Read Todd's Restaurant Week guide here.
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 August 11.
T K ' s 2 5:
W h e r e I ' d S p e n d M y O w n M o n e y
Nava Thai Noodle & Grill, Wheaton
Honey Pig BBQ, Annandale
Palena Cafe, DC
China Jade, Derwood
Plaka Grill, Vienna
The Source and The Source Lounge, DC
Johnny's Half Shell, DC
Gom Ba Woo, Annandale
Ravi Kabob I and II, Arlington
Pete's Apizza, DC
Four Sisters, Falls Church
Jackie's, Silver Spring
Sushi Sono, Columbia
Poste Brasserie, DC
La Caraquena, Falls Church
Oval Room, DC
Cantler's Riverside Inn, Annapolis
La Fondita, Hyattsville
Bistro Bis, DC
Sushi Taro, DC
J&G Steakhouse, DC
A quick report from the Restaurant Week field: first time to Vermillion in Old Town last night.
We were prepared to be underwhelmed (what with only three app options and three mains to choose from), but it's now among our best-RW-meals-ever. (Lunch at the Oval Room and Vidalia, and dinner at DC Coast, are still tops.)
Scottish salmon, the fillet with beets, and the open squash ravioli were all great (and clearly not stripped-down versions of what would normally appear on the à la carte menu).
Cocktails were superb, especially an August special called the Summer Breeze with tequila, tuaca, and big, juicy chunks of watermelon.
Next on the agenda: Hook in Georgetown, and (for a celebration that unfortunately happens to fall during RW), Minibar. We'll keep you posted.
Vermilion's performance doesn't surprise me at all. I think it's one of the most rewarding places to eat in the area, at that level. And partly that's because it understands how to put out consistently good food — careful, well-prepared food –without edging into luxe territory and exorbitant prices.
Love the opening field report … Who else has one?
Best Meal: Obelisk. I took my husband for his birthday and we had a wonderful time. The antipasti were fabulous, especially the squash blossoms. The pasta and meat dishes were just right and perfectly portioned to leave room for dessert. I had the homemade raspberry chocolate ice cream (to die for!).
Most disappointing meal: Taqueria Nacionale. The yucca fries (which are the whole reason to go) have been undercooked the last few times. As this is close to work, it had been my "go-to" quick lunch place. Now, I have to find new, reliable place.
Glad I finally tried it: La Sirenita. The portions are huge, but the food is wonderful and definitely worth the price. The first time we went, my husband and I ordered 3 tacos each, one order of rice and beans, one order of fried plantains, and one strawberry shake (that came in a quart pitcher!) and the bill was $25 including tip. There was so much food, we each took 2 tacos home and two-thirds of the plantains. And it was delicious! This is a fun game. I had fun reflecting!
And more of these, too!
Whoever came up with this fun little template, I love it. Thanks for the detailed reports, NEDC.
I haven't seen a sweetbread dish I've really, really liked in a long time.
Partly I think that's because it's not exactly a summer, late-Spring kind of dish, and partly I think that's because
of the economy. The delicacies are few and far between these days …
Anyone out there had a sweetbread prep they've really gone for?
I want them creamy and lush on the inside, and I've grown really tired of the sweetbreads-by-way-of-KFC approach.
Incidentally, Kinkead's isn't the only place with fried belly clams. Hell Point Seafood, in Annapolis — Kinkead's OTHER place — has them, too.
We had given Nava Thai a break after a number of inconsistent meals after their relocation. We've had mixed experiences since then, but they seem to be holding their own if they can figure out the quirks.
Friday we went to dinner at 7pm, waited 10 minutes for a table, which was fine. We ordered right away (I have their menu committed to memory basically).
The kaprow vegetables and the drunken noodles came out about 40 minutes later– and the both were as delicious as they always have been (with the exception of the time just after the move). They were just wonderful, spicy, sharp, crunchy and as perfect as can be.
Sadly, my husbands clay pot chili fish didn't in the next 30 minutes, when we had finished everything else and no one checked in about it. We spoke with the ever lovely hostess, she understood and canceled the order. And brought us over a dessert to share on the house, which was graceful and kind.
In a nutshell, there are still some things to work out, but the food has the potential to be as good as it ever has if they can grow into that space. What have your experiences been like lately?
My last meal there was terrific. Every bit as good as before.
Now, I should point out that it was at lunchtime, when there weren't nearly as many diners as you're going to find at night, and at the tail end of service.
And as much as I like the food, the atmosphere at the new place doesn't do much for me. I like the little bandbox that the old place was, the sense that you had stumbled into a discovery. The new space is sprawling and proper and, probably because you're so much further from the kitchen and the clatter of pots, feels much more impersonal.
Another quick report from the Restaurant Week field:
Yesterday I went to Me Jana on Wilson Blvd. for lunch with my hubby who works in the building. I should have listened to all the advice (mine included) about not going to places that already offer very affordable small plates or mezze. It was great food but it's not much of a value for restaurant week.
Today I am heading to Columbia Firehouse for lunch. This is my third time since its opening. I expect another great meal.
Yeah, small plates and sushi — not really worth it, if you ask me, for RW.
Thanks for the report, Alexandria.
It was my decision to run it in the food and wine section, so obviously I thought it was worth doing. Not without a long of thought and discussion with my colleagues, however.
It's absolutely true that being published in a glossy monthly magazine immediately gives anything like a "tweet" more weight, but I didn't think that readers would think the observations I made on opening night were more definitive than they were intended to be. Sort of like the "First Look" we run every month, a quick, impressionistic look at a recently opened restaurant.
I also thought it would be a good way to direct readers to my Twitter reports. We have web readers and we have magazine readers, and I like the idea of magazine readers branching out to become regular readers of the website, just as I like the idea of web readers picking up the magazine every month.
Hi Todd, just read your RW guide and wondered why you included Bistro Bis in your top tier.
Was thinking of going there for lunch and checked out the menu online and saw upcharges for several items and what wasn't upcharged wasn't terribly exciting.
A $3 upcharge for the beet salad? Beet salads are pretty standard on DC menus nowadays so an extra $3 seems kind of petty to me.
I'm with you about the upcharges, and in my guide I did point out that I was including Bis in spite of those upcharges, which are incredibly annoying and insulting and ought to be done away with if the restaurant is going to continue to participate in this promotion. *
But Bis brings it.
"Terribly exciting" isn't the idea, here — this is classic bistro cooking, and done with skill and often finesse. And Bis, moreover, takes all aspects of the experience of dining out seriously. That counts for an awful lot.
* A few more words about upcharges. To me, if a restaurant is going to participate, then it ought to offer the entire menu without qualifiers. Simple as that. Or, failing that, then it ought to insist that its chefs and cooks work within the parameters that have been given, and to relish the idea that those parameters constitute a kind of challenge. "What can I send out for $20 at lunch that will be delicious and affordable and memorable?" Use the week as a chance to come up with new preparations. Not everything has to be luxe, and the best cooks can figure out ways to elevate and ennoble simple things.
Hello, I'm looking for a chinese restaurant that serves the chili oil dipping sauce for dumplings.
I've found this in several 'hong kong' style chinese restaurants while traveling, however yet to find it at home in NOVA.
I see china bistro in rockville has dumplings with chili oil from a recent picture/review in washingtonian, however was hoping to find something closer to arlington. thanks for all your food reviews!
Paul, you want to head on out to Falls Church and Hong Kong Palace, or, further out, to Chantilly and Sichuan Village.
Hope you like 'em.
Best Meal: Is it silly to say Cafe Atlantico's Minibar? It truly was the best experience I have ever had. I tried all 37 courses and loved just about everything. I was with my husband and two good friends. I couldn't have asked for a better meal. Isn't that what dining out is all about? Great food with great company? I think so.
Most disappointing meal: CityZen. It was so built up in my mind – going to one of the best restaurants in DC, only to be disappointed. I could barely find anything that interested me on the menu. I ended up getting the skate. It was ok, but not how I wanted my special dinner there to go.
Glad I finally tried it: Citronelle. It's been arguably the best fine dining restaurant in the city for years. I loved the Mosaic – the presentation was as good as the dish, the Lobster burger – fresh, simply delicious, the Halibut – light, delicate, wonderful, the eggs symphony was the ultimate fools gold. I could go on and on …
Keep these quickie reports coming, everyone. They're great reading.
No, I don't consider that terrible service at all. They set their lights to set a mood, and I don't see why they should change that for one customer. Walking in and seeing the dimness, you had a chance to decide whether you wanted to stay or leave. You opted to stay.
No, terrible service is what I experienced last week at The Cultured Pearl in Rehoboth, where I'd gone for a few days with my wife and son.
I arrived early to order drinks and sushi and give my son a chance to continue napping in the car. I was exiled to the kiddie ghetto, and sandwiched between two loud parties that made me feel as though I were in an upscale Chuck E. Cheese.
The waiter arrived ten minutes after I'd been seated, didn't know that Tanqueray 10 was different from Tanqueray, and didn't know what nigiri is. I'd ordered two pieces of yellowtail nigiri. "Do you want that as sushi or sashimi?" he asked.
The noise was loud, and so I asked to move. A manager arrived about seven minutes later to help us pack up and move. He made the mistake of picking up my son's high chair, which absolutely freaked out the li'l boy and created a desperate case of the mommies.
The new table was in a part of the dining room that had no A/C.
And now my son would not get back into his high-chair. My wife had him on her lap all night, which would have been difficult if there were actually food on the table to eat.
48 minutes after I'd arrived, our drinks came.
54 minutes after I'd arrived, our first small plates came.
The sushi did not hit the table until the 1:20 minute mark, by which time my wife had left and asked me to pack everything up and take it back to the hotel.
That took until the 1:34 mark.
I looked at the bill and noticed that we were charged for a tempura that hadn't arrived. I pointed this out to the waiter, thinking he'd understand that I wanted it removed from the bill, since I was now in a hurry to get the hell out.
He returned, seven minutes later, with a carton of tempura. Nicely steaming in its container. Who wants to eat soggy tempura? I asked. He shrugged, and said he'd send a manager.
Manager arrived five minutes later. Wanted to fix the problem, not hear the long sorry tale of woe. Took the charge off, and acted as though he'd done something good and heroic.
I went up to him on the way out, explained that my wife and I had been dining there several times a year for 12+ years and that that was by far the worst experience we'd ever had. He rationalized. He made excuses. He didn't once say "I'm sorry." Or: "I'm sorry, we screwed up." What he said was: "I'm sorry, it is what it is." I.e., that's life.
$132 for takeout, two hours utterly wasted, a dejected couple and a cranky toddler.
Yep, I had them several weeks ago.
Like you said, interesting but not out of this world. I enjoyed them. The friend I was with, who had always been afraid to try sweetbreads, enjoyed them even more than I did, possibly because he was not so conscious of their being sweetbreads. The soft creaminess, he said, reminded him of really juicy, moist chicken.
I'm off tuna — since you brought it up.
The only time I will eat it anymore is at a place like Sushi Taro, where six bands of toro costs $27. That's outstanding tuna.
The problem is, nothing else these days even approaches decent.
I ate at Sush-Ko in Chevy Chase and Sushi-Ko in Glover Park both last week, and the preparations of tuna I had were dispiriting, nowhere in league with the quality of the rest of the fish on offer.
What do you think of the NY Times' new restaurant critic pick? Will he be able to remain anonymous when he dines?
Not a chance.
Sam Sifton's picture is widely available already and is going to be posted, "wanted man"-style, in every major kitchen in the city.
I guess the question is, does it matter? Frank Bruni's mug was widely known, too, thanks to his author's jacket photo.
The debate that's come about with the rise of blogs and whatnot — and it's been fueled by industry insiders and wanna-be insiders, who want to collapse the distance between inside and out — is whether anonymity is important or an affectation.
I would like to see the debate center on something slightly different — whether the critic should STRIVE to remain anonymous or not.
I may not always succeed, but I can STRIVE to be anonymous, I can use fake names and show up announced and work various angles to beat the system and pull out whatever tricks I see fit. Striving means not copping to being an insider; it means maintaining a position of distance and critical detachment.
Best Meal: Bourbon Steak. I thought the service and the steaks were really good. I loved the Truffle butter rolls and fries as the starters they give in the beginning of the meal. A close behind is Yank Sing in San Franciso for their steamed dumplings.
Worst Experience: I hate to say this, but Komi ranks up there. I thought the service was great and the food, but I got major food poisoning there after I ate dinner there.
Glad I finally tried it: Central. I loved how this place is affordable compared to Citronelle. The food quality is great and the atmosphere is good.
Thanks for writing in, Rockville.
(FYI, that food poisoning may have nothing whatsoever to do with your meal. It might have been something you ate at breakfast or lunch.)
Keep 'em coming, chatters …
I have previously written that The Reef offers food that is “better than it has to be” given the fact that most people consider this a great place for consuming copious amounts of high quality beer. That assumption changed with my two most recent visits. The always dependable bison burger was grossly over cooked and generally lacking in juiciness. The mac n’ cheese that accompanied the burger was simply bad on every level. I know The Reef is committed to using high quality ingredients, but this cheese tasted like it could have come from a can. Salt was conspicuously absent, as was an appropriate amount of cream. Two bites seemed to be calories and cash wasted. The muscles were even more problematic. The first bowl arrived with five of eleven shellfish closed. I sent it back, and they graciously prepared another – with a shocking four of eleven closed. The fact that a bowl of muscles arrives with less than a dozen is problematic in and of itself, when better than a third are closed is a food safety issue and one that anyone who gets paid to serve food to the public should notice… especially the second time.
Speaking of dining in Adams Morgan, there are many factors which make that neighborhood’s culinary landscape difficult for restaurants to navigate, most notably is the general and normally accurate perception that good food is not easily found there and even when it is discovered, that it doesn’t rise to a level that compensates for the congestion, limited parking, and weekend party goers. Evolve may not shatter that perception but they certainly challenge it. I have dined there three times in recent months and each time found very satisfying and homey dishes. The lamb burger was perfectly cooked, densely packed, and has a bun that sops and shines. The French Fries are clearly dusted with some illicit and addictive substance because I couldn’t stop eating them and in what may be the highest compliment given to a French Fry – they're really tasty even when cold. Calamari comes with a crispy shell and tender interior with just the right amount of chewy. Evolve may not be a place worthy of destination designation, but if you're in the area, want a place to have a couple of drinks and nosh, it does that very well.
Frank Ruta is a James Beard Award Winning Chef, Palena is a top five choice in your Best of List, and both may somehow still be underrated. All of this makes me extremely conflicted when I dine there and order the Roast Chicken and the Truffled Cheeseburger, but that conflict didn’t stop me a couple of weeks ago. Add the fry plate, and a delightfully cheeky rosé .
Some restaurants may find it a backhanded compliment to refer to them as a “light” version of another place, but when I refer to New Heights as Palena-Light I mean that in the most flattering sense of the phrase. Chef Logan Cox is serving intricate and very precise food without pretense or affectation. On my latest visit, I constructed a meal of three small plates and each was more delicious than the one it preceded. House Smoked Salmon with a red onion chutney was silken in texture and a lovely foil for my glass of sparkling rosé. The Fried Risotto Cake was creamy, cheesy, Arborio perfection. I was a bit hesitant to order the Braised Pork Belly, Mussels & Octopus soup as that dish seemed more appropriate for cold weather dining, but the bartender gave me a knowing look when I mentioned this dish. I was not disappointed. It was rich without being heavy. The fat of the pork was nicely rendered, and the whole thing was balanced with a broth that had its share of smoke. Finishing my meal with a five cheese board (for a preposterously low price of eleven dollars) that was served at the right temperature made me want to do my happy dance. My one complaint: The option to order half glasses of wine would have been really nice.
Two more general notes… You asked for good sweetbreads – I still swear by the ones at Cashion’s. Consistently balanced between crunch and creamy, offset in the bowl with spinach, pine nuts, and dates, it has never disappointed me.
I wish the best of luck to all of my former colleagues and culinary compatriots as they proceed with restaurant week: may your shifts be easy, your guests gracious, and your bosses pragmatic.
The Restaurant Refugee, everyone!
Thanks for sitting in with the band, as it were … Love getting your field reports, as always …
What? Ray's Hell Burger was on my list for months and months and months.
In fact, I heard from a source earlier this summer that someone at the White House is a regular reader of this chat and had been funneling info about Ray's and other restaurants on this list to the Prez.
Not saying that's why Obama and Biden ended up at Ray's one afternoon — just sayin'.
Good Morning, Todd —
I'm writing in to give you a field report-from my home! Actually, this is about pizza from Cafe Pizzaiolo in DelRay, which I recently got for take-out. I've eaten their Neapolitan-style pizza which is quite good with a very think crust, however, it could use more crunch and char.
What I really like is the NY Style pizza, which is still thin-crusted, buy also has a great chew. I ordered 2 small pies with 1 topping each, and a Greek salad-all for $30 (if we'd have eaten in, we would have gotten 2 pies for the price of one since it was a Tuesday). It was enough dinner and a lunch for two.
My favororite pie is what I really want to tell you about. It's the NY Style with meatballs. I'm talking soft, perfectly seasoned meatballs that dot the pie and taste amazing with cheese and marinara sauce. Definitely homemade.
PS-I hope you had a nice week off-any new gastronomic discoveries while you were away?
Their NY Style is my favorite there, too. Thanks for writing in.
Week off? More like two-and-a-half days.
No big discoveries, though I did eat at the new-ish Kindle, in Lewes, and enjoyed it. (Ironic, that the name of the place that takes over for a restaurant called the Bookstore Cafe is Kindle.) Good soft shell crab (although I wish they'd curb the instinct to drench it in butter sauce), a very decent steak tartar, a surprisingly thick and juicy steak, some decent wines. A friend had raved to me recently about their BLT with avocado, served at lunch. Didn't get to try that, but it did sound good. (Chef Mark Heckrotte at Franklin's has a great name for his version of the sandwich, by the way, which I have eaten and enjoyed: a BLT&A).
I went to Paris a few weeks ago and you suggested a few spots. Though I did not make it to any of your suggestions, I do have to pass along a recommendation.
I had a Pommery Champagne tour at 2:30 so I made 1:00 reservation at Le Jardin Brasserie at Chateau Les Crayeres. This is a new casual counterpart to Le Parc which was a Michelin three star spot and has been two stars in the last few years. My meal at Le Jardin was really nice.
I was in jeans and a polo and they didn't even give me a second look even though I was really underdressed. The waitress spoke only a little English but I speak French and she did have an English menu available. I took the daily special of fish and stuffed tomatoes.
The fish entree came out first and it was chunks of raw swordfish topped by mixed greens. Under this was a red gelee of pickled onions, salmon carpaccio, and some other pickled vegetables. The fish was really fresh and the seasoning in the gelee was to die for. It was really awesome. i could compare it to Westend Bistro's Tuna Carpaccio but it was much more complex. They called it a "xxxxxx of fish." I can't remember the French word at all but I assume it meant gelee and raw or something. It was not a word I knew.
For the entree, I had tomatoes stuffed with veal, turkey, and bread crumbs. The tomatoes were wonderfully sweet and there was a thin sauce of tomato paste and olive oil that had an awesome sweetness but acidic bite of tomato. It was a sauce that I had never tasted before. Something Chef Ruta would concoct.
There were also a few chunks of pork belly that were amazing. They had some crispiness to them and the texture was soft but not chewy. The waitress convinced me to try the lemon tart. It was a lightly torched meringue on top of lemon custard that oozed but did not run. It had all the tartness that lemon desserts should have. The pastry shell was soft and broke easily but it held the custard.
This was a great meal and I found the dishes perfectly seasoned and well cooked. It seemed to me that the difference was that in America, most of it we would call undercooked but it was perfect texturally.
Including a glass of wine, this dinner was 45 euros. Though it sounds like an expensive lunch, it was worth it to dine at such a nice place. For anyone who may be in Reims in the future, I would recommend Le Jardin Brasserie on the grounds of Chateau Les Crayeres.
Don't look at it as lunch; look at it as a great meal.
And 45 Euros for a great meal in Paris is not bad, not bad at all.
And actually, when I'm traveling, I like to eat my big meal of the day at lunch and to really linger and enjoy it. Lunch is always cheaper, too, and if you eat midday it leaves a lot of time for walking off the calories.
Thanks for the good tip.
No yelling, no.
Not that I didn't want to.
The thing was, I wasn't working (well, I guess I'm *always* working), and I just wanted to enjoy myself, and this was a place my wife and I have always enjoyed, even if the food wasn't always stellar. It's not often I just pick a restaurant based on whatever I feel like eating, or based on wherever I feel like spending a few hours. And it was just disastrous.
The thing was, I kept waiting for the manager to admit to the error and try to make it up to us, somehow, and that only added to the frustration.
But what that night taught me is that this restaurant has become complacent, and that that complacency can cross the line into contempt for its customers. I won't go back.
that is why we dine in about 90% of the time at the beach. we had a bad experience at cultured pearl also.
most places in the area have mediocre food at best and high school/college aged service to boot. if your hotel doesn't have a kitchen, consider renting a condo (www.vrbo.com/121893) in the area and take a break from your day job. paul in arlington
I've had good luck at Espuma, at Cafe Azafran, at NE Seafood Kitchen, at Louie's, at Kindle, at Casapulla's … there are enough good places, I think, that it's worthwhile to go out. Expensive, maybe, but worthwhile …
But I do like the idea of doing some cooking, and I did when I went last summer. And I do like the idea of renting a place for a week. Thanks, Paul, and I trust — hope? — that that's not just some quick and easy plug for a company you're associated with …
I'm off to lunch, everyone. Be well, eat well, and let's do it again next week at 11 …
Submit your questions in advance for Todd's next chat, Tuesday, September 1 at 11 AM.