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Jul 22, 2006 02:57 AM

New/revamped Howard County restaurants

Does anyone have any feedback on any of the following?

Fire Rock Grill - at Oakland Mills VC, where Last Chance used to be

Lee Lynn's - at 108 and 29, where GL Shacks used to be (or is it just Shacks with a new name?)

Stella Notte - Italian restaurant at Lotte Plaza

Nora Cafe - at Normandy shopping center


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  1. Of those listed, the only one I've tried was Stella Notte (are you sure that's the right name?) by Lotte Plaza. I've gone a couple of times, alone and with friends, and when they're good, it's pretty decent, but we found them to be very inconsistent, particularly on the pizza. We had a couple really good pizzas, but others were down in mediocre range.

    If you end up in the "sunroom", the acoustics make it VERY loud. Or maybe we just happened to be in that room when the rest of the tables were filled with really loud people.

    I'd put it in the category of "I want to like it, but in honesty, I don't like it." All this based on visits about 6 months to a year ago, and things might have changed. We gave them multiple chances, though, and they just weren't consistent enough to make us eager to go back.

    3 Replies
    1. re: Warthog

      That place has changed names several times. It used to be Luna Bella (maybe that's when you went?) and before that, Il Giardino. I went there when it was Il Giradino but that was some time ago.

      Thanks for your input!

      1. re: little audrey

        The sad thing is that in the transition between Il Giardano and Luna Bella, they went to the trouble and expense of putting in a wood-fired oven. Unfortunately, they apparently did not also go to the expense of finding somebody who knew how to properly use it. Imagine if they went to the trouble, and got somebody who is capable of creating New Haven, NY, or even "gourmet" California-style pizzas, as opposed to merely making an average pizza in a nicer-than average oven.

        And of course, a wood-fired oven can also be used to make fabulous bread, given a skilled baker/oven master.

        A good chef can make up for poor equipment, but good equipment seldom elevates the output of a kitchen by itself. The people, the commitment, and the quality ingredients also have to be there.

        1. re: Warthog

          REAL ISSUE is that along with new name, came new owners. When it switched from Luna Bella, to whatever it is now, the ORIGINAL Luna Bella owners (Joe and Celeste) returned to their Columbia restuarant fulltime and sold the place. Menu and preparations went downhill immediately after that. Luna Bella on Freetown Road is the place to go! Small - but great specials and consistently great food.

    2. Yes, Stella Notte was Luna Bella, haven't had a chance to go since it reopened. Also recently opening in Ellicott City is Johnny's Bistro on Main, which despite the name, looks to have mostly sandwiches and pizzas. Nora Cafe I've been to, had high hopes for given it's "bakery" status, and it's unfortunately not very good. I was also happy that they had gelato, but it wasn't made in-house and was iced-over. I haven't been to Fire Rock grill, but there was just a review in the Sun which made the place sound horrible, and they usually rave about everything.

      2 Replies
      1. re: Jason1

        I googled that review - yikes. Well, I do like a good burger. Maybe I'll get it to go...

        1. re: little audrey

          I read the same review of Fire Rock Grill, but we did go last night.. I admit I had some trepidation.

          After going though, I'm not sure I agree with the assessment. The service was attentive and the food was delicious -- I love rockfish, which was one of the specials, and they did it just right. The gorgonzola fries made me drool. And the beer selection was great.. Maybe they turned things around, post-review.

          Lee Lynn's is all right. The decor is different from what I remember from Shack's, but the food was just ok. Last time I went they seemed understaffed.

      2. Nora's Cafe is pretty good. I had a Tiramisu cake made for my birthday..It was incredible.

        1. Hey thanks for bumping this up - we've been to Fire Rock several times now, and like it very much. We haven't tried their burgers, but they do look big and delicious, like the ones I make at home.

          For an appetizer, we like the quesadilla which is made with spinach and portobello mushroom, and served with cucumber sauce instead of the usual sour cream. Entrees: hits included the prime rib (not very thick, but good), lamb chops, seafood pasta dishes and fish; the mussels marinara was not very good IMO. Sides: they have the tastiest saffron-nut rice I've ever had. Desserts: the only one we really liked was the hot "mississippi mud" with ice cream. The whole place is nonsmoking, they have live music and NTN trivia in the bar, and service is very friendly but can be a tad slow. Overall, thumbs up!

          We've also tried Nora a couple of times. Very good breakfasts (though they get crowded, like all the other 3 places in Howard that serve breakfast) but the coffee is awful - get your caffeine fix at Dunkin Donuts across the street. I haven't tried the desserts, but I'll have to give that tiramisu a try now.

          1. Haven't been to any of the others, except for Fire Rock Grill. Went there last September (post Baltimore Sun review) and it was horrible. Perhaps it was because we went to lunch, but either way it was pretty bad. There was a group of us but we were the only ones there, except for a few people in the bar. It took us more than an hour to get our appetizers and another hour for our main courses--and they weren't anything special: fried shrimp, burgers, chicken sandwiches. Nothing to rave about and I left still hungry. Extremely disappointed, needless to say.