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Tuesday, June 12 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 5, 2012

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 work has appeared in The New Yorker, Harper's, The Oxford American, 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.

Can't wait a week to talk to Todd? Follow him on Twitter for dining reports, tips, and breaking news from the culinary world.


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


Green Pig Bistro, Arlington

One of the best and most intriguing of the current crop of Hipster Farmhouse restaurants (dishtowel napkins, bluegrass in the air, repurposed wood and yard-sale tchochkes throughout). The chef, Scot Harlan, an alumnus of the kitchen at Inox, cooks with precision and clarity, making light of a plate of crispy pig tacos (the pig, here, is salty, crunchy matchsticks of julienned ears) and even a country-style pate. There's a fantastic drinks menu, and a not-bad selection of Virginia wines, including a Michael Shaps Cab Franc that sells for $5 a glass; it's a perfect match for the rich, porky treats.

 

Moa, Rockville
You'd never find it if you weren't looking for it. Situated in the fascinating industrial sector of Rockville, amid a slew of old warehouses and specialty supply stores, this cozy Korean mom 'n' pop is about as hidden as hidden gems get. The cooking is vivid and punchy--great bibimbap, served several ways, along with a parade of soups, noodle dishes and stir frys. Order a soju to wash it all down; the mango and watermelon are fresh and gently sweet, a good counterpart to the garlicky intensity of the food.


R&R Taqueria, Elkridge

Best Mexican food in the area, and it's not even close. And--it's in a gas station. Worth the drive to Elkridge.


Maple Avenue, Vienna
Some diners might be skeptical of splurging for $20 + entrees in a tiny, repurposed diner where the 8 tables are wedged together so closely the room can feel like one big dinner party when the drinks are flowing. Others might be skeptical of the menu, which bends in a dozen different directions, implying a kitchen with a scattered, be-everything-to-everyone vision -- which is to say, no vision at all. But this is a surprisingly focused restaurant -- and a surprisingly rewarding one, too, a place that feels like a personal statement, backed by an amiable staff that clearly aims to send you away smiling. The chef and owner, Tim Ma, does his part, too. He makes a mean shrimp and grits, and his beef cheek sandwich with beer battered fries is one of the best simple plates around. Don't miss the bread pudding.

Society Fair, Old Town Alexandria
I find the room garish, the prices high, the mood presuming. I'm putting this on here on the strength of two terrific sandwiches -- a fabulous baguette stacked with thin shaved ham and good mustard and lamb shoulder stuffed into a griddled flatbread with tangy yogurt and spinach -- and a superlative wine list. 

Fiola, DC
Fabio Trabocchi's edge-of-Penn Quarter restaurant has put its tentative beginnings behind it. The dishes emerging from the brick-framed, herb-potted kitchen find the prodigiously talented chef moving further and further from the controlled elegance of his work at the late Maestro. They also find him cooking with a renewed confidence and conviction. The best of these plates--an astonishingly flavorful ragu of wild hare with thick bands of papardelle, a double-cut, prosciutto-wrapped veal chop with toasted hazelnuts that accent the sweetness and nuttiness of the meat, a bowl of tender meatballs in a tomato sauce that frankly puts most Italian grandmothers to shame--marry rusticity with refinement. Desserts--including a fabulous cone of sugar-dusted bomboloni, with pots of apple marmalade and cinnamon gelato--remain a rousing finish.

Sidebar, Silver Spring
Chef Diana Davila-Boldin, a Windy City native, has improved upon her Chicago dog -- grilling the link, griddling the bun and overloading the ripe, fresh toppings. The result? The best dog in Washington, and better than any Chicago dog I have ever had in Chicago. I'd give this poolhall/hipster bar/cafe a spot on the list just for that, but I also love her mini-falafel, her homemade sausages, her cod fritters, and the cochinita tacos that amount to a glorious precis of El Chucho's Cocina Superior -- Jackie Greenbaum's forthcoming "inauthentic Mexican" restaurant, in Columbia Heights.

Mintwood Place, DC
Perry's owner Saied Azali was lucky to land Cedric Maupillier, formerly the  chef at Central and before that the chef de cuisine at Citronelle, for his rusticky new bistro. The Toulon native is doing typically great work--cranking out lovingly faithful renditions of such bistro classics as cassoulet (see if you can finish it without two glasses of wine) and steak tartare (the tiny, crunchy tater tots on top are a clever allusion to his old boss, Michel Richard) as well as offering up some sly, smart takes on tradition (frogs' legs with black walnut romesco, a lamb tongue moussaka). There's a whole boneless dorade with picholine olives and braised fennel that's a knockout--beautifully conceived, perfectly executed.


Meaza, Arlington
The largest Ethiopian restaurant in the country, according to owner Meaza Zemedu, if you count the butcher shop, grocery and banquet room in addition to the dining room itself. Which wouldn't mean much at all if Zemedu wasn't a talented cook who commands such a  focused and consistent kitchen. Her wats, or long-simmered stews, are remarkable for their depth and length. The kitfo is superb, akin to a great beef tartare in its blending and balance of spices.


Cork, DC
DC's best wine bar is eating better than it has since its early months, thanks to new hire Rob Weland. The erstwhile Poste chef has brought a seasonal focus to the menu, a welcome development for all those who regard the place as a regular in their dining-out rotation. More important is his great gift for making complex combinations feel inevitable and for imbuing simple arrangements with subtle textures and touches.


East Pearl, Rockville
A superlative addition to the unofficial Chinatown of northern Rockville, this cheery, subtly modish restaurant is turning out uncommonly clean-tasting versions of standard Hong Kong-style fare, including shrimp dumpling soup, shrimp with walnuts, and soyed chicken--all spectacular. And don't miss a Shanghai-style noodle dish that brings together angel hair, roast pork, shrimp, green onions and a generous spoonful of yellow curry powder into a light, greaseless and remarkably vivid whole.

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THIS WEEK'S CONTEST: Tell us about your tipping scale
.

Good morning, KO chatters: So we've got tipping on the brain.

First, a Marcel's staffer posted a receipt with a $10,000 tip on its Facebook page (only to remove it several days later). Then came word that Facebook founder/gazillionaire Mark Zuckerberg shunned waiters at least twice during his recent Roman honeymoon. Yes, we know: Tipping works differently in Europe. But still ...

It has us curious to know: What's your personal gratuity philosophy? For today's contest, we're asking you to answer the following:

--Do you yourself tip on pre-tax or post-tax?
--Do you leave 20 percent ALWAYS for good service, or is it situational?
--Is no tip at all ever justified? When? Explain
--What do you tip for pretty good service?
--What do you tip for kinda bad but gracious and smiling and hey-s/he's-really-trying service?
--Is it ever okay to write a note on the bill? When? Explain

The entry that Todd finds most interesting/enlightening wins a hardcover copy of Clean Start by Terry Walters, a beautifully photographed collection of healthy recipes that are organized by season.





Rockville, MD:

Hi Todd,

I am also an avid Cantlers fan for eating crabs and recommend it to everyone. My friend told me about another crabhouse in Kent Island called Kentmorr. Have you been there? Curious to see what you think about their crabs versus Cantlers. Looks like a big crab house and they have their own beach and tiki bar! Stick with Cantlers or should I try this place?

Todd Kliman:

I wish I could weigh in. I haven’t been.

I’d love to know if there’s anyone out there, reading along, who has, and would be so kind as to favor us with a report.

And I’d love to know what you drink when you eat crabs. I got together on Sunday with some friends, including one I hadn’t seen in a long, long while, and the question came up.

I remember being criticized on here for advocating the drinking of cheap beer with crabs when, as the chatter put it, there are so many good craft beers out there now. True enough, there are. But do you really want to drink a beer like that with crabs? Maybe if you’re at home and you have a nice place to sit out and eat them. But if I’m at a crab house, I’m drinking cold cheap beer that I can guzzle like a soft drink. It’s about the Old Bay, and the sweet meat, and the mustard tamalley; it’s not about the hops.

But that’s me …

Jim:

Todd,

Just wanted to pass on my thanks for your persistent recommending of Eola. I live just around the corner, and have been meaning to go forever, but finally made the trip on Friday. I actually went alone (fiancee was out of town), and it could not have been a better experience. It is a fabulous value (a true 5 courses for 65 dollars is a steal in DC!).

They did a modified wine pairing where they match their wines by the glass to each dish, and that was excellent as well. The service was also wonderful throughout, very attentive, but I also never felt rushed or ostracized for dining alone.

Am not sure why this restaurant has never truly caught on with the masses (the name maybe?), but selfishly, I hope it does not as I will certainly be back, and would rather not have to fight for a reservation!

Thanks again, and feel free to use this in a future chat as the restaurants deserves any and all praise it gets.

Best, Jim

Todd Kliman:

Jim, I’m so glad to know that you had such a good meal there.

And you bring up two very good points. One, that it IS a good value for DC, a very good value, in fact, and B (apologies, Paul Reiser), that is really does seem to fly under the radar.

Like you, I wonder how could it? A tasting menu restaurant without a “name” attached to it or without a reputation earned over a long period of time (a la Obelisk)? A setting that has neither the ACTION! and NOISE of the small plates hot spots nor the sumptuous refinement of the grand special occasion places that make good on their promise of attending to the little things and making sure you are pampered at every step? Don’t know …

Skeptical, Rockville:

The Post magazine this weekend included a story about young people hosting dinner parties. But just because it was in the Post doesn't mean it's any good.

What's the real scoop on the ones they mentioned -- "Feastly," "Hush" and "Chez Le Commis"? Is this just a passing foodie trend? I'm in Maryland and not going to spend all night commuting unless it's for a legitimate night out.

Todd Kliman:

It’s a trend, for sure. And as long as rents are the way they are, and the economy is the way it is, I expect to see more of them, not less.

And hope to see more of them, not less.

I think it’s fantastic, personally, that you can dine in so many different ways these days. From a truck. At a gas station. In someone’s tiny apartment.

Things are poking up through the cracks. That’s a good thing, always.

What surprised me was to see these places included in a story on “The Washington Dinner Party”; they don’t fall under that heading.

I had dinner at Chez Le Commis — a one-bedroom Clarendon apartment — recently and enjoyed it. Tom Madrecki, a recent UVa grad, is the host and cook. A lamp goes on the floor, two tables get set up and shoved together. A bike against the wall and a shelf of volumes (Camus, Kierkegaard) constitute the decor. You sit with strangers (who, by the end of the night, you may become friends with; or — “friends,” in the Facebook sense).

Madrecki did an unpaid stint at Zaytinya under Michael Costa, and did another unpaid stint at the renowned Noma, in Copenhagen. He’s got some tricks in his bag, and there are some fun, exciting details — goat butter for the bread; a bowl of squid ink butter to dip fresh radishes into; a smear of caramelized onions pureed with cream to sauce a loin of lamb; a mound of hand-picked, fresh, steamed crab for an appetizer that also included a granita and buttermilk sauce. There were nits to pick, too. But it was a terrific night, and for $40 with wine pairings for each course, a genuine deal.

The surprise, I guess, is that the cooking was less the avant-garde display Madrecki promised and more a demonstration of what a passionate home cook with an abiding interest in flavor combinations and a willingness to experiment can pull off.

Actually, there was one other surprise: By the end of the night, there was not a single dirty dish in the kitchen.

Denver, CO:

Todd, I lived in DC for 3 years and loved reading your chats each week.

I have since moved to Denver, and will be returning to DC after two years to visit friends for a long weekend. I'd love your recommendations for great restaurants that have opened since I've left. Looking for brunch, lunch, and dinner recommendations, and would prefer fun, non-fancy places. Thank you!

Todd Kliman:

Thanks so much for remembering and coming back on …

Fun and non-fancy. Well, there’s a lot of that these days. More than ever, actually …

There’s Atlas Room, on H St., probably the best restaurant in that intriguing, still developing corridor. I also really like Ethiopic there (you have to get the lamb tibs). A step down in price, and also in that corridor: Shawafel, for the fantastic chicken shwarma and hummus.

On 14th St., which has solidified its position as a restaurant row of sorts, there’s Pearl Dive Oyster Palace, from the Black Restaurant Group that owns Black Salt, Black Market Bistro, and others. Were you here when Estadio, the tapas bar, opened? Same street.

I’d also recommend Ripple, in Cleveland Park, and, also in Cleveland Park and a step or two down in price, St. Arnold’s, a mussel and beer hall.

Hope that gives you some good possibilities. I fear, of course, that I’m leaving out some good ones. But my brain is not, currently, supplying me anything else … Chatters?

Cleveland Park:

Hi Todd, Do you or any of the chatters have recommendations for Cape May? My dad and I are going this weekend for father's day. Thanks!

Todd Kliman:

Chatters? Take it away …

Bistro Vivant:

Hi Todd,

We are going there for dinner on Thursday. Is that a good idea?

Thanks

Todd Kliman:

Depends. How adventurous are you? How willing to drop some money on a place without knowing much one way or another?

I’ve yet to go. It’s been roughly a month since Aykan Demiroglu, the former GM of Le Paradou and owner of Locanda, and Domenico Cornacchia, the chef and proprietor of Assaggi, took over, and I generally like to give a place some time to settle in to its new digs. Stay tuned.

In Demiroglu and Cornacchia, you have two men who bring with them a vast store of experience and know-how, and that’s more than can be said about many restaurants that open.

Melissa Adele Haskin, UO (GO DUCKS!):

Good morning! In your reviews, you tell these wonderful tales of how a restaurant came to be (Mintwood Place for instance). You have lovely details.

My question is how do you get those? I presume while you're tasting/reviewing you remain anonymous. Do you then call up a place and say, "Hey, so, I'm the awesome Todd Kliman. I just reviewed you and I have some questions . . ." And if so, are they usually willing to work with you? Or, do you source your information mainly from their website/a newpaper? Or do I have it completely wrong, and you sit down at a table and say "Yo, yo, yo! Go grab the owner, let's chat and eat some food." Thanks in advance. Melissa

Todd Kliman:

You are too, too wonderful.

I guess I’d need to know which details you’re referring to exactly. There are some that come from an interview — and in the case of a restaurant review, that interview is always over the phone and almost always comes after I have hit a place a few times.

But then there are the details that come from personal observation. Every time I go to a restaurant, I make it a point to come away with 10 details. They’re not necessarily food-details. They’re more in the vein of telling details — details that I hope will summon up the place for me, later. I try to record these mentally, without resorting to a notebook or phone, and make a mnemonic for that visit. That forces me to really remember them. And then when I return home I write out the mnemonic. By the time I sit down to write a review, I’ll have anywhere from 30-40 details to sift through.

I know from your tweets and retweets that you’re in a program at college studying food writing — grad program or undergrad? But anyway, if you want to talk about any of this, you can always write me at tkliman@washingtonian.com and maybe we can chat by phone sometime …

Thanks again, so much, for all your wonderful enthusiasm …

Eastern Market:

Just a quick field report. My wife took me to a birthday dinner this past weekend at Birch and Barley. Both of us are beer lovers and had been to Churchkey a few times but never eaten downstairs. We got the tasting menu with beer pairings and it was really excellent.

The food was top to bottom good, very tasty. Opened with a mackerel crudo with some pickled mustard seeds and yogurt -- I've always loved mackerel but I don't see it on too many menus. In the end the best overall course was actually dessert, a really incredible goat's milk cheesecake with raspberry a few ways and a pistachio powder. All the beer pairings were interesting, the best being a My Bock from Short's Brewery in Michigan. A few killer dubbels too.

Todd Kliman:

Great field report. Thanks for writing in …

Sounds like a terrific birthday dinner.

And credit Tiffany MacIsaac for that goat’s milk cheesecake. Isn’t it fantastic?

Cleveland Park:

Good morning, Todd I'm heading to NYC next week, and I'll have one dinner free to explore. I'm not looking to splurge, but was hoping you could (or one the chatters) could recommend something interesting in the $20-$30pp range. I've already hit Momofuku. Nothing is off-limits. I'll be staying in Midtown, but would be willing to venture out to the rest of Manhattan. Thanks!

Todd Kliman:

Something interesting in the $20-$30 range screams Gazala to me.

Druze cuisine. Popping flavors. Warm, layered spicing. Just thinking about the place makes me hungry …

Tacoma Park:

Todd, I can not find the cheap eats online. When is it going to be published?

Thanks, RD

Todd Kliman:

June 20th.

You could always just walk into a Giant or Safeway and, um, you know — buy it. : )

Falls Church:

A recent two weeks in South Africa introduced us to the fantastic thing that is bunny chow (now high on my list of best street food anywhere).

I'm guessing we're likely out of luck until another trip back, but any suggestions on great curry places locally that might be able to help us at least imagine what we're missing in the meantime?

Todd Kliman:

Yeah, no bunny chow here.

Just the chow that a bunny would go to town on, i.e., carrots.

But curry — yes, we can do that. Here’s my list. Take your pick:

—Passage to India. Bethesda.

—Curry Mantra. Fairfax.

—Jewel of India. Silver Spring.

—Spice X-ing. Rockville.

—Bollywood Bistro. Fairfax.

—Woodlands. Langley Park.

—Minerva. Fairfax and Gaithersburg.

—Delhi Club. Clarendon.

Clifton, VA:

For good service I tip between 20 to 25% pretax. If I am am in charge of a large party and the restaurant adds a gratuity and service sucks then I will speak up and not pay it.

I did write a note once. My bro and I went Blues Alley to see Wynton. My bro was in a three piece suit and I was in a navy blazer and Khakis. Waitress ignored us in favor of the older couple seated next to us. My bro and I are ex-waiters. So bill comes and I know some servers do change tips so in the tip box on my Amex receipt I write "stiffed."

She wrote back "thanks." She deserved it. She totally blew us off. 25% of a $80 tab in 1989 isn't that bad, since my bro I ordered apps, dinner, drinks etc.

Back when I was waiting tables I had a regular couple who came in every Sat. Now this 1979 and on $40 or so tab he left 8 what looked to be quarters as I passed by since I had other tables to take care of. I was concerned about what went wrong. When I got a chance to pick up the tip it was actually 8 Susan B Anthony dollar coins. The waitress at Frtitzbees later got those same dollar coins. Next Saturday couple comes in and we have a laugh. Same restaurant and it's Nov 1977 I am just out training. My first table all by myself. Hostess sits a a couple with a young kid. I bring them their check. As I deliver my other party's dinners I notice couple split. Check on the tray and no money. #@$*&. I figure it's my first and last night as waiter. Manager and I search the table and find the guy's wallet. No money but we find his driver's license. We call Fairfax City PD and they tell us he is wanted on several felonies and is considered armed and dangerous. I kept my job.

Todd Kliman:

A good start there, Clifton.

But you got more questions to answer if you want to be in contention …

(That’s one vote for pre-tax, btw … )

Clifton, VA:

What to drink with steamed crabs? Very, very cold Bud long necks. Craft beers just dont go with steamed crabs. Neither does Miller Light. It would be like having a super Tuscan red with a simple fresh tomato sauce. Tomatoes were just picked along with the basil from your garden. A nice Pinot Grigio or a simple white is more appropriate. Both the simple white and the Bud dont take away from the simplicity of the dish. Craft beer and its complexity doesn't go with crab.

Todd Kliman:

We are in TOTAL agreement. Is that a first?

Should I be afraid?

Should we break out a Bud, Bud, and toast?

Logan Circle, DC:

Hi Todd- If it was your birthday, where would your friends and family be taking you? And what would you be ordering?

Todd Kliman:

That’s funny. I do have one coming up in four weeks …

You know, I realize it sounds strange for me to say this, but I’m REALLY not the one to ask. I go out to restaurants all the time: Where can someone take me that I can’t take myself?

The challenge, in my case, is to come up with something special or different, like driving up to Baltimore for dinner. Or going to a crab house. Or chowing on dogs and beer at a ball game.

But if you’re asking me where would I most enjoy going right now, in the area, and what would I be ordering? Honestly, I’ve been thinking and thinking about this, and I hate to be difficult, I do, but it would probably depend on my mood. A great curry and a beer at Bollywood Bistro could make me ecstatically happy. Maybe I’d want a taco at R&R in Elkridge, sitting on a stool and eating an aggressively seasoned and sauced roasted, diced baby pig swaddled in two corn tortillas while watching people pump gas; that might not be everybody’s idea of a good time, but it makes me happy.

Also happy-making: pastas and bomboloni at Fiola; roast baby goat and pita and condiments at Komi; oysters and Sauvignon Blanc at the bar at Pearl Dive; sushi and sashimi at Sushi King in Columbia …

Capitol Hill:

On the tipping questions:

I generally tip 20% post-tax, but it’s situational. Sometimes it’s more. Sometimes, if service is good but flawed, I don’t feel right cutting the tip down a lot, so I’ll go 18 - 20% pretax. That’s also the tip for “kinda bad but...” service. I don't tip below 15% pretax for a regular restaurant meal, even if the service is bad. I give about 10 - 12% for takeout and buffets.

I haven’t encountered a situation where I think no tip is appropriate, and the only time I can think of that I would do it is at a place where I was known and paying cash and low on cash. I’ve done that but not often: “Don’t have enough for a decent tip now, but I’ll catch you next time.” (And I do.) This would not be popular done repeatedly. It's not right to do this out of revenge or as a complaint about service.

Writing a note on the bill would only be okay for me if it were for something positive. Something negative should be brought to the attention of a manager and not turn into some kind of grudge match with the server.

I typically tip more than 20% for decent service at a diner or luncheonette kind of place, as the bill total is pretty low. The tables turn fairly quickly, but just leaving $1.50 tip for any kind of meal seems cheap. Another customized tipping scenario is when buying bar food. I usually tip a set amount per drink and then 25% for food (up until a certain amount--if I’m effectively getting a full meal and am going to have a $50+ tab, I’ll go with 20% on the total).

Todd Kliman:

Great stuff.

Sensible and well-reasoned.

Thanks so much …

I’m going to guess that you’re in the industry in some way. Or close to the industry. Or once worked in the industry.

I’m not saying that to “out” you, whatever the harm would be in that (— I mean, none, right?), but your answers seem to suggest someone who thinks a lot about these sorts of things and thinks also about how the restaurant and its employees would regard things.

People that I talk to who are not close to the industry, or who don’t consider themselves food lovers, tend not to think about, care about, or even know these things.

(1 vote for post-tax tipping … )

Derwoodian:

I tend to tip pre-tax, unless it's really really good service- then it's post-tax, and I go up from there. For "s/he is trying", I tend to tip on the side of generous- I'm not trying to come off as some humanitarian, but if I see that the server is doing the best they can (and lots of times it's more the kitchen is in the weeds rather than the server's fault), I tend to tip well.

The one and only time that I've ever declined to leave a tip was at a diner near Fells Point, where the waitress deliberately seemed to ignore my fiancee and I (took a long time to be acknowledged, our orders were allowed to cool- and we could see them in the pass, just sitting there- coffee was never refilled, even after asking). She seemed to have a real problem with us being there- and we were not "problem customers" at all. While I can't say for sure that the shoddy/snotty service was b/c we're a mixed race couple (I mean, in this day and age, right?), I saw other- white- patrons get better service. Jeez, it still hurts, and this was a couple of years ago. Mentioned it to the owner, who didn't want to hear it.

Todd Kliman:

Thanks for chiming in …

(And btw, that’s another vote for pre-tax … )

The mixed-race shunning is real. I’ve experienced it in many forms, in many places, though my stories generally did not take place in this area. It’s not something you can quite put your finger on — and thank goodness for that, right? — but that’s not to say that it’s not there.

Potomac:

I've hosted a meal with Feastly and it was a great experience. Ironically, one of the guests DID end up being a childhood classmate of my husband's merely by coincidence. And it was a group of folks, young and old, with a genuine interest in the cuisine I was preparing (which happened to be Persian) who all left stuffed and happy. They came from MD, from DC, from VA...and every single one said they would do it again.

Todd Kliman:

These things can be a lot of fun.

I think a lot of how you feel about things at the end of the night has much less to do with the quality of the cuisine than with how comfortable you feel with the other people in the room. They’re essentially blind dates, after all.

Olney, MD:

I have noticed in the last two years an increased amount of people eating out on Father's Day. Last year we had to wait for over an hour (didn't have res). Seems like the Dads are getting the same amount of love as Moms nowadays :) Does Washingtonian post a list of happenings / specials on Fathers day on their website? Happy Father's day to all Dads!

Jessica Voelker:

Hello Olney,

We recently rounded up some Father’s Day specials on the Best Bites blog (also, check out Washingtonian.com’s complete guide to the day of the dads). While there are some things going on, there’s not the same frenzy of activity that surrounds Mother’s day.

We’ll put up more deals on the blog if we get enough to justify a post—meantime, I can tell you that your dad can get a free burger at the Counter in Reston Town Center if you go with him on June 17 and say to the server: “My dad is a BFD!” If you do go, may I suggest you tip said server generously?

Back to Todd…

Todd Kliman:

I hope it’s true, what you say.

I want it to be true.

To judge simply by the comparison of Father’s Day with Mother’s Day, you’d have to conclude that no one cares much at all about fathers. And I think fathers feed this, by not caring themselves. A lot of fathers are simply not THERE. Even if they’re there, they’re not there. They don’t like a fuss, or pretend they don’t like a fuss. A fuss = not manly, somehow. I think for a lot of fathers the greatest gift they could receive would be to be left alone for a chunk of the day. Do their own thing. Have their quiet.

My own father was not like that. I’m not like that. I want to make a day of it. Dim sum in the morning, maybe a ball game or art museum in the afternoon and a light meal at night, at home with my wife and sons and a bottle of wine …

Washington, DC:

Going to South Beach for a long weekend. Any recommendations on places to to? The girlfriend is choosing Nikki Beach Club for brunch and some Mexican Place, and I get to choose the other places. Besides Arcade Odyssey, Gigi, and Purdy Lounge, I don't really have any plans, except maybe booing LeBron James!

Todd Kliman:

Isn’t it great, the James-hate? It took America a long time, it seems, to figure out what we in DC knew from almost the very beginning. We knew he was a whiny, sniveling, entitled, self-aggrandizing cipher* years and years ago.

My picks … Michael’s Genuine Fine Food & Drink, Pubbelly, Sabor a Peru, Tinta y Cafe for cafe con leche and sandwiches …

*this is a general interest forum; “cipher” will have to take the place of more colorful, and accurate, language

Mark Zuckerberg:

Why is it so shocking that he didn't leave a tip? When I travel to a country where tipping isn't customary in restaurants, I don't tip. My understanding was that in Italy most people don't tip in restaurants, and the few that do only round up the bill a euro or two. Assuming that's true, why should he be held to a different standard just because he's rich?

Todd Kliman:

No, not just because he’s rich.

In European countries, it is customary that if the service is good, you leave some change. Zuckerberg left no change.

What’s surprising to me is that a guy who helped to make it possible for almost anybody to report their every action and thought, from what they glimpsed 49 seconds ago in the toilet bowl to the quality of the icing on the cupcake they just bought 7 seconds ago — a guy moreover who has been lauded for his smarts — doesn’t appear to understand that everything he does in public is under scrutiny. That bill WILL be posted.

So, to recap.

Not nice.

Not smart.

Del Ray:

WTF is bunny chow?

Todd Kliman:

It’s a curry.

You see it with lamb, with chickpeas. I’ve never heard the term used outside of South Africa.

Fairfax, Va:

Hi Todd,

Happy Early Father's Day! Where will you be celebrating/eating this year? My husband wants to do a picnic in either NoVa or DC, but we'd like to be able to open a bottle of wine at this picnic too. Do you know of any spots where it's allowed?

Thanks!

Todd Kliman:

That’s a really good, interesting question.

I wish I had an answer for you.

Hey Jessica, might this be fodder for a blog post? I would think that’d be good info for people to have, not just on Father’s Day but all summer.

Jessica Voelker:

Totally, we’ll look into it.

Orrtanna, PA:

I would add another element to your discussion about the beer you drink while feasting on steamed crab. If it is important to use local ingredients, why is not equally important to support local breweries? And that, in this region, means beers like The Raven, Dogfish, Victory, etc. Not some mediocre beer from a multinational based in Belgium.

I know you are an advocate for supporting local wineries. We should do the same for locally produced beers.

Todd Kliman:

I agree wholeheartedly.

There are some very good beers being made in the region and here at home, too, and some very good microbreweries and taverns and beer halls to drink them in as well.

Can you not drink local beers and regional beers and also, on the three or four or five occasions that you pick crabs, drink the chilled swill that goes great with it?

Does indulging from time to time in the latter mean that you somehow are less than serious about the noble cause of craft beer in America today?

If I stop in at a 7-11 while I’m on the road and ravenous and pick up a shrink-wrapped egg salad sandwich, am I doing damage to the cause of the food movement?

Logan Circle, DC:

Maybe a cooking class with one of your favorite chefs in the city?

Todd Kliman:

As — what?

A fun thing to do on Father’s Day?

Sure. But for me, no can do …

Chinatown, DC:

My tipping habits vary, usually from 18-20% pre-tax. My question is, what do people do at pho joints or places where you are served, but don't have a real dedicated waitstaff? I've found myself tipping below 15% at those type of places, but am I wrong to do that?

Todd Kliman:

It’s a good question.

I’d say yes, you’re wrong. : )

But seriously … why should a waitress at a pho parlor receive less than a waitress somewhere else? Good service is good service. And — at a pho parlor, that 5% is likely to be, what? Fifty cents? I mean, why not?

DC, DC:

I've got to stick up for craft beers and crabs. I think the problem is that a lot of craft beers are IPAs and are therefore very hoppy. The hop flavor in and IPA is too strong and overwhelms the flavor of the crabs. Look for a pilsner or a summer ale. Sierra Nevada's summer ale is a good choice because it has a very slight lemon flavor to it. No matter what, the beer has to be icy cold.

Todd Kliman:

Very, very cold, yes.

And particularly on a hot day, with the sun beating down on you as you pick, I think it helps to have something you can down quickly, without much thought. Later, when you’ve slowed down and you’re focusing more on your friends and family and the crab shells are piled high on the table, then a better beer makes more sense to me.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying a cold Bud or something similar is better. I’m saying in the situation, it’s better.

Naeem:

1. Do you yourself tip on pre-tax or post-tax? Tip on post tax

2. Do you leave 20 percent ALWAYS for good service, or is it situational? My starting point is 15% and if I receive very good service I will increase the tip amount if I feel that the service was average or subpar the tip will range in the 12%-15% range. I actually used to over-tip for the longest time and realized even if I tipped more and came back I was still going to get average to subpar service.

3. Is no tip at all ever justified? When? Explain Only justified if the service and management is completely inept at meeting the needs the diner.

4. What do you tip for pretty good service? 20%-25%, which I have only done at a few places (Eleven Madison Park, best service ever, MOTO, and The SAMM Room at The Bazaar).

5. What do you tip for kinda bad but gracious and smiling and hey-s/he's-really-trying service? 12%

6. Is it ever okay to write a note on the bill? When? Explain I think it would be best to bring up the issue with manager on duty or drop them an email a day later. Never really want to embaress a server while they are on duty.

Todd Kliman:

Thanks for writing in, Naeem …

(Another vote for post-tax … I think we’re pretty evenly divided, here, which means in this group of passionate diners, there’s no real consensus … Interesting.)

I think it’s interesting that you say your starting point is 15%. For a lot of diners, it’s 20%. Among the hard-core food-heads I know, everybody starts at 20. On the other hand, among the people I know for whom going out is fun but not sport, many of them are like you, they start at 15%.

Cap Hill:

Hi Todd - I have been lucky to visit Europe a number of times (including Rome) and I always leave a tip, ranging anywhere from 5% to 15% depending on the service.

I figure if we are shelling out a couple Ks for a vacation, what is a few dollars more? My husband likes to think of it as generating goodwill as Americans. Also, we both have decent jobs but I would not consider us overly wealthy.

Todd Kliman:

And that’s probably why none of us is rich as Croesus. Because we think about other people.

I think that’s an interesting point you bring up, about generating goodwill toward America. I tend to feel that way, myself.

Bunny Chow:

Thanks for the curry recommendations!

And if you ever happen to get to Cape Town, two wonderful (completely different) places we fell in love with there that all but justify the trip on their own: Greenhouse is prix fixe but playful, high end but completely comfortable, and far more cozy and relaxed than one might expect for a restaurant in a 5 star hotel.

Staff are attentive but confident and warm, and the food is both quite complicated Locally sourced, interestingly complex but not fussy, it had to be one of the best meals we've had anywhere (and with the current exchange rate, we got out of there for about $125 total for two, including wine and tip).

Pair that with a drive down to Kalk's Bay (just north of Simons Town) to Kalky's, a truly local's fish and chips place nestled below the docks. For the equivalent of about 4$ US they'll give you a piece of fried snoek or hake (or whatever else was swimming fresh that morning) about as big as your head on a huge bed of fries. This isn't like Eamonn's - think a lighter, slightly more chewy coating which pairs very well with the slightly sweet red sauce that is ubiquitous here. Take your plate out and sit on the dock and wait for the seals to poke their head out of the water and ask for a bite.

Best!

Todd Kliman:

Fantastic.

Thanks so much for these great tips …

DC, DC:

I need to preface this by saying I've held a bunch of different food service jobs, including being a waiter. I tip pre-tax for two reasons:

1) In DC, it's easy to double the tax to get a 20% tip.

2) I eat in MD, VA, and DC and it seem crazy to tip different amounts because the tax laws are different. I generally leave 20% for basic competent service. I've never left zero - if the situation is that bad, you've got to bring it up to the manager.

Less than basic competent service slides toward 15% and sometimes goes below. If the waiter is truly trying but the rest of the restaurant is failing, I often times reward with more than 20% because I really appreciate the effort and know what that is like. If the waiter tries to pawn off their own poor effort on their coworkers, then down goes the tip. Same with an indifferent or can't-be-bothered attitude.

Lastly, I feel an obligation to write a note if I leave a tip less than 15%. Otherwise, you just leave them feeling angry and perplexed. The note won't make the anger go away, but it at least leaves them with a reason.

Todd Kliman:

I like this a lot.

I particularly like what you have to say about a waiter or waitress fobbing a poor experience off on colleagues. And about leaving an explanation for a low tip.

Smart, considerate …

[I think btw that pre-tax is in the lead … ]

Arlingtongue:

--Do you yourself tip on pre-tax or post-tax?
Always post-tax. In most circumstances it is only a few dollars difference and not worth too much mental strain worrying about.
--Do you leave 20 percent ALWAYS for good service, or is it situational?
20% is the floor for good service. It can go higher. At a local bar, if I am a regular, tips generally average about 40% to offset buy backs.
--Is no tip at all ever justified? When? Explain
Never. Life is too short and waiters get paid to little to punish them more for what may be honest errors.
--What do you tip for pretty good service?
See above.
--What do you tip for kinda bad but gracious and smiling and hey-s/he's-really-trying service?
Like I said. 20%.
--Is it ever okay to write a note on the bill? When? Explain
Only if you want to look like an A-hole. If you have something to say, pipe up. Don't hide behind a note.

Todd Kliman:

And now we’re tied again, pre-tax and post-tax …

Thanks, Arlingtongue …

I’m running late for lunch, so it’s time to wrap up and say thank you all for the great questions today. And the thoughtful comments and the musings on tipping and the field reports, all of it. You’ve made a gray, rainy day enjoyable …

Our winner: I’m going with DC, DC, and that under-the-wire entry. A lot there that made sense to me, and smart in both directions …

DC, DC, drop me an email at tkliman@washingtonian.com and I’ll send out that copy of Clean Start by Terry Walters today …

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











[missing you, TEK … ]

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Posted at 04:52 PM/ET, 06/05/2012 RSS | Print | Permalink | Washingtonian.com Chats