Tuesday, September 8 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.

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Read the transcript from September 1.

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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

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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I just got an email from the GM of Rasika, who is interested in reaching out to the diner who wrote in last week to complain of sickness after a meal.

The GM writes: "We take all necessary precautions during the food production process. We served almost 800 guests during the course of the week for lunch and have not got any complaints of this nature. We are not sure what may have happened, however we would like to invite the guest back or send them a gift card. We would request your help in putting us in touch with the guests."

If the diner from last week is interested in following up on this, please send me an email at tkliman@washingtonian.com, and I will pass along your contact info.

……………… 

Chicago, IL

Greetings fr. Chicago…

Will be returning to D.C. for a few days in the coming weeks and am looking for a solid French bistro experience (moules, brandade, earthy red wine). Thoughts? Also, how are the BBQ crabs at Johnny's? How's the quality of fish at Mourayo?

Thanks

P.S. Any favs in Chicago?

I think the best bistro in the city and surroundings right now is Cafe du Parc — terrific pork belly, great pots of sweet mussels, textbook steak tartare and profiteroles, lots of good, earthy red wine.

As for the bbq crabs at Johnny's — I love 'em. Love, love, love 'em. It's a little like eating head-on shrimp with the shells on. There's so much savor and soft crunch, and so much salt and spice, that after a while you don't even realize you're eating a shell. A pile of those and a glass of Sancerre, some good jazz — man, that's a good time.

The quality of the fish at Mourayo is very decent, I'd say. It's a good place, and remains, somehow, under the radar for a lot of otherwise in-the-know foodies.

Favs in Chicago … well, the street food, for one. Might be the best street food of anywhere in the country. Beyond that, I'd say the steak at Gibson's — best steak I've had in years, and one of the best I've ever had, anywhere. Nothing like it around here. Let's see, what else — Frontera Grill, Topolobampo, Moto … It's a great eating city. You're lucky.

Kalorama, WDC

Never been a fan of Zaytinya, so don't need a reason not to go back. I don't go to the 9:30 Club for tapas, so I don't feel like I need to subject myself to concert-level noise in the name of gastronomy.

Tabaq is a horrendous place. Even with reservations, I seemingly always waited for service, and their abysmal smoking policy on the roof is reason enough to keep me away. That's one place I'll never return.

Brunch in or near Cleveland Park? There's always Ardeo, which is solid if not spectacular.

Over near Wisconsin & Macomb, there's Enology Wine Bar. In Adams Morgan, Meze has fairly respectable Turkish Tapas, and Napoleon does wonderful things with organic and locally sourced items.

Just not a lot in that general vicinity that excites me. Ardeo, Meze, Enology … eh. 

Napoleon is a place I ought to give another shot; my first and last experience there was pretty horrendous. But it WAS a long time ago.

Thanks for writing in. 

Alexandria,VA

Hi Todd –

I just jumped in and just wanted to give you a "HUGE" shout out! Your chats are amazing and they keep me excited about food during a time when people aren't too excited about too much of anything.

I'm headed to Vidalia tomorrow night for date night w/hubby and will give you a summary afterwards. I think it's great that you honor your father in the way you do…keep doing that because it reminds me of how close you were. It also reminds me of my relationship with my Grandmother from the South.

Thanks!

You're very welcome. And wow, What a great start to a gray, drizzly day after a long weekend; thank you, Alexandria. 

McLean, Va

Todd: Normally I agree with your review of restaurants but this time I have to disagre.

On your recommendation, I tried Plaka Grill in Vienna one evening. I drove through Vienna in rush hour (you owe me big time for that joy). Specifically, I wanted to try the gyro you described. Big bust!. A small, flavorless, very expensive sandwich. Also, what is the reason for stuffing french fries in a sandwich surrounded by bread-my pancreas doesn't need the challenge.

By the way, what is the ice cream shop around the corner? Any info?

I'm frankly stunned to hear that. The gyros I've had there have all been terrific — juicy, fresh, immensely flavorful and satisfying.

Very expensive? I'm mystified by that, too.

Reason for stuffing the fries into the gyro is — that's the way they do it in Greece. So, an extra shot of authenticity. So far as I know, they're the only shop in the area to do it this way. I like it.

No intel on the ice cream shop. Do you have a name? 

  

Falls Church, VA

Todd,

I love reading your chats and am in absolute agreement with you about your critiques concerning Restaurant Week. However, I would like to share with you some very pleasant experiences this summer from both Adour and Vidalia, despite the alterations in their menus.

I had been to Adour during the winter RW for lunch, and thought the food was only ok for an upscale place. But I had really enjoyed the atmosphere and brought my fiancé there for our anniversary this summer. I agree that the restricted menu did leave me wanting more options, especially in the entrees section.

But what really made the evening was the impeccable service we received. The servers kept a watchful eye at a distance and only came when it was required. The sommelier made an excellent wine recommendation, taking into account that my fiancé and I are on opposite ends of the spectrum on the type of wine we prefer to drink. My favorite part of the service was the clearing of dishes. Throughout the entire evening, not a single clinking of glasses or clattering of plates was to be heard throughout the restaurant. Amazing. The servers clear tables just as gingerly as they set them.

To our surprise, the chef gave us each a free course of pasta since it was our anniversary. He also included an extra dessert of rose water ice cream topped with a “Happy Anniversary” written chocolate piece, on top of our RW dessert, and their complementary macaroons, which made me gasp at how incredibly light they were.

My meringue dessert with raspberry sorbet and vanilla ice cream was also one of the most enjoyable desserts I’ve had at a restaurant. I know our experience was not typical of RW, but I do think it is a wonderful place to intimately celebrate an occasion, in a nonflashy way.

I was highly disappointed in Vidalia a few years back for RW because the upcharges were ridiculous. We ended up paying $60+ a person back when RW used to be $30. We did dine there again, off the regular menu, and the food definitely delivered, but we just can’t afford those kinds of meals. So when they offered a 5-course tasting menu this summer RW, I couldn’t resist.

The highlights for our party of 6 were the cobia, grilled octopus, pig tail croquette, frog legs, heirloom beets, shrimp and grits, trumpet mushrooms, lobster (upcharge), pork cheeks, and peanut butter crunch bar. I thought the 5-course tasting menu was a very good representation of their culinary repertoire and an incredible value.

Our only disappointment was that there was no wine pairing option, although they did have some nice glasses on special.

Nice report, FC. Thanks for writing in.

It's heartening to hear about your experiences. And it sounds as if those two restaurants, at least, embraced, rather than endured, the challenge of the week. 

Bethesda, MD

I would like to give a big pizza nod to the old fashioned New York/New England variety served at Vince and Dominic's in the old Hechinger plaza across from the Westfield Mall Sears in Bethesda.

I don't want to denigrate the trend that in embodied in stone oven pizzas, but the extreme high temperatures demand an entirely different approach to toppings. One of the best things is that their pizza tastes great cold!

Plus, if you haven't had anything but a stone oven pizza for a few years, you have forgotten what a real meat pizza tastes like.

Care to suggest any particular pizza to get there?

 

Arlington, VA

Todd,

Writing to share an experience recently had at Gordon Biersch in the District last Friday.

After touring all day, my family (a party of ten) popped into GB for a late dinner. A good time was being had by all until it was time to pay the bill and my mother's purse was missing–stolen from her chair as she sat wedged in between my father and grandfather and across from myself and my boyfriend.

Upon realizing the purse had been stolen, the manager, server, and host were notified of the event… There are two major concerns we have with GB, one rather severe: there is a distinct and real possibility that employees may have been involved in the heist. The stolen purse was too coincidental with ten people in our party not to notice a stranger coming that close to my mother to remove her purse from the chair.

A theory is that when all the servers came, one of them simply removed the purse, left it on the floor and the suspicious trio to our left, simply grabbed the strap and walked right out the door…

The other complaint we have is the lack of empathy and assistance during the ordeal. Not one "sorry", "please use our telephone", "computer", etc. They certainly were not too busy. The manager had no command of the situation and it's probably unfair to characterize him as uncaring, he offered little direction, "just another day in the big city folks" . I won't get into the other staff that were more interested in watching a pre-season football game than watching us panic as our life was being totally altered. They made sure we paid the bill in full before we scrambled to cancel cards.

I tweeted about my experience and was contacted by the marketing director who offered to give us a gift certificate. But, personally, a gift certificate is not an answer for us. There are more problems that need real solutions…And besides, who would want to go back to a place that behaves in the above mentioned way, even it was free?

Thanks to Blackberrys and Iphones my family was able to cancel the majority of the credit cards and place a fraud alert on my mom and dad's social security numbers. The thieves did get away with a few gas station and grocery store purchases, but were denied their attempt to charge $900 at the Columbia Heights Target.

Sounds like an awful night. And the manager handled this about as poorly as you possibly can. 

On the other hand, you have to give the place credit for reaching out to you after a Tweet, of all things, and offering a gift certificate. Sure, it's the last thing you want to do — return to the scene of the (literal) crime — but you can't deny that it's a good gesture.

I don't doubt the possibility that someone on staff COULD have stolen the purse, but without more evidence, it's very hard to conjecture like that.

I sure hope you didn't float that possibility to the manager, tempting as it may have been. That almost certainly would have made him tune out. 

Falls Church, VA

In response to your San Antonio question from last week …

I am a native Texan and although I haven't been to San Antonio in a couple of years, I can suggest a restaurant that has always satisfied the locals and the critics: Mi Tierra.

They have very homey comforting dishes made with tradition and lard (let's be honest, that's where the nice creamy texture in the beans come from) and handmade tortillas.

2 Bonuses: they're open 24hours and they're also a panaderia, with the longest glass case of daily made breads and sweets you've probably ever seen. Although it is not on the Riverwalk, it is close by. I think everyone should enjoy the Riverwalk when you visit San Antonio, but beware, most joints that can afford a patio overlooking the river are going to be large chain restaurants such as Hooters and Damons.

Best to grab a beer from the beer tub at Hooters and enjoy your cold brew with a stroll along the river, then end your day dining at one of the many authentic restaurants outside the Riverwalk.

Thanks for the rec. I hope last week's chatter is reading along this week, too.

Your talk of lard in beans reminds me of trolling the aisles of Grand Mart this weekend — more varieties of beans than any other store in the area.

Why was I there? Shopping for some key secret ingredients in my attempt, with a special assist, to crack the code of El Pollo Rico's wet rub marinade.

Which, I have to say — in all seriousness, but with no false modesty — I think I have done.

Made it Sunday night and it came out beautifully. Wow. 

What a marinade! 

What chicken! 

 

McLean VA
I am looking for a restaurant to host 80-90 people for lunch following my daughter's Bat Mitzvah Service in February. Something fun, a little different and not outrageous. Would like to spend a total of $60 per person including wine and beer. Any thoughts? Would prefer it be in the close in burbs of DC- Arlington, McLean, Falls Church. Would go to Reston for a really good deal.

Can it be ethnic?

I'd think Chinese would be ideal — next to bagels and lox, what could be more Jewish?

Don't know if they'd rent out their space, particularly on a busy Saturday afternoon, but a place like Fortune in Falls Church for dim sum would be a lot of fun — tasty and festive and inexpensive.

Present, for Vietnamese, also in Falls Church, might be fun and festive and tasty, too.

What else could work? Chatters?

Hungry

Todd,

What are your favorite restaurants in Georgetown and the West End? Marcel's, Blue Duck, West End Bistro? Could you recommend three or four for a really special weekend? Thanks very much.

Those three are fine picks.

But gastronomically speaking (and economically speaking, too, since you may want to watch your budget) not a tremendous ROI at the moment.

Also keep in mind Leopold's Kafe + Konditorei for simpler food, possibly for lunch. I like Sweetgreen for its superlative frozen yogurt — it's got the tang and richness of Greek yogurt and some of the consistency and smooth texture of Midwestern frozen custard; they also do salads. Dolcezza is not far away, and has excellent gelato.

If you're going to be in Georgetown, or near Georgetown, I'd recommend heading into Palisades, nearby, for good sushi at Kotobuki and steak frites at Et Voila! 

 

Montgomery Village, MD

Todd,

I hope you have time to answer this, for some reason I didnt have the question section on my page until just now and I am running out of time. I am leaving for Charleston, SC on Thursday for a wedding and I wanted to know if you had any reccomendations for a good southern meal there. I only have one day to myself to eat out, so I dont want to waste it! Thanks,

I really like FIG, for fulfilling fine dining that isn't going to set you back too bad.

If you have a chance to splurge (with money, with calories) I'd recommend Charleston Grille, which might be the Lowcountry counterpart of what a place like Au Pied de Cochon in Montreal is doing. Very rich, very over-the-top, very deliciously decadent. 

If you hit either one of these — and even if you don't — I'd love to hear what you turned up … 

Leesburg
Just moved to Leesburg. Any good retaurants you can recommend in Leesburg?

There are a few.

Two are new — or relatively new, anyway. The Wine Kitchen is fun, cozy and, when it's not slammed, is turning out some good dishes. Problem is, it's often slammed in prime time. Go early. And the list of wines is fairly interesting and long.

We just wrote about Cajun Experience in the magazine. Its owners are from Bayou country. Superb shrimp po'boys — served on authentic Leidenheimer Bakery rolls.

And, an old standby: Tuscarora Mill for pretty good, if pretty expensive, dining. Good atmosphere.

Fairfax, VA
Can you recommend anywhere in the northern Virginia area with fantastic salads?

Yes, and the two that come to mind are both Vietnamese.

Minh's does a great job with its salads, and so does Four Sisters — both turn out bright, crisp, lively arrangements of veggie and noodle, or veggie and meat, or veggie and noodle and meat. 

Fairfax, VA
Salmon or filet at Vermillion? Gazpacho or carpaccio? Thanks!

Filet and gazpacho would be my picks.

I like the steak entree a lot at Vermilion (places that don't specialize in steaks don't often do well by their only steak dish). And I rarely order a carpaccio of anything anymore, being too often disappointed by what turns up on my plate.

Carpaccios seldom do what they're meant to do, which is to offer a concentrated, intense taste in a small or delicate package. Too often I get the impression of a kitchen recycling its excesses.

And come on — beet carpaccio? pineapple carpaccio? It's ridiculous. 

Anyway, lunch calls. Have a good week everyone — eat well, be well, and let's do it again next week at 11 … 

Submit your questions in advance to Todd's chat next Tuesday, September 15 at 11 AM. 

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