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 June 9.
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
Cantler's Riverside Inn, Annapolis
La Fondita, Hyattsville
Sushi Taro, DC
China Bistro, Rockville
Sushi Sono, Columbia
I see that you praised the bagels at the Annapolis shop "Bagels and … in Annapolis" as being the "best bagels in the area." Have you tried Ize's Deli and Bagelry on Rockville Pike?
I did a comparison of theirs and Goldberg's Kosher Bagels, also in Rockville, and found Ize's "everything" bagels and its whitefish salad better. I've also tried other bagels of theirs and loved them.
We did a massive taste test a couple of years ago, comparing bagels from sixty or seventy locations all around the area — I don't remember if Ize's was part of this or not — and Bagels and … was the clear winner.
I think theirs are terrific. Light, airy, good crust, never underbaked (you'd be surprised how often some of the bagels around here are).
Bagels and … also has wonderful bialys, though they sell out fast. And very, very good lox and whitefish.
It's my favorite, and a place I return to again and again.
Still, the best bagels I've ever had, anywhere, are from Montreal. Better than New York, yes. Much better.
They're still made by hand and still baked in a wood-burning oven. And they're lighter, sweeter, smaller and infinitely more delicious than those made by anybody else.
A friend of mine, whose daughter is going to college at McGill, is bringing me back a supply in a couple of weeks. Can't wait.
I recently returned from Vietnam and am craving two things: 1) Banh Xeo and; 2) Banh Beo Hue Where is the best place to head?
For banh xeo, I'd go to Minh's in Arlington. Four Sisters and Present also do versions of this, and are all around the same level of quality — but I like the execution at Minh's just a little more.
Banh xeo are the monstrous, yellow-colored crepe pancakes (the batter's full of turmeric) filled with pork, shrimp, bean sprouts, etc. You break off pieces, fold them into huge leaves of lettuce and then dip the wrapper into a pot of fish sauce.
As for bun bo hue, the best place to go is Saigon Cafe, across from the Eden Center, in Falls Church. It specializes in the cooking of Hue, which is the old imperial capital. Luscious hunks of brisket, steamed pork patties, and a rich, spicy oxtail broth.
I am looking for a place for my father's 70th birthday dinner, 9 family members including 3 small children. I have come up with a list of places (except for Palena) that have a private or semi-private dining room.
Poste, 701, Oval Room, Central, Corduroy, 1789, Kinkead's, Tosca, The Source, Palena.
Which one would you choose? Or, would you recommend someplace else (no Indian)? Thanks for your help!
There're a lot of good restaurants on that list.
What it comes down to, is not the food, really, but what you're comfortable with.
Tosca is a bland, featureless, slightly formal atmosphere that restricts levity. The setting at Corduroy tends to encourage its diners to regard the dishes it sends out in a kind of hushed reverence — though, for some, this won't come across as foodie-ness so much as quiet sophistication.
But still, if you like a festive setting, these are not your places. For that, you want The Source, or Central, or Poste.
Again, it depends on what sort of night you're looking for.
If you're the sort of party that likes to get dolled up — and the men don't regard the idea of having to wear a jacket and tie to dinner as restrictive, an attempt to impose standards of dress and by extension, enforce a kind of conduct — then 1789 might be the place.
Again, like I said, it depends.
One more thought: The weakest restaurant, by far, on the list is 701.
Bebo, yes. My meals there were among the most irritating dining experiences of my life, too.
He's a talent in the kitchen, no doubt. But restaurants are big, complicated machines, with lots of moving parts. Lots of moving, interrelated parts. And if you have weak parts, parts that undermine the strong parts, your place is going to suffer.
Diners tend to blame waiters and waitresses when they receive bad service. And sometimes, they're right to do so. But I'm generally of the opinion that it's management's responsibility for everything that goes on, or doesn't go on.
Knowledge in a server is less important than enthusiasm, and a winning personality. Knowledge can be imparted. Good, capable management takes the time to train a staff.
As a diner, I can always forgive a lack of knowledge or a slip-up or what have you — honest mistakes. And particularly if they are explained and the server handles the problem well. What I can't forgive is a disdainful attitude. What I can't forgive is dismissiveness.
Right you are.
I'll make the change right … now
I'd love to know the recipe, myself — that pate is one of the richest, most luxuriant things I've ever eaten. In fact, I'd rather eat the pate than the steaks.
We'll see what we can do to get it up on Recipe Sleuth this week or next. Stay tuned. And thanks.
And any other recipe requests … pass them along, we'll do our best to track them down for you.
What tips do you have for an aspiring food writer? Any particular food magazine one should be reading? or any food sites/blogs one should be surfing on? Love your style of writing. I believe you were an english teacher before –
Thanks. And I did, yes — I taught college for ten years. But I've been writing for money — ha; if only — since I was fifteen.
Anyway, my advice is — read them all.
And don't limit yourself to just magazines. Or just food magazines. Read everything, books especially. Good books, especially.
Staying current with magazines and blogs, etc., is good for getting ideas and pitching them to editors (like me). But the stories I like best are those with a distinct point of view, where everything is filtered through the writer's particular way of seeing and saying.
And good books can help you to cultivate that.
So can lots of writing.
I'd go to the new-ish Cava on 8th St. in Barracks Row.
The place is fashionably stripped and full of mood, and the cooking is small plates (mezze) and often wonderful. Juicy spicy lamb sliders, good versions of skordalia and taramosalata, cubes of fresh feta with honey drizzled atop them, better than usua souvlaki and a killer rendition of soutzoukakia (juicy meatballs in a stewed tomato sauce). And the harissa dipping sauce is so good, you'll want to take some home with you.
Actually, you can now, since it's available locally at Whole Foods.
So many restaurants are having trouble thanks to the economy. 1789 is running a 'summer special' of 3 courses for $40. So, my friends and I thought it would be great to get together (we do it twice a year) in July there.
However, 1789 refused to give us the special because there are 15 of us and they said they'd have to use a 'private room' (I didn't ask for one) and thereby we cannot get the special. 2 voicemails to the general manager have not been returned.
How can you pick and choose who gets the special? If THEY want to move us to a private room but we didn't request one, shouldn't we still get the special?
They'd be guaranteed 15 people on a Thursday night – all of whom drink wine. How wrong is it that the general manager can't even be bothered to call me back — especially in this economy? He'd be guaranteeing probably $1,000 + tips! I need Todd help!!
I really don't know what to make of this. I can understand your thinking, and I think I can understand theirs.
I do think that a restaurant, right now, would be foolish to do anything that might discourage a group of diners to come and dine.
If I were you, I'd take it as an indication that it's not the right place for you and your group, and go elsewhere. There are other deals out there — we have a rundown of them coming out in the July issue. And — you won't have to put on a jacket and tie in the midst of muggy July.
My sister and I went to Present for lunch last Saturday and it was FABULOUS!!! So delicious, so beautiful, and so friendly. The experience was so wonderful that my sister and I have decided to host my father's 70th birthday dinner there even though they do not have a private dining room. Have you been yet? If not, then GO, GO, GO!!!
Have I been? Who are you talking to? Who's been writing about the place since last December?
I've been several times, and also remember it fondly as the place my father and I had our last meal out together. Present's a gem.
And I especially like the version at Ravi Kabob House.
Let's see if our crack intern, Jessica Sidman, can come up with. Jessica, work your magic …
The channa masala at Ravi is so good — so rich, so soulful, so full of depth — I'm tempted to say it's the equal of the excellent skewered meats.
Actually, I think my mom would say that. I took her not long ago, and she remembers it — and talks about it — more than the chicken kabob she ate.
It's an interesting question, and something I'd like to throw open to everybody that's out there …
What are you all finding that's seasonal and superlative?
I'll start us off by talking about crabs. Great softshells right now at Johnny's Half Shell and also at Cantler's Riverside Inn. Both really sweet and fresh and mouthwateringly good. At Cantler's, $24.99 gets you three softs, pulled from nearby water that morning, lightly floured and pan fried. With coleslaw and fries, too.
Incidentally, since you brought it up, Arlington … You talked about the "less than stellar ingredients" at these ethnic mom and pops. "Stellar ingredients" would be nice to see; it would also make everything much more expensive. And hasn't cooking always been a way to turn lemons into lemonade — to take something humble and transform it into something delicious? To me, that's a sign of skill.
What fascinates me, is how very few American restaurants around here can produce good food that's also cheap. Think about it.
Elsewhere, particularly in the Midwest and South, you see it, but not here.
The chains are cheap and, mostly, crummy (and bad for you). And the higher-end places use "stellar ingredients," and you end up paying $70 for pizza or burgers, etc., and are made to feel as though you are somehow doing right and doing the noble thing, etc.
That's a challenge for a chef and a restaurateur. To make simple, excellent food, and to do it cheaply.
Gillian Clark, right now, at General Store and Post Office Tavern is doing this. It's too bad, though, that the place has no atmosphere and no pulse to go along with it.
Whoa. "Nothing but disgusting"?!
Clearly, you're in the industry, or not too many steps removed. Are you referring to the chatter who wrote in to complain about 1789? Or to that and something else too? I'd like to know specifically what sorts of things that people are doing that bother you.
And i also want to say, since your writing in today brings this up — we get a lot of industry people who come on here but who don't present themselves as industry people.
Last week it was the GM of a nearby property who insisted that the exit of a colleague from a similar post could be having an affect on things at Westend Bistro. How did I know this? Only because the GM followed up with me, later, by email.
I'd really like to see people coming out from under the cover of anonymity and disclosing their affiliations and connections. I think it's the right thing to do.
See, that's the thing — seldom do these things ever turn out the way they do at restaurants.
If anything, what you produce is just close enough to make you pine that much more, and that much harder, for the real thing.
I think the discrepancy results because the restaurants, even when they divulge the recipes, don't spell out every last little thing, and they also tend to cut corners out of deference (they think) to the home cook.
Home cooks are generally unable to get a stove as hot as the one at a restaurant (that matters more than you might think), they generally can't get all the spices, and they're not always willing to do the not-so-little things like making stocks from scratch, etc., that can totally alter the depth and dimension of a dish.
Two good ones: Black Market Bistro and Poste.
I think there'll be enough twists and turns to keep you happy, and there's certainly enough traditional stuff to keep the others contented, too. Poste, actually, has a little more in the twist-and-turns department.
I wanted to report on two great experiences my family and I had this weekend. Palena Cafe- We were a 6, which is hard to accomodate in their cafe, but they did a fantistic job. The yukon gold and nettle gnocchi was amazing- I'd heard about it's pillowy texture and lightness, but I didn't quite grasp how airy it was until I tried it. Two of us went for the half roast chicken- WOW. My husband, who doesn't much distinguish one meal from another, couldn't stop talking about the juicy tenderness of the meat, remarking "I didn't know you could do that with chicken". Such a large portion too! Hostess was very friendly and waitress made good wine recommendations.
Minh's- This was my first experience with vietnamese dishes, and certainly not my last. We knew we wanted to try the sizzling catfish, but went with the waitress's recommendations for the rest of the dishes, and were very glad we did. Shrimp cakes were a huge portion with whole shrimp, rather than tiny chopped pieces. Pork and shrimp clay pot was thick and sweet without being sugary sweet, although the pork was a little fatty for us and next time we'd go with just shrimp. Sizzling catfish had great flavors with dill as it was (i didn't try the fish sauce, but others said it was terrific, and vermicilli was cooked properly, not a sticky mess). Fillet mignon medallions with spring onions and peppers were medium rare! and had a terrific grilled flavor, came with a lemon pepper sauce for those who wanted some zip.
Wow, what a terrific eating weekend. Two of my favorites.
Thanks for the reports.
Next time, with Palena, be sure to get a soup — what kind? It doesn't matter. Whatever they have. And even if the description doesn't necessarily ring your bell. Get it. The chef, Frank Ruta, is a master soup maker. A harder thing than it sounds.
And with Minh's — you need to make sure you order the grilled pork; it's one of the best renditions of grilled pork in the area.
I love your chats! Just curious if you have checked out the new Bangkok Bistro (I think that's the name) on P Street near 22nd – it used to be The Fractured Prune, and then a Mediterranean place. I walk by a lot but haven't tried it yet. Thanks!
I haven't, no. Has anyone?
Have you heard or been to Blue Ridge yet? I made a reservation there for Friday. The reviews on WaPo are mixed, they seem to be better on yelp. Any other seafood restaurants you'd recommend (not tapas, I'm not a big sharer) for a Friday date night in the District? Thanks!
If it's seafood, I'm going to Kinkead's.
I'm going to insist on sitting in the bar, even if it's a wait, and I'm going to order at least one platter of oysters, then move on to a chowder of some kind, the terrific crabcakes and whatever else catches my eye.
Following up on the 1789 chatter and the "nothing but disgusting remark," I'm a former server and frequent diner and I think they both seem a bit out of line.
1789 is allowed to set its own policy regarding large parties (though they should have something in writing with the advertising of the special that precludes large parties), but the diners are free to take their business elsewhere. As a somewhat broke hill staffer, I used to arrange group dinners during Restaurant Week because it was a chance for 10 of us to catch up and eat at a restaurant much nicer than we could afford. Charlie Palmer's was always very accommodating and gave us the restaurant week menu without complaint.
I'd recommend the diners find restaurants that do honor the specials for large parties and it will be 1789's loss.
I agree. It's pretty much what I suggested, too.
But I don't think the first chatter is out of line. Industry people forget that people outside the industry are not privy to industry thinking, and are, primarily, concerned about their own needs — no different from customers in any other walk of life.
He was interested in going to the restaurant to take advantage of the summer special, it sounds as though there were no qualifiers placed on that promotion, and I think he was right to wonder why he was told a party of 15 can't be given the deal.
Are there any restaurants that serves reasonable good food with fantastic views of the Potomac that you can recommend? The only places that jumps to mind don't focus on their food, but on their drinks and views (like Indigo Landing and the restaurants around the Georgetown Waterfront).
Good views tend to go hand in hand with dull, dispiriting cooking. And it's that way everywhere, not just here.
I think the new Hell's Point, from Bob Kinkead, could break from that rule when it opens in a few weeks. Right in downtown Annapolis, right on the edge of the water.
Nope; sorry. Gotta get the mag. Viva print!
I'm the 1789 chatter. to the person who failed to identify themselves from Arlington who clearly wanted to take a shot at me — shame on you.
I was trying to bring 15 people to a restaurant which will guarantee them $1,000+ for our group. I wasn't trying to take advantage of anything. Zaytinya, Mio, Il Mulino, and a couple others over the past 4 years have had no problem with our group and their specials or even restaurant week.
So 1789 stands alone blowing us off…. and for what? Do they really think they're going to fill their place up on a Thursday at 7:30 in July? Restaurants are a business — and this is a bad business decision. Even more so is not having the class as GM to call me back. I work for a law firm here in DC — and you can't put a price on respect.
No, you can't. Well put.
(The comments keep pouring in about this … wow. And from both sides … It's interesting to me, because I can't imagine how anyone who is not in the industry or connected in some way with the industry would not side with Tim on this.)
Be well, everyone, eat well and let's do it again next week at 11 …
Submit your questions in advance to Todd's chat next week, Tuesday, June 23.
(in remembrance: TEK)