Dear Mr. Sietsema: I enjoy reading your reviews in the Sunday Post. They have helped me identify restaurants I might like to try. I pay especial attention to your sound check. No matter how good a review you give a restaurant, if your report indicates that it is noisy, I simply will not go there. If I cannot easily talk to my table companion, it is just not worth it to me. A good deal of the enjoyment of a night out at a good restaurant is the society of your companions. If you cannot hear them because of the high noise level it takes away a lot of the enjoyment. In your recent review of the Vieux Logis, you complimented them on their quiet atmosphere. Your final comment makes me believe you may feel the same way about noisy restaurants that I do, I believe that quite a few restauranteurs feel that a lot a noise makes their restaurant feel up beat and attracts the 20 something crowd. If so, they fail to realize that this sector of society usually has less disposable income to spend on eating out than people a little older. If you believe that less noise is a plus, you are in a position to do something about it. Rather than just listing the noise level, if you would add to your reviews a few words like "While the food, service and ambience are excellent, it would be even better if the noise level were considerably lower", or "this restaurant stinks, and in addition it sounds like a boiler factory" Harri Prival
Thanks for your feedback. I have to say, however, I feel like a broken record, because I'm always harping on the acoustics in restaurants.
This year alone, I've taken to task Eat the Rich in Shaw ("not the place to meet the friend in need of a heart-to-heart or the acquaintance known to cup his ear in conversation"); Republic in Takoma Park ("a pain in the ear"); Bearnaise on the Hill ("clamorous"); and Zentan on Thomas Circle ("too loud to to allow for eavesdropping").
After my feature on restaurants that don't take reservations this weekend, dozens of readers suggested I reduce the overall rating of my subjects based on such annoyances, including high sound levels.
I'm looking forward to addressing your questions and comments. But first, some restaurant updates:
The forthcoming Argentine steakhouse from Philadelphia's Jose Garces in the Loews Madison Hotel now has a name: Rural Society, inspired by La Exposicion Rural, an annual cultural and political event held in Buenos Aires since 1866. As such, says Garces, the new restaurant's design will be "sophisticated and warm, even a touch sultry." Think warm woods, a bar specializing in whiskey and Italian aperitifs and a 10-foot grill that will burn wood imported from Argentina. The chef says his interest in the country and the theme dates back to when he cooked at Bolivar in New York in the late 1990s. In addition to lots of cuts of beef, much of it from Uraguay, the menu will highlight empanadas, potatoes and pasta dishes. The 150-seat Rural Society (formerly the Federalist) will open "mid-summer," says Garces, with chef de cuisine Luis Goral, formerly of Amada in Philadelphia and Mercat a la Planxa in Chicago, in the kitchen.
Bourbon Steak in Georgetown?s Four Seasons Hotel has a history of luring strong kitchen talent (Adam Sobel, David Varley), proven once again by the restaurant?s latest hire: Joe Palma. The replacement for John Critchley, who departed in March, returns to the market from High Cotton in Charleston, South Carolina, where he served as executive chef. Palma previously worked in Washington at Westend Bistro and under top chefs Yannick Cam and Michel Richard at the late Le Paradou and Citronelle, respectively. His San Francisco-based boss, Michael Mina, says Palma beat out three other contenders for the job and came with glowing reviews from French chef Eric Ripert, under whom Palma worked at Le Bernardin, the four-star seafood temple in New York. ?The restaurant has grown up nicely,? says Mina of his DC dining destination. ?It?s already established for steak? and, with his new hire, "will become better-known for fish." Palma starts mid-June. His debut will be accompanied by new furniture for the restaurant's patio, plus a dessert trolley in addition to a bourbon cart.
Ashok Bajaj says he's closing Oval Room June 30 for a "total renovation" of the American restaurant helmed by executive chef Tony Conte. The veteran restaurateur expects to spend about $750,000 on the make-over for his 20 year-old dining destination, which will be refreshed with Italian chairs, German carpet, marble columns, modern art and new restrooms. Beginning next month, Oval Room will be offering a two-course lunch for $25 and a three-course dinner for $50; Bajaj, who hopes to reopen the first week of August, is currently on the hunt for a chef de cuisine to work under Conte.
America Eats Tavern is expected to set sail the first week of June. The restaurant that started as a temporary partnership with the Foundation for the National Archives in July 2011, and shuttered July 4 the next year, will be resurrected in the Ritz-Carlton Tysons Corner, the former home of Michel by Michel Richard. Chef Jose Andres and his ThinkFoodGroup team, who brought the original concept to life in the former Cafe Atlantico space in Penn Quarter, will showcase dishes and drinks from all over the U.S. Look for twists on classics including she crab soup (set off with ?air bread?) and S?mores (made with foie gras and bourbon-smoked salt). Heading up the kitchen will be Nate Waugaman, formerly of Tallula and Eat Bar in Arlington.
Last but not least, Savino Recine has sold his Finemondo on F St. NW to a first-time restaurant operator, Kaiser Gill. The transaction leaves Racine with just one Italian dining destination, the 28 year-old Primi Piatti on I St. "I'm one step closer to retirement," says the food scene veteran.
On a house-keeping note, I?ll be away the rest of this week (Helsinki, here I come!), but back to chat with you again May 28.
Hi. For the uninitiated like I am, can you please define what is a "small plate" restaurant? This term shows up in nearly every one these chats. Thanks.
When I reference "small plate" restaurants, I'm talking about the increasing number of places where appetizer-size portions of food, often meant to be shared, are the drill.
Hi Tom, i love reading these chats but must admit - I'm a steak and potato kind of gal. I don't mind trying new foods, but I feel self-conscious asking servers TOO many questions, and don't want to order something minus this and minus that. I try to be a gracious guest, but find myself ordering the same few things no matter where I end up. Do you have tips for being more open to new dishes and flavors? Is there maybe a "beginner foodie" class I can take?
Interesting question. I applaud your willingness to eat outside your comfort zone. It would help if I knew more about your taste. Are bold spices the issue? Unusual (to you) ingredients?
The bottom line: you have to try something before you know for certain you don't like it, or you do like it.
I don't know of any classes for you, but one thing you might do before going to a restaurant is check out its menu online, and look up terms or ingredients you don't know. It wouldn't hurt to be honest with the server and let him know you're open to something new. As in: "I am a pretty traditional eater, but is there something on the list you think everyone who eats here should try?"
Readers, feel free to chime in with ideas for this poster.
I really want to like Bistro Vivant since I live nearby and have eaten there 6-8 times since it opened. The recent wait staff is unhappy perhaps because of all the empty tables. The owner is visible in the bar area but does not mingle. The one time he acted as host, he insisted my party of two sit at a two top when there were only 2 other tables occupied! The limited entrees at lunch are small and overpriced. The atmosphere at the sister restaurant, Assaggi Osteria, (just down the street) is cheerful with better menu choices .
Huh. The owner of Bistro Vivant has been pretty interactive when I've been in (three times in the last three months) and I'm not sure why two people would be upset about being seated at a two-top unless 1) you needed the space for work or 2) the restaurant needed the larger tables for some reason. I've only been to the bistro for dinner, so I can't comment on the portion sizes at lunch.
Tom, I really enjoyed your dining guide and appreciated that a lot of your choices in this guide were approachable, wallet-friendly places that I would pick for a night out with my spouse. I was excited to get your update on Green Pig Bistro, as we have been several times and I find that their dishes get better and better (they've lightened up on the salt!) My only complaint remains that their service at the host/hostess stand leaves a lot to be desired, but the solid bartenders, servers and food make it a great neighborhood place.
Mom is turning 90 next month and we are looking for a place in Northern VA that is accessible and quiet enough so she can hear us sing Happy Birthday! So many places are so noisy these days. She's a pretty adventurous eater but can't go too spicy. Thanks
I know your grandmother could hear you sing "Happy Birthday" at the genteel L'Auberge Chez Francois in Great Falls. Closer to Washington, there's the lofty Eventide in Clarendon, which is easy to reach via an elevator. The latter has a new chef, Antonio Burrell, whose work I have yet to try. In Falls Church, consider the window-wrapped 2941, which overlooks a lake.
Hi Tom, I have a toddler and so haven't been out in a while and need your help! We are looking for a place to celebrate an exciting milestone. We'd like it to be special but not a $500 meal. Palena was our go-to spot but now we are in need of a new one. Other restaurants we've loved are Rasika, Oval Room. Thanks for your help!
Tom, Any ideas for good upscale solo bar dining where the food is good and the bar not too loud. Cityzen is great but more of a special occassion (even for solo dining). The food at Central is excellent but the bar a bit too raucous. Suggestions?
Corduroy, near the convention center, is where you want to find yourself. The upstairs bar offers a three-course, $30 menu that is one of the best bargains in the city. If they're offered, try the duck confit or the salmon on sushi rice, two of the entree selections I've enjoyed there.
My sister is coming to DC to visit over Memorial weekend. She loves ethnic cuisine (the spicier the better, preference for unfussy and authentic) and we've hit Ethiopic, Rasika, and Dukem on prior visits. I own a car, so the sky (within a 20-mile radius) is the limit. Vegetarian-friendly and takes reservations are plusses. Suggestions?
Nice and fiery also applies to the Laotian fare at Bangkok Golden Thai Restaurant in Falls Church. One of its many hits is a salad built from shredded bamboo shoots, ginger, mint, garlic and shallots.
If you enjoyed Ethiopic, I think you'll dig Meaza in Falls Church. It's the biggest of the area's many Ethiopian restaurants and doesn't pull punches when it comes to heat. Caveat: Thai Square takes reservations only for parties of six or more.
Tom, any thoughts on the trend of restaurants imitating the street food you get overseas? It seems like there's some good entrants: Doi Moi and the new Soi 38 for example. However, the fact that they're served in trendy brick and mortar establishments and priced accordingly sort of defeats the purpose, don't you think? When I think Thai street food, I think of a spicy basil stir-fry over a mound of rice, all for the equivalent of $2, served on a cheap plate for you to enjoy wherever you find a spot to sit.
Yeah, but you can't expect a restaurant in DC, where rents can be sky-high, to survive by offering a $2 plate of food. It's an impossible task, really.
One of the co-owners of the new, street food-serving Compass Rose told me they initially hoped to put a grill in the back, to give the restaurant the authentic (casual) vibe you're talking about, but the health department nixed the idea.
Hi Tom, my rant is servers who say "no problem" when you ask for something or thank them for something. I'm glad it's not a problem but I wish they would come up with another response.
"Happy to oblige" works for me!
Someone Else Who Hates "No Problem"
Hey Tom, I know using the moniker 'wine bar' can be slightly misleading because most restaurants in town serve food and wine but I'm curious what is your favorite? I've always enjoyed Cork, their wine list is interesting, affordable but sometimes you go in there and it's a zoo. I tried Flight last week and while I found their wines to be solid, the food didn't mesh well at all. Any thoughts?
Hi Tom, Fate has thrown an unexpected trip to Oklahoma City my way. I'll be there for several days, and would love to get a good taste of the restaurant scene out there. Have you or the chatters spent any time there? Thanks in advance!
Oklahoma City, anyone?
Any recommendations for great fish and chips in the District? Seems hard to do it well, but really easy to mess it up.
I've been seeing variations on the theme of fish & chips lately, including at Flight Wine Bar, where crisp sardines and vinegary fried potatoes mix with (unfortunately) chewy clams.
I'm guessing you're looking for something more traditional. I know GBD, which stands for Golden Brown Delicious, sells fish and chips on its evening menu. If the combo is anything like the restaurant's signature fried chicken, you're in for a treat.
Hi Tom, Moving from U St with hubby and kiddo to Chevy Chase DC. Love the food science by us (of course!) but in search of some low-key gems. Any less obvious places that you'd recommend? Looking forward to our daily fix at Broad Branch Market already! Thanks!!
I have high hopes for the week-old Macon, at 5520 Conn. Ave. NW. Its menu is a little Southern (think boiled peanuts and fried green tomatoes) mixed with a little French (steak frites and raclette). That part of town desperately needs more good restaurants and my fingers are crossed that Macon will deliver.
Good morning, Tom! Posting early as I won't be around for the chat, but looking forward to reading the archives. I'll be bringing my family to Washington for a week. We are all adventurous eaters and love all kinds of cuisine. I'm vegetarian, the rest will eat meat if the menu is intriguing enough. We do not have an unlimited budget, and prefer to eat early (before 6pm). We'll be staying in Adams Morgan and doing all of the normal touristy stuff. Where do we need to eat, Monday - Thursday? Thanks for your help -- I know you won't steer us wrong!
In Adams Morgan, you should try the lofty Roofers Union on 18th St. NW. I took a vegetarian there over the weekend and she loved the food and the space.
In Penn Quarter, Zaytinya and its many Greek and Middle Eastern mezze never disappoint. Fourteenth St. is jammed with some of the city's trend-setting restaurants. Make time for Etto for pizza and salads (no reservations, alas) and Doi Moi for Vietnamese-Thai cooking. Finally, near the White House, I'm fond of the regal (but moderately-priced) Bombay Club for excellent Indian fare.
Thx for the new guide! So excited you are here on a Monday, as I am meeting a friend I met 10 yrs. ago while traveling in Thailand this afternoon (and haven't seen since!). He is in town with his wife and I'm planning to meet them after work for a drink- they will likely be on the mall during the day. Where do you suggest I take them so I can come off as a local that knows her stuff?
This is for drinks and snacks, right? Off the Mall, I like Oyamel for margaritas and ceviche, Jaleo for sangria and tapas, Central for cheese puffs and Champagne and the bar at Rasika for Indian-inspired cocktails and, well, just about everything on the menu is thrilling. Good luck!
Happy Monday(!) Tom. I am headed to Boston in a few weeks for a wedding, and am looking for some suggestions for a lunch and a dinner. Took a look at your last postcard from 2011 and wondered if there were any updates. Thanks!
Having never had anything other than mussels and beer at Mussel bar, I've been surprised by your continued low reviews. When considering stars, what kind of allowance to you make for a place that may specialize in one thing, but not be worth going to for anything else? A place called Mussel Bar has great mussels...doesn't that mean it should deserve more than a star, even if everything else is bad?
I get your point, but Mussel Bar has satisfactory, not "great," mussels. And everything else -- well, save for the beer -- was really off. ( I mean, my salmon reeked.) Since my original review of the joint, the menu has expanded to include a lot more than mussels -- and should be judged on more than one dish.
Tom, my wife and I always preferred the Bistro to the Tasting Room. Haven't had a chance to go back since the renovation and change. Can you give an idea of how the current experience compares to the old Bistro experience?
Kudos to the format of the dining guide. I like being able to scroll down the list quickly rather than clicking through a slideshow.
A couple of things to try to help try more things: - Tying in with the earlier question, small plates places are a great way to try a few things outside of your comfort zone without too much risk; you can still order enough 'safe' plates to make up a meal if you don't like your risky choice. - Along the same lines, go out with a riskier eater who won't mind letting you try what they order, or even splitting main courses with you. - Go out earlier or on a less crowded night, when you might feel more comfortable asking the waiter a bunch of questions. Better yet, if you can find somewhere that food is routinely served at the bar, and the bartender is knowledgeable about the food. - Order a protein you're comfortable with, prepared with flavors you know less about.
Great suggestions! Thanks for sharing.
Have you heard from Jose Andres? He must be so happy to read your new review.
I have not heard from Jose, but he's had a pretty busy weekend. Did you catch this video clip from his commencement address to GWU students?
Hi Tom, Love the dining guide and all of your reviews. My wife and I routinely select places to eat based on your opinion and we have had great experiences doing so! In February, we took a long weekend at L'Auberge Provencale in White Post, VA - a town I didn't even realize existed in a part of Virginia I thought was notable only for the Ashby Inn (and some good wineries). The food, however, was really quite amazing and innovative. I was wondering if you had been and if your experience was like ours. We've been back once since that weekend and have found that first visit wasn't a fluke. Good stuff going on in that kitchen! Thanks for your work to steer us to the best the DC area (and slightly beyond) has to offer!
Ah, thanks for the prompt. My last meal there (two years ago maybe?) was memorable for all the wrong reasons. But if there's anything I learned from going back to more than 25 restaurants for the spring guide, it's that restaurants can change greatly over not all that much time.
You said, "I'm not sure why two people would be upset about being seated at a two-top unless 1) you needed the space for work or 2) the restaurant needed the larger tables for some reason." If the restaurant needs the larger tables for some reason, then I wouldn't be upset, but from what the OP said, that didn't appear to be the case. And if it wasn't the case, and a pair of semi-regular customers wanted a 4-top for any reason, I don't see why that would be a problem for the restaurant.
I don't understand why "no problem" is such a problem. It is not a problem it is part of the service of their job. What does Your Welcome mean? Cest ne riien which basically says it is nothing is acceptable in French.
Maybe the best response is a smile and a nod?
My husband and I are looking for a Saturday date night in Georgetown and heard good things about Filamena from one person, but okay things from another. Is it worth going there or would you recommend some place else? We have a pretty open palate, but would like to keep entrees under $30. (It doesn't need to be fancy, just amazing food)
I also hate being seated at a two-top when dining out with only my husband. I like to hang on to my appetizers throughout the meal and always order a drink, as well as water. I never feel that I have enough room on a two-top, and I am always happy when my daughter wants to go to dinner with us, as then we get a larger table.
The problem might be tables for two that are too small. I've certainly encountered that lately, in places where small plates are the drill. There's simply not room for much.
So glad that Oval Room is getting renovated. We absolutely love the place, but I always feel a bit like I'm stepping into someplace significantly less special each time I use the restroom. Please make the ladies' room bigger and a bit fancier!
From your lips to Mr. Bajaj's ears (or eyes)!
Tom: While I enjoy your reviews, I wish you would add lighting or the lack thereof to your reviews. I do not want to go to a place where I have to have a flashlight to read a menu and/or see my food. We went to Timpanos and have never been back because the place was so dark and diners were having to share their table candle. There have been other places. I want to reach the menu and see what I am eating. Please start mentioning the problem when it exists.
Duly noted. I've been in a few caves lately and can sympathize!
I was surprised to read your downbeat review of Majestic. I would have thought that when Cathal Armstrong pulled out of Virtue, he would have had more time to focus on all of the other restaurants in his hospitality group. Do you think the issues at Majestic just require a bit more attention from the boss? Alexandria needs its few good restaurants!
Love that you included Thai Square! It's long been one of my favorite Thai places (and one of my favorite neighborhood places) and you opened my eyes to some new dishes I will have to try!
How will you do that, without letting everyone see what you look like?
You just have to be there to find out!
Hi Tom, I know today we are focused on the spring dining guide, but I want to point out a restaurant off the beaten path in Alexandria. My husband and I went to Bastille this weekend for an anniversary dinner, and they were most gracious and welcoming and the food was excellent. We were welcomed with gratis glasses of champagne. We ordered the four course menu (appetizer, salad, entree and dessert) and when we ran out of time to finish before a show at next door MetroStage, they invited us to come back after the show to finish our dinner and dessert instead of rushing. Kudos to Bastille to getting the service and the food right.
I enjoyed the insights into your approach and craft in the MetroWeekly piece. The fact that you have upwards of 10 credit cards in alternative names made me chuckle. If you ever get arrested, you will have a long list of AKA... Also Known As.. in the police blotter. I hope some of them are creatively names like Seymour Butts.
Frankly, *I* hope I never get arrested!
and I guess I didn't read my post carefully enough before submitting it, because it never occurred to me that it would come across that way. I'm not into winning and I have no dog in this fight because I've never been to that place and it's highly unlikely I could ever afford to go. I really just wanted an explanation of your initial response.
No offense taken (and I wasn't being snarky). Just want to move things along here. ;)
Tom, Tom, Thanks for the new dining guide. It is very insightful. My question: Do you think Nostos is a better restaurant than Mourayo? You give it 2.5 stars, while Mourayo only earned 2 stars. Having eaten many times at Mourayo, we ate at Nostos for the first time last month. While we enjoyed the meal, we thought that overall, we have enjoyed our food, and the ambiance, at Mourayo much more. Thoughts?
Hi Tom, I was pretty surprised to see Thai Square get such a favorable review in the dining guide. Clearly we ordered the wrong thing (pad thai and a veggie curry) when we tried it out last, because it was our least favorite place on the Pike. What should we have been ordering? (And have you tried out some of the other places on the Pike to compare it to?)
Pad Thai is a pretty ordinary dish. I never see Thais eat it when I'm out. Go for the more adventurous fare.
I know you often get asked about being recognized at restaurants. It seems that you know a number of area chefs, if they are working in the back and also coming out front to the dining area to check on patrons, wouldnt they at least recognize you even if the staff hasnt?
Yep. It's increasingly difficult to go out and not get recognized at some point during the meal. That's the result of doing this now for 14 years, As I told Metro Weekly, one thing in my favor is, I visit restaurants multiple times before reviewing them, and on at least one of those trips, someone doesn't know me or doesn't figure I'm there until late in the game.
I was disappointed to read your review of Mussel Bar, as I was planning on going to the Ballston outpost this week -- does the bad review extend to Ballston, too?
Can't say. I haven't been to the offshoots. Sorry!
I think you have done it before and I know sometimes many restaurantuers read your chat while going on, but any chance of lining up a chef to accompany you on one of your weekly chats to answer the usual questions on here (making reservations, noise levels, addressing a problem at the time etc). You always do a great job of following up with various restaurants to inquire about specific insitances people have written in about. I think it would be an interesting juxtaposition/complement to your reviews. Plus maybe get a little validation for what you say, especially to those who constantly question you.
I've done that in the past, and may again extend an invitation to chefs and restaurateurs to join me for this hour-long chat. Who would you like to be my guest?
I'm on a kick lately to attempt one cooking project a month - something the research and learn about. I've made my own pasta and last weekend I smoked ribs for 14 hours (unbelievably good). If you had time to undertake a project like this, what might it be?
I'd take a kimchi class. Love that stuff!
Any thoughts on the Williamsburg area for a milestone birthday this weekend? We loved Trellis but assume it's no longer there.
Memory failing me, but look at the last two chats, because I addressed this very question. One is a winery operation ...
I wonder if part of the problem may be that the table tops haven't grown any while the plates, glasses, cutlery, (and we) have. So, what may have felt fine in the 1960's is probably too small for two adults and their meals today.
The diners have grown, too!
One thought is thinking in terms of "adjacent" foods - either geographically or in terms of ingredients. For example, if you're comfortable with Italian, you might branch into other Mediterranean foods (greek, southern french, spanish) because the ingredient lists will be similar. The same goes for various Asian foods, etc... You could also define what main ingredients you're comfortable with (e.g. chicken and rice or meat and potatoes) and look for new foods that rely primarily on those main ingredients. For example, if you're a meat and potatoes person, you could try various Latin American foods and not feel too far from what you're used to. Also - taking cooking classes with a friend might be a good way to go. That way you'll get more of a feel for how food's constructed and get a familiarity with food in general. That can help you feel more at home with new foods.
What a smart crowd. Thanks for weighing in.
Tom, when was the last time you had a good PB&J sandwich?
but I still don't go to prestige restaurants that don't offer reservations for one simple reason: Dining out is generally a PART of my evening out, not the whole of it. Reservations mean that I have confidence I'll be able to eat and still make the play/concert/random drum circle I'm planning on attending later. I paid for those tickets, too, and I intend to get my money's worth from them. I dealt with this just last weekend. Thanks to Masa 14 for taking reservaations; we had a lovely meal with great service and made it to the theatre in plenty of time.
As I suggested in my no-reservations story, dining out in some of the hot new restaurants has become sport, and a young person's game. The old rules don't always apply anymore.
That's a wrap for today, gang. Remember, I'm gone Wednesday, but I'll be back to talk food and restaurants again at 11 a.m. May 28.