Tuesday, August 24, 2010 at 11 AM

Read the transcript from today's chat with food & 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 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.

TK's 25 

 

2 Amy's, DC 

Black Market Bistro, Garrett Park

Bollywood Bistro, Fairfax 

Buck's Fishing & Camping, DC

Cantler's Riverside Inn, Annapolis

Central Michel Richard, DC

DaMoim, Annandale

Estadio, DC 

Jackie's, Silver Spring

Komi, DC

Kushi, DC

La Canela, Rockville 

La Limeña, Rockville

La Strada, Del Ray 

Level, Annapolis 

Minh's, Arlington

Palena Cafe, DC

Poste Brasserie, DC

Ray's the Classics Bar, Silver Spring

Ray's the Steaks at East River, DC

The Source and The Source Lounge, DC

Taqueria La Placita, Riverdale

Woodberry Kitchen, Baltimore 

Zaytinya, DC 

Zentan Sushi Bar, DC

Good Morning Mr Kliman,

We went to Passage to India last week, and you were right. It is different from other Indian restaurants. The menu was exceptional, outstanding food, and very professional service, something that Indian restaurants usually lacks. The waiter helped us to choose an excellent meal, and the food was delicious. We spent a very good evening there.

My girlfriend had been to Handi before, and she was not very impressed there, so keeping your suggestion in mind we decided to venture Passage to India, and became a fan off that restaurant now.

Thanks once again for your help.

I'm glad to hear that.

As I noted, my most recent meal at Passage was not up to snuff. I'm hoping that it was an aberration. I've always liked the place — the range of the menu, the subtlety and complexity of the cooking at its best, and the grace and professionalism of the staff.

Silver Spring, MD

Hi Todd,

We have a 16 year old foreign exchange student from Sichuan province staying with us through June. I have lived in the area for many years, and Sichuan and Hunan cuisines seem to be at a historic ebb.

We love spicy Chinese food, but have most of the Chinese restaurants that we frenquent tend to be Cantonese or other milder cuisines.

It would be fantastic if you could reinvigorate our Sichuan life (hopefully not too long a drive away)!

Peter, Silver Spring, MD

The closest to you is Sichuan Pavilion, in Rockville, and there's a long, long roster of authentic (and sometimes courage-requiring) dishes on the menu there — many of which, I'm sure, will be familiar and welcome to your student guest. I'm fairly certain you'll become a regular there for the next year.

Further out is China Jade, which is a little more accessible (but no less authentic). It's in Derwood. I'd make myself a regular there if I could, too.

In Virginia, you have two options: Sichuan Village, in Chantilly, and Hong Kong Palace, in Falls Church. Both excellent.

I'll be interested in hearing your reports, if you're up for checking back in with us from time to time …

Van Netian

Hi Todd,

For summer vacation this year we chose an adventure through the Pacific NW – Seattle, Vancouver, the wilderness of the Pacific Rim, and Victoria. Had an incredible time and wanted to share a few food-related discoveries.

Seattle's Pike Place Market: Hom Bow: dim-sum type of filled bun that you could eat any time, and all the time. Delicious and flavorful. BBQ Pork or Vegetable Curry. Beecher's Handmade Cheese – a huge selection of cheese, including a Jamaican spiced one called No Woman that went great with the beers we discovered (Pyramid's "Apricot" and "Haywire Hefeweizen" stand out…Pyramid also has a brewery across from Safeco Field) and enjoyed on our hotel's deck overlooking Elliott Bay. Unbelievable macaroni and cheese too.

Pike Place Chowder: a delicious assortment (and sampler) of N.E. style chowder, dungeness crab cake sandwiches Pike Place Fish Market: the place where they toss the fish and work the crowd. They are now able to package tourist's fresh purchases into boxes that you can carry-on to airplanes. Special ice packs and all. We brought back 5 pounds of Alaskan Salmon and 2 dungeness crabs, had no airline problems. Back home we cooked salmon on grill on skin side with just lemon pepper and lemon. The perfect gift for friends and great inspiration for a reunion dinner. Fresh doughnut stand: hot off the wheel, bite size. Reminded me of Colorado Kitchen's brunch that I dearly miss.

Also: Ray's Boathouse: awesome view, first-class fish, particularly anything done in their "sake kasu" preparation. Palace Kitchen: perfect late night meal in cool, low-lit, hip local hangout. Went here after a Mariners game.

Vancouver: Japa Dog: fun, delicious japanese-style hot dog stand made with "the kobe beef of pork." Garnished with crunchy seaweed and a special Japanese mayo. Awesome lunch break.

Fresh oysters: British Columbia knows their oysters and does them right, particularly a "Buck a Shuck" happy hour at "Coast." Had an amazing dinner there then went back for happy hour the next day and would have kept doing so if we had more days. Sablefish aka (to us) Black Cod: Very popular on local menus, all sorts of preparations. Light, fresh, outstanding.

Vij's: Perhaps the best meal of our lives. 90 minute waits (that you know about going in), but you are fed throughout courtesy of owner/chef Vikram Vij while he also works his charm throughout the trendy dining room. Unbelievable flavor that lit our senses up as though someone turned the lights on in a pitch black room. Mutton kebabs, beef short ribs, lamb popsicles (named for the ball of lamb at the end of the "stick" of bone that you inevitably end up holding onto as you suck off every last morsel of lamb). Everything was so good! Turns out Vikram knows his way around DC – we chatted about Rasika, Indique, Restaurant Nora, and much more. Unforgettable experience across the board.

We talk about this meal as much as the bears, sea lions, whales, etc that we got up close and personal with in the wilderness later in the trip.

Also: Dungeness crab: Whereas here we eat 6-8 blue crabs, you only eat 1/2 or 1 of this sweeter, much larger crab. You pick it the same way as us (I hope, cause that's what I did!) but a lot of the meat is in the legs, all 10(?) of which are highly rewarding (as opposed to just the main 2 claws in our local crabs). Nice places out there clean out all the guts for you. No Old Bay, but drawn butter. Tastes closer to lobster. Still prefer the culture and experience of ours.

Hope this helps or inspires a few folks contemplating their next vacation. It's a very special part of the world that appreciates and utilizes its rare, natural, beautiful surroundings – both in the culinary sense and also big picture.

Damn you, Van Netian: I'm starving … ; )

And jealous. 

What a great and mouth-watering report. Who else has travel tales to tell?

I was in St. Louis this weekend, on the third and probably final leg of my tour for The Wild Vine, and got a chance to feast once more on schweinshaxe. Translation: pig hock. It's braised, then roasted, and then speared at its center with a giant steak knife, Tom Jones-style. Wonderful German dish. And Vintage, in Hermann, does a wonderful job with it. It came with warm potato salad and braised red cabbage, and we washed it down with bottles and bottles of Norton.

Thank you, Jon Held and family, for such a great and special time.

(And thank you, Left Bank Books and Kris Kleindienst for such an amazing and enthusiastic turnout on Sunday. I couldn't have asked for anything better.)

Shaw, DC

Hi Todd,

Not really a food inquiry, but I thought you might have the answer. What happened to that huge, gorgeous chandelier in the back room of Le Paradou…While lamenting over the demise of that wonderful place, I wondered what happens to such a fixture. Thanks!

It was a pretty wondrous thing, wasn't it?

I wish I had an answer for you. If Yannick Cam is reading along, perhaps he can enlighten — oof; sorry — us.

Arlington VA

Todd,

Would you predict a new Italian cycle in Washington in the next year with the arrivals of Donna, Fargione and Trabocchi restaurants just to name a few? Potenza opened last year, a numerous pizzerias opened this year and Carmine has just opened its doors two weeks ago.

Is Washington DC turning Italian?

Well, wait a second.

Enzo Fargione is returning, yes. He signed a letter of intent for Elisir, which is expected to open in the Spring of '11. Next year.

The latest on Trabocchi is that he's committed to a consulting gig in NY, and as for Donna I don't think we can be sure of anything at this point — the anticipated re-opening of Galileo has been talked about for more than three years, now.

You're right, though. There is a lot of Italian in the city right now.

My hope is for a few restaurants to get it right. Doing an Italian restaurant is a lot harder than it looks. The higher-end spots too often forget the meaning of a wonderful Italian word: sprezzatura. It means the ability to make the difficult appear easy, off-hand. Too often, you sense a straining, a self-consciousness, in the venture. And too many miss the big-heartedness — the warmth and joy, the generosity — that all truly great Italian restaurants serve up, whether they're humble red-sauce joints or more elaborate productions.

Reston, VA

Hi Todd.

I have friends and family coming to town to run the Marine Corp Marathon this fall. Can you recommend some great restaurants for carb-loading the day before the race? Thanks!

Speaketh of the devil …

I think a place like Potenza would be ideal for this — pizza and pasta (and Peroni). It's also a festive place, a good spot to gather with friends and family.

Another option: Cafe Assorti, in Arlington. Kazakh food in a modern, airy cafe setting. There's a load of tasty meat pastries to choose from — just be sure to tell them not to warm them up after you order them, or you're going to find your wonderful pastry soft and squishy from being nuked in the microwave. I also love the crepes (it's one of the better crepe spots around) and the various cold salads, including one with beets and walnuts and one with carrots and garlic.

Washington DC

Hi Todd,

Did you get invited to Chef Art Smith's wedding? The buzz in the city is all about this wedding.

I did not.

And had I received an invitation, I would have been obligated to decline.

From everything I've read, it sounds not at all like my cup of tea — very last-scene-of-"Jerry McGuire" — but hey, to each his own … 

NoLo, DC

Okay, you want travel and dining tales?

My husband and I spent the weekend in NYC. Friday night dinner at Le Bernardin, Saturday brunch at Bubby's Pie Company, Saturday dinner at Tamarind TriBeCa, and Sunday "lunch" (only actual meal of the day) at the Second Avenue Deli.

Le Bernardin was pretty much everything we hoped for, though I'll admit I wasn't crazy about my second course of barely smoked raw tuna with pickled japanese vegetables and crispy kombu. The pickles were too hard against the tooth and too strongly flavored for the tuna. While not entirely unpleasant, I found myself wishing I'd chosen a different course — something I don't expect to have happen at a four star restaurant. On the other hand, my entree of halibut in a divine truffle butter sauce made me forget my quibbles with the tuna! And of course, the service was impeccable.

Still, comparing it to local four stars like Komi and CityZen, I really think DC holds its own on the super luxe restaurant end; we simply have fewer of them.

Tamarind TriBeCa was also delicious. Neither the bargain of Masala Art nor the artistry of Rasika (or Devi in NYC), it was still a wonderful meal of rich, bold flavors. A special appetizer of cauliflower fritters in a sweetly sour tomato sauce was fantastic, and the desserts, ranging from traditional Indian to Indian-inspired Western, were intriguing. And my cucumber gimlet, featuring Hendricks and Pimms No. 1 was something I'd love to find in DC! Of course, now the diet damage control must begin…

Tell me about it.

I was in Missouri for three days, and barely saw a vegetable. While feasting on food — much of it excellent — appropriate for a hunt. And oceans of wine.

Yesterday was detox.

Great report, thanks — it sounds like it was a terrific trip. But how were Bubby's and the Second Avenue Deli? 

Providence, Rhode Island
Headed to Providence, Rhode Island this Friday for a 2-night stay. Any recommendations in the mid-price range close to Brown University would be perfect. Thanks much!!

Sorry; I wish I could help.

Anybody out there with some good recs?

There's a chance I'll be going up to Providence this Fall for a reading, so I'm also asking for myself … 

Washington, DC
In this month's Washingtonian there is a note that a new New York-style deli is opening in Bethesda. What's the deal? Is the food going to actually be worth eating? Because if this is the real thing, it is game changing.

We can hope, can't we? Given the recent performance of delis in this area, though, I wouldn't hope too hard.

The deli is called Uptown Deli, and should be open any day now. It takes over for La Miche, on Norfolk Ave.

I've been told that we should expect, among other things, corned beef, chicken soup, and good brisket. 

DC
Can you explain the various options available at Sushi Taro for dinner? Which would you choose if money was no object.

Well, if money is no object, then that's easy — just ask the chef to cook for you.

I would stress two things in ceding control of your meal to the sushi bar: one, that you are open to any and everything; that you are as adventurous as they come; and two, that you would like to make sure that among the delicacies for the evening will be several slices of genuine Kobe beef; some lobes of fresh sea urchin (known as uni); and sashimi-style preparations of yellowtail belly and scallop.

Falls Church, VA

Is it me, or is it really difficult to find good bread in the DC/NoVA?

Do you have a favorite place for a good baguette or loaf of french or italian bread? I find myself going to banh mi shops and picking up small sandwich leaves because they seem to be the best. Am i missing something?

I don't think you are.

It's not a bread city in the way that, say, Montreal is — in Montreal, you can find good bread in virtually every nook of the city.

Whole Foods isn't bad, though, and there are a lot of them in the area. And you have Marvelous Market, which makes good bread. Potenza bakery and G Street Foods both produce good loaves.

I agree with you, though. The banh mi shops make good bread. And they don't gouge you, the way the fancier spots do.

You can, likewise, find good bread at some of the Mexican spots in Little Mexico — La Flor de Puebla makes good torta rolls, very light and very, very airy. 

 

Too much Italian?

Hi, Todd.

It's been a long time since I've had a chance to follow your chats, although I'm late today. To answer my own question – never can have too much Italian, but maybe, almost. I'm not surprised by all the Italian restaurants being planted all over the DC area now; it makes perfect sense to me.

I think you won't find too many people who don't like Italian food, it's always easy to find something to like. Pasta (every which way), pizza, grilled vegetables, long-roasted, braised meats, fantastic wines (all price ranges), heavenly cheese, etc. You get the picture.

Of course, some of the things listed can produce controversy as to whether authentic Italian, but that isn't the point here. In stressful economic times, it seem natural to focus the food industry there – there's range, from red sauce to cream sauce, for example. I think Italian offers the ideal in comfort food, it can be basic and simple but deliciously done at a modest price point or elevated for a higher price point. In challenging economic times, it also makes good sense from the point of view that can you think of a better cuisine (maybe!?) that embraces and celebrates the gathering of friends, family, savoring good food? The invasion of Italy in Washington DC right now – it makes perfect sense to me.

It all sounds good, what you're saying.

But how many really good Italian restaurants can you think of in this area?

How many that really and truly feel Italian — not just in what they serve and how they serve it, but in how they make you feel when you walk in and when you walk out?

How many places do you say: Boy, when family comes, I can't WAIT to take them there and show them a great time?

I'm interested in seeing more places in the vein of Il Pizzico, in Rockville. The menu is small, the cooking isn't pretentious or assuming (you're not going to see truffles shaved over a humble dish just because), the staff pampers its regulars, and management emphasizes both value and consistency. My big quibble with the place is the almost martial pacing; it's anything but the leisurely, relaxed meal I tend to want. 

 

NoLo, DC

Bubby's: My husband has been there several times on business trips to New York and has been wanting me to try it. Locavore, rich, and fairly pricey comfort food. I've never seen a $9 side of bacon at a neighborhood joint, but I hear it was quite tasty. The biscuits with local butter and in-house jams from farmer's market fruits were delicious (and apparently unlimited, though we were unable to convince ourselves we needed more than one apiece). The salmon on my salmon/florentine benedict was house-smoked and the hollandaise tasted real.

As for the Second Avenue Deli, I hadn't been since before the Second Ave shop closed. The matzoh ball soup is still clear and brimming with chicken and dill flavors and a massive, fluffy kneidlach. The pastrami sandwiches are still too big to easily finish and too good not to. Paper thin slices of perfectly juicy and tender meat. The pickle tray and health salad plopped on the table were about perfect too.

Oh, NoLo: you've done a bad thing, a very, very bad thing. Today was supposed to be day 2 of detox, and here you've got me salivating at your descriptions and craving things I need to be staying away from for another day or more.

In particular, your description of the matzo ball soup and pastrami sandwiches at Second Avenue — beautifully, evocatively done. I mean it, I can just about taste these things from your words.

This is when writing is both blessing and curse — curse, because now I'm going to be filled all day with ache and longing …

 

NoLo, DC

There's certainly good bread in the city, though not all of the bakeries have retail outlets.

I'm rather fond of the goods from Panorama (at various farmer's markets) and Lyon (commercial only, but you can buy many of their breads, including great baguettes, at Cork Market on 14th). I do miss the days when Uptown Bakers was a single bakery and retail operation in Cleveland Park!

Exactly right.

Uptown is in Hyattsville now, in a 40,000 square foot facility overseen by Didier Rosada, one of the foremost authorities on bread in the world. Their products go out to hundreds of restaurants, hotels and bakeries across the area. I've toured the facility a few times, and always come away in awe of what they're able to do. In awe, and ravenous. It's a bread lover's dream — all those rooms of breads (of every style imaginable) and muffins and pastries and bagels.

I think it'd be great if they'd open a retail outlet. 

cheese-cation

Back in the beginning of July I took a trip to Cape May, NJ (I feel so wrong saying I vacationed in the dirty Jersey…) and had one of the most amazing dinners of my life.

My girlfriend and I stayed at the Albert Sevens Inn. Somehow we got to talking to the innkeeper about our love of cheese and he recommended that we check out the Seaside Cheese Company to try some cheese or even try to get in for a special tasting that the owner does by reservation only each night. By luck we were able to get a reservation for a cheese dinner.

We spoke with the owner on the phone and he asked us to chose three countries and he’d make a sampling of cheeses from each of the countries and some accompaniments as well. We were able to BYOB too! We chose France, Italy and then asked the owner for a recommendation for our adventurous funky cheese taste so he said he’d make a funky plate instead of a specific country for our last choice.

I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I got cheesed out by the end of the dinner. Each country was two overflowing plates of cheese, large wedges of each cheese. We could barely manage a bit of each cheese but we did it. There was even a fourth plate of dessert cheeses!

Everything that we didn’t eat the owner packed up for us to take home and warned us not to kill the cheeses and change their dressings often. I didn’t know you could kill cheese. He was so knowledgeable and personable even telling stories about a lot of the cheeses we ate. It was only $30 a person but had to be hundreds of dollars in cheeses, especially the truffle cheese that we were sad to finish.

We still have some cheese leftover and it’s August already.

Todd, if you ever find yourself in Cape May, you have to try Seaside Cheeses.

Great, great tip. Thank you!

I love it: a cheese-akase menu.

The owner sounds wonderful, and the fact you got to bring your own beer or wine makes it that much more attractive.

I was just in Lewes, near Rehoboth, and you can take a ferry north to Cape May. Something to consider for all you late-summer vacationers. 

Del Ray
I went to the Del Ray farmers market this week and decided to try some new bread – Gracies. It is AWESOME and I don't normally say that about bread. Whol grain all the way. They had a lot of options and I am looking forward to going back for my next loaf. I think the bakery is based out of Reston.

Thanks for chiming in on this.

I love the Del Ray Farmers' Market, and will be on the lookout for it — as I'm sure everybody else out there reading this will be, too. 

Re: Italian

You raise good questions back at me re: Italian restaurants in the DC area. For truly exceptional Italian, I am thinking of two – and, alas, they are not cheap, either. I have only considered one Italian restaurant for when family comes (my mother is Italian) so I am hard-pressed to find one that resonates feeling genuinely Italian. You are right – we are sorely missing this from many of the Italian restaurants.

Even eating in the two that I regard highly, neither truly even comes close to approximating eating in Italy, anywhere. (I'd also have to say that would be true of French and Japanese.) What I do think the invasion of al the Italian in DC represents is offering a widely-appreciated comfort food, if predictable, where people can come together for a merry, if moderately priced, gathering with friends and family.

I don't think most people are looking for authenticity replicated right now. Just a good place with reliable food, friendly prices, where they can meet others and forget the world for a little while.

Authentic doesn't have to mean authentic regional or micro-regional Italian. It can mean authentic Italian-American. It can mean the kind of big-hearted, simple place you find in the Little Italy neighborhoods of many northeastern cities.

These places have identities; they have souls; they feel rooted and real. If they have good food, too, well, then, they're pretty much city fixtures.

We really don't have these sorts of places. We have riffs on these places.

Or we have simple spots that look right and feel right, but don't put out good enough food.

More often, we have elegant, over-ambitious spots that don't inspire the strong emotions that the great Italian restaurants do. Good Italian cooking is almost a primal pleasure, and a dining room that really knows what it's doing should make you feel like family. That kind of warmth and sincerity just can't be faked.

Washington, DC

I may be too late for your chat today, but I have to sing the praises for Sushi Taro.

I think that the omakase menu at the sushi counter there has to be one of the best kept secrets in DC. I am not sure why it isn't consistently packed, but I am glad it isn't.

My husband and I dined there last night, and we were the only ones there….so we got to have Chef Nobu all to ourselves, which was amazing. I could go on about the amazingly fresh snapper, the signature sesame "tofu" or the fact that he cut open a bitter melon just to show it to us….but I know that the chat time is ending and I am hoping this makes the cut.

Kudos to Chef Nobu and his team, and if any other chatters out there are considering heading over, it will certainly be one of the most amazing and memorable things you have done!

How lucky the two of you were! You basically had a private (and very skilled) chef for the night.

I don't think it's that well-kept a secret, though; I think the secret's been out a while. I think you benefited from it being a Monday night at the end of August.

I don't know what it is, but so many of you made me so hungry today — now I'm craving sushi.

Thanks for all the questions and comments and wonderful observations, everyone. Be well, eat well, and let's do it again next week at 11 …

 

 

 

 

[missing you, TEK … ]

 

>> Submit a question in advance for next week's chat here 

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