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

Jan 16, 2019

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.

Hi Tom- thanks so much for chatting. With this weekend’s snow, I got a serious craving for fondue. Aside from the Melting Pot, are there spots in the DMV that offer it?

 

The ideal spot is probably Stable, the Swiss-themed outpost on H St. NE, where a traditional cheese fondue goes for $27, with a two-person minimum. I'm partial to the back room, by the way, which suggests an Alpine lodge. 

 

DID YOU HEAR? Another well-regarded restaurant is closing in the District: Siren by Robert Wiedmaier, the top chef himself confirms today. But it’s not for the reason you might think, and Wiedmaier is actually OK with the situation, since the hotel in which his seafood-themed, Michelin-anointed establishment resides has been sold and the chef wasn’t keen on the new ownership’s requests for change. 

 

Just two years old, the brand is expected to find a new home after it goes dark Feb. 19; Wiedmaier, whose staff at Siren will be absorbed by his other restaurants (Marcel’s, Brasserie Beck, etc.), says he’s eyeing three locations. “We’re going to take it to the next level and a better location — out of a hotel,” with its built-in distractions including banquets and room service, says the veteran restaurateur of Siren 2.0. 

 

Between closing and reopening in Washington, the restaurant and some of its principals, including Siren chef de cuisine Andrew Cleverdon, may temporarily relocate to the New York’s Chefs Club, a novel home-away-from-home for dining venues from around the world.

 

THE WHARF JUST ADDED ANOTHER RESTAURANT: It's called the  Rappahannock Oyster Bar, and it's the subject of my forthcoming review in the Sunday Magazine. Don't everyone go at once, please; the place is tiny. I love it most for the crab dip, burger and overall vibe.

 

Happy Wednesday, everyone. What's on your mind today? We had some technical difficulties earlier today, so I wasn't able to log on early and pre-address many questions, which I like to do before we go live.  Please excuse any slowness while I  think, type and add links.

 

Ready?

Hi Tom! Your chats are a highlight of my week- thanks for doing them! I have submitted maybe five or so questions to you in the past and only one has been answered. I always try to do it at least one day in advance in hopes you'll see it. My question is: if a question doesn't make your chat, should I resubmit in future weeks, or did it simply not make the cut?

First, thank you for submitting your questions early and two, sorry I've only addressed one of them in this forum.

 

There are several reasons I might not have replied to the others, including 1) I might not have an answer 2) the question is similar to many others, and I want to mix up topics or  3) I'm still doing some homework (trying to locate notes for a travel destination or waiting for a response from a chef or restaurant owner).

 

It never hurts to resend a question. What, by the way, is yours?

Good morning! My sweetheart and I are having a late lunch Friday for Restaurant Week. We are looking for something low-key, romantic, and warming in the crazy weather. We have a reservation at Officina. The menu looks good- lots of choices (and cheese!) but we’ve never been and are still pretty Newbie with respect to the Wharf. Will Officina suit our need for a leisurely winter afternoon? Should we look elsewhere? Where? Thank you!

If you've not yet been to the Wharf, you need to see it. I wouldn't call the multi-story Officina "low-key," but if it has the menu selection you want, keep your reservation there.  

 

Just curious: How is Restaurant Week treating everyone thus far? Share away. 

How come all these restaurants and chefs did nothing back in 2013 when Imam Comrade Barry was prez? Huh where was Jose and his leftist views back then. Humantarian my Fed backside. He is a far left knucklehead who talks out of both ends of his blank. I wonder what he would do if the staff at his restaurants voted to organize and go union??? Will never go to any of his restaurants again!

A lot of us beg to differ, sir.

 

Here's the latest on the chef's efforts.

is there anyplace that has a good old fashioned salad bar

One of the grandest around is at the Brazilian steakhouse downtown, Fogo de Chao, where you can opt just for the all-you-can-graze "market table." Another, albeit lesser, option is found at the long-running Filomena in Georgetown.  Readers? Feel free to chime in.

Hi Tom, any word on Frank Ruta's next restaurant?

Nada. I hear through the grapevine that he's talked to a few restaurateurs, but there's nothing in the works as far as I know.

Restaurant Week is always a dilemma. Do you go with an inexpensive place knowing that you are locked into three courses that you might not typically get or do you go with a more expensive place with the fear that you are getting smaller or cheaper dishes than what they typically serve? What is the best way to get a better value than just dessert at half price? For the record, I have reservations at Riggsby. Did I make a wise choice?

I'd lean toward a place I couldn't typically afford. A number of upscale restaurants are doing a good job of offering items they actually serve on a regular basis, which is a smart way to gain a new audience. The Riggsby is a terrific choice for that reason. Spring for the chopped salad, the pork loin and the chocolate tart -- a deal of a meal at $35.

Hi Tom - My husband has celiac disease. Are there any restaurants that you would particularly recommend who can accommodate this dietary need? We're looking for dedicated fryers, cleaning the grill, changing gloves after handling gluteny foods, etc. We have had good luck with Elevation Burger, Sally's Middle Name, Mi Vida, most Asian restaurants. Thanks!

A friend who shares your husband's problem reports that most Mexican and Indian restaurants can accommodate her diet. Et Voila!, she adds, has the best gluten-free fries. Other helpful restaurants include: Chiko on the Hill, the Dabney in Blagden Alley, the Partisan in Penn Quarter and "all of Jose's" establishments.

I share with you my displeasure about a server coming over and saying: Hey, guys. I find this upsetting since my wife is clearly not a guy. My suggestion is that the greeting should be: Hello, folks. To me, folks is a warmer greeting and is gender neutral.

Simpler still: "Good afternoon" or "Good evening, and thanks for joining."

 

Here's another reader beef:

 

Good Service

My pet gripe is about the servers who ask "Are you still working on that?" as if we are feeding at a trough. Why don't they switch to "Are you still enjoying that? which is far more civilized?

Have you had a chance to check out Julii, the new French-Med restaurant at Pike & Rose in Bethesda? We went for NYE and impressed. Some of the dishes reminded us of the late Arroz.

Stay tuned. My review of the bistro in North Bethesda, from the crew behind Cava,  is scheduled to run Feb. 3 (earlier online).

I really don't care what a server says (as long as it's not insane). WAY more frustrating is when they disappear. I hate the feeling of craning my neck searching. I just want a second glass of wine, sheesh

Or a fresh napkin. Or the check.

Thank you for your review/recommendation of The Dabney. I was in town for business and ate there last week and it was one of the best meals I have had in years. The work they do with vegetables is off the charts. The carrots, the turnip, the radishes with oysters, the tiger beans...need I go on. Anyone can stick a steak on a grill and make it tasty but to do it with winter vegetables is really impressive. I ate at Jaleo the night before and found it pretty commercial and good but not great. I am pretty cynical and critical in my restaurant praise and The Dabney is really exactly what I like in a restaurant--great food, fun atmosphere, good bar. A real gem

Somewhere, Jeremiah Langhorne is smiling.

Hey Tom. My boyfriend and I went to Officina Monday night for night 1 of restaurant week. I had been to Officina once before after reading your initial review and had a wonderful experience, so I was really looking forward to trying new things on the restaurant week menu. However, our experience was extremely disappointing. They sat us at the Chef's counter -it was fun to watch all of the food being made and coming out but our service was extremely subpar. Our waitress took 20 minutes to come to our seats and even then did not impress us. We asked questions about the menu, wine list, and cheeses and she did not seem knowledgeable in the slightest. She seemed bothered by our questions and ended up guiding us in the wrong direction. She never refilled our wine glasses and never once asked us how our meal was, if we needed anything, etc... I was blown away by the stark difference between this visit and my first. The portions were small (it could've been because of restaurant week... I do note that), our food arrived cold, and the time between each course was painstakingly long. It was not worth the money. We were seated right next to each other and had trouble hearing our own voices with the din from the kitchen and servers. Do you think this poor experience could have been because of restaurant week? I thoroughly enjoyed my first visit but am shocked by how different my new experience was.

Ouch. I'm sorry to be reading this. I have lots of questions, one of which is: Why is your food cold when you're seated at the kitchen counter? Your server sounds not long for the industry. A fluke, maybe?

You were much more polite to that poster than I would have been. (But really, why post in the first place? What did that person’s rant add to your chat?)

I think it's important (well, to an extent) to share a variety of ideas in this forum.  If you follow me with any regularity, you'll see I take plenty of criticism, too, and I'm fine with it. (I didn't go into this job to be liked.)

Tom, Any word on Old Angler's Inn? Looking for a cozy fireplace restaurant in Bethesda/upper northwest area for january birthday dinner! Old Angler's used to have a decent chef but have no idea anymore - also if there is a good alternative not too far into the city. Thank you!

It's been a few years since I've visited. However, I can vouch for the hearth at the French-accented Le Ferme in Chevy Chase.

Apologies if you'd commented on this elsewhere...but you're the first person I thought of when I saw that picture of the President's idiotic spread for Clemson...regardless of political view or partisanship, how does someone with the job and (presumably) a passion for it you have react to that?

I was on several deadlines, or I would have filed something.  In short, the fast food buffet at the White House was yet another missed opportunity for POTUS to celebrate Washington's ever-better restaurant scene.  I mean, the District is home to some first-rate, fast-casual sources, Sweetgreen and Rasa among other (health-minded or international) players.  Then again, the spread was also Trump being Trump. The guy loves fast food, Diet Coke, meat more than vegetables, etc.  For better or worse, he's consistent in his culinary preferences.

Presumably eateries at all price points with considerable government employee customer bases are hurting during the shutdown. I urge others who can afford to, to patronize these places so they won't suffer quite so badly.

I'm doing my part! Then again, eating out is my job. Seriously, though, I like the way you think.

Hey Tom. I’m wondering if the chef of the Whit House is also furloughed and maybe that’s why the National Champions Clemson had to eat cold burgers and fries. Are you aware of the kitchen situation there?

I'm sure the First Family hasn't been reduced to making their own beds or cooking their own meals, but the White House staff  -- kitchen crew included -- has definitely been hit by the partial government shutdown.

I had a similar below par experience at Officina several weeks ago. I was part of a group of 10 that experienced slow/poor service, small portions and quality that's less than acceptable for the cost.

Uh oh.

I live in Adams Morgan and have been to Johnny's a handful of times and never been thoroughly impressed. After your chat two weeks ago praising it I decided to give it another shot and was again disappointed. The service is great but the food was quite bland and not interesting. Any chance Ann cooks for you when you're there and spices things up? I want to love Johnny's I just want the food along the same lines as atmosphere and service and so far it's not!

Ann hasn't been in the kitchen on my last visits, at least that I could tell (the work space is open to the dining room). Can you tell me what you had that was "bland," a word that doesn't describe the chef's output, as I've tasted it over the years?

is run by the Navy and so is funded. But that's it.

There's a separate kitchen for the Residence, I believe.

My wife and I will be departing the area this summer after spending the last 10 years eating our way through the District. The one thing we have not done is splurge for one of the really expensive tasting menus, and we are planning ahead to make sure we do that once before we leave. Should we target Minibar, Komi, Pineapples and Pears, the Inn at Little Washington, or somewhere else? The only catch is my wife abhors raw fish and meat preparations.

You're making *me* make the tough decision for you? No fair!  All those places are wonderful in their own way, but the Inn at Little Washington gets my vote. There's really no other place quite like Patrick O'Connell's life work in the country.

There was NO reason the Clemson team had to come one week after the championship game. These visits usually happen months later, and this one certainly could have been scheduled later. 45 just wanted the stunt.

Who knows?

VERY easy to see a local place turn down catering the White House event....

Oh, sure. I get it. The backlash might not be worth it. Then again, couldn't WH staff just fan out and buy the meals without identifying where they were going?

Hi Tom, My husband and I just got back from Paris and are on a big charcuterie kick, where's your favorite spot in DC for charcuterie? Thanks!

Right now, my favorite place for cured meats is in Silver Spring, at Urban Butcher. It can be a bargain, too, if you select a meaty board as one of three courses for the $35 "Early Supper" menu. In the city, I'm partial to the good work being done at the aforementioned Partisan. (If you like it hot, check out the "Red Menace:" truth in advertising!)

 

That's a wrap for today, gang. Thanks for a lively hour. See you again next week, same time.

In This Chat
Tom Sietsema
Tom Sietsema has been the Washington Post food critic since 2000. In leaner years, he worked for the Microsoft Corporation, where he launched sidewalk.com; the Seattle Post-Intelligencer; the San Francisco Chronicle; and the Milwaukee Journal. A graduate of the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University, he has also written for Food & Wine, Gourmet, GQ, Travel & Leisure and other national publications. In 2016, he received an award from the James Beard Foundation for his series identifying and rating the "10 Best Food Cities in America" the previous year.
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