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.
A LETTER FROM THE GM OF OSTERIA MORINI:
I am the general manager of Osteria Morini. Let me start off by saying for the record that no one at Osteria Morini has ever, or will ever, plant comments on your chat or any other social media forum; it is simply not how we do business.
As someone who joined the team just over seven months ago, I’m very proud of what I walked into. I often say to guests (for the first time in my career), my job is easy. I just walk around hearing complements about things I have nothing to do with. Obviously, that is not the whole story. I am very pleased with the amount of love we do receive from the various media outlets both public and private. It almost seems unreal to me at times. I thank you for your support in the past and hope you continue to enjoy your experiences with us at Osteria Morini.
To further speak to the point in question, as I mull over the comments and recall reading similar ones in the past, I achieved something. I realized what and who we truly are and what we are trying to accomplish. Opening a restaurant in this burgeoning neighborhood has been a challenge, to say the least. Speaking to Chef Adler and growing with the team here over the recent months I have come to realize how much a part of the community we have actually become. Chef Adler and Chef Levin are very active in the community. Whether it be participating in the Burger Battle for Brainfood to help underprivileged children or hosting the 2nd Annual Pig Roast to which 100% of the proceeds went to the same charity or Chef Levin’s actions with Chef’s for equality, we want and need to be part of the community. I watched, since my first day, chef come out of the kitchen unsolicited to talk to our guests who have become part of our community. They have become our fans and our friends. We continue on a daily basis to understand our clientele and in doing so have developed many strong relationships within DC as well as the confines of our tiny neighborhood on the other side of town. I would not be surprised if one of our fans in our community were to be eager to praise what we do. Everyone wants to be part of something and these people are part of who we are. I hope the support continues as we strive everyday to take the best care of our guests and as Chef Matt often says, “prepare delicious food.” We are not perfect and not everyday is sunshine and rainbows, but I want you to know that what we do comes from the right place and we love what we do.
Should you ever have any questions about how we operate our business in the future, I would welcome a phone call or an email from you.
All the Best,
Osteria Morini DC
Altamarea Restaurant Group
301 Water St SE, Suite 109
Washington, DC 20003
Jesse, thanks for writing. I appreciate it.
I’m going to guess that there will be more talk this week, so if you’re around — and I know, when I called the restaurant this morning, that you’re out the next two days — but if you happen to see this, wherever you are, and are moved to respond to a chatter or to me, please do.
I don’t doubt the sincerity of what you write. I do think that it’s possible, however, for a business to encourage its most ardent supporters to spread the word via social media. It happens all the time, restaurants included. This is not “planting.” In the case of restaurants — and this may strike you and some of the chatters as cynical — there is a perceived added benefit of going online to support a business: the prospect of better care at the table, the prospect of being treated as a regular, the prospect (maybe, in their minds) more food and better food.
I’m NOT saying that that’s the case here. But this is not uncommon at all in the industry.
Thanks again for responding …
REPORT FROM THE FIELD: BLUE OCEAN IN FAIRFAX:
Saba is a mile from my house, and I’ve only been once, but that’s only because my family is not as “adventurous” as I am. Saba now advertises a box lunch option, so I’ll have to give that a try.
If you haven’t been to Blue Ocean in a while, I’d recommend a return visit for their sushi. In my opinion, their food quality slipped for a few months, but as of late, it is consistently excellent.
Last night, they offered a couple of types of fish that were imported from Japan, including a delicious aged flounder.
The sushi chefs are excellent, and can be engaging and helpful if you take the initiative. I asked the chef why he chose not to include wasabi under the fish with his nigiri, and he told me it was because many Americans don’t enjoy it. (They serve fresh wasabi for an extra charge, by the way).
In a roundabout way, I think many people are reluctant to try new types of food, and that is why worthy places such as Ocopa and Saba get fewer mentions.
*Apologies to Chef Alex Levin. It’s not Adam, who is a singer.
Yeah, I’m with you — I really like Blue Ocean, and am glad to see that they continue to thrive.
As for Saba, give it another go. It’s really more of a dinner place than a lunch place, since so much of the food lends itself to taking your time and sharing big plates. But I’ll be interested in seeing how they do at lunch.
When I was talking last week about the lack of attention for both places, I was referring mostly to the absence of both from “the chatter.” Places that are in the chatter are, generally, those with publicists, with money, with big financial support. And the food press — here and nationally — pays inordinate attention to these kinds of places, stinting, in my opinion, on good places that don’t have muscle or don’t actively court (or can’t actively court) attention.
It would be great if people who love food would be open to talking about, writing about, enthusing about, all types of food, in all areas, at all prices, but that’s simply not the way the world, let alone the food world, works.
That doesn’t mean that I’m going to stop trying to help people to understand what the picture really is. It means that it’s not easy. There are many other interests out there who are designed to chip away at getting this truth out there.
As for Alex Levin — did I type Adam last week??
CONVIVIAL AND THE DABNEY: EARLY WORD:
Any thoughts on Convivial and Dabney?
Been to both–loved Convivial 100 times over; Dabney was very good, but had surprisingly few vegetarian options for a chef who espouses their virtues so often. Drinks at Dabney were better though.
Too early for me to have “thoughts.”
But I’d really be interested in hearing yours. What exactly did you order? What was good, what was great?
REPORT FROM THE FIELD: DUMPLINGS AND BEYOND, GLOVER PARK:
I work in Glover Park and order from Dumplings and Beyond every couple weeks or so. I always order the Kung Pao Chicken lunch special, extra spicy. It’s cheap, and it comes with soup. I love it. I’ve wanted to write in about this place for a while, but it’s always seemed out of place to mention an inauthentic Americanized-Chinese lunch special in any discussion dominated by “foodies”.
Last week’s lunch pushed me over the top however, and I had to sing its praises somewhere.
The chicken was soft and springy with a hint of barbecue flavor from the grill; the vegetables, onions and red and green peppers, were crisp and fresh; and the sauce was thick, spicy, yet subtle- melding everything else together perfectly. I’m just realizing now it didn’t even have peanuts in it (it usually does) but I don’t even care. They also threw a little plastic ramikan of their chili oil in on the side, which was rich and nutty (btw sichaun chili oil is one of the most underrated and underused condiments out there).
It seems silly to rave about a meal like this, and I should say not all the meals have been as great as this last one (though they’ve never been less than good), but the ones that have been great have brought about a food euphoria that matches any of the great meals I’ve had from any “vetted” restaurant.
I wonder if there are places or meals like this you have that come to mind- meals that aren’t true to their origins, or that don’t come from a distinguished or reputable place, but that hit all the right notes such a way that you find yourself eating them again and again. I don’t know where I’m going with this, or if I’m really saying what I’m trying to say, but I ate a really good meal, I’m really happy about it, and I wanted to share.
It’s NOT AT ALL silly to rave about a meal like this.
Why? You loved it. And good is good, wherever you find it. Who cares what an official arbiter of quality would say?
I wish more of you would come on and praise dishes at places like this.
If you read this chat regularly or even occasionally, you should know that I’m the last person to criticize someone for putting forward a place that might not be quote-unquote distinguished or quote-unquote reputable.
As for me, I have written several times on here about the mushroom protein in green curry at Ovo in College Park. Exquisite preparation? No. And it’s essentially a vegan fast food spot, though much nicer than most fast food spots out there. But I like the dish. And, when I’m not working, which is almost never, I’ll pop in and get myself one. Maybe for me it’s the idea that it tastes good and it’s not full of pork or beef or other bad-for-you things; I can think I’m doing something good for myself, or not bad for myself.
We should make a list of dishes like this and the chatter’s. Who wants to add to it?
CELEBRATORY LUNCH NEAR FARRAGUT:
My boss will be taking a year long sabbatical to travel the world. Three of us from the office would like to take him to lunch on Monday around Farragut. I know he loves Ella’s, but what would be some other options? Thank you.
How about Zaytinya, which is catty-corner from Ella’s?
My most recent meal there, a couple months ago, was a good one. More than a decade on, the place is humming along.
GREAT RESTAURANT DEALS:
Todd, thanks for the equal time at the end of last week’s chat. I had made an offhand remark that Morini probably had the best deal in down for somewhat upscale eats. After submitting, it got me to thinking just how true/not true that is.
There are a bunch of happy hours that would definitely compete for that crown. Some favorites include Mintwood Place, Ghibellina*, Thip Khao**, Petworth Citizen, and Cava Mezze (sit-down version). I’m sure I’m missing some that you or other chatters could point out.
*pizza that’s hopefully still as good since Jonathan left
**possibly the most value for the money in terms of portion size
But happy hours don’t take reservations and aren’t convenient for people who prefer to dine post 7 PM.
So I feel more confident in saying that Morini Mondays are likely the best deal in town for somewhat upscale eats if you want to make a reservation and not battle for a seat somewhere. Which is a pretty big restriction, but I do wonder if there’s anything else at all similar*** out there that I’m missing out on.
***To put some more hard restrictions on this, I’d want the pre-tax, pre-tip cost to be $12 or less and the food to be at least somewhat upscale, while being enough to at least serve as a light entree, in addition to being available all night with a reservation.
I’m coming up empty, but maybe you or others can chime in to fill in my blanks. (The closest that comes to mind is Mi Cuba Cafe, but I don’t think I would count it as somewhat upscale. However, it’s definitely a place to get good food with good portion sizes for a good price. Ramen can come close, too. Maybe some places besides Morini that serve half portions of pasta?)
This is funny — I like your obsessive mania 😉 — and also thoughtful and helpful. Thanks for compiling it.
And so now we have another list to add to. Which is great.
How much do the rest of you care about the restriction on upscalitude? I’m curious to know …
Mi Cuba Cafe is a good example. I love their picadillo, their Cubano, their black beans and rice …
My take on all the Morini mentions: I think it has somewhat to do with the absolute DEARTH of decent Italian at decent prices, or you could also call it the Fiola reaction.
The Fiola’s are great but so stinking expensive and there’s another critic in town who seems only to mention them. Morini hits that sweet spot of really good (sometimes great) food but won’t break the bank. Bibbiana sometimes get’s there too but I think Morini is more consistent. Most other Italian is really just a disappointment.
(Also, I have not been asked to say nice things about them, but they are my first recommendation when someone asks me – I have a reputation of being “in the know” for better or worse).
You might be right about that.
Though I still have my doubts that that is all that is going on. Which is not to say that I have certainty that something IS going on.
This is beginning to feel like a contemporary European novel …
And as for “decent prices” — I may be biased, given that I collect journalist’s wages, which are, relative to the kind of money that other professionals in this area are playing with, stinko, but really?
The way I look at it, there’s Fiola and Fiola Mare at the top, as very expensive, Casa Luca and Morini are expensive (unless you’re talking about Morini Mondays, which, ha, look at this, here we are again for a second straight week), then you have more workmanlike places like A La Lucia (I’m not talking, here, about quality, only about prices), and, finally, places like Squisito (the kind of place that, if you like the food, you can go to twice a week).
GREAT BARGAINS, CONT.:
Hard to beat Keren in Adams Morgan for huge portions of delicious food for cheap. You can feed a party of 5 there for $25! Not upscale, but hardly a dive.
Absolutely not, and the owners are wonderful and warm.
I especially like going for breakfast — excellent fool (or foul, or ful, depending on your particular spelling), and the fatta silsi is a great get if you’re really hungry or going on a hike or recovering from a night of drinking (imagine a cross between beef jerky and chilaquiles, with a persistent, concentrated heat to it.)
CONVIVIAL AND THE DABNEY, CONT.:
Dabney and Convivial …
LOVED the scallop crudo with fennel at Dabney. It was the sweetest, freshest scallop I have ever tasted –anywhere.
And I was blown over by the Tartiflette fritter at Convivial. I have eaten Tartiflette several times hiking in France and it is a delicious, but very heavy meal. The fritters capture all the bacon, potato, cheese flavor but transforms it into a wonderful, light bite.
I’ve read over the menu at Convivial a few times now. I think it’s confusingly presented, but it reads really, really well. It’s hard not to be hungry after giving it a look-see — and especially if you’re familiar with the elegantly rustic work of chef Maupillier.
I’m a big fan of your work. Thank you for your support of Osteria Morini. To clarify, the restaurant uses social media to connect with diners in the most efficient and authentic way- whether it be for promotions, upcoming events, charitable causes, or new menu items. We do not use social media to ask that other diners to promote us. Please let me know if you have questions. And I hope to see you at Osteria Morini soon.
Executive Pastry Chef
Chef Levin, thanks for writing in …
I’m a big fan of yours, too, as you know.
At the risk of sounding even more negative and cynical, I want to point out that there are other ways and other routes beyond social media of encouraging diners who like a restaurant to spread the word.
I will also say, just from the volume of people who have written me via email and today on the chat — I’ll get to all of you, I promise — that Morini obviously inspires a lot of good will on the part of its supporters. That doesn’t just happen. I would like to think that that happens because of things like being good on the plate and in the room.
HAPPY HOUR AT TAZZA KITCHEN, ARLINGTON:
My go to happy hour for a few months has been Tazza Kitchen.
3 bucks for a good taco (chicken or chorizo), ALL the beers are discounted for happy hour, and I like their mixed drinks. Plus, the choices on the appetizer menu stay under $10 if I feel like trying something else. It doesn’t hurt that it’s right along the bike path I take to get home.
I agree that Cava’s happy hour is another good value if I’m up to dealing with Clarendon parking.
It’s good to hear that Tazza, after the early blast of attention, is still doing well.
I visited a 100 Best stalwart not long ago, and was disheartened to see how much it has slipped. A shame. I doubt it makes it back on the list this year.
On a similar note, I visited another 100 Best restaurant in the past few weeks, and was disappointed to see that the meal I’d had there about nine months ago was not an aberration — the place has found a new (lower) level. It still does some things very well, but the quality of cooking overall is not where it was when I first reviewed it a couple years ago. Another shame.
REPORT FROM THE FIELD: THE INN AT LITTLE WASHINGTON, IN WASHINGTON, VA.:
Inn at Little Washington and Le Diplomate:
Thanks to my amazing wife, I was able to spend a fabulous birthday out in Little Washington complete with dinner at the Inn on Saturday night. We didn’t stay at the Inn itself, but the White Moose Inn just a block or two away. For the “budget conscious” this is a good alternative as it is a few hundred bucks cheaper than the Inn, and is very modern compared to the Inn.
Having eaten at most all of the top tables in the area, I will say that I believe the Inn is a bit overpriced and perhaps resting on its laurels a bit. I know there was the controversy that came with Washingtonian’s ranking of the place in this year’s top 100, so I cannot speak as to how it compared to years past. They have three tasting menus on offer: enduring classics, of the moment, and the good Earth (vegetarian). You can switch up courses from the different menus — I did a hybrid of the first two. I will say that they no longer have the upsell prices on items like the foie, tin of sin (caviar), or raviolo with white truffles, which is nice.
-Three canapes: world’s tiniest deviled egg, horseradish creme with caviar, “chips and dip” with pimento cheese inside a potato chip
-A “shot of liquid autumn” — soup from apple and rutabaga, paired with a gougere
-Foie terrine with sauternes gele
-The famous lamb carpaccio
-The aforementioned raviolo
-Bison short rib and corn cake
-A miniature play on a dreamsicle as the pre-dessert
-the famous 7 deadly sins
The carpaccio and raviolo were especially delicious. My wife got the pork loin and belly for her final savory course and said it’s the best pork she’s ever had, and she loves pork.
But would we go back? I doubt it, it’s a very expensive meal for what you get compared to, say, Komi. I’d say the bill was probably nearly double of what we paid last time we went to Komi, and we didn’t get that expensive of a bottle of wine. I am thrilled to have had the opportunity to go there and will cherish the weekend forever — all of it was great, between the White Moose, the Copper Fox Distillery, and a couple of wineries we visited on the way back to the city. We might do another weekend out there but I don’t think we’ll be back to the Inn at Little Washington.
Also, tonight for my actual birthday we finally snagged a table at Le Dip — thoughts on what to get for a first timer? Thanks!
Thanks for the thoughtful and detailed report. Excellent.
The Inn is always an experience; that much cannot be denied.
As for tonight — the burger, for sure, and the tete de veau, if it’s still on the menu. The bread basket is exceptional, and worth the calories spent exploring it fully.
Let us know how things turn out …
I had been going to Osteria Morini quite frequently during my wife’s pregnancy. It was one of her favorite places.
I have met Chef Adler and the GM Jesse and both individuals were very cordial. I, personally have never been asked by the GM or Chef Adler to promote the restaurant or write a positive review in any chat or message board forum. Frankly, no restaurant has ever approached me to write a positive review or write something positive in a chat or message board forum. And if a restaurant were to ask, I would decline right on the spot. It would not be right or ethical in my opinion to do that.
I do owe them thanks for allowing a group of friends and I to have dinner at the last minute at Osteria Morini back in September. My close friends wanted to take me out to dinner as I was approaching fatherhood for the first time.
It was a dinner for 15 people and the staff was accommodating and the food from start to finish was really good. The best bite of the night for me was the lamb porterhouse. Juicy, tender, fully of flavor.
To finish the meal off Chef Levin sent out some homemade ice-cream sandwiches, which were a hit across the table.
As always love the weekly chat!
Lotsa Morini love out there.
I still — still — say that the volume of support, not today or last week, but in general, over the past few months, is out of proportion to any other restaurant.
But I don’t doubt, at all, that there are some chatters out there — chatters I know and trust — who are very fond of the place.
REPORT FROM THE FIELD: CONVIVIAL, IN DC:
Convivial: Had a chance to visit over the weekend and found the food interesting and very good (as expected from Chef Maupillier).
We especially loved the escargots in blanket, and the meat stew. My favorite was the white perch which had so much flavor. We also made friends at the bar and shared their liver dish which was delicious. The other couple who were on the other side were having the jerusalem artichoke dish and raved about it, I am not vegetarian but love vegetables so I like that they offer interesting vegetable dishes, and would love to go back for that.
All in all, I’d say, I’d be back and can’t wait til they open for brunch.
One little note though: their website is not up yet, and I know people waiting to see the menu to visit, how hard is it to put up the menu on the site or social media? I am sure they have a lot going on with the opening, but without the menu it’s really hard for people to go to a restaurant.
That’s a really tasty-sounding report, thank you.
And when a place is getting raves for a vegetable dish, that’s a very good sign of the overall quality of the cooking.
Respectfully, it undermines the objective and fun of the chat when you remain suspicious of those writing in. A few fake, encouraged, or planted reviews may get through your filter, but we understand that’s part of the game. It’s honestly making you seem paranoid and detracting from your and other chatters’ goal of sharing great food places on all ends of cost, location, and cuisine spectrums. If everyone agrees to not write about Morini for a few weeks, can we please move on?
I appreciate what you say, and also the way you say it.
Let’s see if everyone can agree not to talk about Morini for a while …
This doesn’t qualify as quite so cheap, but Ambar’s $49 (or is it $59) all-you-can-eat-and-drink dinner is pretty great for those of us who can put away some food.
No, not cheap — not even moderate — but definitely interesting. And I wasn’t aware of it. Thanks.
Do they put a time limit on you?
Is it the regular menu that’s made averrable or a special one?
LE DIPLOMATE RESPONDS TO LAST WEEK’S CHATTER :
Our team was, of course, exceptionally disappointed to read the diner’s post about a negative experience with the Burger Americain at Le Diplomate. We would appreciate the opportunity to connect with the diner to better understand the experience and have the opportunity to restore credence in our culinary program.
I may be reached directly at email@example.com or at 202-815-5858.
Both our culinary and service teams are diligent and emotionally engaged in our work, and will not allow a negative experience to occur without utilizing it to instill performance growth, and ensuring we take every measure possible to reconnect with our guests.
Director of Operations
WIlliam, thank you for responding.
I hope last week’s chatter sees this, and reaches out to you.
REPORTS FROM THE FIELD: CONVIVIAL AND THE DABNEY, IN DC:
Best thing I ate a Convivial was their pickled rockfish (tasted like herring almost), with avocado, winter radish, papaya remoulade and passion fruit figs. So many flavors.
We also enjoyed the fried coq au vin, the FANTASTIC take on “‘smores” for dessert. The drink menu is just classics, reasonably well-executed but not groundbreaking.
The Dabney’s scallop crudo appetizer was good but unexicting. The chicken and dumplings and farm egg dishes were better, both hearty and delicious.
The space is also one of the prettiest I’ve been to in DC–with the open kitchen and hearth and beautiful tables. Apple pie for dessert was quite frankly disappointing, but my drink (Halfway to Concord: rye, vermouth, homemade vinegar) was unique and delicious.
Notably, both are very fairly priced and I left sated without spending too much.
I like that we have one rave for the scallop crudo at The Dabney and one eh. Pretty funny.
Thanks for all the details. I appreciate it.
Boy, you all don’t waste any time, do you? What is that, now, three chatters who’ve already been to one or the other?
So far, and obviously it’s very, very early, but if everyone here is on the level — ha, sorry; the paranoia lingers — then it sounds as if the first-responders are so far more excited about Convivial than The Dabney. But, to repeat — it’s still early.
STEAKHOUSES IN DC:
I really enjoyed your steakhouse article in the latest issue, and thoroughly agreed with the very important point that most steakhouses don’t, actually, serve great steak — even some of the places that are otherwise good restaurants.
Which local places do you think serve a steak that is clearly better than what a skilled home chef can accomplish on the grill or the stove?
I think Ray’s the Steaks has great steaks. The best steak I ate in the course of my research, of more than six weeks, was there — the excellent hanger steak, which, in my calculation, comes out to -$10. Read on:
I also love the 60-day dry-aged cote de boeuf.
I think most steaks out there in this area just aren’t worth it. The places aren’t always buying Prime; some are buying top-grade Choice. And even if they are buying Prime, it’s lower-grade Prime. Which, generally, they’re having dry-aged for about 17 days, which isn’t nearly enough to develop character and savor. Many places are doing a combination of 17-day or 21-day dry-age with wet-age. Some are wet-aging entirely.
Are they better than what a skilled home cook can do?
It depends on the meat you can buy. If you go to a great source, and it’s Prime, and it’s been dry-aged for a long time, and you don’t screw it up on the grill or in the oven, then it’ll probably be good.
That hanger at Ray’s the Steaks, though, is immensely flavorful, costs $20, and comes with two great sides. Really hard to beat that.
It’s possible things have changed, but when I went a year ago, Ambar was $49 for unlimited small plates and drinks or $59 for the same plus big plates (which seemed like overkill). Gently enforced two hour limit. Everything was solid, nothing blew me away — from a pure food perspective, there’s better value out there, but it’s a fun experience, especially when you have a decent sized group and can order everything and keep the drinks flowing.
That’s pretty interesting. And it sounds like fun.
Though two hours? Hm. That’s barely enough time to have a couple of drinks and make your way through three or four appetizers. 🙂
100 BEST, CONT.:
I realize that you have an obligation to the magazine to try and generate press around the release of the 100 Best (who is in, who is out), but many of us rely on your 100 Best List, which is by its nature relatively static.
If you know a place has fallen off and doesn’t deserve inclusion in your current 100 best list, it would be great to let us know so we don’t go (thinking it is good because it was in February). I would also think you wouldn’t want the place falling to impact someone’s assessment of your critical judgment if you would no longer recommend it.
Yeah, that’s fair.
Though I want to say that I don’t think the list is actually that static — we had, I want to say, 33 new places last year make the cut. We work really hard to find restaurants that are committed to the right things, and that places aren’t just making it because they’re pretty good and have been good or very good in the past.
OK, enough of that. You want the goods. Who are the restaurants that I talked about, coyly, as having slipped?
The first: Montmartre. Prices are higher, too high for the level that the place is cooking at; I had a good steak tartare, but my two entrees were resoundingly forgettable. The renovation is handsome, but a lot of the charm has been siphoned away. Dinner there used to cost around $80 for two; now, you’re looking at something like $130 for two.
The second: Thai Taste by Kob. The frying was off on this most recent visit, and this is no minor thing, since a lot of things on the menu are fried. My guess is that Kob was not in; how can she be in all the time? But the place, at one time, was more consistent. At this level, it needs to be; it’s not a minor thing. Great rendition of Lucky Bag, I really liked my broad rice noodles in coconut and lemongrass, and the sticky rice with mango is one of the best around. I have hopes …
ON A CHILLY DAY, RAMEN OR PHO?:
On a chilly rainy day like today, would you rather go for ramen or pho? Which places are your current favorites for each?
Depends how hungry I am.
But generally, I’d say pho.
My current favorites for each:
For ramen, the shoyu ramen at Daikaya, in DC. For pho: a regular bowl with chin and gau at Pho 88, in Beltsville, which has the best broth (richest, most flavorful) of any pho parlor in the area I’ve found.
Gotta run … thank you all, I really appreciate your comments and tips and, yes, exhortations. This was a great time …
Be well, eat well, and let’s do it again next Tuesday at 11 …[missing you, TEK … ]