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
BEST PHO IN THE AREA? …:
Todd, two questions (both about Vietnamese food):
1) Someone has probably asked this before, but which restaurant do you think has the best pho in the area?
2) Are there any decent Vietnamese restaurants in Bethesda or Northwest DC other than Nam Viet in Cleveland Park (which I think is only decent, not great). I live in close-in Bethesda, and I’m tired of having to drive to Virginia for Vietnamese.
I’m not going to be able to help you cut down on your drives out there. Virginia’s the place to go, and more specifically, the Eden Center. There’s really nothing much in and around Bethesda, and nothing I can recommend.
I will say that I like the rice pots at Viet Pho & Grill, in Silver Spring, in the Hillandale Shopping Center; most of the rest of the food is a bit short on length and depth, and a bit too sweet for my taste. But the rice pots are great; the real deal.
As for pho, that, too, you’re going to have to drive some ways for.
Best? Lots of great places, hard to single out one out. I have a lot of favorites. Pho 75, in multiple locations — Rockville’s the one closest to you; Pho 88 in Beltsville; Pho Hot in Annandale; Pho Tay Ho in Falls Church; Pho Xe Lua in the Eden Center.
Good morning, everyone — what a gray, cold, rainy, raw day. I’m inside with a mug of hot coffee and happy to be sitting down with all of you for a couple of hours, talking about food and restaurants and whatever else.
Hit me …
EATING IN A.U. PARK …:
I will be moving soon to AU Park. Any places around there I should check out to eat? (Any any to steer clear of?)
The one place you need to learn about right from the start is Wagshall’s in Spring Valley, now in its 10th decade.
It’s a deli and market, and a great place to stop for a spit-roasted chicken or an overstuffed sandwich.
I’d consider it a rotational place; a place you hit at least once a week, if only to support a good culinary cause.
Beyond that, you’ve got an outpost of Pete’s New Haven Style Apizza, on Wisconsin, one of the better pizza places in the area. Murasaki and Yosaku, also on Wisconsin, are workaday sushi spots, and good for what they are. Tanad Thai and Cava Mezze Grill are good to know about for take-out; decent to very-decent, but nothing special.
I have a lot of affection for Osman and Joe’s Steak & Egg Kitchen, a great place for conversation, real atmosphere (the kind in short supply in upper Northwest), and a short-order-style breakfast.
As you can see, it’s not the greatest area for quote-unquote dining. But there’s no shortage of everyday sorts of places.
One restaurant that I used to recommend often for quote-unquote dining is Masala Art, a handsome Indian restaurant, also on Wisconsin; a recent meal there bombed, however. Whether it’s a pattern or an aberration, I don’t know yet.
HELP! — NEED SOMEWHERE DELICIOUS AND CHIC FOR MY HUSBAND’S BIRTHDAY …:
I need to take my husband, a real foodie, out for his birthday this weekend. I want somewhere that is delicious, chic, and decent service but nothing that’s going to totally empty my pockets.
We’ve done Little Serow, and loved it, but need a back up plan.
I’d take him to Izakaya Seki, on V St.
I think it’s one of the most exciting places to eat in the city right now. And if you can snag one of the stools around the counter downstairs — I should probably point out that the entire downstairs consists of ONLY a counter — that only adds to your experience of being there. You can sit and sip sake (it’s a pretty extensive collection, and very well annotated) and watch Hiroshi Seki work.
Seki has been cooking since he was in his teens; he’s in his 60s now. The guy is unflappable in the kitchen, and works with economy, smoothness and precision. I love watching him saber the top of a quail egg with a quick flick of his chef’s knife — a maneuver that would send the rest of us to the ER.
The food is deceptively simple, and it rewards the kind of lingering that a real food lover brings to eating. I love the mero, or Chilean sea bass, which is glazed and broiled and flakes at the merest touch of the chopstick. So sweet, so rich. There’s a marinated mackerel dish, and it’s a knockout — you don’t find mackerel this good very often. The yellowtail sashimi is stunning.
I could go on and on. I went four times when I reviewed it, eating my way through most of the menu and back again, and only turned up about two dishes that I thought were only okay.
Go. And let me know how it all turned out …
P.S. No reservations, so plan to arrive early or late, or be prepared for a wait.
RE: ETETE, on 9TH ST. NW …:
What has happened at Etete? I took friends from out of town there for dinner on Saturday and was shocked by the changes, especially the decline in portion sizes and food quality.
We ordered two of the vegetarian platters (one with fish) and were very surprised with how small the portions were (around 3 tbsp. of each veg. dish), plus the fish was dried out, cold, and clearly had been re-fried. We sent the fish back but felt too sheepish to bring up how small the portions were compared to our last visit (albeit 3 years ago).
The quality of the cooking has slipped as well—none of the punchy, rich flavors we were accustomed to that keep you coming back, dipping in with fingers full of injera, even as the spongy flatbread expands uncomfortably in your stomach. There was also only one Ethiopian beer (of the 5 listed on the menu) available. And our server tried to rush us out well before we had drained our glasses. The old hospitality was gone.
It was sad to have this experience at a restaurant that used to be so defined by its warmth and generosity (like the time a chef there once brought out an extra portion of the spicy red lentils we raved over, just because).
On a related note: have you ever eaten at Habesha Market and Carry-out, on 9th St. NW? I’m curious—it seems like such a fun, casual atmosphere. Is the food any good?
It’s been a couple of years, but I enjoyed my food at Habesha. And what a space to walk into, with that wonderful assault of spices …
As for Etete, it’s been pretty uneven the past couple of years. What accounts for that, I can only guess. But I have to wonder if the expansion a few years ago has had an affect. On separate occasions, I took Alton Brown and Wolfgang Puck (his wife is Ethiopian) there for lunch; both loved it.
“Punchy, rich flavors” is a good description of what the place, at its best, delivers. I’m finding more consistency these days at Ethiopic, on H St., which prepares some of the best tibs dishes I’ve ever had and makes a superb kitfo as well.
OUR FIERCELY LOYAL READER NAEEM CHECKS IN W/ A T-DAY WEEKEND REPORT …:
Had a wonderful Thanksgiving meal with relatives in Maryland.
My cousins roasted an entire goat for almost 7 hrs over low heat. It was delicioius! They also cooked three chickens and one turkey too along with all the sides one would want on Thanksgiving.
The next night my inlaws took us to Rasika West End for dinner. They had this butternut squash samosas with cherry sauce, which was just amazing. I am still craving those samosas 4 days later. We also tried the avocado and chaat which was good but still not as good as the original palaak chaat they serve. My inlaws were very impressed by Rasika. There is nothing like Rasika in the bay area even though there is a huge Desi population there. The only negative would be the bread basket, I didn’t think their offerings of naan were that good compared to some of the local kabob places in the area.
The next day we took them to BDT (Blue Duck Tavern) for brunch. I know it did not make your best places for brreakfast and brunch but I had to check it out for myself. We all thought it was good.
There were a few negatives though. I thought my english muffin for my eggs florentine could have been a little crispier and my wife’s waffles were a tad on the cold side. We all then had dinner at my parents house and my father in law was impressed that my mom makes her own yogurt and chutneys from scratch. We all enjoyed a rustic punjabi meal that night!
Overall, it was a good holiday weekend and hope everyone else had a good holiday weekend as well.
As always love the weekly chat!
Naeem, next Thanksgiving I’m coming to your house.
Slow-roasted goat. Wow. Fantastic.
Was there a marinade? What was in it? Condiments? Did you make sandwiches out of it?
Thanks, as always, for the reports of your culinary adventures. You do get around, my friend …
CELEBRATING A BIRTHDAY THIS WEEKEND — WHERE TO GO? …:
After a stressful couple of weeks, I am celebrating my belated 30th birthday this weekend with a small group of friends. Any suggestions for a low-key celebration for about 10 people?
We all like good food, but I am a vegetarian. Good cocktails are a plus. I live in Rockville, but we’re willing to go anywhere that is red-line accessible.
What about Spice X-ing, in Rockville’s Town Center?
Right on the red line, you can get cocktails (they do a good lychee mojito), it’s a pretty fun and festive vibe when it’s full, it’s a very good spot for vegetarians (as Indian restaurants often are), it’s not expensive, and it’s the kind of place that lends itself to a big group that likes to cover a lot of ground.
Happy belated birthday! If you do end up going, I’d love to know how things turned out …
Re: EATING IN A.U. PARK …:
I second all your AU Park recommendations.
Places to steer clear of… the Tara Thai in the Spring Valley shopping center. My husband and I call it Terrible Thai. I’ve eaten at other Tara Thais are they are usually okay (not great, but fine), but everything I’ve ordered from this one has been almost inedible.
Tanad Thai is still okay, but I think it’s slipped a little since it changed its name from 5471.
Yeah, not a fan of Tara Thai, though I haven’t been to that location.
Flavors are thin, and the sauces are syrupy-sweet.
You can ask the kitchen to make things hot, and they will. In which case you end up with a dish that is spicy with thin flavors and syrupy-sweet sauces.
I’d really be interested in hearing what people’s favorite Thai place is. I know it’s a tough question, because for a lot of us, Thai is either a workaday take-out kind of meal or a quick eat-in meal. We tend to go to the places that are closest to us.
But what’s the Thai place you most look forward to going to?
For me, it’s probably Ruan Thai, in Wheaton. It’s remarkably consistent, the menu is wide and, more important, deep, and there are several things on the menu that I find myself craving when I’m not there — the yum watercress salad, for instance.
Has anyone had it? It’s this fantastic loose-packed, lacy-crisp frittata — an egg-white binding of shrimp, squid, watercress, onions, and toasted cashews. Amazing. And then you dip it into the accompanying sauce. Double amazing.
BEST CHARCUTERIE IN D.C.? …:
What would you say are the five best charcuterie plates in DC? I’m partial to Proof, Central, and Blue Duck, but would love to see a more definitive list.
Those are all good.
I think the charcuterie plates at Vermilion and Restaurant Eve are two of the very best. Maybe the two very best.
Cafe du Parc has a good one. So does Bis. So does Vidalia.
I like the one at Lyon Hall and the one at Cork.
Re: THE FANTASTIC YUM WATERCRESS SALAD …:
Your vegetarian readers might want to know that Ruan Thai does a fantastic vegetarian yum watercress salad as well.
News to me! Thanks for sharing that great tip.
And good to know that it’s still a great dish without the shrimp or squid — though it doesn’t surprise me one bit that it is.
Re: ETHIOPIAN DINING … :
For Ethiopian options around Shaw/U Street, I think Zenebech Injera has eclipsed Etete in quality… and it’s cheap, too!
They have about 8 tables now, so it’s a little easier to get in than it used to be.
I love Zenebech.
And they have some of the best injera in the area, which isn’t surprising — they’re the makers of most of what gets sent out to the area’s many Ethiopian restaurants.
You can ask for a teff-intensive version — a revelation if all you’ve ever eaten is the gray, spongy, tangy version that most places use. This one is brown, and crunchy, and has the hearty chew of something that’s good for you. Which it is — teff is one of the so-called “super foods.”
Re: TOP THAIS IN THE AREA …:
I love Bangkok Garden in Bethesda, especially the nam, the whole fried flounder w/ chili garlic sauce and the two special menu items (Crispy Southern Duck and Moo Krob Prix King).
It’s just a neighborhood place in a neighborhood that lacks culinary diversity, but it’s always good.
Thanks for writing in …
I’ve gotta admit, I’m surprised to hear you say that Bethesda lacks culinary diversity. Beyond Thai, there’s Indian (Passage to India, Haandi), there’s Afghan (Faryab), there’s Salvadoran (Guardado’s), there’s Chinese, there’s Italian, there’s French, there’s Mexican, there’s Lebanese, there’s Malaysian, there’s Nepalese, there’s Greek, there’s Creole and Cajun, there’s Spanish.
And that’s just off the top of my head; I know I’m forgetting some others.
Bethesda doesn’t lack culinary diversity. It lacks quality restaurants relative to the size of its scene.
MORE ON THAT FABULOUS-SOUNDING SPIT-ROASTED GOAT …:
The goat was marinated in yogurt, cumin, coriander, chili powder, garlic, salt and pepper. It was applied to the goat and then it was left to marinate overnight before it was roasted over the open fire.
Everyone received some of the left over goat to take home with them. We received a nice leg piece. It was nice and juicy even the next day.
We had some of the traditional sides: mac & cheese, mashed potato, cranberry sauce, side of veggies and accompanied by some desi side dishes as well like chick peas and eggplant. Now, if my cousins were able to get their hands on a nice smoker, would love to smoke the whole goat or lamb next year for thanksgiving and see how it turns out.
Todd, you always have an invitation to join us for dinner!
My mouth is watering again from the ingredient list for the marinade. You could marinate a shoe in yogurt, cumin, coriander, chili powder, garlic, salt and pepper, and it’d probably be halfway decent.
Thanks, Naeem …
Re: ETETE, on 9th St. …:
Portion at Etete has been small for few years now and service can also be rushed; when we used to Etete for the bozena shiro, we asked the wait staff for more shiro and they always gave us more.
As for Abesha if you like Dukem’s food you will like it. Lots of Ethiopian cab drivers get their carry-outs from Abesha..(.It may not mean anything); I heard that they even bring the food to your car so you don’t have to park.
How about all the places in silver spring such as Lacomelza, Gebeta that opened this year?
I haven’t gotten to Gebeta yet. LacoMelza — or, more properly, LacoMelza Ethio Cafe & Restaurant — is very good, a strong addition to the scene. It’s also one of the most beautiful and inviting, and features some of the most colorful and attractive presentations.
By the way, this is what my list of favorites looks like at the moment — the Ethiopian places in the area I’m most excited to visit, in no particular order:
Ethiopic in DC, Meaza in Arlington, Zenebech in DC, LacoMelza in Silver Spring, Shagga in Hyattsville, Abay in Falls Church, Enat in Alexandria.
BIDDING FAREWELL TO KINKEADS …:
Hi Todd –
I’m trying to jump in quickly because I’d really love your opinion on this.
I was saddened to hear that Kinkead’s is closing its doors so that said, would you go to a restaurant that’s closing. I would love to have that awesome salmon dish for the last time but my husband said it just might be “my last time”.
What would Todd do?
Thanks in advance and still loving your chats!
Thank you …
You know, I would — why not? One last memory to hold onto, one last taste of one of the great restaurants in the history of this city? Hell yeah.
I will miss the excellent pro’s pro barmen there, I will miss sitting on one of the stools and slurping down cold perfectly shucked oysters, I will miss the chowders, I will miss the fried Ipswich clams, I will miss the cornmeal crusted flounder with spoonbread and tasso ham, I will miss the tart tatin …
Re: TOP THAIS IN THE AREA …:
I know most people think it isn’t the shining star anymore, but I still really like Thai Square.
The crispy squid is spicy with a good amount of basil. I really like the pork foot stew which has a really good broth with flavors of clove and five spice. I like some of their appetizers because they are smaller and more bite size. I also like their homemade noodles, I like the texture of these noodles.
My husband is a Bangkok 54 person, but I just haven’t found the same love for it that he does, maybe I don’t order right. It just doesn’t taste as comforting to me for some reason. The flavors just feel like they aren’t quite as complex and thought out, although they have good execution.
I’m with your husband on this; sorry.
Not everything’s to my liking, but I love the fried tofu with basil and chilis and the pumpkin red curry with roasted cashews and shrimp.
If I lived within ten, twelve minutes, I would eat those at least once a week and probably never have anything else; they’re that good.
Re: TOP THAIS IN THE AREA …:
Love Ruan, and the Yum Watercress, next best is Nava Thai about a block away. If I lived in Wheaton, I would have Thai every night.
Agree on Nava.
And agree, also, on eating Thai every night.
Though I might want to sneak in a visit to Ren’s for ramen, and get a falafel every now and again at Max’s, and pop on over to Moby Dick (not the kabob house, but the sushi joint) for some crunchy shrimp and a couple of rolls here and there, and pick up take-out ceviche and aguadito (with chicken gizzards instead of chicken) at The Chicken Place, and ok, a bowl of sopa de mani at Kantutas, and who could go a week without the pollo a a brasa at Super Chicken …
A SOUP THAT ROCKED MY NIGHT …:
My recent trip to Peking Duck in Falls Church had a single major highlight.`Winter squash and sea scallop soup` that serves two for $11.
Complex and balanced flavors of cilantro, mushrooms, scallops and squash. I believe they finish it off with egg whites and that adds up another level of richness. It maybe the best soup I had in this year. Highly recommended if you are in the area.
The duck also had great crispy skin but the meat was on the dry side.
I actually am writing this just to inform you and readers, that soup rocked my night.
Thanks for the great tip.
I assume, by the way, that you’re referring to Peking Gourmet Inn, yes? Peking Duck is appropriate, though — it’s the thing that everybody thinks to go there for.
It’s an uneven place. The duck can be wonderful. And yes, there are some gems on the menu. That soup sounds fantastic. Thanks for sharing the tip.
You’ve whet my appetite, which is also appropriate, because I’m rushing out in two seconds to meet a friend for lunch.
Thanks for all the great tips and questions and comments and semi-rants and musings — you all gave me a lift on this crummy gray day, and I hope spending some time here today did the same for you.
Be well, eat well, and let’s do it again next Tuesday at 11 …
[missing you, TEK … ]