Tuesday, December 7 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

Adour, DC 

2 Amy's, DC 

Black Market Bistro, Garrett Park

Bollywood Bistro, Fairfax

Cafe du Parc, DC 

Cajun Experience, Leesburg 

Central Michel Richard, DC

China Bistro, Rockville  

El Charrito Caminante, Arlington 

Estadio, DC 

Jackie's, Silver Spring

Komi, DC

Kushi, DC

La Canela, Rockville 

La Limeña, Rockville 

Level
, Annapolis 

Lyon Hall, Arlington 

Minh's, Arlington

Montmartre, Capitol Hill 

Palena Cafe, DC

PassionFish, Reston 

Poste Brasserie, DC

The Source and The Source Lounge, DC

Taqueria La Placita, Riverdale

Yamas Mediterranean Grill, Bethesda 

Zentan Sushi Bar, DC

RE: Kobe Beef

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Todd, re: last week's discussion of kobe beef portions …

I totally agree that five ounces for real kobe beef is way too much to eat. I dined at Blue Duck Tavern and they offered the real kobe beef as an appetizer.

It was a perfect introduction to Kobe beef for everyone at my table without breaking the bank for one dish. Wish more places offered it as an appetizer instead of folking over $120 for one dish.

I'm not sure which is worse, serving super-rich kobe beef in humongous, hard-to-get-down quantities, as BLT Steak does, or lying about serving Kobe when what you're really serving is the nice-but-nowhere-close wagyu, as is the case at too many restaurants to name.

Actually, no — scratch that. I'm sure. Lying is worse.

Word to the wise: if you see the phrase, "American Kobe," you'll know you're being lied to. The only "American Kobe" wears jersey no. 24.

Silver Spring, Md

Re: Last week's comments about servers who take away plates prematurely.

I would love it if we could use basic etiquette to signal the progress of our meal, but we'd all need to get on the same page.

I was taught that a crossed knife and fork was the proper position while the diner was merely pausing, and that the signal for "I'm done" was to align the knife and fork, and place them diagonally across the plate, angled from 11 o'clock to 4. But it sounds like you were taught otherwise?

Can people from the industry comment on whether staff is trained to look for such things, and how they interpret such cues? It seems like such a simple solution to a chronic problem.

My thing is, it not only mars my enjoyment to have a server try to take a plate before I'm ready to part with it, but it also mars my enjoyment to hear that awful question: "Still working–?"

I hate that I am made to answer it by saying, "Yes, still working," or, just as bad, nodding in reply.

What I'm saying is, I hate the phrase as much as I hate the hovering and the snatching. I think some restaurants are now training their servers to say: "Still enjoying–?"

Just as bad.

Because what are you supposed to say? "No, no more enjoyment. My enjoyment is over. I had enjoyment, but now that the dish is gone, my enjoyment has vanished along with it."

Crossing the Bridge

For our anniversary, my boyfriend and I would like to try one of Old Town Alexandria's fine dining options (i.e., Vermilion, 2941, Restaurant Eve).

We're looking for something cozy and romantic – a can't miss for a couple that rarely crosses the bridge into the Commonwealth. Thanks in advance for your suggestion!

Well, hold on there a sec: 2941's in Falls Church. So that takes the list down to two.

I'm going to bump it back up to three by adding Bastille to the discussion. It's probably the least expensive of the three, so if you're looking for something cozy and romantic but not break-the-bank, it's a good call. Good bistro cooking, some excellent French wines by the glass (including the option of going for half-pours), and, to close, a Valrhona chocolate pot de creme and an apple tatin, both excellent.

Vermilion is a slightly bigger production, American, with an emphasis on procuring local meats, fishes and produce. The cooking is what I'd call upscale comfort food. A flat-out great charcuterie board, so look for that if it's on the menu currently. I like the setting, with its bordello reds and gas lamps, and the cocktail list is inviting, too.

Eve is a splurge, whether you go for the bistro or the tasting room. A highly orchestrated production from start to finish, with great, imaginative cocktails, superlative service, and richly rewarding cooking.

I'll be curious to hear which one you and your boyfriend decide on. Keep up posted, okay? And happy anniversary!

 

Shaw, DC

Good Morning, Todd!

Just a quick field report from Galileo III.

Went there for dinner on a whim with out-of-towner friends. The front of the house seemed scattered with either no one at the host stand or 5 people asking if you have a reservation. Minor annoyance. Once seated and our glasses of wine drained it took a bit of effort to flag someone down to take our order. But all of these annoyances were overlooked as soon as the food came out.

I had the Chesnut Soup….I love a good soup and this was delicious…foie gras, mascarpone and duck gizzards, what could be better on a cold winter night? I answer you with my second dish, the roasted squab breast with little squab balls and the creamiest potato side I've had in a long time. The fowl was cooked perfectly and had a very dense flavor. The only moritifying moment of the evening….one of my friends asked if he could substitute a "red sauce" on the ravioli. I could have died at the table.

But the staff was gracious about it and even Mrs. Donna came to the table to say they could do the wild boar ragu as the requested "red sauce" and it was a huge hit with my friend and hopefully expanded his mind and palette. I'm not a big dessert person, but since it came with the meal I chose the Zuppa di Gorgonzola, which was playfully inventive and delicious.

One last nit-picky thing to add, I completely hate the layout of the place. I don't know if they just did the best they could with a weird building or what, but it seemed that there was no "good table" to be had, just varying degrees of lame tables.

In all, I was pleasantly surprised with the experience and would return, although it has some heavy competition with Tosca in the neighborhood.

That chestnut soup is terrific. It eats like liquefied foie gras.

One of the best soups — one of the best dishes, for that matter — you're going to find right now in the city.

Same goes for the branzino en papillote.

Your experience pretty much parallels my own. I would add — and said as much in my recent review in the magazine — that portions are small and that the $55 prix fixe for three courses is a little high for what you get.

But Galileo III is a good meal. 

(I'm still gathering my thoughts about the fresh piece of news that the embattled chef, Roberto Donna, is now ordered to pay more than $500,000 in back wages to some of his former employees. This, after his pleading guilty to tax embezzlement in the Spring

(I will say this: A restaurant is a family. The very best restaurants all understand this, which is why they institute things like staff meal, a chance for all the various parts of the operation to come together at the same time, for the same purpose, and to indulge in a mutual passion. The hours in this business are insane, and the effect is to bring people together in ways they might not ever be brought together outside of this world. A restaurant becomes a kind of surrogate family, and some will admit that their surrogate families are as much of a family, if not more, than their actual families.

(And, just as in every extended family, there are the strong and the weak, the leaders and the followers. It's one thing for the grunts or the immigrants or whoever is on the margins of this operation to be yelled at in the course of their duties and made to adhere to a strict discipline. That's the job. But to not be paid — that's something else. That's the strong taking advantage of the weak. An abuse of a worker's trust and, no less, of the family.)

Washington, DC

Hello, Todd.

My sister will be in town for business this weekend, and she's added an extra day for us to hang out since this will be her first trip to DC. I'm trying to figure out where to dine with our family's pickiest eater. She has her fair share of items on the "don't" list (uncooked onions, pork, sushi, bleu cheese, etc) but more than that she's afraid of anything that's unfamiliar.

We're from St. Louis, which I mention because I know you recently spent some time in the Central West End – she's more Houlihan's and Pasta House than Wildflower or Terrene.

Any suggestions in DC or Alexandria? I'd like to give her a list of a few places so she can choose what she's in the mood for. Ted's Bulletin, Casa Nonna, and BGR are already on the list, and I don't think she'd be opposed to more upscale options as long as they don't serve her sea urchin. Thanks for your help!

One place I'd be sure to take her is The Majestic, in Old Town.

It's upscaled comfort food from the folks behind Restaurant Eve. I can't imagine she'd have a bad time there. Any place with a meatloaf and mashed potatoes on the menu has got to make her feel comfortable.

Also in Alexandria: Columbia Firehouse and Evening Star Cafe, both from the Neighborhood Restaurant Group folks. I'd think she'd have a good time at either. ESC will also have some things on the menu for a more adventurous diner like yourself (like pork!), plus a good wine selection.

In DC: I think Central Michel Richard, though it's got an awful lot of dishes she'd probably blanch at, is a good bet. I mean, fried chicken! A burger! Banana split! Seriously, give it a shot.

Ted's Bulletin, by the way, is an especially good call. Be sure to get any of the milkshakes; great stuff.  

re: Komi

For a while we wanted to eat at Komi because we heard it’s one of the best in DC and that eating there is a real night out. Besides that we love tasting menus. Well, we were very disappointed.

From the moment we came in it seems that everybody was in a hurry. We had no time to enjoy our aperitif, because within 5 minutes there was the first course and from there every thing was in the overdrive. After one hour and 50 minutes we were outside again. (I specially asked about 2 seatings per evening and the woman had said that there were no 2 seatings).

By the time the desserts started we were also offered coffee. What is wrong with serving coffee after the meal with a nice digestive?

About the food. Some courses were really nice, other really disappointing. The slider f.e.: the bun was dry, the sausage average and the relish nothing special. (and the beer was not attractive either) The fig was ok , the lamb was good but way too big (why not serving a small piece of fish and/or meat) and the pasta didn’t seem to fit in the menu.

The deserts were all very sweet. A course with cheese would have been nice.

Actually there was never a “wow”. Let me be clear. This is not about the money, because we’re used eating in good restaurants, but we never spend $500 within 2 hours and being so disappointed.

My question is: what do you see in Komi we don't? We we really not satisfied at all.

Marion

Marion,

That's strange. I've never left Komi in anything less than 3 and a quarter hours. The first course — a procession of small dishes — takes at least an hour, and often about an hour and a quarter.

I've never been hustled out, nor has anyone I know been hustled out, and I just can't quite believe that your meal was over that quickly.

I find it telling, also, that you never mention the selections of raw or marinated fish, which, to me, is so much of the excitement of eating here, along with the spit-roasted goat and suckling pig. A lot of people just don't groove on this kind of preparation of fish — just as a lot of people don't groove on being served a lot of little dishes. Or having a restaurant be in control of their entire meal. Or giving over the pacing of the night to the staff.

I've said it before and I'll say it again: I believe Komi is not for everybody, great as it is. It's for a certain kind of diner — a lover of adventure, of sensuality, of lingering, of new sensations.

You mentioned a slider — do you mean the half-smoke? I'm surprised to hear it was average; I've had two of them and thought they were spectacular — virtually without grease, which is really something when you consider it's a half-smoke, and with full and complex spicing.

And the beer? What you see as "unattractive," I see as witty and fun.

Re: Which is worse

Hi Todd,

No contest–lying is far worse. I'd rather be served a humongous piece of real kobe. The only mis-step there is that the kitchen didn't take into account richness-portion size. Lying is outright intentional deceit–and, in this case, for profit.

Need I say more?

Washington, DC

I loved your article on locavore wine hypocrisy. It seemed to inspire some spirited discussion on this chat and elsewhere shortly after publication, but I wonder what your thoughts are four months later. Are people still talking about this? Any chance of finding more bottles of Virginia wine on local menus?

Speaking of local menus, I'm thinking of taking my girlfriend to a nice dinner in Georgetown this weekend (nice, but not Citronelle nice!). I especially like the neighborhood this time of year — a little quieter and with just the right dose of holiday cheer. Any recommendations? Thanks!

1789? It's pretty festive this time of year. Just remember to arrive in a jacket, lest you be asked to slip into a previously worn one from their stash.

Or, fairly close by: BlackSalt, on MacArthur Blvd.

Re: the piece — thanks. More and more, local wines are turning up on area menus, including the Norton. In fact, there's a Norton now on the menu at, of all places, Kramerbooks & Afterwords Cafe. It's great to see.

I was surprised to see that people could be so vehement about this. A real learning experience, although what I mostly learned is that there are a lot of industry folks, and hangers-on, and industry folks purporting to have become media folks, who would rather identify a threat to their business, real or not, than have a real conversation about something.

Arlington, VA

Its my understanding that actual Kobe (Wagyu cattle from Kobe, Japan) beef doesn't make it out of Japan and that that the naming is supposed to be controlled similar to Champagne. Everything else is just Wagyu raised in a certain way. True/false?

On a different note, would you expound on what you meant when you said "foodie slumming" a few weeks ago?

You're correct. 

The real thing never makes it out of that particular prefecture, from what I understand. There are, however, varieties of wagyu that approximate the intense, fatty-richness of actual Kobe — though even Kobe-philes would disagree with this; they would argue that nothing approximates genuine Kobe.

As for "foodie slumming" … What I mean is, there are some foodies who love food in all its many manifestations, and at every level, and there are others who pretend to care about things that are more down-and-dirty.

Open a publication devoted to food, or read some restaurant columns. There's an obvious excitement for fine products, for elegant cuisine, for so-called serious restaurants — even if those restaurants are not judged to be all that great. The occasional column or story on an ethnic restaurant or a food truck, by contrast? It lacks relish. It feels obligatory, perfunctory.

I think that a real food lover knows that a great hot dog — or a great taco, or a great arepa, or a great meatball — is just as wonderful as a lobe of seared foie gras with a glass of Sauternes.

 

Re: Taking Away Plates Prematurely

Todd,

You never answered the chatters question: is it fork and knife crossed or placed diagonally to signal when done?

I didn't know there was a rule about this.

I've heard of people who place their utenils diagonally, and I've also heard of people who cross their utensils.

Anybody know if one is generally more accepted than the other? 

Clifton, VA
As a former server I watched my tables for non verbal clues that they were done or may need something. If thereir wine glass was low I would fill it and ask if I had noticed they had touched their plate in wahile if I could take it. Or bring the dessert menus and offer to clear the table. Man it aint that tough. I learned from being taken out to eat by my parents and learning from servers when I was busboy. Most servers today are pathetic and that goes from IHOP to a four star establishment. Lack of training and non proffessionalism.
Shoot, and I thought I was a little prickly today …
NEDC

I have a friend coming into town for the holidays and we will be eating out for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Do you have some suggestions on where to go that won't break the bank? We'd like to stay in the District, if possible.

Love your chats and thanks in advance!

Take it away, Katie … 

Producer's note:Here's our list of restaurant menus for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day meals.

Dinner around DC

Hi Todd,

Your response inspired my question.

The chestnut soup at Galileo III is the best soup in the city now. If you had to assemble an entire meal in the city, which places would you go to in order to compile your entire meal. So, for example: Cocktail Bread basket Appetizer (Chestnut soup, Galileo III) Wine Soup Entree Vegetable Dessert Coffee Cheese plate

I admit, that's a big meal. Thanks

Here goes, quickly, off the top of my head and without regard to how it all fits together …

Smoked honey Manhattan at Level, Annapolis.

Bread basket at Vidalia, DC.

Pork belly dumplings at The Source, Penn Quarter.

Chestnut soup at Galileo III, DC.

A glass of Schloss Gobelsburg Riesling from the superlative by-the-glass list at Adour, DC.

Spit-roasted goat with fresh, hot pita and condiments at Komi, East Dupont.

Palak chaat (crispy fried spinach with tamarind sauce and yogurt) at Rasika, Penn Quarter.

Fig tart at Adour, DC.

Skim milk latte at Shagga Coffee and Restaurant, Hyattsville.

Cheese plate at Bistro Bis, Capitol Hill.

 

NoLo, DC

That Komi commenter wrote: "By the time the desserts started we were also offered coffee. What is wrong with serving coffee after the meal with a nice digestive?"

I just need to say that it drives me nuts when I order coffee with a dessert and they don't bring it until I'm virtually done with the dish — and I've only started eating the dessert because I've gotten tired of waiting for the coffee to show up!

As for the food at Komi, well, if someone can't find a "wow" there, they can just stay away and make it easier for others to get in. A large number of the best things I've ever had were at Komi!

Re: coffee and dessert. Bear in mind that in Europe, coffee is almost always served after dessert. A separate course, if you will.

A lot of restaurants with European staffers have trouble sometimes adjusting to the American preference for coffee with dessert. I have always suspected that they think if they bring it on the heels of dessert they can maintain their link to their tradition while also, sort of, satisfying the American customer.

… I'm off to lunch and then, dinner with my brother-in-law and sister-in-law tonight at a secret undisclosed location.

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 [missing you, TEK … ]

 

 

 

 

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