Tuesday, August 31, 2010 at 11 AM

Every Tuesday at 11, food & wine editor Todd Kliman takes your questions about Washington area cuisine and restaurant news.

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

Washington, DC
I notice Damoim is on your top 25 list. I recently had lunch at Damoim and was not impressed at all. The Korean dumplings were bland and the seafood fritters (recommended to us by the server) were not good at all and remained on the table. The short rib tacos, while inventive in concept, were eh. What impressed you about this place?

What can I tell you? Nothing  I had was either bland or disappointing.

The short rib tacos, the second time I ate them, were not as good as they were the first time I tried them — a point I made here and in my review. But beyond that, there were few things there I didn't enjoy. The mandu, in particular — these were made fresh, with fresh wrappers (not at all typical of most Korean restaurants) and were beautifully fried. The veggie version is superior to the meat.

As for the seafood fritters — I never vouched for them; I think it's kind of funny that you took a server's suggestion instead of sticking to my list of recos and then come back on and tell me the place was no good.

 

Satiated in VA

Todd, thank you for your restaurant week suggestions.

We were able to book tables at Eola, Tallula and Siroc.

Although Tallula and Siroc were good, Eola truly blew us away. The Tamworth pork with the smoke was so divine, my husband had to eat it in silence so he could fully enjoy every bite. We enjoyed watching the chef use the smoke machine in assembling the dish.

And the steak, I can't remember the last time I had steak cooked so perfectly, and that's coming from a Texan!

Our server created a new cocktail for my husband based on his drinking preference.

It was definitely a very special evening for us and a perfect way to celebrate our 7yr anniversary. Also, we dream about the saffron fettuccine we had at Tallula. That is an incredibly flavorful broth/sauce.

Thanks so much for helping us book a successful restaurant week!

I'm so glad to hear the week went so well.

Eola is the sort of place that those of us who love food — who think about food and talk about food and plan our days around our meals — need to keep tabs on and keep in the rotation, as it were. I've taken folks there who aren't food-obsessed and although they've enjoyed aspects of the meal, something about the experience still eludes them. It's really meant for a certain breed of diner, not unlike a lot of other small, ambitious restaurants that have come on the scene in the city in the past five years.

Portions may not be huge, and there aren't the bells and whistles of dining at other, deeper-pocketed places, but there are a lot of charms and rewards here, particularly if you're the sort of diner who likes to explore — and who  would prefer a quirky personal statement to a smooth, crisp, technically correct but essentially soulless performance.

Of all the restaurants that debuted this past year, I think Eola is among the few that have the potential to grow and, if it can ride out the bumps in the economy, make real significant strides.  

Bethesda MD

Hi Todd,

Howard from Uptown Deli here. We are shooting for a 9-2 or 3 opening date as we wait on one final building inspection.

i heard I was talked about during your last chat session. I would be more than happy to sit in on the next chat session you have to answer questions. Look forward to hearing from you.

Thanks for the update, Howard …

That's Howard Wasserman, everyone, who's promising to bring good bagels, brisket, matzo ball soup, rainbow cookies and other noshes to an area starved for good deli. Location: Bethesda.

Speaking of which …

I've now dined twice at the two hotly awaited Bethesda restaurant debuts of the season, Mussel Bar and Bistro Provence, and am a lot less than thrilled by what I've seen and eaten.

The titular dish at Mussel Bar has been disappointing — the mussels are small and not sweet, though the various broths they're nestled in are good to excellent. The sandwiches are fine: a lobster roll would have been a lot better if it had more mayo; a lamb and goat cheese sandwich was too sloppily assembled. I loved the chew of the tagliatelle, but the night I had it the dish was undersalted and the wild boar ragu hadn't had enough time to knit together with the pasta.

A tarte flambe — a simple, small cheese pizza, essentially — cost $15. The pot of mussels is a small pot, not exactly brimming over with treats.

Best dishes on the table one night: a beet salad and a side dish of curried cauliflower and potatoes. At a place called Mussel Bar.

The beer selection is excellent — the best thing about coming here and fighting the crowds and waiting thirty, forty minutes for a table. 

Provence is an enigma. A really talented chef, but the output of the kitchen is uneven. The highs are high. The lows are low. Some dishes are too salty, some are not salty enough. There are dishes that remind you of Yannick Cam's greatness, and there are dishes that convince you he cannot possibly be in the kitchen that night.

And the space … Tables are crammed together, you fight to be heard, it's loud and chaotic, and at full capacity waiters are gesticulating and talking fast to one another as they pass by. You expect exactly this of a bistro, which Provence claims to be, but which it's not — not at heart. It aims for something more formal and more starchy — in its manner, in its presentation. 

And what ever is the deal with the madly flickering lights? 

Washington, DC (Mt. Pleasant)

Missed last week's chat because of a meeting.

Regarding authentic Italian, the most authentic northern Italian is Giovanni's Trattu on Thomas Jefferson Street by Dupont Circle. Food cooked to order, ability to order things exactly as you want. In terms of attitude and friendliness, it is the closest to the many restaurants I've eaten at in Italy, probably because most of the staff is Italian.

All true enough.

But do you find yourself mooning over the food … ? 

Washington, DC

Re: Providence restaurants, from last week's discussion …

As a Massachusetts native who grew up only 20 minutes from Providence and went to undergrad in Rhode Island, I have quite a few tips in regard to Providence.

Federal Hill is a must-visit for some of the best Italian food you can find in the country. There are classics that have been around since the mafia days, such as the Blue Grotto and Andino's, but I'd recommend one of the newer entries such as Mediterraneo or Siena's. (Guests especially love Mediterraneo, as they give you a complementary shot of homemade limoncello at the end of the meal.)

While you’re on Federal Hill, make a stop into Pastiche for dessert – a cozy shop with fantastic Italian espresso, cakes and pastries (my favorite is the rugelach) – and you MUST stop into Venda Ravioli, a huge family-owned Italian market with a large selection of fresh meats, cheeses, olives, and bread.

If you’re in the mood for pizza, Caserta’s Pizzeria in Federal Hill offers delicious Sicilian pizzas and spinach pies, and Al Forno is well-known for offering the first grilled pizza in the country.

Chez Pascal offers excellent French food (although if you’re in Providence, you may as well take advantage of the Italian offerings while you can, IMO), and La Laiterie at Farmstead is also phenomenal.

Hope this helps both you and the inquiring reader!

Thanks so much for chiming in with this ..

What a great compendium of suggestions. I hope it's not too later for the chatter who asked …

As for me — if I'm there this Fall, I will absolutely use your recos as a guide. Thanks again.

Clifton, VA

Mr Wasserman,

Hope your pastrami is the real thing not the yuppified PC lean stuff places try to pass off as pastrami. Real pastrami has fat. Fat is taste and mouth feel. And good rye bread. Any deli w/o these two is doomed to failure and should never be called a deli.

Yeah, what he said.

I also hope that the place — or any place that comes along in addition — will try hard to create an authentic deli atmosphere. With real zest — real character. And real characters. Not saying the waitresses and waiters should be crusty and acerbic, but it wouldn't hurt. As long as they're old and Jewish, that is. I like my servers at a delicatessen to be as pickled as the spears next to my sandwich.

Van Netian

Hi Todd,

Perhaps it's the OCD kicking in, but I'm having trouble figuring out the right way to use Washingtonian's Cheap Eats list.

Obviously there's no wrong way, but I could use some guidance from its creator.

My issue is that I don't know where to draw the line, if you will. I'm not going to go to all of them, but I do want to go to, say, a dozen of them. The problem is figuring out which ones to put in that dozen.

I've tried a few approaches but never feel confident about my final list of places to try. One approach is to look for the ones nearby your home or office. That cuts out a lot of the list, but I can't help but feeling like I'm missing too much of it. But then which of these further away ones to add?

Another approach is to try to pick a "representative" from various cuisines, or from various neighborhoods. But this wasn't particularly natural either, as a lot of them sound somewhat similar. Gom Ba Woo or Honeypig in Annandale? Huong Viet or Present in Falls Church? Which Chinese in Rockville? Sure you could say "All of them" but then I'm back where I started – with the whole, daunting list.

This makes me tempted to throw in the towel on the whole thing, or just find the ones that overlap with your Top 25s, but I just have too much fun punching a new address into the Garmin and hitting the road. So then where to draw the line? I understand why a numerical ranking wouldn't really fit this category, but I find myself wishing for some quantitative system or some other sort of road map or game plan. Any thoughts on how to best integrate this list into our lives?

Looking for specifics and strategy here, not "You can't go wrong." Hopefully my admiration for your lists, opinions, and team shines through!

I hear you. It's an interesting conundrum.

I do think that you can't really go wrong, but I also think that there are places where you can go more right, if you catch my drift.

If I had to limit myself to 12, these are the places I would make a priority to hit right now:

Minh's, Arlington

La Limeña, Rockville

Gom Ba Woo, Annandale

Bob's Noodle 66, Rockville

A&J, Rockville

Ravi Kabob, Arlington

Ray's the Steaks at East River, DC

Burma Road, Gaithersburg

Etete, DC

Pete's New Haven-style Apizza, DC

Sabai Sabai Simply Thai, Gaithersburg

Hollywood East Cafe on the Blvd., Wheaton

Alexandria, VA

My parents are coming to town this weekend, and I'd like to treat them to a Sunday brunch in Old Town. They've been so supportive lately, it's the least I can do.

Any thoughts on where to try? Vermillion, maybe? Thanks so much!

Vermilion's a good call. Fun vibe, low-key, good cooking, good staff. And don't miss the brunch cocktails.

I'll be interested in hearing how things turned out; drop back on and drop me a note, OK?

Silver Spring, MD
I am heading to St. Louis in a few weeks and you mentioned you were just there. Any restaurant recommentations? (I am not interested in pig hock).

I don't want anyone reading this to think that I'm saying these are the two best spots right now in St. Louis — I'm recommending them simply because I visited both when I was in town and enjoyed them.

One is Rooster, which I've been to 3 times now. It's a breakfast and lunch place and a lot of fun. Good coffee drinks, good crepes, and not all that expensive, considering the quality of everything — it's much, much less than it'd be for a comparable spot, here. 

Another is The Bridge, which is adjacent to Left Bank Books, a wonderful independent bookstore. Small plates, charcuterie, cheeses — you know, pretty much what every new, yuppie-wooing urban spot offers nowadays — and a good selection of interesting beers and wines.

Speaking of independent bookstores … I find it interesting that you seldom hear any impassioned appeals on the importance of supporting local bookstores.

I know a lot of people who buy from Amazon because it's easy, but will make an extra effort to hit a farmers' market.

I understand that what local bookstores are selling is not any fresher than what the big superstores are selling. But a local bookstore is vitally important to the local culture, wherever that local culture happens to be. When local bookstores go under, something of the culture is lost. We lose a link in the bookstore owner and the bookstore managers, who actually read and care about the books they stock and sell. We lose an authentic gathering place, a place to hear ideas and generate ideas, and dream, and think — as opposed to what you have when you have a massive, impersonal space with a coffeeshop that functions as little more than an office.

Falls Church, VA

Hi Todd,

Back toward the beginning of the summer I wrote about my inability to successfully grill a shrimp. You and several readers offered some great advice, and I've since had better results, so thank you!

Shell on 10-14 count, brined them, and then marinated them. I didn't blink while they were on the grill.

Do you ever find yourself willing a restaurant to be better? My husband and I were so excited for Mad Fox Brewery that we just can't come to terms with reality. It's all so mediocre from service, to food, to decor. Sigh. We'll give it a few…more…tries.

On a happier note, Pizzeria Orso has really started to shine. We're desperate for more non-Asian restaurants in Falls Church City. So much so that we're deluding ourselves!

But think of it this way — you're the envy of everyone in the area, with so many options for good and great Asian (and Latin) restaurants.

Glad to hear the shrimp-grilling is going better. Your method sounds like a good one … 

 

Warm, welcoming, comforting and inviting

Hi, Todd.

Your chats often give me things to think about and recently you hit upon a concept that I've been wrestling with for quite a bit. Hence, my subject line, which probably seems an odd one at that.

How hard is it to be a place or an establishment that is warm, welcoming, comforting and inviting–all appealing qualities. Apparently, if genuine, very hard. I wanted to add gracious but that can come off as stiff or formal or haughty, if insincere.

Why do so many places (high-end or not) have trouble delivering these basic but important qualities? Is it really that hard to do? Do you know of any restaurants in DC that do this without smacking of affectation? Thanks

To be perfectly honest, I tend to see these qualities more in restaurants outside of D.C.

And to be fair, more in restaurants in cities that are not big, metropolitan cultural capitals. Smaller cities — Richmond, St. Louis — have more genuinely friendly, warm, welcoming restaurants.

In this area, I tend to find this kind of welcome more often at family-style restaurants than at high-end restaurants. It's really something that can't be taught and practiced. Your observation about graciousness is really astute. At the better, more serious establishments in this city, "graciousness" is often there — but as you say, it sometimes feels stiff and not natural.

The one high-end restaurant that leaps to mind as embodying all or most of the qualities you're talking about is Komi — one of the most expensive places in D.C. But there's a collegiality and enthusiasm, here, that you just don't find at many restaurants, and I think it has to do with the fact that the restaurant is small and the staff is a lot more involved in operations than at most places. There's a genuine excitement for what the mission, and a real sense of togetherness.

any new exciting restaurants worth trying?

Hi Todd,

I love your weekly chats. Keep up the great job!

I've been out of the dining scene the past year – had a baby girl couple of months ago. What are some new and really exciting restaurants/bars that are worth trying in the DC and MoCo area? I don't care about price or the type of foods. I just want something that will blow me away. We went to Mussel Bar in Bethesda – food was okay – last Sunday. We've been to Komi, BLT Steak, Bourbon Steak and J&G as well.

Thanks again

I don't see Citronelle on that list, and that is one of only a handful of restaurants in the area that, if it's on, will wow you. The creativity of the compositions, the clarity of the cooking, the depth of the flavors … And there isn't a chef in the world who's food is more distinctive-looking, more readily identifiable, than Michel Richard's.

alexandria

went for a family dinner to the majestic last monday. loved the place in the past. we had a very nice waitress who knew a lot about food/wine, but man – the night went south.

one of us orderd the whole fish orata, but the order was not placed. come food delivery time, instead they had split the meatloaf my husband ordered. no biggie – it honks but it happens. i was a waitress for years so i get it. we were disappointed but fine.

the whole orata wld not be ready until 15 min after everyone else got their meals. so the server offered the hungry person soup "on her" and he asked for a side of green beans too while he waited. we are all affable and went on w our meal. what drove me nut was that, when other servers ran the soup and green beans out – 2 different ones put them at 2 different places – and NOT at the seat of the poor hungry guy. this kept happening throughout the rest of the night.

then, when the orata arrived, it was not the whole fish – it was filleted. this was prob done to speed up the process – but it is not what he ordered. and, they still charged us for the whole orata.

also the waitress – who i think was trying to close out for the night – had another server bring us our check. not what i'd have done given the issues w/ the table but fine. except it was the wrong one!

we still tipped well bec i felt weird making a big stink. i was not sure how/what to say w/o coming off as that ahole table. but when i left, it stuck w. me. (again, i am lenient and laidback about eating out). i think the orata should have been comped. had it been me i would have offered desserts on the house or something. i'm irritated that at a table w. such a key mistake – that the waitress did not ensure that the soup/green beans went to the right waiting hungry human. i'm annoyed that the check was wrong too – bec she was clearly trying to close out. do you agree w/ me or am i a donkey?

I don't think the orata should've been comped, because you were offered a soup on the house.

It sounds like one of those nights where one bad thing leads to seven, and things spiral wildly out of control. I agree with you, the waitress who screwed up should have been the one to present the check.

As for the soup and beans going to the wrong person … I hear you. I don't think restaurants realize how annoying it is to diners when this kind of thing happens. I had it happen last night, twice. The first time, we were quizzed on who ordered what? The second time we were asked if we'd ordered a particular dessert, as the waiter stood by holding the plate? (We hadn't.)

It rarely happens at places that see themselves as being more formal, more serious statements. I think managers at more casual spots tend to think that it's not all that big a deal, that diners have to realize that this is one of the bargains they make for wanting more accessible, more informal places to dine. Just as many places have made us accept the idea of a no-reservation policy — or a policy of not seating a customer until all the other customers have arrived for the night.

 

Washington, D.C.
My boyfriend is taking me to see a show at the Signature Theater in Arlington and I've volunteered to find someplace for dinner first. Any suggestions in the area? We're looking for something with a lot of vegetarian options.

Your three best bets for something nearby are probably Carlyle Grand, Busboys & Poets or Extra Virgin.

All are so close to the theater that you could — if you wanted to — hoof it on down to Signature, or vice versa.

Busboys & Poets (eclectic American) and Extra Virgin (Italian) are going to have more veggie options than the first. No place is going to wow you, culinarily or otherwise, but all are pretty solid for a simple, no-frills pre-show meal.

Hope that helps! 

Bethesda, MD
Todd, Re your comments on the great beer list at Mussel Bar, I agree it is extensive, and well thought out, but this was supposed to be RW's less expensive location, and the drafts (for example Delirum 12 v. 9) are more expensive at Mussel Bar than Brasserie.

I think the cost of the beer is part of the general problem, here — of paying a lot for a little.

It's interesting that there's a note on the chalkboard above the bar advertising a "$12 breakfast." Which, by the time you add in a drink and tax and a tip, is probably a $20-$25 breakfast. *

* And that's not counting the parking ticket that's a very, very high probability, unless you live nearby … because who among us wants to dash out of a meal to feed a meter that will only permit you to pay (through the nose) for an hour?

DC recommendation

Hello, Todd.

My friend just e-mailed me to get a recommendation, but I thought I would lob it over to you.

Here is her request: May I get an inexpensive but good DC restaurant recommendation? We're meeting a friend downtown on Friday night. He's in his 60's, Italian and from MI.

He's a foodie but he's not accustomed to our prices. I want a relatively quiet place so we can catch up with him. We're driving him back to his son's in Kensington, MD after dinner so anywhere in that general DC/MD vicinity. Thank you.

Inexpensive but foodie-good in DC? And quiet, too? That's really, really tough to find.

A place like Cafe du Parc would be ideal, except for the fact that you're looking at a bill of about $70 for two, I'd think — unless you split a pot of mussels, split an appetizer and go light on wine. In which case you can maybe do it for around $50.

Cheaper, although less gastronomically wonderful, is Bistro d'Oc. It's quiet, too. 

Bethany Beach, DE
Dude, Us 50+ surfers would like to join us Wed afternoon and Thurs for some surfing in a hurricane props to James Delaney Buffett for his song. We will help you get out and learn to ride. By Thurs we should have 16 to20 ft surf. Surfs up and you leave your cane with a cutie in dental floss bikini.

I'm in.

Where do we meet? 

Clifton, VA

Come on as a former server even in casual place its not that difficult to write down who gets what.

I didn't because I could remember who got what with dueces and four tops but larger aprties I wrote it down. I hate the entry or dessert auction routine. Shows a lack of caring and training.

ANd never assume who is getting what entry , drink etc absed on gender. My gf is bodybuilder at 5 ft zero and she will put away 20oz of prime rib for protein.

Not writing things down, and screwing things up as a result — happens a lot.

And deciding who gets what based on gender — meat to the man, fish to the woman, red wine to the man, white wine to the woman … that happens a lot, too. A sure-fire way to lose a good tip …

Lunch is here! Actually, it arrived five minutes ago and I've been letting it get cold. (I'm typing this from an undisclosed location that puts out some very delicious food).

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

 

 

[missing you, TEK … ]

 

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