Tom, if I were ever to be so lucky to try a restaurant with you (hint, hint), what would you ask that I bring to the experience? Should I plan on eating the entire menu; focusing on one course or one set of details about the restaurant service or ambiance; throwing curve balls at the waitstaff as a test? I'm here! I'm ready!
The best thing a dining companion can bring to the review experience is an open mind and some good stories. Because you will eat what I tell you to try and I don't really want to talk about the food. Also -- this sounds arrogant, but I don't mean it to be -- I'm not that interested in what you think of the cooking. That's the critic's job.
Everyone ready for the big storm tonight? I told my S.O. we'd have to do some grocery shopping today, because there's not much in the freezer except some cookies our awesome neighbors brought over around Christmas, a brunch casserole my Mom made over the holidays, a quart of chicken broth and (let's see here) a bag of shredded Brussels sprouts left over from a long-ago dinner party.
What's everyone's strategy for tonight and the next day or so? Do tell. And good morning.
My partner and I are trying to avoid the Valentine's Day craze but want to find a nice restaurant near capitol hill for to celebrate on Wednesday or Thursday. I don't want to make a reservation and wanted something fun and new where we could walk in and not have to wait too long. Any recommendations?
While I'm guessing that a lot of lovebirds might be thinking along your lines -- but wisely making reservations -- you should definitely consider the relatively new Bearnaise, which I'm reviewing in the Magazine this Sunday: Engaging service, casual bistro setting, terrific Vietnamese-style steamed mussels and duck confit in addition to very good steak frites.
How come The Prime Rib didn't make the top 100 this year?
Hi Tom--love the chats! Have you gotten any response from Iron Gate re: your tweet this past weekend about the frigid temperatures in the dining room? I've seen similar comments on Yelp, that I would normally disregard because of the source, but the complaints are given credibility by your dining companionâs recent experience. I'm usually cool in a restaurant, and layer accordingly, but if a coat/blanket is the norm at Iron Gate I'm in trouble. The fact that the servers use the age of the building as an excuse, and offer blankets as the solution to the problem, seems both passive and short-sighted. And the regularity of that response leads one to believe that it comes directly from management and they aren't doing more to correct the issue. I have reservations there in a few weeks and the way this winter is going, I'm thinking I should wait for warmer temps. Any further illumination on this issue?
For a response to your post, I reached out to Tony Chittum, the chef/partner at Iron Gate. Here's his missive:
"Thanks for giving us the opportunity to respond directly to this concern. It's our first winter in the building, and while our modernization of the heat and air conditioning system and the dining room's large fireplace are doing their best, there have been times when the dining room is not as warm as it should be. On those nights, we have offered wool lap blankets to our guests for their comfort, but we certainly are not resigned to the condition. We've made a number of fixes since opening, and more are in the works now that should resolve this issue once and for all.
In the episode you mentioned in your tweet, it sounds like the server may have made light of the cold or suggested that the age of the building is to blame; those comments don't reflect our commitment to the comfort of our guests, and for that we offer our sincere apologies."
While we're on the subject of gripes, I thought I'd pass along an email from the co-owner of The Passenger, Tom Brown, in response to a poster from last week who complained about the bar's aroma.
"We’re sorry to hear that someone thought the place smelled. Honestly, we just don’t smell it. There’s the smell of booze, bitters, people, peeled citrus and an old-wood bar. Those can be distinct, but I doubt that’s what the poster was commenting on. We’re not calling them a liar. Maybe it was that particular night. Maybe it was a group of guests who let hygiene come second to great drinks. Maybe we just got used to it. Unfortunately, there’s nothing else I can think of. We clean daily, change our mop heads, sweep behind the fridges and throw out the trash every night--the prime culprits of stench.
If you don't mind posting this, hopefully they'll email us and I can arrange a time for them to stop by and help us figure it out. For their help, I’ll happily share a glass of something nice. We love our regulars and don’t want someone who likes coming to see us to be deterred."
Hi! We're going to an event at the Mayflower on Saturday night, and would like to get something to eat beforehand. Because we have the babysitter for a limited time, we'd like get something nearby. I'm thinking something between the Shake Shack and Rogue 24 (I recognize that's kind of wide range) - maybe in the range of $100 for the two of us? Is the restaurant at the Mayflower any good? Thanks!
Tom, I will be in Ft. Lauderdale next week. Wondering if you have any restaurant recommendations there or in the surrounding area. Thanks.
Lucky you! I've never been. Maybe a chatter can help out with dining ideas.
I understand this is not necessarily in your purview but where can I find the spiciest dish in the district? Something only a true hot head would enjoy.
Why wouldn't the hottest dish be something I'd be interested in? I count myself a fire-eater. Probably the most searing dining experience I've had involves some of the northern Thai cooking at Little Serow in Dupont Circle. One dish that stands out in my memory sounds demure --- nuggets of fried rice with peanuts and mint -- but turned out to be pure dynamite because of dried chilies in the mix.
What I appreciate about the food there is how balanced it all is; yes, there's serious heat in some of the dishes, but it's balanced with sour and other notes that make it more compelling.
My wife purchased the last gallon of milk for our 1 year old last night. The stores may not have much left on the shelves today.
Uh oh. I better ask for a doggie bag tonight.
Today's Baltimore Sun dining column mentions that some restaurants are now offering Valentine's Day specials for several days in a row. I'm not sure what to think of this. It's great that they want to spread out the craziness of the 14th, but does that mean overcrowding and a perhaps not-so-good prix-fixe menu gets spread out, too? Anyway, I think I'll try one of the places mentioned on the 13th or the 15th.
I love the idea. Chefs tend to do something special for the occasion, and not every diner can, or wants to, be in a restaurant on Valentine's Day.
Hi Tom, I am truly sorry to bother you with this, but I was hoping I might enlist your aid. I saw where a guest had a less than satisfactory experience here at Le Diplomate. I was wondering if it would be possible for you to either share her contact information so I might reach out to her directly to offer an apology and see if we could make things right or alternatively share my email with her so she could contact me at her leisure. We want everyone to have a great experience but when we are aware that one of our guest doesnât I feel it is important to follow up and do what we can to rectify the situation as soon as possible. Your assistance would be greatly appreciated! Best regards, William Washington | General Manager firstname.lastname@example.org STARR RESTAURANTS 1601 14th Street NW, Washington D.C. 20009 starr-restaurant.com
Here you go, sir. Let's hope the dissatisfied diner sees this and reaches out to you.
Hey Tom, I missed submitting this for last week, but I wanted to chime in on the way female patrons are treated at restaurants. I recently ate at a very well regraded and expensive restaurant in DC with my boyfriend. I was paying for the meal so I took the check and handed it back to the waiter. I gave him my credit card which has my name on it (which is very obviously a woman's name) AND it has my picture. But regardless, he brought the check back to my boyfriend with a "Thank you so much, Sir." It's such a small thing, but a very infuriating assumption when I just dropped $250+ on a meal at their restaurant!
Ouch. Talk about not paying attention to details, huh?
Where should I be buying bread? Last week you chatted about pastry, but I'm looking for good artisanal bread. I mean I can't go everyday, but for my days off, I like to have something good around, you know, to go with my wine.
Weeks like this, restaurants really need a website and social media. With the expected weather, some places will close early, open late, etc. and customers will want to know what is open before heading out. It is a perfect time for a restaurant to post an updated message telling people if they are open or closed.
Yes, yes, yes.
Really loved the goat course that is part of the Komi experience. What other DC area restaurants have roasted / braised goat on their menus ?
My daughter is celebrating her 16th birthday on February 14. She would like to take a group of friends out to lunch that day (no school) for a fun, metro-accessible meal where they can feel special but not break the bank. Any ideas?
Provided the expected snow doesn't get in the way of your daughter's big day this week, she and her friends should aim for the airy Zaytinya for Mediterranean small plates in Penn Quarter, the cozy Firefly in Dupont Circle or Daikaya for Japanese tavern fare across from the Verizon Center.
Thaw and heat the casserole, braise the brussels sprouts with just a bit of the stock, and cookies for dessert. What's the problem?
There you go!
Tom, I've got about 18 relatives coming to town in late April for our baby's Christening. It will take place on a Saturday night, and be over around 6:30. Ideally I'd like a location near Union Station that won't break the bank. There will be 6 kids under the age of 11 in our group of 20, so we'd be looking for American cuisine or possibly Italian. Any suggestions?
Slim pickings for what you want near Union Station, I'm afraid. There's Toscana Cafe, but I can't vouch for it, since I haven't been in several years.
If you're going grocery shopping today, you should clear your schedule for the rest of the day and go now. I made the mistake of dropping by a store last night for some extra milk -- I ran out during Snowmageddon because, while housebound, I drank copious amounts of hot chocolate and coffee -- and the lines were already epic. (And that was at Whole Foods, where you go to stock up on produce and wine, not a big box store for TP, batteries, and bottled water.)
Mom's brunch casserole is looking like the better strategy today ...
I am a female patron. When something like that happens to me, I take it up with the manager. If the OP is still around, would she mind sharing whether she spoke to the manager about her waiter's sexist assumption that the man was paying for the expensive meal?
Original Poster, are you with us?
Does a food critic have to be able/willing to eat anything? For instance, even though I love trying new foods, I can't eat deep-fried items (I become physically ill), and I absolutely despise blue cheese. I tried to accustom myself to it, but it just hasn't worked... it tastes like evil to me. Would that disqualify me on the basis that I couldn't try everything on a menu? Likewise, would a person who can't handle very spicy foods, or who has a food allergy not be qualified?
Not liking one ingredient probably wouldn't stall a critic's career -- well, unless he hated chocolate or kale, right? -- as long as the reviewer was upfront about the reality. As in "full disclosure: I'm not the best judge of X, because I don't care for it." We all have things that don't grab us, after all. But a critic should have an open mind and be open to trying everything that is safe and ethical. (Ii think I just opened a can of worms with the word "ethical.")
Our wedding anniversary is Sunday. We won't go out -- too close to the Valentine's Day crush. We're thinking of doing a surf-and-turf, maybe a 3-bone rib roast on the grill with a lobster tail kicker. Grilled asparagus rafts (after all, the grill is already fired up). Risotto for the starch? Or scalloped potatoes with half-and-half rather than milk? Probably a tart lime pie (homemade of course) for dessert. We'll start with a bottle of prosecco and then move on to a nice CA Old Vines Zin.
Do you have room for a third?
Next time take him to task, so he'll learn. Tom can help but it won't do that waiter any good. The person who hands you the check is the person you return it to; how stupid is this waiter?
I would have brought the matter to the attention of the waiter in a light-hearted way ("Hey, what makes you think the guy is treating?") and said something to a manager on the way out as well (again, in a diplomatic manner). Honey beats vinegar!
I am extremely hard-of-hearing, but not completely deaf. So when waiters speed through the recitation of the specials, especially at a noisy place I'm lucky to get even the general idea of what they are talking about. Sometimes I will ask them to slow down, sometimes will ask them to repeat a specific thing. Is it ever ok to ask for a written list if the specials? I'm sure I'm missing a lot of good things because I so often just give up and order from the menu if I can't understand what the waiter is saying.
You should feel free to ask for a printed list, although not all restaurants commit their specials to paper, especially if there are only a few dishes. Otherwise, you might consider declaring your poor hearing from the start and request that the server speak slowly or clearly or both.
I sympathize with you. My hearing is great, but too many servers race through menu descriptions as if the delivery were an Olympic competition and speed was paramount.
Tom- I went with a group of 10 last week to Alba Osteria. I wanted to echo the comments made last week by one of your commenters. Food was miserable, service was worse. We got the tripe soup which was over salted and barely had any of my favorite offal. The pig foot dish consisted of two fish stick sized protein bars and an overwhelming amount of pickled onions. Meatballs were fine but polenta on another dish were congealed and felt old. Drinks ordered at the same time were delivered throughout the meal. Food runners didn't know where to place dishes and bussers picked up half-eaten dishes without asking. Efforts by the waiter to apologize and replace dishes came in the form of half-cooked, lukewarm dishes from the kitchen. I urge you to take another look, maybe this time with a better disguise.
My wife often picks up the check when we're out. Most of the time, the server is with it enough to notice the name on the card (our names are pretty obviously male and female). On the occasions when her card is handed back to me, my wife makes a point of handing the paid tab to the server herself. With but one exception, the server has apologized for the error. We're generally not high-end eaters (Nava Thai is about as upper crust as we get), so maybe the snoot factor is reduced. But our experience is that servers tend to be aware of these things. For those that are careless, a gentle reminder seems to do the trick.
Better to have a dinner with friends as I plan to do with my other half. The other guests are all single but on a day such as that they won't eat better.
What a great idea: a group date with solo acts. Everyone wins.
Order a pizza tonight!
Papa Johns delivers to my 'hood ....
It's also what stymies women from being taken seriously and indulges the notion that she should be apologizing. The waiter is very much at fault. Of course the waiter might have to learn the hard way anyway, when his tip reflects his sexism.
Tom, I've lived in DC for 8 years but am originally from the SF bay area. My brother has been living in SF for the past 10 years and he approved all the restaurants on your list. Thanks for sharing!
Hi Tom - regular reader, first time contributor, and appreciate what you do. I went to Rose's Luxury about a month ago for a friend's birthday party. As many have pointed out, the staff there is top notch. Always there when you needed them and extraordinarily professional given the boisterous birthday crew. The food, however, underwhelmed. Big time. We basically ordered everything on the menu, and, while there were some hits to be sure, there were also plenty of misses. Several of the dishes were deluged in butter (especially the now discontinued lobster popcorn dish and the carbonara) and this is coming from someone who is, ahem, well aquainted with calories. There should be no butter in a carbonara. Not a single piece of pasta was al dente, the schnitzel was bland, the smoked brisket--while tender--lacked richness, and to top it all off we were served some aggregious strawberry-tomato pasta mistake. One of the worst dishes I've ever had! Sorry to be so harsh --I'll give it another try with the Mrs. in a couple of months when all the hubbub dies down--but I'm just tired of hyped up places that disappoint.
Tom, love the chats and I looked at one of your more recent post cards from New York City. Question to you or the chatters, can you recommend something Prix Fixe in the Theater District? Went to 21 Club last time and enjoyed it - but want something different (No Indian, No Thai)
I would have also said something directly to the waiter. Made a joke about it: Yo dude! I gave you the credit card, with my name and pic, and you STILL returned it to the guy? And then laughed at what a doofusy move, so to speak. As a former server, most of us would rather hear it from the customer directly than get called on the carpet by the manager.
I like your style. But i think it's important to share the situation with a supervisor, who can in turn share the lesson with the rest of the staff: Don't assume!
Are you kidding? Bletch. Come to my house; I'll make you homemade.
I'm just saying the chain delivers, not that I like it.
I try to order specials when I can because I figure it is a chance to try something new and something the chef may be focussing on. However, the wait staff make this difficult as they recite the list and descriptions very rapidly and almost never give a price. I have been burned when a special was more than double the average price of other entrees and did not have expensive seafood as it was just a lamb special.
Thanks for raising a good point: if a server doesn't mention the price of a special, a diner needs to ask. I was at a newish restaurant that features a Champagne cart the other week and was surprised not to see a card with prices accompanying the amenity.
After leaving a restaurant the other day, I realized I miscalculated and gave a tip to the bartender lower than what I should have given. Should I just tip double next time or take a different route?
Do you know the bar tender? Do you frequent the restaurant in question? If the amount was super-low, I might return with an envelope and a quick apology for the miscalculation. If it was a few dollars off, I'd throw some extra cash the server's way the next time I dropped by.
It seems that many of the hottest restaurants today are sacrificing adequate lighting above their tables for a dim, bar-scene ambiance. With professional lighting design, a restaurant can have a sexy vibe while also allowing patrons to see their dishes, which are prepared with great care and ingredients. Have you noticed this trend and how do you feel about it? Is it too much to ask to be able to see the menu and the food we are paying for?
I usually pickup the check when my husband and I dine out. (It's coming from the same account either way and I can calculate the tip more accurately.) The one waiter who joked about my husband being a "kept man" got a small tip and we never returned to that restaurant.
Well, of course. If the manager never finds out, what incentive do you have to change to a more respectful procedure?
Had this conversation last night when we decided not to brave the grocery store. Tofu marinated in garlic, green onions, tamari and mirin; brown rice; steamed greens and white kimchi. Probably stew some apples and pears for dessert.
I like the inside of your fridge!
Absolutely recommend Toloache for some pre-theater Mexican - hands down one of the best meals we had on our last trip and was probably the least fanciest place we tried. It gets packed so make sure you have a reservation, but it was worth dealing with the crowd.
What is the correct way for a restaurant to respond when a roach makes an unwanted appearance at dinner? Recently, my wife and I ate at Woodberry Kitchen on a busy Saturday night. A roach appeared alongside our table on the second floor metalwork that protects dinners from falling to first floot. The roach was about a foot away from my wife and moving towards her. I pointed out the roach to the waiter who used my napkin to kill the roach. The waiter then returned with a clean napkin and that was the last acknowldgement of the incident. I did not even recieve an apology from the waiter nor did he tell management because management did not apoloigize either. I didn't say anthing on the way out because it was too busy but I did write a calm e mail to the restuarant that night. It took them more than a week to respond and only after I posted a review describing the incident on Yelp. One of their managers called to say he was sorry and that Woodberry Kitchen likes to think of itself as caring very much about its dinners and he hoped we would come back. And that was the end of the call. What is your opinion on how Woodberry Kitchen handled this incident?
Let me ask you: What do you think the restaurant should have done, other than 1) "killing" the problem when it was flagged and 2) apologizing via phone call, even if the call might have been prompted by a critique on Yelp? Were you hoping for a gratis glass of wine, a comped meal? I think the former would have been a nice gesture, a good way to say "sorry about that at the time the roach sighting occured.
Just wanted to say that we had exceptional service at The Liberty Tree last night. The beer (Atlas cranberry saison) and the pizza (veggie in particular) were also good...but our server really made it great! Have you visited?
I would call the Dubliner. They are great with groups and have affordable and good food. Nothing special, but affordable and good. Art and Soul gets pricey and Toscana Grill has not impressed me the last couple times I have been there (great for happy hour, not so good for food)
Thanks for the suggestion.
It makes an ass out of you and me! But seriously, folks, I'll be subsisting on leftovers during the snowstorm and will skip dining out on Friday as my spouse and I enjoy a "cheesy" tradition of fondue at home for Valentine's Day. I'm here all week!
I pay 95 percent of the time when my husband and I are out (and we eat out very regularly) and have never encountered any of these issues. Maybe because I tend to take the lead in discussions with the waitstaff (I work in the industry, and am just generally more interested in food/extroverted than my husband)? Anyway, just a counterpoint that not every waiter out there is sexist.
Another good point.
How about Bistro Bis? The bread! The duck hash!
Too expensive, I think. And little kids probably won't like 3/4s of the menu.
If he was that upset he could just call the city health inspector and get over himself.
Maybe I'm not squeamish enough. Or maybe I've just seen a lot. While I'm not over-joyed to see a roach in a restaurant, it doesn't overly-bother me, either. (Waiters spritzing tables with window cleaner irks me more.)
I feel like the all-purpose "I beg your pardon?" a la Miss Manners would be especially useful in situations such as this...
Tom, Have you been to the relatively new Osteria Morini near Navy Yard yet? Anything you'd recommend?
Any thoughts on their clam pizza. I'm not close to either location but see they deliver to my neighborhood now and not inclined to bus/subway/cab it up to Columbia Heights. They do have a modest delivery charge, but that's not a problem. Just want to know if the clam pizza is worth the effort.
Husband went grocery shopping yesterday. We plan to cook a bunch (Tom Ka Gai soup on the snow day, knock on wood!, among other things), be lazy, and keep the fire going :)
That knock on your door? It's me!
I'm a flaming feminist, but I'd just consider that a momentary brain fart. Waiters can get pretty busy while they're working.
Submitted early, now hoping for some ideas....
Five minutes to go. Anyone?
Hi Tom - My husband and I are a very lucky DINK couple with a $400 budget for our restaurant meals each month (excluding our lunches and coffees that we get during the work week). How would you recommend allocating this across the month? One blowout each month? Four pre-theater menu meals with no wine? Or somewhere in between? We love all cuisines, and would love your take on how you'd maximize your happiness if you had to pay for your meals yourself. Thanks!
Why not mix it up? One month you can do a blow-out at say, Barmini or Roberto's 8 or Iron Gate, the next month you could focus on neighborhood gems such as Red Hen, Ripple or Izakaya Seki. I applaud your idea of taking advantage of pre-theater menus, by the way. Don't forget bar menus; a number of restaurants offer such (and I dig sitting at counters anyway).
Considering their importance, have you insured your taste buds? Do you do anything to keep your buds in tip top shape? brushing them? special rinses?
Never thought of insuring my tongue. But I brush my teeth a lot. I have an office drawer with a little dental supply kit (practically).
As an older, somewhat more affluent diner, I usually get very good service. However, I have watched other tables get less stellar service in many restaurants, from casual to very formal, and find that there are two types that it happens to; women and younger people. My son, who is now in his early 20s, notes that the service he experiences when he is dining with friends is often very different than that when he is dining with his mother and I. I never have to ask for a wine list, he usually does. My servers almost always make sure to ask if I want more bread, drinks, etc. He often has to try to get the server's attention. In watching other diners, I note that the same is often true when the couple/group are younger. They get shown to lesser tables, regardless of how busy the restaurant may be. The servers are often not as attentive. Of course there are restaurants where I have never seen this type of behavior, but it is telling that when my son and his friends experience wonderful service, he feels the need to comment about it to me because it is a rarity. I have talked to a lot of my son's friends, and some of my coworkers who are his age, and they all mention that they feel that they often get slighted in favor of "older and apparently more affluent" diners.
Lots of food for thought in your post. Let's discuss next week (along with any Maui suggestions that surface after I sign off today).
Bundle up, everyone, and be safe. Thanks for another lively discussion.
You must go to Hali'imaile General Store or any and all of of Bev Gannons restaurants in Maui. you will not be disappointed.
Can't say if it's still as great there but ate there on my honeymoon in 2001...Sansei Seafood Restaurant & Sushi Bar. The food was fabulous and the karaoke made it a blast!