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: email@example.com
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.
THAT GLOBE & MAIL REVIEW OF AMERICAN AT THE TRUMP HOTEL IN TORONTO ……….:
In last week’s chat, you linked to a recent Globe & Mail review of American at the Trump hotel in Toronto.
It was an entertaining review, but did you agree with the author’s conclusion? He gave the food very high marks, but still gave the restaurant zero stars because of the poor service and obnoxious clientele.
Isn’t a critic’s first priority what’s on the plate?
I can’t say whether I agree with the critic’s conclusion or not because I haven’t had even a single meal there.
I can say whether I agree philosophically. And I’ll get to that.
It wasn’t just poor service, as you write — it was (if Chris Nuttall-Smith is to be believed) execrable service, service that leaves you feeling like you don’t matter even one little bit. And coming in a place like that, a place that is geared to the conspicuously wealthy — that’s not at all the same as coming in a neighborhood bistro.
You talk about “obnoxious clientele.” I would say that the people who go to a place are not much different from the curtains, the tiles, the tables, the chairs, etc. They help to define that place. Yes, true, the management can’t control who comes in and who doesn’t, but we all know that restaurants are coded ventures, whether subtly or not so subtly, and that a restaurant works hard to attract the kind of people it wants (and, by the same token, keep out the kind of people it doesn’t). The people at American aren’t just patrons who show up at random.
The food sounded good, yes. But what Nutall-Smith is saying is, what does it matter? What does it matter when you’re treated like dirt? What does it matter when you have to see who is being treated like the opposite of dirt? What does it matter when, to have that food, you have to be in the company of people like he described?
I can understand that point of view. I don’t think he was out of bounds at all.
And remember, a critic is there to give you a perspective. It’s not “reporting.” It’s not objective, if even such a thing is possible when you sit down and make marks on a piece of paper to try to describe something. A critic is saying — or should be saying: this is how it was for me. What I saw, smelled, heard, tasted, felt.
People sometimes come up to me and say: “Hey, I had a good meal at Such-and-such.” That’s great. I hope I have a good meal when I go or return to Such-and-such. But I can only go off of what I see, smell, taste, touch, feel.
TSUNAMI, IN LOGAN CIRCLE ……….:
Tsunami (the sushi restaurant above Thaitanic in Logan Circle) recently began offering a Thai menu–have you tried it? Everything I’ve had there has been fantastic, and it’s certainly not what you find at a typical American Thai restaurant! I went with some friends who had just spent a few weeks in Thailand, and they said it was the most authentic they’d found in DC.
And I like. A lot.
Baan Thai, it’s called, by the way — though you won’t see a name, and you have to ask for the Thai menu.
It’s northern Thai, which means, generally, a lot of heat and a lot of pungency. For DC proper, it’s some of the best Thai food I’ve had in years. My one complaint is that I wish the cooks would rein in their tendency to go Western and sweet on some dishes, and trust that the real thing is going to go over with many, many people.
UPSCALE MEXICAN ……….:
I completely agree with what you said about upscale Mexican food. I LOVE Mexican food, but was extremely underwhelmed by Tico, and just don’t think Oyamel is worth it.
Have you tried Taqueria Habenero by the Red Derby on 14th? First of all, the minimal atmosphere and small bustling kitchen are perfect for a taqueria.
And the tacos! Homemade tortillas that are light and one hundred times better than any store bought ones other places use. The meat (I had steak and chorizo, sadly they were sold out of al pastor) was flavorful and not too greasy or fatty. The toppings (cilantro and onion only!) were perfect when paired with the squirt of a lime. The green sauce added a nice freshness, while the red sauce added a smokey heat.
They were by far the best tacos I have had in DC. I also love that they are committed to a small Mexican menu. Just tacos, tortas, and a couple of other Mexican dishes. I highly recommend it!
I’ll have more to say next week about Taqueria Habañero, but yeah.
There’ve been a lot of attempts over the past few years at doing the authentic taqueria thing in the city. Some started out strong, then faded. Others weren’t so strong to begin with.
It’s a harder genre to pull off than it looks. A small menu, as you pointed out, helps. Volume helps, but of course that’s something you can’t control. But what you want, obviously, is meat that doesn’t dry out as it sits; that’s the thing that kills these places. That, and the quality of their tortillas.
BIRTHDAY DINNER ON X-MAS WEEKEND ……….:
I would like to celebrate my upcoming birthday (unfortunately it’s right around Christmas) in DC since I haven’t celebrated it in a few years, but I’m having trouble coming up with places that 1) are in Woodley Park or Cleveland Park, 2) preferably serves Asian cuisine, 3) can fit a party of 10-15 people, 4) entrees are around $15-$20, and 5) is open this Christmas weekend. Is this too much to ask?
Would I be better off planning my birthday dinner at an ethnic place in Bethesda? I was hoping to be able to enjoy the National Zoo’s Zoolights display and then go eat dinner in the vicinity with friends.
Thanks for any suggestions you might have!
I want to explain my recommendation before I offer it, so the foodie hoards don’t storm the gate.
You want to see the Zoolights, which means that the night is not just about sitting down to dinner and whiling away three hours. It’s not going to be that kind of meal. You want to keep costs down and, preferably, stay near the zoo, and you want to go Asian.
For all those reasons, I think you should go to Spices in Cleveland Park. Is it great? No. Is it memorable? No. But it’s pretty good (very decent sushi, by the way), it’s comfortable, it’s Asian, it’s affordable for you and the gang, and it’s a short trip from there to the zoo.
Go, and have fun, and let me know how the night turns out …
FOLLOWING-UP FROM LAST WEEK: WINE MARKUPS AT CHEZ BILLY SUD, IN GEORGETOWN ……….:
I’m Ian Hilton, co-owner of Chez Billy Sud. I wanted to take a few minutes to respond to something one of your chatters wrote last week.
In regards to the poster’s submission, this is not the case and I am sorry that they did not realize that each of our wines by the glass is available by the bottle. All of those wines (10 in all, I believe) are priced in the $30s and $40s. I hope that if your poster returns, he/she won’t hesitate to ask the server or the manager for assistance in selecting a bottle in his/her budget.
As for your response, I hope that the information above gives you pause to at least rethink part of your opinion of us. We are trying hard to be an accommodating, neighborhood bistro. We know how hard it is to earn the stomachs and minds of diners; I hope we don’t appear to take anything for granted.
In my completely biased opinion, we offer an experience superior to Le Diplomate. This is not to say that I am not a fan of Le Dip, I am. I can only assume that you have visited us and were underwhelmed by your experience. For that, I can only offer my apologies and cross my fingers that you will return and give us another chance.
I thank you sincerely for your time.
Thanks so much for this.
This is one of the great challenges of doing a chat live and responding in the moment, but look, I don’t want to make any excuses; I was bad for not looking into this — I should have.
I’m glad I’m able, now, to offer the equivalent of “equal time.”
And as for second chances: you’ve got it.
THAT GLOBE & MAIL REVIEW, CONT. ……….:
Restaurant reviewed was in a Trump Hotel in Toronto, Canada so what type of clientele did reviewer expect to be with when dining at the Amercan. Like the Ritz Carlton Trump Hotels do attract the elite. The rich and well off in Canada unlike most Canadians ahve a rep for being obnoxious!
Ask anyone who has ever attended the Canadian Grand Prix in Montreal. The average race fan in attendance is okay but the folks above the pits and in the really expesnsive seata are total jerks especially the ones from Canada
So what are you saying?
That the critic shouldn’t have given that fact any consideration at all in assessing the restaurant?
If anything, I think, the fact that the food was so good and everything else at the restaurant was so horrible, so egregiously, insultingly horrible, makes it worse.
I know there are people out there who just want scorecards when it comes to restaurants. They would absolutely love a review that was not a review at all — a wordless piece that looked something like this:
Potato leek soup …….. B +
Smoked mussels with saffron broth …. B –
Tuna carpaccio with capers and olives …… C +
Burrata with pesto ……… A –
In other words: be a Michelin evaluator. Only without the stuffiness and the over-exacting standards, because after all I’m not a gatekeeper of cuisine, I’m just out to have a good time on a Saturday night. Oh, and make sure to be perfectly ACCURATE, even though a restaurant is not a fixed thing, but constantly in flux, constantly changing.
REPORT FROM THE FIELD: SABA, IN FAIFAX ……….:
Stopped into Saba last week for dinner and ordered the Haneeth.
I agree that the Haneeth dish might be one of the best dishes of 2014. Some of the most flavorful Arab food I have had in quite some time.
I usually find most Arab food at restaurants to be bland for my taste but the food at Saba does not lack flavor and the Haneeth dish is addictive. Even after finishing the lamb we kept going back in for the rice.
That amazing rice.
And I was the exact same way at the table, going back and back for more rice, even after finishing the lamb.
Thanks for the report! I appreciate it.
And it’s good to know that the consistency seems to be there.
I hope all of you can find your way to Saba in the weeks to come.
REPORT FROM THE FIELD: ZABVER THAI, IN MT. PLEASANT DC ……….:
Have you been yet to Zabver Thai in Mount Pleasant?
I think it is one of the best Thai in the area, and a little touch of the mom and pop suburban places in the city.
Really excellent, authentic Thai food, with two of the nicest owners I have met. Very happy to have them nearby.
I haven’t been, no.
But sounds good!
And thanks to you, I’m going to add it to my list and make a point of getting there, even with all the holiday partying and commitments, in the next week or two.
I’m looking forward to it already.
WOODLANDS VEGAN BISTRO, COMING TO COLLEGE PARK ……….:
I saw that Woodlands Vegan Bistro is going to open in College Park in February. What do you think?
So many restaurants have come and gone in CP recently, and I never imagined another vegan place would be the type of thing that would finally find success here. Then again, Ovo is still in business…
Happy Holidays! Love your chats 🙂
Happy holidays to you, too.
What do I think? I think: good for College Park.
That location, near Bobby’s Burger Palace, could be tricky. Or not. Bobby’s has done well; others have failed. I wish they were opening somewhere more accessible.
Ovo is only slightly more accessible; you can’t park right near it. Don’t laugh, urbanites; it’s a thing in the suburbs if you have to park and walk a distance to a place.
But as you said, Ovo is still around and, judging from my conversations with staff, doing well. Their mushroom protein with green curry is still great. Have you tried their fried portabello mushroom caps? Delicious.
As to whether a second vegan place can succeed, keep in mind that this generation of college students is very up on food health and also very open-minded when it comes to trying foods. And College Park has a long history of being amenable to alternative eating and alternative health. The Smile Herb Shop is still going strong, all these years later.
I am going to be here the whole week of Christmas with most friends and family out of town. I just found out the person I just started dating (only two dates) will also be around all week with not much to do. I’m so excited! So now I need some suggestions as to fun places to go drink and eat. Road trips and local suggestions welcome.
We’re both Jewish so also looking for a fun meal on Christmas Day if there is one other than Chinese. Thanks!
I’ve gotta think the aforementioned Saba will be open. That’d be a great pick for Christmas Day.
Some fun places to go eat and drink that week. Izakaya Seki for sashimi and small plates. Rose’s Luxury, where I recently had the single best meal I’ve had since the place opened. Casa Luca for Italian. Ananda for sumptuous Indian. Sushi Capitol for sushi.
Let’s see, road trips … You could head to Rehoboth and hit (a)muse, which is the best restaurant right now at the beach. With subs at Casapulla South for the car on the ride home. If you need lunch, there’s Henlopen City Oyster House. Small, simple menu, lots of fresh oysters on hand from smaller suppliers, and good beers, too.
Richmond is two hours away, if traffic behaves. Some places to build your eating adventure around: Edo’s Squid (old-school Italian), Dinamo (Italian and Jewish), Stella’s (Greek, and warm and cozy), and Perly’s (a terrific Jewish deli).
Hope that helps.
Drop back on when the week is over and give us a taste of your adventures …
SALMON RILLETTES ……….:
Hi there, I’m looking for a place that serves salmon rillettes: the kind that’s covered with butter in a jar, sealed, and served with toast points? I cannot seem to locate that dish anywhere! Any ideas?
I wish I had something to tell you.
But I haven’t seen anything like it in a while.
It’s too bad, because I really love that preparation, too. Such a great thing to dig into this time of year. Luxury in a jar.
Any sightings, anyone?
WHATEVER HAPPENED TO: CHEF DANIEL SINGHOFEN ……….:
Do you know whatever happened to Daniel Singhofen, of Eola fame?
I remembered that at some point he moved to Blue Duck Tavern, but I can’t seem to figure out anything about where he’s gone since then. (And he’s no longer listed as Chef de Cuisine on their website- was that fallout from what happened on the chat here a few months ago?)
No no — he left in late August.
He told me, when he did, that he had “signed on to do some consulting work with a new concept in town.”
He said he hoped that the lighter schedule would enable him “to spend a lot more time with my 4 month old daughter. … I’m looking forward to a break from daily operations and enjoying my family and friends more.”
So, for the moment, anyway, he’s laying low and working in the background. More as I know it.
DRIVING OUT TO MARYLAND OR VIRGINIA FOR TAKEOUT ……….:
We are taking our first road trip with our dog later this month and want to test out his seatbelt/harness before we go. We live in DC and would like to drive out to Maryland or Virginia for some takeout that we can’t get in the city.
We love spicy food, all kinds of Asian food, and are generally very adventurous eaters. Where do you suggest we go?
Thai Taste by Kob, in Wheaton.
Uncompromisingly fiery food — I mean it, this is the hottest Thai in the area — and you can make it still hotter with the use of the spice tray that comes to the table. Also, more flavorful; I love a spoonful of the chili vinegar on … anything.
Get the crispy whole fish with your choice of sauce. Get either the fried duck with fried basil or the chicken himmapan. Get an order of moo yang (marinated grilled pork on skewers with a pungent dipping sauce). There’s a new dish, Lucky Bag, that I like a lot: little wonton purses tied with chives, filled with potato and curry, and fried until the thing crunches like a snack chip.
If you’re really going to take it out and not eat in, then you should definitely get one of the noodle soups (my favorite is the one with chewy egg noodles and pork) and maybe skip one of the fried dishes. Though Lucky Bag will travel well; I was in recently, and the purses were still good even after they had cooled.
Enjoy yourselves, and I’d love to hear a report …
MICHELIN, CONT. ……….:
Based on your response above, it seems that you don’t love what Michelin inspectors do in coming up with a rating system based on stars. But don’t they offer something more?
My wife and I went to Paris, Michelin guide in hand, and had a bunch of amazing meals as a result- not based on the number of stars (we only went to one restaurant that had any stars at all), but based on the descriptions they provided for every restaurant.
And we did so knowing that there was a strong Francophile tendency in the reviewers, but that they were knowledgeable, precise, thoughtful eaters.
Their descriptions were largely accurate, and helpful, in laying out the expectations for what we would hope to see and eat at these restaurants- and encouraged us, when we were looking for something just a little different from l’as du fallafel/french food, to go seek out the incredible moroccan food, and even our first try at a tibetan restaurant.
I don’t feel that what they do is that much different from other reviewers- a numbered rating (perhaps on a harsher and french/japanese biased curve), and a description of the restaurant and the experience.
No, I’m with you — it’s a good guidebook.
But what I’m saying is, some people would rather that an actual review in a newspaper or magazine take that approach. A lengthy and exhaustive checklist for the “reader” to go through, and find out exactly what to get and exactly what not to get.
Consumers want to maximize their money. They’re looking for value, for deals. If they’re “discerning.” they’re also looking for “experiences.” So from that standpoint, a guidebook makes sense.
But I would like to think, and I don’t think it’s a quaint notion, that a meal can’t be easily reduced to, ugh, I can’t believe I’m even going to stoop to using this phrase, even in quotation marks — “data points.”
Look at the American, the place in Toronto we’ve been talking about. The critic, Chris Nuttall-Smith, argued, essentially, that the sum was more important than one ordinarily vitally important part.
He didn’t just rate the restaurant. He gave us an experience of the restaurant. It wasn’t just a review of something; it was its own something. It was funny, it was entertaining, it had a point of view, it had something interesting and, I think, important to say about something in the larger culture.
Give me the Nuttall-Smith review to read over a blurb in the Michelin guide any day.
That’s not to say I wouldn’t consult a guide when I am back in the world, the big and grubby world, and forced to live and act as a pure consumer — when I know that I need to maximize my time and dollar. But to read? For pleasure, for an experience? The review.
Am I the only one who thinks referring to restaurants as “concepts” is kind of silly?
I don’t think I’d use the word “silly.”
How about “soulless?” Or “self-aggrandizing”?
It’s an attempt to give a restaurant the aura of something from the world of theater. Some gravitas. Something high-minded.
But to some ears, like yours and mine, it just smacks of corporate suit-ness, and tells us that the people behind the venture either are not paying attention to what comes out of their mouths or actually think that a restaurant is pretty much the same thing as any other business.
I am dying to get my hands on butterfish, a dish I tried at a sushi place in San Francisco last year and have been searching for in DC to no avail. Any suggestions?
Head on up to Sushi Sono in Columbia.
Butterfish three ways. It comes on a plate with nigiri on one side and sashimi on the other. Then the waitress takes away the bones of the flayed dish and returns with them fried for you to sprinkle with salt and munch like chips.
And, when last I had it a couple months ago, $12. A terrific deal.
CHEZ BILLY SUD, CONT. ……….:
In response to Mr. Hilton’s note above, I was the person who wrote in last week regarding the wine prices as Chez Billy Sud.
Mr. Hilton is correct that my companions and I did not realize that the wines by the glass were also available by the bottle at reasonable prices. If this was an oversight on our part, and the menu did indeed indicate their prices, I apologize. We did enjoy the meal otherwise!
And happiness abounds!
Or, well — close enough …
Thanks for chiming back in on this. And thanks again to Ian Hilton for responding.
Be well, everyone, eat well, and let’s do it again next Tuesday at 11 …
Happy Chanukah, tonight, to all MOT …[missing you, TEK … ]