Tuesday, April 20 at 11 AM

Read the transcript of today's chat with Food & Wine Editor and restaurant critic Todd Kliman.

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 April 13th.

Follow Todd on Twitter!

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TK's 25:

Where I'd Spend My Own Money

A&J, Rockville and Annandale

Afghan Famous Kabob, Gainesville

Bistro Bis, DC

Bistro Cacao, DC

Bluegrass Tavern, Baltimore

Cafe du Parc, DC

Cava, DC and Rockville

Central Michel Richard, DC

Chez Manelle, Arlington

Four Sisters, Falls Church

Gom Ba Woo, Annandale

J&G Steakhouse, DC

Jesse Wong's Asean Bistro, Columbia

Komi, DC

Kushi, DC

The Liberty Tavern, Arlington

La Limeña, Rockville

Palena Cafe, DC

Poste Brasserie, DC

Rasika, DC

Ray's the Classics Bar, Silver Spring

Restaurant Eve, Alexandria

The Source and The Source Lounge, DC

Sushi Taro, DC

Taqueria La Placita, Riverdale

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Ramp and Fava Beans

Had ramp risotto with quail last Saturday at Villa Mozart in Fairfax. It was wonderful and garlicky and all the beautiful textures and flavors. They also had fava beans with the fish that night if I recall but did not get it and also with other dishes . Just went online to check their menu but it seems it is not updated yet.

Hope that helps your reader. Love your chats Todd!

Thanks for the report from the field.

There's a lot of ramp activity these days. Kyle Jameson, an intern and researcher at the magazine, put together a neat little compendium after reading the chatter about ramps — wild onions, for the uninitiated — last week. Thank you, Kyle!

Vidalia is offering ramps, fava beans, and fiddlehead ferns on its daily menu.

Tosca has two dishes on their dinner menu — a salad and a risotto — that are served with ramps.

On Nora's dinner menu, there's a "Pasta a la Chitarra" starter that's served with ramps and fava beans.

Cedar has a steak served with braised cannellini beans, fiddlehead ferns, and ramps on its dinner menu.

Eventide serves a pan-seared Alaskan halibut with pickled ramps.

Dino is serving a spring risotto with Verpa mushrooms and ramps.

Equinox isn't opening back up until after May 12. But then … On the lunch and dinner menus, a green-garlic soup with confit of rabbit, pickled ramps, and brioche croutons. On the lunch menu, a chicken breast served with sauteed fava beans and mustard-bacon vinaigrette. On the dinner menu, a saffron tagliatelle served with fava beans, fiddlehead ferns, and sweet-garlic cream.

Proof has grilled ramps available as a side item. The sauteed potato gnocchi is served with wild mushrooms, asparagus, and ramps. The pan-roasted Mediterranean branzino is served with asparagus, fingerling potatoes, wild ramps, and pea shoots.

I'm going to guess that Palena is doing something with ramps right now, but no specific intel for the time being. 

CapitolBites

The opening of Star & Shamrock on H St NE got me wondering…where is the best deli that is metro accessible?

I don't have a car, so heading out to Rockville or another suburb isn't really an option. Yet, sometimes I just crave Matzo ball soup and a good pastrami sandwich. (It doesn't need to be a true Kosher deli). Thanks so much in advance!

The best deli in this area?

I hate to say, it's being done by fancy restaurants. RJ Cooper at Vidalia and Michel Richard at Central have the two best deli sandwiches in the city.

Of course, what you don't get is what makes a deli a deli — the deli experience. The zesty atmosphere. The crustily, lovably indifferent waiters and waitresses. The sense of plenitude all around. A buzz in the air.

David Sax in his recently released book, SAVE THE DELI, calls DC the "WASPiest city in North America" (I'm working off of memory, don't anybody hold me to an exact quote), and it's kind of hard to argue with that when you look around. At the food landscape, and at the landscape, period.

I wish we had a good deli. Deli City in NE has fallen in the last couple of years, but I used to love their corned beef (on crappy bread, alas).

Parkway Deli in Silver Spring has its adherents, but I think it's mostly because it's as close as you get to a deli experience in this area. It can't be the food. Or, let me rephrase that — it's not because the food is good and authentic. It's that the food offers a passable approximation of the real thing. But the matzo ball soup — ugh; oy. A huge, leaden ball, a remorselessly salty broth … 

 

Alexandria, Va.
Baltimore? Really?

I figured this was coming. And it's not as though I didn't hesitate before putting it on — I mean, Baltimore's a different city, it has its own restaurants, its own critics and publications, etc.

But the thing is, I really like what I've seen so far from Bluegrass Tavern, and — this was the key thing — it's in Federal Hill, right on the southernmost edge of the city, and easily accessible to a lot of people who live in the Maryland suburbs of DC. This was the reason, remember, that Edward Bennett Williams wanted to build the Orioles' then-new park (this was in the late '80s, early '90s) there.

It's 25 minutes from Greenbelt, 35 minutes from Silver Spring. 

Not close, but I routinely drive to dinner in Virginia and it never takes less than 45 minutes and often takes an hour or more. Coming from Virginia to DC can take at least as long.

The vibe is extremely unpretentious for a serious-minded restaurant, there's a strong focus on local ingredients (including nearby antelope, which is served as a seared loin), and the cooking (playful but rooted) is sharper than many other places in its class I've seen of late.

 

Clarendon, VA

Hi! I ate at Tallula the Saturday before Easter and they had a wonderful Tilefish entree that though didn't include ramps (as was the objective) was the perfect spring dish. Sounds like the taste of spring was what was being desired

I also could have sworn that ramps were included in another entree, but after glancing at the menu, I couldn't locate it.

Thanks for writing in.

You talk about "taste of Spring." It's funny how in all these paeans to the glories of the season you read about in the slick cooking magazines and in newspaper recipe columns — celebrations of "the taste of Spring" — no one ever brings up the one thing that is the embodiment of fickle, wet Spring: mud. 

Actually, there's a really interesting piece in the current Oxford American by Beth Ann Fennelly on geophagy — the eating of dirt, an ancient tradition in many cultures.

 

Silver Spring Moto-Mouth

Checking in with a two-visit report from 8407 Kitchen and Bar. You don’t know how excited I am to have this place open – Silver Spring needs more bars for grown-ups, and definitely more high-end dining.

I am reminded why it’s good to take into account the newness of a restaurant. The place looks fantastic…they did an amazing job of renovating it into a very hip, very open, exposed-brick environment. The food, however, was a bit uneven. That said, I know how good Nicaro was, and I can see this place smoothing out the rough spots.

My wife and I went on Saturday evening as the sun was setting over the Metro. The poor hostesses were blinded by the glare, squinting at us as we came through the front door. We also did some eye-shielding and sunglass-wearing at our upstairs table until sundown. That wall of windows is incredible, but I foresee shades or tinting being installed. I guess it’s an example of one of those things a restaurateur discovers and fixes after go-live.

The menu is right up my alley. A real variety, and the standard daily choices (sandwiches, salads) look to rival the dinner entrees. Their Pimm’s Cup was an amazingly refreshing cocktail, full of mint, ginger, and cucumber flavor. I had visions of a pitcher of the stuff with some good friends on the deck this summer.

The wine selection was compact, reasonable, and interesting, though, on both visits, the by-the-glass pours were *meticulously* measured (though I can’t blame them for managing their costs).

Bibb salad with apple and blue cheese came well-dressed. The kitchen applied large drops of the vinaigrette on and around the salad, rather than mixing it in or drizzling it over…this let my wife choose how much dressing was enough. Sunchoke soup was remarkable – rich and comforting enough like a good tomato, but with a sweetness and color that fit the spring weather.

Whole branzino (“bronzino” on their menu) is one of my favorites, but I was put to the test with this one. Was it undercooked? My wife thought so, I wasn’t sure. It didn’t seem like the ones I’d loved in the past. For me, the salt from the olive broth was too much. I could tell the waiter wondered if we were enjoying it. My wife wasn’t. Me? I just couldn’t figure it out. I noticed, on my next visit three days later, that it was not on the menu (which could mean anything).

My scallops with Jerusalem artichoke (sunchoke in a different form), which I seem to remember from Nicaro, came in a blood orange sauce. The scallops were well-cooked and plump. The artichoke chunks may have been a little too crunchy for me to make the dish a winner. Our service that night was very friendly, if a bit hover-y, but everyone in the building was welcoming. Was that the chef’s partner roving the floors to check on things?

So, we left very impressed by the environment and the menu, but a little unsure of the execution. I came back on my own a few days later and sat at the bar in the downstairs lounge. Like I said: a bar for grown-ups, close to home (with a great view of the transit center construction site). I’m there. The fried oysters, done in a semolina batter and well-presented with kimchee scallions, were just okay. They didn’t hold a candle to the life-altering examples being served in a nostalgic basket at Passion Fish in Reston. I remember my main course of gnocchi from Nicaro, too. Probably the creamiest and most delicate example of the dish I’ve had, though they could go easy on the oil.

And there was the bartender, carefully eyeballing his wine pours. Oh well. With a menu like that, with that location, and that vibe, I know I’ll keep coming back to investigate other dishes or relax in the lounge. I want this place to work!

Thanks for the (lengthy, nearly exhaustive) report, SSMM.

As I said last week, I think 8407 is doing a lot of things right so far (not everything, but a lot of things), and it's going to be interesting to see whether, as it settles in, it can grow and improve.

Alexandria Ramps
I just saw that Vermilion has ramps on its menu. I'm excited to try them after all of the talk here!

And the list just grows longer …

Thanks for this, Alexandria!

Jeremy DC
I saw Bistro Cacao on your TK's 25 list and I am unfamilar with this restaurant. Which dishes do you recommend there? 

I've got a review of Bistro Cacao out this week in the magazine, so you can read my thoughts at length then if you care to, but to be brief (well, relatively brief) I think this is one of those gestalt places — one of those places that does not come down to one or two things, but is a pretty smart and satisfying sum of many, many things.

You asked about dishes. I can tell you I like the rack of lamb, and the seared scallops, and the pate, but the reason I like Cacao is not because I'm so crazy about these things.

The reason I like it is because of the feel of it, and the accessibility of it, the charm of it, the excellent value of it, the way it clings proudly to a kind of rear-guard notion (rapidly fading, if not gone altogether) of what a bistro ought to be.

Ramps
Last week, Palena was serving striped bass with ramps.

And I hear tell that Frank Ruta, the master craftsman of a chef there, has brought back his Spring consomme with morels and favas and asparagus — no lie, one of the greatest things I've ever eaten in this city.

The surprising depth and richness of the broth for something so strained and delicate, the burst of vegetal freshness from the asparagus and favas, the subtle pho-like spicing, the way no two slurps taste the same, the way the flavors stick with you for weeks and even months and maybe years — it's a really remarkable achievement. I can almost taste it now …

Clifton, VA

Good pastrami must be fatty. Same with corned beef. Fat is flavor.

Lean pastrami and corned beef is an offense that should be punishable by summary execution w/o due process or appeal. Almost as bad is a turkey burger a burger made with lean ground beef. James Delaney Buffet provided the perfect recipe for a cheeseburger.

This is getting to be scary, Clifton. We're agreeing more and more on — well, just about everything.

 

DC Reader

Todd,

Just wanted to drop a line to let you know I just finished A Different Drummer, a book you mentioned in your Oxford American interview. It was fantastic and really powerful, and I wanted to thank you for recommending it. This comment would naturally segue into a discussion of your upcoming book, but I wouldn't want people to think I was a plant!

Oh, you're funny, DC Reader! Funny, funny …

I'm really heartened to hear you read Kelley's book after seeing my mention — I really think he deserves to be much, much better known. It's one of those books that plays by its own idiosyncratic rules. When I first read it, I didn't want to finish it — because finishing would mean being done with it, and I wanted to stay in Kelley's mind.

As for my book, well — wow, I'm not even comfortable making the transition from talking about A Different Drummer to The Wild Vine. I mean, really — I just hope that people will read it. Read it, and read it with open eyes — not so literally, and not with an eye just toward information and "facts."

In our media-saturated age, everything is about niche-ing, and niche-ing is about pigeonholing, and pigeonholing is about limiting — tidily boxing and narrowing and, thereby, reducing. A simple, salable, easily digestible commodity. I wanted the freedom in this book to go my own way, and blend a variety of different forms.

Arlington, VA

Okay. Seriously, what is up with the DC establishment of the Prime Rib taking the Prime Rib steak off the menu?

TPR, I consider, is my personal dining refuge, and my preference by far is the bone-in rib eye over the filet. Checking the web sites for the locations in Philly and Baltimore, I find those locations still feature the namesake steak on their menus. Is it a seasonal thing due to the tourists and the time and costs involved in preparation? Is there a (hopefully temporary) problem with the purveyor? Any thoughts, dear sir?

I'm with you, bone-in is always better than filet — better, richer, more flavorful.

No idea why it's off the menu, and it wouldn't be right to speculate without some understanding of the restaurant's thinking. I wonder if maybe I'll hear from Buzz Beler by the end of the day–? 

 

D.C.
I got your tweet on Kushi. Sounds great, what else can you tell us about it?

I think Kushi is the most exciting, interesting restaurant to open in the city this year.

Excellent sushi, a long roster of skewered, grilled meats (including a duck sausage-stuffed quail and a lobe of foie gras), and Japanese small plates.

I don't think you could have a Kushi in 2001, when I first started reviewing restaurants in DC — I can't imagine anything with that narrow a focus making it. That narrow a focus, that daring a menu, that offhand an atmosphere.

It represents an exhilarating blurring of the lines. It's got a lot of the precision of a conventional fine dining establishment, but the mood of a bar. Quality ingredients, but not a lot of selling and hyping of them. An air of exclusivity (in that it assumes an acquaintance with exotica), but no hauteur *– actually, it's refreshingly accessible. 

This is, come to think of it, one of the best, most interesting restaurant seasons I can remember — maybe the best and most interesting.

Consider what has opened, or is opening: Kushi, 8407, Yannick Cam's Bistro Provence in Bethesda, Lyon Hall from the team behind The Liberty Tavern, and Ray's the Steaks at East River (which I think is the most important restaurant to debut in the city's history).

The common denominator? All are local, independent, and personal.

 

 

* until the self-consciously stylized begin showing up in droves.

Takoma Park
Hit Vidalia's 24 this weekend for wife's bday. Todd this has to be the best dining experience in the city right now. Chef Cooper created all the dishes in front of us. Great creations of flavors. Some out of the box dishes like raw beef liver. Wow just Wow. They have a hell of a lot of talent in this restaurant from Chef to the Wine guy.

I agree.

When they're on, they're really, really on. 

CapitolBites
Thanks for the advice. It's a sad sad thing that we don't have a place where you can get the full deli experience (and a matzo ball that isn't a letdown). I guess I will just have to continue to dream of Manny's in Chicago or Katz's in NYC. If anyone out there is listening – DC needs a true deli!

It is, it's very disappointing.

But with the current mood — the emphasis on simple, single-focus places, the prevalence of upscale downscale cafes and bistros — I have hope that somebody will come along and give it a go. 

Way Down in Southwest VA
Wow all this talk ramps and to think that growing up, we ate ramps, poke greens, and morel mushrooms BEFORE they were the "in" thing. We ate them b/c we were poor and needed something to eat before the garden came in.

And remember when chicken wings were discarded by the elite, and you could find them in the stores for a pittance?

Humble's become haute. 

Washington, DC

Re: A Good Deli – this may sound odd but there is a place near my office called Capitol Grounds Coffee. Their sandwiches are AMAZING!

They use all Boars Head meats and have an extensive menu of deli sandwiches, subs, panini's, salads, etc. No indoor seating (it's a pretty tiny place) but a few tables outside should you wish to sit and eat. I have no affiliation with the place just love their sandwiches. By the way, if you are a fan of mayo, ask for extra as they, for whatever reason, skimp on it and I usually need more.

Mayo? Mayo! Mayo?!?

I guess David Sax wasn't hyperbolizing. 

A hungry fan

Hey Todd,

I've been meaning to write in for ages and never dreamt that this question would be my first. I always imagined it would be something more exciting but here's where I need help.

I have to plan an end of the season party for my staff for this Thursday (short notice, I know!). There will be about 20 people attending and I have a budget of about $25 a person for food and drinks. I would love some suggestions of restaurants for large groups, preferably in DC. On another note, I'm going to Bistro Bis tonight also for work (but with a bit larger budget). I'd appreciate any suggestions. I'll be sure to write in next week with updates on both tonight and Thursday. Thanks!

Re: the party — maybe Oyamel?

As for Bistro Bis, if I were you I would not miss the quenelles and the steak tartare. Nearly as good: the duck liver parfait, the mussels, and the apple tart. 

Lunch is calling.

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

 

 

 

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