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 19th.
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
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
Jaymar Colombian Breeze, Gaithersburg
The Source and The Source Lounge, DC
Johnny's Half Shell, DC
Gom Ba Woo, Annandale
Central Michel Richard, DC
I want to respond to the frustrated diner in Arlington who has Celiac. I am similarly afflicted and am finding dining out easier and easier.
I tried La Caraqueña with some friends a few weeks ago and I loved it. The staff was very friendly, playing with my son, and very knowledgeable about the food. In fact, it is a great gluten-free option. Arepas are naturally gluten-free as they are made from corn, though I avoided the fried version to avoid cross-contamination.
Additionally, Rustico not only has gluten-free pizza, but also gluten-free beer and is across the lane from Buzz and their delicious gluten-free cupcakes (call ahead to ensure you get one; if they are sold out, ask the staff to make you one…they did for me).
Pete's Apizza also has gluten-free pizza and often features gluten-free appetizers like quinoa salad.
I am also a fan Mandalay as I like the food and will make dishes with wheat-free tamari. Lastly, Lebanese Taverna has a gluten-free menu and all of Jose Andres's restaurants have been happy places for this gluten-free girl.
In general, I have found that where the staff and chef care about food, I feel safe eating (regardless of the price point). If anyone knows if any of the falafel places or ethiopian places in town are safe bets for the gluten intolerant, I would love to know…I have tried to find out to no avail.
Thank you so much for writing in — there's a wealth of good information and insight in there. I really appreciate it, and I know all those afflicted with Celiac — and their families and friends — will appreciate it even more.
re: Todd Kliman:
"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".
Arlington: Todd – this poster us probably mentioning the Ris experience to you and everyone else following along because he/ she does not expect to get a reply otherwise and I don’t blame them.
When reading your chat and the Washington Post’s, it seems to me that almost everyone who takes the time to write and complain to the restaurant never gets a response until they publicly post.
My financial advice group didn’t return my phone calls until I threatened to write a “ hate post” on google groups. I ordered a book online and never received it.
I wrote to the company notifying them and never heard back until I threatened to write a nasty online customer service review and then the book was resent the next day. I needed to speak to a person, left a message, never heard back until I left another message in which I stated that this was message number two, and if I do not receive a phone call, I’ll have to find out who her superior was and take my question to that person. I got a call back in 5 minutes.
Sadly, it seems that it is just the way it is right now.
Thanks for writing in.
It's a shame. A shame that only the public complaint gets any notice at all. A shame that the internet — and fear of exposure to a mass audience — is the thing that motivates companies.
Todd, always love your suggestions and honesty.
I supremely love brunch and am looking for a good brunch place, less fancy is preferred. I'm talking about a good neighborhood joint that is consistently good where I can sleep in late on the weekends, roll out of bed and jump in the car to.
PJ Skidoos is alright, but a bit pricey for a neighborhood joint. Sign of the Whale in Falls Church is just down right awful.
Georgia Brown's is lovely, but more for a fancy occassion and definitely has a high price tag. Whitlow's isn't bad, in a cure-my-hangover kind of way.
Honestly, I miss a good diner. If you could suggest a good neighborhood joint that's dependable week after week for a good brunch, I would greatly appreciate it. Thanks.
I'd give The Liberty Tavern a try if I were you.
It's not too expensive, it's creative but not overly ambitious cooking, and it's got the right low-key, lazy weekend feel, the right vibe. Right in your neck of the woods, too.
As for diners, the Silver Diner has recently revamped its menu, and I've enjoyed several breakfasts there over the past six months. And I'm a huge fan of the acai-pomegranate-berry milkshake, made with yogurt and wheatgerm. Very yuppie-crunchy, the last thing you'd expect to find at a diner — but it's good, really good. The food, of late, is lighter and pretty grease-free. Good for the Silver Diner.
Re: gluten free – Ella's Pizza on 9th Street now has gluten-free pizza. They are very careful about the cross-contamination issue. Very tasty.
I can second the recommendation for Lilit Cafe in Bethesda. Great crab cakes. Lilit uses baked goods from Sweet Sin Bakery in Baltimore.
If anyone is in Baltimore, a visit to the bakery/cafe is great – choices, not a concept for most of us. It is close to the Baltimore Museum of Art.
Sette has gluten-free pasta available with any of the sauces.
I have eaten at Trattu numerous times and have never had a contamination issue.
And our list grows and grows …
Thank you for writing in. Lots of good options.
It's been a while since I've written in but I wanted to ask the recipe sleuth for a big favor. Please please please find out how to make the boudain blanc from Marcels.
I went there on Sunday night after years of waiting for the right opportunity to go and this plate was the highlight.
The others were superb but this was ummm… amazing, transcendental, life-altering. It was so light that I had to ask the waiter how it was made and all he confessed was that it takes three hours and twelve cooks to whip the ingredients together.
I'll put in the time to try and recreate (not at the expense of retuning to Marcels again) but I need a little more direction. A light and airy sausage? I'm still dazed at this culinary miracle. Thanks.
It's a superlative dish, you're absolutely right about that. Incomparably light, almost fluffy, but with a substance that can't be faked, and a degree of craftsmanship that tells you you're eating the handiwork of a real pro, one drilled in elite Old World kitchens.
Here's the thing, though — I seriously doubt that anyone could make it at home. But we'll try to extract the recipe for you all the same.
We did a piece about the boudin blanc about three or four years ago, when I first arrived — I believe it was our initial installment of "Anatomy of a Dish."
There's a lot of manpower that goes into the making of it, as you got some idea of, not to mention a lot of technical expertise and a lot of time. Wiedmaier joked to us that it was the sweat dripping off the cooks' brows — the "extra salt" — that is the indefinable something that makes the dish special
If you're a food lover in the DC area and you have some means and you haven't had the boudin blanc, then you've got a huge gap in your knowledge and understanding of the landscape. I would go so far as to argue that Wiedmaier's boudin blanc is the high-end counterpart of Ben Ali's halfsmoke — not just a signature sausage, but a defining dish of the city.
I think the food is much better than ok — I think some of it is excellent, as good as it gets around here. The black bean soup, the peanut soup, the arepas, the salteñas.
I don't know whether you're a competitor of the place or not — ah, anonymity — but I'll be charitable and assume that you're not and just writing in to say that you were disappointed by the high expectations you'd placed on it. Still, I have to say I'm really surprised to hear anyone complain about portion sizes, particularly when the place is such a good deal and the refinement of the preparation is so obvious.
Cheated? There are a hundred, a thousand, places out there that I could nod my head along with you and say: yes, I understand.
But not this one.
Thanks. Good to know.
And it's good to know that all of those who are afflicted have so many options these days — even a sushi bar is not off limits.
You called the pork belly dumplings at the Source the best in the area in "The Very Best" issue. I'm a dumpling-freak and I've been more than happy at China Bistro (incredible) and A&J.
Do I owe myself a trip to the Source for these dumpings, are they that extraordinary?
They are, they're that extraordinary.
I love the dumplings at China Bistro, particularly the beef-and-celery and the shrimp-and-chive, and A&J does good work, too. But the dumplings at The Source are a different breed altogether — unsurpassingly delicate and light, and immensely flavorful and rich — and belong in a different category. You only get a dumpling like this when you combine a respect for authenticity and tradition with the kind of technical expertise that comes with years and years of training at the highest levels of the business.
Pupusa: Irene's Pupusas III in Wheaton; also, Guardado's in Bethesda; and Irene's in Laurel
Crab cakes: Kinkead's
Cheeseburger: Kloby's Smokehouse smoked and grilled cheeseburger (prole); Ray's Hell Burger with Epoisses (bourgeois)
NY-style pizza: Pete's Apizza
Foie gras dish: 2941
French fries: Five Guys (prole); Central Michel Richard (bourgeois)
Fried chicken: Oohhs & Aahhs
Gratis bread basket: Vidalia
Lobster dish: Lobster "Begula" pasta at Citronelle
Oysters: Central Michel Richard
I am writing to report on an outstanding dining experience that I had at J&G Steakhouse this past Saturday.
My boyfriend and I originally had a 10:30PM reservation there on Friday, January 15, for Restaurant Week; we arrived early to have cocktails and appetizers at the wine bar downstairs but were told by the bartender that our table wouldn't be ready until 11:00 or so. When we headed upstairs at 11:00, the hostess politely apologized and said that there were still no free tables and that she wasn't sure how much longer the wait would be (apparently Whitney Houston was in the restaurant and Stevie Wonder was in the hotel, so patrons weren’t giving up their tables).
Tired and not really wanting to have a three course meal at midnight, we decided to leave; I wasn't upset, just very disappointed, as I had been greatly looking forward to that dinner all week. I received a call later that weekend from the manager apologizing that they had not been able to seat us and asking us back as their guests for any night we would like and to dine from the full or tasting menu (not limiting us to the RW menu). This was an extremely gracious and unexpected gesture.
We arrived for dinner and proceeded to enjoy one of the most intimate and memorable meals I've had in some time, all while being served by an incredibly refined, sophisticated, and professional staff; the manager with whom I had spoken on the phone personally came to the table, introduced himself, and seemed genuinely happy to have us there. Upon being seated, we were treated to complimentary glasses of champagne.
The food was incredible (we almost categorically took them up on their recommendations), and the entire experience was seamless. This was truly a dining fantasy with no bruises.
Just as a note – I was part of the dining duo that set off the Bibiana waiting-for-90-minutes-after-your-reservation-time chat war, so I don't know if this was just good karma or a restaurant that really gets it right. I am fairly certain it's the latter.
I hope that J&G excels for years to come; I imagine they will. On a final note, the manager said they just got a permit for outdoor patio seating when the weather warms up – can’t wait.
Good to hear it.
I'm not surprised at all; what surprises me is when I hear people say that J&G is "not all that," or that they can't understand why it'd be ranked so high.
Not all that? The staff is superb — as pro as it gets — the cooking has proven remarkably consistent over these six, seven months, and the setting is both dramatic and intimate.
And here's something else: the prices are appreciably lower than what you can expect to pay at Citronelle or CityZen, etc.
What isn't good, might be a more useful question.
The standouts: peppercorn shrimp with thin bands of celery; spicy catfish; chive dumplings; corn cakes and skewered pork — two great choices among the street food preparations; the tod mun — the best version of this fish cake dish I've had in a long, long time; and a plate of slow-cooked roast pork in broth, with pickled veggies and a garlicky, peppery vinegar sauce that brings all the elements together.
The saucing, here, is especially good, the ingredients are uniformly fresh, and there's no MSG used (so the menu says).
I'm eager to try more dishes, but I will say right now, on the evidence of my two long meals, that Sabai Sabai Simply Thai — owned by the folks who used to own Benjarong, in Rockville — belongs in the first rank of Thai restaurants in the area. The cooking is that vivid, that exciting. And the setting is unexpectedly comfortable and beautiful. At its best, I can't think of a Thai restaurant I'd rather eat in right now.
Chains, in general, are usually good at reaching out to a lot of different eating constituencies, so it doesn't surprise me to hear this.
Thanks for writing in with the tips.
What's the deal with Sonoma? I feel like it assumes success because it's the only chichi bar on that stretch of Capitol Hill, but every time I've been in the last year I've had the most terrible time.
Particularly irksome is the service. I went in for a quiet drink last Friday night- it wasn't considerably busy even though it was RW. The bartender ignored us for a good twenty minutes, and when he finally came over, I asked incredibly nicely if there was any way he could substitute a different cheese for the blue cheese listed on an appetizer. He just shook his head and stared with disdain. No "Sorry, but we can't do that," just a blank gesture.
When the appetizer finally came it was three crumbs of cheese with two pieces of toast so stale I almost broke my tooth on one of them.
If it were merely an atmospheric wine bar with crappy food, I'd put up with it. But horrible service as well? Why bother? (Unless you're a senator, I assume). I feel like if they just tried a bit harder and changed their attitude it could be a really awesome place. But maybe that's not what they're going for.
I don't know — I recently had one of the best meals I've ever had at Sonoma. From start to finish, a really fine meal and a good time, too. And good service.
Though in the past, yes, I have had some not so great service there — including my own nearly twenty minute wait for a waiter to bring by menus.
As for your specific complaints … I don't know why they would, or should, make a change of blue cheese for the dish in question. The dish is the way it is, and to swap out an ingredient means violating the idea of the dish — violating the chef's very conception. If you don't want that particular cheese, then don't order that particular dish.
Re: the toast. Seriously? You almost broke your tooth? I'm not buying it. Crusty, I'm sure it was. But not THAT crusty.
Without more details, I'm just not seeing the big beef with the place that you seem to have. Is there an attitude at Sonoma? There's more of one, I'll say, than at a diner or a taqueria, but that's not so very different from a lot of other places of its kind in town — places that are far from unassuming, with customers who are far from unassuming, too.
Good Morning Todd!
I don't know if you will post this but thought I'd give it a try. For all those restaurateurs out there reading this chat – the National Restaurant Association and Share Our Strength has just launched "Restaurants for Relief" to help raise funds for the devastation in Haiti.
100% of funds raised will go to several amazing organizations working down there. To learn more go to www.strength.org.
Of course! I'm happy to help get the word out. Thanks for passing on the link …
When you have out of town guests come to town to visit and they want you to take them to "quintessetial" DC restaurants, where do you take them? As in, this restaurants food, ambience and vibe screams DC. Please give me a few ideas for some upcoming out of town visitors.
You know, I don't think there really are any "quintessential" DC restaurants — or nothing at the level you're suggesting, anyway.
Old Ebbitt Grill? It's been around forever, and in its proximity to power and in its crowds of tourists it captures some of the flavor of being in official Washington.
What I would do, and this is just me, now — I would take my food-loving visitors to Central. Not because it's quintessentially DC, because it's not, but because it's unique. There's nothing like it anywhere else. So that, then, becomes a must-stop — an experience they won't find in their own city.
And then there are all those places that do things that you don't often find in other cities, cuisines that are obscure or poorly represented in other cities — Etete, Four Sisters, La Caraqueña, Faryab, etc. Ben's Chili Bowl.
Fine dining, in general — IN GENERAL, I want to stress — is often pretty interchangeable, I have to say. Unless it's really exquisite and really distinctive, unless it's doing things that no one else is. You might eat well, you might have a wonderful night. But are you really taking part in something of that city's culture? I can't tell you how many times I've eaten a very good meal in city X and felt that I could have been in city Y or Z.
I was in Montreal on business this past week. I was not able to grab one of your much talked about bagels at Fairmount, but I did eat well.
I had two breakfasts and a lunch at Olive Gourmando, which is in the old downtown part of the city. Great coffee, sublime cuban sandwich and some of the best pastries I have ever eaten. The pecan and maple brioche was especially wonderful.
Finally, I ate at au Pied de Cochon for dinner. I had a great salad, some nice roast pork, and a poutine topped with foie gras that was insanely rich and insanely delicious (poutine is french fries covered in cheese curds and gravy).
Montreal is a world class restaurant city with great cafes and restaurants on every block. I highly recommend it for any food lovers.
Every time someone mentions the word "Montreal" — just that word, not a name of a restaurant, not a name of a dish or a bagel or a smoked meat sandwich — my mouth starts to water.
It is, it's a fabulous food city, and I think often about going back.
Thanks for the report.
Someone around here — some enterprising restaurateur — really ought to find a way to get a regular shipment of smoked meat down here and open a smoked meat sandwich shop already.
Not that it's easy. I don't pretend that it is. Because it's not just a matter of getting the meat. You've also got to produce the right atmosphere, the right flavor, if you will. A zesty flavor. Not antiseptic. Not faux-weathered. Not hipster-inducing. Zesty: a place that's full of character, and full of characters.
Finally got to Four Sisters, you were dead on. Great food and the Clay Pot Ribs, wonderful. Quick question, what are your thoughts on Ping Pong Dim Sum?
I think it's fun, I think it's lively, I think it's really expensive, I think the portions are tiny (the bok choy almost feels like a practical joke is being played on the customer), and I think there are some tasty nibbles. I enjoy being there, but although it's dim sum and the dishes are authentic, I don't think of it the way I do a meal at Hollywood East or Fortune or Oriental East or Good Fortune.
It's slick and trendy, and it's much more of a lounge experience — really, a perfect sort of place for the Gen Y equivalent of the Ladies Who Lunch, the small clusters of twenty-four-year-old women who gather after work to gossip and knock back cocktails and graze over attractively presented, uncaloric small plates and drop $40-50 bucks a person.
Here is a food dilemma that I have at restaurants that I frequently have, but have never heard addressed.
What do you do when you order a steak medium rare and due to an uneven thickness in cut, failure to allow the steak to come to room temperature before cooking, or uneven cooking, the steak is medium rare in some places, medium in others, and medium-well in others.
I have had this happen numerous times at every level of restaurant, and I have always just kept quiet and enjoyed the medium rare parts and having to toil through the parts that were overcooked. I am always hesitant to send these back because usually some (if not a majority of the steak is cooked properly), I am concerned that the server will point out the properly cooked portions of the steak to justify the cooking job performed, and I am concerned that due to some problem with the heat source, it may never get corrected, no matter how many times I send it back.
What is your solution when this occurs?
Send it back.
It never hurts to try when you have ample evidence on your side.
If the server or manager points to a part that is correctly cooked, you can point to a part that isn't. There shouldn't be any debate or discussion.
Try it, and let me know what happens next time you do …
That's it for today, everyone. Thanks for logging on, and thanks for all the terrific questions.
Be well, eat well, and let's do it again next week at 11 …
[missing you, TEK]
Submit your question in advance to Todd's chat next Tuesday at 11 AM.