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.
To read the chat transcript from April 22, click here.
Word of Mouth …
… Ordinarily I wouldn't recommend a restaurant with only one good dish. But I'll make an exception in the case of Max's Kosher Cafe (2319 University Blvd., Wheaton; 301-949-6297). The dish in question is the falafel, and it isn't just good — it's great. Run outside and grab a stranger great.
If you're accustomed to the dense, overspiced balls that too often constitute falafel — and if you haven't spent time in Israel, you probably are — then the version at Max's will open your eyes. I doubt that you could get anything fried to be any lighter than this, unless you were to dunk a stick of cotton candy in the deep fryer — which, of course, is a physical impossibility.
The crunch is just as impressive. Most times, fried foods don't survive a long trip home, casualties of being closed up in a sealed container. These babies are still pretty darn good an hour later.
A serving of six sits atop a mound of fixin's, chosen at your disposal and assembled by one of the gruff and unsmiling guys who man the falafel/shwarma counter. I take mine with a few nice spoonfuls each of pickled cauliflower, onion, radish and cabbage, as well as a good pinch of sauerkraut.
The shwarma? Nothing to get excited about.
The rest of the menu? Eh. I wouldn't necessarily turn away the salami sandwich, thickly piled, but the only reason I set foot in Max's is the falafel. And it's reason enough.
The consomme on the menu now at Palena (3529 Connecticut Ave. NW; 202-537-9250) might just be the best bowl of soup I've eaten in my time as a food critic.
The tea-colored broth is clearer than — well, than any tea I can think of. And a lot more delicate, too, than most. That clarity is all the more remarkable in light of the great depth of flavor of the broth, with its pho-like hints of star anise and white pepper. Floating in the broth are the glorious fruits of early Spring: morels, favas, white and green asparagus, along with a few nettles and a softened clove of garlic.
I hated to finish it, because to stare at an empty bowl after such a glorious experience as that seemed kind of sad. But also because it seems to me that, with a transcendent dish, you ought to leave a little behind — a few spoonfuls held out as a kind of offering. A reminder that greatness can never be fully consumed, or understood.
Marc Heckrotte is doing big things at Franklin's Restaurant and Brewpub (5121 Baltimore Avenue, Hyattsville; 301-927-2740). Case in point: his muffaletta pizza.
I don't know why nobody thought to do this before, but topping a pizza with an olive spread and a gardiniera is a pretty brilliant move, the tang of the pickled veggies and olives neatly leavening the richness of all that cheese and all those gorgeous Italian meats. It's exactly the sort of quirky, self-coined dish that a place like Franklin's needs.
And kudos to Heckrotte for encouraging the talent in the kitchen to experiment, which resulted in the version of chilaquiles now on the menu. The dish — renamed Hung Over in Mexico, an allusion to its reputation as a much-turned-to cure for a hangover — is meant to be a sop for all the liquor sloshing around in your gut after a long night of drinking. In other words, it's supposed to be dense and heavy. But this thickly layered casserole of corn tortillas, red sauce, queso blanco and crema is unexpectedly light. No fried egg on top, no chicken milanese — Heckrotte substitutes a small mound of curtido on the side, the vinegary Salvadoran slaw that traditionally accompanies a pupusa. As with the pizza, so with the chilaquiles: A bit of tang goes a long, long way. …
Another good one.
And speaking of tartare and mussels, I want to add another — since I always seem to have a case of l'esprit d'escalia after the chat's done with (always thinking of another place or another dish two hours later): Granville Moore's on H St. Teddy Folkman is doing a bison tartare. Very good, very robust. And as for the mussels — sublime. These might be the biggest, fattest, juiciest in town right now.
Tip: Monday is $10 mussels night. One of the best deals around.
Anyone know of any other great deal nights?
Not to worry. I just asked about this, and I'm told the tech people are going to be increasing the font size. Things should improve soon.
Comment: Ref: American Style Kobe..
No doubt there are impostors out there but SRF, Kobe of America, Premier Proteins can all trace our stock via bar-codes from birth to butcher.. and we never have less than 50% Wagyu beef in the breeding and butchered stock. Wolfgang would not be happy with your theory of "Fake" American Kobe not tasting better than Black Angus. $25-30 per lb. will buy a nice 5 Star Japanese 8 Plus BMS score for marbling you can't find in Angus. We'd be glad to share more info. if you are interested in American Style Kobe grading selection vs. $150 per lb. Kobe from Japan.
Regards, John C. Braun / Wagyu-USA
You got me wrong: I didn't say "American Kobe" isn't better than black Angus. What I said was, "American Kobe" isn't in the same ballpark as Kobe. It's not even in the parking lot.
You talk about impostors. The question, here, is about knowing deception. I object to restaurants, chefs and even producers using the term "American Kobe," and trying to piggyback on the fame and mystery of that vaunted (and prohibitively expensive) beef. If it's wagyu, call it wagyu.
An awful lot of meat is being sold to people who think they're eating Kobe, or something very near to it.
I call that a scam.
That doesn't sound like the Vidalia I know, Alexandria — I've never known the portions to be skimpy — but I take you at your word.
The fact that the manager took the offending dish off the bill is a good-faith gesture. Just curious what else you might be looking for from them.
I wonder if there's a discrepancy between the carryout menu and the menu posted inside –?
But yeah, Miss Charlotte's is, as you say, a neat spot — with good, honest, well-prepared food. I hope more people on this side of the river become acquainted with her place.
Not true, not true.
But your comments re: Jaleo's prices are well-taken. I do think it's possible to eat well there for less (and you did have wine) but in general, it's often hard to get a fix at a small plates spot on just what makes for a full meal. I've seen two people get away with four small plates and drinks. But just as often, it's eight, and sometimes nine.
For that reason, I decided to take Jaleo and its sisters and brothers off this year's coming Cheap Eats list. I've heard too many complaints from reasonable-minded readers — and from friends, too — about bills in excess of seventy and eighty bucks for two.
I think it's the right call.
As for Bistro d'Oc … I showed up once on a Sunday a good half hour before closing and was turned away. Not enough customers; they'd decided to close early.
Not odd — interesting.
But yeah, when you eat a raw oyster, you're eating something alive. That's part of the appeal for a lot of us oyster lovers, the raw, primal quality of the experience, the eating of something untouched, uncooked, ungussied up.
Todd – congratulations on your thoughtful and thought-provoking piece on Eric Ripert and Westend Bistro. But I'm not sure what the description of his business partner as "indomitable and sexy" added to the piece – it seemed oddly out of place.
On another note, my family of five abandoned our plan to break Passover at 2 Amy's Sunday night when faced with an hour wait (at 5:45!) and fled to Comet Ping Pong, only to be dreadfully disappointed. The pizza was a soggy mess with the cheese falling off the crust, the waiter didn't bother to report that they were out of mushrooms until he delivered the mushroom(less) pizza, and the salad dressing was tasteless. Only the exquisitely seasoned chickpea and green bean salad redeemed the meal. Next time we'll wait the hour at 2 Amy's!
Or head to Mia's Pizzas, in Bethesda.
Or Cafe Pizzaiolo, in Crystal City.
Or Moroni and Brother's, in Petworth.
There's a lot of competition these days, and from the sound of it — I've heard other reports recently of disappointing pies — Comet had better right itself, and quick.
And hey — thanks for the feedback on the piece.
It's hard to know, year to year, but if I were you, I'd log on to the web pages of restaurants that have a high regard for seasonal stuff. Also, French restaurants, which typically jump at a chance to work with morels.
So: Mendocino Grille, Equinox, Le Paradou, Citronelle, CityZen, maybe Circle Bistro …
Nothing that I know of.
Charlie Palmer Steak has a view — but not a rooftop view. it's a view, obscured partly, of the Capitol dome.
Tabaq, on U St., has a stunning rooftop view (it's enclosed, but still) of the city and serves a full dinner or mezze and drinks.
Not staying, no.
Teddy's is on the move again, back to its old neighborhood — albeit in a different space. I was told about a month ago that they'd be reopening in two months, so I would guess sometime in May or early June they'll be back in business.
I can't wait to dig into a plate of buss up shut again.
If you've never been, chatters, you owe it to yourself to go; this is some of the best island cooking around.
You can follow up your lunch or dinner here with a visit to Crown Bakery, an excellent Trinidadian bakery and carryout, not far away on Georgia Ave. Although I assure you — you will not have room. Finishing a buss up shut or a goat or chicken roti is a gargantuan task.
I'm part of the just out of college, courthouse/clarendon crowd and many nights want to hang out in my neighborhood for drinks after work rather than venturing into the city. But I'm not a big beer drinker and it seems like beer in the bar/grills and various Irish pubs is the standard fare out here. Any good suggestions for a girl who wants to find a well made cocktail in this area?
What you need to do, is get yourself on over to EatBar, right in your own Arlington backyard, where cocktail queen Gina Chersevani presides.
She's good with a quip and even better with the drinks. Very creative cocktails, some of the best in the area.
I tend to like to eat in the front, and pick and choose from both menus.
Boy — lots of interest in the consomme today. The comments and questions keep coming in. … Week after week, I tell you all about great things I've eaten recently, like the tofu soup soondubu at Vit Goel, and the jerk shrimp at Muffin Man, and the fresh noodles with black bean sauce at Da Rae Won, and the Chinese-Indian concoctions at the fast-food Masala Country, and the steamed clams in garlic sauce at Portuguese Club and what do I hear?
For the most part, not much. No follow up questions that day. No reports back the next week.
Surely you all don't mean to communicate to me that you're only interested in tasty upmarket eats –?
I mean, great food is great food …
First of all, a hearty congratulations to your husband! That's a big deal.
As for finding a great spot for dinner for twelve, with three little kids … That's tough. A lot of nicer fine-dining spots frown on the idea of little kids at the table.
You'd have no problem at a place like Minh's, however — a terrific Vietnamese restaurant in Clarendon, with great cooking and a white tablecloth setting — or at pretty much any Asian restaurant in the area. Asian restaurants not only don't frown upon little ones like their American counterparts do — they honestly seem to prefer their being around. They also seem to know exactly how to make a big group feel welcome.
If you're not interested in ethnic food, then you might want to look into a place like McCormick and Schmick's. It's a chain, and I'm not high on the food, but the atmosphere is loud and buzzing (i.e., no one is likely to give you a hard time re: the kids) and it's a fun vibe. In a similar vein, but better, is Legal Seafoods, in Penn Quarter. Surprisingly good wines for a chain, and an excellent bowl of N.E. clam chowder.
Hope that helps, some.
Well, you could have a great meal.
Or you could have a middlin' meal.
Or — you could have a meal with a handful of absolutely wonderful dishes, as good as you'd find in some of the premier restaurants in Paris … as well as a handful of also-rans.
When it's good, it's terrific. When it's not, it's a very expensive disappointment.
Sorry; you've got to do your own research, Melbourne.
Or hire me out. : )
I think you'd want to take them to Ben's Chili Bowl on U St. for atmosphere, halfsmokes and a taste of DC (as opposed to official Washington) history.
I think they'd enjoy some of the small plates hot spots in Penn Quarter — Jaleo for tapas, Oyamel for regional Mexican cooking. Modest prices for this area, good cooking, and fun, pulsing environments.
And then there's pizza. 2 Amys in Cleveland Park has one of the best pizzas (boutique, not prole) in the country, and it's definitely a kid-friendly atmosphere. Also: great ice cream and lots of little plates to snack on and accessorize a meal.
Check back in when your week is up, and let us know how things turned out, where you went, etc.
That's it for today, folks. Enjoy the consomme, by all means, but be sure to check out the muffaletta pizza and the falafel, too.
Eat well, be well, and let's do it again next week at 11 …