June 12, 2007 @ 11AM

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Good morning, everyone!

And welcome to a special West Coast edition of Kliman Online. I'm on the road this week for a little R and R with my wife, but I didn't want to go a week without checking in with all of you. So today I'm up early and coming to you live from sunny, breezy Berkeley, California.

What's different today? Actually, not a whole hell of a lot. Hit me with your questions and I'll answer them as best I can.

But I would like to ask a favor — to turn the tables a bit, if you will. I'd love to hear your picks for eating in the Bay Area. What are the places you absolutely wouldn't miss, if you only had a few days in town? And I'm not (just) talking  about the big-ticket spots, like Gary Danko and Chez Panisse. Where else is good? Breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks. Cheap eats, not-so-cheap eats, and any and everything in between.

Last night was a superb meal at Great China in Berkeley — some of the best Peking duck I've ever had (greaseless, and with perfect, burnished brown skin) beautifully cooked mustard greens, terrific fish-and-ginger dumplings, and a cold noodle dish teeming with fresh veggies and cellophane noodles and spiked with hot mustard.

Onward ……

Washington, DC
Hi, I'm trying to find a very nice restaurant in DC for a corporate event, will need a private dining room. Looking for something with great food and a great view of DC.

I'd recommend giving Charlie Palmer Steak a call.

They've got a private room, they're well-equipped to handle private parties, the kitchen works at a high level, and you can catch a glimpse of the Capitol — big, imposing and alabaster — through the windows and through the trees.

My brother is graduating from high school on Friday and we are looking for a good restaurant for lunch after the ceremony. We have some picky eaters in our group of 7 people so I was wondering if you had any suggestions for a nice, not too fancy meal in DC or Maryland? Thanks!

How picky is picky? No restaurants other than American restaurants picky? Or please-don't-recommend-we-go-for-mussels picky?

I'll need some guidance, here.

Also: If you had your druthers on location, what would it be? More DC than Maryland, more Maryland than DC.  

And congrats to li'l bro.

 

Silver Spring
I am looking for a nice restaurant in Annapolis to celebrate my husband's 40th birthdya with friends. I am looking for it all – good food, good atmoshpere, possibly nice view. Any suggestions?

You've got a few good options in Annapolis. And actually, all of them are in Eastport, just over the little bridge.

I like Lewnes's Steak House in Eastport. The place has lots of texture, and the steaks are good, too. And unlike a lot of the chain steakhouses, you actually feel that you could only be here and nowhere else.

O'Leary's is a good pick for fish and seafood. It's also in Eastport.

Continuing the Eastport theme, you might also want to look into The Rockfish — especially if you're looking for a more informal (but also livelier) atmosphere.

Hope that helps, some.

Good luck, and write back to let us know what you decided to do. 

 

Foggy Bottom, DC
Hiya, Todd. I'm a huge foodie and fan of yours. I know this question has endless possibilities, but I'm new to the dating scene and am ISO of fun, yummy, up-beat place in DC for a first date. Requirements are metro-accessible, not too loud, and moderately priced (like a Jaleo, but without the wait on a Thursday night). Any thoughts come to mind?

Have you thought of Zengo, not all that many blocks away from Jaleo in Penn Quarter?

The place comes on like a trendy pretender, all splashy cocktails, and beautiful people, and bright, splashy surfaces. And the food, combining Asian and Latin flavors, sounds like the sort of straining mishmash you tend to find with wayward fusion.

But guess what? The dishes, many of them, anyway, work. It's just the sort of zippy, fun, conversation-starting, small plates cooking you want, I think, when you're on a first date and looking to gauge whether the person on the other side of the table is what you're looking for.

Alternatively, I'd also look into Oyamel (the bright, bustling small plates Mexican spot from the owner of Jaleo, Jose Andres) which, at long last, appears to have found its groove at its second home.

Cheverly, MD
Have you been to the Imperial Tea House– I always adore this fun and authentic place when I visit, they have an excellent selection of teas, nice cups, and decent tea snacks. There are birdcages hanging from the ceiling, and it is a good place to have an afternoon rest. I lived in China for a while and this is the only place in the states whihc really brings me back….
Cheverly, hey. Thanks for the tip! It sounds like a neat spot.
Silver Spring, MD
I subsribe to the Washingtonian and decided this past Friday to go out to one of your Cheap Eats reccomendations, Da Marco Italian. I have to tell you, the service was just about the worst I have ever had and I'm not sure how the food was because it took so long we had to scarf it down in order to make our movie. Just wanted to let you know….

Give them some time, then go back again. The place is worth it for a simple, inexpensive and tasty night out.

But actually, it doesn't surprise me at all that a small, independent restaurant, swarmed by customers after being positively reviewed, would experience a few growing pains. 

It's one thing to know that a crush of newcomers is on its way. It's another thing to know how to handle it. And this is a place, remember, that used to be a grocery store.

Yank Sing
Has the best dim sum in the Bay Area. The steamed dumplings are really hard to beat, and can't find this quality anywhere in the DC area. Gary Danko was really disappointing when I went there last month. Too bad.

Ah, beat you to it: We're heading to Yank Sing today for lunch.

And re: Gary Danko and your disappointment. This is something you seldom here from critics, but the fact is, when you're in a new city and you're not exactly looking to throw your money around, the smartest thing to do is to haunt the really top-notch ethnic restaurants.

They're usually much, much more consistent than the fine dining spots, because the menus don't change every couple of weeks, they're not constantly losing kitchen personnel, and they take great pleasure and pride in doing the same thing day after day after day. Expectations are so much higher with the big-ticket places that a little thing or two that goes wrong can spoil your night.

I'm not saying that I don't like and don't go to these places. I mean, I build entire trips around them.

But I do think you get a better accounting of a city — what it's really like — by eating in the sorts of places I'm talking about. And you often eat just as well.

 

Alexandria, VA
Hi Todd, I have a 3-year-old son, Alex who does pretty well when my husband and I go out to eat, but he's a picky eater and we usually have to bring our own food for him. I follow the 100's Very Best Restaurants list religiously. Can you give me some ideas of some places that I would be happy with (in Northern VA) that are "kid-friendly"? We live in Springfield, VA, but are willing to venture out some. Thanks, LDS

Off the top of my head, and all in NoVa …

Pie-tanza. I think he'd enjoy himself there, and so would you. Pizzas, pastas, fun atmosphere.

Buzz, the new lounge/restaurant/coffee house. You should be able to find something for him there, and although it's not the sort of place you'd go for a full, sit-down dinner, it does satisfy a few needs. Breakfast, lunch, snack, etc.

Five Guys, which are, now, all over the area — like kudzu in the South. Burgers and fries. What wouldn't he like? 

Hope that helps, some.

I know there are lots and lots of others I could include on there, and I don't mean to slight anybody — but it's taking a while for the coffee to kick in this morning.

(It's gorgeous, I'm not complaining — hey, 64 and sunny and breezy! — but I'm not a morning person.) 

WDC
Todd, So jealous of your time in the Bay area. I just came back from my first trip out there and loved every minute of it! Some quick tips – Mission District Burrito at El Farolita (though I'm sure there are other great spots) & while you are there grab a cup of coffee at Philz on Mission (they grind and brew each cup fresh). Dim Sum at Yank Sing – you have to get their shang hai ginger pork dumplings (house speciality). And grab breakfast at Dottie's – they have fantastic stuff in a a divvy little diner – fresh baked goods, strattas, frittatas, interesting veggies in their eggs etc. Enjoy and tell us all about it!

Ginger pork dumplings. My mouth is watering, even now … We'll be sure to get them this afternoon.

And thanks for all the great suggestions in the Mission!

Breakfast, whether I'm at home or on the road, is the one meal I tend to stint on — even though pancakes and croissants are awfully hard sometimes to pass up. I'm usually saving up calories for later, or too full from the night before! 

But Dottie's does sound good.

Anywhere for a great bowl of really good oatmeal? That's what I usually look for. 

Silver Spring, MD
I understand what you're saying, but they were positively rude to us at Da Marco, not just neglectful. I let the waiter know that we were going to a movie and he snapped at me that they "had a big party here tonight." Plus, they never brought us pepper or parrmesean cheese, although I saw them bringing it to some of the tables. The whole meal took nearly an hour and a half, all told, so we didn't have time to get dessert. I'd usually give a place like that a second chance, but it was so horrendous, I can't even think of doing it.

I don't know.

I'd still be inclined to give a place like that — small, independent, overrun on a busy night — another chance, and especially if the food was tasty.

The only thing that smacks of rudeness is the snapping — and I really can't know if that was just a harried explanation, or somebody telling you to buzz off and cool your heels. 

 

 

Washington, DC
You have to eat at Cactus Taqueria (5642 College Ave, Oakland). And you have to get the crispy chicken tacos. The come in orders of 2 or 3 tacos. Don't be fooled into only getting two because it seems slovenly to eat three. You will definitely want a third after you eat your second. The tacos are just the right mix of crunchy and soft. The taco shell hugs the chicken and cheese perfectly. I lived in Oakland 4 years ago and I still crave Cactus. Go!

Now, that's a recommendation.

I love this kind of food writing, when people take you by the hand and tell you, in no uncertain terms, how to maximize your experience. At times like that, you submit, utterly. 

Crispy chicken tacos. Consider them added to the list. I absolutely have to get there.

By the way: "Don't be fooled into only getting two because it seems slovenly to eat three" had me laughing out loud in the coffeeshop.

I would pay you to use this, if I could.

 

Fairfax, VA
I'm entertaining 15 out-of-town guests (including some from California and London, Paris, and Stockholm). Professionals, but on the young side. None of them know Washington. I'm looking for suggestions for dinner in DC – traditional would be nice (tried Ebbitt's Grill but they can't accommodate us), memorable, good food that won't break the bank. Thanks for any suggestions.

"Traditional" and "won't break the bank" — I'm afraid that's a combo that just doesn't exist in the city.

If I were you, what I'd do is, I'd look into some of the newer, more casual spots that have opened up in the last few years. And of these, I would focus on those with more classically French leanings as a way of satisfying the need for something traditional: Poste Brasserie, Central Michel Richard, Cafe du Parc, Brasserie Beck.

All of these places code young, and all are full of good, rewarding, no-tricks cooking.

You might also want to give a look-see to Blue Duck Tavern, which is slightly more expensive, but also slightly more traditional in its approach (at least in the kitchen): hearth-style cooking, with a focus on all-American ingredients.

 

Wash, DC
Todd, in SF check out Tommy's Joynt on Geary and Van Ness for great, cheap eats, cafeteria-style. The buffalo chili is fantasic. Also, since you're so big on Five Guys, there's an In-n-Out Burger near Fisherman's Wharf. Order your burger "animal style."

"So big on" Five Guys? Not at all.

That's the danger of a forum like this, I'm afraid. I recommended it to a chogger looking to take a picky child out for a meal. Well, what kid doesn't like burgers and fries?

Five Guys is pretty good these days, not wonderful, and it wouldn't be my first or second pick for a good burger and fries.

Now, as for In-n-Out Burger … I'm right there with you. I love In-n-Out Burger. That's a burger to love and adore.

Woodley Park, DC
Hi Todd- Last Friday I came home from work super tired and opted to go out for dinner rather than cooking. My roommate and I walked up to Indique to find it completely packed. Luckily, we were able to snag the last table in the bar area but other walk ins were out of luck and the wait was over an hour. This brings me to the question. Are there any good or decent places in DC where a person (or two) can get dinner on a whim without having to wait an hour? Obviously places like Jaleo and Zaytinya don't take reservations but the waits are usually long. This might come in handy during the summer as I remember last summer there were many times it was so hot I didn't want to turn on the stove top or oven and just wanted a casual place for a decent meal. Thanks.

You know? That's a good idea. I think it'd make a nifty little guide for the web. 

Thanks for the suggestion, Woodley Park! 

One place you should add to your repertoire, especially since it's so close to home, is Zorba's Cafe. The patio feels like an overflowing party in the summer (and not the kind you see at Lauriol Plaza, overrun with striving networkers pretending to relax), and the food is bright and lively and good and cheap.

It's been one of my favorite spots in the city since it opened — gulp — 23 years ago. 

Silver Spring
Stears has oatmeal if my memory is not totally gone. And I love their silver sollar pancakes with lingonberry syrup/preserves

Great tip. Thanks.

Oatmeal to feel good and virtuous, pancakes with lingonberry syrup to erase that feeling entirely. : ) 

Washington, DC
Recommendations from a San Francisco native, all located in the Mission/Noe Valley area, my original neighborhood: Limon, for peruvian ceviches served with yam and corn; Bombay Bazaar and Ice Creamery for indian mango kulfi, gulab jamun, and ice creams in rose, saffron, and cardamon flavors; Sunflower vietnamese for soups with handmade noodles, served with small bowls of freshly picked basil or mint to add to taste, and squid in a great firey garlic sauce; and Incanto for quality charcuterie and really inventive Italian, featuring offal and other rare game meats you don't see on menus much these days. Man, I'm homesick.

Man, you're my kind of eater!

That's a wonderful, varied, and mouth-watering dining guide, right there — and all in the space of a few sentences. Thanks!

Eats in the Bay Area
Hi Todd. Ooooh – swoon…. My husband and I were there last summer and it was wonderful. Here is my hodge-podge pick, if you will. Load up on the beautiful goods at the Farmers Market or get your fill of variety with all the various markets in the Ferry Building. Then, enjoy the goodies on the ferry across the bay. Really, it doesn't get better than that. Enjoy your R&R with your wife. PS, there's a wonderful enoteca just steps away from Chez Panisse. The wines are fantastic.

Thanks for the tip about the enoteca — we're not too far away from Chez Panisse.

And the Ferry Building is also on the list for later in the week. I'm looking forward to the breads and cheeses and oils.

Anyway, I'm off to Chinatown with my wife.

Thanks so much for all your tips this morning, everyone. I'll try to get to as many of your recs as I can, and report back when I can. I really do appreciate it.

Meantime, eat well yourselves, and let's do it again next week at 11 ……….

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