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 10, click here.
Word of Mouth …
…. I love eating at Crisfield's (8012 Georgia Ave., Silver Spring; 301-589-1306); I just don't love the food. The oyster stew is watery and full of oversized, chewy oysters, and the generously sized platter of stuffed shrimp looks great but even with a roaring appetite, I can never finish it — its mayo-ey heaviness did me in. Still, it's a place I keep in my rotation for the atmosphere, the raw bar, the mix of races and generations, and, not least, the astonishingly cheap, cold beer. …
… The best potato chips in the area? Without a doubt, the ones at Jungle Grille (8145 Baltimore Ave # F, College Park; 301-441-3321) in College Park. These are made-to-order, hand cut and perfectly fried, and absolutely irresistible. The restaurant treats them like a batch of crispy french fries, supplying a cup of ketchup for dunking. It's not a stretch. There's not much I don't like here, including the terrific turkey burgers and egg salad sandwiches (don't laugh; a good egg salad sandwich is harder to find than you think). Proximity to some dreary fast food joints around the University of Maryland I think colors the perception of Jungle Grille, stamping it as a dive for college kids. A shame for a fun and spirited place that takes real pride in its food. …
… Tosca (1112 F St. NW; 202-367-1990 has always been a hugely popular destination for the attorneys in the firms that share quarters in the building above the restaurant. Over the years, lawyers have flocked to the drab, featureless ground floor dining room at lunchtime, turning the space into a sort of upmarket cafeteria. That fact, plus the restaurant's listlessness the last couple of years, has kept Tosca off of most foodies' radars. Too bad, because chef Massimo Fabbri has the kitchen humming with more purpose and more invention than ever. A recent plate of carrot pappardelle with a ragu of minced rabbit and sage was the sort of concoction that some chefs would be quick to draw diners' attentions to, with an arch or self-conscious description on the menu — a validation of their cleverness. Sometimes, those quotation-heavy dishes are far more interesting to ponder and talk about than they are to eat. Not this one. It eats better than it reads. It might be the best pasta dish in town at the moment. …
… The most disappointing meal I've had in a long time was at Black's Bar & Kitchen ((7750 Woodmont Ave., Bethesda; 301-215-6398), where sloppy execution and muddled flavors turned a gorgeous night on the patio into an expensive and dispiriting outing. It began with a crabcake so mealy and flavorless, it might have been a chicken patty, and ended with a plate of monkfish that was so uninspired (even with a bouillabaisse sauce) I stopped eating halfway through. Janelle Birdsall's desserts, on the other hand, were excellent — full of imagination and precision. Too bad that Birdsall, according to a waitress, has recently left the
The mussels at Granville Moore's (1238 H St., NW; 202-399-2548) have won a lot of fans. And they're
good. But they're not better than the mussels at Cafe du Parc (1401 Pennsylvania Ave., NW; 202-628-7000). Consistency counts for a lot, and a recent pot at the dark hipster haunt was undone by (slight) overcooking. Meanwhile, du Parc's remain every bit as sweet as they were when I first reviewed the restaurant a year ago. …
… A couple of years ago, beets and blue cheese (or goat cheese) were on every high-end restaurant menu in town, and had become as predictable a combo as Merchant and Ivory. Michael Harr at Butterfield 9 (600 14th St., NW; 202-289-8810) has given the dish the shock of the new. His beet box invokes the world of hip hop (along with Michael Landrum's menu quotation from the late Biggie Smalls, these are the only two references to rap I know of in the world of fine dining) as it dazzlingly reinvents a tired staple (dozens upon dozens of thin, square-shaped layers of beet are stacked one on top of another, glazed with lavender honey and slow-roasted, then sauced with a fondue of St. Pete's blue cheese). Good as this dish is, I'm even more enamored of his rabbit sausage. The meat, coarse-ground and delicately seasoned, is sliced into thick rounds, shingled atop a slick of celery root puree and sprinkled with chive blossoms. The preparation approaches the precious, but the sausage is robust and, in contrast to most preparations of rabbit, astonishingly juicy — a testament to Harr's facility with the butcher's arts. …
Thanks for the correction, Gaithersburg. In my mind, I guess, once a cash-only operation, always a cash-only operation.
Your note got me thinking: I know there are credit card places, and cash-only places. Does anyone take checks?
Better yet: Wouldn't it be neat if some places worked on the barter system? Curious … what would you barter for a nice meal? Or even a nice sandwich? Heck, even a stiff drink? …
Well … you could jump on here again and tell me and all of creation.
Or, you could shoot me an email — firstname.lastname@example.org
If you have no affiliation with the restaurant, I'd love to know what you like about it, and why.
Good for The Source, for getting back to you and offering to make things up to you.
But something I don't understand. "Not an everyday occurrence"? That list of wines by the glass is full of eye-poppers.
And The Source is not the only offender, or even the biggest offender. Take a look at the list of wines by the glass at Blue Duck Tavern. A lot of those wines are more expensive than some appetizers. And some approach the cost of an entree.
Look, I understand that these restaurants and others are offering some interesting tastes — in some cases, wines you seldom find anywhere else, or wines it'd be hard to locate in a store. Fine. But I think if you're going to stud your list with a few of these, then you need to work extra hard to balance the scales and come up with some real bargain gems. And most of these places aren't doing that.
I think I'd hit Oyamel, if I were you. Mexican small plates from Jose Andres, Penn Quarter location, fun atmosphere — just steer clear of the margaritas; they'll send that bill skyrocketing.
Or Jaleo. Spanish small plates from Jose Andres, Penn Quarter location, fun atmosphere — just steer clear of the sangria; they'll send that bill skyrocketing.
Or Zaytinya. Greek/Turkish/Lebanese small plates from Jose Andres, Penn Quarter location, fun atmosphere — just steer clear of bottles of wine; they'll send that bill skyrocketing.
(Note: This is in no way meant to imply that Jose Andres has a formula that he repeats endlessly, shuttling in different cuisines and mixing and matching styles.)
((I'm expecting a nastygram right … about … NOW ))
I'm sneaking off of work early tonight. Anywhere in DC you recommend for a good eating happy hour?
Preferably somewhere with great food that is made available at better than usual prices for happy hour. I like all kinds of good foods, so I'm open to any cuisine or level of sophistication. Thanks!
My pick would be Vidalia.
Before 7, you get a choice of 20 wines for seven bucks each (and mind you, this is one of the best wine lists in the region) and there are free nibbles to go along with them. There's also a bar menu, with lots of tempting things — most costing less than dishes on the regular menu.
A good glass of wine or two, the intricate cooking of RJ Cooper, the subterranean cool of the dining room — I think it's one of the best places to be in the city on a hot, humid afternoon.
Even though I missed yesterday's Best Bites & Outdoor Dining I wanted to comment on a new place that we visited and enjoyed very much.
We had gazpacho & asparagus bruchetta (a light cool dinner) at Le Pain Quotidian in the new section of Bethesda near Urban Country. They have a nice outdoor area and though maybe thought of a good for breakfast or dessert (since no alcohol) the dinner was marvelous. The gazpacho was much better than that at Jaleos and Kinkaids. It was great accompanied by marvelous ice tea,wonderful bread and followed by a fabulous almond meringue.
We loved it and the price was right.
Part of the reason the price was right is because Le Pain Quotidien is an international chain.
The company's first foray into the DC market was in Georgetown, late last year. Bethesda, I would imagine, is not the last. That seems to be the pattern with LPQ — there are tons of these cafes in New York and L.A.
fixatedonfood: Hey Todd, very much enjoy your chats.
I’m sure you have had discussions on eating alone in previous chats, however, wanted to complement Corduroy on a recent “table for one” experience.
I arrived at about 6:00PM last Saturday without a reservation and was greeted graciously, as if expected, and seated in the dining room. I could very easily have been placed at the bar upstairs, however, there wasn’t an assumption or recommendation that I dine at the bar, which I’m not opposed to, in fact sometimes enjoy, but I was appreciative that it wasn’t the automatic reaction.
The phenomenal service experience continued with the servers in the dining room, all of whom are attentive and knowledgeable without being overbearing or too noticeable. As can frequently be the case when dining solo, I was not rushed through my meal for the table which would have made me feel self-conscious and lonely. Too often we take great service for granted, just wanted to pass on my complements to Corduroy’s dining room team for providing me an outstanding customer experience.
And the food, Chef Power WOW’d me! The wine list is a thoughtful compilation, in price and selection, that pairs well with the menu. I had a crisp, dry Chablis with my first course, the Lobster Salad, the lightly herbed aioli and tender lobster served at the perfect temperature – not too cold – is divine. My second course of Ivory King Salmon beautifully complemented with a sauce of thyme, white wine, and butter that brought out the silky, oily wonderfulness of the fish was extraordinary.
Don’t’ think I passed up dessert, the strawberry tart with Strawberry Creamsicle provided the perfect conclusion. Strawberries, not sugar, were the prominent flavor and the cooked berries of the tart still had bite – I could have eaten an entire pan.
With a lot of first-timers at Corduroy, there's often a sense of: Why did I never know this place existed before?
I think it has to do with the fact that the place is as no-tricks as it gets, while still being sophisticated and intelligent. It lacks pretense, and glamour, and self-conscious, and these are wonderful, rare things. And the cooking is consistent and often terrific.
Re: solo diners. …
Dostoevsky said the degree of civilization in a society can be judged by the way it takes cares of its prisoners.
And I say: The degree of service at a restaurant can be judged by the way a place treats its solo diners.
Good for Corduroy. Although I'm not surprised.
I love seafood, with crabs as my all time fav. However, living in Virginia makes it hard to access the hundreds of crab places in Maryland.
Is there any good crab shacks in VA I should know about? I've heard of the the Quarterdeck in Arlington, is that any good?
I haven't been to the Quarterdeck, so I can't say. Can anyone?
But other than that … I can't think of a really, really good one. Again: can anyone?
You know what's even better than happy hour? Drinking in the afternoon.
I'm serious. A long, lingering lunch with a few glasses of wine, or a Manhattan, or even a few cold ones? Bliss.
Yes, it curbs productivity. Yes, you want to crawl onto a cot and take a nap. Yes, you feel as though you're a degenerate.
But what else recreates that thrill of the illicit that drinking once had, when you were young and callow and dumb? Happy hour, that's expected. Drinking at dinner parties, also expected. Drinking in the middle of the day: wholly unexpected. It's wrong, verbotten, and therefore, all the more pleasureable.
Speaking of Michael Landrum, my husband and I went to Rays the Classics late on Friday and took advantage of the $23 3-course bar special. (BTW they had increased the number of bar tables since our last visit).
The hangar steak was even better than I remembered. All steak should be so flavorful. By the time we were ready for dessert, they were out of our first three choices (coconut cake, key lime pie and cheesecake) but they sent us home with a "accidentally too frozen to serve now" slice of cheesecake to eat with our leftovers.
And those cashews are incredibly tasty–spicy and addictive.
It's a great deal.
And especially when, as I don't mind repeating myself, so many places are routinely charging $18 for a GLASS OF WINE.
And you beat us to it — we mention it in a new page of the food and wine section, called "Tasting Notes," a compendium of tips, gossip, insider news, etc. The first installment is out next week.
I went with a co-worker last Friday for a belated birthday lunch at Westend Bistro.
Glasses of decent-priced wine, tasty salmon rilettes, moist and lovely fish burger, not so terrific mac n cheese (with ham), but awesome complimentary dessert of brulled banana, chocolate cake/ice cream. We lucked out with a terrific server who didn't mind two women sharing those dishes. I'd return.
Thanks for the report, Falls Church.
I know a lot of people who carped about the conservativism of the menu, the lack of forward thinking, the sense that the gourmet bistro thing had already been done, and done well. But you know what? Being tasty, being consistent, these things come first.
Hello, Todd. I have two questions for you. Where do you recommend for a fun and casual, late Thursday dinner/drinks around Dupont Circle? I'll be picking up a friend from DCA and dropping her off at her hotel on P St. Maybe Mark and Orlando's or Cafe Trope?
How different is CityZen's 3-course bar tasting menu from Cafe Mozu's pre-theatre menu? Should we skip both and just go to Minibar (and/or Komi)? Thank you!
I was going to say, even before I reached the end of the sentence: Cafe Trope.
But that's only if you like big, bold cooking and Caribbean-inflected flavors. If you do, give it a shot.
As for the difference between the three-course bar tasting menu at CityZen and the pre-theater menu at Cafe Mozu? The difference between lighting and a lightning bug (deepest apologies, Mark Twain). Go with the former.
Good Morning Todd,
Speaking of chips, Chef Armstrong has two places to get the best. I believe last week, the chips at Eammon's were mention and deservedly so. At Eve (specifically the Lickety Split lunch), the potato chips are a real highlight-fresh, crisp, just thick enough to be hearty like a Kettle chip, but never greasy.
The best part is that you don't need to barter for a lunch that costs $13.50! LPQ also has a location in Old Town. It opened several months ago.
I like Armstrong's cooking.
But trust me: They can't be better than the ones at Jungle Grille.
I'd drive forty-five minutes just to eat a mess of the Grille's chips with ketchup.
I don't know enough yet about Alto Plaza to weigh in, so I won't.
I will say, though, that sometimes people are too influenced by reviews. By that I mean: Reviews are focused very, very heavily on food, and most people I know are simply not that focused on what they eat when they go out. They want something tasty, but they are not overly concerned about exactness and clarity and balance, etc., etc. They're not overly concerned about being wowed by a combination of ingredients, etc., etc. About being shown something new and interesting. About being pushed and challenged. They're more concerned about being taken care of, and being in a place that makes them forget the world for a few hours, and having a nice time.
I also think it's interesting to see how places respond to reviews. It might be that Alto Plaza has corrected course. Sometimes, with a good review, a restaurant (particularly an independent) struggles to hand the flood of business, and is never the same again.
Arlingtongue! Welcome back.
And thanks for the feedback …
Sure. I think that'd fit the bill.
Chime in next week and let us know how you liked it (or didn't) …
I know some think it's a bad thing — yet more celebrification, yet more incursions from the (glamorous) outside.
I do think that it intensifies the sense of competition, and that's a great thing. It will force the very good places to stay on top of their game, and to seek out new ingredients and new arrangements.
I'm curious to see if it has an effect on the good places. Again, we'll see.
I'm off to a quick lunch, and then off to New York for a couple of days of eating and exploring.
Be well, everyone, eat well, and let's do it again next week at 11 …