Tuesday, April 29, 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 April 23, 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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FAVORITE SANDWICH OF THE MOMENT?:

Hey Todd,

I'm just wondering what your favorite sandwich is right now? I'm sure it changes constantly, but what's your go to right now.

I'm a huge fan of the Short Rib Sammy from Ted's Bulletin. So good!

Thanks, Jeff

Todd Kliman:

I have a few, actually.

The brisket sandwich at Bub and Pop’s, with apple horseradish cream sauce.

The brie, tomato jam and caramelized onion sandwich, on a superlative, fresh-baked baguette, at Bon Fresco, in Columbia and also in Annapolis Junction. I did a thing on it a week ago. http://www.washingtonian.com/blogs/bestbites/best-thing-i-ate/best-thing-i-ate-brie-and-tomato-jam-sandwiches-sushi.php

The Italian hoagie at G.

FOOD CRED, CONT. FROM LAST WEEK ...:

Re: Applebees

Todd- last week you questioned my foodie credentials because I admitted that I went to Applebees. I get it and I agree, I know its not... good. Not good at all.

But there are days (maybe once or twice a year) where I crave chicken fingers straight from the freezer into the fryer and bathed in honey mustard.

I'm sure you've got some culinary skeletons in your closet and this is a safe place.. what are they? (Tom Seitsema has admitted to having a soft spot for Popeye's chicken, just sayin'...)

Todd Kliman:

Aw, you know I was just funnin’ you.

The idea of foodie credentials actually makes my stomach turn.

As for “culinary skeletons” in my closet …

Let’s see. Well, for starters, I like the guac at Chipotle. I kind of like Chipotle, too — for what it is, and also recognizing that it doesn’t taste like Mexican food (it tastes like … Chipotle). I like MGD and Michelob. I like Ledo (the original). When I’m on a road trip, heading south, I can’t resist stopping at a gas station for a Moonpie and a Dr. Pepper. Haven’t had ‘em in years, and I think they’re kaput, but I used to like those chocolate-peanut butter crunch things that Little Debbie did. I like crappy cereal — sugary, bad-for-you kids cereal: Applejacks, Corn Pops, Fruit Loops. I like a Mountain Dew every now and again. On a hot day, after playing hoops, I like a Coke Slurpee. I like the baked burritos and enchiladas at Tippy’s Taco; takes me back.

Let me keep thinking. I know I can add to this …

How about the rest of you?

PALENA'S CLOSING:

What do you think the amount of debt that Palena was holding says about diners in DC?

It was widely regarded as a great restaurant, making your very best list year after year (and breaking into the top 20 on a regular basis)- but it appears that either it was horribly mismanaged or people didn't really have an interest in eating there.

Was it the location? the whims of fickle diners seeking the next new thing? Mismanagement? Slowly slipping standards? Pricing?

Todd Kliman:

First of all, let me begin by saying: RIP, Palena. It was an important restaurant.

Among other things, it was the first big-time restaurant to recognize that things were shifting (economically, culturally) and added a cafe menu — an upstairs/downstairs approach that has now become standard throughout the city.

And Frank Ruta is a remarkable chef, a standard-setter when it came to many, many dishes.

As for your question, I’m not really sure how to answer you. I don’t think it has a lot to say about the city. I think Palena’s problems were largely Palena’s problems, if I understand the situation there from the things I’ve read and heard.

The seeming decline of Cleveland Park’s dining scene — all the restaurants to pack it in, in the past year or two — is fascinating, and is not attributable to one thing. Or two things. A real complicated nut there.

I will say that I think Palena misstepped badly in opening the cafe. It was never the same after. I thought the space was dark and cheerless and not comfortable, and it was no longer a great value. I loved it when it was a place within a place. As a place within a place, it was one of the best restaurants in the area, full of spirit, and charm, and with some of the most perfectly rendered and soulful food you could ever imagine.

With the closing, I have been thinking about all the many great dishes I was fortunate to enjoy in that space over many years. The great consommes, the great terrines, the great pastas, the great roast chicken, the great pot au feu. And on and on and on and on.

I also can’t help thinking about what might have been. Because for all those many, many great dishes, Palena was never, quite, the superlative restaurant I thought it could be. And in the last couple of years, it was a good distance, I thought, from the place in its heyday. The back room was stale and unfriendly. Service had its hiccups. My last tasting menu there was fantastic at times and oddly blah at others.

MINIBAR: GOT A RESERVATION, AND NOW I'M HAVING THE OTHER KIND OF RESERVATION ...:

Hi Todd.

I was finally able to get reservations at Minibar in June. I'm excited but I'm a little nervous about spending that kind of money for a meal. Is the experience worth it?

I've been wanting to go for years now but I don't want to regret it so I wanted to get your thoughts.

Thanks!

Todd Kliman:

Is it worth it?

It’s a great question, and a really hard one to answer.

I guess it comes down to how much you accept the idea of dining as sport. Most of the kinds of restaurants we end up talking about — as a food scene, now, not necessarily on this chat — exist for the purposes of recreational eating. And Minibar is a very, very strong distillation of that. It’s dining as pure sport, dining as theater (and sometimes, theater of the absurd). It’s not at all a dinner in the usual bourgeois sense of the term, and so how you feel about what you encounter in those two-plus hours will be determined, in large part, by how comfortable you are with departing from the bourgeois script.

I think for what it sets out to do, it succeeds brilliantly. My meals there were interesting, provocative, and — and it almost sounds funny to say, because it should be a given, but it’s not; not with this kind of avant-garde meal — delicious.

Worth it, though?

Really tough to say.

Memorable, definitely.

And if you don’t blanch at shelling out $800 for two tickets to great seats at a Broadway show, then you’re probably not going to regret the pain of the bill. Or not as much.

The thing is, and one of the ironies here, is that dinner is not art and a chef is not an artist in the sense in which these terms are generally understood in the world of art, literature, theater, music. And that’s one of the things we like about restaurants, those of us who also appreciate culture and art. That a meal is, essentially, bourgeois. That after it’s over it makes the here and now feel better. That it comforts and soothes and takes away the sting of the day, as opposed to good art, which assails and makes us uneasy and forces us to question all sorts of assumptions about ourselves and the world.

Minibar is a ride. It makes you think and question at every step of the meal — not the world, not the culture, not yourself, but food, certainly, and cooking, and what a restaurant is and can be. There’s very little out there that compares.

I would love to see the price come down a bit — think about this: it’s more than $50 more than dinner at the Inn at Little Washington — but for all that money at least you can say it’s undeniably a singular experience.

For some — maybe for you — that’s worth it.

I’d love to hear your thoughts afterwards. Drop us a note, okay?

CULINARY SKELETONS, CONT. ...:

Culinary skeletons: Cheetos - love em, and once I start eating them I can't stop.

The "Jamaican" beef patties at 7/11.

Mint Chocolate Milano cookies, their packaging is perfect for putting in the cup holder while driving.

And no road trip is complete without a roll of mixed fruit Mentos and a box of orange Tic Tacs.

Todd Kliman:

Mentos and Tic Tacs? That’s funny.

And I’ve never had the patties at 7-11 — I’ve been much too afraid.

I like Cheetos, but haven’t had them in years.

I’ve got a weakness for corn chips, though not just any; they have to be good. A brand called The Real Deal just found its way into the house; they’re terrific.

What’s really bad is watching Wizards playoff basketball, and the game getting tight and tense, and digging into the bag to help ease the anxiety that they’re going to blow it. (I had no such problem with Game 4, which I couldn’t bear to watch in real time — otherwise known as time; on tape delay, the outcome already known — go Wizards! — I went happily chip-less.)

FIELD REPORTS: ELEPHANT JUMPS, IN FALLS CHURCH; PUPATELLA, IN ARLINGTON; AND DON CHURRO, IN CHANTILLY:

Hi Todd -

Just wanted to check in from the field on a few spots in NoVA: we had lunch at Elephant Jumps over the weekend and were reminded of what a great spot this is.

Had the Ladd Na with pork and a pepper vinegar, great flavor and a nice smokiness in the sauce; a bamboo curry; gang hung lay - a slow cooked pork dish with sticky rice; fried watercress; and a grilled shrimp salad.

Food was great, service was friendly and we were out of there for $85 (pre-tip) including 2 beers, which was a nice mid-day break for us and 2 kids.

It was certainly less crowded than Bangkok Golden, but hopefully it's not forgotten - it shouldn't be.

Also, went to Pupatella for lunch on Sunday. This has to be the best Neapolitan pizza in the area, right? Super consistent, flavorful crust with the right amount of toppings. So great when it comes right out of the oven and has that nice chew and char. They need to franchise!

Another place that we've been to and haven't heard mentioned lately is Don Churro's in Chantilly. They've been around a while it seems and the food was much tastier than we remembered, but unfortunately the service lacked a little (we were a large group though). For such a broad reaching menu, I never expect them to be able to pull off most of the dishes but they did and we'll try to keep them in mind when we're out that way.

Have you been to any of these places lately?

-Mike

Todd Kliman:

Mike, thanks for these great reports. No, I haven’t been to any of these in a while. I’m fans, to varying degrees, of all of them.

Elephant Jumps, when it’s on, is one of the better Thai restaurants in the region.

Don Churro is inconsistent, and the menu has some blind spots, but what’s good is often very good.

My last two pizzas at Pupatella were good, not great, but I like the place. Is it the best of all the many Neapolitan pizzas in the area? I’d probably give the honor, at the moment anyway, to Il Canale, in Georgetown.

I’d really like to see less Neapolitan-style in the area. It’s very hard to do well. There’s very little margin for error. If the ingredients are not first-rate and the crust is not worked with real care, the pizza is going to be disappointing. I’d love to see more places do brick oven. Less cache, perhaps, but it’s much more forgiving. You don’t have to have exquisite ingredients and expert knowledge to make a good brick oven pie. So many spots long to stamp themselves as authentically Italian. I wish they’d concern themselves more with being (consistently) delicious.

The best pizzas in the area, right now, are brick oven pies — chef Justin Moore’s, at Vin 909 Winecafe in Annapolis.

CULINARY SKELETONS, CONT. ...:

While I'm sure to dine at washingtonians top 100 every year, I definitely do not discriminate.

Here are my skeletons that can make me just as happy as eating at one of DC's finest:

Lays Chips w/ Helluva Dip

Straight up tex mex nachos from ANYWHERE

Ledos pizza

Five Guys burger

Taco Bell...yeah, that's a bad one! Popeyes fried chicken and dirty rice

I know there are so many more but I'm having a brain lapse

Todd Kliman:

Look, we’ll give you Five Guys. And Popeye’s. But Taco Bell — that’s turn-in-your-badge time there, son. ;)

I’m with you on nachos. Even with not-great nachos, there’s still something appealing about them — well, for the first five bites, that is; after that, the thing congeals and becomes disgusting.

CLEVELAND PARK IN DECLINE? ...:

I've been reading a lot about the decline of Cleveland Park dining over the past several days, and yes, while the focus of DC dining is certainly shifting East and there appears to be some serious issues over rent inflation in the neighborhood many of the recent closures I would attest to:

Palena - Never really being able to integrate the expanded cafe space.

Dino - Dean himself has cited declining sales and rent increase.

Lavando - Quality had been languishing for years.

Pulpo - Expensive and wasn't good to begin with.

Tackle Box - Owner group had well documented management issues.

Lame cereal place - Did anyone think that was a good idea in the first place?

On the other hand:

Ripple - Chef is on the James Beard Awards fringe.

Ardeo+Bardeo - Seems revitalized after its makeover.

Medium Rare - Always packed.

Spices - Has been solidly doing what it does for years.

Vace - A gem of a store.

Indique - One of the better Indian restaurants in town

Plus you have a handful of smaller mom and pop places that are good/fine for quick, casual meals and/or take out, and a couple of good neighborhood bars.

I'd put that list up against many other neighborhoods around the city.

Todd Kliman:

It’s a pretty good list, I grant you.

At the same time, the losses are big losses. Over the past several days I’ve read and heard so many different explanations as to why, and many of these explanations sound reasonable, but the fact is we don’t really know; we will never really know. No one is going to order a committee to investigate. A bunch of people spouting off and speculating is just that.

What I find interesting is that Cleveland Park is back to where it was not so very long ago. For a while there, it had a boom, and that stretch of Conn. Ave. was a restaurant row. Now it’s returning to its former self, a place with a few good high-end places and a bunch of low-key, likable neighborhood spots.

ISO: FIDDLEHEADS ...:

Are there any spring menus in the area that feature this unique veggie?

Thanks!

Todd Kliman:

Well, they’re on the menu right now at The Curious Grape, in Shirlington.

Chatters: any other fiddlehead fern sightings around town?

S/O TO SERVERS/BARTENDERS ...:

Hi Todd,

Loving the chats, as always. I know you love a shout-out to great servers/bartenders/etc, so I just wanted to compliment the team at Fiola Mare - Asok (hope I'm spelling it right!) at the bar who makes excellent cocktails and was an engaging conversationalist while I was waiting for a friend for drinks Friday night, Mario, who took good care of our party of 6 two weeks ago, and Courtney, the manager, who makes you feel like a regular (to go back to the convo from a few weeks ago), even when you've only been in twice.

Question for you on sushi - I live outside of Clarendon and generally drive to Tachibana in McLean or head downtown if we're going out to dinner, but I've been wishing there was a good place to get takeout in the area. I've tried Cafe Asia, Sushi Rock, and Endo and probably wouldn't go back... is there anyplace you like for sushi in Arlington?

Todd Kliman:

I don’t, unfortunately. That’s pretty much the Land of Mediocre Sushi.

There’re an awful lot of sushi places in Arlington, too, is the thing. The vast majority of them are meant for a not-lingering weekday meal, in other words, the vast majority are suited for take-out. But not one of them, in my experience, is good enough to recommend making a part of a rotation.

As for Fiola Mare, that’s so great to hear. And thanks so much for naming names — I know they’ll be thrilled to get the s/o, and I love it when we can single out people in the restaurant world other than the chefs who garner so much attention and acclaim. A lot of people go into making a great experience at a restaurant.

Thanks for taking the time to learn names and writing in today …

CULINARY SKELETONS, CONT. ...:

Forgot to add a BIG ONE!..Arby's curly fries w/ mayo..YUM!

Todd Kliman:

“I don’t eat the curly fries. I don’t eat fried foods. I just don’t. I don’t like them — but I’m told they’re quite good!”

Ah, Ken Beatrice. I will never forget you.

http://www.washingtoncitypaper.com/articles/25637/ken-and-arbys/

FIDDLEHEADS, CONT. ...:

Had fiddleheads at Rogue 24 on Saturday night accompanying a lamb rillette, yogurt, and ash.

It was the last savory course of the night, and I had to pace myself as I knew dessert was on the horizon, so I regrettably left a few bites on the plate. I say regrettably because as soon as I finished dessert I knew there was just *this much* stomach space left that could've accommodated those bites.

One of my favorite courses in what was a stellar meal.

Todd Kliman:

Mmm, ash …

I could go for some good ash.

I crave it, you know, if I haven’t had it for a while. There’s just a certain something about it, about ash …

Good for Rogue 24. That’s great to hear.

CHECKING IN FROM AUBURN, ALABAMA ...:

Former Washingtonian: Ledo's, Tippy's California burrito, 7-eleven Jamaican patties? Y'all are killing me.

I did, however, have too much Ledo's on Good Friday while visiting family in Silver spring. It's a family tradition.

Todd Kliman:

For me, anyway, it’s not Ledo’s. Only the original Ledo’s, which, admittedly, is not original anymore (they moved to College Park several years ago).

I kind of love this, that with our far-flung travel and love of great, exquisite food we all seem to have these lovably crummy foods we adore.

DINING ETIQUETTE: SPEAKING UP ABOUT A STAFFER WHO IS NOT A SERVER ...:

This is a bit of a tricky question, Todd, and something I've been thinking about for a couple weeks. Do you speak up when you are disappointed by someone on the restaurant staff who is not a server? Say, a busser or host?

Two examples: at Range, the bus staff continuously tries to clear dishes that are clearly half full, glasses with wine in them, constantly hovering, etc. Even the politest "we are still working" doesn't discourage them. I almost want to put up a forcefield!

At Rose's - which I love, and live in the neighborhood so go to frequently, lucky me - one of the hosts is wonderful and gives us options as to where to sit, remembered it was an anniversary on a previous visit, is just generally on top of things and always has a smile or kind word. The other host, sadly, is consistently snarky and spends her time much more with the male guests than paying attention to the line out the door. Is this something I can bring to the attention of anyone or should I let it slide? How do you handle a less than pleasant staff when it's not your direct server?

Todd Kliman:

This is a really interesting question. I don’t think anyone has asked it before.

In the case of Range — and it’s not just Range, it’s seemingly every restaurant at the high-end — I think you absolutely should say something to a manager. This hands coming in for plates thing — it’s way, way, way out of control. It doesn’t feel like what it’s supposed to feel like. It doesn’t feel like the staff is taking care of you and keeping your setting and table clean. It feels unobservant. It feels intrusive. It feels like management is pushing you out. Speak up, by all means. If more diners did, then maybe it wouldn’t be such a persistent and annoying problem of dining out.

The second example you bring up is a little trickier. But I’d still bring it to the attention of a manager. What’s the worst than can happen? And actually, I would think that an operation would want to hear feedback like this from a frequent customer. They don’t want you going on an online forum and telling people what isn’t working well; they want every opportunity to be able to correct course in the moment, i.e., during the meal itself.

CULINARY SKELETONS, CONT. ...:

Culinary skeletons:

Spam musubi (in Hawaii or I make at home)

The bread at Macaroni Grill

Taco Cabana (only available in TX as far as I know)

Todd Kliman:

Macaroni Grill, really? Interesting. I went once, many, many moons ago. Probably 15-16 years ago. Don’t remember anything about it.

As for spam musubi, I’ve only read about it. Looks interesting. I imagine it’d be good late-at-night-when-nothing-is-open-and-you’re-more-than-a-little-hammered food. My one experience with Spam — again, many, many moons ago? Not good.

MINIBAR, CONT. ...:

Interesting question about Minibar.

I've been only once, a few years ago, before they expanded and jacked up the price. (My recollection is that it was $110 or $120 per head when I went.) I thought it was enjoyable and didn't feel ripped off afterwards, but I have no interest in going back now that I've been. I'm not sure I'd feel the same way now that the price tag has doubled. There isn't any one dish that I'm still dreaming about, which I guess would be my definition of a really superlative meal.

(Incidentally, I had a weiner schnitzel at the Palena cafe that I do still dream about. Sad to see that place go.)

Todd Kliman:

It’s a different place now, and not just because it’s now insanely, really unforgivably expensive.

I don’t dream about dishes — you didn’t really mean that literally, did you? — but I had many, many courses, in my meals there, that I thought about for weeks and months after.

I can’t deny that the prices are ridiculous. But I also can’t deny that the place is interesting and imaginative and delicious.

Gotta run. Lunch calls.

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







[missing you, TEK … ]



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