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
Cafe du Parc, DC
Cajun Experience, Leesburg
China Bistro, Rockville
El Charrito Caminante, Arlington
Jackie's, Silver Spring
La Canela, Rockville
Lyon Hall, Arlington
Montmartre, Capitol Hill
Palena Cafe, DC
Poste Brasserie, DC
Taqueria La Placita, Riverdale
Yamas Mediterranean Grill, Bethesda
Zentan Sushi Bar, DC
Todd, I am trying to decide whether or not to venture out to the Red Hook Lobster truck which is by my office today. From what I heard, there is a good chance I will go over my lunch break waiting in line. Is it worth it?
It depends on how long a wait you think is worth it for anything.
Now, let me just say I think it's a terrific sandwich — really, as good as you could hope for in this case for lobster brought in from Maine and served out of a truck. It's about as rewarding a lunch as you're going to find in the city these days.
But it's going to be an hour's wait.
And if you're like me, I don't know that I'd wait an hour for anything — unless (knock on wood) I'm in triage, and then I have no choice.
We've been talking about "minute marks" the past few weeks — and this is a neat little corollary of that, I think. How long would you wait for a great lobster roll?
Or great ribs?
Or — fill in the blank.
I'm curious. … I'm also fishing for some interesting dessert ideas for Thanksgiving. Who's got a great and easy pie recipe? Or a great and easy — fill in the blank.
There are two spots I like in Virginia.
One is Hong Kong Palace, which, contrary to what its name tells you, is a Szechuan restaurant. And a pretty good one. Cumin fish, Kung Pao chicken Chinese-style, marinated spicy cucumbers with garlic, wontons in red oil. Good stuff. It's in Falls Church.
The other is Sichuan Village, in Chantilly. Great ma po tofu, fiery and wonderfully smoky and full of creamy, jiggly cubes of fresh tofu. I like the version of Kung Pao chicken Chinese-style even more here than at HKP. Try not to be dissuaded by the names of certain dishes: Ants on a Stick, for instance (red oil-slicked ground pork set atop a twirl of cellophane noodles) is wonderful.
Of the dim sum options in Virginia, I'm not bullish on any of them. Fortune might be the best of the lot; it's in Falls Church. There's also China Garden in Rosslyn; it suffices in a pinch, but I don't pine to go back.
I wanted to answer your question from last week about why go to a restaurant in the first two weeks.
I have gone to my fair share of restaurants within their first two weeks. Some on good advice from friends or a great review on an online site from someone I trust, for instance Galileo 3. Other times I go because it is in my neighborhood and I just want to go in and see how it is doing what the menu is like. For instance I went to Lyon Hall it's first day. I could tell that it was good then, but I thought with some time getting in its grove it had real potential.
For me I guess I just like to try the new place because I have been to most of the other places in my neighborhood and am curious. I also snoop at Christmas, I just can't stand to not know about something.
When Pupatella opened, I went in right away to support them. I ate at their cart frequently and loved it. I eagerly awaited the store. They are great people and I wanted to support them. I normally don't brag about going to someplace first, I might brag that I had a great meal the other night, but I do that new place or not. I don't post about new places unless it is really good because it isn't necessarily a good indication of what some place is going to be like. I wouldn't go there as a special occasion or spend more than I would for a normal dinner. But I think I go often because it is new and I want to try something different.
Now though there are so many new places it is hard to get to even some of them in the first year of opening, I have a long list of new places I want to try. But if it is close to Arlington I will probably be there just to see. I have had some big rewards Central was great from day one, Trummer's on Main, 2941 when Scott Bryan was there. Some disappointments. I also have a lot of friends that eat out frequently and like to try new places so a lot of times I get good reviews from them or they invite me to, and I am always up for a night with good friends. So that is why I go.
Thanks for chiming in …
In that part of the world, there are just so many riches when it comes to eating out — at all levels. And more keep coming. David Guas's Bayou Bakery just opened, and sounds very promising.
You mentioned wanting to support Pupatella, since you'd discovered their cart. My panini there was superior — as good as panini gets. My two pizzas, which were extremely wet and soft-crusted, hardly compared. Ironic, because you'd figure the pizza has got to be even better with a storefront operation as opposed to a tiny truck. I guess not.
Good Morning Todd,
I hate to start the morning on a sour note, but I wanted to get your reaction to my dilemna. Last night we made a very last minute reservation to RIS and showed up early, at 5:45.
Since it was empty, I tried my luck for a four top and I really don't like the tiny booths for two which we ushered to. The hostess apologetically refused. I hope they were indeed booked for all of those 4 tops, because we won't be back. It took me a year to convince my boyfriend to give RIS another try after his initial visit was so awful and then this really rubbed both of us the wrong way.
Question: was I being a brat? Maybe, but I want what I asked for and didn't think it was too ridiculous a request at that hour. But I guess I should be glad since it led me to West End, which gave us everything and more, than we asked for. And I found my new crack addiction: the roasted chicken with vegatables at West End. I generally won't order chicken at a restaurant since it's the only thing I can cook myself. But this is a remarkable exception, along with the fried chicken at Central! We also started with the house-made charcuterie plate, which was very thoughtfully prepared and unique, and quite a deal for the wallet.
I was wondering what you or other chatters thought of West End since I don't hear much about it. Thanks and Happy Thanksgiving!
You bring up something interesting.
My guess is that those tables were booked. I've seen this happen many, many times. The dining room looks abandoned, but then within 40, 45 minutes the place is humming and there's not an open table in sight.
I remember going to the old Mandalay, in College Park, one night and being shown to a table I didn't like. I asked the host if we could have a different table, in a more enviable location. He startled me when he said no. Just like that — no. Decisive, unapologetic. He said every other table was booked, and that within half an hour every table would be full. Well, I didn't believe him, and spent the first leg of my meal in a snit. Guess what? He was right. Well, mostly — it was more like 40 minutes. But the point is, the place was swarming in no time.
So, do I think you were being a brat? I wouldn't use that word, but I do think you should have been more accepting.
I'm not excusing RIS entirely. I think restaurants can do better in circumstances like this — when a diner walks in, sees an almost-empty room, and thinks she has a pick of any table she wants. Restaurant insiders will pooh-pooh what I'm saying, but why wouldn't a diner think this? Shouldn't a restaurant, this diner thinks, privilege what is already in hand over what is presumed to be coming?
I understand that perspective. I have a friend who thinks this very thing.
A simple explanation of a policy is not enough in this case, I don't think. I'm not saying that's what RIS offered, but that's generally what I and others I know have encountered in circumstances just like this one.
Great and Easy Thanksgiving Side –
Mashed Cauliflower w/ Truffle Oil. Steam a head of cauliflower, add butter, salt, pepper and skim milk and blend with an immersion blender. Top with a hearty drizzle of white truffle oil. Healthy and decadent.
Thanks for the suggestion …
I'm dubious about the addition of truffle oil — I'm not crazy about that flavor — but it sounds really tasty.
Question is, do I dare introduce something non-traditional to the T-day table? I tried that one year. Got a lot of looks. It was a quieter-than-usual table. The implication was clear: I had willfully subverted convention for my own narrow pleasure.
Cauliflower's a really underrated veg, as far as I'm concerned, so I'll hold on to the recipe for a later date.
When I cook (ha; I wish) — when I used to cook, I used to do a cauliflower curry. Sear the florets as if they were pieces of meat, cut side down on a hot pan with freshly applied oil; when they brown up nicely, turn them, salt and pepper them and let them cook a little longer. Then you blitz them with yellow and black mustard seeds, toasted fennel seeds, some whole coriander, cinnamon sticks, and coat the whole thing with your sauce — either coconut milk or yogurt blended smooth with bunches of mint and cilantro and a few chives. Good side dish, but also a good main course.
What I said was — I try to wait three weeks (not two) before making a visit. In the vast majority of cases, I stick to my rule.
Now, as far as the "Early Look" of Ba Bay goes — did you read it? I'm going to reprint Anna Spiegel's piece below, in full.
An "Early Look" isn't a review. You'll notice that there are no judgments passed on the food, the service, or the ambiance. Several dishes are mentioned, but not a one is either endorsed or condemned. Same goes for the descriptions of the decor. That's by design.
I'd call it an "overview." It gives readers a sense of what the place is up to — the style of cooking, the background of the owners, the mission, etc.
An Early Look at Ba Bay:
Washingtonians craving bánh mì sandwiches, bowls of pho, and bubble tea know to visit the Eden Center in Falls Church, but starting today, there’s a new—and decidedly modern—Vietnamese option: Ba Bay in the former Locanda space on Capitol Hill.
It’s the brainchild of Vietnamese cousins Khoa and Denise Nguyen, contestants on the short-lived Chopping Block reality-TV show. Their idea shifted from street food to something more refined when they hired former Sonoma chef Nick Sharpe to execute the menu. Khoa was most recently a manager at Vidalia, where he met Sharpe, a one-time cook there. To prepare for the restaurant’s opening, Khoa, a Culinary Institute of America grad, traveled to his native Saigon (he left when he was 11). He then took Sharpe to a Nguyen home in Virginia to learn the family’s recipes.
Together, they came up with an innovative menu that maintains traditional flavors and textures while playing to the American palate. For example, in the shaky beef entrée, marinated tenderloin takes the place of the traditional rump steak, and it’s cooked sous vide before being seared in a wok. Instead of the customary watercress-salad accompaniment, the beef is paired with house-pickled onions and watercress purée. Other twists on Vietnamese favorites include sugar-cane shrimp cloaked in fatback, cellophane noodles tossed with Maryland crab, and a caramel-chicken clay pot adorned with fresh oysters. All the dishes were pre-approved by Nguyen’s grandmother, for whom the restaurant is named.
While the menu contains some flourishes, the restaurant’s interior has a simpler aesthetic. Brown-leather-and-canvas banquettes line the walls, and spherical bamboo lanterns illuminate bare pale-green walls.
“We want the focus to be on the food,” Nguyen said. “The room glows, but the food is the main event.”
Not a review.
A lot of sites put up detailed information about new restaurants — pictures, behind-the-scenes stuff, video — and sometimes you'll also see descriptions of the food based on free dinners the blogger attended (with other bloggers, etc.) at the behest of the restaurant and a publicist.
You see an awful lot out there, now, about new places.
But what you don't see, is what's hardest to do — a thorough, informed, disinterested (in the Matthew Arnold sense of the word) analysis of the restaurant, an analysis built on multiple meals (paid for not by the publicist and not by the restaurant) and the synthesis of hundreds of impressions into a piece of writing that is interesting and graceful, and that speaks to more than just the food and drink.
That Arlington is gone. You live in the heart of yuppiedom. Better get used to it.
I will say, though, that not all of Arlington is like this. You have El Charrito Caminante for tacos and tortas and burritos. You have Delhi Club for excellent naan and zippy curries. You have Kabob Bazaar, which has superlative baklava.
That's just three in a less-than-a-mile stretch. I wouldn't complain too hard.
I have gone twice in the last few weeks and have yet to wait an hour. Actually I went yesterday and maybe waited 10-15 minutes.
Also keep in mind, with many people already off for the Holiday, today may be the best day (shortest wait time) to give it a try. I doubt you will be disappointed.
This is THE time to go. Too bad you can't buy a few extra and stash them in the freezer for later. ; )
Here's the perfect easy pie to put you right over the edge after a huge and glorious Thanksgiving meal:
Brown Sugar Pie
1 frozen deep-dish pie crust
1 cup light brown sugar
1 cup dark brown sugar
1/4 cup milk 3/4 stick butter (melted)
1 Tablespoon of vinegar (I use apple cider vinegar)
2 Tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 Teaspoon vanilla
Remove pie crust from the freezer 15 minutes before you are going to start. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Beat the eggs with a mixer in a mixing bowl. Then add the rest of the ingredients in no particular order. When you get everything in the bowl, mix with an electric mixer until smooth. Pour the mixture into the crust and put on the bottom shelf of the oven for about 25 minutes. Then transfer it to the top shelf for another 25-35 minutes. You might want to cover the crust with aluminum foil so as not to burn it.
You have to watch the pie to see when it is done. It really depends on the oven. When the middle of the pie is no longer jiggles, it's done. Remove from oven. Eat that puppy!
That good, huh?
Sounds really easy …
What I get a kick out of is the absence of anything like fruit or vegetable. It's as if the recipe writer was thinking: Who said a pie had to include fruit or vegetables? Forget the delivery systems — let's get right to the heart of the matter — the sugar. And no nuts — they're just distractions from the sugar.
This is my first gluten free Thanksgiving and I am actually really excited about eating some different things. I think cauliflower puree sounds really good. What I really thought was good recently was the potato and apple puree at Rustico, I wish I had that recipe in time for T-day… maybe they would give it out if I called.
I think your chances are much improved by writing in today … ; )
Come on, Rustico. Help a gluten-freer out …
This just isn't a breakfast town, unfortunately. You've got high-end hotel dining and some greasy spoons, and not much of anything in between.
One exception is Founding Fathers, on Pennsylvania Ave., which has attracted a pretty loyal crowd for its hearty breakfasts. Not a lingering sort of atmosphere, though — but nothing in that part of the world is.
Cafe du Parc is probably a better bet for you. Good coffee, good croissants, and a good perch for people-watching. Part of what makes it a better bet is that it's French. These are the people who invented the notion of lingering.
Aaack. Do NOT start with a frozen, deep dish pie crust. Please, please please, for the love of all that is culinary, make your own pie crust.
If you own a food processor, you can make pie crust. 3 parts butter to 1 part crisco (bacon fat if you're doing a savory pie), a couple of cups of flour, and ice cold water. Pulse it until it's crumbly, turn out and roll. The less you handle, the better it is. Easy as, well, pie, and about a thousand times better than frozen.
For good desserts – I'm doing a pumpkin cheesecake with a cranberry relish on top; and pecan pie balls: recipe's in the NY Times, but essentially, chopped pecans, bourbon, brown sugar, graham crumbs, mixed and dipped in dark chocolate.
Not to worry — I'm planning on making a homemade crust.
The pecan pie balls sound tasty — but I've got to avoid anything with nuts because of my sister-in-law.
I'd love to do something with pear, but nobody seems to talk about pear at Thanksgiving time, and you don't see recipes for pear tarts, etc. I love pear. I love pear more than apple. Such an interesting flavor. Subtler, and somehow more secretive than the apple. But a good pear — come on. Is anything better? I'll take a good pear over a good peach any day.
In fact, I think I'll break out a bottle of Poire William for post-prandial sipping.
Simple saccharine satiation.
And preceding it — extreme starchification.
Have a great holiday, everyone. Relish your time with your families and friends.
Be well, eat well (and copiously), and let's do it again next week at 11 …
[missing you, TEK … ]