July 17, 2007 @ 11AM

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Word of Mouth …

Coppi's Organic is seldom if ever spoken about in the same conversation as 2 Amys, Pizzeria Paradiso and newcomer Comet Ping Pong — the holy trinity of boutique pizza in the city. It doesn't belong with them (but then, it's not trying to; it's a fuller, more rounded experience). Still, if I were looking for a good, satisfying pie, I'd be perfectly happy with The Genovese, with basil pesto subbing for tomato sauce, fresh mozzarella, a scattering of pine nuts and tail-on, butterflied jumbo shrimp. …

… Several times a week — and probably three times every chat since Spring began — I'm asked who's got the best soft shell crabs of the season. Well, I've been eating them around the region for more than two months now, ordering them at every opportunity, and have finally come up with what looks to be a definitive answer. It shouldn't come as any surprise to anybody who loves fish and seafood around here: Kinkead's. Even a pretty good soft shell — there's a lot of that — can be a wonderful thing. But a truly great soft shell — the insides firm and meaty and sweet, the fry a light and crisp sheath — is something sublime. Kinkead's accentuates the dish, in its usual gild-the-lily style, with a marvelous hash of julienned tasso ham and chives, and a garnish of perfectly fried artichokes. All good, interesting accompaniments. But guess what? The soft shells don't need them. …

… Whenever I ate at the old Johnny's Half Shell, in Dupont Circle, I found myself returning to the same handful of dishes every visit (the fritto misto, the barbecue shrimp, the roasted Little Neck clams with minced zucchini and garlic, the terrific gumbo). The new Johnny's, in the C-Span building on Capitol Hill, has given me a new favorite: a plate of lightly cheesy charbroiled oysters. The oysters are big and fat and minerally, and the kitchen staff knows to snatch them from the broiler before they've firmed up too much — but not before the flavors of the bivalves have had a chance to concentrate under the blast of heat. Fundraisers are nice, but this is a real tribute to old New Orleans. …

… The best thing about Kabob Bazaar, in Clarendon, isn't the dish that gives the place its name. They're fine, and you can have a nice (and filling) meal if you look to the  kubideh (two kabobs of minced, spiced beef) and soft, fluffy, buttered rice. The thing to get, though, is the baklavah. If you've ever despaired at the prospect of sticky baklavah — of baklavah so cloyingly sweet you recoil before you've gotten halfway through — then you need to pay a visit to Kabob Bazaar. This baklavah arrives in the form of a large, golden-colored triangle, similar to an apple turnover. Honey is deployed with uncommon restraint; so is butter. In other words, you're never overwhelmed by gooeyness and richness; it's all about lightness and snap. The phyllo is marvelously layered and flaky, with a pronounceable crunch. Even if you were to stuff a handful of potato chips in your mouth, you couldn't produce a sound quite like the one you get when you first bite down on this pastry. …

… If you want to know what "upscale comfort food" looks like, you can hardly do better than to order the meat loaf and mashed potatoes at The Majestic. What makes it upscale? Well, two things — the fact that the meat loaf is baked, then grilled, and the fact that the plate has been strewn with beet sprouts. The Majestic can call itself a diner, or a retro diner, but no real diner denizen in his right mind would allow himself to be seen with a plate of beet sprouts. Here's the thing, though: The meat loaf is terrific, soft and light and assertively seasoned, and the time on the grill gives the thick slices a fine, almost smoky crust. And the mashed potatoes are just about perfect. Let me give a little dap to the kitchen staff for not larding them up with butter and creamy, which would have been easy — and expected; these taste of, well — what do you know? Potato. And they're as fluffy and rich as they need to be. …

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Washington DC
Todd – Have you heard about the new Splash Frozen Daiquiri disaster slated to open in Adams Morgan where Santa Rosa used to be? Is this the end of the Adams Morgan dining scene as we know it?? Have we resigned ourselves to clubs and daiquiris and jumbo slices? Save us Todd…save us.

What dining scene? There's more mediocrity in that three by three block stretch than you can shake a swizzle stick at.

Santa Rosa isn't half bad. I've had pretty decent ceviche there.

But a lot of Adams Morgan isn't half bad. Catch it at the right time, or order the right dish, or go at the perfect time, and you can have fun. But don't count on it.

For all those restaurants, there's not a whole helluva lot for the food lover. And I say that, not just as a critic, but as someone who used to live in Adams Morgan.

So no: I don't think Splash spells the end of eating in A-M.

Arlington, Va.
Please help Best Deli in Wasington area

No "Dear Todd," no how-are-you's, no commas — nothing.

Such a hurry …

You know, I don't know that there is a best deli in the area. Chutzpah and Eli's have the atmosphere, but for deli tastiness, I like Deli City on Bladensburg Rd., not far from New York Ave. Terrific corned beef, pastrami, and even Polish ham. 

I like the atmosphere, too — ladies in wide-brimmed hats who've just come from church … hard-charging yuppies with cell phones clipped, in eerie Star Trek-style, to their ears … constructions workers with paint on their hands and pants.

Don't come here looking for jars of kosher pickles or black and white cookies. It's not that kind of classic, rounded deli experience. Instead, you'll find things like a plate of fried croaker or pork chops smothered in gravy. (What's not deli, is usually soul food.)

Alexandria, VA
Restaurant Week: In response to last week's chat, I don't think Restaurant Week patrons should have to dress up any more or act with any more graces than a normal diner at that location any other night. Unfortunately, many people abuse Restaurant Week – making multiple reservations for the same night then only showing up for one of them and not canceling the others, not researching the restaurant ahead of time to determine their dress code and then giving the staff attitude when they balk at diners showing up in jeans, etc. Many restaurants are considering ending their R.W. participation due to such situations, and that's a shame. I think Restaurant Week is a wonderful way to try out high-end places without the risk of gambling a couple hundred bucks to find out you don't care for the food, the service, the ambiance, or whatnot. I've had wonderful experiences at The Oval Room and 1789 during Restaurant Week, both with the food and the service, and have since heartily recommended both places to coworkers and friends when they are inquiring about romantic or special occasion ideas throughout the year. I hope others who have enjoyable experiences do the same, so that restaurants will be encouraged to continue to participate.

That's too bad, if that happens.

It may sound crazy, but I think restaurants should grin and bear it, not bail on it. I'd even like to see more places extend the week.

What restaurateurs and restaurant insiders all like, is diners who eat out a lot and who know the drill. The rest, they refer to as "amateurs."

Well, amateurs is most people. And maybe it's worth it for restaurants to take the time to spell out the way RW ought to work. But I can't think of a single restaurant that explains its policies for RW on its website — or that takes the time to walk people through protocol over the phone.  

That might help. It sets an expectation, and suggests there are standards and even "rules."

By the way, did everybody get to read our Restaurant Week preview last week? It includes my best bets for the week.

 

Olney, Md
Hi Todd. I'm stuck up here north of the city without a great selection of restaurants to choose from. Is there ANYWHERE to get good sushi in my area? Thanks!

Unfortunately, no.

You could take a short drive south into Rockville, however. There you'll find a place called Niwano Hana. It's what I'd call a Vegas-style sushi restaurant, with an emphasis on huge platters, oversized maki and nigiri, and lots of gaudy concoctions — imagine a huge, volcano-shaped tower of maki, with a sauce spilling down the sides, lava-like.

Sounds dreadful, I know, but it's actually not bad — I've had some tasty meals there. And as you can imagine, it's a fun atmosphere.

Little-known fact: The place is owned by the Moonies. For that matter, so is one of the leading sushi fish distributors in the DC area.

 

Clifton, VA
Shame they dont offer comps for shopping in Vegas. Aquaknox was excellent, the Grand Cafe was very good. Also went to Delmonico best steak I have ever had at a restaurant. Beats any DC steak house by a mile. And the service in both Aquaknox and Delmonico was better than anything I have ever received in DC at Citronelle, The Palm, 2941, Maestro etc. Roberto Donna should fire his front of the house staff and replace them with the staff from Bebe the women's store in Vegas. They could teach his staff a thing or three about customer service. Compared to Vegas the service staff in all DC restaurants are rank amateurs. Venetian was great too. Swimming in the pool at 800am with 99 degree temps otuside is interesting. I put myself through college working in restaurants and have done everything from washing dishes, to cooking in the back of the house to waiting tables and tending bar in the front of the house. Only thing I haven't done is manage a restaurant.

Thanks for checking back in with a report, Clifton.

Vegas is helped by the fact that the entire town is about service, so there's a vast pool of professionals to draw from. Here, you're looking at college students, college grads who are killing time, and wanna-be pols and media sorts who are looking to make some extra cash.

It's not like New York, where, even if you go there looking to make it, you know you're going to be taking orders and wiping down tables for years, if not forever.

And I think you ought to send your fire-the-FOH idea along to Roberto Donna — it's not like he hasn't heard this one before. They could even change the name from Bebo to Bebe. New name, new staff — and a new public relations blitz: "One letter can make all the difference … " 

Alexandria, VA
Hi Todd, I know that you are tired of talking about Restaurant Week, but the rest of us DC Foodies are really anticipating it and have looked forward to it all year. I wasn't able to get a table at Cityzen or Corduroy, so I made a dinner reservation at Charlie Palmer Steak house. It was ranked #12 on Washingtonians 100's Very Best Restaurant List, so I thought it HAS to be good. Can you give me an idea of what I should expect on the menu there knowing it's a $30 dinner (prix fixe)? Thanks, Todd. Always a Pleasure, Lisa

Tired? Not tired at all.

What I was having some fun with was, the fact that so many of you were urging me to weigh in so early. Well, it turns out it's not so early at all, with many restaurants already starting to book up. Once I knew that, I was on board. And we went ahead and put together our preview a couple of weeks early.

What can you expect of Charlie Palmer Steak? For one thing, not many choices — which I'm usually not thrilled to see. The good news is that CP Steak does a lunch prix fixe all year round, so it's not as if Chef Bryan Voltaggio is contriving some dumbed-down menu for the week that departs wildly from his usual options.

You'll eat well. Just don't go looking for one of the huge, bone-in cuts of beef that define the restaurant.

SIlver Spring MD
Just wanted to give a shout out for my favorite Korean mom & pop in Wheaton…. Yet Gol on Randolph & Georgia in the big shopping center. They make home style stuff, nothing fancy, no BBQ. Great, and I mean Ghan Mee Oak in NYC or Gamalsot in VA great, Seuol Long Tang. Theirs comes with tripe which is said to be "old style". Their seafood pancake is incredible. If your mom made matzoh brei with squid instead of matzoh this is what it would taste like. Yesterday for lunch I had cold noodles in spicy sauce that rocked! White noodles (potato, yam??) with red chili paste, Asian pear, beef, cucumbers. Mom, (Theirs not mine) told me to splash a little vinegar in it. Their soon boo du is better than Lighthouse Tofu. The only consistent disappointment is their Mandoo which are a little doughy. Too bad because they are house made and cooked to order to a nice crispy brown, but as good as they look they never follow through with their visual promise. But everything else I have had is incredible! And cheap!

I like that place, too — although I wouldn't go nearly so far as you in saying it's "incredible." I can say, though, that it was among the final considerations for the annual Cheap Eats issue.

That seafood pancake is tasty. I've had their soon du boo, but I think that the version at Gom Ba Woo is superior.  

I haven't had the seul lung tang there; I'll have to go back. But it'd be hard to compete with the version at Gamasot in Springfield. That's just a beautiful, carefully wrought soup.

Glad to know there's some real enthusiasm out there for good Korean cooking!

(Speaking of Wheaton … Did you all get to see our post in the Best Bites blog on the closing of El Pollo Rico?

(We got some good color on the last day of one of the area's cheap eat gems. I'll miss the chickens, I'll miss the long lines, I'll miss the billowing smoke that wafted over the shopping center, drawing anybody who loved good food and who happened to be in the vicinity.) 

Rockville, MD
Do you frequent micro-brew restaurants? If so, which one is the better – Gordon Biersch, Capital City, DC Chophouse or Rock Bottom. I am looking for good food with of course good beer. Thanks.

Honestly, they're all about the same to me. Rock Bottom has the best beer of that bunch. DC Chophouse is a little stronger when it comes to food.

I should add another to your list: Franklin's Restaurant and Brewpub, in Hyattsville. A fine selection of microbrew beers and a newly focused menu, with things like chicken pot pie, bratwurst and knockwurst with mustard and caramelized onions, and thin-crust pizzas.

Wedding Receptions
If you had a choice between the Ritz Carlton in Tysons, Marriott in North Bethesda or the Omni Shoreham, which one would you pick for food quality wise?

Food quality wise? Have you been listening to too much sports radio? ("In terms of upside … ")

Actually, it's not even close — The Ritz Carlton smokes that competition.

Clifton, VA
Provide me his email address and be glad to mention it. I ate in Bebo for my bro's bday 2 days before I left for Vegas. Service and management were worse than the local IHOP. Rank amatuers. I am still waiting for my dessert. Are party ahd 7 members and I bulked at the mandatory gratuity becasue the service was that bad. Only third time I ever stiffed the waiter. And on a $600+ tab. Too bad I am not sad.

Amateurishness would be an improvement, in my experience. That's several notches up from contemptuous, sneering and dismissive.

You can find the email on the website for the restaurant: bebotrattoria.com

I think you owe it to yourself — and to others — to write a letter. 

Gaithersburg, MD
Hi Todd, Do you ever review prepared food items in grocery stores? For example, the prepared foods at Whole Foods or Balducci's? Just curious. Thanks

I hadn't thought of doing that before, no.

Would it be interesting to you? What would you be interested in discovering?

Cap Hill
Hi Todd, Any thoughts about Proof. I went last Sunday and can't wait to go back. I was excited to see what it was going to be like–but also didn't have the highest expectations. It seemed that training and things of that nature were brief at best. But I was really impressed, and really couldn't complain or change anything. We had the charcuterie-which we renamed the mammal board. After a few glasses of wine we thought we were so witty! Then we split two starters the tartar (Fab- and i think that this is/becoming a trite menu item- but it was sooooo good I would order it again) and the mini-meatballs. I loved it and can't wait to go back.
It's still too early for me to weigh in officially, but I can say that I think that a wine bar that touts its fancy-dancy wine preservation system ought to offer many more wines by the glass that it does already.
Washington, DC
Hi Todd. (To make up for the deli questioner, here are some commas, too: ,,,,,) Capitol Hill has some new and upcoming places: Locanda on Penn Ave; Jordan's 8 (steak and sushi) on 8th Street; and a mysterious but nice-looking place going into the old Ellington's spot. Any early or advance word on any of these? Thanks!

Not from me.

I wish all those places well. Capitol Hill sure could use a few more worthy spots — restaurants that fall in between the dimly lit watering holes overrun with interns and the overpriced, coasting restaurants where you'll find overfed, silver-haired men with women half their age.

 

Clifton, VA
Wegman's has the best prepared foods. Better than D&D, Balducci's and two notches above Whole Foods

You're so right about that! And fair prices, too. I'd love to see a slew of Wegman's across the area.

Next up, I believe, is the one that's coming to Glenarden. A little dap to the folks at Wegman's for having the foresight that so many lack, and going in to an historically underserved community.

Ah, me and my "dap": I've been watching too much NBA Summer League. Has anybody else been checking in with the boys in blue and gold out in Vegas? The games are so sparsely attended, you can actually hear the fans talking on the broacast. But the games have been good. Great to see guys like Oleksiy Pecherov, Nick Young and the new beast, Dom McGuire, get some burn. I'm excited.

Enough hoop talk …

Gotta go get some lunch.

Be well, everyone, eat well, and let's meet back here again next week at 11 … 

 

 

 

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