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 was a finalist for the MFK Fisher Distinguished Writing Award, and recently took home first-place honors for feature writing from the Association of Food Journalists.
Kliman 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
W H E R E I ' M E A T I N G N O W . . .
The new king of Koreatown. This is the best Korean barbecue out there right now, served up by a slew of young, t-shirted staffers in a rollicking, industrial setting. Go for the marinated pork ribs.
Bangkok Golden, Falls Church
I was tempted to say this a while back, but didn't. I will now, after a recent knockout visit: I'd rather go here, for the Lao menu, than Little Serow. The range of tastes is vast, and every plate is alive with flavor -- bright and pungent and smoky and funky. Not to mention crunch and heat. Not to mention a shorter wait and a lighter bill (my recent meal of four dishes and a beer, pre-tax: $43).
Rose's Luxury, DC
I love the crackle in the room when you walk in. I'm not talking about mere noise; lots of restaurants have noise. I'm not even talking about buzz, that sense that a new place is hot. This one has an energy that is unmistakable, a sense that you have entered a kind of rare and cherished zone where the enthusiasm of the kitchen and the staff is returned in kind by the diners, who all seem to walk out the door with smiles on their faces. It's not hard to understand why. Rose's Luxury has an old-school vibe, and a sort of making-it-up-as-we-go-along feel, from the homey, unassuming way the menu bids you to settle in and order to the dinner party-run-amok vibe to the yahrzeit-look-alike votives to the beer glasses that are sawed-off wine bottles. The chef, Aaron Silverman, logged stints in such high-profile kitchens as Momofuku in New York and Husk and McCrady's in Charleston, and you don't have to look hard to see elements of each of these places in the room and on the plate. Like his mentors David Chang and Sean Brock, he aims to bring off a marriage of extreme playfulness and extreme precision. The bulk of the menu consists of a dozen small plates in which Silverman sets out to cross the wires, compositionally speaking, and see what happens. A pate is a braiding of French, Italian (garlic bread are the toasts), Vietnamese (the rich, crushed-peanut topped spread brims with star anise), and I want to say Jewish (the brine for the jalapenos, onions and cukes that add crunch and tang tastes deli to me). It's seamlessly done, and highly addictive. He crosses high and low in a soup that tastes at once like liquefied popcorn and a delicate lobster veloute (the sweetness calls out for some sort of counterbalancing ingredient, or more lobster). It's not all derring-do. His gnocchi are more properly a kind of ravioli, stuffed with fennel and mint, sauced with not-too-much butter and topped with a generous scattering of crunchy toasted breadcrumbs. You'd be hard put to find five better pasta dishes in town right now. The final course is a page not out of Momofuku or Husk or McCrady's, but out of Komi -- share plates for two. In one, you lay luscious slices of perfectly smoked brisket on griddled Texas toast, add on tangy strands of pickled cabbage and smear the whole thing with a fluffy horseradish cream. The other is built around a beautifully brined pork chop -- sweet and aromatic and rich as the best pork can be -- with potlikker beans and a textbook red-eye gravy. The final act needs re-staging. The lack of a pastry chef doesn't help, nor does the tendency to over-think and over-embellish. Quenelles of chocolate cream sprinkled with dried rose petals and intended for spreading on slices of charred bread feels twee, not interesting, and hardly satisfies. More of the sink-in simplicity of the share courses would go a long way. Still, this is one of the most exciting debuts of the year. I'd even go so far as to say it's one of the most exciting debuts of the past three years.
New chef, same supremely assured restaurant. William Morris has risen to the top spot with the departure of Tony Chittum, and is a chef to watch. One of the best dishes on his tightly scripted menu of 15 dishes is also the unlikeliest: a roasted garlic soup. The taste of garlic is subtle, and the soup, a chicken stock base, gets its richness from a touch of cream and a yolk at the bottom of the bowl that you're meant to stir in after the broth is poured. One moment it tastes like a light veloute, another like a liquid roasted chicken, and another -- after you scoop up the fine dice of potatoes -- a chowder.
Khan Kabob, Chantilly
The best karahi I've had in ages, maybe ever, is a version here made with lamb brains. The brains, for the leery, resemble tiny curds, and the sauce of garlic, ginger, cilantro, tomato and chilis is so concentrated, and so smoky, that even after you've had your fill it's difficult to stop dipping your torn naan into the hammered metal vessel. Tariq Khan, the owner, was for many years part of the Ravi Kabob empire; he's created a worthy rival.
Yia Yia's Kitchen, Beltsville
If you want to see what a gyro can be, order the pork. It's sliced from a conical spit, and the meat is so dark you'd think it was charred. That's the effect of slow cooking, of melting fat, herbs and spices coming together to form a kind of bark. The meat is luscious, like that of a great spare rib, and you can pick up notes of fresh oregano and cinnamon. It's enfolded by a thick, griddled pita, into which the cooks stuff fistfuls of hot fries, along with tzaziki, chopped onions and tomato. The rest of the menu is rewarding, too -- pork chops with long-cooked green beans, onions and tomatoes; a good pastitsio; and a strapping mound of lamb bolognese.
Ya Hala, Vienna
The tabbouleh is made-to-order, and superb -- an explosion of tender, sweet parsley and fruity olive oil. The baba ghanous is exceptional, too -- subtly smoky, perfectly textured. If only for these two dishes, I'd recommend making the trek to this tiny, friendly Lebanese diner. But there's good stuff beyond, including an array of meat pies, minted yogurts, and small, delicate desserts. Alas, the meats, though flavorful, are not as tender as the rest of the cooking would seem to promise, but a dip in the excellent garlic sauce and a pile of perfect rice makes up for it.
We tried out Dama last week on your recommendation - this place is the opposite of overpriced food and fantastically warm and welcoming.
An order of lamb tibs and their vegetarian sampler was enough food for four people (let alone the two of us!) and they kept bringing more injera so as to not leave any sauce unsopped. Total was less than $30.
It's enough to make me wonder how I could work take-out doro wat into Thanksgiving dinner...or at least the lentils. Thanks for the fantastic recommendation - we'll be back!
This is wonderful to hear. Thanks so much for following up with me.
I’m glad to hear that Dama came through for you. I think it’s a gem of a place.
And Ethiopian food at the T-day table! I love it.
Doro wat is a long, long time at the stove, in case you’re wondering. I’ve made it a couple of times. It’s similar to building a gumbo or making a French onion soup, in that you spend a long time on one thing, in this case caramelizing a mess of onions and getting them nice and dark and sticky. Once they’re a deep, rich brown, then you can begin the spicing.
Give it a try.
Mesir wot, a red lentil dish you probably had, might be a tad bit easier. Look into it.
Good morning, everyone.
Eager to hear where you’ve been — what restaurants, what cities, what you’re thinking about for next week’s big meal, etc. Any family recipes you’ve got, please share them. And any others, share those, too.
I’m going to spatchcock my turkey this year, I’ve decided, and would be interested in hearing any stories from people who’ve done this before.
One final bit of housekeeping — HAPPY BIRTHDAY, T-CUB, on turning two today …
My family only cares for the white meat so we always just do a turkey breast or two. But not just any turkey breast, Jerk Turkey.
Years ago I found a Jerk Turkey recipe in a magazine, it's been a hit ever since.
Marinating the turkey for a full day and cooking it at high temps makes it flavorful and moist. Not to mention, it goes perfectly with the rest of our Cuban American Thanksgiving meal - congris, yuca con mojo, stuffing and sweet potatoes.
Your table sounds fantastic, Maria. And I love the idea of yuca con mojo, which I love, on Thanksgiving.
Do you have handy the recipe for the Jerk Turkey? Wondering in particular what the marinade is.
Todd - My husband and I are considering a mini staycation/babymoon out at the Salamander Resort in Middleburg. The resort looks wonderful, but I dont think we want to eat on premise (eek - terrible Post write up.. have you been out?).
So the question, is there anywhere wonderful in Middleburg or even nearby you would recommend? Have you heard anything about the latest with Ashby Inn's chef?
What I’d do, if I were you, is book a table at Girasole, in the Plains.
It’s about an eight-mile drive south — take you about 15 minutes.
And then you’ll settle in to a cozy, soft-lit dining room for a good, relaxing meal of casual Italian cooking. It’s an enjoyable restaurant. Not a splurge of a meal kind of place, not a gastronomic getaway — but the kind of place you wish were closer to the city, because you could see yourself going once a month.
Go. And give us a report when you’re back …
Big fan. I'd love your take on a phenomenon I've encountered a couple of times the last couple of weeks: single-sex staffs at higher-end restaurants.
A couple weeks ago I went to Little Serow. After standing in line for the better part of an hour (this during that cold snap) and indulging in a couple of courses of shockingly good food, I was not about to start noticing the waitstaff. But my girlfriend was, and she had a point: the hostesses and all the waitstaff were women, young (within ten years of each other by my reckoning) and conventionally pretty, and dressed in mid-century dresses. The dresses I get--they were uniforms, nice to look at, sure, and they complemented the soundtrack--but the very specific demographics of the staff: I can't say I've seen that at many other restaurants.
..Except just last week, at the Bombay Club: all the servers I saw--as well as the host, and the coat checker--were men.
Especially in light of the recent brouhaha over Time's all-male "Gods of Food" list, these demographics strike me as..I don't know exactly. Is it a class thing? A sex(ism) thing? A coincidence that means nothing in particular?
Yeah, I don’t know either.
It’s an interesting thing you bring up. And without an obvious answer, I don’t think.
I will say that in all of the Indian restaurants I have dined at, here and abroad, I have almost never come across a waitress.
An all-male staff at a restaurant is a tone-setter, for sure. I tend not to like it. I like heterogeneity, as I do in most things. But I understand why restaurateurs might go in that direction. It sets a business-like tone, a very masculine tone.
What does having an all-female staff communicate? I mean, beyond the “breastaurants” — industry term — like Hooters and Twin Peaks? I don’t know.
The question in this case is whether the composition of the staff is intentional on the part of Monis and Co., or whether it just happened that way.
Just to jump off for a second … one of the things I’ve always been interested in is looking at a restaurant as either “masculine” or [the opposite of masculine].
Buck’s, for instance, is not a masculine-coding restaurant. Bourbon Steak pretty obviously is. Bombay Club pretty obviously is.
But what about some others? Proof? Masculine-leaning, it seems to me, though not explicitly masculine.
Rose’s Luxury? Not masculine.
What are you thoughts on Michael White's new restaurant which is scheduled to open today?
I know you have not eaten there yet (three week rule, which I now use too, very good tip) but looking over the menu I do not see anything that jumps out at me that entices me to make a reservation.
One good thing I did notice is that the price point is cheaper than Fiola. Seems more in line with Casa Luca prices
I ate at Osteria Morini in New York a couple of weeks ago, to get a sense of what we all should expect from the new DC outlet.
One thing is that the menu is full of really rich, heavy things. Nearly every pasta has at least one item, and often two, that send it into over-the-topness.
Among the courses I had that night were the mare, a lightly cooked, marinated seafood dish that I liked, and would have liked more without the addition of shrimp, which was flat-tasting. I enjoyed my crostini, which came unassembled — spreads and toasts — though I had hoped for some more pop in the flavors, some more twists from the expected.
They do a very good polpette, in marinara, with grilled toasts — a dish you could eat once a week, and, I kid you not, one of the lighter meat dishes on the menu (because there’s no attempt at larding on).
I mentioned not much in the way of lightness — well, don’t look for much in the way of seasonality, either. It’s not that kind of a place. Not a bad thing; just sayin’.
I suspect they’ll do well. The area is in short supply of convincingly rustic Italian spots that get it right in the room and (mostly) on the plate.
On Thanksgiving: Over the last few years, we have given up on the idea of doing a turkey, for a couple reasons.
First, as you say, they're just not that flavorful birds. Second, we are usually no more than a family of 3 or 4, with most of the extended family outside of the country, and turkeys are just unnecessarily large (particularly when none of us really wants to eat the breast meat anyways).
Last year, we did a honey glazed duck to beautiful effect- I've never been able to get that rich dark color on a turkey the way we did on this one (I do have to work on drying the bird out to get a skin that crackles next time though). This year, the plan is a whole roasted fish, papillote style, based on whatever's fresh from the fishmonger the day before.
The one realization we did have is that many thanksgiving sides that we love- stuffing, mashed potatoes, sweet potato casserole- don't actually suit a steamed fish that well. We're debating whether to ignore that and prepare the sides we like anyways, or to make some adjustments.
We're leaning towards ignoring that, though I'm thinking of prepping a vinegar slaw to go with the fish.
And as for the duck, who out there wouldn’t prefer a honey-glazed roasted duck to a turkey?
And then there’s the prep: turkey takes an awful lot of work to make it delicious; ducks, not much at all, really.
I would love, love, love to have duck at my table. But I have two dissenters, so unfortunately no can do.
Let me know how your fish en papillote with vinegar slaw works out.
Hi Todd! As always thanks for the great conversation here each week.
I'm trying to decide where to go for a birthday dinner in a few weeks. Looking for something that won't break the bank but will still be a delicious and memorable night out. Say one or two drinks for each person (2 people), an entree each and a dessert to share for around $100.
Thinking of Green Pig Bistro, Red Hen or Chez Billy at the moment. Any of these stand out to you as a winner? Or is there anything else I'm not thinking of?
Of the three you tossed out, Red Hen, and pretty clearly over the others.
But at the risk of repeating myself too often, here — I’d get yourself over to Rose’s Luxury while you still can.
I’ve been three times, now, and honestly I don’t think there’s a better, more exciting meal to be had in the city right now. I’ve rarely seen a new place that is so assured, that so skillfully balances daring with delivering, and that radiates such warmth and joy.
Just to speak a little more about that last point: it’s a wonderful thing to be in the presence of a staff that is so excited to be working there, so enthusiastic about the mission and the cooking. It adds immeasurably to the experience of dining. And it makes you then take a long, hard look around at every other place you visit, and wonder why there isn’t that same sense of joy and excitement.
I wrote in with the recipe for the spatchcocked turkey and now reading the post about the jerk turkey makes me pine for an opportunity to do more of a non-traditional Thanksgiving spread, but sadly I doubt that can happen.
My family is rooted in the traditional dishes: non-fancy roast turkey, standard mashed potatoes, stuffing, sweet potatoes, etc.
Don't get me wrong, I enjoy all those things, but when I see all these new recipes that come out every year that shake up the traditional I want to try them, but I know my family will never go for it.
I'm the "food guy" in my family, always hip to new restaurants and such, and people ask for recommendations on where to go, but when it comes to something like Thanksgiving, it's the traditional spread and nothing else. At least we do something different at Christmas every year -- this year I'm thinking of doing duck two ways (confit and seared breast).
Yeah, you can’t mess with people’s traditions. And I’m more understanding of that, I think, than I used to be, because think about it: how often in American life do we all get to sit down together at the table, family and loved ones all gathered around for a ritual that has nothing to do with death and mourning, or any religious rite — but simply to eat. To eat and to drink, and to express our gratitude for the riches we have. Kind of wonderful.
Life is fast, and chaotic, and getting more chaotic all the time, and this is one of the few instances in our lives where we do what we did the previous year. And what we did the previous year was not unlike what we did 10, 20, 30, 40 years ago. Turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing, pies, etc. Again: kind of wonderful.
At the same time, boy what I wouldn’t give to throw a buckling change-up the meal and do something I’ve never done before. : )
Todd- going to a concert with friends in DC at DAR Constitution Hall next week. Where would you recommend going to grab drinks and dinner before or after (depending on time) in that general area?
Looking for a lively place, upbeat vibe, and delicious food and libations!
General area is right; I’m going to point you to a few places, all within a short walk, but nothing immediately nearby.
Founding Farmers is probably the liveliest of the bunch, and with the kind of drinks I think you may be looking for.
Old Ebbitt Grill is a classic. Simple regional American food, generally well done, and a good raw bar.
Bombay Club is a more lavish time, and also further than the others. It’s also not the lively vibe you’re hoping for. But the cooking is grand and often transporting.
In this era of "false casual," I just need to give a shout out to The Diner for keeping it real and serving reasonably-priced, quality food.
I'd much rather pay $10 for a plate of well-prepared catfish than double that for an overcooked rockfish. $6 for a BLT? You can barely get in and out of Panera for that price. An order of pie that comes with a giant scoop of ice cream that doesn't cost $9. Top it off with leisurely, pleasant service.
You’re welcome. And thank you for your praise of a place we don’t often talk about on here, but which almost always is what you hope it will be.
I’d like to know, though, where you can get a rockfish dish in this city for $20. That’s a deal. And, unless I’m mistaken — a fiction.
I'm looking for a 25-30 pound suckling pig to smoke this weekend, know where I can find one?
Call the good guys at Canales Quality Meats, on Capitol Hill. (202) 547-0542. canalesqualitymeats.com
I’d call them this afternoon, they’re going to need the time to fill your order.
Let me know how it works out for you, ok?
That quart of creme fraiche wound up layered with root veg (potato/sweet potato/turnip) and gruyere for a spectacular gratin...in a buttered dish layer thinly sliced veg slightly overlapping, top with creme fraiche, grated cheese, repeat layers.
Bake at 400 for ~20 min, then lower temp to 350 and bake until bubbling and golden--like another 30 min. Let rest for 10 min.
I salted and peppered the veg as I layered.
And please, share with us whatever you’ve worked on and mastered.
I’m sure there are others out there who would love to attempt this dish. Including me.
And I’m sure you have more …
I have to echo the comments about now special of a holiday thanksgiving is.
For those of us who travel "home" there's something so comforting about those dishes - the stuffing, the corn pudding, the mashed potatoes that are ao simple yet I never get them quite the same in my own.
I have to say though - that perhaps the most special part for me is the cutting of the turkey. It's something that my dad did each year and I have distinct memories of my mom calling him in when it was ready to be carved.
My dad unfortunately lost his life suddenly and when we were all too young - but I love when that electric knife comes out each year. It's the only time it's used - so as the years pass - there's something comforting, albeit bittersweet, in knowing only a few hands have touched that knife other than my father's.
I love this. Thank you.
The electric knife that anyone on the outside looking in would see as just a knife, but which is resonant with meaning, a symbol greater, really, than even the turkey and corn pudding and stuffing. A reminder that your father is present, even in his absence.
Savor your time together with your family this year …
Todd - wanted to follow-up on our anniversary dinner at Et Voila.
The food was very good - we really enjoyed the endive salad and the Branzino (I would order the ricotta gnochi on its own).
The only down side was (as suggested last week) that a reservation didn't mean much. We had an 8:00 and weren't seated until around 8:30. We had a babysitter on the clock and there was no room at the bar.
I know that you have provided many recommendations on Philadelphia in the past, so I wanted to get your thoughts. My wife and I are headed up there for a night next week before Thanksgiving (the grandparents are watching the kids). We have a reservation at Serpico for dinner. I wanted to see if you had any other dinner recommendations we should consider as well as lunch and breakfast recommendations. We are staying in center city. I have heard about the Oyster Bar for lunch...any recommendations would be great.
Have a Happy Thanksgiving!
I’d add Alla Spina and Vernick Food & Drink to your list.
And that’s troubling to hear re: Et Voila!
Again, I’m thinking of that Seinfeld bit I linked to last week. “You know how to take the reservation. You don’t know how to hold the reservation.”
30 minutes with a reservation is unreasonable. I’d be interested in hearing what all the industry folk who read this chat think. I think that you should have had a couple of dishs comped. Or all of your drinks.
Funny you note the importance of the staff's excitement - we stopped into Liberty Tavern for dinner recently and were tickled pink by the enthusiasm of our waiter.
I tend to be wary of a waiter who tells you about what they recommend (thinking they are being told to push something), but Kyle was so excited about the food and spoke so knowledgeably about the details of the meal that it really added a nice warmth to dinner.
Also, the onions the bartender there pickles and drops into a Gibson? Might be the best thing I ate all night - and that's saying a lot, given how much care went into the piece of serious pig that took up our main course (there's a lot of pig in this town, but it takes talent and judgment not to just go for fatty overkill - the chef there has both). If they sold those onions in jars, I'd buy a case.
Liberty Tavern, are you listening?
Thanks for chiming in … and I’m glad to see you single out Kyle by name.
A good waiter or waitress is a very big deal. Can rescue a mediocre meal, can turn a pretty good meal into a good time, and can make a good meal great and even memorable.
A lot of people prefer a server to be faceless and “professional” — by which they mean to serve and not chat, not interact, not show a personality. I can appreciate that style, if it’s done well. But speaking personally, I prefer a not-robot, a not-robot who is well-cared for by management and exudes a sense of being at a great party for the night.
Thanks to the early timing of Hanukkah this year I was curious if you planned to add a little Hanukkah with your Thanksgiving this year?
These are two of my favorite Holidays for the sentimentality of the food. I can't imagine giving up my favorites from either holiday so we will be doing potato pancakes with the usual accompaniments and serving a brisket along with the turkey.
I’ve been thinking about this for a few weeks, now. Seems a shame not to recognize the oddity of this coincidence, something that won’t happen again for another 77,000 years.
But latkes are so much work, and last-minute work too, that I wonder if it’ll work with the timing of the rest of the meal.
But if not latkes, what else? And if not now, when?
Hey Todd, I would love to try Rose's Luxury but the no reservation policy is a downer. Do you have any idea what the wait would be like if we arrived at, say, 6:00 pm on a Saturday?
Honestly — no idea.
But it’s not as if there aren’t six dozen bars up and down Barracks Row to spend 45 minutes to an hour in beforehand.
I love your advice! In years past, my family has done a non-traditional Christmas Dinner (we have a big celebration on Christmas Eve every year and two big, labor-intensive meals in short order just seems like too much work). We like find an easy way to have a special meals, a personal favorite was to order uncooked crab cakes from G and M up towards Baltimore and just throw them under the broiler when it was time to eat. A little bit of wine and maybe some cole slaw and everyone is happy.
Can you think of any other delicacies we could buy and cook at home? There is something really nice about spending the whole holiday in pajamas.
Dinner in pj’s. Why not?
You could — and I say this knowing that I will be getting an email in about an hour from the head of PETA — buy yourself a lobe of foie gras from a gourmet shop like Dean and Deluca.
It’s surprisingly easy to cook. Cut a slab, slide it into a medium-hot pan, and watch your money go up in smoke — but seriously, it takes about a minute or so to sear up beautifully. You just need something sharp and/or sweet to go with it, preferably both.
Sexism? Classism? This post reminds me of the Seinfeld episode where Elaine tries to get a job in the diner after she notices that all the wait staff are women who are very well endowed. She applies and isn't hired and goes nuts saying they are biased because she is not as well endowed.
Elaine then does off on all the "bimbos" that the owner has hired and she basically calls them all whores and he throws her out,but not until after letting her know that they are all his daughters! Priceless.
Not really pertinent to the original posters question, just a fun reminiscence.
I like not-pertinent.
Especially if it’s impertinent. ; )
Thanks for the reminiscence.
Gotta run, everyone. Thank you all for the recipes and tips and memoirs. I really appreciate it.
Be well, eat well, and let’s do it again next week at 11 …
[missing you, TEK … ]
[and, once more — happy, happy birthday T-cub! … ]