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 was a finalist for the MFK Fisher Distinguished Writing Award, and recently took home first-place honors for feature writing from the Association of Food Journalists.
Kliman 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: firstname.lastname@example.org
FOLLOWING UP FROM LAST WEEK: WHERE TO BOOK A WEDDING:
In response to the question about where to hold a wedding, we got married (ceremony & reception) at Trummers.
The chef has changed (twice, I believe), but the Trummers are still there and Victoria Trummer coordinated our wedding planning. We had a very good experience with regard to the planning, and the feedback from friends and family about on the wedding (space and food) was very, very positive.
I confess that I ate almost nothing . . . . Janice
Janice, thanks for chiming in on this …
And as for eating almost nothing at your wedding, I don’t think you’re in the minority there. Too much going on — dancing, kissing, greeting guests, etc. — to actually sit down and eat.
Good to hear about Trummer’s. Duly noted, and I hope the chatter who was with us last week is with us again this week …
Good morning, everyone!
What’s on your minds this crisp, very-Fall day? Where have you been eating? What are you enjoying? What are you noticing?
FOOD AND ETIQUETTE, CONT. …:
Hi Todd –
Continuing the etiquette discussion …. For me entertaining is about everyone having a good time, so if people chose not to eat what I brought to a party I wouldn’t be upset unless they openly criticized the food. I understand being disappointed after spending a ton of time (and probably money) on preparing awesome dishes that were ignored, but that just means that next time I bring potato salad or beer and save the good stuff for a more appreciative crowd.
Regarding “What should I bring?” – to me the question implies the guest wants to contribute but doesn’t want to bring any random thing that might clash with your planned meal. I’ve been on both ends of this and usually find it to be helpful and straightforward. Thanks as usual for the fun chats!
Thanks for writing.
In the first instance, I think what bothered the chatter who posted this was that she had gone to a lot of work, and presumably some expense, and not only was the dish not eaten, but the crowd gobbled down dishes from Popeye’s and a grocery store bakery. I have to think that that’d bother a lot of people on here.
As for guests who ask, “what should I bring?” I think you make a good point. They’re asking for guidance from the host, so that they don’t show up with something that doesn’t go at all with the meal. What I’m curious to know is where did this whole thing start? And what sustains it?
My parents spent some years in the South in the late ’50s, and it was good etiquette in the college town where they lived to bring some foodstuff if you were invited over. But with a catch. It had to already be opened. That was the custom. So people would bring a box of crackers, but the box was 2/3rds full. Presumably, this was meant to make the host not feel bad about imposing upon the visitor, but at the same time not show up empty-handed.
Nowadays, with “what should I bring?” the pretty widespread custom, do you look bad if you don’t ask in advance?
I admit I don’t always ask.
My ideal, and it may be a vanishing ideal, is that the person who invites me puts together an entire meal from start to finish. One idea, one person’s handiwork. And I reciprocate with an offer for next time.
How about the rest of you? Do you always ask? Or often? And do you like a meal like that, a mix of someone’s cooking and yours, or someone’s cooking and the product of a store or bakery? What’s your ideal?
THE GREAT DISAPPOINTMENT OF VEGGIE PIZZA :
My wife always orders fairly plain pizza but maybe because I fondly remember the veggie pizza from Armand’s I often order pizza with veggies and am always disappointed.
The latest was a veggie pizza on Sunday from Da Marco in Bethesda where the veggies were many but hard to identify and not very good.
So what vegetables work well on pizza? And who does a good veggie pizza?
I had a really good one recently at Pete’s New Haven Style Apizza, in Silver Spring, the local chain’s newest location.
It was a slice, not an entire pie; the second baking, that crisping in the oven before serving, makes for a nice crunch on the crust. And Pete’s is generally very, very good about its crusts.
I think it’s not easy to make a good veggie pie, because you absolutely need the right blend of veggies. Some veggies are too wet, or too soft, after they’ve spent time in the oven. The slice at Pete’s had red onion, green pepper, tomato and broccoli rabe. The rabe had been cooked in advance, and a lot of the wetness had been removed from it. There wasn’t much of it — just enough to give the pie a distinctively bitter bite.
Most veggie pies, I find, are too bland. They’re even too bland when they have five and six toppings, which is often the case. I like green olives, if the restaurant has them (black are more common, and most come from a jar or can); red onion; and mushroom. With a good shake of fresh chili flakes. And maybe some tears of fresh basil, but only at the end, after the pie’s come out of the oven.
I had a veggie pie not long ago at Seventh Hill, and the basil, which went on before not after, arrived not simply charred at the edges but, in two instances, blackened. Almost completely blackened. It was a terrible, careless, no good, very bad pie. (Apologies, J. Viorst).
Veggies that generally don’t work all that well: artichokes and eggplant.
Have you been noticing price-creep in what purport to be neighborhood (that is, non-high-end) restaurants?
It makes sense, of course, where a dish is labor-intensive or comprises costly ingredients, but I’m talking about a $15 cocktail in a lilliputian glass, or a $9 bowl of unadorned ice cream.
Is this just a what-the-market-will-bear mentality driven by the D.C. area’s relative economic vitality?
It would be appear to be, yes.
Is anybody else out there noticing? Because I’ve been astonished by some of the pricing I’ve been seeing.
Doi Moi has a simple dish on its menu — a fried duck egg over rice. You spoon fish sauce over the top and customize the seasoning. Nice.
But not seven dollars nice. Seven dollars for an egg (yes, a duck egg; but still an egg) and a palmful of rice.
Bonchon, in Arlington — with design by GrizForm — has a lychee mojito on the menu. Refreshing drink, but very little alcohol. Cost? $12. For a place that serves fast-food fried chicken. Yes: phenomenal fast-food fried chicken; the best around. But still fast-food fried chicken.
I’ve been talking to restaurateurs about the Affordable Care Act, and how that is going to affect their businesses. Almost all of them have told me that they’re going to have to make up the money elsewhere. I doubt you’re going to see entrees at most of the places you mention — putative neighborhood spots — go past $30. That’s the invisible but electric barrier. No one wants to cross it. But appetizer costs, I would imagine, are going to continue to escalate. And costs of sides. And drinks. And desserts.
Nine bucks for ice cream — for unadorned ice cream; thank you for that — is kind of unconscionable.
Contrast that, now, with Central Michel Richard, which has, to my mind, the greatest dessert in the city right now — the chef’s version of a Napoleon. It’s magnificent. Inventive, fun, beautifully and expertly rendered, a dish of real craft and imagination. And most of the time two people, even after a light meal, can barely finish it.
That ought to be the dish that sets the scale. The dish that shames the scene for charging a bundle for desserts that take almost no time and very little effort.
VEGGIE PIZZAS, CONT.:
Pizzoli’s in Logan Circle does a few EXCELLENT veggie pizzas- I think it is largely due to their bases – garlic herb white sauce, or a pesto base.
I would specifically recommend the spinach and artichoke — made great with carmelized onions and feta cheese, and the farmers market, with delicious whole cloves or roasted garlic.
We always order this when we have groups of people over and even the meat eaters tend to go back for seconds of the veggie pizzas!
Good to know. Thanks.
It’s funny, because caramelized onions in most instances are almost always a pizza-killer, I find. Too sweet, or too wet, or they don’t blend in well enough, or all three.
FOOD AND ETIQUETTE, CONT.:
It’s funny – this topic just came up in my circle.
A friend of mine (who wasn’t born in the U.S. and tends to sometimes feel awkward about etiquette issues she didn’t grow up with) just this week asked the “What Should I Bring?” question to a friend and the host’s reply was, “Yourself!” (that tends to be my go-to reply as well, as I always have plenty of food that I’ve planned, though I’m fine with it if people end up ignoring me).
So she brought nothing, but every other guest brought wine and then she felt guilty about drinking. I certainly think bringing wine as a hostess gift is always a nice gesture, but I think in her instance (she explicitly asked and was told nothing), her actions were just fine, and that in general, it isn’t required – we’re not in college at a BYOB party. But do others agree?
I almost always bring a bottle of wine.
Or a bottle of something. Sometimes beer, if that’s what the occasion calls for. Sometimes gin or bourbon, etc.
I don’t ever show-up empty-handed. If alcohol’s out for whatever reason, I’ll bring something like chocolates or truffles.
The best hostess gift I’ve ever seen was brought, not to my house, but to my parents house many, many years ago.
I had never seen a guest bring what this guest brought. Not before, and not since.
What was it?
Well, not just any book — Enemies: A Love Story, by the great I.B. Singer. And with a simple, beautiful inscription from the guest.
Who does a thing like that?
Why don’t more people do a thing like that?
Why don’t I?
Beautiful, special, meaningful, and so much more enduring than what we usually give.
That was many, many years ago, and I still remember it. And that book became one of my favorites, and not just of Singer’s.
The guest went on to become a good friend of mine, in addition to my parents. She passed away earlier this year, at age 80, having spent the past three decades of her life agitating on behalf of the children in this area who fall through the cracks, as they say, of the legal system; she literally worked up until the moment she died; she came home from a hard day, collapsed and was gone. I miss her.
VEGGIE PIZZA, CONT.:
Hi Todd –
I would respectfully disagree with you and say that I think eggplant makes for a great pizza. It’s almost always a winner when properly breaded and crispy.
Also, 2Amy’s makes a great “Etna,” which has eggplant “confit” and olives. It’s a pretty spectacular veggie pizza, as is the standard margherita.
Oh, I think eggplant handled well ahead of time can be very, very good. It just doesn’t happen often enough.
It doesn’t even need to be breaded and crispy. Just roasted deeply, and blotted of its oil.
DGS DELICATESSEN — NEW-ISH, OFF DUPONT CIRCLE:
I recently went to DGS for dinner. The food was delicious – I could have that pastrami every day if my arteries would cooperate – but I was concerned that it seemed pretty empty, at peak time on a Saturday night.
Is DC’s closest thing to a quality Jewish deli not long for this city? Is its lunch service keeping it alive? With its Dupont location I imagine DGS needs some serious cash flow to stay afloat.
Last time I was in, it was at night, too, and the place was not very crowded.
People do tend to think deli is lunch food. That might be part of it. I wonder whether the perceived richness of the food, in a city of bikram yoga and bike sharing, is also a deterrence for some.
DGS is not just sandwiches; there’s a pretty full complement of platters and such. There’s good stuff on that part of the menu, but it’s awfully hard to go and not get a gorgeous pastrami sandwich. And/or that fabulous chopped chicken liver. And/or the matzo ball soup. Those dishes are the throbbing heart of the place.
Incidentally, I just received an email last week from owner Nick Wiseman, and thought I would share some of what he shared with me.
The most interesting tidbit of all: DGS will now be open 24 hours.
“As of today September 30th, DGS will be open all day. We want to be a gathering place and believe that keeping our doors open all day will encourage that important feeling. In addition:
“We’ve just launched a new menu far more reminiscent of the classic delicatessen menu. We now offer breakfast all day, a long list of sandwiches, plus entrees that channel our original goal of reimagining the delicatessen experience. Two examples: Friday Night Chicken is prepared confit in schmaltz and served over pastrami spiced white beans, roasted tomatoes, and kale. We coat flounder schnitzel in our house-made mustard and rye bread crumbs, pan fry and serve it with roasted beets, swiss chard and preserved lemon.
“We’ve upped the size of our house-cured and smoked pastrami and corned beef sandwiches. We now give a half pound of (Creekstone Farms) beef per sandwich. More often than not, people leave the restaurant with a half of sandwich in tow. That spirit of abundance defines the great delicatessens, and we believe it’s an important new part of the experience at DGS.
“We’ve rebuilt our beverage program. We started with 50 bottles of wine and now have trimmed down to only 12. However, there has been a lot of excitement over our beer and cocktail program. To that end, we’ve added an entire section of classic cocktails like a Sidecar and a Vesper that go back to the heydey of Jewish drinking culture in Lower East Side Taverns and Catskill Mountain Summer Resorts.”
“WHAT SHOULD I BRING?,” CONT. …:
For me, I hate when I will be hosting a potluck (or going to one), and will take the time and effort to make a nice dish or two, and often someone will say they are going to “make” dessert, but 99% of the time they will show up with store bought cookies, cupcakes, or pie.
We host a friends Thanksgiving celebration here in town usually a weekend or two before the actual holiday; since no one in the group is really from here we all disperse to head home for the actual holiday. Usually most people will go to the effort of making a nice homemade dish, but inevitably the person who volunteers dessert brings the pumpkin pie they got at the Safeway/Giant bakery (or wherever).
Now, I’m no baker so would never volunteer to make dessert, plus people usually request I make certain dishes, and I happily oblige. But it irks me when people take the easy way out in instances as this.
I’d be irked, too.
But it happens all the time.
And isn’t it funny that most people can bring something homemade and that’s nice, but the one person who brings something from the store is the one you fasten on and can’t get out of your head, and it bothers you for weeks and months after? ; )
PRICE CREEP, CONT.:
I applaud the writer for stating the obvious and unfortunate trend in DC-area restaurants. It is so ridiculous that I will not dine in these places, which seems to be cutting out many places for me.
I am truly sick of it; if these places have found a captive audience willing to shell it out, I guess good for them – but, hey, I’m nobody’s fool. It has made me totally re-think my dining strategy in DC and it does not and will not include any of these self-serving places. Seriously.
The irony is that what it has done for me is curated a list of higher-end restaurants (not faux neighborhood joints) where prices are high but at least you’re getting art on a plate, some of the prices actually beat neighborhood joints and they’re not pretending to be casual whereas these so-called neighborhood joints are all dressed up for an early Halloween, except for they are wearing their costumes all year long.
Seriously, I’d much rather put my money to a truly fine dining experience than to these neighborhood joints that are hardly neighborhood-friendly.
Thanks for chiming in …
You bring up something I wrote about in my review of Casa Luca, which is out now in the magazine — the idea of places copping the mantle of “casual,” because that is what the times call for, but charging a very pretty penny.
Fiola is the “casual” version of Maestro. Well, that’s nice, but there are entrees there now that cost $50. Casa Luca is the everyday iteration of Fiola. There’s a porkchop on the menu for $34.
Casual has lost its meaning. At the same time, fine dining for all intents and purposes doesn’t exist; well, it exists, but in older, established restaurants. No one is opening a fine dining restaurant these days.
What we need is a new way to get a fix on these places we’re talking about — places that may not be fine-dining in form and feel, but which are in price; places that like to pass themselves off as loose and even slouchy and fun, but reach several levels higher when it comes to cost.
What you’re doing — eating at the places that are comfortable with presenting themselves as more what they are — makes sense. I call it eating at the extremes. It was the way I used to eat, before I became a critic. Save up for the big meals, the meals that are likely to be special, and indulge yourself. The rest of the time, hit up the ethnic spots, getting good value, excitement, and discovery, and squirrel away cash for the blow-out meals at the top.
Re: PETE’S NEW HAVEN STYLE APIZZA:
I have to second Pete’s.
I take out from the TenleyTown/Friendship Heights location almost weekly and am a huge fan of the Edge of the Woods pizza topped with “Sauteed Savoy Spinach, Caramelized Onion, Ricotta, Fried Italian Eggplant”.
The crispy eggplant on top of the pizza almost acts a prosciutto or pancetta crispy meat texture. By the way, I am not a vegetarian by any means, I simply love this pie.. On most occasions we will have the pie done as half Edge of the Woods and half some other meaty concoction.
I haven’t had that one — thanks for the tip; I’ll look for it next time I’m in.
By the way, I was pleased to see that the Silver Spring location is doing such a good job with its pizzas. This is the fourth Pete’s, but at least to judge by the meal I had recently, you wouldn’t know it.
The arugula salad, on the other hand, was overdressed, with its tangy vinaigrette pooling at the bottom and making the last third of the bowl inedible.
PRICE CREEP AND THE ACA:
In your response to my post about price-creep, you note that “almost all” restaurateurs tell you that the Affordable Care Act will push prices up, without mentioning the utter absurdity of that claim.
The ACA exempts employers with fewer than 50 full-time employees or the equivalent from the requirement to provide health insurance: I can’t imagine that most, if any, neighborhood restaurants have 50 full-time employees.
You’re right that most don’t.
And I shouldn’t have conflated the two.
Restaurateurs who have multiple properties are going to be affected; their employees belong, in effect, to a single entity. Those are the restaurateurs who are going to be affected. Some are neighborhood restaurant owners, or so-called neighborhood restaurant owners. But again, you’re right that it’s not most.
Thanks for calling me out and getting a clarification on this.
FINDING FOOD IN FOREIGN COUNTRIES:
re: Finding food in foreign countries.
Research, research, research. On the Internet. Map it out. Download apps to phones. Print out the name of the restaurant in the foreign language. Ask at the hotel front desk for directions. And it’s not uncommon for many people in foreign major cities to have a basic understand of English.
Another good tip…many shopping malls/large department stores in Asian cities have amazing food courts, a lot of times located in the basement. You don’t find braised pig knuckle at Pentagon City Mall, but you do in Bangkok.
Great tips, all of them.
And just to widen the discussion to finding food in the U.S. — what do you all do when you’re traveling? A mixture of things? We’re all pretty fanatical, so I assume you’d put in much more research time than the average person out there. How much? What kinds of sources?
From time to time I hear people say they rely on cabbies and concierges, and I always wonder: why?
THE BAR MENU & TASTING MENU AT CORDUROY:
So for the first time ever I encountered an entirely full bar area at Corduroy. I blame these chats.
What I also noticed is that they added five bucks to the cost of the tasting menu. I won’t hold that against them, as their tasting menu was a relative bargain (relative!) at $65. I still think it’s totally worth $70 on a special occasion. I just hope they don’t mess with the pricing up at the bar.
This little ol’ chat?
Naw … Well, maybe. Who knows?
I’m just glad to see and here that Corduroy is doing well. And yes, I hope they keep the bar menu what it is — a (shhh) tremendous value.
FOOD AND ETIQUETTE, CONT.:
Part of my adult life I spent living with my parents in the suburbs. It wasn’t the most pleasant of times but for family you make sacrifices. All this talk of, “I can’t believe she brought store bought cookies!” “everyone else brought a bottle of wine. Did you just forget?” “you say you’re not hungry? Well, I’m insulted!” -reminds me of all the catty talk *some* neighbors have about one another. Nothing better in life to do than to complain about one another.
If you have a party the best thing you can hope for is for people to show up and have a great time. One less bottle of wine, some store bought cookies, should not ruin an evening with friends. Maybe the guy with the cookies is the party starter who knows how to throw down on the dance floor. Can’t make that in the kitchen!
Oh, I hear you.
But I really doubt that anyone’s doing any throwing down at these kinds of get-togethers. I imagine a lot of standing around and talking. Or sitting around and talking.
Talking about cars and houses and babysitters and school and TV (because even though no one watches TV anymore, everyone knows all the shows) and movies and — because this is D.C. — what you do and why.
When was the last time you — and this goes for everyone out there — saw anyone cut loose at a dinner party or a get-together at a friend’s?
Be nice to see. I just don’t ever expect to see it.
And as for cattiness … it’s true. Even a friendly little get-together is fraught. Because people are always tallying and and comparing and assessing and pigeonholing and classifying.
FINDING FOOD ON THE ROAD, CONT.:
When traveling… I go to a network of friends first.
After that, i check local magazines/newspapers/websites for best of lists (Hi, Washingtonian!) and single out anything that sounds interesting or possibly unique to the area.
Then I do a bit more research and asking around because I am insane. And I try my best to ignore everything that everyone on Yelp ever says.
“Then I do a bit more research and asking around because I am insane. And I try my best to ignore everything that everyone on Yelp ever says.”
This made me laugh out loud — yes, really — and it makes me realize that we’ve been missing something by not having a Hall of Fame for these chats. You know, to collect the best lines and phrases.
So, Jack — a favor. Would you like to be the curator of said Hall of Fame. To collect the good ones and update us every week or every other week?
And everyone is free to step forward and say — hey, I love that one; that has to go in. If we get that and one to second, I say it’s in.
I think it’d be great to recognize all the bon mots and witty apercus and bitchy asides, etc., we see on here.
VEGGIE PIZZA, CONT.:
A few wide-ranging thoughts:
– That Edge of the Woods pizza from Pete’s, with the fried eggplant, is sublime. Glad to see someone else beat me to the suggestion.
– My husband and I finally tried Doi Moi on Sunday (we live a block away) and were very pleased with the food and drink. And I didn’t blink an eye at the $7 for the duck egg, which I thought was a fabulous dish and would order again in a heartbeat. That said, it would be really nice if all of the staff actually knew how to pronounce the name of the restaurant. The fact that they don’t just reinforces the thought that it was a fairly silly choice.
– For myself, if I were formally invited to a gathering, I’d never offer to bring anything (but I’d show up with a hostess gift). If I were more casually getting together with friends and one was cooking the meal, I imagine I’d ask if I could bring something, but would expect a no (and be happy to comply if I receive a yes!). I’m really not sure, though, why there’s harm in a guest asking, unless the guest refuses to take no for an answer!
Thanks for the wide-ranging thoughts.
Re: “what can I bring?” I still don’t really have a sense of how this started, and why. Harm? No harm. I just find the question odd. Even after all our talk about it.
As I say, I’d much rather bring a bottle of wine — or a good book, i.e., food for the soul. To try to incorporate a dish into a meal someone else is cooking feels, to me, intrusive and unnecessary. Even to bring dessert does.
In that same vein, I’m not much for people helping out in the kitchen, either. Makes the meal feel less special when it hits the table. But we can talk about that one next time … : )
Gotta run, everyone.
Be well, eat well, and let’s do it again next Tuesday at 11 …
[*missing you, TEK … *]
VEGGIE PIZZA, CONT.:
I’ve had two great veggie pizzas recently at Ghibellina on 14th St. The first had rapini, fennel seed, calabrian chilies (so salty and spicy and delicious), garlic and pecorino romano. The second had olives, artichokes, sun-dried tomatoes and smoked mozzarella.
Trying to squeeze you in …
QUICK CORRECTION RE: DGS:
Dave from DGS figuring I should clear up something. We won’t be open 24 hours (Katz’s has that on us) — we will remain open between the traditional lunch and dinner service. So that means we will be open for those who want an afternoon snack.
Thanks for the concern, we are sensitive to the perception that delicatessen is primarily a lunch cuisine and have worked on a menu that we feel brings the spirit of delicatessen to a great dinner service. We try to give people a great dining experience and get better everyday.
I took “open all day” to mean 24 hrs. a day. Which did seem a lot. And impressive! Alas, not to be …
I appreciate the swift response and correction.