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. …
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 …
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.
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."
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 …
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.
(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.
Go early or go late.
I wouldn't even try around 7 or 8 o'clock.
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)
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.
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)
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.
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
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.
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.
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 …