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 16.
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 love your chats. I am tired of arguing with friends about the best frozen yogurt place in DC. Tangysweet, Mr. Yogato, Ice Berry, Sweetgreen, etc. etc. Have you tried these places? Which do you think is the best? How about a taste test?
I think they're all pretty good places.
Sweetgreen and Tangysweet to me are both probably at the top.
What it comes down to, I think, is how much sourness — how much tang — you like in your yogurt. I like a good bit. Separates it, for me, from custard or ice cream. And works really well with something like fresh berries.
I missed last week's chat, but I wanted to thank you for the shout-out for Montreal's bagels. When I was in college in Vermont, we'd often escape to Montreal for the weekend. Not only the best bagels I've ever had, but the best deli period. Yes, better than NYC. Everyone I've told this to mocks me like I'm crazy. So thanks for agreeing that I'm not!
It's true; I've been there. And it's the worst when it's New Yorkers.
New Yorkers are so provincial, they can't possibly get their brains around the idea that someplace else might actually make something of worth. And the idea that that something of worth is, in fact, better than their something of worth — fuhgeddaboutit.
Bagels and deli — both are better in Montreal.
The smoked meat sandwiches (medium fat) at Schwartz's — sorry, Schwartz's Charcuterie Hebraique de Montreal; love that — are the best I've had anywhere. Just typing the words makes my mouth water. I can't wait to go back sometime soon and taste another.
If you were to ask me to compile a Top 10 dishes, all time, there's little doubt in my mind that a smoked meat sandwich would be in there. And probably a bagel from Fairmont with saumon fume.
In case anyone's interested, St.-Viateur Bagels is again shipping to the States. www.stviateurbagel.com
If I remember correctly, it's $60 for five dozen. And absolutely worth it. (Though still not as good as the real thing, made fresh).
Farrah Olivia is the one that I removed, because it closed.
New on the list is Cantler's Riverside Inn, in Annapolis — to me, the granddaddy of all the crab houses in the area, a certifiable legend.
Terrific view, nicely secluded, and great, meaty, perfectly steamed crabs. Also, right now, they've got a wonderful softshell platter for $25 — three lightly pan-fried, locally-dredged softies, with coleslaw and fries.
If you've never been, you're missing out.
But don't even try going on the weekends at dinner time, unless you're prepared to wait an hour-and-a-half.
Re: Channa Masala.
Though it is true that food prepared in bulk differs from domestic cooking of smaller portion size, it is still possible to cook tasty, delicious Channa Masala at home.
Here's the recipe – 3 Tablespoon – oil; 2 sticks – Cinnamon; 4 – Cloves ; 4 – Pods Cardamom; 1 Teaspoon – Ginger-Garlic Paste One medium sized Onion – Finely chopped 1/4 teaspoon – Turmeric 1/2 teaspoon – Chilly Powder 1/2 teaspoon – Channa Masala (available in Indian grocery stores) 1/4 – teaspoon Salt 1 – Tomato Chopped 16 oz. – Garbanzo Beans 8 oz. – Water Heat oil in a pan. Crackle the cumin seeds and add the cardamom, cinnamon and cloves. Add ginger-garlic paste, sauté for a minute and add the chopped onion. Sauté for about 3 minutes till the onions are brown. Add turmeric, chilly powder and stir for a minute. Add the chopped tomatoes and sauté for two more minutes. Add the garbanzo beans, Channa Masala and water. Bring to a boil and simmer for five minutes. Serve garnished with chopped cilantro.
Todd, I just made a batch with exact specs listed and am enjoying the bowl as I write to you. Hope this helps.
Thanks, Kumar. For Rangoli Indian Restaurant. Chantilly, VA.
Kumar, what are you trying to do? Steal the thunder of our recently revived blog featurette, Recipe Sleuth? ; )
Thanks for writing in.
A good recipe for channa masala is always a good thing.
In general, I find, it's a dish that everybody seems to like, no matter their food restrictions or preferences. Vegetarians (and carniphobes) as well as omnivores.
(Carniphobes, you ask?
(To me, a vegetarian is someone who embraces the idea of vegetables and fruits. But I know quite a few vegetarians who despise them, or who merely tolerate them — the thing, for them, is to avoid meat. They subsist, some of them, on diets rich in pop-tarts and chips. To me, that's a carniphobe.)
Tried out Eatonville this weekend- what a disaster!
First, the positive- the decor is cool and the cocktail called the Georgia Peach is fabulous!
However, when we arrived we were first told they did not have our reservation but could seat us anyway. We wound up all the way upstairs in the corner at a table so small and so close to others that just about everybody on the row was talking to one another since we were on top of each other anyway and they kept serving us each others' food. It really was a comedy of errors.
First, my glass of wine took forever because they apparently were "washing the wine glasses." Once we ordered, our appetizers were promptly brought, but then we waited and waited and waited for our main courses. Our waiter told us the kitchen was backed up and our food would be out shortly. True to his word, he came back shortly with food…that turned out to be someone else's. Who's? The table next to us who ordered about 20 minutes after we did! To his credit, the waiter was very nice and appologized and offered free dessert.
But the wait really was insane- I wasn't keeping close track but we waited about an hour.
Once we got our entrees, they were only so so. Thinking we won't be back…too bad I had hopes for the place.
Thanks for the report.
How slammed was the place, I wonder –?
I often research restaurants before i go to them, especially when they are ethnic and ordering properly is extremely important. I did my homework on Myanmar in Falls Church but was somewhat underwhelmed by the place. The much-touted ginger salad was pretty good, but beyond that there wasnt an item we ordered that I'd get again (samosa salad, pumpkin curry, chili chicken, shweji dessert).
I'd love to support such a likeable, homey place, but the food has to be a little better. It was all kind of bland, not spicy and lively, which is what i would expect from a burmese place with indian/thai influenced dishes. Any recs for dishes that really pack a spicy, flavorful punch. Based on some of my reading, I'm thinking maybe mango salad, ohno kaukswe, some kind of fritter appetizer, and, well, I dont know what else. What are the very best dishes there for a lover of heat and flavor.
Burmese food is not always spicy/lively like you're thinking. A number of dishes are homey/comforting.
One of them is the chicken cream soup you mentioned, ohno kaukswe, which they do extremely well at Myanmar. The fritters, yes — also good. It's the salads, I think, where they really shine. Especially the tea-leaf salad, which, when it's on, is exceptional.
I know some people I've gone with, who've looked over the menu and heard me talk about the salads, and sort of turn up their noses — thinking, well, a salad isn't much of a dish; thinking, a salad is something light and diet-conscious and I want heartiness and something full of protein, etc.
Here, and at other Burmese restaurants — I'm thinking of the excellent Burma Road, in Gaithersburg, which, to me, is the best of the Burmese places around, now — the salads are the main event. They're very complex dishes, with lots going on — the kind of dishes that keep showing you something different as you work your way through them.
Salads, noodle dishes, soups (the mohingar is good too) — that's the way to go.
my question is going to sound like the foodie's antichrist come to Earth, but here goes:
it seems like the more expensive, frou-frou, and supposedly delectable the restaurant is, the more precious, undersized, and dissatisfying the desserts are.
is it an issue of . . . economic class, cuisine, culture . . . a combination thereof . . . none of the above . . .
why is it so hard to find a quality restaurant that offers an ample portion of rich, delicious dessert without overblown presentation or the larding-on of inedible or undesired garnishing?
if I'm paying top dollar, why can't I just get a simple, honest piece of chocolate cake bigger than my face?
Cheesecake Factory does it. is that so much to ask? thanks.
Great question. (And very funny … )
And … I wish I had an equally great answer.
It's funny, too, because it's something I've been thinking about for a couple of years …
If you bring together a group of foodies, they invariably will pooh-pooh the idea of a big dessert on the plate at a high-end, foodie-leaning restaurant. Actually, foodies are inclined to pooh-pooh the idea of big portions, in general. Unseemly. Declasse.
I don't agree.
I think a lot of fine-dining restaurants see dessert as the coda of a long, involved symphony, and so don't want to burden the diner with too many calories, etc.
The thing is, though, they are only too happy to throw foie gras, sweetbreads, pork belly and all sorts of heavy, rich things our way throughout the meal.
Why not lighten up a little there, and make dessert an equal player? Why not make dessert as show-stopping and eye-catching and dramatic?
I think for me, the aim of a great restaurant is to put out exquisite food without appearing precious. And many great restaurants are able to do that — at least, through every course but the final course. There, too often, you have preciousness thrust upon you.
You mention Cheesecake Factory (whose portions are beyond big — beyond massive; they're gargantuan; each slice could feed three). And I think this gets to something, too. Which is that most high-end restaurants disdain the idea of cake and pie.
They sure don't disdain ice cream. You see ice cream on so many menus — but rarely do you see cake or pie or pastry.
I don't mean a tart, either. Or a tartlet.
Or a financier.
A cake. A pie. Something we can't make ourselves, at home. Something grand and dramatic and sumptuous — something that does not sacrifice quality/exquisiteness/precision for being so simple, so declasse …
Just to offer a counter-perspective, my partner and I had dinner at Eatonville on Father's Day, before a show at Studio.
The service struck me as reasonably paced. The tables on the main floor were decently spaced (in fact, we were discussing how wide open it all seemed).
The fried green tomato appetizer we split was delicious, and the mushroom loaf was probably the best thing I've ever eaten at any of Andy Shallal's restaurants.
The restaurant was not yet crowded when we arrived, but was filling up during the course of our hour or so in there. It was my first visit, and my partner's second. We'll definitely be back.
(since channa masala is now solved, how about a recipe for that mushroom loaf?)
Thanks for the report, NoLo. (Oh, how I wish I could follow that up with: Contendre.)
And one mushroom loaf, coming right up. Jessica, are you listening?
I haven't been, apres-Barack/Biden, but I wouldn't be surprised if what you're saying is true. And I've heard variations of this from a number of people via email the last couple of weeks.
RTC? Not a bad idea. How about giving it a go, and reporting back?
Similar experience at Eatonville this weekend.
Went right at 5pm for an early dinner with 5 people—place was near empty. Despite that, we waited at our table for 15 minutes for anyone to come help us, and finally ended up flagging down a waiter for water (which took 10 minutes to bring).
He was sweet, but got several of our orders wrong, and the food wait was 45 minutes-ish. The tables around us, who came in 15-30 minutes afterwards, were all served before us. Throughout this whole time, the place was never busy at all.
In McLean? If you're looking to stay in McLean, then I'd definitely head on over to Evo Bistro for small plates and wines.
If you're looking for a grander experience (and looking to drop some big money for it) — Inox, in Tysons.
I don't — didn't — know of it.
I've got two:
Mozza, the Nancy Silverton (with an assist from Mario Batali) pizzeria/osteria. And Anisette for rusticky but refined French bistro cooking.
I've eaten at Almaz, but never tried the coffee. Thanks.
And if you've never tried the coffee at Shagga, in Hyattsville, you're missing something special. It's the same company, Caffe Pronto, that supplies Komi, the best restaurant in the city, and they do a particular roast for the owners, Kelem and Adamu Lemu.
The latte with skim milk — rich, creamy, intense, smooth — is my favorite cup of coffee in the city.
No. They come unsliced, and ask that you slice each and every one, and then return them to their freezer bags.
When you want one, you take it out of the freezer and pop it into the toaster. What you get, is something not as good as what you'd get in Montreal, but pretty darn wonderful nonetheless.
And very, very light.
The bagels are made by hand and fired in a wood-burning oven — something you don't see anymore in New York, by the way. So, basically, what you're eating is just good artisanal bread.
i wanted some recs for lebanese butcher in falls church. i've been once and enjoyed the kibbeh and thought the lamb was just ok…i was thinking maybe baba ghanoush and a chicken shawarma sandwich…
what else should i get there? I've got a serious craving for some grape leaves, are theirs any good? what about the stewed green beans with tomatoes and onions? I'm always looking for really interesting vegetable dishes.
The thing to get there is — well, two things. First, the lamb fateh. Tender hunks of lamb atop fried pita chips, the whole thing doused with yogurt and sprinkled with pomegranate seeds. When it's good, it's wonderful.
The other is the baba ghanous. It's the smokiest, fluffiest baba ghanous you've ever eaten. The texture is awfully close to a taramosalata.
I'd also ask what the specials are. They often do roasted, spiced cornish hens, with sides of rice and pickled vegetables, and that's generally a good and delicious meal.
What is your favorite spice?
Probably pepper. I love pepper when I cook. Black pepper — fresh, often coarse-ground.
White pepper is a fascinating flavor, and you can do so much with it in Asian cooking. It's also something that helps a lot of soups — just a tiny pinch, often not even enough to register in your guests' minds.
Green peppercorns. Pink peppercorns (which aren't even pepper, but still … )
One of my favorite spices to play with the last couple of years is smoked paprika — again, just a little pinch in dishes.
I use it to make a very rustic romesco (roasted red peppers, sherry vinegar, fried almonds, fried bread, fried garlic, black pepper and salt, a pinch of smoked paprika, olive oil — emulsified in a food processor). I like to sauce my scallops with it.
Big, fat, sweet wild scallops. Cook them in a pan with the olive oil that's been flavored with the fried almonds you use to put into the romesco. Season the scallops on both sides with fresh cracked pepper and kosher salt. Turn the stove to medium-high heat, and then pour in a small amount of olive oil. Place the scallops in the pan, and do all the cookin on one side. Get a good sear, but don't cook them completely — they should still be fleshy and slightly pink. Add a pinch of smoked paprika to the top of the scallops.
'Then, reduce the heat to low, add a little more olive oil to the pan and begin spooning the almond-olive oil over the unseared top of the scallop to cook it.
Remove the scallops from the pan when they're medium-rare — they should feel like the fleshy part on the pad of your palm.
The blend of smoked paprika, toasted almonds and olive oil is fantastic. And then, paired with the romesco — out of this world.
Serve it with a good, rusticky red wine.
I was thinking that's what it had to be, but I couldn't think of the name.
Place was around a good long while, no?
So, I have heard lots of good things about Robert Wiedmaier and his other restaurants. So my wife and I decided to go to Brabo in old town.
I understand that it hasn't been open long, but we waited for over 20 minutes for our drinks. When the server did come back with our drinks he asked us to wait again, to place our orders which we had more than enough time to decide. Then it took nearly 40 minutes to get our dinner which was Ok, but not the hype that others have talked about this chef's food.
When we asked for a manager, our server came back to the table and asked if everything was ok. When we said 'no' and again asked for the manager, we watched him walk to a group of servers, smile, joke around for two or so minutes, then move to the back of the restaurant. A minute or so later, he came back and said that the manager would be out soon, and asked if we would like dessert. Not wanting to wait until Christmas, we said no and that we would just wait for the Manager…WHOM never came.
Upset and not wanting to wait longer, we paid, left and attempted to contact a manager the next day. To no avail, "I am sorry, can I take a message". I asked if Robert Wiedmaier was there, and the young lady on the phone said, "he isn't here all that much, he is the owner of 3 restaurants and is very busy". Does Robert Wiedmaier spend any time there? Does he realize just how horrible the experience is there? Let the Brabo staff and Managers know….We won't be back. And I wonder how many others like us…There are! Hope he gets there soon!
I'd like to hear the other side of this story.
But I will say that if you want to see what Wiedmaier's restaurants can be, you go to Marcel's, in the West End.
Seriously, you ought to take my advice: I said more than a month ago that I think the casual Tasting Room at Brabo is worthwhile, but that the more formal restaurant is lackluster.
I've been going back in time – way back to November 2006 – and reading all the past Chog transcripts. With the 20/20 hindsight, it's fun to consider all that's changed in the DC dining world since then. What do you feel are some of the most surprising and/or most important developments?
For me, it's gotta' be the influx of celebrity chefs and the "sudden" realization that DC is a great destination for interesting dining – that can't be coincidental. To me, DC acts like a small town enough so that those of us who follow restaurants can start to get a real feel for the personalities in the business and truly sense the impact of restaurant news, like Roberto Donna's rollercoaster, crash-and-burns like Restaurant K, and neighborhood success stories like Ray's restaurants and Jackie's in Silver Spring.
In one transcript, you expressed that Amsterdam Falafel would not be your first choice (though I love it). Where would you recommend for good falafel to go that's in DC, MD, Alexandria, or Arlington?
In other news, I had a great dinner at the Ashby Inn for the first night of my recent mini-honeymoon. We take every opportunity, when asked where we went after the wedding, to say: "Paris! (wait for it…) Virginia." Anyway, they did a fantastic job on our scallops, strawberry/goat cheese/spinach salad, salmon with green sauce, and black sea bass. I always wonder how far-flung places like that can get by these days.
Thanks for writing in, and also for taking the time to read all those chogs — whew.
I think for me it's the way the scene continues to evolve toward the kinds of places DC never used to have very much of — namely, restaurants where you can show up in jeans and shirttails and still eat things like sweetbreads, caviar, etc.
Often, these are places that are rooted in neighborhoods, and that's a very good thing.
We're going to see more and more of these places in the next few years, and what I hope is that all the people in NY and LA, etc. — the big money people, the people looking to expand, etc. — who are keeping such a close watch on the city will realize that what I think the city craves — what the moment demands — is these sorts of rooted, personal, expressive places.
I'm of the belief that a real culture begins from the ground up — not top down. The celebrity restaurants are top down. I want to see more ground up. And more places that express the area, the region. That means carrying and making use of the indigenous foods and cooking styles (and not just the produce and meats), serving the local (Virginia) wines, etc. And it also means contriving dining rooms that are willing and ready to blur lines and reach out across divides.
Re: falafel. The best, without question, is the falafel at Max's. It's a marvel: the lightest, crunchiest falafel you've ever eaten.
Too bad, though, that nothing else in the entire restaurant is worth eating.
Good afternoon Todd,
Looking for a place for a celebratory (but casual) dinner tomorrow night in the District. I have been wanting to try Proof for a while since I hear they have nice champagnes by the glass and the like. Also, I love Palena Cafe but rumor has it that a lot of local vegetable sources are still dealing with flooded fields and are in a gap with fresh stuff. What's best right now? Looking for a nice fun atmosphere where can talk and spend less than $100 (or so) for the two of us! thanks!
Poste? Cork? Cava on Capitol Hill?
I think any of those could be a lot of fun and deliver on all counts.
Let us know what you do, whatever you decide …
Anyway, time to run, everyone … Be well, eat well and let's do it again next week at 11 …
( thinking of you, TEK … )
Submit your questions in advance to Todd's chat next week, Tuesday, June 30.