Tuesday, April 1, at 11 AM
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. Host Todd Kliman

Editor’s Note: Washingtonian Online moderators and hosts retain editorial control over chats and choose the most relevant questions; hosts can decline to answer questions.

Published March 26, 2014

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'sThe 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.

He 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: tkliman@washingtonian.com

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W H E R E   I ' M   E A T I N G   N O W   .  .  .

Thai Taste by Kob, Wheaton
On a three-block stretch of Wheaton, near the intersection of University Blvd. and Georgia Ave., can be found two of the area's best Thai restaurants -- Ruan Thai and Nava Thai. Time to add a third. Phak Duangchandr -- Kob, to friends -- has set up shop in the tiny space that originally contained Nava, in the back of Hung Phat market. Thai food fans may remember her, or at least her cooking; for 19 years she operated the Thai Food Carryout at Thai Market, near the old Safeway in Wheaton. The new setting, electrified with a paint job of orange and day-glo green, gives her a chance to expand her repertoire of dishes, while staying true to the from-scratch traditions that earned her a devoted following. The emphasis is on street food and homecooking, with a good many dishes you simply won't find anywhere else, like bamee moo daeng, a meal-in-a-bowl of tender egg noodles, red-edged roast pork, baby bok choy, and fish balls; or kai yad sai, an omelette stuffed with ground chicken punched up with fish sauce and soy sauce; or a salad of shrimp paste-flavored rice, onions, cucumber and sweet, sticky pork). But even familiar tastes, taste different here -- funkier, more pungent, and definitely hotter (a shrimp fried rice, alive with fistfuls of Thai basil and a generous pinch of chilis, set my heart to racing). Some customers have already been asking for more rice to accompany their orders. Partner and manager Max Praserptmate says he is willing to accommodate any requests, but adds that his aunt's cooking is not the aberration; it's the great majority of Thai restaurants that are the aberration. "The taste," he says, "is what you're supposed to get from your Thai food." Duangchandr imports many of her spices from Thailand, and toasts and grinds them herself. All the condiments on the spice tray, including a terrific chili vinegar, are made on the premises. Meats are given a long soak before hitting the grill -- 72 hours, in the case of the pork that is pounded and threaded onto a skewer to create a must-order starter called moo yang. The other must-order starter sure doesn't sound like it -- when was the last time you had fried shrimp wontons that were any good? These are fabulous. Kiew tod comes to the table looking more like a plate of tortilla chips, the mix of shrimp and white pepper bundled within a sneakily rolled edge. The crunch is junk food-loud; it's hard not to believe they weren't engineered in a lab. No beer or wine yet; Praserptmate says soon on both. I would take the money you'd ordinarily spend on a drink and spring for an extra dish or two (most are under $10, and many items will survive into the next day).

Trapezaria, Rockville

The kind of big-hearted restaurant that takes you to another place (Baltimore? St. Louis?) and maybe another time (late' 70s). Come on a weekend night, when there's a two-piece band and the place is humming and you'll feel as if you've just crashed a wedding reception. I love the GM in coat and tie who shows you to your table, maitre d'-style. I love the waitress who turned to me one night when I was trying to decide between a lamb dish on the menu and a lamb dish that was a special, and said, "Listen. Listen to me," and insisted I order the latter. She was right. The meat was rich and juicy and drenched in a lemon-spiked gravy. Alongside it: lemon roasted potatoes and green beans cooked with tomato and mint. True to the homestyle nature of the place, you couldn't see any white space on the plate. Another great dish is the fried cod, delicately light, with a fluff of skordalia in the center, a sit-down Greek fish and chips. The menu has no weak spots, as far as I can tell. I've been three times, now, and nearly everything that has come out of the kitchen has ranged from the good to the terrific. Vegetarians can revel here. Iman bayaldi, a dish of roasted eggplant drenched in cinnamon-spiced tomato sauce, has the tight, knitted flavor of expert long-cooking. It comes in a massive portion, and costs just $7. There are stuffed grape leaves without the ground beef, filled with well-cooked rice and pine nuts and wrapped in fresh-tasting leaves that still have some good chew to them. If it takes wrapping up some food for leftovers in order to manage dessert, then do it. The version of galaktobouriko -- presented in small, crunchy pieces, almost like bites of fudge -- is one of the best I've eaten in years; the baklava (served warm, and nearly spilling its crunchy, nutty, sticky filling) is stunning; and the centerpiece of the yogurt with honey and walnuts is a scoop that has been strained almost to the consistency of a cheese, with a tanginess that goes on and on and on.

Bangkok Golden, Falls Church


I was tempted to say this a while back, but didn't. I will now, after a recent knockout visit: I'd rather go here, for the Lao menu, than Little Serow. The range of tastes is vast, and every plate is alive with flavor -- bright and pungent and smoky and funky. Not to mention crunch and heat. Not to mention a shorter wait and a lighter bill (my recent meal of four dishes and a beer, pre-tax: $43).

Rose's Luxury, DC


I love the crackle in the room when you walk in. I'm not talking about mere noise; lots of restaurants have noise. I'm not even talking about buzz, that sense that a new place is hot. This one has an energy that is unmistakable, a sense that you have entered a kind of rare and cherished zone where the enthusiasm of the kitchen and the staff is returned in kind by the diners, who all seem to walk out the door with smiles on their faces. It's not hard to understand why. Rose's Luxury has an old-school vibe, and a sort of making-it-up-as-we-go-along feel, from the homey, unassuming way the menu bids you to settle in and order to the dinner party-run-amok vibe to the yahrzeit-look-alike votives to the beer glasses that are sawed-off wine bottles. The chef, Aaron Silverman, logged stints in such high-profile kitchens as Momofuku in New York and Husk and McCrady's in Charleston, and you don't have to look hard to see elements of each of these places in the room and on the plate. Like his mentors David Chang and Sean Brock, he aims to bring off a marriage of extreme playfulness and extreme precision. The bulk of the menu consists of a dozen small plates in which Silverman sets out to cross the wires, compositionally speaking, and see what happens. A pate is a braiding of French, Italian (garlic bread are the toasts), Vietnamese (the rich, crushed-peanut topped spread brims with star anise), and I want to say Jewish (the brine for the jalapenos, onions and cukes that add crunch and tang tastes deli to me). It's seamlessly done, and highly addictive. He crosses high and low in a soup that tastes at once like liquefied popcorn and a delicate lobster veloute (the sweetness calls out for some sort of counterbalancing ingredient, or more lobster). It's not all derring-do. His gnocchi are more properly a kind of ravioli, stuffed with fennel and mint, sauced with not-too-much butter and topped with a generous scattering of crunchy toasted breadcrumbs. You'd be hard put to find five better pasta dishes in town right now. The final course is a page not out of Momofuku or Husk or McCrady's, but out of Komi -- share plates for two. In one, you lay luscious slices of perfectly smoked brisket on griddled Texas toast, add on tangy strands of pickled cabbage and smear the whole thing with a fluffy horseradish cream. The other is built around a beautifully brined pork chop -- sweet and aromatic and rich as the best pork can be -- with potlikker beans and a textbook red-eye gravy. The final act needs re-staging. The lack of a pastry chef doesn't help, nor does the tendency to over-think and over-embellish. Quenelles of chocolate cream sprinkled with dried rose petals and intended for spreading on slices of charred bread feels twee, not interesting, and hardly satisfies. More of the sink-in simplicity of the share courses would go a long way. Still, this is one of the most exciting debuts of the year. I'd even go so far as to say it's one of the most exciting debuts of the past three years.

Khan Kabob, Chantilly


The best karahi I've had in ages, maybe ever, is a version here made with lamb brains. The brains, for the leery, resemble tiny curds, and the sauce of garlic, ginger, cilantro, tomato and chilis is so concentrated, and so smoky, that even after you've had your fill it's difficult to stop dipping your torn naan into the hammered metal vessel. Tariq Khan, the owner, was for many years part of the Ravi Kabob empire; he's created a worthy rival.

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FIELD REPORT: PUNJABI BY NATURE, CHANTILLY:

I was the grateful reader who solicited you for late-Tuesday dining advice near Dulles last week.

Given the unpredictability of flight arrivals and my inexperience at navigating the airport megaplex we opted to hit up the Lotte Plaza for takeout before collecting my mom.

It all turned out great. The butter chicken was thick and sweet in the way that we were all hoping for, and an order of Punjabi Choley was a great complement. We also tried the Gobhi Masalam which I think would've been my favorite dish of the meal if I had ordered it with more heat. Same need for heat goes for the Lamb Curry, which had a good tang to it, but again faltered from my mild ordering.

We got a couple of each of butter and garlic naan to accompany which were charred and chewy, very good in my opinion.

Overall it was fast, tasty, and the service was shockingly pleasant (extremely friendly) for the end of their 12 hour workday.

Definitely a place I will file away for future frequenting.

Thanks for your help!

Todd Kliman:

I’m so glad you got to go. And so glad that it was such a good meal, too.

Punjabi by Nature is one of the first places I’d think to hit for a quick meal, if I were near Dulles.

I’ve had better Indian cooking there than in many restaurants with more in the way of looks and ambiance.

Order full-on here, forgoing the milder preparations of a dish. You won’t be sorry.

Good morning, everyone.

A real Spring day.

Close enough for government work, as we used to say around the house when I was growing up. (Do people still say that? I’d love to know. And do you think actual bureaucrats — of which this city has nothing close to a shortage of — will be offended or put out when they hear it?)

What’s on your mind?

Where’ve you been eating?

What’ve you been cooking?

TAKEOUT ON OR NEAR CAPITOL HILL, CONT. ...:

For the person looking for takeout near the Hill, I ordered from Indigo on Saturday night.

Very tasty and homey Northern Indian dishes by a husband and wife team. This is not fancy food but the kind of food your grandmother, if she were Indian, would make for you.

We tried the butter chicken (which is not the cream laden version in most restaurants, only slightly creamy), lamb curry, and spinach paneer, with the spinach paneer my favorite.

Good breads too, and they deliver.

We are very happy to have them in our 'hood.

Todd Kliman:

Someone I know who lives nearby also has been talking it up. I need to get there.

Thanks for chiming in on this.

Incidentally, this has got me thinking of an ongoing conversation I have had with a friend for many years. The conversation turns on a question — well, a couple of questions, and the questions have to do with so-called ethnic cuisines. One question is which of the so-called ethnic cuisines do you least like to see taken up a notch in a restaurant setting — or which are you most skeptical of that treatment being given to?

For my friend, it’s Indian cooking. He can appreciate an upscale Indian place, if it’s great, but often finds that the cooking lacks punch, and he’s generally happier eating lower down on the scale. He says he finds that when he goes to an upscale Indian place, he pays double and triple what he ordinarily does, but he doesn’t get double and triple the pleasure.

What about the rest of you?

Is there a cuisine like that for you?

SUSHI RECOMMENDATION?:

Dinner sushi place recommendation: I am planning to take my friend for a sushi this Thursday.

If the place take reservation it will be great but not a must.

Can you please recommend a place in DC? thanks

Todd Kliman:

My favorite in the city is Sushi Taro, near Dupont. Fabulous sushi. But you’ll pay for the fabulous.*

Are you looking for something less expensive, and maybe good but not great? In that case I’d point you to Sushi Ko in Friendship Heights.

*Quick story: Long time ago, at the old Bob’s Big Boy, my brother ordered their sundae one night. Some of you might recall the name: Bob’s Fabulous Hot Fudge Sundae. My brother told the waitress, “I’ll have the Bob’s Fabulous Hot Fudge Sundae, hold the Fabulous.” The waitress looked almost wounded: “You don’t want the whipped cream?”

This has also got me thinking: How many of you, when you go out, actively look to make a connection with your waiter or waitress? In other words, that you seek a kind of back-and-forth, a back-and-forth that acknowledges that the server is a person and not an automoton, and that this back-and-forth is, for you, part of the “experience”? Or, alternatively, how many of you don’t want an interaction of that kind if you can help it, and would never, ever seek it out or encourage it?

I’d love to hear from everybody on this. And what your reasons are as to why.

"CLOSE ENOUGH FOR GOV'T WORK," CONT. ..:

We still say "good/close enough for government work", but ironically- since we actually DO have to be good at our jobs in order to compete.

Also: How dare you! Those who do not work in government can't use that phrase; that's OUR word.

Todd Kliman:

Ha.

Thanks for writing in.

I’m guessing that’s a completely fictitious email address, yes? With the Biden in there, and the J pretty close to it?

That pugnacious tone, though …

"ORDINARY" INGREDIENTS IN RESTAURANTS:

Had my brother visit a couple of weeks ago. He is pretty much a boring eater - American food, Italian food (not that there's anything wrong with that!). In looking for an Italian place to suit him, I first looked at Fiola, then decided it was too exotic for him (really). So we ended up at Graffiato.

It made me wonder: do restaurants that serve food with 'ordinary' ingredients get graded down in reviews? Critics and foodies are looking to push the envelope, it seems. I was trying to identify the more prosaic restaurants - but really good ones.

Todd Kliman:

It’s a very good question.

I don’t think less of a restaurant for not being in the vanguard. And actually, I think it’s harder than it looks to make great, simple food. I wish there were more of it around.

I can’t speak for other critics, though I do think that some are trend-chasers without a real sensibility apart from food knowledge, and are inclined to dock places for the absence of certain things deemed “of the moment” — no cocktail list, for instance.

I mentioned simple food a moment ago. It’s pretty hilarious to me how often you hear chefs and food writers and food critics refer to certain dishes as “simple.” Many restaurant dishes — at least at the level that people who come on to a chat like this tend to think of as dining — might look simple, but are anything but.

That “simplicity” is often the laborious result of endless refinement and streamlining of an idea. Central Michel Richard, for instance. Most of those dishes look very simple, very basic. But the processes behind them, and the hours that go into them, would stun you.

And even many dishes in a great cafe or bistro setting are not simple. In the sense that they are not Guy Savoy, yes, then they are simple. But the word simple, in most instances, is just not applicable.

FIELD REPORT: WOODWARD TABLE, DOWNTOWN:

Hi Todd,

A quick tip of the hat to the Carolina Trout at Woodward Table.

The trout seems to be a staple on the menu with a changing cast of sides. But every time I've ordered it the trout has been perfectly cooked. Yesterday it came with dirty rice (could have been dirtier) and saute dandelion greens (a green other than kale!).

And the restaurant was bustling for Monday lunch, hardly an empty table.

Todd Kliman:

Sounds fantastic.

Thanks for the tasty report.

And good for Woodward Table.

By the way, I so know what you mean about the dirty rice. In nicer settings, it’s seldom as dirty as we want, is it? I think most higher-end restaurants are afraid when it comes to things like this. Make it too dirty, with too much in the way of liver and all that other tasty good stuff in there, and most diners are going to think: What the hell have they done to my rice?

Speaking of “things like this,” what other dishes are there? We’re talking about rusticky, hearty, speak-to-the-gut dishes that, when they’re dusted off and made to present themselves in a more formal setting, lose a little something. Sometimes, a lot of something.

A CARB-TASTIC CHEAT DAY ...:

Todd,

Normally I eat very healthfully, but sometimes I need a carbtastic cheat day.

Days before my sister comes for a visit on May 1, I will have completed my first half marathon.

Both that milestone and my sis's visit certainly warrant - nay, necessitate! - such caloric debauchery.

With this in mind, I'd love your recommendation for the best bread basket(s) in the DC area. For her last visit, we went to Volt for brunch and the bread was extraordinary!

Can't wait to hear/consume your suggestions.

Best, Lisa

Todd Kliman:

“A carb-tastic cheat day” — or, as we call it in my world, “everyday eating.” ; )

The bread basket that leaps to mind is the one at Vidalia. It usually comes with three kinds, including a great corn-studded cornbread and an onion bread topped with caramelized bits of onion.

It’s reason enough to pay a visit.

Order up a mint julep (presented in a Derby cup and served COLD), and settle in with the bread basket, and the world will begin to look better than it is.

And then you’ve got all the great, simple — ha — pies and cakes at the end.

Good luck with the marathon, Lisa. And with the marathon of eating. ;)

And I hope you’ll come back on and give us a full report of your carbtastic cheat day at Vidalia.

(By the way: I’m so heartened to see you write that you try to “eat healthfully.” So many people write, or say: “eat healthy.”)

"PAYING DOUBLE AND TRIPLE ... BUT NOT GETTING DOUBLE AND TRIPLE THE PLEASURE," CONT. ...:

"...he pays double and triple what he ordinarily does, but he doesn’t get double and triple the pleasure."

Isn't that the basic problem with almost all restaurants these days? I call it the Chipotle test. For $10, I can be very happy with a bowl at Chipotle, Cava, or Shophouse, or the very good happy hour burger at Lia's. The pasta I had at Pete's last night passed the test.

My last "fancy" meal was Mintwood Place, which was memorable only in that nothing I had was memorable.

Pretty good doesn't cut it when your check for 2 hits 3 figures.

Todd Kliman:

No, it doesn’t.

I think about this all the time when I’m out. I think about my friends who love to eat out, but can only afford to do it maybe once a month. I think about my life before I became a critic, when I was a teacher and a writer and a Mintwood Place-type meal was something I had to save up for.

There are a lot of constituencies you have to try to speak to when you write for a large, general interest magazine. I know there are many people out there who tire of my writing about places like Punjabi by Nature. I know, because I hear from them. They want to know where they can dine, and entertain clients, and celebrate important occasions. I understand that; it’s part of the gig of being a food critic. But I also want to speak to people who have to save to eat at these places. And the reader I have in mind, when I sit down, is not someone who has the leisure and ease to go out all the time. It’s the person who wants to have that leisure and ease, someday … somehow. And who meantime just wants to eat really well, at any level, and experience the world through food and restaurants.

TALKING TO YOUR SERVER: HOW MUCH DOES IT MATTER?:

90% of the time I look for a connection with my server/bartender for many reasons:

1. First of all, they are a human being, and nothing makes me superior even though I might be paying the bill. I want to understand their personality, maybe their emotional state at that point (everybody has a bad day), and how we can make the experience better for each other (yes!). I used to work in the service industry and have always noticed how people react when you recognize them as a human being than a "server" "bartender" (or in some cases "servant").

2. I want to gage their knowledge and insight, whether what's good (and not) that day or in general. I always look for what's different and exciting in a place, what makes it different than the 100s of other places I could pick, and simply what would make my experience the best or memorable in that place.

3. I realize bartending or serving can be difficult, many people just ask for what they want and turn around and shat with their friends. I dine out alone often (mostly at the bar) but even when I dine with friends, we always engage the server/bartender which they seem to enjoy. I've heard from many of them that they rarely get people passionate about what they do and care for their opinion.

4. I always gage a place's training and overall quality by asking the server/bartender "what do you recommend?" or "I'm between X and Y, what do you think?" then I can read between the lines whether the establishment treats them well or if they are there just for a paycheck. In some cases I leave after a drink, in some cases I stay for 2-3 hours even when I walked in just for a drink.

As a foreign implant in this country, I think when you sit at the bar you kind of signal that you are open to conversation - unless you're buried in your phone, tablet, book etc. and it is one of the reasons I go out to eat (whereas it becomes odd in many countries, especially as a woman). And talking to both other patrons and people who serve, our experience gets much better in general - tasting new things (and I've made many bartenders taste my drink or food when they told me they hadn't tasted it yet, or at times ordered it so we both could which opens many doors) or learning new things is always interesting, and in properly trained places servers and bartenders are very open to this, and I feel that I get more than food in my stomach when it happens.

The last two places I've seen this happen are Lilly at Etto (I always think she's genuinely interested in making my experience better) and Mario at Fiola Mare. Both of places I will return not only for the food but especially for the people because I want to hear what they have in store for me. One last note: At a place I frequent every couple of months when a friend is in town, when we were waiting for a seat at the section with our favorite bartender, she said "I like you guys, because you always say 'please and thank you' " which I never thought was a big deal but apparently makes a difference. And of course we got a seat pretty soon.

Todd Kliman:

This is wonderful. Thank you. I’m glad I posed the question, now — because it elicited a great answer like this.

We’re of the same mind, here. (And I’m not saying I don’t want to hear other views; I do — please send them along).

You make so many good points. Beyond the fact that a server is a person and not an automoton, and you are spending time with this person for two or three hours, there’s the matter that some diners never consider, which is that a meal is likely to go much better if you and the server are engaged with one another.

No. 4 is right on the money, and good advice to all: it’s also a great way to see how much training management has agreed to give its staff. Which is to say: it’s a great way to see how serious an operation this is. Bad or indifferent servers are a reflection of management, and of the operational culture.

HEARTY OR HUMBLE DISHES THAT DON'T TRANSLATE TO MORE FORMAL SETTINGS:

Rustic to Gutless: I would put gumbo in this category.

Far too often fancy restaurant gumbo becomes a watery mess. Too many shortcuts are taken. Restaurants don't want to have someone occupied for 45 minutes making a good roux - stirring and stirring until the roux becomes nice and dark.

Todd Kliman:

Rustic to Gutless: May I steal that? :)

I actually don’t think gumbo is the best example here. I absolutely get what you’re saying. But I think many restaurants that attempt it, do pretty well.

But I’m thinking more along the lines of feijoada.

What others are there?

DISHES THAT DON'T TRANSLATE, CONT. ...:

Dishes that don't translate well to restaurants? Cassoulet.

It's never as meaty, as deep, as fulfilling as when it's cooked at home or by a friend - I've had good versions at a few restaurants, but it's never quite the same as one that you know has been cared for over a home kitchen for much of the day.

Actually, most soups don't translate well - a great bistro french onion maybe, but it's awfully hard to have that same depth of character in a restaurant soup.

Todd Kliman:

Interesting you’d say that, because I think most people would think the opposite: that it’s the restaurant, not the home cook, who is capable of achieving these great depths of flavor.

I hear you re: cassoulet, though I’ve had many that aren’t what I’d describe as being too prettified or fancified. They still look rustic enough; the depth that you’re talking about might be lacking, but the presentation is not “cleaned-up.”

But if we’re just talking about dishes that miss when they’re dragged into a finer setting, then the banh mi is something that doesn’t appear to translate. Has anyone had an upscaled one that was any good? I’d love to know.

Most of the ones I’ve had have messed with the proportions. And even when they’ve theoretically improved the bread, they haven’t improved the sandwich, because the sandwich needs a certain kind of bread, a bread that disappears a little, save for that vital crunch.

Re: DAIKAYA, PENN QUARTER:

Hoping to sneak this in before the end of the chat.

We have folks from out of town coming in later in the month and they have a 8-month old. We have reservations for the middle of the week at Daikaya (upstairs).

Think the atmosphere is suitable for a relatively well-behaved baby? Many, many thanks.

Todd Kliman:

I think you’ll be fine.

It’s not as loud as you might think, given its look and crowd, but it’s just one baby in a party of eight. And listen: if they have a high-chair, they’re essentially saying to you and all other baby-toters: We can handle this, please come.

Good luck. Let us know how things turned out, OK?

FIELD REPORT: TASTEE DINER, BETHESDA:

Went to Tastee Diner in Bethesda on Sunday morning in the pouring rain.

Now, I'm aware that this is not the place you go for refined service, but I could have done without the manager literally yelling at me and others to get out of his way when there was really no other place to go in that tiny cramped entrance.

So me and my friend wound up sitting at the counter, which turned out to be an awesome choice. Old school-style line cook Alan (?) saved the day big time.

He was super friendly, provided fascinating entertainment watching him sling all those eggs and hash browns, and served us the best diner Rueben I've ever had.

This thing was a behemoth, 5-napkin sandwich and was a sloppy delight.

Just wanted to give a shout out where credit is due!

I will be back for that sandwich soon!!!

Todd Kliman:

Kudos to Alan or Allan or Allen or Alon or Alin at Tastee Diner, Bethesda.

Isn’t it great, sitting at a lunch counter, watching the action? I love it. And I’ve now got my son loving it, too. The calling out of orders, the clanging of pots and pans, the gossip between servers as they wait for dishes to come up …

Thanks for the report.

Re: MACON BISTRO AND LARDER -- IN CHEVY CHASE, (POSSIBLY) LATER THIS SPRING:

Looking forward to the opening of Macon Bistro and Larder in CC--forecast for this spring.

Need someplace like this <5 miles from my house because even though I'm pushing 50, Bethesda just doesn't do it for me :)

Todd Kliman:

Does it do it for anyone? :)

(Dear angry emailers: send your correspondence to tkliman@washingtonian.com. Many thanks.)

HEARTY, HUMBLE FOODS THAT DON'T TRANSLATE TO FINER SETTINGS, CONT.:

I'm hoping this trend will pass, but for a while, there seemed to be a lot of places doing cheeky, haute, highfalutin' versions of Philly cheesesteaks.

It is what it is, and the simplicity of a cheap cut of beef (sliced paper thin and cooked), Whiz (a guy lost an election for ordering his with Swiss- and deservedly so), fried onions and peppers, maybe sauce (not a make-or-break), and - and this is the most important thing - an outstanding Italian roll - THAT ties it all together.

For several years, esp. in some higher end PHL restaurants (Starr, I'm looking at you), there were places that would give you a cheesesteak made with sweetbreads, filet, and engorged goose liver, served with Stilton or 10 year old Cheddar, and piled onto pillowy bread.

Just...No.

Todd Kliman:

It’s the idea behind it as much as it is the dish itself, right? In some cases, of course, much more than the dish itself.

We will improve this thing. We’ll take their bread and give them better bread. Take their meat and give them better, more expensive, more luscious meat. They will see that what they’ve been eating is peasant food. We will improve the thing they love, and they will love us for it more than they love the thing itself.

It makes me think of the French and Tex-Mex. I did a piece some years ago, traveling to Paris to eat (I’m not kidding) in crappy Tex-Mex joints. Among the things they do differently, they ditch the melted Colby and Jack in favor of gruyere, undoubtedly thinking: Stupid Americans! They don’t know ze cheese; we know ze cheese; we invented ze cheese.

I’m probably not passing on any revelation when I say that gruyere is not an improvement. In fact, it makes it worse. Much, much worse.

Although I have to say, watching an effete sandaled Frenchman eat gruyere-topped nachos with a knife and fork, in between puffs of his cigarette, was one of the most memorable experiences I have ever had in a restaurant.

BREAD BASKETS, CONT.:

I was very impressed with the bread basket at Lyon Hall. I ate there for the first time a couple months ago and there was a bread with caraway seeds and salt that was particularly good. They actually sell their breads by the loaf, and I liked it so much I bought one to take home.

Speaking of Lyon Hall, I don't hear it mentioned very much here or on other DC food chats, which I find puzzling. I thought the food was great and quite reasonably priced - both my entree and my husband's were less than $20. If I still lived in Arlington, I'd be a regular.

They didn't seem to be hurting for business when I was there, but I find it strange that I don't hear more buzz about it. I hear a lot more about its sibling, Liberty Tavern, which I haven't been as impressed with.

Todd Kliman:

It’s a good one. Thanks for chiming in.

I like Lyon Hall. Love the frankfurter on a poppyseed bun. Love the wine selection, and am particularly impressed with the great by-the-glass options.

It’ll be interesting to see what happens now, with the big change at the helm of the three operations.

BREAD BASKETS, CONT. ...:

It's not a basket, but the bread at Rose's Luxury is not be be missed.

I've only dined there solo, but it looked like they provided additional bread for parties of more than one who finish their loaves. I don't want to know if they'd replenish it for a party of one because I don't need to be demolishing more than one loaf of that at a time (and the butter...)

Todd Kliman:

And how astonishingly easy it would be to do, right?

That’s one terrific bread.

And one terrific gesture.

Thanks for writing in.

Gotta run, late for lunch …

Thanks, everyone, for all the great comments and tips and ruminations and questions.

Be well, eat well, and let’s do it again next Tuesday at 11 …







[missing you, TEK …]



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