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 August 12, click here.
W o r d o f M o u t h . . .
La Kasbah (11424 Washington Plz W, Reston; 703-707-0733) might not be what leaps to mind when you think of waterfront dining — Reston's Lake Anne is man-made, for one thing. And the scene that springs up along its aging banks on a late-summer night, though fun and sometimes festive, would never be confused with anything so rarefied as "transporting."
Then again, the cooking at this modest Moroccan cafe demands more of your time and attention than the pleasant if forgettable fare that frequently passes for dinner in more conventionally idyllic settings.
On a warm or temperate night, sitting on the porch overlooking the wrinkled lake and watching couples stroll by hand in hand, you may find yourself, nevertheless, distracted by the exuberantly spiced Moroccan stews that define the two-year-old restaurant.
For a mom 'n' pop, the place extends itself in tending to the details, importing its olive oil and dried fruits from Morocco, for instance, as well as a number of its wines (including a spicy but supple red from the Guerrouane region that might be mistaken for a Syrah). It also displays great patience at the stove, as evidenced by the harira, a classic Moroccan soup that shimmers with the unfakeable taste of something that's lingered all day in a pot . So, too, the zaalouk — a zesty mash of roasted eggplant, tomatoes, garlic, cilantro and olive oil that's scooped up onto thin wedges of warm pita.
Bistilla at many Moroccan restaurants is an entree — at the celebrated Timgad, in Paris, it's meant for two to share; La Kasbah offers it as an appetizer, a manageable prelude to the heartier dishes to come. An inspired fusion of savory and sweet, bistilla is received with curiosity and even disdain by many otherwise adventurous Americans; a shredded chicken pie encased in a flaky round of pastry dusted with cinnamon and sugar is confusing to a culture that likes its savory and sweet segregated. The version here is excellent, as good an introduction to the dish as you're likely to find.
Tagines and various iterations of couscous take up the rest of the menu. Tagine refers both to the tool and the method — to the cooking vessel that's the pot of choice for many Moroccan cooks, and to the rich, aromatic flavors that this ancient pressure cooker is known to coax from its subjects. Done right, tagine mitigates against the possibility of tough, dry meats. "Lamb spicy" illustrates the benefits of this time-honored low-and-slow process. A Flintstonian shank of lamb sits hunkered in a giant soup bowl, the meat soft and yielding and ready for shredding into a fiery tomato and pepper sauce.
La Kasbah doesn't make its own couscous; few places do. But it does the dish with uncommon care. Tfayah couscous, in particular, has the feel of a feast offering, a grand, long-simmered affair of sweet, sticky onions, juicy raisins and soft, fine-grained couscous. The aromas are complex and insistent and will summon to mind, for many, the image of a holiday table.
The dish is served with either a choice of stewed chicken or braised lamb — the latter comes to the table in the form of another enormous, bone-jutting shank. Size notwithstanding, (and confusing, perhaps, to many American eaters) the meat is not the focal point; the focal point is the couscous. If anything, the meat is the condiment.
The cooking at La Kasbah is so hearty, so often, that dessert is seldom more than a passing thought even for most of the restaurant's many regulars. Still, a plate of baklava (along with a marvelous silver pot of mint tea and/or coffee) comes standard as part of the $59 dinner for two. It's a terrific deal, a real inducement to dine at a time when so many people are cutting back: two appetizers, two entrees, a bottle of wine and dessert. And, if you're lucky, a table by the water. …
… "All our friends ask us: Is Polly pregnant?" Robert Wiedmaier says, alluding to the new restaurant he's set to open in Old Town Alexandria in February of next year.
His two boys, Marcel and Beck, provided the names for his first two restaurants. But for this, his third venture, the chef will go outside the family. (Well, he hopes — the name is already embroiled in a "legal battle with a trademark"; Wiedmaier is counting on having the negotiations wrapped up later this week).
The restaurant, which the chef himself designed (one of the perks of another arduous negotiation) will go into the new Kimpton property on King St., The Lorien Hotel and Spa. The 80-seat dining room will be flanked by a 45-seat wine-tasting room with its own wood burning oven. The cuisine? French. Chris Watson, an acolyte of the chef's, will oversee the kitchen.
Wiedmaier was chary about divulging more details, other than to say that this time around he's splitting the difference: "It's not going to be as refined as Marcel's and not as casual as Beck." …
T K ' s 2 0
A C r i t i c ' s S h o r t L i s t
Palena and Palena Cafe
Citronelle and Citronelle Lounge
Nava Thai Noodle & Grill
Johnny's Half Shell
Ravi Kabob I and II
A & J
Vit Goel ToFu House
Ray's Hell Burger
Cafe du Parc
Hollywood East Cafe on the Blvd.
I messaged you in your August 5 column about an Italian place that I could take my intern who was returning to VA Tech–the picky eater. You recommended Dino.
We were there Tuesday night, a table of 6 ladies right near the kitchen! Great service and to everyone reading—they are carrying RW menu for the entire month of August. Go Now!
PS: You were right about the Pig—which my "picky eater" intern had and loved. Even put a nice candle on her desert for us. Thanks again!
And how about that? Pig does wonders, doesn't it?
we are going to Richmond, Va for the weekend. Any suggestions for a good dinner? We enjoy all types of cuisine and cost (within reason) is not a concern.
I was down there a couple of months ago and enjoyed a few places …
Edo's Squid, a darkly lit Italian joint (good fritto misto) … Perly's, a deli with great rolls and biscuits and good sandwiches … and Buz and Ned's barbecue (fantastic ribs, smoked outside in a smoker until they develop a nice, pink smoke ring and finished inside on the grill; there's also a good selection of quality bourbons. Bourbon and barbecue — what could be better?)
I'd wanted to get to Millie's Diner, which came highly recommended; they had an electrical outage. The place boasts what might be the best restaurant jukebox I've seen — take a look at the website: milliesdiner.com
Had RW at Circle Bistro on Friday night. Food was fabulous and complete menu with no upcharges. Any ideas who may be replacing Cox when he leaves for DC Coast?
Also, any new rumblings about Gordon Ramsey at the Ritz in Tysons???
No new Ramsey rumblings, no.
And no word yet on who will be replacing Brendan Cox at Circle.
Complete menu with no upcharges. Terrific. This is the way Restaurant Week is supposed to be done. No bait-and-switching, no game-playing.
Circle has long been one of the best RW performers in the area, even before Cox came aboard.
Hey, nice. And now that you're no longer getting a grade, the laying on of praise is *that* much more believable … : )
I can be reached at — firstname.lastname@example.org … Love to hear from you …
I'm afraid this is more of a rant than a question, but I would like to know if there is anything we should have done differently in this situation.
Last Friday, I went with six friends to Olives, a meal that we were looking forward to, but Friday's experience made us all want to never return.
It would take close to an hour to document how horrible the service and response from management was, but I'll include the high points.
* It took 15 minutes for our server to greet us and take our drink orders.
* We never saw that server again.
* It took close to an hour for us to finally place our order and receive our appetizers – this was the first of three times we spoke to the manager.
* Our meal took close to three hours and we were not lingering over our food (we were famished by the time we got it, so practically shoveled it down).
* The ladies room went without toilet paper in both stalls for 2 hours.
* Other larger groups were seated after us and finished close to 30 minutes before we left.
* It took close to 30 minutes to get and pay our bill – again we were not dawdling.
* When members of my party shared these and other experiences with the manager on two additional occasions, his response was to shrug and pretty much say "too bad."
While everything about the experience was horrible, what was most disappointing was the response from the manager. Most regular restaurant patrons know that they should bring up problems with the manager when they happen and not after the fact. We did this and still got little to no response from him. The owners of Olives should be ashamed of themselves from employing such a negligent manner and I hope that my email to the management team will receive a less negligent response than what we received on Friday night.
That's bad. And the worst of it is as you say — that you got no real response from the manager.
Restaurants make mistakes — all of them, even the best places. But the best places also deal with those mistakes in a first-class manner.
I'd consider firing off a letter to corporate.
I don't have any information on that particular market, no.
Is this a trend? I hope it is more than I think it is at this point.
But with the interest in farmers' markets, and the interest in buying locally, and the growth of the close-in suburbs, and the shock and awe of gas prices, it sure does seem like we should be seeing more and more of these kinds of spots in the next few years. It'd be a very good thing for the area.
Hey, didn't I just drop some inside info in the blog part of this page with the news of a new restaurant from Robert Wiedmaier?
What, do I also have to tell you, in the very same chat, that a prominent chef-restaurateur has plans to open what I think will be a groundbreaking restaurant sometime next year?
I hear you.
What you're saying is: Poobahs, get TK a producer.
I produce this thing myself, folks. Select the questions, format the questions, make it look nice on the page — the whole shebang.
It's not about a faster system. It's about having more hands to type and more eyeballs to screen things.
I always enjoy the chats. I was able to squeeze in a lunchtime reservation at Kinkead's last week for Restaurant Week. I have to set that I was less than pleased, but I guess I went in expecting too much.
The RW menu seemed to be full of things that they don't serve on a normal basis. I would think that a restaurant that specializes in seafood would have this as the centerpiece of the menu. This was not the case.
I ended up ordering the Shaky Beef which was not good at all.
Also, our server was not pleasant at all. She seemed to be pained that we were there for Restaurant Week. Have you heard of any of other bad RW experiences with Kinkead's?
I haven't, no.
Shaky beef, a Vietnamese staple, at Kinkead's for RW? That's almost condescending.
I'm sure Kinkead's will argue that seafood is prohibitively expensive to serve at RW prices. But if that's the case, then don't participate. If you can't play the game, then sit it out.
And that pained waitress, wow. I know exactly the expression you're talking about. I once had a waiter at Galileo during RW, years ago, who looked at me and my wife as if we had presented him a coupon. Could not have been more sneering.
Some way to bring new, young diners into the fold …
Help! I'm moving to DC in September.
Having lived in Hong Kong and other parts of SE Asia, Paris and London, with a mother from the Indian Ocean and a husband from the Middle East. I'm obsessed with steamingly fresh Har Gau, rambutans, lychees, mangosteen, le perfect steack-frites, harissa barbecued lamb, anything and everything with fresh coconut milk and ginger, crunchy and honey soaked baklava, mint tea … you get the picture.
In order to survive I have to have 1) a cheap and cheery saturday morning yum cha (dim sum) place, 2) a french bistro with really high quality ingredients for an easy evening meal and a 3) Lebanese mezze place with great baklava. Any ideas??? Thanks!
You had me at har gau.
Boy, what a list of cravings; my mouth is watering.
Let's see if I can't help you get acclimated …
For dim sum, the place you want to go is Hollywood East Cafe on the Boulevard, in Wheaton. Best in the area. Go early; the place is swarmed by noon.
The French bistro? Lots of options. Westend Bistro, the new Eric Ripert spot, could fit the bill. Montmartre, in Eastern Market, is a step down, but more easy-going.
Your third request can be met only by going to two or three places. The best baklava I've had in the area is at Kabob Bazaar in Clarendon (superb!), though I'm not a fan of the kabobs themselves. Go, get the baklava, then head to either The Lebanese Butcher in Annandale (not a mezze spot, technically, but the best Lebanese food in the area — phenomenal baba ghanous, excellent lamb fateh, really good hummus) or the super-stylish Zaytinya, in Penn Quarter (a mezze place, to be sure, but one that draws from the cooking not just of Lebanon but also of Greece and Turkey.)
I just wanted to commend Rasika for great service and food, as always.
My boyfriend and I went there last week for RW, he ended up ordering from the RW menu, but I strayed and took other reccomendations from our server…who was excellent. He was very helpful and knowledgeable about the menu and both of our meals were superb. As busy as they were, his service was impeccable.
When it was time for dessert, my boyfriend obviously had his restaurant week options, which were all fruit or honey-based desserts, in other word, no chocolate. When I mentioned this to the server, he laughed, and the next thing we knew he brought the one RW dessert, and an extra dessert (the only chocolate one on the menu), on the house. It was a really nice gesture and it just topped off our great experience at Rasika.
Unfortunately our server informed us that this would be his last week. I should just hope that all of the other servers and restaurant staff at Rasika are as great as him. Excellent food, excellent service…you just can't ask for anything else.
Thanks for the report from the field, DC.
And let's hope that terrific-sounding server sticks around; the city could use more like him.
Word to the wise — it's almost never a good idea to go ordering seafood at a steakhouse, and especially not a place that bills itself as a neighborhood steakhouse.
Les Folies might be a better bet.
Actually, the best you can do is to come into DC, to Johnny's Half Shell on Capitol Hill — the lobster on the menu right now is everything you're looking for, big and gorgeous and delicately steamed. Prise it from the shell and dunk it in warm, melted butter, and you won't know you're far, far from the Cape.
How do I get one of my favorite restaurants to be on Cheap Eats? Thanks.
I can't promise anything, but you can start the ball rolling by dropping me a note — email@example.com — and letting me know the name and the address and what you like about it.
The most romantic restaurant in the city, to my mind, is Komi.
It's also, to my mind, the best in the city. Call now, though — there aren't many tables, and they fill up fast.
Where should I take a date on Atlas/H street? she has already been to Granville Moore. Sticky rice? thanks
Sorry, I can't be of too much help here. I haven't been to Sticky Rice yet — nor to Napa 1015, the new, ambitious, wine-centric spot.
Napa's an intriguing proposition — or a curious one, depending on your point of view. It's taking a big leap of faith in putting out a menu of high-priced entrees in a neighborhood already thick with taverns and clubs.
I had been dying to try Acadiana for a while, so I made reservations for lunch this past Sunday. When I made the reservation, I specifically noted that I would be there for the restaurant week menu.
When we get there, the host informs us that the restaurant week menu is unavailable, they did try to call us (I had no such phone call or voicemail), and they are only serving the prie fixe brunch menu for $32. Sensing our disappointment, he told us we could sit at the bar for an a la carte menu.
After convincing my boyfriend to stay, we sit at the bar, where the bartender gives us a restaurant week handout, and asks us what menu we would prefer. I'm a little confused and annoyed at this point, so we tell the bartender what we were told, and she simply states that he was wrong, and that they are serving the RW menu, and we could get anything we wanted.
Happy again, I ordered the turtle soup, the crawfish etouffee and the white chocolate creme brulee, and my boyfriend ordered the gumbo, shrimp and grits and the chocolate cake.
The food was alright, but I was most anxiously awaiting the desserts. After we finished our meals, the bartender tells us that the creme brulee and the chocloate cake are unavailable. We settled for some mediocre bread pudding and beignets.
When the check arrived, we see that we were charged full price. I asked the bartender why we weren't charged the RW prices, and she said, "Oh yeah, I was wrong, we aren't serving the RW menu." Before I could demand to see the manager, my boyfriend calmly expressed our dissapointment, and the bartender fixed the mistake and only charged us for our entrees. I know that we walked out of there paying very little, and yes, the food was decent, but I was extremely put off by their poor communication and lack of organization. I will not be going back.
Kudos to the bartender for interceding — he or she handled this very smoothly and efficiently.
As to the disorganization and poor communication — it doesn't sound as though Acadiana, as a company, was too interested in being a RW participant.
We have had real problems with attitude at Bastille, one of our favorite local restaurants.
Even though we have eaten there many times, they now will not let us make a reservation for more than four between 7 and 9. We have tried to book for five or six people but they say "the rules are the rules" plus a credit card must be used to make any reservation.
Not a very nice way to treat those of us who supported the restaurant when it was a start-up.
"The rules are the rules" … rules are arbitrary. They can be changed, always, if there are enough people who feel the way you do — people who take the time to present their case and, so doing, encourage those in charge to see things afresh.
And asking for a credit card, I think, is going overboard, here — Bastille is not a four-star restaurant with a long wait list. It's not a three-star restaurant.
I think a letter is in order.
In this day and age of rapid and often instantaneous communication, you'd be surprised: A letter carries more weight than ever.
Boy, punk AND Bubba. I must be doing something right.
(NB, you might want to take a punctuation class. The spite and the bile are first-rate, as always, but your commas could use some work.)
I enjoy it. Very comfortable, good service, relaxed atmosphere.
Is it the best pizza around? No. But it's good pizza, and the pies all come from a wood-burning oven. It's also remarkably unassuming pizza, and a lot less expensive than all the boutique spots in the area. You can actually get out of there for unde $50 for two, including drinks.
I think that's a very narrow, very conventional idea of "romantic."
The romance is in the communal-style sharing, the slow procession of dishes that inaugurates the meal, the sensuality of the cooking, the cozy, softly lit space …
Write and write and write some more. And try to publish what you write.
I started out when I was 15, a long, long time ago, writing for the Journal papers — not food (imagine that!) but whatever they would give me, whatever that would not embarrass them to have me do. I didn't know how to type, didn't know how to drive (my father took me everywhere that first year, sort of a cub reporter chauffeur.)
Don't be too particular what you write about — write about any and everything that interests you. If you can write, and you're interested in food, with luck and determination you'll eventually find your way toward it.
Ooh — fun.
I'd take the bone-in chicken kabobs from Ravi Kabob, I'd take the 72-hour short ribs from Central, I'd take the katsikaki and roasted figs from Komi, I'd take any pasta from Palena, I'd take the pad Thai from Nava Thai, I'd take —
Wait. That's five. Shoot. I could keep going and going and going …
And jeeze, talk about mouth-watering!
That's all for this week — gotta run, everyone. Be well, eat well, and let's do it again next week at 11 …
Didn't get your question answered in this chat? Submit it in advance for Todd's next chat on Tuesday, August 26 at 11 AM.