In the Kitchen: Aida Bistro

Randi Rom

When Aida Bistro and Wine Bar opened 8 years ago, owner Joe Barbera (along with his wife Mary) had a vision. He wanted to provide a friendly, comfortable bistro-style restaurant with a core of fresh Italian food made from scratch and to provide customers with a great dining experience. “Anyone can throw sauce on pasta – we’ve had the same woman making pasta for us since we opened, and our restaurant is named for my mother, said Barbera.” “ By being family owned and operated, we have a different value system than a chain restaurant and the tenure of our staff is very strong--some of them have been here since we opened. We’re like family-we love each other and the customers feel it. We have a lot of repeat customers – they come in and ask for specific servers. We also see a lot of marriage proposals. We’ve delivered rings in desserts and have seen people come back every year to celebrate their engagements.”


While Joe cooks - it’s just a hobby. In the kitchen, executive chef Sean Riggs, who shares Joe’s vision, rules the roost.  Riggs attended the University of West Ontario where he studied business and Anne Arundel Community College where he enrolled in the Hospitality Culinary Arts and Tourism program and graduated with a culinary degree. “My father was an executive at Johnson & Johnson for over 30 years and initially I was going to follow in his footsteps with a business degree. But I decided that I liked the building blocks of cooking, figuring out how things work and working with my hands.” As an extension of his culinary education, Riggs participated in an American Culinary Federation competition and helped with Restaurant Association of Maryland dinners while he was in school. “It’s about the application of knowledge. You can’t explain how to run a knife through fish-you have to do it. I wear many hats but creating flavor combinations is the sexy part of the job, ” said Riggs.


Chef Riggs is well known for his braised dishes. In fact his favorite meal to cook and to enjoy is braised beef short ribs. Some of his popular menu items include: sautéed, local rockfish with goat cheese, herb risotto, asparagus with roasted red pepper sauce; all natural free-range roasted rosemary chicken breast with parmesan and herb risotto and andouille sausage, shrimp and smoked gouda ravioli. Whole-wheat pasta is available as are low carb and gluten free options.


Since the folks at the Bistro view wine as an accent to food and a part of the dining experience, it’s no surprise that they boast one of the largest ½ bottle lists in Maryland. The staff is trained to recommend a wine based on each menu item. To that end, the Wine Enthusiast Magazine bestowed Aida Bistro with an award of distinction as one of the best wine-driven restaurants in the United States for 5 consecutive years.


With the belief that the freshness of the product translates into a great dining experience, Aida Bistro uses fresh, local products wherever possible from Lariland Farms, The Happy Clam, Tranquility Farms,  and Clark Elliott Farms to name a few. Also part of the Aida Bistro experience are wine dinners, jazz nights and catering for special events. They are committed to supporting their community in Howard County and participate in many charitable events including the American Cancer Society’s “Taste for Life, the Pink Plate Specials promotion benefiting the Claudia Mayer Cancer Resource Center and “Soiree” a fundraiser for Howard County Tourism. The community in turn, supports the Bistro. As a testament to their popularity, the restaurant, currently located at 7185 Columbia Gateway Dive is moving across the street to a larger space at 6741 Columbia Gateway Drive. Construction will begin in late summer with a tentative opening scheduled for mid-September. The new place offers better visibility, not only within the park but from route 175 as well. It has 4400 square feet; they’ll have more food storage space, a much larger kitchen, private rooms, a wine room, and an herb garden. The new space will allow Aida Bistro to better accommodate the needs of their regular circle of family and friends and to welcome new friends. The vision is now a reality.


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