Join us on Friday, March 16, at 11 AM to chat with Washingtonian‘s executive food editor and critic, Ann Limpert. Do you want to talk about the DC-area names in contention for this year’s James Beard Awards? The end of Del Campo? Cocktails stirred with sound? Leave your questions below; Ann will take on as many as she can.
Ann: Happy Friday, folks. Where is everyone eating this weekend? And did it seriously just snow? My short trip to Palm Springs this week feels very far away right now. Anyway, onto your questions!
Jenna: Who serves the best Peking duck?
Ann: I still think the best one to be had is at Q by Peter Chang in Bethesda. It’s more expensive than at the competition—$68 for a whole duck!—but it’s also available as an appetizer for 16 bucks, and that would serve one or even two if you rounded it out with a couple other dishes. The marinated ducks roast throughout the day in a special oven, and are served with very thin, housemade pancakes, hoisin, and a punchy, garlicky paste made with honey and rose petals.
I was bummed to see though, that the rest of the menu at Q had been really pared down on my last visit—many of the kitchen’s most interesting dishes were no longer available. That’s the reason it went from a three-star review last year to being a no-show on our most recent 100 Best Restaurants list.
Rebecca: What are the best restaurants that are unexpectedly kid-friendly? I’m getting a little sick of Silver Diner and Uncle Julio’s…
Ann: I am learning, as a newish mom, that there are phases of kid-friendliness (like, I’m in the phase now where I care less about a place handing out crayons and more about the ability to walk my 16 month old around the dining room without glares). But I think we’re all generally looking for spots that are relatively loud and quick, with a somewhat accessible menu.
I think bistros are great (Central, Bistrot du Coin, Le Diplomate) for those reasons—plus, there’s always roast chicken, or something potato-y or cheesy.
Vietnamese restaurants, too—picky eaters can go for a simple fried pork cutlet over rice, spring rolls or shrimp toast with sweet nuoc cham, or something like chicken pho. And the staffs are used to kiddos.
Eamonn’s, while it lasts, for fish and chips (Or fried chicken bites. Or doughnuts). God I’m going to miss that place.
The Smith, if you’re around Penn Quarter, is a great spot for families, especially at brunch.
And although All-Purpose is kid-central in Shaw, I predict the new Unconventional Diner will become just as popular with parent/child crews.
Andrew: What’s the deal with Mirai, the sushi spot that was supposed to replace Seasonal Pantry? I’ve only seen it open once or twice, and that was a while ago.
Ann: My colleague Jessica Sidman is on that case. When she last checked, late last year, they were still having trouble finding a chef (the reason the restaurant was open Sundays was because they could borrow talent from Sushi Ogawa, which is closed on that day). But stay tuned for her follow up.
David Chang is retooling his underwhelming DC restaurant. Is there any hope for that place? What should he do to make it work? And would you ever consider re-reviewing somewhere like that if he changes things up significantly?
Ann: Is there any hope? For sure there’s hope. My last meal there felt like the worst kind of chain-offshoot—a place that was merely going through the motions, with a staff who couldn’t have cared less. I’m talking the host, our server, whoever made the impossible-to-slice-through fried eggplant, or only partially defrosted our slice of birthday cake. It felt like a train running without a conductor.
Now, Chang has handed the kitchen over to Tae Strain, an alum of the Progress in San Francisco and a chef Chang clearly has a lot of faith in, given that he’s giving him permission to “destroy” the menu (Chang’s words) and kill off such standards as ramen and pork buns. I’ll miss you, ginger-scallion noodles, but clearly, the place needs the major change.
Would I re-review it? Depends, but possibly. And it’s always a contender for our 100 Best Restaurants list come winter.
What long-gone local restaurants do you miss the most?
Ann: For many nostalgic reasons, the Japan Inn, which is now a bank on Connecticut Avenue. 🙁 My family didn’t go out to dinner much, except for special occasions, and the Japan Inn was our spot. I loved the big, long communal tables set with hibachis, the grilled shrimp and steak (served without the kitschiness of Benihana), the fact that my aunt came in dressed like a fairy godmother one night for my mom’s birthday and nobody batted an eyelash…plus, they made a one hell of a Shirley Temple.
Sarah: Hey Ann! When you’re not working, what are some of your favorite restaurants? You mentioned Le Diplomate last week for a special occasion, but what about everyday places? Or any guilty pleasures?
Ann: Hi Sarah—I don’t believe in guilty pleasures! If it’s a pleasure, why the shame? And so I’ll say that I unabashedly love the Woodmont Grill (formerly known as Houston’s) in Bethesda. I can still remember going to the Houston’s in Georgetown for the first time when I was in high school in the ‘90s. My friend Sarah introduced me to the spinach-and-artichoke dip (which she always called buffalo dip—not sure why), and I love that it tastes the same to this day. They do the best veggie burger in town, too, and pour gigantic goblets of Sauv’ Blanc. As long as we’re talking chains, I can also guiltlessly get down with the sliders and avocado egg rolls at the Cheesecake Factory.
On my off time, I detour for Vace and All-Purpose pizza, Rappahannock Oyster Bar oyster platters, Comet wings, Izakaya Seki sashimi, Italian Store subs (the Roma is my jam), Ivy City Smokehouse smoked fish (Salmon candy! But really all of it), Chiko ribeye-and-rice-cakes, BreadFurst ham-and-butter sandwiches, and Junction Bakery morning pastries. During the work week I do a lot of Little Beet veggie/salmon plates and Sweetgreen salads to balance all that out. And on weekends we tend to grab brunch at Estadio—they make great bloodies. I love the Royal, too, day and night.
If I had a night with a babysitter and could take my husband anywhere, it’d be to Maydan or Himitsu, then to Brothers and Sisters for a slice of cheesecake and a drink.
What is your favorite food items of meal under $5 in DC?
Ann: A slice of the aforementioned Vace pizza; a side of the excellent panko-coated shrimp at Donburi; a salt bagel with jalapeno cream cheese or sesame bagel with cream cheese and strawberry jelly at Bullfrog Bagels; a mushroom or kale-and-potato taco at Chaia; avgolemono soup at the Greek Deli. Do the suburbs count? If so, a peking duck style hot dog at Haute Dogs and Fries (that’s in Old Town); a banh mi at Banh Mi DC Sandwich (in Falls Church); or a dosa or uttapam at Amma Vegetarian Cafe (in Vienna) or Woodlands (in Langley Park).
What’s the worst meal you’ve had recently? What made it so terrible?
Ann: I’d have to say the meal I had at Momofuku CCDC this winter, which I talked about above. Basically, I encountered extreme carelessness in the kitchen and a really blase, annoyed-to-be-there attitude from the front of the house staff. It was a serious downer, given what a fan I am of David Chang’s NYC places.
Parents are coming to visit and they are food lovers – but we always have a hard time figuring out where to take them! One is hard of hearing so requires (at least relatively) quiet restaurants and the other tends to like “light, simple” foods. In the past we’ve been to Rasika, Buck’s Sfoglina, Alta Strada and Tortino, most of which have been fairly successful (although Rasika was a bit on the loud side). Any suggestions?
Ann: It’s so tough to find a quiet space these days—I know the feeling. Not sure if you want to go this high end, but Mirabelle and Marcel’s are both lovely (with plenty of dishes that are on the lighter side) and easy on the ears, if not the wallet. Kinship, Garrison, and Iron Gate, too. Chez Billy Sud in Georgetown is more affordable, still feels elegant, and offers unfussy French bistro fare. And what about Sushiko or the main dining room at Sushi Taro? Or Izakaya Seki?
My parents are coming to town to celebrate my 50th (!!) and I need a place that is special, but won’t break the bank, kill the eardrums, and require stairs to access. Any suggestions?
Ann: Happy birthday! I’d think about Tail Up Goat or the Dabney. Both feel special, with caring staffs and fantastic food (they each landed in the top 10 of our 100 Best Restaurants issue), and neither will cost you half your mortgage. Whaley’s in Navy Yard would be great, too—especially that seafood plateau.
Hi Ann! Graduation season is approaching, and I’m looking to find a restaurant for 9 people after the ceremony. Do you have any recommendations that could accommodate that size at a moderate price? Thanks!
Ann: I would look into Bindaas (the bigger one near GW), Millie’s (near AU), Hazel (near Howard—they do a great brunch), and Il Canale or Cafe Divan (near Georgetown). I’ve had really nice brunches and lunches at Ris, which has a crowd-pleasing menu (don’t miss the onion soup), good cocktails, and a moderate price point—and is close to both Georgetown and GW. If location isn’t necessarily an issue, I’d add Hank’s Oyster Bar, Kapnos, and Iron Gate to the list.
George: Any recommendations for what to eat at Maydan?
Ann: Hi George. I answered a similar question last week. Forgive the copy-and-paste job, but this about covers it: I’d start with the zaatar-spiked martini. Then go crazy with dips and spreads—the labne, the baba ghanoush, the beet borani (check out the recipe for that one here), the muhamarra—any and all of them. Then I’d get both the whole chicken—you’ll want to dunk even more flatbread into its drippings—and the tenderloin kebabs.
James: We all know New Yorkers living in DC are annoying, always boasting about how everything is better there. Is it really true that you can’t get good bagels and pizza in DC like you can in NY?
Ann: Ha, yeah. Without fail, there’s a certain type of New Yorker who simply cannot accept that [fill-in-the-blank food] could be better somewhere else, or even comparable.
Can you get good bagels and pizza in DC? Sure. Can you get good bagels and pizza on almost every street corner, or a single $2.75 bagel or slice delivered at 4 AM? Nope. And good New York style pizza is tough to find, too, outside of Wise Guys or the Italian Store. Our scene is much more Neapolitan-heavy—we could stand more variation, on that front. And the bagel scene is one I’d really like to see expand here, too. Right now there’s Bullfrog, Buffalo and Bergen, Bethesda Bagels, Bagel Uprising, and…what else?
PS. I’ll be sitting here waiting for the onslaught of messages from New Yorkers telling me that the places I’ve just mentioned suck.
Have you ever worked in a restaurant? If so, what did it teach you that you use in your current job? And if not, do you think you’re missing any kind of perspective as a result?
Ann: Yeah, I did. When I was living in New York I left my (great) first magazine job to go to culinary school at ICE. From there I worked as an extern and then a cook at two restaurants: Tom Valenti’s Ouest (RIP), and Olives, which at the time had a killer pastry program.
Foremost, those jobs taught me how restaurants operate, how screw-ups happen and who should get the blame, and how very, very difficult it is to pull off great food. It takes an enormous amount of work and skill on all kinds of levels—it’s really incredible. It also taught me how to deal with and interview chefs (never be even a second late, and know what the hell you’re talking about).
It was an interesting, challenging time in my life. I learned so, so much. I loved the savory side of the kitchen and had a fantastic mentor in Scott Verricchio, who was at Ouest at the time. If I’d stayed there I might have hung around the kitchen a lot longer. But I wanted to do pastry, so they sent me to Olives. I was terrible at it—slow and disorganized (my boss, Lincoln Carson, told me I perpetually looked like a deer in the headlights—and he was right. I was terrified). I’m not sure I’ve ever been less suited for a job, and the kitchen is not a place that takes kindly to that. I think I lasted about five months and lost 15 pounds of stress-weight. Still, that was good (and humbling) experience for the long-run, too.
Ann: On that note, I’m off to a bakery for lunch! Thanks for the great questions, all. It’s been fun, and I hope to see you here same time next week.