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. The Richmond TImes-Dispatch hailed it as “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: email@example.com
TK’S 10: WHERE TO GO NOW
Taqueria el Mexicano
7811 Riggs Rd., Hyattsville; (301) 434-0104
Best Mexican cooking in the area right now. Nothing else comes close. Get the pork in adobo, the mole poblano, the posole, and the sopes. And don’t skimp on the handmade tortillas.
2931 S Glebe Rd., Arlington; (703) 549-8299
Imagine a Clyde’s, only foodier, cozier, more contemporary, and less focused on pleasing the widest swath of diners. Terrific, attentive service, too. Go for the campanelle bolognese, the mushroom pizza, the shrimp ’n’ polenta, the steak with salsa verde and an egg, and end with an excellent olive oil-topped chocolate budino.
10120 Fairfax Blvd., Fairfax; (703) 877-0988
The 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 something 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 you simply can’t stop eating.
Amoo’s House of Kabob
6271 Old Dominion Dr., McLean; (703) 448-8500
The kabob is exalted at this Persian stripmall gem. Don’t miss the kubideh, which doesn’t even need a knife, and the salmon, thick hunks of lightly charred fish, cooked to an ideal coral-centered medium. And don’t come at all if you’re not going to spring for at least one of the rice dishes, ideally the aromatic shirin polo, with saffron, currants, and candied orange peel.
325 Pennsylvania Ave. SE DC; (202) 627-0325
Minoru Ogawa was previously in charge of sushi operations at every Mandarin Oriental property along the Eastern seaboard. He shops with the utmost care for his product, and is a purist at the bar, abjuring gimmicks, fads and clutter. When Ogawa is around, there’s no place in the area I’d rather go for sushi.
1099 New York Ave. NW DC; (202) 628-1099
The most casual of the restaurants in Fabio Trabocchi’s collection, and an immensely assured operation from top to bottom, and from its opening nibbles to its pastas to its dazzling preparations of fish and seafood to its exquisitely crafted desserts.
4709 N Chambliss St., Alexandria; (703) 642-3628
Best Ethiopian food in the area right now. Every item I sampled on a recent, abundantly topped platter was vibrantly colorful, subtly (but assertively) spiced, and memorable. Vegetarians, take note: this is the spot to go when you’re in the mood for kik alicha, mesir wot, and azifa. The latter, in fact, is easily the best version of the dish I’ve eaten in years — the flavors sharper and more focused, the tang tangier, the mustard bite, more mustardy. It’s also a pleasure to see lentils that are cooked perfectly — no crunchiness, no mushiness.
The Alley Light
108 2nd St. SW, Charlottesville, Va.; (434) 296-5003
The chef at this unmarked speakeasy, Jose De Brito, is a lone wolf in the foodie herd. He thinks for himself, which would be reason enough to pay a visit, but here’s the best part: he doesn’t also cook for himself, to gratify his ego at the expense of your pleasure. Let every other chef fry their brussels sprouts; De Brito mashes them with a bacon-infused cream to create a kind of palaak paneer, then roasts them slowly, along with pearl onions, bits of bacon, and chestnuts that turn soft, dark, and caramelly sweet. He uses sunchokes, those suddenly trendy tubers, to lend a sharpening edge to a fondue-like soup that coats the tongue with the rich, resonant taste of Roquefort. I can’t remember the last time I saw green beans on a menu, let alone as a stand-alone dish, but De Brito shows you how something so unsexy can be made marvelous, tossing the beans in an almond vinaigrette and then showering the plate with a snow the color of putty — foie gras, grated from a frozen block. And that’s just the vegetables.
1601 14th St. NW DC; (202) 332-3333
You don’t need to be told, or reminded, about the place, but let me just say that the dishes coming out of the kitchen, under chef Michael Abt, have never been better. The tete de veau is excellent, worth coming for all by itself. It doesn’t go with the burger, no, but you can’t come here and not get the burger, probably the best in the city at the moment. And Fabrice Bendano, the dean of DC pastry chefs, has taken over dessert. If you want to understand why this qualifies as such a monumental hire, order his profiterole, which manages to be both new and old, intricate and effortless, richly satisfying and conversation haltingly dazzling.
KBQ Real Barbeque
9101 Woodmore Ctr. Dr. Ste 322, Lanham; (301) 322-1527
One of the two best barbecue spots in the area right now — the other is DCity Smokehouse — and I go back and forth on whose ribs I crave most. The ones here are soaked in advance of cooking in a housemade mojo criollo, then rubbed with herbs, and smoked slowly out back before hitting the grill. No sauce when they come to the table — they don’t need ‘em.
SOFT SHELLS :
Now that we are nearing summer, I am craving soft shell crabs. Do you know of any restaurants that do a good job at preparing them and are serving them yet ?
I cannot stand deep fried, heavily battered anything, but I remember having soft shell crabs last summer that were nicely sautéed and delicious! They are always such a treat, and after reading that the crab harvest is up this year, I’m hoping that is good news for the soft shell fiends, like me!
I can’t wait for my first taste, either.
I spoke to the folks at Wild Country Seafood in Annapolis (well, okay, Eastport, just over the footbridge) this weekend, and they say that they’re a few weeks from getting soft shells in.
This is the place to wait for. The soft shells I had there last spring and summer were terrific, big, meaty, sweet, and lightly fried.
An order of two — and the body of each soft shell was the size of a grown man’s hand, with long, thick claws — plus fries plus coleslaw was (you’re not going to believe it; I still don’t believe it even as I’m about to hit the keys) $15.
What else is on your mind, everyone?
Where have you been eating and dining? What’s next on your list?
If you went out for Mother’s Day brunch, or anything else, I’d love to hear what you did.
I took my mother out for barbecue for lunch — she wanted to avoid brunch at all costs: the crowds, the indifferent cooking, and, probably, the idea of going out for brunch on Mother’s Day. For dinner, we took a short trip and had a nice, relaxing meal at a new-ish place that I won’t mention, followed by ice cream after.
SOMETHING AMAZING — BUT ALSO A GREAT VALUE?:
My husband’s birthday is coming up and he’s requested a great meal but also at a great value. Lately, he thinks we’ve been spending way too much for mediocre meals (ie The Partisan–we went there on my birthday, it was good but not great, especially for the amount of the bill).
He loves traditional Asian/Chinese and we have a car-will travel! Can you make a recommendation for something amazing but also a great value?
I hope I can nail this for you.
Can I ask how far you’re willing to drive? Because if you want to make a day of it, I’d heartily recommend getting in the car and taking a trip to The Alley Light in Charlottesville (though it’s lusty old-school French, not Asian). My review is out in the current issue of the magazine, but not online yet. You can read a thumbnail review, up top.
Closer to home, he might like Thip Khao, in Columbia Heights. I had some very good meals there when I was in the process of reviewing it, and you can expect a lot of thrilling flavors (big, bold, bracing, hot) for not a lot of money. https://www.washingtonian.com/restaurantreviews/restaurant-review-thip-khao.php
I hope that helps.
If you’d like more suggestions, just let me know.
As a great admirer of the movie director Mike Leigh and of his newest picture, Mr. Turner, I found your piece on the picture in your new column to be just as perceptive and engaging as your food writing.
What made you decide to launch the column and to stray from your tried-and-true food writing?
A fellow Leigh fan! — that’s always great to hear. He’s an inspiration to me, besides being (maybe) the best director working today.
I appreciate what you say about the piece. Thank you. It’s nice to hear.
I’m fortunate to have a great new editor who suggested the idea of the column and said, basically, write what you want, what you care about. So, the first week I wrote about something in the food world and last week, the week of the DVD release of the film, I decided to write about “Mr. Turner,” which I had seen twice in one week when it came out.
You mentioned my straying from food writing. When I got into food writing, I strayed from all the other kinds of writing I had done up to that point — writing about books, and music, and politics, and media, and sports, and culture.
I’m not giving up writing about food. I like it too much to do that, and there will be many columns about food and the food world, if only because that’s a lot of what I focus on every day.
I actually don’t see that much difference in writing about a film like “Mr. Turner” and writing about a book that engrosses me and makes me want to think about it on the page for a while. And I’ve tried to bring that same approach to writing about food and restaurants. Engage deeply with the subject, find something to say that interests me and that, I hope, will interest others, too, and write with depth and and analysis and passion.
BTW, here’s the Otherwise column on “Mr. Turner,” for those who haven’t seen it:
SOMETHING AMAZING — BUT ALSO A GREAT VALUE, CONT. :
Thanks Todd. Any other recommendations?
The Alley Light is on our list but for later this summer when we have a weekend. And we love Thip Khao, it’s our neighborhood spot so something new (or rather new to us) along those lines would be great.
Thanks, we are big fans of yours!
Well, if it’s coming up very soon, then how about Peter Chang’s in Rockville?
Chang himself is around now, but won’t be monitoring the daily operation that much longer. Not to say the place will tank if he’s not there, but the cooking is markedly better when he’s on site.
And the space with its soothing tones of orange, high ceilings and lacquered tables is an aesthetic cut or two above most Chinese restaurants in the area — good for an occasion.
Here’s my Chang cheat sheet:
— cilantro fish rolls
— ma po tofu
— scallion bubble pancake
— bamboo fish
— fish and cabbage soup
— cumin lamb chops
Good luck. Happy birthday to your husband!
THAI MARKET IN SILVER SPRING:
Recently while grocery shopping I came across the Thai Market in Silver Spring. While not new to you, it was certainly a new experience for me. I was there in the early morning so the restaurant wasn’t up and running full tilt yet.
However, the early smells that morning showed promise. What’s your take? Worth while? Any dishes stand out?
You know what? It’s been years since I was last there — a reminder, thank you!, that I need to get back there one of these days …
I remember liking what I had, last time I was in. And there was one dish — wish I could remember it — that really stood out, with deep, deep flavors.
Can you go and sample the cooking and report back? That’d be great …
PETER CHANG, CONT.:
Did you know a protege of Peter Chang has opened his own place in the heretore culinary wasteland of Lynchburg, VA of all places?
I couldn’t believe it myself until visiting last weekend, when down there to visit the in-laws. They suggested a new Chinese place for dinner and when we sat down I immediately felt like I was in a familiar setting — many of the Peter Chang signatures are there including the bamboo flounder, the scallion bubble pancakes, etc.
It’s called Andy Chang China Grill (no relation as far as I can tell, but he was the opening chef at the Charlottesville Peter Chang from 2011-2014). Thankfully the place was packed, which is very different from the first time the in-laws visited a few weeks ago when they were the only people in the joint.
We had a great meal, beginning with those famous pancakes and an order of pan-fried dumplings. Then for entrees we had the flounder, Jing Jiang duck (shredded duck with onions), Jing Jiang pork (similar), and Guangdong Gulu duck (half a boneless duck deep fried and in sweet and sour sauce). The latter was my choice and fantastic — that skin just melted in your mouth.
I wanted to branch out a little more with some more typical Szechuan dishes, but the more sensitive stomachs of my three dining companions won out in the end. But I will definitely be back.
Here’s the full menu: http://www.beyondmenu.com/31750/forest/andy-chang-china-grill-forest-24551.aspx
Wow, interesting …
Thanks so much for filing this neat and unexpected report for us …
This kind of thing is inevitable, and natural, and, from the master’s perspective, probably desirable — Peter Chang has long contended that part of his mission is to spread the word of real Chinese cooking in the US.
The odd thing, the funny thing, is the chiming of the name.
Speaking of: did you know that there’s a Peter Chang, no relation whatsoever, who runs the very tasty Duck Chang’s in Annandale? If you can’t get enough duck, try the Szechuan duck at Duck Chang’s — pretty wonderful. I also like a bean curd dish there, with the skins tossed with chopped egg, onion, cilantro, crushed peanuts and sesame oil.
OYSTER HAPPY HOUR IN BETHESDA?:
Is there any restaurant in Bethesda or Rockville that has an oyster happy hour? babysitter comes around 5 so if happy hour goes past 6 that would be excellent!
I just spoke with the folks at Food Wine & Co., on Wisconsin Ave.
They do oysters at happy hour, and the cost is $1.25 per. Only one variety on offer (three after happy hour), but, assuming the oysters are fresh and cold and well-shucked, it’s a good deal.
NB, there’s a parking garage on the same street a hop and a skip from the restaurant, so you don’t have to deal with Bethesda parking and its outdated and punitive system (1-hour parking for meters in an area chockablock with restaurants that can’t get you out in an hour).
MOTHER’S DAY, CONT. :
We avoided the Mother’s Day brunch scene as well, and chose to try Maketto for lunch. The space and concept is certainly unique, but the food every bit as good as it was at their Union Market pop up. The lunch menu is certainly a bit limited, but we thoroughly enjoyed the soup, the num pang sandwich, and the bao. I also thought the choice of still or sparkling water was a nice touch.
I’m not sure why they use disposable bowls during lunch, since I saw plenty of normal bowls near the prep area. Not a big deal, but some might find that to be a bit wasteful.
I hope to return to try items offered on the dinner menu.
Thanks for the report from the field. Good to hear that Maketto came through for you on a day that is sometimes difficult for restaurants.
As for wastefulness, there is, generally, a lot of wastefulness at a lot of restaurants. Some you say. A lot you don’t. I know there are people who are bothered by eco waste. I understand that. But I also see a lot of food waste, with diners leaving a lot behind on their plates and on their tables. Not at the trendy places, where portions tend to be small — but in general. There’s a lot that gets tossed.
Back to Mother’s Day for a second, and a conversation I had recently with a friend, and have had with other friends over the years. I’m curious to know — if you’re writing an email or a Facebook post or a blog post, etc., and you’re making mention of your mother, how do you identify her, specifically after the first identification?
Some say “my mother” throughout.
Some switch between “my mother” and “my mom” throughout.
Some say “my mother” the first time and then switch to “Mom” — capital M, as if this were a name. “I spoke to Mom about this habit of hers … ” “One of the things I like best about Mom is that … “
Lately, it seems, I see a lot of the latter. I’ve talked to people about it, and they all seem to say something along the lines of — it’s informal and more homey than saying “my mother.” Some say that they’re simply writing what they say.
Which form do you use and why?
(And why do I find this endlessly fascinating? I really can’t explain it … )
LITTLE SEROW ADVICE:
I’m finally taking the time to scope out Little Serow this weekend — any advice on what time I should arrive on a Saturday night for a party of three? I understand this might be a Rose’s Luxury situation where I need to get in line quite early.
I’m sure Little Serow would argue that it’s “a Little Serow situation,” since it preceded Rose’s Luxury in generating lines outside the door in advance of opening.
I’d shoot for half an hour before opening.
Party of three is, really, party of four for the restaurant’s purposes, so it’s harder to accommodate than a party of two.
Maybe one person can stand in line while the other two go and get a drink. Or come later.
(Not great for the stander, but maybe the gracious others compensate the stander for time and boredom in the form of a drink.)
Good luck, and let us know how your meal turned out …
Hello! I wanted to know how you began your career and got to where you are today?
I slept with a lot of very important people … 🙂
It’s a hard question to answer, because I’m not sure where exactly to start. I began writing for newspapers when I was 15, writing about sports — I thought at one time that was what I wanted to do. I did that for several years, up through graduation. Then came an internship at a magazine, then another at a paper, then, when I finally started college, I began writing for magazines about things like gangs and bullfighters and (complete contrast, though the process was just as long and immersive — I went back to high school for a month, undercoverish) a group of teenage girls about to graduate.
I didn’t study journalism, I studied English, and loved it, and then went to graduate school and ended up teaching college, which I also loved, for a long time anyway. All the while I was writing, but book reviews, short stories, essays, poems. By the time I started writing about food, I had written about seemingly everything else. Food had never occurred to me as something I would write about, and then I did, and I loved it, and I wanted to do more. Those pieces, to some degree, led to a freelance column, which led to a permanent column, which eventually led me to here.
It’s very circuitous and not a path that I would recommend someone take to become a food writer — although why not? What is a food writer? A writer, first and foremost. But anyway, it wasn’t a path I consciously chose and I never imagined that I would end up doing this. I have simply tried to follow my heart and mind and write about what interests me.
OYSTER HAPPY HOUR, CONT.:
Clyde’s Tower Oaks also has great oyster seafood HH specials, and is a relaxing scene if you can get there before everyone does!
And someone else in the queue is right in back of you with the same rec!
Good to know! Thanks …
I would love to hear your recommendations for a 40th birthday brunch spot with two kids (2 and 5) in tow.
I’d take everybody to Central Michel Richard.
It’s not exorbitant by any stretch, especially for this area ($27 for three courses) and the dishes are playful, satisfying and festive.
This isn’t a kids place, but it’s not not a kids place either; I think the staff does a good job with them. And kids love a place with food that looks like this — fun and colorful and dramatic.
The must-orders are the fried chicken and waffles, the pan crepes, and the signature item on the brunch menu — creme brûlée French toast.
Ten bucks extra for the bottomless mimosa.
I hope it works out well for you. Drop back on and let us know how it was …
I say Mom. It just feels right to me. It’s what I call my mom and when I refer to her when I’m with other people I always say Mom.
Thanks for chiming in on this …
I wonder how common this practice is. I’ll be interested in hearing from more of you. I’ve been hearing and reading it so much that I’m inclined to think it’s more the norm, now, than not. But I don’t know.
It’s interesting. People who say and write Mom on second reference tend to say, as you suggested, that “my mother” is too formal, too distancing.
But I can’t believe that all those speakers and writers have warm, close relationships with their mothers. Or are these speakers and writers saying, essentially, that being informal in their form of address has no real relationship to how intimate and cozy they feel toward the woman who birthed them?
REPORT FROM THE FIELD: RASIKA WEST END:
I just wanted to give a quick shout out to Rasika West End for treating us right.
We were staying nearby and got back to the hotel late. As they still had some late night slots, we thought we’d drop by and grab a seat at the bar. Bad idea as the bar was packed. But, they found us an inside table fairly quickly (it was a little chilly) and treated us well.
With only one exception (an unremarkable calamari), the food was terrific.
It was also great to get some help from the wine director as there were a few unusual rose wines on the list. The most amusing bit in the evening was when a couple next to us left a couple of relatively full glasses of red wine. I joked to the waitress that was a case of alcohol abuse and she responded that she thought he was trying to impress her with the bottle.
All in all, a fun night.
Good to hear this about RWE, and I’m glad you had such a rewarding night.
I’d love to hear more about some of those roses you sampled. It’s a smart wine to stock on an Indian menu. Do you remember any of the winery names?
OYSTER HAPPY HOUR, CONT.:
Thanks for the recs Todd and the chatters- think we’ll try Tower Oaks for ease of parking and roomy bar area.
One good tip deserves another so from a veteran Bethesda parker: If you use the mobile phone app you can renew that one-hour parking right from your table.
And the new parking lot under the building being constructed on Bethesda Avenue is always empty and relatively cheap….
That’s good to know about. Thanks.
As for the mobile phone app, the thing is it’s not Parkmobile or that other one, whatdoyoucallit? It only works in Montgomery County. And at least in my experience, it’s buggy.
Does anyone out there use this regularly? Does anyone like it?
This is interesting, Todd. I like these kinds of question explorations.
I say (and write) “my mother.” I have never said “Mom” or written “Mom” on second usage. Not sure why. My mother (here we go) and I are not particularly close. And I’m not saying that that’s the reason why I say and write it this way. I don’t know the reason. Maybe it is.
But I agree with you, it’s interesting. I’ve never thought about this before.
I say “my mother” or “my mom.” I write “my mother.” Sometimes, I think, I might write “my mom.”
We’re close, so the (apparent) formality is interesting. Like you, I’m not sure the reason for it either.
Then again, I take it back; I don’t see “my mother” as formal. How can it be formal? That’s what she is — she’s my mother.
Sometimes, not always, but sometimes when I hear capital-M Mom or read it on second reference I feel as though the speaker or reader assumes I’m a part of his or her world, a world where we all know who this character — the character of Mom — is.
REPORT FROM THE FIELD: SUSHI KO, CHEVY CHASE:
Shout-out to Sushi Ko Chevy Chase: I have been having a great time there with decent quality sushi and friendly service (Chevy Chase area restaurants seem to have a chip on their shoulders for some reason).
With the weather warming up I think it’ll be my go-to place more often now.
On a separate note, where else can I find interesting sake selections? It is such an underrated drink, which I don’t find a whole lot of variety even in decent wine/spirit shops.
Izakaya Seki! A good list, and well-annotated besides.
Good to hear about Sushi-Ko. It’s been uneven in my experience over the past couple of years, but the good meals have stayed with me. And the chance for a good meal tends to go up, I’ve found, by eating at the sushi bar.
I always say Mom. And write Mom.
I don’t know why. It’s just — she’s Mom! I’ve always called her Mom. My sisters have always called her Mom. It’s a term of endearment.
Thanks for this.
Let’s keep it going into next week. We’re running two to one for capital-M Mom on second reference.
So let me ask all of you who are in the “Mom” camp, does “my mother” strike you all as brittle and outdated, or too formal, or — what? Fill in the blank. Let me know.
Gotta run, lunch is calling.
Thanks for all the great reports, questions, musings and tips today. I appreciate it …
Be well, everyone, eat well, and let’s do it again next Tuesday at 11 …
[missing you, TEK … ]