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.
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Read the transcript from June 30.
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
We're headed to Dewey Beach for a week at the end of July and are scouting around for some foodie-worthy restaurant recommendations. Can't seem to find a current write-up anywhere on dining on the Delaware shore. Looking for upscale and down: What is the best seafood shack these days? Where to go for a celebratory (birthday) meal? Thanks for your ideas.
I'd go to the NorthEast Seafood Kitchen, in Bethany. It's a SoDel restaurant, just like Fish On! in Lewes, which I'd also recommend.
A lot of Rehoboth area restaurants at the high-end go in for extremely cluttered cooking — dishes that make use of 7 and 8 components where 4 would do. These places don't. They're simple and satisfying. And the prices are much more reasonable.
Espuma in Rehoboth proper is an exception to the too-cluttered rule. It's a good place, very worthwhile.
I also like Nage, on the main drag that brings you into the beach. Some excellent wines (and you can get tastes as well as full-pours), a tremendous burger (one of the best I've eaten in the last couple of years), and the kitchen is working with more poise and confidence than ever.
Some can't misses: Casapulla for great Italian subs and Louie's for pizza by the slice (get the pepperoni).
Also, in Lewes: I would make an effort to go to Cafe Azafran. Some good tapas, and a very relaxed, appealing atmosphere.
I think the bone marrow trend has peaked and died. Too bad, because I don't see it as trendy food. I see it as elemental and rooted.
I can't think of any restaurants right now that are serving it. Of course, right now is the heart of summer and bone marrow, even on toast, is the last thing you want to be seeing on a humid, breath-choking day.
With all the wine bars and wanna-be wine bars in the area now, I'd think — I'd hope — we'd see bone marrow coming back sometime this Fall and winter.
If ever a dish were made for a wine bar, it's bone marrow and toast.
Me, I would like to see more and better restaurants in the areas I think you're talking about.
What would you recommend we write about? What do you think we're missing?
I like some of Rockland's sides, too. I just don't like the barbecue.
And what's the point of hitting a 'cue joint if you don't like the very reason for being there? It'd be like going to a steakhouse for the creamed spinach and hash browns.
What can I say? I had good meals there.
Space was loud? I don't fault them for noise, not when they're trying to create a high-energy place with a hum.
Poor service? I saw some slip-ups in my three visits, but I also saw a staff that did a very good job of dealing with the problems. Not just correcting things and/or making them right, but doing it with grace and sincerity and good humor. Sincerity and good humor — these are not things you see a lot these days.
I also don't dock them for a lack of inventiveness, since, again, that's not the intention; the goal of the place, the entire mission, is geared to delivering the kind of experience that we don't see in this town, a brawny, garlicky, old-style red sauce sort of experience.
I was having dinner with friends the night…a friend of ours, who is from the Sudan, mentioned how there are no Sudanese restaurants in the area. Do you know of any that are worth going?
Is this the Stuart I think it is?? If so, I'm glad to see you made it to the chat. If not, well, I'm glad to get the question, anyway.
Your friend is either misinformed or doesn't like the one place that I know of — El Khartoum at the southern end of Adams Morgan, on Florida.
I like their version of fool, it's nicely (but not too) soupy, it's got good spice, and it's great with a warm hunk of bread.
Hi Todd, love the chats!
So my boyfriend is in town this week (he lives in LA) and he loves Vietnamese food. I've been dying to try both Present and Four Sisters, which would you recommend? The reviews of both places are great and I can't make a decision. Thanks!!
Which you may notice is, and has been, on my top 20 list for a while now. The move to a new space in Merrifield and the emergence of the talented Hoa Lai, the sisters' brother, has really energized the place. I think it's the best Vietnamese restaurant in the area right now.
I like Present too. It's just that I think the cooking at Four Sisters is more consistent and, across the board, more satisfying. It's also probably the most beautiful restaurant you're going to find for these prices.
I'm going to propose on my gf's birthday, and I'd like to take her to someplace really romantic. We've already been to Restaurant Eve, Komi, L'Auberge Chez Francois…. Any suggestions? Thanks!
I don't see Citronelle on your list, and I think you really ought to think about taking her there. It's softly lit, it's a little lair-like, the cooking is dramatic and often excellent, the staff is well-drilled in handling these sorts of occasions, and I think you'd have a special time.
A number of the other restaurants frequently bandied about as being romantic aren't all that great as all-around experiences. Taberna is dramatic and sensuous, but the cooking felt tired to me on my last visit. The Tabard Inn is up and down.
And I'm not even including places like the Old Angler's Inn, Morrison House, etc.
Potenza's bakery's got the best. By far.
Vaccaro doesn't even come close.
If you're going to pick them up and take them home, what I'd suggest is that you ask the bakery — it's adjacent to the restaurant — to put your filling in a separate container from the shells themselves. Once you fill them, it's not too long before they turn soggy. You can do the filling at home by spooning the ricotta mixture into the shells or by putting the mixture into a Ziploc and cutting off a small piece of a corner of the bag and piping it into the shells that way.
I've seen waits of 45 minutes and more.
But it's summer, and you might not have to wait that long, either. It's really hard to know.
Go early, and it shouldn't be a problem. And yes, it's a place I'd heartily recommend. To me, Kotobuki is a model I'd like to see more places copy — whether they're sushi joints or not. A small, focused menu, a chef who doesn't depart from what he likes and does well, a small staff that doesn't turn over , etc. It adds up to a very impressive consistency.
Don’t know if you’ve seen Gordon Ramsay’s BBC America show, “The F Word” – it’s very entertaining and not at all like the shows he does in the US.
One bit he does is to challenge a British celebrity or actor to an informal cookoff, usually some sort of traditional comfort dish like a fish pie or bread pudding. The two dishes are then judged – blind – by five random diners in his “F Word” restaurant.
Inevitably, Gordon’s dish is creatively thought-out, perfectly prepared, full of interesting ingredients, and looks fantastic. Also inevitably, the challenger’s dish is plain, slapdash, and looks sad. But, I would guess that Gordon’s dish LOSES the challenge 70% of the time.
What’s going on here?
I know it’s hard for you to say without seeing the dishes, but do you think it’s: a) Most diners don’t have the palate to appreciate the work of a master chef? b) The dish by the master chef is overcomplicated to the point of being less desirable (too many diverse ingredients, too many exotic preparations)? c) If Gordon came out and said, “Here’s my fish pie, and here’s this talk show host’s fish pie. Please choose the best,” the judges would pick Gordon’s? I’m with you in that “good food is good food”. Who knows…maybe that British talk show host’s fish pie really IS good. While I’m at it, do you know where I can try fish pie in the DC area?
You just don't SEE fish pie around here, so no, sorry.
And yeah, I've caught the show and think it's pretty entertaining, too — more entertaining than "Top Chef," to be sure.
As to your question about what's going on … well, who knows, really.
I have two guesses.
One is about Londoners. There's been a lot of talk about how the food scene there has dramatically improved, but I'm not buying it. Beyond a few great restaurants at the high end, and beyond a renewed interest in ingredients from the countryside, etc., there's a lot of not-so-good. Most of my most rewarding experiences when I was eating my way around the city a couple of years ago were at Indian restaurants — which are not the recipient, generally, of the England-is-back praise.
The other guess is about people, generally.
We've been talking about doing a piece in which we would have a chef put together two three-course meals to have some random folks compare side by side — meal A would be dishes from his or her menu that make use of the restaurant's regular suppliers — his or her local farmers, etc.; meal B, dishes that are made with ingredients from a Safeway or Giant.
I don't think that a lot of people who are not food fanciers would be able to appreciate the difference. I don't even suspect most people would be able to TELL.
A while back, I took some folks to a restaurant that prides itself on its sourcing, on its charcuterie, etc. — all the things that foodies are so intent upon. And they enjoyed their meal okay but for the life of them couldn't understand why the bill was so high. When I asked them if they'd go back, they said no. When I asked if they would return if the meal were a little cheaper, they still said no. I think it came down to these details that all of us on this chat tend to like and love and savor — where things come from, the effort required to get them, the labor that goes into making a pate from scratch, etc. — but which really didn't resonate with them.
My fiancee went to a place in the city the other day (near her work) called Nando's Peri-Peri. She raved about the chicken, rice, & beans. What can you say about this place? I hear it is a chain…is that true? I'm always looking for a good chicken to eat!!
It is, it's a chain. And a remarkably beautiful space for a chain; no chain at that level has ever looked as good as the place they have here.
And the chicken can be good, but I don't think you can say it's consistently good.
A good friend of mine is coming to town and I'm stumped on an idea for a restaurant. We're on a strict budget AND he does not eat gluten. Any suggestions? No real limit on location–except that I'd like it to be in DC (as opposed to MD or VA). Thanks!
You know? I think Kotobuki — I know, I know, it's on my mind now — but I think Kotobuki is just the place you're looking for.
The prices are surprisingly good for sushi (I mean, it's on our Cheap Eats list again), and your friend can load up on sashimi and ankimo and the miso soup and avoid the nigiri.
What you should do, is drive up the road to Pete's, in Columbia Heights.
Get the Sorbillo's Original. Get the massive clam and garlic pie.
It's that good. Best in the city. Better, in fact, than a lot of the most highly regarded spots in NY. I'd be willing to drive a half hour, at least, to eat there.
I'm new-ish to the area and have followed your chats a bit. I've been looking for a good BBQ place and saw this mentioned in your chat a few weeks back. I was driving around last week and stumbled on a place called "Branded 72 Pit Barbecue" in Rockville. Have you been? Is it worth my while?
The space used to be O'Brien's Pit Barbecue, which I used to go to quite a bit back in the day but hadn't been to in ages.
Last Tuesday I went to Sushi Taro with my girlfriend to celebrate her birthday. We're both big fans of sushi, and we were more than blown away by the omakase that chef Nobu prepared for us. I would place it as the best dining experience I have had in the greater DC area.
Highlights for me were the horse mackeral tartare, the scallop sashimi, the sardine sushi (which was beautifully braided), the white salmon (which we had both in sushi and as sashimi). We were also intrigued by a sea cucumber/sea pineapple combination and some Japanese vegetable that comes in a gelatin-like encasement. You asked a few weeks ago about what this city lacked and needed, and I think that Sushi Taro does set itself apart from the other sushi establishments in providing (at least what appears to me to be) an authentic Japanese style fine restaurant (as opposed to Americanized sushi or the whole Benihaha schtick).
Anyway, after having such a fantastic meal, I was surprised to see so much hate in the reader comments on the WaPo and City Paper sites. Several people, in fact, expressly wished that Sushi Taro fails. All of these posters loved the previous incarnation of Taro. I should also note that my girlfriend and I were the only ones at the sushi bar the entire night.
Should chef Nobu have changed the name of the restaurant after the renovation and menu changes to avoid confusion and these "hurt feelings"? Do you think such a haute Japanese restaurant is doomed to fail because most Americans want spicy tuna rolls and chicken teriyaki?
To flip that last question, however, chef Nobu said something that I wonder if you agree with: he said that an idea like his restaurant is easier in New York because diners there are less critical and will go in the direction of whatever is fashionable, but in DC the audience is tougher because the clientele is more worldly and brings more experience to bear.
In other words, DC diners are less into fashion and more discerning and want more authenticity. So what is it: do DC diners want their familiar Japanese-American California rolls, or are they more willing to strive for authenticity? Is the truth somewhere in the middle?
I think a good number of people feel betrayed by the overhaul. They liked what it was, and are turned off by what it's become. I have friends who feel this way.
I'm going to guess that most of the animus has to do with the fact that, like my friends, these people can no longer afford to eat here. The place is really, really expensive.
What was, for many, a once a week sort of place, or a two times a month place, has transformed itself into a once-a-year kind of place. That's a huge change.
I have a review of it coming out in a week, and I don't want to steal my own thunder, as they like to say on sports talk radio. But I do think that if you're really passionate about sushi — if you know and can appreciate the differences between the very, very best and the merely very good — if you've become dismayed by what tuna has in most instances become, i.e., mealy and tasteless — then you'll like the new place a lot if you can come up with the money to afford it.
I think that beyond sushi and sashimi, the restaurant has some work to do. It has work to do with service (the sushi at its best is 4-star good; the service at its best is somewhere in the neighborhood of 1-1/2 star), it has work to do with its cooked dishes (the charcoal grilled chicken, the tempura, for instance, are only ordinary), its wine list can use broadening, etc.
As for the comments re: DC and NY. Eh. i don't know. I think that's painting with too broad a brush. And I certainly don't think you can say the audience here is more worldly than NY.
In a word: no.
In another word: Yeecch.
The strength of this place was never the barbecue, but everything else — the fritos with chili, the burgers, etc. And the barbecue, even with the much-touted new smoker, is still disappointing. My last meal there was full of pretty flavorless, unluscious 'cue — albeit flecked with lots of char bits.
I will say that the Rockville location is better than the second location, in Hillandale. But that's not saying a whole lot …
My Sister and her Fiancé just moved here from Burlington VT and are very excited to experience the variety of ethnic cuisine that DC has to offer.
I want to take them around to some of the area’s best, El Salvadorian (good papusas?), Peruvian (good civeche?)Indian, Ethiopian, etc. (feel free to add on to the list.) They will be living in Maryland, but working in DC and VA, so location's not an issue. Any recommendations?
For Salvadoran: Lillian's, Samantha's, Irene's Pupuseria III. I also like Guardado's for its pupusas, although the menu is mainly Spanish and tapas.
(By the way: Franklin's is doing a terrific [slightly tweaked] pupusa on its regular menu, with curtido [the crunchy, tangy slaw that goes on top] but also portobello mushrooms in there with the gooey queso blanco. And a nice drizzle of crema. And a bright, fresh-tasting tomato sauce ringing the whole thing. Very good stuff. Great with a glass of the Bombshell Blonde, a beer brewed on the premises.)
Peruvian. Lots to choose from. I like Cuzco, I like La Limena, I like La Canela, I like La Flor de la Canela. All really good.
Best Indian is Rasika, on the higher end, and I also like the new Spice X-ing.
For Ethiopian, you're looking at Etete or Shagga.
I'd add Vietnamese (the best three are Four Sisters, Present, Minh's), and Bolivian, since that's a real strength of the area (El Pike is my favorite here for straight Bolivian; the place I like even more is La Caraquena, which is Bolivian and Venezuelan primarily).
Also, kabobs. Ravi Kabob I, II and now III is tops. A place I tweeted about last week, Afghan Famous Kabob, in Gainesville, is really, really good too — superb boulanee (maybe the best in the area), juicy, monstrous-sized kabobs, good cinnamon rice, good bread.
I'd want to go with something light (to help balance the ice cream and cake and meat sauce) but also zesty.
You could do some roasted veggies — roasted peppers, roasted eggplant, roasted zucchini, etc. Doesn't take much time at all, the oven does all the work, and if you roast them nicely and take your time, you'll have something really good — something that's healthful and also flavorful. And a good complement to your friend's meal.
You round out the plate and make it a kind of summer antipasti plate, with roasted veggies, cheese (a nice soft cheese, like a ricotta, or some fresh mozzarella), some crackers, etc. Get some fresh basil as a garnish, and you have a pretty plate, too.
One thing I would do to add to the plate, if I had the time, would be to do some pickled carrots and pickled cauliflower. Slice the carrots nice and thin and separate the cauliflower into tiny florets and make a pickling brine tonight and put them in. By tomorrow, they'd be perfect.
For the brine: some good vinegar, a few cloves, a bay leaf or two, some whole peppercorns, some mustard seeds, some cumin seeds.
What do you think? If you take me up on my suggestion, please write back in and let me know how things turned out.
Be well, everyone, eat well, and let's do it again next week at 11 …
And don't forget that the Best of Washington party is tomorrow night at the Building Museum, with some 60 restaurants and their chefs in attendance.
Tickets can be purchased on the web site ..
(Note: The Best Of Party is sold out)
Submit your question in advance to Todd's chat next Tuesday, July 21.
(thinking of you, TEK)