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 AM 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 13.
TK's 25: Where I'd Spend My Own Money
Afghan Famous Kabob, Gainesville
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
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 just got an email from an Ethiopian friend, who writes:
"They can find them at the Ethiopian markets/grocery stores. They only carry coffee from Ethiopia (coffee Arabica)."
I'd get to know Guardado's, a small, cozy spot for tapas and Salvadoran cooking. The owner and chef, Nicholas Guardado, comes from El Salvador and previously worked at Jaleo in Bethesda.
The tapas aren't as precisely executed as those at Jaleo — I've had more misses than I'd like — but the simpler things are generally spot-on: Spanish tortilla, patatas bravas, etc. And the pupusas are excellent.
I also like Faryab, although prices have gone up. Go for a plate of aushak, almost paper-thin, mint-filled dumplings doused with a sweet tomato meat sauce, dried mint and yogurt. I think it makes an outstanding lunch.
Re: the dessert discussion last week.
Banana Coconut Cream Pie – you must try the one at BlackSalt in the Palisades. AMAZING! I don't even like sweets, but it was the epitome of what "banana", "coconut", "cream" and "pie" can and should be.
My husband had the Butterscotch Pot de Creme. Although I thought the alcohol in it was too strong for me, according to our server, when the pastry chef took it off the menu to try out some new desserts, regulars threatened to never return if she didn't put it back on the menu.
In fact, according to our server, the first four desserts on the menu: Key Lime Pie, Butterscotch Pot de Creme, Chocolate Peanut Butter Crunch Cake, and the heavenly Banana Coconut Cream Pie are always on the menu due to their popularity. If the pastry chef wants to try something new, she has to swap out the other desserts on the menu or risk some angry patrons.
The pastry chef there is Susan Wallace, and I have always liked her desserts. I don't think I've ever had one and not been satisfied — and I don't mean satisfied as in, that was good, I'm pleased; i mean, SATISFIED; deeply, almost primally pleased.
You're absolutely right about those four; they never leave the menu. I think that says something, that diners agitate to keep not just one but four desserts on the menu at all times.
I don't think there's that kind of support and intensity at most places.
Thanks for writing in.
The comment on the roast pig last week made me want to give a memorial to Uncle George's restaurant in Bethesda that closed 10-12 years ago.
You could call in and find out when the pig was coming off the spit to time your dinner. When you came in, you also saw a whole lamb on the rotisserie as well as a full row of lamb heads on the spit! They had Greek satellite TV in the bar.
Now that at least 10 years have passed, I find this place comes to mind more than any restaurant whose closing I ever noticed. A unique place in my experience.
I was a big fan of that place, too — I ate there many times in my pre-critic days.
The roast chicken was great at Uncle George's, too, and so were the potatoes. In fact, I was just thinking about the potatoes the other day when I passed by a Greek restaurant in the west 40s in New York. I was remembering the beautiful crust they had on them, how soft they were inside, the hit of lemon, the garlic …
I would love to see a place open that did potatoes as well as that.
Hi Todd —
I've never submitted a question or comment before, but I just wanted to tell you how much I thoroughly enjoyed your dessert rants in your last chat session!
I hope many chefs were "listening" and that it didn't fall on deaf ears, because I think most of us feel the same way!
Thanks for your ongoing, enlightening advice to those of us who enjoy eating and drinking our way through the DC metro area.
Thanks! It felt good to say those things.
In the last week, I had another couple of those desserts I wrote about. I'm beginning to think we can classify the categories.
* the desserts that are more for the pastry chef than for you
* the desserts that are meant to make you feel good about yourself
* the desserts that would have been delicious, except the pastry chef was determined to wring little changes on tradition
* the desserts that harken back to your childhood, but almost seem to provoke cerebral (as opposed to visceral) reactions
* the desserts that the chef, not wanting to be eclipsed at the end by a great and memorable dessert, intends as a kind of sweet amuse bouche — a refreshing palate cleanser.
* the desserts that play it (relatively) straight and want nothing more than to please you
The last category is the least populated.
Hard to say, because I don't know your tastes, but if you're asking are there any blind spots on the menu, the answer is no.
The only thing that's tough for first-timers is the lack of description, so different from the vast majority of high-end restaurants. You just don't get ingredient lists here — or, for that matter, anything else.
Michel Richard, the chef, wants you to take it on faith, and be surprised. And he succeeds.
Do you have a response to Meshelle Armstrong from Eve? Can you at least tell us why you didn't bother to contact Eve for your article slamming them in the Daily Beast?
It doesn't slam THEM; it slams a slice of the locavore movement. It mentions them.
You call it an article; it's an essay, and makes no effort to be anything but subjective. It's not a reported piece, where you interview a wide variety of people on every side and then present those points of view, being sure to cover all the bases. I've been eating at "local" restaurants for years now, and talking to industry folks and listening to the arguments presented by sommeliers and GMs and others — which I presented, in part, in my piece. I've also dined many, many times at Eve; do I need to talk to the folks there, too, before writing what I see and hear and taste and experience?
I saw Armstrong's response, which I didn't entirely understand. But from what I gather, she seems to be saying that local wines just aren't that good. I disagree.
I've been thinking about roasting my own coffee beans and I was wondering if you knew where I could get green coffee beans somewhere in the city. Also, I wanted to mention that I just started reading your book and I find it fascinating. I keep waiting to accidently spill a little wine on the page while I read just because I feel like I should be drinking wine while I read this one. Ha! Thanks!
Thank you! That's wonderful to hear.
As for the beans … I'm at a loss. But I've got to think there's somebody out there who has gone looking and come up with some answers.
Could you recommend some good spots near Strathmore Hall. We have a subscription series this coming season with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra but will be coming from Fairfax County. Many Thanks!!
The closest, best place is right around the corner: Black Market Bistro.
Of all the restaurants from the Black group — Black's, BlackSalt, and Addie's are the others — I like Black Market Bistro best.
I like the setting, which reminds me of dining in an old house in Charleston or New Orleans, and the cooking doesn't aim too high for its own good and as a result nearly always finds the mark. Good shrimp n grits and fried oysters, a terrific antipasto board, a fine roast chicken, and one of the best wine selections in Montgomery County — by the bottle and by the glass, both.
Prices are modest for this area. Two can get in and out, with a glass of wine each, for less than $100.
If you're looking for something less involved and cheaper, there's China Bistro up Rockville Pike. Excellent dumplings (my favorites are the shrimp-and-chive and the beef-and-celery), and I love the bowl of cold noodles in a spicy peanut sauce.
I can't say. I was there within the past week and had a good experience. And my other, previous experiences — several months ago — were good, too.
It's not cheap, it's a little too expensive for what it is, and if you go with a glass of wine or a mixed drink you get gouged.
But I kept it simple, kept it simple with ordering, too — mostly buns and dumplings — and had a fine time. I love the smokiness of the chili oil they set out. A dab or two in the pinch bowl, and some of these bites go from good to wonderful.
My other biggest complaint about the place is that the wrappers tend to be too sticky, sticking not just to the doily at the bottom of the steam basket but also to your chopstick, which means sometimes the thing just tears apart before it hits your mouth.
Armstrong is wrong — VA wines can compete with anything from CA. Not everyone goes out and orders the cult cab that garnered a 100pts from Parker or some other wine scribe.
When you have dinner or lunch at the little bisto or trattoria in some small town in Italy and France the wine is local not a Tuscan super red or a top Chablis. its a no name everyday wine.
Problem is the wine distributors/wholesalers who give most restaurants preselected wine lists and cut them deals.
And Armstrongs: over the last 24mos I have dropped over $12k in your restaurant Eve. Either entertaining clients, with my girlfriend or family. I will never enter one of your establishments again. We used to hit Eve a couple of times a month. No more, and I will encourage my business associates and friends to boycott your establishments too.
I hear you, Clifton — I think you make good points in your first three paragraphs — but I think your conclusion is just too extreme a reaction. It doesn't call for a boycott.
And the piece I wrote is not a piece about Eve; it's a piece about the locavore movement itself. I think more restaurants here and around the country should make the effort to learn about and seek out local wines, particularly if they're going to tout their support of local farms and the local cause. As I wrote, I think one reason they don't is that local wines just don't have the cache that local meat and produce does.
Hey, it's your old colleague Elissa. I have friends coming from Thailand. I want to take them for blue crabs, Ethiopian, Italian and maybe one other place. Trying not to leave Beltway area. What do you suggest?
Hey, Elissa — you're not old. ; )
It's great to hear from you.
Crabs is going to be tough; the closest, best place I can think of is in Fairfax — Captain Pell's. It's JUST outside the Beltway.
For Ethiopian, you've got Etete (U St.), Ethiopic (H St.), Shagga (Hyattsville), Meaza (Arlington) or Madjet (DC). In that order.
Italian? Whew, tough one. There's no one place I really like at the moment for what I think, knowing you, you're looking for: something simple and good and unpretentious. Maybe A La Lucia, on the edge of Old Town Alexandria?
That one other place … how about a mid-range place that's comfortable and low-key, and that has excellent food and drink? For that, I'm thinking Jackie's in Silver Spring (with its very promising new chef, Diana Davila Boldin); Buck's Fishing and Camping (with new-ish chef Vickie Reh); or Vermilion, in Old Town.
Hope that helps. Drop in when all is said and done and eaten, and let us know how things turned out …
In the city, Oyamel.
Terrific margaritas and also chips and salsa. You'll have a fun time.
Since you mentioned chips and salsa, I am reminded to tell you all how wonderful the salsa is at Pueblo Viejo, in Beltsville. The vegetables are roasted before being ground up, which gives the salsa a depth of flavor that's seldom seen around here. It's worth visiting the place just for a bowl of the stuff. Actually, a bowl or two or three of the stuff, a basket or two of chips and the fruit juice shake — featuring a third of a tall cup's worth of minced fresh fruit.
Love your work and looking forward to reading the book. I'm traveling to Chicago in a few weeks and looking for recommendations.
I'm a grad student, so preferably things on the lower end of the price spectrum (I'd love to do Alinea, but that's going to have to wait a few years). No restrictions on type of food or location.
I've got a few sure things for you. Sure, cheap things.
* Hot Doug's for dogs. If you've never had a Chicago-style dog, they're different and wonderful. And this is the Chicago-style dog elevated to something like cuisine.
* Don Pedro Carnitas for a good, authentic taqueria. Chicago is full of good Mexican joints like this. It's a real strength of the food scene.
* Lou Malnati's for deep dish the way it's s'posed to be. It's a local legend. Although having typed this, I'm sure some Chicagoan is going to come on and bash me and say: "How COULD you? That's not the place to go. Malnati's is done!"
Heading to Roanoke next week to take the bar exam. My husband is dutifully coming with me to help me through the inevitable nightly freak-outs.
I owe him a lot, so I want to be able to at least recommend some good restaurants he can try out while I'm taking the exam. I've never been to Roanoke though so I'm looking for suggestions.
You're in luck. Sort of.
I went to grad school in Roanoke — Hollins College, now Hollins University — and have some good friends there who I'm planning to see later this summer. They've been talking up a place for months and months, called Local Roots Cafe, and are extremely excited to take me there when I visit.
Emphasis on local foods, on fresh foods, and it's also in a cozy old house.
It's on Grandin, not too far from the old Grandin Theater, a great, large-screen movie house that I used to love going to.
If you go, and I hope you do, be sure to drop back on and let me know how it was. I'm curious to know more.
Oh, and one more rec for you: Mill Mountain Coffee & Tea, downtown. I love the place, love its look, its vibe, its selection. A great place to kill an entire afternoon.
Hey Todd –
Just wanted to chime in and let you know that I went to Central for dinner with my favorite Aunt/Uncle and hubby last weekend.
As usual, we enjoyed a wonderful meal in the front of the open kitchen. Chef Richard visited our table and I almost fell on the floor!
I've been such a fan of his and he's so completely down to earth. We're prepared to take it to the next level. That said, would you recommend that we make reservations for dinner at Citronelle???
I'm thinking Citronelle or perhaps Komi. Thanks and still loving your chats 😉
I would, sure. It'll give you another, fuller experience of his cuisine — a deeper, richer, and more layered experience.
Richard has garnered a lot of praise, but the truth is there's really nobody like him. If you had a buffet of dishes from other chefs, and there was one of his among that display, I feel certain I could pick it out even before I tasted it. The perfect symmetry of the compositions, the razored precision of the lines, the sense of whimsy …
I could go for one of his napoleons right now.
More than most weeks, I'm starving; can't explain why; I'm just happy it's time to head off to lunch.
Be well, everyone, eat well, and let's do it again next week at 11 …
[missing you, TEK … ]