Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Eastern Market …

This is a sad, sad day for the city.

Many of you have no doubt heard the awful news, I'm sure, but for our many out-of-town readers — including former residents — who are following along: A fire early yesterday morning ripped through Eastern Market, destroying the butcher, bakery and fishmonger stalls. The 134-year-old market, according to this morning's Post, sustained $20 million in damages.

For those of us who loved the Market Lunch, or who built entire weekends around going to the market for the blueberry pancakes and trolling the cheeses and meats and munching our way through a lazy Saturday or Sunday afternoon, this is a devastating loss. But more than a place to eat and shop and browse, the market was a gathering place, a community center — the heart of a neighborhood.

Mayor Fenty and others are vowing to rebuild, and have already begun tallying costs for the reconstruction. Let's hope they can, indeed, restore it — and soon. But how do you recreate a place like this — an unpretentious, unselfconscious, unscoured, all-things-to-all-people kind of place? The loss to the city is incalculable.

Word of Mouth …

Temari Cafe

First things first: Ignore the sushi – middling, at best. That’s not why you’re here.

The charms of this nine-table, white-walled Japanese cafe in Rockville, something of a cult hit with young, well-groomed Japanese professionals, lie elsewhere: In the donburi, its glossy, mahogany-glazed strips of broiled eel set artfully atop a bowl of steamed rice. In the simple plates of broiled mackerel garnished only with lemon and grated radish. In the arrangements of shumai, the wrappers almost transparent, the crab sweet. In the tureen-sized bowls of ramen, its rich, sweet pork broth nested with noodles and abundant with soft, luscious pork, seaweed, fish cakes and hard-boiled egg. In the mochi, those soft bundles of sweetened rice flour filled with sweet red bean paste; made in house only on the weekends, they might be worth the trip all by themselves.

The staff is kind and solicitous, quick to pick up a fallen chopstick and good at explaining the menu, and the atmosphere evokes a cheerful, homey diner,  right down to the clatter of plates from the open kitchen and the TV that’s always going but otherwise ignored. Heck, you can even snatch a Japanese-language newspaper from the shelves and read it while you wait for the food to pile up on the table.

Temari Cafe, 1043 Rockville Pike, Rockville; 301-340-7720

Pasta Mia

The line forms dutifully at 6 every night, half an hour before Roberto Broglia’s cramped, first-come, first-served operation opens in Adams Morgan. Broglia is the only cook, and there are only 44 seats, so if you happen to be the unlucky 45th standing in line, you might wait for another hour or more. Many do.

Inside, Broglia’s wife, Antonietta, the red kerchiefed maitre d’, gestures in the general direction of a table in lieu of taking you to your seat. Broglia’s house rules are strictly enforced (no seating until the entire party is present, no substitutions, all pastas come with cheese), his menu is truncated to the extreme (no meats, no seafood, no fish), and service is often comically methodical, since the waitstaff is given to completing a single task at a time.

It's inevitable that Broglia should be dubbed the Pasta Nazi. But like his TV counterpart, the cooking is also good enough and cheap enough to justify the mystique and the attitude. After all, how many other places in the city can you get a satisfying plate of perfectly cooked pasta for $13 – and still have enough left over for a second and third meal? This is unabashed red-checker-tablecloth cooking, with sauces liberally applied, but there are unexpected grace notes, too — the tortellini give off hits of nutmeg; the gorgonzola sauce cloaking the gnocchi manages to be rich without overbearing; a platter of red peppers is dressed up with good white anchovies; the salads are fresh and bountiful; the cocoa dusting the well-made tartuffo and the chocolate in the strachiatella parfait are both dark and bitter. You can opt for a glass of the house red or white, or for any of the 83 bottles of wine, from aglianicos to barolos, with more than half of them between $26 and $36. By the time you stagger out into the chaos of Columbia Rd., you may just forget that you waited in line.

Pasta Mia, 1790 Columbia Rd., NW; 202-328-9114


Cheverly, MD
Have you been by Oyamel since it re-opened?

Not enough to weigh in yet, no

I'm curious to find out if this small-plates Mexican place can find some identity in its new location, the former space occupied by Andale, and with a new chef, Joe Raffa. The cocktails are potent and beautiful, the dining room is light and pretty. But the proof, as always, is in the tacos.

And everything else here that has always seemed to me to be more about good looks and noteworthy ingredients than about good, lusty, deep flavors.

Washignton DC
Now that Eastern Market is in trouble (ruins?) where are the best farmer markets in DC proper to get fresh vegetables and quality cheeses?

Boy, that's the question for food lovers now, isn't it?

The easy answer is the Fresh Farm market in Dupont Circle on Sunday, and also in Penn Quarter on Thursday. Everything you're looking for, they've got.

But the thing is, Eastern Market was more than just a place to pick up the goods. It was a place, first of all. It wasn't clean and antiseptic, geared primarily to the well-heeled gourmets of the area. It was a place, as Ken Ringle pointed out in today's Post, where you could get things like tortellini and hogmaw.

And unlike the Fresh Farm markets, when you browsed the stalls at Eastern Market, you got a real sense of what this city sometimes is — and can be more often.

DC is woefully short on places like that. And now it's woefully shorter.

I really feel diminished by this.

Washingoton DC
Is the new mussels place Brasserie Breck open yet? Any word on how the crowds are doing?

Ah, yes — Brasserie Breck. All shampoos on tap, and tables full of great-smelling patrons!  : )

It's up, yes. Been up for about a week now. And the crowds? They're going. Boy, are they going. It'll be interesting to see if Beck can sustain the early excitement into summer and beyond.

Arlington, Va
Hi Todd, I'm devastated about Eastern Market! I have no doubt that it will reopen, but it won't have the same smells and stains on the floor. The food vendors were famous. How did they compare, in your mind, to the District's well-known chefs?

You and me, both — and no doubt hundreds of thousands of others, too.

And I fear the same thing you fear. You can't create character. Character emerges, over time — if, that is, you're lucky. It's an elusive thing.

I remember thinking, when Camden Yards first opened: You can't build old, you can't force charm. It's a great place to watch a game, but it's not Fenway Park, it's not Wrigley Field. And all the other copycats that followed are even more guilty of this kind of forced sentimentality.

As for the vendors, they're a terrific and devoted bunch, and deserving of any and all attention that has come — and will continue to come — their way. I hope they find meaningful work, and soon.

Del Ray, Alexandria
Hi Todd, I wanted to share a nice experience with my in laws this past weekend in Del Ray. We are new in the neighborhood, and decided to go for dinner to Evening Star Cafe. What a formidable time we have. Although it was noisy, the food and the wine was formidable. We enjoyed our red snapper, salmon and pork shops and paired wines. I guess they use the wine store next door and that is why they have such a long list of wines. Very decent price for such great food.

Thanks for dropping by, Del Ray.

The wines are really the big lure at Evening Star. We recently featured the shop next door, Planet Wine, in our appraisal of the best wine programs in the area. It's a gem.

The restaurant might not have made our 100 Best list, and it's prices are out of range of our Cheap Eats list, but every neighborhood ought to have a place like this.

Washington, DC
Whats your favorite wine list for a downtown lunch meeting? Looking to take a wine snob out on the company dime.

Hm. It might sound like an unorthodox choice, but the by-the-glass selections at Taberna del Alabardero, on 18th St., are terrific.

They're good values, the reds aren't served too warm, the whites aren't served too cold, and they'll even bring by the bottle of whatever you order before pouring.

I have always found your comments on service interesting. The big name restaurants in this city(DC) provide below par service, be honest with us, either they are arrogant(Gtown) and fake there knowlege of F/W, or they have little to no technical skills(90% of downtown) or they are just not nice people, they have no passion for hospitality. So I ask you who has the best service you readers area. I work in this industry, so be honest with us. I will respond accordingly to your response.

At the high end, I'd go with Marcel's, in the West End. This is attentive, highly professional and often lavish service, sometimes, even, to the degree of pampering — although it's a little formal for some.

I'd also include Komi, in East Dupont, on my unofficial list. The staff knows its stuff, it truly seems to love working here, and truly seems to love good food and drink. That kind of warmth and enthusiasm can't be faked, and counts for an awful lot in my book.

Interestingly, a lot of places I can think of on the lower end give terrific service, albeit service of a different degree entirely — Ravi Kabob I in Arlington, Gom Ba Woo in Annandale, Myoung Dong in Beltsville, Temari Cafe in Rockville as I mentioned above. These are places with heart, and they make their customers feel cared for.

Hopefully a gained opportunity
Todd – it is sad news regarding the fire at Eastern Market. I have enjoyed weekends strolling through the market and visiting the wonderful and varied vendors. I never tried the famed blueberry pancakes, but now that will have to wait a couple of years. You ask how a landmark can be recreated? It can never be as it was exactly, of course. But we have an opportunity to create a new home and hope that over time- the vendors and the customers and the weekend strollers will continue to love and nurture the market so that years from now it will be considered the wonderful, unpretentious market that we knew of it to be before the fire. And, a safer one, too. I will miss it in the meanwhile but am grateful that the city seems eager to want to rebuild and care for the community. How wonderful!

I'm with you.

Something good can maybe come of this. The quick, passionate response, anyway, is encouraging.

Thanks for writing in today. 

Alexandria, VA
Hi Todd , This is Ferhat YALCIN , former Head Server of Corduroy. I`d like to say I appreciate the job you are doing for everybody and the restaurant world. It is true that I left Corduroy after working with Tom POWER for the past 5 years. It was a great honor for me to have a job next to him. I believe I invested everything I have to be a good server and obviously I have done a goob job and I appreciate the kind comments from the posters last week. For the future Im planning to stay in this business but a decision is not made yet. Thank you again. Kind Regards.


Thank you, and thank you for updating us on your whereabouts. It's not every day that a waiter gets praised by his customers in a public forum.

I hope you'll let us know where you end up, and best wishes.

Todd, since you enjoy considering venues for pre-date dining, I was wondering if any readers have come back to let you know if your dining advice was spot-on and helped cinched a budding romance? Just curious about whether or not there is a connection between food and love. Thanks

As Lady Brett would say: Wouldn't it be pretty to think so?

I just got word, actually, from a chatter who took my recommendation of Cafe du Parc for a blind date. He wrote in last week, looking for a place with good wines, since his date was a wine lover.

He liked the place, and liked the wines, but never got around to ordering. He left after an hour. Said it was the worst date that he could remember.

Ahh, romance …


Hi Todd. This might be a long shot. I'm heading to Mazatlan for a week…do you have any idea what the dining scene is like? Suggestions?

You know what? You're in luck, my friend — my dining guide to Mazatlan is coming out at the end of the month!

Sorry, couldn't resist. : )

Actually, I have no idea. Does anyone? 

Cheverly, MD
I like Taberna del Alabardero for lunch– what other posh places do you think do lunch particularly well?

I like it for lunch, too.

I don't know that I'd call it posh, but Corduroy does a good job with lunch, always has. So does Kinkead's. So does Blue Duck Tavern.


Todd, Any tips for possible Mother's Day brunches? Doesn't have to be on the cheap, but please nothing overly expensive. Thanks!

We put together a pretty nifty, utterly compact guide to brunch in the May issue — now on your newsstands, as they say.

Many of these won't break the bank. We went looking for the places that moved us, that weren't just doing the same old-same old — places that pump some life into the lazy weekend feast.

Take a look at the magazine for the food-talk specifics, but I can tell you that a few of our favorites are Poste, Cafe Atlantico and Black Market Bistro.


Washington, DC
Have to disagree with your take on Pasta Mia. I will readily admit that the pasta is good, and better than you'll find in at least a 1 mile radius… but goodness gracious, it just does not make up, in my mind, for the ridiculous wait and the far below par service once you actually get inside (I've been at the front of the line while a table sat empty for nearly 10 minutes). Throw in the fact that it is cash-only, with very short hours of operation… ugh. I want to like the place, but it's just so… difficult, I suppose is the best word. Maybe that has a certain charm if you're paying out the nose for a truly unforgettable dinner, but for a little corner Italian place? It's all I can do, as I walk past the place every night, to not tell the people waiting outside that it's just not worth it.

A lot of people feel this way about the place, believe me.

Ambition and price have a lot to do with things, and have to be accounted for in any proper appraisal of a place like this.

At a high-end restaurant where, as you say, you "pay out the nose," the long waits and the sometimes negligent service are simply inexcusable. One major bruise, as a restaurateur I interviewed used to call these service errors and assumptions, and a three-hundred-dollar meal is pretty much spoiled.

At a place where two people can eat well for fifty bucks … well, you can put up with a few things. 

Look, we all say we crave individuality, the personal touch, a place that doesn't have the plasticky corporate stamp all over it. If you want idiosyncracy … you have to accept idiosyncracies. 


Circa near Dupont metro
Hi Todd. I am wondering what you think about Circa that recently opened near the Dupont Metro station? It seems busy but I don't know if that's because it's a new place or what? It's interesting…quick-morning-stop pre-work, cafe by day, reading room by afternoon, drinks al fresco post-work, restaurant by evening and hip(?) lounge by night? I would have thought they might suffer from an identity complex but maybe the adage of location, location, location is everything!? Anyway, while there are positives about the place, I find it to lack a bit of crust and character of other similar-type places in metro DC. Thanks

Crust and character! Beautifully put!

Seems to be the theme of the day. Thanks for chiming in with the report.

Metro Center
Hi Todd, Submitting for the third time, hopefully you pick this question! We were at Central a few weeks ago where my fiancee ordered a cheeseburger cooked "medium".. it definitely came medium-rare to rare. When we told the server, she said "that's OUR medium"… in a ridiculously condescending manner. She did offer to take it back, but we were so insulted.. like we belonged at Appleby's. Since when did temperature become subjective?

The thing here is, you felt slighted. I'd bring it to the attention of the restaurant — Brian Zipin is the GM — in a letter.

I do know that a lot of chefs, especially those at big-time operations, are leery of sending out an overcooked burger, and that they would much prefer you order something that's still a little red and juicy in the center. A reddish, juicy burger is that burger at its best. Serious chefs want you to eat their food at its best.

But as I said, you felt slighted, and that's what matters here.

I hope you'll take me up on my advice — after posting this publicly, I think you owe the restaurant an opportunity to try to deal with things. 

Be sure to let me know how things turn out, okay?

Alexandria, Va: Think Positive!!
Todd, Good morning! I just wanted to say: keep the faith regarding Eastern Market! We won't forget, we won't relent, we won't stop until it is restored. It's about the people. The vendors, the shoppers, the residents and the visitors like me from Alexandria. The smells and the stains will return. Let's just focus on the task ahead, and support our friends who have suffered a far worse loss than we have. Defeat is not an option here. Remember what emerged from the ashes! Who else is going to be there this weekend? Count me in!

I love your energy and can-do optimism, Alexandria!

It's the perfect note to end this week's chat on. And a great reminder, too, that maybe the best thing we can all do right now is to turn out this weekend and show our support for this great institution.

Be well, eat well, and let's do it again next week at 11 …