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 December 15.
NOTE: Todd will be starting a few minutes late today, but he'll be here soon!
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
W h e r e I ' d S p e n d M y O w n M o n e y
China Jade, Derwood
Plaka Grill, Vienna
The Source and The Source Lounge, DC
Johnny's Half Shell, DC
Gom Ba Woo, Annandale
Central Michel Richard, DC
Four Sisters, Falls Church
Bar Pilar, DC
Cafe du Parc, DC
Sushi Sono, Columbia
Poste Brasserie, DC
La Caraqueña, Falls Church
Kabob n Karahi, Cloverly
Oval Room, DC
Bistro Bis, DC
Kloby's Smokehouse, Laurel
Sushi Taro, DC
J&G Steakhouse, DC
Help me! I can never return to Pizzeria Paradiso in Georgetown, and I love to have pizza before the movies there. Is there anywhere else?
My husband was treated extraordinarily rude last night when he asked to be seated (the restaurant had exactly one seated table) a few minutes before I arrived. He explained to the staff member that I was next door making a purchase, and that he was dying for a beer. This did not matter. So, my husband did a snarky thing and said "OK, can I have a table for one please?"
The guy seated him at an awkward table next to the bus stand. When I arrived, he told me what happened and we left. The attitude there has never been, say, welcoming, and I do find the pizzas a touch dry- but it filled a need. Where do I go now?
Not good. Though I have to say: I like your husband's style. 🙂
And my most recent meal at Leopold's Kafe + Konditorei was not good, either. I used to tolerate the bad service, because the food so often could be good. But that was just a flat-out disaster, the chocolate tart excepting — costing the place a spot on the 100 Best list. Bad and/or indifferent service + going-through-the-motions cooking = a really disappointing night.
If I were you, I'd think about Kotobuki, on MacArthur, just around the corner from Georgetown proper. Or a gyro at King George. Or a sandwich and soup at Le Madeleine.
The pickings are, increasingly, slim, slim, slim … Though if a certain new restaurant project I'm not at liberty to discuss comes through — with a very, very high-profile chef doing very, very simple food — things could get really interesting in a hurry.
Thanks for bearing with the slow start this morning, everyone.
I'm getting my car taken care of, and am at the dealer as we speak. They'd promised me a place to go and work, with wi-fi, but it turns out the code in the specialy appointed room didn't work, and I had a lot of running around this morning. Anyway, I sit typing, now, on the row of chairs and listening to prepubescent MJ chirping X-mas tunes and hearing names being called out for pick-up. As good a place as any to talk food and restaurants.
Dear Mr. Kliman,
We are writing to simply say "You are correct and absolutely right!!" Often, new restaurants or restaurants under new management get carried out of reality. Often new ownerships tend to force a hand when is not necessary, chefs run marathons to stardom, publicists try to get their money's worth and management teams lose sight of what's really important.
We're all here to claim responsability for the excessive use of your chats, for trying to make you like us better or more, for abusing questions when it was not necessary and for trying to be more then what we currently are. We have a very long way to go in order to receive acclaim and recogniction, in order to be considered among the bests.
We felt compelled to apologize and to do it publicly. What we should really do is to concentrate on better and smooth organization, produce a constant and memorable service to our diners giving them every reason to contact you on your chats instead. We have abused the system, for that we are sorry.
Rest assured from now on our name will be on top of each and every questions to identify ourselves no matter what comment or question we might have. Thank you for the eye opener, thank you for the shake.
Now we return down to Earth, humbly and hopefully well accepted still. Sicerely
It took a certain kind of guts to muster the courage to offer this note of contrition, and for that, I salute you, Teatro.
But I find this deeply disturbing, nonetheless. It just goes to show how a chat like this can be gamed, and how powerful forces can control the message — all because the internet culture insists on anonymity, even when providing a name and email address is of little consequence to the participant, as is the case here.
To think that a restaurant would be devoting so much energy to generating good publicity and goodwill, when it ought to focus, simply, on cooking well and taking care of its customers … you know, I guess it makes sense, if you think about it. A lot of money and a lot of reputation is at stake. But that doesn't make it right.
This is big. Very big. And I will want to weigh in again, later, when I have had the time to sift through my reactions to this …
But back to the matter of anonymity for a second … Giving cover is important when it comes to purchasing goods, but what can it matter in a public forum like this, or any other discussion opportunity, like online feedback to articles and commentaries, when invariably, among a few considered, thoughtful responses, we are treated to the lunatic ravings of hateful, misanthropic forces. Is this "community"? The "voice of the people"? Why can't publications monitor their boards in such a way that only considered, literate commentary appears? Isn't this what writing and discourse is meant to be? Isn't this what publications exist to offer and foster? Why should everyone have an opportunity to scream fire in a public place, and particularly if they are not being asked to supply a name and email address that is legit?
Mmmm…did someone say desserts? Sorry to have missed your chat – and who knew that desserts could be such an inflammatory topic.
Anyway, the justification that desserts cost money is why restaurants have to mitigate their risks when it comes to this end of the meal struck me as funny and absurd – and hard to see the logic. So does every other component of a meal cost money. So, I nixed that right away. Plus, restaurants usually charge quite a lot of money for their desserts. I often look forward to the desserts to punctuate my meal.
Desserts, though, are a different animal when it comes to skills in the kitchen – and you can't swap a good cook and expect them to also be a good baker. It does happen occasionally but often those skills don't reside in the same person because they employ a different set of skills even though they share the same environment. Pastry chef skills are certainly an art – and one that can be challenging to master. Maybe finding talent is hard to do here; I'm sure it's hard enough to find talented chefs.
As for size – I think unusually small or unusually large portions are insulting. Small represents an amuse bouche or a teaser, while gargantuan portions are just grossly indulgent and will stare back at me if I've already indulged in a decadent and full meal. However, at the best restaurants and the restaurants that do things the best – I've observed and experienced that moderation is the key when it comes to desserts.
If it is a high-end restaurant that wants to fuss with grace and finesse, I have been presented with artistic sweet endings – but not just one taste of the delicately designed dessert but say four or five different tastes that build upon a certain taste or certain elemental combinations. At places where I suspect that robust desserts are more appropriate, a normal sized piece of pie or cake is welcome. What I appreciate more, though, than size or art – is actually quality of dessert. Sure, it's fun to experiment in the kitchen, but really if I'm going to invest in the consumption of sweetness, I'd really like it to be terrific and done just right. Thanks
Thanks for the comments …
I think that really small is insulting. Really big, that's just misguided. But you seldom find anything on the plate that could be called big. What you find, more often than not, is something tiny — or, increasingly, many tiny somethings, as is the case with the evocation of childhood now playing at Birch + Barley.
A lot of wit on the plate, a lot of fun — particularly if you're sharing with a small group — but it's not particularly satisfying. For the pastry chef, yes. For the diner, no.
The same goes of a place like CoCo Sala. I think it says something that, on my most recent meal there, I disliked all of my desserts — it's a chocolate lounge — but really enjoyed two of the sliders a friend and I ate (the swordfish was surprisingly good.) Here, it wasn't a matter of size so much as of flavor (it simply wasn't there) — though I have to say, the cutesiness of the presentation and the size of the portions wasn't endearing to me. (Then again, I think the place succeeds best as a kind of girls' night out sort of place, where you graze and knock back $14 cocktails and indulge in lots of little tastes of chocolate, but not so much that you would ever feel bad about yourself for gorging yourself.)
The more I think about it, the more I like the suggestion a chatter made last week, of having two different sizes of some desserts — a tasting size, and a size for those diners who are gearing their meals to the sweets at the end.
RE: Pizza Paradiso – I had a similar situation.
We wanted to surprise a friend for her birthday, so asked to be seated about 5-10 minutes before she was due to walk in. They said no. I politely explained the situation to the hostess who told me, I swear on my life, "that's not my freaking problem." Me and his manager had a lovely little chat. And I'm never going back there, to say the least.
Really? I find that hard to believe.
If so, though, that hostess needs to be sacked, immediately. Needs to find a new line of work, in fact.
And quasi-cursing: not charming, not funny.
I wanted to say that I think the dessert portions at Liberty Tavern are pretty good size. I recently had their pupmkin cheesecake it was creative, light and a good size. Enough for me to eat most and Hubby to grab a bite.
I also think for creativity Trummers on Main has some really creative desserts, not big portions, but not too tiny, but extremely creative.
Me and a dessert fiend friend of mine want to make a trip down to Eve for their Smore drink. I hope they make it until a little after Christmas!!!
I'm not saying size is the most important thing of all.
What I'm saying is, preciousness is not attractive. And I think desserts at high-end restaurants shouldn't be thought of as simply a light capper to the meal, but can — and should — be used to make a statement, a dramatic statement.
Very often, desserts are conceived with the idea that a diner is going to order an appetizer and an entree, and will want something light to finish with — something light that should not compete with all the complex savory flavors that have preceded it.
Why can't — why shouldn't — dessert be a showstopper (eye-catching, dramatic, intensely flavored, generously portioned) in the same way that a signature savory dish often is?
There's never a good time for a devastating fire, but this is a particularly bad time. It appears, so far, that the Grays are rising up to meet the challenge, and good for them.
By the way: would you care to disclose your affiliation? You say "from all of us in the local food community" — I'd be curious to hear who is sending along the well-wishes, and I'm sure everybody out there would be curious to hear, too.
I take your word for it, but your experience was not my experience.
Surprised the corned beef wasn't, as you say, very flavorful — mine was tender AND flavorful AND an amazing handful of a sandwich. I'm really looking forward to having it again. Or should that be — againn.
Todd, regarding desserts, as a person who absolutely has no sweet tooth whatsoever, I do agree that desserts should wow the diner at the end of a meal, and come in 2 sizes, a decent size and a tasting size.
I normally am not tempted by dessert, so I appreciate small portions because no matter how full I am, I always want a taste (of anything) out of curiousity. And since dessert is the last part of the meal, it can seriously affect my dining experience.
I've been completely let down or surprisingly uplifted by dessert. Although it's easy to chalk up the experience to the pastry chef, sometimes it's hard to be objective about the overall dining experience if you end on a good or bad note.
Also, on the occasions when I'm out with my girlfriends and we're having an amazing night of wining and dining, I want to end the night delving into something rich and luscious with 4 spoons to share, without having to resort to TGI Fridays or Cheesecake Factory. I want to be able to treat out of town guests to some of the best in DC, including desserts, without being too fru fru.
I think you make some excellent points. Thanks for chiming in, here.
And I think it's possible to be mod and and yet not frou-frou. Cava, for one, does a good job of this with its desserts. It helps, I would guess, that it's a Greek restaurant and not interested in straying too far from its roots. Its hearty, rib-sticking roots. But still …
The bowl of Greek yogurt with honey and walnuts is terrific, and so are the loukoumades.
Lately I've noticed that restaurants (mostly cheap or moderately priced) have been picking up the bill after I've written down the tip but before I leave my table. I'm bothered by the fact that the waiter can look at the tip while I'm still there (I actually tip over 20% generally, but that's not the point).
I don't usually linger too long (I swear, maybe five minutes at the most; I'm usually finishing up coffee or dessert), but this makes me feel like they're kicking me out the door!
Maybe I shouldn't care about something so minor, but it seems to be a rude habit of so many waiters/waitresses lately. Should I be annoyed?
You should. I would be, if I were you.
What burns me up is having plates cleared before I've given the OK, or before everyone at the table is also finished. I hate being hustled out or hustled along, and I hate the idea that seems to drive this practice, that the table must be clean and clutter-free at all times.
No, it shouldn't. Some people don't like it, and some people don't mind. A staff needs to be able to read the table.
A top chef and incredible reviews does not guarantee long term success for a restaurant. You only get one chance to make a first impression. Blow it and the client tells ten firends.
My suggestion Teatro, Todd and any other restaurant owners and chefs peaking in on this chat. Is get your host/hostesses/ bartenders and servers together for a 15minute meeting. Bring your watch. Start meeting and wait ten minutes and then say Now see how long ten minutes really is? Think about our customers who ahve to wait half that time. Meeting done!
I still remember a staff meeting jsut like this from 31 years ago when I worked for Marriott's Dinner House division and this was the whole meeting. its has stuck with me ever since and I use now outside restaurants to make the same point with my staff.
What a succinct and powerful lesson. Who's listening?
On a separate note, have a good and meaningful holiday season, Clifton, and you, too, chatters. Savor this time with your families.
Todd-you may have already answered this question in the past few weeks, but can you recommed a good Tex-Mex restaurant in the NoVa area.
We enjoy Rio Grande (new name?) for its consistancey but would like something else to try.
As for Napa area, try Reverie winery- their tasting room is under gorgeous redwoods and for food in St. Helena, now where but Taylor Refreser but be prepared to wait for incrdible hamburgers.
You shouldn't be torn. There's no need for being torn.
J+G, all the way. Ten times out of ten, J+G. We're talking about a Top 10 restaurant.
Just moved to Silver Spring. I want to try the food at General Store, but I'm not sure whether it's worth eating in. Most of the recommendations are that you just carry-out. Is this still the case?
I mean, it's not much of an "experience," not like eating at Clark's Colorado Kitchen was. But is it worth it? Sure. Just don't go expecting ambiance or transport.
It's all about the cooking — when it's on, it's really on. Good and evocative and affordably priced: Is it even right to ask for atmosphere too?
Anyway, enjoy yourself.
As someone who works in the service industry, here's my perspective:
1-I pick up the check when the person is done with it. Some people don't like to leave the table until the check is picked up, for fear it might not make it to the server, particularly if they have left cash as payment/tip Seriously. I'm not trying to rush you out. It also gives me a chance to say thank you. I will not open it up and look at it in front of you. BUT, Why, if you tip well, would it bother you if I did look at it when you were still there?
2-I ask if I can remove plates before I take them. Management asks me to remove plates as guests finish. Some people like to have empty plates in front of the, others don't. Please say "I'm not finished" or "No Thank you" when I ask if I can remove the plate. I promise I'll get the hint and leave it until all the guests are done. I find most pet peeves can be solved by being kind and clear with your server. I am happy to fulfill requests, but I cannot read your mind.
Thanks for chiming in on this …
You sound very reasonable and smart about things. I'm sure you're an asset to wherever you work.
I do want to say, however, that I disagree with your notion that if a diner tips well he or she shouldn't be bothered if a server looks at the bill before that diner has left the table. I know a lot of people who would be bothered. It seems a violation of a kind — a crossing of a line.
Do you cook at home? What is your favorite dish to make during this season? Just curious…
I just finished a very grueling month or constant eating-out, round-the-clock eating out, in preparation for the 100 Best issue, so I haven't done much cooking at home in a while — or, nothing interesting.
Though, being snowed in, I did get to do a little bit in the kitchen this weekend and made crepes with a caramel rum sauce. We had our neighbors over, a little impromptu dinner party. It was fun and festive. And my son hadn't yet trundled off to bed, so he got a chance to eat a crepe or two, which was great fun to watch.
What would be your picks for a dinner for two after the big question? No long tasting menus, just a great spot that will be memorable for years to come.
And a place that you'll want to return to year after year in recognition of the big moment, right?
I'd say any of these: Kinkead's (ask to sit downstairs), Vidalia, Marcel's, Citronelle.
All have staying power, and should be pretty special places to mark the moment (be sure to call ahead and let a GM know it's a big night.)
I've got a few ideas …
Absolute Thai for a light meal made up of appetizers (stronger than the entrees).
Legal Seafood for a bowl of clam chowder and a glass of one of their surprisingly good white wines. Sounds like a pretty good combo on a day like today, doesn't it?
Poste for any soup that's currently on the menu and a plate of charcuterie, made in-house. Or a cone of truffled fries.
Rasika for a minced lamb kabob with green curry sauced and maybe an order, in addition, of the palaak chaat, the crispy spinach with tamarind and yogurt sauce.
Zaytinya for two plates — the superlative veal cheeks with chanterelle mushroom puree and the prawns with charred tomato sauce.
Ping Pong Dim Sum for steamed pork buns and har gau (shrimp dumplings). You may need two or three orders of each. (Portions are canape-sized, and prices are about 50% more expensive than traditional dim sum houses. Nowhere is the portion-size ridiculousness more ridiculous than in the case of the bok choy, which is served in a small dish that could come out of a toddler's kitchen set. A few steamed, sauced bands of baby bok choy are arranged carefully on the surface, in contrast to the mountainous allotment of adult-sized, gorgeously green vegetable that comes in most Chinese restaurants.)
It'll be out this week, in the next day or so, actually.
Enjoy it, and I'll be curious to hear what kind of conversation it generates. There were things that surprised even me about this year's list.
Be well, everyone, enjoy this time with your families and friends, and let's meet back here next week at 11 to talk 100 Best and New Year's prep …
(missing you, TEK … )
Submit your question ahead of time to Todd's chat next Tuesday, December 29, at 11 AM.