Tuesday, May 6 at 11 AM

Todd chatted about cheap eats accessible by Metro, the next big trend after wine bars, and the New Chinatown of North Rockville.

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 29, click here.Producer's note: Todd will be more than happy to answer any and all Mother's Day Brunch-related questions today, but we wanted to point you towards a couple of extra resources: our Mother's Day Brunch Guide, and our chat with three chefs about brunch this Thursday (you can submit a question in advance). Enjoy, and happy brunching!

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Word of Mouth …

Michael's Noodles (10038 Darnestown Rd., Rockville; 301-738-0370) is the kind of place where, if you express any interest at all in the dishes that sound least like something the average American diner would eat — the words "lotus," "pig intestine," "fresh lily bulb" will do the trick — the staff will hone in on your table with paparazzi-like focus.

Halfway through dinner the other night, I sneezed, and was handed a new napkin within seconds from another waitress who hustled over from another table. Now that's what I call service!

That attentiveness and warmth goes a long way toward winning your affection, but so does the skillful, detailed cooking, which ought to make Michael's a regular pit stop in the New Chinatown of North Rockville, along with Bob's Noodle 66, Bob's Shabu Shabu 88, A&J, Joe's Noodle House, China Bistro (aka Mama's Dumplings), Mama Wok and Teriyaki and Gui Lin. (With its delicate murals, contemporary wooden tables and dangling red lights, it already ranks as the most stylish of a decidedly unsexy bunch.)

Like Joe's, the menu encompasses a dizzying variety of directions. There's Hong Kong-style noodle dishes and soups, Szechuan-style braises and stirfrys, Cantonese-style dim sum, Taiwanese noodle dishes — even a Thai-style beef curry.

Alas, the most unusual dish doesn't involve lotus or lily bulb. It's a simple, comforting chicken rice dish from the island of Hainan, off the coast of China. So far as I know, Michael's is the only restaurant in the area to include it on its menu. On the voluminous take-out menu, the dish gets top billing, appearing on the front as a chef's suggestion. The rice, cooked in chicken broth, is sided with boneless braised chicken, pieces of which are meant to be dipped in the accompanying chili and ginger sauces.

Beyond the urging of the owners to not look past the chicken rice, the menu can be a tough case to decipher if you're not used to the sometimes incomprehensible ways of authentic Chinese restaurants. "Fried pork chop," for instance, is listed as a side dish, and many of the dishes under the Noodle Soup section are big enough, and meaty enough, to stand on their own as meals. Slow Roasted Beef (you can get order it spicy if you want) is so big it has to be set down with two hands, a tureen filled to the brim with thick noodles, bok choy and braised beef, all floating in a rich and robust broth.

Noodle soups are not to be confused with soups (16 varieties of which are on offer, including a delicate clam and ginger) or "Mixed Noodle" dishes, the latter forgoing broth altogether in favor of a more formal, plattered presentation, like a dish of broad noodles tossed with braised, hot shrimp in a sauce made bright with vinegar and sweet with pineapple. Looks like something from an Italian kitchen, tastes like a holdover from the sweet-and-sour-mad Chinese restaurants of the '70s.

Sometimes, the best dishes are the simplest — the matter-of-fact banality of their names giving no hint of the dish to come. Smoked fish, for instance. What arrives is a cold plate of glazed, smoked fish that gives off hits of sesame oil, star anise and soy sauce. It's a knockout, every bit as addictive as a pile of barbecue and every bit as pungent and mouth-wakening as a good dish of antipasti.

A hash of ground pork, chive, hot pepper, and slivered garlic in a black bean sauce is similar to the version that can be found on the menu at Joe's Noodle House. This one's better, the sauce cleaner and tighter. So is the restaurant's preparation of crispy duck — Duck with Spicy Salt. The dark, salty skin crackles, and there's nary a trace of fat to be found on the meat. …

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centreville, va
I can't imagine how Indigo Landing in Alexandria received the rating of best new restaurant in 2007. I took two visiting friends for dinner tonight and it was probably the worst meal I've ever experienced at a restaurant in the Washington metro area. I was quite embarassed. The service was mediocre at best and nothing on the menu resembled the food mentioned in your review. Nothing "low country" about that place! Between the three of us we each had a different salad, entree, and dessert and none of them were worth writing home about. In fact, I can do better in my own kitchen for a lot less money. As always, the view was nice but this restaurant is much the same as its predecessor. Washingtonian really missed the mark on this one!

I'm glad you bring this up, Centreville, because it allows me to talk about a few different things.

First, Indigo Landing was chosen as ONE of the best new restaurants in 2007 — by READERS. Not by critics.

Yes, we included it that year in our list of 100 Best Restaurants. But, if you notice, it was not on our list for 2008. The place had slipped precipitously.

Restaurants are constantly in flux. They're always changing. The great ones, even the good ones, work hard to maintain a degree of consistency. But it's incredibly hard. Kitchen personnel seldom stay long — the burnout is exceptionally high for working in a kitchen. Staff is contstantly changing. A good place can go to the dogs in a matter of weeks, if not sooner. It doesn't take much.

This is one reason, by the way, that I came up with The Needle. I wanted something in the magazine every month — a regular feature — that would allow us to check in on the restaurants that are most talked about and most asked about. Faithful watchers of The Needle would have been able to track the decline of Indigo Landing.

I'm sorry you had such a bad meal, Centreville, but next time you'll know that the info is out there for you to make a good decision — search for Indigo Landing on our site, and you'll see what I mean. 

Fairfax, VA
Hi Todd, Not only do my wife and I follow your reviews and recommendations, my in-laws are visiting the US for the first time from Pakistan and my wife's sister too found your reviews and suggestions as an excellent resource while doing research, prior to their arrival! So, this leads to my need for recommendations on where to take them on a budget. We're thinking of taking them "out" 2-3 times to places where we can keep it to about $20 or below per head, no alcohol (we don't drink). We will do Bangkok 54 (our fave, we prefer it to Thai Square) for sure and we've been to Ravi Kabab and Afghan Kabob in Springfield. Where else can we take them for a dining experience offering good food and ambiance so that they can remember the meals and restaurants fondly? Am I asking fro too much if the preference is seafood? Thanks! Qasim

Qasim,

Thanks for the nice words!

Seafood is probably asking too much, you're right — unless you hit Eammonn's in Old Town, for fish 'n' chips. Good stuff.

But there's a lot for you within striking distance of Fairfax. Lebanese Butcher, in Falls Church, has great lamb dishes (lamb fateh, especially), grilled Cornish hens, and exceptional baba ghanous. It's not as nice a setting as Minh's, in Clarendon, which might have the best Vietnamese cooking in the area — look for the grilled pork with vermicelli, the sizzling catfish with mint, and the clay caramel pots of pork.

And what about American Flatbread, in Ashburn? Expensive for pizza, but the ingredients are first-rate, and you can get good beer and pretty good wine, too.

Hope that helps, and come back on and fill us in on how your eating adventures turned out … 

 

The sad state of service, D.C.
You asked a few weeks ago for stories about badly run hostess stands. I was recently TOTALLY ignored by a hostess at The Source for about five minutes, even though I was standing about a foot and a half in front of her. No eye contact, no little smile, no, "I'll be with you in just a sec." Granted, she was helping the two people standing next to me, but to ignore me completely just started to feel really awkward. And then there was the slight slight at Mio, where we got stuck in the dining room ghetto (platform to the left near the kitchen) even though there was hardly anyone in the restaurant. What's up with that??

What's up?

I have no idea. It could be one of those things where you see a pattern because it happen to you and happened twice, but where no pattern actually exists — it's all in your head.

It could be that both hostesses are bad at their jobs.

Or — it could be you just don't rate.

I'm not trying to be flippant. I mean, hell — I don't rate, either. In fact, I don't know many people in this town who DO rate. This ain't LA or Miami.

I'd be interested in hearing from some of the restaurant managers out there, those who work at the hot, new places and who are willing and able to talk about the allegedly time-honored practice of sticking less-young, less-sexy people in the back, out of the way.

True? False?

Arlington, VA
Hey Todd, I love your chats! So, this is a pretty specific question, but any ideas on where I can find a well-made, spicy bloody mary in the Arlington area? Its really my favorite thing about brunch! Thanks!

Easy peasy. Vermilion, on King St. in Old Town. Good, spicy, potent and big.

And since it's Mother's Day this weekend — they also do a mighty fine brunch, one of my favorites in the region.

Producer's note: Anthony Chittum of Vermilion will be chatting with us about brunch this Thursday.

U Street
I have a friend coming in from Charlottesville next weekend, and I'd like to take him out and sorta impress him for dinner (he thinks Cville's dining scene is the best, and it's really good, I'll give him that) but I'd like to find the sort of place he loves – cozy bistros, quality food, but with a hip sort of vibe. Anything in Dupont, Logan Circle or U Street is a plus. Any ideas?

The place you're looking for is Cork, on 14th St., between R and S.

It's cozy, dark, loud, and young; at night, even a weekday night, it has the feel of a rollicking cocktail party. I'd describe the mood of the place not as hip — anything really hip, you'd never know about it; and hip doesn't really exist anymore in the age of YouTube, Facebook, etc. — but as pretentiously unpretentious. The best thing about Cork are the things that matter most — great wines and unexpectedly careful cooking. I did a quick look at Cork a few weeks ago, in the blog portion of this chat. Take a look.

Clifton, VA

For Qasim,

Not sure if it meets your Needs but try Pannino's in Manassas. The best Italian restaurant in NOVA and one of the top five in DC area. Wait for the specials and save room for dessert. Check out the dessert cart. Spent a few years in Modena as a engineer for Ferrar's F1 team so Panninon's is where the family heads to for Italian.

Panino — just in case you were doing a web search.

Uh, I can't agree with you on this, Clifton — although I don't disagree that it's a good recommendation for Qasim and family in this case.

But top 5? Panino is an appealing place, to be sure, with gracious service, some tasty specials, yes, and a decent dessert roster. I think on the whole the cooking is too ordinary for that, and sometimes too careless for that.

Maybe it's just me, but one of the things that I love about going to Panino is the fact that this cozy, relaxing Italian getaway is near a taxidermist and a gun shop.

MM-DC
Speaking of bad service- I have been ignored for 1.5h at Zaytinya on Friday night. The bartender was obnoxious and indolent, the hostess(es) arrogant and inexperienced. I have no intention to ever go back to that dump.

I admire your tact and diplomacy.

Let loose, chatters. Let's not repress those feelings of hostility and bitterness and resentment! 

Indigo Landing-No Low Country Cooking
To the reader who had an unfortunate meal at Indigo Landing and was further dissappointed that there was no Low Country food- the place has a new chef and different menu. Still, the word is not good at all. What does it take to have a fabulous vista and great food? Why is this so elusive? Follow the needle…

I like it, I like it — follow The Needle.

Why is it so elusive? I have a theory.

The theory is that, the better the view, the less management needs to pay attention to the food. Often, the diners who flock to a restaurant with a stunning vista are not looking for great food; they just want to be dazzled by some water or some panorama of the city.

You would think that one of these days, amid all these openings and new concepts, someone would come along and combine the two, like charoses and maror, and poof! — you'd have your elusive place, a place with great and memorable food AND a great view.

But for whatever reason, it never happens.

And I seriously doubt if it ever will.

Gaithersburg, MD
Todd, So glad you wrote a mini-review of North Rockville's Chinatown. It is one of the reasons why I live up here. Are there any good Chinese restaurants in the Tysons Corner area that can accommodate 40 people for family gathering? I tried unsuccessfully to get the group to come up here as they need a central location. Any suggestions?

Thanks.

And lucky you, to live among such good and reliable eats!

As for Chinese in Tyson's? Good Chinese? I'm drawing a blank. Sorry. 

It would've been great if you'd prevailed upon the group to join you in your neck of the woods — so much to choose from! 

Arlington, VA

Todd,

My girlfriend is turning 40 on the Friday of Labor Day weekend and we are trying to plan ahead. We want to throw a big bash at a restaurant/bar, but don't have a lot of money to rent out a place or separate party room. She has many friends and has swanky, upscale taste. Any suggestions for a good spot? Puzzled in Arlington

PIA,

(First off, kudos to you for giving me a Dear Abby/Dear Carolyn/Savage Love handle I can riff off of.) What about Liberty Tavern in Clarendon?

Good food, surprisingly sophisticated, and a fun but tasteful sort of atmosphere. You might be able to reserve several tables in advance, if you call way ahead (like, now) and leave a credit card number, that sort of thing.

I love that descriptor of your girlfriend, by the way — "swanky, upscale taste." There's a whole world of thought in there.

Steak Tartar

Todd!

I found some thing even better than Steak Tartar— "Kitfo" Oh boy it is out of this world– Finely chopped red meat drenched with spiced butter and mixed well with different kind of hot spices… Yummy

But see, Kitfo IS steak tartare. It's just that, instead of cornichon and mustard and mayo, you have mitmita and maybe awaze.

When it's good, it's awfully good. I'm a huge fan. Where did you eat yours? Etete on 9th St., below U St., has a really good version.

Washington, D.C.
Any recommendations for a social sailing club in the Washington area that would be especially appealing to singles in their 30s?

Not my territory. Sorry.

I'm not much for boats — unless dredging up fish and eating them right away is in the offing.

lorton va
Please visit My karma in lorton again

Yeah? Why?

(Is this My Karma, by any chance?) 

Washington, DC
I am looking for a cheap eat easily accessible by metro and checked out last June's issue. I was surprised to find that of the 100 places, only 20 are located in DC, especially for a magazine that is called Washingtonian. The people who are looking for a cheap eat are probably also looking for a cheap way to get there. Can you suggest a place within walking distance of a metro that isn't at the end of one of the lines?

Do you want to know why that is?

It's because the rents in the city are sky-freaking-high. Small operations, mom-n-pops — most simply can't afford to open businesses downtown. That's why so many great ethnic spots are in Falls Church and Arlington, Wheaton and Rockville.

DC is going the way of Paris. In another twenty five years, I predict, there'll be no room left in the city for people of modest means. The city will be a playpen for the affluent only. It will be cleaner and prettier and slicker, with more restaurants and more businesses and more things to do than ever. And the undesirables — as in Paris — will drift further and further from the city, changing altogether the nature (and meaning) of the suburbs.

Anyway, enough speculation.

To answer your question … Delhi Club in Clarendon is right across the street from the Clarendon metro; Minh's is a good walk, but not too far, either. 

silver spring, md..the moderate, romantic lunch update..
…You hooked us up again! Two weeks ago, I asked about a nice restaurant in Bethesda where my husband and I could meet up for a nice, relaxed (dare I say romantic) lunch that wouldn't break the bank. You gave me three suggestions, all on Cordell Avenue. Since it had been a while since we had Indian, I selected Taste of India. We got there at noon, and there was one other person in the restaurant…quiet and relaxing to say the least. I had malai chingri and my husband had the chicken tikka masala. Excellent! For dessert, I tried the kulfi…interesting blend of tastes, but a nice way to cleanse the palate. Great food, good service, and nice atmosphere–exactly what we needed! Thanks again! …back to lurking…

I'm guessing you mean — Passage to India?

Glad it worked out, Silver Spring — glad you had the relaxing good time you were looking for.

And thanks for reading along every week. I appreciate it!

Yet another Mother’s Day question
I'm sure you will be innundated with these questions today, but I am choosing between breakfast/brunch at Poste, Les Halles, or Cafe du Parc. Which one should I choose? (P.S. I know going out for mother's day brunch is ill-advised but hey it's my one time a year when I can make my husband go out for his least favorite meal of the day) A very grateful mom who doesn't get out that much

Cafe du Parc, if it's nice weather — and if you can sit outside — would be pretty special. But those are big ifs.

I've always really liked brunch at Poste. The food's imaginative and often, done well.

One of the things I've liked about it is, you don't feel as though it's just another brunch. There are brunch things — and non-brunch things — and you can have a very nice and relaxed time as you would at brunch, but without the crowds and without the buffet, etc. 

Tysons Corner Chinese
While it's not noted as the best Chinese around, Wu's Garden is large and could accomodate a large group.

Thanks for chiming in.

Good AND Chinese AND Tyson's is a challenge.

A Field Report-Recent Cheap Eats In Alexandria

Good Morning Todd,

One of the reasons that I love your chats and reviews is that you are passionate about the little guys-Mom and Pop/Independant restaurants and cheap eats. So often they get overlooked for the more "sexy" places like Central (excellent, no doubt).

I recently enjoyed LA-style crunchy tacos with adobo-pork at Taqueria Pobalano in Del Ray, followed by a scoop of lemon meringue soft serve at The Dairy Godmother up the block. Gyros from The Pita House in Old Town are fantastic, as is their hummus.

Emine at the Old Town farmers market makes the best baklavah, especially the curried cabbage with jasmine rice and golden raisins. Raspberry buttercream topped chocolate cupcakes made by Tanya of Tanya's Soul Cakes at the Alexandria West End farmers market could give Cakelove a run for their money and they are a buck cheaper! I bought one (OK-two) and ate it-right away. Thanks for the chats!

An eater after my own heart! (Or should that be — stomach?)

That baklavah sounds fantastic! So do those soul cakes — love the name. Thanks for the farmers market tips. My mouth's watering.

alexandria,virginia

Todd,

Corduroy is open now and better than ever. I was in on their opening night and interior is very sharp and handsome. to my understanding it is a historic townhouse but only on the outside. food was delicious as always. and that guy is their new general manager. I just wanted to be the first to tell about the new place. since it is only few blocks away from my boyfriend`s condo, I`ll be there very often. thanks

I don't doubt it.

Thanks for the report, Alexandria. Lucky boyfriend, to live so close. Lucky you, to have a boyfriend who lives so close.

It'll be interesting to see if the menu will evolve in the new space, now that chef Power is out from under the auspices of the Sheraton.

Rockville, MD
Todd, if you had to pick a restaurant for a special birthday and she loves both fish and steak, if you had to choose between BLT Steak or Kinkead's, which would you pick? Never been to either. We thoroughly enjoy Capital Grille, Ruth's Chris, Oceannaire, DC Coast, and Hank's.

Kinkead's. It's a better restaurant than all the ones you list.

My advice: sit downstairs, around the bar, or at the bar, start a meal off with a mixed drink and some oysters, and thn settle in for a long night of good, satisfying, well-prepared food. 

Arlington, VA
2941 is a very picturesque place and has great food!

You make a good point, Arlington. I hadn't thought of 2941 in that discussion.

Only thing is, it's a man-made lake you're looking at — and you're looking at it from an office park building. I guess I tend to think of great view as some dazzling city panorama or a legitimate, flowing body of water.

But you're right — if you want a picturesque setting and good food, 2941 fits the bill. 

 

Vienna, VA
I can second Wu's Garden. It's pretty decent, they're very accommodating, there's tons of space, and pretty good service.

Nice!

(That's one of the things I love about coming on every Tuesday, the way you all pitch in and help with ideas. Thanks, Vienna!)

Washington DC
Hey Todd, We've seen an explosion of "fancy" bistros and wine bars lately. What do you think the next big trend will be? I hope it's noodle bars. Thanks

Noodle bars would be great.

I'd also love to see some big-pocketed owner open a sushi restaurant that makes the effort to fly all the fish in from Japan. A sushi restaurant, in other words, that would go far, far beyond what anybody else in town is doing.

With the economy tanking, I wouldn't hold my breath. A place like that would be exceptionally expensive — $240 for two, or more. But it'd for sure up the ante from the moment it opened.

Also on my wish list — a deli. A real-deal deli. A deli to rival the best of New York. Or even the best of Edison, N.J. — home of the venerable Harold's. Get a load of the pastrami sandwich there — it's the size of some TVs.

The challenge of a deli is not a challenge of cooking; it's a challenge of shopping — getting the smoked fishes, buying the bagels, the pickles, etc.

The time is right. Fancy-dancy pizza is all well and good — but enough already. We're inundated with chewy, blistered pies with three tiny (but well-sourced!) clams on them. It's high time we got some real deli food in this town. 

Wheaton, MD

I had a whirlwind culinary weekend which included dinner at the bar at The Source on Friday and dinner at Sushi Ko (old school one) on Saturday.

A friend and I tried the chicken wings, pork belly dumplings, scallop and shrimp spring rolls, and sausage and goat cheese pizza. I was very impressed with the chicken wings, which took wings and general Tso's to new levels. I may have ordered poorly on the rest, however. The pork belly dumplings did not have the rich taste of pork fat, it tasted like garden variety pork dumplings from any chinese or thai joint. The spring roll was good, but nothing special, and the accompanying sauce was overly sweet, and without any bite (which it desperately needed). Finally, the pizza was excellent, the goat cheese was pungent and nice, but the sausage was too thin and too mild. The wine list was nice and reasonably priced with quite a few affordable bottle $50 and under.

Sushi Ko was brilliant as usual, although they need to get a liquor license and spruce up the drink list. The seared lobster and scallop dish was perfectly seared and the sauce was perfect. The seaweed salad was, as always, one of the best of its kind. They were out of the rock shrimp, so we tried the fried eel which was crispy, but not greasy and was served with some perfectly pickled veggies. We shared a sashimi and sushi assortment plate that was extremely fresh and refreshing. The only sour note was the tempura banana dessert which was terrible. The bananas were bland and literally had no taste.

Final thoughts are, Sushi Ko is great and worth the money but the Source (downstairs at least) is good but not worth the hefty price ($150 for two with bottle of wine, tax and tip).

What, no restaurant meal on Sunday? ; )

I think The Source IS worth it (the wings are amazing, aren't they?), and I bet if you were to go back next weekend to each, The Source would be a little better, and Sushi-Ko (which is not quite as consistent as it used to be) would be a little worse.

I'm running late for a lunch, so I'm gonna cut this off for now, but please — keep the questions coming, and enjoy your Mother's Day brunches this Sunday. And, as always, I'd love to hear some reports from the field next week.

Eat well, and we'll do it again next Tuesday at 11 …

Didn't get your question answered? Submit it to next week's chat with Todd, Tuesday, May 13 at 11 AM.

For more Washingtonian.com online chats, click here.

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