September 18, 2007 @ 11AM

Ask food & wine editor Todd Kliman a question about Washington area cuisine and restaurant news.


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. …


Alexandria, VA
Hi Todd: I need you and the choggers assistance. I am planning a business dinner for 15 folks who will be in DC in December. There will be a wide variety of palates and levels of culinary adventurism (so I am thinking nothing too one dimensional like seafood or Ethiopian – which are my two personal faves). I would like to keep the food only portion of each person's tab to about $35pp. I am hoping to snag a reservation at a spot in G'town that can accomodate a large group table (not a private room) and seperate checks. I would love your suggestions. Thanks!

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 …

washington dc
What do you think about the following idea for a candy bar? Applewood smoked bacon + Alder smoked salt + deep milk chocolate Some people actually like this barbaric creation, and a website that sells it – actually is sold out.

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? 


Long time reader, but first time poster. For my birthday, my husband is taking me to 2941 on Saturday. We've never been, and only heard wonderful things. What is not to be missed? I haven't seen anything written on it lately, so I wanted to get your thoughts. Thank you! Beth

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.

Alexandria, VA
What are your recommendations for Thanksgiving. We have gone to 1789 for the last fifteen years and need a change. Frankly, almost every year we have had a problem being seated on the ground floor despite our reservation request.

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.

Washington DC
I had a tequila -filled chocolate at Biaggio the other day that included the tequila worm! (chopped up, not whole.) It was good, but the idea of it is strange.

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.)

Washington, DC
Todd, This evening an old co-worker/friend of mine and I are meeting up for dinner. We are both pretty well versed when it comes to restaurant dining. We even usually go together to Restaurant Week Lunches, etc. Well tonight we are meeting at Bistro Du Coin in Dupont for dinner. I was wondering if you could give me a few must try items! I have never been there. I am not sure if my friend has. 🙂 Thanks. Always a pleasure, Lisa D.

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). 

Chevy Chase
Hi Todd, Keep up the good work.Always enjoy your columns! Do you know when is Sushi-Ko going to open in chevy chase? We live in chevy chase and are so thrilled that more and more good restaurants are coming up in our are. Indique Heights is one of our favorite in the area. Now Rock Creek has opened and can't wait for Sushi-Ko. Todd, do you remember the time when Chevy Chase had only a few chain restaurants and one had to either go to cleveland park, or downtown to get a decent meal. Cheers!

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. 

Washington, DC
Todd, You forgot to mention the best part of 2941!! The desserts… especially the Cotton Candy! 🙂 ~Ld
Yes, yes, of course. Although I wouldn't go so far as to say they're the best part — those breads are awfully good.
Re: Chocolate Fixings
I'm not a fan of chocolate – but I'll take my chcocolate all doctored up. Actually, salt and chocolate is not really an unusual combination; the salt helps to draw out the chocolate's character. Purveyors of chocolate concoctions are taking an opportunity to capitalize on what might be deemed as trendy when all it's doing is wearing the salt on the outside, talk about conspicuous consumption. Anyway, I prefer my chocolate dark, spicy, and rare. Especially hot peppered chocolate. Simplicity doesn't get better than this. Thanks for leting me share.

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. 

Washington, D.C.
Good morning, Todd- I think that you are a fan of the San Francisco-dining scene and respect the New York City-dining scene. Having said this – I am wondering if you have any early news of a place that I would love to eat at will be opening in DC anytime in the near future…any places that serves high-quality food beautifully in a lovely but casual (not white tablecloth dining) atmosphere with proud-to-be-served wines, beers that are more complex and interesting than the standard, and solid, traditional cocktails with serving that's fetching but not annoying – all tied up in a package where the scen is not pretentious – and allows for everyone to enjoy a good time with good food and good company? Please don't let me down – and tell me something is on the horizon. In short, not much to ask for: excellence paired with casualness. If not, then my question is why doesn't DC get it, yet? Thanks,

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. 

Columbia Heights, DC
The 2941 response made me wonder about something. Why do restaurants give bread baskets? They don't make money off of them and, since they can be filling, prevent diners from ordering more courses, such as dessert. Is it just a way to placate diners so they are less likely to get antsy while waiting for their food?

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.

I always hear that the chef and some of the best staff are off on thanksgiving, and it's not the time to go out. No?

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.

Todd – I was in an interesting place in Austin TX where you took your food outside to a big fenced area with picnic tables and a playground. The idea was that you could get a decent meal (maybe two notches above fast food) with table service and drinks but not have to mind the kids unless they fell off of something. Forgot the name, I'm afraid…. Is there anything in the DC area that is at all decent and has some kind of play area/playscape outdoor setting? the closest I've found so far is Clydes in Reston where you can sit outside and let the kids run around on the ice-rink area next to the patio when it's off for the summer.

Interesting question!

I wish I had an interesting answer. Choggers? 

Re: Re: Chocolate Fixings
Todd, Me, again. Yes, Jacque Torres Mexican hot chocolate spiced with chipotle peppers is terrific stuff and one of my favorite things about cold weather. By the way, I do not work for Jacque Torres…I just happen to know a little bit about food, baking, and chemistry.
Hey, you're preaching to the choir, Me again.
Todd, you should educate your chatters not to have seperate checks when it is a big group like 15 people. the very first poster needs to know that seperate checks are a big pain to the establishment. Since they are all friends I recommend the host should collect the money before or after the dinner and make the payment in one single form. Thank You A Retired Server

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. 

Arlington, VA
Hi Todd, Since one of my favorite subjects came up (chocolate) just thought I'd give a shoutout to Kingsbury Chocolates in old town. They have a bar that combines dark chocolate, sea salt, and tamari almonds for a sweet & salty treat. I might have to make a run down there this week!
Sounds terrific. Thanks for the mention!
Washington, DC
I'm going to Michel Richard Central tonight with my best friend. She's definitely getting the famed lobster burger, so with that menu item taken, what do you suggest I get (I love all foods)?

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 … 

Washington, DC
Todd, good news (for me anyway). My good friend from college is driving up from Richmond tonight and wants to have a late-ish dinner. Price isn't really a factor but I'd like to keep the bill for the two of us under $100. I'm thinking something in the district with a fun atmosphere and he says any cuisine except Asian and Mexican. Can I please have your suggestions? Thanks!

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 …


washington dc
you forgot to mention the steak and fries at Bistro Du Coin, its a good dish for the price and a decent standby.
I didn't forget. 🙂
Yes, yes, yes!!
Dear Todd- You are my idea of a restaurant consultant!! Here, here to what you said: " 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. "

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 …