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 September 8.
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
Four Sisters, Falls Church
Bar Pilar, DC
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
I had a horrible experience at Sonoma restaurant and am perplexed. Rather than trying to make things right, our servers seemed to be arguing that we should be glad that the food was organic. I emailed the restaurant but never had a reply.
How unusual is it for a restaurant not to care about its patrons? Is this a well-known issue for Sonoma?
A well-known issue? Not as far as I know.
Interested to hear what went wrong, exactly. Care to elaborate?
The idea that the servers would be arguing you down because the food is organic is just … well, it's funny, and frankly, it's not surprising.
Organic, local, seasonal, sustainable, etc. — these are magic words in the industry right now. In fact, I have received several emails over the last few weeks arguing that I/we ought to give Restaurant X or Restaurant Y another look because, although the cooking/service/etc. might be lacking, the food is organic, local, seasonal, etc.
As if good intentions are the same as great results.
Answering this makes me feel like a shill, but all right, I'll bite, what the hell …
There's Chop't, whose spelling I had to look up (not to be confused with Chop'd) — with locations, in Penn Quarter, Dupont and downtown.
Think that's a bad name?
How about the new Sou'Wester, which opened yesterday in the Mandarin Oriental. I'm still trying to decide: bad name? or bad and pretentious name?
(There. I feel better. In the restaurant world, they call it balancing the flavors. Same deal. Chase the sweet with a shot of tang.)
Let's see if we can compile a bad/pretentious restaurant name list today … Send in your nominees. Only spots in DC, Md., and Va., please.
Re: Vince and Dominic's
This is almost embarrassing to admit. My pizza order is sausage, regular (strip) bacon, and grilled peppers. It is basically impossible to get fresh roasted green peppers as a pizza topping around here, and V&D puts them on the grill for us (and anyone who asks, I presume).
The sausage goes on uncooked, as opposed to the 700 + degree ovens, and is in nice flavorful chunks. They have all the normal toppings, plus a selection of pastas.
Truly, the big difference is in the fact that these gas ovens are cooking around 500 degrees, while wood ovens are more in the 700 range. At that high temperature, the dough must be fairly thin and only stay in for a very brief time – too brief to have most toppings started raw. The crust would be burnt before the toppings were cooked.
At the same time, my vegetarian daughter from Maine ordered a pizza that I never thought they could produce, and it was great.
Thanks for writing back …
This is one of the reasons I've always liked Tommy Marcos's Ledo Restaurant (not to be confused with Ledo's) pizzas. Because the ingredients bake and blend into the pizza.
Has anyone out there ever tried the bacon pizza? They have two. One is crumbled fried bacon. The other is where they lay strips of uncooked bacon on top, so that the fat runs off onto the sauce and the bacon cooks as the pizza bakes.
The restaurant, curiously, will be vacating its space next year after 50+ years in the same Adelphi location and moving closer to the College Park campus. It's shame, though I wish the owners well and hope they can replicate the atmosphere and texture of the old place in the new. A real challenge.
Meantime, it gives all of you who've never eaten the area's most distinct, most original and, really, most definitive pizza 9 months to go and have a taste.
I have a fairly long list of what DOESN'T interest me in Annapolis these days …
I'm not enamored of Osteria 177 (overpriced and just a notch above mediocre), the new Southern steak chain Stoney River Legendary Steaks (mediocre, but a good chocolate cake), and the new Carpaccio (just a notch below mediocre).
What else? The new Hell Point Seafood isn't trying hard enough, which is too bad, because this could be — and ought to be — a good to very good restaurant.
So, no, I guess not much new really and truly interests me in Annapolis these days.
No, I take that back. I like, for what it is, the new Punk's Backyard Grill. Remember that scene from "The World According to Garp," where Robin Williams watches a small plane crash into a house that he's looking to buy and turns to the realtor and says: I'll take it. It's been pre-disastered."?
Well, Punk's is pre-chained. Still, for what it is, I think they do a good job for a light dinner out. Good margaritas (made with Tempranillo), the beef on the burger comes from a local farm, the rolls are brioche, Gifford's supplies the ice cream, etc.
And, while we're at it, I'm still fond of Joss, Lewnes's, Potato Valley, The Rockfish and O'Leary's …
EVO- instead of seeming evolved it reminds me or Rachel Ray.
Dungarats- just bad combination of words most Americans wouldn't find appetizing.
P.S. Any idea if there is any frozen yogurt/custard near Honey Pig, the spice always makes me want something soothing?
EVO, yes, I agree with you — totally contrived.
But Duangrat's? That's the woman's name. Pookie Duangrat. I agree, it's not the most appealing sounding name for an American audience, but pretentious??
For pretension, you really have to turn to the kind of restaurants where the owners and chefs take trips and do "research," and return home all keyed up about presenting to a well-fed Western audience their "creative takes" on indigenous South American/Mexican/Pacific Rim cooking.
Come on, folks. Think contrived. Think trying really, really hard. Think of all those places that you scratch your head and say: Huh? What's that supposed to be?
Invariably, they're one or two syllables long and turn out to be the name of some obscure, never-before-heard-of bug or tree or cooking implement.
More bad than pretentious, I think. But yeah.
Here's an obvious one: Posh.
It's like telling someone you're funny. (You had better be really, really funny.)
Too cute/clever: sure.
But on the Pretentio-meter, with 1 being cutesy and 10 being so eye-rollingly pretentious that you cringe at uttering the name out loud and begin to feel your sense of self-worth being compromised, I'd say it's a 3.
I'm looking for the 8s, 9s and 10s.
Note: We're thinking of introducing the Pretentio-meter in an upcoming issue of the magazine. Any suggestions for topics/phenomena, etc. you'd be interested in seeing covered/rated?
Not to defend Sonoma, but we had a meal about a month ago now where my Husband's pasta was overly salted. We told the server and they quickly took it and brought a new not too salty bowl of pasta soon enough that it wasn't a big deal and were very apologetic and graceful.
I guess I should have gotten the name of our server for next time…
I'm glad you wrote in. Equal time.
Er, sort of …
Any recommendations on a good winery within a couple of hours of DC that has a good restaurant for dinner too? Or a good winery to visit with a good restaurant close by? Thanks!
I'd suggest Barboursville Vineyards, which is putting out fantastic wines (look for their Octagon, their Merlot, their Nebbiolo, their Viognier, and their Pinot Grigio) and has a good restaurant on the premises, too, called Palladium.
It's 2 hours and 5 minutes from the city (according to Google maps). A beautiful drive, and the extensive grounds are well-kept and spectacular — making for a relaxing getaway.
What, is Arlingtongue the only one out there who wants to play??
(Good one, by the way.)
If more of you don't come forward, I'm going to think that you're not interested in a little good clean mischief, or that you all work in the industry and are loath to talk smack about one of your own. ; )
How about …
— Westend Bistro by Eric Ripert (I mean, when the chef/owner gets his own BYLINE … ?)
Guajillo, in Arlington, isn't bad at all. I like their chicken mole, their ceviche, their chips and salsa, their mixed drinks …
Why? What have you been finding?
I just wanted to follow up on your recommendations from last week for Charleston. We ended up only having Sunday afternoon to ourselves, so we went downtown and checked out Poogan's Porch for brunch. The food was amazing!
They had delicious buttered biscuits and other traditional southern fare. I got the BBQ salmon and cheese grits and my husband got the fried chicken. Everything was cooked perfectly and the prices were very reasonable.
If you are ever back there you have to check it out! Thanks again!
My other question is do you ever go to food festivals? I was thinking about trying Taste of Georgetown next month, but was wondering if those things were ever any good. Have you ever been?
I've been to Poogan's Porch. It's a great atmosphere, and as you say, very reasonable. But for brunch, the place I love is Hominy Grill. They put Poogan's to shame.
The biscuits, in particular. Unspeakably good. The shrimp n grits, the corn cakes, and the cakes and pies — my God. If you like cake, real cake — the kind where, when you slide your fork down the front of the wedge, it doesn't flop over onto the plate but stays upright and steady from all the careful cake construction and/or gooey rich frosting layered inside, so that you have to keep moving your fork down, down, down … all the way to the plate — if you like that kind of cake, then you have to get to Hominy Grill.
As for food festivals … I like them, they're fun, I just don't go with the idea that I'm going to eat all that well. There's a lot of warmed-over food — food that in its original context might be good but suffers for sitting out or lounging under a heat lamp, etc., or for being prepared in enormous quantities …
Hollywood East Cafe on the Blvd. had really good char siu bao.
For the uninitiated, these are the steamed pork buns you find on the dim sum carts. Actually, sometimes steamed, sometimes baked. HEC on the B did both. And both well.
The restaurant is expected to reopen outside of the Westfield mall in Wheaton sometime this Fall. A lot of us dim sum fans are eagerly awaiting Janet Yu's return. This was, far and away, the best dim sum experience in the area.
If you can't wait that long, then you might want to make a trip out to Mark's Duck House in Falls Church. Or Fortune, also in Falls Church. Or new Fortune, in Gaithersburg.
There's a new spot in downtown DC, on Vermont Ave., called Bao that I know has them, but I haven't been yet. Anybody?
Ping Pong, the London-based Asian tea house that will open in Penn Quarter in November, might have them, too; I've been hearing about a dim sum menu.
Thanks, Dave! 😉
Thanks for the quick correction: Palladio. It's an Italian restaurant, after all. O, not UM.
And thanks for the alternative suggestion …
It's been a long while since I've been able to follow your chat. You probably don't get this question much but which restaurant in the DC area would you recommend for someone craving the real Pasta Primavera? Any place around here that does it well? I mean, the way it's really supposed to be done.
Here's what I'm not looking for–to spend over 20 dollars for a plate of boiled pasta and vegetables. That's not what the real stuff is…
I know why it costs a lot of money to order in a restaurant because it involves a lot of work, time and prep. So, I don't mind paying that much if I'm served the real thing. Any suggestions? Thanks
I can't think of any restaurant these days that has pasta primavera on the menu, much less a good, authentic one.
I know the Pizza Poll just ended, but why was there no mention of the pizzas at Liberty Tavern? They are, in my opinion, some of the better wood-fired pizzas around. Always consistently good–with creative and tasty creations. Shame they didn't even make the list.
It's a good question, and for what it's worth, I like the pizzas there, too. In fact, when I did an exhaustive round-up of pizza in the area a couple of years ago, I included the pies being produced by Liberty Tavern.
Why LT wasn't in the mix for the pool has to do with the fact that it's not, technically speaking, a pizza place, and the contest was meant to showcase the places that are primarily — and even exclusively — pizza places.
I'm sure you'd get a fierce argument from folks who've eaten their way through Italy who would argue that these places are just being true and authentic, etc.
But yeah, it's a little like reading a New Yorker article from Jane Mayer or Judith Thurman, the kind that's been sprinkled with lots of not-commonly-known French phrases (which the author does not bother to translate, natch) that make the author come across as worldier-than-thou.
Thanks for your shout-out on Barboursville; as an elitist Californian with deep Sonoma roots, their Octagon helped turn me into a Virginia wine snob, and their grounds are *so* much cooler than most wineries back home.
But to not mention the Riesling? It's one of the most exciting Va. wines in a long time.
You know, I haven't had the Riesling. Thanks for the rec.
Virginia wine snob! I love it. And I can see a movement just beginning to take shape …
I just want to tell you how much I love your top 25 list–where you'd spend your own money.
That is so helpful in addition to the fact that it is so real and I believe you! What I mean is that it doesn't sound promotional for any of the suggested places because your taste is broad and far-reaching…you seem to enjoy high-end places as much as cozy family-run places so your list strikes me as being genuine.
Thanks for making it a little bit easier to dine out in this ever-complex city of dining.
No, thank you. I appreciate hearing that.
As I've said before, this is the same list that my wife and I used to keep on the fridge at home and now cart around in our phones. It's a personal list, and I don't make any claims for it being empirical or what have you. I think they're all terrific spots in their way, and I recommend them highly, but I also put it up every week to give readers a sense of my enthusiasms, to better gauge what I write, etc.
It's a short list. Casual, good, Georgetown — that's not a promising group of words, generally. The list of places I wouldn't bother with is much, much longer.
Let's see … Leopold's (a Viennese coffeehouse with surprisingly good cooking), George's Townhouse (steak sandwiches, falafel), Chi Cha Lounge (tea and a few small Asian-style plates), Sweetgreen (killer frozen yogurt, customized salads), Aditi (cheap Indian). In nearby Palisades, you've also got Kotobuki (good, cheap sushi) and BlackSalt (seafood and fish).
Love your chats – hope you can help me out with this… I am attending a Rosh Hashanah dinner this Saturday and need to bring a dessert for 15. Do you know any bakeries in DC that do kosher desserts? I don't have a car, so something in DC would be most convenient, but I could also make it somewhere on the metro in Maryland. Thanks!
Kosher desserts … No, I'm stumped.
In Baltimore, on the other hand, you'd have a pick of places …
Anyone? Am I forgetting something?
And I like that Viognier, too.
I'd say my favorite Viogniers right now, out of Virginia, are (in no particular order): Horton, Chrysalis, Barboursville, White Hall.
But still, that's more a 3 on the Pretentio-meter. More cutesy than pretentious.
I can't believe the paltry turnout for this …
It can't be that I listed all the good ones …
Is it pretentious to name your restaurant after your kid?
On the one hand, it seems the very opposite of pretension. On the other, it's odd, because it used to be — at least at a certain level — that you named your place after yourself. The name was a signal of something genuine and true. You ate at Mike's, and it was likely that Mike was there, and that Mike cared about what happened at his place, that Mike intended not just for his place to be a cog in the community — but that he, Mike, would be a cog, too.
Which you can't say of the places named after chef's kids.
Still, I'm on the fence on this one …
Very, very funny. (Though not for you … )
I'll bet, though, that that large crawling bug was very active and healthy, a result of not having been cooped up all day and exposed to awful chemicals like you find in the non free-range bugs that some restaurants have … I kid, I kid. 🙂
Central Michel Richard you have to include in the mix, it's true, but I do think that if there's one chef in this city who is entitled to put his name on a restaurant it's Michel Richard.
But yeah: Sen-TRAHL.
Leopold's Kafe + Konditorei. (I think for the plus-sign more than anything.)
Thank you …
And that's going to be it for today, everyone, I'm running late for lunch. I enjoyed it, and hope you did, too. Happy Jewish New Year to all of you who are celebrating, and for all of those who are not — eat well and be well, regardless, and let's do it again next week at 11 …
Submit your questions in advance to Todd's chat next week, Tuesday, September 22 at 11 AM.
(We miss you, T.E.K.)