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. A finalist for the MFK Fisher Distinguished Writing Award, he took home first-place honors for feature writing, in 2013, from the Association of Food Journalists.
He is the author, most recently, 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. Barnes & Noble and The Oxford American both made it an Editor’s Pick. The Richmond TImes-Dispatch called it “an outstanding piece of literature.”
Kliman previously taught writing and literature at American University and Howard University. At Howard, he was also the editorial advisor to The Illtop Journal, Chris Rock’s humor magazine modeled after the Harvard Lampoon.
Can’t wait a week to talk to Todd? Follow him on Twitter for dining reports, tips, and breaking news from the culinary world. Or write to him: firstname.lastname@example.org
WHERE TO EAT NOW:
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).
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.
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.
DINING SCALES, CONTINUED FROM LAST WEEK ……….:
I’ll be honest with my scales.
I’d say free-$40 for two is inexpensive, $41-80 is moderate, $81-130 is expensive, $131-160 very expensive, above that – we need to be going on someone else’s dime.
And I’d say we typically try for inexpensive or moderate. It is rare to go for more than that.
Thanks for chiming in …
I think your scale seems very reasonable to me.
The challenge, or the problem, in this area is that “moderate” on your scale — and mine, too — is hard to find. Good moderate, I mean.
I’d be interested in seeing more scales come in today to the chat.
For a refresher, here’s what I came up with last week:
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.
$220 +: super expensive.
Minibar, Inn at LW: insane.
Good morning, everyone.
What’s on your mind this morning? Where’ve you been dining/chowing?
I just came back from St. Louis, and had a fantastic Negroni at Planter’s House. Maybe the best Negroni I had all year. I thought it was interesting — in light of the just-opened Second State, which will be charging a dollar for “artisanal” ice — that Planter’s didn’t charge extra for its stupendous “sculpture-grade” ice. A perfect cylinder, it was so clear and perfect you could see through to the other side of the table. The owner told me it costs the restaurant 42 cents for this ice. I have no doubt that that money is accounted for in the cost of the drink, but, thankfully, it’s not pointed out to you.
On a related note: I was recently charged a dollar for asking that my drink be made on the rocks instead of the up that the restaurant deemed preferable. A dollar. And no one informed me at the time of the request that I would incur an upcharge.
HELP ME FIND A LOCATION FOR A HOLIDAY PARTY FOR 50 ……….:
Hi Todd, I volunteered to help find a location for the holiday party of my new job and was hoping you would have suggestions in DC for an office of about 50 people.
In the past, they’ve gone to places like Lauriol Plaza and Guapo’s, but I’m hoping to elevate the quality of food a bit (and also try something different from Mexican).
Any suggestions for a location that fits the bill?
How about Zaytinya, in Penn Quarter?
There’s a lot of variety for a huge group (variety not just of tastes, but of foods that can please veg-heads and gluten-freers in addition to omnivores), I think the cooking when it’s on is exciting, and the space is light and festive — pretty perfect for what you’re looking for.
It’ll also (I’m guessing) be less money than you might think.
POSTCARD FROM … FRANKLIN BBQ IN AUSTIN:
Friend: “You know that Franklin BBQ in Austin serves Creekstone Beef right?”
Me: “Nope, I did not know that.”
Wife: “Guess, that makes our decision easier. We are going to try and get some Franklin BBQ!”
This short conversation over Falooda ice cream at Old Town Creamery in Dallas set in motion our trip to Austin in hopes of trying what many consider the best BBQ in America. We left Dallas early Sunday morning in hopes of getting to Austin by 11am, right when the doors open for Franklin BBQ. We left my sister’s place in Dallas around 730am, skipping breakfast so that we could have as much room as possible for that mystical brisket at Franklin.
The drive took a little over 3 hours to arrive in Austin. We were in line at Franklin by 1145am. Three more people joined the line after us. At that moment an employee of Franklin’s came out and informed us that we were most likely going to be the last people to received food that day and that the current wait was 3hrs. We were ecstatic that we were going to get food not so much about the 3hr wait. With this enthusiasm we did have to inform other people that showed up that they may not have enough food for them and that they were welcome to wait it out but no guarantees.
You would think that 3 hours would go by slowly but that was hardly the case. I think part of what makes Franklin’s BBQ special is that you get to converse with people who have come from all over the country for various events, ranging from conferences to the Austin City Limit Music Festival. It becomes a little community as you wait your turn in line. My wife and I spent time talking to a retired Air Force service member who now works for the IRS as a debt collector based out of Austin. He regaled us with stories of individuals he had to chase down to pay their income taxes. Such as the individual who spent $1K every month on new clothes or the retired woman in Malibu living off close to a $100K a year pension saying she didn’t make anything to pay taxes.
We also met a newlywed couple from Arizona. They had driven from Flagstaff through the desert planes of New Mexico (of course I had to ask if they went through Albuquerque and Breaking Bad). They said the scariest part of their drive to Austin was driving through El Paso, Texas. The newlyweds had thought about stopping and just spending the night in El Paso and continue driving in the morning but said the town is just not safe and kept on driving until they could find safer accommodations. As part of their honeymoon they were in town to attend the Austin City Limit Music Festival, which takes place over two weekends and this was the second and final weekend for the music festival.
Finally there was the public administrator from Oakland, California. She was in town for a national conference and decided to take her chances and see if she could get some BBQ before her 5pm flight out of Austin. She knew she would be cutting it close but we encouraged to stick it out as long as she could. We discussed the many wonderful places to eat in the Bay Area.
As we made new friends the line slowly snaked its way closer and closer to the Counter. Cheers would go out as people traversed through the door into the building for the final leg of their journey. The addictive smell of smoked brisket filled your nasal passages. Your mouth begins to water a little bit more. The brisket was getting closer. The precious was near. We could almost taste it.
Now, when you finally do get to the counter, you could be a veteran of many bbq experiences but after waiting for 3 plus hours you are more like a kid on Eid/Christmas/Hanukah morning, of just give me my present! Or in my case it was snapping pictures of the carver slicing through that perfectly smoked and cooked brisket. You see the juices dripping out of the brisket. Tender, luscious, juicy, and seductive.
My wife ordered the brisket plate, which comes with 3/4lb of brisket. The carver said since it was the end of the day, he rounded it out to a full 1 lb and threw us a piece to try while he was carving. I ordered a brisket sandwich with chopped beef and coleslaw. Our sides were potato salad and slaw. I also ordered the Texan pecan pie for dessert. We got our food and found a communal table and waved over our new friends to join us in breaking brisket. For a good two minutes no words were spoken at the table. Complete silence, just smiles across everyone’s face as they ate their food. The mystical brisket lived up to its reputation. It was juicy throughout. Tender with a slight pull. BBQ sauce was on the table for diners but was not needed. The brisket spoke loud and clear for itself. It was the star of the show, the king of the brisket realm.
Now, would I wait 3 plus hours again for this BBQ? Probably not. Is it worth the experience? Yes, 100% worth the experience. For me it is an experience I will never forget and encourage others who enjoy great BBQ to check out as well.
After consuming a bountiful quantity of brisket and sides we made our way to our hotel for a little siesta before heading out to the Austin City Limit Music Festival in hopes of acquiring tickets for the Pearl Jam show. As we made our way to the festival site, my wife and I commented to each other on how much Austin reminds us of Seattle and Portland in the vibe it gives off. You do not feel like you are in the heart of Texas. Austin is a rising food city and I hope that on my next visit I get to try out some of the other popular dining spots in the city. One thing we did notice, the City of Austin is receptive and welcomes food trucks. They have little areas set up where food trucks meet up with multiple park benches for diners. People are hanging out, listening to music, chatting with friends, and enjoying good food.
As always love the weekly chat!
I both love hearing this and hate hearing this. What a place. I remember reading reviews a few years ago, and my mouth watering as soon as I came to a description of the smoke.
A man after my own heart, waiting in line for three hours for barbecue.
I love that you included in your report some of the talk of the people in line. So much of what we eat has to do with who we’re with. And it doesn’t have to be with friends or family, as so often gets written. It can be with strangers. Sometimes, in fact, it’s better with strangers, provided they’re the right kind of strangers. That loopy bond you form. That strange sense of possibility in the air. The granfalloons.
I know you’re going to savor the memory of that trip for a long, long time.
The woman you describe, the public administrator from Oakland who cut it too close — I identify with her. Five years ago I was flying back home with a friend, and our flight was diverted to Chicago, where we were forced to stay overnight.
My friend had a real job and had to be at work at 9, so we opted for the first flight out the next morning, at something like 5:15. We checked into the airport hotel — it was 9:30 — and he proceeded to go to sleep. I tried persuading him to come out and get a bite with me, said I’d pay for it, etc., etc. Nothing doing: he had to be at work the next day, and had to be in tip-top form.
I took a cab to Gibson’s and ordered the Cowboy cut, only about a third of which I could eat. It was fantastic, the best steak I’d eaten in years — and no steak I’ve had since surpasses it or even comes close to matching it.
I got back to the hotel at close to midnight, handed off the leftovers to my friend, went to sleep for 4 hours and then, zombified from too little sleep and still full, boarded a plane for home.
TODD, YOU SAVED MY WEEKEND ……….:
I wanted to let you know that your chats just saved what would otherwise have been an abysmal Columbus Day weekend.
I ended up having to work on Monday which meant I had to drive all the way to North Carolina and back to see my in-laws for just Friday night through Sunday (8+ hours each way). The saving grace was a dinner pit stop in Richmond on either end of the trip – one at Peter Chang’s and the other at the Rogue Gentleman.
What a gem the Rogue Gentleman is! We went right as they opened on Sunday and there were only a few other diners; after our meal, I couldn’t help thinking that if the place was in DC it would have a line like Rose’s every night of the week.
Everything we had was excellent – I would drive back for the parker house rolls alone (can you get the recipe so I can make them for Thanksgiving?!), but the roasted eggplant and the orecchiette with chanterelles and brown butter were also stand outs. To drink I had the Commonwealth Smash, with gin, apple liqueur, allspice dram and smoked pear bitters; it was a great foil to their decadent chicken liver pate. My only critique would be more vegetables and less pork belly please! I’ll definitely make an effort to go back.
Peter Chang’s was 180 degrees different of course but wonderful as well. I entertained my husband by reading your Oxford American article aloud as we crawled through the Friday rush hour, and we tried to order based on your recommendations. I agree that their food makes you rethink whether you truly know what Szechwan cuisine is, specifically something like the fish in a bamboo basket.
I waited until the end of the meal to ask if the chef was in that evening – he wasn’t, which made me start to obsess about whether we needed to return when he was there (hence waiting until the end of the meal). I will say that the staff that night certainly seemed to know what they were doing, and everything coming out of the kitchen (at incredible speed) looked wonderful.
The experience got me thinking about Red Pearl in Columbia, which we only tried once before it closed, but which was my first real experience with Szechwan. We had the most amazing stir fried lobster with crispy garlic – I still think about it, far more frequently than I would like to admit considering this was years ago. I just googled it and saw a Red Pearl in Clarksville… is that the same owners?
We can hope, right? I’ll definitely look into it. Clarksville is not far from Columbia, so it makes a kind of sense, but you never know … Thanks for the tip.
And thank you so much for these wonderful reports. I think you’re exactly right about Rogue Gentlemen — I think they’d have a line waiting outside the door, at least on a Thursday night, Friday night. I love those Parker House rolls, too — let me see what I can do about finagling a recipe.
And I’m glad to hear your meal at Peter Chang’s in Richmond was good, too. My most recent lunch there was distressingly not good — nothing had the old magic, and all of the dishes were like faint carbon copies of the originals.
DINING SCALES, CONT. ……….:
What’s included in your expensive scale? Tax, tips, drinks, dessert, appetizers? All of those scale things up significantly, plus the types of meals/courses you tend to order change depending on the location, which make it hard to compare.
I would consider $20 entrees and a $7 drink pretty moderate (27*2 + 10% tax and 20% tip = $70.20) which would be in line with your scale, but I would consider a $14 appetizer, $42 entree, $9 dessert, and $48 bottle of wine merely expensive and that falls in your super expensive bucket (65*2 + 48 + 30% = $231.40).
Something you need to keep in mind — I’m in journalism. 😉
And before that, I taught college, where the pay is even worse.
Every so often the thought comes to me that if I weren’t a food critic for a publication like this, I couldn’t afford to eat at most of the places I write about — maybe occasionally, but never regularly. It’s a sobering thought.
I’m conscious of that when I write my reviews. And conscious also of the fact that most people I know don’t eat out for sport. Most don’t even eat out for regular recreation. When they do, they want it to be great, special, momentous, interesting. They want the place to leave a mark.
CHARGING FOR ICE, CONT. ……….:
An upcharge for on the rocks? Jeepers.
Was charged 5$ for a cup of tea at Central’s brunch the other day (and had to ask for additional hot water) and I thought that was ridiculous, but …
Charging for ice — unconscionable.
By the way, some chatters are asking that I name the place. I’m on the fence with this. What do you all think?
Let me explain why I’m on the fence. In part it’s because they did remove the charge from the bill, in part it’s because the restaurant is new and there are some promising things about it, and in part because this kind of thing isn’t unfortunately an instance of individual ridiculousness — it’s endemic of the larger restaurant culture in the city, I think.
Contrast what happened with me and the upcharge for “artisanal” ice at Second State with the place in St. Louis.
I’m not disputing the fact that ice is a product, and, like any product, can be manipulated to improve its taste and texture — in some cases, manipulated ingeniously.
But should a restaurant trumpet its ice manipulation? And let you know that it’s charging you for it?
Or should it bury the cost and allow you, the diner, to make the discovery — hey, what’s this? A perfect cylinder of crystal clear ice … Amazing.
Seems to me you could charge the same amount either way. But one way is pretentious and insecure, and the other way is confident and smart.
REPORTS FROM THE FIELD: BREAD FURST IN VAN NESS & CAFE KIMCHI ON CAPITOL HILL ……….:
Hi Todd, my latest two obsessions:
The Challah bread from Bread Furst, a loaf that’s bigger than your head, all buttery and eggy tasting. Twice this past weekend we sliced it thick, lightly toasted it with some grated cheese, topped with a couple runny sunny-side eggs, slices of avocado, and sprinkle of arugula.
The kimchi from Cafe Kimchi on Capitol Hill. They usually have three different types of kimchi in the refrigerator case – sharply pungent and tastes really freshly homemade. Every time I open up the fridge door at home I can’t resist munching on a couple bites.
And I love how the two obsessions are so different from each other. The one comforting, the other sharp and tangy, the one you sink into, the other you’re pierced by …
These are great. Thank you.
We really should collect these every week. Readers’ current obsessions.
Who’s got one?
DINING SCALES, CONT. ……….:
My scale for 2 would have cuts at $50-60 for inexpensive and $100-120 for moderate, but those buckets are almost always going to include 2-4 drinks.
That may seem a little high for moderate, but more interesting to me is that I’ve almost completely stopped going to places that get much higher than that. When I go to expensive restaurants, I’m almost always grazing at the bar instead of having a typical 3 course meal that would get close to $200.
I also don’t generally stand in lines for restaurants, which may explain why I ended up not being too excited about my meal at Franklin BBQ. Wasn’t worth the wait.
Thanks for chiming in on this …
I think you’re probably more in line with most readers with your scales.
I meant to say earlier, in reply to the previous question about scales — yes, I’m including everything, tax, tip, drinks.
I had dinner recently at a restaurant that I’m not going to name right now, a new restaurant. Dinner for two = two appetizers, two entrees, a cocktail, a beer, and a dessert. It was $125 after tip. It wasn’t in a stylish space that is soothing to the eye. It wasn’t in a swanky part of town. The cooking had some moments, but there were a number of technical flaws. Two dishes were conceptually flawed as well.
Cooking at this level, in a neighborhood like this, and in a space like this — the meal, ideally, should have come to something like $80 for two. But that’s not DC right now.
With your scale, the meal is in the moderate category. With mine, the meal is in the low-end of expensive.
If you were to take away one app — because many couples order one app, two entrees, and one dessert — that brings the total down to around $110. Which is still high, in my book, given what you’re getting.
BEST BBQ IN DC/BALTIMORE ……….:
I’m looking for the best BBQ in the DC/Baltimore corridor not named Mission!
It’s been ages since I had Andy Nelson’s in Cockeysville.
But it’s really good stuff, if you catch them right.
And the new DCity Smokehouse is really good, too — I just wish the pitmaster would lay off the salt.
I don’t think Mission BBQ is on a tier with either of those spots when they’re on.
CURRENT EATING OBSESSIONS, CONT. ………:
really good Kung Pao chicken with a large chocolate Frosty.
I always knew you were an effete aesthete, Clifton …
CHARGING FOR ICE, CONT. ……….:
My husband likes to joke that I have an ice program at home, to go along with my bourbon library. And there’s something to be said for the ritual of preparing the block of ice for my cocktail. But I can’t imagine being willing to pay an upcharge for it at a bar!
Since they opened, Estadio has been using gorgeous, giant clear cubes in their “gintonics” — and those are priced at the bottom end of what Second State is charging before tacking on their “rock” charge. Ridiculous.
(in case anyone’s curious, I use this thing: http://www.studioneat.com/products/neaticekit — they’re slogan is “let’s get fussy about ice”)
I just watched the video.
Is it as easy as they make it look?
Does it work as well as they say?
And am I the only one who finds the video kinda funny?
CHARGING FOR ICE, CONT. ……….:
Upcharge for ice? Is it special ice?? I think it should be the other way since you are getting less of a drink…
By the way, I noticed that at True Food, all the non-alcoholic veggie/fruit juices come on a glass full of ice. Frankly, at $6 it doesn’t bother me because they are freshly squeezed, but clearly, if you ask without ice they should charge more, I guess…
Your ice argument makes sense.
But no way would any restaurant make that calculation.
In answer to your question about the aforementioned ice at the restaurant I have so far decided not to out — no, it was just … ice. Not a clear block. Not a sphere. Not a cylinder. Just ice. For a buck extra.
SURPRISE BIRTHDAY DINNER FOR MY MOTHER: WHERE SHOULD WE TAKE HER? ……….:
My mother is coming into town for her 60th birthday with my father and brother. What she doesn’t know is that rest of her family is coming in for a surprise dinner. There will be 12 people in total and the date is 12/13/14.
I’d book a table at Ananda, in Fulton.
(See my brief review above. The full review is coming out in a day or two.)
I took my mom here for her birthday in August, and she loved it. Very few places anymore have that ability to make you feel special from the moment you walk in the door. This one does. It cossets you. And the best of the dishes are elegant and refined, but without sacrificing depth and complexity.
Keep in mind, also, that my mom requested that I take her to Ananda. And that Indian, as a cuisine, is not at or near the top of her list for a birthday celebration.
I hope you go. And I hope you report back.
Happy birthday to your mom …
DATE NIGHT RECS? ……….:
Since having our kiddo about a year ago, we’re out of touch with the latest and greatest new openings downtown. Can you recommend a few date night places either downtown or in Bethesda/CC area?
Also, we had a GREAT meal at the renamed “The Classics” the other night. Neat to see that the bartender now owns the place. Same chef, same cows, he told us. Dinner and service – and of course the price – spot on.
I think The Red Hen is an ideal sort of date night place — great mood, a terrific bar, and the sort of looks-simple-but-isn’t Italian cooking that you can settle into and enjoy.
Sushi Capitol, on the Hill, is putting out some of the best sushi at the moment, and it’s a cozy slip of a place.
And Casa Luca — another Italian spot, this one from Fabio Trabocchi — is operating in full gear right now (take a look at my quickie review up top.) When the lights dim, and with the jazz soundtrack playing, there’s a genuine feeling of getaway in the room.
Have fun exploring, and drop us a note to tell us how things turned out …
WANT TO TRY OMAKASE FOR THE FIRST TIME — BUT WHERE?:
I’ve never done Omakase and would like to try it for my birthday . The only problem is my wife is allergic to shellfish – although she likes sushi.
Can you recommend a sushi restaurant where the base cost would be under $100 (not included drinks, tax or tip), is flexible enough to deal with the allergy but would still be worth the going to for a birthday dinner. A bonus if it includes other non-sushi dishes.
My top two picks for omakase, right now, are Sushi Sono, in Columbia, and Sushi Capitol, on the Hill. The latter’s omakase is actually a relative bargain, as omakase goes.
Sushi Ko, in Friendship Hts., is a little more uneven, but if you sit at the bar you can have a more fluid, more consistent experience.
NEAT ICE KIT, CONT. ……….:
The video is meant to be funny…that voice over is by Adam Lisagore, a well known tech gadget guy (sandwichvideo.com) who’s in demand for, among other things, kickstarter videos, commercials, and the like. Dry humor, beautifully shot.
I’ve been pretty happy with the Neat Ice Kit. The worst part is figuring out how long to let the “[email protected]” brick of ice soften up out of the freezer before you try to chisel it in half. But I’ve made some gorgeous drinks!
Thanks again for passing this along. I can think of a few people who might want to get one.
REPORT FROM THE FIELD: LUNCHBOX, IN FRIENDSHIP HEIGHTS ……….:
Not a question, but a rant…
Yesterday, I got a $13 salad from Lunchbox. Said salad included past its prime iceberg lettuce (with browned edges), a dollop of tasteless crabmeat, oversalted ham, decent avocado chunks and run of the mill grape tomatoes. The dressing tasted like it came from a bottle. $13 (well, $14.30 with tax).
I could have gone down the street and gotten significantly better salads from Whole Foods or even Cosi or Panera for less money. Bryan Voltaggio should be embarrassed that this is what he’s serving to people.
Not the first complaint, or even the second, I’ve gotten about Lunchbox on here since it opened.
Thanks for writing in.
DINING SCALES, CONT. ……….:
I sent in the first scales – and for me, that includes tax, tip, drinks, etc. I am a teacher and my husband works for the government – eating out is a treat – I don’t typically get a drink at inexpensive places, just water. My husband will get a beer. I may get a glass of wine or drink at an expensive place or higher (maybe moderate if something really excites me). Dessert is occasional. We may get a split appetizer unless it is a special occasion and more expensive restaurant, where you typically get individual portions for appetizers.
Five Guys is one of our favorites! And definitely Thai, Vietnamese, Salvadorean, etc.
You bring up something interesting, which is that it’s hard to figure out, really, how to come up with what an average meal is. Couples eat differently from singles. Some go for drinks — some for a lot of drinks — and some not at all. Some never order dessert. Some always split a dessert. Etc., etc.
It’s something I need to keep in mind.
And — I’m glad to know that there are teachers out there who go out to eat, and who read this chat. 😉
I wish more people had a notion of how hard teaching is, and how high the burnout, and how much bs you have to put up with from higher ups and from parents, how standardization sucks out the will to lead and inspire, and how much public service a good teacher performs.
I think we’d all be better off if salaries for teachers began at 100K a year and if teachers were also given tax breaks.
But that’s another conversation, for another time …
Gotta run, everyone. Thanks so much for all the tips and videos and questions and comments and musings and rants. Great stuff, as always.
Be well, eat well, and let’s do it again next Tuesday at 11 …
[missing you, TEK … ]