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 24.
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
Sushi Sono, Columbia
I'm the person with the poor dinner experience at Vermilion. I wanted David there to know through your chat that I did forward his gracious and classy email response to you the day I received it. It's fantastic to see a place handle itself so well when there's an issue.
I received a certificate for another dinner on Tuesday afternoon the 24th after your chat. I will be personally calling David to reserve the table and so we can meet before dinner. I will most definitely email you on our 2nd experience as soon as we've gone.
I know the manager mentioned in his response to you that the table seemed happy and they would've done anything they could that night if they were alerted to any issues. Well, not much I can say when a server says they're out of all pork and the rabbit appetizer I asked for. It's just not complainable at that point. It's something bestleft for the next day.
Also, when with others at dinner (and the sister of a friend that we had never met before), I don't think causing a stir or making any complaints is proper etiquette – especially if they're enjoying their meal. Do you agree?
Anyway, I'm thrilled to try Vermilion again and I thank David there for his prompt and wonderful response.
Citronelle — TAKE NOTE. I had a horrific experience there with the waitstaff 2 years ago with very special guests from Boulder, emailed the general manager, and all I received was what seemed like a form email thanking me for my comments and that feedback was helpful for training. It was ridiculous.
And because of it I've never returned and have steered others clear.
I love Michel – he's a very cool guy, but his staff responded uber-poorly. We were virtually ignored for 3/4 of the evening. And they have so many servers! Thanks again and LOVE your chats!
Eagerly awaiting your meal report.
Causing a stir or making complaints, I want to point out, doesn't have to be awkward; you can get up from the table and speak to a manager and never let on to anyone at the table that you have brought something up.
Your best chance of having something dealt with — generally; in this case, there'd be nothing to deal with — is to bring a matter to the manager's attention immediately.
Re: your Citronelle story. Ugh.
Very, very poorly handled, I'd say. Bad enough to get a form LETTER. But a form email? A real kiss-off.
It's a good SANDWICH. It's not what I'd call a hoagie.
They use good bread (Sarcone's, direct from Philly), they use good meats, they use good cheeses.
But a hoagie should have lots of thin shaved onion (white onion, not red), and it should be nicely lubed up with lots of oil and vinegar. I could barely taste the oil and vinegar on my sub. And no oregano. You want a good shake of oregano on there.
It's not just a matter of ingredients.
A hoagie's a hefty thing. It's loaded up with meat and cheese. It should be a huge handful. It's a thing of generosity.
This was — sorry — a yuppie thing.
Very nice and neat, very careful construction, nothing flopping outside the roll, not so much meat or cheese that it would cause anyone around you to make unwelcome, flippant remarks about the obesity epidemic — the kind of thing you could easily eat on a first date or driving back to work in your Lexus.
A hoagie is a 12th date kind of thing, unless you're lucky enough to have found someone who really, really likes food and isn't afraid to show it — someone who goes at life with great gusto.
You should get dirty from a hoagie.
I've written a lot about Annapolis, and spend a good bit of time there. Lewnes's, Potato Valley, Joss, Yin Yankee, The Rockfish, Les Folies, O'Leary's.
I was out at the Boatyard recently. Not great, not even particularly good — but not bad, either. The place itself is terrific, though — a real getaway, very relaxing.
What are you excited about these days?
I haven't yet gotten to Osteria 177, but have plans to. What else?
While Ravi Kabob II is great, I think it would be worthwhile to mention that it is cash only. Places that only accept cash are becoming quite rare so this could leave quite a few people surprised when they go to eat or pick up an order. Thanks
Both Ravi I and Ravi II are cash.
If I'm not mistaken, I believe we do mention it in the review. But I'll try to make a point of it in anything I write about the place here on this chat.
I'm with you: It's no fun to show up somewhere hungry and ready to chow and then have to ditch the premises and run out and get cash.
Last week I tried Gom Ba Woo for the first time. I recalled that you included it on your of where you would spend your own money.
I liked the pickled cucumbers more than the kimchee and I think the other potato like dish was daikon. I'm still not sure.
Even though the panchan was plentiful, I had heard how good the Jin Mandoo (steamed dumplings) were so I wanted to try them. I thought that they pretty good, but not the best that I have ever had. I liked the soy dipping sauce very much.
For my lunch entree, I tried the Galbitang which was delicious with tender meat, cut in cubes, some still hanging off the bone. It was so tender that I could cut it with the spoon. In terms of price, for one appetizer, one main course, and a soda my bill was $21.95. With tip my lunch cost me $26.00. Washingtonian includes it on their Cheap eats list but at $26, I’d say that isn’t as “cheap” as Cheap Eats claims.
Should I go back and try the bbq that everyone says is so good? Did I miss the boat here?
We say that two of you should be able to eat at a place like that for $50.
And that's true; you can, very easily.
Your two dishes more than filled you up, I'm sure, and I doubt you finished everything that was on the table. With two, you could have gotten by with ordering just one more dish.
Did you miss the boat on the bbq? I like the pork belly — called spicy pork on the menu — a lot. Crusty-edged, rich and fiery-hot. I think that's a terrific dish, once it's layered onto a giant leaf of lettuce, with rice in there, and a good bit of the bean paste, and maybe a sliver of garlic.
Next time you need to get the seafood pancake. I think Gom Ba Woo's is the best around, supremely light and fluffy.
The pancake and the soon du bu.
My wife and I, along with our two-year-old, took your advice a couple of weeks ago to try Full Key in Maryland.
The place was busy, but after about a 20 minute wait a table opened up. It looked like it was large enough to seat 6-8. They refused to seat us there stating that they needed to save it for a bigger party.
A few minutes later, another family of two adults and two small children came in and were immediately seated at that table ahead of us. Is there something I should be aware of in restaurant seating protocol that explains this behavior? We were completely irate.
I'd have been PO'd too.
But you have to realize something — they'd never seat two adults and a small child at a big table with a Lazy Susan.
That'd be a waste.
So why did they seat a table of two adults and two children? Only thing I can think to say is that four is different from three. There's slightly more justification. Slightly.
I hope you got a table soon after, though.
Full Key, Wheaton, is not the warmest place around, but the food sure is good.
If any of my guests decline the bottle of wine they ordered for the reason of `it is not to their liking` I would be very upset. We try all our wines before serving and again we let the guest try.
This is to ensure the wine is not corked or bad. If the wine is a bad wine or corked we definitely do not want to serve it. Most of the time we can be reimbursed by the distributor of the wine. However if there is nothing wrong with the wine the distributor will not reimburse the restaurant. Most of the time the rep. of the distributor needs to come and take the bottle and if the rep. understands that there is nothing wrong with the wine the restaurant gets no credit. So if the cost of that bottle is $50 it is just wasted.
It is unreasonable for you to support declining the bottle. This will cause more and more trouble for restaurants if people keep returning the bottle of wines for no reason. What if the person wants to try 3 different bottles that are very high priced ? and what if they do not like them all ? who is going to pay for the restaurant`s cost ? Are you Todd ?
From a restaurant person.
I was waiting for this.
Look, I understand your point. My point, though, was about happiness. You're in the business, are you not, of sending people away happy?
It's a serious question. Not all restaurants can answer in the affirmative.
If that's your goal, then you do what you can to make sure that the customer goes away happy. (By the way, can you and your fellow managers, restaurateurs and chefs all refrain from using the word "guest"? If someone is a guest in my house, they don't pay.)
I did not advocate — go back and read what I wrote — letting a customer try three expensive wines. I said this was not an ice cream shop with its samples.
But if the customer is acting in good faith, and genuinely is disappointed by the wine, why would you not want to correct the problem? Why would you want him or her to go away unhappy?
And the time to bring this matter to the attention of the restaurant — the only time — is when the bottle is presented and you are invited to take that first sip.
Again: It comes down to whether a restaurant is really and truly interested in making sure that customer goes away happy.
I think there are restaurants who are, and many more who are not.
I'd like to think you're right. And a friend of mine has been, and reports that it's promising.
But my meal was nowhere close to fantastic. It was nowhere close to good.
Too much astringency in my ceviche. A chicken soup that had a lot of good things going for it — lots of fresh, coarse-chopped veggies, and a robust broth — but that was, in the end, much, much too busy (a soup should be a single effect, I think, no matter how complex it might be). A chifa dish, a kind of stir fry of shrimp and chicken (chifa refers to the synthesis of Chinese and Peruvian cuisines), was gloppy and surprisingly dull.
The one thing that stood out was a selection of fresh cheeses, including a local cherry cheese and a ripe blue cheese; they were terrific.
It's a nice place, simply and beautifully decorated, the cocktails are good, and I liked the service a lot.
I'll be back, and I'm hoping — as I always hope, when things don't work out that first time — that I was wrong, wrong, wrong.
How about a little meat on them bones? : )
Come on, Annapolis: details, details …
Just so I can have it out there, on record — the best burger isn't in the finals. (The best burger is Ray's Hell Burger. By far. Nothing else, for me, comes close.)
Between the two of those? I'd probably go with EatBar.
They're both good.
But I have an aversion, when it comes right down to it, to turning a burger into something it's not. It's not an entree. It's not a meal.
It's a burger. It's a sandwich. It should be simple.
Too much embellishment, too much tricking out, too much forethought, too much planning, too much sourcing, too much self-congratulation, too much hype-age … it kind of kills it, don't you think?
I love reading your articles, but I have to politely disagree with your stance on returning perfectly good wine. In college, I took a wine tourism class that went over this very topic.
Just like the poster said before, the first sip is to see if the wine is corked and is correctly labeled; it is not to see if your made the right decision or not.
Restaurants spend a lot of time and money to create/stock their wine lists (which im sure you know) and can not afford to have wines sent back. As much as I would love to have free wine tastings at a restaurant, I would much rather see them staying in business
Thanks for chiming in to the discussion/debate.
And look, I know that that's what the first sip is for.
But if you're acting in good faith, as I said, and you do not like the wine that you're tasting — above and beyond its being corked or oxidized or whatever — then that's the time to speak up, not later.
A really good restaurant is going to take this request seriously, and offer to fetch another bottle.
I'm well aware that a restaurant loses money on this. But how much? That bottle can be turned around and sold by the glass. One man's trash is another man's treasure. And that makes up some of the money right there.
And tallying losses and gains like this is, again, missing the larger point. Just like restaurants who fail to understand the worth of RW — who stint on their menus, and who don't bother to instruct their servers to see the week as a kind of recruitment week, a week to be open and optimistic.
You gain, later, with a customer who — happy, fulfilled — decides to come back. Or, who decides to become a regular. Or, who tells everyone he or she knows to go.
I want to submit a rant. I initially held off, but after stewing for a couple of days, found myself to be just as angry.
I like going to Brasserie Beck and often take my out of town friends there. The food (and beer) is consistently good and the atmosphere is jovial. I couldn't wait to take my friends out for a late Saturday night dinner.
Unfortunately, we had a very uncomfortable evening because of our waiter. The service was slow, and it took us about 20 minutes to even order drinks. The waiter informed us that he got 'screwed' & been given too many tables. I understand this, as I was a server, and it was Sat night!
Service was poor the rest of the night. Drinks were empty for way too long and a dish that we ordered and then reminded the waiter about was forgotten.
I can look past that. My friend found a long black hair in her dish. The waiter brought her a new pot, but argued with her. He said ' the only people in the kitchen were Hispanic men with short hair' and that it had to be hers (she's a blonde). He must have forgot that the kitchen was open- as we saw a few women with long black ponytails! It was awkward.
However not as awkward as when he made a racist joke about the Obama stimulus package being a "tub of fried chicken, Kool aide and a dime bag". I was uncomfortable and extremely put off! I can't believe he was so unprofessional. I probably won't be taking friends back to Beck for a long time. Sadly 🙁
All around, just — yikes.
(And I'll bet Beck desperately wishes it knew the identity of that waiter.)
HI.. it's the usual: out-of-town visitors for the weekend. I was reading a recent (current) Southern Living travel guide to the Mall and surrounds, and they recommended the cafe in the Museum of Native American…. I'd read mediocre reviews of the museum, but of all the museum cafe's, is that one worth the time and cost? THANKS!
And BTW, for those who can't get into CAVA in G'burg, the VYNE is acceptable bistro fare… and one parking-lot away.
Honestly? I don't think any of the museum cafes are worth, as you put it, the time and cost.
Mitsitam is interesting, and better than most, but still, that's not saying that much.
If I were you, I'd go to the museum, and then go somewhere else for lunch. Cafe du Parc isn't far, or you could spend some of that money on a cab and hit Central or Poste or Oyamel or Rasika, etc.
I wanted to tell you that I read you every week and swear by your picks and your writing.
I'm looking for somewhere cheap and good and interesting to take a group of friends, preferably in Virginia. What can you recommend?
Keep up the fantastic work, Todd!
I really like the new Cafe Assorti, in Clarendon — across the street from the plaza with Ray's Hellburger and Pho 75.
A sunny, modern, multipurpose space (a coffeehouse, a full-fledged restaurant, a late night place for dessert and drinks), and a long and interesting lineup of Kazakh food.
They do two terrific salads — one carrot, the other beet. There are huge, meat-stuffed dumplings, called manti, with two kinds of sauce; it's enough for an entree at dinner. They've also got an array of stuffed breads, including a wonderful cake-sized egg bread filled with beef and cheese and vegetables.
It's all very reasonably priced, too.
Dear Todd – I was excited to try The Source a few wks ago. Foodwise, it was only ok, which was surprising. In fact, the calamari was actually horrible. (And I do not use that term lightly.) It was worse than any I have had at a crappy sports bar – the breading was gloppy and very greasy. Boo.
BUT – I will say this: the wine was phenomenal (although uber-pricey) and it was some of the best service I've ever had. The staff is excellent. They even took off the calamari bec they could tell we did not like it — we did not even complain about it!
Because of that, I'll probably go back – but at those prices, I expected the food to be more exceptional.
I'm surprised to hear that.
I've had some pretty terrific meals at the Source, both upstairs and in the lounge. And some dishes, like the magnificent crispy sea bass and the pork belly dumplings, knocked my socks off.
Good for the staff for reading the signals at your table, and also for agreeing to take the charge off. A class move.
That says something to me, and, from the sound of it, to you, too.
True, but I didn't see anything in the post about needing a place that is open on the weekend.
You can hit a museum at any time, you know — and a lot of people I know tend to take time off when guests are in from out of town.
I'm just saying.
Hi Todd, really enjoy reading your columns and chats and have forwarded your piece on your father to many people. It really moved me.
I love Thai and Vietnamese food and until recently have usually partakek at least once a week. I am now dating someone with a peanut allergy and wondering if I am now out of luck when it comes to those cuisines, or are there some "safe" dishes she could enjoy while I chase my dragon?
Thanks for the kind words.
There's lots that's safe. Presuming, of course, you stay away from fried stuff — they use peanut oil in stir frys.
But papaya salads, grilled quail with lime dip, bowls of pho, summer rolls, some curries — all are, or should be, okay for her.
So go — go chase the dragon and enjoy yourself in good conscience …
That's true, it doesn't — but neither does the Inn at Little Washington match the area profile of Washington, Va.
That's a simple, pretty much poor country town.
It'll be interesting to see what develops over there, huh? Thanks for the heads-up.
Gotta run, everyone.
Be well, eat well, and let's do it again next week at 11.
(TEK, we miss you … )
Didn't get your question answered in this chat? Submit in advance to Todd's next chat on Tuesday, April 7 at 11 AM.