Where can you get a three-star experience at one-star prices? Which hot new
restaurant merits the scorching hype? The answer to all these questions
and more can be found Tuesdays at 11 AM on Kliman Online.
From scoping out scruffy holes in the wall to weighing the merits of
four-star wanna-bes, from scouring the ‘burbs and exurbs to hitting the
city’s streets, Todd Kliman covers a lot of territory.
Winner of a James
Beard Foundation Award in 2005 for the country’s best newspaper column
about food, Kliman is food and wine editor and restaurant critic for The Washingtonian. His work has appeared in The New Yorker, Harper’s, The Oxford American, The Daily Beast and Men’s Health, among others, and he has been selected four times for inclusion in the Best Food Writing anthologies.
He is the author of The Wild Vine,
a literary exploration of two entwined mysteries: an obscure grape that
rose to prominence, only to disappear, and its present-day evangelist, a
foul-mouthed transgendered multi-millionaire vintner on an obsessive
quest to restore the legend of an antebellum southern doctor.
Can’t wait a week to talk to Todd? Follow him on Twitter for dining reports, tips, and breaking news from the culinary world. Or write to him: firstname.lastname@example.org
IN SEARCH OF PEKING DUCK … ?:
We are enjoying the fare at Union Market and wondering where we can find the BEST Peking Duck in or around DC. We are willing to travel up to 45 minutes in any direction outside the city.
The kicker is none of us have ever eaten it! Any insight you can share is appreciated.
Ben, Dave, and Michele
Ben, Dave and Michele —
Peking Gourmet Inn, in Falls Church, is the place.
It’s not cheap — $42, if I’m recalling right — but it’s worth it. This is one of the great dishes in the area. Beautiful crisp skin, succulent, rich meat, and a stack of egg pancakes to smear with hoisin and roll the meat (and skin — the skin is essential; it adds a needed crunch).
(The rest of the menu, here, ranges from pretty good to good. But I think it’s generally overpriced for what it is.)
Resist their pushing to order the long slices of cucumber; you don’t need ‘em. And make sure they slice off meat from near the bone and not just the breast — most Westerners prefer the dryer, less rich stuff. But the best, juiciest meat is closest to the bone.
One more thing: ask them to pack up the carcass so you can take it home and make soup or stock.
Have a great time, and please let me know how it all turns out …
Good morning, everyone.
Eager to hear what-all you’ve got on your minds this chill, rainy November morning. Where are you eating? What are you thinking?
Glad to be inside and here with you …
FOLLOWING UP: MASALA ART, TENLEYTOWN …:
Todd, in your most recent chat you mentioned that you had a dreadful meal at Masala Art. I’m wondering, was it on a weekend?
We’ve found that on weeknights the food and service is as good as ever, but on weekends the place seems to fall apart — maybe they don’t put on enough extra staff to handle the larger crowds? Is that a problem you see at other restaurants, and before you review a place do you try to eat there on both a weeknight and a weekend?
No, no — it was a weeknight.
And: we were the only ones in the dining room for most of the meal. Toward the end, another couple came in.
It’s interesting — there’re restaurants that do better when it’s less busy and less chaotic, and there’re restaurants that do better when it’s exactly the opposite.
The latter places evidently need the stimulus, the constant cracking of the whip — lest they become complacent and neglectful.
The former are more delicate organisms — they can turn out superlative food if all the conditions are controlled and just right, but once things go off script, forget about it.
Remember, most chefs from catering on up to four-star kitchens can whip you up a pretty darn good meal if it was only just you they were serving. It’s when there are breakdowns — when the pace is thrown off — when the kitchen gets backed up — that a meal goes haywire. It’s one of the things that separates the decent from the good and the great. The good and the great have systems. They can manage the chaos.
Re: YOUR CHAT SIGN-OFF …:
Good morning from the left coast!
I’m wondering, what’s the back story behind your sign-off each week, “missing you, TEK”?
All the best, Melissa
How’re your studies going at U of Oregon? Thanks for continuing to keep up with me a coast away and check in with what I write …
TEK is my father; his initials. He died three years ago.
My father loved coming out to restaurants with me, and loved reading this chat. He was extraordinarily supportive of me, going all the way back to my first writing job, when I was 15 and writing weekly for the Journal papers and then weekly for The Sentinel — he used to drive me around to the events I wrote about (I remember covering an arm wrestling tournament, and he took me there and back and out for lunch after). Later, when I was 17 and 18, I worked for a weekly magazine downtown and often stayed late, going out for a late bite with staffers; I would take the last Metro home and he would pick me up. When I came out of grad school, he offered to pay me a monthly stipend — as if he had money to throw around; he was an artist — so I would not have to grind myself to the bone to support myself and try to write, too. He read everything I wrote. He pushed me. He exulted in my successes and softened the blows when they came.
I miss him.
Re: MUSSEL BAR:
We live near the Mussel Bar in Bethesda and have eaten there regularly since it opened. The last time we went, I was shocked at the price of the mussels — $24 dollars. I believe they were $16 or $18 when the restaurant opened.
At $24, this is no longer a relatively inexpensive dinner option — any idea of why the price has jumped so significantly and whether it has impacted business there?
Well, I know that the supply of things like mussels and scallops isn’t keeping pace with the global demand.
I haven’t seen scallops in great profusion recently, and I suspect that’s why — that the current high cost for chefs makes it prohibitive to put them on menus.
I have also seen the rising cost of mussels in a number of places.
But $24 for a pot of mussels? That’s beyond reasonable. Well beyond.
Mussels aren’t a luxury item. They’re not oysters, they’re not lobster. Never have been. Never will be.
I guess when you call yourself a mussel bar you can’t well not have mussels, but who is forking out that kind of money for this?
DREAMING OF SOUP ON THIS COLD, WET DAY …:
Writing in early as the wet and cold weather toll on my 61 year old bones today leaves me with the following thought and question. Nothing better than coming home to a hot bowl of stew or soup to warm old, cold bones on a day like this.
If you would, kind DC culinary seer, can you please give us three (or more) of YOUR favorite restaurant soups and stews to not miss this winter. New, old, traditional or avant doesn’t matter. I intend to hit each one.
The fact that we went from 70 degrees to 40 degrees didn’t help.
I’m with you — I could really, really go for a good bowl of soup right now, too.
Off the top of my head, here’re a few of my favorite bowls in the area:
— bouillabaisse at Restaurant Eve, the bistro, Old Town Alexandria.
— kabocha squash soup at Corduroy, DC.
— congee, Rice Paper, Falls Church
— fish soup at Fishnet, College Park.
— brodetto at Palena Cafe, Cleveland Park.
— Chinese-style hot and sour soup, Michael’s Noodles, Rockville
— escarole and white bean soup, Pret-a-Manger, DC.
— pho at Pho 88, Beltsville.
— miso soup, Sushi-Ko I and Makoto, DC.
— seafood chowder, Kinkeads, DC.
Re: STARBUCKS :
Just curious why you keep going to Starbucks when we have so many more better coffee shops in the city. As far as I’m concerned, their coffee is mediocre at best and overpriced, and espresso drinks are hardly any good. I’d rather support the local guys and get much better coffee for my own buck.
I don’t “keep going” to Starbucks. I went twice in the past three days, and — to give a little background to the rest of you — sent out tweets both times. The first tweet was about how to correct for the latte so that it’s not so weak; the second was about how the shop was gaudied up with Xmas decorations 10 days before Thanksgiving.
I find it funny that I am expected to defend my non-review eating and drinking habits, but fine, I will, because I need to say something here.
I didn’t go to Starbucks either time because I was seeking out a good cup of coffee. I went because it was there when I needed it, and, of equal importance to this discussion, because there was no independent coffee house within miles. Believe it or not, there are not a whole lot of independent coffee houses in Prince George’s County. Is there money in the county? For sure. Are there people clamoring for the good restaurants and shops that are so plentiful in counties like Arlington and Montgomery and Fairfax? There are. But, see, Prince George’s doesn’t have “population density.” There is not enough “foot traffic” in its town centers. And these are the on-the-record answers; I could fill you in on what I hear off-the-record — it isn’t pretty, and certainly not what you would expect of enlightened folks living in a blue-state area. Restaurateurs who pride themselves on being bold and visionary don’t open places there. The county, for the vast majority of the industry, does not exist.
I would love to see some more non-Starbucks coffee shops in the county. I would love to see some folks with means and pedigree take a chance.
But I’m not going to hold my breath.
Meantime, I would ask you if you ever buy books off Amazon. Because there are dozens of great independent book stores around the country and they need your business. Supporting them, is supporting more than just the products — the books — they sell; it’s supporting the idea of the bookstore as a cultural nexus. All communities need that.
Buy off Amazon, and what are you saying? You are saying: speed, efficiency, price and convenience are what matter.
PEKING GOURMET INN, CONT. … :
I heard that the main guy at Peking Gourmet Inn is now at China Wok in Tysons Corner, which is a less presumptuous low key place. Peking Gourmet Inn is overrated and has a bit of an attitude.
But bear in mind that Peking Gourmet Inn is a large operation, with many cooks. It’s not a restaurant dependent on one guy. The duck is still pretty wonderful.
Its being overrated is almost entirely a function of the Bush family, and the enormous attention it garnered for being a family favorite. It’s a good place with, yes, an attitude. Like some restaurants that are used to being praised constantly in print and on TV, it thinks it’s better than it is.
TECHNICAL DIFFICULTIES …?:
Hey Todd – pace of the chat unusually slow today. Just FYI in case you are having technical difficulties and weren’t aware it was glacier speed on our end.
Thanks for doing this every week!
Thanks for alerting me; I wasn’t aware.
My apologies for the problems. Thanks for being patient, everyone …
HELP FOR A FISH-EATING VEGAN (DON’T ASK) …:
Todd, you helped last year with my son’s birthday dinner. He is an adventourous teen with friends who are plain eaters. You suggested Central which was a big hit. Now time to help with my daughter’s birthday meal.
She is a high school aged fish eating vegan (don’t ask. it is health maintance not ethical reasons) Looking for a place that she will enjoy as well as others who are both vegetarians and carnivores.
Thanks in advance!
Your daughter sounds like a rare species, the kind that Nature show narrators hush their voices for —
“And here we have the fish-eating vegan, native to Georgetown … “
I can relate. I’m a vegetarian except for my job, which requires me to consume enormous quantities of foie gras, veal, bacon, ham, headcheese, etc. But that’s only 12 meals a week. All other times, I keep a pretty strict regimen.
As for a place for you and your daughter …
How about Pearl Dive Oyster Palace, on 14th St.? Shellfish and fish in abundance, as well as — for you and the others — one of the best fried chickens anywhere. And pie for dessert.
GREAT DEALS AT HIGH-END RESTOS …:
I was wondering if Washingtonian has considered (or perhaps already has done) a guide to deals at high-end restaurants. I’m only wondering because a friend mentioned Cityzen’s bar menu and the Source’s happy hour menu.
Both sounded great to me as I’ve always wanted to eat at those restaurants but I just don’t have the money to drop for dinner and drinks.
A guide would be a good idea.
We have, in the past, highlighted fantastic values like these in the blurbs we run for the 100 Best Restaurant issue.
I think it’d be worth having as a separate box.
Both the deals you mention are great ones. There’s also the $14.98 Lickety-Split lunch at Restaurant Eve, in Old Town — your choice of any two dishes from among several categories (which include drinks and desserts).
And it’s not a prix fixe menu like the others, but at Tosca you can get any of the pastas at the bar for half-price and supplement them with half-pours of the wines.
EXPLORING THE EDEN CENTER, FALLS CHURCH …:
Longtime reader, infrequent poster.
My wife’s birthday is this week and I’m planning a big group outing to Eden Center in celebration. We’ve been to (and enjoyed) Huong Viet and Viet Taste, as well as a couple bakeries we can’t recall the name of. There will probably be about 6-10 of us.
Doesn’t have to be the absolute best place there, but some place we’ll be able to get into with tasty food and good service. Also needs to be handicap accessible. I figured you would know just the place for us. Thanks!
That sounds like a fantastic way to celebrate.
One of the best there, and also one of the most comfortable, is a relatively new spot, Rice Paper, a few doors down from Huong Viet. Being on the outside of the plaza is also going to be easier than entering the mall and navigating the corridors to find a restaurant.
I reviewed it for the magazine earlier this year. Large menu, lots to explore. I’ve been five times and have had some good — as well as some very good — meals there. If you go, make sure you get the charred, stuffed grape leaves, which you wrap at the table in doily-like sheets of rice paper (wetted, then rolled) along with pickled carrot and radish and torn mint and basil.
If you do end up there, please drop back on and let me know how things turned out.
Enjoy yourselves, and happy birthday to you wife …
A STEP-UP FROM A NORMAL NIGHT OUT …:
Instead of exchanging gifts, my friend and I treat ourselves to a nice dinner together every December. Last year we did Eola, and loved it (it’s since become my go-to special occasion spot.)
Any ideas for this year, around the same price range, that would be a step-up from a normal night out?
I’d go to Fiola if I were you.
It’ll be sumptuous and indulgent without being TOO expensive, and you’ll feast on some of the best pastas (and best fish dishes, too) in the country.
By the way, I love this idea.
One of the problems with the end of the year exchange thing is that you end up giving and receiving things that aren’t really presents. A real present is something that is born of thought and consideration. Xmas time is about mugs and gag books and gift baskets with stuff you don’t want to eat and candies that the moment you get them your first thought is of re-gifting. It’s an entire industry, and it’s astonishingly strong and vibrant.
What a waste of money. And expectation.
What you came up with is terrific. And you can share in it with your friend.
IN SEARCH OF A SEMI-PRIVATE OR PRIVATE ROOM FOR WEDDING FESTIVITIES …:
Todd, I’d love your help!
I am getting married in March and we need help deciding where to celebrate the festivities. We’ll have about 20 people, so we’ll need a private or semi-private room at a restaurant.
We’re looking at spending no more than $80/pp and are open to any food. We’re looking at DC restaurants, but would be open to the burbs as well. We just want really good food and a welcoming atmosphere.
I’d look into either Vidalia, downtown, or Firefly, off Dupont Circle.
Both places are very used to doing these kinds of functions, and you should be able to pull off the kind of gathering you want there for the price you specified.
And you’ll eat well, too. Vidalia features contemporary American cooking with regional Southern influences; Firefly is the same minus the Southern accent. The dishes at either should appeal to a variety of people, which is important when you’re trying to make 20 folks happy.
Good luck. And congratulations …
WHERE CAN I FIND A GOOD STEAK SALAD? …:
this seems simple but i’ve had a surprisingly hard time finding… a place with a good streak salad. Any recommendations?
Good quality steak, sliced thin, medium rare or less, doesn’t skimp on the lettuce, or overload with goopy cheese or sweet dressing.
Have you tried Medium Rare, in Cleveland Park?
Or BLT Steak, downtown?
Franklins Restaurant, General Store and Brewpub, in Hyattsville, also has one — with a Roseda Farms loin sliced up over buttermilk-vinaigretted greens and tater tots.
Re: NYC DINING …:
Headed to NYC before Thanksgiving to celebrate an anniversary. We realize they are very different restaurants, but we are trying to decide between Torrisi Italian Specialties and Le Bernadin.
Also, any thoughts on a casual, interesting lunch spot in NYC (preferably in Manhattan). Thanks
Torrisi and Le Bernardin are just so different in every way except quality (Italian vs. French, low-key vs. luxe, moderate vs. super-expensive) that it really comes down to what sort of night you’re looking for.
Are you after a cozy spot where you don’t have to dress up and that feels very, very NOW? Then it’s Torrisi. Le Bernardin is a place you go to feel pampered and to indulge in the rare and exquisite — a place that screams (well, more like whispers — seductively, insistently) “special occasion.”
As for a casual, interesting lunch spot, I love going up in the Time Warner Building to Bouchon — being able to look out on the city and eat simple, perfectly executed Thomas Keller food is just … happy-making. And don’t leave without their take on a Nutter Butter. Amazing.
OTHER VEGAN THOUGHTS …?:
Thanks for the thought but I don’t think Pearl’s will work. Even though she eats fish, no dairy or eggs or shellfish so that eliminates everything on that menu. Other vegan thoughts?
Right, but it doesn’t eliminate fish, so it doesn’t eliminate everything on the menu (a lot, not all).
Also, keep in mind that most restaurants will prepare any fish without butter or cream if you ask them — just grill it or broil it with olive oil and lemon and herbs.
I’m sure Pearl Dive would accommodate her.
Other possibilities … What about Sushi Taro, off Dupont Circle? Miso soup, seaweed salad and the best sushi and sashimi around. Pretty great meal, I’d say.
We have enjoyed meals at Ethiopic multiple times. What we have never done before is taken the leftovers home. What an experience.
Day old injera that has soaked up the various leftover drips and drabs, reheated in the oven, and then spooned out on a plate, all mashed together. The injera kind of takes on the same texture of leftover stuffing that has soaked up all the flavors of Thanksgiving…but Ethiopian
That’s a pretty good description of it — Thanksgiving, only with heat and spice.
I’ve eaten this many times and love it. In a way, it’s the Ethiopian equivalent of chilaquiles.
It’s kind of fascinating that all of those seemingly disparate flavors don’t clash when they’re all blended like that. Somehow, the whole thing works. The tastes balance.
Look for a dish called fitfit, sometimes “firfir,” the next time you’re at an Ethiopian restaurant. It’s a dish in which the meat is mixed with torn bits of injera. Tasty.
Gotta run, everyone. Late for lunch.
Thanks for all the questions and comments and complaints, everyone …
Be well and eat well, and let’s do it again next Tuesday at 11 …
[missing you, TEK … ]