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 March 2nd.
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
The Liberty Tavern, 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
FYI to the girlfriend looking for Australian food for her boyfriend:
I don't know if it still holds true, but the Australian Embassy used to hold a happy hour at the Embassy. There was an actual Pub inside the Embassy. Check the Website or give them a call. Could be fun for her guy.
What a neat little tip. Thanks for that, Reston.
And my apologies to all of you for the late start this morning. The technical problems had to do with my laptop. So now I'm working off a different laptop than usual, and all seems to be fine at the moment. Full steam ahead —
Boy, what a gift of a day out there. Just gorgeous.
I saw that you had listed "La Limena" in Rockville as one of your recommendations and I couldn't agree more.
My husband and I just checked out this little gem this weekend and we were blown away at the lovely service and a wonderful meal.
We started off splitting the chupa de camarones (a shrimp bisque) based on other reviews that we had read. Thank goodness we split it because it came out in a massive serving bowl. My husband and I each got 2 full bowls – 4 people could have easily split this tasty appetizer! I had the ropa vieja and my husband had the fried pork dishes – both were delicious – great seasoning and full of flavor.
The portion sizes are large and we each brought a portion home for lunch the following day. We had heard rave reviews about the homemade ice cream – lucuma. AMAZING! What a unique flavor. We were so full that we debated passing it up, but since everyone in the place seemed to be ordering it, we couldn't resist.
And the great total – $42, including appetizer, meal (with leftovers), dessert and drinks. The staff was lovely – very friendly and helpful.
The place was busy the entire time we were there – couples, families, children, etc. We had to wait a few minutes for a table and there was consistently a line waiting for tables, others stopping in to grab take-out, and a busy line at the dessert station.
What a great find! We can't wait to recommend it to friends and family in the area.
It's a wonderful place — and for all the reasons you say. Great cooking, warm service, unbeatable prices …
I wish every town had a La Limeña. I wish every cuisine in the area had a version of La Limeña.
Next time, you really need to order the marinated beef hearts, skewered and grilled until dark and crusty. Terrific. And my other favorite: the ceviche. One of the better versions around.
My wife and I went down to Charlottesville last weekend after reading your piece in the Oxford American and Calvin Trillin's piece in the New Yorker re: Peter Chang. All I can say is, wow! It was an utterly amazing experience – may have been the best food we have ever eaten, Chinese or otherwise.
We had the dried fried eggplant (our favorite), the shrimp hot pot, the Chung Qing chicken, and the crispy beef. We tried to get the bubble pancakes, but alas, they were out for the night.
Indeed, the place was a complete zoo when we showed up at 6 PM. All of Charlottesville (and maybe alot of others from DC as well) had shown up, many with the New Yorker in tow. We were handed numbers written in pencil on a white piece of paper (in fact, we had to wait 15 minutes just to get a number), and around 7 pm, Chang sent word to the owners that he was too tired, and the restaurant closed up. We waited 90 minutes to be seated, but thoroughly enjoyed the festive atmosphere, making conversation with other diners. The restaurant was so overwhelmed that the owner asked patrons to answer the phone and tell callers that no reservations were being accepted and takeout was not available.
All in all, it was a fabulous experience, and we can't wait to go back – frankly, we are terrified that Chang will leave (although, if the New Yorker is to be believed, he may be coming to Fairfax or Richmond, which wouldn't be that bad).
I wouldn't believe any of what he said about his future to Bud, just as I don't believe any of what he told me, either. What I believe is what he talked to me about with conviction and great seriousness — his spicing, how he works, etc. What I also believe: his genius.
It is, it's unlike any Chinese food I've ever eaten. I ate recently at Hong Kong Palace, a very solid Szechuan restaurant in Falls Church, and the gulf between the meals I had at Taste of China, Chang's place, and there was just enormous.
By the way, speaking of the crowds — I would not doubt for a second that he may not last through the weekend. From reports I have gotten, and from what you say here, he is already exhibiting some of his famous tendencies.
One more thing … There was a recent piece in Slate — on Slate — that talked about the two pieces, mine and Trillin's, and suggested that what both had in common was a kind of privileging of Chinese food cooked for Chinese over Chinese food cooked for Americans. I can only say that for me, what I was "privileging" was Chinese food cooked by a genius.
Layalina is one of those places I want to like more than I do. I like the atmosphere, I like the staff, I like the coziness and personality of it. But the cooking is too often uneven. What's good is very good, and it sounds as though you hit some of what I think are the highlights. But then you have a lot of very, very ordinary dishes.
The one thing you need to zero in on is the "famous chicken," which has to be ordered 24 hours in advance. Well worth it, if you can remember to call a day ahead. That, and the hummus with pomegranate seeds — also really good.
A story is told of a man who started on a quest to find the Meaning of Life. After a while, he heard of a person reputed to be the most enlightened guru in the world. The man started selling his possessions to travel to place after place where he heard the guru was staying, but every time he got there, the guru had gone.
Finally, with his last few dollars, he managed to get to the mountain range where the guru was rumored to be spending his time in meditation. He climbed for days, traversed dangerous crevasses, and finally, with his clothing in tatters, and boots in shreds, he came upon the guru, sitting quietly on a mat in the sunlight.
"Oh Great Guru" he exclaimed. "What is the Meaning of Life?" The guru looked at him for a moment, and then said "Geese fly North in the winter." "GEESE FLY NORTH IN THE WINTER???!!!!" said the pilgrim. "South?" said the guru.
Great (old) story.
But the thing is, Chang is not some false shaman. He's not the Wizard. There's more meaning of life, at Taste of China, than in many a self-help workshop or personal growth retreat.
Here's what I would order for the two of you.
First course: pork belly dumplings and tandoori arctic char with cardamom raita.
Second course: wok-fried sea bass (a whole fish, deboned at the table) and grilled lamb chops with chili mint vinaigrette and Chinese eggplant.
Order this way, and I can all but guarantee you a fabulous meal. I've written a lot on here about my affection for the dumplings, and the arctic char is a good counterpoint dish — prepared with great precision, with clear, popping flavors. The lamb chops might be the best meat dish in the city, and the eggplant is so good it deserves a separate dish. The sea bass, when it's done right, is superb — as good a crispy whole fish as you're going to find.
Will you drop in next week and let us know how things turned out –?
Everyone? No, not at all. In fact, very, very few do.
That's very much an elite, foodie stance you're talking about. And I have a very, very hard time getting many of those foodies, when we go out, to try things like braised chicken feet and stir fried intestines with garlic — just to name two authentic Chinese dishes on the menus at authentic Chinese restaurants.
I want to emphasize that I don't dislike certain dishes because they're Americanized Chinese — I dislike them because they're not very good.
On one of my visits to Chang's new place in Charlottesville, Taste of China, I ordered a plate of dumplings. Nothing unusual about them, nothing special — the same dumplings you find at restaurants from here to California. Well, guess what? They were terrible. Leaden wrappers, hard balls of filling. I am certain — certain — Chang did not make them. My guess is that he fobs that cooking off on to a peon in the kitchen. I would be willing to bet that he doesn't touch or so much as come near some of the dishes that are on the menu — dishes meant, in the early, pre-publicity days of Taste of China, to satisfy some mass tastes.
Love reading your reviews and this chat has directed me everywhere from Cafe duParc to Meat on the Avenue (both wonderful by the way).
Quick question, Sou'Wester, I have read mixed reviews and was wondering if you have been back lately, if not, general impressions? As always, thanks for your help.
I haven't been back since I reviewed it, but I would say, sure, give it a go. My biggest complaint about the place is the incongruity of what they're trying to do — humble, down-home Southern cooking — in a five-star luxe hotel setting. It adds up to a lot of odd, laughable touches — among them, a bottle of Miller being poured by a straight-backed waiter into a champagne glass.
But much of the food I tried was very, very good, if sometimes needlessly refined, in a way that suggests that downhome cooking would be better if only it could be made lighter and more elegant. I think the virtue of downhome Southern cooking is its disregard for these kind of niceties; it's not precise, it's not refined, it's sloppy in all the best possible ways.
One more thought about needless refinement: The hush puppies are needlessly refined and also maybe one of the best bites of food you can find in the area right now.
Cheese pursuer, this one's for you …
I'm from D.C., but I'm in Charlottesville for a workshop all week. Can you help me out here? What's the name if that asian restaurant you suggested to try here? What should I try there? Any other hidden gems (restaurants) here in C-ville?
The Chang place is Taste of China. I'd also recommend:
–Revolutionary Soup, which has a fantastic lineup of zesty homemade soups and stews, with top-notch ingredients (I love the Senagalese peanut soup and the shrimp 'n' grits)
–Mas for really good, rusticky tapas
–The Local for farm-to-table fare
–Ten for sushi
–Bodo's Bagels — an excellent bagel shop, with first-rate bagels; I wish we had a half-dozen of them around here.
There isn't a better talent, trust me. There's not even a similar talent. At least not in Washington, D.C. We are talking about a guy who is, in his native country, a celebrity chef — at any rate, if there were such a thing in a country that does not valorize the individual.
But you bring up something interesting. There are many talented people working in tiny kitchens for tiny wages in this area — perhaps not at a Chang-like level, but talented. And yet who do the investors go after? They go after sous chefs and chefs at the so-called New American restaurants. Why not pluck away a young, gifted cook from one of the mom n pop ethnic restaurants in the area and build a beautiful, money-backed place around his or her talents?
You won't see that happen, though. And the reason you won't see it happen is because investors are seldom visionaries, and are trapped in the ongoing moment.
I wouldn't be so certain that it's for their blogs.
I think people just take pictures with their camera phones all the time now. Everything must be documented, because everything CAN be documented. Regardless of whether it's meaningful or interesting or not. We must always be telling someone about what we are doing at any given moment, because, well — how much richer the experience is if someone we don't know is sharing it with us! Why have a private moment or a quiet thought when you can be plugged in and tuned in and typing madly at all times in this great, ceaseless need to express your most trivial, most banal feelings? For that matter, why DO anything — why attempt anything — that cannot be video'd or mic'd or turned into a post or a tweet or an update on Facebook. Status update: I am relaxing. Except "I'm" not; "I'm" typing that I'm relaxing; which isn't relaxing as relaxing, it's true, but which validates the relaxation …
No, you know, I think what would be distracting is, if it happened constantly throughout a meal at a restaurant, but I haven't see that — the most I've seen is perhaps three shots over the course of a couple of hours.
In recent weeks you've mentioned places that are neither extravagant nor trying to do much, just doing their thing and doing it well (Roy's, personal love Delhi Club).
What are some other places you'd put in this category for very good, straight-forward cooking at relatively decent prices?
Also, since I'm down here for the week, any restaurants you would qualify as "can't miss"?
Very good, straightforward cooking at relatively decent prices … Oh, boy — lots. The aforementioned La Limeña, La Caraqueña, Four Sisters, Muffin Man Cafe, Minh's, Sabai Sabai Simply Thai, Bobby's Crabcakes, Ray's Hell Burger, Gom Ba Woo, Rangoli, Irene's Pupusas III, Burma Road, Ravi Kabob, Kotobuki, Maizbon Afghan Grill, The General Store, Cuba de Ayer, Zorba's Cafe, Jaymar Colombian Breeze, Plaka Grill …
You're lucky to be in Charleston. My can't-miss list would include: Fig, Charleston Grille and Hominy Grill.
Todd, I really need your help. My mother-in-law is coming to town and we will be going out this Saturday.
We need to run on errand near Old Town so we are looking for a place to go for dinner. We will have our 2 middle school aged resturant savvy kids with us so it can't be anything too pricey since she usually offers to pick up the check – ideally most entrees at or under $20. While we are pretty open as to cuisine the most important thing for my mother in law is ambience and service. It is much more important for the food to be a B- and the service be an A than the other way around. She gets very upset if the service is bad and can't concentrate on the food quality at that point anyway. We don't go down there very often so we don't know a lot of places and the ones we do know: Vermillion and Eve are too expensive. Any help will be greatly appreciated. Thanks so much Desperate son-in-law
I've got just the place you need. The Majestic.
Your mother-in-law should have nothing to complain about. The service is very attentive and very professional. And the food is accessible for a lot of people — basically, upscaled comfort food, and done very well.
I think you're in for a good time. I'll be interested in getting a report, so please come back on next week and let us know how things turned out, okay?
It's interesting to bring up The Majestic and service, because to me — and I'm not your mother-in-law — but to me, the service is a little at odds with the place in being so careful and correct. The food is comfort food, it's a restored diner — to me, the setting would seem to call for a casual restaurant where you can let your hair down. Instead, you have service on the level, nearly, of Restaurant Eve (a credit to the staff, who I don't mean to criticize at all) and a "tighter" atmosphere, a place where you feel the need to modulate your voice and you are constantly interacting with your waiter or waitress. This, for a retro restaurant that serves meatloaf and fried chicken?
Need a suggestion for an upcoming birthday dinner with 5 -6 people, including vegans, vegetarians and carnivores. Would like it to be moderately pricey but not Citronelle pricey! Also BYOB restaurants would be an added bonus so more money could be spent on the food! Thanks.
The menu ought to have something for everyone, the prices are not nearly in the range of a Citronelle, and it's a good spot for an occasion. They don't do BYOB, though. No restaurants in the city do, although some do have corkage policies.
If you go, and I hope you'll consider it, I'd love to hear how everything went down …
I'm itching to get out into the sunshine, so I'm going to draw things to a close. Thanks for all the excellent questions today — today and every Tuesday …
Be well, eat well, and let's do it again next week at 11 …
[missing you, TEK … ]