Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Cava Grill Comes to Columbia, Maryland!

I’m so happy that one of my favorite restaurants has opened up a new location in Howard County! Cava Grill is a Mediterranean and Greek restaurant chain (essentially the mediterranean version of Chipotle) with locations in Maryland, Virginia, Washington D.C, California, and soon to be New York on August 25th. Cava Grill in Columbia had its grand opening yesterday at 11 am. The restaurant chain does a special deal where from a designated time (11 am - 2 pm) on opening day, the new restaurant location gives out one free meal to customers. Who could refuse a deal like this?

The line extended from Cava to the next store over

When Charles and I arrived at around 12 pm, the place was mobbed. You can see from the picture that the line to get food spanned from Cava to the next store. After waiting for more than 40 minutes in the sweltering heat, we arrived at the counter and ordered our long anticipated free meal.
map with all East Coast locations

Compared to the Cava location we always go to in Tenleytown, Washington D.C, this one is way more spacious; a variety of seating options including booths, tables, and high tops are spread out and organized so that you don’t feel crowded or cramped. In addition, I like the organic vibe to this restaurant. From the pictures of veggies and fruits on the wall to the sign that highlights how Cava’s items are, “whenever possible”, sourced from local farms, the emphasis here is healthy eating.
You place your order here and move down the food "assembly line"

Mixed greens salad with a huge range of ingredients
I ordered a mixed greens salad (super greens, arugula, spinach, romaine, and mesclun) with tzatziki, hummus, crazy feta (costs extra normally), roasted red pepper hummus, chicken, braised lamb (costs extra normally), cabbage slaw, tomato and onion, diced cucumbers, tomato and cucumber, kalamata olives, pickled onions, crumbled feta, and gordy's pickled banana peppers with yogurt dill dressing and a side of lemon herb tahini dressing. From its immense size to its aesthetically pleasing appearance, simply put, the meal was divine. All of these different flavors and combinations, from the smooth and thick hummus to the spicy and creamy crazy feta, mixing together was like having a party in my mouth.There is one caveat about this dish you should know: it’s extremely addicting and you won’t be able to stop eating it.

Charles' mixed greens salad
Charles ordered the mixed greens salad (super greens, arugula, spinach, romaine, and mesclun) with lentils (costs extra normally), tzatziki, hummus, roasted red pepper hummus, braised lamb (costs extra normally), cabbage slaw, tomato and onion, diced cucumbers, tomato and cucumber, pickled onions, crumbled feta, and gordy's pickled banana peppers with a side of yogurt dill dressing. Likewise, Charles praised the heavenly dish. His only wish is that they mix all the ingredients in the salad together instead of just putting the glob of hummus in one spot and the tzatziki in another. However, you can mix up the salad yourself with your fork so this really isn’t a concern.

Watermelon mint
These 3 are Cava's more sweet selection of housemade drinks

The watermelon mint beverage (simple syrup, watermelon, water, and lime/limeade) has a unique taste. One word perfectly describes this drink: funky. As one of their sweeter selection of summer housemade drinks, it had an initial sugary and distinct watermelon flavor but the aftertaste changed to a sharp lime/limeade flavor. 

Yes, indeed flavor is

I absolutely love every single piece about Cava: the interior decorations, food, and everything else. For just around $9, you can get such a large salad portion that you might not even be hungry for the next meal; the pita is also filling but doesn’t come close to the amount of food you get with the salad. Cava is meant for people who love to load up their plate with an eclectic array of food items. If this sounds like you, you’ll get the most out of Cava’s huge variety of healthy options.

- Thomas

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Kogiyaki Korean BBQ - Ellicott City, Maryland

Does Kogiyaki Korean BBQ look familiar to you? If it does, then you must remember Bean and Burgundy Bread (formerly occupied the same building). The difference between the two is that Kogiyaki focuses more on Korean and Asian cuisine than having a variety of American and Asian food items like Bean and Burgundy.
Even though the restaurant went through some rebranding, the interior is more or less the same - a large spacious room with a multitude of seating options and several televisions. It's a nice environment because it's never loud or noisy; the eatery has a relaxed and peaceful vibe.

I was enticed to eat at Kogiyaki by their lunch sushi buffet - sushi, Korean food, and a salad bar. For someone who is as hungry as I am, buffets are always worth the money.

I was pleasantly surprised with all the options I had to choose from:
California roll (far left) 

fried rice (bottom right)

Out of all these choices, I loaded up on just sushi and fried rice (way to be adventurous, right?). After all, it is called the lunch sushi buffet, so the sushi must be good.

The California roll consisted of imitation crab meat, avocado, cucumber, and fish eggs (tobiko). Some Asian restaurants don't put the fish eggs on the California roll, so I appreciate them using it here; it's 10 times more aesthetically pleasing with it than without it. Also, I loved how the subtle flavors and soft textures of each ingredient produced a delicious combination. Even though each individual roll was slightly thin and smaller than usual, the size of it didn't bother me because I could always get more rolls if I wasn't satiated.

The fried rice includes carrots, fried eggs, onions, and peas. The dish reminded me of the same type of fried rice from a Benihana or Sakura as opposed to that of a Chinese restaurant. Although the rice was filling, I would have liked the dish to have an abundance of different types of vegetables (the flavor would be more potent).

The miso soup came with the lunch buffet. The soup was served hot and didn't fail to disappoint. 

Overall, the massive lunch buffet didn't have any items that were a home run but didn't have anything subpar. If the lunch buffet isn't for you, they also have a dinner buffet and supposedly amazing Korean fried chicken. If anyone has tried these, let me know how they are in the comments.

- Thomas

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Ellicott City Flood - Relief Efforts

Historic Ellicott City before the flood
It has been a week since the historic area of my town, Ellicott City, was devastated by a hideous flood. The storm destroyed much of the town, demolished sidewalks and the foundation of buildings.

Founded in 1772, the history of  Ellicott City pre-dates the Civil War - click here for more information.

We take great pride that many of the historic buildings are meticulous cared for and give our downtown its charm.

These streets housed a vibrant business district, including restaurants that we visited often.

It's really awful to see all the places you grew up with just obliterated. In just a blink of an eye, businesses, homes and two people, just gone.  It's really hard to even wrap our heads around that.

The road to recovery will be long but Ellicott City will #RiseAboveTheWater.

To help people and businesses get back on their feet, we are publicizing the following gofundme.com pages for the affected restaurants in the historic district (HT to Floria Volynskaya's Facebook page). Please help if you can.

Every penny helps to get these restaurants back on main street. So, let's all do our part in restoring the town we love back to its former glory.

Judge's Bench - https://www.gofundme.com/judgesbench

Ellicott Mills Brewing Company - https://www.gofundme.com/2hhhex8

La Palapa Mexican Grill & Cantina - https://www.gofundme.com/lapalapagrill

Tersiguel's French Country Restaurant -https://www.gofundme.com/2hkn2j94

Little French Market - https://www.gofundme.com/2hqefbg

Pure Wine Cafe - https://www.gofundme.com/2htkeac

Johnny's Bistro on Main (blog post here) - https://www.gofundme.com/2hvtrws

Sweet Cascades Chocolatier - https://www.gofundme.com/2hm8cwws

Tea on the Tiber - https://www.gofundme.com/teaonthetiber

The Rumor Mill Fusion Bar & Restaurant -https://www.gofundme.com/therumormillec

Cacao Lane Restaurant - https://www.gofundme.com/2hhmpbcc

Portalli's - https://www.gofundme.com/supportportallis

Bean Hollow Roastery & Espresso (blog post here) - https://www.youcaring.com/gretchen-shuey-614117

The Phoenix Emporium - https://www.gofundme.com/2hmcgtdg

Charles and Thomas at The Trolley Stop

Even though main street is closed, The Trolley Stop (read our 2015 blog post here) is one of the few restaurants still open in historic Ellicott City. Charles and I decided to show our support by dining there last night.

We will continue to share news and fundraisers about our town. Please contact us with information so we can get it out.

We are #ECStrong

- Thomas and Charles

Friday, July 15, 2016

America's Pie - Rehoboth Beach, Delaware

If you want a change from your typical boardwalk joint, head to America's Pie - where creativity and innovation are their speciality. Opened August 2015 on Rehoboth Avenue, America's Pie serves up a variety of hot entrees (wraps, traditional and original pizza pies, sandwiches, and more) by a warm and fun staff.

After the staff welcomed us, they walked us through all the amazing menu choices. There are some crazy interesting combinations like the beccaberry pizza (blueberries, bacon, basil, mozzarella, baby spinach arugula, topped with red wine reduction) or the George pizza (pistachio and arugula pesto, red wine and honey poached pear, prosciutto, mozzarella, ricotta, topped with red wine reduction). The subs, likewise, are comprised of traditional favorites and new twists.

 Charles, Thomas and America's Pie Ryan Lucas 

Even though the interior is quaint, the establishment utilizes every crevice to display decorations and photos. Like the titular name implies, the theme for all decorations is   American culture, and I love it! It's so awesome to order the James Dean pizza, sit down, then look up to find a picture of James Dean starring back at you. Even the logo protrays Uncle Sam  wearing a tank top carrying a surf board. Totally Americana.

Before I start talking about the pizza, let me just say how colossal each slice is. I'm a big eater and I usually scoff down 4 normal slices of pizza in order to be satiated. However, America's Pie issued a challenge to me: still be hungry after 2 slices. This was the first and last time I lost a competition to a slice of pizza.

The holiday white

Charles selected a slice of the holiday white - a white pizza with broccoli, spinach, tomatoes, and ricotta. Charles liked how the thin slice was mostly soft and with some crispiness added here and there. Even though we were among the last customers of the day, it tasted fresh. Charles' main gripe with this pizza type was that the ricotta and mozzarella cheese combination was, well, cheesy. He's not a cheesy guy. If you are, it will be a party in your mouth, for sure.

The crusty crab

 I ordered a slice of the crusty crab: crab cake mix, lump crab meat, mozzarella cheese, red pepper, celery, chives, and topped with bread crumbs. Even though this pizza is one of the most avant-garde, it's still in the experimental phase. For instance, it tastes exactly like crab or a crab cake, but it is incredibly dry. One of the staff members claimed that they are still perfecting the formula and hope to create the right balance between flavor and texture soon. But currently, this pizza just has a lot of potential.

The James Dean (bottom)
and the Idaho potato (top)
Charles selected the Idaho potato as his second slice - a mixed cheese pizza with potato, bacon and caramelized onions. Who would've thought a loaded baked potato on a pizza slice could create such a tasty combo? All the ingredients were densely packed on the thick slice of pizza,  leaving no spots absent of toppings. Bite after bite, Charles kept pondering if the item was more baked potato than pizza and vice versa. Although this one question remained an enigma, Charles knew one thing without a doubt: the pizza was delicious.

I chose the James Dean as my second slice: BBQ pulled pork (usually BBQ chicken but sometimes they change it), scallion, red onions, pepper jack, mozzarella, topped with chipotle ranch. Out of all the pizza Charles and I tasted, we can agree that the James Dean is the best. The pizza combines the best aspects of the aforementioned slices (soft, slightly crispy, and ingredients being densely packed) in tandem with a moist texture. Just one small caveat: grab a few napkins because it can get slightly messy.

America's Pie is one of the best places for traditional and original pizza at Rehoboth Beach. It's our new favorite place and we can't wait to go back.

This brand is here to stay. The workers revealed ambitious plans to expand to California and Towson, MD in the near future. 

- Thomas

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Mimi's Kabob - Ellicott City, MD,

Mimi’s Kabob is an Afghan bistro that just expanded in the spring of 2014 to cover both Clarksville and the new Turf Valley site. My friend Ahmad raved about how authentic it is and offered to take me to the Turf Valley location, so naturally I accepted the invite (a food blogger never says no to a food excursion). 

Mimi's Kabob has a quaint interior packed with exotic decorations and patterns. It's a nice juxtaposition to see all this ancient culture showcased through the various items/artifacts alongside modern televisions and a soda machine.

If you're discouraged from the bistro by the seemingly small exterior, don't be fooled. The eatery has enough room for a plethora of tables, chairs, and booths. It's a shame that Mimi's Kabob has all these seating choices and cool interior decorations, but it seems that most people order take out rather than dine in (I prefer to dine in).

Kofta kabob

Ahmad selected the kofta kabob - flame broiled seasoned ground beef on skewers, salad, rice, and yogurt chutney. He liked how the kabob had a mild kick and smoky tang to it. When asked to describe the meal in one sentence, he replied: "it was an awesome blend of a tender texture mixed with a succulent flavor." He even gave me a small taste to review, and I have to say, he took the words right out of my mouth.

Lamb kabob

Craving lamb? Look no further to be satiated, the lamb kabob does the job perfectly - flame broiled marinated chunks of lamb, rice, salad, and yogurt chutney. I also really appreciate how moist the chunks of lamb were: bursting with juicy goodness on the inside as well as the surface. I only have a small gripe with the entree, I would've liked more salad and less rice (a more even ratio than the 75% rice and 25% salad given).

Tandoori bread

 The tandoori bread came with both of our orders and it is addicting to say the least. If you are as hungry as I was, you'll have a difficult time stopping yourself from consuming more and more of this delicious bread. The best part about this side is that it is always made fresh; it's prepared and cooked in the kitchen every day.

Overall, I would definitely return to Mimi's Kabob. Compared to some other kabob restaurants in the area, it stands out by having reasonable prices ($10-$20 range) for big portion sizes, an aesthetically pleasing decor, and a cozy atmosphere. I guarantee that you won't leave Mimi's Kabob feeling unsatisfied and famished, but rather, feeling content and wanting more.  

- Thomas 

Mimi's Kabob Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato