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 November 10.
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
G Street Foods, 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
Bistro Bis, DC
Sushi Taro, DC
J&G Steakhouse, DC
Are you a fan of the handmade dumplings at the China Bistro is Rockville?
We stopped by on the advice of a friend and really enjoyed them (and I have the ample leftovers for lunch). They were fresh and dynamic tasting, good quality and piping hot.
How is the rest of the food (everyone else was eating dumplings so we stuck with them)?
I love the dumplings at China Bistro, though some more so than others (the fish dumplings have been generally disappointing).
But love the beef and celery and the shrimp and chive.
The rest of the food? There's a lot there to like, particularly if you're willing to bypass more conventional Chinese-American fare. The one can't-miss as far as I'm concerned is the bowl of cold Szechuan noodles with hot oil and peanut sauce. Really a tremendous dish, and a great value, too.
Regarding the dutch ovens …
Cooks Illustrated tested and ranked all clad as better than le creuset – which it is more expensive as well. They ranked Tramontina and Lodge enamel on cast iron pots right after those two and they cost about 20% of the Le creuset model…
The mario batali one ranked after these two and it is about 40% of the price of the le creuset model. So You definitely can get good quality for much much less. I have pretty much no equipment in my kitchen that would be considered expensive, and yet I have friends and co-workers who have offerred to pay me to cook and/or bake for them. Although the expensive equipment is nice, and often more durable than some of the cheaper stuff, it's more important to know what to do with it.
I'm with you too on some of the kids in this area. At a recent client dinner at Nick's Chophouse near King Farm, there were a bunch of little kids probably ages 5 -7. I was thinking at that age I preferred peanut butter and jelly and "eating out" was Shoney's on Sunday after church…although as you can guess I'm not from around here originally. I can only hope that their teen or college years lead to rebellion where they eat Papa John's and Ramen to give them some perspective.
Nick's Chophouse, that's nothing.
I'm talking about the kids I see at Sushi-Ko and at 2 Amys. Those kids are going to be insufferable.
True story: A few years ago, I was sitting at the sushi bar at Sushi-Ko one night and I heard a squeaky, pre-pubescent voice to my right say: "Mommy, the toro's not as good as it was last time."
That was the moment I decided to go ahead with a story we did some years ago, on pre-pubescent food snobs, written by Cynthia Hacinli. I still love that story, complete with "trading cards" of the foodie kids. One in particular I'll never forget: the boy who offered advice on going off-menu and how to get the best pizza at — wait for it — 2 Amys.
I tried Present for the first time last night and was totally blown away. As a Vietnamese-American, I can say I've never had refined Vietnamese food like this before and over the years I've definitely eaten in my fair share of Vietnamese joints all over the country.
Present has the whole package – good ambiance, careful service and most of all, thoughtful and delicious food. What makes me most excited is that the staff there are so enthusiastic and helpful that I think they will be introducing the uninitiated to Vietnamese food.
I hope they continue to do a good job once the newness wears off!
Well, they're not all that new. We were the first area publication to run a review, and that appeared, I want to say, almost a year-and-a-half ago.
It's an exciting place, you're absolutely right about that — exciting to see that blend of elements. Exciting to see an "ethnic restaurant" compete on the level of more deep-pocketed and/or high-toned restaurants, which typically devote themselves to turning out Modern American cooking.
Do know know of any restaurants in DC or NOVA that serve an really good Manhattan clam chowder? New England chowder seems to have a corner on this market. Thanks very much!
Boy, I can tell you — I almost never hear anyone say they prefer Manhattan to New England when it comes to clam chowder.
And no, unfortunately, I can't think of a single restaurant in the area that does a version of this soup that I like. Most come across like dull vegetable soups, or are watery.
Anyone have any ideas?
I just wanted to share some stories of my weekend, since you're always asking for "reports from the field." The field this weekend was my home ground, Logan Circle, which as you know is becoming like restaurant central. First up, on Friday night was Birch and Barley, which was jumping. Great energy in the room, and FOH for such a new venture acquitted itself really well, I thought.
I didnt go in with any great expectations, and the food exceeded my hopes. I thought most of the dishes our table tried were spot on albeit they were in much the simpler vein of what the restaurant presently offers. Beet risotto was awesome, this deep purple color which was weird to behold but with a really delicate flavor, which was great. The charred octopus and sea scallops are not to be missed, as this kitchen really knows how to coax the utmost flavor from them and accent them with only the essential accompaniments. I also thought the tagliatelle was a standout, one of the best plates of pasta I've had in a long time and that includes New York.
I can not wait to return, as I'm sure you could have guessed. I think it promises to be a very special destination on the DC dining scene, and I will be keeping an eye on it as it develops in the ensuing months.
Masa had a long line when we arrived, and we were forced to wait for 45 minutes. The people waiting with us were pretty cool and the whole vibe was chill, but I do think that restaurants have an obligation to their customers to anticipate problems like this and cut them off before things get out of hand and this clearly Masa did not do.
As far as the food goes, I was greatly impressed by the work I saw coming out of the kitchen, and I am not just talking about what my group and I got but walking around around the room on two separate occasions I saw evidence of a young kitchen under control. We enjoyed the tacos al pastor, albeit on the small side, the crab wontons were packed with flavor and well-balanced, meatballs were light and flavorful, and the tuna ceviche had a pristine sparkling quality you look for in raw fish. This one was one of the best I've had in a long while.
Service was ragged but to be expected in the early going. The space is the kind of place you can spend a couple of hours in, really relaxed and good energy and not at all stuffy. I think given the food and the excellent price points, this is a fine addition to the neighborhood.
Incidentally, I have to tell you that your name came up over dinner on Saturday, I hope you don't mind! We were talking about all the new places that have opened and how amazing that is, and the conversation became about how DC didn't use to have much in the way of these places with serious food, a chill vibe and the affordability that Birch and Barley and Masa all have. I mean think about it, you also have Cork and Granville Moores and Bar Pilar and Cava and I could keep going on and on. And then there's places like Central and Palena Cafe, etc., which have great food and great value and don't put on airs. And these places are national class places now. And finally, all this influx of major celebrity class chefs who've come to town.
Anyway, I feel you have a lot to do with this state of the scene, maybe more than you know because I feel that your passions and personality and the way you don't stand for BS are game changers as far as shaping the direction of what goes on. Is it any coincidence that all this is happening in the last four or five years as you've come onto the scene?? I think not. This city is lucky to have you. So, keep up the great work TK and happy eating!!
That's all really nice of you to say, Logan (and thanks for the length and detailed field reports), but I think the evolution of the dining scene has to do with a lot of different factors, a discussion of which would probably take up an entire chat itself.
But I would like to think that I have brought a certain sensibility to my work as a critic, and that that has played some part in bringing certain kinds of places to light in the city.
I think it's really interesting to look at how many mid-level places there are now — the two you just mentioned, certainly, but a whole slew of places that have opened in the past few years that I think represent something very different for the city.
When I first started writing pieces about restaurants, in 2001, the middle was not very interesting. And the high-end was still dominated by a certain kind of restaurant. And aside from the ethnic restaurants, the low-end was pretty non-existent. Today that's all changed. Things are much less formal, much more open, the scene is much more energetic, there are food carts opening right and left, and I think there are many more avenues for talent to flourish.
I said that the middle was not very interesting in 2001. It was just beginning to get somewhat more interesting around then — and almost entirely because of Jose Andres. I think his places are extremely important places, and their influence can hardly be overstated. I don't think it's exaggerating to say that what Andres did was, he toppled the old fine dining model. His success with all his small plates-erias opened the doors for a lot of similar kinds of spots, and showed restaurateurs and chefs that a city that many of them thought was conservative and hidebound was ready for something new and different than dull steakhouses and French restaurants with tuxedoed waiters, etc.
Shortly after Sichuan Pavilion in Rockville opened, you gave it a less than glowing tweet ("authentically 'eh'").
Have you been back? Changed your mind?
For the love of God, have you had the deep-fried smoked duck?!? How about the Flounder with Sour Pickled Cabbage and Peppers? I'm getting hungry typing this!
I haven't, no.
I had nearly a dozen dishes that visit, and was underwhelmed by nearly every one. The ones that didn't underwhelm me, disappointed me.
That was a bad, bad meal.
But I'm heartened to hear your enthusiasm for those dishes. I really do dislike disliking places, and I had thought after walking out into the parking lot that it would be a long, long time before I returned.
Thanks for writing in. I can assure you, based on your exclamation-pointed rave, I will be back. Stay tuned.
Are we really still talking about Le Creuset? What I wanted to share with you and/or your readers is if they want a Le Creuset, but cannot afford a "first" at a retailer, I have recently discovered ("seconds") for sale at local Home Goods (specifically the one at Baileys).
Or if people are distrustful of this merchant, that yes, there are Le Creuset outlet stores (the closest one being at the Leesburg Outlets) and that the salespeople I have spoken with (which were in Smithfield, NC) were VERY nice and even offered free shipping (which obviously does matter with a pot that heavy) if i called the store after leaving to order something over the phone. I was told at the outlet that the "seconds" are discontinued colors.
My impression is that like so many quality brands, it seems this one genuinely wants to help and to please its customers. cheers-
You're right. Completely slipped my mind.
Thanks for the mind-jog …
Last night I visited Bibiana, which I believe was the catalyst to the conversation about waiting for a table when you already have a reservation. Out of curiousity, I raised the issue with the host, who has been following the chats – as you can imagine.
Without commenting either way on comping food or drinks, I thought you may like to know that the restaurant has eliminated multiple reservation slots to address the underlying issue of overbooking. That doesn't take care of the diners who sit at a table for 3 hours, but I thought it was worth mentioning.
As for my meal, it was fantastic food at a good price in a great new environment – clean, classic, not too loud. The most exciting part of my meal was burrata, an imported mozzarella from Italy that has the texture of regular mozzarella on the outside but creamy and milkier on the inside, served with toasted pine nuts, micro greens and some delicious mushroom shavings. I split it with my date and the restaurant brought out 2 separate dishes without us even asking and for $10 dollars, it was awesome.
The other thing that I really liked was that you could easily do a dinner of 4-5 appetizers or small plates versus entrees. Or even a mix because the restaurant will serve half portions of the pasta. There was just the right amount of variety to make this an easy and enticing option.
For those of you staying away from Bibiana because of the reservation issue, you should at least check it out mid-week when that is not a concern. I thought the overall experience was top notch.
Good report from the field, Del Ray. Thanks.
And good to see that Bibiana has attempted to address the problem.
I, like many others, enjoy reading your chats…after the fact. Four-month old Henry keeps me away from my computer most of the day.
I want to chime in on the discussion of phenomenal service. I agree that re-filling drinks is a priority, but knowledge of the menu and the ability of a server to admit he or she does not have all the answers is more important (to me) and largely absent in servers generally. I have a gluten allergy and when I eat out I must ask the server to identify pitfalls in the menu. I have learned so much about the ingredients in various dishes since my diagnosis, but I cannot know if a restaurant's injera contains only teff or some wheat-teff composite.
The help I receive from servers has been uneven: a server at a well-regarded French restaurant adamantly assured me that the sole dish she suggested contained no flour (this sounded strange for a pan-fried dish, but I deferred to her as she should know more about the menu than me). One bite of the fish and I knew the buttery, crispy coating on the fish was not result of merely deftly cooking the fish.
My husband talked to the waiter, who offered another dish, and the manager, who offered nothing. I turned down the dish as my stomach had begun its flip-flops and I did not want to inflame my belly any further. My husband discussed the matter with the manager again and requested the restaurant not charge us for the dish. He finally complied.
On the contrary, a server at The Lebanese Taverna alerted me to bulgher lurking in the dolmas from time to time and spoke to the chef about the dishes we ordered to ensure I could eat them and enjoy them. I have had similar service at our neighborhood Tortilla Coast.
Neither of these restaurants is considered top tier, but they have a customer for life in me because they treated me well. Good service is actually taking care of the customer's needs, as anyone with a food allergy or specific diet knows. I wish more servers would realize that asking questions reveals no weakness and I wish more restaurants would encourage their servers to ask those questions. This article in the NY Times begins to reveal how complicated being a "good" server really is: here
I think your posting should be required reading for every restaurant in the area. Very well put. Thank you.
It is, it's a very, very difficult job, more difficult than anybody who has never tried it will ever know.
And I am always grateful when I come across someone who can manage all these innumerable tasks without making it seem as though tasks are being managed, who understands the importance of being an emissary for the kitchen (but who has his or her own opinions, too), who has warmth (and not just charm), who makes diners feel that they are the one and only table in a busy restaurant, who doesn't merely fill orders but takes care of people and sends them home happier than when they entered.
Those someones are out there — perhaps not in wild profusion, but they do exist.
And we should all take very good care of these someones who take care of us when we find them, with good and generous tips.
I don't know, I've had some pretty middlin' meals there over the years. Or maybe I should say — some pretty uneven meals.
I like Kaz. I want to like it more.
I had an exceptional meal lsat Wednesday night (Veteran's Day) at Komi – three of us went and had the Degustazione menu. The service was wonderful and the food was spectacular.
One problem – I had the three-glass wine pairing and I found the pourings to be rather skimpy, and I also received no guidance on how many courses each glass was to be paired with. I ended up finishing my first glass well before a second glass was to be poured. I was offered the opportunity to BUY another glass of wine.
So, I wrote the restaurant afterwards and suggested they either increase the pourings or offer re-fills AND they need to educate their customers on how to pace the pairing. I've not received a reply. Sigh.
I'm surprised you haven't heard anything.
As for the size of the pourings, it's interesting. I don't find them to be huge pourings, for sure, but I also don't find them to be skimpy. And in a three-glass pairing, you're not generally going to find huge pours anyway. The reason? Just a guess, but I would venture to say that they would tell you that they don't want to overwhelm you with wine, in much the same way that a tasting menu is not going to serve up a sizeable portion of any one thing.
Heading to a show down near Verizon Center tonight and I'm going to go to Zayatinya for dinner. Any recommendations for what to get?
I'll be with my wife and if there are any sure-bets on mezze plates, I don't want to miss them.
My must-orders would have to begin with the veal cheeks with chanterelle mushroom puree. When I had this not long ago, it was — no exaggeration — perfection on the plate. A truly great dish. Very, very precise cooking.
I'd also order the veal sweetbreads and the short ribs, both terrific.
From the seafood menu — the beer-battered red mullet with skordalia and a superb dish called Prawn Kishkash, heads-on prawns with a charred Persian-style tomato sauce.
Drop by and let us all know how the meal turned out, and whether the picks proved as rewarding as I said they would …
Here you go. I think it's a great and fun read. Enjoy.
They've taken pastry-making seminars. They've done Europe. They're young food snobs, and if you've ever doubted that we're in the midst of a food revolution, try having dinner with them. Cynthia Hacinli takes a seat at the childrens' table.
Just got back from a vacation in Puerto Rico with the hubby. We went to Il Molino at the Ritz for our anniversary dinner and immensely enjoyed it! I had the mushroom ravioli with white truffle sauce, it was divine! He had the shrimp fra diavolo with the biggest butterflied shrimp I've ever seen. We're looking forward to trying the DC location soon.
When we received our check, we noticed there were two separate lines for tips – one for the Captain and one for the Waiter. We weren't really sure how to approach this and just ended up splitting the 20% between the two. Was that the proper thing to do?
We thought of asking the waiter or manager, but were frankly a little embarrased to do so. Would it have been ok to ask? I enjoy your chats…keep up the great work!
It would have been okay to ask, sure — I think it's okay to ask anything. It's your night out, it's your stomach, it's your money.
Having said that, I wouldn't have asked in this instance. I think this is a truly obnoxious thing for a restaurant to do. What they're hoping — and I'm going to take a not-so-wild guess, here — is that you will find yourself intimidated by the sight of the double lines and thinking you need to leave a generous tip for both of them.
Captain? Seriously? Diners who don't read chats and think about food 24/7 don't know and don't care what a captain is. They know waiter and waitress. They know that they have one person they deal with primarily throughout the night. And that's who they tip.
And who they should tip.
Let the servers or the restaurant figure out, later, how to divvy up the amount.
Wait, first of all, I'm not saying they're skimpy pours. I don't think they are. I think you can agree with me, however, that they aren't monstrous pours, as you sometimes find in certain restaurants, particularly steakhouses, which seem to want to match a massive pour with a massive slab of beef.
A friend of mine doesn't consider them generous pours, but I think this is mistaken. I think they're generally just right.
And no, the place I'm recommending is not Fusion Grill. It's not a place in Barracks Row, but in Petworth, a couple of doors down from Moroni and Brother's, the excellent Salvadoran/pizza spot — and called, simply, Fusion. (I really do wish it had a better name.)
What to order when you go: I like the chicken korma, I like the crisp palaak dish with tamarind sauce and yogurt, I like the samosas, I like the Malabar prawns.
That's a good point.
You really do need to baby the Le Creuset a little.
I am professional public diplomacy bureaucrat who spends most of my time thinking about what my next food adventure will be. I like eating out out but my real passion is learning to cook. Where would you recommend someone like myself take cooking classes/workshops in metro DC?
It depends on what you're looking for.
If you want to learn about cooking a particular cuisine — say, Vietnamese or Chinese — there are any number of classes available through community centers. And many of these, I've found, are good introductions.
If you want to acquaint yourself with French classical techniques, then you want to look into L'Academie d'Cuisine, in Bethesda and Gaithersburg, or perhaps a newer place like CulinAerie, which is downtown.
Todd- really enjoy your chats.
Monthly supper club, you can invite 12 friends, cost does not matter (can be expensive or cheap, it is all about the food), cuisine does not matter, location needs to be in No. VA or DC. Where do you go?
Where do I go? I go to Komi. No hesitation, particularly if money is no object. It's the total package.
I can't imagine getting 12 diners into the room, however. Give a call first.
My egg salad sandwich is waiting for me (don't laugh; I LOVE a good egg salad sandwich, and wish it was easier to find).
Be well, everyone, eat well and let's do it again next week at 11 …
(I miss you, TEK … )