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: email@example.com
A GREAT SANDWICH IN BALTIMORE? :
I am going to be in Baltimore on a week day and am looking for a place to get a great sandwich for lunch. Any suggestions?
A little out of the way if you’re going to be downtown, but as for me, I’d be willing to go some distance to eat at Artifact, Spike Gjerde’s bakery and cafe in Hampden.
They do an excellent pastrami sandwich — the fatty meat is prepared with the aid of a sous vide machine, ridding it of some of its fat but not so much as to leave it unjuicy. I should also say that the meat comes from a local source, is butchered by one of Gjerde’s cooks, and is spiced on the premises.
On another, related note — pastrami is having a moment, huh? DGS, Bub and Pop’s, Artifact, Stachowski, The Carving Room …
I’ve had pastrami sandwiches from four of those five, and the clear winner, to me, is DGS. Artifact makes a very good sandwich. The quality of meat at Stachowski is fantastic, but the spicing is much too muted. The pastrami sandwich I had at the Carving Room was full of small, dry slices, and there was not enough meat to stand up to the thick bread, which, by the way, fell apart a third of the way through.
FOLLOWING-UP FROM LAST WEEK: THE STORY OF THE RIPPED-UP MENU:
Wow, that story from last week about ripping up the dessert menu at 2941 (a restaurant where I’ve had very gracious service in the past) is breathtaking. I’ll be fascinated to hear the owner’s response.
I wonder if it might be interesting to compare stories of the “worst service ever.” Mine came many years ago, at the now-closed Woo Lae Oak in Pentagon City.
To be fair to the restaurant, they were slammed that evening with a huge wedding party. This was a business dinner with five of us, including two out-of-town guests. When they brought the entrees, they brought nothing for my wife. Okay, accidents happen. But the waitress insisted, angrily, that my wife had not ordered ANY dinner and refused to apologize or put in a rush order for a replacement entree. My wife’s insisting that she had come out to dinner in order to have dinner had no effect.
That’s the only time in my entire dining career that I’ve tipped zero, with a note on the credit card receipt asking management to call me (which didn’t happen).
And telling that they didn’t call you, either. Which makes it doubly awful.
And yeah, I’m sure everybody out there has a story like it — probably several stories like it. If you have a restaurant horror story that springs immediately to mind, please, by all means — do tell …
I’m also looking to follow-up on a thread of conversation from last week — the things that you like to doctor in the kitchen. Soups from a can, already-cooked rotisserie chickens, etc. I’m interested in hearing your tips for improving the sorts of things we all have on hand.
SCORING A TABLE AT LITTLE SEROW:
I’m planning to surprise my boyfriend with dinner at Little Serow tomorrow. Any thoughts you have on what time I should show up to get in line would be great.
I’d prefer not to be in the first seating so that he can meet me elsewhere for a drink and then we can walk over to Little Serow.
Is 5:30 good?
I’d show up at noon and wait.
I’d say plan to arrive at 5:15, and when your turn comes around in line, ask for the second seating. That’ll give you a couple of hours to have a drink and build up an appetite.
I’m thinking, just now, of the places that always have a line outside when they open. There aren’t many. Little Serow, Pasta Mia in Adams Morgan … who else?
First, loving your chats/recommendations as always.
Went to Punjabi by Nature the other night and my husband and I were talking about how you never, ever steer us wrong (also had the make your own dosa at WF Foggy Bottom for lunch yesterday – very tasty).
Last year you gave us great recs for Charleson, and I was hoping you could recommend a couple restaurants in Philly for an upcoming weekend getaway. We’re looking for 1 lunch, 1 dinner, 1 brunch. We’ll have 6 adults (late 20s, early 30s) and 1 baby.
I just made a dinner reservation at Osteria based on a past chat I found… still your favorite, and would it work for a baby? (not having a baby, I don’t really know what to look for, but I also don’t want to sacrific the chance to try good Philly restaurants).
Would love a backup dinner rec because Osteria could only accomodate us very early. And how about brunch? And lunch – should we just hit up the Reading Market? This is our first time in Philly so I really don’t know where to go… any recommendations for an after dinner drink would be appreciated as well. Thanks!!
I’m so glad to hear you loved Punjabi by Nature. I still think about the chole there. Amazing stuff.
And chatters, if you haven’t been out there, you need to. It’s worth the trip. Take that food out of its food court setting, put it on china in a soothing dining room in downtown, and everybody would be talking about it.
Re: Philly — Osteria is, yes, good for a small kid. (It’s very, very good for an adult. ; )
They have high chairs, and the staff, if you go early — and you should, if you’re going with a small kid — will take care of you.
I like Reading Market a lot. It’s fun to explore, and if you have never been, you should make a visit.
For brunch, I’d recommend Garces Trading Co.; I had one of the best brunches I’ve had in years there my last time up.
Some other spots to consider for dinner: Vernick’s; Amada; Alla Spina; Farm and Fisherman.
Enjoy your trip, and happy eating. I’d love to hear how things turned out …
A GREAT SANDWICH IN BALTIMORE, CONT. …:
Less elegant but still excellent sandwiches in Baltimore, closer to downtown:
Attman’s Deli for old-school Jewish-deli style cold cut.
Di Pasqualli’s for Italian-style subs.
Less conveniently located and a little off-the-beaten path: Greg’s Bagels, next to Belvedere Square market, has both traditional and non-traditional bagel stuff — and Belvedere Square also has the original Atwater’s and Neopol spots, both of which have excellent sandwiches.
Thank you for the suggestions, and for widening the discussion beyond the new, talked-about place.
I keep meaning to get to Greg’s Bagels. So thanks, also, for that reminder.
Re: ADOUR, IN THE ST. REGIS HOTEL:
Does Adour give out any amouse bouches/canapes if you decide to do the tasting menu?
I am a sucker for canapes and amouse bouches with tasting menus. Debating on whether to go there on Friday for dinner. Would be my first visit there.
So, wait — your decision as to whether to drop approximately $350 on dinner for two hinges on whether they offer a two-bite preview at the start of the meal?
Not the atmosphere, not the cooking in general, not the wine list, not the service, not the availability of parking — but the amuse bouche?
This is not a belated April Fool’s prank?
A LINE OUT THE DOOR, CONT.:
How about Little Serow’s neighbor, Sushi Taro. You’d better be lined up fifteen minutes early if you want a seat when they open the door for happy hour.
OK, so we have Little Serow, Pasta Mia, Sushi Taro … Who else?
Not sure if it’s really a dining destination, but do you or any chatters have any recommendations for the Tampa area (and, more specifically, Clearwater Beach)?
Re: THAI DEELISH, IN ASHBURN:
Kind of a weird, subjective question, but have you ever tried Thai Deelish in Ashburn, Va?
When I lived out there I adored the place, but was never sure if it was actually that good, or more a function of not having a whole lot else around. The curries were amazing, with distinct, unusual (to me) flavors and spices. The menu had some unusual items. And the service was often … haphazard, at best, but always well-intentioned.
Basically, I’m wondering if the food at this place was good as I remember it being or if I was just delusional from Loudoun residency.
You learn a new word, you hear about a new place — and boom, a week, two weeks later that word, that place, pops up everywhere.
I just learned about Thai Deelish not too long ago. I have a cousin who lives out that way. I added it to my long list, and had planned to pay a visit next time I was out to see him.
So, I can’t confirm whether or not the place is good, or just good in your memory, though, really, what matters is that you liked it, no?
That’s not to say that if you like it = it’s good, just that if you liked it, then it shouldn’t matter whether I or any other critic says, if we happen to say otherwise.
I wonder, though: Is it possible for you — for people — to say: “I like this place, though I will readily admit that it’s really not very good”? Or: “I really dislike this place, though I know that it’s actually a very, very good restaurant”? In my experience, people tend not to do this. Or to be able to do this. They tend to equate their judgment with Judgment. If I like it, it’s good; if I don’t like it, it’s not.
A LINE OUT THE DOOR, CONT.:
Toki Underground for sure
Of course! How could I forget?
So: Little Serow, Pasta Mia, Sushi Taro, Toki Underground … what else?
We could probably add Izakaya Seki to that list, though it’s not a line so much as a cluster.
Little Serow, Pasta Mia, Sushi Taro, Toki Underground, Izakaya Seki …
Looking at that list, some interesting things jump out at me.
Four of the five are Asian, and besides being hot, are also among the city’s best restaurants. I think it says something about the emergence of Asian food in the city, that it has a resonance, now, that it lacked seven, eight years ago.
I don’t hate Pasta Mia, though a lot of foodies I know scoff at the place. I think it’s fun. It’s not homemade pasta (though the sauces are), and the wait is not, after the first or second time, worth what you get. But it’s a relatively inexpensive night in the city, and it has an old-school charm that many other restaurants in the city don’t.
Re: WESTEND BISTRO:
Hi Todd- love the chats!
I wanted to write in about my last 2 experiences at West End Bistro. I never made it there when Chef Eric Ripert was involved, but it is now on my list of favorite places to go in DC.
My first experience there was sitting at the pass for my husband’s birthday. This is one of the best kept secrets in D.C. and I struggled with whether or not I should write in about it!
You can sit, wait for it, at the pass looking into the kitchen. The regular menu is available or you can talk to the chef about putting together a tasting menu and just tell him how many courses you want. The chef and the sous chef were both really fun to talk to and it was amazing to watch the whole team work.
We went with the 7 course tasting and it did not disappoint. We were able to sample so much of what was on the menu and when the chef overheard us chatting about how good the shrimp and grits looked, he tacked that on to our tasting.
Those were the highlight for sure but everything was just fantastic. Worth mentioning is the wine pairing that we did for a bargain price of $35 a person. The tasting was very reasonably priced too, maybe around $85 for 7 courses and it was a TON of food.
After having such a great meal there, we went back the other week when my parents were in town. When we arrived, we were told we would have to wait a few minutes for our table which is no big deal. Off to the bar we went and about 30 minutes went by and we were still not seating.
Apparently, there was some confusion at the host stand and they thought we were seated already. The manager could not be more apologetic and gracious about it. She sent over several appetizers while we waited for the next table that could accomodate 6 people to be ready (and the good stuff- tuna carpaccio, duck liver, and one or two other delicious apps).
This would have been more than enough, but they brought each of us a glass of prosecco when we sat at our table and then took 50% off of the entire bill. Honestly, we were blown away.
The food was great (although we were heart broken that shrimp and grits are off the menu for the time being) but to be treated so well for an honest mix up was remarkable.
There is a lot of chatter on here about how restaurants don’t always handle things in the best way when things go wrong, so it seems only fair to share this tale of a restaurant going above and beyond. Definitely a winner in my book.
And let me add that it’s great to be able to include a story like this amid the griping and the nit-picking that goes on in here — from all of you and from me, too. It’s nice to be able to say, Hey, this place did a great job of taking care of you and making you feel special.
My most recent meal there was very good, too, and reminded me a good bit of the restaurant in its early days when Ripert and team were around a lot.
The chef, Devin Bozkaya, was a smart hire. Not just talented, but also a good fit for the operation.
Thanks for writing in …
OBJECTIVITY/SUBJECTIVITY AND FOOD:
Definitely possible for folks to like a place that isn’t, objectively, really good.
For example, going to Williard’s in Chantilly for burnt ends makes me really happy – even though they’re not Arthur Bryant’s burnt ends and even though they may not be the best in the area. But because I’ve gone there with good friends and family and consistently had a good experience, it’s a “good” restaurant in my book even if critics/foodies may not love it.
I feel similarly about Windy City dogs in Leesburg: because it was the first place in DC/NoVA I found that would do a Chicago-style dog properly. Again, not a “great” restaurant, but feels good when I walk in.
On the other hand, while I want to like Central, it’s never really done much for me. I know that it is a “great” restaurant, but I’ve always left feeling a bit meh. So while I trust your opinion and those of others on places to try, (thank you, Todd, again, for turning us on to Caraquena which is one of our go-to spots), I think that’s only a starting place for finding food and experiences that bring you joy.
I think happiness and joy is as good a metric as any!
Thanks for chiming in …
The quest for The Ultimate motivates a lot of foodies, but it doesn’t do much for me. It sets up expectations, for one — and expectations are bound to lead to disappointment, or, just as bad, to a sense that: Hey, I had a great meal/dish/hot dog, which means I had the experience I am supposed to have. For another, I don’t believe there is an Ultimate, in food or any other creative realm. I don’t believe there is perfection.
Not related, really, but it has me thinking — the notion of expectations and such … This past week I visited two new places, and walked in both times thinking I was going to love these restaurants. I always want to love a new place; always. I hate it when a place is mediocre or disappointing or just somehow never quite comes together. I do. It’s dispiriting, and I feel bad for the place and for the people who have put in the work and money and time.
But anyway: these two places. A lot went into them. It’s clear to see that. A real attempt is being made to mind the details. You can see that, too. And yet my meals were — well, one was bad; the other was mostly bad. And while I do believe that places can evolve and get better, that doesn’t happen often. And in these two instances, I can’t see that occurring. It’s a shame. These restaurants, if they were good, would be real credits to their neighborhoods.
Good afternoon, Todd.
Since people are sort of looking for the next new or great thing (and then hundreds pile on the bandwagon if it does well), I’m wondering if you think the art of brewing coffee might be the next revelation?
It’s already taking root in other cities such as NYC and LA. Although coffee proprietors probably have run through the majority of brewing processes, there are a couple still out there to be discovered.
Will it come to DC or will it be too avant-garde? I’m thinking of the Japanese brew method in which you don’t use near-boiling water to make a cup of the good stuff.
Oh, I think it will.
Trends are finding their way here more quickly than they used to.
This is also a city flooded with young, on-the-go people with a lot of disposable income and a desire, on the one hand, to fuel that fast pace and, on the other, to take an hour out here and there and camp with a laptop in a coffeehouse.
Two years, would be my bet.
WESTEND BISTRO, CONT.:
See, now that is cool. Being able to sit in the pass and observe the chef and his team preparing the meals. Will have to add WestEnd Bistro to my list now.
Restaurateurs, take note: Foodies are dying to sit in the pass.
Watch. We’ll see a wave of this in the next couple of years. We’ll love it.
And then we won’t.
We’ll grow weary of it. We’ll think it’s a cliche. Eventually we’ll turn grumpy, and wonder why so many restaurants think that people should want to sit at the pass, of all places.
Incidentally, a few new restaurants have installed chef’s table-style seats that offer diner’s a glimpse of the action without having to spring for an actual, expensive chef’s table: Range in Chevy Chase, Table in Shaw, Beuchert’s Saloon on Capitol Hill.
A LINE OUT THE DOOR, CONT.:
I don’t really get it, but I’ve never been to a Cheesecake Factory and not had to wait in line.
You don’t get it?
I do: affordable prices, big portions, lively atmosphere, consistency.
And although the food’s not high quality, like many of the restaurants we routinely talk about on here, it’s not slop.
A LINE OUT THE DOOR, CONT.:
Daikaya also has a line– Another Asian restaurant. Not sure how that has worked since the izakaya opened. Are there separate lines for each spot?
Not sure, either.
But that gives us — Little Serow, Pasta Mia, Sushi Taro, Toki Underground, Izakaya Seki, Cheesecake Factory, and Daikaya.
One commonality, beyond the fact that five are Asian: with the exception of Taro, all are (relatively) not that expensive.
THAI DEELISH, CONT.:
I agree that if I liked it, then it’s good. I’m guess I’m not looking for personal validation so much as a more fully-informed opinion, and especially an opinion removed from all the subjective feelings that I brought to the place. (The main one being, “Hey, this sure seems like terrific thai food and I don’t have to drive for an hour to get it,” but including many others as well.)
Thanks for looking into it!
Thanks for the reinforcement.
Gotta run, everyone. Thanks for all the tips and recs and comments.
Be well, eat well, and let’s do it again next Tuesday at 11 …
[missing you, TEK … ]