Tuesday, June 1 at 11 AM

Read a 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 May25th.

Follow Todd on Twitter!

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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

……………………………………………………………………………………………..

Kalorama Triangle

Hi Todd,

Quick question – when do you think the oil spill in the Gulf is going to start affecting seafood prices in local restaurants? Just curious as to whether you had any insight into this. Thanks!

It's a good question, one I've been wondering myself, but no, I don't have any insight into this.

Well, a little, maybe.

I don't think it's going to affect restaurants at the highest end very much, because they're getting fish shipped in from all around the world and not relying solely or even mostly on the Gulf.

I think the thing that's going to take a big hit and soon is shrimp. Wild Gulf shrimp, you can probably forget about that for a while. It's a shame, it's excellent stuff. But a lot of restaurant shrimp, the frozen kind, comes from the Pacific Rim, so you shouldn't notice a drop-off at Thai places, Chinese restaurants, etc., or in po'boys or shrimp salads, etc. 

Del Ray

Hi Todd,

I went to Brasserie Beck and as an appetizer, my group ordered oysters. One of the oysters was spawning.

Despite my personal feelings about eating this, I wanted to get some advice from a professional. Should a restaurant serve a spawning oyster? Should a restaurant warn a customer because a spawning oyster is dramatically different than a non-spawning oyster? Can a customer send back a spawning oyster and ask for a replacement? Is it safe to eat a spawning oyster? Are there particular seasons for spawning oysters.

Thanks for your help and sorry for grossing anyone out:)

I think it's perfectly okay to ask for a replacement oyster, yes, absolutely.

Keep in mind, it's just the one oyster. Did you ask for another? My guess would be that the shucker wasn't paying attention when he or she sent it out.

I can tell you that I have never seen a spawning oyster, and I have never eaten one. If I encountered a spawning oyster, honestly, I'd sort of feel as though I was intruding on someone's privacy.

Gaithersburg

Hi Todd,

I noticed that you always have A&J on your list of places you'd spend your money. I'm located in Gaitherburg and have had dim sum at a couple of places (e.g., New Fortune).

Can you, for the layperson, explain the difference between Southern Chinese dim sum and Northern Chinese dim sum–which I've been told A&J actually IS? What should I expect if/when I go there?

The differences are in style and in substance.

First, style. Northern Chinese dim sum doesn't involve carts. You order by ticking boxes on a slip of paper. (Which, actually, you also do with Southern Chinese dim sum at all other times except the weekend.)

Substance is the bigger difference. Northern Chinese dim sum is breadier. And, well — noodlier. As opposed to the steamed buns and dumplings that predominate in Southern Chinese dim sum.

A typical meal at A&J would include crullers, a bowl of noodles and a meat sauce, a sesame bread stuffed with meat (or egg; the egg sandwich for breakfast is superb, a glorious alternative to a morning McMuffin), etc. I always order some cold dishes, too, to balance the meal — garlicky pickled cucumbers, a dish of shredded chicken and cucumbers in mustard sauce, etc.

Dupont Circle

Hey Todd,

I look forward to your chats every Tuesday. For the last couple of years I've been buying olives at grocery stores (Harriss teeter/Wegmans).

I don't think this olive obsession is going away any time soon, so I wanted to ask you two things: 1. What constitutes good olives? (I've really never been exposed to too much) 2. Where can i get them?. I live in Dupont, but work in Fairfax. Anything in between is o.k for me.

Thanks in advance for the help!

Thanks for writing in. I'm happy to help.

A good olive is a well-cared-for olive. You don't want anything soft or mushy — you want an olive that's been well-preserved. Nothing canned. Jarred is better, but even better is getting something at an olive bar at one of the better grocery stores. There's a Whole Foods that's not that far from you — on 14th and P Sts., in Logan Circle — and I would spend some time exploring the olive bar, see what appeals to you. 

The route to great olives is to take home a container of olives — whatever you like — and doctor them.

What I do is, I heat a pan of olive oil — low heat, nothing to cook, just to warm — and toss in a clove of garlic, a bay leaf, a cinnamon stick, a couple of cloves, a star anise if you have some around, maybe some fresh herbs and the zest of half an orange. When all those things release their perfume in the warmth of the oil, you're ready to put in the olives. What you want to do is, you want to infuse them with the aromatics in the pan. Twenty minutes or so should do it.

What you end up with is something markedly more flavorful than what you bought, something that really brings out the spirit of the olives.

Serve them still-warm if you can. They make for a great start to a party or dinner.

Falls Church
Have you encountered a Cheap Eat that is good across the board, because I haven't. I can always find a few great dishes, but I'm the type that likes to try something new each visit, and more often than not I'm disappointed.

First of all, think about it this way — how many restaurants, period, are "good across the board"?

I can think of only a few that are great from start to finish, that don't have weak dishes or weak areas of their menus.

Last week, a chatter asked for a personal Top 10 and off the top of my head I typed the following list:

–A&J

–Bar Pilar

–Oohhs & Aahhs

–La Caraqueña

–2 Amys

–La Limeña

–Four Sisters

–Gom Ba Woo

–Minh's

–Taqueria La Placita  

 I think these places are pretty darn strong across the board.

Great Falls, Virginia
Just some brief thoughts about Inox and simply put, my point of view, not suggesting that I know all. In the short amount of time they were open, we had been several times. Over the last year, I felt the food had improved and the service was becoming friendlier. In the WP Spring Dining guide, this ultimately was validated and it seemed fitting that the one critic that hammered them the most on the economy, ended up giving them 3 stars…..Too Little Too late. What I felt when I heard about them closing was nothing short of sadness. I felt as though this 3 star review, came mere weeks late, if not a year or so late. I don’t blame the Food Critics for critiquing Inox’s cuisine, but as someone in the industry, I do take issue with many of the critics that took the reviews, outside of the buildings walls. Several times, several, I found reviews that questioned them, simply because of a poor economy. Not simply on the scrumptious Millbrook Venison or Lobster/short rib ravioli. Questioned the price of its menu, instead of pointing out the rarest of epicurean delicacies that would seem to draw the crowds and rally the foodies seemed more important, than just simply, reviewing what was contained within its walls. I won’t suggest that Inox didn’t have their issues and that most of that played ultimately into their fall. However, I don’t think that the writers are without blame too. Without thoughtful and meaningful reviews, the industry IS, at your whim. Those that covet merely to stay afloat and able to feed their kids, now fear your reservation. Not because of a simple review that might knock their sauces and froths, but that they will lose their business, house and family. A few times you have made comments that you “don’t believe you hold the key to a restaurants success”. I think that is perhaps one of the greatest understatements I have ever heard from a critic. You can’t possibly tell me that Frank Bruni didn’t play into the closing of a few, not many, but a few good restaurants that should have made it? You hold that same power. There are two of you in this metro area that wield that power. And both of you did. Today is a sad day for my wife and I as we feel we lost a special place. A place we saw her brother off to war. A place we found ourselves entrenched in perhaps one of the finest wines at such bargain prices. A place we loved to go, to celebrate our anniversary. But even more sad is the thought of – who will be the next victim and will it be because of a long lasting feud or for legitimate reasons.

I appreciate your writing in.

Let me just address some of what you bring up, because if I don't limit myself, I would be typing all afternoon.

One, I think you misunderstand the job of the reviewer, which in your mind is to bring the foodies out — or to promote the industry. Not at all. A lot of industry people seem to be of the same mind, that the reviewer is there to explain the restaurant, explain the food and drink, for the masses. To merely deliver the information.

You may think that only what takes place inside a restaurant matters, and that's a fair point, but not one I share. A restaurant exists in a cultural moment. It exists in a neighborhood. It doesn't exist in a vacuum.  

I also never said that I don't hold the key to a restaurant's success. Not exactly. I do believe that I don't hold THE key. Nor does Tom Sietsema. I also think that the culture has changed with blogs and all sorts of online outlets, and that print reviews don't hold the power they once did. At one time, yes, I think a poor review could damage a place.

But let's not be revisionist here: Inox never received poor reviews. It might not have garnered the sort of reviews its owners and chefs believe it was entitled to. But never a bad review, never a 1 1/2 star, or a 1 star or a no-star.

I also want to say here that I did not write the initial review of Inox that ran in the magazine. I was caring for my very ill father at the time, and so Ann Limpert stepped in for me. When I finally had a chance to try Inox, I had a stunningly good meal — what I would consider a 4-star experience, or very close to it. I can still remember entire dishes from that meal, and the wines that went with them.

But I recused myself from writing about that meal, because I was spotted and subsequently catered to in a way that went well beyond the norm, even for restaurants that succeed in identifying me. It was as though my tablemates and I had hired out the restaurant for the night.

A food and wine staffer went a couple of weeks later, and I eagerly awaited the verdict. Much, much closer to what Ann Limpert had experienced, which, let me add, was positive and encouraging. It's just too bad that it was not in the ballpark of what I had experienced, which was one of the great meals of the last few years.

I take no pride or joy in Inox's closing. I think the team in place there is very talented, and I hope for the sake of diners in the area that the men and women there find work — meaningful work — soon. 

 

Arlington
I was surprised to see the Delhi Club fall from the top 100 list. It's far from perfect, but I've had some real knockout dishes there. What gives?

What gives, is inconsistency.

And with such strong competition, we just didn't feel we could justify its place on the list right now.

It's too bad, because as you say, Delhi Club has its moments.

Bethesda, MD

I love shellfish, and have lived in Maryland nearly 20 years. In all that time, I have never been able to figure out what the excitement is about crabs. The biggest I have had has been LARGE, and I have had soft shell a few times. I have eaten in Obricki's (sp?), the Eastern Shore, Phillips, etc. To me, they do not have any flavor. Softshell gets overwhelmed by any preparation – I have had them sauteed and deep fried.

Crabcakes are "Meh", and the boil isn't really worth the effort – little meat and no flavor over the boil. I basically stopped ordering them years ago, and then tried them again in two preparations last week – same results.

When I read the several comments about crabs last week, I wondered what I was missing? What do I have to do or where do I have to go, or what do I have to order in order to assure myself that I have given the item all opportunities.

Well, first of all — Phillips is terrible. It's like eating a chocolate bunny that's been sitting on the shelves three weeks after Easter and wondering what all the fuss with chocolate is about.

If I were you, I'd go to Cantler's Riverside Inn, in Annapolis, and order as many hardshells as you can afford — if you don't get any enjoyment from picking and eating the sweet meat, then nothing's going to do it for you.

You could also go to Ray's the Steaks or Ray's the Classics or Ray's the Steaks at East River and order the Crab Royale and see if that does it for you. I think it's a terrific dish.

Give it a try, and see what you think. I'd love to hear back from you …

Incidentally, Ray's the Steaks at East River is putting out a really good crabcake sandwich for $9.95, and it includes two side dishes. You can't find a deal like this anywhere, including Lexington Market in Baltimore.

It's not as good as the cold-smoked and fried chicken, however, which tastes almost like barbecue, salty and sweet and smoky. Five pieces, $9.95. Including two sides.

If you go, and you should — it's a wonderful place, a wonderful blast from the past, not to mention a grand and visionary statement that carries on as if nothing special were going on — be sure to order the cobbler of the day. Last week it was a blueberry cobbler. One of the best I've ever eaten.

So many burger places!
Do you think this burger craziness will fade or die down? I heard that BLT Burger and possibly Bobby Flay's Burger Palace will be opening in DC area soon. What are your favorite burger joints these days? Location doesn't matter. Thanks for these weekly chats. Eddie

Well, it hasn't died down yet, and I see no evidence that it's going to taper off anytime soon.

I like the burgers at Ray's Hell Burger and also at BGR: The Burger Joint, I think they're at the top of the list locally.

I have to say, though, that other than doing my duties for work — which sometimes involve tasting but not finishing a dish — I have not eaten a burger on my own since watching the documentary "Food, Inc."

Seeing those ammonia-washed mounds of ground beef, gray and altogether unappetizing — I just can't bring myself to bite into a burger that isn't made with meat from a local farmer. I don't know how long I'm going to feel this way. Maybe forever …

Service?

I recently went with my boyfriend and his parents to a nice restaurant for Sunday brunch. We were not seated until after 11:45 for a 11:30 reservation because the people before us were still at the table. This was not a problem at all and we were perfectly find chatting at the bar until our table became available.

After we were seated, we were served quickly with the meal arriving just moments after ordering. After the check came, we continued to sit and enjoy the rest of our coffee and continue our conversation (for maybe 10 minutes?) at which point, we were approached by an elderly man who let us know that he had reservations for our table and we needed to leave so he could sit.

To be fair, I do not think the restaurant was aware he had approached our table, but we were not sure how the man knew for which table he had reservations. We were caught so off-guard that we did not know how to respond to the man and weren't even sure at first if he was another patron or someone from the restaurant.

On the way out, we told the hostess who apologized and said she would speak to him. The manager called a few hours later to apologize again and say that they had spoken with the patron but did not offer any sort of compensation. While she said to let her know if there was anything more she could do, we were not sure what was appropriate to ask for. What do you think is the best way for a restaurant to handle a situation like this? Do you think an apology is sufficient or does it require something more?

I know that the restaurant had no control over what happened but believe this is the case with many issues that occur in restaurants. It's when a restaurant handles a situation that's out of its control with grace that I feel they are truly professional and want to give them my service. The part that bothered us the most is that we were only still at the table because the people before us had taken longer. While I think it would have been incredibly inappropriate for the man to approach us either way, it's not like we had been sitting for hours and we weren't even the cause of the delay.

I don't think you can blame the restaurant for the rogue actions of one guy — who, incidentally, should not have known which table was going to be "his." Unless a hostess happened to have said, "Sir, we're waiting for that table to leave, it should only be another few minutes." 

Now, what is it appropriate to "ask for"? It's appropriate to ask for nothing.

You had a meal, you presumably enjoyed yourself, and only at the very end, just minutes before leaving, a stranger, acting alone, asked if you would vacate your table. I just don't see what the restaurant didn't do that it should have.

I mean, the manager even called later to apologize! That's not nothing, a personal apology — and particularly when you consider that he wasn't really responsible for what happened.

Now, granted, I wasn't there, but nothing in your description indicates that the man was forceful or belligerent. And though it may not have been a pleasant moment, at least you came away from it with a great story — one you will be telling for years to come, as the memory of the food and drink fades in a matter of weeks, if it hasn't faded already.

I mean, right? Isn't a great story a great thing to have come away with? How often can you say that of your experiences in life?

Arlington, VA
Must be nice to be able to afford local ground beef and chicken. I bet it is organic too. Difference in cost at Wegman's Organic boneles chicken breast $1.79 on sale club pack. Organic boneless chicken breast $8.49 a pound. Organic ground beef club pack $7.19 and regular $2.39. Most folks can't afford local grown organic.

What are you trying to say, that I'm an effete, elitist snob because I haven't eaten a regular hamburger in months? 

Please.

I didn't say I'm buying organic local beef at the stores, because for one, well — I never eat at home. I'm talking about restaurant burgers, okay?

And hey, you can eat whatever you want — I don't really care. I'm not the food police, and never have been. We all make our own choices. Live and let live.

I will say, though, that there are a lot of things to eat in this world besides burgers.

Arlington, VA

Hey Todd,

Just curious why Ravi Kabob fell off of your personal list and I could be wrong but I don't remember seeing it in the cheap eats list this year. Thanks

Why?

Dryish bone-in kabob last visit.

But I don't see that being a pattern. I still think Ravi's pretty terrific.

And no, it didn't fall out of Cheap Eats. It's right there in the mix, between Rabieng and Ray's the Classics Lounge. Take another look. 

Clifton, VA

Restaurants operate on very slim margins. 30 years ago when I was waiter the managers used to get hammered over food costs and we are talking tenths of a percent. Inox was open for at least a couple of years. More restaurants fail then make it at their level or at any level. Tyson's is changing and the contruction and traffic problems didn't help Inox. And their location is kind off the beaten path.

Crabs the best are the ones you catch with string and chicken necks. You then steam in really cheap beer with Old Bay. Really cheap beer ie Schaeffer, Schmidts, Nattie Boh. Bud is too good for crabs. You drink Bud long necks while eating crab. You never use light beer for steaming crabs. Good q in VA try the tent at the round a bout at 50 and 15 and the one truck at Rt 7 next to Shell station on Rt 7W in Berryville.

Very weird.

I'm finding that I agree with everything you say these days.

Thanks for writing in, Clifton, and thanks for the 'cue tip, too.

Wheaton
Have you been to the newly relocated Hollywood East at the Wheaton mall? I went for dim sum and found the post WP review crowds huge, the service slow, and the dim sum choices limited. The frying was heavy and a bit greasy, but the steamed dishes were all rock solid. But at the end of the day, I don't see how being in a mall is ever going to make a restaurant better. More profitable, yes. But better, no.

I've been. Several times.

And by the way, those crowds are not just WaPo review crowds — Cheap Eats came out the same week.

But yes, things aren't quite back to where they were. As you say, frying is heavier and things are a bit greasier than they were in the past. Management is still trying to figure out how much to cook, and the pacing of the carts has been uneven. 

I have confidence that they'll right the wrongs, though, and within a couple of months most likely.

Now, to your final point. Hollywood East Cafe on the Blvd. didn't move because it was interested in becoming more profitable. It moved because it had to. Because it had no choice but to move. I don't think from what I know that their first choice was a mall.

 

Shaw DC

Todd,

For what it's worth….I completely agree with your assessment on the brunch group getting ousted by the "rogue" customer. To ask for compensation from a restaurant over something like that, and getting a personal apology….good grief people!

It was BRUNCH, not your wedding reception! People always thinking they deserve some kind of freebie really rattles me…..just my 2 lousy cents.

It's not lousy. ; )

And personally, as I said, I think coming away with a great story is gift enough. Story longa, brunch brevis

Reston, VA

Todd:

Why are you running our fair city into the ground by destroying local businesses with scathing reviews you never actually wrote and insisting we eat nothing but 100% pure Kobe beef burgers 3 meals of the day? Also, why have you failed to plug the oil leak or deal Gilbert Arenas to another team?…..

More seriously though, I wanted to thank you for putting J&G in the list so often that the SO and I finally made it there, and it was nothing short of fantastic. I had the scallops to start (perfectly done), but the highlight had to have been the halibut entree. I have no idea how they cook a notoriously difficult fish so well, but I could eat that thing almost every day (the spices/sauce are also exceptional). Also, whoever assembled the wine list should be commended, as there is a great selection at every price point, and not just the usual cab/merlot/pinot options. A fantastic experience all around.

Thanks — and thanks for the great laugh, too …
Arlington, VA

Should wine make the food taste better or vice versa or both?

Because I find that with a truly great meal (especially omakase at a japanese restaurant), I think that water is the best compliment. It adds nothing, but more importantly takes nothing away, and does not distract or replace the taste of the food.

I am always wondering why food critics don't insist on drinking water with their meals instead of wine. Wine can distract or muddle the food. Water is the ultimate clean slate, palette cleanser. Better than ginger or sorbet. Your thoughts?

I can't speak for other critics, but I don't order wine exclusively with my meals. Many times I simply go with a glass or two of water.

With elevated food, — not to say better food, but food that involves a lot of technique and a lot of layering of flavor — I like sparkling water. I like the bubbles, I like the bracing crispness of it.

I think sparkling water often does a pretty good job of cleansing and refreshing the palate.

I'm guessing, though, that you've never experienced the alchemical magic of oysters with a cold glass of Sancerre, or a great marbled steak and a great Cabernet, or a lobe of seared foie gras and a fine Pinot Noir, because you probably wouldn't have asked the question. If the wine is well-suited to the dish, it enhances and teases out the flavors of the food, and the food in turn makes the wine feel right and necessary.

In other words, when it works, there's more than just cleaning the slate. A lot more.

Speaking of cleaning the slate — I've got to do it now. I'm running late for lunch.

Be well, everyone, eat well and let's do it again next week at 11 …

In case you're interested, take a look at my new website, toddkliman.com, which is near complete — pop-ups coming soon! — and gives more information on my new book, The Wild Vine. There's even a book trailer, directed (wonderfully, I think) by a former student of mine, Seaton Smith.

   

 

(missing you, TEK … )

 

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