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.
2 Amy's, DC
Black Market Bistro, Garrett Park
Bollywood Bistro, Fairfax
Cantler's Riverside Inn, Annapolis
Jackie's, Silver Spring
La Canela, Rockville
La Limeña, Rockville
La Strada, Del Ray
Palena Cafe, DC
Poste Brasserie, DC
Ray's the Classics Bar, Silver Spring
Sol de España, Rockville
Taqueria La Placita, Riverdale
Woodberry Kitchen, Baltimore
Zentan Sushi Bar, DC
Hi Todd –
I'm looking for a romantic dinner location for two folks who are having a torrid affair. It needs to be in the city, since traveling back from VA or MD would waste too much precious time. Please don't suggest Poste (been there, done that too many times and still don't like it) and Plume is a bit expensive. Any other ideas?
Sounds pretty torrid.
Sounds, actually, as though anything too long or leisurely would just, uh, cramp your night.
I'm guessing you need dark and cozy. Citronelle? CityZen? Marcel's?
Marcel's, in particular, is the sort of place that, were you to tip them off to your needs, as it were, they would go a step or two beyond — booking a more remote table, for instance, as well as adding in a little extra pampering.
Actually, I just re-read your question, and see that you ruled out Plume as being too expensive. Which means you're probably not going to want to consider any of the above, either.
Interesting. A torrid, but budgetary affair. A Recessionary affair … Hmm …
The downstairs bar/lounge at J&G?
Cafe du Parc? On the terrace?
Veritas Wine Bar for glasses of wine and charcuterie and cheese? I mean, after all — if it's as torrid as you say, then why waste time with actual courses?
Chatters, any ideas? Can you come to the rescue of our foodie philanderers?
A field report from the past couple of weeks.
I'll start with the good: Carmine's.
My date and I went to Carmine's on whim hoping for some cozy Italian. From start to finish it was a great experience. The ladies at the host stand were welcoming, our server Nyema was delightful, knowledgeable, and just made you feel very at home, not to mention incredibly professional. Since we could plainly see that the portions are enormous, we split the Caesar Salad with extra anchovies and the Veal Parmigiana. The salad is now my favorite classic caesar in DC. So crisp, light on the dressing but potent in flavor. The Veal Parmigiana was everything I thought it should be: crisply breaded, moist and flavorful on the inside, plenty of oozy mozzerella, and zesty sauce served with enough pasta to feed my hometown.
I went back a week later for lunch to have the Hot Italian Combo sandwich. Holy mother of deliciousness. I dream about this sandwich. Great bread, perfect balance of meat to cheese, hot peppers AND served with a caesar salad on the side. I gladly took home the other half for dinner that night. It's not haute cuisine, but I loved it and can't wait to go back.
The not so good: Thunder Burger and Bar.
Same date, different night, we came here for a late nosh after a movie. After waiting for what seemed like an eternity, we got menus, another eternity to order beers, 12 minutes later beer arrives. It's a Saturday night, and while busy they aren't slammed, but I'll still give our server a pass because he certainly appears to be hustling. We agree on splitting an order of Grilled Buffalo Wings, I get the Love Me Tender burger (kobe beef and gruyere cheese) and my date has the Buffalo Stomp (bison with bacon, grilled onions and blue cheese). Both burgers were cooked as requested, and both were pretty good.
My main complaint about my burger was the cheese: gruyere was a single, weak slice. The other burger was weak on the bacon. The fries were a total snooze. But the Grilled Wings….did they kill a couple sparrows in the back alley and throw them on a grill? Tiny, weak flavor, watery "blue cheese dressing" and a single dried celery particle. Just bad. The decor is so cool and I really wanted to like the place, but I can't say I'll be running back anytime soon. Maybe if we get another Snowmageddon and J Paul's is closed, I would go.
Thanks for the exhaustive reports, Shaw. Much appreciated!
Carmine's has been challenging a lot of assumptions so far. It's been interesting to watch.
Don't you mean — in Beltsville?
If so, I've been three times now. Once was good; once was eh; once was disappointing.
There's a lot of spitroasted chicken out there, and Sardi's, sorry to say, isn't in the top tier. I recently had a spitroasted chicken at La Brasa, a 4-year-old spot in the industrial part of Rockville, that was better than anything I ate at Sardi's — and yet I wouldn't put that in the top tier, either.
I should mention here that La Brasa has a lot more to recommend it than just chicken. There's a homemade chicken soup that's fabulous, along with a pretty darn good ceviche and pretty darn good enchiladas (I prefer the green sauce to the red). And excellent tres leches, too.
I really love this industrial part of Rockville, I have to say. It's full of all sorts of interesting nooks and crannies, and so industrial and undeveloped you feel you want to explore it. And it's a such a relief from Rockville Pike, which is, let's face it, one giant, extended strip mall — as if all of Rockville did nothing but shop all day long.
Saint Michel Bakery is in this part of Rockville, and it's a hidden gem — good pan bagnat on fresh-baked baguettes, and good almond and chocolate croissants, too. I love sitting on the sidewalk (there are no tables), eating a sandwich and watching the cars pull up and customers run in for a quick bread pick-up. Last time I was there, a cab rolled to a stop, the guy dashed out, and five minutes later he was off again — with two bags of baguettes and other goodies.
Another thing I love in the industrial area of Rockville, and an even bigger hidden gem, is the warehouse of Second Story Books, just a block or two from La Brasa. It's massive — bigger than some libraries. There's great stuff on the shelves, especially in the literature sections, which are very, very well-stocked; you can expect to find three of four books from a particular author. And the staff is great, full of book-lovers, real readers — something you won't find at Borders or Barnes & Noble, for instance.
You would suggest Good Guys or Archibald's to set the mood, would you? I always knew you were a classy, classy guy.
I should point out that a good hotel like the Ritz is going to be upwards of three bills. These people don't have that kind of money. This isn't Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr. It sounds more like Zack and Miri.
This is such a random question, but I am not interested in renting a car in Washington…can you tour Washington and do most of it by foot and taxi? Thanks so much.
Why not? It's just going to cost you.
But it's not a bad idea, if you can afford it, especially because you'd avoid the hassle (and the ridiculous high cost) of parking.
Paying the meter has gotten worse in many neighborhoods of the city, which now require you to feed the thing until 10 p.m. Bethesda is the same way. It's dirty pool. And it makes going out to restaurants more difficult, because either a.) you have to dash from your meal to pump quarters into your meter after an hour, because a lot of meters (Bethesda is notorious in this regard) don't exceed an hour of time, or b.) you have to absorb the cost of the ticket, adding $40 to your tab.
Yes, there's that new thing where you go onto some website and you give them a ton of information about yourself, along with your credit card number, and then you punch some code into their system in order to extend the time on your meter.
It's being touted as a solution. It's not. It's just a different hassle.
Back to the cab question … One reason it works well in this city is that there are many, many defined neighborhoods, with things to do/see and places to eat. You can have a cabbie deposit you in a particular neighborhood, like the Mall, say, and wander the museums and galleries there, and eat lunch or dinner there, and then have him come and collect you and take you somewhere else.
One other advantage: You won't have to worry about becoming lost in the frustrating maze of the city's streets.
I was going to suggest a dive strip bar in SE that has wings and ribs to die for this lovely couple but thought that might be too classy for them.
Now Mccormick and Schmicks at Tyson's with their booths with the curtains can set the mood. I think Dixie Pig on Rt 1 and nice no tell motel on Rt 1 would be perfect for this couple. Or one of the taco places along Rt 1 nothing improves the romantic mood great food and stomach distress.
i was thinking the lovely cruise ship couple in Morris's Nightmare by James Delaney Buffett is who these folks represent. Just because I catered my bro's wedding at local 7-11 menu a Big Bite or anything from the microwave and 6 pack of RWB or Big Gulps for the little ones doesn't mean you insult me! I have class. my definition of formal is anytime I wear socks!
Need a suggestion for great lunch place near Farragut West for lunch with a friend/business colleague.
Tried Cafe Soleil on Friday and will not go back: service was terrible (host was rude; took 20 minutes to order; coffee and water not refilled; took forever to get the check) and food only ok. Other ideas?
BLT Steak? Oval Room? Both are good, both are expensive.
If it's a business lunch you're after, and you need a place that commands attention, and someone's picking up the tab … then you can't do much better than either of these.
For something a little cheaper, there's Kaz Sushi Bistro, and it's a good, serene place to have a serious discussion. You can also get one of the bento boxes if you're looking for a more efficient, hustled-along experience.
As in: Haight Ashbury and the Summer of '69, spliffs in profusion and Sly blaring his psychedelic funk? As in: Woodstockian bacchanal?
No, the Spanish don't believe in that. Sex is much, much subtler than that, although it's also much, much more present — it suffuses pretty much every aspect of cultural life.
The problem with Taberna is that it's so expensive. Prohibitively so for our cost-conscious cheaters.
Main courses hover in the '30s. That's a buzz kill right there.
Iron Gate works. Good call. The nearby Tabard Inn also works
What was I thinking? Of course.
If this were a competition, you'd take away the prize with this one.
Bistro Cacao is the IDEAL spot for an affair. In fact, it occupies the space that once belonged to Two Quail, a destination where a man of a certain stature and means used to go to woo a woman not his wife.
Cacao is much more affordably priced. It's a mid-level restaurant, and a good one.
More to the point, the layout of the restaurant seems almost to have been designed to attract the illicit. Our foodie philanderers ought to request one of the ensconced booths, framed with bordello-red curtains — a kind of lair within a lair.
I'm looking for something nice and relatively special in Rockville or Bethesda. And by special I don't mean formal, just good. I want to catch up with an old friend coming into town this week. Anything?
Congratulations, by the way, on the book. I'm about halfway through, and it's a beautiful read and fascinating too.
Thank you! That's really kind of you to say …
I think I've got just the place for you and your friend to catch up: Sol de España, on Rockville Pike.
The place has new — or new-ish — owners in Dani Arana and his wife. Arana took over in January after a stint as chef at Taberna del Alabardero.
Taberna is a formal place, with (as I just alluded to) expense-account prices. Arana has done a good job of scaling back without dumbing down — a necessity in Rockville, and especially in a small, cozy cafe like this, located in a stripmall.
Two can eat well here for just around $100. He's doing a particularly good job with paella — the portion for one (the menu says it's for two only, but they will, in fact, serve it in a small paella pan for one) is a bargain at $21.25. This is a paella maker who understands it's all about the rice, although the assortment of meats and shellfish is high-quality.
Don't miss the gazpacho, either, or the very light passionfruit mousse cake for dessert.
Taco Bar is a lot of fun. I think the food is made better by the novelty of it all.
The best tacos in the area right now are those being made at Taqueria La Placita in Little Mexico, in Bladensburg. Twenty kinds of meat to choose from, and most are probably going to make you wince (for instance — cabeza, which is meat from the cow's head; and not, I can assure you, from the cheeks) or wrinkle your brow in incomprehension (unless your Spanish is good).
The tortillas are made there every day, and griddled right in front of you. Those facts alone make the place great. You could stuff one of those hot, two-ply tortillas with some of the excellent pickled onions that are available on the tables, and maybe a shot of salsa verde (also gratis), and you'd have something really tasty in your hands.
You may choose not to go — after all, it's a haul from Bethesda to Bladensburg, and the drive to Prince George's is not a drive that most people who live in that part of the world deign to make. And it's just tacos, after all — not dining. But just know that you're missing out if you don't.
But you could also do Bolivian/Venezuelan (the very tasty La Caraqueña), Indian (the very solid Haandi) or pizza (Pie-Tanza, which is not as fancy as the boutique pie places that Virginia has lately seen pop up in profusion, but a couple cuts above what you'd find at a standard pizza parlor).
Heh. Had to look that one up …
Here's the problem, though: You're thinking like a man.
No woman — affair or no — is going to propose hitting a place as a means of priming the pump.
As it were.
Looking for a place to treat my friend for a birthday lunch. She works at Farrugut North.
Our go-to is hiking up to Pizzeria Paradiso, but this year I'd like to my very pregnant friend somewhere closer. We won't be dressed up and will be looking for something light- salads, small meals. Is there anything new around there?
It seems like such a dead area for food, which is odd because there are wall to wall office buildings there.
What about Siroc?
It's not new. But it may be new to you — it hasn't been around for years and years.
And it's not a power lunch destination like Equinox or BLT Steak, so you won't have to be too concerned about not being so dressed up.
Prices really aren't bad for downtown dining, and you can have a good, light meal of salads and pastas.
If you go, I'd love to hear how things turned out …
Go to Masala Art, in Tenleytown, and be sure to order the butter chicken — chicken makhani. It's the best version of this dish I've seen in a long while.
I think generally it's regarded as a sort of gateway dish for diners getting acquainted with Indian cooking. Or looked at as a safe harbor for the timid — something for chili-phobes and the less adventurous to order among the scorching heat found on many Indian menus.
This one's different. The gravy is so vivid and zesty you might wonder if it’s the same dish you’ve been eating for years.
Surinder Kumar, for many years the chef at Heritage India, runs the kitchen, and there's a lot here that's compelling. The curries, as you can probably guess, are very, very strong, and the breads are excellent (love the naan with rock salt and cilantro).
The only thing I'd steer you away from is dessert. Fine; nothing special.
Oh, one more recommendation. The bhel puri to start. It's sensational. Just to look at, for one thing — it's beautifully presented in a convex-shaped papadum that resembles the shells used for taco salads. And then the taste! It's an explosion of bright, pungent flavors.
I'm off to lunch in a few minutes, but thank you all for the great questions and recommendations. And for the wonderful laughs, too …
Be well, everyone, eat well, and let's do it again next week at 11. …
[missing you, TEK … ]