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 13.
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
I'm new to your chats and somewhat new to the area. You mentioned lots of different South American restaurants, but I'm curious – what are your favorite Mexican restaurants? Any in Montgomery county worthwhile? I am willing to travel, but closer to home is always easier. Also are there any good places in the area to get good West Indian Roti? I tried Negril at a co-worker's recommendation and was sadly disappointed and reminded that being from an island in the Caribbean, doesn't equal west indian. I would like something like what I've had in Grenada, Trinidad, Barbados etc.
Thanks for finding us, and I hope you'll become a regular.
Any good Mexican in Mo Co? Nothing wonderful. El Mariachi in Rockville is fun — a fun place, good service, and the food is pretty good. El Nopalito in Aspen Hill is about the same.
It's funny the way these things break down, because if it's Peruvian you're looking for, that part of the world is rich with options.
For roti, my favorite is — well, I have two favorites. The roti at Teddy's Roti on Georgia Ave. in D.C. and the roti at Muffin Man in Lanham. Ordinarily, I go with goat, but Muffin Man does a very good veggie version, too, dense with potatoes.
Incidentally, the Muffin Man himself, Rod O'Savio, tells me he's opening a second location of his cafe and bakery in Bowie, opening in 2010.
Welcome, everyone — and I'll do my best to get to as many of the questions in the already groaning queue as I can today.
This is a rare, bed-ridden edition of our weekly chats. I caught my wife's cold, who caught it from our baby, and the last couple of days have not been so hot.
I've been tanking down water and juice, and last night had a bowl of chicken soup, which was wonderful. Not the soup so much, but the having it.
Any other trusty remedies or comforts you all know of … ?
Did you get a chance to go to Taste of Georgetown this past weekend? My husband and I were fairly disappointed by the lack of options – most places were serving ribs, chowder, sliders or dessert. A few of the restaurants represented had run out of food by 2:30pm and Georgetown cupcake was merely sending people to their actual store to redeem their ticket. We've enjoyed ourselves in the past at the event and even discovered a few restaurants that we had never tried previously, but this year was a disappointment. Thoughts???
No, I didn't get to go. My cold prevented me from doing much of anything.
But that does sound disappointing. Not having been, I don't know the story, but I would guess that the economy has something to do with it. The answer for everything — blame the economy! But seriously … All the things you mention are fairly easy to produce, fairly easy and cheap, and I would have to imagine that's the thinking of a lot of participants at things like this right now.
Incidentally, I have noticed rapidly shrinking portions in restaurants around town. Last week, I had a soup that seemed a fitting reflection of these lean times — it was like eating half a portion of soup. It was followed by an artful preparation of a meat that I won't divulge, but which included — count 'em — two pieces. It's getting to be very Oliver Twist around here, very "Please, sir, I want some more …"
Went to Trummer's on Main for brunch. Gorgeous room, some of the most awful service that we have EVER had.
Including: bees in jam twice, and had to ask for replacement–finally covered with my saucer. Asked the server to wrap an appetizer and after agreeing, he put another person's silverware on top of the appetizer to be wrapped. Placed refill of bread tray to adjoining table, instead of us, and when they said it was a mistake, took it away, using hand to touch top of biscuits. covered biscuit with hand and tried to give it to us. Staff made a point of telling us how much every extra would cost, which I understand, but it was very annoying. Every bread refill, every drink refill: "that will be another $6-…"
Had to ask for the check, had to ask for them to take the check… Totally ruined the experience. I did send an email, and received a "thank you for letting us know" response. Yuk. Never ever again.
I hear you, and it will hardly cheer you to hear this, but from everything you described, it sounds as though it was a new and recently trained server who waited on you.
Not to say it can be written off, and I know you vow never to go back, but I doubt you'd encounter all that a second time.
It's just unfortunate.
It's not a rule. It's a strong recommendation. And I'm not talking about any old restaurant, just the kind of ambitious, high-minded restaurant that charges around $200 for dinner for two. If you keep someone waiting, you need to make it up to them.
Two minutes might have been a bit extreme, I admit. But five minutes, and yes, you do need to make a gesture of some kind toward the waiting diner.
Hi Todd…2 things from last weeks chat that I wanted to chime in on.
First – I eat out a ton with my boyfriend, we're making our way through the 100 best, and just love eating in general. I've noticed the vast majority of the restaurants we eat at serve him the meal I order. I always am annoyed by this – especially as I am the more adventurous diner and will eat most anything, and he tends to stick to very basic chicken or fish dishes. I always thought I was maybe out of line for being annoyed, but I'm glad to know this happens to others, and is irritating to them too. It's 2009 – can't a girl order a rack of lamb?
Second – on the discussion of grilled octopus, I had the baby octopus at Kaz Sushi Bistro last week and they were delicious. I'm not sure that they were grilled, but they were so tender and in a lovely sauce. Not as good as Komi's grilled octopus, but certainly left me happy (as did the salmon sashimi with green apple and lime aioli).
"It's 2009 — can't a girl order a rack of lamb?" I love it.
In a lot of restaurants, it's as if Betty Friedan and Gloria Steinem and the past 50 years never happened. Women eat salads and fish and light things; men gorge themselves on meat.
Who else finds this to be the case?
Incidentally, my wife wanted me to let everyone know that very, very often, when we go out and she orders a glass of red wine and I order a glass of white wine, she will be served the white wine. Men drink red wine, hearty wine, the wine of blood; women drink white wine, light wine …
And here's the thing that's really annoying about all this. Why, after giving an order to a server, should there be any confusion at all?? You write down what the people say they want to eat, and you deliver those things to the table when they're ready.
The problem is the not writing things down, and I don't know why that's become the norm. Is note-jotting considered bad form? Is it thought to make the server look not capable and smooth?
It's all well and good to not make notes … just so long as you, the server, and the staff never get anything wrong.
And auctioning off plates at the table is very, very wrong.
What's the problem?
It's not the Post leaving these restaurants out of a dining guide. The guide is — as it says it is — is one critic's favorites of where to eat right now.
Good suggestion … I hardly ever get the chicken, but it's what my mom always orders when she goes for pho — she's a big pho fan.
I'll bet that'd hit the spot right about now …
I love your chats and wonder what television you watch regarding food/cooking? For me— I have found PBS to be top notch. Between Lidia and America's Test Kitchen– I have found a great balance between recipes, tips, tricks, and great equipment. Lidia's food is shockingly similar to my family's Italian cuisine plus more variation, creativity, and imagination. ATK provides great advice.
Ever notice the awkward balance btw Christopher and the Chefs? The more you watch it is funny. Martha Stewart's 2 shows are interesting with great recipes but her hosts seem like robots. I am not looking for more Rachel Ray action. But a bit of off the cuff could be welcomed.
As for FOOD NTWK, I only enjoy Ina/Giada/Tyler. TK, Hope to hear where your interests lie with food and TV? Readers?
I'm with you — PBS all the way.
Food Network, back when it started, was not nearly so slick, not nearly so much an all-about-the-production-values sort of thing. Now, it's basically just models with sauce pans. I enjoy Alton Brown, the exception to the rule, but otherwise I hardly ever tune in.
If you want to learn anything, if you want to not be played, then PBS is a great place to turn. And I agree about America's Test Kitchen — it's very unintentionally funny. You really do get the impression that Christopher Kimball is an imperious patrician grouch, and that all the staffers indulge him while surreptitiously poking fun at him behind his back.
So my wife and I drove out to Olney last night to have dinner at Mannequin Pis. The mussels were really nice and the atmosphere was decent. The only problem is, it is pretty to travel to get those mussels. Can you give me you opinion of four or five other places to get really good mussels…a little closer in the city?
Hey, I'm not too proud; thanks for the suggestion; there's one not far from my house, actually.
And really, like a lot of things, Boston Market started out well and then tapered off. It sure didn't feel like fast food when it first opened.
Really enjoy the chats. Two things for you.
First, regarding restaurants asking if its your "first time eating with us", two weeks ago my wife and I joined some friends at Matchbox. Three of the five arrived first, and were promptly asked if this was our first time eating there. Two of us had been there probably five or six times, so we said "No, we've been here." The waiter immediately said, "So, like one time before this?" We said no, we came pretty frequently. Very awkward, and then he repeated the whole spiel for the rest of the party when they arrived. They had been many times before, but I wondered what knowledge about Matchbox he was going to bestow upon us exactly?
Second, and my real question: my wife and I are both students so we don't get out to eat a ton, but we love exploring new things. We've made a pact in our first year of marriage to meet up once a month (as close to the anniversary as possible) for lunch someplace new, generally nicer. So far, Proof, Surfside, and Montmartre have all been big winners (esp. Proof's lunchtime deal). I'd love to hear your suggestions of somewhat nicer places, possibly with a good lunch deal or two, for next month's outing. Thanks, looking forward to your response.
That's really a hilarious story about Matchbox. You do know, I hope, that a single visit is not nearly enough to grasp in its entirety the breadth and depth of the singular Matchbox vision of burgers, pizzas and lacy french fries.
The place you need to hit next is Restaurant Eve. Its "Lickety Split Lunch" is the best lunch deal in the area — by orders of magnitude. Fifteen bucks for any two items on the menu — two entrees, two apps, a sandwich and dessert, a pint of Guinness and an entree, whatever. And the same good cooking you'd get in the bistro or Tasting Room.
What got Zaytinya on my list? Not long ago, I had one of the best meals I've eaten in the area in months, and without a doubt one of the best meals I've ever had at the restaurant.
I disagree that it's over-priced food. Salty, yes, and sometimes to its detriment. But the ingredients are all first-rate, no real skimping, and there's a precision to the cooking that you don't often find with small plates. And this particular meal was superb all the way around, from the service to the wines to the savories to the desserts.
In re: wait times. In fact, if restaurants just offered a sincere apology for not having a table ready on time, and not just a prefunctory "sorry," it would go a long way to soothe a waiting customer.
A year or so ago we celebrated a special event at a top tier local restaurant and had to wait for 15 minutes for our table. Beyond a defensive explanation that it was beyond their control that the earlier diners had not yet finished their meal, no one sincerely offered an apology for the delay. Needless to say, it started our meal on a sour note and did not encourage us to visit this restaurant again (and in fact we have not).
Very well put.
A gesture can go a long, long way. Sometimes, that gesture might be made by offering a drink. And sometimes, as you say, that gesture might be made by making a very sincere and hearfelt apology.
Sincerity is not something you tend to find a lot of around this way, though — particularly if it's not a big-hearted, personal sort of operation. So, I think some other sort of gesture is the way to go.
I'm on this chat every week to give opinions. If you like them, fine. If not, that's fine, too. And if you want to voice a strong opinion in response, I'm all for that — but spare me the hostility, please. There's enough of that in this crazy, chaotic world. If this were just about a single instance, sure, yes, I would look into and make calls and weigh in on my take after exploring the two sides. But it's not about a single instance. If it were, the discussion would not be stretching into weeks, now.
In your particular instance, you have to figure out how to handle things when everything goes wrong. I'm sure it's not a one-time situation that this happens — I'm sure it happens frequently. And it's your job to juggle balls and smooth things over.
And part of smoothing things over is making it up to your guests when things go wrong — even, sorry, if they're out of your control.
I never said anything about comping a meal as a matter of course — only in that particular instance at Bibiana, when diners — guests — were made to wait for dinner for 50 minutes when they already had a reservation.
My dad will be in town tomorrow for business and I'm going to meet him for dinner. He's staying near Metro Center, and I'm not very familiar with that area — is there anywhere good within a few blocks' walk of there? I was thinking about Oceanaire, but it's a little pricey, and I was just at Ceiba last week.
We like all types of food and enjoy trying new places to eat! Any help you could offer would be very much appreciated!
Central Michel Richard, Cafe du Parc, and Jaleo are all within a short walk of Metro Center, and all are terrific.
For something a little less expensive, you could hit Bistro d'Oc. Nothing amazing, but a cozy atmosphere (I love the vermillion walls) and very passable renditions (in some instances, good renditions) of simple French cooking.
Following up on your comments last week re: wait times for reservations.
I had 8:30 reservations for a party of four at the new Masa 14 on 14th St NW in DC. It was my wife’s birthday and we were meeting friends from the neighborhood for a Friday evening out. The four of us live in the Logan Circle neighborhood and eat out frequently. Three of us are lawyers, the fourth runs a consulting firm, and we are in our 30s-40s (not that any of that should matter).
My wife and I arrived at 8:30. The hostess noted our reservation, informed us that our table was not ready, and suggested we have a drink at the bar. We ordered a round and our friends joined us shortly thereafter. I checked in at 9pm and our table was not yet ready. I reminded the server that it was my wife’s birthday, that we had made reservations earlier in the week and were looking forward to dinner, and requested an estimate on when our table might be ready. She could not give one.
I requested to speak with a manager, who informed me that they couldn’t do anything because “one table ordered another bottle of wine and the other has some sort of problem with the bill.” Everyone appeared frazzled. It’s a new restaurant, so I suppose that is (sort of) to be expected.
We were finally seated at 9:30 – one hour after our reservation. I indicated to the hostess that I thought it was an extremely long time to wait. What, in fact, was the point of making a reservation, if I could achieve a similar result as a walk-in? She said, “I’m sorry.” Okay, fine. She then asked if we would like to transfer our bar tab to the table and I said yes. Five minutes later a woman I had not yet met walked up to me and pressed a receipt holder into my chest and said, “from the bartender,” before stalking away. It was our bill.
So not only did they fail to transfer the tab, but now we were being treated like deadbeats. A manager came by to apologize for the delay and offer to buy a round of drinks. I thought things would improve.
We ordered, settled in, and began to (finally) relax and have a good time. Then, another manager, who introduced himself as “the one in charge” came by and the following exchange occurred: “So I was told you are unhappy.” “Well, we were seated at 9:30 for an 8:30 reservation.” “And you claim you had a reservation?” “Yes.” “When did you make the reservation?” “I think on Tuesday.” “On OpenTable or did you call in?” “Called in. Does that matter?” “No, I just need to know these things.” And then he left.
We attempted once again to settle in, only to be interrupted by the same Manager in Charge fifteen minutes later. This time with a smirk he said, “Your party was incomplete when you arrived and that is why you weren’t seated.” I replied, “What are you talking about? You didn’t have a table when we arrived and nobody asked if we were a complete party. Besides, we all arrived and were waiting at the bar next to the hostess stand. And nobody said anything to us.” “Well our system will put you at the back of the line if you are incomplete.” “We weren’t incomplete. We arrived separately, but we were all here and waiting for a table you didn’t have for us.” “Well, we’re a new restaurant and this reservation thing was just an experiment. We’re not even going to take reservations anymore.”
Seemingly satisfied with this proclamation, he left. Huh? At the end of the night, most of the round of complimentary drinks showed up on our tab as did several food items we didn’t order. We explained this to our server, who, for his part, was delightful despite the Carnival of the Absurd backdrop.
He brought this to the Manager in Charge, who had clearly had enough and with a final flourish tossed the bill on the table, “I just took 35% off – I’m pretty sure that works out better for you anyway,” and departed. The line on the check that noted the new discount contained a line that shouted in all caps: PROBLEM TABLE -35%. A lovely sendoff.
My wife never received an acknowledgment of her birthday by the restaurant, despite being told at the time of reservation, again upon arrival, and once more during the explanation that we would like to sit down and enjoy ourselves. Obviously, this was a relatively minor detail but illustrates the apparent confusion and lack of focus by the staff that night.
We are excited about the new restaurant scene developing in our neighborhood but hope that service and management improves. I understand that new restaurants take some time to break in and hit their stride, but it’s important for these restaurants to remember that they are still charging money for services and we are paying. It’s absurd to blame the customers for the restaurant's mistakes, to imply blame or to otherwise allow such growing pains to be such a front and center part of the experience.
Frankly, this manager’s attempts to investigate the night’s problems simply extended the pain and resulted in a confrontational evening out on the town. As people who engage in confrontation as a part of their day jobs, that is not exactly what we are looking for in a restaurant experience.
We similarly waited for nearly an hour for our Table 21 reservations at Volt in Frederick, MD on a Saturday night last month. There is only one table, and the party ahead of us lingered. The management there bought a round of drinks at the bar, made some jokes, kept the mood light, and all was fine. A similar compensation with a dramatically different result.
On a final note, I wonder if this experience is the result of chefs overextending themselves. I am not as familiar with Chef Sandoval's work (I have been to Zengo twice) but having dined at Kaz Sushi Bistro dozens of times over the years I can say with certainty that the above treatment would be literally impossible to experience there, in Week 1 or Week 501. Todd – keep up the great work.
Don't you love that? You have 35% taken off, only to discover that you have been dubbed a "PROBLEM TABLE." That's what I'm talking about when I talk about gestures. They've got to be sincere.
Thanks for writing in.
It's funny, but reading along at the start, I was thinking to myself, Well, it IS a new restaurant — but this is above and beyond that.
Top 3: Sushi Taro; Sushi-Ko II; Sushi-Ko I
And the quality of the fish at Sushi Taro (some of it shipped overnight from the famed Tsukiji fish market in Tokyo) is just in another class — also, another price range. Budget accordingly.
And it was a lot to have.
I used to watch Julia Child when I was a little kid, in between Batman and the Brady Bunch, etc, etc. And I don't remember this at all, but my mother tells me I would write out the recipes Julia provided and hand them to her when she got home from work. In other words — make this!
Just what she wanted to do, after working a long, hard day — head into the kitchen and whip up a blanquette de veau with a lovely, rich chocolate mousse!
My take? My take is that they still owe me money for a piece I wrote!
True story, actually, but yes, it's a pretty awful thing. I think you have two forces at work here, a declining print readership in general and a horrible economy. I expect more publications to fall in the next year, although I don't think the outlook for magazines is nearly so dire as for newspapers.
By the way, there's a terrific essay in the new Harper's by Richard Rodriguez — for anyone who cares about the fate of newspapers. Rodriguez makes us understand that the fate of newspapers is also the fate of the republic, the fate of democracy …
What we are losing in the death of newspapers, ironically, is the same thing that food and wines lose when they become mass-market and ubiquitous and divorced from their roots — we are losing terroir. A sense of place. An it-ness. … The USA Today-ization of everything. The homogeneity of food, of news, of shopping, etc. …
Hi, it's me again, the Bibiana flame-war igniter. In response to "running the door" poster: I didn't simply post "I had to wait for my table" and have Todd reply "You should've had a comp'd meal". If you read the entire post, I explained quite clearly everything that occurred that night (well, I left out the fact that when we asked the manager for an update, the response was "It will be a while, I'd suggest you get an appetizer in the lounge", thanks for trying to sell me more food….).
We were patient and in good spirits throughout the wait, it was the seating of another twosome who arrived 30 minutes AFTER my guest and I before our seating that really set this off. The owner himself was working the room/restaurant that night (thanks google images), and was witness to this fiasco.
If you are going to lash out at someone for their (see what I did there? There are two forms of that word….) supposed lack of journalism, you should probably read the whole chat history. I'll be the first to admit that the "2 minutes = free drink" thing seems extreme, but I don't think anyone took it as a hard and fast rule, but rather the idea of acknowledging the fact we had to wait so long for our table. Bibiana is not some local "mom and pop" joint, it is part of a notable restauranteur's budding empire, and as such it is perfectly reasonable in my mind to hold it up to a slightly higher standard when it comes to an overall dining experience.
And we're done …
I'm off to get some chicken soup.
Be well, everyone, eat well, and let's do it again next week at 11 …
(missing you, T.E.K.)