Chat With Ann Limpert This Friday

Leave a question now for our food critic, and she'll get to as many as possible on Friday morning.

Join us Friday, April 13, at 11 AM to chat with our food critic Ann Limpert. Do you have questions about where to eat and drink outdoors (hooray for 78 degree temps!)?  Or about the secrets to the unflagging popularity of Founding Farmers (the in-house masseuse helps)? Leave a question below, and Ann will get to as many as she can on Friday morning.

Ann: Good morning! Wow, what a gorgeous day it finally is. Is it too early to hit at Colada Shop for a drink (their rooftop garden opens today)? Not in my book. But first, let’s get to your questions (ask them via the form on the bottom of the page)…

What was the point of sending someone from the magazine to shame patrons at Mike Isabella’s restaurants? Is anyone really surprised at the results?

Ann: The point of the story, in which a reporter checked out the scene and talked to customers at a few of Mike Isabella’s restaurants (Kapnos, G by Mike Isabella, Graffiato), wasn’t to shame anybody. It was to (anecdotally) look into a valid question: Are the sexual harrassment allegations against Isabella affecting the business at his restaurants? Do people outside the food community care about, or even know about, a story like this? Those are questions worth asking, in my opinion.

Alyssa: Why do I feel like every time I want to make a reservation online, my options are only 5:30 or 10?

Ann: Hi Alyssa—At a certain subset of extra-hot restaurants (and even some just okay restaurants in extra-hot neighborhoods), that’s often the case. Most of the time, it’s because only a portion of tables are put up for reservations, while the rest are reserved for walk-ins. Case in point: My husband couldn’t score a reservation at Adams Morgan’s Tail Up Goat this week, then decided to chance it. He breezed in and got a 7 PM table for two with no wait. And I’ve never, not once, been able to get an actual rez at the Dabney. Every time I visit, I go as a walk-in, and I’ve never waited more than a half hour. That’s a lot easier to do if you’re a group of two, not four, and if it’s not the weekend.

Peter: Why is it so hard to get a good taco in this town? What are some of your top spots?

Ann: Hi Peter—Despite the influx of new Mexican spots—Mi Vida, Mayahuel, Cortez, Taqueria Local, etc—my favorite taco joints are ones that have been around for awhile: El Sol or it’s sister restaurant Mezcalero (go for the guajillo-salsa-soaked basket tacos stuffed with chorizo and chicharrones); Taco Bamba, which just opened a branch in Penn Quarter; Taqueria la Placita in Hyattsville; and Chaia for great vegetarian creations. I’ve also always had a soft spot for the shrimp tacos at Taqueria Poblano in Del Ray.

What do you think about Maydan being one of Food & Wine‘s 10 restaurants of the year? I know you’re not a mind reader, but why do you think that particular place, great as it is, made their list? 

Ann: I was thrilled to see Maydan atop their list. It’s a really unique and special restaurant and one we’re lucky to have here in DC. I think that as food gets ever fussier and more played-with and tasting-menu-ized (clumsy, but you get what I’m saying), there’s something so primally appealing about meat + fire. Not that Maydan’s appeal is as simple as that. The flatbreads and dips and veggies dishes and cocktails are excellent, too. But I think the biggest feat is that the cooking reflects a fascinating mix of cultures, yet never feels like it’s trying too hard or putting on airs. And owner Rose Previte is an enchanting host and presence. I’d imagine that if I were a restaurant editor traveling all over the country, Maydan would make a very powerful impact on me, too.

Also, that hearth! Is there a cooler room to walk into?

Ann,  I’m sure you’re a very classy person but what are your favorite drunk foods in DC? 

Ann: Ha, debatable. Especially if I told you how much sloppy pizza goes into my diet (Friday pie-day FTW). I tend to go two directions when I’ve got the munchies/drunchies: Pizza or General Tso’s chicken. Basically, salty or sweet. For that kind of unfancy pizza, I usually get Mellow Mushroom in Adams Morgan. There’s just something about that slightly sweet, very doughy crust. You have to tell them to bake their pies crispy though, since they tend to come out underdone, and their pepperoni kind of sucks so I usually go sausage/black olives/onions. I also get a side of wings with both blue cheese and extra wing sauce on the side. Because there is literally nothing better in life (after a few drinks) than pizza dipped in both of said sauces. For crappy-delicious General Tso’s I go to City Lights in Dupont. Sometimes, I go crazy and get a peking duck. And if it’s super-late, I love Amsterdam Falafel. I always end up getting a million too many toppings and eating about a pound of that peanut sauce with fries. And Stoneys! I almost forgot. Never change, super grilled cheese.

Are there any spots in DC that might give you free dessert/drinks if it’s your birthday?

Ann: Not sure about drinks, but lots of places will throw a free dessert your way. The Fabio Trabocchi restaurants (Fiola, Fiola Mare, Sfoglina, Del Mar, Casa Luca) are great about making a special occasion feel extra-special. I’d let them know when you make the reservation.

I moved to NYC from DC in January 2018 – and I hit all the DC greats before I left… what’s opened since, and where should I go first when I come back to visit at the end of April?!

Ann: Did you get to Maydan? If not, definitely go there. Also worth checking out: Brothers and Sisters in Adams Morgan’s Line Hotel; Spark, for Caribbean-accented barbecue; Unconventional Diner, for thoughtfully prepared comfort food (and the best chicken parm’ around); Fancy Radish for often mind-blowing vegan; and Little Pearl for snacks and wine.

Suzanne: Hi Ann, I’m looking to get out of the city for a day trip this weekend now it’s finally warm. Are there are destination-worthy restaurants you can recommend for lunch? The Ashby Inn used to be our favorite, but it’s been uneven recently (also we’re not opposed to something more casual).

Ann: Hi Suzanne—If you feel like wandering out towards VA wine country, I’d check out the beautiful, rustic Girasole in the Plains. Nice, simple pastas and grilled meats and fish, and they do a weekend brunch. Closer to Middleburg (and much more casual) is Hammerdown Barbecue, where I found the best brisket I’ve had in a long time (and I’ve eaten a lot of brisket lately!). Another place I can’t wait to get back to: The indoor/outdoor Point near Annapolis. Home of the BEST crab dip, and my first stop for crabs when they’re in season.

Random, but any idea if Dio, the natural wine bar on H Street, has a patio? 

Ann: I don’t think it does, but a couple other wine bars do, like Maxwell Park in Shaw and Primrose in Brookland.

Any tips on some good, off-the-beaten path spots for an outdoor cocktail (or 2)?

Ann: What about Ivy City Smokehouse? Massive deck, excellent snacks (the smoked fish board, or just a big mess of fried shrimp), beer?

Hi Ann! Do you have any favorite or funny memories from culinary school and what advice would you give someone who wants to pursue a career in the culinary industry? 

Ann: Anne Burrell, who is now all over the Food Network, was one of my culinary school teachers, and she was TOUGH. By far the scariest of any of the five instructors I had, at least in class (when she met us for happy hour later on she was hilarious and fun). She had each student run a mock restaurant dinner service at the end of the term, and I was terrified of getting screamed at. I spent way too much time preparing, fretting, obsessing. When the day came everything went great, until it came time to serve. I’d remembered to brunoise the celery,  fine tune each of the five sauces. What I hadn’t remembered was…plates. Literally, we had nothing to serve on. Anne wound up being really nice about it.

As rich an experience as culinary school was, I’d tell chef-hopefuls now to work in a restaurant kitchen for a while before investing in it. It’s not a career (or lifestyle) for everyone, and you should get rid of any romantic illusions about it before shelling out a lot of money.

What is the timeline for selecting which food articles go in the print magazine? Give us a peek behind the curtain, please. 

Ann: It depends. We work far, far in advance on projects like 100 Best Restaurants and Cheap Eats. We’re working on the latter issue now, and it doesn’t come out til August. But for the monthly section it’s usually a couple months. I’m visiting restaurants now that could show up in reviews in the June issue.

So…the Fig and Olive. I have steered well clear since they opened and had mass food poisoning followed by the world’s worst PR campaign. Have things turned around? Should I check it out now?

Ann: I haven’t been either. Although it seems to have stayed salmonella-free, it’s an association that’s hard for me to shake (and even so the chain is low-priority on our never-ending list of places to visit). Chatters? Anyone been?

I love bread. Have you encountered any restaurants lately that have especially great bread-with-your-meal offerings? 

Ann: It’s sadly a rarity these days, great (and gratis) bread with your meal. Ahso in Ashburn serves excellent, airy country bread with a delicious paprika butter. BLT Steak does killer popovers that basically scotch the rest of the meal. Kinship serves those amazing butter/salt bomb Parker House rolls with entrees. I haven’t been to Honeysuckle in a few months, but the bread basket there was terrific. And you have to pay for them, but the breads at Tail Up Goat are mostly fantastic. Right now there’s an awesome focaccia topped with feta, pine-nut halva, and kale.

My husband and I are vegetarians and we’re excited to try Fancy Radish (we have a res next weekend) but we also really wish there was a great vegetarian—not vegan— restaurant in DC. Why do you think it’s so hard to come by a fantastic place for vegetarians that also serves real cheese and butter, a la Nix in NYC? Any hope that DC’s restaurant scene might get one of these some day? 

Ann: I think the scene is primed for it, and I’m sure restaurateurs are taking note of what a hot ticket Fancy Radish has turned out to be (don’t skip out on the cocktails when you go—so good!). And lots of chefs are really excited about vegetables and it’s showing on their menus.

At places like Garrison, Unconventional Diner, and Sababa, there are many more vegetarian choices than you’d typically see. I recently interviewed Haidar Karoum, who is behind Chloe in Navy Yard. He told me he gets way more jazzed about a carrot he’s never seen from Path Valley Farms than he does about a New York strip in a cryovac bag. And the veggie plates on his menu are some of the biggest stars: the cauliflower with tahini and buttered almonds, the bok choy with sake and soy. I’m with you though, there is certainly room for more.

Sam: Hi Ann, Have you been to Spoken English yet in The Line hotel, and if so, any recommendations? Also what do you think about a standing room-only restaurant? Please tell me it’s not going to be a trend!

Ann: Hey Sam—I have been, yeah. My early faves: the blood cake, the puffy pancake with caviar, and the showstopping duck, which could feed four (or more). I was very skeptical about the whole standing set-up but it really wasn’t so bad. The thing is, you are literally standing in a kitchen, which tends to be on the hot side, so I feel like the place is best suited for a few quick snacks and a drink. That duck though, is a full-on feast, served with tortillas and a bunch of little condiments (sambal, hoisin, ginger sauce, cukes…). Will standing restaurants catch on as a trend? I could see them working in other environments conducive to quickie-dining (airports, train stations, etc.), or in big drinking hubs.

Now that the weather is finally getting nicer where are your top dining spots?

Ann: There are few patios that are as pretty as the one at Blue Duck Tavern, which right now is best at brunch. I’d also check out Etto for grazing-friendly Italian meats and cheeses and pizzas, the aforementioned new rooftop at Colada Shop, Masseria for a splurge, Garden District (OMG that burger), and the Salt Line (beware the baseball crowds, though).

I can’t always plan restaurant trips a month in advance. What’s the best way to eat a semi-impromptu dinner at a nice restaurant that’s not at 9:30?

Ann: Think neighborhood more than restaurant. If it’s the weekend, avoid Logan Circle, Adams Morgan, and Shaw. Everywhere will be jammed. If it’s during the week, though, you’ll have an easier time in those neighborhoods, since there are so many alternatives. And of course, eat at the bar (the best place to sit, anyway). Also, think beyond the hot-and-new. Consistently strong places like Izakaya Seki, Central, Hank’s Oyster Bar, and Convivial come to mind.

Ann: That’s a wrap for today, folks. Lunch (a new Thai spot) awaits. Thanks for all your terrific questions! If I didn’t get to yours today, you’ll find an answer next week.

Ann Limpert
Executive Food Editor/Critic

Ann Limpert joined Washingtonian in late 2003. She was previously an editorial assistant at Entertainment Weekly and a cook in New York restaurant kitchens, and she is a graduate of the Institute of Culinary Education. She lives in Petworth.