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.
BEST CUBAN SANDWICH?:
Where is the best Cuban sandwich in the area?
I really like the one at Mi Cuba Cafe, on Park Rd., in Columbia Hts.
Great crunch from the pressed, griddled bread, and the proportions are spot on.
Good tang from the mustard and pickle, good ham and roast pork, and all of it sized just right.
It’s the best Cubano I’ve had in the area. And it’s as good as most you’ll find in and around Miami.
Good morning, everyone …
Where’ve you been eating? Tell me about your adventures …
Or your cooking adventures.
Or places you’ve been and loved. Or didn’t love …
Hi there – with the growing number of Peruvian restaurants, have you ever done a list of all the Peruvian places in the area?
There are so many good ones and range from pollo a la brasa to fine dining fusion. Would love to see that from your perspective, what do you think, and any ones you like?
You’re right — there are a lot right now, and I think that’s a great thing. I love the cuisine, love its melding of influences, love its flavors.
If I were making a list, it’d include Ocopa on H St., La Limeña in Rockville, Del Campo in Penn Quarter, Sardi’s (various locations), Las Canteras in Adams Morgan, China Chilcano in Penn Quarter.
I’m interested in trying the new-ish Rincon Peruano, in Rockville. I also have not been to Mi Peru, in Gaithersburg.
I did try Sazon Inka, also in Rockville, and liked some things about it, but it just wasn’t strong enough overall to get my backing.
La Canela, in Rockville, was disappointing the last time I was in, with cooking more sloppy than at any time since I began dining there. I hope that was an aberration.
Finally, the new Sardi’s Fusion, in Olney, which replaces Taste. The chef, Jose Luis, is from the Peruvian Embassy. The plates are gorgeous. I wish the owners were giving him higher-quality raw materials to work with. The talent is there.
I’d be interested in hearing what you and the other chatters like — whether pollo a la brasa or sit-down …
Back to the BBQ thread from a few weeks ago…I want to say I like pork ribs the most when it comes to BBQ, but it’s been a long time since I had any I really liked.
The best recent BBQ I’ve had includes pulled pork at the BBQ Joint in Easton, the brisket sandwich at DCity Smokehouse, and burnt ends at Fat Pete’s.
For non-traditional items, I enjoyed smoked meat loaf at BBQ Joint, the Den Den sandwich at DCity, and the burnt ends grilled cheese at Fat Pete’s. And I know you shouldn’t need sauce for really good BBQ, but the swicy (sweet and spicy) at BBQ Joint and the Hill Country original sauce were both really tasty.
I agree with you — good ribs are hard to come by.
Have you tried the ones at KBQ? Have you had them at DCity Smokehouse?
I’m with you on the brisket sandwich there and the burnt ends at Fat Pete’s (I’d go back for those and for the marvelous beans and nothing else). I love the “moist” brisket, as they call it at Hill Country (a euphemism for fatty cut).
What else is good out there right now? Let’s make a list. Can even be a place that has one great or good thing.
Has anyone been to Chuck’s Wagon BBQ, in Bowie? I like the ribs. Not amazing ribs, but I like them.
Your Top 10 Places to Go Now
Seems like the list has been virtually the same since bout April (I just went through and clicked dates on your chat archives). Any updates to add?
Yeah, you’re right. Needs updating.
Of the new/new-ish crop of restaurants, these are the ones I’ve been most impressed with:
Garrison, on Barracks Row.
Clarity, in Vienna.
Nido, in Woodridge DC, out Rhode Island Ave.
Note that I haven’t yet been to Masseria, at the Florida Avenue Market, near Union Market.
We talked about barbecue a few weeks ago and I wrote in that I was headed to Austin. We went to Lambert’s Downtown BBQ, which probably isn’t the shining example of Texas ‘cue as those in Lockhart or Franklin’s, but was still pretty darn good (and, essential for us, able to give us a reservation for a large group at night).
A friend and I split the pork ribs and the brisket. He gave me a few slices of the latter off his plate and I handed him half the rack of ribs. Turns out I got just the leaner end of the brisket which was a bit dry to my liking, but better with sauce, and most Texans will tell you the sauce is superfluous to the meat. I didn’t realize until I was nearly full that he also had moist brisket on his plate, and a few bites of that was plenty to satiate me as it was so rich and fatty, but delicious. That meat didn’t need sauce, but I do love bbq sauce in general, so I added it in small amounts.
The ribs, however, were great. Still had enough chew so as to not be fall off the bone (i.e., not overcooked). The maple glaze on them was a bit sweet on its own for my taste, but I offset it with some more sauce.
Their sides were all great — gooey baked mac and cheese, bacon braised collards, roast brussel sprouts, and waffle fries that many at the table agreed were some of the best fries we’d ever had. I had a few bites of someone’s smoked short ribs and that was probably the best bite of all, but no way I could finish a whole portion given how rich it is.
In conclusion, NC-style pulled/chopped pork is still number one for me, followed by ribs, then brisket. But I’m not one of those people to downplay other styles as inferior to their own — it’s all great, and we should be thankful we have so many distinct styles in this country.
You’re actually making me think back to a conversation I had, oh, about ten years ago with someone about American food. The other person was American, well-travelled, and oikiphobic.
She seemed to think that American food was burgers and a few great dining experiences at the high end and nothing really in between. Not like France, she said.
I don’t know what she would think today, ten years later. Would she think differently?
I thought then and think now that American food has a very distinct regional identity, one that outsiders might miss, particularly if they’re determined to look only at cities like New York, DC, LA and San Francisco. Barbecue in Kansas City, Memphis, Texas, North Carolina, Alabama. Gumbo and etc. in New Orleans and Louisiana. Chowders in Massachusetts. And so on.
Yeah, barbecue, she said. But I could tell that she clearly did not consider it much of anything. Nothing to be held in any kind of esteem.
Which is funny, because I have spoken over the years to many French chefs and they are crazy, absolutely crazy, for good barbecue.
As they should be.
PERUVIAN COOKING, CONT.:
It will require a flight to Costa Rica and a three hour drive from the airport to get there, but I had an amazing Arroz con Pollo at a place called Sabor Tico in Monte Verde.
What really made it stand out was the use of a gallina–a mature hen. She was a tough old bird, but the flavor made it worth the effort.
It leads me to wonder if any place in this area uses mature hens for any dishes.
You see aji de gallina on a number of Peruvian menus — but is it really gallina, or is it just any old chicken?
Somehow I doubt that they’re using the mature hens.
Speaking of Cuban sandwiches… Where can I get a good Cuban coffee?
That one, I have no answer for.
I really, really wish I did. I love Cuban coffee.
Is there a good Cuban coffee out there that I don’t know about? Somebody tell me there is …
BIRTHDAY DINNER THIS FRIDAY — BUT WHERE?:
My boyfriend’s birthday is this Friday, and we’re having trouble deciding where to go for a great meal to celebrate. I figured what better way to get a second opinion than to write to you. We’re looking for a place that’s not too expensive, but not hole in the wall either (although we frequent and love those places usually). Any recommendations for an overall great place that won’t break the bank? We are both adventurous eaters.
Any of the three I mentioned above, a few questions ago, would be ideal, I think.
Garrison, Clarity or Nido.
Garrison is the most expensive of the three, but still not what I would call break-the-bank, not in this area.
All three, as I said, are doing a really good job of things right now, and I expect Garrison, the newest as well, to get even better as it rounds into form.
Pick one, and let me know how things turned out.
Happy birthday to the boyfriend!
BRINGING BACK FOOD FROM ABROAD:
Hi Todd –
I’ve got a couple of international trips coming up this year (Berlin, Tuscany, Paris) and am looking into getting global entry. Would you recommend getting it if there are food stuffs you’re in the habit of bringing back for personal consumption (think things like jamon iberico and macarons)?
I know the straight and narrow answer is not to take the risk if going through all the hassle for the convenience of GE, but it saddens me to think of not extending the culinary delights of international travel just a little bit longer, so I was curious if you had a hypothetical approach to this.
It’s a really interesting question, but unfortunately I don’t know enough about the ramifications here to give you any kind of counsel.
Who out there has GE and can weigh in on this?
I’d love to have a discussion of this …
I don’t like it when people boast that good BBQ doesn’t “need the sauce.” It is conventional wisdom with every other type of food that sauces are delicious and they add flavor and complexity to a dish.
It would be very odd to brag that thai pork skewers or dover sole or just about anything else is so well cooked that it doesn’t “need sauce.” I agree that BBQ can often be over-sauced, but I think good BBQ sauce can really compliment the meat.
I don’t think we’re doing anyone any favors when we speak ill of BBQ sauce.
Well, you have to realize that it’s part of the code of barbecue.
Pitmasters spend years, just like sushi chefs, to master their craft. A craft of which there are few masters.
The point of pride, the thing that all serious pitmasters work toward, is a meat that is so perfectly seasoned, so perfectly penetrated with smoke, that it doesn’t (as they say) need sauce. The evidence of craftsmanship is supposed to be there, plain to see, without the enhancement.
And with great barbecue, it’s often true: the meat doesn’t require sauce. It’s fantastic on its own.
The problem is, most barbecue is not great barbecue. This is true of nearly every human endeavor. Most in not great . And not-great barbecue benefits from having some sauce on it.
I’m with you; I’m a sauce lover. I love a good barbecue sauce.
Speaking of, has anyone tried Bone Doctors’, made in Charlottesville? The original recipe is excellent. No corn syrup. None of the usual additives. I recommend it highly.
Just a shout-out to restaurants preparing for Restaurant Week:
1. If you don’t put your menu up, your chances are very little compared to the others, why should I take a chance when there are plenty of other options where I can see what I will get?
2. If you put something generic such as “mixed greens” and “spaghetti bolognese” on your RW menu as 1 of 2 options, it tells me you didn’t give it much thought and just want your name to be up there, especially with such bountiful summer produce (and competition – I wonder if chefs/GMs look at their competitor’s RW menus.)
3. If you have only few options at RW prices, but half of your menu is about surcharged items, we get the picture… that your focus is on making money not creating loyal customers…
Now a note to Restaurant Assn: can you please make a page or somehow indicate the restaurants that are extending RW for another week? Last year there were a bunch of them but there was no place to find them centrally. There are only 5 days in a work-week but there are plenty of good options, and there are a bunch of us who are curious and want to explore more and spread the wealth. Many restaurants are extending RW but we don’t know who… Thanks!
Hard to argue with any of this.
Thanks for writing in … I hope that the people in positions to make decisions are listening …
DINING ON A BUDGET AT CENTRAL:
We’re taking our food & beverage interns out for a farewell dinner tonight at Central. We’re on a bit of a budget ($50 pp, not including drinks); anything we have to make sure we try on the menu right now?
I’m only a little kidding. They’re superb, especially the Napoleon. And the Lemon Eggceptional. And Michel’s Chocolate Bar. And …
Not to miss right now: the gazpacho; the gougeres; the crabmeat-stuffed soft shells over mashed avocado, if they still have them on the menu; the crabcake; any of the various burgers; the fried chicken with mashed potatoes (presumably, equal parts potato, cream and butter).
Have a great time, and please report back …
RESTAURANT WEEK, CONT.:
A simpler RW message to restaurants…
If you want to participate in RW, make an effort. If you don’t then don’t…we won’t hold it against you.
Succinct and very well put. Yes.
Thanks for chiming in …
I know this has been addressed before, but I was wondering what your thoughts on this situation might be given the restaurant.
I ate at Le Diplomate last Friday, ordered the steak frites, and had about half of the dish left over (we had some pretty heavy appetizers so by the time the dinner entrees came I wasn’t that hungry).
On Sunday, I went to open my leftovers for dinner and was beyond dismayed that the to-go container only had my leftover steak, not the frites (and there were a ton leftover). I suppose I should be happy the “expensive” part of the meal was included, but the fries are by far my favorite part!
So my question, I guess, is, do you think this was just a fluke, or is there something I should have done to make sure the whole plate was saved? (I would have felt weird opening the container to check in front of my dining companions).
You’re not at fault. The fries should’ve been there.
It happened to me just last week. Not at Le Dip, and not with steak frites, but the idea’s the same.
Restaurants are not always good at transferring leftovers to the carton.
Many places, now, make you do the work of scraping and lifting. Which is fine if you want to guarantee that your fries make it home with you, and you get all of the sauce on a plate (something that most servers never seem to take notice of), but who wants to do all that work at the table after a nice meal?
Where do you all come down on this — I’m curious. Let them do it or do it yourself?
I’m in the let them do it camp, I think. Though you do take your chances that way …
PERUVIAN COOKING, CONT.:
I’ll comment on the pollo a la brasa question and represent VA. My preference is Crisp and Juicy for sandwiches and Super Pollo for their platters. In addition, I think Super Pollo has the crispiest yucca and the most well-balanced yellow sauce, which I’m assuming is made with Aji Amarillo pepper paste and not fresh peppers. Regardless, I still prefer their ingredient proportions.
After an Anthony Bourdain recommendation, I tried El Pollo Rico in Arlington but the chicken wasn’t noticeably different, perhaps a little saltier. The dining experience was too chaotic for my preference as well, similar to a very loud school cafeteria.
That Bourdain show was from about eight, ten years ago. A lot can change in that time — in life as well as in the restaurant world.
And it has. EPR is no longer the indisputed king.
I like Super Pollo, too. And you’re right; they do well by their sides.
Crisp and Juicy is, in my recent experience, not often crisp and almost never juicy.
MICHEL’S CHOCOLATE BAR, CONT.:
Went a week or so ago with my mom and aunt and told them we had to get this, and I was surprised when it didn’t come with a little cup of ice cream as it had the past 5 or so times I’d ordered it. I asked the waiter and he remarked that he had worked there for 7 months and never seen that.
Granted, it’s been probably a year since I’ve ordered it and they may have changed their policy, but that explanation rubbed me the wrong way — I think he thought I was lying to scam some free ice cream. But even if he had offered to get some it would have been for naught as he didn’t come over until we only had a few bites left as a food runner had dropped it off.
I don’t remember ever seeing it with a little cup of ice cream, either.
Who else has had the dish within the past year?
Just saw the comment regarding leftovers. Our policy is to box everything on the plate, clearly this was a mistake on our part.
Would you be kind enough to share my contact information (feel free to publish) so the chatter can reach out to me directly and I may apologize as well as personally address their concerns?
Thank You and Best Regards,
Director of Operations
1601 14th Street NW, Washington D.C. 20009
O. 202 332 3333
C. 202 815 5858
I’m sure the chatter is going to appreciate this. (I appreciate it, too.)
Thanks for being so swift in reply.
And thanks for reading …
Lunch is calling. Gotta run.
Thanks, everyone, for all the good questions and tips and reports and ruminations today …
Be well, eat well, and let’s do it again next Tuesday at 11 …
And look out for my OtherWise column, out later this afternoon …
[missing you, TEK … ]