Tuesday, March 11 at 11 AM

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

……………………………………………………………………… 

Word of Mouth …

… The kid with multiple holes in his "I'm not smiling, I'm passing gas" shirt has a cleaver in his hands. And no one who's watching can take his eyes off him. His coworker has just slid a chicken from a rotisserie rod like a bead from a necklace, and now — thwack, thwack — the bird divides into six easy pieces. The kid works fast, sending up a spray of chicken juice against the plexiglass guard.

Behind him, another coworker stokes the fire in the rotisserie oven, dumping in coals every ten or fifteen minutes. If he wanted, he could moonlight in a refinery. The birds, glistening, turn slowly on the spit over the coals, which glow orange with each drip of juice.

The line inside Super Chicken (2531 Ennalls Ave., Wheaton; 301-933-5200) is long — longer these days, with the shuttering of nearby El Pollo Rico, victim of a recent fire — but nobody waiting much minds. The theater is too good. Plus, there's always merengue on the boombox, played at a volume meant to drown out any uncharitable thought. Or any thought, period.

There are other locations of Super Chicken, in Virginia and in Langley Park, but this might be the busiest. Which also makes it the best. When it comes to rotisserie chicken, the busier, the better, because a busy kitchen means you're a lot less likely to turn up a plate of dry chicken — chicken that's been sitting out too long.

These barely have time to rest, which explains, in part, the juice that hits the plexiglass. But only in part. The meat, heavily salted and slathered with a spice rub that tastes halfway between an Indian curry and a Mexican mole, is supremely moist — as succulent as a piece of cheap meat gets. …

… Putting your name up on a restaurant takes guts. Not because a proprietor could always hide behind the name of his kid (the option for a lot of high-end chefs who aim to assuage the guilt of their long working hours) or slap up one of those single word titles that are meant to imbue the place with exoticism (mostly, because no one's ever heard of an oyamel or a ceiba). No, it takes guts because it's so little in fashion. Also, because it's so plainspoken and blunt. Call your place of business Bobby's Crabcakes (101 Gibbs St. Rockville; 301-217-0858), as restaurant vet Bobby Bloch has, and you're not leaving yourself a lot of wiggle room. Those crabcakes had better be good.

Well, they are. All lump, little binder, smartly seasoned, and broiled, not fried (and with a minimum of butter atop, the better to preserve the sweet delicacy of the crabmeat). RIght now, the meat is coming from the Gulf of Mexico; in warmer months, Bobby's is going to be getting its crab from closer in to the Chesapeake.

Prices are good, too. Thirty bucks for a platter of two six-ounce crabcakes, with fresh coleslaw and boardwalk-style fries — long, skin-on and done to a golden, crispy turn. One way Bobby's keeps the costs down is by eschewing a wait staff. Which isn't to say that someone won't come by and refill your drink if the place isn't slammed. And it isn't to say that Bobby's is bare-boned. The order-at-the-counter set up is belied by the handsome brick walls, the classic fish house flooring, three kinds of soft light (including a wrought-iron chandelier), a couple flat screen TVs, and good bop on the sound system.

…………………………………………………………… 

Didn't get your question in this week? Submit your question to Todd's chat next week on Tuesday, March 18 at 11 AM.

Washington, DC
To the restaurateur from last week's chat re. doggie bags. It's a little disingenuous to complain about Americans asking for doggie bags when the portions in most restaurants these days–even the high-end ones–are usually more than enough for 2 people. It's a bit hard to look at a gigantic plate of food without feeling as if you either need to take most of it home to avoid so much waste (waist) or stuff yourself like a sausage. Personally, I'm not a huge fan of leftover food and find an overly full plate very unappetizing. I would much rather have more "European" sized portions (potentially with a smaller price tag), though I'm sure some would disagree. Still, this topic makes me appreciate all the more those restaurants that exercise portion control and, along similar lines, offer half pours of wine. I wish there were more of them!

I wish there were more places offering half-pours of wine, too. What a great way of engendering goodwill.

You make a good point.

But I think the portion control thing can be taken too far. As in: I wish more restaurants would exercise portion control.

Restaurants aren't responsible for their customers. They're not responsible for their health or their well-being, unless it's the couple of hours a night for dinner.

Seeing a lot of food on a plate isn't inherently distasteful — unless it's bad food. The problem, I think, is when perfectly ordinary plates are commanding prices in the high 20s. And getting away with it because they're mounded high. Now, that's distasteful.

 

Silver Spring, MD
I recently had lunch at Gerard Pangaud's Bistro and was deeply disappointed. Gerard's Place was MY favorite place in DC for years and I had heard that there had been some changes there, a sort of dumbing down to bistro level. Certainly the kitchen has taken been taken down several notches, although the prices are pretty much what they were two years ago. Simply stated, the food didn't taste as good. Despite the charm and warmth in the front of the house, I don't think I will return. Now I understand why it hasn't reappeared on the top 100 list.

The problem isn't "dumbing down." Bistro food doesn't have to mean cooking without heart, or without precision.

You bring up the 100 Best list. Let me tell you a story.

I talked with Ernie Grunfeld a few years ago, back when Kwame Brown was still on the Wizards. Kwame had been the subject of numerous rumors, and a lot of speculation swirled about him. It was just after training camp, and I asked Ernie what he was going to do. I didn't expect much; Grunfeld plays things very close to the vest — he's a master at saying nothing, and saying nothing with a lot of words. But this time, he didn't say nothing. He said something. He said: "The players tell you what to do. And Kwame will tell us what he wants us to do." I loved that.

Well, it's the same with restaurants.

The restaurants tell us what to do. It's not about favorites, or about personal wants. It's not about who puts together the best p.r. machinery. It's not about who spends the most on decor. The restaurants, by their performance, tell us what to do.

Wheaton, MD
Hi Todd, That's sad news about El Pollo Rico! Super Chicken's chicken isn't quite as good as EPR, but they have fried yucca, which generally means they get my business. Will I start a blog war if I suggest that the best yucca-having Peruvian chicken joint is actually Senior Chicken in Langley Park? They have a spicy green sauce that I love.

You got that right — Senor Chicken's yucca is terrific. Big, thick hunks, beautifully fried. I haven't done a comparative analysis or anything, but I'd definitely put them up at the top. 

Not quite as good as EPR? I might agree with that. But the margin is very, very slender. Super Chicken is pretty terrific.

And, speaking for right now — open! 

Alexandria, VA
I lived in Budapest for two years and am looking for some good Hungarian food in the DC – Northern VA area. Any suggestions?

I've got nothing. Sorry.

I wish there were a place, because I love Hungarian food.

It's hard to find anywhere, even in New York. The last Hungarian food I've had at a restaurant was a decent little place I found when I was in Montreal two summers ago. 

Germantown, MD
Hi Todd, getting any sleep these days? 🙂 You asked for a birthday dinner report from L'Auberge Chez Francois.. We each ordered something different, and since everyone was willing to share, I was able to sample a lot of different things. Here is how the four of us ranked the dishes sampled by course, most favored to least favored… Appetizers: Foie gras – scrumptious and generous, but an upcharge of $18 Braised veal cheeks – really tasty, Hubby's favorite dish Skate – the fish was well prepared, but I was not in any way remarkable Puffed pastry with warm roquefort cheese and candied anjou pears – a little too sweet, could have done duty on the dessert menu Dinner: Pork medallions – It was the most fabulous dish on the table, cooked perfectly! Choucroute – sausage and sauerkraut, but as only the Alsatians can Cod (and other seafood) in a puff pastry shell – creamy sauce, wonderful flakey pastry Scallops and shrimp St Jaques – the shrimp were well seasoned and tasty, but the scallops were tough and didn't taste particularly fresh Dessert: Cheesecake – very creamy and soft, won two of four votes for first place Hazelnut cake – great flavor Chocolate cake (house cake that night) – this was too rich and not entirely pleasing, even to a choco-holic like myself Cheese plate with a glass of port – three of four cheeses were creamy and flavorful, the basque cheese was just so-so. All this and a nice bottle of Alsatian white came to $480 including a generous tip. This works out to slightly less per person than a recent trip to 2941. The food is probably better at 2941, but the atmosphere and service at Chez Francois were far superior.

Oh, no — the food is absolutely better at 2941.

And for me, that means that 2941 would be my pick for a special night every time. If the food's great, I don't need much in the way of atmosphere. Which is one reason I find The Source, a big spectacle of a place, as exciting a restaurant to eat as Thai X-ing, a carryout. 

But I think it's telling that you'd probably return to L'Auberge before you go back to 2941.

The local food boards are always up in arms when they look at the Washingtonian's Readers' Best list and see all the  love for L'Auberge. For a lot of people, atmosphere and service count for more than food — or at least count as much. 

Cheverly, MD Brunch Adventures

We decided we were going to find a good place for weekend breakfast / brunch in the city, and wanted to report on some of our findings. We were looking for something mellow and decent, but nothing too fancy or anything which would break the bank. We also tend to go to the ethnic places nearby, Pho VN One, Myong Dong, The Woodlands, etc, and wanted to find something more “American”. We live in Cheverly, east of the city, so we didn’t want to drive too far.

We started at Café Belga, where we ate salads and eggs and split a waffle—it was all tasty, but probably overpriced for what it was, the salad was nice with warm goat cheese and fresh herbs, but the eggs were ordinary (and barely warm) and the small waffle was served with a runny scoop of frozen mushy berries for $12. All in all, nice with good coffee, but expensive, and we weren’t too enticed to go back.

The next weekend we went with friends to the Colorado Kitchen. This was the biggest disaster of them all—and we really, really wanted to like it! The wait staff were so useless we weren’t sure if they actually worked there, or were just helping out. The fried chicken was dry and a side of it was a single, lone, drumstick on a plate. For $12 you could get that and a standard, soggy waffle. The menu was really quite limited. I had some tiny, cold biscuits and a forgettable (but not bad) salad. The donuts were a big hit, warm, tasty, and something special. But I can’t just eat donuts for breakfast, so that was it for that weekend!

Things started looking up from there. Yesterday, we went to the quirky Berwyn Café in College Park and ate tasty buckwheat blueberry pancakes, spicy tofu scramble with roasted yams and potatoes, and a vegan breakfast burrito. This place has a long way to go to be memorable, but I like these little family places with a mission, and they were very friendly, the food fresh and hot.

This morning was the best of all. We went to Georgetown (okay, so not exactly close to home) and went to Mie N Yu on M street. Now THAT was a tasty brunch, and it is a fun place to eat. I had the crab cake benedict, which was spicy, well cooked, and came with some nice potatoes, fruit, and sautéed spinach. My husband had their $20 prix fixe brunch, which was really a great value, which was a champagne cocktail (blood orange), a lassi course of a coconut, green tea, mint, and vanilla lassi, followed by a brushettta omelet packed with veggies and served with potatoes and fruit, and a small, modest dessert which was okay, but were were too full to eat it (bartlett pear tart with pomegranate something and a bunch of sauces). We liked the place a lot, the service and food were really nice, and the $20 price tag was great for the morning. Not sure I would return at any other time, but they can make a mean breakfast / brunch. Who knows what will be next, but I will let you know if there is anything else which is memorable! Any suggestions are appreciated.

Great, informative report, Cheverly. (See, why can't everyone come on and do this — give a blow-by-blow of their weekend eating?)

More and more, Colorado Kitchen is becoming one of those places I never know what I'll hear back about when I recommend it. It's either — amazing! loved it! Or — what a disappointment! I'm not going back. No middle ground.

Your take on Belga sounds about right, particularly about the prices. Mie N Yu — what a surprise; I wasn't expecting that at all.

Same with Berwyn Cafe. It's got a lot to recommend it. Food is not usually one of them. I like it, though. Like the people there, like the energy.

 

Falls Church, VA
My brother and sister-in-law are coming to visit us in a couple weeks with their two children(age 3 and 8 months) and they want to have a night out together by themselves. I want to send them to a nice restaurant without breaking the bank. It's a tough recommendation for me because my brother is a chef. Can you offer any suggestions?

Well, you could send them to eat in the lounge at The Source (about half the cost of eating upstairs, and wonderful), or Westend Bistro, or Central.

All three are terrific spots — three of the top 16 restaurants, by our recent reckoning in the 100 Best issue — and they'd also give your brother chef a chance to taste the work of three of the biggest chefs in the country: Wolfgang Puck, Eric Ripert, Michel Richard.

Or, rather to taste the work of their smart operations.

Let us know which one you choose, if any. A nice little report on your meal wouldn't be so bad, either. Good luck.

NEDC
Hello Todd! Congratulations on your new baby. I hope you are getting some sleep. 🙂 On another note, we are moving my sister-in-law into her new place in Alexandria on Friday. Since none of us live in the area, we'd like to explore Old Town for dinner. Obviously, we will be a bit tired and may not have the energy to get dressed up. Suggestions?

Thanks!

Old Town on Friday, huh? You've got a lot at your disposal. There's The Majestic, from the folks who started Restaurant Eve, for stylized comfort food. There's A La Lucia for simple, red-sauce Italian (the place has slipped, some, but I still like the canneloni and the linguini with clams). And there's Vermilion — for carefully sourced and imaginatively prepared American cooking.

None of those spots requires too much in the way of dolling up.

But if you want to go even simpler? There's Eamonn's, a fish 'n- chips spot (also from the Eve folks), there's Hard Times (for chili), and there's Trattoria da Franco (a charming town house with the kind of unassuming Italian cooking you never imagined you'd find in DC).

Hope those help, some. 

Happy move in, and let us know what you end up doing … 

 

Brookland
So, my in-laws will be in town in a couple of weeks. We've taken them to Old Ebbitt, Oyamel, and Ceiba previously. They were happiest at Old Ebbitt. What are some other similar options (in price and food) in the downtown area where we can make reservations? Thanks for your help, and congrats on the new addition to the family!

I can understand that. Old Ebbitt feels real, in a way that some places don't — especially to some folks of an older generation, who have little patience for noise, for small plates, for concepts, etc.

Here's the problem, though. The reason Old Ebbitt stands out, is because there isn't much that's like it in the city.

I think a place that you'll come pretty close is Poste — it's similar in its vibe, although not nearly as rooted in its feel. And the food is good, sometimes very good — better than Old Ebbitt. There's even oysters on the half shell.

You could also try Oceanaire, a Midwest import that offers a kind of steakhouse take on a fish house: gargantuan portions (the key lime pie has a steak knife wedged into it, and serves three, and the sides are the size of hubcaps), big tabs. It's more expensive than Old Ebbitt, but I think they'd be comfortable there.

And there's always Clyde's, which, incidentally, owns Old Ebbitt.

2941 Tasting Menu?
What is that, and do you think it's worth it? Just browsing their menu online….

A tasting menu is, to begin with, a lot of food.

It's a cheffy experience, or a foodie experience — pick one. Rather than three, ample-sized courses, you get five or seven or nine courses, depending on the place. The courses — in the good tasting menus, at least — are designed flow into one another, build upon one another. The meal becomes like a narrative, and part of the fun is in anticipating the next taste, in seeing how seamless (or not) the sequencing is, trying to put yourself in the head of the chef and see what he (or she, but almost always a he) wants to communicate.

It's not for everybody.

I haven't had the tasting menu at 2941 since the new chef, Bertrand Chemel, has come aboard, so I can't comment specifically on this particular tasting menu.

I think what you have to ask yourself is, in that big paragraph above, are you turned off or turned on? Does it sound precious to you? Or is your interest piqued?

Arlington, VA
Hi! Where can i get a good steak for my boyfriend's birthday that's kid-friendly?

Hm. That probably means going to a chain steakhouse, like Outback. The others I can think of, like Ray's the Steaks, in Arlington, the best I could imagine they'd be is kid-tolerant. (And of course, the attitude of the restaurant itself is one thing. There's also the attitude of the customers.)

An unorthodox pick, is to go to Victor's Grill II in Falls Church. Not a steakhouse, and not trying to be one — but you can find all kinds of cuts of meat. Cheap, too. You can get a steak, and a potato of some kind, and a salad for less than twenty bucks.

I like the place. You will, too, if you're not looking for uber-tenderness, and enjoy chimichurri. That's the chopped herb-and-garlic sauce that gets slathered on the steaks when they come out of the broiler.

Arlington, Va
Dear Todd, We are looking for a restaurant to take our parents (in from out of town) for Good Friday dinner. Some seafood options are a must as is a good wine list. We always enjoy the "Top 100" restaurants and are looking for something on the upscale side, but also something that will be able to accomodate our 7 month old son. We're willing to eat early in the evening in order to do that. Where do you recommend? Thanks!

Oceanaire, again, would seem to fit the bill.

But I think you also might want to look into Mendocino Grille and Wine Bar, in Georgetown. It made the Top 25 this year. There are usually a number of picks on the fish side, and the chef, Barry Koslow, excels in that regard. And it's a wine bar, so you're covered there, too. What I'm not sure about, is the little boy. But I would think that going early would certainly help, there.

Hook, in Georgetown, might work, too. It's virtually an all-seafood menu, and the wine list is one of the best things about eating here (a good by-the-glass list, too). As the night wears on, it fills up with a young and trendy crowd, a very social set. Not sure how you'd do with your son in this atmosphere, but again, I think going early might be the thing. 

 

Alexandria, VA
What's going on with Indigo Landing? Is it really going to reopen this month as promised? Who will the chef be?

That's what they say. And as for the new chef, I have no idea.

It's a wonderful location, one of the best in the entire area, but I have serious doubts about its future as a good place to eat — I can easily see it becoming Potowmack Landing Redux.

Washington, DC
Todd: Any idea when the Sushi-Ko in Chevy Chase, MD will open? It looks like it might be soon…

It sure does, doesn't it? It's the best sign yet that SOMETHING'S imminent.

Although, in restaurant terms, imminent = in a matter of months.

I may have more for you all on this next week, so stay tuned.

That's it for now. Lunch calls.

Eat well, be well, and let's do it again next week at 11 … (And again, thanks for all the very sweet congratulations you've all sent my way this week. I'm lucky to have a happy, healthy baby, and I'm lucky to have such good readers. Thank you!)

 

  

More from News