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.
The chat transcript from Tuesday, April 8 can be found here.
Word of Mouth …
… First things first: the crabcakes.
All lump meat, no filler, mixed with good amounts of mayo and mustard, molded into thick, fist-sized patties, lightly breaded and dunked in hot oil. The outsides are a gorgeous light amber (the color of high-grade maple syrup) and curiously dimpled (for more surface crunch); the insides are creamy and lush.
The Deluxe Crabcake Dinner comes with two of these, along wth two sides (excellent candied yams and mac ‘n’ cheese, tasty steamed okra, a pile of collards larded up with spicy sausage, and what might be the richest, most luxurious cole slaw you’ve ever eaten).
Now, the complicated part.
How do you get your hands on them? Or on the fabulous fried whiting sandwich — which, if you’re not accustomed to these things, is more like a platter (three filets of fried fish) with a couple of slices of bread. Or on the classic sweet potato pie, made with a good old-fashioned lard crust.
Well, you’ve got to do what few people who scour food-related sites do: You’ve got to go east of the river. (And no, I don’t mean the Potomac.)
The place is called Miss Charlotte’s Crabcakes (4193 Minnesota Ave., NE; 202-397-8517), and it’s housed in an old wooden house painted teal and purple that squats at the end of a street that also includes a liquor store and a barbershop. It’s the sort of neighborhood that a lot of people I know would make sure to put their door locks up for.
Miss Charlotte’s is a take-out only operation, and most days you’ll find Miss Charlotte herself taking orders and dispensing change (it’s cash only) behind a bulletproof glass window.
I went to junior high around here (Minnesota Ave. and Benning Rd.), and the terrrain has changed so little since I was a kid, I thought I was in some kind of a time warp when I returned not long ago.
Sad to say, it’s the area that’s in a time warp. There still aren’t any real restaurants, although the Denny’s down the street from Miss Charlotte’s, I’m told, does good business. Finding a decent, well-stocked supermarket is, as Stevie once sang, “like the haystack needle.”
On the other hand, the idyllic Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens are only a few blocks away (a wonderful place to take a crabcake picnic lunch, by the way), and the wide boulevards allow for stunning vistas of the Capitol and Washington monument — the markers of an official Washington that feels a world away. And a world apart.
I got to fantasizing my last visit as I ate my crabcake from the tree stump in front of the house that serves as both a landmark and an outdoor table: What if Miss Charlotte’s were on the other side of the river? How many people would know about her then?
Why, she’d be a crossover legend. And if she had the great good fortune of being positioned in a hot, gentrified neighborhood like U St., like Ben’s Chili Bowl? My goodness: She, too, would be the darling of moneyed, drunken clubgoers.
As I said: fantasy.
I could go on and on about how things don’t work the way they ought to, how the city is fractured and divided against itself.
But I won’t.
Instead, let me mount my soapbox to throw down a challenge. To dare you to venture to a part of the city you daren’t go.
If you love crabcakes — if you profess to be a local — you owe it to yourself to learn about Miss Charlotte firsthand. …
You could try Cafe du Parc, which has terrific mussels and fries (among other things), good and affordable wines, and even offers Cafe Society seating — outdoors, under the umbrellas.
Not much of a neighborhood, though. It's right in the heart of official Washington, next door to The Willard.
For more of a neighborhood feel, try the new Cork, a wine bar on 14th St. between R and S. Terrific wines, and some imaginative cooking. It's the kind of energetic, atmospheric place you might find on one of the back streets of St. Germain.
I'm glad to see it. They deserve the attention.
But forget Dave Matthews — that's just marketing and national magazine hype.
The one who should be getting credit and getting written up is the one who does almost all of the work — the winemaker Brad McCarthy. He's paid his dues. He knows his stuff.
I've eaten and drunk with Brad, and I can tell you that he's a terrific guy, the kind of guy you want to see succeed — a guy who doesn't take himself too seriously, but who is, all the same, passionate about his work. Passionate and unpretentious.
I just now went through my email files to dig up the interview I did with MacQuaid for a story I did for the magazine — "Pizza Wars" — about the proliferation of boutique pies. He talked about his days as pizzaiolo at 2 Amys, about his consulting contract with RedRocks and implored me to be "hush hush" about his arrangement with the owners of 2941.
He said some interesting things.
That 2 Amys "is taking a lot of shortcuts" where the DOC regulations — the laws that define Neapolitan pizza — are concerned. For instance, the time it's supposed to take to refrigerate the dough. "They don't follow the recipe," he said. And he pointed out that 2 Amys doesn't even use an Italian oven. The oven comes from Woodstone, in Seattle, the same company that makes the ovens (albeit gas) for California Pizza Kitchen.
With his new place, he said, "I'm going for a little bit more authenticity. … I'm working my way up to doing naturally fermented dough. It's got a more interesting flavor, a nicer crumb."
He said his place would have four or five set pizzas, and then a blackboard menu with specials.
As to how it would differ from 2 Amys: "I intend it to be a nice plate to work, i guess is the first thing. … I intend to have the oven built on site, with bricks from Naples. I want to try and open it up a little bit more, have the staff interact more with clientele. I want to have 100 percent of kitchen in full view. … I want to aim for something cozier, a little less noisy. … Something with more of a communal kind of feel than a pizza factory."
Did you just call 2 Amys a pizza factory? I asked.
"it's totally a pizza factory. It's a good one, but they can make a thousand pizzas a day there."
I think you're starting from a flawed premise. I don't think Mr. K's was the best in town even when it was fully functioning.
In town? That's a really tough call, because there's such a limited pool to pick from. I'd probably go with Tony Cheng's.
But if you want really good, you need to get in the car and head to Wheaton and Full Key (or Hollywood East Cafe on the Blvd., for dim sum) or Rockville and Bob's Noodle 66.
Well, you're not going to find anything with a live band that also delivers on those other counts. So scotch that.
But I think what your Best Friend is looking for is something like The Source, in the Newseum, the new restaurant from Wolfgang Puck. It's got pedigree, it's sexy, you can come in jeans (pressed, designer), the food (while expensive; some entrees exceed the forty-buck barrier) is frequently excellent, and you can drink well, too (a good and imaginative wine list).
The place you want is in Bethesda. It's called BD's Mongolian Barbecue.
Lots of fun. You go up to a kind of salad bar with a bowl and begin. You pick your meats and fishes, pick your veggies, pick your sauces. Then you hand it over to one of the cooks, who dumps the contents out onto the grill, and short-order style, slings it like hash.
After the first or second time, the novelty kinda wears off. And you begin to realize that, no matter what meats and fishes and veggies and sauces you choose, it somehow always tastes the same.
But it's a great spot for a date (great place to break the ice), and it's great to take kids.
Go, and then come on back next week and let us know how things turned out.
We found much the same, unfortunately, when we made our rounds for the 100 Best Restaurants issue.
You're right, though. Beautiful place, a real charmer.
Terrific report, DC. Great scouting!
And kudos to BlackSalt. Not only to serve it, but to serve the roe and the fish, too.
I'm surprised to hear that Kinkead's and Oceanaire aren't serving it. Are you sure that's accurate info? These are two of the restaurants that almost always have shad roe this time of the year. Could they maybe have said that they weren't serving it that day or that week?
The tricky part is the ID at the door. I simply don't know who does and who doesn't.
But I would think that ESPNZone downtown would be a good spot to rock the red and catch Alexander the Great and his mates.
Or RFD in Penn Quarter, not far from Verizon. Ditto Gordon Biersch. Ditto District Chophouse.
I don't disagree with you.
It's the same authenticity argument with food, generally. Following rules — which is what recipes are — doesn't necessarily produce delicious food. And hewing closely to tradition just means that a dish is — traditional. I've eaten a lot of traditional dishes that were less than wonderful.
But — and I don't doubt that he was grinding an axe — pointing out that 2 Amys doesn't follow strict guidelines isn't something I would dismiss out of hand, either. If it's true, then it does pierce some of the veneer of saintliness that attaches to the place.
A place, after all, that made its name by touting its allegiance to these very same rigorous codes. And by pointing out how few places in the country — in the world — were willing to subject themselves to such exacting standards.
Now, does this mean that I don't like the place? Not at all. Does this mean that I think it's hypocritical? Not exactly.
Back to the argument re: authenticity. It still makes one of the best pizzas, not just in the area, but in the country, the small plates are often terrific, and the wines are wonderful and affordable. And I love, love, love the ice cream.
See? The value of community. Thanks for dropping the knowledge.
Virginia's out of the question — meaning Lebanese Butcher's out of the question — and you specifically ask for lamb dishes, plural: as in a variety of preparations.
What about Cafe Divan, in Georgetown? Stylish Turkish spot, across from the so-called Social Safeway. Good doner kebab, among other things. And don't miss out on the taromasalata, the sigara borek, and the lentil soup.
I wouldn't call the food "great," but it's often satisfying, and I think it might fit the bill.
Check back in next week, and let me know how things turned out.
Inn at Little Washington? It's at least twice as expensive as L'Auberge, though. And a bit of a hike.
Closer to home, let me recommend Taberna del Alabardero. It's not conventionally romantic, perhaps, but it offers the lush extravagance of a grand European hotel, and the cooking (Spanish, both rustic and refined) and the wines and the lavish, formal service can add up to the kind of take-you-somewhere-new-and-different experience I think you're looking for.
Good luck, and happy anniversary.
I don't think so.
Most are around twenty bucks. Some are twenty-five. (A few are ten, bless their kind hearts.)
CityZen, on the other hand, I believe charges fifty. Ouch.
Didn't I say? It's $19.95 for the Deluxe Crabcake Dinner. That's two lump crabcakes plus two sides.
But you can also get a Crabcake Dinner for $10.50. That's one crabcake plus two sides.
One lumb crabcake — no sides — is $8.95.
And yeah, you can go for lunch or dinner. She's open Mondays from 11-7, Tue-Thu until 8, Friday and Saturday until 9.
She takes call-in orders, by the way — but only up until an hour before closing.
Cork'd be my pick. 14th between R and S.
Second, and a distant second, would be Nage, off Thomas Circle.
The word? The word is that it should be up and running by early May. The new space is at 1122 Ninth St. NW, on the outer fringes of Shaw. It still looked to be in the throes of construction when I walked by a couple of weeks ago.
I know some Corduroy-heads who have been going through something like withdrawal symptoms since Tom Power's modest but delicious spot shut down in January. I can't say I blame them.
That's all for today, folks. Get out and enjoy the sunshine while it lasts. (You never know around here. Spring is a fickle thing. By the weekend, it'll probably be frightfully cold, followed by a spate of 90-degree days where we're all drenched and cursing the humidity.)
Eat well, be well and let's do it again next week at 11 …
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