Dining With the Critic’s Mom

Restaurant critic Todd Kliman’s mother, Itsy, has been a trusted companion on her son’s eating adventures for years. So we gave her a pen. What’s her take on all those lavish celebrity-chef spots, humble strip-mall dining rooms, and far-flung suburban res


My fantasy is a small restaurant, thoughtfully and tastefully designed, with good jazz as background music and, best of all, offering three-star food at one-star prices.

Despite the adage that says be careful what you wish for, we found it! It’s a new Asian-fusion restaurant in Gaithersburg. My report card would read like this:

Pork skewer (served with rice and pickled veggies): excellent.
Noodle dish (large enough for two): excellent.
Dumplings (in light, delicious wrappers): excellent.

The food cries out for a nice cold beer, but the menu says “beer and wine coming soon.” I fear that by the time that becomes a reality, the lines will be snaking out the door and the prices will be forced upward.

But for now, I’ll just savor and enjoy this gem of an eating experience.

My rating:
**** stars

Belga Café
Capitol Hill

Dining al fresco at Belga just fits the bill for me. If you love mussels, which I do, and you love Belgian beer, which again I do . . . we have two I do’s, and that’s a definite marriage!

In addition, I bravely tasted—and liked—the duck-liver pâté, and we shared a wonderful lobster salad. While the good weather lasts, it’s delightful to sit outdoors, and it’s especially conducive for eavesdropping—one of my favorite pastimes.

My rating:
***½ stars

Old Town, Alexandria

What do you call a meal served between brunch and dinner? At Vermilion I call it good. We inquired with hesitancy if we could be served—the staff was pleasant and welcoming. We walked past the cafe area and the bar and were seated in an area resembling a bordello. Quite incongruously, a large cardboard box filled with teddy bears and other stuffed animals was placed on one of the cushions opposite from where we sat. We hadn’t yet had a drink, so how to explain that? Teddy bears in a bordello?

Mystery solved when what appeared to be a group celebration ended, and with their goodbyes, one woman came and whisked away the teddy bears, box and all. Now I could concentrate on the food—a very good soft-shell-crab sandwich and a chicken-salad sandwich with waffle fries.

Less appealing was a dish of veggies—not that they didn’t taste good, but they were heavily fried. The iced tea? I question why it seems to be so difficult for these places to make really good iced tea. I’m at a loss to explain it. Desserts sounded good, but we had to pass—too close to our next meal time.

My rating:
**½ stars

What Itsy’s Stars Mean:

Four stars = mind-blowing.
Three stars = very good.
Two stars =pretty good.
One star = just so-so.



Dining With the Critic's Mom: J&G Steakhouse, Hell Point Seafood, and China Jade 

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