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.
Looking for a Mothers' Day Brunch? Check out our guide.
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 28.
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
Producer's Note: Due to some technological difficulties, Todd's chat will be slightly delayed today. Hold tight…
That's all the time Todd has for today. Submit your question in advance to Todd's chat next Tuesday, May 12 at 11 AM.
Oh, sure. McDonald's isn't doing a brunch. Wendy's isn't. Popeyes …
I hear ya.
But no, it's not as if everybody is doing a brunch. I don't think Jaleo is, for instance. Most of the mom n pops and independents and ethnic spots aren't.
Who else isn't –?
I think either Taberna del Alabardero or Teatro Goldoni could work for you.
The first: Spanish, formal, Old World, with elegant but rusticky cooking and good wines. The second: modern Italian, inventive kitchen, cheesy soundtrack, circus-themed decor, tending-to-stuffy service, decent wines.
When I was reading that Post Magazine article on “self-appointed restaurant critics and food commentators,” I thought back to a moment this weekend when I was at the gym.
I should have been stretching my hamstrings, splayed out on a yoga mat, but I was distracted by several TVs showing different cable sports highlights. And when I saw those, I couldn’t help but wonder, “Why do we spend so much time, passion, money on watching sports?”
More cynically – or perhaps more idealistically – I then thought, “Why is it that we don’t seek the thrill of watching competition with something significant and positive at stake? Why don’t they televise, say, rival scientific labs researching cures for cancer?”
The answers of course leap to mind quickly and are fairly straightforward. But I think they’re worth looking at, especially in light of the Post Magazine article.
First, watching scientists cure cancer would take much too long. It would be too boring for a viewing audience with all of its expectations (like quick-cutting angles, or interesting visuals paired with a dynamic soundtrack) and limitations (like impatience, superficiality, and often lack of expertise, education, or otherwise rigorous qualifications to comment, let alone understand).
Next, mainstream society already DOES make sport out of tracking high-stakes, worthy-outcomes competitions like curing killer diseases. We call it the stock market. For a motivation even more dubious than entertainment – namely, riches – we already pay rapt attention to laboratory developments across various divisions, conferences, and leagues that we call genetic engineering labs, pharmaceutical companies, stem cell research facilities.
Cynicism aside: there is a very small percentage of the population who follow the cancer-curers like fans with an avid interest in athletes. Some might even call it a passion. Those people are the scientists – in direct battle with the diseases, or in related fields like cardiology and radiology. I personally know two doctors, one in each of those fields, who have not practiced medicine in years because they are on medical disability due to severe depression. But they keep close tabs on academic medicine by poring over research journals. They are able to advise friends on medical conditions, willing to call upon their vast experience and impressive education to delve into quite complicated matters.
Need I draw the parallels between the people tracking cancer cures and the people who spout food commentary? For the foodies who would be bored by in-depth reading and the breadth and depth of repeated tastings required of actual critics, we have the opportunities to write for (or post on) blogs – to send tweets – to convey simply our likes and dislikes. Who cares about expertise, education, or rigorous qualifications?
Substitute instead: are you good-looking enough for multimedia exposure? Are you blessed with enough leisure time and money to eat out at restaurants often? Are you young enough to have the time to start a career with the real savvy or worldly knowledge to understand how to build one? Are you glib and passionate (not necessarily about the subject matter – more likely about personalities – able to level a smackdown on the order of calling a rival blog-poster a “douchebag”)? “Yes” to two or more of those (and similar) questions means you’re new-media perfect and ready to review restaurants.
Need I compare the motivations of those tracking cancer cures on the stock market and the folks in the Post Magazine article reviewing restaurants? I’m not impressed with their insistence that they provide a service – at least, not for anybody but themselves. I wonder which they enjoy more: the free eats they garner from restaurants desperate for positive buzz . . . or the free spot in the gossip of their friends and online communities who, for some reason, are impressed with them. They’re in it to accumulate their imaginary trophies, to start amorphous new-media careers . . . they’re in it for attention.
And need I make the link for you? In science and medicine, there are true practitioners and students of knowledge. There are those steeped in the discipline, who know how to perform their passion, their obsession . . . and who also have researched it, published on it, read other students of it. (And while conflicts may arise among these devotees, the discourse is on a higher level than calling one another “douchebags.”) And there are those who are able to weave their particular passion, in a useful way (this is very important), into the larger fabric of society. With medicine, this might mean to advise the ill or to affect health policy. With food criticism, this means conversing in a meaningful way about ethnic cultures, food histories, local politics.
Thanks for writing in, Jessup.
That's a lot to chew on, and a lot of thoughtful commentary.
I think it's inevitable that a lot of people who read this chat and do their reading on the web in general are going to read this and think that you're being a fuddy-duddy, beholden to traditional media and the old ways, etc. And that's too bad.
I either have too many thoughts or I haven't come up with a thought that I care enough about, in regard to the Post piece, to respond with an equally thoughtful reply.
I'll just say I think a lot of what you say in here (not all, but a lot) is on-target. And offer this …
Information is more plentiful than ever, and in many ways that's a good thing. It's fueling the rise of the web and the downfall of newspapers, the sheer abundance of data. It's funny though, because I didn't become interested in this because I wanted to deliver information.
And it was never an interest or a goal of mine to become an insider. I prefer to remain on the outside, looking in. It's better for the writing, more interesting.
Not with all writing: some writing it's better to be on the inside, to write from within, to get into the skin of a situation. But with this kind of writing, absolutely. Outside, in.
50th Birthday in October. I'm returning to respond to your questions about what my husband likes etc.
He loves lobster, seafood, enjoys a good filet mignon, prime rib, true gourmet, appreciates great food and has a hearty appetite. Some of our favorites, Crisfelds, Tavira, Four Seasons, Mrs Ks Tollhouse. Yes, we're willing to venture out to DC as we're both native Washingtonians.
Thanks for following up, and welcome back.
Given his interests, and given the places you mention, I'd take him to Vidalia, Kinkeads or BLT Steak. All expensive, but all pretty grand.
My quick takes …
Vidalia is nominally Southern, but with a lot of French technique and with a forward-thinking, creative-minded chef. Kinkeads — a classic, and classy, seafood emporium. Great raw bar, and excellent preparations of traditional, regional American cuisine, including chowder, fried clams and crab-topped fish dishes. BLT Steak, to me, is a Frenchman's idea of an American steakhouse, where the best parts of the meal show up first: monstrous, gruyere-topped popovers and a crock of superlative chicken liver pate. The steaks are good, too — although you're roped into paying for double portions for many of them.
Easy. That'd be Etete (pronounced Tay-tay).
I think it's the best of the Ethiopian restaurants in the city, and also has the most comfortable, most stylish dining room for a nice dinner out.
(For a different kind of ambiance, I really like sitting in the cramped room at Madjet, listening to the loud talk coming from the cabbies at the bar, and picking at the heaping platters of stews, etc. Someone over there has a great sense of humor, with that "Vayyagara" dish they've got on the menu.)
We recently moved back to the area after being overseas for several years and we're looking for a great restaurant to celebrate our ten year wedding anniversary this July. Had originally planned on the Inn at Little Washington (where we went for our 1st and 2nd anniversaries) but have been told that the experience is no longer what it once was. We're feeling quite out of the loop and looking for something delicious and special.
I don't think I'd say that the Inn is no longer what it once was. I would say that for really hard-core foodies, for foodies who've been everywhere and tried everything, it's no longer as thrilling a place as it used to be. The quality is still exceptionally high, and the service is supreme (if rigorously by the book).
If you're a total package sort of diner — that is, if the food is important, but not so much more important than everything else — then go.
Otherwise … go to Komi.
It's, to me, the most exciting, most personal, most surprising, most soulful restaurant in the city right now.
Or the equally personal, surprising and soulful Palena.
Both terrific choices.
You're going to make me choose between two places I don't care much for.
I'll say Mon Ami Gabi, but mostly because it's a surer thing, more consistent.
Re: food allergies.
Sorry to hear that your reader has such a bad experience at Poste. I have life-threatening shellfish allergies (crustaceans, not mollusks), which can dining challenging. That's why I almost never get a sashimi sampler, and can't eat fish dishes with shrimp/crab/lobster sauces.
I select my meals very carefully, ask about ingredients, and I'm not afraid to send things back. Mr. Chen's made me very sick when they gave me a shrimp spring roll, despite the fact that I requested a vegetarian one. I reported them to the DC DOH for that.
Leftbank "goldplated" a rainbow roll with shrimp the one time I ate there, and the waitress tried to argue with me that the dish did not include shrimp before bringing it back to the chef. The commonality there was that neither waitress spoke English very well. I hate to sound like a xenophobe, but if you have serious food allergies I would only patronize places where the waitstaff had an impeccable command of English.
The other bad experience I had was at Oya, where again the kitchen "goldplated" an item with shrimp when it wasn't listed among the ingredients. They brought it back to me, sans shrimp, impossibly quickly, so I sent it back a second time and asked for the manager. He explained to me that it would be completely remade, and I believe he comped the item.
You don't sound like a xenophobe. It's about communication. It's about being ill or being well.
Thanks for chiming in.
I will say, again, that the best thing of all is to call ahead and try to talk with a manager or chef, regardless of the restaurant or the level of dining — make them aware of your limitations, and see what they can come up with in advance. And don't assume a language barrier, just because a restaurant is an Asian restaurant. Make the attempt. It can't hurt
In advance: it's always preferable to on the fly, in the heat of action, amid the chaos of a packed dining room.
Re: the Post magazine piece on the online blogs/message boards …
Does the increased participation of the general public in restaurant reviews lead to a greater democratization of the process and information available? Or, does this merely increase the general noise level and allow folks anonymously to promote or disparage the restuarant/chef currently in or out of foodie favor? Finally, how do professional reviewers handle the ethics of personal friendships with chefs/owners? Does this disqualify you from reviewing a restaurant?
To answer your first question — I think it does both. It's democratized things AND it's increased the noise level.
There's a lot that's out there, and much of it, now, is anonymously written. That makes corruption easy and inevitable. I think a lot of people have a few sites that they go to — for food, and for everything else — and they tend to trust the people they get to know.
Is this democratization good? I don't think it's good or bad. I think it's good and bad.
There are people who like the opening up of things, who like the chance at dialogue, etc. For me — and I'm writing as a reader, now, not a writer — for me, there are some things I like reading a wide variety of perspectives on, and some things I don't. Politics, that's in the former camp. Movies, theater, books — they're in the latter camp. If I want dialogue about a book, I'll join a book group. Otherwise, I'm content to read a couple of writers or critics and have a perfectly good discussion with them in my mind.
As far as ethics goes … I don't know what other reviewers do. I don't have friendships with chefs /owners. Again, it goes back to what I was talking about earlier — being outside, having distance.
We talked about three spots to go for al pastor tacos …
La Placita and La Sirenita — both in Little Mexico, in Bladensburg.
And Tacqueria Distrito Federal, in Columbia Heights.
What you have to understand is that the Beard restaurant and chef awards are a beauty contest, mostly. (I think it's different for the journalism and media awards.)
And many of the voters are pretty darn provincial — provincial, in the sense that they believe that New York is the center of the food world and nothing else much exists, unless it does something (you're right: a book, a show, etc.) to gain their attention. If you look, most of the major awards went to New York operations. Nothing really new there.
As for Johnny Monis … you know what? I have never met the man, I have only talked with him on the few a number of times and eaten many terrific meals at his restaurants. But I have a very strong hunch that he could give a flying fig. Really.
And that's why Komi will remain such a brilliant place to eat.
Jose Andres not winning, that's something more of a mystery, because Jose is so very much OUT THERE, all the time — a TV cooking show, the manic appearances on Conan, a book, etc.
I won't comment about Cafe Atlantico now, but I do want to say that I ate not long ago at Jaleo DC, and I was struck by something.
I hear a lot of people carp about the restaurant, for lacking this, or not being that, and you know? I think it's awfully easy to take Jaleo for granted. I had a terrific meal. There was a level of polish, a level of detail, that you used to only ever find at fine dining spots in this city. One of the things we ordered was a tiny plate of chicken. It was not even the size of a traditional appetizer, and here it was ringed with not one but two sauces. And good sauces.
The variety of choices on this menu is pretty well known by now, but Jaleo DC is also remarkably consistent.
And I want to add that the wines were excellent, including some very good whites.
We left having paid a fraction of what you'd pay at a conventional white tablecloth spot like The Palm or Ruth's Chris, etc.
Eat Bar's got 'em.
Adjacent to Tallula, in Arlington.
The buttermilk in the batter keeps them light.
One of the best deals in the city right now has to be Vidalia's 3-course lunch for $19.90. It sounds too good to be true, with the entrees alone nudging $20, but it's true!
You get the full pick of the menu, no exceptions (okay, except you can't get a sandwich– boo hoo). They offer you their amazing bread basket and onion jam, any app, entree, and any dessert. The rich chicken liver parfait with rhubarb and onion marmalade was a delight, as was the tangy shrimp and grits, and the salad with poached egg and shoat. I am always so pleased with their vegetarian selections, and the gnocchi with fresh spring peas and tendrils, fava beans and morels in a beurre blanc was no exception.
However, this time I think the desserts "took the cake". The poached plums with thyme ice cream and candied olives, the luscious pannacotta with basil paste and the 5 mini Valrhona chocolate desserts were as good as desserts can get.
Count in the friendly, impeccable service and the smile on your face when you get the check and you wonder why you don't do this at least once a week.
All this on a rainy Monday, a 2oz pour of wine or their excellent peach-ginger-lemonade and you feel like you are a very, very lucky person. —
With a deal like that, who needs Restaurant Week?
Thanks for chiming in, Cheverly. And thanks for the mouth-watering report from the field.
I'll bet it's going to be a little more crowded over there in the dining room today …
Jessup, MD makes a point, as does Rachel Maddow, Sean Hannity and countless other old media types who take too much pleasure in referring to bloggers as lazy members of a chattering class who write in their pajamas from a parent’s basement.
The point, as accurate as it may be about some, colors all new media voices with the same can of paint and with a brush that is a mile wide. I have experienced the new media markets as they pertain to restaurants as a restaurateur, a food board participant, and now as a blogger. I have met many of these people in my professional capacities, at social functions, and some I consider valued colleagues and friends. There are some people who don’t know their amusé from their chardonnay, and there are some who are incapable of crafting a coherent sentence even with Faulkner’s help. And a number of those people have a platform to voice their opinion in ways that didn’t exist a few years ago.
Still there are others who have sophisticated palates and highly engaging writing styles and distinctions should be made. There is a reasonable conversation to be held amongst reasonable people regarding the relative merits and detractions of new media in relation to restaurants. Starting that conversation with invective and accusation does little to further it.
I didn't read Jessup as someone who is full of invective and accusation. Maybe cranky. And there's nothing wrong with cranky in my book — so long as it's smart and insightful, and I think Jessup's commentary was.
Part of the conversation, as you call it, has to include perspectives like this, doesn't it? Otherwise it's just self-congratulation.
Much of what I read about new media does what you yourself just did. It paints with a broad brush, makes traditional media out to be out of touch and defensive, etc., and champions itself as the new way, the inevitable thing.
The web has brought about some great things, and there are bloggers who have something to contribute, and sites that have some real worth, and that's all good.
I think perspective, the long view, is necessary, though. And skepticism is necessary. And taking a hard, scrutinizing look at what we have lost, in addition to what we have gained, is necessary.
I can't speak as to how the Inn at Little Washington once was, but I can talk about my experience there 3 weeks ago.
My partner treated me to a night at the inn for a milestone birthday, and overall it was one of the most wonderful, sumptuous experiences of my life.
The food was very well-prepared and delicious, but I've definitely had better meals elsewhere such as at Komi, CityZen, maybe even the Source…and further afield, like Babbo.
What it comes down to is what you're looking for: a purely gustatory experience, or the whole crazy show you get at the Inn. If I only went for dinner, I might not think it was worth the money/effort.
And while I don't know what my partner splurged to give me my night out of town, I do know that I thought highly enough of the experience to offer to return the favor on his next milestone…
That's a popular industry term, everyone. "Amateur night."
It means that if you dine out on weekends, like most people do, you're an amateur. It means that if you don't know a great deal about food and food preparation and have a narrow range of interests as a diner, you're an amateur.
The dirty little secret: Restaurants don't much like amateurs.
They tolerate them. Don't much like them.
They'd prefer foodies. And particularly, foodies with expensive tastes and big budgets and the power and flexibility to become regulars.
And here we are again … back to insiders and outsiders …
Gotta run and fix a flat …
Be well, everyone, eat well and let's do it again next week at 11 …