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.
REPORT FROM THE FIELD — MOA, IN ROCKVILLE ……….:
I have to put in a plug for what I consider to be the best Korean in the area. Moa in Rockville, MD.
I neither work for them, am related to them, or have a vested interest (aside from eating!) in their restuarant. I have been to Kogiya multiple times, as well as a slew of other spots, and continue to return to Moa for the quality of the proteins, and the family-run home cooking that makes you feel you are dining in their home. Everything is made fresh to order, and they do not skimp!
Their kalbi is mouth wateringly tender and delicious, and the dolsot bibimbap a dish I find myself craving and daydreaming about.
That’s not to say those are the only stars of the menu (think mandu, their kimchi pancake hands the lightest, crispiest I have ever had). Their tucked away location may make it a forgettable dining spot but don’t! It is such a hidden gem and so worth the trip!!
I guess you’re new to the chat, then, because I first wrote about Moa 2 1/2 years ago, after getting a tip from a friend.
I loved it then and love it now.
You’re so right about the seafood pancake, and the dolsot bibimbap is terrific, too. I also go for the mandu, which are excellent.
It’s hidden, all right. Just like Saint Michel bakery, across the street. Both gems.
REPORT FROM THE FIELD — CASA LUCA, IN DC ……….:
Per your recommendation last week, my husband and I tried Casa Luca. Overall it was a GREAT dinner. Thanks for the rec!
‘A few total hits, and a few just good – the ambiance a bit stale but I think they’ve done the best with the space they can. It definitely has a nice vibe and the staff very attentive.
– Rosemary rolls – never a huge fan of rosemary but OK, at least they gave me bread.
– Beet salad (a “small” bite) – bigger than we expected and not just any ordinary beet salad. This thing was full of flavor, from the cheese to the honeycrisp apples. Delicious.
– Pork Tenderloin (a starter) – again, bigger than we expected and a little much for 2 people but OMG, the sauce under the pork I wanted to lick off the plate. It was the perfect combination of salty/creamy – literally perfect. I made them keep this dish on the table while our entrees arrived.
– Pastas – I had the bucatini, my husband the squid ink pasta. Overall, the pasta was good, not amazing. Husband wasn’t crazy about his (I dug the tomatoes in his dish) and mine was good largely because of the sauce (capers and olives). Not a huge sauce person in general but think that was for sure the take away from this place. Sauces rule.
–Flourless chocolate cake – really good. Too full to do a good assessment.
So, thank you for the rec! Red Hen still trumps but a great date night.
Thanks for the thorough, and mouth-watering, report …
I guess Red Hen is an inevitable comparison, being that they’re in roughly the same category of price, they’re both Italian, and they’re both casual (or, rather, one’s casual and one wants to be casual).
If I were to compare my most recent dinners at each, I’d say the more memorable dishes were at Casa Luca. It has more top notes.
Not to say it’s the better restaurant. I think they’re actually pretty different places. The Red Hen is a gestalt place, a place where everything comes together and no one element stands out so clear above the others. I don’t quite see Casa Luca that way. There are things, there, that do stand out. And those are the things you go for. The fish and seafood dishes. The sauces, as you say. The desserts. The crackerjack service …
It’d be interesting to broaden this discussion a little.
What are the gestalt places, in your opinion?
And what are the places that have a few clear strengths — just enough to make you want to return to them over and over again?
VIETNAMESE IN MARYLAND? ……….:
So many good Thai places in MD (especially Wheaton), but what about Vietnamese? Any suggestions in MD?
I wish. But the number of Vietnamese in Maryland just doesn’t compare to the number in Virginia. There aren’t many restaurants, period, and I’ve yet to turn up a great one. Or even a really good one.
I do like a place called Viet Pho and Grill in Silver Spring — well, technically in Hillandale, around the corner of the shopping center that houses Jewel of India.
I’ve been three times now, the most recent visit coming within just the past couple of weeks. I believe there’s a new chef on board, because the cooking is better and punchier than I remembered it.
The menu is long and not every part of it is strong.
The best dish they make, however — a clay pot casserole of rice with a hash of chopped baby clams atop it — is fantastic. The bottom of the pot has a wonderful layer of crunchy browned rice, and that alone is worth your time and attention. But mixed with the clams, with their seasoning of black pepper and minced onion? And with a spoonful of vinegar? And a smaller spoonful of hot pepper paste? Superb.
REPORT FROM THE FIELD: FISH NOOK, IN DC ……….:
Given all the talk about price points recently (moderate, expensive, etc). Wanted to share what has to be one of, if not the best values in the DC city limits right now. My wife and I went to the “Fishnook” at Fishnet on 7th street the other night. For $55, easily the price of an appetizer, entree, and glass of wine at many DC restaurants, you get:
What ending up being 9(!) courses (6 listed), 3 surprises from chef Ferhat, served to just four of us at what is essentially a small bar in the kitchen. None of these courses were just single bites either. We left full and my wife even brought some leftovers home with her.
You are able to see every dish prepared by the chef, who also served every course to us himself, explaining the ingredients, the sourcing etc.
The food ranged from straight ahead seafood like a ceviche with snapper, corn, and avocado to more unique dishes, such as purple cauliflower soup and a filet of Boston Mackerel, a fish I rarely see on local menus. Every course was quite good.
If there is a downside, it is that this offered just Mondays and Tuesday and there are only four seats at the bar, but the reservation process is (currently) simple, just email the restaurant, no calling at noon exactly a month in advance.
The experience reminded me of when you have compared Bangkok Golden to Little Serow or Ananda to Rasika, food if not every bit as good, very close, at a much lower price point and with a bit less hassle in terms of waiting in line etc.
Highly recommend to all, (although selfishly, I hope it stays a bit of a secret as I would like to go back relatively soon!)
Sounds like a great night.
Thank you for the detailed report!
These restaurants within restaurants are often the way to go, if you can afford them. Or get in.
The operation/chef shrinks his or her focus, along with the menu, and the result, frequently enough, is really good food.
I did a piece a couple years ago about non-traditional restaurants, or meals in places that don’t look like what restaurants used to look like.
Fish Nook is one. So is Seasonal Pantry — a sometime restaurant. So is Punjabi by Nature, in a Chantilly food court.
And think of the trucks. Think of the dosa lady, who’s now at Union Market. Think of the underground supper clubs — Chez le Commis, Porn Burger, etc. Think of the underground taqueria in Adams Morgan, where you wait on the street as they drop the keys from the second floor (hot as hell in there, but the tortillas are good and so are the salsas). Think of R&R Taqueria in Elkridge, a gas station taqueria with the best Mexican cooking in the area. Think of Fast Gourmet, another gas station restaurant, and its Chivito.
What else can we add to the list?
A GREAT *SECOND*-DATE RESTAURANT? ……….:
I love these chats – it’s such a privilege, as a diner, to see the DC food spectrum from those who take it seriously.
As a law student, I’m on a search for a great second-date place – which is tough! I don’t want to be too far from the DC epicenter (or I’d already be at Landini Bros or Ruan Thai) – and I’m trying to branch out from the painfully hip Toki Underground.
Any help would be welcome!
What about Ethiopic or Zenebech Injera or Etete?
I think an Ethiopian restaurant is an ideal second date sort of spot.
You can learn a lot about the person sitting across from you. How adaptive is he or she? How squeamish? Does the person find it odd and/or off-putting to eat with hands, or does the person just dive right in, eager for an adventure? It’s hard to eat an Ethiopian meal and not interact with the food — so, what is the level of engagement? Does the person have something to say about it, some interesting observations, or does the person just … eat? Is there curiosity there — a desire to merge with the moment and learn more — or is the person just going along for the ride?
I actually can’t think of a better cuisine for learning about another person.
REPORT FROM THE FIELD: MAMA ROSE, IN DC ……….:
Speaking of Vietnamese, we went to Mama Rose last night and I was pretty impressed with the freshness of the food as well as the service. It might become my new lunch spot!
Pho is pretty tasty and the noodle dishes are satisfying, especially with the sauces offered on the tables. I wish they remember to dim down the lights a bit at night, it was pretty bright.
On a side note – this seems to be a common thing at some places I’ve been to recently, I know management is busy and they don’t realize that it’s night, but it’s odd walking into places at 8-9pm and find bright lights. Maybe a note to managers to check their timers or watches now that we’re in daylight savings 🙂
Or how about that moment, at around 7, 7:15, when all of a sudden, without any warning, everything goes dim.
One moment you can see just fine, the next you’re bathed in ATMOSPHERE …
Thanks for the report. I’ve been curious to know what’s what at Mama Rose. It’s on my list …
FOLLOWING UP FROM LAST WEEK: AUTHENTICITY AND FOOD ……….:
how about tamales? weren’t they invented in Chicago? Yet we think of them as being latin/Mexican in nature
No, I believe tamales originated in Mexico.
They did travel, though, and believe it or not are now considered an essential part of the food ways of the Mississippi delta.
But it’s always interesting to learn how dishes came to be.
We talked last week about chicken tikka and butter chicken.
One of my favorites has to do with the Indian dish chicken vindaloo. Aloo is, we all know, the south Indian term for potatoes. Vin, in this case, is for vinegar. The dish is not purely Indian in origin, but rather the mingling of Indian and Portuguese culinary cultures. The Portuguese dish it’s based on is carne de vinha d’alhos, a preparation of pork, wine and garlic.
In India, the pork dropped out, chills (of course) found their way in, and thus was a new dish was born — the very sort of fusion that, just a few years ago, was routinely sneered at.
WHEN THE LIGHTS SUDDENLY DIM, CONT. ……….:
When the lights suddenly dim in a restaurant, I always gaze up at my husband and say, “ooooh, it’s all romantical.”
He doesn’t seem to mind. Mostly, he’s just glad he managed to order before he needed a flashlight to read the menu.
Funnier, I guess, than — “I wonder if I’m having a heart attack.”
There’s a new, very good coffeeshop that opened less than two blocks from my house, and it took the longest time for me to connect the smell of what seemed to be burnt toast with roasting coffee beans every morning.
I assumed burnt toast, because I had forgotten they had opened, and because that’s what people do in the morning, right? They get distracted and they burn their toast.
Why am I bringing up this story?
Because of that old wives’ tale — that when you’re having a heart attack you smell burnt toast. I’d love to know how that one originated.
WINE MARK-UPS ……….:
You’ve probably answered this before, but what do you consider an acceptable mark-up on wine by the glass?
I recently had a glass of wine at a restaurant that I enjoyed, though it cost $14. It was an American wine, and the vintage was 2009 or ’10.
I liked it enough that I searched for it at a local liquor store that has pretty good prices. It was $24.99 for the bottle. Realizing I couldn’t even have bought two glasses for the price of the bottle stuck in my craw a bit.
Am I being unreasonable?
This is a really good question, and even if I’ve touched on this recently I think this particular instance is worth examining.
Let’s do a little math to start.
There are 5 glasses of wine, roughly, in a bottle. They’re charging $14 for each glass, so they’re hoping to make $70 for that bottle.
That sounds like price-gouging, $70 for a bottle that retails for $25.
But unfortunately that’s about right in the industry, where 2 1/2 times is the low end and 4 is the high end for wine mark-ups.
I’d like to know what the bottle sold for at the restaurant. Do you have that info handy?
My guess is they’re probably charging $80-$85 for it.
What kind of restaurant is this? That factors in, too. Is it a place with lots of bells and whistles, or is it a neighborhood joint?
If it’s the latter (and more restaurants are closer to the neighborhood joint model these days than to the bells and whistles model), then I think they ought to drop it down closer to $11 or $12.
A place that makes wine a big part of its mission — wine bars, yes, but even restaurants that emphasize wine and offer half pours, etc. — is likely to sell you a glass for less, because the idea is that you should come to this restaurant to learn about wine and develop your palate and trust the staff to guide you.
The problem, generally, is that $14 a glass has become the norm. That’s a lot of money for a glass of wine.
I love to see a restaurant put some real effort into finding wines from regions you’re not as familiar with — into obscurities and hidden gems. Finding wine that isn’t going to jack up your bill, while at the same time giving you something interesting to sip on that also goes with the dishes on the menu.
Those places always get extra points in my book.
There are loads of interesting, expressive, and inexpensive wines out there. It just takes some work. But that’s why many of us go to restaurants, isn’t it? To have them show us something new, and move us out of what we know and cling to and into something different and maybe better or at least more exciting.
TAMALES, CONT. ……….:
Tamales precede the existence of Mexico and are certainly found throughout Central America as well. The big difference between tamales from Mexico and Central America is the wrapping–banana leaves in Central America vs. corn husks in Mexico.
We have an annual tamale making party (to which you are of course invited!)
Would love to, if I can make it. (You know where to reach me.)
Tamales are only one of my favorite foods in the world.
BAZIN’S NEXT DOOR ……….:
What are your thoughts on the Bazin’s closing their sister restaurant Bazin’s Next Door and using the space exclusively for private events? Have you ever heard of such a thing happening before?
As a patron, I’m miffed because that was one of a handful of good, moderately priced restaurants in area and the only one with outdoor seating.
It’s not something that happens every day, no, but they’re not the first place to do this.
They must have a good number of private event clients, with a chance to reel in more. Private events generate a lot of money.
I’d be disappointed, too, if I were in your spot, and for the same reason. That part of Vienna is really lacking in mid-priced places.
BANGLADESHI COOKING IN ARLINGTON ……….:
I live in Arlington and was reading an ethnic dining guide online that had three places that were strongly recommended near me that sounded interesting. I love to try new and interesting restaurants/cuisines.
I cannot find much online about the restaurants other than Yelp. Aladdin Bangladeshi Restaurant, Gharer Khabar and Hunan Gate.
The descriptions of these places sound interesting and the reviewer was very enthusiastic about each of these places. What do you think of them, is there one you recommend over the others, what should I order?
I think you’re referring to the Ethnic Dining Guide, which is a website operated by a libertarian economist at GMU named Tyler Cowen.
I haven’t been to Hunan Gate, but I have had a couple of meals over the past year or so at both Aladdin and Gharer Khabar.
I wish I shared Cowen’s excitement for them. If I had to pick between the two, I’d go with Aladdin. The cooking was, in general, less oily, with better ingredients.
Both places are absolutely up my alley. And I wanted to love them. But at this point mostly what they have to recommend them is that they’re Bangladeshi in an area that has a lot of Indian and a good bit of Pakistani and, until these spots opened, no Bangladeshi.
WINE LISTS, CONT. ……….:
I share your views on restaurant wine lists.
While I accept that all wines are marked up quite a bit at restaurants, I don’t mind if the wine is something I can’t easily find.
If the wine is something I can get at a good liquor store, then I am a little annoyed. However, if the wine is marked up so that the price of two glasses is equal to the retail cost of the bottle AND I can find at Safeway, I won’t even order it.
This is eminently sensible.
And if it’s a bottle you know you can find at Safeway, how insulting is that? (Although how often has that ever happened, really?)
WINE MARK-UPS, CONT. ……….:
I wrote in with the complaint about the $14 glass of wine …
Even though this occurred very recently, the online wine list has changed. That bottle is no longer on there, and I didn’t note the bottle price before. I have no idea if it’s any kind of basis for comparison, but the two wines they have at $14/glass are $42 per bottle. Generally, the mark-ups appear pretty consistently to be 3X the glass price for a bottle.
This is a chef-driven farm-to-table restaurant but which I would consider more a neighborhood place than a destination restaurant.
$42 a bottle’s not bad, given that it’s retailing for $25. That’s a pretty fair mark-up. Good for Restaurant X.
By the way — The Pig?
But what bothers me is that the bottle price is $42 and the glass price is $14. That glass price ought to be closer to $10.
WINE MARK-UPS, CONT. ……….:
ON the bottle markup question. I appreciate your analysis and think it is fair and accurate, except that I don’t think the restaurant is paying the retail price for the bottle.
So a $25 retail bottle they may be getting for $15 or $18, right?
Maybe someone could change the model and only charge the retail price for a bottle and see if it drives business?
I just want to point out that when you consider wine mark-ups, the starting point for calculations is what the bottle retails for.
That’s a number that’s known; the cost at wholesale is not easy to find.
There have been places, from time to time, that have simply charged retail prices for wine. And certain restaurants offer deals on certain days of the week — 50 percent off of all bottles on Mondays, for instance.
But charging retail for bottles is never going to be more than a very, very occasional thing, for the simple fact that restaurants depend heavily on the money they make from wine and booze. Most couldn’t survive without those mark-ups. Sad but true.
I’m off to lunch. Thanks for taking some time out to join me live today. I appreciate it. And thanks for all the questions and comments and tips and wonderings …
Be well, eat well, and let’s do it again next Tuesday at 11 …
[missing you, TEK … ]