To Michel Richard, RJ Cooper and Mark Slater, each of whom won a James Beard Award – the Oscar of the food world – at the annual ceremony in New York last night.
Richard was honored as Most Outstanding Chef in the Country, the top honor of them all. It’s Richard’s second Beard; previously he won for Best Chef California. Slater, meanwhile, was saluted as the country’s Wine Professional of the Year for his work at Richard’s Citronelle.
Cooper, the chef at Vidalia, was recognized as Best Chef Mid-Atlantic. It’s the second Beard award for Vidalia. Jeff Buben, the restaurant’s proprietor, won one in 1999.
Word of Mouth …
The trendies were out in force over the weekend at Casa Oaxaca, the new Adams Morgan restaurant (a spinoff from the folks at Arlington’s Guajillo) with cooking from Oaxaca – that’s Wa-HA-Ca, as the black t-shirts the servers all wear lets people know – the culinary region of Mexico where mole originated.
The place had a familiar air, the air of a giant party that was long underway, as if the owners had siphoned off some of the spillover crowd of earnest young strivers standing for hours in line at nearby Lauriol Plaza.
But no matter how much excitement coursed through the color-splashed dining room, Casa Oaxaca isn’t yet ready for prime time.
I salute the owners for allowing you to pick out your own brand of tequila for the margarita, and for spiking the sangria with brandy, but both drinks are too weak to induce a real buzz. Likewise, the moles – there are multiple varieties, not just the bitter chocolate-infused sauce — are more gentle than I would have hoped for, given the restaurant’s emphasis, tasting neither refined and elegant (like the best moles can be) nor rustic and full of gusty, spicy punch. It doesn’t help that the meats I sampled last weekend were generally tough or unluscious. The snapper ceviche was diced so finely, it was difficult to appreciate the quality of the fish (which might have been the idea). A plate of giant, flopping ravioli came strewn with huitlacoche (otherwise known as “corn smut,” and an honest-to-god Mexican delicacy) and squash blossoms; it was a wonderfully delicate and light-tasting dish, a real departure from most of what passes for Mexican cooking in these parts; too bad the ravioli themselves were chewy rather than tender, and so hard to cut they spattered sauce all over the table.
The less said about a botched deconstruction of bread pudding that tasted like caramelized croutons, the better.
Casa Oaxaca, 2106 18th St., NW; (202) 387-2272
One of the best-kept secrets in the area is a tiny, two-stool bakery in a dilapidated Oxon Hill strip mall called Desserts by Gerard. Residents of Oxon Hill, who can’t believe their good fortune, are no doubt happy to keep it that way.
The quality of the work, at its best, exceeds most of what you can find in the fashionable precincts of Upper Northwest and the tony inner-ring suburbs of Virginia. Surprised? Now get a load of the prices: A gorgeous 10-inch custard berry tart will set you back just $15.95. A textbook strawberry shortcake that can easily serve eight to ten costs $32.95. How about something smaller and simpler? Croissants, which, elsewhere, are often as costly as they are chewy and dull, come in at just under two bucks — $1.85. And they’re good.
The owner and chef is Gerard Huet, whose resume is studded with high-profile positions, including, most notably, a stint at Jean-Louis at the Watergate. His repertoire is vast, and not everything hits its mark (the eclairs are a bit of a disappointment, and the red velvet cake tastes more of French refinement than Southern excess), but there’s a lot to love. The piled-high raspberry tart is fantastic, the pecan pie is nearly as good (French refinement, in this case, resulting in a pie that’s surprisingly light for all its sweet density), and a square of chocolate-ganache draped chocolate cake puts you in mind of a sophisticated ho-ho.
Huet also makes sandwiches, big, properly overstuffed sandwiches at seeming odds with his classical training, and they’re worth driving for all by themselves – especially the creamy chicken salad, served on brioche, seasoned with a pinch of curry, and given some crunch with the addition of sliced tart apple, and one of the best renditions of egg salad around.
Desserts by Gerard, 6341 Livingston Rd., Oxon Hill; (301) 839-2185
Is it me, or do you make "fine diner" sound like "persnickety houseguest"? : )
What I would do if I were you, is call up the following restaurants — Equinox, Vidalia, Kinkead's and Blue Duck Tavern.
I don't know for sure that they all have them on their menus right now, but these are among the best places in the city to eat this wonderful local delicacy.
Good luck in your search, and I hope you and your friend are eating well next week!
Soft shell crabs … Boy oh boy, it's truly one of the best times of the year to be a food-lover in this city.
That sounds like an absolutely, positively awful time. It also — I have to say — sounds absolutely, positively unlike any experience I've ever had at Citronelle.
I do think that in this instance, if things are truly as bad as they sound, a restaurant ought to do more than simply say: Come back and trust us. If everything went down as you say, then the burden is on the establishment to earn back that trust.
Also … Restaurateurs, managers and servers will surely beg to differ, but in my experience, young (or young-looking) diners in upscale restaurants — diners who don't dress to the nines and who don't buy a lot of wine — are sometimes overlooked and dismissed. I didn't say always, and I didn't say often. But sometimes.
Of course, sometimes those young diners — ill at ease with the environment — are wont to see discrimination when it doesn't really exist.
Boy, you know? Nothing is coming to mind.
Anybody out there in chog-land who knows of a place or two?
Wrong chat, pal.
But, since it has to do with the subject of tipping, I figured I'd go ahead and respond. My advice: Tip. And tip well.
If the service is good — not great, but good — you should tip twenty percent. And more than that (your judgment) for anything that goes above and beyond the norm.
If you're looking to become a regular at a restaurant or bar, tipping generously is as good a way I can think of to ensure that you're going to be welcomed back with open arms on future visits.
The problem with Hook is, it's closed on Mondays.
You might want to give the new Cafe du Parc, on 14th and Pennsylvania, a try — especially if the weather's good. You can sit outside and drink and eat and linger and pretend you're a member of Cafe Society. The food's good (sometimes very good), the portions are hefty, and the prices — since it's aiming to replicate a bistro — are relatively modest (entrees, for instance, hover around 16, 17 bucks).
I'd book soon, though.
Actually, I first wrote about tiny Thai X-ing in the summer of 2004, when I did a weekly column for the City Paper.
I haven't eaten there in probably six months, but my last visit was every bit as tasty as all my previous visits had been.
Yes, it's slow, and yes, there's no place to sit, but so what? This is probably the best Thai cooking within D.C. proper.
One man (Taw Vigsittaboot), one kitchen, one vision. The salmon in red curry, in particular, makes me (and my wife) swoon.
Thanks for chiming in with this, Lisa …
Will you enjoy your experience? Only if you like exquisitely made pastas, beautifully prepared fish courses, great wines and expert service. : )
We ranked the area's best restaurants in January, from 1-100. Maestro clocked in at Number Two on our list. And frankly, wasn't all that far from Number One.
Did you recently win the lottery? ; )
I'm serious: Is money no object?
I don't like it, either.
Don't know that I'd deduct points for service on that basis alone, though. Anything else go wrong?
Great food, not expensive … that's a rare combination, especially in Bethesda.
How about tasty, crowd-pleasing food, good times and not expensive? That I can give you.
I think the place you should be looking at is called Rio Grande Cafe, and it's well-acquainted with handling a large group.
Good luck, and please write back to let us know how things turn out.
I don't think their ambition is fine-dining — but they're definitely aiming higher than most Mexican restaurants in the area, and they're changing for it.
I'm interested in returning and probing deeper into the menu, but at this point, the place seems a little more interested in catching a buzz and servicing a young, stylish crowd than in turning out detailed, soulful regional Mexican cooking.
I don't. Does anybody out there?
Mayor Fenty, by the way, has promised to find a temporary location for the Market's terrific vendors. Good news. Stay tuned.
Meantime, I'd try The Italian Store — 3123 Lee Hwy., Arlington; 703-528-6266 — or Litteri's, which is located in the wholesale food market near New York Ave. and Florida Ave. 57 Morse St. NE; 202 544 0183.
Hey, going from truly awful and humiliating to comically inept — I'd call that progress!
That's big of you, Lincoln Park, returning to this forum to give credit where credit is due.
That is a kicker. I'm stumped.
Any managers reading along out there who think their place can accommodate this group?
In a word: Ugh.
(OK, that's not a word. But still … )
Stick to the drinks, then head to either the new Central, the new Beck Brasserie or the new Cafe du Parc for really good and (really pretty affordable) French cooking.
First suggestion: We need to get you some nouns.
Here's a few places to look into — Poste and Zengo (both in Penn Quarter, the former a tasty New American bistro, the latter an Asian-Latin spot that gives fusion a good name), Montmartre (a good French bistro in Eastern Market), Circle Bistro (good, Frenchified American cooking in the West End).
All of these made our recent 100 Best list, and all are worth your time and money.
I'd say Maestro.
But that means leaving town without eating at either CityZen and Palena, both terrific.
And you're just a wealth of information this morning, Alexandria. Thanks for the shout-outs …
I wish I could help you — but I've never eaten there.
If you're really concerned about spending too much, and your mother is half-way adventurous, I'd avoid the traditional Mother's Day brunches and head out for something like dim sum at Hollywood East Cafe on the Blvd. in Wheaton.
It's a great experience, very relaxing, and the food is varied, interesting, delicious and affordable. In fact, that's where I went with my own mother a couple of years ago.
The gardens are practical, not just aesthetic.
If you eat, say, the wonderful, cooked-to-order donuts at brunch, you can taste a little hint of lavender in the batter. Well, the lavender comes straight from the garden.
So do many of the herbs that find their way into chef Rob Weland's dishes.
The patio is also one of the better spots in the city to sit and linger on a nice, warm night — and still a pretty well-kept secret, too.
Sitting out on the patio, drinking and eating and whiling away the day … sounds pretty good right about now, doesn't it, as you sit at your desk and stare at the screen and chomp away at your turkey sandwich and chips and diet cola?
Get out there and enjoy the gorgeous day, everyone.
And, as always — eat well, be well, and let's do it again next week at 11 …