Tuesday, July 12 2011 at 11 AM

Todd Kliman lists some of his favorite dishes from the first half of the summer, names his top five places for raw oysters, and where he likes to get pho in the Eden Center.

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.


   W o r d   o f   M o u t h  . . .
   . . . Some highlights of early summer:

   * The Monday night cafe menu — including fried chicken and potato salad and a Chicago-style Italian beef sandwich with giardinera — at Jackie's, in Silver Spring.
   * Tiradito and alfajores at La Limeña, in Rockville.
   * Bombolini and zuppa inglese at Fiola, in DC.
   * Angel wings at Ruan Thai, in Wheaton
   * Chicken ballotine and almond-dusted Wild King salmon with fig at Palena, in DC.
   * The 15-veggie baked potato at Potato Valley, in Annapolis
   * Crispy rice salad at Bangkok Golden, in Falls Church
   * Bowl of mussels at Ris, in DC
   * Cochinita tacos and tongue-topped sopes at R&R Taqueria, in Elkridge
   * Pasta bolognese at Ardeo+Bardeo, in DC
   * Pork dumplings and dan dan noodles at Mala Tang, in Arlington.
   * "Jersey Shore" pizza (fried calamari, cherry tomato aioli) and chicken thighs in pepperoni sauce at Graffiato, in DC
   * Rabbit-stuffed rabbit with carrot puree at Sidebar, in Silver Spring
   * Asado de tira at Carbon, in Rockville
   * Bowl of miso ramen at Ren's Ramen, in Wheaton
   * Croque madame at Poste Brasserie, in DC
   * Dry-rubbed ribs at KBQ, in Bowie
   * Burger with cave-aged cheddar at Ray's Hell Burger, Arlington
   * Veal bolognese mussels at Brasserie Beck, in DC
   * Curry puffs and red curry pork at Kao Thai, in Silver Spring
   * Ensalada Caribeña (shrimp, papaya, avocado, cilantro, tomato, red onion, toasted coconut) at La Caraqueña, in Falls Church
   * Pinxos and slushitos at Estadio, in DC
   * Lamb tibs at Ethiopic, in DC
   * Lobster roll and clam strips at Freddy's Lobster + Clams, in Bethesda


So I just spent a few minutes on Open Table trying to make a reservation for Graffiato. Unless I want to go at 5 PM on a Monday, there are literally no availability for about a month. Is it that "hot" already? Or do they hold a percent of tables for walk ins (my hope)? Any other early thoughts on the place?

According to their PR flak, they do hold a portion of their tables for walk-in.

This is a tactic employed by a lot of restaurants, to not list everything on Open Table that's actually available. Makes the place seem like an impossible reservation to come by, which, the restaurant hopes, makes people slaver after it that much more.

It's a Yogi-ism: Everybody wants to go there. It's impossible to get in.

You asked for my early thoughts. You can read some of them here.

New York, NY
I'm staying in College Park overnight for a conference. Any lunch or dinner recommendations that are walkable from the University of MD?

I'm glad you found your way to the chat.

It's an area I know well, since I live five minutes away. I've got a few recommendations for you … One is Food Factory, just north from campus and on the other side of Rte. 1. Terrible name, yes, but the food is the exact opposite of everything that "factory" connotes. It's an Afghan kabob house. Get the bone-in chicken kabob with rice and naan. (Ignore the small buffet.)

You order at the counter, but it's a 15-20 minute wait for the marinated, skewered chicken to cook on the charcoal grill. It's worth it. (Bring a book.)

You can also hit the new Ledo Restaurant, which is famous for its pizza. (It's just south of campus, on the other side of Rte. 1) Not at all like anything you're used to in New York. It's rectangular, for one thing, the sauce is more sweet than zesty, the cheese is smoked provolone rather than mozzarella, and the crust has a biscuity quality. It takes some getting used to if you're not a local, but it's a good pie. … Ask them to go light on the cheese.

Hope that helps. I'll be interested in hearing how things turned out. Drop me a note on here, okay? …


U Street

Just wanted to share my recent experience at BlueGrass Tavern in Baltimore, which has appeared on your "Where I'd Spend My Own Money" list in the past.

I travel in/out of BWI a lot and am always looking for a good place to eat after a long flight. This place was just terrific—great burgers, juicy fried chicken, and a deliciously seared chicken liver pate that I'm still dreaming about.

Interestingly, the server took a long time to bring out the main entree, and when we inquired politely about it, she apologized profusely and comped us a round of drinks. She didn't have to do that (we weren't really in a rush), but really shows how great the service is there.

I'm glad to hear that worked out so well!

It's a place I enjoy hitting. And I haven't seen that side of the service — no slip-ups that were then grandly corrected — but I think it's a well-run place. And your story says a lot.

For those who don't know the place, Bluegrass Tavern is among the more accessible restaurants in Baltimore for Washingtonians headed north. It's located near the southern entrance to the city, not far from the stadiums.

Alexandria, VA
Top five favorite places to get oysters in DC/VA?

My top 5, at the moment. And in no particular order:

* Old Ebbitt Grill, DC

* Hank's Oyster Bar, DC and Alexandria

* Johnny's Half Shell, DC

* Kinkead's, DC

* Central Michel Richard, DC

Union Station
Todd, Going to Eden Center for the first time tonight, looking for pho. Where can I get the best bowl there?

I really like the pho at Pho Xe Lua.

Really rich, really aromatic. 

Shaw DC

Good Morning Todd,

I am starting on my DC Farewell Tour this week since I will be moving to Dallas at the end of August. I had planned to ask what you would eat if you were leaving the area, but I see with your summer highlights that you beat me to the punch! Care to add anything else to the list? I have Kushi and Graffiato at the top of my current list since I haven't been to either yet.

Recommendations on doing a last hurrah at a vineyard and making an overnight (hopefully romantic) stay?

Also, any special gems that you or fellow chatters can lead me to in Dallas? I'm sure Austin would make a more interesting discussion, but no such luck for me. Thanks and I look forward to following the chats from afar!

You're leaving us, Shaw?

I'm gonna miss you … I hope you'll keep in touch with us via the chat, and I hope that Dallas works out for you …

If I were doing a vineyard trip, I'd do it at Barboursville, just northeast of Charlottesville. Beautiful grounds, and the wines are expressive and excellent, too.

I'd try to hit Palena Cafe, too, in addition to Kushi and Graffiato. A revamped and expanded menu over what you might have eaten at the previous incarnation of the cafe. Terrific.

I also might make an effort to get out to Mala Tang for small plates and a hot pot, since you're not going to find much like it in Dallas.

As for Dallas recs, I'm afraid I can't help much. Been a while since I've been out there … Anyone?


College Park, MD

My husband and I can never agree–which taqueria is the best on/around Kenilworth Ave? We work near-by so they are regular lunch stops for us.

Any thing else good in CP?

At the moment, I think the best is Taqueria La Placita.

But it's not a place for delicate sensibilities, as evidenced by the display of mounted deer heads and such taco fillings as pig lips, pig ears, and tripe. I love it, though I'm more an al pastor man myself. Al pastor and pork leg are my favorites. Fantastic. And I love the tableside toppings, which include pickled onions.

In CP?

As I mentioned above, I like Food Factory and I've got a soft spot for the pies at the new Ledo Restaurant, the original (recently moved from Adelphi).

Jason's Deli is best for its salad bar; don't miss the paprika-y hummus. Ten Ren's Tea Time is MSG-central, but good bubble teas and some decent noodle dishes. Marathon Deli for gyros. 

There's a new Indian-Chinese place called Asian Fusion that I'm eager to get to — it's owned by Masala Country, a tasty fast-food Indian and Indian-Chinese spot in Centreville.

And coming in late summer — and potentially a real coup for the area: Fishnet, in Berwyn, the creation of the former GM from Corduroy, Ferhat Yalcin. Serving grilled fish and fried fish.

Falls Church
In Dallas, check out the Angry Dog – it's a dive, a joint, a place with staff who have been there forever, a chicken fried steak that'll make you swoon, a burger you'll crave after the bars closed and "house rules" that make going there solo as comfortable as hanging out at a friend's place (with better beer choices).

Sounds great!

I love a good chicken fried steak. And I hate a bad chicken fried steak. And most are just not worth the calories. But some — some you find yourself breaking all pledges for, willingly. You surrender to it …

Thanks for passing on the tip …

Reston, VA

In keeping with the Graffiato theme, my dining partner and I had the 5pm reservation this past Friday (was pushed back to 530 by a helpful staff), and it in no way detracted from the experience.

The place was reasonably crowded and certainly filled up as the meal went on, but we were still able to converse relatively easily and the service didn't suffer any real slow down.

As for the food itself, it really was very very good. The chicken thighs were as good as advertised (the crisp really is impressive), some decent cocktails, but the highlight for us had to be the pastas. The sweet corn agnolotti was so good that we nearly had another plate in lieu of dessert.

Speaking of, this is one of the little things that Graffiato does that I love, the whole "small pasta" thing so you're able to sample a bunch of pasta dishes without eating 10k calories.

Also, and I don't know why more places don't do this, every wine on the list was available by the glass, which I have to admit I'm a sucker for as it doesn't limit you to a choice of 2 whites and 3 reds like so many places in town. All in all, a great experience and I look forward to returning.

I'm with you — I also love that every wine is also available by the glass. To be given such a wide range of styles, tastes, prices … it's very appealing.

It means you're not locked in as much as you might be otherwise when it comes to pairing dishes.

It really makes a lot of sense for a place like this, with a very eclectic menu that has some aggressively assertive things, like chicken thighs in pepperoni sauce, and some more delicate and subtle, like the salads.

As for the half-price pasta option … a number of Italian restaurants do this. If the menu doesn't indicate it's a possibility, that doesn't necessarily mean it's not. Always remember to ask the waiter or waitress whether a pasta dish can be halved. Many spots will accommodate a request like this.

Potomac MD

Hi Todd,

Just got back from a 4 month trip to "all over India". I sincerely recommend that you make a visit to the subcontinent. 3 weeks would be less 🙁

The country has transformed in just three years, great restaurants in the metro cities but my weakness is to hit all the out of the way Dhabas – road side truck stop eateries. Luckily my system can still handle it.

I have my go to list for the next few weeks: Komi, Passage to India, Dukem, Bibiana, Zaytinya and …….so many more. Glad to be back.

What a great-sounding trip!

May I tweak your go-to list? Ethiopic for Dukem (best tibs I've ever had), Fiola and Graffiato for Bibiana. … And Passage to India? Really? After four months in India? If I were you, I'd go the opposite direction of curries, etc. and hit Kushi for excellent sushi and small plates.

Welcome back …

Falls Church

Stopped by Toki Underground last week for a quick bite before catching a show at Atlas and was pleasantly surprised by unreasonably good dumplings (pork, pan-fried) and noodles in a broth that was much better than it needed to be.

Pleasant efficient service and an interesting assortment of drinks (including an apple soda that puts martinelli's to shame) means we'll be back. In the event we can't face up to 395, any suggestions for similar places on the VA side of the river?

I like that — "unreasonably good."

There's really nothing that I can think of on the Virginia side that's like it. Or close to it. Sorry. In Maryland, there's the excellent Ren's Ramen, in Wheaton, and if you ask me, it's very much worth a 35-minute drive. I'm still thinking about the marvelous bowl of miso ramen I had a few weeks ago.

Dupont Circle


Followed the chat last week where you stated that Bryan Voltaggio's new venture will draw folks up from the city. With Eataly coming in, do you still this this is the case? Do you think it will affect either his business or his plans to open North Market Kitchen in the first place?

It might. 

I'm not privy to what's going on in his circle, but if I were going to be opening the kind of place North Market Kitchen hopes to be,  I think that at the very least I would be rethinking my approach. If for no other reason than to position myself as more distinct and different from a name like Mario Batali.

Clifton, Va
For Shaw I would suggest taking a look at the Homestead and Greenbrier both are mid Atlantic insitutions and offer a glimpse into the past. if you golf even better but both offer other activities and great food.
Thanks, hoss …
Washington, DC

I'm originally from New Jersey, and for years I've wondered why it is so hard to find a really good bagel here in DC. (I admit that there are some decent bagel places, but none really excellent.)

An article in Slate recently debunked the myth that the water in the New York area is what makes the bagels better there; rather, it's the cooking technique. That being the case, what is stopping some enterprising soul from opening a place here that ferments the dough and bakes the bagels the right way?

I always thought the water angle was silly.

I don't even think it comes down to the techniques they supposedly use.

Keep in mind, not all bagels in NY are good. The best are great. There're a lot of mediocre bagels there. There are just many more bagels to choose from.

So part of it is simply volume.

The other part of it, I believe, is culture. They have a bagel culture. We don't.

By that I mean, there are people there who know what bagels are supposed to be. They know the texture it's supposed to be. The exterior. The size. They've grown up eating them, and they've eaten them every day for decades and decades. They're not just enthusiastic about bagels, they're deeply knowledgeable. And because of this, they can keep the places honest — keep them on their toes all the time. They function, in a sense, as correctives.

It's also, I think, why you can have someone from NY come down and make NY style pizza here, and it will never be quite as good. At first, perhaps. For a year, maybe. And then eventually it will lose its way, because there isn't that passionately knowledgeable, proprietary audience to keep it honest.

It's what happens with a lot of food when it migrates from the source.

Why do you think Cajun and Creole food outside of Louisiana is seldom as good as it is in bayou country? You can import the recipes, the techniques, the equipment. What you can't import, is the audience. …

I'm off to lunch now …

Thanks again, everyone, for all the good questions and ruminations … 

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















[missing you, TEK … ]