Word of Mouth …
… It had the look of a hostile takeover, the chainification of Silver Spring. The early wave of restaurants in the newly gentrified downtown was heavy on plastic, light on soul. But independents have been pushing up through the cracks, among them Mandalay, Ray's the Classics, Jackie's, and Da Marco. Here are three newcomers:
Nicaro is by far the most promising of the bunch, with a menu of strong, rooted flavors that owe everything to conscientious shopping (mostly local) and a reliance on craftsmanship in the kitchen. Pedro Matomoros, the chef and owner, developed his approach at the influential Tabard Inn, where he manned the stoves for seven years before leaving early last year to open a place of his own. As they were at the Tabard, the terrines and rilletes are both handmade, as are the pastas (available — nice touch — in half-portions), and the oysters are well-sourced. A plate of coriander-crusted lamb chops with lamb sausage is excellent, a textbook example of how earthy, rooted flavors can be made elegant and sophisticated. Even better: the butternut squash soup, with ribbons of fresh, toasted coconut and a final garnish of micro-cilantro. Insistently spicy, wonderfully fragrant, it eats like one of the best curries you'll ever eat. No lie: I was seriously tempted to ask for a bowl of rice. Given the indisputably downtown prices, this sparely appointed, storefront twofer (a restaurant on one side, a spacious bar on the other) may come as a letdown to some. But although it lacks the sumptuousness of deeper-pocketed places, it does not lack for sophistication and warmth, thanks to a smart waitstaff and thoughtful touches throughout. The focus, though, is on the plate — not unlike its scaled-back neighbor, Ray's the Classics, just around the corner.
The second outpost of Olazzo (not a chain, a local chain — there's a difference) looks, from the inside, like one of those restaurants in lower Manhattan — a long and narrow slip of a place with tables crammed together and the long bar at arm's length. It's not as interesting on the plate as the mood might lead you to believe, but there are some tasty simple eats on the streamlined menu (good fried calamari, a tasty square of lasagna that tastes like somebody's grandma's), and Monday is half-price bottle of wine night.
The month-old Abol has what might be the best location of any Ethiopian restaurant in the area, just across the street from the AFI Silver. But although the space and the presentation of dishes and even the flatware live up to the choice digs (no spilling of stews onto a round of injera, here — everything is set out on plates, including a vegetarian platter that takes up every compartment of a sectional glass serving tray), the cooking is often oily and uninspired. …
Well, hardy har har.
A little context, for those of you who didn't follow along last week (and shame on you, first of all.)
We had a chatter who complained about his treatment at one of the top restaurants in the city. Food was great, but the chatter (part of a group of 7) was put out by the fact that a request for an extra box of tiny Parker House rolls (intended as a "gift from the kitchen") was denied. The refusal, the chatter wrote, confused the table and soured what had been a fine night out.
I spoke with the chef, Eric Ziebold, last week, post-chat. He told me that a table of seven should have been given four boxes of the rolls. Didn't happen, according to the chatter, who initiated contact with me by email.
Most of the response to the chatter that came in to me — either via chat or email — was intensely dismissive and even hostile. With much of the animus centering on the fact that the chatter didn't seem to be someone who eats "at this type of restaurant very often" and is, therefore, "uninformed."
Sorry. That's just incredibly offensive.
I agree with you and others that criticizing a person or a place in a public forum like this is not something to be taken lightly.
But I don't think you can infer what you're inferring from the original posting. And, more to the point: Even if you were right, so what?
Are you saying that only the perspective of the limited few who are knowledgeable about the nuances of fine dining should matter?
Not a very with-in sensibility, is it. If that were the case, then you'd have to dismiss the internet and all its message boards. Anonymity and hostility — and hostility because of anonymity — is the way of the 'net. The original poster doesn't know Ziebold, and you don't know the original poster. So assumptions fly, accusals fly.
Anyway, enough. On to the chow …
Nice. A little sweetness and light … Thank you, Surigao City!
And where have you been eating, if I might ask?
It's been a while since I have been online and been able to participate in the chat, but I just had to ask you about my upcoming dinner reservation at Le Paradou. My husband and I are celebrating our 4th wedding anniversary and I know absolutely nothing about this restaurant. I know that it is on the Top 100 Very Best List, otherwise, I wouldn't even bother 😉 … but what else can you tell me about it? The chef, the service, best dishes, some juicy inside stuff? Dying to know. Hope all is well. Always a pleasure, Lisa D.
Hi, Lisa. Welcome back, and happy anniversary!
What can I tell you? I can tell you that Yannick Cam is one of the best cooks in the city, and that his roots here go back a long, long way. In the '80s, his restaurant, Le Pavillon, was one of the city's top dining destinations. I can also tell you that you can expect — well, no, that I can't tell you. The restaurant runs hot and cold. It can be brilliant at times and uninspired at others. Or — one visit is sublime, the next leaves you wondering whether it's the same kitchen.
Best dishes? That depends, as I said, but his foie gras terrine with stewed apricots, his roasted lobster with Sauternes, his gazpacho with lobster claw, and his duck breast with foie gras tart, are all good bets.
Good luck, and be sure to check back in with a report …
Comparably good, no. Maestro was pretty unique, not at all your usual Italian fine dining restaurant. I mean, come on — test tubes of sauce?
But that shouldn't take away from the fact that Tosca, with chef Massimo Fabbri at the helm, is back. Good spot to splurge and indulge.
The answer's in the question.
A lot of places, post-review, struggle to keep their level. Particularly newer, smaller places like this one. Staff gets overwhelmed by the surge of business, kitchen can't find its rhythm, and people go away shaking their heads, wondering how mediocre food could be so highly praised.
For a tiny, ethnic restaurant, many times a review isn't a blessing, it's a curse — lifting a place out of the realm of a simple hole in the wall serving a small population of regulars and exposing it to a wider audience with big expectations and different assumptions.
I'll have to go back. I've been hearing reports about how crowded the place has been, which is telling, because when I went and wrote about it on the chat and when Cynthia Hacinli went (three times) and reviewed it for the magazine, it was pretty empty.
It sounds as though it's not the place it was. But we'll see …
I think it's me. A little too much to drink with dinner last night. And it's a gray, moody day, and the music that's playing is moody, too, and I don't know — I guess that's all got me in a different state of mind than the usual rapid-fire, rapid-response host you ordinarily read.
Keep in mind, though — I do produce this thing as well as host it, and that cutting and pasting and sifting through the queue takes time. Too much time, yes. Higher ups?
You can't compare a multinational fast food chain and a luxury, four-star restaurant that built its reputation on satisfying its customers' fantasies.
And calling someone a hard-core foodie is not, by the way, calling someone a god. What I'm saying is that hard-core foodies, that five or so percent of the dining population, are more attuned to these sorts of details than the average diner. Doesn't make them better than the average diner — just different. (Actually, it makes them abnormal — in that they're far outside the norm.)
Anyway, I'm of the mind that bread is bread, in this case. I think the distinction between "gift from the kitchen" and "bread service" is much too fine. I can see why customers would ask for more, and I can see the argument the original chatter tried to put forth (even if I think that the reaction was a little over the top.)
Another take. And thanks for the lengthy and exuberant report.
You seem to be one of the lucky few who has not experienced the ups and downs of the place.
If they're still on the menu — the charbroiled oysters at Johnny's Half Shell.
Not grilled, but a lot of what you're looking for in a grilled oyster. They're fabulous.
I used to like the tamales at Guajillo, in Arlington. I say like only because it's been a while since I've had one there. But they were good.
In Laurel, Mango Grill has pretty good ones. You can also find pretty good ones at La Flor de la Canela, in Gaithersburg.
And there are a number of Salvadoran spots that have pretty good ones, too. There's a place in Wheaton, next to the Royal Mile, whose name escapes me just now … Shoot. Haven't been in a while, but I used to love their tamal de elote, the sweet corn tamale that could just as easily make a great dessert.
Fuente, in Beltsville, also does a nice tamal de elote.
I'm leaving out scads of others. Anyone got a favorite?
I know what you mean about Melting Pot. (I kind of like the name Melting Point. Someone should open a restaurant called Boiling Point. Boiling Point by Gordon Ramsey.)
There aren't any fondue places that I'm aware of. Although if I'm not mistaken, Bread and Chocolate does a warm pot of chocolate that you can dip cakes and fruits into. Someone correct me if I'm wrong, please.
See, this disdain thing — I don't get it. Although I applaud you for owning up to a creeping tendency that a lot of people won't own up to. I'm bothered by these kinds of stratifications, when a love of good food becomes somehow equated with good taste, with breeding, with sophistication. Great barbecue is as good, if not better, than any fine dining.
More and more, knowledge of food is becoming like knowledge of opera, something used to justify, to dismiss, to elevate.
Good report. (Love these reports, everyone. Keep 'em coming.)
That adults-only room is turning out to be a smart decision from Peter Pastan and team.
And yes — rankings from 1-100. This year we're also offering an insider's tip section for each restaurant, rating the service for each and providing a quick look at how best to maximize your experience at each. Among other things.
I actually think this is the best 100 Best package we've put together since I came aboard just over two years ago.
You're right: It's not technically "adults-only."
But the effect is "adults-only." Which is to say: It doesn't ever feel like Romper Room up there.
Interesting question, Burger fan.
Will they change it back? If enough people clamor for a certain, cast-aside dish or a certain version of a dish, they will. And you've just begun to rattle the cage.
I'd follow this up with a letter, if i were you (although, trust me, they're reading) and maybe enlist some fellow fans in your campaign.
To my ears, this isn't a complaint, when customers raise their voices like this. It's actually a sign of affection. The opposite of love, as they say, isn't hate. It's indifference.
I'll tell you what: the mood is a lot different at Komi than it used to be — softer lighting, much more subdued. Great feel, and the same warm, accessible staff.
And the cooking's even better. Go.
(Guess who's moving up the Top 100?)
And don't be a stranger — come back on and let us know what your night was like.
Not a bad solution, DC. I think the thing is, in this case, it wasn't so much the rolls, it was the explanation of the no-rolls.
I'm running late for a lunch, but many thanks to all of you for the interesting questions, the field reports and the wonderful back-and-forth. I love my Tuesday mornings.
Be well, eat well, and let's do it again next week at 11 …