Tuesday, May 22

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Word of Mouth, all-Asian edition …

Two Chinese Carry-Outs: Great Wall Szechuan House (1527 14th Street NW; 202-797-8888), is fiery enough, with the unmistakable presence of szechuan numbing peppercorn suffusing the eight dishes that make up the special Szechuan menu. But where’s the flavor? The eggplant doesn’t taste much of eggplant; besides which, it’s goopy soft. The dish is all about garlic and heat. The twice-corked pork – aka, pork belly — is thin and dry, not luscious. It’s also greasy. I walked in fully expecting to be lit afire, but with the heat and spice accenting and punctuating the flavors in the dishes, not substituing for them; I left with a persistent, metallic taste in my mouth … Kimi and Phil’s China Café, in College Park, now goes by the name Linda and Jim’s China Café ( 4370 Knox Rd, College Park, Md.; 301-277-3737). What’s in a name? Evidently, a lot. Two of my favorites, are favorites no more: The Kung Pao Chicken Chinese Style, has gone from smoky and tightly sauced to greasy and tasteless, and the Salt and Pepper Squid is now bereft of its broccoli, a crunchy counterpart to the chewy squid, and stints on the chopped chilis and green onions. …

… Outside, more than a dozen customers have spilled onto the stone-laid patio, waiting to be summoned to a table; inside, the dining room has the air of a noisy, rollicking party, already in progress. Sushi Sono (10215 Wincopin Circle, Columbia, Md.; 410-997-6131) is a madhouse on weekend nights – and not just because this Columbia restaurant affords a view of a lake. The real attraction is the sushi, which is well-cared for, delicately carved, beautifully presented (the dragon roll, with a head-on shrimp providing a face and thin-sliced octopus the scales, sprawls across a long, rectangular plate) and wonderfully clean-tasting – although a bit on the mild side. There is nothing mild, though, about the chu toro, which the kitchen has flown in from Japan on occasion: Two thick bands of saltwatery, supremely marbled pink fish, all at once firm and melting, and as good as any single sushi  order in the area. There’s a separate, no-shoes area laid with tatami mats, if you want a measure of quietude, or you can park yourself in the midst of the happy chaos at the sushi bar; the spot under the lighted blowfish is a prime perch to watch the chefs (who work with the speed and efficiency of guys slinging hash) and to take note, for future ordering, of dishes as they whiz by (a gorgeously fried soft shell tempura). …

… The name, simply, is Korean Bakery, Inc. (4217 John Marr Dr., Annandale; 703-642-0404), a tiny storefront in the throbbing heart of Little Korea. Cream rolls, cookies, and cakes are the focus of the business, but the bakery also makes an unusual, and unusually addictive, little sandwich, tucking a bit of cold cuts, some sliced carrot and onion and a smear of mayo into a poofy, fried sweet roll. It’s hard to stop at just one. “People who bake Love,” reads the bakery’s tag line. I’m with that. …

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Bethesda, MD
We finally scored a babysitter for this weekend- now we have to decide where to go. Last time we went out we did Rasika for drinks then Zatinya for dinner. Any suggestions for good food and a fun vibe in Bethesda or nearby? We're considering- Hook, johnny's half shell, sette bello, hank's oyster bar, palena cafe. Good choices? Lisa

Howsabout something closer to home?

There's a new spot in Bethesda, a tapas place called Guardado's on Del Ray Ave.

The chef, Nicolas Jose Guardado, headed up the kitchen at Jaleo in Bethesda, and is reprising a lot of the same flavors in his new spot: mushrooms sauteed in sherry, ceviche; papas fritas with aioli, shrimp with chorizo sauteed in garlic.

Paella, so far, is the weak link, so stick to assembling a lineup of small plates.

If you go, be sure to report back and let us all know how things turned out.

Richmond, VA
Todd, Going into DC to visit Arlingtong NC and the Mall Memorials for Memorial Day. Where can one find a good meal, moderately priced off the mall or in close Arlington? Where can you have a super breakfast in those places? JP

JP,

It depends a lot on what your definition of "moderately priced" is. Moderately priced, by the standards of the rest of the country? Or by D.C. standards?

If it's the former, I'm not sure what I could recommend in that part of town — although maybe a fellow chogger could chime in with a suggestion or two.

By D.C. standards, you could swing by a new place called Cafe du Parc, on 14th and Pennsylvania — it serves breakfast, lunch and dinner. The cooking is assured and graceful, the portions are generous, and the feel is authentically French.

 

Cheverly, MD
Any thoughts about Butterfield9? Planning to head over there next week and was wondering if there is anything not to miss– I haven't heard much about this restaurant, but we are slowy working our way though the top 100– and this place seems to have a lot of creative veggie options.

The restaurant, and the chef, Michael Harr, both tend to fly under the radar.

But the place has its rewards, beyond the location.

The menu changes quite a bit, but aside from the veggie options you mentioned, you should look for a pink peppercorn-dusted ostrich, a butter-poached lobster with fennel, and a dish whose name sound like the title of a 19th century American pastoral painting — Study of Goat (basically, four different preparations joined together on the same plate.)

Oh, and dessert: the baked Alaska, a classic that feels contemporary.

Since you mentioned that you've been eating your way through the Top 100, I'm curious to hear where you've gone and what you've experienced.

Enlighten us, Cheverly. 

And anyone else out there who has eaten at a fair number of the places on our list — I'd love to hear from you.

Chevy Chase, MD
What do you think will be the impact of the trans-fat ban on restaurants and other food service providers in Montgomery County? And do you think that the government has the right to ban-trans fats from our diets?

Interesting question, Chevy Chase.

And I wish I had a good answer, but I haven't really thought much about how the ban is going to affect the industry — if at all.

You also asked if I thought government has the right to ban trans-fats from our diets. The question presumes that trans-fats are some kind of a positive, that they enrich us in some way. They don't. They're man-made. They're a scourge.

In a way, the triumph of trans-fats in the American diet represents the triumph of corporate forces, the triumph of homogenization, the triumph of the consolidation and the ruthless streamlining of our food supply and distribution.

In this particular instance, I think regulation is needed, and long-overdue.

Georgetown

Hi, Todd,

I went to Bebo last week for dinner with mom and friends after Artomatic across the street. HORRIBLE EXPERIENCE.

Service was awful. Food took about 90 minutes to get to the table! Friend's dad ordered shrimp pasta, but got only 3 shrimps. We think the Italian waiter admitted it was frozen accidentally too. My fish was chock full of tiny bones, making the eating process unbearable. Mixed greens were just okay.

As I'm sure you already know, they have bumper stickers sitting on a front table that say "Don't Believe the Washingtonian." It was only enjoyable because my mom/ friend's parents loved listing all the flaws so we could report back to you.

Well, you can print up a bunch of paranoid bumper stickers, or you can teach your staff to not be in contempt of the diner.

Look, when the place is good, it's very good. There's great polenta to be had, wonderful homemade sausage, and some beautifully cooked dishes.

Unfortunately, I keep hearing about inconsistencies with the food and problems with the service.

Bebo ought to have been a real credit to Crystal City.

 

annandale va
Todd: I highly recommend reading "Setting the Table" by Danny Meyer to anyone involved in the food industry. I was struck by your response last week to the person who wrote about Le Gaulois. On page 86 Danny talks about the importance of keeping cherished regulars. You were right on the mark. My partner and I have been going to Le Gaulois for years — when they were located in Foggy Bottom and then Alexandria. We have gone back several times since the restaurant changed hands but have decided we will not dine there again. The menu has not changed since Jan. and has no daily seasonal specials (at least not in the past three months). The on-line menu is always the same. We could always count on having the first soft-shelled crabs of the season. I'm curious as to why the restaurant kept the name if they were so intent on changing the menu, the decor, and the character of the restaurant. What a disservice to Bernard who would have as many as five different soups on the lunch menu –his menu was printed daily . We would have lunch there as many as three times a week and never have the same thing. How we miss the old Le Gaulois.. FYI, I have written at least six times to another food critic who refuses to answer my questions about Le Gaulois. I'm surprised since this restaurant was once extremely popular. I remember that every table was filled both upstairs and downstairs with people lining up at the door. Any chance of a review soon that may wake up the chef and owner?

Interesting.

And although they might not like to hear what you have to say, the new owners ought to be open to listening to a longtimer such as yourself. I'm posting this, but I think you might also want to send a letter.

By the way: Yours, so far, is the only negative word I've heard — for whatever that's worth.

There's a danger, as I said, in alienating a regular — and I'm sympathetic to that; but there's also a danger in staying stuck in gear. And I'm sympathetic to that, too. I think it's a tough, and interesting, situation the place finds itself in.

I haven't dropped by yet to see for myself, but I think that you and the owners and everyone else should know that when I walk into a place, I do so without preconceptions — every place gets a clean slate, regardless of what I may have heard … and regardless, too, of my own prior experiences.

Cheverly, MD
Oh, my, there are so many places….Of course for the top 10 or so we need to wait for some excuse to be spendy! I don't eat much meat, and we are both attracted to places which take exciting risks more than we are to places which can beautifully execute a classic. I always think the real test in some ways is if you would go back– we will try anything once, but to go back and do it again? We regularly go to Raku in Bethesda, Mydong Dong in Beltsville, the Eden Center (wherever tickles our fancy), Zaytinya, the Blue Duck (a sure favorite for us), Cafe Atlantico, Miss Saigon, A&J in Rockville, Lebanese Taverna, Benjarong Thai, Indique, Passage to India, 2 Amys, Mandalay, and a bunch of other places we can't think of at the moment. Places I am glad we went to, but we probably won't go back again include City Zen (I posted about this one before, it just relied on butter and cream too much for me and was, well, a bit bland), loved Palena but there are other places to try next, Ceviche, Zengo, Indebleu, Poste, and Jaleo (just been there too many times) and lots, lots more I have forgotten. I do think a trip to Palena is a must in this city. And of course we are desperate to try Citronelle, Maestro and the Minibar– I am constantly trying to think of reasons to celebrate. But I think DC shines on its ethnic food– from the bottom (like the no-name fresh noodle Keorean place in Beltsville we accidently found the other night—yum!) to places like Zaytinya. And I always love your suggestions– althought my husband occasionally tires of me saying "Todd says that…" when we go out to eat 😉

You've got a pretty nice little rotation there!

(Although I've gotta say: Benjarong, Miss Saigon, and Indebleu are not on the 100 Best — or even on the forthcoming [tada!] Cheap Eats list.)

A couple of places that you should think to work into the mix right now — places that aren't going to set you back financially — are Mendocino Grille and Circle Bistro. Both have bright, young chefs, and are better than they've ever been.

Chevy Chase, MD
I am a rising senior in college and am back in DC for the summer. I am passionate about cooking and want to take cooking classes0–but I am also working at a full-time job every day. I'm looking for a series of classes that will help me decide if culinary school is something that I want to do after graduation. I'd also prefer to take classes that build off of each other and will teach me skills as well as recipes, rather than specific types of classes that focus on one technique or just a single cuisine. Can you suggest any courses that would fit with my busy schedule? Thanks!

The best thing to do is to check in with the folks at L'Academie de Cuisine — with locations in Bethesda and Gaithersburg.

They have a full load of courses, including knife skills, baking bread and Asian cooking, and they offer these courses at different times of the day and week, so as to accommodate the busy professional.

And keep in mind that a good number of kitchen pros in the area and out — including Jonathan Krinn, at 2941 — got their start here.

It's a good place to begin to test yourself — your desire, your ambition, your endurance.

 

Washington, D.C.
My husband and I went to the Kennedy Center for brunch this past Sunday. Why do they provide such an exhaustive list of food on their website for the brunch but only maybe a 10th of that exists at the actual brunch? I found nearly all of the food lacking other than the desserts. The french toast was horrible; pancakes flat and tasteless; waffles overcooked; etc. Not to mention the lack of oysters. It was really disappointing.

That would be shameful at any restaurant.

At the Kennedy Center, where you have to pay two figures just to park your car, it's cause for a refund. I think that management deserves to see your letter.

And on that hopeful note …

I wish you all have better, more fulfilling times out in the field this week. 

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

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