I don't know if this is just my imagination, but it seems to me that people opening new restaurants now are taking fewer chances. A lot of the new places seem to be dishing up comfort food, whether they are Old School Italian, steakhouses or modest neighborhood spots.
Maybe even the brand-new Maruha Steakhouse & Sushi Bar (6410 Freetown Road, 410-531-6288) in Columbia fits that description. It is a steakhouse, after all, and Japanese steakhouses hardly count as ethnic restaurants anymore.
The owner, Frank Jin, is a native of China, but he didn't go out on any limbs when he planned his new place. I asked him why he decided to open a Japanese restaurant instead of a Chinese one, and he said, "People like Japanese food."
Maruha features hibachi-style cooking, where the chef puts on a performance while he cooks your meal. Kids love the show and the food as well, which makes Japanese steakhouses good for family outings. For a while, though, the Baltimore area had an overabundance of them, and several closed.
Maybe the time is ripe for them again.
As for the sushi bar, I've said it before and I'll say it again: Sushi is the new pizza for a whole generation. You can't get much safer than that.
Maruha is open daily from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.
Top honors The Restaurant Association of Maryland's Stars of the Industry awards were announced last week, and they came as something of a shock. Baltimore and Annapolis were hardly represented. If you had told me the Favorite New Restaurant award had gone to a place outside of Baltimore, I would have guessed Vol t, the restaurant in Frederick that was a semifinalist for a James Beard Foundation award. It turned out to be Mitchum's Steakhouse in Trappe.
The Favorite Restaurant award went to the Marlin Moon Grill in Ocean City.
The Restaurateur of the Year was Leighton Moore of Seacrets Bar and Grill in O.C.
The awards were the results of public voting, "with thousands of votes collected," according to the association. My guess is that most of them were from the Eastern Shore. (I should add there are some great restaurants there.)
Still, a few establishments on this side of the Bay Bridge were represented. The Chef of the Year award went to Michael Gettier of Antrim 1844 in Taneytown. And Arismendy Infantale of Tio Pepe (yay, Baltimore) received the Pastry Chef of the Year award.
Craving sweets? It's barely a month old, but already the new Sweet Tooth Dessert Shop (1111 Hollins St., 443-708-5579, sweettoothdessertshop.com) in SoWeBo is the place to go when you crave a slice of brownie-chunk cheesecake and your friend wants a vegan dessert.
Sean "Salaam" Williams told me he and his business partner, Darren Brown, decided to open their business near the Hollins Market because they both lived in the Southwest Baltimore neighborhood (before Williams moved) and saw it as up-and-coming. That may be a little optimistic, but, hey, Zella's and Baltimore Pho, the two restaurants there, have gotten good press.
Williams and Brown use local bakers and one of their employees to produce the cakes, pies, brownies and cheesecakes on offer. The shop also serves Zeke's coffee, tea, sorbets and ice cream.
Sweet Tooth is part lounge, part dessert cafe, with free wi-fi and a turntable where you can play record albums.
It's open from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday, till midnight Friday and Saturday, and 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday.
deal of the week
Where: : McCormick & Schmick's, 711 Eastern Ave.
The deal: : $1.95 cheeseburger with fries plus other sandwiches and appetizers well under $5
The catch: : A minimum drink purchase of $2.50 per person
The time: : 3:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. Monday through Friday
Call: : 410-234-1300