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 December 9, click here.
Producer's note: It's been 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."
Producer's Note: If you're looking for a list of restaurants that are open on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, look no further—we've got a roundup right here.
W o r d o f M o u t h . . .
… I suppose it's understandable that somebody who fled his war-torn country after soldiers burned his family's house to the ground might be more than a little cautious about broadcasting his origins.
Or that somebody who runs what is, essentially, a Bosnian restaurant in an area with a miniscule population of Bosnian immigrants might choose to hedge his bets.
The six-month-old Cosmopolitan Grill (7770 Richmond Hwy., Alexandria; 703-360-3440; restaurant-cosmopolitan.com), the third of Ivica "Ivan" Svalina's ventures since arriving in the US, shares a door with a Gold's Gym in a massive mall (set alongside another massive mall) in Alexandria. The sign out front says only: European and American cuisine. Inside, the menu board that hangs above the kitchen advertises the cooking with a picture: an American-style steak dinner.
But then you sit down at one of 12 tables adorned with fresh carnation buds and a server deposits a basket of fresh baked bread, meant to be dipped into an accompanying bowl of red pepper spread and then into a thick mound of sour cream. Magic.
You abandon any notions of ordering a Caesar salad, a chicken club sandwich, or a rib-eye.
The bread shows up again in two terrific dishes — the cevapcici ($6.90), an assortment of garlicky, peppery inch-sized sausages, and the Bosnia burger ($7.50), a thin, huge round of ground beef marinated in red onion juice, then grilled, then dolloped with sour cream.
I also loved a whole trout ($12.90), blitzed with chopped garlic (it needs every squeeze of its wedge of lemon to balance the flavors). The inside was unexpectedly soft and creamy and sweet. The wiener schnitzel is massive and near-perfect, about as tender as you should expect a $15 dish of veal to be. An added, homestyle touch: You'll probably hear Svalina in the kitchen, pounding the meat into submission.
A Jaeger schnitzel, which starts from that same pounded veal, but is tossed on the grill, then doused in a light mushroom cream sauce, is only ordinary, and probably suffers by comparison. I felt the same way about the goulash, particularly after it cooled and revealed its salty self, but the chicken soup, a special one day, is exceptional. It's the soup you summon to mind when you crave a bowl of chicken soup: chunky bits of vegetable and tender chicken in a rich and full-bodied broth. A taste like this can't be rushed, or faked.
Up front, the lighted pastry case is filled with homemade cakes and pies, all baked that day by Svalina's wife, Amela. There are also the delectable savory pastries called burek, filled with cheese, meat or cheese and spinach. If you're lucky enough, a tray of krempita ($2.90) will have been delivered that morning. Krempita is not Bosnian in derivation but Austrian (though Bosnians have embraced it as their own). A variation on a Napoleon, it consists of a thick block of panacotta (a creamy, jiggly white cream) sandwiched between thin, crunchy pastry. It takes enormous discipline not to stuff the whole thing into your mouth at once, like the competitive eaters do. There are also simple, small layer cakes, including one made with apple cake and one with poppy seed, both good, and the house specialty, a marvelous, Austrian-style chocolate cake ($3.90) flavored with orange zest and filled with a cream made with chocolate and ground walnuts.
Cosmopolitan Grill is a simple place, simply adorned. But it evokes the OId World more successfully than do many more elaborate, expensive operations, from the earnest, hardworking servers to the generous portions to the hard-to-believe prices to the obvious pride Svalina shows at seeing his customers rejoice over a humble hunk of bread. …
The Current List: Where I'd Spend My Own Money
Full Key, Wheaton
Gom Ba Woo, Annandale
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
My two favorite:
Ray's the Steaks and Ray's the Classics. Ray's is a steakhouse without a lot of the steakhouse trappings — a steakhouse that feels and acts more like a neighborhood restaurant. A steakhouse for the little boys, not the big boys. And the meat is marvelous.
At the other end of the spectrum — a place unmistakably for the big boys — is BLT Steak. But what I like best about it is, it's a steakhouse from a Frenchman. It gives the place much of its appeal. The steaks are good, but what I remember most is the giant gruyere popovers and the marvelous mason jar of country pate.
What restaurants would you recommend for Christmas and NYE dinners? I am too tired planning and cooking at home and want to relax and unwind during these stressful holidays.
Price (less than $150 per person) and cuisine makes no difference to me. Happy Holidays!
I've actually never eaten out on those days — with the exception of the Old Ebbitt Grill, which is a madhouse. A really fun madhouse, but still …
Anyway, the online staff put together a guide to X-mas eating and that ought to give you some ideas.
Don Rockwell fans are very supportive of Posto the new place from the same owners of Tosca, Teatro Goldoni kitchen table experience with the new chef and there is a lot of rumor of possible re opening of Donna Galileo in 2009.
Will Washington be monopolized by Italian cuisine again like in the 90's in the new year?
What's your take?
It's true — these things tend to go in waves.
But I'm not expecting a huge Italian revival — at least not for the foreseeable future. I do expect to see a lot more places in the Posto vein in this economy — whether they're Italian or not, good or not.
The city has always suffered from a lack of really first-rate mid-class options, and now is the time, with a cratering economy and enormous anxieties all around, for restaurateurs to fill that void.
Italian is a better fit for that than a lot of other cuisines, but for whatever reason, the chefs and restaurateurs of this city have chosen to go the high-end route, resulting in a lot of upscale Italian — Italian fine dining. It's too bad.
The thing I hear time and again from readers, from friends, from out-of-town guests, is that they want to have places to go for simple, really good, affordable Italian cooking. And they really can't find any.
No news yet.
I know the owners, Ladavan and Suchart Srigatesook, would like to stay in or around Wheaton. I hope that's what happens.
They've been looking also at Bethesda and Rockville.
If they're smart, they stay small, and don't try to attempt much more than what they did in the old place.
I already miss the mindblowingly good soups … and the Panang curry with pork … and the crosshatched squid with hot and sour sauce … and the fried mussels with green curry … and the fabulous pad Thai …
(According to one of my sources, by the way, the reason for the shut-down and move was not envy on the part of the grocery store that owns the building and has watched a stream of customers pour in ever since our review and then the Post's. This source contends that Nava simply has not paid its bills.)
Corduroy will be open on Christmas Day, December 25th between 1-8pm. For More information and the menu go to www.corduroydc.com Merry Christmas and happy holidays to you and everybody. Ferhat Yalcin
Good to know. Thanks, Ferhat.
We give equal time here, so if you've got a place and want to announce a special holiday menu or post hours, by all means …
I just saw a new food cart open up near pupatella called Naan and Kabob (Authentic Afghan Food)…have you ever been?
Also, I was wondering if you've heard anything about a new place in Falls Church called Uncle George's Lebanese Grill. It's gotten some press on chowhound. (and a side note…do you ever consult chowhound for research?)
I love Chowhound. If I weren't doing what I'm doing, I'd probably be on that board all the time.
But research is too strong a word — research is what I do when I make my visits, when I make my phone calls, etc.. I hear things all the time from readers and from chatters and from friends and from family — and all of it I have to take with a grain of salt. I can only judge by what I see and experience.
A friend of mine has been to Uncle George's, but I haven't, so, like I said — I have no real opinion. But I'm eager to see for myself based on what he's written to me.
As for Naan and Kabob, no, haven't been. I need to go. Next time I make a Pupatella run. What a terrific little place.
I know it might be too soon for a complete analysis, but can you give us any info about Adour? I'm thinking about checking it sooner rather than later.
Barring the cost, is it worth the trip or not?
I don't think it's too soon, actually. The place has been open for three months.
Barring the cost is hard, because, for one, the cost is high ($26 for a lobster salad, $27 for a foie gras appetizer), and cost has so much to do with expectations.
But okay — barring the cost. My answer is no; I think there are other more delicious, more interesting places right now at that level.
I went on opening night and wrote a lengthy early look at the place — on my BlackBerry, via Twitter, filing some two thousand words of impressions. You want to know something funny? Much of that early analysis stands. Luxury ingredients cautiously conceived and blandly prepared.
Come dessert, it's as if everybody relaxes and the fun begins. And desserts are fabulous.
And the wines are fabulous. And the room is fabulous. And the staff is fabulous.
Now, if only the food weren't so dull …
I've got a nickname for the Chog Nazi. How about Hoss-hole?
It's really unreasonable to expect that there will be as many 100 Best restaurants in the 'burbs as there are inside the Beltway. It's difficult to successfully run a restaurant, so it makes sense to put them were the concentration of people is greater, and where they can be easily accessed by public transportation. If most people live and work inside the Beltway, wouldn't you invest your hard-earned cash there?
Oh, boy, he says, laughing so hard he has to put down the mug of coffee (thus saving himself the possibility of a spittake all over the laptop.)
Would it be possible to include in the reviews what type of beef a restaurant serves ie grass fed, prime dry aged for 28 days etc. Thanks.
I don't know about best …
I really like the pecan pie at Dixie Bones, in Woodbridge, and the (far more refined) pecan pie at Vidalia in DC. And I'm drawing a blank on anything else …
Todd, you had mentioned Gom Ba Woo in your list. Are they friendly to non-Koreans?
My friends and I who have been to other Korean restaurants, always say we are Korean when the servers ask us, even though most of us are Chinese or Filipino, to risk getting bad or horrendous service.
Have you seen this at Gom Ba Wo or other Asian restaurants?
Gom Ba Woo is just a friendly, warm place. That's one of the reasons I love it as much as I do. That, and the fabulous seafood pancake, and the spicy strips of charred pork belly, and the tender dumplings, and the soondubu.
I understand your point. And I've heard variations on this from readers from time to time.
I don't think it's meant to be alienating — I think it comes from an anxiety about not being comfortable with English, and, just as important, a fear of satisfying the expectations of those who are not part of the culture.
So what are your plans for NYE? Curious minds would like to know 🙂
Thanks for a great year of chats and reviews. Keep up the great work and Happy New Year!
You know, I haven't even thought about it yet.
I haven't gone out for New Year's in a long, long time, and now, with a baby — uh uh, not gonna happen.
Last year, we stayed in, had some friends over and I cooked a big and festive meal, we opened a few bottles of wine, played some games and reminisced about when we were young and used to do things. ; )
I think it's a great night to stay in and splurge — buy a lobe of foie gras (I can expect an email from PETA's Bruce Friedrich any second now … ), buy a few prime filets, buy some great, wild fresh fish, buy some good bottles of wine. Eat and drink and gather your friends or family close and just enjoy the night …
OK, who the hell craves a salad in the winter? Have you tried Founding Farmers? If so, what do you think of their 14 or 17 vegetable salad and the cost of the entree size?
I am wondering because I love a great salad but am often disappointed when I order one (so many things can go wrong or it is just underwhelming). I've heard and read a number of positive things about this salad but am still unsure because of the unknown sources. Your take would be greatly appreciated. Thanks
Haven't had the salad yet.
But, like you, I'm generally skeptical of the origin of ingredients. Or, let me rephrase that — I'm generally skeptical of places that make so much of where things come from, and particularly when the cooking doesn't soar or sing.
Nothing is more dispiriting about going out to a multi-course dinner than reading about the many purveyors the restaurant singles out for notice on the menu — and then digging into underwhelming food. The idea of honoring the source is a good one; it's just become comical. Exhibit A: "Path Valley Farms egg."
Shopping matters, it does, but it's what you do with the goods that counts.
As part of a college exchange program, I am in charge of planning a trip to DC for several exchange students from Hong Kong.
On our last night I want to have dinner in Georgetown and am looking for a restaurant. There are about 12 of us with a budget of about $20 each, and places that accept reservations would be ideal. Know of any good bets?
Boy, that's tough to do in Georgetown.
There are a lot of inexpensive, mediocre places and very few good, affordable spots. But among the latter, you can put Shanghai Tea House — a good bet for the dumplings, as well as an addictive little dish of scrambled egg, onion and shrimp.
Leopold's Kafe + Konditorei is probably going to force you to strain against your budget, but you might be able to manage; good, surprisingly careful food, and a slick, modish, very Georgetown atmosphere.
My parents are coming to town for the holidays from Milan and they love risotto What Italian restaurants nowadays serve a made to order classic and traditional risotto? Mostly, where do you suggest I should take them in DC area?
I have tried Dino's in Conn Ave, but their version reminded me more of a precooked uncle ben's disaster
Thank you Veronica
The version at Teatro Goldoni is fabulous, everything a risotto ought to be — slighty soupy, but with the plump grains of rice still sturdy and not the least bit mushy. And not overloaded with cheese and butter for effect. A little salty, probably from the stock used to animate the rice, but otherwise hard to find fault with.
It comes in two versions, one with lobster, another with thinly shaved black truffles and cardoons.
It's hard to find really good risotto. But this is one, and it's one to savor and celebrate.
I was wondering if you had heard anything about the graduate-level Food Studies program at NYU.
I'm interested in studying world cuisines and food cultures and doing some type of work in the food world (possibly a food writer or cookbook author/researcher). Do you think it's worth the $$$$ to get a degree in "food" or should i just get an MFA somewhere else and delve into the food world after school?
It's an interesting-sounding program.
And you're going to see many more like it in the years to come — Food Studies have taken off.
Is it worth it? I can't say, because I haven't done the program. I do tend to be a big believer, though, in the idea that if you want to write, you should write — and not wait for anyone to tell you to write, or for some kind of validation that a piece of paper is meant to convey.
I don't tend to put a lot of store by diplomas or programs, and I say that having taught in colleges for ten years.
The local Wegman's has at least 6 different kinds of lobster tails for the holiday season.
Todd why dont you serve them NYE and do a review and tell us which ones you liked on the Washingtonian's dime. And let them provide the Winnie Churchhill too. Some of tails are over $40 a pound!
Whoa, boy — now, THAT"S a splurge!
Sounds good, though.
Tell you what: As my father used to say, whenever I'd ask for something: Taken under advisement.
I'm a little tired of people claiming DC is a happening food city now because "famous" chefs are flocking here. Look what they are offering us. A hotel bistro, another steak house ( I count 3 by star chefs) overpriced asian fusion etc. I think our local talent makes it a great food town not Alain Ducasse and co. Your thoughts.
I see it as a confirmation, of sorts, all these big names pouring into town — a confirmation that DC is not the conservative culinary backwater it used to be. By general reckoning, DC is now considered at top 10 food city.
That's all to the good.
But yes, it's the talent that's already here that matters most. The chefs who are here and doing great work understand the city, understand the area, understand the ingredients that are available, the traditions that can be honored. That counts for a lot to me. The best ones have the guts to be personal, to try things that nobody else in the country is doing. That's special.
I've said before that I think the area's chefs can do more to draw a connection with the culture of the city — the real culture, not the official culture.
A food scene, if it's any good, is not just a collection of stellar places at the top — a collection of places that taste like anywhere else in the country. Toward that end, I think chefs could do more to make their menus distinctive. Crabs and softshells, sure, everyone understands that, even the new arrivals. But what about Maryland skillet fried chicken? What about variations of crab imperial? And why not experiment and dabble with Ethiopian flavors, with Vietnamese flavors, with halfsmokes, and all the other local and regional traditions that give life to the area?
Start seeing some of that, and you'll start seeing the emergence of something really interesting and really special.
Any chance Roberto Donna will learn how to select a general amanger who knows how to run the front of the hosue effectively. last time I was Bebo back a couple of years ago two waiters followed us out of the restaurant after my girlfriend responded back in Spanish to their uncalled for rude comments about her questioning their manhood.
I am a retired Navy Seal and put both in the hospital when they tried to physically assault my 5ft tall 100lb girlfriend. You cant wait tables when you with broken ribs, a broken forearm and a dislocated shoulder can you girls!
If so, I'd love to hear more of this story — drop me an email at email@example.com
Catherine, are you following along? We need to start a kind of Hall of Fame of comments and questions. Because that one is just too good to just forget about and bury. (If it's true, of course. … But I mean, even if it's partly true …)
Some of the worst service I've ever had in my life — not just my life as a food critic, but my life, period — has been at Bebo.
I hear and read people all the time who blame the wait staff. I blame management. It comes from the top.
My dream meal today:
1. Rouge Vif D`Temps Soup at Corduroy;
2. Maialino (Young Pig) from Dino
3. Bitter Grapefruit and Raspberry Custard dessert from Adour
4. Wine pairings for it all from Vidalia;
5. Coffee from Volt.
I hear you — that's one helluva meal.
And interesting you should bring up coffee — a great cup of coffee is really essential to finish off a great, multi-course meal.
Hi Todd! I'm a senior at American University graduating in May. A group of about 6 friends and I want to have a big combined grad party for our families when they're in town – my guess is it would be around 30-40 people.
We're looking for a restaurant where we could rent out a private room, have a lot of appetizers and drinks, and not get TOO expensive. Something near a metro (especially the Red Line) would be great.
We figured since it will be graduation time for a lot of people in the city we should try to make arrangements soon. Any suggestions?
Oyamel would be fun. So would Ceiba.
They both have the room, and are relatively close to Metro stops.
I think it's still too early to tell.
One thing I'm going to guess is that, if things continue to slide, it will be the end of formal dining, at least for a long while. It's already teetering, having had to compete with the more casual restaurants that people seem to be clamoring for.
Restaurants with a safety net — hotel operations and/or chains, which most of the high-profile imports are — would seem to be in much, much better shape than independents. But who knows?
I will say, though, that if you have the means and you care about food in this city, then you should give your support to those independents any way you can in the next few months.
What's the deal with Restaurant 3? The space is gorgeous and it's got a great location, so why is it always empty every time I walk by? The menu looks like it hasn't changed since the opening but I haven't had the opportunity to eat there yet.
Also, it appears that le pain quotidien is going to be opening another restaurant on the ground floor of the condo building next to Restaurant 3. I haven't eaten at the one in G'town or Alexandria – is it anything to look forward to or just more mediocrity?
Restaurant 3: Aim exceeds its reach.
Le Pain Quotidien is nothing to look forward to, no — but it's fine, just like La Madeleine is fine. I'd take a meal at either one over a meal at Wendy's or Burger King, or over a meal at Applebee's or Friday's. Any day of the week.
Happy Holidays. By now you must have completed your list of 100 very best and must be reviewing and editing them….
Oh, if only …
But thanks for your optimism!
Gotta run, everyone — got a mountain of work to tackle. But thanks for all the interesting questions and comments, as always …
Eat well and be well, chatters, and let's do this again next week at 11 …
Didn't get your question answered in this chat? Submit it in advance to Todd's chat next Tuesday, December 23 at 11 AM.