Tuesday, September 15, at 11 AM

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: tkliman@washingtonian.com


I missed the chat last week about whether restaurants should instruct patrons on the proper way to eat unfamiliar foods.

I think *should* is too strong a word, and I can understand the impulse to not want to correct or lecture your patrons, but sometimes a dish can really benefit from being eaten the “proper” way and they are missing out on an opportunity to dazzle their customers if they don’t provide instruction.

My husband always orders the catfish at Minh’s, which comes on a hot plate (sort of like the plate you get fajitas on) of catfish and dill, with a sides of vermicelli, sauce, chopped peanuts, and various herbs, and maybe a few other things I’m forgetting.

The first time he ordered it, he ate everything separately because that was the way it was plated, but the second time the waitress told him he should take a small bowl, put a bit of everything in it, and eat it with chopsticks. It was sort of a revelation, and really improved the dish. But the funny thing is that on subsequent visits, he has often had to ask for a separate bowl – the waitstaff doesn’t even bring it automatically.

As for your criticism of people who – after being informed of the traditional way to eat a dish – still aren’t willing to break out of their comfort zone foodwise (eating Ethiopian wot over rice was your example) – eh, I don’t know. I think if you like it the way you like it, you shouldn’t be ashamed of it. For a long time my husband would sigh and moan whenever we ate with his mother because she insists on eating her meat well done. I finally told him to knock it off. His mom raised him well (for the most part – other than the sighing and moaning about overcooked meat) and wiped his bottom when he was a baby, so she can eat her steak however she darn pleases and he should just shut his pie hole.

Todd Kliman

Well, I think the example I gave last week, of a group of (probably) Indian diners asking for rice instead of injera at an Ethiopian restaurant so that they can eat their wots like curries, and the one you give here, of a son correcting his mother, are pretty different.

Sure, live and let live, and what does it all matter anyway.

I just think that it doesn’t make much sense to go to a restaurant of a different culture if you don’t make a real effort to eat the way the people in that culture do. You can find a hamburger (or a well done steak) anywhere.

And then there’s the reason you gave at the start of your post, which is that in many cases eating the dish the way the culture does makes it tastier.

I guess we’re talking, here, about a difference in approach/outlook. Do you go to restaurants from a different culture to have an experience, and see and try and smell new things? Or is that all secondary to having a meal that you enjoy, on your own terms?

Are there other approaches/outlooks?



The best ramen I’ve ever had by far was, weirdly, in Eugene, OR when I was there for grad school at a small place called Toschi’s Ramen.

It was amazing not only because they make their own noodles and delicious broths, but because it was so reasonably priced! ($8/bowl).

Does DC have a fantastic but cheap ramen place that, in particular, hand pulls their own noodles? Thanks!

Todd Kliman

There’s no ramen place that I know of that pulls its own noodles, no; unfortunately. That’d be wonderful.

My favorite in town is Daikaya, which gets deliveries of noodles from Japan, the next best (though clearly a very distant second) thing. I love their shoyu ramen with a soft-boiled egg.



Hi Todd,

My biggest complaint about the DC food scene is that we’re lacking delicious Italian food that comes at an affordable price and isn’t overly fancy. While I love Fiola and Casa Luca, sometimes you just want a big bowl of pasta, some bread, and a glass of wine that still tastes delicious but doesn’t break the bank.

Any thoughts on any places that fit the description?


Todd Kliman

I hear you.

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It’s not a strength of this scene and in fact is a glaring weakness of it.

There’s no shortage, as you seem to suggest, of expensive and/or lavish Italian spots. But we don’t have a lot of humbler spots — and those that we do, often aren’t all that great.

One to consider is Tortino. Not memorable, no, and probably not red-saucy enough for what you’re looking for, but give it a try. It’s been a while since I’ve been, and although I didn’t love my meal I did like it.

And/or what about Pasta Mia, whose long nightly lines predate those at Rose’s by decades? They don’t make their own pasta, but they do make their own sauces. It’s a fun night.

Another basic, red sauce option is Trattoria Alberto on Barracks Row. Again, been years since I’ve been there, so it’d be great to hear from anyone who has gone in the past year or two. My memory of it: not bad.

(The new-ish Alphonse, on U, looks the part — actually, it tries too hard to look the part — but although everything comes out looking and smelling good, the flavors, I found, were thin.)

What are some other options?



For my husband’s 50th we are spending the weekend at Hotel Helix before they close.

We got married there and am wondering what meal suggestions you have for brunch (we aren’t brunch people), lunch, dinner, cocktails, etc.

We’ve done a progressive dinner date along 14th and U and we’ll be hitting Birch & Barley since he loves the tap line.

Not looking for fussy, dress up places – but fun, casual good eatin spots where we can enjoy being empty nesters!

Todd Kliman

First of all, let me just say — that sounds like a great and relaxing weekend. Enjoy it.

You’ll be close to the new The Riggsby, and I would definitely make a point of having at least one meal there. I think it’s one of the best restaurants to debut this year.

For cocktails, 2 Birds 1 Stone, in the basement of Doi Moi. Which is another possibility for you, for dinner. Some more dinner ideas: Le Diplomate, for bistro French, and Estadio, for tapas.

Baan Thai is a Thai restaurant inside a sushi restaurant, and I’d recommend it for a lunch. The place has about a half-dozen or so great dishes, and if you stick to those — the beef curry noodles, the curry puffs, the northern-style pork curry, the chicken in tapioca balls — you’ll have a wonderful time.

I hope that helps. Please drop back on next week and give us a full report …



I remember going to a small Asian restaurant many years ago in San Jose, CA. I was stuck without a car in a little motel by the highway, but saw the restaurant nearby.

I ordered something where you cook the little bits in a hot pot and then wrap them up together. It was pretty clear that I had no idea what I was doing.

My waitress gently showed me how to do it and I had a terrific meal. Ever since, I’ve never minded a bit of assistance when encountering something new.

Todd Kliman

Thanks for the story.

I would imagine that most people on here — people who like food enough to talk about it and write about it — would welcome having someone show them how to eat a dish. Or would have, at one time, when they were young and naive and just starting out to build their palates.

Or do I have that wrong? Are there people out there who don’t like this sort of thing and don’t welcome it and never would have welcomed it? I’m curious …

It seems to me that one of the nice things about eating outside your immediate culture is learning about dishes and about customs and about people (which you can learn through those dishes and customs).

I can still remember eating in a Japanese restaurant in San Francisco with my parents when I was ten, and having a man at a nearby table watch me use my chopsticks, eyeing me carefully. At one point he came over and made an adjustment to my form. Then he watched as I tried again with my new, corrected form and smiled as I got it right.

But back to immersing oneself in other cultures … I’ve read some pieces in recent years that sneer at the notion that some of us think this is meaningful or interesting. And certainly there are issues of appropriation that are serious issues, and should not be taken lightly.

The issue of appropriation pertains mostly to chefs and restaurateurs who are ever on the lookout for the exotic and dabbling (some think) in a kind of Orientalism. Some of these pieces have a problem with diners seeking out the cuisines of other cultures. If it’s only about boastfulness, and about looking new or hip, I agree it’s a problem. But experiencing something of the world through people’s dishes — it seems to me this is a good thing, if (again) it is undertaken in the spirit of immersion and openness and humility.



Red sauce Italian – one neighborhood option is Bistro Italiano on Capitol Hill just off Mass Avenue. Small, inexpensive, sometimes good, sometimes not so good.

I like there various seafood diablo dishes. Better than Trattoria Alberto.

Todd Kliman

How much better?

I like that line — sometimes good, sometimes not so good.

I can think of a number of Italian places like that in this area, only I would say — sometimes pretty good, sometimes not so pretty good. I’m thinking right now of a place like Trattoria da Franco, in Alexandria.



How does Il Radicchio rate? Pines of Florence?

Todd Kliman

God, it’s been forever since I’ve been to either …

Pines of Florence, even then, was not a place you went to because you thought it was great food. You went because you knew what you were getting, and that was enough. And maybe one night you got lucky and some dish turned out to be better than it usually was, and it was like finding money in your old coat.

I’d love to hear a recent report on either. I would guess that Pines of Florence is still chugging along …



Todd, following your recommendation, my daughter and I popped into Hunan Taste for lunch.

Despite having read your review, I didn’t expect to find such a beautifully decorated restaurant inside a tiny strip mall.

We opted to stick with their lunch specials, (my daughter was not in a frog or turtle mood), and ordered the fish in bean curd sauce and the crispy beef. Both lunch portions were amply sized, and the food was fresh and well-prepared. My fish was a bit too salty, but that was my only quibble. The crispy beef arrived piping hot, and the dish had many dried chiles. Outstanding as well.

They also served a hot and sour soup that exceeded my expectations. I realize it’s not necessarily a chinese staple, but their version hit all of the right notes.

Great place with friendly service. Will definitely return to try some of their regional dishes.

Todd Kliman

Oh, nice … that’s great to hear.

Thanks for the report …

There’s some terrific cooking coming out of that kitchen.

Next time you need to try the casserole of tea-tree mushrooms with porkbelly. The mushrooms are almost black, and long and chewy, and they’re slicked with chili oil. Bits of garlic cling to them. The heat and the chew and the porky depths of the belly meat — it’s a fascinating dish and hard to stop eating.



We are partial to Toscana at 2nd and F NE. No frills, good Italian food. Best enjoyed with a glass of red wine on the patio.

Todd Kliman

I haven’t been back since they first opened. That’s good to hear.

What sorts of dishes do you tend to get?



Pines of Florence on Connecticut closed. I think the space is currently empty.

Todd Kliman

The Alexandria location is still up and running. And Pines of Rome — are they affiliated? does anyone know? — is still going in Bethesda.



I always have fun at Olazzo in Bethesda and Silver Spring. The food isn’t amazing, but I always enjoy myself… if that makes sense.

Todd Kliman

No, it makes perfect sense.

That’s what I think everyone on here would say. Nothing amazing on the plate, but you enjoy being there.

There’s a kind of charm in that.

Of course, in certain cities, like New York and Philly, you have unpretentious places that you enjoy and they also have pretty delicious food. We don’t have that, here, for the most part.



When I lived on the Hill I used to love Toscana for whatever pastas were on the menu that night (made in-house I believe).

They also usually had an interesting risotto. One particular favorite was when the risotto was topped with veal osso bucco. Not sure if this is still in effect, but they used to offer free corkage for wines purchased at Schneider’s around the corner. Just had to show the receipt.

Todd Kliman

Ooh, that Schneider’s deal is a nice one, and a smart one. Does anyone know if it’s still in effect?

Thanks for chiming in …



Pines of Florence in DC closed a year or two ago. In its place was (very briefly) a Cajun restaurant. I never even knew it opened before it closed.

The space is soon going to the be the home of Sushi Ogawa, a new venture from the folks at Sushi Capitol. As a nearby resident, I’m very, very excited about this. Not sure when it’ll open, though. But their awning has been up for a while.

Todd Kliman

I hear it’s perking along. But yeah, nothing imminent …



Not exactly DC but how about Pazzo Pomodoro in Vienna? Their gelato is good too.

To me, these “cheap no frills” places are exclusively neighborhood joints. I wouldn’t go out of my way to visit one but I will frequent them often if they are in my neigborhood

Todd Kliman


It’s just a shame that we have a lot of Italian in DC, but beyond a pretty good upper class of expensive and elaborate restaurants there’s not much to speak of. No real middle class. We have a lot of the places you talk about, places you wouldn’t go out of your way for but will frequent if they’re ten minutes away or places like the chatter above mentioned — nothing amazing on the table, but you enjoy being there all the same.

I’ll have to check out Pazzo Pomodoro next time I’m in Vienna.

Another one to add is the new Italian Kitchen in Silver Spring, where I had a panini on homemade bread and an impressive-looking calzone that was immensely satisfying for the first ten minutes but then became doughy as it cooled.



Another Italian “family spot” is Sergio’s in Silver Spring. Quiet, unassuming, food is generally pretty good and the “charm” of the family spot often makes up for it. Believe they make their own pastas.

Todd Kliman

I so want to love the place. But I don’t even like it.

Last time I was in — granted, a while ago now — I had a dish with what I think were canned or jarred mushrooms.

It’s a huge step up, however, from another Silver Spring Italian spot, Vicino, which is just awful.



Last time I was there, I had a wonderful lamb ragu served over pappardelle and a glass of Chianti. It was delicious and made for an enjoyable meal.

Todd Kliman

What’s not to like?

That sounds like a nice time out.

Thanks for the report.



Maple in Columbia Heights is one of my favorite go-tos for Italian.

It’s somewhere between no-frills and fancy in terms of the food. Linguini with clams, penne with sausage and broccoli rabe and the lamb ragu are some of my favorites. Great wine selection as well. I’ve never ordered something I wasn’t happy with.

Todd Kliman

That’s saying something.

Thanks for the report.

I think it’s interesting that we all seem to have one or two places like this — for when we’re tired and don’t feel like cooking, for when we want something simple, for when we don’t feel like going far afield, etc.

Italian just seems to fill that need/niche.



I remember the old Pines of Florence in Courthouse, back in the late 1990s. The white fontina pizza and the clams over linguini. That was tasty.

Todd Kliman

I remember that white fontina pizza very well, too. That was always the thing I got.

Good stuff.

Nothing to spend time thinking about or talking about, but good and satisfying.

Gotta run, everyone, if I hope to make it out of here in time for lunch …

Thanks for all the plugs and reminiscences. We were pretty darn single-minded today. Kind of funny …

Be well, eat well, and let’s do it again next Tuesday at 11 …

[missing you, TEK … ]