Tuesday, April 15 at 11 AM

Today Todd chatted about Two Amys, great local crabcakes, and whether authenticity is what makes great food.

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.

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Word of Mouth …

… First things first: the crabcakes.

They’re marvelous.

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. …

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Observatory Circle, DC
Where does one find a neighborhood bistro, like the ones which abound in Paris? Along the lines of Napoleon in Georgetown, with good food and a nice ambience.

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.

Arlington, VA
there is some buzz getting going about Blenheim Vineyards from Charlottesville. It is partially owned by Dave Matthews. Do you have any other information about these wines?

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.

Vienna, Va
Hi Todd, A while back, I heard that former 2 Amys, Edan MacQuaid will be opening a new D.O.C pizza place in Fall Church. Have you heard any updates on this? I'm so excited to have a closer option. Currently, I trek out to 2 Amys almost every other week. Now, I don't expect MacQuaid's place to be better than 2 Amy's, but I can't wait to find out!

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.

Among them:

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."

Glover Park, DC
What's the best chinese restaurant in town now that Mr. K has shut down.

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. 

Washington, DC
My Best Friend is coming in from out of town on Wednesday April 16th and she needs to take a client out somewhere and has asked me for help. She wants a place that has Great food, money is no object, but she would like something business casual to casual, and preferably with a live band. No sushi! I dont know where all of that comes into one place and on a Wed. Night! Can you help please!

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).

washington dc
Hello, My name is DeAndre and I was looking for a good place to eat. I want to go to a place that serves Asian food but prepares it on the grill in front of you. Thanks

DeAndre,

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. 

Shaw DC
Me again. Just wanted to tell you all about my recent Sunday Brunch experience at Morrison-Clark Inn. When I made the reservation, I had requested an outdoor table. Of course, it was too cold but management had remembered my request and offered the table, which I appreciated. Service was much improved from the last time I ate there for dinner. The food….blah. I had the tomato-ginger bisque, which was zesty, but my fritatta was bland. My dining partner loved his salad with goat cheese, but the eggs benedict was supposed to have crab cakes with them. Whatever was served didn't qualify as a crab cake. Tasted like it was freezer burned or something. Dessert was also ok. The highlights were the mini-beignets and carrot muffins served at each table. The place is so beautiful and nice to have in the neighborhood, I just wish they would put more effort in the food. Thanks!

Thanks.

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. 

Washington, DC
Can anyone suggest a nice outdoor restaurant for lunch in old town? Thanks!
Anyone? I'll sit this one out.
Washington DC
Shad Roe-just a follow up to let you know what we found. We had a FABULOUS dinner at Black Salt. They had to set aside the shad roe sets to have them when we got there (all 14 sets the restaurant received on Sat.sold right away). We had both the simple preparation and the 2 entrees of the chef's choice. All methods of preparation were excellent. The chef combined with small peices of shad sauteed. All excellent. Pesce said they had some shad roe. Johnny Half Shell said they may have it on the menu in the next week or two. Other standbys like Kinkead,Oceanaire, & 1789 not preparing it. So that's my update. Always a wonderful spring dinner. Thanks

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? 

Northern Virginia
My friends and I want to watch the hockey game tonight. We know it's too late to get an answer for tonight, but for the future, we're looking for a fun, moderate-priced place where they don't ID at the door (one of us is still under-age) and the food is good, and of course – there are tvs to watch the hockey game.

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.

Vienna, Va
Reply on Edan Macquaid. Todd, it sounds to me that he's really bitter towards 2 Amy's and trying to bash them. I don't really care that 2 Amy's doesn't follow strict guidelines…those guidelines aren't necessarily what makes a pizza tasty. 2 Amy's is doing something right, no matter what their method. Nonetheless, your interview with him is getting me even more excited. I wish there was a timeframe!

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.

ID at Door
RFD's ids at the door. ESPN Zone is filled with kids and tourists, so I'm guessing they don't.

See? The value of community. Thanks for dropping the knowledge.

chevy chase, d.c.
hi todd, i am looking for a really good restaurant that serves great lamb dishes. i do not care about the cost, but no not want to go to virginia. can you help me? this is for a very important dinner next weekend, ( 18th) thank you so much.

Hm.

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.

 

Washington, DC
I am looking for a nice romatinc-type restaurant to celebrate an anniversary (other than the Auberge Chez Francois) Thanks

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.

Washington D.C.
Is there a limit a to the amount an establishment can charge for corkage in DC?

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. 

WDC
How much was Miss Charlotte's crabcake dinner and did you have it for lunch or is she also open for an early dinner?

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.

Former Gallery Place
Try Bar Louie inside Gallery Place. It has tons of tvs and isn't as crowded as the other usual suspects seem to get. My experience w/ ESPN Zone has been abysmal — they're always overflowing with tour buses of junior high kids, and have wait times that exceed 90 minutes.
Great tip! Thanks.
Washington DC
Looking for restaurant near Helix Hotel (14th and Rhode Island) on par with PS7, Proof, Oya. So good food, wine, and quiet enough for a business meeting of 3-4 people. thanks!

Cork'd be my pick. 14th between R and S. 

Second, and a distant second, would be Nage, off Thomas Circle. 

Shaw DC
Todd, What's the word on Corduroy?

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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For the full archives of Todd's chat, click here.

 

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