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 June 3, click here.
Word of Mouth …
… Small quibble with the new Burger Joint (4827 Fairmont Ave., Bethesda; 301-358-6137): It ain't a joint.
It's an upmarket riff on a joint, the kind of place where men in suits come at the end of the day to pick up carryout for the family. Two cheeseburgers plus two orders of fries (you have to order them separately) plus drinks will set you back more than twenty-five bucks. Yeah, some joint.
Big quibble: It's fast food that's not fast.
I recently waited twenty-five minutes in line just to order (the long lines are excusable — the place has been swarmed with curiosity-seekers since it opened) but then it took another twenty-five minutes before my food was ready. Fifty minutes for scarf-down food?
Burger Joint gets good quality meat (hormone-free, aged prime — although some of the patties tend to be a bit too tightly packed), and the burgers, which come wrapped in white paper, are nicely assembled. At their best, they have the sloppy synergy of all great sandwiches. The cheeseburger put me in mind of the chenkelburger at the late, lamented Henkel's.
The roster of variations is long and interesting. The Greek burger, a spicy lamb patty topped with tzaziki, is better than some gyros, and the turkey burger is surprisingly detailed and surprisingly juicy. The monthly special, The Eliot Spitzer, is a poor man's Boulud burger: a gargantuan patty wrapped around braised shortribs (no foie gras, here) and slathered with barbecue sauce. The juices ran down my arm as I handed it to my mother, whose eyes lit up: "Aha!" she said. "So THAT explains the name."
In the context of Central charging $29 for a lobster burger and Westend charging $18 for a burger, I suppose it's easy to justify asking twenty bucks for the Spitzer. But that's not to say I would order it again. At least with the lobster burger and the Westend burger, you are paying for the cache that comes with the names Michel Richard and Eric Ripert. Burger Joint is in a different class.
Actually, the place I kept coming up with by way of comparison as I munched on my meal was nothing so lofty. It was McDonald's. As in: McDonald's wouldn't make me wait that long. McDonald's doesn't send out soggy, cold fries. Heck, even McDonald's gives you more room between the tables. …
… Last year I wrote an article for the magazine about the rise of boutique pizza in the region, and the resulting dust-ups over style and meaning.
Pete's Apizza (1400 Irving St., NW; 202-332-7383) wasn't around then, but if it had been, I would have grouped it with such spots as Cafe Pizzaiolo and Moroni and Brother's, prole pizzerias that put a premium on good ingredients but swerve to avoid being tagged with such terms as "boutique" and "artisanal." (The latter group is big, and dominant: 2 Amys, Comet, Pizzeria Paradiso, American Flatbread).
An order-at-the-counter operation with bare floors, communal tables and the bustling, unpretentious feel of a by-the-slice operation in midtown Manhattan, Pete's bids to create separation from the competition by serving New Haven-style pies. In New Haven, legendary pizzerias Pepe's and Sally's vie for supremacy, each turning out a slightly different take on the local pie. In general, the style consists of a thin, crispy, misshapen crust that rarely flops, minimal saucing, a tightly-knit integration of cheese and toppings, and — the finishing touch — a generous application of olive oil.
An array of by-the-slice options await on the counter, but you can also order a whole pie, like the gigantic clam pizza. The last good clam pizza I ate was at Lombardi's in New York, and this one is better — crispier, zestier (although the ratio of garlic to clam ought to be reversed). A calzone-shaped pizza called Sorbillo's Original — filled with salumi, ricotta and mozzarella — is just as good. Pete's doesn't champion its sourcing, but I was taken with a remarkably fresh-tasting antipasti platter, topped with smoky curls of grilled carrot, a white bean-and-shrimp salad, and cubed beets with goat cheese (a small salad of quinoa and broccoli rabe was dull).
A good selection of beers and wines, plus a complement of gelati from Dolcezza, only deepens the appeal. Pete's is a keeper. …
Thanks for your suggestion on Cafe Du Parc! Good outdoor places are so hard to come by. And thanks for the thumbs up on the title "live 2 eat".
I didn't want to mention it, in case my question got posted, but live2eat is actually my food blog. I just started it recently, so still in the baby phases, but I'm having tons of fun with it. I'd love for you to check it out! www.live2eatdc.blogspot.com
Nice. I'm glad du Parc worked out. For something cheaper, I love Zorba's Cafe, just north of the Dupont metro. And there's also the patio at Poste.
Let's see, what else … Addie's, Black Market Bistro, Equinox, 2941 …
Anyone got some other good outdoors spots? The weather's a beast! And a lot of places in the city that I know have the A/C on and cranked are simply not cool enough.
The A/C's old, the door keeps swinging open, the sweltering hordes jack up the temperature … whatever the reasons, too many places — not the big-pocketed places, not those — just don't feel comfy right now. So, outdoors is the way to go.
Easy: Moby Dick House of Kabob, right on Wisconsin. I think it's the best of the various Moby locations.
Terrific naan (be sure to wait until you see a fresh round tacked up on the wall), fluffy buttered rice, and superbly juicy minced meat kabobs (kabob e kubbideh). I also like the swordfish kabob, which sports thick grill marks and is served up in big, hefty chunks. There's good hummus, too.
Bring cash, though — Moby doesn't take credit cards.
You bring up something really interesting, Arlington.
And that's the idea that asking for a recommendation is usually the way to go when you want to be steered toward something good. But what often happens with ethnic spots is, the staffer or manager takes the measure of your newbie-ness and decides: Nope, he or she can't handle this. And invariably, you get directed to something tame and inoffensive. I've seen it again and again. In many cases, you need to drop a reference to an ingredient or a not-common dish to prove to them that you're no parvenu.
Either that, or — the more expensive route — go several times in succession, so that they see that you're really interested in mining the menu for riches.
With a place like Hong Kong Palace, the magic word might be: ma la. That's the peppercorn that quite literally numbs the mouth, allowing for other spices to play with and against it, or differing temperatures (say, cold) to change the way you experience a particular taste.
I say that, of course, not knowing what your tolerance for heat is.
But I'm going to assume you like it hot. The best dishes here are often bracingly spicy, including the steamed Chengdu dumplings (I'd look for anything, by the way, with Chengdu in the name), and the cumin-scented lamb. For a nice change of pace, I'd zero in on the tea-smoked duck or the braised fish in broth.
Hope that helps, and I'll be curious to hear your next report …
So, you want the milk without having to buy the cow. I know the type.
Best Bargains will go online around the 23rd.
You know, you could also just call up the office and ask to buy a copy of that issue — Ms. Reba Patterson persons the desk, and she's just the nicest!
Yes: And it's peach, and it's DE-licious …
I went to Minerva Fairfax (after reading the great review in the June issue) on Friday and found they are closed. Apparently the shopping center they are located in is about to be renovated or redone.
Any idea if they will be in another location? Thanks, Jeff
There are three other locations of Minerva, in Herndon, Chantilly and Gaithersburg. The differences among them are pretty negligible, and all have the great and varied buffet.
But here's the thing. I just now dialed all three spots, looking for some intel, and guess what? Dead lines at all three.
This'll require some follow-up. Check back on the blog later today or tomorrow …
UPDATE: We checked in and found out the answer.
I wouldn't put that on my list, personally.
It's nice to be able to sit outside, although don't you think it's a little like being in a (classy) food court? And the sound of the Metro escalator and the noise from the cars going up and down Wisconsin — it's an odd sort of white noise.
I'm on a quest to go to as many "Best Bargain" Restaurants as I can this summer, but I'm sure I won't make it to nearly as many as I want to.
Give me three places I MUST GO TO!
I like this project!
And incidentally, if anyone out there is interested in visiting every one of the places on the list, be sure to let me know — I think it'd make for fun reading, and we'd love to chronicle your adventures. You know where to reach me: firstname.lastname@example.org
Three must-go spots:
* Ravi Kabob I or II in Arlington for the killer kabobs, the marvelous karahi dishes, and the irresistible channa.
* Nava Thai in Wheaton for the best Thai in the area, including the most addictive pad Thai I've ever eaten, a sort of frittata of crispy mussels with a green curry sauce, a terrific rendition of Panang curry, and the culinary adventure that is the Floating Market Noodle Soup (as complex a soup as you'll ever eat, and made to order, too).
* Mia's Pizzas in Bethesda for superb, crisp-crust pizzas (one of the kitchen's secret: a last-second drizzle of olive oil on the perimeter before serving) with great ingredients, good salads (I love the simply dressed broccoli rabe) and the must-order meatball sliders (with soft, richly flavorful meatballs that surpass the efforts of most large-operation restaurants).
It's good when the places to sit out at, are also good places, places you wouldn't mind eating (and drinking) on the inside if a table isn't available.
I saw that Rina Rapuano in the Best Bites Blog visited Sticky Rice in the Atlas district this weekend, as did we this weekend, so I wanted to post my own (more favorable) review.
For some of us Prince George's ounty people, the Atlas district is about as close as we get to eating in DC. but near home. The neighborhood is certainly not thriving yet, but there are signs that many of the boarded up buildings will revitalized into a quirky new part of the city. We had escaped the heat by going to SOVA DC, a wine and coffee bar with loads of comfy couches in an old row house, free wifi, some good coffee and funky and fun decorations.
I can't see why this place isn't more busy since places like Tryst are always packed, and this shares a similar vibe and there is much more parking for those driving. We went to dinner at Sticky Rice down the street, and had a different experience than Rina, who posted in the Best Bites Blog.
The restaurant was packed at 6:30 on a Sat night and we sat at the sushi bar, the only thing available. I had trouble choosing what I wanted from the menu– there are a lot of fun things on there, and I was also skeptical about the quality of fish since I can be picky about sushi.
We ended up getting one rice dish to split, the mock chicken and vegetables. It was good and spicy and fresh with various fresh veggies, if a bit too sweet, but nice flavors and it was a lot of food. The rolls were a lot of fun, expecially the chile roll, a combo of tuna, pineapple, cilantro, fresh jalepeno, cucumber and sprinkled with bright red roe. I wouldn't say it was the best quality, but it was a lot more fun than many other places and I enjoyed it.
It took about an hour for us to have dinner, and the waitstaff was friendly and gave us updates. If you live in the area, or feel like an outing, check it out– not for serious sushi, but for a fun and fresh vibe and a creative menu.
Terrific report, Cheverly.
This touches on the perils of the blogosphere. I'm not saying Rina is wrong and you are right, or Rina is right and you are wrong, but I do think that it's really hard to know what a place is like until it's had a chance to settle in. Yet lots and lots of readers — presumably, readers who don't want to, ahem, buy the magazine and who scour the Infobahn for scraps of news on new places — clamor for us to put up early reports on the web.
Take them for what they're meant to be: quick, impressionistic accounts. The picture can change, and sometimes does.
By the time we put something in the magazine, of course, we've sifted through a lot of impressions, made multiple visits (my review for July, for instance, is built off of seven different meals) and are confident in rendering a more formal judgment.
Oh, I know what you meant. I was dodging it.
Last time I waded into these waters, I was shouted out at over the phone and embroiled in a string of weirdly angry emails.
Not worth it, especially when the stakes are not that high.
Yep, good one.
Although whatever relief you get is likely cancelled out by the hulking cuts of pork and beef and other hefty fare, like a recent appetizer I ate of sweetbreads and tempura-battered frogs' legs.
Excellent dish, by the way. I think I'd just rather eat it in the A/C.
They'd be better if you wrote an actual letter, or even an actual email, instead of just a dashed-off thing sent in to a chat. That speaks volumes.
You should know that media jobs are really hard to come by, and especially right now. Nobody comes right out of college and just joins the staff of a magazine or paper — not without an internship. And those are already filled for the first part of summer.
The way to this editor's heart is to forget about a job and just write — write, and write, and write some more, and start sending some of those pieces in, and see where that leads. I like hunger and initiative, I like people who are willing to chase things down, I like people who don't stand on ceremony or pedigree (what does it really matter where you went to school, really, if you can research and report and write?), I like people who make their own way (as Augie wrote: first to knock, first admitted).
I am looking for a romantic, intimate restaurant in DC.
We've enjoyed the scene and food at Mie N Yu, The Source and Neyla in the past. And by romantic, I don't mean Al Tiramisu where my neighbor is sitting in my lap.
Dark setting, ambience are key. Good food and great wine list would be nice too.
Any thoughts? Or am I asking too much of DC?
Not asking too much.
I can think of four off the top of my head, all with better food than Neyla.
Mendocino Grille and Wine Bar and Citronelle in Georgetown; Vermilion in Old Town; and Notti Bianche in Foggy Bottom … Cozy, darkly lit spots, excellent chefs. And you'll drink really well at both Mendocino and Citronelle.
I'll be curious to hear which spot you decide on …
Thanks for the great Cheap Eats issue. I really appreciate all of the changes you have made at Washingtonian since you started.
Quick question. I am not sure if you read the Post restaurant reviewer chat, but last week there was an angry post suggesting that the Post and specifically Tom does not adequately review lower price and ethnic options.
Do you think we could be better served if the Post provided more coverage of lower end food options around our area and what do you think of the three low end options they reviewed this week.
Honestly not trying to pit you against the Post, it is just that there has been some criticism, which I think is valid, that the Post does a poor job of covering the affordable and interesting options this area offers.
Thanks to the Washingtonian for all of the improvements and focus on the terrific, interesting and affordable eating options in our area.
First of all, thank you very, very much for the encouraging words. I think we're doing a lot better job of sniffing out the smaller spots, the forgotten spots, and of treating all restaurants, not just the big-ticket spots, with interest and respect. That's really important to me.
Now, do I think the Post should provide "more coverage of lower end food options"? Absolutely not. We've made that OUR territory! : )
I don't want to get into a discussion of mission and mandate, especially when I can't say that I know for certain what they are. I will say — and this applies not just to the Post but to a lot of publications, both papers and magazines – that it's not simply a matter of how much or how little gets covered.
It's how those places are written about when they are covered.
Few of those restaurants have PR machines behind them, and so, as a result, you tend not to read long descriptions from the reviewer of the designer, and of the brand of flooring. There's seldom a backstory given for the owners or cooks. Many times, you don't even get a name connected with the place. Details are often lacking.
More than that, is that you don't often sense an enthusiasm for the restaurant, the way you certainly would for the opening, say, of a new place by Daniel Boulud in NY or a Michel Richard here, or a restaurant by one of their apprentices. But even a lack of enthusiasm is preferable to a sense that a reviewer is slumming.
It's hard not to sense, as a careful, critical reader, that there's some invisible wall, similar to the infamous glass ceiling in the corporate world. There are cheap eats, ethnic spots, holes in the wall, mom n pops — and then serious restaurants.
What we're trying to do is, we're trying, as best we can (we can do better!), to blur those arbitrary lines, to cover what deserves to be covered (regardless of the hype machine, regardless of how much money an owner has invested). Good food is good food.
Anyway, enough sounding off.
Be well, everyone, eat well — and let's do it again next week at 11 …
I'm remiss, aren't I?
Congratulations, Eric Ziebold, Terry Theise, and the staff and management at Central!
I second your lament about the wait times at Burger Joint.
I also stood there for 25 minutes while the cooks piled burgers up at the end of the counter just to become cold before served because nobody was making fries. They definitely need to polish their act.
However, I wanted to add that the veggie burger is totally, absolutely awesome!! I can't wait to go back and get it again- it was huge, tasty, and had some sauce on it that was amazing. Perhaps not worth the huge wait….but this time I'll go earlier.