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 July 14.
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
Last week someone mentioned they were looking for some bone marrow. I went to Ray's Hell Burger and I seem to recall seeing a burger with bone marrow and persillade. To each is own! Thanks.
And thanks for the reminder.
Though it's not quite the same as scooping the thing out yourself from the conical bone and slathering it over grilled toast.
As I said last week, I hope we see marrow bones returning on restaurant menus when the weather gets cold …
Any rumors yet about the summer restaurant week? Will they be doing one in August and if so, any hints to which week? Thanks!
I'll let you know as soon as I know …
I used to enjoy Alberto's, a downstairs outfit on P that serves jumbo slices, but it's been spotty lately.
Have you been to Pizzeria Paradiso, on the other side of P? That's probably your best bet in the neighborhood. I don't think they're in the same class as Pete's, but when they're on, they're good …
Incidentally, I'm not all that high on 2 Amys for pizza these days. For everything else, absolutely. From here on out, or until I've been persuaded otherwise, 2 Amys to me is a casual Italian restaurant. And a good one. A very good one, actually. In fact, one of the best Italian restaurants in the area.
The pizzas, though … If they're not soggy and undercooked, they're dry and over-charred. Sometimes, they're both soggy in the middle and overcharred at the same time.
It's really too bad.
I'm in love with Plaka Grill, in a tiny strip mall in Vienna.
Particularly the Plaka gyro, which is, without doubt, the greatest gyro in the area.
What makes it so great? They use a different kind of meat for this sandwich from the standard, pressed block of lamb you see — although Plaka also does the standard gyro. But get the Plaka gyro, which uses a luscious, crispy-edged pork, sliced from a vertical spit.
The pita is a cut above, and the meat goes in there, along with tzaziki, sliced red onion and — just like they do in Greece — a fistful of french fries.
I can taste it now …
Plaka also does a good taromasalata, a good rotisserie chicken (done up with lots of herbs and lemon), and a very good avgolemeno soup.
You don't tend to think of Greek food as a strength of this area, but right now, there are a number of good spots to go, from the high-end (Komi) to the high-middle (Mourayo) to the middle (Cava) and on down. Plaka is among the cheapest, and a real gem.
Hi Todd –
Since good BBQ seems to be on a lot of people's taste buds, I'd like to mention a place that I went to in Harpers Ferry. It is in an old train. Not fancy, but the owner is very nice, sides are ok,but we all thought the ribs were very good. I forgot the name.
I think you're talking about Hannah's Train Depot, which I've seen but have never gotten to. Thanks for the tip.
As far as "not fancy" goes — I don't want my barbecue to be served up in a place that's fancy. Just the opposite, in fact.
I want texture, character, soul.
Or — I want a shack by the side of the road.
Fancy is the enemy of good barbecue. So is faux. As in: places with faux-texture and character. Faux soul. There are a fair number of those.
Ah, forgot them. Thanks.
They can make a good pie. Consistency, that's the question.
But yeah, a good, simple pie — one, two toppings — is the way to go there. Actually, it's the way to go at most places.
Hey Todd –
I have a little more than a month to pick a restaurant that can cater to up to 15 women with varying dining preferences (including vegetarian), that is not going to break our collective banks, will allow us to hear each other's conversations, and can make a mean Manhattan (and has a decent wine list too).
It's my 30th birthday and we'll be celebrating in as much style as our wallets will allow! So far I'm interested in Marvin and Nicaro.
I prefer D.C. or Maryland over Virginia for this night out. I trust your opinion and would love to have your input.
And just allow me a second to say something, if I may, about turning 3-0 — it probably sounds old to you. Momentous, portentous. But you know what? Most people I know were very, very happy to be out of their 20s. The angst, the uncertainty, the constant, unrelenting melodrama … the waiting on people to get their acts together, your own wait to get your own act together … the sense of life as a holding pattern, the sense of life as something that older, more established people have it so much better …
Be happy to be saying goodbye to all that.
Anyway, your question … I'd add Poste to your list and put it at the top. The food's markedly better than Marvin's, and you'll have more in the way of bar options and atmosphere than at Nicaro.
Central Michel Richard and Cafe du Parc would work as well, though I think the latter would have a little trouble fitting you in (and you really do want to sit outside at du Parc, if you can).
And the grocery is called Hung Phat.
It's not bad. I like the roasted quail with lime dip, and the bun is very decent. Prices are cheap.
But I like a new-ish place in Silver Spring a lot more — Lotus Cafe, right around the corner from Jackie's. The previous tenant was also a Vietnamese place, My Le. … Anyway, their grilled beef-stuffed grape leaves are terrific, as good as any I've eaten recently. You wrap them yourself in a sheet of rice paper, add in some vermicelli noodles, a little pickled carrot, some mint, and make a tight bundle of a roll.
They also do a wonderful duck in yellow curry. It's a very full-bodied curry, and not just because of the coconut milk that acts as a thickener. It's full-bodied because of the way the spices are used. This isn't just a one-not curry, hot and nothing else. There's a surprising complexity to it.
Good pho, too. Made with a very rich, rewarding broth.
I think you'd be hard put to find another restaurant in the city that offers so little bang for the (big) buck.
It's a shame, because I like the mission, I love the space (it really feels like dining in Paris), and the bar mixes a great drink.
But the prices are really high, and the cooking lacks excitement and distinction.
Which in my book means all those other things — mission, space, bar — hardly matter …
Still good. And actually, right now, probably better than it's ever been.
The gazpacho they're doing is killer, there's a chili-rubbed pork loin that could have been taken from the menu at the old Red Sage in its heyday, and a rendition of fish-n-chips that's as unusual as it is excellent — no small feat with a dish that everybody is familiar with, a dish, moreover, that doesn't do well with too much innovation.
This one uses halibut, and it's some of the creamiest halibut I've ever had — fish 'n' chips or no. It's as if the covering, the battered carapace, acts the way a salt crust does with fish — steaming the contents within.
Worth going there just to taste.
Jackie's isn't cheap, and hasn't been for a while. But it delivers a lot more than other, comparably themed and/or priced places do.
So I have very pedestrian taste in food. I am not adventurous. At all.
I do not eat foie gras, veal, lamb, rabbit, pork belly (I don't even know what this is, but it sounds super-gross), tongue or sweetbreads (or any other offbeat part of an animal). I hate complicated preparations of food, I dislike most sauces except for tomato, I do not eat "real" sushi, prefering avocado rolls or cooked shrimp rolls instead. I am a small-ish person and do not eat huge amounts so I tend to shy away from entrees and order a salad and app as my meal.
However, I consider myself somewhat of a "foodie" and follow numerous dining-related chats, blogs, columns, etc. I definitely have my finger on the pulse of the DC dining scene in that I know about- and have tried- many of the new and trendy restaurants. Am I kidding myself??
No. Not at all.
Eat what you eat, enjoy what you enjoy, and who cares about anybody else, or about trends, or the buzz of the moment.
"Supposed to" — maybe the most dangerous two words in the entire language.
A taste for those foods you rattled off does not make you a food lover. A passion for food, for finding it, for consuming it, for reading about it, for purchasing it at its peak in markets, for organizing your life around meals and restaurants, for bringing people together at the table — that, to me, is the mark of a food lover.
Love the chats!
Do you know anything about the Belgian Independence celebration at Beck?
They are going to have seafood pie, ribs, mussels, lamb sausage, etc. served buffet style at stations. Also, they are having nearly all the Belgian beers available in the area at stations. However, I called and it is standing room only for $100 pp AYCE.
Do you think it will be worth it or will it be an overcrowded and chafing dished food mess?
That's tonight. It should be quite the scene.
But I have to tell you, I would never pay $100 for any kind of buffet. I mean it, any kind. Even if it was a buffet of Thomas Keller's food.
In fact, I would never pay $100 for any kind of experience that I could not control, in some way.
And to have to compete with other people and wait in lines, in addition?
No, no, no.
A hundred times no.
$100 — boy oh boy, that's just galling, especially in this economy. If they can get it, I guess more power to them. But it's way, way, way too expensive for what I imagine you'd be getting tonight.
Looking for an affordable place in DC (less than 30 per person including tax and tip) to take my dad to tonight.
He lives in the boonies in new england so I'm hoping to get a type of food thats not as well done up there. We care about food and food only. Dont care about drinks, service and all that crap.
Oh, and no Ethiopian. Everything else is fair game.
What do you think? I was thinking maybe himalayan heritage, palena cafe (the menu looked very boring though)….I have no freakin clue.
Boring? Not boring. If you can get there early, then go. Great soups, great pastas, a great cheeseburger …
Thing is, though, that that thirty would only go so far at a place like Palena Cafe. I mean, a burger and a plate of fries is going to run you over twenty.
Himalayan Heritage is also a good bet.
And I'd recommend giving a hard look to Cava, on 8th St., Capitol Hill, for good Greek food. Small plates (called mezze), but bigger portions than the usual small plates places put out. I like the spicy lamb sliders, the watermelon salad, a dish of braised, chopped lamb over cripsy fries, and the avgolemeno soup. For dessert, a bowl of thick, creamy Greek yogurt drizzled with honey and toasted walnuts.
There's an awful lot in here to address, and let me just start by saying that I think a soft opening is not a time to judge a restaurant. And certainly not harshly. That's why the opening is "soft."
So I'm not going to speak to the idea of what the new and very ambitious Trummer's is or ought to be, etc.
Now, as for North Carolina being local, well — that we can judge. And judge harshly. Some of these definitions of "local" these days are plain ridiculous.
Re: wine from Virginia. It would be great to see on more menus, but even the places that flatter themselves for carrying Virginia wines generally carry only a couple.
You brought up "hovering." It's not something that restaurant-goers generally talk about, and I know that a lot of foodies like a kind of hyper-attentive service. But hovering, to me, is a huge no-no. And yet I see it all the time at restaurants of a certain ambition. Sometimes, it seems as if there's a sniper in the room.
Restaurants think they're doing you a great favor by gifting you with this kind of service. But it's not a sign of a relaxed operation. It's a sign of a coiled operation, an eager, tense operation.
Hovering + gracious, friendly, personable service, that's one thing.
But hovering is rarely accompanied by a show of personality.
Blue Duck Tavern's bone marrow is back served with a paprika crust. We had taken them off the menu while we had the wood burning oven serviced, and brought it back about 8 weeks ago, as one of our signature dishes we serve them year round.
William Washington Blue Duck Tavern
The Hotel Washington’s spectacularly unremarkable roof top bar and the newly renovated Point of View share the same stunning views of DC. The drinks, cuisine and the décor have been updated and upgraded. Sadly, mediocre service is still a component of this place. Lines to enter are frustratingly long and woefully mismanaged. Bartenders and cocktail servers are possessed with haughty pretentions that seem to expect a guest’s gratitude for their admittance.
With a round of drinks for my group of three being north of sixty dollars (including tax and gratuity,) I became even less enamored of this place where too many people wear sunglasses past the point of need, and take themselves far too seriously.
About a half a mile away from P.O.V. is another newish rooftop hotel bar, the SkyBar at the Beacon Hotel. The Beacon has never been known for high-end food or high quality service – I seem to recall one of the critics of record skewering the place with a one star review that was better than my zero star prior experiences. I was coaxed into giving them another chance by a gorgeous summer evening and a stiletto wearing ingénue I have known for a while. Sticking to beer on tap because of a frighteningly mundane and overpriced selection of wines by the glass is the smart way to go here – assuming that you like a dark brown ale more appropriate to cool weather drinking.
Still, I’d rather pay for the only beer on tap option, New Castle Brown, than spend twelve + dollars for a glass of wine that I know cost the bar six dollars for the bottle. Overpricing and lack of seasonality aside, SkyBar is a pleasant place to spend an after work evening before going some place else for food. Crab Hush Puppies were lacking in discernable crab flavor specifically, and flavor flavor generally. Wasabi Guacamole had heat but not salt, and the Calamari Salad was rubbery and overly salted.
Policy is another new place with outdoor space – sure, it overlooks an alley and the back of buildings but it fits with my open air/new place theme. The look of this place is overly mod and severe with an all black interior on the dining room level. Un-shaded tear drop lighting adds to the severity. This place isn’t my style but I’m sure that it appeals to some.
With all of its hipster striving, Policy may not seem like a place for serious dining, but the food is serious, and seriously good here. The menu may seem like a 2001 Greatest Culinary Hits album – lamb lollipops, duck spring rolls, short ribs, hanger steak – but the dishes are executed very well and priced reasonably too. For maximum enjoyment, I would recommend early week dining because this place can get loud without too much help from the music and chatter.
Bar Dupont in the recently renovated Hotel Dupont is the new winner of the “We’re Really Pretty So We Don’t Have to Be Good Crown.” It is visually charming, but there are so many things wrong with service, food, management, and concept that the only nice thing that one of my favorite food bloggers and I could say after one visit was “at least the mustard was good.”
Having ordered the “Turf Flat” (“A collection of the chef’s favorite tastes on one plate” a bartender informed us in overly scripted delivery,) a burger, and fries it became a tale of the overcooked, the under-seasoned, and poorly thought. Braised short ribs were easily the worst offender on the plate – run through a food processor for some strange reason and served on a square of untoasted bread. It was just mush with salt and a hint of beef. As bad as the food is, the service is its peer despite the plethora of suits running about the joint. The servers are thinly stretched in too large sections, not once have I been given the same (or correct) answers about the beers available.
Requests are ignored or forgotten, and be sure to order your wine early since the cellar is “a couple of floors away and we don’t have a key” according to one suit, and a bartender.
Todd, I have my own theories about places that choose not to be good because their location means that they don’t have to be; what are your thoughts?
You know, I like anyone who says "enamored of," as opposed to the gratingly common "enamored with."
So, thank you. And welcome back, RR!
Your last musing has me thinking of Hell Point Seafood, the new place in Annapolis from Bob Kinkead. Hell Point takes over a very prime piece of real estate, right near the water — a space that was occupied for many years by Phillips Seafood, which was just dreadful.
It's miles better than Phillips, but then, it doesn't take much to be miles better than that place.
The problem, I think, is that Hell Point doesn't have much incentive to be significantly better than it already is.
I've seen comically inept service here (waiting five minutes at the host stand before being greeted; being told I could sit at the bar and order a drink, then being ignored for fifteen minutes; having a basket of bread and butter delivered after placing an order for dessert … I could go on, but won't).
And though there are some good things coming out of the kitchen (a good lobster roll, some good softshells, and a killer peach tart tatin), too many dishes are underwhelming (a flat-tasting clam chowder, a seafood stew that featured slightly overcooked fish and tasted like a collection of parts, not a coherent, soulful dish).
The potential is here to be Annapolis's best restaurant.
But right now, you get the feeling that pretty good — and with a gorgeous location right near the water — is good enough.
No, not doner meat. It's roast pork.
And now, dammit, I'm thinking about the thing again! I'm telling you: this is one of the great sandwiches in the area, right now.
Worth a drive, if you ask me, just to go out there and get one.
I'll be fantasizing about it, no doubt, as I dig into some dull, calorie-saving turkey sandwich for lunch in the next ten minutes.
Be well, everyone, eat well, and let's do it again next week at 11 …
Submit your question in advance to Todd for next week's chat.
(thinking of you, TEK)