Join us Friday, April 20, at 11 AM to chat with our food critic Ann Limpert. Do you have questions about what to do for Mother’s Day (or where to splurge with your tax refund)? Shaw’s upcoming royal-wedding-themed pop-up bar? Or about favorite finds at local farmers markets? Leave a question below, and Ann will get to as many as she can on Friday morning.
Ann: Good morning! Hope everyone had a splendid week of eating (I’m currently day-dreaming about the lobster toast, gilded with green goddess dressing, I had recently at A Rake’s Progress.)
Anyway, on to your questions! You can submit them through the form at the bottom of the page.
Name a terrible and awesome service experience that you have had.
Ann: Terrible: At a French place in Bethesda, my parents and I waited over an hour for our entrees. When they finally showed up the server brought me the wrong one (I’d ordered scallops, but he delivered salmon). The server argued that I was the one that misordered, then told me the scallops would be another half hour (they take what, 30 seconds a side?). So I literally sat through dinner with an empty plate, then we left.
Awesome: Any time spent with Jennifer Knowles, the sommelier who has been at Requin at the Wharf since it opened (previously she was at Mirabelle and the Inn at Little Washington). She is a font of knowledge. Her biggest skill though, is translating that knowledge into funny, accessible stories that will stick in your brain long after you’ve finished whatever cool new wine she’s turned you onto. And she’ll even whip out her phone to give your Instagram pic a little extra light.
Now, some not-great news. Knowles just let me know her last day at Requin—owned by Mike Isabella, the chef/restaurateur facing allegations of sexual harrassment—will be Sunday. She has three herniated discs and is taking a couple months off in the hopes of avoiding back surgery. Did the decision have anything to do with the allegations against Isabella? Knowles says no—she informed his restaurant group that she would be leaving well before the lawsuit hit. But she won’t be returning to Mike Isabella Concepts once she is healed.
It’s a big loss for Requin—especially on the heels of the departure of star chef Michael Rafidi.
Where is your favorite place to buy bread?
Ann: We’re suddenly awash in great options—there’s Mark Furstenberg’s Bread Furst, of course, and A Baked Joint, from the folks behind cupcake/pie mecca Baked & Wired. But the places I’m most excited about are Seylou Bakery in Shaw—go there especially if you are into sour flavors—and Bread & Water Company. The latter is a bakery near Fort Belvoir that just opened a satellite in Pentagon City. I love their M bread, which is served in huge, two-foot-long loaves and sold by the inch, and their raisin bread, which is also studded with pecans and currants.
I love Minetta Tavern in New York, and have been looking for something analogous here in D.C. Any recommendations?
Ann: Hmm…nothing quite approximates it here, but maybe the Riggsby? It’s got that throwback vibe, plus a classic, but not totally hidebound, menu. A caveat: we took it off our 2018 100 Best Restaurants list for a reason late last year. I think there have been some changes in the kitchen, though, so it has possibly improved. And there are some consistant standbys that remain a draw: the chopped salad, the roast chicken, the martini, and some killer desserts (the pot brownie sundae is a must-order). Another thought, though it feels more midwestern than NYC: Rare Tavern, the more casual part of the downtown steakhouse with Wisconsin roots.
Any word on when Todd Thrasher’s rum bar on the wharf will open?
Ann: According to Meshelle Armstrong, Thrasher’s Potomac Distilling Company—a distillery and tiki bar—is a little delayed. They’re looking at an end-of-summer opening right now.
John: I saw the Washingtonian article this week about Mike Isabella, and how the sexual harassment allegations and scandal don’t seem to be hurting patronage at his restaurants. What are your thoughts? It’s interesting that media outlets like Eater rushed to take a hardline stance against “bad actors” like Isabella, while the dining public doesn’t really seem to care.
Ann: It’s interesting—I know plenty of people who do care, and who now won’t think of patronizing an Isabella restaurant. I also know plenty of otherwise news-savvy people who barely know about the allegations, and some who know but won’t let it stop them from getting their goat sandwich or fried-clam pizza or whatever.
The magazine’s stance is that we’re going keep evaluating his restaurants, and reviewing them when we see fit. We’ll let readers make the decision on whether to go to them on their own, and we’ll provide context about the allegations with any mention or review. And we’ll certainly cover the continuing legal situation.
Rick: Hi Anne. I am a pescatarian. Any places you recommend for a nice quick bite for lunch. I’ll be in DC for work for the next two weeks.
Ann: Hi Rick—welcome to DC! A few of my favorite fish dishes around the area: The Hog Island style broiled oysters and the lobster roll on a buttered bun at Hank’s Oyster Bar (all three DC locations are open for lunch); the tuna burger at Central Michel Richard, a French/American bistro in Penn Quarter; the crabcake sandwich at CF Folks, a great, classic downtown lunch counter; and the lunchtime-only fried-oyster po’boy—along with some raw Chesapeake oysters—at Rappahannock Oyster Bar inside Union Market.
Have you checked out Elle yet?
Ann: I adore the place. I nearly fought my 18 month old for the last bite of the black-bean empanada I got there earlier this week. The Mount Pleasant bakery/cafe’s pastries (that guava turnover!) and tomato-topped foccacia are pretty incredible, too. And they have oat milk, which makes a great dairy-free London Fog.
To you, what makes a great burger and who makes the best one in the DC Metro area?
Ann: I feel like burgers are a personal preference, but my ideal burger is all about two things: balance and moisture. The balancing act is tricky. I don’t like any one thing to dominate, and it’s easy for many burger ingredients (such as raw onion or tomato, a thick patty, or a big bun) to do just that. My one exception: Pickles. Give me all of them. I’m pro-grease too: nothing kills a burger like a dry patty. Or a stale bun. Or a bun that hasn’t been toasted and slicked with some kind of fat.
I’m most partial to skinny-pattied diner style burgers, where everything commingles into a squishy, sloppy, glorious bite. They’re more about the sum than the parts. My favorite is the double cheeseburger at Le Diplomate—it’s got thin patties melty with yellow American, plus red onions, tons of pickles, and special sauce. I give runner-up awards to Unconventional Diner, Garden District, and the Salt Line.
If you ever happen to be in Manchester, Connecticut, my favorite burger of all time is at Shady Glen, an ice cream shop and diner that’s been around since the ’40s. Their genius trick, which someone here should steal: They fan four squares of American cheese off the patty, so much of the cheese gets crisped on the griddle. You then fold the crispy bits on top of the burger. It looks like the flying nun, and it is amazing.
What is the deal with tipping on carryout. I never know how much to leave, if anything.
Ann: I always tip at a restaurant—usually around 15 percent, especially if it’s a big order that’s put together by the bartender. If it’s from a place that does mostly takeout (a cafe or salad shop or something) I’ll tip a couple bucks if there’s an option for it.
Mia: I’ve been an intern in DC all semester and I leave in May. I’m going out to one last dinner to celebrate both my birthday and my semester, so if you had to pick one must-try place to eat in DC where would you go?
Ann: Hi Mia—congrats and happy birthday. Have you been to Himitsu in Petworth? If not, I’d check that out. Kevin Tien’s Japanese-accented cooking is some of the very best in the city (the place landed in the #4 spot on our ranked 100 Best Restaurants list), and it feels like a spectacular value. It’s tiny and doesn’t take reservations, but there are plenty of cool cocktail spots around to help you bide your time. Back-ups: The Dabney, for fantastic Southern/Mid-Atlantic plates in Shaw’s Blagden Alley; Fancy Radish, for super-cool vegan on H Street Northeast; and Whaley’s, for excellent seafood in Navy Yard.
I want to eat at a great restaurant I’ve never heard of. Please share your secret place that you’ve never written about because you want to keep it to yourself.
Ann: I don’t get paid to keep these things a secret! But I think the sandwiches—hot or sweet sopressata for me, with just cheese, balsamic, and green leaf lettuce—at Cornucopia in Bethesda are extremely underrated.
Adam: Any recommendations for a casual-ish spot to take elderly, non-adventurous parents for a meal in Old Town Alexandria?
Ann: Sure thing. How about La Fromagerie, the sweet little cheese shop/wine bar that does nice salads, sandwiches, and meat-and-cheese boards? Or A la Lucia for red-sauce Italian in a friendly, neighborhoody space? Pizzeria Paradiso, Hank’s Pasta Bar, Bastille (bistro-y French), and Myron Mixon’s (for some of the area’s best barbecue) would be good bets too.
Sarah: I have friends and family traveling from all around the country to come in for a weekend of bridal activities in August – there will be between 14-18 of us and I’m trying to find a fun spot with room for a large group to do a dinner/bridal shower-lite. I’m not a huge fan of some of the givens (Carmine’s, RPM, etc.)…and looking for something a little more unique. Compass Rose would have been perfect, but their biggest space seems to only fit 8. Help?
Ann: What about Hank’s Oyster Bar in Dupont? They have a semi-private room that would probably fit your group, and though it’s on the casual side, lobster rolls and oysters can feel celebratory. Plus, their cocktails are some of my favorites in the city.
On the fancier, but not stuffier side, there’s Bresca on 14th Street. The room is one of those places you never want to leave, and Ryan Ratino’s plates are whimsical and creative. Plus, gin cocktails served out of glass bees! They can do a single table for 18.
For a mega-splurge, there’s Del Mar, Fabio and Maria Trabocchi’s Spanish dining room at the Wharf. Gorgeous private rooms, definitely not cheap.
Judith: Cities (and regions) have certain foods associated with them. You’ve got Chicago deep dish pizza, Michigan pasties, Maine lobster, Midwest Coney Islands… what would you associate with DC? Is there anything that you find unique to the city or area? I know it is a diverse place, which makes eating in it so much fun, but I wanted to see if you had any opinions on this!
Ann: You can certainly associate certain foods with DC—crabcakes, half-smokes, mumbo sauce—but none of these really fit the bill. Crabcakes are more of a Baltimore thing, and I’m seeing far fewer of them on restaurant menus here than I used to. Half-smokes are really only found at a couple places, most notably Ben’s Chili Bowl (although Meats and Foods in Bloomingdale makes the best one). And mumbo sauce, the sticky-sweet condiment found in wing joints, has evolved into a cult favorite chef ingredient (I recently saw it at Chiko).
So, no, we don’t have something as ubiquitous as a cheesesteak in Philly, or a deep-dish pizza in Chicago. The upside to all this is that chefs and cooks aren’t bound by a convention of how something “should” taste, and are more freed up to play around with styles. Some of those riffs work better than others, of course.
Hi Ann! I recently moved from Southern California and am really missing home, but it seems like a lot of the restaurants that serve California-style cuisine seem to be kind of gimmicky and lower quality than what’s available over there. Care to give some suggestions?
Ann: You should head to Sally’s Middle Name, on H Street Northeast. They do amazing things with vegetables (such as fried pickled-chard stems with ranch dressing), and lots of dishes are gluten- or dairy-free. And there’s a lot of LA in Shaw’s Unconventional Diner, too. There, comfort foods like lasagna and meatloaf are reimagined and lightened up with veggies, and the results are excellent. And pro tip: the deep dish pizza at Pi in Penn Quarter tastes remarkably like the pies (which I love) at San Francisco’s Little Star. None of these places tout themselves as offering “California-style cuisine,” but they each bring Cali to mind in some way.
Ann: That’s it for me today, folks. Time for the unsexiest of lunches: The sad desk salad (right after I finish the remnants of a day-old Seylou chocolate/almond croissant). Have an excellent weekend, and hope to see you back here next week.