Hi Tom, I'm sure you're going to get a million "why wasn't X featured", but my request is a little more general. I like the theme, but I thought there were far too many "then: pretty good, now: pretty good." reviews. I think the places that either got significantly better or worse are far, far more interesting. Still fun to read though...thanks!
Thanks for your feedback regarding the 2012 spring guide. I'll keep that in mind for next year.
About a third of the subjects fall in the category you describe. They include Bartlett Pear Inn, included because a lot of folks like to know about where to eat near the water or for a short getaway; Cork Wine Bar and New Heights, both because they have new chefs; Ray's the Steaks, because its one of the reviews a lot of Post readers search out online; and Mourayo, because I wanted to salute a small neighborhood eatery that does a very good job of making strangers feel like company year after year.
Happy Wednesday, everyone. Thanks for joining me for an 60 minutes of food and restaurant chat.
Did you see where former BLT chef Victor Albisu popped up? Did you know that Banana Leaves is back after the fire that closed the pan-Asian eatery for more than a year? My Food section colleague Tim Carman also brings us the news that a certain big-time sushi purveyor is behind on his taxes.
Lots of stuff to discuss this beautiful May day. Let's get started.
Tom -- I know today's topic is the always-wonderful, always-useful guide (I know, I'm buttering you up) but my son is graduating from high school in DC in a few short weeks and we're trying to find a private room for 14 in a really good restaurant where the restaurant and the room are pretty accessible for mobility-challenged grandparents. Can you help????
Oh, dear. You know you'll be competing with thousands of other parents, many of who have already reserved months ahead?
But I digress.
I haven't confirmed that any of the following restaurants have the space available on the date you want, but I know the food and the service to be swell at Central Michel Richard, the new Rasika West End, Marcel's, 701 in Penn Quarter, Vidalia downtown, the Oval Room near the White House, La Chaumiere for old-time French in Georgetown, the just-reviewed Blue Duck Tavern and Mio near the good ol' Washington Post.
(Now get dialing!)
Hi Tom, Enjoyed the spring dinning guide, thank you. Agree with you on Jaleo; really like the updated look, the cod fish empanada, the glass-topped foosball table. All except for the creepy bathroom floors! I'm sorry but the photo of a smiling crowd cheering you on as you go?? Too much.
The sound, or noise level, checks are an important part of your weekly reviews. No matter how excellent the food and service, we prefer not to dine at a restaurant with high noise levels. Yet these sounds checks are not reproduced in capsules of previous reviews that appear in the Weekend Magazine or occasionally in the Sunday magazine. Please consider including these sound checks in the capsules. They would add just a few words and are so very useful to so many of your followers.
I am biased, I admit. The former GM at Eventide leaves (along with the bar manager, Steve) and things go south quickly. (I know, I've been back a few times since they left and things just aren't the same. In fact, the place is truly beautiful but the food and service lack.) Dave moves to the Light Horse and I haven't seen any news about it. He has really done wonders with the menu and the service there. He's a great guy and I truly believe that Eventide desserves what it got with your demotion since they lost Steve and Dave and that the Light Horse needs to get some of your attention. (I'd shamelessly plug for Steve too but I have no idea where he is working. Wherever you are Steve, please let us know!! Your cocktails and YOU are unmatched here. godihopehereadsthis...) GO Light Horse!
Dave Pressley was among the original cast members that made Eventide, at its launch, a great place to dine. Since his and the original chef's departure, the place has not been as delicious. It remains a lovely space to spend a few hours, however.
I went to Light Horse shortly after Pressley arrived and felt as though he hadn't had time to make necessary changes. There's a new chef in the kitchen, a detail that prompts my interest anew.
Hi Tom--My nephew is graduating high school, and for part of his gift, I got tickets to see Music Man at Arena Stage. I'd like to take him to a nice dinner beforehand--but not break-the-bank pricey. He's pretty willing to try new foods (especially for a 17-year-old boy). He and my sister will be driving in from Maryland and parking near the theater, so something in the area would be easiest. I was thinking maybe Sou'wester? Thanks!
Just enjoyed a short, but food filled trip to San Francisco. Happy to report that the stalwarts remain great: Gary Danko (go solo, get a seat at the bar last minute, chat with the fabulous Dave, don't skip the cheese course and get anything with a fried egg in it), Slanted Door (best ribs ever, the 11 and 13 year old boys pronounced the cellphane noodles perfect and wonderful vegetable treatments) and Zuni (really creative appetizer of broccoli, clams and white beans not to be missed; I may never eat a bean from a can again). Also enjoyed super casual but tasty Burgers at Greenburger on Haight, tacos at Tacoliscious (several locations, the fried fish was particularly good, as were the varioius sauces), and a nice meal at Gitane's bar (less well known, but solid spanish inflected treatment of all the region's bounty). Humphrey Slocumb's famed secret breakfast ice cream was actually tasty, the rest of the place was underwhelming. Tips: Don't go to the Ferry building on a sunny Saturday -- the lines at all the tasty food stands were too long to buy/sample. And stay at Kimpton hotels, where you can use your member rewards to have a granola bar from the minibar for breakfast for free -- thus saving calories for lunch, dinner, dessert and cheese!
I want to hope on a plane to SFO right this moment. Thanks for the great food ideas, DDISF.
Your "then vs. now" guide was very interesting to read and educational, too.
I thank you. It was fun to put together.
Tom - I love your writing, but the bi-annual dining guides are a little disappointing, to be honest, just because they're so narrow in focus. I know it's hokey and artificial to do a "DC's Best" list, but those lists are so much fun. I'm curious about why you've decided to yield the "top 100" field to the Washingtonian.
The spring dining guide is smaller than the fall dining guide, for sure. But what I like about the format of the former is that it gives me a chance to update a bunch of restaurants in one issue of the Magazine. Even if you get one or two new ideas from it, I figure the effort will have been worth it. It's meant to be a little quirky, you know?
As for the fall collection, which is typically a spin on my favorite restaurants (last year's theme: Places where I'd love to be a regular), that's just what I do. I don't see the theme as yielding anything to anyone. Can you imagine how much flack I'd get if I copied the "100 Best" concept, not that I would want to?
Hi Tom, My husband and I have a standing date night every Wednesday. We live in Silver Spring and are looking to expand our list of go-to restaurants. We like most cuisines, want to spend less than $80 for two, including drinks, and prefer to stay in MD. In the past we have enjoyed 8407 Kitchen Bar and Kao Thai. Where should we go for a good meal away for the kids? Thanks!
I'm writing about an Ethiopian newcomer for my First Bite column next week, but I'll share its name with you now: LacoMelza, located at 7912 Georgia Ave.
The arty dining room is run by a first-time business owner who presents her food a little differently than her competitors. The kitfo and vegetarian platter are particularly good. And yes, the tidy setting is appropriate for date night.
What's your reaction to the decision by the City Paper's new restaurant critic not to be anonymous?
I thought Jessica Sidman (welcome to the club, girl!) did a good job of explaining her reasons for choosing to be more visible: offering her opinions of restaurants is but one part of her gig, and nothing beats a face-to-face interview.
I have no plans to start publishing personal photos on Facebook or making reservations in my own name or doing anything to compromise my anonymity, or what remains of it after a dozen years here at the WP. I like that it's hard to find a clear/recent photograph of me online (although I've heard from strangers that there's a picture circulating of me among chefs and Internet boards).
Hi Tom, thanks for taking my question! I need to serve Korean food to about 10 people at my house in a couple weekends. There is no way I can cook for this event, so can you please recommend a great Korean restaurant that will allow me to carry out a couple dishes? Thanks!!
Where are you located? My answer depends on your response.
Tom, I have to pick up some tickets at Union Station Monday (Memorial Day) early (like 8am.) I will have a few hours to kill after that, can you recommend a place for breakfast near by? Does not have to be anything fancy, just some place to grab a bite while waiting. Thanks.
Tom, what do you think causes major drops in restaurant quality in a relatively short time for such standards as O'Leary's in Annapolis? Change in chef/management or just coasting?
In the case of the Maryland seafood restaurant, it was good ideas poorly executed and a lack of consistency.
O'Learys is still owned by the same gentleman I spoke to the previous time I reviewed -- and raved about -- the establishment. Eating there most recently just made me sad.
Hi Tom. My aunt and uncle will be visiting in two weeks and want me to pick a restaurant for them and my family (which includes a baby and a preschooler) to go to. Husband and I don't get to D.C. much and are stymied as to where to suggest. It would be easier if not for the kids. They're pretty good kids, but still. Can you think of some place that's unique to D.C. yet affordable and where other patrons wouldn't be put off by the presence of my kids? Thanks!
Comet Ping Pong in Upper NW is fun for pizza and game-playing in the rear; Zaytinya near the Mall has dozens of Greek and Turkish small plates, plus the bonus of an outdoor patio; and Hill Country, also in Penn Quarter, is a big and noisy food hall devoted to barbecue and sides and fun. Hope that helps.
Tom, when arriving at restaurants, I have noticed that the host/hostess usually defaults to seating us at what could arguably be the worst seat in the house (you know, tight space, right next to a service startion, in the middle of traffic, next to the kitchen door, etc) even though there are other seats available. I usually ask for a different table, and most restaurants are gracious about reseating us. I then note that the next party of my size is usually also escorted to the "bad" table. Do restaurants do this routinely to fill up the undesirable seats early? Do they make snap judgments, based on appearance, as to whether or not they think someone will take the table without complaining? Something else? I would think they would try to keep these tables for last to avoid alienating or annoying customers.
I'd really love to get an explanation from someone in the industry before the hour is up today. Share away!
Hi Tom! My roommate and I have a big group of friends coming in from out of town for her birthday, there will probably be about ten of us total, and we are looking for a good brunch place for Sunday. We were hoping to find a place that would take reservations (as we might have to wait a while for a "walk-in" group of ten), or a place that is good at accommodating large groups. We would probably want to stay within the district but are fairly flexible as to other neighborhoods...doesnt need to be fancy either! Any ideas? Thanks!
Places that claimed to have space for 10 on Sunday for brunch earlier this a.m. include the new, Czech-themed Bistro Bohem in Shaw, the revamped Jaleo in Penn Quarter, Ethiopic on H St. NE (love that food) and Mandu on K St. NW. There's nothing very American about any of them, but hey, you're in a world capital!
Hi Tom, Recently, I ate at a Penn Quarter restaurant (at the bar). When I checked my credit card statement the next day, I realized that I'd been overcharged - not by much - but I didn't want to pay for dishes or drinks that I didn't order. I called the restaurant and spoke to a manager - that was 3 days ago. I've called back and been told he's in a meeting, he's investigating it, he'll call me back. Have you encountered this situation in the past? Since I didn't notice before I left the restaurant (100% my oversight and fault!), am I just out the extra $$? Would love to hear ideas from the room! Thanks in advance!
This happened to me just last week, when I was charged $12 for an appetizer I hadn't ordered. I didn't pursue the matter because ... well, guess why.
Are you a regular at the restaurant in question? You might go back, bring your receipt and explain that you left multiple messages for a manager who never responded. Or, you could drop the matter and chalk it up to inattention on the part of both you and the restaurant.
Reminder of the day: Always, always, always check your bill before you leave a restaurant. You'd be surprised how many times mistakes appear -- and not always to the restaurant's advantage, I want to add. (Several times in the past year alone, I've not been charged for bottles of wine. )
Besides, Washingtonian magazine already does this. WHy duplicate? I like Tom's approach of different themes for different guides.
Thanks. I don't think food guides should look or read alike.
So do I. Have you ever read Nora Ephron's Esquire column on anonymity among restaurant critics? It's in her collection "Scribble Scribble," quite entertaining as well as insightful -- both of which Nora used to be before she went to Hollywood and ceased to be a reporter.
I've not read the piece. But I will tonight.
Tom- Any recommendations for Nashville?
Talk about a fun emerging restaurant scene! I've been to City House, which I thought was great fun and really good. The hot newcomer, the place that's attracting lots of buzz at the moment, is The Catbird Seat. The restaurant has no set menu; dinner is whipped up by veterans of the French Laundry, Alinea and other esteemed dining destinations.
"At my last sad meal in the light-filled boom box near the World Bank, I compared Founding Farmers to "Ishtar," the colossal box office failure. My glum companion put a finer point on it: "More 'Ish' than star." Agreed." But it's "Ish-tar," right? So wouldn't it be "more 'Ish' than 'tar?'" Do we have any data showing how "Ish" compares to "tar" in terms of favorability? (Or it could be "more 'I' than 'shtar,' but that just seems to muddy the waters even more.) Honestly I'm not sure if this play on words is sustainable. It probably should NOT be recycled. (Adore you, by the way.)
My uncle is going to be in Baltimore for a conference and I want to meet him for dinner. Any suggestions? The last time he was in the area, I took over kid care duty so he could go to Rasika with his husband. This time it will just be me and an uncle who is more like a brother. His hotel is right in the inner harbor. Thanks.
I have a reservation at 9:30pm at Restaurant Eve for Saturday. In many restaurants, this is not too late, but should I be concerned that chef will have left or that we will be rushed as staff is looking to close down? Rob
"Not on my watch," insists the top toque at Restaurant Eve.
Before this discussion went live, I caught up with Cathal Armstrong, who says he drills into his staff the importance of every single diner, particularly the first and last tables of the evening. If he notices members of his crew speeding things up as the night draws to a close and patrons are still in the house, Armstrong reminds them "our priority is the guest, not getting home." Every diner should enjoy the same experience, he says.
Bottom line: Have fun -- and don't fret -- Saturday night.
Why, oh why do people wait until three days before such an event to start looking?
That's a head-scratcher. But I hope I helped their cause.
Seating at a table is based on which server is next in line for a table. So when one table asks to be moved, the server of that "Bad table" is still due to get the next sat party. Most seating is based on making sure one server is not overwhelmed while the others are bored...
But of course. Makes perfect sense. But: Why are some tables that are so obviously less desirable than others not removed? I can guess the answer.
Tom, Vidalia is at the bottom of the stairs, so I don't think it would be accessible for grandparents. The rest of your list looks great though.
Right. But I believe there's an elevator on street level?
Mr. Sietsema, The PassionFish that you reviewed cannot possibly be the PassionFish I know, frequent and love. I agree that the crab and oysters are fabulous, and the chef and company - Chris, Ryan, Kathryn, Henry, Joseph, and so many others - are wonderful. I disagree with everything else. A one-star (satisfactory) rating for the Passion Fish is outrageous. I know from experience, e.g., my 65th birthday celebration, my firm's holiday parties, client advisory board dinner meetings, luncheon meetings with clients and colleagues, etc., that Passion Fish is one of the finest restaurants in the DC Metro area. Marjorie Fox P.S. I would be happy to treat you to lunch to give you the opportunity to experience the PassionFish that you somehow missed.
Obviously, madam, you know the cast of the seafood restaurant pretty well if you can tick off their names. And obviously, you've found dishes to like at Passionfish (which, you should know, I reviewed favorably in 2008).
Some background: I went there twice in recent months, with companions in tow to help me sample the range of the menu, during which time I dropped hundreds of dollars on often slapdash cooking.
I stand by every word.
What would you suggest for a birthday dinner for four in or near Bethesda? A fun, celebratory atmosphere and good cocktails are almost more important than the food!
Thanks for all you do. I had a different question for the chat (sorry if I am breaking the monotony). What place would you recommend locally in the DC area to someone who wants to study to be a great chef? CIA is obviously far away up in New York, but do you think there are any schools in the area that are as good, or heck even better for someone willing to practice this craft? What say you?
I've been impressed by many of the graduates of L'Academie de Cuisine in Gaithersburg, although I think some of their training needs to be updated to conform to how we're eating now. It's important to learn classic techniques, in other words, but I'm not sure how relevant phyllo cups stuffed with mushroom duxelles are in 2012. Just saying.
A lot of times we will have the dining room mapped before service so that we already have it decided where diners where be sat, dependent upon requests, size of party, whether they have special needs (highchairs, wheelchairs). The trick is doing your best when the restaurant is designed so there isn't any just flat out bad tables in the space. There shouldnt be a table that has a direct view of service stations, up against restrooms, etc. I've always liked to try to sit at different tables throughout my dining room to get a sense of what it is like. On the otherhand, being a chef, restaurat owner for 10 years has made it that I can not seat next to a service station and really don't like views of open kitchens (which can tend to be some of the "best " seats in some restaurants) on the very few times I get to enjoy and evening with my wife out. Otherwise I spend my whole evening focusing on all the minute details that the staff is doing as opposed to enjoying who I am with. Chef Bill B.
Chef, thank you for a detailed explanation. Much obliged. I like your attempt to try out every seat in the house. So important! One of the many reasons I appreciate visiting a restaurant several times before writing it up is to experience the place from different perspectives.
I'm just catching up on the past couple weeks of chats, and saw an inquiry for recommendations in Frederick. I didn't see anyone mention Wine Kitchen, which you had given a favorable nod to. It's one of our new favorites. On another topic, can you give us insight about your seasoning preferences when conducting reviews? For example, do you add salt or pepper to dishes?
I'm sorry to have left out Wine Kitchen in a discussion of Frederick. That wasn't intentional.
I like salt. I like pepper, too. I like them most when they're applied with a light hand by the chef; I rarely add extra seasoning myself (save for cracked pepper on a Caesar or some such).
Tom, my parents are coming into town this weekend. I normally take them to Rays the Steaks in Arlington. I was wondering if you had a recommendation for something similar: steak house, not too expensive, and not in DC. Thank you for your help.
Why not broaden everyone's horizons and go to a place that serves a nice cut of beef along with other options? I'm thinking now of the very good strip loin with zesty barbecue sauce served at the cozy Evening Star Cafe in Alexandria.
Chatters, any other steaks you can vouch for that aren't served in VA steak houses per se?
Tom, I enjoyed the new dining guide. It's really helpful to see updates to older reviews, especially when there are changes, for good or for bad. I'm glad to see you enjoyed Mourayo, one of our favorites. If I recall, you've been less than impressed by them in the past. What has changed that brought them up in your opinion?
To be fair, when I say next saturday, I dont mean this coming saturday, so I'm looking 11 days in advance...slightly better than 3 right? It's a start at least... Thanks for your advice! We'll look into those places.
Ha! With ten you want to plan in advance.
Overchraging people is also a way for servers to scam. They add an item, hoping you won;t notice. You pay the bill and then they tell the manager they rang in up wroong, so the manager takes the item off the bill and the server processes the CC that the customer signed and takes the now removed item as a tip.
Didn't think of *that* possibility ...
Tom: As much as I like Woodberry Kitchen (it's in my neighborhood), it's a fairly long way from the Inner Harbor to there--especially as they are currently doing major work on the Jones Falls Expressway. Charleston or Cindy Wolf's other nearby restaurant Cinghiale might be more convenient choices.
Tom, I'm not sure that you can conclude definitively that if *you* are not charged for a bottle or bottles of wine that it is a mistake. If they're giving it to you free because they recognize you and they're hoping to get something good out of it, it's clearly backfiring, since you think it's a mistake and give them a demerit. That doesn't necessarily mean that it's a mistake, though if you have other service problems on the same visit, I can see that would make it more likely an error.
Trust me, every single server was grateful for my pointing out the wines that were overlooked on my bill. And at least two of them didn't know who I was.
Thanks for taking the question! I am located in downtown DC but willing to drive anywhere really. Thanks again!
I've been to Poste several times in the recent past and have really enjoyed it. But kitchen changes make me wary. Any word on how it is under its new chef?
I went, thinking I would use it for my spring guide, but nothing I had there was very impressive, I'm sorry to say.
I've found that being a repeat customer is helpful for getting good seating. I wouldn't be surprised if a restaurant was expecting some regulars soon and wanted to make sure they were seated well. P.S. Both fiddlehead ferns and pickled ramps can be found on the menu at Firefly. Run, don't walk!
What a smart crowd you are. If I ran a restaurant, you can bet I'd try to save good seats for my regulars, too.
My husband and I went in one night for a drink because the bar seemed cozy. The bartender could not have been more like a classic bartender. Served up several new things for us to try without charging for them. Made us feel like a home away from home. I'm glad to hear the food is good too.
Um, could that have been a deliberate oversight on the part of the restaurants?
I might get pilloried for suggesting this, but you could have either the fall or the spring dining guide focus on My Favorite Virginia places, then do Maryland the next year, then DC, etc. That should shut up the whiners who say that you never do anything in their particular municipality.
Even *better* (selfish!) idea: Tom's Guide to 20005, so I can walk to every restaurant I review.
My cousin is comin to town with her husband for a lunchtime family event (his family). We were going to meet that Saturday night for dinner. Since they will be staying in Potomac and they might be coming off a big meal we thought of Founding Farmers - not too expensive and everyone can eat heavy or light depending on how they feel. Now that seems like a particularly bad idea so we hope that you can suggest somewhere else to go that will better fit the bill. Thanks for saving us from a bad experience!
I think my question didnt' get through. A neighborhood restaurant--good, convienent, eat there regularly--just introduced their summer menu. Bad choices--no more burgers, just an expensive beef sandwich and chicken tacos, for example on the bar food, light supper menu. Before I walk away, should I tell the manager why? Or do they care?
DO let the restaurant/chef/manager know that you don't see many choices on the list. You'll be doing the establishment a huge favor. They might not give you everything you want, but at least they'll know why business is down.
I've been following the discussion of this restaurant and it has made me realize how much the service you receive can color your perception of a restaurant. We went to Woodbury Kitchen to celebrate my birthday a couple of years ago. I'm sure that the food was good, but the waitress was absolutely atrocious; rude and condescending. For better or for worse, that is what I, and I think my wife, remember when I think about Woodberry Kitchen; not the food. Perhaps we will give it another try in the future when we are up there. Unfortunately, we are usually there during the day on weekends and they don't do lunch.
The more time I spend in this job, the more I realize It's Not Just About The Food. I can't tell you how many times readers write in: We love the service/the food is ok/we go back for the service.
I had a perfectly middling lunch yesterday, but I was so impressed by my server, I'd go back just to talk to him. And he made everyone in his section feel important in a restaurant FULL of VIPs.
Any word on Bistro Vivant? I went by there and the menu looks to be French. But locals are skeptical after the previous place was, well, disappointing.
Say, now! You can't be disappointed with a restaurant based on what came before it, and before you've even been *in* -- can you?
Just as a warning, every time I've been there lately, there has been a 20+ minute wait. Great place for kids, but the family might want to plan accordingly to avoid bored and acting out little ones.
Tom, this Sunday my wife and I pondered over Sunday lunch while downtown - are realized we could pick from a dozen or so cuisines within walking distance. What a great city! What cuisine is totally under-represented in DC? Either by a lack of restaurants period, or a lack of top class places. My pick is Chinese. Thanks.
YES. There's no great Chinese in the city, only small places that (sometimes) do a few things well. I'd love to see more Swedish cooking. A Cambodian kitchen. Better vegetarian eateries. I'll think of more.
Tom, is it possible to have great differences between two locations of the same restaurant? I and a number of other people really like the Potomac Founding Farmers, which you have not yet patronized. You don't care for the Washington location. Could Potomac be that different, or do I just not have a good palate?
It's *entirely* possibly for a brand to taste different in diferent locations, but my experience tells me I shouldn't get my hopes up for Potomac.
...of course, this could also discourage new customers from becoming regulars...
Again, I have to extend a bouquet: Smart crowd, thinking better than I am this morning!
Any new or updated Indian cuisine? Thanks!
I'm sure the poster's palate is just fine - Different people have different tastes. This may be a case where the poster needs to assess how Tom's reviews are similar or different to their own tastes. Remember, some people really enjoy (not naming any names here) restaurants others consider awful.
I totally agree with you. And that's just fine.
As somebody or other said, this is a 100% failure for two customers.
Is it quieter than Rasika Main?
Sure we can be wary of a new place if it seems overpriced for the location, after the previous (also overpriced) resident went under.
I'd give 'em at least a chance.
My husband and i will be celebrating our 25th anniversary in July - and we're trying to decide what restaurant in DC to go to. Just the two of us - and we like good wine and great food. What would you suggest?
Hey Tom enjoy the helpful tips...any suggestions for a solid date-night place in DC for a 20-something guy looking to impress a nice young lady?
Ah, where to start? For something hot right now, try Mintwood Place or the aforementioned Rasika West End. The beer-themed Birch & Barley always put me in a good mood, Sushi Taro offers a bit of serenity with your raw fish, the Source is dreamy (but expensive, so go for drinks and tuna tartare cones ad someplace less costly for dinner) ... time's up! Good luck on that date, young man!
Time to say goodbye for now. Thanks for spending some time with me.