Tuesday, March 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 February 23rd.

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

…………………………………………………………………………………………..

Clarendon, VA

Todd,

Hey! I wanted to add my thoughts upon vegetarians/vegans being foodies.

Though I understand that there might be some enhanced creativity with vegitarian/vegan meals and therefore enhanced integrity, I really don't see how one can eliminate an entire food group and still be a "foodie". By choosing to be a vegetarian/vegan, one is purposefully eliminating a large portion of tastes/experiences. What's "foodie" about that?

Well, by that logic, people who don't eat offal or spicy foods or raw fish or Ethiopian can't be foodies, either. And I know many, many foodies who "eliminate an entire food group" or cuisine, as you say, and still hold fast to this self-definition.

The thing is, it's just a label, "foodie." You don't have to take a test or apply for a card (though I imagine there are a lot of people out there who would very much like to enforce this kind of thing). So what's the big deal what anyone calls himself? If you love food — really love it; love eating it, love pursuing it, love talking about it — then who cares?  

Of course, there's the rub. I have not met many vegetarians, let alone vegans, who are this preoccupied, or this exuberant.

Bethesda, MD
My fiance was born and raised in Australia but will soon be residing in the DC metro area with me. He will obviously miss home but I am hoping to find restaurants in the area that have authentic Australian food – not Outback Steakhouse – so at least he can get a home style meal and perhaps even meet other Australians in the area. Do you know of any place within a 50 mile radius?

I think you're out of luck — even if you're in luck in having your fiancee so close by.

I can't think of a single Australian restaurant in the region, nor even a restaurant that specializes in some Australian dishes. 

Herndon, VA

Help! I've been recently dating someone and am considering throwing a surprise (30th) birthday party for him.

Can you please suggest a good place to hold party at a restaurant in the Herndon, Reston, Sterling, Tysons and maybe in Arlington area?

Here's my short list:

Clyde's in Willow Creek … Morton's in Tysons … and the Busboys & Poets in Shirlington. I think any of those three would be really good spots for what you're thinking of.

Some other possibilities: Rock Bottom and Tutto Bene in Arlington, and Dolce Vita in Fairfax City.

Silver Spring

I just wanted to write and say I thought your piece in the Oxford American kicked ass! What a great piece of writing, speaks on many levels. And I say that as someone who teaches writing.

I've read it three times and circulated it to a bunch of friends and they're loving it, too. Thank you, TK.

Thank you — that's wonderful to hear! And coming from a teacher of writing, that means a lot.

I was a teacher of writing, too, and know how hard and labor-intensive that can be. But also deeply, deeply rewarding. You're on the side of angels. Thanks for writing.

DC
We have notice you have taken Vidalia off your list of places you would spend your money. We ate there on Saturday night and found the food, service and the special touches from the management to be better then some of your top 5. So what the scoop.

What's the scoop? It's not a punishment, if that's what you're getting at. Not at all. And Vidalia was on this list for many, many weeks. It's one of my favorite fine dining spots in the city. 

What I try to do with the 25 is to spread the recognition around a little. These are, remember, personal picks, and — just as important — suggestive of my enthusiasms of the moment.

Cheap Lunch
If you've got 10 bucks to spend for lunch (including tax/tip) what are some of the first places that you'd go to.

At the moment, I'd drive to La Placita, in Bladensburg's Little Mexico, which I think is producing the best, most luscious tacos around.

It's a humble-looking roadside taqueria with an offal-heavy menu: pig cheeks, pig lips, tongue, etc. There are also less courage-requiring options, including the wonderful pork leg — my favorite — and the al pastor, which is shaved from a vertical rotisserie as if it were doner kabob and mixed with slivers of pineapple and diced onion. 

The tortillas (corn, homemade) are griddled right there in front of you, doubled up (the better to contain the juices of the meat), dressed and then garnished with radish, lime and your choice of two homemade sauces, one verde, one rojo, both excellent.

For ten bucks, you can get four tacos plus a can of Diet Coke or Coke and still get change back. Who can beat that?

Arlington, VA

After reading the Ashley Messick's comments on Circle Bistro, I was reminded of my own disappointing experience. Having used your Top 100 list for some wonderful dinners, I turned to it again to find a pre-dinner meal for a group that included 2 vegetarians.

In an abundance of caution I called to confirm the Chef could accomodate them. I was told by the person who answered the phone that "They can have the soup." I asked "There is nothing else the Chef will prepare?" "No."

In this day and age, I honestly think an utter refusal to accomdate a vegetarian guest should disqualify a restaurant from being "the best."

I hear you. I can imagine how frustrating that would be. But I'm not sure I agree with you that that one thing ought to disqualify a restaurant from consideration.

For one thing, consider this: suppose you had gone, and the restaurant had accommodated your request for an off-menu veg dish and you hated it? Hated it, when the kitchen had gone out of its way to fill your specific and special need?

I guess what I'm saying is, it could be that the reason Circle said no was because its chef didn't feel comfortable going off-course like that — departing from the dishes that are practiced and perfected — when it's entirely possible that you would complain about the results of something so hastily devised, and, perhaps, later take to the 'net to carp about the poor cooking.

Capitol Hill
Todd, have you eaten at Cap City Diner yet? I'm so excited for this place. And kudos to all the guys involved for sticking with this for so long to make it work..!

I think it's a commendable project, I think they've put together a really interesting coalition of diners, I think spending an hour or two in that cramped car of a space tells you a lot about where we are (and aren't) as a city … I get it. And I like it. I just don't like eating there.

Field Report from the Restaurant Refugee

In some ways the people who opened Cedar Crossing Café and Wine Bar no more than ten yards from the end of the Takoma Metro station, had a pathetically low bar to hurdle on their path to success.

In an area that has plenty of cash (median home value is well north of $500K in that zip code and well north of the city average) there is a conspicuous absence of actual restaurants. The ones that do exist are largely a place for sustenance rather than cuisine, and the bars… well that’s a wholly pathetic subject unto itself. A wine bar and café really just had to not trip over their own prep list and they would be moved to the top of the heap.

Since they opened a couple of months ago, and I have been in a few times, I have been impressed by the fact that they actually take their wine program seriously AND still manage to keep their price per glass under $10 on average. In a city filled with wine bars where a c-note is the usual price of a first date, a well sourced and reasonably priced winelist is a significant accomplishment in itself.

Despite the positives about the wine list, I wish that I had more than tepid feelings about this place. The very solid wine list, more than respectable stemware, and mostly impressive beer program, do not entirely mitigate the concerns. As soon as you enter, you will be stung by the impact of their poor ventilation – upon leaving, place all of your clothes in the dry cleaning pile. The menus and wine lists are printed on crappy paper that isn’t as sturdy as the carry-out next door uses – it just feels cheap.

While the food is also reasonably priced, it is inconsistently prepared at best. A well seasoned sandwich might be teamed with a green salad drowning in oil but absent salt. The same soup might be lovely one night and barely recognizable the next. They're still new and Cedar Crossing is staying on my list and I remain optimistic about their success. Rough around the edges in an area where people are starved for anything better than places with barbed wire for edges is still a tactical advantage. Besides that, the winelist is pretty damn good… so’s the beer… and the Manhattan too. Maybe I can live with the dry cleaning bill and eat before.

******

…Speaking of wine bars, I spent some time at Veritas recently. The intimate north Dupont Circle wine joint used to be in my regular rotation, but only if I could get there before it got too crowded, too loud, or too hot.

Some of the spare charms of the place also contribute to its temperature and volume problems. Exposed brick and tiled floors are sexy in an apartment but can make a bar kinda loud and being in a basement can make it really hot in the winter. Having one of the best wine by the glass programs in the area and being the perfect space for a first date will make the noise as an excuse to get closer to the person next to you.

******

My affection for the recently shuttered Polly’s Bar & Grill is at least fifteen years old. It was never a place for fine dining, or quaffing sublime wines. If you asked for some frilly nonsensical cocktail, odds were six-to-five-and-pick-em’ that you would be unceremoniously given a PBR, mercilessly mocked, or pointedly informed that this is not a place for the comically hip. Nostalgia was easily found when my first visit was in the winter and I sat by a wood burning fireplace with a good beer and one of the best chicken sandwiches I‘d ever had. It was even more ingrained the first time I was considered a sufficiently good regular that I was entrusted/commanded to maintain said fireplace.

There are too many memories of Polly’s, too many friendships formed or cemented in that bar, too many lovely evenings, too many first date stories, and a couple of break-up stories too. Polly’s opened when U street had become a place where people didn’t venture at night. They gambled on a revitalizing and ultimately gentrifying neighborhood and for many years the return was as high for the owners as it was for the patrons who were the bedrock of the bar’s community that made it such a loveably quirky place. U Street is poorer for their absence.

Polly’s, I thank you for all of the good times. I will miss you.

******

By the by, I am wondering if you could amplify your thoughts regarding Jackie's inclusion in your list at the top of this Chat. I haven't been since their recent tumult at the top of their kitchen but have fond memories of my prior visits. What changes have you seen for better and/or worse lately?

The Restaurant Refugee, everyone! Thanks, as always, RR, for these thoughtful, detailed reports on your epicurean excursions.

Like you, I was a big fan of Polly's. That chicken sandwich was really pretty darn good, wasn't it? I think the city could use more places like this. I'll miss it. 

As for Jackie's … I think it's been in a very good groove for the last year, and I really don't think the abrupt departure of Frank Morales is going to change that. His menu was a bit of a departure for Jackie's, situating it much more consciously in the category of dining. I liked a lot of what he was doing (the cheddar grits were amazing, and many of his plates had a refinement and finish that you associate with some of the better downtown restaurants), but at the same time, I don't think that Jackie's needs that, you know? It was a darn good restaurant before, and I expect it will be a darn good restaurant after — a simpler, more streamlined restaurant.

I wrote in our review of Jackie's for the 100 Best issue that it's like the party girl who reads Wittgenstein — a serious place that doesn't take itself too seriously. That's its strength and its charm, and I hope it has the good sense to recognize that it shouldn't stray too far from that. 

Dupont Circle

I recently came back from Singapore and had the country's signature dish, an amazing White Pepper Crab Dish. The crabs we had were huge, about 1.8 kg, and the sauce was like nothing I ever had before.

Do you know anywhere in the area that might have this dish? I don't think I can wait till I'm back in that part of the world to eat it again.

Lucky you.

And that dish — I'm salivating just imagining what you describe! I'm a huge fan of white pepper in dishes, and I can never get enough crab. And boy, those crabs sound amazing.

You're going to be kicking yourself, though, because so far as I know, there's nothing in the area I can think of that comes close to what you describe. I wish. 

Arlington Va
Great story in the Oxford American on Peter Chang. So was that one visit the only time you've been to Charlottesville to eat his food? I'm dying to go, having never had Chang's food myself.

Not the only time, no — are you kidding? ; )

And if I were you, knowing Chang's history, I would head down there this weekend, if not before. The last time I wrote about him, he left town two weeks later. And this time, he's gotten the treatment from two national magazines.

By the way, I just thought I'd post a link to my essay in the Oxford American, in case anyone else is interested. 

Georgetown DC
My friend and I really love to sit around a good cheese plate after dinner. We have tried several around the area and have yet to find one that we believe to be perfect. Any recommendations on where to go to have the perfect dairy ending to a meal? Thanks! We are big fans-Lucy and Charlie

Lucy, Charlie —

Thanks. I can't speak to your idea of perfection in a cheese plate, but I can tell you where I myself would go — where I've had good experiences in the past. Off the top of my head — Bistro Bis, CityZen, the new Plume (although I'm not really enamored of much of what precedes it), Dino and Cheestique's wine bar. 

Cheesetique, in particular, should be at the top of your list, because you don't need to spring for a $200+ meal. 

re: Australian
Cassatts in Arlington is New Zealand-ish. Thats kinda close to Australia and there may be overlap in the dishes. Or what about a good British pub, like Againn. Is that sort of food popular in Australia…I imagine there are alot of British-esque Australian foods.

Very, very smart suggestions. I'd forgotten about Cassatt's, which I've enjoyed the couple of times I've been there.

And yes, Againn might come close enough for government work, as they used to say. Does anybody say that anymore? If not, they ought to. Mocking, skeptical, disillusioned — it's got it all. And — and this is not to be sniffed at — it's wonderfully bipartisan, too.

DC
HAPPY 50TH BIRTHDAY!!!!!! ROBERT WIEDMAIER

I'm imagining 50 candles jammed into a link of boudin blanc.

(Enjoy your day, RW!) 

Short Hills NJ

Hi Todd!

Thanks for your advice last week. So far I have reservations at Central, J&G Steakhouse and Jaleo in Crystal City. I have two nights remaining but 5 choices up for consideration: Cafe du Parc, Liberty Tavern, The Oval Room, Bistro Bis and Blue Duck Tavern.

I have to watch my spending — $71 per day is supposed to be the allowance but I tend to only eat one other meal a day saving the $$ for dinner. We are staying in Arlington and will not have a car — but we can cab or Metro it. What do you recommend? Also, I just discovered that my coworker and I will have time for brunch on Sunday before we leave town. Is there a place you would recommend in Arlington?

Go to brunch on Sunday at The Liberty Tavern.

As for the two remaining slots, how about du Parc and the Oval Room? By the way, since you're going to be in Arlington, you really ought to consider Ray's the Steaks and Minh's. The former for some of the best steaks in the area (and a very unpretentious, accessible atmosphere), the latter for some of the best Vietnamese cooking in the area. 

Anyway, you're going to eat very, very well. I'm looking forward to a full, detailed report when your visit's done … 

 

Alexandria, VA

Hi there,

So, I'm thinking about doing a "staycation" this weekend with my husband, and would like to stay at the Ritz Carlton DC. Any thoughts on Westend Bistro? If not there, than any suggestions for Saturday night dinner in Foggy Bottom or Georgetown? Somewhere pricewise between Clyde's and Citronelle, please.

Thanks!

I think Westend Bistro is settling into its new identity pretty nicely.

It's not as precise as it was, when it first opened, and not as consistent, but you'll eat well there. In particular, the 17-hour short ribs, bones removed, with porcini potato puree and black peppercorn sauce. Lots of places do short ribs, especially at this time of year, but I haven't had one this good in a long, long while. Impressive, too, to see the relative absence of fat in the meat.

A gently poached salmon with purple mustard, in a shallow pool of gingered, curried broth, is a keeper, too. Fish the way fish ought to be done.

Desserts, a weak spot when the place opened, are a relative strength now, and more rooted in French bistro traditions. Look to either the profiteroles (with a supremely dark, high-cocoa-content chocolate sauce) and the mille feuille with hazelnut cream.

Bethesda, MD
Ok so the restaurant refugee is Phyllis Richman, right? I'm 99% certain…

It's not Phyllis — I swear. If it were, I'd have to pay her for these dispatches. ; )

And anyway, that would be: The Washington Post Refugee. (Quite a few of those these days, actually … ) Or — The Critic Refugee.

I'm not supposed to divulge the details of his identity (oops!), but our refugee is an ex-employee — an honored ex-employee (shoot!) — of several very prominent restaurants in the DC area. Needless to say: Guy knows his stuff.

Steak lover
My wife is taking me out to eat NY strip steak, and she left the restaurant choice up to me (how lucky!). I've narrowed my choices between, Capital Grille or BLT Steak. Which one would you prefer – just for NY strip steak? Enjoy your chats. Something to look forward to every Tuesday.
BLT Steak. Not a call at all.
Shaw, DC

Todd,

I must share a weekend experience from No. 9 Park in Boston!

I had a dish of prune stuffed gnocchi with foie gras to start, it was so light and deliciously rich all at the same time, just heaven on a plate. But what blew my socks off was a taste from my friend's plate of a petite sirloin with braised veal cheek and bone marrow bread pudding…I love bone marrow, but this was on another planet, another universe entirely. I am still dreaming of it's semi-sweetish light, but extravangantly rich flavor, and fluffy texture. I'm drooling just writing this!

Anyway, just wanted to share. The rest of the meal was outstanding ( I had a perfectly rare venison) and the service was perfect as well. Here's hoping for another trip to Boston!

Yeah, sure — "just wanted to share." Just wanted to brag, is more like it — you're making me want to hop the next flight to Logan!

Thanks, Shaw. Thanks for nothing. ; ) 

Silver Spring

Todd,

If I'd like to take my wife and two friends out for Ethiopian on Friday evening–none of whom have ever eaten it before–would you recommend Etete? What about getting around there? Is there a place to park?

Etete would be my first choice, yes. And parking isn't easy, but if you go right at 6:30 you stand a good chance of finding something. And you significantly improve your chances of being able to park right there on 9th St.

Go. And enjoy yourselves. 

One note of advice, if I may: count on lingering and staying a while. Service at Etete is not slow because it's neglectful or inefficient; it's slow because lingering and taking your time is a cultural value.

By the way, my second choice for Ethiopian: Madjet, which is around the corner from Etete, on U St. 

Arlington Va
What does your Thai hierarchy of restaurants look like these days? Top three please.

My top 3:

1. Sabai Sabai Simply Thai, in Germantown

2. Nava Thai, in Wheaton

3. Ruan Thai, in Wheaton

Re: Circle Bistro
How can someone achieve the title of 'Chef' and yet not be able to compose a meal without animal products? To me it shows such a lack of imagination and skill.

I agree with you — wholeheartedly.

A couple of months ago, a chatter wrote in to ask if there were dishes I would choose to measure a chef's worth, and I said: soup. I think you can tell a lot about a chef by the soups he or she conceives and makes. I also think you can learn a lot about a chef by how he or she prepares vegetables. It's much more challenging to make veggies tasty than it is to make meat tasty — and especially if you don't reflexively reach for the butter and cream and bacon.

As I've been saying for weeks now, though — it's simply not as big a part of the training of chefs in this country as it ought to be, to cook vegetables with care and love and to construct elaborate, multi-course meals around them. Meat is the emphasis.

And it's the emphasis in large part because meat is the emphasis in the culture. 

I know I’m late, but…

RE: perfect cheese plate. First of all, does the OP know what consists of the perfect cheese plate–how it's done, how it's arranged properly to achieve proper exaltation?

Really, if you want the perfect cheese plate, do it yourself. It's really easy to do, I think. We have a couple of places in the district that offer a decent array of cheeses to sample (I honestly would stick to 3, you could do 5 but that borders on over-indulgence in my opinion).

If you must have this experience in a restaurant, then I would suggest heading North to New York City. You could book a table at Artisanal, which of course built its reputation on cheese. My first choice would be Gramercy Tavern, where things are done exquisitely. Thanks

Remember that conversation we were having about what's a foodie — how you define a foodie?

There, my friends, is a foodie. Or at least, one very narrow subset of foodie.

What I love about the phrase "proper exaltation" is that the chatter isn't being ironic or self-mocking. So much information is conveyed by a phrase like that! The other thing I love is the insistence that if you want the best, most exquisite experience, then you simply cannot abide the cheeses being served in the finest restaurants in DC — no, no: You must make the trip to NYC.

Washington, DC
Hi Todd – I need a suggestion for a place for drinks or dinner, that has an intimate vibe. Date 4, and I'm trying to encourage chemistry/the opportunity for a kiss. Prefer DC but could go to the 'burbs…

Why do I feel more pressure to come through, here, than usual?

Anyway, I think any of these places ought to set the necessary mood: Cava, Bistro Bis, Eola, Zentan — all in DC.

I hope things turn out well. Good luck, and report back, please! 

Washington DC

I had the pleasure of reading your excellent article on Chef Peter Chang, and hope I might make it to Charlottesville before he goes poof and vanishes yet again.

My question is Tempt Asian Café still appears to be serving the Chang menu or at least elements of it (the cumin spiced fish). Are these dishes mere shadows of the master’s work or do they have merit in their own right. I wrote to you about a year ago asking about the restaurant and you responded saying you were not as enthusiastic about the menu (I was the Tempt Asian apologist from several other posts). I have and still do enjoy the restaurant; I just need to know if Chang’s dishes warrant the time and effort what may be a futile journey at this point. William Washington

I think they do. There's simply nobody else cooking dishes like this in the country. *

And if you want to taste at least a little of the Chang magic, you should drop by China Star. I think it's retained more of the master than his other (ditched) restaurants. 

 

* Would I call before making the trip down? I would. In fact, I would call from the road, too, and probably again in the parking lot outside. 

Winter Park, FL

Todd,

I want to congratulate you as well on your Peter Chang article. I enjoyed it immensely, mostly because it was so personal – more so about you than Chef Chang.

I don’t know if I’m reading too much into this, but it seems that Chef Chang’s food crossed some type of boundary for you, where a meal is no longer simply sustenance or cooking simply a craft, but instead becomes art. And as art, it seems to evoke a strong emotional response in you. I have noticed a similar reaction in some of your other writings, but certainly not to the same extent as the Chef Chang article.

Is it just me, or is there something to this?

No, you're not reading into things. You're very perceptive.

The whole idea, in writing this piece, was to try to get at something larger than just the food, great as it is. And I knew that in writing about Chang in that way, with that depth and intensity, I wasn't really writing about him — I was writing about me.

I'm a believer that if you write something of any length like this, that you can't really be writing about the thing you're purportedly writing about.

Thanks for your thoughts and your very kind words, too.

It's time to run to lunch, everyone. Thanks for the great back-and-forth today, the great range of questions and comments — these exchanges are one of the things I look forward to every week, and I hope you feel the same way about them, too. 

Be well, 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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