Saturday, September 28, 2013

Pachanga Cocina Mexicana - Ellicott City

Pachanga Cocina Mexicana is located off of Route 40 in Ellicott City just up the street from CVS pharmacy on Centennial Lane. We've eaten here many times and the food has always been consistently good.

Pachanga is part of a restaurant group that includes La Palapa restaurants (Historic Ellicott City, Laurel, and Silver Spring), El Azteca restaurant (Columbia - River Hill) and another Pachanga in Odenton.

Although Pachanga is decked out with vibrant colored walls complete with authentic Mexican decorations, the seating space is a bit small and a tad out-dated. Despite these small shortcomings, the food is definitely worth the trip.

I usually order the steak fajitas served on a hot plate with grilled onions, peppers, and tomatoes. A side plate of tortillas, Mexican rice, black beans, guacamole, pico de gallo, and sour cream accompanied the entree. I personally like to stuff the tortilla with as many sides as possible, especially pico de gallo. Marinated by the flavors of the onions and peppers, the steak has a slightly sweet flavor that makes it delicious. 

Charles also ordered a fajita dish. He chose a combination of shrimp and steak. The well seasoned large shrimp were plump and moist.

My mom ordered the Chesapeake Chimichanga filled with a crab, shrimp, mushrooms, onions, and green peppers mixture and topped with a cheese sauce. She chose black beans & Mexican rice as the sides dishes. Although the chimichanga isn't photogenic in the picture below, it looked fantastic when it was served. The seafood and vegetable blend filling has a tinge of what tastes like a seafood seasoning or Old Bay.

Carne Asada

My father loves the Carne Asada steak that's marinated in fresh herbs, peppers, chile, lime juice and olive oil. It's an enormous piece of well seasoned and grilled steak. 

 We tried a few different desserts. My mom's favorite was the key lime pie with its creamy, almost cheesecake thick consistency. Charles and I loved the mile high New York cheesecake and sugar coated churros. Surprisingly, the desserts were all just as good as our meals.  

When ate at Pachanga's on a Thursday night, we were informed that it was free dessert night with a purchase of an entree. Since this special is not listed on their website, I called to confirm if it's an on-going special.  One time, the person who answered said yes.  Another time I called, the person who answered said she didn't know.  So, go on Thursdays for free dessert at your own risk. 

New York cheesecake
Key Lime pie

Pachanga's website lists weekday meal specials.  Monday is the all-you-can-eat combos (tacos, burritos, tamales, enchiladas etc.) for $12.75 . Tuesday is steak night  (carne asada) for $13. 95. Wednesday is fajita night for $12. 75 and Thursday is chimichanga night for $10. 75. 

 - Thomas

Pachanga Grill on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Carrabba's Italian Grill - Ellicott City

Although Carrabba's Italian Grill is a restaurant chain, don't let that fool you. 

Carrabba's owners and cousins Johnny Carrabba and
Damian Mandola's philosophy is that "fresh ingredients are the key to making a successful Italian meal." That's exactly how they run their restaurants with only the finest ingredients and fresh herbs - and it shows in their cooking.

We love that Carrabba's owners are of Sicilian decent and their culture plays a big part in what they cook.  Lots of menu items are family recipes. We appreciate good Italian food because our relatives are from Italy (our great grandfather is from Sicily) and the cooking we do at home is influenced by our Italian heritage. 

The restaurant has promotions like the current "Amore Monday's". This special allows you to order three courses (appetizer or dessert, soup or salad, and  main dish) starting at $12.  Even if you don't go on a promotional day, it doesn't matter, Carrabba's is consistent all the time. 

 While waiting for our orders at the kitchen side tables in Carrabba's, we were served warm and fresh complementary bread with a herb olive oil dipping sauce.  You might be tempted to eat every last slice of bread, but be careful there is so much more food coming.

Most every entree comes with a choice of soup or salad. Charles and I always get the caesar salad.  The creamy caesar dressing and the abundance of shredded fresh parmesan cheese placed over the crunchy romaine lettuce is amazing.
Carrabba's legendary wood fire oven is 
used to make pizza and flatbreads. 

Charles selected the lasagna entree. He said that it had more than enough rich tomato sauce, just the way he likes it. The lasagna had many thick layers, resulting in very smooth but dense bites. My Grandma Alberta is famous in our family for making lasagna.  Charles said the Carrabba's lasagna was a close second to our Grandma's recipe.

I ordered the the chicken marsala with a side of mashed potatoes. The entree was topped with mushrooms, prosciutto ( Italian ham), and delicious marsala wine sauce. Usually, chicken marsala is sautéed, like the way my family makes it at home. However, they grill the chicken at Carrabba's.  This just adds to the depth of flavor for this fantastic dish. According to Carrabba's website, the marsala wine is aged in oak barrels for over one year to enhance the taste. While the alcohol is burned off during cooking, the robust flavor reminds. The mashed potatoes side was a perfect combo to the chicken - buttery soft melt-in-your mouth mashed spuds. 

Over the years, Charles and I have gone to Carrabba's many times with our family. We enjoy sitting both at the tables and at the kitchen seats. And we've had the chance to experienced many different food selections. Here's some of our other favorite foods - cozze in bianco (mussels in a white wine sauce), chicken bryan, mezzaluna pasta, chicken parmesan  and the classic spaghetti and meatballs.  You can't go wrong with anything at this restaurant.

If you go to the Ellicott City restaurant, tell the manager Jerry we sent you.  He's a great guy.

- Thomas

Carrabba's Italian Grill on Urbanspoon