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

Jun 19, 2013

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.

Since you eat out often, you must have seen it all. What is the worst thing that ever happened while you were out dining? I think a blackout would be about the worst that I have experienced.

  Oh, boy. Getting food poisoning from bad oysters  in Old Town sure wasn't fun. Neither was watching a parent change a diaper -- in the dining room. Nor was getting busted for bringing my own wine onto one of those dreadful dinner cruises (Hey, I needn't *something* to get me through three hours of a bad buffet and worse entertainment.)  Years after it happened,  I can't erase from my mind the dinner in Adams Morgan where a cat-size rat ran under my table ....

 

In *recent* memory, however, having to endure multiple dinners at La Tagliatella, my review for this Sunday, was pretty awful.

 

 

SCOOP DU JOUR: Accompanying the release of a fresh menu at Ardeo + Bardeo is news that its chef for the past 2 ½ years is leaving not just the Cleveland Park restaurant, but the District.

 

"My contract is up," says Nate Garyantes, who turns 40 next month and wants to focus more on his family of three young children. Garyantes plans to move to Raleigh, N.C., where he'll head up culinary operations for the Urban Food Group, which counts five restaurants there and in Charlotte.

 

Replacing him at Ardeo + Bardeo: Matt Kuhn, a four-year veteran of downtown's DC Coast and a surprise hire by owner Ashok Bajaj, who typically goes out of town for top toques at his multiple restaurants but thinks Kuhn will bring "new energy" to the concept. Kuhn, 31, says he was attracted to the smaller scale and the neighborhood setting of Ardeo + Bardeo.

 

Kuhn will be working alongside Garyantes, who previously toiled for Jose Andres at the original Minibar in Penn Quarter, until June 26. Diners have a week, then, to say good-bye to the veteran and to sample his final contributions, including chilled peranut-sesame noodles with Thai chilies, Korean fried chicken and flounder with shaved corn and red pepper salad.

 

The fresh face expects to add his touches, including whole roast fish, in a month or so.

 

 

Good morning. Let's rock and roll, gang. Post away!

I have to disagree with your gushing First Bite preview of Le Diplomate. My personal experience has been one of a shot of genius with lots of disappointment. On a solo visit for dinner, I ordered the Steak Frites. The hardy taste of the perfectly cooked hanger steak blended sumptuously with the buerre blanc. But the fries made me think that Sodexho has started to leave the skin on, and while the accompanying thimble of mayonnaise with an intriguing yellow hue raised my hopes for a lemony accompaniment, the first dip of potato revealed the aged exterior to be a false front. The Jonas lobster claws were difficult to extract as I'd only been given a tiny fork, and were served with a flavorless sauce. The cinnamon-grapefruit-fromage blanc dessert left me scratching my head wondering why anyone who had bothered to taste the inconsequential result would actually serve it. On a date for brunch, the results were decidely worse. Starting off with a strong upsell to the $10 pastry basket (even after I twice said we'd just like their very good bread), we found ourselves presented with appetizers and entrees at the same time. While we were scooping down food, we found the berry-yogurt-granola to be quite tasty; but the eggs benedict was accompanied by a flavorless bernaise, the bacon was somehow bland, and the spinach omelet would leave McDonalds's scientists curious about how you could possibly leave an egg-like dish so dense and un-egg-like. We both enjoyed the home fries, probably due to the sea salt seasoning. Sorry, Tom. I just had to get this off my chest. I really want to like this place a lot more than I actually do.

Not that I don't believe you, but your experience at Le Diplomate makes me think we dined at two different restaurants.  And I say that based (now) on four meals spread over the past few months.  Thanks for the feedback.

Hi Tom - I need to throw a business dinner for 40. Preferably on the Hill or in Penn Quarter. Any private dining recommendations? Thanks

As in private spaces within restaurants? I'd start in Penn Quarter with 701, Osteria Elisir or the recently reviewed Azur, then move on to Charlie Palmer  Steak on the Hill.

Morning, Tom! I'm heading down to the Outer Banks tomorrow for a much needed long weekend. This is my first trip there. Any suggestions for the Duck and Corolla area?

I wish I knew the area, but I don't. Chatters?

We went to the new Taco Bamba yesterday (only the 2nd day they were open) and were very impressed. We tried several tacos - carnitas, al pastor, chorizo, and the bezos (pork and beef tongue) and they were very good. They came with several sauces and other garnishes. We also had the corn on the cob. It is a great addition to the neighborhood and we think it will be very successful.

For those who might not know, Taco Bamba is the handiwork of Victor Albisu of the freshly-minted Del Campo in Penn Quarter. Here's my Dish from last week.

I have my birthday a Monday in July. Since I work at 0930 in Courthouse, I was thinking of getting 4 friends together for a morning breakfast (my gift to them).Founding Famrers comes to mind, but can I do better? Looking for a place metro accesible.

Fun way to start off your big day!

 

On the Hill, Johnny's serves breakfast (much better than dinner these days) and don't forget the various branches of Teaism around town.  I've not tried it for breakfast, but Paul, the French bakery in Penn Quarter, is open then as well.

We received a Clydes Group gift card. Is 1789 worthwhile these days or do we just go for the Old Ebbitt Grill with visitors

I haven't been in six months or so, but the venerable  1789 in Georgetown has long been my favorite of the Clyde's collection of restaurants.

Looking for suggestions on a place to have my rehearsal dinner. We are going to have roughly 12 people where some of the older citizens aren't very adventurous in the culinary world. Any advice??

How about Ray's the Steaks? Liberty Tavern? Carlyle in Shirlington?

I never thought you could rival "at least the water is cold," but this one might actually surpass it, with "You have my condolences."

What saddens me most are La Tagliatella's expansion plans here in the area. Note to the chain: We do not need more mediocre Italian experiences.

I'm heading to Cape Town, South Africa, for work; do you or any readers have any suggestions on where to dine there?

I know it's summer, or close to the season, based on the uptick in travel-related questions I'm getting -- and I wish I had some good answers for you re: Cape Town, but I have to defer to the assembly here today.

 

Gang, any advice?

Tom - found out this morning we have family coming in from out of town this evening who will be here through the weekend. All are vegetarians, age range is teens to senior. While I have nothing against a good vegetable, vegetarian dining in the city is not something I've paid attention to. Any metro accessible suggestions? We had thought of Rasika and Elizabeth's Gone Raw, but I think they only packed "tourist clothes" so probably not something too upscale. Senior is picky about food, noise, and cleanliness but will go along with the group. The rest of us are pretty open and flexible. Any guidance you can give would be a huge help!

Good, quiet, vegetarian-friendly and near a Metro? That's quite the tall order there!

 

Close to what you want: Zaytinya, the Middle Eastern small plates destination in Penn Quarter, where you want to either graze on the patio outside or find yourself in one of the corners of the dining room.  Nearby, and also watched over by chef Jose Andres, is the Spanish tapas restaurant, Jaleo, where the 70-plus choices include plenty of excellent meatless combinations. If you don't eat at prime time there, the noise isn't awful.

 

While not near a Metro, I'm a big fan of the young Malgudi in Glover Park, where the meatless attractions include fried cauliflower zapped with ginger and garlic and a milk rice dish shot through with curry leaves and mustard seeds.

I'm off to Denver for a meeting in late July. Are there any "really good" restaurants there? We will be 7 professional women who like interesting food. We've done Sushi Taro, Central, and Rasika in DC. We did Woodberry Kitchen in Baltimore. We were pretty much unimpressed with Portland's selections. Where might we go in Denver?

Denver is tricky. The city has lots of  just-OK restaurants, or at least that was my impression during a visit there last year. Some exceptions include Euclid Hall, a loftlike gastropub on 14th St. that serves a mean chicken schnitzel sandwich and Thai-style pigs ear salad, and Trillium, where I enjoyed some great cocktails and Scandanavian plates at the U-shaped bar.  For drinks, check out Williams & Graham on Tejon St.

You have a dog? Do you have any preferred places to take Charlie or places for dog treats?

My miniature greyhound is 14; his teeth aren't what they used to be. On occasion, I'll pick up some Puppy Pops, made with yogurt and peanut butter, at the dog-friendly Dairy Godmother in Del Ray. Charlie can lick back a cup of the stuff in about 10 minutes. Go, boy, go!

Not a question - just a comment on the outstanding service we received at NoPa last Friday night. We showed up on time for an 8:15p reservation and were told the restaurant was running a bit behind. Not a problem, we retreated to the bar to grab a drink and wait it out. About 20 minutes into the wait, the host (who I suspect was really a manager) came over to update us, apologize and inform us that once we sat, they would be picking up something off our bill for the inconvenience. We we thrilled with the tone that was set right from the start. Fast-forward to the end of a terrific meal when the check came and lo and behold nothing had been comped on the bill. Seems that the message was never passed on to our server. While we really did NOT care about the $$, we were left feeling that the restaurant reneged on a promise and flagged down a manager to inform her of the situation. We made sure she knew that we were thrilled with the food, level of service from our outstanding server and really didn't care about the money. She immediately offered to carry out the promise made at the beginning of the night and she returned with our check that now had the $70 bottle of wine removed. We were floored - this was ABOVE AND BEYOND what we expected and made sure the manager knew that, tipped our server accordingly and promised to come back again soon. Just a huge nod to the level of service that can be found at ALL of Ashok Bajaj's restaurants. NoPa is a welcome addition to the neighborhood!

Wow. The new restaurant *comped* a $70 bottle of wine? More than generous.

 

Stories such as yours make me want to be asked to wait at the bar the next time I'm at the latest concept from Ashok Bajaj.

Any recommendations for good brunch places in Alexandria? We just moved here and don't know where to go. I'll take recommendations from the other chatters too!

I know I sound like a broken record, but Vermilion is a great way to wake up on the weekend.  Different, but also really good, is the a.m. menu at the Old Town branch of Teaism.

Is the new Tex-Mex in Chevy Chase on your radar, maybe for a First Bite? I enjoyed my first lunch there very much.

I plan to preview the newcomer, an import from Dallas, July 3.

Tom, I was surprised to read that poster's screed about the steak frites at Le Diplomate. I had steak frites there a few Fridays ago. The steak part was great, as the poster acknowledges, but the frites were fabulous. If the poster didn't care for the fries, why didn't he ask the kitchen for a do-over? I'm sure they would've obliged; the service at Le Diplomate is very good.

I'm continually surprised by diners who don't pass on their complaints until it's too late for a restaurant to do anything.

I wonder if La Tagliatella will now go the way of La Pigalle.

Well, the former is a giant, with more than 100 restaurants throughout Europe (and two in Atlanta). The latter was a small independant operator in Dupont Circle.

Our favorite Cape Town dining experience was The Codfather in Camps Bay. Great sushi, but even better fresh fish. They literally lead you to a fish case and you pick and choose among the offerings of freshly caught seafood. Then they grill it up and service it with rice, veggies, and a variety of sauces. Amazing! I still have dreams of the butterfish, which is terribly difficult to find in the U.S.

Reader to the rescue! Much obliged.

We really enjoyed the Paper Canoe in Duck, and you must try the Donuts from Duck Donuts.

A good start. Thanks.

Tom--Ouch! on your review of La Tagliatelle. But your reference to the superior minestrone at Olive Garden makes me wonder--what was your overall assessment of that ubiquitous chain? While I doubt you were as enamored of it as the now-famous reviewer from North Dakota, did you find anything else appealing there?

Who can't appreciate warm bread sticks brushed with garlic butter, and free tastes of wine when you sit down?  I don't have my notes in front of me, but the food at Olive Garden was much better than I anticipated. And the staff was terrific. The bar tender at the Falls Church location told me she had been there something like 19 years!

Tom, Tom, Tom. You know I love you. But the dangler in "While not near a Metro, I'm a big fan of the young Malgudi in Glover Park" made my stomach hurt. I realize you're typing faster than the speed of light so that you can get to as many of our questions as possible in 1 hour, therefore I'll let you go with a verbal warning -- this time!

When I read transcripts of my chat, I sometimes shudder. Some jokes don't work.  Typos creep in. But honestly, hosting this chat is like doing live TV. I'm trying my best.

I'm having dinner with a friend this weekend who I THINK is about to become more than friend. We're seeing a movie at the E Street cinema and I'd like something close enough so we could walk (say, within a mile) that's moderately priced but still has some ambiance. Matchbox is our usual and that's kind of the vibe I'm looking for--fun and casual, but still with good food. Any ideas? If it works out I'll name our first kid Tom.

(The pressure! The pressure! )

 

Why not try the bar at the recently dressed-down Osteria Elisir, which is even closer?  Or the bar at the lively Central Michel Richard, where the goods include a fabulous Alsatian tart (pizza by way of charm school) and a model hamburger?  More of a trek, but certainly worth the effort, is Logan Circle's the new Etto, pizza and small plates in a tidy setting from the owners of Two Amys and the Standard.

Should patrons who order wine go thru the steps of wine tasting: including the noisy and seeming obnoxious wine chewing phase?

I like to eye the wine, sniff it, then sip and swirl -- but not in any way that's obnoxious, I hope. The way a wine looks and smells tells you much about how the juice is going to taste.

Tom, I know you try not to write too many negative reviews, but this one is a perfect example of why you should write more. Your readers need to know where not to go as much as where to go.

My feeling exactly. I was going to forget about La Tagliatella after eating there just once, but then I thought, no, this is something worth telling readers about -- warning them away from, actually.

Hi Tom - Love your chats and columns! We'll be celebrating a birthday soon, and would love your recommendation of where to go. We love all kinds of food, and in the past have tried (and loved!) Komi, Rasika, and Oval Room, but we'd like something a bit more budget-friendly. Any recommendations? We're a late-twenties/early-thirties couple, no kids, who can travel anywhere in the DMV area for a delicious meal. Thanks!

Of the *new* crop of restaurants, I really dig the upstairs dining room at Daikaya near the Verizon Center. Great, delicious fun. If you want to take a road trip, consider the (relatively moderate) restaurants in the Four Seasons in Baltimore: Pabu and (better than ever)  Wit & Wisdom.

I love Nopa, I've had lunch and dinner there in the past couple of weeks,and even with some service snafus, the service is great and they are clearly developing a fine dining experience. That said, this may be the noisiest restaurant I've ever eaten in. To the point of distraction, particularly during my work lunch. At one point I said to my fellow diners, "does anyone actually SEE the table of banshees screaming and yelling?" Not sure what can be done, I hope something, as I may not be able to frequent this new addition as often as I'd like. Thoughts from you or chatters?

I found it terribly noisy as well. Even my younger dining companions have complained. Nopa needs more/better sound-proofing.

Mandalay near the Silver Spring metro is very good.

I sure hope its service has improved since my last meal there! But I agree, the meatless food at Mandalay is full of flavor.

La Tagliatella was clearly just bad and I can assume business will be less than if it was a good review; do you ever hear back from owners/managers/chefs about your reviews.

I do, but not always from the people I would expect to hear from. While I never expect to get a call or email following a review, good or not, I'm always surprised when someone who has received  a negative critique reaches out. In almost every case, it's them asking me how they can improve, or telling me they plan to aim higher.

 

Then there are those who complain about me or my work on social media, but that's another topic altogether. (And it sometimes back-fires.)

Had a big group dinner there on Saturday and kudos to Jennifer the GM for making sure that our group had a wonderful dining experience. They created a five course tasting menu and the chef even signed the menu, which were on the table. The Chilean sea bass is worth every penny. Also the amuse bouche of oyster with pickled rubarb was very good. Everyone at the table could have downed at least half a dozen each.

Sounds as if Nopa has a budding fan club. Let me repeat that for those who can't hear: SOUNDS AS IF NOPA HAS A BUDDDING FAN CLUB.

My cousin is a food reviewer for What's on in Cape Town. Check out some of her -- and others' -- reviews for places to eat: http://www.whatsonincapetown.com/category/blog/restaurant-reviews/

Grand. And what a small world, right?

For those of us with kids & budgets, Olice Garden is actually a really nice choice. WHile I am glad you went there and admitted you were wrong about them, I was taken aback at first that you bashed them in the first place. Not everyone has the time to plan ahead with reservations weeks prior, or has the budget for fancy meals. Places like the Olive Garden give people a chance to train our little ones about how to eat in a rstaurant while still eating decent food at a decent price.

Yes, yes, yes. Olive Garden is an easy target. But I admitted I was wrong about (parts of) the restaurant. It definitely fills a need for a lot of folks.

to Hyattsville! Scheduled to open early 2014.

Lucky Hyattsville. (And I'm not being sarcastic. I enjoy Paradiso.)

Tom, my mom is coming into town in a couple weeks. She's from a small town where the exotic dining choices are Chinese and Mexican. Whenever she visits, she wants to try new and unique food. We've done Ethiopian, Marrakesh, tapas of several varieties. What next? p.s.-nothing too fancy or raw.

For starters, try the dim sum brunch at the Source, sherry and ham at the just-popped Mockingbird Hill by ace cocktail maven Derek Brown, and something smoky and luscious at the South American-inspired Del Campo.

I would recommend the Roadside Bar and Grill and Red Sky. I second the previous poster's vote for Paper Canoe, as well.

And just as we're getting ready to call this a wrap. Thanks.

Tom, ignore the grammar police! We appreciate all of your responses. I'd rather have more responses that aren't as well-written than fewer responses that are grammatically correct. :)

Gotcha, and thanks. But as a guy who's paid to write, I feel bad when the words aren't spelled correctly.

Not a ton of chatter on the place, however the most exciting dining destination in the city is Rogue 24. They have really come of age and the service is rivals Marcel's and Komi, the food out shines both. Why is this city not embracing this great place?

Hey, this diner has warmed up to it, especially now that Rogue 24 offers a four-course alternative to its epic tasting experiences. 

Hi Tom, Our experience at Le Diplomate was quite the opposite of the OP. We unwittingly scheduled our recent dinner there for June 8 during the DC Pride parade. In my experience, restaurants on a parade route frequently get overwhelmed. Not so at Le Diplomate. The food was excellent, the service impeccable. We were quite impressed that they managed to make the ambiance on the indoor patio feel and sound like a parisian cafe even while the parade continued by on 14th street (and glimpses of the awesome Pride floats added an entertaining element to our experience). The fresh bread was fantastic, the sea bass was perfectly cooked and bright and tangy, and the Boeuf Bourguignon was a revelation. We'd go back every day if it was in the budget (sadly, it's not). Very Happy Diners

Score one for Le Diplomate!

it aint so bed

Ha!

My mom and I have made a tradition of lunching in the summer (we're both teachers) at nice restaurants we wouldn't otherwise be able to afford for dinner. Which ones do you suggest can't be missed? We live in Northern VA but can go in the District and MD as well. Thanks!

What a smart thing to do. Vidalia should be high on your list, along with the Oval Room and the aforementioned Source for pan-Asian.

 

Lunch is calling. See you next week, I hope. Thanks for joining me today.

In This Chat
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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