Tuesday, August 19, 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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WHERE I’M EATING NOW …

* Ananda, Fulton

Two of the best meals I had this summer took place here. And I don’t say that just because of the food coming out of the kitchen. The restaurant itself is a showpiece. From outside, it looks a little like a castle and a little like a bank, and sits in the middle of nowhere, amid a still-evolving development of townhouses in Fulton, Md. Inside, the space summons a polo club. The main dining room is a sumptuous lair of handsome dark wood, floor-to-ceiling bookcases and leather seats, while the veranda puts you in mind of an observation deck for a cricket match (it’s already one of the best places to dine on an unseasonably cool summer night, under the gently rotating fans and looking out on the lush treetops). In an age of casual, sometimes dashed-out service, Ananda leans toward greater formality — but without stuffiness. The young, affable waitstaff is got up in vests and ties, and is exceedingly well-drilled — not just attentive but vigilant, and determined to learn what it can do to make your meal better. The restaurant is the third from brothers Keir and Binda Singh, who also run The Ambassador Dining Room and Banjara, both in Baltimore. They maintain their own farm not far from the restaurant, complete with an herb garden — a highly unusual practice for an Indian restaurant in this area. Add to that the quality of the meats and fishes, which is several notches above that of the curry house, and you have a brand of cooking that is lighter and fresher than any Indian restaurant in the area not named Rasika. Given this emphasis, you might expect the dishes to experiment a little, to rethink traditional dishes in whimsical or dramatic ways. But for the most part Ananda is attempting a different, less obvious kind of fusion — the fusion of the local-leaning bistro with the conventional Indian restaurant. The preparations of black dal, chana, and raita are among the most complex I’ve tasted in years, and unexpectedly clean-tasting. A dish of salmon was perfectly roasted, with a subtle melange of tomatoes, cinnamon and cumin for a sauce. A watermelon salad with feta could have stood in for any trendy bistro in DC, except that its spicing was unmistakably Indian, and the dressing and its garnishes were both so stunningly fresh I would have thought I was dining at some gastronomic getaway in the country. I could have eaten three bowls of a recent special, a chilled summer squash and carrot soup, subtly spiced and tasting of fresh vegetables, not cream.
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.)

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.

* new this week

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BLUE DUCK TAVERN, CONT. …:

Terrible response on Blue Duck Tavern, bad service can be expected, particularly on a Saturday and get over it. Bizarre response

Todd Kliman

Who’s response is terrible and bizarre?

Mine?

Or the chatters?

Actually, it wasn’t one chatter. It was four. And, if they are to be believed, the meals with poor service didn’t all happen on Saturday nights.

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PHO XE LUA, IN THE EDEN CENTER …:

Is Pho Xe Lua closed permanatly?

Walked by to see it dark with a note in Vietnamese gracing the door, and a very small “Space Available” sign as well.

If so, best Pho in Eden Center?

Todd Kliman

Yes, Pho Xe Lua is closed.

Too bad. I liked that place.

The broth, when it was on, was very delicate.

And as to your question of where else to get pho in the Eden Center — you would think, wouldn’t you, that there would be dozens of places scooping up great bowls of pho in there. But there aren’t.

If I’m in the Eden Center and jonesing for pho, I’m going to Huong Viet and, if it’s too crowded there, then to Hai Duong.

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CHEF CHANGES AGAIN AT 8407 KITCHEN + BAR …:

It looks like 8407 Kitchen Bar has a new chef again!

What do you think of their seemingly endless series of changes over the last year and a half?

Todd Kliman

I think it goes back to the owner.

Oscar Jimenez is the new chef. That makes four chefs there in, I want to say, three years. Pedro Matamoros. Ed Witt. Justin Bittner. And now Jimenez.

Sometimes you see a revolving door in a place because talent gets restless and wants to move on — maybe it’s a small place, a great incubator, and a chef after a couple of years is ready to light out and do his or her own thing.

That’s not the case here, I don’t think. I think what you have is an owner who likes the clippings and the prominence but doesn’t want to pay for the things that earn you those clippings and prominence.

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BLUE DUCK TAVERN, CONT. …:

BDT: Totally inappropriate comment earlier today.

Why should we expect bad service at a high caliber hotel restaurant on Saturday? Or any day for that matter?

I did work in the business, and everyone knew Saturdays were busy so we tried to schedule the more experienced and professional people on Fridays and Saturdays expecting the volume. And the management was available to deal with any potential issues.

I do not accept that we should expect bad service on Saturdays even though I very well understand that it will be busier and there may be delays etc. It’s not the fact that things happen it is how they are handled is how I judge a restaurant (or any business), and by that I don’t mean comp drinks and desserts, but simple apology and recognition of an error.

If businesses couldn’t perform when they are busy they couldn’t exist at all, to me this is Business 101. It’s part of predicting the volume and having plans to deal with it, including the errors.

Todd Kliman

I agree with you.

And your points are good ones; sometimes off-nights just happen, and there’s not much a restaurant can do about it, but sometimes they happen for a very specific reason.

Not saying that that’s the case here; we simply don’t know.

But I just can’t understand saying that a restaurant deserves a pass because it was a busy Saturday night. Restaurants are in the business of delivering on busy Saturday nights.

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RW FIELD REPORT: RURAL SOCIETY, IN DC …:

I know that people on this chat and others always look down on Restaurant Week, but I’d like to give a field report from Rural Society.

They were offering a five course pre-fixe menu for the standard $35. We figured it would be all small portions and we’d leave hungry. Nope.

The meal started with orders of octopus carpaccio (never had octopus this way before – it was bright and fresh and delicious!) and roasted peppers, eggplant/goat cheese spread with anchovies to put on toasted bread.

The followed that up with spicy chorizo and crunchy, cheesy caramelized onion fugazza.

The main course was a perfectly cooked ribeye served with creamy mashed potatoes and truffle and thyme mushrooms. The portion of steak was so large that I took home enough to have it for dinner the next night.

You always talk about ending with a good dessert and this certainly lived up to that. They served a dulche de leche flan, which almost a cross between flan and creme brulee. It’s not something I would typically order, but it was delicious.

I’m not sure if they ran this promotion just because they’re a new restaurant, but I really hope they do it again.

Either way, they’ve won us over.

Todd Kliman

I love that flan, too.

Thanks for the report!

I have to say I’m really impressed with the way Rural Society has approached Restaurant Week.

Whether it’s because it’s the new kid looking to ingratiate itself or because it’s just that kind of a place, no one can really say at this point, but the restaurant is certainly making a strong early statement by offering this menu.

If only every restaurant taking part in the promotion offered up a similar deal.

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QUESTION FROM TOKYO, JAPAN …:

I have a question. It escapes me at the moment. What was it?

Todd Kliman

The ghost of Samuel Beckett, ladies and gentlemen!

I can’t answer this, I’ll answer this.

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BLUE DUCK TAVERN, CONT. …:

On the note of Blue Duck I went two weeks ago and the service was dreadful.

I was so surprised given its caliber, but even on a Wednesday night things were pitiful.

We were given three times for when we would get a table. They ranged from 30 minutes to 1.5 hours. Nobody ever came by to let us know our table was ready.

Our waiter was quite awkward and instead of offering suggestions or letting us have time to decide stood at our table silent for about 5 minutes. We kind of looked at each other and attempted to see what he liked best to order, but couldn’t get more than a “everything’s good” out of him.

Todd Kliman

That’s five now.

Lordie …

Thanks for writing in.

I have a question for everybody, in light of all these complaints about BDT. If you go to a restaurant, a noted restaurant, an expensive restaurant, and the service is bad but the food is good, what then?

a.) Do you never go again and tell all your friends and/or go online to register your disapproval?

b.) Do you wait six months and go back, chalking it up to an off night?

c.) Do you wait a year or more?

d.) Do you only ever go back if someone else is paying your way?

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DINING IN BETHESDA OR SILVER SPRING? …:

Hi Todd –

Recently went to Macon and thought the food was just meh.

Any recommendations in Bethesda or Silver Spring?

We recently moved up from 14th St where there was no shortage of spectacular food. Too bad Macon isn’t outstanding – even mediocre gets very busy on that strip of 14th. Thanks for your thoughts!

Also, why isn’t there more on Connecticut? There’s most definitely the clientele for anything top notch, family-oriented or even just OK.

Todd Kliman

I’m not enamored of Macon, either.

And if you’re looking for something outstanding in Bethesda or Silver Spring, you’re going to be disappointed.

In Silver Spring … 8407 Kitchen + Bar is again in a transition period, as we were just talking about. My most recent check-in at Jackie’s was good, but I’m still not sure I’d drop big money there on dinner. I like The Classics: very solid, very dependable, very enjoyable. And Nainai’s Noodles and Dumplings, which I’ve posted a short review of up top. Oh, and I like Da Marco for a few dishes (any pasta marked fresh homemade), and I also enjoy their Roman-style pizza nights, every Tuesday.

In Bethesda … I like Passage to India, I like Faryab, I like Jaleo, but beyond that there just aren’t many places I’d spend the money on. Gringos and Mariachis is fun, and some dishes are excellent (the bean tostada, for one).

Then again, I might not be the best one for you to ask. You mentioned “spectacular” food on 14th St. That hasn’t been my experience. I’ve had some great dishes up and down 14th St., but not a lot of great meals.

I do agree with you that Connecticut is confounding. It ought to be lined with lots of good places.

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SERVICE ON SATURDAY NIGHTS, CONT. …:

I find it bizarre that people forgive restaurants for poor service on Saturdays. Saturday should be a restaurants time to shine. They have the biggest audience, and should operate accordingly.

Why not scale down reservations? Take out a table or two? Focus on the experience not the money.

Todd Kliman

I’m with you.

And it’s especially bizarre when it comes to the kind of places we’re talking about.

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RW FIELD REPORTS: OSTERIA MORINI, IN DC, AND AGGIO, IN FRIENDSHIP HEIGHTS …:

Hi, this is the person who wrote the RW wish list from restaurants last week.

Later in the week we had the perfect experience at Osteria Morini where the food was great, the service was very friendly, and with the “we appreciate you being here and happy to accommodate” attitude.

I definitely found the “gem” I was looking for and will continue to support RW in the future because of this experience (and of course OM even though it happens to be far from where I live or work).

Later in the week we also had a great experience at Aggio, which looks and feels much more formal than what I normally enjoy, but the staff was very friendly and accommodating taking away the “upper lip” experience one associates with such places.

The thing that surprised me though was how casual almost all guests were dressed for a very formal environment. I wasn’t expecting jackets but definitely not sandals either, and I noticed that most men were in Polo shirts with sandal type attire (for dinner!) whereas most women were a bit more sophisticated (in attire).

I have no idea what this says about the trends, but the thing I noticed was how the staff didn’t have an attitude about this at all.

I should also give kudos to the sommelier Kathy, whose primary mission seemed to be helping anyone enhance their experience whether they were ordering a glass or a bottle.

This whole experience was very different than the treatment we received couple weeks ago at the Range hostess stand when we arrived without reservations and were shuffled around because everything was “reserved”.

If the hostesses have the same attitude as the rest of the team at Range and Aggio (ie. no double standard for people with or without reservations – we are there, I expect them to say “thanks for joining us, let’s see what we can do” even if it means “we can only accommodate you at the bar” with a smile in the end) I think this place will be very successful – but how many diners Aggio can churn in that of a formal atmosphere in Chevy Chase is yet to be seen in my opinion.

Todd Kliman

Thanks for the two reports. I appreciate it.

And good going, Morini and Aggio. When a savvy, experienced diner is enthused about a Restaurant Week meal, it says a lot, I think.

I want to throw a question out there, since you seemed a little put out by the sight of men in sandals and polo shirts — if you show up at a nice, expensive restaurant and you’re decked out and the majority of other diners are decked out, but you spot a couple of t-shirt wearers or sandal-wearers in among the crowd, do you feel that dinner is somehow ruined? Or diminished?

Are you angry at the restaurant for allowing them in?

Are you angry at the diners, for having “the nerve”?

Or do you say, You know, who really gives a shiitake when we live in a world of suffering and pain and heartache, and just endeavor to enjoy yourself for the two or so hours that you’re there?

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DINING IN CHARLESTON, S.C. …:

Do you have any dinner recommendations in Charleston, SC? I’ll be spending a few nights there next week. I was thinking of McCradys (if it’s good enough for Aaron Silverman, it’s good enough for me), Fig, and Husk.

Am I missing anything? Thanks!

Todd Kliman

FIG is superb.

I think highly of McCrady’s too, though FIG is the place I’d go if I had only one meal in the city.

Husk and McCrady’s are either 2a and 2b or 2b and 2a.

I’d add Two Boroughs Larder, which is soulful and fun and inventive and personal, run by a husband-and-wife who are committed to giving you an unpretentious great meal.

I also would encourage you to drive out to Mount Pleasant and stop by Boulevard Diner for some good, cheap low country cooking. And Jack’s Cosmic Dogs for a corn dog, a moonpie sundae, and an old-fashioned Coke in a bottle.

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BLUE DUCK TAVERN, CONT. + FIELD REPORT: GYPSY SOUL, IN MERRIFIELD …:

I guess I had the opposite experience at Blue Duck Tavern (BDT) two Sundays ago.

Was a group of four diners. We sat outside. After all these years, this was my first time sitting outside. When I made the reservation I requested a server by the name of CW, who had been my server on previous occasions. He has extensive knowledge of the menu and is very professional. Unfortunately, he was off that night.

The food itself was stellar. From appetizers to Entrees, each dish was exquisite. My regret is that I never tried the food at Eola, which chef Singhofen owned and cooked at.

I will say that there was some lag time between the appetizers and the entrees being delivered to the table. The server realized this and when it was time for dessert he brought out an extra dessert to compensate for the extra time we had to wait for the entrees.

Oh, and those desserts by Pastry Chef Naomi Gallego, she just keeps on churning out hits. It rare for me to say to people “make sure you save room for dessert” and this is one of those places.

There is one other pastry chef who is also cranking out the hits in the DC area. That person is Giane Cavaliere of Rogue 24 and the recently opened Gypsy Soul in Merrifield Virginia. I tried her desserts at Rogue earlier this summer and most recently on two occasions at Gypsy Soul and on both occasions the desserts were just sublime. Perfect ending to a great meal.

I will have more on Gypsy Soul next time but I am liking what Chef RJ Cooper and his staff are producing out in Virginia. The best part is I can walk to Gypsy Soul if I like!

As always love the weekly chat!

Naeem

Todd Kliman

I’m liking, too.

Have you had the chicken-fried quail?

https://www.washingtonian.com/blogs/bestbites/best-thing-i-ate/best-thing-i-ate-chicken-fried-quail-elote-style-cauliflower.php

This is the kind of dish chef Cooper was doing at Vidalia. Looks simple — meat, grits, collards, gravy. But each item has gone through a very meticulous and layered process. This is rich, full-flavored food, but it’s also exceedingly clean tasting.

Easily one of the best plates of food I’ve eaten all summer.

As for BDT — this is good to hear. Thanks so much for writing in and sharing an alternate take.

I’m still waiting to hear from someone at the restaurant with a response to this flurry of negative service reports. Not something we see a lot of on here, and it’s concerning simply because of the sheer numbers.

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SERVICE, CONT. …:

Even here in coastal Delaware – where the choices are fewer than DC – I would only give a higher end restaurant a single chance.

In fact, it did happen not long ago. The food was superb but the service was beyond awful. And it was not even a Saturday.

Later, I complained to the manager and he offered to comp our next meal. That was a satisfactory response and I thanked him but declined the offer. Nor do I plan to return to that restaurant any time soon.

We have too many good choices to spend that kind of money on an evening that was ruined by abysmal service. Harsh, maybe, but when we encounter bad service at a nice restaurant, I am not inclined to give them a second chance.

Todd Kliman

Sure, I can understand that.

If I weren’t a critic, I could see myself responding the exact same way.

Bad service is just deflating. Even more, probably, than bad food is.

Thanks for writing in.

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T-SHIRTS AND FLIP-FLOPS, CONT. …:

We ate at Del Campo and Rural Society this past week and a majority of men were wearing t-shirts, flip-flops and shorts. That kind of pissed me off – some of us save money to enjoy a nice dinner which includes the environment.

I get angry at both the restaurant and diners.

Maybe they should sit those people outside.

Todd Kliman

I know you’re not alone.

Thanks for chiming in.

I just have to ask, though. If the setting of the restaurant is handsome or beautiful, and everybody at your table is dressed nicely, and your server is dressed nicely, and the food is good, and you’re taken good care of, isn’t that enough?

And also … do you do anything about this anger? Do you speak to a manager, for instance?

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T-SHIRTS AND FLIP-FLOPS, CONT. …:

Dress Code. I am glad to see many restaurants doing away with formal attire.

I remember as a kid, we went to Antoine’s in New Orleans and I had to use their jacket in their closet to dine with my parents. Needless to say, I always check now the dress code for a restaurant. Went back to the hotel and took a show to get rid of the smell and feel of that navy blue jacket!

Todd Kliman

That’s hilarious.

Thanks for the story. I know I’d have done the same thing!

Personally, I’m glad for relaxed dress codes, too. I mean, if you’re going to get rid of tablecloths and starchy service, and blast the music, and shine a light on the open kitchen so we can see the cooks and their technicolor sleeves, then why should you expect diners to not dress comfortably?

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SERVICE, CONT. …:

On how to respond with a poor experience – in almost all cases, we never, ever, go back, and we encourage folks not to either.

There are just too many places that make dining out a pleasure and joy for us to waste time/money on those that end up making you feel lousy or frustrated.

I’m not a fan of the Yelp-screed, though we will email the manager if we’ve not spoken with him/her before (though if the manager completely ignores us, ala our waiter-tearing-up-the-menu experience at 2941, we’ll add it to our reasons not to go).

Todd Kliman

This is interesting.

Small sample size, obviously, but here we have the smartest, most passionate, most informed diners in the city, and all of you are only willing to give a place one chance.

I want to hear more about this …

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T-SHIRTS AND FLIP-FLOPS, CONT. …:

I guess it depends on the occasion about dressing up.dressing down.

We went to Rural Society this past Saturday and we were all dressed up and many of the guys at other tables wore tshirts, flip-flops and shorts.

We weren’t bothered, but it would be nice to have restaurants state their dress policy.

I dined at the Source was not happy that my next table over, the couple (obvious tourists) were wearing shorts, thsirts, when everyone else was wearing business attire.

BTW, agreed with the previous post, except our rib eye steak was cold and pre-sliced (why do restaurants pre-slice their meats!) and had zero flavor (had to use salt and their chimichurri sauce).

Todd Kliman

I’ve had two steaks there. Good, not great.

And yes, I dislike the pre-slicing, too. It comes across as the kitchen shortchanging people on meat. I know, I know — the restaurant will say that it makes it easier for people to eat. But it looks bad. Looks chintzy.

As for “having” to use chimichurri, I mean, come on — it’s an Argentine steakhouse. Chimichurri is what you’re expected to use.

As for flip-flops and t-shirts … for me, personally, there’s only one instance in which I’m not okay with it, and that’s if the table is full of smug and entitled-looking people.

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SERVICE, CONT. …:

Re: BDT “If the food is good” – if that means food I cannot find at the same caliber/creativity anywhere else, the answer is yes, I will give it another try, probably after having voiced my concern to the management and/or in a forum like this (not necessarily Yelp etc. though)

If it is good food I can find at other places, probably not.

Also, there is one more item to the equation: ambience/atmosphere. Food and service are one thing, but the ambience is the third component I consider for going back etc. If it is a unique place with good food but service was off one night,I’ll probably go back to see if it’s consistent. But if it’s average ambience the food on its own may not be enough to get me back.

Also, if I had bad service in the first 6 months of a restaurant, it doesn’t count. It does take time to get things right, so I will always give a new restaurant another chance if they get the food right.

Todd Kliman

This is very considered, and very fair.

Thanks for chiming in …

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BLUE DUCK TAVERN, CONT. …:

(From the originial BDT poster)
I’m both sad to read about the other negative reviews for the service, and a little relieved.

There was tiny part of me that wondered if the restaurant was simply not interested in our experience because we may appear on the young side (20’s) but it is good to see that is not related to it.

To answer your question, I have already done half of A (telling my friends, writing to a food critic). I wouldn’t write off BDT forever, but there are too many other restaurants in the area to eat at, some of them much cheaper than our meal at Blue Duck. More importantly, I would stop recommending the restaurant.

Todd Kliman

Thanks for rejoining the discussion on this.

You were the one who opened the Pandora’s Box, little did you know …

So interesting to hear that the benefit of the doubt is almost nonexistent in a case like this. A real lesson for upmarket restaurants, I think.

There’s the high cost of the meal to consider, diners say, and also the fact that there are so many options out there.

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SERVICE, CONT. …:

I am willing to give a restaurant another chance if the error is one that I think isn’t permanent. Or if I hear things have changed.

But my husband is more of a fool me once type.

But it’s hard for me to get back to places I really like and try the new places I want to try, so there is a lot of competition for my time and dollars, a restaurant that doesn’t make a good first impression then is competing with a distinct handicap below places I already really like and want to get back to and a smaller disadvantage, but still a disadvantage to a new place I want to try.

Todd Kliman

Thanks for chiming in …

It’s interesting that you say — if it’s a flaw that doesn’t seem to be a permanent one. Can you explain that?

I think a lot of people are in your husband’s camp. I’m just a little surprised to know that so many on here are in that camp.

Not bothered; not at all. Just surprised.

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T-SHIRTS AND FLIP-FLOPS, CONT. …:

I did speak to a manager afterwards and they said they don’t have a dress policy. I am guessing they don’t want to turn away money.

In most cases, that is good enough – if the host/hostess sees a nicely dressed guests – please don’t sit us or seat people next to us that is all casual.

Todd Kliman

Here’s the thing: no one really enforces a dress code anymore.

  1. The Inn at Little Washington. Corduroy. And who else? That’s an awfully small list.

Restaurants may say they have a code, but I don’t see people being turned away.

In the debate of money vs. sticking by a policy, money wins nearly every time.

All of you: thank you so much for such a spirited time today. Great questions, great back and forth. I appreciate it, and hope you did, too. I love our Tuesdays.

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

[missing you, TEK … ]

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