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.
Did you know you can now write your own restaurant reviews on Washingtonian.com? Read here to find out how.
Read the transcript from February 3.
See Todd's Guide to Restaurant Week.
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
Four Sisters, Falls Church
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
I loved the Buss Up Shut at the old place. One of the great, cheap, sustaining dishes in the city.
This the question about … tartar sauce, right? Am I remembering correctly? It's going to be all but impossible to find that recipe — Harvey's has been long, long gone.
I did ask Phyllis Richman a while ago, and she ticked off what she thought the components were — but there was nothing in that list that you wouldn't find in an ordinary tartar sauce. And of course she didn't provide proportions.
Wish I could help.
(Please, though — don't impugn the professionalism of DC people simply because I didn't answer your chat question. Mr. Head, by the way, has not been with the magazine in three years.)
Recently went to the Mini Bar at Cafe Atlantico and it did not disappoint…the 'theatre-like' experience was memorable, the service was fantastic and the food…wow…unique, inventive, fun and utterly delicious.
It was of course, expensive, but, it was also not a place a person would frequent on a weekly basis (at least most of us!) – worth a try for those people who love going to great restaurants for the entire experience.
You go there for the same reason you go to the Ken Cen or Arena Stage or the Black Cat or the 9:30 Club — or for the same reason you take the train and get tickets on Broadway. For a show. For pure entertainment.
I have known people who leave and — literally — head for a Wendy's or a Burger King for something to scarf.
The one thing that the experience denies you — for all the flavors zinging in your mouth, for all the textures you taste — is the satisfaction of chowing down on something. It's nibbles, it's bites, it's spritzes. It's all very … tantric.
At some point, you know, I think as a diner — as someone accustomed to controlling your experience, as someone accustomed to a kind of bourgeois progression of courses (small to large to small, savory to sweet) — you just have this … need, you know? After two hours of tantalization, there's just this sort of welling desire to get down, finally, to it.
And "it" somehow eludes you.
I know this is not a typical question for this forum – however, I was hoping to get your opinion on something. My husband and I just got married and would like to buy a brand new cookware set…so – if you were to buy a set of new cookware today – what would you get (All Clad or Calphalon or ?; Copper Core or Stainless or Non-Stick; etc…)?
I LOVE to cook, so am willing to pay for something of real quality. Thanks!
First of all — congratulations! That's wonderful.
I like All Clad. I also think the Wolfgang Puck line is good. I've been disappointed in some of my Calphalon pieces, and have phased them out of my kitchen in the past few years.
I'd only get non-stick for one piece — a small saute pan to do eggs in and crepes in, etc. Otherwise, you want the stick, because you want to be able to produce a nice sear on a piece of fish or meat.
And stainless is a lot more practical than copper.
Wow my wife and I had a great meal Saturday night at the Gun Club of Goldvein. She had the oyster stew as an appetizer and I had the venison carpaccio. She had the roasted lobster in a bootlegger's sauce and I had the roast duck in a dried cherry cognac sauce over wild rice with winter veggie medley.
For dessert we had an assortment of VA cheeses made from cow's, sheep and goat's milk.and chef's choice ice cream. Wow the vanilla ice cream w/ blueberry sauce is killer.
And all wines are from VA.
No they dont have a website. Its all word of mouth.
We have been to four of the top ten restaurants on your most recent 100 best list and the Gun Club of Goldvein beats them all. And that includes the top two which we enjoyed but they cant beat the creativity and freshness of the Gun Club.
Sounds fabulous — and that's now the second mention of this place on the chat. And still I can't find a single thing about this place on the internet.
You're completely on the level about this? It just sounds too weird — and good — to be true.
Lake Ridge, can you contact me privately at email@example.com–? I'd like to know more.
I have moved from Chicago about a year ago and presently travel mostly to Europe for work I have the luck to be able to take my clients to the best restaurants in the world on expense account while conducting business for my company, therefore I do my homework before I book a reservation.
For the past couple of years I have noticed a change in elite restaurants who offer a kitchen table or a unique experience menu aside from their regular one
In Washington I was much impressed by the talents of chefs such as Ziebold at Cityzen, Enzo Fargione from Teatro and Johnny Monis from Komi. Food writers and journalists in Europe tend to separate these experiences in two groups: the table where the chef expresses his talents and the restaurant. Thy are both graded and evaluated for what they are with different stars and/or different ranking
Since in Washington we only have maybe five or six of these incredible chefs that offer such a wonderful experience, don't you think it would be wise or logic to separate them in two different ranking? For instance you could rate a restaurant for their regular menu and its kitchen table for the talents of one person only .
Not only it would stimulate the management for a possibility of a double placing into the 100 best, but also highlight the talents and the wonders of one man show such as the chef What is your take on this ? Paul M
Really interesting idea, Paul. And I'll certainly give it a lot of thought between now and next year. So thank you for planting a seed.
I remember when I first got to the magazine and decided to consider Palena as separate from Palena Cafe, and the Osteria as separate from Galileo, etc., that there was a pretty big uprising from some readers who thought we were giving too much attention to those places. And — not least — that we were stinting on our promise of not delivering 100 different restaurants.
I disagreed with the nitty gritty of the arguments, but I could see the value of the larger point, and so I decided to make a change the next year.
There might be a way to do the 100 and to also do the tasting menu/tasting room evaluations, however, if we don't include these as separate entities in the top 100.
Just thinking out loud …
Anyway, thanks again for the thoughtful, well-reasoned suggestion. I appreciate it.
To respond to your menu request for a place in Brookland from last week's chat:
We thought that it would be great to have a bagel bakery / pizza place. It could provide bagels and bagel sandwiches during the late morning/lunch time. (Only be open for breakfast on weekends, as not enough foot traffic for weekdays.)
Then, it would convert to a family-friendly pizza and pasta place, where you could go and get a sit-down meal. It would be low-frills (i.e. paper napkins) and a limited menu, but would be consistent and good. There would minimally be beer and wine for the adults, but also some video games or diversions for kids. And, after the family dinner crowd, it would convert to more of a bar atmosphere with just apps/small plates for the single/college (CUA) crowd. J
ust a good place to meet and linger with neighbors and friends and have some decent food. Also, we thought it would be great to have some ethinic offerings other than Chinese. We'd love Ethiopian, Thai, Sushi, etc. and hope that someone would try to bring one of those in too.
Thanks for the interest, Todd. We appreciate it and hope it will inspire someone to take a chance on us.
I think that's right on the mark.
I think that's exactly what that spot needs. I hope someone in your gang, or someone out there who's itching to open a place, might take a chance on it.
Brookland's a good neighborhood and sorely unrepresented when it comes to eats — good or otherwise.
Thanks for the RW guide. Have reservations at Tosca and then at Oval Room the following week since they extended the promotion. Question for you – I see that Oval Room has their RW menu online. Tosca does not- is it the same as their $35 pre-theater menu? Keep up the good work.
I believe it is.
And Tosca, keep in mind, has been one of the best places to go during RW for a long, long time.
It's a good question.
And let me begin by saying that Cynthia's is a place I have a lot of regard for — it's very hard to do what they're trying to do, especially now. A mom n pop doing fine dining in a suburban strip mall, in the middle of a tottering economy? Baking their own breads, doing all their own desserts, bringing in luxe ingredients? That's tough.
I still think it's a good place.
But we put a real premium on value this time around, and that, combined with the fact that Cynthia's is a little inconsistent, and a little expensive, factored heavily into our decision. I also don't think some of the really exciting plates are as exciting as they were when the place first opened.
What we were looking for out of our top 100 was, essentially — are they grasping all they reach for? are they fulfilling their promises?
My husband and I live two blocks from Nava Thai but for some unfathomable reason hadn't tried it until this weekend. Wow. That's some tasty Thai.
We loved the crispy duck salad appetizer (tangy with lime and fish sauce, I think). We went through two Thai iced teas each eating the spicy Floating Market soup (that broth is amazing!) and the Panang curry (easily my favorite version of this dish). I didn't care for the texture of the fish cakes, so my husband happily ate all of them.
The service was, not surprisingly, a bit lacking. (Some tables were obviously displeased), but the servers were overworked and really trying to make people happy. Do you think this 2-block area of Wheaton can support three (4?) Thai places?
It can. It is.
And another's coming, because the owners of Hung Phat, the grocery store that Nava used to operate out of, is going to be opening its own Thai restaruant.
THAT close, and you'd never gone until now?!? You have a lot of lost time to make up for!
(By the way, I won't tell you what's in the Floating Market soup that makes the broth so amazing, as you say — I already "ruined" the dish for a friend.)
You have oft mentioned that restaurant reviews primarily reflect a “snapshot” and that they have an expiration date.
Not that you need further evidence to bolster the credibility of that position, but my recent meal at Oriental East provides it.
OE was once on Washingtonian’s Cheap Eats for a dozen years running but Sunday night they were well below par. Known more for efficient rather than friendly service, this evening neither option seemed to be available.
Knowing how time seemingly accelerates when starving, it is worth noting that I received a text message as I sat down and then checked my phone again to learn that it had been 10 minutes before anyone bothered to stop by my table to give me tea and water. It took another 5 minutes for someone to inquire about my order. A “Chef’s Special” platter included egg drop soup that needed salt like I still needed the beer I ordered.
The eggroll had a part of the wonton that was so hard that it literally hurt my tooth to chew; and the beef dish (sorry, I can’t recall the name) lacked any semblance of the heat that the two peppers printed on the menu promised. Not eating all day will drive even someone who has a professional love for food to do strange things – like mixing in hot mustard to the brown sauce in vain attempt to give this dish some culinary gravitas. Since I never got my beer, my tab was only about $12 but I still felt foolish for paying for food this bad.
In my personal Burger Rankings, Palena is still in the top spot, followed by Hell Burger, and Toledo Lounge (also on my list for best jukeboxes in town,) however my most recent experience at Morton’s downtown vaults them back into the discussion.
Cooked perfectly medium-rare and topped with blue cheese, sautéed onions and bacon, this burger was beefy salvation on a bitterly cold day. Dan, the extremely capable and friendly lunchtime bartender, helped make the experience even better. That I had forgettable lobster bisque didn’t significantly detract from the experience. Soup, burger, and a couple of Bass Ale (Morton’s, please get some interesting beers in your bar) was about $40 pre-tip.
Since I left the restaurant industry and claimed refugee status, I have experienced a few restaurant weeks on the guest side of the table. I have officially declared this experiment a failure. The best places that participate provide hit or miss service depending on the luck of getting a server who embraces the concept rather than disdains it (mostly because, as any first year business student will tell you, the culture of an organization exists top down.)
Most places engage in some combination of the following: adding extra tables (hard to enjoy yourself when virtually sitting in the lap of your neighbors,) dumbing down their menus (hard to really appreciate the talent of a kitchen when they deliberately swing for the infield,) reducing portion size, or placing excessive up-charges. If a restaurant isn’t willing to view the increased food cost of Restaurant Week as the marketing expense and opportunity that it is, they should resist the strong armed tactics of the Restaurant Association and refuse to participate as I have by removing the list of RW recommendations from my blog.
That the Oval Room waives corkage on Saturday evenings makes a terrific culinary value even better, but I am begging people not to mimic the behavior of the table next to mine who came with two bottles of supermarket plonk in tow. Being gauche at a discount is still gauche.
While DC’s cocktail attention has been deservedly focused on the excellent libations at PX Speakeasy and Gibson, Aroma lounge in Cleveland Park has long merited a place in that conversation – but only on the nights Karen is working. One of the few bartenders in the city capable of making a Santero without instruction, she produces cocktails of great distinction (I am pecking this missive on my computer while enjoying one of them) and is a delight to have on the other side of the bar.
In closing, if I haven’t told you lately how much I think you’ve added to DC’s culinary landscape, I’m telling you now. I think you and you team are working on the side of food angels.
Angels! Well, that makes up for all the accusations of hackery, bias, and know-nothingness!
You know, since this is turning into a column anyway (with clean space-dividers, even!), why don't we make it official and have you do something semi-regularly on the blog? Think about it, Restaurant Refugee. You know, I think, where to reach me.
Just a few thoughts to add to your observations and remarks …
Oriental East remains a pretty good spot for Peking duck, which you can get in half-portions. And that's not a little something. The rest of the menu is very, very middling.
Thanks for the great tip re: Oval Room on Saturday. That's very, very appealing.
I'd put Ray's Hell Burger just slightly above Palena's. A peppery, beefy Hell Burger, cooked medium rare, with a slab of Epoisses — nothing, I think, tops that.
And your remarks about the culture of an organization existing top down are right on — I hope everybody reading that will remember that when they go to a restaurant and chafe at the poor service they're being shown, to direct their ire at managment, not at a server. Yes, sometimes it's a server who goes off the rails. But more often that not, the blame belongs with management.
Todd: I was walking up King Street yesterday and noticed that Le Gaulois was shuttered. A small sign in the window said "closed for renovations. Will reopen April 1, 2009".
What is the real story here? I have never seen a review of this restaurant since it was sold a few years ago. I had expected to see a review of the wine bar after it opened. I tend not to try restaurants that have not been reviewed, especially in these times. Do you have any information? Love your chats.
The real story? No idea.
But I did visit a while back, with the idea of doing a review, and sat and sat and sat — twenty five minutes later, having never been given bread or water, having never had our order taken, having never really even been greeted, my wife and a friend and I up and left.
Can't get reviewed, if you can't serve a reviewer.
I'll be curious to see what the place is like in its reincarnation.
At the moment — Cork.
Not a slight against those other two, but I think Cork delivers on all those counts.
It's a great question.
And the answer is … there's no foolproof way to do it. I wish there were.
The best way, I've found, is to go several times in succession, and always ask for the real stuff, the good stuff. They'll get the idea.
It also helps if you can pronounce the names of dishes authentically, and if you give them some idea that you're acquainted with dish specifics. For instance, tossing out the phrase "ma la" with a waiter or waitress at a Szechuan restaurant, can go a long way toward letting them know that you're not Joe the Diner.
Sometimes, though, no matter what you do, it simply doesn't work. A few months ago, I practically begged a server to give me the dish I asked for. A second server came out to make sure that I knew what I would be getting. And I practically begged him, too!
Several years ago, I went to a place, an Indian restaurant, that I'd heard was doing some Indian-Chinese dishes. The guy waiting tables that night was the owner, and when I ordered, I asked for a couple of Indian dishes that were on the menu, and then asked if we could have a couple of others in addition — and rattled off a couple of names of standard Indian-Chinese dishes, not knowing if they would have those or not.
He fixed me with a very strange look and said something to the effect of — "All right. What's going on here?"
Oh, all right — pork blood.
Not a ton of it, mind you. It's not like it's the base of the soup or anything like that — it's a fortifier, a thickener.
(Now watch its sales start to take a big ol' nosedive … )
My friend made a reseravtion for us for CoCo Sala for restaurant week. I didn't see that on your list from last week- any thoughts on whether it will be a good choice? The menu posted on their website looks pretty good, though choices are limited.
It's not the kind of place that I'd put my time into on RW, which, along with the pretty limited menu, is why I didn't include it.
I'd be curious to hear what kind of experience you have, so if you do go, please drop back and let us know.
The only place I can think of that MIGHT have it, is Anita's — in Vienna, Burke, Herndon, Chantilly, Fairfax, Leesburg and I think two more I'm leaving out.
It's Sonoran-style Mexican, and while it's not great, it can be good — or, some things can be good. And it's usually a fun time, too.
I'll bet if any dish could, it'd be the Floating Market Noodle Soup — pig blood and all!
For good comfort food, you can't do much better than Black Market Bistro in Kensington (okay, Garrett Park) or The Majestic in Old Town.
Speaking of A-Roid, by the way …
It galls me that the players are taking the hit for this, when MLB knew that steroid use was rampant and for years, did nothing — did nothing, because home runs are big box office, and baseball owners were greedy for more, more, more.
Steroids, remember, were also not illegal IN BASEBALL until only recently. Bonds, Clemens, Rodriguez, are being turned on a spit for taking a substance that violated the spirit, perhaps, but not the letter of the law. And for skewing the precious record book.
The Source Lounge? You could order the four miniburgers and a glass of water, and just barely make it out for $20 with tax and tip.
You're not going to have that much more luck at Oyamel or Zaytinya. With drinks, with tax, with tip, those three small plates are going to come to something closer to $30 a person.
Cork might be the place. Or Granville Moore's.
Good luck to you. I'd love to hear how you make out with this. Keep us posted, okay?
Transplanted foodie traveler's entire "question" just sounded like an excuse to brag. His/her entire introductory paragraphs were not only unnecessary as related to his/her question, they were also completely annoying.
I really wish you had edited out the self serving B.S. and printed his question as, "Do you think I am as great and important as I think I am?"
Oh, boy …
I will say that I must be getting used to this, because almost every single piece of mail I get about a restaurant that I have been told that I missed the boat on — or that I absolutely must try — always begins with this same bit of throat-clearing.
You wouldn't believe how many people start off by mentioning Per Se and the French Laundry … the 17 Michelin-starred restaurants that they've eaten in … etc., etc.
One I got a few months back began, "I have eaten at the Inn at Little Washington 75 times … "
Well, with that very question foremost in our minds, we just put together a list of 100 of them.
And the list I have at the top of the chat is full of places that I, personally, would choose to spend my money in. I think they're all excellent values.
The one that springs to mind is the one I ate in the early going at CityZen — a gorgeously roasted bluefoot chicken, with black truffles tucked under its skin.
And — buttermilk dumplings.
What a dish that was!
I wish I could try it again …
Here goes …
Pupusa — Irene's Pupusas III in Wheaton and Guardado's in Bethesda
Crab cakes — Kinkead's in DC
Banh Mi — Nhu Lan and Song Que, both in the Eden Center
Peruvian chicken — El Pollo Rico, in Wheaton and Arlington
Som Tam (aka papaya salad) — Nava Thai Noodle & Grill in Wheaton
Fried chicken — Oohhs & Aahhs in DC
Ah, good. Thanks.
Just a rant, not a question.
As a Wheaton resident, I grow tired of my neighbors complaining about the lack of restaurants in Wheaton. What they really mean is the lack of restaurants serving unimaginative "American" slop like Chili's, Friday's and the Cheesecake factory. I mean, really, how many times can you eat pizza shooters, shrimp poppers and exreme fajitas without going crazy?
When I go to one of the hundreds of local "ethnic" restaurants in the area, I mostly just see people of the same ethnic group of the restaurant. I am not talking about just white and black people either. How come I rarely see Hispanic people at Asian restaurants and vice versa? Get out and try new things!
I find that a langauage barrier never interferes with myself and mom/pop restaurants that thrive to please the customer. And even if you are not willing to try something new, just please stop telling me that you have to go to Rockville to find a decent restaurant!
Wheaton? Wheaton is a great restaurant town. You're very lucky.
It's important to realize, though, that for a lot of people, the kind of place a restaurant is — the way it codes — is more important than the food. It's too bad.
Yes — Four Sisters for the four sisters.
It's cool, it's new, the food is terrific (and fun for a group), the atmosphere is hopping. And it's a great bargain, besides.
Which "nice" restaurants are the most kid friendly. Which are not?
I took my kids to Rays the Classics recently and both of them, while behaved, spilled their drink once. We apologized profusely and the busperson and server were extremely gracious. However, the manager loudly told the server to switch out the glasses before they broke any more (neither broke, just spilled).
Not a huge deal, but it made my wife and I uncomfortable for the rest of the meal. I would rather avoid feeling like that at a place where I spent $150.
It's a really good question, and probably something I should start to investigate, since my world is different than it was just a year ago (happy early birthday, little boy!).
The thing I've found, generally, is that "nice" restaurants are just not very good with kids. Even if they're BEING nice. It's something in the tone, in the tightness of the smiles, etc. There's a note of, at best … toleration.
Family-style restaurants, particularly Asian and Latin restaurants, on the other hand, are generally extraordinary. They get it. They don't, generally, think that a baby or a kid is a distraction — a loose appendage.
Nah — I'm a food devil. ; )
(Much more interesting.)
You're so right about that. It's not even close.
Enjoy the warm weather, everyone. And enjoy RW, too!
Eat well, be well, and let's do it again next week at 11 …
Dying to ask Todd what he thinks about your favorite restaurant? Submit your questions for next week's chat here.