Tuesday, July 29 at 11 AM

Every Tuesday at 11, food & wine editor Todd Kliman takes your questions about Washington area cuisine and restaurant news. Plus, he's got a new contest for you to enter—with an excellent prize.

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 22, click here. And don't forget to enter Todd's new contest. Details:

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.

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. 

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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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W o r d   o f   M o u t h  . . .

… With burgers dominating so much food talk lately, I went up to Brookeville, north of Olney, this weekend to the Sunshine General Store (22300 Georgia Ave., Brookeville; 301-774-7428) for a reminder, in the words of one longtime, trend-suspicious reader, of "what burgers are really supposed to be."
   General Store is really too fanciful a description; this is a variety store. The lighting is dingy, the shelves are full of durable goods and old time candy, and there's a special fridge near the front that holds containers of worms — on this afternoon, a waggish father lifted the lid of one of them in the hopes of spoiling his three kids' appetites for candy. (It didn't work.)
   In the back, there's an open grill with a few worn stools and a table. There's a full menu of sandwiches, but everybody comes for the burger.
   Foodies may not want to read any further, because the answers to the questions "do they grind their own?", "do they mix in fatback?", "are they using anything besides chuck?" and "are they getting a brioche bun?" are "no," no," "no" and "no." The recent New York magazine Cheap Eats issue advances a theory of a "burger correction" — in times of economic distress, the desire to fill a patty with foie gras or top it with caviar recedes, and a burger can go back to being the simple thing it was meant to be. Sunshine's stands as correction even for the correction. Half a pound of not-too-lean chuck, cooked to order and stuffed inside a grocery store bun — you know, the kind we all used to be happy with, oh, ten, fifteen years ago — and so juicy that you'll be reaching for a napkin every other bite.
   Price: $4.95. With a slice of provolone, swiss or American: $5.25. …

   … More deals: Sesto Senso (1214 18th St. NW; 202-785-9525) wouldn't be my first, second, or third choice for a bowl of pasta — hell, it wouldn't be my tenth or eleventh, either — but the Connecticut Ave. trattoria is offering an attractive happy hour promotion through the end of summer: half off your tab.
   Let's translate that into practical terms: For a plate of three unspectacular but solid antipasti (roasted peppers, marinated mushrooms and sauteed broccolini), an entree portion of ravioli (homemade, though stuffed with what tastes like frozen spinach), a glass of Primitivo, tax and tip, you can get out for just a hair over twenty bucks. Plus, a waiter who calls you "boss," a dark, cooling interior that's a respite from the heat and humidity, and a plate of three cookies with the check. …

   … Deals, part three: At Whole Foods on P St. right now, they're selling a bottle of Massaya Classic, 2006, a blend of three red wines — Cinsault, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah — that hails from a bijou winery in the Bekaa Valley, in Lebanon. What is significant about the wine, other than the fact it's from Lebanon?
   Last winter, it was the wine that Komi was pairing with its fabulous katsikaki.
   If you've never had the dish, let me try to describe it — or, if you have had it, indulge me in trying to recreate the magic of it in words: a tour de force presentation of spit-roasted baby goat (the skin burnished and crackly and sprinkled with salt and oregano, the meat soft and luscious) that eats like a sort of low-and-slow Mediterranean barbecue; it's best appreciated by tucking the soft, ropy meat and skin into triangles of butter-swabbed fresh pita and — after spritzing the thing with lemon and sprinkling oregano salt on top and gilding it with a dab of habanero sauce — eating it with your hands.
   Now, who among us is brave enough, foolish enough, skilled enough to take the time to do a spit-roasted goat at home? But the wine (earthy and lightly spicy, but also soft and supple) is a great match for a lot of other big, hearty flavors: It dances adroitly with a plate of seared scallops and romesco, and works great, too, with a tagine or a roast chicken. It's a very good deal at $12.99 a bottle. …

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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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Arlington, Va

Hi,

Just saw that chef Whigham is now leaving Hook. What is going on over there. It certainly is a disappointment. I loved his new menu that he had created. Please tell me where I can find him next.

Thanks. Nancy

It's a real soap opera, isn't it? As Hook Turns … or, better yet — The Tasty and the Troubled.

As for Josh Whigham — who didn't have a lot of time to get his feet set in the kitchen as The Man — I'm told he's going to New York. 

Be interesting to see who comes aboard next, after all that's gone down. 

There's a lot in place for the restaurant to succeed, going forward — an interesting and imaginative wine list, a menu built around unusual, fresh, wild fish, and a very talented pastry chef in Heather Chittum.

 

D.C.

Todd:

After reading the entries from the last two weeks about CityZen, I thought I would relay my experience there last week at dinner. Overall the food was excellent (with one exception) and really brilliant for two items (both amuse bouche).

The exception was my entree of lamb. The sauce was salty and the accompanying chorizo sausage was so salty that it was close to inedible. I mentioned this to our server whose response was "Perhaps an overreduction." My thought was "doesn't anyone taste the food when it is being prepared or before presentation." I did not requeest a replacement and none was offered.

Service otherwise was very good. Overall I would certainly return to CityZen but I would not consider it the best in Washington. Thank you.

Thanks for writing in.

Not sure how this will be taken in some quarters of the food world, but I suspect that one sentence of "excellent" and "really brilliant" followed by a paragraph of carping will be taken as, on the whole, a net negative. I don't think you see it that way, which is why you wrote in the first place, and I don't see it that way, either, which is why I'm posting your take on things now.

 

Alexandria, VA
I saw that Makoto ranked #1 in the newest Zagat guide. I've never heard of it. What do you know about it?

Makoto is in the Top 30 of our 100 Best Restaurants guide, which we published this past January. I think that's where it belongs.

It's a little jewel box of a place in Palisades, on MacArthur Blvd., with seating for perhaps two dozen, exceedingly gracious (but sometimes overbearing) service, and a kaiseki-style meal that amounts to a succession of small plates (soups, salads, sashimi, sushi, grilled meats) that build in interest and intensity. Sometimes, the flavors are exquisite; sometimes, not.

You come out sated, perhaps, but seldom full. I know a lot of people who find themselves at the end of a two hour meal here still hungry, and forced to dip into funds to supplement their prix fixe dinner. The a la carte menu is expensive, and includes such marvelous morsels as fatty yellowtail — two pieces of which will set you back about $15.

The way I see it, Makoto is on the low side of three stars, and far from the best restaurant in the city. Actually, I would rather spend my night at the sushi spot just above it, Kotobuki. Nothing perhaps approaches Makoto at its exquisite best, but my meals there have always given me great pleasure, and it's a remarkable value.

Alexandria, VA

My friend is done clerking this week and wants to hit a few of the fun eats before she leaves that she didn't get to do while she was here. She is convinced she needs a cricket taco at Oyamel but I don't like the food there overall.

Do you recommend a way in which we can hit up fun, small, "legendary" dishes at several places to make a meal?

No, no, no — grasshoppers, not crickets. Sheesh

Basically, what you've got in mind is a kind of progressive dinner, an eat-filled traipse through the city. Sounds like a my kind of night of fun.

Let's see now …

You could start on U St. with Ben's Chili Bowl for a half smoke, then, walking west, hit Oohhs & Aahhs for the fried chicken, then, continuing westward, hop the Dupont metro to Chinatown, get off at H St. and grab a plate of soyed 1/2 chicken or fresh-made noodles at Chinatown Express … or, walking southeast, drop by Bistro d'Oc for the sauteed calves brains in caper butter …

or …

c'mon, chatters, you fill in the blanks, help me out …

 

Tim Kaine vs Mitt Romney
Let us see if you bite this…. Who is better for restaurants?

Oh, boy — you can tell it's almost August …

Um …

Hm …

Jeeze …

Uh …

Wait, wait — I've got it! Neither! How's that? : )

Actually, a couple of things … You're assuming that Kaine's going to be the VP pick; I don't really think he's the guy.

And I know it's a hopeless over-simplification and wrong, wrong, wrong … but I tend to think of right-wingers as steak-and-potato guys. Meat is might. And might is right. Or something like that …

Deliberating among choices, weighing options, composing a menu of small plates, indulging a taste for raw fish or indulging in a treat like foie gras — it all seems so, well, John Kerry.

Incidentally, who remembers Jeff Garlin's memorable standup routine about the difference between him and his father? His father is "toast." Reliable, predictable. Garlin, remember, id's himself as "pop-tart," fanciful, spontaneous.

Toast vs. pop-tart. 

I like it.

Every bit as good, in its way, as "kibbitzers vs. criers." 

silver spring, md

Todd,

I thought I'd add my 2c re: CityZen. My husband took me there for by birthday last month, and we got the tasting menu with wine pairing. We could not have been more delighted with the entire evening. I enjoyed every bite (despite knowing that the chef was out of town at the JB awards dinner).

The highlights were the lamb with fresh peas, sable fish over artichoke, and the cheese course, which was served with a beer tasting (3) which struck us as a really good idea. Service was attentive but not imposing. I was particularly impressed with the bartender's dedication to getting the delicious mint julep right (a slight delay to get crushed ice).

We look forward to returning (probably to take advantage of the eating-at-the-bar option).

More balancing of the scales …

Thanks for writing in, Silver Spring. 

Vienna

I would love to get your opinion on the following incident: Last night (on a Thursday), my boyfriend and I went to Zaytinya around 9:30 or so and wanted to just get some dessert.

The hostesses–and there were no less than 8 people at the host stand, no joke–said that we couldn't sit at a table unless we were ordering from the full menu, we could only sit at the bar. We counted at least 7 open tables in the dining room.

Has DC gotten to the point where restaurants will really turn people away when there are open tables?

I think you have to keep in mind that at that hour, late as it sounds, Zaytinya is still packing them in for after-concert, after-play, after-game dinner. It's that kind of a place.

I'd be willing to bet those tables filled up within a half-hour or forty-five minutes.

Sitting at the bar, by the way, is not being consigned to Siberia — and especially not at a nice place like this.

To all restaurateurs?
During these hard times who is better for restaurants? Todd Kliman or Tom Sietsema? Come on restaurateurs – speak up…

Well, it ain't me.

I fritter away my time in the weeds, looking for new taquerias and crossing the river into Southeast to eat at seafood joints with bulletproof glass — mistakenly presuming my mission to be that of finding good food wherever it might be … 

Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
we will be in DC for only a few hours. The young adults that will be there have never been to DC before. I would like to take them to restaurant that was exciting , with good food and the wow factor . Can you suggest a neat place?

If it were me, Oklahoma City — and welcome to this forum! — I'd take them to Central Michel Richard, on Pennsylvania, about five blocks from the White House.

Sophisticated but fun, with a four-star chef's rendition of American classics and refined, re-imagined versions of French bistro fare. You're not going to find anything like it anywhere else.

It's not cheap, but considering the pedigree — and considering, also, the level of skill and the invention that goes into these dishes — it amounts to something of a deal.

(By the way, since you now have the Sonics — the Thunder? Seriously?)

Dupont North
To the Grasshopper-eater: I love the lamb sausage with lentils and a side of crispy frites at Brasserie Beck, the "faux gras" from Central, the rare lampchops at Morton's, the tuna tempura roll at Tehn Pehn, the mojito at Cafe Atlantico, the Morel soup and the crab raviolis from Le Paradou…just to get started!

Good ones, Dupont North!

But "legendary"? Things you can't get anywhere else? Maybe the "faux gras."

Arlington, Va
It's my boyfriend's 25th birthday this weekend and I'd like to take him out to dinner Saturday night. He requested Spanish Cuisine and there don't seem to be a lot of options in D.C. Any suggestions?

Have you looked into Taberna del Alabardero, on 18th St.?

Old World charm, refined Spanish cooking, excellent wines, formal service and elegant atmosphere. 

Silver Spring, MD

Hi Todd,

Have you been to Meli in Baltimore yet?

My extended family (10 of us) went there on Sunday for B'more Restaurant Week and were delighted with the place.

They are serving their entire menu (mediterranean with a tendency towards including honey). Between the 10 of us, we tried a majority of the menu. The standouts were numerous. For appetizers, the "duck sausage" was really a cassoulet with white beans and some amazing red cabbage, diver scallops had a tasty, slightly sweet sear, and the tuna tartar was delicious.

For mains, local rockfish was cooked perfectly, the lavendar honey salmon was a big hit, and any vegetable that had seen the grill was amazing (particularly the asaparagus). The only gripes were that the steak au poivre and veal hangar steak were cooked beyond the requested medium-rare, but they were still tasty.

Desserts were delicious (and huge portions, as were the appetizers and entrees). There was a divided opinion about whether the cheesecake or a greek dessert (shredded phyllo with a pistachio custard and creme fraiche) won the day.

We loved the feel of the place, too. We ate upstairs, but noticed that the downstairs had a cool, lounge like area with couches. I wish I lived closer!

Thanks for the full and lengthy report, Silver Spring.

I haven't been to Meli yet, no. I've had it on my list for when I'm next in the city, and your notes have made me even more curious …

Recession?
Did you hear that Benigans is closing about 32 stores nationwide…..

I didn't hear that, no.

Ordinarily, I'd greet news like that with indifference, at best. But it's not a good sign for the industry — it's a very, very bad sign, in fact.

I'd be willing to bet that more bad news — no, worse news — is about to drop in the next few weeks.

But still … this ISN'T a recession. It's not. Uh uh. 

It's not appropriate to get political in this space — this is, after all, a place to discuss food and restaurants — so I will refrain from saying that we are in desperate need of a real leader to run this country, and in desperate need of an end to a pointless, expensive war.

 

Wheaton, Md

Just got back from Bangkok. Nava Thai undisputedly tastes more like Thailand than Ruan Thai.

However, due to my non-local taste buds, Ruan still tastes better to me.

But the spicy, sour, salty, sweet soup you reviewed from Nava is heavan on the streets of Bangkok. I just chose not to try and guess which animal parts were included in the version I ate.

I am headed to Tokyo for 5 days next week. Any restaurant or food type suggestions, or any offers to pay for my meals for a detailed report? Please?

And that's why Nava's the best Thai food in the area right now.

My guess is, you need to delve deeper into the menu; there's a lot there that'd please you, beyond the street food staples.

Ruan Thai's good, too. And I love the crispy duck with basil; actually, I think their version's superior to the one at Nava.

Enjoy yourself in Tokyo. I wish I had some suggestions for you, other than to urge you to eat raw fish at every opportunity. Just remember, there are more Michelin-starred restaurants in Tokyo than in all of Paris and New York.

zagat ratings?
Who does this ratings? How much do you trust this? Do they have reviewers? Pardon my ignorance…

Who does the ratings? Why, the people!

Sometimes Zagat is helpful, particularly if you're new to an area and want to get the lay of the land, but it's important to remember that a high rating in Annapolis, say, is not the same thing as a high rating in New York or San Francisco or even DC.

You have to remember, also, that Zagat finds its restaurants in the first place by scouring the Post and the Washingtonian for places; you almost never see a restaurant in any of the books that didn't first get reviewed in one place or the other.

Generally speaking, I find the guides to put a premium on very comfortable places with experienced servers. Which is why you see oases — like Makoto, like the Inn at Little Washington — scoring so highly.

We, here, put a premium on memorable, distinctive cooking — cooking that moves us, that's full of mastery, that makes us forget our troubles … regardless of its level, and regardless, too, of whether the chef is a boundary-pusher or rooted in the classics.

Craves Good Pizza

Hi Todd!

I was wondering if you have visited Oro Pomodoro in Rockville Town Center yet. I hear mixed reviews on the pizza there…it seems to be a 'love it' or 'hate it' kind of thing.

I am craving some decent "NY Style" pizza. I've enjoyed pizza at 2 Amys in the past, but it does nothing to quench the craving the city pizza of my NY/Philly youth.

I haven't found anything in suburban MD that even comes close.

I'd get myself over to both of these spots, if I were you, CGP:

Pete's Apizza, in Columbia Heights. Terrific New Haven-style pies (I like the white clam pizza with garlic, and the Sorbillo's original). 

and

Moroni and Brother's, in Petworth. The latter made our Cheap Eats list this year (Pete's hadn't opened by press time). Excellent prole-style (as opposed to boutique-style) pies from a wood-burning oven, from a husband-and-wife team that worked for nearly two decades at Pizzeria Paradiso. You can also get some terrific Salvadoran food, including the wonderful carne deshilada and tamales.

Wheaton, MD
Bennigan's is terrible even compared to it's mid-priced chain competitors. Tastebuds everywhere can rejoice.

Of course it is.

I'm not lamenting the closings as a blow to good food. But the big chains are usually the first to register the effects of a tanking economy. It's a very bad sign for the industry.

Vienna
Going to New Orleans for 3 night, basically to eat 🙂 Selecting 3 dinner venues is impossible! I've narrowed it down to Irene's Cuisine, Jaquimos Cafe, and Brigtsens. Do you think that's a good mix of price/food? I've already been to Bayona and Herbsaint..both excellent, but I wanted to try different restaurants this time. Thanks!!!

"Basically to eat" — I mean, hell, what other reason is there to go anywhere in this world? : )

The only one I'd strike from the list would be Jacquimo's. Enjoy yourself. The city can sure use your dining support.

Incidentally, Brett Anderson, the terrific critic for the Times-Picayune, has just resumed reviewing restaurants in the paper for the first itme since Katrina.

progressive dinner..
Get down in cleveland park – have a glass of wine and a small plate at Dino, have a soup at Spices and have a lamb Shank in Indique and have a dessert and after dinner drink at Palena bar counter.

Not bad … the problem is, when it comes to the best place on that list, Palena, you only have time (and room) for dessert and a drink. Dessert and a drink, when you could build your night around one of the glorious soups or pastas, or the cheeseburger, or the roast chicken, or …

Bethesda, MD

Todd,

Greetings and Good Morning! I could not believe the news that you shared with us last week that Michael Mina will be opening a restaurant at the Four Season's Georgetown! I have been to almost all of his restaurants in Las Vegas, San Francisco, and Atlantic City…

With alot of the top celebrity chefs coming or already opened in DC (Source, Olives, West-End Bistro, BTL Steak, Charlie Palmer, etc…) where would you rank DC in the US for top food destinations? I was thinking about 4th place behind SF, NY, Chicago.

Have a fabulous day!

I'll try, thanks — and you, too, Bethesda.

Where would I rank the city? 4th is too high, although I think the city is rising with a bullet, as they say over in Billboard land, and may, in the next ten years, nudge its way into the very first rank.

You forgot Los Angeles, by the way, which I'd put ahead of Chicago.

Las Vegas belongs in the discussion somewhere, although it's not what I'd call a food town — it's got a collection of fabulous restaurants and no food culture. (I'm in the minority, here, with this assessment.)

Philly, Boston, Miami … I think DC is superior to these cities. New Orleans has fallen, obviously, but Charleston has risen. Does it now stand toe to toe with this city? I don't think so.

Anyway, enough musing … I've got just enough time to munch down a sandwich and get back to (writing and editing) work …

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

And don't forget to enter the current contest — the winner of which will take home dinner for two (value: $150) at Circle Bistro. See the rules at the top of this chat. There are already some very fine and very funny (and yes, very dirty) entries. Keep those submissions coming!

Didn't get your question answered in this chat? Try submitting it to next week's chat, Tuesday, August 2 at 11 AM. 

 

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