Dining With the Critic’s Mom

Restaurant critic Todd Kliman’s mother, Itsy, has been a trusted companion on her son’s eating adventures for years. So we gave her a pen. What’s her take on all those lavish celebrity-chef spots, humble strip-mall dining rooms, and far-flung suburban restaurants? She tells it like it is from the non-critic’s side of the table.

Ris
West End

New on the scene, but everybody and his hundred best friends are already attuned to its existence. There were no lines, but just about every table and seat at the bar was occupied on a drizzly weeknight. Unlike some establishments, where I sometimes feel there’s an unwritten rule that says people over age 35 are suspect, Ris patrons seem to fit comfortably into many decades. Once you get beyond those ultramodern glass doors that every restaurant seems to have now, the decor is pleasing, comfortable, and welcoming.

Our appetizers were French onion soup, mussels in a really good broth with tomato bits and crusts of hard bread—perfect for dunking—and scallops served as a margarita. By the time our entrées came, we were all pretty much sated and requested doggie bags to package the pork-chop dinner, salmon in an Asian sauce, and sole with miniature potatoes. We shared one marshmallow-fudge sundae, which was all the three of us could manage. The waiter gave us a lot of information about the Earl Grey tea I ordered; in fact, he brought samples of tea leaves produced locally for us to smell. The food was good—not a bummer in any of our dishes—so two stars to Ris.

My rating: ** stars

Bar Pilar
Logan Circle

Eating our way through the menu was fun, although most of the patrons (a young crowd) seemed to be there for the liquid refreshments. The bar is crowded, and the tables aren’t plentiful. Tables for two are small and not conducive for real eating—they’re more suited to noshing. Ah, here’s the rub: Small plates, such a civilized way to eat, can play havoc with your wallet if you’re very hungry—as was my companion. “This sounds good.” “Oh, let’s try that.” And did we ever!

Breakfast radishes served with a mound of softened butter (butter? what’s that all about?). Large, tasty sardines (good, but watch those bones!). Roasted tongue with delicious beans. The plates kept coming: roasted corn on the cob, white anchovies on bread, string beans with almonds, chicken-liver pâté on excellent crusty bread (my favorite item), marlin tartare, sea urchin . . . did I leave anything out?

Oh yes, dessert and tea. The tea bag was the most unique I’ve ever encountered (there was no identifying information—no name of tea, no brand name, nothing), but the tea was delicious. After some pears and crème fraîche, we called it a night. Despite only one beer, (Todd had two wines), we staggered out from food overload.

Rating the food only, I’d gladly hand out 2½ stars, but the waitstaff reduces that by one star. There was the nonspeaking person who delivers the food then stands by the table with your next plate, waiting and expecting you to decide where it goes and to make space for it. The waitress? Maybe she’d had a fight with her boyfriend or maybe her feet hurt, but she looked as if the last thing in the world she wanted to do was wait on us.

My rating: **½ stars for the food; *½ stars overall

Thai Tanium

Gaithersburg

Thai Tanium—I just love the name; I only wish I felt the same about the food.

The best analogy I can come up with is this: A beautifully gift-wrapped package which one opens with great expectations and when you reach inside . . . ah! A Bic pen!

Everything we had was okay: fish cakes, a shrimp entrée, garden rolls, but nothing rates more than just okay.

On the plus side are the outdoor seating and the fact that it’s open seven days a week.

My rating: * star

What Itsy’s Stars Mean:

**** stars = mind-blowing
*** stars = very good
** stars = pretty good
* star = just so-so

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