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
FOLLOWING-UP: LOCAL INSTITUTIONS:
It certainly has many flaws, but its a place my family has been going to forever is Parkway Deli.
Although it was recently refreshed it still has that dumpy appearance in my mind and I love it for that. We don’t live that close to it anymore but still head there on the occasional Sunday for kippered salmon and white fish.
We’ve tried to find other places, but delis are not common in the area. And I mean a deli, not a dressed up interpretation of a deli like DGS. So for the sake nostalgia and something familiar, Parkway is our institution.
Thanks for chiming in on that discussion.
As I’ve said before, I love it that we have discussions that continue on for weeks. To me, that’s the sign of a real back and forth, a real dialogue, which is what I hope this chat is for all of you — not just a question and answer, in which you ask and I answer. I never really liked that style when I taught, much preferring something that blurred the distinctions. Which, in my opinion, need to be blurred.
As for Parkway … I hear you. I have friends who feel the same way. There’s something satisfying about a place that isn’t trying to be something. I do wish, though, that the food was just a skosh bit better. Not a ton. Just a skosh. Less salty. Better bagels.
Good morning, everyone. I’m eager to hear what all you’ve been up to in the past week. Where you’ve been, what you’ve eaten. What’s elated you. What’s depressed you.
I had some interesting meals last week, including some initial visits to new-ish places, though I don’t think you’ll get me to divulge any details today. I’m still processing my impressions. I will just say that in a couple of cases, it’s a good thing I don’t tend to write long reviews on the basis of a single restaurant visit.
THE BOOMING ASIAN DINING SCENE:
Fatty Crab, Doi Moi, Maketto, Mandalay’s new DC location…these are the places I’m getting excited about.
Added in Little Serow and the ramen/izakaya joints that have already opened over the past year or two and Asian cuisine within the District is suddenly looking promising.
Yeah, Asian food’s really having its moment.
I wouldn’t yet say that what French was to DC in the ’70s and ’80s, and Italian was to DC in the ’90s, Asian will be to the Twenty Teens, but it really does look to be trending that way.
I just hope the forthcoming spots are good. And I mean, not just exciting to be in and serving interesting food. I’m hoping for food that is exacting. That pops.
I would also hope that as more of these kinds of places find their way onto the scene the tendency of some operations to act as if they have invented the form will fade. You know, Momofuku opened — what, 8, 9 years ago? The genre isn’t new. Calm down. Curb the swagger.
FURSTENBERG, CONT.: ETHNIC ABUNDANCE AND OIKOPHOBIA:
Re: Mark Furstenberg
Todd K: “I also think it’s odd to talk about a city like Los Angeles and all it has to offer when I think that the city that the food city D.C. most resembles in many ways is Los Angeles. D.C. as a city is only 6 or 7 hundred thousand people. It’s tiny. The true measure of the area is its mass, and that means taking into account Maryland and Virginia, and that means thinking of the so-called ethnic mom n pops as part of the scene. The center is not the center. There is no center. D.C.’s worth is in its sprawl.”
Todd – You immediately went to the heart of what’s wrong with Furstenberg’s bizarre diatribe. He praises LA foodies for their “diversity and how far they will drive to explore it,” and then laments that DC-proper residents who want “Chinese green beans and Thai mint must drive 20 miles to Super H Mart, the Asian superstore in Virginia.” I can promise you that even in food paradises like Chicago (where the best goat birreria I’ve ever had is an hour from downtown by bus in Archer Heights), LA (Koreatown is not exactly convenient) and NYC (Flushing’s Taiwanese glories are easily 45 minutes away from Midtown by subway), you have to be willing to spend some time to get to all the good stuff.
Again and again, Furstenberg willfully closes his eyes to the rich diversity that surrounds us, because it happens to be outside the irrelevant DC political boundaries that were drawn in the 18th and 19th centuries. If he really believes that Super H Mart is “THE Asian superstore” in our area, it just means he knows nothing about our area — for one thing, there are a lot of Super H Marts and on the way to the nearest one in Virginia to DC, Furstenberg would pass other closer-in places that have plenty of Chinese green beans and Thai mint (e.g., Grand Mart and Lotte). He mentions one Persian market as though it were the only one that exists in the DC metropolitan area, but there are at least three within 20 minutes of my home in Arlington, along with many other ethnic groceries (including Ethiopian, Brazilian, Vietnamese, Filipino, Bangladeshi, Indian, West African, Middle Eastern, and innumerable Hispanic shops – to blur together a wide range of diverse cuisines).
And he claims there are no decent butchers in our area — but fails to mention the spectacular Lebanese Butcher, which has its own slaughterhouse in Warrenton and will happily bring in a whole lamb off the truck to slice off some lamb ribs for you and the superb Union Meats in Eastern Market (particularly inexplicable, since that one is in the District proper).
Stores that Furstenberg would undoubtedly view as too lower class to venture into — hello, suburban Shoppers and Food Star — are cornucopias of ethnic ingredients from every continent. I am absolutely certain that Furstenberg has no idea that in Arlington, you can find corner groceries that offer ten varieties of Bangladeshi fresh water fish, that in Arlington you can find magnificent Brazilian picanha ready for the grill, that in Arlington you can find Filipino longaniza and multiple versions of Ethiopian berbere — and that Arlington is monochromatic by comparison to the glories available just a few minutes away in Falls Church and Rockville.
I confess to a longstanding antipathy to Furstenberg — Marvelous Market and (especially) Bread Line were two of the most inexplicable critics’ favorites I’ve ever eaten in, consistently bland, boring, and self-congratulatory. (And there is the always disclosed, but still troubling, friendship with the Post’s lead critic, which always made me even more skeptical.)
But Furstenberg’s latest bit of snark (which sprinkles in some truly weird politics — DC’s allegedly weak food scene is due to excessive privatization of government?) is so deeply ignorant and deeply oikophobic that it would have sent me through the roof even if I’d never heard of him before. Furstenberg may be a nice guy, but he’s willfully choosing not to live in our city. His closing his eyes and then being critical of our home turf because within his self-imposed boundaries there’s not enough diversity is just silly. If Furstenberg wants to live in a cell, he needs to brush up on his Wordsworth (“Nuns Fret Not at Their Convent’s Narrow Room”).
Can I just say? I love this chat. The fact that in this smart and sharp community we have someone who not only knows the ethnic food markets through and through, but also peppers his rant with the word “oikophobia” and references Wordsworth.
Doug, I wish we had one of our contests today so that I could send you a cookbook, just for writing this.
You make many good points, and your love of the markets is a joy to read (I’m a huge fan of the Lebanese Butcher, and many of the other spots you mention as well). And clearly you are someone who understands what’s really going on. There are many, many people who persist in seeing what was. And many, many people who look only at what’s percolating in downtown and the currently hot pockets of the city.
Washington as a city, and Washington as an area, have changed a great deal in the past ten and fifteen years. But I don’t think the culture has. In Boston and Philadelphia, two cities that are not New York, the lunch service at most restaurants goes until about 4. Here, lunch is over at 2:30, and most dining rooms empty out by 1:30. People hustle back to work. It’s a city of work, full of people with intense work ethics who put in long days. It’s not a city of play. It’s a city of drinking, and the drinking culture is alive and well. But it’s almost always been alive and well. How often do you see people linger for three hours or more over dinner? Or dine late into the night? It’s not the culture.
WHERE TO GO FOR A SPECIAL ANNIVERSARY DINNER?:
My husband and I have an anniversary coming up and we just found out we are expecting (you should feel honored.. no one outside this anonymous forum and our doctor knows!).
We are over the moon but it does present a new challenge in dining out. I am “new enough” to being unable to drink wine, eat raw fish and eat stinky cheese that I still miss it (when does that go away?).
You seem like just the guy to ask as I imagine your wife still wanted to dine with you during her pregnancies – any suggestions on a special place to go for dinner that I won’t be entirely limited by my new restrictions?
First of all, how terrific!
And I’m flattered that you have thought to share this very personal news with me and everyone here.
Have you ever been to Corduroy? Have you been recently?
It’s humming along at a great and smooth clip. Sitting at the bar might not be your thing for an anniversary celebration, but the three courses for $30 is one of the great dining bargains in the area. My most recent meal there was one of the most memorable this summer.
There are a number of sodas made at the bar if you don’t want to drink wine. Meanwhile, your husband presumably still indulge, and if he likes wine the list here is excellent, easily in the top 10 in the city.
Little in the way of raw fish to consider, and you don’t have to order the cheese course. Tom Power’s cooking is sturdy, assured, and immensely satisfying, accented with the kind of
exquisite and highly concentrated sauces that very few chefs are doing these days. You must get one of the soups if you go. His snapper bisque is simply one of the great dishes in all of Washington.
I recently had dinner at another restaurant, and the contrast between what Power is putting on the plate and what chef X is putting on the plate was stark and instructive. The latter was trying hard, very hard. There were interesting touches. Fascinating combinations. But very little cohered. You were aware of a chef showing you what he can do. With Power, all that need has been siphoned out. Not showing. Doing. There is something deeply relaxing about settling into a dinner with a chef whose mastery of his idiom is quiet and complete.
AMAZING CHICKEN TANDOORI:
The first time I went to Toosso I was enamored with the hand made roti rolls and thought it was a creative take on Pakistani street food. Went back to Toosso last week for Iftar with some friends and to try some more roti rolls and see if my joy from my first visit was justified. looking at it objectively the roti rolls could use some more flavor. They were a little bland for my taste.
The real gem on the menu is the chicken tikka. A half portion of chicken marinated in yogurt and spices and grilled. This dish was originally only offered on the weekends but they now offer it on a daily basis and I am glad that they do. Simply a very very good take on grilled chicken tikka tandoori.
Now, I am an ardent supporter of Punjabi by Nature and their chicken tandoori. A dish I order every time and vocally state that it is the best in the area. Now, I need to rethink that statement because of the amazing chicken tandoori at Toosso. Also, the portion size at Toosso was bigger than the offering at Punjabi by Nature.
In the end you cannot go wrong at either restaurant in ordering the chicken tandoori but my new current top spot for chicken tandoori is Toosso in Sterling.
Well, if it’s even close to what Punjabi by Nature is putting out, that’s exciting to hear.
Thanks for the great tip.
LE GRENIER FOR BRUNCH:
In the past week, I had brunch at Le Grenier ….Loved the homey decor, but the service was atrocious and the food meh.
I’ve never been for brunch, but neither of my two dinners there was meh.
I like the place.
Got an email from a reader a couple of weeks ago saying he was unimpressed with it. What can I say? I didn’t rave about it. I singled out a few dishes that I thought were very good and many more others that I thought were good. It’s not a place you go to be impressed.
The fact that I gave it some space and attention doesn’t change that.
I think you can eat well and not too expensively there. Galettes, blood sausage with pears, crepes and profiteroles …
DESSERTS THAT DON’T WOW, CONT.:
Dessert–definitely part of the meal for our family when we are eating out and at home. We have been known to eat dinner at one restaurant and then travel to another for dessert if we find the menu lacking.
We had a wonderful time at Black Salt’s happy hour last weekend–my husband said “I guess I do like oysters now.” The waiter recommended the butterscotch pot de crème, and we are glad we took him up his recommendation. Kind of a heavy dessert for a humid summer evening but we split it between the two of us.
At home it is a rare evening when we don’t have a homemade dessert after sitting down for dinner together, especially last week when my daughter did the baking class at Le Acadamie.
I really like what Susan Wallace, the pastry chef at BlackSalt, does there.
Not the most inventive, no. Nor, as you point out, the most light. But I can’t remember one that didn’t put a smile on my face.
GOT A GIFT CARD — WHERE DO I SPEND IT?:
Have a gift card to the Passion Food group (Dc Coast, Acadiana, Passionfish, District Commons, Fugo, etc.). Where would you recommend for lunches or a nice dinner?
Have been to Acadiana before so prefer to try somewhere new..
Good fried oysters, good soups, good raw bar. And make sure that you get the whole crispy fish served with a spicy tamarind nam pla
Love the donut holes with coffee Bavarian cream to finish. Speaking of good desserts …
(Dammit. Made myself hungry reminiscing and typing that … )
RESTAURANT CHALLENGE: 6 OLD FRIENDS FLYING BACK TO D.C., WHERE DO WE ALL GO?:
Would you please help with this restaurant challenge? 6 old friends are flying back to DC for an event. They would like a seasonal or a diverse conceptual menu with the option to watch sports in the bar after dinner and/or the ability to walk to bars with sports in a social area of city.
The restaurant should be lively but also have decent acoustics to avoid shouting across the table. Liberty Tavern would be great (quality dining upstairs/sports downstairs) but the restaurant must be located in DC not Virginia. The ideal venue would taste like Bar Pilar or Proof, drink like the beer menu at B Too or ChurchKey, and have a similar bar/TV set-up as The Hamilton. Does such a place exist or can you recommend any alternate options? Thank you.
Birch and Barley, then head upstairs afterward to Church Key?
Dinner at Central, then a short walk north to The Hamilton?
Jaleo or Zaytinya downtown, then any of the sports bars around Penn Quarter?
DINING W/ A TODDLER WHO HAS FOOD ALLERGIES:
We love to eat out in DC and suburban MD and we have a toddler who does really well in restaurants and is often with us for lunch or an early dinner. However, she has major food allergies to eggs, nuts and dairy.
In your opinion, what are the most allergy friendly restaurants in the area? We’ve been shocked by several eye roll type responses from waiters in fairly well known establishments in and around the city for asking questions about their kids menu.
Not exactly a confidence booster when ordering! We carry epi-pens with us at all times as we know there is always a risk of cross contamination. More often than not, I’m finding myself packing her safe food from home, but it’s going to get harder the older she gets! Any recommendations?
Thanks for writing in.
A couple of weeks ago, I posted a list of restaurants that do a good job with gluten-free. I would imagine that restaurants that are sensitive to that concern would be sensitive to other concerns.
Here’s that link: http://www.washingtonian.com/chats/kliman/tuesday-july-2-at-11-am.php
What you can do to give yourself the best chance of having a smooth and easy meal — apart from bringing along the epi-pens — is to put in a call to the restaurant a few hours in advance, or, even better, when you make a reservation. Make the GM aware of your fears, and see what they can do to ease them or erase them entirely.
Involving a higher-up in things gives you a much better chance of the meal going the way you want it.
TABLE ETIQUETTE: WHAT TO DO WHEN YOU FIND SMALL BONES IN A DISH THAT IS NOT SUPPOSED TO HAVE THEM?:
I just had a double date at Ris before Book of Mormon at the Kennedy Center. The dinner was great and I highly recommend the summer agnolotti. I also had the rabbit pasta. Unfortunately, I had a few small bones within the ground rabbit.
Fortunately, I found the bones before swallowing them.
I chose not to say anything because the dining experience was great otherwise.
What do you think about finding bones? Is it an occupational hazard of eating a small animal like a rabbit? Or should I have alerted the staff?
I would have.
If only just to let the chef know that the kitchen’s preparation was less than immaculate.
Finding small bones is not something you should expect in a dish that is billed as ground.
The fact that you didn’t say anything is interesting, and says a lot about your sense of adventure, I think. There are people who, if they found a hair in a dish would shut down utterly and ask to have the offending plate cleared and replaced with something different.
Incidentally, why is it that if a restaurant makes a mistake — say, brings you a different wine from the one you ordered — the server almost always takes that glass of wine away? Why not just leave it and let you or someone at the table drink it, along with the new wine that is quickly on its way?
Re: THE PARKWAY DELI:
The first time I ate at Parkway deli I sat next to an older woman and her daughter. The older woman sounded exactly like my grandmother from Long Island….I was verklempt. It really didn’t matter what the food tasted like at that point.
You might have just explained the enduring success of the place. ; )
HOPPING IN THE CAR AND DRIVING 15 MILES OUT INTO THE SUBURBS WITH NO INTENTION OTHER THAN TO ENJOY A NEW DINING EXPERIENCE:
Is there any better way to spend a lazy weekend day than identifying a restaurant that you’ve been meaning to get to, hopping in the car and driving 15 miles out into the suburbs with no other intention that to enjoy a new dining experience?
Case in point: Spent this past (hot) Saturday driving out to Fairfax from NW with no other intention that hitting up Four Sisters. Some people might say it’s a long way to drive for a caramelized clay fish pot, but hey, that’s what food lovers do.
Is this still a top-tier destination for Vietnamese? What else should be on my radar?
Well, it’s only a long way to drive if it’s not good.
What you describe as novelty, is what my every weekend consists of. I still love the adventure of it, even after all these years. And yeah, even if the food doesn’t provide the pay-off I was hoping for.
Four Sisters is a gestalt place, a place you go for good across the board: good ambiance, good food, good service.
At the moment, I’m higher on Rice Paper (though its service is not comparable, or even close) and Huong Viet, both in the Eden Center.
DOUG, COME BACK! WE NEED NAMES!:
Can we get Doug to share his list of great spots referenced? His litany of Arlington finds alone (multiple versions of Ethiopian berbere? Awesome…) is worth a book mark.
Also, if Maketto keeps only last week’s cold spicy noodles and the Chinese Morning Glory, it will do just fine. The latter, in particular, was one of those dishes that sticks with you: a umami bomb in all kinds of good ways.
Umami bomb: I like that.
And I could really go for a bowl of cold spicy noodles …
Hoping Doug sees this before our time runs out today …
IN PRAISE OF … LA UNION MARKET, ARLINGTON:
Last night I remembered why I really like La Union Market. It is really a hidden gem in Arlington.
Open and serving food to 11:00 pm, it is a godsend for people who work late and find themselves looking for food after 8:30-9:00 pm, restaurant witching hour, not wanting something fancy, just dinner.
The chicken tamales are soft and flavorful, comforting like chicken soup. The frozen bananas covered in chocolate are a refreshing dessert. The steak tacos are a huge portion of nicely seasoned steak, with avocado, pico de gallo and lettuce and tomato, homemade tortillas, served with a side of rice and beans.
While it may not be the most exciting food, for a little market, it turns out some surprisingly good food, at very reasonable prices. Yes, the tortillas are a little thick, the rice and beans pretty standard, but that is more than made up for in other ways.
The owner couldn’t be nicer or more accommodating. We sat down at the picnic tables outside and had a nice meal, with enough for me to also have lunch today.
Thanks for the fantastic write-up.
I’ve only had the pupusas and tamales here; you’ve made me want to go and dive a little deeper into the menu. I really appreciate that.
LOCAL INSTITUTIONS, CONT.:
Growing up in the area, my parents took us to Hot Shoppes in Montgomery Mall and the one in downtown Bethesda.
As a kid, it was awesome, seeing all of those foods just laid out like an assembly line. Something about their mashed potatoes and gravy, that I just miss. Any cafeteria places like that still around?
I can’t think of any.
I remember those Hot Shoppes. Used to love going to them. A good place for a kid, without being a quote-unquote kid’s place.
I don’t think you could have a Hot Shoppes in today’s food culture.
Maybe in another city. Not in this one.
It would be an ironic and knowing sort of place. Heavily stylized retro comfort foods. Made to look weathered and established from day 1, but lacking the character — the texture — that comes with being really weathered, which means sticking around for 30 years.
DESSERTS THAT DON’T WOW, CONT.:
Mintwood Place has very good desserts. I love dessert and will often order it.
I have never had a deconstructed dessert that I have liked more than the real thing, ever.
And I don’t buy the whole idea they can’t make the normal dessert well.
Cooking in general, including baking is all about practice, you make pie every day, even once a week and you will learn how to make a darn good pie crust. And there are a lot of simple desserts that are really cheap- pecan pie again for example, banana pudding, creme brulee, trifle. I wonder how many orders of banana pudding get sold at GAR group, it has to be a lot.
I think the problem is that often it is over thinking something. And if you can’t make a good dessert in the summer with all the fresh fruit you should be fleeced.
I bet it has a lot to do with our cultural heritage and make up. We certainly haven’t had a rich history of exotic dessert making in the country probably due to our culture and heritage. You do find a lot better desserts in places in the US with a higher percentage of Germanic heritage for example, etc etc.
I think restaurants also scoof at serving a slice of something, but I am fine with a slice of pie or a slice of cake, I often eat that when I go home to the country and am perfectly happy.
We also don’t have the cafe culture, or the afternoon tea culture or sitting down and enjoying dessert, maybe a part of our puritan heritage. I am sure some anthropologist somewhere has written a book on this…
I disagree that we don’t have a developed culture on that score. The American South has a rich cultural history of dessert. And many of its signatures are now part of the American table.
A lot of what we’ve been talking about has to do with the perceived pressure to innovate. Which, if you think about it, is kind of funny. Because if you travel the country, and outside the country, too, to places in Europe and Latin America, etc., high-end restaurant desserts all pretty much look the same on the plate. A square or rectangle or circle of something, with dabs and squiggles of sauce and maybe a very, very thin cookie jammed into the center of the square or rectangle or circle.
I’ve seen very little in my time as a critic that makes me stop and say: Now that’s unusual.
And of course, the times I do stop and say That’s unusual, I’m rarely enamored of what I’m tasting.
I’d much rather see something more simple, but done with technical brilliance and — just as important — with an exuberant spirit, a spirit of play and plenty.
SPEAKING OF CORDUROY …:
I went to Corduroy on a Friday night a week or two ago on the spur of the moment. We booked a table there on opentable 5 minutes before arriving just so we could get the opentable points, and I was surprised how many available tables they had – it seems like we could have just walked in at any point during prime dining hours on a Friday night without a reservation.
Is that just because it’s July or are they hurting for customers?
The meal was excellent (I had the tuna on sushi rice, which I had never ordered there before, and I would go back for it).
My one quibble with the place is that they don’t indicate on the wine menu which of their wines by the glass are red and which are white. It struck me as a little pretentious and alienating to customers – like “if you’re not a wine connoisseur don’t even bother.”
I don’t like that, either.
I’d be interested in hearing what their reason is, but it reads, to me as well, as: We’re all experts here, hmm? Let’s not get mixed up in the business of labeling, shall we?
I don’t know whether they’re hurting for business or not.
I did find it interesting to read, in an item on Eater DC about my praise of the bar menu in a recent Tweet, an anonymous comment that said something to the effect of: everybody in that place is old, old, old.
And sad that something like this is allowed to run on the page.
Old, old, old … Is young, young, young any better? At nearly every restaurant I have been to in the city the past couple of weeks, you might guess that people over the age of 35 were carded, and that there was an aggressive bouncer at the door.
We could use more restaurants in the city with a better mix of ages.
Gotta wind this down, everyone. Thanks so much for all the great questions and the tips and the rantings and the musings.
Be well, eat well, and let’s do it again next Tuesday at 11 …
[missing you, TEK … ]