December 4, 2006 @ 11AM

Sushi Ko, Makoto, Kotobuki, Joss, Kaz Sushi Bistro, BLT Steak, Notti Bianche, Minh's, sticky buns, Mon Ami Gabi, chowder, Bebo Trattoria, Mandu, Ford's Theatre, Kinkead's, Sunday brunch.

Word of Mouth 

Sushi is down. Behind Sushi-Ko, Makoto and Kotobuki, who else is even worth a visit these days? I’m going with the polaroid-festooned Joss, in Annapolis, as my fourth. I loved a salad of seared mackerel with Japanese mustard greens, a pate-like ankimo wrapped in soybean skin, and a witty trio of fatties: fatty yellowtail, fatty tuna, and salmon belly …

The new BLTSteak is yet another steakhouse for metrosexuals, gesturing at manliness (two-tone, leather-and-suede booths) but steering clear of fustiness (Sly Stone on the jumping sound system). Meals are inaugurated with a gratis crock of excellent pate, gargantuan, fluffy popovers show up alongside your entrée, and the dessert menu includes a soufleed crepe …

… A cozy dining room, a decently priced menu, and easy access to the Kennedy Center: Notti Bianche has a lot going for it. Too bad the cooking these days is a lot less interesting and accomplished than it used to be …

… At the excellent Minh’s, in Clarendon, a dish called dong xuan, a charbroiled pork vermicelli, proves that affordable luxury isn’t an oxymoron. Minh’s serves the dish two ways, Southern-style and Northern-style. The latter dunks the hunks of pork in a fish sauce; the former threads them on a skewer, sauce on the side.. Both are powerhouses, the pork as luscious and full of smoky char as great barbecue, and even better when tossed with the bowl of vermicelli noodles and topped off with pickled radish and fresh sprigs of mint …

Washington DC
Best Sticky Buns … I know I missed the chat [last week], but I had to answer the sticky bun question: Hawthorne Fine Breakfast pastry makes the absolute best: big pecans, buttery, flaky pastry, spicy cinnamon, and moist but not too gooey or saccharine. Dean & Deluca in Georgetown carries their full line of pastries (including prosciutto and gruyere croissants, white chocolate and cherry scones, and pumpkin cranberry muffins). Not cheap, but they're perfection–the old fashioned way baked goods used to be made with real butter, not shortening, before the era of low-fat facsimilies of everything.

Great.

Who else is starving now?

They sound terrific. Question is, how much?

What you hear a lot about in town is how we don't have good pizza or good deli or — fill in the blank. Basically, all the beloved classics of the last great wave of immigrants. What you don't often hear is that when we do get these things, they're incredibly priced. Or they're boutiqued.

You don't want an expensive sticky bun. Or a fancy-dancy sticky bun.

Tell me they're not either of these, please.

Springfield, VA
Are there any Northern Virginia restaurants serving on Christmas Eve?

In due time, Springfield.

We'll have something up on the website in a bit. 

Washington, DC
Trying to think of a restaurant for our rehearsal dinner… tough to find something that's not a cheap food factory (Buca di Beppo) and delicious but financially difficult (Corduroy, Firefly.) Needs to be in DC, type of cuisine doesn't matter. Who can handle 40 people but won't cost us more than $60pp all told?

This is almost a stump-the-band kind of question.

Affordable and delicious is hard, real hard, unless you head further out to the margins — into Arlington and Falls Church, Wheaton and Rockville. 

This is where the Jose Andres places show their versatility. Zaytinya, his mezzeteria in Penn Quarter, has good food (the bright, popping flavors of Turkish, Greek and Lebanese cooking), they might be able to put together a menu for your group, and they've got a separate room, too.

I might also give a call over to Poste, see what they could come up for you. They have the room, the prices shouldn't be prohibitive, and Rob Weland's food is imaginative and satisfying both.

Good luck.

washington dc
Well I can tell your reader where NOT to go for Xmas — Tabard Inn. We went there for Thanksgiving. Expensive at $60 each for food alone, and so not worth it. The food was good enough, though it was served cold and way overpriced. Deplorable service and dirty surroundings. Don't waste your holidays there.

Why so coy? : )

I'm curious what you mean when you say the food was served cold. Not piping hot, I can understand that — a lot of restaurants are prone to presenting their food at room temperature. But cold? Cold cold?

And the dirty surroundings — I can't call to mind anything in my experiences at Tabard that I would characterize as dirty, so I'd be interested to hear you elaborate. A little ramshackle, maybe. Rumpled. Lived in. But dirty? Hmm.

But back to the matter of food served cold for a second … I wonder if this has something to do with the fact that on Thanksgiving, you want your food to come out piping hot — you want to feel that warmth, that sense of being nourished by the hearth. And restaurants, for all that they do well, do not generally do piping hot. The meat rests. Plates are touched and retouched by cooks up and down the line. The food sits out under the lamp …

Washington, DC
Notti hasn't been as good on our recent visits either – and we were huge fans earlier on. Have you been to Dish? How does it work for the chef to run the two kitchens? Do you know if he splits his time equally? I know unlike some celebrity chefs in town that Chef Chittum is at Notti quite often, but I'm wondering if Dish gets equal attention or is worth trying. Thanks!

Sorry to hear it, DC — even though it jibes with my own view.

I haven't been to Dish in a while, so I can't say how it's working, having chef Chittum split his time like that.

Interesting, though, isn't it, how many restaurants in town have a chef who's never really there in the kitchen. There are the celebrity chefs, who do a lot of traveling and promoting and whatnot. (Memo to would-be Citronelle diners: Michel Richard will be at Politics and Prose on Wednesday, so you might want to rethink that reservation. Or not; I've had some excellent meals when Richard hasn't been around. But missing the chance to see Richard strolling through the dining room, interacting with customers and instructing them to "smash the food, smash it!" is missing a lot of what makes Citronelle fun.)

There are the chefs with multiple properties, like Jeff Buben and Jeff Tunks. Who, say their restaurants and their publicists, can't be expected to be in each of their restaurants every single night. We had a little fun with this, by the way, in the current issue of the magazine, anonymously calling up each of these chef-entrepreneurs' places, and seeing where they were each night for a week. We got a lot of run-around.

And then there are the "consulting chefs," the new breed of chef who isn't around. This chef jets in, plans the menu, trains the staff, jets out, and returns every so often for quality control.
 

Capitol Hill
I gather you aren't high on Kaz? I wouldn't put it in the same category as Sushi Ko, (haven't tried Makoto) but I always considered it to be pretty good and far ahead of the average, below average sushi restaurants in town.

Yep. That was an oversight. 

But it's telling, I think, that it didn't leap immediately to mind. Three, four years ago, Kaz was wonderful. But the place doesn't excite me the way it did. A lot of the East-West experimentation feels tired. Some of the cooking, like the glazed beef ribs, can be sloppy. You can still find good things on the menu, but a lot of the bright, fresh cleanness that I remembered from many of the dishes just isn't there.

Bethesda
Went to Mon Ami Gabi this past weekend and had a thoroughly enjoyable time. We had great service- including super-friendly bar tenders who chatted with everyone and really made us feel at home. My husband was a bit disappointed with his "classic" steak frites- preferring my hanger steak instead. But everything else we had was top notch. What are your thoughts on this place?

I wouldn't say anything at Mon Ami Gabi is "top-notch."

It's part of a big national chain that buys its steaks pre-cut and takes a lot of shortcuts in the kitchen, particularly with prepared foods. I wouldn't be surprised if those "classic" steak frites were cut, bagged, and then shipped to the restaurant to be fried later.

That sounds sort of food critic snotty, doesn't it?

But here's the thing with me: I know that mid-level eating is where a lot of people are most comfortable. But I think you get better value and more excitement by spending the bulk of your eating out time on the margins.

In other words, rather than eat out three, four times a week in the middle, as a lot of people do, I'd much rather alternate a meal at a place like Citronelle ($95 prix fixe) with a meal at a place like Etete (average entree price: $10). I'd swear the cost is no different.

That's the way I often ate before I got into this game and became a Designated Eater.

Washington, DC
My best friend and I are always trying to find the hottest resturant in DC; however, so far we found the most exspensive but not the best tasting food. We very open to all kinds of food. thanks

That's the problem with hot.

Hot often means substanceless. See: Steve Spurrier, The Bad Plus, Dave Eggers.

Let's see, though.

Blue Duck Tavern, Poste, Ceviche, Zengo. All good, all buzz-worthy.

washington dc
By cold I meant – cold. As in as if it came from the refrigerator without adequate reheating. I get it that restaurants must often precook things especially when they're busy, but the better ones at least get the reheating part right. I've cooked Thanksgiving dinner before myself, and there IS a lot of reheating. If I can do it, then why couldn't the pros? As for dirty, maybe I used the wrong word. I'm talking tablecloth decorated with the spills from the people who must have sat there before. Crumbs on the chairs we were supposed to sit on. Piles of dirty plates in clear view as we ate. Oh, and my mother nearly wiped out on floor spills en route to the loo.

Yikes.

OK, now that's a disaster of a time. : ) 

 

Washington, DC
Do you think that Chef/Owners will ever realize that owning more than one restaurant at a time is a recipe for disaster? I feel as if diners, as they become more and more attuned to what goes on behind the scenes, demand the discerning eye of the top guy; that they aren't satisfied knowing that the chef may are may not have been there. Personally, I know that great food can/is served when the Chef isn't in if you train your people correctly. However, I can't get over the nagging feeling it could have been better had I been there…. -Anon Chef

I can't get over that nagging feeling, either, Anon.

That feeling that you're missing out on that one little, tiny, really infinitesimal increment that can make a difference to a discriminating diner.

And that's only when the cooking is a reasonably accurate facsimile of what you would have gotten. Often, it's not.

So, to answer your question: When will chef/owners realize that owning multiple properties is a recipe for disaster? 

When pigs fly.

(Imagine, on the other hand, the possibilities on the plate.)

Washington, DC
Todd, This chilly weather has me craving Cioppino or chowder. Back home in foggy San Francisco, these soups were fantastic–seafood fresh off the boat, rich, smoky broth, and crusty sourdough for dipping–and always beat off the cold. But I can't seem to find anything as good around here–any recommendations would be greatly appreciated (and yes, as far as soups go, I know there's plenty of good Pho to be had, but I've been hankering for my hometown comfort foods lately).

The best recommendation I can give you, really, is to hit Kinkead's, on Pennsylvania Ave. 

Bob Kinkead worked for years in Boston, and he knows how to make a chowder. He gives you a big, manly bowl, more a meal than a soup, with top-of-the-line fish and seafood all bubbling about in a thick, rich broth.

Cioppino is iffier; it might show up as a special on a menu around town, every now and then. And again, the first place I'd try would be Kinkead's.

Silver Spring
I am a sushi traditionalist and I have had great luck at Tako Grill in Bethesda. We sit att eh bar and order a dish at a time which is not haw they usually do the orders. We also like the grilled dishes and the cold sake selections.

I like the sake, too.

The sushi, the grilled dishes, not so much. 

Bebo in Alexandria
Hi Todd. What do you think about Bebo Trattoria for a good place to have a "leisurely and beautiful" meal out – but on the more casual side of life. Will Bebo live up to these specs? If so, do you have any suggestions for things "not-to-be-missed" at Bebo? Any drawbacks to keep in mind? Thank you.

It's still too new a place for me to weigh in with any kind of real detail.

But I will say that, yes, Bebo has great promise and is worth a look-see, definitely. More to come, I promise. 

Mandu in Dupont?
Todd, is Mandu in Dupont worth a visit? I've heard that it is hopping on Fridays and Saturdays, which surprises me a little because it's not a swanky place but instead a comfortable-looking place – and because I didn't think that Korean cuisine has become mainstream (the way Chinese or Thai or Japanese have taken off). I'd like to know if the food is Americanized for the non-Korean palate because I'm familiar with traditional Korean restaurants and the menu at Mandu seems "safe" by comparison. Thanks

I haven't been by yet.

But like you, I'm curious about those crowds, and like you, I've had the same exact thought about the menu.

I suspect that the neighborhood is eager to support anything that's a little different — and stylish Korean is definitely different. I also suspect that a lot of the early buzz is p.r.-generated, and not bubbling up organically.

Kinkead’s, DC
I have been to Kinkead's several times and have yet to have something actually worth the visit. Too bad since I work across the street

I gotta think that's just the luck of the draw.

I'm not saying Kinkead's is perfect — sometimes, I get the feeling of a place that's been coasting for too long on early praise — but there's a lot here to like, too. Great raw bar, first-rate chowders, a recent excellent plate of pumpkin ravioli, good desserts.

Everything about the place, I've found, is helped by sitting at the bustling bar downstairs, with the piano going, and not in the stuffier dining room, with its expense-account power crowd.

Tenleytown, DC
We're heading to Ford's Theater next week. What are your suggestions for good, perhaps even culinarily adventurous pre-theather menus in Penn Quarter? Also, is our show starts at 7, is a 5:30 reservation cutting it too close? Thanks for your advice!

Yep, that's cutting it too close — if you want to eat with any leisure.

For pretty good, I'd consider the place across the street from the theater, Bistro d'Oc. A nice, welcoming atmosphere, one of the better bistros in the city. Food can be good, too. Generally speaking, the more rusticky the dish, the better. 

For good, there's Poste, in the Hotel Monaco, which is, as I said earlier, turning out interesting, well-cooked food at a decent price. There's a terrific roast chicken, a black sea bass topped with a red-wine-poached egg, and burrata-filled dumplings in a chicken consomme, among others. 

Kinkead’s
I do sit at the bar but it seems that everything ordered comes with way too many different things on the plate. Simplicity is crucial for some dishes like the tuna tartare. So many different things piled on top (about 10) including salad, the tuna layered at the bottom of the plate was completely lost. The flavor also overwhelmed by the other items.

They are prone to too-muchness, to clutter, to thinking that more is always more. Can't argue with you there.

On the other hand, enough of the dishes avoid that trap. 

DC
Brunch. Saturday. Adams Morgan. Cashion's is too expensive. Discuss

The place you want?

Bardia's New Orleans Cafe, on 18th St.

Eggs sardu, andouille gumbo, po' boys, good beignets, and lots of cups of Cafe du Monde coffee.

The food's sometimes overrich, but the prices are good, Bardia's a heck of a nice guy, and the place is pretty much irresistible.

If only I could do the chat there every week, from a table by the window … 

Gotta scoot, everyone.

Keep those questions coming.

And, as always — eat well, be well, and let's do it again next week …
 

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