Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Hunan Taste, Catonsville MD

I will first apologize for the quality of images in this post. I did not have my camera and instead used my phone. My phone is not a camera, it is a phone. The first image is also not mine, I lifted it from a Tripadvisor review of this same restaurant.

Hunan Taste has been a long over due review. We have eaten here well over 40 times since it opened a few years back. That statement alone is a review in itself. I have a frequent diner card, so I will try not to show any bias.
Hunan taste is located in the very busy H Mart Plaza at 718 North Rolling Rd or Route 40 and Rolling road. I say very busy as a note of caution. The drivers in this parking lot are generally oblivious to other drivers or pedestrians. Many are still becoming accustomed to driving in America. Do not let this stop you. Do not let anything stop you from coming and trying this place out. In Baltimore, this is my favorite place to eat. 
When you walk in you will notice a few things that sets this place apart from your normal Chinese restaurant; It is always spotless. Your host is always dressed in a fine suit and greats you in a sophisticated manor. The decor is very sophisticated and inviting. It is always bustling with diners. Just about everyone is Chinese. All the wait staff is very professional and unobtrusive. All the wait staff have American names. There are two menus, and this place gives you both. 
Seven of us gathered for a meal the other night and we were all adventure eaters. We ate family style.

We started with two appetizers. The first was Pigs Ears. It was incredible to look at. It tasted equally as incredible. Very tender and delicious. It was not what you would think pigs ears would taste like. If I were to put it in front of you, not telling what it was, you would have no clue. You would just think it is tremendous. 

The second appetizer was Garlic Pork Belly. Incredible. Nothing more needs to be said.

We had Twin Lobster. Two lobsters fried in garlic. Incredible once again. The one negative thing I must say is when the lazy susan went around the first time it was moist and succulent. However as it sat, the meat got kind of dry and crispy. I recommend eating it all when it arrives at the table.

We had Dry Green Beans and Pork. If you want to feel you are getting your vegetables, order this. The pork is a nice touch to a vegetable side dish.

There was Whole Perch Hunan Style. I had the head. One of my dinner mates was a little shyer than me and I beat him to it. I love the cheeks and head meat. The combination of flavors was tremendous.

Missing from these photos is Pork in Incense Mint. This was a texture dish. The pork was twice cooked, the second being fried, so it was kind of chewy. The meat had excellent flavor to it. It was on a bed of crispy fried mint. The mint was so beautiful, looking like bright green glass. Unfortunately the mint did not have any taste and was more of a texture because it shattered in your mouth. Of all the items, this was my least favorite dish since the mint failed to have the flavor you thought you might get from it. I did not however dislike this dish.

Chefs always look for empty plates. Empty plates mean the food was so good it all was eaten. Every plates were empty.

If you want really good Chinese food, come here. Do not come here for General Taos Chicken, Egg Foo Young, and Lo Mein. This is real Chinese food for Chinese people. All the food has incredible flavor, intense Hunan heat, and items you have never tried before. Come, be adventurous and try something you never have seen before.

On a scale of 1-10... a rating of ELEVEN.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

El Agave, Catonsville MD

Catonsville has a new Mexican joint. The restaurant has been open just a few months and seems to be very popular. Everyone loves Mexican, what's not to love. 

The space has been a few different 'package goods bar Inn' type joints over the years. The new owners have really changed it up. 

The decor is bright and cheerful. The entire place is sparkling clean and very inviting. If you are a sports fan the bar area has a number of big TVs with some game going.

We got some guacamole. It was very, very good. Most times I dread when my wife orders it because hers is so good. El Agave's held pretty strong. The salsa that came with the chips was good too. It was unusually light and fresh tasting. 

Halle loves any place with a mango jarritos. 

I have to say that the margarita was better than most. It was strong and did not have a ton of ice in it. The bar tender knows that tequila makes the customers happy and generous.

So, the food; I love Mexican food. To be able to get real tacos is a big bonus to me. They have a great offering of fish, shrimp, carne asada, barbacoa, chorizo, chicken, (now it gets good and what you see above) lengua(tongue), carnaza(beef cheek). These street tacos were spot on. They even roasted some jalapeƱos upon my request. This is the food of the owners and what they do well. They are Mexican and this is real Mexican food. The owners want to make it and the menu reflects what 'most' love about 'Mexican'. They love chimichangas, burritos, and hard tacos. Those items are on the menu and it was those items people around me were all ordering. I strongly suspect that the TexMex menu will dominate and become the main stay of this place in the future. I have seen this trend with many places. The gringos are the customers and they have their expectations of what Mexican food is. I saw this happen to the last Mexican restaurant that opened in Catonsville, El Nayar. It went TexMex and a year later it had lost its zing and was gone. I hope El Agave maintains it's Mexican menu. If it does, we will gladly return as regulars.

Rating 8

Bowens Island Restaurant. Charleston, SC

We were in Charleston South Carolina and wanted some good seafood. The lady at the campground suggested we go to Bowens Island Restaurant at 1870 Bowens Island Rd for as local feel. Now, the restaurant is at the end of a dirt road and before you get there you will think you have gotten lost.

This is a real fish house. Simple menu of just a few items. They serve their oysters by the lunch tray and they are only come steamed. We went with other items since we do not care for our oysters steamed. All their beer is draft and it is all local.

You order at the bar and wait for your name to be shouted out. It takes about as long as drinking a nice cold draft beer. The beer was excellent.

Beth had the shrimp and grits. It was very tasty. It even had a little bit of heat to it. The portion was very generous.

The rest of us stuck to the fried seafood plates. Shrimp, fish, crab cake, french fries, hush puppies, and cole slaw. This was so much food I could not eat it all. It was damn good too. Just what you expect from a real fish house. Now this place was not cheap, but it sure was good. The best tasting shrimp I have had in a long time.

Rating, perfect 10

Indian Pass trading Post, Indian Pass Fl

While in Florida we went looking for oysters one day. At a slow spot on Florida 30A is Indian Pass Trading Post. Do not blink or you will miss it. Like most buildings in Florida, it has the worn out and run down look.  We pulled up at 12:50 and were abruptly told "come back at 1:00. We're open then." We walked in at 1:00 and within 5 minutes there were 10 names on the waiting list for a table.

There is nothing fancy here. The vibe is worn down Florida swamp shack. It is very popular with the local tourist crowd.

There are lots of beer signs but in the cooler was Bud lite, Corona, Sprite, Pepsi, and water. Self service beverages only. Low service is the business model. 

You order at the counter. The baked stuff is cooked from frozen in a convection oven. Everything else is microwaved. 

Shrimp, oysters, and crab legs are steamed to order. Raw oysters are shucked fresh.

Texas oysters were all they had. We had hoped for local Appalachicola oysters. They were good none the less. Drinking a few beers made the experience better than it really was.

Rating 4 of 10.