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 30th.
Where I'd Spend My Own Money
Bistro Bis, DC
Cafe du Parc, DC
La Caraqueña, Falls Church
Cava, DC and Rockville
Chez Manelle, Arlington
Four Sisters, Falls Church
Gom Ba Woo, Annandale
J&G Steakhouse, DC
Jaymar Colombian Breeze, Gaithersburg
Jesse Wong's Asean Bistro, Columbia
The Liberty Tavern, Arlington
La Limeña, Rockville
Poste Brasserie, DC
Restaurant Eve, Alexandria
Sabai Sabai Simply Thai, Germantown
Sushi Sono, Columbia
Sushi Taro, DC
Taqueria La Placita, Riverdale
Tommy Marcos's Ledo Restaurant, Adelphi
Thanks so much for the suggestion to head to Rosa Mexicano for Passover. My dad and I loved it and it was a nice respite from matzo brei and egg noodles. Another quick question for you – do you happen to know what is going on with Wagamama? Are they still planning on opening in Penn Quarter?
Glad to hear it. I enjoyed my Passover meals there in years past.
As for Wagamama, I'm not counting on them coming anytime soon. One of many close, but no cigars we've had in the last few years. I ate at a Wagamama in London and thought it was fun — fun and fast and lively — but I don't think it's any great loss to the dining scene that they're not coming. The food? Some good, some sloppy …
While dropping my wife off at the metro in silver spring, recently, I noticed a place called, "8407 Kitchen bar". Do you know anything about this place, at all? Just thought I'd ask–to see if i'm missing a hidden gem.
This feels like a plant to me, but what the hell …
I think it's too early to tell whether it's a "gem" or not. I like the space, and I like the menu a lot, and from what I've tasted so far I think it has the potential to be better than Nicaro, where Pedro Matamoros, the chef, previously worked.
There's a lot of detailed attention in the cooking here, and much of it (at this point, anyway) seems to be paying off. I'm thinking of roast quail over polenta and a selection of charcuterie (presented, wisely, in a sandwich — why haven't more chefs thought of this? What better way to appreciate all that fatty, rich meat than between two slices of bread?)
So far, it would appear 8407 is, like many restaurants, better with smaller plates than larger ones. A dish of halibut, in particular, was a failure. A dull, if meaty, fish like halibut needs stronger complementary parts, and this particular filet, unfortunately, didn't have them.
And the one dessert I had made the mistake a lot of New American restaurants do, of going so small as to appear precious.
All in all, though, it's a promising start, and I think it can grow into something good and maybe special.
Rock Creek now has a Cherry soda. They don't call it Cherry Smash like back in day. Almost tastes like the original. A couple scoops of your favorite vanilla ice cream(full fat only), some cherry soda, and a shot of cherry liquer and you have an adult version of an ice cream soda. Hit the spot last week with 90 degree temps.
Thanks for this wonderful tip, Clifton.
I was a huge fan of Cherry Smash, which as you say is ideal over a scoop of vanilla ice cream. I can remember, as a kid, coming back from playing basketball all morning and afternoon some Saturdays and just sitting down on the floor of the living room and knocking back an entire liter bottle of the stuff.
I'm going to go look for a bottle or two (or three, or four) this week.
Those of you out there who are rabidly anti-sugar and believe that cookies and ice cream are bad, bad, bad for children, stop reading here: I'd really love to pass on my love for Cherry Smash to my two-year-old son. I mean, think about it: how many things out there from our past, our collective past, are still around anymore? Not many. This is a culture of change, of rapid change, of too much too fast change, and everything gets plowed over to make way for the new.
I've been working my way through the Washingtonian's "Pizza Pool" from last year and have been pretty impressed with some of the pizza places in the DC area.
I was wondering if you ever had a chance to visit Chief Ike's in Adams Morgan? It's a hidden gem dive bar that might have some of the best pizza in town (amongst other great culinary treats). Just wanted to know your thoughts.
Chief Ike's, where the woman who would become my wife and I ended up at the end of a long second date and had our first kiss. I know it well.
But obviously not as well as you know it, because I had no idea they had good pizza. Huh.
I'll have to go back and give it a spin. And take my wife with me, for old times' sake. Thanks for the tip, Jason.
The 8407 wasn't a plant, i swear! just a guy with some extra time waiting for his wife. i was pretty hungry that day too 🙂
OK, thanks for writing back in.
Though, really — what would you expect a plant to say? ; )
We have recently moved to NOVA from Boston. Could you suggest three or four of your favorite seafood restaurants in the DC area? We prefer fins to shells. Thanks.
I'm glad you found these chats. And welcome to the area!
The first place that comes to mind is Kinkead's. It's the best seafood restaurant in the city, and if you've ever eaten at Sibling Rivalry on Tremont St. in Boston, you'll know what's in store: easy, sophisticated vibe, and lots of riffs on classic regional Americana, with an emphasis on fish and shellfish. Sibling Rivalry is also owned by Bob Kinkead, along with his brother David, who runs it.
Kinkead also operates Hell Point Seafood in Annapolis, which he dubs Kinkead's Lite. It's a scaled-down version of the DC restaurant, in both aim and price, and has lately found its groove. I enjoy it, and the chance to spend a few hours in Annapolis is a nice change-of-pace.
Johnny's Half Shell isn't a seafood restaurant per se, but there's a lot of it on the menu, and it's one of the attractions of going there. I love the mood of the place — it really does convey the solidity of a restaurant that has been around for many decades — and the cooking is simple and often really good.
Let me also throw out a couple of other names …
* Tallula, which isn't a seafood restaurant in any sense of the term, but whose chef, Barry Koslow, really knows how to cook fish and how to sauce and complement it. It's in Arlington, and you'll notice it is currently among my TK's 25.
* And a very high-end sushi place called Sushi Taro, east of Dupont Circle. A lot of the fish is shipped by air from Tokyo's famed Tsukiji market. It's as fresh as you're going to find in the city — or any city, for that matter.
Enjoy. I hope that helps.
Todd, glad your back!
First of all, I love what you did with the TK Top 25 list. Really cool and helpful. And I was reading your last chat and read about your new book!! I'm so excited about this, and for you. The Wild Vine, great title ….. It sounds really amazing and I wish you all the best with it, cant wait to read it. Congratulations, Elise
Elise, thank you, thank you, thank you.
The new, improved TK's 25 is the doing of Alejandro Salinas, who is the assistant online editor of the magazine's website. He thought it would be clearer and easier to use, and I agreed. Thank you, Alejandro! Alejandro, I should also mention, has done some food reporting for the magazine (most notably, the report on the fire that destroyed El Pollo Rico in Wheaton) and has shot a whole heck of a lot of food-related video. He's immensely valuable.
As for the book … I hope you enjoy it. An awful lot of work went into it, more than four years' worth, and the big thing for me is that readers have the same pleasure of discovery that I did in researching and writing it, and will sink into it the way they would a novel. Thanks for writing in, Elise. I really appreciate your enthusiasm and support.
I'd love to play the Love Doctor. I mean, who wouldn't? This is only a small part, but still … Thanks for indulging me in this small dream ..
If I were you, I'd look into Poste, which has just gotten a modest makeover and which ought to meet all your needs: good food but not too foodie, a cozy setting, prices that won't sink you, and a prix fixe menu.
I hope it works out, and please come back on and let me know how the night turns out …
Big fan of your chats but first time chiming in. In the District, if you have $100 (give or take) for food and drinks for two. Where would you go? No food is off limits. It just has to be delicious, fun, and ideally, memorable. Look forward to hearing from you.
Good question, considering how not-far $100 goes in the city when it comes time to dining out …
I'd say, offhandedly, Cork, Cava, Poste, Againn, and Bar Pilar.
And if it's a Monday night — Creme Cafe, with new chef Orlando Hitzig. Order a bottle of the excellent Gouguenheim Malbec (at half-off on Mondays, it comes to $12, or roughly what it costs for a decent GLASS of wine in this city), then settle in to a meal of coconut curried mussels and toasted griddlecake with smoked salmon, and maybe split the beef short ribs.
For dessert, one of the best and most memorable in the city — the coconut cake. What makes it so good? For one thing, it's not a yellow cake with some coconut frosting. It's got a pronounced, highly pronounced, flavor of coconut. For another, and more restaurants ought to take note — it's served warm. So many places pull a slice from the fridge, and the cold just dulls all the flavors the pastry chef has worked so long to create. Warm. Soothing. It makes a difference. It's a marvelous slice of cake, and reminds me of the very best of Southern layer cakes.
Hi Todd – I noticed that Chez Manelle is on your Top 25 list. I live just down the street, and am curious what makes this place merit a spot on the list?
I have never been, but looked at the menu posted on the window. I noticed that the prices were very reasonable. Thanks!
Very reasonable prices. Very good, very honest cooking. And very warm, if sometimes scattered, service.
Chez Manelle is Tunisian, a rarity in this area (actually, a rarity in any area). and the flavors in the dishes I've tried are all spot-on.
One of the things that I think about when I think about Chez Manelle is how very few American restaurants in this area can match it for quality and value.
Most American restaurants at that price — two can eat well for around $45 — are chains, with their generic-tasting, pre-fab food. The places that try to do better invariably make a point of sourcing quality ingredients, and then (necessarily) pass on that expense. The result is good, honest food that costs about $100 or more for two — in other words, twice as much as the cost of a meal at a place like Chez Manelle.
Or you have places like BGR: The Burger Joint. Quality ingredients, good food, and it's not an exorbitant meal. But what are you eating? Burgers and fries.
I know it's not fashionable to speak about this, but where is the American restaurant that doesn't place a premium on wonderful ingredients, that makes do with ordinary ingredients that it transforms through skill and love into well-prepared, honest food?
There are restaurants like this in other cities, particularly in the South and the Midwest, but not here. If you want good, reasonably priced meals in this area, you have to go to the Chez Manelles in our midst — whether they're Tunisian, or Latin, or Asian, etc.
Anyway, food for thought.
Glad to hear it.
Some of the best meals I've had in this area — some of the best meals I've had, period — have been at Citronelle. It can be a really, really special place.
I love them both, too.
Actually, I was out visiting a friend in the distant Virginia countryside this weekend, and we pulled a bunch of ramps from the ground and peeled them and ate them right there, in the field. Man, were they good. Strong, but good. If only we'd had a loaf of bread and some good butter to go with them.
Ramps and fava beans, they really are the fruits of Spring. And shad and shad roe.
I'd love to know who's putting these things on their menus — I haven't seen a whole lot of ramps and favas on area menus yet, though I've also been busy putting the finishing touches on my Cheap Eats research the last couple of weeks so it's possible they're making appearances and I'm simply missing them.
Anybody have any sightings?
I'd guess Frank Ruta at Palena is working with both about now. Who else?
I just celebrated my anniversary at Obelisk and thought it was a simply perfect evening. Food was spectacular and the service was even better. Such a friendly staff with not even a hint of pretentiousness.
As for reservations, they only take them 1 month in advance so 3 weeks away should be plenty of time. By the way, I am not a plant for the restaurant. Just someone who really enjoyed my time there.
Thank you for writing in, not-plant. : )
You're on the mark in talking about the service there, it really is some of the best you're going to find at a high-end restaurant. Warm, unpretentious, real, and knowledgeable, too, with an obvious love for the restaurant and the mission. Komi's staff is the same.
It's tempting to single out the staff for praise, just as it's tempting to blame a waiter to waitress for a bad evening. In both cases, it's also wrong. It's the owner and manager who deserve credit or blame. Good service is about repetition, and repetition is about smart drilling. That takes time, and time as we all know is money. Is it money well spent? Yes, but not a lot of restaurateurs are going to see things this way, because the reward for spending this kind of money doesn't come immediately. Good service is also about treating people right, and creating a working environment that is respectful and not abusive, an environment that pays attention to morale and mood. Much easier said than done.
So what you are seeing, when you come across an operation like an Obelisk or Komi, is more than just professionalism. You are seeing a mature and committed business, one that is thinking about more than just the bottom line, and that has a high regard for its employees.
That counts for a lot with me, and I would hope that it counts for a lot with most diners.
That's really a pretty good deal, particularly considering the meat is made in-house. Restaurant 3, by the way, made our recent Top 100.
Thanks for writing in, even if it's late …
Ha. Good one.
How to know? Well, for the simple fact that if it *is* a plant, then it's a plant that someone has thought to plant on my behalf. It didn't strike me as the kind of thing that I see with publicists and restaurants that comes into the chat queue a half-dozen times each week (I get many more than I print.)
Now, is it self-serving? I guess you could say that, in that I eagerly answered the question, but I guess I'm not seeing this in the same light as a restaurant trying to get out word, good word, about its restaurant. My talking about my book on my chat is not the same, in other words, as an independent voice speaking out in public on behalf of a restaurant.
We can blame the internet, where anonymity reigns and everybody is guilty because of anonymity. Or, likewise, free of guilt because of anonymity.
I visited Sushi Rock in Courthouse Arlington last weekend and am reporting back.
Overall, it was a good but not excellent experience.
I got there just before six. It was nearly empty which surprised me for a Friday evening happy hour time. I joined several friends at the bar. The bartenders were very nice and asked us our names, introduced themselves, and remembered our names throughout the few hours we were there.
I had a Sam Adams seasonal among the four taps they had. One was the Kirichan (sp?) Japanese beer that is quite common.
We had the sweet and spicy wings which had a great kick and the wings were very meaty. Then we tried the scallop and bacon roll which was excellent. Also, we had a ham and pineapple roll which, once we got past the idea of such a "sushi" roll, was rather tasty but more of a novelty than anything. My friends had some other rolls and they said they were all good.
One big concern I had is that the bartenders both were very new to sushi (and quickly admitted that for better or worse) and had trouble making recommendations. They were still even a little fuzzy on sushi terms. They were nice about asking those that would know though so I got past that.
The space is cool with a lot of red, black, and chrome. The stools are the bar were a little tight. There were giant black and white rock photos that added a little to the room. Drum sticks are a part of the backsplash behind the bar. There is a big outdoor patio and they had some tables stacked outside but the patio was not set up yet.
Overall, a good first shot. I will wait some time for the kinks to be ironed out before returning.
That's really great to hear, Arlington — I'm glad you went, and I'm even happier that it was such a great time.
I'm a big fan of the place, and yes, the lamb fateh is (when it's right) one of the great dishes in the area. I used to have cravings for it. A crisp layer of toasted pita wedges, a mound of soft, luscious, long-cooked lamb, a thick cap of tangy yogurt, a sprinkle of pomegranate seeds …
Those of you who have yet to go, you owe it to yourself. This is one of the great value restaurants in the area. Major bang for the buck.
It's time for lunch, and I haven't even finished my breakfast — still have a half-eaten bowl of oatmeal (the real thing, with blueberries and almonds) by my side!
Oh, well, a lot of catching up eating to do.
Be well, everyone, eat well, and let's do it again next week at 11 …
[missing you, TEK … ]
>>Submit a question in advance for next week's chat, here.