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.

Crème Cafe and Lounge
U Street, DC
I consider myself a soup person—I eat lots of soup, I make lots of soup, I love soup! So it’s no wonder that I ordered chicken-noodle soup at Crème. But the large bowl of steaming broth with chicken, carrots, and thin noodles that was delivered was beyond expectations. The exquisite broth was almost brown in color and had no oiliness or fat to deal with. The chicken was wonderfully tender. As the youngest member of my family would say, “How day do dat?” If I’ve ever had a better bowl of chicken-noodle soup, I certainly don’t remember it. Before our meal we enjoyed good crusty bread served with a hummus dip. And because it was a Monday, we were invited to purchase a bottle of wine at half-price. We also had a mushroom salad with cheese (good), a generous portion of a lamb dish and a “no bread crumb” crabcake, served with some amazingly good little peppers. Coconut cake topped off a fine meal.
So now, as I savor the chicken-noodle soup I brought home with me, I give Crème 2½ stars.

Jungle Grille
College Park
No fanfare, no press—just really, really good food. I’m willing to bet that most of the people who pour into University of Maryland to attend performing-arts functions figure they better eat before they come to College Park or wait until after they leave College Park. How wrong they are. Located in a strip mall off Route 1, Jungle Grille is worth finding. I’ve enjoyed the sandwiches—egg salad, turkey burgers, and more—on and off the premises for quite some time. There’s a posted sign that asks for diners’ patience while awaiting the “creation” they’ve asked for—and they are indeed creations. Just recently I had an Italian sub “with everything,” and it was perfect! The potato chips made in-house are pretty special, too. My companion ordered a salad, and what a salad it was—three mounds of tuna, chicken, and egg surrounded by his choice of vegetables, which included carrots, cauliflower, and spinach. It was huge and good.

2½ stars.

Four Sisters

Merrifield
Superb Vietnamese food, and worth the drive even if you don’t live in the vicinity. The room is casually appointed. The white plates on the dark tables are striking and pleasant; there are displays of fresh flowers—an abundance of red tulips and white poinsettias. The service is smooth and efficient, and when you get the check at the end of the meal, you’ll no doubt smile.
Our appetizers were shrimp toast (no other shrimp toast even comes close) and roasted quail, which I devoured, including almost all of the bones. The taste is so addictive, it’s like eating potato chips! This was followed by two pork dishes, both excellent. Served with ultra-crispy lettuce to use as a wrapper for the meat, sprouts, noodles, cucumbers, carrots, scallions, one was a “sandwich” to die for! My only disappointment is the fact that just Jasmine tea is available. I longed for a cup of black tea but had to settle for a diet Coke. Nonetheless, 4 well-deserved stars for Four Sisters.

What Itsy’s stars mean:

Four stars = mind-blowing.
Three stars = very good.
Two stars = pretty good.
One star = just so-so.

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