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 15.
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
You keep plugging the new Cajun place in Leesburg, which sounds amazing. The only problem is that I'm car-less and can't get that far out of the city. Are there any comparable places in DC or within a half hour's drive? Thanks!
Comparable, in that they also serve po'boys and gumbo, etc.?
I mean, there's Bardia's New Orleans Cafe, on 18th St., which I enjoy (particularly for the beignets, so long as the oil has recently been changed). But I don't think they're comparable experiences.
There's also Acadiana, which does a pretty good po'boy and also serves it on bread from Leidenheimer's, just like The Cajun Experience. I also like the barbecue shrimp.
Best gumbo in the area, in my estimation, is at Johnny's Half Shell. Dark, spicy, all the flavors fully teased out …
(And just to quibble … I really hope you don't think I'm actually "plugging" places. I recommend them, and if they're good, I'm happy to keep doing it. Plugging sounds dangerously close to promoting, which I don't do and don't want to do … )
Any advice from you (or your followers) on eating in Prague?
As far as pretension, any worse than Mie N Yu? Wie have to hand it to them for consistency – everything from food, to name, to website, to decor – drips with it.
Although I don't think it rates a 9 or 10 on the Pretentio-meter. I'd say more like an 8. I want to know about the 9s and 10s.
As for Prague — I've got nothing for you, unfortunately. Anyone out there have any interesting and/or tasty recs?
I missed your chat last week but wanted to chime in on the pretentious restaurant list. Ulah Bistro. I think its a combo of the owner's name and U street. What's worse it's not even a bistro.
Yeah, a pretty bad name, unfortunately.
And it's funny, isn't it, how many places these days want to call themselves bistros without doing anything that bistros do?
I did mean Ching Ching Cha. Thanks for the catch! That's the kind of thing that happens when you fly without a net — in this case, without an editor.
Really? Kitchen in Glover Park? Pretentious?
The General Store?
I guess they're pretentious, in that they're pretentiously unpretentious.
I don't think they're big offenders, personally. A 3, maybe, on the Pretentio-meter.
I want to hear about the really, really pretentious names — or the really, really pretentious details of service, or menu descriptions, etc., etc.
Who's got 'em?
We are going up for a concert at the 1st Mariner in Baltimore next month. We plan to head up early and have dinner beforehand – any recommendations?
We like all types of food – for reference some of our favorite places here are Palena, Kotobuki, and PS7s.
I take from your short list that you like personal sorts of places, places that are not trying to be anything other than what they are.
Places like the Chameleon Cafe, on Harford Rd.. It's in a house (not a restored, grand house, just — a house, cozy and even cramped), and it has a quirky sort of charm and character.
I like the atmosphere, like the crowd, and I like what the restaurant represents. The cooking is not going to wow you, but it's good and rewarding and there's a lot of passion and care in it.
If you go, and i hope you do, drop back in and let me know how it all turned out … I haven't been up there in a bit, and I'd really like to eat there again …
I know it's after-the-fact, but I was catching up by reading some older chats. I was out-of-town for Restaurant Week but wasn't upset that I was missing out because it's been mediocre in the last couple of cycles with the exception of a notable few, who seem to understand what the whole RW experience is supposed to be about….
I was dismayed to read a comment where restaurants say the lose money during Restaurant Week…I find that hard to believe. While in the short term, possibly, because if you're only banking on the immediate cost ration instead of the long-term viewpoint, then maybe. But, the point of RW is to give people the chance to taste what otherwise might be out of reach or maybe there are just too many other places competing for a diner's attention and money already–in a competitive and expensive city.
Having said this, as you pointed out–that extra business/bonus comes from word-of-mouth or repeat customers who received a stellar dining experience, which RW should provide.
I'd also like to question the perspective that the restaurant is losing money They hold RW in August, which is usually a slow month in DC so how much money are the restaurants making if they don't participate in RW and much of DC is gone? Also, during a down economic time, shouldn't restaurants be more grateful for when they do get business?
I don't know but that comment just made me really think about that business. Thanks
Thanks for writing in.
And here's the thing — more restaurants are participating than ever. You would think that means they think it's a good thing, a help to their business. And yet …
It's interesting. I read a post Tim Carman over at City Paper wrote about Vidalia and Jeff Buben in which Buben took issue with the notion that RW customers become repeat customers and bring business throughout the year (and years).
As evidence, Buben cited the success rate of a certificate that the restaurant handed out last year to RW customers, offering 50% off a bottle of wine.
Only 40 customers took him up on the offer, a fraction of the number of diners who came in during RW.
There you go, right? Hard evidence that RW isn't what I and others claim it is for restaurants in a down month.
Suppose some customers lost the certificate.
Suppose some customers aren't inclined to order wine by the bottle (even with a certificate offering half off, a glass or two can still be more inexpensive.)
Suppose some customers don't order wine at all when they go out.
Is half-off a bottle of wine that powerful of an inducement? A free bottle of wine — now THAT'S an inducement.
My point is, it hardly seems fair to dismiss the power of RW simply because a small percentage of customers chose to take you up on a not-tremendous offer.
Is it just me, or is Sou’Wester possibly the worst name for a restaurant imaginable? It doesn't sound right when you say it. It doesn't look right when you read it.
For the record, South by Southwest wasn't such a great choice, either (and yes, most modern music fans immediately thought of the Austin festival when they heard the name).
Exactly. First thing I thought of.
The thing that's odd about the name — well, one of the things — is that identifying a restaurant geographically (and implying rootedness) is really a stretch when you're talking about a Mandarin Oriental property in a part of the city that feels placeless and that no one associates with "southwest."
And yes, you're right — it's bad enough on the page, much, much worse when pronounced aloud.
On a positive note, the menu is a really interesting read, with a number of dishes that do express a rootedness and sense of place.
Next month my son and I are going to my alma mater, GW, to see Jon Stewart. He wants to take me out to dinner for my birthday, but doesn't have a lot of money.
What's in the area that won't break the bank? We love everything except Indian. I would have loved to go to Marrocco's for old times sake, but I guess that is long gone.
There are a few places in the immediate area, and nothing amazing. Notti Bianche for contemporary Italian, La Perla for heartier Italian-American, Tonic at Quigley's Pharmacy for simple American pub grub, Dish for upmarket American cooking.
Just so long as you have it straight in your mind that the night is all about seeing Jon Stewart, you shouldn't be too disappointed by any of these.
Keep 'em coming …
Irene's is the former Kenny Roger's Roasters at Rte. 198 and Rte. 1, since taken over by a family that concentrates on Honduran and Salvadoran cooking. (They still haven't taken down some of the KRR touches, like the wrought-iron signs that spell out the singer's hits: Lucille, The Gambler, etc.)
I really like it, and am still thinking about the baliadas. A baliada is, essentially, a Honduran taco or burrito. The version here is terrific — a giant, pan-pizza-sized wrapper, made from corn and thicker and puffier than a tortilla, is tossed onto the griddle then smeared with creamy refried beans and drizzled with crema. I like a variation that adds diced rotisserie chicken, slices of avocado and scrambled eggs.
One is a massive amount of food, but Irene's serves two to a plate. Two for $5.75. I am prepared to call this the single best dining value in the area.
I also like the pollo guisado, a stewed half-chicken with carrots and potatoes and onions. It comes with rice and beans and a salad. $7.95.
There's also good pupusas (and very good, fresh curtido), and a good-looking tripe soup that I want to try.
Regarding the question from "Jeremy DC", I don't feel you answered him fully. He already mentioned Komi, I believe he was looking for other suggestions provided he can't get a reservation there or simply cannot afford it, both of which are quite possible.
You're so right — thanks for writing in to push me on this, Arlington.
Other than Komi, I'd say Cafe du Parc (but only if it's nice out and you can sit outside), and the new J&G Steakhouse, which, name notwithstanding, is not a steakhouse — at least not in the conventional sense. It's a sophisticated and elegant and surprisingly relaxed restaurant, and amounts to a nice sort of getaway in your own city; it's also putting out, dish by dish, some of the best, most fully realized cooking in the area right now. After dinner, there's the prospect of taking the elevator up to the roof bar and looking out over the city. It's a commanding view, a thrilling view.
How do they compare? They don't — they're orders of magnitude better.
As to whether they're really made from maize, as opposed to harina, my best guess is that they're probably a blend of the two — they certainly have more of a corn taste than a lot of other baliadas I've had.
Just got back from 10 days in Athens, a span during which I consumed 9 gyros. I also found room to fall in love with loukoumades (little doughnut holes with cinammon honey, vanilla ice cream, and cloves). Anywhere you know of in the DC area where they're served? Thank you.
Cava — with locations on Barracks Row, and in Rockville — has 'em. So does Komi, although the dessert menu is not a static thing there and dishes may not be there week to week.
I see what you're saying, but come on: putting your name on a restaurant isn't pretentious! It's the opposite of pretense. It's saying: This is my place. This is me.
Think about it: Mike's Grill. Sally's Diner. Etc., etc.
Egotistical? Perhaps, but what about the restaurants with names you can't pronounce?
With names that force you, of necessity, to come to them, to ask questions of your server or hostess or manager — in a sense, to puzzle out meaning, as if the restaurant were some sacred text that demanded to be decoded?
I'm submitting early because I need to get onto a conference call. I really need your help. I need to take two colleagues from Chicago to a "working breakfast" on Friday. The restaurant must be in downtown DC and must be "business-y".
Is the restaurant in the Mayflower a good choice? It seems to me that only politicians and their high-end call-girls go there, and that may not be an appropriate choice.
Forget the Mayflower. Take your Chi-town colleagues to The Four Seasons, in Georgetown.
A power breakfast with good food, first-rate service and unbeatable impress-the-clients atmosphere.
Good Morning Todd and fellow chatters!
A field report on 701: I was very excited to find out the incoming chef had worked at Gotham Bar & Grill in NYC, so I waited for the new renovations and staff changes to settle before I had dinner there. Let me say that it had been at least 2 years since I had last dined at 701, and while that experience was good, it was hardly memorable. This time was different! Like the new decor and the elongated bar.
The service was prompt and helpful. But the food….oh, the food…just delicious.
I can still taste both of my dishes! I started with the foie gras and pork terrine, which had a nice hint of pepper but was also a big portion, enough to share with my friend. He had the grilled scallops which were some of the most flavorful scallops I've had in a long time. Then he had the pork chop which is served on top of a great corn salsa-esque concontion and a grilled peach that was amazing.
But my entree was the best: the black bass with lentils, grapes and baby artichokes. It was perfectly cooked and the flavors were a great combination. We didn't have room for dessert, but we will next time!
Only complaint: loud. Not a deafening roar like Central or Brasserie Beck, but hardly the quiet romantic dinner I was looking for even though we got there early. I'd still go back in a hearbeat.
Hi Todd! Just got back from a vacation to London, and thought I'd give a mini-report, as well as some other random thoughts from closer to home…
After eating uninspired fish & chips at a well-regarded chippie in Camden Town, and a solid, if unremarkable, assortment of curries at Tayyabs (an Indian restaurant just off of Brick Lane), I had two meals — street food, really — that stick with me to this day:
1) The chicken doner sandwich at a nameless restaurant in the middle of the carnival that is Leicester Square.
When I studied abroad in London many moons ago, I used to stop here at least once a week for quick, cheap, and delicious eats. As my taste in food was a bit less refined then (oh, how I pined for Kraft mac and cheese…), I expected to be disappointed upon my return. I was not. Mounds of juicy chicken, with the outside layers pleasantly crisped, carved right into the pita, layered with tomatoes, cucumber, cabbage, and a garlic yogurt sauce that should be illegal. I sat right on the curb in the middle of the square and dug in. The pigeons kept fighting me for the sandwich. I won.
Begs the question — is there something comparable in the DC area?
2) Walking through Borough Market, a friend tipped me off to a Spanish food stand selling chorizo sandwiches. A freshly grilled bun, each side drizzled with olive oil, topped with a cool, sweet roasted red pepper, a handful of arugula, and a chorizo link split down the middle and seared on a grill. Absolute. Bloody. Heaven. One of the two most memorable eats (the other being Tosca's carrot pappardelle dish) I've had this year. And it was less than $6. I'll be trying like mad to recreate it at home.
Meanwhile, back in DC… Heading out to a quick lunch today at Taqueria Nacional (which I tend to think is head and shoulders above Distrito Federal — specifically the beef and fish tacos), and dinner tonight at Rays the Classics. The latter is a new one for me, so I'm excited.
And finally, don't know if you've been there yet, but just wanted to shower some praise on Pho 14 in Columbia Heights. I don't think the pho is quite as good as a couple of the places in the VA 'burbs, but it's certainly not far off. And the service is quick, attentive and absolutely charming — a delightful departure from the dour mood that greets you in the various Pho 75s. A really welcome addition to the neghborhood.
Love the blog — keep up the good work! – KB
What a mouth-watering report!
God, what I wouldn't give now for that chorizo sandwich you described! Brilliant. Makes me miss London.
To answer #1, the most comparable thing I can think of offhand is the Plaka Gyro at Plaka Grill in Vienna, which I recently wrote about in the magazine and have been chatting about for a couple of weeks. A wonderful handful of a sandwich.
Enjoy your great day of eating — you've got a lot to look forward to …
You, too, chatters — eat well, be well, and let's do it again next week at 11 …
Submit your question in advance to Todd's chat next week, Tuesday, September 29 at 11 AM.
(missing you, T.E.K. … )