Tuesday, December 14 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.

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T K ' s   2 5:

W h e r e   I ' d   S p e n d   M y   O w n   M o n e y

 
Adour, DC 

2 Amy's, DC 

Bastille, Alexandria 

Birch & Barley, DC 

Black Market Bistro, Garrett Park

Cafe du Parc, DC 

Central Michel Richard, DC

Eatonville, DC 

Jackie's, Silver Spring

Kantuta, Wheaton 

Komi, DC

Kushi, DC

La Limeña, Rockville 

Level
, Annapolis 

Masala Art, DC 

Minh's, Arlington

Palena Cafe, DC

PassionFish, Reston 

Poste Brasserie, DC

Ravi Kabob I and II, Arlington 

Sabai Sabai Simply Thai, Germantown 

The Source and The Source Lounge, DC

Taqueria La Placita, Riverdale

Yamas Mediterranean Grill, Bethesda 

Zentan Sushi Bar, DC

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Falls Church, VA
Just passing along that Morou Ouattara is re-opening Farrah Olivia within the private dining room at Kora starting January 5th, 2011. They'll be serving four nights per week.

Hit his Facebook page for days, times, reservation number.

Thanks for the info.

This is good news, although not quite the good news I was expecting. I was expecting a re-launch of Farrah Olivia in a stand-alone location, possibly in downtown DC. (I think that's what Morou had told me at the time he'd closed up the restaurant.) Nonetheless, it's welcome news for anyone who has thrilled over Morou's cooking over the years.

Tysons Corner

Michelin quality restaurants: In your opinion are there any Michelin quality restaurants in the washington DC area? If so which ones would make the list?

Thanks and keep up the great work!

This is a really interesting question. And it's funny you ask this now, because my wife asked the exact same thing a week ago.

One thing that's important to keep in mind, here, is that "Michelin quality" means a certain kind of destination — one with a very, very specific brand of service, for one thing. There are fewer and fewer restaurants in the city that practice this kind of very formal, very highly orchestrated service, which, if you ask me, is a good thing. I don't equate that sort of formality with quality; it can be, certainly, but I think it's a mistake to think that coordinated waves of waiters and synchronized placement of dishes, always from the right, is synonymous with great service.

We're also not France; we're a much more informal country — for good and for ill — and I think the best American restaurants are much more intimate, casual statements, even if they're doing fine dining. They have the American energy, the American looseness.

That, of course, is not what the Michelin inspectors are looking for.

I would guess only a handful of restaurants in this city would earn an actual star of some kind. Citronelle, I think, is one. I could see it getting 1 or possibly 2 stars. Adour is another.

I think there's a good chance The Inn at Little Washington would clock in with either 2 or 3.

I could see a couple of 1-stars. The Source. Restaurant Eve. CityZen. Minibar. (Would I ever love to see the Michelin inspector's visit to Minibar!)

And then you'd probably have about a dozen or so other places that don't receive a star but are honored to be "mentioned."

If Michelin ever did come here, I think it would be a sobering thing for foodies in the city to see — a cold bucket of water on our great community plate of foie gras.

Bethesda, MD

Re: Galileo III

Story in 2 parts:

1. I ate in Galileo in DC, and then Bebo Trattoria in Arington. I had one of the worst dining experiences of my life in Bebo with 2 other couples. It was the most poorly run place imaginable. I called and talked to a manager, hardly believing it was the same ownership. They told me they would call me back, but no one ever did. How do you explain someone of the skills of Donna failing is the basics of high level restauranting like that? And I don't just mean my single experience- rather what it implies about the owner.

2. I have owned businesses that depended on relatively low wage workers. It is unforgivable to not pay, or delay wages, of people who basically are always living on the edge. You rightly cited the family aspect of such businesses, but … For that reason alone I would never patronize any restaurant that is owned by Donna. He may be a supurb cook, but he has crossed the line as an habitual abuser. Somewhere along the line, there are acts that reveal the elemental character of a person. They can't be explained away, since, given the same circumstances, they will happen again. The only prevention is a fear of being caught – the lowest form of morality. The morality of being a major tax cheat is significant, but not as deserving of shunning as the abuse he committed on his staff. There is forgiveness for the sinner, but not for someone who probably only regrets he got caught. I have known others who have abused workers, and I don't spend my money with them.

Thank you for writing. Smart, insightful words. 

I, like you, am most bothered by the treatment of employees. That's not to say I am not bothered by the tax embezzlement, and the money that was essentially taken out of diners' pockets. But taking from your employees is, in my mind, a deeper and more disturbing offense. It is, as I wrote last week, an abuse not just of power, but an abuse of the family that a restaurant is, and has to be. 

Bethesda, Md

Hey, Todd —

Any restaurant recommendations for 2 families headed for the first time to National Harbor? We are going this weekend to witness the Gaylord Hotel's "ICE" and want to include a good dinner at one of the places we can't get over here in Bethesda (i.e. not McCormick and Schmicks).

Although we'll have 4 children with us, we don't need a dumbed-down "kid place" and have to take a pass on any Asian cuisine. Should we consider eating within the hotel complex — either because there is a good option there or because the National Harbor may be more spread out than we realize? Thanks.

Honestly: I don't think any restaurant at National Harbor is worth spending the kind of money that you're going to have to spend.

By saying that, what I'm saying is that I'm unwilling to offer a formal recommendation. Not that I can't help you out; I can; I'm going to in just a second. I just don't want to be tagged as making any kind of endorsement.  

The place I'd choose is Rosa Mexicano. It's cheaper than the steakhouses and other big, expense-account sorts of establishments, and I think the kids would have fun with it. And if your meal is bound to be uneven — I'd all but guarantee it — you at least know that it's going to start well, with pomegranate margaritas and bottomless baskets of chips and salsa.  

Michel, Tysons

Todd,

I popped into Michel to see the makeover from the previous Maestro. What a major change and seems a bit smaller since they added a bar seating. Do you think the decor is a bit out of place for a Ritz Carlton?

If it's out of place, then the Ritz-Carlton ought to make some changes. 

I think the room is gorgeous — a triumph of design, and a huge asset to the restaurant. It's sumptuously elegant and feels appropriately expensive, but it's not at all gaudy or pretentious, as settings like this can sometimes be. And I love the dominant color, a rich, deep plum. So many designers — so many people — are afraid of color. It's nice to see someone who is not.

I never cared fo the dining room at Maestro. You'd dig into a piece of fish sitting atop a thatch of smoked hay, and the person sitting opposite you would pour a test tube of sauce onto their plate of veal or venison — very unusual cooking, in other words, very self-conscious, very stylized, and often very wonderful … but the room was as staid and featureless — colorless — as the food wasn't.

But back to Michel for a second.

There are some very good things coming out of the kitchen, and also some pretty good things that ought to have been very good. The place could use more fine-tuning. And that goes for the staff as well as the kitchen.

I suspect both will tighten up as the restaurant gets its footing.

But a potential problem is a deep-structure problem. Dinner for two, right now, is about a third more than Central, chef Michel Richard's DC bistro. Michel lacks Central's conviviality and informality, however, while also falling short of the high-gloss perfectionism of his fine dining flagship, Citronelle.

DC, Re: Dinner with my big sis

Hi, Todd –

Just checking back in to let you know that your suggestion to try Central with my sister, the picky eater, was spot on.

I knew both the foie gras and the grilled octopus on the menu at The Majestic would freak her out, and when I tried my best to describe Ted's Bulletin, all I got was, "Ewww. Meatloaf?" (my fault – I should have led with milkshakes and pop tarts).

Central could not have been more perfect, plus she flipped when she realized she was on Pennsylvania Ave. To top it all off, I learned something about my sister: she eats Brussels sprouts! Naturally, she LOVED the ones on the menu there, and we were popping those bad boys long after we were full.

She had the fried chicken, I had a burger with bacon and bleu cheese (which she tried after scraping off the cheese and the caramelized onions…ugh), and we shared mac & cheese. All fantastic.

I begged to try the chocolate bar for dessert ("Eww…hazelnut? No."), but we went with the lava cake. As boring as that sounds, warm chocolate ANYTHING a la mode can't be bad, and the house made ice cream was delicious. If Central makes your next 100 Best list, I think you can now safely add "best for picky eaters."

Yeah, who'd have thunk it?

Well, I guess I did, but I have to say, it didn't come to me at first when I was trying to come up with suggestions for you. The more I started thinking about it, though, it seemed like a good bet. The food, for all its technical wizardry and inventiveness, is really pretty straightforward in what it wants to communicate. 

I'm glad it worked out.

And brussels sprouts! Whoa. She doesn't like meatloaf, but loves brussels sprouts?!?

Since you brought up the lava cake … I know a lot of people who love going out, love good food, who now turn up their noses at the thought of a molten cake, or a lava cake, or whatever you want to call it. I know it's not new, or particularly clever, and I know that for a while there, a few years ago, every high-end or aspiring-to-high-end restaurant seemed to be featuring one. But you know what? It's a pretty wonderful way to round off a meal, even if the version you're eating isn't all that memorable. 

Pastry chefs love to work with chocolate, and it's imperative that you have at least one chocolate-centered sweet on the menu, but so many chocolate desserts aren't worth the calories. I love the trend of incorporating salt into chocolate, and also of using dark, high-quality chocolate, but I wish that more pastry chefs would recognize that all chocolate shows best when it's served warm. The flavors come out most fully then, and you have a silken sort of richness to sink into.

Vienna
My friend works at Galileo III and has stated that employees are not being paid on time again…..

I sincerely hope — for everybody's sake — that this is not true …

I'm going to list my email address here, tkliman@washingtonian.com, and ask that you or your friend please get in contact with me this afternoon. 

Washington DC

Todd –

I've recently become a huge fan of the DC restaurant scene mainly due to your Top 100 list.

I often take (discreet) photos of my food to share with my friends and family. This Christmas I'm tasked with preparing an appetizer for my family and I'm worried that their expectations will have sky-rocketed after seeing all of the amazing dishes I've had this past year.

The thing is, I love to eat, but don't really cook, so it can't be anything extensive. Do you have a go-to appetizer recipe that isn't too intricate, but is a couple steps above the usual homemade appetizer? Thanks for any help you can give me!

This is the very definition of "pressure cooking."

I hate it.

Nothing done under self-imposed scrutiny like that is ever going to be any fun. And cooking for friends ought to be fun.

I don't have an appetizer I turn to as a failsafe, no. But maybe there are chatters out there who can come to your aid –?

One thing I know, though. There are certain things that are bound to chime with people at a party. They are: bacon; cream; butter; cheese; fry.

Dishes with one or, preferably, more than one of those things usually fly.

I said I don't have a failsafe, and I don't, but I love to make romesco, and the flavor is so interesting and complex that it makes the dish seem more involved than it actually is. 

Romesco is pretty simple: Into a blender add a jar of drained roasted red peppers, and the following, all having been lightly fried in olive oil — a good hunk of bread, a nice bunch of almond slivers, and a couple of cloves of garlic. Add a generous pinch of smoked paprika, maybe a dab or two of tomato paste, and several hits of sherry vinegar. Puree, then add black pepper and salt to taste. 

Sear some nice, fat scallops — use the olive oil that's flavored with the almonds and garlic and bread, and aim for a golden, crusty exterior.

You're ready to plate. Smear the platter with the romesco. Position the scallops atop the puree. Then sprinkle each scallop with a little smoked paprika for color, and scatter some lightly fried almond slivers on top.

See if people don't ooh and aah.

Shaw DC

Good Morning Todd!

Finally making it over to Bistro Cacao for a celebratory dinner. Anything we can't miss? I'm looking forward to some game and foie gras/pate dishes! Thanks! Be warm!

I really like the steak frites there. The fries, when I last had them, were impressively thin and had been cooked in fresh oil; that's the kind of minding of detail you don't often see. And the hanger steak was perfectly seasoned. Great, blood-borne flavor, and I loved the thick, natural crust the kitchen was able to put on it — evidence of careful searing. 

I also like the mustard-crusted rack of lamb and, to start — and share — the country-style pheasant pate.

Enjoy yourselves tonight!

Vienna (Galileo)
I passed along your email address to my friend and they said they will try and shoot you an email either today or this week. Thanks!
Thank you.
Clifton, VA

Great recipe Todd. I intend to try it over the holidays.

You forgot one thing the quality of the scallops. Make sure they day boat scallops with no water or other additives. I can vouch for the ones at Wegman's Fairfax. Falls River also has good ones.

Another option is to find fresh never frozen shrimp Wegman's. Fill a large 4qt pot about a third full, add a 1/3 of can of Mountain Dew, a lime , orange and lemon halved, some whole pepercorns, two bay leaves. Bring water to a boil and in mean time sheel and devein shrimp. Place collander over boiling water and make sure water is entering collander. Steam shrimp until they just start to turn and then remove collander. Shrimp will continue to cook. You can either serve warm or chilled with cocktail sauce. I make my own.

Sounds like the sort of thing that's made for a New Year's Eve party.

Who's staying home this year? — I'm curious. Or staying in with friends?

I haven't gone out for NYE for a while now, and I really love the parties my wife and I have been throwing every year. Stay in, splurge on ingredients and make something really lavish, and open up a bunch of bottles of wine.

Last year, I made a huge pot of bouillabaisse with five kinds of fish and seafood, and we served a caramel crepe cake — 36 crepes, stacked one on top of another, with warm dulce de leche serving as the "mortar" for each layer and a drizzled, runny "frosting" made with caramel, orange juice, orange peel and Cointreau. 

Alongside: a lot of white Burgundy, a sparkling Shiraz and a bottle of Champagne.

This year? I have no ideas at the moment. … Any suggestions?

I think the year before we did thick, prime-beef steaks, and got them good and (over)seasoned with grey salt and cracked black pepper and herbs, and then sliced them up at the table for everyone. With a potato gratin, some vegetable or salad I can't remember now, and lots of good red wine.

Bethesda, MD

Todd – what was your response when Jose Andres' rep insisted that he be pictured on the cover of the October issue?

a) those kind of decisions aren't up to me b) It's nice to want c) I'll see what I can do d) it'll cost you two bowls of paella and a thermos of sangria. Technically, if they promised it to him, they delivered….a mini-photo of Jose's head appears on the little stripe in the lower corner of the cover!

e.) a moment of incredulity, followed by:

f.) a moment of self-admonishment, for being surprised 

And just for the record: the magazine didn't promise anything. I know there are publications that work deals like that, but Washingtonian is not one of them. 

Reston, VA

I will be heading to Komi for my first time next week and from reading the reviews I really would like to try the Goat. Do they allow you to choose your Entree or is it pre-selected?

Also, do you recommend the wine pairing, or just enjoy the food! Don't spend this much on a restaurant typically but want to make sure I take advantage.

It's all pre-selected, all of it. There's no more menu to consider. The diner surrenders control the moment he or she steps through the door.

You can, however, suggest in no uncertain terms to your server that you would really love to see the slow-roasted baby goat show up at the appointed time.

As for the wine pairing: My feeling is that it's worth splurging on in a restaurant where you're only dining on, say, four courses.

At Komi and at Minibar, there are so many courses, and so many flavors, that it's hard to synchronize the wines with them — even for a good sommelier. It's really asking a lot of any one glass of wine, to be a perfect fit with three or four small courses.

I think a couple of wines is the way to go, along with a bottle or two of sparkling water.

Restaurants would never admit this, because they'd stand to lose a ton of money, but it's true: Sparkling water is the most versatile, most dependable drink for a fine-dining meal. It always does the job — always — cleansing the palate every single time with its tiny scrubbing bubbles.

What you won't ever get from sparkling wine, of course, is the wondrous alchemy that results when wine and food have each met their match. That's a special kind of magic. 

But it's also elusive; many supposedly great pairings never fully materialize.

Bethesda, MD

Todd,

I am gathering some friends for the holidays and want to try a place that involves group interaction A friend suggested Korean with a grill in the middle of the table or Ethiopian food as good group eating.

Can you recommend any good Korean or Ethiopian places for about 8-10 people to try? We've been to Benihana type places before and want to try somewhere new.

We can do much, much better — much, much more interesting — than Benihana.

How about Honey Pig Gooldaegee in Koreatown (Annandale)? Or, also in Koreatown — Oegadjib. Both are really good for large groups. Honey Pig, in particular — there's probably no more festive spot in the area; it's like a nightly party, one that goes on forever and ever.

For Ethiopian, there are a wealth of options: Meaza, in Arlington, and Etete, in DC, are two of my favorites, and both are well-suited to big gatherings.

It sounds like a fun night. I'd be curious to hear which place you end up hitting. Drop back on and let us know, okay?

Meantime, I'm running late for lunch …

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

[missing you, TEK … ]

 

 

 

 

 

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