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
HELP! — TRYING TO TRACK DOWN AN OLD MUSTARD SAUCE RECIPE …:
One of our family’s favorite restaurants for family occasions was the old Le Steak restaurant in Georgetown which closed down years ago; they used to bottle and sell a great vinagrette for the salad and the mustard sauce for the steak.
I’d love to track down the recipes – any idea who owned the place and how to reach them?
No idea — but I’m putting this up here early in case someone comes along and has a contact …
Have you eaten at Medium Rare, in Cleveland Park? It’s a reprisal, of sorts, of Le Steak — a single meal, steak, fries and salad, take it or leave it. And Medium Rare has a pretty tasty mustard sauce — flavored, I want to say, with a bit of chicken liver.
If you’re interested, I could try to track that one down for you. Say the word. …
Good morning, everyone.
The chatter’s question reminds me — if you have a recipe you’d like to get your hands on, just ask. I or we will do what we can to acquire it for you.
Eager to hear where you’re eating and drinking, and what’s on your mind as the holiday season is in full swing …
STEAK, CONT., AND DISHES OF THE YEAR …?:
You listed a lot of good dishes in last week’s chat, but which dish gave you the ultimate umami factor or is your dish of the year?
For the person who was asking about steak cross the Palm of your list. just got back from a lunch at the Palm and it was just disappointing
But to be fair, you don’t go to the Palm to glory in cuisine. You go to transact business. Or talk business. Or people-watch while pretending to do business.
As for last week’s dish list — http://www.washingtonian.com/chats/kliman/tuesday-december-4-at-11-am.php — that was not a best dishes of the year sort of thing. It was a best dishes of the past few months sort of thing.
I’d have a hard time picking a dish of the year. I could, maybe, pick 10. But one dish to stand for the entire year, the best of some 500 meals?
What was the best thing you all ate this year — and it doesn’t matter the cuisine, or the elegance of the restaurant, nor does it take into account questions of consistency. What one dish did it for you in 2012?
Re: CUBA DE AYER, IN BURTONSVILLE …:
Found myself out in Burtonsville Saturday night and had dinner at Cuba de Ayer.
Good cubano (pork was slightly dry), chicken empanada was great with lots of flavor and moist (unlike many chicken empanadas which suffer from being dry and stringy), beans and rice and the plantains were excellent.
Waitstaff was great and at no point during the hour or so that we were there was there not a wait for a table. Only wish it wasn’t all the way out in Burtonsville…If I lived closer this place would be on the regular rotation.
Glad to hear it.
And you’re so right about the rice. Some of you may laugh at the idea of so many words expended on something so simple as rice, but believe me, it’s not a trifling matter. Good rice is a very hard thing to find — whether it’s in Cuban restaurants, or Bolivian, or Thai, or Chinese, or Japanese, or Afghan, or Lebanese, or wherever. Most of the time, rice-as-side is eminently forgettable, sticky in a way you don’t want or dry and reheated-tasting, and almost invariably underseasoned.
Cuba de Ayer does great rice, and it makes such a difference in the meal. Great black beans, too. And that’s equally important in this instance. I could make a meal, here, of just rice and beans.
Next time you’re there, you have to get the picadillo. They produce a much softer-textured version than you typically find, and there’s just the right proportion of cubed potatoes to ground meat, and just the right amount of wine.
I like the lechon, too, and the croquettas. And there’s a good chicken soup that’s almost a meal in itself.
Re: CHEZ LE COMMIS, UNDEGROUND DINING IN CLARENDON …:
You wrote about Chez Le Commis in the December issue. Sounds like a cool place, but I checked and he’s sold out through February.
How can you get a seat? As if getting a table at the remodeled minibar won’t be frustrating enough…
Wait, are you saying you don’t enjoy sending out an email precisely at 10 a.m. every morning for three weeks straight just for the chance of being selected to sit down to dinner one month hence, for which you can expect to pay anywhere between $650-$1,000 for two?
And here I thought you people were the most passionate of foodies …
As for Chez le Commis, you’re looking at March. Not much you can do there.
Remember, it’s not a restaurant, it’s a guy’s one-bedroom apartment. And remember that, as well, when you do finally get a booking.
What you’re in for is a very fun and ambitious dinner party with strangers. With some good and interesting cooking that would fool you into thinking you were sitting in a good restaurant, and some cooking that comes across as the likable but straining efforts of an accomplished and adventurous home cook. For 40 bucks, with multiple courses and several glasses of wine, it’s certainly worth doing once.
BEST DISHES OF 2012, CONT. …:
Best thing I ate in 2012 was a meal at Komi. It really kind of saved that type of tasting menu for me. I just adored it, was really worth it to me.
Best cheap eat of 2012 might have been either a steak bulgogi taco from TaKorean or a peach turnover “poptart” from Bubby’s in Soho.
I mean, I like it, but if that’s the best cheap eat you’ve got for the year in this area, then you haven’t been spending enough time in Virginia or Maryland.
Which brings up something that’s been on my mind lately, given some of the things I’ve been hearing from people and some of the things I’ve been reading …
And I know I have said it before, and so instead of saying it again, I will say it differently, and with a twist. I really don’t think you can get a grasp on the restaurant scene in this area if you only eat within the bounds of the city. Yes, there are a lot of exciting developments, a real boom in the sorts of mid-level places DC had previously been lacking. Lots of little places popping up in neighborhoods that heretofore were dead and doing interesting work.
And the types of places I just mentioned are typically types of places with publicists in one form or another. The publicists get the word out, and Twitter and Facebook are then abuzz, and the food blogs rush like lemmings to cover these openings, and the great effect of all this is that the reader can come away with the impression that this constitutes the scene.
When in fact it constitutes just a part. DC is not NY. It’s closer to LA in its ever-spreading mass. And just like in LA, you need a car to know it all. …
The Eden Center — aka Little Vietnam … the pocket of Ethiopian places around George Mason Dr. … Annandale’s Koreatown … the pockets of Korean and Peruvian restaurants in Rockville … the pockets of Thai in Wheaton … the great and plentiful kabob houses and pho parlors throughout northern Virginia … Bolivian in Maryland and Virginia, etc., etc.
The best pizza right now is in Annapolis. The best Mexican food right now is in Elkridge, Md. One of the best sushi experiences is in Baltimore.
HELP! — GOURMET FOOD SHOPPING FOR THE HOLIDAYS …:
I wanted to get some regional food items to take to some family in Western MD for Christmas. The catch being they need to be fairly non-perishable as we are traveling to see them by way of my in laws.
I picked up some locally roasted coffee, I will stop by Artisan Confections for chocolates (they aren’t big sweets people, but who doesn’t love a few good truffles) and picked up some Pork Barrel BBQ sauce. I will also be in Charlottesville right before Christmas. Any other items you or fellow chatters can think of?
Maybe a bottle from Black Ankle Vineyards, in Maryland, or any of the wineries in Virginia?
I think a bottle of Norton makes a good gift, and I say that not just because I wrote a book inspired, in part, by the Norton (available at a bookstore near you; makes a good stocking stuffer) but also because it’s interesting, is native to the region, and has an amazing story behind it.
Any other ideas, chatters?
BEST DISHES OF 2012, CONT. …:
It’s hard for me to narrow down the one dish that made a huge impact for me in 2012 as I’ve had the pleasure of some amazing meals!
But when I think back….I still yearn for another serving of the famous oysters and pearls dish at Per Se. It was just so luscious and overwhelmingly delicious that few dishes can compete to the same experience
it’s funny, my wife and I were talking recently about the best meals we’ve ever had, and she brought up Per Se, and went into raptures all over again just thinking about and talking about that dish.
I would rank it among the best things I’ve ever eaten, easily.
One of the wonders of this dish is that — actually, I was going to say that it was simple, which is ludicrous, of course. Food writers use “simple” a lot. You’ll read a description of a dish that no one at home could ever make, with ingredients most people may not even know, and then see the word “simple.”
No dish that includes caviar and oysters can be called simple. But you get a real sense of honing, of paring to the essence, that is, somehow, surprising. Everything on the plate contributes to a singularity of effect.
Back to the idea of ingredients that people don’t know … I was at dinner several weeks ago with a woman who eats out quite a bit for her job. She travels a lot, and spends most nights that she’s on the road in restaurants. I did a little test with her. I read the descriptions of dishes on a restaurant menu that I would not characterize as excessively ambitious — a good restaurant, and one that is up on all the latest trends. I ticked off names of ingredients — farro, for instance — and cooking techniques if they were listed — confit, say.
I went through appetizers, sides and main courses.
This woman who eats out at least 4 times a week and travels all over the country was stumped by 19 words. On one menu.
What should this tell you? What is the lesson, or what are the lessons, to be drawn?
STEAK HOUSES, CONT. …:
Honestly, I find the whole steak house experience boring and tired.
And with a couple of exceptions (Ray’s comes to mind), most of the steak houses around DC are just cogs in some corporate restaurant chain. Give me a neighborhood bistro with a good hanger steak any day. Just my 2 francs…
Can’t argue with any of this.
No so incidentally, I heard from a regular reader after last week’s chat that I need to get myself back to BLT to try the Creekstone bone-in, aged NY Strip — “the best steak I have ever had in my life, hands down.”
Who wouldn’t be intrigued to go for a taste after reading that?
Best steak I’ve had in the past ten years — almost the entirety of my time as a food critic — was not in this area, or New York, or Philly, or anywhere up and down the Eastern seaboard. It was in Chicago (what a surprise, huh?), at Gibson’s. A mammoth, perfectly cooked rib-eye. Just an amazing piece of meat. A richness of flavor that the steaks here just don’t have. Nothing I have eaten in the years since has even come close.
HELP! — DINING OUT IN NYC … :
Which restaurant would you dine at in NYC: Oceana or Marc Forgione? Going to NYC for christmas
Great neighborhood. And you could stick entirely to the menu of starters and have a good and interesting meal.
NAEEM MAKES HIS WEEKLY APPEARANCE …:
Dishes of the year:
Tandoori Chicken & Egg Paratha @ Punjabi by Nature
Octopus dish @ Seasonal Pantry Supper Club
Southern style fish with polenta @ Pearl Dive Oyster Palace
Long Island Clam bake dish @ Eleven Madison Park
Neopolitan pizza @ Menomale
Good and interesting list, Naeem.
By the way, I received your last email and I want to say I think it’s a real stretch to claim that you can take better food photographs with your cell phone camera than members of the staff. I even think it’s a stretch to make that claim when you’re talking about an actual camera.
There’s so much that goes into a photo shoot that amateurs never bother with or even think of. The lighting, for instance. No one who has never seen it can fully appreciate what a good photographer does with lighting. The angles, the positions. The multiple sources of illumination. The styling that goes on to capture a spot of brightness. The appreciation for color harmony. The ability to balance light and shade.
There’s also the ability to deliver something on time, every time, that amateurs never consider. You might be able to produce a good photo, but can you produce a good photo week in and week out for a year, or years? Without taking a week or a month off? Coming up with a moment of visual poetry every now and again is nice, but the pros can reliably do it all the time. They’re not fazed by the pressure of a deadline; they don’t wilt.
Finally, the good ones can also produce pictures that don’t just speak to an audience of photographers, who will admire their craft; they can produce pictures that have broad appeal. Being able to do both is not easy. But it’s what separates the amateur from the pro.
REGIONAL FOOD ITEMS FOR GIFTS, CONT. …:
Uncle Brotha’s Hot Sauce.
I’m partial to the No. 9 Chile Verde Garlic and Ginger sauce (it’s the green one). Available online and Hill’s Kitchen near Eastern Market usually carries it.
Thanks for chiming in. Good to throw some support to a local business …
Who else has an idea?
BEST DISHES OF 2012, CONT. …:
Bites of the year.
DC: Spanish white anchovies on grilled bread at Bar Pilar, so simple so good.
Non-DC, Domestic: Cured tofu at Kajitsu, NYC. An umami bomb that just kept on going and going. (Shout out to the caponata at A Mano in NOLA.)
Non-DC, International: Just about everything we ate in Israel. The list is too long.
Yes, absolutely — a long, long list for such a small, small country.
Great list. Thanks for passing it along.
And you’ve had me thinking about that cured tofu for weeks, now.
Re: RIPPLE, IN CLEVELAND PARK …:
Ripple just keeps getting better and better.
Each dish that my teenage son and I had when we went last week was memorable: to start, we had a blood sausage-uni combination (!) and barely cooked scallops with juniper vinegar, malted celeriac and grated turnip; mains were stuffed lamb shoulder with cauliflower custard, kale, mushrooms, & anchovy butter and leg of venison with salted beet stems, apple tahini, crispy ham, and cumin yogurt.
The contrast of flavors was terrific, and the plates were beautifully composed. Service as always was personable and knowledgeable: the servers here never try to upsell, a practice that is increasingly common elsewhere.
Added bonus: the genuine commitment to local, sustainable food makes eating here seem almost virtuous.
Thanks for the tasty report.
And yes, upselling is more a function of restaurant-going than ever, it seems.
The restaurant world will object to what I’m about to say, and claim that it’s not upselling, merely presenting a diner with options, but asking if you would like sparkling, still or tap is a sly form of upselling.
It’s a clear framing of your choices, and in such a way as to suggest that tap is clearly inferior.
I don’t object as much when it’s a tasting menu restaurant, and don’t object at all when these options are provided on the house.
Anyone out there with stories of being aggressively upsold of late?
Re: IZAKAYA SEKI, ON V ST. NW …:
I wanted to thank you for your recommendation of Izakaya Seki. My fiance and I went for dinner on Friday and had an outstanding meal!
Great sake selection and super fresh sashimi, but the highlights were the various grilled and fried items we ate. My favorites were the eel with cucumber salad, the fried tofu in dashi, and the delightfully surprising black sesame flan for dessert.
We can’t wait to go back.
I know the feeling. ; )
Thanks for the tasty report. I’m so glad to hear it turned out so well for you …
BEST DISHES OF 2012, CONT. …:
Here’s something: You asked us what we thought were OUR most memorable dishes. And then someone has the GALL to give their view, only, of course, it’s the WRONG view in your eyes.
How about this- maybe they got a bulgolgi taco when the kitchen was on all cylinders, the marinade was just right, and it was perfect. Either way, if you don’t like what the answer’s going to be, maybe you shouldn’t ask. You snob.
I didn’t tell the chatter that he or she is wrong; only that I was surprised by the choice.
But yeah, it wasn’t fair of me to transition from talking about that to talking about the larger dining scene. I was wrong there.
Snobbery? Don’t get that. Snobbery is to insist on the primacy of fine dining and the exclusion of everything else.
BEST DISHES OF 2012, CONT. …:
Xiao long bao – Yank Sing, SF (still think about these)
Ribs – Dinosaur BBQ, Syracuse, NY
28-Day Dry Aged NY Strip – BLT Steak, DC
Hanger steak au poivre with onion carbonara – Central, DC
Baby squid – Boqueria, DC
I really love xiao long bao (soup dumplings). Just found a good one in Rockville, MD. Restaurant recently opened – Shanghai taste. You can only find it in the Chinese menu (no English translations).
I love ‘em, too. Thanks for the tip!
So hard to find good ones. Actually, so hard to find any at all.
Can’t wait …
And thanks for the fun year-end list.
BEST DISHES OF 2012, CONT. …:
One of the best bites I had this year was at the home of a friend who made us a traditional cheese fondue dinner once our weather turned cool.
I had forgotten how good just a few, right ingredients can be when tossed together and coupled with good conversation and laughs. We had it with a couple bottles of Sancerre, and followed with a lightly dressed green salad to aid in the digestion.
This inspired me to ask for a fondue pot for the holidays. A simple and excellent meal!
As for restaurant bites, I didn’t eat out much in 2012, but my favorite dish in 2011 was the beef and cheese piroshky (hand-held, flaky pie) at Pike’s Place market in Seattle. With a strong cup of coffee, this was a memorable breakfast! And cheap too.
My kind of breakfast!
And a fondue is really a great idea. I wish people thought to do it more. I wish I thought to do it more.
It’s not that expensive, and it’s a great way to have a slow and lingering night with friends.
So often when we cook, we’re so keyed up about the meal and all the little details that we forget to have a good time. Or we have a good time, but not until we know that everybody likes the meal. With fondue, you’re making the meal with your people. You can relax and be a person.
Thanks for the reminder.
BEST DISHES OF 2012, CONT. …:
Most memorable dishes of 2012:
“Toad In A Hole” from Zahav in Philly – it was fried egg in challah topped with house smoked whitefish. Just typing this gets me salivating again. Rich, clean, unexpected but all familiar – like breakfast in the big Jewish family I didn’t have.
Pork Ribs from Little Serow – After the first big bite I just started laughing over how good they were. Then I cursed no one in particular over how good they were. Then I made sure I picked every bone clean.
Hot Buttered Rum from Columbia Room – Because I dared them to make me ‘get’ a drink I previously thought wasn’t good, and they did it. The things they can do with drinks back there is really something else.
Frites, Bolognese Mussels, and Champagne from Brasserie Beck – because that’s what we had after getting engaged. That’s going to be the meal I remember from 2012 long after everything else.
What a great list!
I had been sort-of hungry before; now I’m legitimately hungry. I want everything on this list …
Congratulations on your engagement. I like that you had a meal AFTER getting engaged. Much more interesting than getting engaged at a meal.
Cherish the memory …
Re: EGREGIOUS UPSELLING …:
Not that recent, but I was at Zaytinya with a largish group (maybe 6 people) and the waitress tried to convince us to order the whole lamb shoulder, which was a special not listed on the menu. After she had gone on and on for several minutes someone finally thought to ask how much it cost.
She looked a little sheepish, and told us it was $75, or about 10 times most of the other items on the menu.
We could have saved her some time if she’d presented that information upfront!
Now THAT’S an upsell.
You realize, of course, that that information was not meant to be presented up front; it was meant not to be presented at all.
And you can’t really blame her. I mean, a little, but not a lot. She’s just doing her boss’s bidding.
What a story.
Who else has one?
PHOTOGRAPHY, CONT. … :
When I comment, it is food-focused. I wanted to comment, though, on food photography.
Just as it is with any creative/artistic endeavor, a lot of people can do things fine, very few are able to do the exceptional. And when they do, they make it look so easy that people are fooled that they, too, can do it just as easily.
That said, I was doing a photography portrait session this past weekend – and even the very best photographers have to take hundreds of photos to get a few absolutely great ones.
You are right – there are so many considerations that pull together the best photographs in the world (be it lighting, texture, color balance, subject to background, etc.) Sometimes the eye gets lucky and snaps something wonderful without too much fussing. Most take a lot of work and patience.
I think phone cameras have come a long way and take just fine photos; however, any photographer worth their salt knows that even the best phone cameras are not on par with an actual camera. Phone cameras can be good and they are making progress. If you want the best in photography, you still need to use a camera.
Very, very well put.
Thanks for chiming in …
Re: RASIKA WEST END …:
Wanted to give some props to Rasika West End.
My mom and her boyfriend were visiting from Seattle over the weekend, so my husband and I took them to Rasika West End, which is one of our favorite spots.
Our reservation was for 8:15, but our table wasn’t turning over. The manager—I don’t know his name, but he’s a familiar face at both the Penn Quarter and West End locations—couldn’t have handled the situation any better. He consistently kept us updated on the table’s progress and apologized profusely. He first offered to comp our bar bill. Then, he handed out menus and told us to order whatever appetizers we wanted on the house, and that he would make sure they were delivered to our table as soon as we were seated. We asked for a couple orders of the palak chaat, and he told us that wasn’t nearly enough and to order more! So we also tried the cauliflower bezule and the honey ginger scallops, which were both delicious.
Though we were seated a half-hour late, his above-and-beyond efforts totally made up for it. And, as usual, everyone’s food was spectacular.
Good for Rasika West End. And good for you, obviously.
This is a very wonderful reminder that service is more than just delivering the food and keeping drinks refilled and asking if the plates can be cleared yet.
Thanks for writing in …
BEST DISHES OF 2012, CONT. …:
Best dish 2012:
Raw porcini mushroom shaved on a truffle slicer, with vinaigrette, olive oil and shaved parmeseano romano, Two Amys.
2 Amys could pop up on many, many lists. Those little plates are stunning.
Thanks, everyone, for all the lists and tips, and for the funny stories and, yes, for the gripes, too. (My apologies to the TaKorean poster: I hope you didn’t take offense. That wasn’t the place to pivot to a discussion of the vast ethno-culinary landscape.)
By the way, I’ll be posting my own list next week on the Best Bites Blog — my most memorable food moments of the year. Not so much a best dishes list, but something more along the lines of what the newly engaged chatter posted at the end of her list — a meal that was made memorable for occurring when it did.
Off to lunch. Thanks for the lively morning and early afternoon, everyone …
Be well, eat well, and let’s do it again next Tuesday at 11 …
[missing you, TEK … ]