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.
Read the transcript from October 6.
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
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're right. The fact that anybody would think it's acceptable to keep a customer waiting that long is pretty mind-boggling.
I'd still be interested in hearing from more industry vets, even if I'm going to draw a pretty hard line on this one.
For the Pretentio-meter: Not sure you're still taking these, but I would say Siroc. From the "Press" section on their site: "Siroc takes its name from the relaxing wind that blows from northern Africa and warms Italy." Mmm-hmm.
I know you like it, but I would actually venture to say that when I ate there for Restaurant Week, I was bored out of my mind. With the atmosphere, the awkward service (the server checked in on us every other bite asking how it was, and when we replied "fine", she unhesitatingly replied "Thank you"; this happened about eight times.), and mostly the food. The food I actually found to be worse than boring. The tomato in my caprese salad looked like it had been bought at a Giant supermarket in January (and tasted like it, too). I don't know, I wasn't digging it. It was also unexpectedly completely empty, which was odd/eerie. Anyway, perhaps we could agree on the name if nothing else.
I think you ought to give it another shot — the food's better than you're making it out to be — but yes, yes, yes: that description is pretty high up there on the Pretentio-meter.
Who else has sightings from around town that would score highly on our trusty Pretentio-meter? It's like a finely-tuned sports car; it needs to be driven.
In your response to a chain from 10/6 (below) I was wondering what your comparison for J&G would be with somewhere like Bourbon Steak. I have dined at both and maybe tested the waters at J&G too soon into their opening that I was not satisfied with service or the cuisine. Are these two restaurants even worth comparing or are they each in a league of their own? Thank you for your insight.
"Todd Kliman: Then I'd go ahead and make a reservation at J&G. I think it's one of the best looking dining rooms in the city — a soaring and dynamic space, but with a serenity and sense of order that you don't find very often. The staff is exceptionally good and polished. And the food — I've been four times, and there's not much on the menu that I don't like. This is rigorously precise, technically accurate cooking, while never coming across as fussy or straining; nothing screams "look at me!"; nothing feels out of place. Some plates are the very definition of what I'd call "casual brilliance." Right now, if you asked me to compile a Top 10 list of best restaurants in the city, it'd be awfully hard to leave J&G off. "
I've seen both restaurants at what I would guess to be their peak. And I prefer J&G.
Which isn't to say Bourbon Steak isn't worthwhile.
In many ways, the only reason to compare them is that they're both in hotels, they both purport to feature steak, and they both are guided by brand-name chefs.
I think the design of J&G is terrific, and the cooking is light and full of finesse.
Bourbon Steak is more of an indulgence — the butter-soaked truffle rolls, the amuse bouche french fry sampler, etc.
Several months ago I started trying out some of the less expensive restaurants you recommended and was a little unsatisfied by some (e.g., 4 Sisters). I decided to try again, and on a second visit 4 Sisters was outstanding. My wife and I enjoyed it tremendously. I tried Ravi Kebob (Arlington and Springfield); the one in Arlington gave me one of the best meals I've had in a long time. What a wonderful place! I've since taken several friends.
And you changed my life with Honey Pig. The ultra-loud music and the hard to read menus (tiny print) was off-putting at first, but it's now become a family (and friend's) favorite. It's an experience as well as a tasty meal.
You were 3 for 3 but (there's always one) we went to la Caraqueña, and it was disappointing. The chicken had very little taste, and the black beans were not as flavorful as they should (caveat – I'm used to Cuban style food). The arepas were good enough that they saved the day, but it's too bad such a cute little place did not do better. Maybe I need to give them another chance but I much prefer Cuba de Ayer for an inexpensive meal.
Any other latin food places you would recommend? My favorite BBQ chicken is at Pollo Rico, and my favorite tapas at Jaleo (not in Crystal City). La Taberna del Alabardero was very nice as well. Any others?
That's too bad about La Caraquena, but yes, I'd give them another try. And be sure to get either the black bean soup or the peanut soup — or both. They're wonderful, and worthy of flashy hotel, as opposed to scruffy motel, dining. And double up on the fabulous arepas. Oh, and the saltenas — I think they're the best in the area right now.
Otherwise? (And by the way, I'm a fan of Cuba de Ayer, too.)
I'd send you to La Limena, in Rockville, or La Flor de la Canela, in Gaithersburg, for terrific Peruvian cooking. For good Honduran food, you've got Irene's, in Laurel (the excellent baliadas) and Sergio's Place, in Wheaton. For Salvadoran: irene's Pupusas III, in Wheaton, and Samantha's, in Silver Spring. (I also really like the pupusas at Guardado's, in Bethesda). Victor's II in Falls Church is a pretty good pick for simple, hearty Bolivian/Argentinian cooking (a decent, mammoth steak for under $20, with chimichurri, potatoes and a salad). There's also Llajtaymanta and El Pike, both in Falls Church. And also for Bolivian, on weekends, and also in Nothern Virginia — Tutto Bene.
That should keep you occupied for a while. ; )
Check back in and let me know where you've eaten and how some of these places are faring, okay? …
No, no: not the publicist — the chef.
But listen, for all the handwringing that's been going on about this — why so much scorn for Barton Seaver? He didn't anoint himself, he was selected. Shoot the messenger, if you want, but I just don't get why he has to be the target of so much abuse.
And I'm not saying he deserves what's come his way, not at all.
I just think that a more productive way to vent frustration and indignation would be to rage against the machine. The pr machine. The media machine. The machine that is intent on showing us people who look a certain way and act a certain way and telling us that this is what is now and what matters.
My wife (who has 8 years of French class behind her) and I are having a friendly disagreement as to the proper pronunciation of Bistro du Coin. Can you settle this for us? Thanks
Bistro du Kwah (suggesting, very faintly, the sound of an 'N' — almost as if you're feeling nasal).
I hope that helps.
I'm curious — how has the disagreement broken down? What's her take and what's yours?
Love your reviews and love your writing. The city is very, very lucky to have your gift for language and your insights into food and food culture to be able to read on a regular basis. Now, for my question … ; )
Why is it that everytime I go out to eat with my boyfriend and we order dishes, the "heavier," more manly dish always goes to him? For example, we order steak tartare and a salad to share, and he gets the steak tartare even though he HATES the idea of eating raw meat and I love it.
This weekend, we ordered a bronzino (sp?) and a hanger steak for mains. The hanger steak was for me, the fish for him. Well, it didn't end up that way on our table. Always, always this happens. Why? I hate it. It's incredibly insulting, I think.
Very astute, Arlington. (And thanks for the kinds words!) It's the last vestige of restaurant sexism. My wife and I talk about this frequently.
Most waiters and waitresses have learned, finally, not to leave the bill in front of the man every single time. But particularly in restaurants where the staff was raised elsewhere and brought up in a different sort of culture, the heavy dish always goes to the man, the light dish always goes to the woman.
I was in a restaurant once with my wife, and she ordered a veal chop and I had a fish dish of some sort, a halibut I think, and the waiter set them down incorrectly and began to walk away.
We summoned him back and my wife told him he'd got it wrong. "Madame? You don't want zee hal-eee-but?"
She replied that she hadn't ordered the halibut — I had.
He lifted an eyebrow and switched the dishes. "You are very hungry tonight," he said, smiling at my wife.
Who wasn't smiling back. Oh no no no …
A couple of weeks ago you asked about cooking classes. I've been to several at Sur La Table and some culinary school in Bethesda that I can't even remember the name of. I found them expensive and didn't really learn much. This year, I decided to take a North Indian cooking class through Arlington County Adult Ed and let me tell you, I'm hooked!
The class is taught by an lovely Indian lady and I've learned so much about authentic Indian cooking, it's incredible! And at six 3-hour classes for $140 you can't beat the price. I've enjoyed it so much that I've also signed up for Bistro French cooking and Thai cooking. Can't wait!
That sounds like a terrific deal.
I'm a big proponent of adult ed classes, in general, and think they can be every bit as good as sexier, more hyped offerings elsewhere. It's the same with community college and 4-year-colleges. So much depends on who's teaching, and how motivated your are to learn outside the walls of the classroom.
(Has anyone seen the new TV series on NBC, called "Community"? It's not bad, funny in places, but takes a very condescending attitude toward community college and I don't understand why you'd choose that as your satiric focus when there are so many more deserving targets — banks, "reality" shows, megalomaniacal sports team owners, smug and self-satisfied TV anchors, town hall meeting attendees carrying pitchforks, Donald Trump, etc.)
I had the opportunity to leave no tip for a server recently, my second time in dining out frequently for over 20 years. This one was almost worth a tip because it was so amusing! I wasn't in the DC area, so I won't bother naming the restaurant.
I had ordered pasta with red sauce for my main, asking if the sauce was vegetarian, which the server confirmed it was. When it came, there was a big giant meatball on it. I kindly pointed out the mix-up, that I had ordered vegetarian pasta and the server had a noise, left for a minute, came back with a big spoon and right there pushed the meatball onto the big spoon, gave me a smirk, and walked away with it.
Leaving me with my "vegeratian" pasta. While they might do that in a kitchen, I couldn't believe they would do it in front of me! I was wondering when (and if) you have ever completely skipped the tip?
Wow. What a terrific story!
We need to start a Kliman Online Hall of Fame, just to showcase posts like this one. That's classic!
It's funny, but you know, I don't think I've ever not left a tip, if only because I think you make a bigger, clearer statement when you leave significantly less than the expected amount.
I do remember, many, many years ago, leaving 20 cents at dinner after an incident that I will never forget. My wife and I had ordered salmon at a Latin American restaurant and were served catfish. I pointed this out to the waiter and he said, very brusquely: No. Salmon.
I directed my knife at the filet. It was not pink or pinkish orange. It was a white-gray. Catfish color, in other words. And tasted like catfish, too.
No, he insisted. Salmon.
I shook my head. It's catfish, I said. Salmon is pinkish orange.
When is raw, he said. Not when is cooked.
I couldn't believe this and just sat there, dumbfounded.
You don't like it? he asked, changing the argument abruptly.
It's fine … for catfish. But we ordered salmon.
By this point my wife and I were pretty incredulous, and asked to see the manager. We went through the same thing all over again, and then he left and returned with a box.
This was distressing in itself, because it proved that the fish had come in a box. But it got worse: the box was marked salmon. Clearly a mistake — because he slid the contents from it and out came a handful of catfish filets.
Salmon, he said.
No. No, no, no. Catfish. Clearly, catfish. And it tastes like catfish. Salmon is pink or orange or pinkish orange.
The manager was impassive. No emotion, nothing — he was going to wait out the irrational, angry diner, the diner he had made irrational and angry. He just stood there, listening without listening, and then turned to the waiter and bid him to take it away.
You want a glass of sangria? he asked. We bring you sangria.
What is the protocol / best manners in which a diner and a restaurant handle hair in food in the following situations: 1. Hair found as soon as first bite is taken 2. Hair found after 50% of dish is completed
To add to this question, if the dish is comp'd: 1. Do you tip on it?
Sorry, I just don't see a sighting of a single hair as being the sort of offense that requires a restaurant to take compensatory action.
I agree with you if people have a reservation they should not wait. I agree with you that 50 minute wait is incredibly long and they should get a free course or couple round of drinks but I do not agree that their entire meal should be comped.
Since you are a food critic you should be looking at things from the restaurant view as well. You mentioned last week that people should get free drinks after 2 minute wait. Well, answer this : When you have a reservation and you go late 5 minutes, what are you gonna give the restaurant ? Are you going to offer the maitre`d a glass of champagne because you are late ? When there is a road closure or very heavy traffic and you are late 50 minutes, are you going to pay double ?
Todd, we try to accommodate everybody with different needs. Of course this is not Soviet Russia and we do not expect anybody should be grateful for a table but you have to realize you are not the Queen of England as soon as you step in the restaurant the table will be ready. There are many people who would just take extra time to chat and sip their last glass of wine.
I have seen people stay 6 hours on a Saturday evening. We do not charge those people double or anything extra. You have to understand it is people who are late, it is people who stay much longer and they should and when this happens on a busy night it snowballs and most of the reservations are effected. People always say `this is hospitality business` and expect freebies.
Nobody is paying attention that no matter what this is a business. We can not give freebies away all the time. You said there are other restaurants in the city which I agree. But you know what ? There are other people as well and they will understand these situations and I`d rather serve them.
I still haven't read a compelling argument from the other side on this that would make me change my mind or alter my stance.
This really is an asymmetrical sort of thing we're talking about here. You can't say — Well, what are these rude, late-coming diners going to give me in exchange for being kept waiting for twenty minutes. It doesn't work that way. You're in the industry of grinning and bearing it, and trying to give people a bruise-free good time. It's not fair, no. But you know that already.
My Experience at Tavira
Finally, after 7 years of living in the area, I gave a try last weekend, and I,m kicking my self that I let it go that long. Me and my Wife we want to try something different but we did have one problem,…selecting our meal…to many chooses and specials. So we start with clams in wine sauce and dry-Iberico-ham, for the entree we order one of the specials dish,"Roasted Suckling-Pig".
Our waiter recommend the Portuguese Red Sparkling Wine to go with our meal…withes was AMASSING… We got a truly FANTASTIC poasched pear in Port wine sauce for dessert. All in all a very pleasant suprise, excellent meal, service very friendly, very efficent, and quite entertaining.
That's good to hear.
Tavira is one of those restaurants I want to like more than I do. I love — and pine for — good Portuguese cooking.
It is. And too many diners don't give restaurants (and other diners) the courtesy of canceling their reservations early enough in the day.
Getting up when you're done? No, not with you on that one — diners should feel (and be made to feel) as though they can leave whenever they want.
I do agree with you that we all tend to wait — sometimes for a lot longer than 50 miniutes — for all those people you list.
Difference is, there's precedent in this instance. Diners know that restaurants are generally eager to make it up to them when something goes wrong.
I had to report on my visit to POV last night at the W Hotel. This is not meant to be judgmental but a fair warning to anyone who wants to visit this bar. There is definitely a protocol and you will feel ridiculous if you don't know it in advance.
First and foremost, you cannot even get to the bar without being escorted up in an elevator. There is literally a velvet rope encasing the entrance to the elevator to get to the rooftop bar. There is no "list" nor is there a bouncer. The staff tells me it's a way to moderate the crowds. Just wait outside this roped area until the elevator attendant comes back downstairs. I don't know if the elevator changes each night but when I was there, it was the elevator to the far right-hand side. And there were no crowds per se at happy hour.
Second, you must make a reservation to sit at basically any table and ummm, most of the bar seats. Apparently the only thing that is first come, first serve is standing room. This goes for inside and outside tables regardless of whether there is a Reserved sign on them. DO NOT make the mistake of sitting at an empty table because a staff person will ask you to vacate it. Probably best to check in with the host (who is microphoned up like the secret service) and have him tell you what is available. The outdoor bar area will be evident but the inside area is directly to the left at the end of the hallway when you get off the elevator. It appeared that the only thing to the right was the men's room.
Finally, be ready for some seriously pretensious stuff to occur. To that end, I would not bring your mom and dad who just came in to visit from rural Illinois, or any person or relative who is looking for value. For the most part, the bar patrons and the staff themselves seemed pretty chill, but I will say that I watched the bartender spend 24 minutes making 4 pisco sours and then have the recipients of these drinks hand over $80 bucks with an approving smile like they were the luckiest people on earth. The bartender spent almost 5 of those minutes making sure the amount of club soda in each of those drinks was equal so that each glass was exactly identical. (I would have rather had my drink 15 minutes ago:)
Like I said, this is not meant to be judgmental. This experience I had was likely the intended one of the owners or managers, and I can appreciate that. I think it would have been more fun though if I knew how to play the game. Instead I felt like the dorky girl walking down the hallway on the first day of highschool trying to find homeroom.
Have fun and oh, the chicken somosas were delicious:)
It is, it's very much the kind of thing where you are made to feel as though you need to thank people simply for the privilege of breathing the rarefied air.
It's a shame, because a view that great ought to be something that a whole mess of people could get to see. It's better than going up to the Washington monument.
Then again, a "whole mess of people" likely would include some people whose very presence in the room would diminish the enjoyment and air of exclusivity that makes others seek out a high-life experience like this.
I missed the chat this week, but I wanted to respond to the posting about the baby octopus. My favorite preparation of this dish is at Blacksalt.
They used to create this amazing tomato and garlic mixture with the baby octopus. Just thinking about it makes my mouth water – kind of like when I think about the sourness of pickles.
Now, after years, they have changed the base flavors to sausage and fennel. Still delicious but went from sassy and vibrant to earthy and rustic. In either case, the baby octopus is cooked perfectly with a little bit of char but never chewy, and just the right combination of all parts of the octopus. You never want to have too many tentacle pieces!
Have a great week.
My mouth's watering now, too.
Thanks for writing in, Del Ray.
Close to home, you're looking at either China Garden, in Rosslyn, or Fortune, in Falls Church. I'd say both are slightly above average for dim sum.
And yes, dim sum is one of the great dining values anywhere — a feast of tastes for approximately $20 per person. It's one of my favorite ways to eat.
Incidentally, the area's best dim sum restaurant, Hollywood East Cafe on the Boulevard, in Wheaton, is just a few weeks away from reopening in its new location.
Well put. Very well put.
Thanks for writing in.
Todd, wonderful chats…thanks it seems like everyone is a food critic nowadays: I have noticed in the past issue of the Washingtonian a page dedicated to a website called "fromkomitomarvin"
I had the opportunity to read what she writes. What is your take on this? What are your opinions on any average Joe who decide to criticize business with no professional background whatsoever? This lady does not make an objective point when she writes, she is not trained for this and she could put in serious jeopardy a respectable business based on her ignorant take on how and what to eat. I have no professional background or knowledge on plumbing, but I think I will start tomorrow a website that criticizes all the plumbing companies out there and see if I can do some serious damage……. The only independent "food critic" who has respect in my book is Mr. Don Rockwell. Anyone else, please step aside and let professionals with real training and experience handle this. Martha S.
It's the way of the world: everybody has a perspective, and everything is valid. It's wonderful, no?
Now, to be fair to the site, she's not purporting to offer real criticism, and I don't see how what she writes is any more damaging — or helpful — than the posts about restaurants from all those anonymous people who log onto Yelp! and dash off a few ungrammatical, hard-to-read paragraphs about their roast pork loin.
I have never been to a restaurant that was so intent on learning whether you have ever dined there before than Matchbox. I was asked by both the host and my waiter, and I overheard the same question being posed dozens of times to new arrivals. Neither a "yes" nor "no" response seemed to prompt much of a follow-up by the questioner that I could hear. I don't know why, but it started to get on my nerves after a while.
Was I wrong to feel this way? I am sure they were just trying to be hospitable. Maybe they were conducting an in-house survey to determine how much of their business are repeat customers.
No, you're not wrong. It's truly annoying.
"Have you dined with us before?" is a pretext for indulging in self-promotion. They want you to say no, so say no even if the answer is yes. The reason they want you to say no is so that they can explain their mission and talk about their suppliers and how their menu "works."
Two minutes into the spiel, you may find yourself thinking: Have I never eaten at a restaurant before?
And the answer, of course, is: Not this one, you haven't.
Hey Todd: Thanks for answering my question re: hair.
To me as well, it doesn't bother me one bit. However my date was quite distraught. The very high end restaurant [I'll name if you like] was very gracious to bring us a new dish [to take home, since we were stuffed] and even brought us a desert. It was one of the most gracious service acts i've seen. I will most def be returning for dinner there. The food was great, btw.
That's very good of them and very impressive. But not necessary, I don't think. (Take note, all you apoplectic industry vets — I don't think comping is the solution for everything.)
Curious to know what restaurant this is …
It's good. Really good.
But better than Ravi? No. And not worth the drive from Ballston, no no no.
Ravi's channa is superior, and so are its karahis. Their kabobs are awfully good, but I don't think quite as good as Ravi's. Breads are about even.
Can you please answer, if you are 5 minutes late do you give a glass of champagne to the maitre `d ? if you are 50 minutes late do you pay double ? Because according to you if the restaurant is late to seat anybody 5 minutes or 50 minutes, they have to give free drinks and free meal.
They don't HAVE to do anything.
And wouldn't it be interesting if it worked the way you say and there was that kind of quid pro quo? It'd make things lot more equitable, I think. But we live in the real world.
And don't forget: we were talking about a new and splashy restaurant that charges top dollar for dinner. A restaurant like that would be very, very smart to comp a diner — a guest, in the parlance — for making him or her wait for a length of time with a reservation in hand.
A mom n pop? A hole in the wall? I think that's very, very different.
I agree. Very well put.
And yes, I think you do owe her a meal there now. : )
I think I understand the economics, and the hand-to-mouth nature of the business. It's very tenuous, even in the pretty good times.
I also think that diners don't want to hear about the problems of restaurateurs. It's the restaurant's job to not show the wires.
Diners don't want to know that the fish didn't come today, or that a server or host quit. They don't want to know that business is down this month. They don't want to be corrected about the pronunciation of "bruschetta." They don't want to find a hair on their dish. Etc., etc.
A meal out is a kind of fantasy, and restaurants would do well to keep that in mind. It's not any old business. It's more personal with people, and that also means it means more to them — which can be a wonderful thing if all goes well, and a really terrible thing if it doesn't.
Anyway, more to come on this next week, I'm sure. Keep the responses coming — vent away. firstname.lastname@example.org
Be well, everyone, eat well, and let's do it again next week at 11. …
Submit your question in advance for Todd's chat next Tuesday, October 20, at 11 AM.
(TEK, we miss you …)