Tuesday, April 1 at 11 AM

Today, Todd talked about the best Italian in DC, his choice for great mussels (you might be surprised), and the spots you need to eat at to consider yourself a real Washington resident.

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.

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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. …

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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.

Washington, DC
Not to keep bringing up the same conversation about Italian food in DC but Trattoria Alberto on 8th St. SE has delicious, real Italian food for very reasonable prices. For some reason this restaurant gets overlooked but it's consistently good (maybe even better than Locanda for homecooked/grandmother's Italian food).

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 … 

Arlington, VA
Hi Todd, where do you recommend going for the better mussels in DC – Beck's, Marvin, or Granville Moore's?

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.

Vienna
Hi Todd, Any idea where in the Vienna/Tysons area you can go for an after dinner drink and dessert? I really don't feel like going to Cheesecake Factory. My husband and I have a obligatory party to go to Sat. night, where we know the food, company etc is going to be pretty bad. So, I want to save the night by ending it on a high note. We'll be out of the party by 9. Does anything come to mind? Thanks in advance!

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.

Charlottesville VA
Friend's mother coming to visit from Norway–first time in DC. She's fairly 'status conscious" but not so much a foodie. Where would be a good place to take her to dinner in late April that she will feel she can brag to her friends back home about–maybe charming, overlooking the canal, or an equally special setting, preferably in DC proper? Food should, of course, be tasty but doesn't have to be exquisite.

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.

 

Cleveland Park
Todd, I drive past Thai X-ing every evening between 6 and 7pm and would love to stop but can't, for the life of me figure out where to park and not have to walk many blocks. Is there a secret? Other than the Salmon, not a fan of the fish, your recomendations for a first timer? The spicier the better. Thank you, Alison Thanks!

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.

Bealeton, VA
So when are you and the Washingtonian going to end tyour bais against restaurants and dining outside the beltway in NOVA. Your Marhc issue had a decided MD and inside the beltway bias as does your post today. Come on your as bad as the Post and Weekend section. What's wrong afrid you ahve to prove you are here legally in VA?

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. 

Washington DC
Down town, moderate Italian Restaurant

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.

Arlington, VA
Todd, When eating out at restaurants, are there any restaurants that is heart-friendly? I mean healthy and not packing 1600 calories in one meal! Besides Rock Creek (been there so many times) at Mazza and Bethesda, are there any other healthy dining options out there? I have noticied some chain restaurants have healthy selections in their menus but that is all I can find. Thanks, Freddie

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.

Chatters? 

Funny you should mention the 1,600 calories in one meal. Many three-course dinners in restaurants go way, way beyond that. 

Bthesda, MD
For overlooked Italian, I would definitely nominate Pines of Rome in Bethesda. Not everything on the menu is terrific, but the house made pastas are very satsifying and well made, the red clam sauce in particular is a great, simple rendition and the white pizza is in a class by itself- a Bethesda institution to be sure!

Absolutely.

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 …………… "

annandale va
Why hasn't Le Gaulois been reviewed since a new chef took over? Majestic Cafe was reviewed shortly after a new chef took over and also 2941. Just curious.

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.

Capitol Hill
A real resident once you have eaten at Jimmy T's

Good one!

A real, honest-to-God diner. 

Come on, keep 'em coming …

Washington, DC
I heard that there is a fantastic new Dutch restaurant that opened in the DC area… Do you know what the name of it is?

Dutch? No.

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. 

Alexandria, VA
You're not a real resident until you've eaten at… Hard Times Cafe!

Yes!

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 –?

Springfield, VA
Now that Louisiana Express in Bethesda has closed its doors, where can I find a GOOD casual Cajun restaurant in the area? I'm sure going to miss their made-to-order jambalaya and the wonderful bread pudding with the great whiskey sauce. Thanks to the owners for 20 years of wonderful food!

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. 

DC
i've been walking to work every morning and have been seeing construction in what use to be a very cool card shop, PULP. when i got to the hill i asked around my office and someone said it's one of the contestants on top chef opening a restaurant….is that true? and if it is, which one? what are they opening?

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. 

DC region- a real resident…
has tasted the wonderful local products from our farmers markets. Cheeses from Keswick Creamery and Firefly, breads from Atwater's, meats from Cibola and Eco-Friendly, and……crab cakes from Chris' Market. To name only a few!

Good one!

 

Alexandria, VA-Mussels…a report from the field
Good Morning Todd, A place that serves terrific mussels is Restaurant Eve during the Lickety Split Lunch. If you are lucky enough to be in the area and have about an hour (the name belies the fact that is is NOT fast-not that I mind it because I plan accordingly), be sure to stop in sometime soon to eat their mussels with smoked bacon. Lardons really. The broth is delicious, especially when soaked up with Eve's ciabatta bread and Irish butter. And that's not all you can get for $13.50. A salad including a generous amount of house-smoked (Eco-Friendly, if I recall correctly) was also an amazing dish. Previously, I had enjoyed Eve's mussels with lamb merguez sausage and a carrot puree-so to me, Eve is a go to place for mussels. About 15-20 of 'em, I'd estimate. Cheers!

OK, whose mouth is NOT watering?

silver spring
Your not a real resident until you have eaten at Stained Glass Pub

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. 

Vienna, Va
Hi Todd, Have you tried Me Jana yet? A group of us are going this wkd. Do you recommend anything in particular? Should we order a bunch of mezzes to share? Thanks!

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. 

Washington DC
Alert! Cleveland Park restaurants are serving Lirpa steaks ……

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.

Real Resident…
Come on, Ben's Chili Bowl!
Yep.
mclean, va
where can i find a classy establishment with a respectable selection of single malt scotches? i've heard there is a great strip mall bar in wheaton, but i'd prefer a place with better atmosphere
If I'm remembering right, I think both PS 7's and BLT Steak have a good selection of single malt scotches. And both are what I'd call "classy establishments."
Dupont
I ate at Hudson this weekend (my second time). I want to like this restaurant so badly because it is so close to my house, but the place leaves a lot to be desired. Their bread basket consisted of hard, white rolls that were cut in half (and obviously left out long enough to form a hard crust on the side that was cut). These rolls were clearly not baked in house, but, rather, purchased from a local Giant-type grocery store. I only gripe about the bread basket because the prices of the restaurant are high enough that one expects to eat tasty bread. Which leads me to my second gripe – the prices. I think that is my biggest problem with the place. It is priced comparable to the near-by Westend Bistro (though many of Hudon's entrees are actually more expensive), but lacks the culinary bang to back up the over-priced food. I think if they lowered all of their prices I could forgive the completely average food. For example, my husband had a perfectly adequate $18 hamburger there, but it did not compare to the $18 hamburger at Central. At those prices, we would choose to go to Westend Bistro or Central anyday.
Excellent report, Dupont. I can't say I really disagree. Maybe the folks at Hudson are reading …
Dupont, DC
Good morning Todd! If you had unlimited funds to open your own restaurant, what would it be like? What type of food? Atmosphere?

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 …

 

 

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