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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
This week's contest: Create and Curate Your Ideal Sweet Shop
Since we're heading into full frozen treats season, we're asking you this week to design the sweet shop of your dreams. Begin by naming it, then stock your store with all your favorite desserts--fro-yo from here, popsicles from there...whatever you like. Just be sure to give us lots of details. Stocking up on local goodies is a sure way to endear yourself to Todd, who, as always, picks the winner. That winner will receive our last copy of Molly Moon's Homemade Ice Cream: Sweet Seasonal Recipes for Ice Creams, Sorbets, and Toppings Made with Local Ingredients. Good luck!
You’ve got a lot of options …
There’s Proof in Penn Quarter, there’s Estadio and Pearl Dive Oyster Palace on 14th St., there’s Ripple in Cleveland Park … All with dedicated cocktail menus, and all with prices that should be in range of what you’re looking for.
You also could cross the river and hit Green Pig Bistro, in Clarendon — it’s very much in the vein of those restaurants, and you’d swear you wear in a city restaurant once you’re inside …
Barry, I spent a chunk of time in Rehoboth in April, scouting the scene, and did a short piece for the magazine.
My family-friendly favorites include Casapulla’s South for the excellent subs, and Henlopen City Oyster House for the simply and smartly prepared fish and seafood (great soft shells, 8 varieties of oysters on offer every day).
One of the best places in town, believe it or not, is Confucius, a Chinese restaurant on Wilmington Ave. No doubt you’re more in the mood for fried oysters when you hit a beach town than fried rice, but let me tell you — this place is the real deal. Great chicken-ginger soup, excellent cumin chicken.
It’s a cozy, softly lit spot, too, so it might be just the thing for a date night. Or Espuma or Nage.
Hope that helps. I’d love to know where you end up. Drop me a note, and let me know …
I had a long conversation with Michael Landrum last week, as he spoke with me about — among other things — his new and, he hopes, improved steak and cheese restaurant — Nice ‘n’ Greasy, Steak ‘n’ Cheesy, set to open today.
Ryse was one of the subjects of our talk, and Landrum asked that I give him some time to think about what he wanted to say. He wrote me back this morning with an official statement.
Here is the full text of that email, which I am reprinting with his permission (and in full, at his request):
“RYSE at City Vista was designed to be the prototype for creating a welcoming, affordable and accessible neighborhood gathering place, featuring healthy, freshly-made food options in a traditional, modern coffee shop environment. This project was intended to be the first step of an overall vision to bring this type of gathering place to communities that might otherwise not be served by full-service restaurants or chain coffee shops, creating local jobs in the process.
“Unfortunately, I did not prove to be adequate to the task at this time and the landlord has reclaimed the space.
“The good news for people in the neighborhood, however, is that the space is almost entirely built-out and ready to go and any new tenant should be ready to open almost immediately.”
By the way, the revamped Nice ‘n’ Greasy, Steak ‘n’ Cheesy will “hopefully,” Landrum says, be opening at lunch today.
Here is the menu (with Landrum’s descriptions) —
“The Shock G”—One-third pound of freshly-sliced, premium “heart” of the rib-eye (eye of the rib-eye, only), American and Provolone Cheeses, grilled onions and Groove Grease on a Toasted 8-inch Lyon Bakery Sub Roll. 7.99
“The Biggie”—Two-thirds of a pound of freshly sliced, premium heart of the rib-eye, Double American and Provolone Cheeses, grilled onions and Groove Grease on a Toasted 8-inch Lyon Bakery Sub Roll. 11.99
“Little Minions”—Mini Hell-Burgers, grilled to order on a flat top with grilled onions grilled right in, served with American cheese and “Heck” sauce on toasted, buttered potato rolls. Single or by the bag—3, 6, or a “Devil’s Dozen” (13).
I’d have to know more about what, exactly, bores you.
For me, personally, it just seems that everything I’m seeing on menus these days is so piggy. Pork ears, pork belly, roast suckling pig, bacon, slab bacon, etc., etc.
It’s like anything else. I love it when it’s great. Or even just good. Some of it is. A lot of it isn’t.
And it’s losing its novelty, for sure.
I recently had this for brunch: a croissant with egg, cheese, bacon, roast pork, ham, and caramelized onions. Was it good? Sure. For three or four bites. …
By the way, and before I get to the heart of your question, I just wanted to address your contention that we “just got” ramen. We didn’t just get ramen. Toki’s been around, what — coming up on two years. And Ren’s Ramen had been around for a while before that.
Different … let’s see …
Have you been to minibar?
Or to Rogue 24?
When was the last time you ate at Citronelle? I realize it’s probably old hat to a lot of foodies in this area, but Michel Richard’s food is not at all in the gastronomic mainstream; it’s very much its own thing.
Are you a regular at the Eden Center? Nothing like it anywhere in the country. I continually find new things there that surprise and excite me — including, most recently, a terrific twist on roast quail at Nha Trang.
Have you been to Ethiopic or Meaza, for Ethiopian?
Have you had the saltenas at La Caraqueña?
Or the spicy pork at Moa in Rockville, a new-ish Korean restaurant in the industrial section of town?
Have you hopped in your car and driven up to R&R Taqueria, the gas station gem in Elkridge, for the superb cochinita (baby pig) tacos, posole and chilaquiles?
I mean, I hear you. I do. There’s a lot of sameness at a certain level.
But I also want to say this: It’s really hard to be bored as a food lover in this area if you look at Washington, D.C., less as New York and more as Los Angeles — as a large and fascinating sprawl that encompasses all of Northern Virginia and all the Maryland suburbs (and not just those in fashionable parts of town), as well as Columbia and Annapolis. Also, if you wean yourself away from the top-down notion of dining out and embrace the vitality and variety of eating at all levels.
A few suggestions, all Asian.
(But then, it’s Rockville.)
There’s the aforementioned Moa, on Wilkins Ave. Terrific Korean spot.
You could also hit the renovated Mama’s Dumplings. Same good dumplings, but in a more modish minimalist setting.
And my favorite Rockville restaurant of late — East Pearl, which I think, after five visits, is putting out the best Chinese food in that part of the world right now. Killer shrimp dumpling soup, soyed chicken, congee, walnut shrimp, etc.
If you’re looking for something not-Asian, I’d try calling and booking a table at Black Market Bistro, a real retreat of a place, with a kitchen as consistent as they come.
I’ll be curious to hear where you end up dining tonight. Drop back on and let me know next week …
I mean, listen — it’s a very personal sort of thing.
I love that place dearly, and count my night there as one of the great restaurant experiences of my life, but it’s not a place you go to etch a notch into your foodie belt, if you know what I’m saying.
A lot of what I love about it is hard to explain or define. It’s the owner, JoAnn Clevenger, greeting you at the door then coming around the table to talk to you. And not just talk about herself and her restaurant. There wasn’t anything self-serving about our interactions, which I found astonishing. We talked about books and art and New Orleans. About memory and identity and loss. There’s art on the walls — all over the walls, floor to ceiling — and it’s good art. It’s also art that means something to her; every piece comes with a story. And she’s a born story teller, and will gladly share that story with you.
I love the light in the room. I love the little touches on the menu, small twists that distinguish the dishes here from the common repertoire of Creole classics. I love the professional-class waiters.
It’s a special place, and as I say, the food is just one element in a larger design. I think the reason to go there is to see and feel and taste what neighborhood New Orleans is like, away from the Quarter and away, also, from the national-class places that are excellent, don’t get me wrong, but which are also very aware, some of them, of being national-class places.
Only quibble I have is with the name, really — lick and pet sounds like a dog with his big ol’ wet tongue slobbering you up and down.
And those ten cent pops as re-designed by Jose Andres? If they sell for less than ten dollars, I’d be shocked, shocked. Actually, if they come with a stick in the middle and don’t force you to assemble them yourself from various parts — including a foam cap — I’d be shocked, shocked …
Gotta keep the vegan happy. An unhappy vegan is a … never mind; cutting off that thought right now …
Thanks for the reviews!
Jaleo and Zaytinya are great spots for vegans, and I will say that Sticky Fingers is tasty some of the time for a non-vegan.
I attended an interesting pre-Memorial Day cookout. Which turned out not to be a cookout, after all.
Neighbors invited me over — I had brought them to brunch with me earlier in the day — and we had burgers. Veggie burgers. L is vegetarian; her partner, M, is not. But lately M is “75 percent veg,” in her words, and determined to be inclusive; hence, the veggie burger cookout that was not a cookout and — my favorite moment of all — M’s walking into the living room holding up three frozen boxes of veggie burgers and asking us all which ones we wanted to eat. Mmmm, enticing … (I kid, I kid; they’re fantastic neighbors.)
And I love the Franklin Fountain in Philly. Great phosphates, great old-fashioned Cokes, great sundaes … If only they had called it — Phranklin Phountain. OK, maybe not …
We have a tie at the top …
It’s funny you mentioned the beignets at Bayou Bakery. I just had them this weekend, and they not only compare favorably to some of the versions I had recently in New Orleans, in some cases they’re better.
Raw bar and simply fried fish. That’s the way to go at Henlopen.
Salt Air, which I had liked previously, was closed and preparing for a relaunch with new ownership (the original owner became sick and had to sell). I’m glad to hear that they’re doing well under this new group. I’ll have to go back to check it out.
Fins can be good. I’m not as crazy about Big Fish Grill.
Great Phosphates and Lickworthy Petworth. If any chatters are looking to name their rock bands, they’re in luck today.
What about Chef Geoff’s — at either New Mexico Ave. or downtown?
Or Clyde’s in Penn Quarter?
Or Old Ebbitt Grill downtown?
I hope I’m not insulting those places by listing them here. I only regard them as bland in relation to some of the more ambitious, chef-driven spots in the city, as well as in relation to all the ethnic restaurants and tapas joints, etc.
If you’re looking for something more foodie, then maybe The Majestic in Old Town. Again, not trying to insult the place. I just think that it will probably “code” acceptably to your mother as a sort of no-tricks, no-trends place, while still offering a lot that you and your fiance can get excited about.
I’ve had the privilege of that experience, too, and yes, you describe it very, very well …
Might not want to do it every night, but there are a lot worse things than a couple hours of almond-paste filled treats and good mint tea, poured from on high in a thin, hot stream.
Preferably after a couple of hours of tagine, bistilla and belly dancing ..
“Komi can be interesting.” That’s an understatement. How many places like Komi are there in the country?
But anyway … yeah, I hear you …
I just think that you’re too quick in giving the places I mentioned, the Eden Center spots, R&R, etc., their due. It’s a kind of — yes, but …
Many foodies don’t regard these places as belonging in the conversation. There are some who do regard them as belonging, but are quick to qualify their inclusion.
My thing is, we blind-bag it. We judge places the way Duke Ellington judged music — the good, and the bad.
But less glibly for a moment …
It’s the premise of Bob’s question — and it’s not just Bob, I hear this sentiment a lot — that I find interesting. Because, really, when it comes to things like fashion or art or music — modes of expression — when has DC been at the forefront of the larger conversation? All I can come up with is go-go, which most of America never really go (in large part because it can’t be reduced to four-minute clips and has to be heard live). Maybe the color school. That’s it.
Listen. I’m a native. I love this place in many, many ways. But one of the things that has always defined the city is its reasonableness, its even-keeled nature. It’s not a place of great extremes. It doesn’t embrace things like public musicianship, like some cities. There’s little in the way of public art. Athletes like Riggo and Gilbert Arenas were aberrations; the area prefers its stars to be bland and self-effacing — Ripken, Art Monk, Wes Unseld, etc. This has not historically been a city that inspires people to take risks. That encourages them to “live out loud,” as Zola might have put it. It’s been, and remains largely, a pretty fixed city. Not too high, not too low.
You’ve got to like the down-and-the-dirty sorts of places to like Stoney’s. Not everyone does.
But maybe the chatter’s mother isn’t the sort of picky person I was assuming. The sort of picky person who dislikes the new-breed spots with menus full of dishes she doesn’t recognize and full of tastes that are spicy or bold or in some way challenging. If that describes her, then Pearl Dive Oyster Palace might also be a good pick. She can get the excellent fried chicken or maybe a fried shrimp plate.
Then again, maybe she’s the sort of picky person who dislikes a to-do, and is put out by pretension and flash. In which case, yes, Stoney’s for a burger and a brew.
Yeah, all depends on what sort of picky she is.
I could see all those working.
Gotta run, everyone …
And I’ll have some words next week about Commis, which a chatter mentioned in the penultimate question today …
I’m going with Lickworthy Petworth. Neat mix of treats, I like the props it gives to some deserving locals, and it also sounds like a place I’d want to frequent.
A cool, creamy cone would be perfect right about now, wouldn’t it? Make mine a frozen custard from Milwaukee Frozen Custard — vanilla with roasted almonds and dipped in chocolate …
Drop me an email with your address today, Lickworthy Petworth — firstname.lastname@example.org — and I’ll get that book out to you stat.
And thanks to everyone who played. And who didn’t — your questions, comments and provocations are excellent, any time …
Be well and eat well, and let’s do it again next week at 11 …
[missing you, TEK … ]