Tasting Notes …
I’ve never been all that big a fan of the original Nage in Rehoboth Beach, which always seemed to me to be trying too hard with each and every dish it sent out from the kitchen. It’s the culinary equivalent of the little girl who wanders into mommy’s closet and tries on every piece of clothing and jewelry she can get her hands on. No single effect will do; every dish must send the diner into three or four or five different directions. The opening of a second restaurant off Thomas Circle hasn't curbed those tendencies any. Too bad, because, as some of the simpler dishes show (a potato and seafood soup, a seared tuna sandwich), a dialed-back approach could yield dividends. …
… I was thrilled to stumble upon Caramelo Bakery in my recent explorations in Wheaton. This is a small Venezuelan-style panaderia and pasteleria, with such Latin sweet staples as tres leches cake and guava tarts. The heart of the place, though, is its selection of Venezuelan pastries, which include wonderful, oblong-shaped, cinnamon-and-sugar donuts filled with a pineapple-flavored custard and tiny, scallop-edged pastry shells piped with a rich, almost fudgey dulce de leche. Can't wait to return for more. …
… U St. is dense with nightspots, but one of the most likeable and lowkey has got to be Selam, a cozy, low-ceilinged space with a curving bar and a slender, short, fierce-eyed owner whose personality fills the room. His name is Haile Gheresus – or, as he likes to be called, “Kuchi.” Kuchi has six children, and they help him out at the restaurant when they can. In the kitchen, though, it’s a one-man show. Kuchi is the cook, and that same big-heartedness shows up in the heaping portions of sharply spiced Eritrean stews that are spooned out onto the platter-sized round of injera. The place fills many needs: It’s open for breakfast, for plates of eggs and yogurt. It stays open until 1:30 on weeknights, ideal for a drop-by after a game or a play or a movie or a concert. And it’s a community gathering place at all hours of the day. Kuchi lives above the restaurant, but it’s clear that Selam is his home. On my way out the other night after dinner, I thanked him for his hospitality and generosity. He stopped me at the door, insisting it was too cold to go home without “a shot.” I told him thank you, but to no avail: He pulled me by the arm toward the bar and had his son pour me a drink. Thank you, Kuchi. U St. could stand a few more spots like Selam. …
Occasionally, I am spotted, yes. But you would be surprised at just how often I am treated dismissively or rudely or negligently. For instance — my recent visits to Bebo, which you can read about in the March issue.
As to Restaurant Kolumbia … Yeah, I like the place. It's not perfect, no. And there is an undeniable tension at work here, of trying on the one hand to service the expense-account crowd that dominates K St. and, on the other, still do the kind of personal cooking that Chef Stachowski wants to do (pierogis, charcuterie, etc.). But as I said, I like it, and wonder what would become of it if it were suddenly freed from the sterile canyons of K St. At heart, this is a mom-and-pop.
It's interesting the answer that Carolyn gave you, as to why they're having a hard time bringing in a dinner crowd. The city is not what it was ten, fifteen years ago. People are coming into the city to eat and go to shows and listen to music. Downtown is hopping.
K St., not so much. And that's because K St. isn't a culture zone. Nobody thinks of it as an attraction for restaurants or bars or clubs. It's an odd place for a mom-and-pop.
The disappointments for me always came with the plates that promised lusciousness — a lamb shank cooked in parchment, say, or a duck with rose petal sauce. I wanted to love the oxtail tacos, but they were, in the end, a bit too clean for me, too refined.
I'll be curious to see if the new, re-jiggered Oyamel, with new chef Joe Raffa (ex-Majestic Cafe) at the helm, has learned a lesson or two since leaving Crystal City.
You know? This is tougher than it ought to be.
I used to be a fan of the nachos at the first Austin Grill, in Glover Park — a big old messy delicious plate of chips, black beans, pico, and not-too-gooey Colby cheese. Unfortunately, the original Grill is no more.
Rio Grande makes a pretty mean plate of nachos — but they're in Bethesda.
If memory serves, Old Glory, in Georgetown, does a pretty good job with its version of nachos — and you can get it topped with pulled pork.
It's been a while since I've dug into a plate of nachos — and dug into one within city limits — and I'd be interested in hearing other suggestions. Anyone?
By the way, I just want to elaborate on those technical difficulties — in case anyone is wondering why the responses are coming so slowly today.
The short answer: We still haven't solved the problem.
Basically, what's happening is this: An intern is emailing me your questions, and I'm routing them back to her, and then she's entering them into the system, one at a time. It's time-consuming and oddly antiquarian, but I just didn't want to cancel today's chat, and I appreciate everyone's patience in following along with us. Thank you, and keep those questions coming. We may not get to them all today — in fact, I doubt we will at this rate — but it's nice to know that you all haven't bailed on us. : )
Beautifully thoughtful commentary, by the way — and I couldn't agree with you more. The interesting thing about both men isn't the fact that they're African-American; the interesting thing is that they're not bullying brutes in the mold of a Parcells or a Buddy Ryan or a Bobby Knight. They're exceedingly decent, integrity-filled men
They're also exceptions to the rule.
The Parcellses, the Knights, the Gordon Ramseys — they may not be the norm, but they do garner more than their fair share of attention. It's too bad. But antics like this are good copy.
I've worked for bullying, blustery editors — editors who think that abuse is management, or some kind of form of motivation, and that the workplace is best understood as a kind of boot camp. It takes courage to realize that it's all just shtick.
If you're looking for something down-and-dirty, something gooey and luscious and with no pretense of being anything more than good ol' homecooking, then I'd hit the soul food kitchen Oohhs & Aahhs, on U St. Or the soul food restaurant Flavors, in Falls Church.
For something more refined — a better quality cheese, a perfectly cooked noodle — then you'll want to head on over to Vidalia, on M St.
Personally, I prefer the more down-and-dirty varieties, but that's not to say the upscale Southern version at Vidalia is bad. It's not. It's actually quite good.
To me, though, mac-and-cheese is home cooking. Something best kept simple.
For cheap fries, I love the ones at Red, Hot and Blue in Laurel. They're exceptionally crispy — you can hear the crunch from the next table. They're also really, really cheap. They make a great side dish, along with the corn salad, for a plate of pulled pork and chicken or ribs, or a pulled pork sandwich.
Less cheap, but even better, are the fries at the new Michel Richard Central. The true measure of any fry is how good it is after it's no longer hot. Central's fries are not only good cold. They're even good when they've gone damp, as I discovered when I pulled a cold, slightly soggy leftover fry from a bag and popped it into my wife's mouth one night at home a few weeks ago. She reached into the bag for more. Soon enough, we were fighting over the remainders.
The staff is fond of telling diners that they're even more delicious if you opt to have a little truffle oil drizzled on top. Good, but not necessary. These are terrific fries all by themselves.
My biggest complaint about them is the price — $3.50 for a cup of fries?
But what's this with sinfulness? Too Puritanical for my blood. Nothing but nothing about food is EVER sinful. Good food, that is. Honest food. Bad food? Bad food is an abomination.
This is an all-seafood place (it sells seafood in a ice-filled case up front) and the curries are strong and spicy and full of depth. The bill can get up there, especially if you go in for the Deviled Lobster, but you can also find the (more gently priced) likes of shrimp curry and crab cakes. Good stuff.
You'll also find a good-sized appetizer of assertively spiced, peel-and-eat steamed shrimp. I know, I know. It's not exactly what you think of when you think of Caribbean cooking. But you'd be foolish to not get yourself a plate when you go.
That's all, folks.
What a morning — and early afternoon. Thanks for sticking around. And thanks for your questions and your patience through all this fits and starts.
Eat well, be well, and let's meet back here again next week — with, we all hope, a kinks-free chat …