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.
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
2 Amy's, DC
Bayou Bakery, Arlington
Birch & Barley, DC
Black Market Bistro, Garrett Park
Cafe du Parc, DC
Evo Bistro, McLean
Jackie's, Silver Spring
Masala Art, DC
Palena Cafe, DC
Poste Brasserie, DC
Sabai Sabai Simply Thai, Germantown
Taqueria La Placita, Riverdale
Yamas Mediterranean Grill, Bethesda
Not in the sense you may be thinking, no. Not a pig's head on a plate a la a pig roast or something like that, no.
It's meat scooped from the head — often some of the most flavorful meat to be found on an animal; or fish — fish cheeks are wonderful, for instance. The meat is then usually put in the service of a terrine of some sort, as is the case here, with this dish at Obelisk. Then, almost always, this intensely rich, intensely piggy concoction is flanked by a host of pickled accompaniments.
It's this sort of push-pull that keeps you from feeling as though you've just ingested a plate of pig innards.
You want to know one test of a good chef? A good chef can make a terrine of pig head seem almost as light and refreshing as a summer salad.
Here's the list, by the way — our picks for the best dishes of the year.
I see that you only ranked through #40 in your annual 100 best restaurants magazine. What was the reasoning for the switch?
We all just felt that it was time for a change. It's an almost year-long process, and it's good for us to keep things fresh on our end.
It's not an abandoning of the rankings idea; it's a re-thinking/tweaking. We thought that readers would still benefit from seeing how the picture shakes out at the top.
Just as an aside — we, here, on this end have done rankings well, well past the Top 40, but you're not going to squeeze that information out of us!
Todd, re: fondue …
We also often do foudue for NYE. I lived in France for most of my twenties, some of the time in the Alps region where I ate many pots of fondue and raclette as well.
Are you sure you aren't confusing fondue bourguignonne with fondue chinoise? The former is made with oil and the later broth so I wouldn't really say the meat is boiled but fried. And it's delicious, even without the yummy homemade mayo-based sauces. Maybe you just haven't had it properly prepared?
I've eaten both styles.
"Boiled" might not have been the best descriptor, but I don't think "fried" is, either. I find the meat pulled from the oil to be — well, oily … and the meat pulled from the broth to be — I don't know what you'd call it. Not fried. Not boiled. Dully cooked?
As I said, I much, much prefer a cheese fondue and a chocolate fondue. I see them as really fantastic ways of showcasing their main ingredient.
Mediocre/bad how? Service? Pacing? Food? Value?
I think Evo has a lot going for it. The chef, Driss Zahidi, does a very good job with his small plates menu. (It's been a while since I've eaten any of the entrees.) Have you had the fried artichokes? Or the croquettas? Both are stellar. The croquettas, in particular, make up one of the best small plates you're going to find in the region. Lightly bound, intensely flavorful, beautifully fried
It's a good destination for sipping, too, although I'm not all that enamored of seeing wine magazine point-scores beside each and every wine-by-the-glass selection. It gives the impression that either the buyer for the restaurant needs that kind of validation, or the diner is unlikely to be moved to part with his money unless he knows he is drinking a 90-plus point wine.
Back to Zahidi for a second … He never attended culinary school, holds a Master's in Physics, and worked for a year as a chemical engineer.
I don't know about all of you, but I like seeing this kind of varied background in a chef. I'm not saying I prefer it to someone who has come up through the ranks and spent his or her entire life in the industry, but just as I think it helps a writer, say, to have done many different kinds of things, I think it gives a chef a different perspective, a different way of seeing what he does, and why he does it.
I find your list for at least the second year in a row, rather short-sighted. How can you possibly justify the Source as one of the best places in town? I find it a little hypocritical of Puck who defines his style using big, bold flavors and then wind up having a bland crispy duck dish, very average shu mai and a combination of sauces for a fried fish which taste very, very unremarkable.
I'll give you Komi as #1 but I really think this derrier kissing you and the other columnists do of big name chefs is a MASSIVE disservice to a rather well-palated group of readers. For instance, you've treated Zentan like the red-headed stepchild that Canada usually is to the US (Puck vs Lee) and the past two times I've been there with big groups, most everything blows The Source out of the water. Are you afraid to draw the ire of the so-called big names?
First of all, what's with the snarky, overheated tone? Are you just trying to make sure I answer you?
I'll say this: the past two times I have been to Zentan, it has not blown The Source out of the water. I like Zentan, and if you have been following these chats for the past month or more, you would have seen that Zentan's sushi bar, which I like a lot, was a fixture on the list at the top every week — TK's 25: Where I'd Spend My Own Money. "Red-headed stepchild?" Hardly.
I can appreciate that you might have had a middling meal at The Source, but I hope you can also appreciate when I say that I don't think that's the norm. And it's not just me saying that. We have a team of reviewers, and that rating and ranking are not just a reflection of one opinion.
Finally, re: this "derriere kissing" you accuse me of. Go back and read everything I've written in the past five years on the subject, and then talk to me. I write as candidly as I can, and as passionately as I can, and I can tell you there are an awful lot of people in this town who would rather I didn't.
Everyone is doing their trend predictions list for next year. So….. what are yours for food/restaurants for 2011? What will we see?
Not a prediction, but I will offer up this neat little tidbit instead:
A restaurant that I am very, very intrigued by will open for business sometime early in 2011.
I am not talking about Enzo Fargione's new restaurant, Elisir, or Fabio Trabocchi's new restaurant, Fiola, or RJ Cooper's new restaurant, Rogue 24.
The reason I am intrigued is not because of the names behind it — although the executive chef's track record is stellar. And the chef's partner has a kind of Midas touch — everything this person touches succeeds.
No, it's the concept that intrigues me most.
The restaurant is going to offer one meal only. No menu; just the entree and a side.
It is also — most intriguing of all — going to offer seconds. Not all-you-can-eat — a second helping.
It will open in DC. Not downtown — in a neighborhood.
And … I have already probably said too much.
But this, to me, is the sleeper pick of the first half of the year.
So what you think about the food critic in LA who got turned away for dinner and busted on the internet. I thought it took guts, personally, for the restaurant to do that, but I also can see where it can be a bad thing for a critic.
Really? Guts? Because I would say it was just the opposite of gutsy — it was gutless.
And juvenile. And vindictive. And smug. And stupid.
The owners of Red Medicine made Irene Virbila wait for 40 minutes, knowing good and well that they were going to refuse to serve her. 40 minutes, while they dithered with finding the proper camera angle to snap her picture. Which they then posted on the restaurant's website for other restaurants to see — as if she were a criminal on the loose in the Wild West.
The restaurant has not only alienated the critic. It has alienated an entire publication.
And all because the restaurant lacks such self-confidence that it cannot bear the thought of being written about by a woman who might be critical.
And what's next? Does Red Medicine refuse to seat Yelpers who write negatively about the restaurant? Or bloggers who are less than enamored of its admittedly inauthentic, let's-just-make-it-up-as-we-go brand of Vietnamese cooking?
I walk into every new restaurant hoping for magic — hoping that all the hard work of the kitchen and the managers and the staff will add up to something that transcends individual effort and becomes a genuine, thrilling experience.
In this case, and I say this with regret but also a feeling of deep conviction: I hope Red Medicine fails.
I just got the 100 Best issue and enjoyed it very much. I noticed that you seem to be giving fewer 3-star and higher ratings than you used to.
Does that denote a real decline in the quality of high-end restaurants in the area, or do you think you have become a tougher grader over time?
It's an interesting question.
I can tell you it wasn't something we were conscious of as we were making our selections and finalizing our ratings and rankings. We view every year as a new year, and we make our assessments according to what we find — or don't find.
I did notice last year that there were a lot more restaurants in the 2 1/2 star range than there had been two, three years earlier. And as you point out, there are not too many restaurants at the very top in our very latest survey.
Why is this? I don't think it has to do with being a tougher grader. I would argue that it's a reflection of what's out there right now. The middle has really improved a great deal in the past five years. There's much more depth than there used to be.
The growth of the city's food scene is really the expansion — explosion? — of the middle class.
The upper registers? Think of it this way: How many truly superlative fine dining restaurants have debuted in the past few years?
Adour has pulled it all together, but it's taken a while. There's The Source, which opened in 2008. And what else?
I ate at Ray's The Steaks on christmas eve and as usual the steak was wonderful!! One of my friends on the ride home said they had spotted a sign or notice about Ray's the Catch, which I guess was suppossed to open this year.
Any news on this new place and when it might be open? Thanks!
I haven't heard anything on this score in a while — anything specific, that is.
When I spoke with Landrum some weeks ago about his coffeehouse concept Ryse — which is coming to Mt. Vernon Square this year, followed by a number of knockoffs in other parts of the city — he was not forthcoming about a timetable for Ray's the Catch.
Nor for Ray's the Glass, another of his anticipated projects.
Clifton, bud — hey, how was your X-mas? …
I don't think that if a review makes you upset, then that automatically means there must be some truth to it. I don't buy that.
I agree with you, though, that the best thing a restaurant can do is to work harder and get better. Don't carp, don't pick nits, don't argue for the next call — just put your head down and work.
But this is the age we live in.
Many, many people believe that it is not just possible, because of the internet, to speak up about a restaurant or a dry cleaner or a CD or a dentist or a book, but that they must make good on this possibility or else somehow squander their full, democratic rights. They are not just attracted to the idea of the last word; they feel entitled to it.
RE: EVO Evo is inconsistent and the food is salty. At least it was when I was there.
Zahidi wasn't there the night we went and the server was all too happy to tell me when he's away the kitchen slacks and they get mounds of complaints.
Can't endorse a place that doesn't hold its standards to the same level just b/c the head honcho takes a night off.
Speaking of salt — I would take what any server tells you with a grain of it.
I haven't seen saltiness and inconsistency; I would say that, like a lot of restaurants with a long and somewhat sprawling list of dishes, there are strong dishes and weak dishes. But I think the strong dishes outnumber the weak dishes. And among the strong dishes, there are some that are formidable. The croquettas that I mentioned, for instance. The artichokes.
Re: the chef taking a night off — many, many restaurants suffer a noticeable drop-off when the boss isn't there on the premises.
It's coming. But not til next month.
If you can't wait that long — I've got a great tip for you … Go out and buy the magazine!
Have a great New Year's Eve, everyone!
Be well, eat well, and let's do it again next week at 11 …
[missing you, TEK … ]