Ask Tom -- Washington Post restaurant critic Tom Sietsema discusses the DC dining scene

Nov 30, 2011

Washington Post food critic Tom Sietsema entertains your dining questions, rants and raves.

Find all of Tom Sietsema's Washington Post work at washingtonpost.com/tomsietsema.

A FEW WORDS WITH…

LOGAN COX, 31, the executive chef of Ripple in Cleveland Park

Any news to share?

We’ve hired a new pastry chef, Alison Reed, formerly of Café St. Ex and Bar Pilar in Logan Circle. She starts in January and plans to sell some “fun and quirky” things in a retail space within the restaurant.

Tell us about a dish you’re particularly excited about on your latest menu.

Blood sausage. It’s seasoned with nutmeg, clove and cinnamon and served with a lemongrass emulsion.

If you could do one thing over in your young but busy career, what would it be?

I almost blew up a pressure cooker a few weeks ago. I was trying to confit pork for rillettes. Smoke was involved. The pressure cooker started expanding. We put the equipment aside and ran from the kitchen.

Best part of your day?

I really enjoy looking in the walk-in cooler and figuring out what to put on the menu based on what I have. That and butchering. It’s Zen for me.

What would diners be surprised to know about you?

I used to play football at Virginia Tech.

Can you suggest any restaurants in the Woodbridge area that will be decorated nicely for the holidays - the person we are taking to lunch cannot travel more than 20 miles from her home. Really learn a lot from your column. Molly

I have no idea how L'Hermitage will be decorated for Christmas, but you can't beat the setting of  cobblestone walls and flickering table lamps for warmth and charm. I haven't dined there recently, but I have pleasant memories of the lobster bisque, roast chicken and skin-on trout, among other bistro favorites.

 

Good morning, everyone. I returned from Lima, Peru, just last night, so please forgive any typos or slowness you may encounter in the next 60 minutes. 

 

It feels good to be back in the host seat after a week away from this forum.  What's on your mind today?

What happened?

We chatted, of course! Here's the transcript.

Where can we go for the best bloody marys?

The  Shanghai Mary at The Source leaves everyone else’s bloody mary in the dust, fueled as it is by fresh lime juice and chili paste in the glass and garnished with a skewer of olives and red Thai chilies. Go-o-o-o-d morning!

having read your review of Meatballs, I am dying for some really good, red sauce, Italian meatballs like Mama would make (well, not my Mama, but someone's Mama). Where should I go in D.C. or Maryland?

For a place purporting to specialize, the new Meatballs is a serious disappointment, especially considering the names behind the project. 

 

I had some very good meatballs served atop polenta at Graffiato in Chinatown shortly after Mike Isabella's place opened, but I'm not sure they're still on the (ever-changing) menu. 

 

Chatters, feel free to share your favorite sources.

You can't even start you cant on tim even after having last week off. WP needs to fire you and hire some fool off the street.

Three minutes late and you want me bumped off?

 

Happy Hump Day to you, too!

Tom, Rogue24 is a real winner. We had such an impressive meal filled with textures, flavors and innovative techniques. We were so thrilled that this restaurant is in our own backyard (alley). As we have been discussing some of the "reviews" from other outlets, we still have not come across the Tom Siestsema review. It's not like you to wait four months after a restaurant opens to review it especially a JBF award winners. This restaurant is a must eat in DC. As well the community needs to support this kind of cutting edge concept that is away from the usual. Rogue would be a hard reservation if it were in NYC, Chicago, SanFran and even Philly. I believe Don Rockwell summed it up best when he said: " I think Rogue 24 is one of our city's treasures. It is superior to Minibar." The talents of the team really shine when the speak about their craft.

I've waited this long before to share my take on an important or newsworthy restaurant. (Remember Galileo III?)

 

Rogue 24 has lost a number of senior staff in recent months and its muse is about to take off for major surgery.  I don't think it makes sense to dine there while R.J. Cooper is away, do you?

In your opinion, what is the credibility of the reviews on Yelp? I recently looked up an Irish Bar that I thought was horrible because I wanted to see what others thought of the place ...I don't Yelp by the way. The review said they thought it was an authentic Irish Pub with great drinks/beers and friendly staff. My opinion was quite different. The beer tasted like the taps hadn't been cleaned in, well maybe never, and my drink tasted like water with a splash of cranberry and possibly some vodka. I question the "reviewability" of Yelpers most of the time, but maybe I'm wrong.

I think Yelp would have a lot more credibility if participants were required to use their real names and share mini-bios. People may disagree with me, but at least they know who I am, where I've worked, and ultimately why the WP trusts me to be its food critic.

Hi Tom, I'm going to the WH during the day next week and would love to get a festive drink in the area after. POV is booked - are there other special places to go into the evening?

Try the Round Robin Bar in the Willard Hotel or, just a short stroll away, the roomier Quill in the Jefferson Hotel. The latter has some excellent cocktails, including a potent twist on common eggnog.

Where ar you? We miss you.

Sorry, folks, I just discovered there was a glitch that delayed our start time (although I started publishing at 11:03 a.m.)

When diners are finished eating, the silverware should be laying diagonally with the handles placed in lower right of your plate to signal your server to remove the plateware. Over the years, I have noticed people signaling just the opposite with the silver crossed over one another. This will earn you an extra couple minutes with your finished meal, which defeats the whole purpose. Just a tip from a local server ...help me to help you :)

Thanks for writing in and clarifying for those who don't know.

Hi Tom, A couple weeks back I was looking for your word on Fiola for pre-theater in Penn Quarter. We went. We loved it! Great price for three course menu, great meal, bustling happy hour scene and we will definitely be back but, got anything else NEW in the area for pre-theater?

Newer than Fiola's? This weekend, I'm writing about the pre-theater bargain at the nearby 701, where I've had occasion to sample the three-courser a couple times recently. For just under $30, the choices include duck on a puree of dates and raw Arctic char on shredded cabbage. Mmmm.

Ozzies i Fairfax has great meatballs. But you never know that from Tom.

Well now, via the chat, I'm happy to share your discovery with the crowd. (I like to think I get around, but I wasn't aware of the fabulousness of the orbs at Ozzie's, one of the area's Great American Restaurants.)

Tom, my experience has been that Yelp can be a decent tool, but only if 1) not used exclusively, and 2) you weed through the data. I usually consult Yelp after I've read one or two "professional reviews". I also tend to disregard vague, non-specific posts that are either 1) overly harsh or 2) uncritically glowing (far too many reviews feel like a vindictive swipe at a place after one bad night). What I'm looking for are trends and patterns across the Yelp and pro reviews that will help me form a composite picture of what the place is like and whether it's worth the fuss to spend my time and money there. Of course, even after all this reviews can be all over the place, so there's no substitute for being advernturous and trying a place out. But I think Yelp is fine to use as you're aware of its pitfalls.

Agreed. I wouldn't discount the sevice completely or trust it totally.  I hear from too many restaurateurs about Yelpers coming in minutes after a new place has opened, or announcing themselves before or after a meal, or threatening restaurants when things don't go their way.  Yelp is an imperfect tool.

Tom - I asked the question about Paris earlier today. Since you haven't answered it yet and it's getting late, can you either answer it!!! ;-) or post a link to your Paris Postcard. I can't find it. In fact, when I look at your Postcards, I only see 4 or 5. It's probably operator error, but it should be easier to see them all. THanks!

Any updates on Paris, gang? I need to get back there and write a fresh Postcard column.

Tough crowd today, especially for the jet-lagged! Hope you had some magnificent food in SA, and that your critics learn how to type and spell real soon!

I DID have some good food in Peru, and I look forward to sharing some suggestions from there in a future Travel section article.

 

Sorry for the (site-wide) tecchnical problems this morning. I'll stay longer to address more questions.

Tom, I'm writing quickly before you log out. This is Hilda Staples. RJ will only be out for one week. We are closed Jan 1-6 and that is the week he is having his surgery. And the following week he will be recovering. Thanks. All the best.

Thanks for chiming in, Hilda. Much obliged.

I was having lunch with a friend at Oyamel and we were engaged in conversation. Someone came and cleared some of our plates, and I didn't realize that he'd taken one of mine until he was gone. I told the waiter and he had a new dish made for me, so I have no complaints about the way it was handled after the fact. But, really, ASK before you take a dish away! Ask before you even start reaching for it. I hate having to guard my plate as someone is reaching for it. I realize we were talking and perhaps he couldn't get our attention, and that would be my fault, but the solution is not to take without asking.

Plate-grabbing has become a real problem, judging from my reader email. Oyamel responded well to the mistake, I think. 

Tom, you have no idea how often I hear my girlfriend say that.

Ha!

It's a bit of a haul but the meatballs at Bond 45 aren't to be missed!

Agreed!

Man...lots of grouchy this morning. People need to chill out. How was the guinea pig?

The guineau pig I had in Peru was done Asian-style, at a restaurant called Chicha in Cuzco.  The meat was served in crisp-skinned strips, with a bright slaw and blue corn crepes for bundling.

Carmine's has great (and enormous) meatballs.

Yep. I think one could serve two!

What is the email address of the Ombudsman? The unreliability of the WaPo site has gone waaaaay beyond just being annoying.

I need to completely agree - particularly at small plate restaurants! Often the garnishes and sauces are what make those small dishes so great, yet I often feel like I need to protect the plates with my life.

One man's trash is another man's dab of sauce or speck of meat he's leaving to savor last.

I last visited in 2010 (twice), and found that your previous recommendations -- Drouant and Les Fines Gueules, in particular -- continue to excel. Also, for a cozy, friendly little wine bar (with fantastic cheese and/or charcuterie plates), I like Taverne Henri IV, across from the statute of Henri IV on the Pont Neuf.

Tres bon. Good to know those standards are still worthy.

I thought your take on the new Meatballs place was really interesting - a few of my friends had similar experiences to yours, and in particular had a lot of complaints about the lackluster bread used for the grinders and just "okay" meatballs. In the end, when I checked it out for myself, I had a pleasant-enough experiences - the "regular" meatballs I had on my grinder were flavorful, moist, and cooked-through just fine, even if they weren't as good as my grandmother's homemade ones. However, my husband and I asked ourselves as we were leaving if we would come back, say for a quick bite before a Caps game - and the answer was no. We would go to Merzi or Nandos over Meatballs any day of the week because the food we have had there isn't just "okay."

Curious, isn't it? Here you have two well-known restaurateurs -- Mark Bucher and Michel Richard -- doing something that could be really interesting, but doing it poorly.  Everything I tasted smacked of having been made elsewhere, then trucked in. 

Why do people feel like they own you or the other chat hosts? We don't pay for the privilege of chatting with you or your colleagues, and as somone who has read/participated in these chats since their inception, I appreciate the service, but don't think I'm entitled to it. The chats have kept me loyal to reading the Post online, even now that I live across the country.

Whew! Rough landing back here in the office today!

Again, I apologize for the tech glitches, but I have no control over those. In an hour or so, I'll be adding a fresh introduction -- a short Q & A with chef Logan Cox -- to the top of the chat.

 

Thanks for your patience, everyone. I'll be back again next Wednesday.  Meanwhile, here's an early look at my Sunday column, a grab bag of little indulgences for the holiday season.

 

In This Chat
Tom Sietsema
Weaned on a beige buffet a la "Fargo" in Minnesota, Tom Sietsema is the food critic for The Washington Post. In thinner days, he was a critic for Microsoft Corp.'s sidewalk.com and the Seattle Post-Intelligencer; and a food reporter for the San Francisco Chronicle.

This is his second tour of duty at the Post. Sietsema got his first taste in the '80s, when he was hired by his predecessor to answer phones, write some, and test the bulk of the Food section's recipes. That's how he learned to clean squid, bake colonial cakes and distinguish between nutmeg and mace.

He covers the local scene in his Dining, First Bite and Dish columns; keeps tabs on the world at large in his Postcard From Tom column and moderates the Sietsema's Table discussion group. His new video series, Tom Sietsema's TV Dinners, pulls back the curtain on a critic's life -- in and out of the dining room.
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