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 28, click here.
Producer's note: This Fall marks three years since Todd launched his chat on Washingtonian.com.
Three years? We know, we can't believe it either—time flies when you're talking food.
To celebrate this anniversary, we'd like to host another contest for the loyal readers of Kliman Online.
We're asking you to tap into your knowledge of Todd's tastes and devise the perfect three-course meal for our far-ranging and passionate restaurant critic.
Entering is simple. We just want you to create what would be Todd's favorite meal ever. Just list three dishes from three local restaurants—one for each course—and give a brief description of why you think Todd would enjoy them. The menu that captures what Todd loves most about Washington dining will win a gift certificate worth $150 to the Italian trattoria Notti Bianche in Foggy Bottom.
Send entries to: firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line "Todd's three-course dinner." The winner will be decided on November 17.
W o r d o f M o u t h . . .
… Nothing tells me more about the quality of a kitchen than its ability (or inability, as the case may be) to make a good soup — a soup with body, with depth, with soul. A soup that doesn't cheat — that doesn't need gobs of butter or ladles of cream to taste good.
I consider Frank Ruta's soups at Palena to be the best expression of the soup maker's art — his pho-like consomme with morels and fava beans this past Spring might have been the best single soup I've ever eaten. I've also taken great pleasure in the profoundly flavorful, imaginative soups of Morou Ouattara, now of Farrah Olivia; I can still summon the taste of the carrot-ginger soup with beet yogurt he served at Signatures three years ago (his secret: cooking the carrots until they break down obviates the need for the dilutions of either cream or stock).
I'd put the red snapper bisque I had not long ago at Corduroy in that lofty company. How good was it? So good that I wanted the meal to end right then and there, so that nothing would follow that would disappoint me and diminish its magic. As it happened, the main courses my friends and I were not up to the exalted level of the starters (which included, in addition to the bisque, a marvelous duck confit and a roasted lobster tail), just very good. …
… Vinoteca strikes me as a poor man's Cork. It even serves a duck confit that reminds me an awful lot of the (superior) one that flies out of the kitchen at its 14th St. neighbor.
Charcuterie has become a sort of prerequisite of wine bars, and among the options is something called lomo, a cured pork rubbed with garlic and paprika. Tasty. But it's served with a pot of coarse-ground mustard and bread, when these accompaniments only overpower the delicate flavor of the thin-sliced meat.
There are unexpected hits (a trio of venison, lamb and bison sliders) and expected misses (a dreadful lobster risotto). The staff is not nearly as knowledgeable as some (including Cork and Veritas), and the tendency to recite the four-digit number of the glass you ordered, not the name of the grape or the estate, is jarring — as if wine were produced on an assembly-line.
I can think of other wine bars I'd patronize first, but Vinoteca does have a certain rough charm, and working your way through agreeably-priced, two-ounce tastes of the more than six dozen wines on offer is not a bad way to spend the night. The nightly hordes apparently seem to think so. …
… The measure of truly refined cooking is the ability to make 1,000 calories seem like 100.
I was reminded of this recently at Rasika, where, after devouring two breads (a garlic naan and a sublime goat cheese kulcha), an asparagus uttapam, a kabob of homemade paneer and veggies, two complex, sharply-spiced curries, and two desserts (a perfect carrot halwa and a light, cruncy apple jalebi), a friend and I walked out feeling not the least bit weighed down. Rasika has made notable gains in the last year, resulting in a headier, more exciting blend of East and West, its gravies full-bodied and complex, its spicing bold and surprising.
My recent meal at Charlie Palmer Steak was the very opposite of lightness and delicacy. Another friend and I left much of it unfinished.
A starter of foie gras with caramelized peach was overcooked. Considering the horror of ducks and geese being force-fed for the benefit of discerning gourmets, and considering, also, the $22 price tag, dining on a thick lobe that isn't uniformly pink and unctuous and perfect left me feeling uneasy and wasteful. A beef short rib ravioli was good, not great; it didn't help that it was doused with a too-intense red wine reduction. I liked a plate of three monstrous scallops topped with pork belly, but a fan of Moulard duck breast was unremarkable (and is it asking too much to have each slice of meat rimmed by a crisp cap of rendered fat?).
Two sides, one of gnocchi, one of wild mushrooms and onions, were undone by a surfeit of butter; the gnocchi looked to have been sitting in a stew. We never made it to dessert. …
… If you haven't tried the chicken and waffles at Marvin, you're missing out on what might be the single-best plate of soul food in the city right now.
It puts to shame the version I ate at Gladys Knight and Ron Winans's Chicken and Waffles, in Largo. The latter consists of a thin, uncrispy waffle and a piece of (probably) frozen chicken, and has about as much soul as Gwen Stefani. (The same could be said for the space, a strange marriage of a supper club and a Denny's).
The waffle at Marvin looks at least twice as big, and the chicken is every bit as spicy and juicy as KFC, but with the added benefit of being much more virtuous (the kitchen uses organic, free-range birds — unfrozen birds, birds that taste like birds). …
… Charcuterie has become so ubiquitous around town, you would think it's in danger of losing its distinctiveness, its ability to surprise us. The reason it hasn't is that there still aren't that many chefs who set aside the time — the considerable time — to make their own.
One who does is Barry Koslow at Mendocino Grille and Wine Bar, in Georgetown. I love chef Cathal Armstrong's charcuterie board at Restaurant Eve,, and Anthony Chittum's at Vermillion is wonderful, too. But Koslow's chicken liver pate with violet mustard is the single best thing of its kind I've eaten in the last couple of years. Amazing intensity, amazing color, amazing texture.
A glass of wine (I wish there were more French reds and whites here, or more Virginian reds and whites), a plate of pate and I don't need anything else to be happy. …
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
Why, oh why do I hardly ever read about any good places to eat out in my neck of the woods (Clifton/Centreville)?
One might see an occasional nod to Fairfax City, but west of there, it seems to be a wilderness. Surely there are a few secret non-chain establishments that may even be children-friendly?
We eat out every weekend, and the fare is so tired, it doesn't seem like food any longer. Any cuisine will do. Help!
Lots out that way that's good.
Let's see … Cheogajip chicken for great, spicy, crispy Korean fried chicken. Sweetwater Tavern for American comfort food and a fun, lively atmosphere. Tippy's Taco House for old-school Tex-Mex — crunchy, thin tacos, sunken burritos and enchiladas. Rasoi of India for tasty curries and excellent breads. Minerva for its superlative Indian buffet, maybe the best in the area.
And all those spots are affordable and child-friendly, too.
Todd, love your chats.
In your talk last week a chatter mentioned group outings. I work at a retirement facility in NW and we do a lunch bunch monthly. Usually 20-25 and I use the top 100 as a guide.
We have been treated royally at Kinkead's, West End, Poste, Tosca, and especially Beck's – along with many others.
I write this as a credit to those restaurants for their wonderful treatment of the elderly and would love to hear from anyone that has any tips for other places that handle groups well.
I'd love to hear about that, too.
Any other groups that go out on a regular basis like this? Where do you go?
And I'm glad the 100 Best has been such a good guide for you. Thanks for writing.
What is the best course of action, if any, for the following circumstances?
About a month ago my husband and I had dinner in a well-known, popular sushi restaurant. About an hour after we got home my husband got very sick, and spent about half the night in the bathroom getting rid of his dinner. I was just fine.
Then several weeks after that we had dinner in a highly popular new restaurant. He had bar-b-que ribs and I had the evening seafood special. Even though the dinner was delicious, starting about 4 hours after we got home I was very, very sick, which lasted for many hours.
I don't have food allergies and this is the first time this has ever happened to me.
What is the right thing to do in these instances? Do we call the restaurant the next day – would manager want to know?
We've all been there; it ain't fun.
But I'm not sure that calling the restaurant is the thing to do.
And that's because, so far as I understand it, it's just not possible to pin food poisoning to what you just consumed — even if it seems so obvious to you at the time. The offending food might have been something you ingested 24 hours earlier. It's really hard to know.
That was bad.
But then Mr. Winer went to the editor of the Post magazine and tried to suppress what was written about his restaurant. He succeeded — the offending review has been removed.
I'm not going to comment about what Tom did or didn't do; that's not my business. But I will say that he is exceedingly scrupulous and fair, and I have never known him to savage a restaurant for sport. I think restaurateurs are very lucky to have him as the critic of the most important paper in the city. Readers, too.
There's one more thing I want to say.
Mr. Winer has not just impugned a man's motives, he has not just used bullying tactics, he has not just suppressed the written word.
By telling the City Paper's Tim Carman that he fears retribution from the "covey of restaurant critics … who may have coffee together," he is sowing paranoia and, in so doing, hoping to gain sympathy and support from his fellow restaurateurs, who no doubt have taken note of his strong-arm tactics. (He is also forgetting that Tom and Tim and I work for different publications and are therefore in friendly competition with one another. For the record: Tom and I have never had coffee together.)
Have I eaten at Commissary? I haven't. But I ate several meals at Merkado Kitchen, the restaurant it replaced, and I have eaten several meals at Logan Tavern, its neighbor just down the block — another of Mr. Winer's restaurants. I have also eaten at Mr. Winer's Grillfish. They're mediocre restaurants.
Going after a critic — and it's happened in Philly, in New York, and also here — is a convenient out for a restaurateur who would rather not admit that his business has problems and that he needs to take action from within.
I missed last week's chat but I got caught up… and still haven't seen (nor heard) anything about the chocolate espresso cookies from Firehook!
Any chance at all you and your talented staff can figure out just how in the world they stay so crispy on the outside and soft and chewy on the inside?
Or at least just let me know that they're holding the secret recipe under lock and key.
Thanks very much and happy chogging!
We'll do our best.
With companies with multiple locations and seldom-changing menus — as opposed to restaurants, which tend to change dishes often — I think our chances are slim at best. They're going to fear that a competitor is primed to swipe their secrets.
But as I said, we'll try. Thanks for the request, Carolyn.
Frankly, I think it reflects poorly on your chat when someone cannot offer a different perspective without being shouted down, having their motives questioned, and generally being slandered/dismissed. What's the point of a "discussion" where everyone just agrees with you?
As I stated, I'm a FORMER server, not a current one looking to inflate her tips. Right now I make a measly salary as a legal assistant, and I STILL tip 18-20% post tax. That's the norm among my friends in and out of the industry. I find it inappropriate to make an ad hominem attack on someone who's simply offering an alternative perspective. Why do you accuse someone with a different view of perpetuating a myth about tipping? Maybe I was just a fantastic server, but 90% of the time, I received tips that were 18-20% of the post-tax total. But so did my friends serving at various other restaurants, which led me to believe it was more of a trend than anything special I was doing.
Sometimes it depends on the crowd– tourists sometimes tip less (maybe it's partly a regional thing). Anyway, that was my experience and there's no reason to disrespect it, or me, because you disagree. I served at both Cafe Mozart (whose patrons are mainly families and employees of nearby businesses), and Bourbon on Wisconsin Ave. (mainly young professionals, yuppies, and former frat boys). Tips at both were consistently high, and consistently calculated post-tax.
Have you spoken with many servers or young people, or have you decided the "norm" based on what your fellow married-with-children or magazine-employees-on-a-budget friends do? I'm disappointed. I'll still read your chats, but the pleasure of joining the discussion is gone for me.
I said I tip pre-tax, and I said that everyone else I know does, too. And not all of these people, or even most of these people, have kids. Or fancy budgets. (Speaking of ad hominem attacks … )
It's your fellow chatters who weighed in and shot the idea of tipping post-tax down. (I didn't see a single comment in support of post-tax tipping.)
I try not to demonize people who come on and have a different view — unless their intent is to demonize me or others. I may respond candidly and honestly, or disagree with you, but that's what a discussion is, isn't it? It's not just a bunch of courtly exchanges out of Jane Austen.
Or maybe my married-with-children friends on a fancy budget and I are just more volatile and real when we get together to talk. (Oops.)
But seriously … I'm glad you wrote in, and maybe we can get some more discussion going on this. I'm curious to see who else shares this view.
I also want to say that your comments today are more thought-out and more thorough, and I can understand your thinking on this a little better. I can only know someone by their words — we don't yet have the technology to see and hear a person as we do this.
Last week, it came across, to me, as something different.
Reporting back from San Francisco from our wandering, food-filled budget-trip. Thanks again for your suggestions—it made food finding even more fun.
It is such a great city to eat in, and many of our meals were nibbles on dim sum in Chinatown, tacos in the Mission, and gorges on west-coast only flavors of Ciao Bella ice cream at the ferry building while wandering around the farmers market (where, in some ways, some of the best food treasures can be found in heirloom avocados, thick black bean tortillas and local bleu cheese).
Some highlights for us was the fun, trendy, and spicy Dosa where we sampled utthapam and dosa—all tasty and left with a $20 bill but felt like we had gone out for a nice dinner. Yank sing’s dim sum was lovely, if a bit overpriced, but the shrimp noodles, large flat rice noodles softly rolled around snappy shrimp, and the pea shoot dumplings made up for the splurge.
In between we drank the divine concoctions from the Alembic—worth a trip to visit this place who created cocktails as an art in a place that looks like a real bar.
We dined well from the multi-cultural café at the new California Academy of Sciences museum in Golden Gate park—worth a trip with your little one in a few years as there is nothing like walking around in a biosphere to get the appetite going 😉 Our highlights? The first was a small no-name udon soup place with their fresh noodles after the morning at the Japanese baths at Kabuki (wonderful, and all that purity makes one hungry as well). But the real winner was a surprising bowl of jook at the trendy Samovar tea house, and I am still thinking about it. The steamy bowl of gingered rice-porridge was accompanied by chopped chilies, scallions, fried garlic, fresh ginger, crispy tofu (or duck) and this tamari they get shipped in from Japan that I just can’t describe except to say that it could be sipped like a fine wine…
Thanks for the excellent report, Cheverly, and some good and tasty tips, too.
It sounds like you had a fantastic time — it also sounds like you did nothing but eat! But then, what is travel for — walking and exploring and eating.
Don't count on it.
Just when you think L'Auberge is down for good, it springs right back up. The devastating fire, the never-ending blow-ups between Haeringer fils and Haeringer pere …
But I've been thinking and thinking and nothing comes to mind.
Anyone have any ideas?
The Source lounge is serving a Chicago-style half smoke in honor of Obama. (And, I hasten to add, a plate or ribs in honor of McCain.)
I don't think I've come across anything at the lounge that wasn't good; and most of the items on the menu are terrific.
Wondering if you could tell me the best places to get a delicious mojito in this town. Thanks!
I've really liked the ones I've had at Oyamel, Cafe Atlantico, Blue Duck Tavern, and Guajillo. All delicious.
Is there any restaurant that you want to like, but the food doesn't live up to the billing? For example, I had a great time at Brassiere Beck last week but thought the food was just mediocre. I'll definitely go back, but more so for the atmosphere and the beer than the food.
I want to like Pasta Plus in Laurel more than i do. I want to like Equinox more than I do. I want to like the Inn at Little Washington more than I do. i want to like Black's Bar and Kitchen more than I do.
Maybe the lady was an excellent server and was getting tipped at 22-25% and she reasoned it out arbitrarily to a calculation on post-tax rather than pre-tax amount. I rarely tip 15%, 18-20% is the norm and I have on occasion tipped as high as 25% for exceptional service where the server went beyond his call of duty, was extra gracious, we occupied the table for 2+ hours, made excessive requests, brought our own cake etc. etc.
I think that's fair.
And in line with what I hear from my married-with-kids friends and acquaintances, to say nothing of my friends with fancy budgets.
Thanks for chiming in, Bethesda.
I understand what you're saying.
But this business of "stealing" is complicated. Tim Carman of the City Paper was the first, so far as I know, to write about Nava Thai. Unearthing places like that, that's the real work in my book, and he deserves a lot of credit for taking a chance and then writing about it.
I went and became seduced by the place, going seven times, dissecting leftovers and even venturing into the kitchen to find out what made it so good and distinctive. Along the way, I wrote about it a couple of times on the chog, and then did a longer, more in-depth piece for the magazine.
So, you could say I championed it, but I don't think it's reasonable to say that anyone lays permanent claim to a place — no one's a de las Casas here.
That's not to say I don't take pride in ferreting out the little-known. It's a source of great pleasure, and one reason why I like to devote the space above the chat itself to hidden gems or mom 'n' pops — places that otherwise would never get the attention.
i think the main thing, the important thing, is that a terrific place is getting the crowds it deserves — in the process turning on a whole bunch of people to the glory of Thai street food, and, perhaps, inspiring other ambitious Thai restaurateurs to get in on the act or up their game.
To the other former server: I agree 110% with you.
I used to wait tables at one of the top restaurants in the city, and I also was offended or worried when the tip was not 18-20% post-tax. This was also the case for all of my fellow servers.
I served meals to many groups of lawyers, business people, etc., and they often tipped over 25% post-tax, and those were meals that were probably expensed by their companies, and they still had no reservations about it.
Thanks for writing in.
And I really do want to hear from the rest of you — what do you tip? What are you being tipped?
It's interesting. A tip of 22-23% post-tax could be construed as an 18% tip pre-tax.
I love your chat and tune in to it every week. I recently moved from DC to the Boston area and was wondering if you had any favorite restaurants to recommend for me in my new city? Thanks!
Welcome, Boston, and thanks for finding me.
The 20 restaurants I list at the top of the page every week, in the blog portion of the chat, are the places I'd choose to spend my own money at the moment. I like them all. They range from expensive to cheap, from fine to casual, and you can expect very good cooking and, I think, very good value.
Im not sure how big of a group you are talking about, for the past few years about 6 of my friends and myself have a "Dinner Club" where we go out to a new restaurant once a month.
We usually choose based on the Washington Post chat, Zagat or here and have been to a bunch of the top places in the city.
We like to check out new places as they pop up too. Unfortunately due to the economic downturn we have not been out in several months though.
Well, now's the time to check out the Cheap Eats in the area.
Lots of those, and many, many good ones. And many are more stylish and more comfortable than you might have guessed. Take a look at our list from June.
They do, don't they? And Rachael Ray, especially.
And no, I've never been called.
The sad thing is, whoever's doing the research is doing a really lazy job of it — relying on a perception of the city that's at least a decade old, if not more.
Of course, it's much more about style than food on these shows. When Giada de Laurentis did her spot here, she hopped out of the rental car, took the Dupont Metro elevator down, then emerged beaming from the same elevator a few minutes later as if she had just rode the red line in.
And — she was holding a cup of coffee, to boot (verboten on Metro.)
re: food poisioning
There are relatively few food-borne illnesses that cause gastro-intestinal symptoms in a matter of hours. Most have incubation periods of longer than a day or two. It is easy to blame the most proximate meal, but that is least frequently the one causing you to be sick.
More telling in this person's case is that she and her husband ate together but only one of them became ill. If they shared their food at that meal, it makes it even less likely that that meal was the cause of their symptoms.
And that IS the telling detail, you're right — thanks for writing in.
Hey, thanks for the save. … I'm chalking that up to my pre-election, up-all-night-reading-the-polls-and-monitoring-cable brain there.
Unfortunately, I can't make any suggestions for Boston — not up-to-date ones, anyway. It's been several years since I was there.
I ate at Pizzaola in Crystal City before a flight last week. I ordered the prosciutto,arugula, Parmesan cheese panini. It was delicious. Next time, Ill ask them to slice the prosciutto a bit thinner. I prefer mine paper thin.
Worth a visit the next time you are in the area.
You're not telling me anything I don't already know. I think Cafe Pizzaiolo's pizzas are terrific — I love the crusts, in particular.
I included it in the piece I did last year on the Pizza Wars, and also on our annual Cheap Eats list this past June.
I in my late 20's married with no kids. I always tip 20% pre-tax.
If the service is horrible I may tip between 15-18% pre-tax. I dont understand the reasoning behind the post-tax tipping.
I think someone made this point last week, but when the restaurants include the tip in your bill its always pre-tax so I tend to go with that.
That's a very good point.
Thanks for chiming in, Gaithersburg.
I prefer to order a few appetizers instead of one with an entree. I believe that most restaurant's appetizers are more delicious and creative than their appetizers and I like to be able to get a variety of different tastes.
However, I seem to get dirty looks from waiters when I do this anywhere besides seated at the bar.
Have you encountered the same, and how do I avoid this?
Oh, all the time. And I tend to agree with you; it's often a lot more fun and rewarding to just order from the top half of the menu.
The only thing I know that works, by the way, is to order a whole helluva lot of them. : )
I'd say the Oval Room is the most exquisite of those five, and Johnny's the most comforting, fun and laid-back.
Buck's can be good, it can be very good — but it's a small menu, and the cooking's sometimes uneven.
1789 has a new chef, and I haven't been since he came aboard — but this is not a place that makes big, lurching changes; it's easily the most stately and traditional — a good spot for taking more cautious, conservative diners.
Cashion's has a sophisticated-casual vibe, and cooking that aims for simple and unfussy; I like it, just not as much as Johnny's.
Hope that helps.
Also re: Tipping
I've always tipped off the post-tax total only recently realizing that many/most people seem to tip pre-tax. Bethesda is spot on though, even in DC where tax is 10%, 22% pre-tax is the same as 20% post-tax, so I doubt this really should be all that noticeable to a server who did a good job and who is being tipped by a customer who understands that good service deserves better than 15%.
And interesting that we don't have any clear consensus on this. Keep your thoughts coming everyone, please …
Depends on the restaurant.
1.5 times sounds wonderful, but you seldom if ever see it at a decent, half-way ambitious restaurant. At the more luxurious ones, three and four times the store price is typical.
Former server says "[business people] often tipped over 25% post-tax, and those were meals that were probably expensed by their companies, and they still had no reservations about it."
Still had no reservations about it?!? If it is expensed to their company, that is the *reason* they had no reservations about it.
Thanks for writing in.
And I hope we can keep this discussion going, because this is a vital matter to the industry — and a crucial bit of etiquette for the rest of us — and if there's a new standard out there, I'd sure like to know about it.
I don't really get the sense that there's any kind of consensus here. Which tells me that there isn't a new standard — a generally accepted definition of what constitutes doing the right thing. But as I said, I want to hear more …
Anyway, I'm off to vote — and I hope you are, too, if you haven't done so already.
Be well, everyone, eat well, and let's do it again next week at 11 …
(And look for the start of the Recipe Sleuth department later this week on the web.)
Didn't get your question answered in this chat? Submit it in advance to Todd's chat next Tuesday, November 11 at 11 AM.