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: email@example.com
W H E R E I ‘ M E A T I N G N O W . . .
Thai Taste by Kob, Wheaton
On a three-block stretch of Wheaton, near the intersection of University Blvd. and Georgia Ave., can be found two of the area’s best Thai restaurants — Ruan Thai and Nava Thai. Time to add a third. Phak Duangchandr — Kob, to friends — has set up shop in the tiny space that originally contained Nava, in the back of Hung Phat market. Thai food fans may remember her, or at least her cooking; for 19 years she operated the Thai Food Carryout at Thai Market, near the old Safeway in Wheaton. The new setting, electrified with a paint job of orange and day-glo green, gives her a chance to expand her repertoire of dishes, while staying true to the from-scratch traditions that earned her a devoted following. The emphasis is on street food and homecooking, with a good many dishes you simply won’t find anywhere else, like bamee moo daeng, a meal-in-a-bowl of tender egg noodles, red-edged roast pork, baby bok choy, and fish balls; or kai yad sai, an omelette stuffed with ground chicken punched up with fish sauce and soy sauce; or a salad of shrimp paste-flavored rice, onions, cucumber and sweet, sticky pork). But even familiar tastes, taste different here — funkier, more pungent, and definitely hotter (a shrimp fried rice, alive with fistfuls of Thai basil and a generous pinch of chilis, set my heart to racing). Some customers have already been asking for more rice to accompany their orders. Partner and manager Max Praserptmate says he is willing to accommodate any requests, but adds that his aunt’s cooking is not the aberration; it’s the great majority of Thai restaurants that are the aberration. “The taste,” he says, “is what you’re supposed to get from your Thai food.” Duangchandr imports many of her spices from Thailand, and toasts and grinds them herself. All the condiments on the spice tray, including a terrific chili vinegar, are made on the premises. Meats are given a long soak before hitting the grill — 72 hours, in the case of the pork that is pounded and threaded onto a skewer to create a must-order starter called moo yang. The other must-order starter sure doesn’t sound like it — when was the last time you had fried shrimp wontons that were any good? These are fabulous. Kiew tod comes to the table looking more like a plate of tortilla chips, the mix of shrimp and white pepper bundled within a sneakily rolled edge. The crunch is junk food-loud; it’s hard not to believe they weren’t engineered in a lab. No beer or wine yet; Praserptmate says soon on both. I would take the money you’d ordinarily spend on a drink and spring for an extra dish or two (most are under $10, and many items will survive into the next day).
The kind of big-hearted restaurant that takes you to another place (Baltimore? St. Louis?) and maybe another time (late’ 70s). Come on a weekend night, when there’s a two-piece band and the place is humming and you’ll feel as if you’ve just crashed a wedding reception. I love the GM in coat and tie who shows you to your table, maitre d’-style. I love the waitress who turned to me one night when I was trying to decide between a lamb dish on the menu and a lamb dish that was a special, and said, “Listen. Listen to me,” and insisted I order the latter. She was right. The meat was rich and juicy and drenched in a lemon-spiked gravy. Alongside it: lemon roasted potatoes and green beans cooked with tomato and mint. True to the homestyle nature of the place, you couldn’t see any white space on the plate. Another great dish is the fried cod, delicately light, with a fluff of skordalia in the center, a sit-down Greek fish and chips. The menu has no weak spots, as far as I can tell. I’ve been three times, now, and nearly everything that has come out of the kitchen has ranged from the good to the terrific. Vegetarians can revel here. Iman bayaldi, a dish of roasted eggplant drenched in cinnamon-spiced tomato sauce, has the tight, knitted flavor of expert long-cooking. It comes in a massive portion, and costs just $7. There are stuffed grape leaves without the ground beef, filled with well-cooked rice and pine nuts and wrapped in fresh-tasting leaves that still have some good chew to them. If it takes wrapping up some food for leftovers in order to manage dessert, then do it. The version of galaktobouriko — presented in small, crunchy pieces, almost like bites of fudge — is one of the best I’ve eaten in years; the baklava (served warm, and nearly spilling its crunchy, nutty, sticky filling) is stunning; and the centerpiece of the yogurt with honey and walnuts is a scoop that has been strained almost to the consistency of a cheese, with a tanginess that goes on and on and on.
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.
FOLLOWING UP FROM LAST WEEK: CHEF DE PUE OF MENU/MBK RESPONDS …:
I saw the comments on your recent chat and was disappointed to hear about the chatter’s experience at MENU/MBK, and wanted to see if you could provide an email for them so that we could reach out and personally apologize and invite them back in.
The A/C had been an issue for us, as it was a long winter and we did not have a chance to test out its capacity until the first few hot days last month. As soon as we realized it was not reaching the proper temperature, we had the HVAC system serviced. I am sorry they happened to join us on the evening when we realized we would need to service the A/C system.
There is no excuse for poor service, and we would like the opportunity to rectify their experience. We strive to provide not only great food, but top notch service as well, and while we do have a very young staff that is new to the industry at MENU/MBK, we take great pride in the fact that we have had almost zero turnover since our opening. We continue to train and educate our staff on all the components of MENU/MBK, and have been fortunate to have our local partners sit in on our meetings and educate us on their product and share with us their philosophy behind their product.
While I was disappointed to hear that you didn’t have the best experience when you came in, I do think you would find that MENU/MBK has evolved into a very different place since our opening days, which can be attributed to greater staff training and tweaks on the menu based on the feedback from our guests.
As a young restaurant, we are always grateful for constructive criticism and appreciate you sharing your thoughts. It is important to us to hear these things so we can constantly improve and grow, and ultimately provide a better experience for the guest, which is why I got into the hospitality business in the first place.
Thanks for your consideration.
Frederik de Pue
Thank you, chef de Pue.
I hope the chatter comes back on today and we can make this happen.
And I take to heart what you say about making improvements, and will do my best to keep an open mind when I return. Thank you.
DINNER W/ A GROUP OF KIDS, POST-SHOW, IN BETHESDA ON A SUNDAY?:
I am taking my grand children to a performance at Imagination Stage in Bethesda on a Sunday afternoon.
Since the performance is at 4:00 I’m sure we all will want to grab dinner.
Where can I take the kids to eat?
I’d take ‘em to Mia’s Pizza.
The pies are good, the staff is accustomed to seeing lots of kids, and you, the adult, won’t have to feel as though you’re in some Chuck E. Cheese sort of a thing — you can get a good glass of wine, and a grown-up salad, in addition to a pizza.
Go. And drop back on and let me know how it turned out …
TASTING MENUS, CONT. …:
One of the best meals of my life was at Vetri in Philadelphia.
It’s a tasting menu, in that you pay one price and the chef sends out a multitude of dishes. But what sets it apart is that, at the beginning of the meal, your server presents you with a menu listing a dozen or so dishes. You point out what you like, what you don’t like, etc.
The dishes that come out include some dishes you selected as well as others that the chef believes match your interests/style.
It was a great riff on the standard tasting menu and showcased the skills of the chef.
It’s a special place.
And its approach is a great twist on the tasting menu format, which could use more twists.
Thanks for chiming in on the discussion …
OMAKASE IN D.C. …:
You brought up the subject of omakase last week. Outside of Sushi Taro, what places in DC proper would you go for omakase?
Apart from Sushi Taro?
I’m not sure anywhere apart from Sushi Taro.
MAYBE Sushi-Ko in Friendship Heights.
And MAYBE Sushi Sono, in Columbia.
Makoto, in Palisades, is in decline. The omakase I had there not long ago was a disappointment — a tired effort, lacking the brightness, cleanness, and delicate artistry of a great omakase.
FIELD REPORT: FAMILY MEAL, IN FREDERICK …:
After a day of wine touring, we settled in at Family Meal in Frederick for a friend’s dinner.
The server was enthusiastic, a little over-willing to share thoughts but nevertheless, I loved the enthusiasm and the knowledge base about the preparation of the food.
The food itself? It was… fine. There was certainly a lot of it. But after having eaten at Central a week before, (and granted, Central felt more expensive), the food lacked the sense of immense satisfaction that I want from high-end comfort food.
The fried chicken was good- but a touch dry at times and not quite as crispy as I wanted. Same with the chicken wings.
In the meantime, the steak, which he proclaimed proudly to have been prepared sous vide, was tougher than any sous vide steak I’ve had in a while.
Hoe cakes, with a homemade pimento cheese, put so much pimento cheese on what was otherwise a nice cake that the bacon- yes, bacon- passed the palate without being noticed at all.
Deep fried chicken pot pie bites- I was hoping for a country version of the spanakopita bite at Komi or the “world” bites at El Cellar de can Roca, but it still felt like a heavy casserole dish rather than something enlightening done with a classic flavor.
On the other hand, I suppose the duck fat fries were tasty. the hominy/polenta/grits/corn product served with the steak was flavorful and a pleasant consistency, even if I’m unsure now which corn product it was meant to be.
And the atmosphere was wonderful- it was nice to see a prom group walk in before the big dance, and everyone was very friendly. I just felt like the food needed tweaking. If you want to do southern food and charge more for it, I feel like I should get a touch more out of the experience than I did.
As to tasting menus- I agree that chefs have to have a story to tell. Otherwise, it’s just a frustrating experience for everyone.
But the best tasting menu experiences I’ve had, for the most part, blow the best meals that I’ve had not in a tasting menu format, out of the water.
You just have to trust that Todd Kliman will lead you to water.
And thanks so much for your thoughts on tasting menus. It’s very true. When they’re great — and I’m thinking of my last meal at Per Se — they really are extraordinary.
I appreciate your report on Family Meal, too. I reviewed the place shortly after it opened, and loved the fried chicken and the pot pie bites — the highlights, far and away, of the menu at that time.
I touched again on Family Meal in my review of Shoo-fly Diner, in Baltimore.
I think it’s a very, very hard idea to pull off, this idea of the upscale diner. I suppose it looks easy — you take the foods that everyone knows and loves, and you upgrade the raw ingredients and invest the preparations with a bit more technique.
And — voila!
But how often is it that the upscaled, upgraded, more technically rigorous dish is a winner?
When it doesn’t quite work — and that’s the thing: these dishes usually aren’t outright failures; they’re near-misses — it only serves to remind you that you’re paying a lot more than you would at the lower-grade place that actually might make you happier. Less pretense, more enjoyment.
You brought up Central. Central pulls this trick off very, very well. And makes it look very, very easy.
FIELD REPORT: ROSE’S LUXURY …:
Finally made it to Rose’s Luxury and thoroughly enjoyed every bite.
Happy to try that fried chicken before it was off the menu!
We had a taco party at my house last weekend and my daughter made the best carnitas … leftovers I don’t mind eating everyday. Wondering if Gringo’s and Mariachis could match up.
My kids made homemade poptarts and salmon benedict for Mother’s Day brunch….we skipped the whole crazy of the restaurant scene and so much the better for it. Bonus, once they are old enough to make a decent hollandaise, they are pretty good at cleaning up the kitchen.
Duly noted. 😉
Rose’s Luxury — it’s so interesting. I can’t recall another restaurant in this area, ever, that is so widely beloved and impervious to all but the most niggling criticisms.
Or, if not here, some other city?
You mentioned Gringos & Mariachis. I went not long ago, and though it was not a perfect or memorable or even good meal it was better than I expected.
The tostadas were exceptional — light, crispy, smeared with good beans and dressed with good, tangy queso fresca. Tacos were good, but not nearly in the class of the tostadas.
Beyond that: a botched guacamole (not enough citrus, and not enough salt), a weak margarita, a fiasco of an octopus ceviche (octopus shouldn’t taste like tuna in a can, and where was the bracing hit of lime?)
Strangest of all: a dish of pork in pipian that couldn’t decide whether it wanted to be family-style and unassuming or high-toned and something more.
I wish every dish were at the level of those tostadas. Thinking about them now, my mouth waters …
FOLLOWING-UP FROM LAST WEEK: RAY’S THE STEAKS FOR A GRADUATION DINNER …:
I wrote in last week for a recommendation for a graduation celebration dinner for a large group in Arlington, and you recommended Ray’s the Steaks. Well, we had a great meal!
The meat-eaters thoroughly enjoyed their steaks and the crab bisque, the vegetarian was very happy with a meal of the sides, and I personally couldn’t stop eating the spiced nuts that landed on the table upon seating.
Service was attentive and unobtrusive. The grandfather had to switch seats to move next to the wall because noise levels were too high for his hearing aid to handle, but he got along okay after that.
I thought it was a bit odd that they asked when I was making the reservation if we were celebrating anything and I mentioned the graduation as well as the grandmother’s birthday that day, but nothing special happened at dinner.
Certainly, it didn’t ruin the evening, I just don’t see the point of asking if it doesn’t lead to anything.
All in all though, it was a good time for all!
Sounds like it!
Thanks for writing back in and filling us all in. I appreciate it. And I’m so glad it worked out for everybody.
You brought up something that we’ve talked about on here before — when a restaurant asks whether you’ll be celebrating an occasion, is told you, and then does nothing. Or — nothing discernible.
I’ve experienced this many times myself, and have always found it odd. Why ask if you’re not actually going to do anything about it?
But restaurateurs, GMs, chefs — are we missing something? Are you taking this information to heart and doing things behind the scenes that people can’t see to ensure that they’re having a grand time?
I ask sincerely. I really do want to know.
Because otherwise it seems to me you’re leading the diner to believe that something special is in the offing.
Could it be that you have someone on the phone ask so that, on the appointed night, a staffer can then seat the table and say, “Happy anniversary, Mr. and Mrs. Jasikavich”?
That’s a nice little grace note, but hardly the expectation created when you’re asked whether you’re celebrating something special.
S/O TO 2 GREAT WAITERS …:
I wanted to give a shout-out to two fabulous waiters I was lucky enough to have this past weekend!
Friday night: 3 friends and I went to do the tasting menu at G – which was delicious, start (frittata, mushrooms…bucatini with clams) to finish (bass with artichokes…lemon poppyseed cake with rhubarb). Our waiter Ben was happy to play along, engaged, funny…and when I mentioned jokingly it was my birthday week, he brought us out some free Prosecco to toast with!
Thank you Ben for a fabulous evening with delicious food in the perfect atmosphere.
Saturday morning: the same crew plus some tackled brunch at Bar Pilar.
I think our waitress’ name was Katherine but she was perfect. Hilarious, candid…we invited her to sit down at our table and we really meant it. She knew exactly how to deal with slightly hungover, indecisive 20-somethings and again, the free birthday mimosa (particularly after the much-deserved mocking on my part) was greatly appreciated.
Thanks to both !!! We’ll be back.
I love it when we can single out the people who are doing such a terrific job of taking care of all of us at the table — a great waiter or waitress can add so much to a night out.
It’s great for them to get the name recognition — I know their bosses are reading these chats — and I also like the idea that we recognize more than just the chefs whose restaurants we patronize. So many people go into making a great meal — I wish there were a way to single out more of these folks every week.
If there is, please let me know. I’m happy to do it, and spread the s/o’s.
Kudos to Ben and (we hope) Katherine.
MENU/MBK, CONT. …:
This line from Chef Fredrick was used when Azur opened up and experienced challenges with service…..
“We strive to provide not only great food, but top notch service as well, and while we do have a very young staff that is new to the industry at MENU/MBK …”
What I don’t like about the phrase “new to the industry” is that it appears to put the onus on the servers — we pulled them in off the street, they don’t know anything …
The onus is on management. It’s management’s job to train them sufficiently before turning them loose on the floor to, yes, sell the restaurant.
ISO: AN “EXPERIENTIAL” RESTAURANT FOR FOUR …:
My in-laws are coming to town in August, and i’m looking to bring them to more of an experiential restaurant one night (i.e. one with a great chef tasting menu, or something that makes it much more unique than other restaurants).
Budget is about $80-$180 per person.
Wow. That’s a helluva range on the budget.
Although, interestingly enough, it doesn’t allow for a meal at Minibar or the Inn at Little Washington.
And can I just say? Dropping that kind of money on your in-laws, and taking them out for that kind of a night, suggest that you have either a fantastic relationship with them … or you don’t, but want to have a fantastic relationship with them. Either way, pretty unusual.
(I could be horribly off-base, here, of course. Set me straight if I am.)
As for a recommendation, I’d book a table now at Fiola Mare.
I’m not sure that people appreciate just how bold an idea this place is. There’s a single meat dish on the entire menu. To repeat: a single meat dish on the entire menu.
You don’t see this very often in the Northeast.
And the quality and freshness of the fish and seafood is unparalleled — at the level of the very best sushi bars in the country.
Add to that a chef with imagination and chops, and you have something special.
It’s also on the water, and that only adds to the feeling of get-away.
POSTCARD FROM CHICAGO … …:
Hi Todd, a quick field report from Chicago:
Our hotel was directly across the street from Rick Bayless Frontera Grill, which made lunch very easy … and tasty. Very bright flavors and colors. The Yucatan ceviche was a beautiful avocado green touched with a tingle of habanero. Definitely the best tamales I’ve ever had, the masa dough was pillowy soft and creamy, not the dried out version that are so common. Fabulous fried sweet plantains topped with crema. And the lamb mixiote was slathered in a deep brick red ancho-pasilla sauce.
Much of the rest of the weekend was spent attending family wedding events in the Lincoln Park area. The Hotel Lincoln served up a great brunch – large cast iron skillets of frittatas, platters of thick cut bacon and ham, cheesy grits, some very good pastries, and much needed Bloody Mary’s all enjoyed from their roof top terrace with views of Lake Michigan and the Chicago skyline.
The Saturday market in Lincoln Park was also a treat. It was obviously still early in the growing season with lots of asparagus about, but also plenty artisan food producers: everything from a stand serving up grilled cheese baguettes to a distillery. Gotta love a farmers market that serves hard liquor!
You do know, I hope, that everyone reading this right now hates you—? 😉
What a weekend.
And that farmers’ market! Can’t wait to hit that next time I’m in Chicago …
Thanks, but no thanks, for the report …
WEEKEND PROJECT MEALS? …:
About once of month, I’ve been trying to find a cooking project I can spend the day on.
I bought a smoker and cooked some ribs low and slow (came out great) and I also took a shot at making stuffed pasta (need a little practice).
Any favorite “project meals” when there is time?
This is a great subject to throw out to everyone reading.
What do you all attempt when you have the time?
And here’s another question — most of the dishes I think of when I think of all-day cooking are Fall and Winter sorts of dishes. Are there summer dishes you try? Ribs qualifies, but what else?
As I said, my ideas are all hearty things:
A roast pork shoulder with, garlic, onions, oranges, cumin, clove, tomatillos.
TRAINING OF STAFF — OR LACK THEREOF …:
Do restaurants educate their servers?
You would think if the restaurant serves burgers and steaks that staff would know what “Pittsburged” is when they ask how would you your steak or burger done. In the past few weeks our server at Clydes, The Palm at Tyson’s and Joe’s Seafood, Prime Steak didnt have a clue to what Pittsburged was.
Come on, managers and corporate staff — education is important.
As a result I just ordered medium rare since if the server didnt have a clue I figured whoever was on the grill or salmander didnt have a clue either.
Very, very disappointing.
That’s a basic one, seems to me, in a steakhouse setting.
Here’s the problem, though.
The problem is that most diners in your shoes would have walked out, shaking their heads at the cluelessness of the server.
They would not have brought the matter up with a GM. I can hear all the GMs out there, saying: They should have. We would have liked to know. This is what GMs always say — bring it up with us; inform us at the time so we can do something about it. Often, that’s good advice. But this isn’t something that people are likely to bring up with a GM. They are likely to assume ignorance, and assign blame (wrongly) to the server and, perhaps, adjust the tip accordingly. It’s too bad.
ROSE’S LUXURY, CONT.:
How about their no reservations policy? I think its more than a niggling detail to have the areas most “beloved” restaurant effectively cut off from large swaths of the population: the elderly, those with kids, health issues, time constraints or other reasons not to stand in line for hours.
But perhaps maybe thats the point? The Post had a recent article on this topic which I found thought provoking, particularly a comment that a survey of the dining room looked like a casting call for a J. Crew catalogue.
That line about the casting call for J. Crew — you could say the same thing of, oh, about three dozen restaurants on the scene right now. Everybody in there is 25-32, everybody is white, everybody is groomed and dressed the exact same way, everybody wears the same look of privileged certainty. Rose’s is not at all unique in this regard.
And a restaurant is not obliged to be all things to all people. It can be for one tiny swath of the population if it wants to — and will survive, as long as that tiny swath supports it.
Rose’s and other no-reservation restaurants are doing exactly what they want to be doing. They are attracting the diners they want to attract. And their dining rooms are busy.
The hullabaloo has to do with the fact that Rose’s and Little Serow and others are among a small handful of restaurants that are exciting and exacting and consistent. These are the best places to eat right now, and there are people who are curious and who are not young, adventurous foodies who want to eat there.
The New Yorkization of the food scene — the growing number of small, ambitious, independent places that put out great and thrilling plates of food without giving a great deal of thought to pampering and decor — is a good thing, in a lot of ways. But it’s an adjustment for a lot of people. And it’s coincided with the disappearance of many more established places that took reservations and had a sense of solidity, on the plate and in the dining room.
Things are moving east, the city is flooded with young professionals, the New Yorkization of the scene is not going to abate anytime soon. It’s interesting to sit back and watch all of this. But I can appreciate that it’s frustrating to some people.
A no-reservations policy makes a place more available to more kinds of people, generally, up and down the ladder. I like that about it. Do I like waiting for a table? I don’t. Nobody does.
But the waits, generally, at these places are for peak hours on Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Eating during the week, or at off-hours is a good strategy to get in. This is what New Yorkers do at restaurants that are thought to be impossible to get in.
We have to remember something else — and this is not something I can really delve into now, typing quickly and trying to get my thoughts down fast — and that’s that good restaurants have always been self-selecting, and sometimes exclusionary. It’s just that the self-selecting looks different now. It’s not jacket and tie, and hushed tones that send the message that you had best behave, and a waitstaff that let you know it was doing you a favor. It’s no reservations, and a loud soundtrack of songs you can’t identify unless you spend hours every week at the Black Cat, and dishes with ingredients that, in order to know about them and not feel awkward ordering, you hare to be well-traveled and keep up with niche foodie magazines.
WEEKEND COOKING PROJECTS, CONT. …:
This past weekend I made up a bunch of buckwheat crepes.
Making the batter isn’t overly time consuming, but cooking up a dozen crepes can take awhile. You can make an endless selection of fillings for any season, and leftover crepes can be frozen for a quick meal down the road.
A good summer weekend project – Ratatouille, which should be made in large quantities and also freezes well. Perfect for using peak summer vegetable.
Great idea …
And buckwheat crepes are very versatile. I was surprised that they held up so well to freezing.
FRONTERA, CONT. …:
The person who wrote about Frontera reminded me of what might have been the best meal I’ve ever had in an airport — Tortas Frontera in ORD.
I’ve had lunch before at Frontera and the fact that Bayless was able to get that quality in a to-go place that’s beyond security is astounding. The man is a treasure.
I’ve eaten at that Frontera, too — yes, pretty amazing to find food that good in an airport.
Not everything was wonderful. But two out of three is not bad at all, and the two were about on par with what you would find at most good restaurants.
Gotta run. Thanks for all the liveliness today, everyone. Lunch …
Be well, eat well, and let’s do it again next Tuesday at 11 …
[missing you, TEK … ]