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 work has appeared in The New Yorker, Harper’s, The Oxford American, The Daily Beast and Men’s Health, among others, and he has been selected four times for inclusion in the Best Food Writing anthologies.
He is the author 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.
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.
DINING IN CHEVY CHASE DC, CONT.:
Re: the diner who asked about food options in Chevy Chase DC — I live not too far away in Van Ness, and have been puzzled over the area’s food options since I moved in.
While there are some decent, affordable places to choose from for quick weeknight dinners (Comet Ping Pong, Little Red Fox, Sushi Para), I wouldn’t consider any of these places “destination dining”. The only possible exception is Bread Furst, which fits a tremendous need in the area for a bakery with solid coffee and pastries — the long lines on the weekend are proof alone.
Looking at some of the options further along Connecticut Ave, like Macon Bistro, the food is either boring or too expensive for what it is, or both.
The area gets knocked for housing an older crowd/families and basically being Little Maryland, but there also seems to be plenty of folks like me in the neighborhood – late 20s/early 30s, decent job, can afford a few meals out per week. Is it because the area is TOO residential? Does the neighborhood’s reputation stop restaurants from coming in?
Thanks for writing.
I think your take on what’s already there in the neighborhood is basically right.
I think what it is, what the problem is, is that you don’t have the kind of density you need, the public transportation you need, the mix of retail and culture, to support an active, interesting scene.
There might be other reasons, too. I’d be interested in hearing from people with insight into development in that part of the world.
SCHWARTZ’S IN MONTREAL, CONT. :
Regarding your comment last week on Schwartz’s official name, an acquaintance from Montreal told me that Moishe’s, the steakhouse, had to change its name from “Moishe’s” to “Moishes” to comply with the Quebec law that all business names be in French.
(Although, if that’s the case, shouldn’t it be “de Moishe”?) I noticed that Schwartz’s still has the apostrophe, at least on its website, so maybe he was pulling my leg.
I just did a search on the web.
It looks like it’s Moishes, no apostrophe.
Schwartz’s, though, seems to endure as Schwartz’s. Maybe because it’s been around so long.
I respect the desire, in Montreal, to preserve the French culture. At the same time, I think that the lengths that people go sometimes to protect it are comical.
Off the subject, but really not, because we’re here, after all, to talk about food — a friend of mine returned not long ago from Montreal and was gushing about The Main.
Which is across the street from Schwartz’s, and also serves smoked meat sandwiches.
Speaking of comical.
DINING OPTIONS NEAR ECHOSTAGE, IN DC:
Some friends and I are going to see a show at Echostage (on Queens Chapel Rd NE). Are there any good dining options near by?
You’ll be near Panda Gourmet, which, though uneven, and though often surly with its service, has some great Szechuan cooking. I love the ma po tofu there.
Askale Cafe isn’t as close, but it might be what you’re looking for post-show — a place to gather with friends and pick at platters laid with injera and topped with various wots and tibs and stews.
You’re probably arriving later than 6. That’s when MGM Roast Beef closes. But if you do get there in time, it’s a good spot for a pre-show fill-up. I like the ham better than the roast beef. Both, though, are roasted and both are carved in front of you, when you order.
Zion Kitchen is also close at hand. They’ve got some good Nigerian cooking, particularly the goat stew. If they have it. This is a purely utilitarian setting, best for lunch or early dinner.
Hope that helps …
Oh, and one more: if you want to chow, post-show, and aren’t in the mood for Ethiopian, try Flip It Twice, which is a good, relaxing spot for omelets and waffles and simple sandwiches. And homemade cakes and pies that won’t wow you but won’t make you turn up your nose, either.
DINNER DOWNTOWN W/ FUTURE IN-LAWS THIS FRIDAY:
I’m looking for a restaurant downtown to take my dad, fiance, and future in-laws for dinner Friday night. I was thinking Bibiana or Central but was wondering if you had any other suggestions.
What about Casa Luca?
The space is not loud, the music is not indie rock, the cooking is excellent, the service is polished … I think it’d set a great tone for the conversation.
Let me know if you go, and how things turn out, okay?
And good luck.
Any recommendations on where to find a fried artichoke in the area? I’m back from Rome and craving them!
They’re not as hard to find as you might think.
The Red Hen has had them, Dino’s Grotto has had them, Bibiana has had them, Lupo Verde has had them.
It’s a dish that tends not to stick around on a menu, though. They’re on, they’re off, they disappear, they come back. So it’s best to check with those places if you’re going only (or mostly) to feed a craving.
Good luck looking. And let me know what you find …
MOVING AWAY IN A COUPLE OF MONTHS, WHERE SHOULD WE BE EATING IN THE MEANTIME?:
We are moving away from DC in a couple months. If you had to make a list of “Bucket List” meals in DC we need to eat before we go, what would it be?
We are thinking of places that are unique to DC both low brow and high brow. We’ve been to the “hard to get” places Komi, Rose’s Luxury Rooftop and Minibar.
Sure, as long as I don’t have to say the phrase. 🙂
This is interesting.
My list at the moment would include …
Central, if only for the desserts, like the fabulous Napoleon.
Thip Khao. Hard to find Laotian food in other cities.
Enat, which I think is putting out some of the best, if not the best, Ethiopian cooking in the area.
Amoo’s House of Kabob.
Marcel’s, if only for the boudin blanc.
Kogiya, for the great Korean bbq.
Saba. Where else are you going to find Yemeni food? And this is excellent Yemeni food.
Sushi Capitol, for the $50 omakase.
Taqueria el Mexicano, for the pork in adobo, chicken mole, and sopes.
A TRIP TO SPAIN:
I’m headed to Barcelona, San Sebastian and Majorca in September…any dining recommendations from recent travelers?
What can you tell us, recent travelers?
“THE SEARCH FOR GENERAL TSO”:
Hi Todd –
Have you had a chance to watch the documentary “The Search for General Tso?” It’s a really interesting look at the history of Chinese food in America, IMO. How it’s become almost a comfort food, a cuisine of its own.
Is it on Netflix?
If it is, I’ll look for it.
Does anyone else find Netflix a disappointment? I have streaming. It’s hard to find interesting things on there. And some of those interesting things are only on disc, so you have to order it and wait for it to come through the mail.
Director-driven films are hard to come by.
They do okay with documentaries, though. I wonder why.
Speaking of food films, there seems to be a spate of them recently. What else out there is worthwhile? Has anyone seen “Chef’s Table”?
I’ve seen “Chef,” from Jon Favreau. Enjoyable and funny and with some great bits about cooking — clearly, Favreau loves food, loves eating it, loves learning about it. Best thing about the film, though, is the soundtrack. Instant party.
CHECKING BACK IN :
did you make it out to Smokehouse Live?
Soon. Soon …
VAN NESS, CONT.:
A lot of the issue with restaurants in Van Ness is that there just isn’t that much available space for restaurants to open in the area at the moment. I think things are changing for the better.
The new BF Saul building will have one or two restaurant spaces, Thai Pad opened up last week and the new UDC Student Center, re-leasing of the Fannie Mae building and other buildings present some good opportunities to attract higher-end options.
Adam Tope, ANC 3F
Thanks for the updates, Adam.
So that’s another issue: available space.
This parcel of land — and I don’t mean just Van Ness, I also mean the surrounding neighborhoods of Northwest — has never been a great pocket for restaurants.
And I mean, going back forty years and more.
I really don’t expect it to become one, now.
But man, you don’t mince words, do you?
We could do with a little dicing, slicing, or chiffonading.
GREAT BURGER AND FRIES IN VIRGINIA:
Where can I grab an incredible burger and fries in Virginia? I’ve been craving a juicy burger smothered in toppings and sandwiched between a buttery bun. Somewhere that serves a cold brew to wash it down with would be ideal.
I’ve recently tried Dogwood Tavern (burger was lackluster and the shoestring fries were soggy) and MadFox (the burger was pretty good–just not amazing…but the fries and beer were great!).
Try Green Pig Bistro, in Arlington, where the meat is ground fresh and mixed with ground bacon before hitting the griddle.
Or the two-patty burger at the new Clarity, in Vienna.
I’m a huge fan of two-patty burgers. More surface area means more salt and pepper. And with a two-patty burger you don’t have to worry about a line cook overcooking the meat. A two-patty burger is delicious even when it’s medium-well.
Have fun in your pursuit, and let me know what you turn up.
VAN NESS, CONT.:
Re: Van Ness – Just North of Bread Furst, along Connecticut Avenue, are very large apartment complexes. Behind Giant are also large apartments. When you come home on the Metro at 8 or 9 or 10 pm, hundreds of people are getting off the trains at Van Ness. Almost everyone in their 20s and 30s. But its obvious they have gone out in different neighborhoods. Population density is not the problem.
I’ve always thought that the neighborhood’s biggest problem is that the short commercial district in Van Ness is basically ugly concrete commercial property, with no interesting shops and too many chain stores. There’s just no place attractive to hang out, no cool “third place,” no interesting parks, no reason to stay and linger. Bread Furst is the only establishment that has overcome that problem (and it’s next to a car wash!)
Developers are building a large mixed use apartment complex in the middle of Van Ness, it will be interesting to see a) what restaurants/shops move into the complex and b) how that changes the scene in the neighborhood.
You say there’re a lot of people.
Maybe there are. At least, at certain times of day there are.
But what’s to keep them there? No museums or galleries, no sporting events, no concerts. No movie theaters, other than the Avalon up the road. No real restaurant scene. No sense of pulse, of a neighborhood that feels vital and urban.
I’m not trying to knock Van Ness.
It’s no different in this sense from a lot of neighborhoods in northwest DC.
Hey Todd –
We’re getting set for a short trip to Charleston, SC next week and your mention of the “bang bang” last week had me thinking: can we reasonably try to do two dinners in one night?
I was trying to choose between going to the Ordinary or one of either McCrady’s or Husk, but now I’m thinking why not do two in one evening? Ordinary for raw bar/small plates around 5pm and one of the others for a later seating? Have you been to any and should I just eliminate one off the top or should I start thinking about the life of a food critic and see if we’re cut out for it?
Our other stops are going to be Fig and Leon’s, so any other recommendations are welcome!
Why not do two restaurants in one night in a city of great eats? Less is not more. More is more. 🙂
I love The Ordinary. I’d make that my second stop of the night. Ideally, after Leon’s, which is not just a great restaurant. You know how some restaurants think they’re better than they are. Leon’s, I sense, doesn’t know how great it is. Which is part of what makes it great.
FIG is terrific. Keep that reservation. Make sure to hit Butcher & Bee at least once. They bake their own bread and butcher their own meat, and make some fantastic sandwiches.
I didn’t get to McCrady’s or Husk on my last trip down, in March, but both are very good and worth your time and money.
Have fun. And please report back about your adventures …
Sorry Todd, I’ll flesh this out.
Bar Canete – Great and fun spot with traditional and more contemporary spins on tapas. Bigger plates too. Really well done food – go for the lobster fritter!
Mont Bar – Another tapas spot but more gastronomic twists, however it keeps it grounded. Really beautifully plated and executed food.
Cafe Alfonso – The traditional and mostly local tapas spot. Best pane con tomate I’ve ever had. I don’t know why its so exceptional there. The menu is a little overwhelming but the servers were helpful and everything that hit the table made for a delicious and great time.
Tickets – This is like the spiritual successor of El Bulli, Adrian Ferra’s spot. Its a pretty well known spot and hard to get into unless you plan accordingly and make reservations well out. High molecular gastronomy if you’re into playful and interesting food.
ABAC – A fine dining and molecular gastronomy techniques are used throughout Chef Jordi’s cuisine as well. A really great fine dining, ‘white table cloth,’ experience.
Thanks so much for this.
I loved to see words minced like this.
It all sounds really good and really delicious. I wish I were getting on a plane right now …
CHEVY CHASE, CONT.:
Chevy Chase: Try SushiKo. The food is interesting and fresh, the service is friendly, and it doesn’t have the overall “we are Chevy Chase” vibe. I wish their decor was better, but I’ll take good food and friendly service in uninteresting decor vs. big hype and decor that comes with average food and attitude.
Also, for fried artichokes – try Lebanese Taverna, I was pleasantly surprised by the version in Bethesda.
Also, Fiola Mare has them on the Happy Hour menu (shhhh, don’t tell everyone 😉
OK, promise. 🙂
Actually, that’s reason enough to visit at happy hour, I’d think. Thanks for the heads-up.
What’s wrong with the decor at Sushi-Ko? I’m more concerned about the unevenness in the meals I’ve had. I think you get a better experience overall sitting at the sushi bar. When Sushi-Ko is on, you can have a really good meal.
“THE CHEF’S TABLE,” CONT.:
“The Chef’s Table” is awesome! Gorgeously shot, it’s a compelling documentary series, and gives the whole enterprise gravity without “gravitas”.
Other Netflix streaming recs:
“Bloodline”- slow moving but incredibly compelling. This is one of those things where the Emmy nominations were spot on- it’s not nearly as gory or action-packed as the first season of “True Detective”, but it’s in the same vein- thoughtful, meditative, with great characters and a solid mystery that runs through it.
“The Honourable Woman”- I was never a huge fan of Maggie Gyllenhal, but she knocks it right out of the park with this BBC series; also slow-moving, but stick with it- it’s amazing.
“OITNB”- I’m going to go against the stream and say that it’s starting to see its rust. I loved the first two seasons despite (not because of) Piper, and there’s less of her in S3, but still, it was missing something. It wasn’t as big a disappointment as House of Cards’ season 3, so there’s that.
I’ll definitely give some of these a go.
I have to say, though, that I’m not generally into watching a series of something. I almost never stick with it. I’m commitment-phobic that way. I’d rather watch a film.
Any films that you think I might go for?
I spent twenty minutes the other night, going through titles, and nothing look good to me. In part because of the way they market films, which is to make everything sound big and epic and (to my eyes) cliche. There must be something interesting out there, no?
“THE CHEF’S TABLE,” CONT.:
I loved Chef’s Table! Hope they come back with a season 2!
Re downtown restaurants, I’ve taken my dad to Fiola Mare and Fiola the last 2 trips he was here so I thought I’d wait a bit before going for the trifecta.
So then how about Central Michel Richard? Or Del Campo?
That’s two, now, for “The Chef’s Table.” I’ll make a point of watching. Thanks, everyone …
Gotta run. Lunch calls, deadlines call …
Which reminds me: Otherwise has moved to Tuesdays, and a new column will go live shortly. I hope you enjoy it.
Be well, eat well, and let’s do it again next Tuesday at 11 …
[missing you, TEK … ]