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
Wild Country Seafood, Annapolis
I hesitate to include this, if only because I know Eastporters are going to be furious with me for outing their secret. The place is run by Pat Mahoney Sr. and his son, Pat Mahoney Jr. They’re watermen, among the last of a dying breed. Every morning they troll the waters around Eastport and Annapolis, bringing their haul back to sell to the public. You order at the counter inside, then take a seat at one of four tiki umbrella-topped tables along the gravel-topped parking lot; they’ll bring you the food. And what food. The thing to get is the softshells, provided they still have them when you show up. The day I was in, they did, and I feasted on two massive, meaty, delicately sweet softshells — the best preparation of the dish I’ve had this season. The softshells had been quartered, dredged in a mixture of what appeared to be flour and corn meal, and lightly fried. With cole slaw and fries, the tab came to — yes, I’m not joking — $15. I haven’t tried the hard shells; they’ve been sold out. But I can’t imagine they’d be anything less than great; I’m eager to come back and bring home a bushel. If you’re not a fan of softshells, there’s also good fried shrimp, bay scallops, rockfish, and clams.
The Rogue Gentlemen, Richmond
Yes, I know Richmond is two-plus hours away. I’m adding it this week because a) it’s summer and people are lighting out on long trips and b.) I had one of the best meals I’ve eaten all year there, and would gladly get back in my car and drive two-plus hours to return. I love the space, which is not much bigger than some living rooms — it has the air of a place hiding from those too conventional to understand. I love the cocktails, fashioned from obscure, high-quality spirits and mixed with laborious care. And I love the cooking, which is far more composed, beautiful and exacting than you would expect of a place like this. A plate of roasted beets with salmon roe, parsley and turnip creme fraiche — unimprovable, one of the best preparations of beets I’ve had in years — would not have been out of place at Jean-Georges. A roasted foie gras with crushed pistachios and pickled sour cherries was just as glorious, a sensuous essay in textures; it was easy to imagine it on the menu at CityZen, though not for $15. Prices are eye-poppingly cheap. The most stunning value on the menu is the rib eye. Basted with butter and thyme and drenched with a sauce of Overholt Rye and black peppercorn, it’s a thoughtfully reimagined twist on steak au poivre. It comes with two cuts of meat (including the prized culotte, or cap), a shank of roasted bone marrow and delicately carved baby carrots (the marrow and the carrots are a perfect combination themselves). All this for $21. Bravo to the wonderfully fruitful (and apparently seamless) partnership between owner John Maher and chef Aaron Hopkins.
Nainai’s Noodle and Dumpling Bar, Silver Spring
It’s a pain to park — options are limited along this stretch of East-West Highway between Georgia and Colesville, and you may be forced to dock your car in the garage around the corner for $5. I did, both times, and both times I walked in in something less than the spirit of having a good time. And both times the cooking picked me up. The dumplings are good, not great (get the Year of the Pig, stuffed with juicy ground pork), but even a good not great dumpling is a pretty wonderful thing. The steamed, stuffed buns vary in quality, and the meats inside are a touch dry. Focus on the noodle bowls, which feature hand-pulled noodles (notice the ends, which are uniformly not uniform — some are fat, some thin). I like the Pai Gow, topped with ground pork, chili oil, bean sprouts, mustard greens, toasted garlic and ground peanuts, and the Mahjong Noodles, tossed with sesame paste, peanut butter, cucumbers, carrots, bean sprouts and chili oil. To drink: a bottle of DC Brau or Port City Porter.
Cafe Rue, Beltsville
I’ve got a lot of affection for this one-man band. Cole Whaley, a graduate of L’Academie de Cuisine, is not just the owner and chef — he’’s also waiter, runner, and busser of this likable little hole in the wall in a fading Beltsville strip mall. There’s no other menu in the area quite like this, a delightful hodgepodge of soul food, yuppie bistro small plates, and Frenchified sweets. His crispy Brussels sprout dish may be the best I’ve had in a year full of crispy Brussels sprouts dishes — the outer leaves separate slightly, and he gets a chip-like crunch on them. And I love the enhancements — a touch of coconut oil for richness, a drizzle of clover honey for sweetness. The miniature crab cakes are hard to resist, and disappear quickly. Chicken and waffles are the heart of the menu, and the Cotton Club-derived combo comes in four varieties, including one with red velvet waffles and one with Sriracha-glazed chicken that calls to mind the sweet-spicy crunch of General Tso’s. I like the “classic” — the boneless, white meat chicken has surprising juice, and the waffles are thick and fluffy. Come dessert, the Francophile chef indulges his love of patisserie with five kinds of macarons (the cream centers are a touch dry, but he nails the difficult outside) and a surprisingly successful attempt at that recent darling of the NY foodie world, the cronut. More to like: the dining room is dressed up with art from the owner’s own collection, and bossa nova on continuous loop makes any day feel like a lazy Sunday. (Note: odd hours. Closes at 8 during the week and on Friday, and at 3 on Saturday and Sunday.)
Sushi Capitol, DC
I kind of hate putting this on here. The place is already not large — you could stand in front of the iconic Hawk ’n’ Dove, its next-door neighbor, and miss it — and the crowds that are sure to come now will only mean that I won’t be able to get in when I want later. And I’m going to want. This is a diminished sushi scene: Makoto is no longer special, Kushi is in decline, and Sushi-Ko I is gone. That leaves Sushi Taro and Sushi Capitol, and at the moment I’m not all that certain I’d take the former over the latter. Capitol is not as polished an experience as Taro, but neither is it the Zen-like spa of hushed voices and restrained manners — an Important Restaurant to save up for when you are looking to mark an occasion. This is a simple, unassuming spot, a workaday spot, with good, well-sourced fish and a chef who knows how to enhance the raw product without sacrificing the elegance essential to the form. Minoru Ogawa was previously in charge of sushi operations at every Mandarin Oriental property along the Eastern seaboard. He’s a purist at the bar, abjuring gimmicks, fads and clutter. The pieces are small, with tiny pads of rice, and the fish is sliced thin and delicately and draped just so over the pads. This doesn’t just make for an elegant presentation; it ensures that each bite is in balance, with the right proportion of fish to rice. I was in most recently for the omakase, which, at $50 for somewhere between 16-20 pieces, amounts to a sweetheart of a deal in the sushi world — particularly when the yellowtail is so sweet and still tastes of the sea, and the various white fishes are not simply there for padding, and the hand-rolls (passed across the bar as soon as they’re finished, their wrappers warm and crunchy) come with fresh-chopped toro. If you order a la carte, don’t ignore the rolls. The Florida roll, draped with whitened bands of blowtorched salmon belly and sliced avocado, is a stunner in every sense.
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).
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.
THIN-CRUST PIZZA …:
My family and I spent some time at the National Harbor this weekend, where, let’s face it – the food options aren’t great.
But we ended up at a pizza place where surprise: we loved the pizza! It was essentially pizza on a saltine cracker, but for my thin crust-loving husband, a dream come true.
Is there anywhere in DC proper or Northern Virginia where we might find a similar pie?
I myself am partial to the Neopolitan chewy crust of a place like Red Rocks, but in the interest of compromise, would like to find a place for him (without having to travel back to the National Harbor).
The place you went — for all those of you who didn’t go — is Fiorella Italian Kitchen.
I’ve been, and enjoyed it. Enjoyed: doesn’t mean I loved it; doesn’t mean it’s delicious across the board, or even has a handful of delicious things to keep you coming back; doesn’t mean I’d recommend it for all occasions or even most occasions. Enjoyed: I had a pretty good meal.
The crust on the pizzas is, yes, very, very thin. Roman-style. I, like your husband, happen to like this style a lot, and wish there were more places serving it.
The only other restaurant that comes to mind is Da Marco, in Silver Spring, and not all the time. Only on Tuesdays, when it’s pizza night. The Patate, a white pizza, is terrific. They take that cracker-like crust and top it with mozzarella, thin soft rounds of potato and fresh rosemary.
CHEAP EATS, 2013 AND 2014 …:
Follow-up on Cheap eats – you are right, I was looking at the 2013 version. The one that is on the front of the web site, with a splashy new version.
Didn’t realize that this new posting was from a year ago. Interesting that so much work went into last year’s issue at this time point.
I can understand your confusion!
Here’s the thing, though. In essence, last year’s was — for lack of a better term — an Ethnic Dining Guide (ugh: I hate that word.) It was a grand and comprehensive tour of all the major cultures and cuisines of the area, and all the minor ones, too.
Actually, you want to know something?
Most editions of Cheap Eats are “ethnic dining guides,” because in this area the vast majority of restaurants where two people can eat well and for under $50 are these immigrant-run, family-style restaurants.
I’d guess that these places make up about 80 percent of every Cheap Eats issue.
Pizza, barbecue, and burgers make up the rest of the list each year. And notice the stark contrast: a burger and fries vs., for instance, a head-on whole trout, fried, with black beans and oiled rice. It’s no question which is more of a meal. And which is more of a value.
I would also argue that the immigrant-run, family-style restaurants are more consistent across the board, too. More consistent, yes, than most burger and pizza and barbecue joints, and more consistent than most fine dining or fine-casual dining in the area, too.
So that 2013 guide — you can depend on that like a trusty companion throughout the year.
THIN-CRUST PIZZA, CONT. …:
Very thin crust pizza try Trattoria Villagio in Clifton, VA . Make sure ask for very thin crust.
Yeah? How good?
ISO: A CAFE OR COFFEESHOP ON H ST. NE NEAR TOKI …:
I’m going to finally try Toki Underground tonight and am planning to head over to H Street early to put my name in and then get some work done while I wait for a table.
Any suggestions on a good coffeeshop or cafe where I can sit with my laptop for an hour or two, have a good coffee (or glass of wine…) and kill some time nearby?
I like Batter Bowl Bakery, at 4th and H NE. Next door to Ethiopic, and owned by the same husband and wife.
The coffee isn’t amazing — it’s Illy — but it’s plenty good to linger over while you work.
I’ve gone to BBB a bunch, and like it a lot for a light lunch or light, early dinner while getting some work in.
You’re not going there to eat, I know, but they bake their own breads and they’re excellent. I really like their open-faced sandwiches, including one topped with chopped egg and fresh anchovies.
FIELD REPORT: MACON BISTRO AND LARDER, CHEVY CHASE …:
Can we just go ahead and pencil Macon Bistro and Larder into next year’s 100?
The biscuits were as good as Ann Limpert promised, and the entrees (rainbow trout and short rib) were equally special.
The clientele was a bit older (hello, Chevy Chase!), but that doesn’t get in the way of the restaurant’s vision. The cocktails, beer selection and food would be lauded in any neighborhood in the city.
I hope they don’t change anything anytime soon.
Besides, the retirees seemed to like it as much as the 30-somethings.
In the mix? Maybe.
But pencil it in? No no no no no.
Ann has been more often than I have — three times. I’ve been just once. So that has to be factored in.
But I thought it was fine. Not great. Some good things, some not good things. A better-than- pleasant experience.
The trout I had wasn’t special. Trout and lentils: good combination. Trout and pecans: good combination. Trout and lentils and pecans: that’s an uneasy menage a trois.
The fried green tomato dish had good flavor, but the tomatoes themselves were cut too thick and the breading was a touch too heavy, too.
I expected more of the coconut cake. Grander, bigger, more Southern, more luscious.
I did love the shrimp bisque I had. The kitchen took real pains to build it the right way, with a good, concentrated stock.
And those biscuits are, yes, terrific.
FIELD REPORTS: SIBBY’S IN WARRENTON; AND SHAB ROW TEA EMPORIUM AND AYSE, IN FREDERICK …:
A few reports from the long holiday weekend….
We visited two places this weekend which I wanted to grab people off of the street and bring them in to show them what they were missing. You know those places which you want to succeed so intensely, the ones which you can tell are run by the owners simply by the level of service, pride, and diligence?
After the abysmal dining experience at Skyland Resort in Shenandoah a Sonic drive thru probably would have impressed me, but the whole experience at Sibby’s in Warrenton, VA was nearly perfect. Perfect in a shabby-cast-off chairs and tables in a tacky room with fake flowers kind of way. Not even trying to be stylish. But we sat on the street and our server made our experience like one we long for in a fine dining establishment with her caring, genuine service. The soft buns piled thickly with shaved pulled pork smoky from the wood of local hickory — they were the real deal. The beans had us all groaning and moaning on the porch. It’s all about the pride and love of what they are doing and the extension of that is the food.
The Shab Row Tea Emporium in Frederick was perhaps the antitheses of Sibby’s in every way but the service and dedication of the owners. This shabby-chic, cluttered, charming tiny box of a room held custom pull out ancient shelves with an extensive selection of teas in glass tubes to choose from. Brewed to order, iced, and ready to go while you looked around at the various fancy and fun tea items. This is, however, not your grandmother’s tea room — it’s owner adored with body jewelry and the vibe, while a bit pretentious, is warm, welcoming, and dare I say engaging with my 4 year old in a small room surrounded by expensive breakable items. There is even a diminutive yet delightful seating area upstairs akin to a crow’s nest. The tea? It was delicious.
We had heard you mention Ayse in Frederick, so for my husband and daughters (1!) birthday we took the drive to check it out requesting patio dining. And what a charming patio is was with ample space, shade and breeze through the patterned brick walls. The dishes flew out of the kitchen as we ordered which made it possible to choose a few things and then a few more as we wished. Highlights? The brussel sprouts with capers, currants, honey were decadent and divine, the “cigars” a wonderful summer accompaniment with ground cumin lamp and garlic yogurt. Manouri cheese with honey and figs and microgreens? Yes, please. Everything was so good it was easy to overlook the middling mushrooms and the paltry dip selection. And for us, the welcoming, stylish atmosphere, coupled with the ability to eat and drink well at our own pace (which was quick with two little ones, but could take all night) was a memorable birthday dinner. Thank you for your suggestion!
Bevin, thank you so much for these reports!
I can’t wait to try Sibby’s. I love your description of the pulled pork sandwiches.
I’ve always been curious about the Shab Row Tea Emporium, but never been. That’s going on my list, too.
And so good to hear that you had such a good and relaxing meal at Ayse, because … wait for it …
FIELD REPORT: AYSE, IN FREDERICK …:
Thanks for the great info every week. I just wanted to give readers a quick review of Ayse in Frederick, a Washingtonian top 100 restaurant.
Ayse specializes in mezze and could be compared to DC’s Kapnos and Zaytinya. However, after my third visit to Ayse, I must admit that it is plainly mediocre at best.
I yearn for the vibrant flavors and clean presentation offered by Kapnos and Zaytinya, but Ayse always seems to let me down. Whether the rabbit is dry, shrimp is rubbery, brussels are oily, crabcakes are quarter-sized (literally, the size of a quarter), I always leave unsatisfied.
Ayse seems like the little, bland, unrefined version of its big brothers, Kapnos and Zaytinya. I would much rather drive into DC, or even visit Trapezaria (Rockville) or Mediterranean Grill (Frederick), than head back to Ayse.
Tough review, I know, but I just have not been impressed.
Nothing on this chat for nearly a year about Ayse, and now two reports in the same week.
I had worried about Ayse after I first wrote about it, because I had heard from some readers that they had had decent, or very decent, but not good meals there.
Sometimes places lose their way after a review. Staff leaves, or they have to hire more people and that creates problems internally, or they are flooded with diners and don’t respond well to the larger audience, or the scrutiny that comes with attention in a big magazine is too much to bear.
I’m not saying this happened to Ayse. I don’t know the inner workings there.
Given Bevin’s enthusiasm for it, however — and also given the fact I trust her — I’d be inclined to guess that the place might just be a victim, in your case, of elevated expectations and having to drive a great distance to have dinner there.
I don’t think it merits comparison with Zaytinya and Kapnos. The cooking isn’t as intricately conceived. Or as precisely rendered.
Zaytinya is a three-star restaurant. In other words: two full cuts above Ayse, which I believe we awarded two stars in the 100 Best.
You didn’t mention the space, which I think is cool and simple and delightful on a hot summer day.
Or the service, which, on my visits, I found terrific: sincere and welcoming and attentive.
Or the desserts, in particular the homemade fig newtons, which I think are pretty special.
MACON BISTRO AND LARDER, CONT. …:
OK, I agree on the tomatoes. And I too have been just once.
I’m making a return trip this weekend.
And I’m very glad the server steered me towards the blackberry cobbler over the coconut cake.
Ha! — I got steered to the blackberry cobbler, too.
But, ornery cuss that I am, I went with the coconut cake. Also because I’m not there to have a grand ol’ time, I’m there to kick the tires.
Telling, isn’t it, that we were both steered to the cobbler and not the cake. The cobbler might be great. But a coconut cake in a Southern-themed restaurant — it absolutely has to be a knockout.
TRATTORIA VILLAGIO, CLIFTON, CONT …:
As good as a little place just down from the Vatican. One of the security checks I do is the Vatican on a monthly basis. Pope Francis recommended it to me when we were discussing how to cook scallops. What’s wrong you getting as lazy as your colleague at the WP and not venturing outside the beltway in NOVA to review restaurants??? That’s fine I wont tell you about the great place for burgers and sandwiches some where on Rt 28 between Dulles and where Rt 28 ends.
Don’t be petulant.
It doesn’t become you.
The cranky bitchiness, that I like.
And listen, nobody ventures like I do. Nobody. I just wrote about a place out near Dulles called Punjabi Junction (thanks, N.A., for the tip). I just wrote about Wild Country Seafood in Eastport. I found a place called Cafe Rue, in Beltsville, that nobody has ever heard of, and wrote that up. And that’s just the past few weeks.
CRANE & TURTLE — NEW, IN PETWORTH …:
Any early thoughts on Crane & Turtle?
Menu looks interesting and has peaked my interest. Something I hope to try after Ramadan is over.
I hesitate to say, because I want to see this place make it. And also I’ve only been once.
But would I go back based on that one visit, if it were my money and my time? I would not.
I love the space, the staff is nice, the mission is terrific. Most of the dishes I tried, however, felt like first or second drafts.
The most successful was a duck breast — excellent product and beautifully cooked, with a thick cap of crispy, salty skin — with yuba served like fettucini, in a tangle.
The least successful was a tempura’ed skate wing. This was not a delicate fry. Not light. And the pieces of fish were served atop a thick puddle of yuzu, with lots of odd cuts of cucumber and segments of grapefruit. On paper, it sounded delicious: tempura skate wing, yuzu, cucumber, grapefruit. But eating it proved a challenge. Pick up the fish and bite into it? OK, but then you don’t get the cucumber and the grapefruit. Cut the pieces with a fork and distribute them in the thick puddle of yuzu? OK, but then why tempura the fish if you’re just going to sog it up?
In between were a number of plates that just didn’t pop enough. Not clean enough, not sharp enough in their contrasts.
To be fair, as I said, It was just one visit. And although I tend to wait a few weeks before popping in for an initial visit, this was sometime in that first week.
I sure hope the kitchen can find itself and lock into a groove. It would be a terrific addition to the city.
FIORELLA ITALIAN KITCHEN, CONT. …:
That National Harbor place’s crust made me think of the chain Donato’s, which I grew up with in the Midwest, when I had it.
I haven’t had it since I was like 16, so don’t know how it would taste to me today, but I did notice they have some locations around here (Fairfax, etc.)
Never tried Donato’s.
I’ll look for the outpost in Fairfax.
VENTURING, CONT. …:
I never understand the complaints about critics and the locations of where they eat given the demands of the job.
Nothing against your “WP colleague” who’s advice I cherish as well, but this criticism is particularly undeserved when tossed at you. I almost wish you would stick to more DC-centric (or at least metro accessible restaurants), but I do have a growing list of more far-flung places that I’m excited to visit when I get access to someone who can drive me, due pretty much solely to your recommendations.
See, that makes me happy.
I understand what you’re saying about sticking closer to the city proper. I hear that from time to time from other readers.
Part of it, for me, is that I want to write the sort of stuff I myself would want to read, and part of it is that I try to pass on the sorts of tips I — in my pre-critic days — loved to track down.
There are other parts, of course.
One is that the scene is large and sprawling and full of cultures, and cannot be understood just by sticking to the city proper. In fact, I would argue that the real picture emerges the more you hopscotch among the jurisdictions.
FIELD REPORT: WOODWARD TABLE, DC …:
As we venture through the Top 100 list, we tried out Woodward Table recently.
Dinner for six on an “unfashionable” night (read, hardly busy). And yet.
Sometimes I think a kitchen and staff needs a little more pressure to perform to their best.
Waiting for our party, we sat at the bar for fifteen minutes of being ignored by the bartenders (to their credit, the bar’s set-up makes it hard to see past the big square column that splits it, but an occasional lap down to the hostess’ end would be appreciated).
Once seated, it took a couple of tries to get orders correct (seriously, write-it-down-already), we had to ask twice for a cocktail list, and then food came out unevenly, with the pacing off and a couple of folks left waiting for their courses.
The beet-and-carrot salad continues to be excellent; the duck is overly sweet; the kale feels far more fall than summer but is still a fairly consistent dish.
Of all things, the corned beef brisket, of which I was fully suspicious, is fantastic: lush, savory, and well-accompanied. It arrives rather shockingly pink, but once you brave the color, it’s interesting and imaginative.
In the category of Needs To Be Better At This Price Point, when you explain you’ll be splitting a dish as you order, you shouldn’t have to ask twice for a second plate, and they might want to rethink the brobdingnagian pork chop – a true Berkshire cut doesn’t need to arrive swimming in butter, nor does “medium rare” mean dark grey throughout.
Desserts look tempting but taste like they’ve subscribed to the Cheesecake Factory school: heavy and oversized with too much sugar and not enough flavor weighs down the meal’s end about as much as the nearly $600 check did.
Yeah, not good.
I’m sorry to hear about that, even if the corned beef brisket, which I also love, was up to par.
Thanks for the report …
VENTURING, CONT. …:
I have to agree with Todd, NO ONE ventures outside of DC more than Todd. some of the places that are on my personal list to try are outside of DC and I would not have known about them if Todd did not take the time to go and visit these places.
Thanks, everyone — I appreciate the show of support.
I love being able to come on every week and tip you to something you’ve never heard of, and maybe give you something to shape a trip on the weekend.
It makes the gig more fun, and makes me remember why I wanted to do a chat in the first place …
OCEAN CITY EATS …:
Hi Todd –
I’m heading up a trip to Ocean City, MD with a group of guys, all in our 20s. Can you or the chatters recommend some good eating and/or drinking on or near the boardwalk?
Not everyone is a “foodie,” so we don’t need fancy places by any means. But is there anything not-to-be-missed, or at least places to get a reliable meal? It’s my first visit, so I’m at a bit of a loss.
I can’t. I’m sorry. Can anyone?
It’s been a long time since I’ve been to OC …
POST-KENNEDY CENTER DINING? …:
We’re seeing Jerry Seinfeld at the Kennedy Center in August. Usually will hit Marcel’s pre-performance, but this time the babysitter won’t be able to make it that early.
Do you have any suggestions on where to eat AFTER the show, at around 9-9:30? We obviously don’t need to be in walking distance, but closish would be great!
This’d be my list:
VENTURING, CONT. …:
I hate, hate, HATE when readers complain about where reviewers review. If you want a reviews tailored to a specific area, read a smaller publication that specializes in your neck of the woods. I live in Arlington, but occasionally I have time to kill before I catch a flight out of Dulles. My folks live in Northern Montgomery county, sometimes I need to find a good spot to meet in the middle to celebrate a birthday.
Also – when we read your work, us readers sometimes need to admit to ourselves that we might not get to visit every restaurant you review. Sometimes, I just read your work because I enjoy reading about food… even if its place that I wouldn’t get to visit.
I mean, right? Sometimes it’s just armchair travel. Come along for the ride.
It’s a big area, and getting bigger every year.
BEST CORNED BEEF?:
For me personally, I think Corned Beef King food truck has the best Reuben sandwich. The corned beef just melts in your mouth and is so tender.
Where are your favorite places in MD/DC? I tried Attman’s and was disappointed as the corned beef was really dry.
That’s easy: the corned beef at DGS Delicatessen.
OCEAN CITY EATS, CONT. …:
I’ll speak to eating food that goes well with beer… best drinking destination in Ocean City is a red solo cup on the beach.
After that, hit Anthony’s (16th st and Costal Hwy) for Roast Beef sandwiches carved to order, or the Atlantic Stand (Wicomico and the Boardwalk) for a hot dog split down the middle and crispy from the flat top.
A good spot for breakfast/lunch is Crazy 8’s (35th and Coastal Hwy) for really good salads and sandwiches.
Best meal I’ve had in the area recently was at Shark on the Harbor in West Ocean City. 20 minute drive, maybe a little pricey for your group, but its a place where locals go and stays busy year round… not just for tourists.
To the rescue!
You guys (ha, I sound like a server at a restaurant) are amazing. You never fail to come through.
I love this chat.
OCEAN CITY EATS, CONT. …:
Grab some fractured prune donuts in Ocean City. Those always hit the spot
I’ve had ‘em in Rehoboth. Not great, but made to order. Hard to resist.
FIELD REPORT: PIZZERIA ORSO, IN FAIRFAX …:
Great, the “outside the beltway troll” has surfaced on your chat.
I certainly appreciate your reviews, and know first hand that you’ve recommended a number of great places in my area, and I live well outside the beltway.
I took the visiting in-laws to Pizzeria Orso this past week, and they absolutely loved it. Will Artley has a unique talent for producing menu items every bit as good as his fantastic pizza. His oven roasted olives are the best I’ve ever tasted, and he could convert a brussel sprouts hater with his crispy version featuring truffled maple, bacon and celery root puree. The grilled octopus was equally delicious. The icing on the cake was the half-price bottles of wine, since we visited on a Wednesday.
Keep up the great work!
Good to hear that Orso appears to be doing well with chef Artley.
Thanks for the report …
Crispy brussels sprouts! Mon dieu, they’re everywhere. I even had them recently at the Silver Diner, of all places.
I hope you all had fun on here today — I know I did. And I hope to have word sometime in the next couple of weeks about our would-be dining club. Stay tuned …
Be well, eat well, and let’s do it again next Tuesday at 11 …
[missing you, TEK … ]