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 April 14.
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
Todd, I know you're a Dim Sum fan…
I just got an invite to go have dim sum with some friends at China Chef. I have heard good things from them, but can't even find a review here on Washingtonian. Ever heard of it or tried it? What do you think?
Sorry, I haven't been there in years.
At the time, it was decent, not great — for whatever that's worth. (Not a whole helluva lot, I know.)
I'm generally of the mind that even middlin' dim sum is still pretty good, because you've got a group with you, and you'e trying a ton of things (and trying that much, there's bound to be one or two things that are worth it and you can keep returning to them). And the tea, and the bustle of the carts, and the excitement of wondering what's coming next, etc.
I want to throw this open a little — what else is not so bad when it's not so good?
Not a shocker to me — this has been in the works for many, many, many months.
I've got a guy who's got copies of the floor plans for the space and a draft of the partnership structure for the new venture.
The question with this had always been when, not if.
The surprise would have been, had he up and left. And that had been rumored for a while, too.
I think it's good for food and good for DC that Richard stays in the area and continues to make this the base of his operations.
I've been craving shabu shabu lately (I'm fairly new to the area). Are there any restaurants in the DC area that serve it? I've heard about Bob's 88 in Rockville, but is there a closer one to DC?
No, and now there's not even a Bob's 88.
It didn't last too long, unfortunately. Fun idea, and I wish it had succeeded. I wonder if now Bob Liu, the owner, will go ahead with his plans for the all-dumpling place he talked to me about a couple of years ago.
If there's one thing we don't have enough of — and one thing that ought to do okay in these trying times — it's dumplings.
If they're done right (a big IF), they're cheap, fast, delicious, sustaining, and soulful.
Hi Todd –
I was wondering if you could procure the rabbit ragu with carrot paparadelle recipe from Tosca. I dream about this dish at night, and finally got pasta maker, and hope to recreate it!
How much do I love this dish?? Well, I had not one, but two pet rabbits growing up, and loved them both — this dish is the ONLY exception I make for eating rabbit! Thanks!
I love it, too. One of the greatest dishes of pasta I think I've ever had.
We'll see what we can do to get it for you.
(I wouldn't be optimistic. Some places guard their recipes as if they were state secrets. … And even if we were to get it, who knows if it would be the same exact recipe?)
One thing I know that goes in there is fresh thyme, and that it wouldn't be the same without it. I'm also going to guess there's a veal stock involved.
And that's where things get tricky in dish reconstruction, because you simply can't substitute when it comes to a stock. You've got to do it from scratch. Buy the bones from a butcher, roast them, and then build your stock. It takes time and money and energy — but unless you do it, your dish isn't going to approach what you ate at the restaurant.
I've spent lots of time over the years trying to reconstruct dishes, and it almost always comes down to the fact that the stock I'm using isn't as good as the one the restaurant uses.
If you should happen to get a stock right, that's half the battle if you have good instincts in the kitchen and a talent for dissecting the components of a dish.
The good thing about cooking at home like this is, you can scale back on the great gobs of butter that too many restaurants — even Italian restaurants — use. All the taste, but with a much cleaner finish.
How does Sheetz strike you? ; )
Actually, there are a handful of places you'll want to think about. Stone Soup Bistro has the most big-city feel, with microbrew beers, a small roster of wines and good ingredients like Niman Ranch pork showing up on the menu. A good spot for lunch or dinner or both.
I wouldn't be above going back twice in one day, since both Three Onions and Yellow Brick Bank — fine dining spots — are mostly hit or miss for the prices.
Blue Moon Cafe is a good spot for lunch, and they sell locally made ice cream.
For coffee, Lost Dog Coffee. A good, fun atmosphere to sip and talk the afternoon away.
After watching the Rays the Steaks video, I just wanted to let you know how much I enjoy your video feedback segments.
The fact that one of your participants considers Chez Francois a 10 provides a great deal of perspective on her opinion. I also thought it was interesting that two ladies thought that there steaks were overcooked (I never hear that about Rays – usually its the other way around) and overpriced.
While I don't think that these videos will make or break a place for me, I do enjoy the perspective they provide.
On a side note, I had an excellent meal at Eventide last week. They're really cooking on all cylinders – have you had the opportunity to eat there yet? Any thoughts?
I'm glad you're enjoying them.
They're not meant to be definitive, just fun and (maybe? we can hope?) informative — and at the same time give you another tool in making a decision.
I like very much what Eventide represents (a suburban outpost that brings a big-city sort of ambition to its decor and its menu) but my sense of things is of a place trying too hard.
I've only gone once, however, and as I've said on here many times, I don't like to make judgments so early on in the game. As I've also said on here many times, I don't take any delight in not connecting with a place. I'd love to have my mind changed.
The interior is interesting but self-consciously done (chandeliers, 18-ft ceilings, exposed beams, pretentious "outsider" art, low, wide booths) and what I remember most of the cooking that night was that it aimed a notch higher than Liberty Tavern, just down the block, and didn't succeed as often. Good, raw ingredients — excellent bison in the carpaccio, fresh peas in the lobster tagliatelle with lobster meatballs — but too often squandered in eclectic, straining preparations.
Actually, a variety of reasons.
(The last intro I wrote, if you're keeping score, was about my father. Part of the explanation is there, in that, and part of it isn't.)
It's only a temporary thing. I'm glad you noticed and thought to ask. And we'll be back to full chat power sometime later this Spring.
Gotta disagree here. Oysters? No no no no no.
And shellfish, when it's bad, is bad. And possibly dangerous.
A bad taco, though — not so bad.
A bad Napoleon — pretty darn tasty, still.
I just wanted to comment on Central, which I know is often suggested.
My parents came in from out of town and made reservations to take me there for my birthday, and we were very disapointed.
They were hoping the staff would somehow acknowledge it was a special occastion, but instead, we had to repeatly flag down our waitress to get even basic service, much less anything birthday related. At one point my dad had to get up and go find her so we could finally order.
My dad's burger was dry, and my scallops were drowning in a heavy cream sauce. While the dessert was good, the rest of the food certainly didn't make up for the horrendous service, and it was a disapointing birthday dinner. I'm guessing most people have better experiences than we did, but I would certainly never recommend the restaurant or go back.
I hear you.
And just so you know — I'd feel the same way, if I were you.
It's too bad, all around. Too bad for you on your birthday, and too bad for Central to be besmirched like this.
Why are there no great fine dining restaurants in Bethesda, a bastion of affluence and influence?
Why is there no great hotel dining?
Why, for all the many options for eating out, are so many of them so mediocre?
Why are all the really good, really interesting ethnic spots in Falls Church, Arlington and Fairfax?
Why are all the ambitious chefs who are looking to open new places/looking to relocate settling in Virginia and not in Bethesda?
These, to me, are all more pressing questions than why are there no good pizza spots in Bethesda.
I am not one to ever prejudge a restaurant based on a single visit. I think that every restaurant has not just bad days, but also bad moments with specific servers or cooks that can turn one of many tables in the restaurant into a bad experience!
On the counter point, there are those exceptional moments that you have at a place that can make your night one that you will never forget.
This past Friday, my wife and two friends, on a recommendation went to Inox restaurant. We had one of the greatest dining experiences that we have ever had. Everything from the entrance with free valet, our server who knew more about the food than I thought servers would, to the execution of the food….It was unreal, how good it was.
My Question: How many times do you visit a restaurant before you make your call on its ability or rating? At what point do you start recommending a restaurant? I mean, I never like to recommend a place that I have only been to once, but if it’s a 1 or 2 time a year place, is one really great experience good enough, or should I wait to make that call?
With a new place, my general rule of thumb is to go at least three times, sometimes four, occasionally five.
It's not a science. There are no firm rules. Sometimes, you know all you need to know about a place after two visits. And sometimes, it takes five to really get a grip on things.
Restaurants with pretensions to the big-time often are harder to judge after one visit than ethnic spots, which are usually much more consistent.
The former have a lot of moving parts, and it takes time for all those gears to move as one. Sometimes, they never move as one.
Should you start recommending it?
Although be mindful that one of the laws of nature — and it always happened to me before I became a critic, always, without fail — was that if you tell people how good a place is, they will invariably come back and tell you they were disappointed.
So much of why someone responds poorly to a rec or a review, has to do with expectations — with what a person builds that place up to be in his or her mind.
Do friends turn against friends on account of a bad rec?
I doubt it, although I guess anything's possible.
Remember the premise of "Art," the Yasmin Reza play? The friend turning on the friend on account of his love for a crappy piece of art?
Is that really it?
Is that really why Maryland, and particularly Bethesda, is being left behind?
Are these things really enough to tilt things that much in one direction?
I'm not saying they're not. I'm just posing the questions. I'd love to hear from other restaurateurs, chefs and industry sorts.
The Virginia suburbs are killing the Maryland suburbs.
Butter is fat. And fat is a vehicle for flavor.
A good amount of butter can make things more rich and tasty. But too much butter, and it's like too much salt.
If you taste salt, it means the dish is very, very, very salty. Same with butter. If you taste it, you know there's too much.
Great food isn't buttery. It might use butter, but it stops short — well short — of being buttery. Same thing with salt. Same thing with cream.
Oyamel, Poste, Ceiba, Acadiana, Rasika, the new Potenza.
Any of those should do the trick.
Saw your Twitter request re Chicago but couldn't come up with anything that late at night. Cool though that you put out the call. Was anything open on a Sunday?
Some background for those of you who aren't on Twitter … I had a layover in Chicago on Sunday, an unexpected layover.
United claims it was weather, but I don't believe that. This is Chicago we're talking about. 47 inches of snow and the schools stay open. Hearty folks, from immigrant farmer stock. They spit in our wussy faces for rushing off to the store for milk and toilet paper at the mere rumor of two inches of snow. And a little bit of rain at O'Hare prevented us from landing? Rain. Not snow, not hail, not an impending apocalypse. Rain.
Anyway, I didn't get in to Chicago until after 10. i had a new flight (and new airline) the next morning at 6. Not much time, but time enough to get to Gibson's Steakhouse, where I drank a good cold Manhattan to ease my seething rage at the airline and dug into a 30 oz. bone-in ribeye. I still left with a doggy bag the size of a normal steak.
Boy, that meat was good. Nothing like it here. Nothing. Sorry. I wish there were. That was a steak to remember, perfect char on the outside, EXACTLY medium-rare inside, great marbling, sitting in a pool of jus, and with a small dish of horseradish sauce on the side.
I got two hours of sleep, and felt like a zombie going through O'Hare, and was out of rhythm all day yesterday — but it was worth it.
They all have them; I can't think of a Thai place that doesn't, actually.
Anyway, a good point — and I couldn't agree with you more.
Speaking, of course, as a farang … : )
That's what a lot of the restaurateurs say, and there was a City Paper story on this a while back.
But that piece, and that explanation, only go so far.
Only a certain class of restaurants have serious wine lists — the kind of lists that let connoisseurs know that the restaurant means to be a player.
What about mom n pops? What about ethnic spots? Virginia is killing the close-in Maryland suburbs — particularly Bethesda — here too.
You mean to tell me wine has something to do with that? Uh uh.
You don't need great wine to have a good or great restaurant. A lot of good places have only decent lists. It can be done.
Jaleo? That was years ago. The chains are chains — which is to say, you can find those in any big city. Grapeseed and Black's both remodeled, but haven't improved (unless you believe that the upgrades to the spaces have made dining at these places a significantly richer experience).
A "small but good step" was the opening, a couple of years ago, of David Craig Bethesda. An independent, chef-driven restaurant that was determined to turn out soulful, simple, personal cooking in a simple, cozy space.
Craig started off beautifully, then tapered, then shuttered last year.
Was it the market that could not support it? Was it Craig running hot and cold? I don't know.
What I do know is that places like these are in too short a supply, and that Craig's failure does not augur well for the future of Bethesda when it comes to small independents.
I'm off to get a bite.
Be well, eat well, and let's do it again next week at 11 …
Gibson's prime beef? Dry aged? organic? Grass fed? TIA
Gibson's … prime, corn-fed, and as far as I know, not organic.
And absolutely special.
I prefer grass-fed, by the way, with things like hanger steak, but if we're talking about a porterhouse or a ribeye, I tend to come down on the side of corn-fed.
(Sorry, Michael Pollan)
(missing you, TEK … )