March 28, 2008


1300 Bank Street
Baltimore, MD

Although the link above is to the Lemongrass restaurant in Annapolis, they recently expanded with a new restaurant in Baltimore. Technically its located in Little Italy but for those of you from the area, its actually on the North side of Little Italy just shy of Fell's Point. And honestly - its in a shady little part of town. There is a parking garage directly across the street that should bring out-of-towners some sense of comfort and security, but for those you too cheap to pay for parking (*cough* me!), you can probably find some street parking.

Lemongrass is apparently pretty popular in Annapolis and I was pleased to see that they offered a number of vegetarian dishes. I had read some mixed reviews of the new Baltimore restaurant (mostly in regards to their "poor" service) but still wanted to give it a shot. I went with some girlfriends to celebrate a birthday.

I called them a week in advance to make a reservation. A man answered the phone and was very polite. He took my information and said I was all set.

I arrived with one friend in tow about 30 minutes before the reservation. Since we were still waiting on 2 more friends, we sat at the bar and didn't check in at the "hostess" desk yet. Lucky for us - it was happy hour! Their happy hour special was $3 glasses of house wine (white or red... and I think the white was actually a combination of several white wines), and $4 asian imported beers.

My friend got the glass of white wine and enjoyed it but I splurged and went for the Lemongrass martini ($7/glass). I'm not much of a martini drinker and generally only order them to feel fancy, but this one was amazing. It was a blend of a vanilla-like flavor with lemon. It sounds weird but was actually quite tasty and there was definitely no bite to it from the alcohol. Don't be fooled though, there was definitely plenty of booze in there... trust me.

When I went to check in with the hostess, my reservation was not there. I had read some reviews from people complaining about their lost reservations so I wasn't entirely surprised. We were fortunate because we were eating on a Wednesday night so there was plenty of space.

Since Lemongrass markets itself as a Thai restaurant, their swanky decor in the bar (giant hindu statue, etc) wasn't unusual. But I was a little surprised that the giant artwork next to our table was a scene from The Sound of Music. Seriously... that's Julie Andrews.

The server was very nice and I was really digging his Fu Manchu moustache.

We started off with some appetizers: some crispy string beans and the Papaya Salad (julienne green papaya, roasted peanuts, string beans and tomatoes tossed with spicy lime dressing).

We devoured both quickly.

For dinner, we ordered:
- Veggie Delight (stir-friend mixed vegetables and tofu in a light garlic sauce)
- Asparagus Shrimp
- Some chicken dish and some beef dish (I should have paid better attention to what my friends got).

Most of their dinner options are below $15 so it was pretty inexpensive. I thought my veggie delight was very good. It wasn't greasy and the garlic sauce wasn't overwhelming. I do have to say, however, that this isn't the most authentic of Thai restaurants. If you're looking for authenticity over ambience, you may want to go elsewhere.

We also ordered desserts: friend banana with vanilla ice cream and... fried ice cream. When the server told us the specials, I think we all shot each other a confused look. I thought fried ice cream was a Mexican dish? I guess its not.

Because it was my friend's birthday, he brought it out with a candle and spared her the silly song.

Overall, we enjoyed everything we got and thought our server was very nice and attentive. I recalled reading a lot of reviews regarding the bad service and aside from the reservation snafu, I wasn't seeing any of it.

Until the next day.

I went to check my bank balance and it appeared that my $30 charge (we all split the bill) was $136. What?! I thought perhaps he accidentally ran my card for a different bill (since our bill didn't even equal $136) and promptly called the restaurant. The woman on the phone said she'd pass along my info to the manager. I was freaking out but am happy to report that the manager, Kim, called me back within the hour and was nothing but polite and helpful. She researched the previous night's records and saw that the server had accidentally ran my card with the total bill (although the number is still off) but cancelled it and their records show that they are only authorizing a $30 charge to my card. She noted that the initial swipe of the card registers with most banks but should be removed within 2 business days.

So all in all - the food was decent, priced VERY well, and their food service was decent enough. My recommendations would be to make a reservation and call back to CONFIRM your reservation before you go over (especially if its on a Friday or Saturday evening). I would also recommend parking in the garage across the street unless you're the type that likes to live dangerously and want to see if your car will get broken into.

March 26, 2008

Noodles and Co.

Atkins conscious eaters need not apply. Well maybe for a couple things.

Noodles & Company is a relatively new chain that focuses on a single ingredient, noodles, rather than a single style of cuisine. I was originally skeptical about this place, but after a couple years of going I will admit that Noodles is a pretty good, relatively cheap meal and rarely a disappointment. I was also pretty excited to see that a new location was opening mere minutes from my office.

Noodles concept is pretty simple. Their menu is divided into three parts, Asian, Italian and American. From there you have the choice of a couple of different pasta dishes, a salad or a soup. Finally, add your protein and you are off an running. Choices range from Japanese Pan noodles with to Wisconsin Mac and Cheese.

This restaurant appeals to me in lots of ways. First, I am a noodle freak, particularly with Asian flavors. I can never seem to replicate the taste at home. Also, any restaurant with "Chicken Sauce" on the table must be good. For those of you who don't know the the term chicken sauce... well, learn it. Or you could learn the actual name, Sriracha Chili Sauce. It is very spicy, but delicious... but I digress. Noodles also has the whole mix and match thing going for it. For example, I am not sure how many people would put Braised Beef onto Creamy Mac and Cheese, but do you know who does... This Guy.

When I was in grad school, looking for a "home cooked meal" or at least something quick and delicious, noodles was the place to go. I could pick up something that was warm and filling while still being simple affordable. If they had setup WiFi I think Noodle could have been my "Coffee House" of choice.

Adding to the flavor of this place is the website. It is fun and it gets the point across. I like that as well. Noodles has a sense of humor about itself. Most places like this tend to think that they are better than they are, but noodles just keeps it simple.

If you are ever in need of a good fast meal, not that expensive, but full of potential flair give Noodles & Company a try.

March 25, 2008

Fogo de Chao

There is something about a restaurant where men run around with swords skewered with meat. You would expect this to be something that happened only once in a blue moon. Something awful must have happened in the kitchen. The chef is running around crazy trying to stab his sous chefs because they sent out an underdone steak or overcooked risotto. Fogo de Chao, a chain of Brazilian Churrascaria (aka steakhouse) is a restaurant where you consistently see men running with swords of meat.

Located right off of the Inner Harbor, Fogo brings a unique dining experience to patrons. To start you are pointed to the salad bar. I am normally turned off by salad bars, not because I don't like salad, rather I am never happy with the mix of build your own ingredients and mayo based picnic fair. Fogo's bar had a pretty good selection. A mix of smoked Salmon, Marinated Mushrooms, Asparagus - white and green, Mozzarella and Tomato salad, all and all a really great spread... BUT IT IS A ROUSE.

The salad bar is a distraction. The star of the show is the fourteen cuts of meat that are proudly brought to your table by the faster than fast Gauchos, who will politely slice off a piece for you to enjoy. In order to prevent you being asked every three seconds if you would like a new cut Fogo imploys the "Button System". You are given a coaster like device, one side is green and one side is red. Since most of you are from a town with at least one intersection, I am sure you have all seen a traffic signal before. You can extrapolate the meaning of each side of the button from that. The only issue that I have with the button system is ensuring you are getting a taste of each cut. You still end up turning away the guy with the rib eye and the guy with the bacon wrapped fillet in order to get to the guy with the lamb chops.

The meat was all very tasty. Cooked over open flame, everything has a nice smokey flavor to it, and you can really taste the differences between different cuts. My personal favorites included the salt and garlic sirloin called Picanha, and the bottom sirloin known as Fraldinha. Others enjoyed the lamb chops and bacon wrapped fillet and chicken. My only complaint about the meat is that there is no good direct accompaniment. I am not asking for A1 or anything, but there are things other than salt and pepper that could enhance the taste of the wares emanating from the Fogo kitchen. The fried polenta and mashed potatoes are pretty good, with the

With all the the hustle an bustle of this restaurant there are a couple of tips that people should follow when headed to Fogo:

  1. Reservations - Particularly for a large group you are going to want to make these in advance. While a party of two would have no problem walking in, anything more than that could be difficult.
  2. Go for Lunch - The price is much cheaper for the lunch meal. There is also a salad bar only option, but i wouldn't suggest it. As good as the salad bar is, I am not sure it is a meal.
  3. DON'T BRING SMALL CHILDREN - I cannot stress this enough. When we visited Fogo there was a large family with a toddler walking around on the floor. It almost became entertaining to see if the Gauchos could bob and weave there way around the kid. Upon further reflection leave your kids at home, you never know what could happen, your kid may end up looking like bottom sirloin.

  4. Get a Glass of Wine - This was a mistake made by my party. When you have that many different kinds of meat there is something about a glass of wine that really cleanses the pallet.

  5. Go Slow and Enjoy the Show - Fogo is really a dining experience rather than just a meal. There is a great deal of fanfare in the way the meat is run out of the kitchen.

Overall I think the Fogo is a pretty accessible meal. It is in between a standard steakhouse and fine dining. It is something you should experience, but not a weekly meal. If you go more than once every six months make sure you have regular heart checkups.

March 24, 2008

Pazza Luna

Pazza Luna
1401 E. Clement Street
Baltimore, MD 21230

Pazza Luna is located in Locust Point right across the street from a new townhome development. I had found out about this place through a friend who lives in the new community. She and her husband frequent this place so much that the folks inside know their names. I always thought that would be such a cool thing.

Locust Point is the neighborhood next to Federal Hill and I feel like its been turning around a lot lately. There are lots of new homes, new restaurants, bars, etc. Being a resident on the other side of town (Canton/Highlandtown), I don't make it over there very often. I actually think that works both ways with people in Federal Hill not coming over to Canton. But I digress...

I met up with some girlfriends to take advantage of Pazza Luna's happy hour special: $1 Martinis! You really can't beat that. Because my friend is such a regular, she was able to secure a large table that isn't considered a part of the bar but where we could still enjoy happy hour (you're not technically supposed to get happy hour specials outside of the bar area).

When I first walked into the restaurant/bar, I noticed how cute it appeared. I'm sure cute isn't a great descriptive term but I liked it. The bar area itself is a little small but the table to the side seated 8 comfortably and I found myself completely enamoured with the table. It looked like it was made of perfectly aged wood and I wanted it for my own dining room! For dinner, the restaurant is upstairs but I didn't get a chance to check it out.

The waitress was very sweet albeit a little slow with the service. We were seated right by the kitchen so she often passed us without asking if we needed anything. I didn't complain because I understood they were kind of doing us a favor but it was starting to irritate me. I theorized that the slow service was how they kept patrons from taking TOO much advantage of the $1 martinis. They also seemed to have a shortage of martini glasses so the waitress noted that they had to take our glasses, wash them and then serve our drinks.

They had a little menu with some interesting flavored martinis. I tried the Blueberry Lemon Martini and it was fabulous. It was just the right amount of sweet with just enough tangy to not overwhelm me or make me feel sick. Some friends tried a Raspberry Peach Martini (it looked like a creamsicle) and another blueberry martini that looked like a slurpee. Everyone seemed to love whatever they got.

Also a part of the happy hour special is a "small plate" menu that boasts dishes for $4.50 (and I think this also includes their appetizers). I was thrilled to see that they offered a vegetarian pizza.

Amongst my friends, people ordered: fried calamari, fried polenta, vegetarian pizza, mozzarella & tomato, salads. Everyone loved what they ordered.

My vegetarian pizza was amazing. It was a thin crust with artichokes, eggplant and onions. The sauce was a little sweet and I was on the verge of licking my plate when I finished. My friends thought my pizza looked divine as well but when they ordered it, they didn't receive any of the same toppings! Instead, they were presented with a pizza covered in carrots and onions. I thought that was a little strange but was thankful that I got to eat the kick-ass pizza.

Wednesday nights (the night we went) is also another special: $10 pasta.

My only complaint has to do with the slow service. When it came time to pay the bill, we simply inquired about the number of acceptable credit cards. I know this is annoying (although one of my friends noted that when she was a server, it wasn't difficult to split checks) - the waitress groaned, rolled her eyes and asked that we not give more than 5. I found this to be unprofessional and rude. Just say 5 and be done with it! No need for the theatrics.

So while I didn't actually eat any dinner, I took a glance at the menu and would definitely give this place another shot.

I highly recommend this restaurant/bar. Just hope you don't need to split a check 6 ways!

March 18, 2008


Salerno's Restaurant & Catering
1043 Liberty Road
Eldersburg, MD 21784
(410) 795-8400

Solerno's is a restaurant located on Route 26, otherwise known as Liberty Road, in Eldersburg, Maryland in Carroll County. It is one of the original restaurants in the area. It's been serving diners before the big-name chain restaurants like Chili's moved into town.

Solerno's, though an Italian name, is mostly a seafood restaurant. However, every St. Patrick's Day they have a, get this, St. Patrick's Day Special. Since cabbage and corned beef stink, my wife bans me from eating it, let alone cooking it, in the house. So I make my annual trip to Solerno's on St. Patrick's Day.

Since my wife was with my other two kids at the dentist, I took my 8 year-old daughter with me. We started off with a cup of Cream of Crab soup. Topped with Old Bay, it was nice and hot and spicy. A little lacking in crab meat, it still had a nice taste. I think they stress the cream in the Cream of Crab.

The main meal was the corned beef, potatoes, cabbage, and 2 slices of rye bread. The sliced corned beef was very sumptuous. Soft and salty and with an oh-so-good taste. My daughter despises the sight of fat, but this corned beef didn't bother her.

The cabbage was a little bland. It tasted as if it was blanched in hot water (what other kind of blanching is there?). It had no seasoning or added taste to it, which was fine. I was combining the tastes with the corned beef and potatoes. The potatoes were quartered and steamed. The overall meal was good.

As a drink, Solerno's offered Killian's draught for $1. The glass was 20 ounces, more than enough for me to have with a meal. Magically, the glass and the beer seemed to stay cold for the entire meal.

My daughter can be highly influential, especially when we are having a daddy-daughter dinner. So she decided that we were having dessert. The waitress persuaded us to have the Irish Brownie. It consisted of a home-made brownie with mint ice cream covered in a Bailey's Irish Cream whipped cream. Let me tell you, this was awesome! The brownie was hot, chocolaty, and gooey. The ice cream was great and the whipped cream was phenomenal. My daughter even said, "That waitress wasn't kidding when she said this would be good!"

The ambiance of the restaurant is fair. There's nothing fancy. There are televisions with ESPN in one corner and Keno in the other. Most of the patrons were retirees and they didn't get too wild. Solerno's is not a restaurant you go to for ambiance. You go there for food. And the food is good.

Other foods on the menu are seafoods, sandwiches, steaks, burgers, and salads. Prices range from $8 to about $25 for surf and turf. The wait staff is mostly young and friendly. Service was quick. The meal was served before I was done my soup and we did seem to wait for the soup a bit longer than I had anticipated.

Overall, I like Solerno's as a good family restaurant that caters to a lot of tastes. There's nothing fancy, but you can expect to get plenty of tasty food. This isn't where you take your wife for an anniversary, but it's great for a sit-down meal. Try it sometime!

March 11, 2008

The Helmand

The Helmand
806 North Charles Street
Baltimre, Maryland 21201-5308

Sometimes being a vegetarian is tough. Being a vegetarian that loves to go out to eat is even tougher. I'm usually relegated to the limited vegetarian friendly fare of spaghetti with plain red sauce. Yum.

I get pretty stoked to find a vegetarian friendly restaurant that offers exotic flavors, nice ambience and also satisfies the appetite of my meat-eating husband.

Enter The Helmand.

The Helmand is located in the uber hip neighborhood of Mt. Vernon. It's located down the street from The Brass Elephant and The Hippo and across the street from Akbar. We had read a good review about this place and wanted to check it out since we're always seeking a good restaurant that we can both enjoy.

My first experience with The Helmand was just with my husband. When we arrived, we were surprised to see that there wasn't really a waiting area… or even any sort of front area. We were right by people eating at their tables. There was a small crowd of people standing waiting to be seated and it was awkward to be practically on someone's lap as they ate. They do have a small bar in the back of the restaurant but it was also packed. Fire hazzard, much? But perhaps this is their tactic to get you to eat more because I found myself drooling over people's meals.

When we were seated (after waiting about 10 minutes), we were sat at a very tiny corner table that we had to squeeze past a few patrons to get to. Once we were seated, everything was fine. The décor of the restaurant lends itself to the exotic fare being offered with tapestries and other interesting wall art.

Finally, the waitress came by to take our order. I had inquired if the bread I was seeing on everyone's tables was something we could expect (like most restaurants) but was promptly told no. Apparently it’s a separate order. Regardless, it's delicious. I generally prefer my bread to be a little crispier but this was great nonetheless. It was flat bread that was thicker than I anticipated. It was very soft, chewy and not too buttery. I highly recommend splurging and ordering the side of bread.

The rest of the waitress's service left much to be desired and I felt like saying, "I'm sorry, are we bothering you by placing our order?" but lucky for them, the food made up for it.

I ordered a glass of Malbec wine to go with my vegetarian entrée (apparently vegetarian entrees are weekend specials). I ordered the Vegetarian Dolma: Baby eggplant filled with spinach and simmered in sun-dried tomato and herb sauce. Served with challow. (Challow is afghan white rice).

While I wasn't blown away by exotic spices, my meal was good. It was filling, delicious and enough to bring me back for a second visit despite the turdy waitress.

My second visit to The Helmand was with a group of friends (6 people total). We found ourselves in the same waiting situation but decided to head over to the bar in the back. There were no seats available so we were left standing in the wait staff's way for awhile.

We were seated about 15 minutes after arriving and I would say the waiter was much better than the waitress I had the first time around. Although I would say it was a little slow… its hard to tell when you're with friends sometimes.

I ordered a glass of Pinot Noir (the only kind they offered by the glass) and tried a different vegetarian entrée. This time I had Dolma Murch: Bell pepper stuffed with seasoned vegetables, beans and wild rice simmered in a sun-dried tomatoes and rhubarb sauce. Served with challow and a side order of sabzy (spinach).

I have to say, I enjoyed this dish much more than my first dish. The spinach was fantastic. It had a little spice to it but was not overwhelming. The rest of the meal was slightly spicy but not much at all. In general, I just thought it was more flavorful than the vegetarian dolma. I didn't finish my meal because I had eaten so much of that damn delicious bread but was able to take half of it home.

When I asked for a take-out box, I was met with a not so friendly face but the waiter obliged. Although he didn't take the sabzy and it was whisked away by the busboy before I could say a word.

Now here is where I think The Helmand's tactic of making you stand uncomfortably close to other patrons pays off. I saw a couple eating some ice cream and had to have some (despite being incredibly full). It was "Afghan Ice Cream" which really meant that it was vanilla ice cream (very vanilla… like vanilla beans vanilla) with cardamom and dates, dried figs and fresh mango at the bottom. I highly recommend this dessert.

A friend of mine ordered some rice pudding with fresh fruit on top but only enjoyed the fruit portion and not the pudding. The pudding was a little bland.

All in all - I highly recommend giving this restaurant a try. Just be prepared to stand around and wait for a bit (reservations are highly encouraged!) while standing uncomfortably close to dining patrons.

March 3, 2008

Rub: It is supposed to be about more than just meat.

Every so often you hear about a place and your expectations begin to rise. You hear how good the food is, how fun the people and atmosphere are and your own anticipation builds. You hear that it is a magical place where all of your dreams about “low and slow” can come true and you cannot wait to try it. Then you get the chance to try it and your expectations, your hopes and dreams are crushed with the mighty blow of a pretty bad restaurant. This was my experience at Rub BBQ in the Riverside section of South Baltimore

Rub is billed as a classic, Texas style, Barbecue. They have a number of classic southern Que items on their menu with the occasional, we are a restaurant in the city, twist. The atmosphere is pretty laid back, a mix of a BBQ place and a sports bar. It was a couple minutes after being seated that my initial positive impressions and excitement were crushed like a little boy who didn’t get the bike (read Nintendo Wii) that he wanted for Christmas.

First let’s talk about the service. Rub prominently displays their signature drink as “Lone Star Lemonade”. It is on their website, their menu, even their menu cover (I mean the laminated piece of paper that is clipped on the front of the heavy clipboard, which contains the actual food you can order). When the waiter asks us for our drink orders and our response is “Two of The Lemonade” you would imagine we would be getting the signature drink. You would be wrong. Minute Made… Seriously… Minute Maid. This was followed by another futile attempt where the waiter wanted to bring what was basically a Zima. When we did finally get the “Signature Drink” and it was very good, and pretty whimsical, being frozen and served in old milk jugs. The drink could not make up for the next service mishap. My dining companion and I were served on two plates, which would have been great, except the individual items looked like they were thrown onto the closest thing that the kitchen staff could find. We had to play a little game of Three Card Monty between us until the food was in the right order. Isn’t grouping the food onto a plate so it can be served to the person who ordered it Restaurant 101? I thought so.

We decided to order the fried green tomatoes for an appetizer. Once again these did not hold up to their potential billing. I am all for salting food when it comes out of the fryer, but you shouldn’t drown items in salt. Hopefully the people at Rub get this message. Entrees included samplings of brisket, turkey and Texas flat ribs accompanied by corn pudding and sweet potato fries. The meat on the plate almost saved the meal. The Brisket was very good, tender and flavorful. The Texas flat ribs, a beef rib as opposed to the standard pork that is prevalent in the area, were also full of flavor. The turkey was moist and tasty. In fact the meal could have been saved if it wasn’t for the lack of taste in the sweet potato fries (I guess they got the message about the salt and decided to go without it) and the incredible heat in the corn pudding. I appreciate the attempt as a corn pudding that is not sweet, but seriously, if all I taste is pepper and the burn of Serrano chilies, well it is just not successful. If Rub paid attention to more than just the meat it would be a great place.

I really want to say good things about Rub, I just can’t. I will hopefully find better barbecue in the city.