Tuesday, October 14 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 just deli. (What am I saying, “just deli”? Since when is deli itself not enough? And this deli especially.) 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. There have been problems, in the early going, 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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“FAST CASUAL,” CONTINUED FROM LAST WEEK ………:

Hi Todd –

Per your comment/question at the end of last week’s chat: “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?”

“Fast Casual” is a restaurant where you go to the counter and order and pay, then you sit down and they bring the food to you. (i.e. Corner Bakery Cafe, la Madeleine, etc.) McDonald’s, Burger King, Chipotle, etc would be classified as a QSR or quick service restaurant where you order and take your food with you.

Todd Kliman

No no, I understand how it’s used in the industry.

What I’m taking exception to is the phrase itself. I think the wording’s bad.

“Casual” is a word that gets bandied about a lot in the realm of fine dining now, too. Because every high-end restaurant lives in deathly fear of being labeled fine dining.

“Fine dining” = the scarlet letters.

All these places want to be casual now. We’re a casual neighborhood restaurant, welcome! And then the check comes and you realize you’ve dropped $250 for dinner for two.

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REPORT FROM THE FIELD: DBGB, IN DC ……….:

Hi Todd,

In order for new restaurants to work out opening kinks, I understand that food critics wait several weeks before posting reviews. Because I’m not in your profession, may I break this rule with a field report?

In celebration of DBGB’s first month open in DC, I’d love to share a perspective of the good, the bad, and the memorable. Unlike Yelpers who let one meal exclusively dictate their opinion, I can reflect on a handful of dinners at DBGB.

Also I want to describe how quickly the restaurant has changed from week to week. Most of these tweaks are for the better. Crackers replace a pretzel roll in the bread basket. Instead of croutons integrated with the escargot, the dish now has a more elegant appearance with crispy garlic slivers centered, encircled by the croutons, and more hazelnuts for texture. Tuna crudo no longer arrives as an abstract painting; each ingredient is properly lined up like little soldiers, awaiting their next call of duty, on a stripe of harissa. The fluke is the best preparation of grenobloise I’ve ever tasted but arrived in a minimal state on my first order with missing grapes. On my next visit, the fish was adorned with ample accompaniments: cauliflower, capers, and those grapes.

A few tweaks are ambiance and service-related. A gigantic vase was removed from the bar to create a more interactive setting. Although Chef Boulud graciously visits with diners when he’s at the restaurant, his socializing serves the dual purpose of watching how the dining experience is from every table in the restaurant. A friend overhead him speaking with a manager about specific corrections for a wait staff member. We also noticed how he would dart in and out of the kitchen for significant intervals, pausing to speak with both guests and staff of all levels. Boulud is omnipresent.

Negative changes may be the result of a lone accident or experimentation. For example, one of the most popular first courses is the crab persillade, which occasionally sells out. When I finally tried the dish, I was seduced by a luxurious, faintly sweet custard sauce that lightly blanketing crab that reclined on a bed of persillade.

A few days ago, the same dish appeared with only a tablespoon of that exquisite custard. Components were overly salted to the point where I could barely taste crab, and a thick layer of persillade was too sharp with garlic, emphasized further with large roasted garlic segments. The taste lingered in my mouth through dessert.
Now I believe that this alteration was a mistake, I’ll continue to order the crab persillade. My point is to illustrate that perfection takes time. The staff bent over backwards to make sure that we were happy on each visit. If I had mentioned the garlic issue, I have no doubt that the staff would have immediately rectified the problem.

Instead of writing a Yelp review about a solitary issue while a restaurant is brand-new, I encourage my peers to share their impressions while dining. The DBGB staff always checks back mid-courses to briefly ask if everything is to your satisfaction. I made the mistake of not expressing my disappointment over this one dish because I was distracted by the other first courses: divine foie gras, curried herring, and a superior pâté de champagne. I should have communicated with the staff. There is no doubt in my mind that they will do everything possible to correct even the tiniest dissatisfaction.

For example, I learned that The Crabbie burger has been pulled from the menu, while the recipe is adjusted. It’s a bold move considering how much press has already been written about this item but I respect that the chef wants us to experience the ideal of SpongeBob Square Pants.

Every main dish that I’ve ordered at DBGB has been cooked to perfection from the beef duo to the duck to the fish. Health-conscious guests have inquired whether the sausages are greasy, then later exclaim in happiness about the flavors. Fat is perfectly integrated into the charcuterie. There is no excess.

Don’t be afraid of ordering dishes with less exciting names. A crispy egg with broccoli rabe is a sleeper hit. The egg shines like a lantern against the bitterness of the green and the zip of anchoïade, while translucent slices of radish provide a refreshing element of pepper. This dish has converted broccoli haters to lovers.

For dessert, sundaes may not stand out like the Baked Alaska or the soufflé with Grand Mariner but you’ll be amazed by the layered textures and flavors. Each flavor is bright and precise. An apricot ice cream tasted like an enhanced version of the fruit. It was paired with pistachio ice cream, roasted apricots, and pistachio shortbread, garnished with Chantilly and more crumbled pistachio. Another night brought the most incredible blueberry ice cream, royal purple and bursting with ripe flavor, atop lemon pound cake squares, yogurt ice cream, and crispy farro, which is a smart textural substitution for any diners with nut allergies.

One more time, I’d like to stress the service and ambiance of DBGB. Unlike other DC restaurants where a chef has consulted or added his name to the venue, then disappeared, I believe that Daniel Boulud’s presence will remain at the restaurant, especially because his beloved daughter is now a resident here.

From the flattering lighting to the warm hostess greeting, you’re made to feel at home. My guests have even secured future reservations on-site before departure. This restaurant has found the rare balance to appeal to all kinds of diners: business, romantic, friends, and family.. I’ve even seen kids in the early, early evening. Arrive at 5 before the 6:30 dinner rush.

Todd Kliman

Very thorough.

Very, very thorough.

Thank you for the report. I really appreciate your taking all that time to think through your meals and write them up.

I, meanwhile, am still trying to get a fix on the place. I want every plate to sing. I mean, it’s a Daniel Boulud place — isn’t that the expectation? Food that’s true to itself, with deep, carefully coaxed flavors. Food of understated imagination, rooted in tradition, but not beholden to it, and carried off with rare technical skill. Every component, every seemingly minor detail.

Some have sung — loudly, gloriously. The coq au vin, for instance. The duck breast with, ingeniously, a sauce of beets, among other accoutrements. But some have not, even if they haven’t missed. I’m thinking, here, of the Thai sausage with rice and quail egg. And some have missed — the $48 lamb rack, with its haphazardly cooked vegetables.

The space seems to have not made peace with the fact that it’s slick. It really, really doesn’t want to be slick. It has warming touches, like the quotations written onto the mirrors. But these things don’t give it warmth and character. I think it should make a choice. It should say: We are a slick place, and we are fine with that. When it’s full, and loud, it’s not a thing you concentrate on as much.

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TUTTO BENE, IN ARLINGTON — NOW CLOSED ……….:

Their Italian food was pretty poor, however will really miss the saltenas. Any other comparable ones nearby?

Todd Kliman

I agree with you.

The Bolivian food had really eclipsed the other cooking over the years. And those salteñas were fabulous. Worth the drive just for an order.

Best ones nearby are the ones at La Caraqueña in Falls Church, the best motel restaurant I’ve ever been to.

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TOP 5 LISTS, CONT. ……….:

Todd –

Sorry to be so late to your five favorites/where do you take out-of-towners list. Five seems too confining. Our approach is to give out-of-town guests a big list and let them whittle it down, so they can find something to their taste (and, to be honest, so we don’t get all blame if their choice doesn’t suit them.

Here’s our most recent list of 25 (which slights Maryland, since we live in NOVA):

Bangkok Golden, Cava, DC Banh Mi, El Charrito Caminante, Elephant Jumps, Estadio, Etto, Hai Duong, Hank’s Oyster Bar (preferably Capitol Hill), Hong Kong Palace, Izakaya Seki, Kapnos, La Caraquena, Lighthouse Tofu, Lyon Hall, Meaza, Mount of Lebanon, Quarterdeck, Rappahannock Oyster Bar, Rasika, Ray’s to the Third, Rose’s Luxury, Shamshiry, and Vidalia (preferably at lunch, at the bar).

The best is the last. If a guest says, “Oh, you just pick,” they always end up at Vidalia. It gets taken for granted because it’s been consistently good for so long, but it really is a strong contender for the best in DC. Their $20 lunch special is by far the best food deal in town.

Todd Kliman

That’s a great, great list.

A diner after my own heart, and sensibility.

And no, it’s never too late to join the conversation on this. Most of the people on here, I think, can’t limit themselves to just 5.

So, all of you out there reading along — feel free, please, to send in your lists of 15 …

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“FAST CASUAL,” CONT. ……….:

Speaking of fast casual, have you seen the new Cava Chinatown?

It looks very nice and I really enjoy their food, so instead of the crowded bars with cheap drinks and fried bar food, I think I will be going there before games and concerts at Verizon Center. I noticed that they also have a juice bar with pre-prepared drinks you fill up yourself. Interesting.

Todd Kliman

That’s interesting.

And a smart move, sounds like, for a place going in near the arena.

I’ll have to take a look when I’m there next for a Wizards game.

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HEADING TO NYC THIS WEEKEND: WHERE DO WE GO? ……….:

Todd

Heading to NYC this weekend and it will be my wife’s first time there. I’d like to break up the tourism with some good meals. Do you have any favorite spots? She doesn’t eat seafood, (sigh) but that’s the only limitation.

Thanks!

Todd Kliman

I’ve got three picks for you:

Uncle Boons in NoLita. A Thai-influenced spot from two Per Se alums.

Pearl and Ash in the Bowery. Small plates done with great imagination and finesse.

And Estela in NoHo. Creative, personal, chef-driven in every sense of the word.

I’ve been to all three in the past six months, and all are terrific. Terrific experiences, terrific bang for the bang.

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TOP 5/10/15 LISTS, CONT. + REPORTS FROM THE FIELD: SUSHI CAPITOL & FIOLA MARE, IN DC ……….:

In response to why some selections weren’t included for out of towners vs me in my personal top 10 listings:

I still enjoy taking people to Rose’s Luxury, or Bangkok Golden. Both are spectacular for out of towners too. But not everyone is entirely focused on the food. Problems arise when trying to take folks to these places, problems that you’ve raised plenty of times before here: people who don’t want to leave D.C. proper, or want a D.C. experience without waiting in line for one. That doesn’t prevent me from taking people whom I know to really love food to these places, but for many who come visit, the food isn’t the focal point.

As a side note, I wanted to report back on a few meals. Over a birthday weekend, I had the opportunity to eat the omakase menu at Sushi Capitol, brunch at Le Diplomate, and dinner at Fiola Mare. Le Diplomate was fun, as always. But the experience at both Sushi Capitol and Fiola Mare were really special.

They were willing to let me do an omakase menu for one, while my wife ordered a couple rolls. The fatty tuna was incredible, so incredibly rich and unctuous. One of the best scallop pieces I’ve ever had as well. Only a couple disappointing pieces of sushi- the sea urchin I thought lacked the brininess, brightness, and melt on your tongue texture that I normally love it for. Overall, a wonderful experience- thanks to the chef, who we noticed carefully and surreptitiously watching our reaction to every piece of sushi on my plate. And thanks to Gailin, the manager, who sat and talked to us extensively about the fish, its presentation, and how to eat it.

Then Fiola Mare. What is there to say that hasn’t been said? A decadent experience, with everything about the preparation designed so that the flavors of the fish speak for themselves. At first, I was concerned that it would be repetitive to order the Frutti di Mare, Under the Sea, and the Grand Adriatic Grilled Seafood. And after eating the Frutti di Mare, we would have been more than happy to have repetition. But every time that a different preparation of prawn, or scallops, or mussels came out, we all gained a new appreciation for what can be done to highlight the different strengths of all these foods. And the langoustines-my God, the langoustines. Thanks to Chef Trabocchi, my new favorite seafood.

We looked at the dessert menu, and finding nothing to our liking, told the server that we would go elsewhere for our birthday dessert. Finding this unacceptable, they sent out 4 scoops of gelato and a chocolate terrine decorated with a gold foil- plenty to satisfy our sweet tooth, though it still didn’t sing the same way that the rest of the meal did.

All in all, a great birthday weekend of eating.

Todd Kliman

Great to hear that Sushi Capitol and Fiola Mare treated you so well.

I’m super high on both right now. And urge everyone to get out and go, now, while they’re so on top of their games. (Not that I expect them to slip … )

And I hear you re: Rose’s and Bangkok Golden. Pleasing groups of people is always a challenge. Always.

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TUTTO BENE, CONT. ……….:

Beyond tragic that Tutto Bene closed – those saltenas were fantastic.

Best replacement option in the neighborhood for don’t-know-where-to-eat-but-we’d-like-comfort-food-and-warm-fuzzies spot is likely going to be El Paso Cafe (though RUS is a strong contender as well).

Todd Kliman

Rus. Love Rus.

There’s another one for everybody who hasn’t been — get out there and try those manta and pelmeni, and those samsas, and slurp down that borscht.

I can’t imagine anyone not having a good meal there, provided everything goes the way I think it can.

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SPEAKING OF TOP 10s ……….:

So Todd,

Tom S. put out his Top 10 List, his Top 10 personal favorites–>

1. Rasika Penn Quarter
2. Mintwood Place
3. Rose’s Luxury
4. Red Hen
5. The Inn at Little Washington
6. Little Sera
7. Fiola Mare
8. The Partisan
9. Le Diplomate
10. Boss Shepherd’s

What’s your list? Just wondering.

Todd Kliman

My personal top 10?

I’m not going to rank them, because that’d take a lot more time than I have, but this is what the list would look like right now (and, n.b., in no particular order):

Komi. Mintwood Place. Central Michel Richard. Rose’s Luxury. The Red Hen. Vin 909 Winecafe. Fiola Mare. Thai Taste by Kob. Ananda. Sushi Capitol.

And any of those could be swapped out at any moment for Popeye’s.

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REPORT FROM THE FIELD: B SIDE, IN FALLS CHURCH ……….:

Hi Todd,

Just tried B Side over the wkd, and it’s a fabulous addition to Mosaic/Merrifield. Small, intimate vibe with random offerings.

The butcher’s cut of the evening was a ribeye cap that was so incredibly flavorful, perfectly cooked and beautifully served . The croquettes are a must. They were crisp on the outside w/ oozy/creamy/meaty filling. The pupusa was a nice surpise. These are just a few of the things we ordered.

Drinks are unique and made with care. I can’t wait to go back! When do you plan to try it out?

Service was a little shotty. One person taking orders at the bar for food and drinks and it was packed. They might need to double up.

Btw, anywhere else that serves worthy pupusas?

Todd Kliman

Are you kidding?

The area is aswarm with Salvadoran places, and you can find good or great pupusas at nearly all of them.

I’ve always thought that the DC area lacked a great Salvadoran restaurant — one place that stands so far above all the others — but what is great is that wherever you go you can nearly always find a fantastic pupusa.

The ones that come to mind, because they’re great, and because I had them not long ago, are the ones at Rios in Wheaton. Crisp, creamy, substantial, warm, comforting. And served with a terrific curtido — a yellow curtido, unlike the white that is standard issue everywhere else; the slaw, lightly pickled, has a terrific tang and yet still retains its crunch.

El Tamarindo in DC has good ones, too.

Thanks for the tasty-sounding report about B Side. Can’t wait to head out there …

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TOP 10 LISTS, CONT. ……….:

I never question Sietsema’s lists b/c I don’t seem to ever agree w/ him. Now, you, typically agree with.

However, can you explain your reasoning for placing Mintwood and Central before Roses Luxury? I understand Komi going before but not the others.

Todd Kliman

OK, I just added a further qualifier to my answer. Take a look.

I’m not ranking them. And I’m also not ordering them.

They’re simply the 10 that leapt to mind — not the places I think are the best dining experiences in the area, necessarily, but the places I, personally, am most enthused about at the moment.

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REPORT FROM THE FIELD: TINA’S KUSINA, IN OLNEY ……….:

After asking about Filipino food in general and Tina’s Kusina, the carryout in the back of an Olney beer/wine store in particular a few weeks back, I’ve tried the place a couple of times and find myself a little … confused. I’m intrigued by some of the dishes and flavors, but have found others oddly bland.

Notably, I’ve enjoyed bicol express and sisig (although the sisig lacked the bright acidity you describe in your paean to the dish, and it needed it to cut the richness of the pork — I’m pretty sure it was belly and ears). And I found myself confused by the menudo, which somehow wound up bland, devoid of heat or acid. I’m not sure if I’m missing some crucial condiment or this is just dialed-down food, but I’m curious enough to go back a few more times.

The people running the counter are nice, although every time they’ve tried to steer me toward “chicken” or “beef” and I only find out about the more interesting items if I’m persistent.

Not the most interesting field report, but I figured it was worth seeing if you thought it was worth sticking with….

Todd Kliman

When Filipino food isn’t good, it’s often because it lacks clear contrasts. You find yourself overwhelmed by the exact things you described. Blandness. Heaviness.

I think the obvious antidote for you is to head out to Bistro 7107, in Crystal City. Plus, it’d be an interesting compare and contrast. I’d love to hear what you have to say about chef Pete Snaith’s sisig. Belly and ear are pretty typical; it’s what he does with them that’s great. Contrasting textures — crispy and chewy. And also, yes, richness and tang.

Speaking of compare and contrast — many, many years ago I taught a developmental English class. This was a college course, but in name only; the students don’t learn to write papers, they learn to write paragraphs.

There were all kinds of paragraph forms in the class, including comparison and contrast, which is what made me think of this story.

Anyway, I had a student, Eugene — I’ll never forget him — and Eugene wrote every paper (every paragraph paper) on the Dallas Cowboys. Process paper? How the Cowboys run a post pattern. Description paper? How the uniforms look. Comparison/contrast? The differences between the Cowboys and the Eagles.

Five weeks into class, Eugene disappeared, and I figured he’d dropped the class. Maybe because he’d run out of Cowboy papers to write.

Sweet, sweet naiveté.

A couple weeks before the semester ended, he returned. With a note from his parole officer.

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REPORT FROM THE FIELD: RURAL SOCIETY, IN DC ……….:

Hi Todd, what’s your impression of Rural Society?

We had a sub par experience last week, and considering how much we paid, I am not interested in going back, at least not soon.

Meats were pretty good, but pretty much everything else was an afterthought, not much to impress really, including decor which felt disjointed and borderline depressive. Service was pretty good overall, but at that price level I see much better options (Bourbon Steak, Marcel’s, Blue Duck…) so unless they clean up soon, I feel that it may end up where Adour and JG Steakhouse – sadly…

Todd Kliman

There’re good dishes.

And I like the service, generally.

You can eat well and have a good time.

But it’s very expensive.

And there’s an impersonal quality to dining here that makes me think it’s really more suited to expense account dining and high-end travelers.

Jose Garces, the chef, has terrific restaurants in Philly. I had hoped that this would be in league with them. So far, it’s not, and although I don’t doubt his talent or passion or track record, out-of-town restaurants from name chefs don’t tend to improve over time; they tend to decline.

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BROTHER’S COMING TO TOWN NEXT WEEK — ISO: A FUN, INEXPENSIVE PLACE IN ARLINGTON OR DC ……….:

My brother is coming into town next week, and I’m looking for a fun and inexpensive place to take him. We already have reservations for Mama Rouge for one night, but are looking for one more spot either in Arlington or D.C.

We’d love a place that has great food and a decent bar.

Todd Kliman

Red Hen?

Not inexpensive, but not expensive either. Moderate, I’d say for DC. And for the quality, a pretty great value.

I think you’d enjoy the bar; even sitting at the bar and eating.

I’m not sure what your scale is; I personally consider it an expensive meal. On the low side of expensive, but still.

It’s funny. We’ve never talked about this on here in all the time I’ve been doing a chat.

I’d be curious to hear all of your scales.

My personal scale looks something like this:

Free-$30-$35 for two: inexpensive.
$40-$50 for two: the high side of inexpensive
$55-$65: the low side of moderate,
$70-$80 for two: moderate.
$85-$95: the high side of moderate.
$100-$135 for two: low side of expensive.
$140-up: expensive.
$220 +: super expensive.
Minibar, Inn at LW: insane.

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BIRTHDAY DINNER FOR MY LITTLE BROTHER: WHERE SHOULD WE GO? ……….:

Always appreciate your help Todd. My brother’s birthday is coming up and I’d like to treat him and my folks to a nice meal.

I live in Arlington, he lives in Bethesda and my folks live in Olney, so anywhere that is accessible for all of us would be great.

Most of us are pretty adventurous, but he’s more of a meat and potatoes type. For reference, I took him to Bucks Fishing and Camping last year and he loved it.

Not sure if this is enough to go on – any ideas?

Todd Kliman

It’s not much, no, but I think I get the gist …

What about Black Market Bistro in Rockville (technically Garrett Park)?

It’s pretty convenient for all of you, and the menu has a lot of accessible things on it (steak frites, trout with almonds, shrimp ‘n’ grits) that won’t scare away a meat-and-potatoes diner. Plus, the location —I always think I’m dining in the South, in one of those great, restored old houses — should make him feel like you’re pampering him a little.

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SPECIALS ……….:

I was watching the Chew couple of months ago and Chef Michael Symon said to never order anything from “Specials of the Day” type of menus or entrees as it contains food that the restaurant is trying to get rid of.

What do you think of this? After watching that, I always avoid ordering from that part of the menu.

Todd Kliman

Eh.

It’s certainly not true of places like Le Bernardin in NY. Or even of places like Rose’s here.

It really just depends where you go.

At a good sushi restaurant, the specials list is the first thing you should consult. I was at Sushi Sono in Columbia not long ago — I ordered at least half my meal from the specials board, including a terrific preparation of butterfish, which the chefs turned into sashimi and nigiri both. When we were done, a waitress spirited the plate away, returning ten minutes later with the fried carcass of the fish. We sprinkled on salt from a small pile of sea salt, and munched on the delicate, crunchy bones as if they were potato chips.

Specials, in this case, meant what we always hope it means: that the restaurant had gotten in some great product that day, product it doesn’t ordinarily get.

If a waiter tells you about something the restaurant doesn’t typically get in, but has that day — then go ahead and order it. It might be wonderful.

But in general, one reason to not be tempted by specials is that in many cases these are dishes the kitchen has not had a lot of repetitions with; the crew hasn’t had the time to make sure that every dish comes out just like the last one.

Gotta run, everyone.

Thanks so much for everything today. I appreciate it. And I’d love to hear your personal scales for what constitutes inexpensive, moderate and expensive dining. Send ‘em to me at tkliman@washingtonian.com … or write in for next week.

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

[missing you, TEK … ]


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