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 23.
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
Since I read about the nice salads at Burma Road in "Cheap Eats" I've been there, almost weekly for a pickled tea leaf salad. In fact the contingency of my coworkers who go with me has grown, each week.
I have to say that the taste is so unique, and so delicious that it makes me downright happy to eat it.
Any other recommendations of dishes that can, frankly, change your mood???
I think the soondubu at Lighthouse Tofu (in Annandale, and also in Rockville — though I like Annandale better) is a dish that can change your mood. It can definitely change mine.
A dark, rich red pepper soup, it comes to the table in a bubbling cauldron that looks like something out of "Macbeth." Also in the broth: sweet strands of onion, marvelous cubes of soft, homemade custard, and sometimes oysters. Oh, and an egg to crack on top, for an added layer of juice and ooze.
What else …
One of Frank Ruta's stellar soups.
The smoked brisket, when it's on, at KBQ in Bowie.
The exquisite fatty tuna, flown in from Tokyo's Tsukiji market, at the revamped Sushi Taro.
The ridiculously good shrimp toast at the new Four Sisters.
Anyway, let's throw this one out to the rest of the chatters, now — what are other mood-changing dishes are there?
In last week's Chat, you were talking about where excellent falafel was to be found, and perhaps I misread it the following: The question was: 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?
You answered. 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.
Regarding the last sentence: were you talking down Max's, a restaurant praised in Washingtonian Magazine and The Post, and by countless regular customers including ourselves, for its schwarma? Where would that be better in the Washington area?
Also on another topic: we recently loved the appetizer and two main courses at Ruan Thai in Wheaton, as did the couple with us. However, you consider Nava Thai Noodle & Grill a few blocks away as on your Current List of "Where I'd Spend My Own Money." Could you explain why you consider Nava Thai better than Ruan Thai, among other Thai restaurants?
On one more topic; the bagels in Montreal or in Annapolis could be really first-rate if you're rating them higher than New York bagels or even Ize's Deli & Bagelry in Rockville, which has an "everything" bagel that's superb in our view, especially with whitefish salad or chicken salad. What's so special about Montreal or Annapolis bagels? Have you been at Ize's recently?
Thanks for your thoughtful answers!
Max's we praised for its falafel. Which is, truly, a wondrous thing: so light, so crunchy. The best I've ever had, and I've had a lot.
I don't think anything else there is worth the trip. If we're talking about shwarma, I like the shwarma at Lebanese Butcher in Falls Church.
As for Nava Thai and Ruan Thai, I like them both. But right now, there are dishes on the menu at Nava that I find myself craving, particularly the superlative pad Thai (the best in the area, by far), the crispy mussels with hot sauce, the noodle soups, the hot and sour squid.
But as I said, I think Ruan's a good restaurant; it wouldn't be on the Cheap Eats list if it weren't. I really like the crispy duck, with its cinnamony perfume and torn leaves of basil, and the yum watercress (a kind of crispy frittata with watercress and shrimp and squid) is always a treat.
And yes, I'm saying the bagels in Montreal are better than anything in New York or anywhere else for that matter. And yes, that includes Ize's.
What makes them better? They're artisanally made. Made by hand — and made SMALL — and fired in a wood-burning oven, the way bagels used to be, many moons ago, before automation became the norm.
Not a lot of people like lavender that much that they'd request the recipe, but since you asked …
Yes! Good one.
I hadn't heard that.
All I can say is, if it's true, and IF it's either Fairmont or St.-Viateur, and IF they can replicate the process, then we're in luck.
If all those things are true, I'd be excited beyond belief.
A month after publication.
What are you looking for that you're too cheap to purchase? ; )
Thanks for trying about the steak restaurant. I think that it WAS in the Key Bridge area.
I would like to give another memorial shout-out to Uncle George's Greek restaurant in Bethesda. You could call in and find out when the pig, lamb, or veal was coming off the spit, and show up for some amazing meats. Loved the spitted sheep heads on the rotisserie coming in the door, and the Greek TV in the bar.
Sweetbreads were mentioned twice last week. Where are they being featured?
I can still taste the crispy potatoes with lemon they did. A neat place, great simple atmosphere, good food, real soul. Yeah, we could use more like it.
Sweetbreads … I've seen them around town at a number of places. I think Siroc, if I'm remember correctly, has them. Bourbon Steak. And great, now my memory is drawing a blank …
How are they coping?
It really depends on the restaurants. I'm seeing bigger changes (though not BIG changes) at the more expensive places than at the ethnic spots, which I hear are feeling it but seem to be soldiering on.
The more expensive places are going with slightly smaller portions, and I'm seeing a lot more in the way of ingredient duplication/ingredient extension. Burgers are everywhere, flatbreads are everywhere, etc., and I'm seeing less and less in the way of the exotic, particularly with things like fish and meats.
By and large, though, the dining rooms are being kept pretty busy. Summer, of course, is going to be a challenge, because summer around here always is a challenge. We'll see …
Am I more lenient because of the economy? No. Should I be?
You mean — a mood-changing dish?
I'll see your lemon chess pie and raise you a perfectly blended Mint Julep, served in an icy Derby cup. Best in the city.
Had a great meal at Potenza last weekend, but wanted to check in with you on something that struck me as weird.
When our glasses of wine were served, they were served in small drinking glasses. My boyfriend asked for a glass for his red wine (he loves to swirl!) and the server said "we reserve the normal wine glasses for bottle purchase, but I'm happy to grab you one".
We appreciated the servers willingness to please the customer, but in all of my dining out I've never heard of reserving wine glasses for folks who purchase a bottle. Is this a normal practice?
The food – from appetizers to desert – was all fantastic. On a side note, eating at Komi this Wednesday for the first time – couldn't be more excited! Thanks!
Those tumblers, no stems, are the true Italian way.
I don't mind them and even like them, but a lot of oenophiles hate them, because the wine, they say, gets too warm from having their big, meaty palms on the glass all the time.
I think the way Potenza has arranged it, what they're saying is: The tumblers are for table wine, since this is intended to be a simple, hearty Italian restaurant. If you want a bottle to sip and savor, then we'll break out the stemware.
I think restaurants do a disservice to themselves, though, when they come up with over-thought-out policies that aren't intuitive to the average diner.
In Crystal City, you could go with Urban Thai or Jaleo (tapas).
In Clarendon, there's even more selection — Delhi Club (Indian), Harry's Tap Room, Minh's (Vietnamese), The Liberty Tavern, Ray's the Steaks.
Good suggestions. Thanks.
And I'm craving them now, too … Done right, and with the right sauce, and with a good glass of wine to wash them down — really, what could be better?
Real BBQ in DC? Why does it not exist?! – I've tried Rocklands (terrible, charred mess), Old Glory, Capitol Q (not bad) and the venerable Rib Pit on 14th Street, but my search for great BBQ in DC has turned up nothing but disappointment.
We're in a Southern city! Can't a place that boasts a dozen "upscale soul food" restaurants with near-identical menus give us some real smoke?
This isn't a Southern city anymore, hasn't been for a couple of decades, now, but regardless … yeah, it's frustrating. I'm with you on all of the above. Hugely disappointing, particularly Rocklands, which smells so good from the outside.
There's simply nothing like great barbecue.
One of the problems is, restaurants in the city are prohibited from using open pits, and it takes real knowledge and expertise to use a smoke to full advantage.
The best 'cue in the area, right now, is at KBQ in Bowie, a bright and shiny place in a strip mall — exactly the last place you'd expect to turn up anything really good. But Kerry Britt, the owner, is skilled with the smoker, and if you catch the place on a good day, or when the ribs or briskets have just come out, pink and luscious, you're in luck. They can be gloriously good.
Well, see, this is the thing …
So much of our experience with food has to do with expectations.
(I love, by the way, how people go to some restaurants I've written about and sneer: Eh, it's all right. What they are saying, most times, is not that it's not good. What they are saying, most times, is: It'd been so much better if I'd discovered it myself.)
If you haven't been to Montreal and tasted bliss, then I don't know — given these raised expectations, especially — if it's going to be worth it. It's worth it, I think, really worth it, if you are looking to recreate the magic taste of those first few bagels you ate on a Montreal trip.
For me, I will gladly pay the fee. And have.
Even not-fresh, they are worlds better than Georgetown Bagel Bakery. Come on: It's like comparing a slightly winded Kobe Bryant to Amir Johnson.
The Maine Ave. market is, essentially, marketing. It's facade. it's show. The fish doesn't come from nearby.
You'd do a lot better to swing by BlackSalt, on MacArthur Blvd.. A really stunning fish case, good variety, and it's about as fresh as you're going to get.
Taste? ; )
That review, to me, didn't read quite like a pan — but the snarky headline and the 1 1/2 stars, together, made the place appear a little worse than the text did.
I don't know. What can I say? I think there are plenty of good, tasty things on the menu, and I'm willing to discount some service slips (I had them too) if they're followed by kindness and explanation and humility, etc. I also don't fault the place for its noise, when very clearly it is trying to be a high-energy, unpretentious, red-sauce kind of place. I think the city could use more places that are high-energy and unpretentious, and I think, despite its flaws, the restaurant is an appealing spot to be these days.
Tosca, Obelisk, Teatro Goldoni, etc., are all good, but Italian food in this town has for too long been associated with these kinds of restaurants — serious, sober, formal. I think Potenza's refreshing that way, a real departure, and a good one.
In the hands of a skilled chef, and at a restaurant that's getting a good-quality chop, a pink center is, actually, a statement. It says: We shop well, and we're not going to destroy this beautiful piece of meat, just because we can — and just because fears commonly dictate cooking times. It's also a statement that the place isn't going to condescend to a diner. It trusts that you know what you're getting, and can appreciate it.
Now, a pink center in a pork chop at a greasy spoon — I wouldn't do it, no. But then, I doubt you'd ever see a pink center. That thing is going to be cooked within a millimeter of its life.
I don't doubt that they SHAPE them by hand. Lots of places do. But most likely, they also use a big industrial mixer to work the better before they shape their dough.
And I know for a fact that Brooklyn Bagel doesn't bake them in a wood-burning oven.
I'd take them to CommonWealth, I think, in Columbia Heights.
Good, simple food, not too expensive for what it is, lots of atmosphere, and not the sort of place where you have to be on your P's and Q's.
That, or one of the many pizza places that have flooded the area. 2 Amys and Comet and Pete's and Moroni & Brother's in DC, American Flatbread in Ashburn …
I have a craving for some good sushi. Where would be your top picks for tasty, fresh sushi? Both high-end and lower priced choices would be great! Thanks!
if you have big bucks in addition to a big craving, then the revamped Sushi Taro in East Dupont is the place to go. Best, most exquisite sushi right now in the city, with many fishes flown in, as I alluded to earlier, from the famed Tsukiji market in Tokyo.
If you're not quite as flush, then Sushi-Ko I or II, or the new-ish Sei.
Best cheap sushi? That'd be Kotobuki, in Palisades. A gem of a spot.
I think the reason that people have fears about a touch of pink in the center of a thick-cut pork chop is because we've been trained to overcook pork. If anyone cooks pork at home, "cookbook" knowledge tells readers to cook the point to a reading 10-20 degrees higher than what should be, often, just to avoid any liability issues. I understand the tactic and think it's typically wise to err on that side unless you are skilled and know what you are doing. A-touch-of-pink pork is the ideal, but it's a really fine to achieve. It also depends upon the quality of the pork (which you state), as well as safe-handling practices.
Right, it depends on the quality of the pork, and on the skill of a chef, both of which I think you can trust at the kind of restaurant the chatter described.
The fear, here, is over trichinosis, but actually, the trichinosis scares date back thirty-five, forty years ago …
Be curious to hear your report next week …
Right, in Italy, and even in some of the more simple, unpretentious Italian restaurants in Boston, New York, Philly, Rhode Island, etc., wine is table wine, for the most part, and a thing that is meant to complement and blend into a meal.
Willard's? I don't think so. Fine in a pinch, but … Out in Woodbridge, I like Dixie Bones, but it's not as if I ever crave its 'cue (I crave its pecan pie, another story).
That's all for this week, everyone — time to run.
Be well, eat well, and let's do it again next Tuesday at 11 …
Submit a question to Todd's chat next Tuesday, July 7, at 11 AM.
(for T.E.K. … )