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 AM 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, The Daily Beast 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 present-day evangelist, a foul-mouthed transgendered multi-millionaire 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 . . .
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.
Fabio Trabocchi’s edge-of-Penn Quarter restaurant has put its tentative beginnings behind it. The dishes emerging from the brick-framed, herb-potted kitchen find the prodigiously talented chef moving further and further from the controlled elegance of his work at the late Maestro. They also find him cooking with a renewed confidence and conviction. The best of these plates–an astonishingly flavorful ragu of wild hare with thick bands of papardelle, a double-cut, prosciutto-wrapped veal chop with toasted hazelnuts that accent the sweetness and nuttiness of the meat, a bowl of tender meatballs in a tomato sauce that frankly puts most Italian grandmothers to shame–marry rusticity with refinement. Desserts–including a fabulous cone of sugar-dusted bomboloni, with pots of apple marmalade and cinnamon gelato–remain a rousing finish.
I love the tossed-off sophistication of Mark Kuller’s wine-bar-plus, the sense you get that everything just seems to have fallen into place and nobody’s straining too hard for effect. The cooking, under the direction of Haidar Karoum, reinforces the feeling with dishes that combine the complexity and intricacy of fine dining with the approachability of a neighborhood bistro: superlative foie gras (seared and served atop a cherry-studded short cake), crisp-skinned branzino in a saffron broth, a knockout plate of spaghetti and meatballs (foie gras is the crucial ingredient, an ingenious way of lightening the texture of the meat without resorting to bready filler). There’s a wealth of good, interesting wines to pair with these plates–wines you’re simply not going to find anywhere else in the city. The restaurant, to its great credit, makes them available in two-ounce pours that encourages you to try things you wouldn’t ordinarily.
Banh Mi DC Sandwich, Falls Church
#1 Combination and #2 Roast Pork. $3.75 apiece. Vivid reminders of what the boring and/or dumbed-down others all miss–the peppery bite, the pronounced sharpness of the pickling, the balance between meats and condiments, the lightness of the loaf.
Rice Paper, Falls Church
This new Eden Center mom ‘n’ pop, the first restaurant venture for the host family after two-plus decades in the jewelry business, breaks from the drab utilitarianism of its Eden Center peers with a pressed tin ceiling, dangling globe lights, sleek leather chairs, and the requisite industrial brick wall. It’s the cooking, though, that commands inspection: spicy lemongrass ribs, garlic-marinated roast chicken with coconut rice, and the most stylish presentation of grilled stuffed grape leaves I’ve ever seen–and easily one of the most delicious. The coffee with condensed milk is a must-order, among the strongest and darkest you’re going to find.
Bon Fresco, Columbia
Best bread in the area. And maybe the best sandwiches, too–I still can’t stop thinking about the unlikely masterpiece of brie, lightly caramelized onions and sundried tomato pesto on a light and crusty baguette. And the London Broil on ciabatta is fantastic, too. Gerald Koh, the owner and bread-baker, is a former GM at Breadline and as passionate about his craft as any chef in the area.
Mintwood Place, DC
Perry’s owner Saied Azali was lucky to land Cedric Maupillier, formerly the chef at Central and before that the chef de cuisine at Citronelle, for his rusticky new bistro. The Toulon native is doing typically great work–cranking out lovingly faithful renditions of such bistro classics as cassoulet (see if you can finish it without two glasses of wine) and steak tartare (the tiny, crunchy tater tots on top are a clever allusion to his old boss, Michel Richard) as well as offering up some sly, smart takes on tradition (frogs’ legs with black walnut romesco, a lamb tongue moussaka). There’s a whole boneless dorade with picholine olives and braised fennel that’s a knockout–beautifully conceived, perfectly executed.
East Pearl, Rockville
A superlative addition to the unofficial Chinatown of northern Rockville, this cheery, three week-old restaurant is turning out uncommonly clean-tasting versions of standard Hong Kong-style fare, including shrimp dumpling soup, shrimp with walnuts, and soyed chicken (the slices of meat beneath the crispy, lacquered skin are not merely tender, but luscious). And don’t miss a Shanghai-style noodle dish that brings together angel hair, roast pork, shrimp, green onions and a generous spoonful of yellow curry powder into a light, greaseless and remarkably vivid whole.
Producer’s note–Today’s contest: Which bar or restaurant would you move to Washington?
Good morning, chatters. Today’s challenge: Tell Todd about the restaurant you most wish could be magically uprooted and replanted in Washington. It could be the old roadside diner where you ate gravy fries as a kid, that unforgettable kaiseki spot in Tokyo, or the Barcelona tapas bar where you wiled away an afternoon watching soccer while eating the world’s best patatas bravas. Take us there, then tell us why Washington should be home to this particular establishment. As always, it’s much more about the explanation than it is the eatery. Todd’s favorite write-up will receive a copy of Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything: The Basics, a streamlined version of the essential kitchen guide.
Todd — As expected, your suggestions for a post-glass blowing class dinner up in Mt. Rainier were great. After deciding we were more gastronomically excited for a good taco than a good microbrew, we headed to Taquiera La Placita & stuffed ourselves silly with carnitas, chorizo, al pastor and a few others. Not only were the fillings great but the corn tortillas were some of the tastiest I’ve ever had. I think we will not only head back to La Placita when we pick up our glass masterpieces next week, but whenever we’re nearby heading to/from DC on Rt. 50 or BW Parkway. Thanks again!
Thanks for the report — I’m glad it turned out so perfectly …
You’re so right about those corn tortillas. And they’re made even better by the fact that they’re snatched hot from the griddle, which makes them warm and also slightly crispy on the outside.
It’s a great place. I hope that among the “few others” you ordered the pork leg — my co-favorite, with the al pastor.
I know I’m not alone in sometimes dreaming about Rasika and my favorite dishes there. However, not every night can be a Rasika night. What are the best restaurants in DC that can accomodate last minute, weeknight desires for Indian cuisine?
No, you’re right about that.
And you wouldn’t really appreciate it that much if it you could make it an every night sort of place.
I don’t think of Masala Art, in Tenleytown, as a quick meal — the setting is quietly sumptuous, and the cooking is often elegant — but it’s a good bit cheaper than Rasika, and there are a number of people I know who consider it their source for certain cravings.
If I lived in the city, it’d be that place for me, too.
A lot depends on location, how far you’re willing to go for a weeknight fix. I think most people tend to stick within a 20 minute radius, if that.
If I lived in Fairfax, I’d swing by Curry Mantra probably at least once a week for the fabulous dosas and coconut chutney — that, or Bombay Bistro for its curries (love that goat masala). If I lived in Del Ray, my place’d be Bombay Curry Co.; I particularly love the wings. If I’m anywhere close to Silver Spring and I’m jonesing for Indian, there’s only one place I’m thinking of right now: Jewel of India, in the Hillandale Shopping Center. Langley Park or Takoma Park? Easy: Woodlands.