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 writing has appeared in The New Yorker, Harper’s, The Oxford American, Lucky Peach, 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.
Todd previously taught writing and literature at American University and Howard University. At Howard, he was also the editorial advisor to The Illtop Journal, Chris Rock’s humor magazine modeled after the Harvard Lampoon.
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
HELP! — ISO: A RESTAURANT TO HOST A BABY SHOWER …:
Hello! I am looking for a cozy place to host a Baby Shower on a Saturday or Sunday in May for brunch, or high tea or appetizers and desserts, etc.
I have 10-20 attendees and can spend about $30/person. An outdoor space would be great, but an indoor spot works just as well. I’d love ANY suggestions as I’m having a tough time finding a place!
I know this popped into my head because the last time I was there, a baby shower was going on at the table right next to mine — but how about Vermilion, in Old Town Alexandria?
It’s cozy, particularly if you get a wraparound booth or a table upstairs, and they do a terrific brunch. It wouldn’t be hard to go
past $30 per, but you can certainly stay within your means.
Another spot: Poste, at the Hotel Monaco in Penn Quarter. There’s a side room off the dining room that’s a little quieter, and I’ve always thought the hotel (modish, but not lavish) is like a little getaway within the city. And the menu is full of the kind of dishes that lend themselves to this kind of gathering.
Good morning, everyone …
I’d love to continue the conversation we left in the middle of last week, about leftovers. Do you ask for leftovers from small restaurants or ethnic, family-run restaurants even if you aren’t certain you’re going to eat them?
I always do. I have friends who say that that’s bad for the environment, putting more styrofoam, etc., into the trash dumps. For me, it comes down to the fact that when I go to these restaurants, I am, in a very real sense, going to another country; and someone in that culture is inviting me into their home. I want, therefore, to show respect to the culture; to honor the culture.
What do you all do? Always take, never take, depends? And why? Is the eco argument the more compelling one?
And happy Passover to all. I hope you had a good Seder, if you went to one …
LOOKING FOR INTERESTING BAR FOOD AND A SPOT TO CATCH THE SWEET 16 …:
After watching so many bball games over the weekend, eating your typical bar food at local bars in Bethesda, I begin to wonder if there are any sports bars that serves upscale or innovative bar food (not just wings, pizza, and nachos). DC (metro accessible) or MoCo would be preferred for the upcoming sweet 16 games.
The challenge, here, is that the places that put more thought into their food tend not to have lots of TVs going, and the places that have lots of TVs going, tend not to put a lot of thought into their food.
Have you thought about Church Key?
My last visit to The Hamilton was a good one; much-improved sushi and good chicken wings with a high-end gloss on mumbo sauce * (and any DC establishment that puts mumbo sauce on the menu, in any form, gets marks in my book).
(* I am continually surprised to learn that most people in the DC metro region have no idea what mumbo sauce is. … OK, that’s not true; I am not continually surprised. In fact, I am not surprised at all, when I really think about it. Disappointed? That probably gets closer to the truth. It’s one of those things that, in food at least, shows who the wanna-bes are. Who has taken the time to learn the city in all its crazy-quilt lore vs. who just pops into Ben’s for a half-smoke once every two years and claims to know D.C.
(I don’t even think you need to like mumbo sauce, which is, let’s just say, not the subtlest, most refined taste in the world: imagine a concoction of duck sauce, ketchup and a shake of hot sauce. But you do need to know it.)
Re: SEDER DINNERS …:
JAM (Jews & Muslims) is a good organization that is bringing Jews and Muslims together. They are holding their second annual interfaith passover sedar dinner on April 3rd @ DINO restaurant.
Link is listed below for people who are interested. http://www.eventbrite.com/event/5888547805#
Though Passover ends on April 2.
Curious to know what the organization does, generally? What events, what activities, etc. …
Re: TAKING HOME LEFTOVERS …:
I take it all home, in a doggie bag, for my dog.
But she has competition, because my standards are lower when I’m foraging for lunch the next day. I also like the culinary challenge of making something taste better with some added ingredients.
Thanks for chiming in …
And you bring up something that’s also interesting, that we don’t usually talk about — what sorts of things do you like to concoct out of leftovers, or what do you borrow from take-home dishes to perk up your own?
I like using the finger peppers from Szechuan cooking and the rice. It’s like fried rice starter.
But what else … ?
HELP! — ISO KOSHER-FOR-PASSOVER SOUP … :
Any recommendations of where to get kosher for passover soup?
I am currently sick (so I missed my family’s seder last night, wahh!) and would love some soup to cheer me up. The matzoh ball soup from DGS is delicious, but the portion is a bit small.
My go-to soup is typically Pho, but obviously that is not an option this week. Any ideas in DC?
Get the pho — just tell them to leave out the noodles.
Or swing by Soupergirl in Takoma Park. All her soups are Kosher. I think they’re expensive for what they are, and some combinations are too ungapatchka — I like more clarity in my soup — but I’ve also had some good soups here.
You can get a huge portion of matzo ball soup at the Parkway Deli, in Silver Spring. But — and I tell people this who complain about DGS’s prices — it’s not in the same ballpark as chef Barry Koslow’s; it’s not even in the parking lot. Parkway’s is salty as all hell and the matzo ball will sit in your gut like a lump — but hey, they give you a lot.
Re: BABY SHOWER SPOTS …:
I attended a baby shower brunch of about the size the previous poster mentioned at Lia’s in Friendship Heights. The food is not spectacular, but it’s decent, and they seemed to be able to handle a group that size fairly easily.
You would also definitely be able to stay within the $30 per head budget.
I also wonder if there’s somewhere that has a fixed price brunch buffet with mimosas for under $30. Can’t think of any place off the top of my head but it would be a good idea for a baby shower.
Thanks for putting that thought in my head — I think that’s a great idea for a baby shower, a bottomless mimosa brunch.
That puts a number of spots I hadn’t previously been thinking into play: Ardeo + Bardeo, Bistro Bohem, Nage, Medium Rare …
There’s also Kafe Leopold — which doesn’t do bottomless mimosas, but which is a stylish and mostly serene spot in Georgetown and generally does a good job with (simple) breakfast.
Re: LEFTOVERS …:
I use Peruvian chicken leftovers for everything – chicken salad (add green sauce to it!), chicken stock, etc.
I also love making fried rice with leftover moo goo gai pan, and omelets with leftover fried rice.
You’re so right about that, a chicken salad made of pollo a la brasa, with green sauce mixed into the mayo, can be terrific.
That omelet out of fried rice — do you use the fried rice the way you would diced ham and peppers, say, or do you literally incorporate it into your egg mixture?
Re: LEFTOVERS …:
Just like I got in the habit of bringing my own shopping bags years ago I often now have a small pyrex container with me when I go to restaurants.
It isn’t a big deal since I often have a bag big enough for it, and I much prefer it to the leaky styrofoam which is given out which I tend to transfer out of anyways.
Ethiopian and sometimes Indian are, for me, the cuisines that often require double-bagging. One bag, and you may have a curried (or berbere-scented) car seat.
I guess the reason I asked the question originally, is not so much to know that you’re taking stuff home, but what your rationale is — and specifically, if the cultural consideration is even a consideration for you. As I said, for me it always is. Is that not how it is for you? Does concern for the environment cause you to bring your own form of transport or to forgo leftovers altogether? Do you find the question not a conundrum — even a little one — at all?
Re: SEDER DINNERS …:
A description on what JAM does:
“JAM DC exists to bring together Muslim and Jewish young professionals in the Washington DC area through social, educational, cultural, and service activities, as well as to publicize these bridge-building activities to serve as an inspiration locally, nationally and internationally. JAM DC (formerly Olive Branch DC) launched in 2009 and has brought together our two communities for an Interfaith I…ftaar, Passover Seder, Unity Walk, and various movie nights and dinners. JAM’s facebook page is for Jews and Muslims in DC to connect online, share events and articles, and engage in discussion. …”
I would attend the April 3rd dinner, but a little thing called wedding anniversary is the same day.
Thanks for the explanation.
RESTAURANTS AND GROUPON …:
Can we talk about how restaurants view GroupOns?
We used one to try out 2941 a couple of weeks ago. Not sure if it was because of that, but the service was horrendous – we’re talking, waiter-tore-up-the-dessert-menu-in-front-of-us-when-we-declined-dessert-bad, and front desk staff cold and unfriendly.
We did write the manager an email the next day, but never heard back from them.
So – is this a symptom of using a GroupOn? (It wasn’t particularly generous – we still ended up paying about 70$ (including a required 20% tip on before-GroupOn pricing). Or is this something we should take as a general sign of how a restaurant is and leave it at that?
It’s a good question.
And one I absolutely would be wondering myself, if I had had the experience you had.
I’d love to hear what others of you have to say on this count — have you found something similar (or, if not similar, then just plain disappointing or bad) at restaurants where you showed up with a Groupon discount?
I tend to think — and this is based on my own experience, over the years, and the anecdotal evidence of friends and family — that going to a restaurant with any form of coupon or discount (and that includes showing up during Restaurant Week) generally means you get less-than. That’s not to say always. But generally.
But I mean, Jesus — he literally ripped up the menu in front of you when you declined dessert?
That’s a new one, to me. I think the meal ought to have been comped, just for your having had to witness a petulant tirade like that.
HELP! — ISO: A GREAT ITALIAN SUB IN BETHESDA …:
Any idea where to get a great Italian sub?
I know about the Italian Store and Mangliardo’s but being in Bethesda, was hoping for something closer to home?
I don’t know about great, but can you make do with very good?
You have a number of options within close range — Vace, Cornucopia, and, in Silver Spring, Marchone’s Deli.
By the way, to your list of the Italian Store and Mangialardo’s, you need to add: A. Litteri, in Northeast.
HELP! — ISO: A SUPER-SIMPLE TAKE-OUT DINNER FOR EASTER …:
My boyfriend’s sister, her husband and their three young children are coming to visit us for Easter. We have a busy weekend planned and have all agreed we would rather not spend one of our few days together in my tiny kitchen cooking. Where do you recommend getting a nice take-out dinner to feed 4 adults and 3 kids who prefer super-simple (read: plain) food?
Dessert is also necessary, and is worth a separate trip in our minds! Thanks, Todd.
I’d call up The Majestic, in Old Town Alexandria, and see what they can do for you.
The cooking is plain, in the sense that it’s eminently recognizable and not off-putting to delicate, non-adventurous sensibilities, and yet it has the refinement and attention to detail that in my mind validates your spending good money on restaurant food.
They also have stellar desserts.
So, one-stop shopping.
Let me know how things turn out … And if you need other suggestions for the weekend, or if The Majestic doesn’t work out for you, drop me a note at email@example.com
FOOD LOVE STORIES …:
I was born in DC and raised in Maryland. I now live in Thailand. When I get to missing Washington, I read this chat because of its (usually) DC-centric food musings. I love food and I miss DC. Problem solved.
So, to get to the point: kop kuhn kha. Thanks to you and your chatters for a taste of home. While I’m here posting a “thank you”, I think I’ll share a thought… I do not have a kitchen here in Thailand. I love to cook. That’s a half truth. I love to eat…cooking enables the eating. I have a rice cooker and an electric tea kettle. I’ve had success with boiled eggs, scrambled eggs, rice, rice porridge, rice pudding….you get the point. The painful part is that I live in a world of a thousand farmer’s markets. I have access to awesomely fresh and delicious ingredients but producing a great meal is akin to solving a Rubik’s Cube. Well, it is for me at least. On a particularly boring Friday night last week, I steamed some pumpkin to make a little brown rice pumpkin pudding. Pretty daggone good. The next day in a lazy state, I chowed on the leftover steamed pumpkin with a sprinkle of cinnamon and a shot of vanilla. My poor man’s dessert got me thinking…about love.
Love? Yes, love. Cinnamon loves pumpkin. Pumpkin loves cinnamon. It’s requited love. The best kind of love. Delicious love, at that.
Again, to get to the point: Often, you solicit chatters for their thoughts on a given topic, i.e. favorite kitchen appliance, thoughts on tipping on carry-out (ALWAYS on crabs, btw), thoughts on restaurant week, etc.
My question is this: What foods/flavors are just better when they are paired? From spaghetti & meatballs to cabernet & filet, what are the best food love stories? AND, who in Washington is doing the most interesting combo?
First of all, what a delightful letter to receive from abroad!
Thank you so much for writing. And musing …
And please — never, ever apologize for tarrying and not getting to the point. I love tangents. I love the unexpected connections. I live for the parenthetical, the sidebar, so-called marginalia. We need more Tristram Shandy in our lives and less James Patterson; more W.G. Sebald and less Malcolm Gladwell. More wandering, less hurdling. More imagination, less inundation of fact.
See? My own mental wandering …
(Speaking of mental wandering and chatters from far and away: a happy and peaceful spring day to you, A. in Colorado, if you’re reading along … )
Great combos: Pizza and beer. Nachos and beer. Curry and beer. Foie gras and Sauternes. Lobster and champagne. Actually, many things and champagne. Champagne goes beautifully with — my recent discovery — fried chicken. Even cold fried chicken. Goes great with french fries (there’s actually a restaurant in New Orleans, Sylvain, that serves champagne and fries). Pinot Noir and roast chicken with truffles.
(We could go on all day with this. And it would be a very, very good day, indeed … )
Re: THAT FRIED RICE OMELET … :
I sprinkle it over the egg like I would a topping as I make the omelet (sometimes I microwave it a bit to soften it). Usually beat some soy/fish sauce into the egg mixture.
I was really hoping you would say you make the omelet itself out of the rice — I really wanted to hear the recipe for that dish!
Re: LEFTOVERS …:
I share your views on leftovers and that may be because I am of Middle Eastern decent and I too view going to an ethnic restaurant, particularly a mom ‘n pop, the same way I do going to someone’s house.
I think back to the family who runs the kitchen, who prepares the food as though they are preparing it at their own house, and how upset they would be to see someone disrespect and disregard their efforts and their culture by leaving so much of it go to waste.
I know the debate comes up about whether or not the food was even tasty in the first place, but to me that’s irrelevant.
We had a very similar experience at one of the restaurants listed in your “Where I’m eating now” list where we had leftover food and the family was shocked when my friends declined taking it home. The owners insisted, and I finally chimed in saying that I would take it home. I’m glad I did because it was delicious the next day!
You and I are in complete and total accord here.
I, too, find it irrelevant whether the food was good or bad. It’s food. Someone cooked it.
I am often reminded, at certain restaurants, of the long, elaborate meals that I was privileged to attend whenever I traveled abroad — meals that sometimes seemed to exist solely for my benefit. These meals are gifts — there is really no other way to express it. People are giving you a piece of themselves and their culture. Well, often as not much more than a piece. Many of these meals have left me groaning in the middle of the night and sometimes even the next day. And yet I could no more have imagined declining something than I could have imagined declining an invitation to dinner.
NEW ORLEANS: RECOMMENDED READING :
I’m heading to New Orleans in a few weeks and wondered if you had any recommended reading before I arrive.
Any essential books, magazines or journalists/outlets I should have on my radar?
I’d make sure to pick up a copy of Lawrence Powell’s THE ACCIDENTAL CITY, which came out last year. Powell is a friend of mine, but I think the book is terrific. It’s a history of the evolution of the city, and he has the broad eye of the historian, which he is, to take into account all the necessary cultural, social, political and racial contexts, but he is also a storyteller — the pages move.
My favorite New Orleans-based novels: THE MOVIEGOER, Walker Percy; A CONFEDERACY OF DUNCES, John Kennedy Toole; COMING THROUGH SLAUGHTER, Michael Ondaatje; NIGHT PEOPLE, Barry Gifford; THE GOD OF NIGHTMARES, Paula Fox.
(Gotta read at least one of these while you’re there.)
The Gambit is the alt-weekly down there; make sure to pick it up.
I’d make sure to hit the restaurant Upperline on your first night, and talk with owner Joanne Clevenger. She’s sort of a one-woman welcoming/situating committee.
Two food writers down there, both friends, are Brett Anderson and Pableaux Johnson. Look for their stuff.
Have a great time, and favor us, will you, with a detailed report of all your eating when you come back north?
Re: MUSLIM/JEWISH SEDER AT DINO …:
Dean from Dino here. Here is their Facebook page. They are also holding an interfaith brunch connecting a temple and Islamic center in Virginia. They chose the date for after passover. https://www.facebook.com/pages/JAM-DC-Jews-and-Muslims-DC/155866977803084?fref=t s
Thanks for the clarification, Dean …
TASTING DC’S BEST …:
Hi Todd –
Some of our family will be in town this weekend, and wants to taste some of DC’s best food! Two of us are keeping kosher for Passover, while the other six are not.
Where would you recommend eating? Just for reference, we’ll also be eating at Oval Room, Rasika (no naan or rice), and Ray’s to the Third (no burger buns). Our group is six adults, and two teens, with a wide range of palates.
The mix of needs makes this tough, but I’d throw all of these spots into the pot as well:
Central Michel Richard, Fiola, Proof, Atlas Room, Blue Duck Tavern, Mintwood, and DGS Delicatessen (more than just sandwiches, and you can celebrate Passover with a glass of their [not rotgut at all] homemade slivovitz).
Using up leftovers: we have found that all sorts of leftovers, from Indian food to Jamaican work really well for a good breakfast hash.
Pan fry potatoes with onions and peppers add the chopped up leftovers, top with a fried egg (sunnyside up to get some good yolk in the mix). Serve on top of an english muffin and brew a large pot of coffee.
Thanks for the tip …
Which reminds me — I not long ago came up with the perfect doctoring of a can of Progresso lentil soup. A shot of extra virgin olive oil, a pinch of berbere, a spritz of Meyer lemon, and a small pinch of sea salt flakes. Kind of amazing — the thing actually end up tasting like restaurant food.
Who else has a dish they routinely doctor and make infinitely better?
FABIO TRABOCCHI’S NEW VENTURES …:
With Chef Fabio Trabocchi opening two new restaurants soon (Casa Luca and Fiola Mare), I sure hope the quality of the food and service doesn’t suffer! Do you think it is very ambitious for a chef to open two new restaurants within the same vicinity, all in the same year?
Should be an interesting food war between Bob Kinkead’s new Italian seafood place vs. Fabio’s Fiola Mare, just blocks away!
I don’t think it’s ambitious; it is ambitious.
We will see, soon, whether it was visionary or foolhardy or many somethings in between.
I am generally of the opinion that more Fabio, not less, is a good thing for this city. But yes, yes, a thousand times yes — that can’t mean good food but so-so service, or pretty good food and pretty good service.
What the city needs, and seldom gets, is great casual and not-expensive Italian. Maybe Casa Luca ends up being great and casual and not-expensive. Let’s hope. But, really, how many Italian restaurants in the city currently fit that description? I can think of only one, and that’s 2 Amys.
RESTAURANTS AND GROUPON, CONT. …:
For the person looking for take-out on Easter – in addition to the Majestic, Society Fair might do something easy and good.
And – confidential to Todd – yes, literally ripped it up. We declined dessert, he told us we were making a mistake, we commented that sometimes these things happened, and he responded “Yes, people make mistakes” while ripping up the dessert menu (which was already a bit torn) in front of us.
My jaw about hit the floor (and we did note that in our email the next day. I’m not usually one to gripe or to expect something above and beyond, but jeepers).
I wasn’t there, so I don’t know if it was done in jest, or with an over-the-top sort of flourish — but I am going to bet that it wasn’t, given what you have written already.
And I mean it — the meal ought to have been comped at that point.
(I expect a flood of dissent on this point, but I will go back to what a GM I was writing about once said. He said that a meal at a good restaurant is supposed to be a fantasy. That that’s the reason we go, and that every slip-up or bit of thoughtlessness on the part of a server or other staffer “bruises” us — i.e., takes us out of this fantasy. And by “bruise” he was simply referring to spilling water or walking too fast through the dining room or failing to smile, etc. Not ripping up a menu in someone’s face. That’s not a bruise — that’s a punch to the face.)
And on that disquieting note — I’ve gotta run …
Thanks for all the great comments and questions and tips.
And be thinking, for next week, of what prepared dish you have a formula, as it were, for doctoring — what canned soup, say, you make better by thoughtful tweaking. I’d love to know …
Happy Passover. Happy Easter.
Be well, eat well, and let’s do it again next Tuesday at 11 …
[missing you, TEK … ]