June 26, 2007 @ 11AM


Word of Mouth …

There are two rush hours at Squisito Pizza & Pasta, a local, red-checkered-tablecloth chain — noontime, when nearby office workers get in line for good pizza by the slice (the wedges, already baked, are crisped in the oven for maximum crunch), overstuffed subs (including four kinds of parmigiana) and soups (look for the tomato tortellini, or the Italian wedding soup, a sometime special); and early evening, when harried parents stop in to pick up the likes of fusilli with sausage and peppers, linguini with clams and gnocchi Sorrentina for a no-fuss dinner. Main courses can sometimes devolve into cheesy unctuousness, so be sure to cut the anticipated richness with a nice arugula salad, gussied up with roasted peppers, pine nuts and artichoke hearts. There are six locations in all, including two in Annapolis (1007A Bay Ridge Ave., Annapolis; 410-990-9800 and 2625 Riva Rd., Annapolis; 410-266-1474). And beach-goers, take note: The outpost in Chester, Md., just across the Bay Bridge  in the Red Apple Plaza on Rte. 50 (2126 DiDonato Dr., Chester, Md.; 410-604-2123), offers a good excuse to split up your long, hot car ride from the city, a tasty, inexpensive meal that doesn't feel like fast food your reward for dallying. …

… The chainification of downtown Silver Spring, which had the makings of a hostile takeover, has met a bit of resistance in a handful of small, independent restaurants that have opened in the last couple of years. Taste of Jerusalem (8123 Georgia Ave., Silver Spring; 301-495-3067) is one. It's a handsome, softly lit space, tastefully accented with silk pillows, gorgeous pottery and stained glass, and it exudes a quiet, grown-up sophistication, all but insisting that diners forgo their notions of a quick bite before a movie and settle in for a long, langourous repast. Kamal Hawa, who previously worked at restaurants on the Red Sea, is the chef and owner (with a huge assist from his wife, Sabah, as well as his son and daughter and others), and has designed a menu that is occasion-driven, as well-suited for a pair of lovers stealing a few hours from their busy lives, as for a large, communal gatherings. He serves big, bright flavors in generous portions that almost have to be shared. That applies both to the meze (a first-rate hummus, pungently spiced falafel, good, crusty kibbeh, and an Israeli chopped salad made zingy with garlic and tahini) as well as the main courses. Among the latter, look to the kebabs, particularly the assertively seasoned ground lamb or chicken, or to the big, succulent lamb chops, which comes outfitted with two sides. …


washington DC
I'm looking for an authentic cuban resturant in DC for lunch/dinner. We are displaced Miamians missing good cuban food.

Just don't get your expectations up too high, okay?

That's a pretty high bar.

But I think the place you're looking for is Cuba de Ayer, in Burtonsville. The black beans are terrific, for one — and that's critical for any good Cuban meal. I also like the garlic shrimp, the chicken soup, the lechon de asado (Cuban pork roast), and the tres leches cake.

The Cubano is good, not great, and some of the dishes are a bit too salty for their own good, like the picadillo and the ropa vieja.

And although you might not guess, to judge by the hodgepodge of shops and restaurants around it, it's a good-looking spot, done up with beautifully framed pictures of old Havana and painted a dramatic blood red.


Silver Spring, MD
Thinking about doing a day trip to St. Michael's. Can you recommend some great casual spots for lunch and dinner?

Sounds like a fun day trip.

I wish I could be more help in the way of eating possibilities, but it's been a few years since I've been out there.


Loudoun County, VA
This is just a little rant. I am a restaurateur and I constantly get customers sharing dishes. Meaning, two people will come in, usually a couple, and they will share a meal, and of course ask that horrible question, "can we get an empty plate?" after their food arrives. I always have a smile on my face, but it drives me crazy. Not to generalize, but I can tell on the look of most male counterparts that they want their own food, yet they get talked out of it. Just like Joey on 'Friends' says (paraphrasing), if you want some of my fries, then lets get an extra order as a buffer. Sure, its understandable at a tapas place or some other kind of communal-format place, but come on people. Todd, do you have any thoughts?

What can I say? I love sharing.

I mean, to me, sharing IS eating. I love family-style dining, love dim sum, love a giant tapas party, with plates in constant motion. 

Think about it: breaking bread is one of the most intimate, most elemental, things you can do with another person.
And what is breaking bread, really, but sharing bread?

Most of my happiest moments with food involve sharing. For years, my wife and I didn't like eating sushi with a group of friends, or eating sushi alone. To us, it was the ultimate in shared experience, a genuinely romantic experience, one that would force us to slow us down and eat and enjoy.

Even now that I'm in the role of critic, I generally dislike eating out with people who are unwilling to exchange tastes. It dampens the pleasure of being out.

So, sorry: You've got the wrong guy. 

Alexandria, VA
Hi, I need a birthday cake for my dad's 80th birthday. I am looking for something special–but most imporant, good quality. Thanks!!!

First things first: Happy birthday to your father! 80 is a big, big deal.

Now, if I were you, I would ring up a place called Desserts by Gerard — 301-839-2185. It's one of the best-kept secrets in the area, a tiny, two-stool bakery in a faded strip mall in Oxon Hill.

Don't get your hackles up.

As I wrote a couple of months ago, "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."

The owner and chef is Gerard Huet, whose resume includes a stint at Jean-Louis at the Watergate from 1987-1990 — only the most famous, most distinguished restaurant in the city at that time.

The prices are astonishing: 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.

For the rest of you, I'd make a trip out just for the superb raspberry tart. 

Alexandria, VA
Todd, Doesn't Ceiba offer some Cuban food? Ld

Yeah, just like Ten Penh offers Thai food.

If people are homesick for something, I don't think you send them to a slick fusion spot, the kind that takes the familiar, base flavors and spins them out into somewhat unrecognizable (albeit artful) conglomerations.

A Miamian homesick for Cuban is already going to be skeptical about a good, unassuming hole in the wall up north.

There are other places you could go for Cuban cooking in the area — including Cubano's in Silver Spring, which I think is too high-priced and fancied-up for what it is, and Cuban Corner, in Rockville, whose food, in my experience, has been heavy and a little greasy. 

I like Cuba de Ayer the most.

Alexandria, VA
I wanted to write in to tell you about our experience at Farrah Olivia this past weekend. I called earlier in the week to check on the dress code and was told that jackets and ties were mandatory. My father's mood quickly soured when we walked in and saw that only two gentlemen had jackets on and we even saw people wearing jeans. It took between 10 and 15 minutes for our server to acknowledge our presence, and another 20 before we were served tap water (those at our table that ordered bottled water were served in 2-5 minutes). We had to request our wine twice and were told that there was a problem in the cellar and that they couldn't find it. At some point, the manager came over and asked us if we were still having problems getting our wine. Seeing as how our wine glasses were all empty – it took every fiber of my being to not put the emply glass to my mouth and exclaim, "Oh, no – our wine is perfect!" We ordered some cheese for an appetizer, and you would not believe how much cheese we received for 5 dollars a cheese – literally less than half an ounce. We were divying up the cheese like we were on rations – a 17 dollar three cheese platter should not induce hoarding panics! Our entrees were better – the steak was very good, the tuna average, but the halibut was fantastic. In the restaurant's defense, they did send the manager over to ask about our meal and the server apologized for our many delays but we will never go back. The "supposed" dress code, significant delay for wine, miniscule cheese portions and lack of service concerning water glasses and a women's restroom that went toilet paper-less for way too long have soured my opinion. I would steer people way away from Farrah Olivia and suggest Restaurant Eve every time. Thanks!

Whoa, whoa, whoa. Who ever told you jackets and ties were "mandatory"? That's 1789, the proper, proud, fusty Georgetown restaurant, not the casual, freewheeling, adventurous Farrah Olivia. You saw people wearing jeans because that's the dress code, such as it is. (And really, what's wrong with jeans?)

As for the rest of your experience, I'll say this: Yes, it does sound as though the service you got that night was less than fantastic. But here's the thing: You had your chance to tell management, and maybe set things right (either that night, or in the future) and you didn't seize it.

Problems happen all the time, in this or any other business; and those problems can't just be excused away. But it's how a place deals with the problems that counts most.

This is tricky, I understand. A lot of people are unwilling to confront a manager on what is supposed to be a nice, relaxing night out with family.

So maybe a letter to the owners, to let them know? This is, after all, the hospitality industry. Their job is to try to make you happy. 

Can't do that, unless they know it's a problem. 


Silver Spring, MD
Another restauranteur. I love it when our guests share. The other night a couple came in. Shared 2 antipasti. Then split a pasta. Followed it up by splitting a main. Then 2 desserts. They also had a couple of splits of champagne and a bottle of wine. You could see the fun they were having as they split each dish. They also doubled the tastes they enjoyed and walked away happy. If they had done the typical one dish per person, their stay would have been maybe 15 minutes less (they were there for a little over 2 hours) but their experience would not have been as much fun for them. So I say share away!

I say it, too: Share away!

And thanks for chiming in this morning, anonymous restaurateur from Silver Spring. 

Alexandria, VA
Hey Todd, One of my really good friends, Justin Trawick is playing at the 9:30 Club on Friday. Before the show, I wanted to get some "real" food, so I made a reservation at the Tabaq Bistro for me and my husband. I have never been there and I know that it is not on the 100's Very Best list. I have heard great things about the atmosphere, but how's the food? Can you tell me what I should expect or what I should definitely not miss? Thanks, Lisa

How to Build a Life with a Lemonade Stand. Neat sound.

(Sorry, folks. I've been grooving to the music on Justin's website for the last few minutes — www.justintrawick.com … And no, I'd never heard of him before popping open this question. Kinda reminds me a little of G Love and Special Sauce, if just a touch folkier.) 

Lemonade, Special Sauce … and back to food.

I'm no fan of Tabaq, although I do like the terrific view upstairs — it gives you a great sweep of the city.

If it's good eats you're after — and not just a place to drink and catch up and find yourself among a crowd — then I'd rather send you to Coppi's Organic or Etete, also on U St. Or to Oohhs & Aahhs, which has just started serving chicken and waffles from midnight to 4 a.m. It'd make a great post-show "snack."


Alexandria, VA: Sparkling, Still or Green: Kicking the Bottle
Recently the mayor of San Fransisco enacted a ban on bottled water from City Departments. The ban will extend to water coolers as well. In your tasty travels, have you seen other cities make an effort to be as friendly to and concerned for the environment as to say, geese? Do you still experience the H2Oversell, or are restaurants beginning to take a proactive stance about the environmental impact of plastic (and fuel) and begun to offer (usually perfectly good) tap water de rigeur? Thanks for the chog!

Right on! I like the way you think, Alexandria.

It's ironic, no, that foie gras has come under so much scrutiny but bottled water continues to get a free pass?

The H20versell — which, by the way, was the coinage that won our online neologism contest last summer — shows no signs of flagging.

I wish restaurants would just give it a rest, please. And I say that as someone who really does like a cool glass of sparkling water during a meal, especially with rich, intricate food.

It's the sales job that I don't like, the assumption that bottled water is the only reasonable call for diners of real discernment.

Clifton, VA
Sir, Any recommendations for restaurants in Vegas? Staying at Venetian. All rpices ranges please since my girlfriend asked are we going shopping? Like any good boyfriend I said of course. I f anyone has a system for winning in the casinos I am all ears. Thanks.

Sorry, I can't offer any restaurant advice.

(I can, however, hope that you don't get taken to the cleaners when you're out there — and not by the rigged system of the casinos, but by your girlfriend!)

Choggers? Anybody have any mid- and lower-end Vegas eating suggestions?

(For some reason, this posting has me thinking of one of my favorite movies, Albert Brooks's "Lost in America," and the scene where Brooks discovers that his wife, Julie Haggerty, in the middle of the night, has gambled away their entire "nest egg" at the casino — the money that was going to sustain them as they dropped out of society a la  "Easy Rider."

(Brooks has a classically Brooksian meltdown. He explains the "principle of the nest egg," and forbids her to use the words "nest" and "egg" ever again.

("From now on, birds live in ROUND STICKS!!! For breakfast, you will have THINGS over easy!!!!")

Bethesda, MD
Whats the best way to get restaurant experience? I am looking for an internship in a kitchen in the DC area but don't know where to start my search.

Where do you like to eat?

I'd say find a restaurant whose food you want to learn to make yourself, and volunteer your services. 

Falls Church, Virginia
In response to the restauranteur who commented on people sharing their dish(es), I am guilty of that mainly due to two factors: my limited budget and my fervent interest in experiencing as many foods as possible. However, I totally understand his frustration: the whole exercise greatly reduces the overall bill, and often results in additional plates and server time. In addition, generally the tip will be less due to the reduced bill. He has a legitimate complaints separate from your comments about sharing numerous dishes.

I understand his frustration, sure. But don't know that I'd go so far as to say they're legitimate complaints.

Restaurants are in the business of pleasing people. Keep the people happy, and they reward you with their business.  

Is sharing plates that commonplace these days among customers that a restaurant can't learn to handle a little extra workload for a few tables a shift?

Farrah Olivia, Alexandria VA
I hope that it's okay that I respond directly to our unhappy diner. I apologize that your experience was not all that it should have been. I had previously heard about your less than satisfactory experience from the manager on duty that night. It seems as though we missed the mark on several steps of service. Beginning with the misinformation about our dress code, since we are in a neighborhood we don't want to be too formal so we don't have a dress code. What my staff is instructed to tell customers "come in whatever you are most comfortable wearing" Whether it is a suit and tie or jeans and tee shirt. I'd go into more detail as to all the point of service that were missed but from your comments there are too many to name. I can only apologize and tell you that is not the typical experience. Most of our waitstaff is very efficient and customer service is very important to me and my staff. As Todd stated, every place has occasional problems, and every place has an occasional horrible nights but it is how they attempt to correct the problem. I appreciate any feedback (good or bad) that our customers wish to give. Again, I apologize for your less than satisfactory experience and I hope that you reconsider and contact me personally so that I can properly address those issues. Sincerely, Heather Ouattara.

Thanks for responding, Heather.

I appreciate it. 

Hi Todd, I just move to the Clarendon neighbor hood from NYC and am looking for a cool place to eat and hangout, sorta loungy, east village feel. I want good food and good beer and definately no bar food, any suggestions, thanks. ps: a great happy hour would be a major plus

Lots of options, here. The nabe is booming.

There's lots of good eating (Minh's, Ray's the Steaks) but I think Eleventh Street might be the place you're looking for — a stylish lounge for hanging out, a youngish crowd, small plates.

Vegas dining
The Bellagio probably has the best-known restaurants (Picasso, Michael Mina). The MGM Grand has L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon. The Venetian has Bouchon, but zzzzzzzz …. Steve Wynn's resort has several restaurants that have gotten good press, and Guy Savoy has opened one somewhere. (Caesars Palace?)

But see, the guy doesn't want to come home broke. And there's are all way, way out of his range — I mean, L'Atelier has appetizers — appetizers — that cost $42.

(For some reason, I'm hearing Allen Iverson in my head right now: "Practice. We're talkin' practice. Practice. Not a game — practice.")

Washington, DC
Any suggestions for cooking classes in the greater Washington, DC area? I'm looking for an introduction to culinary technique more than single-course sessions but anything works…
The first place I'd check is probably with L'Academie de Cuisine, with locations in Bethesda and Gaithersburg. They have a full roster of courses, from beginning to interrmediate to advanced.
Farrah Olivia
I was told by the hostess or whomever answered the phone about the jackets. I'm sorry I wasn't more explicit in my comments – we DID say to the manager we were having a problem, but thought that the problem was not solved was obvious due to the lack of wine in our wine glasses. So, we DID speak up, both to the manager and the staff, and while our problems were eventually solved, we did not leave feeling that they felt concerned about the kind of service we were provided.

Well, I'm going to have to excuse myself from this one, now. I wasn't there; I can't really know.

Heather Ouattara, the owner, has asked that you contact her directly, and I'd encourage you to take her up on it and see what she's willing to do to make amends.


From someone who believes in sharing also. As long as the portions that are being served at many restaurants are these out-sized, gigantic amounts of food that can easily serve 3 then I believe in sharing. It costs the restaurants just as much to produce a large plate of food as a small so they are shoveling giant amounts on our plates.

I hear you — I kept thinking "Cheesecake Factory" as I read your comment. You could feed a small village off of one of those plates.

But see, I think that sharing is desirable even when the plates are teeny. It's food. And food is communal, a way for people to connect.

Bethesda, mD
Is it really as easy as volunteering my services? I have zero kitchen experience–but I am passionate about food, eager to learn, and willing to do whatever is needed in the kitchen.

Well, it all depends on the restaurant.

But yes, sometimes that's all it takes.

It helps if you've taken a couple of classes, but a passion for something, an enthusiasm for hard work, a willingness to learn … these are things that restaurants are eager for. As long as you are not also burdened with a sense of entitlement, which in this case amounts to expecting to be paid, and expecting to start off at the best of the best.

Give it a shot, huh? And let us know how things turn out, okay?

That's all, folks.

I'm off to lunch, which I most definitely will be sharing.

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