New Year's Eve dining in D.C. -- Tom Sietsema's picks

Dec 28, 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.

GOING ROGUE (AGAIN): With a little help from his friends, RJ Cooper says Rogue 24 will be in good hands during the chef’s convalescence from open-heart surgery next month. For each of the 10 weeks Cooper expects to be away from his experimental open kitchen beginning Jan. 10, a different headliner has been secured to orchestrate a 24-course dinner for $185.

 

Cooper is calling the star turns “Rogue Sessions.” The visiting chefs are expected to combine their styles with his.

 

Among the Washington-area participants are Jose Andres, winner of the 2011 Beard foundation award for Outstanding Chef;  Scott Drewno of The Source; Katsuya Fukushima, chef of the soon-to-open ramen restaurant Daikaya in Chinatown; and Bryan Voltaggio of Volt in Frederick -– the first chef to volunteer his assistance when Cooper learned he needed to take a leave and the first scheduled to substitute at Rogue 24.

 

Cooper also lined up colleagues from around the country.  They include John Currence, the 2009 recipient of the Best Chef of the South award from the James Beard Foundation; Nancy Oakes, the chef-owner of Boulevard in San Francisco whom Cooper calls “my favorite woman chef of all time;” David Posey, chef of the acclaimed Blackbird in Chicago; Tim Byres, the chef-owner of Smoke in Dallas; and Spike Gjerde of Woodberry Kitchen, one of Baltimore’s most forward-thinking restaurants.

 

Chefs will be announced, and seats will be sold, one week in advance of the substitutes' appearances by Gilt City. A portion of each ticket will benefit one of Cooper's long-time interests, Share Our Strength

 

Tickets for the Voltaggio performance go on sale Jan. 2 for the week of Jan. 10-14. Reservations can be made through CityEats.

 

Cooper’s final dinner at Rogue 24 will be a single seating at New Year’s Eve followed by cocktails and canapés from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m.

 

“This is a win-win situation,” says Cooper, who will be represented by his sous chefs, Ryan Moore and Mikey Maksimowicz, during his off time. The occasion “gives the cooks here a 10-week stage (internship) with great chefs from around the country.”


 

Good morning, gang.  It's great to be back in the saddle and chatting with you today.  Share away!

Going to have NYE at home. We usually do an app with caviar (e.g. top smoked salmon with creme fraiche & scallion with the eggs) and an entree - usually a roast. Can you suggest one or two of your favorite NYE apps & entrees for the home cook?

Your evening already sounds like a hit. 

 

Like you, I'm featuring smoked fish (from the stellar Browne Trading Company in Portland, Maine): cold-smoked sable and citrus and basil smoked Atlantic salmon, plus some domestic caviar from Tennessee. 

 

I want this to be a relatively light, no-fuss celebration, so I'm starting with a consomme and Caesar salad. The fish will be served with some sliced dark breads and I'm thinking of  making blini for the roe.  I love ginger, so there will be a ginger cake for dessert, although I'm not yet sure whose recipe I'll be using.

 

My fall-back hors d'oeuvre recipe involves Belgian endive. You can create "boats' out of  the individual  spears by brushing them with olive oil and filling the hollow with mandarin orange segments, some slivered almonds and crumbled white cheese (I like feta or blue).  The appetizer is a snap to put together and doesn't require anything more than maybe a napkin to serve, since the spears double as scoops.  They look great when you serve them on a platter in a sunburst arrangement.

 

One holiday behind us, a second celebration ahead. How are you ringing in 2012? I want to hear. 

Just a little vent, Tom. To all you restauranteurs out there who read this chat. Train your staff to respond to email! If you have an email acocunt linked to your restaurant site, it is no different than answering the phone. Sigh.

Good analogy, the phone and the email account. Let's hope this inspires some offenders to get some of their mail answered today.

Last week, I joined a friend for lunch at a small local restaurant, Vaso's Kitchen. I ordered a Greek salad which I was enjoying until I bit down (hard) on what I thought was only lettuce. It was a broken piece of china plate about 3/4" long. I showed the server who went into the kitchen with it. After a few minutes, she returned, offered her apologies, and said there would be no charge for the $10 salad. The server said she (referring to the owner or manager) had found the salad bowl off of which the chip had come and had "yelled" at someone about it. I tried to tell her why I was upset: this had happened to me at an Indian restaurant with a small pebble in the lentils which led to hundreds of dollars for a cracked tooth and a cap. The server just kept telling me the first message: free salad and worker getting yelled at. It is a local restaurant ,and I believe the owner/manager should have come out to apologize. What should I have expected?

The supervisor at Vaso's Kitchen missed an opportunity to excercise more diplomacy in this situation. 

 

I agree that the salad should have been gratis and the problem should have been investigated (although yelling at someone is probably not the best solution).  The manager should have followed up with you, however. An apology at the table could have taken less than a minute -- and retained a fan or two.

Dear Tom, just made reservations at Corduroy and decided to see what their menu is going to be for that evening. Surprise! Thanksgiving is still up! Where do these guys think people get their information? Why don't they update their websites? Thanks for a year of great work, hope your 2012 is full of many wonderful things!

Not only is the restaurant's Thanksgiving menu still featured, the "about" section of  Corduroy's online site lists the dates it will be closed -- for summer vacation. 

 

As I've noted in the past, if a business wants to be taken seriously by consumers,  it has to keep its online information up to date.  Someone from Corduroy should be delegated to refresh the "news." 

Tom, can you throw my request for Orlando recommendations out to your chatters again, please? You posted it last week just before the technical meltdown. Thanks much.

Maybe the second time will be the charm. Anyone know the Orlando restaurant scene? 

Tom, I am going to try to be brave and dine out solo on NYE. Any recommendations where I could do this and not feel too awkward? I was thinking a nice, cozy hotel bar might be best. Thank you!

Good for you! I see there are still some (early) open tables at Bibiana, Fiola, Kushi, Mandu, Perry's and Vidalia --- all of which happen to count diverting bars.  The trick, I think, is to dine before prime time (7:30  on) so you can actually claim one of  the stools.

Dear Tom, My favorite place for good solid, unpretentious, reasonably-priced Italian for over 40 years was A-V's (NY Ave. and 6th). It was heartbreaking when they closed in 2007. Any suggestions for a replacement that is convenient from Alexandria?

I haven't dined there in ages, but I hear good things about A la Lucia on Madison St. in Alexandria.  On the menu: minestrone, spaghetti with meat sauce, chicken marsala -- just what it sounds like you're after.

Hi Tom, I have a big birthday coming up, and my parents have generously offered to take me out for a nice meal to celebrate. I'm coming to you because I need help deciding where to go! I have it narrowed down to a few restaurants: Blue Duck Tavern, The Source, The Oval Room, Cashons Eat Place. Could I go wrong at any of them? All of us are generally healthy eaters, and I personally eat fish but no red meat/poultry. I've never been to any of those restaurants so I could definitely use your guidance in making my decision. And of course, if there's another place I should consider, I'm open to that as well. Thank you so much!

Nice list you have!

 

I'd hold off on Blue Duck Tavern at the moment, only to give its new chef time to settle in.  The Source has an elegant Asian bent, so if you like that sort of cooking, go there.  The Oval Room's Tony Conte is one of the city's most interesting chefs, and the restaurant's proximity to the White House makes for a fun after-dinner stroll.  Cashion's Eat Place is somewhat more relaxed in comparison, with a terrific and eclectic American menu.

 

Hmmm. Did that make your decision easier or more difficult?

At our favorite Spanish tapas restaurant on 14th Street, they have decided to use the same glasses for inexpensive bottles of white wine, e.g. a $50 bottle of garnacha blanca, and water. This results in serious confusion both for diners and the staff. On a busy night, an attentive staff member filling water glasses usually does his best to check for the difference between a glass of yellow-tinted wine and (mostly clear ;) DC tap. But (understandably), they can't always get it right and in the middle of a pleasant dinner , the diner can't always keep track. So, on at least two occasions we've ended up with white wine/H2O blends. Is this a common trend now for inexpensive bottles? Are they just trying to save a buck and not buy/use a different style of glass?

I bet you're not the only white wine drinkers to have this happen to you. Have you suggested (to management) that the restaurant really owes its imbibers something different than water glasses for vino?  A lot of places are using tumblers for grape juice these days, and I don't usually have a problem with that. But you raise a good point.

Tom, I need a hole in the wall for dinner with my partner tonight. Silver Spring, downtown or up Rt 29, since we're looking at the Woodmoor lights. Thanks.

What about the Quarry House Tavern, Jackie Greenbaum' s divey underground burgers 'n' beer joint  in Silver Spring?

I am cursed with also being born on December 31st. My friends and I (30-somethings) are trying to find somewhere fun, delicious but not super expensive to go eat and hang out for the evening. We're not really into the whole black tie thing either- where should we go?

Poor you! No fair! 

 

I'd be inclined to take my posse to any of the following this Saturday: Ardeo + Bardeo in Cleveland Park, Bayou on Penn in Foggy Bottom, Jaleo in Penn Quarter, Masala Art in Tenleytown, Sushi Taro in Dupont Circle or Westend Bistro in the West End.  (A half hour ago, all of the above still had some openings, although I'm not sure how big your group is.)

 

Hi, Tom. My birthday is Friday, and my husband is taking me to Et Voila (by my request). Anything we shouldn't miss while we are there? Thanks!

It's hard to go wrong with anything at Et Voila!, but pay close attention to the specials. One of the best in recent memory was rabbit served on chard and pasta, splashed with a not-too-sweet raspberry sauce.

Tom, my friend and I have dinner somewhere special in January in lieu of Christmas gifts. We've gone to Eve's tasting room, CityZen and Adour in the past. This year, I'm thinking America Eats Tavern, but what would you suggest? $125 a person is the absolute upper limit. Thank you!

America Eats Tavern won't be operating forever, so you might want to take that into consideration when choosing a spot. But I'd add to your list Rasika, the cafe at Palena and the soon-to-be-reviewed Little Serow, an experience that will likely find you with some change in your pocket(s) afterwards.

I have relatives arriving tomorrow from Argentina who have never been to the states. Please help with two recommendations, first, a place in dc that is around $40 per person with a great DC feel. I'm also taking them to NYC on the 2 nd and we are staying in times square....where should I take them to dinner? Thanks, and Happy New Year!

Americans love their barbecue.  One of my favorite sources at the moment is Hill Country in Penn Quarter. It's crazy-noisy, but I dig the smoky meats there, the pork products in particular, and the sides are worthy companions to the centerpiece.  You can work off some of the indulgence afterwards with a stroll over to the nearby Mall. A two-fer!

 

As for New York, ABC Kitchen is fun in a good-for-you sort of way, Pearl Oyster Bar gives you a sense of New England in every lobster roll and ... what about pizza at John's, Patsy's or Totonno's, whose Coney Island branch is said to be the best of its three locations?

After your review of Pearl Dive Oyster Bar, I looked forward to my dinner there last night. Unfortunately, I was totally underwhelmed. The mushroom soup would have been very good if it had had any seasoning in it at all. The crab cakes were mushy and seemed more filler than crab. And the fried chicken, which both you and other critics raved about was just terrible. The skin was crunchy but not crispy and the meat was dry. I had much better chicken at Founders and Farmers last week. The apple tart for two was great and easily served three of us. But on the whole, I won't go back, even though Pearl Dive is just around the corner from my house. Could the hype have overwhelmed the food already?

I'd chalk up your experience to an off night. I've been there four or five times now and, aside from the desserts,  have left Pearl Dive Oyster Palace really pleased.

Hi Tom, Not sure if this is what the other chatter seeking Italian is after, but my favorite low-key but nice Italian place is Tagolio on 23rd St in Arlington (the closer to Pentagon City side, not Crystal City proper). Great pizza, awesome pasta, and their panzanella is beyond amazing. The owners and all the staff are lovely people. It's a neighborhood place for me, and a place that functions for both casual dinners out as well as a nice place to take the parents and out of town friends. Happy New Year - thanks for all your great work and here's to good eating in 2012!

I'm not familiar with the place. Thanks for the suggestion and the kind words.

Rather than give specific recommendations, I suggest taking a look at Scott Joseph's restaurant guide. He is a respected local food writer and critic. Here's the link: http://www.scottjosephorlando.com/ Also, www.DonRockwell.com has a section on Orlando in his "Intrepid Traveler" section.

Two good recommendations. (Scott Joseph beat me out for the restaurant critic job at the Orlando Sentinel back in the mid-80s, when I was an editorial aide for the WP Food section.)

Hi Tom, Having recently returned from a honeymoon at an all-inclusive resort, I was wondering if you'd ever stayed at one and if so, what did you think of the food? Expanding that into travel abroad in general, how do you choose restaurants in different countries? Thank you and love the chats!

I'm not a fan of all-inclusive resorts when the package extends to eating on location. I'm too curious about the local restaurant scene to stay on property. The only time I've done an all-inclusive was on a long-ago trip to Saint Lucia, possibly one of the most boring trips I've ever taken. (The resort food was fancy, undistinguished Continental stuff.)

 

I try to do as much homework as possible before I venture on one of my Postcard from Tom trips. While I graze for ideas online and through books, some of my best meals have been the suggestions of locals after I've touched down. Cooking schools are reliable tipsters. So are chefs of restaurants you admire. As are sommeliers and wine shop owners. It just depends.

 

Chatters, who do you rely on for restaurant advice away from home?

Is it just me or does a 24 course dinner seem a bit extreme? The price isn't my concern, but I have seen complaints here about too many courses for these dinners and none of those was this extensive. I realize each course will only be a bite or two, but does anyone wonder why there is an obesity epidemic in this country?

I was concerned about too much food before I visited Rogue 24, too, but I left satisfied rather than stuffed.  Each course is no more than a few bites, as you point out.  Keep in mind there are a lot of entrees out there in the plus-plus-size. 

I find the reviews to be, for the most part, spot on. I used them for Boston and Charleston this year and had some great meals!

Thanks for sharing.

My husband, high-school-age son, and I are coming to Washington for the weekend. My son's really interested in history--can you recommend any restaurants that offer historical significance or interest, as well as good food?

Run, do not walk, to the aforementioned America Eats Tavern, a delicious ode to American culinary history. The restaurant is not old; some of the dishes served are antiques dating back to the Colonial era.

Don't forget Luigi's in DuPont. In Old Town, I also don't turn my nose up at Il Porto if I'm craving old school hearty Italian - it's not 5 star dining but it does the trick.

Luigi's is good and basic (but not as convenient for the Virginia chatter).

My husband and I frequent WDW about 4 or 5 times a year. Our favorite fancy places to eat on property are the California Grill on top of the Contemporary Hotel and Jiko's, an all S. African restaurant and wine list. Reservations may be difficult if they are leaving soon, but if you show up when the restaurants open at 5:30 pm you can often get seated or eat at the bar in Jiko's.

Just before we sign off! Thanks, chatter.

Hi Tom, I need your help! I want to get my parents a gift card to one of their favorite restaurants, but the menu is a little pricey. Is it frowned upon to give a gift card for less than the full price of the meal?

Absolutely not. I'm sure your parents would appreciate a discounted meal at their favorite spot.  If you want to enclose a card, it could read something like this: "Happy (insert occasion here)! Here's hoping this token of my affection leads to a memorable bottle of wine and dessert."  Or something similar.

I'm having a small group over - 10-12 folks. We're having cocktail party food. That is, enough appetizers to be dinner. So, what fun appetizers do you recommend? Doesn't have to be easy - we like to cook and have time.

I love risotto served in small amounts. Try any that are featured in Marcella Hazan's cookbooks. They're messy, but chicken drumsticks in an Asian glaze are fun, too. Soup is great, because you can serve it in shot glasses or demi-tasses. Mushroom soup with some strong herbs sounds good about now.

 

Alas, it's noon. Gotta dash. Here's wishing all of you a four-star New Year's Eve. I'm grateful for you all.

 

See you next year (Jan. 4).

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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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