Tuesday, July 2 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 June 26, 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   .  .  .



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.


Tutto Bene: Bolivian Menu, Arlington / Saturday and Sunday 


Here's what you do: go for lunch on the weekends, and ask for the Bolivian menu. It's a modest document, but nearly everything on it is rewarding -- especially the superb salteñas (slightly sweet football-shaped turnovers that are baked every morning to a pie crust-doneness and stuffed with a zesty chicken or beef stew). You could make a meal of these alone, but then you'd miss out on the fantastic sopa de mani (a rich peanut soup) and the chorizo with oiled rice and a good salad.


Banh Mi DC Sandwich, Falls Church

I've spent the past few weeks eating banh mi (tough life, I know), and this take-out joint/grocery not in the Eden Center is the clear front runner in a very competitive field. In fact, I think the ham and head cheese combination might be not just the best banh mi in the area, but the best sandwich, period. The baguettes are always warm and crusty, the pickled condiments are always sharp and crunchy, and the sandwich assembly staff has a keen grasp of matters of balance and proportion.


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.


Mi Cuba Cafe, DC

This tiny cafe, on Park Rd. in Columbia Heights, makes the best picadillo I've had in a long, long time -- with the right amount of olives in the mix, and, more vitally important, the perfect soft texture. Good rice and plantains, too. And finding a restaurant in the thick of DC that can turn out a good, hearty meal for 2 in the range of $35 is pretty close to miraculous.

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ROAD-TRIPPING TO LA PLATA, LOOKING FOR EATS:

Hi Todd,

Friday I will be road tripping along Rt. 301 in and around the La Plata area. Looking for casual roadside joints - bbq, fried chicken kind of places. Probably early dinner time, 6pm or so.

Any recommendations?

Thanks.

Todd Kliman:

You’ve got more options than you might think.

Johnny Boy’s for good bbq is one, though keep in mind that you’ll be eating on picnic tables.

This is open pit ‘cue, and you can watch the men and women in the shack hacking it up as you place you order. I have cravings for the pulled pork sandwich, topped with Mama Sophie’s sauce and some creamy cole slaw.

Ouzo is another. A good Greek diner. Souvlaki, gyros, etc.

I don’t know — tough call between the two of those. Probably would come down, for me, to what I have a hankering for.

I’ll be interested in hearing which direction you go. Have a great day trip …

Good morning, everyone. What do you all have planned for the Fourth?

At the moment, I’m plan-less. Any great ideas? Other than schlepping down to the Mall, that is. Not doing that. Not this year. Not any year any time soon.

But I’m open to anything else.

DINING IN MONTREAL?:

Hi Todd!

My family is heading out up to Montreal next week for a quick vacation.

Any recommendations for can't miss culinary highlights? I should note my sister is comfortable with tasting menus and high-end concepts, but my mother's range is much more limited.

Todd Kliman:

First of all, let me just say I am very, very jealous — Montreal is one of my favorite eating cities in all of North America. You’ll have a great time, I’m sure.

A few weeks ago, I wrote an on-the-fly guide to dining in the city. I’m going to link to it here: http://www.washingtonian.com/chats/kliman/tuesday-june-11-at-11-am.php

I hope you eat grandly, and that you’ll let us in on your adventures when you get back.

RESTAURANTS ACCOMMODATING OF GLUTEN INTOLERANCE?:

Hi Todd,

I am a big fan of Tuesdays because of Kliman Online (I just recently discovered it!). I have never before asked a question, but I very much look forward to your answers, recommendations, opinions, etc. every week.

I recently found out that I am gluten intolerant. I love to cook and try new restaurants, and navigating restaurant menus has been especially difficult. In some cases, restaurants have been welcoming and accommodating, but I sometimes feel - and this could just be my perception - that gluten intolerance is not viewed as a real health problem (e.g., a food allergy), and I feel like I'm being difficult.

Do you have any recommendations for restaurants that are knowledgeable and accommodating? I have discovered that Brasserie Beck has a special gluten-free menu which is very exciting, but I was hoping that you might have others? Suggestions in various price ranges are fine.

Oh, and just because I'm difficult, my boyfriend is allergic to shellfish.

Todd Kliman:

There’s a growing number of restaurants in the area making gluten-free a part of their operation.

Just to get you started:

Cava, in DC, Rockville, and Arlington Ayse, in Frederick Firefly, in DC Liberty Tavern, in Arlington Zaytinya, in DC Jaleo, in DC Carmine’s, in DC Oyamel, in DC Ray’s the Steaks, in Arlington Rasika, in DC The Carlyle, in Arlington Kushi, in DC Sushi Ko I and II, in DC Pete’s New Haven Style Pizza, in DC and Arlington

I hope that helps to know.

And thanks so much for becoming a part of this weekly gab/grubfest …

CHARLESTON DINING BEYOND FIG, McCRADY'S AND HUSK?:

Todd - Do you have any new recommendations on where to hit up in Charleston? I know FIG, McGrady's, Husk, Hominy Grill. Anything new/can't miss I should add to that list? Planning a trip for later this month.

Todd Kliman:

I really like Two Boroughs’ Larder. Ate there twice my last trip down.

Small, industrial space, and a whimsically crazy and often delicious menu of small dishes like kung pao sweetbreads.

What else?

The Grocery and The Macintosh for creative, but rooted American cooking. Butcher and Bee for great sandwiches. Miss Kitty’s and Martha Lou’s for great soul food.

In Mt. Pleasant, I like Boulevard for good, simple Low Country dining in a diner-like setting, and Jack’s Cosmic Dogs for great corn dogs and moon pie sundaes.

Have a great trip and fill us in when you’re back.

Jeez, all of y’all are hitting the road. City’s emptying out like a carton of spilled milk …

FOLLOWING-UP FROM LAST WEEK: DENVER DINING:

Denver: Rioja and Osteria Marco in the Larimer Square area are solid options.

And really, go to a bar in Denver, they have one of the best micro-beer scenes in the country. Be a Pop-Tart.

Todd Kliman:

Thanks for chiming in … Hope our traveler-out-west still has time to see this.

And A. from Colorado, if you’re reading along this morning, please throw out a few more suggestions. I know you have them!

OUR PREPARTUM FOODIE CHECKS IN WITH ANOTHER GOOD REPORT FROM THE FIELD ...:

At 38 weeks pregnant the adventures continue....

Breakfast and lunch are my favorite meals at the moment since unless restaurants provide comfortable places to prop up your feet by the end of the day I'd rather eat on the couch.

Stealing my husband away from work one day we met up at Black Market Bistro for lunch. It always reminds me of the type of place my grandmother would have taken me for a grown-up meal in my teenage years. Kind of a hushed, simple elegance, and a type of charm not found often in these parts. Plenty of people over our age group, but not the IHOP crowd -- the food is the attraction here. The shocker to me was that the pizza was astoundingly good -- a button mushrooms pizza with honey balsamic shallots, fresh thyme, mozzarella and truffled pecorino. I couldn't stop eating it, and I shouldn't have because the room I saved for dessert wasn't worth the mediocre cake I had.

But a salad and a pizza, divine. I know a lot of people don't like to dine out alone, but I love it. And knowing I won't be doing any of it for probably the next year gives me all of the incentive I need.

Yesterday I ended up at 8407 Kitchen Bar in Silver Spring in their spacious upstairs dining room, I always enjoy the attentive service here, and this time I had the pleasure of munching through one of those simple, fresh, delightful salads you can only pull off with the best of ingredients and keeping it simple.

Of course, at 38 weeks I am not a woman to think of salad as a meal, and the homemade (housemade!) tagliatelle with lemon, chili flakes, and mascarpone was full of zing if not a bit over the top on the chili, but cut well with the creamy mascarpone and not the slightest bit heavy.

But it was the cinnamon ice cream, suggested by the waiter, which put the icing on the cake for me. A great place for a casual yet special meal.

I was ready for another meal by later last night where we had the pleasure (as a family this time) to visit one of our favorites, Tipicos El Encanto in Gaithersburg. Since moving up from Cheverly and missing little Mexico in nearby Bladensburg, this has been our favorite of the many small Salvadorean / Mexican places we have tried. Every time I go I find myself saying "Why don't we eat here a few times a week?"

The pupusas are light and non-greasy and the curtido is my favorite with the right crunch and tang. A little sauce and yum. For $1.75. And the fried sweet plantains with refried beans and crema go down well with a few other snacks like the sweet corn tamale.

My husband sticks with the tacos which are generous and have lovely ripe avocado slices on the top.

It's a great place, I think worth a bit of a drive, some English spoke if you need it, and a fairly noisy TV which is a plus when you have a 3 year old pretending to be a train as he makes circuits around the restaurant taking bites as he passes the "depot" -- and no one here thinks it's annoying. When we have a fussy infant as well we will fit right in here.

Todd Kliman:

Love it.

And I love that you’re in the mood to eat all the time. I envisioned my wife, with both pregnancies, ordering lavishly at lunch and dinner and maybe, some nights, hitting a couple of restaurants with me.

Never happened.

Well, happened once. In Paris. Two dinners in one night. Fantastic.

And then not again, ever.

Thanks for the wonderfully thorough accounts.

I just wanted to add that I think 8407 Kitchen & Bar is doing well with the arrival of new chef Ed Witt. I’ve had a couple of good meals there.

THE KOREAN/CAJUN FUSION THING WAS JUST TOO WEIRD TO PASS UP:

We were randomly out in Sterling and wanting a bite to eat and Yelp sent us along to Mokomandy (okay, we chose it but the Korean / Cajun fusion thing was just too weird to pass up.

It was brunch, and it was tasty, and it was upscale in quality and atmosphere and child friendly.

If we were local we would be heading back for the classically prepared dishes with some weird spins...have you been? What did you think? Worth seeking out?

Todd Kliman:

I have. I’ve written about it a couple of times in this space, in fact.

I like it. Classically prepared, though? Not sure what you’re referring to there.

It’s a colorful and exuberant space, the staff knows what it’s doing most of the time, there’s a great drinks menu, and I like a good bit of the cooking.

My criticism is that I don’t think that there’s enough exactitude on the plate to warrant the prices, which, while not high, are higher than they ought to be.

But, yeah, it’s a terrific spot if you’re within hailing distance. And I can see instances where I would go half an hour out of my way to dine there.

ANY BBQ RECOMMENDATIONS FOR THE CARLESS AND/OR LAZY IN NORTHERN VIRGINIA?:

I see your recommendation for RG's BBQ Cafe, but do you have any recommendations for the carless/lazy in northern Virginia who don't want to go to Laurel?

I walked past Pork Barrel BBQ in Del Ray a few days ago after a trip to Dairy Godmother - it smelled great from the outside, but reviews for it seem pretty lacking.

Todd Kliman:

Yeah, not a fan.

And not a fan, either, of Rocklands, in Arlington.

Sorry.

Gonna have to just suck it up and hit the road … Jack. Or Jacqueline.

PLANS FOR THE FOURTH:

Todd,

I am getting a bushel of crabs and enjoying the Fourth with some good friends and lots of cold beer :)

Have a Happy 4th!

Todd Kliman:

Sounds perfect.

Where’s my invitation?

GLUTEN-FREE, CONT.:

Birch & Barley does gluten free items.

One of the owners is allergic to gluten too. they also have Gluten free beer too.

Todd Kliman:

Good to know!

Thanks.

I’m sure the list is a lot longer than what I just tacked up there.

N.Y.C. CHEFS IN THE D. OF C.:

Todd,

So many NYC chefs are or will be in DC! I am excited to see what comes from Chef Michael White (Marea is fantastic in NYC). Any word when this open?

Also, you are excited that Chef Daniel Boulud is opening a restaurant (DGBG) in DC? CityCenter is a long way of opening, but excited nonetheless.

Todd Kliman:

Ah, CityCenterDC.

The promise, the glory.

We’ve been hearing about this crowning achievement for what, now — 10 years? I think this goes all the way back to Mayor Williams and late 2003.

Hope it rises, but jeez …

Anyway, Daniel Boulud is a huge get. I envision the project as something like the Time Warner building on Columbus Circle in Manhattan, and Boulud on board means you can probably expect other big-name chefs to follow.

And as for Michael White and the spinoff of Osteria Moroni, no word yet.

SO MANY VINEYARDS IN VIRGINIA -- WHERE TO GO ON A TASTING TRIP?:

There are so many vineyards here in Virginia. It's so hard to decide which one to go on a day trip.

We loved all the ones we've been to and would like to go on some more vineyard trip.

Can you name some of your favorite ones around here?

Todd Kliman:

I’m going to assume since you’re in this forum that you mean which ones make good wine, as opposed to which ones offer the best chance to take in beautiful scenery and while away the afternoon.

I like a lot of the wine coming out of Virginia these days.

Not long ago I had a Glen Manor Hodder Hill 2009, a red wine blend, that absolutely knocked me out. One of the most memorable bottles of wine I’ve had this year.

RdV is making great wine. Barboursville, as always — their recent release of Octagon was stellar. Chrysalis — maker of excellent Viognier, Albariño and of course Norton, the grape that embodies all the crazy contradictions of the American story. Linden. Breaux. King Family. Keswick. Lovingston. Philip Carter. Veritas.

These are all very good wineries and deserving of support.

MOKOMANDY, IN STERLING, CONT.:

Classically prepared....at Mokomandy?

What we ended up with was a French omelette with salad, classically prepared without a twist or spin in sight, as well as a homemade English muffin (again, beautiful but straight as can be) and some beignets.

When we arrived I looked at the brunch menu and said.....booooring....so that's why I was surprised since they seem to execute some things better than I have had in a long time. perhaps brunch is more conservative. I agree it was expensive, those omelettes were dainty and $14 and the English muffin was another $3.

Todd Kliman:

Haven’t had the brunch there — sounds good, though! — but in no sense is the dinner menu either “booooring” or classical. : )

SNEAKING IN SOME FLAVOR ON THE GRILL FOR MY WARY FRIENDS?:

Going to a friend's house on the beach, armed with a grill, for some long weekend relaxing, chowing and drinking with college friends.

Unfortunately, none of my friends are really adventurous enough to try anything crazy, so we're sticking with some traditional burgers and corn. Any tips on sneaking in some flavor for wary friends?

Todd Kliman:

It’s a great question.

And as people obsessed with food, it’s pretty amazing how often we’re faced with little challenges like this.

This relative doesn’t like Asian food, that relative wants a steak dinner and nothing else. Friend can’t stand spicy. Another friend insists on a spot with no noise at all, eliminating three-quarters of what’s good in the city.

We’re told to just suck it up and deal. And we do, nearly every time. We give in. We compromise. We repress our desires for great food and go along just to get along.

You’re actually in a neat spot, because you can attempt a stealth strike.

What I’d do is, I’d prepare two or three compound butters. Maybe one with chipotles. Maybe another with herbs.

Who’s going to object to butter on anything when it comes to food on the grill? Lather those babies up, that’s all they’ll care about. Steak and butter. Corn and butter. So good. And then — oh, hey, dude, what’s this kick on the steak? I like it.

PLAN B IF WE CAN'T GET INTO LITTLE SEROW?:

Hi Todd,

We are planning to go to Little Serow for a birthday dinner next week. If for some reason we are not able to get in (given the no-reservations policy) what would you recommend for plan B?

We are looking for a great dinner out without the kids.

Thanks!

Todd Kliman:

Well, whaddayaknow — I’ve got a birthday dinner out next week, too!

I’d want a place where I know I’d be able to get in. A place with a reservation.

I’d be thinking Blue Duck Tavern.

MOKOMANDY, CONT.:

I used to live near Mokomandy and dined there twice when it first opened. I thought it was a great concept combining korean and cajun cuisine.

Unfortunately, both dining experiences were not good, which was due to poor execution (beef carpaccio that was gummy always come to my mind when thinking of this place. I remember it being served on a warm plate, which is not good for carpaccio).

I have not been in a few years so I am assuming they have solved most of the challenges they were facing.

Todd Kliman:

Warm beef carpaccio. Not a happy thought.

I can’t say whether they’ve solved most of their challenges, because I didn’t eat there when it first opened. But I think it’s an enjoyable spot. As I said, I have some reservations. I’m not going to urge everyone to light out from downtown this weekend to eat there. Not that kind of place.

LE DIPLOMATE AND LE HYPE:

What is it about Le Diplomate that is causing all this hype? Is the food really that good?

I usually frequent Montmatre for french and it's consistently satisfying. I've tried twice now to go to Le Diplomate only to end up at Pearl Dive or Estadio (which are great) b/c of the 2 hour wait times and no standing room at the bar.

Does it really warrant this? I'm expecting greatness once I finally get a table there!

Todd Kliman:

No no. You should not go in expecting greatness. You should go in expecting goodness. In some cases, very goodness.

Here. Read my review for a longer explanation: http://www.washingtonian.com/restaurantreviews/le-diplomate-living-la-belle-vie.php

LUNCHING IN HERNDON/RESTON/STERLING:

Hello. I'm looking for a creative lunch place for 4 of us this Friday in the Herndon/Reston/Sterling area.

One of us only has a 2-4pm time slot.

Thank you for your help.

Todd Kliman:

I’d gather everyone at Zeitoon, in Sterling.

(All this Sterling talk on the chat today!)

Really good Moroccan cooking. Bistilla, tagine, harira, couscous, flavored olives.

If anyone in your group isn’t crazy about, um, flavor, then there’s a bunch of more conventional lunch options on the Mediterranean section of the menu.

But the excitement’s the Morrocan dishes.

If you go — and why wouldn’t you, now, after a rec like that? — I hope you’ll come back on next week and give us a full and mouth-watering report. No pressure. ; )

DENVER DINING, CONT.:

Todd, for the folks coming to Denver.

They wanted options similar to Rasika and Le Diplomate (another place I can't recall) in DC within walking or cabbing distance of the Downtown Sheraton. Tamayo and Tag on Larimer St. downtown are within walking distance and are also great options.

The rooftop seating at Tamayo provides a great view of the mountains as well as excellent food and unique Margaritas. Little India in Lakewood is a Modern Indian Cuisine place, but will be a $30 cab ride each way.

Also, brunch at the Brown Palace should be within walking distance, and is a can't miss if they are here on a weekend. Also, if it's acceptable for you to point them here, it provides simple overviews of great eats in the Mile High City: http://www.5280.com.

Happy eating to them!

Peace, A

Todd Kliman:

A. weighs in!

Didn’t I know you’d chime in and help us out?

Thanks so much for the assist.

Be well, and a happy Fourth to you and your family.

Off to lunch.

Thank you, everyone, for all the good questions and tips and reports and talk-of-travel-that-made-me-jealous-but-that-got-my-mind-thinking-about-heading-out-for-destinations-far-and-near.

Have a great and festive Fourth. Still don’t know what I’m going to do. Crabs or barbecue, one or the other. What other way is there to do it? And fireworks somewhere. Maybe.

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







[missing you, TEK … ]



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