Where can you get a three-star experience at one-star prices? Which hot new restaurant merits the scorching hype? The answer to all these questions and more can be found Tuesdays at 11 AM on Kliman Online.
From scoping out scruffy holes in the wall to weighing the merits of four-star wanna-bes, from scouring the ‘burbs and exurbs to hitting the city’s streets, Todd Kliman covers a lot of territory.
Winner of a James Beard Foundation Award in 2005 for the country’s best newspaper column about food, Kliman is food and wine editor and restaurant critic for The Washingtonian. His writing has appeared in The New Yorker, Harper’s, The Oxford American, Lucky Peach, The Daily Beast and Men’s Health, among others, and he has been selected four times for inclusion in the Best Food Writing anthologies. He was a finalist for the MFK Fisher Distinguished Writing Award, and recently took home first-place honors for feature writing from the Association of Food Journalists.
Kliman is the author of The Wild Vine, a literary exploration of two entwined mysteries: an obscure grape that rose to prominence, only to disappear, and its present-day evangelist, a foul-mouthed transgendered multi-millionaire vintner on an obsessive quest to restore the legend of an antebellum southern doctor.
He previously taught writing and literature at American University and Howard University. At Howard, he was also the editorial advisor to The Illtop Journal, Chris Rock’s humor magazine modeled after the Harvard Lampoon.
Can’t wait a week to talk to Todd? Follow him on Twitter for dining reports, tips, and breaking news from the culinary world. Or write to him: firstname.lastname@example.org
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- love the chats. Thanks for hosting.
I love bagels. I live near
Wagshal’s on NM Ave. Their bagels are OK. While a great deli, they are not what keeps me coming back.
I lived in Arlington and thought Brooklyn Bagels really nailed their product. I am wondering when the Washingtonian will do a “bagel-off?” something like…Bethesda V. Wagshal’s V. Brooklyn Bagels.
Obviously we need to keep this survey to independent stores (sorry Dunkin, Einstein, Brueggers). What say you? I think you and your colleagues are perfectly positioned for such an endeavor.
I think it’s a good idea. Maybe next March we can do a bagel bracket in conjunction with the NCAA Tourney. (What do you say, A. Spiegs?)
If you’re on New Mexico, you’re not too terribly far from one of my favorite bagel spots in the area — Georgetown Bagelry. Which is, as it happens, not in Georgetown, but in Bethesda. I just had one of their sesame seed bagels this morning. Terrific.
My other pick is much farther, and I know many will blanch at the idea of driving 40-45 minutes for a bagel, but I love the bagels at Bagels and …, in Annapolis.
I know some of you have been urging me to try Neopol, at Union Market. Not a fan. Sorry.
RW DINNER AT RURAL SOCIETY — WHERE TO GO FOR DRINKS BEFOREHAND? …:
A friend and I are hitting Rural Society for RW on Wednesday, but want to meet a couple friends who just moved to the area for drinks first (our reservation isn’t until 8). Suggestions for a low key place nearby?
We’d like to be able to hold a conversation without shouting.
You could always just go to the bar at the Loews, which is the hotel that adjoins and technically houses the restaurant.
And good luck with RW at Rural Society. They’re doing three savory courses and dessert — which is great to see.
I know one of the Argentine pizzas is available, but I don’t think it’s the one I love — the Margherita, with its buttery, crunchy, puffy crust. Remember those Elio’s pizzas we all ate growing up? Now take that same Elio’s pizza and imagine a really skilled chef made it.
For dessert, I’d go with the dulce de leche flan, which is terrific. (Doesn’t need its accompanying mango sorbet, though the sorbet, on its own, is good, too.)
Good luck, and report back …
FIELD REPORT: BLUE DUCK TAVERN, IN DC …:
Question (and a bit a rant) for you:
Let me start off by saying that Blue Duck Tavern is a restaurant extremely close to my heart. For years, my family has gone there for special occasions and our experiences there have always been great! I remember that one year my family went there for lunch, and my little sister mentioned that she had a small food blog for family members where she documented our family food adventures. The staff was extremely kind, asked her questions about her food interests, and even gave her a small tin of sugar cookies to review on her blog! Two years ago, my sister and her then-fiance (who had come over from Paris) celebrated their engagement at Blue Duck Tavern. They then picked the Park Hyatt specifically for their wedding because of the food, and because BDT is considered a special place for our family. We always recommend Blue Duck to anyone visiting the area, or looking for a place to celebrate a special occasion!
More recently, I was extremely excited when I heard that Dan Singhofen was coming to BDT after Eola closed (another absolutely great DC restaurant!!!) and looked forward to returning again.
For our anniversary this past Saturday, my boyfriend made a reservation at BDT for dinner. When I found out, I was overjoyed!!
Unfortunately, our experience there was just…. so disappointing.
The food, of course, was delicious (had the poached tuna, duck breast, fried green tomatoes, and suckling pig). But the service so sub-par that it completely overwhelmed the amazing dishes.
We came an hour early for drinks by the bar. We had to wait a very long time for someone to come by, and even longer for someone to bring us a drink menu. After this, no one checked up on us. I had to seek out a waiter and ask for water several times.
When our reservation time approached, we tried to find a server to close out our bill and to let them know but it was like we were sitting in a dessert. There was almost no one around.
And when the staff did some into our vicinity, they walked so quickly without ever looking over to us, and never made eye contact. We finally had to wave our arms to get the attention of a waiter across the room.
This unfortunately did not improve once we sat down for dinner. We felt completely ignored! And our table wasn’t even in the corner. It was the table right by the door to their patio (plenty of staff walking in and out).
Finally, after we sat down and waited about 10 minutes for someone to just approach our table with no luck, my boyfriend went to the hostess stand to say something.
No one had even introduced themselves or brought by a drink menu at that point. He didn’t want to cause a scene or make a big deal, he just tried to explain that we would like someone to come by to check on us and that we had felt a little neglected since we arrived. The hostess was very apologetic and said she would take care of this.
I wish I could say that was the end of the issue, but after that, nothing changed. We sat down at 9pm. I looked at the time when we finally got food – 9:54pm!!!!!
I’m not asking for a restaurant to lavish us with attention. It just would have made our night SO much better if someone had come by to bring us menus after we sat down, to explain the specials without us trying to find staff to ask, or to just come by and ask if we were enjoying the food. I understand such a popular restaurant is busy on a Saturday night, but I wish that someone working could have just acted a little bit interested in our experience!
To be honest, I just feel a tad bit sad about the whole experience! Blue Duck has always been such a wonderful place and I was hoping for the same great service for this special occasion. Unfortunately, it fell so short. I’m not sure how else we could have handled this and turned around our experience? Are we overreacting?
At least the food was good. 🙂
I think that a lot of this has to do with the fact that your prior experiences had been so good.
You’re accustomed to thinking that things run smoothly, that you don’t have to hunt someone down, that the meal has a pace to it.
It sounds as though it was a busy Saturday night and the restaurant got backed up, and the staff was struggling to handle things.
But at a place of this caliber, you shouldn’t have gone so long without any kind of attention.
It’s always a bad sign when you don’t have staffers helping out other staffers. It’s a sign that there’s not real teamwork and camaraderie. Every server is in it for himself or herself. Something’s not right — even if things are slammed.
I think you handled things okay. Not much that could be done in a case like this. Did anyone say anything to you at the end of the meal? Did you get a visit from the GM?
The one thing I would suggest is that, next time, instead of speaking to the hostess, you speak to the GM. Go the top.
ELIO’S, CONT. …:
Wow, Elio’s Pizza, haven’t thought about them in years. Growing up, I was also a fan of the Stouffer’s French Bread Pizza.
Oh, yeah — I ate a lot of Stouffer’s French Bread pizza growing up.
It was probably terrible. I actually can’t remember it all that well. Can anyone?
Elio’s, though, stands out in my mind. I’m sure it was — is? — crummy, too. Remember that weird sprinkling of pale cheese bits?
Just think of all the garbage we all ate.
And how so many parents now are so determined to make sure their kids eat well all the time. No junk food, no sugar, no treats, no hot dogs with nitrates, bottled water only, no sodas, not even diet …
I remember playing one-on-one with my father and coming home and sitting on the floor, sweaty, and guzzling a chilled 2-liter bottle of Cherry Smash.
Remember Cherry Smash? Loved that stuff. And there was another drink — Burgundy? Am I remembering right?
What about Steak Umms? Who among us has not had a Steak Umm, and probably a hundred?
What else, what else, what else …?
BAGELS, CONT. …:
I just hope that, if there is a bagel-off, Bullfrog Bagels has opened by then. I’ve had them a couple of times from the pop-ups they’ve done and they’re quite good.
Of course, I’m still satisfied by Bethesda Bagels — but I may be biased, having worked at the Cleveland Park location (a Whatsabagel) over 20 years ago.
I miss that Whatsabagel.
And I know a friend of mine does even more — he moved to Cleveland Park a little more than a year ago, not realizing that it had long since moved out.
I think it was, for him, one of the attractions of the area — that he wouldn’t have to go far to get a good bagel.
BLUE DUCK TAVERN, CONT. …:
My past several visits to BDT have also been marked with less than stellar service.
First, I went for lunch with a friend and the service was actually quite awkward. I figured maybe the server was new, or since we were mid-20’s, he just didn’t care?
But I went again for brunch with my mother, and I was treating her to birthday brunch. Again, poor service both at the front of the house with the hostesses, and the server was less than attentive.
Food is always great but now I am less inclined to go back.
Thanks for these reports, you two.
As I’ve said many times, I can only go by what I experience. But two reports about service in the same chat, and within minutes of one another, is telling.
I’ll have a look for myself, soon …
FIELD REPORT: PARK TAVERN, IN DC …:
Todd, have you been to Park Tavern lately, in Canal Park near the Nats stadium?
it used to be our beloved neighborhood spot, but ever since the restaurant group that owns it (and Lola’s, Boxcar, et. al.) declared bankruptcy, it’s been a shadow of its former self.
Terrible drinks, terrible service, mismatched silverware, water served in disposable plastic Bud Light cups (!) — none of our regular wait staff appears to work there anymore.
The food is still good, occasionally great. But a recent experience was so bad that we wrote the owners an email, to which they never responded.
The place is empty most days and nights, which is painful to see. Any idea if this is just temporary, or is this place on its last legs?
And the worst of it all is that you didn’t get a response from the owners.
You’re long-timers; an owner needs to take that seriously.
Let’s hope that someone from the restaurant is reading this, and responds.
If you send me your email at email@example.com I’ll be sure to connect you if I hear anything.
And I hope I do.
Stay tuned …
BAGELS, CONT. …:
I wanted to respond to an earlier comment on great Bagels in the DC area. I’ve found Bagels Etc. in Dupont Circle to be a terrific spot.
I haven’t been, but I have friends who also say good things.
What do you like about them?
And we’re talking about just the bagel, right, and not the sandwich-making?
Two completely different things, to me.
Lot of tasty sandwiches out there. Not a lot of good bagels.
ELIO’S, ETC., CONT. …:
For us, it was Little Debbie Oatmeal Creme Pies. I cannot tell you how many we ate as kids!
On the frozen pizzas, it was Totino’s. Horrible in quality and everything that matters to me now, but I can still remember how happy I was when my mom pulled one out of the freezer.
Haven’t had anything from them in years, but most everything in that line made me happy. I liked those oatmeal cream pies, too. And the peanut butter chocolate crunch bars or whatever they were called.
I’m sure some of these kids growing up without sugar and without junk food are probably going to be better for it. But their parents are annoying. And no doubt that nutrisanctimony is going to get passed on down, unless the kid at some point rebels.
BLUE DUCK TAVERN, CONT. …:
My last experience at BDT (about 6 months ago): We were a group of 7-8 people waiting for our table at the bar around 8pm and everybody was ordering drinks, when it was my turn, I ordered an “Americano” which took forever and to my surprise was coffee instead of the Italian cocktail…
I don’t expect everyone to know every drink, but I was disappointed that the bartender didn’t even confirm or check and brought me the coffee (and when I told him I wanted the cocktail and not the coffee, he was unhappy about the fact that I was sending it back but thankfully the manager was closeby and said it wouldn’t be a problem).
Unfortunately that is the experience stuck in my head instead of the great meal we had later.
And you’re right, the bartender should have sent the server back to check to make sure that you wanted a coffee and not a drink.
Three reports of screwy or bad service this morning. Hm …
RESTAURANT WEEK TIPS …:
On Restaurant Week:
As someone who has avoided RW for years and last year upon insistence of a friend made reservations and had pleasant surprises both in the summer and winter RWs, I have couple tips for restaurants who want to use this opportunity for marketing and capturing new clients:
1. Don’t treat us like we’re cheap. We are there because you propose to offer a value (during your slow time) and we’re willing to try your restaurant. In some cases, it’s a place that’s not on our regular path or part of our habitual eating, but we’re making an effort.
2. Check if it’s our first time and if it is, thank us for our business and take 30 seconds to explain us who you are (unless it’s on the menu in detail or customers give you a sign that they don’t want to be bothered).
3. Give us both the RW menu and the regular one. We’re there to explore, I know that most restaurants create a special menu that’s not part of the regular one (but we like it if what we eat is part of the regular menu). P.S. It also gives us an opportunity to see the value of RW which in my mind tells me how much the restaurant management cares about RW and potentially new customers.
4. Don’t push us to buy up or buy alcoholic drinks (at lunch) – especially after we say that we’re going back to work. Make the experience valuable and pleasant and we will add other things on our own (or come back with friends after RW). For ex. three times last year we added a glass of wine and/or coffee to our lunches because the experience was so enjoyable. Tip: it’s great to add such things to the side or bottom of the menu, especially at lunch, some of us have little time, and if we see something that makes sense we might be enticed (for example an interesting side dish or drink). Also, I am surprised how many restaurants miss the boat with featuring non-alcoholic beverages. Many people in DC won’t have alcohol at lunch, but if there’s something interesting that’s non alcoholic (especially when it’s hot and humid outside!) I’d venture to say 50% will go for it. I think this is where the biggest value is.
5. Don’t get into an attitude if we don’t “buy up” – once our waiter decided to ignore us when we turned down an offer for wine during and coffee after dinner (we turned down the coffee because he had the attitude after wine) and took forever to bring us the check. Even though the food was very good, I decided not to go back because of the service and still wonder where the chef ended up. (side note – don’t have the manager go around and check out which tables are buying up, at least don’t make it so obvious by stopping only at ones that have wine!)
6. No matter how much we order and eat, thank us for our business and tell us you hope to see us back.
7. If existing customers come back for “value meals” – appreciate their business and don’t treat them as someone who’d pay more if you didn’t offer RW. Be grateful for your regulars, they are the ones you can rely on during hard times.
Clearly, these apply mostly for customers who make the RW reservations, and make it known that they are interested in learning more about the restaurant etc. I am now surprised to say that I have found “gems” during RW which I didn’t know or consider before, and have taken parties to these places later in the year. I have also found places that don’t value my business and didn’t return. I am not surprised that some of those are now closed. I think RW is a very valuable tool for restaurateurs who see it as appreciation for existing customers and opportunity for new ones, and I take my hat off to the ones who do it right.
Thanks for the opportunity to voice my opinion.
It’s a good guide. Thanks for writing it.
I’ve said many times that if a restaurant is going to take part in Restaurant Week, that it ought to take the promotion seriously.
That means not treating new diners like rubes. That means not larding the menu with lots of upsells. That means offering the run of the regular menu, or at least 2/3 of the regular menu, and not crafting a new, limited document full of (cheapie) things like chicken breast and farmed salmon.
Restaurateurs need to see this as a long-term sort of thing, not a thing that has to pay rewards immediately. You’re potentially adding new customers. And you’re building good will among the dining public.
It’s not necessarily the case that a restaurant that does well at Restaurant Week is a great restaurant, but restaurants that slack during Restaurant Week are restaurants to be avoided beyond Restaurant Week.
ELIO’S, ETC., CONT. …:
Shoppers Food used to have Cherry Smash. I havent had a craving and dont know if they still do. I remember Ellio’s pizza. Parents today need to check bottled water vs tap water. Bottled water creates more pollution and recycling problems than tap water.
Hey I still use Steak Umms for steak subs but recently found that Wegman’s has sliced beef for a little more money so I buy that for steak and cheese subs. Wegman’s sub rolls are pretty decent. I freeze the sliced beef I dont use. Vanilla ice cream and Cherry Smash makes a great ice cream soda.
Back when I was growing up August meant two weeks at Bethany Beach and Grotto Pizza at Rehobeth and the arcade. Clifton VA
Back when Grotto was good …
ELIOS, ETC., CONT. …:
Little Debbie! I think you are referring to the nutty bars which are still awesome–I bring them to trail races. How about the Tasty cakes Kandy Kakes? Again, still awesome.
We had a stellar bartender at the Source a couple of Sundays ago–John? He made a mocktail for my teen and then made another one gratis without us even asking–he just noticed she needed a refill.
Nutty Bars! — that’s right. How could I have forgotten?I’ll have to pick up a box one of these days. Thanks.
As for Kandy Kakes — yep, loved those things. (What’s not to love? Peanut butter with a chocolate shell. And that spongy cake inside.)
And good going, John at the bar at The Source.
(Thanks for the bartender s/o …)
(If you’ve got a name of someone who took great care of you, let me know — I love giving these folks some justly deserved attention …)
BAGELS, CONT. …:
Wegman’s Fairfax has decent bagels tahtaare as good as anything south of Bayonne, NJ.
I’ve had ‘em. They’ll do.
But they’re not anything close to as good as the bagels at the Georgetown Bagelry and Bagels and …
ELIO’S, ETC., CONT. …:
How about that cheese that came from a spray can, Easy Cheese, fruit roll-ups, and Bugles!
This totally reminds me of my afternoon snacks after school. Same with Stouffers French Bread pizza!.
That cheese …
And I remember Bugles. Very thin and light and corn-tasting, right? (Sorry, it’s been years since I had one.)
I always remember thinking, though — why eat Bugles when you can eat Frito’s?
All this junk we tanked down. And look — fine and dandy. And somehow or other we made our way eventually to the good stuff and the great stuff …
Imagine, though, having never eaten the junk; imagine growing up, as some spoiled cosseted kids now do, only eating pizzas like the ones at 2 Amys and only eating good chocolate like Valrhona and knowing all about small plates and tasting menus, and refraining from processed foods and sodas, etc.
Imagine taking good and great food for granted. Imagine thinking that it was your birthright.
DINING AND NETWORKING NEAR THE WHITE HOUSE? …:
I’ll be in town with several potential clients staying right around the White House area. They’d like a lunch spot for a meeting (4-6ppl) and later a drink spot for 3-4 ppl for some causal networking (two different places). Any recommendations.
Something that allows for some talking but also has a hip (but not too young) vibe.
How about Founding Farmers for lunch. Not too expensive for DC, and something for everyone on the menu.
And for drinks later — Taberna del Alabardero. It’s a very good Spanish wine list, and you can stand and chat around the bar, and maybe even order a few small plates of ham and some cheeses.
BLUE DUCK TAVERN, CONT. …:
Not to pile on with regard to Blue Duck, but we had a rough start with them last Thursday at dinner (4 people, on the patio). Hopefully, someone at Blue Duck monitors your chats (I would, if I were in the biz) and they’ll see to it.
I actually have a different question for you (I meant it about not piling on, but wanted to let you know): You pulled back very hard on RG’s BBQ in post a few weeks ago. We’ve been fans since you suggested it as the place to get BBQ for my husband’s birthday last summer. Given the strenghth of your reaction on the blog, I wondered if you could explain what went wrong/changed? I like Robert and Itzel as people and I know they are running two places now — can you be any more specific about what happened?
Once again, I’ll say how much I enjoy your chats and information, and that you’ve really opened us up to places we might not have found ourselves (although I think we’ll always try whatever restaurant is in the Hung Phat Grocery, as they are 3 for 3!). I’m taking my parents to Thai Taste for dinner tonight — I think my husband and I eat there about every 3 weeks, currently.
Oh, someone’s monitoring. Let’s hope all this is taken to heart. Four reports of iffy to bad service in one chat. Yikes …
I pulled back hard re: RG’s BBQ Cafe because of a truly wretched meal. Nothing was up to the level I had had when I had previously been in. Not even close.
I understand that chef Gadsby is running two places now. I don’t have any insight as to why things seem to have gone south. I hope that it was an aberration. I’ll be back in a while to check in …
Gotta run, all.
Be well, everyone, eat well, and let’s do it again next Tuesday at 11 …[missing you, TEK … ]