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 October 14, click here.
W o r d o f M o u t h . . .
… The smoked beef ribs at Redwood (7121 Bethesda Lane, Bethesda; 301-656-5515) are thick and big-boned, and come drenched in a homemade barbecue sauce that's so good and sweet and tangy, you can't help but smack your lips. It's he-man eating, the kind you do at a picnic table in the middle of summer, or at a backwoods joint, with flies buzzing and the sun blazing.
Not, in other words, at a place as stylized as Redwood, which anchors the massive new Bethesda Lane development, an exclusive thoroughfare lined with fashionable boutiques that, at its best, recreates the feel of a European esplanade, complete with strolling, hand-in-hand couples (at its worst, it reminds you of an open-air mall, complete with skateboarders.)
The towering, nearly floor-to-ceiling windows that front Redwood make the consumption even more conspicuous, bringing the world of the boutiques into the world of the restaurant. Even when the handsome slatted doors have not been flung open, diners are confronted with a broad view of the shops they are expected to browse and drop money in. At lunch, I saw as many tiny, colorful bags filled with something expensive as I did bottles of wine. I began to wonder about the possibility of product placement when I ordered one of the sides, which come in tiny red Le Creuset daubes. Why, wouldn't you know it? Le Creuset is just across the street!
Such a tony setting calls for composed plates and artful curls of sauce, not smoked beef ribs, but then along came a waiter with a few pinch bowls for the three of us at the table. Floating in the water were tiny, half-moon slices of lemon, so that we would not be forced to suffer the indignity of sticky fingers. The waiter also brought by a trio of black linen napkins. The flourishing of black napkins is, typically, a maneuver executed by hip and trendy restaurants who want to show their customers they are responsive to the problem of white lint on black clothes. In this case, I'm not sure Redwood was thinking of our needs so much as the needs of our fellow diners. After a leisurely afternoon of shopping and escaping the messiness of reality, who wants to be exposed to the sight of sauce-stained white napkins?
Redwood wants to have it both ways, to showcase big, rusticky flavors, while at the same time making an argument against getting your hands dirty. In industry terms, the phrase is: "rustic chic." The effect is a little like watching a bunch of tough-looking dudes thunder by on their motorcycles, only to realize they stash them in their two-car garage and go on about their white-collar lives when they return home.
The chef, Andrew Kitko, whose resume includes stints at some of San Francisco's top restaurants (Stars, Gary Danko, Aqua), has composed a menu of French bistro classics and American country comfort fare that sound wonderfully hearty, but which are rendered, for the most part, with a caution that curtails the possibilities for lushness and sensuality. There's potted rabbit and chicken liver mousse, both too-mildly spiced (what's the point of ingesting all those innards and animal fat if they're not going to register with intensity?), blandly seasoned skillets of mussels, and the dullest plate of roasted marrow bones I've ever eaten (there are no toasts to spoon the soft, melted bison marrow onto — instead, the kitchen tops them with seasoned bread crumbs; it eats like gooey Clams Casino.) The yellow grits are the equal of the top kitchens in the South, and the collards are a good try, but there's something incongruous about eating collards off white china.
There's also something stinting about having to order all your sides extra, which is the case with most of the entrees. The kitchen turns out a terrific roast chicken, a free-range bird full of juicy meat — even the breast — and bearing a cap of crispy brown skin. But it's served alone, with no accompaniments. So much for homeyness.
Oddly, the fried chicken — actually, a poussin, a Cornish hen — comes with a homemade slaw and gravy. It's a good deal, one of the better ones on the menu — especially at lunch, when it sells for $14. There's no incongruity, here: the coating of spices summons up a good roadside diner, while the savvy of a skilled, fine-dining kitchen ensures that the bird is never dry, never tough. Likewise, the roasted pork loin with grits, which looks sloppier than a plate this expensive should, but which also has the directness and simplicity that many of the other plates miss.
The owners, Eli Hengst and Jared Rager, were at the forefront of the farm-to-table movement at Mendocino Grille and Wine Bar (which they recently sold), and, later, at Sonoma. So it's no surprise that they have procured so many quality ingredients from nearby sources. The bison bones come from Virginia. Two local farms, Vande Rose and Roseda, supply the beef. The chicken hails from Amish country, in Pennsylvania.
One of the enduring tenets of California cuisine is to equate having the goods with delivering the goods — to assume, in other words, that if you buy quality ingredients from the farm, it's simply a matter of not screwing them up in the kitchen. But what this does is, it puts a premium on precision, since, with a minimum of sauce and accompaniment, there is little room for error.
And yet error is what I kept finding in my three meals. The dry-aged, farm-raised beef would have made for a terrific burger, if it hadn't been overcooked. The branzino, roasted with lemon, served whole and given only a drizzle of olive oil, was dry. The sauteed soft shell was thin and watery.
The cheeses, on the other hand, were excellent. The practice of offering a selection of cheeses — which Rager and Hengst championed — has now become de rigeur, and although many restaurants offer a wider, more interesting selection of cheeses, they deserve credit for sticking to local farms. …
… You've been asking for recipes from some of the city's top restaurants these last couple of weeks, and we've been working hard to hunt them down (hats off to our persistent intern, Claudia Behar). Next week, we'll have several more, including the mini-pot roast recipe from Firefly. Enjoy. …
Oyamel's Ceviche de Cayo de Hacha con Citricos (serves four)
For the citrus dressing:
2/3 cup fresh orange juice
1 ½ teaspoons fresh lime juice
¼ teaspoon sherry vinegar
¼ teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon olive oil
For the scallops:
2 quarts water
1 small orange, halved
2 jalapenos, halved
2 tablespoons salt
2 ounces cilantro
12 Bay or other small scallops
For the garnish:
4 segments of orange
4 segments of grapefruit
4 segments lime
1 ounce citrus dressing
To make the citrus dressing, combine the orange juice, lime juice, vinegar and salt in a mixing bowl. Drizzle the olive oil into the juice mixture while whisking vigorously. Set aside. In a small pot, combine the water, jalapenos, salt and cilantro. Juice the orange halves into the pot then add them to the pot. Bring the water to a boil over high heat, then simmer over medium heat for 20 minutes to flavor the water. Using a slotted spoon, remove the orange halves, cilantro and jalapenos from the water. Gently add the scallops to the simmering water and cook over medium heat for about 30 seconds. You want the outside of the scallop to be cooked, but the inside of the scallop to still be raw. It helps to have an extra scallop or two to use for checking their readiness. Quickly remove the scallops from the simmering water with a slotted spoon and transfer them to a bowl of ice water. Let them rest in the ice bath for 1 minute. Speed is of the essence when cooling the scallops down. The scallops will continue to cook even when they are removed from the cooking water. Pat the scallops dry and lay them in a single layer in a shallow bowl. Drizzle some of the citrus vinaigrette over the scallops and allow them to marinate in the refrigerator, covered with plastic wrap, for 30 minutes.
To serve, place 3 scallops on each plate. Cut each segment of orange, lime and grapefruit into 3 pieces. Garnish each plate with 3 pieces of each citrus (3 orange, 3 lime, 3 grapefruit). Drizzle the remaining vinaigrette over each plate. Sprinkle a small amount of sea salt on each scallop and garnish the plate with a couple leaves of cilantro.
Raku's Thai Red Curry Coconut Soup (serves four or five)
2 qt Chicken Broth
½ pc beef bouillon
2 cup heavy cream (40%)
2 can coconut milk (Chef’s Choice brand)
1 oz Thai red curry paste
3 tbs fish sauce
3 tbs molasses
6 tbs palm sugar (or granulated)
3 oz tomato paste
6 tbs paprika
2 tbs chile oil (Optional)
1 bunch Thai basil
1 stalk lemongrass (sliced)
2 pcs lime leaf
3 slices galangal or ginger (thumb-sized pieces)
2 tbs potato starch with 3 tbs of cold water
Combine all ingredients except chile oil and potato starch in large pot. Bring to boil with high heat then reduce to simmer for 20~30 min. to infuse aroma to soup. Strain soup and discard all ingredients that cook with. Put soup back to pot and heat it up to boil. Stir in potato starch & water mix to soup. It will thicken up. Add chile oil before you serve.
Serving Suggestion: over Udon Noodles or Egg Noodles. Top with vegetables (Napa cabbage, red cabbage, broccoli, snow peas, bean sprouts), thin strips of chicken or shrimp, cilantro and scallion, Sriracha chili sauce, and a squeeze of lime. …
… Finally, a bit of news this morning: Ardeo/Bardeo has a new chef, Alex McWilliams. McWilliams was most recently at Spuntino Three 60 in New Brunswick, New Jersey, where he earned a four-star review from the Newark-based Star-Ledger. He has also cooked at the Dressing Room-Newman's Own, in Connecticut, at Max Ultimate Food in Boston, and several restaurants in Seattle. …
For those looking for Thanksgiving advice, you may want to check out our 2007 Thanksgiving Guide. Check back in a couple of weeks for the updated one!
I have been a follower of chef Enzo Fargione since the days of Barolo in Capitol Hill I am so excited he is back in the area and I have visited him at Teatro early last week
He just come out with a new Fall menu and my husband and our kids had a marvelous dinner I was also reading the latest issue of Esquire magazine and notice that on Mariani best restaurant in US he picked the chef as one of the only 3 best chefs in the country to watch for 2009 for his cucina moderna
Just wanted to share my excitment and thank him for putting DC on the map Are they open on Sundays?
It's a terrific honor for Fargione.
And though I think it's a stretch for John Mariani to call Teatro DC's best Italian restaurant, I did enjoy the meal I had there recently, and am eager to return.
They're not, by the way, open on Sundays.
I really rely on your tips, for the most part. But it's sad if you count Yank Sing in SF as the best dim sum in the US.
Next time try Koi Palace in Daly City, CA (just outside SF). The lines are daunting, but it's worth the wait. You should to go beyond guide book recommendations for dim sum. Happy Eating!
It wasn't a guide book rec, it was a fellow critic's rec, but thanks, anyway, for the tip about Koi Palace.
I'd be interested in hearing what you have against Yank Sing. I think it's terrific. Or is this one of those cases of not liking something because so many people like the same thing?
What I meant was, Eve is a gestalt kind of experience. (Clears that up, doesn't it? ; )
It's the kind of place where everything functions together, service, setting, cocktails, pacing, cooking, etc., and where the sum is greater, I think, than any of the individual parts.
There are dishes I've had at Eve that I've really liked, and I love the charcuterie board, but I don't think of going to Eve for a particular dish. I don't think you go to have your socks knocked off by what the kitchen can do. That's not, generally, the aim here.
I think you go because you want to be taken care of and pampered a little.
I've thought about this recipe thing before (a lot, actually 🙂 ) and decided that if I could have one recipe it would be for the Vanilla and Chocolate Chip bread pudding that Zoe Behrens used to serve at 1789.
It's no longer available…but what I would give to have it back!
I'm with you — that was a killer bread pudding, one of the best I've had.
I wouldn't hold your breath, but maybe there's something we can do to track her down and get it. We're not the CIA, but ve do have our vays …
Thanks for writing in.
Hold tight. The new T-day dining guide's a-coming …
Meantime, if you just have to start planning, Miami, you can always look over the guides from the last couple of years; the menus may change from year to year, but the restaurants we give the nod to tend to be pretty consistent.
You'd be surprised: There are an awful lot of very good restaurants that do a Thanksgiving day meal.
Johnny's is one of my favorite spots in the city … Charbroiled local oysters. Grilled squid with crispy shallots. Spicy whole broiled lobster. The best gumbo in the city. One of the best crab cakes in the city.
And save room for the cakes and pies, which are superb.
Incidentally … Ann Cashion declined our request — actually, a reader's request — for the recipe for the yucca from Taqueria Nacionale, in back of Johnny's, on the grounds that she was leery of possibly aiding and abetting a competitor.
But what do you say to divulging the recipe for Valerie Hill's banana cream pie? I, personally, would love to add that to my collection — one of the best pies I've ever had.
I'd be a very happy camper to have the black cod recipe from Rasika!
I know it has ALOT to do with how it is prepared, but you have to start with the right ingredients! Thank you.
Another request for a dish from Rasika …
We'll get it. Thanks for writing in.
It's a great dish. A lot of it has to do with being able to get your hands on fresh, good-quality black cod — which is really just sable. (Before it became trendy, sable fish was seen most often in Jewish delis, which sell it smoked; the oily richness goes great with a bagel and cream cheese and sliced red onion.)
It's hard to find good sable around here; I think I've seen it occasionally at Whole Foods, but not often. Anybody know who might carry it more consistently?
Well, we will either see a slew of maverick restaurants with erratic changes in menu and waitstaffs that can come across as petulant and passive-aggressive … or we will see a whole raft of transformational restaurants that make you feel good without your ever being able to pinpoint exactly why, with managements so steady as to appear almost passionless and menus of bold, eclectic dishes.
They carry it regularly? Or — often?
See above re: pampering.
Plus, the charming walk along cobblestones, the stroll through Old Town afterwards …
Good luck! And I'm always curious to know how things turned out, but in this case, I'm extra curious ; ) Drop in next week and let us know, okay?
Todd—could you track down Carole Greenwood's Amish deviled eggs recipe?
I've tried dupicating it many times and never seem to figure it out! Thanks!
I'm gonna bet your mistake was to use electricity. : )
We'll try to chase it down; thanks.
I've been out in Oregon for the last 5 mos working on a campaign (and away from my new hubby who I had to leave in DC.. sad). Now that the election is right around the corner (eek), I spend too much time distracting myself and trying to decide where we should go for our first dinner back in DC.
We love Tabard for the atmosphere and the food at Cashions. Any other suggestions for a cozy (and quiet.. lots to catch up on) spot in that same price range in the District? Win or lose, I deserve some real food after 5 months of pizza and chinese take out!
You really do.
Don't forget Obelisk, in Dupont. And don't forget Mendocino Grille and Wine Bar, in Georgetown. Both are intimate, cozy, sometimes overlooked spots with really good cooking and good service.
And welcome back …
Hi Todd – have you ever eaten at Rice near the Studio theater on 14th Street?
I went this past week and found the food to be really good. I was wondering why it doesn't get more press.
I've been a few times and have never thought much of it. I've had maybe one dish there I really liked — the rest were forgettable. And some were lamentable.
I may never have given it much ink, but the place is certainly not hurting for business, to judge by the crowds there on weekends and many weeknights.
And I love that line of yours — "seems so simple but too perfectly executed to be that way." So true about so many things.
Chefs are always talking about things being "simple" or "straightforward." I don't think there's anything simple or straightforward about most of the dishes you see on restaurant menus at most good restaurants. The aim might be to come across as simple, but as any number of performers — tap dancers, centerfielders, artists, writers — can tell you, you have to work awfully hard and master a whole host of techniques in order to make something look "simple."
The Italians have a word I love: sprezzatura. The appearance of nonchalance and ease, which of course only comes from a lot of hard work and fret.
I am looking for unique dining experience for my wife's birthday in a couple weeks. I would like to surprise her with a nice dinner in the district. She only eats very lean low calorie meals and the food has to be fresh as does desert. I think the the artsy/rustic atmosphere would suitable, and casual attire.
What are some restaurants you suggest? and What are the deals and price ranges available? Both dinner and lunch time frames. Thank you.
I think the place you're looking for is Buck's Fishing and Camping.
Everything on the plate is fresh, local and mostly organic, and although there are items on the menu that are not at all low-calorie — the massive, soy-marinated steak, for instance — there's bound to be something that will appeal to her.
The atmosphere is one of the best things the place has going for it: It's warm and sensual, very cozy, with jewel-like red walls and soft lighting, and the regulars who flock there give it the feel of a restaurant that's something of a secret, an insiders-only destination. (It's not.)
Good morning, Todd!
Fortunately, I have a random day off today. Where would you go for lunch and/or dinner on such a day? I'm open to all cuisine and prices, but would like to stay in downtown DC. I'd appreciate your thoughts!
I think, for me, it would depend on what neighborhood I wanted to explore. Again, for me, that would probably eliminate downtown. I prefer to do my walking/exploring in more defined neighborhoods.
I've probably got Johnny's on the brain, now, having made myself hungry with a quick hitter of great dishes there, but I think that'd be high on my list for lunch. Gumbo, some broiled oysters, a glass of wine, a slice of pie — what more could you want from a lunch? And lots at your disposal afterwards — the Hill, Eastern Market, Union Station, the sights …
For dinner, I'd probably head into Penn Quarter. There, you've got a lot to choose from: Rasika, Oyamel, Poste. Good, imaginative cooking, and good atmospherics, too — the kinds of places you can wander into and be lifted up by.
My boyfriend and I are going to see the Cirque show (Kooza) that's coming do DC in November at the National Harbor. Do you have any suggestions on where to go to dinner beforehand near the Harbor? We've never been down there and have no idea where to go! Thanks so much!
I'd head to Rosa Mexicano.
It's a festive place, a kind of nightly party, and it will go a ways toward getting you in the right frame of mind for the show.
They're pushy — I mean it, really pushy — about the margaritas and guacamole. A pomegranate margarita for each of you, plus the made-at-table guac, will set you back about twenty-five bucks. The guac is good, don't get me wrong, and it's fun to watch it being prepared. But the bill can add up in a hurry.
As for the rest of the food … I've had good luck with some things, notably the lamb shank cooked en papillote, and not so-good-luck with others. Still, it's a sight better than many mailing-it-in Mexican restaurants.
Last Thanksgiving my parents and I had a lovely meal at Tabard Inn. There are two seatings, one around 2 and one in the evening. It took us several hours to get through dinner and we loved every minute of it.
We're planning to go back again this year.
Hi Todd –
I want to buy a gift certificate for someone to use at a nicer restaurant in DC.
How about — Marcel's, CityZen, Citronelle. All three are pretty special places.
Whichever one you pick, that's going to be a pretty costly gift certificate — just so you're prepared.
How about a Top 6 (and in no particular order):
2 Amys, Cafe Pizzaiolo, Mia's, Comet, Moroni & Brother's and Tommy Marcos's Ledo Restaurant.
Any chance you can figure out the recipe for the crispy couscous from Farrah Olivia?
I had it at Taste of the Nation last year and LOVED it. I believe they served it with tuna and I've been thinking about it ever since.
It's a really interesting dish, I agree. Goes really well with something soft and slippery like a slightly cooked slab of tuna.
We'll try to get it; thanks.
Although, just to warn you — the fries don't come with the chicken. Or the burger. So be prepared to shell out for those.
Good as they are, the pastas are extraordinary. So are the soups. There might be one of each on the menu when you go. Personally, I'd find them hard to resist.
David Craig is done. It just closed.
I'd have included it on my list, too. But now that list is a little smaller. Again, in no particular order: Faryab, Passage to India, Mia's.
Assaggi has promise, Black's has slipped, Matuba is middling.
If I were feeling charitable, I might add Grapeseed and Raku to my list.
In that area, I think the best pupusas are the ones at Irene's Pupusas III.
It's just a really good place to eat, all around. If you like refries, the ones here are superlative.
Sorry; you're out of luck. Nobody makes their own.
Temari Cafe in Rockville does the packaged kind, and it's pretty tasty, if nowhere near as thrilling as the real thing.
Todd: I've done some searching in the archives, but can't find a clear answer.
Tipping: pre or post tax? pre or post wine? Thanks!
Pre-tax. Always pre-tax.
And always with wine included in the pre-tax total. Always.
That's it, everyone — I'm off for my date with the Saffron King. (More on this, later.)
Keep the recipe requests coming — firstname.lastname@example.org — and like I said, we'll do our best to chase them down.
Eat well, be well, and let's do it again next week at 11 …
Didn't get your question answered in this chat? Submit it in advance to Todd's chat next Tuesday, October 28 at 11 AM.