Tuesday, August 10, 2010 at 11 AM

Read the transcript from today's chat with food and wine editor 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 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.

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2 Amy's, DC 

Black Market Bistro, Garrett Park

Buck's Fishing & Camping, DC

Cantler's Riverside Inn, Annapolis

Central Michel Richard, DC

DaMoim, Annandale

Estadio, DC 

Gom Ba Woo, Annandale

J&G Steakhouse, DC

Jackie's, Silver Spring

Komi, DC

Kushi, DC

La Canela, Rockville 

La Limeña, Rockville

La Strada, Del Ray 

Minh's, Arlington

Palena Cafe, DC

Poste Brasserie, DC

Ray's the Classics Bar, Silver Spring

Ray's the Steaks at East River, DC

Silver Diner, Greenbelt

The Source and The Source Lounge, DC

Taqueria La Placita, Riverdale

Zaytinya, DC 

Zentan Sushi Bar, DC 

I noticed that you added La Strada in Del Ray to your list of places you would spend your own money. We went to La Strada shortly after it opened. It was some of the worst Italian food my wife and I have eaten so I would like to know why you like it. We think A La Lucia in North Old Town is far, far superior. And we have lived in Boston, New York, and Philly – all of which have good Italian food. And we have travelled extensively and repeatedly in Italy.

You forgot to add — and some of your best friends are Italian.

I mean, Jesus, man. What do you want me to say? You went shortly after it opened — that was two years ago. Places can change, and sometimes do change. My recent meal there was very enjoyable. I didn't say perfect, and by including them on this list, which is an ever-changing list, a list to reflect my enthusiasms of the moment, I'm not saying that it's the best Italian restaurant in the area, or the best Italian food I've had in ages. (A la Lucia can be good — it has, in the past, been good — but it's been inconsistent the last couple of times I've been in, and my enthusiasm for it has waned.)

There's a lot to like here, beginning with the fact it's a cozy neighborhood spot and knows what it is and is supposed to be. I like the long list of wines by the glass, I like the fact the kitchen makes its own breads and desserts, I like that all the pastas save for the penne are homemade. One of the dishes is a simple bowl of spaghetti, made from scratch, with marinara. It could have used some more salt, but that was easily corrected at the table. And how many places make their own spaghetti? 

I also like the service here, and I don't just mean that I had a good waiter or waitress. I mean that it was a concerted group effort, with many people pitching in to take care of my table — everyone is involved, everyone is concerned. You don't see that often. You don't see waiters of other tables bringing over an extra spoon, or filling in in a pinch for a busy waitress and taking a drink order.

Washington, DC

Good morning.

Can you post the link for the list of restaurants you recommend trying during Restaurant Week. Thanks!

Sure thing.

Here's my RW/Summer 2010 guide

RW starts on the 16th, so hurry with those reservations … 

Dry Age or Wet Aged Steaks?

What is the main difference in taste and quality between wet aged and dry aged steaks?

I hear about dry aged steaks from many of my friends, which can be bought at places like Whole Foods; or eaten at finer steakhouses like Capital Grille. Worth the price difference? And what is the best way to prepare them at home?

Dry-aged prime beef is superior to wet-aged prime. If the meat has been properly aged — about three to four weeks is proper — it has a more concentrated, in some cases almost nutty, flavor. Problem is, that's not all that easy a product to find.

Most steakhouses now use wet-aged, in which the beef is vacuum-packed. I think one of the big reasons that it's become popular is that it's easier. You don't need to take up storage areas with hanging slabs of beef, and when it's time to trim the meat into steaks you don't lose any meat; with dry-aging, you need to cut away the mold.

As for preparing them, there's no difference at all between cooking a steak that's dry-aged and a steak that's not. The only thing is, you'll have paid a premium for the piece of meat, which puts a lot of pressure on you to take exquisite care and not ruin the thing.

Rosslyn, Va
Planning to go out for sushi tonight with a friend who lives in Foggy Bottom. Can you recommend a place in between and or around Rosslyn/Foggy Bottom?

Cafe Asia?

I don't love it; I mean, the food's fine, but mostly what the place has going for it is a neat, lounge-like atmosphere — but geographically it's exactly what you're looking for.

If you were to head in the opposite direction, there's Sakana, off Dupont Circle, which I much prefer to Cafe Asia. Good rolls, good cozy atmosphere, good service.

Bethesda, MD

Good Morning Todd,

I'm taking my girlfriend for our first date, and she loves Indian food. Can you suggest me a realy good Indian restaurant in Bethesda ? Thanks for yor help.

My clear choice for a while there was Passage to India, but my last meal there was not up to the usual high standards of the place and I've been less inclined to recommend it. It's entirely possible it was an aberration — I've always enjoyed the cooking here, and at its best I don't think you can do a whole lot better in the area — so factor that in as you make your decision. 

There are two other spots in Bethesda that I've always liked, Aanghan and Haandi, and I'd give both of these strong consideration.

I was just talking about Passage at its best; its highs are very high, and you're likely to feast on dishes you've never heard of before. The range of dishes is vaster than most other places, and there's an elegance to the cooking when the kitchen is on. Aangan and Haandi are less thrilling in this way, but at their best, there's a sort of sturdy, quiet excellence to what they do, and they are nothing if not consistent.

Del Ray
Cafe Asia? Yick. That place was good 12 years ago when I was in college. You're much better off with Kaz on Eye St.

Did I say I recommended it? I thought I made it pretty clear that that wasn't an endorsement.

I forgot about Kaz. Thanks for writing in with the reminder. Kaz is just outside of the geographical range they're looking for, but it's somewhat closer than Sakana.

And while we're on the subject, I just took a few moments to gather my thoughts and compose my list of the best sushi places in the area right now:

The roll call: Sushi Taro and Kushi, DC; Sushi Sono, Columbia; Zentan, DC; Sushi-Ko I and II, DC; Sei, DC; Joss, Annapolis; Niwano Hana, Rockville; Blue Ocean, Fairfax; Kotobuki, DC; Sakana, DC.

* Actually, Komi belongs on that list, at the very top, since its raw fish selection (as part of its long, leisurely first course) is second to none.

Speaking of Komi, one of the great reasons to visit these days, aside from the pristine treatment of fish, is the homemade halfsmokes. They're served on homemade buns that have been slathered with butter and slapped on the griddle, Hojo's style. They're topped with a ramp relish.

Beside purely culinary matters — and I need to note that there's not a bead of grease on them; they're perfect; they're beyond delicious — I think it's terrific to see a first-rank chef paying homage to the city's real food culture. Johnny Monis is also paying homage with a play on bun cha — in this instance, a long lobe of sea urchin and a elegantly fried squash blossom play the part of the glazed, sauce meat; they're bundled up into a leaf of lettuce and dipped into a bowl of fish sauce. 

Washington, DC

Hi Todd,

I'd like to share two recent, polar opposite experiences I had at restaurants on H st.

Two weeks ago I went to Sticky Rice on H st NE. After calling ahead to put my name on the list, my party of 2 showed up at about 6:30 on a Wednesday. We ordered an appetizer, some drinks, and two of the sushi rolls. While our drinks and appetizer came out fairly quickly, we waited a while for our first roll (not a big deal, sushi rolls tend to take a while).

However, long after we'd finished that first roll, we were waiting on the second (one of their special tuna rolls).. .and waiting. We asked the waitress and she said it was on its way. More waiting.

Finally the waitress returns to tell us that they are actually out of tuna. And spicy tuna. We asked to have the same roll made with salmon. More waiting.

Eventually we gave up and asked for the check. In our haste to leave I left my sweater on my chair. I called immediately after leaving to ask about my sweater, they said they had it and would put it in the office for me. I let them know I wouldn’t be back in the neighborhood for a week or two and would pick it up then, which the person on the phone said was fine.

Exactly two weeks later, I went back to H st to check out the Star and Shamrock. I stopped by Sticky Rice beforehand to pick up my sweater. When I got there, the restaurant was almost empty, and the host and someone else who worked there (perhaps a manager?) were standing in front of the host stand on and working on the computer. I mentioned to them why I was there, they looked at me, and went back to what they were doing. No “I’ll be with you in a second”, no acknowledgement whatsoever that a customer had addressed them. When someone (not the host) finally did turn around to talk to me, the first thing he told me was the sweater “very well might not be there”.

I mentioned that I had called earlier in the day to verify that they still had the sweater and he questioned me, saying he was the only person there all day and he didn’t speak to me. He then begrudgingly agreed to go look for it. When he returned, he waved the sweater at me from the stairs asking “Is this it?” When I said yes, he proceeded to tell me that “This has been here forever”. I told him that it had been two weeks, and he handed it over.

I was out the door before I noticed that it was COMPLETELY covered in stains. While I understand that if I leave something in a restaurant there is a chance that I may not get it back, or it may not be in the same state in which I left it, the downright rude demeanor of this employee, and the obvious lack of care paid to both my belongings and my food, was extremely disappointing. I shared this experience, via email, with Sticky Rice and I have yet to hear back.

After the negative experience with Sticky Rice, my boyfriend and I went to the Star and Shamrock. The food was generally good, but our waitress was what really made the experience for us. She was extremely helpful, answering all of our questions and providing recommendations (even giving a thoughtful response to my boyfriend’s question of what bread to order with his sandwich). She went out of her way to answer our question about a store in the neighborhood, asking a fellow waitress who lived in the area for more info. We really appreciated her service and told her this before leaving. Thanks to the Star and Shamrock for rescuing a doomed H st outing!

That first story, that's disgraceful, all the way around. I hope you do hear back, I think you deserve to hear back, and perhaps this airing will goose that process some.

The attitude that you're describing is more typical — I'm not saying typical, I'm saying more typical — in restaurants that see themselves as avatars of hip-itude and consciously cultivate a young, drinking crowd. These sorts of places tend to be run as if they were bars, and I think you see this bar-impersonating-a-restaurant thing quite a bit on the new H St.

Old Greenbelt
Todd — Any thoughts or comments on a certain piece published over the weekend about Roberto Donna?
Oh, sure. Lots. Lots of thoughts.
Cheverly, MD

I wanted to publicly give a thanks to Mrs. K's Tollhouse Restaurant for a very nice evening last week.

We had driven past for years but had never been in, and our party of two moms, two little babies, and two grandmothers parking was important and we thought the garden would be a great place for a glass of wine and a light dinner.

When we got there it had started to storm, so we thought we would find a spot in a casual bar area or something. When we went in upstairs it was clear it was formal, and the same downstairs. It was also a very quiet place for two 4 month old babies, and we must have looked a bit unsure.

Louis Martinez, one of the busboys, came over right away and asked if we needed help. After hearing we wanted to get a glass of wine and some apps, he said that happy hour was only in the bar, but he had a special place for us and the babies where they could play.

He put us in a private room and doted on us, bringing us their fantastic hot sourdough bread and letting our waiter know we would be getting the bar happy hour menu in this private room. It was just too much!

I was a bit weary about the food, but the spicy creole shrimp with the sourdough used to mop up the juices was amazing and a perfect balance with heat and lots of onions and shallots. They let us know their entire bar menu is half off from 5-7pm for the month of August.

We had 8 glasses of lovely wine, 4 apps and more than a little of their excellent sourdough, and it was $70 including the tax and tip. It was a great deal, and I really appreciate their kindness. We will be back soon to sit in their stunning garden.

Louis Martinez sounds like a gem of a staffer.

You're lucky to have gotten him, and it sounds as though Mrs. K's is lucky to have him. You just can't teach what he did for you, the kindness, the helpfulness, the doting. There are managers who are not that caring and resourceful. Let's hope he's promoted soon from busboy. 

It also sounds as though the rest of the month is the time to go to Mrs. K's.

Thanks for writing in, Cheverly. 

Kensington, MD
My husband and I will be in Old Town Alexandria Saturday night and are looking for a very good restaurant. I prefer a tapas/small plates type of place. Any suggestions?

Not much in the way of good tapas/small plates in Old Town. The best of that genre is probably The Tasting Room, adjacent to Brabo.

The menu, though — especially compared to most small plates spots — is small. It includes good-sized pots of mussels, a small selection of flatbreads and good charcuterie and good cheeses. Good wines by the glass.

It's tough coming by a seat, too, since there aren't that many to go around as it is, and the place fills up quickly in prime time. 

I doughnut..

…see your list of the places you'd spend your money.

Also, thanks for your description of Komi. I think that just cost me at least $200, assuming I can get in.

Now my question: what are a few places you'd go on a weeknight if you were solo and looking for an appetizer or small bite and possibly a drink? In the past, when I was in Penn Quarter, I loved the Source or PS7s for this But I've have since moved to midtown, so they're less accessable.

Sorry, the list of the 25 places I'm most enthusiastic about at the moment should have been up at the start and wasn't. Take a look now …

Now, as to where I would hit weeknight if I were eating solo and looking for a good, small meal and a drink? There are quite a few, and what's interesting to consider is that the list is much, much longer than it would have been 5 years ago.

Let's see … Bar Pilar, Cork, the new Estadio, Zentan, PS 7's lounge, Cafe du Parc, the Source lounge, Zaytinya, Jaleo, Las Canteras, the bar at Kinkead's, Veritas, the bar at Pesce.

Speaking of Pesce, they're serving two things of note at the moment — one, fried zucchini flowers stuffed with salmon mousse, and a marvelous dish of blowfish tails, lightly deep-fried and brightened by a carrot-ginger sauce. You can eat both at the bar in back. 


Shaw, DC

Good Morning Todd,

What's the word, if any, on Casa Nonna in the old CPK spot on Connecticut Ave? Unrelated but, I must know more about the Rebel Heroes food truck. I'm obsessed with bahn mi (thanks to your chat!) and want RH to come to DC….thoughts?

Casa Nonna is still in the process of hiring cooks, which probably means we're looking at an opening in September or early October.

I expect a far different restaurant from Carmine's, the cavernous, cacophonous NY restaurant that just opened a cavernous, cacophonous place in Penn Quarter — the largest restaurant space in the city right now. This has never been a city for down-and-dirty Italian cooking, so it's going to be interesting to see how Carmine's does over the next couple of years.

My thoughts on Rebel Heroes? I want to like them more than I did my first time around. I hope to be won over next time. But yeah, I've said it before and I'll say it again — I think it would be wonderful if food carts became as ubiquitous a presence in the city as Metro buses and cabs.

Clifton, VA
Wegman's, the Organic Butcher and Home all sell dry aged prime beef. The next big thing is prime dry aged beef by cattle breed no not like angus since there are black and red angus. Also remember there are 8 or different grades of prime beef.

So does My Butcher and More.

By the way, I spent a good bit of time out in Clifton this weekend, Clifton. If I had a number or an email address, I could have given you a call or dropped you a line. You could have shown me all those wonderful, hidden-away places you think I keep missing.

Which reminds me …

Last week, someone came on here trying to punk me by extolling the virtues of a place outside of Winchester called the Stockyards.

Among the glories of this putative restaurant: It offers diners a portable DVD player to watch footage of your steak being slaughtered and butchered.

There's a funny if macabre notion in there, given the locavore extremism of the day, but the point is — and I think it bears saying directly, since I received some questions about this during the week: This was a hoax. I didn't come right out and call the chatter out during the chat, because it seemed obvious to me it was a ridiculous, made-up thing. I thought I'd have a little fun with it, alluding to the previous hoax that was perpetrated on here a year and a half ago (the Gun Club of Goldvein) and working in references to Sidd Finch, Danar Eastnoor and Melissa Katsoulis so that chatters would understand where I was coming from.

Either I wasn't obvious enough, or funny enough, or it all sounded too real, who knows …

Back to the Gun Club of Goldvein for a second — for those of you who remember this sterling piece of performance art/satire. I was not the only one the punkers attempted to punk. The Reliable Source at the Post was given a tip at the time about Brad Pitt dining at the Gun Club, that secluded dining experience for those in the know, who appreciate only the very, very best.

Bethesda, MD

Tried We, the Pizza this weekend. Wow- I was really dissappointed.

There was a small crowd waiting for it to open at 11:30- it was maybe 11:20 and two different waiters opened the door and told all of us to come in. Once we were in, we were all rather rudely told by Spike that we have to wait 10 more minutes. I can totally understand the chef wanting to wait until opening time, but perhaps he should have communicated that to his wait staff instead of yelling at us.

Anyway, once we it finally officially opened we ordered only to have the cashier repeatedly mess up our order. After having to wait in line yet again to get the two slices the cashier neglected to add to our order even though we repeated the order about five times, we received several really tiny $4 slices of middling pizza. The toppings tasted good, but the sauce was a little sweet (yuck!) and the crust was so thick at the end it was like a loaf of bread! The chicken wings were not crispy at all- the skin was just flabby and pale and the "original garlic" lacked any flavor of garlic whatsoever.

I had been so excited to try the place so this was really a let down. Have you been? Wondering if it was just an off day or what?

Haven't been yet, no.

One thing to remember is that pizza places take some time to settle in, mostly because the kitchen needs time to learn the hot spots and dead spots of the pizza oven. Usually, it's about a month or six weeks before that happens, assuming it happens at all.

I had a final thought, about making judgments about non-pedigreed places too early, and about the proliferation of blog posts on the web by bloggers who don't eat at the restaurant but attend MEDIA DINNERS, in which every dish is perfected and every diner's need is anticipated and met, and write up a place based on that "experience," but I decided to erase it. Some other time …

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




[missing you, TEK … ]

 >> Submit a question for next week's chat here.