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 was a finalist for the MFK Fisher Distinguished Writing Award, and recently took home first-place honors for feature writing from the Association of Food Journalists.
Kliman 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
W H E R E I ‘ M E A T I N G N O W . . .
* Kogiya, Annandale
The new king of Koreatown. This is the best Korean barbecue out there right now, served up by a slew of young, t-shirted staffers in a rollicking, industrial setting. Go for the marinated pork ribs.
* Bangkok Golden, Falls Church
I was tempted to say this a while back, but didn’t. I will now, after a recent knockout visit: I’d rather go here, for the Lao menu, than Little Serow. The range of tastes is vast, and every plate is alive with flavor — bright and pungent and smoky and funky. Not to mention crunch and heat. Not to mention a shorter wait and a lighter bill (my recent meal of four dishes and a beer, pre-tax: $43).
Rose’s Luxury, DC
I love the crackle in the room when you walk in. I’m not talking about mere noise; lots of restaurants have noise. I’m not even talking about buzz, that sense that a new place is hot. This one has an energy that is unmistakable, a sense that you have entered a kind of rare and cherished zone where the enthusiasm of the kitchen and the staff is returned in kind by the diners, who all seem to walk out the door with smiles on their faces. It’s not hard to understand why. Rose’s Luxury has an old-school vibe, and a sort of making-it-up-as-we-go-along feel, from the homey, unassuming way the menu bids you to settle in and order to the dinner party-run-amok vibe to the yahrzeit-look-alike votives to the beer glasses that are sawed-off wine bottles. The chef, Aaron Silverman, logged stints in such high-profile kitchens as Momofuku in New York and Husk and McCrady’s in Charleston, and you don’t have to look hard to see elements of each of these places in the room and on the plate. Like his mentors David Chang and Sean Brock, he aims to bring off a marriage of extreme playfulness and extreme precision. The bulk of the menu consists of a dozen small plates in which Silverman sets out to cross the wires, compositionally speaking, and see what happens. A pate is a braiding of French, Italian (garlic bread are the toasts), Vietnamese (the rich, crushed-peanut topped spread brims with star anise), and I want to say Jewish (the brine for the jalapenos, onions and cukes that add crunch and tang tastes deli to me). It’s seamlessly done, and highly addicting. He crosses high and low in a soup that tastes at once like liquefied popcorn and a delicate lobster veloute (the sweetness calls out for some sort of counterbalancing ingredient, or more lobster). It’s not all derring-do. His gnocchi are more properly a kind of ravioli, stuffed with fennel and mint, sauced with not-too-much butter and topped with a generous scattering of crunchy toasted breadcrumbs. You’d be hard put to find five better pasta dishes in town right now. The final course is a page not out of Momofuku or Husk or McCrady’s, but out of Komi — share plates for two. In one, you lay luscious slices of perfectly smoked brisket on griddled Texas toast, add on tangy strands of pickled cabbage and smear the whole thing with a fluffy horseradish cream. The other is built around a beautifully brined pork chop — sweet and aromatic and rich as the best pork can be — with potlikker beans and a textbook red-eye gravy. The final act needs re-staging. The lack of a pastry chef doesn’t help, nor does the tendency to over-think and over-embellish. Quenelles of chocolate cream sprinkled with dried rose petals and intended for spreading on slices of charred bread feels twee, not interesting, and hardly satisfies. More of the sink-in simplicity of the share courses would go a long way. Still, this is one of the most exciting debuts of the year. I’d even go so far as to say it’s one of the most exciting debuts of the past three years.
New chef, same supremely assured restaurant. William Morris has risen to the top spot with the departure of Tony Chittum, and is a chef to watch. One of the best dishes on his tightly scripted menu of 15 dishes is also the unlikeliest: a roasted garlic soup. The taste of garlic is subtle, and the soup, a chicken stock base, gets its richness from a touch of cream and a yolk at the bottom of the bowl that you’re meant to stir in after the broth is poured. One moment it tastes like a light veloute, another like a liquid roasted chicken, and another — after you scoop up the fine dice of potatoes — a chowder.
Khan Kabob, Chantilly
The best karahi I’ve had in ages, maybe ever, is a version here made with lamb brains. The brains, for the leery, resemble tiny curds, and the sauce of garlic, ginger, cilantro, tomato and chilis is so concentrated, and so smoky, that even after you’ve had your fill it’s difficult to stop dipping your torn naan into the hammered metal vessel. Tariq Khan, the owner, was for many years part of the Ravi Kabob empire; he’s created a worthy rival.
Yia Yia’s Kitchen, Beltsville
If you want to see what a gyro can be, order the pork. It’s sliced from a conical spit, and the meat is so dark you’d think it was charred. That’s the effect of slow cooking, of melting fat, herbs and spices coming together to form a kind of bark. The meat is luscious, like that of a great spare rib, and you can pick up notes of fresh oregano and cinnamon. It’s enfolded by a thick, griddled pita, into which the cooks stuff fistfuls of hot fries, along with tzaziki, chopped onions and tomato. The rest of the menu is rewarding, too — pork chops with long-cooked green beans, onions and tomatoes; a good pastitsio; and a strapping mound of lamb bolognese.
Ya Hala, Vienna
The tabbouleh is made-to-order, and superb — an explosion of tender, sweet parsley and fruity olive oil. The baba ghanous is exceptional, too — subtly smoky, perfectly textured. If only for these two dishes, I’d recommend making the trek to this tiny, friendly Lebanese diner. But there’s good stuff beyond, including an array of meat pies, minted yogurts, and small, delicate desserts. Alas, the meats, though flavorful, are not as tender as the rest of the cooking would seem to promise, but a dip in the excellent garlic sauce and a pile of perfect rice makes up for it.
* new this week
ET VOILA! OR JACKIE’S FOR A LAIDBACK ANNIVERSARY DINNER?:
My wife and I were able to get a baby sitter for our real anniversary on Saturday. Looking for a laid back casual dinner to celebrate.
We were thinking either Et Voila or Jackies. Have you been to either lately? If so can you share any thoughts or suggest other casual places?
I’d go Et Voila!
(Note: that’s not an extra shot of enthusiasm for the restaurant; it’s part of the restaurant’s name. ; )
Jackie’s has a new chef, Adam Harvey, and when I dropped in shortly after he’d taken over I thought Jackie’s had really begun to lose its way. Overly busy plates, ambition that exceeded reach, and an experience that drifted — and sometimes zoomed — into the world of fine dining. This, in a former garage, with a pink and chartreuse color scheme.
I went again recently, and was heartened. The recent changes have been good ones. You can find a cocktail, now, for seven bucks, and the menu makes no distinction between appetizer and entree
— it’s a slew of plates in the range, I want to say, of $9 to $17. Very smart. There are some real winners on the menu,
like the buttermilk-soaked fried calamari — fantastic. But there’s still too much grasping and not reaching, and a number of plates need four or five components to say what they mean to say; if you don’t spear a forkful of this and that and the other and, quite possible, that other other, you’re not going to make sense of the dish.
I think the place would do better to simplify a little, and maximize the sense of fun on the plate. I mean, it’s Jackie’s, the restaurant that gave us the mini-Elvis burger.
Et Voila! is very, very solid, and sometimes better than that. You’ll eat well and drink well, too.
Good morning, everyone!
I have a question for you out of the gate — what are you doing with your turkeys this year? How are you planning to prepare them?
I ask because I’m seriously mulling a “dry brine” recipe I saw recently, but I’ve never done it before and am anxious about trying something new on the big day. Especially something that has the potential to be too salty.
Has anyone ever done a dry brine?
And what is your preferred method, and why?
ROSE’S LUXURY AND THE POTATO ROLL:
Ok, it’s settled…I guess I have to try it out this Friday. You had me at potato skin.
I think it’s wonderful. I’ve been twice, and with two different people, and neither has thought as much of it as I have. Not to say they didn’t like it — they did, they just didn’t have the enthusiasm for it I would have expected.
That may be because it’s a potato roll. I don’t find a lot of people are fans of potato rolls. A texture thing, probably.
In any case, this is, in my view, a pretty hard bread to improve upon — this particular bread, I mean. And again I want to say — it’s such a tone-setter. To sit down and settle in, and the first thing that arrives, a gift from the kitchen, is a delicious, fresh-baked roll — well, loaf in this case; a small loaf — hot out of the oven.
I can’t think of what could be more welcoming.
PHILLY PHOOD: CHATS, BLOGS:
Do you have any favorite Philadelphia food blogs? Or are you aware of any chats similar to yours for Philly?
Craig LaBan, the terrific restaurant critic at The Inquirer, has a chat every Tuesday at 2 p.m.
And I like the Foobooz blog at Philadelphia magazine, headed up by the equally terrific Jason Sheehan.
(Foobooz, by the way, is such a great name, a quintessentially Philadelphian coinage. Say it like a Broad Street bully: food booze.)
ON THE TRAIL OF PETER CHANG …:
We’re debating a scenic day trip this Saturday that will culminate with a dinner at a Peter Chang restaurant.
I was captivated by your Oxford American feature on him and I’ve tried to follow the Chang-related updates on your chats.
I don’t think you have addressed the following topic yet:
Which Peter Chang restaurant is your current favorite and why? Also would you please describe the differences in each of his restaurants?
That sounds, first of all, like a great idea. I hope you decide to do it, and I hope it’s a rewarding time away.
My current favorite? I’d say whichever restaurant he happens to be in at that moment. That’s not to say that you’re not going to get a good meal if he’s not there; you will. But everything will be a little bit better if he is.
One of the things I like to do is look around and see who’s got a scallion bubble pancake, one of his famed dishes. When Chang is in, the thing is puffed up nearly to the size of a Chinese lantern. It’s amazing to behold. How light, how airy, how greaseless, how delicious. And no one at the table can stop talking about it, even those who have had it before.
When he’s not in, it’s still, most of the time, a worthwhile dish, but I don’t see the same elevation, it’s not quite as puffy and astonishing.
You’ll find, generally, that the dishes at the restaurants are all about the same. Fredericksburg has some different items from the others, but it also still has the scallion bubble pancake, the ma po tofu, the bamboo fish, the cumin lamb. All of which, by the way, are must-orders if you’re a first-timer.
I don’t know where he is from day to day. But my favorite among all the restaurants is probably the Richmond location. A very comfortable place, easy on the eyes, good staff, and the kitchen runs smoothly.
COOKING THE TURKEY, CONT.:
We are going to brine the turkey and then roast a whole goat in a china box this year.
Trying out a new method on roasting a whole goat. I think the china box will work. Just have to make sure the butcher does not trim away too much fat from the goat.
I want to spend the day at your house. ; )
Goat. How fantastic.
I’ve had pig cooked in a China Box, and it was terrific. I hope it works well with the goat — and yes, tell the butcher to keep a lot of the fat on!
You mentioned brining the turkey. I often do a brine. How long do you — and all of you, as well — let the bird brine? And what do you like to put in your brine?
The “dry brine” I mentioned was a recipe this month in Bon Appetit. There’s also this, a kind of internet legend — Russ Parsons’ “Judy Bird”:
Has anyone tried it before?
ROSE’S LUXURY AND MENU APPREHENSIONS:
I know that you recommended Rose’s Luxury last week for the weary DC-area food lover. The place itself looks absolutely lovely and inviting.
Admittedly, I did not try it because the menu does not entice me at all, I’m sorry to say. Even with all the glowing reviews.
My comment is not to detract from the restaurant but while I appreciate that they want to focus on a dozen or so small plates (and probably execute each very well), my 2 concerns are: they sound a bit fussy and, well, not simple.
For example, I love lobster but popcorn, not so much. How do I reconcile? I know experimental cuisine can be so much more than its parts. Also, I see that they have Italian-inspired, French-inspired, Vietnamese-inspired, which worries me that they are a bit all over the place (or all over the map).
I take it from people’s love for the place, this isn’t exactly the case. Is there anything you can say that might inspire me to walk through the door and try the place out?
Yes: it’s delicious. : )
I’m not being glib. I’ll elaborate in a second.
I do want to thank you, first, for writing in with this, because, yes, there are a lot of places out there with fussy (and high-priced) food that doesn’t reward.
This isn’t one of them, however.
Yes, the menu is eclectic, and seems proud of pulling from a variety of sources, and yes, that often indicates a lack of focus. And yes, some dishes sound as if they’re more about the chef’s ego than about your enjoyment. And yes, it’s hard to get a handle on what something like “burnt romaine” with cotija is going to look like, much less taste like.
But I talked about grasping and reaching a few questions ago. There’s not a lot of grasping and not-reaching going on here.
This is a very assured chef and kitchen team, and the execution, so far, has been spot-on.
Dessert is the disappointment, and after two visits I can say that with more conviction than before. Dessert is the course that validates most of your anxieties. But it’s fixable, and I hope the team realizes the importance of fixing it soon. It’s also skippable.
TURKEY TALK, CONT.:
Usually brine the bird for 24 hours if possible.
Personally, though I prefer a good roasted chicken over a roasted turkey on thanksgiving. I know one should not say that for thanksgiving but I like to cut a chicken in half and roast it in my cast iron skillet and then make a gravey from the drippings.
Also, if time permits this year I am going try and make a tandoori chicken risotto for thanksgiving too.
And yeah, I’m with you on chicken vs. turkey — I much prefer a good roast chicken to a good roast turkey.
As for brining … personally, I don’t like to brine for that long. I don’t like that lunch-meat texture you get from a long brine.
I’ll do 8 hours, sometimes 12. What do you all consider optimal, and why?
THANKSGIVING DAY BRUNCH?:
Traveling to DC over thanksgiving week — can you recommend a nice place for brunch on thanksgiving day?
I believe Blue Duck Tavern, in the Park Hyatt, serves its T-day menu from about 10:30 to 3:30, though you should call to confirm.
I believe they charge close to a hundred dollars per.
I’m not sure whether this is what you had in mind when you said “brunch,” or whether you were looking for something lighter and less expensive in advance of the big meal later.
BOMBAY CLUB — SUPERIOR TO RASIKA AND RASIKA WEST:
I love excellent Indian food. I live near Rasika West End and love going there as much as the original Rasika. Last night, my partner and I visited Bombay Club, part of the Rasika family, for the first time. I never thought it would approach either Rasika in quality.
Much to my surprise, it may have EXCEEDED the two!
I was shocked at how superb every dish was. We started with their version of Palak Chat, which was just as fantastic as either Rasika’s. We also split Bombay Sev Puri, which were crisp puri potatoes, mango, sprouts, onion served on a potato disc. Amazing!
For our mains, we had Shrimp Mapas, which included 5 large shrimp with an amazing onion, coconut, mustard, and tamarind sauce. Maybe the best sauce I have ever had! We also shared Lamb Roganjosh, which was lamb, brown onion, tomato, yogurt, and garam masala. Terrific! Of course, we had to also share Dal Makhni, which were black lentils, tomato, ginger, and garlic, cooked 16 hours. BETTER than Rasika West End!!
Of course, we needed something sweet to end the meal, so we had Carrot Halwa (no, not halvah!), which was Indian carrot pudding with cinnamon anglaise. The perfect ending to a perfect meal. Our service was absolutely perfect – attentive, available, though nowhere near overbearing or pushy.
Call me blown away!
Thanks for this super-tasty report. : )
What a meal. I’m sure there are lots of people who are going to be staring at their computers this afternoon, drooling.
For that, we both thank you, and — I’m thinking of all those who are munching on a dry turkey sandwich — scorn you.
TURKEY TALK, CONT.:
I’ve done Alton Brown’s method for years and swear by it. The turkey always comes out juicy and the skin is great.
I usually brine it a full 24 hours, because I’m home at my parents’ house in Florida a few days in advance and have the time. I just got married this year and this’ll be the first Thanksgiving away from home.
Wife and I will drive to Lynchburg, VA on Wednesday night and because I volunteered to cook the turkey, will need to brine it immediately when I get there. So we’ll see how it does with 12 hours or less, though I assume it’s fine.
My brother swears by Alton Brown’s method, too.
I haven’t tried it, myself. Looks very involved. But that could also be just the detail of the recipe.
My usual method is, 8 or so hours of brine, with peppercorns and star anise and a little orange zest in the liquid.
Then pat dry, and air dry. Butter and choppped tarragon and sage under the skin. Butter and maple syrup over the skin, with a good bit of cracked black pepper. The maple syrup gives it a nice, caramel brown skin, and it also flavors the drippings in an interesting way. The resultant maple gravy is a little sweet, a little peppery, and a lot roasty and rich.
HEADING TO PHILLY ON SATURDAY, THINKING ALLA SPINA:
Todd (and chatters),
I’m headed to Philly on Saturday and have a reservation at Alla Spina. We’re going to a concert that night and would like something walkable nearby.
Should I keep the reservation there? Anything else in the Callowhill nieghborhood that I should be on the lookout for?
Oh, keep it.
I can almost assure you that you’ll eat well.
Alla Spina’s terrific.
Food has character, and the place has a pulse and also a heart.
A NOTE OF CAUTION RE: SATURDAY NIGHTS AT ET VOILA!:
A note of caution about Et Voila – unless things have changed drastically in the last year or so, Et Voila appears to routinely overbook reservations for Saturday nights.
I have had this happen to me twice with Saturday night reservations – one was for a party of 3, and another for a party of 6 – both times we waited almost an hour to be seated (the second time we didn’t even get seated – we got so fed up that we left).
Compounding the problem is that there really is no room to wait in the restaurant. The “bar” area is about 6 x 10 feet and there were at least 20 people crammed in there. I’d have to imagine that this would be even more frustrating if it’s a special occasion and you have a babysitter on the clock.
I still go to Et Voila because I like the food so much and I think it’s pretty reasonably priced given the quality, but I only go mid-week towards closing hours when it’s possible to walk in without a reservation.
I did have a disappointing brunch there recently, however. The frites were not what I remembered. This may be just because it was brunch, which appears to be fairly low volume for them.
Thanks so much for writing in with this.
That’s information our chatter needs to have.
Waiting an hour, with a reservation, is inexcusable. I know we talk a lot on here about how restaurants act and don’t act when something goes wrong, and I know there are those in the industry who think comping has gotten out of hand. But this is a problem that is avoidable. The restaurant, if you’re right in saying what you say, created this problem for itself.
To wait an hour, with a reservation, I would expect a lot coming my way from management to make up for it.
This is making me think, by the way, of the great “Seinfeld” bit: “You know how to take the reservation, you just don’t know how to hold the reservation.”
FOR THE ANNIVERSARY COUPLE, CONT.:
For the anniversary couple, I think the Red Hen would also be worth a look.
Similar price range and atmosphere, and I was very impressed with the meal I had there a few weeks ago.
Yes. Very good call. Thanks.
TURKEY TALK, CONT.:
For T-day turkey, I am thinking of roasting a smallish turkey cooked upside down, the idea being that the breast meat stays juicy and luscious. The downside is you don’t get the Norman Rockwell beautiful golden brown color and presentation, but I am willing to sacrifice.
Have you ever done it this way?
And yeah, it’s not the picture-perfect bird, but it’s not a bad way to go.
You can also try tenting.
TURKEY TALK, CONT.:
How I cook the turkey!
First, I have been watching the turkeys at Maple Lawn Farm in Howard county growing since the middle of the summer, so even though I don’t get to know which particular one I will get, I know how well they have been treated and feed.
Second, I order a fresh bird from Maple Lawn and let me tell you no brine necessary. Since they are ready the day you want them, and this isn’t for the faint of heart, that means they were dressed the day before. Can’t get much fresher than that right?
Butter and sage under the skin with salt and pepper inside the cavity and out.
I do stuffing inside the bird very traditional with sage sausage from up the street.
And that’s all she wrote. YUMMY!!!!
OK, I’m swinging by your house, too. ; )
FIXED-PRICE BYOB IN A STOREFRONT SETTING?:
My wife and I experienced a unique dinning event when we were on vacation a few months ago and are looking for a similar dinner in the Capitol Region.
We stumbled upon a store front restaurant in PA that served a max of 30 people in one setting a night for a fixed menu/fixed price BYOB dinner. It was a wonderful event and I was hoping to find something like that in our area.
Any suggestions would be helpful.
There are a lot of places like this in and around Philadelphia, including the very-hard-to-get-in Tallula’s Table.
Closest thing around these parts is Seasonal Pantry, in Shaw, from chef Dan O’Brien. Eight seats, and if you like you can buy out all of them for the night and fill them with your friends and family.
No BYOB, though it is a storefront.
NOT-TOO-EXPENSIVE SATURDAY LUNCH IN LOGAN CIRCLE?:
Hi Todd –
We are staying at the Westin near Logan Circle this weekend. Anywhere to grab a not-too-expensive lunch nearby with our toddler Sat. morning?
Open to all types of cuisine. Thanks!
Not sure your scale of what expensive is — and this is a very expensive city — but if you’re looking for something upmarket and good: Estadio and Le Diplomate.
At the opposite extreme, in both senses: Great Wall Szechuan. Get the ma po tofu.
Somewhere in the middle: Ghibellina, for pizza.
Hope that helps. Let me know where you ended up, and good luck.
Gotta run. Thanks, everyone, for all your questions and comments and tasty tips today.
Be well, eat well, and let’s do it again next week at 11 …[*missing you, TEK … *]