How are today's restaurant customers different than say customers from the 1980's or mid 1990's?
Yes, guests nowdays are much more aware of good food and service. I think is a very good thing because it pushes us (chefs) to perform at our best every day, even if it is very difficult to do that, every day.
Tom, do you ever consider the impact that your reviews of small restaurants may have on the restaurant? Especially a favorable review that can overwhelm a small place? Many years ago, a few friends and I went to a smaller restaurant in Arlington that had, unbeknown to us, recently received a glowing Tom Sietsema review in the Washington Post just prior to our reservations. Unfortunately, the restaurant was not adequately prepared for the onslaught of attention and we had a quite terrible experience. I never bothered going back. I wonder if sometimes bringing a neighborhood gem to light may not be the best idea.
To avoid the problem you speak of, I generally let the owners know in advance, without going into great detail, that their restaurant might experience an uptick in business once the review goes online or is published in print. It's just the fair thing to do.
Do you recall the "overwhelmed" restaurant you encountered?
Good Morning Tom - My wife will be finishing up 3 years of grad school in mid-December. To celebrate the end of this long period, I wanted to take her on a special date on New Year's Eve. We eat all types of cuisine, but honestly have not had a big date in a while. Do you or the chatters have any suggestions?
You (and chefs) aren't going to like my answer, which is "Stay at home."
New Year's Eve is one of the busiest and most expensive nights of the year to dine out, for obvious reasons: Too many people want to party. Why not celebrate your wife's success the day before or a few days after Dec. 31, instead? It will be more relaxing -- more special -- not having to compete with the crowds and the noise and the hoopla.
Give me a few perimeters (location/price) and I promise to help you out with some ideas.
Good morning Tom! Thank you for telling everyone about the Lao food at Bangkok Golden Thai, what an awesome review! It made my mouth water!! I'm Laotian American and I go there once a week because I'm always craving Laotian food but I don't know how to cook, plus I think it taste better than my mom's cooking. If you go there again please try my new favorite dish "laab beef" served raw and sour. It's good!!!! Also try the pickled fish eggs called "som pah", I know it sounds weird but it's delicious! I heard their Lao menu is out now, so I'm going to check it out this weekend. Ok, take care!
I realize that Business have issues and sometime get caught behind the 8 ball, but your conviction for Tax evasion troubles me on multiple levels. As a Arlingtion resident and a past diner at Bebo can you tell me what you are doing to make amends? Being a responsible partner in the community is just as critical to me as the quality of your cooking. A response will be appreciated. I wish you luck on your new venture.
Thank you for your concerns. That's why I am here working hard and being responsible person and working on repaying and making amends. People learn from their mistakes, let's not dwell on the past and looking forward to a brighter responsible future!!
Hi Tom, so you were gone for a week, and now you start 5 minutes late, what gives? OK, the rant is over, so what did you do for thanksgiving? (I had turkey dinner at the Againn in Rockville which I must say was probably one of the best I had in my 40 plus years. That place does food really well I must say)
Sorry, I wanted to make sure our guest host had we he needed before going live this morning. Patience, dear reader, patience!
I hosted (with help!) about eight mouths for Thanksgiving. We brined an organic bird, made my mom's stuffing, baked two pies (I love orange zest in pecan pie now) , served some sweet potato wedges drizzled with chili cream, tossed some green beans with toasted walnuts and red wine vinegar .... and drank a LOT. (Burp.)
Mr. Donna, in your opinion, where can I get the best Italian food in the area? Preferably close to Baltimore? I'm dying for some of my mother's home cooking and I could really use a fix...
First of all nobody will ever cook like your mother...Everybody's mom is the best and we can't compete with that!!
Next time you are in the DC area please come and see us!
With the addition of Eater, and I hear Grub Street is on the way, does it mean that DC is finally getting noticed for its food secene?
Tom, Four of us had dinner at Casa Nonna last night and were twice confronted with the awkward presentation of 3-item dishes (3 risotto balls, 3 meatballs) for four of us. I would think that the server would have let us know that there were 3 items and perhaps would have offered us an extra one for an extra cost, or maybe suggested to the kitchen that they make 4 smaller items (especially when everything is grandly described as "family style"). Why do they do that? Is it because 3 (or odd numbers) are more aesthetically pleasing than 4? I would think that 4 diners is more common than 3 by a long shot. What are your thoughts?
Roberto: I sipped a disappointing Dolcetto in Las Vegas last month. Can you suggest one or two good Pietmontese vintners whose wines are available in the U.S.?
Next time please try a Dolcetto di Dogliani from Chionnetti and then let me know....
Hi--we're taking my quiet vegetarian niece out for birthday dinner Saturday night. She's bringing her boyfriend who I think is not veg. We'd like to stay in Arlington, Annandale, Fairfax, but she's not a fan of Asian cuisines, which is what we go out for most often. She also isn't big on Indian. She appears to like cheese pizza and pasta and salads as served by chain restaurants. We would prefer something a little less Ruby Tuesdayish. She would probably be happy with Italian. Any ideas? Thanks!!
Head to the sunny Pizzeria Orso in Falls Church. Not only does it currently bake the best pies (the meatless margherita is one of the best), the kitchen does lots of small plates that will keep the beau happy. I'm thinking now of Orso's terrific lamb meatballs, among other winners on the menu.
Hi Tom, Since I don't have enough time off from work, I'm not going home for Christmas this year. I'm not getting down about it; I'm using it as an excuse to go to a super fancy dinner for one! Do you have any suggestions for restaurants open for a late dinner on Christmas (Metro accessible please, even if the Metro is closed)? Thanks!
I like your spirit!
I'm not certain what you mean by late (after 8 p.m.?), but a quick scan of OpenTable shows a number of fine restaurants with free tables around that time or later on Dec. 25. Among the places I'd call first would be Adour, Blue Duck Tavern, Bourbon Steak, Michel Richard Citronelle and J & G Steakhouse.
Chef Donna, thank you for doing this chat. WaPost's story suggested you were more than half a million dollars in the hole -- between the first wages lawsuit, the Virginia tax department's lien and the Arlington County tax case. Plus, you had some other debts mentioned in the story. Do your financial problems have any bearing on your cooking? That is, do you use different, cheaper ingredients? Does the cloud stifle your creativity at all? Or dos getting back to the kitchen and what you do best feel liberating after this dark period?
My cooking and my passion for food is my forte and now I can just concentrate in what I do best cooking and scope for great ingredients. Getting back to the kitchen is my home and I feel great there!
Roberto Donna -- I think your food is exquisite, the best Italian food I've had outside of my multiple trips to Italy (and quite frankly better than some of the places I've eaten there), and I grew up as the 3rd generation of an Italian-American family that has kept its cooking traditions alive. That said, after bad front of the house service at Galileo, and jaw-droppingly bad service at Bebo Trattoria (to which complaints to the manager were essentially sneered at), I told myself that until I heard of different, substantial changes to the non-kitchen side of your restaurants, I wasn't going back. (When -- to use one of the smallest example -- three requests for silverware are ignored and you finally have to walk to the bar and get two sets from the bartender, something has gone wrong.) Giving up food that good is difficult at best, but I think it says something that 3 1/2 years after my last trip to Bebo I still feel strongly about this. What changes are you making to the running of your restaurants that can possibly convince me to return?
Thank you so much for your compliment and to give us another chance (maybe) to visit us again. I have hired all new staff in the dining room and front of the house who have the passion to service guests and the passion for the food that we cook. I really appreciate you feedback and I will always take it seriously when people let me know how I can improve their experience at Galileo. We all train very hard every day our employees and ensure that service and food will be just like in Italy.
Hi, Tom, My sister and I are heading to an event at the National Geographic Society tonight and want to go out for a light dinner and drink beforehand. I've narrowed our choices to the bar at Tabard Inn or PJ Clarke's. I suspect Tabard Inn would be your preference but the bar doesn't accept reservations. Do you think we'd have trouble finding a comfortable spot on a Wednesday evening, say six-ish? Any other recommendations for dinner in the vicinity? Thank you!
You know what's even closer? Quill, the handsome lounge nestled in the Jefferson Hotel on 16th St.
I took Thanksgiving guests there over the weekend, and they loved the parquet floors, plush seating and amber lighting as much as the elegant and innovative cocktails. (Elderflower Royal, based on prosecco, is my new passion.) We didn't order any food, but I noticed the bar menu includes salmon tartar, mini-burgers, crab bisque, a chicken sandwich and other snacks.
I'm hosting a celebratory dinner in the next month (6-8 people), and, to be blunt, I'd like to go to a restaurant with a fun gimmick. My guests are lovely, but they are very shy, and it would make us all happier if we had even some tiny thing create conversation or draw our attention. My thoughts have roamed from restaurants with dancing or a band, Korean barbecue grilled on the table, fondue, a sushi bar, and Minibar, but I don't know enough about the area to choose something that fits in price constraints (less than ~$30 an entree), actually has worthwhile food for the foodies in the group, and is not over the top a la Medieval Times. Can you help Tom?
I'm not big on distractions when I'm dining -- I want to focus on the food, after all -- but there are exceptions.
Does live music count as a "gimmick?" If so, 701 and the Prime Rib, both in DC, offer piano and/or jazz certain nights of the week. Another option is the Italian-Bolivian Tutto Bene in Arlington, which features rumba on Friday nights (or so I recall).
Chatters, care to weigh in with other ideas?
Hi Tom, What are your thoughts on restaurants canceling reservations because of a full restaurant buy-out? Twice a group of my friends made reservations for a new restaurant downtown and twice the restaurant called to cancel the reservation. We are now planning to go somewhere else and won't be going to that restaurant any time soon. I am sure they will make a lot of money on each of those nights, but they lost a bunch of likely return customers!
I think it depends on a couple of things, including: Did the restaurant call with enough time for you to pick another venue? Honestly, I can't begrudge a restaurant for selling itself to a bidder, as long as regular customers are informed (well) ahead of time.
Roberto-- Are you already, or are you planning to do your lunchtime grill for the fine workers downtown? This was my first introduction to your cooking several years, and made me a longtime fan. Best of luck with the new Galileo--can't wait to try it!
Sorry to disappoint but unfortunately I am not able to do the grill at this location but I will have some few sandwiches on the Bar Menu to include our delicious pork sandwich.
From the restaurateur perspective, what makes a good customer? (And not just those who spend a lot of money, please!) But really, we talk a lot in this forum about what restaurants can do to provide good food and service, but when a person goes into a restaurant for a nice meal, are there specific actions or attitudes that can be adopted to receive good food and service?
I think to be a good customer is not based on the amount of money that you spend but your willingness to embrace the experience of the restaurant that you are dining in.
Is Marrakesh still around? belly-dancing and great Moroccan food.
Oh, but I detest that place! The food is seriously undewhelming.
While dining at Michel Richard's Central on Pennsylvania Ave., I noticed that our waiter had a significant amount of dirt and grime underneath his fingernails. This became the focal point of conversation between my fiancee and I for the duration of the night. It made for what should have been a pleasant dinner date at a renowned restaurant into a visually disgusting display of service which detracted from the dining experience. Question: What is the proper etiquette as a diner when faced with unsanitary conditions?
I thought I was the only one to notice those things ....
I'd bring poor hygeine to the attention of a manager, and pronto. And I applaud restaurants that do uniform/clean checks before service.
Note to restaurants: It's just as important to stock nail clippers, files and mouthwash as it is butter, wine and cooking oil!
What about Fogo de Chao or Carmines? At the former, there's the interaction with the servers, and at the latter the family style eating.
Tom, I see you keep recommending Orso to people craving pizza in the Arlington/Fairfax area. What are your thoughts on the service there? Have you experienced any of the problems with the service that so many other diners have had? My wife and I are very easy-going when it comes to service in restaurants and rarely ever complain, but we've been there 3 times and each time the service is awful--NO ONE on the service staff seems to know the menu AT ALL. The pizza is good, but not good enough to deal with horrible service at those prices.
The service at Orso is pretty young and somewhat green, I concur. But I've not encountered a waiter who doesn't know the script.
Let's hope the boss is reading this today.
We went to Gruner and Pok Pok based on your recent article and we absolutely loved both places. Gruner was a great dining experience with great food, great drinks, and excellent service. The rice at Pok Pok was the best rice I ever had. Washington Post should send you out more often!
(Catch that, Mr. Brauchli?)
I'm so pleased you enjoyed both those restaurants. Gruner is special because it really honors German (and other) cooking, avoiding the cuisine's stereotypical heaviness; Pok Pok is probably the best Southeast Asian food I've had in this country -- seriously.
Tom, I had a good laugh when I read your tweet that you and 3 other critics were dining (separately) at Michel last week. What is your initial impression of the place? I'm planning to go there for lunch today, any recommendations?
It aint Maestro, the restaurant it replaced, that's for sure!
I don't wish to scoop myself (my review comes out Dec. 19) but if the escargot tart or the leek tartar are offered, don't miss either.
Has anyone out there been to Michel? What do you think of chef Michel Richard's new outpost in the Ritz-Carlton in Tysons Corner?
Roberto--what is your favorite soup or stew to make? Nothing like a rainy day to ignite a soup craving! Thanks!
My favorite soup for a weather like today, there is nothing like the chestnut soup. And for stew, for sure I reccommend the caciucco alla Aretina (stew of porc, guinea hen, squab, rabitt and sausage simered in stock and tomato).
Wouldn't it be better to go back after the immediate excitement has died down a bit, and give them another chance?
Indeed. If I were a civilian diner, I wouldn't go near a hot restaurant for the first month or so after a rave review.
I travel to Florence,Rome and Sorrento several times a year and I am sorry there are no real Italian restaurants here on the East coast Donna Batali et al don even come close. Its food that has been Americanized, Closest restaurant I can remember is Vincenzo's from decades back. I have eaten in convents in Rome that make Mr Donna look like an amateur cook. Sorry there are no real Italian restaurants here on the East coast and probably none in the US.
I really don't agree on your statement and I would like personally to invite for you to come to have dinner and discuss the food that I will preparing for you. I really would like to understand what is really Italian cooking for you....that's what makes my profession interesting.
Tom, seriously, is your boss named "Mr. Brauchli"? Is it pronounced broccoli? I LOVE it!
The executive editor of the this paper is indeed Marcus Brauchli. But he pronounces his name BROW-klee.
Chef Donna, I thought you would never speak with anybody at The Post after they slimed you on the front page. Are you really that much of a forgiving person?
I am not forgiving but it was the truth and even if I think that was not a matter for front page news, I have and I am facing my responsibilites. I never have problems with the truth but when it is not 100% authentic, that's when I will not be forgiving. But now I just have to concentrate on making Galileo III successful and being thankful to all my supporters...
I applaud you Roberto for doing this chat. Owning a small business (especially a restaurant) is one of the hardest things in this life. I know that you have taken your lumps over the last few years but we all make mistakes. What matters is how you respond now. Unfortunately, politicians such as Charlie Rangel get off easy with their tax issues ;)
I never tried to get off my taxes and when I came to America was to be a good citizen and I am still trying to be...
Thanks for your support.
I am headed to Florence and Rome in a few weeks. I have been looking for some restaurants that I cannot miss. Unfortunately, the information I have found is inconclusive. Any suggestions? La Pergola will be closed while I am in Rome, but I would prefer not to blow my budget on one meal anyways.
Please try Agata & Romeo in Rome...and let me know.
Enjoy your trip to Italy.
I can't imagine it...what is the consistancy? I love leeks, but a whole pile of 'em?
The cake of steamed leeks at Michel is a vivid green (from parsley, I believe) and it pulses with red wine vinegar to balance the sweetness of the onions. A bit of crunch comes from the crostini that rests on the appetizer. Heaven.
Roberto, does it make sense to order a Barolo in a resteraunt considering this wine often needs much time in the bottle and then in the decanter. For the same money I typically go with a Barbaresco. Does this make sense to you?
Unfortunately I have to agree with you.
For the person who was complaining about service at the original Galileo and Bebo: I have dined twice at Galileo III, once at the bar and once in the dining room, and the service is excellent. The dishes are flavorful and complex without being overwrought.
Ok I have to take a good compliment and thank you for that!
Please keep coming back since we need everybody support!
I have to second the Fogo de Chao suggestion. My fiance and I took our respective sets of parents there when they met for the first time. They didn't have much in common, but the "experience" of the restaurant kept the conversation flowing, and although not every cut of meat is something to write home about, the garlic-crusted steak was fabulous!
Always good to have another opinion based on experience. Thanks.
When we first moved to DC almost a decade ago, Galileo welcomed us with open arms - after being turned away from the few other recommended restaurants - when we looked for a great restaurant dressed as we were used to going out for good meals in Berkeley / SF. We were rewarded with a magnificent meal and went back as often as our limited budget & cooking-at-home habits allowed. This past weekend I found my nephew (from Calabria) had a dog-eared copy of your 1996 cook-book: what a picture! The restaurant in Roslyn had it's problems, most of which really came down to it wasn't Galileo. If not for the once great food and wine, then for the kindness you once showed us - and certainly for both reasons - we wish you well with Galileo III and hope to see you there soon. Best wishes maestro.
Remember I cut my hair very short now and you will not recognize me anymore from the photo in the book.
"The cake of steamed leeks " how is that a tartar?
I hear you, but chefs take liberties with food terms all the time, haven't you noticed? (Think of all the layered dishes that are described as napoleons, for instance.)
Chef Donna, please to help me make fresh mozzarella di bufala? What are the steps? Grazie
First thing where you can you find bufala milk in USA?
I miss the more formal Galileo I. I miss Maestro. My favorite restaurant is DelPosto, but that is a heckuva' train ride to Penn Station for dinner. (Although I will do it anyway in two weeks!) My question to Mr. Donna is whether he will try to make his new place a little more formal to fit that void. We don't have a formal Italian restaurant in the D.C. area anymore -- and that is a shame to this jacket/necktie-wearing Italian-American. Part of the reason New York's last four-star Italian restaurant was in 1976 (!) until DelPosto is because no one really tried. Just cuz it's Italian doesn't mean it can't be formal! P.S. I LOVE Carmine's, but not for a special date.
Galileo III is not at all a formal restaurant and I am already taken as being against the current of the new trend in the restaurants in DC.
I tried the Escargot Tart @ Michel and was disappointed -- I bench-marked it against the Citronelle lounge version, and thought the underlying "bread" was a bit tough. I also didn't like how the escargot was ground into some kind of paste and put on top like thin green pepperoni slices.
I don't doubt you. But my version, with escargot sliced as if it were salami, was terrific in combination with a smear of pesto on a thin crust of brioche.
Richard tinkers constantly with his food, for better or for worse. Maybe you had a tweaked version of what I had?
thanks for opening again and thanks to your wife Nancy who is a great presence at the front of the house. My wife and I had a great meal there on my birthday! Now, where would you go if you were not doing the cooking?
Me and Nancy would go to a dozen of restaurants in DC.
Mr. Donna -- My husband and I took one of your cooking classes (pasta sauces) at your house last winter. It was a fantastic experience! Just wanted to say thank you for that amazing opportunity, and I wish you the best of luck with Galelio III. We hope to visit the restaurant soon!
Taking you for coming to our cooking classes and make sure that you follow us on Facebook and Twitter to check for new fun thing happening.
We have Oklahoma tickets for 8 o'clock Christmas Eve and would love to have a festive (but not overwhelming) dinner beforehand. Suggestions?
When I went to the show -- just last night, as a matter of fact -- I began the evening with dinner at Sou'wester in the Mandarin Oriental near Arena stage. The cooking was more confident than what I experienced before (the lamb soup was a stand-out), but also more substantial than I needed before three hours of theater. We're talking ranch hand portions there!
Need suggestions! My 40th is coming up and my husband and I have a sitter for an evening to go out to dinner. We're always reluctant to take a chance on a sitter night and end up going to our old favorites (Rustico, Birch and Barley, Jaleo, Founding Farmers -- yes, i know, not your favorite). Any suggestions for something new to try? NoVa is preferred but DC is ok. Good food and good beer/wine more important than price. Thanks!
Tom, just wanted to say thank you SO MUCH for the recent London postcard. We took the tube out to Fulham to eat at the Harwood Arms based on your review, and it was simply fantastic! They even said they remembered you having been in when we talked about where we were from and what brought us there. I had rabbit and deer, and my mother the oysters and a fish special. The service was lovely, the atmosphere warm and inviting, and the whole experience generally relaxing. To anyone going to London, Harwood Arms is well worth the tube ride (and still in Zone 2!) and the food was just divine - thanks Tom!
What about a tapas restaurant? Sharing plates will force conversation
If you're looking for an intimate outdoor atmosphere, I would suggest Sabatino's in Piazza S. Ignazio. Most of the tables are outside, the food is good, and the piazza looks gorgeous at nighttime with little traffic or pedestrians. When I went, the Carbinieri band happened to be giving a concert in the piazza; it remains one of the best dining experiences of my life.
Grazie for the tip
Tom, I love the special guest idea for the chat. Great addition to my favorite regularly scheduled "show." While you and Roberto are on the same stage, would you care to tell us what you think of the new Galileo? I went when they were offering a special multi-course meal and was blown away. It's wonderful to see one of Washington's best chefs back where he belongs!
I don't feel comfortable weighing (much) before my formal review is written, and I hope you understand my reasons for that. I love to work in an open kitchen because I can communicate with my guests.
I will say, however, that the last two dinners I've been in, I was someone else's guest (coincidentally).
Question for the chef: What are the advantages and disadvantages of working in what amounts to a stage in your new restaurant?
I love to work in an open kitchen because I can communicate with my guests.
I love to work in an open kitchen because I can communicate with my guests.
Are either of you as amazed as I am at the amount of money restaurants put into build-out of a space and then obviously put no money or effort into training staff. A nice looking space is great, but the point of the space is to SERVE people.
Great subject ... for another chat.
Mr. Donna, thank you so much for spending the hour with us. Much appreciated.
Chatters, it's time to go. See you next week.
My next guest will be Kathy Morgan, the top sommelier at Citronelle. She'll be joining us Dec. 15.