Tuesday, July 22 at 11 AM

Todd announced a new contest with a great prize, talked about CityZen and Komi, and gave ideas for a double date in Arlington.

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 July 15, click here.

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W o r d   o f   M o u t h  . . .

   … The patty wars are over. Leave it to the iconoclastic Michael Landrum to put an end to the skirmishes, and, perhaps, to the trend. Ray's Hell Burger (1713 Wilson Blvd.; 703-841-0001) arrived on the scene three weeks ago, suddenly and without warning, the H-Bomb that levels the field.
   Nothing — not the burgers at the new Burger Joint or the newer Good Stuff Eatery, not the ready-for-its-closeup rendition of the classic at Central Michel Richard or the truffled cheddar-topped version at Palena Cafe (the area's standard bearer of haute burgerdom) — approaches the magnificence of Ray's gorgeous, gargantuan patty.
   Landrum owns and operates two other restaurants, Ray's the Steaks and the de-facto steakhouse Ray's the Classics, and has fashioned a burger that loudly proclaims his status as the go-to-guy for beef in the area. I was a fan of the short-lived burger at Ray's the Steaks when it first opened six years ago, writing, in another space, "The half-pound sirloin patty, ground fresh every morning, is seasoned only with salt and pepper, then left to sit on the grill until it develops a thick char. The kitchen, it's nice to see, has a good understanding of the difference between medium rare and medium, but more important, Ray's obeys the First Law of Beef: Juiciness matters more than seasoning. Sure, there are 16 toppings to choose from, including charred tomatoes, roasted jalapenos, crumbled blue cheese, wild mushrooms, and grilled onions, but a burger this good doesn't really doesn't need any dressing up."
   That was a good burger. This is a great burger.
   Ten ounces of freshly ground, hand-trimmed aged prime beef, cooked to order over an open flame. The patty, thick and mounded and carefully charred, resembles a steak a lot more than it does a burger, and, in fact, eats like a steak, too; you can even order it "au poivre."
   The only burger I've had that's better is the Boulud burger, at Manhattan's db Bistro Moderne, a marvelous, mouth-defying patty stuffed with foie gras and braised short ribs. But that set me back nearly thirty bucks. This one sells for $6.95.
   The free toppings include a good beefsteak tomato, grilled red onions and sherry- and brandy-spiked sauteed mushrooms. The pay-extra list includes a roster of cheeses that would be good enough to stand on its own as a cheese plate. Among the choices are Queen Anne Stilton, Taleggio, Bel Paese and, for five bucks, a small slab of Epoisses; its inimitable runniness and slight stinkiness is an inspired partner for a juicy, medium-rare hunk of beef. There are simpler, cheaper cheeses, too including two kinds of cheddar — both of them aged.
   Don't look for fries; for the summer, Landrum is offering, free of charge, half of a buttered ear of corn and a small slice of watermelon.
   The space, like Ray's the Steaks, a few doors down, is spare and no-frills, adorned only with slasher movie posters and beef charts. At the moment, there isn't even a sign out front; Landrum was going to put up a decal on the window for "Butcher Burgers," but has had second thoughts and is toying with changing the name to "Ray's Hell Burgers."
   Richard, who kicked off the burger mania by showing what could be done with a simple mound of ground meat, tuna, shrimp and lobster (and, not coincidentally, what could be charged for such a simple mound), is set to open a burger place of his own sometime next year. I wouldn't bet against a four-star chef, but I doubt he can do much better than what Landrum has done, and especially at the prices the great meat maverick is charging. …

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T K ' s   2 0
A  C r i t i c ' s   S h o r t   L i s t

Komi
Full Key
Cork
Kotobuki
Palena and Palena Cafe
Citronelle and Citronelle Lounge
Nava Thai Noodle & Grill
Johnny's Half Shell
Ravi Kabob I and II
Tosca
Pete's Apizza
Poste Brasserie
A & J
Vit Goel ToFu House
Ray's Hell Burger
Oval Room
Farrah Olivia
Cafe du Parc
Hollywood East Cafe on the Blvd.
Corduroy

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A new contest to test your knowledge of the dining scene — as well as your wit.
   The prize: dinner for two ($150 value) at Circle Bistro, in the West End, which we awarded three stars in our annual survey of the 100 Best Restaurants in the area.
   "Carefully sourced produce, meats, and fishes are the inspiration for chef Brendan Cox’s pared-down Modern American fare, which manages to be both trendy and classic," we noted. "Young and old nibble on bar morsels and sip cocktails such as the Kaiser Wilhelm with Rangpur Tanqueray and lemongrass syrup in the asymmetric lounge, while patrons after more substantial fare head for the wedge of a dining room at this sleek eatery in the One Washington Circle Hotel."
   Here's the contest: With apologies to the Style Invitational, I'm inviting you to cross the names of two area restaurants, in order to produce a new, third restaurant name — which you will describe in a pithy sentence or two. Feel free to be as literal or as figurative as you like.
   Examples:

   Oya x Deli City = Oya Vey. Mouth-watering corned beef sandwiches in a stylish setting — so why is everyone complaining?

   2 Amys x Muffin Man Caribbean Cafe = Tropical Frolic. Pizzas, roti — and a pulsing atmosphere that gets the blood racing. 

   Brasserie Beck x Vegetate = The Brussels Sprout. Food fit for the hunt: hearty braises, rich stews, sweet beer reductions — but no meat in sight.  

   Enter as often as you like. Include your name, address, phone number and send to: tkliman@washingtonian.com
   Deadline: August 1st, by noon. …

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Arlington, VA

Hi Todd!

Any fun ideas for a double date on Friday night? We all live in Arlington but would be up for trying something in the city too.

A place with a fun atmosphere and affordable food (15-20 range for an entree) would be great! Open to all cusines!

You've got a lot that's right at your disposal, Arlington.

There's Minh's, for good Vietnamese cooking in an attractive setting. I love the grilled, skewered pork with vermicelli, the clay pot of caramel pork, the sizzling catfish with fresh dill and mint, and, for dessert, a cup of marvelous dark coffee mixed with condensed milk and poured over tea. Look for a dish of banana flowers, a recent special and a great start to a meal.

There's also Liberty Tavern, which is making a point of procuring good ingredients (particularly local ingredients) and handling them simply and smartly. From the outside, it looks like any old upscale tavern, and actually, it gets pretty raucous at nights with yuppies blowing off steam from work; what sets it apart is the food, which is a lot better than it needs to be.

Both of these spots are priced right in your wheelhouse.

Adams Morgan
Any word on Obelisk? Am looking for a small romatic place for a relaxed and slow (3 hours or so) dinner in Dupont. We have been to Komi, which was excellent, but don't want to spend that kind of money. Any suggestions?

Obelisk isn't what it was, in its heyday — and the culture has shifted around it, so that where the restaurant once felt like an innovator, it now is one of only a very large handful of spots devoted to really good shopping and no-fuss execution.

But, all that being said, it's still a very good pick for what you're looking for. The best part of dinner is the antipasti — a wonderful selection of tastes.

You could also give Mourayo, on Connecticut just north of the circle, a shot. Quiet and cozy, the pacing's relaxed, and the cooking (Greek, contemporary) is mostly assured.

Adams Morgan

Missed a chance to comment on last week's chat, but both meals I have had recently at Cityzen have been very big disappointments and not just based on the price, but in terms of the quality of the food.

I don't know if that is my fault for feeling like I should be tasting French Laundry fare and getting less or the restaurant's fault for not delivering the goods (although I lean heavily to the latter).

In any event, when I am looking for a big (and unfortunately expensive) meal with impeccable service I think there is only one choice in DC — Komi. I find the service there always outstanding and never pretentious, which happens at some other high-end restaurants — think Marcel's and Citronelle) and the food is excellent.

In the high-end market I don't think there is a place with better atmosphere, service and food collectively than Komi (especially if you are under the age of 40).

Interesting.

As I said last week, I've heard from a few readers recently about their less-than-stellar experiences at CityZen. As I also said, I don't know if this is a trend or a blip, nor do I know whether these readers, going off our four-star rating and ranking of the restaurant at the No. 2 slot in our recent 100 Best, are expecting the moon — any anything less has to qualify as an immense disappointment.

As for Komi … I'll tell you: I think that if we were to do a new ranking of the Top 100, I have a very good feeling it would come in at No. 1. 

Right now, it's my favorite restaurant in the area.

Arlington VA
I am obsessed with Jetties sandwiches. I am a newcomer to this forum, but havent heard you mention anything about that place. Their sandwiches use carved turkey–not deli meat. I would like to hear you weigh in on your thoughts about the style and quality of their food.

It's good.

I like more sloppiness, personally, with a sandwich — controlled sloppiness, a happy synergy of meat and cheese and sauce — but they do a good job.

Washington,DC

Hello Mr kliman

I am a new restaurant owner how can I get a restaurant critic like to come and try my food?

You can send me an email, first of all, to let me know what your place is and where — tkliman@washingtonian.com

I can't make any promises, but I will certainly read what you have to say. 

Mt. Pleasant, DC
So, any harassing phone calls from CityZen after the anonymous, cowardly etc. etc. beat-down you published last week?

Cowardly? It was no more cowardly than anything else that expresses a strong opinion and gets posted on internet chat boards around the globe.

No harassing phone calls — but I was questioned, and questioned strongly, for my decision to post it.

Bethesda, MD

Dear Todd,

please, HELP !! Hear is a dillemma – my parents have 40th wedding anniversary, I'd like to take them our for dinner on Saturday night in August (DC metro are). My father is an avid dancer, so going out for dinner and NO dancing would be NO fun. Please, advice ! Normandy Farms in Potomac – the food is NO good !!. Cecilia's night club is too noisy, tha's all i can come up with… Please, HELP !!!

Thank you, Loving Son

Well, Loving Son, that IS a dilemma.

Because the fact is, the places that offer dancing don't offer very good food, and the places that have very good food, don't have dancing.

What I would do is, I would eat somewhere good, then go dancing afterwards.

Carlyle Club is the spot I'd recommend for the dancing — swing music (the real kind, not the retro kind) with a live band in a contemporary supper club setting. It's in Alexandria, which means you'd have a number of good dinner options nearby.

The best of these is the bistro at Restaurant Eve. But there's also Farrah Olivia and Bastille. All would be excellent choices.

i hope this helps. Let us know how everything turns out …

venting
I want to vent about an area restaurant group that has begun to charge servers for cc transactions—i.e. taking the 2-3% transaction cost out of a servers tips. This is illegal, unfair, and an abuse of a situation–complain and get fired, or spend money trying to "win" a case. These restaurants should be ashamed of themselves.

By all means, vent.

But unless you name names, it's not venting — it's more like repressed rage. ; ) 

Silver Spring, MD

Last week, a poster asked about a good guys' dinner spot for a large group. I went to Ray's The Classics, last Saturday, had some great steaks and service plus they take reservations.

Also, I saw a some large tables (6,9 and a larger parter in their private room). Enjoyable time.

Yep, good call.
Cowardly, DC

Was just kidding with the cowardly thing. Keep calling 'em as you see 'em.

PS, my last meal at CityZen was transcendent and I didn't even get to see any of Andy's tattoos when he served the wine. Next time we're going to have him decant for us while topless.

See, we provide equal time on this chat. 

As for decanting while topless and tattooed… you just gave me an idea for a submission for the new contest: CityZen x Camelot. : )

CWD-Arlington
Hello Todd! I forget the name of the Italian deli/sandwich shop off of Florida in NE. Can you help?
A. Litterri. Terrific stuff.
DC

Hi Todd!

I'm off to San Francisco in a couple of weeks and could use help.

I've been using the SFGate.com as a resource for the area's top 100 restaurants (seems similiar to the Washingtonian's annual review). Using SFGate.com and some word-of-mouth recommendations, I've decided to try Boulevard for classic California cuisine and Kokkari Estiatoria which I envision to be a Zaytinya-esque Mediterranean experience.

I still have a couple of meals to that are unaccounted for. Any recommendations would be great. Thanks!

Add Delfina (for Italian), Sushi Ran (for stellar raw fish), and the incomparable Yank Sing (otherworldly dim sum) to your list.

I'd also look into a place called Michael Mina, for fine dining. Outside of The French Laundry, this is the spot that San Francisco's foodies pine for.

I have it on reliable reports, by the way, that Mina is going to take over the kitchen of the Four Seasons in Georgetown. It'll be a real shot in the arm for the hotel, and brings yet another big-time, national-stage chef to a city suddenly aswim in high-profile cooks.

Washington, DC
I was recently in Minneapolis and had a wonderful Venezuelan dish called cachapa (a corn pancake) that came with cotija cheese. Where can I get cachapas in the D.C. area?
Nope, haven't seen 'em anywhere in the area. Too bad — they're wonderful, if they're done right. Very addicting.
annandale, va
Todd: I hope you can help. I have a 20+ year collection of Gourmet Magazines that I can't throw away. They're in perfect condition; i.e., I never tear out pages of recipes I'd like to try. Do you know of any organization that would take these magazines?

I can't, no.

But I'll tell you: They'd be a great asset to our reference library in the food and wine section, if you'd consider donating them for that particular cause.

Let me know: tkliman@washingtonian.com

Silver Spring, MD
Hello! Trying to make plans for Bethesda's Restaurant Week next week. If you had to choose, would you go with Rock Creek, David Craig, or the new Redwood?

Interesting question.

I'm not slighting Rock Creek, it does what it does well, but it'd never be a consideration for me for Restaurant Week. Restaurant Week is the time to splurge and indulge.

In addition to being a time to splurge and indulge, Restaurant Week is a time to visit restaurants that are known quantities and generally out of your rotation because of price. That eliminates Redwood, which just opened. 

You're left with David Craig, which has had some bumpy moments since its brilliant debut. Salads and hand-rolled pastas remain the best things on the menu.

Washington DC
My boyfriend is moving down to the Williamsburg/Norfolk/VA Beach area next month. Any suggestions on places to check out?

Just one — a place called The Boot. An Italian spot in Norfolk that puts a premium on good, local ingredients and also makes its own pastas. Take a look at the web site — www.insidetheboot.com

rockville, md

I have my family member coming from LA and I don't where to take them for an out door brunch– Out door brunch is a sunday tradition to them and very important.

Is there a palce in DC where there is a great food?

Really good food? Then you want Poste.

There's an outdoor courtyard, and you can have your brunch there; I'd call far ahead, though, to make a reservation.

The Tabard Inn has good food, as well as a charming, brick-walled garden to sit in. It's swarmed for brunch.

Whichever you choose, don't miss the donuts. Both spots make their own.

Washington, DC
Now that tomatoes are safe again (yay!) I've been dying for a caprese salad. Where can I get a really, really good one? Seems to me that the mozzarella quality at a lot of places is eh.

I know what you mean — most times, it's not worth it at all.

They're doing a really good version right now at Cafe du Parc. The mozzarella is made by hand, and has a wonderfully soft, luscious texture. 

brunch
Just FYI if it is really hot out Tabard closes there patio for brunch and dinner.
Yes. Thanks for jumping in with the reminder/warning.
Crystal City, VA
Who are using the summer tomatoes most effectively this season?

Komi is doing a plate of tomatoes three ways right now that's to kill for.

Last week, I talked about the amazing barbecue crabs on the menu Friday nights at Johnny's Half Shell through September, said I never enjoyed crabs more. Well, I've never enjoyed tomatoes more than these.

Those two dishes — Ann Cashion's barbecue crabs and Johnny Monis's tomatoes three ways — are the best expressions of summer I've tasted in a long, long time around here. 

Capitol Hill
My parents are coming to visit me for Thanksgiving. But my kitchen is too small to cook a large dinner. Do you have place in mind for us?

Whoa! You plan early, huh?

It's too soon to know who is going to be doing Thanksgiving dinner, and what they will be doing, but a lot of good restaurants did T-giving Day dinner last year, including some of the top spots in the city: 2941, Vidalia, Citronelle, Blue Duck Tavern, Charlie Palmer Steak, Circle Bistro, and Bistro Bis.

I'd gladly put my T-Day feast in the hands of any of those places. 

WDC
Following up on my question last week about a spot for the Friday night of my bachelor weekend (I suggested RTS, you suggested Fogo de Chao, someone has followed up with RTC), any other suggestions for somewhere you can seat 8-10 folks for a little less $ than Fogo? I'm having the worst time thinking of somewhere that will take reservations, but isn't rather expensive. Thanks!

Hm.

How about Jackie's, in Silver Spring? Quirky, cozy, good prices, better-than-you'd-expect food, plus some good wines and good drinks. And — they take reservations.

It's also a place you can cut loose in, unlike a lot of others. I think it'd do the trick nicely.

I'm off to a quick lunch, everyone.

Be well, eat well, and let's do it again next week at 11.

And don't forget to send in those entries for the contest. A few have already come in, and it's all I can do to stop from laughing while I'm typing …

Submit a question for Todd's chat next Tuesday, July 29. 

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