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 21.
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
Someone last week mentioned chopsticks being removed from Thai restaurants in the area. Rice on the 14th Street Corridor does not offer chopsticks, just an FYI in response to your loyal reader.
I wonder, though: do they do that in the name of authenticity?
Rice doesn't seem a stickler so much for the authentic. Sorry — I've never really been a fan. (And it doesn't all just come down to authenticity, either.)
By the way, a reader prompts me to add, from last week — it's customary in Thailand to eat with a fork and spoon, not a fork and knife.
Heard about it? I first wrote about it, right here, last October.
You're keeping up with your magazines — but are you keeping up with your chats?
I like the place. Some things, in particular — like the sausages and the ceviche. Both are terrific.
I recently found out that I had food allergies and have found that some restaurants are extremely accommodating, while others simply refuse to serve me. I am wondering what your advice would be to handle this situation, especially since a lot more people are being diagnosed with food allergies, but still love going out to eat!
For example, Poste used to be one of my favorite places to go and I would always recommend it; however, a couple of months ago I went and ordered fish, which they were out of and I couldn't eat much else on the menu. I ordered another kind of fish and asked for it without the sauce and the waiter came back and told me that the chef refused to modify his recipe.
It was nine thirty on a Saturday night and although I was starving and my out of town guests ordered dinner, I was only able to eat a side of vegetables. I had no idea what to say and only know I will never go back!
Thanks for writing. It's a good question, a more and more pertinent question.
I think the best thing you can do is, if you know you're going to be eating out that night, to call the restaurant that afternoon and talk to a manager and/or talk to the chef.
If you give them notice, and give them time, they can put together a dish or dishes for you that will abide by your particular rules.
Menus aren't generally written with people with allergies in mind, but that's not to say that chefs and restaurants don't want your business. And many of them I think would be very willing to accommodate you, so long as they have time to do it. It's hard to make changes on the fly.
Curious — anyone else out there with allergies or other conditions that make eating out tough? How do you manage?
Love your chats. Sorry about your father; being Vietnamese, I will definitely try Present to honor your last meal with your father.
Onto my question. My birthday is May 11 and I usually have to share my birthday with final exams, proms, graduations, and Mother's Day (I was actually born on Mother's Day). I've gotten used to it, and this year, I want to enjoy a lovely brunch Sunday, May 10, as my birthday meal but is seems like places were already booked as of Easter.
I didn't have this problem last year so I was surprised. The restaurant on top of the Kennedy Center booked, and I'm kicking myself for not reserving Georgie Brown's a year in advance (I really want to try their brunch). So, any suggestions on a good to great brunch place, preferably buffet, that won't break the bank? Citronelle is lovely and I hear the Ritz at Tyson's is amazing, but neither are a reality for my pocketbook. Already did Texas de Brazil for Easter. If not buffet, just a damn good brunch in general would do the trick. Thanks for the help in advance!
I don't know what's booked up and what's still available.
But if I were you, here are a few of the places I'd look into — Black Market Bistro, Poste, Jackie's, Blue Duck, Tabard Inn.
And both Poste and Tabard do fresh donuts. If that sort of thing matters to you. And why wouldn't it?
I'm also told by a very reliable source — I haven't gone there for the brunch — that Volt's is marvelous.
(By the way, I'm touched by your planned tribute to my father.)
I would like to treat a "foodie" friend to a birthday meal at a special sushi place. Would you recommend Makoto or Kotobuki? Thank you!
You know, I'm going to say neither. Kotobuki I like very, very much — but it's not a place I think of as a treat, a special place. And Makoto is good, sometimes very good, but not nearly what it was many years ago. It's also cramped quarters, and very, very expensive.
What I would do is, I would take your friend to the new Sushi-Ko in Chevy Chase. I had a terrific meal there recently. There are some wonderful fish picks each day to consider (we had a yellowtail belly, as well as a young yellowtail, and one of the best spot prawns I've ever had).
What I like about Sushi-Ko, and what some don't, is the slenderness, the delicacy, of the nigiri. It's one bite. A perfect, almost dainty bite. And nothing comes apart. The rice, too, is beautifully prepared and seasoned — no mushy grains, no starchy chewiness.
They've put together a really neat wine list over there, too — very unusual for a sushi restaurant. There's a crispy and fruity godello from Telmo Rodriguez for about $30, and a white Burgundy from Shaps & Rocher-Sarrazin for about $50. (Michael Shaps is a winemaking consultant in France and Virginia, and has his own label. You can sometimes find his bottles in parts of Virginia. He makes a fantastic Petit Verdot.)
They also appear to have ditched the Euro techno on the soundtrack, a good call, without sacrificing a buzz in the room.
Virginia? As if you all don't have everything you could possibly want to eat right there at your fingertips already!
Maryland, my Maryland, is being left in the lurch when it comes to ethic eats. The number, the variety … It's too bad.
I would guess, if owner Bob Liu does go ahead and open the dumpling place he'd talked to me about, he'd do it in Maryland — and likely in or around Rockville, since Bob's Noodle 66, his flagship, is there.
A terrific place, by the way, if anyone out there hasn't been. You could eat there every week for a year and probably not exhaust all the possibilities.
Actually, I should take a moment to mention this — since your question got me thinking about the differences between Virginia and Maryland …
I'm going to be on the Kojo Nnamdi show tomorrow (WAMU) at noon for a special segment on Prince George's County and restaurants. It's a subject I'd broached many, many months ago with Kojo, and I'm glad we're finally able to talk about it — he and I are both interested in all the many complexities and ironies therein.
Michael Landrum and Gillian Clark are both expected to join us. It should be good listening.
You have your chance, right here. It's a public forum. Anything goes.
If you're reluctant to be so very public, you can always just send me an email — email@example.com
Can you give a glimpse of what we might find on your newest edition of Cheap Eats? Any new places that I can get a jump on trying?
And steal my thunder, as they say in radio??
Tell you what. Just one. And just because I see that you're in Gaithersburg. (Also because I made mention of the place a couple of weeks ago … )
Burma Road. Right in your own backyard.
I think it's the very best of a good crop of Burmese restaurants in the area. I'm not crazy about their rendition of ShweJi, the cream of wheat cake (Mandalay's is sublime), but there's not much else about the place I don't like.
There's a bowl of jumbo shrimp in a tomato-and-onion curry that's terrific. There are four noodle dishes, and they're wonderful, too — one preparation, in particular: with chiii sauce, cilantro, and sliced onions. Served at room temperature, and absolutely addicting.
Salads are the main event, really, at a Burmese restaurants — very intricate, complexly layered arrangements of flavors. (The word "salad," as we think of it in the West, is really a kind of misnomer in this case.) And the ones here are just fantastic. Go for the ginger salad and the tea leaf salad. (I'm salivating, just now, thinking of the tea leaf salad.)
Can you help me out a little?
What kinds of foods does your husband like? What kinds of places do you and he prefer to be in (even at the special occasion level, there are varying degrees of formality). You're in Maryland — are you willing to eat in DC or venture into Virginia?
I can recommend Komi, which I think is the most special of all the special restaurants in the city, but I know people who wouldn't be perfectly happy there. They think the room is too Spartan. They're more inclined to gravitate to a more formal kind of service. And sharing — because sharing is so much a part of eating here — is not their cup o' tea. Even if it means missing out on the superlative roast baby pig or roast goat.
Goat. There's another one. For some, that's the end of the conversation. (I was at a party once, and someone asked if I had any recommendations for a great and special dinner out. I mentioned Komi. She said what kind of food. I told her about the goat, and before I had even gone into the glories of the skin, or the lusciousness of the meat, she put up her hand like a crossing guard.)
Re a fixed price menu. It depends. For a big occasion, it can be fun. Everybody at the table eats the same thing, and you work your way together through a series of courses.
On the other hand, I know a lot of people who are frustrated by these menus, because they like to share and experience a wider variety of tastes.
Glad to hear that you are going to be on Kojo Nnamdi show. We love KOJO. Take out some more time and talk about DC as well – not just Prince George's please please please……
Just to clarify — this isn't going to be about what's new and what's tasty and where you should eat this weekend.
It's a special topic sort of segment, and Kojo's budgeted an hour, so we can explore some of the thorny issues here. Money, race, demographics, history, class, etc.
And we'll be turning the lens of the microscope on, I hope, the politicians, the developers, the restaurateurs, the residents, etc.
We recently went to Bombay Bistro in Rockville had their Mussels – it was one of the best mussels that I have had in the washington metropolitan area – it even beats the one served at Marcels… IMO it is worth the trip to go for mussels and garlic naan.
Thanks for the tip.
And it reminds me that I need to get back to Bombay Bistro for dinner sometime soon.
I'd LOVE to hear more live jazz at restaurants.
Or soul music. Or soul-jazz. But not smooth jazz — I'd sooner eat in front of a construction site.
Here's the thing, though … I can't think of any places I'd suggest you go. The Wine Kitchen in Leesburg recently had a singer out front doing standards, but other than that, I'm drawing a blank.
The Wine Kitchen, by the way, is unexpectedly good, I just wanted to point out. I know it's a haul for a lot of you, but it makes for a good weekend day trip.
They've got a killer rendition of chicken and waffles — with a beautifully fried quail in the role of the chicken. It comes flanked by two thin waffles, and sits atop a drizzle of wonderful caramel bacon gravy.
The croque monsieur is almost as good — one of the best ham and cheese sandwiches around right now.
They're also serving an excellent watercress-potato soup. The flavors are clean and pure, not at all gunked up by butter or cream.
And the wines. No bottle more than sixty bucks, and many in the thirty-dollar range. And they do half-tastes as well as full glasses. I loved seeing that they're pouring a Barboursville Octagon, not to mention a Norton, also from Virginia.
The big drawback is size. Four tables for two, two tables around the bar, and a communal table for ten.
Going to Poste, in the Monaco, for dinner tonight. What can't be missed? and what can be over-looked? Thanks!
Really, there's not much there that should be sidestepped.
I really like the slow-cooked egg with haricot verts they're doing right now, as a starter. The kampachi, a standby, is always good: light, bright, clean. The tartare, with brioche — a kind of wink-wink rendition of a mini burger — is also good.
Rob Weland, the chef, excels with his soups, and I'd probably give a long look to the sunchoke veloute or whatever else they've got on the current menu. It's Spring, so there might be a nice, cold soup. Last year's gazpacho was terrific.
Two of my favorite main courses — and these are dishes that have been on the menu for as long as Weland has been there — are the crispy-skinned wild bass (with a red-wine poached egg that you pierce, and let the juice run down the sides and into the sauce, a beurre noisette) and the roast chicken.
Couple days ago, after a good movie and soaking wet we walked into this stunning new place in the Rockville town center area called SpiceXing. Todd, you have to eat the Kathi Roll and Scallops there…..YUMMY.
For a family of five we had three Apps and four Entrees. We had to order bread separately which is my pet peeve at most Indian restaurants; at least this place served unlimited rice with the food. Lot of interesting dishes on the menu, would need to go there to try some more of them.
The only miscue was the Kulfi which my eldest son loves but they were out of it. Pretty good wine list and thankful to note that lot of them are by the glass. Overall a satisfying evening of excellent food and gracious service (though it could be polished a little more). Mind you this is a new place and they were quite full at 8.15 pm.
I've been, and I like it. A lot.
Oddly, not crazy about the kathi roll here, but so much else that I ate was spot-on.
The prices, the decor, the level of detail in the food … This has the makings of one of the best new restaurants to open in 2009.
How about a mini-list of where you would spend your own money to eat outdoors… Thanks!
Hm. Let's see ..
Zorba's Cafe, Pupatella, Poste's patio, the rooftop of Perry's for sushi, Cafe du Parc … That's a start, anyway.
Cash payments, huh?
So you're suggesting that there's a kind of payola involved?
I don't know. And every county has its obstacles.
The fact is, there are more things going on here than just permits and schmoozing.
I would love to have you amplify on the discussion about food allergies.
I have a fairly common alergy – peanuts – yet dining out can be a real challenge. Despite my best efforts to alert the restaurant, I have gotten sick on numerous occasions. It does get frustrating, especially if you like to eat out regularly.
Thanks for chiming in.
I hear this again and again, and it's a shame.
The one thing that you can do to ensure the best possible experience is to contact the restaurant well in advance and see what they can put together for you.
Otherwise, they're in the heat of dinner and they're rushing and they don't have time to think through what might be in every dish that could derail you.
That's a pain to make that call, I realize, but so is getting sick.
We visited Sei last Friday night, we love sushi and wanted to check out the more contemporary edge it presented on it's menu. They have done well with the "sexy" dining room– it had a fun vibe and was certainly a busy place at 7 on a Friday.
I was pleased to see how focused the menu was, fearing some sort of pan-Asian noodle / sushi / soup ensemble, and liked the clearly well-thought out blend of small plates and creative sushi– everything on that menu appeared to be intentionally chosen and had made the cut.
The service was spot-on, almost a bit eerily so for a Friday night, as our server was there every moment we needed her, filling water, checking on us, etc. For a new place it was very impressive.
That same quality persisted through the food, when the apps came maybe 3 minutes after ordering, and the sushi came another 10 minutes after that. On a busy Friday night at a new restaurant? Someone is organized. The sushi was lovely– well balanced and fun, the "fish and chips" roll better than I thought it would be (I pictured a fish finger in a roll– it was raw and tangy and balanced well with the wasabi mayo). The vegetarian sundried tomato roll was savory and had a nice chew to it– one of the more creative and better sushi rolls I have had.
We were done with that when the kitchen came by with an "extra" entree of fish for us to try, followed by the much-raved-about tofu steak which was kind of "eh" if you already know how good tofu can really be. Nice presentation, very pretty food, strong, balanced, often risky flavors.
There were some downsides, some which will inevitably be worked out. The dining room was noisy– I mean really, really noisy– and I have never complained about noise before since I like the buzz in busy places. But my throat hurt when I left from yelling, and we were only a party of 2.
The biggest complaint I had was the pacing– they were way too efficient. We wanted to go out to dinner, and we had a couple of apps, 3 sushi rolls, a gift from the kitchen (which was lovely and very thoughtful), and a hot small plate, all delivered in succession, and we were out of there by 7:45 for a 7pm reservation. In the future I would request a more leisurely pace.
Nice review, Cheverly.
I'm a fan of the food at Sei, too, and, yes, you're so right — the fish and chips roll sounds like a disaster but is actually quite good, one of the better rolls on the menu.
(The only big whiff, in my experience, is the steamed pork buns. The sushi compares favorably with some of the better places in the city.)
You talk about the working out of the downsides. I'm not sure. The noise isn't going away. That's by design.
I've seen the efficient pacing, too, and I don't think that's going to be worked out. I think that's the style. They're in Penn Quarter, and like a lot of places there, they're accustomed to turning over tables quickly because that's what the customers on their way to games and plays and concerts need.
Now, technically, the news was broken on the tweet I sent out on Saturday afternoon via Twitter …
But yes, you can read all the latest about Roberto Donna and Galileo's much-delayed return to DC in Rina Rapuano's piece on the web, up right now.
What, Noodles & Co. not good enough for you? : )
I agree. And especially with so many people cutting back these days.
What I wouldn't give for a good bowl of noodles right about now — rice noodles … some grilled pork on top … julienne of carrots … a little fish sauce …
Unfortunately, though, I'm not going to be venturing into Virginia today … but Present, Four Sisters, Minh's, Huong Viet — all have the very good goods.
And all deserve your support.
Eat well, everyone, be well — and let's do it again next week at 11.
And be sure to tune in to Kojo tomorrow on WAMU at noon for the special segment on Prince George's and restaurants …
Submit your question in advance to Todd's chat next Tuesday, May 5 at 11 AM.
( thinking of you, TEK … )