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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.
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.
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.
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.
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This Week's Contest: Cheap Eats We Missed
Well, no snooty service for the next 6 months … ; )
Actually, Citronelle may be shut down for longer than that. I got a phone message over the weekend from Michel Richard, and in it he mentioned the reported 6-month estimate but also suggested it might be “12 months, who knows?”
Whatever you might think of the service, it’s an important restaurant, and it’s a shame to think that Richard won’t have a playpen for that long a stretch of time. It’ll be interesting to see how he spends his time in the interregnum. Will that mean more attention for Central, and a tweaking of the program there?
Has anyone else?
Closer in spirit, I think, would be Green Pig Bistro.
Which isn’t DC proper, but Clarendon these days feels to me like a suburb of Georgetown, so …
Green Pig also has the dish towel napkins, the tchochkes, the brawny, porky menu … Since you’ve been to the one, you ought to check out the other, if for no other reason than to do a compare/contrast of the two places that right now define the Hipster Farmhouse aesthetic.
Top to bottom, I like the cooking at Mintwood Place more; I think Cedric Maupillier is a huge talent, and he’s putting out some of the most delicious plates in the city right now. But Green Pig is tasty, and fun, and I think you’d enjoy yourself there.
This might help.
It’s a guide I put together to go with a long essay I wrote on taking my son out to eat with me. Let me know if not, and I can see if I can find something else that might be a better fit. What kinds of foods won’t the kids eat?
But if you’re not a strict constitutionalist with the way you define “Washington restaurant,” then I’d give a long look to Blue Duck Tavern, which I just made room for on my Where I’m Eating Now list.
Doesn’t have deep roots like 1789, but if certainly qualifies in the category of “sophisticated power spot.”
And—more importantly—It’s eating better than it has in a long, long time. I would go so far as to say that it’s eating better than it ever has.
First of all, congratulations, and I hope you’re managing all right in this extreme heat. I can’t imagine the next couple of months will be any different. (And actually, I just heard that we’re in for a very, very warm Fall … )
I guess a good lemon meringue pie is part of the managing, huh?
I love the stuff, too—one of my favorite pies—and yet off the top of my head, nothing is coming to me at the moment …
Chatters, help: Who’s got one?
My wife and I have had this conversation, too. She thinks he’d enjoy going to a place like Benihana. I think he’d enjoy it, too. But my thing is, if he doesn’t know that it exists, then he doesn’t feel as though he’s missing anything, so let’s not bring it up, capice?. ; ) … I can see doing this at some point—going for the show, as it were, and then coming home and having a second (stealth) dinner.
I wonder if kiddo would enjoy sitting around the robata grill at Kushi—? Leaping flames, sweaty cooks, rotating meats on spindles … Fun times …
What do you think?
Enough of a spectacle?
Well, there’s Lotus of Siam.
That’s the only one I can vouch for.
Anybody else? Who’s got picks for “old” Vegas?
Good stuff, Andrew. Keep it coming …
I agree with you about the rice at La Limeña; it’s fantastic. I could make a meal of just the rice and beans there.
OK, and maybe a pisco sour or two … : )
You asked about the secret to the rice. I would be willing to bet that garlic figures into the cooking process at some point. It’s well-seasoned, so salt, obviously, and well-oiled, too — though not oily; my guess is that a good olive oil is used.
Do you mind if I give a little advice? Make it a point to write every day on your blog, even if you don’t have a restaurant to write about. Even if you think you don’t have anything to say. (It sure doesn’t stop most bloggers … ; )
Just write. You’ll learn a lot about yourself and how you look at things, and think about things, just from setting your thoughts down every day. And what could be better than that?
My last meal prior to the chef change was lackluster, too.
Lackluster and expensive.
But everything seems to be singing now. The marrow bones are luxurious again. The crabcakes are worth it again (they’re served with a fantastic aioli that’s mixed with lobster bisque). A dish of roast suckling pig was surprisingly delicate, for such a heavy, rich dish — a terrific example, I thought, of Archambault’s technical gifts.
Best desserts I’ve had there in a long while, including a gorgeous and delicious lemon tart.
It’s a short walk from there to Fiola.
I don’t think you’ll be sorry.
And congratulations to all of you!
It is, it’s addicting.
I know that feeling you describe very, very well.
It was in contention, I can tell you that. With Cheap Eats, there’re probably about 30-40 places that we give serious consideration to in the late stages of the process, and maybe 20 right up to the last minute.
Thanks for writing in …
Though I’m mad at you for planting that Bon Chon seed in my brain, making my mouth water for spicy Korean chicken … : )
You scan the list of names to find the place or places you’re looking for. If you don’t find it, you just turn the page
Oh, wait—you mean online?
Well, then—speaking of gripes. My gripe is with your gripe. Buy the magazine.
Simple. Clean. Easy.
There’s Manna, in Takoma Park.
And … I don’t think anywhere else.
I haven’t been there in a while, but I remember liking the mofongo. They do a version there with shrimp.
Thanks for the reminder; I’ll have to get over there soon and see what it’s like these days …
Good to know. Thanks for the report …
A shared cultural experience?
What’s cultural about an inauthentic Japanese corporate concept restaurant that won’t spring for good ingredients and puts out crap food?
And Chuck E. Cheese is worse.
Do we, as parents, HAVE to do these things? Really? Why?
And why should you do anything with your child that you yourself despise, assuming, that is, that you have a choice in the matter?
Yes, of course!
Thank you for writing in with that …
The new-ish chef, Giovanna Huyke, a Puerto Rican native, is doing very good work there.
There’s mofongo on the Puerto Rican Fridays menu …
I’d be very frustrated and upset, too, if what I was promised was not what I was delivered. And especially if I had built it up so much in my mind, as you did, and made my dinner there the centerpiece of an important night out.
I’d still love to hear Citronelle’s side of things …
Sounds like it’s worth driving for …
And if you have a craving, and really, really love a thing enough, and that thing is within striking distance, well, then you hop in the car and go. Right?
Thanks for the great tip …
Jaymar Colombian Breeze, in the Kentlands of Gaithersburg.
Terrific little spot.
Great chicharron, plantains, arepas, soups …
Yep, just mentioned it above.
And now I’m craving some, too.
Mofongo, lechon, a Cuba Libre … Oh, man …
I’m ravenous, reading that and recalling my memories of the roast quail there. (I also, by the way, really like the roast quail at Nha Trang; they do a slight spin on the dish.)
I can tell you this: Hai Duong was a very late cut. On certain days, it seems to me we could extend that list out, easy, and go with 125 places. I can think of a half-dozen just in the Eden Center that I might add.
I understand what you’re saying.
But you don’t know if a kid enjoys a thing if a kid hasn’t been, and I say—hold out as long as possible until he or she finds out about a place like Benihana or Chuck E. Cheese. And maybe, if I’ve done my part, he will say—as Eric Ripert once proudly told me his young son used to say of McDonald’s—”Yuck.”
I don’t know. I like the idea of, as much as possible, bringing a kid into your world, as opposed to letting the kid and “the culture” and other kids determine the rules and the codes and the language. Doesn’t mean you can’t do things because the kid enjoys them.
Enough of that.
Time to pick a winner, and I’m going with Arlington’s delicious plea for Hai Duong. I’m craving roast quail now.
Along with key lime pie and Korean fried chicken. You all done good, making me ravenous just before lunch.
Thanks so much for the great questions and submissions and tasty tips. I appreciate it, as always …
Arlington, drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org with your address, and we’ll get that book out to you today.
Be well and eat well, everyone, and let’s do it again next week at 11 …
[missing you, TEK … ]