If you were leaving DC forever and could have one last meal here, what would it be?
Yikes. I hope that never happens, that I would leave DC forever and never return. But if I were going away for aWHILE, I would probably make my last night in the District a dine-around and hit up Little Serow for some Thai heat, Fiola for a Manhattan, Vidalia for some sweetbreads, Et Voila! for a burger and fries, Jaleo for a few Spanish tapas, Cashion's Eat Place for some goat and Mintwood Place for a (have you heard?) vegetarian napoleon.
Chatters, what would your last meal in town be?
Lots of stuff to discuss today, including the list of finalists for the 2013 RAMMY Awards, the return of Bob Kinkead at a new restaurant, a new bar from Derek Brown and a change of kitchen talent at Zentan.
Responding to last week's question about "dressy", my dear old Dad used to say "It never hurts to be the best-dressed person in the room." I've never been embarrassed by following that advice.
Wise dad. I'm going to use his line from now on.
Hi Tom, If you could celebrate your 40th in an unforgettable food town, where would you go? And for how long to get a true taste of the place? As always, thank you for your stellar recommendations. You always point us in the right direction!
In the States? The world? You don't say, but I'm guessing you want to stay in the U.S. A. And that's great, because there are plenty of choice destinations right here at home. I'm think four or five days in San Francisco, Seattle, Chicago or Los Angeles -- in that order -- would be a delicious way to turn the big 4-0.
Answering the question from last week, as someone who worked in the industry, couple things people need to know: kitchen and front of house are managed by generally two different people. You can have an impeccable chef in the kitchen with a lousy manager who is in charge of the front of the house (ie clean bathrooms). Even best managers have days off and you have to live with not-so-great managers in charge that day, and sometimes they are simply not as up to par with their job as others, or things happen that you can't see (a disfunctioning keg system, a broken pipe, a clogged grease outlet etc. that takes the manager's focus from front of house at times. This is not an excuse but it happens. Not to mention at peak times the bathrooms get trashed, still not sure why people don't throw paper towels in the trash bin when it's right there. And lastly, there may be an employee bathroom in the back so the kitchen and servers may not be aware of the situation. So, while it is generally a good sign of front of house management, it is not always an indication of a good restaurant. Yet, if it is dirty at the beginning part of service or when restaurant is not busy, then I would certainly question.
Thanks for taking the time to offer the industry perspective.
Hi Tom. My husband and I are going to Range next month. This is fancy (!) for us. (With two little ones we don't get out much.) Are there dress codes for restaurants anymore? Thanks.
How much should you tip on carry out? I mean the staff did box and bag the food for you. But at the same time, no table service.
I tend to tip a couple bucks, just because, on small orders and 10 percent or so on larger ones. It just depends.
I'm in this mode lately, where I'm trying to spur the economy by tipping generously those people -- shoe shiners, coffee makers, taxi drivers -- who make my life easier.
I agree with drinking water and exercise; I may or may not have a light snack depending on what I ate for the day. But what I do really is stick to the appetizer menu. I usually find one or two things I really want to eat, and for the most part, they're smaller portions. I usually get dessert to share, but if you're dining alone for work, I would ask the server if you could have a smaller portion of it. If it's on the company tab, it can't hurt to ask!
Dieting tricks courtesy of the DMV: I went to renew my driver's license yesterday and the clerk asked me to verify the information on my freshly-minted card. Everything but my weight was accurate. Whoever typed it into the system transposed two numbers, so I now weigh an astonishing 149 pounds. Call me Twiggy.
We stopped going to $$$+ restaurants because they all seem kind of all the same. We usually get impeccable service and pretty good food, but rarely something truly outstanding. Something you just MUST have a a week or a month later. Against my will I was dragged to lunch at Fiola on Monday of all days of the week. The food was unbelievable. I tasted both, their veal chop (which is really worth $36 plus 30% tax and tip) and tonnato vitello. Pure poetry. Both veals tasting so lovely and so different. The "cappuchino" soup and pasta are quite good. We will be going back soon! I was surprised to learn that the food was cooked by chef Fabio, the owner. This is a novel idea, to have a restaurant where the chef cooks himself. No? Would you please name other restaurants in DC area where the meals are cooked by the chef himself/herself on the level of Fabio Trabocchi. Maybe we should go out to eat more.
Maybe you should also go to CityZen, where I've never *not* seen chef Eric Ziebold behind the line, or Komi, where chef Johnny Monis seems to live, or Mintwood Place, home away from home for chef Cedric Maupillier, or ... come to think of it, a lot of the city's top talent shows up for work!
Do you or any of the chatters know of any private rooms that have round tables? Would need to seat 12 people.
Paging all restaurants with round tables that seat a dozen diners!
Tom, when I talk to women at work about dining out, they often tell me horror stories about bad service (treated like lepers if dining alone, presumption they'll tip badly or just sit there and drink water, catty behavior from waitresses, etc.), and they often have different opinions on decor, ambience, and the like. I was wondering if you consider the experience the other half of humanity might receive when you do your reviews. Do you frequently dine with female companions, or does your inventory of a thousand disguises include feminine garb (the mere thought of this drives me wild, but that's a different issue). Thanks for your consideration, and I appreciate your advocacy of eating well in our city.
I have a group of about 40 or so "regulars" who know my reviewing drill. That number includes a couple dozen women -- single and married, young and mature, students and professionals -- whose opinions I hear when we're breaking bread.
P.S. You would not want to see me in drag.
Hi Tom--long time lurker here. Super excited to be leaving for Istanbul tomorrow. We have a meal planned at the restaurant recommended to you by the Turkish Ambassador, begins with K (turbot a speciality). Also snagged a reservation at Imbat. Have you eaten at Imbat? If yes, any recommendations for a non meat eater? If not, I'll report back to you. Cheers!
Hello! My husband and I are traveling to DC in mid-April to celebrate his birthday. We are staying in Logan Circle and would love some suggestions on can't-miss dining spots. We don't mind paying a little more for a great meal but aren't looking to spend $100 per person. We gravitate toward contemporary/upscale American, but are open to other suggestions. Thanks so much!
Tom, Following up from last week's chat...My wife and I recently ate at Curious Grape in Shirlington. Not only was it a very tasty meal, but you can order 1/2 portions of most entrees for just a $1 surcharge. (While the prudent option we be to take advantage of that to cut calories, we took advantage of it to try 2 entrees each!) We also liked that as soon as we were seated the hostess asked if we were on a schedule to get to the theater. When we said yes, they made sure to get us out in good time (and without us feeling rushed.)
Tom, I understand getting a poor seat in a restaurant when it is packed and I have walked in without a reservation. What I do not understand is a host who seats you next to the bathrooms when the restaurant is less than half full and it becomes evident over the course of the meal that the other tables are not being held for reservations. This is separate and distinct from the point that one can ask to be moved. Restaurants should give patrons the best seats available in order to encourage them to return. If I am "dissed" right off the bat, I am much less likely to ever return. I have been in lovely restaurants that treated me like wonderfully when I walked in without a reservation, and others that immediately go to the worst table, regardless of how busy they are. Not everyone can make a reservation because they simply do not know when they will arrive in a city, or the idea to dine at a particular spot is spontaneous. If I cannot get in, I understand. If there are seats, do not send me to the worst of them when others are available!
I don't think most restaurants *try* to seat customers in undesireable parts of their dining rooms. You can, and should, ask to be reseated if you find you're uncomfortable with where you've been led, unless, of course, their are no alternatives. And keep in mind: one person's "bad" table can be another's favorite.
Tom, longtime reader, first-time poster. I am sure they hear this all the time, but I wanted to give much love/praise to Inn at Little Washington. My spouse and I celebrated the first night of our wedding at the restaurant on Friday night and it exceeded our expectations. The food, the pacing, the staff and ambiance was all stellar. We are still talking about the lamb carpaccio with caesar salad ice cream, the lobster with tomato butter and the "seven deadly sins" dessert sampler. Amazing. Yes, it's a wallet buster, but for a special occasion, it is absolutely worth the drive.
Socci in the Renaissance Capital View in Arlington has a fantastic private dining room with a large round table. I had my wedding tasting in that room and it is modern and the food and service are fantastic.
Not familiar with the restaurant. But noted.
Tom, I will be up near Glover Park this weekend and looking for your thoughts on the dining scene there? Any genres welcomed. Also, what's a new, can't miss, exciting spot for an early anniversary dinner. Thanks as always!
J know you don't want another children in restaurants debate. We went out for breakfast at a neighborhood place. Since it was crowded we ate at the counter. A family came and sat at the counter while waiting for a table. The mother picked up the bowl that held the creamers and told her child he could play build a tower. The mother beamed at her child as he put his hands and mouth all over the creamers. When the waitress asked us if we wanted a refill of coffee I felt like saying that she didn't think anyone wanted to use the creamers. Am I being too delicate? I probably will never go to that place again.
Eesh. Honestly, I think I would have said something to the mother, maybe: "Ma'am, I don't think that's very hygenic for your son to be playing with the creamers. You never know who's handled them, you know?" That way, you're showing concern for the well-being of her offspring -- while subtly pointing out the grossness of the behavior.
Tom, for 2 middle-ages couples, can you recommend a quiet restaurant in Alexandria/Arlington? We want to be able to converse without shouting,while eating good food and drinking nice wine.
In Alexandria, I'd head to the bistro at Restaurant Eve or Vermilion; in Arlington, try Eventide. (While the last restaurant just lost its chef, Adam Barnett, to Poste Moderne Brasserie in Washington, his replacement is Barnett's sous chef and, like Barnett, an alumnus of the Inn at Little Washington.
One would think the presumption that "they would just sit there and drink water" would be pretty quickly dispelled when they order, and keep ordering as long as they're using the table.
The Gurus' information is a little dated. They closed the original shop on Campbell (now a Cheesetique) and moved around the corner to S. Quincy. The concept changed too. It's now a shop combined with a restaurant. I've been over a couple times for drinks. The menu looks interesting and I hope to try it on a night free from the kids. Current info is available at their website.
Dar Tom - I have guests convening and I'm looking for dinner for 8 on Saturday April 6. If I could, I would have gone to Ripple, Mintwood or Cashions or Range, all booked. Any ideas for a party of 8 food nerds and at least two wine aficionados (snobs)?
Tom - Are there more new restaurants opening in the DC area lately or is it about the same as it ever was? It seems that every week one or two or five new places open up and by the time I make it to the latest great place it's already two years old! Has it always been this way or have I just started noticing?
Hi, Tom. My wife and I had a wonderful anniversary dinner last week at a local steakhouse. I had the creamed spinach and mashed potatoes side items, a glass of wine and a decaf coffee with my key lime pie. We were finished by 7 p.m. Later that night I had no trouble falling asleep, but had CRAZY dreams! I haven't had a night's sleep like that in some time. I can't say for sure it was something I ate that brought on the wild dreams and general restlessness that night, but I figured I'd ask how you manage for such possibilities. Assuming that rich food DOES affect one's sleep, how early do you dine in an effort to digest everything so that you sleep like a baby, rather than like me that night -- a 40-something man afflicted by a Scrooge-like "undigested bit of beef, a blot of mustard, a crumb of cheese"?
I love to dine on the early side, partly to avoid what you just described and partly, frankly, to have more of a life outside restaurants, where I spend about 40 hours a week. As much as I like food and being out and about, I have other interests I want to pursue. Also, I'm not eating huge meals every single night.
What I try to do is alternate light with heavy, say, a sushi visit with a French meal followed by ramen followed by Indian ... you get the idea. In any given week, I'm eating a broad range of cuisines.
Good morning - I have a rant today! A few weeks ago, I went to Founding Farmers when my mother and aunt were in town. We arrived a few minutes before the reservation, checked in, and took a seat to the side. About 15 minutes later (so 10 minutes after our reservation), I went back to the hostess stand to check up on our table, and she told me they were short staffed (?) and that was the problem -- although she wasn't very polite. Luckily, we'd had a later lunch than planned (and we were very happy to be together!) so I didn't really notice the time, but when they finally came to seat us is was over 30 minutes after our reservation time. The manager did come by to apologize (he said something about a problem with the computer?), but I was a little surprised they didn't give us an appetizer or dessert. The meal itself was lovely, and our actual server was great. But if I go back, I certainly won't go back hungry!
Have you ever eaten there? I never hear anything about the place (guessing they don't have marketing / PR representation), but I wonder about it every time I pass by. Do you have any insight?
Tom, Headed to San Juan next week for spring break with the family. Looking for some good eats - ideas?
So you weigh 419 lbs now ?
Ha! 149 pounds -- or so my license says.
A couple of chats ago, someone asked for restaurant recommendations in Santa Fe. Tom recommended Rancho de Chimayo (which is fabulous) and Restaurant Martin (I haven't been, but have heard great things from friends who live there). I'd also recommend El Farol on Canyon Road. It has tapas and wonderful wine; get seats on the front porch and enjoy the evening--there's great people watching on Canyon Road. Tom, for your next Santa Fe trip, you need to try Clafoutis--a French cafe. It's owned by a French couple and has wonderful croissants.
Thanks for the fresh suggestions.
I was rather surprised to see Bastille listed as a finalist for Neighborhood Gathering Place. I have lived within a few blocks of the restaurant since it opened and have probably gone in about twice. The food, wine, and service is quite good, but it is far too expensive for a gathering place. A quick glance at my Facebook page this morning or even just conversations with my friends and neighbors showed that we were all a bit surprised. No one wants to see the restaurant fail as they are nice to us as we walk past with dogs or out for a run. But it just isn't built to be a gathering place to talk and laugh with your neighbors after a long day at the office. Even when I walk past the place, I don't see anyone I know. There are just so many more options in Old Town that are just as good but do focus on bringing in the neighbors for a casual night of laughs and stories.
Thanks for sharing.
He was astonished that anyone would do more that add a dollar or two to a takeout order.
I understand a buck or two. Nothing wrong with that. I just wanted to share my own personal thinking about the matter. Plus, depending upon the restaurant and what you get, there might be more to assembling the order than you realize.
Hi Tom - when you go on your far away trips (Europe, etc), is there something you look forward to getting at Dulles and packing for the plane ride? I am leaving Sunday night for Amsterdam (already checked your postcards and past chats -thanks!) but really want to know what food Dulles has past security that would be a solid bet to keep me full on the long ride across the pond. Not exactly your wheelhouse, but figured it was worth an ask! Thanks!
I *hate* flying out of Dulles and avoid the airport as much as I can, so I'm afraid I'm of no help. But perhaps a fellow chatter can weigh in?
Poste has one, a lovely private room back near the bar.
And that makes three restaurants with round tables. Any more out there?
I celebrated my 40th birthday, um a few years ago, in San Francisco. It was my first visit to that food heaven. Even though it was [x] years ago, I remember each meal with fondness and delight. Sigh....
Where did you eat? Share, share.
What does this phrase mean exactly? I have always attributed it to high fat, sausy, creamy foods. But it seems many attribute it too simply a large meal. Your thoughts?
Rich: excessive, creamy, indulgent, fatty, over-the-top -- basically, any meal that results in a lecture from your trainer.
Being seated near the restrooms, especially when the restaurant is not at all crowded, cannot possibly be anyone's favorite.
But, you never know!
Hi!!! I was one of the lucky few who got tickets to see Book of Mormon in August. Where would you go for a pre-theater dinner near the Kennedy Center? There will be four of us and we are all love food and are fairly adventurous. Thanks!
Tom, have you ever eaten in any other Frederick restaurants, besides Volt? Any to recommend?
As a former hostess, I was instructed to take people to the worst tables first and see if they complained. The thinking was that if they didn't care then the bad tables would be gone, leaving the good ones. Personally, I never understood that then and certainly now don't appreciate being led to a bad table when there are others open. I might accede to a bad table if it is my only choice but will be annoyed if someone tries to stick me with it when there IS a choice.
Well, there you have it, gang, straight from a former hostess. The optimist in me would love to think that's not always the dictate from on high.
I wholeheartedly agree. I have to admit I've done well recently (better than I expected!) and a few bucks more of a tip won't make a huge difference to me, but will to my server. I also say Good Morning to the cops directing traffic downtown. Life's too short to be stingy--with money or thanks.
Preaching to the choir, baby, preaching to the choir. I've started to make a point of telling restaurant managers how much I've enjoyed the service, if in fact that's the case. No one tires of hearing thanks for a job well done.
Not a terrible meal option pre-trip, especially if you get a bowl to avoid sogginess.
Don't ever correct someone else's child. That is asking to be slapped or at the very least told to "F" off. Every parent knows their little darling is just perfect and who would dare to correct them as they parent surely does not. (sarcasm people).
Let's be civil, folks ...
J&G has a private room with an oval table that seats 12. We just had a birthday dinner there, and it worked well for our group.
I second that suggestion.
Paper towels are so lightweight that they often sort of bounce straight out again from the wastebasket. Just sayin. Believe me, I sympathize with managers at peak times.
Me too. Because diners can be ... less than tidy. And if I see ONE MORE GUY talking on his cell phone in the stall or at a urinal, I'm going to take a photo of him and post it on Facebook. (Really? You can't wait a minute to take/make a call? )
My experience is that when you get to a restaurant, they often try to give you the worst table available, but if you ask to be seated elsewhere, they will. I think that they want to have someone sit there, so they try to get everyone who comes in to take it. The thought may be that, if you don't mind, they won't have to try to give it to someone who does.
Are you surprised by any of the nominees? Are there people you think should be there that are not?
The lists don't reflect the reality of the scene, because in order to be nominated, you have to belong to the restaurant association. That always leaves off some serious talent.
Is this restaurant good for the solo diner? Or am I apt to feel out of place? My vegetarian wife is out of town and I thought I would use the opportunity to try a place I otherwise wouldn't get to go to.
My wife and I are lucky enough to be going to Paris in early April. As far as I can tell, your last "postcard" on Paris restaurants dates from 2008. Any newer recommendations? Or perhaps someone in your horde of fans has recently been in Paris and has a recommendation?
I leave for Paris April 17. Too late for your trip? I'd rather not tip off anyone about where I'm dining on my first trip in a couple years.
Do you ever make note of how many tables the server is waiting on? During a recent (otherwise excellent) meal I noticed that my server was flustered, descriptions seemed rushed and he was generally having trouble keeping everything straight. I was a little bit annoyed at first until I noticed that he was waiting on at least five other tables at the same time! As a server myself I know that this is a virtual impossibility, especially in a fine dining atmosphere. It became very clear to me that the problem was one created by the restaurant and not the server himself and I tipped accordingly.
I'd appreciate hearing from anyone else in the industry about the number of tables an individual server is responsible for? And please let us know if the establishment is casual or luxe or in-between.
Oceanaire has them. We used to do company luncheons there. Haven't been in years so can't recommend food.
Good to know. Thanks.
I'm pregnant and love being seated near the restrooms.
See what I mean?
Waht's the best place?
There's a Five Guys there...
Yep. But a burger and fries might be kind of messy on a flight ...
Tom - instead of going to your reviews with a table of 4, have you ever considered going with one or two companions and having the third companion make a separate reservation to eat on her own at the same time? This might be a way to (1) see how single diners are treated and (2) deal with the constant criticism that you are recognized and thus get special treatment.
Interesting. But I have plenty of single friends who loop me in on their (solo) dining rounds and I try to pay attention to parts of the restaurant where I don't happen to be seated.
My theory is, those few dollars mean a great deal more to the person I am tipping than they do to me. If I can afford to eat out, I can afford the extra dollar or two. I mean, really, think about how much money you spend in a day, how little this is is the grand scheme, and how much those tips mean to the person scraping by.
I'm nodding in agreement.
Tom- Another former hostess here with a very different experience. We were never supposed to "push" the bad tables, but we did have a rotation we were expected to follow unless the guest specifically requested a different table so that servers were equally & fairly seated. Within that rotation, we were always told to seat the best tables for the party (ie. for a 2top, the best 2top in the section) first specifcially so that no one felt like they were seated poorly when better options were available. This also ensured that the better tables had more turnover because they were first sat so that primo spots would open regularly as the night went on.
Fascinating. Thanks for writing.
I tried Ancora last week - I was so excited about having an option for eating before the Kennedy Center. But. They were not ready for prime time. The food was good, but the service was not very polished, and there was a big backup in the kitchen without very good communication. We made our curtain, but I'm not in any rush to go back.
Not high brow fare, but Bucca di Bepo has a round table that seats 12-16, with a very convenient lazy susan for the family style food. It also has a bust of Pope John Paul in the middle, if you're someone who appreciates kitsch.
Ha! They need to update their art there ....
Okay - So your towel bounces off the pile. You know what, then it's your responsibility to pick it up. I know, it's not ideal, and you may feel like you need to run back and wash again, but it is your responsibility if you can not manage to effectively get your paper in the can (can you tell - this is a pet peeve of mine).
I HEAR YOU LOUD AND CLEAR, SIR!
I just dined at Fords Fish Shack in South Riding. Recently moving to the area from Fairfax I find it one of the only decent restaurants out there. On their menu they have a quote from you about their Crabcakes. While I read your reviews and this chat each week and value your opinion I thought it a little tacky to include the review on the menu. What are you thoughts?
Really? Why wouldn't a business (any business) post something flattering about itself from a (hopefully) trusted source? Book authors do it all the time. I don't see what's tacky about it.
I read your reviews and I don't frequently find restaurants in the Reston , Herndon area. What restaurants do you recommend for this area?
Hi Tom! My girlfriend and I want to try Ethiopic based on your review and good things we've heard from a friend. Our problem? Neither of us has ever eaten Ethiopian before. Do you still recommend Ethiopic, and if so, what should two beginners get?
If I ever get literally slapped for correcting someone else's child, Jr. will be learning "what happens when Mommy when she's charged with assault." No mercy. If Jr. has to spend the day with Social Services until Mommy can get bailed out, Mommy will also learn her lesson.
Ouch. In more than one way.
I heard they changed the menu and want to know if I should add it back to my list of places to eat near Union Station.
The service was soooo slooow at a recent lunch there, I thought they were growing the grapes for the glass of wine I requested.
At the restaurant group I worked for, servers were given 3-4 tables during peak times (3 to newbies and 4 for pros), brand newbies were given 2 tables during slow times, and the last dead-ish hour before closing the two "closing servers" (who were always senior staff) split everything new that came in- usually not more than 10 total in a variety of phases (ie. a few desserts, a camper, etc).
Thanks for enlightening us.
Without more specific details from the guest about the day, time, and staff members they spoke to, we cannot corroborate the information, confirm or deny that any of that happened. What we do know is that we treat every table and every guest as a priority, we honor reservations as it's the best way to accommodate our guests, and sometimes glitches occur â we may (but very rarely) be short staffed and want to give every guest the best service possible, or the computer may be offline temporarily, or the guests that were previously sat at a table may have overstayed the average time, which caused a delay in getting it reset for the guest. When something goes wrong, the manager on duty assesses the situation, makes sure that all is made right, and served as the guest expects. An automatic response is not to give the guest complimentary food â it is very much a situational decision. If the guest feels she was slighted, we do apologize and want to ensure that her next experience is not a repeat of the last. We would love to connect with her offline and get to the bottom of it all so we can continue to improve our management of situations like this. -- Valerie Zweig, Guest Services Manager, Founding Farmers and Farmers Restaurant Group, Valerie@FarmersRestaurantGroup.com
And just as we're signing off, along comes a response from Founding Farmers. (Thanks, Valerie.)
The lunch bell is ringing. I smell garlic and I see pasta in my immediate future.
Thanks for a lovely hour, gang. See you here next week.