Tuesday, October 5 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: Where I'd Spend My Own Money

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

Estadio, DC 

Jackie's, Silver Spring

Komi, DC

Kushi, DC

La Canela, Rockville 

La Limeña, Rockville 

Level
, Annapolis 

Minh's, Arlington

Montmartre, Capitol Hill 

Palena Cafe, DC

Poste Brasserie, DC

Ray's the Classics Bar, Silver Spring

Ray's the Steaks at East River, DC

Sol de España, Rockville

The Source and The Source Lounge, DC

Taqueria La Placita, Riverdale

Woodberry Kitchen, Baltimore 

Yamas Mediterranean Grill, Bethesda 

Zaytinya, DC 

Zentan Sushi Bar, DC

Vienna, VA

Just got back from the trip to the beach (we ended up in Bethany, not Rehoboth)…

Drove up to try Casapulla's South and enjoyed it (although my husband and I think Santini's is just as good)…went to Mickey's Crab House (it was ok)…

But, we really enjoyed a meal at a new place called "Off the Hook". It just opened in June. My husband had seared scallops on top of vermont cheddar grits and I had the cioppino. Both dishes were very good. In fact, my husband, who would NEVER order a 'fish stew', kept returning to my bowl to 'test' the broth, over and over again!

And, what made the place even more enjoyable was the Chef/prioprietor coming out into the small dining room to engage guests. It's worth a try next time you are in the area.

Thanks for the tip. I appreciate it. 

I'm often in Rehoboth in October or November, so I'll look for it. I love the beach that time of year. To me, it's much more relaxing and enjoyable than being there in the summer. Places are still open, there's a nip in the air, there aren't big crowds — you feel as if you have the whole town to yourself. 

I've even gone in January and loved it, though it's much more deserted. …

Good morning, everyone, I hope you're enjoying the cool, crisp weather — what a jolt after the steamy end of last week.

Where've you been eating? What have you been cooking? What are you craving? Just tossing some ideas out there — doesn't have to be all about asking me questions … 

Dupont

30th bday coming up and want to celebrate (commiserate) with a nice dinner with my hubby. Somewhere cozy and special but fun (read: wont make me feel old).

As of now we are thinking Corudroy. Is it still as good as ever? Any other suggestions in that price range that we should consider?

Commiserate? At turning 30? 50, okay …

You know what? Remember this, and repeat it to yourself for every birthday from here on out: The only thing worse than turning 30 is … not turning 30.

As for Corduroy, I think it's funny that you're looking for a place that won't "make you feel old" and yet you're considering a restaurant that a.) does not play music and is quiet as a library in prime time, b.) enforces a dress code and c.) actively courts an older crowd with its approachable, unfussy American cooking. 

I'm not saying it's not good — it's good, and one of the more enjoyable experiences you can have at a restaurant in the area right now. But just don't expect it to make you feel young.

There are a slew of alternatives in that price range or below — remember, Corduroy's prices have really jumped a couple of notches in the past few years.

I'd consider any of the following spots: Poste, Proof, Zaytinya, Cafe du Parc, Central, Palena Cafe … 

Maryland
Hi Todd!.. Sam here..I'm Peruvian and have been craving some good eats but the only restaurant I liked Flor de canela in Gaithersburg closed..aside from their other location in Rockville where would you recommend in the city?

Sam, the best Peruvian spot within the city limits is Las Canteras, on 18th St. in Adams Morgan.

Terrific chupe de camarones (the broth tastes of shrimp, not cream, a result of a good, fresh stock), excellent ceviche, good, bright-tasting salads, and I've enjoyed a number of the fish and seafood dishes there. 

Cocktails are weak, and service is spotty, but this is a fun and rewarding place to, one of the few dependably good restaurants in that part of town. 

Vienna, VA

For the poster on Minibar…

It is an amazing experience – the food is great, but the food is only a part of the evening…the whole experience, from the intimacy of the meal (only 6 seats) to the service (the chefs prepare in front of you, and there seemed to be at least 3 waitstaff just for the Minibar), and of course, the pure inventiveness of the food and presentation (so hard to explain, but interesting, surprising, delicious, and sometimes a bit strange)…wow

And, sure it was expensive (especially with a flight of champagne!), but it is absolutely worth it, GO! (at least once).

I think the question "Is Restaurant X worth it?" has so much to do with expectation.

At the level of Minibar, the expectation — after so many words over so many years swirling around the place — is to be blown away. To see something you've never seen before. Eat foods you've never encountered before. To be absolutely and totally transported.

I think Minibar delivers on those counts.

What's interesting is, that notion of expectation matters more, if anything, with holes in the wall and mom n pop ethnic spots than it does with the finest of fine dining restaurants.

If I unearth a fascinating and interesting hole in the wall with pretty good food, and then write that up in a glossy magazine … or even just share the discovery here in this chat forum with all of you — the reality is (and it's seldom talked about, but probably should be) there's no way you're going to have the same experience I did.

I came in (in this particular example) with no expectations, or low expectations — but you, reading my words (even if they are not gushing words; simply because they are my words, or appear in glossy pages), are filled with considerable expectations. It's not about the thrill of discovery, as it was for me. It's about being guaranteed a good time.

Keswick, VA
We are returning to Alexandria this weekend for the first time in a while. We are considering old favorites like Restaurant Eve, PX, etc., but I am wondering if there is anything we shouldn't miss that may have opened in the two years since we left. Any standouts in Alexandria these days?

I'd also throw a couple others into the mix, depending on how much time you have in town: The Tasting Room and Columbia Firehouse.

The former is a small, Robert Wiedmaier-backed spot for mussels, flatbreads, charcuterie-and-cheese, and salads, with an excellent wine-by-the-glass list. It's often crowded, and you shouldn't go expecting to feast on a full meal. But if you can get in, it's a good time. I'd suggest going early, right when the doors open, and whiling away an hour or so before heading on elsewhere for main courses. Or making that your final dining stop of the day — especially if you've made lunch your big meal. (When I travel, I tend to do that; it's cheaper, for one thing, and I like to have my nights to walk the streets and explore.)

Columbia Firehouse isn't "cuisine," but if you're in the mood for a sandwich or a burger or a simpler meal than dining generally allows, it's good to know about. And a very good spot for drinking the night away and people watching in and around the bar.

Cuba Libre
I know it is extremely preliminary, but me and group enjoyed the food, service and decor at Cuba Libre. The prices were half off so we ordered more than we normally would but everyone enjoyed what they got. I had an amazing mushroom salad, which I did not even think I would enjoy.

What else did "me" enjoy? (Sorry, grammatical things like this are like fingernails on a chalkboard for me. And, I hope, for others, too.) *

Thanks for the early (possibly PR-aided) report. I'll be interested to see if Cuba Libre ends up being more like Jaleo and Zaytinya — or more like Zengo and Rosa Mexicano.

 

* Any other language/grammar peeves? Here are a few of mine … "Off-ten" for "often"; "impact" as a verb — and "impact" instead of "affect/effect"; "that said …" 

What else? 

vienna, va

Hi Todd,

Thank you for always keeping us updated and in the know. Love your chats and follow them religiously!

I love the fall, the crisp air, color changing, and most of all pumpkin. I had dinner at one of my favorite restaurants last weekend (Villa Mozart in Fairfax, I know they have made your 100 best list)

The risotto with wild boar and pumpkin I had there was out of this world! I am still dreaming about it and can't wait to have it again. What are other places making with pumpkin that you would recommend? I would like to take advantage of this season. I love chestnut too so any recommendations would be greatly appreciated. Thanks and keep up the great work you are doing!

Pumpkin's just coming in now, and I haven't come across a dish yet that I'm really wild about. Has anyone?

It's a hard ingredient to make tasty, I think. Afghans turn it into a dish called chalu, frying it lightly, stewing it, sugaring it and finally topping it with yogurt; delicious, though you tend not to see that kind of preparation in American restaurants. More often, pumpkin turns up in soups (which are often over-creamed) or as an ingredient in something like a risotto, like you had.

As for chestnut, I've yet to see it in any new dishes around town.

Thanks for being such a faithful reading — I really appreciate it.

Washington, DC

Last night I went to Kushi for the second time, to celebrate my BF's 29th birthday. The first time I went (around 7 on a Wednesday), I liked it, but I wasn't blown away by anything and the service was distracted, if efficient. Yesterday the service (and our willingness to loosen the purse strings because it was a special occasion) made all of the difference.

We went at a much quieter time (around 9 on Monday), and had a different server. She guided us towards the specials, and helped us decide between the extensive list by letting us know what looked freshest, what came in that day, and what shouldn't be missed (in the least overbearing way possible).

We ended up with an amazing assortment of sashimi ("medium fatty" tuna and flying fish)… oysters (topped with sea urchin)… robata (the mushrooms were meaty, smokey, perfect, the grilled shrimp were perfect)… among a host of other dishes (of which the only disappointment was the grilled rice ball). If you are looking to experiment at Kushi and you aren't that familiar with less common Japanese offerings, I'd definitely recommend going at an off time… and hopefully getting our waitress!

Going at an off-time is, generally, a good piece of advice for all restaurant-going.

Generally, not always: I know of a couple of restaurants that tend to slack when it's not slammed, and things suffer. These are places that hum along when it's crazy-busy and everything tends to fall into place; it's as though they need the frenetic pace to function the way they should.

Most places, however — and the vast majority of the nicer restaurants in this or any city, I should point out — are better when they're not as busy. 

If you hit a well-regarded place at the start of service on a Monday or Tuesday night, you are sometimes the only couple in the dining room — or one of only a few for the first hour of service. 

It's a little like having a personal chef — a personal chef, who also comes with a personal staff. A total focus on you and your dinner.

Great cooking is about precision, and it's a lot easier for the cooks to zone in on your dishes and get all the details right when they're not slammed with other orders.

And great service is about devotion and pampering. Again, a lot easier to deliver when there are fewer tables to keep watch over. 

Shaw, DC

Good Morning Todd!

Just returned from my first trip to Sedona, AZ. I have a task for you and/or the Recipe Sleuth. I must know the recipe for this dip that is served at L'Auberge de Sedona! It's the dip served instead of bread and butter, the server said it was a kalamata olive dip made with olives, mayo and basil. I must have the recipe, it's my new crack addiction. Additionally, the meal with amazing. Cold canteloupe soup with cilantro creme fraiche and crispy proscuitto. I highly recommend a visit. Thanks!

That's out of our jurisdiction. ; )

But seriously, you should send in your request to Bon Appetit — they do a regular feature in the front where they fetch recipes for restaurant dishes their readers (PR-aided readers?) loved. 

That cantaloupe soup sounds good. I'm curious about the dip — is it really that good? I guess it depends on how much mayo was in there.

… Just thought of another language peeve: "utilize" for "use." 

Arlington, VA

Todd,

I have been in Boston eating lots of good seafood! Neptune's Oyster was really good and kept me from craving all that pasta and bread at all the nearby Italian joints. It makes me want to make a trip to Blacksalt here soon.

I have been craving lots of Cuban, Peruvian and Mexican food recently, maybe from the cold weather. I had a great ropa veja from Caribbean Grill the other night.

I also really like the Minerva Express in the little Indian Grocery Store on Lee Highway. Tasty and cheap!

I have had some mediocre meals recently at nicer places, like Central, but need to get back to Trummer's On Main because they seem to be really shining when some of my other favorites aren't. Haven't had time to cook a lot because I have been out of town a lot.

I love this — thanks for the reports.

I hope we can make this a thing on the chat, sort of like Dan Patrick used to do (still does?) on his show, where callers come on and list their height and weight. So, here, we give OUR specs — where we've been and what we've eaten … or what we've cooked and enjoyed … or what we're craving.

How about it?

My turn: Last night, I had fish tacos and a half bottle of wine …

12 year old birthday

Good morning Todd:

I took my son out to Komi for his 11th birthday. I was blown away with how he enjoyed and loved everything. His 12th birthday is coming up next month and he asked me yesterday where I was going to take him this year! I was happily surprised and would love to give him another birthday dinner to remember.

So the question is: where do you suggest I take him next? I know there are a lot of great restaurants and have been to a lot of them but what would you suggest in this case. Thanks.

Shouldn't the choice be obvious?

Take him to El Bulli.

Work every angle to secure a table, fly to Barcelona, take a car to Roses, and treat him to the meal any self-respecting, prepubescent foodie must experience, if only once: The culinary magic of the one and only Ferran Adria …

Wow. 11-year-olds dining at Komi.

How is this kid going to survive college? Or high school? Or even adolescence?

It's making me think of that line in Gatsby, about Tom Buchanan and his successes at Yale, how "everything afterward savored of anticlimax." 

You could try to get a couple of seats at Minibar. But just keep in mind, they book a month in advance.

You could also try Citronelle. Or The Source. CityZen, Eve, 2941 … I think any of those would be a suitable follow-up. 

Any other language/grammar peeves?

Todd,

I know what you mean! Mine is its and it's. People really do not know how to use!

Yep.

I was just talking with my wife, who just brought me a hot cappuccino (it's nice working from home). She wanted to know what's what on today's chat, and I told her. I also told her I was collecting language peeves and grammar peeves.

She made a good point, which is that the sins of pretension are worse than the sins or ignorance (that's not her phrasing, but you get the idea. Sorry, E).

I think that's important to remember whenever people rise up and accuse you of being a grammar nerd or grammar geek, and thinking you're just being a persnickety old schoolmarm.

Alexandria
Peeves: "bake off" instead of "bake". "Price point" instead of "price"

Ugh. Yes.

The restaurant industry is full of little language annoyances like this.

"Sear off." 

"Reservationist." 

Alexandria, VA
Husband and I are celebrating 5 years of marriage this weekend. We want to go to Palena Cafe – what time should we get there to ensure a seat?

If I were you, I'd arrive right when the restaurant opens. 5:30 p.m. Take no chances.

Clifton, VA
The place in Berryville is one Rt 7W next the Shell station. Its just a trailer. I have tried the Q at Gilbert's Corner(Rt 50 and Rt 15) and its ome of the best N of Chapel Hill, NC.

I've had the barbecue there, too — you're talking about The Pit Stop, yes? Right there at Gilbert's Corner, a few miles down the road from Chrysalis Vineyards?

It's … okay. I wouldn't call it some of the best north of Chapel Hill. I wouldn't even call it some of the best in the area. It's all right. I like the sauce; I like the energy of the operation. But the meat just isn't luscious enough. Not a slow enough smoke job, is the problem, I think.

Your assignment for next week, Clifton, is to find the name of the place in Berryville.

Incidentally: I didn't get a chance to answer it here last week, but I did see your missive on cooking fish in Mountain Dew.

Sounds … interesting. 

Bake off
Bake off and bake are not interchangeable. A bake off is a contest whereas a bake, when used as a noun, is a meal in which the main ingredient (perhaps clams) are baked.

In the restaurant biz, "bake off" is synonymous with "bake."

"Bake off those pie crusts, we'll fill 'em later."

Same as "sear off." 

"Chef, we seared off all the pork loin — should we start on the lamb?"

By the way: that processing of "searing off' is meant to save time; it means that in many high-end restaurants when you order a piece of meat, you're getting something that's been cooked twice. The first time, the "searing off," takes care of the bulk of the cooking time. The second time is to finish the job, to take it from medium-rare to medium and allow it to be served warm. Or warm-ish.

The gap between "searing off" and second cooking is not a matter of minutes. Often, it's a matter of hours, because the "searing off" typically happens in the afternoon, long before service begins.

Nice thought, isn't it, that the meat you order has been sitting around a kitchen for hours upon hours before being heated again and served. 

Peeves
Weatherman speak: "rain event" for "storm" "during the overnight" for "overnight" And a host of others.

Yes. Awful.

Thanks for these.

I want to also say how much I hate CNN's "The Situation Room." Such BS and hype.

"Situation" is so vague as to be meaningless. And that's the appeal to the suits, here, I'm sure. In CNN's hype-age, everything is made into a situation. There are no more events. If it's being covered, it's a crisis. The world hangs in the balance.

 

Montgomery Village, MD

Hey there!

I want to applaud the mother who is introducing their son to high cuisine. My aunts, who were big foodies and at one point worked for zagat, started taking me to high end restaurants when I was 7. It was a great tradition for Valentines day that we continue here 24 years later. Eating at Primi Piatti, Goldoni, and Cafe Milano as a kid certainly fuled my interest in all things food today.

I don't see anything wrong with exposing a child to a good restaurant.

I mean, why not? If you have the means — why not?

Expose him to galleries and museums, expose him to good restaurants, expose him to plays, and dance performances, expose him to real bookstores …

… And expose him also to making art, to expressing himself through painting and dancing and music and writing. Expose him to the idea that art and culture are not signs of taste and refinement, embodiments of the good life, but rather means of functioning in the world and making sense of its craziness and cruelty and randomness.

So, yes, I support the idea of introducing a child to cuisine and its rewards, as well as its many (and complicated) meanings. Bragging about it? That's a different story. 

Montgomery Village, MD

Don't know if this is too late – but you asked what we were cooking…so here goes.

Not really "cooking", but this weekend I pickled peppers.

I'm a foodie and I love cooking, but I had never pickled anything, so I was kind of excited at the results.

I took the remaining jalapeños, serranos, and cayennes from my garden, threw them in a pot with both white and apple cider vinegar, some garlic, some chopped onions, and a little leftover "garlic kosher pickle" juice.

Once they had boiled and simmered, I drained them, threw them in the aforementioned garlic kosher pickle jar, filled it with olive oil, and now I have a great sandwich/pizza/quesadilla topping.

Only thing I'll do differently next time is 1. de-seed the peppers (really hot!), and 2. add cauliflower and possibly carrots.

For those interested – try it out, it's an incredibly easy process.

Sounds terrific.

I can't speak for everybody else, but you've got me excited to try this. Of course, one of the great things is, you don't have to worry about spoilage — as you do for nearly every other thing you spend hours upon hours in the kitchen on.

I'm running late, everyone — thanks for the great chat today. Talking about peeves — what a great way to work off feelings of peevishness, don't you think? I hope some of you reading in after the fact will take a moment to send a few along for next time.

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

[missing you, TEK … ]

 

 

 

 

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