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.
NOW THAT SAINT MICHEL IS GONE ……….:
On the demise of Saint Michel – there are two French bakeries on Gude Dr in Rockville; Les Delices and the Golden Croissant – both in weird pseudo industrial strip malls.
Can’t speak to the quality of the latter as I haven’t been, but Les Delices makes lovely cakes and pastries. Priced well, too.
Thanks for the tips.
Rockville is the king of the industrial strip mall bakery.
Those outer edges of Rockville are my favorite parts of the town. Far from the Pike, and a lot more interesting. Lots of stuff to explore.
You all know, I hope, about Second Story Books’
warehouse. There’s Moa, a wonderful Korean restaurant. I like some of the dishes at La Brasa, a Peruvian place. Saint Michel was a fantastic spot for breads and sandwiches.
All back there, hidden away …
FOLLOWING-UP FROM LAST WEEK: THE CORNER SPOT AT THE BAR ……….:
In criticizing the couple who declined to give up their corner spot at the bar at Red Hen so that another couple could sit together, I think that you (and most of your readers who weighed on during your chat last week) both understated the value of the corner spot and overstated the communal nature of the bar.
Sitting at right angles is in my view the most intimate way to eat out, whether at a table or a bar – much more so than sitting side by side at the bar, where eye contact is difficult. So I don’t think that it’s unreasonable for those who take the time to get to a restaurant early to get a corner spot to decline to give it up to accommodate latecomers.
This is especially true at a hard-to-reserve restaurant like Red Hen, where the only way to get in on short notice is to sit at the bar, making it less a communal experience than the only available experience.
In this situation, the corner spot best preserves the private, intimate dining experience that most of us want, at least occasionally.
Very well put.
And I’m with you on the intimacy and value of these seats. I love the corner seats, and grab them if they’re available. In some ways, to me, it’s the best spot in the house.
I wonder how everyone else out there reading this regards them. I’m guessing that they’re not that highly coveted, although clearly the couple that was singled out last week by the chatter — the ones who refused to budge from their perch at the Red Hen — covet them highly. Or did that night.
I do think that the codes at a bar — albeit unwritten — are different from those in the dining room. You take a table, it’s yours. I think that a bar is generally regarded as a fluid place, people constantly coming and going, and that if more people can be accommodated by your moving over, then that’s the decent thing to do.
I think it’s also important to keep in mind that although most of us who love to eat regard the bar as a more lively version of dining at the table, it’s still a bar. Still a place to drink, primarily. In, out.
But all that being said … if I, personally, can get a hold of the corner seats at the bar, I’m not going to be too happy about surrendering them. And especially not if, as you point out, I have gone early to a busy, no-reservations restaurant and claimed them.
MOTHER-IN-LAW COMING TO TOWN ……….:
Hey Todd –
My mother in law will be staying with me for three weeks and I’d like to go out for three fun, but not (hugely) expensive meals while she’s around. We’re pretty adventurous eaters but the reservations I’ve grabbed so far all seem too similar.
Right now I have reservations for Lyon Hall near our home in Arlington, Chez Billy Sud for a weeknight since its near the office and Ris on New Years Eve since I’d expect a fun menu from chef Lacoste.
If you had to eliminate one of these trips and replace it with something different, which would it be? Where should we go instead?
I think Ris is going to be the most expensive of the three, and I’m not sure it’d be the fun, adventurous night you’re thinking it might be.
I just don’t see Ris, the operation, in those terms.
I might try Central Michel Richard, which is going to reprise Citronelle for one night this New Year’s Eve. Not cheap, either, but then NYE is a night when the restaurants are going to gouge you. Because they can.
On the other hand: there’ll also be an early bird menu, three courses for (I want to say) $50 or $55.
FOLLOWING-UP FROM LAST WEEK: WINE MARK-UPS ……….:
I’d like to add a comment to the discussion of prices of wine in DC. I’ve lived in DC for nearly 15 years since my mid-20s and have eaten at many of the restos often mentioned in Mr. Kliman’s column have paid a premium for good wine (as well as a cocktail). I’ll stick to wine.
My unchanging advice is always: if you plan to go to a great restaurant with a terrific wine selection, conduct due diligence. Look at the online menu and wine list pretty much every place offers now, and at least narrow down what you want to eat/drink, or just drink without considering the food.
I love wine and often select restaurants based on their wine list, knowing that if their drinks are top-notch then the food will also be. If the place is a wine bar, then “duh”, but wine bars have often had mediocre wines priced ridiculously, so once again, caveat emptor—conduct research.
Sometimes, I don’t have a choice at a popular happy hour location, in which case I just have a beer (bottled, unless unusual draft is on offer) and this gives me a buzz, but not the flavor I desire. In the end, be diligent and flexible. If you select a place based on its wine selection, then do your homework; if you’re forced to attend an event at a place not your option, then defer to the nightly special and save your hard-earned money for when you have a choice.
Thanks for chiming in …
When I’m on my own dime, if I don’t see a wine I’m enthused about I tend to punt and order a cocktail. Or go for something inexpensive and quaffable. That way I can save my money for when a list really excites me.
THE CORNER SEATS AT THE BAR, CONT. ……….:
Heptagon! bringing you the intimacy that all couples need 🙂
(new bar idea)
There you go!
That’d be a fantastic idea.
I’m still waiting on some enterprising soul to come along and do the all-bar restaurant. Every seat either at the bar or gathered around it.
It’s bound to happen, don’t you think?
I’d love it.
I’m curious to know, though, whether all of you would love it, too. I think there are people out there who want the seclusion, the privacy, the space away from things, more often than not.
UNFRIENDLY BARTENDERS ……….:
Last week a chatter told the story of a meal that was marred by an unfriendly bartender.
Well, my husband and I went to Corduroy because we heard the bar deal was great. It was!! Fabulous food. superb value.
However, the bartender was so
unfriendly that I figured she had just started to
work in the restaurant and felt overwhelmed. (Although it was before
I asked her if she was new to the job and
was I ever surprised when she said she had
worked there for years! We want to go back but
Hesitate because of her.
I wouldn’t hesitate to go back.
The food’s terrific. And it’s a great deal, as you said.
And — it could’ve been a bad day. Everyone has those.
Also, did you try to engage her any in conversation? Yes, it’s the bartender who’s there to serve you, the diner, but people are still people — a little interaction can sometimes go a long way. Everyone likes to be treated as a person and not just as a server.
I’m not saying you didn’t do that; I’m saying that sometimes, as diners, we forget. Or don’t do enough.
A great server is always going to be great. Or almost always. (Everyone can have a bad day.) But a pretty good server can become a great server if you make the effort to interact with that person, drawing him or her out as you might a stranger sitting next to you on a plane. Not just questions related to service; any questions. Engage the person.
Am I saying we all have to do this, and if we don’t, we’re at fault? I’m not. Some people aren’t socially adroit. I understand that. But I do think that a genuine back-and-forth is one way to ensure, if not great service, then good service.
HIDDEN GEMS IN INDUSTRIAL STRIP MALLS, CONT. ……….:
This reminds me years ago in NYC my friend and I were scouring records store in the Lower East Side.
We stopped in a small convenience store, nothing more than a counter, but behind the counter squatted a South Asian gentleman tending a vat on top of a propane burner, sliding samosas and other Indian snacks into the boiling oil.
We sat around sampling everything he was making and then went on to the next record store.
Great, too, I bet, yes?
I wonder what else was being lit with the aid of a propane burner …
WINE MARK-UPS, CONT. ……….:
I’m a couple weeks late to this party… I have worked in restaurants for many years, concentrating on beverage programs for much of that time, and as a Certified Sommelier for the last few years.
Per the conversation about wine by the glass prices: it is pretty standard in respectable restaurants that the price we pay for a bottle of by the glass wine is the price we charge per glass. So if I pay $13 per bottle for something I want to run by the glass, I will charge $13 per glass. That way, once the bottle is opened, it’s essentially paid for in the event that we don’t sell any more glasses from that bottle before it begins to oxidize.
When wines that are featured by the glass are sold by the bottle, things get trickier. A normal target wine cost is around 30%, so to arrive at list price, we basically triple our cost. So, again, that $13/bottle wine we’re serving by the glass, could go for $39 per bottle. But, a lot of places will charge for four glasses, i.e. charge $52 per bottle. That is pretty standard, even though there are roughly five glasses in a bottle. Essentially, it entices people to buy the whole bottle cause “it’s a deal” that way (paying for four glasses instead of five).
Why not charge just three times the bottle cost to get the by the bottle price? Most of the time, there are higher markups attached to less expensive wines on a list, and lower markups on more expensive things. On something I buy for $25, I might go to a 3.5 times markup (especially if I know it’s something you won’t find a lot of other places), rather than the usual 3 times markup. So, I might list that wine for $85 rather than $75…only $10 different. On a bottle I pay $70 for, I might list that at $175, or 2.5 times markup, rather than $210…$35 different in this case.
Why do we do that? Two reasons…1. This way we’re maximizing profit on higher velocity items (items we sell more frequently). and 2. We’re able to make our more expensive, lower velocity items a little more attractive.
This idea of subsidizing lower prices on more expensive items by charging more for less expensive items often plays into our by the glass program as well. It’s not uncommon for a higher end restaurant to charge, say, $22 a glass for a really high end pour that they are buying for $28-30 per bottle. Sometimes it’s fun give people the chance to try something higher end, without asking them to commit to a whole bottle. Often, those selections are the best “value” on the by the glass menu. We can offer a deal like that, because our lower end selections are carrying a slightly higher profit margin.
Believe it or not, most reputable sommeliers aren’t out for you last penny. Sometimes we want to get people to try something new cause we think you’ll love it!
This is wonderful.
Thank you so much for taking the time to respond. I really appreciate it.
This is full of terrific insights that I think — I hope — will benefit everyone on here who reads this.
And just for the record, I don’t believe that sommeliers are money hungry at all. I do believe that restaurants look to wine programs (beverage programs, generally) to help out their bottom lines. Many sommeliers I’ve spoken to over the years are passionate people who know a lot about their chosen subject, and they seem to want nothing more than to introduce a diner to something new or unusual and see that person’s eyes light up.
FOLLOWING-UP FROM LAST WEEK: REVIEWING ETIQUETTE ……….:
To follow up on your question about giving a bad review to a restaurant you only visited once. I’d be pretty strongly against you (or any food critic) doing that. Behind every restaurant is an owner (or owners) who deeply want their business to succeed. I know the last thing you want to do is to be unfair to any of these owners.
As you’ve pointed out many times, a single visit just isn’t a big enough sample to produce a reliable assessment of a restaurant. The usual chef might have had the flu or a terribly upsetting argument with her wife. Of course, you have to set your priorities since you can’t eat in every restaurant.
But the only fair thing to do, I think, is to give bad reviews only in those restaurants you’ve visited enough times to be sure that the restaurant really is bad. Otherwise, the risk of being unfair is just too high.
Of course, the corollary of this is that your “first bites” reviews should only be positive or at least undecided.
You’re not Yelp. A food critic’s views carry a lot of weight and can destroy a restaurant. To do that unfairly, based on a small sample size, would be something you wouldn’t want to happen, I’m sure.
You make very good points.
They’re not new points, because I’ve had this conversation with myself many, many times over the years, but it’s good to hear them from a regular reader. Thank you.
I do tend to side with you, which is why I haven’t written up a lot of these places.
Although I am beginning to question the wisdom of that.
The interesting thing, here, is that sometimes, yes, you do know from a single visit. You don’t know everything. It would be impossible to know everything from going just the once (not that that ever stops a Yelper from yelping with utmost certitude). But even from just one visit you can learn about the quality of ingredients the kitchen uses, you can learn about how current the chef is and how appealing the menu is, you can gauge the energy or level of excitement in the room, you can see whether a staff has been trained and exposed to the cooking. That’s not a little; that’s a lot.
And what about places I’ve been to twice, and have not liked at all? Or found disappointing? Is that different?
Again: just wondering …
FUN DINING FOR AN ADVENTUROUS GROUP, CONT. ……….:
For fun dining for a reasonably adventurous group, how about the small plates route? Lots of things to try and you’re not committed to any particular menu item (or can get more if you love it). Jaleo and Komi on the higher end; Cava is pretty good bang for the buck from my perspective.
Ethiopian might be another idea. With a group of sufficient size, you can try a variety of different items and the communal dining is a plus. Meaza is my go to for Ethiopian.
Great suggestions, all. Well, almost all — I don’t think a group that wants to keep costs down is going to want to eat at Komi; dinner for three is going to run around $750-$800.
Thanks for chiming in …
THE BAR RESTAURANT, CONT. ……….:
Re: the Bar-Restaurant – Yudale, the sister restaurant across the street from MachneYuda in Jerusalem would definitely fit the bill.
Open fronted, so the party spills out on to the street, a counter surrounding a stove and cooks/bartenders cooking and serving up food and drinks. The food is excellent, but you have to travel to Israel!
A traditional izakaya in Japan would also fit the bill.
In DC, Eat the Rich and Southern Efficiency come close to a bar-restaurant.
Not that close.
The way the spaces are designed, they can’t really be all-bar restaurants, even if they wanted to be.
And Yudale sounds fantastic; too bad it’s in Jerusalem.
Hard to imagine a restaurant like that in DC. Too free-spirited.
THE CORNER SEATS AT THE BAR, CONT. ……….:
I don’t understand an expectation of intimacy at a bar, even in a nice restaurant.
I think the challenge of an all bar restaurant would be to make sure you still feel like you have your own bartender, not just random servers. I like bars for happy hour deals and for making it easier to graze the food menu, but my most memorable moments at bars often include getting to talk cocktails with the bartender.
The old Palena bar was great for that, going back to Derek Brown and including Jeff Faile.
I don’t think the chatter was saying that he/she expected intimacy at the bar. I think he/she was saying that the corner seats are a way of having intimacy in a busy, maybe noisy space.
I agree with that.
As for the all-bar restaurant: I don’t think the idea would be that everyone would have his or her own bartender — in other words, that the bar restaurant exists to provide a kind of bar of one’s own for each diner. I think the idea is simply to do away with traditional seating, with its idea of compartments and niches, and enable the entire place to feed off the energy of the bar.
It would take guts for a restaurateur do this, because it would mean saying goodbye to a good chunk of potential audience.
But of course restaurants eliminate a good chunk of potential audience all the time. High price places eliminate working-class folks (who can only afford to go once in a great while). Industrial hipster haunts eliminate suburbanites and older folks. Etc.
BAKERIES IN ROCKVILLE, CONT. ……….:
Try Stella’s Bakery to for European style cakes and deserts it’s on Rockville Pike. It’s good, not Saint Michel good but good.
HOW DO WE HANDLE THIS VERY DICEY SITUATION? ……….:
Curious to get your feedback on this one: a few weeks ago a group of 5 or 6 “friends” went to a Rockville restaurant that has an all day happy hour in the bar on Tuesdays.
Our server started out great, but got busy and service lagged a bit. One of the women in the group complained loudly and obnoxiously about the waiter to another waiter in the bar area, which he overheard and thereafter completely ignored our table. Yeah he could have reacted better, but it really wasn’t that big of a deal and we received mediocre service from other waiters in the bar area.
When it came time to pay the bill, the one friend who had complained refused to leave a tip, leaving the rest of us to pool money for a decent tip (we assumed the bar staff split tips since they all seemed to be working together). Although we begged her not to, this friend then went to the manager and complained- again loudly- about the service we received and went so far as to call for his firing. The rest of us immediately spoke up and told the manager we did not think anyone should be fired but it was an immensely uncomfortable and embarassing situation.
So here’s the question, a few of us were previously regulars at this Tuesday happy hour but now we’re embarassed to go back. Do you think we should just stay away or show up again and apologize profusely? It goes without saying that we won’t be hanging out with this “friend” again….
Here’s what I would do. I wouldn’t stay away.
This is really interesting, because it’s the exact same situation as when a restaurant screws up with a diner, which we hear about all the time on this chat. You need to make amends.
I’d get the manager’s name, and write a sincere apology to him or her, asking that your letter or email be shown to the entire staff. Get everyone in the group, sans obnoxious friend, to sign it.
Give it a week or two and return to the restaurant, without worry. And just make sure to tip the staff lavishly.
REVIEW ETIQUETTE, CONT. ……….:
Bad reviews — seems like there’s a lot of wiggle room between a bad meal vs. a bad restaurant, especially if you have outlets like blogs/twitter in addition to full scale magazine reviews. Unless restaurants are refunding customers for bad food, I’m not sure why they should be protected because of a “bad night”.
I tend to read reviews looking for a few dishes I want to try, not worrying so much about rating the entire menu as full reviews tend to do. Since eating out for me only includes 2 people about 90% of the time, even a mediocre restaurant can be of interest if they have a few highlights on the menu.
And this is precisely why I’m having the debate with myself.
Because of just these points you’ve made. Why should a restaurant be protected, if it’s charging full price and open to the public? Why isn’t one visit from a trained palate and eye good enough to make some sort of judgment, even if not a lengthy review?
I don’t think there are any clear answers to all of this, unfortunately.
But I am curious to know what you all think, and, just as important, what you all want. Keep it coming, please.
COMMUNAL SPACES, CONT. ……….:
DC would be a more pleasant place, if people viewed communal spaces (e.g. bars, metro, concerts, parks) as opportunities for new connections and shared experiences. Too many people, and I’m guilty occassionally too, feel entitled to claiming these spaces for themselves. If you’re opposed to sharing these spaces, then get a table (four right angles!), drive a car, listen to a CD, or sit inside.
My sentiments exactly.
Of course: not gonna happen. It’s just not that kind of city.
Most cities aren’t.
And DC REALLY isn’t.
WINE, CONT. ……….:
Big problem I ahve with DC area restaurants is the lack of VA and MD wines by iehter the bottle or the glass on their wine list. I no longer chase cult Cabs from Cali or Chiantis from Italy. Forget the 19wahtever Chateau Le Pew that Robert Parker gave zillion points to.
I prefer local wines wines at home and out especially when I am cooking locally grown or raised products or slecting locally grown or raised items off the menu. I can get beef, lamb, and chicken and produce raised with in 5 miles of very good VA winery and take it home a nd cook it simply. Beats any dry aged prime Ny strip with a 99pt Chateau Margaux anyday. Chasing wines on a wine list is all about being pretnetious and uppity
Pairing locally raised food and locally made wine — it’s what you see in Spain, in France, in Italy. And in places like Portland and San Francisco. It makes sense. What grows together, goes together. You’re tasting the terroir in the glass and on the plate, too.
Why it doesn’t happen more here … well, it’s not a mystery. I’ve written a lot about it. The arguments are familiar and tiresome. They almost always come down to what the arguers call “quality.” As if all local cheeses are equal to the finest fromagerie in Paris. As if all locally raised meats are world-class.
The appeal of eating locally raised products is that they’re local, and that because of this they (presumably) taste different from the products of other regions. Their difference, not necessarily their quality, is what drives the interest.
The fact that there are so many more good Virginia wines now, and that they’re not as expensive as they used to be, just makes it that much more ludicrous that you don’t see more pairings of this kind around here.
By the way, I was fortunate recently to taste a Vin Gris of Pinot Noir from Gabriel Rausse, in Virginia. A beautiful white from one of the state’s oldest winemakers. Balanced acidity, gentle crispness, a light minerality. Retail price? A shocker — $12.
COMMUNAL SPACES, CONT. ……….:
As an introvert, the idea of considering “communal spaces as opportunities for new connections and shared experiences” terrifies me. Sometimes I want a solo bite to eat or a drink outside of my home. I shouldn’t have to stay home just because I don’t want to make chit chat with strangers. (I’ll go sit quietly in the corner now.)
Come back, Shane …!
You’re right. You’re very right. And you’re not, I don’t think, in the minority. Or if it is a minority, I’m betting it’s a pretty sizable minority.
I want to say, also, that although I like what the chatter said about new connections and shared experiences — I like it in theory. If the people are warm and open and smart and thoughtful and considerate and sincere. Otherwise, no, I don’t think I want that, either. 🙂
AN UPCOMING BRUNCH WITH FRIENDS ……….:
It’s been a while since I’ve chimed in but still love your chats when I get a chance to catch up. I am planning a brunch for some good friends. We don’t get together too often and due to our schedules, it has to take place on a Saturday.
I was considering Liberty Tavern or Farmer, Fishers and Bakers. Any suggestions?
Another to consider — Central Michel Richard, which recently introduced a three-course brunch menu.
A generously sized starter, a generously sized main course, followed by one of a handful of excellent desserts. For $25. Bottomless Mimosas or Bellinis for $10 extra.
I was in recently, and had a really good meal and a good time.
COMMUNAL SPACES, CONT. ……….:
The thought about communal spaces reminds me of one of my new favorites–the Frontera Grill at O’Hare Airport.
The first time I went, I wound up chatting with a fellow who is supervising construction of a wind farm in Illinois and also works as a firefighter. We wound up chatting about our work and some surprising connections.
The last time I popped in, I ordered a torta for my wife back home, leading a fellow diner to order a sandwich for her husband and chips & guac for her son. We wound up chatting about travel and families, not to mention the vagaries of expense reports. Some places just have it.
You open yourself up to people like this, and you can discover some really interesting things.
You can also discover other, less interesting things, completely wasting your time.
But still: those really interesting things! That’s what makes some of us keep trying.
(All the introverts out there are cringing right now …
I’m actually not an extrovert. I’m selectively extroverted. I use my extrovert abilities when I need to. Or want to.)
I’m with you on Frontera Grill at O’Hare. I haven’t had those interactions, but I have had the food. It’s something to look forward to at O’Hare.
Gotta run. Thanks for all the thoughtful responses today, everyone. Good questions, good follow-ups, I really appreciate it.
For next week, I’d love to hear some Thanksgiving stories. What you’re going to cook that you always cook, what you’re going to try for the first time this year, etc.
And let me just take a moment to wish a very, very, very happy birthday to little Theo, who turns 3 tomorrow and astonishes me every day. (After drinking two half-cups of a smoothie I made yesterday — an adult smoothie, a smoothie for food critics who need to get their vegetables, with kale, frozen cherries, pear, apple, grapes — he said: “I like this less than more.”) Tomorrow night: pepperoni pizza and chocolate cake with sprinkles!
Be well, eat well, and let’s do it again next Tuesday at 11 …
[missing you, TEK … ]