Tuesday, January 13, at 11 AM

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.

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:

Baan Thai, DC

Restaurants within restaurants are increasingly a thing. This is one of the better ones out there — a northern Thai spot slipped unobtrusively into a sushi restaurant, Tsunami. I liked my first meal, months back, though a couple dishes were sweeter than they should’ve been. A birdie planted a note with a server, and the kitchen appears to have course corrected. My most recent meal was hot and pungent and thrilling. Don’t come without getting the northern Thai pork curry, with hunks of meat in a sharp, spicy chocolate-colored curry laced with threads of ginger and cloves of garlic; and a vermicelli noodle bowl with ground chicken and shrimp, tempura’d watercress, hardboiled egg and ground peanuts in a coconut-based curry broth. And don’t skip dessert; the best of the sweets eats like miniature, open-faced coconut crepes, all at once sweet and creamy and chewy and crunchy.

Taqueria Habañero, DC

The best of the tacos I tried is the lengua, with almost-luscious cubes sporting a decent surface char. The mole poblano is just as it should be, two good, meaty enchiladas robed in a thick, sweet, spicy, and aromatic sauce. The posole is hotter than any other version you’ll find in the area, with tender bits of pork and a rich broth that coats the tongue and warms you throughout.

Crane & Turtle, DC

Makoto Hamamura reminds me of a certain brand of jazz pianist, the kind who knows how to play melodically but frequently chooses not to. I wouldn’t go so far as to describe his French-Asian dishes as atonal or dissonant, but he clearly means to push, and push hard, against expectation. Sometimes, it doesn’t work. Or, it works and you say to yourself: Interesting; I’m not sure I’d get that again. Often enough, though, the rewards are there, like his tuna tataki, which is accented not with a ponzu sauce but with a tuna sauce — a sly little play on the Piedmontese classic, vitello tonnato. His signature dish, a duck breast that has been on the menu since the restaurant opened in summer, isn’t paired with something sweet, like cherries — a move that many chefs in the West would make; Hamamura turns to bitter, in this case to seaweed yuba and tahini.

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.

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.

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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FOLLOWING-UP FROM LAST WEEK: BREAKS UP ……….:

I know someone who says he should’ve known when she ordered milk with seafood platter in Brittany couple months before they got married… He stuck it out another 10 years before the divorce…

Todd Kliman

That’s funny.

Telltale signals, glimmers of the coming disaster …

I mean, yes, on the surface it sounds like the height of ridiculousness to break up with someone because of their way or ways with food, but then again, if you love food … and if food is bound up with culture and habits, a way of being in the world and also responding to that world … not so ridiculous.

Good morning, everyone. It’s practically balmy out there. 34 degrees!

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NOLA EATS ……….:

Hi Todd,

I’m heading to New Orleans for the long weekend to escape the cold and get some good food & drink. Wondering if you or the chatters have any fresh/recent recs for the city? It’s not my first visit, so a lot of the “bucket list” places have been checked off the list.

Thanks!

Todd Kliman

Lucky you. We’re all bitterly jealous. Have a po’ boy and think of me, ok?

If you’re looking for very, very recent, then I’m not the one to ask. My friend Brett Anderson is — he’s the food critic at the Times-Picayune. A couple months ago he picked his top 5 new restaurants for 2014.

Here they are:

Carrollton Market

Marcello’s Restaurant and Wine Bar

MoPho

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Noodle & Pie

Square Root

And let me just say that MoPho is the best name for a pho joint I’ve heard. Better, yes, than the crasser, more obvious Pho King.

Which now has me thinking …

What are your favorite restaurant names? Either here or around the country or even abroad. Tell us what and why. Doesn’t have to be smutty.

Nothing springs to mind for me, right now. Hm …

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VIDALIA? ……….:

I’m not sure this will be of general interest, but I thought you might be interested in one reader’s take on one specific restaurant review in this year’s Top 100 and Not-Top 100.

I’ve come to greatly respect the Cheap Eats and the 100 Very Best lists over the past few years. You and those who work with you don’t seem to have any pre-existing agendas (like balance out DC, Virginia, and Maryland, which the Washingtonian used to do robotically), do share many of my sensibilities (service and environment matter, but way way less than the food, and cheap doesn’t mean it can’t be in the Top 100), and have directed me to many superb restaurants that I love that I would never have eaten in otherwise (2 Amys, Sushi Capitol, Passage to India, Izakaya Blue Ocean, Izakaya Seki, Cuba de Ayer, Plaka Grill, Montmartre, and Komi, to give just a few examples).

So, by this point, when I see a listing in your best-of lists that I disagree with, my usual response is, “Well, I’ve only eaten there one or two times this year, so maybe I just hit the place on a good (or bad) day. The Washingtonian folks probably know the place better than me.”

But on the 2015 Very Best list, one ranking stunned me. Not the Inn at Little Washington, which has generated so much heat, but the omission of Vidalia. I often tell people that Vidalia might be the best restaurant in DC. This isn’t an uninformed opinion — I probably eat there 15 times a year on average — maybe as many as 20 times in 2014.

Your gracious explanation for why Vidalia dropped all the way out of the top 100 was not personal — you gave full credit to their hospitality (“the staff exudes charm”) and the ambrosial — and free! — bread basket. But you listed four perceived flaws that dropped Vidalia from 2 1/2 stars last year (and 3 stars in 2013) to not even being in the Top 100 this year: (a) too sugary cocktails, (b) entrees that were sometimes bland and sometimes overly salty, (c) food that is “always heavy”, and (d) too sweet pies.

My response was to wonder how we could differ so much on Vidalia’s ranking — I didn’t have a single meal in 2014 that I thought was too heavy, too sweet, or bland — and only one dish that I thought was too salty.

I seriously doubt that the reason for our difference is the number of meals there. I feel fairly sure that at 15-20 meals, I’ve eaten there more in 2014 than your entire team. I also don’t think that my palate is particularly eccentric — I’ve probably eaten at Vidalia this year with a half-dozen or more friends and clients (foodies and proud Naugahyde palate folks) and they uniformly raved about the food. And I don’t think it’s that I’m inexperienced and don’t have a basis for comparison — I’ve eaten at 50 of the 100 Very Best in the 2015 listing — though you and your team members certainly have a broader base for comparisons.

I think a few things might at least partially account for the difference.

First, I always eat at Vidalia at lunch, usually off the bargain $19.99 lunch menu, and usually at the bar. Maybe they just focus on lighter foods at lunch. I certainly don’t remember ever seeing a pie on the fixed price lunch menu.

Second, I never drink at lunch and, being a boomer and not a millennial, have no idea why you’d ruin perfectly good bourbon, scotch, or gin by putting sugar or fruit juice (or ice) in it. So I have no idea whether Vidalia’s cocktails are “too” sweet, since I view all cocktails as too sweet and too frou-frou.

Third, I’m lactose-intolerant, so a lot of the heaviest appetizers and entrees are just ruled out for me. Vidalia’s servers unfailingly offer me their superb berries (or sorbet) as a substitution on the fixed price lunch desserts when I tell them about my digestive issue. Possibly the heaviest dishes that you tasted all involve milk, cream, and cheese, which I never touch.

Nevertheless, I encourage you and your team members to consider another possibility about Vidalia — you’re just wrong, and your team hit the place on a few of Vidalia’s rare off days. Novelty always appeals and it gets kind of boring to list the same place in the Top 100 year after and year and decade after decade. But perennial does not necessarily mean the food is tired or boring — it might just mean that you’re ready for some novelty. After all, Blackbird in Chicago won the 2013 Paul Beard Chef of the Year award after being in business almost 15 years.

I often fall prey to the same flaw. I’ve always loved CF Folks, but because it was overly familiar, I inertially stayed away for many years — this past year I decided to go back and try Art’s food and found it was even better than I remembered. Thanks to my predilection for novelty, I missed a decade-plus of great meals at Art’s place.

So, the bottom line for me is — I think you got it way wrong on Vidalia. Please give them another chance next year.

[Footnote: If it’s a barbecue place, an area where I have a lot of very broad experience (I’ve taken more than one barbecue vacation) and very deep opinions, I’m way less deferential. For barbecue, my response to a review I disagree with would probably be, “It’s barbecue. Nobody ever agrees on that and food critics are notoriously unable to tell the difference between average, good, and great barbecue. But I know I’m 100% right and everybody who doesn’t agree with me is 100% wrong.”

Tolerance for dissent and barbecue don’t mix,

Todd Kliman

Oh, they’ve got another chance for next year. They’ve got another chance starting right now.

The funny thing here is, everyone who reads this list has a clear idea of where they ought to be going for the next year. For us, though, it’s just the opposite. We compiled the list, and now forget about it completely. Doesn’t guide us in thinking about next time. For all intents and purposes, doesn’t exist.

You talked a lot about Vidalia not making it on. There are other restaurants in that camp — perennials that for one reason or another didn’t do enough this time around to be included. All of us on the food team were surprised, really surprised, to see this places just miss.

I may have said this before, but at the end it’s a little like cut-down down in football. In the NFL, you have 70 or 75, I think it is, and you have to get down to 53 (with a taxi squad of five). In our case, we had about 130 places and had to cut 30.

We considered the report cards we had compiled throughout the year, report cards for each visit to each place. These are enormously helpful in figuring out the top 65 or 70 restaurants, less so the remaining places, because the remaining places are two star spots that turn out to be, when the cards are read and processed, all bunched pretty tight together. In other words, there are about 50 restaurants that are performing at about the same level.

What earns one place a spot on the list over another that we’ve assessed to be not so very different? That’s the toughest part of the process. And here, in our meetings, members of the team would step forward and advocate for a restaurant. On the basis of what? It might have been anything, but often it came down to seemingly small things. Something about the place brought out some kind of enthusiasm in a trained observer. Something about the place made it stand out.

In the end, then, I guess you could say that the final spots on the list went to the places that we felt some affection for. And I will say also that we tended to look more favorably on places that were grasping what they seemed to be reaching for. A place that obviously aspires to three-and-a-half stars and comes in, in our scoring, at two, is a place that isn’t clicking as it should. Contrast that with a place that has 2 1/2 written all over it, and comes in pretty close to it, or is a clear 2, and delivers a very rewarding 2 sort of experience.

I could go on and on about this, but I do want to get to some other questions. But thanks for asking, and I hope that that helps give you a peek into the process.

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RESTAURANT NAMES, CONT. ……….:

I’ve always been a fan of the name of (and food at) Thomas Keller’s Ad Hoc in Yountville. As I understand it was supposed to be just a temporary thing until they established something more permanent. So the name fits in a fun way.

And now they have a little stand out back called Addendum that just serves their famous fried chicken to go. The cookbooks is also one of my go-to’s.

Todd Kliman

Yeah, a nice, fitting name.

Clever. Thoughtful.

But nothing on the order of Madam’s Organ. THAT’S a name.

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RESTAURANT NAMES, CONT. ……….:

Restaurant names:

Cured, cancer survivor Steve McHugh’s charcuterie-focused, lovingly restored former brewery in San Antonio, featuring a massive glass curing case at the entrance filled with cured meats.

Todd Kliman

Yes!

It’s funny — and I imagine others had a similar reaction — but when I first heard about the restaurant I didn’t think anything of the name, other than that it made sense at a time when charcuterie is such a huge component of the contemporary American table.

Then I learned of chef McHugh’s story, and felt — not shamed, exactly — but humbled. Humbled by my knee-jerk assumption.

It’s a great name, and I can only imagine what he must have felt the first time he saw the sign on his restaurant — the sense of triumph, of vindication. How sweet that must have felt. But the name, I imagine, also serves as both a testament to what he endured and a reminder of his new identity, and for that reason it must have been a very powerfully humbling moment, too.

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VALENTINE’S DAY, AND NEEDING TO WOW ……….:

According to my wife, I didn’t put on a stellar Christmas for her. She does a lot and still has time for taking care of my needs.

Well Valentine’s day is around the corner and here is my opportunity to shine. I figure roses to work a few days, nice gifts but I need the nice high rise dining experience. I am looking for a place with big windows and a great view to top the night off.

With your extensive knowledge, where are some of the places you recommend?

Thank you in advance,
JD

Todd Kliman

There’s one restaurant you need to set things right, and that’s Fiola Mare.

Call them now; I imagine they’re already filling up for V-day.

It’s not high rise, at least not in the literal sense, but everything about it is big and grand. Great fish and seafood, right down on the water in Georgetown. Go.

I feel bad for you, JD, I gotta say. That’s lousy to hear.

Memo to the team at Fiola Mare: can you please turn things around for JD and his wife?

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INN AT LW ……….:

Inn At Little Washington review –

Is it fair to penalize them because they changed the menu? I understand your complaint, but lets say they never served scallops for some reason. From day one when they opened until today there’s never been a scallop on the menu. Would it be fair to criticize them for what’s not on the menu (scallops) vs what is (other meat and fish and veggies)?

I think I agree with your reasoning but it got me thinking.

Todd Kliman

It’s not that the Inn changed the menu. It’s that the menu it changed to isn’t, or wasn’t, at the time we visited, delivering all that it ought to.

Restaurants change their menus all the time. And restaurants are themselves changing all the time. Sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worst.

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RESTAURANT NAMES, CONT. ……….:

There is an Asian fusion restaurant here in Delaware called Saketumi. Seriously.

Todd Kliman

Yeah, I know that place, pass by it all the time on the way to Rehoboth Beach.

Any good? I never thought to try it.

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MILK AND SEAFOOD, CONT. ……….:

What’s wrong with milk and seafood?

Todd Kliman

Wrong? There’s nothing wrong.

But milk and a seafood platter is not, shall we say, the most stellar pairing in the world.

It’s interesting, though. There’s a real bias in the food world against dairy and shellfish. Italians, for instance, generally avoid putting cheese on dishes with fish or seafood. And you don’t find many American chefs mixing fish or seafood and milk or cheese. A lot of foodies disdain the idea.

On the other hand: chowder, mussels gratin, some variations of shrimp ‘n’ grits …

Etc., etc.

I wonder if in part the aversion goes back to an old wives’ tale about mixing the two, or about eating one after another.

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BUSINESS DINNER, MONEY NO OBJECT ……….:

Hi Todd,

I’m looking for a good place to take a couple of out-of-towners for a business dinner. Price isn’t really a consideration–just looking for a nice environment and consistently great food.

I’d love your thoughts/recommendations…Thanks!

Todd Kliman

The first place I’m thinking of, and yes, it’s the second time I’m mentioning it today, is Fiola Mare. But I mean, it’s meant for times like this. It’s meant to impress. Everything about it is meant to impress. And it does, it impresses.

The stunning quality and freshness of the fish and seafood, the imaginative and careful cooking, the well-drilled staff, the great riverfront view.

If you’re looking for something less grand, something more low-key, then maybe The Red Hen, or Del Campo, or even Casa Luca, which shares a parent with Fiola Mare — both are in the Fabio Trabocchi portfolio.

I hope that helps. I’d love to know where you ended up, and how things turned out. Drop me a note …

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ILW, CONT. ……….:

I’ve been to the Inn at Little Washington three times. Twice, I had the prix fixe, and absolutely loved it, and once I had the tasting menu, and came away unimpressed. You can imagine my feeling at seeing that it’s tasting only now. Sad.

Todd Kliman

I hear you.

Thanks for chiming in on this …

I have to say, if you had asked me, six months ago, what changes, if any, I would liked to see the Inn make, changing the format of the menu would have been very low on the list. In fact, it might not have even been there at all.

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MIXING SEAFOOD AND DAIRY, CONT. ……….:

Seafood and dairy – Garides Saganaki (shrimp in spicy tomato sauce with feta cheese). Delicious, how can anyone be opposed to that?

Todd Kliman

I’m definitely not. It’s such a great dish, when it’s one well — such a great mix of flavors.

Done not well, well, not such a great mix. I’ve had some pretty wretched ones. The worst was a dish that had the flavor profile (ha — I used it) of Chef Boyardee, but with a not-faint fishy taste.

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BIRTHDAY COMING UP: THINKING THAI, AND MAKE IT SPICY ……….:

My husband’s birthday is coming up. He loves spicy food and is an adventurous eater, so I’m thinking I want to take him to a Thai restaurant for dinner.

We’d prefer to stay in the city so we can go out afterwards. Any recommendations?

Todd Kliman

What about Baan Thai? See up top.

I’ve been three times, now, and toward the end of my second meal I asked for a dish to be prepared “Thai hot” — and, sure enough, it was hot enough to make you gasp and/or blow your nose between bites. Wonderful, but no getting around the heat, either.

Are we talking about that level of heat? Probably not, I’m guessing. But anyway, the option is there, if you want it.

If you don’t mind waiting in line, there’s also Little Serow, the idiosyncratic vision of chef Johnny Monis of Komi. It serves up a prix-fixe, family-style northern Thai meal in a cool and quirky English basement setting.

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RESTAURANT NAMES, CONT. ……….:

Restaurant names: WTF

Todd Kliman

Which of course has nothing whatsoever to do with the ubiquitous social media shorthand, nothing whatsoever, a total coincidence …

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REPORT FROM THE FIELD: CENTRAL MICHEL RICHARD:

What’s the point of a reservation? Central Michel Richard in Washington DC

We made a reservation through OpenTable 15 days ago at Michel Richard’s DC restaurant Central. To cover up their awful service, our reservation was cancelled and therefore we could not post a review any other way.

Last night, Saturday December 13th, 2014, we were looking forward to celebrating having out of town family at one of the so-called best restaurants in town, which we had been to several time and liked. However, we never actually ate there last night because of the awful attitude of the front of the house staff.

First, rather than greeting us, the hostess scolded us for arriving 20 minutes early, reminding us that Central is a very popular restaurant and that they are very strict about their schedule. Our party of 5 was happy to wait at the bar until our reservation time arrived. At 9:00PM, we went to check on the status of our table but were once again scolded that it was not 9PM yet and we would need to be patient, it was 8:59PM.The hostess kept speaking to us in a very unprofessional and irritating tone, uncharacteristic and certainly not appreciated at a restaurant of this caliber, but we waited.There were two tables available, one by the door, and one by the kitchen. However, at no point did anyone offer to seat us at either of the two. 5 minutes went by, 10 minutes went by, and finally at 9:20PM we were getting annoyed. After inquiring about our table once again and our question being met with unfathomable impertinence, we decided that Central by Michel Richard was not worth our time or money.

Through OpenTable, while standing at their bar, we made a reservation elsewhere and had a fabulous meal. Upon our exit, the hostess cancelled our reservation at 9:25PM to cover up her behavior.

So dear Chef Richard and the staff of Central,
Thank you so very much for not serving us last night. We had an absolutely amazing dinner with appetizers, main dishes, dessert, and multiple bottles of wine at one of Washington’s best restaurants, La Taberna del Alabardero, only a few blocks from you. I hope you enjoy losing $400 tables on a Saturday and recommendations for life.

To the hostess: Nice try canceling our reservation to avoid a bad review, but that won’t stop us from telling others about your shameful service. You could have done better, maybe you don’t care enough anymore.

Thank you for a lovely evening anywhere but at Central.

Todd Kliman

Thanks for writing.

I’d be interested in hearing the other side of this story — though that may have to wait until next week, given how close we are to the end of the chat session. Central folks: you know where to reach me.

I do want to say, before then, that just because you, the diner, see some empty tables does not mean that those tables are available. It’s easy to become annoyed. We all do it. I remember walking into the old Mandalay for the first time. The dining room was virtually empty; maybe three tables were occupied. The GM said he couldn’t seat us. I was stunned. All reservations, he said. And, sure enough, within twenty minutes the entire place was, to my astonishment, full up.

I’m also not sure that the offense, here, warrants this level of fulmination. You waited twenty minutes and left. You didn’t care for the tone of the staffers. Not great, but really — bad enough to go online and express your wish that a restaurant lose business every Saturday “for life”?

A few weeks ago, I waited 15 minutes for a table on a busy night at a popular restaurant — and yes, that was with a reservation. It happens. I don’t love it. No one does. Was the staff warm and gracious? It was not. It was harried, and a little curt, too, with so many diners standing near the host stand and grumbling about having to wait. Not great, no. But eventually, there was a table for us, and the staff, from them on, could not have been more wonderful: attentive, personable, sincere, on top of everything from start to finish.

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GETTING MARRIED, LOOKING FOR A BRUNCH SPOT TO CELEBRATE ……….:

We’re getting married at the courthouse in DC the morning of Feb 28. We’d like to go out to brunch afterwards with our families to celebrate, but are stumped on where to go.

We’ll have a group of 10-13 adults, plus a six year old. We don’t want to break the bank, but we do want decent food and somewhere not over run by the “endless mimosa” crowd. Somewhere that takes reservations would be ideal so we don’t have to stress about getting a table. Any ideas of where to go in DC?

Todd Kliman

Poste?

DGS?

Both are festive, reasonable priced, and take reservations. And you won’t be overrun with drunk Hill staffers and “content strategists” …

Gotta run, everyone, or I won’t make it to my lunch reservation …

Thanks for all the questions and feedback today …

Be well, eat well, and let’s do it again next Tuesday at 11 …

[missing you, TEK … ]

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