Ask Tom -- With guest host Ashok Bajaj

Jan 12, 2011

Washington Post food critic Tom Sietsema answers your questions, listens to your suggestions and even entertains your complaints about Washington dining.

Find all of Tom Sietsema's Washington Post work at washingtonpost.com/tomsietsema.

Hi Tom, two weeks ago, I purchased a $100 gift certificate to Firefly for my girlfriend's birthday. When I gave it to her and saw her reaction, I remembered that she didn't like Firefly and assured her that we could return the gift certificate and use the $100 somewhere she really did want to go for her bday (we are on a pretty tight budget). When I went to return the card, the manager at Firefly told me that it "was against policy" to allow returns. I was very surprised and told him that I actually did like Firefly, but had no use for the gift card. He wouldn't budge. I didn't expect cash, just a return credit on the same card I used for the purchase. I'm really not happy that I was forced to make a $100 "donation" to a restaurant with such poor customer service. Tom, what would you have done? Any chatters want to buy a $100 gift certificate from me?

Can I be frank with you? I think the problem started with you forgetting that your SO doesn't like Firefly. The restaurant doesn't owe you credit on your purchase.

 

Why not just use the gift card yourself (without the girlfriend in tow); re-gift it to a friend or relative; or try to sell it to someone who might enjoy the experience, perhaps at a slight discount, to sweeten the deal?

 

Good morning, food lovers. I'm pleased to share the next hour with long-time (and prolific!) restaurant owner Ashok Bajaj, whose bio runs alongside this chat. 

 

Let's get started.

Hey Tom! I've been on a liquid diet for 2 weeks prior to the surgery I have to have this week. I'm desperately looking forward to enjoying a meal once this is over with. If you had to refrain from eating for a bit, what would be your first meals back from DC eateries? THanks!

Poor you!

Based on recent meals, I think I'd splurge on the squid ink pizza dressed with slices of poached octopus at Bibiana; the broccoli and beer soup with the texture of a souffle at Cashion's Eat Place; the "hummus" of pureed carrots ringed with zesty minced lamb at the new Rustico in Ballston; the Caesar salad whipped up table-side at Majestic in Old Town; and the foie gras terrine with roseate veal tongue served at the newly expanded Palena.

 

Here's wishing you a speedy and delicious recovery.

Hi Ashok, we love your restaurants and have been to all except one. Two questions for you: Are you opening any new restaurants and is it true that you personally visit all your restaurants at least once per night?

Please stay tuned for our my next opening.  Yes, it is true that I personally visit all of my restaurants everyday. 

thanks for what you've done for Washington Mr Bajaj. You're a credit to India and America. Wondered why the service at Bombay Club seems so much better than at your other properties such as the Oval Room and 701. Maybe it's because President Clinton ate there but it seems head and shoulders above the others, I particularly like sunday brunch but sometimes items not labeled.

I'm sorry you dont feel the service level is not the same at 701 and Oval Room.

I can tell you that President Clinton has visited both 701 Restaurant and the Oval Room among my other restaurants, and I am pleased to report that Condalisa Rice' favorite restaurant in the city was the Oval Room during her time at the White House.

Wandering around Old Town, I am getting a little concerned... Eve, Eammon's, The Majestic, PX and now not one but TWO new Armstrong locations opening up this year (Virtue Feed and Grain AND Society Fair). Are you at all worried that the Cathal-Mechelle-Thrasher team is going to end up spreading itself a little too thin? Or creating some kind of Good Food in Old Town monopoly? I'm not trying to complain about awesome food/new places, but I'm worried it's not going to be consistenly awesome at and of those places if the chef is running around Old Town like it's some kind of new level of Diner Dash...

Team Armstrong is smart and capable (and more than one person). I don't think chef Cathal Armstrong or anyone else associated with the mini-empire would do anything to lessen the brand,  including expanding too quickly. 

 

Plus,  given the group's track record, I say, bring 'em on, baby!

Have had one knock out meal at Rasika and am a regular patron of 701. This is largely due to the consistent service, which is why I generally tend to eat out. This is not the case in many, many DC area restaurants. What are the tricks to good front of the house service, from a management perspective?

Thank you for the compliment.  I feel that most restaurants try to give their customers the best service they can.  Trying to hire the best, and most passionate people to work in the front of house.

You employ one of the most talented pastry chefs on the east coast -- Douglas Hernandez. Any chance you might do a dessert tasting menu at Bibiana?

I agree, Douglas is one of the most talented pastry chefs.  I shall pass on your request to him.

I wonder if you could recommend a good place (preferably in the District) for a nice weekend brunch. Have a new SO I'd like to impress with a romantic outing, and would love your suggestions. As always, thanks for your advice and guidance!

The restaurant I always keep in my back pocket for brunch is the cozy Tabard Inn in Dupont Circle.  Few restaurants do a better job with their a.m. menus than this one; I appreciate the broad range of both sweet and savory options, not to mention a fine wine list.

When I used to work retail gift cards could be a huge headache. People used them in scams all the time and we did not allow them to be returned for any reason.

Yep.

Hi Tom, a little good news for you today. Several months ago when my wife and I celebrated our anniversary at Restaurant Eve our meal was a little disappointing so I dropped Meshelle Armstrong an email just as a heads up that fell a little short that night. She responded that one of the dishes we had(pork belly) had been pulled from the menu and to let her know the next time we were coming which I did. On our next trip to Eve, our service (as always) was impeccable, the wine was perfect and we had a meal that even surpassed Eve's standards. What happened next was far beyond what I ever expect from anyone, the waiter said the Chef was picking up the tab...the entire amount including wine. We were flabbergasted and tried to pay but were not allowed. Needless to say the waiter received one of the better tips of his career. It's nice to know the Armstrong's take such pride in their product which is why Restaurant Eve is always at the top of our dining list.

That's ... amazing. (And one expensive pork belly!)

Today's Food Section features an article about chaat, an Indian street food, and mentions Rasika's "trademark dish" of Palak Chaat. How did you arrive at the brilliant decision to bring chaats to the menu of Rasika and transform this style of food to fine dining?

The idea was a collective effort by Chef Vikram and myself.  However, I cannot take the credit for creating the dish.

In today's Food section: Chaat migration.

Good morning, Tom, Mr Bajaj, I want to expand my dining horizons (centered around Old Town Alexandria) by trying someplace delicious during RW. If you weren't in the Industry, where would you want to dine next week? Thanks to both of you for making the DC area a great place to live and eat!

I recently renovated Ardeo+Bardeo, and hired a great new chef and we are offering the full menu during Restaurant Week do there are an abundance of dining options for you to enjoy!

Someone in the area will take it off that person's hands. It might not even need to be much of a discount.

That was my thought, too.

Mr. Bajaj, I just wanted to say thank you. My significant other and I were at Rasika on New Year's Eve, and it was fantastic! Every course was bursting with vibrant flavor; the timing of each course was perfect; and the staff was working like a well-oiled machine the entire night. Simply a delightful experience in every way!

Thank you!  Happy New Year!  I hope that next year you will celebrate at one of my other restaurants.

Dear Tom, i would like Ashok to comment on the following: in the history of Indian restaurants in the US, we see a majority of these places focusing on North Indian or Mughal cuisine. why do we not see South Indian restaurants that focus on the cuisine of the meat eaters of this area, for example, food of the Bunt Community of Mangalore, parsi food, and Coorgi meat dishes. Or even Veg. south Indian food is absent. like the poriyals or pachadis of the south. thanks, Rana Singh

22 years ago when I opened Bombay Club we served goan food, parsi food among other regional specialities.  We still continue to do this at both Bombay Club and Rasika.

Mr. Bajaj: Just wondering how restaurant owners feel about the Open Table reservations service? I find it convenient to be able to book or change a reservation 24 hours a day, and I enjoy the "dining cheques" I earn after X number of reservations. However, I've heard that restaurants must pay a fee of some kind. Sidebar: my husband and I also buy $25 off coupons at Restaurant.com for $2, which allow us to dine out more often, knowing we'll have $25 knocked off the top of the bill. How do restaurants feel about those sorts of discounts? Thanks!

Open Table is a great service for our guests.  However it is very expensive for the restaurants.  We have to pay a fee on each guest who enters our establishment.  

I'm a little puzzled about giving restaurant gift cards to SOs. Was the plan for her to take someone else to Firefly? or for them to go together? If the latter, it would have been a lot safer to make a reservation and tell her about it in a birthday card.

Uh huh.

Tom, I just wanted to share a great experience I had on New Year's Eve at CityZen. I'm always wary to go out on NYE, but we bit the bullet and did so, and were so happy. The food was excellent. As a vegetarian, I did not feel that my meal was in any way an afterthought, as it was creative, beautifully plated, and satiating. My boyfriend, who is not a vegetarian, was similarly pleased. The best part of the night, however, was when Eric Zeibold greeted each table after midnight. When he spoke with us I thanked him for making such a fantastic vegetarian tasting menu and he told me that about 15% of his customers order the vegetarian menu. I was surprised at the high percentage, but I'm sure that there are meat-eaters ordering the menu because it really is that good. He said that at one point he made the entire restaurant staff eat vegetarian for a few weeks so they could truly understand what it is like to be vegetarian and so they could be more creative in creating satisfying vegetarian meals. He ended up speaking to us for about 15 minutes and I was so impressed that he has taken such steps to make sure the vegetarian portion of his customer base is so happy. I eat at a lot of very nice DC restaurants, and a lot of chefs who are serving steamed vegetables with a potato to vegetarians could take a few lessons from him. We don't often go to CityZen because it is a little out of the way for us, but we are definitely adding it to our rotation.

I knew CityZen sold a fair amount of meatless meals, but I was unaware the chef had his staff eat vegetarian to get a better understanding of the highs and lows. 

 

Wise man, Mr. Ziebold. And thoughtful, too, to have spent so much time with you on what was obviously a busy night.

Mr. Bajaj - I love the food at Rasika, but rarely go there and regret it every time I do. It's just SO loud! Have you considered doing anything about the noise levels there?

Yes, I thought about putting a carpet in the restaurant to help with the noise level.  But after taking a poll from the guests I decided to leave the restaurant the way it is.  The general consensus was that if we wanted a quieter restaurant for Indian food we would go to Bombay Club.  Rasika is smart and hip, and lots of guests enjoy it.  Please try Bombay Club our Chef Nilesh cooks amazing food as well.

Tom, Of the restaurants doing RW Week which one gives me the biggest bang for my buck in other words which restaurant would 35 dollars for a three course dinner really be a steal. Also a question for Ashok is there some formula you apply to all of your restaurants since all of them are so well done and yet span vastly different cuisines and markets?

Thank you!  I don't have a fixed formula applied to my restaurants, but I do try to build a team of passionate and talented people in the front and back of house.

Given all you reservation spots for Restaurant Week were gone within minutes after the post went live, will you be extending RW at all? My gf has never been and I'm dying to get her over there.

Yes, we will be extending Restaurant Week at Ardeo+Bardeo, 701, Bombay Club and Bibiana for lunch until January 29th.

Hi Tom, in the last couple of chats you have published gripes from people who do not love the new Palena. I must confess I don't care for it. The new space is cold- and generic-looking. But what do YOU think?

All will be revealed in due time, dear chatter. I hate to weigh in before I re-review Frank Ruta's restaurant. Hope you understand.

wow.. you are right Tom. Firefly isn't in the wrong on this at all... can you return gift cards to Target? Walmart? Etc.. "NO". Craigslist and Ebay are full of people selling gift cards especially after the holidays. Better off to have taken her to dinner after asking her where she'd like to go. Feel bad for Firefly they topped off the talk all without them being in the wrong.

I *don't* think Firefly is wrong, at all. If anything, the post serves as a prompt. I need to get back there.

Comment: Matchbox in Rockville The two of us went there for lunch last week. The service and pizza was good (we didn't think it was anything special). However, the $40 tab for lunch is too much. We just returned from the southwest and midwest and for that amount we could have fed four for lunch. The place was busy--appeared to be a lot of college students on break--it may have a problem later on unless the prices get adjusted.

It's not really fair to compare DC-area restaurant prices with those in the Midwest, is it? 

Mr. Bajaj, how often do you actually eat in your own restaurants, and which one is your favorite? (C'mon, you must have a fave!)

I eat out quiet frequently, often at my own restaurants to try new dishes with my favorite people (chefs).  Its hard to have  one favorite...it depends on my mood.

Mr. Bajoj, Thanks for taking the time to participate in this chat. What dishes do you recommend to your friends to try at Rasika?

Come with friends, and try a selection of dishes to share.  Some of my favorites include the mango shrimp, classic palak chaat, and the black cod.

Mr. Bajaj, Bombay club is one of our favorite restaurants in the city. The pork chop dish served on New Year's Eve was fabulous. Is pork chop an unusual protein in Indian restaurants? I never see much of it, but Bombay Club's treatment was awesome!

Yes, pork is often eaten in Goa and other parts of the country.

What's up with Sam & Harry's? I saw it padlocked the other day.

Dunno.  But I just called the downtown steakhouse and got several rings followed by a disconnection.  Not a good sign.

Do you have an idea of the number of restaurants you intend to open in the DC area and are you considering branching out away from the City?

No, I don't have any ideas how many restaurants I would like to open here in Washington.  Chef Vikram and GM Atul of Rasika have always asked that I open a restaurant in NYC, but I'm happy in Washington, and want to focus my efforts here.

Ashok, You have done a marvelous job in providing your guests in Washington with exceptional culinary experiences and fantastic service. How long do your servers undergo training before they go out "on the floor" - and what is going to be your next restaurant venture? - From a very happy & loyal client.

Thank you very much for your kind compliment.  Servers go through five to seven training shifts, including one or two in the kitchen.  Next venture...stay tuned, but I can tell you it will be in DC!

Tom: Did you do a restaurant review this past Sunday? Because it is nowhere to be found online. And as a general comment, your reviews, First Bites, Dish, etc. are updated online infrequently (and sometimes difficult to locate). Please pass this along to whomever is depriving us of your wit and wisdom.

Thanks for missing me. The Magazine usually goes dark once a year. Last week was that Sunday for 2011.

Tom's producer here -- Tom's landing page is an automated page. Unfortunately it stalls out every once in a while and we have to go in and give it a kick to get it back on track. Luckily there are plenty of areas where we actually highlight Tom's content when it goes live. You can find First Bite items on Wednesday and Magazine reviews on Friday at the Going Out Guide restaurant page in the flipper. Dish pieces appear on the Food front when they run, as well as in the Wednesday morning Today in Food compilation post I put together each week for the GoG blog.

I took my wife to Jaleo on Friday night as part of a two night dining celebration for her birthday. (Charlie Palmers the second night) Our service at Jaleo was the best service I have received in years. So thank you Leann for not rushing us or bringing out all of the tapas and once and for being a genuinely great server. I know Jaleo gets a knock for not having "the best tapas", but regardless the service will make sure I return, often.

Way to go, Leann!

 

If Jaleo doesn't have the best Spanish small plates, who *does*? No other restaurant offers the variety (some 70 dishes) or quality that Jose Andres's restaurant does.

Tom, Can you stand another comment about the new Palena? I put aside my bitter disappointment about the changes in the Cafe to try it for lunch recently. Once again the meal simply didn't sing in the way I expect Frank Ruta's cooking to sing. How long do we give the crew a chance to settle in to the new digs before we stop giving them another chance??? I can't afford too many failed $50 lunches.

What, exactly, was wrong with the food at lunch?

Do they realize how annoying it is for us to know that 15% of a menu is dedicated to them when those of us civilized people in the 21st century could have more decent menu offerings for us?

That percentage applies to the number of patrons at CityZen who order the vegetarian menu, which is separate from the meaty one.

Mr. Bajaj, can you do something about Rasika's website? It practically makes one nauseous to navigate it. Having said that, I love Rasika, the food is always terrific and the service is fantastic. Your hosts and waiters are always really, really nice, which further enhances the experience. The palaak chaat is of course great, but I would love to see more chaat on the menu (the sev batata is also very good).

Thank you for the feedback on the webpage.

We do have five to six different types of chaats on the menu, and we will consider enhancing the selection in the future.

Mr. Bajoj, I'm unfortunately allergic to onions. But I REALLY like Indian food and want to try your restaurants. Is it possible?

Yes it is possible.  Please call the restaurant one to two days before you plan to come in, and we will be happy to cook for you!

Mr. Bajaj (and Tom too!), My boyfriend and I are huge fans of Rasika, and we are taking his father there when he visits from out of town on Friday. (By the way, we are going after the hockey game, and although I feel a little uncertain about it, when I called the restaurant I was assured that many fans come to the restaurant after games wearing their jerseys and doing so would not be a problem--please let me know if I shouldn't do this!) His father has never had Indian food before, so I'm wondering what you would recommend someone who has never eaten the cuisine try when they go to Rasika. What are your favorite dishes and what is a can't miss? Although he is unfamiliar with the cuisine, he is generally open to new foods. Also, I wanted to commend you on the service at all of your restaurants. I actually had a small complaint once about my service at Rasika, and sent an e-mail. I immediately got a phone call from your manager who was incredibly nice and he corrected the issue. It was fantastic customer service and I was so pleased.

We have a number of guests who come in after the game.

For someone who has never had Indian food, I would recommend tandoori dishes and the black cod will be another option.  Please ask the server when you arrive, and he/she will be happy to help.  Thank you also for the feedback.

Hi Tom - Have you seen the recent videos by General Store chef and owner Gillian Clark, which features a number of reenactments of customer requests and behavior? I appreciate off color humor but these aren't funny in the least and pick up on petty customer behavior. I've gone to eat at the General Store before and wasn't wowed... Less inclined to do so after seeing these videos and reading reviews. http://dcist.com/2011/01/chef_gillian_clark_reenacts.php

I wasn't amused, either. Don't the owners have better things to do with their time than re-stage seriously unamusing customer behavior? I expect better of them.

Hey Tom, any food "fad" techniques you'd like to see disappear from menus? Me, I hate foam - it looks disgusting and off-putting.

If  I never see another powder (or worse, "soil") again, I'd be grateful. One of the truly awful things I've put in my mouth recently was, I kid you not, sardine "powder." Ugh.

 

 

 

There's a sign on the door saying it's closed for renovation. Don't know any details.

Strange, though, not to have a phone recording to fill customers  in on any such thing.

We had a lovely dinner at Rock Creek a couple of nights before NYE. Even though it was a Wednesday night, the place was quite full so we were surprised to see it shuttered after the new year. any scoop on what happened?

The owners got an offer they couldn't refuse, from the former chef of Bezu in Potomac. He plans to re-open the place as Newton's Table this year.

Good morning, Gentlemen. What a nice addition - Guest Ashok. I've had the pleasure and the privilege of dining in many of your eating establishments, and I am a repeat in a couple of them because I like them so much and trust the quality and consistency of them. So, congratulations on your food empire, which is a treat to visit. I have 2 separate questions: 1. Do you think having 2 Indian restaurants under your reign ends up diminishing one or the other. I would think there is some competition between the 2 restaurants (Bombay Club and Rasika). I'm wondering why you chose to run 2 Indian restaurants? I do think that they don't necessarily cater to the same audience so not in direct competition with each other. However, I do think there is some crossover. Just wondering if having 1 excellent Indian restaurant actually help the other excel or succeed? 2. You have a number of different restaurants, some of which focus on a type of cuisine (e.g., Indian, Italian, American). What makes you even venture to excel in many different cuisines and what makes you confident that you can succeed in a variety of cuisines in the restaurant business, a tough business. I think you do succeed--and that is impressive. Wishing you continued success. Adding thanks for making a wonderful difference in the resaturant dining scene in Washington, DC.

I opened Rasika 17 years after opening Bombay Club.  Over time Washington has changed along with customers pallets.  Bombay Club and Rasika are two very different restaurants in ambiance.  I agree they do draw different clientele, and I also agree that they helps make each other better.

The reason I have expanded to different cuisines is because I like learning, and exploring with new ventures.

Mr. Bajaj, do any of your restaurants have items that can be prepared gluten free? I would love to try them all! Thanks.

Yes, all of our restaurants offer gluten-free dishes.  Just ask your server for recommendations.

I just wanted to let you know that I have worked near Bombay Club for years, and it has been a place of refuge when I had one job that was horrifically stressful. Your maitre d is to me the epitome of a host. To create an atmosphere that soothing is an achievement.

Thank you for the kind compliment.  Irfan Ozarslan has been at the Bombay Club for the past twenty years, and he is a great asset to the restaurant. 

http://www.bizjournals.com/washington/blog/2011/01/sam-harrys-closes-downtown.html

Missy Frederick had the scoop. Thanks for the info.

Even though Tom points out you got the info wrong, I don't understand why a meat eater would care if 15% of a menu is vegetarian meals.

Not sure if that was a joke or what. I'm a dedicated carnivore, but even I like to go meatless now and then. Plus, I gotta look out for my vegetarian audience.

Mr. Bajaj, You have said you want to focus on Washington for your restaurants, but would you consider something very close to Washington? We live in Washington a stone's throw from Silver Spring, and we would truly appreciate having a restaurant as delicious as one of yours as an option. Thank you.

I like visiting my restaurants, but it would hard visiting a location in Silver Spring every night.  But who knows, down the road I could open a restaurant in that area.  Ardeo+Bardeo is very close to Silver Spring, so hopefully you will come nad visit us there.

Mr. Bajaj: I love your restaurants and have for some years. Do you ever return to India to seek out new ideas/trends/personnel for your kitchens?

Yes, I try to go back as often as I can for both reasons.

I think she got the message; I just looked for them and couldn't find anything on YouTube, so she must have taken them down.

I watched two of them just five minutes before I posted.

I haven't eaten any myself, but I've seen enough of it on Top Chef to know I don't like the look of it. Really, looks like someone spit on top of the meal. Never heard of sardine powder. Gross.

Actually, foam -- emulsions -- have their place in cooking. But it's a trend that can be overdone, and has been. 

 

I'm also getting tired of  brush strokes of sauces. As if chefs are working for Benjamin Moore!

To the chatter complaining about the percentage of a menu dedicated to vegetarians. Just remember some people do it because of health reasons like when they've had serious life threatening illnesses and their doctors encourage them to do so. Let's not act like there aren't enough meat options on menus in the city.

Good point.

My husband and I tried Rasika for the first time last month and thought the food was stunning. We tried both of the tasting menus with wine pairings. The service was wonderful, but the timing of the courses was definitely off. Some came very quickly, while there was an unusal lag time with others. Has this been raised to you before?

I'm glad you enjoyed your dinner at Rasika.  Timing always depends on what you order.  For example, black cod, which is part of the tasting menu, takes twenty to twenty-five minutes to cook.

I have to say that I think there's a very good reason that Mr. Bajaj's restaurants are THE standard bearer among locally owned restaurant groups (slightly edging out Mr. Andres' and Tunks, et all in my opinion): it's Mr. Bajaj himself. I hate the fortune to meet him about a decade ago when I was tasked with doing a very small piece of legal work for one of his employees. We butted heads at first but time and self-reflection have made me realize that I was the problem not him. Despite this, we got on very well after that and, even though I haven't really seen him much since, he seemed to remember me every time we did cross paths -- he really does visit every one of his restaurants every day. And it's not just me: I've seen him interact this way with all patrons. The lesson, to me, is that it all works from the top down. His professionalism, class and dedication infuses itself throughout his entire staff. Perhaps some of our more notably inflammatory restaurant owners/chefs could take note.

Thank you!  I don't remember the incident, but the next time you are in one of my restaurants please say hello. 

Think of the $100 as your penalty for lack of thoughtfulness. How you do you just "forget" that your SO doesn't like a place when you have to at least walk in there or talk to them on the phone to purchase it? Also, even if you're not crazy about the place, why couldn't you just take her somewhere else and chip away at the gift card by popping in for a cocktail or two at the bar beforehand while you're in the area now and then?

Yep.

Hi Tom, yes it was a mistake to not remember she didn't care for Firefly. She used to be fan but went with a friend a little while ago and mentioned to me how downhill it had gone, and it had slipped my mind. I've heard of people returning gift cards to retail stores for cash, even returning groceries that they didn't like. I thought people could return pretty much everything, but I understand that it can be hassle for the business. I think craigslist is the best option here. Thanks for the input.

You are welcome, sir.

 

And if you need alternative ideas, you've come to the right pace. I don't want your SO to go hungry on her birthday.

Mr. Bajaj, As a former DC resident I believe I have eaten at Rasika more than any other DC establishment and I tend to sneak in visits about 3 or 4 times still, but I miss your restaurant's creative Indian food out in the SF Bay Area. While there is plenty of authentic Indian in Silicon Valley, nothing approaches the quality and orginality of Rasika's menu. Do you have any favorite Indian restaurants in the Bay Area?

I go to San Francisco at least once a year to dine at the new restaurants that open there.  Mr. Sietsema has recommended Restaurant Dosa although I have personally not visited, but its on my list for next trip.

Good morning. Two weeks ago, I visited Bazin's on Church, a great restaurant that I go to a few times a year, specifically for their Rush Hour Dinner. A great promotion, 3 courses for $26 or so. It was a promotion listed on their website with no expiration date. When I arrived, the waitress told me that she didn't think they were doing the dinner anymore and went to check. When she returned to tell me that yes, they were no longer offering the promo, I requested the manager. He informed me that they stopped the offer for the holidays. I informed him that it was still on their website, to which he simply replied that they weren't doing it anymore. No apology, no promise to remove it, he had the attitude that I shouldn't have even wanted such a cheap dinner. As of last Wednesday, the promo was STILL listed on their website, but when I checked today it was finally removed. What should a restaurant do when they find themselves offering non-existant meals on their website? I will, most likely, not be going back to Bazin's because of this incident. Not because they failed to fix their website, but because of how dismissive and condescending they were about their mistake.

In this day and age, restaurants *have* to keep their sites updated, or at least mention that prices or deals (or whatever) are subject to change.

 

Bazin's did itself a disservice by 1) promising something it wasn't delivering and 2) dismissing you without so much as an apology.  Bad form times two.

Find another babe who likes Firefly and take her. You are in the dog hosue with the current girlfriend. Just drop her and start over.

Rash! And harsh!

Hi Tom, have you tried Petits Plats in Woodley Park recently? They have a new chef who makes his own charcuturie, serves a wonderful casoulet, onglet/hanger steak, and the best frites I have had in DC. They also have some super wines with reasonable prices from small growers in Langudoc, where the brother/sister owners hail from. if you haven't been lately, it is worth another visit.

Adding Petit Plats to my to-do list (along with Firefly). It's been too long.

IF you do anything, beg for them to open up both menus to cafe diners! We want all of the good food! There has to be a way to make it work logistically. Help them out! You're our only hope...

Frank, I'm just the messenger here ...

Hi Tom, Both my parents and I are big fans of yours and always trust your recommendations. Mom and Dad send thanks for your Philadelphia Postcard after their lovely meal at Mémé. Mom in town for a girls night on Saturday, picking her up at Union Station and looking for a fun unique lunch place perhaps beyond sandwiches. I’ve already done Bus Boys and Poets and Cork with her on previous visits. We are likely headed to U St for some shopping so either neighborhood is a possibility. Was thinking perhaps the bar at The Source or Masa 14? Thoughts or additions? Thanks in advance! Mom in town for a girls night on Saturday, picking

I was in a similar situation just last weekend. Picked up a gal pal at Union Station and, after a stroll on the Mall, took her to The Source for drinks. I love, love, love the bar and the service there, even though I always end up spending $100 (only a SLIGHT exaggeration) on drinks. But that's because I can't say no to a second round nor a flight (or two) of chef  Scott Drewno's spicy tuna tartare in miso-sesame cones. 

 

Near U St. -- well, on nearby 14th St. -- I've had some really good food at the friendly Bar Pilar lately. Picture yellowfun tuna sashimi with a drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkle of sea salt. And golden fried chicken with terrific mashed potatoes.  The watering hole is a bit noisy, but I like the crowd and the buzz.

 

That help?

 

After following your writings devotedly for years, I finally need to ask you for advice. I want to rendezvous with friends for dim sum but they don't want to travel out to the burbs to eat at Fortune or Mark's Duck house near where I live in Falls Church. I don't mind going downtown but it seems to me that that the best dim sum is out in the VA and MD suburbs. Any suggestions? Maybe we should switch to tapas.

Alas, there is no dim sum (that I know of) in the District. Two of my favorite sources for the Chinese small plates are from the same operator, A & J, which has dining rooms in Rockville and Annandale.

 

If you opt for tapas, my answer is easy and obvious: Jaleo, which has branches in the city, Bethesda and Crystal City.

We are among the approximately 40% of American adults who do not use alcohol. In our case by history and choice. Why is it that as soon as we don't order pre-dining drinks that we are often treated with anything from dismissal to disdain? We don't skimp on meals when we are out, we tip well, we treat house staff with respect. Is it because they are counting the tip loss before we are even served or what? This behavior has actually reduced our dining out, not the costs of dining out.

Thanks for writing in. Sales of alcohol are vital to a lot of restaurants (and waiters, who make the earning on tips based on the cost of a meal). But that's no reason to treat non-drinkers with less attention or graciousness, as you so succinctly point out. 

 

And that's a wrap (dosa?), folks. Thank you, Mr. Bajaj, for taking the time out of your busy schedule to join us today.

 

See you all back here next Wednesday, same time. And if there's a guest you'd like to join us, feel free to pitch me some names. Adios.

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 moderates the Sietsema's Table discussion group. His new video series, Tom Sietsema's TV Dinners, pulls back the curtain on a critic's life -- in and out of the dining room.
Ashok Bajaj

New Delhi native Ashok Bajaj has been a major force on the Washington restaurant scene since 1988, when he opened the Bombay Club downtown. Since then, his empire has grown to include some of the city's most popular restaurants: 701, the Oval Room, Ardeo, Bardeo next door, Rasika and Bibiana Osteria-Enoteca. Most recently, he combined his side-by-side restaurants in Cleveland Park, spending over a million dollars and hiring a top chef in the process. The result is Ardeo + Bardeo, with Nate Garyantes from Minibar at the helm. A board member of Arena Stage, Bajaj was named one of the "50 Most Powerful People in Washington" by GQ magazine in 2009.

Recent Chats
  • Next: