Tuesday, February 22 2011 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 The Wild Vine, a literary exploration of two entwined mysteries: an obscure grape that rose to prominence, only to disappear, and its biggest present-day champion, a dot-com-millionaire-turned-vintner on an obsessive quest to restore the legend of an antebellum southern doctor.

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   W o r d   o f   M o u t h   . . .
   
   … Last week I wrote about Bangkok Golden, in Falls Church, and its terrific menu of Lao specialties — the only such expression of the cuisine in the area. This week I thought I'd fill you all in on a few details of my recent meal at the original Bangkok Golden, in Prince George's County (9503 Livingston Rd., Fort Washington; 301-248-8810). (Both restaurants are owned by the Jack-Sao family.)
   There's no crispy rice salad or koi to be found here, and the three-page menu of Thai dishes turns up little in the way of surprises — it reads like the vast majority of Thai restaurants in the area. But though Bangkok Golden lacks novelty, it does not lack quality.
   This is above-average Thai cooking, served up in a more intimate, sumptuous setting than that of its Falls Church sister.
   Three of us dove into eight dishes, including a fabulous glass noodle salad with warm baby shrimp that a smart waiter directed us to. Nothing else was quite so memorable, but there were no duds, either. Several dishes I'd gladly return for: crunchy filets of salmon in a light brown sauce with green and red peppers; a tangy, crunchy papaya salad; and a pork kaprow noteworthy for its thin, tender strips of meat and good, firm green beans. …

  … We've all had the experience: You crack open the menu at a new restaurant and you can't make up your mind what to order, it all looks so good. Then the food hits the table, and what was beautiful to behold on the printed page turns out to be insipid on the plate. You feel betrayed even before the meal's half over.
   Then there's the meal that proceeds from the opposite set of expectations, like my recent dinner at the new Atlas Room (1015 H Street NE; 202-388-4020): Nothing looks especially appealing, and everything turns out to be delicious. You don't just feel good about dinner; you feel immediately more optimistic and hopeful about human nature.
   A seafood stew came with perfectly cooked shellfish and a delicate, marjoram-flavored cream broth. A flatbread with butternut squash, pulled pork and goat cheese sounded dull but was exceptional, each element distinct and cleanly handled. A roast chicken was perfectly cooked. I braced myself for an oversauced, salty short rib ravioli, with either undercooked or hard, overcooked pillows of pasta; but the dish couldn't have been more carefully executed.
   Add in a good cocktail menu, a setting that suggests a hipster's version of a supper club, intimate and stylish, and informed, attentive service, and you have the first restaurant on H St. that merits serious attention. …

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Washington, DC

I felt compelled to write and agree with your assessment recently of local restaurantes and their pushy behavior when it comes to drinks. It seems to be an epidemic lately in the city that for me culminated in a horrible experience at Estadio.

As my fiance and I parked the car, we remarked that we were lucky, there were at least 3 tables of 4 that were completely open, there were several seats open around the kitchen, and there were 2 tables of 2 available and set. When we were told that there would be a 30-45 minute wait for our party of 2, we were asked to please move to the bar area. There were several groups waiting in the bar of various sizes, all seemingly having been told about the same wait time.

As we stood there watching these tables sit empty, we were offered the opportunity several times to try a cocktail. Finally, when we inquired about the open seats, we were told that they were "reserved". However, having been a patron of this restaurant many times before, I knew (as it states on the website as well) that there are no reservations available after 6pm.

Finally, after 25 minutes (and a glass of wine of course) we were escorted to a 2-top that had been completely vacant since we came in. I was so upset that of course I did not enjoy my meal, and I have a hard time imagining enjoying a meal there again. Please be honest with your customers and allow them to make their decisions on whether or not to order from your bar.

Can anyone comment on this? Is the policy no reservations for under a certain number of people, but reservations for over-6?

This is a different sort of complaint from the one I had — you're really responding to a bad experience at a popular restaurant. 

What I'm annoyed by is the constant pushing of drinks when you're not at the bar — when it's a perfectly fine meal, and you're already sitting down. It's gotten worse in the last year or two. 

The pushing of bottled water, the pushing of cocktails, the pushing of wine, the pushing of a second glass of wine before the first one has been drained …

“Monday Blues,” Ray’s: The Steaks

Good Morning Todd!

Your insinuation of some nefarious, Mabusian plot on our part was equally humorous and alarming. However, to address your reader's concerns, we verbally offer the "Monday Blues" special on the "wood" (or "walk-in") side at Ray's: The Steaks for just the reason that your reader mentioned–to provide our neighbors a fun, affordable, and spontaneous alternative to moping around the house on a Monday and instead have a great meal out at a ridiculous price to get the week started right. Availability is limited and the items offered may change while they last.

While not verbally offered on the "carpet" (or "reservation") side, it is available upon request while supplies last. A server on the carpet side may understandably be less aware as to the availability or selection at any given moment of the night. I have reinforced with all of our staff to respond with an immediate response as to the availability and a more rapid response as to the selection regardless of time or location throughout the entire restaurant.

A $15, two-course steak dinner is certainly not intended to engender frustration or animosity, but rather it is offered as a "Welcome!" and a "Thank you!" to our neighbors.

My apologies to your reader for his (or her) frustration, and he/she has my promise that we will do better.

As a side note, despite what your readers might assume by us offering such a ridiculous deal, even on a Monday we do fill up and therefore do recommend a call ahead as there is most usually a wait at peak times for a table. Thanks for hearing me out and giving me an opportunity to clear things up for your reader.

-Michael Landrum, Proprietor Ray's: The Steaks

Thanks, Michael.

And just to clear up things for you: I wasn't insinuating anything, just having some good, clean, Hellerian fun.

 

Gaithersburg, Md

Hi Todd,

Went to Black Market Bistro on Friday evening and had Addie's mussels as an app. I kept hearing all these great things about them. They were very good…but in my mind they didn't TOUCH the PEI mussels from Liberty Tavern–the ones in the smoked tomato broth.

In fact NO mussels in the area touch them. Have you had them? Why don't they get more pub?

I've had them; they're good.

But I wouldn't say NO mussels in the area touch them. In fact, I think the best pot of mussels you're going to find is the one at Cafe du Parc (they're steamed in a white wine and garlic broth). That's the one that no one can touch.

Bethesda, MD

Re: Pushing drinks.

Like so much in life, it ain't what you do, but how you do it.

It almost seems like the patrons who were bothered received some canned methodology. It is really quite easy to inquire if another drink is wanted. I am sure we have all had a simple "Would you care for another?" or something similar, and not been put out. In fact, the house is reducing it's drink sales by a significant percentage by not training servers to ask if a refill is desired. If they are in some heavy handed technique mode, sure they can be annoying, while the task can be just as ably accomplished with grace and style.

I mostly agree with you.

But a number of friends of mine find the "would you care for another?" line to be pushy, too.

It's not aggressive behavior, I'll grant you, but it can be annoying if you think it's up to you to determine whether you want another or not.

Bethesda MD

Having read glowing reviews by you and others for the last few years, I was very excited when my husband told me that he had managed to get a reservation at Komi for our anniversary. What a huge and expensive disappointment!

Although I freely admit that most of the small plates were quite delicious, I was completely underwhelmed by the enormous slab of stringy goat meat that was put before us as the main course. My disappointment turned to envy when I saw the waitress bringing large plates of good looking fish and a different roast meat (not goat) to other diners.

When we asked her why some tables were being served fish or other meat, she responded wide-eyed, "Well, you could have had fish or other meat if you had asked for it."

But, as you are aware, unlike most restaurants, Komi does not ask diners to select items from a menu. Instead, after we first sat down and explained to the waitress that this was our first visit to Komi, we were told that the wait staff would "take care of everything," and were asked simply whether we had any "food preferences." We took that to mean did we we have any allergies, did we avoid pork, were we vegetarians, etc. I know this may sound strange, but it never dawned on us that we actually had a choice of main course, having just consumed about a dozen small dishes that were brought to our table without our input .

Our temerity in asking about the other main courses seemed to send our waitress into near shock, as if she were serving aliens having their first restaurant encounter. This is not how I want to feel when I am forking over hundreds of dollars for a single night out. She offered an almost hostile apology, made worse by brusque repetition. Needless to say, our next special outing will be to a restaurant that genuinely welcomes first time customers with generosity, rather than condescension and false hospitality.

Up until your final paragraph, I was nodding along in agreement with you.

I think Komi ought to consider wording its question differently; "food preferences," I think, is generally going to be taken to mean: Are you a vegan? A vegetarian? Are you lactose intolerant? Are you celiac? Can you tolerate gluten? Etc., etc. I don't think, now that you bring it up, that most people are going to understand that to mean something like: I can eat meat, but I prefer to eat fish if given the choice, or — I prefer to eat fish if a kitchen really knows how to prepare it.

I think the restaurant sort of depends, at this point, on diners being in the know about it, but would anything essential be lost — any surprise, any mystery — by briefing diners on the direction of the meal and cluing them in as to the final destination?

I don't think so.

To say that the restaurant is condescending, however, is going too far. I wasn't there that night, but I've been to Komi many times over the years, and that's about the last word I'd ever use to characterize the excellent staff there.

Cranky Dispatches from the Restaurant Refugee

I recently found myself sitting in Black Fox, the newish cocktail lounge in Dupont Circle – I had been meaning to try it and finally passed by on a night when I had no reason not to tuck into the shotgun bar for a cocktail.

They offer live music every evening and it ranges from straight-ahead jazz to modern funk. That particular evening a jazz quartet was playing. Whether they were good or bad is immaterial (decent if you're curious) but seeing them reminded me of Miles Davis' habit of turning his back to his audience.

Musicians tell me that when the [INSERT words that convey how inadequate words are to describe true genius] would play an entire concert without regard for the people who came to see him that he was “playing for himself not the crowd.” This band was doing essentially the same thing – jamming at a volume that precluded any form of civilized conversation even though the assembled masses were in attendance for conversation.

“RR, what does this have to do with food or restaurants?” I can hear you asking. I had the same sense the following evening when I had an appetizer at a big deal NYC eatery (having only dined there once I prefer not to name names.) The food was a tower to the chef's ego… both of which needed to be knocked down a peg – one to allow consumption and the other just cuz. I am a huge fan of “pretty” food, however, I believe that one ought to cook for the soul, the palate, and the eye – and in that order. When there is form without function, a chef has created a sculpture not food. I really thought that unfortunate trend had died the ignoble death it deserved.

****

If I had a list of Restaurants-I-Really-Want-to-Like-but-Cannot, then surely Cafe L'Enfant would be at the top. Their primary foul is the same charge the nuns leveled against me in grade school – they keep wasting their potential.

The space is undeniably charming with its exposed brick, tables small enough to evoke a Parisian cafe but not so small that they inflame sensibilities, and an intimacy that instantly conjures thoughts of young lovers holding hands. All of that good will and charisma is shot to hell the second food lands on the table.

The menu is simultaneously overly ambitious and absent aspiration with too many items and uninspired interpretations of French classics. On separate visits, the cooks used salt as a crutch in the Beef Bourguignon and then forgot it entirely the next time. It is damn near impossible to wreck mussels when cooking them in white wine, butter and sundry accents. Somehow, they accomplish that dubious feat and charge an absurd premium for the privilege – really, $17 for a bowl of mussels? That rivals Brasserie Beck in the usurious category.

There is no virtue in variety when options range from pedestrian to I-almost-feel-OK-about-paying-for-that. I know that their kitchen is impossibly small relative to the number of seats they are asked to serve. However, there are too many examples of teeny kitchens producing tremendously good food for that to be a sufficient excuse.

Cafe L'Enfant will always be a reliable place for a coffee, casual glass of wine, a pint or three of good Belgian beer, or a break-up conversation, however, I would happily prefer a menu with ten good to excellent options than one chock full of calories and cash wasted.

****

Toyota's nascent Scion is an ugly car with loads of personality. The DC restaurant with the same name has the entirely opposite problem.

I was recently forced into visiting this temple of timid flavor, this monument to mediocrity through the vagaries of online dating. When the wine list is predominantly populated with supermarket specials (Safeway not Wholefoods,) I am immediately inclined to dismiss a place as a lightweight.

When that first impression is followed by an unimaginative and wholly dated menu and further enhanced by a lifeless burger, limp and cold fries, it makes me wonder if this place has a water or sky view that I am somehow missing… and not for nothing, but among the dishes by which I will evaluate a restaurant, Braised Short Ribs is near the top. Scion's version was dry and the sauce was read-a-newspaper-through-it thin.

But the place is pretty.

Cranky or cheery or something in between, it's always good to hear from you, RR.

Fun, informative reading, as always.

I hope your next string of meals turns out a whole lot better …

DC, DC
Re: Atlas Room and your comment "and you have the first restaurant on H St. that merits serious attention." My last 2 trips to Atlas Room have had some service issues (a pushy/weird/somewhat obnoxious waiter and a clueless hostess), so in my mind the jury is still out. Does Ethiopic not merit the same attention, if not more so? Also, how about Granville Moore's when it first opened (I understand it has slipped)? I guess I'm trying to understand Atlas Room in comparison.

I think Ethiopic is excellent — and after all, the restaurant made the 100 Best this year. I think they're doing a terrific job over there.

And as I've said many, many times, I think the ethnic dining scene is one of the very best reasons to be exciting about eating in this area.

But I think it's only fair to say that what a place like Atlas Room is doing — or doing at its best — is at a different level. The atmosphere, the drinks, the quality of ingredients, the care in the saucing, etc.

You're right, though, and I'm glad you wrote in. Of all people, I should have been more careful in how I used that phrase, "serious restaurant."

DC-West End

I need suggestions for a late Monday afternoon (about 3:00) celebratory lunch. After 25 years together, my partner and I are having a civil ceremony to make it legal.

We are looking for somewhere the two of us can have a light meal after the ceremony. So many of the nicer restaurants close between lunch and dinner hours. Any suggestions would be appreciated, but somewhere between Judiciary Square and West End would be perfect.

We would like to keep it under $120 with a couple of glasses of wine. Thanks.

First of all, congratulations! I think 25 years is something to celebrate, regardless — ceremony or not.

My restaurant pick would be RIS, in the West End, which serves lunch from 11:30 until 5:30. It should deliver exactly what you're looking for, along with a bit of comfort and pampering.

If you do go, please drop back on and grace us with a quick report, ok? And enjoy yourselves!

Estadio

Hi Todd –

Mark Kuller, owner of Estadio lurking here. I was dismayed to read about your first chatter's experience at Estadio.

Our reservations policy is that we accept reservations up until 6 PM for any size party and, in addition, for up to 2 large parties (6 or more) after 8PM. I assure the chatter that we have no policy of trying to get you to buy drinks at the bar before being seated. Our goal is to provide a great dining experience to as many patrons as possible.

Having tables sitting idle while customers wait, with or without drinks, runs directly in the face of that goal. Think about it, the income generated on a couple glasses of wine hardly compensates for the lost revenue of a table sitting empty for 25 minutes. We want to seat you as soon as humanly possible and it matters not to us if, while you wait, you choose to stroll the neighborhood, or hang at the bar.

If you were upset by being offered beverages by the bartender while you waited by the bar I apologize. That is their job and I'm more used to hearing complaints from people who do not receive such attention.

But again, I assure you this is not part of part of some plan or plot sell more booze. We specifically train our staff – bar and waitstaff – NOT to upsell, or push product, as it is a particular pet peeve of mine as well. As for the empty tables, I am completely befuddled.

I am at the restaurant on most nights and it is extraordinarily rare, other than very early in the evening, to see the number of vacancies you observed.

I can only surmise that the hostesses were trying to locate parties who had checked in earlier, or were saving the tables to accommodate an expected lager party with a reservation.

In any case, something obviously was amiss and I deeply regret that it ruined your dining experience. I sincerely hope you will give us an opportunity to demonstrate that it was an unfortunate and unintended aberration.

Thanks for chiming in, Mark.
DC

Todd, as a server (who is not trying to be pushy and does not work for a company that encourages upselling) I have to say I think an ounce of wine is a good time to check in on table.

That is 1-2 sips at most left, on a busy night it could take 5-10 minutes to get the order in, picked up from the bar, and back to your table.

I'm not trying to be pushy, I am trying to make sure you aren't sitting there waiting for your wine to finish your meal. Often people seem to get annoyed when they are waiting for drinks, just trying to provide a seamless experience. Just another opinion.

I hear you, and you explain yourself well.

This all sounds reasonable to me. 

I think my friends would probably reply that they're conditioned by context. That is, so many places are so often upselling and pushing and checking in all the time, that even a reasonable request, innocently lobbed, begins to look suspect.

Clifton, VA
Its National Margarita Day. Where can I find the best margarita on the rocks. Dont want a slurpee or something made with bar mix but a margarita on the rocks with freshly squeezed lime juice. Real margaritas are never frozen and you dont need a frozen concoction maker.
They're all in DC, my picks — Oyamel, Masa 14 and Poste. I've had great ones at all three.
Washington, DC
I am a transplant from the Southwest and wondering where to find the best huevos rancheros in DC?

I like the ones at El Tapatio and at La Sirenita, both in the Little Mexico section of Bladensburg.

I wish more places, including the trendy Mexican places, served this dish, because it's so simple and (when it's good) so rewarding.

Courthouse, VA

Sad to report had a very disappointing meal recently at Chez Manelle in Arlington. Long waits to order, super long waits to receive food. They were out of the baba ganoush and the keftaji (spelling?) entree that my husband tried to order.

At the waitress' suggestion, we ordered a yogurt dip with feta and the daily special – "beef and bean" stew – instead. The dip was good but not great, the pita bread tasted store-bought and was dry, possibly stale. When his beef and bean stew arrived, it was room temperature ranging to cold, and the large chunk of meat in the middle was almost certainly not beef. It took my food (beef shwarma) so long after that, I had to ask for the check and boxes immediately when it finally arrived at the table, because I had to get back to work. My beef shwarma was overcooked when it finally arrived, and our side of French fries – which arrived only after we requested the check – was undercooked.

The table next to us (the only other patrons there for lunch – five customers total, including us) also complained about the temperature of their food (everything they received was cold). The restaurant also felt rather overheated.

Granted, the brika dannouni stuffed savory pastry we ordered was delicious – though it lacked the liquid egg yolk in the middle that had been present other times we ordered the appetizer. They did keep our water glasses filled. The seasoning on everything was spot on, and the beans in my husband's beef and bean stew were creamy and delicious – but other than that, the long waits, being out of things, food served overcooked and underdone and cold – all in all, very disappointing.

I've been to Chez Manelle twice before, once with my husband and once with coworkers, and both times we loved it, the service was fantastic and all the food was delicious. Have you noticed a decline here? What's your rule for giving small, ethnic-type places another chance after a bad meal?

I hadn't noticed a decline, no.

I do know that ever since we put them on the Cheap Eats list, it's been a different sort of experience, more crowded, busier, etc.

I'll be on the look-out for signs of slippage, but so far, at least, my meals here have all been good ones.

You ask a really good question about second chances for small ethnic spots. I don't have a rule, and have never thought of it in this way before. I will say, though, that I am more sad and disappointed when I see evidence of decline in a mom n pop than I am when a deeper-pocketed, high-minded sort of place that was previously good goes downhill — and particularly when that mom n pop, like Chez Manelle, fills a niche (there's no other Tunisian restaurant in the area).

If I had a bad experience, I'd go again in a few weeks or a couple of months, hoping that the previous meal was the aberration. If the place distinguished itself over a period of years, I might even give it two more chances.

Food coming out cold, dishes being out of action, long waits for things — these, to me, sound like problems of a small operation that hasn't quite adjusted to its new status, which happens a lot when mom n pops are suddenly flooded ith new customers. 

Is the food still good? That's the main thing. And aside from a couple of slip-ups, it sounds as though the answer is yes. 

Shaw DC

Todd,

I had an odd experience last week at Charlie Palmer's. While my guests and I were still eating out entrees and the main dining room pretty full, the staff began clearing out the now empty private dining space. I don't mean they were clearing dishes, I mean they rolled out the tables on their sides and noisily reset these tables that hold 8-10 people. I felt like I was the last straggler at some tacky reunion hall or something.

Did management really need those tables to be reset in the dining room at 9:20 on a weeknight? Additionally, the service was completely scattered and I couldn't shake anyone down to order another bottle of wine, until, laughibly the sommelier asked us if we wanted another bottle just before the check was set on the table.

But the food was terrific. Butternut squash soup and venison loin were both heavenly.

Ooof, what a night. All that was missing was a waitress coming by to spray a nearby table with a bottle of Windex.

Do places think people won't notice? Won't complain?

Re: offering/pushing drinks

Todd,

Your comment about how you have some friends who find "Would you care for another drink?" pushy was exactly what I was thinking about…it could be that even a simple question could be considered intrusive, depending upon who was receiving that question.

Sometimes, I think it's a no-win situation for the waitstaff–damned if you do (ask), damned if you don't (ask).

It's true, sometimes you get waitstaff that buzzes around you inquiring, like a pesky mosquito hovers around its succulent meal. If the waiter/waitress is asking because they notice your glass is empty or near-empty, they are doing there job. Noting the table…some people don't ever like to have a dry glass.

Imagine, if I host a dinner for you and I see that a few of my dinner guests have empty wine glasses, for example, and I never offer them more wine. What kind of hostess would you think I am? Would you be offended if I am observant enough to see your glass is empty but do not offer you more, for fear of being intrusive? See what I mean?

I do. It's tricky. It's not clear cut, and it's not easy.

But I would also say that the culture of restaurants at a certain level is, if not pushy, then at least presumptuous.

It's presumed that when you sit down, you'll be ordering an appetizer and an entree both. It's presumed that you won't want to drink putrid tap water — discerning diner that you are. It's presumed that you'll be drinking a wine or a cocktail.

Some places are very chill about this, and you never feel as though you're being directed a certain way. Other places, it's a little stagier, and you're much more aware of a guiding hand. There are a few places where that guiding hand feels obtrusive.

Maybe I'm just your resident alcoholic, but the drinks can't come fast enough for me. Before I'm asked about water or if I've eaten here before, I want my drink order taken. For 3 reasons:

1) Nothing is more relaxing than reading a menu while sipping a drink, taking your time to consider what to eat

2) I feel that it takes much longer than in the past for a drink to arrive after ordering due to servers having to enter the order into a computer instead of interacting directly with a bartender and

3) My partner and I want to have a bottle of wine with dinner. This is tough to do if your opening cocktail arrives with your appetizer. When I'm drinking by the glass, I want an uninterrupted supply.

So please, ask me when there's an ounce left. I can always slow the process down, but speeding it up means flagging down servers and missing out on part of what I enjoy.

See, just what I was saying above — it's tricky.

Thanks for chiming in on the discussion …

What you're describing, here, sounds to me like the kind of meal you have if you go out 1 or 2 times a week — a lingering, blow-off-steam dinner.

But what if you're eating out 4 or 5 times a week? If you're eating out that often, are you going to be drinking half a bottle of wine at each sitting? Are you going to indulge in a couple of cocktails? Are you going to want the full-on experience?

Bethesda

Recently went to Carmine's for the first time. Wow- I really loved this place as did everyone in our rather large party.

It was loud and crowded, but the food was great and our waiter was hilarious. He was of the NY import cranky-waiter variety, very dry wit that at first we were a bit turned off by, but he had us in stiches by mid-meal.

Why don't I hear more about this place? Do you like it? I know it's sort of a chain, but the food was really well executed given the gargantuan portions.

The reason you don't here more about it is that it's a chain, and an import, and among serious foodies, food bloggers and the vast majority of food writers and food critics, these two things give profound pause.

Here's what else gives them pause: Huge portions. Huge portions are unseemly. Quality food is to be portioned judiciously.

More pause-giving: Italian-American food is not cool. It's filling. It's rich. What is cool, is micro-regional Italian food. Backed by a list of housemade cocktails.

Carmine's is what's often referred to by knowledgeable food people as a "guilty pleasure." In my book, though, there's no such thing as a guilty pleasure when it comes to food. Pleasure is pleasure, whether it's a sunken burrito from Tippy's Taco House or a bowl of bouillabaisse from Restaurant Eve.

There are things I don't like about Carmine's, but I think it does what it sets out to do, and it does so with verve and good cheer.

McLean, VA

Good afternoon Todd-

I read many of your chats and often see you giving big recommendations for Poste. I have now been to Poste twice and have had problems both times.

The first time was for brunch and my soft scrambled eggs arrived without anything on them (smoked salmon, caviar, creme fraiche).

I tried it againa few weeks ago for a Saturday lunch. I ordered a prosciutto and manchego cheese sandwich. It arrived with anchovies between the two sandwich halves (and one had been stuck to one half of the sandwiches. When I asked about it, the waitress told me that was a "traditional preparation." Maybe I don't understand traditional preparation but I felt insulted and, had I been allergic, unsafe eating the sandwich.

The situation was only rectified by the waitress removing the sandwich. My dining companion asked for truffled frites and the regular fries were on her plate. When she asked about it, the waitress reached over to retrieve those fries before bringing the others. Please help me understand what I am missing.

I'm not sure I understand why you felt unsafe eating the sandwich with anchovies when you yourself are not allergic — or why you were insulted to find them on your sandwich (or was it that a waitress made you feel belittled?).

And are you saying that the waitress should have left you the regular fries before bringing the truffled fries?

Honestly, I haven't encountered those sorts of problems on my visits — or anything like them. My most recent was within the last month, and I had an excellent meal all-around.

The problem might be the difference between lunch/brunch, when you've recently gone, and dinner, when I've recently gone.

In any case, I'd be interested to hear how the food was on those visits of yours.

Arlington, VA

Took a neighbor to Liberty Tavern for a thank you meal. Had the branzino which was so well balanced with acidity and all around flavor. They had a lot of new items on the menu and the food was very good. I have to give it them- they are one of the most consistent places around.

Had dinner at Jaleo in Bethesda the next night, had excellent tapas- spinach with pine nuts, stellar mushrooms in a garlic lemon butter and quail, off the gluten free menu. I was a little disappointed with the dessert menu while it looked like many items would be gluten free the server said only the sorbets were. I am not sure if he was accurate and the restaurant missed a big opportunity or if he gave me bad information, but it is a shame to do so well for the beginning of the meal and then really go downhill for the ending. Everyone else at the table had dessert, I just wasn't interested in either sorbet flavor they had.

Also took my brother and his wife to Tachibana last night, I have to say this place doesn't get a lot of mention, but the fish was very fresh, and the shabu shabu that came out to the table next to us made me want to change my order!

Thanks for the great reports.

You're right about Tachibana. It's not top-tier, but it's been pretty consistently good for years.

WDC

So glad to hear you enjoyed the Atlas Room. We adore it and thought you would as well.

It's a lovely neighborhood restaurant doing excellent cooking without a lot of pretention or high prices, which is something DC needs much more of. We're lucky to have it just a few blocks away.

No pretension, no high prices — we can definitely use a slew more spots like in the city. And in all quadrants of the city.

I think the question with the Atlas Room is going to be: staying power. Will it still be good in 6 months? In a year? In two years? Granville Moore's also began promisingly. 

The ambitious mid-level restaurant is hard to do well, and hard to maintain. I hope they succeed.

upselling

I have to agree with you in part and disagree in part on this.

I too am annoyed by obvious upselling on water and beverages. For instance, when I was (very) pregnant with my first and at one nice restaurant was asked at least 5 times if I would like a cocktail after repeatedly saying no thank you.

However, as I am no longer pregnant and like to have a drink or wine with my meal, I like it when the waiter asks if I would like another drink when my glass is nearly empty. That way I don't have to wait with an empty glass or try and flag to waiter down at the precise moment that I finish. If I only want one drink, saying no thanks I'm fine is certainly not bothersome. I think there is a pretty obvious line there.

There is.

Again, though — context.

I can understand if, after having been asked what kind of water you'd like in a way that suggests tap is beneath your dignity, and then having been apprised (in fulsome detail) of the excellent housemade cocktails, and THEN, having ordered a single glass of wine (which you are still nursing after half an hour), asked if you'd like another glass — I can understand how that would be annoying.

Since we'll likely still be talking about this next Tuesday, I'd love to hear from more of you about this — in the biz, and not. Feel free to send in your comments or questions early.

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

[missing you, TEK … ]

 

 

 

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