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 22.
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
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
Sushi Taro, DC
J&G Steakhouse, DC
La Limeña, Rockville
I've heard that Hell Point Seafood is one of your top 100 restaurants (really?)? Was that the only Annapolis inclusion on your list? Don't you think you can find better food around here? I do…
Heard? Thanks for picking up the magazine. ; )
Hell Point surprised me, because through the summer and early Fall, it wasn't on our short list. But the cooking there has improved considerably, and my most recent meal was terrific — much, much closer to what Bob Kinkead envisioned when he opened it. The mussels in coconut milk was one of the best mussels dishes I've eaten all year, and a number of things coming out of the kitchen now are good and dependable.
Are there still problems? There are. The FOH experience, in particular. And there are still a couple of stumbles here and there. But the place has evolved, and that's always a good thing to see.
Who in Annapolis do you think we overlooked? I'm curious.
I'm interested in the ongoing discussion you and your chatters have had about the dessert experience. Does there seem to be a prejudice against the person who wants to go to a high-quality restaurant . . . but is really mostly about the dessert? Or only about the dessert? Is he or she a philistine who makes the dessert the meal experience?
I think this supports the argument for offering different sizes of desserts — and also getting less precious (ingredient/presentation-wise) and more substantial.
Not in a Cheesecake Factory way (for those who consider CF a pejorative modifier), but in a really thoughtful way.
I also think the argument about baking being expensive is a duplicitous argument for restaurants to make. Just putting in my two cents. Thanks.
Thanks for writing in — these are thoughtful, interesting comments …
Just to touch on some of your points:
Yes, I think the argument about baking being expensive is a duplicitous argument, too.
And yes, I do think that what runs through a lot of these discussions about desserts — which is, often enough, a discussion of portion size — is a strong suggestion that those who like big portions, or who do not PRACTICE PORTION CONTROL (don't you love that phrase?) are philistines.
The foodie world is like a lot of worlds, it's about exclusion and inclusion. "Clean" flavors and "practicing portion control" and chef reverence — these are tickets in. To talk about big portions and to pine for dessert, above all — these stamp you as an outsider.
It's funny, though, if you think about it, because what are the desserts on most of these menus — ice creams, some form of cake, etc. In other words, there's nothing sophisticated about ice cream and cake, even if it's a hand-churned ice cream with the finest ingredients money can buy. It's still ice cream, still the thing you grew up eating and loving. And most pastry chefs embrace this fact, and actively try to trigger little explosions of memory and nostalgia in their concoctions.
Thanks for chiming in, Reston.
I haven't been to Martini House, but as for the others … French Laundry would top our list. Simple as that. Botegga would probably be in the Top 10 and possibly in the Top 5. Chez Panisse? Top 30?
And you're right in wondering about J&G Steakhouse, the "newcomer" you alluded to — no restaurant has ever cracked the Top 5.
I won't get into a discussion about the rankings and who ought to be higher and who lower, but I can tell you that Bibiana was lucky to have survived the final cut.
So you cleary have had some mediocre food at Ravi Kabob lately. It is off TK's 25 and was booted off the top 100.
I have found to be saltier than usual lately, but that's about it. I hope it doesnt continue to go downhill– it would be a huge loss. Would you still put it at the top for NOVA kaboberies?
Still at the top, without question. And I still think it's the best kabob house, all around. Not just in Virginia, but in the area.
But you're right, I've had some drier than usual meat there lately. I don't look at it as a going downhlll kind of thing, and fully expect to be wowed on my next drop-by. The karahis — lamb, lamb brains — remain, for me, the best reason to go.
I was saddened to learn that Houstons in Rockville has closed. According to the employees this was due to the landlord (Lerner) and Houstons home office not coming to lease terms.
I am saddened for two reasons: The employees lost their jobs during the Holiday season and that a long time fixture on Rockville Pike will no longer be operating.
Yes, I hated waiting for 45 minutes or longer, but that was part of the draw. I did call Houston's home office to find out if they are relocating and the person I spoke to confirmed the search. I am upset at Lerner for being unreasonable.
This was not necessarily the best resturant in Rockville, but it had a warm, friendly appearence, not to mention the best ribs I have eaten locally. Sad.
According to one of my sources, there's a good possibility that Houstons' will move into the Timpano spot across the street. It's a bigger space, and there's also outdoor seating.
More as I hear it …
I'm so pleased that Ris has finally opened in my hood. It will give the West End Bistro a run for its overcharging money.
I was at Ris last week for dinner and was very pleased overall, though there is some work to be done. I had the delicious onion soup and since it was Italian Night, the spaghetti and meat balls. Spaghetti was perfectly cooked, the sauce was excellent but the meat balls has little to no flavor. Needs improvement.
My friend had a glass of Malbec for $12 or $13 and the pouring was scant. I was pretty surprised. I looked to my right and the guy at the table next to me had ordereed a scotch. I could not believe hot little scotch was in his glass! Needs improvement.
Our server was incredibly polit, but disappeared for large chunks at a time. Needs improvement.
We were taken into the kitchen at the end of the meal to meet Ris and she could not have been more friendly and gracious.
I wish the restaurant well, and look forward to trying other things there, but diners should realize it's a work in progress at this point.
Good and thorough report, West End Guy. I'm glad to have it. Thanks.
I have to laugh, though, at your referring to the West End as a "hood." If ever the shoe didn't fit …
Another great job on the 100 Very Best Restaurants guide. I plan to go right down the list this year to experience what DC has to offer and really excited.
By chance, did you get a chance to look at the Zagat top ten new restaurants of the decade? Good list as well?
I didn't. Can — or anyone else out there — forward it along? I'd love to have a look.
And since you brought up the Zagat's list, and since there's already so much talk about our list, I just want to take a moment and talk a second about lists and rankings, etc. It's fun to carp about somebody else's list — I know, I do it all the time. (Did anyone see Ann Hornaday's Top 10 movies of the decade? No. 1: "Finding Nemo"?!?!) But I have to say, after doing this several times now — it's another to sit down and look through the possibilities and make your choices.
I'll tell you, I was surprised, myself, this year when we went through our various report cards and came up with our Top 20. Particularly our Top 10. As I was saying: Actually sitting down and going through it is very different from thinking about it all in your head in some vague, half-formed way.
That's a great question.
My list, my TK's 25, is a personal list. There are places on that list that mean something to me, beyond, in some cases, the quality of the food. I'm not saying that that's the case for Bar Pilar — in fact, the food is the thing that brings me there. The service, that's another story; I think it's some of the worst service in the city. And that's one reason, a very major reason, why it does not appear in the Top 100. But for me? To chow on a few simple, bold-flavored plates like the garlic toast with fried egg and salmon roe and the spiced pickled carrots and blow a couple of careless hours? Sure.
The list is not, bear in mind, a compendium of my favorites.
I can appreciate the evolution of a restaurant and if that's what you've found at Hell Point, that makes sense. I haven't been there recently and when I was there, it wasn't a top 100 restaurant for me.
But evolution shows initiative and that's half the battle these days, although I do feel that a lackluster FOH experience is a pretty major deterrent.
My go-to spots in Annapolis are Tsunami on West St, Punk's Backyard Grill near the mall, BB Bistro in West Annapolis for lunch, and Atwaters downtown.
Re: FOH at Hell Point. It's actually gotten better. Lackluster is a step up from where it was in the summer.
I like Punk's, too — it made our recent Cheap Eats list — and Tsunami is good and fun (although I prefer Joss for sushi).
I don't think either is worthy of consideration for 100 Best, though (Joss was in that conversation, and did make an appearance on the list several years ago), and as for BB and Atwater's — BB is mostly sandwiches and salads, and Atwater's is a market. Are these the places you would have me consider as alternatives to Hell Point?
I can't remember the last time I heard about a McDonald's closing up shop.
And yes, the economy is worse than the "experts" say. This thing didn't start in 2008, it started in 2007, and we've been headed in this direction for the last 25-30 years.
Seriously. What changed? A lot of competition.
As for deliciousness and innovation — I think Kaz is innovative by the standards of sushi in Washington in 1999. Deliciousness? Sometimes there, sometimes not.
Here is the link: http://www.zagat.com/Blog/Detail.aspx?SNP=NWDC&SCID=41&BLGID=25627 Again, its the top ten restaurants that opened this decade.
Thanks for sending the link.
What do I think? I think it's a "pretty good" list, with a number of "excellent" choices and "nothing that I could single out"as being "undeserving" or even a "stretch" — though I also have to ask, "what's the point of compiling a list of the top 10 best restaurants of the decade?" And: "what is a list like this supposed to demonstrate?"
Did I say that? Honestly, I don't remember.
I can tell you that this year we compiled reviews of 120 places that we thought were deserving — or deserving of going into the final round with. So, we had to cut 20 places when all was said and done, not an easy thing to do.
The big thing I noticed, this year, is that there are more and more places with 2 1/2 stars — evidence, to me, of the growth of the mid-range place.
And that is a really important development, a really good development, because when I started as a restaurant critic in 2001, there was a real paucity of these kinds of places. The good mid-range place is vital to a dining scene, and DC now has a pretty good number of them. It's great to see.
hi Todd – i love the list at the top of the chat, TKs 25. but, i feel the need for more info, somehow? the date the restaurant goes on the list, perhaps? or the number of weeks on the list?
my memory isn't great, so i'm not one who would immediately notice "XYZ – that's new." or maybe that's just not important?…just an idea, thanks for listening!
No, you're absolutely right, and I'll be working on tweaking the presentation of this in the coming weeks, to make it more useful and more informative.
So, thank you for the really good feedback, Alexandria, and stay tuned.
Congrats on the top 100, not an easy job.
I am writing in response to you and a few of your chatters from last week. It IS proper service to remove the check prior to the guest leaving, both technically and "philosophically" technically you are keeping the guest table free of things that they no longer need and verifing that the guests have properly paid their bill, philosophically it is the server telling the diner "thank you, I have received your money, enjoy the rest of your day" Yes, people do leave without leaving enough money to pay the bill, yes, they leave without signing the credit card receipt. I would bet that the above happens more often than some idot server being just that, an idiot.
Todd, service in general has changed significantly over the last 10 years, do you agree? Please dont confuse what YOU like or prefer with right or wrong. They may not be the same. I prefer your writing over another critic, but that doesnt make him wrong does it? Style and execution are 2 very different things. Keep up the good work.
You make some good points — you're a server, yes? or a GM? — particularly in the case of things being left out, on purpose and not.
I would say it's right to do it, to take the check, if people are staying and lingering well past the meal — hanging on for twenty or thirty minutes after. But otherwise? I'm just not sure I think that's the way to go.
Wishing you a Happy New Year and to reading more of your reviews. DC sure is a great food destination city now!
It is. And it's great to watch, and taste, and drink.
In the coming year, I want to see more ambitious mid-range spots, more food carts, more markets and butchers, more cheapie gourmet destinations, more step-up ethnic places, and just more ground-up activity. I want to see the city and the area continue to build on the solid core of what's already here.
Thanks for the well-wishes, and back at you — and to all of you. Have a happy and safe New Year's, and let's meet back here next week at 11 for the first chat of 2010 … Be well and eat well, everyone.
[missing you, TEK]
Submit your question ahead of time to Todd's chat next Tuesday, January 5, at 11 AM.