Tuesday, October 7 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 TO EAT NOW:

Ocopa, DC

Not cheap for H St., but the quality of the fish is high and 24-year-old chef Carlos is a talent. His plates are striking, and his flavors pop. Ocopa functions best when you think of it as a place to divvy up small plates of tiradito and ceviche and causa (his version of papa a la huancaina, a potato salad, is so sublime it makes the picnic staple you’re probably imagining look like prison food) while tanking down cocktails (among which you’ll find expert renditions of pisco and rum punch).

Saba, Fairfax

At a recent meal at this Yemeni gem, I ate injera, pita, and wheat bread (the latter baked for a marvelous bread pudding called masoob, layered with bananas, cream, honey and nigella that is a little bit different with each bite). Owner Taha Alhoraivi didn’t know how to cook a single dish from his tradition when he arrived in the States 15 years ago on a student visa. He didn’t even know how to cook. His mother and sister had barred him from the kitchen; cooking was women’s work. He subsisted for months on eggs, bread and cheese, until he returned home for a visit and prevailed upon the women in his family to share their recipes with him. Thus began a 15-year-journey of research and experimentation, as Alhoraivi sought to recreate the foods of his youth in isolation. Saba is the remarkable result. The two must-orders are the haneeth and the fahsa. The former is a strapping platter of slow-cooked lamb, seasoned with cardamom, cumin and cloves, that comes apart without prodding and some of the most flavorful rice you’ll ever eat — each grain is distinct, and tastes richly of the meat. The latter is a shredded beef stew in a sauce of tomatoes, onions and cumin so concentrated it might as well be a syrup; the crowning touch is a dollop of hilbeh, a tangy dip flavored with mint and cilantro.

Casa Luca, DC

The most casual of the restaurants in Fabio Trabocchi’s collection has found its groove. This is an assured operation from top to bottom, and from its opening nibbles to its pastas (go for the San Leo — ravioli stuffed with wild greens and ricotta and treated to a sauce of butter, toasted almonds and nepitella) to its dazzling preparations of fish and seafood to its light, colorful and exquisitely crafted desserts. I joked to a friend at dinner recently that the cornish hen minestrone was “too flavorful” — its broth so intense and rich that I had to stop talking and give all my attention to it.

Ray’s to the Third, Arlington

It’s as stripped down as a restaurant can get; even some food trucks pay more attention to creating an experience. But it still makes the best burger around, the steak ’n’ cheese is better than a Philly cheesesteak, and the milkshakes, including a booze-spiked Bananas Foster, are fabulous.

DGS Delicatessen, DC

Founding chef Barry Koslow has left to open Pinea, set to make its debut any day now at the W Hotel, but things haven’t exactly slacked with new chef Brian Robinson. It’s almost impossible to come here and not gorge on matzo ball soup (note to the kitchen: a wee bit more schmaltz in the broth, please), chopped chicken liver, and pastrami, but there’s a lot more here than deli. The tongue gyro is terrific. So is the chicken schnitzel, made with pounded chicken thighs; it comes with whipped potatoes and tangy red cabbage, and puts you in mind of something you’d see at Central Michel Richard. A new dessert is also a winner: a banana split with salted caramel ice cream and toasted almonds.

Baby Wale, DC

I’d love Tom Power’s place just for the go-go soundtrack alone — on a recent Saturday night, it simmered with the chunky syncopations of the godfather of the scene, Chuck Brown. (Wind me up, Chuck!) The thing to do is to order up a glass of wine — any wine (Power knows his stuff; his list is fantastic) — and a bowl of soup — any soup (Power makes some of the best in the city) and then settle in with the terrific ribeye and fries.

Gypsy Soul, Falls Church

An outtake from my recent review: “Gypsy Soul is informed by Southern cooking in the same way that Kid Rock is informed by country music. Like chef R.J. Cooper, Rock hails from Detroit, is tatted, has long stringy hair and fancies himself a kind of badass vagabond. Like Cooper, his gift is in braiding strands that aren’t generally braided.” I love the chicken fried quail, one of the most perfect high-end dishes out there right now (perfectly conceived, perfectly executed), the chicken skins are maddeningly addictive, the oyster stew manages to be both daring and delicious, and the crabcake gets it exactly right. The problems, in the early going, have been with salting (both under- and over-), and some dishes haven’t delivered the promised richness or depth. I expect these wrinkles to unwrinkle over time. The too-slick space is another matter.

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.

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’s willing to accommodate any requests, but adds that his aunt’s cooking isn’t 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).

Sushi Capitol, DC

This is a diminished sushi scene: Makoto is no longer special, Kushi has exited, and Sushi-Ko I is gone. That leaves Sushi Taro and Sushi Capitol, and for me, right now, it’s not a debate. 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.

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REPORT FROM THE FIELD: DGS DELICATESSEN, IN DC ………..:

Hi Todd, thanks for the tip on where to take my boyfriend for a celebratory dinner!

We actually ended up going to DGS rather than Red Hen for convenience sake (although Red Hen is on the must-go list!). We had a simple yet delicious meal of reubens, craft beers and pickle plates, which turned out to be perfect for the occasion.

However, our visit begged the question – do you know how DGS is doing these days? I’ve never had a bad meal there, but it seems nearly empty each time I visit. Crossing my fingers for this place.

Todd Kliman

They say they’re doing well.

And look up top at the new Where to Eat Now — my most recent meal was just as good as yours, it sounds like.

And as I posted on the site a few weeks ago, they’re opening a second location next year, in Falls Church — https://www.washingtonian.com/blogs/bestbites/food-restaurant-news/dgs-delicatessen-is-opening-in-fairfaxs-mosaic-district.php

But yeah, the dining room isn’t always as packed as it should be. I think in some ways this goes back to the problem of the name, which is the biggest mistake DGS made. It needed to plant the idea in the public’s mind that this is a restaurant with deli items, not a deli in the old-school sense of the word.

If you think of DGS as a casual restaurant, it’s one of the best in the city, and also one of the best values. But unfortunately, I think a lot of people think of it as strictly a deli, and therefore primarily a place to pop by for lunch.

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YOUR QUICKIE REVIEW OF ANANDA ……….:

Todd, in reading your review of Ananda, it makes me ask the questions I have been wondering about for a while. Why would anyone order a watermelon and feta salad, it just sounds gross.

Todd Kliman

Huh?

The Greeks have considered it a staple of their summer tables for ages.

What’s gross about it?

The watermelon is sweet and wet and crunchy, the feta is creamy and salty and crumbly. They complement each other really well.

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FOLLOWING UP FROM LAST WEEK: TOP 5 LISTS ……….:

Following up on the top five restaurants from last week’s chat… I had the list down to five and instantly regretted a few that I left out, so here is the list of my top restaurants:

Rasika for the unfamiliar preparations of familiar flavors with consistent, unfailing service

Izakaya Seki for the seemingly traditional Japanese cooking with some dishes (like remarkable Korean-style short ribs marinated in soy and mirin) that make you re-think that categorization.

Daikaya for the umami indulgences (grilled avocado, miso salmon, miso braised saba) and extremely knowledgeable staff.

Rose’s Luxury for nailing inventive yet casual eating that every restaurant is working so hard (but failing) to master. It pains me that this sort of experience is so hard to come by; a pain compounded by the throng of people descending on the place.

Beuchert’s saloon, which doesn’t get nearly enough love while putting out some of the city’s best cocktails and vegetable dishes in a transporting space

Kogiya for revelatory dining experiences that make even an experienced eater feel like they know next to nothing about the universe of food

Panda Gourmet for the tongue-tingling Sichuan and Xian dishes in an unexpected location (note that the formerly infamous service has gotten remarkably better and no longer distracts from the meal).

Tie between Bon Chon and Pollo Rico for reliably feeding the addiction again, and again, and again…

Also, I was also likewise impressed with Little Nonna’s in Philadelphia. If it opened in D.C. it would have the sort of lines Rose’s takes in. So many similarities: the service that doesn’t try too hard but is everything you want and need; the food that seems familiar but makes you think (and is just plain delicious for those who don’t think while they eat. Case in point: eggplant parmesan, the best I’ve ever had, made with Japanese eggplant, Thai basil, and burrata. I’ve been thinking about it for a year); the charm of the space: the old-fashioned dishes and utensils, the lights strung out back, etc., etc. Forget about the rooftop reservation at Rose’s Luxury. Let’s take a group on the road instead…

Todd Kliman

Road trip! I love it.

And I agree with you — Little Nonna’s would be a pretty great place to kick things off.

Anyway, good list! I like the variety.

Coupla things …

My last meal at Panda Gourmet, the service was godawful. In every way. And the cooking was incredibly uneven. Great dish, boring dish, very good dish, mailing-it-in dish … I’ll get back out there again soon, thanks to your tip.

The wha-? entry for me is Beuchert’s Saloon. I’ve only been twice, but neither meal was remarkable or even what I would call good. I like the space, I like the approach, but the flavors weren’t striking, and on my last visit the kitchen couldn’t get the burger right. What should I return for? What are you liking at the moment?

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WHERE TO EAT NOW ……….:

Todd, is your updated Where to Eat Now a counterpoint to the slow Top 10 roll out of Tom Sietsema’s Annual Dining Guide going on over at the Post? 🙂

Todd Kliman

I hadn’t thought about that, no.

As for Tom’s Top 10, I was thinking that it’s a counterpoint to our yearly Top 10. 😉

For me, part of the fun has been to compare his list with my own (at this point entirely in my head) list, and see where we disagree. Like The Partisan. Or Boss Shepherd. Don’t get those at all.

My lone meal this summer at The Partisan was forgettable except for the cocktails, and my recent meal at Boss Shepherd included two plates that were inedibly salty, one plate of (over)pickled and mealy shrimp. A shame, too, because otherwise it was obvious to see the care and the thought that had gone into these dishes.

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WATERMELON AND FETA, CONT. ……….:

As for watermelon and feta, don’t just credit the Greeks. Middle Easterners have enjoyed this combination as a classic pairing during warmer months.

Todd Kliman

Right you are.

Thanks for chiming in and reminding me …

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Re: “TOO SLICK SPACE” ……….:

Hi Todd, what do you mean by “too slick space” at Gypsy Soul?

On the same note, I am not sure why people didn’t get the name. Even before explanations, to me it meant someone had been inspired by tastes and recipes from all over instead of defining the place as Italian, American, etc. and it is primarily what drew me to the place as I cook that way myself (not professionally, just at home!)

Todd Kliman

Too slick, meaning it’s kind of soulless to me, all in all — though there’re some interesting touches here and there, like the low-riding leather seats at the bar that are meant to summon the feeling of sitting behind the wheel of a Harley.

I think that given what chef Cooper is doing on the plate, a place with a little more character — I’m not saying a lot, but a little: a little warmth, a little texture — would have been a good idea. A way to reinforce what the cooking is trying to communicate.

As for the name, I understand what you’re saying. But gypsies don’t roam for roaming’s sake. It’s not wanderlust. A gypsy isn’t seeking out new experiences and influences and exploring. If gypsies roam, it’s because they’re not wanted anywhere.

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POSTCARD FROM MONTREAL ……….:

Hey Todd,

Wanted to circle back with our report from Montreal. It’s a wonderful eating city but I won’t bore you with the sites we saw, but here’s a recap of the food:

Olive+Gourmando: fantastic paninis, salads, and baked goods in a cool setting by Old Montreal.
Au Pied de Cochon: Excess upon excess. Fun setting, but we felt a bit squeezed in at our table that looks like it had been jammed in to add a few more covers. The portions are HUGE and rich. Ordered wonderfully crisp salt cod fritters, a bracing whole pickled pig’s tongue with toast and mustard, the PDC cut (a pork loin literally the size of a brick, topped with mushrooms and red wine sauce), and the signature duck in a can (half a breast, a heaping portion of foie gras, braised cabbage, and red wine sauce cooked in a can and plated atop a parsnip puree). The mains were good but way too big and needed something to cut all the richness. We took home most of the mains as leftovers.

Jean Talon market: a fun place to assemble a picnic. We got 2 local cheeses (one like a camembert, the other like a gruyere), some fresh bread, local plums, and local ham for a great meal eaten on picnic tables there.

Kouign Amann: lovely old-school patisserie where we got the best danish we’ve ever had (a raspberry one), a lovely chocolate croissant, and the eponymous pastry, which is sliced to order from a wheel and is just sugar and butter suspended in several flaky layers of choux. The first slice we got was warm and the butter/sugar coating on the outside was a warm syrup. We took one of those to go and after cooling the outsides were crunchy as if coated by a candy shell. We’ve eaten our fair share of pastries, and agreed this kouign amann is the best we’ve ever had.

Le Quarter General: lovely bistro-type food in a hip setting. The mains come with soup or salad, but for an additional $12 you can add an appetizer and dessert. It’s a bring your own wine place, which definitely makes it budget-friendly. Wife loved her seared duck breast atop lentils while my rabbit saddle stuffed with rabbit chorizo and rabbit confit was very tasty.

Joe Beef: Easily the best meal of the trip, and one of the best we’ve had. The servers are fantastic and remind me of those at Rose’s in that they aim to please and make you happy. The menu is hard to read since it’s on one chalkboard and all in French, but they’re happy to take you through the whole thing. We started with a housemade beer cheese spread served with toast, crackers, and pickled vegetables and a gnocchi you’d love — served with “neck ragu” or braised duck, veal, and lamb necks. For the mains we got the classic lobster spaghetti — at $49 it’s pricey but absolutely worth it for the wonderful sauce and bountiful meat. Also got the veal liver with meat ragu, onion rings, and smoked meat. Sounds like an odd combo, but incorporating everything into a single bite absolutely worked — and the pickles were a nice touch as a palette cleanser. Dessert was a dutch baby with cream and more of those great local plums.

Schwartz’s/St. Viateur Bagel: What’s to say? Classics for a reason.

La Banquis: Had to get some poutine…When in Rome. It was fine, but I’ve had better versions Stateside, and I’m sure there are better versions in Montreal, but this is supposedly the classic place for it.

One thing I noticed while there, and it’s something they do in Europe as well: when it’s time to pay the bill at a place where you’re getting tableside service, they bring the credit card machine to you and let you swipe your card yourself. I’m sure this cuts down on fraud and it lets you simply input the percentage (or dollar amount) you’d like to tip, so no mental math after a few drinks. Why don’t restaurants here do this?

Todd Kliman

It’d be a great idea, wouldn’t it? Definitely would put a lot of diners at ease.

Although I wonder … Montreal is a very Gallic city, not a very Anglo city. DC is a very Anglo city. Anglo culture is very odd about money — the society makes you care about money all the time, getting it and keeping it and getting more of it, and at the same time people will tell you more about their sex lives than about their financial health. All of which is to say — I could imagine there being some people who would not like to see the transaction, as it were, being made so public. Better that it be done offstage, in secret … Just a thought.

Now, to your absolutely mouthwatering reports — my God, you made me ache for that city. Jean Talon, smoked meat, the bagels, the wonderful bakeries, the great small restaurants, the great big restaurants … (deep, deep sigh ……. )

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WATERMELON AND FETA, CONT. ……….:

“it just sounds gross” – I find this very funny as some of my favorite food experiences have been what other people call as such.

For example “bacon ice cream” – still craving for it!! I guess some of us do like “weird” tastes, as a matter of fact I thrive on it and look for such experiences anywhere I go.

I also noticed that some people don’t like the combination of salty and sweet (hence the comment on feta and watermelon I guess?), which, in my opinion can be thrilling if done right (thinking about a seared foie gras with grilled peaches and sauternes right now… hmm)

Todd Kliman

All true.

And the salty-sweet thing: salted caramel has become huge. Too huge, probably. A lot of people love it, but I’ve met a few who think it’s weird; they’d prefer the sweet without the salt.

Food people love things like this, obviously. But there are people out there, and not a few, who prefer that their food not do things. In other words, they want one flavor, one idea, at a time. They don’t want something that unfolds, they don’t want a dish in which eat bite is a little different, they don’t want unexpected contrasts. They just want to eat.

My brother is one of these people. I like to think I understand his needs, and sometimes I do. But sometimes he just drives me absolutely crazy. 🙂

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BEUCHERT’S SALOON, CONT. ……….:

Re: Beuchert’s Saloon

How to fall in love with Beuchert’s Saloon

1) Bring a friend
2) Sit at the bar
3) Order a Vieux Carre (or any cocktail really)
4) Order all six of the seasonal market preparations and a side of the french fries with sauce ravigote
5) Repeat steps 3&4 to your liking

Todd Kliman

Noted!

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TOP 5 LISTS, CONT. …:

Personal lists are so tough- there are the places I like to go, and the places I like to take people when they come to DC and I want to show off the place to my mix of friends (snobby New Yorkers all the way to Southerners who scoff at haute cuisine =).

For me, in no particular order: 1. Rose’s Luxury, 2. Blue Duck Tavern, 3. Bangkok Golden, 4. Estadio, 5. Rice Paper. Honorary mention for Le Diplomate’s bread basket.

For out-of-towners: 1. Daikaya downstairs 2. Rasika/Rasika West End 3. Central 4. Ghibellina 5. Ben’s Chili Bowl. Honorary mention for Amsterdam Falafel.

Todd Kliman

Good ones!

Thanks for writing in …

I’m curious to hear more about your out-of-towners list. Why those particular places? And why wouldn’t Rose’s or Bangkok Golden be on there?

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REPORT FROM THE FIELD: DGS IN DC — AND WHERE TO GO IN ANNAPOLIS OR FREDERICK? ……….:

Took the family to DGS as you recommended. That place…I just love it. Had been there a week before for brunch, where I tried their new breakfast club: corned beef, latke, swiss, egg, mustard. It was fantastic. I liked that they’ve doubled down on their strengths over the past year: more sandwiches, trimming down the entrees, bigger (not necessarily in size, but they aren’t small) desserts, expanded brunch. It seems like they assessed what their strengths were and tried to make them as good as they could possibly be rather than over-reaching or dabbling.

I have to put you on the hook again though for a recommendation: need to meet friends from Baltimore Saturday night for dinner. We have made a habit of meeting somewhere (roughly) equidistant from our houses. Annapolis and Frederick are fair game, as is anywhere along 95 or the BW Parkway. We’ve done Vin 909 and could do it again, but wanted to see if you had any other picks. Thanks in advance!

Todd Kliman

Your assessment of DGS is right on. This is the rare restaurant that has actually improved measurably and steadily since it first opened. It’s a great thing to se.

Ananda (see my quickie review up top) is easy to get to from Baltimore, and would be a great spot to gather with friends. And particularly if — now that it’s brisk at night — you snag a table in front of or near one of the, yes, eight fireplaces.

This is a 3-star restaurant that’s priced like a 2-star one. And the setting is 4-star.

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NEED A REC: RECENT COLLEGE GRADS ON A BUDGET ……….:

Hi Todd!

Adore your weekly chats. My foodie friend and I go to dinner every other week in an effort to explore DC and the growing restaurant scene.

So far we’ve done…. Tico, Ripple, Compose Rose, Bombay Club, Ghibellina, Chaplin’s, Rogue 24 and I’m sure a few others that I’m currently blanking on.

We are recent college graduates and on a budget so most meals have been a prix fixe/ happy hour version. Highlights include the amazing happy hour at Compose Rose and the ‘Kind of Hungry: Let Us Choose’ option at Tico.

What would you recommend this week? I am now thinking Ocopa because of your glowing review.

Thanks!

Todd Kliman

Sure.

I think of Ocopa as not-cheap, but given the ridiculous prices out there right now it’s not out of line. Just know that dinner for two will run you over a hundred.

My advice would be to not stray from ceviches, tiraditos and anything involving potato (like the papa a la huancaina I mentioned above, or the equally terrific cangrego). Skip the short selection of entrees, which aren’t as rewarding and are also more expensive.

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WATERMELON AND FETA, CONT. ……….:

My sister doesn’t like any “offbeat” flavors and doesn’t even like certain foods touching each other. I sometimes doubt that we come from the same parents even though we both grew up in a household that loves food.

I got to understand her better and realized that it wasn’t all “attitude” after watching an episode of Anderson Cooper’s show on his food issues and “super tasters”. Moral of the story, everyone to his/her own!

Todd Kliman

The biggest mistake you can make with a “super taster” is to tip them to the phrase without qualifying it. They invariably think you’re signaling them out as special.

My brother hates food that’s bright. Food with lots of sharpness and acidity. Vinegary flavors. Tangy flavors. Which means I can’t take him to Southeast Asian restaurants. And he has gotten to the point in his life where he doesn’t like sharing, preferring to keep to his own plate throughout the meal. Which means going out for tapas or meze is impossible. He also can’t take noise, which eliminates, oh, 90 percent of all the restaurants that have opened in the past three years. (All this, and yet he lives in Manhattan … )

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FAVORITE “FAST CASUAL” RESTAURANTS? ……….:

Hi Todd,

What are your favorite fast casual restaurants (Chipotle style) in the DMV? There are so many of these restaurants opening such as Blaze Pizza, Ventri Tri Modern and Cava Grill. I think these restaurants are really affecting sales of traditional fast food places like McDonalds, Sbarro, etc. Maybe they can adapt and add new quality and fresh food to compete which is a win for everyone.

Todd Kliman

I really like Spice 6 in Hyattsville.

It’s Indian Chipotle, or as I sometimes refer to it — Indotle. Cava Grill is Grecotle.

The surprising thing about Spice 6 is how good the gravies are. They’re vivid, and full of punch, and turn the bowls into something special. I think Chipotle is good for what it is, but the bowls don’t taste like Mexican food; Spice 6’s do taste like Indian food.

I also really like the naan pizzas they do.

By the way: “fast casual.” I’ve never understood the phrase. How is fast not compatible with casual? If you were to hear the words themselves and not think of what the phrase has come to mean, you would think — McDonald’s. It’s fast, it’s casual; what could be more casual than McDonald’s?

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A FOOD WORLD CONUNDRUM ……….:

Hi Todd,

How can your average consumer distinguish between meat type and quality when dining?

The following anecdote may be controversial and I’d never want to discourage people from trying new dishes. However, this question has persisted for years and I’d appreciate your expertise on the matter.

A neighborhood restaurant, now shuttered, served a primarily American menu, but also dabbled in dishes from the owners’ native country.

My favorite was their signature savory pie, which I must have ordered a dozen times. The only meat listed was beef. It tasted and looked slightly different than any other beef I’ve had before. Was it a different cut of cow? Maybe it was the seasoning? But the meat didn’t taste spiced. There was a sweet, slightly earthy background note.

After researching the owners’ native cuisine, I learned about an inexpensive meat that was frequently used in their country’s dishes, and is not culturally acceptable in the U.S. It supposedly tastes similar to beef.

My reaction was that I stopped ordering the savory pie. Additionally, I should mention that the restaurant staff was consistently friendly with prompt service. Their service was better than many fine dining establishments I’ve visited but I remained plagued by the mystery meat question.

On one hand, I understand if the owners used their native meat because it’s more economical and Americans may be hesitant to try a signature dish if they knew about the meat’s origin. On the other hand, as a consumer, I also deserve to know exactly what I’m purchasing.

Did I enjoy the dish? Yes. If I knew that the savory pie included the controversial native meat, would I have ordered the dish? Absolutely not. How does a diner balance their food morals without insulting the restaurant staff by questioning their ingredients?

Thank you.

Todd Kliman

Yeah, that’s tough.

There’s no easy answer here.

I think you were right to stop ordering it — I’m guessing the mystery meat was horse meat, which tends to be sweeter than beef, and milder, but otherwise not that different.

As for the restaurant, I can understand why it didn’t give the name of the actual meat. I don’t think it was just because horse meat is taboo for many people in this country (it’s not illegal; many states permit the buying and selling of horse meat).

A lot of ethnic restaurants practice a form of coding on their menus. They’re speaking, in these instances, to their core audience, not to a general audience.

I’ve seen some Korean menus, for instance, list dishes with goat. It’s rare to find actual goat in a Korean restaurant; not impossible, but rare. What goat used to mean — it may not mean this anymore, but what it used to mean was dog (often, according to Robert Sietsema, the guru of such things, collie). There was a restaurant in Queens with a menu listing “Goat Special Part.” Special part: this, too, was coding. I’ll leave it to all of you to suss it out.

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PICKY EATERS, CONT. …:

Folks who are picky about food, and in your brothers case, noise are probably suffering form sensory integration disorder.

The are overly sensitive to things, so what tastes nice and delicious to us could possibly taste like pure vile to them. Its not their fault, they were born this way. These same folks sometimes have issues with textures on their skin. For example they can only wear cotton t-shirts or socks with no seams. Collars are like being choked to death for them.

I’ve learned to not invite friends and family to meals that they won’t enjoy and find alternative ways to commune with them. I fell bad for them actually as they have no idea what they are missing out on in life, but they don’t seem too upset as they don’t know any different.

Todd Kliman

People like us, we’re oddballs, too, because most people don’t put nearly this much time into food — thinking about it, cooking it, eating it, strategizing to maximize our every meal out.

We love it, it’s our sport, it’s our recreation, and the source of some of our fondest memories, but I think it’s important to remember that most of the world regards the kind of eating we’re talking about here, and obsessing over, as a luxury. And not just most of the world — most of the country.

That doesn’t stop me from enjoying myself at the table. But I know it informs my perspective on the scene, and the writing in my reviews and pieces.

Gotta run, everyone. Thanks for the great questions and tips and musings today. Wonderful, as always. I hope you enjoy the new Where To Eat Now …

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

[missing you, TEK …]

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