Tuesday, August 20 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 August 13, 2013

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 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: tkliman@washingtonian.com 

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


Rus Uz, Arlington

This homey cafe in Ballston is the only Russian-Uzbek restaurant in the area. But novelty alone doesn't recommend it. I love all the things that chef-owner Bakhtiyor Rakhmatullaev does with dough and meat -- from the savory pastries (samsas, cheburekis, and piroshkas) that are essential to any meal to the fabulous dumplings (including veal-stuffed pelmeni and manti, the latter filled with ground spiced lamb and buried under drifts of sour cream). My two meals here were richly rewarding, and among the most memorable of this spring and summer.


Ayse, Frederick

There are more reasons to head to Frederick than a chance to dine high (Volt) or low (Family Meal) at one of ex-TV chef Bryan Voltaggio's spots. You can, instead, dine in the middle at owner-chef Ric Ade's homage to the rich culinary traditions of Turkey, Greece and Lebanon. The dining room, with its marble floors and white-and-blue color scheme, is cool and inviting on a hot summer day, and despite the almost exhaustive reach of the menu -- 87 items in all, not including specials -- the kitchen is surprisingly consistent. Those specials are where to turn first: sweet sugar snap peas with almonds, black salt and olive oil; a whole, sweet dorade perfumed with oregano and lemon and cooked on the grill to a perfect underdoneness. Don't miss the homemade fig and apricot newtons for dessert, rich and buttery cookies that simultaneously summon and obliterate all your memories of the packaged treats from your childhood.


Curry Leaf, Laurel

The former chef at Udupi Palace, the beloved Langley Park vegetarian Indian restaurant that shuttered three years ago, has made a triumphant return at this comfy Laurel stripmall restaurant. Saravan Krishnan presides over a kitchen that covers a lot more ground than his predecessor's did -- street food, curries, Indo-Chinese, tandoor, dosas, biryani, and breads are among the categories that make up the long and sprawling menu. Some Indian food can be characterized as spicy. Krishnan's is that more elusive beast -- it's spiced. Heat is not the end game, though he certainly doesn't shy away from it; the thing you take away from many of these dishes, however, is the way a gravy or a sauce appears to change as you eat it, the way its complex, carefully coaxed flavors deepen and reveal new and different truths as you go. Among the must-orders are the lemon rice -- its light, citrusy topnotes accentuate the nuttiness of the crushed and toasted cashews scattered throughout -- and a Sri Lankan specialty of hardboiled eggs in a rich brown curry shot through with black pepper and cinnamon and served with Ceylon-style parathas, smaller than their Indian counterparts and coiled like ropes at rest. The latter eats like a lusher version of the Malaysian staple roti canai and might just be the most memorable dish I've eaten this year.


The Red Hen, DC

It's a simple-sounding recipe -- finesse on the plate, warmth from the staff, character in the room -- but precious few restaurants pull it off. This one does, with an almost effortless aplomb. I've dined here three times in the past month, and with the exception of a couple of dishes (notably a hen that could use some black pepper), everything on ex-Proof cook Michael Friedman's modern Italian menu has been either good or very good. In the latter category: a fantastic dish of sweetbreads, polenta, bacon and a fried egg that combines the soothing pleasures of a simple Southern breakfast with the rusticky charms of a good French bistro. I don't think it's a stretch to call this Bloomingdale restaurant the surprise of the Spring season. As a matter of fact, I don't think it's a stretch to say that it's the best restaurant to debut in DC this year.


RG's BBQ Cafe, Laurel

I previously noted that the ribs had come off too easily from the bone. Problem solved. The last batch I had were fantastic -- as good as ribs can be when they are not cooked outdoors for hours over an open pit. The pork has the requisite lusciousness and the sauce is a pitch-perfect balance of tanginess, sweetness and heat. That sauce is so addicting, you probably will end up forgiving the drier patches of an otherwise tasty smoked chicken and want to either pour it over everything else or even, as my friend said, drink it plain. The sides are good: baked beans that taste of slow cooking, a not-too-sweet corn bread that gets an extra something from a short stint on the grill before serving, and sharp, clean-tasting collards among others. The man behind the operation is Robert Gadsby, whom Washingtonians may remember from his time at Mussel Bar in Bethesda. He left after Mussel Bar received a 0-star review from The Post. He seems to have made the most of his exile.


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THE SEEMINGLY NEVER-ENDING STREAM OF RESTAURANTS OPENING ON 14TH ST. ...:

With the seemingly never ending stream of restaurants opening on 14th street, do you think as the new additional options open, dinner wait times along the corridor will get better or even longer than they already are?

Todd Kliman:

Better?

No, not better. Longer, almost certainly — because more and more people are going to flock there to eat every night. Bet on it.

It will be even more of a scene than it is now.

HONEY PIG IN ANNANDALE -- WHAT'S NOT TO MISS?:

Hey Todd,

I'm heading to Honey Pig in Annandale with some friends. Is there anything I shouldn't miss?

Todd Kliman:

The pork belly.

If you don’t get this, don’t even bother going. This is the star of the show.

Well, the pork belly and the room itself, a dark, high-energy den of a space.

Some places slice their pork belly thin. Here, it’s about a third-of-an-inch thick. Lay it on the grill and cook out some of that fat, then nestle the charred meat into a cool, crunchy leaf of lettuce, smearing on some bean paste and a sliver of garlic. Fold it up and eat.

Re: PETE WELLS AND THE DEMOTION OF DANIEL ...:

You alluded a couple of weeks ago to the demotion of Daniel in NYC from 4 stars to 3 by the new York Times critic, Pete Wells.

It’s hard to conclude from Wells’s review that the docking was attributable to anything other than the particularly attentive service (along with an extra amuse bouche and topping off of wine) that Wells, who’d been recognized, received compared to his colleague whom he’d apparently sent in the same evening as a test.

Given that the colleague “reported feeling very well taken care of,” it seems unfair to punish Daniel for its staff acting no differently from the way any restaurant – in NYC, here, or anywhere – presumably would act in this circumstance. What’s your take?

Todd Kliman:

Well, it wasn’t just the obvious and excessive pampering he received and his colleague didn’t.

In paragraph 5 of the review, Wells, after praising chef Jean Francois Bruel’s eye for great ingredients and his talent for coaxing a maximum of flavor from them, dings him for a certain flatness — and fussiness: “But some of these star ingredients were embedded in elaborate, multipart compositions that didn’t fully reward the attention they demanded. At times, the restaurant gave the impression that it was trying to garnish its way to greatness.”

Paragraph 20, after noting a grilled shrimp dish that “never quite gathered into a rush of flavor” and a bitter note of radicchio in a sea bass dish, drills down on the chef’s needless complexity: “The kitchen loves to put two or three treatments of an ingredient side by side, when it might do better to focus on the one that works best. In a triptych of striped jack, a poached piece on a salad of mustard seeds with cubes of riesling gelée tasted as if the components were destined to be together. But there wasn’t the same inevitability about the lettuce-wrapped dumpling of striped jack tartare topped with caviar, or the smoky rillettes surrounded by crunchy carrot and asparagus.”

The stunt diner is a big part of the review, but it’s not just his colleague he’s paying attention to; in paragraph 6, Wells lets us know that he’s spoken to a number of people who were treated less than wonderfully: “When people who are known at the restaurant tell me about their meals, they look blissful. Others look disappointed or resentful as they tell me about cramped tables in the neoclassical arcades around the grand sunken dining room and hasty, perfunctory service.”

I’m made uneasiest by these last two sentences. As a critic, people tell me all the time about their meals out. What do I do with what they tell me? Nothing.

I can note what they say — and, if there is enough critical mass to these complaints, go and investigate for myself. But I can only write what I see and hear and smell and taste and touch. I’m not at all comfortable incorporating what other people are saying. It would be like reading a film review in which the critic brought in other perspectives from his friends or colleagues. Maybe some people enjoy that sort of thing — the aggregate take. I prefer, in whatever sort of criticism I read, to read one mind — informed, intelligent, conversant with a range of subjects, passionate, good with language, independent in approach, unbeholden to trends and the great and coercive now — roam over and around and through the subject.

But back to the review.

It’s a strange one — it was even stranger on my first read — and I imagine it was a very hard piece to write. But after some thought and a second read, I do think he makes enough of a case.

PETER CHANG, BACK IN TOWN?:

Is it true that your famed Chinese chef who moves locations so frequently is back in the area? Someone wrote of a recent meal in Fredericksburg?

J.T., Broad Creek

Todd Kliman:

Yes. Fredericksburg. Peter Chang’s China Cafe.

I’ve been, and recommend a field trip. If he’s on the premises, you’re in for a treat, but even if not it’s still a good bit better than your average Szechuan restaurant.

And Chang, these days, is not the peripatetic chef he once was. He’s sticking around, and is amassing a little empire in Virginia. Restaurants in Charlottesville, Richmond, Williamsburg, Fredericksburg, and (I’m told) looking into a location in Alexandria.

Incidentally: J.T., I haven’t forgotten about you; I promised you a meal. Drop me a text and let me know what days this and next week are good for you.

(I love it that one of my old teachers dropped by today. JT, I will never, ever forget how tough you were. ; )

POSTCARD FROM ... CALIFORNIA:

My journey of driving the California coast began with the small step of deciding to forgo traveling to Seattle. A tough decision indeed but was well worth it.

We began our journey by driving up to the majestic redwoods located three hours north of San Francisco. Words and pictures cannot fully capture the monumental beauty of these trees. With very limited cell reception and internet connectivity individuals become bound to reconnect with nature and re-examine our place on Planet Earth. Being in the Redwoods was my own Zihuatanejo, Mexico. Escape to freedom, time to think, rejoice, and be thankful. The only thing missing was having Red narrate my journey as I made way up to and through the Redwoods. The redwoods are a definate bucket list item that every individual should witness at least once in their lifetime. The redwoods quenched my soul's thirst for inner peace and reflection. now my stomach needed nourishment.

My wife and I made our way back to the bay area to the melting pot city of Fremont. There we navigated to an Afghani family restaurant named De Afghanan. Might be the best Afghani food I have had in a few years. This little family restaurant was cranking out classic Afghani dishes that in my opinion surpasses a majority of the Afghan food we currently have in the DC Metro area.There is usually a 20-30 minute wait for a table at De Afghanan but the time goes by quickly and it is worth it. From luscious Aush soup topped with yogurt, to two types of bolani. One potato and one leek. Both came to the table piping hot from the kitchen. A kitchen that was helmed by an older Afghani woman in an open kitchen. She was churning out dishes at dizzying pace and every single one we had was on point. Like only a grandmother could make. The entrees consisted of Chapli Kabob, beef patties that have been mixed with green onion, eggs, and other Afghan seasoning, and grilled to serve. A heaping plate of qabili pallow, rich basmati rice with lamb shank topped with carrots and raisins. A dish that would make the Mir Wais Hotak proud the 'grandfather' of Afghanistan.

With our bellies stuffed and fully rested we packed up our rental and made our way to the City of Angels. Before we could check into the hotel we made a pit stop at Ink Sack. Michael Voltaggio's sandwich shop, which is located next to his restaurant Ink. The concept at Ink Sack allows a diner to try a few different ypes of sandwiches and we took full advantage of the options that were before us. Was very impressed by the veggie banh mi made from BBQ tofu, pickled vegetables, and mushroom spread. The tofu was sumptuous. It was packed with flavor. A real suprise. We also tried the tuna salad sandwich, the spicy tuna albacore, with sriracha mayo, pickles, and tomato. My personal favorite was the cold fried chicken with house made ranch cheese. Of course the entire time we are enjoying our sandwiches we did not realize until the end that we were sitting next to Johnny Galecki a.k.a Leonard from the Big Bang Theory. He was sporting a scruffy beard and he too was enjoying the vegetarian banh mi sandwich.

As the sun set on the City of Angels we got ready and made our way over to Voltaggio's Ink for dinner. The first thing that caught my attention was the menu. It was the story of the people that inhabit Los Angeles on a piece of paper. Chef Voltaggio successfully blended the ingredients from different cultures into dishes. The dish in my opinion that best exemplified this was the hamachi in citrus kosho, smoked buttermilk, tomato, oaxacan cheese. Beautfully blending Japanese and Mexican ingredients into one dish. This was followed by charred avocado, topped with dungeness crab, almond sponge, and smoked oil. It was a light and elegant dish for summer time. Halibut served in a mediterreanan style preperation with liquid falafel, greek yogurt, sumac onions. All the dishes we had at Ink were well composed and thought out. Each ingredient had a purpose. There was no wasted space on the plate. Chef Voltaggio displays a deft touch in his cooking. Could see why he has garnered national acclaim from critics and diners. Even receiving a michelin star during his time at the Latham hotel in Pasadena.

We concluded our journey by driving back to San Francisco and spending time in the City by The Bay. We were fortunate to enjoy many wonderful meals but we concluded that our best meal by far was the lunch we had at Michael Chiarello's Coqueta. Located in Pier 5 on Embarcadero. This little spanish tapas is clicking on all cylinders and is a restaurant that in my opinion will garner national acclaim as time goes on. Soaring ceilings, wood exposed beams, and a lively crowd and well prepared food made lunch a smashing success. We tried both the white and heirloom tomato gazpacho. We could not decide which one we liked more. I could have easily ordered more but told myself that more dishes were on their way and to be patient. Our favorite dish of the entire trip was the Sunny side-up egg with shrimp, crispy potato, and spicy tomato sauce. I could eat this dish at minimum once a week and not feel guilty one bit. Octopus that was steamed and then finished on a wood grill adding a nice touch of smokiness to the dish. An heirloom tomato salad that reminds one of what a tomato should taste like. heartly slices of tomato, topped with capers and a drizzle of olive oil. Simple, delicious, summer on a plate. I could sing the praises of Coqueta all day and I encourage everyone who does make their way out to San Fran to book a table at this hot spot. We woke up the next morning and were trying to figure out a way to go back to Coqueta one more time before we had to leave for DC. Alas, we will have to savor this experience until our next meal at Coqueta.. We miss Coqueta and a catalan phrase to summarize how we feel "Et trobo a faltar molt, els dies se'm fan eterns sense tu." translated to "I miss you a lot, days are eternal without you."

That night we got dressed up and made our way to Aletier Crenn. The two star michelin restaurant from Chef Dominique Crenn. I believe she is the first woman to receive two michelin stars in the United States. We sat down to an 18 course avante garde dinner. I was personally hoping to see some of her morroccan heritage come through in some of the dishes but the meal was largely inspired by her childhood of growing up in Brittany France. Chef Crenn composes a poem for her menu. The dishes are then explained by the servers. It was fun trying to figure out what was coming next. Some of the highlights included squid that had been cut into strips to look like pasta and had been cooked in milk. A torchon of sea urchin, caviar and tomato foam was wonderful. As well as Chef Crenn's take on french onion soup. The plates were visually stunning. True works of art. Service was impeccable as it should be at a michelin starred restaurant. Now the meal was on the lighter side of any tasting menu I have ever done. I do wish there were some more proteins incorporated into the menu and not al lthe dishes were avante garde. I recognized a few dishes that I had at other michelin starred restaurants from across the country. Overall, a good and unique experience.

Two side notes that I noticed while going around on my trip. One, more and more restaurants are taking the time to come up with creative non-alcoholic drinks. As a person who does not drink I found this welcoming and exciting. The best cocktail we had on our entire trip was at Coqueta. It was called the J&T. Made with juniper, lime, and fever tree mediterranean tonic. Even at Aletier Crenn they were serving high quality non-alcoholic Pinot Noir that is made by Navarro Vineyards. This non-alcoholic pinot noir was so good I asked the servers for the name and information of the vineyard so that I could order a bottle for my home. The Second thing I noticed in San Francisco is that a lot of the artisnal coffee shops/barristas are now using almond milk instead of dairy when making a latte or cappicino. I was little skeptical at first having almond milk in my coffee or espresso drink but was quickly made into a convert. I hope that the coffee shops in Washington DC pick up on this trend too and hopefully we do not have to wait a year or so for it to makes it way to the nations capitol. Hopefully, next time we will be Sleepless in Seattle. As always love the weekly chat!

Todd Kliman:

As my friends almost always say when I return home with stories from a trip: “Didn’t you do anything but eat??” ; )

Thanks for the (exhaustive — but tasty!) meal notes.

That Afghan restaurant sounds really terrific, and so do your dinners at Ink and Coqueta.

And like you, I hope we’ll be seeing some good non-alcoholic wines come our way in the next year or so.

UPDATING MENUS ...:

Hi Todd, how often (if at all) do you think a restaurant should update or add to their menus?

I find that a lot of the recent restaurant openings (1-3 yrs) haven't made any changes to their opening menus.

Granted, if they are packing the house every night there really isn't a need to make any changes, but with the great number of restaurants opening/opened in the DMV area, wouldn't it implore the chef/owner to keep things "fresh"?

Todd Kliman:

There’s always that tension — the need to keep it fresh and exciting, the need to be consistent and good.

I actually think too many restaurants are in the habit of changing their menus too often. It’s great to see a chef who’s responsive to what’s coming in to the markets. It’s also great to see chefs trying new things.

But getting a dish right every time has to come first. There’s an awful lot of inconsistency out there.

Many years ago I interviewed a chef in this area and told him how much I loved a dish on his menu. He thanked me and then told me that I had better hold on to my memories because it was never going to come back. Never? I asked. Why? Because, he said, we’ve done it. I said I didn’t understand. He said: We’ve done it. That dish is over, now. We’re moving on. It’ll never be repeated.

I’m a writer. I’m the son of an artist. I collect books on art. My left would be bereft without the paintings I own, and the books I read and reread. So, I can appreciate the spirit behind this sentiment. But I think it’s misguided in the vast majority of restaurant settings. And this was one of those settings.

An absolutely delicious dish that makes the diner think about it for days and day after and want to go back and order it again, just to taste all those flavors again — and the chef refuses to cook it? For no reason other than that it falls outside his code of not repeating himself?

This chef, by the way, remained true to his word: the dish never appeared again. There were other dishes of his that I tried in the years after, and nothing came close to the sublimity of that one dish. And some tasted of the kitchen’s not having had nearly enough time to master all the components necessary.

A shame.

SOLOMON'S ISLAND DINING RECS ...:

Hello. My family and I will be vacationing near there for the rest of this week.

Are there any good places nearby? Thank you.

Todd Kliman:

I haven’t been out that way in a while. Who here has?

RESTAURANT WEEK FIELD REPORT: DEL CAMPO, IN PENN QUARTER ...:

Conquered my RW phobia yesterday to accompany a RW-phile to Del Campo for lunch.

Between the two of us, we ordered two-thirds of the RW menu and - surprise - everything was at least a B+, with A's for the moist and flavorful peruvian chicken (on the bone; diners have a choice of white or dark meat) served with alioli and green chili puree on the side and accompanied by yucca fries, and the summery grilled gnocchi appetizer with smoked tomatoes, grilled corn and sage.

Cocktails (rum/grapefruit bitters/lime juice) and desserts (rice pudding with mango sorbet and cream cheese mousse with guava jelly) were good too. Service was attentive with no whiff of RW disdain, and the pacing was good.

Todd Kliman:

I love that: “no whiff of RW disdain.” So true, so true …

Good for Del Campo.

And it says a lot, too, for a restaurant new to RW to turn in such a good performance.

I really like that pollo a la brasa there, as well. Though that price tag — oof. $24.

DISTRICT DOSA -- INSIDE THE FOGGY BOTTOM WHOLE FOODS:

Hi Todd,

You've mentioned Curry Leaf in Laurel a lot. For those of us sans cars, we have a great option for South Indian food in Foggy Bottom. District Dosa inside the Whole Foods has these rarely found, delicious dosas. We go almost weekly.

The food is fresh, authentic and really tastes home made. The dosas are made to order in front of you. There are 3 choices of dosas and chutneys. The cilantro chutney is amazing.

I have yet to have a bad meal there in the months I've been frequenting it.

My only wish is that they would do sambhar, the traditional accompaniment to dosas. Can't have it all, though!

Todd Kliman:

Thanks for writing in …

Great to hear the support out there for this venture.

I’m a big fan of restaurants popping up in the unlikeliest of places. I think it speaks to a robust food culture. Well, OK — a robust food culture in an uncertain and unstable time.

I ate recently at the brick-and-mortar location for Seoul Food DC, inside a gas station at the intersection of Georgia Ave. and University Blvd., in Wheaton. I enjoyed it, and would go back if I were in the area and hungering for something quick and filling. A lot of fun in the mingling of Korean and Mexican flavors.

I find it interesting to watch these trucks make the transition to conventional restaurant. Some struggle.

A lot of food truck food is engineered to blast the tongue. A lot of zing, a lot of heat. The first seven bites, if the truck is a good one, are usually great. You walk and you eat and your mouth is alive with flavor.

When the sandwich or the wrap or whatever cools, though, you realize that you were seduced with a lot of sauce, a lot of salt, a lot of heat.

In a number of restaurants that used to be trucks, the menus read wonderfully. Really exciting stuff. The range of influences — fantastic! The world on a plate! But many dishes lack balance. Or fall off after the first seven bites and become boring. Or reveal themselves to be foundationally poor. Good ideas on paper, but the cook isn’t up to the task of mastering each of the elements that’s needed.

ON THE HUNT FOR AUTHENTIC MEXICAN FOOD ...:

Hi Todd! I've been on the hunt since I moved here for a good Mexican restaurant.

I've found plenty of Salvadorian or Tex-Mex places that fit the bill, but I tend to think Salvadorian is bland and Tex-Mex too prettied up for what I want.

Are there any hole-in-the-wall/authentic, not expensive Mexican restaurants around (in DC or VA, in particular)?

Todd Kliman:

The place to go is Little Mexico — in particular, Taqueria La Placita.

As authentic as it gets around here. And if you have a stomach for the more, shall we say, courage-requiring meats, or off-cuts, you’ll maximize your experience. On the somewhat conservative side, I love the pork leg. On the very conservative, I love the al pastor.

The other place to get to know is R&R Taqueria, in a gas station in Elkridge, Md. Fantastic stuff, and not just tacos — chilaquiles, sopes, huaraches, posole, etc.

By the way, we did a neat chart in the Cheap Eats issue that’s currently on newsstands and in grocery stores — breaking the various Mexican restaurant types into their proper categories.

There’s Gen-Mex, which is happy hour spots like Cactus Cantina.

Salva-Mex, which is what many Mexican restaurants in the area are: Salvadoran restaurants advertising themselves as Mexican.

Cali-Mex: not too common. Lighter and brighter than Tex-Mex and Salva-Mex. You’re not going to find a lot of lard in any of the dishes; remember, this is the cuisine of surfer dudes and dudettes, and all those who aspire to dude and dudette abs. Surfside, in Glover Park, is a good example.

Tex-Mex — i.e., Austin Grill.

Regional Mex: that’s the stuff you’re on the hunt for, the stuff that tastes of a particular place. Many of the spots in Little Mexico fall under this umbrella.

And finally: Hipster Mex, which, as I wrote, is just like Regional Mex, “only offered up as if it were a night out at some avant-garde black box theater.”

FOLLOWING UP, FROM LAST WEEK: SMOKED SABLE ...:

Growing up in New York in the 1940s, I learned about the famous "appetizing store" Russ & Daughters. I even met the daughters.

Now, when I have a hankering for sable, belly lox, whitefish, and herring, I order from them. They have a dozen varieties of smoked salmon, and will fillet and reassemble a whitefish. Their bagels are very good. They ship overnight in cold packs. Pricey, but worthwhile for an occasional treat.

Todd Kliman:

Good to know — thanks for writing in.

It’s still a special place, all these many years later …

Re: RASIKA WEST END ...:

I recently went to Rasika West End for dinner before Book of Mormon.

The intent was to order off of their pre-theater menu, but it's Rasika, so we wound up ordering enough to fill the entire table. We explained to our server (Tibor, who is my new favorite person for a variety of reasons) the time constraint, and he paced the meal out perfectly.

We even had time for a drink after dinner, although that meant jumping in a cab instead of taking a leisurely walk.

Todd Kliman:

“Tibor, who is my new favorite person for a variety of reasons.”

This is great.

And what do you say we try to make this a practice here every week?

We gripe when things go wrong — and gripe in highly detailed specifics. One of the ways I would like to see us praise in highly detailed specifics is to learn the name of the server who took care of you and single that person out in this forum the following week.

Let’s make a point of it …

ALCOHOL-FREE WINE, CONT.:

Curious about the poster's note on NA wine. Todd do you - or the chatters - have recommendations on a decent brand or two of alcohol free red wine?

Does anywhere in DC carry or just online? Thanks!

Todd Kliman:

All good questions.

I wish I had answers.

Anybody out there sampled some good non-alcoholic wines lately? And where did you find them?

HEADING OUT WEST OF CHARLOTTESVILLE -- ANY DINING RECS?:

I have a one day business trip taking me to Waynesboro, VA. That is about 30 miles west of Charlottesville. I don't head in that direction very often except for one of my favorite Saturday mini-road-trips to the Sperryville/Washington, VA area to visit The Inn at Little Washington and surrounding area (the Ruben at the Thorton River Grille is worth the trip all by itself). I was thinking of making a small detour to stop at Red Truck Bakery.

Are there any worthy food stops along the way?

Todd Kliman:

Crozet is about halfway between the two towns, and there’s a comfy, inviting wine bar called Da Luca.

The menu is tapas, and there’s nothing too intricate or adventurous about these plates — but very worthwhile if you’re heading west and in need of restoration and a nice meal. Pretty good list, too, though I wish there were more from some of the nearby wineries.

Drop back on and give us a report when you’ve returned …

FIOLA -- IN PENN QUARTER ...:

Todd, this is a follow-up to my question about birthday ideas for my daughter, and for your response in which you suggested Rice Paper. For a number of reasons, we ended up going to Fiola this past Saturday evening, and had a magnificent time.

The food was spectacular, and our server Jessica was exceptionally good. She guided us through the menu perfectly, balancing our meals, describing and recommending items when asked, and ensuring (almost) that we did not order more than we could handle. She even offered to have the bartender create a "mocktail" for my daughter, and it was delicious.

The oysters with limoncello granita were so good they made me laugh out loud, and the steak tartare made converts out of two non-tartare eaters.

I'll spare you the rest of the details, but I'll only say the pricy evening was worth every penny. Fiola certainly nailed it for my family and I.

BTW, we ate at Four Sisters in Falls Church for the first time, and thoroughly enjoyed the food and service there.

Thanks for the information you and other contributors provide!

Todd Kliman:

Thanks so much for this.

And so glad that you gave us a name, Jennifer. Good work, Jennifer. You made someone’s — actually, probably several someones — day.

I also have to say that I loved your description of the oysters with limoncello granita — “so good they made me laugh out loud.”

BEST MEXICAN RESTAURANT IN D.C.?:

Hey Todd!

I'll be in Berlin at the end of the month for the first time ever with my girlfriend. Around DC, we're pretty adventurous in our eating (Rasika, Majestic, Bandolero, Diplomate, Evening Star, Del Campo of late) and I'm hoping you or someone in chat land might have suggestions!

Also, I think I'm going to be craving mexican by the time I get back, so can I get a definitive answer to your favorite mexican place in the city (price independent)?

Todd Kliman:

I can’t give you a definitive answer, because there’s no one place within the city limits that inspires definitiveness. There are places that do one thing or maybe two or three things well, and that’s just not enough. I’m leery of giving my stamp to something that’s not great.

The place at the moment I enjoy the most, within the city and not out — out, that’s another conversation; I have a number of places out that I can get behind — is Mama Chuy on Georgia Ave. NW. It’s not “dining.” I don’t know that I’d plan a special night there or anything. But for drinks and chow, absolutely.

IN PRAISE OF GOOD WAITERS AND WAITRESSES, CONT.:

Since we are praising servers then I should also state that we had wonderful service out in California in all the cities we visited. It was the trifecta.

In San Diego our server Rusti she recommended a great breakfast spot called Snooze, which originated in Colorado but now has a San Diego location. It is only open from 6am-3pm. Breakfast and Lunch. Line was out the door but well worth it.

In LA at Ink got personal recommendations from Chef Voltaggio himself on where he goes to eat breakfast and even wrote down suggestions for us, which was really nice of him. Recommend FIG to anyone who is going to visit Santa Monica and wants a good breakfast before heading over to the beach.

In San Francisco our server Jordan at Coqueta guided us through the menu and correctly told us that the tasting menu at Aletier Crenn was on the ligheter side for a michelin starred restaurant tasting menu, which helped us in preparing the meal that night. He works during the day as a server but is a recent law graduate and barred in California and working on buildling contacts in the restaurant industry. Will allow him to work on deals for restaurants, bars, and lounges in the future.

At Aletier Crenn our server Kylie wrote down the names of all the non-alcoholic drinks we had and which vineyards they came from. Definately, ordering the pinot noir and the sparkling grape juice.

Navarro Vineyards Napa Valley (http://www.navarrowine.com/shop/productdetail.php?prodid=1077)

There are some great servers out there.

Naeem

Todd Kliman:

Thanks for the link to the winery.

And I think a lot of what we call good service has so much to do with the morale of a place. If the food’s fantastic, and the mood behind the scenes is not fraught, then the staff on the floor conveys a sense of calm and friendliness and, most important of all, buy-in.

I hear things from servers. What I hear, often, is not great. In part, that has to do with the demands of the job. Waiting tables grinds on a person. It’s hard work, and very often unrewarding work. But from what I gather, most are willing to put up with nearly anything as long as that anything is not a hostile or tense work environment.

A staff needs support and ample training — needs to be taken care of, just as it takes care of diners. Needs to be taken through the dishes and allowed to taste and re-taste them. Needs to be taught about wine. Needs to be allowed to participate in the experience it is presenting.

Time and money, I’m told, again and again, prevent what I’m talking about from happening most of the time. I understand. But there’s an awful lot of money going into other things that don’t make nearly as much of a difference. And time — again, I understand. But training is an ongoing thing, and if restaurants want to improve their performance, they can do it — and show that they value their staff — by bringing them more deeply into the fold: frequent tastings (and not just bringing out a dish and 12 plastic spoons and having every staffer fight for a taste), constant education in cuisine and wine, etc.

Gotta run. Lunchtime!

Thanks for all the thoughtful questions and tips and recs today, everyone. I appreciate it. A good bit of liveliness on here in these waning days of August …

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







[*missing you, TEK … *]



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