Tuesday, June 4 at 11 AM

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.

Host: Todd Kliman

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 writing has appeared in The New Yorker, Harper'sThe 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: tkliman@washingtonian.com

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W H E R E   I ' M   E A T I N G   N O W   .  .  .

* Le Grenier, DC
Call it the Anti-Le Diplomate. On H St., not 14th St., and the space is far from the great, glittering sound-stage that is Le Dip; it's quirky, kind of intimate, and feels organic and urban in a way that Le Dip does not. I've been twice, now, and have liked a good bit of what's coming out of Thierry Sanchez's kitchen. 
His vol au vent, for instance. Who does vol au vent anymore? you think. But then you take your fork and attack that flaky, buttery shell spilling over with diced sweetbreads in a tarragon-flecked cognac cream sauce and you think: Why should a dish like this be relegated to the far sidelines? Just because it's rich and heavy? Doesn't stop pork belly and a whole slew of pig-centric plates that have been playing for years on area menus. The cooking is, generally, earthier and funkier than Le Diplomate's, and very much in keeping with the sort of offbeat bistros you find in and around Paris. Seasonality, for instance, is hardly a concern of the chef's. Even as temperatures have flirted with 90, the menu abounds in rich, hearty fare. That might not appeal to the diet-conscious crowds that swarm Le Diplomate, but it shouldn't put you off if you're a fan of French bistro cooking. Do what I've done, and order a second glass of wine. What else to get? Good ham and cheese galette topped with a runny egg. Good mushroom and brie tart. Good blood sausage with noodle-like spaetzle and apples. Great desserts, including a variety of crepes (including crepes Suzette) and a fantastic rendition of profiteroles, drenched with an addictive dark chocolate sauce.

* Tutto Bene: Bolivian Menu, Arlington / Saturday and Sunday 
Here's what you do: go for lunch on the weekends, and ask for the Bolivian menu. It's a modest document, but nearly everything on it is rewarding -- especially the superb salteñas (slightly sweet football-shaped turnovers that are baked every morning to a pie crust-doneness and stuffed with a zesty chicken or beef stew). You could make a meal of these alone, but then you'd miss out on the fantastic sopa de mani (a rich peanut soup) and the chorizo with oiled rice and a good salad.

* Banh Mi DC Sandwich, Falls Church
I've spent the past few weeks eating banh mi (tough life, I know), and this take-out joint/grocery not in the Eden Center is the clear front runner in a very competitive field. In fact, I think the ham and head cheese combination might be not just the best banh mi in the area, but the best sandwich, period. The baguettes are always warm and crusty, the pickled condiments are always sharp and crunchy, and the sandwich assembly staff has a keen grasp of matters of balance and proportion.

* Xitomate, Columbia
When the weather is warm, you need a place to go for chips, guac and Margaritas, and right now, this is the place I keep thinking about. I also happen to like a fair amount of the rest of the menu, including a trio of good ceviches, a rich and satisfying roasted poblano and corn soup, a zingy cochinita (that's baby pig) pibil with tortillas, and a chili relleno that with a few more minutes of cooking would have gone from good to great.

RG's BBQ Cafe, Laurel
Let me get the key criticism out of the way first: The ribs come off too easily from the bone. That's not a small thing if you're one of the barbecue mad, of course, and it nagged at me all night after eating here, because the pork itself has the requisite lusciousness and the sauce is a pitch-perfect balance of tanginess, sweetness and heat. That sauce is so addicting, you probably will end up forgiving the drier patches of an otherwise tasty smoked chicken and want to either pour it over everything else or even, as my friend said, drink it plain. The sides are good: baked beans that taste of slow cooking, a not-too-sweet corn bread that gets an extra something from a short stint on the grill before serving, and sharp, clean-tasting collards among others. The man behind the operation is Robert Gadsby, whom Washingtonians may remember from his time at Mussel Bar in Bethesda. He left after Mussel Bar received a 0-star review from The Post. He seems to have made the most of his exile.

Mi Cuba Cafe, DC
This tiny cafe, on Park Rd. in Columbia Heights, makes the best picadillo I've had in a long, long time -- with the right amount of olives in the mix, and, more vitally important, the perfect soft texture. Good rice and plantains, too. And finding a restaurant in the thick of DC that can turn out a good, hearty meal for 2 in the range of $35 is pretty close to miraculous.

* new this week

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HELP! MY FATHER'S COMING TO TOWN AND WANTS VEAL PARM:

My parents are coming to visit in a couple of weeks - first time visiting our new house! - and when I asked what kind of food they might like if we go out to dinner, Dad requested veal parmesan. Do you have any recommendations for veal parm?

The dish doesn't actually seem to appear on a lot of menus - places I found that list veal parm on their menus online so far include Tutto Bene and Pines of Florence in Arlington, and Landini Brothers in Alexandria. I'd prefer to stay close to Arlington, but would also consider Alexandria or downtown if there's parking.

Extra Virgin in Shirlington would have been perfect, but they closed! Any recommendations? For what it's worth, poor service is a bigger deal breaker for Dad than mediocre food.

Thanks!

Todd Kliman:

Does your father know he’s coming to D.C.? ; )

Ain’t a great town for Italian. And especially not blue-collar, red-sauce Italian.

Actually, it’s funny that I just wrote about Tutto Bene up top for its Bolivian menu, because the regular Italian menu is also available on weekends, and the place is probably just what you’re looking for. It’s got mood, good service, and pretty good Italian cooking. And there’s often live music on weekends, too.

Good luck. I’d love to know how things turn out …

Good morning, everyone. Where’ve you been eating? What’s been good? Tell me what’s on your mind …

Re: DEL CAMPO -- NEW, IN PENN QUARTER:

Yesterday I went to a new restaurant called "Del Campo" in Chinatown and they sell up-scale South American food. I'm a dual citizen but I only had my foreign ID, which has my age (30).

This has never been an issue before in DC, but last night they wouldn't serve me alcohol at Del Campo because they wouldn't accept my foreign ID. They said they needed a passport.

In a town full of diplomats, int'l Orgs etc, is it a new law that we should take our passport to be served wine/cocktails?

Thanks for your help!

Todd Kliman:

“Vee must see your PAPERS!”

Ridiculous.

For a drink.

A drink.

I’ve never heard of anything like this.

GMs, I’d love to hear from you … have you ever ordered anything like this? Heard of anything like this? What would you do if you encountered something similar at one of your restaurants? Or, what if you heard a server asking for a passport?

FOLLOWING UP: KID-FRIENDLY DINING IN VIRGINIA BEACH:

To the listener looking for a kid friendly restaurant in VA Beach..I can highly recommend the Jewish Mother. It's a block off the beach.

Todd Kliman:

Thanks for writing in …

What a great name for a restaurant.

Does the owner swing by the table after you’ve ordered and dispenses insistent but well-meaning advice on your immediate future—?

And if you should ignore said advice and politely inform her that you’re having your own conversation, does she turn inward and shame you for making her feel bad about herself, pouting as she skulks off toward the kitchen?

Does she then return with more food than you can possibly eat?

Re: BOQUERIA, ON M ST. DOWNTOWN:

Another group birthday dinner report. This time it was my day to celebrate with a group at Boqueria.

We feasted on the whole suckling pig, and were told we were the first to take the restaurant up on the offer. The main attraction was a sight to behold, but it was the preceding round of tapas stole the spotlight.

The pig itself was a bit less tender and moist than I would have expected. The piles of chicharones and the accompanying sauces (pork jus, garlic and mustard aioli and an incredible pimenton based sauce) made up for that slight misstep.

There were also loads of sides (some great, some forgettable) served up with the pig, most of which wound up in takeout containers. Service was great, and the amount of food put before us was awe-inspiring.

Definitely worth considering for anyone else who loves family style celebrations. However, I still haven't found anything better than Palena's head to tail beef dinner.

Jack

Todd Kliman:

Jack, thanks for the detailed report.

A shame the pig was less than wonderful. They can be pretty amazing when they’re good. But I think they’re hard to do indoors.

I am remembering, now, a phenomenally cooked whole pig I ate some years ago with friends, outdoors.

The funniest thing was that all the men, as if by some primal alarm, began drifting into the kitchen minutes before the pig came out. Once the beast was inside, and what a gorgeous sight that was — skin bronzed and smoky, the smells of slow-cooked pork filling the air — every single man at the party was standing over it in the kitchen. Every single one of us. Ogling it, and tearing off bits of skin and meat.

We stood like that for maybe five minutes, in a bizarre and almost ritualistic silence, and gorged ourselves shamelessly, stuffing skin into our gullets, licking our fingers, absolutely oblivious to the fact that anyone else was at the party, before one of the women strolled into the kitchen and said move over, it’s my turn.

FOLLOWING UP: WILLFUL OBSCURITIES IN RESTAURANT MENUS:

Put me down as one who is not impressed and often downright confused at the elaborate explanations of menu items.

Half the time I have no idea what the actual dish is! I read some of the descriptions and I can’t figure out if the impressive word is an ingredient, a cooking technique or a geographic location! I’d just be happy if the server could tell me which rose is the dry one!

I was at Jaleo last week and my otherwise fine server recommended a dry rose that ended up tasting like fruit punch. The one she didn’t recommend was actually dry and wonderful. Naturally the one she was pushing was the more expensive one.

Todd Kliman:

Thanks for writing in.

I love it, by the way, when we have topics that continue on for weeks.

And I don’t know if it qualifies as brave, exactly, but posting these words in a forum for foodies, mostly, takes some guts. So thank you.

You touched on something interesting in your final paragraph, and that’s the fact that using kitchen jargon and foreign terminology makes things sound more exotic, and more exotic often means more money can be charged.

As a really simple “for instance”: which would you rather see on a menu “parmesan” or “parmigiano”?

Goes back to something I wrote about last week. Would you rather hear that a dish was described as “homemade,” which suggests that some gnarled-fingered grandmother has done the work, or “housemade,” which conjures an image of an artisan, devoted, hard-working, noble, pure. Call something “housemade,” and you can charge more for it than for something you call “homemade.” Homemade, for some reason, is not special anymore.

I’m not saying it’s always about being able to extract more money. Take a word like confit, for instance. A fine word. But horribly abused. I have seen confit of pineapple and confit of cucumber in the past couple of months. Neither is possible. Neither ingredient has fat that you can cook the thing in. So what gives?

In the case of the cucumber, the chef cooked a few slices in cucumber juice. Is this something that ought to have been noted on a menu? Does it contribute that much to a diner’s understanding of the dish? Will a diner say, Geez, what is it that makes these three thin slices of cucumber on my plate so special, and why is it that I am so much more interested in them and their flavor and texture than the hulking pork chop next to it? No, no and no.

So why list it, then? It’s pretentious and comical.

Because it contributes to the diner’s sense that the kitchen is taking the time to do things, and that it is both skilled and up on all the trends. And because, yeah, all of these things mean that you can charge a little more.

IN PRAISE OF SUPER CHICKEN:

Morning, Todd-

I have since learned that this is a chain, but I had a great lunch the other day at Super Chicken out in Tyson's.

Moist, juicy chicken with fresh and steaming sides and generous portions too. The black beans were especially well-seasoned.

Now, I'm not pretending it's a 3 (or even 2) star meal, but it was exactly what I needed to cap of a lazy Saturday afternoon. I wouldn't call it a go-out-of-your-way destination, but I felt the need to give it a shout out. Sometimes simple and satisfying fits the bill. If people in the area need a quick bite to eat, I'd give it a look.

Todd Kliman:

Well, it’s not a chain the way McDonald’s is a chain.

Thanks for writing in. I just wish you didn’t feel the need to qualify it so much.

“Simple and satisfying” is enough of an accomplishment when the prices are as low as they are there, and when a restaurant can deliver what it does so consistently, as this one does.

I think Super Chicken does a great job.

"VEE MUST SEE YOUR PAPERS," CONT.:

When David Beckham joined the LA Galaxy and on their first trip to DC the whole team dined out I believe at Mortons.

Mr. Beckham did not have any identification on him and they refused to serve him any alcohol.

Todd Kliman:

“Bend THAT, Mr. Beckham.”

Difference here is, the chatter had i.d. Restaurant refused to acknowledge its validity.

A WEEKEND IN THE SUBURBS TO EXPLORE:

The lease on my mostly-trustworthy car, Rudy, is about to end, and I wanted to indulge in a weekend full of un-Metro-able food. If you had only weekend to explore the suburbs, where would you go?

Todd Kliman:

You named your car?

And you picked Rudy?

Gotta be a story there, right?

I’d explore the Eden Center. I mean, out of the 110 shops, I think it is, that make up the labyrinthine plaza, 40 of them are devoted to food and drink. And really, I have never had a bad meal there. Many awfully good ones, and many great ones, too.

Among my favorites there these days is Banh Cuon Saigon, in the corner panel of the plaza known as Saigon West. Fabulous banh cuon. Get them stuffed with shrimp, and ladle on the nuoc mam to your heart’s content (it comes not in a dainty little dipping bowl, but in a humongous Mason jar that sits on the table).

Afterward, stop by the new Bambu, a few doors down from Huong Viet, and get one of their terrific shaved ice drinks — I love the one I had recently with coconut, pandan jelly, longan, basil seed and coconut juice. They also make the best avocado smoothie I’ve ever had — with an abundance of real avocados; most places stint. Great Vietnamese coffee, too.

GREAT HOMEMADE PIZZA: A RECIPE:

After much experimenting, tinkering, and mediocre results, I have finally found a method that works well for home made pizza.

Jim Lahey’s No Knead Pizza recipe. The dough is ridiculously easy. Dump everything into a bowl, mix until incorporated, and let sit and ferment for 18 hours. I’m still playing around with the correct water/flour ratio, but so far so good.

For cooking the pizza, Lahey advocates the broiler method. Place a pizza stone under the broiler element, crank the oven as high as it will go for 30 minutes (my oven goes to 550 degrees), when you are ready to cook the pizza, flip the oven to high broil, slide the pizza on to the stone, and broil until the crust is golden brown (5-6 minutes).

It’s still difficult to get the crust to char up like wood fired pizza ovens, but by far this was the best pizza I’ve ever made at home.

Todd Kliman:

I’m gonna try this.

How about we all try it, and report back. And maybe give you some tweaks to make … Crowd-sourcing a recipe!

By the way, is this a recipe for a homemade pizza or a housemade pizza?

Re: WISEGUY, AT 3RD AND MASSACHUSETTS NW:

Thank you so much for the recommendation on Wiseguy pizza. I had the single best slice of Margherita pizza I have ever had.

Perfect crust, sweet and tasty tomatoes, the mozzarella wasn't insipid. It was worth every mile I drove to get there and every dollar I spent on it.

Todd Kliman:

You’re welcome. I love that Margherita they do. I’m craving a slice right now …

VEAL PARM, IDs, AND THE JEWISH MOTHER IN VA. BEACH:

Three things:

The best veal parm in the city itself is at the Palm. If you sit at the bar, you can get a half order, which is the size of a normal entrée. The side of spaghetti that they offer with it is not worth the price, nor is anything else not on the Italian menu, so I'd suggest appetizers elsewhere. But if you stick with the veal (or chicken) parm, a classic cocktail or beer (wine by the glass is fine, but check the prices first), you'll be happy.

My girlfriend is an EU citizen and her ID gets rejected periodically, but most places accept it just fine. Most recently, it happened at the Gibson, but the guy at the door was nice. He explained that they couldn't take it due to alcohol board regulations and claimed they'd lose their license for serving her without a passport. This is most definitely not true, but there are plenty of other places to spend money in the city, which we did with no problem.

I was at the Jewish Mother in Virginia Beach two weeks ago, and note that it closed and reopened about 3 miles off the strip. It remains as good as ever, which is to say it has decent sandwiches and breakfast all day, but isn't really anything special. They're renowned for their desserts, which are merely decent (a bit sweet) but remarkable in that nearly all are larger than the average human head.

Todd Kliman:

Funny you single out the veal parm at The Palm, because another chatter in the queue just now has written in to say that it’s the best he’s had in the area, too.

And — another instance of “vee must see your papers!” Amazing.

Where are people getting this from? Actually, I take that back — I know where they’re getting it from.

PASSPORTS, CONT.:

From the Va ABC website hecking Identifications

The law states that a customer must be at least 21 years of age to purchase alcohol. There is no legal requirement that a customer show identification, but the best way to verify the customer's age is to request picture identification. Types of Acceptable ID The acceptable types of identification for determining age are: valid driver's license issued by any state or Washington, D.C., armed forces identification card, U.S. passport, foreign government visa, or a valid photo identification card issued by Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles. (3 VAC 5-50-20) Elements of Acceptable ID In order to be acceptable, an ID should include: photograph of bearer, signature, height of bearer, date of birth and expiration date. (3 VAC 5-50-20) Unacceptable IDs for Purchasing Alcohol College/university ID, expired ID, social security card, government work ID, resident alien card, green card, international driver's license, INS border crosser card and INS worker's authorization card. Virginia IDs

Todd Kliman:

Is it the same language in DC? Because the episode occurred in DC.

And even if the language is the same, the chatter said that he furnished a “foreign i.d.,” by which I assume he meant a “foreign government visa.”

HELP! -- ISO: INDIAN FOOD NEAR DOWNTOWN SILVER SPRING:

Is there any decent Indian food near downtown Silver Spring?

I have had one too many disappointments at Bombay Gaylord, and Gar-E is really more Nepalese than traditional Indian.

Todd Kliman:

There isn’t. And I’ve really scoured that area.

What you should do is, hop in the car and head to Jewel of India, in the Hillandale Shopping Center. It’s not far. 10-12 minutes from downtown Silver Spring, at most. Some great curries, and they make a really good bowl of rice, too, which is not as easy as it sounds and counts for more than you would think.

SOFT SHELL SEASON: WHERE SHALL I GO?:

Full Moon in May has passed, so its soft shell crab season.

Would love a non-fried, sauteed version that doesn't have a cream sauce. Any suggestions?

Todd Kliman:

I’d make a date with Johnny’s Half Shell, on Capitol Hill.

Ann Cashion always gets good ones — sweet and meaty and full of juice and pop. And she also knows how to sautee them — cooks them just enough to give them a little texture on the outside, but not so much that they lose their juice and pop.

No cream. Instead, a nice beurre blanc to make things a little more luxurious.

PASSPORT AND DC LIQUOR LAWS, CONT.:

From dc.gov- What are valid forms of ID required to obtain alcoholic beverages? A government-issued photo identification such as a driver’s license, passport, or military ID that displays the person’s name, date of birth, and signature. Nothing mentioned about accepting foreign ID- guess that is why person was asked for passport. Sounds the server complied with the law.

Todd Kliman:

Also doesn’t say “US Government-issued,” but ok.

Server complied.

Still ridiculous. If I were a waiter, I would sooner quit than have to ask someone to furnish a passport to get a drink.

HOUSEMADE OR HOMEMADE, CONT.:

Pizza Continued...since I live in an apartment building, I'll call it Apartment-made Pizza. Pizza 1 was - Pesto, beet greens (pre-sautéed with garlic and red chili flakes), goat cheese. Pizza 2 was - Pesto, caramelized onions, sautéed mushrooms, pecorino.

Todd Kliman:

Love beet greens.

Very underrated as an ingredient to cook with, and even as a vegetable to serve with a roast chicken. I like the pleasing bitterness, which isn’t as pronounced as what you’d find in a chard. Good in soups and stews, too.

I’ll have to give it a try on pizza. Sounds terrific, what you made.

Gotta run, everyone. Enjoy this spectacular gift of a Spring day …

Be well, eat well, and let’s do it again next Tuesday at 11 …







[missing you, TEK … ]