Ask Tom: Rants, raves and questions on the DC dining scene

Jul 23, 2014

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.

Tom, my husband and I recently started counting our calories on MFP, and while it's great for stuff we make at home and chains that have to list nutritional value, we miss going to our favorite local joints. How do you manage your weight when you're eating out so often? Would it be really horrible of me to call Rustico and ask them estimate the calories on one of their pizzas?

I'm not sure that I AM managing my weight very successfully these days! But when I think I need to watch it, I decline any bread basket, stick to a single alcoholic drink, limit myself to two bites of dessert and send leftovers home with my dining companions. I think it helps that I share plates with the people I dine with, so I'm conscious of never finishing anything on my plate.

 

Chain restaurants are more likely than independents to offer calorie counts, but I think both you and I already know that the pizza at Rustico probably isn't diet fare (although it *could* be part of a smart diet if you could limit yourself to a slice or two and pick the pie with more vegetables than meat or cheese).

 

Chatters, I'd love to hear your tips for mindful eating away from home.

 

Good morning, everyone. Welcome to another hour of restaurant talk. Tell me what's on your mind today.

I often wonder if the management of a restaurant notices the problems. I find a lot of places are rundown in the restrooms. Duck tape might be OK for a quick fix, but proper maintenance is better. I don't expect things to look like they are as clean as a hospital, but I am often disappointed with how poor they look. It takes time for drips to cause damage and rust stains to appear. As both customers and staff likely use the same restrooms, these should be higher on the priority list. I realize that staff probably hates being assigned to clean the restrooms, but management shouldn't let problems slide for weeks or months.

You must be reading my mind. More than a few times of late, I've encountered restaurant restrooms with paper towels overflowing from trash cans, barely any soap in dispensers -- you name it.  Probably the easiest solution would be to assign a staff member to bathroom upkeep duty per shift.  Appearances matter!

So based on your first bit I am planning on going to Fainting Goat as a break from my normal restaurants in Dupont and 14th street, but I was wondering have you been back since? has the quality stayed the same? Thanks.

I can't say. Since my preview, Fainting Goat has acquired a new chef, Nathan Beauchamp, formerly of 1789 in Georgetown.  He just released a menu of his own design; I'm most eager to try the duck meatballs, uni toast and curried goat  (yep, there's still goat on the script). 

I am organizing an office reunion for about 20 people in late September. We'd like to visit Cleveland Park this time (or another neighborhood near a red line Metro stop). Would you have a recommendation for us? Many thanks! Always enjoy your reviews.

I'd start by calling the arty Ripple and Ardeo & Bardeo, which has a private party room on its second floor. In Woodley Park, your best bet is New Heights.

First-time poster, long-time stalker. What is the appropriate response from a restaurant when a customer falls and injures herself on their floor? This happened to me last week at Woodward Table. The hostess was leading me and my friend through the bar area, when I fell, hard, on my knees – papers and purse go flying. Never mind that none of the bar patrons at whose feet I am now sprawled expressed any token of compassion, just annoyance or amusement, but management is apparently not in the compassion business either. Our server did bring zip-loc bags of ice wrapped in cloth to tie around both legs, which was kind and helpful (knees are still swollen and badly bruised, BTW). The manager came over one time and only asked me “Did you see anything on the floor?” I replied no but told him the floor was really slick. He slunk away, and we never saw him again. Unfortunately, it went downhill from there. Service was inattentive – we had to refill our own wine and flag the waiter down for everything. He was very nice, just not around. I also had explained that I had an appointment and needed to leave at a certain time. One would think an hour and a half for one course would be plenty of time, but I ended up being late for my appointment after asking repeatedly for the bill and never getting it! My friend graciously agreed to wait and pay. No further mention was made of the accident (despite the fact that I sat in a dress with huge ice packs on my knees throughout dinner), and while I didn’t expect our meal to be comped, I would’ve expected great service at a minimum. Oh, and the food was underwhelming, so we didn’t even have that going for us. I know you always say to tell the manager your concerns, but he was part of the problem (and I was late and he was nowhere to be seen). It’s like the whole place screamed apathy – from the bar patrons (albeit not Woodward’s fault) to the food to the service to management response. I felt like I was only viewed as a potential liability suit (and for the record, I’m not). Tom, where’s the humanity? A little TLC would’ve gone a long way and could’ve turned this rant into a rave. I don’t think I could ever go back, which is too bad b/c I have frequent appointments in the area. Oh, and don’t get me started on the bizarre encounter with the valet whom I caught joyriding in my car.

To the credit of the waiter, you got an ice pack for your injury and to the credit of the manager, he inquired about your well-being. But you're right, it would have been thoughtful for him to check back at least one more time. And the supervisor should have filled your server in on your fall. 

 

If I'm reading your post correctly, a little TLC would have made a repeat customer out of you.

 

The slow service sounds like a separate issue. So does the valet attendant. As does the apathy of your fellow diners.

This Saturday, I'll be making a trip to Staunton, Virginia. I hope to have the opportunity to dine at The Shack. Since we'll be traveling over 2 hours to Staunton to a restaurant that doesn't take reservations, should we be concerned about getting a table at The Shack? Is it necessary to be there when the restaurant opens to score a table?

Chef-owner Ian Boden says your best bet for a table on the weekend is to show up 15 or 20 minutes before The Shack opens *or* go around 8:30 p.m. 

 

Good news: Since the tiny restaurant opened in January, Boden has added a patio, where he serves  beer and wine (but no food) to folks who might want to wait there.

In your chat last week you mentioned Tico and it was hyperlinked. Clicking that link takes you to a page that doesn't also link to your review. Why on earth would a summary page for a restaurant (it lists address, phone #, website, etc) on WP.com not also link to your review of it??

Here's your link to my preview of the new Mexican/Brazilian/Colombian/Spanish restaurant from Boston chef Michael Schlow.

Hi Tom, We had an unfortunate experience at Hank's Oyster Bar in Alexandria Saturday night. I sent the following note to the manager Sunday, but still no response. I guess the manager doesn't care that his restaurant's service is turning people away: -----Original Message----- From: xxxx To: cibrahim Sent: Sun, Jul 20, 2014 11:37 am Subject: Not a good experience at Hank's/Alexandria last night... Dear Mr. Ibrahim, I mentioned this to our waiter last night (who was excellent) but didn't see a manager about, so I thought I'd write you. We had our names on the book as "Christina;" we called around 5:45 and arrived around 6:15, and were seated pretty promptly at a nice table, the one behind the table in the open window. There were two women in our party; we were the ones with the service dog. A few minutes after our beet salad arrived, a person arrived with our main dishes. I waved him away as we were far from ready for our dinner. We had to remind the waiter to bring us our drinks. After we had finished the salad, the man arrived with what I assumed were the same entrees, warmed over. He put them on our table and started to leave without taking the salad dishes away! I had to remind him to take the dishes, which he then did. For dessert, we ordered the cherry and peach cobbler to be split, which came with no dishes to enable us to split the dessert between the two of us. And no little dish of chocolates with our bill! We paid over $100, with tip, for this dinner, and while the food was delicious, I found it to be confused and inelegant. I hope that you can address these issues with your staff so that we might be tempted to return. Sincerely, XXX Alexandria, VA

Yours is an example of a useful complaint, as it's detailed and civil and ends with you expressing the possibility of a return engagement, despite some service snafus. 

 

I'm not offering any excuses, but restaurants are busy places and staffers aren't online all the time. I'd give this business at least a few days, if not a week, to reply to your complaint.

I went with two others to Rural Society this past Monday evening, in small part due to your favorable review. I have to say, it seems like we went to separate restaurants. The plates were SMALL and extremely overpriced. The steak, which the waiter explicitly told us was cooked medium rare, came out COLD and uneven (one was medium rare, one was VERY rare). The beets were largely inedible, the pasta had an uneasy smell, the empanadas were tiny and the fugazza was bland. Even the bread tasted worse than store-bought. For ~$100 a person, I expect better. For the record, I told an employee who came over that the steak was too rare and he said he would tell the chef. The service was fine, but none of the food or cocktails were that great. Honestly, I wasn't sure what we would have wanted, since the whole meal just felt overpriced and underwhelming. Is there anything else to do when nothing is BAD, but everything is mediocre? Just accept it and spend our money elsewhere?

You're right. It sounds as if we ate in two different restaurants. I thought the portion sizes were certainly sufficient for one person and I *loved* the beets, flavored by both citrus and the embers in which they were cooked. And my meat at Rural Society was the red-rosy color I asked for.

 

 Did you mention your over-all dissatisfaction to a manager? Sorry you had such an unpleasant experience. Thanks for the feedback.

Seeking your advice on a celebratory business meal in Tysons or downtown DC. Food's important, but so is a place to see and be seen. Any cuisine OK although we're looking to avoid steakhouses. We're celebrating, so a higher end place is OK. If we end up going to a dinner, we're looking for a place open on Mondays.

In Tysons, seek out the very good Greek retreat, Nostos, which has a private party room, or Jose Andres's revival of America Eats Tavern, which is the subject of my Magazine review this Sunday. 

On the Oval Room website they have a Google map which shows the location, but shows that it is 'CLOSED'...? They are on the Restaurant Week list and I've made a reservation so I certainly hope they're still open, but even looking over their site the menu seems very outdated with references to many "winter" dishes. Any idea what's going on?

Fear not. The 20 year-old American restaurant closed -- temporarily -- for a total make-over June 30. Owner Ashok  Bajaj told me earlier this summer he hopes to reopen the establishment in early August, ahead of Restaurant Week.

My wife and I went to enjoy dinner at a nice Mediterrean restaurant in Rockville two weekends ago. We had made a reservation on Open Table and requested a table with a window view of the town center. To our disappointment, we were seated at the rear of the restaurant under an A/C vent with a view of second level parking garage. We asked bptj the waitress and maitre de (who knew me from his prior business which I frequented!) to move us to any table not under the vent as it was freezing. Our dining experience was impacted greatly and there was no apology from the owner or explanation as to why they could not move us beyond "there are no tables." There were tables available but clearly they did not want to break down a table for four to accomodate us. Very dissappointing. What would you have done differently?

I would have identified the table I wanted to sit at and asked for that one rather than asking to sit anywhere other than under an AC vent. I'm wondering if the unoccupied tables for four you spotted had been reserved?  If not, I don't see any harm in a restaurant breaking them apart to make a familiar customer happy.

Looking for a place in the Washington DC area that would work for a party of 6-8 adults who define themselves as foodies in search of the latest "best food spot." The gathering is to celebrate a special birthday. One suggestion was City Zen and in looking at recent reviews the feedback was mixed. Is it worth a try? How does it compare to the Inn at the Little Washington (too much traffic congestion driving out on a mid-week night).

I gave CityZen my highest rating (four stars) in my fall dining guide last year.  The hotel restaurant in SW is a less whimsical experience than the Inn at Little Washington, but it has plenty to recommend it, including a coolly elegant dining room and wine service provided by Andy Myers.

 

If you're looking for options, you should consider Komi, the modern Greek retreat in Dupont Circle, and Rasika, the recipient of this year's Best Chef: Mid-Atlantic award from the James Beard Foundation.

Hi Tom - this is Jeremiah, formerly of the Tabard Inn. I wanted to let you know about my new adventure: Bullfrog Bagels. We are currently doing a pop-up at Cake Love on U St. NW. My bagels are hand-rolled, cold fermented, and boiled and I think they represent a nice addition to the DC bagel scene... We are looking for a permanent home and hoping to open this fall. You can check out our menu and read our story at www.bullfrogbagels.com. Regards, Jeremiah Cohen Bullfrog Bagels

Thanks for sharing word of your new adventure, sir.

 

Jessica Sidman of the Washington City Paper wrote a piece about the temporary bagel (and bialy) source earlier this month.  The noshes, which can be pre-ordered online at least a day before pick-up at CakeLove, come in flavors running from onion and poppy seed to "everything" and cost $1.50 each.

Do you or the chatters have any recommendations for fresh, healthy restaurants in Indianapolis? We will be at the Indiana state fair for one night, so the other needs to help detox from fried Oreos.

Indianapolis, anyone?

Hi Tom, My dad is coming to town in a few weeks, the day after his birthday. He requested that we go to Cheesecake Factory for dessert to celebrate. While we're both fans of the Kahlua Cocoa Coffee cheesecake, I was hoping to take him somewhere unique to the region. Arlington, Alexandria, or DC would be fine. Metro-accessible would be a plus. Something decadent and coffee-flavored, or fresh and fruity, are bound to be hits. Where should we celebrate?

"Fresh and fruity" certainly applies to the lovely blueberry tart with lemon ice cream offered on the summer menu of the reliable Vermilion in Old Town, which is within walking distance of the Metro there. And I see that Fiola Mare in Georgetown, where you can enjoy dessert at the bar, is featuring blueberry and coconut popsicles right now.  Near the Navy-Archives Metro, 701 features a splurge-worthy roasted banana mousse with nutella ice cream -- no coffee therein, but the confection offers a nice chocolate hit.

Tico is not a word used in Costa Rica to flag a local or friend. It's more of a descriptor, as somebody from Indiana might call themselves a Hoosier. Pura vida.

I got that from the owner. Thanks for the clarification.

Where can I get the best bacon, egg and cheese biscuit within city limits?

Hmmm. (And mmmm.) I'll throw this question out to the audience this morning.

It's a bit disingenuous for restaurant managers to suggest that unhappy patrons speak to them on the spot. A hot date, a large group having a quiet post-funeral lunch, a key client meeting - I've had those restaurant meals recently. It wouldn't have worked with the 'vibe' to call over a manager. And pulling him/her aside in private isn't confidential - they speed over to the table (or server does) to say "now who has the undercooked chop." The "just have them speak to me" suggestion doesn't always work. Thus - sometimes we come here (or Trip Advisor, etc.)

I totally understand your point of view.  But I really believe that a  *good* manager is going to approach a concern with grace, because the last thing he wants to do, after a problem is identified, is make it worse.  In fairness to restaurant supervisors, how would you propose remedying a problem, if not on the spot? 

Brunch at BlackSalt a good idea? If so, what would you recommend?

Actually, one of my favorites times to visit the seafood restaurant in the Palisades is weekend brunch, when the meal starts with gratis fresh fruit (instead of a pastry basket) and the wine goes for as little as $6 a glass. Go for the shrimp and grits or oyster po boy.

Good morning, Tom. I am looking for a restaurant that serves a tasting menu to take a lovely young lady for a birthday celebration. There will be five of us (so Komi is out), we've done Rogue 24 and Rasika. This is a Friday night so "destination" restuarants (Ashby Inn, Patowmack Farms, Inn at Little Washington) are out. Will try for Rose's Luxury rooftop ... but that's a long-shot. Where in DC or near-in Virginia would you take a celebrant whose only requirement is a tasting menu with lots of fun food? Many thanks.

You've eaten in some great places there! Let me propose some fresh ideas from the current crop of restaurants: Iron Gate in Dupont Circle for contemporary Greek, Aggio  in Friendship Heights for upscale Italian and the six-seat kitchen counter at Menu in Penn Quarter, where the chef whips up a five-course themed menu for $65.

I am very excited that Bullfrog is going to open a storefront. I tried their bagels at Cork and even my NY native friend was very happy. Do we have any idea where the storefront will be?

It sounds as if Cohen is still scouting locations.

I recently ate at two different chain restaurants that were blaring music. Both times I asked if the music could be turned down and the waiter agreed to ask but nothing happened. It wasn't the type of music -- that was fine -- it was the volume. Neither restaurant was very busy (maybe because of the annoying music?). Is it out of line for a diner to ask for the music to be turned down?

I have a friend who always asks if the music can be turned down. Sometimes he gets his wish, other times he doesn't. There's no reason diners should have to shout through a meal.

Tom, A good friend and former DC-er is coming back into town and has requested Ethiopian for our dinner. It's been awhile since I ventured beyond my old neighborhood favorite of Dukem so I thought I'd ask where the best Ethiopian is in the city right now. Thanks!

Honestly, Dukem has never been high on my list of Ethiopian eateries. If I have to stay in the city, Ethiopic on H St. NE is probably where I'd go for doro wat (chicken legs), kitfo (Ethiopia's answer to steak tartare) and more.

Tom, Big fan, thought you might appreciate a little cafe in Silver Spring. We had some out-of-town family visiting who keep kosher. We decided to try out the Kosher Pastry Oven (www.thekosherpastryoven.com) in Silver Spring, for brunch as a large party (9, including 4 kids under 6). They setup a large table for us, and had two high chairs waiting for us. For brunch/lunch you order at the counter, then they bring the food out to your table (dinner we're told is more formal). I was very impressed with the shakshuka, the eggs were perfectly cooked to giving a yolky-creaminess to the dish. My daughter's pancakes were light, fluffy, and generously portioned - as was the French toast. The staff was kind and quick to respond to our requests for extra plates (the kids love trying everyone else's food), and they made sure to have plastic cups for the littlest ones. There dinner menu is more formal, and we can't wait to try it out - even without the kosher cousins.

Thanks so much for taking the time to write. You may have started a stampede: good kosher restaurants aren't plentiful hereabouts.

Planning dinner tonight for four in Old Town (where are out of town guest is staying), and wandering where we should go to dinner if we want to avoid the more expensive restaurants such as Vermillon and Restaurant Eve?

Vaso's Kitchen is good for homey Greek cooking, Pizzeria Paradiso does well by the expected and what about Society Fair, the cafe/gourmet shop/bakery/meat counter?

Rules on restaurant labeling vary but based on what has been proposed for a nationwide requirement only chains with 20 or more restaurants are required to provide calorie counts. It takes significant amounts of testing in order to come up with those counts. Calling a restaurant and asking front of house staff for a calorie count is going to result in nothing more than a blind guess. It would be more useful to use a calorie counting app that is at least partially based on facts even if it is making some guesses on exact portion size.

Good response. Thanks.

In my opinion the raw oysters at Old Ebbitt are the best I've ever had. Why is that?

Because Old Ebbitt buys from good sources; the staff knows how to properly shuck oysters; and the restaurant go through a ton of bivalves a day.  A busy oyster bar tends to be a good oyster bar.

Love my neighborhood and all our choices - but when I want a bagel - there is not a decent one within walking distance. Please, please, please come!

Paging Mr Cohen! Paging Mr. Cohen!

Tom, while we of course are grateful for your recommendations for restaurants -- both local and world-wide -- i'm just wondering what your thoughts are regarding social media sites such as Tripadvisor, Urbanspoon, Eater, Yelp and the like? I know a lot of people tend to use these sites to help narrow down, make and validate which restaurants they choose to visit, but are their any sites or social media you use when making decisions as to where to go, what to eat, what to avoid or look for, or to keep up with what others are saying?

Eater recently installed some terrific critics: Bill Addison, who covers the country, and Robert Sietsema and Ryan Sutton, both based in NYC.  I trust their professional opinions. Yelp is hit or miss. I have no idea who most of the posters are, or what their agendas or backgrounds might be.  So the service is mostly useful (to me) for seeing what's out in the field. I've used TripAdvisor only for hotels and come away thinking the European commentaters view lodging differently than we do.  Some of my best suggestions come from food friends on Facebook: cookbook authors and others in the industry.

Wanted to follow up on last week's Baby Wale comment - we had a terrible experience as well. Went with a group of 8 in the weeks after they opened for a birthday. After the standard early open mishaps (forgetting our reservation time change, our waiter being impossible to track down) they went ahead and blatantly lied to us. We ordered 8 cookies for desert - they told us they were in the oven being freshly baked. 45 minutes later they were nowhere to be found. Finally we tracked down another employee - 20 minutes after that our waiter brought us the cookies. After telling us they were freshly baked next door (we imagined in Corduroy's kitchen), he proceeded to hand them to us with immense care, as if they were really hot and had just come out of the oven. Let's be clear - they were rock hard and room temp, as if they had been pulled out of a Pepperidge Farms bag. We're all mid-20s and young-looking so I think they thought they could get away with it. We never said anything which I highly regret. It's a bummer because the space is so cool!

Sorry to hear this. (Chef Power, are you reading?)

I'd say the restaurant already went above and beyond in supplying bags of ice, thoughtfully wrapped in cloth. The manager checked in and expressed concern. As you noted everything else (food quality, reaction of other patrons) were separate issues or out of the restaurant's control. She didn't want anything comped but expected great service because she fell? None of this makes sense to me. I feel bad for the establishment because now she's unfairly giving them a bad rep.

More than any other business I know, people expect restaurants to be and do everything. Can you imagine asking your hair dresser to give you a free trim because it was your birthday? Or expecting half-off on a root canal if your dentist kept you waiting more than 15 minutes? 

We went to an early dinner at Domku last Saturday with friends, and the food and service were excellent with one caveat -- the music was not only loud but heavy on the percussion. Our waitress moved us to a table farther from the loudspeaker, and then to their outdoor tables, cheerfully, when the manager refused to let her turn the music down to a level where we could hear each other. Why the noise level in such a small space? And when the restaurant was mostly empty (we ate early)? That said, we really enjoyed the food and service. When we had questions about the unusual wines, the waitress brought us small tastes. When the slivovijca I ordered was unavailable, the waitress brought me the menu and pointed out a few that would be closest to what I wanted, and I loved the smooth Georgian chacha (version of grappa or marc). Two of us had the delicious anchovy and arugula salad, which was not only good but lightly dressed. The fresh sauerkraut that came with my hearty kielbasa was light and tasty, sprinkled with caraway seed. We'll definitely return, but only in eat-on-the-patio weather.

Strange for such a genial restaurant not to turn down the volume, especially early at night.

Just to clarify: one of the points of my post was that the manager did not inquire about my well-being. He inquired only as to what I saw on the floor. I also acknowledged that some things that contributed to a poor experience were not the restaurant's fault. However, if I were a restaurant owner/manager, I would try to ensure that every customer's day was made a bit brighter by spending time in my restaurant, and if a customer was obviously injured there, regardless of fault, that bar would be a bit higher.

Thanks for following up. I stand by my original response.

I use yelp and the restaurant's website/facebook page to view images of the place. Menu is only one factor in deciding where I want to eat that night. When trying somewhere new, I like to know how dark or light-filled a space is, if the dining room and bar are close or separate, and what kind of seating (stools? Booths? lots of space or cramped?)

Are you paying attention, restaurants? Pictures of your dining rooms should be an online priority, right up there with current menus and prices.

Recess or R Bistro -- excellent restaurants that will make you forget the fried Twinkie you ate the day before.

Thanks for chiming in.

I was always taught that If the bathrooms are dirty or shabby (leaking pipes, poorly maintained), don't eat there. Leaking pipes = rodent or roach infestations. And critters aren't limited to the bathroom, they'll be everywhere. A restaurant with a dirty bathroom is bound to have a dirty kitchen. A restaurant with a grimy floor (REAL dirty, not just this-day dirt) is also to be avoided for the same reason. I think of it this way: if something in a public space is dirty, what will the kitchen (which is something a customer won't see) look like?

Uh huh!

I agree with your tips Tom -- skip the bread, go light on the drinks, and limit intake of high calorie foods. I generally don't eat dessert, but if I do, your two bites strategy is one I also use (and I find it's generally enough to feel like you have partaken of a treat). Also, EXERCISE!!

Thanks for the prompt about working out. I find I'm less hungry after an hour at the gym. Plus, your body continues to burn calories afterwards. As for desserts, I'm not much of a sweet tooth, but if there's something I really like, I'll push it  across the table or shake salt on it to prevent mindless grazing.

Immediately ask for half of your dinner to be boxed so that you can take it home (or give it to your dining companions). Box the food BEFORE you start eating that you don't end up eating 90% of it and boxing 10% of it. Most restaurants serve portions that easily serve two, so eat one portion twice, rather than eating two portions at one sitting.

That's a good strategy. One of the problems I encounter is snacking at home after a middling or worse restaurant meal. I can eat like a peasant at breakfast and lunch, but I lose self control as the day progresses. Late nights are the worst.

I tend to discount reviews where just people complain about portion sizes. Works well for me.

Posters who use more than one exclamation point per review are also less credible in my book.

One of the many reasons we frequent the various Great American Restaurants -- the restrooms are always as spotless as can be, and each has a checklist on the wall ensuring that they are checked and serviced hourly.

Love that attention to detail.

Paisley Fig's breakfast biscuits are fantastic. Plus you can customize them. Its parent restaurant Room 11 is also always worth the hike to 11th Street.

I appreciate your suggestion.

I almost always eat half of the meal put in front of me. From years of looking up calorie counts for restaurants that offer them, I've found that a 1/2 portion usually comes within an acceptable amount of calories for a meal. I also avoid creamy sauces and pasta.

I try to limit myself to a portion of meat that's no larger than a deck of cards.

I felt so badly for the poster who fell in a restaurant and then suffered bad service to add (literally) insult to injury. There was one thing, though, that got my mind wandering. Is having your wine (or water) refilled by the waiter from a bottle on the table really a mark of good service? I honestly don't like feeling that dependent on the wait staff, and prefer to just grab the bottle for myself (I'm fine with them opening the bottle and performing the first ritualistic fill, but after that I figure I should be on my own). Is this just me?

In a better restaurant, I think it's nice when a server adds to a wine glass, as long as he isn't filling it to the brim, which is totally irritating. It's part of "reading" (understanding and attending) a table.

Comment on the calorie counting. I also count calories and it is extremely difficult to eat out at non-chain restaurants and stay on track. Restaurants that do not provide calorie information could vary greatly on the same dish. Clydes used to offer an "under 500 calorie" section of their menu but no longer do so. Keep portion sizes in control and try to order no butter/no seasoning/etc. If you are truly counting calories, you will need to eat at the Outbacks and Applebees for a while if you want to actually stay on track.

A great addition to the menu at Westend Bistro is its Bistro Light selections.

I can understand you, Tom, watching your calories to keep you wonderful handsome figure since you eat out so often,, but as for most of the other people - loosen up. Live and let live. Enjoy it! You're paying for it. It's not like you eat like that all of the time. I feel sorry for these loosers and I hope the rest of their lives aren't as miserable as they are making their dining experiences.

Oh, I wouldn't be so hard on others. Some folks really need, or are trying to, watch their weight for medical and other reasons.

First off I would like to apologize to you for your experience. My concern for your well being was sincere and my first priority was to make sure you were ok, which is why I offered to call an ambulance and make sure you had a full ice pack throughout your time at Woodward Table. All that being said I would also like to apologize for the other issues that you mentioned and would appreciate the opportunity to make it right. Please call me at the restaurant my name is Steve 202-347-5353. Again very sincerely sorry, I hope to hear from you.

Wow. Real-time service. And the original poster failed to mention your offer to call an ambulance. Thanks for following up, and just as we're about to sign off.

Lots on Mass Ave downtown and in Broad Ripple north of the fairgrounds. Mama Carolla's is AMAZING Italian and we still miss it.

Grazie.

I'd definitely suggest Zenebech Injera as a contender for the chatter looking for great Ethiopian food. It's nothing more than a hole-in-the-wall next to the Howard Theater, but the food is excellent. Way, way better than Dukem, in my opinion. You can also get a sampler platter which allows for a good tour of the menu.

I'm getting hungry ...

I use both regularly. If you read through enough reviews, you can get a sense of common themes -- if one person doesn't like the service, that might mean nothing, but if many people note the same problems (with sufficient detail), that can be telling. (Also, more with TripAdvisor, I look for reviewers that liked some things and not others -- I tend to believe them more than those who loved or hated everything.) It just requires a combination of critical reading and looking for a consensus (or at least averages). (That said, when looking for a restaurant on a trip to another city, I often rely on just one opinion: Tom's!)

Awwwww. Thanks.

Had a lovely, lovely meal there last weekend. Usually I am not inclined to go back to the same restaurant more than once, but with such a fun theme, you could go back again and again and try a completely different genre of food. We went for the Cajun experience this time. Next - maybe some chicken pot pie!

The chicken pot pie is delicious -- as long as the crust stays away from the broth, which turns it to mush in a matter of minutes.

That poster should take a good look around at all the overweight people. Not overeating does not make you a "loser." It is all part of mindful eating.

I concur.

Hi, Tom! My parents are celebrating their golden anniversary, and I'd like to take them somewhere special. Here's the thing: they're *not* adventurous eaters. They like seafood and Italian, but nothing (in their words) "weird." I'd like to take them somewhere charming that is relatively quiet (Mom has trouble hearing), in Northern Va., if possible. Was thinking of Middleburg, the Plains, Clifton-type areas, if that helps. Price isn't a big concern. Thanks!!

You want Girasole in Virginia's hunt country.

 

And I want ... lunch!

 

See you all again next week. Thanks for a lively discussion. You all rock.

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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 contributes tasty morsels to the Going Out Guide blog.
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