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.
Can’t wait a week to talk to Todd? Follow him on Twitter for dining reports, tips, and breaking news from the culinary world. Or write to him: firstname.lastname@example.org
What a night. Did anyone out there get any kind of sleep? I’m astonished I still have power …
However many of you are out there, I’m touched to know that you’ve taken some time out of your aftermath of a morning to connect with me on here …
What a relief to not obsessively monitor Twitter and the news for a while …
Not that we can’t talk about Sandy — I want to. And frankly, what else IS there to talk about right this second that matters as much? But it’s just nice to know that the worst of it is over, and we can move on with the cleanup and the bailout and the fingerpointing, etc.
Stay safe and warm today, everyone … And fire away …
FOLLOW-UP: MORE TACO TALK /// ARLINGTON, VA. …:
My regular taco place is often dependent on what I am doing.
Most of the time it is Taqueria Poblano for their LA Crispy Style Tacos or District Taco (especially if you can catch the fish tacos special). That’s mainly due to location near where I grocery shop, shop for the dog’s supplies, go to the tailor and cobbler. And because they are more of a quick in and out for lunch while running errands type of place. I normally try to avoid gluten and dairy so I eat a lot of tacos.
If I am coming from work and have cash on me, then it is TECC. I am not a huge cilantro fan, which TECC uses a lot of, but meat wise, I like the goat better at Fuego, I think it was just a bit more delicate in texture and better flavored, but that’s a close race. I really like the chorizo tacos at TECC and I didn’t try those at Fuego yet.
There is also the little taco cart near my garden on the corner of George Mason and Columbia Pike and they have my favorite tongue tacos.
Fuego is a bit more of a scene and I see it working well in Clarendon and being fairly busy, especially with the tequila selection. So just a different type of stop. I hope they keep the quality up as I see that being the differentiating factor between it and the other Mexican/Tex-Mex options nearby in Clarendon.
Be something to keep an eye on.
Generally, a place that’s a scene has less incentive to keep a hawk’s eye on the little details that can take something from pretty good to good and even great.
TECC is pretty wonderful. And yes, the chorizo tacos are excellent.
EATING IN NOLA …:
I just saw that New Orleans is in your top ten cities you’d like to eat in, and it just so happens that my husband and I are about to spend a week there, eating and drinking our way around the city.
What are your top several restaurants that we can’t miss?
A quick primer …
Get acquainted with Donald Link’s two places, Cochon and Herbsaint. (Technically, there are three; Cochon Butcher, for sandwiches, is the other.) The mood is looser and louder at Cochon, and the food is lustier and porkier. But both are good. Herbsaint’s a little more NOLA-proper, without being as NOLA-proper as, say, Galatoire’s.
Speaking of which: I’d make a point of going for Friday lunch. Nothing like it anywhere. You need to get in line early, amid all the clerks from law firms who secure places for the big partners. Lots of seersucker suits and women in big hats. It’s a great way to ease into the weekend.
Domenica, in the Roosevelt Hotel, is an excellent Italian spot.
I love Upperline, in Uptown — Joanne Clevenger’s place. One of the most interesting restaurants in the country. Soulful and personal, covered from floor to ceiling with terrific art, a real oasis. And Clevenger is that restaurateur who can talk not just about food but about music and books and culture. Things take on their right and proper perspective here.
Brigtsen’s is also personal, also soulful, though not quite as quirky or distinctive a statement as Upperline.
Restaurant August. John Besh’s place. A grand, gourmet evening.
Mahoney’s PoBoy Shop. I love this place. Best PoBoys I’ve ever eaten. But you will wait 45 minutes for one, and you will spend most of that time wondering if you have been played for a fool. It’s a long time to wait, but the ham and cheese — yes, ham and cheese — is a marvel. You’ll think you were eating thin-sliced prime rib (somehow or other, the glaze of Barq’s root beer imparts this flavor). And the bread is soft on the inside and crunches when you bite down.
Hope that helps. Have a great time eating and drinking …
WHAT’S OPEN??? …:
Glad you survived the storm and still have power – maybe Pepco actually learned its lessons from the derecho? We can always hope…
Anyway, we are very lucky here in the Dupont/Logan area to have power and not much damage, but are also starting to get pretty stir-crazy despite many delicious cooking projects over the past two days…. where would you suggest trekking to get some dinner and see the outside world tonight?
Happy to walk up to a couple of miles from our area, and can also drive. Thanks for the advice and feeling of community during this isolated, crazy week…
Reports of what’s open are still trickling in …
This is what I have so far:
Il Canale, Georgetown
Vace, Cleve. Pk
Founding Farmers, downtown
Cowgirl Cheese, Penn Qtr
Banana Leaves, Dupont
Kramerbooks & Afterwards Cafe
Austin Grill (all of them)
Five Guys in Old Town
Starbucks in Dupont
Chef Geoff’s and Lia’s (with all day happy hour)
Dangerously Delicious Pies, H St.
Sticky Fingers, 18th St.
Graffiato, Penn Qtr.
Ted’s Bulletin, the Hill
Screwtop Wine Bar, Arlington
Tortilla Coast, the Hill
Cork (market at noon; wine bar at 5)
Black Market Bistro, Garrett Park
Tunicliff’s (which was open late last night, too), the Hill
Churchkey (will be open tonight), 14th St.
Ripple (open tonight)
Volt (open tonight w/ a 3-course $35 menu), Frederick
Hill Country, Penn Qtr.
The Palm, downtown
PJ Clarke’s, downtown
Capital Grille, downtown
Bourbon Steak, Georgetown
Belga Cafe (for dinner), the Hill
Smith Commons, H St.
The Source (for dinner), downtown
Sou’wester (for dinner), downtown
CityZen (for dinner), downtown
Bar Pilar (for dinner), 14th St.
Stachowski Meats & Deli, Georgetown
Posto (for dinner), 14th St.
Jaleo (for dinner), Penn Qtr. and Bethesda
Oyamel (for dinner), Penn Qtr.
Cafe St.-Ex — at 3 today, 14th St.
Cava Mezze (for dinner), the Hill
Kushi (for dinner), Mt. Vernon Sq.
Honey Pig, Annandale
Westend Bistro, West End
Molly Malone’s, the Hill
Eola (for dinner), Dupont Circle
Senart’s, the Hill
Pete’s New Haven-Style Apizza (open at 2), multiple locations
Chima (for dinner), Tysons
Mayfair and Pine, Georgetown
Black Finn, downtown
District Kitchen (for dinner), Woodley Park
Casa Oaxaca (for dinner), Adams Morgan
Sonoma (for dinner), the Hill
The Pig (for dinner), Logan Circle
Bibiana (for dinner), downtown
Darlington House (for dinner), Dupont Circle
Mandu (for dinner), both locations
Nage (for dinner), downtown
Montmartre (for dinner), the Hill
Restaurateurs, GMs — keep updating me, and I’ll be sure to update this list …
We’re all glad to see you up and running again …
HOW DO YOU CALL OUT A RESTAURANT ON CUTTING CORNERS? …:
Hi Todd –
Thanks for being here this morning!
Recently dined at a new casual/bar restaurant in the area and was served what I am 99 percent positive were instant potatoes.
Granted, I wasn’t expecting a whole lot and just needed a quick meal, but is there a non-pretentious way to call a restaurant out on this? Is it something a server should mention? Is it unrealistic to expect that when I dine out that I get real mashed potatoes?
There’s another possibility, and that’s that they weren’t instant but made so wretchedly that they TASTED like instant.
Could be they ran out. Could be they had prepared potatoes from Sysco or something as a backup.
But I mean, in this day and age where chefs show all their homework and bragging about sources is de rigueur — yes, I think you should expect at the very least that a restaurant is making its own mashed potatoes.
It’s a dicey thing to bring up at the table. There’s no way of knowing for certain that they ARE instant. And I can’t imagine a restaurant in the world that would say: Yes. You found us out. They come from a mix.
They’ll deny, deny, deny …
This gets us to the larger issue, here, which is when a server or manager comes by and asks if everything’s all right. When the food is excellent and service comes off without a hitch, it’s easy to answer in the affirmative.
But what if the food is not excellent and the service isn’t either?
And what if they aren’t awful but simply somewhere in between — somewhere so middling it’s not really worth remarking upon either way?
What if you suspect that the restaurant simply isn’t capable of doing better, and that to voice a criticism is to burden it with a weight it cannot handle?
In that case you do what we all do, you nod politely and say: Fine.
SHADES OF MIAMI …:
Lost power last night around 7pm and from past experiences decided it was best to drive out to Ashburn and crash with the folks.
I only saw three other cars on the toll road as we made our way to Ashburn.
Driving through the storm reminded me of my graduate school days in Miami and reminded me Latin America restaurant in miami. A place where we would head for breakfast for some dos huevos, mas papas and some good cuban coffee!
Hope everyone is doing well!
A good Cuban breakfast sounds about perfect …
We’re really novices at this kind of thing in DC.
Though we won’t be for long, since our climate, as predicted year ago, is shifting toward something much more like that of North Carolina.
Thanks for writing in, Naeem … I hope your power’s restored soon …
HOSS CHECKS IN W/ AN UPDATE …:
The June 29,2012 was a blessing in disquise. It took down most of the questionable trees and branches and as a result the DC area didnt have as large a number of folks w/o power.
Now if it would just warm up. rain has finally stopped in Clifton. Making chicken soup later.
That’s what people’ve been saying. At least some good came of that thing.
Derecho … Nobody knew the word until it hit, which is fitting, since nobody knew it hit until it hit.
So Hoss is making chicken soup. What all have you been cooking and baking?
I made a big lunch yesterday. Brined a pork loin, and pan-seared it and roasted it. Served it with a mustard cream sauce with minced apples, as well as a salad of watercress, shaved carrot and baby grapes with a yogurt-based dressing and potatoes gratin. And a bottle of Pinot Noir.
Last night was bean soup and then we eased into the rough
patch with homemade chocolate chip cookies and milk.
As Phyllis Richman always tells me, “Food helps.”
NOTE: I just updated the list of restaurants that are or will be open tonight.
BIRTHDAY DINNER ON A BUDGET, FROM LAST WEEK …:
We went to Bistro Provence per your recommendation.
We loved the place; the outdoor sitting was just perfect. We had a great service our server was nice and attentive, the food was good as well but the price….maybe I don’t know what reasonable is but a veal special at $48 seems pricey when you want a dinner on a budget.
Yes, I should have asked the server for the price but then again since everything on the menu was 34 or less I thought it will be in that range.
Thanks for the recommendation; we really had a great time.
I’m glad it worked out so well for you, but ouch.
I really dislike like when restaurants do this. That’s almost 50 percent more than any other item on the menu.
And $48 in this day and age? That veal had better do something besides just sit there on a plate.
That’s my fault for putting Provence on that list with other, more reasonably priced places. It IS possible to eat more cheaply, but there are a lot of temptations not to, as well. I apologize.
OYSTER BEDS AND HURRICANE SANDY …:
Also, that was a good story you posted on Twitter about oysters from the NY Times.
Who knew bivalves could make a difference when dealing with hurricanes.
Who knew, is right.
It’s a pointed and timely reminder that everything matters, and everything connects.
The constant focus on “the bottom line” by our biggest companies and corporations is more insidious than we know.
Here’s a link to the Paul Greenberg piece:
Re: CUTTING CORNERS …:
So are we saying that restaurants are “fine” with being “fine”? And I should be too? When, then, is it acceptable to voice a complaint? Only when something is raw/under/overcooked or purely inedible? When something doesn’t come out the way it was described or the way you’ve had it before?
I agree with you that some places can’t excel above a certain level, but everyone deserves to know when they aren’t up to par, don’t they?
I think there’s a rising scale of expectations, and what’s fair to point out and complain about rises with those expectations.
I’m not going to tell a sports bar that its chicken wings are only fair. I’m not going to tell a greasy spoon that my steak was medium when I asked for medium-rare.
If I’m at Fiola, however, and the meat is not cooked as requested, then I think it’s perfectly fine to speak up. If you are not intimidated to do us.
Your example falls in the middle, as a place with some pretensions and/or claims on quality. I don’t know the specific restaurant you’re referring to, but yes, I would expect that a place like that would be able to get certain things right even if the things it got right did not add up to deliciousness.
Would I expect a place like this to not serve farmed salmon? Would I expect a place like this to source all its greens from a local farmer? It depends on the place. These are questions of a greater degree of complexity.
It’s a really tricky thing when the question is not — Is everything prepared correctly? — but rather: Do you like it?
Some restaurants actually want to know whether you do. They are fully prepared to swap out the dish you don’t care for, in favor of a dish that, they hope, you do. But that’s not the case with most restaurants, and not simply because they don’t care; it’s not the case with most restaurants because they can’t afford for it to be the case.
In general, I think if you are paying in excess of $100/person, you ought to expect that things are seamless and perfectly cooked (which, again, is not the same as deliciousness, though I would really, really hope for that kind of coin that you were full well in the ballpark of deliciousness.)
Re: SOCIETY FAIR, OLD TOWN ALEXANDRIA …:
My husband and I are big fans of Society Fair and frequent it often for market supplies and glasses of wine at the wine bar. We’ve recommended the establishment to several friends, as we love the concept and the vibe. We were first introduced to Society Fair when we went in May for the demo kitchen experience, which we thoroughly enjoyed.
Saturday, October 6, my husband, brother and I dined at the demo kitchen again. Just like the first experience, the food, wine, and service were great.
The major difference, and what we were most looking forward to, was the food demonstration. During our first experience in May with Chef Trey, the demo was very informative and step by step. He prepared each food item in front of us, recommended certain brands of ingredients, and explained in detail how to prepare each course. The demonstration lasted about 2 1/2 hours. We left feeling like we had learned a lot and just might even be able to recreate some of the dishes at home.
However, on Saturday, Oct 6, there was essentially no demonstration. Everything was prepared ahead or in the kitchen behind the scenes. The only thing prepared in front of us were some brussel sprouts and pureed potatoes. We were finished the last course within an hour and a half of our arrival.
We were really looking forward to the demonstration portion and chose Society Fair for this reason, as there are plenty of restaurants we could have chosen to spend a combined $400.
While they may have changed their approach to this event since we dined with them in May, we were not made aware of this through the website or the staff.
As someone who is always excited when there are new, cool concepts in the DC area and as a fan of the place, we emailed to share our experience with Society Fair. However, we have not yet received a response. We sent a follow-up email and still, nothing. While, we didn’t ask for a response or an explanation, it seems like it would have been the right thing to do. Thoughts on the experience and the way it was handled?
$400 for an hour-and-a-half meal for 3 with a poor and corner-cutting demo?
I’d be disappointed, too.
And I’m also disappointed to hear that your email was ignored.
I suppose that someone on the staff there read the email and saw that you said that the food, wine and service were all great, and thought you were just splitting hairs.
Pacing is a big part of an experience, and especially one like this, which should not zip by in an hour-and-a-half. And should, ideally, give the diner something he or she could not get on TV.
TACO TALK, CONT. …:
Someone may have mentioned it already, but the El Chilango truck is our go-to spot.
Lots of cilantro, chorizo to write home about, and a warm inviting way about them. If it wasn’t for the trees down all around us, would be making a field trip now.
Decent, if you can’t leave the city.
I’m disappointed by the al pastor. Which isn’t really an al pastor.
You really need to get out to Taqueria La Placita, in Riverdale’s Little Mexico, or, better yet, hop in a car and head up to R&R Taqueria in Elkridge — a gas station (!) with the best tacos in the region. Chorizo, barbacoa, cochinita (baby pig), etc.
NOTE: I have again updated the list of restaurants that are up and running, or will be shortly …
I want to thank all of you who took a little time out to join me today.
And it’s so good to see so many restaurants up and on their feet again.
Yesterday on Twitter, I was critical of the decision to open or stay open when Metro was being shut down; many restaurant workers depend on public transportation, often several forms, to get to and from work, and making demands on them at a time of crisis struck me as putting the needs of the business above those of the many workers (who make the business, the business).
But today is different. People who are without power will flock to places that are open to find light and warmth and familiarity, not to mention tasty sustenance, but even those of us who are fortunate enough to have power will still end up patronizing these spots because we need these things, too — even if we don’t need them so urgently. Restaurants, as we all know, are many, many things, and providers of food and drink are, it’s easy to forget, sometimes the least of them.
Stay warm and dry, everyone, and let’s hope for a quick return to power all around …
Be well and eat well, and let’s do it again next Tuesday at 11 …
[missing you, TEK … ]