Tuesday, September 7 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.

Kensington, MD

Hi.

My husband and I had our first date at Kuna on U Street. Our anniversary is coming up and I thought it would be fun for us to return to Kuna but I now know it no longer exists. I tried a google search to figure out where Kuna's chef ended up but I am not having any luck.

Can you tell me where he is / what happened to Kuna? Thanks!

Kuna closed a good while ago, and the place that replaced it, Opera, closed a good while ago, too.

I don't have any info on the chef. I wish I had something to offer you. Many years ago, my wife and I found out that the place where we'd had our first date, a coffeeshop, had come and gone. We had intended to go back there on the anniversary of that date. Not long after, we learned that the place had become a sushi restaurant, and for several years we went there to commemorate that anniversary. And then it, too, closed. Now, we've stopped going.

It's good to have a place like that. Something to connect to.

Vienna, VA

My husband and I are going to take a long weekend and go to Rehoboth Beach (we've never been). AND, we are definitely going to take the ferry to Cape May and enjoy a delicious cheese tasting (thanks to you and a fellow chatter).

Any other recommendations for great eats at the beach?

You have to hit Casapulla's South, between two outlet malls. Super, super hoagies. Even the tuna fish is good.

The two best fine-ish dining spots in Rehoboth are probably Salt Air Kitchen and Espuma. The former is a little simpler, with a focus on local produce and local fish. I like it a lot. I like that it doesn't try too hard. I was just there a few weeks ago and had another good meal.

Nage is also good, especially for a leisurely lunch. Imaginative soups, good salads, and a number of tasty sandwiches. And you can sample a variety of wines, in half-pours as well as full-pours.

In Lewes, you shouldn't miss Cafe Azafran for tapas (and coffee and pastries in the morning), and Kindle for bistro fare.

I'm not a HUGE fan of Bethany Blues BBQ, if only because it's poorly run and the staff is not that focused and the menu is a little too long for what it is. But the ribs are surprisingly good, very well-smoked, and there's also a long list of small-batch bourbons to match with the 'cue.

Have a great time. I'd love to hear about the places you end up hitting … 

Herndon, VA

I am a single woman, of a certain age, and truly enjoy food and visiting new and exciting restaurants. But most of my friends are unable, financially or by inclination, to join me at such places as Komi, Citronelle, or the like. And I'm not financially able to cover their checks as well.

So, I'm thinking about going solo. Which of the highly recommended places in DC would be the most comfortable for a single?

It's an interesting dilemma you pose. Theoretically, all of these places are good spots for solo diners. Theoretically.

But then you consider that Komi is very much a quiet, cozy haunt, or that Citronelle, as excellent as it can be, is kind of starchy in its service.

I think you'd feel most comfortable at places like Central Michel Richard — Citronelle's more outgoing brother — and Kinkead's (the bar, in particular). Palena Cafe would also be a good spot to go it alone, and you have the option of ordering off the back-room menu as well. CityZen's bar: also a good place to perch and dine, and a fraction, too, of the cost of the regular menu. Rasika's bar. Vidalia's bar …

Are you sensing a pattern? Bars are generally very, very hospitable to the solo diner, and these days you can dine really well at a bar, too.

Arlington, VA
The goalie has left building and fingers crossed, my wife will soon be pregnant. Before she gets pregnant she wants to go out for an unforgettable night of sushi. Any recommendations? Who has the best sushi in DC right now?

First off, I love that — "the goalie has left the building."

You know, I'm really hard put to choose, right now, between Kushi and Sushi Taro. Although if you forced me up against a wall and threatened me with some fistwork, I'd say Kushi. That's not anything to do with the quality of the fish on offer at Taro — which is superb. It's more a personal inclination. I like its openness, I like its energy, I like watching the flames leap up from the robata, the grill, that commands the center of the room. It's a fun place. 

I was in again recently, and was impressed again by the excellence of so much of the sashimi and sushi. And the grilled things, which are often good, but sometimes hit-and-miss, were mostly (and memorably) hit.

A recent addition to the dessert menu is housemade mochi, a rarity at sushi restaurants, and it's not to be missed. The delicate bundles come three to an order, with three different flavors to try: green tea, mango and vanilla. All excellent.

Arlington, VA

Todd,

I haven't eaten at a lot of the new, new places in DC. What mid range (not Bourbon Steak prices, more like Proof prices) are really shining right now? I had a great meal at Againn downtown recently, but don't know what else should be on my list. I was recently really disappointed in Lyon Hall it just didn't do anything for me.

It's interesting. Most of the best places to have opened in the past year or so are mid-level places — ambitious, interesting mid-level places, something the city was sorely lacking a decade ago.

You mentioned Againn in DC, and I agree; a very good, very consistent spot. (The Rockville location is a little like Roger Clinton or Billy Carter: You can hardly believe it comes from the same family.)

In addition to Againn, I'd include: Bistro Cacao on Capitol Hill; Eola (which edges, here and there, into more expensive territory, but which feels like a mid-level spot); Ray's the Steaks at East River; Kushi; and Estadio.

Since we're talking about places within the last year … I'd also throw in Level, in Annapolis, which occupies the split-level townhouse on West St. that previously belonged to Kyma. It looks like a trendy pretender — a noisy, spot aswarm with the young and affluent that thinks it's better than it is. But the owners, John Hogan and John Miller, know what they're doing. They've hooked up with 15 local farms, and the quality of ingredients is evident in nearly every bite. 

I love the perfectly spiced satay of bison, and a spinach-and-mozzarella-stuffed green pepper ringed with puréed tomato is the sort of simple dish more places like this ought to be attempting. Even suspicious-sounding plates, such as spring rolls stuffed with Cuban-style pulled pork, often reveal an unexpected finesse. I had low expectations of a seafood stew, but was generously rewarded by hunks of rockfish, bluefish, and crab and, best of all, a rich but delicate broth.

The cocktails are all handcrafted, potent, and a relative bargain — only one is more than $10.

Washington, DC

We haven't read anything from you on Chef RJ Cooper's new concept Rogue 24. What are your thoughts of him breaking away from Vidalia and opening a space in Blagden Alley.

The area is in the midst of change. As a follower of his from Vidalia, we believe that him going into this area shows the courage and the outside the box thinking he is known for.

What do I think?

I think Cooper is very talented, and that the place — an all-tasting menu restaurant — sounds very intriguing. It promises to allow him to stretch out and do things that he could only do in part at Vidalia, where, in addition to experimenting wildly, he was also bound to turn out Southern staples like shrimp 'n' grits.

I take exception to your assertion that this move shows "courage" and "outside the box thinking." Ten years ago, yes, absolutely.

The area is just blocks from Penn Quarter and the Convention Center, and Mt. Vernon Square is now also home to Kushi and a Busboys & Poets.

Courage and visionary thinking means going where no one else has gone, and taking a chance on being proven right. Being a pioneer. I think you can say that of Michael Landrum and Andy Shallal and … really no one else.

If Cooper — or any of his fellow chefs who are thinking of opening places of their own, or any restaurateurs who are looking around  — were to sign a lease to open, say, in Greenbelt, or Ft. Washington, or Brookland … then I would say, yes, they are bold and visionary and deserving of all the kudos that come with taking a risk.

Bethesda, MD

Todd,

I promise you I am a locavore/foodie and regular reader, but here's a question from another angle.

After a nostalgic road trip down south this summer, my husband and I both were waxing on about how we always loved the variety and home cooking style of the cafeterias our grandparents took us to when we'd visit them in Alabama and Tennessee as kids.

Nothing like a school cafeterias (!) but alaces with a procession of comfort foods, always starting with desserts. He even remembers treating his grandmother to the cafeteria located in Montgomery Mall when she came to visit him.

Do you have any recommendations of places around here that give off that old fashion cafeteria vibe? Absent that, what's your favorite comfort food haunt?

Anyone remember Sholl's? A sentimental favorite of former Post critic Phyllis Richman's.

But Sholl's is gone, and I really can't think of any other place that comes close to replicating it — its food, its atmosphere, its mission.

Thinking about like-minded places … it's tough. Not much comes to mind …

I enjoy C.F. Folk's — the anti-Palm, I like to call it — for a fun, filling lunch.

And Franklin's in Hyattsville for the big sandwiches (I liked the BLT they were doing recently with an avocado smashed on top), the chicken pot pie, the roasted mussels. 

What else?

Hard Times Cafe for the chili mac. …

… Oohhs & Aahhs for the fried chicken and gooey mac 'n' cheese. …

… What about the rest of you –? 

Anniversary in Baltimore

I will be celebrating an anniversary in Baltimore in the coming weeks, and wanted to know your suggestions for a romantic restaurant, with excellent food. I am looking to spend around 100-125 for the two of us.

Any good place you'd recommend. Inner Harbor area is ideal, but we could venture a little outside of there.

Romantic and excellent eating and within that price range … that's a bit of a stumper.

My pick — and it involves redefining romantic — would be Woodberry Kitchen, which is a little further afield from the Inner Harbor … but not too far away. I think the cooking's terrific, the prices are fair, and I love the setting and atmosphere — a restored mill, with soaring ceilings and a lot of character as a result of the wooden floors and old brick walls.

Romantic? That depends. I think you could call in advance and make your needs known and request one of the cozier tables in the restaurant. But it's more casual than formal, and it tends to get full, fast — all things that don't generally make for a get-away, if that's what you're looking for. But for the most part, I think it'll fill the bill.

I think it's one of the few Baltimore restaurants that I can say it's worth a long drive for someone living in the DC area.

Another spot you might want to consider: Petit Louis, from the same group that owns Charleston. It's a very cozy, very intimate bistro — although, being a bistro, it's not going to provide you with that sense of remove that a more conventional romantic getaway would.

As long as we're talking about Baltimore restaurants — although it doesn't belong in the discussion of romantic restarants — I again want to mention how much I enjoy Chameleon Cafe, on Harford Rd. Doesn't justify a big trip, no, but if you're going to be in Baltimore and you're looking for something independent and personal, it's worth it, I think. 

Rosslyn
An addition to my earlier post, as I accidentally hit submit too early. Looking for a nice, classy environment. Would like to stay under $150 per person. This would be in early November. Was thinking Eleven Madison Park or Le Bernardin but did not know if that would fit the price requirement. Thanks for any help you can provide

Le Bernardin is superb, but I don't think there's any way you get out of there for what you're looking to pay per person. The least expensive prix fixe menu is $112. Once you factor in tax and tip, you're committed to a $350-400 night, I'd think.

What about the excellent Marea, which the NY Times awarded 3 stars, and which also emphasizes fish and seafood (although with an Italian, not French, spin)? It's not at all cheap, but the prix fixe option — for four courses — is $89 and you can also order a la carte, which gives you more control of your meal and your spending.

Kuna

Todd,

My husband and I went to Kuna when we were dating; it was not our first date, though.

We remember enjoying Kuna and loved it for what it was. Good food in a neighborhood-type place that was neither dive nor super high-end. The price point was just right for what it was, what it was doing.

Over the weeks following, maybe in response to positive food reviews, we saw the prices climb, as the often do in DC once positive reviews hit the press. The prices kept rising until people no longer felt what was being served could demand new set prices.

When will restrauteurs learn?

You keep inching up the prices and soon you'll have no customers to fill your place, even if it started out a place with promise.

I've watched this happen too many times here – and it seems especially prevalent in DC (as opposed to other urban landscapes). It's like a grain of sand that rubs the wrong way.

It's too bad because I thought Kuna had real potential for staying power. It started so good. Unfortunately, I have no information on what happened to the owners/chef. I think they could make a good place, if the business side were handled a little more judiciously. Thanks

That's exactly what happened there. And I agree: it's a shame.

Once the prices climbed — and if I'm remembering correctly, they made a fairly obvious, big jump — it was time to evaluate Kuna differently. It was no longer in the category of the simple, let's-not-try-too-hard sort of place that people had fallen in love with. 

I think you're also right that it does seem to happen here a lot. And that's a shame, too. 

gaithersburg, md

Hi Todd,

Thinking about a place for a wedding anniversary dinner. What do you think about Pawtomack Farm for their "Sunday Dinner" special? Know anything about this?

I do. It's a little cheaper than dining there during the rest of the week, and the menu's smaller and more streamlined, too. It's meant to give diners a chance to enjoy a meal without the bells and whistles, and just take in the day and relax over a meal of solid, ingredient-driven cooking.

And this time of year, with the temperature leveling out and the colors of the leaves about to change, is a great time — really, the ideal time — to head on out there.  

Arlington, VA

Hi Todd –

Don't know who to send this info to – so you're it!

Was just reading a blog about the next Top Chef (this season is so boring – contestants are dull, editing is making them appear even duller, and challenges are mucho lame; I am hoping for better next season!) and it appears that next season will feature Top Chef contestants who didn't win – including Carla Hall (love her!), Mike Isabella (love him!), maybe Spike (eh!), and from this season . . . Tiffany (love her!) and ANTHONY SOSA.

I am sure this blogger didn't intend to include a spoiler – but now I am more interested in this season because if Ed doesn't win . . . well, let's just repeat Hosea vs. Stefan (Stefan was robbed!) Thought you might pass this on to your Top Chef editors . . .

Thanks. Consider it "passed."
Arlington

Hello, Todd.

I hope you enjoyed your weekend as much I enjoyed mine. Where should I recommend three foodie friends go for a sushi lunch or dinner? I was thinking Kotobuki or Makoto or Sushi Taro if they want to splurge. Any other places I should mention to them? Thank you.

The two I would add would be Kushi and Sushi Sono, in Columbia.

And I'd delete Kotobuki, based on the most recent meal I had there — a real disappointment; I also don't think it has ever belonged in the top tier, or near the top tier, of sushi spots in the area. Its appeal has always rested on it being a great value, a function of its stripped-down menu and small staff.

Taro and Makoto represent the biggest splurges — they're the most expensive places on the list, and not by a little.

The question is whether the prices can be justified.

Makoto can be great, but a lot goes a little. You need to really spend to get the most out of it. Taro, at the moment, is probably a better value, and I use that word very, very loosely. The best options at Taro — they tend to be the fishes that've been FedEx'ed in from Japan — are very, very expensive. And very, very exciting, too. 

One of the reasons I like Kushi is that the quality of the fish is so high — as good, in many cases, as Taro — and yet you can walk out of there without having dropped nearly the amount of money as you would, most likely, at Makoto and Taro.

Columbia Heights, DC

Just started reading along and wanted to tell the person who is headed to Rehoboth to visit Touch of Italy. (33A Baltimore Ave.)

Awesome cookies, good subs, an excellent selection of hard-to-find Italian cheeses and cured meats. And the owner is generous with the samples the minute you walk in the door.

Sounds terrific.

I wish I'd known about it when I was in town a few weeks ago. Thanks for the tasty tip!

Bethesda
Have about an hour before back to school night tonight to kill. Where should we go for a quick bite in Bethesda. Thinking maybe Raku or the new American Tap Room?

Forget those.

Book a table at Jaleo, and order Jose Andres's Gin and Tonic — that's the actual name, by the way. A great thing to sip on a hot night like tonight.

It might be the best gin and tonic you've ever had. Very strong, but also very smooth. And very fragrant with all the aromatics in the glass. I love the ice cube ball — a perfect sphere, and perfectly clear.

It'll also take the edge off of spending time around all those kids who are not your own. ; )

My last couple of meals there were excellent. I really don't think you can do much better in Bethesda than Jaleo. Of the current crop of challengers — Mussel Bar is very much a work in progress, and Bistro Provence is too much of a wild card.

Eager to see what comes of Uptown Deli, which ought to open its doors next week …

Time to run … Thanks again for all the great tips and questions and comments and musings …

Eat well, everyone, be well, and let's do it again next week at 11 …

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

[missing you, TEK … ]

 

 

 

 

 

More from News