The weather outside was frigid Tuesday night, but inside the Howard County Welcome Center, the atmosphere was hot for the kick-off of Restaurant Weeks.
To be exact, it was on fire.
At one of the stalls lining the walls of the tourism center, Chef Michel Tersiguel, of Tersiguel's French Country Restaurant right up the street in historic Ellicott City, set a pan of shellfish ablaze as the final step in his preparation of Shrimp Madagascar, the sample dish he served up hot to kick-off guests.
Tersiguel's is just one of nearly two dozen restaurants participating in this winter's Howard County Restaurant Weeks, which starts Jan. 19 and runs through Feb. 2. According to the event's website, www.howardcountyrestaurantweek.com, 23 local dining spots from Elkridge to Sykesville have signed on so far.
For two weeks, participating restaurants will offer chef-selected dinner (and sometimes lunch) menus at a discount. Prices range from $15 to $45 for dinner, while lunches generally start at $15 and are sometimes even cheaper, according to the event's website.
Before reading a proclamation launching the event, County Executive Allan Kittleman called Howard County Restaurant Weeks an "opportunity to showcase the wonderful restaurants we have here in Howard County.
"This is an exciting time to be in Howard County," he said.
County Council Chairwoman Mary Kay Sigaty, of west Columbia, said she couldn't wait to make a few reservations during the event -- including one at Petit Louis Bistro on the Lake, where she said she would order cassoulet, a French meat-and-white bean casserole.
"I had one of the most wonderful experiences of my life in Paris on a rainy afternoon eating cassoulet, and so it has a wonderful place in my heart, and I am thrilled that I can get it close to home," she said.
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"As we develop as a community, the restaurants are part of creating a texture of our community that makes it unique," Sigaty added.