Tuesday, October 27 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.

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>> You Be the Restaurant Critic!

Read the transcript from October 20.

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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
Honey Pig BBQ, Annandale
Vermilion, Alexandria
China Jade, Derwood
Zaytinya, DC
Plaka Grill, Vienna
The Source and The Source Lounge, DC
Johnny's Half Shell, DC
Montmartre, DC
Gom Ba Woo, Annandale
Ravi Kabob I and II, Arlington
Vidalia, DC
Irene's, Laurel
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
Rasika, DC
Franklin's, Hyattsville
Bistro Bis, DC
Sushi Taro, DC
J&G Steakhouse, DC

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Alexandria, VA

Hi Todd,

I went to Miami Beach last week and I had the most amazing Greek food ever….. It was so good, that I would love to take my husband to expirience these greek flavours that I still dream about… grilled octopus, lamb leg on casserole, Moussaka,Saganaki, oven roasted potatoes with lemon juice…I can continue but im getting hungry. Can you give me your opinion of four or five other places to get really good and authentic Greek dishes near Washington DC?

Great. Not a minute in, and I'm hungry already …

There's actually a lot of good Greek food in this area right now, though you don't hear much about it. Komi, the best restaurant in the city, is Greek and terrific, Mourayo remains an underrated gem, the two Cavas are very good and very good values, and then you have a bunch of other, smaller, lower-profile spots: Zorba's Cafe in Dupont, Plaka Grill in Vienna, Athens Grill in Rockville.

Those should all keep you well-fed and happy …

Good morning, all, and I'm glad you can sit in with us for a while on a cool, blustery October day. The leaves are looking spectacular.

Days like today, I tend to think of soup, and I'm thinking right now of the fabulous crab bisque at Sou'Wester. If there's any cream at all in there, you certainly can't tell by tasting. The crab taste is pronounced and intense, and I suspect that the kitchen emulsifies some of the crab guts to give the soup its body and depth.

Any other great soups out there that we can make ourselves hungry talking about–? 

 

Falls Church, VA

Todd,

I am truly sorry for all the personal attacks you've been receiving in regards to the whole "wait time/compensation" debate, which is what it should be, a open opinion/debate, but not a personal war.

I normally don't mind waiting with a reservation and I think most people agree with that, but yes, a 50 minute wait past your reservation time for an upscale restaurant is unacceptable.

In my personal experience, one restaurant who has been exemplary in acknowledging anything less than perfect service is Rasika. The first time we dined there, we had a party of 6. We were all arriving seperately, so we weren't all present at the exact time of our reservation.

A manager was so apologetic about not having an open table for us, despite that we were one or two short in our party, that he walked us over to the bar and told the bar tender to make us a round of drinks on the house, (the bar was packed). The other 2 members of our party that arrived shortly were also included.

All the while, they made us feel like VIPs trying to seat us, and never once taking out any frustrations of the night's busy dining scene out on us. Another time, one of the dishes had some delicious curry spilled onto its side from the kitchen, and the food runner, not the server, had brushed up against my husband and left a large trail of curry on the shoulder of his shirt.

I told the manager about this and after a polite apology, gave us his business card and told us to send him the dry cleaning bill. Now THAT is service! Just like in the days of yore.

I'm not saying I expect this from all restaurants nor that restaurants should or should not do this or that. I just merely wanted to point out in this sea of angry chatter that Rasika shines when it comes to service in busy DC.

Thanks for writing in and relaying this story. (See, all you dyspeptic resto insiders, it's not all carping and complaining on here.)

It's funny to hear you talk about Rasika, though, since both it and Bibiana — the restaurant that inspired the past three weeks of discussion — share the same owner, Ashok Bajaj. Clearly, if Rasika can excel when it comes to service, so can Bibiana.

West End Guy

Two things – how could you possibly leave the mussels at Brasserie Beck off your list?

My pet peeve – going to a restaurant, ordering a bottle of wine and having it presented…with the wrong vintage. Should the restaurant inform you that the vintage is different to allow you the opportunity to either select a different wine or accept a different year? This has happened at least 10 times to me in the DC area. UGH!

How could I leave the mussels at Beck off my list? Easily, actually. I've never been that enamored of them, and if I'm picking four places, there are others I like better.

Regarding the vintage being wrong … that's really bad form; the restaurant ought to let you know in advance of ordering.

At least ten times? Really? Hmm ..

By the time the bottle's at the table and you discover the year is a different year, well, then you begin to look churlish if you turn it down. Particularly if it's a client dinner, or you're on a date, or you're just trying to settle in with family and friends.

The guy sending back the bottle of wine — we've all seen that guy, and who among us wants to be that guy? Restaurants shouldn't force us by their sloppiness — a sloppiness easily corrected — into becoming that guy. 

Hybla Valley
Hope you are much better today!

I am. Feeling ALMOST over my cold, which, fortunately, didn't become something worse. Though going to NY at the end of the week I'm sure didn't help.

It helped my SPIRIT, without a doubt. The pork buns at Momofuku will do that. The ballotine of rabbit at Cafe Boulud will do that. Walking 47 blocks at a stretch will do that. Shopping below Canal will do that. Hearing lots of good jazz will do that.

So, yes, I'm better.

Or, wait — I hope you're not commenting subtly on my chat performance last week? ; ) 

Rockville

Todd,

On the mussels topic…one of my coworkers swears by the mussels at Timpano's. Have you ever tried them there? Probably not even in the same ballpark, huh?

Timpano. Wow.

Not a fan. Not a fan at all. My last experience there was so awful, in fact, I shudder every time I drive past. I haven't had the mussels there, but I have had more than enough of everything else.  

The best thing about that place is the Frank Sinatra on the sound system.

San Juan PR

Hello Todd,

My wife and I will be in DC for two weeks and woold like to know if there are any authentic Mexican restaurants anywhere in the metro area. Which is your favorite regardless of location and/or pirce?

I wish I could say this was a mecca for Mexican cooking, but it's not. It's really, really not.

Oyamel, which offers regional Mexican cooking as reimagined by star chef Jose Andres, is good, and fun, and might be your best pick. It's in Penn Quarter, too — a touristy hotspot. A couple of levels down, there's Guajillo in Arlington — good chips and salsa, good ceviche, and tasty preparations of enchiladas and chicken mole.

The most interesting places to eat Mexican food, to me, are the roadside diners and taquerias in and around Little Mexico, in Bladensburg and Hyattsville — La Sirenita, La Fondita, El Tapatio, La Placita, Super Chicken. I like the atmosphere, I like the raucous blaring of the jukebox, I like the sense of exploration, I like the homey cooking, I like the family-style welcome, I like the exceptionally low prices.

 

WDC

Hi Todd,

Now that the weather is turning cooler, I am really craving lamb tagine with prunes. Where can one find this dish? Thanks!

Boy, it's a shame, because two of my favorite places for Moroccan cooking have both closed in the last couple of years. I used to really enjoy a little place on Lake Anna in Reston, called La Kasbah, which had good tagine and good bistilla, as well as a small selection of Moroccan wines.

And Pyramid on 6th St. around the corner from Howard University was a showcase for the tasty cooking of Khadija Banouas. I adored her bistilla — six bucks for a really flaky, crispy pastry filled with shredded chicken and ground almonds, and topped with powdered sugar and cinnamon.

Anyway, c'est la vie …

The best I can do for you, now, is to send you to Taste of Morocco, in Silver Spring. (There's another, in Arlington, which I don't like as much.) They do tagine, and do a decent job of it.

You might also give Figs Fine Foods a call. This is Reem Azoury's shop. She does a number of Moroccan salads, and for a time there was also doing a Moroccan night with a prix fixe menu for $45. I believe she has discontinued this, but she does do catering and might work with a request, you never know …

Kevin (Arlington)

I finally got around to taking my wife to Bistro du Coin this weekend and aside from being seated right near the entrance (it gets REALLY cramped there) and having a clumsy lady with a large purse spill my wine, we had a great time.

One of the many thing we enjoyed were the mussels roquefort. What is your opinion on their mussels?

They're pretty good.

Not the best, to be sure, but when the wine is flowing and the place gets loud and there's conversation and hilarity in the air, yeah, you can have a good time with them. 

I was just thinking — today really does feel like a mussel day, doesn't it? Get a nice, big pot of 'em, a cold and creamy Belgian beer, a heaping pile of fries, a crusty loaf of bread, and just go to town.

Of course, you eat all that and drink all that, and there's no way you're getting ANYthing done the rest of the day. It's like eating pancakes for breakfast. What's that Gaffigan line? You'd better just call in sick after that, you're finished.

Arlington, VA
Do you ever venture outside of DC, say down to Charlottesville to try some of the restaurants there? If you ever find yourself down that way, you should definitely check out Tavola!

Tell me about it. I'd like to hear more …

And yes, I do venture down there every so often. I was just in C-ville a few months ago, and actually, speaking of soup, was really taken by a place called Revolutionary Soup.

Not taken, in the sense that it was a revelation or anything like that — no great foodie awakening, no. But the ingredients are fresh, and the soups were really good and interesting. Not cheap, but cheaper than what you'd find at a more to-do kind of sit-down place.

I'd love it if a place like that expanded up here, though I don't know that the city would get and embrace a place like this. Maybe in one of the close-in suburbs, like Clarendon or Silver Spring or Del Ray or Hyatsville.

Washington, DC
I want to take my boyfriend out to dinner for his birthday – but the thing is, he doesn't love restaurants. He likes ethnic food, local seasonal food, and non-pretentious food/atmosphere. Where would you go? One more tidbit – we've got to stay in DC. I have an idea … but want to see what your thoughts are. Thanks!!

Interesting challenge.

You know, it doesn't sound to me as though he doesn't like restaurants. What it sounds like is that he doesn't like a certain kind of restaurant — a certain kind of buttoned-down experience, where you're made to dress a certain way and the menu is full of puzzles to be solved and the crowd is full of preening strivers and self-important fat cats who come, not to eat and drink and blow off steam and forget themselves and revel in a sensual good time, but to conduct business and network and be impressive.

From the sound of it, he does like food, and interesting food at that.

Since you're staying in DC, I'd think about a place like Domku — good food, interesting food, and a very, very unpretentious atmosphere.

Where were you thinking?

NoVa

Hi Todd.

I'm meeting a friend for drinks and apps, but i'm looking for a place to hit afterwards with the hubby for a light 'date-night' dinner- perhaps small plates or a good appetizer menu since I'll have eaten a bit beforehand.

Could you recommend some where between Tysons Corner and our drive home to Arlington?

What I'd do is, I'd make a pitstop at 2941.

The bar menu is 3 courses for $45, Monday through Friday from 5-9, or you can just go ahead and get a table and order from the appetizer menu.

Washington, DC
You're right – he does like food, he loves food. He just doesn't like it to come with a side of attitude. And his definition of attitude is slightly different than mine… My pick was Domku, too. I'm glad we think alike! (What are your faves on the menu? I haven't been in over 2 years!)

Hey, how about that? With all the restaurants and all the possibilities …

I like the soups and stews they do, I like the pork chop, I like the Swedish meatballs and mashed potatoes, when the kitchen's really on I like the pierogies, I like the kielbasa sandwich, I like the curried egg salad sandwich. and I like the spicy grilled cheese sandwich.

Re: Wrong bottle of wine

Hi Todd,

I will probably lose all potential dining partners with just this thought–but I would say something. If they presented the wrong bottle or type of wine, wouldn't most people say something?

I understand that a different year is harder to identify and might seem a small detail, especially if you're out with a group or date–but really, it's still the wrong bottle of wine.

It could have been accidental (wine list not updated), or intentional (possible upsell) or just plain sloppiness. It's still wrong, though. Why be cornered into something that you didn't ask for.

While I think some mistakes are honest mistakes, I do think that sometimes mistakes are made in the hopes of having no one speak up and then the benefit is gained by someone else. Of course, it's all in the delivery–the way to do this is to be first-class about the approach and not behave in an uncalled for boorish manner.

Just as if the mistake was in the diner's favor (let's say s/he received too much change), of course, they should speak up and say something, too, no?

Of course.

As to speaking up … no, I don't think most people would say something.

It might not be true of the sort of people who come on here and post about their experiences, or the sort of people who lurk and read, but I think it's true, generally, that many people are cowed by posh restaurants. I think they're intimidated by sommeliers. I think they're mystified by menu descriptions and the many ingredients they've never heard of.

And I think they are not inclined, ever, to make a scene or even so much as speak up if something is not quite right. *

Quick story … I'd recommended Vidalia a while back to a surgeon I know, a woman of some sophistication, a woman who lives in the power axix and who, so she told me, eats out quite a bit. It was a special occasion, a graduation for a family member. I asked her how the meal went. "I didn't understand 80% of the menu," she said.

 

 

* And raise your hands — how many of us, when the waiter or waitress swings by and asks if we're enjoying our meal, lie and smile sweetly and nod — even though the fish is overcooked, or the wines are too warm or too cold, or we just don't plain like our dish? I often speak up when I'm on my own dime, but not always. And very often when I'm on my own dime, I just don't want to be bothered — and so I do what we all do: I nod and smile and hope the server will go on his or her way. 

Crystal City, VA

Hello, Todd.

My co-worker and I would like to take our boss out for lunch for a belated Boss's Day celebration. I was thinking Kora, but do you have other similar priced recommendations nearby? Thank you!

Boss's Day? When was that?

(And isn't EVERY day Boss's Day?) 

Since you're right there in Crystal City, sure, go with Kora. Jaleo is similarly priced and right down the block. 

Oakton

Todd,

Have you been to Cafe Renaissance in Vienna? My husband and I live nearby so we finally checked it out last weekend. We were pleasantly surprised since we had never seen anything written about it. The atmosphere and service are old school fine dining in a good way. We weren't too hungry so we just ordered entrees. The chef sent out homemade gnocchi for us anyway. It was delicious and I don't often care for gnocchi (too gummy). My veal entree was excellent and there were 4 "dollops" of sides – for around $20. We couldn't decide between 2 desserts and the server brought us both. Also, the maitre'd was friendly without being overbearing. Really nice experience overall.

Thanks for the thorough report. You've got me intrigued.

Still thinking about mussels, though … mussels, beer, fries, and crusty bread for lunch, boy oh boy that sounds good … but Jesus, no — too much to get done today, I can't  … don't want to wind up dozing the afternoon away on the couch … fight it, fight it …

Ah, my inner foodie torment …

Be well, everyone, eat well, and let's do it again next week at 11 … 

Submit your question in advance to Todd's chat next Tuesday, November 3 at 11 AM. 

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