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 March 3.
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
How is it that Cactus Cantina hasn't made the Cheap Eats or Dirt Cheap list?!? Their prices are right and their food is so satisfying.
If you haven't had their cuban-style pork…try it. You won't be disappointed…this coming from a guy quite familiar with Miami.
The prices are right, true, but the food isn't all that memorable. And I think there are a half-dozen other spots in the area that do something similar, and do it better.
What CC has going for it, is atmosphere. It's a fun time pretty much any night of the week.
I only read your chat after the fact last week, but that was a fantastic piece about your dad.
My grandfather, too, loved to sit at the bar because that's where the people were, and meeting new folks over food was his favorite thing in the world. He passed this habit down to my father and me, and I think we're the better for it.
I'm sorry for your loss, but I'm glad you have such great memories to hold on to.
It's funny, because there's been so much talk in the last decade of communal tables, and what they mean, what they communicate.
But it's really a European thing, and I'm not sure it translates. I think it's a great idea, I wished it translated, but in a big city, in America, sitting at the bar is how you find a sense of community and belonging, if only for a couple of hours. It's a wonderful thing.
And I am, I'm grateful for all my memories. Thank you for writing in.
Thanks for the tips.
Veggie burger with bacon! That's hilarious. I love it. You either are an anything-goes sort of eater, or there's a lot of gustatory neurosis in you …
Boylan's on fountain, good to hear that.
I'm a huge fan of sodas, and wish more restaurants stocked good ones. Boylan's is popular, but I'd love to see some others.
Frank's Cherry Wishniak, from Philly, is one of my favorites. And you only ever see it in Philly anymore.
Dr. Brown's I like even more than Boylan's. But you only ever see Dr. Brown's in a deli setting. And that's too bad. The cream is terrific, so is the black cherry. Anyone ever drink the Cel-Ray? It was one of my father's favorites.
There used to be a soda in the '70s and '80s called Burgundy — I forget the maker. Anyone ever taste it? Great stuff.
Orange Crush, I like that one, too.
Boy, traipsing down memory lane here …
I'm curious to know — what sodas do you all love and/or pine for?
Whoa, whoa, whoa — that wasn't something I wrote, Alex, VA. My father never smoked. That was a fellow chatter, sharing a memory.
My father had few vices. He cut salt out of his diet some thirty years ago. He didn't eat hot dogs — he'd done a documentary once, and having seen how they were made, he forswore them. He talked himself out of liking donuts. It was pretty amazing, actually. We couldn't tempt him, my mom and I. Nope. He would not treat himself to a bite of donut. The discipline was remarkable.
His vice, really, was barbecue. He could eat it for lunch and dinner. He would drive anywhere to get it. He liked a lot of foods, but he reserved a special place for barbecue.
A line just came to me, something Michel Richard said to me some years ago, when he learned I was Jewish. But you eat pork! he said.
Yes, I said. And all manner of pork, too. Pork belly … pig's trotters … pig knuckle, etc., etc. The whole beast.
No one likes pork, said Richard, the way a Jew likes pork.
The other day, I had a delicious lunch at Oceanaire. However, I have a problem with the restaurant's policy on specials.
I ordered a sushi-grade tuna entree that was described to me by the waitress as a special of the day. I was a bit stunned, when I received the check, to find that the cost was $46.
No lunch entree on the regular menu is anywhere near that price. Had I known the actual price, I would not have ordered this entree because I am on a limited budget these days. Many restaurants do announce the prices of specials and that seems to me a much better practice. What are your thoughts?
I think it's a reprehensible practice.
The restaurants who play this game typically defend themselves by saying: We're not hiding the prices. We'll tell anyone who asks.
Who asks. But see, that's the problem right there, the fact that it's something that must be asked about. What restaurants are trading on, is the fact that diners won't ask the price for fear of looking like a cheapskate in front of a client or a date.
$46 is ridiculous. It's far in excess of other entrees on the menu. I hope Oceanaire is reading this, and I hope they write to me to offer to make it up to you. Meantime, if I were you, I would dash off a letter and cc me.
There are a number of restaurants in town who play fast and loose with specials like this. Al Tiramisu is one of the most egregious. Specials, particularly fish specials, are sometimes twice that of main courses.
Any other offenders out there we can come up with –?
I missed your chat on Tuesday but I am catching up now. Your introductory note about your father is beautiful, moving and sad. I am sorry about your loss.
I lost my only sibling to cancer after watching cancer take its toll over the years (chemo, radiation, the whole nine yards). While I know that losing someone to cancer is hardly uncommon, each story is unique and special, for the lives that each person touches. I'm glad to have your chats back.
And I'm glad to be back with all of you. Your concern and your support, and your touching, thoughtful words, have been an enormous good thing in my life the past few weeks.
You're a special bunch, and you have moved me more than you can possibly know. Thank you.
Cherry Smash by the Rock Creek CO. Made great ice cream sodas with vanilla ice cream
Cherry Smash! Of course. What a great soda that is. They're still making it, right? I hope –?
And yes, with a scoop of vanilla ice cream, it made the best float you could imagine.
You'll have to forgive me, but another memory, a long, long ago memory, has floated to the surface, thinking about Cherry Smash …
That was the soda I always drank on Saturdays when I was a little kid, about nine or ten or so. My father and I would go out and play a couple of games of one-on-one, and come home ragged and sweaty and thirsty. And I would open a bottle of Cherry Smash and lay out on the living room floor and we would pass the bottle back and forth, quenching our thirst, and watching college basketball.
I will be having dental surgery this afternoon near Tysons Corner. I'd like to have a tasty and filling lunch beforehand since I will not be able to chew well for about a week. Where do you recommend? Thanks!
If you want a nice seafood or fish lunch in a dramatic setting — Monterrey Bay and Fish Grotto.
Of course, fish doesn't take much chewing, does it? You could always save that for later, post-surgery.
(I sympathize. I've had about four or five root canals, myself. The fact I can't remember if it's four or five is, I think, deliberate. And I always splurge after going to the dentist, even if it's just for a cleaning. A little pampering, after a bout of barbarity. Invariably, that means my coming home with all sorts of expensive gourmet goodies from Balducci's.)
If I were in your shoes, I'd probably head on over to Shamshiry for a kabob e kubideh, minced, spiced ground beef molded skillfully around a skewer and cooked over coals until it's still pink in the middle and lightly charred outside. And tender, really, really tender, within.
Get it with plain buttered rice, or spring for one of the polos — hearty pilafs, basically, studded with things like barberries and orange peel, or perfumed with saffron and garnished with nuts.
And don't miss the intensely rich saffron ice cream for dessert.
I am a longtime follower, and am just writing to tell you how incredibly moved I was by your piece about your father and the relationship the two of you had. At the end I felt that I had read a novel compressed into the space of a short story. And like many others wrote to you, I was in tears.
Your father sounded like an incredible man. You talked about his art, and I clicked on the link to the obituary about him in the Post and was intrigued. I am wondering is there anywhere I might go to see some of his work.
Thinking of you, and wishing you strength in a very difficult time, KS
Wow. What can I say? Thank you for all your wonderful sentiment; I'm deeply touched.
And thank you for your interest. I can tell you that there will be a memorial exhibition sometime in late June or early July at Artery 717 in Alexandria. That's the gallery where he was artist-in-residence this past year.
Working with the gallery director, I'm hoping to put together a retrospective of his work that covers all periods of his career; I think we'll have some 50 or so pieces, a decent sampling. And I hope that we will be able to show some work that he himself never showed, including his self-portraits. (I've also established the Ted Kliman Memorial Scholarship for Young Artists. The idea is to give support to teenage artists — ages 12-17 — who have passion and purpose, but who need direction and encouragement, and who aren't finding it, or enough of it, at home or at school.)
Artery 717 has a number of his pieces up right now, in case you're interested in going to see somthing soon.
Thanks. No, really, thank you.
For the last two years of my D.C. adventure I've looked to your reviews and chats to form a wide base of great restaurants. I'm now the go-to foodie in my office, addicted to Floating Market Noodle Soup at Nava Thai and will sorely miss this weekly affair as I head off to graduate school out west.
My last request? The parents are coming to help me move out, and I can't decide between Citronelle, Palena or (budget willing) Komi for my last meal in DC. Thoughts?
Jeeze, well — you can't really go wrong with any of these. I mean, we're talking about three of the five best restaurants in the city.
I think it's just a question of what kind of night you're looking for. I think Komi is the most distinctive experience of the three, the slow, languorous pace of it, the mood, the sensuality, the communality, etc., and I'd probably look there first.
Thanks for the wonderful send-off thumbs up, Jason, and congratulations and good luck on this new start in your life!
I like Vernor's, too. But not everybody does — it really bites you back. Definitely an acquired taste.
Cheerwine's good, I like it, and I even like it warm. I always thought it was a Southern thing–?
I don't drink it anymore, but I really like Mr. Pibb. I wish they made a diet version. I like it a little better than Dr. Pepper, which I like a lot.
I used to joke that Mr. Pibb was a mister, not a doctor, because he was ABD — all but dissertation.
Tex-Mex, yes, but also plain Mex and Salva-Mex, too …
The list (and please note that I'm putting cooking far, far above everything else):
La Sirenita in Riverdale
El Tapatio in Riverdale
Guajillo in Arlington
Taqueria Distrito Federal in D.C. (the original, in Columbia Hts.)
Samantha's in Silver Spring
El Golfo in Silver Spring
El Charrito Caminante in Arlington
Casa Oaxaca in DC
Michelle Bernstein's restaurant in the Mandarin Oriental, called Azul, I think should be one of those special occasion meals. She's a terrific chef, and her brand of fusion is smart, never forced.
And you have to get yourself to one of the locations of La Carreta, which has terrific black beans, maybe the gold standard of black beans. And great vaca fritta.
I've heard things, rumors, and would hate to speculate without more info.
But yeah, it's really turning out to be a cursed space, isn't it? Strange, too, because in some ways, it would seem an ideal location.
I think one of the problems is, the places that have moved in there have not been clearly defined enough. They've hedged. I think you go in there, you go in there as fine dining, and really do it right, and make it a special night out. Or you go in and you work hard to be a good value and ingratiate yourselves to the local dining community.
Of course, now, who knows? My fear these days is that all we're going to see for the next couple of years is Italian restaurants.
Todd, I love you chat and am a faithful reader.
I am hoping to make reservations for Easter brunch soon. I have looked at the Washingtonian list of 28 great brunches. Everything seemed to be a cheap eat or too expensive. Nothing in the middle for a young family with a 7month old child! Can you make any reccomendations? Do you have a list coming out for that? Thanks.
We're planning on it, yes.
But those brunches run the gamut. Some are expensive, many are cheap, but there are a fair number in the middle, too.
I think one place you'd want to look into is Domku, in Petworth. It's a fun menu, the environment is tolerant and not inhospitable to a little child, and the prices are decent.
Kreuz Market! Do not pass go, do not collect 200 dollars. Kreuz. Kreuz, Kreuz, Kreuz.
A must, a must, a must in Lockhart. You're going to have a ball.
Here? No. Nowhere here.
Everyone I've tried comes up short, and far, far short at that.
I do like the smoked brisket at KBQ in Bowie, a lot, but it's different from the Texas model. What you can do is, you can order from Kreuz Market — kreuzmarket.com — and see what you're in for.
What's up with chefs diving into duck eggs lately? They are on the menu at Corduroy and Fargione serves them in the kitchen table at Teatro Gondoni
Do they taste different? Are they hard to get? How do you cook them? Do chinese restaurant use them as well?
What's up with it? Trendiness.
We did a piece on this last September. Chefs Get Quacking.
Duck eggs are dramatic, for one thing — bigger yolk, darker yolk — and they have a richer taste than chicken eggs.
That's one reason that pastry chefs like to use them, because they give desserts that much more intensity and depth. Sub in a duck egg for a chicken egg in a creme brulee or a cake or a pie, and see if you don't see a noticeable difference.
They're hard to get, yes. Most stores don't stock them. You have to go to a farmer's market to find them, and not all farmer's markets are going to have them.
I've heard good things about Tap Tap, never been. Thanks for the tip.
Boy, I'd love to get down to Miami again soon and try it.
On Chowhound, we've had an ongoing debate over the best Pollo restaurant around town. We've covered chicken, yuca and sides, Montgomery County and Arlington.
Where do you go when you crave this delicious peruvian food and who has the best deals?
I go to El Pollo Rico. When it's good, it's amazing. When it's slightly off, it's still good.
A lot of it has to do with timing, same as with barbecue. If you go, and they're in the middle of cleavering one of the chickens, then you're in for something special. When they've been sitting, less so.
The fries and slaw at EPR, they're fine, nothing to get worked up over. I like the yucca at Super Chicken (multiple locations). And I like the chicken at Super Chicken, too. The rub is fascinating, puts you in mind of a cross between a tandoor and a mole.
Crispy 'n' Juicy, to me, is in deep decline. My chicken there a couple of months back was dreadful.
I've heard good things from my colleague, Ann Limpert, about Pollo Brasero in Wheaton, but I haven't gotten over there, not yet.
I'm of the opinion that we simply can't have too many spit-roasted chicken spots.
A couple random questions… First, (and I apologize for bringing the dreaded d-word into this chat…) I'm trying my best to stick to a fairly low-cal, low-fat diet since the new year.
This, of course, makes eating out somewhat more difficult. Do you have any thoughts, or have you ever thought of doing a piece, on the best 25 lo-cal/lowfat dishes in the city?
I, for one, think it would be a great thing. (btw, this all came from me wondering if my obsession with the pho tai at Pho 75 is going to kill me or not… I'm sure the sodium is through the roof, but otherwise, it seems a pretty safe bet).
Second (and completely unrelated)… how often are you dining out for your job, as opposed to for your own enjoyment? Or is there no divide between the two?
I think it's a great idea.
But in some ways, it'd be a really hard idea to execute, since we're not involved in the making of the dishes — nor are we nutritionists. Finding out the specifics, I think, would be all but impossible.
Things that seem healthful, are not always. And sometimes, spectacularly not.
Pho, yes, is loaded with sodium. But otherwise, provided you don't load up on too much meat, not too terrible.
As to your last question … Every meal out, is a meal on the clock. Odd as that sounds. I'm always working, even if I'm enjoying myself. Always taking notes, recording details, etc., etc. Sometimes, yes, it'd be nice to just sit back and be a normal person, having dinner. But I wonder if that would be possible anymore anyway — the habits have become so ingrained.
My advice for restaurants: Make everyone who comes in feel like a regular. Go out of your way in this regard, and it WILL be repaid. People remember being taken care of. That's why a lot of us go out to eat. The food, sure, but more than the food — a good time, an experience. Never forget that.
If you have to, simplify your menus. Whatever you send out of that kitchen, make it great, make it special. Managers, owners, tell your staff to cook as if their lives depended on it. They just might.
My advice for diners: Show your support to the places you have grown to like and love. Keep giving them your business, even if it's not as many times a week or a month as it used to be. Keep showing up.
Taking chances is harder than ever, I know, but there are resources out there — like this one, right here — that will tell you what good, affordable places are worth it. From what I hear, the ethnic spots are hurting just as much, if not more, than the higher-end places. They need your support too.
And on that sobering (but important) note … eat well, everyone, be well, and I'll meet you back here next Tuesday at 11.
Didn't get your question answered in this chat? Submit it to Todd's next chat, Tuesday, March 17 at 11 AM.