June 19, 2007 @ 11AM


Word of Mouth …

Crown Bakery (5329 Georgia Ave. NW; (202) 291-3009) is a treat, and not just for the Trinidadians who stream through this tiny storefront at all hours of the day for a little taste of the island. Begin with the old men who have gathered out front to gossip and crack jokes and greet passersby — an unofficial welcoming committee. Inside, Trevor Selman, who co-owns the bakery with his wife, Jennifer Selman, has his old radio tuned to classic jazz; Charlie Parker's jittery saxophone solos on "Ko-Ko" spill out into the street. You can't help but think you've traveled back in time, to the pre-AC days when big, Eastern cities were really just clusters of extended neighborhoods.

Inside, the smells are just as inviting. Jennifer Selman and baker Wayne Dickenson do all the baking themselves, and they turn out as many as nine varieties of savory pastry, or patty, every day. Patty isn't the same thing in Trinidad and Tobago as it is in Jamaica, the most noticeable differences being the pastry itself, flaky not smooth, and the shapes they come in — readily identifiable to most Trinis: the square shape contains calalloo, the famous green leaf stew; a log-shape holds salt cod. Round? That's for beef. The rectangle? Cheddar cheese. Though the buttery richness of the layered pastry is somewhat mitigated by the often zippy spicing on the inside, you could make a satisfying meal from just an order of one (they sell for just $1.85), plus perhaps a container of the terrific corn soup, a thick, concentrated stew made fresh every day. (The jerk wings and channa, on the other hand — among a handful of prepared foods — are mediocre.)

On the sweet side, there are coconut rolls and oversized cookies called biscuit cakes (either of which would make an ideal partner with a cup of coffee), the lightly sweet, sliced-on-the-bias currant roll, and a rich almond cream layer cake.

It's hard to resist filling up the bag with goodies. Trevor Selman is well-acquainted with the tendency among newbies, and he doesn't push — confident in the quality of the pastry to make an impression. "You'll be back," he predicts. …

… It's always great to see a barbecue place try to make a go of it, especially one within the city limits. But Red Line Grill (6912 4th St., Takoma; 202-291-9464) isn't anything to get worked up about. The ribs are monstrous, almost Flintstonian in size, but in ribs, as in most things, gigantism is often a detriment. The texture of the meat suggests they've been boiled before being cooked. And where's the smoky perfume that great 'cue is supposed to give off?

The pulled pork is a better bet, especially if it's piled on a bun and topped with coleslaw. The sides (which include a cup of wan-looking collards, and a cup of too-sweet potato salad) are mostly forgettable.

This isn't a chain, which is heartening, but the staff isn't as welcoming as you might hope for from a neighborhood 'cue joint trying to survive. The half-dozen booths aside, this is an efficient, carry-out-leaning operation. …


Boston, MA
Where's the best place for Sunday brunch in DC? A friend and I are coming for a week's vacation in mid-September and will stay in Georgetown. Thank you!

Best? I'm not getting into that. But I really do like the brunch at Cafe Atlantico, in Penn Quarter — the Latin dim sum brunch, it's called, and comes complete with chopsticks.

Sound gimmicky? Precious? I could see that. But it's really not. You're not going to find waffles and pancakes and omelets — nothing so conventional as that. But good is good, and this is good. And it's also always interesting — a parade of tastes and textures and colors that should put you into a good mood.

Who's got the best pizza in town?

It shouldn't be hard to answer, but it is — because the question is a lot more complicated than it sounds.

This isn't a proletarian pie kind of town, like NY or Chicago or Philly — a town where pizza is plentiful and always visible. So when you talk about pizza around here, what you like and what you don't, the conversation invariably gets bound up in matters of class.

There are some really good boutique pies in town — the leaders of this pack being 2 Amys, Pizzeria Paradiso, and now Comet. This is the sort of pizza where you're advised to keep it simple and not pile the crust up with too many toppings, the better to let the purity of the ingredients shine through. Often, that works. Sometimes, it doesn't. 2 Amys is still the best in town in this category, although its pies have been a lot more inconsistent of late. Comet makes a tasty pizza, too — it has a good, sweet, zesty sauce and terrific crust. But the pies are small, and they're costly. Same at the others. This is as far from prole pizza — pizza for the masses — as you can get. It's pizza for people who toss around words like "provenance."

The biggest thing going for a lot of the pizza in the for-the-masses category is the size — the floppy, two-slices-for-one jumbo slice. Of these, I'm partial to Alberto's on P St. — the thin crust, with artichoke and onion, is my favorite.

The most distinctive pizza, and still one of the best, is the rectangular pie you get at Tommy Marcos's Ledo Restaurant — not to be confused with Ledo Pizza. This is the original, the piace where it all started. The crust is flaky, almost biscuity, and the kitchen uses smoked provolone in addition to mozzarella. It's good stuff, and a part of local lore. 


Oakton, VA
Is Little Inn at Washington all it's hyped up to be???

It's a wonderful restaurant — elegant, sumptuous, often delicious. But.

A meal there for two is going to cost you around $500 on the weekends — at least.

And at those prices, some of us are inclined to demand a little more in the way of risk and experimentation from the kitchen — a little more in the way of excitement on the plate. Also, a little more in the way of interaction in the dining room, which is becoming the norm as dinner more and more becomes theater; the service, although proper and respectful and always "correct," has come to feel a little stiff at times — waiters backing away from tables, engaging in banter that feels canned, etc.

You sometimes get the impression that the Inn is one of those "eclipsed" restaurants. What do I mean by that? Not a bad or disappointing place, by any means. But a place that no longer feels as innovative and daring as it once did.

Arlington, VA
Hi Todd, My parents are stopping in town on a trip up the East coast on Friday evening and offered to take my girlfriend and I out to dinner. I'm thinking about Cajun food or Italian, but can't really come up with any new or good places around here. We've done RT's and Copeland's for the former and they were fine, but I still haven't found a consistently worthwhile Italian spot. I wanted to see if there was anywhere restaurants that you might recommend. We'd prefer to stay within the Beltway and keep the entrees in the $15-30 range. Thanks!

Have you been to Acadiana, the Cajun restaurant from the same group that started DC Coast, TenPenh and Ceiba?

Not everything soars, but the drinks are terrific, the bread basket is always good, and the barbecue shrimp is as crowd-pleasing as a dish can get.

A stick of butter-plus in the sauce will do that. ; )

By the way, a little heads-up: We have a piece coming out in the July issue, out next week, in which we sent five different three-course restaurant meals to a lab in Iowa to count the calories, fat grams, and protein. One of them was a meal at Acadiana, which comes in at around 2,300 calories — or almost twice the number of calories that a woman who's not overdoing it ought to eat in a single day.

The piece is an eye-opener. 

Bay area picks
Todd, I hope you had a great eating fest in the Bay Area. I trust you have slid back into DC form along with it's summer glisten? How did you fare with your readers suggestions about the Bay Area last week? Anything that did/did not work for you?

Eating fest is right! I'm still full.

Thank you one and all for all of your wonderful suggestions!

A special shout-out to the chogger who recommended Cactus Taqueria in Oakland. I sweet-talked the terrific concierge into placing a call to the rental car office nearby, just to see if I could keep the car for an hour or two longer so I could grab a quickie bite at Cactus.

It was worth it. The crispy chicken tacos were, as promised, delicious, and so were the roasted corn and poblano tamales — which has to rank as one of the best four buck plates anywhere: two tamales, a pile of pickled onions, some pico, and a rich, satiny rojo sauce. 

I didn't get to everything, of course. But one of the places you all recommended, and one on my list, was Yank Sing, which I hit last Tuesday just as soon as we were done chatting. 

Here's what I wrote a friend about the place:

"It was an epic experience; we spent well over a hundred and twenty bucks for dim sum and did not even blink at the total, the food was that good.

"The dumplings — we had three or four kinds, all of them different from one another — were fabulous and light. Prawns with candied walnuts, the famous specialty of the house, had a brilliant, tossed-off quality, the kind you only ever get when something is perfected from endless repetition; I could eat that dish every day of my life. The chicken feet were rich and unctuous. The egg custard was practically quivering when they set it down; the sesame balls were made up of three different, distinct layers (an almost crispy outer cocoon, a thick, almost chewy inner layer that tasted of honey, and a soft, warm center that had the texture and intensity of marzipan).

"I could go on and on. And on.

"Not only was it the best dim sum I've ever eaten, but one of the best experiences I've ever had at any meal, anywhere. (The day helped, some: the gorgeous weather, being on vacation, taking a Jeep across the Bay, strolling the streets without a care.)"

Alexandria, VA
I have been doing a lot of dining out recently, with Father's day and all. Friday night I took my husband to finn & porter. We have been there before it was "ok" but last week had to be one of the worst meals that I have ever had. I ordered a "special" that was the Lemon Grass Tilapia. I thought that it would be good, but I was so disgusted after one bite I had to send it back. I ended up ordering the Filet. The filet was over done, too. Ugg … I doubt I will go back. So then on Sunday we went to Timpano's Italian Chophouse in Rockville. Nothing really all that good to say about this place, either. The Spinach Artichoke Dip was surprisingly good and I ordered the "Ravioli of the day" … I thought it was really good, but everyone else seemed less impressed with their meals. What has your experience been with these places?

What has my experience been like?

Put it this way: I'm not rushing to go back to either.

Finn & Porter I don't have any particular memories of — not all that uncommon a phenomenon, when you're eating out constantly — but Timpano's stands out in my mind for its shoddy upsell of "flavor" sauces, which it uses to squeeze some extra cash out of you and, also, to disguise the fact that its steaks are less than wonderful.

Alexandria, Va: Philly native opinion on DC ‘Za
Good morning Todd. I don't want to throw my hat into the "best" of whatever debate. I just want to say that the pizza at the Italian store reminds me most of the slices I got in Philly: big, good gooey cheese, a bit of grease shimmering on top. I've tried Albertos and Vace which are good too, but The Italian Store is where I go for a taste of homestyle 'za. Oh yeah, for a hoagie fix too!. Thanks for the chogs!

Thanks for chiming in!

I like that little bit of grease on top, too.

Right? There's good grease, and there's bad grease. And this is most definitely good grease. ; )

I haven't had the hoagies there. I'll have to give them a try my next time around. Thanks!

Asking along on the theme of “bests”
Hi Todd. During the summer months, I really adore a glorious salad. Where may I find the best-ever? Take note, though, I am exacting in what I look for in my salad: First- crisp, fresh, and a variety of lettuce (nothing against iceberg, as I love the wedge w/ blue cheese, but I digress…). Second- lots of seasonal and fresh additions (but no meat, and not heavy on things such as seeds, nuts and/or cheese). Third- the best dressing ever! I am open to things non-vinaigrette; however, I don't want sweet, cloying, tacky, colors that glow in the summer sun, etc. I want perfectly balanced to stand up well to the salad and accessories. Fourth- Large portion, please. I HATE when salads are served as a side thought or such. Thanks for your help. My summer will have gotten a whole lot better if you can pass along your ideas/picks.

You know what? I want the exact thing you just described! My mouth is watering.

That's a salad. 

Unfortunately, I can't come up with anything that meets that description — and I wish I could, because I'd be going out for lunch to snag it in a few minutes.

Nothing I can come up with is that big, for one — most of the salads I'm thinking of are side salads, and few of them are gussied up with additional veggies. 

Choggers? Help us out, here. Anyone encountered this scrumptious-sounding salad anywhere?

Foggy Bottom, DC
Thanks for your first-night recommendations from last week's chat, Todd. I ended up picking Oyamel and had a great experience. It was exactly the upbeat, interactive place I was hoping for. Particularly enjoyed an intensly flavorful shrimp dish and a red snapper ceviche (that was more of a tartare, but whatever, still yum).

Thanks for your thanks!

Oyamel finally feels like what it should. The cooking is as bold and intense as it ought to be, and the space is cozy and buzzing.

Now, if they could only drop the prices some on the margaritas.


washington, d.c.
Okay… want to have a fun dinner for two on a weeknight with great drinks and food. I can either get a reservation at Brasserie Beck, or eat at the bar-slash-take my chances on getting a table at Central, since they don't have any reservation slots open. I know both have their ups and downs, but right now, if it were your choice, which door would you choose?

Uh-uh. Not playing that game.

And anyway, I'd go with the sure thing, since Beck is exactly what you're looking for. Don't miss the pea soup with veal cheek meatballs, and be sure to have your server hook you up with a glass at the start of the wonderful Delirium Apple — "floris pomme." You can smell it — a veritable orchard! — even before you tilt the glass back. 

Arlington, VA
Hi Todd, My husband and I are celebrating our 5-year anniversary this weekend. Rather than choosing a restaurant in the city or surrounding burbs, we would like to venture out of the city (maybe 1 to 2 hour drive) and try something new. We're not looking to break the bank with a meal at Inn at Little Washington, Inn at Easton, or the like, but we would like to find some place with good food and a nice atmosphere. I've read about Foti's in Culpepper — would you recommend it, or are there other places that we should consider?

Happy anniversary!

You know, I think Foti's is a good pick for the occasion.

The restaurant stumbled a bit after a roaring start and a lot of media attention, but even accounting for that slippage, we still included it in January's 100 Best Restaurants.

The cooking can be good, the prices aren't exorbitant, the atmosphere is fetching, and the wines are affordable. 

What on your plate when eating out?
Todd, your heads-up about the upcoming issue regarding sending meals out to be examined to determine nutritional content and the findings doesn't surprise me at all – in terms of the findings. A while back, it was reported that in many of NYC's fine restaurants one reason that food tasted so good was because the cooks would use a stick of butter in the preparation of a diner's entree. If you're unaware of the practice, then it might make for shocking news. If not, it just piles up as a risk or a luxury of dining out.

I don't know about a stick of butter — but at least a knob.

What people don't often realize is that, just because you can't taste the butter, doesn't mean it's not there. The good cooks are able to impart richness, without making things feel overly rich — when cooks speak about "balance," that's one of the things they're talking about.

Italian restaurants tout their use of olive oil, but almost all of them use butter in addition.

But it's not just the butter, or the fat content.

I mean, who knew that a three-course sushi dinner has more carbs than a three-course French dinner?

Going out for Thai sounds like an excursion into light, bright cooking, but we discovered that a meal at a Thai restaurant can be nearly as caloric as one at the Cajun restaurant Acadiana.

Etc., etc.

It's a fun read. 

Alexandria, VA
Hi Todd. It's me again. 🙂 Any comments on Farrah Olivia by Morou? Since it has been open a little while. I have been there only once. I was there around the time of my birthday, back in late January. You actually helped me with my entree choice, actually, as I write in quite often. I believe I branched out and had the quail. I have plans to return on Thursday for lunch with a co-worker. Any new news for us? Thanks, Ld.

Hi, you again!

I wish I could help out, but I haven't been back since I reviewed the place many months ago.

Howsabout you weigh in next week with a report of your lunch with your co-worker?

No duplications on dishes, now, and take lots of good notes. 😉  


Totally agree re: Oyamel – love the place, the food, the food prices, but the margaritas are small, overpriced, and not available in reasonable house margarita prices. I tend to drink less there because of it.

I'm sure the answer from management will be something to the effect of: the other prices are so low, we have to make it up somewhere.

But you know what? You're not making it up anywhere, if people decide to curb their drinking because of it.

It's not just me: An eleven buck drink, served up in a little juice glass, feels stinting — no matter how colorful or how tasty it is.

End of complaint.

Thanks for all the questions, everyone — and keep 'em coming.

I'm off to a very small, very unambitious lunch. Something simple, something plain. As I said, I'm still feeling the effects of last week's gustatory tour (gusta-toury?) of the Bay Area.

Eat well, be well, and let's do it again next week at 11 …