Hi Tom, what is the etiquette around offering others a bite of your food? We often go out for dinner with a group of friends. Someone will often ask if anyone wants to try their dish, and pretty soon everyone is tasting each other's meal -- everyone except me. I'm the lone vegetarian in our group. By the time everyone has sampled my dish, a good 1/3 of my meal is gone. I can't supplement my appetite with a half-dozen bites from all of their dishes, because I don't eat meat. Is it rude to simply NOT offer others a sample, when everyone else is doing so? I tried last weekend, and it felt conspicuous and awkward. Or am I obliged to offer up my plate if others are offering up theirs, even if it means not getting my money's worth and possibly leaving a little hungry? Thanks!
I'm all about sharing food with friends at a table. Hey, I couldn't do my job if I didn't pass around forks or plates!
That said, I'm sympathetic to your situation. Because you don't eat meat and everyone else in group appears to, there are two strategies to consider.
One, you could playfully beg off participating in the pass-around. Simply say, "Hey, gang, I love you, but I don't eat meat and I can't taste your dishes. I'll be left with an amuse bouche for dinner if you insist on sharing." The second option is to order two vegetarian dishes -- one for your pals to try, the other just for you -- and split the cost (or not).
CHECKING IN: Look for a post-Labor Day launch for DBGB Bar and Kitchen at CityCenter DC, a project its creator, the acclaimed chef Daniel Boulud, describes as ?a French brasserie meets American tavern.?
During a telephone interview this week, Boulud also shared news of a promotion for Ed Scarpone, his executive sous chef at db Bistro in Manhattan, who is poised to be the executive chef of the forthcoming restaurant on the corner of 9th and H streets NW. While smaller than the original, DBGB at CityCenter has the advantage of two separate areas for private dining.
But first, Boulud is throwing himself a ?chefs only? party, ?a get-together with my buddies,? at La Piquette June 23. The French bistro, a baguette?s toss from National Cathedral, is owned by Francis Layrle, whom Boulud met when he originally came to Washington --- back in 1980. Boulud briefly served in the District as the private chef for the ambassador of the European Economic Community; Layrle cooked at the French embassy, where he ended up feeding seven ambassadors over the years.
To make it easier on his host, Boulud is coming down for the occasion with some of the charcuterie he plans to offer at DBGB. Dessert for the party, at which he also hopes to meet the city?s younger chefs, will include baked Alaska, which will be a signature sweet at the future DBGB.
A native of Providence, R. I., Scarpone, has also worked for his boss at Café Boulud in New York. ?He?s been with me six years,? says Boulud. ?Now I need to be loyal to him.? The younger chef relocates to Washington next month.
What took Boulud so long to come back? While there was an earlier opportunity to open a restaurant in Washington, says the chef, the proposal was linked to a hotel. ?I didn?t think it was the right fit,? he says. ?I?m independent this time.?
Beauchamp, also a veteran of Restaurant Eve and Bistro Bis, left 1789 and the Washington area six years ago to spend time in Seattle and Minneapolis. He returned in March to be closer to his family. In April, he began helping out in the front of the house at the Fainting Goat, which is owned by a long-time friend of his, Greg Algie.
?I?m going to completely revamp the menu,? said Beauchamp, soon to be 39, in a telephone interview. ?Because we?re on U St., I want to make it more approachable.? The new executive chef plans to put arancini and pickled eggs on the bar menu and whole fish and dishes for two on the dinner list.
Good morning, gang. Bring on your rants and raves, your questions and comments, your ... well, you catch my drift.
Hi, any restaurant recommendations for St. Louis? I'll be there for business for about a week. Thanks to you and your readers for any suggestions.
Last Saturday my 22 year old son and girlfriend went to dinner at Rasika West End to celebrate his birthday. They did not tell anyone at the restaurant it was a birthday celebration until they had paid their check and were getting ready to leave. The host came over to see if they had enjoyed their dinner, and when he or she learned it was my son's birthday, insisted on taking them to the bar and treating them to a glass of champagne. With all the rants about young people being ignored at restaurants, I thought it's a nice counterpoint to write in when something nice happens.
Why do waiters always start with this question, even when the restaurant is not new? I was recently asked this question by the waiter at Rosa Mexicano in Friendship Heights, which is neither new nor does it have a confusing menu. When we answered yes, the server used this to assume we wanted their (significantly over-priced) guacamole, barely giving us the chance to ask for a different appetizer (I'll leave my complaints about the popularity of ordinary "table-side guac" for another chat). Restaurants should give their customers some credit and come up with a better opening line.
In defense of the server, he was probably coached by his employer to open with that or some similar line, which, depending on the guest's response, could lead to a verbal tour of some of the restaurant's highlights.
Rosa Mexicano's guacamole is one of the kitchen's better efforts. You seem to perceive mention of the dish as an up-sell. Fair enough.
P.S. Just because a restaurant has been around for awhile doesn't mean every customer has been in or knows the drill.
Don't split the cost. That is, the vegetarian should not have to pay for the dish that the carnivores split among themselves. Even if it's "just a taste" apiece, the carnivores should understand the problem and split the cost among themselves as well as the dish.
"Guys, I'm sorry, but I have a cold, and I certainly wouldn't want anybody to get it from sampling my food. And I promise not to taste your dishes, either."
Why not just be honest?
Dear Tom, In the Fall, I will be be getting married at the Key Bridge Marriott and guests will be coming in on a Friday and staying through the weekend. What would be your suggestions for some good restaurants near the area where they can either walk or take a quick cab ride into Georgetown/DC? The Bride
In Georgetown, your guests might enjoy 1789 for a civilized American experience, Bourbon Steak in the Four Seasons for more than just great grilled beef, Shophouse Southeast Asian Kitchen for quick but delicious rice and noodle bowls, Pizzeria Paradiso for the obvious pies and beer and Fiola Mare for top-notch Italian seafood with a waterfront view.
Here's more of a comment than a question. You've raved about Iron Gate Inn. I couldn't wait to go and booked a nice table for a special birthday. And..."meh." It was all right. Rather disappointing and I wouldn't go there again. Service and atmosphere were nice, but food was not. I thought we might have hit them on an "off day." My brother and sister-in-law went for their anniversary a couple weeks later. They said the food was so terrible, that it was inedible. Maybe you need to revisit...
I'll be in London for five days. I'll be dining alone and would like to check out a combo of "don't miss" splurges with more casual (and affordable) spots. Any recommends? I may take some day trips too so feel free to steer me further afield.
Thanks for the tips - the empanadas were as good as described! We were very pleased with our meal, although it went by quickly, probably because the restaurant was almost empty (at 7 on a Saturday, weird...). Anyway, just wanted to let you know - there was a large party (18-20 adults plus a few small kids) within our sight lines that night, and to me [service industry vet] it looked like the restaurant was handling them with aplomb. They had a semi-private corner of the dining room; courses were served small-plates style, so I'm guessing the menu was decided in advance, but they looked well-taken-care of regardless. Might be one more spot to add to your list when people look for large-group suggestions!
Good to know: Del Campo is good for groups.
But maybe not for people who like to sit at bars. Here's another post from this morning:
Hi Tom, I?m a big fan of the chats and have only written in with glowing praise for restaurants in the past, but today is a different story.
I recently went to del Campo (not going to mention the day). I sat down at the bar and the bartender brought over a paper menu covered in food and water glass rings. Not a huge deal. Ten minutes later, not even a glass of water, so I had to flag the bartender down (something I don?t like to do).
I asked if they had unsweetened ice tea. The bartender didn?t really answer me but ten minutes later, returned with a raspberry iced tea. I mentioned that I didn?t really want a raspberry tea, and asked for a glass of water. I ordered the churri-pan sandwich?and waited?and waited?and waited. Two guys sat down next to me, ordered after I did, ate their sandwiches and were on round two of beers before a sandwich arrived. Unfortunately, that sandwich wasn?t mine; they brought the wrong one. My guess is that the bartender either didn?t fire my sandwich to the kitchen or plugged the wrong one in to the POS system.
I wasn?t asked if I wanted steak fries or the yucca fries, and on and on and on. What annoyed me most was that the manager overheard my conversation with the bartender in which I very nicely asked if they could check with the kitchen on my sandwich as I had waited close to 40 minutes, but chose conveniently not to intervene. I?m going to assume that this was a new employee, but it was a train wreck. Tighten up your service game, del Campo.
P.S. ? The correct sandwich eventually arrived and was big and tasty. I don?t think I?ll return, though.
Hi Tom, I've been meaning to ask this since your Metro Weekly interview ran. You mentioned, "I find real beauty in a stellar roast chicken or a great simple pasta carbonara or a great hamburger." Do tell - where are you finding this great simple pasta carbonara? I've been craving this dish since a trip to Italy 2 years ago, but can't find a suitable version anywhere around here. I've even asked this question a few times, but you've never answered. Now that you've been outed as a lover of this simple dish, please don't keep us in the dark!
I'm not trying to keep a secret, but the last best carbonara I had was not in this market, alas.
Fine, as long as it's not followed by some inanity like "let me explain to you what we do here" -- this in a restaurant that was not a tapas or other specialized place. There was absolutely nothing out of the ordinary about its procedures. Which tempted us to respond, "Well, we thought we would order food and you would bring it to us and we would eat it and pay for it." We didn't, but we thought about it.
I'm going to use that line next time! (Permission granted?)
I was amused by this, from the Post's Real Estate profile of Penn Quarter this weekend: "...bars and restaurants are packed, from longtime fixtures such as Tony Cheng?s Seafood Restaurant and Mongolian Barbecue to newer eateries such as Zaytinya..." Well, yes, Zaytinya is newer than Tony Cheng's, but after 12 years, I'd consider it a fixture too.
Uh, me too.
Hi Tom! One of my favorite dishes in the world (made correctly) is duck confit, and I'm tempted to order it whenever I see it in a new restaurant. However, I've noticed a lot of times it's really really salty. Like, take a bite and three gulps of water salty. When this happens, I tell the waiter that it's too salty and I want something else, and they generally are okay with it, but they also feel the need to tell me, "it's supposed to be salty." I know it's salt-cured, but I just don't understand how some chefs think it's okay to send out salt in meat form and think it's okay. Then I'm also in an awkward position to wait for another dish while my dining companion eats theirs, and dinner is thrown off kilter. Do you know if there's a way to figure out ahead of time how salty these dishes are? On a related note, has that ever happened to you? I'm just boggled how "it's supposed to be salty" has become an excuse.
Salt is part of the curing process. But salt and other enhancers are generally brushed or rinsed off before the duck is immersed in fat.
You might want to ask the waiter how the chef prepares the dish, and let him or her know of your sensitivity to excess salt. A good duck confit should be succulent and seasoned *well.* A good duck confit should *not* smack mostly of salt.
Like you, I'm I'm a huge fan of the dish. The last best bird I recall is the duck confit at Water & Wall, where it gets a juniper cure.
Not a comment on the first poster's understandable problem, but what happened to us once. A couple of my sisters were in town during restaurant week so we went to a restaurant that will remain unnamed to try it out. Since the offer was a three course meal, we each ordered a different appetizer, entree and dessert. Each ate about a third of the dish, and passed them right. That way we all got to try everything. In the middle of the second pass of the entree, the manager came to our table and said that we shouldn't do that, as it could spread germs. Well I've been sharing food, toys, kisses, and whatever else with my sisters for all their life (I'm the oldest) and so far have not died from it. Besides, it was a lot less fun than what we normally do, pass forks full of food around and across the table.
What a strange thing for a manager to say (and bother commenting on). As if it's any of his business.
Dear Tom, A good friend and I want to have lunch in capitol hill area. Good food, able to talk, hassle free parking...any ideas?
Hi Tom, I'm wondering what's the line between complaining about a meal and just saying Oh, well, I've had better. Last weekend, I ate lunch at a casual pub-style restaurant and had a very mediocre steak salad and a beer that wasn't to my taste. The server asked how everything was and I said fine, but I wondered if I should have said "the steak was flavorless, tough in places and poorly sliced and I didn't like the beer." I figured that this would have resulted in an offer to bring another beer and possibly a new entree, but this seemed like overkill. I mean, the salad wasn't inedible, just not fabulous and my husband drank my beer happily. But, I will probably not go back to that restaurant because my thinking is "they don't have great food." Should I have given the waiter my feedback? I mean, I doubt I would have wanted a substitute entree; I had picked out the good parts of the salad already.
You would have helped out the restaurant -- not to mention future diners -- by being more straightforward with the waiter. How can the place improve if no one delivers honest feedback? Had substitutes for the flaws been offered, you could have politely declined them.
Hi Tom, Love your advice, but was unsure how to handle a recent situation at Tim's Rivershore down in Dumfries. My fiance and I went to celebrate her being able to go back to work after a few months recovering from knee surgery. The hostess took one glance at my fiance and informed her that she was not the "normal type" of people that ate at the restaurant and that it would be at least an hour for a table and subsequent food due to the way my fiance was dressed. We quickly asked to speak to her manager to which she retorted that she was the manager. I quickly made the decision to leave without entertaining her rudeness any further and despite previous good experiences at the place and the good food I am considering never returning and letting all my friends and family know not to go there either. How would you have handled the rudeness?
Am I missing something here? What, pray tell, was your significant other wearing (or not wearing) to attract such attention?
At "better" restaurants, the food is supposedly better when the head Chef is on the premises, supposedly cooking the entrees himself (or at least closely monitoring the process). How do we know what day(s) of the week that is likely to happen? Or even know that he/she is there when we are there?
I hate to break it to you, but even in "better" restaurants -- the French Laundry in Napa, Le Bernardin in NYC -- the marquee name isn't always fussing over your meal. Indeed, the unsung hero of the kitchen is the sous chef, who has to know exactly how every dish is prepared even as he or she gets little or no credit.
My grandma is turning 88 next Friday and my sister and I would like to take her somewhere fun to celebrate. She is pretty active and can move about but lots of stairs are difficult. She often takes us out to eat in the Georgetown area to a few regular spots (Restaurant Nora, Bistrot Lepic, and Malmaison are in the rotation). I would like to do something fun and a little different - maybe sit outside in a pretty location (could be in a not too far suburb). There will be 5-6 of us. We would like to treat her but don't want to break the bank. Any suggestions would be appreciated.
So can eating anyplace that isn't your own home. Does he want to stop people from coming to his restaurant?
So can getting a cup of coffee at Starbucks, where I just encountered a door "painted" with finger marks.
Hey Tom, I was thinking of taking my significant other somewhere special tonight, between working and grad school we haven't had time to really go 'out out'. I was wondering if Rose's Luxury was really worth the wait and all the praise it seems to get?
I went with a group of friends to Iron Gate on Sunday evening. We were all very impressed with the food (especially the soft shell crab special), the service, the atmosphere, the wines. The service was especially good. Would definitely go back!
Good to know.
In my dinner groups, it seems understood that if you can't swap with someone you don't offer, which means If I can't offer you a bite of my carnivore's special, I'm sure as heck not expecting a bite of your vegetarian delight. I'm also cringing at the image of a large group swapping of tastes. The germs and the chaos seem equally awful. But maybe I'm just an old curmudgeon.
Wow, you would *hate* eating with me ....
For London: Borough Market for super casual dining, it's a market after all, but everything I've ever had there has been delicious. For Arlington, if you're recommending Liberty Tavern, then you pass Pho 75, Guajillo and two of the Ray's places on the way. You can either cab or walk up a hill.
Yes to Borough Market, which, when I was there, had a fabulous stand selling grilled cheese sandwiches. Simple but sensational.
I do not understand the continued love for La Diplomate. We went a few weekends ago. 7:30 reservation. Check in at 7:20. Are told to wait at the bar. I check back at 7:45. Am told to wait at the bar. At 8:00, I basically stand at the podium until they seat me, which was it at 8:15, and we are seated at a table, which has been open, since 7:45. Food is just ok, nothing fabulous. And it is very expensive for what it is. And man, is it loud. With all the restaurants in DC it is not something i would ever rush back to. You constantly get complaints like this, and yet you continue to recommend it.
Tom--saw one of your colleagues did a nice write-up on Union Market but they neglected my favorite spot, Rappahannock Oyster House. What are your go-to eateries within Union Mkt? I'm less impressed with that place Bidwells--food was okay but kitchen was slammed and it seemed to take forever. I also adore the sandwiches at A.Literi, the Italian import shop next door to Union Mkt.
Yep, Tim Carman did a big spread on Union Market in the Weekend section.
Since you brought up the subject, let me just say that the raw oysters at Rappahannock Oyster Bar are a joke. Three times I've tried them there now, and every time I get grit and oysters that taste as if they were rinsed of their essence. Blech. And the chowder tastes like paste.
If you are sitting with the rest of your party or rode in a vehicle witht hem you are already sahred your cold with them. Stop being a jerk and share! Have a finely aged single malt to kill the germs and have fun.
Love your attitude!
Hi Tom, Not sure if I am being unreasonable here, but a group of 8 of us recently dined at Roofers Union. Throughout the meal we told our waitress about our desire to have a drink following dinner on the rooftop patio. She highly recommended doing so and told us how much we'd enjoy it. After eating, we attempted to make our way up to the roof, but were placed on a 30 minute wait list, behind many groups that had not even eaten at the restaurant. I know they are customers too, but should there be any priority for those who just spent a couple hours within the restaurant?
That sounds fair. But your server should have mentioned the wait list, and even placed your name on it ahead of your wrapping up dinner.
Tom - you've been my north star for eating in DC. I'm moving up to Boston now. Who should I pay attention to there to get similar recs?
If you're looking for a real London Experience, go to the Columbia Road flower market - every sunday, only sunday. Then wander over to Brick Lane and catch the vibe - but end up at a wonderful cheap and cheerful restaurant - Dosa World, just off Brick Lane in Hanbury Street. Don't eat in Brick Lane itself - it's now a tad touristy. You could then enjoy the Whitechapel Art Gallery. If you end up at Spitalfields, have a fantastic meal at The English Restaurant (pub) which has fantastic English food. If you find yourself in Oxford Circus, Libery's Cafe is fantastic - great food, lovely atmosphere and of course Liberty's itself is divine.
Thanks for the additional ideas.
Hi Tom, I have to say, the Iron Gate Inn has become our office's de facto home away from home. The food is lovely, the staff are always kind, and it's got a wonderful ambiance. I have tried a lot of their plates but I keep going back to the gyro of the day, and the Greek donuts with the orange glaze are outstanding. My only less than enthusiastic comment is that the service is leisurely, but I'm sure if you mentioned it to the staff, they could speed up if time was pressing. Keep on recommending it!
Another point of view. Thanks.
It's called warming up to the guests and getting a feel. Pretty sure the server would have been "cold and/or uncaring" otherwise....
A restaurant can't win, right?
I'm a vegetarian, and usually don't have too much trouble. I don't often dine with more than one or three other people. If the portion seems small I don't offer, but generally I determine I can easily afford to share two or three bites of everything without going hungry, restaurant portions being what they normally are. My problem is more often the traditionally communal food (pizza, Chinese, etc.) where everybody wants to share, nobody but me wants a vegetarian dish, and the vegetarian dish (e.g the margherita pizza) is fair game to all of the carnivores. One just has to learn to put ones foot down ("I need a whole order of Palak Chaat just for me, since I can't share any of the other appetizers . . . "). Since my meal is typically a lot cheaper than the meat meals, no one usually minds if I get something of my own.
Thanks for weighing in. Very sensible approach.
Tom: When I was a reporter at a local newspaper, I really didn't appreciate it when I got complaints about delivery issues. So, I would not do that to you. But if you happen to know someone in circulation, tell them, more often than not, the Wednesday paper is missing the Food section insert. I live in Delaware and buy the Post at a local convenience store. I picked one up this morning, anxious to read about your latest discovery. Unfortunately, I won't have the opportunity this week.
Argh. Sorry to hear that. (But you know everything in print is also online, right?)
Tom, We used to be regulars at Praline in Bethesda. They changed chefs about 6 months ago and the menu changed as well. We used to go every week, but things started to decline in the bistro. We went back two weeks ago and ordered the red snapper, which was grilled and served with hollandaise (why I don't know). I asked for it without the sauce. It came to the table with the "hollandaise", which looked more like thousand island dressing. I told the waiter that I'd ordered it without the sauce and he quickly took my plate back to the ktichen and brought me another piece of the snapper. It tasted far from fresh. It was awful. I was being treated to dinner so I didn't want to send it back. It is sad how much it has gone downhill. The bakery is still fantastic, but the bistro has gone downhill. It is sad because the owners are the nicest people. How can I address this or should I just vote with my feet?
I think you just addressed the issue, and I agree: the bakery, which I buy from, is superior to the restaurant.
How do you manage people's expectations that you are up-to-date on every restaurant in the DMV; and people's ire when their dining experience varies even slightly from your own? I would go nuts.
Great question! I think I have an advantage over civilians, in that I visit a restaurant (at least) three times for 99 percent of my star-rated Magazine reviews. Restaurants are different from day to day, week to week, month to month. I get that. Your mileage may vary. And while I do listen to what strangers have to say about a given restaurant, I balance that with what they leave out or what restaurants sometimes report back to me about customers. Short answer to a question that deserves more time.
Tom, you said, "Just because a restaurant has been around for awhile doesn't mean every customer has been in or knows the drill." Unless there is something out of the ordinary in the way the restaurant takes orders or serves food, and possibly unless the restaurant has an iconic offering that the guests are not likely to discover on the menu, "the drill" is hardly a corporate secret. I absolutely hate it when servers ask if I've been there before and I have yet to be let in on some heretofore unknown protocol when I've responded in the affirmative. And if I have been there before, many times, in fact, the only result is to make me feel unimportant and the server unobservant.
Amen, brother (or sister)! But one thing I'm keenly aware of is this: not everyone eats out a dozen meals a week like I do. For instance, you and I might think "tapas" don't need 'splaining (as Ricky Ricardo might say), but less experienced patrons might appreciate the explanation. You and I might hate it when servers introduce themselves, but guess what? Some diners love it! And so on.
I don't think so - I'm mot going to be the server's best friend. I am not in the restaurant for fake bonhomie, a performance, an up-sell or a wish for affirmation masking as interest in how the food is going down. I am looking for courteous, sensitive and knowledgeable service.
I had a server interrupt me so many times at a recent meal -- different from last week's! -- I almost held up a stop sign on her last approach. More servers need to learn how to "read" a table.
Went out of town for a couple weeks and come back to find my best neighborhood restaurant has gone ?poof?. What happened?
Tom, this is for the reader who asked for Portland, ME recommendations last week. I work for a law firm based in Portland, so have occasion to head up there pretty frequently. Most of these are in the Old Port section. DiMillo's: where everyone sends tourists. Don't do it. It's a floating restaurant on a wharf serving seafood. Atmosphere is more cruise ship than waterfront. Food is meh. You can do better. The Salt Exchange: small plates, local ingredients. Have been several times, both lunch and dinner, always enjoyed. Lobster roll is excellent but there are tons of other options. Paciarino's: small Italian joint, homemade pasta. Delicious, is a fave of one of my coworkers. It lived up to his accolades. Becky's Diner: total divey diner, excellent food. Another coworker's fave. The Black Tie Co.: my lunchtime sandwich shop. Great for grab n go. Gelato Fiasco: I am SO obsessed with this place. Homemade gelato, you can sample as many flavors as you want before picking one (or more). Flavors change weekly if not daily, gelato is amazing and creative. You must try it. I don't work for them but maybe a career change is in order .... Royal River Grill in Yarmouth: bit of a drive (20 mins out of Portland) but I went with a friend for her birthday a few weeks ago. Good food, waterfront (river not ocean), nice atmosphere. It's brand new and a bit hard to find, but worth it. Places I want to try on my next visit (next week!!): Zapoteca for Mexican, Vignola for farm to table italian, maybe Street and Co for seafood.
Here you go, Portland-bound chatters!
And that's a wrap for today. See you next week, same time, same place.