Tuesday, May 25 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 May11th.

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TK's 25:

Where I'd Spend My Own Money

A&J, Rockville & Annandale

Afghan Famous Kabob, Gainesville

Bistro Bis, DC

Bistro Cacao, DC

Bluegrass Tavern, Baltimore

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

Pueblo Viejo, Beltsville

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


Good morning, everyone.

I'm coming to you live from Philadelphia, where I'm on book tour.

Specifically, from a neat little coffee shop at 17th and Sansom called Bonte. Good coffee, good bagels, good service.

Actually, I'm still pretty besotted from dinner last night at Marc Vetri's Osteria — among the highlights: homemade rigatoni with a fabulous chicken liver-and-cippolini ragu, a lasagnette with white and green asparagus and a poached egg on top, a mortadella-and-pistachio pesto pizza, and a special of spit-roasted pig seasoned liberally with salt and pepper and mint …

Arlington Va
I saw Afghan Famous Kabob made your "list." The online menu looks like pretty standard Afghan fare. Do they excel at kabobs or vegetarian stews or rice or aushak or everything? How does it compare to Bamian and Faryab?

You can't really compare it to Bamian and Faryab — they're full-service restaurants, with atmosphere, and longer, more complicated menus. AFK is just a kabob house.

For what it does, I don't think it can be beat. The kabobs are excellent, and monstrously portioned, and their boulawnee — a savory, three-corner turnover filled with potato and onion — is one of the best around, maybe THE best around. Great rice, too — not at all a throwaway.

Lots of great kabob houses in Northern Virginia, but this one is a standout to me. 

Clifton, VA
Some of he best barbeque is offered along Rt7 in VA in roadside stands and gas stations between Sterling and Berryville. You really need to spend a few weekends exploring the offerings. Now it wouldn't be any fun if I gave you my favs but a couple have some of the best Q this side of Memphis and TX. Far superior to anything in VA and NC.

So you want me to try and then tout the barbecue at these scattered roadside stands, but you won't divulge a name or two that you like? 

What kind of game is that?

For starters, it's just plain bad chattiquette. 


Just wanted to add a few places to the list to try in Annapolis: there is Taqueria Juquilita in the plaza across the street from West Marine and Grumps that is good. I wouldn't have gone save my hair dresser used to be there and I was hungry and turned out to be very authentic and satisfying. It is a whole in the wall though, fyi.

I also like Taqueria Serrano. If you are downtown El Toro Bravo has some good stuff if you explore the menu a bit.

Also Giolitti's has pretty good Italian subs and hot foods. It doesn't have a lot of ambiance, but is nice for a quick lunch or take out.

I also really enjoy the sandwiches from the Big Cheese (combined with Sammy's now).

Tsunami isn't bad, either. I go more for the entrees than the sushi. And I haven't been in a few years, but Galway Bay had great entree salads, crabcakes and a dish called chicken cashel blue. I am not always a fan of Irish food, but this place and it's sister Kilarney House do some things right. Might be worth a try when you are in the mood for that sort of thing.

And I assume as the Summer season and crabs are approaching plans are being made for Cantler's or Mike's? Just a few thoughts.

Annapolis certainly doesn't have the restaurants of DC, but hope this helps.

Agree with your take on Giolitti's. I'd put Squisito in pretty much the same category.

The rest, eh.

Cantler's, of course — the incomparable Cantler's. I was just there last week, sitting out under the canopy, overlooking the water. The hard shells were great, as usual; they know not to oversteam them, and the meat is wonderfully sweet and succulent. I also had a marvelous stuffed, fried soft shell.

It was my two-year-old son's first taste of crab from the shell, and he was sucking the meat out of the claws like a champ. 

Silver Spring, MD

Hi Todd,

At your (and others') behest, I tried Etete on Friday night with my wife and two friends. The food was very nice–very well-spiced and not greasy like some Ethiopian food can be when prepared wrong. All that to say, I probably will not go back.

The service there was abysmal. Let me qualify that by saying, I'd read prior to going that the service left something to be desired, so we went to dinner not "expecting something that it isn't". The problem is, everything I'd read told me that the servers tended to be less attentive and a meal can take a long time there–as is "culturally relevant". Whatever, I'm just writing what I'd read. I found it to be quite the opposite.

We were there @ 8 p.m. and after about an hour, towards the end of our meal, our server came to begin to remove dishes. Unprompted, she brought the check over at the same time. We politely told her that we would like coffee, so she removed the check and brought back our coffee–with the check. We were looking around the restaurant and there was no one waiting (even at the bar or outside). After 5 more minutes the server came over and opened the black folder holding our check to see if we'd placed our form of payment in there, yet. This happened another time before we finally just put the money down and left. We'd felt rushed through for most of the meal, but that just got ridiculous. Good grief-this was only an hour at dinner. How long can I expect to have at a restaurant in this area before I am ushered out?!? An hour seems to be the LEAST they can offer. Boy do I long for a place around here that allows you to eat in leisure and enjoy time with friends. I'll probably head down to Dukem next time for my Ethiopian.

Not good, I agree with you. Not good at all.

There are some things that Etete can do, and it wouldn't take much, to improve the level of service. I hope they're listening.

Still, I have to say that what you're likely to find at Dukem isn't going to add up to an appreciably better experience. Better service, perhaps. But not markedly so. And the food is markedly worse.

You might want to look into Madjet, which I enjoy as much for its cooking as for its character and vibe, or the new Ethiopic, which is putting out some of the best Ethiopian food right now in the area. 


Quick Hits from the Restaurant Refugee

Ardeo may not be on my list for anything else (inconsistency being the only constant will do that to a place in the same neighborhood as Palena) but their $25 (mimosas included) brunch might be one of the better values in the city.

Blacksalt is the reigning champion of seafood places in this area – at least in my mind – however, a recent lunch and dinner at Kinkeads seem to indicate that they want to make an “everyone thought they were done” run at the title à la George Foreman.

The Palm (downtown location) feels about as dated as the first season of West Wing. Their Prime Bites happy hour (really tasty noshes for $3.50 from 4:30 – 6:30 and after 9pm) however, lightens the mood but not so much the wallet. The crowd is more interesting during the later portion of the evening… but that shocks no one.

Hudson has always had the feel of a place that is too hip by half for my tastes but they do make a damn fine Manhattan and I am still thinking about their bbq chicken pizza three days later.

I should have seen the problems coming when a recent first date countered with Brasserie Beck after my initial suggestion of Granville Moore’s. Both places have lost a step (more important for the former which is more expensive and doesn’t have the character of the latter) but she wanted Moules & Frites. I’ve seen flashes of brilliance at Beck, but more commonly they yo-yo between visits and often on the same night. My date was a bit pretentious, precious, and thought I should be way too grateful for the privilege, the woman was the same way… ba-dum-bum.

Mendocino Grille is still my favorite place to eat in the bastion of culinary mediocrity that is Georgetown, but am I the only one who really misses Barry Koslow’s hand at the stove?

Calling Matisse Café the best restaurant in Tenleytown may be similar to saying that they are the best team in the worst league in the city. Saying that my last meal there makes me wish that I lived just a bit closer or they were in a more interesting part of the city, that’s a better compliment.

Note to Restaurateurs: I took a poll… even my deaf friends find your website music annoying.

The Restaurant Refugee, everyone.

Thanks for chiming in with your usual wide-ranging report, RR. We appreciate it.

And my recent experience at Kinkead's jibes with yours. If we're just talking about what's on the plate, I don't think BlackSalt is nearly as good. 

Agree with you about Granville Moore and Beck having each lost a little something off their respective fastballs. Also about Mendocino; Tallula has made a huge gain with Koslow's hop across the Potomac. 

Keep 'em coming, RR … 

Montgomery Village, MD

Hi Todd,

I have some clients coming to town that keep kosher. Can you recommend any restaurants that offer kosher meals or any kosher delis in DC? Thanks!

I think your best bet, and it's not too far from you, either, is Pita Hut in Rockville. Israeli-style pita and falafel, schwarma, roast Cornish hen, and it's all glatt kosher.

If you take them, would you drop back on and let me know how things turn out–? 

Falls Church, VA
Is Quarterdeck any good for crabs in Arlington?

It is.

Would it be my first choice in the area? Or second choice? No and no. But it's close to you and it will definitely fit the bill.



I just moved to Mt. Pleasant and have fallen in love with Radius Pizza! I was looking for a review but didn't see one? Thanks for keeping me informed with where to eat in DC since I new here! I look forward to Tuesday's with you.

You're in luck, because Radius just earned a spot in our new Cheap Eats guide, out now.

The Mt. Pleasant restaurant — a fun hangout, but mediocre or worse for several years when it came to the food — has made huge strides since Todd Wiss came aboard as chef/owner. 

Alexandria, VA
Cantler's does have great crabs, but the sides generally are terrible. Frozen hush puppies, for example.

Name me one crab house that has across-the-board great sides.

I've never seen one, for example, that makes its own hush puppies. And why would it?

A crab house isn't Le Bernardin. It's not about distinguishing itself by attending to lots of little details. If it's good, it attends to one detail, and that's the crabs. And really, that's all you ask of a crab house. Great crabs and a good atmosphere for picking and drinking.

What's next, faulting the beer menu for not carrying microbrews?

Wheaton, MD
Take your Kosher guests to Max's in Wheaton, best falafel in the area, guaranteed.

Oh, no doubt — it's so good you'll be thinking of it for weeks afterward, wondering how they get it so light and crunchy and irresistible. It's amazing falafel.

But there's nothing else on that menu that I would care to eat, and I've given many plates a chance. Also, the setting is pretty dismal, and the staff is about as surly as you can expect to find — not lovably surly, either, like you sometimes find in the old Jewish delicatessens. Just — surly.


Shaw, DC

Good Morning, Todd.

The chat is the highlight of my Tuesday!

Just had to write a field report about Ris. I don't want to oversell anything on the menu, but the Scallop Margarita….well, I could easily eat a bathtub-sized portion and never be tired of it. What I thought was going to be a good ceviche-esque dish, turned out to be this delicious, complex nest of flavors and textures. Tequila ice? Awesome.

I also had the lamb shank which was flavorful and very tender. My friend had the red pepper soup and the Monday meatloaf and licked clean both plates. We didn't have time, or room in our pants, for dessert. The only semi-complaint was service, not bad, but not good. Very…."oh, you're still here." That said, the food is certainly worth a return visit.

The Scallop Margarita is everything you say it is — a terrific dish, the kind that should never, ever come off the menu.

From what I've seen, I think Ris is doing a good job so far. In the current restaurant scene, dominated as it is by hip, loud newcomers geared to the young and affluent, with their menus all working hard to outdo one another when it comes to exoticism and novelty, I'd have to say it's more tortoise than hare, but we could use a few more tortoises. 


Bethesda, MD

Hi Todd,

Noticed the comments about Etete, and I ALSO noticed that that person was from Silver Spring. I do know that there are a few Ethiopian places in SS. What are your thoughts about any of them? Sure would help a few of us out who don't always feel like driving or Metroing into the city…

The best I've found in Silver Spring is the new Bete, on Roeder Rd. just up from the Majestic 20. The cooking is solid, and sometimes better than solid, and the cakes are all homemade — all Italian, including a good rum cake and a good tiramisu.

A step up, if you're more interested in wots than cakes, is Shagga in Hyattsville, only fifteen minutes from Silver Spring — though Bethesdans, I've noticed, have a tendency to think that driving more than 20 minutes outside their city is like going to the outer ends of the earth. ; )

Superb doro wat, and you can also find one of the best vegetarian samplers, or fasting platters, in the area. 

Bethesda, MD
Rather than a party at home, we would like to celebrate our son's graduation from St. Albans in a few weeks at a restaurant. I am looking for atmosphere – perhaps a garden view or windows that would complement the spring beauty. We will be a party of 7 and enjoy fine dining. I have considered several restaurants – I hope you are able to help. Marina

Marina, I'd look into two places, both from the Blacks group of restaurants — Addie's, in Rockville, with its outdoor patio, and Black Market Bistro, in Garrett Park, secluded and cozy and set in a gorgeous and comfy house.

Both I'd classify as fine dining, but without the formality.

Hope that helps. Let me know how things turn out …

Wheaton, MD

Have you tried the Vietnamese restaurant that replaced Nava Thai in the back of the Thai grocery store, Hung Phat?

I have eaten there a few times and have found the flavors to be clean, bright and fresh. The grill dishes and pho were especially good. Just another example of how internationally and cheaply you can eat in the Wheaton area.

I regret not having any high end restaurants in the neighborhood, but I love that I can afford to eat the best the area has to offer on a consistent basis.

I've eaten at Hung Phat five times now. 

I like it, and no real weak spots on the menu, either. (No soaring high highs, either.) Good roast quail, good pho, good grilled pork and vermicelli.

Brandywine, MD

Hey Todd!

Congrats on your new book!

I will soon be celebrating my 44th birthday and am trying to make a decision between J&G Steakhouse or Brasserie Beck. Have you been to either restaurant recently and if so, which one would you pick and why? What's hot on their menus right now? Hubby and I thank you in advance for your opinion.

I haven't been to either recently, if by recently you mean in the past two months. 

And I don't think you can really compare the two places — J&G is much more of a fine dining experience, albeit a somewhat casual one.

But if I had to choose between the two, I wouldn't hesitate in picking J&G. I just think you're in for a better night all around: better cooking, better service.

Enjoy yourselves, and let me know how the big night turns out, okay? Happy birthday in advance …

And thanks for the well-wishes on the book, Brandywine. I'm really heartened by all the great reviews so far, and even more than that, by the fact that there are people out there who seem to understand what it's meant to be. That's really gratifying.

I noticed you got rid of the ratings system on the Cheap Eats list this year. How about a quick ranking of your top 10?

Just off the top of my head … and typing quickly …


–Bar Pilar

–Oohhs & Aahhs

–La Caraqueña

–2 Amys

–La Limeña

–Four Sisters

–Gom Ba Woo


–Taqueria La Placita  

That's it for this week, everyone. I'll be back home tomorrow, asleep for a change in my own bed. If you have any great Philly food recs, please shoot them to me via email: tkliman@washingtonian.com.

For more information about my book, The Wild Vine, please go to toddkliman.com 

Meantime, eat well, be well, and let's do it again next week at 11 …



[missing you, TEK … ] 


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