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 29.
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
RE desserts: I thought this was an interesting tidbit from Tim Harford's book, The Undercover Economist —
"…one of the big costs in a restaurant business is table space. Restaurateurs would therefore like to charge customers for dawdling, but because they cannot do that, they charge higher prices for products that tend to be consumed in longer meals: not just wine but also appetizers and desserts."
I wonder if some restaurants make desserts smaller and quicker to consume so that patrons don't linger? I think the only place we bother to order dessert is the Great American Restaurant chain- those chocolate waffles with vanilla bean icecream are fantastic! Reasonably priced, sized for sharing, and above all, delicious.
I don't think that's the reason, though, for the sizing that you see on the higher end. I really think it has to do with chefs believing that the sweet is the light thing that caps off the meal, a little (if virtuosic, sometimes) poof, not to add too much weight, and not to compete with what's preceded it. …
Happy 2010, everyone. I hope you had a great New Year's Eve. I had a terrific time. 10 people over at the house, good friends, low key. I made bouillabaisse, we opened several bottles of wine and crossed over into the new year with a crepe cake — 20 crepes, stacked and layered with caramel-orange sauce (and finished with a good gloss of the stuff, too.)
I am sorry to report that I had a horrible experience at one of your "top" restaurants this past New Year's Eve. I had reservations for two at J&G Steakhouse at 10 p.m. and I have to say that I couldn't have had a worse time.
The food was not bad, but what really killed the evening was the service, or should I say the lack thereof. I know that restaurants are not normally up to par on holidays, but for the price we paid I should expect to at least be greated by our server. He basically took our order and was never seen again for the rest of the night.
There was also at least a 15-20 minute wait between each course where no one came to see if we were okay or if we wanted another drink. At one point we even left our table to order drinks at the bar in the lobby. The restaurant was less than half full at that hour, so I don't think the problem was that they were busy, I guess since the tip was already included they didn't feel the need to tend to us.
I was not able to find anyone that looked like a manager that night, but I did write a letter to the restaurant the next day and of course, there was no response. Going to restaurants is one of my favorite things to do, but I am wondering if I need to stay home on holidays from now on instead of playing double the price to just get ignored. Should I just forget the notion of being wined and dined on Valentines Day?
And you shouldn't have to stay away because restaurants treat the day so indifferently, but yeah, I hear you. I haven't gone out for New Year's Eve in — I don't know how long, actually. It's fun to be out, but I had a fair number of experiences like the one you described, albeit at far less luxe establishments.
I think it's a great time, if you like to cook or host, to gather some good friends and cook up something fun and a treat and just relax and talk and drink and play games, etc., etc.
I have a question for you regarding the metro area's Afgan restaurants. The only Afgan restaurant in your 100 Very Best was Faryab in Bethesda. We tried it for the first time this past weekend and really felt that Bamian in Bailey's Crossroads and Afgan Restaurant in Arlington are far better in nearly every way, especially the food. The food at Faryab had minimal flavor and was average at best. Have you dined at the other two Afgan places I mentioned? If yes, do you really think Faryab is the best? I'd be interested in opinions form others as well.
Thanks for your chats — I really enjoy them. BL
Thanks for writing in.
I've dined at Bamian but not at Afghan Restaurant. I like Bamian. I also like Maizbon, a newcomer that's got a lot going for it. I think you can make a case for both Bamian and Maizbon to be included in this large conversation.
We didn't have an "Afghan slot" or anything like that, so it's not as if Faryab got the nod over those two places. It made it on — and has made it on, over the years — on its own merits. Faryab, for me, is one of those places that finds its mark nearly every time. It is what it is, and wonderfully so, I think. I can't think of a bad or off or disappointing meal there.
I am celebrating my birthday tomrorow at Komi. I feel very lucky! However, I cannot decide whether to get the dinner or the tasting menu.
I am worried that the tasting menu will be too much food. What do you recommend? Also, is the wine pairing essential? Thank you!
The wine pairing, not essential. The tasting menu, not essential either.
You should have a terrific time just with the regular, prix fixe menu. My only advice: get the roasted goat or suckling pig for your entree.
Have a great time, and let us know how things turned out …
Todd: I was at a restaurant this past week and witnessed a server in the powder room sniffing a drug. I will not say which restaurant because I don’t want that to be the focal point of my question.
How do I go about telling a manager or owner that one of her/his employees was doing this so that they understand that I am being honest about it. I called the manager the next day and they essentially ended the conversation with “I am sure that wasn’t what you thought it was”….. Not something I would expect out of a top let’s say 30 place.
That's a tough one.
And it's entirely possible that what you thought you saw, you didn't in fact see.
But let's assume, for the sake of discussion, that you did see it. What's at issue here? Do you now feel that, having witnessed drug use by an employee on duty, the place is no longer worthy of your business? I can sort of understand that, if that's the case. And so a simple phone call to say, "Listen, I won't be coming back here because of what I saw," seems perfectly reasonable to me.
Beyond that … I don't know.
If I were a manager, I certainly wouldn't take it on faith that an employee was using drugs simply because some stranger called up and said he or she was. I might be inclined to be more vigilant about monitoring my employees, but that's about it.
Now, back to the question of giving the restaurant your business … As I said, I understand this argument. But at the same time, I have to believe that, were we to know what goes on behind the scenes of most places — the things people say, the things they do, etc. — we might not continue to go to restaurants with such frequently and avidity.
A restaurant meal is, in many ways, like a stage production. What matters, at least to me, is the show itself, not the backstage shenanigans and gossip, etc.
Anybody got a good one?
Todd, I have an update.
I was contacted by the manager and he sincerely apologized for the bad experience and it sounded like he was actually going to look into what happened. I am very glad that they took the time to listen to my side of the story and agreed that the experience we had was unacceptable.
He even invited us to return as his guest to have a chance to really enjoy the restaurant, which was very unexpected. We are going to take him up on the offer sometime soon and I will let you know how it goes with a full report!
Good for them.
And yes, please come back on and give us a report when you can … Thanks.
Easy. The Source. ; )
And second-best: Ping Pong Dim Sum. ; )
Actually, I'm not really kidding. There are still a good handful of Chinese restaurants in Chinatown, but nothing REALLY distinguishes itself from the pack. I've had good dishes at Eat First, but not good meals, if that makes sense. I enjoy Chinatown Express, but can't really recommend it. Maybe the best is New Big Wong, but I wouldn't call it great.
And all of these places are wan approximations compared to some of the top places in north Rockville and beyond.
By the way, since we're on the subject, the two best Chinese meals I've had in a long time both came within the last month.
One was at Jesse Wong's Asian Bistro, in Columbia, and was terrific.
The other was simply dazzling: eating at Taste of China, in Charlottesville, the current (and probably not for long) home of Peter Chang, formerly of — well, everywhere. The Chinese Embassy, Fairfax, Alexandria, Fairfax again, Atlanta, Knoxville.
Knock-your-socks-off good cooking, and absolutely worth the drive down, I think.
The cilantro fish rolls are better than ever, his corned beef with cilantro is superb, and he seems to have discovered — just speculation on my part, now — Buffalo wings, because his famous cleavered-chicken dish with three fistfuls of finger peppers and a good bit of ma la peppercorn tossed into the mix is now sporting a distinct vinegary kick. Wonderful.
I didn't see his famous ribs with bread crumbs, but he's doing a duck dish that recalls that, somewhat, and was new, or at least to me.
My girlfriend and I are jealous of all the BYOBs (and BYOWine) that my parents enjoy throughout the Philadelphia area. Many Philly restaurants (both casual and mid-range) allow diners to bring in their own beer and wine, and at no charge whatsoever. I think it has something to do with the tricky alcohol licensing rules in PA?
I know you've pointed out that Charlie Palmer isn't charging a corkage fee if you bring your own bottle of American wine, but where else? Moving away from "corkage fee" all together, who has instead embraced the BYO policy?
Any of those Latin or Asian spots in the suburbs that have consistently earned your praise? Being more casual and more relaxed, they seem like they'd be perfect for BYO. And if nowhere else, then why not? These Philly spots have made up for the loss in booze sales with an increase in volume and food sales.
Philly's different — a different system entirely, and one that benefits the diner very, very well.
Off the top of my head re: corkage … Charlie Palmer, CityZen, Dino, Vidalia, Bistro Bis, Corduroy, Taberna del Alabardero, 2 Amys. And don't forget about Jaleo, Tallula, Evening Star Cafe, and Franklin's Restaurant, Brewpub and General Store (all have wine stores on the premises, and charge a small fee for what you purchase and open at the table.)
As for those Latin or Asian spots you mention. Nothing of note comes to mind. The sushi joint down the road from me has a BYOB policy, amazingly enough, but although I enjoy it (not like my little boy enjoys it, of course — the sushi chefs routinely play peekaboo throughout the meal with him) it's not a place you'd seek out if you weren't nearby.
Anybody else know of mom n pops and small independents like this that have corkage?
Happy New Year to you and everybody Just wanted to thank all the restaurant patrons for their continued support during this tough year gone by. I really feel sad about all the restaurants which went under in 2008-09. I am sure with an uptick in the economy we will see a lot of new ones come up later. Hopefully things will improve in 2010 for one and all. Cheers
Thanks for writing in, Sudhir.
And since you're out there, do you have a mocktail you can share? Maybe a knockoff of the marvelous lychee mojito you serve at Spice Xing?
PassionFish is the place I'd go. It's the relatively new restaurant from Jeff Tunks, who also owns DC Coast, TenPenh, Ceiba and Acadiana, all in DC.
Fish and seafood are the focus here, and the place is a crowd-pleaser, a lower-key, less costly knockoff of Kinkead's: mounds of fish on ice, good oysters, lobster in red curry, a dazzling setting, and a buzzing, vibrant atmosphere.
It's the best restaurant in Reston right now, and I have to think you and the group would have a good time there. Let me know how it all turns out.
I don't know, and I haven't had the dish myself so I can't begin to guess, but this sounds like a job for The Recipe Sleuth.
Thanks for the suggestion …
I really like Sakana.
I'm not saying it's superb, or going to put a scare into Sushi Taro, or anything like that, but for good, workaday sushi I don't think you can do much better.
It's also pretty consistent, the prices are decent, the room is cozy, and the service is generally good.
So your Bruce Allen, and you need to rebuild the organization. What local chef's do you pick to build around to bring your team out of the cellar? Remember there is a salary cap and you can't just take high profile pro bowlers. You need some young talent too.
Well, if we're only talking about young'uns, or guys flying far under the radar … Christophe Marque, from Cafe du Parc. Daniel Giusti, from 1789. Hoa Lai, from Four Sisters. Barry Koslow, from Tallula. Rob Weland, from Poste. Luong Tran, from Present. Martin Lackovick, from Siroc. Miles Vaden, from Eventide.
And if I'm Bruce Allen, that's STILL not enough.
The Skins need a tailback, an offensive line, a quarterback, two receivers, a couple linebackers, a free safety, and two corners. That's a load of shopping.
They need three years, I'd say.
The posting regarding drugs and your reponse brings up the strange position of restaurants are not only places where we eat,but also entertainment. I mean, would the poster boycott a movie because the star actor was in rehab (yet again)?
Moreover, drugs are all over the back of the house at many fine dining establishments in DC (and beyond if Anthony Bourdain is to be believed). Waiters, cooks on the line… at high end restaurants drug use in the back of the house is so common that although it's not the norm, nobody looks twice if you're snorting something.
If the poster is offended by this, one option is to patronize more "ethnic" restaurants where drug use tends to be not tolerated to a greater degree than many of DC's fine dining establishments. My two cents. Thoughts? /Jake
Thanks for chiming in, Jake. I think you make some very good points.
What you say about drug use being a commonplace is true, though hardly part of the ongoing conversation. The wonder, really, is not that someone saw something; the wonder is that more diners don't come on here to report that they saw something similar at restaurants X or Y or Z.
Of course, to be fair, we don't know if the chatter who wrote in is saying he or she is offended to the point of wanting to boycott the restaurant. That was just my guess.
I hope we'll hear back from him or her.
Got the gull? I can't say I do, 'cause I can't say what it is, but I don't shy away from taking questions, and never have …
I'm not going to get into every single point you make, Cap, because I don't feel the need to explain and defend every single little choice we made, but I will say this, to address your basic, overarching question:
We're looking for restaurants that fulfill their inherent promises. Restaurants that, in the parlance of the Army, be all they can be.
Komi is No. 1 because it's the most fully realized restaurant in the area, in my estimation. Most fully realized, in terms of its own aims.
You bring up 2 Amys, which I don't consider a pizzeria anymore but a very good, casual Italian restaurant; its pizzas are not nearly the draw for me that they were, having been eclipsed by the excellent and ever-changing lineup of fresh, beautifully executed small plates.
2 Amys, for what it wants to be, is, to my mind, more successful than, say, Bourbon Steak.
In other words, it's not just about good meals. But while we're on the subject, I can tell you that I had better meals this year at the Jaleos than I had in previous years, and Zaytinya reached another gear at times this year, to deliver truly memorable experiences.
Remember, also, i and we can't speak for your experiences, only ours. We hear all the time from readers and friends and families about places, about great meals. But we can only trust in our own eyes and ears and mouths.
As for Inox, you're misremembering. The "slam" for opening a place this luxe, this expense-account class, in a down economy was not levied by us, but by the Post.
I don't think it's that simple.
I'm not saying it's worth boycotting a restaurant for ever and ever, but I don't think it's nothing, either.
I assume you're a restaurant insider — you didn't disclose your identity, so I'm free to guess — so you'll appreciate, I hope, a story I want to share.
It's from an interview I did with a manager some years back. He was about to open a new restaurant, and he gathered his new hires together and put them through intensive classes, where they were drilled in diner expectations and the restaurant's "way."
This manager spoke of "fantasies and bruises" — which sounded like some S&M seminar, but which actually was a way of cleverly breaking down the work of the staffers.
A meal, he said, is a "fantasy," and anything that chips away that fanciful notion — anything that "bruises" — must be eliminated. The fantasy must be perpetuated; every detail must perpetuate it.
A dropped place, that doesn't perpetuate the fantasy of perfection. Quite the opposite. So, a bruise. A fight between a manager and a waitress, that's a bruise, too. A waiter subtly correcting a diner: bruise. A waiter walking too fast and creating an impression of hurriedness: a deep bruise.
So, by that logic, seeing a staffer snorting drugs doesn't do anything to perpetuate the fantasy, just the opposite. It's a bruise, a deep one.
I'd have to think a diner who was bruised that way would need the meal to be exquisite, and everything go right, in order to not have that moment dominate his or her thinking.
I was offended because here I am at a very nice place and a service professional was snorting something up her nose in the bathroom. Am I going to continue to visit the place, of course, but shouldn't something be done if someone when an employee is snorting something infront of the paying guest?
My point is, you can't stop drug use, but you can deny your customers from having to see it, especially from your wait staff. Thanks Jake – Now you make me feel like the next time I order a meal I could get a Ramican of crack on the side!
Thanks, Potomac, for following up …
Perfectly understandable, especially in light of what I was just saying about fantasies and bruises. You were bruised. You're not going to stay away, but the fantasy has been dispelled, and the bloom is most definitely off.
Managers, chefs, cooks, servers, bartenders, etc. at high-end restaurants, especially, need to realize that they are selling more than food and drink; they are selling bloom.
Be well, everyone, eat well and let's do it again next week at 11 … Enjoy Restaurant Week …
[missing you, TEK]