Tuesday, February 2 at 11 AM

Ask Food & Wine Editor and restaurant critic Todd Kliman a question about Washington area cuisine and restaurant news.

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 26th.

Follow Todd on Twitter!

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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

Komi, DC

Tallula, Arlington

Four Sisters, Falls Church

Cafe du Parc, DC

Sushi Sono, Columbia

Poste Brasserie, DC

Restaurant Eve, Alexandria

Againn, DC

La Caraqueña, Falls Church

Jackie's, Silver Spring

Rasika, DC

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

Zaytinya, DC

The Source and The Source Lounge, DC

Johnny's Half Shell, DC

Gom Ba Woo, Annandale

Central Michel Richard, DC

…………………………………………………………………………………………..

Allison Park, PA

I noted that 4 of 18 posts in last week's chat were addressed to celiac-friendly/gluten-free menu items or restaurants. That's 22.2%. Not to be insensitive, but an estimated 0.5-1.0% (by one study) or 1 of 133 Americans (by a second study) are gluten intolerant.

I'm sure it's no picnic, but there are resources available after a simple Google search – like these: http://www.urbanspoon.com/t/7/1/DC/Gluten-Free-Friendly-restaurants http://www.celiachandbook.com/dc.html http://celiacdisease.about.com/od/theceliactraveler/qt/WashingtonDC.htm

Maybe now we can squeeze more posts in from the people who want comped drinks and desserts because their server had a bad haircut.

Let me add: love the chats. 🙂

One, two weeks out of a year's worth of chats and you're kicking –?

Jeez …

 

DC

Re: Ping Pong — The bf and I tried it out a couple Sundays ago and sat at the counter next to the open kitchen area. We were shocked to see baskets of frozen dumplings lined up for steaming.

We ended up not ordering any steamed dumplings, so I can't say for sure that the taste suffers (I keep frozen mantou — the char siu bao bread — in my freezer, so I know it can come out OK on steaming, but it certainly doesn't match the fresh product, and forget the versions pre-stuffed with meat), but I can't imagine it makes anything taste *better*.

(Also, the steamer was extremely backed up that day, so I'm not convinced that it's a model of efficiency, either.)

Is this standard at dimsum joints now, behind the scenes, where none of us can see what's going on? (And if so, is that why DC's dimsum scene is by and large pretty lousy?)

First of all, I don't exactly see Ping Pong as a dim sum place, even though dim sum is in the name and even though dim sum is what they serve.

Ping Pong is a trendy lounge that serves dim sum, but the lounge, the scene, come first — witness the high cost of the drinks, witness the yup-scale crowd.

I also don't think of sushi any more as Japanese, although there are certainly exceptions. But for the most part, sushi has come to mean trendy, and buzzy.

I didn't see anything frozen being used at Ping Pong, so I'll have to take your word for it. Is that standard practice at the traditional dim sum houses? I don't know. I doubt that it is at a place like Hollywood East, which any week now ought to be restarting for business in Wheaton Plaza. 

Arlington, VA

Todd

Did you do any investigation or research (at all) when putting together your 100 Very Best Restaurants story? For example you have a review of number 62, Minh's, that is completely false, old, or outdated. The inside is awful, no red paint, dead fish in their tanks, and the food is not family size at all. I am curious how this made the list (especially at 62) with an old review. Do you take input from others, or do you actually do your own reporting and investigative work to ensure the accuracy of what you write? Just curious, for this restaurant puts in question (in my opion) your entire article.

What are you talking about?

Not "family size"? You mean to say, you find it not at all possible to share a good number of the entrees among three and sometimes four people? I've taken friends to Minh's many, many times, and it's always the case that we're divvying up most of the entrees among us.

The inside is "awful"? It's not Restaurant Eve, but how many places are? For its level, and its aim, it's a comfy and attractive place to be.

'Dead fish in the tanks." Nothing dead in there when I was last in. Or any member of the team. Your misfortune, I guess, to have dropped by on the wrong day.

I find it very, very interesting that you don't say a single thing about the food, which is of course the best, most obvious reason to go to Minh's. It's a terrific Vietnamese restaurant. 

 

Washington DC

Hi Todd.

Thanks for the recommendations for San Francisco a few weeks ago. Some of the best Dim Sum I've ever had. The Sonoma winery you suggested was one of the highlights as well.

I also wanted to congratulate J&G steak house for a delicious restaurant week lunch. Great service and awesome decor. The calamari and the salmon tartar still haunt my culinary late night cravings. So I have one hour for lunch and I'm starving.

I'm in Northern Arlington and can't decide what to get for take out. Any suggestions?

–Hungry Teacher

HT,

So you're near, I take it, Minh's, The Liberty Tavern, Delhi Club, Harry's Tap Room, Ray's the Steaks, etc. It's a really strong area for good, value-minded food.

I'd recommend any of those, though the quickest might be The Liberty Tavern, which has a separate entrance around the corner just for take-out. I'm a big fan of the place, and the cooking is better than it's ever been.

Glad to hear the recos worked out so well in San Francisco. And that calimari you mentioned — pretty special, no? Best fried calimari I've ever eaten.

Bethesda

Hi Todd-

So this weekend, my husband and I tried the Source lounge. I cannot understand why this is a top rated restaurant as our experience there was really not great.

The chicken wings were good, but the portion was beyond tiny- almost laughable. One bite of meat on each "wing." We absolutely hated the pork belly dumplings- maybe we just have bad taste, but it was like eating fatty bacon on a soft mushy pancake. Though their accompanying sauce was tangy, the chicken dumplings were hard and tasteless. Mamas dumplings easily blow them out of the water.

Lastly, and rather cringe-worthy, after we finished eating my husband went to use the men's restroom and the sink did not work. At all. Would not turn on. So apparently no one was washing their hands at the Source. Ewwww. He alerted a restaurant worker as he walked out of the restroom, but no immediate alternative was offered for him to wash his hands. Good thing I carry hand sanitizer in my purse!

I don't know what to tell you — I've never had an experience there that's anything even remotely like what you describe.

I didn't eat the dumplings you did (obviously — I wasn't there) but the dumplings I've had have all been stellar. I can't quite picture what you described re: the pork belly dumplings. I've never encountered anything mushy or fatty. I think they're exceptional.

Mama's Dumplings? I'm a fan, but there's no comparison (and actually, I'm being fair to both places; Mama's are homestyle, rustic, not at all meant to be regarded as elegant and refined.)

As far as the sink is concerned … not good, certainly, but let's not presume that this is standard operating procedure. I'm sure it was just a temporary thing.

I know how first impressions can be for a lot of people, how fixed a perception can become, so I understand if you'll just dismiss out of hand what I'm saying, but i really do think you ought to give the place another shot. It's pretty wonderful. 

Tenleytown

Hi Todd.

I don't know if you've been following the back and forth going on on the donrockwell board about Haiti and the various restaurant fundraisers going on, but it's very interesting and thought-provoking.

In case you haven't seen it, here's a link: http://www.donrockwell.com/index.php?showtopic=13299&view=findpost&p=154785

I'm curious to hear what do you think about this issue?

I realize I'm going to take a lot of flak for this, but so be it.

What do I think? I think these fundraising efforts are pretty shameful.

I've been collecting them and sending them around to friends. Here's one that came to my inbox, from La Tasca, in Arlington:

"Unlimited Tapas to support Haiti's Earthquake Victims …
Every time you choose our Unlimited Tapas Menu we will donate 20% of the sales…Help us to reach our goal… at least $5,000 to $10,000…"

UNLIMITED tapas — to demonstrate your support of people who HAVE NOTHING …

And how about this one? This is killer. From Legal Sea Foods:

"Legal Sea Foods Asks Washingtonians to Join in the Emergency Relief for Haiti
 by Enjoying Their Haitian Rum Raisin Bread Pudding
 
"Washington, D.C. (January 27, 2010) — Beginning February 3rd and extending for the entire month, Legal Sea Foods will be donating the proceeds from theirHaitian Rum Raisin Bread Pudding to UNICEF and Partners in Health as they join in the Emergency Relief Efforts in Haiti. Available at all Legal Sea Foods locations, the Haitian Rum Raisin Bread Pudding is the perfect dessert for chilly February nights. Priced at $5.95, it features traditional brioche bread pudding with an added twist of raisins soaked in rum and topped with a hot rum caramel sauce. Guests who indulge in this delicious treat will also be helping the relief efforts as proceeds from the sales of this dessert are going to UNICEF and Partners in Health."

I love that line — "indulge in this delicious treat" to help the relief efforts.

I don't think the important thing, here, is whether the intentions are good or not; I think that's irrelevant, actually. What is relevant is the idea of getting good publicity for doing the absolute minimum, and for showing a blithe ignorance about the reality. 

I think Don is right. I think the best thing a well-meaning restaurateur can do is to hand a flyer with the address for the Clinton-Bush relief effort.

Simple. Eloquent. Utterly unmercenary. 

Alexandria, VA

Hello Todd –

I love these chats. They enable me to discover new dining experiences at every price points.

Last Saturday, a group of friends and I met for lunch at the Logan Tavern after they went to see the terracotta warriors exhibit. It was great. Our waiter had a lot of personality.

I had the deep fried string beans, and the crab cake salad. The crab cake was very creamy without a lot of filler. I have no idea how they managed that, because most crab cakes with that much lump crab have a more rough texture. there were a lot of people waiting to be seated, and I never thought that we would be seated on time, but we were – -like clockwork.

Just wanted to send out a positive report.

Also, last Saturday, I went down to my local butcher at "Let's Meat On The Avenue." They had freshly made Roulladen. I lived in Germany when I was in the Army. I forgot about how much I liked the steak rolls! So I bought four. Some were stuffed with pickles, mustard, and seasoned pork. Others were stuffed with bacon, onions, a pickle spear and other spices, ( that is what the sign said.) they were absolutely delicious.

However, they did take a long time to cook – They were not done until an hour and a half , but , again, that is what I was told. Not sure if this will be a staple, but I hope so.

Thanks Todd for all the great reviews and conversation!

"Let's Meat on the Avenue" is a terrific butcher shop. I recently bought some boar chops and handground burger. Impeccable quality.

Thanks for the two reports … 

Chevy Chase, MD

Went to dinner at Mia's in Bethesda on Friday night.

As usual, my husband was parking the car when I asked for a table for two. The host said that I would have to wait until my party was complete. (Actually, the waiting area was filling up with half parties while much of the restaurant was empty.)

I had eaten there other times when I was seated before my husband arrived. The host told me that it was a no exceptions policy. You can imagine my annoyance when a few minutes later a party of eight was partly seated. I asked the host about his no exceptions policy – he said they had little children. He sent the owner over who proceeded to defend the situation and also say that old people were exceptions also.

Were we wrong to be annoyed?

So, there are exceptions to the no exceptions policy? Somehow I think I'm not getting the full story. I'd really like to hear the policy spelled out by Melissa "Mia" Ballinger or a GM at Mia's. Something doesn't seem to add up.

But anyway, yes, from what you describe, I think you're right to have been annoyed. I think it's always annoying when restaurants refuse to seat customers until all the members of a "party" have arrived. Odd rule. Can't a customer nurse a drink and wait?

Shaw, DC

Re: the Haiti relief efforts. I'm appalled. Makes me never want to go to La Tasca or Legal Seafood.

But not to pick on them since a lot of places are doing something similar. Thanks for bringing this to attention.

Thanks for chiming in, and thanks for the support.

I think you and I are in the minority on this, and that a lot of people are focusing only on the quote-unquote good that can come out of this.

washington, dc
I'm surprised to see you cast aside an unworking sink as "a temporary thing." Of course, I'm sure the sink at the source is usually working, but operating without adequate hand washing facilities is a health code violation, even if it's temporary.

I'm saying I doubt it was a problem that persisted for days, or even for the duration of that day.

One reason why I don't tend to base judgments of a place on a single visit. 

Arlington

What's the single best food strip mall in the area? I mean one strip with a bunch of good places to eat on it. Off the top of my head I can think of the Rays/Pho 75/Guajillo strip and the Carib Grill/Thai Thai/Saran/La Jawab strip, also there's Eden Center and some Annandale strips.

And Rockville as well. What's your pick?

It's a great and fascinating question.

Virginia's got some great ones, including all the ones you mentioned. And one you didn't: Van Dorn Station, which has Kabul Kabob House, Akasaka (a sushi bar), Satay Sarinah (Indonesian), Thai Lemon Grass, Pho Viet Flare and El Paraiso (Salva-Mex).

Eden Center is pretty one dimensional, as these things go — Vietnamese, predominantly, with a couple of Chinese spots and a crab shack, of all things — but there's a lot of range and depth there.

One pick? That's hard. Probably the Eden Center.

Falls Church
What's a falls church thai food lover to do when all the best new places–Nava and Sabai Sabai come to mind–seem to be so far away? Should I really be driving all the way out to those places?

I think you should.

I mean, what's a Vietnamese food lover in, say, Hyattsville or Cheverly or even Silver Spring to do? If you care, you jump in your car and you drive to Virginia, where the action is. Four Sisters and Minh's and Present and Huong Viet and Hai Duong and Viet Bistro and Bay Lo and Thanh Son Tofu, etc., etc.

Most of the best, most interesting Chinese cooking in this area is coming out of northern Montgomery County.

Most of the best Bolivian food is to be found in Virginia.

If you care about these things, you jump in your car and you drive. Thirty minutes. Forty minutes. Fifty minutes. If you really like good food, if you really want to experience the excitement, then it's not a hassle. I do it all the time. Yes, I know, it's my job. But it's also my passion, and I did it long before I had the job. I like the adventure. I like the not-knowing. I like the sense of exploration. 

Also, where I live, there's not nearly the scene, unfortunately, that there is in a lot of other places, particularly in the power axis (Upper NW, Bethesda, Arlington, Alexandria). Unfortunately, because there IS the interest; there IS the wherewithal to support new ventures …

So anyway, you get used to driving. 

 

 

Falls Church, VA

Todd- I hope you are well.

Sorry for the none restaurant question, but I figure if anyone can help me out with this you can. Do you have ANY suggestions of where I can find a good butcher? It seems like this craft, and I do believe it is a craft, really doesn't exist in the area.

Any help you can give is greatly appreciated.

The aforementioned Let's Meet on the Avenue is an excellent, old-fashioned butcher shop, and not too terribly far away from you.

I prefer it to the Butcher Block, Robert Wiedmaier's place in Alexandria, which carries great products but is essentially a modest clearing house for the meat and poultry and game that comes in to the restaurant. You're not going to find anyone there to work to a specific request.

Less fancy, but very good, is The Lebanese Butcher, in Annandale. The owner, Kheder Rabbabeh, also owns a slaughterhouse, in Warrenton. That helps to keep costs down, as you can imagine. And the staff will gladly handle any special request. The lamb, in particular, is excellent. 

In Maryland, I really like My Butcher & More, which used to be in Gambrills and has relocated to Annapolis. Again, a very old-fashioned butcher shop with lots of personal attention. Mike Smollen, the butcher, also carries a really good selection of products: Colorado lamb, Wagyu steaks, even marrow bones.

DC

It's been a while since I was there, and it was in the restaurant rather than the lounge…but is The Source one of those places that has such sleek and trendy sinks that it's hard to figure out how to turn them on?

I've had that problem at more than one place (talk about feeling stupid), but I can't recall if that was one of them.

I think we may have solved our mystery …

An email just arrived in my inbox from a former employee, who writes, in part:

" … I can tell you that the light sensor on the sinks in that property are located near the 'floor' of the sink, in almost every case it is merely where a guest is placing their hands under the faucet. Holding your hands directly under the faucet will not turn them on you must place your hands lower. Just sent as an FYI."

Thank you, former Source employee!

Now, to the mystery of those mushy, fatty dumplings … 

 

 

20008

Hi Todd,

Was wondering if you and/or the chatters could help. I'm heading to Atlantic City this afternoon until Friday. I've never been before – where should I eat?

I'm open to all cuisines and price ranges. I'm there for work so I'm looking to break up the boredom of working in a beach town in Feb with some great meals. Thanks for helping to keep my tummy happy while I'm away!

My pick? The Diner of Broken Dreams. Located, conveniently, on the Boulevard of Broken Dreams …

Um, I haven't been to Atlantic City in years and years. Has anyone out there? 

McLean, Va

Todd,

I am in complete agreement with you re: Haitian relief efforts sponsored by restaurants/bars/clubs.

I think indulging in a slice of rum raisin break and telling oneself the profits go to Haitian relief causes one to lose sight of the realities of what's occuring in Haiti. People don't have the basic necessities and here we are eating rum raisin bread. It just seems insensitive.

People can make a larger impact by donating online directly to the relief efforts without going thru a restaurant/bar/club.

To me it just seems like a shameful marketing ploy to get additional guests into their establishments.

What can I say? I agree with every single word you set down, McLean.

Thanks for writing in … 

Arlington, VA

Dinner at Tallula on Friday night. Food was quite good – the bass much better than the Washingtonian review gave it credit for. However, we were seated by the front window, right next to the front door – with the 20 degree wind blowing in every time someone came in/out, and the otherwise friendly and attentive staff didn't notice that we were sitting there with our coats on (until we finally broke down and asked if they had a space heater).

Question for you – Is this something the restaurant should have been better attuned to, or should we have been more willing to suck it up and sat and shivered? What's the protocol for when to ask for a different table?

No, you should never sit and shiver and be forced to just suck it up — unless the power should go out, or some other calamity.   

Should the restaurant have been better attuned to this? It should have. But here's the thing: When staffers are running around, doing their thing, they are generating heat and often oblivious to things like heat and cold in the room.

I've seen this many, many times before. If it's early and no one's there, that tends to be different, and a staffer can hyper-focus on your table and your needs. But when it picks up, it's just not going to happen all that often. So, speak up.
 

Ballston, VA
The Strip mall where the origianl Ray's was much better in the good ole days when the Arlington Grill was there. better food and entertainment by far. Ray's can never compare! Ask about "Double Trouble" back in the day.
Yeah, you — or someone with a similar axe to grind — keeps saying this. What do you have against Ray's? Good food, at a good price, and generously portioned, too. Pffft. Who needs that?
Ballston, VA
The ORganic Butcher in Mclean on Old Dominion is closer to Falls Church and superior to Let's Meet. Best butcher shop in DC area. Home in Middleburg is as good.
Superior in what way? I haven't been to the Organic Butcher. To me, though, a butcher shop is more than just about the quality of the products. It's about the feel of the place, it's about the personality of the butcher himself, it's about the willingness to handle special requests, it's about the sense of a place that is more than just a shop but a kind of gathering place. That's one reason I like My Butcher & More so much.
Ballston, VA

Good morning Todd,

Love the chats! I have a friend who is coming in from New York this weekend and I wanted to take her someplace nice but fun for her one dinner here.

She is casual but very classy (though completely unpretentious) in her mid 20s. She lives in Brooklyn and I think hits up a lot of the casual bars around her neighborhood. She is rather adventurous or at least willing to try anything.

My first thought was Central because I have enjoyed my meals there and I know you also like it there. However, isn't that aiming to be a New York type place? Any other suggestions to show her something fun and different? Please no ethiopian. thanks!

Central would be a great pick. And no, it's not aiming to be a NY type place — not in my view. It is what it is. And there's really no other restaurant like it, either here or NY.

Central is more fun — you mentioned fun as being a prerequisite — but Rasika would also be a good choice, I think. A neat marriage of style and substance, and Indian cooking of this sort is very, very hard to find.

Let me know where the two of you end up going, okay? I'll be interested to hear how things turn out. 

Re: Atlantic City
If you are heading to Atlantic City, check out Bobby Flay Steak and SeaBlue in the Borgata. Also, the food court there has a Fatburger and a Tony Luke's!

Great. Thanks for the assist. 

Sinks at the source
As the original Source poster, I can tell you that it was not user error. My husband in fact asked a restaurant employee after not being abe to turn it on and the person showed him how to use the sink and it did not work. The guy then just shrugged his shoulders and went into the ladies room (I guess to see if those sinks worked, which they did).
Mystery UN-solved …
Kevin C (Arlington)
The Organic Butcher is also far superior when it comes to price as well. I'd rather go to Balduccis across the street, the "butcher" in there is slightly less expensive and you can even find some deals when they have certain cuts of meat on sale.

I hear you.

Though I will say that with certain items — certain obscurities, or certain choice "gets" — you have to pay. And, at least if you're me, you don't mind paying, because you don't consider them to be necessities in the least. They're luxuries. And luxuries cost.

Fairfax, VA

Re: Ping Pong Dim Sum.

I had dinner at Ping Pong Dim Sum on Friday night with a group of about 10 people. was a fun atmosphere and a nice place to meet a group of lively friends. The dishes I ordered (Spicy Basil, Spicy Chicken and a Pork Bun) were tasty.

The pear bubble tea I ordered was very unique and an interesting cocktail also. Our main waitor was very friendly, however one other waitress who was also serving us was down-right rude. When asked if we could get the drink that we ordered that had been sitting on the bar for over 20 minutes, she was pretty miffed. For a minute, I actually thought she wasn't going to get the drink…

Regardless, despite the steep price tag for the amount of food and the side of attitude, overall, I had a good time and enjoyed the food!

Hm.

So, a big tab and a spot of attitude, but you enjoyed yourself nonetheless. I can see a lot of people in a similar situation reacting very, very differently. Good for you. And lucky for Ping Pong …

I'm off to lunch, everyone — all this talk of dumplings and pork buns and basil chicken has me feeling ravenous.

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.

 

 

 

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