Tuesday, August 5, 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

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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.

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FOLLOWING UP FROM LAST WEEK: BIRTHDAY CELEBRATION AT BOMBAY CLUB AND CO CO SALA …:

Following up from last week’s chat – Friday’s birthday celebration was terrific and my girlfriend had a blast!

Since she was able to make it downtown earlier than our 7:30 reservation at Bombay Club, we started off at Black Finn’s Happy Hour. While completely different from the rest of the evening it was loud and fun, and brought back memories of our college days. Being surrounded by a group of lively, fun, talkative people also helped start off the evening positively.

We walked around the corner to the Bombay Club and from start to finish they were terrific!

We opted to sit outside since the weather was great, and we decided inside was a bit “stuffy” for what we had in mind. Food and service were terrific and they even brought a complimentary birthday cocktail/dessert for her – which was not asked for, but very appreciated.

From there we walked thru Lafayette Park to the White House (I think we take these sites for granted living here) and took some photos. Strolled down to Penn. Ave and got the Capital and make our way up to Coco Sala for dessert. The vibe was terrific.

This stop was slightly disappointing, since they were out of the first drink she asked for and the chocolate beer my husband ordered. Other cocktails and chocolate desserts quickly rescued the evening though.

From there we headed back to my place on a midnight train/metro. It was a terrific evening and she felt loved and full! As I previously mentioned she’s had a rough go of things and I think this evening turned it around for her. Everyone was really friendly and nice.

We weren’t looking to find her a date, but when groups of strangers either overhead our conversation and reason we were out (that we’ve celebrated 30 birthdays together, she’s open to dating, she’s a surgeon, her recent white water rafting trip with her kids, my husband taking photos of us) – truly the nicest comments were made on the bonds of friendship, vacation tips, doctor related things and items in the news.

These comments came from both men and women and really made her rethink going out and joining the dating pool again.

I often read comments in these chats about being getting hit on, rude treatment of waitstaff or other patrons, but we had a completely different experience and in three very different places and price points everyone we met was nice, friendly and simply pleasant – patrons and staff.

It was a great night, and one that she is not sure how I’m going to top next year for our 50th! We even got carded!

The bonds of friendship are wonderful and truly people in our town are nice! Thanks everyone!

Todd Kliman

Thank you so much for the report back!

This is wonderful, all around. I’m glad you were able to put together a night like this to lift your friend’s spirits at a very rough time. Just goes to show you the power of food and drink, when it’s good, to alter the way we look at the world. Even if only for a few hours.

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FIELD REPORT: THAI TASTE BY KOB, IN WHEATON …:

Hi Todd,

Thank you for your review of Sushi Capitol – I’m scheming up a way to get down there. Do you think it’d be good for lunch?

On a non-food note, I love your writing and really hate when people say “chaise lounge.”

Last week we ate at Thai Taste by Kob and had a great meal. Our first time (soon after the review came out) didn’t blow us away, so I’m glad we went again. May be they had an off day or may be we ordered the wrong thing. We had a crispy vegetable dish whose sauce was too sweet. But this time, everything was great, especially a sausage salad (!) with young ginger and crispy rice that was so unexpected and delicious.

Thanks for another solid recommendation!

Todd Kliman

You’re welcome. And for all those of you who have yet to try Thai Taste by Kob, what are you waiting for?

Right now, it’s the Thai restaurant I most want to be eating in. There’s a lot of good Thai out there, I realize. Ruan Thai. Elephant Jumps. Thai Square. But this is the place, right now, that I find myself craving (often, at the most inopportune times).

As for Sushi Capitol, yes, give lunch a try. I have to report that I did takeout from SC not long ago, something I hardly ever do, and it was not at all up to the usual high standards of what I’ve seen of the eat-in menu. Decent, but nothing sang. I can only hope that that was a blip. …

Thanks for the non-food notes, by the way. You made my day.

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NORTHERN MICHIGAN EATS?:

Todd – wanted to throw out a hail mary…does anyone have any restaurant recommendations for Northern Michigan (preferably kid friendly)…

We will be staying on Torch Lake which is about 30 minutes north of Traverse City.

Thanks!

Todd Kliman

I wish I could come through for you. Sorry.

Gonna toss this one out to everyone who’s reading along today …

Who’s got a rec or two?

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CHUY’S FROM AUSTIN, CONT. …:

Everyone seems very excited about the fall opening of Chuy’s in Springfield.

However, when looking at the website and menus, it seems like a fairly run of the mill Tex Mex chain.

Should I be more excited?

Todd Kliman

I think so.

I am.

We simply don’t have a lot of great options for Tex-Mex in the area. A legit Tex-Mex place is a wonderful add, I think.

Am I expecting it to be like the Austin Grill in its heyday? No.

It’ll be simpler, and a little sloppier. But it should capture the feel and flavor of the cuisine, and it should be fun.

Now, having said that: it’s still a chain, and the base of operations for that chain is a long way away.

And: who knows if the level of intensity will keep up after the initial 3-month honeymoon, when the floor is full of energetic Texans.

And: this is not an area that is knowledgeable about the cuisine, in the way that Texans are.

I think one of the reasons it’s so hard to do a cuisine or a dish (NY pizza, KC barbecue) outside of the city or town where it originated is that it’s not just a matter of importing the knowledge and the equipment and the techniques.

What’s missing is the audience, the knowledgeable audience, the audience that is able to register the barest deviation from the norm in a given preparation and stir up a storm.

And then, of course, there is the question of pandering, or, to put it more mildly, accommodating the needs of the marketplace. A restaurant is a business, after all; it wants to stay afloat. The best example, here, is a cheesesteak shop — I won’t name a name — that opened about 8 years ago in the area. It was doing very well, to start off. But then customers asked about having mayo put on their hoagies. Soon, the shop was preemptively asking customers whether they wanted mayo on hoagies and cheesesteaks. And eventually, they were passing out packets of mayo along with every sandwich.

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GOOD TO-GO LUNCH IN FRIENDSHIP HTS.? …:

What’s a good to-go lunch option in friendship heights?! I’m there for work today and hungry!

Todd Kliman

Assuming you’re within a short walk of all the shopping, I’d try Range, from chef Bryan Voltaggio.

I don’t know for certain whether they fill to-go orders, but it’s worth trying.

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NORTHERN MICHIGAN EATS, CONT. …:

I grew up in Michigan. Torch Lake is spectacular! your reader will have a great time.

Short’s Brewing, popular in Michigan, has a family friendly pub right in Bellaire. It almost overlooks Torch Lake.

There are lots of great restaurants in Traverse City.

Check out Mario Batali’s recommendations that he hits during his summer trips up North.

Todd Kliman

Thanks so much for this.

I hope we can get some more recs and give the chatter a little guide to go by up there …

How great would it be, right now, to be sitting out on a lake, with something cool to drink, smelling the crisp clean air, taking in the tranquil blue water, doing absolutely nothing …

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FIELD REPORTS: WILD COUNTRY SEAFOOD AND SUSHI CAPITOL …:

Todd –

Thanks for these chats, which always make me hungry (in the best of ways).

I headed over to Wild Country this past Saturday. Unfortunately, they did not have soft shells (a huge bummer, since they’re my favorite food), but I “settled” for a crab cake sandwich. The crab cake did not disappoint. One of the best I’ve had in a very long time. The roll it came on didn’t do it justice, but I was otherwise very happy.

I had lunch at Sushi Capitol a few weeks back and it was…fine. The fish was, for the most part, delicious (the most important part), but the nigiri had too much rice (and the rice, as you noted in your review, was not amazing). Service was good, if a little overeager. I don’t feel the need to go running back, but if I’m in the neighborhood, I’d give it another shot.

Todd Kliman

I would.

My meals there — I’m excluding the take-out I just mentioned — were better, far better, than what you described. It might be a case, right now, of an operation adjusting to the higher volume of business that comes with a review.

As for Wild Country Seafood — yeah, softshell season is over, unfortunately. I’m glad you liked your crab cake. I also like the bay scallops there. The softshells, to me, are the best reason to make the trip there. But that’s not to say I’d wait to go until next Spring. It’s a hard place to resist …

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NORTHERN MICHIGAN EATS, CONT. …:

re: Northern Michigan, no specific recommendations, but Northern Michigan is a hot spot for Cornish Pasties, thanks to the Cornish miners who immigrated to the Upper Peninsula.

Todd Kliman

Interesting!

I love these unexpected little pockets that you find when you really explore a place.

The Vietnamese pocket of Oklahoma City. The Ethiopian pocket of Minneapolis. The Mexican pocket of Chicago …

Who can come up with another good one?

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GOOD TO-GO LUNCH IN FRIENDSHIP HTS., CONT. …:

What about the new Lunchbox in the same pavilion as Range? Worth a visit?

Todd Kliman

You’re one step ahead of me.

Sure; I’d do it.

Easier and cheaper, as well. So there’s that, too.

Give us a report if you go, ok?

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DINING IN ORLANDO?:

Hi Todd,

I’m headed to Orlando for a quick business trip. Would love to know if you have any favorites.

I will be staying close to the international airport and am willing to drive a reasonable distance.

Thanks!

Todd Kliman

Anything I could offer is not going to be recent enough, most likely, to be valuable to you — but maybe your fellow food lovers have more recent experiences.

Anyone got some good ideas?

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RICHMOND ROAD TRIP …:

A long roadtrip this weekend led us to an unexpected discovery.

I-95 gridlock meant we hit Richmond too late for most lunches and way too early for the Rogue Gentleman or other spots we’d wanted to try for dinner, and so we ended up at Buzz & Ned’s for mid-afternoon BBQ.

The place was overflowing with Redskins’ fans and the line to order flowed back through the dining room, which pointed to either good food or a great Yelp strategy.

The BBQ itself is fine-not-independently-drive-worthy (pork better than the bit-dry brisket though the sauce was quite good), and the mac-and-cheese was average. Things improve with fried okra, which is more than passable, and some fabulous buttery green beans, but you really hit nirvana when you get to the fried pickle. Think long spears that are breaded with a batter that has Cajun seasoning and copious amounts of dill, and then is flash fried to order so quickly that the outside is crispy-spicy and the dill pickle spear inside is super-hot and crunchy rather than soggy.

Not sure I can in good faith recommend anyone battle 95 just for fried pickles, but next time you’re in Richmond, they’re worth a stop.

Todd Kliman

I’ve been going to Buz and Ned’s for years. I wish they had a location up in suburban Maryland.

I’ve had good experiences in the past with the ribs, so either they were having a down day or they’ve been up and down of late.

I don’t think I’ve ever had the frickles. I’ll definitely get them next time I’m down. Thanks for the tip.

It’s interesting, when you talk about barbecue. For me — and I speak, now, as an eater and not as a critic — but for me, when I hear tell of barbecue, my first thought is ribs. I love a good Texas brisket, and a pulled pork sandwich, when it’s good, is a glorious thing. But barbecue for me — again, that’s me the eater, not me the critic eater — is ribs.

A place with great ribs is going to be great to me the eater no matter if nothing else on the menu is any good. Which also means that you can have a barbecue place with great sides and great cornbread and a great atmosphere — but if the ribs are no good, eater me won’t be excited about going back.

A lot of places nowadays try to do a little of everything. And that’s the doom of them. I wish they’d just pick one thing, and build the restaurant around it. One regional style. One kind of sauce. One kind of meat.

What about for the rest of you? What do you go in looking for? What are your personal biases/preferences? And why?

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CULTURAL/CULINARY POCKETS, CONT. ..:

Another pocket: The Portuguese in Ironbound, Newark, NJ

Todd Kliman

Yes!

Good one.

Small one, but hey, there’s so little Portuguese food in this country that it’s like traveling abroad.

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LUNCHBOX, CONT. …:

I was there last week and was impressed with both the service and the quality of the food.

I had the reuben which had very delicious (and more restaurant style vs. low quality deli style) pastrami, great bread, and a perfect balance of flavors.

Based on my tweet another friend stopped by later in the week, and he had a very similar experience, so I like the consistency.

I was also surprised at the friendliness where the cashier asked if I would like a lime or lemon with my water, and then when I was waiting for my reuben being able to chat with one of the cooks about his favorite sandwich on the menu. This was before the lunch crowd, so I am not sure it’s the same when it’s busy.

Also, when it’s not busy I think the flow is a bit confusing, so I thought it could use “order here” or “start here” signs. Now all I wish is that they had one of those in West End as I’m still craving for that taste!

Todd Kliman

Thanks for the tasty report …

It’s amazing to think how the pastrami situation in this city has improved so much in such a short period of time.

Good going, chefs!

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FOOD AND DRINK CRAWL THIS WEEKEND …:

Planning a food and drink crawl for a visit to D.C. this weekend.

Considering Eat the Rich, Mockingbird Hill, and Southern Efficiency, capped off by dinner at Rose’s Luxury.

Room for improvement?

Tweaks?

Todd Kliman

It’s a little drinking-focused at the moment.

And the drinking is all of the same stripe. A good stripe, don’t get me wrong; just that I’d want a little more variation, personally, in approach and feel.

How about a tweak more than an overhaul?

Start out on the waterfront at Fiola Mare with oysters or crudo or raw bar. Then, the Derek Brown spots. Then on to Rose’s.

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CULTURAL/CULINARY POCKETS, CONT. …:

Ethnic pockets:

There is a sizable Hmong population in Minneapolis-St. Paul.

Also the Vietnamese population that settled along the Gulf Coast/New Orleans area, giving us Vietnamese Po Boys!

Todd Kliman

Or as I call them — po boys for the actual po!

At the written-about spots, the chef-sanctioned spots, po boys are anywhere from $12-$18.

The Vietnamese po boys, on the other hand, are still cheap. And just as good, if not, in some cases, better.

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BBQ, CONT. …:

Todd,

I completely agree with you re: BBQ restaurants trying to be from every place. And I think this is the early downfall of the newly opened Fat Pete’s BBQ in Cleveland Park. Way too much going on…pulled pork, ribs, brisket, chicken, sauces from Texas, Carolinas, Oklahoma, even Alabama White. It’s all over the place.

I just came back from a family vacation in North Carolina, on the way down I hit Wilber’s in Goldsboro, NC; made a road trip to Scott’s BBQ in Hemingway, SC; and stopped off at Skylight Inn, Ayden, NC, on the way back.

These places do one type of BBQ and one type only – whole hog, pit BBQ.

And they have been doing it for years, and, boy can you tell. Wonderful, moist, tender, smoky pork, served on a bun, add slaw if you like.

Todd Kliman

One type, and one type only.

That almost always is a sign of a good place.

On the other hand, the places that put a lot of work into multiple sauces and loading the lineup with a lot of different kinds of meats — these are the insecure places, the places to be skeptical of.

Why is it, by the way, that you don’t have pizza places that do Neapolitan, Roman, deep dish, and Sicilian under the same roof?

That’s what a lot of these barbecue places we’re talking about are like.

In a pizza place, everybody, not just the cognoscenti, would say: Hm, can’t be any good; nobody can pull off all those various and contrasting styles at the same time.

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FIELD REPORT: THE RED HEN, IN DC:

Just want to give props to the crew at Red Hen.

Three girlfriends went for dinner last night and it was perfect. From the outstanding food (standouts include the saffron zucca, chilled corn soup, maple custard, and of course the rigatoni) to the impeccable service from our very cute waiter whose name we did not get, it could not have been better.

It was one of our birthday’s and the ice cream on the house with one little candle was the absolute right touch. Also – orange wine is a yes!

Thank you to Red Hen!!

Todd Kliman

Sounds like a terrific evening.

Props to the Hen for making it so.

It really is a magical little spot.

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PONDERING A TRIP OUT TO CANTLER’S RIVERSIDE INN, IN ANNAPOLIS …:

This is the second summer I’ve been in D.C. Last year, I always wanted to try to get to Cantler’s in Annapolis, but never did. With August now here, I’m thinking it’s getting close to now or never.

So, is it really worth the hype and trip, versus a similar crab experience closer by (the Wharf, Quarterdeck, etc?)

Thinking about going on a midday Saturday, will it be too crazy to make it worthwhile? Anything else a first-timer going there should know?

Todd Kliman

Go.

The Wharf and Quarterdeck aren’t close.

If you arrive at 2:30, you should be in pretty good shape.

That’s your first thing to know, and you already know it.

Second is, the best tables are on the porch, by the rail, overlooking Mill Creek, which empties into the Bay. The reason to come at an odd hour is that it improves your chances of sitting outside. Sitting outside is much, much better than sitting inside.

Third: if you get a crab that is watery or muddy or oversteamed — send it back. Don’t be timid.

Fourth: if someone in your group insists on something other than crabs, there’s nothing you can do. But aside from a pitcher of cold, cheap beer, there’s nothing else you should consider on the menu. And nothing else you’ll need to be happy.

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BBQ, CONT. …:

Pizza places do indeed put different sauces / toppings on their pizzas.

What you’re asking for is the BBQ equivalent of a place that serves only pepperoni pizza.

I think that, in a high rent area like DC or the VA suburbs, a low margin operation like a BBQ joint is risky enough that the owners try to accommodate as many people as they can, sometimes to the detriment of their food.

Todd Kliman

I don’t think that analogy is the analogy.

Pepperoni pizza isn’t equivalent to bbq ribs. Neapolitan pizza is equivalent to bbq ribs. Ribs = its own idiom.

As for your point about “accommodating a lot of different people” … It’s an interesting point you bring up. Because the great ribs places in Memphis, KC, St. Louis, Birmingham, etc. accommodate a lot of different people, too.

How? By serving barbecue, the people’s food. And by making that barbecue smoky and rich and perfect every time.

Gotta run, everyone.

Lunch calls.

Thanks for all the great questions and musings and tips and field reports today. Good stuff, as always.

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

[missing you, TEK … ]

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