It’s no surprise that Travel Channel star Andrew Zimmern found a lot to love about Howard County’s Korean food scene when he visited in 2012. For a food adventurer, the offerings are plenty, and Blue Sand Seafood is an indication that they’re continuing to grow — in the best way.
Fans of meat-based Korean barbecue will find those dishes on the menu at the recently opened Ellicott City restaurant, but the real charm lies in, as its name suggests, the seafood dishes. Offerings include adventurous options like live sushi, as well as more familiar aquatic fare.
If you’re curious about just how fresh the food is, keep your eyes open as you walk down the narrow hall to the dining room in the back of the restaurant. A midsized fish tank positioned near the kitchen houses swimming fish ready for the eating. During our visit, a sign advertised eel and trout.
We settled into a corner table, which came equipped with a doorbell-style button that diners push to get the wait staff’s attention. The button wasn’t necessary for most of the meal, thanks to quick service from our friendly waitress. Moments after we ordered, she brought us big bottles of South Korea-brewed Hite lager, along with small, frosty glasses and a wide selection of banchan — the small dishes of shareable appetizers that precede Korean meals.
The half-dozen dishes on the table included an intriguing mix of spicy and tart marinated vegetables of every color and shape. Our favorites were a sneakily hot bowl of kimchi and skinny, earthy beans.
A seafood pancake, thick with scallions, squid and octopus, was a hearty first course. Cooked until crispy on the outside and chock-full of tender seafood, it was nicely seasoned and quite satisfying.
Though we skipped the live sushi, we discovered a bowl of spicy seafood stew that was nearly as daring. Bright herbs and enoki mushrooms simmered in broth so hot it was bubbly, alongside tofu, chunks of white fish with a few bones, half a crab still in the shell, tiny whole octopuses, rounds of squid and a shrimp, in its shell with the head intact.
When our waitress offered her assistance with the seafood, we took it; she used tongs and scissors to break open the steaming crab and remove a few shelled items from the bowl for easier access. She also took that opportunity to explain that one of the ingredients — a pale, twisty mass — was fish intestines. Its flavor was mild and its texture slightly chewy. The idea of what we were eating seemed more exotic than its actual taste.
We enjoyed the seafood stew but were most impressed by a whole charbroiled mackerel served with hearty miso soup. The fish was gorgeous, its skin glittering and golden in spots. The firm white flesh was flaky and juicy, the skin was crispy and crackling, and as a whole, it was one of the best-cooked fish we’ve had in recent memory.
Blue Sand does not offer dessert, but we didn’t mind, as we were packing up most of the soup and the pancake for the next day’s lunch anyway.
As we ate, our waitress checked on us occasionally, but mostly left us alone to take our time. Looking around, couples and small groups at other tables were also enjoying their meals without rushing. We liked the relaxed pace.
When we were ready for the check, we simply rang our call button and the waitress appeared right way, another smile on her face and our check in her hand. We left satisfied and charmed — and carrying a pile of leftovers that made a fantastic lunch.