Tuesday, January 20, 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: RESTAURANT NAMES ……….:

Re restaurant names:

Several years ago when I lived in Singapore I found a small neighborhood Chinese place named “Eat is Good.”

Who could argue with that sentiment?

Todd Kliman

That’s great.

And you know what’s funny, it’s not that different from the name of what I think is the best restaurant in Charleston — Food is Good, or FIG.

Thanks for sending this along.

I’m still up for hearing some great or odd or funny restaurant names.

And anything else you’ve got this morning. I may cut the chat short a little early — I’ve got a cold and energy is going in and out, or up and down — but where have you been eating? What have you been cooking? What interests you, of late, in the wide, wide world of food and drink?

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MORINI MONDAYS ……….:

Hi Todd –

Have you been to Morini Mondays? Last night was Restaurant Week and also Morini Monday. We assumed that we would have to pick either one or the other. But we were delighted to learn that we could do both! So, some of us ordered the restaurant week menu which was as great and as plentiful as our friends’ dishes which were a la carte. (Some places seem to cut down on portion sizes…)

We added on a few of the $10 pastas, which they served in a separate course. They seemed to get that we couldn’t just have it all on the table at once. The food was delicious – bucatini and lasagna were just as great as the special restaurant week pasta.

The desserts were standouts, but we’ve been here before and so we know that we have to have a few even if we are full. So we went with the rice pudding, panna cotta and then the restaurant week special manjari chocolate cake. All amazing – the restaurant week dessert felt more like a delicious dessert special – chocolate heaven (we had two…)

I hope other restaurants are also inviting guests to experience restaurant week this way. We’ve been here 2 times in the last month and plan to make it a regular Monday night dinner.

Todd Kliman

Terrific.

Thanks for writing in.

Morini’s been getting lots and lots of love from all of you the past few weeks.

I just wanted to pass along another rave, in case you missed it. I did, when it first appeared, but in the wake of the Nats big move to acquire pitcher Max Scherzer, I went rooting around the web to get some analysis.

What I found is the great baseball writer Tom Boswell writing about, yes, Osteria Morini on his weekly chat:

“BTW, I ate at Osteria Morini on Water Street about 300-400 yards from Nats Park on the waterfront on Saturday nite. Wow! I guess I’m not supposed to give restaurant reviews since everybody’s taste is different. But my wife (she counts) thought the food was exceptional. Anyway, what I KNOW is that it is one of the most beautiful settings in D.C. with lighted bridge, park. There are also two other restaurants beside it on Water Street — one open and upscale, one “opening in spring ’15.” IOW, that area, with its two-mile walk on the waterfront, has already started to come to life and will only get more wonderful when the new soccer stadium is built. It’s happening. Made me feel really good for the city.”

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What I also love: the notion that he thinks he’s not supposed to give restaurant reviews because everybody’s taste is different. If the web were made up of more Boswells, the web would be a lot different place than it is.

Oh, and Bos: more restaurant reviews, please.

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REPORTS FROM THE FIELD: ROSE’S LUXURY + FIOLA MARE ……….:

Too late for a Rose’s NYE review?

Just got caught up on last week’s chat and saw you were looking for impressions. We had an early (5:30) table and had a somewhat different experience from your other chatter. We had been there a couple times before and had fantastic experiences, but NYE didn’t live up to our expectations.

The food was still incredible, and the numerous extras they brought out throughout the night in addition to our selected 3 small plates and a main to share were beyond generous.

But the vibe was off in our opinion. We didn’t have the same “taken care of” feeling like we had on our previous visits. Our server never rushed us but we didn’t get the same laid back yet very personalized and welcoming attitude like we had before. I would have had no complaints about the service had this been at any other restaurant, it’s just not what I was expecting from Rose’s.

Full disclosure, my husband was coming down with a bug that day, so this could have contributed to the off night for us. Will I go back? Absolutely, just not on a day they take reservations!

Now, Christmas Eve at Fiola Mare – THAT was a special night!

Todd Kliman

Lucky you.

Two of the 5 best restaurants in the city in a week.

And how funny that you’re about the only one out there in the food world at the moment who is not agitating for Rose’s to take reservations. 🙂

Thanks for the reports.

Would love to get just a LITTLE bit more detail on Fiola Mare, but no biggie …

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BURGERS ……….:

What interests me in food these days?

Not something particularly esoteric (or inclined to impress a cardiologist) but … Burgers.

In a search propelled by cold weather and Seahawks-pre-game-nerves, we’ve been on a quest over the past couple of weeks for a truly fabulous burger.

Best Buns had a pretty good one, but sadly felt a little skimpy on lettuce/tomato/pickles.

Green Pig’s burger itself is good-not-exquisite (shouldn’t need a thousand-island type sauce to support the burger), but the plate feels like an exercise in glorious gluttony, with a huge stack of some of the better fries in the area and a large salad, either of which would be enough to serve as a meal in and of itself.

Lyon Hall’s might be the current winner: great bread, a burger that stands up to the accompaniments but isn’t overshadowed, and a plate that feels appropriate decadent with truffley/salty/possibly duck-fat fries.

Bonus award in the Not-Really-A-Burger category to Liberty Tavern’s lamb burger, which is fantastic (particularly with their onion rings). We’ll leave off the not-quite-cutting-it bogie prizes for the folks whose buns fell apart, whose burgers didn’t reach the edge of the buns or were dwarfed by the tomatoes, and whose idea of “medium rare” was dark brown throughout.

Todd Kliman

This is a great little roundup of the Arlington burger scene. Thank you for taking a moment to write this up!

It’s funny, I was just reading somewhere — an article on the drying up of fast casual options in the area — that the burger trend, or however the opiner put it, is over.

Since when, Linda Roth, are burgers a trend? 😉

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WINNING THE FOODIE LOTTERY ……….:

My husband and I won the “foodie lottery” and got a table at Noma’s pop up at the Mandarin Oriental in Tokyo we leave in a few days.

Our friends and family are strongly split into two camps – those who think this is insanity going all the way to Tokyo because we got a restaurant reservation where we will be served ants and those who think it is awesome.

Curious what your thoughts are on this and other similar pop ups like Fat Duck’s upcoming time in Sydney.

Todd Kliman

I love these kinds of pop-ups.

Just the idea of them.

If they’re special, so much the better.

As to what I think about your upcoming trip. I don’t belong to either camp. In a sense, I guess, I belong to both camps. It’ll be an adventure, for sure. You’ll get to see Tokyo and eat in Tokyo, which will be fantastic. You’ll get to try out Noma, even in pop-up form. And you’ll come back with a story, which, really, is what all the going and coming and spending (not a small) fortune is ultimately about, right? Coming back with a tale to tell at every party, every dinner party, every wedding reception, etc. for … well, for the rest of your life.

Is it crazy? Of course it’s crazy. And eating ants — that’s the least of what’s crazy.

For perspective: there are a lot of people I know who think it is astonishing that other people will drop $250 for dinner for two when that dinner is not a birthday or anniversary or some sort of occasion — just to go out to dinner.

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REPORT FROM THE FIELD: ROSE’S LUXURY ……….:

I had the pleasure of going back to Rose’s Luxury for the first time in a year or so. No surprise, but everything was close to perfect.

We ordered the whole menu (save for caviar service), and the smoked trout mousse is what really stuck with me. Impossibly light and flavorful. We went back for a second round. Also earning multiple orders at our table was the brown butter bourbon cocktail. Dangerous in all the best ways.

As for the service, one thing stood out. A dining companion informed our server that she has a gluten allergy. The server asked for more specifics regarding the severity of the allergy, then came back from the kitchen with a playfully marked up menu that made it clear exactly what she could and could not have.

Exceptional as usual.

Todd Kliman

Your recent meal sounds a lot like my most recent meal, about six weeks ago, which was exceptional.

If anybody out there hasn’t had the beef crudo, then run, don’t walk.

It’s a quintessentially Rose’s dish, more quintessential than many of the dishes we all know and love and have read (and read) about.

Comes on a dainty little grandmother’s plate, and looks like nothing special at all. If you ordered it with a bunch of other stuff, you might even forget, as I did, that it’s the beef crudo. It looks like a plate of roasted marinated peppers. Nice, you think. And then you dig in.

The flavor! The explosion of flavor! There’s more beefy richness and intensity in one slice than in all of the steaks I ate in this city last year.

Why do I say it’s a quintessential Rose’s dish? Because this is what Rose’s hopes to do with everything in that space. To make you think: ah, nice, a simple little plate of comfort for me and my honey to share … and then bait-and-switch you in the best way possible. The wealth of careful detail in constructing these plates, the way they’re so tightly engineered, the components that in lesser hands might jar or come across as experimental but here coalesce into something inevitable and delicious.

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WHEN THE STAFF IS CLEARLY OVERWHELMED ……….:

First time writing in, but I read & enjoy every week!

Quick question/review – what should a customer do when the staff is clearly overwhelmed at a restaurant?

My boyfriend and I tried La Grenier on Saturday night, reservation and all, and opted to sit at the bar after they offered us a tiny table on top of the entrance, where the door was constantly opening into the freezing temps. We were fine with the bar atmosphere and looked forward a good meal and drinks in the quirky space. However, it took us 20 minutes to simply be handed menus by the bartender and a full 45 to order a single drink. The bar was only 3/4 full, but the bartender was clearly new, overwhelmed, constantly apologizing, and being ignored by fellow staff who neglected to jump in and offer a hand at any point.

We ended up leaving out of disappointment (okay.. mostly hunger) and heading across the street (DC Harvest, you rock!), but I felt guilty. It was clear the bartender was trying, but also clear that she wasn’t able to handle things yet and it was coming at the cost of service and experience for the customers, as others were quietly complaining around us.

What are your thoughts? Should we have stuck it out?

Todd Kliman

I wouldn’t have.

You were right to leave. And no need to feel guilty.

The key sentence in what you wrote is — the bartender was “being ignored by fellow staff who neglected to jump in and offer a hand at any point.”

I see this a lot at restaurants. I or another patron will have a hand up, and servers will just whisk on by as if they don’t notice, or don’t care.

That’s one sign of an operation that isn’t coherent and where the morale is probably not good.

At a good place, the servers have each other’s back, and you will see a lot of what, in another context, would be called “help defense.” They pitch in, or, if they themselves don’t go and troubleshoot the problem, they’ll alert someone else on staff to do it.

This is not only the case, by the way, at good high-end restaurants. You see it in good cafes and good diners, too.

The bartender isn’t to blame. The manager and owner are to blame, for putting her out there before she is ready. And for not giving her support on the floor.

That’s too bad.

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WINNING THE FOODIE LOTTERY, CONT. ……….:

I’m interested in hearing more about those friends of yours who are “astonished” by what people pay for a good meal out.

Todd Kliman

It’s not that they don’t know what things cost nowadays, and especially the price of a night out in this insanely overpriced market.

But come on: not everybody is a young professional or a powerful exec or a consultant, etc., making a comfortable (and then some) living. It can sometimes seem that way in this city, I know, and especially if you choose to self-segregate, but it’s not the reality. Some people make music. Some teach. Some teach and make music. Some write. Some do a little of this and a little of that, scraping by despite their intellect and curiosity and good educations.

I know a lot of people who fall into the second grouping. They know and love good food. They often can’t afford it. Or can’t justify it as more than a sometime indulgence.

A quick story. When I took the gig at Washingtonian and began working with a substantially bigger budget than the one I’d had at City Paper, which was a pittance — I subsidized my job for two years, rationalizing the fact that I would be eating out a lot anyway — a friend of mine told me that I should give some of my new budget to charity, specifically to the men and women who were going without every day on the streets of the city.

The fact that this would be unethical did not sway him in his self-righteousness. I had come into a windfall, so to speak — the money I was being given to go to restaurants was more money than I made, in a year, to teach college — and I should feel guilty about it.

Did I feel guilty about it? I didn’t. But I do think it speaks to the country we live in, and the time we live in, that teaching evidently has so little value to the society, and that writers are forced to scrape by, subsidizing their work and accepting, for their efforts, fees that have not gone up and in many cases have gone down, way down, over the past twenty five years.

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REPORT FROM THE FIELD: THIP KHAO IN COLUMBIA HEIGHTS ……….:

I made my first trip to Thip Khao on Thursday. The crispy rice salad and crispy watercress are exactly as great as they are at Bangkok Golden. The one difference I noticed was the level of spice in other dishes. The laab ped was especially toned down. I mentioned this to Chef Seng via social media (as one does these days), and she indicated that the heat had been scaled back based on customer feedback.

One difference between the two places is that our server at Thip Khao didn’t ask what level of spice we’d like. This has always been automatic at BG. So if you’re looking for a little heat, don’t be afraid to ask for it. Oh, and order the blood sausage and the chicken wings. Opposite ends of the spectrum in many ways, but both were excellent.

Todd Kliman

Thanks for the report.

I’ve been twice, now. My first visit, there were a couple of dishes that were off-the-charts hot, hotter than anything I’d ever tried at Bangkok Golden. Second time, nothing quite approached that level of heat. So yeah, I’ve seen the toning down that you’re talking about.

So far, the dishes that most excite me are two fish dishes: the knap pah, which brings a succulent little grilled filet (I like the salmon) coated in ginger and dill and wrapped in a banana leaf; and the moak pah (similar, but different — here, the fish is smeared with curry paste before being swaddled in banana leaf and steamed).

I also love the grilled pork neck, same as at BG, but presented in a more high-toned way.

I’m still trying to get a fix on the place. It’s a nice space, but so far missing the festive, buzzy vibe of BG. And the servers don’t do nearly enough to guide the diner at the table; these dishes need (some) explanation and direction — not one server, for instance, has taken the time to tell the table what’s inside the small woven basket (sticky rice) and what to do with it (make small balls, flatten them out with your fingers, and pinch bites of food). I’ve had some good dishes, but a restaurant is more than a procession of dishes. I’m hoping that as the staff settles in the place begins to come together.

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RECS FOR OLD TOWN — NO, NOT THAT OLD TOWN ……….:

Submitting under the wire. Do you and any on the in peanut gallery have suggestions for a great place to eat in Old Town Naples (FL unfort not Italy)? Will have one baby free night during an upcoming family trip. Open to any and all ideas.

Todd Kliman

I can’t help you, sorry, but there’s bound to be someone out there who can.

Chatters, whatcha got?

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WINNING THE FOODIE LOTTERY, CONT. ……….:

Trip to Tokyo: count me in! I live for such experiences (even though I don’t make an incredible amount of money and have a regular day job) and if I had such an opportunity I’d definitely do it even if it meant eating sandwiches for months.

My approach is life is too short to not do things that matter to you when you are able, and some experiences happen once or twice in a lifetime. I don’t think this is any different than spending money on a wedding or having kids, it is all about what matters to us personally, and thankfully we are free to make choices 🙂

Todd Kliman

And really, who cares what people think?

If you based all your decisions in life on what people think, you would never do anything. There will always be people to talk you out of anything.

If you have the time, and the money, why not?

That’s not to say that I, at least, wouldn’t have some smidgen, maybe more than a smidgen, of guilt about doing some like that, on that scale.

Nothing wrong with holding two opposing ideas in our minds at the same time, right? We can say, wheeee, what the hell, and we can also feel a little guilty at our good fortune and our standing relative to the rest of the world, yes? Or no?

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REPORT FROM THE FIELD: DBGB, IN DC ……….:

I wanted to chime in for a great experience at DBGB, the bartender was very friendly and his suggestions were spot on both on food and drinks.

We especially loved the charcuterie plate and the bread, it reminded me why and how French charcuterie is different than American (we eat at Partisan regularly). It also seemed like he had the pride and the morale you were talking about, even when they were overwhelmed with a bunch of cocktail orders they kept an eye on us to see if we needed anything else.

I am glad I waited for a while to visit DBGB but we are definitely going back for more soon!

Todd Kliman

I’m glad to hear this about DBGB. I mean, the talent is there, the knowhow is there, the money is there …

Thanks for the report …

By the way: I’m curious to hear what you mean by the difference between French and American charcuterie? What are you noticing? Texture? Spicing?

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REPORT FROM THE FIELD: SOFT-OPENING AT BETHESDA BARBECUE CO. ……….:

Eating Bethesda Barbecue Co’s food in the Newton’s Table dining room is pretty surreal. It’s still a soft-open, so I’ll save my feedback for them directly. But yeah. White tablecloths with bottles of barbecue sauce all over the place.

Todd Kliman

Ugh.

That’s so tonally wrong.

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A RESTAURANT WEEK PLEA ……….:

Restaurant Week: Note to the restaurants – can you please tell us what you’re offering on the main website?

I see that many restaurants are missing menus which makes us go somewhere else. I think the RAMW site should also indicate if the restaurant is offering full menu without restrictions (very rare but true!) otherwise one thinks the restaurant is not ready.

Also, kudos to restaurants that are offering something unusual and different (Ris!) than the cheapest thing on the menu or a salad + chicken with little options.

Todd Kliman

I agree with everything you said.

I hope the restaurateurs take it to heart.

Thanks for sharing your thoughts …

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ASKING SERVERS FOR RECOMMENDATIONS ……….:

Hey Todd,

Do you think it is a good idea to ask waiters for their recommendations? In your experience, will they tend to steer you in the right direction, or will they more often just recommend the more expensive/profitable dishes, or the ones the chef is trying to get rid of?

Todd Kliman

I actually just wrote about this, not that long ago.

Here’s what I said.

Never ask the waiter what’s good.

You’ve read countless stories of how the biggest restaurateurs are fanatical about the details. How they lavish millions on interior design and jet off to distant lands to research cuisines. Here’s what they don’t do: let their staff eat off the menu.

Before a restaurant opens, about ten of the most important dishes will be brought out, one at a time, for staff to sample. The servers will dive in all at once for a taste. But just a taste. What if after seven bites the dish loses its initial excitement, or its saltiness reveals itself as the food cools? The server will never know.

Now you know why, when you ask what’s good, you often hear a waiter reply what dish is “popular.” And that server who enthusiastically talks up the pork cheek or the shrimp ’n’ grits? Diner beware. Unless you happen to catch something sincere and personalized in the description, assume the waiter is pushing what the chef has instructed the staff to sell.

I will add, though, that in my capacity I very often ask a server what’s good. But I’m there for reasons other than to have a great meal. I mean, yes, I want to have a great meal, but the reason I’m going to a restaurant is to test the system, kick the tires, etc. Asking what’s good is a way of testing knowledge and finding out just how much training management has given him or her.

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FINDING A GOOD DEAL ON A BOTTLE OF WINE ……….:

Hi Todd –

I had the good fortune to eat a fantastic, upscale brunch this past weekend. Upon browsing the extensive wine list and ordering, our server remarked “Wow, you really found a good deal on that bottle.”

We didn’t know what to say (it was a very reasonable price, though). Was she implying there was a typo? That she was unfamiliar with that bottle? That we were “savvy” or “gaming the system?” Curious if this has ever happened to you. Perhaps she was just making small talk.

Todd Kliman

Hard to know, not having been there at the table with you.

It could have been the wine equivalent of that old, and obsequious, server’s line about a dish you just ordered — “An excellent choice, sir.”

But who knows?

Maybe she knows her wine. Maybe she knows enough to know that the restaurant was marking up this particular bottle at a lower-than-industry rate.

I’m inclined to go with the first, but I’d love to be wrong on this.

Gotta run, everyone … I went an hour longer than I thought, which either speaks to how well I’m doing with this cold or how heedless I am of my own health. Or — on the third hand — how much fun it is to talk food and drink and what all else with you …

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

[missing you, TEK … ]