuesdays ahead of us. Besides, you might find yourself in Podunk, Iowa sometime, forced to choose between a Red Lobster and a Ruby Tuesday, and you'd thank me.
But if you don't like this idea, what would you want to see in its place? Here is the most recent list of possibilities from both me and readers.
(Photo by Joni Guhne: special to The Sun)
Now this is impressive. Galen Sampson of Dogwood Restaurant in Hampden is this week's "CNN Hero" for his job training program that helps people who have been in prison, who are homeless or who are fighting addiction. Here's the link to the CNN Web site.
The piece about his program airs at the following times: On CNN USA: Saturday, 10-11 a.m. and 5-6 p.m.; On CNN Headline News: today, 1:30-2 p.m., 5-6 p.m., 8-9 p.m., 10-11 p.m.; Saturday, 1-2 a.m., 8:30-9 a.m.
(Algerina Perna/Sun photographer)
I know some of you are worried about the consequences and therefore don't indulge in the pleasures of raw fish, but this brings a whole new meaning to the words "safe sushi."
I had dinner at RA last night. It's the new rock-n-roll sushi chain that's opened in Harbor East. I thought it would be amusing to take classical music critic extraordinaire Tim, who sits across from me at The Sun, as well as a couple of other people.
I won't go into the details of our meal at this time, but...
...I will say we were joking around with our excellent waitress, and I asked her about the T-shirts all the servers were wearing. She rolled her eyes and held it out so we could read it better:
Will you (there was a blank space here) me in the morning?
It was hard not to make a joke about RA being the Hooters of Japanese cuisine. We refrained. Then she rolled her eyes again and said, "Yeah, and we all carry matchbooks with condoms in them to hand out." She proceeded to pull one out and put it on the table. I thought she was kidding until I opened it and, yes, there was a bright red condom inside.
And RA has a good happy hour as well.
With all the bad news about beef lately, and with all the ways Americans have gotten more sophisticated about their food, it’s something of a shock to hear that burgers “are more popular than ever, and represent some of the hottest trends in the industry,” according to Technomic, a food industry consulting firm based in Chicago.
Sorry, I just can't think of burgers as trendy. ...
They are eaten by 85 percent of Americans at least once a month. Forty-four percent of those surveyed were “heavy burger users,” who eat them once a week or more. (The report makes it sound like they're mainlining heroin.) And a random factoid: For some reason, themed burgers are more appealing to Asian consumers than other ethnic groups.
By the way, does anyone remember when hamburgers and cheeseburgers became just burgers? We didn't used to call them that.
(AP Photo/McDonald's Corp.)
I thought this was an interesting e-mail from Kris. Nothing against Vin, which is just trying to make its customers happy; and nothing against ESPN, which in my family would be like being against the Bible:
We live in Rodgers Forge and go to Vin not infrequently, mainly for martinis. The last few times my husband and I have gone, those TV screens behind the bar have not had videos of flowers anymore; they are of sporting events. We went there last night and it was sports again. I asked the waitress what was up, and she said the customers are about evenly split between wanting sports and not.
This upset me, probably more than it should, because there are so few neat restaurants in Towson and there's no shortage of sports bars. What's the point of having such great ambiance only to ruin it with TV? It's even more disconcerting because all those booths face the screens and people look like zombies eating their $30 steaks while staring at the tube.
So, that's my rant. Just thought it might interest you.
Here's what I said in my review a couple of years ago: ...
Vin has a lot of pizazz in a techno-hip, sometimes-I'm-too-whimsical-but-I'm-likable-anyway sort of way. Once you get ensconced in your lipstick-red booth in front of the long, zebra-patterned bar, watching flowers slowly unfolding on all the TV sets over the bar (instead of ESPN), and the trippy music is throbbing in the background, and you're sipping your very expensive merlot by the glass -- well, you'll see what I mean.
I guess my one question would be: If the customers are evenly divided, why not stick with what makes you different from the other bars in the area? I can't think of any other wine bars in the Baltimore area that even have TVs, but maybe in Towson you just can't get away with no sports.
(Barbara Haddock Taylor/Sun photographer)
I'll start by saying that racy head was on a recent Globe and Mail story, which I'll talk about farther down.
Anyway, in the don't believe everything you read category, a lot of people who eat out these days like a lively (i.e., noisy) restaurant. Here, for instance was a recent exchange on Chowhound.com about the newest incarnation of Abacrombie:
Filelilly, who loved the food, said: The atmosphere was stiff. It needs something. There was music playing but it was barely audible. It was so quiet that I was afraid to speak. It lacks a hipness.
Crowsonguy replied: I found the atmosphere restful and romantic. I wonder if it's an age thing? I'm in my fifties, and way past being hip.
Here's the link to the Globe and Mail story, which is quite entertaining. I just don't believe most people who eat out these days like a quiet restaurant, or so many restaurateurs wouldn't create noisy ones. ...
The story cites Zagat as proof diners don't want noise:
"After poor service, noise has become the second most common complaint of restaurant goers in the United States, according to Zagat Survey's 2008 edition of America's Top Restaurants."
I was surprised, so I looked up the reference. Here's what I found on the Zagat Web site:
"Service, cited by 70% of surveyors, is still the most common grievance among restaurant-goers across the country. All other irritants, i.e. smoking, crowding, noise, parking, prices and food quality aggregate only 30% of complaints."
While the Globe and Mail story is technically correct, it doesn't seem to me that diners are all that concerned about noise. Even I, who used to complain incessantly about it in my reviews, have gotten used to it.
Turn up the volume. I can't wait to get a little rock-and-roll sushi at RA.
(Doug Kapustin/Sun photographer)
Here's what I got from my daughter about eating in New Orleans:
The [pic on the left is] Lilette (fabulous upscale bistro in Uptown), [below is] Cooter Brown's (alligator sausage po-boys, yum, yum). Camellia Grill is where I had the fabulous crispy waffles, but those pics are on Karen's camera. I will prob get them this weekend.
Cooter Brown's was our FOURTH stop for po-boys. The top three shack-like restaurants we circled were closed Sundays.
The important thing to note...
...as far as the road trip is concerned is that she wasn't that enchanted with New Orleans. The culture of the Deep South can make you uncomfortable if the farthest south you've been is Tennessee. (Florida doesn't count.) And, she said, she was surprised at how touristy the undevastated parts of New Orleans were. Of course, I imagine it didn't help being there NBA All-Star Weekend.
(Photos by Gailor Large)
In honor of BYOB week (well, yesterday's Top Ten was Top Ten BYOB Restaurants), I took note of a list of Trends We Love from the Restaurant Awards 2008 issue of Los Angeles magazine that my daughter sent me. The last one is "No corkage fees."
It seems to me we're going the other way in Baltimore. As I said yesterday, I don't remember that BYOB restaurants used to have corkage fees, although restaurants with liquor licenses always did. In any case, no corkage fees obviously isn't a trend in this area; but if it's happening in California, it could be heading our way.
Here are the other trends they love -- and we would all love. (Actually, I don't care about the ice cubes.): ...
* Non-breakfast dishes that celebrate the egg.
* Concise menus: Two nouns, one verb, one adjective and out. (OK, OK -- one geographically specific reference, too). Could the days of laundry list menus finally be over?
* Eco-friendly to-go containers and utensils.
* Creative (rather than mailed-in) amuse-bouches.
* The arrival of the brasserie (at last).
* Restaurants with good food that stay open into the wee hours.
* Cocktail-specific ice cubes: big oblongs for collinses, hefty old-fashioned cubes for a short bourbon.
* Nonrobotic reservations folks who seem genuinely happy you called and say things like "Let's see how we can fit you in."
(Algerina Perna/Sun photographer)
Thanks to Jay C. for bringing up the subject of why restaurateurs and chefs hate the blogosphere. He mentioned celebrity restaurateur Mario Batali, and here's a link to some of Batali's comments. (I think this was what Jay was referring to; correct me if I'm wrong.)
I have no idea if this is true in general. We have a few chefs, restaurant owners and PR people for restaurants who occasionally post here, and I'm always glad they do as long they identify themselves.
I'm of the opinion that the more information the better, and that the Internet tends to be self-correcting -- if I as a blog "owner" can keep the discussion fairly civilized so people don't worry they'll be personally attacked when they post a conflicting opinion. I also appreciate commenters like Voodoo Pork, who don't take the discussions too seriously. We're talking about restaurants here, not the war in Iraq.
(Photo courtesy of MarioBatali.com)
Fairfax started and Dahlink contributed to an intriguing discussion under another post of what constitutes unusual ethnic cuisine in Baltimore. ...
Obviously not Italian, French, Chinese, Indian, Japanese, Thai, or anything we could find 10 examples of. So should the criterion be small number of restaurants in Baltimore? Wouldn't Spanish fall into that category then?
There's not much Spanish these days beyond Tio Pepe. We've had several Spanish restaurants in the past in the city; we just don't happen to now. But Spanish just isn't an unusual cuisine.
There are different South American countries represented by small restaurants in Upper Fells Point, but I don't know how different they are from each other or how unusual their cuisines are. Do they count? For that matter, is it fair to lump Indian restaurants together?
Does Brazilian cuisine represented by Fogo de Chao count as unusual?
How about Hawaiian, as in Roy's?
I think we'd probably agree our Top Ten would include Persian and Ethiopian.
Just eight more to go.
(Kenneth K. Lam/Sun photographer)
It looks as if Luca's Cafe will be opening tomorrow in Locust Point at 1230 E. Fort Ave. where Truman's bar was. This is the place that has a sort-of connection to Matthew's Pizza. One of the owners of Matthew's, Chris Maler, is also involved with Luca's; but he has a new partner, Lando Orsino.
Luca's thin-crusted pies will be very unlike Matthew's, and the place will have a lot more than pizzas. The menu will include sandwiches, salads, appetizers and entrees, ranging from Hungarian goulash ($11) to a crab cake platter ($26).
Orsino was a happy man when I talked to him this afternoon. The restaurant's liquor license had just come through.
Friday the Kali's Court restaurant group should finally be able to open Meli (one more permit is needed) at 1640 Thames St. in Fells Point. It will be a European cafe, bistro and patisserie; and the chef will be Rashad Edwards from Kali's and Mezze.
OK, it's not a free dinner at Morton's The Steakhouse, but then you didn't happen to be born on Feb. 29, did you?
Take what you can get. Customers who order an entree at California Tortilla on Friday, Feb. 29 and
make a fool of themselves jump, shake, or move vigorously while doing so will get a free side of tortilla chips and queso.
I may walk down to the harbor with my camera if it's a nice day just to capture participating customers in action.
(Photo courtesy of California Tortilla)
Frankly I was surprised at the amount of interest in today's Top Ten when I asked for suggestions last week. I guess the inconvenience of schlepping your own bottle is outweighed by the money saved when you BYO.
I don't know this for a fact, but it feels as if corkage fees at restaurants that don't have a liquor license are a relatively new thing. After all, these places are at something of a disadvantage when it comes to luring in customers. I always assumed they were more than happy to be obliging about providing glasses and such.
I had a particularly tough time with the sushi restaurants, several of which could have gone on this list; but none that I had been to was head and shoulders above the others.
Here's my list, and the response I got about corkage fees when I called. Be sure to check other suggestions under last week's post:
* Cafe Gia in Little Italy. A cute restaurant that specializes in traditional Italian dishes like chicken piccata and eggplant parmigiana. Corkage fee: $6 for wine, $1 for beer. No corkage fee on Thursdays for the month of March.
* Darker Than Blue Cafe in Waverly. Chef/owner Casey Jenkins, a man whose personality alone makes this place worth a trip, produces "modern American" cuisine from burgers and a Maryland crab cake dinner to comfort dishes like slow-roasted half chicken and baby back ribs. No corkage fee.
* Desert Cafe (1605 Sulgrave Ave., 410-367-5808) in Mount Washington. This charming, mostly Middle Eastern cafe offers specialties like mango curry chicken salad and spanakopita. No corkage fee.
* Dogwood in Hampden. The first of our fine-dining farm-to-table restaurants, the specialty being New American cuisine from owner Galen Sampson, a former executive chef at Hampton's who can turn out some wonderful dishes. Corkage fee: $5.
* Green Leaf in Hunt Valley. The focus of this nice little restaurant is healthful (as long as you stay away from the fried items) Japanese cooking and seafood, although there are some other Asian cuisines represented. Corkage fee: "two or three dollars."
* Iggies in Mount Vernon. Gourmet pizza is the draw here, such as duck confit , blue cheese and asparagus on a thin crisp crust. No tipping, but you can donate to the charity of the month. No corkage fee.
* Orchard Market & Cafe in Towson. This pretty, family-run restaurant, hidden away in a strip mall, offers good Persian food like duck fesenjune and dried plum lamb. No corkage fee.
* Samos in Greektown. That's the owner, Nick Georgalas, behind the stove, turning out some of the best Greek food in Baltimore. Cash only, and you won't need a lot of it. But if you hate lines, this place isn't for you. The number has always been busy, so I can't check about the corkage fee, but see Danielle's comment below.
* Thai Arroy in Federal Hill (pictured). The duck dishes and Thai salads are particularly noteworthy at this sweet restaurant. Its specialty is Asian comfort food. No corkage fee.
* Victor's Cafe in Timonium. It's quick-casual and it doesn't have the water view the original Victor's offered, but on the plus side there's good service, delicious Sicilian-style pizzas and fine pasta dishes. No corkage fee.
(Doug Kapustin/Sun photographer)
The town council of Palm Beach, Fla., has voted unanimously to ban "formula" restaurants like McDonald's and Subway, according to a story in the trade publication Nation's Restaurant News. The most interesting part of the story to me was this quote:
“I don’t think that Ruth’s Chris Steak House or P.F. Chang’s is an issue,” said council member Leslie Shaw in hearing documents. “The general public controls what succeeds and what doesn’t succeed and the reason we were adamant about not seeing a McDonald’s, a Starbucks or a Subway and some of these others come in is we were concerned who they were going to cater to and how it was going to impact the residents as a whole.”
In other words, they want to keep out the riffraff who frequent such places.
So then I went to the Palm Beach Post for its take on the story: ...
The ban is an effort to "lock the barn before any more horses get out," as William Guttman, chairman of the planning and zoning board, said in December.
The horse that got out is Starbucks, which operates a 25-seat shop at 150 Worth Ave. The coffee giant opened in March amid worries of the flip-flop-wearing crowd it would attract.
The council's definition of "formula" is three or more of a chain with similar names or trademarks. But here's the scary thing that I learned from the story: A chain could still sneak in, as a Houston's did in 1999 by "tweaking its menu and changing its name in town to the Palm Beach Grill."
It's tough to be a Palm Beach resident.
(Photo courtesy of the Breakers Resort)
I'm always glad to hear from you about what you'd like to discuss on this blog. Of course, sometimes the discussion takes an unexpected direction. (See Spaghetti and Meatballs in Baltimore.) Anyway, Evan sent me this suggestion in an e-mail:
One of my occasional hobbies is finding good-quality lunches in Baltimore under $10 (including a drink)(NOT buffets). I always look for delicious, simple, flavorful, uncomplicated cooking.
My top recommendations to date are:
2 tacos at the Tortilleria on Eastern Avenue in Fools Point; the beef brisket sandwich w/ 2 sides at Andy Nelson's in Cockeysville; the gyro at Samos in Greektown; 1/4 chicken and 2 sides at Chicken Ricos in Highlandtown; and "beef and turkey combo medium rare on a roll" w/ bbq sauce and horseradish at Chap's Pit Beef on Pulaski Highway. I am still mourning the loss of Caribbean Kitchen on N Calvert Street and its grilled lake trout and shrimp on coco bread sandwich, which I always smothered in the two houses hot sauces. *sigh*
I'd be very curious to find out what your favorites and your readers favorites are.
I'm no help because my favorite lunches are
a) the chicken salad platter with tomato aspic and homemade roll at the Woman's Industrial Exchange. (No longer available. And the 90-year-old waitress who used to serve it has gone to the great tearoom in the sky.)
b) the farmer's salad at Urth Caffe: spinach, artichoke hearts with their stems, fennel, radishes, red onion, and a few not-too-sweet candied pecans with lemon vinaigrette. (I'd love to meet this farmer.) Served with walnut-raisin whole wheat bread. The bad news: Urth is in LA and I'm not.
So in spite of jmgiordano's very flattering impression that I "dine gourmet at lunch," I usually suck it up and make do with the Sun cafeteria. There's not a lot around here if you're pressed for time (although I've heard good things about Hannita's, the Mexican place a few doors down that replaced Caribbean Kitchen, Evan; but you may have to ask them to dial up the heat a notch).
(Lloyd Fox/Sun photographer)
In honor of its 20th anniversary, Austin Grill is offering fajita dinners for two for $20 every Monday night at its area locations, including Canton.
The special includes a 10-ounce portion of steak, chicken, carnitas, grilled vegetables, portabella mushrooms or any combination thereof. Shrimp or any combination containing shrimp is $5 more.
It's a good deal if you can avoid ordering another margarita under Alice's Law of Compensatory Cash Flow.
(Karl Merton Ferron/Sun photographer)
Remember how one of the Robs said, "Large. Elizabeth Large" when I explained I needed a good camera phone to take surreptitious photos of food? I forgot to tell you the rest of the Royal Farms sushi story. When I first discovered it, I didn't have my camera with me so I thought I would try to take a photo with my not-so-good camera phone. But I was nervous because I was practically the only person in the store, and the two clerks were watching me curiously. I snapped it while I was pretending to make a call and scooted out of there.
When I got in the car I took a quick look and saw it was a pretty terrible photo, so I forgot about it and planned to bring my camera in the next day. But next day there was just a blank space on the shelf where the sushi had been.
Not to worry, I said to myself. I still had proof. I had my camera phone photo.
Here's why I didn't post it when I uploaded it:
The wait for Junior’s Wine Bar to open in Federal Hill has been a long one. This is the restaurant located where Vespa once was, and at first glance there are many similarities. For one thing, Junior’s co-owner and executive chef, Mike Russell, is the chef who opened Vespa. Like its predecessor, Junior’s offers moderately priced bistro fare and an affordable wine list.
But the renovations that took so long have also made it a very different place. The back has been opened up so this is a much larger restaurant.
The focus has broadened, too. No longer is the emphasis completely on Italian food and wine, which gives Russell more latitude to show his range.
To see what I thought of our meal there, please look for my review in next Sunday’s Arts & Life Today section.
(Elizabeth Malby/Sun photographer)
Chowsearch pointed me to a lively discussion on the Chowhound.com board about this statement, from a review in tomorrow's Washington Post. (Stefano Frigerio is the chef who opened Cinghiale in Harbor East.)
Stefano Frigerio had said arrivederci last spring to the four-star Maestro in Tysons Corner to pursue the dream of his own kitchen in Baltimore. But he says he discovered that the people who hired him to cook Italian there wanted "spaghetti and meatballs" rather than the haute cuisine he had learned to make during nine years as sous-chef under Fabio Trabocchi (Maestro's masterful chef, now at Fiamma in New York).
Six months into the gig in Charm City, Frigerio resigned.
Your restaurant critic, always on the lookout for food news for you, is hard at work once again, even though it's the weekend.
The other day when I was buying gas at a Royal Farms store, I discovered that it sold sushi for $3.99. This was so unbelievable that I decided to go back yesterday morning with my camera to take a photo of it as proof.
Of course, when I went back the space where the sushi should have been was empty. ...
It was empty again when I went back today, so I asked the woman behind the counter if they still sold sushi. She disappeared into the back of the store and came back with a cardboard box full of sushi packages.
I felt like I had to buy one at that point.
So now I have sushi from Royal Farms in my refrigerator, and I don't know what to do with it. I know I should try it, but I can't make myself even open the package. The only ingredient on the very long list that popped out at me was "imitation crab."
Maybe my husband will try it for me.
(Photo by me)
My daughter, Gailor, is in New Orleans this weekend for the NBA All-Star Game, and I'm hoping she'll eat somewhere wonderful and send me a photo and a description to post. (The photo to the left is a file photo of Brennan's.)
Her most important mission, though, is to decide if this will be a stop on our road trip the first week in April. She's leaning toward the northern route (hiking in Boulder, Colo. and Salt Lake City) while I'm leaning toward the southern. (One word: southern. Early April can be nasty even in Baltimore.) Perhaps bananas Foster at Brennan's will persuade her to return.
I haven't been to New Orleans since I was 10; and, yes, I had dinner at Antoine's and breakfast at Brennan's then.
(Photo by Mario Villafuerte/Bloomberg News)
This one is from Bolla Wines of Italy, which calls itself "the Official Wine of Pizza." (Is that good?) The competition is its Taste of Your Town Pizza Battle. The recipes, according to the rules, must use locally produced products or represent something unique to Maryland.
The prizes are pretty good: The winner attends the 2009 World Pizza Championships in Europe and visits Bolla's winery in Verona, Italy. ...
The catch, if you can call it that, is that you have to suggest a wine to pair your crab imperial pizza (or whatever) with. And, surprise, it has to be a Bolla wine. For more details on the contest, go to the company's Web site.
(Photo courtesy of Bolla Wines)
I just got this e-mail from a reader, and I thought it might be time to answer some of these questions again so we can suck even more people into wasting even more hours posting on the blog:
The votes are in, the results have been tallied, the chads have been hung, and it looks like next Tuesday's Top Ten will be Top Ten BYOB Restaurants. Suggestions welcome.
Not to worry if it wasn't your favorite. There are a lot of Tuesdays before us. The rest of the Top Ten topics will show up almost certainly in the next couple of months.
And while I understand Joel's concern about bagels and delis, those are exactly the kinds of topics that generate the most interest. People who never read this blog (yes, there are some out there, unfortunately) will click on a promo on the BaltimoreSun.com home page that says "bagels" but not on one that says "BYOB Restaurants." And then they can be suitably outraged...
...when a) I've asked the advice of some other foodie around here so it isn't a "real article" or b) I haven't picked their favorite bagel shop. Not only outrage will be expressed, but disgust. And those comments can be pretty entertaining.
I wonder if the enthusiasm for BYOB restaurants says anything about the economy right now. We can also discuss whether customers tip more because the server brings glasses, opens the bottle, and serves the wine -- or not because they had to go to the liquor store and buy the bottle.
(Glenn Fawcett/Sun photographer)
I better get this post up quickly because we already have Fairfax's link to her blog about her dinner out and Janet's description of hers cooked at home, both under yesterday's post. Sort of opposite ends of the spectrum, but both entertaining.
I hope you'll add a post about your celebration: where you went (or what you cooked), a description of the food, if you made the right choice, and whether you'd do it again next year.
(Nanine Hartzenbusch/Sun photographer)
I wasn't even going to post anything on Valentine's Day food on The Day because I felt like we've pretty much done the topic to death already, but then I noticed Baltimour Maryann's entry on randy recipes. First of all, great name for a post. But that got me to thinking: To me, Valentine's Day is a Hallmark day and has very little to do with sex. It's a sweet day, a G-rated or at the very most PG-rated day.
But when I got to the Epicurious.com page she linked to, I was shocked to see the photo was of three chocolate souffles, not two, which gave it a suggestive menage a trois quality. (I cropped it for us because this is a family blog.) ...
Then I started making up meals in my head for a G-rated and an X-rated Valentine's Day dinner.
It's funny how sensual things can be that you never thought of before. Shrimp don't seem particularly sexy to me, but the Epicurious site has a recipe for -- I'm saying it in my best husky voice -- Pan-Roasted Sizzling Shrimp.
Anyway, here are mine:
G-rated: boneless chicken breasts with a white wine and cream sauce a la Julia Child, rice, asparagus with a delicate hollandaise; strawberries and creme anglaise for dessert.
X-rated: oysters on the half shell to start, a black-and-blue porterhouse, death-by-chocolate cake.
You get the idea.
(Photo courtesy of Epicurious.com)
I just had a conversation with Paul Seidman, spokesman for the parent company of the Hops chain. The company declared bankruptcy, and part of the deal was that "underperforming" restaurants would be sold or shuttered. The Owings Mills Hops closed on the 10th. The Don Pablo's nearby, on the other hand, is part of the same company and does quite well. It's staying open.
Then the conversation veered off into why, as Seidman put it, "there had been some sales erosion for some time."
Seidman's take is that the "segment of steak restaurants is very overcrowded," and the sameness of menus means it's harder to build brand loyalty.
I'm not surprised to hear someone thinks the steak segment is overcrowded; I'm surprised that it's a problem. I thought Americans' capacity for steak was infinite. ...
The most interesting part of the conversation was Seidman's feeling about what another reason for Hops' "underperformance" says about the industry as a whole. He believes the restaurant goer's most precious commodity is time, and we have less and less of it to spend on eating out.
"This will impact all areas of dining -- even white tablecloth dining," he said.
I hadn't thought about it before, but maybe we really are less willing to spend an evening over a good meal, even a special occasion one. I know I'm less willing to spend the time cooking a meal than I used to be, but I hadn't thought about the eating part.
(Photo of a Brewmaster steak courtesy of the Hops Web site)
The time has come, boys and girls, to decide on next Tuesday's Top Ten. Here are some possibilities I've collected, and I'd be happy -- or at least willing -- to do any of them. But none of them grabs me more than any other. Some of you have suggested others that I didn't make note of at the time because they were so good that of course -- ha ha -- I wouldn't forget them. If so, please suggest again. Or come up with a new one.
The one thing I want to guard against is continually deciding on categories that use the same restaurants, so keep that in mind.
Here are the ones I have on my list: ...
* deals on wine in restaurants
* locations with former versions
* places to pig out
* BYOB restaurants
* in strip malls (one advantage of this one is we'd get a little more geographical diversity)
* places to eat at the bar
* sushi bars
(Lloyd Fox/Sun photographer)
I learned a new word yesterday from the PR person at Morton's The Steakhouse.
This is someone, as you've probably guessed, who was born on Feb. 29. If this is something everyone else knows, please don't embarrass me by telling me so.
Morton's is having a promotion where if you're a leapling and make your reservation in advance, the restaurants in Baltimore and Annapolis will feed you ...
I wondered if Morton's is planning on giving away one free dinner here or 20, so I asked the PR person. She said some online group gave her the names of more than 70 people in Maryland who claim to have a Feb. 29 birthday.
Don't think you can get away with anything, by the way. You have to have a valid government ID showing your leapling status, and you have to say when you make the reservation that it's for the Leap Year Birthday Dinner.
On the off chance that any leaplings are reading this and are planning to take Morton's up on its offer, please report back on March 1.
(Photo courtesy of Morton's)
Then I tasted the jellyfish. As luck would have it, the jellies turned out to be excellent. Sweet and crunchy with the texture of wood ear fungus. This particular jellyfish wasn’t sliced into strips like it’s typically presented for dim sum. It was more like an alien blossom, freakish yet lovely.
Anyone notice whether the new Asian Court in Ellicott City has jellyfish on its dim sum menu?
Also I like the idea of something positive coming from global warming (i.e. more freakish and lovely things to eat). Although right now the most positive thing to me about about global warming is, well, the warming part.
Multimedia editor extraordinaire Sarah has just accused me of mentioning global warming to get more hits. I don't think that will work. Now if I'd referenced Hannah Montana, as Critical Mass did yesterday...
(Photo courtesy of ucsd.edu)
The architects, Gant Brunnett, sent me these photos of the renovations of La Scala, a traditional, well-liked restaurant in Little Italy.
The mind-blowing feature (when you consider that this is a restaurant) is the newly constructed, full-size, indoor boccie ball court, with balcony views from the dining room. Less astounding is the "wine tasting cellar."
I don't know if any of you ate there while the renovations were going on, but apparently the only time La Scala was closed was when the kitchen itself was being redone.
Ah, Baltimore. I must have gathered a lot of bad karma by gloating about sunny weather, highs in the 80s, for four days to return to this. But going five miles an hour bumper to bumper driving home from the airport last night did give me a lot of time to think: ...
* How embarrassing is it to be told by TSA they have to search your carryon because it looks from the X-ray like you have a revolver in it, and then when they do it's half full of La Brea sourdough bread. No revolver.
* Why didn't I plan something for dinner before I left for LA?
* I must post a rack of lamb recipe for Kim Moore before Valentine's Day.
* Do other people ever use the paper wrapper from their disposable chopsticks to make accordion-pleated chopstick holders in Asian restaurants? Is doing that considered declasse?
* I hope readers saw the explanation from Lebanese Taverna about the $10 Valentine's Day special.
* I hope readers noticed Linda's recommendation of Restaurant.com.
* Find out what's happening with Hops in Owings Mills. (A reader e-mailed me asking if it was closed for good.)
* Remember to ask for no lemon with my water next time I eat out. Thanks to Dahlink for this link. I think.
* What shall I take for breakfast on my flight to LA at the end of March, which leaves at 6:41 a.m.? I'm leaning towards a croissant, butter and jam.
* I must not be an aggressive driver just so I can make it home in time to vote even if I have never missed an election. Is making a U-turn over the median strip and going back to Airport Road and then over to I-95 considered aggressive driving?
* How weird is it that after Greenspring Racquet Club's major renovations, it now sells bottles of wine to be drunk only on the premises. It doesn't have a bar but sells them from a rack near the tennis skirts.
* It's good to be home. Just not good to be home with freezing rain.
(Photo of chopstick holder, needless to say, by me)
One of you raised the question of what you would have for a last meal, and it involved summer foods. I meant to take note of who it was (please take a bow), but the comments have been coming so thick and fast lately I can't find it now.
I touched on this when my family was having the last meal on death row discussion around the holidays, but this is the kinder, gentler version. ...
Right now my last meal would also be made up of all the great summer foods -- crab, corn, tomatoes, peaches -- except if we have an extended period of cold again, a juicy rib eye steak is going to have to be part of it. Or duck with an elegant little sauce, or a fabulous curry.
Or maybe a Mozza homemade fennel sausage, red onion and cream pizza. Followed by an avocado and a mango.
But sometimes I think it would be foods I can no longer find. I don't mean foods that aren't made anymore, but things like the small chicken breasts my mother used to be able to buy at the grocery store. Nowadays chicken breasts are so big I'm afraid they'll eat me first. But maybe that's cheating; I'm not sure when you play this game whether it has to be foods you can actually get your hands on in 2008.
This visit to LA was something of a farewell tour for me. At the end of March I'll be flying back on a one-way ticket, and my daughter and I will be driving back East with all her worldly possessions. (She's moving back to Baltimore temporarily.) I'm trying not to get too sad about it.
One thing that helps is the jump in airfares. The last round-trip ticket I bought (this weekend's trip was on frequent flier miles) cost $239 all inclusive. The flight I booked for March was $336 one way. If she stayed in LA, I couldn't afford to visit her anyway.
So I tried to fit in all my favorite restaurants while I was here. (There aren't enough lunches and dinners in one long weekend unfortunately.) What I'll miss most aren't the Lucques and Orsos, but the wonderful ethnic places on every corner. I took a photo of this one in Silver Lake in a little strip shopping center. I regret I never got around to trying it. It's called Pho, and it's so popular it doesn't even bother putting up a sign anywhere. ...
Even so, it's always been too busy to get in. That's OK. Even though I'm incredibly hip, I'm not hip enough to eat at Pho. Just look at the customers.
Anyway, more about the Road Trip later. Of course, you'll be coming with us.
Northern route or southern route? It may be decided on which has the most In-N-Out Burgers along the way.
(Photo by me)
The title of this blog entry is a little misleading, but what I wanted to call it would have been too long. Think of this list as the top 10 restaurants where I would try to get reservations for Valentine's Day if I had waited until today to make reservations. I would just go down the list.
None of them is the classic Valentine's Day restaurant (those have probably been booked for weeks), but each of them will provide a fairly romantic setting and decent food. I know that personally, except for the last one -- which I still think is worth a try if you've gone through the rest of the list and all of them are booked.
I tried to give my reasons for thinking there might still be a table for you and your significant other. I can't promise anything, obviously. But if you try and any of these is booked, I hope you'll post below. And I'll post an entry on Friday encouraging mini-reviews of the restaurants people did go to on Valentine's Day. Maybe it'll be helpful for next year, if that's not looking too far ahead.
Also, if none of these appeals, you can go to Open Table and plug in the date to see what restaurants still have openings. As of yesterday there were 31 in Baltimore city.
Here's my list: ...
1) Junior's Wine Bar (1117 S. Charles St., 410-727-1212) in Federal Hill. When I ate there last week it wasn't booked for V Day yet, I'm assuming because it's so new. But the front dining room is very romantic and our meal was good, although the place can get noisy. Maybe not so much when everyone is billing and cooing...
2) Tabrizi's in Harborview. People forget about this upscale Mediterranean restaurant on the water because of its out-of-the-way location. The four-course meal with wine costs $75, and dinner includes your choice of veal, rockfish or quail for an entree.
3) Pierpoint in Fells Point. This restaurant now has owner Nancy Longo's full attention since the Green Spring Station venture closed. It's always had plenty of style. Now that she's back the food should be as good as it used to be.
4) Sascha's 527 in Mount Vernon. I ran into owner Sascha at the gym last week, and she told me this good-looking restaurant with the interesting food wasn't booked yet.
5) Martick's Restaurant Francais (214 W. Mulberry St., 410-752-5155) behind the Enoch Pratt. This can be a truly entertaining place to eat with decent French-inspired food, but your date has to like quirky experiences. People forget about Martick's because of its location and because it's been around so long.
6) Orchard Market & Cafe in Towson. Persian food may not be the first cuisine that comes to mind as the food of love, but this out-of-the-way restaurant has lots of charm and good food. Many put it in the hidden treasures category.
7) Donna's in Charles Village. For whatever foolish reason, last year my husband and I decided to go out for dinner last minute on Valentine's Day. This is where we went. This Donna's is often underused because of the parking situation (or rather lack-of-parking situation). Disclaimer: I've known owner Donna Crivello since she worked at The Sun.
8) Suzie's Soba (1009 W. 36th St., 410-243-0051) in Hampden. This has more style and less hon-ness so it's a little more romantic than many of Hampden's eating places. A restaurant that has lips in neon as its logo seems right for Valentine's Day. The food is Japanese and Korean fusion.
9) Rumor Mill in Ellicott City. The executive chef, Tim Daugherty, and his sous chef, Brandon Pekar, are having a three-course Valentine's Day cook off. The mind boggles. But at least it will be different.
10) Tark's Grill in Green Spring Station. This is a shot in the dark, but if you're desperate, I would give this new place, which bills itself as upscale casual with American cuisine, a try. I know a lot of money was spent on renovations there in the space where Longo's was. Tark's opened yesterday, so how booked could it be?
(Elizabeth Malby/Sun photographer)
My daughter made a reservation for us a month ago, so we were able to get a table for two at 6:15 p.m. on a Sunday night at Pizzeria Mozza (but not for three so my younger brother could come; they were booked by then). I took this photo of the neighboring table's pizza because by the time I remembered my camera we had gobbled our pizzas up.
It's not a pretty food photo, but it does give you an idea of the sheer wanton goodness of a Mozza pizza.
I didn't realize the flash was on before I took it, so our neighbors weren't happy with me, so I didn't ask them what kind of pizza it was. But it must be the bacon, salami, housemade fennel sausage, pancetta, tomato and fresh mozzarella for $18.
I noticed on my paper place mat of pizza facts that 62 percent of Americans prefer meat toppings. Well, this pizza ought to satisfy them.
I thought my pizza-loving fellow Baltimoreans would be interested in other pizza facts, so I asked our waiter for a place mat to take home. I have no idea how true these are, of course, but a Mozza place mat seems to me as good a place as any to learn about pizza: ...
* America's favorite pizza topping, pepperoni, appears on 36 percent of all orders (but not at Mozza, which doesn't offer it). Americans consume 251,770,000 pounds of pepperoni a year.
* The guy making your pizza is a pizzaiolo, as in "Eh, pizzaiolo, come va?"
* The frozen pizza was invented in the United States in 1957.
* In the first pizzeria ever opened, pizza was cooked in an oven lined with lava from Mount Vesuvius.
* Sadly, in the United States anchovies always rank last among pizza toppings.
* Each man, woman and child in the U.S. eats 43 slices of pizza a year. That's 23 pounds each. I feel like I've done that at Mozza alone.
* Those between the ages of 3 and 11 prefer pizza over all other foods for lunch and dinner.
* Popular international toppings: coconut (Costa Rica), green peas (Brazil), bacon, onion and fresh cream (France), red herring (Russia), pickled ginger, mutton and paneer (India), squid and eel (Japan), shrimp and pineapple (Australia).
* Women are two times as likely as men to order vegetable toppings on their pizzas. Well, duh.
After our recent burger-o-rama, I want to give a little love to vegetarian readers of this blog and those who aren't into meat in a big way.
I've been a little hesitant about doing a Top Ten Best Vegetarian Restaurants because I'm not sure we have ten of them in this area, best or not. I did do a Top Ten Places to Eat Healthier earlier, which included my favorite vegetarian restaurants.
But if you frequent vegetarian places you might be interested in this contest:
The idea is to nominate your favorite dish from a vegetarian restaurant in the Vegetarian Times' "Dining Out Delights Poll" before Feb. 26. There will be regional finalists, and then you can vote on the Web site for the best. The winning recipes will appear in the in the June 2008 issue of Vegetarian Times magazine. (Participating in the poll gets you a chance to win a $50 gift certificate at the vegetarian restaurant of your choice).
(Bob Fila/Chicago Tribune/MCT)
My new deskmate Scott Calvert just got back after three years in South Africa. The other day he asked me what's happened on the restaurant scene in that time, and I found I was a bit stumped.
Partly it was just that I was overwhelmed. So much has happened downtown. It feels like a new restaurant opens up every minute. ...
But then I realized as a guy in his early 30s he probably wasn't all that interested in the big-ticket restaurants except for a special occasion. For instance, he had had lunch at Miss Shirley's (pictured) and wanted to know more about it. It would make sense, for instance, to tell him that Minato Sushi Bar had moved out of the basement and gotten a hip new decor and Web site.
He also wanted to know what had closed, and I had to say not much. Which led to a discussion about why so many new restaurants have opened in the last three years. My first thought was the usual "people are eating out more these days," but he wasn't buying it.
As much as I think about restaurants, and as much as I think I know about restaurants, when I was given a specific time period of three years I found I needed to go back to our archives to see exactly what happened while he was gone. Which, of course, I haven't done yet. Feel free to take your best shot at a) telling him what's happened that you think is important and b) why. I realize these are two big topics, but we'll keep talking about them.
(John Makely/Sun photographer)
In honor of Robert the Single One's birthday (not sure if it's today or the 13th; we've gotten conflicting information), I feel we ought to have virtual cake. If I were in Baltimore, it would be from a Maryland bakery, but because I'm in LA until Tuesday where it's in the 80s and very sunny, it's going to have to be Rosebud Cakes in Beverly Hills.
I wish the photos were better, but I had to take them through the window because I was afraid they would shoo me away.
You can't believe how amazing these cakes are. They are huge, for one thing. The one to the left is the size of a large wedding cake.
Each design is more impressive than the last. I'm trying to persuade my daughter to pretend to be a bride-to-be shopping for a wedding cake and I can be the Beverly Hills mother, so we can sample the different flavors. Unfortunately I don't have enough diamonds with me to pull it off.
If you go to the Web site, you'll see that the minimum cost is $300. And that probably buys one layer.
The place is fascinating. For instance, at the Web site you'll get the story of Rosebud's doing the cakes for the David Hockney retrospective at LACMA in 1988.
"Not only did they recreate the Mulholland Dr. painting in cake for 400 people, they also reproduced 25 paintings in the show as individual servings at the artist's luncheon with museum patrons."
Todd Conner’s is one of the new breed of Fells Point bar-restaurants that are stylish, neighborhood oriented and family friendly -- although so far the dining room isn’t doing as brisk a business as the owners would like, according to the bartender and partner, Michael “Reds” Cassidy.
It’s a tough time of year to open a restaurant; but if the food is good, the customers will eventually find you. Specials at Todd Conner's like Wednesday Neighborhood Night -- where if you can prove you live in the neighborhood you get 25 percent off your check -- will help.
So is the food good? To find out how our visit went, look for my review in next Sunday’s Arts & Life Today section.
(Monica Lopossay/Sun photographer)
Not one but three press kits from the new Ra Sushi Restaurant in Harbor East landed on my desk recently, each containing a set of disposable chopsticks in their red paper wrapper. It seemed extravagant somehow, although I couldn't say exactly why. After all, the press kit itself with all its paper probably used up more tree than the chopsticks.
Should I take them home? Why? I have nondisposable chopsticks at home. If we get Chinese carryout more chopsticks come with it. (Although at the No. 1 Chinese Kitchen, where we had carryout from last, you take your chopsticks from the counter if you want them, along with mustard, soy and duck sauce packets. I'm not sure what other places do these days.)
Anyway, shortly after brooding over this, Dancing Monkey sent me a link...
to a post at Slashfood on this very subject. It in turn was about a story that appeared in the Wall Street Journal about Chinese activists protesting the use of disposable chopsticks on environmental grounds. But like many green issues these days, it's complicated. The industry provides jobs for people in the poorer areas of China, and the Wooden Chopsticks Trade Association (yes, there is one) says that disposable chopsticks are made from leftover wood or from trees that aren't endangered.
Now that I think about it, I'm more worried about disposable plastic forks, knives and spoons using up valuable resources. Is anyone protesting them? Wouldn't it make more sense to put disposable chopsticks in with carryout American food instead of plastic forks?
Then I looked around on the net to see what disposable chopsticks cost and, wow, you can get 100 pairs of wrapped chopsticks for $2.50 on the International Products Corp's Web site.
(Photo courtesy of IPC.com)
Owl Meat sent me the surprising news that Lebanese Taverna is having a $10 Valentine's Day lunch special featuring kebabs, house salad, rice and baklava. Somehow that's not a time when you want to seem to be pinching your pennies, and you wouldn't think they would need a special on V Day to bring in customers anyway.
But knowing the Owl, he may have Photoshopped the beautiful newsletter he forwarded to me, so I don't dare call the restaurant to find out more for fear of ridicule.
In his e-mail, he also mentioned a touching story of romance, which brought to mind someone's suggestion (Eric's?) of a Top Ten Places to Get Engaged. Anyway, here's Owl Meat's story: ...
Midnight Sun Sam has come through again with this photo of Lumbini at 322 N. Charles St., open since last Monday, which serves Nepalese, Indian and American food. The phone number is 410-244-5556. Hours are tricky, Sam says:
"I know they're open for lunch and dinner Monday-Saturday. They are also open on Sundays."
Someone posted a comment asking about this place in Brown's Arcade somewhere on the blog. Thanks, whoever you were. I walked up a couple of days ago and it didn't look open yet, so I was surprised. ...
The amazing thing is that Sam took that photo with his phone. (I want an LG.) Here's the one I took with a camera, not half as good:
Even though we did a Top Ten on romantic restaurants earlier, I just don't think we can ignore Valentine's Day and all those frantic people who forgot to make reservations in advance. I'm going to come up with a list, with your help, of places that you might not have considered and that might still have a table available.
I'm not going to promise anything, because even if I call to check Monday night, these restaurants might get booked by the time you read the Top Ten. But at least maybe the list will get you thinking outside the box.
This is a photo of Kings Contrivance in Columbia, by the way. It won't be on the list because I imagine it's booked (you can always try), but I thought the photo was nice and romantic so I decided to use it anyway.
Naturally I'd love to get ideas, but I hope you'll explain why, say, you think the Sip & Bite is romantic if you suggest it.
(Algerina Perna/Sun photographer)
Unlikely as it seems, the chicken sandwich is the fastest-growing food item in American eating places and is appearing on more and more menus. This is according to the NPD Group, a research firm based in Port Washington, N.Y. and Datassential, a market analyst for the food industry.
Americans ate 3.7 billion servings of chicken sandwiches at restaurants in the year ending November 2007, the report said. I'm not sure how servings of chicken sandwiches differ from chicken sandwiches, but whatever. For that matter, I'm not sure why the year ends in November.
But anyway, cheese is appearing on more chicken sandwiches than ever, which seems to defeat the purpose if one of the main reasons for the sandwich's growing popularity is that people want to eat healthier (which is what the report said). ...
We're not just talking cheddar here, but what the press release calls "unique" cheeses: pepperjack, feta and Asiago. According to the press release "restaurants menuing asiago grew by 93 percent between 2005 and 2007."
I can't wait to use "menu" as a verb in my next review.
We haven't done a Top Ten on Chinese restaurants per se yet; the closest we've come were the ones that were open Christmas Day. Feel free to recommend yours. Pan Asian doesn't count.
In honor of its being the Year of the Rat, I'd like to remind you of my early post about a rat and a Chinese restaurant.
Our newest Chinese restaurant in this area seems to be Asian Court in Ellicott City. There's a mini-review by Warthog under the post.
I wonder what the oldest is. Anybody?
Most of the Chinese restaurants around here used to offer prix fixe banquets in honor of the new year, and we would always gather up a group of friends and go. (The more people you had the more courses you got.) I haven't seen any ads for New Year's banquets lately. But I know any restaurant would put together one if you requested it. Have any of you found ones you would recommend?
I'd like to start the discussion off by posting part of an e-mail from Bill Me: ...
Years ago (around 1996) there was a restaurant called Uncle Y Y's. It had taken over the old Buell's Restaurant located in Ellicott City. ... I remember them telling me that they were a sister restaurant to another that was located in either Baltimore or D.C. (I do not believe they shared the same name.)
I am very interested because I hated Szechwan food until I went to Uncle Y Y's. I moved out of state for ten years and when I came back, they were gone. I have fruitlessly tried web research to find anything about Uncle Y Y's and her sister restaurant, but I just keep spinning my wheels.
Can you help me out? Are you familiar with Uncle Y Y's and do you know where the sister restaurant is located?
I vaguely remember Uncle Y.Y.'s Szechuan but don't have a clue as to how to find the sister restaurant if it doesn't have the same name. Anyone who can help Bill Me out, please post below.
Here's all The Sun's archives had to say about Uncle Y.Y.'s. (Thanks To Copy Editor Extraordinaire Helen for helping me track this down. By the way, she actually ate there.) It was published in 1993:
"Instead of crab cakes and hot pork sandwiches, diners nibbled fried rice and soft noodles yesterday at a new Chinese restaurant in Ellicott City, on the former site of Buell's, once one of Howard County's oldest taverns.Uncle Y.Y.'s Szechuan Restaurant opened its doors yesterday in the building that once housed Buell's, a 53-year-old restaurant that was known for its home-style food and as a gathering place for service clubs.
Amazingly, Douglas Paige, the spokesman for the Board of Liquor License Commissioners for Baltimore City, is still taking my calls. (See previous post.) Just to make sure you didn't miss his comment under the post yesterday, it is illegal to bring your own bottle of wine to drink into an establishment that sells liquor.
when I talked to him yesterday, I asked him whether it's OK for BYOB restaurants to charge a corkage fee. He said yes, but if it's a place that's going to keep the unfinished bottle of wine for your next visit (not very likely with this crew), the restaurant has to register as a bottle club. Again, he's speaking for Baltimore City.
As for liquor in the CVS...
...Mr. Paige said that no CVS stores in the city have a license to sell alcohol, the drinking kind. Rite-Aid, interestingly, is allowed to because it was grandfathered in (from when it was Read's).
I asked him the Eddie's question, and he said that the prohibition was aimed at national chains, and that Eddie's wouldn't even really be considered a chain. I guess Sutton Place Gourmet would fall into the non-national-chain category too.
In Baltimore, package goods stores can only get class A six-day licenses so they can't sell alcohol on Sundays -- except for the Sundays between Thanksgiving and New Year's. Blame the legislature for that. Establishments that serve liquor on the premises can get a BD seven-day license and sell it to go on Sunday as well.
That's all I know about liquor laws in Baltimore City.
Photo courtesy of Chris Goodney/Bloomberg News)
I can't believe I'm putting this on my beautiful blog. First a photo of Cheeseburger in a Can and now this. Thanks, Owl Meat. What I want to know is whether this is something you had in your freezer?
For those of you who don't know what we're talking about, it's the answer to the Mystery Food quiz. Please see previous post.
Some of you may have already heard about the Cheeseburger in a Can, a concept so awful I wasn't even going to post it on my blog. Especially when fellow blogger Jay Hancock encroached on my territory. (Regina, please go after him next.)
Then I got an e-mail from some flak trying to interest me in a frozen cheese-and-bacon burger. (Funny, when she asked if I would like a sample and I said, "Sure, as long as you don't mind my poking a little fun at it," I never heard from her again.)
What is the world coming to? Isn't fast food fast enough? Anyway, I was going to let this die a natural death until...
...I read this review on Gizmodo.com. It was too good to pass up.
So you want to buy one anyway? Don't say I didn't warn you. Here's the link.
A couple of discussions about alcohol have been going on under other posts. Under one on Restaurant Week, Dahlink introduced the question of corkage fees. A server said that the restaurant owners he worked for had been telling customers it's now illegal to bring your own bottle of wine if the place has a liquor license.
Under another post, someone asked why supermarkets in Baltimore can't sell beer or wine, and wondered if it had something to do with only being allowed one license. ...
Of course, like all good discussions, it's always fun when nobody actually knows anything for sure. But eventually I thought I should call the Board of Liquor License Commissioners for Baltimore City and see what I could find out. I talked to the board's spokesman, Douglas Paige, yesterday.
He told me that it's perfectly OK to bring a bottle of wine into a restaurant that has a liquor license, at least in the city. I guess the owners the server was referring to just don't like the competition. (Since each county has its own jurisdiction, I suppose that could vary elsewhere; but he didn't know of any counties where it's illegal, and that's about as much time as I'm willing to spend on researching the subject.)
(Later note: Please see Liquor Board correction below.)
As for selling beer and wine, Mr. Paige said there's a state law prohibiting sales in supermarkets, chain stores or discount stores. He thinks the places on the Eastern Shore that posters mentioned must have been grandfathered in.
I didn't ask him the BYOB-corkage fee question that came up later. If I get the time today, I'll call him back.
(Photo courtesy of Fred Dufour/AFP/Getty Images)
Amy K. posted this under Next Week's Top Ten, so you may have missed it:
Will be interested in seeing the list of restaurants that closed in 2007. Two that come to mind: Nichi Bei Kai in Towson and Wolford's European Bakery in Towson.
I was glad that someone brought up the subject of more recent closings, although I love the memories your posts brought up about restaurants I haven't thought of in years. People did mention a few not-so-ancient ones: Soigne, Ruby Lounge, Wild Mushroom, Saffron under Edward Kim. I would add Vespa in Federal Hill. Any others? Maybe not that closed in 2007, although if you can come up with 10 that did, more power to you. Gardel's is the only one that comes immediately to mind, but if necessary I have the luxury of going back and looking through The Sun's archives.
(Nanine Hartzenbusch/Sun photographer)
My nephew and 3 buddies (all from Louisiana) are shipping out to Afghanistan next Monday, Feb. 11. I am trying to find an affordable restaurant near BWI to take a party of 11. Two of the soldiers are married with kids and can't afford much. They don't want to go far from the airport (I guess they are afraid that a car could break down and they miss their flight).
I have done searches and the only thing close was Cancun Cantina. Somehow I don't think that is the best idea...
I'm always stuck when people ask me about restaurants around the airport, which they do frequently. Maybe I should open Chez Elizabeth there. (That was a joke.) I recommended Little Spice, a Thai restaurant that got a great write up from LIVE reviewer Karen Nitkin; but I'm sure she'd love to hear some other suggestions. Note the "affordable" part.
(Doug Kapustin/Sun photographer)
Whoever commented that I would have many more restaurants than 10 that could legitimately be part of this list was right on. I tried to pick some that weren't immediately obvious, and yet that I miss as much as a Marconi's or Haussner's.
If you didn't see my earlier post Next Tuesday's Top Ten, please take a look. When I last counted, there were 83 comments under it, and I can't believe there are any restaurants you miss that aren't there somewhere. But if so, please post below.
Here's my list, and the reasons I miss them: ...
* Chester River Inn on Kent Island. Local culinary giant Mark Henry owned his own restaurant for awhile on the Eastern Shore between his successes at the Milton Inn and the Oregon Grille. You could get his wonderful food at very reasonable prices there.
* Danny's on North Charles Street below the train station. For years, this was considered Baltimore's most elegant restaurant. It had French food, tableside cooking of dishes like steak Diane, and yet just a touch of Hon in its waitresses. It was the first restaurant I reviewed for The Sun.
* Gabler's on the river in Aberdeen. Open from mid-April until September, Gabler's was basically one big screened-in porch with a kitchen attached. A great setting to eat steamed crabs.
* Hampton's in Harbor Court. I could never afford to eat here when The Sun wasn't paying, but it was nice to have one restaurant in town where the service was always four star.
* Jeannier's in Homewood. It was good, traditional French food, which you could get at other area restaurants, and the dining rooms had no style, but I loved having birthday dinners there and I loved the oeufs a la neige with spun sugar for dessert.
* M. Gettier in Fells Point. Michael Gettier was also at the Conservatory at Peabody Court, a fine restaurant that didn't last long, and a Towson location until he finally ended up where he is now, at Antrim 1844 in Taneytown; but I loved this restaurant for its cozy French dining room as well as his good cooking.
* Louie's the Bookstore and Cafe in Mount Vernon. I miss that Chestertown chicken. Why didn't I get that recipe?
* Metropolitan in Annapolis. This is the newest restaurant on this list. I enjoyed its rooftop dining, cutting-edge style, and artistry in the kitchen. I just learned it closed recently and has been replaced by Jerry's Seafood, so it's like the recent death of a friend.
* Pinebrook in Hampden. This was true hole-in-the-wall Chinese -- dingy, lots of linoleum and an iron gate when it was closed -- but it had the best dumplings in the world made by the owner. When he got too old to make them anymore, the place closed. My daughter always called it The Cheapest Chinese Restaurant in the World, and it was.
* Woman's Industrial Exchange downtown. I only survived 18 months on a political corruption grand jury because we could walk here for lunch and eat chicken salad, tomato aspic, homemade rolls and ice cream with homemade chocolate sauce.
(Photo of M.Gettier by Kim Hairston/Sun photographer, 1993)
Under Next Week's Top Ten Dottie posted the following comment, and now I'm lying awake nights trying to remember the name of the restaurant:
Last but certainly not least, whatever the cellar restaurant on the southwest corner off Maryland & 22nd was called...Wood-something? I think it's Korean now. Our family went SO many times after church for Sunday dinner.
Hal Laurent, I can't believe you haven't stepped up. Please, somebody weigh in. It's driving me crazy.
I get a lot of flak about the fact that my reviews often have black-and-white photos with them now that they appear in the Arts & Life Today section. I totally agree that food looks better in color; but, of course, I can't do anything about it. If they let writers have control over such things, my reviews would not only run in color but on the front page. Maybe with a banner headline.
However, I can run the photo in color on this blog, which I'll be happy to do. Here's the Bouillabaisse Thai Style with shrimp, lobster and scallops at the Kings Contrivance in Columbia that appeared in black and white in yesterday's paper.
(Algerina Perna/Sun photographer)
Dahlink said she'd be interested in hearing about Restaurant Week from the server's point of view. I thought that was a good idea, and it deserved a separate entry to post under, so here it is.
And by the way, when I created the link to the site, I noticed that places extending the specials for at least another week are now noted there.
I'm curious about what people did about tipping during Restaurant Week. The issue is whether you should tip on the actual check, or on what it would have been if it weren't Restaurant Week.
Here are some of my thoughts:...
First, how do you decide what the original check might have been? From what I'm reading of your comments, some restaurants don't serve their usual dishes or portions. Some of you don't think you really got a bargain. And yet you may still have had good service. How did you decide what to tip?
Even if you did think your meal was a bargain, some restaurants, like the new Junior's Wine Bar in Federal Hill, only offered their prix fixe menu during Restaurant Week, so you couldn't compare it with the regular menu.
Did you find any restaurants adding service charges to the bill?
For a lot of people who are watching their pennies, this is a chance to try restaurants they couldn't normally afford. But if money is an issue for many Restaurant Week customers, is it realistic to expect them to tip more than 18-20 percent?
In general, did you find you got worse service because restaurants ended up being so crowded, so you tipped less? Or did you end up doing what I thought I would in my story on RW:
More and more restaurants have started adding a hefty serving charge to the bill. From a server's point of view, I can see why. It's the same problem waiters and waitresses face any time a place has special deals. Restaurant Week must result in a lot less in tips for the same amount of work. If you're feeling generous, tip more than you normally would.
On the other hand, I can understand the argument for still tipping based on the amount of the check. In the long run, the server will benefit, just as the restaurant owner does, if a good experience results in the customer's coming back. I would probably end up tipping generously but not as much as on what the check would normally be if it weren't Restaurant Week.
(Jed Kirschbaum/Sun photographer)
I want you to forget about the name Victoria Gastro Pub for a minute. Yes, it's a bit medical-sounding, but just be glad that Columbia has another independent upscale casual restaurant. It's an area that routinely votes Clyde's as most popular restaurant in the Zagat surveys. Nothing against Clyde's, but that does suggest chains are the norm, not the exception in the area.
I won't tell you how our meal went until next Sunday in the Arts & Life Today section, but I will say the menu is as offbeat as the name -- not quite pub food, not quite fine dining.
Too bad Victoria is located in a former Bennigan's. I imagine most people just assume it's another chain they hadn't heard of before.
(Doug Kapustin/Sun photographer)
Last night we had dinner at Ardeo in Washington with my 93-year-old mother-in-law.
Usually she just eats a lettuce leaf or two and calls it a day, so it's not really worth going to a fancy restaurant. (Readers of this blog from the beginning will know our usual haunts are Chadwick's or Clyde's in Friendship Heights. They will remember the infamous veggie burger with bacon incident.)
But last night I just really needed a nice place to be; and Ardeo is our go-to special occasion restaurant, not too far from where she lives.
The great thing about eating with a 93-year-old is that we got there at 5:45 p.m. (Ardeo is so chic it's amazing they would even open the doors for us at that hour.) We owned the place for the hour and a half we were there.
Ardeo, beautiful as it is, is the kind of restaurant that lists "huckleberry extraction" and "watermelon radish" as ingredients in the same dish on the menu. Since my mother-in-law was wearing her running shoes, I thought I better not tease the waiter about it. ...
In spite of its overhyped menu and somewhat uneven food, I like this restaurant. The staff are quite good natured (We aren't the easiest customers to deal with), and it's not as expensive as you might expect. There's even an Ardeo hamburger on the menu. I recommend it, maybe not as a special trip, but if you happen to be in DC.
Ardeo, and its cafe and wine bar next door, Bardeo, are easy to get to, right on Connecticut Avenue in Cleveland Park; and I always find a parking place on one of the side streets.
(Photo courtesy of the Ardeo Web site)
Babalu Grill, Blue Sea Grill, Ruth’s Chris, the Spice Company, Oceanaire Seafood Room, Sotto Sopra, Pazza Luna and Tabrizi's are extending Restaurant Week past Feb. 3 for at least another week, some longer. There are probably others, but I haven't heard about them yet.
If you know of any others, please post below.
(Barbara Haddock Taylor/Sun photographer)
I want to thank everyone for the funny and very nice comments posted under What You Missed such as:
Why do you want me to downgrade to only checking 3 or 4 times a day?
Posted by: Hal Laurent | January 31, 2008 8:58
While I wasn't fishing for compliments (the post was aimed at the people who tell me they mean to check my blog but they forget to), I was more than happy to get them. Thanks again.
Anyway, I had been planning to post my favorite comments of 2008 so far at the end of January, but at the very end (including under that post) there were too many, so I'll just list the ones I had collected before then:
* On Of Cloned Meats and Kittens:
Now, boys and girls, it's time for a guessing game. Bill kindly passed along this link to a craigslist listing for a "busy & profitable Baltimore city restaurant" for sale. I like the way it's described as a "beloved culinary institution" and also opened in 1996. Things get to be institutions quicker these days, I guess.
No, the contact isn't that Cindy Wolf. Charleston opened in late 1997. I called the contact number, and of course they won't tell me anything unless I sign a nondisclosure agreement.
The listing says the restaurant has won numerous awards, but that could mean anything.
My guess is someplace in Little Italy, but it's a total guess.
This is a Top Ten I've been meaning to do, and then one of the Roberts suggested it recently and I promised I'd do it soon. (I'm sorry, I can't remember which one, and I can't remember which entry he posted it under so I can link to it. Please hold up your hand, Robert who suggested it.)
The discussion under Pizza! Pizza! And one diner! about Pappy's finally inspired me to make it next Tuesday.
This will be the Top Ten Restaurants We Miss Terribly. Originally The Sun's architecture critic Ed Gunts came up with the idea. These are places, and they don't have to be fine dining, that have closed and we wish were still with us.
Suggestions are more than welcome, but everyone's list will of necessity be different. Please tell us why you miss your restaurants as well as their names.
I don't think I'll have trouble coming up with 10, but I'm not sure. So many good places have opened in recent years it's hard to feel too grief-stricken about what's not here.
I was standing in the middle of a supermarket the other night knowing that we weren't going to have a real dinner because it was very late, the remnants of the prepared food section didn't look edible, I was too tired to cook something from scratch, and it struck me that most nights for the rest of my life until they start feeding me intravenously I was going to have to come up with something to have for dinner and then fix it. Night after night. Week after week. Year after year.
You get the idea.
I called my husband from the canned fruits and vegetables aisle and explained this to him, taking deep calming breaths.
He said, ...
..."You know it doesn't matter to me. I can just open a can of soup."
Brilliant. However, not helpful. My problem is that I can't just open a can of soup. That's. Not. Dinner.
And, because he knows me too well, he didn't say, "You can just open a can of soup."
I can eat leftovers, or prepared foods, but it has to have a dinner format, along the lines of a meat or meat substitute, vegetables and often a starch, glass of wine. (Wine not optional in winter.) A sandwich? No. That's lunch. A hamburger on a bun? Marginal, I'm not sure why. An entree salad? Only in summer. Of course, good homemade soup with crusty bread qualifies; I'm sorry if that seems irrational to you.
Dinner cannot be eaten standing up.
All this, I know, matters a lot more to me in winter when dinner is often the highlight of the day. It reminds me of my friend Karen who hates winter even more than I do and was complaining one winter that she was getting too fat to fit into her pajamas.
When I first got married I wrote out seven nights' worth of menus every week, stuck it up on the refrigerator door and did the shopping in advance. Now I find myself in the unpleasant position of stopping at a grocery store every night on my way home from work, often without an idea in the world of what I'm going to buy.
Only 10,000 more dinners to go.
(Photo of a real dinner by Kim Hairston/Sun photographer)