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 June 15th.
Where I'd Spend My Own Money
Afghan Famous Kabob, Gainesville
Bistro Bis, DC
Black Market Bistro, Garrett Park
Bluegrass Tavern, Baltimore
Cantler's Riverside Inn, Annapolis
Four Sisters, Falls Church
Gom Ba Woo, Annandale
J&G Steakhouse, DC
Jesse Wong's Asean Bistro, Columbia
La Limeña, Rockville
Palena Cafe, DC
Poste Brasserie, DC
Pueblo Viejo, Beltsville
Ray's the Classics Bar, Silver Spring
Taqueria La Placita, Riverdale
Zentan sushi bar, DC
…………………………………………………………………………………………….. Before we get started this morning, I just wanted to let you all know that I'll be on NPR this afternoon at 1:30, talking about my new book, THE WILD VINE. That's 88.5 FM, the "Kojo Nnamdi Show." Please tune in.
I also wanted to announce a book giveaway.
A free copy goes to the reader who sends in the best restaurant review (100 words or fewer) of an area restaurant. What do you like about the place? What makes it good or interesting? I'm looking for reviews that do more than just make me hungry — I want you to try to capture the character of the place.
You can send your entries — as many as you like — to email@example.com
I'll announce the winner next week. Good luck to all of you. Can't wait to read your reviews …
Just wanted to give a quick shout out to Bistro la Bonne on U St. – 10 of us celebrated a birthday there last weekend, and they did a great job taking care of us, on a Saturday night no less!
The Coq au Vin and Hanger Steak were the favorite dishes of the night – the pate was a huge portion but underwhelming and after we requested a special dessert for our friend they took our dessert menus away so we all lost the opportunity to order dessert (sad!) but overall a great experience and I'll definitely be back
Good for la Bonne. That's good to hear.
It's not an ambitious place, and it's not meant to be. Nor is meant to be gastronomically memorable. It's meant to be exactly what it was for you that night. Thanks for the report.
No comment yet, I haven't quite gotten a good read on it.
Notice I didn't say "got" — I haven't quite got a good read on it. That would be New Yorker-ese. Annoys the hell out of me.
RE: Minh's. I grew up right next to Eden Center, so for me 4 Sisters has always been the standard bearer for Vietnamese in the area.
After seeing Minh's mentioned by you a few times, I finally gave it a shot and I have to say that their "Northern Style" Bun is simply addictive and noticeably different from the more traditional "Southern Style" Bum being served at most places.
I tried to coax some information out of the waiter as to what exactly they do differently with it, but didn't get too far. Any ideas about the specifics on this?
I'd like to know myself. I think this is a great candidate for Recipe Sleuth.
By the way, the bun you're talking about — the Northern-style bun on the menu — is called bun cha. I think Minh's has the best bun cha in the area. It's a superlative version of the dish. Four Sisters is a terrific place, but its bun cha doesn't compare.
I'll tell you, I could go for a great big bowl of it for lunch this afternoon …
Going to Kushi for the first time tonight. Looking at the menu now and I'm not sure how best to construct a meal from the Kushiyaki, Maki, Kobachi, and Robata. Any items not to miss?
You need to pick up a copy of the magazine, which ought to hit newsstands today. My review of Kushi addresses this very problem.
My advice is to build around the sushi and sashimi, which is some of the very best in the city right now. Taro has a challenger.
If you're not too worried about money, I'd splurge on some of the raw fish selections on the daily specials menu. Among the list of items one night was live uni — five good-sized lobes, prized right from the spiny shell. Amazing. Expensive, but amazing.
So, build around the raw stuff and then supplement, is my strategy.
To supplement … I like the sausage-stuffed quail a lot. I like the duck thigh, which tastes like a cross between a French bistro and KFC. I like the meatballs, although once they were underseasoned. Don't miss the Japanese potato salad.
And don't miss the sorbets and ice creams. I love the Valrhona chocolate, and even more when you mix it in a little with the salted ice cream.
Two weeks ago, I asked for a recommendation for a place for my family to eat where the surroundings would evoke sitting on the Mediterranean coast. You suggested Mourayo or Potenza.
While I appreciate your help, I'm sorry to say that we did not end up at either of those two restaurants. But I did want to let you know where we ended up. As it turned out, after writing to you, I happened upon a wonderful Greek restaurant in Old Town Alexandria, Taverna Cretekou.
The initial attraction is its lovely garden in the back of the restaurant where we could dine outdoors away from the bustle and noise of the street. But we were also treated to extremely good food and very friendly and attentive service. I was unable to find any reviews and would be interested in your opinion of the restaurant.
Maybe next time we'll try one of the spots you recommended, but on that particular night Taverna Cretekou was the perfect choice for my family.
No worries — I'm glad to hear the night turned out so well.
I haven't been to Taverna Cretekou in years, I have to admit. I didn't eat quite as well as you, it sounds like. I also sat out back, and remember liking the setting a lot. I also remember thinking that was the chief attraction of the place.
I'll have to give it another go. Thanks for writing in.
I missed the chat last week, but I have some advice on grilling shrimp also.
It's all about the shells.
I make a slit up the back of the shell to devein the shrimp but leave the shell and tail on. I think this helps keep the moisture in the meat. Then I throw the shrimp with some Wishbone Italian dressing in a ziplock bag for as long as I have time for, and then I put the shrimp over medium heat until not squishy.
I test the squishiness simply by pressing on the shrimp with the tong. It's not fancy and you have to peel the shells before serving or serve with shells but it tastes delicious everytime.
I agree with you, leaving the shells on is another good way to handle the problem of shrimp on the grill.
But a Wishbone marinade? I'm dubious.
We are headed to Portugal in a few weeks for our honeymoon–have you been? We'd love any restaurant suggestions that you have for Lisbon and the Douro Valley.
We are also spending a few days in Madeira. What about wines? Obviously Port and Madeira are on the lists, but how do you feel about the vinho verdes from the region? Thanks!
I haven't been, but perhaps some other reader or readers have, and can come through with some good suggestions for you.
You asked about Portugal's vinho verdes. I like them. Very refreshing, especially this time of year, and they're good with a lot of dishes. For instance, a simply grilled white fish with a sauce of parsley, capers and lemon juice — that's just calling out for a Portuguese vinho verde.
First, total agreement on "gotten" vs. "got."
Secondly, thanks to your chats I've tried pupusas. What's the deal with them? The description on the menu where I go, doesn't say much. It seems to be served with a cabbage and spicy sauce. I found them delicious, but wanted to get your take for maximum tasting!
Finally, where would you go for lunch right now, if you could? (just for pleasure, not work) Thanks!
Just so you know, it's no small matter, this "got" vs. "gotten" stuff. There's a Facebook group page dedicated to getting the New Yorker to abandon this precious archaism. I'm a member.
Pupusas are great, aren't they? Well, great pupusas are great. And even good pupusas are still pretty great. I've had some bad ones, and they're not great — oily, gooey with cheese, leaden.
The cabbage is called curtido, and you pile a little bit of this on top of each bite. The vinegar in the curtido, plus a hit of spicy sauce (whether spooned from a small bowl, or spritzed on with a ketchup bottle) helps to cut the cheesy richness of the pupusa.
Where would I go for lunch now, if I could just magically transport myself there? Probably Minh's, in Arlington. I've got bun cha on the brain. A bowl of bun cha, a plate of yam-and-shrimp fritters (tucked into giant fronds of lettuce and then dipped into fish sauce), the sizzling catfish with mint, the skewered grilled pork with vermicelli, maybe some soft shells (if they have them) tossed in the wok with onion and mint, a glass of made-from-scratch Vietnamese iced coffee …
Best raw bar is Old Ebbitt Grill. 10 kinds of oysters shipped in fresh every day.
But the best oysters you can find right now are those at Central Michel Richard, J&G Steakhouse and Poste Brasserie. Notably, they're all serving West Coast varieties, mostly from British Columbia. Cool, firm, creamy, mineral-y, cucumber-y.
A couple of restaurant reports to share, but first a quick comment on a recent pet peeve…
My wife and I went to Poste recently for an early dinner prior to a show. As is our custom, we spent most of the day prior to going surveying the menus excitedly for what we might want, and I found that the pre-theatre menu seemed unusually good (not the widest selection, but all the items there were of interest to me), and a fantastic value.
When we arrived at the restaurant, however, we were not given the pre-theatre menu. When I asked if it was available, the server said that she would check, and when she returned she said that it was available, and simply told us the two appetizer and entree selections verbally, in summary fashion (i.e., no explanation of ingredients or preparation, which the menu would afford).
This is not to pick on Poste — the same thing has happened to me in a couple of other restaurants as well. I can certainly imagine the motivation for not handing out a pre-theatre menu with the full menu, but it has the effect of making me feel like a cheapskate when I then have to specifically request it. If a restaurant is going to have such a menu, then *have it*. Or don't. But this awkward middle ground… I don't know, am I being oversensitive here?
Anyway — that aside, the meal at Poste was quite good.
There were a couple of misses — I found the braised rabbit with taglietelle a little bland/underseasoned, and the "coulette" portion of the salted caramel dessert was quite dry and dense. But the hits outweighed them. The mussels were fantastic, leaving me smelling of garlic for hours (a good thing, no matter what anyone says!). And the beef bourguignon was luxurious, the sweet and syrupy reduction sauce playing so well with the meat and the thoughtful inclusion of dijon mustard on the side.
Finally, we had a thoroughly enjoyable experience recently at Bibiana. We hewed close to the Washingtonian recommended dishes, and they did not disappoint. The dramatic spaghetti nero could not have tasted fresher, and the tiramisu is indeed one of the most unique I've tried.
And bonus points for the service — when we mentioned we wanted to split the capretto entree (after splitting two fried appetizers and two pastas, we were nearing our limits!), there was no hesitation and they even divided the entree onto two plates so we could share more easily.
Just fantastic all around. I think it says something great about the Washington dining scene when a restaurant rated toward the very end of the Top 100 can create such a great dining experience!
Sadly, these meals were a sort of "big blowout" before jumping back on the dieting wagon. Ah well — it was great to go out with such a bang!
Thanks for the good, detailed reports.
And to go back to the problem at Poste — I don't think you're being oversensitive. I've it seen it done this way at a number of other restaurants as well, and although I can't say for sure what the motivation is, I can't help feeling that it's meant to put you in the position of having to ask — thereby making you feel like a cheap bastard.
To all restaurateurs: If that's not the motivation, I would like to know what the motivation is. And even if it isn't the motivation, it's what it comes across like to some of us.
Same deal with having a server come around to announce the specials and not give prices. Asking is awkward, especially on a date or with a client, so many diners simply don't ask. And then the bill comes and — whammo! That "special" of whole grilled fish turns out to have been $15 more than any other entree on the menu.
I realize I'm probably going to disappoint you in saying this, but I haven't seen any of the episodes yet.
Is it good? Worth watching?
Not to be churlish, but I just can't bring myself to watch much of anything on TV lately besides sports and stand-up and some DVR'd episodes of "30 Rock." Anything else, and I just find myself thinking of all the books I want to read and haven't gotten to, and all the writing I want to do, and how the tube is just a total time-suck, full of stupidity and violence and trivia.
I'm spending the summer in Georgetown and am looking for a good chocolate/sweet shop.
I'm already over Georgetown Cupcake and was hoping for a few good non-cupcake alternatives (though it seems those are the only baked goods around here).
Very rough experience at Potenza the other night. Are you still hearing good things?
The service was off, the pacing WAY off and the food ranged from nearly inedible to just bland. I love the space and our server was super nice (if not stellar at his job). I am hoping we caught them on an off night!
If I'm hearing good things, or bad things, or good and bad things both, it doesn't matter — and I'm not just talking about Potenza, here; I'm talking about every restaurant that's out there. I can only go off of my own impressions of a place. Hearsay is just that. It's second-hand.
What you say is too bad, because I like what Potenza represents. There's been a change at the very top, and not all that long ago, and that may have had some affect on the place. I don't know. It's certainly worth investigating.
From what I've seen so far, I think it's a terrific little spot.
The mandu, in particular, are superb. I like the veggie mandu. They're made with fresh skins, for one thing — no one else in Koreatown does this, so far as I know — then stuffed with bitter greens and I'm going to guess tofu, and fried to a wonderful crisp.
The kimchi quesadilla sounds like a joke but is excellent. Also the kimchi chili.
They also do a short rib dish — a small plate — that looks as if it was lifted from some French bistro. The short rib itself is slightly sweet, and its taste will put you in mind of galbi. The kitchen surrounds it with carved carrots, pearl onions, and braised chestnuts.
The Korean-style tacos I'm more mixed about. Great one visit, decent the next.
It's a neat setting, part wine bar, part sports bar, part contemporary bistro, and the staff couldn't be nicer or more accommodating.
To the woman who is looking to host 20 people for under $20 per person at her apartment common room… I have the perfect caterer for you. Negril Bakery! It's in Silver Spring which is pretty inconvenient for those of us living in Virginia but the food is amazing and inexpensive and worth the drive up there.
I ordered from Negril for Fathers Day a few years ago so that I could actually spend time with my dad on Fathers Day instead of in the kitchen and it was a HUGE hit. I also have used Whole Foods for this type of event. They will put together platters of sushi, prepared foods like poached salmon, serving utensils, dishes, etc.
Nancy Halliday at the store in Arlington is superb. Don't know if she is still there but worth a phone call.
Great tip. Great chatiquette.
Thanks for this, Del Ray!
Not providing prices for specials is a marketing ploy. You are going sell a lot more of Organic Dry Aged Lamb Tenderloin in a reduction of wild berries deglazed with a 30yo Trinidian rum with heirloom pan roasted potatoes, green beans and tomatoes. Than saying for $49.95 we have Organic Dry Aged Lamb Tenderloin in a reduction of wild berries deglazed with a 30yo Trinidian rum with heirloom pan roasted potatoes, green beans and tomatoes.
I always ask the price. Date,clients, or dinner with the prez it doesn't matter. And I ask the server to repeat it th especials a few times if they don't include the prices just to be ornery. As the hair gets grayer being hard of hearing is lot easier to pull off. And sonny boy do you offer an AARP discount!
Never thought I'd find myself typing these words, but Clifton — you're my kind of guy.
Thanks for chiming in today …
I'm glad you took the time to describe them.
They're differences are similar, as Yogi would say!
Both great, both memorable …
I've experienced the same thing as the Poste poster (ha) at Kellari Taverna.
The waitress told us about other specials, and went into great detail about the fish, but there was no word on the pre-theater menu we'd specifically gone there to try (when we asked for it, it wasn't a problem, but it would be easier for everyone to just present it with the "regular" menu). Also, regarding asking for prices of specials… several times I've asked a waiter for the price.. only to have them say they don't know or that it is "around $X". Pretty disappointing.
I hate the service at Kellari. I got upsold every time I was in. Upsold, and then neglected.
It's an imperious and oddly pretentious sort of place, geared to suits and corporate tastes, and it thinks it's better than it is.
Gotta run, everyone, if I'm going to make it to the studio in time …
88.5 at 1:30. Enjoy!
And don't forget to enter the book giveaway (scroll up top for details).
Eat well, be well, and let's do it again next week at 11 …
[missing you, TEK … ]
>>Submit your question in advance for next week's chat.