Word of Mouth …
… Not that I share it with you every week in this space, but it ain't all sunshine; there's rain, too:
I was excited to try the new My Karma, in Lorton, the latest of a string of ambitious and interesting Indian restaurants to crop up in the Virginia exurbs. Masala Country, in Centreville, the first U.S. branch of the Indian fast food chain, is a keeper, as is the stylish and delicious Rangoli, in South Riding. Saravana Palace, meanwhile, is easily the best Indian vegetarian restaurant in the area, and might just be the best Indian restaurant, period. And My Karma? It's stylish, all right — it looks like an Indian bistro, with soft, intimate lighting, a dramatic black-and-red color scheme and gorgeous tiled floors. The menu is smartly written, explaining the origins of dishes and serving up short descriptions of the cooking that are as evocative as … well, as the food isn't — at least not on my initial exploration. Street food is well-represented by a handful of dishes, including a tikki platter that comes with a small bowl of good but greasy channa and a kathi roll that declines to use a real, hot roti — it substitutes a generic wrap — and passes off dry slices of tandoor chicken. The curries lacked the complexity I look for (a korma was creamy but oddly punchless, while a dish of rogan josh offered up tough cubes of lamb in a gravy that had yet to incorporate its tomato sauce). …
At a loyal reader's urging, I gave Sushi Jin, in Silver Spring, a try a while back. It's possible I hit the place on an off-night. It's also possible that it's always an off-night. The fish was uniformly soft and served too warm, the nigiri were undone by gluey, poorly seasoned rice, and a number of the kitchen's specials were so overpriced, I had to wonder if there was a typo on the menu. I can't see coming back. (I have to confess: With sushi in the area in serious decline, I no longer find myself getting worked up in advance of hitting the top-tier places, and I actively regard the lower ranks with suspicion. Still, I'd rather support the two or three good places that deserve it than to patronize inferior product.) …
… Another reader wrote in recently to tout the satisfactions of a new place in Bethesda called Javan Persian Cuisine, which he described thusly: "Moby Dick on steroids … Seriously." It's a good-looking space: handsome wood furniture, nice carpeting, fresh flowers in the room, open kitchen. In that regard, the restaurant has it all over its bare-boned Persian competitor down the street, which is flooded with harsh, fluorescent light and has so few tables that customers are reduced to scoping the room with the vigilance of a sniper for the next available table. It compares in other ways, too: It's almost twice as expensive, and half as good. Where's the spicing — hell, the seasoning? I thought as I worked my way through an oil-slicked lamb chop. Meanwhile, a ground meat kubideh kabob, one of the great pleasures of Moby Dick, had the texture of a rolled Steak-Um — thin and chewy. …
Whew, that's a toughie.
Georgetown is expensive; one of the few places i can think of that might be able to accommodate your group (in price, in variety of cuisine) is Leopold's Kafe + Konditorei, but Leopold's isn't really the best for a big party. I've never seen one there.
There's always Clyde's, which fits a couple of bills (price, variety), but I'm not a fan of the cooking at that location.
Heritage India and Sushi-Ko, in nearby Glover Park, are both good — but then you're in the trap you wanted to avoid: Surely, someone in the group is going to dislike Indian and/or raw fish.
Agraria might be the sleeper pick, here. It's by the water, there ought to be something for everyone on the market-centered menu, and I know they can handle a party of your size.
Write back and let us know which way you decided to turn …
Vosges a Chocolate, the Tiffany of chocolate (with all that that implies), has good, quality stuff.
Smokiness, saltiness and chocolateyness — it could work. It might not be bad.
I'm not especially eager to find out, though. And that's coming from someone who will gladly eat chicken feet, fish eyes, and fried grasshoppers.
I'm curious: What's the weirdest chocolate concoction anyone has tried? Or seen?
Ah, happy birthday. You're in for a treat.
The chef, Jonathan Krinn, has a thing for Asian spices and exotic, rare fruits, and he loves seafood, so order accordingly.
The menu changes a lot, but if you come across a licorice-poached lobster on shaved jicama, or a honey-and-soy marinated Chilean sea bass with green papaya, seize the opportunity. These are light, artful, clearly expressed presentations.
Elsewhere, the menu leans toward the rich and sumptuous, like a version of surf and turf that mates a duck confit and foie gras with scallops, or a cardamom-spiced venison that's sided with gnocchi, oyster mushrooms and a rich Madeira sauce.
At most restaurants, it'd be smart to steer clear of the bread basket, an easy way to fill up on (usually unnecessary) calories. Not here — these calories are most definitely necessary. The chef's father, Mal Krinn, does the baking. Other than at Vidalia, you won't find a better bread basket in the area.
Honestly, I haven't even looked into Thanksgiving yet — except to plan a neat little surprise for you for our November issue.
It's funny. I know magazine editors have to be looking two, three months down the road, but readers, too?
What I can tell you is that a lot of good restaurants did T-giving Day dinner last year, including 2941, Vidalia, Citronelle, Blue Duck Tavern, Charlie Palmer Steak, Circle Bistro, and Bistro Bis. I don't know yet whether they'll be doing the same this year, but I wouldn't be at all surprised. I'd be delighted to sit down to a Turkey Day meal at any one of them.
I can hear a collective cry all over the area: eeeeewwww!!!
(Incidentally, I just have to say: That last sip of coffee kinda tasted funny.)
Must-try items? Bistrot du Coin? I'd say that's going just a wee bit too far.
I'd zero in, though, on the mussels, the frites and the duck confit. Great atmosphere, some good cheap wines, lots of fun — you might even enjoy the surly waiters (if you're in the right mood).
Don't make me break out my copy of the world's smallest violin.
Come, come now, Chevy Chase: Do you really expect me to feel your suffering all these years? Cleveland Park is mere minutes away, downtown not much further. And — you're in Chevy Chase!
I agree with you, though, the area is going through a bit of a boom. Rock Creek is promising, Indique Heights has raised the bar on Indian sweets in the area, and Sushi-Ko the second, whenever it opens (it was supposed to be this past Spring), will be one to watch.
I agree with you: Salt and chocolate is a happy, wonderful marriage. Salt and chocolate and bacon? That sounds like a bizarre love triangle.
Speaking of hot chocolate and pepper: One of the best cocoas on the market is the one from Jacques Torres, a Mexican hot chocolate spiced with chipotle peppers. Terrific stuff.
Actually, i think the city already has a couple of places like that in Central Michel Richard and Brasserie Beck.
On the horizon, there's a new restaurant going into the Ritz on 22nd St. called — bear with me, now — Westend: A Bistro by Eric Ripert. Yes, that's the full, complete name.
Ripert last week told me himself that the place will bow on the 24th of October.
Adeline, which I wrote about in this space a couple of weeks ago — that's the new name for the revamped Gerard's Place, with Gerard Panguad, the two-star Michelin chef who spent the past year teaching at L'Academie de Cuisine, back in tow — will open on the 24th of September.
Both places promise the kind of casual excellence you're talking about.
What I wonder is: Why don't more restaurants give out bread baskets?
It's a terrific gesture, it builds goodwill with customers, and it's an opportunity for the restaurant to make a good first impression.
If I were playing restaurant consultant, I'd urge every kitchen to send out something of note to inaugurate a meal. An "amuse" is nice, but that's not what I'm talking about. I'm talking about a bread basket, a plate of homemade pickles — something, anything that smacks of generosity and establishes something of the identity of the place.
It might not be the best time to judge a restaurant, I agree with you — to experience all it has to offer. But that's not to say it won't be a good meal, or a good time.
Besides, all the restaurants I named are among the best in the city. They tend not to slip up.
I wish I had an interesting answer. Choggers?
I hear you. It's a pain.
But, speaking from the other side, do you know what else is a pain? Rounding up money from fifteen people. Ugh.
Invariably, someone cuts out early and miscalculates the size of the bill, leaving not enough for his share. Someone else, digging into his pockets, discovers that he has come up short with cash. The ones who haven't been drinking all night decide it's only right and proper to shave off a few bills from their share; ditto for the salad-eaters. Invariably, the someone in charge of the table gets stuck with covering for the losers around him.
I'm not saying separate checks is better. I'm saying that it's never easy when you have a large party.
Me, I'd start with a bowl of the fabulous mussel chowder, followed by either the regular burger, the beef burger (with bacon on top) or the braised veal cheeks. For dessert, if you have room: the chocolate mousse with pellet-like chocolate crunchies on top.
Enjoy, and let us know next week how your dinner turned out …
If I were you, I'd be thinking of Montmartre, in Eastern Market, or Montsouris, in Dupont Circle. Bistros, both of them, and sisters establishments, too.
Montmartre, the more elaborate of the two, is one of the most consistent places in the city, and easily one of the best values — it's easy to eat well there for around $80 for two. And Montsouris, after a tentative beginning, has found its groove of late. It's got good, properly cooked steaks, an excellent potato gratin, and some good, earthy wines.
Have a great time. I'll be curious to hear which one you choose …
And you are my idea of a chogger!!
Let's hope the restaurateurs and chefs are listening.
That's it for today, everyone.
Agitate (quietly, innocently) for those bread baskets and pickle plates as you make your rounds, and I'll meet you back here at 11 next week …