Word of Mouth …
… The self-regarding, self-loathing gonzo journalist Anthony Bourdain has praised chef Scott Bryan as a cook's cook. Not only that, but Bourdain has gone so far as to throw off his mantle of hipster narcissist long enough to humble himself at the altar of Veritas, Bryan's former Upper East side restaurant. If you'd never eaten there, you might well wonder if Bourdain was guilty of the usual sort of overexertions that his kind of self-love can sometimes bring. But no: Bryan's really that good.
For a restaurant that earned three stars from the New York Times, Veritas under his direction remained a vastly underrated place, better and more rewarding than a slew of slicker, more hyped spots around the city. When word leaked late last month that Bryan was coming to 2941 Restaurant for a three-month temp job (with chef Jonathan Krinn moving on to start a place of his own, and new chef Bertrand Chemel, ex-Cafe Boulud, arriving in January) no one was more curious than I to see what he would do in the kitchen. Krinn could be very good. But Bryan had the ability to move me.
No doubt I was expecting too much, because my first look revealed a kitchen that seems content to not upset the system already in place. The meats and fishes haven't really changed — and are not going to — nor have their basic preparations, leaving Bryan, in the words of a waiter, to "tweak what was already there."
Like a sports franchise that has brought in an interim coach and told him to retain the plays and the system, Bryan is being given orders to mind the status quo. Will longtime fans of 2941 care that Bryan is not being given more freedom? Probably not. The meal was good, if unremarkable, helped along by the restaurant's commitment to luxe ingredients and the kind of sumptuous, attentive service that fine-dining demands.
I swooned over a bowl of celery root veloute with black truffles, but unfortunately, nothing else that night reached that exalted level. Or came close. Two beautiful, well-seared lobes of foie gras were brought down by a too-sweet confit of vanilla and pineapple. Ditto for an excellent fan of seared duck breast, which was marred by its over-reduced port wine sauce. A crisp-skinned filet of snapper was set in a curry that, for all its lightness and elegance, could have used a bit more creaminess and kick.
The restaurant's nouveau riche high-rollers probably won't mind that things at this business park fantasia haven't really changed, but those of us who know Bryan's enormous gifts can only wonder what might have been if the chef had been given a chance to do more than mere tweaking. …
Decent? I can do better than that. (And c'mon: what's with the low expectations?)
At the moment, the place I think about most is probably Bombay, in a non-descript shopping center in White Oak. Great curries, maybe the best in the area. Sure, the service is often surly, but the richness and variety of those gravies! Fantastic stuff. …
… Morning, everyone. I'm back from London and Paris (I was not down and out), and happy to be back in the pocket on this brisk, sunny day. Even if I am on day six of my cold and feeling a little woozy, still, from the Nyquil that has yet to wear off …
There isn't a single Chinese restaurant in the city I can really get behind, much less a classy or expensive one. And Georgetown? Forget it.
All the really good, really interesting Chinese food these days is coming out of North Rockville.
If the quality of the cooking isn't a high priority, then maybe you could look into Meiwah, on M St. downtown.
I thought it was disingenuous. Purpose wasn't to 'improve food writing' — purpose was to draw attention for stirring the pot. And my sin was … not buying into the bottom-line of a publicist?
The fact that Joe Yonan, the Post's food editor (who was also dumped on), and I were both included in this year's edition of Best Food Writing — I guess that must have been one of those little inconvenient details, best left out.
I think it's pretty funny, too, because the same column a couple of weeks earlier made a big deal of discovering a restaurant, Hong Kong Palace, that we touted two editions of Cheap Eats ago, with the writer, Tim Carman, going so far as to draw a comparison between it and the cooking of Szechuan master Peter Chang — cooking which, he admitted, curiously, he had never bothered to try.
This'll sound kind of crass and dismissive, but it's not meant to: If you want to write, write.
Find a subject that interests you and get cracking. Take your expertise, and try to translate that for a more general audience without dumbing things down and without condescending. It's not easy.
As with anything else, you'll learn by doing, learn by failing. The more you write and rewrite, the better you get. But as with cooking, as with anything, really, that matters — you have to love it. And that means loving it even when it doesn't love you back.
I loved Senderens, in the 8th arrondissement. Used to be Lucas Carton, a three-star Michelin restaurant, until chef Alain Senderens decided to — in the overheated words of the foreign foodie press — surrender his three stars and convert the place to a more casual spot.
More casual must be taken in context — that's more casual than a three-star Michelin joint; at lunch, there are still entrees fetching more than 30 euros. But the food is exquisite, the best meal I had in the city.
A level down, I adore La Regalade, which remains, for me, the highest expression of what eating out can be. The food is deeply sensual and rooted, the staff is warm and unpretentious, the place has mood and energy to spare, there are couples making out at tables, the wines are great and inexpensive, the chef comes out at the end of the night and sits down for a drink with his customers.
The restaurant seems to exist in no time but its own; sitting there, drinking and eating and basking in the glow of the room, you would be hard put to tell what decade you're in. Customers feel proprietary about it, and it's not hard to see why. You don't just come away having eaten a great meal; you come away a little possessed.
I don't doubt you had a bad experience, but I can tell you this: the food at Andale was nowhere near as good as the food at Oyamel. And I say that as someone who was disappointed by the original Oyamel, in Crystal City. It sounds to me like an off night for the restaurant.
By the way, I always find it funny and telling that, in complaining about a place, the specifics of service sins always eat up the bulk of the complaint, while the average or disappointing food is written off with a quick, summary phrase.
The best place for high-tea n DC, without a doubt, is the Four Seasons in Georgetown.
They do it up right, the views are wonderful, and it's absolutely relaxing.
I love going out for tea, and wish there were more spots in town for this. In London just last week, I had the great privilege of having tea and scones with clotted cream at Harrod's. Wonderful.
Well, not just. But yeah, I think it says something pretty wonderful to see expressions of affection like that when you're out somewhere.
I like sensuality in restaurants. On the plate and around the room, too. I like to see art (good art, not mere decoration) on the walls, warm lighting. And yes, people at the table who, when they're not eating and drinking, are not fiddling with their phones or conducting business or trying to conduct the waitstaff to meet their every little need.
Why not Kinkead's, in Foggy Bottom?
It's a safe choice, maybe even an expected choice, but sometimes the expected choice is also a great choice.
The food is good, but it's not so daring or adventurous that it's going to draw attention away from the chance to talk, the staff does a good job of taking care of you, and, if you sit downstairs (and make sure you do), the place has a festive air that will put you in the right frame of mind.
Well, I keep hearing 'soon.'
But I've been hearing 'soon' since April, so …
My two current favorites are Montmartre, in Eastern Market, and Montsouris, in Dupont Circle. Neither has that classic bistro feel, but they're good, better by far than du Coln (albeit more expensive).
For something cheaper, there's Bistro d'Oc, across from Ford's Theater, but it's also more inconsistent.
Ah. Very Barbara Walters of you. (Cue soft-focus lighting).
If I had to dress up like a food for Halloween … well, on my worst days on this job, I sometimes feel like a panna cotta as I walk out of a restaurant, so …
Of course now, I'm thinking of that Monty Python routine, the one about the blancmange that's terrorizing the countryside …
There really aren't more places like that. Guajillo, in Clarendon, is probably the closest — and it's not really close. That's not a slam; it's a good little spot. I like their ceviche and their tamales.
If you're adventurous, and I mean in every sense of the word, you'll head to Riverdale to La Sirenita, which does a good job with roadside-style Mexican food. Good tacos and posole, and I like the chili relleno, too.
I've been hearing that for a couple of years now.
Truth? Who knows?
With the restaurant world, there's no "truth" to something until it actually happens — until the place opens and starts serving. Things are always in flux: promises broken, deals shot down, chefs backing out, etc. There are always, as the late, great Grace Paley might have it, "enormous changes at the last minute."
So what looked for all the world like a truth — what was a truth — can turn into a mere rumor at a moment's notice.
Lots of worthwhile places.
Ray's the Steaks is excellent, Minh's and Delhi Club are both really good, Harry's Tap Room is fun (and better than it probably needs to be).
You're in business, so to speak.
And now … it's time for me to go medicate. Ugh.
Thanks for all the questions, everyone, and let's do it again here next week at 11. Eat well, and be well …