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 27th.
Where I'd Spend My Own Money
Afghan Famous Kabob, Gainesville
Bistro Bis, DC
Bistro Cacao, DC
Bluegrass Tavern, Baltimore
Chez Manelle, Arlington
Four Sisters, Falls Church
Gom Ba Woo, Annandale
J&G Steakhouse, DC
Jesse Wong's Asean Bistro, Columbia
The Liberty Tavern, Arlington
La Limeña, Rockville
Palena Cafe, DC
Poste Brasserie, DC
Pueblo Viejo, Beltsville
Ray's the Classics Bar, Silver Spring
Restaurant Eve, Alexandria
Sushi Taro, DC
Taqueria La Placita, Riverdale
In response to last week's discussion about crepes. . . While I'm thrilled to hear that Cafe Assorti has great crepes (since I never get to Georgetown for them anymore), I'd like to point out that Cafe Assorti is NOT in Clarendon and anyone getting off at the Clarendon Metro stop hoping to find them is going to be sorely disappointed.
The restaurant is in the Courthouse/Rosslyn area, with the Courthouse metro being most accessible.
Wow! That last paragraph of yours from last week!
Most small businesses are in a constant state of desperation. I owned a small restaurant a lifetime ago, and did fairly well until the economy went south, but thinking of how to pay the bills was absolutely paramount on my mind. I had a lease, employees, vendors, utilities – there is always a minimum cash flow to worry about, and after a while, that obsession becomes YOU. The small guy is betting every thing he has, and the big guy is betting a syndicates's millions. It becomes hard to be altruistic.
I had good friends in PG county years ago, and I suggested that they form an investment group and bring a good restaurant there, but no one was willing to take a chance. These guys are looking at reasonable prosperity, not great wealth like Robert Johnson . If they lose it, they may never have a chance to make it up again.
Notice the half life of most restaurants. It is rare that one lives long enough to get comfortable and become as nice as Mr. Landrum. A syndicated venture from outside the county, is, as you said, only interested in the return, There is a bit of a client mentality to waiting for someone from the outside to "gift" the area with a restaurant.
The reason my tone is a bit snippy is that this conversation has been going on for at LEAST the 20 years I have lived here.. Everyone wants to get rich in a year, not over a lifetime, it seems. Your remarks about neighborhood places, bistros, etc would fit very nicely within the concept of developing eateries within PG County, but restauranting on that scale is a brutally hard business.
Lastly, you mentioned Johannesburg. You may already be regretting that, but you have turned over an important question that is at the heart of the entire issue. What does a target clientele WANT? What will bring them out to spend their money in sufficient quantity to keep the business alive? That is the mystery. If there is an inadequate supply of destination restaurants in PG County, why is the remark citing Johannesburg more accurate that anyone wants it to be? Where are all of those customers going? What is there to give a business looking for a new site any faith in the potential of the area, besides the abstract demographics? I can't wait to see THIS conversation unfold!
Restauranting on that scale, as you put it, may be a brutally hard business, but it happens in many different pockets of this vast area. I am convinced it can be done in Prince George's.
The question is, will it be done?
And I'm not terribly optimistic on that score. It will take pioneering people — true pioneers, not those who flatter themselves for their vision by setting up shop on the edge of already "sprung" neighborhoods. And it will take real and active support from local officials, support in the form of tax breaks and other incentives. Without both, together, it's just not going to happen.
And I don't see nearly enough of both of these things.
I think there are not enough visionaries in the restaurant community — people who are fortunate enough and brave enough to look beyond the bottom line. There are a number of good local chains, and yet how many of these chains do you see venture into Prince George's?
The restaurateurs and developers talk about population density, but I can't imagine that a.) race and b.) class don't also play a part. Though class is tricky in this case, because there's money in the county. Which leaves us with …
I also think the county's politicos are too content to bring in name chains and are not nearly aggressive enough in trying to encourage meaningful development. It's unimaginative leadership.
We are also talking, here, about a majority African-American county, and as I said last week — DC is a majority African-American city, and yet how many people of color do you see when you go out to lunch and dinner in the most prominent restaurants?
There's a deep, deep cultural disconnect.
I am craving fish tacos–big time! Since I'm in the mood for sampling different places, can you point out 3 places where I should go for excellent fish tacos. I'd like them to be inspired by authenticity (so they should be fresh and light and yummy).
Somtimes I think Mexican and Latin food get a bad rap because people don't know how it's supposed to be–and when done right, it is soooo good. Thanks
Best I've had in the area are at Surfside, in Glover Park. They really do come pretty close to the Baja ideal.
Pretty good ones, also, at The General Store, in Silver Spring.
As to a third — I'm not coming up with anything at the moment, sorry …
Fairly new to the area and have read your chats religiously for the last 2 months. I've never seen you mention Cafe Milano.
I know from the Style section of the Post it seems to be a place to see and be seen. We had an anniversary dinner there recently that was top notch. Yet it doesn't make your top 100. Am I showing my new person ignorance? Is there a history I should be aware of?
Thanks so much! We've used your tips for many great meals and are slowly working our way thru your recommendations. Bill
Bill, thanks for finding your way to these chats. And welcome aboard …
I'm glad to hear you had such a good meal at Milano, but also a little surprised — since I've never had what I would consider a top-notch meal there. I remain open to the possibility, though, and hope it will knock my socks off sometime in the future, but so far, at least, I have to agree with that first line of yours — a place to see and be seen.
Glamor it may have, but I think there are better places to drop that kind of money. I also think there are a lot more places that put out a better, more exciting meal.
Paul, the piece — an adapted excerpt of my new book — has just gone up online
And incidentally, the book, THE WILD VINE, is officially out today. I hope all of you, my passionate and devoted readers, will do me the great honor of giving it a look.
Why has La Caraquena fallen off of your "where I'd spend my own money" list? We dine there frequently, and find them to be both delightful and consistent. Also, can you tell me about your newest listing in Riverdale, Taqueria La Placita? What dishes do you love there?
It hasn't fallen off the list — it's just not in rotation at the moment, is all. I like the list to reflect my current enthusiasms, and I try to spread the love from week to week, month to month, if I can.
I think La Caraqueña is terrific — as you say, a delightful and consistent place.
As for Taqueria La Placita, I think it has the best tacos in the area right now. 20 kinds, including pork lip and pork cheek. The tortillas are made fresh and griddled until toasty and warm before being stuffed — or overstuffed, actually — with meat. The salsas are superb, and I love the fact you can get pickled onions on the table to add a final, brilliant garnish.
My favorites are the pork leg taco and the al pastor. The latter is a massive hunk of pressed, barbecued pork, sliced thin from a vertical spit a la gyro meat — it's a dish that resulted from the arrival of Lebanese immigrants into Mexico. The thin, sliced pork is mixed with shavings of pineapple and chopped onion. It's an amazing taco.
I also love the atmosphere of the place, and especially the row of stuffed, mounted deer heads that line the main wall.
I'm looking for restaurant where we can begin our bachelorette party celebration. There will be approximately 10 girls in attendance. We won't be rowdy (that comes later in the night 🙂 and we'd like to stay in the Chevy Chase/Bethesda/Tenleytown area.
We are looking for good food and drinks that won't break the bank (maybe food & drinks for $30/person). Is that possible (we won't be drinking a whole lot at dinner)?. Also, a fun atmosphere that isn't too dressy, but where we won't look out of place in dresses. I know..a lot of requirements 🙂
Thanks in advance!
The problem is the $30 cap per person.
At the level I think you're thinking of, you're just not going to find a whole lot good food and good drink for that kind of money in this area — and particularly in that part of the area. Almost a third of that goes to tip and tax, which means you're left with approximately $20 for a meal and a drink.
That's TGIFriday's prices.
One place I can think of that you might want to look into is Maggiano's, in Friendship Heights, but it's not too distinctive, and the food is decent but not great.
Anybody else have any suggestions–?
The smoked fried chicken at Ray's the Steak's east river is nothing short of a miracle. For a few reasons…one is that the juicy, salty, smokey meat is perfectly fried and flavored. The 25 minutes sipping wine before it arrives (as they warn you) is well invested in the jalapeno cornbread.
Secondly, it costs me about $11 for an organic, free-range bird at the grocery. At Ray's it's $11.95 for half a bird plus a leg, a salad and two sides. How is this possible?
Lastly, and not least, is that this place is amazing– and I mean it. It isn't a fancy place transplanted into a very different neighborhood from where it "belongs". This is a local place, with local people, local staff and (somehow) a local vibe. It's a family restaurant kind of like the places in NH I used to go as a kid — but the food is really good, almost too good.
And I can get there in 12 minutes on back roads. I kept saying to my husband over and over that we could go here once a week, twice a week, why cook anymore!
For us, the best part is that our little one, Alexander, was born two weeks ago, and I had lamented the lack of local eating spots as the drive and traffic into DC was much less appealing with a newborn. Ray's openly welcomed our little one on a busy Friday night and there were other babies there. A family-friendly local place with amazing food in NE DC / PG County!!! (And you were right, there is life after babies eating out, I have already mastered the one handed dinner).
Congratulations on little Alexander, Cheverly. I'm thrilled for you and your husband! What a joyous, frenetic, unreal time this must be. Savor it.
And I agree with everything you say here. The value is remarkable, even for a Ray's restaurant, and for such a new place, it manages, already, to feel of its place and time.
The chicken is, yes, excellent. Excellent and original. And whoa — the return of the $5 glass of wine! And the return of the slew of sides!
This kind of restaurant — simply prepared American food, at a very good price, in unpretentious surroundings, and with no loss of care or detail for being so much a bargain — simply doesn't exist in the DC area. The closest is the chains, and they're soul-killing and (eventually, over time) body-destroying.
I hope people in the industry are watching and learning.
Mr. Kliman – I Love your chats and the Washingtonian is the absolute best source for DC based dining/food anywhere.
Over the last couple of months I have read the postings about poor service, long waits for tables, seating policies, ect. At times I have sympathized with the neglected patron and other times I have agreed with the position taken by the folks defending the restaurant and its workforce.
However, I have not seen much discussion about the un-satisfiable (I know it not a real word) customer. . . the one that starts complaining about ingredients they are not familiar with on the menu . . . wants special attention from the wait staff . . . makes ridiculous requests for sub-outs from the kitchen. . . picks around and complains about things on their plate . . . ect.
Part of the pleasure of dining out is to turn yourself over to a team of professionals and let them take you to places you can't take yourself. How much pathetic, juvenile behavior do I have to witness before it is appropriate to jam my fork into their neck?
I had an awful meal at a "Tex-Mex" joint in Canton last weekend. Instead of "demanding" some sort of satisfaction that would have clearly been beyond the capabilities of the service staff and the kitchen, I just made a note to myself that this joint wasn't to my liking and I will not go back. Restaurants are not private chefs who can cater a dish to any individual’s liking or dietary needs. They produce a product, if you do not care for that product go someplace or stay at home. It is hard to get another salad fork when the cops are taking you out in handcuffs.
Thanks for writing in.
It's interesting, isn't it, that in this kind of a forum, at least, you seldom read about a diner just deciding to write a restaurant off after a bad experience.
I guess for a lot of people, a forum like this exists as a means of airing a grievance, and as a mean of redress.
Same thing I heard, too.
And they're going to be taping this afternoon at Oohhs & Aahhs, too.
These programs are great. They scour our magazine and website for great and novel tips, and don't bother to give credit.
Of course, a lot of the time they don't bother to read the magazine and website, and that's when you see these mystifyingly out-of-it programs, where the host visits Clyde's and strolls the streets of that restaurant mecca, Adams Morgan.
I really like Michael's Genuine Food and Drink and Sra. Martinez, both in the Design District.
As for Cuban, there are a slew of places, all roughly at the same level, and you really should make a point of eating as much of it as you can since it's so hard to find good Cuban cooking around here. By the way: are you a fan of cafe con leche? Tinta y Cafe on Calle Ocho makes about the best cafe con leche I've had. Good sandwiches, too.
Stunned at what?
Stunned that I would talk about my book on my weekly chat? Um, am I missing something here?
How is that even remotely in the same ballpark as when a publicist sneaks on and anonymously posts about a great dish at a great place?
The analogy, if there is one — is you and your fellow restaurateurs and chefs talking about your spinoff restaurant on your website.
I think you might need to loosen that apron string …
I'm not feeding into that stereotype — you need to track the larger conversation. In fact, last week I said that if Prince George's were in Iowa, or Ohio, or anywhere else, it would be regarded as vital and affluent. Here, in this area, with Montgomery, Arlington, Fairfax and Loudoun counties, it's widely regarded (by the money men) as poor and lacking.
You make a good point about homegrown interests. But although you see homegrown restaurants in MoCo and Arlington and Fairfax, etc., you also see restaurants from chefs and/or restaurateurs with outside interests. Both are needed.
Andy Shallal, whose Busboys & Poets is coming to Hyattsville (probably in early 2011), is a good example of the latter. But Andy is unusual. He cares more than just about money, and doesn't make excuses or trot out the usual canards.
I think they're both worth a long look. Thanks for the assist!
The closest — though not close — is Oyamel, in Penn Quarter.
It just so happens that it's one of Michelle Obama's favorite DC restaurants. She's into the "salt-air" margaritas. The Obamas, in case you didn't know, are big fans of Topolobampo.)
Really? I wasn't too crazy about them the last time I had them.
The Hill. Love the Hill.
But no, Potenza's not like those restaurants. DC really doesn't have any place that's like those places. Potenza is closer to that model than most, and I enjoy it, but I think you'll go in with unreasonable expectations if you're asking it to function for you in the same way a trattoria in the Hill functions for you.
You might think about hitting Little Italy, in Baltimore.
You were talking about VA wines recently, I just had a few wines that I would call incredible both in flavor, balance and value.
Glen Manor Winery. They make Sauvignon Blanc- the 2007 is restrained and crisp, the 2008 lush. Exactly the same winemaking according to the winemaker, just vintage differences. Very few winemakers have the donuts to allow their wines to vary that much from vintage to vintage, they would use wine making tricks to smooth out the differences but not here.
They also have a Cabernet Franc which blows away any of the dozens of Cabernets of any kind I have tried from California and Washington recently, and it retails for $25 or so.
Their Bordeaux blend is Hodder Hill and it is richer and lusher than the Cab Franc, more in tune with today's popular style and at about $35 a bottle, a steal. Simply the best VA wines I have had, hands down.
They just got distribution for VA/DC and might show up and some savvy wine shops and, hopefully, restaurants as well. They are not only great, but they scream value. I would like to mention the distributor if anyone wants to pick them up… Michael Downey
Just to clear up any confusion — Michael Downey is the name of the distributor, not the chatter.
Thanks for the great tasting notes, Colesville. Some terrific-sounding recommendations there.
Miami Suggestions: We recently has a great meal at Hakkasan at the Fountainbleau. Upscale. modern Chinese, but not overdone or too Amerified. Of course Joe's Stone Crabs. Peurta Sagua right in South Beach for Cuban.
Also I like to get a pastrami sandwich at Jerry's South Beach just because we have so little good deli here and it is pretty close. The Blue Door has some good stuff too.
And if you want steak avoid the Red Door and hit Prime 21. But why get steak when you could head into little Cuba. In addition to what was previously suggested.
I don't. I wish I did.
My inability to offer a recommendation is not a comment on my lack of knowledge of the scene there, but a common on the scene itself.
Michael Harr, who was recently brought in to run the show at Old Hickory Steakhouse and Moon Bay Coastal Cuisine, could change that. We'll see. Harr was the chef at the Butterfield 9, and he was putting out some of the most exciting (and underappreciated) cooking in the city at the time of the restaurant's demise.
Third week of May.
And newcomers make up a quarter of the current edition of the list.
I have an eating out dilemma that I'm hoping you'll weigh in on. Lately when eating out at Asian restaurants, particularly Chinese restaurants, I find myself torn between wanting the "easy" Americanized dishes I know, trust and crave vs wanting to get in on the fun and variety it looks like so many of the native customers have going on at their table.
When I see a big spread of all sorts of meats and vegetables and noodles that I don't recognize, packaged in various hot pots and steamers that almost feel "members only," I look down at my General Tso's Chicken or Chicken and Broccoli or Sesame Beef and feel like I'm eating Chinese Food Light. Kindof like feeling like your pants are too short.
So recently at Full Key in Wheaton I decided to try to convince my friends that we too could create the flavorful, varied, perhaps more-advanced Chinese food experience as was being enjoyed all around us by actual Chinese people. Not all of my friends were interested in this experiment and just wanted the food they associated with their lifetime memories of "going out for Chinese." Those of us who did venture away from Chinese Food Light wished we hadn't…not that anything was bad, but we simply didn't like it as much as our steady, Americanized favorites.
So, what do I do? Give up trying to force it and enjoy a lifetime of my too-easy, yet reliable favorites? Or press on to find dishes that can oust Chinese Food Light from dominating my cravings for the cuisine? If the latter, will the journey be worth the reward? Last, is it just me or do you too crave Asian food more when it's raining!?
It's a great question — great questions, I guess I should say.
What do you do? I say, eat what you like. I mean, really. Life's too short.
What you might think about doing is gradually incorporating these more courage-requiring dishes — say, one per meal.
My guess is, the reason you all didn't enjoy the more authentic dishes as much is not because you're wusses, but because you didn't start with the right ones. As in everything else, there are right introductions and wrong introductions.
Keep trying, but slowly, gradually. You'll eventually find two or three that you like.
As to craving Asian food when it's raining … I've never thought about it before in that way. I tend to crave it when I've had too steady a diet of blandly generic (if quality) cooking, or too many overrich meals.
Can't recommend a sushi spot, because I don't have a can't-fail restaurant. Sushi Sono in Columbia is excellent, though, and it's on the way.
As for the new additions …
I think Pueblo Viejo is one of the best Salvadoran restaurants around, and really minds the details — knock-out salsa made from roasted veggies, a wonderful fruit drink with chopped fresh fruit, good saucing on the enchiladas, a good tortilla soup, a very good version of tamal de elote, superb homemade flan.
And Bluegrass Tavern is doing what a lot of places are trying to do now, but doing it just a little bit better than most. A commitment to local sourcing, a creative but rooted menu, detailed, careful cooking, fair prices and a warm, unpretentious vibe. I like it. And it's easy to get to from DC, since it's right near the stadia.
That's it for this week, everyone — I'm going to go grab a quick lunch and then get right back to a pile of work I need to tackle.
Be well, eat well, and let's do it again next week at 11 …
[missing you, TEK … today, especially … ]
>>Submit your question in advance for next week's chat.