Tuesday, July 29, at 11 AM

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.

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’sThe 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: tkliman@washingtonian.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.




Todd – I know you’ve been putting Nainai’s at the top of the chat for the last few weeks. I haven’t been yet, though it’s on the list.

If you couldn’t eat there, but had to spend a couple of days in Silver Spring – where else would you go?

What’s interesting to you right now?

Todd Kliman

I popped in on Jackie’s recently for a light dinner, and though I still think that that place needs a certain approach in the kitchen and in the room, it was a better meal than I’ve had there in a while. I’m eager to taste more.

I think that 8407 Kitchen + Bar, with Justin Bittner at the helm, is the best restaurant in Silver Spring right now.

The Classics is solid, very solid. My last meal there was, from start to finish, very rewarding. Good cooking, good service, great value.

I like Jewel of India.

Lotus Cafe has its moments; I really like their stuffed grape leaves, which, in the Vietnamese fashion, are bundled into leaves of rice paper, along with mint and pickled radish and carrot.

Fenton Cafe makes some tasty crepes.

Samantha’s is as Samantha’s was. What’s good, like the carne asada, is really good.

And, finally, one to avoid: Oriental East. There’s always been a marked difference between the dim sum and dining all the rest of the time. But whoa, Nelly — my meal there this weekend was absolutely wretched. In every way.



My dear friend and former college roommate is coming into town to celebrate her birthday. This is our last one before the big 5-0.

She’s had a rough several years (cancer, divorce, job change, move and young kids) and I’d like to make this a fun outing. Her favorite type of food is Indian and I just made a reservation at Bombay Club. Rasika (both locations) had no availability for next Friday. It has been a while since I’ve been to the Bombay Club – go there or somewhere else?

She is also a major dessert person and I’d like us to go somewhere afterwards for dessert. Preference is that it be not too far from Bombay Club and in a neighborhood that might allow a nice stroll to or around.

She lives an hour out, so this is a night out without the kids for her and I’d like it to be leisurely and interesting.


Todd Kliman

You’re a great friend — it sounds like a terrific night, a terrific way to give her some pampering at an extremely tough time in her life.

Keep the reservation, absolutely.

And for dessert afterwards and fairly close, I’d think about Founding Farmers. It’s the opposite direction from dinner, but I would think you want something big and fun and celebratory, no? And they don’t lack for that at Founding Farmers.

Drop me a note and let me know how it all turned out, the birthday dinner and dessert nightcap both …

Good luck!



Hi Todd,

Where is the best place to go for dim sum in Rockville/Wheaton area?

Preferably without having to wake up early and wait in line for hours? We are fine waiting maybe 15-20 minutes but looking for an experience similar to what we had in San Francisco couple years ago. Delicious food, servers wandering with carts of fresh items etc.


Todd Kliman

I’d advise you to lower those sights immediately. 😉

I shouldn’t wink — it’s true!

There’s nothing in Wheaton or Rockville that’s going to approach the kind of place you’re thinking of in San Francisco.

The best in Wheaton is Good Fortune. And it’s very decent. Short-ish waits, too.

New Fortune in Gaithersburg — not Rockville, I know, but close — can be more than very decent, but you’ll also wait in line if you arrive after 11. And you may wait for 45 minutes. Or more.



Hi Todd,

I love your column and read it religiously.

I have a quick question! I grew up in a small town in upstate NY, an amazing place to grow up but very limited when it came to different types of cuisines.

This weekend I have 5 little cousins ages ranging from 13 years old to 18 years old coming in from that same small town to experience city life! They are coming without their parents and I am very much looking forward to showing them around.

But up until today I completely forgot about Friday night dinner! So here I am looking for a good recommendation. They will try most foods but I wanted to show them something either very Washington DC something with a view perhaps or something they have never seen in upstate NY.

Got any ideas?

Thank you!!

Have a great day.


Todd Kliman

Corinn, this is kind of a toughie, given the ages of your cousins.

The place that leaps to mind is Old Ebbitt Grill, and mostly because it’s so old — it’s one of the oldest places to eat in the city — and so drenched in history. It’s immensely popular for tourists for that reason.

Presidents Grant, Johnson, Cleveland, Harding and Roosevelt (Teddy) are said to have availed themselves of the bar. Roosevelt — and who knows whether this is true, or whether it just sounds as if it could be true — bagged animal heads there.

The menu is long, and aims to satisfy a lot of different constituencies. There’s plenty there for a kid who is cautious of food, and plenty there for a kid who is willing to try some things. And if they’re really game, there’s oysters on the half shell.

Go before 6, and you can get the Orca — a lobster, a mess of clams, some chilled jumbo shrimp, and an assortment of oysters — for half off.

Good luck. I’d love to hear how it turns out.




Can you recommend a great BBQ spot in Nova? As a native Texan, I can say with conviction that Hill Country Barbecue serves the real deal, but I’m looking for a spot that doesn’t require traveling into DC.

I’m thrilled that Chuy’s is opening down the street from my house in Fairfax. The food is by no means authentic Mexican, but it absolutely captures the essence of Tex-Mex.

Many of their items feature Hatch green chiles, so there’s quite a bit of New Mexican influence as well.


Todd Kliman

On a purely personal level, I’m looking forward to Chuy’s, too. I love Tex-Mex, and miss it.

Capturing the essence of Tex-Mex, as you put it, is no small thing. It might look like a simple cuisine, and many sneer at it. Foodies who like to cook turn to Rick Bayless, for his earnest and passionate recreations of regional and micro-regional Mexican cooking. And that’s great. It’s great to learn about these dishes and traditions, and to develop an appreciation of the rich and complex terrain of actual Mexican cooking. But there’s nothing illegitimate about Tex-Mex. And it’s a lot harder to pull off on the plate than it looks.

I hope Chuy’s does well; well, no — correction: I hope that it takes its mission, here, as seriously as it takes its mission in Austin. I hope that it does that, and that it does well, doing that.

I also hope that if it does that, and does well doing that, that it inspires others, including restaurateurs and chefs at the level of fine or finer dining.

By the way, since you mentioned Hatch chills — wouldn’t it be great to have Sonoran-style cooking here? In addition, I should say, to Anita’s.

As for barbecue in Northern Virginia … (sigh, deep, lingering sigh). Nothing really great out there right now. Willard’s is decent. Dixie Bones is decent. Rockland’s is decent.



Another dim sum place in Rockville that is turning out real good dim sum (with rolling carts) is Far East, if you can believe it.

I went there the other weekend and what a line to get in.

Todd Kliman

What this tells me is that a dim sum chef from somewhere that used to be good has moved on. The insiders know and have followed him.

Happens all the time.

The hard part, as a critic, is finding out when a chef has moved on. Restaurateurs don’t talk. Or, they talk, but they lie. “No, no — same chef.”

A long line is the thing you want, even if you don’t think you want it. In dim sum dining, you always — always — follow the herd.

Anyway, great news. What did you order? What were the standouts?



Dessert after Bombay Club: I would probably go to Quill at Jefferson Hotel.

It’s an intimate and special place with great dessert and beverage selection where one would feel special – much better than the zoo that Founding Farmers is with average and snotty service in my experience.

Todd Kliman

Remember, though, what one person deems a place “where one would feel special,” another might find stiff and unrelaxing.

Just saying.

Also, if they’ve already had dinner, and the need is just for something sweet and festive to top off the night, I’m not sure why great service would be paramount. Yes, of course, we all want good service, all the time. But if you’re just having a slice of pie or cake, is it going to make or break the meal if service is only okay?



We just made a move to Del Ray in Alexandria – any recommendations in or near that neighborhood?

We’ve made the obligatory stop at Evening Star, which we liked, and were very impressed by the recently re-opened Bombay Curry Company… any other can’t miss places, particularly off the beaten path (aka, off Mt. Vernon Ave)?


Todd Kliman

I like RT’s, which is more Arlandria than Del Ray — it’s on Mt. Vernon, but further from you.

A pretty darn consistent place, and the kind of place, I’m sorry to say, I don’t do enough to put out there before the food-loving public. I like it. Good Cajun cooking, if, at times, a bit on the heavy side (even for Cajun).

Cheesetique is good. Good cheeseboards, good wines, and a nice relaxing way to spend a couple of hours.

Taqueria el Poblano is fun. Hard not to like, though sometimes the cooking gets a little sloppy.

Los Tios is better than you might think. I like it.

Kaizen Tavern, I’ve only been the once; not bad; not great. If I lived in the neighborhood, I could see popping in for weeknight sushi takeout.



The stand/drive-in at the corner of Route 15 and Route 50 near Aldie is pretty good and worth the drive if you couple it with a visit to the wine shop at the Aldie Peddler just a half mile further on, where Wally has all sorts of interesting wines at very good price points and is usually pouring tastes of something he is currently excited about.

Todd Kliman

You’re talking about the Pit Stop, no?

Ron Thomas’s roadside bbq operation at Gilbert’s Corner?

Smells great as you’re hurtling down the highway.

The ribs are only decent, it’s the other stuff that’s worth pulling over for. Smoked chicken. And the smoked chicken salad.

Aldie Peddler is good, and you can also swing by Chrysalis, right there in Aldie, too, and sip their excellent Albariño, Norton and Viognier in the tasting room.



Todd –

Last week I asked advice on where to go for a post-baby date night last weekend, and then promptly ignored your recommendation!

We went back to Rose’s Luxury (a perk of being neighbors – we can put our names in, go home, get the baby to bed and the babysitter settled, then head out XX hours later when they text us).

It was a wonderful meal. Only one repeat from the last time we were there -pork lycee salad, still amazing – including pretzel bread instead of the potato bread.

Not everything was perfect, but delighted to see that they’ve been able to keep the menu fresh without losing quality or whimsy.

Todd Kliman

You ignore my rec, and then have the moxie to come back on and tell me about it?! 😉

(Moxie; does anyone still use that word?

(There used to be a drink called Moxie. Long time ago, they had Ted Williams as a pitchman. I know, because my father used to keep a can of it in his studio. Not far from his vanitas skull. And not far, either, from his cut-out of Marilyn Monroe’s legs. Sex, death, and baseball … ANYway … )

Pork lycee: is that where students go to learn how to butcher a pig?

Sorry; couldn’t resist.

Good for Rose’s. And lucky you, to live so close.



We have had great experiences at Ayse Meze up in Frederick in the past, so I was shocked to read the less-than-stellar review from a few weeks ago.

Good news – we went again this weekend and the place still impresses me. I love the patio and the live music on a Saturday night. I don’t feel like you can get that atmosphere in many places in the suburbs!

My husband ordered the scallops and raved that they were some of the best that he’s ever had.

We always order our staple items – brussel sprouts and corn fritters. They always impress and I still am in disbelief that the chef offers the recipes, if you ask.

Again, not many places where you can get that type of service.

Our only complaint was that the service was fairly slow, but on a busy and beautiful Saturday evening, we didn’t mind listening to good music and relaxing in between courses on their patio.

We were thrilled to see Ayse still going strong!

Todd Kliman

Thanks for the report.

Sounds like a nice night out.

As I said a few weeks ago, I was surprised to hear what the chatter had to say, given what I had experienced in my visits there.

There might be credence to what he said. I don’t know enough to confirm his impressions or reject them. I haven’t been in a while. His writing had the ring of authority, and he sounded on the level. But who knows?

I can only go by what I myself see and smell and taste and touch and hear.

I can take in what he says. And I can take in what you say, too. But I know nothing about either of you. He could be a competitor, out to make the place look bad. You could have been put up to this positive review by the restaurant.

I’m not saying I think you have. I’m saying it’s possible. I also don’t think he is a competitor grinding an ax. But in the immortal words of Fats Waller: one never knows, do one?

Lunch time!

Gotta run.

Be well, eat well, and let’s do it again next Tuesday at 11 …

Oh, and before I forget — I’ll be guest-hosting the Kojo Nnamdi Show tomorrow and Thursday. I’m super excited for this fantastic opportunity, and honored to be given a chance to fill in for Kojo.
Please tune in. 88.5 FM, from 12-2.

[missing you, TEK … ]