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.
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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.
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: T-DAY AT CHARLESTON, IN BALTIMORE:
I’m the one who mentioned going to Charleston Restaurant in Baltimore on Thanksgiving Day.
The food, as usual, was exceptional. Three courses menu. Being familiar with the stellar she-crab soup, I decided to change it up and go with the sweet potato and andouille soup, which was outstanding. And since I’d be getting turkey the next day, I went with the short rib as the main course – hearty and tender; definitely appropriate for a fall evening (despite the warm weather!). Family-style sides includes collard greens, hoppin’ jack (it IS low country cuisine!), and cranberry relish. Topped off by pecan pie for dessert.
Would I do it again? Absolutely – but I missed being with my family, even if the food wouldn’t be at the same level!
Thanks for this — sounds like you ate very, very well!
Just curious — what did you have to drink with it? And what was the tally?
Oh, and what was the crowd there like? How would you characterize it?
As for me, I had a really nice and meaningful Thanksgiving day and night, and all the cooking was worth it in the end.
I did get some notes on my cornbread stuffing, and I just wanted to toss this out there, and see what you all might have said. I like a cornbread stuffing that is both soft and crunchy. Two of my guests said that they would have preferred it to be more soft and moist and less crunchy. What say you?
And let’s hear your T-day recaps! …
Am late to the chat, but your comment on the difficulties of maintaining consistencies in a restaurant reminded me of Gabrielle Hamilton on the Dinner Party Download this past weekend on WAMU where she said “Inconsistency is the surest death knell of a restaurant. I think you can be consistently terrible and stay in business sooner than you can be inconsistent in your quality.” (http://www.dinnerpartydownload.org/gabrielle-hamilton/ ).
I think the interview is likely old, since it refers to her cookbook coming out, but a good read/listen regardless.
I think I’ve heard that interview — that sounds really familiar to me.
Thanks for passing on the link.
I surely don’t envy restaurateurs. It’s hard. It’s very hard. And I say that having never done it, only observed and studied.
I mentioned last week that I’d seen a lot of inconsistency of late. Last week came another shocker — a surprisingly disappointing meal at Ruan Thai, in Wheaton. Ruan Thai! A model of consistency over two decades. This meal didn’t even rise to the level of mediocre. I have to think that chef and owner Krishna Suchotinunt wasn’t around. At least I hope that was the case. It wasn’t the restaurant I know and love and recommend all the time.
Picking up my daughter from college this weekend. She is a total foodie and l am looking for a place in Richmond to stop for dinner on the way home.
We have been to and love Kuba-Kuba (the best Tres Leches cake ever – but make sure they save you a piece when you sit down – they often run out) but I am looking for some place new and exciting.
The only restrictions are that she doesn’t eat red meat and I am allergic to shellfish. Menus can have both but just need other options. Hope to keep the total price at 30 to 35 per head or less not counting alcohol.
There are a bunch of places in Richmond I really like.
One is Edo’s Squid, from Ed Vasaio. I know, I know: not new. But I think it’s terrific, and particularly if you’re coming from this area where we’re starved for good Italian-American restaurants (as opposed to Italian restaurants) that are reasonably priced, consistently delicious, and have a great and festive spirit about them.
New-er is Dinamo, which I also love. Half Jewish deli, half Italian trattoria. They do a fantastic sausage and white beans with polenta, which you could get and have your daughter get the seafood salad, which is also excellent.
Have you been to Belmont Food Shop? No, again, not new. But newer than Kuba-Kuba. It’s a very small space — I mean, literally, about the size of two walk-in closets — but to me, that’s a plus. It’s intimate and personal; it has an identity. The crowd, such as it is, is almost entirely neighborhood locals, who cherish the place. And the chef, Mike Yavorsky, cooks with conviction. He’s also smart to keep his menu small.
I hope that helps.
If you get a chance on the way out, swing by Sub Rosa, a fantastic bakery in Church Hill, and pick up some breads for the trip back.
Oh, and let me know where you end up, and how things turned out …
I know it feels like someone asks this every few weeks, but scrolling back through previous chats I couldn’t find the answer…
We are heading to Philly for a little weekend trip next weekend and I wanted to nail down our dining plan! I love DiNics in Reading Terminal Market for their roast pork (better than any cheesesteak!), so we will likely do that for lunch one day.
Any suggestions for places that we will still be able to get into on a Saturday night less than two weeks out?
Thanks! I’ll be sure to report back on your tips!
I think Laurel might be impossible, but worth a call anyway.
Vernick Food & Drink is terrific, too, and you also might have an easier time getting in. I’m guessing; two weeks isn’t bad, but it’s pushing it with great, consistent places.
Let’s see, what else … Fork, I’d recommend highly — creative, lightly elegant cooking and a soaring, cheery space to dine in; Little Nonna’s is small, dark, extremely cozy and has some of the best old-school Italian cooking I’ve had in a long time; Alla Spina, a Marc Vetri place that is fun and casual and mostly delicious (I have to say, I’m sad and sort of stunned to hear that Vetri has sold all the restaurants in his portfolio, save for his first place, Vetri, to … Urban Outfitters. (h/t to Don Rockwell for the find. Here’s an interview with the chef about the deal: https://munchies.vice.com/articles/why-marc-vetri-sold-his-restaurant-empire-to-urban-outfitters
I hope that’s some help. I need to get up there in the next few months and see what some of the newer places are up to. It’s an interesting and exciting scene.
Regarding cornbread dressing (I call it dressing because I’m from Georgia) – I always make my grandmothers recipe and it consists of crumbled cornbread (not sweet cornbread), crumbled biscuits, sage, onions, celery, butter, eggs, and enough hot chicken stock to make all of it the consistency of cornbread.
It makes the best moist dressing and is so sentimental to me!
That sounds terrific.
I love the idea of the crumbled biscuits in there.
Mine starts with a cornbread from a James Beard book; savory, not sweet. Then, cutting up the pan of it into cubes and drying them out in the oven for a little bit. From there — celery, onions, one clove of garlic, andouille sausage (slipped from their casings and chopped into bits), sage, parsley, lots of eggs, butter, turkey stock, salt, pepper, crumbled and toasted pecans.
POSTCARD FROM … EUROPE:
My wife and I were fortunate enough to be able to take a European Vacation over the past two weeks; we timed it perfectly to be able to come back just before Thanksgiving, so we only had to be at my parents for a very tolerable day and a half instead of being sucked into a longer time (“We’re so tired from the trip, just really want to get back to our own beds!”)
Our itinerary was a bit odd, based on meeting some friends and taking advantage of cheap flights: Dublin > Brugge > Prague > London > Dublin, but there were some definite food highlights along the way.
In Brugge, the waffles were the best way to get up in the morning; it was notable how they didn’t use a batter to make them (like our waffle here), but rather what looked like a proofed dough. They were rich and yeasty; sweet and thick; a topping wasn’t required, but when fresh whipped cream is only .50 euro, you might as well. At night, there was nothing like passing the time with trappist tripels and quads for 3-4 euro, that would fetch $18 a glass at a place like Churchkey; including the elusive Westvleteren 12.
In London, we were able to have dinner at the Harwood Arms, which is the only Michelin starred gastropub in the city proper. It didn’t disappoint, with a highlight being Berkshire pigeon faggots, topped with carrots cooked in the pigeon bone marrow, and fried shallots. It was my first time having faggots, and it was like the most unctuous version of scrapple ever, with a rich gamey taste that was so pleasantly deep and only to be relieved by the carrots and shallots. For the money, though, there may not have been more soul satisfying meals than in the taverns of Prague, where you could get all of the smoked pork offcuts (knee, knuckle, shank) your heart could desire with garlic studded bread dumplings and sauerkraut so sweet it could give you diabetes for what amounted to $8.
It was a long trip, but were both happy to come back to the states. I wanted to get your thoughts on something I’ve pondered but haven’t really put to paper every time I’ve come back from a trip abroad. American food traditions and scenes are not held with the same reverence as many of those abroad, but I think what makes America so special is that we can get such a broad range of really good food. In Dublin, everyone just makes beef stew or tries to make their own best version of shepherd’s pie; in Brugge, all the restaurants try their best to make what they think is the idealized version of carbonnades or waterzooi and it goes on. But if you want some great mole or panang curry, you’re kind of s**t out of luck. So, from at least a food sense, it always makes me glad to come back home.
The one tradition my wife and I were not able to keep going, however, was grabbing a meal at a Chinese restaurant. It’s always fascinating to see how they are adapted to the taste of locals in other countries. Eating fried rice made with arborio is quite the experience.
Thank you for letting me share my random thoughts.
And I think you really put your finger on something important. Europeans are often quick to bash American food, though many don’t really understand it; they don’t understand its regionality, for one, which, happily, still exists — and thrives, even — in spite of industrialization and the rampant homogenization of our foodways.
And some Americans as well — and they’re almost always here on the East Coast — are quick to compare and contrast American food with that of Europe and find their own culinary culture wanting. It’s a shame. They, too, aren’t looking at America as a collection of regions.
And they also aren’t taking into account what you just did — namely, the fact that you can find just about any food in the world here. I’ve had much the same feeling you described when I travel abroad. Some great food, some great experiences at the table, but how nice is it to come back and be able to eat Thai one night and Bolivian the next and sushi the night after and Pakistani the night after that.
It reminds me of a moment in the great interview Philip Roth gave a couple of years ago, which the NYTimes reprinted. He was arguing that America was not some small, isolated island that stands apart from the rest of the world, as some critics of his, and other American authors past and present, persist in thinking — dismissing the literary production of this country as solipsistic and narrow and not engaged with the world.
This IS the world, Roth said (I’m paraphrasing, of course). All of the world exists here. All its madness and chaos and contradiction and variety and wonder. But all of it.
(He was, of course, arguing for Nobel consideration next time around, but I don’t think that diminishes his argument.)
SPATCHCOCKING AND STINKY TOFU:
Following up on your turkey advice and stinky tofu:
Thank you for the advice on spatchcocking the turkey. We didn’t have kitchen shears, so it resulted in me the day before thanksgiving trying to hack away at bone with a Wusthof- not the most efficient use of energy, but it got the job done. I’m definitely going to spatchcock the bird again- and the resulting gravy, using the spine to make the stock, is maybe the best I’ve had on Thanksgiving.
As to your question about how much I liked the stinky tofu at Toki Underground: Jeffrey Steingarten wrote in The Man Who Ate Everything that he is of the belief that you can overcome a dislike for any food by trying the best version of that food 7 or 8 times. He claims that this is the problem with parents these days- they aren’t exposing kids to foods that are unfamiliar to them frequently enough. I’ve tried to adopt this mindset- that there has to be some value, some positive aspect that I can appreciate, coming from every food. Let’s say that I’m on time #2, and I haven’t quite found the thing that I love about stinky tofu yet.
Are there places that you’d recommend for getting the stuff? Better versions of it around here? I want to learn to love it, so I want to keep trying it.
You know, other than Toki, I don’t know who else has had stinky tofu on the menu. Does anyone?
My guess is that even after 7 or 8 times, you’re still not going to be in the camp of like. But that’s a guess. Keep trying!
I tend to think, with things like this, that you have to have been weaned on them, so to speak — that your palate has to have been formed around them. If that makes sense.
I guess what I’m saying is that I don’t think stinky tofu is like, say, mussels or bone marrow for non-adventurous eaters.
As for spatchcocking — yes, the gravy that you can make with the freed backbone is pretty terrific. I got raves for mine, which used the backbone, hacked into six pieces with a Chinese cleaver and browned in a Dutch oven, and the gizzard (chopped and browned), along with onion, celery, carrot, garlic clove, and carrot tops to make a rich and aromatic stock.
REPORT FROM THE FIELD: JALEO IN DC:
We dined at Jaleo over the weekend and I have to say it is very consistent every time we go there.
I’ve been to Boqueria, Amada (in Philly) and others and I have to say I think Jaleo is the best tapas restaurant.
You have to dine in the DC location as the Bethesda location doesn’t compare in my opinion.
I especially love the tableside sangria service – it is a little pricey but I think it’s worth it. Some of the dishes I loved were the Pan de cristal con tomate, Rossejat, Fried cod and potato fritter, manchego cheese and Jamón ibérico de bellota Fermín.
The service and food has always been great. I am glad Jose Andres does change the menu from time to time so you can try new items.
Are there any other tapas restaurants you like? Doesn’t have to be in the DMV.
Thanks for the tasty report …
I like Estadio, as well. And Amada in Philly, which, last time I was there, was excellent.
Boqueria and Barcelona I would put on a lower tier.
But back to Jaleo for a second — it’s pretty remarkable how so many of us who love food tend to take it for granted. Mostly, I think, because it’s not new. But it’s always hopping, has a great vibe, and the quality of the cooking is really, really good.
T-DAY RECAP AND REPORT FROM THE FIELD: CENTRAL MICHEL RICHARD IN DC:
Thanksgiving was a success. I used Kenji’s recipe to dry-brine then smoke two spatchcocked turkeys (long story), and they both turned out perfectly.
I prepare the turkey every year at my house, and this was the first time the white and dark meat were both perfectly cooked. I bought my “primary” turkey from Maple Lawn Farms through Mom’s grocery, and it was outstanding. Quite a value for $1.99/pound.
The cranberry port gelee was also a big hit. The cornbread dressing was a new version, and while it was good, it was not amazing. I’m able to have crispy and soft bits by cooking with foil for the first hour, then removing it for the last 30. I assume you do that as well.
Kudos to Central Michel Richard. I took my visiting parents to lunch, where we each enjoyed the 3 course set menu. The restaurant appeared be short-staffed, quite understandable for the Friday after Thanksgiving. Nonetheless, our servers were engaging and pleasant, even though they were extremely busy. For $22.50, it is quite a good value. The unanimous highlights for us included the Fried Chicken Breast, which was prepared and served in the manner of their fried chicken, and the Pear Almondine. (I would love to get the recipe for it) The spinach salad was lackluster, but that’s a minor quibble.
The restaurant’s namesake was enjoying lunch at the next table. No doubt that’s one of the reasons Central remains consistently excellent.
That does sound like a good value, a really good value, actually, considering the quality of the cooking and the fact that they nearly always nail it with a dessert that sends you out on a cloud; thanks for the report.
Back to spatchcocking — it’s something, isn’t it? White and dark both come out wonderfully, and — and — the thing cooks in an hour and 20. An hour and twenty. Who else out there has memories of their mother getting up early to get the bird in the oven, where it would cook for about, oh, four or five hours.
An hour and twenty, with crispy skin, juicy white and dark meat, and the makings for a great gravy.
Now, yes, removing that backbone and wrenching out that wishbone is like wrestling with a pig in the mud, and you’ll be sweating and cursing for about half an hour.
But that’s a comparatively small price to pay for AN HOUR AND TWENTY.
Like you, I also got mine from Maple Lawn at Mom’s. Maple Lawn is a quality supplier, and I like supporting them; and their prices, as you say, are really, really good. And Mom’s is simply one of the best grocery stores in the area; I want to see them stay in business.
EATING IN BERLIN AND VIENNA:
Any recommendations for Berlin or Vienna? Mostly looking for casual or street food, but open to trying a fancier place, if it’s a can’t-miss.
Berlin is right now at the top of my list of cities I’m eager to throw myself into. I understand the food scene is really interesting right now, too.
My italian-american family tradition is a parmesan stuffing – stale italian bread with cheese, parsley and eggs. Its a little strange, but there is enough eggs that the stuffing forms a loaf and can be sliced with a knife.
Don’t tell my grandmother, but I’ve lightened up my version and make it more like a savory bread pudding with milk in addition to the eggs. I add marsala soaked figs and sage sausage- when I cook it for the other side of the family who won’t compare mine to Grandma’s.
That’s the curse of every cook at holiday time — being compared to the grandmother whose food is always better. Always.
I think that stuffing sounds terrific. If you have it written down somewhere, I’d love to see the recipe.
Speaking of tapas, I fondly remember Gabriel, located at the old Raddison hotel in Dupont Circle. I wonder what happened to its chef, Greggory Hill.
I do too, now that you mention it!
I really liked that suckling pig brunch he/they did. Smoky pig, black beans, bottomless mimosas …
Sports Illustrated does a Where Are They Now feature every year — it’d be interesting to find out what chef Hill is doing now …
Actually, i just did a quick Google search and it appears that he’s in Australia, in Adelaide. His latest venture is a Mexican restaurant. All the best to you down under, chef Hill, and I hope the restaurant is a hit …
MAPLE LAWN TURKEY, CONT.:
We always get our turkey from Maple lawn because we live right there. The experience of watching the poults grow from teeny tiny to fat is so much fun.
To add to the fun standing in line with people the day you pick up is part of the overall enjoyment. The line is always full with people happy and laughing and telling tales of Thanksgivings gone by or how folks will prepare their bird this year.
I’m a little put outrned about the fact that you got your turkey at Mom’s for only $1.99 a pound. We pay $2.25 per pound at the farm. It doesn’t need to be delivered or anything. The consumer comes to the farm. I wonder what gives?
You should call them and ask. I’d be interested in hearing the answer.
I can’t remember what I paid, actually. The chatter says $1.99, and it might be what I paid. What I remember thinking is that it’s a lot cheaper than what I’ve paid for heritage turkeys, which are $4 and sometimes more a pound.
Old reciprocating saw with new blade or a grinder with a cut off wheel works great.
Yeah, and if you slip even just a little, you can have some good, minerally blood to mix into that gravy and fortify it …
EATING IN BERLIN, CONT.:
A few recs from Berlin, where I visited a few weeks ago: getting a currywurst is required, of course, but while it is worth trying it doesn’t compare in flavor to the bratwurst in other parts of Germany, in my view.
Very good traditional German (not just Berlin cooking) can be had at Leibniz Klause in Charlottenburg. Tim Raue is as good as advertised, though not cheap. Döner kebap is practically a national food of Germany, though many locals would be angry to hear that; Mustafa’s Gemüse Kebap is considered the best, but you will wait in line at least 30 minutes and perhaps longer. Just down the street are two other shops that have been influenced by Mustafa’s, and serve a fine, fine version.
This is terrific. Thank you.
I could go for some great doner kebab right about now … On a rainy, raw day like this? Meat and char? Perfect …
EATING IN BERLIN, CONT. AND A T-DAY RECAP:
Berlin eats: A doner kebab should be the first thing you get; Turkish food in Berlin is akin to Indian in London and pizza in NYC- amazing.
We had a great Thanksgiving; we did a cornbread/Italian/Challah and sage stuffing that was excellent. We slow-roasted our turkey (with very little basting), and served it with the stuffing, roasted brussel sprouts, and a Cope’s baked corn pudding. To drink, we did very well with a NY Finger Lakes Riesling (Seneca Lake), a NY FL rose (Cayuga Lake), and a Beaujolais Nouveau (family tradition- the 2015 vintage was very good!).
Very nice! Eating and drinking both …
Tell me about your slow roasting — how many hours and at what temperature?
CHRISTMAS DINNER IDEAS?:
I am looking for some advice on where we could do a Christmas dinner at a restaurant that would conducive to a toddler but still festive. We are expecting Baby #2 in mid January so can’t travel this year to be with family and thinking since it’s just the three of us it may be fun to go out to an (early) dinner.
Any ideas? We live on Capitol Hill so DC is preferable.
As I understand it, both Corduroy and Bourbon Steak will be doing Christmas dinner this year. The former is offering a fixed price menu, the latter will be making its regular menu available.
I think either of those, while not inexpensive, should be festive and tasty. Bourbon Steak, being in a hotel, might get the nod for me if I were really concerned about the toddler; restaurants that are connected to hotels, I’ve found, are generally more responsive to diners who show up with little kids.
I hope that helps!
Gotta run, everyone — lunch at a fresh new spot awaits me. If all goes well, I’ll tell you about it next week. And if all goes badly, well, I’ll tell you about that, too. 😉
Be well, eat well, and let’s do it again next Tuesday at 11 … [missing you, TEK … ]