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 writing has appeared in The New Yorker, Harper’s, The Oxford American, Lucky Peach, 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.
Todd previously taught writing and literature at American University and Howard University. At Howard, he was also the editorial advisor to The Illtop Journal, Chris Rock’s humor magazine modeled after the Harvard Lampoon.
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: email@example.com
DINING IN OLD TOWN ALEXANDRIA …:
My boyfriend is a law school student and has evening classes on Valentine’s day this year, so we’re thinking of a slightly belated celebration.
He’s never been to Old Town Alexandria and I think he’d love the quaint charm of the town – could you recommend a restaurant with a romantic vibe that won’t break the bank (so that leaves out Vermilion, Restaurant Eve, and the like)?
I was thinking Bastille for their Sunday Supper, but is the food and ambiance up to par?
I like Bastille.
Up to par ambiance? I generally think that if you say you’re not willing to break the bank, you really shouldn’t ask for much in the way of ambiance.
Bastille is on the edge of Old Town, not in the charming, cobble-stone street part of the city, and the space has a low-key, unassuming air. I like that about it, but it’s not what you would call sumptuous, nor is it transporting, as some French bistros try to be.
If you go, and I think you should, I’ll be curious to hear how things turned out …
Good morning, everyone.
With Valentine’s Day two days away, I’m especially interested in hearing what your plans are. Go out — and where? — or stay in?
For many, many years, I have been a stay-inner on Valentine’s Day — one of the few nights I don’t go out to dinner. My wife prefers it. (She’s not big, in general, on the big, coercive holidays.)
By the way, many chefs privately refer to Valentine’s Day as “Amateur Night,” meaning a night when the rubes, those benighted souls who know nothing about Cuisine, come out en masse. Most of them hate coming to work that night.
Not that that should influence your decision in any way …
PORTUGUESE RESTAURANTS IN THE D.C. AREA …:
Hi Todd Kliman,
I was on holiday in Portugal last month. I enjoy the food very much. I have heard that “TAVIRA” is a Portuguese restaurant in Chevy-Chase, Md. I want to ask if you recommend “TAVIRA” for a good Portuguese meal ?
Thank You Peter
It’s been some years since I was at Tavira, so I cannot tell you what it is like now.
If anybody has been more recently, I would hope they would jot some notes for us.
I tend to suspect that it hasn’t changed all that much since I was last in. Some restaurants change every 5 months; and some hold steady through the years and even the decades. Tavira, to me, has always seemed to belong to the latter category.
My last meal there — for what it’s worth — was what I would call “very decent.”
I love Portuguese cooking, its simplicity, its zestiness. I wish we had much, more more of it in the area.
The last Portuguese restaurant I reviewed was Portuguese Club, in Wheaton. My meals there were among the strangest in all my years of critiquing restaurants. Most nights, I and my friends were the only ones there. Some nights, we were the only ones eating — while others sat around us, playing cards, talking, drinking. The kitchen was often out of dishes that were listed on the menu — I would hear from a server that a particular item would make its appearance the next weekend; the weekend would come and — no appearance.
But the food, often, was good: simple and good. I would gladly go back, if I didn’t think I was intruding on someone’s private club.
Re: THE KOJO NNAMDI SHOW, 88.5 FM …:
Just wanted to say great appearance on the Kojo show last week. It was a very good segment.
Thanks; I’m glad you liked it.
Supposed to have been an hour, but, ho hum, this death penalty repeal thing became news and the producers decided that that, apparently, is more important than talking about food. : )
ISO: CRAFT COCKTAILS IN AND AROUND DUPONT …:
I have some friends here from Paris. We will be at the Phillips this afternoon and then they want to get a good craft cocktail nearby because they have heard so much about our craft cocktail programs.
Where would you recommend within walking distance? Firefly?
Firefly’s a good call.
A good backup would be Urbana.
But really, if your friends have come all the way from Paris, what’s a half-mile more to go for a good drink? I’d think about cabbing it over to The Gibson, which is really the centerpiece of this whole movement in the city.
Re: SWAHILI VILLAGE, IN BELTSVILLE …:
Have you ever dined at Swahili Village. They’re an African restaurant in the Beltsville area that’s known for their grilled goat and beef dishes.
I want to try some new things but the cost of dining out these days can be so costly.
As always, I appreciate your feedback (and others). Thanks again for your chats!
I know about it, but haven’t been — but since you asked, I’m putting it on my list and will try to have a report for you sometime in the next month. How’s that?
In the meantime, I can recommend Zion Kitchen, on Montana Ave. NE — one of the very few Nigerian restaurants in the DC area.
They do a pretty good goat curry and oxtail stew.
Don’t look for atmosphere; it’s like eating in a small cafeteria.
One of my favorite African restaurants in the area is Chez Aunty Libe, on Georgia Ave. in DC. It’s Sene-Gambian food. Look for the ceebu jen, a dish of fish and jollof rice with vegetables, and the maafe, or peanut stew. For dessert, there’s thiakry, a really tasty parfait of couscous and yogurt with cinnamon and raisins.
Portions are massive and prices are cheap. And if you’re lucky, you might get to see Aunty herself, knitting in a chair while the food cooks.
Re: THE SOURCE, IN THE NEWSEUM …:
Just wanted to give a big thank you to the Source. Scott Drewno and the whole team there made an anniversary dinner for my husband and I really special.
We ordered the tasting menu, it was a huge amount of food, but every bite was great. I ended up taking some home. It was one of the snowy nights and the restaurant was fairly quiet and the service we received was so nice. And the food was just incredible. I especially liked the lacquered duck on steamed bun- crispy, but juicy, sweet and crunchy. And the carrot cake was a so good, almost like a smith island cake, which is so fitting as it was our wedding cake.
We will definitely be back. So many of the small bites were good and made us want to go back and order it as a whole dish.
Great to hear it. Thanks for the quickie report …
Re: MAPLE AVE., IN VIENNA:
I’m going to Maple Ave for the first time next week. Any suggestions for what to order?
I really like their shrimp ‘n’ grits. Probably the best thing I can say about it is — it’s true to the source.
That’s the can’t-miss among the savory dishes.
Among the sweets, you’ve got to get the chocolate dumplings and you’ve also got to get the mochi, which, I’m told, are made in-house — they have a wonderfully soft, pliant texture that is irresistible.
Have a good time, and I’ll be interested in hearing how your meal turned out …
PORTUGUESE DINING, CONT. …:
Portuguese food Carmello’s in Manassas has both Italian and Portuguese cuisine. havent been back in a couple of years but the food was very good
My dental hygienist, who is Brazilian and who never fails to ask me at every appointment whether a new Brazilian or Portuguese place has opened somewhere, used to go there.
I regret to say I haven’t been, although I know that a big part of the reason I haven’t is that she was only lukewarm in her affection for it.
“Then why do you go?” I asked her once.
“Where else am I supposed to go?” she replied.
VALENTINE’S DAY AND “AMATEUR NIGHT,” CONT. …:
I was just going to say the same thing: “By the way, many chefs privately refer to Valentine’s Day as “Amateur Night,” meaning a night when the rubes, those benighted souls who know nothing about Cuisine, come out en masse. Most of them hate coming to work that night.”
My wife and I usually just wait to go out after v-day and avoid the chaos of V-day dining. We personally do not think there is great value in dining out on V-day. It is like going for dinner during Restaurant week to a restaurant that is not offering the full menu.
You’re absolutely right, it’s not that great a value — especially considering that most restaurants on Valentine’s Day only offer prix fixe menus.
So we have one vote for staying in. Well, two if you count my vote.
Let’s hear from the rest of you … even if you’ve already sent in a question. I’d still like to hear how you approach the big day …
FOLLOWING UP: BAGELS AND CREAM CHEESE, FROM LAST WEEK …:
In light of the bagel conversation from last week, I have two more options for folks: Palena and Buffalo and Bergen.
Palena’s is a Montreal-style bagel that’s finished in their wood-burning over. It’s also $2.50. Each. Plain. With nothing on them. Regrettably, they’re worth it, and rival anything I’ve had in Montreal. They’re that good, with a hard crust that has some give to it, and a hint of smoke.
Buffalo and Bergen in Union Market imports par-baked (the boiling and/or steaming part, I assume) bagels from A & S in New York, then finishes them in an oven on-site. They’re $1 each, and I think they’re significantly better than Goldberg’s (I grew up upstairs from Absolute Bagels in NY and am somewhat jaded about this). Buffalo and Bergen sells them by the dozen if you’d like.
In fact, for lunch I’m having a sesame with whitefish salad from Neopol. Cheers.
Damn you — you had to get that last line in there, didn’t you? : )
Thanks for the good tips. I appreciate them, and I’m sure everybody else out there does, too.
Re: RANGE, IN CHEVY CHASE PAVILION …:
Finally made it to Range for dinner this past weekend. All in all a good experience, but I have to admit I was not blown away by the food. After reading all the positive buzz about it, I expected to love everything I tried, but frankly most of it was just ok.
First I ordered a cocktail from their oh-so trendy and up to the minute artisan cocktail list. It was so strong it was undrinkable. But I saw other people drinking the same drink with no problem, so maybe it was just me. The server was extremely gracious and when he noticed I wasn’t drinking it had no problem at all bringing me a glass of wine instead.
The bread basket was spectacular, and my husband liked the garlic pork sausage, but the lobster mac and cheese, with just two pieces of lobster on it and a soggy pizza were a disappointment.
I will say that the service was a highlight- very attentive and very friendly. After we ate, we moved over to the bar to have another glass of wine and we enjoyed the bar scene immensely. The bartenders are fun and friendly (are arms full of tats a job requirement?). I think if I went back, I’d sit at the bar and have oysters and the bread basket and be very happy.
Thanks for the report.
It’s interesting — my one meal there pretty much mirrors your own, from the sound of things.
I was not blown away by the food, either. In fact, I was pretty underwhelmed.
The roast chicken has been getting raves. I thought it was decent, not great. I had hoped for some crispiness of skin; there was none. I’m not opposed to brining, but in this case I thought the bird had been overbrined. It wasn’t just salty, it had that texture that overbrining can sometimes produce — a texture, as well, that sous vide can sometimes produce. A lunchmeat texture.
My server was enthusiastic about the sea bass with sorghum and hazelnuts. The fish was cooked well — about 30 seconds from perfect, I would say.
But the slightly softened hazelnuts were a pretty strange dance partner. Good with the sorghum — not so good with the fish. And the sorghum was a strange condiment for the fish.
If you got every component onto the fork at the same time, it sorta-kinda worked. But it was one of odder dishes I’ve had in a while — one of the odder dishes, I should say, for something so apparently straightforward.
And visually, it was a pretty monochromatic thing to look at. (Most of the meal, as a matter of fact, was in the same narrow range of color. Light brown, dark brown, darkish yellow.)
A side of cauliflower with golden raisins and almonds was eh.
I had high hopes for a pizza of charred onion, bacon and fresh cheese. The fromage blanc, while wonderful, was so tangy, it accentuated the char on the onions and the char on the crust, leaving a lasting impression not of all these individually tasty things coming together on a good crust, but of something smoky and burned.
Desserts were fine, although I expected more daring and more fun.
FOLLOWING UP: “FEELING SQUIRRELLY” AND THE ETIQUETTE OF COMPED DINNERS …:
Comped dinner response:
Todd, whenever I’ve been offered a complimentary meal, my habit is to tip like a madman. 50 percent is reasonable, assuming the service is half-way decent. I consider it a win-win.
I enjoy your chats!
And your response is the right response, in my book. Don’t just tip — overtip. By a lot.
50 percent on what the bill would have been is the right and the fair thing to do.
VALENTINE’S DAY AND “AMATEUR NIGHT,” CONT. …:
Amateur Nights V day, Mother’s Day, Easter Sunday, Thanksgiving and Christmas Eve. They come from the hills and their surburban oasises and make life miserable for wait staffs every where. Sir, if you order a 8oz Ny Strip well done its only going to be about 4oz after cooking. Yes, I will go get the manager. Wow, a 5% tip.
No, what is just as bad is so called foodies who think they know everything. Heard one of them rant on about humane treatment of stock etc. Finally leaned over and said inhumane treatment cost the rancher money because of weight loss as a result of stress.
Long time, no type …
I would’ve bet my HOUSE that you wouldn’t go in for V-Day dining out.
PORTUGUESE DINING, CONT. …:
Skip Tavira. Went about six months ago and it was plain bad.
We started with octopus that was extremely “fishy” and when we questioned the server his response was that is how seafood is supposed to taste.
Our meals were very heavily salted and each plate came with a sad looking side of frozen veggies. Not to mention you are eating in the basement of an office buliding.
Yeah, the ambiance there never was the greatest. And that was years ago. It always looked to me to be in need of a makeover.
Wow, though. Fish is supposed to taste fishy. That’s when you know it’s time to leave.
Years and years ago, a waiter at a restaurant, now defunct, tried to persuade me that the catfish on my plate was a salmon.
I insisted it was not salmon. It did not taste like salmon, did not look like salmon — was not salmon. Look at the color, I said. Salmon does not have that color. Salmon is a pinkish orange.
I love his response — well, I love it now. At the time, I was fuming.
“Sir. When the fish it is cooked, then it turns white, ok? Like this.”
I also love what came next.
“Sir. Sir. I will go for you and get the box, ok, and you will see.”
He summoned a lackey, who returned with a box of frozen fish, unmarked.
Inside were four more sad-looking filets of catfish.
HELP! ISO OF DINING IN NYC FOR $100 FOR TWO …:
SO & I are heading up in a few weeks for a long overdue 3 day trip and are completely out of touch with what’s new and interesting in the NYC food scene, particularly what falls near the $100 for two category.
We’re both adventurous eaters (sweetbreads & crispy lamb brain & such are all on the table so to speak) and we love getting a good ethnic meal wherever we travel (Thai in Tangiers turned out great!) and are looking for suggestions from you & the peanut gallery.
Since we enjoy your chat and tastes so much we immediately started thinking “Where Would Todd Eat?” So our question is, what might make your “Where I’d Be Eating in NYC” list?
Whew, $100 for two in NY is hard to manage.
That might get you four tapas and two glasses of wine at Casa Mono, Mario Batali’s cramped and oddly expensive Spanish joint near the Flatiron district.
So, assuming that you mean to stay within budget — including tip and tax — my short list would be heavy on ethnic spots and light on chef-driven places.
Sripraphai in Queens, for Thai; Cafe Glechik in Brighton Beach — great Ukrainian cooking; Cupola Samarkanda II, in Brooklyn — great Uzbek food; Kulushkat in Brooklyn for very good falafel.
But I think you can manage Bouchon, in the Time-Warner Center. Great salads, sandwiches, and the take-off on the Nutter Butter is amazing.
I think you can also manage Momofuku and Momofuku Ssam Bar. If you haven’t had the pork buns, they’re a must, one of the best bites of food to be had in the whole country. The good news is, most of the rest of the menu at both places is similarly excellent.
And there’s always pizza. Paulie Gee’s, Keste, Motorino, and Otto are all pretty wonderful.
VALENTINE’S DAY AND “AMATEUR NIGHT,” CONT. …:
I am one of those poor soles who decided to go out on Valentine’s Day. Hubby and I are going to Kushi for some sushi.
I figure it will be pretty fresh as they will be a bit busier, there isn’t a limited menu and we can get a few cooked items too, and we really have nothing in the fridge at this point, so cooking would require grocery shopping, which I dread. I don’t know that it is a lot of people’s idea of romantic, but we will enjoy it.
Well, if it’s someone else’s idea of romantic, then it isn’t really romantic.
We all internalize this stuff, don’t we? Even when we think we’re above it.
And Valentine’s Day is one of the worst when it comes to this kind of thing. We do what we think we’re supposed to do, what we think everyone else out there is doing.
Same with the Super Bowl. Same with X-mas and Thanksgiving. Same with the Fourth. And on and on and on ..
Maybe it’s just my circle of friends and intimates, but I don’t know many people who don’t complain in one way or another when these days or events draw near. They all feel the tug of supposed-to, and most go along just because.
But onto the subject of sushi … You mentioned freshness, which is a whole can of worms when it comes to sushi, and I don’t have time to get into it the way I would like right now, so I won’t.
But I can tell you that, unless things have changed, the big delivery days for sushi restaurants in the area are Tuesday and Friday. Most of the better places fill in the gaps with smaller deliveries from other, smaller suppliers. Even so, it’s likely that some of the fish on hand that night will have been there since Tuesday.
VALENTINE’S DAY AND “AMATEUR NIGHT,” CONT. …:
I wanted to chime in on your suggestions for V-Day.
Hubby and I decided to stay home and prepare a variety of apps for each other. Our menu will consist of curried chicken wings, bbq shrimp, sriracha deviled eggs, warm spinach salad, meatballs and a strawberry/chocolate bread pudding for dessert. We also plan to catch up one a couple of romantic comedies.
I hope you and your wife have a great V-Day!
Sounds like a great menu — and a great time.
And thanks for the Valentine’s Day wishes. I appreciate it. For me, as well as for my wife, the day is different from what it was five or so years ago. Not different bad or different strange — different better. My son is a Valentine’s Day baby, and so we spend the day celebrating him, and ourselves as a couple through him. He’s the gift that keeps on giving.
However you celebrate, and wherever you celebrate, have a great time. And if you don’t, fine — don’t; no biggie; that’s great, too.
Thanks again, all of you, for all the comments and tips and queries. I hope you enjoyed it.
Be well, eat well, and let’s do it again next Tuesday at 11 …
[missing you, TEK … ]
WAIT, ONE MORE … SATURDAY NIGHT IN BALTIMORE –:
My fiance and I are meeting some out-of-state friends for dinner in Baltimore on Saturday night. Where would you recommend we go?
I saw that you listed Pabu on your “where I’m eating now” list, but I suspect this isn’t a sushi-loving or overly adventurous crowd.
Doesn’t matter if they’re not big into sushi. There’s a lot more to Pabu than just raw fish.
Some of the best bites, as I said in my quick review up top, come from the grill. There’s also ramen and some main course-style plates — including, for the faint of experience, a steak.
If that doesn’t persuade you, then I’d try for Woodberry Kitchen or its quirky, tiny offshoot, Artifact, both in Hampden.
AND LAST BUT NOT LEAST …:
My boyfriend and I (who both work in F&B) created our own Valentine’s Day a few years back.
We get the special day, nice meal, maybe a gift (all made more special by the fact that millions of others aren’t doing the same thing), and avoid the frustrating masses on the 14th.
If we’re not working on the 14th, it’s a normal dinner at home. It’s win/win for us
Really, this is a kind of small, heroic act, to not give in to the forces of marketing and peer pressure.
Thanks for chiming in …
By the way, sounds like the majority of you on here are sitting the night out and doing something at home. Interesting …
Take care, everyone. Have a great night in or out, whether you have it on the 14th or not. See you again next week …