Tuesday, March 10th, 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.

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



Bob’s Shanghai 66, Rockville

If my most recent meal is any indication, the kitchen is really clicking right now. Go for the bean curd and pork — the long, thin bands of curd have the slipperiness and chew of great noodles, and the saucing is delicate and tight — and a plate of tiny shrimps in a surprisingly balanced sweet-and-sour chili sauce. The two best meals I’ve had in Rockville’s Chinatown in the past six months were at China Bistro (aka Mama’s Dumplings) and here.

Taqueria el Mexicano, Hyattsville

Someone tweeted me last week after reading what I wrote about the mole poblano: “what else is good there?” What else? What else do you need when a dish is this good? 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; each bite changes the way you think about it: 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 chilis, fried nuts and raisins, as well as a larder’s worth of toasted, ground spices. 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.

Hunan Taste, Fairfax

This kitchen works magic. Not all the time — I’ve had a couple of eh dishes over the course of two visits. But then you turn up a dish like the mushroom casserole with pork (best not to study its long, dark tadpole-like fungi), or fish fillet with bean curd sauce, or Divine Incense Mint Pork (chewy-crunchy strips of pork belly with fried mint) and can’t stop eating, and wow.

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.

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.



Re: Jury Duty Lunch

I went to The Source. It was totally empty in the bar at 1 pm. I took your suggestion and said I needed to be in and out in 45 minutes as soon as I arrived. It was no problem. The bartender put a rush on my order. My salad was delicious and I probably would have had time to order something more substantial had I been in the mood.

And to your question on if this is habit or indulgence? It was indulgence- jury duty is painful. A delicious, special lunch made it a much more pleasant day overall.

Todd Kliman

That’s great.

Good for The Source. Nice to hear some news like that for a place that not so very long ago was pumping out great food with regularity.

And I hear you, loud and clear, about jury duty. I only know one person who looks forward to being called. It’s partly because he has a strong sense of civic duty, and partly — a bigger part — because he’s so generally bored by his government job.

Good morning, everyone.

Eager to hear what you’re all chewing on, in either sense.



Todd –

I know you’ve already addressed this issue and moved on, but I wanted to join the commenter who pointed out that there is no real basis for saying ANY of the olive oils on the market are “fake” — at least if “fake” implies that the oils are not really olive oils.

Here’s the link to the 2010 report the “EatLocalGrown” people are relying on.


Two things jump out from it:

(a) It’s not an independent report at all, but is funded by the California Olive Council, which has an obvious conflict of interest

(b) The report never says there is any “fake” olive oil on the market. In fact, they never analyzed any olive oils to see if they were “fake.” Instead, they got “taste panels” to taste extra virgin olive oils to see if they met the “taste standards” expected of extra virgin olive oils.

When these taste panels found that the olive oils didn’t taste good enough, the authors (paid by the California Olive Council, remember) conclude that this was probably because the oils were either (a) oxidized due to improper storage or age, (b) adulterated with cheaper refined olive oil (not “fake” oil), or (c) poor quality due to use of damaged or overripe olives or poor processing techniques.

But they didn’t test any olive oils and they didn’t declare any olive oils “fake,” like this health food website does.

As a general rule, if it’s a claim on a health food website like EatLocalGrown.com, one ought to be very skeptical — at the very least, check to see if there’s actually any evidence supporting the website’s claims.

In this case, there isn’t any evidence that there’s any fake olive oil on the market and lots of evidence that this is a marketing ploy to denigrate foreign olive oils and promote California olive oils.

Todd Kliman

That’s interesting.

Thanks so much for taking the time to comb through it like this.

I’m with you that a study paid for by the COO ought to be regarded with deep skepticism.

I’m not so sure, though, in looking at what is denigrated and what is not, that it breaks so cleanly along the lines you suggest. There are, if I’m not mistaken, foreign oils (ha) that score well, and domestic oils that score poorly.

And, yes, “fake” is imprecise, and seems designed to have stirred up attention. But the standards they were evaluated for — oxidized or mixed with cheaper oils or full of damaged or overripe olives — don’t seem so stringent to me. If oils failed to meet those criteria, I’m not sure I see a problem with the results.

Now, as to who is making those evaluations, there we probably do have a problem again: how independent are these people? what are their affiliations? We don’t know.



How is Kapnos Taverna? Do you recommend it?

Todd Kliman

I’ve only been once, so far, and generally — not always, but generally — that’s too little a look-see to make a recommendation like you’re asking.

I will say, though, that it was only what I would call “fair.”

Not great and not good. Not bad and not mediocre.

I wanted more oomph from the flavors, more soul, more brightness, more spark.

Again, just one meal, and it’s still pretty early on in their tenure.



My wife and I stopped by Thai Taste by Kob on our way back from a weekend trip to New York.

We ordered two dishes to split: a pad thai and a panang curry- medium heat. I wanted to order it thai spicy, but when I’m splitting a couple dishes with my wife, I know there’s no way to ask for Thai spicy and expect her to eat a bite. And I found the dishes good, solid. But nothing inspired, nothing quite like the excitement that you have outlined about this place.

We specifically ordered the panang based on your previous recommendation. I have to ask: is it possible that my Thai palate is just different from yours? I’ve had the market soup at nava thai, which was entertainingly spicy, but not flavorful in a way that felt balanced and enjoyable- far too much vinegar and nowhere near the depth of flavor I was hoping for.

And coupled with this experience, I start to wonder… am I ordering incorrectly? Am I looking for the wrong qualities in Thai food?

Todd Kliman


I wonder if partly what’s going on is that you had a not-great meal. A friend of a friend went not long ago and enjoyed it but didn’t love it, wasn’t wowed by it.

That’s concerning. I’ve had some terrific meals there, as you know. But I’ve seen this before with small, family-run restaurants, which get a lot of attention and then struggle to live up to their early standard. I’m not saying that’s happening here — I can only say that if I go back a few times over the next week or so — but the restaurant I wrote about was pretty darn consistent and exciting.

As to the dishes you ordered … I don’t remember trumpeting the panang there. I mentioned it in my review, but I think I used it primarily to illustrate a particular quality of the chef’s cooking. Not to say it wasn’t a good dish, just that there are probably a dozen dishes I would want people to try first. The pad Thai — did I even order it there? It’s not coming to mind.

I still think you and I might be in accord, here. Maybe give it one more try.

The Floating Market Noodle Soup at Nava, a place that, sadly, has slipped, is, as you say, really sharp and really stinging at times. I haven’t had it in a while, but when the place was at its peak it was a full-bodied soup with nice depth.



The New Yorker magazine has published several articles on “Olive Oil Fraud.” Interesting stuff.

Long article from 2007: http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2007/08/13/slippery-business

Shorter follow up from 2012: http://www.newyorker.com/books/page-turner/olive-oils-dark-side

Todd Kliman

I remember the long one. I’ll be interested in reading the follow up.

Thanks for these …



I am being taken to Brasserie Beck this weekend. Have you been recently? Any recommendations?

Todd Kliman

Mussels with veal bolognese.

Truly, one of the great dishes in the city.

If you think about it, it’s really a clever little bit of surf and turf, a big pot of sweet steamed mussels drenched in a rich and chunky bolognese.

You’ll use all of your bread basket, trust me.

And actually, whoever’s with you won’t be able to resist poaching, so you’ll no doubt end up asking for a second basket of bread.

I wish I were digging into a pot of this right now …



Hi Todd,

Which new (or soon to open) restaurants are you most excited about in Washington? There’s always a lot of hype around openings, so I’m curious about your opinion.

Todd Kliman

The ever-winning Anna Spiegel just did a round-up of nine new spots in the city:


Of that crop, the one I’m most curious about is SER, in Ballston. Spanish cooking.

The chef is Josu Zubikarai who, some might remember, but many more won’t, was the founding chef at Taberna del Alabardero, back in 1989.

The place is in “soft-opening” right now.

It’s funny the way that term has gradually seeped into people’s consciousness, and is no longer just an industry term. I heard someone at a restaurant a few months ago saying, “Yeah, they’re in soft-opening right now.”

Everybody wants to be an insider.



Back to the coffee – a problem with a lot of the single origin coffees is that they’re only enjoyed if you’re not eating something.

Any random food can destroy the flavor of one of those coffees in a hurry.

Todd Kliman

So true.

And it’s one of the things I find interesting about how these coffees are being marketed to us. (“Marketed,” I suppose, sounds corporate, and these places are not the impersonal behemoths we think about when we think “corporate,” but there is a sales job going on, of which the tasting notes are but a part. Is “pitched” better?)

The coffees are pitched as having complex “flavor profiles” similar to wines or beers. Some are very complex, and you can sip and ponder them and puzzle them out just as you would a glass of wine. Is that enjoyable? I don’t know. I’d be interested in hearing from people who love or like to do that. I haven’t met one. And personally it’s not something I enjoy. But I really would like to hear from someone who does enjoy it.

Most of my enjoyment in drinking wine comes from having that wine paired with dishes, seeing the interplay, seeing the way each changes the other or adds to the other. Beer, less so, but again a lot of the interest for me is in matching a beer with a dish.

And as for coffee? There are, for me, few things I want to pair with my coffee. I’m going to guess most of you have the same things in mind. It’s not a long list. Most of that list is sweet things.

And as you say, pairing these single-origin coffees with food is just wasting your money on the coffee.



Why were Mario Batali and Joe whatever his name in Ballston on Wed afternoon at the corner of Wilson and Randolph???

Todd Kliman

Wait, are you the same guy who came on here about two years ago with a rumor that Mario Batali was eating somewhere in Clarendon and that this meant that he might be opening a location of Eataly somewhere in the nabe?

But to answer your question: I have no idea.

A cigar is never just a cigar, but sometimes a meal is just a meal.



Re: Kapnos Taverna–just had a nice meal there this past week–good service, drinks replaced when members of our party didn’t like their selection, octopus on point, the small plate lamb and fried eggplant I could eat every day.

I eagerly anticipate Isabella’s Bethesda offering this summer.

Todd Kliman

Well, good.

So let’s hope this means that my meal was early on in the process and they have since made the necessary adjustments.



I enjoyed the Washingtonian’s recent piece on the downfall of Serendipity 3 in Georgetown. Apart from the less-than-serendipitous relationship between the two partners, the article raised an interesting business point. The place could not be profitable just serving desserts, but rather it needed to bring in a lot of money from serving alcohol, which did not happen.

It was surprising to me that Serendipity flopped in Georgetown when it was so successful in New York — I would have expected the same type of folks that flock to, say, Georgetown Cupcake to line up for frozen hot chocolate.

Do you think better management could have saved Serendipity 3, or is a place that lives or dies on desserts doomed to failure when it has to pay the market rent at Wisconsin & M?

Todd Kliman

The partners were mismatched, clearly.

But to me, this is a story about two people starting a business without any real passion to bring something interesting or distinctive to people. What interested them? Money. Money and making the scene. Being players. Being talked about.

Could it have worked with different people behind it? In a different part of town? Maybe. Who knows?

And honestly? Who cares. I hate the thought of giving my money to people like this. Even if I liked the product, I would still hate the thought of giving my money to people like this. Sometimes I guess it’s better not to know. In this area, in this culture, they can’t be aberrations.



I went just a few weeks back and also enjoyed their scallop dish with sunchoke puree.

The service was excellent.

I hadn’t been back in years but it was refreshing to go to a long standing restaurant that takes reservations and is lit properly. And although I sound like an old grump, I am definitely under 35.

Todd Kliman

Oh, you can be an under-35 grump, definitely. In this city? 😉

One thing you can almost always count on in a Robert Wiedmaier restaurant is excellent service. It;s great to hear that you had such a good meal.

Sunchokes are everywhere these days. I just had a sunchoke soup the other night. I’m guessing that a big part of the appeal for chefs is that it’s still such an esoteric ingredient for the vast majority of people.

Not that they don’t have an interesting flavor, but to see them get this much play around town is kind of surprising.



Coffee pairings – coffee should pair well with eggs, bacon, hash browns, and toast!

We usually have two types of coffee at home. A single-origin type to enjoy over a lazy weekend morning. Coffee roasted by Karlaca, a fairly new DC roaster who source their beans from Colombia is our current favorite. Second we have every day beans for general coffee consumption, which we usually buy from Calvert Woodley.

Todd Kliman

Ah, lazy weekend mornings … I remember those …

Reading the paper, the actual paper, spreading it out on the table and exploring every section of it at leisure. Lingering over a cup of coffee. Eating unhurriedly. Easing into the day.

It’s been forever since I had a start to a day like that. Eight, nine years ago—? I envy you.

Your system sounds like a good one. A splurge for the weekend, when you can sit and sip and really enjoy it, and a more workhorse bean for during the week.



The in-laws are coming to town next weekend and I need help thinking of a good place to take them for dinner.

A couple simple rules: no small plates, “straight forward” food (think Central or Italian), mid-price range (mid $20s entrees), in DC.


Todd Kliman

Well, we’ve been talking a lot about Beck today, so why not, let’s keep it going … How about Beck?

Satisfies all your/their requirements and it’s a hard place not to like, if all goes well with your dishes.

Central is another.

Red Hen, if you can get in.

Casa Luca — and bear in mind that the main courses, some of which are not in the mid-20s, are meant to be shared family style and can probably feed two and sometimes three.

I’ll be curious to hear where you end up. Drop me a note when the weekend’s done …



Maybe they were just trying to puzzle out how Pizza Autentica stays in business on that corner…

Todd Kliman


I’m kind of surprised that any of them stay in business. It’s really heavy pizza.

I’ve gotta cut out, everyone. Thanks for all the reports and remarks and dissections and sightings and postings. You made the time fly on by …

It’s funny — I’m still thinking about that pot of mussels with veal bolognese. Though if I had it right now, I could say sayonara to getting ANYthing done the rest of the day …

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

[missing you, TEK … ]