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.
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Read the transcript from March 10.
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
Two recent experiences in Wheaton:
Our first time there, after so many great reviews by you, Todd, and others– Nava Thai was amazingly packed on Saturday night for dinner! The food was excellent, although it came a little slowly. #70, a duck dish, was first-rate as my wife's Pad Thai dish (and the restaurant was willing to replace the listed shrimp and other central meats, with beef which wasn't listed on the menu).
However, Saturday afternoon we were at Ferdinand's across the street from Nava Thai. We found when ordering "soup and salad" that both were available– but not via the salad bar. Two and one half months ago, the owner saw few customers coming in and decided it was too expensive to maintain the excellent salad bar, there was too much waste. Perhaps it'll come back when more customers do. It made having a soup and side salad (one time for both, no longer all you can have) an ordinary experience, although the menu is still almost as varied as before. (The owner says that prices on the newly available menu have dropped a little.)
Thanks for the two reports, Silver Spring. Fun reading.
There aren't many salad bars left anymore, are there? One of the more interesting ones, if memory serves, is the one at Granja de Oro in Falls Church — pretty extensive, too.
The restaurant, generally, is a terrific value, and when the kitchen's clicking, the whole trout is terrific. A whole trout, rice, beans, and for less than $15, I believe.
You ordered the wrong thing. ; )
(I'm joking, but you'll notice we didn't single out that dish in our write up.)
Look, there are things that are very good here, and things that are not very good. But the good outweigh the not so good, and the menu is long and varied.
There are a dozen things or more on the menu that are worthwhile. Worthwhile and affordable. Get the skate in a spicy-sour curry sauce. Get the roti canai. Get the green apple-and-mango salad with crispy squid and fried shallots. Get the mackerel. Get the stirfried watercress and fermented tofu.
And really, let's be fair here … How many places in the city that aren't chains or fast food or takeout can you find yourself a whole meal — an interesting meal, at that — for less than $25?
No, I'd love to know, myself. A stash of Cherry Smash.
Anyone out there have any ideas–?
So I had fish 'n chips last night (for St. Patty's) at Eamonn's in Old Town. It was great! Just curious…how does that rate for you, as fish 'n chips go? Seemed pretty darn authentic to me–and quite tasty. I've heard there some Scottish pub in Weaton that might rival it…thoughts?
I think it's great, too.
What they get right, and what a lot of places miss, is the batter, which forms a sort of hard, durable carapace. That batter is the thing, the key. Without it, it's just fried fish.
(Not to slight the cod itself, which is good product.)
The place you're thinking of in Wheaton, I'm going to guess, is the Royal Mile Pub.
I haven't been back there in a long, long time, so I'm only going off of memory, but what I remember eating there was a good sort of American pub grub version, not really in the same ballpark.
I remember seeing beefalo farms in Ohio when I was growing up. I mentioned this in passing to my southern, meat-loving boyfriend, and he is obsessed with wondering what beefalo tastes like.
I have tried in vain to find a restaurant or a butcher that prepares or sells beefalo in the Mid-Atlantic. Do you know of any? I think my boyfriend is starting to doubt that this hybrid animal exists!
Oh, it exists. But that doesn't mean you're going to find any anytime soon — I haven't seen it available in either the stores or specialty markets in this market, or on a restaurant menu.
I'd like to try it myself, sometime.
Bison, now that's a different story. It's become more available in this market, and there's at least one farm in Virginia that's raising bison.
I really like the taste. I also like that it's so healthful (leaner than beef, leaner even than chicken), and would love to see it make more inroads into the American diet.
What happy hours do you think are the most "food-worthy"? For example, I think Willow's $5 bar menu is fantastic and I go despite no drink specials. I'm willing to travel! Thank you.
I think it'd be hard to beat the bar-menu at Vidalia at happy hour. That's one of the great deals in town, and the wine flights are interesting and cheap, too.
But the deal at Willow sounds good; thanks for sharing the great tip.
Even though it may be out of your jurisdiction as a Washingtonian food critic, I'm wondering if you've been out to Grace Garden in Odenton?
It's on my list, but it's quite a trek for me to get out there. Have you tried it? Is it worth an hour drive.
I've been, and I like it — I like it a lot.
It's a small place, an overlit dive across from Fort Meade. You'd never go, if you didn't know what it was.
It's a mom and pop, and the pop, Chef Li, has the gumption, or maybe the smarts, to cook the real deal thing, not a wan, Americanized version of the real deal thing.
Some things are truly wonderful, like the homemade fish noodles and "pocket tofu" (shrimp mousse and tofu mounded into meatballs), some things are interesting and good, like the Sichuan pork with rice powder, and some things are so-so or worse. (On one visit, I ordered the mini donuts they were selling as a special for dessert. Cute, but the old was old and tasted of chicken.)
So, if, say, you ordered six dishes, you can count on two to be very good, two to be good and two to be okay or forgettable. That's not bad odds. That's a very worth-it place, to me.
An hour's drive? That might be pushing it, unless you see food as an adventure, as I do.
Just wanted to share with your readers that Villa Mozart is featuring a Three-Course Dinner special for $35/person during the month of March (Mondays to Thursdays only). Due to its success we are thinking of extending it into April also. Thank you.
Not real keen on advertisements, generally, in this space, but I think Villa Mozart flies under the radar of a lot of foodies, particularly foodies in DC and close-in Virginia (it landed a spot on our recent 100 Best) and I guess I'm feeling generous today, so — there you are.
It's a good deal. And it comes at a very good time.
Yes. There was a winner, and she, at least, was notified. 🙂
But thanks for the nag. (Incidentally, I don't think I ever saw any of your previous queries.)
Anyway, the winner's name is Sheridan Marfil; she got the first five spots in the Top 10 correct and in exact order, and then had the Source at #10.
Emails Catherine, who read through the guess sheets: "Everyone else was way off :)"
It's definitely interesting — I'll say that.
An interesting, unpredictable move from Slater, the dean of sommeliers in the area. And an interesting, thoroughly predictable move by Landrum, the maverick of restaurateurs in the area.
I'm very curious to see how this plays out. Wine is a ridiculously marked-up product, with bottles in most nice restaurants going for three and four times what you'd pay retail.
Ray's taking in less on a bottle — if that's what this comes down to — is going to mean better wines at better prices for the customer. Even charging double what you'd pay retail will amount to a tremendous savings — and afford tremendous opportunities for exploration.
Will Landrum and Slater have the guts, the daring, to go further and charge the customer the retail price on some of the best, most exquisite wines from France and Germany and Austria and Spain? Now that, truly, would be revolutionary, and, — should they succeed, should the businesses stay solvent and strong — quite possibly spur a shake-up in the industry at large.
I'm sooo disappointed!
We had dinner Sunday night at Vermillion, since Eve was closed. It was absolutely dreadful.
7:45 arrival. The first thing our server told us was that ALL pork dishes were out. Um, it's 7:45. Did you have a large jewish party come through earlier? After a few minutes, we went to order. I wanted the rabbit starter. Oh, sorry, we don't have any rabbit, either. Really? C'mon, dude. It's 7:45!
Ended up ordering the chicken dumpling soup. Tiny little dumplings smaller than Italian Wedding Soup meatballs. And there were four of them. FOUR.
Thankfully there were about 10 very stale croutons about the size of cell-phone keys, 6 uncooked mini carrots, and completely tasteless broth.
On to the horrible dinner: a "beef duo" consisting of a petite filet and corned shank. The tiny filet was ordered medium-rare… and came out with barely any pink inside. Overcooked and dry. The corned shank? Mixed with the cabbage and rye spatzle and barely noticeable.
At least the service was top notch.
So, Todd, I know it's Sunday night, but what gives?? No pork at all? Plus no rabbit? And badly overcooking a 3-oz filet?
This is supposedly one of the top restaurants in Alexandria and the food was the worst I've had in the DC area in 6+ years. And that's saying something. I couldn't be more disappointed and I feel like they took my money and had a line cook's cousin fill in as chef for the eve. Unreal.
I hope they're reading this. If what you say is true, the restaurant needs to make it up to you, somehow. Did you say anything to anyone at the time? Have you contacted anyone since?
Clearly an off night. But even for an off night, a little too off.
Ordinarily, Vermilion is a very rewarding place, with good service, as you pointed out, good drinks, and good, rooted and not too fussy cooking.
Are there any places other than the Willard that you might recommend for afternoon tea? Preferably, are there any that you know of that offer outdoor seating when the weather gets warmer? Thanks!
The best spot, still, is the Four Seasons in Georgetown.
The Jefferson, the Mayflower, the Ritz-Carlton, the Mandarin Oriental, the Willard — all do afternoon teas, as well. The reason I like the Four Seasons best is because it hits all the notes — food, service, setting, pacing, and of course, the quality of the teas.
Ching Ching Cha, in Georgetown, doesn't do afternoon tea in that manner, but it's a serene and beautiful tea room with some tasty small dishes and excellent teas, and it makes for a terrific respite. A great escape, also, from the madding crowds of Wisconsin and M.
Agreed, although I'm going to guess their concentration is going to be elsewhere.
And that's fine. That's a completely separate battle.
It's up to the other restaurateurs and chefs and sommeliers around here to make the effort to "discover" what's right under their noses. It's absolutely laughable to me that so many restaurants in the city that purport to represent the area and the region — that purport to be local, and that love to tout their commitment to the bounties of the Shenandoah and the Chesapeake — ignore the good wines that are coming out of Virginia and up and down the East Coast.
At most, you see a bottle here, a bottle there. The ones that flatter themselves in claiming to get it, tend to include a couple of bottles on the list.
I think it's inexcusable. And particularly since so many of these wines from Virginia go so much better with food than the big and heavy and fruity California wines that dominate so many lists.
I'm guessing — hoping — that was a joke.
Perhaps a reference to something I'd written last week, a story I shared from Michel Richard–?
"Nobody likes pork," said the chef, commenting on my love for pork belly, pork trotters, pig's knuckle, etc., etc., "the way a Jew likes pork."
My dad is in Baltimore and I'm in Arlington. He only has public transportation available to him and we're trying to find a halfway point to meet and eat. This is proving to be exceedingly difficult!
The only option seems to be him jumping on the MARC to Union station. Around that area there arent a ton of cheap eats. I'd like to eat for less than $20 per person. I'd like to go to Johnny's Half Shell, but its a little too expensive.
Maybe Granville Moore's? Obviously I'd rather be eating at ethnic spots in rockville, wheaton, or silver spring, but it doesnt seem feasible to get out there from Baltimore. Help!
The MARC stops in Greenbelt, I believe, and also Hyattsville.
You could meet your dad in Greenbelt, and take a short drive to Lanham and hit Muffin Man Caribbean Cafe. Great roti, buss up shut, and they also do a dish of broiled crab-stuffed shrimp with coleslaw and fries that two could share.
Or, meet him at the MARC in Hyattsville ang go to Franklin's Restaurant, General Store and Brewpub. Very good handcrafted beers, plus skillet roasted mussels, wood-grilled pizzas (ask for them light on cheese and extra crisp), and a list of tasty (and wittily written) specials. I like the merquez lamb sausage sliders they're doing right now a lot.
Twenty dollars doesn't go very far in the city, but it will at these two spots.
I'd be curious to hear what you and your dad end up doing. Drop us a note, okay?
No desire? None?
How do you feel about cell phone policies for restaurants? My friend was chastised by the owner of Dino for sending a quick text (not talking on the phone) while I was using the restroom at the end of the meal.
I agree that if you are at a nice restaurant, you shouldn't be talking loudly, whether on a phone or to your fellow guests, but texting under the table? Come on! Todd, what do you think?
Hell, I texted a 2,000 word review — much of it from under the table.
I don't see the problem, here. Not with texting. It's silent. It doesn't disturb anyone.
What I do see a problem with, is people talking on their cell phones in restaurants. Rude and arrogant. Step outside and make or take the call.
Those people should be shown the door.
(I also think people who can't sit and eat and talk, who must conduct business and pass papers at the table — they should be shown the door, too.)
In general, I don't want to overhear anybody's cell phone conversation, ever. Unless it's someone talking about where and how they're going to dispose of the body. For that, I'll make an exception.
Malaysian Kopitiam is usually a great deal! Not the prices you may get for street food in Malaysia, but for DC, I happen to think you are getting a good deal.
The Nasi Lemak is great if you are looking for a variety of food, and you can't beat the roti canai. The only thing I have found overpriced are the satays. Was this restaurant compared to Penang in bethesda when it was being reviewed for the magazine?
The Nasi Lemak. Yes. Also good.
To Penang in Bethesda? No. Places are judged, always, on their own merits. And, always, according to what they're trying to be, and to do.
And I don't think Penang, there or anywhere, is very good.
Now there's an idea! I like it.
It's interesting, because we've been talking about being robbed blind by the markups. By which we're talking about — bottles.
But my God, a glass of wine these days costs a fortune! A good glass of wine at a lot of places nowadays costs, not less than an appetizer, which it used to — but more. In fact, a good glass of wine routinely costs almost as much as an entree, and sometimes more.
Insanity. Absolute insanity.
So what you have, you have a lot of restaurants where every entree comes in under $20 — see, look, we're a neighborhood spot! — but every glass of wine costs between $12 and $14.
That, too, needs to change. Needs to stop.
Be well, everyone, eat well, and let's do it again next week at 11 …
Didn't get your question answered in today's chat? Submit it to Todd's chat next week, Tuesday, March 24 at 11 AM.