This year, Howard Magazine asked a trio of distinguished guests to offer their personal favorites on the Howard County dining scene for 2011. Our guests include Howard Magazine dining columnist Donna Ellis, the Baltimore Sun's food critic Richard Gorelick and the HowChow blogger (who prefers his anonymity and whose picks were assisted by his wife, "Mrs. HowChow.").
So, here's how they see it:
BEST NEW RESTAURANT
Donna Ellis: Drover's Grill and Maryland Wine Company in Mt. Airy. Don't be fooled by the pedestrian exterior. Owner/Chef Kevan Vanek uses local, seasonal ingredients to create classic pub fare and more upscale dishes, too. Outstanding was Kevan's Seafood Pot o' Wellness, featuring luscious fresh seafood in a housemade broth, with the added comfort of al dente linguine. (Another soon-to-be-favorite for ethnic food fanciers is Flavors of India in Columbia.)
Richard Gorelick: Kloby's Smokehouse in North Laurel. This summer's capacity-tripling renovation, which produced a seriously good new bar, made the Klobosits' barbecue haven seem brand new.
HowChow blogger: Dim sum at Red Pearl in Columbia. The weekend rolling carts — along with the "authentic" menus — make the Chinese restaurant on the lake into something special. Classy decor, helpful service, and Los Angeles-quality in dishes like steamed BBQ pork buns, noodles with shrimp and fried sesame balls for dessert.
TRIED AND TRUE
Donna Ellis: The Kings Contrivance in Columbia. For special occasions and special out-of-town guests, we still like The Kings Contrivance in Columbia. Surroundings, in an 18th-century mansion, provide a comforting ambiance. You can rely on the creative kitchen here. Continental accents are delicious, but not overdone. Presentation is attractive; service is usually outstanding.
Richard Gorelick: Tersiguel's French Country Restaurant in Ellicott City. Now largely in the hands of Tersiguel fils, the classic and cozy French restaurant still charms.
HowChow blogger: Sushi Sono in Columbia. This is comfort food in an elegant setting. Every roll is delicious, and you can mix old favorites with new creations — mix flashy like the No. 14 roll with simple like salted edamame or your favorite sashimi. Ask for the complimentary green tea.
DISH THAT EARNS REPEAT VISITS
Donna Ellis: Duck fat fries at Victoria Gastro Pub in Columbia. There are actually three standouts at Victoria: a warm/cool and very filling frisee salad with duck confit, the lobster grilled cheese sandwich, and, if you can imagine, duck fat fries. As long as they're on the menu, we're happy.
Richard Gorelick: Galbi (barbecued meats) at Shin Chon Garden in Ellicott City. Is galbi the general term for Korean barbecue or a specific term for the short ribs that are a specialty of the tabletop barbecue genre? Go argue about it at Shin Chon Garden.
HowChow blogger: Bhel puri appetizer at House of India in Columbia. A bowl of crunchy rice puffs and noodles, turned into a surprisingly flavorful starter with tamarind, cilantro and chutneys. That mix of crunchiness and bright flavors just edged out our runner-up: dolset bi bim bap at Shin Chon Garden in Ellicott City.
PLACE TO SEE PEOPLE AND BE SEEN
Donna Ellis: Clyde's in Columbia, Tersiguel's French Country Restaurant in Ellicott City and Aida Bistro in the Gateway area. This question all depends on where you live and how old you are. In downtown Columbia, it's Clyde's — a decades old watering hole and eatery for the movers and shakers (and wannabes) of "New Town." On Main Street, Ellicott City, Tersiguel's French Country Restaurant is the place to be, especially when owner Fernand is the greeter. If you're in the Gateway area of Columbia/Ellicott City, it's Aida Bistro. The crowd's a bit older, but owners Mary and Joe Barbera (and Joe's mother, Aida) are usually around to welcome you. Sort of a "Cheers" for discerning diners.
Richard Gorelick: Facci in North Laurel. It's pretty simple. Serve a quality product in a pretty room, and people will come. Lots and lots of people. Owner-chef Gino Palma-Esposito and general manager Lisa Passalacqua knew that.
HowChow blogger: The counter at R&R Taqueria on the Elkridge/Jessup line. Go to R&R for the food — spectacular tacos, lamb soup, ceviche, agua frescas, shakes, chile rellenos, etc. But the handful of seats at the glass window means that you'll certainly be seen and can see everyone getting gas at the Shell pumps.