Word of Mouth …
The new Bebo Trattoria, aka Galileo-in-Exile, is an odd mix of ingredients. The service, gray and sometimes joyless, leans toward the formal, with fine-dining flourishes ("Excellent choice, sir") at odds with the exuberantly colored setting and simple, straightforward Italian food. The crowd, too, mingles young professionals fresh from work in the sterile canyons of Crystal City and older Galileo loyalists who've made the harried trek in from the city. Nothing on the menu tops $18, and there are delicious bargains up and down the list, including a veal carpaccio topped off with shaved celery and a creamy mound of polenta with garlicky sausage — vivid reminders that even when he's not working at full-throttle, Roberto Donna is still capable of sending diners into swoons of contentment. There are more than a few dishes that feel like toss-offs, too, and they only reinforce the air of self-satisfaction clinging about all the apparent abundanza. You can't help feeling at times that management believes it's doing us all a great favor by making such cost-reduced riches available in the hinterlands. …
… Restaurants with as throbbing a pulse as Oya's don't generally sweat the details in the kitchen. Why? They don't have to. Being there, not eating there, is most, if not all, the pleasure. Oya, though, looked to be an exception, particularly after it ditched its upscale Caribbean theme and settled into a more rewarding French-Asian groove early this year. But two recent meals of sloppy and/or indifferent cooking have convinced me otherwise. …
… One of the best lunches you can find in restaurant-jammed Clarendon is at El-Chaparral Meat Market, which isn't a restaurant at all but a grocery and butcher shop run by the charming and gregarious Santo Mirabile. So it's not a sit-down lunch, but a to-go lunch, and a terrific one. Ask for a couple of the restaurant-quality saltenas, flaky, buttery pastries filled with chicken or beef, and a giant-sized alfajore, in which two, melt-in-your-mouth shortbread cookies sandwich a thick layer of soft caramel.
First of all: Congratulations!
The first place that springs to mind is the new-ish Woo Lae Oak in Tysons, because it's an offshoot of the original Woo Lae Oak, only with a more fusion-minded menu. In other words, you'll still find things along the lines of bulgogi and bi bim bap and seafood pancake. But other dishes aim to cross Western ingredients with Korean-style saucing and spicing. Or vice versa.
That might appeal to the two different constituencies you need to satisfy — and the place is certainly big enough and beautiful enough to fit the occasion.
If you're thinking Vietnamese, you should think Minh's, in Clarendon. It's a more comfortable, more relaxed setting than what you'd find in many of the Eden Center restaurants, and the food is accessible enough for newbies and intricate and layered enough for devotees.
Hope that helps. Best of luck, and if you think of it, Vienna, let me know what you end up deciding.
I'm with you; I've never really understood that attitude from participating restaurants.
Either you go all in, or you don't. But loading up your menus with boring soups and salads? Sending out wan-looking squares of farm-raised salmon and dry chicken breast as entrees?
Still, there are a number of places that take the week seriously — places that don't believe they're doing the customer a favor.
I'll be putting together a guide to RW next week, but two places I can tell you about that are going to be high on that list are Corduroy and Charlie Palmer Steak. If you haven't seen our 100 Best issue, out now, both made our Top 20. They're excellent restaurants, and their RW menus — besides being delicious — are legitimate deals.
By the way: Welcome to town, NoVa. I'm glad you found this chat.
I'd hardly call it an 'imbalance.' It's a reflection of reality.
The best restaurants are in the city. So are the best museums. So are the best theater companies.
You assume that because you see only 41 places in Maryland and Virginia, that we didn't spend a whole lot of time in the 'burbs. I would venture to guess that for every five places we visited, only one managed to make it onto the list. Trust me: We did our due diligence.
I will say that things are beginning to change, and that, in recent years, you're now seeing places on the order of 2941 and Restaurant Eve opening up in the inner suburbs. That's only going to happen more and more, as more restaurateurs realize that you don't have to limit yourself to downtown to make it as a white-tablecloth kind of place.
I've always thought of the Post's dining guide, even going back to the days of Phyllis Richman, as being more of a Critic's Favorites than anything else.
That kind of approach frees up the critic to put together a list that reflects his or her personal taste. And there are only 50 selections on that list, not 100, so the need to change things up from year to year is greater.
I'd be inclined to think the fact that 2941 received no mention from the Post and a Top 10 from us has as much to do with the needs of that dining guide than anything else, but who knows? Could be simply a difference in taste, as I tend to think it is with Marcel's. I find the service unparalleled and the huge, ready-for-the-hunt plates of classical French cooking often sumptuous. The prices are high, but luxury doesn't come cheap.
Good question, McLean.
If we had done the rankings, 1-100, last year, Pizzeria Paradiso would have been a bottom feeder — i.e., a restaurant in the low 80s or 90s. So it's less a case of anything the restaurant has done, or has not done, than a case of increased competition at that level.
It's still a two star place. Just not a two-star place that made the cut. I can think of scores of others.
That's one of the primary reasons I wanted to rank the restaurants this year, by the way — to see, for instance, how much distance was between a two-star place like Cashion's, at No. 57, and a two-star place like Gom Ba Woo, at No. 100.
And just to let you and everyone else know: I'll speak more to the behind-the-scenes on January 9th, when I host the official 100 Best chat.
But your question's an interesting one, and I can't resist, so …
Seeing places like Acadiana come in toward the bottom might be a shock to some, but if you think about it, it really shouldn't be. Restaurants like this aren't bucking for the Top 10 or Top 20 or Top 30. They're not meant to be foodie destinations. They're meant to please a lot of different constituencies. Their strength is that they know how to deliver just enough high-end touches to keep things interesting and keep the press engaged, while making sure that entrees never crack $30 and service never gets stuffy and the cooking — despite the occasional presence of foie gras, say — is always comforting.
To me, this is one of the great values of ranking the restaurants from 1-100, to be able to see the larger picture more fully and clearly.
More to come, as I said, in two weeks, although please keep those questions coming.
That's it, folks.
Enjoy your New Year's, and as always, eat well, be well, and let's meet back here again next Tuesday to do it again …
Oh, and don't forget to knock back a drink or two today and get on the good foot to honor the memory of the beloved Godfather, Soul Brother No. 1, Mr. Please Please Please. I miss him already.