Tuesday, February 23 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 February 16th.

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

…………………………………………………………………………………………..

Arlington, VA

Hi, Todd.

I was reading the archived chat from 2/16 and an inadvertant typo made me laugh out loud. You write: "I have to say, though, I haven't meat a lot of vegetarians and vegans who I would think of as food-adventurers."

You must have had meat on the brain! Thanks for the laugh 🙂

Ha.

That's a pretty hilarious slip. Oh Lordy … To all vegetarians out there: It wasn't intentional, I promise! Thanks for the catch, Arlington. 

Capitol Hill
Have you had a chance to try Zest Bistro on 8th St. yet? I dig the fact that they are trying to be kid friendly, which this town (particularly the Hill), desperately needs.

I like the place. I like the mix of people, I like the unassuming vibe, I like that it's not aiming too high.

I think they do a terrific turkey muffaletta, and the hanger steak plate is a tasty and hearty dinner (really good creamed spinach comes with it, and a handful of yuca that, when I had it, could have been fried better and crisper.)

Places like this — mid-range places that don't try to get too fancy for their own good, but that don't blow off the mission of serving good, interesting food … you can't have enough of them around, if you ask me. It's not easy in this city for two people to eat well for around $80, with drinks, tip and tax. I'll be interested to see how Zest grows and evolves.

Shaw, DC

Field report on Againn: went early on Saturday evening and sat at the bar.

Bartenders were friendly, but scattered even when it was slow. I was hoping to try the Scotch Eggs, but they weren't available. So, I ordered the burger, rare. It came out very quickly and was delightful. Cooked exactly the way I wanted, great bun, very flavorful, juicy meat. I'm not a fan of thick fries, or chips, so they were wasted on me. Now, my only complaint is still the service.

My dinner plate sat in front of me for the next 45 minutes, I chatted with the bartenders, ordered a cocktail for dessert (which was delicious as well), got my check, paid, left a very nice tip, and still my plate sat there. I even moved it aside in order for my cocktail to sit in front of me.

Since it was brought to the bar by a waiter and not the bartender, should the waitstaff have removed it or what? I really want to spend a lot of time, and money, at Againn, but the service is not what the cost of dining there represents. It wasn't bad enough to keep me away, but what gives? Just my two cents.

That's odd, because what I find is the exact opposite at restaurants — over-eager hands clamoring to clear my plate before I'm done, or before a friend and I or friends and I are done. 

Both are annoying, but I think the greediness for the plate before the diner is done is more annoying.

Anyway, to answer your question … What gives? You had bartenders who were not as attentive as they ought to have been. How crowded was it? How harried were they?

There's a solution, here, that you didn't consider, and that's to say to the barman: Hey, listen — would you mind clearing my space?

As the Brits say: easy peasy. And you don't brood about it all night and for days later.

 

Arlington VA
People say they have "barometer" dishes to be able to tell if an ethnic restaurant is worth going to? Do you subscribe to that theory? And if so, what are some of your "barometer" dishes, for say, Korean, Thai, Vietnamese, Lebanese, Indian, and some of the other well-represented ethnic cuisines in the area?

I do and I don't.

There are dishes that I tend to zero in on during an initial visit, but I try to stay open to the idea that when it comes right down to it a single dish really only tells you about … a single dish. 

Still, it's very, very promising if you come across a terrific plate of kimchi at a Korean place, say.

With Thai, it's papaya salad for me. (Some people say pad Thai, but there are so few decent ones, let alone good ones, that it's not really worth thinking about it in that way.) What can you learn about a papaya salad? You can learn if the kitchen keeps the stuff around or makes it fresh, on the spot. You can learn about the cook's palate — how in love with pungency and funk, and not just heat. You can learn by the presence of peanuts if the cook comes from northern Thailand or central Thailand. Etc., etc.

Southern Indian, for me, it's always dosas and idly — I almost always order them the first time out.

Vietnamese is a little harder to perform this barometic test, but I think the quality of the bun is telling. 

Anyway, just for a few examples …

Laurel, MD

I love reading these reviews! Now I have a question.

I'm about to celebrate my 40something birthday, early 40s. I feel like a 30something and a lot of my friends are in that category. I'd like to go out to a nice dinner, fun atmosphere and then be able to dance the calories and night away. Oh, no jeans and no formal wear, something in the middle. I'm partial to DC, but the parking situations leave a little to be desired. Arlington or anywhere between Laurel and Rockville would be great too.

I'm not a fan of French foods and would rather not have Mexican. I love, love, love desserts! Love fru fru girly drinks. And most of all, I don't want to go broke celebrating my birthday. I've dined at Rasika, Willow, Georgia Brown's, Passage to India, Matchbox, Restaurant Eve, Poste, Acadiana, and Art & Soul, just as an indication of my likes. I hope you can help me narrow it down to another great place! Thanks a million!

Happy birthday!

Let's see … What about hitting The Liberty Tavern, in Clarendon? It's right in the middle, in a good way, of everything you describe. And you're well positioned to hit Arlington after for more fun.

You could also try the new dim sum lounge, Ping Pong, for drinks and small, tasty dumplings and other bites. There's a parking garage right across the street, which takes the worry out of parking. And you're right in the heart of Penn Quarter, so no shortage of dancing and drinking options.

Midtown, DC
Mr. Kliman – I'm seriously jonesin' for a serious hunk of foie gras. Anyplace where you can grab a slab of fattened duck or goose liver (preferably at the bar). I love Chef Richard's “faux gras” at Central so that is always a fallback. Also, do you have any beer suggestions that could be paired with the foie gras.

I hear you, I've been jonesin' too.

It's not so easy to find these days, is the thing. Which is strange, because four years ago foie gras was everywhere, in every imaginable permutation, it seemed. Foie gras with Coca-Cola reduction. Foie gras burgers. Foie gras corn dogs.

It's been a very conspicuous casualty of the utter economic collapse. 

Only French places, it seems, are serving it regularly, and I've seen a lot more preparations this last year of torchon (a kind of molded foie gras) than I have of seared slabs of the stuff.

And some of the lobes clearly have not been A-grade. How can you tell? By the way it slices; lots of connective tissue makes for a not-clean, not-precise cutting.

Adour is one of the places you can find the prep you're seeking. And I know they don't stint on the quality of their ingredients. Give them a shot.

The new Plume, in the restored Jefferson Hotel — a restaurant that would scream "Economy, be damned!" if it deigned to raise its voice — has a willfully luxurious, decadent preparation of foie gras three ways, with a torchon, a small slab, and a custard. Good stuff.

Logan Circle, DC

Please help me understand why Againn is on your list of your favorite places.

I have eaten there twice (lunch and dinner) and have been totally unimpressed. The fish and chips were soggy, the mushy peas simply mushy (no flavor), and the french fries are clearly from a bag of frozen potatoes. The mussels had a curry sauce which was not disclosed by our server until after the mussel eater among us had eaten one and was unpleasantly surprised.

The brussel sprouts were the only good note in our recent lunch, but it took forever for them to come out of the kitchen, even though the restaurant was nearly empty and we told the server that we were in a hurry. What in the world do you like about this place?

What can I tell you? i had three very good meals there.

And there are several dishes I'd eagerly return for — nothing, of course, that you ate in your two visits. ; )

The corned beef sandwich. The oysters on the half shell. The corned lamb's tongue. The pint of prawns. The bangers and mash. The roast pigeon. The "brawn" charcuterie. The banoffee pie …

Nothing wowing. Nothing eye-opening. But very, very satisfying stuff. And much of it carried off with a surprising degree of finesse.

Field Report from the Restaurant Refugee

Congratulations to all of the local nominees for the James Beard Awards. There is no greater honor than to be recognized in this august group. It is my hope that each of the finalists enjoys this time.

******

Café Soleil isn’t on the radar of most members of the DC epicurean scene. I am not about to suggest that anyone needs to rush to get there, but it is a place that is worthy of some attention. The menu itself reads just like that of any French bistro… well anywhere. Roast Chicken, Steak Frites, Onion Soup, Short Ribs, standard salads, and a burger would not be confused with cutting edge anywhere. However, the food is solid… if unremarkable. The gracious service and generous happy hour are worth noting. Five dollar glasses of pleasant wine, house cocktails, and three dollar beers make this smallish, comfortably elegant bar a rather pleasant place to wait out a Metro delay, have a quick not-overly-committal first date, or just spend a couple of hours boozing with friends after work. If you get hungry while you're there, the food may not inspire, but it surely won’t disappoint.

******

Eatonville was not my idea for a low-key birthday dinner with a group of five friends. However, when invited for a celebratory repast, one accepts or declines and does so graciously. The menu at Eatonville is very reasonably priced and reads like the offerings of a really good diner. When our food arrived, it was solid, perhaps even good when measured against their wallet friendly pricing.

Unfortunately the service was comically bad. From the time we were seated to encountering our server and ordering our drinks, felt like ten minutes. I hadn’t checked my watch so I cannot be sure, but it was long enough for me to note the time of our order – two beers and a bottle of wine. Drinks took 16 minutes. At this point it became a bit of a game to me. 40 minutes before ordering our food. Over an hour from the time we sat at the table to the appetizers emerging. Of the ten total plates, three arrived at their correct location. 15 minutes after everyone completed their first course before plates where cleared. The rest of the meal continued on this delayed course. At one point during the evening, I excused my self – ostensibly use the wash closet, but really to find a manager to explain my dissatisfaction with our perpetually empty glasses, delayed and not quite hot food, and general unhappiness. The host couldn’t be bothered to find a manager for me. By the time we were ready for our check – because we were late for a show for which we should have been incredibly early – we just paid and left. The part of this that galls me most is that I swore off Eatonville after a similar experience many months earlier. I sent an email to the owner, general manager, and a couple other people. It went unanswered. So, fool me twice, and I feel like the worst kind of fool. 

******

Ping Pong Dim Sum is a very slickly designed space with soft edges and round lines. The lighting is flattering and both the cocktail bar and dim sum bar are inviting. The feel is of a place that takes itself and its crowd more seriously than they do the food. Two recent late night meals – late night for most of DC, which is to say after 10pm – haven’t disavowed me of that notion. The dim sum was more than respectable but the pricing was about forty percent higher than what felt right. It’s a good thing the place is pretty.

He's back, ladies and gentlemen. The Restaurant Refugee.

Thanks for the excellent field reports, RR. Good to have you with us in the mix again. 

Just curious, since you get around so much … If you had to put together a Top 5 at the moment — not an empirical thing, but the 5 spots that excite you the most right now, or nurture you in addition to just feeding you — what would they be?

Dupont, DC

Todd, usually I just follow along with your chats, but today, I felt like I had to answer a question asked last week: If vegetarians can really be foodies.

I've been a vegetarian since I was born and for the most part, I've followed it strictly. I have also appreciated great food since then. I'll never be able to enjoy a nice roast at 1789 or the black cod at Rasika, but I've tried some incredible dishes that most diners would just pass over because they don't contain a recognizable protein.

Chefs can do amazing things with meats and fishes, but they can also do incredible things with vegetables and grains. Sometimes, they do better things with meatless dishes because they can't just rely on a large steak with a side of fries. I've also had the incredible opportunity to try custom-made dishes when chefs realize they have a vegetarian in the house. There are few restaurants that will turn away a willing diner. In sum, I would consider myself a vegetarian foodie. I have gone to some of D.C.'s best restaurants, famous or unknown. I've tried a variety of cuisines and sometimes, I'm more adventurous than my omnivore friends. I'm headed to CityZen soon for a celebratory dinner with a good friend, how's their vegetarian prix fixe menu?

Thanks for chiming in.

I'm glad you're encouraged by what you're finding out there. A number of my veg friends are not nearly so enthused, and I have to say I haven't been all that taken by what I've seen when chefs have their meats and stocks and fishes taken away from them.

Bob Lalasz did a terrific piece for us some years ago, "My Friend the Portabello Mushroom," a vegetarian's lament about the state of meatless DC-dining. I joined Lalasz, a brilliant and insightful writer and critic, for several of the "white tablecloth" meals that constituted his research, and shared his disappointment. It wasn't wonderful. It wasn't even always appetizing.

Ironically, one of the best meals he had was the grilled portabello at Ray's the Steaks. A great meatless meal in a steakhouse!

I haven't had CityZen's veggie prix fixe, and I should mention that it's changing all the time, but a couple of years ago I sampled a friend's dishes — a different friend — and kept thinking: Boy, I wish she could eat what I'm eating.

Aguadilla, Puerto Rico

I would like to get the recipe for you mom's Sour Cream Pound Cake. It was featured in Family Circle, April 2003 issue.

I have the picture of the cake but not the recipe. I tried getting it from Family Circle, but was unsuccessful. I would appreciate it if you could help me out. The cake looks delicious and would like to make it. Thank you.

No kidding!

Either I didn't know that, or I did and forgot about it. But I'll had it many, many times, and I can tell you: It's one fantastic cake.

The sour cream is what makes it. It's very light, and very, very satisfying.

I've sent your note along to my mom via email (I also included your email, which I have removed here for obvious reasons). Stay tuned for a response soon … 

Bethesda, MD

Re: Can a Vegetarian be a Foodie

I think that the basic answer is "Yes", but the much more limited pallet has to be recognized. Meats, with the variety of animals and cuts, along with cooking times, extend the number of dishes and complexity of flavors far beyond what is possible with vegetarian cooking.

If you eliminate milk products, even a cook fairly skilled in fabulous Indian vegetarian cuisine loses the complexity and mouth of buttery ghee and yogurt.

Ultimately, I think you have to say "Vegetarian Foodie" to be adequately descriptive. We really do eat far to much meat, but like our Congress, middle ground is hard to find.

Well, I think you found a very good middle ground, yourself. Thanks for sharing these well-thought-out thoughts …

NJ

Hi Todd!

I've been reading the archives to catch up on Washington dining — and getting more and more confused.

I will be coming to Washington/Arlington on business with a coworker the end of March. I am a foodie, she is more cautious — nothing too spicy or too "ethnic." Since we are on the company dime we can't go crazy — we should stick close to $71 a day for food — but we tend to only eat 1 other meal a day and do that one cheaply.

I have been making lists of restaurants — and they just keep getting longer. We have 4 or 5 nights. Here are my choices – what do you think and what do you recommend? Top of my list: Central Michel Richard Jose Andreas either Jaleo or Zaytinya Dino Liberty Tavern (Arlington VA) Bistro Bis Bibiana Michael Mina Maybes: Café du parc J&G Steakhouse Circa PS 7 Churchkey Blue Duck Tavern The Oval Room Thanks for your advice.

Listmaking like this is hard when you're not intimately familiar with the scene, but you've done a pretty good job of coming up with a good, workable list.

Now, time for me to play editor and make the tough calls …

Forget Bibiana — not rewarding enough for the price. Bourbon Steak, the Michael Mina place — too expensive. Dino — too inconsistent. ChurchKey — more about the drinking (the beers, that is) than the eating. Circa — forget it.

Bistro Bis, I'd put that down as a maybe; it's not bistro in its pricing, and can get up there (worthwhile, though, so if you're careful or willing to splurge just a little … ) Oval Room and Blue Duck are in this category, too. If I had to order these three, given your interest in food and your co-worker's timidity, I'd say: Bis, Blue Duck and Oval Room.

The keepers: Central Michel Richard, J&G Steakhouse, Zatyinya or Jaleo, Cafe du Parc, and Liberty Tavern (if you can get out to Arlington). PS 7's I'd throw into that mix, but with a qualifier — only if you eat at the lively bar.

 

Tenleytown/AU

After a recent meal at the bar, I can totally understand why Againn would be in your 25 Todd, and I have a hard time believing that bad bar service is the norm.

Sadly, the corned lamb's tongue is off the menu (my friend was so disappointed that she asked the bartender to get it back on the menu), but everything else we tried was fantastic: a beautifully crisped skate wing rich with the taste of brown butter, fried brussel sprouts with well spiced curry mayo, the best fried fish since a trip to Australia six years ago, braised chicken that was fall off the bone tender and laden with both bacon and pork sausage, and a creamy chicken pot pie topped with a great, flaky crust.

And service at the bar was stellar. The tenders were friendly and attentive, constantly ready to take down orders as we spent the night grazing, and clearing away plates quickly, only to provide us with new setups before the next round of food arrived.

Thanks for the report, Tenleytown/AU.

I had many of those same dishes, and my mouth started watering all over again reading your descriptions … 

Top 5 from the Restaurant Refugee

Five places that move me these days is always a difficult question. I am going to pick the sub-theme of dating.

For a first date – Coppi's Organic Wood Fired Pizza.

For a first date that won't think I'm pretentious for going some place rather nice for a first date – Central.

For a first date-night of a relationship – Restaurant Eve.

For an anniversary dinner or other celebration in the context of a relationship – Volt or Komi (jump ball depending on whether I want to get out of town or stay in).

For having the break-up conversation – Grand Cru Winebar

I love it. You just took us from testing-the-waters to intimations of romance to declaration of seriousness to splitsville.

Good recs, RR. Thanks for playing.

gaithersburg, md

Hi Todd,

Relatively new to the area and i'm looking for a good sandwich spot. My coworkers recommended "Roy's Place" to me, but I've not heard much. Thoughts?

I love Roy's Place.

Now, don't take that to mean you're in for some new-age eating experience, with "sourced" meats and cheeses and artisanal breads and conspicuous declarations of foodie earnestness on the menu and on the walls and what have you. 

Roy's doesn't go in for any of that. And more power to it.

The menu is long and exhaustive, and you can spend 15 minutes just trying to figure out which of the 200 + sandwiches you want. (They can also make anything you request.) I love a sandwich they do with lobster and roast beef and what they call "golden sauce." Really fun and really good. 

The other thing about the menu is that it's a great read. You won't find chicken "breast" but rather, chicken "bosom." And Roy also will make you an ice cube sandwich. 25 cents.

It's that kind of a place. Which is to say: the kind of place that we have in too short supply in this area, a place that doesn't take itself too seriously and wants you to leave with a full belly and a big smile and a still-fat wallet.

 

Fairfax, VA
I wrote in last week and and am hoping you might have some suggestions for me this week (pretty please?). My boyfriend's birthday is coming up and I'd like to take him to a nice dinner, possibly somewhere where there is a beer-tasting or beer pairing of some sort. He's really into good beer and I think he'd find something like this fun! Any suggestions?
The new Birch & Barley, on 14th St. in DC. Over 300 beers on the menu, and servers will direct you to what will pair well with what dish.
Passage to India, Bethesda

Veggie and/or Foodie ????

Hi Todd

This is an interesting topic and am sure will have a lot of different perspectives, considering the wide swath of cross-cultures existing in this country.The Western cuisine has not till date been able to come up with Vegetarian dishes because so far the concentration has remained on meats. Even in USA, till a few decades ago (before animal farming) meat was not plentiful and was always prized more. A lot of effort went into the recipes, cooking, presentation etc. Veggies were always an afterthought, Grandma forced kind of thing.

Across the globe in countries like China, Far East and the Indian subcontinent with their huge populations it was not feasible to have meat available for everyone. A great amount of effort was hence made by the housewives to make the veggies tasty. Also with no transportation and no refrigeration you ate what was in season and available abundantly. In season I have had in my childhood, cauliflower almost everyday for 2 weeks — but never the same dish, Mom could turn out a Banquet of Cauliflower and could cook up different dishes utilizing the myriad herbs, spices, seeds and seasonings at her disposal.

It seems silly to not give Vegetarian dishes their due, it takes more effort to prepare them. People will eat meat just because it is meat, its flavor, texture and the socio-economic status that it implies in the third world even now. I am sure with more people turning vegetarian all Chefs will happily be able to create tasty veg options.

Sudhir, I'm guessing that's you … Sudhir Seth, everyone, the chef and proprietor of Passage to India …

Thanks for your thoughts on the subject, Sudhir. We could talk about this for weeks, if we wanted …

Anyway, it's hard to disagree with anything you write. A veg-based culture is going to have more and better veg-based dishes. And even allowing for all the ways that our food culture has evolved of late, and all the new foods and new approaches to food, and all the emphasis on eating more healthfully — we are still a meat-based culture. I don't think that's going to change anytime soon.

I'm off to lunch. Something meatless and light, in preparation for a presumably heavy dinner.

Be well, everyone, eat well, and let's do it again next week at 11 …
 

 

 

[missing you, TEK … ]

 

Submit your question in advance for next week's chat here

 

 

 

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