Tuesday, January 22 at 11 AM

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

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Word of Mouth …

Bazin's on Church (111 Church St., Vienna; 703-255-7212) is the sort of place I wish I could recommend. It's a wonderful magnet for its neighborhood, it's got a convivial vibe, and it's always busy and alive — looking from the outside in on a cold winter's night, you might think you were peering into a restaurant in a small town in the Midwest. But I just find the food to be too embellished for its own good and the prices to be too high for the degree of finish. One three-digit dinner I dug into not long ago was telling: My main course, a fan of duck breast, was rosy and well-cooked, with a sweet-tart cherry sauce, but it had also been surrounded by a hulking potato cake (topped with a dice of tomatoes that made me think of pico de gallo) and a sauteed savoy cabbage that I knew was meant to taste Asian but somehow came across to me as German. It was more interesting, at any rate, than the flatiron steak my wife had, which confirmed one of the ironclad rules of dining out: only ever order steak in a steakhouse. Preceding these was a plate of not-so-thinly fashioned potato and onion ravioli that reminded me, favorably, of pierogi (it came drenched in lobster sauce), a sweet potato and coconut soup that was more puree than soup and a caramelized onion tart that was enjoyable if not memorable (and, for my wife, called to mind the efforts of a good caterer). Dessert: "Michel's chocolate hazelnut crunch bars," an homage to the upmarket Kit Kat made famous by Michel Richard at Citronelle. Except that, a waiter let on, Bazin's recipe was taken not from the Citronelle kitchen (as is the case with the Kit Kat bars at Corduroy, whose chef, Tom Power, once cooked at Citronelle) but from Michel Richard's book. The bars, I hate to say, fell apart on contact. I couldn't help but think of all the shelving units and exercise equipment I've put together over the years from pictures, that stopped working after the first few weeks. …

… Not long after I became editor of the magazine's food and wine section, we did a bagel taste test, bringing in bagels from all quarters of the area for a try-out. The winner, and by a long shot, was a surprise: Bagels and …  (2019 West St., Annapolis; 410-224-8686) situated in a dingy strip mall on 450 in Annapolis, right next to an Advanced Auto Parts. The bagels are as good as it gets around here, and the bialys (they sell out fast) will ease any homesickness for a hardened, chauvinistic New Yorker. I recently sat down to a blow-out lunch here with my wife and was impressed, once again, with the quality of the bagels and bialys — so good, we couldn't help splurging and ordering a dozen to take home. But I was also taken with the smoked white fish — how often can you say of white fish that it was luscious? — and the Nova, which was a gorgeous pinkish-orange in color (not the pale pink you too often see), beautifully cut and unexpectedly sheened with moisture. The cafe also makes a tasty egg salad, and a warm and satisfying matzo ball soup. I'll have to return to try the huge, mounded-high deli sandwiches. …

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charlottesville, va
coming to dc to see a show at the corcoran. please recommend a good jewish style deli for brunch, hopefully close by.

There's one close by, Chutzpah, but it's not my favorite. Morty's on Wisconsin, in Tenleytown, is better, if only because it has more texture, more deli character. And isn't Mel Krupin back and working the front of the house these days?

 

DC
Where would you suggest a friend go for a 50th Birthday celebration for a group 0f 100 people, something memorable low stress and average cost in DC. Your expertise is always appreciated

A hundred people? Whew. That's not a party; that's a mob.

Offhand, I can't think of a dining room that could accommodate that large a group. And memorable and average-priced? In DC? That's a stump-the-band question, if ever I heard one.

I'm posting this one early, to see if there's anybody out there with any ideas?

 

Restaurant Week

Mr. Kliman: Based upon the 100 Very Best Restaurants issue of the Washingtonian, my girlfriend and I decided to take advantage of Restaurant Week. We chose Willow restaurant in Arlington, Virginia. Of the thousands of restaurants in the area, earning the rank of 54 is quite impressive. We believed we would have a meal to remember. Well, we did not.

We ultimately canceled our reservation in disgust over the treatment we received when attempting to make a minor change. We wanted to change the time and add two more people to our group. The representative at Willow raised his voice on the phone and snapped, "We're NOT changing your reservation!" He promptly ended the call by slamming his phone down onto his receiver.

Based upon this treatment, we believe you should revisit the ranking of number 54 that Willow attained. We will never dine there and we will never recommend that restaurant to anyone and nor should you.

I know that neither you nor the Washingtonian has any control over the treatment of customers by any employee of any restaurant your magazine mentions. I hope you also know that, even though that is the case, we will always equate our treatment at Willow with your magazine as we heard of it and decided on it completely based upon your magazine.

You can do whatever you want with this information. We are not seeking anything in return from either you, the Washingtonian, or Willow. Again, we just wanted you to be aware of the treatment some customers are receiving at a restaurant your magazine is recommending.

So what you're saying is: You know that I'm not responsible for the treatment you received, and yet you hold me completely responsible for it.

Isn't that kind of like my saying to you: Even though i know that the Internet had nothing to do with bringing me this posting, i will always associate your posting with the Internet, and therefore I don't know that i can bring myself to use it ever again?

Arlington, Va

Reports from the frontlines of Restaurant Week …

1) Dinner, Butterfield 9 – We went during their early RW, a week before regular RW. Liked the atmosphere but not a super large selection (3-4 dishes per course) on the RW menu. It seemed that 2 dishes in each course were things from their normal menu and another 1 or 2 were "special" for RW I had an excellent squash soup as an appetizer (best dish of the night) and husband had scallops (or rather, 1 scallop..he didn't like that it was such a small dish). For entree I had a shredded lamb lasagnetta that was way too salty. It was difficult to eat. I would have mentioned this, but no one ever came by to ask us how our meal was. Husband had the Hawaiian Escoloar which he enjoyed. Dessert – I had the chocolate brownie. It was a good brownie but there is something about brownies that I associate with more casual dining. I was expecting more. Husband had the creme brulle which he didn't think was very well done. Overall the meal was o.k. but probably wouldn't go back b/c of the service. Waiter was slow to reach us, didn't check back in often, and we had to request utensils to eat our dessert b/c no one thought to bring them. Just not what I would expect from a nicer restaurant and I'm happy we didn't pay a lot to find that out.

2)Lunch, Corduroy – Large selection (6 or 7 dishes per course). A couple of upcharges but only $3 extra. For appetizer I had the Filipino style spring rolls and husband had oysters on the half shell. Both were excellent. Entree- I had the flat iron steak and fries. The steak was cooked perfectly (medium rare) but was a little tough. Taste was good, though. Husband had the Tuna which he enjoyed. Dessert – I had the hazelnut chocolate bars and husband had the chocolate tarte with carmelized bananas, both of which were excellent. Atmosphere was pleasant, service very good. Only fault – when they brought out splenda and equal for my iced tea I asked for sugar and was told they didn't have any. No sugar in a restaurant? Not a packet? A lump? A teaspoon? Odd- but overall great experience-would recommend and would go back.

3) Dinner, Vidalia – Large menu selection (7-8 dishes per course). Service all around was excellent, no complaints. A few upcharges (usually in the $8-10 range) which I felt were slightly expensive for an upcharge. We had a great table and I found the atmosphere cozy (i know some don't like the basement thing). Also appreciated that they had a RW wine menu as well. Appetizer – I had the cream of mushroom soup, husband had the rabbit sausage. I enjoyed mine more then he enjoyed his but both were quite good. Entree- I had the duck breast with an amazingly good dried cherry puree. The duck was great..not too fatty. Husband had the cod which he enjoyed. Appetizer- I had the lemon chess pie. It was good but a tad too sweet for my tastes. I probably would not order it again. Husband had the chocolate panna cotta which was amazing. One of the best desserts (if you enjoy chocolate) that we've had in a while. The chocolate was incredibly rich (but not sweet) and mixed really well with the cherry compote. It was the best dining experience for us of RW and we'd gladly go again and recommend to others. Next week we are headed to Jaleo and Oyamel for extended RW (dinner at both). Any recomendations?

What, are you looking for a job?  ; )

This is beyond copious. And beyond voluminous. 

Now, if only we could get this kind of detail work from you and others every week. Nicely done, Arlington!

To answer your question, I wouldn't zero in on either Jaleo or Oyamel for RW. Not because they're not good places,  but because they're small plates places. RW is about finding a good deal, a good value, and those places are generally good values already.

Alexandria, VA
Chutzpah is not close – the nearest one is in Tysons. As for Morty's, the last time I was here it was quite dirty. Frankly Washington just does not have a great Jewish style deli. Mayo on corned beef still is standard in DC!

You're right — my bad. I was thinking of Eli's Restaurant, on 20th, and not all that far from the Corcoran.

No great Jewish deli, you're right. I do like the pastrami and corned beef at Deli City, though. Good stuff. Just not all that close to the Corcoran.

Anybody been to Atman's, in Baltimore? That's the real deal.

Upper Marlboro, MD

Todd,

We finally made our way to Cynthia’s in Severna Park, MD on Friday and attended a South African wine tasting dinner in five courses with passed hors d’oeurves. 54 people attended and, of course, the restaurant was closed for this event to the general public.

The décor inside is nonexistent and spare with a tasteful bar at the back. Everyone were seated at tables of 8. Brian and Cindy put on a wonderful event and the restaurant was very loud with all of the talking that got louder as more wine was consumed.

I expected tasting portions but they were anything but that. The hors d’oeurves were plentiful. The prawns were giant and there were 3 of them. Only one of the courses is on the regular menu and that was the crispy moulard duck breast. Everything was perfectly cooked and the only criticism that I would have is that many of the courses were over seasoned. With the venison course, all I could taste was the cracked pepper crust. It was like eating pure cracked pepper and overpowered the dish itself. Backing off on the seasoning would have made the dinner perfect.

The dessert was perfect and ethereal. I wanted more of that. An odd aspect of this dinner is that they poured coffee before the dessert with the dessert wine. I refrained from drinking the coffee until after the dessert and wine so that I would not ruin my palate before drinking the wine.

After the dinner, we talked with Brian and Cindy. This was their first wine tasting dinner event that was not tied to a wine store. At the end of dinner, we were all given a gift wrapped cinnamon streusel muffin to take home. I would rate the experience equivalent to a one star Michelin restaurant. Very good but not exceptional overall. However, the experience was way above average for the DC area and well deserving of a place in the top 100. We will definitely go back.

I'd caution you generally against making judgments about a restaurant from an event like this (it's a different menu, the place is closed, the rhythms are different) but I agree with you, Cynthia's is a gem. I thought so when I first visited, earlier last year, and I still think so.

And as much as I still think about Brian's voluptuous seared slab of foie gras with a sweet, ripe caramelized peach — right, Dave? I know you're still thinking about it, too — the desserts are the star, absolutely. There's not a single sweet on the menu that isn't good, and many are memorable.

Washington DC
I look forward to reading your chat every week as it helps me keep abreast of the changing restaurant scene in Washington.Imagine my horror last week when you bashed my PROFESSION, which is Concierge. For the last 10 years I have taken great pride in learning all the ins and outs of this wonderful city so that I may assist hotel guests find all the hidden treasures Washington has. I help people find things they would never find on their own. I get a great psychic salary from pleasing guests. I have not personally eaten in most of my favorite restaurants but I know the price point, dress code, ambiance and qualityof all the restaurants I recommend.lweven been inside most of my favorite restaurants, but I study fiercely and know the various characteristics so that my guests are getting a restaurant recommendation thast suits their needs. Please understand, my opinion ( same as yours I like to think) is NOT FOR SALE. I really think you were out of line. I hope all your readers will keep in mind that the Concierge knows the city and can offer all sorts of recommendations to be sure you get the most out of your visit.

I didn't mean to bash your profession, and don't think I did.

My intention was to shine light on the way things work. And you yourself say: You have not eaten in most of the restaurants you recommend.

I'm sure you are professional, and I'm sure you do your job well. And i don't for a second doubt that you know the city, as do many of your brethren in the profession. But I would think it's interesting for diners to hear that your suggestions don't come from first-hand knowledge.

And as I said last week, I know for a fact that many concierges are wined and dined, and that their recs are frequently the result of those paid-for experiences.

Arlingtongue, VA
Re: Willow. We were at Willow Sunday night. Table of 10. The service could not have been more attentive or accomodating. The food was excellent, as usual. We have been Willow a number of times and have never experienced anything even approximating the earlier poster's experience.

I don't doubt it.

Nor do I doubt that the chatter got a face of rude.

It's one reason why, in making assessments the way we do, we don't put a lot of store in a single visit, and particularly if it's a bad experience. A restaurant is not a stable thing, in the way that a play or a movie or an art exhibit is. Things are always in flux, always changing. Who's to say that staffer wasn't fired the next day, for that or some other offense? Dinner at 6 on a Tuesday isn't the same as dinner at 9 on a Tuesday, and neither of these is even remotely the same as dinner at 8 on a Friday. 

I wonder how much of the rudeness was a result of it being Restaurant Week. That isn't an excuse, but it might be an explanation. 

(Restaurant staffers, a reminder: You've got to try to keep your cool and your smile this week, even if the customers try your patience. And customers: Be a little considerate of the staffers, of their being overrun, of the innumerable extra demands placed upon them.)

Re: Nava Thai
I have had Nava and have found it OK, but not as good as Ruan. Your thoughts? And I was really disappointed with the stir fried duck with basil at Nava, a dish Ruan knocks out of the park.

My thoughts? You need to go back a couple more times.

I agree with you, the stir fried duck with basil isn't nearly as good as the one at the nearby Ruan Thai. Ruan's is a wonderful dish, full of crispy on the outside, soft on the inside duck, and I love the hits of cinnamon I get, and the fragrance of the basil, and the crunch of the sliced red peppers. A real knock-out, that one.

But I've been to Nava three times now, and there's a lot that's good — the Penang curry, the pad Thai, the Floating Market Soup, the grilled chicken with sticky rice, the hot and sour squid.

Ashburn, VA

Hi Todd! Been reading your chats for several months now and I'm finally weighing in!

My husband and I went to Restaurant Eve the other night and I haven't stopped thinking about it since. I could go into great detail, but I'll just say that if anyone goes there, don't miss out on the bacon, egg, and cheese salad, the oxtail raviolis, the boullabaisse, and the rockfish with farro, cauliflower, and duck confit "risotto"! One of the most unusual and unexpected things my husband and I loved about the place were the perfectly warmed pieces of crusty, but soft bread with butter they offer you at the beginning. Do you know where they get their bread, or whether they make it onsite?

Also, we're going to Citronelle for my upcoming birthday. What are some of their not-to-be-missed menu items??

If I'm not mistaken, I think they make their own.

Sounds like you had a terrific meal, and you're going to have another for your birthday.

The menu changes a lot, so there's no telling what I'm about to recommend will still be there when you go, but I'd look for the following: the mushroom soup (intensely flavorful and served cappuccino-style), the lobster "begula" pasta (a wonderful interplay of soft textures, particularly with the soft poached egg), the sablefish in miso sauce (a sublimely simple dish), and the venison loin (the best I've ever eaten).

For dessert: the napoleon, the huckleberry cheesecake, the jolie pomme (a kind of reimagined caramel apple) and — for a few dollars above the cost of the menu — "Breakfast at Citronelle," a trompe l'oeil tour de force.

I know we'd all love to hear back from you, after you've been, so take good notes!

 

Alexandria, VA
Need to find a fairly nice restaurant with a live band (Sinatra-esque) in DC for a wedding anniversary. Any recommendations?
The answer, my friend, is right in your own backyard: the new Carlyle Club, in Alexandria. Where, as it happens, my friend's terrific band, The SingCo Rhythm Orchestra, a '30s-style swing band, has been performing regularly. I haven't been — sorry, Doug, sorry, John; soon, I promise — but it's the only dinner-and-dancing spot in the area, as far as I know.
Washington DC
While in Russia recently, I found delicious sweet sushi such as bananas wrapped with sweet rice and pineapple dipped in sweet dips. Basically fresh fruits , some fried, that you dipped into sauces. I'd love to find something similar here in my new home. Any ideas?
Sounds fun. But no, I can't think of anything like that around here. Anyone?
Upper NW, DC
I read yesterday that a sous chef from Maestro is cooking at Mio. Have you checked it out? Sounds like pretty big news. I haven't been to Mio (haven't really ever heard of it) but am interested.

It's potentially big news.

Stefano Frigerio's his name. As far as i know, and I might be wrong about this, but he's the only cook at Maestro who didn't make the trip north with Fabio Trabocchi to work at Fiamma in SoHo.

I haven't been, not yet; Frigerio's first day was the 15th.

Reston
Hi Todd. We just went to Damaso for restaurant week. Beautiful place, and we were surprised and pleased to find that their real menu was completely available for RW (pick a starter, pick an entree, pick a dessert, no restrictions!). We had a great time and would recommend it for a fun meal because of the extraordinary decor, from the spoons to the food presentation to the foyer. The food, however, was average. Steak lacked flavor, polenta with fonue also a bit bland, salad uninspired, veal had a nice grill flavor, but even that one lacked real panache. Desserts were sweet, but average after the impact of the beautiful plate. They just need flavor, pure and simple to reach the top tier. Everything else is in place. Oh, the wines were a bright spot – two of three were excellent and the third also good. Keep chogging!

I will. And you keep reporting! Good stuff, Reston.

Clarksburg, Md.

Todd,

Are there any Korean restaurants with the bbq grills on the tables that are not in NoVa? I have a friend coming in and is craving for Korean food, but I live in Clarksburg and NoVa is too far for dinner. Thanks

How about Wheaton? Not close, but not nearly as far as NoVa.

The place I'm going to recommend is Woomi Garden, on Hickerson Dr. It's Korean/Japanese, and serves sushi, but it's also known for its barbecued meats.

Hope that works out okay for you — I'd love to hear how things turn out.

Gaithersburg, MD
Todd, I just moved in the Kentlands in Gaithersburg. With so many choices of cusine in the Kentlands and surrounding areas, are there any that you would recommend? BTW, I am glad that Cava is on your 2008 list. By far my favorite place to dine in the Traville/N Potomac area, even though it is really loud in there.

Well, there's also the French restaurant L'Oustalet, which has its rewards (but is overall too expensive for its level of execution) and the Hong Kong-style Chinese restaurant, Gui Lin, which I wrote about in this space — okay, the above space — about a month or so ago. Good dumpling soup and a lot of sure-handed cooking in general.

La Flor de la Canela has a sprawling menu, and some misses, but I love the chupa (the shrimp soup), the salty grilled beef hearts, the shredded Gallina hen over rice, the superb canary beans and the tres leches cake.

And Dogfish Head is good for a burger and a brew.

Washington DC
Hi Todd, To the person looking to do a party for 100 people. – I would call Indique Heights at Chevy Chase – I have seen people doing parties on the covered patio or call Lia's in chevy chase – or Rock Creek in Chevy Chase. Restaurants like Acadiana also accommodate parties like this if you call them well ahead…
Chatter to the rescue! Thanks, DC.
Cheverly, MD
To the person in Clarksburg, there is also a Korean place in Beltsville off route 1 that has the grills, although several people need to use them for them to turn them on. I can't remember the name of this one– can you, Todd? They also have great tofu.

You mean Gah-Rham? It's in Beltsville, and it's right off Rte. 1, and it does have bbq grills.

I like the place, especially its panchan — the owner's mother comes in and makes them every day, and the selection is wide and varied and fresh. Better stuff, actually, than some of what you get in the busier spots in Annandale, in Little Korea. 

Fairfax, VA- RW at Vidalia
Good Morning Todd, Another great RW experience at Vidalia here. I went with my husband on a weeknight. Our table overlooked the dining area. Our server was working hard but with a smile and very helpful guidance with the menu. The cassoulet was outstanding. The pork bacon/belly? and the sausge were terrific and the beans were nice and smokey. The dessert favorite was the peanut butter crunch. Not that anything else wasn't really good, these were decidedly our favorites. We never felt rushed during our hour and a half dinner. Even with some wines by the glass (very reasonable) and an upcharge, the cost was certainly less than the cost outside of RW, but left me wanting for more. Now that's the result I was looking for!!
Nice! And not at all surprising. Thanks for the report, Fairfax.
Dave
Damn right I'm still dreaming of that foie gras! Is it lunch time yet??

It is.

But for me, at least, a foie-gras-less one. My wife just set down in front of me — wow, can I even bring myself to type this, knowing the derision and abuse that's sure to come my way — a Subway sub. Glamorous, no?

Keep sending in those great Restaurant Week dispatches, everyone.

And, as always — eat well, be well, and let's do it again next week at 11 …

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