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.
Where I’m Eating Now:
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.
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.
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. Great food (tiradito, ceviche, anticuchos, aji de gallina, alfajores) and great value.
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.
* Jewel of India
For anyone whose palate has been numbed by too many tepid meals at the neighborhood curry joint, this two-month-old restaurant in White Oak’s Hillandale Shopping Center is the antidote. The gravies are wonderfully complex — rich, robustly spiced, and with a depth that lingers long after the last bite. Superb versions of dal, malai kofta and bhindi masala. All in a subtly stylish setting where you can also get a pineapple caipirinha.
The best, most sensual, most fully realized restaurant in the area remains Johnny Monis’s lair of a place, a sparely appointed East Dupont townhouse with — check it — no menu.
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.
The decor is a bit of a buzzkill, and the air of formality among the staff tends to get in the way of a good time (at least until the crowds arrive), but the cooking of late at owner Ashok Bajaj’s foray into Italian cuisine is a marvelous demonstration of sprezzatura, that word so beloved by so many Italians — the ability to make a hard thing look easy.
Best Mexican food in the area, and it’s not even close. And — it’s in a gas station. Worth the drive to Elkridge.
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.
* new this week
How did Fast Gourmet not make the newest Cheap Eats issue?
Listen, I love the Chivito.
I penned a loving ode to that thing — for my money, one of the best sandwiches you’re going to find in the city right now.
I love the empanadas. I think the Cubano’s good. I like the chocolate salami. But beyond that, things begin to thin considerably.
For what it is, it’s a phenomenal place. I’d love to see 10 more like it.
But the places that make the cut for Cheap Eats generally have more going for them than a few menu items.
Good morning, everyone.
Before we get too far into things … You usually come to me with the questions — today I’m coming to you with one:
I threw out my back on Sunday, and am sort of cramped over typing this today. It’s not fun. Anyone have any suggestions for me?
Any specific stretching exercises? A massage specialist or chiropractor you think is excellent? Over-the-counter drugs that provide some relief?
It’s not that it’s painful so much as that I can’t fully extend, and so walking is a chore, and then of course everything else suffers because I’m sort of hunched as I go …
Whatever you’ve got for me, I’d appreciate …
Hi Todd, love your work.
My husband and I are going to Charlottesville for the long weekend and I wondered what restaurants we should hit up. Locales of interest: downtown, any associated with a winery or just a nice view in the country.
I know you had talked about Peter Chang’s place so that’s on the list too. Thanks!
Peter Chang’s China Grill should definitely be on your list, and at the top at that.
I think Ten is excellent. The Local can be really good. Mas, for tapas, is fun. Revolutionary Soup, on the mall, for lunch — really cheap and really good. Eppie’s, also on the mall, also really cheap and really good.
There are also several wineries I’d hit: Veritas, Blenheim, and Delfosse. Veritas, especially, for its views.
Enjoy your trip, and please come back on and drop me a note and let me know how things turned out …
What, the Washingtonian doesn’t provide medical insurance?! Or is there some other excuse for suffering with your back for two days without plans to see a doctor?
To me, a doctor is always a last resort. For everything.
I also never take a pill if I can help it.
Now, if I hadn’t seen improvement since Sunday, then I’d probably start thinking today about making a call. Not making a call, but thinking about making a call.
But I’m definitely better than I was.
I’m celebrating my birthday this Thursday night with a friend who’s birthday is Friday… so we are in need of a hip but delicious dinner place in Washington, Dc.. and then a trendy lounge place for yummy drinks after and then a night club for the remainder of the night-morning!
Am I asking to much! Love central for it’s food… just not hip! Where are people going to be seen.. but can enjoy a delicious meal.
I’ve got you covered …
Lounge: Eighteenth Street Lounge.
Nightclub: Love Nightclub
I found the article below anti-inflammatory for over-the-counter med but you may want to make an appointment with your physician to have a prescription for muscle relaxant.
Hope you feel better.
Thanks! I appreciate it …
I’ll take a closer look when the chat is done …
I visit friends in NYC about once a month and have found that the city’s brunch venues knock ours out of the water in two ways: good prices and bottomless drinks.
I’m tired of paying upwards of $10 a plate for essentially eggs and toast.
Plus, I’m tired of places that offer bottomless bloody marys or mimosas charging upwards of $20.
Do you have any suggestions for places that won’t break the bank, but also might have bottomless bloody marys? This is probably a tall order, but there has to be someplace.
I believe Creme Cafe, on U St., is still offering bottomless Bloody Marys. And it’s not a break-the-bank sort of place.
Beacon Bar & Grill also, I believe, offers bottomless Bloody Marys. I’d try Creme first, though.
It’s true what you say. This is just not a great brunch town.
I would think that’s going to change, soon, with all the energy and money we’re seeing being poured into ambitious mid-level restaurants and cafes. We can hope, anyway.
If I had any say in the matter, we would get a couple of legitimate Jewish delis first.
We’re up to our eyeballs in lobster rolls, and yet you have to really, really hunt to find a corned beef or pastrami sandwich.
I ask you: Which would you rather eat — a great hot pastrami sandwich or a great Reuben or a great corned beef (all on superlative rye, of course) … or a lobster roll?
And I ask that in all seriousness … I’m curious to know.
Good morning Todd,
I wrote in during your chat last week about clearing tables, choice of language etc. Your chat made for some interesting discussions amongst our staff last week.
I was surprised to read that you believe that some or most restaurants don’t care about how their guests feel and what they want. Do you think your readers feel that way as well? What makes you or your readers feel that way?
I can only speak for our staff and the staffs of every restaurant in our group when I say that we want you to be happy. We want to exceed your expectations in everything we do. Communicate with us, either before you arrive, at the table, or both. As I said last week, guests don’t choose to go to a restaurant to leave hungry and angry. Please give us the opportunity to help you enjoy yourself.
Your comment about not liking the phrase, “Are you still enjoying that,” as a means to clear a table was surprising. We, of course, assume that you are enjoying your meal (unless you tell us otherwise). The alternative is to assume that you are not enjoying your meal. We take great care and pride in what we do, therefore, expect to serve you only the best food with the best of our abilities.
Do we fall short sometimes? Yes, of course. But again, we want to make you happy. I know at our restaurant there is very little if anything we won’t do to accomplish that. Thank you for your chat. It is always interesting to read your thoughts and those of your readers as it pertains to our passion, taking care of people.
I didn’t say I believe that “some or most restaurants don’t care about how their customers feel and what they want.”
What I said was that I don’t think that diners know that — as you suggested last week — restaurants want them to provide direct and immediate feedback during the dinner itself.
I believe that most diners think that when a waiter or waitress comes around asking if everything is okay, that those waiters and waitresses are just going through the formalities of their script. Most diners, I don’t think, believe that a waiter or waitress is truly interested in hearing what might be wrong or not-great or disappointing. And that’s because I don’t think they believe that the restaurant is prepared to step in and take action to correct it, or just to do all that’s within its power to make them happy — to exchange a dish that is not bad, just disappointing; to replace a wine that doesn’t quite chime with the flavors of a dish with another; to swap out one server for another.
Except for a handful of places, I don’t think the feedback you say you’re looking for in the moment is eagerly sought. I think, as I said, the check-in question is received as a kind of formality, and most diners are of the mind that they will wait to write an email later to a manager or go on an online forum or turn to Yelp or Open Table.
I can tell you that I have returned dishes a number of times over the past couple of years. Rare is the occasion when it was not awkward, or when the moment did not bring the meal to a standstill.
Most American diners, in my view, are either intimidated by the fine dining experience (sommeliers, especially) or somewhat ill at ease with it, or are so inclined to make sure things go smoothly that they do not want to do anything to rock the boat.
To your question: Find a Chiropractor.
Massage is good when you aren’t completely messed up already but it sounds like you are. You need two things 1) Electro-stimulation which will help to release the muscles; and 2) adjustment to put you back in line. When I really screwed up my back a few years ago, it was the only thing that worked.
I was a skeptic to start but the immediate relief from the electro-stym and the fact that the before and after x-rays showed that my spine was back where it belonged (and the long term relief it provided) totally changed my mind.
Thanks for taking the time to share your insights with me. I appreciate it. …
I’m with you! Bring on the juicy, flavorful deli meat! The lobster roll is incredibly over-hyped.
Good luck with the back. Let us know what ended up working.
I love a good lobster roll, don’t get me wrong.
But a hot pastrami sandwich on good rye with good mustard? Not even close …
Hi Todd, we miss taking our Mom to Morty’s for breakfast.
Can you suggest anything even close for a good Jewish breakfast? We are in Reston, but are willing to drive.
Are you willing to drive to Baltimore?
Or New York?
It’s that bad. There’s nothing I can think of to recommend. The Chutzpah Deli in Fairfax, but it’s no great shakes …
Re: the back, I’ll go ahead and put a plug in here for Kevin Linde in Fairfax.
I had some back problems about 2 years ago and the treatments I did out there not only helped solve the short term issues with pain and whatnot, but also helped me be more aware of how to protect against future instances.
PS: I second the recommendation of Mas in C-ville, had a great time there with my brother/sister-in-law/niece last time I was in town.
Is Linde a chiropractor? A massage therapist?
And glad you brought it back to food, too, with the thumbs-up for Mas … I don’t feel so guilty that way …
I think you can’t beat that.
My favorite, however, is the take on it at Deli City on Bladensburg. The Murray special there is corned beef, pastrami and swiss. I ask for it grilled… That is probably my favorite jewish deli type sandwich in DC right now. I wish I didn’t work so far away from there, because now I am craving it!
You’re making me hungry.
Deli City can be good. It sort of goes in cycles. My last lunch there was hugely disappointing. When it’s good, though, it’s good.
It’s sad, though, that it has so little competition. Shocking, really.
RE: servers …
Obviously he or she doesnt understand the problem.
Servers in DC are some of the worst in comparison to Vegas, NY, Chicago and Miami. Problem starts with the owners and managers and goes down hill from there. Its all about pop and image. Name chef and latest trend but very little about taking care of the customer.
Biggest difference starts from the call to make the reservation to the first interaction with your server. The host /hostess can make a big difference. Do not sit my girlfriend and I at the worst table in house in the hopes we wont say anything. I will unlike other patrons.
I was in one of DC favorite high rated restaurants for lunch last week with my bro. bartender didnt know how to make a vodka collins. Excuse me but he could some overly complicated martini. Mr Bond would have been very upset. My bro’s vodka martini was awful. And the manager couldnt care. Place was full and buzzing.
We’ve been talking a lot about plate clearing in this long, extended conversation, and something that needs to be said that hasn’t been said:
It’s not just the snatching of one’s own plate, which the industry folks all seem to focus on. It’s the snatching of the family-style plate. It happened just last night.
There were three of us, and we shared a number of dishes among us. There were perhaps two or three spoonfuls left on one of the plates, and wouldn’t you know it — in swooped a server to snatch it away. His hand was actually on the plate, too, as he asked to remove it.
It’s uncomfortable to have to send him away. And unnecessary, too.
I’d really like to understand this. What would make him think it was okay to clear it?
Wineries not to miss in Charlottesville should also include White Hall and Mountfair (which only has reds, but they are excellent and they also have the Thibaut). I normally really like Flying Fox, but their selections this year are weaker and a lot of their best wines are for wine club only. Barboursville will do their huge tasting at the end of October, that is a lot of fun.
For restaurants I would add Orzo in the city market, Three Notch’d Grill if they are out in Crozet and hungry and the Local. Maya is also very good. Also the Greenwood Grocery is a fun stop for picnic items. On the mall we also have had really good experiences at Hamilton’s.
Thanks for chiming in …
Hamilton’s? Really? I think it’s overpriced for what it is. I’m eager to try Orzo and Maya next time, both of which I’ve been hearing about for a while.
And yes, of course — Barboursville is really a must-stop for any wine tour. It’s a spectacular setting, and with a lot of great wine to boot.
I haven’t been to Mountfair. I need to put that on my own to-go list for next time I’m down. White Hall, as well. Though I’ve been drinking their wines — particularly the Viognier — for a while now.
Hot pastrami, all the way.
With some Dr. Brown’s black cherry soda and potato pancakes on the side — pure heaven.
Which raises another question: why are the few kosher places in the District so unimpressive? (Looking at you, Eli’s.) Is it because they effectively have a captive clientele?
Dr. Brown’s is a must.
I love the black cherry and the cream. And their diet versions are nearly as good. My father used to drink the Cel-ray — celery soda. An acquired taste. Though, really, there’s nothing quite like it to counteract all that fat and richness. It’s sort of a liquid lance.
As for kosher restaurants … Kosher is really hard to pull off in any market. This isn’t New York. It’s not even Baltimore. There aren’t a lot of kosher-keeping diners here. And for all the Jews in the area, there isn’t much of a Jewish culture.
Just to talk about a few of the challenges … You have to close on Friday nights, one of the busiest nights of the week. And the food costs are astounding — kosher meats are expensive, you have to have a rabbi inspect everything and that costs, too, and you need staff that knows exactly what it’s doing.
I wrote a column some years back about a kosher restaurant in Bethesda. The place was badly run, but even if it hadn’t been I don’t think it would have made it. The night I was there, reporting, Joe Lieberman showed up for dinner with Haddassah. I was watching everything behind the scenes. I can’t imagine the senator and his wife had a good meal.
What was interesting, was watching the rabbi, the mashgiakh, in the back while all the prep was being done — the intense scrutiny, for instance, of the washing of a head of Bibb lettuce. Each leaf was washed and washed again, to remove every possibility of a bug. There is no provision in the Old Testament, alas, for the eating of insects.
Maybe tables could be outfitted with those flags you see on mailboxes. When you put your flag up it means please take away the plates. It would take some of the guesswork out of it.
Or like those little table cards you get at churrascarias.
You know: green for go, meaning bring on the meats; red for stop, meaning any more and I’m going to burst.
Or … management could just train its staff to be more sensitive to reading a table and not push.
I’m surprised there isn’t an app for this already. Imagine it … You type in the name of the city and the city … the locator function will tell you which table number you occupy … and then you type your request — table to be cleared — hit send, and voila! — the info goes into the manager’s computer.
There ought to be an app for my back, too. Hit some button on the thing, and it gets so warm so fast you think it’s going to combust. You put that against the spot that hurts and turn on the vibrate thingie, and wham — heat and pulsation where you need it.
Apps for everything. Heal the race. Save the planet. Material progress will save us all …
I know I’m preaching to the choir here, but my belated RW dinner at Ardeo + Bardeo was fantastic.
The food was great. Favorites were the spinach salad w/crisp gnocchi and the steak and eggs. I have to say, I wanted a little more heat with my chicken soup. And I turned a few heads as went after my whole rockfish.
But what really stood out was the service. With a full menu available, AB was totally unapologetic about hosting RW. No smaller portions, no off-menu items, no huffy service. In fact, the manager came by the table several times to ensure we were having a great evening.
In DC, especially, it’s refreshing to be welcomed in a “come as you are” manner, and not pressured or talked down to or made to feel an inconvenience. We will definitely be returning!
Thanks for the great report, CP …
Is it just me, or has the quality of sushi been deteriorating pretty rapidly? And I’m talking about the good places: Sushi-Ko, Kaz, Kushi, etc. Unfortunately it’s reached a point where if I want truly great fish I’ve got to spring for the sushi counter at Sushi Taro. What gives? Over-fishing? Something else?
It’s not just you.
Over-fishing has been a problem for a while now, but the thing that’s really putting a hurting on the whole industry right now is the cost of fish. It’s insane. It’s very, very expensive to get good fish right now, and that’s why the only places that can keep a reliable standard are the ones that charge a ton.
This has never been a great town for sushi, but even just a few years ago, you had the top tier and a decent middle class. That middle class is shrinking fast.
Re: Hamilton’s …
I don’t know if they changed chefs or what but we actually had two really good dinners there with our family more recently, we had never been before. In particular I remember a really great double pork chop. They are also sourcing more locally now. But maybe we went on good days.
If you are going to Barboursville a stop at the BBQ Exchange in Gordonsville to pick up some barbecue to go and then get a bottle at the winery for a nice lunch. They have picnic tables and a nice lawn for a picnic there.
Some barbecue and a bottle of Octagon sounds great.
And good to hear about Hamilton’s. I’ll put them back on the list for my next trip down. Thanks …
A real Jewish deli would never serve a pastrami and swiss! Tood remember when the Carnegie Deli had a branch at the Embassy Suites in Tyson. I beleive the deli and pastrami problem in DC is Dan Snyder’s fault.
What isn’t Dan Snyder’s fault?
Put me down, by the way, as cautiously optimistic about Beck and actually encouraged by the moves this past, short offseason. A lot more speed, a lot more athleticism. Things are rounding into shape, finally. … Anyone else think that Shanahan sounds just like George Allen? That same gravelly, over-serious tone — as if he’s got a mouthful of marbles he can’t manage.)
But back to deli-talk …
Deli City doesn’t claim to be a real Jewish deli, but you’re right. It’d be like a Jewish deli slathering mayo over its pastrami. Or serving pastrami on white bread.
Thinking about the Charlottesville wineries got me thinking: why do some wineries not have their best wines for tasting?
I know they are expensive bottles, but I imagine they would sell more if it were tasted. I am thinking in particular of the Cuvee de Champs from White Hall, and some of the Cab Francs at Flying Fox. But I have seen this at other wineries.
Wouldn’t it make sense to offer a taste to perspective buyers for higher priced bottles especially while the market is new and consumers aren’t familiar with the product?
Thanks for writing in …
I’ve thought about this, too.
They definitely do hold back the product, and it’s because they know they can. Most people coming for a tasting are not serious drinkers.
I think your suggestion is a good one. Someone is surely listening, and perhaps your idea gains a following … ? It’d be nice to see.
Lunch calls. And then I’m getting on the phone with a specialist. Thank you, everyone, for all the great suggestions — I stopped posting your advice, just because I didn’t think that people would want to keep reading about back specialists and stim treatments on a restaurant forum like this. But I really do appreciate your thinking of me. I knew I could count on you.
Be well, everyone, eat well and let’s do it again next week at 11 …
[missing you, TEK … ]