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
EXPLORING SOME NEIGHBORHOOD ENCLAVES …:
My husband and I live in Arlington Va and are interested in exploring more of the small DC enclaves for good eats (ie Bloomingdale and the Palisades for example)
What are the best neighborhood restaurants that are worth the trek?
Well, if it’s those two neighborhoods, the answer’s easy: The Red Hen in Bloomingdale, and BlackSalt or Makoto in Palisades.
Here’s my recent review of the Red Hen:
I like its casual charm, its intimacy, its unforced soulfulness, and the good news is that much of the cooking follows suit.
BlackSalt is a real pick-me-up of a place after a long or hard day. You sink into it. I like the simpler dishes — the not-so-composed ones, the plates that aren’t made up of a lot of different elements. At Makoto, you’re in the hands of the chef, so I can’t give you too much guidance, except to say that many of the greatest rewards are to be found on the a la carte sushi and sashimi menu.
Good morning, everyone!
Just to let you know — there’re a lot of questions in the queue already about last week’s etiquette debate, and I’m looking forward to picking up that discussion with all of you again …
“MARK KULLER’S THIRD COURSE,” IN THE MAGAZINE:
I enjoyed your article on Mark Kuller, which frames Kuller’s life progression as growing out of his unique family history.
But his story – upright fiftysomething guy ends his marriage, buys a Porsche, quits his humdrum lawyer job, invests a ton of money on “creative” ventures, chases decades-younger women, dresses flashy, throws himself giant parties, and wants everyone to see him as a conspicuous macher – seems to be a familiar one. Other than the fact that Kuller’s restaurants are successful rather than disastrous, how does this story not scream out classic midlife crisis?
I understand your point.
But I also think it’s reductive and kind of glib. I mean, we can play that game with everyone we meet in life, and every character we encounter, too.
King Lear — cranky old man at the end of his life. Gatsby — flashy poseur. Etc., etc.
I wanted to get below the surface and explore the internal dynamics of the man, which I think go beyond the classification “mid-life crisis” — which I also think is much too-simplistic, much too coldly “science,” to describe the very real traumas that many men go through.
FOLLOWING-UP FROM LAST WEEK — FOOD ETIQUETTE, CONT.:
I think what you wrote about — the visitor who refuses the meal you serve — also depends on how a person was raised their background.
My parents are from pakistan and I grew up learning that you do not turn down food if you are at someone’s house as a guest. Even if you are not hungry for a meal can ask for some fruit instead.
As a kid who had to spend one too many summers in pakistan one should not turn down chai if it is offered by the host. Big no no
And a big no-no in many, many cultures.
Thanks for chiming in …
We live in an age of fracture and dislocation, and an age in which there are no hard and fast rules or codes anymore for many of the things we go through. It’s why shows like “Seinfeld,” or “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” struck such a chord, besides being very funny — they expertly examined this cultural relativism. How do we act anymore? What do we say? Whose background do we honor, and why?
We are heading to Richmond to explore in a couple of weeks and would love some insight into the dining scene and places to try.
The caveat — we have a 3 month old and a pretty rowdy 3 year old (sound familiar?). We are going to risk it and head to brunch at the Jefferson on Sunday as brunch buffets are a big hit with the (adventurous eating) toddler and although calm also allow for a bit of wandering and exploration.
What else is worth trying? What shouldn’t we miss? Thank you in advance for all of your wonderful ideas!
I did a quick and dirty dining guide to the city a few months ago:
Two other places I’d add: Belmont Food Shop, which is tiny — 7 tables? — and is just the sort of passionate indie so many of us look for when we’re in another city. If you go after 9, they put out a chef’s plate (all the fun, funky stuff that chefs like to eat) for — this is not a misprint — $9. And another good passionate indie: the new-ish Dutch & Co., in Church Hill.
As I wrote about in the guide, Lehja would probably rank as one of the top-tier Indian restaurants in D.C., Peter Chang’s China Cafe is excellent, and The Roosevelt (where you can pair chicken skin sliders with Virginia — and only Virginia — wines) is hard to resist.
Enjoy yourselves. And come back on and let us know where you ended up, and how it all went.
FOOD ETIQUETTE, CONT.:
I mean no disrespect to you at all: my husband and I love your taste, live by your recommendations, and generally think you’re hunky-dory. But I agree with the other chatters who think you’re being too touchy about this (and are clearly still feeling quite put out!).
I think that absolutely, when in a different culture, and/or when you don’t know the people hosting you, you eat something, as much of everything as you can, so as not to be rude.
I also think that the rules are different with good friends and family, especially if it has not been made clear that food will be part of the meeting-time/event. You point out that your guest wasn’t your friend, but to me, there’s an assumption underscoring good friendship that your friend’s partner is your friend as well, from the first time you meet them until/unless they show some kind of disrespect to your friend (in which case you are allowed to hate their guts and be rude to them).
So from that light, the fact that your guest was relaxed and informal enough to be OK turning down your food might be more of a compliment than you think. (That your wife hadn’t seem him in decades does not really indicate to me that they aren’t, or weren’t, good friends. Unless it turns out he has lived in the same city as her the entire time, there could be perfectly good reasons for that.)
I’m going to raise a couple other possibilities that I don’t think anyone else did.
(1) What if he had some kind of allergy to something in what you made (e.g., eggs), or even just a diet he didn’t want to break, and just didn’t want to go into it with you and your wife? Is he obliged to say something in that case? I have a number of annoying, ridiculous, non-life-threatening-but-uncomfortable food allergies that frequently make it easier to turn down, for example, the guacamole that everyone is raving about. It doesn’t mean I want to explain myself every time I don’t sample someone’s dish (though frequently I do feel I have to), but nor do I want to subject myself to hives and swollen lips to satisfy someone else’s ego.
Which brings me to (2), which again, I say with all due respect, but I believe you have even written about this here before, which is that all of us who really enjoy cooking know, in some measure, that cooking is not completely selfless, at least not most of the time, and that we frequently derive some satisfaction and even pleasure from the compliments that result. So is it possible that part of the snub you felt, and part of the reason you feel so strongly about it, is that he was depriving you of your chance to show off a bit (even with a simple dish)?
Finally, I’ll point out that you can’t have it both ways: you say both that he shouldn’t refuse food that effort has been taken to make for him, but at the same time you say that you were really cooking for you and your wife, and just decided to make extra to include him. If it was presented as “I made my wife dinner, would you like some,” I think any obligation is far less than “I made dinner for you.” But this is a quibble.
My main point is that you don’t know all of his reasons for refusing, so why not take a more genial attitude towards it, why the hostility? I am assuming that he is a Westerner, but if he were from a different culture (if he’s in fact not), would you be more understanding and accepting of the refusal, or would you still be digging in about this? And in the end, who is ruder, the guest who doesn’t so much as taste some of the host’s food, or the host who becomes sullen to a first-time guest who breaks an unwritten, possibly unknown, rule?
Apologies for the length, and we still love you. 🙂
Well, listen — part of the fun of dredging this up again was to don the cloak of righteousness and get huffy all over again.
I’m not saying I didn’t feel those things at the time, but I didn’t express them like that. That’s one of the fun things in writing, the adopting of a mask — to say things with more intensity or extremity than you might otherwise as you play and explore.
I say things that I mean in the moment. An hour later, I might feel differently. A day later, I might have forgotten all about my state of mind at the time. I also, in discussions — and this is a discussion, is it not? — say things that I’m trying out. To see where I go. To see where a conversation goes. Maybe I mean them. Maybe I don’t. Maybe I think I mean them. Maybe I mean them more later. Maybe I don’t mean them as much later. Maybe I mean them less later.
I doubt, in this case, that the visitor had an allergy. Not saying it’s not possible. But I doubt it. Everybody nowadays is so up front about their ailments and their predilections and their needs and their aversions.
And believe me, my ego was hardly wrapped up in a little thing I whipped up for a light dinner. The offending action, in this case, was to reject the offer of even a few bites of food. Something, by the way, I have never, ever seen anyone do in my house, or the house I grew up in, or the house of anyone I have ever spent time in. So, far from being egotistical about this, I would say that I was made alienated in my own home.
POSTCARD FROM … PARIS:
Todd, just wanted to share the magnificent experience last week in Paris . . .
Hubby took me to Guy Savoy for my 60th birthday. Service beyond belief and course after amuse bouche after course of delight! Super pricey, but well worthy of the occasion. Been there?
Sounds fantastic. And happy birthday!
You know that we’re all insanely jealous/pettily spiteful of you right now, right? ; )
FOOD ETIQUETTE, CONT.:
In response to last week’s etiquette dilemma from a from a former Washingtonian:
An uber polite guest might have tasted a bit and commented on the food, its preparation, its originality or at least its origins, and asked about your interest in food. A merely polite guest might have just made the above comments.
The opposite happened to me and others as guests and I am curious about chatters’ thoughts or whether Carolyn Hax at the WP is a more proper venue.
Wife, I, and our two kids drove six hours one way to see my in-laws who were hosting an elderly relative from Belgium for several weeks. Our presence for a weekend trip had been requested for months. Customarily on these occasions I volunteer to cook and give a lot of effort, especially for Christmas, Thanksgiving, etc. (Last T-giving, four meals for ten, all from scratch, with appetizers, and spent a bundle on groceries. It was at a beach rental, so I brought my own cookware and utensils.)
But given the brevity of the trip I did not offer and my wife did not volunteer me. Mother-in-law declined to host any event for the 11 of us, leaving it to the sister-in-law, who essentially also declined to cook. She decided instead to invite some neighbors, get carry out barbeque and fix some side dishes, which consisted of canned green bean casserole, grits, store bought dips and “scoops. ” The neighbors contributed boxed mac-n-cheese. But to be fair to them, it was two boxes.
The event took place around a fire pit, with paper plates. Furthermore, the sister-in-law, despite new claims to be “a wine person,” told the aunt that she was welcome to drink the cava the aunt brought, “If you don’t mind drinking out of plastic.” The aunt, a longtime wine drinker, was too polite to note that children drink out of plastic and suggest the obvious alternative, and was never offered refills by the hosts.
Since T-giving is around the bend, I’m tempted to do nothing and watch the whole family suffer with food poisoning or at best a truly subpar meal. Or, do I again spend hours in the kitchen for people who don’t deserve such attention?
(That’s one of the things that separates this forum from Carolyn Hax; I’m not going to turn it back around on you, and make you examine your own shortcomings.
(I do think the food poisoning crack is going too far, but I appreciate the rage. ; )
You didn’t say, but I’m guessing that everyone either preferred the potluck thing or liked it as much. That’s too bad. Cooking is a lot of work, and especially when you give it more thought than usual.
But you raise a broader question that I think is interesting, which is that we all find ourselves, as food-obsessed people, cooking from time to time (and maybe more than that) for people who are only mildly interested. Or, if they like it, don’t like it enough — don’t compliment your efforts enough, don’t talk about the dishes enough as they eat them, etc.
How do you handle it?
Do you scale back your labors if you know you’re going to be cooking for people who won’t be fully appreciative?
Is it enough simply to know that you’re giving of yourself to people you like and love?
“BREAKING BAD” AND FRIED CHICKEN:
have you been watching Breaking Bad? If so how do you think Las Pollos Hermanos would stack up against KFC, Popeyes, Bon Chon? Also, any thoughts about the series finale this sunday?
Sorry; no thoughts — haven’t seen the show.
I have eaten a good bit of Bonchon, however. Has anyone been to the new GrizForm-designed spot in Arlington? A vivid example of the kind of blurring I love to see, the exciting and smart melding of high and low. And yeah, the chicken is as fantastic as ever.
FOOD AND ETIQUETTE, CONT.:
Everyone knows that when someone presents you with food they have prepared for you, whether you’ve eaten or not, you say “Wow, that looks great, thanks for taking the time to make it for me” and dig in.
On another subject, I asked you for your recommendations for restaurants at Rehobeth Beach a couple of weeks ago. One of your suggestions was Helopin Oyster House. It was the best meal we had at the beach, atmosphere and food were great. My only complain was the menu offered “fried clams”, and when I asked found out they were clam strips. Weird for a seafood restaurant. We had calamari, a lobster roll, and lobster mac and cheese. The mac and cheese was enough to feed 3 people. Also went to Confusius Chinese – ehh. Thanks for the chats and recommendations.
That’s too bad about Confucius — I’ve had good luck there; sorry you didn’t. But I’m so glad to know that Henlopen City Oyster House worked out so well.
Thanks for the report.
As for your remark re: the ongoing debate over refusing or accepting a host’s offer of food, that “everyone knows” — well, yeah, except that, evidently, everyone doesn’t. My guest didn’t. And a number of people on here the past couple of weeks have dissented.
POSTCARD FROM … BOSTON:
Recently we were in Boston and had a funny restaurant experience I wanted to share.
It all starts with a toddler who is reluctant to potty train. He is getting closer and closer to using a potty outside the home but still no dice.
We are wandering, looking for places to eat, and he decided that RIGHT AT THAT MOMENT he must pee in a foreign potty for the first time “in that place”. We duck in to the closest place he points to and he does it! Time for a celebration.
We head back upstairs into this tiny restaurant and it turns out it’s a Belgian fry, beer and salad place we had considered going to called Saus. What better place to celebrate?
We order a huge fry, lots of fun dipping sauces (the concept here) , some beers and salads. Fifteen minutes later they let us know that, whoops, they are out of all salad greens. No salads. If it wasn’t for a very excited three year old we would have left. But we couldn’t. She was really embarrassed and let us know she refunded our entire dinner already and gave us the fries and beers. That helped!
So, we munch through the fries and they GREAT and toddler makes a friend and is playing and the baby is sleeping and the large strong beers start working……. we decide to forget about finding somewhere else with salads and get more fries and more beer. Yum.
But halfway through pouring the beer they run out. We choose another and then they start to run out again. Seriously, this place does not appear to be poorly run, just VERY busy and popular and perhaps a bit under managed.
So, they give us 2 different beers, the two half beers (thankfully we could walk to the hotel) they had tried to pour and our fries. All on the house. And THAT was one of the more fun, silly, tasty and certainly inexpensive meals we have had (and yes, we tipped more than liberally) and a great way to celebrate.
Good for Saus!
I mean, wow — they certainly didn’t have to do all that, and what makes it even more funny is that we all know you’re not going to be going back anytime soon since you live here and not there. But still.
That’s taking care of people.
SAN FRANCISCO EATS:
Heading to San Francisco in a few weeks and could use some help. We’ve got a couple places on the agenda (AQ, Mission Chinese Food, food trucks on Friday) but we’re looking for something really exciting. Comparable to Komi/Minibar in terms of a fun experience. Price is not a concern and we like to try interesting things.
Avid reader and huge fan. Thanks for the help!
I’d go Keiko, on Nob Hill.
Peaceful, intimate, and the French-inspired cooking from Keiko Takahashi is artful and imaginative.
Have a great time. And give us a report back.
FOOD AND ETIQUETTE, CONT.:
I’m a regular reader but never posted before today’s discussion. Absolutely, I would feel offended in your shoes. (Coming from a culture where food/refreshments are always offered to guests).
Sharing food/drinks represents opening your home to a guest. And if the food/drink is rejected than your hospitality is rejected to a certain extent. I would have shut down as well.
Also, I felt that the poster implying that you need to get over it didn’t quite get the spirit of the discussion. You weren’t harping on the situation or making fun of the guest but simply asking for different viewpoints. And I agree that a discussion like today doesn’t diminish the tragedy or the reflection that occurs after an event like the Navy Yard shooting.
I’m glad you chimed in …
And I hope you’ll consider posting more often — and not just because you agree with me. ; )
Re: ETHIOPIC — ON H ST. NE:
Meet some friends at Ethiopic over the weekend. Glad to report that the vegetarian dishes are still excellent.
The Gomen (collard greens), Miser Wot (lentils in berbere sauce), Fosolia (caramelized green beans, onions, carrots) were all packed with flavor and more than enough heat. The fried croaker was just average, not much meat on the bones and dry in places. The lamb special tibs and doro wot were unfortunately not very exciting…but I’ve always found the veg options more enticing than the meat offerings at Ethiopic.
What are your thoughts on Boundary Road? We stopped in for some pre-dinner drinks and I found the beer list excellent. Some really good selections from local DC area breweries and I enjoyed Atlas Brew Works NSFW (an Imperial IPA clocking in at 9.2% ABV with big chocolate flavors…a good one for the winter). Since we were heading to Ethiopic we didn’t try any of the food, is it worth a return trip?
Thanks for the field report from Ethiopic.
I’m heartened to hear this, though I have been watching with some alarm as the prices there go up and up.
I haven’t been to Boundary Road in a while, so unfortunately I can’t help you out. Any recent reports?
FOOD AND ETIQUETTE, CONT.:
As someone on Weight Watchers, and who counts my food and drink as points, if I were out of points or close to being out of points and I had already eaten, even a snack of pasta and crostini (both of which would be high in WW points) would put me over and set me back.
The drinking a little makes sense – it was the lowest point option offered. Also, as the daughter of someone with digestive issues, I know that late eating can be very uncomfortable for some.
Only we’ll never know because the guest never offered a reason for declining my hospitality — he simply declined with the explanation that he had already eaten.
Not — “oh, I couldn’t; I’m on a diet; sorry.”
Or — “I’ll have to decline; thank you; I unfortunately can’t handle food this late at night.”
Come to think of it, there was no apology of any kind offered. I don’t recall the sentence, “No, thank you,” coming from his lips at any time.
That might be why I was so put out. Not just the rejection, but the absence of a polite “no, thank you.”
I went to several restaurants during RW and only a few were tolerable. The oval room and 2941 stood out as the MOST awful…
A coworker suggested I give them another try saying that most places are sub par around that time anyway. I went to the Oval Room for lunch recently and every aspect of my meal was again terrible the bread was dry and seemed to have no salt, the entree was underseasoned and small, and my guest ordered dessert and that was even worse.
There was nothing special and needless to say that settled that for me. I won’t be going back.
How does a consumer gage where to go when the leading food critics in the area give conflicting reviews?
Here’s the thing: reviews have a shelf life.
Increasingly, not a very long shelf life.
How far back was the review published?
I’m not saying that I would entirely discount a review that appeared a year ago. It might still capture a place — what it’s like to be there, the style of cooking, etc. And it might still see through to why a collection of good dishes doesn’t add up to anything much at all, etc.
But a lot can change in that time. Restaurants are anything but static businesses. They’re in constant and sometimes dizzying flux.
Certain dishes that were praised might not even be on the menu. The chef who conceived them and oversaw their execution might not be around. The staff may have undergone a dramatic turnover.
This is one reason that I do this chat, and why, in part, I have been doing it for 8 years. To give all of you — you who want to know what’s good right now — more up-to-date insight.
So, check with me if you have a question for something like this, and I’ll do the best I can to give you a current read on things.
Re: OOVIO OSTERIA, IN FALLS CHURCH:
Just wondering whether you have tried Oovio Osteria yet? Their pizza is actually really solid, and more consistent than the nearby Pizzeria Orso.
They also have happy hour from 5-7 EVERYDAY..half off pizza and wine. It’s a great deal, and it worked out great with the kids. Would love to know your thoughts.
Good to hear.
Adding it to my long, long list …
WHY WE COOK, CONT.:
From the former Washingtonian: There are shortcomings a’plenty, but no rage about the food poisoning crack.
My mother-in-law served a medium-rare turkey a few years ago because she misread some directions or ignored the weight of the beast.
Unfortunately, if I don’t cook and don’t participate in a meaningful way, I’ll feel guilty. Otherwise I appreciate the feedback.
Ooh — not good.
And I know that feeling — participating out of guilt.
Here’s a comparable Thanksgiving story:
Some years ago, on the big day, my sister-in-law went to the store to run an errand for me. She was hosting, and I was doing the cooking. I was bringing a lot of the components of the meal from home, and realized on the way that I had forgotten garlic. How much do you need? she asked when I called her from the car en route. Just a few cloves, I said, thinking that this would tell her that she only needed to buy one head of garlic, and a small one at that.
When I got there, I asked about the garlic.
They were out, she said.
Out? Of garlic?
So I went to the store myself, thinking that maybe they still had shallots. Not only did they have shallots, they had garlic. Lots of garlic.
I asked her about it when I returned.
“I kept asking them about garlic cloves, and the man said they don’t have garlic cloves. He took me to the baking aisle, and I saw cloves, but it didn’t say garlic cloves and I wasn’t sure I should get that. So I didn’t get anything.”
Do you and your readers have any recommendations for a special dinner in New Orleans in November? We will only have one night in town and want to make it count!
Food is more important than atmosphere, but would like something that is a step up from our favorite po’boy spot. Either in, or walking distance from, the French Quarter would be ideal. Are old institutions such as Antoine’s worth considering?
Galatoire’s is an experience at lunch, especially Friday lunch. Men in seersucker suits, women in hats — a real social swirl as a certain privileged set eases very gently into the weekend.
And the food is good; a step up from a tourist trap, though not as exciting or full of oomph as some of the top places in town.
Commander’s Palace is a notch up.
If you’re staying in the Quarter and don’t want to venture too far, I’d make a reservation at Stella. A very assured place, very lively (and when it’s full, very, very loud), and with dishes that look simple, and taste simple, but aren’t.
FOOD AND ETIQUETTE, CONT.:
Todd, just quickly if you’ll allow…while I agree about the idea of teachable moments and how this one illustrates the possibility for an adventurous spirit – and what seems like such an obvious answer of graciousness would have been for guest to lightly sample pasta dish, I remind myself all the time that every person’s “definition” of hospitality is not necessarily what mine is, what I learned growing up.
If I expected that level everywhere I went, I would be disappointed all the time. I am lucky to have a generous understanding of hospitality (both as host and as guest), but I am acutely (and sadly) aware that it does not necessarily match many other people’s definition of hospitality.
And, there are hosts out there who I am sure top my notions of hospitality. It might seem amazing to know how many versions and what the vision of “dinner” looks like on the plate – and I’m betting that it doesn’t look the same for everyone.
Thanks for chiming in on this …
I appreciate what you say. Very sensible. Very thoughtful.
I wonder, though — is this an instance in which we take a step back and say, Ah, variety is the spice of life, and celebrate the many varied responses a human being can have when, visiting someone’s home, he or she is presented with a homecooked plate of food? Or is it an instance in which we say: There is a right (polite) way and a wrong way to decline someone’s hospitality, and to not understand that, to flout that, is to break the social contract?
Re: DIM SUM AT ORIENTAL EAST, IN SILVER SPRING:
I’ve heard you mention Oriental East for dim sum a few times. Sounds like it gets crazy on the weekends.
According to their website they serve dim sum during the week off of the menu. Have you tried that? Seems like it may be fresher and less crazy / no wait time.
Oh, you’re not likely to wait at all.
On the other hand, there are fewer items available, and because they’re not nearly as busy, things tend to wait around more. It’s not the same. Good, still — but not the same.
Time for lunch. Thank you, everyone, for all the thoughtful commentary this week, in addition, of course, to everything else.
It’s nice to know that we can delve into something like this, something about which there is no (apparent) clear answer … and something that carries on for another week. I appreciate your interest in talking it through and exploring. You’re a great group of readers — I’m lucky to have you …
Be well, eat well, and let’s do it again next week at 11 …
[missing you, TEK … ]