Tuesday, November 9 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.

Winner of a James Beard Foundation Award in 2005 for the country's best newspaper column about food, Kliman is food and wine editor and restaurant critic for The Washingtonian. His work has appeared in The New Yorker, Harper's, The Oxford American, and Men's Health, among others, and he has been selected four times for inclusion in the Best Food Writing anthologies. He is the author of a recently released work of narrative nonfiction, The Wild Vine.
 

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

…………………………………………………………….

NOVA
Do you think your list of 25 palces where you would spend your money could be a little more balanced. Only 2 of the 25 are from VA.

Keep in mind — the list is not a fixed thing; it changes frequently.

I don't consciously strive to fill geographical boxes when I compile it; it's a personal list, and a random one, meant to give a picture of my enthusiasms of the moment. There is, in general, a great variety to the list at the moment; it covers a lot of the area — again, not something I consciously aim for; just an observation.

I'm actually surprised there are only two on the list right now from Virginia; so many of the neighborhoods I love to explore and taste are in northern Virginia.

Anyway, just a quick explanation. Look for changes next week and beyond. …

My apologies for the tardy start, everyone … my computer has been doing some odd things the last couple of days. I hope everything will hold out for the next hour or so …

Cheverly, MD

I can't believe no one has said anything about Wegmans yet.

Living in PG County, especially the time of the year when the farmer's markets close up shop, makes this opening pretty exciting. Plus, you feel like you've gone to Disney once you see the crowds. For me, it's all about the bagels there. Real bagels. Delicious bagels. Even delicious whole grain bagels.

On eht way home we stopped in to Just Jerk in Lanham. It's a small green shack on the side of the Lanham – Severn Road (450). It was the best jerk I've had in the area (far outshining the Muffin Man and Negril) and the rice and peas and cabbage were fantastic. Have you been?

I've been. I don't think it's the best jerk in the area. Caribbean Delight, in Beltsville, has really good jerk, really tangy, with lots of peppery bite, and ditto for Jerk Hill, in Hyattsville.

Jerk Hill might be my favorite Island spot at the moment, though Under the Coconut Tree, also in Hyattsville, has excellent roti (I especially like the veggie version, with lots of potatoes and cabbage, and with a good dollop of the homemade apple chutney).

As for Wegman's … I made a trip out two days after it opened and never made it in; the crowds were unreal. That, and the torrential downpour, made me turn around and bail on the long line. I'm looking forward to hitting the store this week, though. 

If it's as good as all the other Wegman's I've been to, then the county has something to really boast about. I don't think it's going too far to say that Wegman's is the best grocery store in the country.

As to why you haven't heard much about this opening … well, are you really THAT surprised, living where you do? Prince George's County just doesn't matter to most people in the power axis. if it doesn't happen in Montgomery, Arlington, Fairfax, Loudoun … heck, even Prince William … then it pretty much doesn't happen. If you don't get it, you don't get it.

Arlington, VA

Is there anything at all similar to Minibar? I know the answer already- NO!

But, if I wanted to take my boyfriend out for a birthday dinner and didn't get a reservation at Minibar, is there a restaurant that is surprising, innovative, and fun in a similar way to Minibar?

I'd love to stay in DC or Arlington if possible.

Thanks!

I think there is something similar, in a different way — how's that for a Yogi-ism?

Citronelle is all those things you're looking for, surprising, innovative and fun — I would also add, often brilliant and sometimes exhilarating — but in a more traditional setting and with more formal service.

It's easy, now, with all the new restaurant groups coming in to town and all the new openings, and all the attention focused on the evolving restaurant scene these days, to forget something that ought not to be forgotten: Michel Richard is one of the greatest chefs in the world. 

No cuisine looks like his cuisine. Feast your eyes upon it just once, and you will likely never forget it. I feel certain that if you were to serve me a Richard dish anywhere in the world, in any setting … a fast food joint in London, a fine dining restaurant in Johannesburg, a hookah bar in Istanbul … I would recognize it instantly.

Few chefs, if any, have his imagination, his sense of play and wonder, his rigorous aesthetic, his joyous love of food. And yet there's also a seriousness there, an understanding that although you can do just about anything you want in the kitchen — make a soup look like a coffee, say — you have to make it taste good. Sounds simple, right? Should be obvious, right? A truism of cooking, never to be forgotten. And yet chefs forget.

Ever go to a very touted, very expensive restaurant, and you find yourself dazzled by the way things look on the plate, and the intricate descriptions from the reverent waiter of every ingredient that went into the dish make your mouth water in anticipation, and then you dig in with mounting excitement and … nothing. Where's the flavor?

That doesn't happen at a Richard restaurant.

What happened to J&G?

Todd,

This has fallen from grace? No longer in your Top 25, where you'd spend your own money?

That steakhouse was on there forever–getting lots of love. Is it that there are some new places that are getting your attention and you want to spread the love–or, is it just not supreme anymore? Thanks

Fallen, yes.

I dined there a few weeks ago, and was struck by how much the place had slipped — and slipped across the board, now, not just in one or two areas — from where it was four, five months ago.

The welcome is chillier, the cooking is missing the exactitude that elevated relatively straightforward, unfussy fare, and the staff — previously so pro; so sophisticated and polished, the waiters and waitresses all blessed with an almost intuitive sense of a table's needs — has gone from being one of the very best in the city to slightly above the middle of the pack.

About the cooking … Only one dish I had that night, the calamari with yuzu dip, was close to what I remember (and what, later, my notes confirmed) tasting before. They were still wondrously light and crisp, nothing at all like the standard bar fare that has become the default setting for the dish, so that even if you were tempted to order it, you probably would beg off, thinking you'd get something dull and earthbound.

It's a great dish.

But nothing else was. The only other dish that came close: a souffle with Grand Marnier.

This is not to say, by the way, that J&G is a total bomb nowadays — a waste of time; a waste of an evening. But there are other places at that level, and at that price, that I'd urge you to try, instead.

Arlington, Virginia

Todd–

The poster from last week was indeed correct–City Vista does not represent the type of neighborhood for which I hope that RYSE will have a transformative effect. It was a few short years ago, however, and it does represent the community-based improvements, progress and aspirations I hope RYSE will be a part of.

This first RYSE is designed to be a prototype and City Vista is the ideal location, both in symbolic and real terms, to establish and fine tune the concept before seeding more under-served, but not un-deserved, neighborhoods throughout the city–creating jobs and points of community gathering along the way.

On another note, your piece on the Druze restaurant in NY highlighted to me the evocative relationship between food and memory–sort of an "Eat, Memory" moment. When I was serving in the IDF, somewhere in the hinterlands of Lebanon, the trackers in our unit were Druze (or Bedouin, as is typical), and believing somehow that I was related to both Michaels Jordan and Jackson, would often invite me to share with them–over cardamon-laced coffee and the snowbound nighttime campfire–exquisite and hearty meals brought from their home (while my less-benightedly named comrades suffered through cold potted beef) and even brought me to their home village on occasion for feasts both beyond unforgettable and beyond the imagination.

If what you discovered is any thing at all like the cuisine and hospitality I experienced, I strongly urge that all try out your find when in NY. Thanks for letting me take up so much digital ink.

–Michael Landrum from Ray's

Michael, thanks for writing in and clarifying your ideas/direction and, in this way, I hope, extending the conversation …

There are a lot of areas in the DC region that I would characterize as underserved, and coincidentally — because Cheverly just wrote in about Wegman's — I would say that Prince George's is prime among them. What's interesting to me is that underserved is usually code for poor or disadvantaged, but in Prince George's there is a very solid, very established middle- and upper-middle class. And yet it possesses only a fraction of what Montgomery, Arlington, Fairfax and the rest possess — only a fraction of the restaurants and retail.

If I bring this up more than occasionally, it's because I live in the county and I see the imbalance. What explains it? I have heard over the years a slew of explanations, and I believe there are many factors and forces that account for the disparity. And I also believe that all those factors and forces can be brought together under a single name. It doesn't have to be racism; ignorance will do just as well.

But enough about that for today …

As for the Druze restaurant I wrote about — Gazala Place, on the Upper West Side, yes, absolutely — I believe it is good enough to justify a drive. If you are a food adventurer. If you do not need Michelin-style service and exquisite and innovative preparation of cuisine to validate a road trip. That whole Orata … that baba ghanous … amazing. Still thinking about them both. …

And you — related, somehow, to the two MJs, the great movers of our time, the most transcendent stars of the past quarter-century … probably the only two people out there who are worthy of the name "star"? 

Sorry; that's just too funny …

Washington, DC

Hi Todd,

Do you have an opinion of La Perla, the Italian place on Pennsylvania Avenue just east of Georgetown? It has been around quite a while, it has a prominent place in a prime location, and yet I’ve never seen a published review of it. (In fact I’ve never even heard anyone I know mention they ate there.)

The menu looks like pretty standard Italian fare, but that’s not a bad thing if done well. Is La Perla worth a visit?

Oh, Jeez, it's been years since I was last there …

I can't imagine it's changed — change is not something a place like that does, for good or for ill — but I also don't want to claim I know exactly what it's like to be sitting in the dining room right now with a plate of food in front of me.

If memory serves: very traditional — and by traditional I don't mean in the Italian sense, but in the Italian-American sense; the kind of place that used to exist but doesn't much anymore; nothing original or innovative in the cooking, and not trying to be, either; a place that depends on your familiarity with a given preparation (chicken parm, for instance) much more than it does its finesse in executing said preparation; a little formal; a lot dated.

One of those places, in short, that we like to have around, some of us — let's hear it for the rear-guard; let's celebrate red-sauce Italian — but that we don't really care to patronize.

Here's an idea … give it a try, and then come back on and let us know what's what. Meantime, I'll make it a point of paying a visit in the next few weeks.

Washington, DC
Happy National Scrapple Day Todd! apart from diner-ish joints around town, anywhere to get this offally great dish?

Scrapple. A (sort of) meat only a Philadelphian can (sort of) love. 

Only place I know serving scrapple is the Capitol City Diner, on Bladensburg Rd. NE.

I'm not wild about the place, in general, but I love that they have scrapple and hecho-en-Mexico Coke. And I love the diner itself, the physical structure that is — a gleaming bullet that draws both the working-class and wanna-be hipsters.

Who else is doing anything with scrapple? I wonder …

Small plates

Hi Todd.

You always make Tuesdays better.

I'm wondering about the phenom and success of the small-plates concept. I'm a little surprised by their growth and success in today's economy. Of course, Washington is pretty insulated so what happens across the country isn't necessarily what is happening in Washington (economy-wise) though plenty of people are affected by things here, too. I just thought people would be reaching more for comfort, family-sized experiences (read: Carmines, etc.). Small-plate concept eateries are thriving!

Even more typical-three-course restaurants are adding sections of small-plates to their menus. It's a trend that outlived what I had anticipated. Take Zaytinya, for example, which has been doing this for years–and seems to be going at record levels still today. Other restaurateurs are also doing this. Why do you think this concept is still winning raves and crowds?

I also want to ask if restrauteurs are drawn to this because they may not lose money; in fact, it may be more revenue-generating than the old, traditional 3-course type establishment. Case and point: Estadio. They do what they do really well. To say it straight out, though, it's not cheap.

Love your take on this. I am pretty on the fence–mostly because if I go out for a nice evening, I don't want to end up feeling hungry–and these small plates always leave me wishing for me.

I do love the idea, though, because it's great for sharing and tasting–and maybe what it does is replicate the "cocktail reception" experience–but you can choose to make it intimate or communal. Thanks.

I love small plates and the truth of the matter is, I wish all restaurants were small plates restaurants.

I would much rather eat 5 or 6 or 9 different things in a meal than 2 or 3. 

Not everybody would, as hard as that sometimes is for me to fathom. There are people — some of whom I am related to, in fact — who like to eat, who like to go out to a restaurant, but who do not like sharing and passing plates, and just want a simple plate of food. A dish of one's own.

I like the feeling of a banquet that small plates provides, the feeling of exploration and adventure — the idea that if you don't like something, you can move on, or order up another round of dishes.

Of course, as you point out, it's deceptively not-cheap, the small plates experience. I imagine small plates restaurateurs lick their lips at the thought of diners like me. That bill gets big in a hurry when you think of a meal as a boundless, bounteous banquet.

But, to answer your basic question — no idea.

I mean it; I'm not being facetious. I really don't have a handle on why these places continue to open.

I would hope, however, that it's not a passing sort of thing, like stacked food was. I don't see small plates as gimmicky. I see it as — if anything — a move away from traditional Western-style dining, the focus on a meat and two or three, the idea that a plate must consistent of a protein and a starch and perhaps a vegetable to round things out.

Small plates eating approximates eating in other cultures, particularly those of the Mediterranean and the Middle East and the countries of north Africa, the emphasis away from the big ticket item, from the massive hunk of meat, and toward a more fluid experience, made up of little tastes, all passed and shared, in a meal that fosters conversation and cements relationships and connections.

arlington
RE: scrapple, shameless promotion, We make our own scrapple at Liberty Tavern and it is quite good. Couldn't help but give scrapple some love…..

No, shameless is fine, so long as you own up to your shamelessness …

Is this Liam? Or Mark?

And two more questions — how are you serving it? and what was the motivation for adding it?

 

DC

Hi Todd,

A friend of mine introduced me to La Chaumiere (referring to it as a "classic DC restaurant") this past weekend, and I couldn't believe I'd never even heard of it. We had a grand time, and both the food and service were excellent. Are there any other "old guard" DC establishments you'd recommend that may not have made the Top 100 recently but are still worth checking out? I'm interested in some "new" old places that are serving something besides New American. Thanks!

Tavira is one, although not with the history that Chaumiere has. In Chevy Chase. Portuguese. Very, very decent; in some respects, better than very, very decent.

Martin's Tavern is one, too. Georgetown — just like Chaumiere — and as for history, it's drenched in it. Among its claims to fame: JFK took Jackie there on dates — I think it was dates, plural, and not just date, singular, a one-time deal. The food isn't at the level of Chaumiere, and frankly isn't aiming to be, but it's good for what is is: a light bite after a movie or show, or after seeing the sights. Good burgers, and I really like the oyster stew; I get a bowl of it every time I'm in.

1789 — since we're talking about Georgetown — is a restaurant that makes the 100 Best routinely, but I want to include it in our discussion here because it's an old-guard establishment that is easy to forget about, amid all the changes to the scene in the past few years, and because, unlike many old-guard establishments, it makes a point of updating and making itself new — evolving with the times, although in its own highly particular way.

Arlington, VA
FYI: Florida Avenue Grill has scrapple. Do I detect the creation of a new reality series?

Ugh. I hope not.

Spare me more of these shows. Spare me highly manufactured, producer-goosed "reality." Spare me more foodie slumming.

Silver Spring
I am going to Shenandoah National Park on Thursday with friends. Can you suggest a place for lunch/ early dinner? Also any winery we should visit? Thanks in advance

The folks behind Apartment 2G — David Gedney and Stacy Gedney, alums of the Ashby Inn and the Inn at Little Washington — also have a small cafe, called Element. You're not going to find better food within miles. Miles and miles.

Their website is jsgourmet.com 

I'll be very interested in hearing about your experience, should you decide to go. (You should. And you should come back on next week and drop us a note, letting us know how things turned out  … )

Germantown, MD

Hi Todd,

So I've been tirelessly trying to get reservations at Volt for a while now. Figured it's close to me and I should try and see what all the excitement is about. Long story short, I can't…ever get reservations, that is.

Just for fun, I asked when I can get a reservation at their heralded "Table 21". They told me that they are booked through 2011, and that I should call back at the beginning of next year for 2012! What the heck?!?

So my question is this, as an entrepreneur, myself (though not in the restaurant biz), why doesn't some well-known chef from DC try to open a high-end place in that market to compete with Volt?

I know, I know, it's Frederick, right? But it seems to me that if a similarly priced (swanky) place could position themselves there…it would do really, really well. Just wanted to see what you thought.

You would think. But who knows?

I'll bet there's somebody out there who's done all the assessments, taken all the surveys, made all the calls, studied the demographics, eye-balled the foot traffic on that street, North Market Street, etc. I'm sure it's been done. 

And maybe somebody will give it a go.

But here's the thing — and a very big thing it is: In order to compete with Volt, it has to get the press that Volt got, and the word of mouth that followed from that glowing press. Which means you need all the elements that Volt has — a bright and capable chef, a smart business plan, a beautiful setting, a well-run staff — and at the same time you need to offer something absolutely new and alternative. In other words: it must be exactly like Volt and yet completely different.

Not easy.

As to whether something a notch or two down might work, who knows? You'd think. I'd think. But it's business. Who knows?  

I just want to say something more before moving on to the next question … It has to do with this idea of telling potential customers that you're all booked for the next year or more — and it's not just Volt that does this; I can think of a few other restaurants that do the same thing. I find it — off-putting is putting it mildly. It's a form of bragging, even if it happens to be true. It would leave me with a bad taste in my mouth, if I were the diner calling to ask about a reservation for that table. I would not call again.

Is there a different, better way to tell someone no in this case? I don't know.

But m thinking, just now, of what an unusually tall person sometimes does when going out into public and meeting new people. He ducks just a little, or slumps his shoulders — reduces the effect on others of his imposing frame.

I would think that a restaurant could explain the circumstance in a way that suggests a kind of embarrassment — an embarrassment at this surfeit of riches …

arlington

Its Liam…

We are serving it with our Pork chop, pumpkin mustard, potato cheddar souffle. I personally get cravings for scrapple, my mom is from Upper Darby PA, so when I was a kid we would bring back Habbersetts(sp) scrapple from Lancaster to eat.

Also it gets a bad rap.

Sounds good.

Sounds like a plate taht scrapple, humble scrapple, should be grateful to be a part of … 

Scrapple, DC
Todd, the Woodside Diner on George just south of the Beltway in Silver Spring has scrapple.

And old-fashioned milkshakes.

And Reubens.

And Vargas girls.

I miss the Woodside. I miss going there with Dave and the crew, all those rambunctious good times, all those laughs. I miss going there with Don Kleine, chowing on pastrami and talking about Saul Bellow and the Paris Review. I miss going there with my father and talking about his latest series or his newest exhibit over chicken salad-and-bacon sandwiches …

I have to get back there, soon.

Have a great rest of the week, everyone. Be well, eat well, and let's do it again next week at 11 …

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

[missing you, TEK … ]

 

 

 

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