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.
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'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
This homey cafe in Ballston is the only Russian-Uzbek restaurant in the area. But novelty alone doesn't recommend it. I love all the things that chef-owner Bakhtiyor Rakhmatullaev does with dough and meat -- from the savory pastries (samsas, cheburekis, and piroshkas) that are essential to any meal to the fabulous dumplings (including veal-stuffed pelmeni and manti, the latter filled with ground spiced lamb and buried under drifts of sour cream). My two meals here were richly rewarding, and among the most memorable of this spring and summer.
There are more reasons to head to Frederick than a chance to dine high (Volt) or low (Family Meal) at one of ex-TV chef Bryan Voltaggio's spots. You can, instead, dine in the middle at owner-chef Ric Ade's homage to the rich culinary traditions of Turkey, Greece and Lebanon. The dining room, with its marble floors and white-and-blue color scheme, is cool and inviting on a hot summer day, and despite the almost exhaustive reach of the menu -- 87 items in all, not including specials -- the kitchen is surprisingly consistent. Those specials are where to turn first: sweet sugar snap peas with almonds, black salt and olive oil; a whole, sweet dorade perfumed with oregano and lemon and cooked on the grill to a perfect underdoneness. Don't miss the homemade fig and apricot newtons for dessert, rich and buttery cookies that simultaneously summon and obliterate all your memories of the packaged treats from your childhood.
Curry Leaf, Laurel
The former chef at Udupi Palace, the beloved Langley Park vegetarian Indian restaurant that shuttered three years ago, has made a triumphant return at this comfy Laurel stripmall restaurant. Saravan Krishnan presides over a kitchen that covers a lot more ground than his predecessor's did -- street food, curries, Indo-Chinese, tandoor, dosas, biryani, and breads are among the categories that make up the long and sprawling menu. Some Indian food can be characterized as spicy. Krishnan's is that more elusive beast -- it's spiced. Heat is not the end game, though he certainly doesn't shy away from it; the thing you take away from many of these dishes, however, is the way a gravy or a sauce appears to change as you eat it, the way its complex, carefully coaxed flavors deepen and reveal new and different truths as you go. Among the must-orders are the lemon rice -- its light, citrusy topnotes accentuate the nuttiness of the crushed and toasted cashews scattered throughout -- and a Sri Lankan specialty of hardboiled eggs in a rich brown curry shot through with black pepper and cinnamon and served with Ceylon-style parathas, smaller than their Indian counterparts and coiled like ropes at rest. The latter eats like a lusher version of the Malaysian staple roti canai and might just be the most memorable dish I've eaten this year.
The Red Hen, DC
It's a simple-sounding recipe -- finesse on the plate, warmth from the staff, character in the room -- but precious few restaurants pull it off. This one does, with an almost effortless aplomb. I've dined here three times in the past month, and with the exception of a couple of dishes (notably a hen that could use some black pepper), everything on ex-Proof cook Michael Friedman's modern Italian menu has been either good or very good. In the latter category: a fantastic dish of sweetbreads, polenta, bacon and a fried egg that combines the soothing pleasures of a simple Southern breakfast with the rusticky charms of a good French bistro. I don't think it's a stretch to call this Bloomingdale restaurant the surprise of the Spring season. As a matter of fact, I don't think it's a stretch to say that it's the best restaurant to debut in DC this year.
RG's BBQ Cafe, Laurel
I previously noted that the ribs had come off too easily from the bone. Problem solved. The last batch I had were fantastic -- as good as ribs can be when they are not cooked outdoors for hours over an open pit. The pork 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.
I'm a huge fan. The food is delicious, and the service is attentive. You can tell they care about the product that they are turning out.
I consider myself somewhat of a sandwich snob, and this place is quickly becoming one of my favorites. I've also had some very good sides, including a delicious sweet potato salad that I ate last week.
Sandwich and snob can’t go together in the same sentence, can they? I mean, is there a dish or food that is inherently less snobby than a sandwich? It’s the great gastronomic democratizer, slipping something in between two pieces of bread.
But anyway — yeah, I hear you. I’m very much the same way. I love sandwiches, and hate to see what too often passes for one, especially when the prices get high.
As for Bub and Pop’s — count me a fan. I’ve now tried about 10 of their sandwiches. Most are good. One is super special, and that’s the Pop’s Beef Brisket. The brisket is treated very well, and has both give and juice, it’s doused in veal jus, topped with an aged gouda, and finished with a nice, sharp apple-horseradish cream. Oh, and topped with a fried egg. Killer.
One of the neat things about it is, the little unexpected touches are not deployed to make you see this sandwich in a new light. They’re just smart. And the sandwich never forgets, as they say, where it came from. It’s a remarkably grounded sandwich for all its cheffy extras. It’s workmanlike, simple, hearty.
If you’re in the area today, go. Just make sure to clear the afternoon, because you won’t be getting any work done after you’ve had it.
Re: LE DIPLOMATE -- NEW-ISH, ON 14TH ST. NW:
Finally went to Le Diplomate.
The food was okay and the bread was probably the best part of the meal. But what I really want to comment is the noise.
This place is so deafening, I have to scream to make a conversation. They claim that they have new soundproofing now, which I did not notice. Have they thought about enclosing the bar area, to make the dining room, less noisy?
I really doubt they would do that, much less consider it.
Look, we talk a lot on here about noise in restaurants and how too often that noise detracts from rather than enhances the dining. At Le Dip, though, I don’t think the noise is a detractor.
I think it could be brought down a smidge or two or three, but this is never going to be a place for intimate dining and shouldn’t be. It’s meant to be brassy. And sexy. And it is.
Whatever I may have said about the place in the past couple of months, I have not gone after the set-piece of a dining room. It’s so much of the reason to go there.
My memories of my meals at Le Dip come down to the dazzling space and the scene, the superlative bread, and about five dishes (the creme brulee, the tete de cochon, the chicken liver mousse among them) I would return for any time. It adds up to a very positive impression, though I think it’s telling that my memories are in the order I listed them.
Re: CURRY LEAF -- NEW, IN LAUREL:
I went to Curry Leaf last week on your recommendation.
Oh my god, the vadas were the best I have ever had outside of India. That might be a bold claim to make, but they were delicious.
Crispy outside, light inside, no grease, no heaviness, delicate spicing. And the sambars and chutneys that go with them are beautifully done, too.
Saravan Krishnan, the chef there, is a talent. Udupi Palace, in its heyday, was a gem of a place, with some of the most vivid, exciting southern Indian cooking I’ve ever had. It’s good to see him back in the kitchen.
Who else has been?
HEADING TO REHOBOTH BEACH NEXT WEEK -- WHERE DO I EAT?:
I'm going to Rehoboth Beach next week for vacation. I have experienced the Ocean City, Maryland dining scene which was bleak. Any suggestions?
The dining scenes could hardly be more different. If you really like food — in other words, if going out to eat is something you think about constantly, and strategize and plan for, and read up about — then Rehoboth Beach is a better vacation spot.
I love Casapulla’s South for the excellent subs and hoagies (I mean, if you can make a tuna sub taste special, you know you’ve got the gift). We simply don’t have any place like this in the area. Some come close, but they’re not quite there.
I also like Henlopen City Oyster House for the great soft shells, and 8 varieties of oysters. Fun spot, too; lively, unpretentious, and the staff is friendly and doesn’t push.
Confucius, for Chinese. Yes, Chinese at the beach. I’d be skeptical, too, but it’s absolutely worth seeking out, several cuts above your standard take-out joint. Great chicken-ginger soup, excellent cumin chicken.
Nage, ideally for lunch. Relaxing space, and you can almost always find a good bowl of soup, a good sandwich, and your pick of more than two dozen wines (if memory serves) by the glass.
And Espuma, which is only open for dinner. Sometimes the kitchen’s trying too hard to swing for the fences, but I’ve had many enjoyable meals here, and some almost-memorable ones, too.
For what it’s worth, I’ve been hearing good things from readers and friends about A(muse), but it opened just after I was last in Rehoboth.
Hope that helps. I’d love to know where you end up. Drop me a note when you return …
FOLLOWING-UP: DINING IN FLORENCE:
In response to your reader's question from the August 6 chat about dining in Florence: you simply cannot miss a meal at Cibreo.
Chef Fabio Picchi is classic Tuscan character! If the pigeon is on the menu, order it!
On the more casual side for lunch, stop by 'ino for amazing panini.
Definitely grab an aperitivo and a panino al tartufo at Procacci, one of the oldest and most elegant bars in Florence.
Thanks for chiming in on this … and I hope our asker gets a chance to see this before touching down.
Todd, we used to love a reason to go to Balt so my husband could go to Attman's for "revelation", as they call it in Balt, or what we typically call "sable."
For those who don't know, it's a Jewish delicacy of smoked fish, at a price point rivaling caviar. Last time, they had stopped carrying it due to the cost and demand.
Do you know where I can find it and surprise him, other than Wegman's?
Just typing the words smoked sable my mouth begins to water.
If only I could make a plate materialize in front of me right now — loaded down, also, with good bagels, cream cheese, thin-sliced red onion, some olives …
Georgetown Bagelry, in Bethesda, has smoked sable. So does Parkway Deli, in Silver Spring. Bagels and …, in Annapolis, which is where I go when I have cravings of this kind, has it, too; they also have fantastic bagels — better than Georgetown Bagelry and orders of magnitude better than Parkway.
I’m curious: who else out there goes crazy for smoked sable?
I know people who think it’s both too fish and too oily. I know people who think it’s interesting. I know people who like it once in a while, but are not made mad by it. I know people who like it, but don’t love it.
Who loves it, aside from our chatter’s husband (and presumably our chatter too?) and moi?
re: Florence -- Antica Noe is a really good sandwich shop. If you're anywhere near the place stop by for a bite and grab me a t-shirt because mine shrunk.
La Bussola is a place we stumbled into for lunch. The pizzas looked and smelled great, but my plate was better. http://i.imgur.com/PEXep1l.jpg
Everyone seems to love Acqua al Due (the original) more than I did. Maybe it was just a bad night.
I had a great time at Il Profeta. You won't find many locals, but we had a great meal, and a fun experience. They have a very good ribollita and an over the top cheesy truffled pasta dish that has to be eaten to be believed. Say hi to Claudio. He is the owner and runs the front of the house. He loves to chat, and you'll be rewarded with more food than you can eat. One bit of warning, avoid the steak. If all of the good restaurants are closed just eat gelato.
Thanks for the chime-in …
Who knew Florence would generate so much conversation …?
POSTCARD FROM ... NEW HAMPSHIRE:
I wrote in with some end-of-pregnancy dining reports, and a bit after baby arrived we headed to the cool weather of New Hampshire.
Whenever I travel away from my home in the DC area I always end up contrasting and comparing to some degree what I miss wherever I am traveling to (in the case of NH it's ethnic food for sure) and what I love about where I am which is absent in the DC area. I thought I would share a few of the latter. Of course, this has a different slant than it would at one point because I am accompanied by an unruly toddler and a newborn baby, so no more dining at Arrow's in Ogunquit (weep!).
The sandwich at Moe's has a big place in my heart. Opened in 1959, my grandfather, who was a local doctor, used to call until recent years in his advanced state of dementia and simply say "This is Doc Robbins, I'm ready for my lunch" before he walked over. They still have truly one Italian sandwich (with some variations) and it's a fantastic one with the same provolone, pickles, bread, that they have used since they opened. It's a true part of the local culture and wildly popular. Just don't dare ask for abominations such as mayo or lettuce on a Moe's. I wish them many more decades of popularity and hope they never diversify.
As a young adult there was nothing better than the wacky diner food at the Friendly Toast. As I have grown, so have they, but they remain an local institution of diverse, weird decor and even weirder food which just work perfectly (at least most of it). Nothing pretentious, just diner food gone wild with some thick slices of fresh homemade toast. Try the Orleans Fries, sweet potato fries tossed in brown sugar and tabasco when hot and served with sour cream, or the Matt sandwich: cayenne-cheddar bread stuffed with black beans, sliced avocado, salsa fresca, cheddar and cream cheese and grilled until crisp, or even the Mr Haegar, "a messy melt of dill pickles, cheddar, plum tomatoes and dijon horseradish mustard on oatmeal bread". And a kid can get any entree at 50% off which is a lot of fun.
Lastly, I can't help but mention Newicks because I haven't been for years and just took my husband. A massive, wood paneled dining room on the Great Bay complete with red-checked wax table clothes and some microwaved dinner rolls. They really only have lobster, fried seafood, and steamed clams, served in heaping portions in styro-foam. A massive pile of fresh, crispy seafood will set you back $10-$12 with some onion rings and coleslaw. And you will be in the company of loads of New Englanders, many coming in on buses from local nursing homes and such, gobbling them all up --- this is pretty much a locals only place.
Bevin, thanks so much for this wonderful peek into small-town New Hampshire dining. I loved reading this.
That Italian sandwich at Moe’s sounds fantastic — hell, provolone and pickles and good bread is enough for me, really, if they’re all good and fresh.
I’d love to try the Orleans fries at the Friendly Toast — sounds like one of those crazy concoctions that shouldn’t work but does … and then becomes an institution. Sweet potato fries tossed in brown sugar and Tabasco and served with sour cream. Um, yeah — why not? Especially after midnight and a long night of drinking. I can picture it now, (though I’ll bet the place doesn’t stay open that late): feeding bites across the table to the one you’re with, laughing and carrying on and grooving on good bad-for-you food, and maybe ordering another, just because.
And you made me go weak at the mention of the the “massive pile of fresh crispy seafood” at Newicks for $12.
Not a meal, but it should be, for the person(s) going to Florence: Vavoli gelato just off Piazza San Marco. The absolute best gelato you'll ever have.
A meal, if touristy, Cantinetta Antinori should be open. Old school Florentine cuisine, impeccable service, a great selection of wines by the glass.
Let us go and make our visit.
In the room the women come and go,Talking of Michelangelo
And getting their fill of gelato.
DINING IN NYC, CONT.:
Re the discussion about places to eat in New York City, there are some pretty high quality, reasonably priced diners along 8th to 10th Avenue, the West Side, of Manhattan.
We were just there and enjoyed the Cosmic Diner at 888 8th Avenue (and W. 52 Street), also the Galaxy Diner at 665 9th Avenue (on W. 46 Street). Too bad the writer can't visit Astoria in Queens which has begun to be a kind of Georgetown: they have several excellent restaurants there.
A kind of Georgetown? Astoria?
I mean, I get what you’re saying Milton, but no. I’ll never say never — the Upper West Side was basically a tomato farm in Edith Wharton’s day — but Astoria will never be a kind of Georgetown.
Actually, come to think of it, Georgetown isn’t even a kind of Georgetown.
I’m thinking, now, of “All in the Family,” and how someone ought to come along and do a show about an irascible stick-in-the-mud and his daffy old-school wife and their battles with would-be hipsters and their gentrifying ways — cronuts, urban gardens, crazy pickling.
Speaking of cronuts: I asked the question on Twitter last week — shouldn’t it be pronounced KWA-nut, or, even more accurately, kwa-NUT, rather than KRO-nut?
POSTCARD FROM ... MASSACHUSETTS:
Sometimes deliciousness can be found in the most unexpected places.
Take Banh Mi Saigon, a small mom & pop Vietnamese joint in Hadley, Massachusetts. Zero décor, in a nameless storefront strip mall, next to a tattoo parlor, along Route 9 between Hadley and Amherst. A banh mi stuffed with succulent, caramelized grilled pork, fresh vegetables (cucumber, cilantro, red onion, pickled daikon and carrots), but what they really nailed was the bread. So often I find the banh mi baguettes around the DC area lacking, which I find surprising given the Vietnamese population around here.
Banh Mi Saigon's baguette was perfect, with a nice crisp, crackling crust. Lunch for under five dollars, can't beat it.
Great and authentic Vietnamese sandwiches in a small town in Massachusetts. Don’t you just love that?
I’m curious: had you heard good things about it and ventured there with the expressed purpose of trying their banh mi, or did you just sort of stumble upon it on your way someplace else?
EATING BEFORE THE SHOW:
Finally got tickets for Book of Mormon at Kennedy Center! Are there any decent happy hour places or good bar food within walking distance, where we can graze on food and drink some good and innovative cocktails?
Our go to spot these days was District Commons, but have been there so many times and need to find a new place. If we eat a three or four course dinner before the show, I am afraid we will fall asleep during the show!
Three places for you to consider, and all are within about a 12-15 minute walk.
Circle Bistro on Washington Circle.
Ris on L St. in the West End.
Sea Catch in Georgetown.
If interesting drinking’s slightly more important than interesting eating, I’d go with Ris or Circle Bistro. Sea Catch is the place to go if you want to do raw bar and sit and linger.
Ris isn’t a small plates place, and not really designed for grazing, but you can order simply — a good burger and a good scallop margarita (a twist on ceviche). Circle Bistro has share plates that might work well for what you’re looking for, including a nice cheese board with fig jam and pecan raisin bread that they grill before sending out.
Let me know where you end up, and how things turn out.
HEADING TO THE OUTER BANKS -- WHERE TO EAT?:
Hey there, Todd -
Any Outer Banks, N.C. dining suggestions from you or the crowd? We'll be staying in Duck, first time. We'll be cooking a lot but it'd be nice to have a few meals out. Duck Donuts seems to have its fans, and there's a clam bar near our house, at least.
Kill Devil Grill. A must.
I love the place. It’s everything you could want a restored diner to be. Fun, lively, affordable, and with much better food than you would think just to glance at the menu. Save room for the desserts. I love the strawberry shortcake.
If you go, and you will ; ), I’d love to get a report.
THINKING ABOUT SABLE ...:
The question about sable really got me thinking.
I grew up in New York City and we ate sable, white fish, lox (belly lox at that time, not nova) and fried kippers (with onions) pretty regularly. I missed those food items, plus kosher deli, the most when I went away for school. They were always waiting for me when I cam home on vacations.
With the exception of nova, I never have any of that any more. My mother, who died a few years ago, was always able to pick out the best sable and white fish and prepare and serve it better than almost any restaurant or deli counter.
I think I have been spoiled. My kids certainly won't have any of those same memories, although when we go to New York we always seem to hit a traditional kosher deli and those are getting fewer and far between. Thanks for the memories!
Thanks for writing in.
You’re right about what’s generally out there now, or at least in this area: nova, and pretty much nothing else.
Most people don’t like belly lox — they find it too salty — and so a lot of places refuse to stock it. It’s a shame.
And smoked sable and whitefish are too fishy and too oily for mass tastes.
Which is interesting if you think about it, because all manner of strong and funky flavors in foods are now in the marketplace. Let’s hope things change. These delicacies are too good to be forgotten.
LE DIPLOMATE, CONT.:
Le Diplomat is a "dazzling space!?" Not to go all Furstenberg on you, but to me it's a carefully manufactured replica of something that exists in Europe, and at the edges something makes my teeth tingle and I know it's a fake.
Look up! The ceiling isn't that color from having had a million cigarettes smoked under it, but because it has been painted to look like it has.
The food is good (although maybe not as great as people seem to think it is), and French, but I don't see why it has to be served in a fake mini-France. The place used to be a drycleaner, for Pete's sake!
If Stephen Starr is really dedicated to giving people an authentically French experience, then maybe he should import the style and pace of service you would find in a Paris bistro. I doubt the Washington crowd would have their wallets open for that, though. I remain undazzled.
Look, it’s one word. Shorthand. Settle down.
Here’s what I wrote in my actual review:
“Never mind that no actual French bistro looks like this anymore. Never mind that even when they did, they didn’t look like this. With light this flattering. With floors this perfectly imperfect. Restaurateur Stephen Starr spent more than $6 million to bring this fanatically rendered stage to life. … “
Re: Sable ... I'm pretty sure that KosherMart (or whatever they're calling themselves now) stocks sable, as does Shalom, and I'd assume that Seven Mile up in Baltimore does as well. (Although in all cases it's probably the same ACME product you get at Wegman's.)
Sometimes Neopol up in Baltimore would have a smoked fish that was close in texture or flavor (I especially loved their smoked bluefish). I haven't been back in a while but their store or farmer's market shop might be worth checking. (Also, the gravlax at Neopol's Baltimore location is terrific as well.)
Good tips — thanks for writing in …
LE DIPLOMATE, CONT.:
I couldn't disagree more with the noise complaint. It's a part of the vibe and even the reason one goes.
It's upscale casual, fun, trendy, and the list goes on. I've never seen a restaurant in DC w/ such a "scene" as this one. It's definitely THE restaurant of Summer 2013.
I loved every detail, and I'm hoping to sneak in a visit at least one more time before summer ends. Food was superb...a little pricey for what it is, but you're paying for the total package.
I wrote in to you a while back asking if it was worth the "hype"...I think so!
It’s an easy place to like. And also, as we’ve been seeing, an easy place to bitch about.
What it is not, evidently, is a place people can stay away from.
Or stop talking about.
Gotta run, everyone, and thanks to all of you and your tasty talk of authentic banh mi and crazy sweet potato fries and gelato and French food and smoked sable I’m absolutely starving.
Stay cool, and happy travels to all of you on the road, or heading there.
Be well, eat well, and let’s do it again next Tuesday at 11 …