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.
PROOF’S NEW WINE PROMOTION:
Hello Mr. Kliman,
This is Joe, wine director at Proof. Firstly I wanted to thank you for the recent positive mentions in your weekly chat; we’re happy you enjoyed your last experience with us.
We’ve started a rotating weekly wine promotion at Proof and our sisters Estadio, Doi Moi & 2 Birds that I think would be of interest to readers.
Each of us puts together a weekly list of wines to offer at half price on different days of the week- Proof on Sundays, Estadio on Mondays, Doi Moi on Tuesdays and 2 Birds on Wednesdays.
These lists are no joke; they are intended to be a real attraction and a true deal. Our industry colleagues have already swarmed it.
The offering at Proof is approaching a hundred wines; we try to include everything. There are lovely,reasonably-priced wines turned absolute steals; prestigious wines (Barolo, Grand Cru burgundy) that some folks may have read about but never sprung for; and distinctive, lesser-known wines that people may have never tried. And we aren’t shying away from prized benchmark vintages, coveted and hard-to-find wines, and legendary wines not really available at any price. Some of the rarest wines will be offered for one Sunday only before forever returning to their regular list prices; many of them will be previewed on our social media accounts.
Our other restaurants have put together proportionally smaller, exceptional lists of wines that reflect the overall programs Max and their wine teams have put together.
It all adds up to what I think is the best wine deal in the city, and it’s going on for four days out of the week. We thought it was something your readers might be pleased to know, so we’re passing it on to you.
Cheers and thanks again,
Thanks so much for writing in …
This sounds fantastic. Especially given the kind of wines, and the quality of those wines, that are going to be on offer.
I hope readers take you up on the promotion.
REPORT FROM THE FIELD: “PUB CRAWL” AT THE EDEN CENTER:
Hi, I wrote in last week asking for recs for a “pub crawl” in Eden Center. And, thanks, it was a rousing success!
We started at Nhu Lan, sharing the meatball, sour pork sausage, and pate banh mi; all came with their “secret butter.” (I actually ordered the shredded pork “with skin,” but decided to just go with the flow when a pate sandwich came out instead. But I will be back for the shredded pork.) The sour pork sausage was the clear winner, although the meatball was also great. The pate one was our least favorite, but still quite good. Washed it all down with lychee and coconut sodas.
Then, onto Bahn Cuon Saigon for rice crepes (note: this joint is definitely cash only. A lot of the smaller shops are, so come prepared). We had the combination crepes and papaya salad with beef jerky. The papaya salad was killer, as it’s doused with the house-made fish sauce that graces each table. You were right: put that on *everything.* The filling of the combination crepes weren’t my favorite, but that’s maybe a personal preference since I’m not a fan of shallots. Crepes themselves were good, and the pate topping them was very flavorful.
Next, we meat eaters intended to take a break from eating while our vegetarian friend ate her fill at Thanh Son Tofu. After that, the plan was to eat Bun Bo Hue at Hai Duong. But once inside Thanh Son Tofu, we couldn’t help getting quite a few items ourselves–amazing BBQ tofu skin; lemongrass and mushroom fried tofu; chicken, sausage, and mushroom sticky rice; sticky rice with peanuts; and Thai iced coffee. Everything was SO GOOD (and very reasonably priced) that we were too full for Bun Bo Hue. Next time!
On the way out, we stopped in at Phu Quy Deli Delight because one of the group started coveting the Thai iced coffee and we were not going to go back in Thanh Son Tofu (the line can be kind of insane). We got several flavors of macaroons, all delicious and delicate, Thai iced tea, and an assortment of dried fruits and candies. The dried tangerine is especially recommended.
All in all, this was a great way to spend a couple of hours, as long as you and your friends are game.
Yeah, I can see where some people would be taxed by an outing like that, but really, it’s a cheap and extremely tasty way us ato spend a day or night. And interesting as hell, too.
Thanks for that great report.
You can do several of these pub crawls, by the way, without repeating yourself, and eat just as well as you did this time out.
I hope you do just that. And I hope you’ll come back on and give us another report …
By the way: I’d love to know the contents of that “secret butter.” Does anyone have any inside info? Or care to hazard a guess?
Have you had either Maki Shop in Logan Circle or Buredo? If so, which fast-casual burrito-type sushi restaurant do you prefer?
Sorry. I’ve yet to try either.
REPORT FROM THE FIELD: LE DIPLOMATE:
I just wanted to send a quick note about my most recent experience at Le Diplomate.
The past few times I visited I felt like service had been going downhill, so I was pleasantly surprised this Friday to find that the experience was reminiscent of the way the restaurant was when it first opened.
First, from start to finish the service was impeccable; attentive and not intrusive in any way.
And second, the food was amazing: my table ordered the steak frites, the pepper steak, the beef bourguignon, and the roasted chicken and every dish was out of control delicious.
We finished our dinner with the chocolate mousse, which was incredibly rich and so huge we took leftovers home.
My only complaint is that the bread was a bit on the burnt side, but it was so fresh and homemade (and served with amazing butter) that it was still really good.
All in all, a fabulous experience. I get the sense that those in charge at Le Diplomate hear what the critics out there are saying, and are working hard to prove them wrong!
Thanks for this. Your meal sounds excellent.
What your posting drives home, for me, is just how hard it is to pin down the butterfly.
Restaurants are constantly in flux. So many things are variable.
Is the real Le Dip the place you visited the other night? Or the place you visited previously, where service was off, as you say? Is the answer somewhere in between?
And who’s to say that your experience in those previous visits was consistent with the experience of most of the diners in that restaurant? They might have had very good service.
Here’s a truism: A restaurant after being positively reviewed will almost never live up to the promise of that review. Either because your expectations are too high or because the restaurant — after the stamp of approval and with the crowds that come and the increased attention — has trouble sustaining that high level.
SECRET BUTTER, CONT.:
re:secret butter—we theorized that it was some sort of mayo/butter hybrid.
I wonder if there isn’t a splash of fish sauce in there, too.
Come to think of it, that’s worth experimenting with. What could be bad — mayo, butter, fish sauce.
Maybe spread it on a turkey or ham sandwich.
Who’s in a kitchen now and can experiment and give us the results?
SECRET BUTTER, CONT.:
I think that “butter” is banh mi shop-speak for mayo, usually homemade.
So just homemade mayo, no butter at all —?
Remember that the French ham sandwich includes butter, and also comes on a crusty baguette.
Not saying you’re wrong; saying — it’s possible.
I’m really curious, the more I think about it, about our concoction of butter, mayo, and fish sauce. It could be really tasty.
I was thinking about getting some Maryland Blue Crabs to take home and eat this Thursday night because I don’t have to work on Friday and it will give me something to do while drinking. Any good places you know of? I was thinking about going to Ruff and Ready because it is close to where I live.
Give ‘em a shot — why not.
I’ve driven by there a number of times and always wondered whether they were any good.
One thing you should ask is where the crabs are coming from — asking this is better than asking whether the crabs are from Maryland, which might get you a dishonest answer.
My guess is that this time of year they’re probably not coming from the Bay. My guess is that they’re probably getting them from Mexico.
In which case, they might be pretty good, but they won’t be Maryland Blue Crab.
REPORT FROM THE FIELD: MAKETTO:
Just wanted to send kudos to Maketto for making families in the neighborhood feel welcome at their hyper-stylish joint.
We planned to go for my sisters birthday dinner last Saturday, after our babysitter fell through, she still wanted to try it so we went – 20 month old in tow – at 5:15 and figured we’d see a) if they had space or b) whether they were amenable to a toddler.
It was an ugly, rainy night so space was limited to the inside, which made me even more skeptical it was going to be anything short of disaster.
Thankfully I was wrong! 10 minute wait and they couldn’t have been nicer about having a little one (high chair friendly, kids cup) – and he loved trying the food! We saw a number of other families eating around the same time.
Just wanted to give a shout out to Maketto for realizing how many neighborhood folks have young ones and being accommodating.
It’s funny, but it’s kind of of the stereotype that hipsters are going to be inimical to kids and families.
If you hit up Slash Run, in Petworth, however, especially around 6 on a weekday, it’s likely all you’ll see in the room. Hipsters and their toddlers.
Slash Run, by the way, has some very, very tasty burgers.
The owner, Jackie Greenbaum, tells me they use a high-fat blend — the meat-to-fat ratio is either 75/25 or 70/30. At Bobby’s Burger Palace, by contrast — and just as a for instance — it’s 80/20. The meat is ground daily by Fells Point Meats, and includes chuck, flap, and sirloin tips.
WINE PROMOTION AT DOI MOI, CONT.:
I second the wine promotion at Doi Moi, I was there couple weeks ago and the wine person was very helpful in selecting a wine.
I eat out to try new and interesting things, so it was spot on (my first Serbian wine!) can’t wait to go back and check out the others.
Wines from obscure or lesser-known regions are sometimes great bargains, and often really interesting adventures in drinking.
You mentioned Serbia, and I’ve had a number of wines from there over the past few years that I’ve liked. Moldova is another region that’s worth seeking out, especially for whites.
SPECIAL BUTTER, CONT.:
Well looks like there may or may not be butter, but according to Kenji at Serious Eats (whose new cookbook The Food Lab is amazing — and I’ve posted a couple of recipes of his on this chat before):
“At its most basic, it’s mayonnaise. More often, it’s butter cut with mayonnaise. In fact, fish sauce has no business anywhere near a banh mi, unless it’s incorporated into the preparation of the filling.” http://www.seriouseats.com/2011/02/rant-what-the-new-york-times-doesnt-know-abou.html
I think you were the chatter who posted Kenji Lopez-Alt’s spatchcock turkey recipe, which I’ve now made two years in a row on Thanksgiving. So, speaking personally for a second, thank you for that.
“More often, it’s butter cut with mayonnaise.” This sounds right to me.
I still think that mayo, butter, and fish sauce sounds like a tasty sort of condiment, and would be good on a ham sandwich on a crusty baguette.
If only someone out there could try it out and let us know … 🙂
SPECIAL BUTTER, CONT.:
The Vietnamese also have a love for canned French butter (Bretel and Frentel are popular brands), which could be shipped to Vietnam without spoiling.
It’s also possible that the special butter might contain Maggi seasoning sauce, which is used all over Asian and is a popular Banh Mi condiment.
That would make a lot of sense …
THE POST’S FALL DINING GUIDE:
I’d love to hear your thoughts on Tom Sietsema’s Fall Dining Guide. I agree with many of his choices, but was surprised by a few, especially the high rating of Masseria (over Komi!). I’ve dined at Masseria recently, and wasn’t particularly impressed. Also: no Fiola or Fiola Mare?
Keep in mind that Tom gave Komi four stars and Masseria three. He ranked Masseria no. 3 on his top 10, well ahead of Komi, but in his intro he makes the point that the list is a list of personal favorites, the places he would most look forward to returning to.
I admit, I was surprised to see Masseria so high, even given that it was a list of favorites. It wouldn’t have been in my top 10. I’ve had two meals there; one was very good and one was pretty good. So, hard for me to account for a 3-star ranking.
I was also surprised to not see any Fabio Trabocchi restaurant in Tom’s top 10. This might not have been intended as a pointed comment, but it’s a pretty glaring omission, given that chef Trabocchi has three restaurants, and that all of them are good.
I also noted that of the 37 restaurants, only 3 or 4 are what you might call ethnic mom ‘n’ pops. This was actually not surprising, given that the Post list, even before Tom arrived, tended to emphasize restaurants in the city proper and of a certain high profile.
This isn’t a science.
People have different tastes, different aesthetics, and different approaches.
If you don’t like vanilla, you can have chocolate. If you don’t like chocolate, you can have vanilla. Or, more accurately these days, given the explosion of media, you can have every flavor out there that you can imagine.
BLUE CRABS, CONT.:
Any local crab houses should have crabs from the Chesapeake Bay. October is one of the best months for Hard Crabs, big and fat and not too expensive. Jessie Taylor Seafood at Maine Avenue is one of the best places to get crabs in this area.
Thanks for chiming in …
And thanks for putting in a mention for Jessie Taylor, which, yes, does a very good job with all that it does.
I don’t doubt that they have them. Or try to.
I do have my doubts, however, about other places.
Gotta cut this short, everyone, but thank you so much for all the good questions and reports and inside info.
Be well, eat well, and let’s do it again next Tuesday at 11 … [missing you, TEK … ]