Tuesday, September 1 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.

Did you know you can now write your own restaurant reviews on Washingtonian.com? Read here to find out how.

>> Get our full Cheap Eats Guide

Read the transcript from August 25.

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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

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Komi, DC
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
Siroc, DC
Gom Ba Woo, Annandale
Ravi Kabob I and II, Arlington
Vidalia, 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
Rasika, DC
La Fondita, Hyattsville
Bistro Bis, DC
Sushi Taro, DC
J&G Steakhouse, DC
Saint Michel Bakery, Rockville

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DC
I'm looking for good Ethiopian in DC – any suggestions? Not a fan of Etete, my current area favorite is Addis Cafe – but it's in Gaithersburg. Thanks

Not a fan of Etete? Why?

Have you tried Axum, one of the longest-running Ethiopian restaurants in DC. Or Madjet on U St., which is worth a meal or two.

The same goes for Meaza, in Ariington.

I also think the cooking at Shagga in Hyattsville is often excellent (and as I've mentioned forty-seven times, the coffee is the best I've had around here; the latte with skim milk is my drink, and one or two cups and I'm feeling good, no matter what.)

Incidentally, and I sent a Tweet about this a couple of weeks ago, there's a guy there every morning, pounding the Budweiser. One morning I showed up at 9:15 — they've since changed their hours, and now open at 11 — and he was already on his THIRD Bud.

i love that guy!

I love a place that would have a guy like that there. 

Bethesda, MD
So I read that an outpost of Flippin' Pizza is supposed to open in Bethesda. I am excited because this city sorely lacks good pizza options! Do you know if this new place is any good?? I have never been to the other location and haven't heard much about it. Thanks!!

I don't, no. Not yet, anyway.

And ordinarily I might disagree with you, because Bethesda is home to Mia's, which I have really enjoyed in the past. But my last meal there was a huge disappointment, and particularly the pizza. I hope that my experience was an aberration. 

Arlington, VA

Best Meal: Minibar. To me Minibar was on par with eating at the French Laundry in a completely different way. The French Laundry is refined and perfected over time. Minibar is a fun experience of the senses, but both as experiences in eating rate up there at the tops for me, as well as, Commerc 24 in Barcelona.

Worst Experience: Sushi Kaz (this was a few years ago and we should of said something, but didn't) the service was so poor and it took us so long to get our food (thirty minutes for drinks over an hour and half for food) that after eating it we were still starving and just wanted to get out so we could eat. The food we did get- my tasting menu of sushi was good, but a very small portion. Hubby's a la carte selections weren't great. I know that this isn't the norm for the restaurant as it gets great reviews, luckily we don't have too many experiences like this.

Place I am glad I tried: Honey Pig, I went with friends and it has become an addiction. I love the pork and octopus chul pan. The spicy, but tender octopus are just so good. And it is a lot of fun. It is a bit intimidating on your first time, but after that it is a great time.

Nice work, Arlington.

I love these little mini reports. Keep 'em coming, everyone …

I do want to encourage you, though, to keep your reports recent — as in, not based on a meal a few years ago.

(FWIW, Kaz has never been a particular favorite of mine: too uneven.)

Gaithersburg, MD
Do you have any listing of the restaurants that are extending their restaurant week deals?
We do. There's a piece up on the web right now … Here it is.
Van Ness

Hi Todd, 3 questions from the neighborhood…

1. Aside from the fantastic spring rolls, what should I be ordering at NamViet in Cleveland Park? I think I remember your team liking it, but I've guessed wrong a few times and ended up with bland pho or even blander chicken over a bed of crispy little confetti-looking noodle chips. Can you point me in the right direction toward something flavorful and or spicy?

2. By a mile, Yenching Palace was my favorite Chinese restaurant. Did you like it? I'm so tired of unsuccessfully trying new places to replace it (Charlie Chiang's, Uptown Cathay, etc.) that I've given up and essentially replaced the entire cuisine with Thai (by the way Paragon is fantastic and far exceeded my expectations based on the strip mall-esque location). I sure miss Chicken in Garlic Sauce, General Tso's Chicken, Scallion Pancake, and my other Chinese favorites. Where should I go that's a little closer than most of your Chinese recommendations in the recent "Cheap Eats" list? Is City Lights any good?

3. Have you tried Acacia Wellness Bistro yet? It's brand new and its decor is a welcomed addition to the neighborhood. As for the cuisine, I thought I'd ask the pro. Last, a tip: try the Tuscan at Italian Pizza Kitchen – amazing. Thank you!

And 3 answers — I hope.

1. I'm not a fan of Nam Viet. Flavorful and spicy? In my experience, that's just not what they do.

2. Yenchin Palace — never a fan of there, either. It's day had long since passed, though. … City Lights? No, avoid. Used to be terrific, but that was a long, long time ago. Where should you go in the city for good Chinese? Sorry, there's not much. Most everything is mediocre, or worse. Have you tried Meiwah? It's dependably okay. Have you been to any of the old-guard Chinese spots in what exists of Chinatown? New Big Wong is worthwhile. So is Full Kee. … Best Chinese in DC proper, though, is probably The Source. I'm joking, and I'm not.

3. I haven't. I'm curious, though. … And thanks for the tip! 

Arlington, VA
I am looking for a good Italian restaurant that offers hearty old world cuisine to take family members who are used to the real thing. Potenza looks like a top contender but I want to make sure I was not leaving anything out.
Potenza's a good choice. But there's also — and all in Virginia — A La Lucia on the edge of Old Town, Landini Bros in Old Town, Tutto Bene in Arlington, Piola in Arlington, Panino in Manassas. I'd look into those as well. 
Union Station
I'm heading to San Antonio at the end of the month, any suggestions for can't-miss dinner spots? Any price range or cuisine but walking distance to downtown/River Walk is best. Thanks, Todd!

I haven't been to San Antonio in over twenty years, so I'm definitely not the one to ask. Chatters?

I do have vivid memories of eating roast cabrito (baby goat) with onions and peppers, and folded into soft, warm tortillas. You don't find cabrito all that easily around here, so take advantage of the opportunity to dig into that and other Tex-Mex gems.

Alexandria, VA

hi todd- have you eaten at firehouse in OT yet…?

my wife and i had a quick dinner in the bar a few weeks ago and were pretty underwhelmed. i got the meatloaf sandwich and fries: meatload very bland and a little dry and the bread was very dry. fries were great my wife got a portabella sandwich and she thought the same: bland and dry.

we're not going to give up quite yet, as we love rustico and some of the other places this group owns…maybe they're still working out the initial opening kinks? any thoughts?

I'd imagine there are, yes, kinks being worked out.

At the same time, I would think a meatloaf sandwich ought to be pretty good right out of the box. I mean, it's meatloaf.

I haven't been yet, no. I tend to wait 3 weeks or so, to give a place a chance to settle in and find its rhythm and fine-tune its meatloaf …

Arlington, VA

RW Week: Todd, I agree with you for the most part that Restaurant Week isn't too much of a bargain at most places that participate, especially for dinner, but I wanted to share the experience I had with a friend at 2941 last week.

We'd been wanting to try it for a while, and since they only do lunch for RW, we figured even better at it's only $20. I have to say that's probably the best $20 (perhaps a tad more as the boss was out of town and the lunch wine-by-the-glass specials were too enticing…) I've ever spent on food, or just about anything else.

The food was really great (snapper carpaccio, veal ravioli, and an outstanding take on a raspberry parfait), the service was top notch, and I was really impressed by the layout/look of the place.

All in all, I think I'd have to put the whole experience in my top 5 for dining, and other places should take note that this is how RW is supposed to be done.

I will most certainly be going back at some point for the full-fledged dinner, as the quality of food and service was enough to warrant a return adventure. Just wanted to share. (also did dinner at Acadiana, pretty solid food, but the selling point for me was that all entrees are available for RW, with up-charges only on steak and crabcakes, which you can get just about anywhere).

Thanks for writing in.

I've said it before, and I'll say it again — and again, and again: If restaurants are going to participate, then they need to go all out. Put the entire menu up for grabs. Or, if you can't do that, then devise a menu that meets the parameters of cost (no upcharges, etc., which are really just bait-and-switch games) and make these cheaper dishes as good and memorable as you can.

And give the people the best service you can. Really sell it. Take it seriously. Don't condescend. Don't go through the motions.

Otherwise, don't play. No one's forcing you to play.

Restaurateurs have complained to me over the years that they lose money on the week. Fair enough. Except that I don't think you measure RW that way. I think that's pretty short-sighted.

It's hard to know how many people come in six months later, a year later, two years later because they had a great experience. Or how about all the people who found out about the restaurant through word-of-mouth, all because someone had a good time during RW?

Did I hear that right?

Todd, I have been a fan for some time now and have enjoyed reading and following in your path to venture out to restaurants that you and your team have reviewed.

I think that your Job is interesting and important.

This past week, I was FLOORED by a comment by Mike Isabella, chef at Zaytinya and Top Chef contestant. His inflammatory and sexist remark was disgusting no matter the intent or not. I feel as a local Washingtonian saddened by his unfortunate remarks and think that it wasn’t just a blatant mistake, but a true sign of the incredible egos that many of these star/celebrity chefs have. Link to see the comment – http://www.bravotv.com/top-chef/videos/sexist-comment "no offense, but a girl shouldn't be at the same level I am" in relation to a female chef shucking clams as quickly as he. He then went on to say "To me, this is like one less old lady I have to worry about." 

Question – At what point does the local media (whether print or film) hold these chefs accountable for their behavior and what do you think the repercussions are going to be on Mike Isabella for his lack of respect for gender?

Pretty terrible.

But two things you have to realize, here …

1. It's not real — it's "reality." The producers of these deals have a hand in creating roles and creating characters. And clearly, this dude is being set up to be the bad ass. He might be a bad guy — I don't know; never met him. But it's possible he's being encouraged to be flippant and sexist, etc., in order to score camera time. Also possible that his more likable moments — assuming there are any — are being edited out, in order to reinforce his "character."

I did a taping some months back — can't say more, shhh — for a possible show and was being fed all sorts of prompts by a producer dude, in order (I presume) that I might say something bitchy or flippant, etc. This is how these TV dudes all work.

They're in the infotainment biz, emphasis on "tainment." Or should that be — "enter-taint-ment"? 

2. Kitchens are notoriously sexist places to work. They're more like sports locker rooms than any other place of business I can think of, only with knives and pans.

Washington, DC

Hey Todd,

I just wanted to write about my experience at Tabaq Bistro yesterday. It wasn't very good.

My girlfriend and I had a 630 dinner reservation. When we were seated, I asked to be sat at a different place so we could get a better view. The place was empty, so I figured they would oblige. The lady who sat us refused, stating that the table I wanted was reserved for 4 people, and since we were only 2, she wouldn't allow it.

Well 45 minutes later, as we're about to order dessert, the restaurant is still mostly empty but I noticed that the same person who sat us (who was also our server) sat a different 2 party group at the table we wanted. Again, very disappointing…

But anyway, let's talk about the food. We looked at the RW menu, and it didn't look very good. Prior to making the reservation, I remembered looking at the menu and picking out what I wanted. When we actually sat down though, I think there were three appetizer choices. The menu I looked at included, lamb shank, scallops, and calamari as an appetizer choice; they were not on the menu.

So we ended up ordering from the normal menu. I think we got the spinach cigar borek, shrimp, foie gras, and seafood risotto. And we split everything. I remembered thinking the risotto, the spinach, and the shrimp were okay, but the foie gras was really gross. They seared it! I couldn't even taste the foie gras at all. All you could taste was the burnt part. I had the tiramius… again, not that good. I think I could have gotten a better tiramisu from Starbucks. My friend enjoyed her profiteroles though. She ate it right up. We also ordered hummus. It wasn't special, and it didn't come with pita .. and the service left much to be desired. For example, when we were brought our bread. they used my bread plate for the olive oil. I asked for a replacement and did not get it until after we got the hummus, 15 minutes later.

All in all.. very disappointing. I've been to Tabaq before and I remembered enjoying the food.

Can I say? It doesn't surprise me in the least. 

I've never enjoyed Tabaq, and wouldn't expect that it's the kind of restaurant that'd bring it for RW. The roof, though — pretty spectacular. 

Friendship Heights

Following up on last week:

Minibar was incredible — totally agree with the French Laundry comparison, but it was fun, casual, and surprisingly unpretentious.

Hook was a joke — it may have been a function of it being the last night of RW, but service was nonexistent, the aggressive upsells were non-stop, and the whole time, we wished we were at Tackle Box. So disappointing.

Thanks for the report, FH.

I'd love to hear more about the aggressive upsells. Sorry, there's just no excuse for that during RW.

Ugh. How dispiriting.

I've even gotten to the point where I can't stand the way restaurants ask if you want water. Stop it, please. Stop it with the mini-menu of options. Stop it with the turning of water into wine. Stop it with the business of making wine seem exotic and exciting. 

The last option, tap, is always presented to make you feel like a cheapskate or an anti-aesthete. It's WATER. Just WATER.

Just bring the tap water, as a matter of course, and lightly mention that the restaurant also has some bottles of sparkling and mineral water, JUST IN CASE.  

Arlington, VA

Todd,

I completely agree with your assessment of the "Top Chef" comment. I would never take anything on a reality show seriously.

Sad that many other great employees and staff members at Zaytinya will be "punished" by those who think a boycott of the restaurant is necessary. I know the chatter in question didn't mention a boycott, but the subject has been broached in other forums.

The whole concept of a reality (?) competition is based on smack-talking and a silly need for drama (created by the producers). And I don't mean to turn this into an Isabella discussion group — as a certain chat did last week. Boring! Thanks.

Thanks for writing in.

I do want to add something to my previous comments, since you have chimed in and kept this alive, and that's this: Though it's "reality" and not real, a person still has free will. A person can refuse to be a puppet of a producer dude. A person can refuse to be a party to the crass, commercial needs of a slick enter-taint-ment outfit.

Arlington

Hi Todd,

I wanted to share an excellent RW experience three of us had at Siroc for lunch last week. The host was terrific, accomodating our group that grew from 2 to 3 after an error on my part, even though they were almost at capacity.

The gnocchi was heavenly, so light and the bolognese a tasty topper. Two of us ordered the shrimp fettucine and were amazed at how excellent the pasta was, and also by how nicely the shrimp were cooked. Great dish!

The almond cake was moist and flavorful, and the berry topping was perfect, not too sweet. I can't wait to take my husband there for dinner! Siroc also had their full menu available, which was very generous of them.

Service was very friendly too, attentive without making you feel as though you are being watched.

Great report.

There's a reason that Siroc is on my list of 25, and that's because of much of what you say. There's an unselfconscious I really like about this place, and much of the cooking is direct and honest. Much of it is remarkably consistent, too. 

Your last line — about being attended to without being watched — is an excellent observation, and very true in this case. So many restaurants, particularly new restaurants, don't understand this. They presume that watching over you  and being vigilant about your table is an unassailable good. It's not. They presume — particularly the big-money outfits that come down from New York or come in from San Francisco — that having a couple of unsmiling, crisp-suited guys who are not your server keeping watch over you and your table at all times is a sign of great and pampering service. It's not. (And particularly if the smiles aren't there.)

I like personal, interactive service, if the server is up for it and natural. And I also like service that is unobtrusive and formal and correct. What I don't like, ever, is feeling as though there are snipers in the room.

Capitol Hill
I just turned 40 this year, and am wondering if Mike Isabella is offering an "Old Lady" special at Zatinya (since his remark was aimed at a 43-year-old chef on Top Chef)? Seriously, his comment made me feel really bad, and I don't think I will be heading over there any time soon…

I think that's fair.

Just as it's fair that some people are going to seek out Zaytinya because they were exposed to it on a TV program.

By the way, anybody who thinks 43 is old doesn't know shiitake about the world. And I'm very, very sorely tempted to say that anybody who thinks 43 is old is not worth listening to say anything about ANYTHING — women, cooking, ANYTHING.

Clifton, VA

Many yearas ago when I was working as a waiter I got in a dispute with the chef in establsihment I worked in Georgetown.

The fool grabbed me and held a knife to my throat saying he should never be questioned. I am sorry bubba that piece of fish looks like a reject from Red Lobster. I disarmed him and spun his family jewels into the back of his mouth and said you will give me presentable food and told his sous chef to call 911 before he became head chef. Chef was arrested and hauled off through the FOH. He didn't return but I did. Chefs think they are gods. The former head chef is now a top chef with a chain of restaurants sporting his name. He does have a felony conviction though.

Name?

Come on, don't be coy. At least, a clue of a name. ; )

alrington va

I finally tried XO taste in falls church….the visit was somewhat disappointing but I left hopeful. Here's why…

Some dishes we had were too salty-the short ribs with black pepper sauce and clams with black bean sauce especially- and a few, most notably the beef chow fun, were a bit bland. But the seasoning was the only thing that was off.

The man behind the wok had some serious skill. The clams were super-tender. The beef in the chow fun was impossibly tender for a stir fried dish. And the eggplant with garlic sauce wasn't gloppy and greasy at all, and the eggplant itself was a dreamy creaminess.

Also, in the free dessert soup, which was sweet and not all that palatable, there were fresh water chestnuts. I take that and the careful cooking as a very, very good sign that this place knows what its doing and is using the best ingredients. If only the seasoning were a little more consistent. Any places that you've encountered like that? Places that just miss the mark based on a little over or underseasoning here and there.

Yes. Quite a few, actually.

If it's a one-time thing, that's one thing. If it continues over 2, 3 and 4 visits, then it's not a small matter. It's not an aberration at that point; it's the house style.

Not long ago I went four times to a restaurant I have yet to write about, hoping to give the kitchen more opportunities to correct a niggling little flaw. The kitchen never did. Conclusion: the niggling little flaw is not little.

Very frustrating. If only, I kept thinking. If only the place could fix this one thing! But we live in a world of IS, not a world of COULD BE. 

 

Fairfax, Va

To be honest, I didn't think much of Isabella's comment last week either at first. But yes, it was unfortunate that such accomplished man could act so immature.

However, I got to thinking some more, and I'm a little confused by your defense (maybe?) of the his political incorrectness in comment #2. I'm not sure if your stating that "kitchens are notoriously sexist places to work" is supposed to reinforce this blase, "it is what it is" behavior… because it would be such a slap in the face to all the fine women who are KILLING it in the kitchens

I think that the women who cook in kitchens are swimming in some really challenging waters. The ones who last are really tough, able to take it and give it back, too. They have to be. It's not a place for everyone.

I don't want to come across as defending the remark. What I hoped was to be able to situate it a little, to say that this kind of talk in this kind of environment is not as charged and volatile as it would be in some white-collar office. 

Of course, the problem is, a TV kitchen is a larger context. The context is not a bunch of cooks. It's the world.  

Washington, DC

My friend and I dined at Rasika during RW for lunch and the food was pretty great.

However, after the meal we both felt really nauseous for nearly an hour. We didn't know what to do, because the meal itself was perfectly enjoyable, but given that we hadn't eaten any other meals together, we think Rasika's food was the likely culprit. I'm disappointed that the best Indian food I've had in awhile was spoiled by an uncomfortable ending.

Hm.

(And that's not to be confused, by the way, with "hmmm," or "hmmmm … ") 

Rockville

Hi Todd,

I have a first date this week (Friday). What are some of the best options in Bethesda/Chevy Chase for drinks and dinner (can be at the same place)? Looking for something unique – not Houston's, Cafe Deluxe, or M&S. Bad experience at Grapeseed (overly salted and wine was served at wrong temp), so that's out. I was thinking Jaleo for drinks (at least) and then maybe Raku for sushi – but maybe Jaleo lends itself best to the food and, of course, neither is particularly unique. Suggestions?

I'd sooner eat than drink at Jaleo.

Maybe Raku for sushi and drinks, then Jaleo for more of a meal?

More unique? Have you been to Passage to India? A much quieter, much more controlled, sort of atmosphere, but good, sophisticated Indian cooking, with dishes drawn from many parts of the subcontinent, not just the usual north and south.

Here, again, I'd do drinks somewhere else, then head to Passage for your meal.

DC
Hey Todd – I'm looking for a place to go for desserts & drinks to celebrate. Any reccommendations of places in DC? Thanks!

Lots of spots.

Poste, Central Michel Richard, Oyamel, Cafe du Parc, Vidalia … All good picks, I'd think. 

DC

I am a Cleveland Park resident who is having a hard time finding a good brunch location nearby. I know about Open City which gets busy, and Firehook is OK, but very limited beyond the basics and always seems somewhat disorganized and crowded because it is narrow.

Is it too much to ask for a great diner or coffee shop in that area? Everything seems to be closing in that area as of recent times!

I'm drawing blanks on brunch options.

In Adams Morgan, you've got Cashion's and Bardia's — not far, but not in the neighborhood, either …

Cleveland Park really isn't a great neighborhood for food and restaurants, especially when you consider its high-profile status and great wealth. For a supposedly desirable area, it's pretty undesirable.  

Ballston, VA
Can you comment on Founding Farmers? It is receiving mix reviews at best from the comments I've read.

Founding Farmers is an upmarket, eco-friendly Bob's Big Boy.

If you think of it as that and nothing more, you can have a good time. If you try to make it into another kind of restaurant, if you order the things on the menu that are non-Bob's-ish, you will come away disappointed.

I hope, if you do end up going, that you'll come back on and share your thoughts …

I'm off to lunch, everyone. Eat well, be well, and let's do it again next week at 11 …

 

Isabella, again
I am by no means defending the man, but I don't think he was saying the woman was old. When people say the term "old lady" like he did, that is generally used as slang for girlfriend, or similar. My guess is he was using it in that sense.

My guess is he wasn't.

"Old lady" — people of a certain age use the expression, or people who have lived a little and are weary and have a right to be weary, or people who populate Tom Waits songs.

I know you're writing in to defend, but if you're a NOW person, a hyper IN-THE-KNOW person, a TV person — and anyone on TV is automatically a TV person — then saying "my old lady" is even, possibly, more offensive than saying someone in their 40s is old.

 

wash dc

Todd,

Why did you remove Palena Restaurant from your list of 25? I miss Yenching Palace – it was the only place I knew where to get a tasty Yunnan-based soup called Crossing the Bridge noodles.

RW at Vidalia on Friday was tired. Bland food all around the table. Chilled cucumber soup with cherry tomatoes, my starter, was decent, but far outshined by any soup at Palena. It just did not capture the freshness of a cucumber or tomato from the garden, which seems to be the ideal of a summer soup. The crusted halibut for a main course was entirely inoffensive but also lacking in anything that might excite. My impressions were shared by 3 table-mates – a surprisingly dispirited effort from Vidalia.

Wow. Surprised to hear it. And that's too bad.

Re: Palena … I had a disappointing (for Palena) meal there recently. Some very good things, some eh (for Palena) things. (Palena's "eh," of course, is still better than most restaurants' "good.") And the dining room was a dispiriting place to sit, tired and fusty.

I want to add, in case anybody noticed, that I removed Pete's from the list this week because of a mediocre experience this past weekend, when the place was slammed. The slices I had were ordinary, nothing special at all. The whole pies I saw going out, meanwhile, looked terrific, as always.

I hope it's a one-time thing, and not a sign of slippage. But the restaurant does need to be consistent, slammed or no — it's a pizza place, after all.

Submit your questions in advance for Todd's next chat, Tuesday, September 8 at 11 AM.

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