Tuesday, September 9 at 11 AM

Todd interviewed Alain Ducasse and Michael Landrum about their new restaurants, and chatted about everything from tasty kabob to Oktoberfest.

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.

Also! Keep your eyes on this space on Tuesday night, as Food and Wine Editor and restaurant critic Todd Kliman reports live, via Blackberry, from Adour at The St. Regis—celebrity master chef Alain Ducasse's new restaurant — on opening night. Coverage starts at 5:30. …

To read the chat transcript from September 2, click here.

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W o r d   o f   M o u t h  . . .

   … Adour at The St. Regis, the new restaurant from Alain Ducasse — the only chef in the world with 14 Michelin stars — opens for dinner tonight, and expectations among gastronomes are higher than Sarah Palin's up-do.
   With the arrival of Ducasse, and the enormous cache he brings (the other cities in his farflung empire are Paris, Monaco, Tokyo, New York and Las Vegas) the celebrification of DC's restaurant scene reaches its apex. For many food-obsessed locals, who glory in the emerging reputation of the city as a culinary capital, this is a time of unprecedented riches; others, however, cast a jaundiced eye on these corporate mercenaries, who rarely spend any time in the city (let alone the kitchen) and rarely allow their operations to develop into outlets of personal expression.
   I have exchanged emails with Ducasse over the last month, in the hopes of better understanding his goals for DC. Excerpts of those exchanges follow …

   Why D.C.?
 
   Washington is continuing to evolve into such a diverse and international city; it is a center of culture and has an appreciation for the art of good living. It is changing. Adour will bring a fresh vision in the way people can explore and enjoy food and wine.
 
  
Why now, as opposed to three years ago? Five years ago?


   I wanted to open up a restaurant here a long time ago. Washington, D.C. is an exciting place to be right now, especially this year, and the timing and location of Adour is just right. Over the years, I feel I have witnessed the change in the city’s dining scene. I used to come to D.C. quite often to visit a very close friend, Jean Louis Palladin, who had a restaurant here — Jean-Louis at The Watergate Hotel. Jean-Louis and I are both from the southwest of France and we shared many of the same ideas and visions – together, we talked a lot about the sourcing of produce in the U.S. and training our chefs. I know Jean-Louis was a pioneer in the D.C culinary scene and did a lot for the level of cuisine and dining in the city and in the U.S. But to open within the completely renovated St. Regis Washington, D.C. hotel was the right fit for us at the right time and the location is really unique with the White House just 2 blocks away. The space itself also holds many memories for me — it is in the St. Regis where Adour now stands that I launched my book Harvesting Excellence several years ago, and it is at the bar at Adour where Johnny Apple once interviewed me.

   (interview continued, at the bottom of the chog; see: DUCASSE)
 

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   … Another opening, this one months away: Maverick restaurateur Michael Landrum is set to open Ray's the Heat in the Spring, in Deanwood — a neighborhood that currently has just a single sit-down restaurant, a Denny's. Landrum and I recently exchanged emails …

   A lot of restaurateurs flatter themselves in opening places in what they refer to as dead areas — which, by that definition, included 11th and K a couple of years ago, Slaters Lane in Alexandria and even DC's West End. Those areas can hardly be called struggling. Benning Rd. can. The best restaurant — the only restaurant, really — is a Denny's. You have three restaurants. You could have set up a fourth anywhere. Yet you chose here. Why?

  That is a very good question — the fact of the matter is that if this opportunity to open a restaurant at Minnesota Avenue and Benning Road hadn't presented itself, there would not be a fourth restaurant. It is simply something I would not be doing at this time. The challenge and promise of this neighborhood proved so compelling, however, that it became quickly unavoidable.

  With me the decision-making process is quite simple: there isn't one. The very conscious and oft-stated mission that grounds my work is the drive to make what I do as affordable and accommodating to as broad a range of people as possible. This move is the natural extension of that; and this growth is in the direction where that mission most naturally takes me. With East River there was no choice, it was just someting I had to do, so I jumped on it.

   I can't speak to the risks and challenges that other restaurateurs faced going into the locations you mention, they operate in an entirely different world than I do in terms of size and scope of resources and operational reach, as well as economic goals. Nor do I much concern myself with what is hip or hot or most profitable.

   I think the real difference here with me is that I am moving into an area that, while in transition, is already a fully-formed community, under-served as it may be. This may come as a surprise to some, but I am not entering into a wasteland. There is a long history of multi-generational home-ownership and a long-standing local community with its own history, traditions and identity. The neighboring Safeway is the highest grossing per square foot grocery store in the entire area–and by a wide margin. Even more importantly, unlike U Street, Columbia Heights or H Street NE(H Street has a different set of circumstances and arguments for and against), I am not capitalizing on gentrification or displacing the existing culture, but rather seeking to serve that existing community, to earn my welcome in that community and to blend in and add to the existing culture.

   Anyone who knows me, both in business and in my private life, knows that I have a, let's say, umm, somewhat less than typical personality and outlook and have enjoyed–if that is the right word– an unusually, let's say, umm, diverse range of experiences, and have always proven to be exceptionally adaptable in and amenable to a wide range of environments and circumstances. Together with the unique experience coming from building from scratch and running Ray's: The Steaks, Ray's: The Classics and Ray's Hell-Burger, Ray's: The Heat in East River is just a perfect match and the perfect, unavoidable challenge for me.

   Beyond all that, though, this is really just the perfect excuse for me to serve the kind of food that I really love. The other great thing is that this location allows me to operate at a price point much lower than my other already value-driven menus, and certainly much much lower than people are used to seeing in a restaurant of quality in this area.. And that's what The Heat is really all about–bringing the best, hottest and most exciting cooking (as in, to bring the heat) that I can in the warmest, most welcoming way possible (as in, the heat of the hearth). The menu is going to be food that is either hot, spicy, deeply-seasoned, or which features the deep flavors of slow, deep cooking. If I had to put a name to it I would call it "soulful" cooking. Not Soul Food, as I am not trying to appropriate or claim a cuisine or culture that is not mine, but soulful in its respect and honoring of that heritage, history, traditions, techniques, presentation and generosity. One dish that I am going to introduce, and which be a centerpiece of the menu, and which is going to blow people's minds is Nashville Hot Chicken–a fried chicken so spicy that people routinely lose consciousness from its eating. This will be alongside our well-loved traditional Maryland Cast-Iron Chicken from Ray's:The Classics. In addition to our famous steaks (including expanded butcher cut specialties), burgers and traditional crab specialties–the Crab Royale and our crab bisque–we'll be doing other regional fish and seafood specialties, ribs, chops, a kids' menu and Maryland Stuffed Ham on Sundays. Entrees will come with a choice of three country-style sides (paying respect to the Memphis "Meat and Three's") which I'm not even going to go into here else I start driving myself crazy. As anyone who has had a chance to admire my Ice-Cube-esque figure can imagine, this is the stuff that really gets me going and I am just really excited to have the chance to put together this kind of menu.

   Oh, and did I mention pie?

   And, to follow up on the previous question: You don't move into a place like Deanwood just to do business. Not just. Clearly, a restaurant to you means something else — something more, perhaps? — than many restaurateurs. This move goes beyond an interest in anchoring a neighborhood and giving it a sense of community. To my eyes, it edges into sociology — perhaps, into social engineering. Most of the people who come to your restaurants and talk about your restaurants and write about your restaurants live on the other side of town; most have never been to Benning Rd. or heard about Benning Rd. I don't doubt that your intended audience is the immediate community. Yet I wonder if you are counting on (or hoping for) some of your loyal followers to come on over to the other side of the city and check you out, in much the same way that the late Colorado Kitchen was an inducement for many whites to try out a restaurant in a black neighborhood.

   Actually, I am going to agree and disagree with you here. Agree, because it is true that I am at a point in my career where I hope that what I do is not just about business, where there is more to it than just that. I have been very fortunate with the unexpected success of Ray's: The Steaks and all that it has allowed me; and I would like to think that at this point I demand a little bit more of myself than just that.

   However, I am going to strongly disagree with you beyond that. This move is entirely "an interest in anchoring a neighborhood" but rather than "giving it a sense of community" I am working to add to the sense of community that is already there. Beyond that, it is a great business opportunity where the undeserved under-serving gives me a whole host of advantages. No more and no less.

   Besides, the one group in this area with which I have not enjoyed much success or favor is the agressively status-driven, hyper-privileged and media-stroked class of the supposed elite. This move may just be a respite from all that for me.

   I will say, though, that your comparison with Colorado Kitchen brings up an interesting point, which is the ignorance of what really is the mainstream culture of Washington, despite what the moneyed and media interests would have you believe, and what a "black" neighborhood really is. Just look at the suburban focus of the Metro Section of the Post and the unfortunate change of guard in its columnists to understand how the lack of real world coverage and representation leads to a lack of understanding and subsequent lack of services and economic opportunity.

   (interview continued at the bottom of the chog; see: LANDRUM)
 

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   DUCASSE, continued …

   How will Adour, here, be different, if at all, from Adour, in NYC? If not terribly different, then why not? What is the rationale, for you, in taking a successful restaurant and essentially replicating it for another audience?
 
   Each of my restaurants, no matter where in the world, is rooted in its own time and place. As New York City and Washington, D.C. are two differing cities with varied tastes, we did not simply create a carbon copy of the New York restaurant here. Adour at The St. Regis Washington, D.C. is not a replication of any other concept – it does not resemble Alain Ducasse au Plaza Athénée in Paris, Le Louis XV in Monaco, Beige-Alain Ducasse in Tokyo, or even the restaurant at the Dorchester in London. It has its own identity. …
 
   The menus at your DC and NY restaurants — both named Adour, both at a St. Regis Hotel — are very, very similar. How, aside from different personnel, and a different city, is the DC restaurant different from the NY restaurant? Or is there perhaps something overstated, in your mind, about the kind of difference I'm talking about?

   Adour at The St. Regis Washington, D.C. is of the same family, in terms of the interior architect – David Rockwell — and the mix and selection of some signature dishes from the New York restaurant. However, It is like when you have children — some are blonde, some brown-haired, each with different characters and personalities. This one will grow up to be different and may not be exactly what we had set out for it to be. It is necessary for it to adapt to its surroundings and context, the actors on stage (the staff), to speak to its audience (our guests, patrons, journalists, etc.) while we introduce a French spirit and contemporary setting within this historic space.

   In New York, the restaurant was the first of its kind, the first Adour in the flagship St. Regis hotel. We offer dinner only there. In Washington, we are offering breakfast, lunch and dinner — as we are located so close to the White House and the center of the city’s governmental and business scene, breakfast and lunch in particular will be quite convenient. Visually, the look of the space is unique – colors, textures and furniture are unlike New York’s as David Rockwell created a completely new design for the Washington restaurant to fit within the context of the city and the hotel itself.

   I can't imagine that you would open a restaurant that aspires to be anything less than the best, most exquisite place to eat in the city. The competition is increasingly crowded, with many more good restaurants at the high end. And, for many diners, Michel Richard Citronelle represents the pinnacle of what fine dining can be — a place of enormous creativity and technical brilliance. What, specifically, do you do to ensure that Adour stands out from the field?
 
   I think the words “high end” are not definitive of Adour, per se — we are really taking care to create a welcoming, comfortable and attentive environment that, at the same time, embodies the best in fresh and in-season ingredients, consistent technique, and a dedicated level service for our guests. The diversity of restaurants and dining concepts in Washington is quite varied, and our team is looking to offer a new way for the city to dine. …

   What’s quite unique about Adour is that rather than pairing wines with each dish as an afterthought, our wine director worked closely with us in the kitchen during the menu creation process, providing input on flavors and ingredients so that the selected wines were a clean match. …

   Local ingredients, local sources, are extremely important to many of the best restaurants in the city. Will you be using any? Which ones?
 
   We use a local lamb from the Shenandoah Valley in Pennsylvania, Maryland blue crab, and our pigeon and quail eggs come from a small farm in Virginia. We also use Amish chicken breast for our pressé, and Path Valley Farms for our root vegetables throughout the menu including the vegetable composition dish, as well as striped bass from the Chesapeake Bay.
 
   The city and region has many indigenous foodstuffs, although the city's tourists and transplants tend not to notice. Softshell crabs, of course, but also the halfsmoke — the beloved street food staple that has just now begun to attract larger, national attention. And there are also culinary traditions that are rooted in this region: Maryland-style fried chicken and crab imperial, among them. Ethiopians have been a vital immigrant group for more than a quarter-century, and their dishes (the berbere-spiced wats, the sambusas) are becoming a part of the city's culinary culture — the real city, not the official, government city. Pho is ubiquitous around the area, and so are kabob houses. Will any of these traditions or ingredients find their way into the kitchen and onto the menu at Adour? Granted, you are a French restaurant. And granted also, you are aiming for a certain refinement and elegance. But is it inconceivable to think that some of these traditions and some of these ingredients might be incorporated or alluded to in the dishes here?

   While our primary culinary focus is a contemporary French American cuisine that is designed with wine in mind, we do still embrace the variety of cultures in D.C. The city is such a diverse mix of cultures and ethnicities, and part of our menu reflects this: Our guinea hen with condiment and dried fruit couscous encompasses many of the typical flavors of North Africa, more specifically, to Morocco. The tuna tartare with sweet avocado wasabi ice cream dish hints at classic flavor combinations from Japan.

   [Note: I declined to respond to these last remarks, but feel obliged to point out to readers that Moroccans make up an infinitesimally percentage of the local population, and there are only a handful of Moroccan restaurants in the area. And unlike New York or Seattle or San Francisco, this is not a city with a vibrant Japanese culture. Perhaps not surprisingly, DC's sushi scene lags far behind that of those other cities.]

   There appears to be a growing backlash against chefs with large empires and multiple locations. The chef whose name is the chief draw is seldom on the premises. Many chefs argue that, if they are good teachers, it should not matter if they are in or not — that the staff is drilled to execute a precise vision. Is this your view as well?

   Each of my executive chefs has, at some point, trained in the kitchen of Le Louis XV in Monaco, my “university.” Julien [Jouhannaud] trained with me in Monaco in order to acquire the necessary fundamentals and then moved to Singapore where he was able to enrich his international experience and culinary knowledge. Scott Neylon, our executive sous chef, worked at Mix in Las Vegas and also at Adour in New York. Fabrice [Bendano], our pastry chef, trained in Monaco as well, but more recently in D.C. There is a constant and ongoing exchange/ dialogue between my teams and I, and my US Corporate Chef Sylvain Portay and Corporate Pastry Chef Nicolas Berger are on site to accompany and guide the team in their first steps.   

   It is since I left Monaco to go to Paris that I stopped saying I am the chef in the kitchen — I could not be the one to cook the steak in Monaco if I was in Paris. We have a unique formula going in the sense that we are able to school these future chefs, restaurant directors, and sommeliers, entrust them and let them leave to diversify their profiles, and come back to work for us. …

   A theatergoer in London buys a ticket in the West End to see Patrick Stewart in the title role of "Macbeth." But Stewart, let's say, does not appear on this particular night; there is an understudy. It might be argued that the theatergoer is buying a ticket to see that company — and a good company it is; the production is terrific. But let's suppose that the only reason the ticket buyer purchased a seat is to see Stewart — and a pretty good supposition that would be; after all, stars sell tickets. In other words: a celebrity chef's star power is the draw. And that star power is hyped and maximized by the chef's team of supporters and publicists. But the star never shows — or rarely shows. If the chef is rarely in the kitchen of the restaurant that bears his name — or the restaurant that trades on his name and reputation — then is the diner in some way being shortchanged of an experience?

   The Washington restaurant does not bear my name and I do not say that this is a one man show or that there is just one artist contributing to the landscape of this restaurant. And the Chef should be in the kitchen, not in the dining room. We have a fantastic team here, who have trained and worked all over the world, with Julien at the helm of the kitchen, Ramon [Narvaez] overseeing the wine program, and a dedicated group of men and women orchestrating the front and back of house every day, ensuring we are offering a memorable experience. After all, you go to a restaurant to eat and drink well, don’t you?

   …………..

   LANDRUM, continued …

   Developers and businessmen have said for years that they avoided Prince George's County because of "population density." A convenient dodge, of course, and anyone looking at things from the outside would be right to conclude the obvious. At the very least, these developers and businessmen perceive there is a stigma about Prince George's County, and believe it best to stay away. And yet Prince George's is affluent compared to Deanwood. What does Deanwood have? It does not have the "population density" of, say, Falls Church or Arlington or Rockville. It does not have a history of supporting sit-down restaurants. It does not have the businesses, the big boxes, that draw shoppers to drive twenty, thirty minutes out of their way. It has a still-in-business RFK not far away — though the Nationals and their 81 home dates have just moved out. And it has a stigma, a far bigger stigma in many peoples' minds than Prince George's. What do you see here that others do not and have not?

   It is not what I see that others do not, but rather what I DON'T see and what blinds others–and what I don't see is the bull**** covert encoded racism and prejudices that still drive the minds of business and political leaders and that still keep their own elected government as well as grocery stores, banks, entrepeneurs and businesses from investing in these under-served communities.

   I've always said, if you want to give the scare of his life to even the craziest, most radical, off the wall conspiracy-mad activist all you need to do is to let him see five minutes of what really goes on where decisions are made. $20 million in economic development aid to Clyde's to open in Penn Quarter? What the eff is that?

   How, specifically, will the Heat differ from The Steaks and The Classics? How will it be similar?

   Well, first of all, Ray's: The Heat will differ in price point, with only a few items at $20 or so and the majority at under $15. Other than that, the atmosphere and setting will be more along the lines of The Steaks, but hopefully a bit nicer and more comfortable. We will offer a choice of three sides with each entree with a broader selection of side items to choose from. There will be beer and wine, but not, at least to start, liquor. People will recognize the stand-out items from each restaurant–steaks, burgers, the Crab Royale, Maryland fried chicken–as well as some things which are only to be found at The Heat: Nashville Hot Chicken, ribs, catfish, pork chops, etc. Another big difference is you'll see me eating there all the time, some thing you never see at The Steaks or The Classics.

   You seem intent, with your restaurants, in breaking the existing model — in doing what is not supposed to be done. I get the sense that, apart from doing what you think is right, you would love to be an inspiration to other would-be restaurateurs, to take chances, to go where you are not supposed to go, to think differently about what a restaurant can be. Why haven't others followed your lead? And do you think you can fulfill all of your ambitions if others don't?

   You know, I would love to see the whole market flooded with small, single-focus neighborhood restaurants owned by local chefs and front-of-the-house standouts. In terms of being an inspiration to others, though, that should really be Frank Ruta of Palena, Johnny Monis of Komi or Peter Pastan of Obelisk, who bring a whole other level of passion and excellence and talent to what they do and whose vision has never ceased to grow together with their talent.

   The Ray's restaurants across the board are more a shift in business model than anything, together with old school hands-on principles and techniques being applied in admittedly obsessive fashion. I guess as a business model the one major difference with Ray's is that I don't incur the debt and high costs necessary to serve egos (both of the owner and of the guests) but not necessary to serve great food and great people. Why others can't follow that lead is not for me to say. But that's not something you see at Palena, Komi, Obelisk or 2 Amy's either, so go figure.

   I read your restaurants — each of them, singly, and together, as a collective — as a kind of critique of Washington, of the existing culinary landscape. The Steaks is a critique of the clubby, dark, expensive account steakhouse. The Classics is a conscious attempt to bring back the kind of restaurant that has been swept away by a decade of innovation and glitz, as well as a determined effort to bring together white and black diners, young and old diners, under the same roof. Hell-Burger says: It's possible to be both great and cheap. Conventional wisdom is that it's hard to be great and expensive; it's harder to be great and cheap. Yes? No? Maybe?

   You said it better than I ever could — but hey, you're the critic and meta-analysis is your job.

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Didn't get your question answered in this chat? Submit it in advance to Todd's chat next Tuesday, September 16 at 11 AM. 

DC

I just had lunch at Tempt Asian Cafe, and WOW I really enjoyed the meal.

A quivering steamed pork belly that just melted, fried string beans that I couldn't get enough of, and a scorching beef hot pot that is the best I've ever had!

I noticed that the restaurant was once reviewed by Washngtonian, and some other DC press, but nothing since 2006. Did the chef change?, or have the other chinese establishments just outshone this one? Granted the place is a hole in the wall, we just happened to stumble on, but again WOW absolutely fantastic!

Did the chef change? He came and went like a comet.

Peter Chang went from China to the Chinese Embassy in DC to China Star in Fairfax to Tempt Asian Cafe in Alexandria to Szechuan Boy in Falls Church — and all within the span of a few years. His cooking was superlative. I wrote about Tempt Asian Cafe when I was doing my column for The City Paper, and then again when he opened Szechuan Boy (which, by the way, lasted all of a couple of months).

There are stories there I could get into, but won't — but I've never had Chinese cooking as interesting, as memorable, as controlled, as Chang's

I haven't been back to Tempt Asian in a long while, but it sounds as though he has left at least some of his imprint on the kitchen. Thanks for the report, DC. 

Jessup/Savage, MD
hey, Chief . . . think I remember you mentioning great places to eat tasty, reasonably-priced kabob in the Columbia/Savage/Burtonsville area . . . could you please remind me? thanks much . . .

Chief. I like it. My mom used to call me that, sometimes. Much better than "Hey. You."

Anyway, kabobs. The place you want is called Maiwand Kabob, and there are locations in Burtonsville, Linthicum, Columbia, and, coming soon, Arundel Mills.

I think it's, right now, the best kabob house in Maryland. Good breads, terrific lamb chops (chow pan), and there's even aushak, the thin, mint-filled dumplings topped with a tomato-meat sauce and yogurt, and chalu. Great stuff, and very affordable, besides. 

Crystal City, VA
Do you have any suggestions for the best place/event in the area for Oktoberfest? I thought the Chef Geoff event sounds good but is it worth the $50?

What about the Olney Ale House, in Olney?

I gotta think the atmosphere — dark, full of character and full of characters — would be a lot more conducive to Oktoberfest than Chef Geoff's, which is, let's face it, a kind of yupscale TGIFriday's.

Todd,

Thank you for your recommendations for Nava Thai and for the Oval Room.

Nava Thai gives new meaning to going out for Thai food because the flavors are more complex and deep and interesting than in your average fare. I must go back now to try the Pad Thai; I try not to order that because I hardly see it as new or interesting but your high praise for it makes me curious.

As for the Oval Room, I had been watching it over the past years, as it has been a place of note for many but lately had grown tired. After reading your praise and looking at the menu, which I found interesting–I tried the Oval Room. To my pleasure, it was a wonderful and innovative and comfortable dining experience. It has been one of the better meals I've had in Washington, DC in recent memory. Thanks for nudging me to try it again.

A comment about Restaurant Week–and whether or not diners really do go back to a restaurant again, if the experience is a good one. I do; it isn't necessarily on a weekly basis (because I try to balance it with trying out other places that have caught my attention)–but I do remember the great places and I go back, maybe for a special occasion or to treat someone to dinner, or just to tell someone else about the excellent restaurant. However, it also works in the reverse. If I have a poor experience, I will not go back, and might even share with others that the restaurant was an under-performer. Restaurant Week is free publicity–both good and bad.

Thanks for the nice words.

And I hope all the restaurateurs, managers, servers and chefs who read this chat take to heart what you say about Restaurant Week. Well put.

You mentioned the pad Thai at Nava; I had come to despise this dish, even as I kept ordering it, seeing if anyone would, finally, produce a good one. Well, this is a great one. It's easily one of the most memorable dishes I've had in the past year. It's amazingly addicting.

And as for the Oval Room, what a difference a chef makes. It had, yes, grown tired over the years. Tony Conte has pumped new life into the place, and the cooking, right now, is among the best you're going to find in the city — the cucumber soup on the current menu is astoundingly alive, a reminder of how a first-rate chef can make something familiar seem new and interesting and different.

Arlington
Any idea which local restaurant is owned by the father of David Chang (Momofuku)?

Boy, that's a great question. I wish I had the answer.

It's interesting to know that Chang, who graduated from Georgetown Prep, toyed with the idea of opening Momofuku in DC. At the time, he didn't think the area would support it. Things have changed a lot in the last few years, and I wonder if he'd see things differently?

There's been growth, lately, in the mid-range restaurant, and there are, now, the sort of obstinately idiosyncratic spots where two people can eat for about $80-100 — spots that didn't really exist a decade ago.

We could use more. 

Brookland, DC

Todd, I took your advice and went to Wild Onion for take out on Saturday.

I got the mac n cheese, which was very good (although I'd have to do a side by side with Oohs and Ahhs to judge), the Thai chicken salad (a nice blend of hot and sweet), and a cookie, which was the size of my face and delicious.

I'd definitely go back, but it's not cheap (prices similar to Whole Foods and Eatzie's in an area that's not as well off as where those other stores are/were located).

Also, if anyone is interested in going, please do it soon because the place was empty when I was there (Saturday at 6). I've got a feeling it won't last very long, which is too bad.

No, the area is not as rarefied as a Rockville or any of the neighborhoods that Whole Foods consents to set up shop in (by the way, one of the things the organic corporate giant looks for is — and I'm not making this up — Volvo density. Evidently, to Whole Foods's way of thinking, lots of Volvos equals lots of supportive customers.)

But if you want quality food, wherever it is, you have to pay for it. The relative affluence of the area has little to do with it.

I think Wild Onion is doing a terrific job for a place that's still in its first few months of business, and would hate to see if slash its prices (which would also mean cutting back on the quality of its ingredients) simply in order to stay afloat.

It deserves support; places like this, promising fledlings, can't survive without customers who love and care about food — customers like those who read this chat.

Bethesda, MD

So I wrote in last week about finding the best green curry chicken, you recommended Ruan Thai.

I'm sad to say I have not explored this dish any further as I came across some nutrition info for it- YIKES! It's packed with calories and saturated fat. Oh well- it was nice while it lasted.

Also wanted to say, we went to Jaleo this weekend. I have heard it has been receiving some bad word of mouth, but I thought the new patatas bravas were great as were all the other dishes we sampled. Especially the salad of carmelized tomatoes and cheese. Also wanted to give a shout out to the bartender (at the Bethesda location)- wish I knew his name, he makes the BEST margaritas around!!

You must not have seen the piece we did last August in the magazine — "This Looks Healthy, But Is It?"

We ordered five restaurant meals, and sent the food to a lab in Des Moines to be burned (that's how you measure calories). We also had the lab check for carbs, fat grams, and protein.

One of the restaurants was Sala Thai, the local Thai chain.

The meal was: Vegetable Spring Rolls With Sweet-and-Sour Sauce; Roasted Duck With Red Curry Sauce, Side of White Rice; and Thai Coconut Custard With Sweet Rice

Here's what came back from the lab:

Calories: 2,226

Carbs: 307 grams

Fat: 82 grams

Protein: 65 grams

The recommended number of calories for women is 1,800-2,000 a DAY.

The point of the piece was not to steer diners away from these places. It was to help them make better, more informed choices.

The big culprit in a Thai curry is the coconut milk, and that's where a great many of the calories in that meal are coming from. So, knowing that — and it's the same at Sala as it is at Ruan — a diner can stay clear of the spring rolls (lots of fry) and skip dessert, or order a lighter dessert.

I love coconut milk, personally, and see no reason to avoid dishes that have it. French restaurants pile on the butter, and butter adds a lot of calories and a lot of fat, too. But taste matters. Something that's satisfying is going to keep you from over-ordering or reaching for something later, between meals. 

Falls Church, VA

Todd –

I am searching for the area's best butternut squash ravioli/pasta dish for a friend's birthday dinner. Other than Olives offering, (which is phenomenal) do you have any recommendations?

Thanks for your time.

Well, there was a fabulous version of this dish a while ago at Tosca, but I just took a look at the current menu and didn't see it listed. It's not at Spezie, either, which is the other place that came to mind.

Anyone out there had a great rendition of this dish recently? 

DC
Can you tell us a little bit more about your special live coverage from Adour tonight? What are we getting, exactly?

What you'll be getting, exactly, is, so far as I can tell, the first-ever, real-time restaurant review. 

Insights, observations, fulminations, quibbles, gripes, jokes — the whole shebang, in medias res. As things occur to me, you'll hear about them — via my Blackberry and via my postings on Twitter, which will then be posted to this website. (If you're not going to be near a computer, you can sign up for Twitter and get the blow-by-blow on your phone.) 

I don't pretend that this'll be as considered and thought-out as a traditional review, nor do I pretend that this will be in any way definitive, but I do hope that it's interesting and insightful. At the very least, I think it'll be a lot of fun — for you and for me. And I think a restaurant backed by a chef with 14 Michelin stars to his name can take this level of immediate scrutiny. 

And that's only part of what you'll get. Call that Part 1. Part 2 will come tomorrow, at 11 a.m.

Fairfax, VA

Hi Todd!

I have posted questions a couple times, you have responded and I have been very pleased with your responses, so here goes. My mother and I are thinking of starting a catering business and maybe one day a restaurant. We are Pakistani and I swear by my mothers cooking especially since she does so well what Ravi does not!

She does not do kababs and chop for which Ravi is so famous and her Karahi (my recipe – should I be proud?) is as good as, if not identical to, Ravi's. She makes the best Biryani, Korma, Nihari and Haleem among many other items that I have had at any restaurant or anyone's home I have ever been in this entire region! Have you ever had Halwa Puri?

The trouble is we don't know where or how to start. Can you give us any tips? Can we invite you to sample her food (we don't mind you being in disguise or sending someone from your staff so that you remain anonymous)? Perhaps this is not the right forum for this but I wanted to get your attention – can we take this offline? I really appreciate your feedback and any tips you can give – we would cherish an opportunity to entertain your palate!

Thanks!

Interesting. And I'm interested to hear more. The area could use another Pakistani restaurant or two or three or ten. And anyone who can make a karahi as good as the one at Ravi has my full attention.

I think the thing to do, here, is to drop me an email — tkliman@washingtonian.com

Wash Blvd., Arlington, VA

Joined by my girlfriend, we dined at Eat Bar (by Tallula) in Arlington on Friday night. To say they we completely enjoyed ourselves is an understatement. Everything seemed to work in harmony for us. The atmosphere, food, and service all fit together seamlessly.

We have dined at plenty of nice places– but here everything came together at an affordable price. We probably would not have tried this place if it hadn't earned such nice praise on this blog. We dined on several items that were delicious. Salami/cheese/cracker plate to start. We ordered several small dishes– among them was an order of hush puppies (which we highly recommend).

Can Tallula be any better than this? Is it worth the trying if I am so pleased with its little cousin? I highly recommend this great neighborhood spot!

Good to hear.

Better? I don't think so. Tallula's more expensive, and I don't think it's as good a value as Eat Bar.

Arlington
Why not ask Ducasse this question: "Why do you suppose Frank Bruni gave Adour NYC 11/2 stars?"

Funny you should say that, I'm already getting blowback for my questions …

The thing is, it didn't READ like a 1 1/2-star. It read like a 2, and maybe even a highly qualified 2 1/2.

 

alexandria

top 10 restaurants in dc proper (imho)

1. komi-small personal, attentive 2. citronelle-living legend 3. cityzen-progessive, fufilling 4. palena backroom-under appreciated 5. vidalia-most under rated restaurant 6. marcels-classically perfect 7. mendocino-maturing like a fine wine 8. rasika-the best ethnic 9. makoto-perfect sushi, spotty snotty service 10. black salt-great renditions of the sea

your thoughts

Very good list, Alexandria.

I was moved to put Komi into the top spot this summer, and wrote a long review of the restaurant and the chef, Johnny Monis, in the current issue of the magazine.

You left out some heavy-hitters: Oval Room, Westend Bistro, Restaurant Eve and Minibar at Cafe Atlantico.

I wouldn't put Marcel's in the Top 10, nor Makoto, nor Rasika. I also think Kinkead's is a Top 10.

Falls Church, VA

Todd, I was surprised and aghast at the somewhat defensive manner you presented questions to Mr. Ducasse.

It's not his responsibility to open up a restaurant in the DC area and duplicate small, ethnic dining spots that are already well represented. His restaurants and cuisine are a destination, and Mr. Ducasse doesn't need to defend his reasons and objectives to you as a critic.

Really?

I never said it was his responsibility. It was a question, deliberately provocative, that was designed to elicit an interesting, thoughtful answer. 

The question doesn't say — ought to. It doesn't say — duplicate. I wondered if any of these ingredients, any of these tastes, that make up this particular area and region, would find their way into his menu here. In France, it is a given that restaurants represent their regions and even micro-regions. In Italy, the same. There are high-end restaurants in New York and San Francisco that incorporate elements of the local food scene into their dishes.

Again, it was a QUESTION, not an accusation.

 

From the ‘Ducasse’ Q&A

[Note: I declined to respond to these last remarks, but feel obliged to point out to readers that Moroccans make up an infinitesimally percentage of the local population, and there are only a handful of Moroccan restaurants in the area. And unlike New York or Seattle or San Francisco, this is not a city with a vibrant Japanese culture. Perhaps not surprisingly, DC's sushi scene lags far behind that of those other cities.]

So Todd, are you saying that Alain should only have items on the menu that represent your evaluation of the diverse ethnic groups that make up DC?

Maybe it will be nice to have something with a Moroccan or Japanese flair despite your statement that they make up an "infinitesimally percentage of the local population." Perhaps you'd like him to cook oh, I don't know, Ethiopian dishes? Because apparently that would be appealing to the higher percentage of Ethiopians than the small number of Moroccans or Japanese we have in the city. Ridiculous.

Look, I don't have any problem whatsoever with a Moroccan-inspired dish or a Japanese dish appearing on the menu of this restaurant, or any other restaurant, for that matter. I love Moroccan food; I love Japanese food.

I have no doubt that they will be prepared with the utmost of care and precision.

The point is whether these cuisines are in any way representative of the area, which, after all, was my original question.

Restaurants are under no obligation to be local, however you or I may choose to define that term (my definition, admittedly, is different from some). Some chefs choose to root their cuisines in the traditions of an area, some do not.

Let me just make it clear that the quality of the experience at a place has nothing to do with either. There are great, rooted restaurants, and great restaurants that are not rooted.

Again, I was just asking a question — hoping to understand a little bit more about Ducasse's vision for the new restaurant.

 

Ballston, VA
Mr Landrum is a little full of himself sint he. The Arlington Grill which occupies his former lcoation was a far superior place to a good meal and enjoy the entertainment.
I disagree. And whatever ego he may have, has nothing to do with the excellence of his operations.
Arlington, VA

I have to say that I really enjoyed reading the two interviews that you placed in this chat today.

Highlighting Landrum and Ducasse’s completely different views of what a restaurant should be and what that restaurant should do with in that community is sort of mind blowing. Should a restaurant be a unique and opulent experience for a select few or be a place that has great food for everyone (really everyone)?

Also, it seems like these interviews together were a coincidence but were they really?

Pure coincidence. One was weeks in process; the other, days. 
Interview with chef Ducasse
I think some of your questions were arrogant and intentionally designed to put him on the defensive. Have fun at the opening tonight. Let's see if you can be objective then.

I guess you could see it that way. I see it as being deliberately provocative in order to bring forth interesting, thoughtful responses.

Years ago, Dave McIntyre, our wine critic, interviewed Ducasse in Paris. Now, Dave's French is not very good, but at one point in the interview he did hear Ducasse turn to the translator and say something to the effect of — "give him the dancing bear answer."

I think I was mindful of that, of needing to push a little and come in at different angles in order to get anything like real answers.

Anyway, I hope you all had some fun with this, and I hope you have fun tonight with the real-time review. Stay tuned … 

Meantime, be well, eat well, and let's do it again next week at 11 … 

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