Tuesday, August 23, 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 H E R E   I ‘ M   E A T I N G   N O W  . . .

Sichuan Pavilion
This Rockville restaurant serves up a dazzling demonstration of the range and depth of Szechuan cooking — not merely its scorching heat, but also its great pungency. One of the best Chinese restaurants in the area. Get the flounder with green onions and pickled cabbage — a knockout dish.

Lyon Hall
Many things make this Arlington bistro a place I think about coming back to again and again: stellar service, a good kids’ menu, excellent desserts, a great by-the-glass list, and one of the best hot dogs you’re ever going to find (made from shortrib, and tucked inside a griddled poppyseed bun).

Ardeo+Bardeo
I like the new look — the Cleveland Park restaurant and bar now share the same clattering (and sometimes thunderous) space. I like the new, tap-into-the-Zeitgeist menu of small plates even more. Don’t miss the south-of-the-border chicken soup and the pasta Bolognese. A terrific wine list (with half pours available of many bottles) and terrific desserts are bonuses.

La Limeña
Lately I find myself with inexplicable cravings for Peruvian, and this Rockville restaurant — newly updated, with china and silverware replacing plastic plates and knives — is where I head … for great food (tiradito, ceviche, anticuchos, aji de gallina, alfajores) and great value.

Ruan Thai
Another renovation job — the once-tiny dining room is now a spacious, subtly stylish oasis, thanks to the tearing down of the wall next door and a new design. But the food at this Wheaton restaurant has always been fantastic — easily, a Top 5 destination for Thai in the area. The must-order is the superlative yum watercress salad, a masterpiece of frying.

Red Pearl
It’s worth the hike up to Columbia just for the tea-smoked duck and salt-and-pepper lobster, two of the best dishes I’ve eaten all year. But there’s lots to like up and down the menu’s many pages, including made-to-order dim sum at night — the best in the area right now.

Komi
The best, most sensual, most fully realized restaurant in the area remains Johnny Monis’s place, a sparely appointed East Dupont townhouse with — check it — no menu.

La Caraqueña
From the outside, it looks like a dive — a low-slung cafe fronting a dreary Falls Church motel. But Raul Claros Ugarte’s place is just the sort of gem I always hope an unassuming locale turns out to be. Superb soups, the best saltenas and arepas in the area, good salads, and all of it so attractively presented you might think you were eating in a fashionable bistro.

R&R Taqueria
Best Mexican food in the area, and it’s not even close. And — it’s in a gas station. Worth the drive to Elkridge.

Kushi
I may not be perched on a stool every night at the sushi bar at this Mt. Vernon square restaurant-cum-club, but in my mind I often am. The fanatical commitment to procuring the best, freshest stuff available often means sourcing from Japan (and passing the costs on to us, the paying customers), but it’s worth it for uni served right from the shell or sumptuously rich slices of yellowtail belly.

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Ardeo + Bordeo

I dined at Ardeo + Bordeo (AB) on Friday evening for restaurant week. It was my third time this year dining at AB and I must say it is quickly becoming my favorite Ashok Bajaj restaurant.

The chef showcases seasonal ingredients, and variety of fresh pasta dishes, with a menu that changes with the seasons. I still need to dine at Palena Cafe a few times before crowning AB as my favorite DC neighborhood restaurant.

Love the weekly chat!

Thank you!

And thanks for writing in …

It’s a very exciting place to eat right now — one reason it’s on the list above, as a place I’d drop my own money to dine.

That stretch of Cleveland Park has become a kind of restaurant row of late. Ardeo+Bardeo, Palena and Palena Cafe, Medium Rare, Ripple (with new chef Logan Cox, previously the head man at New Heights), Dino …

Washington DC

Todd,

Hello I wanted to chime in on your server questions these past few weeks. Speaking for some of my restaurant’s managers, I would like to give you our thoughts on how we approach these topics.

Regarding plate clearing, we teach our waiters the classic service techniques…ie: clear everyone’s plates at the same time, when everyone is done eating. Dessert is the only acceptable course that you can technically clear as each individual diner finishes. There are always exceptions…ie: diner pushes plate away, diner stacks plates on table, etc.

Managers must teach one way, and continue to re-enforce those standards on a daily basis. If you or your readers want something different or have certain preference just ask us. We choose to work in restaurants because on some level we enjoy making people happy…or at least trying. There is no way that we can read your mind. If it is really that important to you, call us ahead of time so your preferences can be shared with the team, and you want have to discuss them at the table.

What people want in the servers, as you can see by your chat, is very subjective. Everyone wants different things at different times. I can think of several tables over my career where at a table of 4 each guest wanted a different kind of service. Believe it or not, we try our best to accomodate everybody.

I say again, one person’s idea of perfection is very different from the person sitting on their left and right. “Are you working on that?” is a huge personal pet peeve of mine as well. I prefer, “May I take this for you?”, “Are you still enjoying …?”, or “Are you finished enjoying this?”.

I would appreciate your thoughts on these ideas.

Most importantly, we want our guests to talk to us. Help us make your experience better. We want you to have a great time and share your experience with us and your friends. If we make a mistake, give us the opportunity right then and there to fix it. Please don’t go home angry. You don’t want that and neither do we. If a restaurant makes no attempt to fix your problem then they deserve all the wrath they receive.

I would like to think that most restaurants will at least try and do the right thing for the people who have been kind enough to choose to dine there. I know that at our restaurant there is nothing we wont do to try and make our customers happy.

Thanks for chiming in …

I think you make some very good points, here, particularly in talking about the importance of diners communicating with you and your staff.

I imagine most diners don’t approach a meal that way at all — don’t know that they’re essentially entering into a communication. I would bet that the vast majority of people who go out to eat don’t understand that the staff really, truly wants to hear from them. Probably because, at many restaurants, the staff really, truly does not. There are exceptions, of course, but I wonder whether most diners can tell when a restaurant is interested in that sort of honest response.

Diners? Care to weigh in on this point? …

By the way, I would really like to know — and I’m sure the chatters would like to know, too — the name of the restaurant you’re writing from.

You mentioned “Are you still enjoying … ” as an alternative to “Are you still working on that?” I don’t think it’s much of an improvement, personally. I think what bothers me about it is its presumption — the server assumes the dish is pleasureable — and its coyness — the server is not really asking whether the person is enjoying the dish, but whether he or she can swipe it away.

Downtown, DC

Todd — a couple things.

First, I’d like to mention to you how heartwarming your chats can be sometimes. I don’t follow along but read them the following day when the transcripts are emailed to me but I really look forward to them and they certainly have the capacity to make my day.

I finally figured out what “TEK” was by searching past transcripts and now it touches my heart everytime. I nearly cried when you described your Dad in that post. Now I scroll down just to make sure it’s still there. What a wonderful tribute.

But back to food – thanks for mentioning SUNdeVITCH last week. I went there right after reading your review. Awesome guys and awesome food. Between this place and Seasonal Pantry around the corner and Rogue 24 and the O Street Market being rebuilt (hopefully), the food scene in this little area of Shaw is becoming amazing. Lots of innovation.

I had the Istanbul, which was great except for one thing: cilantro. The menu just said fresh herbs, not cilantro. Given that cilantro is either loved or hated by most people (in fact, it’s genetic whether it tastes pleasant to someone), shouldn’t restaurants be more forthcoming about its presence in food? I remember TenPenn used to throw cilantro in everything without any mention of it on the menu.

You know, they probably should. I’ve never thought about that before, but it really does seem to split the dining electorate right down the middle.

Anyone who has out there reading along right now, even if you have no question to ask — drop a quick note and tell us whether you like or loathe cilantro.

I’m a like. A love, actually.

Michel Richard, interestingly, is a loathe. Hates the stuff.

I’ll be interested in hearing what everyone has to say on the subject …

Finally … thank you so much for your warm and generous words. You made my day.

Todd —

Help me break out of my dining rut! We can 20 somethings looking for a new, perhaps unorthodox dining experience go without paying Komi/Rogue 24/The Source prices?

I’m thinking like under $100 total for two. Is this even possible in DC proper anymore? Most importantly, I’m aiming for outside the Jose Andres box on this one. I always end up there (and it’s always great).

Give the Atlas Room, on H St., a whirl.

Not unorthodox, but it’s good (carefully executed small plates, creative cocktails), and you’ll also probably be able to make it in under budget.

If you go, and I hope you do, drop back on next week and give us a quick report.

Disaster

Good morning Todd,

There’s been a lot of noise this past week about Rogue 24 restaurant, some good, some bad. My wife and I went this past week with great excitement only to regret spending almost $500 and abiding to a contract with ridiculous terms and restrictions that are more suited for an arrogant punk rock star who thinks has already reached platinum status 2 weeks after the opening of his new venture.

Throughout our “Journey” we were clearly unhappy, but did not vocalize any comments or complaints until a suited gentleman approached us and explained that the vision of the Chef is “Sacred” and basically we did not understand it. In few words the message delivered to us was: “How dare you?”

The Chef after been briefed looked our way shaking his head materializing a clear lip readable, but silent F… word! After witnessing the very disappointing experience with the food, the service, and the overall thick feelings of supremacy and arrogance that floats inside those 4 walls I am suddenly taken by deja vu` and remember your preview on his Pop up in New York at LTO a few weeks back I remember, at the time Chef Cooper was so upset about your take that he publicly replied on his Facebook page stating you were wrong, unfair and he suggested you a more suitable way to criticize his concept and food. I am sure plans for a formal review are in the works, but I wonder how fairly will you be approaching someone who has ridiculous you and hit you with a jab in the chin trying to compromise and to cloud your credibility as a food critic without any respect. The same disrespect he showed my wife and I.

What happens if your future review will confirm your initial judgment? Will you have to get a restraining order from this guy? Are you afraid he will knock on your door with a baseball bat? Chase you down the garage on the way to your car? It’s a given at this point we permanently lost any interest whatsoever about the restaurant, the Chef and his Bull “Sacred” vision of supremacy.

At the time we really wished for a special evening, one of those you can remember to be memorable. All I can say is be careful what you wish for!!

Thank you

Ronnie Andrew JR II

Ronnie, thanks for writing in …

You know, honestly — I don’t even know where to start.

A lot of people in the food world were talking about that contract a lot this past week. I know it has been changed since. Here’s my take …

In the world of high-end fine dining, it’s not uncommon now to find restaurants asking for a credit card to hold a reservation. I still dislike this practice. I know that whatever the market bears, etc., etc … I know that at a place with exorbitant costs and slender margins, every table counts and if someone doesn’t show, etc., etc. …

I still dislike it. And I dislike contracts — agreements, whatever — even more.

I get what Rogue 24 is after. I do. In the world of high-end fine-dining, the things it is asking for are not incredibly unreasonable. It is the way it is — or was — asking. My objection is primarily an objection to language. It was filled with presumption. Reading it, I felt that the restaurant was doing me a favor to accommodate me. And a contract is — or ought to be — a two-way street. What guarantees can I, the diner, expect in return for doing everything according to the prescribed rules? Do I have any recourse should the meal be less than mind-blowing? (I’d love, by the way, to see someone legally define the term “mind-blowing.”)

A contract like this, it seems to me, is a step a restaurant takes only after it has perfected its menu and won itself a following. And even then, I would hope that a place would resist that lure. Sitting down to a basket of fresh-baked bread and maybe a pickle plate — this is the way a place endears itself to its audience. A spirit of generosity. The contract works just the opposite.

I’ve been to Rogue 24 once. I’ll refrain from putting down anything definitive for the time being. But I will say that if there are 24 courses on a menu, and if that menu is called, none too subtly, “The Journey,” and if I have had to sign more paperwork to get into that restaurant to sample those 24 courses than I would if I had had repair work done on my car … then I would hope that at least 18 are knock-my-socks off.

Not imaginative, not clever, not fascinating, not entertaining. Knock-my-socks-off.

silver spring, md

Count me among the cilantro lovers.

I considered growing it in my small garden this year until I realized I’d never have enough room to grow enough to keep up with our demand for it.

Demand!

So that’s strong, passionate love right there.

There aren’t really cilantro likers, are there? It’s either love or hate. And nothing in between …

Downtown, DC

For Todd’s enjoyment, in case he missed this:

Why cilantro tastes like soap, for some: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/04/14/dining/14curious.html

I hate it – and so does my identical twin brother.

Yeah, I saw that.

So you’ve got the “hate-gene.” It’s not your fault, it’s just the way you are … ;

Dupont, DC

Todd, what’s your favorite pizza in DC proper?

In DC proper — probably Pete’s A Pizza.

2 Amys, when it’s on, makes a damn fine pie. The Margherita, especially.

So if it were a good day there, I don’t know if I’d be able to choose between the two. Very different pizzas, both delicious.

cilantro

LOVE IT. It can literally make up my mind about ordering a dish or making a new recipe.

Interesting. I’m sometimes the same way.

And yet more reason why it’d be smart for restaurants to highlight its inclusion.

Thanks for chiming in …

silver spring, md

Hi Todd,

I really want to like Kushi. We’d had a previous good experience there and took a group of 10 there on Sunday night. Some of us ordered the RW menu but most ordered a la carte. The difference between the two was shocking.

The RW menu had you order “sets” (either sushi or robata) that all came out on a single-serving plate (for the main course) rather than the “serve it when it’s ready” ethos of the rest of the menu. The kitchen clearly was not organized for this, as two of us that got the robata set had a profoundly different quality of food in front of us than those who ordered the same dishes a la carte.

The epitome of this difference was seen in comparison of the miso salmon. The RW plates had overcooked (“jerky-like” was uttered) fish while the a la carte version was moist and delicious.

Service was also not what we’d expect. At one point my husband uttered the words “I’m still hungry” to the waiter and he just walked away. (Note that our large party was not overstaying our welcome, as we were paid and out of there by 15 minutes before when they’d said they needed the table back).

We did err by not bringing any of this to the manager’s attention at the time. I think we’ll be back, but certainly not during RW.

You bring up something interesting …

Clearly, the restaurant, at some level, wants to participate in the Restaurant Week promotion. And yet, clearly it doesn’t, to judge by its performance (the disorganization, the working from two different scripts, etc.)

I don’t have any problem with blaming Kushi for how it behaved.

I do have a problem, however, with writing a place off because of Restaurant Week.

A restaurant shouldn’t participate if it isn’t going to go all out — or all in, pick your metaphor. I would hope that it would learn from that experience and either embrace the spirit of the week, or decide not to participate. But in most cases, I treat RW as an asterisk of a week. If a place shines, that’s to its great credit. A poor performance from a great performer mostly tells me the place erred in taking part in the promotion.

Cilantro

I would say I’m a liker. It’s good, brightens things up but I can do without. Now basil, I LOVE.

A liker!

Good to know. I consider myself corrected. There IS middle ground, here, apparently …

Komi

Rogue 24 needs to take pointers from Komi. Komi is the perfect example of a restaurant growing and gaining acclaim before jumping to pretention. And even now, Komi is not the least bit pretentious. I’m a young diner, and was served like royalty there. Getting to talk to Chef Johnny Monis at the end was icing on the cake. He has every right to display arrogance, but is the most grounded chef I’ve ever met.

More restaurants around the country could take pointers.

I mean, how refreshing, in a world of endless marketing and promotion, of trend-humping and bandwagoneering, of the ceaseless commodification of everything, to find a place like this in our midst. More than refreshing — affirming.

Frederick, MD

I LOVE cilantro

Thanks …

Another one in the pro-column. The pro’s are far outnumber the con’s …

Washington, Dc

Back about 3 weeks ago I hosted dinner for 8 at one of Dc’s top restaurant’s. I was required to guarantee the reservation which I did with my Amex Black. I called as required to confirm etc. We showed up and the bill was $5K even with tip. There were no problems at dinner,. Food, wine etc were all great. Now I was told if we cancelled we would be charged a fee for lost revenue etc. Well we didnt cancel but 72hrs later that fee along with the $5k both posted to my card. I called Amex to dispute both charges because I was hot and had not gotten any satisfaction from the restaurant when I called asking for an explanation. Amex removed both charges from bill. Restaurant is threatening legal action against me and Amex. I told the chef/owner to bring it. Amex is backing me.

Huh? I don’t understand how you can dispute the bill itself …

Anyway, what a mess …

Clifton, VA

Cilantro in moderation and when appropriate. its not parsley.

Now that’s interesting — I don’t think I’ve ever met someone who would go to bat for parsley like that …

You really like it THAT much, Clifton?

How are you, bud? Quiet day on your end. Only the one question I see in the chat queue, not the usual four or five. You must be tired. Those gun-hating socialists in Maryland working you too hard?

cilantro

I make cilantro pesto and slather it on everything!! grilled cheese w/ cilantro pesto anyone?

As I said — I love the stuff, but that just doesn’t sound appetizing to me. Sorry.

Persuade me.

Christina in NOMA

Until recently, I served and bartended at Bourbon in Glover Park. The service is anything but formal there, but I was still careful not to use the hackneyed “Still working on that?”

I found that “Have you finished?” or “May I take that for you?” got the job done without making anyone’s ears bleed.

It really shouldn’t be that difficult, should it? But I guess cliches die hard.

The thing that everybody does, is very often the thing that everybody does because everybody does it. Make sense? (We’re back to our Yogi-isms … )

Thanks for chiming in on this, as a former (I’m assuming former–?) server …

Well, Clifton…

cilantro is sometimes referred to as chinese parsley, so your statement that it is not parsley may be somewhat misleading to us common folk. 😉

True, true …

DC, DC

Second the Atlas Room, over the weekend had Wonton Soup with great chicken, cabbage and mushroom flavors – a rarity for a soup that is usually unmemorable.

Then onto mahi mahi with a radicchio marmalade on top. A preparation of radicchio that was novel (even, let’s say unorthodox) and richly flavorful without being cute.

Thanks for the tasty report …

That wonton soup sounds fantastic. When you make the soup with a really good, homemade broth, it makes a HUGE difference.

DC

How does “Shall I clear the table?” strike you as an alternative to “Are done with that?”

One person was done (clean plate), the other two had a small amount of food left but were saving room for dessert and were clearly done eating their entrees.

“Shall I clear the table?” sounds great to me. Clear, not at all coy, simple, and direct …

I just had a flashback to a meal, many years back, when a waitress reached her hand out toward my plate and asked whether I was “still savoring the flavors?”

It was all I could talk about for the next fifteen minutes.

Clifton, VA

Try to figure out what Irene is going to do? Could be an interesting Sunday into Monday.

Say what?

Why do I get the feeling that we were all just treated to a fresh Tweet from you, while a friend or a wife is now reading some screed about the dining scene or local wine or how food critics are pansies and are too scared to venture beyond the Beltway … ?

NoLo, DC

First: Cilantro.

I love it. My husband…likes it.

Second: Restaurant Week at West End Bistro We had a fabulous experience there on Sunday night — by far the best RW meal (both food and experience) we’ve had.

Although the menu was limited, the choices were varied and included vegetarian options. Portions were significantly larger than we’d expected. Although we chose to drive our bill higher with cocktails, it was also nice to see a couple of bottles of $20 wine available for RW.

Service was gracious and while our three course meal was over in little more than an hour, we never felt rushed, as we have on other RW occasions.

I imagine we’ll be back at full price. There was no cilantro in any of our dishes.

Thanks for the chime-in, and for the great RW report.

I talked, earlier, about restaurants taking the week seriously, or not taking part at all. It sounds to me as though Westend Bistro took it seriously — making those $20 wines available is a tremendous gesture. I hope other restaurants are taking note.

In the past couple of years, I heard from a number of people who said that, once you factor drinks in — and for them, not-drinking is not an option when it comes to dining out at this level — it’s not really that worth it.

I think seeing some affordably priced wines on a special RW list makes a real statement.

 

NoLo, DC

Irene: Hurricane Irene, whose projected track is now bearing toward the Tidewater and DC. http://www.nhc.noaa.gov/graphics_at4.shtml?5day?large#contents

Ah.

Context is everything, isn’t it — ?

Arlington, VA

Todd, can you explain what you mean when you say that cooking is “rooted”? I’ve seen you and other food writers use that term and to me, it seems empty and meaningless. Apart from national chains, what cooking is not “rooted”?

You sure about that?

In my opinion, there’s a lot of cooking that’s not rooted.

And it might be good cooking, too.

Rootedness isn’t tantamount to excellence.

There are many, many diners who don’t care about rootedness.

Your basic yuppie bistro does not concern itself with rootedness.

Rooted. Having roots. A dish that communicates a sense of place. A dish that has a soul. A what-ness.

Great, regional cooking is almost always rooted cooking. …

… I could probably type for another hour on the subject, but I’m running late for lunch …

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

 

* Almost forgot … Tune in to Kojo Nnamdi at 1 p.m. tomorrow — WAMU, 88.5 FM; I’ll be on, talking about kabobs …

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

[missing you, TEK … ]

 

 

 

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