Tuesday, December 18 at 11 AM

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


Word of Mouth …

100 King is in the midst of an identity crisis. The restaurant, an offshoot of Lebanese Taverna, began as a mezze place; earlier this year, it switched chefs and directions; the new menu is Frenchified. The place has retained its cool, modish look, but now, instead of cool, modish small plates, there are big plates of filet mignon, sauteed chicken breast, duck confit with lentils and peppercorn-crusted tuna. Prices are high — a number of entrees push hard against the thirty dollar mark — and, unfortunately, the cooking isn't worth shelling out that kind of money. I liked the lentils that came with my duck confit, but the duck itself was poorly rendered and fatty; a crab cake came perched on a tight mound of spinach, and tasted more of that leafy green than of crab — small wonder, since the crab was all thready, cheap backfin; a striped bass harkened back to the kind of busy, overdrizzled dishes you used to see ten years ago, when balsamic vinegar first made its stateside appearances — you could hardly taste the fish; a fan of duck breast, ordered medium-rare, came out so red and soft, it seemed as if it hadn't been touched by heat. Did I mention the high prices? With four glasses of wine, tax and tip, I was $150 poorer.

A buddy and I ditched our dishes, many barely picked over, and found comfort at 112 King St. No, that's not the name of a competing restaurant — it's the address of Daniel O'Connell's, a superb Irish bar with a terrific selection of beers on tap and surprisingly good eats. I didn't get a chance to explore the menu the way I would've liked — not after having already picked at a full-course dinner — but I did get to sample the lamb burger (wonderful, with softly packed ground meat that gave the patty a loose, handmade feel), the fish and chips (thoroughly decent), and a Bailey's Irish Cream creme brulee (as good as what you'd turn up in much more assuming settings). I'll be back soon. …

Franklin's Restaurant and Brewpub has always been known more for its strong, hoppy beers and its fantastic selection of toys (in the adjoining general store) than its food, which has ranged from the sloppy to the inconsistent over the four years of its existence. But there are two dishes on the current menu that exceed anything I've ever eaten here: a wonderful oyster stew, with six, plump sweet West Coast oysters in a Pernod-spiked cream broth swimming with thin slices of fennel, and a pomegranate and orange salad. The chef, Marc Heckrotte, previously cooked in the kitchen at Cafe de Paris, in Columbia, and has imposed consistency and clarity on many of the dishes here. …

… And continuing the theme … The city's best bar food? That's easy: The Source. The lounge of Wolfgang Puck's Newseum restaurant is turning out bad-for-you food that is exceptionally light and full of unexpected polish and detail: addictive, juice-dripping Kobe mini-burgers on butter-sheened buns; General Tso's chicken wings so good and greaseless, you may never want another version of wings again; perfect gnocchi (neither clumpy and gooey nor over-light and ethereal — it's a dumpling, after all); a big-eye tuna tartare that's one of the few preparations of that fish still worth eating in town; and a thin-crust pizza slathered with strong, tangy goat cheese and excellent, thinly shaved prosciutto. Wonderful stuff — and wonderfully expensive, too. The cost for such divine snacking? If you plan to make a small meal — then three digits, easy.

… Postscript: It's not exactly bar food, but The Source's chocolate "purse" — a bundled brik pastry that, when shattered, spills a dark chocolate sauce, is one of the rare desserts, chocolate or otherwise, worth splurging for. I'm already predicting it will be widely imitated. …


Washington, DC
Hi Todd, I got engaged in London this weekend! One of the spots we hit for dinner (Choy's on Kings Road) had some of the best aromatic crispy duck I've ever tasted. Can you recommend anywhere in D.C. that offers crispy duck? It is so good in London and I am hoping to find a spot here in the D.C. area that can take me back to that special time! Thanks.

Woo hoo!!! Wonderful news!

And I'll have to remember that reco the next time I', in London, which may not be too far off, actually. Now, if only I could figure out a way to get around the city without relying on the tube, which is sixteen dollars, American, round trip. Ouch.

Crispy duck in DC … The first place I can think to send you is Mark's Duck House, in Falls Church, which serves a good, crispy Peking duck. There's also Oriental East, in Silver Spring, which is just decent for Chinese cooking overall but does a really nice Peking duck. You can also get it in half-portions, which is great. Great for the pocketbook, that is.

I know I'm leaving some other good places out, so if anyone out there wants to chime in — be my guest …

(Producer's note: Reviews for Mark's Duck House and Oriental East)

Arlington, VA
My second question – the other week you mentiond how people often ask about dining in Baltimore. Well last week I needed to find a place to eat in Baltimore. I know you've mentioned places in Baltimore and other parts of Maryland to eat in your chats but it was downright impossible to search and find those restaurant suggestions. The "restaurant finder" option turned up no results for Baltimore (why even list it?). A cold search on the washingtonian search engine for restaurant and baltimore had too many irrelevant hits and one article from 2006. Finally, I had to search something like " kliman, maryland, restaurants." Then I had to scroll through a number of your chats that had nothing to do with baltimore. I got a few good hits but I knew from memory there were more. So can't some industrious intern create a way to make the chats more search friendly??
Duly noted. Thanks for the feedback, Arlington.
Hi Todd, Have you been to Rock Creek in Bethesda? I have heard good things about from my "crunchy granola" friends, but I'm not sure if my Outback loving husband would find anything to eat!

There's also Rock Creek at Mazza, which is the better of the two. He should be fine. Just might need to order a second entree, is all.

All the portions are small, and the calories are rigorously counted — the deal is to stay under 500 for a main course. 

We did a Feed/Back on the web when RC at M first opened — Feed/Back is the feature where we send an intern to stand outside the restaurant and ambush customers with questions about their experience as they leave dinner. There was one couple, but only one, that took exception to the portions.

Here it is.


Arlington, VA
Have you tried Me Jana yet? We went last week. The food was pretty good. But, the prices seemed a little off. Higher than Zaytinya, without the downtown location and style. Was excited about it, but just don't think it will work with the prices so high (Tapas $6-15 and entrees $20-30). I was hoping for Zaytinya quality food with neighborhood prices (or even Zaytinya prices (seared Salmon at Zaytinya 8$ at Me Jana $12)). Thoughts?

I haven't, not yet.

But you bring up something really interesting. Me Jana belongs to a new genre that I like to call Suburban Chic — places in the suburbs that affect a downtown vibe and charge downtown prices. Jackie's, in Silver Spring, manages to make it work. There are a few others. But it's tough — deceptively tough.

The thing is, you've got to send out good, memorable food for it to work. Which means, usually, you've got to hire a real talent to run the kitchen. Without that, it's hard not to look around at all the slickness and think: "Shoot, for these prices, I could be eating at Zaytinya."

Silver Spring, MD
I need a recommendation of a place to take this girl I am dating. She has this gorgeous shorter red dress that I know she has been wanting to wear out. I am looking for a nice dinner for two, romantic but that also won't put too much of a dent in my wallet! In terms of type of food – ethnic cuisine always a plus but anything goes. Let me know your advice!

Let's get real: a gorgeous short red dress that you have been wanting her to wear out, yes?

I'm just teasing you. I want you to have a good date. I love romantics, and I love people who like to get dressed up to go eat ethnic food.

Lots of options … Minh's in Arlington for bright, flavorful Vietnamese cooking in a white tablecloth setting. Or what about Passage to India, in Bethesda, for often-exquisite Indian regional cooking? It's also in a white tablecloth setting.

It's not ethnic, but if you stay in Silver Spring, you could check out Jackie's, which I mentioned above — the epitome of Suburban Chic. Steak and fries, daily nostalgia plates, mini Elvis burgers … It's a fun time, and you can drink well, too.

Good luck. And I'd love to get a follow-up report …

(Producer's note: Reviews for Minh's, Passage to India, and Jackie's

Arlington, VA
I have a bigger question but it's somewhat related to the Cityzen hoopla from previous weeks – For me I could care less if the writer was "educated" enough to know the difference between bread service and a kitchen gift–who cares? What I found more offputting was writing off an entire restaurant based solely on the fact that the extra bread didn't show up (maybe the waiter forgot, maybe the waiter thought since the food was ready to be served they wouldn't need the extra bread…why do we all assume the evil head of the kitchen denied theme xtra bread?). The writer stated they had an excellent, creative, delightful meal otherwise, with good service…yet now he won't recommend the place to everyone. The penalty seems to outweight the crime. He assumed the kitchen was trying to personally insult the table instead of assuming it was an oversight. Granted there shouldn't be oversights in a restaurant of that calibar but it doesn't mean it's a restaurant that is no longer worth a visit. So the bigger question…how do you, as a food critic, judge service? Obviously the service you get at a mom&pop restaurant and service at a 5 star place will be of a completely different nature but both could be catergorized as excellent in their own right. On the other hand if you got the charming, quaint mom&pop service at the 5 star place you might consider the same service horrible. What does it take to label a place with "bad service" . I'm assuming it's more then forgotten bread.

(Producer's note: For background on the CityZen discusssion, see this chat and this one. Links will open in a new window.)

Boy, this one just won't die.

It does seem, yes, that the penalty outweighs the crime in this case. But I think that that ignores the psychology of fine dining at that level. One slip up can spoil the illusion of romance and splendor and magic. Just one. Especially if it engenders confusion and resentment. 

Again, it's not about the rolls. Just as a married couple's fight about the toothpaste cap isn't about the toothpaste cap. 

Judging service … there are really no hard and fast rules with this. There are things I look for, and hope for, but they vary according to the place and its intentions. I've had "great" service that I thought was canned and rote, and I've had bumbling but sweet service that I was charmed by.

I think the main thing is you want to feel taken care of, wherever you are. You know the server has other tables, but you want to feel as though your table is special. You want a server to "read" you, to anticipate things.

There are people I know who don't care for much interaction with a server, and I can understand that, but I do think an essential part of good service is warmth and kindness. And those things are hard to teach — I'm not sure you can.

I expect more, much more, from fine dining, because of the prices, and because of the promises.

Cheverly, MD
Seems like I am always busy on these Tuesday mornings, so I have a bit of following-up to do. We visited Nark Kara at your recommendation, and were also disappointed– and they only had one cook along that night (!) so it took about an hour to get our food, which was oily and not so tasty. We also visited Proof the other night for a great meal of a well-complied cheese plate, various charcuterie and some green salads. The service was spot on, and really didn't seem to mind that we drank and picked our way through dinner instead of actually ordering meals. This was a Sunday, and I don't know if they are usually this relaxed, but if so it is one of the few places in the city one can make a reservation for just drinks and heavy snacks– a nice addition to the Penn Quarter. Lastly, we went to Farrah Olivia for a lovely brunch– three courses for $20.07 was a great value. The food was imaginative, well presented and tasty. Too bad it took over 2.5 hours to have the three courses and our waiter was inconsistent and pretty incompetant. But I would go back for the food, especially the spiced pear sorbet and the roasted chicken. Thanks for all of your great ideas– can't wait for the next 100 Very Best!

(Producer's note: You can read the review of Nark Kara here.)

Thanks, Cheverly, for the thoughtful dispatches from the field.

You're pretty spot on, yourself, in talking about Proof and Farrah Olivia.

From your report and from others I've gotten, it really does sound like Nark Kara is struggling to keep up in the wake of our review. That's too bad, but, as I said last week, not terribly uncommon, either, for small ethnic restaurants. Let's hope they can ride this out; this doesn't sound at all like the place that I wrote about for the web, and that Cynthia Hacinli wrote about for the mag.


Arlington, VA
I'd love to take my out-of-town friend to The Source for the "bar food" tomorrow night. What time(s) are we likely to get seating at the bar? Thanks!

Go early or go late. 

I wouldn't even try around 7 or 8 o'clock. 

Hi Todd, Love your chats. Here's a tough one – I'm looking for relatively affordable, child-friendly place for week-day lunch in the convention center area (5-10 min drive is ok; parking facilities would be a plus). We're getting together with a group of parents+kids (N=10) for a post-Eid festival celebration tomorrow. Dietary restrictions = no pork. Thanks dude! -Abdul

You're welcome, dude!

I'd consider Kanlaya Thai, on 6th St., right near Verizon Center (go for the curries) or, not far from there, Chinatown Express — where the kids'll like watching the chef make the Shanghai-style noodles made by hand in the window, and you can eat nicely and cheaply (dumplings, noodles and a terrific, crispy half chicken in soy sauce.)

Enjoy your meal, wherever you go, and let us know how things turned out … 

(Producer's note: Kanlaya Thai review

Silver Spring, MD
Hi Todd, I just found out that our team holiday party will be lunch at the Golden Bull in Adelphi. I didn't see anything about it in the Washingtonian's reviews. Have you been there? What should I expect? Any suggestions? Thanks!

The Golden Bull!

Wow, it's been — how long? I want to say about thirteen years since I've been there. But I can't imagine that it would have changed all that much, since that visit, then, was pretty near what I remembered from twenty years earlier.

What can you expect? It's dark, it's unassuming — without knowing it's unassuming — and harkens back to the kind of restaurants you used to see a lot of, with a prominent bar and bar characters and simple, no fuss food. A little like Tommy Marcos's Ledo Restaurant that way.

I wish I could make a suggestion about what to order. I remember liking the burger. 

Alexandria, VA 22314
Todd, My wife will be celebrating a birthday soon. I want to take her to a quiet, elegant place. Emphasis on quiet. Could you suggest some spots in Old Town or DC? Cusiine is not an issue. Thanks very much.

I got two spots for you: Corduroy at 12 and K St. downtown, and Bastille, on the edge of Old Town. Both quiet, both good.

Hope that helps. Let me know how things turn out.

(Producer's note: Corduroy review, and Bastille review)

Hello Todd and Happy Holidays! Just wanted to give a mini review. Last week, I ate at The Liberty Tavern in Clarendon for the first time with a work friend visiting from Missouri. The bar downstairs seemed to have a good vibe, and we appreciated being able to eat upstairs where we could enjoy good conversation. I got the homemade sausage pizza and my friend got the scallop special. Both were great! At the end, we shared a combination devil's food/red velvet cake with buttercream frosting. It was wonderfully decadent. (I have to admit it had a little too much frosting for my taste, but my friend said it is one of the best desserts that she has ever had.) the best part is that the prices were not over the top (as I feel that Harry's Tap Room is in that area). Needless to say, I will make return visits when in the area.

Interesting. I disliked that cake, although it's entirely possible that, since my (positive) review, the place has tweaked and/or rethought some of its desserts, which were disappointing in light of everything else.

But yeah, I think a lot of places would do well to follow Liberty Tavern's model, especially those neighborhood spots that aim to turn out a brand of upscale comfort food.

(Producer's note: Liberty Tavern review


Alexandria, VA: Rocklands BBQ
Good Morning Todd, With the opening of another Rocklands BBQ in Arlington it has brought up the debate over their bbq and sides. People seem to love it or hate it, or-they like very few menu items. What has your experience been? Have you tried the new location? Thanks!

Good morning. Thanks.

No, I haven't tried the new location, not yet.

But I have to say: I'm not a fan. I want to love the place. I love the smoke the location on Wisconsin sends out, great gusts of sweet wood smoke that makes you want to drop whatever you're doing and run inside. But then? Eh. 

I'm one of the ones you talk about, who "like very few menu items." What can I say? I think pork should be luscious — and that's not to say I think it should be falling off the bone; not for ribs, it shouldn't.

Downtown, DC
A few months ago, the Post did a story on the new food carts that were supposed to be popping up in DC. They haven't really followed up too much on the story–I know that there is a new one down by the Verizon Center, and that the Shawarma place has (apparently) moved. Do you know where we might find more info? Working downtown, it would be nice to know if new places are coming, old places going, etc…

Right, the Post story on the new food carts that came out a few months after our story on the new food carts. Yes, of course, I remember. : )

The deal is, the carts were supposed to come in in phases, with three phases spread out over the next year and a half — if I recall correctly. But this first phase appears to be dragging, and there are many fewer carts than I think we all expected.

The place to check for updates would be www.washington.org

Washington, DC
My party of 6 had 5:30 reservations on a weeknight at the Blue Duck Tavern. We were on-time, perhaps five minutes behind at most (and to be perfectly honest one member of our party was running late, but joined us fairly promptly.) However, before our waiter had come over to even take drink orders, the night manager introduced herself and said that "our table was reserved for another group at 8:15" and she wanted to let us know now rather than "surprising us by coming by at 8 or 8:10 to mention the next group would be arriving shortly." Frankly, i felt rather insulted. Is this typical practice for reservations, and I'm just over-reacting? As long as the waitstaff was prompt with our food, and we didn't linger for an extremely long time after finishing, 2 hours and 45 minutes seems like plenty of time for our party. This seems like an issue that would be handled "behind the scenes", should we run a few minutes over our "alloted time," and never mentioned outright to us as a customer… especially at the beginning of the night. But maybe I'm the clueless one!

I agree with you. I don't think you should have even been made aware of it.

I talked a couple of weeks ago about "fantasies and bruises" — and no, that wasn't some special, S & M edition of our little weekly chats. The phrase belongs to a restaurant manager I once talked to, who told me that the goal of fine dining is to sustain the fantasy. Sustain the illusion of fantasy. One slip up, one bruise, as he called it, and the fantasy can be destroyed.

Extreme? Perhaps. But he operated under the idea that that was the cost of doing business at such a high level.

Being put-off at the start of the meal? That's a bruise. Being shown the machinations of a supposedly smooth-running restaurant? Bruise again. Chip in the glass? Kitchen out of a dish that you had your eye on? Bruise and bruise.

A waiter correcting your pronunciation of a dish? Deep bruise. It happened not too long ago to my wife and a friend, who were having lunch at 2 Amys. What makes the deep bruise even deeper? The server was wrong. It's bru-SKetta, pal. 


Is there anywhere around DC that has decent adult dining but is geared for small children? In Austin I went to a place with outdoor picnic tables in a grassy area next to an easily visible play area, all enclosed and gated. The kids ran amok, but within view and the adults could have a decent margarita, reasonable burgers and quesadillas. This has got to fit 25% of the dining public, but 0% of the restaurants, it seems. It may have been "phil's ice house" in Austin. There's more to a good dining experience than gift bread or whatever has everyone's napkins in a wad today :).

You'll think I'm joking when I say this, but what you're looking for is — the Austin Grill.

It's nowhere near the restaurant it was when it first opened — much more generic these days — but the atmosphere, while not geared for small children, is certain very amenable to them.

I prefer the Alexandria and Bethesda locations. Chips and salsa are good, the burgers are tasty, so are the wings, and the enchiladas, while not as good as they used to be, are still pretty tasty. The vanilla ice cream has not changed; it's eggy and creamy, one of the best ice creams in the area.


Arlington, VA
Have you been to pupatella the bright red food cart outside the Ballston metro? I’m curious to get your thoughts on their pizza. I have really enjoyed their pizza since they have opened and I would like to know where my opinion stacks up to some one that does this for a living.
I haven't, but I will, thanks to you — and I'll be sure to chime in on here in the coming weeks with my impressions. Neat tip, Arlington!
tenleytown, dc
Todd, When making reservations, is it in bad form to ask the restaurant whether the chef will be in the kitchen? Alternatively, when is the best time to make a reservation to ensure that the chef will be there, if not cooking, at least overseeing the operation? We are planning to go to a high-end restaurant in Georgetown, and as we don't shell out this kind of dough too often, we'd like to ensure our chances for extreme satisfaction…

Bad form? Not in my book.

If I weren't doing this, I'd be calling ahead and checking to see who's in, too. We did a nifty piece on this a while back in the magazine — these days, you'll be surprised how often the chef isn't around. There's no "best time," unfortunately, for making a reservation — no way of knowing when he or she will be around. 

Now, a lot of chefs will tell you that it shouldn't matter, that a good chef is a good chef because he or she has trained his or her staff the right way, and that chef means chief, not cook.

All fine points, and I've had wonderful meals at a "high-end restaurant in Georgetown" when the big-name chef has not even been on the premises. It happens. But I do think that, overall, a well-trained kitchen staff will perform even better with a good chef around. 

Anyway, that's it for today, everyone. And it for this year, too.

There'll be no chat next Tuesday — enjoy your holidays; we'll return again on the 8th of January.

Meantime, be sure to pick up a copy of the 100 Best Restaurants issue, out this week on newsstands. There's a newcomer in the Top 5, and three newcomers to the Top 20. Let the guessing begin!

Eat well, be well, and let's meet back here on the 8th …