Once you’re seated in the bustling, stylish dining room of Ranazul in Howard County, it’s best to throw dietary caution to the wind, unbutton the top button of your pants to make room for your happily swelling stomach, and get busy eating. Start with a bottle of wine, a few glasses of sangria, or one of the excellent cocktails. We especially liked a slightly sweeter-than-usual mojito made with passion-fruit rum. Ranazul offers a range of flavorful, Spanish-influenced small plates. Its menu is divided into cold and hot tapas plus a handful of entrees—including grilled salmon and rack of lamb—and assorted soups and salads.
We started with a delicious lime-drenched seviche with slender rings of calamari and chunks of shrimp and scallops, served with crisp tortilla chips and buttery avocado wedges. We also enjoyed the sopa Azteca, an appealing tomato broth that leaves a lingering heat, is textured by grilled chicken cubes and tortilla strips, and cooled by sour cream and avocado.
The grilled artichokes were another winner, featuring an intensely flavored, hearty plate of smoky grilled artichokes and tomatoes, accompanied by a small cylinder of mozzarella cheese wrapped in tender prosciutto, all drizzled with a tomato vinaigrette.
We continued with mouthwatering, fork-tender short ribs braised in red wine accompanied by wilted spinach and potato slices, and a dish of three sweet, perfectly seared scallops atop a tangle of crisp potato. We also couldn’t resist the Peruvian chicken with its addictive Dijon mustard sauce.
Thankfully, we saved room for dessert. The molten chocolate cake with whipped cream and a scoop of vanilla ice cream delivered a lot of goodness with contrasts of warm and cold and rich chocolate and soothing vanilla.
Ranazul is full of satisfying surprises. It’s relaxed and fun and offers a menu that invites adventure, while staying rooted in classic tapas fare.