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 …
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.
In due time, Springfield.
We'll have something up on the website in a bit.
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.
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 …
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.
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.
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.
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.
OK, now that's a disaster of a time. : )
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.)
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.
I like the sake, too.
The sushi, the grilled dishes, not so much.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 …