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: email@example.com
Based on your visit to Yia Yia's kitchen last week, I asked the hubby to stop by and pick up a couple of gyros for us last night. We got the lamb/beef and roast pork and shared them.
Both were very flavorful with that delicious sauce and a few surprise fries thrown in made for a nice treat. Not sure which I liked best. They're expensive at 9 and 10 bucks respectively so not sure how much we'll patronize their establishment. Oh, I also tried the lemon rice soup w/chicken. Also very flavorful.
Now, on another note, I'm planning a gathering for dim sum and was considering Ping Pong? Your thoughts or would you recommend we go elsewhere?
Thanks and I look forward to your weekly chats :)
I’m so glad to hear that someone out there sought out Yia Yia’s Kitchen.
I love that pork gyro, which I wrote about in Best Thing I Ate This Week, a new web feature that Jessica Voelker came up with. http://www.washingtonian.com/blogs/bestbites/best-thing-i-ate/the-best-thing-i-ate-this-week-delivery-duck-sunday-roast-chicken.php
10 bucks isn’t cheap, no, but were you not absolutely stuffed when you were done? Were you able to eat anything else? It’s an entire meal in there.
And the avgolemeno soup is, yes, also really good.
As for dim sum — for the variety, and also for the depth of the dishes, I’d go to Oriental East, in Silver Spring, which has been cruising at a higher altitude than in years past. There’s no place, right now, I’d rather go for dim sum.
Ping Pong is more stylish, it’s more of a place to sit back and relax with a drink, it may appeal to a wider variety of people (and especially if those people are going out for reasons other than to eat really good food and focus on that really good food.)
Is Ruz US good for kids? Where are your favorite places to go with kids in Arlington?
Thanks for your great restaurant coverage int eh magazine and these chats.
And I think it’s actually very good for kids. It certainly was good for my kid, who loved the varieties of breads and dumplings. He attacked the food with a kind of knowing familiarity, even though he had never had Russian or Uzbek food before. That’s the power of food to speak across cultures.
I also think Me Jana (Lebanese), Ray’s the Steaks, Liberty Tavern (high-end American comfort food), and Lyon Hall (Alsatian, largely), are really good spots for kids. Lyon Hall has, by the way, one of the best hot dogs I’ve ever had — made with short ribs, and nestled in a griddled poppy seed roll.
So I’ve been telling this story for the past week or so, getting different perspectives on it, and I wanted to hear what your take is.
Friend of my wife’s comes to the house a couple of weeks ago. In town for a job interview. My wife initially invites the friend for drinks and something light. But by the time she gives the friend a lift to the house from the nearby hotel and arrives home, it’s about 8:30 — not incredibly late — and she’s starved. I’ve whipped up a meal to feed her, me, and the friend: a pasta dish with kale, egg, garlic, homemade toasted breadcrumbs, and yellow tomatoes, and a tray of crostini with a homemade fish whip. And wine.
The friend refuses even a taste: “Already eaten.” And, it turns out, the meal was pasta.
We sit down, and both of us try to prevail upon the friend to have a little something. No. Firmer refusal this time.
(The friend drinks a little, however.)
So my question is: do you find this rude, very rude, or somehow not rude at all? And why?
I have traveled to many countries, and all over this country, and have never refused food if it was offered to me. Even if I was full. I understood that food was there not as food, but as a welcoming gesture, a way of bringing you graciously into their fold. Many, many times I have eaten to the point of sickness in these situations. Because that is simply what you do.
But that’s my view. I’d be interested in hearing yours.
Mark Kuller article: was an insightful article on the man who owns two of DC's most successful restaurants.
I enjoyed how you captured his life and upbringing and the trials and tribulations he encountered within his family and over-coming those challenges. Also, liked that you talked some of his employees such as Michael James. A very good GM who proudly represents the state of New Jersey.
One sentence in the article that particulary caught my attention was where you stated that you sat courside with Mr. Kuller for a wizards game. My question is how do you achieve and maintain that objectivity in reviewing restaurants that are owned by Mr. Kuller while at the same time maintaining your friendship (if you two are friends)? What steps do you take or what is your process in approaching these types of situations. would love to read about your thought process
My other favorite line from the article stating that as a jewish boy having pork for the first time is like smoking crack. Todd, were you hooked like a crack or meth addict after your lips touched pork for the first time? is there a pork dish out there that would compare to the blue rock candy that Walter White is producing on Breaking Bad?
As always love the weekly chat!
Pork to a Jewish boy is powerful. Not crack powerful, but powerful. It’s the forbidden thing, if you grow up, as Kuller did (and as I did, for a time) in a kosher household. The thing you can’t have is deeply alluring, and acquires an almost totemic importance.
In my case, my brother was, from a very young age, deeply religious. My parents were not, but they went ahead and bent to his will. He was maybe 9 at the time. I had not yet been born.
Under threat of moving in with the rabbi and his family, they koshered the house. My brother became, in effect, the head of the household, and my parents loved nothing more than to sneak out and eat pork. As a small boy and then as a pre-teen, I often accompanied them on their adventures. It was always thrilling. That breaking of taboo. That flouting of authority. And of course — the glory that is pork: barbecued ribs, Taylor pork roll, smoked pork chops, bacon, etc.
As for the piece … thanks for reading it. I don’t have a “process,” to be perfectly honest. Going to the Wizards game in this case seemed to me to be such a natural thing to do — Kuller is a big hoops fan, and a longtime Wizards fan, and as a writer trying to understand a subject you’re profiling, you look for opportunities to spend time with that subject when they are relaxed, not defensive … when all their guards are down. A game is very much that sort of environment. And I was able to see him in all his Falstaffian/Bellovian glory.
As for wearing multiple hats and maintaining the distance I talk about so much, I think it would be a problem if I was constantly doing profiles like this and features on key players on the scene.
It's one thing to refuse cheese and crackers, but a homemade meal like that? I'd be annoyed.
I admit, I shut down almost completely and the rest of the visit went downhill for me.
I had my first ever italian beef sandwich when I was up in Chicago for business recently. How this delicious sandwich remained under my radar so long baffles me (might have to do with my infrequent visits to Chicago).
Is there anywhere in the DC area that faithfully recreates the chicago staple, complete with hot giardiniera and served "juicy"?
I've tried Billie Goat Tavern near union station, and Chidogo in National Harbor, and both fell short of my expectations
You need to get yourself to Windy City Red Hots — locations in Ashburn and Leesburg.
I think it’s a very, very respectable version. At least it was the last time I had it.
Love the Chicago Italian beef sandwich. Love the Chicago hot dog. Love the Chicago deep dish. Love the burgers you can find at so many places in Chicago. Love a Chicago steak …
The guest should have nibbled on something. Was rude of them to not try anything especially if the host takes the time to prepare something.
I can understand not wanting to eat an entire whole meal again but should have had a small sampling to please the host.
This seems to me the only response, right?
But I’m sure there are others. And I don’t just mean more vitriolic versions of what you just wrote — I mean responses that legitimately might excuse such behavior.
I wonder if we all react the way we do — at least if two responses ratifying my response are any indication — because we’re food people, and food is so central to the way we engage with the world.
Or is it because the friend was just plain rude? ; )
Favorite Korean BBQ place? Had Honey Pig for (what seems like) the millionth time last night, and it never disappoints, but I wanted to see where else you would recommend.
Well, it’s hard to beat Honey Pig when you add in the buzzing atmosphere, but there’s a lot of good Korean bbq in the area, most of it in Annandale.
Have you been to Kogiya? Or Yechon?
And if you don’t mind the kitchen doing the cooking for you, then Gom Ba Woo — I love their spicy pork ssam.
No brainer -- not rude at all.
Your friend was under no obligation to eat more after having already eaten, especially given how late it was. Having some wine while you ate should have been fine.
Under no obligation?
No: under no obligation. But since when is eating something a matter of legality?
And “your friend”? No, not my friend. Not before, and, sorry, after that — not now.
If she had been invited for dinner, it would have been rude. Since the invitation was only for drinks, I don't think it was rude.
As a woman who tries (not always successfully) to watch her weight, I don't like having food pushed upon me, but if I've been told to expect a meal beforehand, I'll save room for it.
Question: If she had accepted a plate and only taken a couple of bites and pushed the rest of the food around, would you have been more or less offended?
Oh, less. Much less.
I would have thought: this person is trying to be nice. Probably not at all hungry, but showing gratitude and making a go of it.
And you make a good point about what the invitation was for. Had I, or most of you, been in that situation, I still think we would, if not eat a full plate, at least have a few tastes.
Re: Pork to a Jewish kid...
Man, when I was a kid those lacquered red Chinese spareribs were the greatest thing on earth.
So fake, but so good …
They seemed so exotic when I was a kid — literal evidence that you were dining outside the culture.
It’s hilarious to think back to those days.
What I'd like to know is, how did your wife, who presumably knows thr friend better, take the refusal? Was she upset because you put yourself out, only to have your efforts be rejected?
She was upset — well, mildly — that I shut down.
Then again, I look at food differently, and come from a world in which you never, ever turn anything down.
I don't find it rude. The invitation was for "drinks and something light." Let's think about it the other way around -- if she had eaten with you but didn't want to drink, would you have found THAT rude? I have a hard time imagining the answer would be yes.
It seems strange that, even though she isn't hungry, she should have to force herself to eat more, just because "that is simply what you do." Just because it's a custom doesn't mean that it makes sense.
I'm aware that serving someone food has greater symbolism, and as you said particularly when traveling, but this is already an established friend who probably felt she wasn't in need of special "welcoming."
It seems as though the greater purpose was to catch up with one another, which was achieved with or without any food being eaten. If she isn't hungry, she isn't hungry.
I think it's also different for men and women -- I'm a woman, I watch what I eat, and if I have a second dinner (particularly later into the evening), I'll feel repercussions from it for days to come. I don't WANT to make myself sick and have to spend additional time working out or dieting for someone else's imaginary benefit, and I feel like a friend would understand that without taking it personally.
To be clear: in certain circumstances, I absolutely have forced myself to eat when I didn't want to -- for example, when meeting friends' or significant others' families for the first time and being served food I wouldn't eat on my own. I'll eat it anyway, understanding it would be rude not to given the circumstances.
But I think the circumstances are what matter, and what differ here. You're already friends. She just wanted to see you while she was in town. I don't think it's wrong at all for her to assume that friends might show a degree of understanding and not expect her to go through with a ritual simply for show.
I understand where you're coming from but really think you're making too much of a situation where she intended no harm.
This friend was not what I would call an “established friend.” My wife hadn’t seen this friend in over 20 years. I had never seen this friend.
I don’t know if that matters in our debate, here.
The friend also — it’s funny to see the assumptions — is not a woman.
I have to say I am surprised that you think I would be more offended if the friend had refused a drink. Really? The drink, in this case, only involved opening a bottle; even a cocktail only takes a few minutes to make. A meal is a labor of love. People turn down drinks all the time. I’m rarely, if ever, offended if people don’t drink with me, or keep up with me in my drinking. Food is different.
My fiancee and I are headed to Charlottesville for the weekend with plans to scout potential reception sites. I'm determined to make this fun & enjoyable. My request is two-fold:
1) Any can't miss dining destinations for our personal enjoyment?
2) Any bbq joints you would recommend in that area? The plan is to have a Southern style wedding -- think mint juleps, bourbon & ginger, seersucker suits and a pig roast.
Therefore, we need a good bbq caterer. Any guidance would be much appreciated!
I haven’t had great barbecue in Charlottesville. Richmond, yes — a number of good spots; but you’re not getting married in Richmond. I’ve been hearing good things for a while now about BBQ Exchange, in Gordonsville — not too far from C-ville — but I pass that on with an asterisk; I haven’t been. It’s at the top of my list next time I’m down.
And here’s my cheat sheet for dining in the city: Peter Chang’s China Grill, Revolutionary Soup (soups and stews — good for lunch), Mas (tapas), Ten (for sushi), The Local, Bodo’s (for bagels), and the new-ish Glass Haus.
Lets get back on topic... Best pizza you've had recently?
I went to Wiseguy's due to your high praises and was disappointed. Having lived in NYC for several years, i found it to be similar to a mediocre to bad slice joint....Not anything like some of the very good or great slice joints.
Did you have the Margherita by the slice? Cut, then reheated so that the crust got crisped? That’s the one I praised.
And back on topic? I didn’t realize we were off topic. We’re talking about what we always talk about — food, in all its manifestations. And all the things it makes us thing about, and all the ways it intersects with our lives …
Best pizza I’ve had recently?
I’ll go with two.
The pies at Menomale, in Brookland, and the pies at Vin 909 Winecafe, in Annapolis. The former is Neapolitan, the latter what I can only think to call West Coast-style.
I can understand after a day of travel, eating dinner, and then being offered a second meal of pasta, not wanting to indulge or over eat. But, if you have been invited over to someone's house for what was billed as a drink and something light, having a glass of wine and a couple crostini would have been the polite thing to do.
A very level-headed response.
(There was, by the way, no travel that day.)
Do you have any recommendations for any places to get Indian Thali? I had great memories of eating these plates in Tamil Nadu and I want to show my husband how great they are. Thanks
You can find Thali — meaning, literally, plate, but a dish made up of many little dishes — in many Indian restaurants in the area.
I know that Indique, Indique Heights, Heritage India, and Bombay Club all have a Thali sampler. A level down in price, Saran in Arlington also has one.
I think the most reasonable response as a guest would be to at least try some of the pasta, for example (a bite or two would be a gesture that would go a long way). Part of me wants to (sort of) applaud the guest for holding to her own but this is a good example of where a little flexibility should have been exercised in the direction of civility and good manners.
However, this scenario begs the real question, to me, which is it sounds as if things were not clearly arranged or set - prior to the friend's visit to the home. If dinner or drinks and a lite bite were to be a part of the evening/night, I would think that would have been set up, since having food necessitates some prep time, unless running to get take away, but even that needs some time scheduled. Given that the time that the friend came over hits "murky" waters in terms of expectations, since communicating food or lack thereof didn't seem to happen.
If I were going to a friend's house, I'm not sure what I would do/"expect" without something actually being communicated in a straightforward manner. It also might make a difference if it were weekday versus weekend, since meals tend to be taken later on a weekend. Clearly, though, saying something would have worked well here.
From both parties. If the guest had said, I'm going to grab dinner before coming over, then hosts could have served after-dinner drinks, coffee and something sweet. Although one might want to "blame" the guest, I think I would let this one go and opt for clear communication in the future.
This is far too sensible. ; )
I hear you. Good communication is essential to preventing confusion and/or hurt feelings. Yes.
But I would argue that often in life we come upon moments we’re not prepared for — sometimes, bad moments, sometimes very bad, and sometimes, like this one, a not-bad moment, a moment that can be a good moment if you let it.
Parents and educators talk often of teachable moments. Well, this is a gaugable moment — a moment to see how adventurous of spirit someone is, how willing to toss aside “what I normally do in this situation” for “why the hell not?”
I think you misunderstood my point -- I said that I WOULD have been surprised if he turned down a drink and that offended you.
It seems strange to me that turning down one part of the "drinks and something light" invitation is acceptable, but the other part is grounds for outrage.
You and your wife were still eating, so it's not as though you went out of your way to cook for him and him alone and then he refused to eat it.
Food IS different, to be sure, but this didn't sound like an invitation for a gourmet meal that he snubbed. I think he was expecting something casual primarily intended as a way of catching up, and anything beyond the company was irrelevant to him.
Turning down the part I didn’t make, and eating the part I did — yes, perfectly acceptable.
And, for me, it doesn’t have to do with gourmet or casual; it’s not about the degree of involvement with the food. It’s the fact that it’s food. And that in the culture in which I was raised — and in many, many cultures around the world — turning down food is a rejection.
I second your recommendation of Oriental East, in general and certainly over Ping Pong.
I had asked, in your online discussion a month or so ago, for a dim sum recommendation, and I followed your suggestion of Oriental East. Definitely tops in the area.
You do have to deal with a line to get in - I waited about 30 minutes to get seated. Ping Pong usually has no wait. Draw your own conclusions.
Separately, I went to Yuzu in Bethesda last week and sat at the chef's table for omekase. I was very impressed. It was not quite as special - or nearly as expensive - as omekase at Sushi Taro, but it was a delicious and unusual meal, with the chef/owner's personal attention. Have you been?
I have. Not for omakase, but to order sushi, sashimi and small plates off the regular menu.
I enjoyed, though didn’t love, my meal. The sushi itself was one of the weakest components. Three or four nigiri in, I noticed that the flavors all seemed to run together, that it was hard to distinguish one fish from another.
Was your wife's friend Larry David? Because this "story" sounds suspiciously like a "Curb" episode (angst, mores, manners, anger, depression, grudge).
Did you searchingly look him in the eye, then give a give him a reluctant "okay", all the while saying the meal is "pretty, pretty, prettaaaaay good"?
Angst, mores, manners, anger, depression, grudge — in other words, the stuff of life!
I have to admit I'm on the fence about this one .
At first glance, after reading what a lovely meal you cooked up, I find it incredibly rude from your perspective. BUT, having already eaten dinner, I know that eating more would just cause a number on my stomach and not something that I necessarily want to deal with when traveling. When that is the case however, I always inform my host ahead of time that I will be eating dinner and to please not worry about feeding me. Was that done in this case?
As the host, I also make sure that whomever is coming over is actually coming to eat dinner. Am I making sense? I go through this a lot...I have a lot of out of town visitors but before preparing anything, I make sure of their intentions and my expectations.
Thanks for chiming in … You make a lot of sense.
Keep in mind, however, that this was very much an on-the-fly thing — I had already eaten (ha; my second dinner of the night), and my wife was starving. And cooking up a meal for her I became hungry and thought I would make enough for our visitor, too.
I didn’t count on our visitor dining, necessarily. I did figure on our visitor joining us for a few bites.
Do you think you'll see this person again? Doubtful. Is it time for you to move on? Absolutely; it's what adults do. So a guest declined to nosh at your abode. Maybe he's rude; maybe you're oversensitive; definitely we can learn that if we EVER visit you, we'll be sure to partake in your hospitality (except fish whip? Ew.) It's been an entertaining distraction from the events of yesterday, Todd, and it really puts stuff in perspective: some people just have First World Problems; I wish we all did.
Everything that everybody complains about on this chat every single week is a FWP.
The people who are writing in to rail about the captcha on the website — FWP. The pizza that was disappointing because it’s not like they do in NYC — FWP. The fact that the gyro was a little too expensive — FWP.
As for this chat, it can’t be what it’s not.
There was talk prior to going on today of canceling the chat because of the Navy Yard shooting. I didn’t think it made sense to do that, and decided we would go ahead and have it.
The shooting was awful; it’s senseless; I feel terrible for all those who lost someone they loved; we all feel paralyzed and at a loss for what to do; none of us likes this feeling of helplessness, knowing that shootings like this are becoming so commonplace and that there is nothing at all that we can do to stop them, because guns are a fact of American life and they are not going away and no legislation is going to be able to curb their use and proliferation.
This chat is, comparatively, worthless. I know that. I’m under no illusions. Most of what is talked about in restaurants today and tonight will be comparatively worthless, too. Most things that people will do today — also comparatively worthless.
I hope that a little light-hearted banter, which we had, was a good thing for all of us. I know I enjoyed it.
Be well and eat well, everyone, and let’s do it again next Tuesday at 11 …
[missing you, TEK … ]
I too assumed the friend was a woman. I would have shoved a crostini down his throat.
OK, there we go: that’s the note I want to end on. : )