Tuesday, May 12 at 11 AM

Todd chatted about Ray's Hell Burger, where to get good banh mi, and good late-night spots.

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 May 5.

Follow Todd on Twitter!

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The Current List: Where I'd Spend My Own Money

Komi, DC
Nava Thai Noodle & Grill, Wheaton
Honey Pig BBQ, 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
Vidalia, DC
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
La Sirenita, Riverdale
Sushi Taro, DC
Hollywood East Cafe on the Blvd., Wheaton
Sushi Sono, Columbia

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Washington, DC
Are there any places in the city that have decent banh mi?

I wish.

You've gotta head into Virginia. I love the ones at Nhu Lan and Song Que in the Eden Center. There's also a pretty good one at Banh Mi DC Sandwich on Rte. 50 near the Graham Center.

Be great to get a good banh mi place in DC or in the close-in Maryland suburbs. Used to be a good place in Adelphi, but it's gone now.

Any banh mi spottings you want to report, chatters? 

Springfield, VA

We(husband & I)are loyal followers of the chat and your other writings for the Washingtonian, keep doing what you are doing DC needs you.

This is my 1st time writing in. As you are such a huge Ravi fan I think you need to let the folks know about Ravi Kabob III that recently opened in Springfield (Brookfield Plaza on Backlick Road).

After reading so much about I & II we were so psyched that to have one only 10 minutes from home. Already,we've been in about 4-5times for dinner on various nights, weekend/weeknight and the food is as wonderful as you & others reported.

Menu is the same as Ravi I & II. The chicken tikka (bone-in,the only way to go), and karahi dishes are great but I want to put in a plug for the veggie dishes. I know,veggies at a kabob house! But trust me they truly hold their own with their meaty breathren. We all know about the channa but, don't miss the okra curry on Tuesdays (I bet it can convert an okra hater or 2), the squash on Fridays or the spinach on the weekend (a really great version of aloo palak).

The okra and squash are done with lots of onions and tomatoes and like lots of Ravi's dishes the flavors & heat are deceptive, they build as you continue to eat. The place is small and the decor is bare bones but, hey it's about the food and the people who are providing it.

The gentlemen who manage the RIII are in the right business, the love shows. I don't know their names but the younger of the 2 we have encounterd has been particularly friendly & welcoming (usually we are the only ones not of the "community") and he has an amazing memory. No matter how busy the place has been, and we have seen it jumping, he seems to remember every order exactly the way requested. We we were remembered as repeaters after just 2 visits.

You should wander over to Springfield to see if Ravi III measures up to Ravi I & II in your book and then add it to your list of where to spend your own $. I know it is where we are willing to spend ours. Along with Pho 495 on Commerce Street, check them out one of these days.

Oh, I will. You can be sure of that.

And thanks for the thorough report.

The owners are Mohammad Afzal and Abdul Alnoor. We profiled them in Best Bites in the magazine a couple of issues back.

One of the secrets at Ravi is the 18-hour marinade. They're also very, very consistent. The owners are very hands-on.

Interestingly, the men contend that what you get, here, at their shops is better than what you'd find from a similar shop in Peshawar, in Pakistan, where they're from.

Ray’s Hell Burger…
Worth the hype?

Are you asking if, after the Leader of the Free World makes a visit, the place can justify the extraordinary level of scrutiny and skepticism that you are going to bring to a simple little burger? And most likely, after waiting a long, long time in line with others whose hopes have been raised high, high, high?

Probably not.

But it's a really, really good burger. Easily the best of the crop of burger spots in town now, and, as I said more than a year ago, the best burger I've eaten that doesn't cost $29. 

crofton md

Tried Carpaccio, the new place in Annapolis, and was more than a little disappointed – 'grilled' vegetables never got within a mile of a grill, the breadbasket contained squishy wedges of cold, leftover pieces and lousy rolls.

Plus the fact that both veggies and breadsticks tasted commercial – no better than you can buy at your local supermarket.

So..what do you think about that? The high-class part are the menu prices!

I'm with you.

There are places that I sincerely want to see ride out the difficult times, and then there are others, like Carpaccio, that I wish would fold up the tent and go home, now.

No love. No passion. I can't understand the hordes of customers they appear to be getting. Unless it's all about the monstrous portions.

(Monstrous portions + Italian food + Sinatra/Martin/Clooney = downturn survivor, in the minds of a lot of restaurateurs these days.)

Where to begin? … Lots of what appear to be jarred ingredients … rolls that I would bet came frozen and were baked … "grilled" veggies that aren't … sauces that haven't been reduced enough (you can still taste too much of a tang of wine in them).

Add to that a mostly clueless staff that I'm not sure understands the meaning of "fresh" or "homemade," and you have a dispiriting dining experience.

And not cheap, as you say.

Vienna, VA

The Obamas hometown restaurants – better to look at restaurants created by Lettuce Entertain You (www.leye.com)- a Chicago based restaurant concept company.

A few weeks ago I was in Wildfire at Tysons II and there was a Secret Service surrounding a middle aged African American woman with a small child (not the Obamas). perhaps a dry run for a future visit. They also created maggiano's , Mon Ami Gabi , Big Bowl and other restaurants

Really?

Anyway, I'd be surprised if the Obamas ended up eating there.

I think they have shown themselves to be very aware of the importance of symbolism, as evidenced by their intriguing high-low eating-out choices (exquisite fine-dining and neighborhood joints) and their announcement of the Alice Waters-approved garden. I kind of doubt they'd make an appearance at a chain.

 

dc

Mr. K,

Three dive restaurants/bars that serve the best food after 11:00 pm that the restaurant community go to? booz is cheap food is cheaper.

New Big Wong in Chinatown. The chefs like the live fish in the tanks. 

Bistrot du Coin, in Dupont Circle. Good, cheap wines, mussels, fries, etc. 

Timberlakes, which is gone, used to be the other big cheap, fun dive where you'd see chefs — well, cooks — hanging out.

Rockville, MD

Hi Todd,

Love the chats AND your dining recommendations…most of the time. I've read so many times in the past about how good Bob's Noodle 66 is, so I decided to try it this weekend for lunch.

My date and I only made it to the soup course before we finally gave up–paid and left. The service was appalling, and….how do I say this…I was led to believe that it was because of my ethnicity (aka., my date and I are not Taiwanese). Being in a situation where we are the only non-Chinese in a restaurant has NEVER felt awkward for us, but here it most certainly did.

Normally I can handle rude waitstaff, but having menus ripped out of my hands, not being offered any drinks, and having our waitress completely forget about us as she sat at the table next to us eating was too much for me. I am not being paranoid and I only write this b/c I am sorry to see this type of thing happen at an establishment that has such a good reputation for their food. Wish I could have stuck it out b/c the soup was great…but it was NOT worth the hassle for me.

I'm not unsympathetic to what you say — I think we've all been in situations where we are inexplicably ignored and it winds up ruining an otherwise good meal.

But I just don't think you can know that you were ignored because of your ethnicity.

It's funny; I hear this complaint quite a bit, actually. Seldom if ever by email or letter, almost always on the downlow at parties or functions. And it's almost always from someone of the paler persuasion.

I taught for seven years at Howard University, where I was one of only a few whites on campus, and I also went to graduate school at a women's college, where I was one of only a few men on campus. So I think I know a little something about being on the outside, looking in.

I think a lot of people who are used to being the majority — never having to think about their skin, or their culture –are actually pretty paranoid when they are thrust into situations where they suddenly notice that they stand out. They internalize how they feel they're being perceived.

I'd be willing to be that this is one of those situations. 

I will say that I've had times at Bob's where service was brusque or even gruff, but never to the extent that it dominated my experience of eating there.

And ordinarily, I cut a place like this a little slack, since English isn't a first language and the primary responsibility of the staff is to take care of its core clientele. 

Ballston, VA

Which strip club ahs the best food?

Todd, I miss the Arlington Grill and their killer clubs and other sandwiches and the great girls. Does MR Landrum realize his liquor license from the VA ABC grandfathers in live entertainment w/ pasties and tbars.

Why am I answering this?

When I was writing my column at the City Paper, one of the editorial assistants found an ad for a place in Crystal City, I think it was, that had just been singled out (by Playboy?) as having some of the best food of any strip club in America.

I thought it might make for a fun read, to go out there and have a look, as it were.

I floated the idea by my editor at the time, a woman, who said something to the effect of: over my dead body.

I pressed the point, and she said, Sure. Fine. Go ahead. As long as you take your wife with you.

And that, as they say, was that.

So, to answer your question: No, sorry, I am ignorant as to the culinary worth of the various strip club buffets that this fine metropolitan area abounds in.

Arlington, VA
So if I run a redneck Bbq joint I can take care of the core clientele and blow off African Americans, Asians and Latinos. Please thats an excuse that doesn't work in reverse.

The problem with what you're saying, and it's the case with many (not all, but many) claims of reverse discrimination from whites: it's not a symmetrical thing, as you're arguing. It's asymmetrical. Most things having to do with race and ethnicity are.

(Plus, in this area, why wouldn't African Americans make up a part of the core of your audience if the food is barbecue?)

Note, please, that I didn't say it was okay to "blow off" a customer. I don't think that's ever okay.

I may have been stretching the point, but I think if you talk to any restaurant owner, and they're being honest with you, they will tell you that they give more and better service to their regulars. Why? Simple. The regulars show up more often. They spend more money. 

arlington va
is there no cheap eat in the dc area worth going to? I'm meeting my dad in the city for dinner tonight and I'm looking for a decently priced (preferably ethnic) place and i can't come up with anything on your "lists" that peaks my interest. am i gonna have to drag him out to arlington and go to Ravi Kabob or El Pollo Rice?

Take him to Zorba's Cafe, right above the Dupont Circle metro.

One of my favorite spots in the city. Has been for 25 years, now. Good, honest Greek food, hearty portions, good prices. (Don't miss the chickpea salad.) And, if it's nice, you can sit at one of the umbrella-topped tables on the patio outside and watch the passing parade.

Or, a second option — Malaysia Kopitiam, a few blocks south, on M St.

Annapolis, MD
Todd – when is cheap eats coming out? Any surprises or newcomers in the mix??

It'll be out in a couple of weeks.

The big surprise: We've got 31 new places on the list.

That's almost a 1/3 turnover from last year. 

I think this says a lot about the area, a lot about how competitive things are. I hope it also tells you how seriously we take this, and how hard we work. Our philosophy is: Every year, places have to earn their right to remain on the list. We don't believe in sinecures, here.

Alexandria, VA

I recently dined at Rasika and enjoyed the food very much…the service however was an entirely different story.

Our waitress asked if it was our first time to the restaurant, it was, then she immediately went into what felt like a ten minute spiel about the entire menu. This was completely unsolicited and really my dining companion and I just wanted a chance to look over the menu ourselves and get a cocktail.

Throughout the night I observed her subjecting almost every single one of her tables to the same excruciating speech and yet I noticed that none of the other servers in the near by tables was doing the same. So this was clearly her thing.

For me personally I don't enjoy going out to what I expect to be a fine dining restaurant and then to get some spiel as if I was dining at Applebees.

This really is a little bit of a rant but the service could not have been more lackluster, repetitive, and impersonal. I'm curious as to what your take is on the situation.

I don't recalling ever being treated to a spiel like that at Applebee's. Or Rasika.

Where you tend to find these have-you-dined-with-us-before monologues, ironically, is at high-minded, expensive restaurants like Rasika, Restaurant Eve, Per Se, etc.

You get them, because the restaurants want you to know just how much detail and thought goes into eating there. Some people like this; some don't. I tend to think a little goes a long way, particularly with dish description, and that, in general, a restaurant should let you discover its charms, on your own, and at your own particular pace. 

How great would it be to come across a restaurant that puts out exquisite (and exacting) food, but that doesn't feel the need to tell you all about every last ingredient that went into the dishes, or every thoughtful touch you're about to get, and doesn't seem to be holding its collective breath throughout dinner — a restaurant that is the equivalent of DiMaggio* in center. Brilliant, seemingly effortless, and utterly unselfconscious.

A restaurant that seems to say: This? No big deal.

Which would — would it not? — make everything it did seem like an even bigger deal.

 

 

* In light of Gene Weingarten's column on Sunday, about outdated references from middle-aged columnists mystifying and turning off younger readers**, I should point out, here, that Joe DiMaggio was a legendary centerfielder for the Yankees and the subject of a Simon and Garfunkel*** song.

** Really? The reason young people are turning away from newspapers is because of column references they don't get and not, oh, I don't know — the Web? … And have we devolved that much, that younger people today can't be expected to do what younger people before them did — i.e., read up on the things they didn't understand, in an effort to understand them — and are right to demand only contemporary references?

*** A folk-rock duo from the '60s.

Arlington

Mr Kliman,

I follow your chats and blogs with great passion. I followed your blog about the confirmed reopening of Galileo Retaurant couple of weeks ago.

I also read all the comments posted in regard: It seems to me chef Donna is not as popular and welcomed in Washington as it used to be given the very espressive and quite sharp comments that have followed your post I also learned from a source that he is lacking of financial backing and has difficulties in reopening.

I hear he will never reopen Galileo….did he sleep with the Mayor's wife or something ? Why does everybody dislike him now?

Actually, he's supposed to be returning to action in the next year with a new version of Galileo. When, is the question.

Is he disliked?

I don't know about that. I think he has a lot of fans, actually.

If there is animus, I think a lot of it has to do with what kind of place Bebo turned out to be.

I have heard from many, many people who had abominable experiences there, and who left feeling not just disappointed but dejected. I was one of them.

Too bad, too, because the food could be good. But not consistently good. And the fact is, no amount of good food at good prices can make up for the feeling that I and many others, evidently, got while we were there. 

 

DC

Hey Todd.

I was treated to dinner at the Source on Saturday. Wow! What a meal. It's at the top of my list at the moment. We went as a group of four – everyone ordered a different appetizer and a different entree and we tasted a bit of each.

My question is, under those circumstances, would it make sense to order the tasting menu? I figure that we tasted 8 servings and probably spent about 1/2 the money.

Our neighboring tables ordered the tasting menu and it looked great but I'm not sure the cost/benefit is worth it considering not only the price differential but also the inability to chose your selections.

I think you do better in a situation like that with a la carte.

With a tasting menu, everybody at the table is obliged to order the same pre-set lineup of dishes, limiting your options — and eliminating the chance of sharing.

I like tasting menus best when you want to be on the same page with like-minded, adventurous diners, and go through a meal, slowly, together.

Columbia Heights, DC

Hi, Todd. Big fan, longtime reader, and sometime chat-controversy instigator here.

I'm getting married Sunday and am stumped about where to take the family for brunch on Monday morning. Any suggestions, preferably in the metro-accessible D.C. area, since some will not have cars?

We like all kinds of food, but finding breakfast on a weekday is tough. All I can think of is The Diner (eh). If you could recommend something good in the $10-$15/person range (excluding drinks), that would be great! Thanks for your help!

Congratulations!

But boy oh boy, you're going to have a hard time finding a brunch on Monday in that price-range.

The Four Seasons does a good and varied breakfast, but of course it's going to cost you. Cafe du Parc is more reasonably priced, but I'm not sure it's going to have the spread you're looking for. 

Soon-to-be newlywed, I've got your email address, which I cut from the bottom of your question, and I'm going to throw this open to anybody out there who has a place in mind that I simply can't come up with right now and ask them to email me: tkliman@washingtonian.com

I'll email you if I hear of anything good.  

Thanks for asking, and try to enjoy yourself this weekend.

I'm off to lunch — a surprise, since I hit two restaurants in succession last night for dinner (a story for next week) and didn't think I'd be able to eat again for another day …

Be well, everyone — eat well — and let's do it again next week at 11 …

Didn't get your question answered? Submit in advance to Todd's chat next Tuesday, May 19 at 11 AM. 

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