November 27, 2007 @ 11AM

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


Word of Mouth …

… Add Gui Lin (10054 Darnestown Rd., Rockville; 301-424-2888) to the list of wonderful Chinese spots in Rockville.

The restaurant's take-out customers may gravitate to the beef with broccoli and the chow foon noodles, but the best reason to head on up 270 is further back in the multiple-page menu, the dishes that make up the backbone of Hong Kong-style cooking — the dumpling soups, noodle bowls, hot pots and rice dishes.

You could eat here, with friends, for a couple of weeks and not eat the same thing twice. I say you could, not that you should. For me, it'd be  painfully hard to limit myself to a single order of the shrimp dumpling soup, a big, steaming bowl of gorgeous broth full of wilted lettuce and bobbing with a generous allotment of delicately-fashioned dumplings, their thin skins wrapped around an aromatic filling of minced shrimp and wild mushrooms. A soup of ground beef, wild mushroom and parsley — an assemblage of ingredients I've never seen on an area menu — is nearly as good. Hot pots are huge and rewarding, stocked with an array of goodies, from oysters and roast pork to bean curd, mutton, braised melon, and bitter squash.

The kitchen is serious about its seafood — it insists on using Vancouver crab for a stir fry with ginger and scallions — which is probably why simpler stuff, like an appetizer of clams tossed with minced pork, ginger, garlic, and black bean sauce, is so good; the clams themselves retain a briny sweetness that can't be faked.

The only miss I turned up early on was a main course of fried, butterflied shrimp, which were dipped in mayo and garnished with candied walnuts, a Hong Kong standard-bearer whose apotheosis can be found at the glorious Yank Sing, in San Francisco. No blaming the shrimp, though — they were plump and sweet. Most of the other main courses seem to find their mark. Two stand out in memory, particularly for the quality of their saucing, which avoids the gloppiness that mars too much Chinese cooking in this area: fried pork chops with thick bands of onion in a sweet and sour sauce and laterally sliced, still-pink-on-the-inside short ribs in a black pepper sauce with green peppers and onions.

Gui Lin has been a well-preserved secret in the local Chinese community for twenty years, with extended families nightly filling up the restaurant's 18 tables. With so few places for the rest of us to turn for the kind of cooking we crave, I hope they don't mind my spilling the beans. …



Full Key



Palena and Palena Cafe


Nava Thai Noodle & Grill

Johnny’s Half Shell

Ravi Kabob I and II

Niwano Hana

Pete’s Apizza


A & J

Vit Goel ToFu House


Oval Room

Farrah Olivia

Cafe du Parc

Hollywood East Cafe on the Blvd.


Bethesda, MD
Todd – Have you been to BlackFinn in Bethesda since it opened? Looks busy every time I walk by but I'm hesitant to step foot in there…

I haven't. Has anyone else?

And just curious — hesitant why?

Washington, DC
Can you suggest a good restaurant for an office Christmas lunch? Just 3 of us.
I'll need a little more help than that, if only because there's just so darn much that's out there. Any kind of cuisine? What part of town? Atmosphere?
Arlington VA
I'm an expat Arlingtonian coming home to the DC area for the holidays, staying with friends and and for various complicated reasons need to invite some other out of town relatives to a "substantial" dinner on Christmas Day. I heard that you might be making a list of restaurants serving dinner on the 25th. Please run it soon, with annotations, because I need to reserve from overseas as soon as possible. I also thought of possibly doing a high tea at the Four Seasons/Georgetown if dinners didn't look interesting. Any guidance is appreciated!

Welcome back!

I like the high tea at the Four Seasons, but if last year is any indication, there are going to be a bunch of restaurants for you to choose from.

And I appreciate the heads-up. We'll be on it. Thanks.

What sort of annotations are you looking for — anything other than menu details?

Hesitant only because it seems like a sports bar, but one that has white tablecloths. Either ushering in a new style of sports bar dining or a bit confused. It's always busy for lunch when I walk by though, so perhaps they're doing something right.

I love that line, Bethesda –"either ushering in a new style of sports bar dining, or a bit confused."

I hear you.

And restaurateurs I hope will hear you, too. A lot of people are in the habit of reading a place the way a critic might read a book. Places communicate things consciously ("chef really cares about sustainability") and unconsciously, too.

Ballston, VA
Hello. Could you recommend a cozy, romantic restaurant for dinner tonight that won't break the bank? Something like Tabard Inn or Al Tiramisu (VA or DC preferred), but a little more budget friendly. Thank you.

What about Bastille in Alexandria?

It's darkly lit and definitely cozy, and, for serious French cooking, the prices aren't bad. Share an app and share a dessert (it's romantic to share, no?), and go in for the half-pours of wine (the list is heavy on Rhone reds) and you won't come out fretting about cash. 

Check back in with us next week and let us know how things turned out, Ballston. 

Washington D.C.
I had a number of service issues during a business lunch at Proof last week and detailed them in an email to the restaurant, emphasizing that both my colleague and I loved the food and space and intended to return A week has passed without response. Is this common in your expereince, and am I overreacting by now wondering how much a restaurant that can't even bother to reply "thanks for your email; we will look into it" really cares about the service its customers are getting?

In my experience, D.C., no, it's not very common — typically, restaurants are like EMTs in rushing to respond.

What I don't know, in this instance, is why Proof hasn't responded, or if it hasn't in fact responded. Who knows? Maybe a spam filter filtered out the response. 

But maybe someone from the restaurant is reading along this morning and can weigh in on this for us. So, stay tuned …

(Meantime, can we all PLEASE banish the word "issues," when what we mean to say is "problems"? I'm having service problems … I'm having upper respiratory problems … I'm having commitment problems. …

I'm having problems with 'issues' …

Silver Spring, MD
I'm looking for American kitchen rests. in DC-metro area where I can bring a busload of music students and eat a good meal for $15.00 inclusive. Aside from Joe's Pizza n Pasta, what are your thoughts?

Boy, that sounds like the kind of situation that chains are made for.

Other than pizza places, I can't come up with anything off the top of my head that would fit the bill. There are a lot of good, affordable ethnic spots in the area, but cheap, tasty American cooking? That's not a chain? That's tough.

Hm. Best alternative might be barbecue — a place like Red, Hot and Blue in Laurel, or Urban BBQ in Rockville. They're worth a call.

I hope that helps, some. Good luck.


Silver Spring, MD
Hi, I really enjoy these chats every week. We'd like to take my little brother out for dinner this weekend for his birthday. He goes to Georgetown and we're never particularly impressed with restaurants there. Want something nicer than Pizzeria Paradiso but not Citronelle prices. Just a good, solid meal with a fun atmosphere in or near Georgetown. Any ideas?

Thanks. The best restaurant in Georgetown not named Citronelle is Mendocino Grille and Wine Bar, a place I like a lot since Barry Koslow came aboard last year.

42 seats, looks like a wine cellar, and Koslow is a cook's cook who puts a lot of care into each of his plates. He's particularly good with fish.

Try it, and let me know what it was like.

washington dc
requesting a restaurant recommendation for 5 ladies for a celebratory dinner in downtown dc. in the past we have enjoyed ceiba, acadiana, cashion's, olives. i hear central is very good but dead at dinner. no luck getting a reservation at blue duck. any ideas?

Dead at dinner? That's news to me. There's nothing dead about the place.

Mendocino, which I just touted above, might be the ticket. Good mood, buzzing bar, frequently terrific food. So might the new The Source, the Wolfgang Puck restaurant in the still-unfinished Newseum. It's definitely not dead. Expensive, but not dead.

Washington, DC
Hi Todd. Our office (just four of us) would like to go out for a nice holiday dinner this year. If you take away the super high-end restaurants (CityZen, Citronelle, etc.) where would you go (no preferences on cuisine or location)?

Me? I might head to Corduroy. Or Palena. Or Vidalia. Or Kinkead's. 

All very consistent, all very rewarding.

Of course, I'd be just as happy — and feel just as festive — at Ravi Kabob II in Arlington or Bob's Noodle 66 in Rockville or Minh's in Clarendon or Shamshiry in Tysons or La Flor de la Canela in Gaithersburg.

But that's me. 

Capitol Hill
Just a small rant, here. Burgers that cost more than $10 should be cooked correctly. If you're so damn proud to serve a "Kobe" burger, then don't char it into leatherdom. I don't know how long it's been since I had a correctly cooked burger here; Circle Bistro, Sonoma, and Hudson get failing grades on their cooking aptitude. Busboys and Poets gets an A. I hate sending things back, but I'm getting tired of gnawing my way through what should be juicy, tender, and delicious.

Testify, brother, testify!

It's funny, but you know? The places that are much more unassuming about their burgers, they almost always tend to cook them correctly. I like a spot called Harry's, in the Hotel Harrington. Not fancy, nothing artisanal, not pretty on the plate … but a darn good prole burger that always comes out the way I like.

And as long as we're banishing the word "issues" … please, restaurants, please stop using the word "kobe" on the menu when you have no intention of actually serving the stuff. What you're serving, is Wagyu, which lacks the cache and sexiness of kobe — not to mention the uber-marbling that makes kobe nearly melt in the mouth. "American Kobe" is the latest dodge of chefs and restaurateurs. There's kobe, and then there's everything else. It's a scam.

washington dc
Washington DC
Speaking of Proof, is anybody else bothered by the men's bathroom or am I a fuddy-duddy? I could do without pictures of naked women that border on exploitation when taking a bathroom break.

Interesting question — and I'd love to hear what all of you have to say on this. All of you men, I'm guessing — unless, erm, some women have gone and seen it, too. In which case I'd really, really like to hear from you.

Personally, I'm not bothered by it, and don't consider it exploitation in the least — it's far from even the gray area that borders porn.

To me, the only offense is the naked self-satisfaction of putting it up there, but let me also say this. I wish more restaurants would take chances like this. More idiosyncracy, not less. More oddities. So many of the newer, slicker spots seem to have been rigorously test-marketed before they open.

Good Chinese in Upper MoCo:
Thanks for the Gui Lin recommendation for Hong Kong cuisine. Is it across Rt 28 from the Fire Training Academy? In a previous chog you recommended Tai Shan in Montgomery Village as another place for Chinese, but no details. Does it focus on a particular region of China? What are some "don't miss" dishes?

Gui Lin is on Darnestown Rd., in the Travilah Square Shopping Center. If that helps.

And good memory — I did mention Tai Shan in a recent chog. It's been a while since I've been, and I'd have to check my notes about the cooking, so if you like, send me an email — — and I'll try to get back to you with some dish specifics. 

The Source
Todd: Do you recommend The Source? I'm not talking about expense-account meals but for the average Joe (I'm referring to me, so people don't get offended). It is so expensive it seems almost hardly worth a venture out unless I save for an annual outing…go figure! What say you?

This is a great question. I don't take it lightly.

At this point, what I'd say is this: No, hold off. That's not to knock the place. Mostly, it's to say I don't know yet enough to know whether it's worth that kind of a splurge. I'm still gathering impressions and tasting, and will weigh in more formally when I think I'm ready.

Ready, that is, to let you and others like you know if it's worth pulling the trigger on.

When you don't have an expense account, you not only can't afford to whiff, but you also want to be sure the meal is going to be a memorable one. I understand. I've been there. And been burned, often 

Arlington, VA
Expat again, re: annotations on the Xmas Day dinners– I guess I meant the mood/atmosphere as well as the menu. Our group of six has ages 12 through 78 – so I guess we are aiming for a "nice family meal" with a nod to the foodies in the family that won't turn off the younger ones with more simple tastes. I woiuld love something like Tabard Inn but I think they close Christmas Day. Thanks for any help from you or your readers.
OK, excellent. Thanks for your annotation.
Fredericksburg, Virginia
I want to meet some friends in Occoquan for Sunday lunch/brunch. Which restaurants do you suggest?

If you're up for some 'cue, you can do a lot worse than Dixie Bones, in Woodbridge.

Forget the unremarkable ribs and focus on the smoked chicken (it falls off the bone), the pulled pork, the sides (especially the collards) and the glorious pecan pie, which is as good as I've found outside the South.

Washington DC
Following up on Proof bathrooms: I agree that restaurant designs need more "idiosyncracy", as you say, but nudity in the bathrooms seems so EASY and tasteless. It's idosyncracy lies in its shock value, not in anything actually creative.

That's what I said, or was trying to say — the nakedness isn't bothersome, the naked self-satisfaction of putting something like that up there is. It's a little too easy.

But still — more idiosyncracy, more riskiness, more willingness to try things that aren't group-approved.

Re: Idiosyncracy in bathrooms
I haven't been to the men's room at Proof. But, I used the bathroom in a restaurant in NYC and they had mirrors strategically positioned, shall we say. I'll leave the rest up to one's own imagination, but, how's that for novelty?

There are a lot of interesting bathrooms these days, a lot — keyholes strategically placed, unisex washing areas, curious-looking dividers that lead you to think you can see more than you actually can.

Of course, the fronts of restaurants — for all the vaunted design teams that work on them — are often not nearly so bold. Pity. 

CLifton, VA
Grow Up nude pixs in the bathroom. Now if they had nude female bathroom attendants in the men's room that would be something!

That would be something!

No one could accuse DC of lagging behind New York and Vegas in style, then, huh?

Actually, you know what would be nice? Attendants, period. If chateaubriand for two can come back, why can't bathroom attendants?

And on that note … I'm off to scarf down a sandwich and catch up on some paperwork. Romantic, no?

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