Where can you get a three-star experience at one-star prices? Which hot new restaurant merits the scorching hype?
The answer to all these questions and more can be found Tuesdays at 11 a.m. on Kliman Online. From scoping out scruffy holes in the wall to weighing the merits of four-star wanna-bes, from scouring the 'burbs and exurbs to hitting the city's streets, Todd Kliman covers a lot of territory.Producer's note: In addition to Kliman Online, we will also be hosting a chat this Thursday at 11 AM with three of the area's most prominent pastry chefs: Heather Chittum, Michelle Poteaux, and Josh Short. To submit your questions in advance, click here.
Word of Mouth …
…"What a pleasant place," my sister-in-law said, sipping a glass of Banyuls after dinner at Fontaine Caffe & Creperie (119 South Royal Street, Alexandria; 703-535 –8151). Not the pithiest observation, perhaps, but then, this Old Town restaurant isn't the sort of place to inspire pithy observations. It's a pleasant place.
The space — two cozy townhouse rooms, awash in cheerful colors — is charming, the service is friendly, and the food — though not memorable — is perfectly fine for idling away a couple of hours with friends. The cheese plate (three hunks, one of them brie) is generic in light of the interesting, obscure selections that a lot of places are coming up with these days, and the (barely spiced) pate is not made in house. The Alsatian-style tartlet, with ham, onion and goat cheese, is the kind of dish you hope to find from a decent caterer — pretty to look at, mildly flavorful, appealing to a broad range of tastes.
The savory crepes — served in neatly folded (and occasionally overcooked) buckwheat wrappers — emphasize their fillings, which are substantial. Perhaps too substantial. A version of smoked salmon, caramelized onions and creme fraiche is $15.95; the Berliner, with grilled bratwurst and sauteed onions (and with a pile of fries strewn on top), costs $16.95.
Better are the dessert crepes, which have a lightness that's missing in their savory counterparts. The tendency to overstuff them carries on through dessert, but a version with mascarpone and dark Morello cherries is excellent, a happy marriage of textures.
You can expect to pay eighty bucks for dinner for two (more with alcohol; the list includes a Viognier from Delfosse in Virginia). Not cheap. And crepes are. Fontaine is a pleasant place. I'd hate to see it become a tourist trap. …
… Given the way I eat, and what I eat, I'm always on the lookout for a simple, satisfying dish that can restore my sense of balance. I found one the other night at Full Key (2227 University Blvd., Wheaton; 301-933-8388): a plate of shrimp over rice, the whole thing topped with a creamy, scallion-flecked egg sauce. Doesn't sound like much? Trust me: the flavors cohere in a way I never would have imagined. Eventually, I found myself eating more out of compulsion than hunger.
I shouldn't have been surprised. Full Key doesn't whiff much.
The Shrimp Dumplings Soup is tremendous, reason enough to go, eight golf-ball sized dumplings bundled with minced pork, mushroom and spiced with white pepper, bobbing in a shrimp-fortified broth that's full of body. Pepper Salted Pork Chop is a technical marvel, the transformation of tough, thin slices of pork into something soft and tender. The name is something of a misnomer; it's not just salt and pepper but five-spice powder and a sprinkling of fresh chilis that gives the flash-fried meat its savor. Another terrific fried dish: salt and pepper frog. Not legs, mind you — the whole frog, cut into bite-sized pieces, battered, fried, then coated with chilis. A plate of bittersweet greens tossed with slivered garlic — snow pea leaves is my pick — is the perfect chaser for a meal of such variety and richness.
Portions are family-style and gargantuan — every dish is big enough to feed two, sometimes three — and the prices are astonishingly low, in part because the owners don't have a license to serve alcohol. …
Didn't get your question answered in this week's Kliman Online? You can submit it early for next week's chat with Todd, Tuesday, April 8 at 11 AM.
You're right. It does get overlooked. I admit, it's been a while since I've been — one of the hazards of a job that requires you to always seek out the new. Thanks for the reminder. I'll make a visit soon.
Actually, it makes me wonder what other places are out there that don't get much play but that you come back to again and again — places that you think are undeservedly overlooked. What have you got, chatters?
And my apologies for the tardy start today …
Actually, the best pot of mussels in the city I've had in the last year was at Cafe du Parc.
Beck, I had higher hopes for, mussels-wise. But they've been a disappointment. Of the three you mention, I'd go with Granville Moore's.
You should add to your list another place, similar in aim: Belga Cafe.
The proliferation of mussels and fries is a fantastic development. I hope it continues.
I love it! Drinks and dessert to the rescue!
Hey, it works. Many a time I've relied upon a meal at a restaurant to save the day.
In Vienna, you might want to try a place called Bazin's on Church. It's on — well, it's on Church, just off the main drag. A really convivial space, a pretty long wine list, and some tasty desserts. I didn't have such good luck the last time I was there with a knockoff of Michel Richard's famous kit kat bar — it fell apart shortly after contact with my fork — but you might.
I hope the place'll turn the night around for you.
Interesting question, Charlottesville.
I'd probably take her to The Palm downtown for its proximity to power — lots of opportunities for "important people"-watching, if you like that sort of thing. Or Cafe Milano, same deal (although different sorts of "important people" — more celebs; it's Placido Domingo's favorite spot in the city). Plus, it's in Georgetown, with all that that conveys.
She should know, however, that as she herself is not among the important, she may not get the very best seat in the house, or the very best treatment.
No secret, sorry.
I might park in front of Zenebech Injera, or in the parking lot behind it. Another good place to know about, for spicy wats and some of the best injera in the area.
As for Thai X-ing … get the larb, get the spring rolls, get the salmon. You have to get the salmon. You have to.
You can see anything you want to see, if you only look at part of a picture.
Did you read my intro last week? The one that talked about Sichuan Village in Chantilly? Did you read the back and forth about restaurants in Old Town?
It's not a bias, Bealeton. Any more than the media slants to the left and is anti-war and hates the government.
You need to look at a four-month stretch and then come back to me with your findings.
What, are we too pressed for time to even phrase a question?
(Bad chattiquette. Bad.)
All right, well — I can play that game, too. Ristorante Luigino. New York Ave. Downtown. Not great. But decent. Very decent.
Besides Rock Creek, no, I can't think of any that make that a focus. Although there are, of course, a few more healthful options among the choices at many restaurant menus these days.
Funny you should mention the 1,600 calories in one meal. Many three-course dinners in restaurants go way, way beyond that.
I would even dare say, you're not a real resident until you've eaten at Pines of Rome. (Like the recently shuttered Louisiana Express, it belonged to another, humbler Bethesda.)
Hm. That's got me thinking. Fill in the blank, chatters.
"You're not a REAL resident until you've eaten at …………… "
Why? I'll be honest with you. Because when I took my wife and a friend for lunch one afternoon, we were handed menus and promptly forgotten. We waited for twenty minutes. No bread, no water, nothing. We walked out.
Can't review a place that won't serve you.
I've been meaning to get back, but as many of you who come on to complain about poor treatment should be able to appreciate — the experience left a bad taste in my mouth. I will, one day. But let's just say Le Gaulois is not at the top of my list of things to do.
A real, honest-to-God diner.
Come on, keep 'em coming …
But that reminds me to tell you all about a fantastic new Amish spot that's just opened. Upscale Amish, actually.
They do a terrific deconstructed "bot boy." That's the Amish version of pot pie — basically, a crust-less chicken noodle soup. This one eats more like a hearty bowl of pasta. Bits of chicken, carrot, and a thick tangle of broad egg noodles.
For dessert, they have an interesting mix of old and new with the shoo-fly pie. In keeping with the current fascination of pastry chefs to strew crumbs over their creations, this one has no crust — just a sprinkling of crumbs over a stick, molasses-y pie filling. The filling, modishly, is presented on three separate spoons, arrayed across a long, rectangular white plate
Happy April Fools.
Chili five-ways: can't beat it for gut-filling satisfation, and can't beat the price, either. And I like the burgers, too.
What else –?
Have you been to RT's, in Del Ray?
A little more expensive, but RT's has just a loyal a following as Louisiana Express did, and there's a lot on the menu to make you happy.
It's true. Gonna be an upmarket burger joint. Burgers, fries, shakes.
One of the dudes from Season 4, Spike Mendelsohn (a name that harkens back to the '40s, the era of tough-guy Jewish boxers), is going in on the place — Good Stuff Eatery — with his family.
They'll be opening soon.
OK, whose mouth is NOT watering?
Shoot. I've never been.
I have a friend who lives nearby, so I'll have to get him to take me sometime. Can't stand the thought of not being a real resident.
Load up on the hot, fresh pita, Vienna, and be sure to front-load your meal with hummus, labneh, sausages, etc.
Striking space, but it's expensive for what it is.
OK, I give up — what's a lirpa?
You had me logging on to Wikipedia for this, DC. Wikipedia. Which just makes me feel like some Facebooking, PM-ing teenager cramming on a research paper.
If I had unlimited funds, I might not open a restaurant.
It's an interesting question, something I've never really thought about before. I think I'd want, first of all, live music — you did say unlimited funds, right? So I'd want the best jazz performers in the world to play every night, from 6 until after midnight. I'd want a bustling atmosphere. The place would be open 24 hours. Milk and cookies at 2 a.m. Chicken and waffles at 3 a.m.
The dress? No dress. Come as you are. You can wear slippers and pjs.
I'd want Breton oysters, I'd want a sushi bar with fish flown in from Japan, I'd want great bread, I'd want long-braised dishes, homemade noodles, interestingly handled offal dishes, fantastic soups, great, ripe cheeses, lots of great obscure wines (and nothing over seven bucks a glass).
No tasting menu — one of the cooks would come out to a table and, in the manner of a Benihana, prepare your meal in front of you.
The staff would be drilled to understand: Everybody should be treated like a food critic.
Eh. We can dream, right?
Time to run, everyone.
Eat well, be well, and let's do it again next week at 11 …