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 January 12th.
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
Jaymar Colombian Breeze, Gaithersburg
The Source and The Source Lounge, DC
Johnny's Half Shell, DC
Gom Ba Woo, Annandale
Central Michel Richard, DC
Four Sisters, Falls Church
Cafe du Parc, DC
Sushi Sono, Columbia
Poste Brasserie, DC
Restaurant Eve, Alexandria
La Caraqueña, Falls Church
Jackie's, Silver Spring
Pupatella Neapolitan Street Cart, Arlington
Cava, DC and Rockville
Bistro Bis, DC
Sabai Sabai Simply Thai, Germantown
Sushi Taro, DC
Tommy Marcos's Ledo Restaurant, Adelphi
J&G Steakhouse, DC
La Limeña, Rockville
Jesse Wong's Asean Bistro, Columbia
Yechon? I wouldn't.
I'd hit Gom Ba Woo, which I think is probably the best all-around place to eat in Koreatown. Vit Goel is great for what it does — the sputtering hot red pepper soup known as soon du bu — and Honey Pig is fun and festive and does terrific barbecue, but I like Gom Ba Woo because you can have a little bit of all those things (as well as some very good kimchi), plus a cozy atmosphere, and a good price.
Reports from restaurant week….
Adour went for it this restaurant week and were seated immediately. Once we got past the slight disdain of not ordering any alcohol and getting only “dc’s finest” for water (hey, I’m hugely pregnant and he’s driving, so excuses abound), we were delighted by the warm gougeres—a delight to savor, followed by the adorable and tasty little baguettes, warm and crusty with piles of soft butter to spread. And then came the amuse bouche of pumpkin soup. No so skimpy before your food arrives.
The rabbit and homemade pasta was flavorful and hefty, but not as divine as the cold lentil salad with a poached egg—which really was perfection. Who orders cold lentil salad when you can have warm meaty things? Well, they were all missing out on its tangy goodness.
The halibut and butter puree with a bit of potato was rich and intense, the crunchy little croutons and fried parsley there to lighten it up—which it needed a bit more of in the light department. Tasty, but I couldn’t finish it.
The desserts were exceptional. Memorable, creative, and inspiring, the “key lime pie” a sculpted glass of candied lime rinds and creamy stuff of such delight. And the chocolate was perfect—not too dark or sweet, not to heavy or light, crunchy and smooth, delicious until the end. Of course the “third dessert course” for this sharing couple of the macaroons were even still tasty once you were desserted out.
The restaurant wasn’t without it’s flaws—they weren’t the food, but the chicken dish on the menu had unmentioned pork in it (I asked between t he chicken and fish and found this out). I am NOT the only person in this city who orders things like chicken / fish because I don’t eat pork. If it’s in the food put it on the menu! And we had to ask for water—3 times which is a little annoying. But hey, they splashed out and didn’t hold back for restaurant week which makes it a very good time to go to Adour.
In contrast, we had a groupon to the Melting Pot and went tonight since we have never been to a fondue restaurant, and $20 for $50 worth of food is hard to pass up…. Now, a restaurant where you can lap up a large container of melted cheese followed by melted chocolate dipped cheesecake is a pretty damn good place to take a pregnant person. And the cheese was nice.
But seriously people? The quality of the food was so poor (think old chunks of celery and apples and carrots which had been floating in water all day to dunk in your cheese)…and so on from there. While fondue is fun and a catchy gimmick, I can’t believe people return here. Service was perky, but even on the recommendation to skip the “boiled meat course” and stick with cheeses, I still can’t help wonder….
Thanks for the wonderfully detailed and thorough report, Chev. Sounds like you had a pretty good time at Adour, particularly come dessert time, where the kitchen really shines.
Eager to hear more dispatches from the field from anyone who's got 'em.
Hi Todd –
Wondering what restaurants in the DC-area best with those who suffer from Celiac Disease (gluten allergy)?
There is Wildfire in Tysons which is great because it has gluten-free bread options rather than a restaurant that just says "we can remove the bun."
I was hoping you could suggest more restaurants like Wildfire or those who are willing to work with people who have Celiac, as it's becoming increasingly more mainstream.
Many restaurants say "Oh we can grill a piece of fish plain." Well that's terrific, but if you don't cook it on a separate grill and place it over where a sauced-up / marinated piece of fish was, it defeats the purpose! At that point I might as well eat a big piece of bread.
The point of eating out – to me – is to get something I can't make easily at home, and even I, with my remedial cooking skills, can make a piece of grilled salmon. Would love to be able to eat out normally, or as normal as one can with Celiac disease.
Eating out can be a very planned and difficult process when you have a gluten allergy and that's not a reason to not be able to enjoy the best DC has to offer. Thanks in advance for your help!
Very well put.
I can't say that what I'm going to tell you is a definitive list, but these are all places that people I know with Celiac — and I know a few — eat at with some regularity.
Any of the three Jaleos, Lilit Cafe in Bethesda, Nirvana downtown (the menu touts most of its menu as being gluten-free), Legal Seafood in Penn Quarter and any of the Clyde's in the area.
Also, you'll be happy to learn that Hello Cupcake and Red Velvet Cupcakery both do gluten-free cupcakes.
I hope that helps, some, and I'd be interested in hearing from other gluten-free eaters about the places they patronize and love.
Noticed that you have a very, well,…varied list of places you'd spend your money. Kudos for the MANY places outside of DC-proper.
What's the reason?
Thanks for noticing.
The reason? I eat out every day and I eat out all over the area, DC and Maryland and Virginia — I don't confine myself to one pocket, and, more important, I don't think good food is to be found only downtown or in high-rent areas, or in the areas currently being promoted by the developers and publicists.
This list is a highly personal list, reflecting my tastes and interests, and is a snapshot of my recent travels — my current enthusiasms.
I like a lot of variety, as you all probably know, and that, to me, is the great beauty of being a restaurant critic (or being an eater, period) in this area — the fact that there are so many different cultures and cuisines to partake of.
We've gotten a few "groupons" from restaurants in the area, and the number of restaurants participating seems to indicate it's working.
I noticed the one last week for Kora sold over 800 by the early afternoon. If you're not familiar, a restaurant will offer a "deal", typically things like $50 worth of food and drink fo $20 and then they need a number of people (often 100) to commit before the deal is "on". Seems like it could bring in business, I know I am going to places I haven't before, and eating out when I might not. It's often a very good deal if it is a good place to eat.
Which brings me to the second part of my question. I bought one for Williams American Bistro in Greenbelt, which I drive by all of the time (in the old Bennigans) for $10 for $25 worth of food and beer. The talk abour being sustainable and local, etc. For me, it's kind of local and I am happy to support them for $10 on a lazy night whe I want more than the Chipotle down the road. Have you been here before?
It's interesting you bring this up, because I haven't written about William's American Bistro — other than to tweet about a meal many months back.
And yet I've been there five times.
Why so many visits? Because I've seen things I like, and things I haven't, and even after five visits I'm still trying to wrap my head around the place — what it is, and what it isn't.
Service, particularly, has been a bugaboo, and the pacing of meals has been off on at least two occasions. One meal I out and out disliked. But I like that they have small batch bourbons, I like that the burgers are done with care and love (the bison burger was outstanding one visit), the fries are hand-cut, all the wines are from small American producers, the hot dog is made from Wagyu (it's good).
I think it's worth supporting — what they're trying to do, given where they are, is pretty remarkable.
Hiring more staff would help, as would drilling them in the particulars of the menu. There's a certain hedging of bets going on there that is, I think, holding things back — I'd like to see the owners go all in, both with the staff and with the menu.
Reporting in from the field on a good RW experience.
I'm with you on the sentiment that if a restaurant is going to participate in RW, then they should do in the spirit that I believe RW was meant for; to draw in new customers and make them want to come back (and of course, fill seats).
In order to accomplish this, I think that the menu has to be varied, portion sized should not be reduced drastically from the usual, and service should be even. Most of all, RW patrons should be greeted and treated kindly.
Which brings me to my RW experience, which was a winner. Tallulah in Arlington offered their entire menu, with no upcharges.
The restaurant was busy, but our meal was relaxed and the food was spot on and showed a kitchen that was firing on all cylinders.
The warm mushroom salad was topped with a perfectly poached egg, and the cod was very fresh and cooked to buttery goodness. The curry cider reduction accompanying the fish was delicious too.
Now, onto dessert, where I'll see if you can sleuth a recipe for me. I enjoyed the banana cheesecake with chocolate hazelnut ganache and would love to try my hand at making it myself.
So, in the end, Tallulah has a new customer who will return for good service and great food because they cared enough to do RW, and do it right.
Thanks for the chat, and thanks for your help!
Good for Tallula. That's the way to approach RW — with seriousness, with openness, with sincerity.
Barry Koslow, the chef, cooked most recently at Mendocino Grille, in Georgetown (we had it in our Top 50 for a couple of years), and is a real talent, particularly when it comes to fish. Charcuterie, too — so next time, don't pass up his sublime rabbit terrine.
Todd…..went to Ris for the first time this past weekend. Major disappointment.
Over-seasoned/salty and skimpy sardine appetizer, overdone burger (can anyone do a rare burger?) and the kitchen noise/shouting could be heard in the dining room.
I've written a personal letter to Ris hoping for a response. I love the atmosphere…..and the menu looks great……and it wouldn't have taken much more effort to make it right. I'd love to see this place succeed.
I'm just curious why, if you already wrote to Ris, you decided to post this with me–? To make certain that you receive some kind of a reply?
I guess that's the nature of any kind of exchange in the digital age, to make sure you find satisfaction any which way you can, but it seems to me you're going a little overboard. The appetizer was small — lots are in this economy — and was too salty, while the burger wasn't rare. To my mind, that's not deserving of your firing off a letter to the chef.
I can't judge the noise from the kitchen — was it a dress-down? or just the normal clatter and loud chatter from the cooks? How did you come to hear it — when a kitchen door swung open and you were nearby? Or did you hear it from the middle of the room? If it could be heard in the middle of the room, okay, but I'd be pretty forgiving of it otherwise.
I've been doing the restaurant week thing (both winter and summer) for several years now and I have to say, my last visit to Rasika on Monday night was, hands-down, the best RW experience I've had.
For obvious reasons I try to target the high-end places, but many of them have been let-downs to me. They seem to mass-produce a few smaller-than-normal signature dishes. Unfortunately many of the dishes taste mass-produced, too. On top of that, the wait staff often seems aloof and disinterested with the fact that so many people are patronizing their restaurant.
Rasika was a welcome breath of fresh air. The palak chaat was everything I expected from all the reviews. On top of that the Black Cod was one of the most perfectly cooked pieces of fish I've had in DC. The wait staff was incredibly helpful–actually taking time to run through the ENTIRE restaurant week menu.
Bravo, Rasika! I will definitely be back…not during RW, either….sooner than later.
Thanks for the report.
Again, a restaurant that has decided to embrace the opportunity, rather than endure a promotion. Offering a wide selection of options says a lot about a RW place, as does making people feel as though they're not second-class citizens.
So, yes, good for Rasika.
This is, remember, a restaurant that opened promisingly and has actually gotten better and better — a very, very hard thing to do. There's a reason it cracked our Top 10 this year.
You said last week "Todd Kliman: You need to read more carefully — Founding Farmers didn't make the cut."
So is the link wrong? If you click on 100 Best and ask for the list, number 96 is Founding Farmers–and the picture is farrah olivia, long closed. Maybe the new list isn't yet available online? But that reader was right that it was on the list that appears when you click on 2009 100 Best–and you were just a tad rude, perhaps.
Good to know. Add it to the list.
Thanks for chiming in to the discussion, Rustico's quick-typing publicist … ; )
Just want to say a nice word about Dino's. Went there with a very food allergic friend and his wife. He is also a vegetarian. It was Rest. Week, and they had a $35 3 course dinner.
Everything on the menu was available, with a few entrees showing an upcharge. The thing I liked about it was the simplicity and clarity. No appetizer was off limits, you ordered from the menu like everyone else, you could vary the offerings, and to be honest, you didn't have to ask a million questions or do legal negotiations.
The food was uniformly excellent. There was plenty for a vegetarian to pick from, and the server handled the food allergies with comprehension and thoroughness. That night was a winner.
Dino has always had the right approach to RW, it has always made the entire menu available and the staff and management has always been hospitable and approachable.
Keep 'em coming …
Ok Sorry I missed you last tues…The Bat Mitzvah at Present…
Heres the menu and the chef is going to carve a candlelighting candleabra from some fruit- won't be your run of the mill event!
Luncheon Menu February 27, 2010 Passed Appetizers Silken Shawl Imperial Autumn Roll (chicken & shrimp) Green Paradise Spring Roll (lemon grass beef) Seashore at the Sunset (shrimp toast) Shrimp Covered in Rice Crispies Soup Seaside Asparagus (asparagus crabmeat soup- adults, asparagus with white meat chicken – kids) Entrees Duck Basking in Tamarind Green Lantern Festival (sugar snap peas sauté with beef) Cow On the Open Field Shrimp in the Fresh Ocean Dessert Fresh Fruit Presentation & Chocolates Wine Ninet de Pena Viognier '06 Languedoc, France Ravenswood Zinfandel '06 California, USA Hillinger Secco Sparkling '06 Austria
Sounds like a great time.
As a MOT who uses the expression MOT with relish but who does not keep Kosher and who is not a strict constitutionalist and who leads an intensely secular life, it might seem odd of me to say this, but I feel compelled to ask — compelled in a way I can't quite put my finger on enough to explain (and really and truly, who knows where our deepest beliefs spring from?) — shrimp and crab at a bat mitzvah reception?
I joined two friends at Sushi Taro last week for RW dinner. As another chatter said, to succeed at RW, "the menu has to be varied, portion sized should not be reduced drastically from the usual, and service should be even".
While Taro's service was fine, the menu itself was so disappointing that only one of us decided to get the restaurant week menu. The main problems were that there was little/no choice on the menu and that the sushi that was served was little better than your average restaurant.
To begin, they served a "New Year's Platter" (no choice on this), which may have been authentic, but it was unsatisfying both from the perspective of portion size and seasoning (a lone mushroom on the plate was doused in citrus). The second course was a choice of tempura or 3 pieces of sashimi (salmon, shrimp, tuna). Because the next course was sushi, we went with the tempura (fine, but not much better than the average DC Japanese restaurant).
The main course was 8 pieces of sushi, all of which was fine, but it featured the usual suspects (salmon, tuna, eel, etc.) and Kotobuki's sushi could easily compare for a fraction of the price. I guess we will sadly have to wait until we can afford the Kaiseki menu to return…
Doesn't surprise me.
Sushi, and particularly exquisite sushi — which means big money — simply can't be swung at Restaurant Week. Sushi Taro shouldn't have even tried.
Thanks for writing in.
Have you been to Rincome?
It's on Columbia Pike — not far from Bangkok 54 and not too far from Thai Square, a standard-bearer for many, many years — and in a motel. Not much to look at, and not everything is wonderful, but they do a particularly good whole crispy fish. A worthwhile place to have in your repertoire if you live out that way, I think.
Hi Todd — I love your reviews and chats and thought I'd try my luck at getting a personal recommendation for a very special occasion.
My mother will be in town in a few weeks for her 60th birthday, which she believes we will be celebrating at dinner with our husbands. The surprise is that two of her lifelong best friends will be joining us as well.
Last time the folks were in town we went to Blue Ridge and were pleasantly surprised by the quality of the food and ambience for the price, so the guest of honor has suggested going back there — but I'm thinking we should try someplace new, and as I recall, the noise level at Blue Ridge would make it a bit hard for her to catch up with her surprise guests.
So I ask the expert: any recommendations for a new (or newish) place that is hip and appropriately festive but not too loud, tasty (any type of cuisine) but not too much pricier than Blue Ridge, and reasonably accessible from Arlington/Alexandria? A tall order, I know…
Sounds like a wonderful night you've got planned. I hope you savor it.
I'd try either Tallula, in Arlington, or Vermilion, in Old Town. Both are within striking distance of home, both feature talented young chefs, and both are comfortable and lively without being noisy and trendy.
I'll be curious to hear where you end up, and how everything turned out. Drop me a line, and enjoy yourselves …
There used to be a lame restaurant here in Rockville–the PGA Grill–that is now gone. The space, which looks like an Olive Garden has been vacant for some time. The other day I drove by and saw a truck from Matchbox (the DC pizza joint) sitting in front of the restaurant. Am I just reading too much into that or can I, somehow, connect the dots. Any word on that?
Next time, I want a cell-phone photograph, plus the GPS coordinates, plus the license plate number of the van. C'mon, get with it! ; )
No word, though I wouldn't be surprised if something is in the works — Matchbox has already expanded once, and is a very successful brand already. It'd be a stretch to venture beyond the city, but it's not an impossibility, and it's not as if pizza and burgers and fries and salads is something that people will take time to become comfortable with.
By the way, I find it interesting — okay, not interesting; ridiculous — that Matchbox is now calling itself a "bistro."
How, exactly, does pizza and burgers and fries add up to "bistro"?
For that matter, what is the big-ticket Bibiana Osteria — a place for insiders and would-be insiders and others on somebody else's dime, a place that sources lavishly and charges accordingly — doing calling itself an "osteria"?
IF you don't mind a 15 minute drive, there's Church Street Pizza in Vienna. NY-style pies, and if memory serves, it should go right to the top of your rotation.
Arax Cafe is a gem. I've been going there and writing about it for five years now, ever since one of my prized restaurant informants, the great and dogged food scout Papan Devnani (now retired and living in Florida) tipped me to it.
Rose Hovsepian is the owner, and a very fine baker, as you now know. To me, though, the thing to do is to ask what she's got cooking in the kitchen — every day she prepares four or five Armenian dishes, and I've had some wonderful plates of food there over the years.
I love her soups (particularly the yellow lentil), and the Armenian meat pies are fabulous.
New chef (who worked at the venerable Daniel, in NYC), and new GM, too (via Blue Duck Tavern). Levi Mezick and William Washington, respectively.
I don't have any more details than this, and have yet to give the new team a try. I will say, though, that the news is big news, as these things go: It's a bold departure for the restaurant, which has been known more over the years for who has passed through the doors — most notably, power-lunchers Nancy Reagan and Mike Wallace — than for who is doing the cooking.
The restaurant reopened in 2008, but still seemed stuck in another era — an era of hushed voices, of obsequious service, of starchy formality, of correctly cooked but frequently uninspiring dishes. It'll be interesting to see if the place can update itself and become relevant for the right reasons and rejoin the conversation.
And not terribly far from Pupatella and Naan & Kabob.
There's also Windy City Red Hots in Ashburn. And that's just Northern Virginia.
I'll tell you: The cart scene gets more and more interesting as we go.
I think this is one of the most exciting developments of the past few years, and a clear and vivid demonstration that a down economy doesn't have to be a hindrance to ambitious, creative chefs and cooks and restaurateurs. Necessity is the mother of invention and all that … Of course, as Babe Shapiro, one of my father's early mentors and a fine artist in his own right, once said: Necessity is a mother.
And a heads-up … DC will be seeing a new and gleaming food truck/cart in the next couple of weeks, decked out with flat-screen TVs and a gizmo-laden kitchen, called Sauca. I'll be interested to see whether the food lives up to the packaging.
From the DC restaurant Community:
To all those that enjoyed our hard work last week during the semi annual restaurant week, thank you for your support, respect we appreciate it. To those whom think its the same dining experience as off restaurant week think again we are busting our asses to allow the restaurant to take in more cover capacity then normal. Chefs working countless hours, service staff walking miles in small spaces to give you the best we can offer at the time. Yes service is going to be a little spotty, yes we will not be as friendly as when we are able to totally control our service points. But we try and try hard to please. Most of the time that you all are getting bad service is because you are rude to us. Just be cordial nice friendly it goes along way.
Are you sure you want to speak for the ENTIRE industry? Are you sure you CAN?
Are you sure you want to tell the dining public that it's at fault if it doesn't receive great service? Are you sure you want to be saying, in effect, the customer isn't always right?
Maybe you have addressed this in the past, but I hope your can help me.
On Thursday, I called Coastal Flats restaurant in Fairfax to make a reservation for 8:00pm on Saturday night. The employee said "we don't take reservations, 8pm is our busiest time". Then how do I get a table at 8pm on Saturday? "We have a call and wait system." So I called at 7pm that Saturday to put my name on the list. "The wait is one hour." Perfect, I thought. We will be seated at 8pm. I arrived on time at the restaurant only to be handed a pager and was told "the wait time was now 30 to 45 minutes." I was wondering, what is the magical system to have dinner at 8pm at a Great American Restaurant Group restaurant? Why can't I just call and make a reservation?
I guess it's the kind of thing you can get away with if you're always packed and lines are out the door on weekend nights and you get good word-of-mouth, but I'll tell you: I wouldn't put up with it.
Coastal Flats is a festive place, and the GAR group is really good at training its staff, but it's not as if what you're going to be getting on the other end is Komi. Or even La Limeña.
I'm off to the dentist for a cleaning (and a lecture, no doubt, on drinking too much red wine) … Be well, everyone, eat well, and let's do it again next week at 11 …
(missing you, TEK)