Tuesday, November 10 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.

Did you know you can now write your own restaurant reviews on Washingtonian.com? Read here to find out how.

>> You Be the Restaurant Critic!

Read the transcript from November 3.

Follow Todd on Twitter!

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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
G Street Foods, DC
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
Fusion, DC
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

…………………………………………………………………………………….

WDC
I'm interested to know why Nora's on Florida is not on any restaurant lists – We've gone for special occasions and always enjoyed the food and service – thanks in advance.

Well, maybe you should think about inviting me along to some of your meals, because mine have been generally disappointing.

Love the space, love the mission, love the cocktails, but don't, unfortunately, love the food. And it's expensive.

Washington, DC

re: tipping at sushi restaurant when sitting at the bar. I think I kinda agree with the chatter. You mentioned that when you're sitting at a restaurant, a lot of places will have your bussers deliver you food anyway. Well in that case, you tip the waiter, but then the waiter gives the busser a percentage of his or her tips.

When I'm eating at a buffet, someone has to come around and refill drinks, but I'm still getting my own food. I'm not tipping 15-20% in that case.

On a somewhat related topic, is 20% the standard tip now? I thought it was 15%… 18% for good service, and more for phenomenal service.

20 percent's standard.

If service is "phenomenal," I'll generally tip something on the order of 23-25 percent. And without blinking. I think it's important to acknowledge and reward the people who take care of you. And to me, a great server is one who does just that — leaves you with the feeling you've been cared for.

Talking about "phenomenal service," of course, has got me thinking — how do we define "phenomenal"? What are your criteria, and how often do you see them being met or surpassed? And where?

Bethesda, MD

Hi Todd,

I love reading your weekly chats, they're as entertaining as they are informative!

Question: My husband and I decided to forgo traveling (or cooking) during Thanksgiving and we want to have a delicious dinner at a restaurant instead. I was looking at the Thanksgiving day menus offered and I can't decide – 2941, Ardeo, The Oval Room, they all look good.

We're looking for something fixed price, multiple courses, with some semblance of a traditional Thanksgiving meal. Location and price don't matter, we're up for anything.

Thanks in advance for your help.

Hold tight, Bethesda.

(And everyone else who's got a Thanksgiving-related question this cool, clear November morning.)

We'll have a Thanksgiving menu roundup, and a couple of other Thanksgiving pieces (including a guide on where to get take-out Thanksgiving food) in about a week on the website.

The link will be: washingtonian.com/thanksgiving

Washington, DC

Sir,

Please cease using the initials TK in the Washingtonian and on their website. Our clinet has trademarked the initials"TK" for his use in the entertainment filed and you are violating Mr Kornheiser's copyright. We would hate to have to take this amtter to litigation.

John Q. Stat esq Stat, Boy&Wilbon

Ha, good one!

Although it does sound like something your "clinet," Mr. Tony, could get all a-dither about, doesn't it? 

Re: Le Creuset

Hi Todd.

I missed your chat last week but wanted to respond to the OP asking about Le Creuset.

Le Creuset is a good brand of cookware and is especially terrific for certain pieces. What makes it so good in some instances is that it is cast iron with a colored glaze on top of the cast iron (probably to make it more appealing to consumers).

Drawbacks: It's really heavy, even before adding anything to the pot or pan. It's not necessarily the best cookware out there and it is expensive.

All that said, does the cookware make the cook or chef? No! Although people like to think there is some relationship–and while sometimes having the "right" piece of equipment could make the task easier, what makes a good cook a good cook? Talent, innovation and skill that is nurtured, as in any other pursuit.

To reiterate your point, Todd, I have been in some of the slickest, most swanky kitchens (sometimes big, sometimes tiny) and it's all for show (they have meals catered). I've had some delicious home-cooked meals made in the smallest kitchen imaginable with no-frills equipment except for the highly-skilled cook. Thanks

Very well put!

And boy, are you ever right: Is there anything in the kitchen heavier than a Le Creuset dutch oven? I do enjoy mine, though, and get a lot of good use of it (well, use; I don't get to do all that much cooking anymore, really; a few times a month, maybe.)

It's funny. You mentioned the relationship that people perceive between the equipment and the ability to cook well. It's the same way with something like tennis. You see so many people wearing the latest and best outfits and gear who haven't the faintest idea how to hit the ball. 

Not being precedes essence; being pretty precedes playing pretty.  

Columbia, SC

Todd,

I went to Nava Thai with my mom while I was in town on business. I love these chats for new ideas on where to go when I am in town.

We split the Floating Market soup– (way to spicy for mom, she ordered it medium and maybe she should have said mild). The Pad Thai with shrimp was the best I have ever had. The service seems to have improved and it wasn't too crowded–All be it at 6:15 PM on a Tuesday.

Thanks for the suggestion as I love to eat ethnic foods while I travel. (I really don't get great ethnic food in the south–its all BBQ and fried chicken).

Good to hear it, and thanks for writing in to tell me.

I'm with you on the pad Thai with shrimp: best I've ever had, too. I order it every time I go. Nothing else I've had in the area — or any other area, for that matter — comes close.

I remember when I was in the process of reviewing the restaurant in its original location. I went seven times, and on one of those visits I got to talking with a woman about the pad Thai. We were both raving, and she said, Oh, yeah, I come here 3-4 days a week just to get this. I asked if she worked nearby, and she said: Nearby? No. I live in Virginia. 

The secret's in the fact they get a good, dark caramelization with the plum sugar. And the little nuggets of smoked tofu they use.

Fusion?
What's the new addition to the list?

Fusion: bad name, good place.

It's in Petworth, on the same block as the excellent pizza/Salvadoran spot Moroni & Brother's. The chef comes by way of Rasika, and — how to put this exactly? He appears to know the dishes at that celebrated hot spot very, very well.

If you're a fan of the crispy fried spinach with yogurt and tamarind sauce, well, the version at Fusion is pretty much a dead ringer.

The samosas are terrific, the seekh kabobs are wonderful, and I've had a number of good curries (particularly the chicken korma). 

It's a much-less assuming atmosphere, of course (I'm not criticizing, just pointing out the obvious: I like its coziness and the graciousness and homeyness of the service), and being a small independent, Fusion can't afford to splurge on its ingredients in the same way.

But this is a significant step up from most neighborhood curry shops, and residents of Petworth ought to do all they can to encourage and support this place. 

gordon

I recently ate at Blue Duck Tavern, and with but one hiccup, it was phenomenal. However, the hiccup in question was somewhat disconcerting.

One member of our party ordered the roast chicken, which we understood to be among the reastaurunt's signature dishes. What we were not prepared for was the pink hue throughout the bird, traces of blood, and residual redness at the ends of the bones. Medium rare chicken not being a fan favorite, we returned it. To assuage any concerns of safety, we were told that the chicken had been cooked, at least for a a time sous vide, which would allow the chciken to be fully cooked – but still retain the signatures of an otherwise undercooked piece of poulty.

Ok. Most people aren't used to seeing pink chicken and thinking – "just right."

So, while going forward it might be worth forewarning guests about what to expect when ordering the roast chicken.

Any one else confront this issue? I should note that the staff was extraordinarily gracious, and went out of their way to make sure we enjoyed our evening, which thanks to their efforts and the other fantastic dishes, we did.

Gordon,

I'd definitely call that a hiccup, and no, I don't think that that chicken was completely cooked — no matter what the server told you. Traces of blood are traces of blood.

Glad to hear they handled it so well — the response, to me, matters more than the offending action, always. A busy restaurants simply can't avoid mistakes and mishaps.

Did they bring another dish to replace it? Take the uncooked chicken back and give you a new, fully cooked chicken? 

silver spring, md

Hi Todd,

I'm new to the area. Can you tell me if Mrs. K's Toll House is worth my time? I've heard that there is also a separate wine bar downstairs…any thoughts?

Worth your time? How much do you like food?

Sorry, I just don't enjoy eating there. I find it expensive, dully conceived, sloppily executed, and corner-cutting when it comes to ingredients. The wine list, though, is markedly improved, a really interesting and generous list.

Washington, DC

Hi Todd,

This is your old colleague Elissa. Immensely enjoy your writing, as always. Mom's turning 70. Doesn't want to make a big deal out of it, but I'd like to make it a little special. Komi and Rasika got no reservations. Where to go?

Hey, Elissa! Long time, no hear. (I promise not to set you up on any more blind dates! ; )

You need to drop me an email — tkliman@washingtonian.com. Since you moved on, I don't have an address for you anymore …

Anyway, I'd look into any of these three: The Source (sit downstairs and order from the upstairs menu), Bistro Bis, and the new J&G Steakhouse (which isn't really a steakhouse; you can go three meals here without even considering a porterhouse.)

Of the three, The Source is the loudest — downstairs, anyway. My 82 year old mom, however, does not mind AT ALL. This might just be her favorite restaurant in the city. The pork belly dumplings, the crispy whole fish, the cocktails, the simple, sophisticated setting, the excitement in the room …

Clifton, Va

Phenomenal service is a server who keeps the water and wine glasses filled unobtrusively. Asks if you want another drink at just the right time. Clears the plates at the right time when everyone is finished. Steers you to a the right special. Nows when to offer coffeee and dessert or just brings the check.

Its very rare in the DC area because very few restaurants know how to train and how to attrct the right talent. A certain new restaurant in my neighborhood rated highly by your competition FOH operation needs a lot of help.

Exceptional service goes unnoticed and anticipates your needs. You only notice it at tip time. The way it should be.

That's a good description of very good service, Clifton.

But I think there's another kind of service, that does all that you describe, and is NOT unobtrusive. The service at Komi, for example. Or Obelisk. These restaurants are models for the industry. These staffs really and truly get it.

I just want to say a few more words about obtrusiveness. It's an interesting thing. What to one person appears obtrusive, to another may come across as — well, personality. Warmth. Some diners don't want any interaction, and I can respect that, even if it's not at all what I want from a waiter or waitress. A good waiter or waitress, of course, is one who can suss out the needs of a table, and adjust accordingly.

Gordon

RE: Blue Duck,

They offered prepare another chicken, but our table's order on the whole, was, to put it mildly, ambitious. So given the portion sizes and the other dishes on the table, we just went without a replacement. And since we barely finished everything else, this was defintely the right call. We were not charged for the returned dish.

Further, I should note that we were told of the sous vide preparation to alleviate concerns that a member of our party may have eaten unsafe chicken (though perhaps they were mistaken), not to dispute our discomfort with the dish.

Again, they handled it perfectly. I look forward to many return visits. Thank you.

And thank you for the follow-up …
Kingstown

Todd – we're going to see the matinee showing of Streetcar Named Desire at the Kennedy on Saturday. Any recommendations for lunch?

Is an early brunch a better idea? I've never been to the Kennedy but I suspect the on site food is both overpriced and not interesting.

Your suspicion is largely correct.

I'd go with an early lunch at Leopold's Kafe, right in Georgetown. 

Montgomery Village, MD

Todd –

You mentioned a chain restaurant last week and you have me curious – what chains do you like/frequent?

Honestly I grew up in the middle of nowhere – and the only options "in town" were fast food, a couple of low priced sit down chains and a truck stop diner. Obviously this area has a ton of chain restaurants from low-end to high end, and I'm just curious if you ever go for something like cracker barrel, outback or cheesecake factory.

I don't find myself eating in those kinds of chains all that much; an occupational non-hazard, i guess you could say. ; )

Local chains, that's different. 

I enjoy Hard Times Chili — the 5-way chili mac and the burger are both good, and the vibe is always great.

And I'll tell you, I had the occasion, very recently, to eat three times in a matter of two weeks at Silver Diner, another local chain — one that has undergone a big menu revamp in recent months. How big? BIG. I'd never have recognized it, if I'd gone in blindfolded.

I loved the pomegranate acai berry shake — I'm not making this up; they're serving a straight-up yuppie/health nut drink at Silver Diner, and it's terrific — and I found all of the sandwiches I tried to be vastly improved. This was not the greasy, sloppy place I'd remembered. I'd gladly go back. 

washington, dc
when is the 2010 top restaurants list coming out? is that coming out in Nov? confusing!!!!

January. As usual.

Last year, an election year, was an exception. It's always January, otherwise. 

washington dc
New in town and looking for someplace fun for dinner with my husband and another couple this saturday. We have a 10pm reservation at the gibson, anything near there (other than Marvin's) that you would recommend?

What about Eatonville?

Terrific energy, the salads are good and monstrous, and the dishes are simple and soulful. And be sure to get the pecan pie, which is made with oatmeal — cutting the syrupy dense sweetness that too often undoes a pecan pie.

You know, so many people have commented on the fact that Eatonville is a tribute to Zora Neale Hurston, who attended (but didn't graduate from) Howard University. (Similar to, but very, very different, from a certain S. Combs.) Black women are so rarely honored anywhere, much less a public place, that this is a significant and important thing.

But how about the fact that ZNH is a WRITER. Think about how radical that is. And how sad, actually, that that should appear to be so radical.

Oakton, VA

Todd,

Just caught up on last week's chat and read about the wait time and attitude (although I read a little "attitude" on both sides. I mean, they had a right to be upset about the wait and seeing others w/out reservations seated before them but "going off" on someone is not right) at Trummers.

My husband and I ate at Artie's last Saturday night. As you probably know, they give you a 10 minute wait "window" when you call ahead. After reaching the end of the 10 minutes I inquired about how much longer it would be. They discovered our pager wasn't working. Here is what they did: apologized, acknowledged the inconvenience, and comped us either 2 apps or 2 desserts (our choice). We didn't think they needed to do anything! In fact, we almost didn't take them up on the offer (we did, ultimately get a dessert to split but we would have done that anyway).

I know they are a chain but I have to say, that the Great American Restaurants get it right when it comes to service, consistency and value. And the food is pretty good, too!

GAR is, generally, very, very good when it comes to things like this. 

I don't think I've ever had a bad experience with service in one of their restaurants, and almost always, I come away very impressed by the level of energy, the level of attention and the warmth and interest on the part of the staff. 

Reston, VA
On the same note, am I the only one paying 20% tip at the bar? I've heard many variations of what is standard and have been told I overpay, but let's face it–after a few drinks, the math is a lot easier.

Well, overpaying has its advantages, too — like, really, really great attention and a really stiff, well-made drink (if that's in the barman or -woman's ability).

And you can be sure as hell he or she is probably going to remember you the next time, too. 

Wheaton, MD

My wife and I will be in Adams Morgan this weekend for a birthday party which will be later at night. We want to eat nearby, but I never go into Adams Morgan anymore.

Please give me a few suggestions, $20-30 per entree range and preferably not any type of cuisine that we can find here in Wheaton (i.e. Ruan, Nava, Irene's, Hollywood, Sergio's, Full Kee). Thank you.

If you never go into Adams Morgan anymore, that's because you never need to go — you're got a wife and you've got good eating in Wheaton.

(I'm sure I'll get some piece of hostile email showing up in my inbox for saying this, but hey, I speak as a former Adams Morgan resident.)

Best restaurant in AM remains Cashion's. And it remains a pretty good value, too. You should be able to keep within your budget.

For dessert, I'd head south on 18th St. and hit Bardia's New Orleans Cafe for the wonderful beignets (provided the oil's been changed recently) or, further down, and to the left, Locolat for a waffle or tart.

Bethesda, MD

Thanks for the reply on Thanksgiving! I'll look for the Thanksgiving guide in a week or so.

Another quick question: Where would you find a really fantastic loaf of sourdough in the area?

Sure thing.

And as for a loaf of sourdough, I'd call over to the new G Street Foods, Mark Furstenberg's new venture. I didn't notice any sourdough when I was in last, but that doesn't necessarily mean anything. The breads there, in particular the marvelously crusty baguettes, are superb; this is masterful bread-baking.

(I wish I could say the same of the attempt to recreate a Montreal bagel.)

Otherwise, there's Marvelous Market, which ought to carry sourdough loaves. And you could also try calling the bakery at Potenza. 

Kevin (Arlington)
In regards to meat being red near the bones (on chicken or pork). Cooks Illustrated says: "In general, the red or pink color in meat is due to the red protein pigment called myoglobin in the muscle cells that store oxygen. Because the areas that tend to get the most exercise-the legs and thighs-require more oxygen, they contain more myoglobin (and are therefore darker in color) than the breasts. When oxygen is attached to myoglobin in the cells, it is bright red. As turkey (or chicken) roasts in the oven, the oxygen attached to the myoglobin is released, and the meat becomes lighter and browner in color. However, if there are trace amounts of other gases formed in a hot oven or grill, they may react to the myoglobin to produce a pink color, even if the meat is fully cooked."

Kevin,

Thanks for sending this along.

But remember that the chatter talked not just about red or pink color in the meat, but blood along the bones. 

Tenleytown

Todd,

What's your recommendation for the best moderately priced sushi in DC or Bethesda area?

I've said it many, many times, but I don't mind saying it again because I think the place is that terrific: the best cheap sushi in the area is at Kotobuki, in the Palisades.

It's not good because it's cheap. It's good because it's good. The fact it's cheap is just a bonus.

Le Creuset

Hear, hear to the poster about the equipment not making the chef! Growing up, my family was very frugal and we always had the cheapest pots, pans and utensils. My parents churned out amazing dinners every night and inspired a love of food in me.

Now as an adult, I'm grateful for all of those skills growing up with sub-par equipment taught me – how to improvise, read hot spots and be flexible. I think it's made me a much better cook.

Plus, now that I can buy the good stuff for myself, I really appreciate the quality of that equipment but know that I can live without it.

Mark Bittman's article on kitchen basics is a good guide, too: http://www.nytimes.com/2007/05/09/dining/09mini.html

Thanks for writing in and sharing your insights.

For some reason, this makes me think of all these cosseted little kids I see at a place like 2 Amys. What are these kids learning? They're learning that 2 Amys is the BASELINE for pizza — that a margherita made with first-rate tomatoes and creamy mozzarella, and with a perfect, well-turned crust, is what you should expect whenever you go out for a pie.

Thus indoctrinated, no "lesser" pie will ever be — can ever be — good enough for them. Which means, either they will grow up to become really passionate foodies, or, much more likely, since how many foodies can there ever be at any one time — total snobs.

It's not pretty …

Anyway, I've got a lunch coming up in just a few minutes and I'm running late. Time to run. Be well, eat well, and let's do it again next week at 11 …

Oh, but before I do — I want to take just a quick second to let everyone know: The yearly anthology Best Food Writing 2009 is in stores now, and includes an essay many of your first read on the chat, about my father.

I remain deeply grateful to all of you who wrote in to express your condolences, and your warm and thoughtful words about that piece meant more to me than many of you will ever know. Thank you again.

 

 

(Missing you, TEK … )

 

Submit your questions in advance to Todd's chat next week, Tuesday, November 17, at 11 AM. 

 

 

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