Aida sings of its latest attractions

TABLE TALK

June 21, 2006|By SLOANE BROWN

The popular Columbia restaurant Aida Bistro has just added to its attractions. Gone is the old deli section. In its place, a new and expanded dining area. And where the old dining room was now sits a wine bar with its own small-plates menu.

Adhering to the old adage, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it," owner Joe Barbera says he stuck to the Mediterranean look and color scheme that Aida has had since it opened four years ago: warm yellows with burgundy accents. The dining room now is divided. The front section seats about 50. The back - which can be used for private functions - seats about 35.

"We took the area around the [old] bar, which was always very popular, and made that into the wine bar," Barbera says. There are several small high-top tables, with total seating for about 35.

There has been a bit of a change, foodwise, at Aida the past four years. "Our main menu has evolved from more traditional Italian food to more bistro [style] food," Barbera says.

You'll find Aida "signature entrees" like eggplant parmigiana ($16.99) or grilled salmon served with roasted tomatoes and spinach, finished with a white wine, Dijon and dill sauce ($18.99).

There are a handful of seasonal entrees. These days that includes rack of lamb marinated with balsamic roasted garlic, topped with apricot chutney and served with smoked Gouda-and-sage risotto and sauteed vegetables ($30.99); filet mignon topped with gorgonzola butter, served with vegetables and roasted fingerling potatoes ($32.99); and a shrimp, scallop, crab and fresh asparagus risotto ($24.99).

There are also about half a dozen pastas, priced from $10.99 to $24.99.

Then there's the new "Taste of the Bistro" menu featured in the wine bar. It's all small plates, which include grilled spicy andouille sausage topped with melted Irish cheddar ($8.99); tempura lobster sushi roll ($11.99); trio of New Zealand lollipop lamb chops ($15.99); and duo of jumbo day-boat scallops glazed with a sweet chili sauce, served with tropical-fruit salsa ($11.99).

Barbera is quick to point out that the main menu is also available in the wine bar.

Another feature of the wine bar is the wine, of course. Not only is there an extensive wine list, but Barbera also offers about 20 different half-bottle choices, which change weekly. Also every week, five wines are presented in a tasting format - with your choice of a 3- or 6-ounce pour. Every month, there's a wine theme.

Barbera says these "tasting menus" - in both food and wine - have become big hits, making up about a third of all the sales. You can check out both menu and wine lists at aidabistro.com.

Aida Bistro, 410-953-0500, is at 7185-A Gateway Drive in Columbia. It's open for lunch from 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday. Dinner hours are 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday, and 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday.

A first for Baltimore

California Tortilla has opened across from Camden Yards. It's the first Baltimore eatery - and the 18th in all - for the Bethesda-based chain.

Like other made-to-order Mexican fast-food restaurants, California Tortilla places a major emphasis on the freshness of its ingredients, says marketing assistant Jessica Ellenbogen. She says, in fact, the ingredients are tested every hour to make sure they stay fresh.

A key phrase at California Tortilla, she says, is "spunky service." Ellenbogen says owners and founders Pam Felix and Alan Cohen built their business on making the business fun. For instance, every Monday night, if you order a regular-size burrito, you get to spin the Mystery Price Burrito Wheel to see if you get a discount on your order. There are promotions like "Jungle Noise Day." "You come in and make a jungle noise and get free tortilla chips and queso," she says.

Or Freeze Pop Day, coming up next Wednesday. Drop by - you don't even have to buy anything - and get a free freeze pop.

California Tortilla, 410-605-0991, is at 300 W. Pratt St. Its hours are 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday. On nights when there are events at Camden Yards, California Tortilla will stay open until 10 p.m.

If you have information regarding a local restaurant's opening, closing or major changes, please e-mail that information to sloane@sloanebrown.com or fax it to 410-675-3451.

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