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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 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 was a finalist for the MFK Fisher Distinguished Writing Award, and recently took home first-place honors for feature writing from the Association of Food Journalists.
Kliman 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
W H E R E I ' M E A T I N G N O W . . .
The new king of Koreatown. This is the best Korean barbecue out there right now, served up by a slew of young, t-shirted staffers in a rollicking, industrial setting. Go for the marinated pork ribs.
Bangkok Golden, Falls Church
I was tempted to say this a while back, but didn't. I will now, after a recent knockout visit: I'd rather go here, for the Lao menu, than Little Serow. The range of tastes is vast, and every plate is alive with flavor -- bright and pungent and smoky and funky. Not to mention crunch and heat. Not to mention a shorter wait and a lighter bill (my recent meal of four dishes and a beer, pre-tax: $43).
Rose's Luxury, DC
I love the crackle in the room when you walk in. I'm not talking about mere noise; lots of restaurants have noise. I'm not even talking about buzz, that sense that a new place is hot. This one has an energy that is unmistakable, a sense that you have entered a kind of rare and cherished zone where the enthusiasm of the kitchen and the staff is returned in kind by the diners, who all seem to walk out the door with smiles on their faces. It's not hard to understand why. Rose's Luxury has an old-school vibe, and a sort of making-it-up-as-we-go-along feel, from the homey, unassuming way the menu bids you to settle in and order to the dinner party-run-amok vibe to the yahrzeit-look-alike votives to the beer glasses that are sawed-off wine bottles. The chef, Aaron Silverman, logged stints in such high-profile kitchens as Momofuku in New York and Husk and McCrady's in Charleston, and you don't have to look hard to see elements of each of these places in the room and on the plate. Like his mentors David Chang and Sean Brock, he aims to bring off a marriage of extreme playfulness and extreme precision. The bulk of the menu consists of a dozen small plates in which Silverman sets out to cross the wires, compositionally speaking, and see what happens. A pate is a braiding of French, Italian (garlic bread are the toasts), Vietnamese (the rich, crushed-peanut topped spread brims with star anise), and I want to say Jewish (the brine for the jalapenos, onions and cukes that add crunch and tang tastes deli to me). It's seamlessly done, and highly addictive. He crosses high and low in a soup that tastes at once like liquefied popcorn and a delicate lobster veloute (the sweetness calls out for some sort of counterbalancing ingredient, or more lobster). It's not all derring-do. His gnocchi are more properly a kind of ravioli, stuffed with fennel and mint, sauced with not-too-much butter and topped with a generous scattering of crunchy toasted breadcrumbs. You'd be hard put to find five better pasta dishes in town right now. The final course is a page not out of Momofuku or Husk or McCrady's, but out of Komi -- share plates for two. In one, you lay luscious slices of perfectly smoked brisket on griddled Texas toast, add on tangy strands of pickled cabbage and smear the whole thing with a fluffy horseradish cream. The other is built around a beautifully brined pork chop -- sweet and aromatic and rich as the best pork can be -- with potlikker beans and a textbook red-eye gravy. The final act needs re-staging. The lack of a pastry chef doesn't help, nor does the tendency to over-think and over-embellish. Quenelles of chocolate cream sprinkled with dried rose petals and intended for spreading on slices of charred bread feels twee, not interesting, and hardly satisfies. More of the sink-in simplicity of the share courses would go a long way. Still, this is one of the most exciting debuts of the year. I'd even go so far as to say it's one of the most exciting debuts of the past three years.
New chef, same supremely assured restaurant. William Morris has risen to the top spot with the departure of Tony Chittum, and is a chef to watch. One of the best dishes on his tightly scripted menu of 15 dishes is also the unlikeliest: a roasted garlic soup. The taste of garlic is subtle, and the soup, a chicken stock base, gets its richness from a touch of cream and a yolk at the bottom of the bowl that you're meant to stir in after the broth is poured. One moment it tastes like a light veloute, another like a liquid roasted chicken, and another -- after you scoop up the fine dice of potatoes -- a chowder.
Khan Kabob, Chantilly
The best karahi I've had in ages, maybe ever, is a version here made with lamb brains. The brains, for the leery, resemble tiny curds, and the sauce of garlic, ginger, cilantro, tomato and chilis is so concentrated, and so smoky, that even after you've had your fill it's difficult to stop dipping your torn naan into the hammered metal vessel. Tariq Khan, the owner, was for many years part of the Ravi Kabob empire; he's created a worthy rival.
Yia Yia's Kitchen, Beltsville
If you want to see what a gyro can be, order the pork. It's sliced from a conical spit, and the meat is so dark you'd think it was charred. That's the effect of slow cooking, of melting fat, herbs and spices coming together to form a kind of bark. The meat is luscious, like that of a great spare rib, and you can pick up notes of fresh oregano and cinnamon. It's enfolded by a thick, griddled pita, into which the cooks stuff fistfuls of hot fries, along with tzaziki, chopped onions and tomato. The rest of the menu is rewarding, too -- pork chops with long-cooked green beans, onions and tomatoes; a good pastitsio; and a strapping mound of lamb bolognese.
Ya Hala, Vienna
The tabbouleh is made-to-order, and superb -- an explosion of tender, sweet parsley and fruity olive oil. The baba ghanous is exceptional, too -- subtly smoky, perfectly textured. If only for these two dishes, I'd recommend making the trek to this tiny, friendly Lebanese diner. But there's good stuff beyond, including an array of meat pies, minted yogurts, and small, delicate desserts. Alas, the meats, though flavorful, are not as tender as the rest of the cooking would seem to promise, but a dip in the excellent garlic sauce and a pile of perfect rice makes up for it.
That’s so great to hear!
I also really like the koi, with fish — a raw, or (if you prefer) very lightly cooked fish dish, similar to ceviche. And the charcoal pork with a moo ping-style dipping sauce. And the fish cooked in banana leaf, with its unmistakable perfume of dill.
I mean, just to get you started … ; )
Good morning, everyone. I hope you had a good weekend, and I’m eager to hear what you’ve been eating, and cooking, and — putting out the call again — what recipes you’re mulling for Thanksgiving.
If there’s a great family recipe, I’d love to see it.
The recipe looks interesting, and I’ll bet it produces a good bird, but yeah — people don’t like anything that doesn’t look like what they think everybody else in America is eating.
The thing about the turkey, though, is: how many people do you know who actually like the turkey? Most people load up on mashed potatoes, and that sweet potato assemblage thingie that looks like a sundae, and stuffing, and rolls, and rivers of gravy. And the great bronzed bird of memory? Maybe a slice or two.
Why? Because most of the time it’s dry. White meat, especially. Dry, and dull, and a waste of your calories and the cook’s time.
I’d be curious to know — who out there is a fan of white meat and who prefers dark meat?
Personally, I go for the neck, the back, the tail, and a wing. To me, those are the tastiest parts — I can do without anything else.
What about the rest of you?
Thanks for the quickie card.
I’ve been hearing really good things about Vedge. It’s on my list, and now with a star thanks to your thumbs-up.
Yes. I agree with you.
But at the moment, in this era of false casual, there are far too many restaurants in this city where less describes the portion size (and sometimes the effort and imagination on the plate) and more describes the pricing.
I’m seeing more and more $12 desserts, and this from restaurants who don’t have pastry chefs. $9 for ice cream — ice cream — is becoming standard in this city.
Take a look at the current lunch menu at Casa Luca — a Caesar salad with grilled tenderloin goes for $26. I like the cooking at Casa Luca, but what justifies a price like that at lunch?
I’ve praised Rose’s Luxury, a new restaurant on Barracks Row, for the past few weeks. But look at the cacio e pepe on their current menu. This is a simple dish of pasta in a cheese-and-black pepper sauce. It’s a good dish. It’s also $12 for a small portion AND the pasta (per my server) is not homemade.
How about Blue Duck Tavern?
They can be efficient when they need to, and the menu ought to have something for everyone, including you, the food lover.
Intriguing. I’m going to look into it more seriously now, thanks to your seconding.
It’s such a funny holiday. All about eating — that’s all it’s about, an entire holiday about eating — and yet so many anxieties. Over traditions, real or invented. Over family, and what will be said, and what will not be said (and what will be said that should not be said). Over a misbegotten sense of the ideal, which no one can possibly live up to. Over what to cook, when most people are too busy scarfing and drinking all day long to notice the grace notes in a dish …
You’re killing me. ; )
And you’re making me pine, too, for the fabulous caramel rice at my not-so secret spot La Regalade.
And, well — pine for everything food in that food-mad city.
Good ones! Thanks.
And keep ‘em coming, everyone. I like the idea of a great big sharing of ideas and recipes, and maybe prompting some of us to try new things this year.
No, I haven’t tried it. But I have seen it. And that is enough to tell me to tell you to skip it.
And you can skip the Thai menu, too. It’s fine. But you don’t go here for pretty good Thai. You go here for the Laotian dishes, which are excellent.
I’m here to spare you that sad fate.
Go to Jaymar Colombian Breeze, and make sure to get an arepa. Or several arepas.
Add a soup (ajiaco, if they have it, a wonderful almost-stew of chicken and a variety of potatoes) and make the soup and the arepas the foundation of your meal. If there are two of you, and you’re hungry, you’d only need one main course beyond that. Portions are hefty.
First of all, I loved the way you evoked the day. I love all those things, too, and I’m sure most everyone out there feels the same. It’s a hard holiday not to like.
And the skin — yes! I’m absolutely with you on that, as long as it’s a good skin. The best turkey skin I’ve ever eaten is the skin of the Red Bourbon heritage breed, a native breed that precedes the arrival of the white man.
Red Bourbons are expensive; last I checked more than $6 a pound. The last one I had, a couple of years ago, cost me $90. So I don’t recommend them widely. But if you like turkey skin, this one is thick and crisps up beautifully.
It’s also a good bird if, like me, you’re not into breast meat; it has a small breast — what, long ago, used to be considered a normal turkey breast, before that part of the bird was plumped-up by corporate heads to meet the demands of people who don’t really like game meat.
Thanks for writing in, Fabio.
And for explaining your reasoning.
I do want to say, though, that I could have picked a number of other examples from the menu. I think the prices on the lunch menu are high.
A puntarelle salad at lunch is $16. A green leaf salad with pears, apples and hazelnuts is $14. A daily risotto at lunch is $24.
Very well put.
Which is why I find it odd that the pasta wouldn’t be homemade. If you have a dish where there’s nowhere to hide, so to speak, and you’re charging $12 for a small portion, it would seem to me that that pasta ought to be homemade.
I’m hitting up Ayse for Lebanese/Turkish/Greek small plates in an inviting and simple setting, and Black Hog BBQ for ribs.
At Ayse, don’t miss out on the homemade fig newtons at the end, and appreciate the good and welcoming service.
OK, now I’m starving … : )
I love the idea of crabcakes at Thanksgiving. Would love to have that sometime.
Thanks for the recipe …
Yeah, that looks pretty great.
And Bon Appetit’s recipes are generally easy, because a lot of thought has gone into them, particularly in how to eliminate steps and ingredients that complicate things unnecessarily.
I might just try this one, myself, this year.
Thanks for writing in …
Homemade crème fraiche — I’ll bet that’s wonderful. It’s a great thing to add to mashed potatoes.
I’m hearing less and less about fried turkeys, but not from people who grew up in the South.
Take him to either Bourbon Steak, in Georgetown, or Charlie Palmer Steak, on Capitol Hill.
The steaks at each are impressive to behold and worthy of a splurge, and at the same time you can also find a lot beyond that that will satisfy you as a non-steak eater.
Nah. I can find enough drinking and debauchery on my own. : )
I like the look of the Thanksgiving Day menu at Liberty Tavern, in Arlington, a place I’m generally pretty high on.
Take a look: http://thelibertytavern.com/food.html
Last year it was $29 per adult, $18 per kid.
That qualifies as a very good deal amid a slew of restaurants charging around $60-$100.
The chef, Liam LaCivita, is good with breads (I love his Anadama), and has a gift for smart comfort food — two things that bode well for dinner there that day.
If you go, drop me a line and let me know how things turned out, ok?
Thanks for chiming in …
And I’m wondering the same thing you are with regard to Casa Luca.
I understand what it means to have a big-time talent in the kitchen, and Trabocchi is among the biggest not just in this city, but in this country. And I also know something about the cost of high-quality ingredients.
And still I look at some of the prices at Fiola, and now here, and shake my head.
Gotta run, lunch calls …
Thanks so much, all of you, for the great questions, and the great recipes, and the talk of turkey and the big day …
Be well, eat well, and let’s do it again next Tuesday at 11 …
[*missing you, TEK … *]