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 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: firstname.lastname@example.org
W H E R E I ' M E A T I N G N O W . . .
* Shoo-fly Diner, Baltimore
The high-falutin diner is not an easy idea to pull off. The tendency among pedigreed chefs is to fancify, to nudge the diner to go against its humble nature -- witness the curried frogs legs with watermelon radishes that turned up on the menu one night at Family Meal in Frederick last year, or the starchy service and air of restraint that make a meal at The Majestic feel more formal than fun. This one -- from Spike Gjerde and Amy Gjerde, who also own and operate Woodberry Kitchen and Artifact -- gets it right. Not a little money was spent on restoring the one-time shoe store, but sitting in the comfy dining room or at the downstairs lunch counter you are not made to stand in awe of what money can buy, casting your eye over the detail work as if it were a Renaissance fresco. You're invited to settle in. A recent review in the Baltimore Sun criticized the menu, which doubles as a placemat, for not making sense. I find it to be a charming homage to the soda fountains and diners of old, and a friend and I enjoyed poring over its details (and game-planning our final courses among a slew of options) in the time between placing my order and diving into dinner. The night I was in, the lone dish with fine-dining pretensions was the chicken and dumplings, but I appreciated how grounded it was for something so refined; I could also appreciate its pricetag ($13 for a good-sized bowl; and among the 10 dishes we ordered this night, it was the most expensive). Its best feature was its broth, which showed the sort of deep, foundational work that Spike Gjerde insists upon. A slight saltiness was evident by the end, when it had cooled, but it was not hard to miss how good the stock is; a single spoonful, and I was thinking of bones slow-roasting in the oven before being dropped in a stockpot. The burger is not obviously special -- nothing extra in the patty, and no unexpected embellishments. What makes it good is that the meat is rich without being fatty, and that the kitchen has found a way to reprise the smell and taste of the old-time flat-top burgers with their distinctive outer crust. The egg salad sandwich, on the other hand, is obviously special -- the creation, unmistakably, of someone who adores egg salad sandwiches. This one's served open-faced on a long, thick slice of bread; picture a French bread pizza. The star ingredient is not over mayo-ed, nor presented too finely or too coarsely, and is topped with some of the lightest homemade potato chips I've ever eaten, along with a scattering of shaved radishes and microgreens. The bread is worthy of top billing. It's homemade, as are all the baked goods at Woodberry Kitchen and Artifact. In fact, from the jelly for the excellent biscuit to the soft-serve ice cream (which comes in two varieties at the moment, cream and cafe au lait), everything you eat here is made from scratch. Gjerde also only serves meat that his staff has butchered, and is fanatical in procuring a local source for his products (an Asian-style noodle salad on the menu at Artifact featured Maryland peanuts). As at Woodberry, almost as much thought has gone into the drinks as the eats. There's a neat twist on a black Russian, which is served in a cup and saucer and goes down like a boozed-up espresso. The soft-serve is repurposed for a homemade milk shake featuring an oatmeal stout that went down far too fast for something so subtle and complex. A slushie made with 101-proof bourbon and fresh pear cider went down even faster. My complains this night were few -- quibbles more than criticisms. Creamed collards is a great idea, but they clotted after a few minutes at the table, and the dish only really came into focus with a few splashes of chef Gjerde's fish pepper sauce, which sits out on the table the way a bottle of Heinz does at a conventional diner. I would have liked more crispiness from the otherwise tasty Buffalo oysters (a twist on Buffalo wings). Most restaurants that serve pies, serve them too cold; the chocolate chiffon, here, is better than most in that regard -- it had only a chill -- but it would have been a lot better at room temperature. And the crust was too hard to penetrate with a fork. I cannot quibble, however, with its silken interior, which showcases one of the best versions of dark chocolate mousse I have eaten anywhere, pie or no. The perfect ending, this night, was the Tollhouse cookie, which came to the table still warm, as if snatched from the cookie sheet the moment it was done. A cold glass of milk alongside it would have been nice. But I'm not complaining.
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.
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.
* new this week
Thanks for the report — though how funny is this? You didn’t take even one of my recommendations.
No biggie — I’m glad you had good meals. And that you were kind enough to write in after the fact and let us know how they were.
Good morning, everyone. So cold and dreary outside today!
I’m glad to be inside, talking with all of you. What’s on your mind as Thanksgiving and, for some, Thanksgivukkah loom? Are your menus in final form? How are you doing your turkeys this year? Still in need of a side dish or two? What pies do you have in mind?
And of course — I’m eager to hear where you’ve been eating and drinking …
Good question. And hard to say.
Because what I hear from the people in the industry that I talk to is that it’s inflation — rising gas costs, and all the ways that that affects everything else.
You mentioned $25 and $30 entrees; I’m not even talking about those. I’m talking about $36 entrees. And the fact that you’re now seeing a lot of places that have entrees in the high 30s. And some in the 40s and 50s. It used to be that restaurateurs lived in fear of the $30 entree mark. Not anymore.
What I find interesting is that you’re not seeing more chefs using their training to come up with ways to present cheaper cuts of meat and fish in interesting ways. If certain ingredients are prohibitively expensive, then it would seem to me to make sense to turn to these lesser meats and fishes to make tasty dishes. But what do you see? In a lot of cases, the same star ingredients you’ve always seen. Presented the same way you’ve always seen. And restaurants are just charging more for these plates.
Which tells me they believe there is an audience for this.
If there weren’t, then I think we’d be seeing a lot more stews and braises. And a lot more main courses in the low 20s.
Man, does that sound great.
Tell me more about the kale and spinach salad. And pumpkin hummus? — never heard of such a thing; I want to hear more about that, too.
Love the sound of that sweet potato pie with the ginger snap crust.
Which reminds me — I want to put out a call to all of you for a rum cocktail or rum punch recipe. I want a drink that, ideally, I can make ahead of time. I’m looking for something that is balanced — something that will put all of my family in a good mood before the meal, without their noticing it.
And as far as guidance goes — I mean, the main thing (beyond the fact that you only want the Chinese menu, not the Chinese-American menu) is to make an effort to order across the range of dishes. The misperception is that Szechuan cooking is all hot and fiery. A lot of it is. But not all.
And the more you succeed in stocking your table with dishes that aren’t all spicy, the more you’ll be able to appreciate the variety and depth of the cooking. And the more, I think, you’ll be able to taste the spicy dishes as you continue through your meal.
I would be sure to order the pickled cucumbers with garlic and chili peppers. They’re spiced, but not really hot, and the coolness of the cukes and the vinegar are good foils for most of what’s to come.
I’d also make a point of ordering either the fish with cabbage or with ginger and scallions. Not just because they’re good dishes, but also because there’s not a lot of heat there.
An order of the ma po tofu is also a must, and keep in mind that this is a dish that you can sample a little of at the table and take the rest home; it makes a great leftover because it holds up very well to reheating.
Other dishes to look for: the dan-dan noodles; General Guan’s chicken; cold noodles with sesame; the wontons with chili oil; and the lotus root salad.
I just placed a call to Praline. Chef Gautrois left two weeks ago. One of the owners, Patrick Musel, described the split as “amicable.”
The new chef is the former sous chef, Samuel Lepetz. Prior to joining the kitchen at Praline he was the chef at Lavandou, in Cleveland Park.
Expect changes, including an expanded menu. Musel says he would like to do more “classic French food” — more stews, along with such dishes as veal cheeks, shrimp Provencale, and duck confit (which is a sometime-special now).
Agreed, all around.
Love that dish, especially the wonderfully velvety texture of the fish.
Thanks for chiming in …
I applaud you, though, for trying to find a way to celebrate this strange confluence of a holiday, which, for those of you who don’t know, will only come around again in 77,000 years.
You know, butternut squash would go well with lacy fried potato pancakes — what about a butternut squash puree, with butter mixed in, a good splash of apple cider, and a good pinch of nutmeg?
The Potomac, Rockville, Bethesda and Tenleytown locations all appear to be closed, too.
Is the new Shoo-fly Diner, which I review up top, too far to go?
I think it’d be just what you’re looking for.
Otherwise, how about 8407 Kitchen + Bar, in Silver Spring, with new chef Justin Bittner? Get the trotter tots and don’t overlook the charcuterie selection.
Or Iron Bridge Wine Co. in Columbia?
Or — though you can expect a wait — Rose’s Luxury. Far from the shopping hordes, and half the menu can be made vegetarian (admittedly, it’s a small menu. But still … )
I haven’t been, but I know people who have, and they seemed to have loved their time there. Both the quality of the cooking, and the intimacy of the dining experience.
On a somewhat separate note, and just to spur discussion — I generally dislike having a reservation as far in advance as you have to make one in order to get into Talula’s Table.
I even dislike a reservation — or a concert ticket, or a play ticket — three months in advance. For one thing, who knows what will happen between now and then, and what sorts of obstacles Life will throw into your path. For another, I tend to find that the long anticipation only raises expectations to a degree that the actual experience cannot come close to satisfying.
Whereas a spontaneous sort of thing — driving to a city on a whim to eat dinner, say — doesn’t diminish expectations in the least. Because there are none, yes, but also, I find, the meal is only helped by this sort of giddy dropping of everything and heeding the imperative to live life in the frenetic moment.
You’re probably asking the wrong person — I’ve driven to three different states to eat his cooking.
And he is fascinating, yes, though much less so now that he doesn’t hop from restaurant to restaurant and doesn’t sleep nights on the kitchen floor.
Good luck with the tandoori turkey.
And one quibble before I let you go — instead of PG County, can you say Prince George’s? One, it brands you a newcomer to say, and two, it always sounds to my ears (and the ears of many others) to be a slight. Even if that was not your intention. Which I’m sure it was not. Notice that nobody ever says PW County. It’s always Prince William. Notice, also, how in the Washington Post something will happen in Silver Spring or Rockville or Bethesda, but generally speaking, if something happens in Oxon Hill or Suitland or Laurel, it happens in Prince George’s County. Specificity of place is denied.
On a somewhat similar tip: you flight into and out of Dulles Airport and Reagan National Airport. Taxidrivers will ask you, in their shorthand: “You goin’ to Reagan or Dulles?”
But it’s BWI Thurgood Marshall Airport. Nobody cites Marshall by name. And that name comes after the BWI.
OK, back to food …
I worry, though, that it might have too much bite. How is it in that regard? I want something so balanced you’re only barely aware that you’re drinking booze … until it hits you thirty minutes later.
First of all, thanks for your kind words about this chat. I appreciate it.
There’s a pretty good one out of Canada, with a team of afficionados/experts and hosted by a woman named Ruth Dunley. You can find it at o.canada.com
Mostly, though, there are a lot of wine message boards out there, where people weigh in and dispense their knowledge, or, as is often as not the case, pontificate and dispense their knowledge or dispense their knowledge and bully …
Good ideas. Thank you.
I want to take the edge off — way off. ; )
Quick story. (Not, I want to emphasize, to make anyone look bad so much as to share something that, as food-obsessed people, you may all find familiar, and get a chuckle from. And, well, because everyone likes to hear that every family is basically the same as theirs):
My sister-in-law had asked what she could bring. (Regular readers of this space will know what I think of that.) Not wanting to exclude, though, on the big day, I said sure. She said: I can go to the local farmers’ market on Sunday — they live in NYC — and “pick up some fresh vegetables.” Which, of course, would not be fresh come Thursday. I suggested something for the afternoon — something light, something hors d’oeuvre-y, something to go with drinks. She emailed a couple days later to say she had bought some jars of pickled vegetables.
Mmm. Perfect with wine and cocktails.
I may just try that.
I’ll bet it goes well with pickles, too. ; )
Thanks for writing in …
Depends who you talk to.
If you talk to people who have lived for a long time in the county, or who used to live there and feel fiercely about it (and Prince Georgian’s are fierce in the same way that Brooklynites — well, old Brooklynites, not the arrivistes — are fierce in fighting for self-definition), then you will hear them say “Prince George’s.”
For many African-Americans in the county, in particular, “P.G.” carries almost as much baggage as a certain other word that will go unmentioned here.
I do hear P.G. I hear it a lot — mostly from people who don’t live there. Or who sneer at it. The diminutive is a put-down. As I already said, you never hear PW County for Prince William. Very, very rarely do you hear MoCo for Montgomery County. Those are handy shorthands, yet they’re not in circulation.
I hope you have a great Thanksgiving — your menu sounds terrific.
I’ll be interested in seeing what Dino 2.0, in Shaw, is like. I confess to not being much of a fan of the Cleveland Park restaurant — too expensive for something so casual, and not enough pop on the plate to make it a special night out — though I loved the wine selections and the cheeses. I wonder how Dean Gold will reinvent the place.
And re: Reagan National, yes, many long-timers still insist on calling it National. (And many long-timers who are hard-core Democrats.) But the travel agents and airport folks all say “Reagan,” and in any case, “Reagan” precedes “National.”
Ha — I’ll bet you’re right!
Thanks, chef LaCivita, for chiming in on this …
$21.95 is higher, sure, than you might like to charge, but in these days of inflated menu prices I’d say it’s eminently reasonable.
Nothing “false casual” about that, or about Liberty Tavern.
Hilarious. And maybe delicious, too.
Let me know how it turns out …
Oh, come on! You have to now, after a great tease like that!
I went first …
I never said AS BAD. I said almost as bad.
You should talk to some long-time residents sometime.
What’s funny is that you think this is some kind of Johnson-era thing. It precedes it. And I don’t mean by years — I mean by DECADES.
Mai Tai recipes: good idea. Thanks for that. I’ll look into some.
Gotta run. It was spirited — as always, just the way we like it. Thank you all, for the menu ideas and the provocation and the inspiration …
Have a great Thanksgiving. And a great Thanksgivukkah, if you’re celebrating.
Be well, eat well, and let’s do it again next Tuesday at 11 …
[missing you, TEK … ]