Where can you get a three-star experience at one-star prices? Which hot new restaurant merits the scorching hype? The answer to all these questions and more can be found Tuesdays at 11 AM on Kliman Online.
From scoping out scruffy holes in the wall to weighing the merits of four-star wanna-bes, from scouring the 'burbs and exurbs to hitting the city's streets, Todd Kliman covers a lot of territory.
Winner of a James Beard Foundation Award in 2005 for the country's best newspaper column about food, Kliman is food and wine editor and restaurant critic for The Washingtonian. His writing has appeared in The New Yorker, Harper's, The Oxford American, Lucky Peach, The Daily Beast and Men's Health, among others, and he has been selected four times for inclusion in the Best Food Writing anthologies.
He is the author of The Wild Vine, a literary exploration of two entwined mysteries: an obscure grape that rose to prominence, only to disappear, and its present-day evangelist, a foul-mouthed transgendered multi-millionaire vintner on an obsessive quest to restore the legend of an antebellum southern doctor.
Todd previously taught writing and literature at American University and Howard University. At Howard, he was also the editorial advisor to The Illtop Journal, Chris Rock's humor magazine modeled after the Harvard Lampoon.
Can't wait a week to talk to Todd? Follow him on Twitter for dining reports, tips, and breaking news from the culinary world. Or write to him: firstname.lastname@example.org
Re: "doctoring up" dishes from last week ...
I had leftover sweet potato fries as a hash today with scallion kimchi, fried egg and swiss cheese. weirdly delicious.
Leftover fries usually get tossed in my house until my older daughter recommended the hash solution
You know, I can see that being pretty tasty …
I’d love to know more about that scallion kimchi. I imagine that many, many things would be pretty good topped with a scallion kimchi.
Good morning, everyone — Spring! Finally …
If anything, it’s already too hot. : )
Keep sending in tips on the dishes that you routinely doctor at home. Stuff from cans, from boxes, from mixes, from jars. Anything you do to make it sing, I’d love to know about.
And of course — all the usual. Restaurant reviews, tips, gripes, musings …
I stopped by Sisters Thai Saturday afternoon while house hunting in Fairfax.
The place is absolutely tiny--perhaps 30 seats. ("Cozy" doesn't quite capture the size of the place). Tom Kha Gai, while not the best I've had, was the best I've tasted in the DC area. The steak salad was perfect; fresh, full of flavor, and spicy.
Pleasantly surprised by some great food options in Fairfax (Curry Mantra, BonChon Chicken to start) Speaking of Tom Kha Gai, do you know where I can get a great version in DC/NOVA?
Sunday, I stopped into DGS Delicatessen. I was a bit hesitant due to decidedly mixed reviews on Yelp, but I should have just trusted your judegement. The food was outstanding--the pickle plate contained a variety of pickled vegetables, as well as half of a hard-boiled (pickled?) egg. The Cobb salad was the best version I've had, and contained the best corned beef I've ever had, as well.
I read many comments alleging the value was poor, but I found the opposite to be the case, particularly for a restaurant in the DC area. The service was great, and the restaurant itself is modern and comfortable. A great first experience, and I look forward to returning.
Thanks as always for your expert advice!
You’re very welcome.
I’m not surprised by the griping online over DGS’s prices. But I do think it’s not nearly the bad value that some paint it as.
Good deli costs. Deli prices in New York are even higher. Eighteen bucks a sandwich is the norm.
The difference is, those delis really pile it on, while DGS’s portioning appears to be more studied. I don’t find the sandwiches to be ungenerous; but I think it would only help the restaurant to appear generous or over-generous. Delis if they are about anything, are about abundance, plenty, not holding back — a zesty attitude toward food and life.
As for Sisters Thai — I’m so glad to hear that you made it there. I had no expectations and ended up impressed — by the care of the service and the cleanness and focus of the cooking. It’s a place to support …
My first two picks for Tom Kha Gai, by the way, would be Nava Thai and Ruan Thai, both in Wheaton. They’re top-tier Thai restaurants.
For the chatter last week looking for Tampa/Clearwater recommendations:
Redington Beach, right on the Gulf, has a lot of funky places that serve great breakfasts and outstanding, fresh seafood (when in doubt, order the grouper). Anything non-chain is good.
Or, Arby's corporate HQ is in Tampa, so there's that, I guess.
Thanks for following up …
I can still remember eating my first Arby’s roast beef sandwich when I was a kid.
I remember my mouth watering at the commercial, and then at the picture on the menu board — and then getting what was, essentially, a “jam” sandwich: two halves of warm bun jammed together to make a sandwich. Where was that layered mound of roast beef?
I lifted off the top and, ah, there it was: a lump of grayish brown so pitiful, there was a good inch, inch and a half circumference around it before you got to the edge of the bun. It’s like the meat was in hiding.
Last week you mentioned "sitting in the pass." What does sitting in the pass mean?
Good question. Thanks for asking it.
The pass is the place where the chef calls out orders, wipes plates, makes last-second decisions/changes, expedites, etc.
So a restaurant that permits diners to sit at the pass, as Westend Bistro is now doing, is granting them a rare privilege to be in the thick of the action — as thick as it gets without actually being at the stoves.
We're renting out our apartment while we're out of town--so have some unearned income to spend. Trying to decide between Komi and the Inn at Little Washington.
Flip a coin.
They’re both fantastic. It comes down to the kind of experience you’re in the mood for. The Inn is luxury dining, with all that that implies. Superlative ingredients, exquisite preparations, hyper-attentive service. Komi is much more modest by comparison; it’s more like trattoria dining, soulful and rustic, albeit helmed by a fabulously talented, creative chef who can turn seemingly simple dishes into something sumptuous.
Two different models of fine dining — one the embodiment of the grand dining of old; the other the embodiment of dining in the now.
If you can get a reservation, this is a great time to visit the Inn. The setting is beautiful, and a table on the patio — with a view of the countryside — is about as idyllic as it gets.
I really miss GOOD Chinese food in downtown DC.
I think that Meiwah has slipped, and I've been trying Sichuan Pavilion and it's better, but not great.
Where else might you recommend?
New Big Wong, in Chinatown.
It’s a popular chef hangout, a place they gather when they’re done with dinner service and want to blow off steam, drink beer and eat steamed fish.
Great? No, not great, but it hits the spot now and again.
There isn’t great Chinese in the city right now, and there hasn’t been for a long while.
If you want great, you have to head north of the city, to Rockville, and Sichuan Jin River, among others.
Always enjoy your chats. My husband and I are going to Puerto Rico (main island) later this week and wanted to see if you or any of your readers have recommendations for authentic Puerto Rican restaurants/hole-in-the-walls.
The cheaper the better, and of course we're huge on pork and love eating stuff that some consider weird. We're already going to the Pork Highway in Guavate.
Puerto Rico in April sounds amazing.
Wish I could help with recs, but I don’t doubt that I’ll have some good backup on this one. Chatters?
You recently reviewed Zeitoon in the magazine. Well, I took my father and the rest of the family on Saturday night for his birthday.
He was very impressed and it reminded him of his many business trips to Morrocco. He and his business partners used to own an ice cream company in Morocco. He said the Harisa soup reminded him of those days spent traveling and doing business in Morocco and that the soup was spot on.
Now, I am a quick eater and usually finish before everyone else but on this night my dad finished before me. He simply loved the lamb tagine. It came to the table piping hot and the owner warmed up the pita bread for us.
We also enjoyed the zeitoon sampler, which includes olives, tzatziki, hummus, and baba ghanoush. Each item was very flavorful.
The owners were beaming with pride over the review you wrote about the restaurant and had the review prominently displayed at the counter They treat their guests with such warm hospitality and I personally love rooting for them and hope they continue to succeed as time goes on.
I do wish the owner would add some more tagine items to the menu, since those are the highlights on the menu but do not sleep on the lamb chops.
All in all a good dinner.
I love what Amine Fettar is doing there.
What’s interesting is, when he opened, a little more than a year ago, his focus was on Mediterranean cooking — salads, flatbreads, sandwiches. It’s what he thought his Sterling audience wanted.
His mother kept pushing him to add Moroccan dishes, and so did his most loyal customers, and eventually Fettar rejiggered the lineup.
The tagine is excellent; the sauce for the cornish hen preparation is so rich and layered. Just ticking off the ingredients that go into it makes me hungry: ginger, saffron, turmeric, nutmeg, cinnamon, parsley, garlic, olive oil, tomatoes, preserved lemon, Atlas olives.
Great harira. Love the couscous, which is flavored with smen, a salty, aged butter that is itself flavored with thyme. Good bistilla.
Sterling is a drive for many who live in DC or in the close-in suburbs. But Zeitoon is most definitely worth a drive.
Like the other poster, I also tried DGS for the first time this week. I agree with the poster - I was very favorably impressed and don't get all the gripes about prices.
I ordered the reuben. The meat was very good, but I also really liked that they took a lot of care with the other components.
I usually try to get to Katz's deli in New York whenever I'm there (it's been a few years), and while the meat there is unsurpassed, I'm always a little disappointed that they serve it on such unremarkable, mass-produced rye bread.
They lavish so much attention on the meat and then the bread is just a total throwaway. What do you think of this practice?
On the one hand, I kind of like the unpretentiousness of the place, but I always come away wishing the bread lived up to the meat a bit better.
Another place that does this is Pollo Rico - the chicken is spectacular (or at least it was the last time I was there, which was a few years ago), but then the coleslaw is from a can and the fries are a bit soggy. In that case, I can totally forgive it, though, because they're charging you, like, $4 for a huge plate of food.
Let’s be honest:
Katz’s isn’t all that great. Nor is the Second Ave. deli.
The meat’s very good — usually. But the bread’s a throwaway, as you say. The rest of the food is a mess; salty, heavy and expensive. And the atmosphere at each is missing the oomph it used to have.
Going to see the cherry blossoms after work one day this week. Any ideas for a good place to grab a bite after?
Nothing to fancy or expensive and willing to walk a bit off the mall but would rather head north rather then south as it is towards home....any cuisine is fine!
If the weather holds, then I’d swing by Cafe du Parc after and grab a seat on the umbrella-capped patio.
A glass of wine, one of the terrific soups and maybe a crabcake … or the pate and a pot of mussels … a great dessert to finish … the cool night air … what’s not to like?
What do you suggest for a casual birthday lunch for two this Sunday: Blue Duck Tavern for brunch or Sou'wester for a late lunch?
Never been to either. I can get reservations for either but the only concern about Blue Duck is that our reservations are at 2:15 and brunch ends around 2:30. I don't want to be pushed out during a celebratory meal on a sunday or have a limited menu due to the restaurant being out of things toward the end of its brunch hour. Sou'wester may have pretty views, too. What say you?
Pretty views, too?
Neither place has pretty views. Blue Duck faces onto another hotel; Sou’wester has glimpses of the waterfront in SW — which I, personally, think is interesting to look at, but I would not call it “pretty.”
I doubt that you’d be pushed out at Blue Duck, and I say that primarily because it’s a hotel restaurant.
Hotel restaurants tend to be much more hospitable to late arrivals and lingerers than other restaurants. Hotels are much more accustomed to people coming in and out, in and out, all day.
Sou’wester is also a hotel restaurant, and the same would apply here, too.
I really doubt that either operation would run out of things at the end of brunch.
For Puerto Rico dining, the chatter should investigate La Casita Blanca in the Santurce neighborhood of San Juan.
El Jibarito would be another option and drinks at El Convento Hotel (a former convent) also a good idea, both in Old San Juan.
I knew at least one of you would come through …
Had a really nice dinner at Mintwood Place the other night.
Not only did they accommodate my last minute reservation, sat us at a delightful table with a really knowledgeable server, give us time to settle in, enjoy nibbling on dishes, talking, drinking wine, they also served us some really good food.
Everything was just a little bit different than what I expected but in a good way.
The olives were in a sauce that I think must have been roasted red pepper? They had a bit of tang to them in a delicious way.
The hush puppies were everything I love about escargot, but taking away what I think some people are turned off by- the texture.
The beet salad and pie was soo good, but it looked like one of those crust-less sandwiches you make in a sandwich press thing at home, but it was delicious.
I loved the octopus, which had really good texture and flavor, and our wine was excellent.
They also had a very good key lime pie and very good hot tea, presented nicely.
It was a really good experience and I can't wait to go back.
Isn’t that goat cheese fantastic? So simple, so perfect — yet no one else has thought to do it. And it pairs so beautifully with those thin, peppered beets.
You mentioned having had a knowledgeable server. The servers, generally, are very good there, and there’s a good mood there. I don’t just mean the atmosphere; you can tell that people like working there.
In a way, this matters as much, if not more, than atmosphere. Servers are vitally important to a restaurant; they’re the ambassadors. If their morale is not good, if you sense a reluctance to engage with you, it’s often a direct reflection of management.
I was at a restaurant recently, and the servers were kind but clueless. Didn’t know the menu, ingredients, how things were prepared. The second time I was in, a server let slip that he had never had any of the food. Never had any of the food? This is unthinkable, a huge indictment of management. To have people out on the floor selling the food to customers — and never having let them try it?
(I should mention, here, that even at restaurants that make sure they let their servers try the dishes, it’s often no more than a bite — with a team of servers all sticking their forks into the dish for a quick taste. And this is the practice at “good restaurants.” How is the server supposed to know what that dish is like after 7 bites? How is he or she supposed to get a sense of how all the elements blend and balance? How is he or she supposed to know if it becomes salty as the dish cools? Etc., etc.)
Anyway, thanks for writing in about your experience …
A lot of the hubbub about the place has died down, so it’s nice to know that it’s still humming at a good level.
Hi Todd --
Just wanted to give a field report from our Saturday: daytime wine tasting at LaGrange and a night trip to Baltimore.
Thought the wines at LaGrange were pretty great, especially the Cab Franc and Norton (although the Norton had a sweeter finish than other varieties). The grounds were a perfect way to picnic and hang out with frineds.
Then we drove north and ate at Maggie's Farm before heading over to see Louis CK at the Meyerhoff. The space was small, particularly the front entrance and bar/wait area. The one advantage was that the waiting area doubled as a spectating gallery to watch and chat with the chefs.
We took their recommendations and had a duck liver mousse and beef tartar, the mousse was phenomenal and the tartare had beets in it, which gave it a sweeter finish. My wife had the roasted trout w/ chorizo and I went with the ribeye, both were very good. The service was superb too, as they graciously offered the mousse free for our wait and paced the meal nicely in order to get us on our way in time.
I have to say thanks to you and the chatters, as I've learned a lot from everyone. Communicating your needs up front and letting the waitstaff do their job allows everyone to relax and enjoy the evening. MF definitely delivered for us. Have you been to either?
I haven’t, no, but your excellent report tells me I need to put both high up on my list for the coming months. Thanks for writing in …
How long did LaGrange let the Norton breathe? It needs more time than most wines. More like an hour, as opposed to the usual twenty-thirty minutes.
How was Louis?
Have you been back to Seki recently?
The chef has changed the beef tongue. It is prepared sous vide now and is curiously chewy --It is no longer that melt in your mouth marvel it was. More like slices of rare hanger steak.
I would say something.
(Well, wait — I guess you just did. ; )
I have had the tongue there twice. One time it was wonderfully luscious. And one time it was a little chewy.
Odd, that sous vide would make something chewy as opposed to more tender. If anything, sous vide — if not watched over vigilantly — tends to produce a lunch meat-like texture in meats.
We tried the dosas at Whole Foods. They were absolutely delicious.
For a transplanted Indian who doesn't frequent Indian restaurants, these were truly revelatory. Almost better than my mum used to make, but don't tell her that. LOVED the uttapam.
Bravo to Whole Foods for providing a home for Priya Ammu’s DC Dosa.
And bravo to Ammu for pulling in such terrific compliments on this chat week after week after week.
(Still kicking myself for not having gotten over there yet.)
Seeing Toki Underground "classy" twitter response to a guest got me thinking about Social Media's rampant misuse by businesses.
Recalling the guest check posted by Marcel's, Maria trabocchi's lashing out at a guest in February about their excessive drinking, (which is still there today), while on the subject-does Fabio know it his name on the Fiola twitter condoning gossip and poor use of his precious restaurant image? I know it's not him posting those ridiculous things so does he not oversee his branding? How about the LA restaurant tweeting about no shows?
What do you think about all of this? Just because people have the medium to spout off and look stupid, should they? Any other examples to share? I find it fascinating and tactless.
Everybody wants the last word.
And in this oversaturated info age, there IS no last word anymore.
So someone “wrongs” a place, and then the restaurateur goes on to Twitter or Facebook or Yelp! and savages that someone, and then some blogger, sniffing tasty dirt, writes something snarky about the “controversy.”
I think restaurants look bad when they don’t just let their food and drink and service make their statement for them.
But that’s not the culture we live in. The culture we live in is loud and loutish. People want to make themselves heard. Everyone is interesting, and has something interesting to say.
For the sake of comparison, how often do you see a novelist respond boorishly to a critic? (Richard Ford spitting on fellow novelist Colson Whitehead at a party and — what else have you got?) How often do you see an artist pout and moan on Facebook or Twitter about someone said about him or her?
Love the chats! My brother is transiting through Dulles airport Sunday night. He'll arrive around 9pm and we want to meet up for cocktails before he departs the next morning.
Anyplace you can recommend in the vicinity of Dulles airport for a late Sunday night spot? Thanks so much!
How about Karaikudi, in Chantilly, or Rangoli, in South Riding?
Both Indian, both comfy and relaxing and good.
For the Puerto Rico chatter .... highly, highly recommend Santaella: http://www.santaellapr.com/Site/Santaella.html One of the best meals we had during our trip.
Terrific. Thanks …
I recently moved to Pittsburgh and I'm still following your chats religiously!
Pittsburgh's food scene is growing slowly, but I'm still pining for another pastrami sandwich from DGS and pho from Pho 75. The pho scene here is pretty abysmal.
However there is a lot of Taiwanese food, for some reason, including a new noodle joint with homemade noodles, handmade in a window for diners to view.
To answer your question about doctoring food...during Passover I didn't feel like making chicken soup totally from scratch, so I bought a rotisserie chicken to make the stock, which worked wonderfully.
Also, sometimes when I'm in need of lemongrass, I cut into a package of Trader Joe's Tom Yum Soup, which has separate compartments for the spices. It's a pretty good soup--better than versions at many Thai restaurants I've been to!
Great tips! Thanks.
And thank you for staying loyal to this chat now that you’re in another city and in the midst of another scene. I’m grateful.
I’ve got to run. There are a number of you I had hoped to get to today, but I’m running late for lunch and I want to be sure to give your questions the thought they deserve. One in particular — a question about special occasion dining at lunch, for an important anniversary. Would you please repost this for next week, or drop me a line at email@example.com ?
And thanks, all of you, for the great couple of hours today.
Be well, eat well, and let’s do it again next Tuesday at 11 …
[missing you TEK … ]