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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.
W H E R E I ' M E A T I N G N O W . . .
The best, most sensual, most fully realized restaurant in the area remains Johnny Monis's lair of a place, a sparely appointed East Dupont townhouse with--check it--no menu.
Daniel Singhofen scrapped his a la carte menu this past April, replacing it with a $65 five-course tasting menu. The move seemed premature, given that the chef had yet to establish his Dupont Circle townhouse restaurant as a landmark dining destination, one that had endured many seasons and fads. But Singhofen and company appear ready to make the leap. Courses are imaginatively conceived without straining for effect, and the execution is clean and precise without lapsing into austerity. Best of all, Singhofen imbues these sophisticated dishes with a quality more precious than all the tricks in the molecular gastronomer's toolkit: soul.
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.
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.
I love the tossed-off sophistication of Mark Kuller's wine-bar-plus, the sense you get that everything just seems to have fallen into place and nobody's straining too hard for effect. The cooking, under the direction of Haidar Karoum, reinforces the feeling with dishes that combine the complexity and intricacy of fine dining with the approachability of a neighborhood bistro: superlative foie gras (seared and served atop a cherry-studded short cake), crisp-skinned branzino in a saffron broth, a knockout plate of spaghetti and meatballs (foie gras is the crucial ingredient, an ingenious way of lightening the texture of the meat without resorting to bready filler). There's a wealth of good, interesting wines to pair with these plates--wines you're simply not going to find anywhere else in the city. The restaurant, to its great credit, makes them available in two-ounce pours that encourages you to try things you wouldn't ordinarily.
Banh Mi DC Sandwich, Falls Church
#1 Combination and #2 Roast Pork. $3.75 apiece. Vivid reminders of what the boring and/or dumbed-down others all miss--the peppery bite, the pronounced sharpness of the pickling, the balance between meats and condiments, the lightness of the loaf.
Rice Paper, Falls Church
This new Eden Center mom 'n' pop, the first restaurant venture for the host family after two-plus decades in the jewelry business, breaks from the drab utilitarianism of its Eden Center peers with a pressed tin ceiling, dangling globe lights, sleek leather chairs, and the requisite industrial brick wall. It's the cooking, though, that commands inspection: spicy lemongrass ribs, garlic-marinated roast chicken with coconut rice, and the most stylish presentation of grilled stuffed grape leaves I've ever seen--and easily one of the most delicious. The coffee with condensed milk is a must-order, among the strongest and darkest you're going to find.
Bon Fresco, Columbia
Best bread in the area. And maybe the best sandwiches, too--I still can't stop thinking about the unlikely masterpiece of brie, lightly caramelized onions and sundried tomato pesto on a light and crusty baguette. And the London Broil on ciabatta is fantastic, too. Gerald Koh, the owner and bread-baker, is a former GM at Breadline and as passionate about his craft as any chef in the area.
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.
East Pearl, Rockville
A superlative addition to the unofficial Chinatown of northern Rockville, this cheery, three week-old restaurant is turning out uncommonly clean-tasting versions of standard Hong Kong-style fare, including shrimp dumpling soup, shrimp with walnuts, and soyed chicken (the slices of meat beneath the crispy, lacquered skin are not merely tender, but luscious). 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.
Producer's note--Today's contest: Which bar or restaurant would you move to Washington?
Good morning, chatters. Today's challenge: Tell Todd about the restaurant you most wish could be magically uprooted and replanted in Washington. It could be the old roadside diner where you ate gravy fries as a kid, that unforgettable kaiseki spot in Tokyo, or the Barcelona tapas bar where you wiled away an afternoon watching soccer while eating the world's best patatas bravas. Take us there, then tell us why Washington should be home to this particular establishment. As always, it's much more about the explanation than it is the eatery. Todd's favorite write-up will receive a copy of Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything: The Basics, a streamlined version of the essential kitchen guide.
Are you sure they’re no longer making them — or were they just out that night, or for a stretch of nights?
If they are no longer in the dosa business, then that’s a real, real shame. They were the best dosas in the area — worth a drive to Fairfax by themselves. The idli were good, too.
Good morning, everyone, and I hope all goes smoothly on the chat today — we had huge technical problems last week, after rolling out the new web design (which I hope you like).
I appreciate all the comments you sent on via email last Tuesday and all throughout the week about the problem and your frustrations. And thanks also for the very nice comments about the James Beard nomination, too — I’m very honored to be a finalist for the MFK Fisher Distinguished Writing Award. Just to have my name associated with hers — that’s an honor in itself …
I’d take them to The Majestic, in OId Town.
There’s a good bit on the menu that won’t alienate him, including a Caesar salad that I just had not long ago — one of the best I’ve ever had, and maybe the best I’ve ever had. It’s made tableside, and the dressing is every bit as zesty and rich as you would want it.
And there’s plenty there, too, for your mom and you; a recent special, a whole fried branzino with a Chinese black bean sauce, was terrific.
Dinner for three, including a drink for each of you and a dessert or two (think hard about the fried-to-order churros), you could probably manage for about $150 when all is said and done.
Thanks for playing …
I wonder what all the farm-to-table restaurants here think of that … ; )
Remember, everyone, that it’s not the place you choose so much as your framing of the place you choose, the justification you come up with. Doesn’t have to be a Manresa; could be a cheesesteak joint.
I’ll add it to my list for my next trip up. Thanks for the tip.
And thanks for playing …
(At this very moment, a certain swarthy and swaggering chef is grinding his teeth …)
Best Sandwich Place, right about 18th and L?
Fresh-carved, roasted turkey breast sandwiches.
You can even get a sandwich that will take you back to Thanksgiving — sliced fresh turkey topped with cranberry relish.
Have you been to the Greek Deli on 19th? Good stuff. Though if you go — good luck finding the pep to finish out the day.
What about C.F. Folks, also on 19th, next to The Palm? I call it The Anti-Palm. No big shots, no expense accounts, no dressing to impress, no steaks. I usually get the crabcake.
Pok Pok or Momofuku I could see — but of course you’ll have to make separate cases for them. : )
I haven’t been, though I’ve heard good things about it. But I mean, it’s not as if Tria would come in and bring something the city was lacking.
BTW, Cork is, I think, more delicious than ever, with new chef Rob Weland, previously of Poste, at the helm. Anyone else been recently? Love the avocado with ground pistachio on grilled bread, the hamachi, and a recent special of gnudi in a fresh and vibrant spring pea puree. And the wine list remains the same, as fantastic as ever.
I’m sure it’s wonderful. And we don’t have anything quite like what you describe — open-air Peruvian — but I really don’t think we’re lacking for Peruvian in this area.
I just had some great cancha last night …
… And it’d never happen here.
I mean, people in DC don’t even permit themselves to drink a glass of wine — one glass — at lunch. Is one glass going to impair you for the rest of the day? It might actually help, in easing your digestion of a rich panino.
Thanks for playing … You’re in contention …
I can picture this place exactly. I’d love to be there right now.
And I wish we had more spots like this in our midst. We all love to talk about favorite dishes and such, and love to recount our adventures on the trail of Michelin-starred restaurants and whatnot, but I believe it’s places like this that we remember most.
You’re in contention …
Thanks for playing.
I’ll have to go.
That kind of enthusiasm — and devotion — is kind of persuasive …
Just another corner joint serving good food. Yeah, exactly right.
So many of them there …
I think one way you judge a food city is by the number of places that aren’t trying to be anything, but are something anyway. Lots of them in New Orleans, Chicago, San Francisco. Very, very few of them in Vegas …
Thanks for this. Good stuff …
And you’re in the mix, too …
It’d be a good addition.
And it’d never happen. Those restaurants on the Georgetown waterfront are as good as they need to be.
BTW, I don’t know that I’d ever say the Slanted Door had “affordable prices.”
Now, that’s putting us there and making a case.
I can almost taste the place.
On the one hand, I hate you for making me so ravenous right before lunch for something that I KNOW I WON’T BE ABLE TO EAT, but on the other hand — congratulations: You’re our winner.
Drop me a note at firstname.lastname@example.org with your address and I’ll get that book off to you today.
I’m so sorry, everyone, for continuing technical problems on this end — you can’t be more frustrated than Jessica and I are. There are a half-dozen questions that I answered that haven’t shown up, and appear to be lost in the ether …
We’ll do better, I hope, next time out.
Meantime — be well, eat well, and let’s do it again next Tuesday at 11 …