Tuesday, October 12 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

 

 

 

DC

Hi Todd,

I've heard rumors that minibar is going to expand; is this true? Thank you for all of your wonderful reviews and insightful tips!

It's true.

In reporting my piece on Jose Andres, which appears in the current issue and now online, I got a chance to inspect architectural designs for the new Minibar. Those designs were, it was emphasized to me, purely in the preliminary stages. But the idea is that the space — currently Cafe Atlantico — will be gutted and rebuilt along the lines of the rough blueprint prepared by Philippe Starck that I saw.

The drawings call for a soaring, multi-level interior, with various rooms or dining areas that customers will walk to and from (a bar, a library, etc.).

On one level, and in particular for frustrated customers who can't snag a reservation, the expansion doesn't sound all that significant, since the new space is only going to add 12 more seats (currently there are 6), but believe me, it's a massive rethink of what Minibar is. If the result is anything close to what I glimpsed, the restaurant will be even more grand and theatrical — even more an example of dinner as performance art.

Vienna, VA

Well, you had to ask!

My husband and I had some friends over this weekend for Canadian Thanksgiving (we are both Canadian) – and trying to provide a few of the menu items we are used to eating for the holiday.

Menu:

Apps: Smoked Salmon spread on cucumber & Brie, date & walnut crostini, and some spanish olives.

Main: Turkey (our friends are going to deep fry it! Not quite Canadian, but FUN), Mashed potatoes, Pyrohy (perogies), Holobtsi (cabbage rolls), Skorkeh (fried bacon and onions to put on the perogies), and Broccoli casserole.

Dessert: Butter tarts and Nanaimo bars. Not quite traditional (we skipped the stuffing and the pumpkin pie), but delicious! Not quite healthy, but, did I mention, delicious?

Sounds fantastic.

Holobtsi, skorkeh, and nanaimo bars are all new to me — I hope I have an opportunity sometime soon to try them.

Thanks for writing in … 

Chevy Chase, MD

I just wanted to report a very positive experience at Casa Nonna yesterday.

When I saw it was open, I looked at the menu and thought it would be fun for a goodbye lunch for two colleagues we had planned for 9 people. At that time, only the dinner menu was up on their website. After we booked, they added the lunch menu — I was disappointed to see that it was not family style and did not have any of the small plates.

When I told our waitress this, she sent out the chef who agreed to make us a selection of items of her choice (including small plates from the dinner menu) which we could eat family style. She was so gracious about it and the food was excellent. It was way above and beyond what I expect at a restaurant. I was very impressed.

I appreciate the report.

That's very gracious of them. And for a newly opened restaurant still finding itself, too. … What did the chef, Amy Brandwein, prepare for you? I'm curious. 

Cookbooks

So I would like to learn how to cook and stopped by my local Barnes and Noble bookstore. There are a ton of cookbooks out there!

What are the best cookbooks for beginners? I am so tired of doing take out and need to get my kitchen messy for a change.

I'm going to throw this one out to all of you in the great beyond …

I honestly can't come up with a book off the top of my head that I think would be a great place for someone to begin learning the rudiments.

Simple recipe books, that's another story. But unless I'm not reading this right, I think the chatter is looking for some help in understanding basic concepts.

Where to start? — And thanks in advance for you assist on this …

Recaps from the Restaurant Refugee

Just in case you were wondering if the inverse relationship between the quality of a restaurant's view and the quality of their food still holds true, a recent (and forced visit) to the Charthouse in Old Town confirmed it. Over cooked and generally flavorless fish next to an over-priced and uninspired wine list was paired with indifferent service to leave me with the feeling that they are content to being in the league of vapid restaurants so long as the proximity to water and tourists keeps their coffers filled.

Two questions for you regarding the underlying premise: 1) is this a phenomenon unique to the DC area? And 2) is it reasonable to use the selection of a very bad restaurant for a first date as justifiable cause to cancel said date?

*******

Screwtop Wine Bar – I may be in the minority, but I’m not wowed by this place. The truffled popcorn they serve, gratis, at the bar is addictive, the ambiance is spare but charming, and the cheeses are very carefully sourced. However, if you’re a wine bar, what else should be the primary metric for evaluation? On this note, three recent visits have left me underwhelmed with both the wine list and the knowledge of the staff. Screwtop is a lovely place to spend the early part of an evening if you’re in that area, and you already know your way around a winelist, but I don’t expect to make a special trip in the near future. Not to pile on, but when a bartender flirts with my date when I go to the lieu, as the twitter kids would say #youredoingitwrong.

*******

Grand Cru Wine Bar – I adore their pricing model (retail wine shop with negligible corkage fees for wines purchased) and this is one of the more comfortable urban(ish) patios. However, their menu is in desperate need of an editor as it is fairly well stocked with items they do not execute well. This remains a lovely place to wile away an evening (especially when the weather cooperates) with a bottle of wine. When you get hungry, however, stick with the items they don’t cook (cheese and charcuterie) or the things they cook the least (salads and smoked salmon.)

*******

The three month old Chesapeake Room is a very well appointed space and an attractive addition to Barracks Row. The menu and cooking are, unfortunately, consistent with the general one-notch-above-mediocrity of the bustling lower 8th street area. Two brunches and dinner there were all culinarily flawed in some manner – over-salted or under-salted, sloppily plated, dull flavor combinations, and the like. As they’re still getting their kitchen legs beneath them, I am happy to give them additional chances… but mostly for drinking.

*******

Maddy's is a Bar & Grille that has no illusions about being something other than that. Their food, however, is a lot better than it needs to be. With meaty and well seasoned wings, a good selection of sandwiches (all will leave some jus running down your fingers in a very satisfying and homey way,) an outstanding beer program, and a staff of pros who make you feel like a regular from your very first visit, I happily place Maddy's on my list of favorite bars in the city.

*******

And on a final note… Dear Restaurant Owners & Managers, please teach your staffs that an “I don’t know, let me check” is always preferable to weaving some nonsense from whole-cloth and unicorn tears.

RR, we've missed you …

I hope you had a good summer, and it's good to see you back in the saddle again. I always look forward to your wonderfully detailed and insider-steeped dispatches.

As far as the phenomenon you describe up top — no, it's not a DC thing at all. I've seen it all over the country. If the view is stunning, you can bet the food is going to be lousy. A commanding view of water gives a restaurant a tremendous out. 

Just once, it would be nice to see a restaurant like that pay top dollar to bring in a first-rate chef.

And as to your question about whether it is wrong to cancel a date because someone chose a godawful restaurant, you are probably asking the wrong person.

In my younger and more vulnerable years, I broke up with a woman over her method of eating hardshell crab. Rather than pick a little bit at a time, popping the bits of lump and claw meat into her mouth as she went, she cracked open six or so shells at one time, made a nice, just-so mound of meat and then dug in. It seemed to me to crystallize everything about her that I disliked, and reminded me in stark and pathetic terms why we just weren't going to work.

I also broke up with someone a couple of years after that, and the triggering incident — the thing that got me thinking we were not long for one another — was an offhand remark she made one day about brie. "You can't find good brie in this town"– or something to that effect. This smacked of the worst kind of foodie-ism. Elitism is one thing, and whiny elitism is something else again.

… Can you promise you'll drop in again next week, RR, with another dispatch? I hope so … 

Cookbook suggestion

Get the Americas Test Kitchen Family Cookbook (its a big red binder).

Not only does it tell you how to easily make a ton of popular dishes, it also has lots of kitchen tips and other useful information.

I'd also recommend subscribing to their magazine, Cooks Illustrated

Of course. A great place to start. Everything in there is so carefully broken down into steps, it's got to be the opposite of threatening to a first-timer.

Thanks for the suggestion. 

Your mention of Cooks Illustrated reminds me that there's a new book out by the magazine's founder, Christopher Kimball, called FANNY'S LAST SUPPER. In a nutshell: CK's attempt to recreate a multi-course meal from the late 19th century, using only 19th century equipment and 19th century techniques.

I haven't read it yet, but the reviews sound interesting.

Arlingtongue

The Red Hook Lobster Roll truck has been getting a lot of hype lately, I seriously wonder whether any lobster roll is worth the waits I have seen reported, but I will keep an open mind until I have tried it.

That is a long-winded way of introducing my question: What is your favorite lobster roll in the area and why?

Thanks, and make it a great day.

This isn't even close to being a bastion of the lobster roll, so the competition for the title of "best" is not all that great.

But that should not detract from what I'm about to say: Red Hook's is terrific. Not DC terrific, either. Terrific, period.

I am surprised to find myself saying that, because I think it's a very hard thing to do well out of context — and so far out of context. And out of a truck.

But this is one hell of a sandwich, abundant with sweet, perfectly-cooked lobster, just the right amount of mayo, a little bit of necessary celery, and a toasty roll.

It's one of the best things I've eaten in the past six months around here.

There's a pickle that comes with it, and it's outstanding too — the sort of pickle you always dream of getting, and seldom if ever find.

CapitolBites
I am a big fan of Mark Bittman's books and you can't go wrong with Thomas Keller's Ad Hoc at Home (which 2 of my friends refer to as "the bible")

Bittman, sure.

He's really good at offering general cooking pointers, and he also understands that things can sometimes go wrong — hence, all his little troubleshooting tips. My wife really likes HOW TO COOK EVERYTHING.  

Now, seriously — Thomas Keller? For someone who's just trying to learn some basics? That's like handing a kid who's just mastered reading GREEN EGGS AND HAM and FOX IN SOCKS a copy of THE SOUND AND THE FURY.

… Since we're talking about cookbooks, I'm curious to know if anyone else out there is like this: You like cookbooks, you like paging through them and thinking about combinations and getting ideas, but you never, ever make any particular recipe.

That's me. I always feel as though I'm not cooking if I'm making someone else's dish. The few times I have done it, I was uneasy with the compliments I got at the table. I would always think: They're complimenting chef X, not me.

I have to tweak the recipe in some significant way, or use the combinations as a rough, approximate guide, or just ditch the whole thing entirely in order to feel that I'm actually cooking.

Otherwise, I just feel that I'm carrying out someone's instructions. They may produce something delicious, but I won't necessarily feel that I've done anything.

Shaw DC

Good Morning Todd and fellow chatters,

I'm in a pickle and need guidance. My mother is coming to town this weekend and need to make reservations for dinner for several nights. She hasn't been to DC in a few years, and her beloved Le Paradou is gone.

I'm just not excited about anything or any place right now…..suggestions from you or chatters?

She prefers to stay in DC, but she likes Old Town too, French/Italian/American cuisine's are preferred. I'd rather stay home and have a home-cooked meal until I remember that neither of us can cook! Thanks!

I would make a reservation at Bistro Cacao.

It's not as refined as Le Paradou was, but it's a very good place to take a traditionalist (it's housed in the former Two Quail space, and offers a cozy, boudoir-style setting), and I suspect the sturdy French bistro cooking will appeal to her. The steak frites is one of the best in the area, and I also like the mustard-crusted rack of lamb, the pate, and the seared scallops.

It's also going to be less than half expensive as a night out at Le Paradou, and maybe more fun.

Go, and drop in again next week and let us know how it all turned out … 

Bethesda
Have you been to Per Se? I have a reservation for Saturday night and don't quite know what to expect.

I have. 

You should expect near-perfection. One of the dining experiences of a lifetime.

Live it up. We're all very, very jealous.

I'd be interested in hearing your impressions next week, so try to remember to jot down some thoughts in the dreamy afterglow …

Washington DC

Had an EXTREMELY disappointing first experience at Proof on Sunday night.

Six of us were looking forward to a celebratory birthday dinner and made reservations for 8pm. When we finally (attempted) to order wine, we were told that they were “out of many of the Austrian Whites” and the Sommelier was summoned to help.

Fine, a wine bat can run low on wines, we rolled with the punches and order a bottle that was ultimately fine.

Then we went to menu, and asked about the appetizers. We told that essentially all of the pates were out. Were also told that the sweetbreads were out.

Ok, we again rolled with the punches (those some at the table were interested in the sweetbreads) and order a few items. When it came time to order our main course, we were told that they were out of the scallops, and the salmon, because they had an ‘incredibly busy’ weekend.

Then I asked about the tasting menu, which includes salmon. (We had mentioned we were interested, and he was quick to let us know that the whole table was required to order this, but didn’t seem to realize that he didn’t offer an explanation as to HOW they would accommodate us since two out of the three main items were ‘out’. He told us that he thought they could still do the tasting menu, but would double check. Ultimately, he came back to tell us they would be substituting (for chicken and then something else) because of their shortage.

Not wanting to eat chicken, we settled on what remained of on the menu, but first, we asked to have the butternut squash soup that is so highly recommend. Waiter left, came back, and told us they were OUT! Then we went through, after already being disappointed in the tasting menu, the sweetbreads, the wine, and the soup, and order a couple of hangar steaks, chicken, halibut, and 2 orders of duck. Guess what, after ordering, the waiter came back and said they were out of the duck.

REALLY???? Why, why, why would you allow us to study the menu, pick something, and THEN tell us you were out?? Were you hoping we would just pick something that was still in stock? Considering that about half of your menu was NOT in stock, why not just give us the skinny in the beginning, so we can decide whether or not we want to still eat here?

For those of you keeping track, Proof was out of the following items: Pate Some of their Austrian whites Sweetbreads Butternut squash soup Salmon Scallops Duck Their menu is not huge. We tried to keep it lighthearted, but it was absolutely ridiculous, and we told our waiter so much.

He at least had the sense to call the manager over (after hearing us say that we had to speak to him), and frankly, the manager was not much more helpful—simply saying that they were just crazy busy, and just ran out. He was not nearly as apologetic as he should have been, nor did he understand that the whole situation was exacerbated by a wait staff that kept ‘surprising’ us with their shortages throughout the night.

When we expressed our disappointment to the waiter (and explained that it was a celebratory birthday dinner), they provided us with a butter ramekin (basically a tablespoon) full of vanilla ice cream and a sad little candle. We didn’t want nor ask for this—it was a little insulting after our experience.

Ultimately, we had a pretty damn mediocre dinner for about $300 or so. The manager never returned to our table at the end of the night, but did take our bottle of wine of the bill (which only half of the table drank). Now tell me, is this a restaurant worth visiting again?? I’m sorry, there are a lot of nice restaurants in the city that seem to run well enough to not require (1) the passing out of flashlights in order to read the menu and (2) understand their volume and (3) monitor events in the city that might affect their business (I mean, it was a three day weekend, they didn’t anticipate at least some bump in their traffic) so as to ensure they could provide at least MOST of the advertised menu to their patrons! Sometimes you don’t get a second chance to make a first impression.

It sounds like an aberration of a night to me.

I know you're upset, and I know it's frustrating to be strung along like that, and I know that I myself would have had a very, very sour taste in my mouth as a result. But at the same time, I just don't think you can tar a restaurant forever after for a night like that. If I'm surprised by anything, it's that you'd have chosen to stick out the meal and spend that much money.

I know Mark Kuller, the owner, is reading along, because he — like so many of you — seconded the recommendation of Bittman's books.

I'd be interested to hear what, if anything, he has to say. Mark? …

Old Greenbelt

Todd,

I feel like DH and I have been to most of the decent restaurants within walking distance of Verizon Center; at the very least, those that won't look down on our Caps attire! To name a few that we've been to — Oyamel, Oya, Zaytinya, Sei, Jaleo, Matchbox, Central. Any suggestions for a good pre-game dinner at a place that has a 5 PM seating? I think Carmine's might be too much for just the two of us.

You, DH and everyone else out there is probably going to be surprised to hear me say this, but what about Legal Seafood? 

I know I don't often recommend chains, but in this instance: 1.) it's across the street from the VC, 2.) they absolutely will not look down on your Caps-wear and 3.) the food is actually pretty good. I have always enjoyed myself at Legal. Get the clam chowder.

Rockville, MD
I think an excellent beginner's cookbook is Julia Child's, "The Way to Cook" supplemented by watching Jacques Pepin on PBS.

I agree.

And that's a nice little instructional course there, the book and the show together. Thanks for the recommendation … 

The Atlas District

Todd,

I had awesome lamb shank in tomato sauce the other night at Lebanese Taverna (first time there…everything was pretty tasty!). It's my new favorite braise for fall, and while I'd love to order it out all the time, my budget is, sadly, smaller than my appetite.

Do you have any good recipes for making killer lamb shank at home? -Christina

Christina,

I know that dish well. When it's good, it's very, very good.

I asked earlier about cookbooks — any book out there have a good recipe for braised lamb shank? Bittman, I'm betting. But I'd like to know for sure … And I'd also like to know who else has a good one …

What we could also do is, we could put the Recipe Sleuth on the case. Oh, Sleuth –?… 

Washington, DC

Hi Todd,

My girlfriend and I tried a small, hole-in-the-wall Korean place in Annandale that I thought you might enjoy (if you haven't been there already). At To Sok Jib (right across the street from Honey Pig) we ordered the bulgogi, dduk guk, grilled mackerel and I have to say, it's the closest I've come to my mom's Korean. Have you tried it? What are your favorite places in Koreatown? BTW, love your chats and your reviews: keep up the great work! CJM

CJM,

I like To Sok Jib. It's definitely one of the better places in Koreatown …

If I had to choose a favorite, it would be Gom Ba Woo. It's not as trendy as Damoim, or as flashy as Honey Pig, or as much of a scenester sort of hangout as Annangol and others, but I think it's some of the best cooking, and some of the most consistent. I also like Vit Goel ToFu a lot. And Honey Pig. And Damoim is fun and fascinating. 

And no trip to Koreatown is complete without a visit to Shilla Bakery — provided you can get a table; it's always packed. I love their version of bingsoo (for those who don't know, it's a glorious concoction of shaved ice, ice cream, chopped fresh, ripe fruit, syrup, and Frosted Flakes), and the pastries are the best in Koreatown. I can't resist the almond cream-filled buns.

More from the Restaurant Refugee …

Since you mentioned yours (and I heartily concur with them) I thought I would share my culinary related things that will (or have) get a woman voted off my island:

Suggesting Lauriol Plaza for anything unless under duress.

Ordering a steak well done.

Getting bombed at one of my dinner parties.

By the third of five courses salting food (especially food that I prepared) before tasting it.

Never wanting to eat at the bar rather than a table.

Being rude in any way, shape, or form to any member of the staff.

An unwillingness to eat at a divey bar or restaurant

Eating at a chain restaurant in a different city and most especially when that same restaurant is available in her home city.

Over-reacting to a problem at a restaurant not mentioning a problem at a restaurant when asked by a member of the staff because she would rather have a negative blog post/yelp review/comment for an online chat than give a joint an opportunity to make things right.

Being a displaced and disaffected New Yawker who insists upon comparing every restaurant/meal/dish/experience to something in her beloved Gotham.

Being too impatient to wait for french pressed coffee being a vegan – not because I have anything against vegans, but because I couldn’t cook for her and nothing brings me more joy than cooking for & with friends

And I heartily concur with all these …

But especially: ordering a steak well done, abusing the staff (and rudeness qualifies as abuse in my book), refusing to eat at a divey bar or restaurant, and comparing any and everything to NYC.

Pre-Game @ Verizon
What about Ellas? I saw a bunch of people in Caps gear there last night for their $5 pizzas during happy hour. They also have discounted sangria and draft beer

Yeah, why not? Good call.

And 5-buck pizzas at happy hour and discounted draft beer? What's not to like? 

Bloomingdale

For the chatter looking for cookbooks—I have found the Joy of Cooking to be a great book for starting out. Lots and lots of options, and does a good job explaining the who,hows, and whys.

Also, just saw that you have Black Market Bistro listed on your list. Have you heard about their event on October 24th, they are hosting a rib roast competition and roasting a whole pig. From their website.. "The Black Restaurant Group has set a goal to raise $200,000 to build a new state of the art kitchen that is part of a $5 million expansion at Children's National Medical Center to support children with diabetes." tickets are available on their website.

Yeah, I pretty much salivated when I first read about it. It sounds like a wonderful event, all the way around …

Thanks for the cookbook tip, too.  

McLean

Hi Todd,

For the poster looking for cookbook suggestions, my aunt sent me Alice Waters' "The Art of Simple Food", which is great because the first lesson is on how to stock a pantry. To me this fundamental lesson is the foundation for learning how to cook on a regular basis.

As a side note, my exceptionally Southern aunt also included the note "A home is made at the kitchen table". That alone made me want to cook better and more often.

Your aunt could not be more right.

And as for Alice Waters, I tend to think she's a better place to turn when you've already got some basics down. I mean, how to stock a pantry is fine advice, but I would think it comes after you've already learned about the differences among frying, searing and sauteeing and other such things that give a cook a foundation for preparing simple meals.

Backdoor Bragging

Come on Todd, you really can't follow a recipe without feeling guilty at the inevitable accolades you're sure to receive?

For recipes that aren't a simple act of combing ingredients, there is still a fair amount of skill in prep work, actually cooking the ingredients (sauces too thin, too thick, burned vegetables, no fond etc), and presentation. I don't think that you, or anyone else, should feel they aren't "cooking" if they're not following a recipe of their own creation

It's not that I feel guilty. It's that I feel I haven't really created.

Cooking doesn't have to be about creativity — I realize that. In most cases, it's about putting food on the table. In some cases, it's about putting something special on the table.

But when I cook, I ideally want to make something special that I can say is mine — that might arise out of techniques passed on by others, and combinations that others have recommended, but that I put together in my own way.

As I say, that's the ideal. I don't always find that ideal. 

In those instances where I work with a recipe, and work with it to the letter, I feel as if I've executed or interpreted someone's work.

I'm not saying that that should be everybody's philosophy or approach. I'm saying it's my way. How's that bragging? Pride, maybe.

Braised lamb shanks recipes
The book 'All About Braising' by Molly Stevens has 3 recipes for braised lamb shanks. Haven't yet made any of them, so can't comment on the quality, but every other recipe I've tried from that book has been very good.

Terrific. Thank you!

And all of you who wrote in with recommendations — including those of you who didn't make the cut onto the chat page — thank you, too.

And thanks, also, for all the excellent questions and comments today. I really appreciate it.

I'm running late, as usual, for lunch …

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

[missing you, TEK … ]

 

 

 

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