Tuesday, September 30 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’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: 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).

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LOOKING TO GO BEYOND THE USUAL SUSPECTS …:

I have been in the greater DC area for a few years now and try to enjoy as many of the great restaurants as possible. One of my friends and fellow German is also a huge ‘foodie’ (don’t you hate that term? Maybe I should go back to calling me ‘Feinschmecker’) and I am trying to find a great place to go before she moves back home.

Between the two of us, we have been to some of the usual suspects (Blue Duck Tavern, Mintwood Place, Minibar, Rose’s Luxury, Komi, Zaytinya, Daikaya…) and I am trying to find a place that might not be as known. We don’t mind spending a bit of money but want to stay below $100 per person.

Danke!

Todd Kliman

What about Red Hen? That’s the first place that jumped out at me as missing from your (really good) list.

I love the mood, I love the chairs and tables, I love the staff, and I love the simplicity and directness of the cooking.

Or Central Michel Richard, also missing from your list. It’s too good to get overlooked as often as I think it does.

Or Sushi Capitol, which I think is putting out the best plates of sushi in the city right now.

Or, if you’re willing to get out of the city a little, Ananda, which, as you’ll see in the quickie review above, I’m very high on — both for its stellar Indian cooking, and for being a place to get away from it all.

Or Vin 909 Winecafe in Annapolis, which is making the best pizzas in the area and also does a terrific job with its small plates.

Hope that helps. These are 5 of the places I’d spend my own money, if I weren’t a critic. Willingly. With pleasure. …

Good morning, everyone. I’m eager to hear what’s on your minds this morning.

If you had your own, highly personal top 5 — and note that I’m not saying this is my top 5 — but if you had your own, highly personal top 5 what would it be?

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FAMILY COMING THIS WEEKEND: NEED YOUR HELP!:

Need your consultation. We’ve got family visiting this weekend and need to plan out our meals.

We’ll be 6 in total, with two of those kids (11 and 4). Everyone is a fairly adventurous eater. We are shooting for more casual and affordable (for the area, at least) places, and we’ll have a couple of lunches/quick breakfasts to fit in too.

Geographically, they’re staying below Dupont; we’ll have a car but hoping to keep it within DC or very near VA.

Any places jump out at you? Places you wouldn’t miss? We’re pretty set on DGS for at least one meal, and I thought Daikaya might be good. I’d love to hear your picks.

Todd Kliman

Keep DGS and Daikaya. I’d try to hit them at lunchtime.

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I like Daikaya’s ramen a lot — best in the city, to my palate, with the most depth in the various broths. A small thing, but not so small, either: I also love the smoke the cooks give to the bean sprouts, tossing them over and over in a flame-licked wok.

Beyond that, what about Mintwood Place? Central? Red Hen? 2 Amys (for small plates as well as pizzas)? Zaytinya?

Good luck. I hope that helps. And drop back on and give us all a report next week …

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FIELD REPORTS: RIPPLE IN CLEVELAND PARK & ETTO ON 14TH ST. …:

It had been a long time since I was truly excited about a meal in DC, but my losing streak ended with a visit to Ripple on Friday.

Unlike your short review in the Best Restaurants list, I thought the two pastas were terrific — gnocchi with pork and spaghetti with tuna.

I skipped cocktails because the wine list looked so good. I don’t see Gamay Beaujolais too often, and they had multiples by the glass. (I like that they pour wine by the glass at your table.) Very good service. I’m ready to go back soon to try more of the menu.

And not sure if this is a coincidence or a trend, but I discovered the next day that Etto also has a large Beaujolais selection.

My experience there reflected your review — ok pizza, but loved the vegetables and salads sitting on the bar. I like char on my pizza, so that didn’t bother me. I usually judge a pizza place by its margarita pizza, and this one wasn’t very good. I liked the chorizo and potato much better. Celery salad and cauliflower dishes were both delicious. I will definitely go back for the wine and salads.

Todd Kliman

This is great. Thanks so much for these.

I’m glad to hear about those pastas at Ripple. And I wholeheartedly agree with you about that wine list; it’s one of my favorites lists in the city, especially for whites.

As for Etto, yeah, the pizzas I’ve had haven’t been great. I wanted to like them. There’s obviously a lot of knowledge and a lot of care that went into making them, and the ingredients are clearly first-rate. But, eh.

Wine and salads, as you say.

Is that enough to draw you back repeatedly, though?

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CELEBRATING A MILESTONE: WHERE DO THE TWO OF US GO FOR ~$100? …:

Hi Todd!

My boyfriend just celebrated an important milestone at work, and I’d like to take him out to dinner to celebrate. What would you recommend that’s not too expensive (crossing my fingers for something around $100 for the two of us, which is getting harder to find in the city) but still special?

Thanks!

Todd Kliman

I hate to do this, because this is going to be the third mention today in only four questions, but … what about the Red Hen?

This is an exceedingly hard city to find a really good place for two for $100. Exceedingly hard. And when you add the need for it to be special on top of that, whew.

But I think you can manage to stay in budget there, and I think it’s enough of a moody oasis to feel like you’ve been somewhere and not just gone out for a bite. And — the food’s good. (Drinks, too.)

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A GOOD BOWL OF HONG KONG-STYLE NOODLE SOUP …:

Now that we are talking soup, the DC area has pho and ramen covered, but I’ve never come across a place serving up a good bowl of Hong Kong Wonton Noodle soup. Of the “Asian soups” it is my favorite – good clear stock, wontons, thin noodles, a scattering of sliced roast pork, and some greens. It does the trick every time.

The bowl at Full Key is passable but the stock is usually weak. Fine for a quick lunch while serving jury duty downtown, but that’s about it.

My favorite bowl was at a hotel in Singapore. After suffering through a nasty bout of disorienting jet lag, a room service bowl of Hong Kong Noodle soup finally set me right.

Todd Kliman

I like the bowl at Full Key — in Wheaton, yes? — but then again I didn’t have that great, room service-delivered bowl in a Singapore hotel after suffering through a terrible case of jet lag.

What can I say? Everything’s relative.

East Pearl, after I made its discovery but before it very suspiciously began to slip badly — a period of about 5 months — made a terrific version. Did you try that one? I loved it. Could have eaten it every day. That and a plate of roast soyed duck and maybe a bowl of their (at the time) fabulous congee.

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PERSONAL TOP 5, CONT. …:

My personal top 5:

Montemartre – If I was to ever own a restaurant I would want it to have the look and feel of Montemartre. And the hanger steak has been killer for more than a decade.

Ripple – Special night out or late night grilled cheese at the bar, it covers both.

Zaytinya – A sunny Saturday afternoon and mezze on the patio while taking a break from touring DC’s museums.

Ethiopic – We love the veggie combo platter and its a place we can take the vegan sister-in-law and know she will eat well.

Komi – From its early roots as a neighborhood joint (that was its original concept!) through its evolution as one of DC’s best restaurants, it’s always been good.

Todd Kliman

Good one!

We’re in sync with all these, and I love what you say about Montmartre. That’s it. That’s why people who love the place love it.

And that versatility you mentioned, that really is, I think, a huge part of the appeal and the success of Ripple.

OK, who’s got another one?

This should be fun …

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ISO: NEIGHBORHOODY PLACES IN CHINATOWN/MT. VERNON SQUARE …:

I just bought my first home in Chinatown/Mt. Vernon, a couple blocks north of Verizon Center and am looking for some great neighborhoody places to grab dinners, drinks, brunches, to-go items…any top recs over there?

I’m already pretty much a regular at Daikaya’s ramen shop even before I moved but my wallet and my waist can’t handle eating there as much as I would like so I’m hoping to branch out!

Thanks!

Todd Kliman

You know, you’re actually really not that far from the new DBGB, at 9th and H NW.

This is Daniel Boulud’s new place, his first in DC. It’s good. At times, very good. Still finding itself, still rounding into form, but there’s a lot to like in the early going, especially the coq au vin, or as I described it in a tweet — “coq au (my God) vin”; the pancetta-wrapped trout; the seared duck breast; the magnificent baked Alaska.

What else?

For a place to hang and drink a coffee and maybe get breakfast or a light bite — what about Busboys & Poets?

Mandu is very decent: the eponymous dish, in particular. Luke’s Lobster, for lobster rolls; Poste has a new chef, Kyoo Eom, who comes over from 2941, and I love the vol au vent on his new menu.

(What’s with all the retro French around town right now? Coq au vin, baked Alaska, vol au vent … Next up, shag carpets and avocado-colored toasters?)

Proof is wonderfully versatile: a pre-game drink and bite; a post-game meal; a full dinner; a night of grazing and drinking.

(I mentioned games. It’s that time of year, when anticipation builds, and soon my thoughts will be filled as much with Ottolenghi as Ottoporter.)

And there’s always Jaleo, which, in a way, is just as versatile, depending on how much you order and how you approach your meal.

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MONTREAL EATS …:

Hi Todd,

We are heading to Montreal on Thursday and while my wife is in charge of the sites to see, my duty is food.

We kick things off with a res at Au Pied de Cochon on Thursday and will hit up Joe Beef for dinner on Saturday. I found some good online recommendations for Le Quartier General, and that’s our Friday dinner. Still need a dinner for Sunday and a few lunch/brunch places to round things out, including perhaps a patisserie and coffee shop or three. We definitely plan on visiting Schwartz’s and getting some bagels while there.

Thanks!

Todd Kliman

It’s been some time since I’ve been — and I really, really need to rectify that; Montreal is one of the great eating cities in the Americas — so I’m going to send you to this website:

endlessbanquet.blogspot.com

It’s run by Anthony Kinik and Michelle Marek, and it’s one of the best sites of its kind I’ve found anywhere. They’re passionate and knowledgeable, without lapsing into foodie myopia, and I would trust their recommendations.

Absolutely make sure you get to Schwartz’s. At least once and preferable more than that. And the two best bagel spots are St. Viateur and Fairmont. I’d hit up one every day of my trip, if I were you.

Good luck, and have a great adventure. I know you’ll eat well.

And be sure to stop back on and give us a report, okay?

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PERSONAL TOP 5, CONT. …:

Top 5’ish… nowadays… if I had the time and the money (not always in that order): Fiola Mare, Roses, Osteria Morini, Passenger, Etto, Marcel’s/Wildwood Kitchen, and the new True Food Kitchen (I’d be there weekly if I didn’t live in MD!)

Now to my question: I see more organ meats on the menus nowadays, what are your favorites? So far, mine are: tongue salad at Etto, heart salad at Mintwood, and liver at La Chaumiere. Then there’s always chicken liver pate on crostini at various places. mmmm

Todd Kliman

There’s chicken liver pate all over the place these days. Pretty funny, if you think about it. Not an item I would’ve guessed to go mainstream.

To add to your list … the dulet at Zenebech Injera; the lamb brain karahi at Khan Kabob in Chantilly; the beef tongue with yuzu miso; the sweetbreads at Del Campo …

Who’s got more to add?

And tell me more, please, about your meals at True Food Kitchen, I’m curious.

For those of you who don’t know, this is a national chain with oversight and direction from Dr. Andrew Weil. I believe this is the first location on the East Coast. The other True Food Kitchen outlets are out West.

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GOING REPEATEDLY, CONT. …:

Salads and wine — yes!

I’m not vegetarian, but one of my favorite restaurants anywhere is Vedge in
Philly. Other restaurants I go to primarily for vegetables include Range (kale salad, Brussel sprouts), especially since they discontinued the ham charcuterie plate. So I’m more than willing to make a salads-and-wine place a destination, especially if the offerings rotate seasonally.

Having said that, going “repeatedly” would only mean 2-3 times a year for me. I don’t live in that neighborhood, and there are too many other places to try.

Todd Kliman

I hear you.

Interesting that you should bring up Vedge. I’ve only been once, earlier this year, but found it to be profoundly underwhelming. Most of the dishes didn’t work. Lots of good ideas — you could see the tremendous thought that went into these places — but when it came time to taste the flavors weren’t there. Or they were there, but the harmony, the balance, wasn’t. The simpler stuff was lacking the technique it needed to come off, and the more complicated stuff was busy and often unfocused.

Just down the street, Locust Street, is a place I kind of fell in love with this summer — a place that couldn’t be more different, and not just because it’s laden with meat.

I kind of fell in love with it In part because there’s nothing like it in DC or surrounding counties, but in part because it’s just fun and delicious and smartly but not self-congratulatorily done. Little Nonna’s.

Possibly the best meatball I’ve ever eaten. I mean it: a meatball worth going out of your way for. Beef, veal and pork in a massive but soft, light ball over smooth, creamy polenta. With a San Marzano tomato gravy. God: I want one of these right now … Oh, and the roast pork shoulder on a Sarcone’s seeded roll, with provolone, broccoli rabe, and horseradish aioli. I want one of those, too. Washed down with a Negroni in a bottle.

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PERSONAL TOP 5, CONT. …:

My personal top five:

1. Jaleo – Best place in DC for tapas. Can’t beat the Sangría de lujo – premium wine and tableside presentation.

2. Fiola – My favorite fine dining restaurant in DC. I do like his other two restaurants, but this is still the place to go when money is no object. The food and service is fantastic.

3. BLT Steak – Yes, there are other steakhouses in DC, but they have been consistent with their steaks. Can’t complain about the free popovers and pate they serve at the start of your meal.

4. Barmini – What a great place for interesting cocktails. My go to drink is the Highlander.

5. Honeypig – Glad it’s not AYCE, because my doctor would be mad. Love that it’s open 24 hours and has pretty good Korean BBQ. The environment is pretty cool.

Todd Kliman

Great list.

And if you like Honey Pig, then you need to try Kogiya, also in Annandale, which — ha — is all you can eat, or at least has that option. It’s terrific Korean bbq.

And your remark about BLT is funny and also on the money: it definitely sets a great tone to a meal when, before anything you ordered hits the table, they give you popovers and amazing pate.

More lists, please! These are terrific.

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PERSONAL TOP 5, CONT. …:

My five favorites (places I return to repeatedly). It’s Virginia heavy as getting into the district without getting a ticket of some kind is getting increasingly difficult.

Aurora Cafe, Alexandria. My favorite place for breakfast. Terrific Eritrean (try the eggs Silsi or the fu’ul). Excellent coffee.

Clyde’s/Old Ebbit. Strictly for the raw bar, though Old Ebbit is great for people watching.

Firefly, Dupont Circle. Interesting American cooking and I can take the kids. Seriously, I’d rather invest the money in letting them know how to behave at a restaurant.

Meaza, Bailey’s Crossroads. Here’s where I go for Ethiopian.

The Inn at Little Washington. This is my special occasion place (visited twice so far, will do so again).

Todd Kliman

Wow, I love the range here. Aurora Cafe to the Inn at Little Washington.

That’s great.

And it’s nice to see some love for Meaza. I’ve recommended it a bunch, yet I hardly ever hear people talk about it, or report back about it. There’s some really fine cooking going on there.

You’re so right, by the way, about Old Ebbitt being great for people-watching. It’s one of the best in the city, in that regard, because unlike the hip, trendy places there are a variety of faces and body types and expressions and unlike the very expensive places you have people from all walks of life, and all up and down the socio-economic ladder, and from all parts of the country, as well.

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PERSONAL TOP 5, CONT. …:

Very personal top Five in no order…

Rose’s, Red Hen, DGS, Proof, Corduroy

That’s the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do.

Todd Kliman

🙂

Hard to argue with anything on that list.

Though, clearly, you’re not getting out of the city enough. 😉

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OFFAL, CONT. & PERSONAL TOP 5 …:

I would add the monkfish liver at Seki.

As per the personal list, these are the places I find myself going back to week and week again. The best meal I had this year I think goes to Rose’s, with Komi being a close second. But I won’t be going back very soon as time is money and money takes time.

Red Hen- because the space is warm and inviting, the bar is always fun and the mezzi rigatoni is such a simple perfect dish that it manages to make me happy. Always something fun on the wine list as well for a great price.

Bangkok Golden- the Lao menu dishes are so well balanced, great heat wonderful fresh veggies. Service is always warm.

Toki Underground- there are thousands of ways to make ramen and each I think appeals differently to different people, theirs appeals to me the best. Lately they have been doing a dan dan noddle dish with a coddled egg which I cannot get enough of.

Blue Duck Tavern- for fear of starting a hate mail chain again, I must include it because from sitting at the bar for some bone marrow and a well mixed cocktail, to the recent scallop and sweetbread appetizers in the dinning room, the food speaks for itself. Unlike the rest of the district it seems, the most memorable service has come from their staff. Their wine list is also remarkable.

Etto/2 Amys- I think Peter Pastan is the god of Italian cuisine. I couldn’t decide which on the include, I like the pizza better at 2Amys but as it has been mentioned the small plates and little salads are amazing at Etto. Also wine on draft. (Did I mention I like wine? Yes I like wine)

Todd Kliman

Another great list.

Great mix.

And it’s funny you bring up the monkfish liver at Seki, because the one time I had it, I didn’t love it. And I love monkfish liver, and generally speaking it’s hard to come up with a preparation of it I don’t love.

Of course, it could be that I had a not great piece that day. Might have been an off-day for delivery.

It happened recently with an uni dish (uni, squid ink toast, bone marrow custard) at Rogue 24, which, in case you didn’t know, is doing a la carte now. Uni season is over, and the lobes in here were revoltingly funky.

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TRUE FOOD KITCHEN, CONT. …:

True Food Kitchen: I have been waiting for this for a long time having seen the ones (and the lines) on the West Coast so we went on Saturday. The place is pretty, the food was very good, the staff was sometimes very involved (especially managers walking around very visibly) and sometimes removed especially when we had a question, but I could clearly see that they were still working on establishing routines etc. so I will give them a “review with a caveat” for now:

Cocktails – superb, whether they are the non-alcoholic juices or the others (by superb, I am not talking about classics, but I have been looking for “healthier” options and I love that these cocktails taste good and that they don’t make you feel as guilty)

Food – very good for what it is, the food was fresh, well cooked, and “bright” – the colors popped out of the plate, and it was delicious. I am still craving for the tuna albacore wrap!! The edamame dumplings were very tasty too, but it was surprising that we didn’t get a spoon with all that yummy broth (I was tempted to pick up the plate and drink from the side 🙂 Also, because the food was “real” food, even though the amounts were not huge, they were very satisfying, even for someone who has a huge appetite like me!

Desserts – I am not a huge dessert eater, but the chocolate cake (the one we first got to see when they delivered someone else’s food to us while we were having cocktails) is very good, so much so that this is what I want for my birthday! It’s more like a soufflé in reality, and you need only couple of spoons. The sorbets were also very flavorful, I certainly would go for them again.

Service overall: during the whole experience, we must have been touched by a total of 7-8 people. 3 bartenders who took orders at different times, 3 people who delivered food, and then the others who asked if we had any questions about the food. I personally do not mind it much as it gives me an idea about the place and I am always up for conversation on food, but it seemed as if they lacked a process. Also, when we asked for the check, the check came, so I gave my card, and when the receipt came back, the charge was $20 more! Fortunately, I noticed this, and asked for an explanation, which took a while because they had to find the person who had taken part of our order. It turned out they hadn’t charged the dessert (well, I thought it was on the house, since they got an extra one), so they had to go look for a manager, which also took extra time, and then they came back and gave us the itemized bill, which in the end is fine, but I think just for the inconvenience and because they made a mistake, they should have kept to the original receipt. I had invited my friend to lunch but it kind of left a question mark in my mind, during the first couple weeks things happen and management has room to wiggle those, and I was very surprised to have been charged. In the end I would have tipped them for the difference, so it’s not the money but simply the way it closed the experience was not the best. Moral of the story: go to True Food, eat well, and make sure to look at the check!!

P.S. I am not a picky or restricted eater, I just like good food and prefer to eat “real” food, so I wish this place had more outlets and even take out cafes in DC so we can eat real tasty food.

Todd Kliman

So thorough!

Thanks so much for this, for taking the time to review your meal and assess all the key areas. Good stuff.

I’ll be really interested in hearing how this place does. This area seems absolutely ripe for a restaurant like this.

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PERSONAL TOP 5, CONT. …:

Top 5 places I really regret leaving out of my previous top five list…

Estadio, Rasika, Bangkok Golden, Central and Zenebech

Todd Kliman

I knew it, Jack! I knew you couldn’t confine yourself to just 5!

Give me 5 more before the chat is out. (Oy, I sound like a gym teacher … )

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PERSONAL TOP 5, CONT. …:

Top 5 – (I reserve the right to change the list weekly)

Inn at Little Washington – While I have only had the fortune of dinning there twice; I credit Chef O’Connell as helping me become a good cook. Of the 100+ cookbooks I have, his first cookbook is my favorite and the only one where I have cooked or riffed on every recipe.

Central – At least one a month I eat a Fish Taco, hamburger, or Lobster burger at the bar with a Belgian Blusser beer (they have been out the last several months!)

Kapnos – With deference to Roses, I find myself craving the roast goat and lamb more often and think this is the best addition over the last year.

Brabo Tasting Room – The downscale sibling of Brabo and Marcels you can always count on a great tart, or classic mussels. The featured winelist changes weekly and often highlights less traveled regions.

Sweetwater Tavern – Decent pub food, occasionally good beer but you cannot beat the service. Even if I haven;’t been in several months, I walk in and they know my name and know to serve me the darkest thing they have on tap. I’ve seen them individually pack up a take out order separating the main dish, with all of the sides and dressings in 6 – 8 packages for slightly eccentric guests always with a smile.

Todd Kliman

“I reserve the right to change the list weekly.”

Only in DC, only in DC … 🙂

I like it. I like the mix.

And that’s so interesting, that you’ve cooked every recipe from O’Connell’s book — I don’t know anyone who’s done that, cooked every recipe in a collection, except of course the project cookers who are gunning for a book contract with their blog.

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MONTREAL EATS, CONT. …:

Todd,

In addition to the other places the chatter mentioned, they should check out the Liverpool House, next door to Joe Beef (same owners)- deeply soulful bistro fare, with a tremendous (and reasonably-priced) list of wines by the glass. Another place: Maison de Bulgolgi, on St. Catherines (credible, solid, sometimes transcendent).

Agreed on St. Viateur- worth it to get a bag of bagels for the trip back.

As for Schwartz’s…meh. Yeah it’s an institution, but there are a lot of other places that have stepped up their smoked meat game, and Schwartz’s just isn’t worth the aggravation (gruff-bordering-to-rude service) anymore.

Todd Kliman

Gruff-bordering-on-rude service: that’s what you want in a deli. That’s echt deli.

The new places miss a lot by not having anything approaching that. It’s a kind of charm, really. I’m being serious.

I’d love to hear some names, though — the new smoked meat places that you like.

And as for St. Viateur: you can have them ship you bagels by mail. Not cheap, but even with transit they’re kind of worth it.

Finally: Maison de Bulgogi! I love Montreal.

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RED HEN, CONT. …:

Careful Todd…you keep mentioning the Red Hen, and some people are going to accuse you of being in bed with/being a silent partner/being besties with ownership (hopefully there aren’t as many sociopaths who frequent this chat as Tom’s- he seems to get a few gaslighters every chat, which is awfully tiresome).

Todd Kliman

Right, which is why I said I hated to do what I was about to do. Not that it stopped me from doing it. : )

Anyway, yeah. People.

Always something to carp about, vent about, stir up a campaign about.

So much chatter, so little truth. And wisdom? Forget about that …

There’s a great line in Loitering with Intent by Muriel Spark, which I just finished. One of the characters tells the narrator:

” … it’s a good sign when people act like fools over a piece of work, a good sign.”

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PERSONAL TOP 5, CONT. …:

My arm is twisted…

Sichuan Jin River, A&J’s, Hanks On the Hill, Sushi Taro and Little Serow

Todd Kliman

I knew we could count on you to get this in under the wire!

But guess what?

My most recent two meals at Sichuan Jin River and Sushi Taro were both disappointments. Just sayin’.

Thanks for a great chat, everyone. I love the lists. Send more along during the week, if you can: tkliman@washingtonian.com

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

[missing you, TEK … ]