Join us Friday, March 30, at 11 AM to chat with our food critic Ann Limpert. Do you have questions about where to eat around Nats Park? The evolving legal drama surrounding Mike Isabella? Leave a question below, and Ann will get to as many as she can on Friday morning.
Ann: Happy Friday, folks! Hope you’ve had a great week. I’m wrapping this one up feeling an abundance of #gratitude—Oh God, I think it’s time to unfollow Hoda on Instagram—for our food scene, including a couple new kids on the block: Fancy Radish (two words: rutabega fondue) and Sababa, where I could have eaten a dozen orders of the silky hummus. Onward to your questions—which you can ask at the form at the bottom of the page.
Kate: What are your top 3 burgers in the city right now?
Ann: Well, my love for the Le Diplomate burger has been well documented. It’s still tops in my book, not that I am a monogamist when it comes to this. My top three non-Le Dip selections:
Kyle Bailey’s double smash burger at the Salt Line. with elevating upgrades that are subtle but make a difference (like housemade bread-and-butter pickles).
The El Jefe at Lucky Buns, which is loaded with queso fresco, gouda, green-chili relish, yellow mustard, onion, and shaved lettuce.
And the wagyu double cheeseburger at Unconventional Diner—it’s got steakhouse-burger flavor and diner-burger DNA. Plus David Deshaies makes some of the best fries I’ve had in this city.
Honorable mention for the Woodmont Grill’s veggie burger. Nothing comes close in that category.
Daniela: Are there any vegetarian options at A Rake’s Progress? Or at any of the LINE restaurants?
Ann: Oh, lots of them. At Brothers and Sisters I really dug the stracciatella with black garlic and the mushroom cacio e pepe (the mushroom toast is pretty good too, but really, really rich). Don’t miss Pichet Ong’s desserts—a couple of which are vegan. Up at A Rake’s Progress I didn’t try many vegetarian dishes. I really liked the simple salad with buttermilk dressing, but the green cabbage with ginger dressing was a bit of a letdown—just didn’t quite come together.
What restaurants are best for women to advance in the hospitality world?
Ann: I guess the easy answer would be to find a restaurant or kitchen run by a woman—there are lots of them. But a better move would be to talk to people in the industry. News travels pretty fast about bad apples—and the good ones.
Bread Furst is phenomenal, but so far away. Can you recommend any savory bakeries closer to Dupont Circle / downtown DC?
Ann: We’re in the midst of a little bakery boom, which is great. Yay, gluten! There’s Seylou for bread—and I’m curious to try their flatbreads; Pluma near Union Market (fantastic breakfast pastries and simple Roman-style pizza); The Cup We All Race 4, the coffee shop in Adams Morgan’s Line Hotel which makes their own bagels and ham-and-cheese croissants. I still head to Breadline, which Bread Furst’s Mark Furstenberg used to run, for a sandwich now and then (like the prosciutto-and-fig-jam on walnut bread). And I want to give a shoutout to Un Je Ne Sais Quoi, right off Dupont Circle—not for savory stuff but for their delicious almond croissant, pain au chocolat, and sugar brioche.
What is the funniest or most awkward thing that has ever happened to you while reviewing a restaurant?
Ann: Oh, there’s been plenty of awkward. All those times I forgot to tell my friends what name the reservation was under (“Uhhh, can I just take a look at the reservation list?”), and all the times when I ordered so much food the server has to haul over another table. I had a server many years ago who shifted from an American accent to a British one mid-way through dinner. And probably the most awkward was when I watched a woman vomit all over the bathroom at the Inn at Little Washington of all places. Beware the afternoon wine tasting!
What is the best cheap date in DC?
Ann: Well, it kind of depends on the date. CherCher for Ethiopian if you’re on sharing terms. Baan Thai for often super-spicy noodles and salads and soups.The aforementioned Lucky Buns if you want a burger, but also good drinks and wine. Colada Shop for affordable cocktails and a cool, colorful vibe. DC Reynolds buy-one-get-one-free happy hour if you just want to get sloshed.
The Mike Isabella stories make it sound like restaurant kitchens are terrible places to work with chefs ruling over them like (often drunk) dictators. Why would anyone, especially a young woman, do it?
Ann: There are certainly kitchens like that, but there are also plenty of kitchens that are good places to learn, and relatively free of crappy behavior. It’s a tough business for anyone at the starting-out level, though, no matter which kind of place you land in. The hours are rough, the pay is low, and you have to develop a really thick skin, and do a lot of putting your head down while you get screamed at.
Why do it?
When I was in culinary school, it was just after 9/11 in New York (Anne Burrell was our teacher!) and there were many career changers. Former I-bankers, a former VH1 producer. I had come from a magazine job. I don’t know anyone from that class that’s still working in a pro kitchen. Nowadays, a lot of the starry-eyed romance has been taken out of the career track. I think the ones who stick it out are the types who are super-passionate and dedicated—they literally can’t imagine doing anything else.
Which restaurants do you think are the most overrated?
Ann: I think anywhere that is just stunting for Instagram. Those rolled ice cream places, for instance. And I just don’t get the hype about Milk Bar (bagel bites aside). Brilliant marketing, sure. But everything is about 100x too sweet.
Bo: The downtown restaurant scene is getting out of hand. Hostesses are telling are telling customers with a straight face, “Right now it is about a three hour wait.” Do you think it is time restaurants consider surge pricing? Like, maybe on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday the menu prices jump 30%-40%. I mean, how else are you supposed to get a table downtown without planning eight weeks in advance?
Ann: Yeah, I’ve seen that floated as a solution. For many people, time is more valuable than money. I feel like I could stomach a single surcharge for the reservation, but an upcharge on everything? Oof, that’d be tougher. I can think of a tiny handful of places where that would work.
Even as some reservations have gotten harder to get, I still see a lot of half-empty restaurants in this city, even on a weekend. That doesn’t mean they’re bad. It means that we have more options than ever.
This warm weather has me in the mood to drink something tropical. Where should I go?
Ann: Actually, I had a really delicious summery drink this week at Fancy Radish, the new vegan restaurant with Philly roots on H Street. It was served in a grenade-sized pineapple glass, and was a mix of Cotton and Reed rum, coconut, and pandan. A little sweet, a little tangy, kind of like a grown up pina colada, which I’m not ashamed to say is one of my favorite drinks of all time.
Ann: Thanks so much for your great questions, everyone—I’ve gotta run. If I didn’t get to yours this week, you’ll be first in the queue next Friday. Have a fantastic weekend.