Where can you get a three-star experience at one-star prices? Which hot new restaurant merits the scorching hype? The answer to all these questions and more can be found Tuesdays at 11 AM on Kliman Online.
From scoping out scruffy holes in the wall to weighing the merits of four-star wanna-bes, from scouring the ‘burbs and exurbs to hitting the city’s streets, Todd Kliman covers a lot of territory.
Winner of a James Beard Foundation Award in 2005 for the country’s best newspaper column about food, Kliman is food and wine editor and restaurant critic for The Washingtonian. His writing has appeared in The New Yorker, Harper’s, The Oxford American, Lucky Peach, The Daily Beast and Men’s Health, among others, and he has been selected four times for inclusion in the Best Food Writing anthologies. A finalist for the MFK Fisher Distinguished Writing Award, he took home first-place honors for feature writing, in 2013, from the Association of Food Journalists.
He is the author, most recently, of The Wild Vine, a literary exploration of two entwined mysteries: an obscure grape that rose to prominence, only to disappear, and its present-day evangelist, a foul-mouthed transgendered multi-millionaire vintner on an obsessive quest to restore the legend of an antebellum southern doctor. Barnes & Noble and The Oxford American both made it an Editor’s Pick. The Richmond TImes-Dispatch called it “an outstanding piece of literature.”
Kliman previously taught writing and literature at American University and Howard University. At Howard, he was also the editorial advisor to The Illtop Journal, Chris Rock’s humor magazine modeled after the Harvard Lampoon.
Can’t wait a week to talk to Todd? Follow him on Twitter for dining reports, tips, and breaking news from the culinary world. Or write to him: firstname.lastname@example.org
WHERE TO EAT NOW:
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.
Not cheap for H St., but the quality of the fish is high and 24-year-old chef Carlos is a talent. His plates are striking, and his flavors pop. Ocopa functions best when you think of it as a place to divvy up small plates of tiradito and ceviche and causa (his version of papa a la huancaina, a potato salad, is so sublime it makes the picnic staple you’re probably imagining look like prison food) while tanking down cocktails (among which you’ll find expert renditions of pisco and rum punch).
At a recent meal at this Yemeni gem, I ate injera, pita, and wheat bread (the latter baked for a marvelous bread pudding called masoob, layered with bananas, cream, honey and nigella that is a little bit different with each bite). Owner Taha Alhoraivi didn’t know how to cook a single dish from his tradition when he arrived in the States 15 years ago on a student visa. He didn’t even know how to cook. His mother and sister had barred him from the kitchen; cooking was women’s work. He subsisted for months on eggs, bread and cheese, until he returned home for a visit and prevailed upon the women in his family to share their recipes with him. Thus began a 15-year-journey of research and experimentation, as Alhoraivi sought to recreate the foods of his youth in isolation. Saba is the remarkable result. The two must-orders are the haneeth and the fahsa. The former is a strapping platter of slow-cooked lamb, seasoned with cardamom, cumin and cloves, that comes apart without prodding and some of the most flavorful rice you’ll ever eat — each grain is distinct, and tastes richly of the meat. The latter is a shredded beef stew in a sauce of tomatoes, onions and cumin so concentrated it might as well be a syrup; the crowning touch is a dollop of hilbeh, a tangy dip flavored with mint and cilantro.
Casa Luca, DC
The most casual of the restaurants in Fabio Trabocchi’s collection has found its groove. This is an assured operation from top to bottom, and from its opening nibbles to its pastas (go for the San Leo — ravioli stuffed with wild greens and ricotta and treated to a sauce of butter, toasted almonds and nepitella) to its dazzling preparations of fish and seafood to its light, colorful and exquisitely crafted desserts. I joked to a friend at dinner recently that the cornish hen minestrone was “too flavorful” — its broth so intense and rich that I had to stop talking and give all my attention to it.
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.
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.
REPORT FROM THE FIELD: SAKURAMEN IN ADAMS MORGAN ………..:
My friends have been raving about Sakuramen for years, so I finally decided to check this place out Sunday night.
Since the place was packed we got takeout – we got a bowl of tonkotsu and shoku. My friend got the shoku; I got the tonkotsu. I was really disappointed with my ramen. It came with hardly any broth, bloated noodles, only 2 small pieces of pork belly, and mushrooms. My friend’s bowl looked a lot better – he got some scallions, a lot more meat, and a boiled egg. His noodles weren’t bloated, and his soup was a lot hotter.
I have to emphasize the bloated noodles – they had the consistency of day old pho.
Anyways, at the time, I chalked it up to the place just being overhyped or uneven or whatever. I did some investigating the next morning though, and I now believe I got someone else’s leftovers. I googled images of tonkotsu ramen by Sakuramen, and got a gallery of delicious looking ramen bowls: https://www.google.com/search?q=tonkotsu+sakuramen&biw=1600&bih=773&source=lnms&tbm=isch&sa=X&ei=MmnGVNXmLcLEggSCuIOICQ&ved=0CAgQ_AUoAw
Again, mine had bloated noodles, hardly any broth, only 2 small pieces of meat, no chopped green onions, no hardboiled eggs, no nori etc.
I have reached out to the restaurant, but I have not heard back. I know it hasn’t been long at all, but I’ve never been so disgusted with a takeout order, I feel like I have to do something about it. It’s also cold season! Yuck!
That’d probably be the conclusion that I would come to, too, having done a comparison and contrast like that.
Here’s the thing, though — don’t know what you could get the restaurant to say in this case. There’s no way of knowing for sure that you did get someone’s leftovers.
I can put it out there, now, in this forum and hope that someone contacts me and offers to comp you another bowl next time.
Otherwise, why would you ever choose to go back …?
SIMPLY HEINZ ……….:
Have you tried Simply Heinz catsup yet? Far superior to regular Heinz catsup. Might have to try their organic catsup.
Actually I hadn’t even heard of it until reading your question. (Shows you how often your trusty food critic shops at the store. 🙂
I’ll look for it.
In that same vein, or vine, a few months ago I tasted a bunch of jarred marinaras. They were terrible, all of them. Very sweet, that was the main thing. Very, very sweet. And not naturally sweet, either, but sweet in that cheap fake way that so many processed foods are. And no depth at all to the flavor.
Even doctoring them would be a challenge.
Are there jarred (or bagged or frozen or whatever) products you buy that you make sure to keep at hand? I don’t necessarily mean that they’re a staple in your cooking, but that you might use them a few or five or six times a year.
BRUNCH W/ A BABY? ……….:
Hi Todd –
Do you have any recommendations for brunch spots that would be good for two couples and a baby? My husband and I have friends in town who are planning to move to DC soon, and we would love to give them a taste of the city.
Thanks so much for your help!
My two favorite brunch spots right now are DGS Delicatessen, the artisanal Jewish deli, and Central Michel Richard, the inventive Franco-American bistro.
At DGS, it’s two courses plus a bottomless drink — mimosa, Bloody Mary or screwdriver — for $27.
Central serves three courses for $25, and you can add a bottomless drink for $10.
And you’ll be fine with a baby at either place; don’t worry about a thing.
I’d love to know where you end up, and how things go. Drop me a note, okay?
CHINESE OR VIETNAMESE BAKERIES ……….:
Where are the best Chinese or Vietnamese bakeries in the area?
I have explored Eden Center pretty well and have my favorites there, but where else can I fulfill my hankering for roast and steamed pork buns as well as some of the sweet buns and great bubble tea (haven’t had a good bubble tea in ages, as all the ones in Eden center are grainy and too thick).
Head to Rockville — either Bread Corner or Asian Bakery Cafe ought to be able to fill that hankering.
Buns of all kinds, filled buns, plain buns, sweet buns, savory buns. Bubble teas, too, though I don’t recall anything remarkable about them at either.
On weekends, these places are jammed, so just be prepared to elbow your way in and/or wait.
And when you’ve made the trip out and back, let me know what you think.
BAGGED STUFF, CONT. ……….:
In terms of bagged frozen products, I always have a bag or two of Trader Joe’s balsamic roast vegetables on hand. I toss some in a pan, add a little more balsamic, a small squirt of tomato paste, and something hot (gochujang, chile garlic paste, sriracha, whatever) and heat it up and add cooked pasta and some of the pasta water and toss together.
If I have it on hand, I add some of the TJ’s soy chorizo or fresh mushrooms or some greens like spinach or kale. It’s my go-to meal when I have nothing else on hand and don’t feel like going to the store or out.
Huh. That’s interesting.
So, wait — what do the vegetables look like when they come out of the bag? Are they dark or darkish from having been roasted and hit with balsamic? What do they taste like on their own?
I’ve never seen already roasted vegetables as a frozen item.
DRY-AGED BEEF ……….:
My boyfriend’s favorite celebratory meal is steak and potatoes. For his birthday dinner, that’s all he desires, great meat and mashed potatoes. Fancy sides are usually ignored.
After a recent trip to Argentina, I was concerned that our domestic steaks would pale in comparison to the flavorful meat that we obtained there. Then I read “Better with Age” by Francis Lam, and I’m now on a mission to find the best dry-aged beef in the area.
Would you please recommend your top three restaurant recommendations in VA or DC for this dry-aged beef?
Additionally, I have to rule out Bourbon steak because we went there for our last celebration.
Thank you very much for your help with this request.
Francis wrote a really interesting piece. Here it is, for anyone who hasn’t seen it: http://www.bonappetit.com/test-kitchen/ingredients/article/dry-aged-beef-is-a-new-trend-in-restaurants-around-the-country
Unfortunately, the trend he writes about hasn’t made its way to DC. This is largely — not entirely but largely — a Vegas and New York thing.
Most restaurants in DC aren’t dry-aging their meat nearly that long.
The only one I know of is Ray’s the Steaks in Arlington. The owner, Michael Landrum, claims that he dry-ages his Cote de Boeuf — called Delmonico on the menu — for 60-70 days and its New York Strip for 40-45 days.
I’d be interested in hearing from management at some of the chain steak houses. To the best of my knowledge, they’re doing a much, much briefer dry-age.
Dry-age costs a lot of money, and takes a lot of time. In concentrating the flavors of the cut of meat, you’re essentially sacrificing the size of the steak for taste. And in having that product hang in a locker for weeks and weeks, you aren’t selling something to the public.
The flavor of a good dry-aged steak is amazing, rich and intense and umami-ish — and I say that not having had the fortune to taste some of the steaks that Francis did, steaks that aged for more than two months.
Since most steakhouses aren’t making the effort to dry-age for any real length of time, I tend to prefer a steakhouse that wet-ages, like Lewnes’ in Annapolis. No, wet-aging doesn’t come anywhere close to giving you an umami taste, but I’ll take the juiciness that process produces over the undeveloped flavors of a three-week dry age any day.
REPORT FROM THE FIELD: TAQUERIA HABANERO IN COLUMBIA HTS. ………..:
I have to say my first trip to Taqueria Habanero was a little underwhelming. Maybe it was the hype. Partly it was because I fell for a carne asada special that wasn’t what I was expecting (it was a full steak with no obvious rub or marinade) and not that good.
But I also thought the tacos were just fine, not great (had barbacoa, chicken poblano, and chorizo). They tasted more of the tortilla and onion than the filling. I did like the salsas. I’ll give it one more try so I can try the enchilladas and the posole. I didn’t see mole enchilladas on the menu — was that a special?
Yes, it was a special.
The posole and the enchiladas were the reasons for my initial enthusiasm. I’d give the place another shot. And try the lengua next time you go for a taco.
Good as this mole was, the mole poblano I had recently at Taqueria El Mexicano, in Hyattsville, was better. My goodness.
As I wrote last week, mole poblano is one of my favorite dishes in the world, and this preparation was the best I’ve had in years.
The taqueria’s owners, Bernard and Claire Lucero, hail from the state of Puebla, which some culinarians regard as the birthplace of mole poblano. Some, not all—many centuries later, its origins remain in dispute. In any event, Pueblans are passionate and fiercely particular about their mole poblano, which some culinarians (some) believe to be the national dish of Mexico.
The sauce is the thing—thick, brown-black, dotted with sesame seeds, and with a taste as rich and complex as any of the French master sauces. At the same time, it’s infinitely more idiosyncratic, a sauce that seems to change the way you think about it with each bite: now sweet, now slightly bitter, now spicy, now slightly smoky.
Dark chocolate is the not-so-secret ingredient, and gives the dish its identifiable color, but the strange, mysterious character of mole poblano cannot be chalked up, simply, to the inclusion of chocolate—the mix also includes sweet, smoky guajillo chilies, fried nuts, and raisins, as well as a larder’s worth of toasted, ground spices.
A great mole poblano—and this one qualifies—has such depth that it seems almost impenetrable, unknowable.
Each order comes with two pieces of unexpectedly tender chicken (in most cases, a leg and a piece of meat cut from around the breast), good rice and stewed beans, and—an even bigger surprise—two handmade corn tortillas. (If there’s anybody making tortillas like this in the area, with this perfect, pebbly surface, please let me know; these are fabulous.)
The cost to walk away with a memory: $11.50.
BAGGED STUFF, CONT. ……….:
They don’t really taste roasted to me (hell, they might be raw) but they have these little frozen discs of sauce (sort of look like sliced meatballs) that melt as they heat up.
I don’t really keep any frozen vegetables around other than these as my emergency dinner solution.
Mmm, little frozen discs of sauce, sounds delicious … 😉
REPORT FROM THE FIELD: THE GRILL ROOM AT CAPELLA HOTEL, GEORGETOWN ……….:
I am not a fan of DC Restaurant Week but when I read that Frank Ruta was previewing some dishes from his forthcoming menu at The Grill Room (Capella Hotel), I made a reservation for last Friday night.
We arrived on time, were seated and given regular menus. I asked the hostess for the RW menu and she provided them. A few minutes later she returns to say that the kitchen has run out of the RW menu. When I asked what they were substituting, the hostess replied that only the regular menu was available. At that point we left and went elsewhere.
Given that the Grill Room is small, was half empty and it was early in the evening with another day of RW remaining. this was difficult to undertand.
As you can imagine, I am no longer a fan of Frank Ruta who clearly does not care about his customers or his reputation. I predict that his run at the Capella Hotel will be a short one.
That’s really odd.
Thanks for writing in.
Did the piece you read say that he was going to be previewing those dishes as part of his Restaurant Week menu?
Or was the idea that he was going to be previewing those dishes and it just so happened that that preview coincided with Restaurant Week?
OK, just found what I think is the story that planted the idea.
From the Post: “… the boutique Capella hotel in Georgetown, which is participating in the forthcoming Metropolitan Washington Restaurant Week (Jan. 19-25) by offering customers in its tony Grill Room the usual deals on meals, with a twist: Previews of a few dishes Ruta hopes to put on his inaugural menu, which doesn’t debut for another month.”
Yeah, okay, I’d be burned up, too …
I’d like to know what went on there the other night …
DRY-AGED STEAKS, CONT. ……….:
For the poster looking for dry aged steaks, Capital Grill also has some on the menu.
As for the potato aspect of the meal, I’m still looking for better potatoes au gratin in the city tha Cap Grill’s. Not necessarily the most “buzzy” option, but I think a solid one nonetheless!
Unless there’s been a change in the chain’s procedures that I don’t know about, this is what Capital Grille does:
It wet-ages its steaks for 21 days and then dry-ages them on site for an additional 14 days.
That’s not dry-aging like we’re talking about. The steaks are more wet-aged than dry, and the drying that they do get is not enough to give the meat that depth and richness and umami flavor we all love and want.
BAGGED STUFF, CONT. ……….:
I keep a box of the non-salted Swanson’s chicken stock in pantry for the times that I may run out of my homemade chicken stock.
I also keep a supply of Duke’s mayonnaise. I will use Hellman’s in a pinch, but I try to buy Duke’s on sale and keep at least one jar on hand.
I love a product called Just Mayo, which is, believe it or not — I didn’t, especially after I tried it — vegan.
Yes, and it’s terrific.
It’s made with yellow peas, canola oil and lemon, and has backing, believe it or not, from Microsoft founder Bill Gates and Li Ka-shing, Asia’s richest tycoon.
And, believe it or not, Just Mayo is being sued by the company that owns Hellmann’s for “misleading” customers.
Mayonnaise, according to FDA guidelines, must contain egg.
But Just Mayo doesn’t call itself mayonnaise. Ha.
You mentioned Swanson’s chicken stock — is there a chicken stock out there that’s really, really high grade? I mean, nothing comes close to homemade, but is there something out there that gets into the ballpark? Even if it’s expensive?
CENTRAL, CONT. ……….:
Catching up on chats, I saw the one from a couple of weeks ago about Central, and that just reminded me of the power of a negative service experience. I’d been wanting to try the restaurant out for a while and finally went for it a couple of summers ago when in the area (which I rarely am).
They only had an early reservation available so I figured my boyfriend and I could make a quick meal of smaller bites since we weren’t that hungry. The moment our waitress heard that we weren’t ordering drinks or full entrees, the smile dropped from her face and she became immediately, visibly hostile the entirety of the time we were there, slamming things on the table and snapping at us.
My boyfriend, who is usually completely oblivious to service, definitely noticed and by the end of the meal timidly suggested we not dare point out that she brought us the wrong dessert for fear of having to interact with her more than possible.
I sent a follow up note to the restaurant but never heard back. I continue to see Central raved about and they clearly don’t need my business, and they’ve had special events that I’ve wanted to check out, but I just can’t bring myself to go back, not when DC has so many other restaurants to offer.
It sounds like a crummy experience, but I don’t know how relevant it is to the restaurant of today. Two years is an eternity in the restaurant world. Central has seen a good deal of turnover in that time — chefs coming and going, GMs coming and going. The waitress might not even be around.
Just a note for next time: the thing to do is to collar a manager at some point during the meal or just after and tell him or her what happened. In this case, earlier rather than later would have been the best course of action.
If you’re there, in the restaurant, you have a lot more influence than you do writing a note later by email. The GM sees you — you’re not faceless. And if you’re sincere and not angling for a favor, GMs generally do try all they can to send you away not feeling like you’ve been had.
DRY AGING, CONT. ……….:
Get out! I had no idea. They’re definitely listed on the menu as “Dry-Aged…” so it never occured to me to look further. Thanks for the clarification Todd!
It’s one reason so many steaks I’ve had around here are so disappointing.
BAGGED STUFF, CONT. ……….:
As an Italian boy, I almost always make a quick marinara sauce at home, rather than buy one of the foul choices at the store.
The ONLY acceptable jarred sauce I have found is Trader Joe’s Bolognese, which I keep on hand for pasta emergencies.
You know what I use for pasta emergencies?
Olive oil, anchovies, crushed garlic, and chili flakes. 😉
There’s no jarred red that’s as good.
REPORT FROM THE FIELD: SUSHI TARO IN DUPONT CIRCLE ……….:
I generally despise restaurant week as well, but I thought it might be a good opportunity for me to try some of the restaurants where the bill hasn’t been prohibitively high, but certainly served as a deterrent for dining in the past.
Friday night, my wife and I went to Sushi Taro. I was excited because I anticipated trying some of the best fish in the district, at something that cost far less than their ordinary omakase menu. One dish was great- the beef sukiyaki was a touch sweet but had really developed umami flavors. But for the most part, I found the fish really disappointing- flat, tasteless pieces of fish, with only a few exceptions (the bay scallop was fantastic).
The fish was a real contrast to the last meal I had at Sushi Capitol, where virtually everything sang with clean, bright flavors. Did I taste the same fish that Sushi Taro normally serves? Or did I try a restaurant week cheaper, older cuts of fish menu? I can’t think of a good reason to pay the extra for a meal at Sushi Taro when I can go to Sushi Capitol and get an omakase menu for $30 or $40 less.
Why do you think we had Sushi Capitol ranked higher in our top 100 than Sushi Taro?
Your most recent meal there sounds a lot like my most recent meal there.
“Flat and tasteless”: the absolute last thing you want when it comes to sushi.
NEIGHBORHOOD SPOTS IN DC ……….:
What are some of your favorite neighborhood spots in DC?
I moved here this summer, and I love exploring the city by hanging out at bars and restaurants in different neighborhoods that are good hangouts for local residents. Curious to hear which spots you think are standbys around the city?
There’re a lot of these neighborhood spots now. This has been the real growth area in DC dining over the past couple of years.
Mintwood Place in Adams Morgan, The Red Hen in Bloomingdale, Izakaya Seki in the U St. corridor, Crane & Turtle in Petworth, Rose’s Luxury on Barracks Row, are some of my current favorites.
All the same, I don’t really consider them to be neighborhood restaurants.
I mean, yes, they’re neighborhood restaurants as that term is generally understood in the foodie world of the moment. They’re comparatively low-key when compared to the fine dining establishments of old, and a little less expensive, and they’re situated in — and sometimes fixtures of — their communities.
But I would like to think that a real neighborhood place is a place where two people can eat for around $60, not $130. A place where you can hang out, and go a couple times a week if you want. Where you don’t have to dress up, and can go in sweats if you want.
The Boatyard Bar & Grill in Annapolis. The Lost Dog Cafe in Arlington. Franklins in Hyattsville. That kinda place.
When casual fine dining wrested the term away from the kinds of places I just listed in that paragraph above in order to give their establishments more authenticity and soul, they left us, I think, with something that creates a divide. Regular folks who eat routinely at the likes of the Boatyard and think that that’s neighborhood eating, and people who go to Mintwood Place on the regular and think that they’re not flush or fancy.
We need a new term, no?
DRY AGING, CONT. ……….:
Del Campo – 160oz Dry Aged Ribeye from Creekstone Farms. Aged about 30 days. Has a nice nutty taste.
Thanks for the tip.
Although 30 days — that’s nothing …
MAYO, CONT. ………..:
The just Mayo lawsuit has been dropped. Just an FYI.
Good to know.
What an astonishing waste of time, money, and resources. But it was not the first and it won’t be the last.
REPORT FROM THE FIELD: RURAL SOCIETY IN DC:
Had a pretty good restaurant week meal at Rural Society that included a 28-day aged rib eye. I don’t recall if that was Dry-Aged though.
Another thing to check out is Red Apron. I know they sell dry-aged steaks at retail, so maybe The Partisan or B-Side can cook one up.
I’ll look into it. Thanks.
And as for that 28 days — I wonder whether all of that time is spent in dry-aging, or whether some of it is spent in wet-aging.
Thank you, all, for the great questions and reports from the field and tips of all kinds.
Be well, eat well, and let’s do it again next Tuesday at 11 …[missing you, TEK … ]