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Tuesday, July 16 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 July 9, 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.


* Mi La Cay, Wheaton

Three months ago, this Vietnamese cafe moved out of its dark and cramped home, the space that originally housed Nava Thai, and took up residence in this bright and cheery spot in a busy Wheaton strip mall. I had always found the cooking to be fine, but on the whole forgettable -- the kind of place you would go if you were craving Vietnamese but didn't want to make the long drive out to the Eden Center. I've only been once since the relocation, but what hit my table the other night was a marked leap forward: a terrific shrimp salad -- bright, crunchy and with a dressing that was perfectly balanced in its mix of sweet and hot and sour; an immensely satisfying curry noodle, with tender dark meat chicken and pumpkin, and a spiciness that warmed but never burned and compelled us to keep eating long after we had had our fill; a meatball vermicelli flanked by an abundance of fresh, crunchy greens for wrapping, along with gorgeously large leaves of basil and pickled cabbage and carrot.


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.


* new this week


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CONTINUED FROM LAST WEEK -- WHY DESSERTS SELDOM WOW::

I missed the chat from last week, but to answer your question as to why restaurants don't attempt to wow with desserts they way they do with the rest of the meal, I wonder if it's because people who do order dessert have very set ideas as to what dessert should be and get offended if you deviate too much from it.

I'm recalling Bill Bryson's book "Notes from a Small Island," where he dines in a posh British restaurant and pokes fun at the pompous menu descriptions (e.g., "a crepe galette of sea chortle and kelp in a rich mal de mer sauce, seasoned with disheveled herbs grown in our own herbarium.") But then he gets the dessert menu and he notes the terse heading "Sweets," and the fact that it doesn't contain anything fancier than sticky toffee pudding.

According to Bryson, the British attitude appears to be "you can get all fancy with the rest of the menu but don't you dare mess with our sweets!" Perhaps that's not just a British attitude, and could explain why restauranteurs don't want to get too crazy with their desserts.

Todd Kliman:

Can I just say? I love this, and I love that this forum is filled with people who read Bill Bryson, among others, and think to bring him into our weekly chats.

I think it’s an interesting point.

The thing is, though, most restaurant desserts in this city are, in a Brysonian sense, messed with. Now, I don’t mind messing with something if you’re going to improve it; that’s great. Or if you’re going to make it more interesting; also great. But messing with an idea just to mess with it — messing with it without purpose and simply to show off a dazzling technical facility for manipulating ingredients? No. No. A thousand times no.

But that’s not even my point, here. My point is that desserts are seldom fun enough. They seldom wow you when they hit the table. You should smile when you see a dessert at a restaurant. You should feel giddy inside. You almost, sadly, never do.

Quick — name the last time you looked at a dessert menu and thought: Man, they all look good, I don’t know which one to pick.

Quick — name the last time you looked at a dessert menu and thought: I don’t see anything that I really want. Pass, and bring me a coffee.

MEALS YOU'D DRIVE FOR::

On the topic of meals you'd drive for: stopped by Henry's Soul Cafe last week.

Chicken and fish were fine-not-life changing (as I think you've noted previously), but two things make it worth the trip: the collards are done properly without stems and the sweet potato pie is ridiculous: not too heavy, not ridiculously sweet, with tons of allspice (rather than just cinnamon). I would drive from NoVA on a regular basis for a shot at that pie.

Which made me wonder why it is that pie tends to be so much more interesting than cakes? I don't tend to get emotional about the average cake, but a great sour cherry or loganberry pie will send me over the edge.

Second, we had the most delightful time at Unum this past weekend - it's a restaurant that I'd never really known about before, but they hosted a small dinner for us and really did a terrific job.

They fussed over a little one we brought along, easily contended with a food allergy, all while putting out lovely, light food that felt both seasonally appropriate and yet still interesting.

I wouldn't say life-changing, but a meal that was way better than it needed to be, and made me think that we need to dive deeper into the Best 100 list.

Todd Kliman:

Thanks for those great reports from the field.

Good for Unum; that’s really great to hear.

The challenge for restaurants that get reviewed, and reviewed well, is to keep it up, to not slip, to maintain focus and energy. It’s very, very hard to do, and I have enormous respect for the restaurants that have been around a while and are still doing what they set out to do and making it look routine.

To Henry’s Soul Cafe for a second. I thought it was interesting that you talked about the collards and their lack of stems. Great observation. Changes the texture and the taste completely when the stems are in.

As for cake and pie — here we are again, back on to desserts. ; ) I think you may be right, if we’re talking about up here. The North, I mean. In the South, cake I think tends to be more interesting than pie, and there are some great pies in the South.

Here’s a question for all of you, and it links back to what I was responding to just above — do you think that if a restaurant, a good restaurant, served a big wedge of layer cake, and I mean a really big wedge, something grand-looking and observably indulgent, that it would code somehow as unsophisticated? I mean, this is what the Cheesecake Factory does — sends out a wedge of cake as big as your face. Do you think restaurants say to themselves: We must not summon a comparison with the Cheesecake Factory, ever? Cheesecake Factory is a chain, and the untutored hordes go there and they equate gigantic portions with value, and so we cannot do anything that they would do.

It’s too bad if so, and I think it is so, because don’t you think a really big wedge of expertly-made layer cake, from someone who understands the details and knows how to bring flavor to every aspect of cake construction, would be spectacularly wonderful and fun? And not declasse? And not synonymous with the unsophisticated masses?

O'DONNELL'S, IN GAITHERSBURG -- A FOND FAREWELL::

With the news that the last O'Donnell's is shuttering, my family took a last visit to what was my late grandfather's favorite special occasion restaurant -- our first such trip in more than a decade.

For better of (often) for worse, the food was almost EXACTLY as I remembered it from years ago, from the artificial-tasting rum buns to the chowder to the seafood norfolk.

Which got me thinking: what are some of the other DC-area institutions, especially the ones that are unfamous (or even less-than-great), that families have been returning to for generations?

Todd Kliman:

You know, I know those rum buns are artificial tasting and I don’t care: I love them.

Maybe I love what they represent, because I used to eat them as a kid there and at the late Bish Thompson’s. Rum buns before the meal. For a kid, this was like hitting the lottery.

You ask a great question.

This is and has never been and will never be a place that is abundant with restaurants that generations of families all go to, year in and year out.

This is not a place of institutions, small “i.” Only institutions, capital “I.”

But let’s see … Ben’s. Horace and Dickey’s. What else? Maybe some of the mediocre Italian restaurants in Alexandria that have been around for years and have loyal followings …

I’m really drawing a blank. Who can think of another or others?

MY ADVENTUROUS EATER DAUGHTER TURNS 16 IN AUGUST -- WHERE SHOULD I TAKE HER?::

I've thoroughly enjoyed your weekly chat since I moved to the area a year ago.

Earlier this month, my family moved to join me, and I've looked forward to showing them some of the great places I've discovered. Here's my question--my daughter will turn 16 next month, and I'd like to take her out for a memorable dinner.

She's an adventurous eater, and enjoys a wide variety of cuisines. This won't be a "sweet 16" affair--just the three of us. DC and NOVA areas are preferable.

Thank you!

Todd Kliman:

Here’s what I’d do — I’d book a table at the excellent Rice Paper, in the Eden Center, the defacto Little Vietnam for the D.C. area.

Then, after you have had your fill of roast quail with lime dip, grilled stuffed grape leaves, bun and bun cha, and baked chicken with coconut rice, go two doors down and have dessert at the new BamBu.

Terrific fruit smoothies, including an avocado made with real, ripe avocados. I love the mango smoothie, too, which also tastes unmistakably of the fruit at its peak; ask for it with coconut milk instead of milk — it’ll conjure up memories of a mango sticky rice. There’s also a long list of shaved ice drinks and confections.

What you could also do, if you have the time and/or inclination, is a progressive dinner at the Eden Center, starting with pho at Pho Xe Lua or maybe a banh mi at Nhu Lan, continuing on to appetizers at Huong Viet, then entrees at Rice Paper and dessert at BamBu.

If ever there were a place made for a progressive dinner, it’s the Eden Center.

DESSERTS THAT DON'T WOW, CONT.::

Last time I looked at a dessert menu and was paralyzed by indecision?

I'd say Commander's Palace, down in New Orleans. Cheesecake, bread pudding souffle, pecan pie, something delicious with pralines. It was one of the few times I wished there were more of us dining, so we could try them all!

Todd Kliman:

Yep.

And I’m hungry just reading that list.

By the way, I love that phrase: paralyzed with indecision. That’s exactly what you should feel when confronted with a dessert menu.

And wowed and giddy when your selection finally hits the table.

I’m beginning to think I need to be a much tougher grader when it comes to Act III. Not just what’s there, but what isn’t.

DESSERTS THAT DON'T WOW, CONT.::

I hear you - I'm a sweets guy, but I often find that I'd rather find the nearest ice cream joint, bakery, or grab a milkshake somewhere than go for 'restaurant' desserts.

The only dessert that I regularly struggle to pass up is Montmartre's Floating Isle. Unfortunately splitting one between my wife and I doesn't quite cut it.

Todd Kliman:

Love that Floating Isle.

One of the great indulgences in the city.

May it never leave the menu.

"WHAT'S MISSING FROM D.C.'S FOOD SCENE": A RESPONSE::

Hi, Todd.

After reading Mark Furstenberg's article about "What's missing from D.C.'s food scene," I am in agreement with him, as I have often lamented some of the DC's food transformation. While I absolutely grant that Washington DC has become a much more exciting place to eat out in and there is a lot to be grateful for coming in with the changes, I wish there were more discerning diners who sought excellence in every folded corner of the dining-out experience to make the experience, well, an experience.

I wish that every restaurateur would stop racing to open up new places (they either buy places before having a concept or are switching up concepts when old ones fail). Let the innovative, small entrepreneur come and add or lead the way to a truly extraordinary dining landscape by being visionary or small and wonderful.

With a ton of mid-level quality restaurants in DC (that are good enough, but not great), I am beginning to think and agree that some of the very best cooking in DC is being done in home kitchens. I'm so glad that someone put to words what I have been thinking for a long time. Home cooking is a wonderful thing, especially for those that have access to some, but even home cooks would like to venture out and when the offerings are less than or equal to but rarely better than, it doesn't leave a lot of options.

I'd love your take on this topic.

Thanks

Todd Kliman:

Well, I’ve only read Mark’s piece once, and was planning on reading it again, but since you asked I’ll share a few quick reactions.

I, too, think there is a lot of boring food at high levels in the city. I don’t think, however, that some of the changes he’s advocating will change the culture. I think the culture is the culture. What it was, and what it probably will be.

This has not been a city that takes chances on things, and I really doubt that will change. I grew up here. I’ve seen a lot change. A lot for the better, and some for the worse. But the culture hasn’t fundamentally changed. This is a moderate culture. Trends don’t start here, they make their way here eventually. It’s a city, largely, of people watching themselves, and caution prevails.

Look at the theater scene, and how much Shakespeare gets staged in this city. Look at the athletes who have historically been embraced (Unseld, Monk, Ripken), and how, though great, unremittingly bland they all are as personalities.

I also think it’s odd to talk about a city like Los Angeles and all it has to offer when I think that the city that the food city D.C. most resembles in many ways is Los Angeles. D.C. as a city is only 6 or 7 hundred thousand people. It’s tiny. The true measure of the area is its mass, and that means taking into account Maryland and Virginia, and that means thinking of the so-called ethnic mom n pops as part of the scene. The center is not the center. There is no center. D.C.’s worth is in its sprawl.

Those are just some quick thoughts.

Mark is a bright guy, and a passionate and committed food world person, and this is a conversation that’s eminently worth having.

DESSERTS THAT DON'T WOW, CONT. -- THOUGHTS FROM A SWEET TOOTH::

I would say 9/10 times it is: Quick — name the last time you looked at a dessert menu and thought: I don’t see anything that I really want. Pass, and bring me a coffee.

And this from a person who has a sweet tooth and cannot live without his cherry coke and hope that some restaurantin the city comes up with a dessert based around cherry coke ;)

Todd Kliman:

Too funny.

Thanks for the early afternoon laugh.

And by the way, I suspect we’re not in the minority on this subject.

I’ll be interested in hearing more responses …

DESSERTS THAT DON'T WOW, CONT.: SEEKING A TRULY HEAVENLY EXPERIENCE, COMPLETE WITH THE ANGELS SINGING EACH TO EACH:

Todd, I've missed a couple of the recent chats. It's an interesting question - why desserts seldom wow.

For one, making wow desserts is a different art than cooking. Sometimes if you're really lucky, you will find the complete package in one person who is able to create the whole length of the field. Desserts tend to be more finicky and require more finesse (generally speaking) than cooking, though I would prefer finesse in all courses of my meals.

I think that restaurants think few people will make it to the dessert course and those who do, may opt out (for a variety of reasons). They may not invest as much as the other aspects of dining out, which are more certain money generators. Wondering how much income is made on the dessert course; my guess would be not as much as other parts of the meal.

I also wonder about the skill level. So often when I see de-constructed desserts, I wonder if that is really about not being able to achieve the flakiest pie crust, for example, so instead I see de-constructed pie on offer. It's not the same.

Part of the wow of desserts is knowing that someone has mastered some of the trickier elements to baking. I always feel cheated eating something de-constructed. As with art, de-construction is interesting to me only after something has been mastered. Then, you can tinker with perfection.

That's just me, though. I am a person who often will eye dessert and expect t it to be as stunning as the rest of the meal. I've pretty much eaten the whole nine yards without compromising on courses, so I wish more places could and would do the beautifully wow desserts. However, I understand that they may not, especially if not motivated because desserts are not money generators.

To me, a meal without a sweet finish is not the entire experience. It cannot be a truly heavenly experience unless you hear the angels sing, too.

Todd Kliman:

Wow. Wonderfully put.

Thank you for taking the time to write.

I think you make some terrific points. I hadn’t given thought to the notion of how much money or how little money desserts bring in. Has to be a factor.

I do know that in the majority of cases desserts are conceived with the rest of the menu in mind, and are expected to close the meal. Not to exist on the same level of richness or invention as what comes before. Chefs tend to see desserts as part of a sequence. They’re there to land the plane.

How often, I wonder, are appetizers conceived with the rest of the menu, including desserts, in mind? I am frequently surprised to find how rich and heavy so many of them are. Isn’t an appetizer supposed to awake the palate? Hit it with bright, vibrant, slightly acidic flavors to prime the diner for what’s to come? And yet how often do you see things like short ribs with polenta as a first course?

DESSERTS THAT DON'T WOW, CONT.: IN PRAISE OF BOURBON STEAK AND HINOKI & THE BIRD IN L.A.::

Two places that come to mind (one in DC, one not) where the dessert options all looked fantastic are: Bourbon Steak here in DC and Hinoki & the Bird in LA.

The dessert menus looked great for different reasons. Bourbon Steak's selections all sounded rich, warming, classic yet fresh with a twist--the perfect way to end a steak dinner with just one more indulgent treat.

The desserts at Hinoki were equally as difficult to choose from because of their inventive and quirky nature (just like the regular menu), while still incorporation ingredients that weren't entirely foreign or off-putting.For the record, I had the Vietnamese iced coffee "snow cone" which was one of the most delicious things I've ever had. Layers of Vietnamese iced coffee granita, with layers of condensed milk ice cream, toasted coconut and jellies.

I say all this as someone with an insanely large sweet tooth, but I really do feel like every meal needs something sweet to be complete!

Todd Kliman:

Thanks for the mouth-watering description of that Vietnamese snow cone. Sounds fantastic.

I have to take slight exception to your final line — sweet is not the issue. There’s plenty of sweet in this city. And too-sweet, but that’s a separate discussion. What there isn’t, is plenty of exuberance and wonderment and dazzle.

D.C. AREA "INSTITUTIONS," CONT.::

I used to go to the Vienna Inn when I was a kid, and it's still alive and kicking.

At the time, the chili dogs were about $1 a piece, and the term "chili dog" became synonymous for money in my family - as in, if something was really expensive, "wow, that's a lot of chili dogs."

Todd Kliman:

I love that.

And yeah, add it to the list. Notice, though, that we’re developing a pattern? Dives, joints, etc. I’m not complaining; just noticing …

By the way: does anybody remember that column from the Post from years ago — “Crummy But Good,” by Donovan Kelly. Loved that column. I remember going with my father once to one of the places he found, a place in Virginia, housed in a trailer. Good, too.

Todd Kliman:

* SUMMER RECIPE TO TRY *

Mai Lam, the g.m. and co-owner of Rice Paper, has graciously sent along a recipe (adapted) for the terrific baked chicken. I haven’t tried this, myself, and I can’t imagine that the homecook could produce results that come close to what the folks at Rice Paper do, but give it a shot. It sounds easy enough, and I’m sure it’d be tasty:

2 chicken thighs or 1 Cornish hen cut in halves. 1 tbs soy sauce. 1/4 tsp of five spice powder. 1 tbs fish sauce. 1 tbs of honey. 1/4 tsp of black pepper. 1/4 tsp of white pepper.
1/4 tsp of sesame oil. 1/4 tsp of minced garlic. 2 Asian shallot finely minced or 2 tbs diced green onions. 2 tbs cooking oil.

  1. Marinate chicken with all the ingredients overnight or 3-4 hours. 2. Preheat oven for 350 degrees. Place in baking pan with skin facing up. Bake for 1/2 an hour or temp reaches 165 degrees. Keep all the juices and marinade to spread on top of the chicken it add it in soy sauce; lime juice; and garlic sauce for dipping.

If any of you try this at home, and I hope you do, I hope you will also drop back on and share the results with us.

Bon appetit. Happy grilling.

DESSERTS THAT DON'T WOW, CONT.: WHY DOESN'T THE CHEF TAKE OVER?:

The exchange about dessert got me thinking... why do so many restaurants have pastry chefs? Why isn't that also under the purview of the chef chef?

We don't have salad chefs, pasta chefs, sauce chefs--these are stations manned by cooks working under the main chef. But desserts are its own domain.

Some would argue that desserts are markedly different, which is perhaps true, but no different really than the variety of things the chef oversees from roasting to frying to braising to sauteing to raw preparations. I wonder if that's a reason for the occasional disconnect. If the head chef was also coming up with the desserts, they might match the main dinner cuisine better.

I always find it odd watching Top Chef when they complain about a dessert contest. They have no fear of butter in the frying pan, why is putting it in a pie plate suddenly so daunting/annoying?

Todd Kliman:

The pastry chef is under the supervision of the chef, but you’re right that there often isn’t a seamless move from appetizer and entree to dessert.

It’s an interesting larger philosophical question you touch on, and I think it goes back to the fact that cooking is more forgiving and desserts are more exacting, more like science. They tend to attract different personalities, too, as a result.

One possible explanation for the small dessert menus you see at the small independent spot we all know and love, and possibly for the not-so-passionate offerings, is that they don’t have the money for a pastry chef. So the chef takes over those duties.

The result? Not inspiring. Lots of sorbets and ice creams and our ubiquitous and versatile friend the panna cotta (a.k.a. white jello.) All things that can be made with minimal effort, and also that will never, ever upstage the dishes — the savories — he or she has spent months perfecting.

DESSERTS THAT DON'T WOW, CONT., AND THE PEACH PIE AT WHOLE FOODS::

The peach pie I bought at Whole Foods this week was better than the ice cream sandwiches I had at Range last week.

I'd get dessert more often if restaurants served pie. I'm not big on cake or ice cream.

And to answer your question, I rarely see a dessert on the menu that makes me want to order. (A friend wanted the ice cream sandwiches at Range -- I just wanted another glass of wine.)

The last dessert I went out of my way for was the banana split at Central, which was good but way too big if you can't split it. (I sat at the bar so I wouldn't have to eat much dinner.)

I think you underestimate how full people are after main courses -- I take it that critics graze rather than eat to hit more of the menu.

Todd Kliman:

I graze when it suits me.

If I’m having a great meal, and loving every bite, I don’t graze. And I brace myself for feeling over-full.

I get what you’re saying here. But what is the harm of a dessert that’s over-the-top in size? Not finishing it? Apart from being reminded that you are a hyper-privileged person and the world is full of people every day going without — okay, that’s a big thing. But most of us leave stuff behind all the time, or take that stuff home.

Is it that when confronted with an over-the-top, wickedly indulgent dessert, we feel defeated if we only eat half of it? We feel that the meal was too much of a good thing, and we exit the restaurant in a contemplative and maybe brooding state of mind? Not to mention besotted and full of self-loathing at being so ignominiously full?

Re: PANNA COTTA:

Panna cotta (a.k.a. white jello). This is hilarious! Thanks for the laugh -- love it.

Todd Kliman:

Fancily named white jello, at that.

DESSERTS THAT DON'T WOW, CONT.: IN PRAISE OF THE INN AT LITTLE WASHINGTON:

RE: Desserts that don't wow. The Inn at Little Washington always wows.

Death by chocolate. Yummy! And The Majestic and their old fashioned layer cakes, is amazing, when it isn't sold out.

But what do these have in common? They haven't been messed around with at all. Death by Chocolate is the same as it has always been and the cake, well just like Grandma made

Todd Kliman:

Agreed.

Patrick O’Connell is very, very smart, and one of the things he understands is that a meal is a grand performance and you don’t squander the chance to send ‘em away singing.

And, as you point out, you don’t try too hard to reinvent the wheel.

D.C. AREA INSTITUTIONS, CONT.::

Other "I" institutions in, and around, DC? I'd nominate Crisfields, which yes, is a dump. But it's our dump.

May they never change their deep fryer, may they always give you at least 15 oysters to the dozen, and may a glass of Red Hook ESB never exceed $1.50.

A place well on its way to becoming an institution? Parkway Deli in Silver Spring, which is good for some things, not so good for others, and oh, that pickle bar.

Todd Kliman:

Yes. Love the pickle bar.

(Don’t love the insufferably salty matzo ball soup.)

And Crisfield’s, yes, absolutely. I always find myself wishing it were just a little better. Not a lot. Just a little. Just enough that I could love it as it wants to be loved.

PERFECTLY PROPORTIONED TREATS::

I love the perfectly proportioned treats at Pete's Apizza.

Last week, I enjoyed a chocolate coconut "hoho" and chocolate peanut butter parfait. OK, I actually shared them, but they were excellent and we didn't have to feel guilty indulging in TWO desserts!

Todd Kliman:

Thanks for chiming in …

One person’s perfectly proportioned is another person’s too small.

Or, conversely — one person’s too big.

Not trying to provoke. Just musin’.

MY FAVORITE DESSERT OF ALL TIME::

The Michael Bolton Dessert at MOTO in Chicago.

Todd Kliman:

Ha, yes.

Thing is, though, who’d want this —

http://www.google.com/search?client=safari&rls=en&q=the+michael+bolton+dessert+moto&oe=UTF-8&um=1&ie=UTF-8&hl=en&tbm=isch&source=og&sa=N&tab=wi&ei=AoPlUYiCGcyQqwG3j4HQAw&biw=809&bih=624&sei=HoPlUa-VJurVyQHtlYDgDw#facrc=&imgdii=&imgrc=SZ71M2fwkj1IYM%3A%3B6HEiTruvORlJiM%3Bhttp%253A%252F%252Ffarm8.staticflickr.com%252F7019%252F6571993139a8bd0ffee4z.jpg%3Bhttp%253A%252F%252Fwww.flickr.com%252Fphotos%252Fthenextlist%252F6571993139%252F%3B640%3B310 —

in their mouth?

Who would want to partake of this unholy sacramental wafer?

GREAT DESSERTS, CONT.:

Turkish Delight dessert at Zaytinya. Haven't passed up on in 10 years.

Todd Kliman:

Agreed. Wonderful.

Off to lunch, everyone. Thank you for your time this morning and afternoon, and all the great questions and musings on the scene. I love all the conversation we generated on such a seemingly simple thing.

My lunch date today is an almost-13-year-old who loves to write (and writes and observes wonderfully well, and already knows to keep a writer’s journal) and has dreams of becoming a critic (food or otherwise). I hope you enjoy it, Ellie!

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







[missing you, TEK … ]



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