Where can you get a three-star experience at one-star prices? Which hot new restaurant merits the scorching hype? The answer to all these questions and more can be found Tuesdays at 11 AM on Kliman Online.
From scoping out scruffy holes in the wall to weighing the merits of four-star wanna-bes, from scouring the 'burbs and exurbs to hitting the city's streets, Todd Kliman covers a lot of territory.
Winner of a James Beard Foundation Award in 2005 for the country's best newspaper column about food, Kliman is food and wine editor and restaurant critic for The Washingtonian. His writing has appeared in The New Yorker, Harper's, The Oxford American, Lucky Peach, The Daily Beast and Men's Health, among others, and he has been selected four times for inclusion in the Best Food Writing anthologies.
He is the author of The Wild Vine, a literary exploration of two entwined mysteries: an obscure grape that rose to prominence, only to disappear, and its present-day evangelist, a foul-mouthed transgendered multi-millionaire vintner on an obsessive quest to restore the legend of an antebellum southern doctor.
Todd previously taught writing and literature at American University and Howard University. At Howard, he was also the editorial advisor to The Illtop Journal, Chris Rock's humor magazine modeled after the Harvard Lampoon.
Can't wait a week to talk to Todd? Follow him on Twitter for dining reports, tips, and breaking news from the culinary world. Or write to him: firstname.lastname@example.org
You were talking about bagels a couple of weeks ago ... While walking to work last week I noticed that Wise Guys Pizza on Massachusetts Ave. & 3rd St. NW had a sign saying they have bagels straight from New York.
I stopped in and picked up two bagels, one for myself and one for a co-worker from New York. My bar for bagels is pretty low and I thought it was very good but pricey for $3 a bagel and a container of cream cheese (I asked for the cream cheese on the side), though there was quite a bit of cream cheese. My co-worker thought the bagel was very good and worth the $3.
If you have the chance to pick up a bagel there, I would be interested to hear your thoughts.
Thanks for the tip.
That’s at least two pizzerias in the area that I know of that are also doing bagels — the other being 2 Amys, in Cleveland Park.
Pretty interesting. I’m interested to try them.
Well, I guess we’re “functional.”
I apologize for the delay this morning. I’ve said that more than a few times the past 6 months, I know. But believe me — no one is more frustrated by these gaps and technical problems than I am. I just hope, for today, we have no further glitches …
Thanks for standing by … I appreciate it …
For the large group - with kids - in Arlington, why not Rocklands? Easy, highly kid friendly, and a lot cheaper than somewhere like Green Pig. It's not going to be the best-meal-you-ever-had, but it's usually a pretty good experience.
Dutch oven no-knead bread comes from the NYT's recipe a few years ago (http://www.nytimes.com/2006/11/08/dining/081mrex.html ) -
Cook's revamped it as well. Ridiculously easy, great thick crust. As for things I can't live without in the kitchen? Food processor for sure, since we do hummus every week in the winter and pesto in the summer. In the same vein, there's little more frustrating than trying to bake with an unreliable stove; thus, my hanging oven thermometer is one of the first things that goes into any new house. Neither are particularly sexy, but they sure make cooking easy.
Thanks for the Dutch Oven no-knead bread recipe. Great to have for those of us with Dutch Ovens and no real interest in laborious baking. ; ) (I kid. Sort of. My wife is the baker in the family.)
As for Rocklands — I didn’t mention it, because I didn’t think of it.
I’m not a fan. Never have been a fan. Every year or so, I go back and think — this’ll be the visit that does it, this’ll be the visit that converts me. I open the door and I smell those wonderful smoky smells, and I think: bring it on. And then I dig in and it’s like a popped balloon. Disappointing.
Does anyone else out there have a place like this — a place you want to like more, that you go back to every now and again thinking this time will be THE time, only to find it’s just as disappointing as before? I’d love to hear …
We went to Range for dinner last night and found things to be good but not memorable.
The two things that I took away from my experience were the atmosphere and my cocktail.
Why in the world would they have glass windows all around that look into a depressing Chevy Chase Pavilion? It gave the place a mall food court type ambiance and not just any mall, but the vacant and hideously revamped Chevy Chase Pavilion. I think the place would have been much better closing off those windows. It really makes the actual restaurants decor go unnoticed.
As for my cocktail. I ordered a "Mother in Law" which is similar to an old fashioned. I was a bit surprised when instead of mixing and muddling, the bartender took out a small vile and poured into a glass over a large cube of ice. A pre-made cocktail? I know restaurants do a lot of prep before service, but making drinks ahead of time too? This really made me wonder if they are trying to hide something, like the type of liquor they actually used and how much it they did use.
The drink was okay, but I think the taste was overpowered by the amount of bitters they used. I'm not sure that I'd return to Range, the food was fine (not memorable) but the setting just really was depressing.
Thanks for writing in …
Fine but not memorable was essentially my one experience as well, as I wrote a couple of weeks ago.
I think it’s worth mentioning that the restaurant is still in the early days — still settling in. It’s a massive operation, and I suspect this settling-in period will take longer as a result.
As for the space … yeah, not a fan.
I think it either needed to be more dramatic and glassy and glitzy, or warmer and more intimate. It’s sort of in between.
It’s funny. Over the past couple of weeks I have been thinking about the dining rooms in this city, and there aren’t a lot I would call aesthetically pleasing.
I came up with a lot that I would call ugly. Some are garish. Others are tired and past their prime.
We have a new crop of small, stripped-down places in the city, but of course they’re not really trying, most of them. Although they’re often smart not to.
Think about it — what are the DC dining rooms you would say are good-looking?
Just wondering why you slammed Union Market last week. Yes, some vendors are a bit expensive and friendly not that friendly, but those exists in every market, and to me they are the minority at Union Market where there are so many good things to talk about.
I've been a regular every weekend for a month now, and some places consistently deliver what I am looking for: a friendly face, very good food or drink, and an opportunity to ask questions or taste something new. I am mostly talking about Blue Apron, Neopol Smokery (that Salmon BLT!) and Peregrine Espresso. The big bars are a hit and miss, depending on which server you get I think. The cheese place is pretty good, and it is simply nice to have a place like this in DC, finally!
Why be negative about it when you can talk about all the positive things it offers, not to mention free parking you don't have to drive around for?
Well, for one, I’m neither a civic booster nor a publicist. I am paid to offer my opinions, and I think people like that I strive for candor.
I did say I think there are some good things about the market. I also said I would need a lot more space — more than I have here, as well as more time to think; an essay, ideally — to unpack my thoughts about the place. What it adds up to, to me, is something far more complicated than just what goods are on offer. I think what stands, now, speaks to many things that are going on in the city right now — some good, some less good. In that sense, I think Union Market is fascinating, as a symbol, of sorts, of the new, emerging DC.
I think the place could have been much more than it is. I hope it grows and evolves.
A warning: If you ever find yourself at the Queen Vic, DO NOT order any of their attempts to make Indian food.
The daily samosa was a trio of pallid looking turnovers that resembled mini-hors d'oeuvres at a nighmare-ish cocktail party. The onion bahji was a sad pile of fried onion straws. Collectively they were a crime against Indian food. The dahl palak at least resembled a plate of lentils and had a smattering of Indian spices. But one can find better efforts in the packaged food section of Giant.
I understand that restaurants/bars have their menu strengths and weaknesses, but if you are going to put something on your menu (and the Queen Vic has offered Indian dishes on their menu since they opened), at least have a basic idea of what the dishes should look and taste like. The Queen Vic does not. But to give them credit, they make good chips (and not french fries, but chips).
Um, thanks for the report …? ; )
(By the way: after a second bout of technical problems, I think we are on our way, everyone … Thanks for being patient … )
Thanks for this column, Todd. I really enjoy your writing, especially the piece on "Level 3" conversations.
My spouse and I are relocating to northern California in 6 months, and with the just-published Top 100 restaurant list I am making my restaurant bucket list for the area. What would be on yours?
Well, I have to begin by saying — I hate the term “bucket list.”
But I hear you.
For right this second, I’d put Little Serow on there, Izakaya Seki, Fiola, most of the Eden Center, pizzas at Vin 909 Winecafe in Annapolis, Dama in Arlington, Bangkok Golden (for its Laotian menu) in Falls Church, Bagels and … in Annapolis, Pabu in Baltimore, The Inn at Little Washington, La Caraqueña in Falls Church, R&R Taqueria in Elkridge and … let me keep thinking —
But that’s a start … Good luck, and if you hit any or all of these, I hope you’ll favor us with a quick report on them …
Early dispatch from the field. We've stopped in to the new Beuchert's Saloon near the Eastern Market metro twice since it opened. The look of the place is wonderful - cozy and warm, and feels like its been there forever.
The menu, however, doesn't lend itself to being a "neighborhood" spot (small, expensive), which conflicts with the vibe of the place in my opinion. Nonetheless, I can see us competing regularly for the dozen or so bar seats.. the cocktails we tried were delicious. (In terms of "speakeasy" experience in this hood.. I 'll take competing for a bar stool here versus dealing with Harold Black's absurdity any day)
Thanks for writing in …
I think it’s great that that part of the city is beginning to flower a little.
But speaking of “speakeasies” — is anyone else out there made uneasy by these latter-day “speakeasies” and their recent proliferation?
I think it’s great that places want to push themselves and try new things. But the original speakeasies were for everyone, a chance to slip in under the detection of authorities and have a good time over a drink or two or three. The latter-day speakeasies — and this includes restaurants such as Minibar — are all about exclusivity.
They flatter the customer by saying, in effect: you, my friend, are in the know enough to know. To know where we are; to know what we do; to know that this drink or this dish is worth what others — the undiscerning, the philistines, the folks who are not in the know as you are, my friend — will regard as a prohibitively high cost.
My 27th birthday is next Friday and I'm looking for a trendy restaurant with great food that can accommodate a group of 6-8 people for dinner in DC.
I know it's kind of pushing it to look for a happening restaurant on a Friday at this late date, but a few good friends from out-of-town have just told me they're coming down and I'm hoping you can help us find a place that will ensure a great time! I'd prefer to stay away from Asian, but other than that, open to anything, thanks!
It’s not too late to begin looking, no.
The question is, how trendy is trendy? Most of the trendy places don’t take reservations.
If you don’t mind going early, like at 5 or 5:30, or really late, like at 9, you shouldn’t have a problem with waiting. In which case I’d look into Estadio and Cork.
Zaytinya has been around a while, but I still consider it one of the hot trendies, and — unlike the vast majority of new hot trendies — they take reservations. Mintwood Place also takes reservations. Something to consider.
Some dining rooms that I like:
Proof is quietly elegant. I enjoy the original Rasika (slightly exotic loungy) but found the West End Rasika to have a generic wood/metal/glass hardness. I've always enjoyed the neighborhood bistro bustle of Montmartre. I like the bohemian feel of the downstairs of Bar Pilar, before it gets too crowded. The back courtyard of Tabard Inn, lovely.
You named some good ones.
I think Proof is in the very, very top when it comes to aesthetics.
And not surprisingly, most of your (short) list is taken up with small, intimate spots.
But let’s see now … The Oval Room, Woodward Table, Palena, Bibiana, Equinox, Acadiana, PassionFish, the late PS 7’s, Tosca …
I recall seeing a write up for a chef that now serves a price fixed meal out of his home in Arlington. I would love to try his meal out, but can't remember the details.
Any help would be appreciated!
I believe you’re thinking of Chez le Commis.
Go on Facebook and type in the name for more details …
I missed another week of chatting! For weeknights I use the SousVide Supreme for make ahead dishes and on the fly stuff.
I can come home and toss in chicken breasts, pork chops and tender cuts of beef (usually flatiron) that cook up in cook up in 45 minutes, during which time I get the rest of the meal together.
Earlier this week I prepped a tri tip roast and my wife (who works from home) put it in around noon. I just came home and gave it a nice sear on the grill.
As for another topic, I have a goat leg from Painted Hand Farm (via the Bethesda Central Farmers Market). I'm just not sure how I'm going to cook it yet.
Goat leg — fantastic.
How much did it set you back? How big is it?
I’d say slow roast or even barbecue (though weather conditions are not exactly looking favorable over the next couple of days).
On tipping for carryout, from a non-insider...
As someone who until recently lived alone and ordered carryout often, this has been a conundrum of mine for many years. Though I typically tip generously for a seated meal (20% rounded up to the nearest dollar at minimum), I'm loath to tip for carryout, regardless of the class of the restaurant. As a previous commenter said, serving a $20 bottle of wine requires as much work as serving a $150 bottle of wine. So too does packaging a Big Mac require as much work as packaging a Neapolitan pizza or kung po chicken, but nobody is suggesting we tip the cashiers at McDonald's. Can't we assume the menu price accounts for the cost of the basic provision of the food to the customer? I tell them what I want, I pay for it, they give it to me. I'm not sure what I'm tipping for.
Thanks for weighing in on this debate …
You know, I’ve been thinking about this for most of the past week, looking at all the arguments (and there were some good ones), and I have to say — I have come back, pretty much, to my original thinking on this. I don’t really see the point of tipping on takeout. Though I will continue to throw a couple of bucks at the pizza guys at my neighborhood spot, if I have the cash on hand.
Where would recommend for a weekend date night that won't break the bank.
We like trendy places in the city, open to most types of cuisine, but a sceny-type place would be preferable. Toki Underground last week was amazing!
I think I know what you’re talking about, but what sort of scene, exactly. Lots of “scenes” in the city.
Little Serow’s a scene, but I don’t know that it’s a SCENE.
I love it, and I also love Izakaya Seki. Again, not a SCENE, more of a scene.
Neither will break the bank.
Estadio is more of a SCENE. It won’t break the bank, either.
I wrote in a few weeks ago for recommendations on what to order at Maple Ave. You mentioned the shrimp and grits, which I tried. I enjoyed the dish, but to be honest, I didn't think it was any better than shrimp and grits I've had elsewhere - DC Coast, and even Georgia Browns. I'm just curious why you think it's a standout.
Also, while our meal was excellent (I'm still dreaming about the the creme fraiche wings), I think they really should have sprung for another few hundred square feet of space. My chair was right up against the door to the kitchen, and I got bumped a few times from waitstaff going in and out. Also, every seat in the place is no more than 10 or 15 feet or so from the front door so everyone gets a blast of cold air when the door opens. The corridor to the bathrooms was almost comical it was so narrow - anyone carrying a few extra pounds might have trouble squeezing through. I'm all for keeping overhead low, but I think they've taken it to an absurd extreme.
All that said I'm going back for the wings.
The space is what it is — a former mid-century donut shop, I want to say.
Not much more they could do to expand it. Only thing they could do is to move.
You either like this kind of a space or you don’t. I do. I think they’ve made the most of it, and part of the charm of the place is that it’s so unexpected. Again, you either like that about it or you don’t.
If you’re depending on it for a special night, or just to provide certain comforts over larger, more conventional places, then you’re bound to be a little disappointed, I think. Maple Avenue is one of those places you have to give yourselves to, and I, personally, don’t mind that a bit. Professionally, I don’t mind it, either.
As for the shrimp ‘n’ grits — well, I don’t know what to tell you. I can only tell you what I tasted when I ordered the dish. Bear in mind, your dish, though nominally the same, is a different dish. That’s one of the interesting things about restaurants, and one of the challenging things about reviewing them — there are no guarantees, and no fixed identities.
My dish was really good, comparable to good versions I’ve had in the Bayou.
Back during prohibition my uncle Vic was a bootlegger for lack of a better term. He ran liquor down from Canda into Western and Central PA area. Papa Joe Kennedy wanted in on business. Uncle Vic said no and Joe Kennedy put a hit out on him. He lost eye in the battle for territory. When Prohibtion ended Uncle Vic funneled some his criminal proceeds to his 5 brothers and those funds were used to help start the Little League.
Speak Easy todays are for posuers who think they are important and want to impress their friends while drinking some inane creation by a bartender who wants to known as a mixologist. I prefer being out in thefield after a tough day working herding dogs drinking fine untaxed VA corn liquor with my friends and telling stories.
Clifton — that’s some admirable persistence. Five questions submitted, and fifth time, evidently, is the charm …
I’m giving you the last word …
Thanks, everyone, for your questions and comments and tips, and especially your patience today … I’ll try to get to the bottom of things for next week …
Be well, eat well, and let’s do it again next Tuesday at 11 …
[missing you, TEK … ]