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: firstname.lastname@example.org
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.
You are the reason that we go to Casapulla’s everytime we are in Rehoboth.
Will be there this Labor Day weekend – any other recommendations? Will be there from saturday – saturday, so hopefully some of the busier, more popular places that don’t take reservations will be a lot easier to get in to.
My favorites include Nage (and you can go for lunch, one of the few good finer dining spots that’s open then) and a(muse.) at the higher end, Henlopen City Oyster House for raw bar and po’boys and beers, the new Papa Grande for its seafood cocktail and guac and margaritas, and, for a snack, Kaisy’s for kaiserschmarn, a sweet, thick Austrian pancake that’s cut up as it cooks and served in sections.
Has anyone out there had kaiserschmarn before?
REPORT FROM THE FIELD: HERSHEY’S IN GAITHERSBURG:
Have you ever tried Hershey’s in Gaithersburg?
This place is really a hidden gem (albeit a dive kind of gem) that is worth seeking out. It’s hidden away on a side street abutting railroad tracks and the whole place shakes when a train comes by. The decor is straight out of the 60s. BUT the fried chicken is the BEST I have tried in the DC area.
Just this weekend, we went to the new Astro in Falls Church- wow that place is tiny- and the group voted that Hershey’s was better (same vote compared to GBD, Pearl Dive, Central). We can’t bring ourselves to order anything else when we go there, but the other food looks pretty good too. Huge portions, low prices.
Knowing your love of food adventures, I wondered if you had tried this place yet and what you thought?
I haven’t, no, but I clearly need to go!
Sounds like a lot of fun. A good late summer trip kinda place.
What else comes with the fried chicken?
And since you brought up fried chicken, I’m wondering what people’s favorites are in the area.
I love the fried chicken at Central. I used to like the fried chicken at Ooohs & Aaahs, but it’s been a while (in part because the last batch I had wasn’t great). Hitching Post gets a lot of talk, but I don’t love it (it’s pretty good).
Bon Chon can be really, really good.
SEASONALITY IN THE FALL:
As we go from late summer into fall, what do you look forward to start turning up on restaurant menus?
When spring comes around, I think ramps, fiddlehead ferns, and shad roe. Until we hit apple season, I’m scratching my head.
Yeah, there’s not much that gets the juices going, is there?
I mean, not like spring or summer.
Apples, butternut squash, fennel, beets, pears.
Although I have to say that I love pears. Love ‘em. My favorite fruit, I think. I’ll take a good, ripe pear over a good, ripe apple 9 times out of 10. And over a good, ripe peach 9 times out of 10.
Aside from pears in salads with walnuts and blue cheese and a cooked pear dessert here and there, where do you see the pear in restaurant cooking? Or even home cooking.
Who has some great, interesting way to use pears in the kitchen?
Who else is with me in my love for them?
Or, alternatively, who doesn’t like them at all? Or who only tolerates them?
REPORTS FROM THE FIELD: GARRISON, NIDO, A BAKED JOINT:
We’ve had a quick surge of exciting dining venues. Here’s where I’m eating now:
Garrison: Turning the bounty of the day into edible treasures
Nido: A bright, airy space with the feel of a European cafe (bonus: you can speak in a normal voice to your dining companions) and house wine that’s much better than it should be. The food is of the moment with obvious personal touches by the chef.
A Baked Joint: A soaring, modern space. The owner’s response to the always-crowded Baked and Wired. Some of the best bread in the city and baked goods worth the trip.
Yep, yep, and yep.
I agree with every word.
I’ve been three times to both Garrison and Nido, and am impressed, in different ways, with each.
Nido, in one respect, simply for taking a chance that far out from downtown, on a stretch of road that, not very long ago for those of us with good memories, including the seedy Kirk’s Motel, among other sights. The area has changed since then, but planting a restaurant there still takes guts and vision.
And as for A Baked Joint, yes, great breads and treats and some very, very good sandwiches, too. I love their smoked salmon sandwich. Worth a trip just for that.
FRIED CHICKEN, CONT.:
I enjoyed the fried chicken I ate at Maketto last night. This was my second time eating there, I’ve liked it both times. Obviously, this is a Taiwanese version and maybe not the “fried chicken” we initially think about.
Otherwise, I enjoy the fried chicken at Pearl Dive (though last time was a dud) and for a quick fix, Popeyes can do the trick. I must admit, I wish we had more reliable, not hit & miss, sources for amazing fried chicken in the area.
Thanks for chiming in … good tips.
Though I have to disagree with you about the paucity of sources here. There’re a ton of places putting out fried chicken, and many are good.
Who’s been recently to Henry’s Soul Cafe in Oxon Hill? Or Flavors in Falls Church?
SEASONALITY IN FALL, CONT.:
I personally look forward to interesting soups that warm you up when the weather gets chilly and damp.
Last year I had an excellent leek and potato soup at a French cafe, and I always make a nice big pot of lentil soup myself.
Speaking of lentil soup, I’ve seen people add pears to red lentil or split pea soups and puree it in the end so you can’t really tell what’s there but clearly there’s a hint of something interesting.
And, like you, I’m a soup lover, too. There’s something about a great, well-made soup …
FRIED CHICKEN, CONT.:
My mouth is watering now thinking about it!
Who’s been on a plane coming from Central America? Sometimes you can smell that smell perfuming the whole cabin.
BISTRO 7107 IN CRYSTAL CITY:
I’m heading over to 7107 in Crystal City today and I don’t know much (read anything) about Filipino food. Advice? Tips? Suggestions?
The chef who was there when I wrote my review, Pete Snaith, is gone, unfortunately. I went again not terribly long after that, and the cooking was not at the same level. Too bad.
I’d order the sisig and/or the crispy pata. Done well, these are excellent dishes that will provide you a great introduction to Filipino cooking.
Sisig is a little like fajitas, in that it’s presented in a sizzling pan, but the flavors are richer and more luscious (typically, the pork is pork belly, along with, sometimes, pig ears).
Crispy pata looks like something out of Tom Jones — a giant leg of pork with a knife jammed into it. The skin is as much a draw as the meat: it should crackled a little. You slice the meat and skin off and dip them into the accompanying sauce, which is reminiscent of a ponzu.
Good luck. Report back!
FOLLOWING-UP FROM LAST WEEK: MUSHROOMS IN DISHES:
Following up on last week’s discussion of mushroom dishes that shine without cream and bacon that often gilds the lily…
Rural Society’s “setas” are undoubtedly the best you can find in the city. Cremini, baby bellas and hen of the woods are tossed in garlicky oil with a hint of truffle, then grilled until crispy and showered with bright, fresh parsley.
Will you pay $13 for a side dish? Yes. Will you be fighting with dining companions for every last bite? You bet.
Well, you made me hungry.
Good writing. Thanks for the tip.
Thirteen sounds high, but I guess not when the flavors are that big and developed, huh? …
FRIED CHICKEN, CONT.:
Best fried chicken was at Rose’s Luxury. I hope Chef Silverman considers bringing it back.
In a very different setting, I also love the Culinary Nomad truck’s fried chicken (they call it the southern fried chicken slider). It’s crispy, juicy and yummy, especially if you get it with sriracha! They drizzle it with honey as well, mmmm, I think I need one right now but gotta wait til Saturday!
I need to try that one!
And yeah, Rose’s Luxury’s fried chicken was really good. I loved the benne seeds.
I have to say, though, that for me, as with burgers and pizza, I tend to put fried chickens like this into one tier, and judge them accordingly — the boutique tier, or the worked-on tier, the fooled-with tier. And then there’s the other tier: the prole tier.
Personally (speaking as just someone who loves food and not as a critic), in the boutique tier the chicken has to wow me. It has to make me forget that I’m eating something that is plain and simple and should be cheap and accessible.
And — again speaking personally — I don’t make the same demands of prole chicken or burgers or pizza. They just need to be tasty and satisfying and inexpensive and make me happy.
What about the rest of you? Who else thinks in tiers like this? Or makes a distinction?
FRIED CHICKEN, CONT.:
Green Pig Bistro. Offered on mondays as their “Plats du Jour”. I’ve not been in a while, but it was always incredible.
Gypsy Soul (RIP)
Fairfax Bon Chon
Rose’s Luxury: Pickle brined fried chicken.
Right. I forgot it was pickle-brined.
Another great fried chicken, at least the first time I had it a few years ago: the one at Family Meal in Frederick.
One of the dishes I’ll miss at Gypsy Soul is the chicken fried quail — is that the one you’re thinking of? — with grits and gravy. Fantastic dish. Exactly the kind of thing a place like that should be doing. And Gypsy Soul nailed it.
My son adores them, he only tolerates apples. But they better be good pears. No mealy or hard pears for us.
We love them plain, but if I prepare them I make a pear tartin. There is nothing like a juicy, dripy, unctuous pear with stilton to make the world a better place!
Now you’re talking!
Pears and Stilton. Two of my favorites, and absolutely great together, like Kelly and O’Connor, like Evans and Hall …
And a pear tatin — oh boy, one of my weaknesses, and one of the best reasons to look forward to cold weather …
Asian pears are very common in Korean marinades like for bulgogi.
And I know someone who ate at Rose’s Luxury’s roof deck and was given the recipe for their brisket and slaw, and the latter also contains Asian pears.
Someone got the brisket recipe?
I’d love to see that.
I didn’t know that about Asian pears and marinades. That’s interesting. Diced up? Sliced?
I’m a fan, but generally speaking, they’re not the pears of my dreams. I like a juicier, more voluptuous variety.
It’s been a while but I remember having a wonderful sauteed mushroom dish at Zaytinya. Their menu currently has sauteed mushrooms, dates, toasted almonds and cumin ($12).
So, for those scoring at home, that’s $12 for a mushroom dish at Zaytinya and $13 for a mushroom dish at Rural Society.
FRIED CHICKEN, CONT.:
I’ve had the quail, and agree it was delicious, but I was speaking of the fried chicken dish that was on the menu of couple of weeks ago.
Now where should I go for lunch in Fairfax today? (Turnabout is fair play)
I’d be looking at Saba for Yemeni cooking (get the haneeth), Hunan Taste (there’s a great fish with chilis dish), or Prince Sushi (a surprising cut above workaday).
Go and report back …
Absolutely agree with you on the tiers of food. If its a humble food elevated, it gets a whole different critique than if its made classically.
If it’s a food that’s been elevated it better wow or I will argue with the chef as to why they messed with a classic.
Well, for me — and again, speaking personally, not critically — it’s not about why did they mess with a classic. In most cases with burgers, fries, fried chicken, etc., it’s why did you even try your hand at this? If it’s not wowing, you’re only going to make me pine for the unpretentious and inexpensive thing.
White kimchi often has small bits of asian pear.
And I know Asian pear appears sometimes as a panchan.
But still, we’re talking about a pretty small role, even across cuisines and cultures.
FRIED CHICKEN, CONT.:
Willow in Arlington does a “Julia says” fried chicken sandwich that is pretty darn good. They have also had roasted-then-fried chicken on their dinner menu at times and it is juicy and crispy.
Good tip. Thanks.
It’s interesting to think about the places that subject the bird to a two-step (or more) process. Rose’s: pickle brining then frying. Pearl Dive I think braises it then fries it.
Who in the hell knows what Bon Chon does with it — I tried to squeeze the answer out of corporate when I wrote a review of the Arlington location; believe me, I tried. All the spokesman there would allow is that their chicken is subjected to more than one process. My guess is three: brining; frying; frying again. I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that there are four. This is a highly engineered food, a la fast food.
REPORT FROM THE FIELD: DINO’S “(NOT) RESTAURANT WEEK” PROMOTION:
I wanted to give a shout out to Dino’s Grotto for their fabulous “(Not) Restaurant Week” promotion, which is running through September 6th. It was, frankly, absurd — in a good way.
The concept is 10 dishes served in 5 courses for $35. When I asked our waitress about doing a vegetarian version, she immediately started explaining which dishes should be swapped out and offering me options from the regular menu.
The first course was a glass of gazpacho with melon. Frankly, I expected something sweeter and smoother, and what we got was a delicious way to wake up the palate. From there we moved to a selection of two appetizers, followed by 3 pastas, 3 entrees, and finally our choice of dessert from the full dessert menu. While the risotto and gnudi were skippable, I don’t think there was anything else I wouldn’t have gladly paid full price for from the menu.
Additionally, for an additional $15, one could choose from a flight of cocktails (2), beer (3), wine (3), or lambrusco (3). I went with the cocktails and was surprised to receive two full-sized drinks. The negroni and the blackberry daiquiri could have each commanded $15 at most nearby joints.
So. Mad props to Dean Gold for a fantastic alternative to the usual Restaurant Week offerings.
Thanks for the report.
Sounds like a good and fulfilling meal.
Good for Dean/Dino, and (obviously) good for you.
I’m just glad you didn’t call him a “creative” or a “change agent” or a “disruptor.” 🙂
THE POPE AND RESTAURANTS:
I have no idea if the Pope ever visits restaurants when he is visiting a city (I don’t think he does), but if he does, what are your recommendations? I believe he is a supporter of sustainable eating and doesn’t like to be extravagant. I heard he went to Burger King one time to change. Anyway, Here are my suggestions:
– Cantlers for messy crabs
– Ethiopic because it is unique and not sure if he has regular access to Ethiopian food
– DC Central Kitchen????
– A good espresso somewhere?
I can just see the Pope at Cantler’s, picking crabs …
I don’t think I’ve heard of a papal restaurant visit. Has anyone?
But just for the sake of playing along, I can think of a few restaurants that have a very holy attitude toward food. 🙂
And to add to my list . . . .Pear and bacon grilled cheese, neopolitan style pizza with pear, gorgonzola and radicchio salad.
All good ones …
I like the pairing, also, of a crisp-skinned duck breast with pear. The sweetness works well, plus there’s a little acidity there, too, to help balance the richness of the meat.
FRIED CHICKEN, CONT.:
Is it really a step towards fast food, or a step towards “molecular gastronomy”? I’m not really trying to be cute here, it’s just interesting that the farther a “food” gets from the “food” we recognize, it can either go high- or low-end.
No, you bring up a really great point here.
There’s a lot in common between the high end and fast food, more in common than I think a lot of food lovers might like to think.
Both are involved in rethinking food, playing with food, remaking food. Both work to intensify flavors and engineer dishes to deliver more pleasure in a single bite.
Food at the highest end is very manipulated. Rose’s Luxury, for instance, serves very manipulated food. It doesn’t want you to think that, and actually works to make sure that you don’t think it; the way the food comes across looks very, very unassuming. That’s by design. You taste the result of the processes, of the laboriousness, of all that complicated engineering. But you should not, ever, see it, or realize it.
And Rose’s, obviously, is a long ways away from molecular gastronomy.
Hershey’s sides- the chicken comes with two (large portions) sides. We’ve had the mac n’ cheese (very gooey but bland), hush puppies (amazing), fries (pretty good), mashed potatoes (amazing), green beans (pretty good). There are like 10 choices….
Good guidance, thanks.
I’ll try to get there in the next few weeks and let you know how it was …
I appreciate the tip!
On the subject of mushrooms, I had an excellent dish at Iron Gate several months back.
Oak roasted mushrooms with olive oil and sea salt. Really lets the actual flavor of the mushrooms shine through, and the texture is both crispy and a bit chewy. Simple, but fantastic. And a price tag that’s much easier to justify – only $8!
Wow, that’s like bargain-basement pricing in context! 😉
Thanks for the tasty-sounding report …
I don’t love pears that much, but they are good poached. I think it’s that I never manage to get them at the right stage of ripeness, and poaching gets around that problem. Earlier this year I made a wonderful pear frangipane tart. The pears are poached in cognac and the halves are layered across the tart. I was impressed with the results.
Backstory: I had accidentally bought a bottle of pear cognac while intending to buy a bottle of a different kind of liqueur next to it on the shelf. I took it as a challenge to use the bottle. To poach the pears, I used the pear cognac rounded out with some of the regular cognac I keep on hand for cooking.
Your tart sounds great.
I love that you took it as a challenge when you bought the wrong bottle. That’s a food lover right there.
Anyone else out there love pear cognac? Poire William is fantastic. There’s a new liquer that’s also wonderful: Belle de Brillet, which comes in a pear-shaped bottle.
Gotta run, everyone. Thanks so much for all the contributions today — great comments and questions and musings and tips. Thank you thank you …
Be well, eat well, and let’s do it again next Tuesday at 11 …
And look for a new OtherWise column from me, this one on restaurant naming …[missing you, TEK … ]