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.
He 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 . . .
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 addictive. 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.
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.
THE FUTURE OF MICHEL RICHARD VILLARD?:
You no doubt saw Pete Wells’ demolition of Villard Michel Richard. Does a review like that in the Paper of Record, along with some other poor notices by others, amount to the kiss of death for a place that expensive? Or, with Richard’s pedigree, the location in a top hotel, and the likely backing of some well-heeled investors, does Villard still have a chance to survive (perhaps with some aggressive retooling)?
I did read it. I also read Adam Platt’s more generous appraisal, in New York magazine.
It’s a good question you ask, but a hard one to answer. I really don’t think a review can put a place out of business, not in this day and age. But multiple not-great reviews of an expensive, formal-leaning place, can do a number on a place — creating the impression of not-hot, a place, at best, that needs more time. And that’s not what a new restaurant with a name chef needs.
And as hard as it is to open a place, it’s even harder to rebrand on the fly, after an impression has already been established.
But to linger a little longer on this idea of the power of a review, of one review … I think what people tend to forget is that a critic, presuming he or she doesn’t have an agenda, is just another diner. Critics may be more — ha — critical than a typical diner, generally because they eat more widely and have a broader perspective on the scene, but I think that, in general, critical opinion on a place of note is often about the same as public opinion. I think you tend to see more disparities between a real-deal film critic and the public, or a real-deal theater critic and the public.
It’s good food for thought. Let’s chew on it some more …
Good morning, everyone.
Hope you’re keeping warm and eating well and heartily …
CHINESE TAKE-OUT IN BRIGHTWOOD/SILVER SPRING/TAKOMA PARK?:
Can you think of any salvageable take out Chinese places in the Brightwood-SilverSpring-Takoma area? Dying over here.
OK, well, I’m here to revive you.
Oriental East, off East-West Highway, in Silver Spring, is the place you’re looking for.
It’s excellent for dim sum — in fact, my last two dim sum meals were the best I’ve had in the past year in the region. It’s not at that level all the rest of the time — in fact, it’s a couple of notches below — but it’s better than all your other options and they can surprise you every now and again. The last Peking duck I had here for a non-dim sum meal was good; you can also order it in a half-portion, which is great since Peking Duck is pretty costly.
If you go, I hope you’ll return with a report …
“PORTION CONTROL,” CONT. …:
Will you share some specific examples of the “buzz” about restaurants focusing on portion control?
The most “buzzy” restaurant of 2013 was Le Diplomate and I didn’t notice anyone focusing on the portions given.
Take Komi which still gets a lot of press (especially when the Top/Very Best Restaurant lists come out each year). A lot of the reviews, and often you yourself in this chat, talk about the generous size of the goat course
What I meant is that in certain precincts of the food world — not among chefs, but among some critics and writers and foodies — large portions are regarded somehow as gauche.
What most restaurant-goers would consider to be generous, or welcoming, or loving, these people see as a lack of sophistication.
Now, true, the most exquisite preparations — those, say, at Per Se or Le Bernardin — are generally not served in large portions. But the food at the vast majority of restaurants isn’t exquisite. It might be very good, it might display artistry, but “exquisite” is a designation belonging to a rare few.
Big portions are associated with places like Carmine’s, which always elicits chuckles among foodies. And Carmine’s is at the higher-end of this spectrum of sneer. At the lower-end you have Tex-Mex joints, where no white space exists on the plate — just a mass of meat and cheese and rice and beans — and the Cheesecake Factory, where everybody knows that you go to be able to take home left-overs for lunch.
When I hear foodies or critics or food writers talk about “portion control,” digging at chefs for giving too much, I want to laugh. No. Bad. You’re too generous!
FOLLOWING UP: A SIMPLE CHICKEN STOCK:
Last week, I mentioned a simple chicken stock recipe I found which requires only chicken wings, an onion, a clove of garlic, and water. You asked for feedback, so here you go.
In short, the recipe produced a stock with a nice, clean flavor perfect for soups as well as other recipes. I would wait to make this after the Super Bowl, because its a bit sad to see three pounds of wings used for a stock instead of buffalo wings!
Here’s the link to Smitten Kitchen’s recipe: http://smittenkitchen.com/blog/2013/11/perfect-uncluttered-chicken-stock/
Thanks so much for passing this along, and for test-driving it for the rest of us.
I think a lot of people are intimidated to make a stock, and/or think that it takes a lot of time. It’s nice to have this handy.
I plan on giving it a whirl soon. Who else?
CRITICISM, CONT. …:
About criticism … we went to a couple of the recent pop-ups (Roofers Union at Ripple; East Side King at Toki) where chefs/restaurants are trying out new menus and were questioning the role of diner feedback in those situations. Obviously some of the reason for doing a pop-up is to build buzz – in which case they’re not really testing out a menu – but in others, it seems like the kitchen is figuring out how a menu might work together and there a little more detailed feedback might be welcome (or if, as in one of those instances, a couple of the dishes just didn’t work at all, you’d think they’d want at least some reaction…but we also don’t want to be complaining since they weren’t actually bad). Thoughts?
Also, any word on who is going to replace Liam LaCivita at Liberty Tavern (and where he’s going?)
No word either way — the press release just went out yesterday. If I have any news, I’ll be sure to pass it on.
LaCivita really came into his own at Liberty Tavern, and the restaurant became one of the forerunners of the new crop of ambitious, independent, middle-level restaurants. It’ll be interesting to see what his next move is, and what owners Mark and Stephen Fedorchak do next.
As for giving feedback to a new venture — in that kind of setting, the pop-up setting, I think they really do want you to be forthright and candid with them. “Not bad” is not what they want to hear. The more specific, the better, so they can revamp or tweak before the pressure’s really on.
I’ve dined at many pop-ups, and have only written about one of them. Generally what I’ll do is, I’ll incorporate that knowledge into a later review. The pork lychee dish at Rose’s Luxury, for example, was a dish I tasted for the first time in a pop-up at Hogo. I liked it a lot then, and wondered if it’d make it onto the opening menu. (It did). I didn’t write anything about it or about Rose’s at the time, waiting until the time that the restaurant finally opened. But that initial meal of four or five dishes gave me a sense of what to expect, and an insight into Silverman’s palate and eye and culinary brain.
It’s interesting, I think, that I liked my one meal at the pop-up, but loved my first meal at Rose’s. Silverman clearly had done a lot of thinking and tweaking between his stint at Hogo and his launch.
Re: URBAN BUTCHER — NEW, IN SILVER SPRING:
Urban Butcher — have you been yet? The buzz on Yelp and such looks good but I haven’t heard first-hand from anyone who has been. Its in walking distance so I’d love to give it a shot – but it would be great to have the scoop first!
I’ve been twice.
I’ll say this: it’s one of the most interesting places to debut in the past year. Part lounge, part butcher, part coffeehouse, part restaurant. That’s a lot of parts, maybe too many parts.
I’ve had some good dishes, like a lamb tartare over flatbread and a well-braised oxtail, and some mystifying ones, like a dish of prawns with lemon and chilis that had no flavor at all. The pastrami is made on the premises, and looks great, but mine was dry. There are also strange pricing decisions, like $7 for a dish of broccoli rabe.
The staff hasn’t been given much training, and is given too little guidance on the floor.
And the space is just odd. The dining room looks as if it was thrown together in a day, and feels neither like you’re sitting in a rough-and-ready butchershop nor a cozy restaurant.
I want to love this place, and hope that with time it will grow into itself.
The dessert menu includes a chocolate souffle, of all things, and guess what? It’s good. A labor-intensive blast from the past in this era of the half-hearted dessert. Good for Urban Butcher.
My wife and son and I were wondering tonight about how the restaurants in Georgetown are doing, with the explosion of restaurants all over DC — 14th Street (more than 40 new restaurants in 2013!), Penn Quarter, H Street NE, Brookland, Dupont Circle, Capitol Hill, heck, even the Navy Yard.
The 2014 Washingtonian list of the Top 100 DC Restaurants it has only two Georgetown restaurants on it (1789 and Bourbon Steak).
I dug out the Washingtonian’s Top 100 from 15 years ago (1999). That listing had thirteen Georgetown restaurants on it (Aditi, Bangkok Bistro, Bistro Francais, Bistrot Lepic, Cafe Milano, Citronelle, La Chaumiere [even then described as a 23-year veteran favored by “Georgetown’s old guard”], Miss Saigon, Morton’s of Chicago, 1789, Sushi-Ko [Georgetown? not sure about that], and Vintage).
I can’t remember the last time my wife and I have been to Georgetown to eat, but it’s been at least five years and maybe ten. You’ve obviously been there much more recently and much more often. How is the neighborhood and its restaurants doing? Any chance we’ll be thinking of Georgetown as a great restaurant neighborhood any time soon?
It’s a fascinating thing to think about, isn’t it?
There’s been a tremendous geographic shift, and especially in the past few years. You mentioned Penn Quarter, H St., Brookland (with Menomale), the Navy Yard and Capitol Hill (Rose’s, among others). I’d also throw in Shaw (Baby Wale, Seasonal Pantry, Derek Brown’s places), Bloomingdale (Red Hen), and, soon enough, Hyattsville.
What do all of those neighborhoods have in common? They’re all east of Georgetown. Everything’s moving east, and will continue to move east and change the feel and flow of the city.
Are there reasons to go to Georgetown to eat these days? Not many. Citronelle’s gone. 1789 is 1789, steady as she goes. Il Canale makes a fine pizza. BlackSalt is not hard to get to from M St. Kafe Leopold is pretty good for breakfast. La Chaumiere is a kind of getaway (more to a time than a place), and there’s some enjoyable, straightforward bistro cooking.
(Michelle Obama recently dined at Cafe Milano; does this mean it’s gotten better, or does it mean nothing at all?)
HIGH-END DINING DEALS:
Any picks for the best deals in higher-end dining?
The bar menu at Corduroy is a no-brainer, and I’d add the pate and terrine sampler at Proof. $15 gets you what amounts to a complete meal. Five beautiful pates and terrines, a plate of toasted bread, and an arugula and radish salad for your health.
“For your health.”
So you maybe don’t keel over at the table from all that animal richness, is more like it.
Yeah, those two are both great ones.
And I’d add to that short list the Lickety-Split Lunch at Eve. $14.98 for any two items.
Also from Cathal Armstrong: The Majestic has its Sunday Supper — $22/person for a full meal, plus dessert.
Vidalia has a three-course lunch for $19.90.
At 701, you can get a lunch entree and a glass of wine for $15.
Poste offers an app, an entree, and warm chocolate chip cookies to go for $20.
J&G is doing two courses, at lunch, for $19.
Osteria Elisir has a lunch special of one of 13 entrees, plus coffee or soda, and dessert, for $19.
CHICKEN STOCK, CONT. …:
My favorite for stock is chicken necks.
You can find them at a number of places in NoVa and they run less than a buck a pound. A recent favorite stock for me to make is Tonkatsu-the basis for ramen. Kenji Alt of Serious Eats has a terrific version.
You can find necks at a lot of places, not just those in Northern Virginia — particularly in ethnic markets.
Wings used to be the cheap cut that no one wanted. That hasn’t been the case for a while now, ever since wings became a hot thing. I can’t see necks becoming trendy, somehow, but you never know. It certainly would fit in nicely with the thrust of the whole-beast movement. If people can be made to eat hearts, then they can be made (more easily) to eat necks.
Think about it: roasted goat or lamb neck with coarse salt and cracked black pepper, a good drizzle of olive oil, and a vibrant chimichurri drizzled lavishly atop. Doesn’t that sound great?
I love necks — I always save the neck for myself at Thanksgiving (well, okay, save isn’t the word — it’s not saving it, when no one else wants it) — and they’re ideal for making a soup or stock.
CHICKEN STOCK, CONT. …:
I think I’ll wait until I have a few pounds of chicken backs stored in the freezer before making that stock.
Wings are far too precious in this, the week of the Super Bowl.
I hear you.
And backs — I’ll go out on a limb (ha) and say, definitively, that we will never see chicken backs become trendy.
I love the back, too. My favorite parts of a bird, in descending order of affection: neck, tail, back, then thigh and wing. Thigh and wing are so close, though, it might as well be thigh-wing in fourth.
Chef Fargione just announced about an hour ago on DonRockwell.com that Osteria Elisir has closed.
Thanks for the heads-up, Martin.
That’s two very talented chefs who have called it quits in two days.
I wish chef Fargione the very best. I’ll be interested in hearing what’s next in store for him.
There were some fascinating and exciting dishes at Elisir. I still think from time to time about a risotto with saffron and veal cheeks. There was so much saffron, actually, that the color of the rice was like that of a blazing orange sun. Who uses saffron this way? I remember thinking. It’s an expensive spice, and tends to be used very judiciously. The dish was remarkably, almost unrelentingly intense, the culinary equivalent, I thought, of a Tarantino or Oliver Stone. It seized your attention, and held it, and forced you to reckon with its insistence and power.
I gave the restaurant 2 1/2 stars in my review, as did Tom Sietsema. But the place never seemed to find an audience.
NECKS, CONT. …:
I’m all for the neck movement.
The goat neck curry at Kin Shop is one of the best dishes I’ve had in the past couple of years.
That dish has been high on my list for my next trip to NY.
Thanks for torturing me. ; )
NECKS, CONT. …:
I like your necks idea. As a kid, I always asked for the chicken neck.
We’re a different sort of bunch, those of us on here, not the sort to go for the easy drumstick or boring breast.
I suspect that a lot of you are neck lovers.
NECKS, CONT. …:
The best plate of food I had in Thailand was grilled pork neck at a night market in Bangkok. A pile of thinly sliced pork, served on a white paper picnic plate with toothpicks, and a cold beer, sitting outside in the sweltering heat. Lovely.
Fish collars have become trendy…so hold out hope for necks and backs.
Oh, I’m holding out hope.
And what a response already — sounds like we’re gathering a grass-roots movement here. Neck Love!
I would be remiss, given your mention of Thailand and neck-eating, if I didn’t mention that Doi Moi is doing its version of moo ping, a kind of Thai kabob-cum-barbecue, with grilled pork necks.
BUTCHER SHOPS, CONT. …:
Great butcher shop and great atmosphere — the Whole Ox in the Plains, Va.
Worth the drive since it beats any other butcher shop in VA and I have tried them all. I would rather drive out to the Plains than fight the traffic in Tysons to get to the Organic Butcher.
Thanks for the tip.
Love the name.
MORE NECK LOVE, AND A FIELD REPORT FROM CORK:
My grandmother always liked the neck and tail of a bird too…she referred to the tail as the “pope’s nose.” No idea where that term came from and if it’s used by gentiles as well as eastern-european Jewish grandmothers, but I always loved the image.
My husband and I went to Cork a couple of nights ago for our first dinner there in over a year (usually Cork’s brunch is too tempting). It’s nice to see that the quality is still there through the chef changes, as well as some of the original classics like the avocado toasts. But the new dishes we tried were delicious as well. And our waitress, Cierra, did a great job on service.
Good to hear.
And congratulations to Cierra.
You mentioned “pope’s noses.” I’ve heard many people refer to them that way. Franklins, in Hyattsville, debuted a dish a couple of years ago — turkey tails roasted and painted with a Korean-style glaze. The tails came from Maple Lawn, a local farm, and were thick and meaty.
It was a good dish, if perhaps more fatty than most people generally go for.
The even more interesting thing was the naming of the dish. Franklins called them turkey tails, in large part because there was blowback by Catholics in the community (St. Jerome’s church is a block and a half away) to the term “Pope’s Nose.”
NECK LOVE, CONT.:
Turkey necks are even better than chicken necks! They are what helps separate my gravy from the rest.
Jonathan, come and join our movement. We’re strong and growing by the minute, evidently …
OSTERIA ELISIR, CONT. …:
Well, I guess I’ll cancel my anniversary dinner reservation at Osteria Elisir.
Oh now, suddenly, everyone wants to go … : )
Check in with me next week if you want a rec, or email me at email@example.com
Thanks, everyone, for all the questions and tips and comments, and especially the outpouring of affection for turkey, goat and chicken necks. Neck Love is strong!
Now if we can just persuade the chefs that we’re not some miniscule minority …
Be well, eat well, and let’s do it again next Tuesday at 11 …
[missing you, TEK … ]