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 21, click here.
W o r d o f M o u t h . . .
… Done right, the sometimes fried, sometimes griddled corn cakes from Venezuela known as arepas — typically stuffed with meat or beans or cheese or eggs — are so good and so addictive that it's hardly a surprise to learn that people have credited them with changing their lives. The most striking of these stories belongs to a man named Jim Leff, whose desire to immortalize the amazing arepas he discovered one day in Jackson Heights helped to launch an entire website. Homer had Helen; Chowhound.com had the Arepa Lady of Queens.
For years, there wasn't a single place to go to in the area to go for these marvelous little cakes. Now, suddenly, there are two.
A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about the excellent La Caraquena, in Falls Church, whose menu houses a kind of submenu of nearly two dozen varieties. The two-month old Don Churro Cafe (13905 Metrotech Dr
Chantilly; 703-378-1211) doesn't come close to matching that list, but the arepas they do have are good — smaller and crispier than the ones at La Caraquena, and with a blazing green pepper sauce for dipping.
Life-changing, they're not. But that's not to say they're not a joy to eat.
La Caraquena is primarily Venezuelan and Peruvian. Don Churro covers a lot more ground, stylistically — it's Venezuelan, Peruvian, Colombian, Argentinian, Chilean and Ecuadorian. That sounds like a prescription for disaster, a laughably balkanized menu that aims to be all things to all people. Fortunately, it's not. Likewise, the restaurant's logos and lettering suggest a restaurant that would like you to confuse it for a chain — an impression that is dispelled when you walk in and take in the vivid displays of Chilean art and are greeted without shtick or cheery, empty uplift.
If Don Churro is not the first to carry arepas, it is the first in the area to offer llapingachos, the Ecuadorian equivalent of papa rellena, a disk of mashed sweet potatoes stuffed not with seasoned ground beef but with white cheese. The rest of the menu reads like a greatest hits album of Latin cooking: saltenas, Spanish tortilla, several kinds of meat-based soups, beef Milanese, lomo saltado. The range is vast, but the kitchen is focused, and, aside from a few missteps here and there, cooking with great verve and pride.
The Peruvian-style ceviche ($11.85) is bright, impressively mounded, strewn with thin strips of red onion, and best appreciated by swiping it through a vivid, head-clearing orange pepper sauce. An order constitutes a meal, for some; the plate is surrounded by a pile of toasted, salted corn kernels called cancha, roasted sweet potato halves and a portion of soft boiled South American corn known as choclo — it looks like American corn on steroids.
The parillada for two ($39.95) is a gargantuan feast — it could feed four, at least — that would benefit by a little subtraction; the pork chops were drier than they ought to have been, and the chorizo was ordinary. But the ribs were magnificent, with a salty-crusty exterior that compelled us to eat them long after we were full; they were even better after a dunk in the pungent homemade chimichurri. The flank steak was impressive for being so flavorful despite being so thin, and the Argentinian sausage, coarse ground, spicy and flecked with chilis, was as good as non-artisanally crafted sausage gets.
The cafe's namesake comes plain, or piped with caramel, and is irresistible. …
… The "Soup Nazi" episode of Seinfeld is among the funniest of a very, very funny show — even if the use of the word "Nazi" to refer to a foul-tempered dispenser of bowls of hot, tasty soup nearly killed the routine for me; the hallmark of Nazism is genocide, not rudeness.
The episode was based on a real restaurant in Manhattan, Soup Kitchen International, which, even before the show aired, was swamped with customers, a cult favorite; after, it became a New York institution and tourist attraction.
The location no longer exists. Founder Al Yeganeh created a brand of frozen foods line called The Original Soup Man, shut down SKI, and later sold out his interest in the company to the brand. Franchised outlets of The Original Soup Man have been popping up around the country. The soups, following Yeganeh's recipes, are made in an industrial kitchen in New Jersey, then frozen and shipped to stores. There are no ovens in the OSM franchises; the soups are unpacked and steamed on steam tables.
There are two Original Soup Man locations in this area, one inside Tyson's Corner Mall (Level 1, Food Court; 703-761-3131), and a new one, in the University Town Center, in Hyattsville (6504 American Boulevard, Hyattsville; 301-699-SOUP).
The connection to Seinfeld is nowhere made mention of. Yeganeh, though he has reportedly left the country, forbid employees to talk about the show. His presence lingers, even if his famous foul temper does not. In the five times I've visited the Hyattsville store, not even the customers have snickered about moving to the left or so much as whispered under their breath, "No soup for you!"
There are between eight and ten different soups on offer each day — a couple of which are vegetarian, and a couple of which are seafood-based; the rest are meat-based. I've turned up a few disappointments, but many are excellent — superior to soups in comparable grab-and-go spots like Au Bon Pain, with a depth of flavor you can only find in fine-dining settings, and not always then.
The butternut squash gives off a whiff of nutmeg, and there are also notes of green apple in the broth. There's good paprika in the veal goulash. The surprise is that the soups aren't reliant on cream or butter for richness or flavor, not even the New England clam chowder, which is taupe-colored, not white — indicating a nicely cooked roux has made up its base. And many, like the lentil, the jambalaya and the seafood bisque, are complex and layered assemblages, packed with ingredients; they eat as though they were constructed slowly, in stages.
Prices aren't cheap. The seafood soups, for instance, cost (with tax) almost ten bucks a bowl. The rest will set you back between six and eight. But that bowl does come with a hunk of bread, a piece of fruit, and a square of chocolate. …
The Current List: Where I'd Spend My Own Money
Full Key, Wheaton
La Caraquena, Falls Church
Palena and Palena Cafe, DC
Citronelle and Citronelle Lounge, DC
Nava Thai Noodle & Grill, Wheaton
Johnny's Half Shell, DC
Ravi Kabob I and II, Arlington
Pete's Apizza, DC
Poste Brasserie, DC
A & J, Rockville
Vit Goel ToFu House, Annandale
Ray's Hell Burger, Arlington
Oval Room, DC
Farrah Olivia, Alexandria
Cafe du Parc, DC
Hollywood East Cafe on the Blvd., Wheaton
When readers started requesting you find recipes for them, I hoped it would result in them being placed in a specific, set-apart location on your website and those interested parties could assess them at will.
Today, I saw recipes taking up valuable space on your chatline, and I am so dismayed. Many of us don't care about recipes, but do value and need your input about chefs, restaurants, etc.. Please re-consider and put those recipes in another location for those who requested them. Bon Appetit and other publications, with more space than yours, can afford to provide their readers with requested recipes.
Aren't recipes from chefs from good restaurants part of that "input" about chefs and restaurants?
I could understand your being dismayed if the recipes took up the space generally reserved in the blog portion of the chog for reviews, gossip, insider news, etc. But they didn't. Remember, it's the web, not a newspaper — the page goes on and on and on.
The idea all along was to make space for the recipes on the Best Bites Blog — where they will begin appearing this week, by the way. I just thought it'd be fun to start them here, since the idea began here.
Anyway, keep them coming, everyone. As I said, we're doing our best to chase them all down …
The one at Vidalia is THE best. By far. Nothing else comes close.
And in fact, I can't come up with another at the moment that I like half as much. How about the rest of you?
Thanks so much for the recipes. I was the one who requested the Oyamel sea scallop ceviche…much appreciated. Also, I made it and it was terrific.
Thanks for the feedback, Joe.
How long did it take you, I'm curious? — there were a good number of steps in that recipe.
Here goes — and rather than five, I'll just type until I can't come up with any quickly …
The wild greens gumbo, from Capital Carts at 8th and H. Properly swampy, a dish that really grows on you the more you eat it.
3 bean-and-cheese pupusas, from Irene's Pupusas III in Wheaton. The pupusas are soft, warm, satisfying and not at all greasy. Top them with the peppery curtido and a few shots of hot sauce, and you have a counterpoint to all the bready heaviness.
A cup of lentil soup, from Original Soup Man in Hyattsville. You'd be amazed it didn't come from a sit-down restaurant.
Taiwanese hamburger, from Bob's Noodle 66 in Rockville. It's not a hamburger, not in the way we typically define it; it's a palmful of soft, braised pork, tucked with a few leaves of mustard greens into a soft, steamed bun.
Arepas, from La Caraquena in Falls Church. Get them with cheese, or get them with eggs. And see if you don't want to get more.
Beef and celery dumplings, from China Bistro (aka "Mama's Dumplings") in Rockville. To me, this is the best thing Mama makes. Don't forget to give them a judicious dip in vinegar and hot sauce.
A bowl of pho, from Pho 88 in Beltsville. Some say a bowl of pho is a bowl of pho is a bowl of pho. But this one's got a richer, fuller-bodied broth than most.
Grilled chorizo, from Portuguese Club in Wheaton. It's served atop a slatted ceramic dish. Beneath it, there's a small pool of alcohol, which is lit and brought to the table. The sausage cooks by flame, the exterior getting dark and crusty.
I don't understand,From your chat last week "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."
I went for dinner last night in the tasting room at Eve and you are right they do everything great! Is that or is that not the aim of restaurants of that caliber? Shouldn't everything seamlessly, I think if the sum is greater the parts they have to be doing it the right way.
Do you go to the French Laundry or Per Se just to get dinner or do you go for the experience? Todd I love your chats but I think your rational is wrong.
I might not have expressed myself as clearly and explicitly as I would have liked — that's one of the downsides of a chat like this, where you don't get a chance to edit yourself and there's a premium on typing fast. But you highlighted only a portion of what I wrote, and in this way have taken my comment somewhat out of context.
French Laundry and Per Se are, for me, the kinds of places where you come away from dinner thinking for weeks after about specific dishes. They are, yes, "experiences." But the level of cooking is so high, and the tastes so exquisite, so intense, that certain concoctions are burned into your memory. I don't think Eve is in that company. I also don't think, as I said last week, that it's trying to be.
Re: last question in last week's chat:
Having served in several restaurants in the past 5 years, and having many good friends who still serve restaurants, I beg to differ. In the D.C. area, tip for good service is calculated as 18-20% of the post-tax total. A tip of less than 20% of the grand total, including the tax, for excellent service, leaves a waiter wondering what went wrong.
Granted, I've never served in fine dining in D.C., but in mid-priced restaurants and bars in the city, 18-20% on the after-tax total is definitely the norm. Those who tip less are in the minority. Remember, servers are paid approximately $2.75/hr., and by law, they must pay taxes on 100% of their tips.
Most restaurants also practice tip share, where servers must give a percentage of their tips to table bussers, bartenders, etc. Sometimes even the house (illegally) takes a cut. All of which is to say, your waiter isn't even keeping all of that $4-5 tip you plunk down for that $25.00 burger-and-2-beers. He might be lucky to keep $3, and then he gets to pay taxes, too — and if the entire tip was on credit card, the government thinks he got to keep all of it because it all goes on his W2.
I always tip on the pre-tax. As does everybody I know.
So happy to reed about Athens Grill in Gaithersburg Md in your November issue. We love this place and go there all the time.I love the delicious specials and the fillet Mignon kebab is one of a kind. We can never finish the huge portions.
Never the less we save room for Alexandra's creation the famous peach melba that melt in your mouth, next time you got to try it because you can not get it any where else.You will love it. Sincerely, Eli
I will. Sounds terrific. Thanks, Eli.
And Athens Grill's a gem.
… with –?
Come on, 20013, don't leave us hanging!
I've been seeing roasted bone marrow pop up a lot on menus lately and would really like to try it.
I was planning to make my first foray at Redwood, but I saw your comments last week about their dullness.
Any other suggestions for the best place to go for bone marrow?
They've actually been excised from the menu at Redwood. There was a decent version at Montsouris, which closed earlier this year.
That leaves Blue Duck Tavern. They do a good one there; I like it.
But the best I've had is the one at Prune, in New York. That's the gold standard.
re: hot date. I am reporting back on my "hot date", with my husband.
We went to Eve for the Lickity Split lunch. I had the mushroom soup and pulled pork sandwich. He had mussels and a salad with diver scallops. The food was perfect! It is by far the best lunch deal anywhere around DC- a phenomenal meal, good sized portions and cheap!
I don't know why it doesn't get as much press as it clearly deserves. After lunch we headed over to Lavendar Moon for cupcakes. We had such a good time, we plan to do this once a month from now on.
And now you've got a new monthly routine, too. Even nicer. Couples need little rituals like this, I think. My wife and I just got back from Rehoboth Beach; that's one of our little rituals — a Fall getaway to the beach.
I confess, by the way, to being just a little disappointed that the "hot date" turns out to be your husband — but that's not a slight against you, your husband, matrimony or monogamy. I guess I was just hoping for some tale of intrigue and spice. Married folks, we like to live vicariously through the adventures of others …
I have a craving for ramen noodles, not pho noodles. I was in China and they had alot of ramen noodle bars and can't find any in the area, besides Temari Cafe in Rockville. Are there any places you can recommend? Thanks!
Sorry, I can't. I wish I could.
You mentioned Temari Cafe in Rockville — that's it, that's the list. And the ramen are packaged.
We love that you are posting recipes from local restaurants. So we made the Rasika chicken makhani.
We followed that recipe exactly as written. It was scavenger hunt around Virginia to get all of the ingredients.
Something isn't right about the recipe. We think it is the fresh tomatoes- this may be a case where for someone at home, canned tomatoes would be better. It was too thin- more like a really creamy, spicey tomato soup.
I'm glad to get the feedback on this, PQ.
I'll run this by the folks at Rasika and we'll probably tweak the recipe on the website. I'm imagining canned tomatoes — good ones, like San Marzano's — would also be more flavorful.
I want to tell you and your readers what Corduroy will offer for Thanksgiving.
We will serve a 3 course prix fixed menu with 4 different items to choose from per course, including the traditional turkey meal prepared by Tom Power. Menu is $55 per person and the hours are between 1.00 – 8.00 pm.
I hope you will have a good thanksgiving day Todd.
Regards, Ferhat Yalcin, Corduroy
Ferhat, thanks for writing in. Anything you can tell us at this point about the menu? Specific dishes?
You always seem to scoop some of our favorite spots and now you've turned people on to Don Churros.
When we first went, my husband and I loved the decor and the friendliness of the staff. It was a great place to get some coffee and churros. When we went back for a meal, the food was impressive too.
We thought they might be covering too much ground with the menu, but everything we've had has been great and it's priced to allow us to try most of the items. My favorites are the hornado and the churasco
Right, the hornado, the roasted pork. I haven't been there when they've had it; it's only available on weekends, I believe.
You're right, it's a very friendly place, the food's surprisingly good, and it's hard to beat the prices. Let's hope they can keep it up.
Okay, but didn't you just now tell everyone out there in cyberland about burger day and rave about the quality of the burgers?
That's the beauty of a forum like this. I appreciate your affirmation of my role, at least I think it's an affirmation. But haven't you heard? The critic's dead.
Um, it tastes good -?
It's been a long time since I've had it, but I remember enjoying it very, very much.
Did I write that it was perfect? That it was an exquisitely constructed sandwich? I don't think I did.
I can't believe, by the way, that you're complaining about the too-thickness of the patty. And I like onions. A lot. I think every sandwich can be improved by the addition of onions.
Oh, yeah! I love the Fatty Crab.
I would absolutely love to see something like that open here. More than another branch of a celeb chef's fine-dining chain, more than another wine bar, more than a burger shack, more than a fro-yo joint, more than a cupcake-eria, I would love to see a Fatty Crab — an ethnic restaurant from a chef who knows how to procure great ingredients and who can make the flavors pop.
Love your chats, thanks for all the hardwork you do!
After reading your First Bite in the October issue I went to Villa Mozart in Fairfax with some girlfriends. What a wonderful meal we had! They serve a 3 course lunch for $18 that was really great. I followed that with dinner on Saturday with my husband and it was truly wonderful. The place is charming and the service very attentive. I had the rabbit and my husband the lobster risotto…. it was to die for!!!
Thanks for making us discover such a nice place in our neighborhood!
More people ought to know about Villa Mozart. And that three-course lunch for $18 is a fantastic deal, one of the best in the area.
Kinkead's. No question.
I am NOT dismayed, but I second that motion! tIt would be really very convenient to have all of the recipes being placed in a specific, set-apart location on your website and those interested parties could assess them at will.
I hear you.
Check back later in the week — we'll have them all in one place, and we'll be putting up new ones each week. I appreciate the feedback.
Any recipes in particular you'd like us to track down, Springfield?
And I don't know where these myths come from.
I kind of made the ceviche in steps so I'm not sure how long it took me in total.
I made the citrus dressing in advance (that was very easy) and then did the scallop stuff closer to when we were going to eat. Flavoring the water and all that was a bit of a pain–and I'm not sure how much it added to the flavor of the scallops–but it wasn't too bad. One could probably eliminate that step entirely and then it would really be an easy process.
Thanks again, it's a great idea.
I've been. I like Super Chicken, on Ennalls Ave., better.
The rub they use, it tastes across between an Indian curry and a Mexican mole. And the chicken's superbly moist and juicy.
Here is our Thanksgiving Menu: First Course: Rouge Vif D`Temps Soup Blue Crab Blintz with Chayote Slaw Le Bocage Baby Greens Seared Bernaget Light Sea Scallops with Turnip Nage Main Course: Crispy Black Grouper with Clam Sauce Peppered Rare Tuna with Sushi Rice and Hijiki Roast Free-Range Turkey with Sausage Stuffing, Giblet Gravy, Green Beans, Cranberry Sauce and Mashed Potato Vande Rose Farms Beef Striploin with Lyonnaisse Potato and Meaux Mustard Sauce Dessert: Kabocha Squash Tart with Ginger Ice Cream Licorice Root Creme Brulee Michel`s Chocolate Hazelnut Bars Selection of Homemade Ice Creams
(I just hope that you all pay more attention to the details of these dishes than you did to the punctuation of the menu.)
Do you know of any restaurants having specials for halloween this Friday night? My husband and I were hopining to go out to eat somewhere festive/lively. thanks!
Other than drink specials, no, I don't know of any.
Georgetown, I can tell you, is sure to be lively — but maybe too lively, if you're not under 30.
Todd, I go out with a regular group of five couples and we're looking for Northern Virginia or DC, entrees in the $15 to $25 range in a nice place where we can talk and where we won't be rushed out the door.
Nothing too exotic but it doesn't have to be American. Founding Farmers sounds interesting – what do you think of that idea? Thanks for your help.
I think it's a terrific idea.
Rather than Founding Farmers, how about Minh's in Clarendon for Vietnamese in a tasteful, sometimes serene dining room — or Liberty Tavern, also in Clarendon, for sophisticated American comfort food? Both are also well within your price range.
Incidentally, I know there are many groups like this that are out there. But I wonder how many, exactly? How often do you meet? Where do you find out about where to go? I'd love to hear from you. — firstname.lastname@example.org
I have friends visiting DC this week/weekend, and they're expecting me to find some great restaurants for dinner.
We're all in our mid-twenties, and open to most kinds of food, but we're hoping to spend no more than $25 per person. I'm thinking places like Zaytinya and Jaleo where we can share a bunch of dishes would give us the best bang for our buck. Any suggestions (preferably Metro accessible)? Thanks!
With tax, and with a tip for a big group of people, you're not going to be eating very much at places like Zaytinya and Jaleo for $25 per person. I assume you're also going to drink? You might get two small plates.
Same thing at places like Cork or Veritas, both wine bars.
I think you get more bang for your back at places that serve family-style. Places like Etete in DC, like Gom Ba Woo and Vit Goel ToFu in Annandale, like Minh's in Clarendon, like La Limena in Rockville …
Todd, my mom's bday is coming up and live about 4 blocks from the Ruth's Chris and Mortons Steakhouse in Bethesda. If you to choose one of these places to dine at, which one would you prefer?
Alternatively, I like to try Ray's the Classic in Silver Spring, but understand they do not accept reservations and don't want my older parents to stand and wait.
I'd go to Ray's. If you go early, right when they open, you won't wait.
Between Ruth's Chris and Morton's? Probably Morton's. But that's not a call I make with any great passion.
Glad to hear about a good soup place in Hyattsville. I have never understood why there are so few good places to eat in that area.
Every single dept at the UMD hosts at least one lunch a week for visiting profs and need decent options to invite the speaker and dept members for lunch and dinner. It is a great built in audience for good food. (My husband is a prof there and usually takes his speakers into dc for dinner post talks)
There were. There aren't anymore.
I think there are a number of good places to eat now — to eat, not to dine. Still not a lot of white tablecloth kinds of places.
There's the Original Soup Man, The Wild Onion, Shagga, Franklin's, La Fondita, an appealing new sandwich shop called Rhode Island Reds, all good. And Little Mexico, nearby, which has La Sirenita and El Tapatio.
Things are changing, with the designation of the area as an Art's District, and the arrival of Busboys and Poets and Tara Thai.
Hyattsville is just minutes from the city, and has a very rich and interesting population of residents, yet still suffers from the stigma that Prince George's County has to bear. It's too bad.
I also tip based on the pre-tax amount.
I cannot comment on the expectation of the server who posted, but I think the expectation in the industry can be gauged by what restaurants do when they automatically add a gratuity to a party of 6 or more.
I believe they calculate it based upon the pre-tax amount.
And another …
I would really love to have the recipe for Executive Chef, Morou's Quinoa from Farrah Olivia! omg! It's amazing! I love it. I had no idea what Quinoa (keen-wa) was until I went there. I will go back just for that!
We'll try to get it for you. Thanks.
No, you're right. My bad. I confuse them all the time …
And no word, no. Stay tuned, though.
Burger day at Taqueria Nacionale, here: I understand the point of the forum, but readers are not going to respect the opinion of some random reader who may have the palate of a rabid raccoon over a respected food critic from a well respected magazine.
And I disagree, at least in my mind, the critic is alive and well. You have the advantage of having a wealth of published writings for a person to research in order to evaluate your tastes, the average reader does not.
I understand and appreciate your point. Thank you.
I do think you slight yourself and many others on here, who are anything but "rabid racoons" — okay, a certain someone who chimes in every week or so with his frothing-at-the-mouth opinions … but so many of you are so knowledgeable and passionate about food, and I love the give-and-take we have here every week, not to mention the informed rantings or ravings. It makes for a richer experience, I think …
Enjoy the chats as always and I look forward to them weekly.
I'm a 300 lb amateur bodybuilder, but I enjoy eating out at fine dining establishment every once in a while and for special occasions.
The obvious problem is that at most places more emphasis is placed on presentation over portion size. I tend to leave feeling unsatisfied even after a multi-course meal. I don't feel I should be forced to get so many courses to get close to full and my wallet agrees with me.
Any suggestions on places around town that I can get a good, memorable portion size on a main course without sacrificing food quality. Anything outside of a steakhouse (Brazilian or American) would be appreciated.
I hear you.
I think a place like Oohhs & Aahhs gives you a massive amount of food, without stinting on quality. Fried chicken, mac 'n' cheese, collards, sweet potatoes, all really, really good. Flavors in Virginia, another soul food spot, is another good choice. You can always count on soul food to give you a huge amount of food, and the best ones also mind the details.
A more upscale soul food spot, like the new Art and Soul on Capitol Hill, is a lot more refined, but the pork chop is massive (and really good, poised on a slick of red eye gravy), and if you get a side dish of greens or mac 'n' cheese, I don't think you'll leave hungry.
Hope that helps.
As for the rest of you — 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 to Todd's chat next Tuesday, November 4 at 11 AM.