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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 . . .
Thai Taste by Kob, Wheaton
On a three-block stretch of Wheaton, near the intersection of University Blvd. and Georgia Ave., can be found two of the area's best Thai restaurants -- Ruan Thai and Nava Thai. Time to add a third. Phak Duangchandr -- Kob, to friends -- has set up shop in the tiny space that originally contained Nava, in the back of Hung Phat market. Thai food fans may remember her, or at least her cooking; for 19 years she operated the Thai Food Carryout at Thai Market, near the old Safeway in Wheaton. The new setting, electrified with a paint job of orange and day-glo green, gives her a chance to expand her repertoire of dishes, while staying true to the from-scratch traditions that earned her a devoted following. The emphasis is on street food and homecooking, with a good many dishes you simply won't find anywhere else, like bamee moo daeng, a meal-in-a-bowl of tender egg noodles, red-edged roast pork, baby bok choy, and fish balls; or kai yad sai, an omelette stuffed with ground chicken punched up with fish sauce and soy sauce; or a salad of shrimp paste-flavored rice, onions, cucumber and sweet, sticky pork). But even familiar tastes, taste different here -- funkier, more pungent, and definitely hotter (a shrimp fried rice, alive with fistfuls of Thai basil and a generous pinch of chilis, set my heart to racing). Some customers have already been asking for more rice to accompany their orders. Partner and manager Max Praserptmate says he is willing to accommodate any requests, but adds that his aunt's cooking is not the aberration; it's the great majority of Thai restaurants that are the aberration. "The taste," he says, "is what you're supposed to get from your Thai food." Duangchandr imports many of her spices from Thailand, and toasts and grinds them herself. All the condiments on the spice tray, including a terrific chili vinegar, are made on the premises. Meats are given a long soak before hitting the grill -- 72 hours, in the case of the pork that is pounded and threaded onto a skewer to create a must-order starter called moo yang. The other must-order starter sure doesn't sound like it -- when was the last time you had fried shrimp wontons that were any good? These are fabulous. Kiew tod comes to the table looking more like a plate of tortilla chips, the mix of shrimp and white pepper bundled within a sneakily rolled edge. The crunch is junk food-loud; it's hard not to believe they weren't engineered in a lab. No beer or wine yet; Praserptmate says soon on both. I would take the money you'd ordinarily spend on a drink and spring for an extra dish or two (most are under $10, and many items will survive into the next day).
The kind of big-hearted restaurant that takes you to another place (Baltimore? St. Louis?) and maybe another time (late' 70s). Come on a weekend night, when there's a two-piece band and the place is humming and you'll feel as if you've just crashed a wedding reception. I love the GM in coat and tie who shows you to your table, maitre d'-style. I love the waitress who turned to me one night when I was trying to decide between a lamb dish on the menu and a lamb dish that was a special, and said, "Listen. Listen to me," and insisted I order the latter. She was right. The meat was rich and juicy and drenched in a lemon-spiked gravy. Alongside it: lemon roasted potatoes and green beans cooked with tomato and mint. True to the homestyle nature of the place, you couldn't see any white space on the plate. Another great dish is the fried cod, delicately light, with a fluff of skordalia in the center, a sit-down Greek fish and chips. The menu has no weak spots, as far as I can tell. I've been three times, now, and nearly everything that has come out of the kitchen has ranged from the good to the terrific. Vegetarians can revel here. Iman bayaldi, a dish of roasted eggplant drenched in cinnamon-spiced tomato sauce, has the tight, knitted flavor of expert long-cooking. It comes in a massive portion, and costs just $7. There are stuffed grape leaves without the ground beef, filled with well-cooked rice and pine nuts and wrapped in fresh-tasting leaves that still have some good chew to them. If it takes wrapping up some food for leftovers in order to manage dessert, then do it. The version of galaktobouriko -- presented in small, crunchy pieces, almost like bites of fudge -- is one of the best I've eaten in years; the baklava (served warm, and nearly spilling its crunchy, nutty, sticky filling) is stunning; and the centerpiece of the yogurt with honey and walnuts is a scoop that has been strained almost to the consistency of a cheese, with a tanginess that goes on and on and on.
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.
I forgot about that one!
Yes yes yes. The great Peter Greenaway. Truly weird. Truly creepy. Truly brilliant.
I’m going to rent it again, just because of your mention. It’s been years. Thank you.
And thanks for being a reader.
Good morning, everyone. What’s on your mind, this fine Spring morning. One of the few. It’ll be in the 80s in a day or two and summer will be upon us. Spring used to be a season. Now it’s a transition.
Anyway: what’s on your mind? Where are you eating? What are you cooking? Where do you want to try?
Worth a try, anyway.
Thanks for passing on the tip!
This is great. Thank you.
And thanks for joining us today from Auburn, Alabama.
You’re a thoughtful and generous tipper. It’s always nice to hear that people like this are out there.
I’m still interested in exploring this, and the question that interests me is whether you — all of you, I mean — tip more at mom ‘n’ pops. Or do you tip the same as you would anywhere else? Or do you tip less, as some people I know do, because the service at places like this is often much less attentive and informed than it is at a place on the order of a Restaurant Eve? Do you take into account the cheap prices — that is to say, do you factor in that in some cases you’re getting a meal for 3 for $45, and a good meal for three, and why not just leave $15.
You mean their run to the Eastern Conference Finals?
Game 1 was telling. They can match Chicago’s defensive intensity, at least in stretches. And they have more O. Heading into the series, the thing I was most anxious about was not a match-up on the court; it was Tom Thibodeau vs. Randy Wittman. TT may still get the better of him, but I’m not nearly as worried now. This team has a lot of pieces. Let’s just keep Nene upright — in hindsight, good thing for that relatively minor injury that sidelined him for 6 refreshing weeks.
Nobody talks about the team, but you know what? The Redskins didn’t make the playoffs this year, the Nationals didn’t make the playoffs this year, and the Capitals didn’t make the playoffs this year. Only the Wizards. They need their due.
Anyway, some good spots to catch the game … you could go upscale and watch at the bar at BLT Steak; I’ve done that before, and had a good (if expensive) time. Fiola and the new Fiola Mare have TVs; I’d give them a shot, given the quality of the food and drink on offer. Less expensive, and maybe more interesting — Bar Pilar has TVs, and will gladly turn it to the game for you (I already greased the skids there for you; you can thank me later ;). Boundary Stone might also be good, though I expect you’d have to alert them to the fact that an important game is on and why is the set tuned to CNN.
First of all, please tell her how much I like her list. She’s an eater after my own heart.
And please also offer my congratulations on getting into Wake Forest.
Interesting to see Ted Drew’s at no. 1, but I completely understand. They’re amazing. The gang at DGS will be thrilled, I’m sure, to be the first food item on here. The palaak chaat at Rasika is interesting and memorable, and would probably wind up on many a top 10 in this area. Neat to see Earl in there along with Nhu Lan, which I think is one of the two best spots to get a banh mi. Zola is gone, but evidently something still lingers. L’Auberge! Still making memories! I’m sure the crew there will be delighted to see this. And what does it say that a vegan cupcake makes a top 10 — pretty high praise for Baked and Wired.
As for a suitable place to go to celebrate the big news, you might want to consider Fiola Mare, which you can do for less than CityZen (and which also has some terrific views, if you’re lucky to get one of those tables). Central Michel Richard didn’t make it onto that list, but maybe a meal there would force her to nudge something off. It’s not as expensive as either Fiola Mare or CityZen, and I think it’d be both delicious and festive-feeling.
Let me know where you end up, and how things turn out.
A really inexpensive way to make someone’s day.
And, as we’ve talked about before, a good way to endear yourself to a staff if you’re interested in becoming a regular somewhere.
I’m still interested in hearing whether all of you have two scales (one for fine dining, one for cheaper places) or just one … I know two-scale people are out there. I’d like to hear from you. I’m interested in hearing your rationale.
Of course, there are two-scale people who tend to tip more at mom ‘n’ pops; to me, these are the most interesting tippers out there, but they’re also a distinct minority.
Come on, two-scale tippers — talk to me …
You wash your mouth with soap!
We don’t need that ol’ Bullets/Wizards neuroticism. Positivity!
Thanks for the tip about Cava. It’s not easy to find TVs tuned to basketball when it’s not March Madness.
People like their college ball, and the games are fun, but give me NBA playoffs over college ball any day of the week. The brand of ball is just so much better. These are the best athletes in the world, playing with skill and focus and teamwork and intensity. And I don’t have to look at coaches hogging the attention from their players.
I got two ideas for you.
This is your chance to become addicted to Amsterdam Falafel — go and load ‘em up with tangy red cabbage, baba ghanous, hummus, tahini, and all sorts of pickles. The falafel are good; the fixin’s bar is great.
Or what about Donburi for unagidon — broiled, glazed eel in a bowl of rice, with pickles — along with some thick-sliced salmon sashimi?
Bring a book and a lawn chair, and set up shop around noon. You’ll be sure to get in. :)
If I were you, I would be sure to arrive about 4:45. I can’t imagine you wouldn’t be in the first seating of the night.
I’m so glad that worked out!
Thanks for letting me know.
And good going, Pastries by Randolph.
You mentioned cream cheese frosting — I can’t say I’ve ever had a coconut cake with cream cheese frosting. I think buttercream is pretty standard, no?
The menu at Marcel’s changes frequently, but I’d call and ask whether they’re doing anything at the moment — might be seared and sauced, might be served in a terrine or torchon. Either way, it ought to be fabulous.
If not there, then I’d be sure to visit Proof. A nice seared lobe, with cherry short cake and bing cherry jus.
And Rose’s Luxury features it for dessert — perching it atop a slice of French toast, with cinnamon ice cream. And, yes, it works. Gloriously. The texture of the foie gras is uncannily nearly equivalent to the texture of the inside of the French toast.
I’ll look for “The Lunchbox.” Thank you. But what is “Sweet Genius”? (Please don’t tell me it’s some foodie reality show.)
And tell me more about Lucid Cafe, please — I’m intrigued.
Sounds like you had a great eating trip. Not that I’m surprised …
Thanks for the report.
And how great, really, that a place that flashes its hipster bona fides at every possible turn stocks a high-chair, of all things, and works to make the kid feel welcome.
Good going, Daikaya.
Other than Degrees at the Ritz serving them, I don’t know of another restaurant that’s doing them.
Has anyone out there eaten one? I’m curious to know what it’s like.
Sure. At least you know that it’s going to a person and not a bureaucracy.
But a question — “waitresses who look like they may be single moms”? How would you know? They could look tense and scattered with a husband, too, you know. In fact, maybe more tense and scattered. ;)
If only more people figured like you do …
And I’m with you, the checks are so, so small in diners and the like that it’s really nothing to just leave 50 percent or more. And you walk out feeling good, even if you walk out feeling … heavy.
I would’ve done the same.
And I’m sure — well, no; I’m not sure; I hope — that everybody who reads this chat would’ve tipped her according to her performance as well.
Applebee’s, though. Please turn in your foodie badge and don’t come back. ;)
Actually, I’m reminded of the time I tweeted that I was at a Hooter’s with a friend. It was just after a Wizards game, and everything else was either closed or too expensive or too elaborate. Several readers were shocked — SHOCKED — that I had even walked into such a place. No, that I would even think to walk into such a place.
And thanks for making that point.
It’s interesting. We seem to have a nice crop of unconventional two-scale tippers on here. I remain convinced that the other kind of two-scale tipper is out there, and that we just haven’t heard from him or her. Maybe we attract a certain kind. Maybe he or should would turn up on someone else’s chat. As I said, I’d sure like to hear the rationale. If you regularly tip more in fine dining establishments than in mom ‘n’ pops, I would love to hear from you. Write me — email@example.com — or post a question next week on the chat. No snark, I promise. I just want to listen, and understand.
Thanks for all the questions and tips and field reports, everyone. I appreciate it. Great stuff, as always …
Be well, eat well, and let’s do it again next Tuesday at 11 …
[missing you, TEK … ]