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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.
He 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.
Well, next year you can ask around and get some good goose recipes from all of us and try, try again.
Thanks for letting us know how things turned out. I’m sorry to hear the outcome, though. Goose ain’t cheap, for one.
Good morning, everyone. Snow’s just starting to drift down.
If you’re staying home today, or heading home early, I’d love to know what sort of cooking you might be up to.
There are always people, when snow hits and it’s expected to be substantial, who say: I love snow. And there are other people to chime in: I hate it.
Personally, I like a dusting. Maybe an inch. You can clean it off in a snap, and go on your way. I don’t like digging out, and don’t like being cooped up for a day or two. I also don’t like the thought of people who are infirm or elderly being terrified of walking or having to shut themselves in. Yes, a glimpse of the woods all coated in white is pretty, but, at least for me, it’s not compensation enough for all the rest.
How about all of you?
A mission for the Recipe Sleuth. (What do you say, Anna Spiegs?)
The dish sounds fantastic. I hope chef Sunderam is willing to part with the specifics. Stay tuned, and thanks for the mouth-watering field report …
I would guess that if you surveyed everyone who reads this chat regularly, none would pick Chutzpah over DGS.
Unthinkable, really, that anyone would prefer processed meats over real meats, squishy quasi-Wonder Bread with caraway seeds over twice-baked rye, mass-produced mustard over homemade.
Now, all those things don’t mean much if the quality isn’t there, but it is there; I’d put the pastrami sandwich I had not long ago up against Schwartz’s, in Montreal, it’s that good.
Here we go …
A little controversy to get the blood stirring on a cold, snowy day …
I’ll be interested in hearing what everyone has to say.
Personally, I don’t have any problem with breastfeeding in a restaurant or cafe or coffeeshop. But I know there are many people who are very, very squeamish about it. I’d like to hear an argument against, if there’s a thoughtful one. I can’t remember the last time we had this discussion on here, but I faintly recall a lot of ad hominem arguments and not much really considered or persuasive.
What a great idea — this is a perfect day to make homemade pasta.
I think I’m going to do the same. Thanks for writing in …
The thing about homemade pasta is, you really don’t need much in the way of a sauce if you’ve done the noodle right.
I’ve made homemade pasta with just some sauteed porcinis, grated parmiggiano or romano and a handful of chopped parsley, with a really generous drizzle of good extra virgin olive oil. Even just garlic, parsley, parmiggiano, and olive oil can be great.
4 small ones and a big one for 4 people? Really? I’d have said, for 4 people, 8 small plates and 2 big ones, so I guess I’m not one to advise you on this question. ;)
You make two great observations about dining out in general that I want to touch on.
First of all, yes, the universal cracker/toast point deficiency. Seriously, what’s up with that? Almost always, they’re fine with giving you more if you ask, but it feels stinting. My guess is that they don’t want to waste crackers and toast points, but how much of an affect could this have on the bottom line, I wonder. And isn’t there a risk of looking grudging?
I’d love to have a GM weigh in on this …
And good for Rose’s on the clearing of plates. As it evidently is for you, it is also a thing in my circle of friends and family. Certain friends in particular disdain the constant coming around and asking or sometimes just snatching. And always the awkward question: “Are you still working?” Or, just as bad: “Are you still enjoying?” (No: not enjoying. My enjoyment is over and done with. I am in a dismal state of longing.)
I find that most people are not like this. Most people like their place clean and cleared. They want their dish removed, ideally, within seconds of their having finished it. They don’t want to have to gaze upon the remnants of their sauce-smeared plate. How gauche.
For (I’m guessing) a small minority, however, there is comfort in having the plate there. The larger issue, for these people, is to be free of the constant hovering and questioning. To be free of someone constantly eyeballing your not-finished glass of wine, or your almost-but-not-quite plate of food and having to explain that you would like to hold onto it a little while longer. To be free of that intrusion.
Who’s in that small minority with me?
Lucky you. Sounds great.
And so does that creamed chipped beef, a dish that, to my mind, has very little margin for error. I’m sure yours is wonderful.
And re: your line of work — I think midwives are angels on earth.
Good for Del Campo.
Thanks for the field report …
You can learn about a restaurant by how it approaches Restaurant Week. How much, or how little, of its menu it makes available. How it skimps, or doesn’t, with preparations. How its staff engages, or doesn’t, with diners.
But generally I file my RW impressions away in a separate mental folder. The great majority of places are not themselves, as you say. Unfortunately.
And saying well!
Thanks for chiming in …
All-day bolognese. How great does that sound?
You could bring some over, since you’re making such a big batch, and I could have it to spoon over my not-yet homemade pasta. : )
Baby Wale — think garment, not mammal — is good, and might be a good choice for your group. Be sure to get one of the soups if you go; the chef, Tom Power, makes memorably great ones.
An option for Capitol Hill, since I see from your sign-in that you’re a resident: Cava, for Greek mezze. You might also give Rose’s Luxury a call, but I’m not too optimistic that they’d have anything for you; worth a try, though, for sure.
Some other options, all in NW: Estadio, Jaleo, or Boqueria (for tapas), Zaytinya (for Greek/Turkish/Lebanese mezze, and Central Michel Richard (for — what to call it? Frenchified diner fare meets Americanized bistro cooking?).
I’ll be curious to hear where you end up. Drop us a line when all is said and done (and eaten).
I love ‘em, too.
Also known as XLB — short for xiao long bao.
If you’ve never tried them, you’re missing out. Imagine a dumpling with an extra bit of poof in the pouch. Surrounding the filling you expect is something you don’t, if you’ve never had these: soup. The top of the dumpling is fashioned into a tiny spout. You purse your lips against it and slurp out the soup, then dunk the (cooling) dumpling into the dipping sauce and bite into it as you would a standard dumpling. In effect, two dishes in one. And great, great fun.
Some people will even insert a straw into the spout and drink out the soup that way.
In this area, the best, at the moment, are to be found at Bob’s Shaghai, in Rockville, though I can’t say that these are great XLB. I wish they were more supple. They’re pretty good, and should satisfy a craving, but likely won’t make you forget the ones that inspired you to come on and write me.
OK, you all need to stop it — I’m getting ravenous …
Sure. Why not.
Though, remember, the culture here is very, very different from a place like Chicago. I don’t just mean the food culture. I mean the culture culture.
A lot of the buzz about restaurants is generated by people who regard eating a lot as declasse. “Portion control” is the phrase you hear a lot.
A Scandinavian place would be a curiosity, for the simple fact that there really aren’t any Scandinavian restaurants around here, and for a while a place like that would get by on novelty. But I just can’t see a smorgasboard flourishing in the city, not even in one of the city’s neighborhoods.
I would love to be wrong.
Little things. They really do nail the little things.
The great places know that if you get enough little things right, you are getting a very big thing right — that the very big thing is a product of a great many little things.
Thanks for the report. I’m actually beyond ravenous right now — craving everything we’ve been talking about since late morning: heirloom tomato soup and grilled three-cheese sandwich; creamed chipped beef; homemade pasta with Bolognese; and now that brisket with horseradish cream and Texas toast, along with maybe some gnocchi and pate and fried chicken bites …
Makes more sense.
Unless you’re all a bunch of 16-year-olds trying to make weight for an upcoming wrestling tourney.
Or out on a double date, and trying not to give in to temptation — at least until you’re home alone, at which point you can down a couple of bowls of cereal and break open a pint of Ben & Jerry’s Chunky Monkey.
It figures: the one day I can’t venture out, and you all flood this chat with tales of the most mouth-watering food imaginable.
Your trip, at least from the perspective of a food lover, sounds amazing. I’m a huge fan of good street food. And how funny is it that having just talked about XLB and making do, you come on and wax rhapsodic about these perfect-sounding dumplings.
I’ll be interested in hearing how your stock comes out — if it’s good, I’d love it if you’d share the recipe with us next week.
Well, it’s not really.
I don’t hear anyone, other than our original chatter, who is willing to come forward and stick up for Chutzpah.
What we’re talking about, is the idea that anyone, comparing the two, could actually choose Chutzpah.
I even doubt that the original chatter really means it.
Hey, you don’t have to defend yourself to me — I think it sounds pretty wonderful.
Add it to the list of things I’m craving madly now …
I love a good avgolemeno.
Just the right amount of lemon, is the key. That and the consistency — shouldn’t be too thick.
My 5-year-old son, after a couple of fairly recent visits to Greek restaurants, is in love with it, and wants to make it at home. So thanks for the recipe, and who knows, maybe tonight. Greek soup and Italian pasta? No critics in the house, what the hell. ; )
Great to hear it.
Good going, Beck and Range.
And good going to you, for having such delicious good times.
I even think that 7 is pushing it, with kids — I think a family with kids ought to be on its way out the door at that point.
I think that’s the considerate thing to do.
Halfway through their meal, at 7, means the family is probably not exiting the restaurant until 8. I think that’s too late.
Casa Luca was right to seat them near the bar.
It’s funny, because the new-breed restaurant tends to be very, very loud, but Casa Luca is not. Among the recent arrivals, it’s one of the easier places in the city to have a real conversation over dinner.
I always tell people with small kids to think about hitting a new-breed restaurant, mostly because they’re so loud that nobody will notice — or should care, really — if a kid acts up.
Gotta go. Starved.
Thank you, all, for the cooking inspiration, the mouth-watering descriptions, and all the usual great questions. I love spending my Tuesdays with you, and today you not only gave me a lift on a cold, snowy day but also made me want to get into the kitchen and have some fun. Thank you for that.
Be well, eat well, and let’s do it again next Tuesday at 11 …
[missing you, TEK … ]