Tuesday, March 4 at 11 AM

Todd returns from paternity leave to take your food and dining questions Tuesday at 11 AM.

Producer's note: Got a question about the recent Neighborhood Eats issue of the magazine? Check out a special chat all about the issue taking place Wednesday, March 5 at 11 AM. Submit your questions in advance here.

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Word of Mouth …

… Usually, I use this space to pass on tips about great new places. Not today.

I received this email yesterday from Jill Norton, of the Great American Restaurants group, and thought the best thing I could do was to pass it along to all the folks who log on to read this chat. Bill Jackson was widely beloved in the restaurant world. He will be sorely missed.

 

Todd,
 
I am very sad to let you know that Bill Jackson passed away early Saturday morning from complications related to ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease.) He died at home in his sleep.   This is obviously devastating to his family, and all of us at GAR.  Bill exemplified everything that is good about the restaurant business- mentorship, passion for food, quality and service.  Bill was without prejudice- everyone was given equal respect.  As long as you cared about what you did, he had your back.
 
We are proceeding with our plans to open Jackson’s Mighty Fine Food & Lucky Lounge in the fall.  I am glad that Bill knew that we broke ground last week.  He was incredibly embarrassed that we chose to name the restaurant after him.  But that was Bill — quality, without  the pretense.  I will never forget having to drag him out of the hotel basement to accept his RAMW Chef of the Year Award.  The sportsman in him wanted to win, but he did not want to brag about it.  A humble man.
 
This is a tragic loss to the DC restaurant community.
 
Thousands in the restaurant industry credit Bill for inspiring a passion for food service.  Bill was both a great chef and a zealous teacher.
 
Bill said that when he first became a chef he thought it was because he loved food.  It was in his forties that he realized that his passion was really the camaraderie that came with food, both preparing it and enjoying it.  That was what he truly loved- to him it was a team sport.

 
William A. (Bill) Jackson, III
Chef, Mentor, Fearless Windsurfer
William A. Jackson, III (Billy), a masterful chef, inspiring teacher, loving father, brother and friend died March 1, 2008 at his home in Churchton, Maryland as a result of complications from ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease.) Even such a catastrophic illness could not squash his sense of humor, love for people and the twinkle in his eye. Billy was born April 8, 1953 in White Plains, NY and grew up in Old Greenwich, CT.
 
 
There will be a Catholic Mass at Our Lady of Sorrows
Saturday. March 8 at 1 pm

Our Lady of Sorrows Church: 410-867-2059
101 Owensville Rd, West River, MD 20778
 
In lieu of flowers, the Jacksons request donations be made to:
ALS Association
7507 Standish Place
Rockville, MD 20855
 
or
 
Hospice of the Chesapeake
445 Defense Avenue
Annapolis, MD 21401
 
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Didn't get your question in this week? Submit your question to Todd's chat next week on Tuesday, March 11 at 11 AM.

arlington VA
I'm bothered by the fact that the top of your 100 Best Restaurants list is studded with wallet-draining French restaurants, "modern American fusion dining bars," and other very expensive places. Do you really think the food at these places tastes that much better than the homey ethnic food at restaurants like Thai Square and Huong Viet? Why is great French food any better than great Chinese food? Why is rustic American food for $30 better than rustic Persian food for $10? Is it the simple fact that it costs more and some of the ingredients are more "refined" and harder to come by? Just wondering if you could shed some light on the reasons why our culinary perceptions are the way that they are, and why your magazine, while acknowledging great ethnic food in the area, refuses to put it on par with the expensive French/Modern American places when it comes to rankings.

I think you've got the wrong guy, Arlington. I've made it my mission over the years to seek out and report on great ethnic food in the area, and to give these places their due. 

To me, you really need to read 100 Best alongside Cheap Eats, and consider them companion issues. They give you the most accurate picture of what's going on. Thai Square and Huong Viet are gems. That's one reason they made the 100 Best, alongside other bargains that you didn't mention — Etete, for instance. Malaysia Koptiiam.

The reason places make the list is not because they're expensive, but because they deliver a lot in the way of experience. Memorable, distinctive cooking, pampering service, etc.

Great French food isn't better than great Chinese food. But there's not a lot of what I'd call great Chinese food these days. And there IS great French food.

To say that Central, for example, is better than Thai Square isn't to say that Thai Square isn't good. Thai Square is very good. But I think you would agree with me that the precision in the food at Central, the level of invention, is remarkable, and that the dining room is one of the most comfortable, most exciting places to eat in the city right now.

It's funny. I've gotten a lot of complaint by way of email over the past couple of years, wondering what's happened to all the French restaurants that used to be on the list, before I got to the magazine.

Falls Church
Hello I thought the chat last week was one of the best chats ever do you think you will have any of those bartenders back to do another one? Please!

Last week, the week you weren't here, was one of the best chats ever. : )

We'd love to do something like that again, sure. Thanks for the feedback. 

Bethesda Maryland
With the ever mushrooming Thai restaurant populous (I've been told another is emerging right by Bethesda Metro) what are your THREE faves??? One each in DC, MD and VA ? Bill of Bethesda

Bill,

My three faves?

Thai Square in Virginia, Nava Thai in Maryland and Thai X-ing in DC.

All three are terrific.

Anybody else care to share their Thai top 3? Or to ask for another kind of top 3?

 

Washinton, D.C.
Where can I find an authentic zabaglione? The relatively recent fresh egg scare has rendered proper preparation of this magificent treat obsolete; but are there brave chefs somewhere who still take a chance?

The one I had most recently, and a good one it was, was at Pasta Plus in Laurel. A restaurant, incidentally, that I want to like a lot more than I do.

I'm a bi fan of the carryout market next door, where you can get good, fresh marinara sauce, roasted vegetables, and homemade pastas.

D.C.

I am a freshman at The George Washington University in the School of Media and Public Affairs. Two nights ago few friends and I went out for a nice dinner to Dupont Circle with an out of town guest.

The night began great as we all pulled out the classy dresses that we do not get to wear nearly enough as broke college students. Feeling good, we went to Mourayo, a seemingly nice Greek restaurant. We were slightly put off when instructed to wait outside because there was not enough room inside and the open door created a draft.

However, we waited patiently outside, excited for the nice evening to come. We ordered our food and everything was going well until an hour later when we were still waiting for the food. It eventually came and I was pleased just to have something edible sitting in front of me. My friend was less satisfied. She had ordered a medium-well steak but it was much less than medium-well. Unable to get the attention of our waiter who we had not seen since we ordered, we finally caught the manager’s eye. As the manager examined the deep red color he explained “They must have thought that you ordered it medium-rare. I will bring another one out shortly.” Twenty minutes later the next steak came. As my friend cut into it dark, red juice spurted out and the deep red meat became visible. At this point we were all finished eating and so my friend ate about half the steak, but asked the waiter who we were finally able to flag down to speak with the manager.

After waiting fifteen minutes we once again were able to pull our waiter away from the corporate table behind us where he seemed to spend most of his night. “When will we able to speak with the manager?” we inquired. “Oh, he must be busy” the non-interested waiter replied as he glanced over at the more financially inclined table he obviously wished that he was helping. Frustrated, but unable to do anything else, we sat and waited for the manager. When he finally came my friend kindly mentioned how long the food took to come out initially and that her order had been cooked incorrectly twice. He quickly became defensive and very unprofessional as he slung personal insults at us “poor college kids”.

Appalled at what was being said, another friend told him that as customers we should be treated better because his lack of composure would surely lead to lost business. The man then bragged that they get very good business and are actually taking over next-door, in addition to being rated very highly. Offended and angry at this point my friend declared that her order be taken off the check since it was not what she wanted anyway. At first he refused, but then agreed adding that he hoped my friend would “feel guilty for years to come knowing that she did not pay for a meal that she ate.” While waiting (our verb of the night) for the check, the same man who brought us bread, our meals, and repeatedly refilled our drinks came over and refilled our drinks one last time.

Grateful to the only person who gave us any service all night, we gave him a tip. Our waiter on the other hand, who elected not to wait on us at all that night, did not receive any tip. I thought that the excitement of the evening would end there until I realized that my friend was not joking when she made the comment that our waiter was following us.

Alarmed, we took off down the street in our high heels and fancy dresses. A kind taxi driver recognized that there was a problem and pulled over and opened the door for us, shouting “Over here! Get in, get in!” Quickly we ran to the cab and jumped in at speeds that I previously would have deemed impossible in our shoes. The waiter scurried over to the taxi, apparently upset with our lack of tip despite his own lack of service.

After our hearts finally slowed to a normal pace, we began to laugh until we cried at the image of five young college girls all dressed up, being chased down the streets by an angry waiter. I am not actually sure what was going through the waiter’s mind since he must have realized that after the insults and neglect we had made the conscious decision not to leave a tip. For whatever reason though, he pulled the trigger that ended our night with quite a bang. I personally believe that people would be interested to know how different metropolitan area restaurants treat college students, since it is clearly different than how they treat the middle-aged, high-income professionals.

The manager was correct when he informed us that the service at Mourayo has very high ratings, but apparently that service does not apply to all.

What a story.

You know, ten years from now, I'll bet you remember this night — and I'll bet you be telling this story over and over and over again, until it becomes a kind of myth. While those good, satisfying dinners out with friends or family? Forgotten, gone.

So that's some consolation, right?

I used to think I was being discriminated against, too, when I was going out to eat at nicer places when I was in college. But I just don't think you can ascribe motive like that. You never know.

A lot of waiters take good care of people they think are going to tip well. Fair or not, that's the reality.

More and more, though, that's a dangerous game, a fool's game, because the old social indicators, the old indicators of money and status  — nice clothes, good grooming, impeccable manners — are fading, fading, fading …

Washington, DC
Hi Todd, Love following your chats and congrats on your new little one! With the recent announcement that Chef Amy Brandwein, Roberto Donna's longtime driving force in the kitchen, has departed, what do you hear will happen with Roberto and Bebo? And what's become of Galileo "reopening"….seems like it's been "reopening" for quite some time now…will it ever or has Galileo met its death? Any word for those of us on hold…?

Thanks! The "little one" is quite a handful. Not just a new baby, but a new boss, a new head of the household. But absolutely, positively scrumptious.

As for Galileo … I haven't heard much of anything in a while about its presumed reopening. The new space, given a makeover by the ubiquitous design team of Adamstein & Demetriou, was supposed to have been ready to go — ready for move in — in the Fall. 

Arlington, VA
Last night we went to Willow in Ballston, VA, with another couple. My husband and I each ordered the salmon – his without the cream sauce and mine without lemon, because of our allergies. We each set aside half the salmon and the veggies (and my blindt) and asked that they be packed. As we were leaving, we asked for the remaining food. To our surprise, we were given ONE box. They had dumped the veggies and blindt, and put both salmon entres in one box. Isn't this against the health code? Of course, because of our allergies, neither one of us can eat what we were given. I complained to the maitre'd, but he only said he was sorry. A sad end to a mean that was $200 plus tip!

I don't know if it's against the health code or not, but that's not the point. The point is, the restaurant treated your purchase, your food, with neglect.

Now, Willow can't have known that the two dishes were not to touch one another, but it ought to have done a better job — a more considerate job — of packing things up to go. And it ought to have been more sympathetic to your complaint.

I hope they're reading this. They owe you one. 

 

D.R.
Tired?

zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz —

whazzat?

 

Washington, DC
Todd: I heard a rumor that Alain Ducasse was thinking of opening a restaurant in the renovated St. Regis Hotel. Any truth to that?

That's the rumor.

And that's all I can tell you at this point.  

 

Alexandria, VA
We have been to Bastille in Old Alexandria for Saturday dinner with another couple. The worst experience for the last year! Service in not friendly, none of the dishes tasted even OK including appetizers. Deserts are average quality. They have no hard liquor drinks. If you have that kind of money-go to Restauran Eve or less expensive Bistro Lafayyete (our favorite in Old Alexandria).

Really? I'm surprised. That doesn't describe the restaurant I know.

I'm not saying I don't believe you — I'm just not sure that that's going to be the rule at Bastille.

Two more things: I don't think you can fault them for not having hard liquor; they're a restaurant and wine bar. That's what they do; that's their mission.

And "that kind of money" suggests that they're as expensive as Eve. I'd consider them a notch down from that.

Annapolis, MD
Todd, We will soon be moving from Annapolis with its great restaurants in Eastport and West Street to McLean. Could you recommend any spots in our new town? We are not red meat lovers. Thanks very much, and congratulations!

I've got two for you:

There's Evo Bistro, a new-ish wine bar. Not yet a year open, and it's already become a bit of a scene. Small plates to nibble from, and the chance at consuming a lot of little pours of different wines, thanks to a friendly and accessible wine program.

The other is Capri, an Italian place in the heart of downtown. Go for the pastas — main courses are iffier bets — and the friendly and relaxed neighborhood vibe. 

Alexandria, VA- A report on Fontaine Creperie & Caffe
Good Morning Todd and Congratulations! I'm writing in to tell you about my brunch a had at Fontaine Caffe & Creperie in Old Town. Fontaine opened last month and I recently enjoyed savory and sweet crepes for brunch. The Tuscan crepe was filled with Italian sausage (nice fennel taste), tomatoes, cannelini beans, bell pepper and onions. The flavors melded together nicely and in the buckwheat flour crepe, the ingredients seemed hearty, but not heavy. I had a lemon curd sweet crepe which was dusted with powdered sugar and accompanied by fresh berries. The meal was satisfying and did not leave me feeling too stuffed, like many brunches can. The place is comfortable inside with bistro chairs and cute little chandeliers up top for lighting. There is a "Gold Room" in back which is warm and intimate. I saw the chef herself bringing out crepes to patrons and chatting them up a bit. I think they also serve desserts there for evening visitors looking for a bite and drink to end the evening Thanks for the chats!

Thanks! And thanks for the great little report, Alexandria.

A great crepe place would be a wonderful thing to have. Let's hope your terrific experience is the norm, not the exception.

Washington, DC
Todd: OK, how about the Top Three restaurants in need of a major overhaul?

Someone's trying to get me into trouble …

OK, I'll bite: Nora. Galileo. Gerard's.

washington DC
As a restaurateur – let me tell you that if customers want to pack their "doggy bags" they better give very clear intstructions… doggy bag stuff is really a pain in the neck and have seen it only in AMERICA. If you go to Europe or Asia , I believe they do not have this concept of "Doggy Bag" Cheers!

Thanks for chiming in. And that's good advice, too — to give the staff clear, detailed instructions about packing.

But I think you're ignoring the real problem, here. It isn't that the dishes mixed when they shouldn't have. It's that two dishes shouldn't be thrown together as one, anyway. 

And that the complaint, a legit complaint, fell on deaf ears. I don't call that hospitality. 

 

Carrboro, North Carolina
I am here for five days and would like to find a real breakfast place that is not Starbucks and serves up eggs and is local and fun and where the coffee is great and the service permissibly rude and the potatoes acceptably greasy but where everything is delicious.

Welcome, Carrboro!

I love your description of a diner. You manage to conjure up what makes a diner great and memorable, and to conjure up, also, the rhythms of a Cormac McCarthy paragraph. Nicely done!

You could try one of these diners — American City Diner, on Connecticut, in Cleveland Park … or The Diner, in Adams Morgan … or Open City, in Woodley Park.

I also really like Mocha Hut, on U St.  

Those are not rough and ready diners. They're DC diners, if you know what I mean. A little too neat around the edges.

For more texture, there's Steak & Egg on Wisconsin Ave., in Tenleytown. Great atmosphere, lots of character — and characters. It almost seems out of place in its neighborhood.

Brookland
I had a good zabaglione at Il Mulino. Have no idea if it was the "proper preparation." Not sure if that helps.

I haven't had the zabaglione there, myself, so I can't say. But thanks for the assist, Brookland. 

The thing you're looking for is that it's not overly sweet, that it's supremely rich and creamy, and that you can almost — but not quite — taste the Marsala. 

Alexandria, VA
Just want to recommend two great places in Old Alexandria: Landini Brothers for a really good Italian food and Vermilion for 5 star service and sofisticated dishes and creative desserts for reasonable prices.

You don't have to sell me on Vermilion. It's a wonderful spot, now that Tony Chittum's come aboard. Don't know that I'd call the prices "reasonable," but you're right: excellent service, sophisticated cooking and creative desserts.

Actually, "reasonable," sure, I can live with that — if you run the prices alongside those of The Source and Il Mulino and Citronelle and CityZen. 

As for Landini Bros. … It's been a while since I've been. Thanks for the reminder to check them out again soon.

 

Greasy Breakfast
How could you not recommend Florida Avenue Grill?!

Have you been recently?

That's not greasy. That's GREASY. Don't get me wrong: I love the place. Love it for what it is, what it represents, what it used to be. But the food hasn't been good in years. 

NY, NY
Hello! I'll in DC for work and I'll alsobe meeting a friend for lunch on Sunday where is a good place– Excluding Mexican food– any where in dc or md will work–

If you don't want to do brunch, you could try either Malaysia Kopitiam (for Malaysian food, natch) on M St. and Zorba's Cafe (for Greek, natch again) in Dupont.

Both places are inexpensive and excellent.

For brunch, how about Poste in the Hotel Monaco? A little more dress-up than the others, but worth it. Or the Scandinavian/Eastern European spot Domku, in Petworth, which is much more casual and lowkey? You might also look into Black Market Bistro, in Garrett Park. Charming and cozy (right near the railroad tracks) and a menu of satisfying but sophisticated brunch dishes.

Good luck, whichever direction you decide to turn. And come back on and let us know how things worked out, okay? And yeah, even if they weren't so okay.

 

Silver Spring
Congratulations on the birth of your child!! I had wonderful Peking Duck while in Singapore. It got me hoping I can find a restaurant here that does it as well. Any suggestions?

How nice! Thank you.

I doubt you're going to find anything around here that compares — you'll probably only miss the version you had that much more.

But I'd give Mark's Duck House, in Falls Church, a crack. They get points, also, for the methodical tableside preparation. 

And, since you're in Silver Spring, why don't you try the Peking duck at Oriental East. It's probably the best thing on the menu, outside of the dim sum.

There's nothing like great Peking duck, is there? The crackling skin … the almost unctuous meat … the warm pancake … the dollop of sweet, robust hoisin … the thin slices of crunchy, sharp scallion.

And on that mouth-watering note — i know, it's killing me, too, especially as nothing even remotely like it is close at hand — I'm going to take my leave.

Eat well, everyone, be well, and let's do it again next week at 11. (And many thanks again to all of you for the very sweet wishes.)

 

 

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