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 30, 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."
W o r d o f M o u t h . . .
… There were two moments during my recent dinner at Mrs. K's Toll House (9201 Colesville Rd., Silver Spring; 301-589-3500) that, taken together, encapsulate the sheer oddity of dining at this landmark of a house, which went up during the Hoover administration.
Early last year, the restaurant enlisted the services of a high-powered publicist and installed a new wine bar/cave in the basement — signals that a tired grand dame was rousing from a slumber. My interest was piqued by the guestbook by the door, which was filled with comments, all of them glowing. "Fantastic." "Glorious." "Love the food."
The sense of anticipation did not last long. What was a handful of chips the color of spray-on grass doing surrounding a glass of scallop-and-shrimp ceviche? The menu had said guacamole chips. It had not said Doritos.
The second moment came before the main courses arrived: a palate cleanser of sorbet.
It was as close to vertigo as I've ever had at a meal, a little like listening to a soprano in recital following "The Queen of the Night" with "Oops! I Did It Again."
The ceviche brought back a memory, and a specific one: I had taken leftovers home from a Salvadoran joint one night some months ago and stuck them in the fridge. The lime-marinated fish tasted uncannily like the tart, mealy sludge I sampled the next day.
We also tried a plate of smoked salmon sliders, a neat idea — at least in name. The tiny rolls were doughy, and the salmon was no better than what you'd find in the dairy section of a grocery store.
The chicken soup I had to send back — something I rarely do. It was thick, almost sludgy, with an oiliness I associate with poorly made Thanksgiving gravy.
The waitress, to her credit, replaced it with a salad, a Caesar with homemade croutons. Comparatively, it was a standout.
Our palates refreshed — or as close as you can come to refreshment with something so sweet — we dug into our main courses: a roast suckling duck the texture of shredded chicken and tender-but-unseasoned roast baby lamb chops with a Shiraz pepper sauce that could have doubled as a topping for ice cream. Both were sided with the same carved baby carrots and haricots vert, which were, unexpectedly, excellent.
The revamped wine menu includes two pages of wines by the glass, all of them available in small pours as well as full pours. I drank well and widely and cheaply, and for this alone, Mrs. K's is worth checking out if you're in the area and have a half-hour to kill.
But dinner? At upwards of $150 for two?
Not this administration, and likely not the next one, either …
… The strangest thing about the newly relocated Nava Thai (11301 Fern St., Wheaton; 240-430-0495) is seeing the tall, green bottles with pour spouts on the table — exactly the sort of detail you expect to find in a Mediterranean restaurant. The previous tenant, Taverna Kefi, had encouraged diners to tip the bottles onto small plates and pour a small puddle of olive oil for dipping slices of warm bread. Nava has gone and filled the bottles with fish sauce.
Change is seldom easy, and the restaurant, which reopened over the weekend, is still acclimating to its new surroundings. There are more signs out front warning customers against parking in the nearby lot — "Property of Hung Phat Grocery. You will be towed." — than announcing the arrival of the new occupant.
The admonishments amount to salvos in a turf war. The move was forced by Nava's unexpected shutdown at the hands of the grocery in November, a curious story with no definitive conclusion. One story I was told was that the owners of Hung Phat, the grocery store that rented out the efficiency-sized space to Nava, were envious of the business the Srigatesooks were getting — after my review came out, followed by another in the Post, the line to get in stretched all the way to the street some nights. I also heard a conflicting story, that the Srigatesooks had neglected to pay their rent every month.
Cast out, the couple embarked on a harried search for a new site. After weeks of scouting Bethesda, College Park and Silver Spring, they decided to stay close by in Wheaton. Very close by. The new location is about fifty yards across the parking lot from the old.
The transition is going to be made harder by the demands of the cavernous, multi-room enclave. The sepia-toned pictures, so charming in the old, jewel box of a room, tend to float and get lost. The rich, two-tone olive paint job has given way to brick and tile and a fireplace. It's hard not to feel that the Srigatesooks have rented out a big party space to do some cooking.
The good news? The menu has not changed, and the cooking has lost none of its pungency and pop. This remains the best Thai food around — fresher, funkier and hotter than anywhere else. The twice-fried duck with onions and cilantro is a marvelous wake-up of an appetizer, the pad Thai is the best in the area, the crispy mussels with chili sauce are irresistible, and the soups are full-bodied and rich. …
The Current List: Where I'd Spend My Own Money
Nava Thai Noodle & Grill, Wheaton
Gom Ba Woo, Annandale
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
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
Last week there was a question about Gillian Clark's new place in Forest Glen. The most recent news I've heard is that they've hit a snag with the county because there aren't enough parking spots (!).
There's a big sign up in the window that their liquor hearing is the first week of January, so maybe soon…?
I'm getting so impatient!
You've heard what I've heard.
And you're not more impatient than Clark and her partner, Robin Smith. They must be going nuts over there with this latest setback and delay.
Funny, isn't it, that Takoma Park, which wants to encourage walking and less driving, should insist on a certain number of parking spaces for a business.
Full disclosure: I used to live in Takoma Park. We had to move, because my wife doesn't look good in batik. (Her joke.)
Lots of animosity out there these last couple of weeks, and now there's a new website, too — http://donnadaze.ning.com/
I suspect we haven't heard the last of this …
Todd, I loved this: "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. "
So eloquent, and right on the money. I wholeheartedly agree, and count myself lucky to have found a guy who not only is up for tasting just about anything, but who will also watch cooking shows with me! Thanks for the chat, keep up the good work.
Hey TK, I see you've been posting quickie reviews on Twitter. Whats up with that?
Doesn't seem like your kinda deal. And personally I'm not a fan of Twitter, I think it's sorta dumb and unnecesary.
Yeah, and seven, eight years ago, blogging seemed like a dopey thing to be doing, too.
I don't get why Twitter is silly, but posting your thoughts on a blog is striking a blow for democracy. Seems to me, it's all the same.
Exchange of information, getting the word out quickly about something.
Is it writing? No, but most blogging isn't either.
My husband and I are doing a little overnight to Philadelpahia (economy and election crushed our plans for an exotic trip.. so, Phili it is!)
Any suggestions on a great mid-price place to eat? Staying at Rittenhouse Sq.
Hey, take what you can get — it could be worse. Hell, it MIGHT be worse.
If I were you, I'd zero in on Osteria, Mark Vetri's place and a companion of Vetri. It's his Central Michel Richard, the less formal, less fussy alternative to Citronelle.
If you go, drop us a note and let us all know how things turned out.
Oh, and since you're staying on Rittenhouse Square, you have to eat the burger at Rouge. It's a trendy, clubby-looking place, but don't let that put you off from the burger itself — which is phenomenal. It's everything you want in a burger: a thick, rich, beefy patty, and just dripping with juice when you bite into it. And the fries are pretty darn good, too.
What are your thoughts on the newly opening northern Italian contemporary style bistro, Siroc, on 15th and I?
Picture this: New Year's eve dinner at Teatro on K Party of five: $125 per person Complimentary champagne glasses and limoncello: free Chef Enzo Fargione visiting each table at midnight shaking hands and personally wishing all his guest a happy new year: PRICELESS !!!!!
Simple heart filled gestures like these make you an instant fan besides the outstanding creative and fantastic food we were served Thank you for a great evening and happy new year to you all!!! Kate
Sounds pretty wonderful.
And it makes me curious to know what the rest of you did.
Me, I cooked. We had nine people, and I did a tea-smoked salmon, slices of soy-marinated, dark-seared NY strip steak, potatoes gratin, roasted asparagus (yeah yeah yeah — out of season, fine, sure, whatever) with romesco sauce, and two pear tarts. My mom added a wonderful eggplant dip, mini-meatballs and Asian wings. We had a couple of cheeses and a mess of olives.
And we opened five bottles of wine — two Spanish, one Californian, one French, one Virginian.
It was fun: low key and fun and tasty.
I am coming to DC for Inauguration week and I have been looking online at restaraunts. So far I have reservations at Kinkeads and waiting to hear from BLT Steak and an Spezie.
I am in town for 5 nights and I need to make more reservations…Any recommendations
Those are good ones. Particularly the first two; Spezie can be uneven.
Here are some more suggestions, particularly if it's food you're interested in (interesting, imaginative, sometimes boundary-pushing food), and not just a scene: Citronelle. Palena. Komi. Minibar. Vidalia.
Hello Todd, with the tough economy, is there a list of restaurants offering special deals for diners?
I'm thinking along the lines of what restaurants do during RW; perhaps these should be year round.
In the upcoming 100 Best Restaurants issue, we pay particular attention to this, and we have a lot of inside scoop on who's doing what. There are some excellent deals around.
The issue will be out in a little over two weeks.
We're excited about it. There are a lot of newcomers, and a big shakeup in the Top 10. And some restaurants made the list that I never would have guessed, had you asked me about them a year ago. It shows just how fast things can change in the restaurant industry.
Just as important as all these things, it's a good, fun read.
I think that's very astute.
I have some friends who don't get why I gush about it; they went with me once and it was only middling. HEContheB has some truly inexplicable days and nights.
Of course, as you say — you go again and you can't believe it's the same place. And you're raving about how good it is.
In my experience, it tends to be much more consistent with dim sum, particularly if you don't go at the tail end of service, around 2:30 or 3.
My wife and I were in Old Town Alexandria yesterday and decided to try the fish and chips at Eamonn’s based on your recommendation that they had the best in the area. Well, to quote David Alan Grier of Chocolate News, “Todd, have you lost your damned mind?!?”
I would describe the place as Fawlty Towers where we were served by Manuel from Barcelona. The order taker barely spoke English and we had trouble making ourselves understood. We ordered the Cod Fish and Chips, cole slaw and wine for my wife. The wine turned out to be basically jug wine in a small plastic glass and it stunk to high heaven for $5.25! 30 minutes later, we finally got our food. The batter on my fish was like concrete. I couldn’t bite into it without fear of breaking a tooth.. I tried to break through with their plastic knife and it broke without making a dent. After hitting it with my Swiss Army Knife, I was able to break through only to find that half of the batter hull was empty. The fish had shrunk.
When I tried to eat the fish, it had the consistency of cartilage and was fishy smelling. The fries (chips) were ordinary and the sauces were nothing to write home about. The cole slaw stunk also. I thought maybe that just mine was bad, but when I looked around everyone was having the same problem. I would have had a better meal going to Long John Silver’s and paid half the price.
Suffice it to say, I will not return to the slop bucket known as Eamonn’s. Cathal ought to be ashamed that his son’s name is on that dump!
To paraphrase Katt Williams, "Chatter, please."
Off day, from what it sounds like.
The batter is supposed to be thick and hard like that — that's real fish 'n' chips. That's part of what makes real fish 'n' chips so good.
The fishy smell, I can't account for that — never experienced it there, myself.
The sauces I've always liked — homemade, unlike at Long John Silver's. Fries, too — though they can be too soft sometimes.
I can assure you the wine isn't from a jug.
I'll agree with you on this: It ain't cheap.
Hey. another Pyramids fan. I adored that place. I hope it comes back, in one form or another. Great bistilla, too. And cheap, cheap, cheap.
About the closest to that can offer you is what they're doing at Figs Fine Foods, in Palisades, which serves a fixed price Moroccan dinner for eat-in or take-out.
Happy New Year, Todd!
For the chogger who is staying in Philly's Rittenhouse Square area-Tinto, one of Jose Garces establishments, is an easy walk. A recent meal there was impressive from the gratis cheese straws to musses (a must!) to rack of lamb served at a perfect med. rare.
Nice wines by the glass-some of which are priced in single digits! Finish with dessert at Cappagiro gelato across the street, and whet your appetite with a walk through DiBruno's on the way to dinner.
The field report is on Southside 815 in Alexandria. They serve up really good fried green tomatoes ($5.50)–cornmeal crusted, they had a nice crunch and were meaty inside. Served with a mustard remaloude. The pulled pork sandwich ($7.95) had a HUGE amount of pork that had a tomatoe and vinegar sauce that truly did not seem to come from a bottle.
My husband said that his chicken fried steak reminded him of when he lived in Charleston, SC, especially the side of stewed tomatoes and green beans. It was heartening to see that this neighborhood place had a full dining room by the time we left. Thanks!
Thanks for the Philly assist.
And yes, I'll second the DiBruno's reco — I wish there were one in DC. Lively, good music, great gourmet goods, not sterile, not selling you on an idea that a love of fine food is somehow tantamount to a more exalted state of being.
I used to like Southside 815. Fun place, fun food. Haven't been back in a couple of years.
Todd, I not only love the dining scene here in the DC area (I need to patronize more!), but I also cook a lot (and get many ingredients from our local farmers markets).
With that in mind, what local chef's cookbook would you recommend to me? Thanks.
I think Michel Richard's book, Happy in the Kitchen, is a lot of fun, and you can actually make some of the recipes without blocking out an entire day to cook.
Fun fact: He prefers frozen brussels sprouts to fresh for use in the home kitchen.
No word when, no.
As for my list, I'd put these three at the top: Ristorante Tosca, Corduroy, Vidalia.
Not all places get it; these do. They offer the run of the menu, and they tend not to condescend to first-time customers.
The day after Christmas I found myself having a beer with a friend near her Penn Quarter apartment. Both of us were hungry, and she was unwilling to leave the neighborhood so we figured we would just check wait for Matchbox – only five minutes. When was the last time there was a five minute wait for a table at Matchbox…on a Friday night?
A watermelon based cocktail was too sweet for my taste (and out of season, moving on…) but was perfect for her. The platter of mini-burgers that began our meal was perfectly cooked, moist and flavorful. The tower of onion strings that dominated the plate was cold but still more addictive than my diet would like. A bottle of Tres Sabores Por Que No was served at the perfect temperature, and reasonably priced at around $35.
Our pie – the chicken pesto – was nicely blistered with a crust that was just chewy enough. Service was warm, never rushed, and unobtrusive. I’ve long been a fan of Matchbox but have never considered it to be a restaurant worth the waits required to dine there on many nights (Few restaurants are.)
This night the sum of the parts was largely good, but the whole was something subtly special. (In case you’re curious: two drinks, a bottle of wine, mini burgers, and a pie = about $75 pre-tip; don’t tell anyone that I’m a cheap date)
Lauriol Plaza is a frequent whipping post for me and just about anyone who actually likes restaurants. When a woman I have been trying to date for months asked me to join her for a birthday happy hour there I almost lost all interest in dating her. Then she told me that the birthday girl was a work colleague and she promised that we wouldn’t have to stay long. Nothing I sipped or supped in my hour there did anything to change my mind about that paragon to sheep mentality.
It always saddens me to see a line of folk waiting for LP when the extremely satisfying Thai Regent sits half empty across the street. Across the street my date and I went and had a lovely evening at the bar of the Regent. It’s not that I am not an adventurous eater when it comes to Thai food, just that it is such comfort food for me that I find myself returning to the same dishes.
This evening it was starters of Kanom Jeeb and Spring Rolls followed by Panang and Drunken Noodle. We washed it down with a perfectly austere Alsatian Riesling from Erhart. The heat was found wherever it was expected, the flavors were simple but still compelling and interesting.
Their service makes me feel like a once a week regular even though I haven’t been in months – something the good people at more than a few really expensive restaurants need to learn but I will tell those stories another day.
Two apps, two entrées, a bottle of wine, tea that was comped for no reason other then their kindness = $84 pre-tip
p.s. when last I wrote I gave you the riddle about the other restaurant whose décor looks like an 18th century French bordello (one of my favorite lines you’ve ever written) a visit to Bodega in Georgetown will give you the answer.
Do I have to cut you a check? ; )
Good stuff, RR. I always love these reports of yours.
And would love to see more of them on here from all of you out there — I know you're eating up a storm; it'd be fun to get some more of these leisurely, detailed recaps of your experiences. I'm happy to post them, if you're up to writing.
By the way, that bit about almost losing interest in someone because of her interest in Lauriol Plaza is hilarious.
I once broke up with someone over brie. "I hate this place. I hate living here," she said. "You can't get good brie."
There are many good Virginia wines now, and yet you almost never see them — or never enough of them — in the restaurants that flatter themselves in procuring local meats and produce.
And here's the thing: Virginia wines go better with food than many California, Oregon and Washington wines do. Why? Because they're not so big and sweet. The best of them have good balance, good acidity, and not too much alcohol. They also have lots of character.
You go to Napa, you eat Napa foods and drink Napa wines. Well, you come to the DC area, you should eat from the Chesapeake and Shenandoah and drink from the Blue Ridge.
Restaurants in the area are missing a real opportunity to do the right thing.
Don't listen to the old codgers out there. You also have a young group of readers, so keep the tweets coming.
Good morning Sir,
I frequently read your chats and I occasionally send in questions…..so far no questions of mine were answered!! Maybe you can answer this one for me: Have you ever tasted monkfish liver custard? I tasted for the first time at Teatro for new year's and blew my mind away. What drives chefs to take uncommon ingredients that no one uses and turn them into delicacies? Mostly how would you know what ingredients would match what? I tried few times at home and later realized I needed to order carry out. Is there a perfect rule for alchemy or guidelines for combining ingredients that could be applied or is it only about the skills and creativity of the chef?
What drives them? The need to experiment, to be different.
Trying something like that at home, you don't want to just go in there blindly, mixing ingredients at random — you really do need a recipe of some kind. The more involved, the more elaborate the cooking, the more you need guidance.
Just saw No Reservations: Mexico last night, so I got a serious hankering for mexican street food.
I've been to charrito caminante, taqueria nacionale, and guajillo (all only ok). I know there isnt much else out there, but is there at least a place where i can try tacos al pastor? never had them before.
You haven't been to Riverdale, where there are a slew of places that do tacos al pastor.
There's La Placita, on Edmonston Rd. — where they shave the meat from a spit and top it with pineapple — and there's also La Sirenita, on the other side of the street, just up the road. Really good tacos, and several varieties besides al pastor, including tongue, salty beef and goat.
You can also try Taqueria Distrito Federal, which now has a second location, in Columbia Heights. Al pastor, barbacoa, goat. Meats can be sometimes dry, and I didn't love it on my last visit as much as I had on my first several, so I'd be curious to hear what your experience is.
On my first date with my wife of now more than 20 years, she brought a chaperon to the date, she fell asleep, she told me she hated my favorite form of music….. and she ordered her burger well done.
The conversation with my best friend after telling her about the date was "do you really want to go through life with someone who eats their meat well done?"
Lucky for me I got over my aversion to that barbaric practice. And today, she orders her burgers only medium.
Great story, Silver Spring. It just goes to show you what a crazy, powerful thing love is.
Thanks for making me laugh on a cold, gray day.
I was stationed on Ft. Myer between 1968 and 1971 (USN). I used to frequent a restuarant in an outlying area of WDC (not Arlington or Alexandria) which was famous for it's prime rib, spoon bread.
It was set on a farm that had animals. The waitresses and waiters dressed as they would have in the 1770's. I remember getting off the beltway near a large mall. Downstairs of the restaurant was a pub that George Washington was to have frequented.
I'll be in WDC in the inauguration and would love to take my family. Can you help me with a name and location? I've gone through your restaurant guide, but am drawing blanks. Thanks, so very much, for your help. Julie
The Evans Farm Inn. Long gone.
First, what's with the haters on your blog? Do they find you an easy target or what? I suppose we should take pity on their sad lives… Second, Bourbon Steak…worth it? Thanks and for what it's worth, this blog is a highlight in my bland Tuesday!
Nah, I think it's simply that I pay attention to them, I answer them.
It's good; gets the blood going.
(But happy sentiments are good, too — and thank you.)
I haven't been to Bourbon Steak, but a friend has, and for what it's worth, she came back exuberant.
So you'd like to know what we did for New Year's?
As our power was out all day and evening (remember that windstorm!) we were forced to abandon our ready-to-be-cooked lobsters and head for a hotel. We stayed at the Embassy Suites in Chevy Chase and ate takeout from the Cheesecake Factory- hey my kids loved the chicken tenders at least. (note to Bethesda- please bury our power lines!!!!)
Well, look at it this way — you're never going to forget this New Year's and you'll always have a great story to tell.
A meal lasts a few hours, and the memory, no matter how good, fades after a while. But a story — you can hold onto that until the day you die. And by sharing it, (and eventually, embellishing it, a little) entertain everyone around you.
It is, it's supposed to be inexpensive, you're right, we agreed.
I've enjoyed what I've eaten there, though. And I've eaten fish 'n' chips in England, too.
One thing you have to remember, is that good fish is more plentiful over there; if you're going to get good fish — and they do — then you're going to have to pay more than you would over there. What's meant to be street food, pub food, becomes something … more so.
And that's too bad.
I can't vouch for what you ate on that day — a restaurant review isn't like a review of a bottle of wine or a CD; it's not a static thing.
I can take your word for it. But I can't put any store by it.
I can only write from experience, from what I saw and tasted and smelled, and as I said, what I ate was great, it was grand, as the Irish like to say.
I've been Googling for the last five minutes, and I'm still stumped.
Help me out here, Bealeton. What's the exact name? Or is this a private sort of thing, members-only? All I'm finding is — literally — a gun club.
Can't say I'm not intrigued. Corn liquor, local wines, local meats, the fireplace, the waitresses — really sounds interesting.
I think Catherine's going to announce a winner sometime this week, or early next.
Thanks for asking.
And thanks all of you for all of the really good questions today …
Eat well, be well, and let's do it again next week at 11 …
Didn't get your question answered in this chat? Submit it in advance to Todd's chat next Tuesday, January 13 at 11 AM.