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
W H E R E T O E A T N O W . . . . . . .
Rob Weland’s cooking is thoughtful, meticulous, and often exquisitely rendered, and, in an age when so many menus read like mixtapes — eclectic and unified — the thematic coherence here is remarkable. It extends from the cooked-to-order poppy-seed gougeres to the desserts, among them a selection of stone fruits baked in parchment that puts you in mind of the kind of tossed-off-but-not-so-simple thing Martha Stewart might serve at a dinner party in the Hamptons. The dish to get: the tortellini, whose egg-rich wrappers are thin as tape.
The Riggsby, DC
The waiters wear vests. The tables are laid with white cloth. No rock or alternative on the soundtrack. Which is to say, a throwback place, summoning the spirit of Toots Shor, the iconic Manhattan saloon that catered to such drink-slinging swells of the ‘40s and ‘50s as Sinatra, DiMaggio and Gleason. The difference is, Michael Schlow’s The Riggsby trades on its food. The cooking emphasizes technique and coherence over novelty and flash, and many dishes are striking for their clarity and depth. The gazpacho was the best I had all year, and the sardines — butterflied, lightly grilled, and dressed with a fine dice of pickled fennel and red pepper, along with pine nuts, golden raisins and parsley — were exceptional.
Bad Saint, DC
There’s a lot to love already: the Filipino flavors are uncompromisingly complex, and the interpretations smart. Don’t miss a loose, lacy fritter of shrimp and sweet potato and okra and a bowl of clams with Chinese sausage and black beans in a rich, gently spicy and unexpectedly balanced broth. Both stunning. But a lot of what’s coming out of this kitchen with its leaping flames of fire is.
MGM Roast Beef, DC
Not new, no. But I went back recently and fell in love with it all over again. It used to be just ham and roast beef, roasted on site and carved to order. Now they have turkey and brisket, too. Wonderful stuff, and all the better when it’s piled thickly on one of their onion rolls.
Things have gradually been moving east, but this small, soothing spot has launched near the Maryland border in Woodridge, across from the onetime home of the seedy Kirk’s Motel. It’s one of the boldest moves in years. Red Hen is a clear inspiration, but that doesn’t detract from the simple charms of the place, which, early on, has made a lot of smart moves and almost no bad ones. Get the chicken-stuffed grape leaves, the Sicilian chickpea puree and the pan-seared cod with romesco and fingerlings.
Jonathan Krinn is working in a more accessible vein this time out, and partnering with Jason Maddens (ex-Central Michel Richard). Don’t assume, though, that the chef’s downscaled ambition is synonymous with a half-hearted effort. The cooking is smartly thought-out and cleanly executed, recalling, a times, his years spent ringing variations on timeless French classics.
Taqueria el Mexicano, Hyattsville
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.
Ray’s the Steaks, Arlington
Go and get the hanger steak. It can be a chewy cut, but this one wasn’t, not even close. It was richly succulent, a fat rope of wet-aged, corn-finished meat that I all but devoured, in spite of my avowals to self to save half for later. I had to keep reminding myself that it cost (this is not a typo) $20. And that’s with complimentary mashed potatoes and fresh creamed spinach. At a time when many other steakhouses charge $15 for shareable sides, that essentially means that the best steak I’ve eaten this year — one of the few that was not just a flavorless but calorific hunk of protein — costs $5. And I still can’t get over how good the key lime pie is after all these years.
Taiko Japanese Restaurant, Springfield
The fish at this strip mall spot has been impressive early on, even if the platters are cheesy (miniature model house, palm tree, changing cube of color beneath a heap of daikon.) In particular: excellent yellowtail belly, yellowtail, and salmon.
REPORT FROM THE FIELD: MAKETTO, IN DC:
I asked a while back about BadSaint, and I just heard a report that it’s open now. Any news or first thoughts?
Additionally- I want to say a quick thank you to our server Adam from Maketto last night for incredible service last night at a delicious first-time meal at the restaurant.
We didn’t order much- it was just my wife and I, and we weren’t all that hungry- but the fried chicken was amazing, as was the pork curry. I think both had that tingling of szechuan pepper that you get from mapa tofu dishes, but the sweet from the sauce on the chicken and the fresh, deep flavor on the curry just happened to complement each other wonderfully.
Adam’s knowledge and insight on the dishes, and a chance to hang out with Chef Bruner-Yang after the meal, made it all the better.
You’re making me hungry …
Thanks for the uber-tasty report, and good for Maketto — and good for Adam!
My quick take on Bad Saint is up top. Place is off to a wonderful start …
REPORT FROM THE FIELD: VIRTUE FEED & GRAIN, OLD TOWN ALEXANDRIA:
I would like to give a quick shout out to Virtue Feed & Grain in Old Town.
I went last week with a group of ladies for drinks and apps, and our waitress, Corie, was absolutely outstanding.
Not only did she help us find a perfect bottle of wine for the table by talking us through a few choices and bringing out two samples she thought would fit what we were looking for, but when our appetizer didn’t come out as quickly as they had intended (without us saying a thing), the manager came out and comped it.
They were so thoughtful and attentive – I haven’t had such outstanding service at a restaurant in a long time.
Kudos to Corie, and I hope her manager is reading …
DINING OUT NEAR THEATRE J?:
Hello. We’re going to Theatre J (16th & Q Sts. NW) for a Saturday evening show and we’d like to have dinner beforehand.
We’ve gone to Hank’s Oyster Bar many times and many of the places along 14th St. near Studio Theatre. We’ve also been to Little Serow twice. I’m thinking of maybe trying Duke’s Grocery. Not feeling like sushi this time.
Do you have any other recommendations?
Le Diplomate for French bistro cooking?
Pearl Dive for oysters, po boys, and fish?
Church Key for burgers and beers?
EATING IN AMSTERDAM:
I’m traveling to Amsterdam for the first time this week. Would you or your readers have any recent restaurant recommendations for unique, quality dining experiences?
We’re looking for both casual and fine dining. I know which markets to visit and which foods to try but we’d be extremely grateful for recommended locations.
Although it’s fun exploring, our time is limited and I’d rather not have a bad impression of a particular dish simply because I only had the opportunity to try an inferior version.
Thank you very much.
My sister is coming for her annual visit, and this time I want to try out a Peter Chang restaurant with her. We want the best and are willing to travel as far as Richmond, but staying local would be nice. Where should we go and what should we order?
The answer is — wherever PC happens to be that day.
Problem is, there’s no way of knowing.
If only there were an app — Where in the World is Peter Chang?
I’d stick to home. Either Rockville or Arlington.
As for what to get — my own list of must-orders includes bamboo fish (when it’s on, the best fried fish around), cilantro fish rolls, fish soup with cabbage, dry-fried eggplant, cumin lamb chops, and ma po tofu.
Go, and report back …
Just a note on the ChurchKey recommendation – their burger is a bratwurst burger, which is very tasty but might surprise someone who walked in looking for a beef burger.
Duke’s Grocery has a really good beef burger.
Yep, good to mention. Thanks.
I still remember the taste of it, and it’s been a while since I had it.
Re: Duke’s — I’ll have to go back. You’re not the first person who’s stumped for Duke’s lately. The one time I went, I wasn’t enamored of it. Sandwiches fell apart, and there just wasn’t much flavor to anything.
EATING IN AMSTERDAM, CONT.:
Winkel 43 in Amsterdam has the single best slice of apple pie I’ve had in my life.
Every bite was perfect – perfectly cooked, and in particular there was no piece that was all crust and no apple.
“Every bite was perfect.”
The ultimate endorsement. Thank you.
I and I’m sure everyone else out here, too, would love to taste this …
VISITING, UNADVENTUROUS EATERS/PARENTS — WHERE DO I TAKE THEM:
My parents are visiting this weekend. Do you have a recommendation for an inexpensive place in Northwest (or Bethesda) for a couple of fairly unadventurous eaters, that takes reservations?
American or any European cuisine would be okay; I’m afraid anything Asian is probably out.
My first thought was Hank’s Oyster Bar, but it’s not exactly inexpensive — it’s very reasonable for a.) this market and b.) the kind of high-quality food it serves.
For a restaurant of that caliber, and in the city, it’s about as inexpensive as you’re going to find.
Let me know if you were thinking something a level or even two down and I’ll come up with another option or two …
DINING OUT NEAR THEATRE J, CONT.:
Done Le Dip and Pearl Dive.
Nothing really to recommend on the 17th St side? My dining companion is 83 years young, but may not want to walk too far especially if it’s rainy. 🙂
I understand. I’ve been there myself, many, many times.
You don’t want sushi, so that rules out Taro. And Komi is not a place to hit when you have somewhere else to go. There’s Floriana, though it’s been so long since I’ve been that I can’t stand by a recommendation.
Is there anyone out there who’s been more recently?
Since there is a hint of fall in the air, and that makes a girls fancy turn towards Thanksgiving, I thought I would tell you that I pass my local turkey farm daily and the rafter of poults they raise are growing like weeds.
Can’t wait for Turkey Day!!!!!!!
Oh my God, we’re not even out of September yet …
You’re as bad as those stores that started pushing Halloween on us back in August.
(Please know that I’m just expressing mock-alarm … I love your enthusiasm. And I absolutely share your unbridled enthusiasm for the day — what’s not to like about a holiday where all you do is eat?)
A SPECIAL GLASS OF WINE:
My better half has started a dietary challenge that looks like a modified South Beach diet (no dairy except yogurt; bread, rice & pastas are out; whole grains only; meats, nuts and legumes are fine). The kicker is one glass of wine per week.
We’re planning on a date night and I’d like to take her out to a place where that one glass of wine would be special and we could nosh on something interesting. We’re both adventurous eaters. Any suggestions?
I’d book a table at Proof.
It’s an interesting list, full of wines you don’t see at other restaurants — wines with finesse and depth and sometimes even distinction. And the staff knows its stuff.
A bonus, and a pretty big bonus at that, is that the cooking is so good; my most recent meal there was excellent from start to finish.
Re: Amsterdam eating. The poster should consider a Rijstafel (rice table) meal at an Indonesia restaurant. Restaurant Blauw is well regarded for such feasts.
This is great.
Two terrific-sounding recs to send the chatter on her way.
And maybe more to come—?
Thank you, anyway, for the two we have already …
DINNER WITH MY UNADVENTUROUS PARENTS, CONT.:
Todd, thanks for the Hank’s tip for dinner with my parents.
If you have thoughts on a place a notch cheaper, I’d be ever grateful.
I think Founding Farmers would quality as a notch cheaper.
Basically, (and as I’ve described it before), a sort of Bob’s Big Boy for the World Bank Set.
So, upscale versions of chicken pot pie, chicken and waffles, etc.
It’s good, and satisfying, and, especially for this city, not too expensive, and I’ve got to imagine your unadventurous parents would enjoy it.
What do you think?
UNADVENTUROUS PARENTS, CONT.:
Inexpensive place in Northwest (or Bethesda) for a couple of fairly unadventurous eaters, that takes reservations?
Isn’t that the perfect description of Matchbox? I don’t mean that in a bad way. I like their food and everything else about them.
I don’t really like the pizzas after two bites, the burgers are okay. I do really, really like their salad with grapefruit segments, goat cheese, and marcona almonds.
I just don’t think you get great value for the money.
REPORTS FROM THE FIELD: SALLY’S MIDDLE NAME, KOMI:
To honor this chat’s theme of commending excellent customer service, I’d like to share two dining experiences that I had last week.
I dined at a casual venue where most items were under $10 and I dined at an acclaimed restaurant that only serves a tasting menu. Most people may think that these two places don’t have much in common but they would be wrong.
Last Saturday, we wanted a quick bite and stopped by Sally’s Middle Name. I had interactions with four different staff members. Our host went out of his way to find us a table that we’d like, answered very specific questions about the beverage menu, and even went in search of the origin of a tomato that we especially liked. Although he couldn’t answer all of our questions, he spoke with the kitchen and the chef/owner later stopped by to discuss the dishes with us. Every additional individual that I spoke with was genial, smiling, and asked if they could help with anything as well. We felt welcome and excited to be dining there because the staff appeared to be excited to be a part of this restaurant too.
Last Thursday, we were fortunate to score reservations at Komi, which continues to improve with time. This was my fifth time dining at Komi and every visit feels like the happiest dream. Sadly, I cannot recall every staff member’s name but everyone who stopped by our table was able to answer any question about the copious ingredients. The staff also catalyzed our jovial mood by bantering with us as they dropped off dishes and wine. Bill Jensen, Megan, and Anne Marler couldn’t have been kinder and more accommodating with a certain condition that I have. Also we never felt rushed. It was the most relaxed fine dining experience ever.
I get overly sentimental thinking about Komi because they go out of their away to make sure that every single diner feels special and that every dish is celebrated. There are so many acclaimed chefs that look to expand their empires. Why not Komi? Why do they care so much about the quality of their food and every single detail of their restaurant’s ambiance including each staff’s members interactions with the diners? This is what makes Komi stand apart as the most uniquely sentient dining experience that fills you with a warm, honeyed feeling that remains long after the dinner has ended.
Both of these restaurants were staffed by individuals who were kind, accommodating, knowledgeable, and appeared genuinely happy to be working at those establishments. They were genuinely passionate about being a part of their restaurant. The team that a restaurant employs makes a huge difference in a diner’s impressions. One surly response from a host or a bartender can damper the meal, but one smile or a polite answer can elevate the experience as well.
I’d like to commend both Sally’s Middle Name and Komi for hiring exceptional staff. Every staff member at these restaurants makes the diners feel excited to be dining there and eager to return as soon as possible. I felt immense gratitude.
You said that commending service and servers was a theme of this week’s chat — I would hope that everyone who reads this and participates regards it as ongoing, and not just for one week. I think it’s great when we can single out the pro’s pros who make our meals so good and memorable
Thanks for these wonderful reports.
I know those staffers are going to feel great pride to come across this, and they should, and I hope their restaurants cherish them. They should, too.
Thanks for the tip on Proof. As it happens, my wife works at DC Superior occasionally and so Penn Quarter is right around the corner.
Thank you so much for all the Amsterdam recommendations. I’ve compiled your recommendations. Now I won’t have to subsist solely on stroopwafels, bitterballen, drop, and broodje haring.
As if that’s a bad thing … 🙂
UNADVENTUROUS DINERS, CONT.:
Unadventurous eaters in Bethesda: there is a new Silver Diner which looks quite nice and even though I haven’t been there, I hear their food is much better than most diners.
I don’t think it’s open yet.
You’re talking about Silver, by the way — which is not a Silver Diner.
The folks behind Silver Diner are clear on this.
It will have virtually the same food as Silver Diner, and it will be a retro diner just like Silver Diner, but Silver will be its own restaurant.
What will make it different?
So far as I can tell, carpeting and nicer booths and an “upscale feel” that presumably justifies most items costing a couple dollars more than what you’d pay at Silver Diner.
Which, again, this is not. 🙂
WINE LISTS, CONT.:
For the special glass of wine, I’d also add:
1. Doi Moi. They have very interesting glasses of wine, people who know what these wines are, and most of the food will easily fit in your better half’s diet. Also, a table outside on a nice evening is a nice way to say goodbye to the warm summer evenings in my mind.
2. Etto: Also, great glasses of wine, and plenty of antipasti that will fit the diet (you will just have to keep your eyes away from pizza – which is not so hard to in my book with so many great and seasonal veggies, plus the charcuterie!
Yep, two good ones. Thanks for chiming in …
For something more refined and relaxing, let me put in a mention for Corduroy, where you can find some good Burgundies by the glass.
Wilde Zwinjen – for modern Dutch cooking and cozy atmosphere. I had a wonderful birthday dinner here about 1 year ago.
Tempo Deoloe – Another great option for a Rijstafel (rice table). Warm service, delicious food.
Pannenkoekenhuis “Upstairs”- Dutch pancakes! This restaurant was visited by Anthony Bourdain. Seth Meyers also went there for a travel show. The space is small and adorable, and the pancakes are huge and oh-so good.
Dutch pancakes — one of the wonders of the world …
Thank you for chiming in …
And how terrific, that we get a question seeking recs for Amsterdam and three different people weigh in with advice.
What a fantastic forum this is!
DUKE’S GROCERY, CONT.:
The Proper burger at Duke’s is legit!! The beef is from Creekstone Farms.
And two exclamation points, no less … 🙂
Have to get back there …
Why does Food and Wine magazine ignore VA wines? I have been a subscriber for over 25 years and I am sorry their cutesy little editor Dana what’s her name never has any articles about VA wines. NY wines get more press. And if you send in a letter to the editor it gets ignored!
This requires a long and more thoughtful reply, but essentially the answer is: because magazines like this tend to write about what people are (as the phrase goes) talking about, not necessarily about what’s good and interesting.
Virginia wines, to get in, need to be tied to something “in the news” — some declaration by a wine world kingmaker, some stamp of worth (attended by voluble praise) from a major figure.
But I mean, who cares really? You like them. You know there’s excellent quality out there. Why concern yourself with the fact that the majority of the wine world doesn’t know?
Their big loss.
PETER CHANG, CONT.:
From reading your chats over the years, I get the impressions that his restaurants are very inconsistent if he isn’t there, perhaps to the point of it not being worthwhile to visit.
Why is that the case? Surely other restaurants put out consistent dishes when the head chef / owner isn’t there.
It’s not unusual for restaurants that are part of a group of three or more to be inconsistent, particularly if those restaurants are spread out as much as Chang’s are — Rockville, Alexandria, Williamsburg, Charlottesville, Richmond, Fredericksburg.
It’s not like Jose Andrés’s, which, at least in DC (and before his national and world expansion) were all in Penn Quarter.
But as to Chang and the question of consistency — it’s not, for me, that the restaurants are inconsistent. It’s that the magic that I and others tasted again and again in the restaurants in Fairfax and Alexandria around ten years ago, and then initially in Charlottesville and Richmond, isn’t so much there anymore. The highs aren’t as high. The restaurants are good; you can eat well, and you might even eat a great dish or two; but you also might go and wonder what all the huge fuss is about.
Gotta run, everyone. Thanks for all the give and take today — I appreciate it; I love what we have here every week.
Be well, eat well, and let’s do it again next Tuesday at 11 …[missing you, TEK … ]