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 H E R E I ‘ M E A T I N G N O W . . .
Johnny’s Half Shell, DC
This town could stand a few more places like Ann Cashion and Johnny Fulchino’s retro seafood house. Never surprising, never innovative, never wowing, but almost never disappointing, either. And often delicious. The soft shells, if they’re still on the menu as September comes to a close, are superb — a must-order: sweet and meaty and lightly sauteed.
La Limeña, Rockville
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.
* Vermilion, Alexandria
The honesty and simplicity of chef Tony Chittum’s make-it-local-or-make-it-from-scratch approach has never been in question. But these days there’s a newfound coherence in his plates, a clarity that brings even his heartiest, most soulful plates into tight focus. The desserts, with Tiffany MacIsaac in the fold, have never been better.
Ruan Thai, Wheaton
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.
Mount of Lebanon, Falls Church
The Lebanese Butcher, a tiny cafe destroyed by a fire last September, has been reborn a year later as a spacious open room with tables laid with lipstick-red cloth and matching walls. The lamb and chicken are trucked over from owner Kheder Rababeh’s Warrenton slaughterhouse, and that freshness is put in the service of dishes that are by turns garlicky, tangy, smoky and pungent. Must-orders: the ineffably light baba ghanous and the fateh, tender hunks of lamb arranged atop fried chips of pita and doused with tangy yogurt.
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.
Daniel Singhofen scrapped his a la carte menu this past April, replacing it with a $65 five-course tasting menu. The move seemed premature, given that the chef had yet to establish his Dupont Circle townhouse restaurant as a landmark dining destination, one that had endured many seasons and fads. But Singhofen and company appear ready to make the leap. Courses are imaginatively conceived without straining for effect, and the execution is clean and precise without lapsing into austerity. Best of all, Singhofen imbues these sophisticated dishes with a quality more precious than all the tricks in the molecular gastronomer’s toolkit: soul.
R&R Taqueria, Elkridge
Best Mexican food in the area, and it’s not even close. And — it’s in a gas station. Worth the drive to Elkridge.
Ex-New Heights chef Logan Cox has taken his sauce-painted bowls and fascinating juxtapositions north up Connecticut Ave., making this modestly done Cleveland Park dining room one of the most intriguing places to dine at the moment. His rabbit loin transforms a typically dry, stringy meat into a kind of luscious barbecue, and his vegetable composition plate — that stale relic of the early aughts — is so good, it could stand alone as a (light) entree.
H St. has built its rep as a place to come chill and drink, with food a distant concern of most restaurants, cafes and resto-lounges. This quick-serve Lebanese spot flips that model. Owner Alberto Sissi, an acolyte of Jose Andres’s Think Food Group, attends to details. The slices of beef-and-lamb shwarma sport nicely crusted edges, the hummus is a rich but surprisingly well-balanced whip, and the small discs of falafel, made from chickpeas and fava beans, are marvelously light and crunchy.
* new this week
My brother and I picked up carryout for lunch last week and both got the lamb feteh based on your recommendation.
Although the ingredients individually all tasted good, the dish was absolutely covered in the yogurt sauce. Maybe that is how it is supposed to be, but it was not very appealing and lost the flavor of the meat and made the pita chips mushy.
Am I missing something? I love lebanese food and was excited to try this place.
That’s the dish.
I’ve had versions where there was slightly less yogurt, but never versions where there was only a little dollop.
I think you have to think of fateh the same way you think of lomo saltado, the Peruvivan dish of steak and fries — or, to paint a more accurate picture, of stir-fried, soy-sauce-doused steak and peppers heaped atop a pile of fries.
Twice I’ve watched someone eat this for the first time and say, “It’s good. I think I’d like it better if the fries were on the side.”
Maybe. But then it wouldn’t be lomo saltado. The deal is, the juices from the meat and the marinade and the peppers all soak into the fries and make them … juicy.
My boss asked me to find a really nice restaurant in DC for lunch serving several good seafood dishes that would have valet parking.
I’m going to send you to Johnny’s Half Shell.
It doesn’t have valet parking — in the sense of someone taking your key and taking your car to destinations unknown. Most places this time of the day don’t. But it does have free parking, right around the corner in a parking garage — save the receipt and hand it to the restaurant and a host will stamp it, thus wiping out the charge.
This is one of the most consistent places around. Great atmosphere, very good staff, and a menu that keeps it simple and true …
Very good crabcakes (though they’re on the small side; I think that’s more than made up for, though, by the quality and honesty of the making), good broiled oysters, the seafood gumbo is the real deal, I love the cured salmon, and if the kitchen’s on that day the wood-grilled lobster with spoonbread is going to be not just good but memorable.
Let me know how it turns out …
A heads-up for all those foodies out there: Up to $40 off at Cashion’s Eat Place via Scoutmob DC. http://scoutmob.com/washington-dc/today/2011-10-18
I am in no way affiliated with either business…just spreading the word about a great deal! It’s hard enough these days to find a decently-priced meal.
That’s a pretty good deal there.
I don’t have a problem with spreading this kind of word. In fact, I’m wondering what other deals are out there that we, the food-obsessed, ought to be made aware of. Send ’em this way …
Todd, what has ever happened to Elisir restaurant from the chef from Goldoni? did you review the place? Is it actually opened yet?
I was just informed that Elisir, the new restaurant from Enzo Fargione, who previously cooked at Teatro Goldoni, will open in November; I understand they’re shooting for the third week in November.
Here’s what else someone connected to the restaurant — address: 427 11th St. — had to say:
“The format is going to be a tasting table, with two different sets, 5 plates, 7 plates, all modern Italian, very light … Due to the economy [Enzo] has reduced some of the sizes and the prices … He’s finally put his entire team together … The space is very classy, modern, black tiles in the kitchen, a bar when you walk in and there’ll be a ‘mixologist’ running things … “
I wanted to respond to the person from last week’s chat who was looking for gluten free options for their gf.
As someone who’s tried a lot of the gf options out there, I say that pete’s tops the charts in the area when it comes to gluten free pizza – at least it’s the only one i continue to go back to.
Open City also has a gf pizza date night. And call ahead to restaurants, a lot offer a gf menu that they don’t necessarily advertise.
Thanks for chiming in …
Curious — have you had the one at Rustico that last week’s chatter was raving about?
I recently dined at a very high end and well regarded restaurant in the area. I tried ordering off two different fixed price menus and was told no.
I expected to pay an upcharge but did not expect to hear no. Are we getting too comfortable as diners with getting what we want or should the restaurant be willing to accomodate?
It’s rare that you’ll find a restaurant willing to accommodate that kind of an order.
One reason is that there are limited quantities for that fixed menu. If you order a dish that’s set for the prix fixe menu, you dip into the tasting menu reserve as it were.
I have seen restaurants willing to let you poach — but never without a hesitation on the part of the server, and never without a consultation with the chef.
It may seem like a small matter to you, the customer, but to the restaurant, and particularly the chef, it is a very big deal, and if they’re willing to make an exception you should factor that into your tip at the end.
Dish(es) I’m still thinking about:
-Wood-grilled eringi mushroom (outstanding!)
-Chicken breast shiso & plum sauce skewer
-Pork & onion deep-fried skewer
-Spicy tuna roll
-Black seasame gelato (yes!)
That certainly speaks loudly for Kushi — that’s a good load of dishes to still be thinking about.
I don’t know if this is a subtle reminder on your part, but if so it’s worked. … I was sending out Dishes I’m Still Thinking About via Twitter for a while there, and I’ve let that slack. I’ll be back on it. It’s a good, quick way to dispense information. You’d be surprised how often you sit there editing a tweet — a tweet — to make it fit the alloted space, or to make sure you get more info in.
I’d be interested in hearing some more of these …
Who’s got a “Dish I’m Still Thinking About”?
C’mon. It’s not even like writing. Just tap out a quick phrase or line. No one at work will even know you’re doing it.
I lived in NYC for a few years and miss the rustic, cozy and romantic restaurants that seem to be everywhere. Some of my favorites include The Little Owl, Barbuto, Peasant, Perilla, Sorella, Annisa and Torrisi.
It seems most of our area restaurants are in government, office or hotel buildings. While there are plenty of great restaurants in these areas, for some reason the atmosphere never feels romantic and something seems to be missing.
I’ve heard Komi’s atmosphere may be what I am looking for and I plan to go soon, but are there any other restaurants that could be what I am missing?
There’s a lot that you’re missing.
It’s okay. The guidebooks and the slick national foodie magazines miss it, too.
For one thing, you have to explore the neighborhoods; this is a city of neighborhoods. For another, you have to look at the area as a whole and not just the D of C.
There are a slew of places that fit what you’re looking for: Vermilion, Estadio, Komi, Eola, Proof, Cashion’s, Restaurant Eve’s bistro, Jackie’s, Ripple, Lyon Hall, Atlas Room, Liberty Tavern, Palena Cafe, Birch & Barley, Woodberry Kitchen in Baltimore …
Lobster mac and cheese at Freddy’s Lobster Shack in Bethesda. Maybe not best ever but still, lobster mac n cheese…
I hear you.
Thanks for chiming in on this.
More, more …
Three words, five words …
Of late I’m thinking of the Boudin Blanc from Marcel’s, Sabodet from Lyon Hall (please come back to the menu!) and the Blood Sausage/Cabrales slider at Estadio.
Mmm, encased meat.
Now, for balance, for, as they say — equal time — we need a trio of veg dishes that someone’s still thinking about …
Any thoughts on Arlington being shut out of WP’s Tom Sietsema’s dining out guide this year?
When you put it that way, it sounds as if the critic deliberately meant to snub an entire area. I don’t think things work like that.
It reminds me of the way certain people insinuate liberal bias in the arts or sports coverage of the Post or NY Times, as if the editorial board is convened to decide even the fate of a featurette on a field goal kicker.
And to say that you’re “neglected” in Arlington — well, that’s just laughable.
Neglected? Not by developers and restaurateurs.
You’ve probably got more good restaurants in your backyard than any other town or neighborhood in the area.
If you need something to salve the wound, wait a couple of months for our 100 Best Restaurants issue. There’ll be quite a few Arlington restaurants in there, I can assure you.
The Brussels sprouts at Againn.
Though not vegetarian, they might be my favorite quasi-healthy bar snack in the city.
I think they’re neither vegetarian nor quasi-healthy.
What they’re quasi-, is quasi-bad-for-you. In the form of something quasi-good-for-you.
Not that there’s anything wrong with that … ; )
The wedge salad (cheese course) at Volt’s Table 21.
Kinda looked like high end moss on a plate…and not in a good way! But out of 21 courses the only major flop.
A curve ball!
But sure, why does a Dish I’m Still Thinking About have to be a good dish. Memorable is memorable, right?
Keep ’em coming …
Dish I’m Still Thinking About: a variation on steak Florentine at Vermilion. Locally-raised rib-eye with mizzuna greens on top, and a fabulously vibrant salsa verde for dipping slices of the very well-seasoned, very juicy beef.
We just moved from Kalorama up to Cleveland Park. Wondered if you could pass on the top 3 spots to eat in our new neighborhood?
Thanks so much.
Cleveland Park is really blessed right now to have so many worth-it restaurants.
My Top 3:
* Palena Cafe
* 2 Amys / Ardeo + Bardeo
Hey Todd, here’s one for you.
Your favorite lunch buffets in the area–MD, DC, or VA. Any cuisine. I think mine is probably Masala Art.
Also the one at Woodlands on the weekend.
Minerva’s got a good one, too.
In fact, the only buffets I have any enthusiasm for are all Indian.
Barbebietola (Salted Roasted Beets, blackberries, hazelnits, saba reduction, lardo) at Bibiana
Roasted baby carrots, dates, farro, lardo and radicchio at Graffiato
Padron Peppers at Estadio
Dish I’m Still Thinking About is turning into Making the Host’s Mouth Water …
Cozy and Romantic Try Trummer’s on main especially with the leaves changing. Try the back way take the exit for Braddock rd W from the beltway and continue west and take a left on Burke Lake Rd. Stay on Burke Lake rd and once you cross Rt 123 it becomes Clifton Rd. Stay on Clifton Rd until you see restaurant on your left. Not my favorite place in Clifton Peterson’s Ice Cream Depot and the General Store both do a better job with their menus then Trummer’s. Havent tried Weston’s yet
I think the chatter was looking more for the cozy bistro, a rusticky spot in the city with good, ambitious cooking.
But yeah, Trummer’s is definitely a great spot for Fall. And there’s a lot on that menu to like.
How are you, Clifton? ‘S been a while.
The Ginger Salad at Spices…a must order everytime. Last weekend the gf and I ordered two ginger salads so we wouldn’t have to share.
Have you ever had the ginger salad at Burma Road, in Gaithersburg, or Mandalay, in Silver Spring, or Myanmar, in Falls Church?
All are excellent, and will have you thinking about them for weeks.
Dishes I’m still thinking about:
Sweet onion crepe at Vetri in Philadelphia. And that was in 2008. I think about it at least once a week.
The crispy spinach at Rasika.
The king salmon tartare at Komi.
The floating market soup and twice fried duck at Nava Thai.
Thanks for providing this forum, Todd.
Thanks for making me ravenous. ; )
And thanks to all of you for the great questions and comments and tips …
I’m off to lunch with a food critic friend of mine visiting from out of town — let’s see if we can get through a meal without talking shop …
Be well, eat well, and let’s do it again next week at 11 …
[missing you, TEK … ]