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 July 6.
TK's 25: 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
Gom Ba Woo, Annandale
J&G Steakhouse, DC
Jackie's, Silver Spring
Jesse Wong's Asean Bistro, Columbia
La Limeña, Rockville
Palena Cafe, DC
Poste Brasserie, DC
Ray's the Classics Bar, Silver Spring
Silver Diner, Greenbelt
Taqueria La Placita, Riverdale
Zentan Sushi Bar, DC
I swim with a group on Thurs. nights at Takoma Park pool. We work up an appetite!
I never hear anything about the restaurants that way–what's up there that's tasty, inexpensive, and casual enough for a group that's going to show up with wet hair and flip flops?
Takoma Park is not just a nuke-free zone; it's pretty much a restaurant-free zone, too. Your best bet is to leave the downtown and head to El Golfo for good Salvadoran cooking in a nice, comfortable setting. Or, a little further afield, Samantha's, which is excellent for pupusas, soups, tamales and carne asada; also, a great place to gather a group.
Residents of Tk Pk, of which I used to be one (we had to leave; my wife doesn't look good in batik), are high on Roscoe's, a new-ish pizza place. I'm much less enamored of it. But it's a nice vibe, and a good place, again, to go with a group — provided you can get a table.
Pooch Inquiry from last week: I don't know any restaurant that allows dogs inside, due to health code restrictions, I assume. But most places in Arlington with patio seating will accept well behaved dogs, at least small ones, on their patio.
Although as a note in Shirlington they have to stay on the outside of the fence, which our dog won't do. Old Town Alexandria has lots of dog friendly patios too. Bethesda is also a good place for dogs. Raku in Bethesda even brought water in a bowl for our dog.
I know that isn't so helpful in this scorching heat, but maybe it will be helpful for the future.
My wife and I will be in Pittsburgh next weekend, and was just wondering if you (or any of the choggers following along) had any insight into "can't miss" dining stops while there. Really just looking for something authentically "Pittsburgh," if there is such a thing. I know Primanti Brothers, but otherwise am clueless. Any help?
I'm at sea, too, but I thought I'd toss this one out early and see if anyone out there bites …
I can't make that call at the moment — I just don't have enough info to say one way or another. Soon, though …
I'd really like to see Dupont Circle again become a prime dining destination. It's probably my favorite neighborhood in the city, for a variety of reasons — its beauty, its centrality, but also my deep sentimental attachment to it.
At one time, and not all that terribly long ago, P St. was one of the great eating streets in the city.
Yeah, it's not that easy of a problem to solve.
I've probably got Dupont on the brain, but I'd say Mourayo. It's everything you're asking for — or your boss is asking for: you can conduct a meeting decently, I'd think, the prices are moderate for this city, it's on the red line (a short walk north from the northernmost exit of the Dupont Circle stop), and it's just happening enough for your purposes.
Food's good, too: modern Greek — meaning a lot lighter, and a lot brighter, than the rib-sticking fare of many Greek restaurants and diners.
Mourayo's a place that a lot of food-loving folk tend to forget about, but I think it's exactly the kind of restaurant you want when you're not looking for an exquisite dinner and you're not looking to get your chow on, either, at an ethnic mom n pop.
I think you can eat lightly, and well, at Vermilion. It's on King St., in Old Town, and among the very best dining options in Old Town by my reckoning.
I'm still thinking about a rendition of a Caesar salad they did recently; the night I had it, it was pretty much a perfect dish. So good, in fact, I immediately thought about ordering a second after I'd finished the first (with some help from a couple of friends).
There are a handful of dishes on the menu that lean toward the rich or heavy, but right now it's summer and the kitchen, under the direction of Tony Chittum, is working with a lot of fish and seafood, and the saucing is lighter than it is in the fall and winter. They're getting some really good local products at the moment, too, which is one of the reasons that Caesar is so good.
Cork, a wine bar with terrific, simple food, is one to know about if you don't already; it's on 14th, but right around the corner essentially from U.
Masa 14 is a fun place, a real scene, and some of the dishes (the menu toggles between Mexican and Asian staples, and sometimes combines them) are wonderful and some are so-so, but it's the kind of place that keeps drawing you back — good, strong drinks, a super lively atmosphere, and a kitchen that works with the speed of a short-order dive.
One of my favorite places in that neck of the woods is Bar Pilar, though I think the service is abysmal — haughty in its indifference and low-affect, and just plain neglectful most of the time. The food, though. A long menu of small, affordably priced plates, and there's usually a half-dozen things on there that I find myself unable to resist. At its best, the cooking manages the difficult trick of being imaginative and interesting without crossing the line into indulgence or twee-ness, and it's almost always distinguished by bold, bright flavors.
One place that flies under the radar is Creme Cafe. Orlando Hitzig (ex-Mark and Orlando's) has recently taken over the kitchen, and it's a place to keep in mind when you're in the mood for an easy-going, tasty, mid-range meal. Monday is a night to know about, here — half-price bottles of wine; a fabulous Gouguenheim Malbec from Argentina sells for $12. I could go just for that and a slice of the warm coconut cake, one of the best renditions of this ought-to-be-simple dessert I've had this year.
Speaking of desserts, I've got a rant coming — stay tuned …
Some other dog-friendly restaurant options: Cantina Marina on the SW Waterfront. They let dogs on the patio and accommodate owners with water and treats for the dogs.
Also, Wonderland Ballroom in Columbia Heights reportedly allows dogs inside and outside; although, I have never been to confirm.
Great tips! Thanks for writing in.
And treats for the dogs — that's when you KNOW the place is dog-friendly. Good for Cantina Marina.
This is all making me think of staying at a hotel some years back. My wife and I had brought our cat (I won't go into explanations; just suffice to say he needed to come along). Anyway, the hotel could not have been more accommodating of him and his needs, going so far as to set out, yes, a bowl of salmon tartare for him in the room.
I couldn't believe it.
And neither could I believe it when he proceeded to lick at it a little and then completely ignore it the rest of the night. Ah, cats …
On a recent trip to Pittsburgh we went to two local, low-key, neighborhoodie places.
One was Legends on the North Shore, which was a solid red sauce Italian (BYOB!).
The other was a German place on the North Shore called Max's Allegheny Tavern.
Both were good with solid food. If I had to pick one, I'd say the German place was slightly better in terms of ambience (eat in one of the booths in the bar) and food, but be prepared for a lot of food! That's not to say Legends was not good, it was!
That tells you something.
And what it tells you is this: they're getting their crabs from the Gulf.
I was at Cantler's a couple of weeks ago, and the prices were down, if I'm remembering correctly, from the time I had gone a few weeks earlier. The crabs were also better, too — in fact, they were the best crabs I think I've ever had, or the best I can remember, anyway.
They came from local waters.
Of course, the crabs previously had come from Mexico, so it's not as if Cantler's is consistent in this regard; it gets what it can, and does the best with what it gets. I always ask, and obviously the answer you want is that they were dredged from local waters, but more and more that's not the answer you're going to find. Often, the answer is Mexico. Sometimes, it's off the coast of the Carolinas.
Anyway, the Cantler's crabs that day: big, sweet, meaty, judiciously seasoned with Old Bay and — this is the crucial thing with blue crab — not over-steamed.
I can't wait to go back before the summer's out. You cannot do better than Cantler's when it comes to steamed crabs.
Good for chef Cooper. It'll be interesting to see what he does next.
Meantime, since you tossed out the word "innovative," I just want to get a few things off my chest regarding dessert …
In the past couple of weeks, I've had two different desserts, served at two different upscale restaurants, that I consider abominations. These were pies, I guess, in the sense that the elements of pie were all there on the plate, but they were presented as "deconstructions."
Why, why, WHY would anyone think to disassemble a pie and offer its components in the name of dessert?
No, sorry, I take that back — I can see why a chef, experimenting, might want to attempt that. But why, why, WHY serve it to the public?
Who out there is going to look at a plate topped with cubes of pie filling and a small pane of crust and think: "Oh, boy oh boy oh boy. This looks delicious!"
Pie is supposed to make you giddy with excitement and anticipation, it's supposed to make you feel like a little kid.
Why take it apart? Why destroy that pleasure? Aren't restaurants in the business of PROVIDING pleasure?
Please, please, please: leave the pie alone.
We want the crust and we want the filling and we want them TOGETHER. We don't want them apart. We don't want to assemble them. We don't want clever. We don't want innovation. We just want a wedge of pure, rich indulgence.
We also don't want "compositions," in which a delicate sliver of pie is present, but relegated to being a bit player in a precious, self-conscious production. We don't want pie "interpretations." We don't want tarts pretending to be pie. We certainly don't want tartlets — just like a tart, only smaller and more twee!
We want pie. A full wedge. So simple. So good.
And that ought to go for desserts in general.
This weekend I saw something I never thought I'd see, but which, given the way things are going, was probably inevitable: a carpaccio of chocolate terrine. It wasn't called that, but that's what it was — a thin slice off a proper dessert. It vanished in seconds.
It was not indulgent, it was not fun, it was not satisfying. It was not dessert.
I believe it was on your chat not long ago that someone brought up half bottles of wine, and mentioned what a nice option it is and wondered why more restaurants did not offer this. You told him that in MD, DC and VA you can typically take your unfinished bottle of wine to go, so long as it is properly packaged.
I went to Legal Seafood in Crystal City last week and after a delicious meal with excellent service and dessert to top it off, I requested to take my bottle home.
They seemed a little surprised that I knew this was an option and they politely agreed. The manager had to come by and staple our receipt to the bag placed around the bag and have my boyfriend sign it.
So anyways I wanted to thank you! It looks like the secret is out!
I'm glad you remembered!
And I don't want it to be a secret. I want as many people to know as possible. I think it's important for diners to know that they don't have to polish off that bottle just because they're under the impression that it'll go to waste otherwise. It's not good for our roads, either.
I've taken wine home many times, and I think it's great to discover that you can get a couple more small pours out of that same bottle over lunch or dinner the next day or days
My girlfriend and I often walk past Westend Bistro and have been wondering if it's worth a visit. I know of Eric Ripert's stellar reputation, but I am a little surprised at how his DC restaurant flies under the radar.
Is the food not that great? Are there too many competitors in that price range? Or is the place due to take off? We'd love to hear your thoughts!
I think the reason you haven't heard much about it, is that you heard a TON about it after it opened and it's hard for new restaurants to sustain that kind of energy and momentum — especially in this case. Westend went through a big shake-up in the kitchen at the peak of its early promise, and its menu has shifted emphasis a little since then. Consistency was also a problem for a while.
And of course as you suggest, there are other new flavors of the month, and many more restaurants in that price range and with that focus than there were even a few years ago when Westend was being drawn up.
But I enjoyed my most recent meal there, and I'd certainly give it a shot if I were you. The cooking is generally careful, clean and detailed, the staff is among the best at this level in the city, and I think the prices are thoroughly decent for this level (and particularly when you consider you're dining at the Ritz-Carlton).
Clifton! You understand me! ; ) …
No, no — I know where to get good pie, believe me. But I wonder why restaurants and pastry chefs don't seem to understand why we order dessert.
That's the real issue here: why we order dessert.
Yes, there are some who are looking for a little bite after a big meal. Fine. So put something on the menu that explicitly says to that diner: here, this is for you; it won't saddle you; it's light and delicate and won't leave its mark.
But otherwise, and correct me if I'm wrong, we want a piece of pie or cake to leave its mark, to be memorable. We want to glory in its caloric over-the-topness.
Dessert is that moment in the meal where we've had our amuse and been amused or charmed by it … we've swooned over an artful appetizer or soup or salad … we've reveled in the combinations of our main course, the textures, the sauces … and now we just want to relax and settle in and enjoy something simple and DELICIOUS.
Doesn't mean it can't be beautiful. It should be beautiful.
Doesn't mean it can't betray real thought and care. It should betray real thought and care.
What it means is that dessert should be something we sink into, something visceral and not cerebral, something that goes straight to that part of our brain that is animal, something that doesn't incline us to analyze the plate, something that is GENEROUS and EXUBERANT.
Some 'Burgh restaurant tips: http://www.piccolo-forno.com/ http://www.733copeland.com/
There is also Bruschetta's in the South Side, and Lidia's in the Strip District. Both sections make for good people watching.
Another option is to eat on Mt. Washington. This will provide great views of the skyline and of the Three Rivers. Restaurants there include: LeMont, Monterey Bay, and Georgetowne Inn. Enjoy it!
Todd, I was so excited to see that Againn opened in Rockville. But I was so disappointed when I got there that their draft beer selection is so limited! Againn in DC has such a bigger beer selection (draft and bottled).
What gives? I was so disappointed that I left without eating there and went to Tower Oaks instead.
I don't know.
I wonder, though, if part of that has to do with Montgomery County and its restrictions. Maybe someone from the restaurant, or the publicity arm, will come on next week and fill us in.
I attended a pig roast a few years ago and loved it. Aside from the meat, the most memorable thing was watching the men in the room get into position to tear into the beast — get into position without even appearing to get into position, without even appearing to realize that this is what they were doing.
The women were still talking or watching TV, but the men had begun to drift inexorably toward the kitchen — driven, it seemed, by the smell of smoke, which was sweet and strong. When the pig was hauled in, every single person in the kitchen was male, it was fascinating. And it was fascinating to watch, all of us pulling off skin, tearing at the meat, pulling out the ribs. It was incredibly primal and unselfconscious.
Best parts to eat?
Well, the head of the pig, for one — and you won't get much competition from anybody in attendance, I don't think; most folks will be freaked out. Lots of good stuff in there.
I also like the ribs, the shoulder and the legs (especially the thigh and around the knee).
And the skin, don't forget the skin. If the pig has been roasted properly, that skin is a wondrous thing. A little skin, a little luscious, freshly pulled meat, and you'll be deliriously happy.
I like Panino, and I like its desserts, too.
Another place that knows, and that loves its pie, too — loves it and understands it — is Johnny's Half Shell. That banana coconut cream pie is one of the best things to eat in the city.
You're absolutely right.
I think dessert is one of the things that's most rewarding about the place. The desserts and the wines.
Fabrice Bendano is the pastry chef there, and his sweets are some of the best in the city. Creative, beautiful, and most important of all, satisfying. Deeply satisfying.
The Original Hot Dog Shop (The O) in Oakland by Pitt and CMU for the namesake and some of the best fries you'll ever have; Tessaro's for the burgers, ground fresh daily; Pamela's Diner (of which there are 3) for breakfast, or anytime, really, Quaker Steak and Lube (stop giggling!) for wings; Churchwerks for beer-centered cusine (and beer) in what used to be a church; and please please please eat your way through the Strip district, a reminder of the way people used to shop, walking from ethnic grocery stores to fishmongers to cheesemongers and everything between.
Sorry about the lack of "fine dining," but check out a few of these places and then feel free to not accept my apology.
More recs. Thank you.
And don't apologize for there not being more in the way of fine dining; I, for one, eat at all levels when I travel, and what I'm looking for, for the most part, are places that I can't find anywhere else — places that capture the city in some significant way. Fine dining spots, sorry to say, don't often do that.
Went to Bar Pilar for the first time last week early on a quiet Tuesday night and while I found the portions to be a bit small for the price (my $10 order of smoked salmon on a crostini with creme fraiche and capers was tasty but diminutive), I wanted to share a good experience that I had.
Unable to decide between the prawns and the spring peas with bacon, I asked the server for her recommendation. She didnt feel strongly either way, so I asked her to let the chef decide (it wasn't that busy).
The waitress came out later with a hybrid dish the chef had created tht included prawns on a bed of peas with some sort of bacon-infused sauce. Not only did the chef go out of his way to accomodate my indecisiveness, they didn't even include it on the bill. Considering I've heard mediocre things about the service there, I wanted to share this positive experience!
I like this story.
Good for Justin Bittner, the chef there. And good for you, too, evidently.
Although I'm not sure I agree with you about this being an instance of good service. Yes, the fact that the kitchen whipped up something special for you and didn't bother charging you is nice, really nice. But I glom onto the fact that the waitress didn't feel strongly either way.
Now, I wasn't there that night with you, but I know that staff, and I know their disaffection. I think servers are supposed to have opinions. They're supposed to know the menu and, when asked, help people make informed decisions. The server, at best, is a middle-man between you and the kitchen. More servers ought to realize this.
And on that note … I'm off to lunch.
Be well, everyone, eat well and let's do it again next week at 11.
I hope to be able to do another giveaway of my new book, THE WILD VINE, next week. Stay tuned …
[missing you, TEK … ]