Ale House in Columbia

The new Ale House in Columbia. Picture linked from the Pratt Street Ale House blog.

If you haven’t heard, there is a new pub opening in Columbia in the next week – the Ale House in Columbia. It is brought to you by the same fine folks at the Pratt Street Ale House in downtown Baltimore. Like the location in Baltimore, the Ale House in Columbia will carry a full range of Oliver Ales, which are some of my very favorite. They tend to combine the lovely maltiness and smoothness of a nice English Bitter with the hops and forward tastes that have come to characterize American brewing. The new pub will also carry great guest beers as well.

According to their blog, the soft opening is tonight, the public opening is on Tuesday the 11th, and the Grand Opening is this coming Friday the 14th. Here is a great blog post from Pratt Street Ale House that talks about the new pub’s lineup and equipment. See you there!

Starbucks Reseve and the Clover Brewing System

It’s been a while since the last post (well, let’s be honest, it’s been forever), but I thought I would rip off the bandaid and start up again! What momentous food/beverage event could spawn such a desire to share with everyone? Oddly, Starbucks Coffee.

So let me be clear – I’m typically not a huge fan of Starbucks coffee. It’s usually over-roasted, bitter, too hot, and generally not my favorite. Don’t get me wrong, I still much prefer it over the likes of Maxwell House, etc., but if I get a choice I prefer to make my own at home (more on that in another post).

Then comes the Clover Brewing System at Starbucks. Somewhere over the last year, I read about this system in one of the blogs I read, and I made a mental note to check it out. Unfortunately, not every location carries the new system (the website and mobile app both allow you to search for these locations). The other day I happened to need some coffee and be near a location that has the Clover (on route 40 in Ellicott City).


One cool thing about the Clover, is you get to watch your individual cup of coffee made right in front of you. From watching it, the system looked like a semi-automated French Press approach combined with some hand-stirring using really nice equipment and filters.

They don’t skimp on the coffee either. While you have the option of getting a Clover brewed cup of coffee using the normal Starbucks blends, they have a whole selection of Reserve coffees to choose from. I went with the Sun-Dried Ethiopia Sidamo, which was quite smooth, low bitterness, and had a touch of sweetness. I’m looking forward to trying the others.

As you can tell, I’m a bit of a coffee snob (shocker, I know) and as I said before I go through some fairly stringent exercises to make a really good cup of coffee at home. The Clover system comes pretty darn close – probably one of the best cups of coffee I’ve had from a coffee shop, and most definitely from a Starbucks.

HowChow Welcome Home Series

One of the crazy things about Howard County (and the BW area in general) is that if you don’t know where to find good food, it’s relatively hard to stumble upon it by accident. There aren’t a few great “food areas” (malls, downtown streets, etc.) like you find in other cities/suburbs – there are pockets of wonderful culinary fun nested all over the place. That’s why blogs like HowChow are so vital to finding and experiencing new restaurants right in your backyard. If you’re new to the Howard County area or just starting to explore the local restaurant scene, then HowChow’s Welcome Home Series is a treasure trove of information to get you started. He covers various cuisines, bakeries, beer establishments, etc. – it’s quite comprehensive and I’ve already picked up a few new ideas for our next eating adventure. Check it out!

Tandoori Nights in Bethesda

I love Indian food. A lot. Unfortunately, I have had a really hard time finding quality Indian food in this area. Sure, I’ve tried some of the local joints that you hear about, but overall I’ve been markedly underwhelmed by each of them (not enough spice, the service is abysmal, or the atmosphere is sterile). Then last week, one of my friends suggested we go to Tandoori Nights in Bethesda. Now, I know what you’re thinking – “Really? Tandoori Nights? How could a cheesy-sounding name like that be associated with quality Indian food?” I thought the same thing, but we gave it a shot anyway.

With paper menus and sparse decorations, the interior won’t win any awards, but it’s cozy enough to put you at ease when you walk in. The night we ate there it was packed, but they were still able to seat our party immediately (they’re not on Open Table). Our service was outstanding. Even though most of our party really enjoys Indian food, we’re by no means experts. Our waiter was patient, knew exactly how to interpret our questions about “spiciness”, and was spot-on in his recommendations.

We started off with some Tandoori Chicken wings (pic above is of the entree version Mrs. BWFD got) that were phenomenal. If you like Indian spices and hot chicken wings, then you’ll love these. We also got an order of Samosas and one of Pakora – I actually found both of these to be too bland for my tastes. While not on the menu, we were able to order papadums – they weren’t bad, but the sauces were slightly odd for papadums.

For the main course, I ordered Lamb Rogan Josh, a North Indian style dish. The flavor was complex and enjoyable. Since it wasn’t super spicy by default, our waiter brought some Vindaloo curry sauce to mix in. This was a perfect recommendation – it brought the heat up, but complemented the taste and spices already in the dish. Of course, we also ordered some Naan to go with the meal, and it was done just right. We all ordered different dishes and each one was excellent. Given the style of serving (as shown above), it would be quite easy to have a “family style” meal with each person ordering something different and sharing. (I sampled each dish, and was very impressed)

Given my affinity for beer, you might be wondering what I drank with this excellent Indian cuisine (or not, but I’m going to tell you anyway). Because I like a lot of spice, a strong or flavorful beer isn’t a good pairing with Indian food. I typically shy (far) away from mild lagers, but beers like Kingfisher actually provide a nice counterbalance to the spice without affecting the overall flavor.

To date, Tandoori Nights has taken the top spot as my favorite Indian Cuisine in the area.

Tandoori Nights is located in downtown Bethesda, about a block away from RiRa and Georgetown Cupcake.

Facci Outdoor Expansion Coming Soon

We were enjoying a nice dinner at Facci the other night when we noticed that the outdoor patio in front of the restaurant was under construction. Our waiter informed us that they were closing in the front patio for year round seating and creating a new outdoor patio complete with a fireplace along the side of the restaurant. Being new to Facci, he wasn’t 100% sure about these plans, but the torn up concrete out front definitely indicates something is in the works. There was also a hint that the new enclosed patio might have a separate bar.

Following an interior expansion last year that roughly doubled the size of the restaurant, the pending outdoor expansion shows Facci’s commitment to creating a unique Italian dining experience. I believe this expansion will turn out nicely; in the past, we’ve eaten on the front patio and it wasn’t ideal – crowded, susceptible to late afternoon sun, and too close to the parking lot. By closing it in and creating a new outdoor area around the side, Facci will solve all of these problems. I love eating outdoors, so I for one am looking forward to the summer (hope it’s done by then).

For those of you not familiar with Facci, it is an Italian restaurant with great pasta dishes, excellent (and unique) wood-fired pizza, and a great wine list. It is hands down our favorite Italian restaurant outside of Little Italy in Baltimore.

Facci is located right off of Route 29 at the Johns Hopkins Road exit in the Montpelier Center. This shopping center has oddly turned out to be one of my favorite destinations for food in the area. With Kloby’s (barbeque and craft beer), Facci, and La Palapa Too (Mexican), it’s a dining oasis in the suburbs.

The Oxford Companion to Beer

My thoughtful wife got me this beery tome for Christmas this year. Garrett Oliver of the Brooklyn Brewery edited the book, but it includes input from over 165 beer experts from around the globe. If you like beer, history, are into home-brewing, or just like learning, this is book is for you. It covers topics from specific brewers and their histories, beer styles, and beer history to ingredients, fermentation details, and technical brewing descriptions and everything in between. I’ve enjoyed just picking a topic at random and learning – it’s like an entire instance of Wikipedia dedicated to beer!

Aida Bistro & Wine Bar

I had only been to Aida Bistro & Wine Bar one other time when they were still in their old location. I was not very impressed on that occasion – the space was the opposite of cozy, the food wasn’t stellar, and given all the good things I heard, I was underwhelmed (please remember that I’m not an oenophile). Fast forward to today. My wife and I were in search of dinner the other night and just happened to be driving by the area (Columbia Gateway Dr.) when she suggested Aida; given my last experience I naturally resisted (as I have for over a year, unfortunately). I gave in, and I’m really glad I did.

The new space is much nicer than the old location – even from the outside, you feel invited into a nice dining experience. The decor is simple but nice, there’s good lighting and spacious seating, and the atmosphere tends towards the upscale. As you might imagine Aida Bistro is all about the wine; the focal point of the restaurant is a very unique wine bar. I’m not much of a wine expert, but according to the waiter they have 30 wines “on tap”. On tap you say? Apparently, the best way to store and pour wine is via nitrogen and a nitrogen tap so that the wine is not prematurely oxygenated. Who knew? The wine storage and distribution system is prominently displayed in a glass case as you walk in and continues on behind the bar in front of the main doors (pictures can be seen in this pdf from Aida). I believe the waiter also told us that the selection includes many wines exclusively to be found at Aida via direct partnerships with wineries. (They did have a decent bottled beer selection, but they’re expertise clearly lies in the realm of wine).

The food menu had quite a lot to offer as well. There is an extensive cheese menu from which you can make your personnel selections and build a plate to suit your palate. A fixed price menu is available with a large number of options for appetizers and entrees – interestingly, the fixed price menu items overlap very little with the a la carte menu.

We started with a custom cheese plate that included a goat cheese and a another cheese made with Chianti wine. The presentation and quality were both enjoyable.

We split a Ravioli dish made with Andouille sausage, shrimp, and smoked Gouda for the entree. Despite not having as much cheese as I was expected, it was spicy, rich, and tasty. Our waiter recommended a great red wine that paired quite well with the dish as well. All the pasta at Aida is fresh and actually made at the restaurant. The waiter also informed us that almost everything at the restaurant is made from scratch and indicated that all the fish had arrived that very day.

Speaking of our waiter, he was absolutely phenomenal. I didn’t catch his name (John maybe), but he was attentive, informative, and knew everything about the wine and food menus; however, he wasn’t intrusive in the least. Great service overall.

For dessert (the reason we split an entree) we shared a White Chocolate Crème Brûlée. Creamy, perfectly torched, and tasty, it was excellent.

I’m not sure if I went on a bad day originally, or they truly made changes when they moved, but dining at Aida Bistro was a pleasure and I’m sure we’ll be there again soon.