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: firstname.lastname@example.org
REPORT FROM THE FIELD: INN AT LITTLE WASHINGTON:
Inn at Little Washington — had dinner there on Friday night. Best. Dinner Ever. I’ve been there before — last in February. Love the new tasting menus. We picked and chose between all three — and each course was superb. We still haven’t decided what was our favorite — and five days later we are still talking about the sublime dinner. Service, as always was wonderful — bread and butter replaced, water glasses refilled, plates removed, etc., discreetly and nearly without our awareness. All and all a wonderful evening.
Several ways of looking at this.
Thanks for writing, by the way …
One way: our review in the mag in January was off base.
Another way: our review prompted some needed changes, and those changes are clearly for the better. (In which case, you’re very welcome 😉
A third way: you and I have different palates.
Hard to know what to say.
But I’m really glad to hear that you had such a great meal. And glad for the Inn, too.
FOLLOWING-UP FROM LAST WEEK: OYSTER HAPPY HOURS:
A very late addition to the question about oyster happy hours in Bethesda, but Black’s Bar & Kitchen has a very nice happy hour that includes oysters, as well as several other crowd-pleaser food items (including squid and shrimp, if my memory serves me correctly).
They typically have a beer or two on happy hour prices, as well as a red and a white. It can get very crowded, especially later in the week, but every time my husband and I go, we ask ourselves why we’re not there more often!
Thanks for chiming in on this …
I’d forgotten about Black’s Bar & Kitchen — but I do remember, now, going a couple times some years ago for their happy hours. I thought they did a good job of it.
GOT A BABYSITTER, WHERE SHOULD WE GO FOR DINNER IN BETHESDA/ROCKVILLE/SILVER SPRING?:
My wife and I have managed to wrangle a babysitter for tonight, and I would like to take her out somewhere fun for dinner. We live in Kensington, but would go to Bethesda/Rockville/Silver Spring, etc.
Is there anything new or interesting that you would recommend?
How about the new All Set, in Silver Spring?
It’s very new, just three weeks old, and I’ve only been once, but I was impressed by what little I’ve seen.
It’s located in what used to be the Golden Flame, and the renovation of that space is remarkable. The dining rooms summon a cruise ship, and the nautical theme is mostly smartly done.
This is a bid to become the occasion dining spot in Silver Spring, the place you take people to for a celebration, the place you go to show off the neighborhood.
Best thing I had on my one visit was a fried seafood platter, an appetizer, for $13, that included beautifully fried shrimp, clams and cod (the latter was sweet and wonderfully tender inside, for something that had been plunged into the deep fryer).
The lobster roll arrives looking like the best one you’ve ever seen; my rendition needed more moisture in the mayo’ed lobster and, harder to fix, a much less bready roll.
PETER CHANG, IN ROCKVILLE AND IN ARLINGTON:
I saw your comment about Peter Chang being on site at the Rockville restaurant, but not for long. I tend to take my time getting around to trendy restaurants, and didn’t necessarily think much of the hype of Chang making his way to this part of town, but now I’m curious and would love to give it a try this weekend.
Is there a significant difference at this point between the Arlington and Rockville locations? Does Chang split his time between the two, or his he more devoted to the newer MD location at the moment?
This is a tricky thing.
It’s not something where you can say — this is the way it is and will be from here on out.
I’ve had very good meals at both locations. I’ve talked to people who’ve had very good meals in both locations. I’ve talked to people who’ve had so-so meals in both locations. I’ve talked to people who had so-so meals at one location or other and reported seeing Chang there on site.
Chang is, right now, splitting his time between the two, until they establish themselves — all the while prepping for the big one, the restaurant in the Navy Yard that will be his showpiece, his grandest statement yet. (That restaurant is going to debut in the Fall, most likely.)
REPORT FROM THE FIELD: SHIN CHON IN ELLICOTT CITY, PLUS THOUGHTS ON LAST WEEK’S OTHERWISE COLUMN:
This is a week late, but on Mother’s Day we went for an early dinner at Shin Chon in Ellicott City. I love Korean food but my husband doesn’t – though I think the Korean BBQ may have helped to turn him around a bit. We had jap chae (mostly for the toddler) and galbi with rice noodle wrappers, everything was delicious. Have you ever been? I wonder how it compares to places in Annandale.
I also wanted to comment on your article about Fishnet. We do support the one in College Park, but when we recommend it to friends, they often would try it once then decide it’s expensive for what you get. While I understand the costs involved, unfortunately a $12 sandwich is just not affordable for everyone. I wonder if it might help to serve the sandwiches with fries for $13, as people might be more willing to pay double-digits for a “meal” rather than a sandwich.
Anyway I appreciate you giving insight into how tough it is and why there really aren’t more affordable but good options in this city.
I’ve never been to Shin Chon, no. Ellicott City’s a little past what I consider the DC area, but I know there are some really good Korean spots there and I really should get up there and explore, if only on my own dime. Your meal sounds great.
As for Fishnet, I hear you — I had the same experience telling friends and other people in my neighborhood about it when it initially opened in CP. Many thought the cost was high.
I think if some of them had known that the fish was not just fresh but of high quality, it might have made a difference to them. I think the restaurant (and I’m speaking just about CP here) doesn’t do enough to explain this.
Offering fries with a sandwich, sure, that might make some of them more likely to going more often. But what do I know? I’m not a businessman.
The owner, Ferhat Yalcin, is having his struggles with the Shaw location, and what interested me, what made me want to write about him, was that he lost his equilibrium — began to doubt himself and question his mission — when his sandwich, the focus of the business in CP, was greeted by some as an affront. That’s when the business began to shift and drift …
Thanks for writing in, and thanks for reading the column …
DINING IN FAIRFAX, VIENNA, FALLS CHURCH?:
I work out in Fairfax and have a pretty dreadful commute from downtown DC, but I’ll be moving offices in a few weeks. I haven’t gotten around to dining anywhere on my commute – what are the best 2 or 3 places along my route (Fairfax, Vienna, Falls Church, etc.) that I should try to hit before I end up downtown again?
Was thinking of checkng out B-Side, Gypsy Soul, or Bangkok Golden, but open to other suggestions!
Sure, you can hit up those.
You can also try the new Clarity in Vienna. The night I was in, there were seasoning problems with a number of dishes — should be an easy fix, with a more vigilant oversight on the line. But I really enjoyed the two-patty burger, and the wine list by the glass is fantastic, already one of the best in the area.
In Fairfax there’s Saba, for wonderful Yemeni cooking, and Hunan Taste. Both are worth going out of the way for.
In Falls Church, you’ve got La Caraqueña, for terrific Venezuelan cooking (arepas, black bean soup and peanut soup, etc.) and colorful cocktails and the Eden Center, the defacto Little Vietnam of this area, with, among others Rice Paper, Huong Viet, Banh Cuon Saigon, Hai Duong and tons of others.
Looking for good Cantonese out Centreville, VA way??
Sure. Always. Whacha got?
FAIRFAX, VIENNA, FALLS CHURCH, CONT.:
For your Fairfax commuter – don’t forget about stopping in at the Banh Mi DC sandwich place on 50 and Graham Road.
Perfect commuter food, right on his/her travel route.
Good add. Thanks …
I’d love to have one right next to me right now …
By the way, for all of you in Maryland who don’t want to make the haul out to Virginia, there’s good banh mi in Maryland — Mi La Cay has been making them for a while, now.
I’ve had six of them this year, and only once was the bread not as crispy as it should have been. And my last visit, the sandwich was more good than great. But four of those sandwiches — cold cut — were terrific.
Get one and get a bowl of M-9, an egg noodle soup with a remarkable broth. The Steak ‘Em like meat is not worth your time, but who cares? The broth, the broth, the broth. It’s a beef broth, but there are unmistakable notes of seafood in there, and I thought, the last two times I was in and ordered it, that I tasted crab. It’s a very complex, very rich flavor, with great controlled heat throughout, spicy without overwhelming your tongue.
SPLURGE MEAL IN THE MEDITERRANEAN — BUT WHERE?:
Honeymoon – Tour of the Med
Hey Todd – my upcoming honeymoon is taking the form of a cruise with destinations including Barcelona, Nice, Rome, Florence, Naples, Mykonos and Athens.
I’m super excited and I’d love to include one splurge meal somewhere. Since this is the trip of a lifetime (and who knows if I’ll ever get back to these places), its not worth giving up the sightseeing time if the meal isn’t something truly special.
Any ideas from you or the chatters? I’d love your advice!
That sounds like an amazing time. The trip of a lifetime. Savor it.
And I hope someone here can come through for you with a great suggestion …
GOLDEN FLAME, CONT.:
Golden Flame! Goodness that brings back memories!
First job out of high school and I was working at a law firm right on the next block and all the lawyers ate there.
I was taken to lunch there by the lawyers for secretaries day (not administrative assistants day back then in the 1980’s). It was all very very Mad Men back in the day. They all smoked and drank at least three cocktails, each, daily. They’d come back from the lunch soused. And that day wasn’t any different.
I was so out of my element. Way too young (17) to be at that lunch, but it opened my eyes to a lot of things that day.
Oddly, I don’t remember the food I ate, (which is rare for me as food is my life) but I remember it being very good. What I can’t forget is how different life was back then. Both the good and the bad.
And really, not that long ago. Thirty-some years.
I mean, a lifetime in this country, where things turn over constantly and we’re made to be in constant, fevered pursuit of the new and the toys we have come to depend on are considered obsolete after two years.
But in older, more continuous cultures, it’s nothing.
Your remembrance made me think of the first time I had a martini. I was in college, or maybe just out of, actually I think it was just out of, and my mentor had invited me over to his house to spend the afternoon.
We went sailing, we had lunch, and then we sat down and talked about books and writers and writing for several hours over martinis. Well, martinis for him. I think he had three when all was said and done. I was halfway through my first when the world began to tip and I spilled a good bit of it on my clothes and of course didn’t care because I could barely keep myself upright.
That sucker was strong! And disgusting. No redeeming value, I thought at the time, other than to just take your mind out of whatever it had been preoccupied with.
What was funny was that my mentor felt bad that I’d spilled my drink and immediately went to make me another, so I probably had 1 1/2 martinis, and had to stay a lot longer than I had planned because for a long while I was in no shape at all to drive myself home.
It pained me when he died, about 15 years ago. I think about him often, and sometimes I’ll be reading or writing and a phrase of his, or a word he would use, will seep into my head. He had an amazing mind, and an amazing way of seeing things. I knew how to read before I met him, we all learn how to read in grade school, and then we learn how to study stories in middle school and high school, but he taught me how to READ, he taught me how to see the spine of things, how to enter the mind of the author. I had and have some very good teachers in my life, but he was the one who made books and reading and writing seem not just important or interesting, but vital and necessary and urgent …
Sorry. I got carried off there …
SPLURGE MEAL, CONT.:
Look at the Relais and Chateaux website and any restaurant listed there, for whatever country your visiting, is probably a good bet for a splurge worthy meal.
Thanks. That’s a really good first place for our lucky chatter to start..
REPORTS FROM THE FIELD: ANANDA IN FULTON & BRINE IN FAIRFAX:
I’m sorry haven’t had a chance to comment about my visit to Ananda.
Went about two weeks ago and loved the dining experience. Sat in the big dining room that opens up converts into an outdoor space. We loved the crab cake, the tandoori salmon with the heirloom tomato coulis was just divine.
The only item we did not really care for was the vegetable samosa. Found it to be average, nothing special.
You were right, you cannot compare Rasika to Ananda. They are different and unique in their own way and provide diners with different type of dining experience, while providing the diner with high quality food and service.
Also … Went to Brine this past weekend and sampled some of the menu items while sitting at the bar.
The highlight are the raw oysters. We ordered two dozen of them, choosing a few oysters from each varieties that were available.
Our favorite dish of the night was the Lambs & Clam, which included house made lamb merguez, harissa, clams and country bread in a rich spicy broth. It is still early and they need to work out the kinks in service.
These are great, thank you for taking the time to write up your meals.
It’s interesting to hear about Ananda now, months after the 100 Best and the GQ piece. There were bumps, then, it sounds like, but they seem to be pretty smoothed out now. I’m glad to hear that. I was impressed with what I saw overall at Ananda in my four visits, but of course that was at the time of writing a review.
That lambs and clams at Brine sounds great. Very comparable-sounding to the one at Rappahannock Oyster Bar at Union Market, which makes sense, given that they share the same owner, Travis Croxton. Last one I had there was excellent. (Time before that, pretty meh.)
Gotta run, everyone. Running late for lunch.
Be well, eat well, and let’s do it again next Tuesday at 11 …
And be sure to check in and read this week’s edition of Otherwise, my new column …
[missing you, TEK … ]