Word of Mouth …
Myongdong just reopened about five weeks ago, after a year on hiatus while the Beltsville shopping center it was part of was being renovated. The new place gleams, and the kitchen is turning out the tastiest Korean food this side of Annandale. No barbecue here. The focus is noodles. Good ones. I loved a bowl of buckwheat cellophane noodles topped off with slices of brisket, Korean chili paste, hardboiled egg and toasted bands of seaweed, and a bowl of delicately flavored clam broth piled high with chewy broad noodles, strips of cucumber, baby clams, and drizzled egg. There's also homemade kimchi, fabulous steamed dumplings and a showstopping platter of fried chicken — an entire, cleavered chicken whose bite-sized pieces have been dunked in a honey-spiked batter and deep fried until crunchy. Seasoning is customizable, thanks to the pinch bowls filled with salt and red pepper.
The first red flag for me at India Curry House, in Clarendon, was the shiny Zagat 2006 sticker in the window — a not-expunged leftover from the previous owners, Queen Bee. The second red flag was the presence of beef on the menu. What followed — astringent, one-note chutneys, dull curries, mediocre breads — could hardly be described as surprising. The surprise: the prices. $14.95 for a thoroughly modest portion of lamb korma?
A woman in line the other night described the signature item at Muffin Man to me as "da bomb." No kidding. If only every muffin were as good as the ones at this Caribbean storefront in Lanham — golden-topped, perfectly baked and unforgettable. There are — count 'em — 27 kinds to choose from, including the familiar (an excellent chocolate chocolate chip, lemon poppy, blueberry) and the unfamiliar (pistachio, sweet potato, guava). I still keep thinking about the rum raisin, a huge, fluffy thing studded with raisins soaked in actual rum, and the cream cheese chiffon, after it warmed up, was marvelous, too. I arrived just as the shop was closing — too late to try out the Caribbean fare — but I'll be returning, and soon. Can't wait to try the roti.
After a sluggish start, PS 7, in Penn Quarter, has found its rhythm, not unlike its surging tenants a few blocks away, the Wizards, whose blue, copper and black color scheme the new place seems to be evoking. There's a lot to like these days. Peter Smith's cooking is both muscular and delicate, Naomi Gallego's desserts show real finesse, and the sound system could be channeling my iPod: Brubeck, Mingus, Coltrane, James Brown. Now, if only the waitstaff could refrain from pitching "Chateau Potomac" and complimenting diners' wine choices as "excellent."
Thanks for the question.
I wish I shared your enthusiasm for the place.
In the end, that's what it comes down to — a passion for a restaurant, a strong lingering memory of a place. And in making the choices for the list this year, I just couldn't work up enough passion to put Seasons on.
The menu is full of interesting ideas, but the kitchen tends to pile extravagance upon extravagance, and too often cheats with cream and butter — although I loved a bowl of creamy fennel soup with black truffles and a coddled egg. Meanwhile, the service manages to be both too casual and too impersonal. And the prices are extraordinary — among the highest in the city.
I'd recommend sitting at the bar and ordering the marvelous apple tart — so crunchy, it shatters — but unless you're in the hotel on business and someone's picking up the tab, I think there are other places more rewarding.
No, thank YOU, Alexandria.
It's always gratifying to hear of a recommendation that worked out so well. La Sirenita is a terrific place, especially for, yes, the posole. But also the tacos, the wonderful chili rellenos and the various seafood soups.
Where are you going next with your group, if I can ask. Or what sorts of places have you been already?
Does anyone else out there have a dining group? I'd love to hear some of your stories. I think it's a great idea.
How can this be?
First of all, you have to remember: Two stars is considered — check the identifying box — "worth a drive."
That's not bad. That's good.
If the majority of restaurants on any dining guide are three-star places, then either someone is waaaaaay too easy a grader, or every talented, ambitious chef in the country has up and moved to that city to open a restaurant (and cook in it, too).
I want to offer a little perspective here, if I can, Alexandria.
Back in the day — that day being before I became Dining Editor — the magazine regularly featured a 100 Best with one-star restaurants on the list. And almost all of those one-stars were expensive or very expensive restaurants.
You won't find a single one-star, or one-and-a-half star on this year's list.
Hm. This one's tricky.
I've always believed that problems at restaurants are inevitable, and that it's how a restaurant deals with those problems that counts.
It sounds like the servers made an attempt to deal with it, but that you were already put out by being ignored earlier, and that the efforts they made to appeal you felt disingenuous to you.
I don't know what the lesson here is, except that sometimes I guess there's just no way to make up for a gaffe.
I can say that you ought to have taken your complaint to a manager, but I'm not sure the onus is necessarily on you in this case. If your dissatisfaction was that evident, a conscientious server ought to have gone to the next level to seek help to handle things.
I don't know. I wasn't there.
But I do know that being made to feel welcome is a highly personal thing, hard to quantify. If you weren't made to feel welcome initially, then you're probably not ever going to give the place the benefit of the doubt later.
It's no question at all, Bethesda: Charlie Palmer Steak.
I wonder how the assembled chefs will feel, to hear that you would much rather gaze upon a plate of lobster with ravioli than their freshly scrubbed mugs. Then again, they are chefs.
You're talking about Hot Breads the Indian Bakery, in Chantilly.
I wrote about both the chicken tikka masala sandwich and the chicken salad sandwich on the chat and in the magazine, too. I never said the latter was "the best chicken salad sandwich ever!" I never even said it was "the best chicken salad sandwich ever."
It's a tasty little sandwich for three bucks. Three bucks.
Who would burden a three-buck sandwich with such expectation and scrutiny?
Guess what, DC?
Your long-ago assessment is remarkably up-to-date.
Good question, DC.
Seaver's a young talent to keep an eye on, no doubt about it. It's a likeable place, and he has a good grasp of what a cafe in that neighborhood ought to be. The menu doesn't ever force things, and the wine selections show real imagination.
But we saw a good deal of unevenness over the course of the year, and that, ultimately, is what kept it off the final list. The re-opening of Bar Pilar might have played a part in this unevenness; I don't know. But I do hope that Seaver continues to cook like he's capable of cooking, and that the restaurant continues to grow and mature.
You won't get a mixed review from me, Alexandria. Corduroy's a gem.
Recipe for disaster?
Only if you think that a list like this is some kind of Olympian document, etched in stone and inviolable.
I wanted, first of all, to have some fun with this, to make a little mischief and get a larger conversation going. That's one of the things that magazines should do. And it's one of the things that all critics — whether their beat is film, theater, or restaurants — should do, too.
If you read the reviews carefully, you'll also see that many of them offer pointed criticisms. It's the only time, in some cases, that we'll be writing about some of these restaurants all year. So why not be candid and forthright in telling the reader what it will be like? We know they're good; they're on the list. But that's not to say they're all equally good. Making distinctions like this — to me, that's largely what this enterprise is all about.
I think our selections are solid, and God knows, a whole helluva lot of work went into making these assessments. But in the end, what you hold in your hands is a personal list — the picture as it looks to us right now. Not six months ago, and probably not six months from now, either.
Is there a difference between 21 and 22? Of course there is. At the moment, we like 21 slightly more than we like 22.
Me play Borat, tu.
I mak gud noodl. I put in d pot miso n bonito flak, noodl, weed from d sea n salmon. Mmm.
The forecast is gloomy for Thai coming to the county. But then, Thai cooking is down all across the area. Outside of Columbia Pike — which has Rincome, Thai Square and Bangkok 54 all on a two-mile stretch — and outside of Taw Vigsittaboot's tiny kitchen at Thai X-ing on Florida Ave. and 6th St. … there isn't much to get excited about.
The good news? Myongdong, see my intro above. It's a wonderful spot, and deserves to be flooded with patrons.
It's a shame, you're right.
But we're just the mirror, here.
Don't think we didn't churn this over in meeting after meeting after meeting. There are pastry chefs who are women, to be sure. And good ones. But ultimately, I'm not interested in that kind of tokenization.
What it comes down to is this: Can you name a woman under 40 who is heading up the kitchen at any of the Top 50 restaurants in the area?
Five to seven years ago, you could.
For a neighborhood spot, yes, sure.
But we didn't feel that that Fiore di Luna was much more than that — didn't feel it was worth making a thirty minute drive for. And freshness, funny enough, was the thing we found most lacking.
No question she's talented.
But she's not one of the New Guard, which we defined as chefs who are 40 and under.
She also doesn't have a restaurant in the Top 50.
Thanks for the report, Capitol Hill.
Straying from the menu a bit … isn't that par for the course for Restaurant Week. "Hmm, well, this looks pretty good. But this over here, on the regular menu, looks FANTASTIC." (I can hear Richard Kind, thundering in my ears.)
No chains on the list, you're right, and not because we intentionally excluded them. As Ernie Grunfeld once told me, answering a question I'd asked about trading Kwame Brown: "The players tell you what to do." Well, the restaurants tell us what to do.
The readers have their favorites, and that's a good thing. But for a critic, it's dangerous to confuse "favorites" with "best." I have a lot of places that I'd say were favorites of mine, and none of them made the list. Favorites has a lot to do with mood, how well you know the staff, how many memories you've made at a place, etc.
Good luck tonight at Agraria.
Oh, and before you go: Roberto Donna — eye candy?!
Who said anything changed?
I was hired by a magazine that trades on its list-making, as almost all glossy magazines do. But that's not to say that I love lists any more than I did.
That's one of the reasons I liked the idea of ranking the restaurants this year from 1-100. It introduces an element of fun to things. It underscores that a list like this is not meant to be a Document for All Time, but a direct reflection of the team doing the work — its tastes, its passions, etc.
What I object to with most lists is the good, gray tone, which never seems to acknowledge that it's all just good, clean sport.
Le Tire Bouchon was a bottom-runger last year. If we had done the rankings then, it would have probably come in somewhere between 95-100.
This year, with increased competition, it was a late cut.
Not a ton of that in LA.
Lots of options here: You could go to Faryab in Bethesda, Afghan Grill in Woodley Park, Kabul Kabob in Alexandria.
No worries about shellfish, and the flavors are sure to be big and bold.
The other possibility is to take them to Indigo Landing, out on Daingerfield Island (off GW Parkway). Lowcountry cooking is not something you find a lot of in LA. This is surprisingly detailed comfort food, and I think it's best appreciated when you can go with a group, when you can order a lot of different things and pass plates, in true Southern style. View's good, too: Planes flying into National, the monuments aglow in the distance.
I think you're giving too little credence to the getting people talking part.
For years, the dining section of Washingtonian was not known as something that got people talking.
And no, the chatter I've been hearing — you should listen to my voicemail and read through my emails — is definitely not nitpicking over 21 and 22.
Having a little fun, stirring the pot, yes, this was a goal. But not the only goal. So was helping the reader to make distinctions. Last year we added half-stars, which turned a four-tier system into a nine-tier system.
Ranking the restaurants goes a step beyond that, further clarifying a crowded field.
There's now an identifiable Top 10, Top 20, Top 30, Top 40 … As long as you're going to have a Top 100, why not have a Top 10, etc.
I look at a place like Cashion's, which comes in at two stars, and a place like Acadiana, which also comes in at two stars.
Without the rankings, that suggests those two stars are equal. They're not. 56 places separate the two restaurants. That's interesting to me.
I also believe it's valuable to the reader.
Oh, is the can ever open!
Thanks for the nice words, DC.
Gotta run, folks. Lunch awaits.
Before I go, I just want to say to you all: Please take advantage Restaurant Week, and be sure to consult the webpage for my list of picks for the week. Also, be sure to share you experiences — the good, the bad and the ugly — with me throughout the week. I'm at email@example.com
Eat well, as always, and let's do it again here next Tuesday at 11 …