Tuesday, August 4 at 11 AM

Ask food & wine editor and restaurant critic Todd Kliman a question about Washington area cuisine and restaurant news.

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 28.

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The Current List: Where I'd Spend My Own Money

Komi, DC
Nava Thai Noodle & Grill, Wheaton
Honey Pig BBQ, Annandale
Palena and Palena Cafe, DC
China Jade, Derwood
The Source and The Source Lounge, DC
Johnny's Half Shell, DC
Siroc, DC
Ravi Kabob I and II, Arlington
Vidalia, DC
Batik, Gaithersburg
Pete's Apizza, DC
Four Sisters, Falls Church
Sushi Sono, Columbia
Poste Brasserie, DC
La Caraquena, Falls Church
Oval Room, DC
Cantler's Riverside Inn, Annapolis
La Fondita, Hyattsville
Sushi Taro, DC

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Cheverly, MD

I noticed last week you mentioned some of the places on H Street, and omitted Sticky Rice. I remember you didn't have a favorable impression a year back or so. For me, it is a place we return to again and again.

We are vegetarians, and they have a fantastic selection of vegetarian rolls (I think 6-8 creative ones beyond the norm), my faves are the tofu max with tofu, cilantro, grilled pineapple and raw jalepeno, the hot hippy, the hello kitty, the gardens on fire and the dirty south (tempura sweet potato with cream cheese and a drizzle of honey roll). We typically ask for a "selection of vegetarian rolls, about $12 person" and see what they come up with.

I think they have some of the most creative, fun, and affordable vegetarian rolls in the area. They aren't traditional Japanese, the service is generally friendly but amateurish, and the noodle dishes tend to be too sweet, but I think they do some things well. Have you been back lately? Tried the veggie items?

Not favorable is putting it mildly.

To call it sushi for drunk people, that's probably going overboard. But not by much.

It's not a place I can recommend, nor is it a place I would have sought out, on my own, in the days when I wasn't working as a critic.

I'd be willing to go back, of course; I'm always open to the idea that a place can grow and evolve and improve.

I just don't have a lot of faith that this is one of those places.

Cheverly. MD

I completely agree with what you said about restaurant week.

For my husband and I, we usually will get one or maybe two apps, and a main each, and skip dessert. Heck, sometimes we just get a bunch of apps to sample things and leave the entrees alone.

I don't even know if there are any participating restaurants where we would normally spend $70 eating anyways (before wine, service, etc), and we get to avoid the surly service, limited menus and upcharges.

When I look back over the years of restaurant week here and in Boston where we used to live, there are few memorable selections– Corduroy and Tosca, and everywhere else we have been we have left feeling kind of hollow and deprived of something.

For now, with all of the great deals out there (Vidalia's lunch deal especially), I will pass on restaurant week. Is there anywhere tempting you this year?

I'm planning on reading through all the menus later this week, so I'll have a better idea, then, whether I'm tempted, and who, if anyone, is tempting me.

But as I said last week, $35 for dinner for one isn't that much of a deal anymore, and particularly if, as I expect, the options are full of things like chicken breast and salmon. (And portions have already been shrinking, steadily, in the midst of the economic collapse.)

At $35, Restaurant Week pretty much amounts to Free Dessert Week. 

Silver Spring, MD

I've been following your list "The Current List: Where I'd Spend My Own Money" — are those "winners" listed in some order of preference?

Also, could I ask why you list Nava Thai Noodle & Grill in Wheaton, and not the closeby Ruan Thai? How do they compare? We've just discovered Ruan Thai each time my wife and I were there. Thanks!

No, they're not listed in order of preference. I guess I ought to put them in alphabetical order, but I don't really want to. That makes it more official and serious than it's meant to be. It's just a list. Of places I like and feel a connection with.

And the list changes, from time to time, to accommodate new enthusiasms — like, for example, China Jade, which makes it on this week. And Batik, which made it on last week.

I like Ruan Thai. I like it a lot. Right now, I like Nava just a little bit more. Does that mean I won't recommend Ruan Thai? No. It means — well, it means that I like and feel a connection with Nava Thai.

There are an awful lot of good and great restaurants that my list leaves out. I know that. I'm not slighting these places by not including them.

What I'm doing is sharing my enthusiasms. It's a highly personal list, a public version of a list my wife and I have kept since we were dating.

What you read, here, is exactly the same thing as what we keep in our kitchen and on our BlackBerry and iPhone.

 

Bill from the Hill, DC

Todd-

I just returned from Rehoboth and took your suggestion on Nage. Great meal, probably the best I've had at the beach and a welcome change from the traditional all you can eat crab buffet. I haven't been to the DC Nage, but am considering checking it out. Any thoughts?

Here's my thought: it's not as good.

And what a shame, because Nage in Rehoboth is doing so many things right and has become a really good destination for beachgoers.

For years, I was disappointed by it, thought it was trying too hard, thought it was reaching well past what it was capable of pulling off. Not so much anymore. I've had very good meals there recently. And the burger! Worth going just for that. I also love the fact you can get so many wines by the glass, and can sample "tastes" as well as full pours.

I will say, however, that it's been some time since I was last into the Nage here in DC, and based on my recent experiences at the Rehoboth original, I'm tempted to give the place here another spin.

If you go in the next week or so, drop back on here and let us know how it turned out … 

And…

I think you were tough on Taylor. Is it "yuppified"? Sure. Are the hoagies less than huge? Sure. Are they good and more than I need to be stuffed? Yes. Are there more than a few other spots in town doing a better job with sandwiches? I don't think so.

I'm all for poking fun at the hipsters and the image obsessed, but Taylor is turning out a pretty good product, I think. I presume you tried it a few times before writing, but if not, maybe try it once more and see if you just had bad luck. I like them quite well and generally find myself well-aligned with your opinions.

Well-put. Thanks for writing in.

This is what it comes down to for me. It's an okay sandwich, and the ingredients are certainly quality.But I don't think they make a great sandwich, much less a great hoagie.

Sandwich-making is harder than it looks, and so many sandwiches around here are truly bad. Some of the worst offenders are those purporting to put out something gourmet. Sandwich-making is more than having good ingredients. It's the generosity of spirit in laying on the meats and cheeses, etc. It's the craft of assembly. It's the bread. 

I can see the appeal of Taylor to someone who's in the area or going to be near the area and looking for a quick bite.

But I can't put my name behind a recommendation, because it doesn't embody the things I would like a place like this to embody.

 

hyattsville

Hi Todd,

We just don't get it: La Sirenita? We've tried and tried … and after last week's "blah, eh, no thanks we don't even want a doggy bag" meal, we're given up. Can you tell us AGAIN why you like the place? Fortunately, the ever-so-much-better, always happy-making La Fondita is so close by! Una mas quessadilla con flor de calabaza y huitlacoche y queso, por favor!! vicki 

What did you order? I've never had a dispiriting meal there.

What do I like about it? Several of the tacos (not all), the chilaquiles, the posole, the huevos rancheros, to name a few.

I'm glad you've found your way to La Fondita, where I've been having a run of good luck. Ever-so-much-better? I don't know about that. But the place has gotten better since I first wrote about it a year and a half ago. 

You're in luck if they have the chicken soup, which is one of the better soups I've eaten in the last year. 

Arlington, VA
Is Kora really opening tomorrow? If so, what should we expect?

What should we expect? The latest, and maybe best, proof that we're deep into the midst of Recession-era eats.

The menu is full of the kind of hearty, red-sauce dishes that we all know and love — eggplant parm, lobster ravioli — but which I never thought I would see in a restaurant with Morou involved.

There's also — say what? — barbecued-chicken and BLT pizzas.

And — tellingly, or so it appears — no Merlot powders, no tapioca pearls, no foams, no "essences."

Which is not to say it can't be good. Anything Morou involves himself with, is bound to be interesting and worthwhile. It's just that, at this point, the place is hedging an awful lot of bets.

WDC
Speaking of your list, I am always surprised to see Poste and Johnny's Half Shell on it. Nothing against either restaurant as I frequent them both (or at least their bar areas), but I doubt they'd make many other lists and wonder what it is that you like most about them. Other than their inclusion on your list, I don't hear much buzz or recall hearing you recommend them often.

Again, it's a personal list. Not the best, necessarily, not the most innovative or interesting, necessarily — but the places I am drawn to and feel a connection with.

Buzz? I don't care about buzz. This list is steadfastly anti-buzz.

Most food lovers don't know anything about eating outside of DC or Bethesda or Arlington/Alexandria. If anything, the list is meant to make its own buzz. 

What do I like about these places? I like Johnny's rootedness. I like the feel of the place, I like what it does to mean the moment I walk in the door. Hard to quantify that, but there you go. The menu doesn't change, and that's a good thing in this case. And there are any number of dishes I find myself craving — the terrific gumbo, for instance.

It's also pretty darn consistent.

Same with Poste, which I think I do talk about quite a bit.

I like the energy there, I like that it doesn't try too hard, I like that it doesn't feel contrived, the way so many places at its level do. And I think Rob Weland is one of the most underrated — if not the most underrated — chef in the city. I've never had a bad meal at Poste, nor even a middling meal. And some dishes over the years have stayed with me, to the point that I can conjure them in my memory and taste them all over again — the Amish roast chicken, the ravioli with nettles, the gazpacho. 

 

Chevy Chase, MD
Great idea to keep a list like that on your phone or 'fridge. Raku in Bethesda would definitely be on my husband's and my list–they never disappoint.

See, that's the beauty of a list. No two are going to be the same.

Raku in Bethesda wouldn't make my list if I were to expand it to 120 places instead of just 20, but that's not to say you're a fool or ignorant for including it on yours. Some places you simply click with.

Bethesda
Looking at your list. I'm torn between La Fondita in Hyattsville and Batik in Gaithersburg. I just happen to have a NX650 (Motorcycle) that seriously needs some gas and Techron run through its carb.

Tough call.

I guess it comes down to whether you're in the mood for Mexican or pan-Asian, something heavy or something comparatively light.

They're not perfect places by any stretch, and La Fondita, in particular, will appeal more if you're a food-adventurer.

Neither place, by the way, serves liquor; Batik is working on getting its license, but La Fondita is and will remain a soft drink and melon and horchata kinda place.

Vienna

Hi Todd,

I eat out a fair amount and I've noticed that the appetizers are always much more appealing and end up being much better tasting than the entrees. I've started to order 3 appetizers and one entree when i go out with my husband.

Have you noticed this? Why do you think that is?

You're right.

In fact, if I were paying my own way, I would do exactly as you do — tilt the balance toward appetizers. They're generally more interesting and more rewarding.

In fact, when I travel and I'm footing my own bill, that's what I generally do. Unless something really grabs me on the entrees list.

Why do I think that is? 

Here's a thought … Just as some writers are short story writers, others are novelists. The short story writers work best when they're working within strict parameters, when they have to rely on compression and really zero in on details. Novelists are novelists because they need to stretch out and weave strands and achieve their effects by layering and multiplication, etc.

I think a lot of chefs are short story writers. Some chefs can do both stories and novels. But a lot of chefs tend to lose their way when they move from a smaller form to a larger form.

WDC

Todd,

I'm taking my wife to Sushi Taro for a celebratory meal this weekend. I know you liked it, but mentioned it was hard to "eat and drink well" for less than a whole lot of money. While we are celebrating, we aren't up for $100 a pop omikase, so what do you most recommend that we spend our money on? I think the toro plate you mentioned sounds like a must try in light of how little good tuna I've had the past few years. Thanks!

The fatty tuna, definitely.

Maybe the Kobe, too, if you've never tried the real thing before.

The temptation, when you're minding your budget at a place like this, is to order a couple of must-have, exquisite dishes and then round the meal out with other things like tempura, noodles, etc.

The problem is, those other things are not up to the standard of the fish, particularly of the fish flown in from Japan.

It's going to be interesting to see what you skimp on and what you splurge on. The best thing you can do is to stick, as much as possible, with the raw stuff.

Would you mind dropping us a note next week to let us all know how things turned out–?

Washington, DC
Where can you find really good barbecue within a half hour or so of DC? My husband and I want to make a weekend driving trip to a classic barbecue joint.

Nowhere.

And I'm not trying be flippant, either.

Really good? Within a half hour or so? Nowhere. You've got to hit the road.

Sticky Rice

We live near H St., and have been to Sticky Rice several times, most recently about a month ago. We have had really mixed results, and our last meal was pretty mediocre (bland fish on the sushi, long wait time on drinks and food, and dishes with missing ingredients, like the tuna poki with the missing wonton chips that were supposed to come with).

The steamed dumplings were pretty gross, and had an industrial, over-boiled taste. I did enjoy my godzirra roll though (w/ shrimp and avocado, and crunchy things). I find I have better service here when we go and sit and the sushi bar upstairs rather than one of the booths.

Anyway, have you had a chance to try the H St. Country Club near by? The menu looks tasty and we would love to have a Mexican place closy by, but the prices seem sort of high for bar food…any thoughts?

The menu does look intriguing, doesn't it? Well, okay, not intriguing — but fun. Designed by Ann Cashion, which actually is intriguing.

But no, I haven't been. Sorry.

Berlin, Germany

Greetings from Berlin! I just moved here from Washington. I was wondering if you could recommend any restaurants/cafes here in Berlin? I'm feeling a bit disoriented without my trusty Todd to guide the way to good, cheap eats. Thanks for the chats. I will be following them from 6 hrs. ahead.

Cheers, Christina

Hi, Christina.

Sorry, no, I have no clue. Good, cheap eats in Berlin: now that's a request! 

But having tossed it out there, now, to our many far-flung and globe-trotting chatters, maybe one or two will chime in with some suggestions. 

New Steakhouses

Todd,

Why is it that the new celebrity steakhouse restaurants specialize on other areas (seafood) than steak? Like Bourbon Steak and J&G Steakhouse? It seems to be a misnomer, the name of the restaurants.

Why?

They're hedging their bets. They're cautious about the city and inclined to see it as a conservative city, gastronomically speaking, despite all the dramatic changes over the past 7 years. They're cautious about the economy.

They're scared, and their fear has made them timid.

What's funny is, you can go for several meals at J&G without repeating dishes and never even order a steak. And the steaks are listed at the bottom of the menu, right below, well — the menu. It very much has the feel of an add-on, a last-minute patch-in, despite the name in the title of the place.

And, tellingly, the one steak I've had there so far was not at all in the class of my other main courses.

Anyway, it's time for lunch and I've gotta run. I'll be back next week, I hope, with a Restaurant Week analysis. Oh, and don't forget to sign up for my Twitter updates, if you haven't already. I've been on there a lot of late, and sending out two and three observations, recommendations and tips a day.

Meantime, eat well, be well, and let's do it again next Tuesday at 11 … 

Submit your questions in advance for Todd's next chat, Tuesday, August 11 at 11 AM. 

 

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