Tuesday, March 24th 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.

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.


WHAT DO YOU DO WHEN …?:

Hi Todd,

My boyfriend and I were at dinner last week and I noticed that whenever the waiter brought over the plates his thumb was touching the rim. I didn’t say anything but it was a total turn off.

The food was good but I kept thinking about it during the meal.

Todd Kliman

I’ve seen this many, many times in restaurants over the years.

Once you see it once, you tend to pay attention to the position of the thumb, and then it’s as if nobody does it the other way — you see it all the time.

I know, I know: that’s not helping. 😉

I’m really not sure what you can do when that happens. I’d be interested in hearing from GMs and servers on this question.

I’d be willing to bet that the GM of a good place would have offered to replace the dish and talked to the server about it.

But who knows?

GMs, servers: have you ever had this question come up? If so, or even if not, how would you handle it?

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JAMES BEARD AWARD FINALISTS ……….:

Hi Todd,

What are you thoughts on the James Beard Award finalists this year for the Restaurant and Chef Award categories? It was surprising not to see any Washington chefs among the Best Chef Mid-Atlantic nominees.

I also thought Fiola Mare might be kept in the running for Best New Restaurant, and perhaps Johnny Monis for Outstanding Chef.

Any insights as to how the finalists are picked? Is there a bias against Washington chefs?

Todd Kliman

Fiola Mare is the surprise, to me. I thought it deserved to be a finalist, at least. There aren’t many restaurants in the country that are at that level when it comes to fish and seafood.

I think the new GQ piece on the best new restaurants in the country will open people’s eyes a little, nationally, to what’s going on here. Three restaurants among the 25, including two in the top 4.

I think DC suffers, still, from perception. I can tell you that when I have talked to food writers around the country over the past few years, they tend to regard DC as a city that is emerging.

“Something’s happening,” was how a New York editor put it to me late last year.

Happening. Not happened.

It’s not one of the cities that these writers and editors tend to get excited about visiting. It’s not Charleston. It’s not Portland. It’s not New Orleans. It’s not Vegas. And of course it’s not New York, San Francisco, and Chicago.

Trends don’t originate here. No movement started here.

You also don’t have what you have in a city like Charleston, or New Orleans, where chefs make liberal use of the local fish and are constantly drawing upon the distinctive and longstanding culinary traditions that define the city.

All of that, I think — I think, I don’t know for sure — has an influence on these sorts of national assessments.

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THUMB ON THE PLATE, CONT. ……….:

To pile on, I suspect there is a big ‘ole thumbprint right in the center of the plate under the food from when someone in the back grabbed it prior to plating.

I would be more worried about what I cannot see…….

Todd Kliman

Right, the devil you don’t see.

Sometimes knowing too much is not a good thing.

My father did a documentary once on hot dogs. Went to the place where they ground the meat and cased ‘em. I don’t think he ever ate a hot dog after that.

There are people I know and love who worry about all the things I’m exposed to, eating out as often as I do, and in all manner of places, some immaculate, some not, most probably somewhere in between. I actually think that all that exposure is a boost to my immune system — toughening my system to withstand all sorts of nasty little things.

Of course, I say that because I want to believe it’s true. 🙂

But back to the topic … I asked GMs and servers to weigh in on this, but I’m also interested in hearing from all of you, too — are you bothered by this? freaked out about this? what would you do if you saw this happen?

It’s reminding me of a time, many years ago, when a woman wrote me an email complaining about a hair on a plate of food. Not great, I understand. And in a place like Fiola Mare, where you’re paying top dollar and everything is supposed to be precise and exquisite, sure, it’s worth piping up about. But otherwise? At a place like Lyon Hall? Or Bayou Bakery? Or Jewel of India? I don’t know. What say you …

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REPORT FROM THE FIELD: LIBERTY TAVERN, IN ARLINGTON ……….:

Just a shout-out to the folks at Liberty Tavern – it’s not as sexy a place as some of the newer names, but they still manage to hit it out of the park.

We took my (gently aging) mother out for a birthday dinner last Friday and the server really was phenomenal: he made a big fuss over her, showed up unasked with a dessert with a candle in it, was patient with hard-of-hearing questions in what’s a pretty loud room, and generally made the whole experience lovely.

I wish I’d gotten his name but I missed it – hopefully someone there can figure out who it was as he was really terrific.

The food was, of course, quite good as it always is, but it was a really telling note on how much a good server can make an ordinary dinner feel very special.

Todd Kliman

That’s great.

And yes, I’d love to know his name, and give him some much-deserved attention in this forum. If the folks from Liberty Tavern are reading along, maybe you can help us out.

I remember a restaurant GM telling me once: you can teach a person the ropes; what you can’t teach is NICE.

And NICE can elevate even the most middling night — not that this was anything close to that.

I’m glad for you, and glad, too, for Liberty Tavern. It’s a challenge for places, going from being the hot thing to the standby. From what I’ve seen, they appear to be handling it well.

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PANCAKES ……….:

My birthday is coming up and I want one thing: pancakes.

It’s on a thursday, any options for me in the city (or metro accesible)?

If nothing truly good, I can wait until the weekend for them. Thanks.

Todd Kliman

I’d go Founding Farmers downtown.

The pancakes are huge and light and fluffy and hot. Very rewarding.

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DC’S REP, CONT. ……….:

DC area needs great steakhouse. None of current places even come close. Fiola Mare is better than average but pales in comarison to a somplaces I know in Ostia, Sorrento and even Rome that dont have a “name chef”. DC area also lacks top notch Italian. Problem these days is ‘name chef” issue Mario, Bobbie, Fabio et al draw investors and hipster diners a tthe expense of local talent . And please sommeliers in the DC area really need to go out into VA and MD and drink some wines. I drank or gave away everything in my wine cellar(close to $50K) except for my Pol Roger and now drink VA and MD wines exclusively. I don’t cjhase cult Cabs and who cares what Parker says about he latest Bordeaux vintage. A va wines goes best with a local steak and veggies.

Clifton, VA

Todd Kliman

I don’t think the city needs a great steakhouse. I mean, yes, sure, why not. But I don’t think that’s an urgent need.

What the city needs is more people starting restaurants along the lines of Rose’s and The Red Hen, more people coming up through the ranks and choosing to stay here, more people putting down roots, more big-time chefs like Fabio Trabocchi, more smart experimentation, more Virginia wines on wine lists, more products from the Shenandoah and the Chesapeake on menus, more recognition on the menus of the name restaurants of the flavors that help to define the vast ethno-culinary landscape (berbere, pho, kabobs, saltenas, pupusas, fried porgy w/ hot sauce, half-smokes, etc.)

All of these things, I think, would help to sharpen the city’s food identity.

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SPECIALIZED FOOD SHOPS ……….:

There seems to be infinitely more restaurants opening than specialized food shops. What are those who enjoy cooking premium products otherwise only available to restaurants to do?

Not all are able to eat out often and take pleasure in cooking, and food shops would be a boon to a very underserved market of residents that cook at home and want quality. (Union market is more of a food court -the produce stand with wares from Mexico/California is laughable)

Todd Kliman

Really?

I think there are a lot of specialty food shops in the area.
A lot of places for food lovers to shop and explore.

And I mean in “the area” strictly in this case — you have to take into account DC, Maryland, and Virginia.

Is that not everyone’s sense of things? I’d be interested in hearing how you all look at this.

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S/O TO PETE’S APIZZA ……….:

I want to mention how generous Pete’s was when I called to politely inform them that they had forgotten my soda in my take-out order.

I was just going to ask if I could come by the next day or some time this week with my receipt to pick it up, but they took my name and number and then put me on their “credits” list for $10 worth of food!

I’ve always liked Pete’s, but now I adore them.

Todd Kliman

Surprising.

But hey, that’s how you earn a regular customer/diner/guest.

Good for Pete’s.

………………


THUMB ON THE PLATE, CONT. ……….:

Um, GROSS …

Todd Kliman

As the chatter earlier pointed out, it’s probably nothing compared to other things that go on that you can’t see.

But yeah.

Not appetizing.

Is this, I wonder, though, enough of a justification in the minds of a GM to have something sent back?


THUMB ON THE PLATE, CONT. ……….:

Hi Todd,

I just wanted to comment on the thumb issue.

Iwork as an assistant GM at a restaurant, and yes we would definitely take that plate back and speak to the server. That is NOT how it’s done.

Todd Kliman

Thanks for chiming in …

I wonder if this is something that happens at the end of a long day — a bit of sloppiness, as servers get tired and maybe a little negligent of all the details they need to keep in mind.

I’ll be interested in continuing the discussion — next week, definitely, and if anyone has further thoughts this week, please email me: tkliman@washingtonian.com

Apologies for the abbreviated chat today, everyone. But thanks for your good questions and comments and musings …

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

[missing you, TEK … ]

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