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 19.
The Current List: Where I'd Spend My Own Money
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
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
China Bistro, Rockville
Sushi Sono, Columbia
If I did my homework this far in advance of its due date, I would have fulfilled my mother's dream of being a lawyer!
Pho Hong Anh is the name of the Aspen Hill pho shop from last week. Fried chicken wings are nice, the iced tea funky and rich and the pho is as good as any I have had in VA.
Nice. You made it back.
And so timely, too!
Funky and rich iced tea, huh? Wonder what that would taste like.
I'd like to hear your opinion of Blue Ridge, the new restaurant being talked about in Georgetown.
Sorry, I don't have one. It hasn't opened yet.
Be kind of silly of me to spout off earnestly and passionately and misinformedly about something I've never tried. I guess I'm kinda old-fashioned that way.
I know. It's a real shame.
Bigger, I have no doubt. Better, is the question.
Anyway, it's going to be a long, long wait for all of us dim sum obsessives.
Have you been to Pho 14 yet? I've been about going about once a week for the past month and a half.
My excuse for gorging myself: an earlier pho drought—so many of the good places aren't metro accessible. I can't decide whether Pho 14 tops Pho 75 in Rockville, but it's pretty swell having this place right across the street. I have noticed that the the broth flavor and soup quantity seem to vary slightly each visit. Not nececssarily bad things, but consistency would be nice.
Aside from that, my husband has ordered the tofu bun several times and was pleased, and we both like the spring (summer) rolls. Service is always friendly and gracious, if not 100% on point yet. Interested to hear your "first bite" impressions. -Christina
I haven't yet. Looking forward to it, though.
I'm missing the really terrific broth I used to get at Pho 88 in Beltsville, which I think had some of the richest, most flavorful around — I loved the teeny tiny beads of fat floating on the surface.
The broth is the thing. And too often, lately — like the place I hit last weekend — the kitchen uses too much star anise to make up for the lack of depth in the soup itself.
Why, a mix of secret spices that has been in the family since time immemorial. ; )
We've tried many times since I came aboard to find out the details of the marinade they use at the daddy of them all, El Pollo Rico. No dice. Sometimes, they've simply laughed at us.
I don't know all the ingredients, and I don't know the proportions, but I would hazard a guess that there's sour orange juice, garlic, lime, lots and lots of salt, maybe a bay leaf, maybe some sugar.
The exterior is unmistakably swabbed with ground cumin. What all else, besides, again, salt, is a mystery.
It's an interesting idea. Consider it taken under advisement.
It's tricky, though, because in most cases, it's not that the places aren't as good. You could put together a good list of 150 Cheap Eats a lot more easily than you could a list of 150 Top Restaurants.
(Memo to Jack L: Please don't get any bright ideas for next year …)
In most cases this year, i would say it had to do with the competition. Other places simply appealed to us more, excited us more.
As editor, I don't put a lot of store by past performance. If a place is a fixture, a legend, it still has to earn our affection each time out, every year.
Boy, a very, very tough call. I like them both an awful lot.
I think Four Sisters is a little more consistent, and a little more beautiful. But that wouldn't necessarily vault the place above Present for me.
What would I order? I like the clam and pork hash with sesame cakes at both places — the one at Four Sisters a little bit more. And both do very good renditions of bun.
At Four Sisters: the shrimp toast, the roast quail with blood oranges, the mushroom-filled rice noodle crepes, the beef-stuffed grape leaves.
Present: the crispy whole fish, any of the masterly soups (but particularly one made with a pork broth sweetened with rock sugar, and festooned with chives, minced pork and silken tofu), the Autumn rolls.
We went to Komi last Saturday and enjoyed the food there. I did have some complaints. Why is it so dark in there? And I don't like how the floors vibrate everytime someone walks by our table. Made my stomach kind of nauseous. I understand restaurants not allowing you to take pictures of the food, but not allowing to take pictures with the group of us with flash (when it is so dark in there) is a little too much.
You think it's too dark?
I agree with you, it's darker than a lot of places. But I like that degree of darkness. To me, it's perfect for what they're trying to do over there — create an atmosphere that matches the cuisine, which is to say: Mediterranean and moody and sensual.
I think places can do so much with light to create mood, and yet they all seem to forget this and go spending fortunes on other, more expensive elements of decor.
I admit it, though: I'm a light junkie. At home, I like about four of five different kinds of light in each room.
In the case of Granville Moore's, it had everything to do with the parameters of the budget. This year, especially, with so many money fears all around, I thought that we needed to be strict constitutionalists when it came to obeying the rules we'd set ourselves.
It's true — you can eat relatively cheaply there, but it's not easy, and there are so many temptations — the beer — that would simply blow the budget.
As for Deli City, all I can say is that the two meals I had there in a period of months earlier this year were abominably bad. I was sick one of those times. The other time I was merely full of heartburn for the rest of the day and night.
And Thai Square, we felt, was simply too uneven this past year to earn a place back on.
There you go.
Thanks for the edit. ; )
It's the ugly that worries me. ; )
Just to clarify: Not ugly places. Ugly experiences.
In fact, one of the most unprepossessing spots is also one of the most interesting — Bottom of the Bay, in Laurel. Very divey, a bunch of motorcycles lined up in the parking lot. But (And?) the crabs are on the money — well-spiced, steamed right, and de-lish.
Get yourself over to Shagga, on Rte. 1 in Hyattsville.
It's some of the best Ethiopian cooking around, and it's currently my favorite place in the area to go for a cup of coffee. They're using the same beans for their brew that Komi uses, Caffe Pronto, and the company makes a special roast just for the restaurant.
Hi Todd, each year the Restaurant Association Metropolitan Washington (RAMW) choses five young up and coming Chefs for the “Rising Culinary Star” award.
This year the five finalists are Cedric Maupillier from Central Michel Richard, Daniel Giusti from 1789, Mike Isabella from Zaytinya, Shannon Overmiller from Majestic Cafe, and Anthony Chittum from Vermilion. I wanted to ask you your opinion on whether or not you think Cedric Maupillier from Central Michel Richard should be included in this category, due to his age and level of experience.
What do you think?
Honestly? To be perfectly honest? (Yawn.)
One, it's a beauty contest kind of thing, and B, regardless of his age and experience, he has spent many years in the shadow of someone much more famous and has only recently come front and center.
Pho Hong Anh–in Aspen Hill. Same plaza as The Silver Fountain and the Giant, between Conn and GA Aves. We've had good luck there as well. Sometimes it can be hit or miss, but we've had more hits than misses and I do think it better than either location of Pho Hiep Hoa. Now that I have your attention….the Vietnamese shop has opened in the former Nava Thai space, called Song Phat.
Have you had ever been to An Loi, formerly of Wheaton, and then in Columbia? The owners sold the place in Columbia, but are back, now at Song Phat. Haven't had the chance to try the Pho yet, but the lunch special with grilled meats is still as tasty as ever. I think it's choice of 3 plus rice? Also there are two salads on the menu that we've tried that have been very good (sorry can't recall the actual names.)
And have you been to Ruan Thai lately? We've had better service and food there than at Nava Thai. Looks like you may be due for a trip back to our neck of the woods!
I've been to Song Phat. Tasty. A small, tidy menu, and very reasonably priced.
The thing to get there is not the pho, but the roast quail with lime-black pepper dip. It's not at the level of some others I've eaten in the area, particularly at the new Four Sisters, but it's good.
You talk about Nava. I think it's clear to me from the times I've been in, that they're still going through growing pains. I hope they smooth things over. It's a very, very big adjustment, to go from a jewel box to a big, sprawling space with multiple rooms — and with more diners than ever, and more expectations than ever.
And yes, Ruan is what Ruan has always been. A very good, very consistent, very accommodating place.
Very, very heavily penetrated — which is what you get with a long, long brine.
Peruvian black mint, huh? Interesting. Is it easily available here? Any idea who might carry it?
You know what? I've got an idea. We've been trying to get to the bottom of this thing for the longest time, and many of you have written in over the last couple of years wondering how you can replicate it — well, here's what we're gonna do.
We're gonna have a contest.
Whoever comes closest to recreating the EPR marinade and the EPR rub, wins dinner for two at a restaurant in town.
Experiment at home, write your recipe, and then send it in to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. We'll test them all, and then declare a winner.
Deadline: July 1st.
Oh, Minh's does fabulous grilled pork. I have cravings for that grilled pork.
With all the talk of Four Sisters and Present, both new, it's easy to forget the fact that there are a lot of other very good spots for Vietnamese cooking, including Minh's, but also Viet Bistro, Huong Viet and Hai Duong, the latter three all in the Eden Center.
As for Present … the absolute worst time to go to a restaurant is after a major review has come out. And especially on a weekend night.
Go at lunch, if you can't help yourself, or wait the two, three months for things to calm down.
Wow. That's not exactly a power lunch, is it, at $25 a person?
If it keeps up, you'll be going out in your pinstriped suits for a hot dog and a Coke at one of the vendor carts.
Oh, for the days of the two martini lunch, with three-inch thick steaks and thick clouds of cigar smoke …
Can you wait until the next issue of the magazine is out for my advice? We have a piece on great lunch deals at some of the area's top restaurants.
I like it. It's one of the Top 100 in the area. Grand and elegant — dining in the old manner, with formal and very proper service. The cooking is good, a nice mix or rusticky and refined, and I really like the wines.
And if you can snag a seat at the tapas bar in the early evening — not always easy, because there are so few seats — you can snack on excellent, shaved-thin ham and other small plates while you work your way through some of the wines on the list.
I love the Cheap Eats issue (as I always do), but I do have one small complaint…..
Maybe it's just me, but it seems that you recommend an awful lot of fried/heavy dishes at many of the restaurants you review. I'd appreciate it if you would broaden your horizons a bit and not always hone in on fried fish, fried shrimp, pork belly dishes, fried spring rolls, rich soups and curries, etc.
I know that fat=flavor, but there should be more balance between light and heavy dishes. Also, I really like it when you point out dishes that aren't so good- that's more helpful than pointing out the good ones. I know you probably aren't too keen on pointing out the mistakes in otherwise good restaurants, but it would be most helpful if you did it more often.
Thanks for writing in. You make an interesting observation.
I'll have to go back and look to see if there's a preponderance of fry, as you say. But if we make those recommendations, it's because that's what those places do best.
We're not presenting an exhaustive list of good dishes at a given place, only those we think really shine. And we're also not going to shy away from listing a really good dish, simply because we've listed so many others like it at other places.
And no, we're not at all adverse to pointing out the not-so-good. I think you'll notice that we often give what I think of as navigational advice (what to avoid, etc.) in the Insider Tip sections.
I have written a couple of times about Tempt Asian Cafe, once you told me the original chef had departed. The place is "divey", the menu badley misspelled,but WOW. The cooking is I think incredible, I just had what they call a roast fish dish (flounder, in a thin crispy cumin spiced batter) which blew my mind, the Schezaun chili chicken, Fried dried beef in hot pot, and West Lake Minced Beef Chowder are all also amazing. They apparently employ 2 chefs one doing standard Chinese/ American take-out fare and another doing authentic Schezaun dishes. I am not affiliated with this place I would just like to see them succeed. Have you been back recently? I know you reviewed it 2006 and was hoping to see it as a candidate for the Cheap Eats for '09, but I do hope you and everyone else will get a chance to try it before 2010 if you haven't already. Thanks
Yep. Went back several months ago — wasn't nearly as blown away as you were.
Hey, it happens.
I'm eager to go back, though. There's a lot there to explore, and I want to venture deeper into the menu.
Thanks for writing in.
You aren't REALLY considering taking that NYT job are you? You can't! You know too much! Seriously though, wouldn't it feel like starting over? Or is it more of a challenge kind of thing? Who would take your position? (seriously hoping you don't leave).
You're very, very sweet.
No, I'm not going anywhere. I love it here, I love the city, I love the scene, I love my job. My mom's here, and I want to raise my little boy here.
And I don't relish the idea of selling my car and moving into a three-room hovel that costs $3,000 a month.
The revamped and very expensive but also very worth it Sushi Taro?
Lunch calls …
Be well, everyone, eat well, and let's do it again next week at 11 …
Didn't get your question answered in this chat? Submit it to Todd's chat next week, Tuesday, June 2 at 11 AM.
(thinking of you, TEK … )