Tuesday, December 30 at 11 AM

Chat with Todd about dining–and win a free dinner by entering our contest!

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 16, click here.

Follow Todd on Twitter!

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: candrews@washingtonian.com with the subject line "Todd's three-course dinner."

Producer's Note: If you're looking for a list of restaurants that are open and serving on New Year's Eve, look no further—we've got a roundup right here.

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The Current List: Where I'd Spend My Own Money

Komi, DC
Full Key, Wheaton
Gom Ba Woo, Annandale
Kotobuki, DC
Palena and Palena Cafe, DC
Citronelle and Citronelle Lounge, DC
The Source and The Source Lounge, DC
Johnny's Half Shell, DC
Ravi Kabob I and II, Arlington
Vidalia, DC
Pete's Apizza, DC
Poste Brasserie, DC
La Caraquena, Falls Church
Ray's Hell Burger, Arlington
Oval Room, DC
Farrah Olivia, Alexandria
Cosmopolitan Grill, Alexandria
Cafe du Parc, DC
Hollywood East Cafe on the Blvd., Wheaton
Corduroy, DC

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Capitol Hill

I remember when chef Fargione had a restaurant called Barolo on the Hill few years ago……did you review that one?

After reading your post on his risotto I had to go try with my wife. You are absolutely right: this is risotto at its best!! Glorious!!!

Thanks for the tip Any suggestions for a great fish soup in town? About here on the Hill?

Thanks. It's one ridiculously good risotto. Very, very hard to find a risotto that's that soupy and yet also has all the grains slightly firm and intact, too.

A great fish soup in town? Nothing leaps to mind, on the Hill or otherwise.

I really like the bouillabaisse at Restaurant Eve, but that's not in town.

As for Barolo — no, before my time. 

Alex, Va

Celebrity Chefs from last week you said "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"

I would say these big names think the opposite. If DC was not a conservative culinary backwater then maybe we would see more than celebrity chefs opening steak houses and bistro's. Not that they are not very good restaurants. They seem to marquee hotels, collect large sums of money and do little to wow diners with the innovation that made them famous let alone cook in those kitchens. I see it as a confirmation that our money is very green. Sorry to be so cynical.

I hear you.

But I think that you're not considering something here, and that's that steakhouses and bistros are (relatively) easy to replicate. If you're going to expand, you're not going to expand by taking on new projects and untested ideas.

The glaring exception in all this is The Source — not a steakhouse, not a bistro, and a place that stands with the best of what Puck has done.

Ex Bebo unpaid employee…..
Where there's Donna there's disaster I am wondering why every single restaurant Chef Donna gets involved with it turns out to be a financial mess His latest involvement at Baci Restaurant in Rockville as a consultant……..or maybe part owner, not sure has some of the same all old problems he had suffered with other restaurants including Bebo and Galileo Baci has not even been open a month and some of his employees are already walking out the door because they have not been paid What a shame…………..who would possibly work for him if a new Galileo will reopen? Do people work for free these days?

Ouch.

You're just itching for a spanking on that self-hyped blog of his that nobody reads.

Incidentally, the rumor is, Galileo is going to rise from the ashes and move into the space vacated by Butterfield 9. Stay tuned.

Potomac Falls, Va

Dear Sir:

You keep singing the praises for Restaurant Eve. One month ago I took your advise. Your quote in that issue was “fantastic service” When we went it was anything but.

We were seated in some of the way room (we had reservations) with no one else about. I happen to be a fan of Bouillabaisse which was on the menu. It came with rouille served directly onto the fish. When I pointed that out to the manager and told him it was disconcerting, he replied that the chef, noting that rouille being served on the side was rarely eaten decided to put it directly on the food itself. James Beard recommends otherwise.

When I sent a letter to Restaurant Eve explaining my difficulty with this approach it was returned “Address unknown” after faithfully copying the address from the manager’s card.

I'm not sure I understand what the problem with service was here.

You wanted the rouille — a sort of rough paste of garlic, olive oil, breadcrumbs and chilis — on the side, not on the fish. The manager swung by, said that isn't how the chef does it at Eve, and — what? Didn't offer to have it redone? Didn't take it away and replace it with another dish?

"Disconcerting" isn't the same as "isn't edible." Or — "isn't delicious." And since when are chefs obligated to cook according to the book? 

What's funny, here, is that the bouillabaisse is a very straightforward preparation — very classic, very wonderful.

I have nothing to say about the mail; that's just odd. 

 

Christina

Todd, I noticed yesterday that a British sandwich shop import, Pret a Manger, is opening up near my office downtown (somewhere around 18 and L St., NW).

Any word on when it will be opening, and have you tried the food? I enjoyed it on a trip to London, but found it a bit pricey/overhyped. But a good sandwich is harder to come by here than in Europe.

I think it should be soon.

I enjoyed it on a trip to London, too. Good coffee, good sandwiches. Overpriced? Probably. I don't remember — everything in London was overpriced.

Montgomery County MD
A friend of mine had dinner at Teatro Godoni in downtown last week and she said she was served a smoking cigar box with a sort of fish carpaccio in it……..did you try? Is it worth the time and money in your opinion?

I did try.

A clever little dish, and a very good dish, too. And of course — that killer risotto. And a dish of seared, salty-skinned duck breast with a superb dark olive sauce. And textbook stuffed agnolotti … The chef, Enzo Fargione, is doing terrific work. 

I'm a lot less enamored of the tired circus theme. And the bad Euro disco soundtrack. And the staff can fall into a kind of slick obsequiousness.

But it has the beat, the energy, of a restaurant that is really clicking right now.

Silver Spring

Is it inappropriate to ask chefs for recipes?

Two weeks ago I was at an Italian fine dining restaurant on K and asked the chef for couple of recipes in attempt to recreate what I was eating at home. When the chef came to my table he explained that it was house policy not to give recipes of the food that was listed on the menu, however he was so accomodating and surprisingly so, he emailed me those , I think with few changes…………..they turned out just fine, but how come chefs are so jealous and protective of their recipes? I think they should be flattered someone asks for it….

How come? Because — and I'm not really exaggerating when I say this — they're nothing without their recipes. 

You wouldn't expect a mechanic to give you detailed instructions on how to do the little simple jobs that keep your car up and running. The little simple jobs that cost $400 every time you go in, but a mechanic can do in a jif.

And think about it.

If you can replicate the dishes at home, why would you choose to go back and drop your hard-earned money to have him make them? 

I don't think it's inappropriate to ask for them — not at all. I think any chef would be flattered. At the same time, I don't think you should be surprised if the answer comes back: no.

And feel very, very lucky if you should happen to snag something.

Warrenton, VA
So did Santa bring you a GPS so you can find you way back to DC when you venture outside your comfort zone and the beltway. BTW I hear Chef Donna will have Olive garden run the front of the house in his new restaurant. it would be a big improvement. And try Pietanza in Anrlington. Great pizza. And no you wont get my recommendation for the best Itlaian restaurant in the DC area which is out this way. Find it on your own.

One, Santa doesn't bring the Jews anything. And B, I already have a GPS. 

I've been to Pietanza. I like it. Great? No. But pretty good.

Best Italian in the DC area is out that way? I don't think so. You're talking, no doubt, about Girasole or Panino. They're good neighborhood restaurants. Don't burden them with "best" talk.

There's one thing we agree on, and that's that Donna has a real front-of-the-house problem, one that has dogged him for years. 

Rockville, MD

Todd. Two questions for you.

(1) First, have you ever had Dim Sum at New Fortune restaurant in Gaithersburg, MD? The atmosphere leaves a lot to be desired, but the food, alone, is just fantastic. Try the Walnut Shrip,…you won't be disappointed.

(2) Can you tell me how I can do what you do? Just a quick run-down of how to become a food writer/critic? It is quite-possibly my dream job!!!

I like New Fortune, though you're right — it's like eating in a cavernous conference room.

I don't like it as much as Hollywood East Cafe on the Blvd. for dim sum, but then, not much compares. HEContheB, I think, is the best in the area for dim sum. I've been twice in just the past week. (I get on these dim sum runs, it's really odd.)

I wish I could advise you, quickly, on how to become a food writer or critic. There are many different paths you can take. People tend to fall into this, like I did.

The big thing, the thing that a lot of people forget — including some food writers — is that it's a writing job. The writing is more important than anything else. More important than the eating, than the discerning, etc. You can take cooking classes and work in kitchens, but you have to be able to write.

Find something you want to write about — something that really interests you — and write it. Then revise it. Then revise it some more. Finally, try sending it out to a publication. And keep doing that, until you get published. It may take a while. Maybe a long, long while. It might not happen with that piece. But the writing and rewriting will help you. And your ability to withstand waiting and rejection will be a good test: do you have the fortitude to do something you love but that doesn't immediately love you back?

Persistence counts for a lot. The ability to self-criticize. These things matter almost as much as talent.

And remember: Once you have a published piece, it's a little easier to get the second one accepted.

Desperate in Colonial Village

Todd– I have often heard you refer to pho as "Vietnamese penicillin," but after repeated, extended hot compresses and even full soakings in the hot, fragrant broth, I still find myself with the painful, oozing lesions and burning, foul-smelling, cheese-like discharge that first appeared after my recent business trip to Viet Nam.

If anything, the pungent, spicy, super-heated broth has caused the hideous chancres to become inflamed and suppurate even more freely, probably due, at least in part, to the unbearable lava-like heat of the soaking liquid. Perhaps you can be more specific in your instructions, as I am quite desperate due to the up-coming New Year's visit from my out-of-town fiancee.

Please help with your advice, because I am beginning to think she may be "the one" and I want this trip to be extra special–my next question to the chat might just be for your recommendation for the most romantic spot to "pop the question" (if you know what I mean, lol).

Thanks for the laugh, D in CV.

(At least, I think I was supposed to laugh.) 

washington dc
When is restaurant week 2009?
I haven't gotten word about dates. I'm expecting third or fourth week of January. Stay tuned.
Silver Spring, MD
Have you heard anything recently about the GSPOT at Forest Glen?

Nothing recently, no.

The immediate challenge for Gillian Clark and Robin Smith is getting the Takoma Park place, Avenue Oven, open and running.

Arlington, VA

Hi Todd,

Wow, harsh crowd today. I'm curious if you've ever tried Pistone's Italian Inn in 7 Corners. It's been there since I was little and in 20+ years, I've never tried it. Any good? Any other 1950s style Italian places in the area to try out?

And we haven't even heard yet from the Chog Nazi …

Never been to Pistone's. But yeah, there are a lot of places like that around here.  

There's Italian Inn on Annapolis Rd., in Landover Hills, that has the heaviest pizza I've ever eaten. One slice, and you'd swear you'd downed an entire Deep Dish pie.

There's Vicino, in Silver Spring. Dreary atmosphere, dreadful food.

It's funny, I ate at one of these old-school, faded, red-sauce joints recently with a friend, and I came away thinking that bad-to-mediocre Italian is just dispiriting.

So is bad-to-mediocre Chinese.

If it has to be bad-to-mediocre, give me Tex-Mex. Or Salvadoran. Or Vietnamese.

What about the rest of you? 

Bethesda
Todd – Pretend you're single again…What would you rate as the five best first-date dinner spots in the area? Let's keep it reasonable, say below $40/person (including drinks). Also, the "timing" should be flexible – if you're enjoying the date, it's a comfortable place to stay and chat (you won't be rushed out); if you're not, it's relatively easy to leave within an hour with a full stomach. Full bar/sizeable wine list is preferable – I'll make an exception on that criterion for sushi. Metro-accessible is also a plus. If I'm forgetting to fill in some "musts" feel free to add on…

"Pretend I'm single again" — I call that The Most Dangerous Game in the World. ; )

Um, let's see …

Cafe du Parc. Cork. Veritas. Poste. Etete. 

All close to Metro, all comfortable spots. Good food, good atmosphere.

Food is very important on a first date, it serves as a gauge of the person's attitude toward life. I always chose my first-date spots very, very carefully. And I always had a good idea of where I stood, after.

I think ethnic restaurants are good in this regard, at least for me. Because I wouldn't want to spend time with someone who is tentative or squeamish or standoffish. Or someone who expects to be lavished with riches and comforts out of the box. I would want someone who has a sense of adventure, someone who puts a premium on trying things — on experiences. Someone who is comfortable right away with a simple, unpretentious place is someone who is likely, I think, to not sit back and wait for the other person to make a grand statement, to flourish a gesture — to be wined and dined. 

Alexandria, VA-restaurant recipes

Good Morning Todd,

My guess is that another reason chefs are reticent to give out their recipes is that the results might not be quite as good without the experience, skill, equipment and finesse that comes together to orchestrate a particular dish that just shines from a professional kitchen.

Plus, of course you're right– recipes are proprietary and it is every chef's (and let's face it..home cook's) right to keep recipes/techniques close to the vest. Or apron, as it were.

Yes. You make a very, very good point, Alexandria.

And it's one reason that I think so many cookbooks are disappointing. Because without the powerful range, without the well-trained hands, without the sense of timing learned from years and years, it's really, really difficult to create some of these dishes.

Cooking is sometimes about the smallest of things — twenty seconds too long on the stove, and what was exceptional, becomes merely good. 

Bethesda, MD
Todd, have you been to the new Lebanese Taverna in downtown Bethesda yet?

Not yet, no.

 

DC
I think Colonial Village was trying to ask you a question in there… "Please help with your advice, because I am beginning to think she may be "the one" and I want this trip to be extra special–my next question to the chat might just be for your recommendation for the most romantic spot to "pop the question" (if you know what I mean, lol)."

Really? 

I thought he was looking for help in how to get that hot, fragrant bowl of pho into his system — without injecting it into his veins.

NW DC

Todd,

Thanks again for the fantastic chats. I've got a question and a comment. First, any news on when and where Nava Thai will reopen? It quickly became one of my favorite restaurants.

Second, my wife and I went to the Source last night for the first time and had an absolutely fantastic meal. The only blemish, and I'm really not complaining since everything was so good, was the markups on their wine selections. Is it just me, or are they a little high even for a place like the Source?

Anyway, I suspect we will return to try the lounge food in the near future. Probably paired with beers…

Nava's returning.

The owners, the Srigatesooks, are hauling their woks across the parking lot to the space vacated by the suddenly-shuttered Taverna Kefi.

It's a big space, about five or six times as big as the old Nava space, and they're going to have to learn to handle the crowds. And the increased expectations.

I hope they can stick to their mission of cook-to-order street food. It takes about ten minutes, for instance, to prepare the papaya salad from scratch. And even the soups are made only when you order them. Most places just make these things ahead of time. It'll be an interesting challenge.

As for The Source … yeah, those are really high mark-ups, even for a place like The Source. But you know, if a place is charging $16 for four miniburgers, and $40 for a crispy whole fish, you've got to expect that the wines are going to be consistent with that.

Old Town

Hi Todd, thanks for taking my question.

With news of Robert Wiedmaier's restaurant/tasting room/market (The Butcher's Block) opening in the new Laurien Hotel, I seem to remember hearing that Chef Armstrong was also going to open a butcher's market (I heard cured meats and breads too) in Del Ray. Do you have any word on this? Is the area already getting a bit saturated with butchers and gourmet markets such that plans have changed?

Happy New Year!

I haven't heard anything that tells me that those plans are not going forward.

And no, I don't think the area is too saturated with butcher shops. Can there be too many butchers and gourmet shops? I don't think so.

I'd like to see more small markets, not less.

Happy new year to you, too — and all the rest of you out there. I hope you have a wonderful and safe — and tasty — New Year's Eve. 

Eat well, drink 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, January 6 at 11 AM.

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