Tuesday, December 30, at 11 AM

Todd Kliman answers your questions about this year's 100 Very Best Restaurants list.

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: tkliman@washingtonian.com

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WHERE TO EAT NOW:

Ocopa, DC

Not cheap for H St., but the quality of the fish is high and 24-year-old chef Carlos is a talent. His plates are striking, and his flavors pop. Ocopa functions best when you think of it as a place to divvy up small plates of tiradito and ceviche and causa (his version of papa a la huancaina, a potato salad, is so sublime it makes the picnic staple you’re probably imagining look like prison food) while tanking down cocktails (among which you’ll find expert renditions of pisco and rum punch).

Saba, Fairfax

At a recent meal at this Yemeni gem, I ate injera, pita, and wheat bread (the latter baked for a marvelous bread pudding called masoob, layered with bananas, cream, honey and nigella that is a little bit different with each bite). Owner Taha Alhoraivi didn’t know how to cook a single dish from his tradition when he arrived in the States 15 years ago on a student visa. He didn’t even know how to cook. His mother and sister had barred him from the kitchen; cooking was women’s work. He subsisted for months on eggs, bread and cheese, until he returned home for a visit and prevailed upon the women in his family to share their recipes with him. Thus began a 15-year-journey of research and experimentation, as Alhoraivi sought to recreate the foods of his youth in isolation. Saba is the remarkable result. The two must-orders are the haneeth and the fahsa. The former is a strapping platter of slow-cooked lamb, seasoned with cardamom, cumin and cloves, that comes apart without prodding and some of the most flavorful rice you’ll ever eat — each grain is distinct, and tastes richly of the meat. The latter is a shredded beef stew in a sauce of tomatoes, onions and cumin so concentrated it might as well be a syrup; the crowning touch is a dollop of hilbeh, a tangy dip flavored with mint and cilantro.

Casa Luca, DC

The most casual of the restaurants in Fabio Trabocchi’s collection has found its groove. This is an assured operation from top to bottom, and from its opening nibbles to its pastas (go for the San Leo — ravioli stuffed with wild greens and ricotta and treated to a sauce of butter, toasted almonds and nepitella) to its dazzling preparations of fish and seafood to its light, colorful and exquisitely crafted desserts. I joked to a friend at dinner recently that the cornish hen minestrone was “too flavorful” — its broth so intense and rich that I had to stop talking and give all my attention to it.

Ray’s to the Third, Arlington

It’s as stripped down as a restaurant can get; even some food trucks pay more attention to creating an experience. But it still makes the best burger around, the steak ’n’ cheese is better than a Philly cheesesteak, and the milkshakes, including a booze-spiked Bananas Foster, are fabulous.

DGS Delicatessen, DC

Founding chef Barry Koslow has left to open Pinea, set to make its debut any day now at the W Hotel, but things haven’t exactly slacked with new chef Brian Robinson. It’s almost impossible to come here and not gorge on matzo ball soup (note to the kitchen: a wee bit more schmaltz in the broth, please), chopped chicken liver, and pastrami, but there’s a lot more here than just deli. (What am I saying, “just deli”? Since when is deli itself not enough? And this deli especially.) The tongue gyro is terrific. So is the chicken schnitzel, made with pounded chicken thighs; it comes with whipped potatoes and tangy red cabbage, and puts you in mind of something you’d see at Central Michel Richard. A new dessert is also a winner: a banana split with salted caramel ice cream and toasted almonds.

Baby Wale, DC

I’d love Tom Power’s place just for the go-go soundtrack alone — on a recent Saturday night, it simmered with the chunky syncopations of the godfather of the scene, Chuck Brown. (Wind me up, Chuck!) The thing to do is to order up a glass of wine — any wine (Power knows his stuff; his list is fantastic) — and a bowl of soup — any soup (Power makes some of the best in the city) — and then settle in with the terrific ribeye and fries.

Gypsy Soul, Falls Church

An outtake from my recent review: “Gypsy Soul is informed by Southern cooking in the same way that Kid Rock is informed by country music. Like chef R.J. Cooper, Rock hails from Detroit, is tatted, has long stringy hair and fancies himself a kind of badass vagabond. Like Cooper, his gift is in braiding strands that aren’t generally braided.” I love the chicken fried quail, one of the most perfect high-end dishes out there right now (perfectly conceived, perfectly executed), the chicken skins are maddeningly addictive, the oyster stew manages to be both daring and delicious, and the crabcake gets it exactly right. There have been problems, in the early going, with salting (both under- and over-), and some dishes haven’t delivered the promised richness or depth. I expect these wrinkles to unwrinkle over time. The too-slick space is another matter.

Ananda, Fulton

Two of the best meals I had this summer took place here. And I don’t say that just because of the food coming out of the kitchen. The restaurant itself is a showpiece. From outside, it looks a little like a castle and a little like a bank, and sits in the middle of nowhere, amid a still-evolving development of townhouses in Fulton, Md. Inside, the space summons a polo club. The main dining room is a sumptuous lair of handsome dark wood, floor-to-ceiling bookcases and leather seats, while the veranda puts you in mind of an observation deck for a cricket match (it’s already one of the best places to dine on an unseasonably cool summer night, under the gently rotating fans and looking out on the lush treetops). In an age of casual, sometimes dashed-out service, Ananda leans toward greater formality — but without stuffiness. The young, affable waitstaff is got up in vests and ties, and is exceedingly well-drilled — not just attentive but vigilant, and determined to learn what it can do to make your meal better. The restaurant is the third from brothers Keir and Binda Singh, who also run The Ambassador Dining Room and Banjara, both in Baltimore. They maintain their own farm not far from the restaurant, complete with an herb garden — a highly unusual practice for an Indian restaurant in this area. Add to that the quality of the meats and fishes, which is several notches above that of the curry house, and you have a brand of cooking that is lighter and fresher than any Indian restaurant in the area not named Rasika. Given this emphasis, you might expect the dishes to experiment a little, to rethink traditional dishes in whimsical or dramatic ways. But for the most part Ananda is attempting a different, less obvious kind of fusion — the fusion of the local-leaning bistro with the conventional Indian restaurant. The preparations of black dal, chana, and raita are among the most complex I’ve tasted in years, and unexpectedly clean-tasting. A dish of salmon was perfectly roasted, with a subtle melange of tomatoes, cinnamon and cumin for a sauce. A watermelon salad with feta could have stood in for any trendy bistro in DC, except that its spicing was unmistakably Indian, and the dressing and its garnishes were both so stunningly fresh I would have thought I was dining at some gastronomic getaway in the country. I could have eaten three bowls of a recent special, a chilled summer squash and carrot soup, subtly spiced and tasting of fresh vegetables, not cream.

Thai Taste by Kob, Wheaton

On a three-block stretch of Wheaton, near the intersection of University Blvd. and Georgia Ave., can be found two of the area’s best Thai restaurants — Ruan Thai and Nava Thai. Time to add a third. Phak Duangchandr — Kob, to friends — has set up shop in the tiny space that originally contained Nava, in the back of Hung Phat market. Thai food fans may remember her, or at least her cooking; for 19 years she operated the Thai Food Carryout at Thai Market, near the old Safeway in Wheaton. The new setting, electrified with a paint job of orange and day-glo green, gives her a chance to expand her repertoire of dishes, while staying true to the from-scratch traditions that earned her a devoted following. The emphasis is on street food and homecooking, with a good many dishes you simply won’t find anywhere else, like bamee moo daeng, a meal-in-a-bowl of tender egg noodles, red-edged roast pork, baby bok choy, and fish balls; or kai yad sai, an omelette stuffed with ground chicken punched up with fish sauce and soy sauce; or a salad of shrimp paste-flavored rice, onions, cucumber and sweet, sticky pork). But even familiar tastes, taste different here — funkier, more pungent, and definitely hotter (a shrimp fried rice, alive with fistfuls of Thai basil and a generous pinch of chilis, set my heart to racing). Some customers have already been asking for more rice to accompany their orders. Partner and manager Max Praserptmate says he’s willing to accommodate any requests, but adds that his aunt’s cooking isn’t the aberration; it’s the great majority of Thai restaurants that are the aberration. “The taste,” he says, “is what you’re supposed to get from your Thai food.” Duangchandr imports many of her spices from Thailand, and toasts and grinds them herself. All the condiments on the spice tray, including a terrific chili vinegar, are made on the premises. Meats are given a long soak before hitting the grill — 72 hours, in the case of the pork that is pounded and threaded onto a skewer to create a must-order starter called moo yang. The other must-order starter sure doesn’t sound like it — when was the last time you had fried shrimp wontons that were any good? These are fabulous. Kiew tod comes to the table looking more like a plate of tortilla chips, the mix of shrimp and white pepper bundled within a sneakily rolled edge. The crunch is junk food-loud; it’s hard not to believe they weren’t engineered in a lab. No beer or wine yet; Praserptmate says soon on both. I would take the money you’d ordinarily spend on a drink and spring for an extra dish or two (most are under $10, and many items will survive into the next day).

Sushi Capitol, DC

This is a diminished sushi scene: Makoto is no longer special, Kushi has exited, and Sushi-Ko I is gone. That leaves Sushi Taro and Sushi Capitol, and for me, right now, it’s not a debate. Capitol is not as polished an experience as Taro, but neither is it the Zen-like spa of hushed voices and restrained manners — an Important Restaurant to save up for when you are looking to mark an occasion. This is a simple, unassuming spot, a workaday spot, with good, well-sourced fish and a chef who knows how to enhance the raw product without sacrificing the elegance essential to the form. Minoru Ogawa was previously in charge of sushi operations at every Mandarin Oriental property along the Eastern seaboard. He’s a purist at the bar, abjuring gimmicks, fads and clutter. The pieces are small, with tiny pads of rice, and the fish is sliced thin and delicately and draped just so over the pads. This doesn’t just make for an elegant presentation; it ensures that each bite is in balance, with the right proportion of fish to rice. I was in most recently for the omakase, which, at $50 for somewhere between 16-20 pieces, amounts to a sweetheart of a deal in the sushi world — particularly when the yellowtail is so sweet and still tastes of the sea, and the various white fishes are not simply there for padding, and the hand-rolls (passed across the bar as soon as they’re finished, their wrappers warm and crunchy) come with fresh-chopped toro. If you order a la carte, don’t ignore the rolls. The Florida roll, draped with whitened bands of blowtorched salmon belly and sliced avocado, is a stunner in every sense.

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REPORTS FROM THE FIELD: SUSHI CAPITOL IN DC AND TRAPEZARIA IN ROCKVILLE ……….:

I wanted to thank you for two great recommendations.

First, I asked for for a great place to have reasonably priced Omakase for my birthday. You recommended Capitol Sushi and it was great. I loved it, it was a great experience. Definitely want to go back.

Then last weekend we took our kids to Trapezaria in Rockville. We live in Virginia so I only knew about Trapezaria because of you. Everyone loved it including my son who is not a huge Greek fan.

I know that as a critic you often get criticized but in the spirit of the season I wanted to express my appreciation for want you do. It makes my life a little better – what more can a restaurant critic really do?.

I was just curious though do you ever find that restaurants make changes in response to your comments. While a movie is done and can’t be changed based on a critic’s comments a restaurant has a new “performance” every night and they can add less salt or add more heat the next day. A bad cook won’t become a good one after reading a review but there are many things that can be fixed or at least improved.

Thanks again.

Todd Kliman

And you just made my life a little better, reading that. That’s a wonderful thing to say. Thank you.

First of all, it’s great to hear that Sushi Capitol and Trapezaria were so good when you needed them to be. I’m glad for you and glad for them, too.

And it’s an interesting question you ask about changes. I revisited a restaurant just the other night that I had been to four or five weeks previously, and I made a point of ordering a dish I had found to be off in a particular way — I won’t say what way, but off in the seasoning. It took away from an otherwise very good dish. I mentioned the seasoning to a server, who I think heard me out, and lo and behold, the dish the second time was much improved.

It happens. I heard last week from none other than Daniel Boulud that he was making changes to plating based on some of the criticisms I made in my review. Restaurants are changeable things. They’re constantly in flux. And places CAN get better. It’s rare that a place goes from good to great, but fumbling places do rise up and become good. It’s a great thing to see.

Good morning, everyone. Our final chat of 2014.
Whatever you’ve got, I’m here. If you want to reminisce about the chat, if you want to talk about the best dishes or moments on the scene this past year, if you want to talk about the 100 Best issue now on stands, whatever — bring it on …

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BLUE DUCK TAVERN AND THE 100 BEST ………..:

Can you elaborate on how Blue Duck Tavern fell out of the top 100? I thought reviews (outside of the 100 best issue) were almost always positive?

If I recall, you had praised a reinvention of the restaurant two or so years ago. Has it fallen that fast?

Todd Kliman

Two years is a long time in the restaurant world.

Under Sebastien Archambault, I thought the cooking was better than it had ever been. He’s gone, now, and so is his replacement, Daniel Singhofen, formerly of Eola. There were things to like at my last meal, but the overwhelming impression was of generic hotel fine dining. I recall — I’m working off of memory, now, not my notes — but I recall a breast of duck that was terrific, beautifully seared, rich, but the other components on the plate were listless. Nothing about the meal seemed particularly inspired. Nothing sang. And it was expensive. If I had to give stars, I would have given it a 1 1/2-1 3/4, in other words just under a two star rating.

Not awful, but when we gathered the staff to sift for hours upon hours through the places we had visited and revisited and come up with a final list of 100, there was nothing that made me feel affection for the place — for the place as it was at that moment; nothing that made me say: here’s the case to be made for including Blue Duck Tavern.

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A STAGNANT SCENE? ……….:

Do you consider the restaurant scene in DC to be stagnant that Komi reigns supreme, yet again?

Todd Kliman

I think it’s the opposite of stagnant.

One third of the list this year is new. That’s a lot of turnover, reflective, I think, of the great ferment of the restaurant scene.

The fact that Komi has come back after a down period and reasserted itself, proclaimed its greatness, says something only about Komi, I think.

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WHY NO LOVE FOR PASTA MIA IN ADAMS MORGAN? ……….:

Why I does Pasta Mia never get any love? It’s the last of the old school Italians.

Todd Kliman

I like the place.

I included it some years back on our annual Cheap Eats list.

It’s a fun night, for sure, one of the most fun nights to be had, I think, in that part of the city — even the waiting in line is kinda fun — and it’s really a hard meal not to like.

I just looked up that old review. Here it is:

“The line forms at six every night, a half hour before Roberto Broglia’s first-come, first-served operation opens. Broglia is the only cook, and there are only 44 seats, so if you are 45th in line, you might wait an hour. Many do.

“Inside, Broglia’s wife, Antonietta, doesn’t seat you so much as gesture in the direction of your table. House rules are strictly enforced: no seating until the entire party is there, no substitutions, all pastas come with cheese. The menu is truncated in the extreme—no meats, no seafood, no fish. Service is slow and methodical.

“It’s tempting to dub Broglia the Pasta Nazi, but at how many other places can you get a satisfying plate of perfectly cooked pasta for $13—and have enough left over for a second and third meal? This is unabashed red-checked-tablecloth cooking, with sauces liberally applied, but there are unexpected grace notes—the tortellini give off hits of nutmeg; the Gorgonzola sauce on the gnocchi is rich but not overbearing; a platter of red peppers is dressed up with good white anchovies; the salads are fresh and bountiful; the cocoa dusting the tartuffo and the chocolate in the strachiatella parfait are both dark and bitter.

“You can have a glass of the house red or white, or any of the 83 bottles of wine, from Aglianicos to Barolos—more than half of them between $26 and $36. By the time you emerge onto Columbia Road, you might have forgotten that you waited in line.”

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DBGB ……….:

How can a restaurant that was described as having “airport-lounge soullessness” and where the enjoyable dishes were “aberrations” make the Top 100 list? I’m talking about DBGB, of course. I’ve never held much stock in the Washingtonian Top 100 as being a legitimate list. However when a restaurant with a poor review, but a celeb chef makes it I know something is wrong. What’s the story?

Todd Kliman

I’m not sure what you’re getting at.

You think it’s an illegitimate list because of — what, exactly?

I wrote the review of DBGB, and yes, I found it disappointing. That review came out two months before the 100 Best. Places can and do change, as we were just talking about. A lot can happen in two years, but a lot can also happen in two months. We noticed enough happening to suggest that things were on the uptick there.

And it’s not as if the restaurant, when I was reviewing it, was some kind of abject failure. I gave it two stars. It was disappointing in light of Boulud’s reputation, and also in light of the high-performing DBGB in NY. But a two star restaurant that appeared, at the time of publication, to be on the uptick? That was enough to earn it a spot on the list.

Keep in mind something else. There are a lot of restaurants in this city that I consider to be two-star places. A two-star, on a great night, can be wonderful. More likely, though, it’s inconsistent across several visits, or inconsistent within the meal, with great moments alternating with eh moments.

At least forty percent of the 100 Best list — this is a rough estimate, it might be more — is made up of what I think of as two-star places. What gives one the nod over another is hard to explain. A lot of factors get considered. But a two-star that can deliver some wows, that can distinguish itself in one or two areas, is more likely to find its way on. The perfect baked Alaska at DBGB, the astonishing coq au vin — these are wow moments.

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REPORT FROM THE FIELD: AL DENTE IN DC:

I wanted to give kudos to Al Dente where I recently had the 7 fishes dinner. It was one of the tastiest Italian meals I had in DC, which doesn’t too many options.

The portions were small, which is exactly what I was looking for, but the tastes were fabulous with real sea taste, and the fresh pasta was very well made totally showcasing the difference between fresh and dry. I am definitely looking forward to going back and enjoying more!

Todd Kliman

It’s funny to have you post this after the comment up above about Pasta Mia — a reminder that it’s not, in fact, the last of the old-school Italians.

Al Dente, when it’s on, which it sounds like it was this night, can be really satisfying, and it’s a place you want to love when you step inside.

I’m glad you went and glad you took a moment to share the details of your meal with us. I’ll be visiting again soon, thanks to you …

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NOT REALLY A REPORT FROM THE FIELD: SUPER BOWL NOODLE HOUSE IN ROCKVILLE ……….:

Not-really-a-report-from-the-field …. I tried Super Bowl Noodle House in the Ritchie Center strip in Rockville last night, less out of enthusiasm (although I did recently read a favorable write-up from someone, maybe Tyler Cowen?) than because I meant to get a banh mi next door but the place was closed.

And … it was fine, I guess. I had wontons in chili oil (fine, but the filling was oddly dry and the sauce somewhat punchless) and some kind of noodles with ground pork and crushed red pepper that was fine but kind of unremarkable. (Unremarkable enough that I can’t remember the accurate name, so….)

It’s the kind of place that I really HOPED would be good, a strip-mall dive with an interesting menu.

So I guess my question is, if you don’t have the luxury of a big group, how do you tackle a wide-ranging menu like that while minimizing the chance of disappointment? (Or, if you’ve been to this specific place, was my meal just representative of what they do?)

(On a tangential note, one of my goals for 2015 is to eat my way through that strip mall. High, high concentration of interesting-looking restaurants there.)

Todd Kliman

I haven’t been yet, no, but I love exploring the Ritchie Center.

The banh mi place, by the way, is not great. I wish.

And if you think Ritchie Center is interesting, you need to take a trip out to Van Dorn Station, where, on my most recent scouting trip, I counted 13 different cuisines on offer.

You ask an interesting question. You really do need a group for a place with a big menu like that.

The problem is, if you’re not footing the bill for people, and they’re not lusty food adventurers, it’s hard to get a group to join you for a place that might not be a sure thing.

I even have a hard time of it sometimes, and I’m paying. Most people are very reluctant to eat something they’ve never eaten, or to try a place that looks — what was the word the New York Times used to describe Petworth, in its annual piece on how DC dining isn’t just steakhouses anymore? — ah, yes: “scrubby.” Most people are anxious if they perceive a place, or an area around the place, to be “scrubby.” And it’s also hard to get them to get in the car and drive more than 20-25 minutes to go to dinner if that dinner is not likely to be comforting, or look like what they think a dinner should look like, or unspool in a manner that they have come to expect.

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TWO-STAR RESTAURANTS ……….:

If 40% of the top 100 are only 2 stars, should the Best Restaurant list really be 50 ?

I would like to think that the best restaurants in DC are ones that are consistently, reliably good –not “A two-star, on a great night, can be wonderful. More likely, though, it’s inconsistent across several visits, or inconsistent within the meal, with great moments alternating with eh moments.”

Maybe it should be the 60 best restaurants followed by 40 that have potential. Otherwise, it sounds like grade inflation to push the 2 stars into best…Or you have to have detail a LOT more in the write ups about the great moments of the two stars that catapult them into the Best category.

Todd Kliman

The 40 don’t necessarily have potential — they’re what they are.

You write that you “would like to think that the best restaurants in DC are the ones that are consistently, reliably good.” One of the things I have found, in working to put together this list year in and year out, is just how inconsistent many restaurants are. It’s something I’ve talked about on this chat. A 4-star restaurant, a 3 1/2-star restaurant, even a 3-star restaurant — these are places that you can expect consistency. Some 2 1/2s are very consistent, but it’s rarer. But this doesn’t amount to a ton of restaurants. Maybe 35?

I’d love to see more restaurants that are at that level. But even given the explosion we’ve seen in the past couple of years, with more places opening than ever, there still isn’t the density that you have in NY.

Nearly every year we put together this guide, the staff and I find that there are about 50 or so places that we have real enthusiasm for, that we find ourselves wanting to go back to again and again. That’s not a reflection of our personal tastes, I don’t think. It’s a reflection of what’s out there.

Interestingly, the most consistency is to be found in the immigrant-run mom ‘n’ pops; menus don’t change much, if at all, and there’s little turnover from season to season.

Now, would it be great to be able to provide more detail in each write-up; it would; I would love that. More and more these days in the world of publications, space is tight, pictures rule, and words are seen as content to be fit in to an attractive package.

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KOMI, CONT. ……….:

Just to chime in on Komi, my husband and I went a few weeks ago for his birthday.

We seem to get in there about every 12-18 months, but they clearly keep good records on their diners and greet us warmly. Perhaps the biggest surprise of the evening was the slight format change; instead of 9-10 mezethakia, we had “only” 7, followed by not one, but two pasta dishes.

As I always have fish instead of roasted meet for the mains, I was also surprised when, instead of the usual salt-roasted fish, I was given a dish that was essentially a composed entree with a beautifully cooked piece of snapper over a spiced tahini with roasted Brussels sprouts and cauliflower (and, of course, the pita and condiments with which to eat the fish!). The fish was served in a way I’d never seen, with the scales still attached, standing up and crispy.

What I might find most amazing about dining there is that we can share a bottle of Falanghina for a mere $40 with our dinner.

After all these years, the stuffed date and the lollipop remain part of dinner, and neither seems dated (ha!) yet.

Komi remains, to my mind, among the very best restaurants anywhere. It was nice to see it back on top of your list this year.

Todd Kliman

It’s a fabulous restaurant. For this, or as you say, for any city.

A lot of restaurants say they exist to create an experience. Very few do. This one does, and it’s a very particular, very idiosyncratic, experience. It challenges you, it comforts you, there’s a certain youthful brashness about the operation, even a cockiness you might say, and at the same time the enthusiasm of the staff for good food and drink is obvious and exciting and sincere. No menu whatsoever, you are not in control for even a second, the chef will dictate the terms of the night — and yet that chef wants nothing more for you than to settle in and relax and allow yourself to be taken someplace new.

I think it’s exciting to see chef Monis and his crew push themselves. This is a new repertoire of dishes, with new ideas — often fascinating ideas, which, crucially, are not so fascinating (or should I say so in love with how fascinating they are) that they forget to be delicious.

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100 BEST, CONT. ……….:

Why not one year do the top 15 worst restaurants(non Chain) with a check over $150 for two?? Might be interesting! But then your Bosses might get upset for pissing off the mags advertisers.

Todd Kliman

I like it.

And actually, I could come up with more than 15.

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FONDUE FOR NEW YEAR’S EVE ……….:

I’m planning a fondue dinner for New Year’s Eve and was wondering if you had any recommendations on where to get meats, pate, spreads, etc to add to the meal. I already have the cheese for the fondue but want something special to have on the side.

Also, any tips for the chocolate portion? I haven’t bought that part yet…

Todd Kliman

How about Cork Market on 14th St. NW?

Or Dean and Deluca, in Georgetown?

As for chocolate — I’d go with Valrhona, beloved by pastry chefs all over America and Europe. I love the stuff, too — it’s great to bake with, and even greater to eat.

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THOUGHTS ON TIPPING ……….:

We have an upcoming reservation at Minibar and, having never been, I wanted to get your thoughts on tipping…

It was this article in NY Magazine “Is It Time to Topple Tipping? Adam Platt Tries (and Fails) to Go Gratuity-Free” that originally got me wondering about this dinner… I wasn’t aware that Alinea, Chez Panisse, Per Se and others had moved to alternative tipping models, and I would expect that the cost of this dinner is probably similar to those restaurants (none of which I’ve eaten at, in full disclosure).

To put my question in context, I almost never leave anything less than 20% and often leave more. However, 20% on a dinner of this nature seems a bit excessive to me (although, having never been to Minibar, I have no idea what the service is like). What are your thoughts? Do you ever leave less than 20% at places of this nature if you’re paying your own way (as opposed to on an expense account).

We’re also looking for someplace elegant to have a drink beforehand that will take a reservation in the bar… any thoughts?

Todd Kliman

That’s easy — Barmini, which is, technically, part of Minibar. Fantastic cocktails and great snacks, too —not that you want to eat before, uh, eating.

I have to confess, I’m not really sure what you’re saying. Are you saying that it seems odd to tip 20% on a meal that’s going to cost you, per person, around $350?

I mean, I hear you. For $350, you’d think that — hope that, anyway — the meal might be all-inclusive. But no: you’re expected to take care of the staff in addition. Service is not rolled into the exorbitant cost.

Thing is, though, at that point, when you’re paying what, for many people in this area, is rent money, or a substantial portion of that month’s rent, what difference does it make, really, to pay a little more? It’s the difference between $850 and $700.

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DBGB, CONT. ……….:

I’ve always read the Top 100 list religiously, and used it to pick out places that I wanted to seek out next for important occasions.

Like the previous reader, I was similarly confused regarding the inclusion of DBGB given your review (published 11/24/2014 – only 36 days ago); however, I am much more troubled by your explanation here.

I know that many view DC’s food scene as “soul less”, where headlining chefs can come in to make an easy dollar. I had hoped that you saw DC as a more inspiring and promising place for food, but when you explain DBGB’s inclusion on the list as you did (“[a]t least forty percent of the 100 Best list — this is a rough estimate, it might be more — is made up of what I think of as two-star places”), I come to the conclusion that you don’t think highly of our food scene either.

I’m hoping you’ll provide a little more detail about what you and your colleagues saw in the last two months that merits its inclusion on the list – more than just mentioning an “uptick” for a place that you reviewed just last month….

Todd Kliman

I tried my best to explain how DBGB made it on. I’m not sure I can add anything that would explain it better.

And as for the review, it was published then, yes, but it was written earlier than then. As I said, about two months ago.

I want to get to the heart of what you wrote, which is how I regard the dining scene. If I’m not mistaken, I think this is what you’re troubled by, but please feel free to let me know if I’ve got that wrong.

I think there’s a lot going on that’s exciting. There are soulless places, yes, but that’s not to say that I think it’s a soulless scene. I love seeing a place like Ananda find its way on, I love seeing Sushi Capitol come out of nowhere, I love that Seki and Rose’s, the Red Hen, and other small labors of love, if you will, are thriving, I love that there are two Indian restaurants in the top 20, I love that Komi continues to push itself, and I could go on and on and on.

There are lots of other places I could mention, places that I’d be thrilled to spend a few hours in any night of the week.

As I said, there’re about 40-50 really good to great restaurants in the area. Just as there are every year. That hasn’t really changed. What’s changed, is the kind of restaurants that make up the list.

What we made a real effort to do this year, is to single out the two-star spots that we felt were reaching what they seemed to be striving for. We had a surprisingly long list of two-stars that we found disappointing, and primarily because they were places that ought to have been three- and maybe above, but fell short of that goal. Those places didn’t make it on.

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MEATS AND PATES, CONT. ……….:

Try Red Apron – much better choices than Dean & Deluca, plus it is local, and has a number of outlets.

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