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

Apr 03, 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, What future DC restaurants has you salivating? Curious what upcoming places you have high hopes for.

There are too many to list here, but high on the roster are Hanumahn in Shaw, a Laotian idea from the owner of the popular Thip Khao ... Cane, a Caribbean restaurant from Peter Prime, late of Spark at Engine Co. 12 ... Emilie's, a 70-seater on Capitol Hill from the top talent at Himitsu, chef Kevin Tien ... and Albi, a Middle Eastern restaurant from Michael Rafidi, late of Arroz and Requin.

 

  One of the places I've been eager for since I heard it was coming was a second Boqueria, in Penn Quarter. The spinoff of the original in Dupont Circle is the subject of my forthcoming Sunday review, now online.

 

The dining in Washington just gets better and better, and I love that so many arrivals are also relatively affordable. 

 

Good morning, and thanks for joining me for 30 minutes or so of restaurant talk. My apologies. I have some big deadlines today, but I didn't want to miss an opportunity to take your questions, and I promise to tackle at least 30 of them before I sign off. Also, I'll be wrapping up my spring guide next week (look for it May 5 in print, earlier online) so won't be hosting a chat April 10. 

 

How can I direct you -- dining-wise -- this morning? Bring on the questions and comments.

Just a big thank you for bringing this one to our attention. We finally made it there and loved every bite. Beautifully plated and delicious food, fun space and excellent service. Applause!

Glad to get your feedback. Since it rolled out, Unconventional Diner has become my stock answer to multiple reader questions, including "Where can I take a mix of ages?" and "I'm a foodie. She's not. Where should we go?"

Read Frank Bruni's article in the NYT and wondered what your thoughts were. I know we definitely frequent the places that help us feel like regulars, where the food is excellent and the ambiance allows for conversation. https://www.nytimes.com/2019/03/30/opinion/sunday/best-restaurant-over-50.html regarding dining over 50 and wondered your thoughts.

That was a brilliant column by Frank. If I weren't eating out for work, which constantly finds me in dozens of new places, I'd identify six or so restaurants where they knew and took care of me -- and where I'd spend most of my time and money. Familiarity breeds comfort!

We will be in DC for several days over the July 4 holiday and are looking for great places for vegetarian dinners: dairy is good, no fish, no seafood. Any price is ok as long as the food and service are commensurate. We’ll be staying near the mall but heading to Nostos for at least one night.

You'll want to add the plant-based Fancy Radish in the Atlas District to your itinerary, as well as the freshly minted Rooster & Owl on 14th St. The former is vegan; the latter offers such lures as a carrot with barbecue sauce and cornbread ice cream (eating is believing) and roasted Napa cabbage stuffed with blue cheese, pear and thyme. For Indian, I like the cozy Pappe, also in Logan Circle, which offers 10 meatless entrees. 

kind of shocked with your rave about the $5 million in renovations at the Pembroke when the service is still abysmal. Agree about the food though.

I didn't encounter poor service at the new restaurant in the revamped Dupont Circle hotel, or I would have shared that. Can you offer a few details, please?

My birthday is in a few weeks and I REALLY want a good italian meal but ideally in fairfax area. I love Filomena but don't want to venture into the district. Where in Fairfax area has that caliber of food, homemade pasta etc? I've already been to Dolche Vita which was ok and Ciao Osteria so I'm looking for something different.

Chatters? I'm stumped.

Tom, We shall be in Amsterdam a few weeks from now, and your last Postcard from there seems to be from 2008. Do you have any restaurant updates? Many thanks.

The restaurants I've long-admired there -- Greetje for modern Dutch cooking, Tempo Doeloe for Indonesian fare, Toscanini for regional Italian cuisine -- continue to delight readers I've sent to those places. 

Hi Tom, I can't make your chat, usually, but wanted to thank you very much for the article on portion size. Portions have become just gross. Maybe I'd like a smaller portion because I want to enjoy the dining experience as a one-time, ephermal pleasure. Maybe I don't want to eat too much because the giant plate and serving makes it too easy to overeat. Maybe a big slab of food is unappetizing. So many reasons why not. Keep fighting the good fight. A while ago you mentioned Tortino. I took friends from out of town there (they were staying right next to the Convention Center) and they really enjoyed it, including the leisurely walk. Thanks for the tip.

Thanks for the thanks. I think we'd be a happier, healthier America if sensible portions became the norm. I'm not against the occasional splurge and I understand restaurants wanting to be generous, but few of us should be eating three or four cups of pasta or a pound or more a meat in one sitting.

 

I *hate* to be a nag, but I really care about this issue, which leads to obesity and excessive waste. 

I missed last week's chat, but saw a reader with a request for old DC menus. The reader, and you, might be interested in the Buttolph Collection at the New York Public Library. The collection consists of some 40,000 menus from 1843-2008, to include DC restaurants, with over 18,000 digitized. https://digitalcollections.nypl.org/collections/the-buttolph-collection-of-menus#/?tab=navigation If you're curious, the filet mignon at The Occidental in 1950 clocked in at $2.50, $26.22 in today's dollars. The Occidental currently has it on the menu for $48.

You readers are a wealth of information. The following also came in after the last chat:

 

Re: Restaurants in DC in 1950

Librarian here - from the chat on 3/27 - I would recommend looking at the telephone directories from the 1950s (Yellow pages). Public libraries should have them that far back - maybe on microfiche, if not already downloaded and archived on PDF. Also the National Restaurant Association was founded in 1919, maybe they may have some type of directory from that time period.

 

Going on a bucket list trip to Peru to hike Machu Picchu. We will be in Lima and Cusco, and some smaller villages. I've heard Lima is a powerhouse chef city, so I would love recommendations from you or other chatters for there or for Cusco. Thank you!

Fun! The one restaurant you ought to save up for in Lima is the trail-blazing Central, which I visited in the restaurant's youth. And for ceviche, you must try the handsome La Mar owned by famed chef, Gaston Acurio.

 

Hi Tom! I moved to Rosslyn about 6 months ago and was so excited that Sfoglina was opening a location there (esp as it's only 5 minutes walking!!), but it seems to keep getting delayed and delayed. Do you have any idea when they will finally be opening?

I checked in with the restaurant group's spokeswoman, who writes: "As you know, the timeline for opening a restaurant is dependent on so many factors and considerations. Construction has started on Sfoglina Rosslyn, and if all goes according to schedule, we will open shortly after Labor Day." 

 

(Speaking of Fabio Trabocchi's expansion plans, tomorrow marks his first international project, Fiola at Dopolavoro Venezia, in the JW Marriott Venice Resort & Spa in Italy.)

Dear Tom, my partner and I moved in DC last year from Europe and we usually invite each other to a very good restaurant for our birthdays. Thus, we decided to go last Fall for my partner's birthday to Plume at the Jefferson Hotel guided by its Michelin star. We had never been to a such an expensive restaurant and wanted to test what the American top gastronomy had to offer. Everything (decorum,waiters, sommelier, ...) was perfect of course, but I would like to focus on the food itself: it was very good, the products were best quality perfectly cooked and nicely presented, but it was very high classic cuisine no creativity, no surprise in my plate and in my mouth! So for my birthday dinner (in about a month) I want to be surprised! Which restaurant would you recommend ? (NB: It doesn't need to be as expensive as Plume.) Thank you very much in advance for your advice. Best Laurie

There are so many terrific choices in Washington right now, its hard to name one place without knowing more about your taste and preferences.

 

But if you're up for something on the "creative" side, you can't go wrong with Maydan, from whose live fire many of the Morrocan/Lebanese/Tunisian dishes emerge; Bresca, whose chef-owner Ryan Ratino turns heads with such notions as dry-aged whole duck, prepared in part with the help of an ornate table-side press; or the whimsical, four-star  Pineapple & Pearls on Capitol Hill.

Going to the new play at the SIgnature next week and want to get a bite to eat before. We'll eat anything. Where should we go ?

Hmm. Does Harris Teeter have a salad bar? The scene there is grim, as if we were stuck in 1989. The Caryle is your best bet, I think.

Hi Tom -- A few weeks ago I needed to decide on a restaurant for a birthday dinner, on slightly late notice (too late for a reservation at some of my usual favorite spots). I had the idea that it'd be fun to try out that Buck's Fishing and Camping place that you're always mentioning. It helped that we were combining it with a visit to the Insomnia Escape Room, which happened to be just a short drive away. Anyway, we had a great time; everyone's food was delicious, and the service was very good. I expect we'll be back. Thanks for the rec!

Buck's Fishing & Camping is definitely one of my go-to spots -- it's close to where I live and I love the arty setting -- but a recent visit reminded me I'd welcome a few new dishes on the American menu. 

Hello, There will be 10 of us going to a conference in Arlington in June. Can you recommend a restaurant for us. We don't require a private room, but that would be nice. And since we're historians, we are not part of the 1%.

Your most reliable option is probably the convivial, Lebanese-themed Me Jana, where a hot or cold dip sampler goes for $13 (for two) and a "Journey," or tasting of 10 or so dishes, costs $45 a person. Kebabs there run between $21 and $25. 

Hi Tom, I have a friend coming into town in a few weeks and she has never had Ethiopian food. Besides Ethiopic, can you recommend a place? I am in Arlington and would prefer something in Northern Virginia or Washington. This will be on a Saturday night and, if possible, i’d like to be able to hear ourselves in conversation. She doesn’t eat meat, but fish is OK and I figure there will be a good choice of vegetables pretty much wherever we go. Thanks.

The place I frequent the most of late is Zenebech, a family-run dining room in Adams Morgan, where your friend should gravitate to the colorful vegetarian sampler. While I haven't dropped by since I originally reviewed it, Makeda in Alexandria is worth a visit.   It's the first Ethiopian restaurant where I've had a snack called kategna: toasted, burnt-red wedges that suggest a pizza with a dab of crumbly cottage cheese in the center of the pinwheel. Bite down, and the crisp slice oozes fat and fire, from a combination of oil (or butter) and awaze, Ethiopia’s answer to hot sauce. Your hands will get messy, but your stomach will be happy.

I missed this week's chat and I wanted to chime in on the roast chicken since I have a few faves in the area. I never made it to Palena so I can't vouch for similarity of experience but I just had the Tandoori...ish Chicken at Rose's Luxury and greatly enjoyed it. Also, the poulet a demi deuil on Mirabelle's lunch menu was one of my favorite things I have eaten in recent memory. Not quite chicken, but St. Anselm has a roast pheasant that was delightful. Finally, I like the whole chicken at Maydan, but it was a bit overdone and service is always weird and always seems like they are trying to turn tables, so am loathe to recommend that. I cannot WAIT to try the chicken at Kinship--thanks!

Does anyone else feel like roast chicken, or something similar, right now? (Thank you for your post.)

Bellissimo in the heart of Fairfax City is excellent, though space is tight. A little off the beaten path in the Springfield/Franconia area is Osteria Marzano, a personal favorite.

Reader to the rescue!

I'm looking for a fun place to take a group of about 5-7 friends out to lunch in lieu of a traditional baby shower. Perhaps someplace with a great view? And not so loud that we can't actually talk to each other?

Fiola Mare in Georgetown is open for lunch and, given the right table, offers a view of the Potomac. Mi Vida comes with both patio and balcony seating and a backdrop of the District Pier in the Wharf, while Osteria Morini features an Italian menu and Chatters, feel free to weigh in with additional ideas. 

Hi Tom! Your weekly chats are one of the highlights of my week, thank you for doing them! I wanted to pose a question about must eat restaurants in France. My fiancé and I are getting married in Paris this summer and then traveling around the country (Lyon, Annecy, Strasbourg, and Nice) after for our honeymoon. We're big foodies and because this is a very special occasion are happy to do some splurging on some nice meals. We've already been gifted with dinner at Mirazur during our time in Nice, so are looking for other can't miss options for food or drink while we travel around. Thank you in advance!

I'm going to throw your questions to the crowd today and hope for a suggestion or two in return. I'm not up-to-speed on France at the moment. A lot of food friends use Paris by Mouth to plot reservations, etc. Worth a look. 

This weekend we wanted to meet a friend for late Sunday lunch. Frederick is mid-way for both parties, so I volunteered to check out some restaurants and make a recommendation. One of us is a vegetarian and another doesn’t eat fish, but since Frederick seems to have a great restaurant scene, I figured I wouldn’t have much of an issue finding a place that would work. My plan was to check review sites for well-rated restaurants, scan a few restaurants websites for menus and hours, and make a selection. Bad plan. The first couple of restaurant sites didn’t have their hours posted. Two more didn’t have a menu posted, not even a sample menu. A few more posted menus, but no prices, leaving us in the dark whether it was within our desired price range. One had a menu still promoting Christmas and New Year’s specials. Finally I found the website for Sabor de Cuba - hallelujah! A clear website with hours and location, and a current menu complete with prices. We ended up having a wonderful lunch there - good food and tasty mojitos. Why do restaurants skimp on putting complete and timely information on their websites?

Let this be a lesson to offending restaurants: you're losing business when you don't offer the basics online. They include a current menu, prices, parking availability, tips for disabled patrons and more. And , please, no music or flashes that will startle nearby office mates (or bring attention to where your cursor is).

 

I hope the owners of the new Estuary, by chef Bryan Voltaggio, are reading this, as they have yet to publish an online menu. Grrrr. 

Any suggestions for a group dinner for 10 people in downtown DC? A friend who moved away from DC is coming back to town and would like to catch up with her old circle of friends. Ideally we'd like a place that's not too noisy to hear each other (or has a private room space available in early May) and has a good variety on its menu to please a wide range of preferences. Thanks!

I'd book the private room at Centrolina (love Amy Brandwein's take on Italian!) or the new Estuary, if you can get through to the restaurant.

Have you given any thought to doing a series of articles that would rank/rate restaurants by location? Such as National Harbor, or U Street, or Kennedy Center. I think articles like that could be very useful to people looking for a specific area for a specific reason (e.g., a show).

You mean, offer a round-up of restaurants in a specific neighborhood? Thanks for the idea.

Tasting menus have way too much food and the accompanying wine flights have too much wine for us. We love the concept but do not like the bursting feeling or feeling loaded at end.

It really depends on the tasting menu. I've left some restaurants stuffed to the gills and others wondering what I had at home in the fridge. The problem is, there is no standard portion size when it comes to restaurants.

If you want to venture out to Herndon, Piero's is delicious as well -- and just off the Fairfax County Parkway.

The name is new to me. Grazie.

We normally go to Busboy's and Poets, but if you are willing to drive about 5 minutes, you can get to Columbia Pike which has Thai Square and Bangkok 54 for yummy Thai, Lost Dog for pizza, and Rebellion just opened for burgers. Josephine's has good Italian. Nothing on the Pike is super fancy, but generally better food than Shirlington.

Smart suggestion(s).

Yes, beam me up to Zuni Cafe. Please!

To me, that means ramps and shad roe. Any suggestions on where to find them? Thank you!

Has anyone seen shad or its easier-to-find roe yet? Please share if you know a source. 

My wife and I are heading to San Francisco for a week; departing Friday. I've already assembled my taqueria hot list about which I will brook no debate (La Taqueria, La Espiga del Oro, y El Castillito). We've also planned a semi-splurge or two at Zuni Cafe. Can you recommend any unpretentious little gems in the city? We like everything, but it's hard to find any consensus for, say, chinese or seafood (looking specifically for a great red snapper dish). We will not have a car, but are adept at PT (Clipper Card ftw!) and staying in Hayes Valley. Thanks Tom!

For a genuine classic, consider the beloved Swan Oyster Depot, among the James Beard Foundation’s 2019 nominees for Outstanding Service (and rightly so).  Another treasure is Yank Sing (two locations) for dim sum: steamed pork buns, pearly shrimp dumplings, Peking duck and more.

Hi Tom, My parents are coming to town for a short visit and I'd like to take them somewhere nice for dinner in part to celebrate my dad's birthday. My mom is not a very adventurous eater, my dad may be a little more so. My husband and I love trying new things. Could you suggest somewhere we could make a reservation in the moderate price range (and maybe something other than Italian)? Last time they were here, they enjoyed 2 Amys and Farmers, Fishers, Bakers (I know, I know...). Thanks so much!

Have you been to Chloe near Nationals Park yet? Its chef, Haidar Karoum, has worked at some of Washington's most popular restaurants (Estadio, Doi Moi) and his latest menu is a long and international list that sums up his resume. Picture Vietnamese-style chicken, garlicky sausage and a chocolate sundae for dessert. Really, there's something for everyone, and in an interesting part of town. 

Lots of turnover in the area, and several chain restaurants. But we've had good meals at Osteria da Nino, just a couple of blocks from Signature.

Yet another reader to the rescue.

Big ditto to the original post. Will also add to please make vegetarian and vegan options clear. Don't make me call to find out about what you have (just read this one today) or guess about ingredients. It's faster for me to click and go elsewhere, usually taking a group that includes non-veg guests with me.

Restaurants, are you listening? Make it easy for diners to make them like you. Detailed websites are a good start.

We are going to Prague, Vienna and Budapest in early June - any recommendations for dinner - both special and great holes in the wall - thanks

Worth the splurge in Vienna: the creative and delicious Steikerek, one of my favorite restaurants in the world. In Budapest, aim for the Great Market Hall, a showcase for Hungary's culinary largesse, and the wine-themed Borkonyha. (You didn't ask, but the Corinthia hotel is terrific, and if you like shoes, Rozsnyai makes beautiful ones by hand.) 

My parents will be visiting for Easter, and I would like for the three of us to go out to a nice brunch that day. I would prefer somewhere in DC or NoVa under $50/pp where I can make a reservation. None of us are drinkers, so no need for bottomless mimosas. Somewhere good for conversation with unusual options would be great. On their previous visits to DC, they've really enjoyed Zaytinya, Ambar (thanks for recommending them!), Old Ebbitt, and The Grill from Ipanema. Only food restriction is Mom and I both really dislike cilantro. Thanks for your help!

Central Michel Richard downtown is serving a three-course Easter brunch this year, for $42 a person. The selections include creme brûlée French toast, the restaurant's signature fried chicken, crab cake Benedict and some of the (late) namesake chef's fetching desserts. 

Thank you to all who have provided clues for me. A few of the restaurants mentioned in the book are still in business(!), while memories of others are just an internet-search away. Only one problem one remains, and I'm growing convinced that the author made a mistake with its name. But thanks again to all!

This is a smart crowd, right?

The Laotian place in the Galleria is pretty darn good, and amazing for a mall food court. The chili crusted chicken (or tofu for the vegetarians) is nice and hot. Not quite Thai hot, but it *is* a mall food court.

I'd write about good food in a bowling alley if I found it.

There's a long Portuguese heritage in the Bay Area, so you might like to try the new Uma Casa restaurant in San Francisco's Noe Valley: https://www.umacasarestaurant.com/

Cool!

In McLean/Tyson's, there's the old-school and more formal Ristorante Bonaroti.

This just in from yet another chatter: "Rafagino in Burke. Unassuming but the food is great."

 

The original poster now has a week's worth of Italian from which to choose.

Hi Tom, I love whole fish so whenever I see a whole fish on a menu, I usually order it. Despite my best efforts, I usually end up with several bones in my mouth. What is the correct etiquette to deal with bones? If I end up with a bone, I try to discreetly pluck it out and put it on an appetizer plate but I usually end up with a small pile of them

Bones should go out the way they went in (discretely as possible). An attentive server should see what you're doing and offer a replacement plate as necessary.

To the OP: TELL US the (alleged) name of the restaurant mentioned. Pretty certain that for Tom's next chat in 2 weeks he will have received numerous replies with either (a) confirmation or (b) the correct name.

Still there, Original Poster?

I went to Floreyn in Amsterdam and loved it. Unique Dutch food with excellent service. Felt more like a neighborhood restaurant for locals.

The name is new to me. Thank you for adding to the list.

Hi Tom! My parents are coming from Minnesota to D.C. for Easter weekend. I'd like to take them to a nice brunch after Mass at the Basilica that Sunday, April 21, and would prefer a restaurant in that part of the city. You have already helped inspire a great food weekend -- reservations include Elle, Fancy Radish, A Rake's Progress, and Lapis, and we are planning to also hit Chaia -- and this brunch is the one missing piece! I may be asking too much, but would especially love somewhere offering a riff old-school American and/or Eastern European classics -- growing up, my whole family would typically have Easter brunch at the awesomely old-school Polish-American Jax Cafe in Minneapolis. I know this is a tall order, but if anyone can help me figure it out, it's you!

Your best, closest option is probably the beguiling, French-accented Primrose in Brookland, which I recently reviewed. I haven't been for brunch, but if dinner is a sign, you're in for a treat. Better book fast, though; I bet a lot of fans have already reserved. 

Hi Tom. We are planning to celebrate my wife's birthday. Any ideas for a restaurant with a nice view, or a fireplace. Any cuisine will be fine. We are open to DC and suburbs. Thanks. MK

Nice view:  A water-facing table, maybe on the patio, at Salt Line

 

Nice fire (although I can't guarantee it will be lit when you go): Iron Gate in Dupont Circle. 

I love sauces, which puts me in a difficult dining position here in the 21stC and not, oh maybe, eating a century ago in an Escoffier-led kitchen. The dribble across a protein, the schmear, the adorable beads of flavour dotting the rim of a plate. I seem to be relegated to soups and pastas (plus the occasional gravy over a biscuit). Where do you suggest I take my spoon, and what should I be ordering?

My inclination is to point you to the area's French-themed establishments. They include Convivial, where the steak frites comes with a cognac-green peppercorn sauce; Marcel's, whose signature lamb gets a cumin-Madeira sauce; and Le Diplomate, its skate enhanced with beurre noisette.

So what's the weirdest/oddest/most unexpected place you've found good food?

A gas station in Maryland? It was a Mexican joint. Can't immediately recall the name. Breakfast at Miriam's Kitchen (serving the homeless) qualifies, too. The volunteers make sure recipients have lovely meals.

For the poster headed to Peru: Lima: Central was a mind blowing, cerebral meal, and as Tom said, La Mar is fantastic. Other ideas are Astrid y Gaston, which was delightful and delicious, and El Mercado, where we ate our way through what felt like the entire menu and couldn't stop ordering. Cusco: Chicha, for a nicer meal. Papacho's when you just want a burger after all the ceviche. And Pacapapa for the best lomo saltado and other traditional Peruvian fare (make a reservation or be prepared to wait) Aguas Calientes: If you hike one of the bigger mountains, you'll need to aggressively refuel. We stumbled upon Incontri del Pueblo Viejo while waiting for our train, and stuffed our faces with surprisingly good pizza and a great selection of Peruvian beer. Have fun! It's a beautiful country with delicious food.

GREAT tips.

COPACABANA, a Latino supper club, somewhere in downtown DC. The author also visited the REAL Copa in NYC, and either got confused or else wanted to disguise the place in DC. All the other restaurants the author visited in NYC, Boston and DC (whether still open or in the past) I was able to find online.

Just in the nick of time!

Hi Tom... I've been looking for a cozy red-and-white-checkered-tablecloth-with-Chianti-on-the-table kind of Italian restaurant in NOVA or DMV. You know, the retro kind that makes you want to sing about "a bottle of red and a bottle of white." Does this exist? I've seen places that I thought would be it, but no....

In DC, I'm thinking Tortino might be close to what you want. It has a very neighborly feel, and the Italian food is delicious.

R&R Taqueria. Corner of Rt1 and Rt 175 in Elkridge. :-D

SI.

Tom, this might be a bit outside your wheelhouse, but can you recommend somewhere to get a good ice cream cake for a birthday party? Thanks!

I actually had a good ice cream cake in a restaurant recently, St. Anselm near Union Market. (A slice, made with vanilla and brownie ice creams, goes for $8, sprinkles included.) But you're probably looking for a retail shop. Chatters?

Hi Tom -- heading down to Charleston for my birthday weekend. We've booked a couple of spots: brunch at Husk and dinner at FIG. Any spots we shouldn't miss? Low-key dinner, cafes/brunch or oyster bar recs are welcome. Bonus points for outdoor seating! Your chats are amazing, many thanks in advance!

You missed a couple spots in one of my favorite food cities in the country. Leon's Fine Poultry & Oysters, set in a former car shop; Hominy Grill for shrimp and grits beneath a pressed-tin ceiling and swirling fans; and Martha Lou's Kitchen for terrific soul food near the railroad tracks. I dream of the kitchen's bursting-with-juices fried shrimp and chicken.

 

Actually, my list of recommendations is much longer than this, but I am running out of time.

Hi Tom! I would really appreciate your help on a tall order: my birthday falls on Easter this year and my family is coming down to celebrate with me. We decided to do brunch somewhere in Arlington or Alexandria for not only my birthday, but also to have my family meet my boyfriend's family for the first time. Could you recommend any options that would be good for 13 adults and 2 kids (some of which aren't adventurous eaters)? I'd like to find a place that's nice enough for the occasion but not very expensive because I know my parents will insist on paying for everyone. Thank you so much!

You're right: Tall order!

 

Among the places that *might* be able to accommodate your big group -- on one of the industry's busiest days, if you call ASAP -- are Matchbox in Pentagon City, Lebanese Taverna in Arlington and Rustico in Alexandria.  A lot of the usual suspects in NoVa are "fully committed," as they say in the business. (And yes, I checked for you yesterday.)

Hi Tom. I'm a longtime fan! My parents are coming into town in late June to watch the baby so my husband and I can get a night away to celebrate our second anniversary. I would love to go to a nearby B&B and have a special dinner out. We went to The Inn at Little Washington a few years ago and Three Blacksmiths (which I saw you raved about) is booked solid. Any other suggestions? Thanks!

Think Baltimore, which has some cool new hotels for you to stay in (see: Revival in Mount Vernon) and the elegant and delicious Charleston for toasting one another. 

One of my favorite restaurants in NYC -- a small, neighborhood Italian place -- explicitly offers half-portions of its pasta dishes (along with whole-wheat and gluten-free versions) on its menu. While I'm sure that their reason is that a primi course should be relatively small if the diner is to be able to complete their secondi, it's a wonderful option that leaves me feeling more relaxed when deciding what I should have for dinner. In light of how busy they are, giving diners that option can only be drawing more customers in. I, too, wish more restaurants everywhere (and not just Italian ones) offered that option!

As I advocated in my story on outsized portions and food waste, I wish more restaurants offered half-portions of most of the entrees, period. 

I wonder what you think of this concept. On the one hand, a restaurant that makes only one thing and does it very well (one hopes!) is kind of a bold move. Folks who take a new approach should be encouraged, I suppose. But the menu is SO limited -- steak and nothing else -- that I can't imagine ever eating there. My family has members who don't eat meat and there is NOTHING ELSE on the menu. No fish, no veggie entrees, no nothing. Even Peter Luger has fish, Tom! Anyway, I'd love to hear whether this is a format that has worked elsewhere, whether the food is any good, and whether a restaurant that is THIS limited has any chance of surviving

Medium Rare, which serves a green salad and extra helpings of fries with its steak for $23 a diner, has been open for years. I'd consider its recipe a success. If I'm not mistaken, the local concept was inspired by Le Ralais De Entrecôte in Paris. 

I'm thinking of a place with lots of options that you can purchase in taste sizes and build flights. Staff that knows their wines; don't have to by Som's but engaged with what they serve. Any thoughts?

Our ace wine columnist, Dave McIntyre, who writes today about natural wines, recommends you check out Flight Wine Bar in Chinatown and Maxwell Park in Shaw.

Wife and I are going to the Inn at Little Washington on the 15th to celebrate number 41. I have no clue as to what to expect from the menu and the service, except that I have been told it is a lifetime experience. Would you please fill in the blanks for me concerning the experience?

Perhaps my most recent review can shed some light. Basically, your job is to sit back, relax, let the Inn dazzle you, and accept any invitation to meet the star of the show, chef-owner Patrick O'Connell, in one of the most impressive restaurant kitchens in the country.

Tom, I always find it interesting to see how different "major" critics feel about particular restaurants, food trends, etc. Pete Wells at the Times often has a different take (substantively, not just in writing style) with New York magazine. It is little harder to compare your views with the Washingtonian, just because of their different publication schedule. Any thoughts on this in general, and do you ever discuss these things with your (I assume friendly) competitors? Thanks, Bill

The Washingtonian has a talented team of food writers. I enjoy their work -- news stories in addition to critiques. Do we ever disagree on restaurants? Sure. My experience at Urbano 116, for instance, was markedly different than Ann Limpert's (can't quickly find the link, maybe because her recent review hasn't posted online yet.)

Where do you think serves the best sushi in northern Virginia? You're preview indicates it is not Yume Sushi. Takumi in Falls Church? Sushi Yoshi in Vienna? Somewhere else?

My food savvy pal in Northern Virginia votes for Takumi, Tachiabana in McLean and Kizuna in Vienna.

This isn't so much a question as a comment, but I wish restaurants would start thinking more about size accessibility. I'm an enthusiastic diner in a larger body and it gets frustrating never knowing what the seating situation will be -- and in DC restaurants, they are often so cramped and small that I feel like a bull in a China shop. Simple things restaurants can do to make their businesses more accessible and comfortable for customers of size are make sure tables are movable, not fixed to the ground or another surface, provide chairs WITHOUT arms, have reasonable pathways between tables and to the restrooms, and most importantly, train staff to ask if certain types of seating are okay (such as booths, which can often be a challenge, especially curved booths) before taking you there, watching you struggle to squeeze your gut in, and then leaving you there. I've left restaurants (nice ones I paid lots of money to dine at!) with bruises on my hips and stomach from improper seating. And finally it's nice when reviewers can let readers in on the seating situation -- particularly if it's especially cramped. (You did this in your review of Urbano 116 and it was greatly appreciated!)

I hope this topic gets discussed at every restaurant staff meeting in town today. Thanks for writing such a thoughtful post. (You should know you have lots of company when it comes to this issue.)

We went to brunch Saturday at Original Pancake House. We took home enough for one breakfast for me and two for my husband. Sunday we brought us each Monday's lunch from the Cheesecake Factory and a slice of cheesecake that I enjoyed over four days. We often get two meals for the price of one, and we love it.

Good for you! As long as you're actually eating the leftovers you bring home, I have no issue. Food waste, on the other hand, bothers me.

Add Kin Khao and Liho Loho Yacht Club

Both excellent restaurants, I concur.

Tom, Love your chats. Curious for your (and your readers') thoughts on this incident: I was in an airport outpost of a popular local restaurant (not in DC), sitting at the bar with a clear view of the kitchen. After (unfortunately) I had eaten my food, but before I had paid my check, I saw one of the line cooks make up a plate of food, start eating it with his fingers, lick said fingers, then resume preparing food for service, all without leaving the line or washing his hands. I called over the bartender and explained what I saw. She grasped immediately how wrong this was, hinted that it is an ongoing issue due to the manager not being on site, and said she would call over the manager so I could talk to him. I waited about 10 minutes for the manager to arrive from his remote location, and explained again to him. The manager agreed it was disgusting, said he would talk to the line cook for the second (!!) time about this problem, and move him to a job that did not involve food prep (not sure what that would be in such a restaurant). He then proceeded to complain to me about how hard it is for him to find good workers. I suggested he might have better luck if he were on site to manage them, and received a blank stare in return. I paid my bill, and I left, but remained grossed out and put off by the blase response from the manager. I wrote a quick note to the main restaurant about the incident, and got a prompt reply that basically said, "sorry -- we'll talk to the manager." Anything I could or should have done differently here? If I had not already eaten, I would of course have canceled my order and left. But, I kind of feel like I should have warned the other patrons or something, although I could not have done that without causing a huge scene and looking line a lunatic. It was just so gross.

Yuck. You did the right think by bringing the problem to the attention of a supervisor, then making sure *his* superior was aware of the situation. But the manager's good-help-is-hard-to-find response is definitely off-putting. Short of sharing the story on social media, which I'm disinclined to advocate, I'm not sure what else you could do to make your point.

I'm curious, do you ever watch top chef? I sometimes watch shows about my profession, and I can't help but roll my eyes on occasion. I have to wonder what you think about the quality and content of the critiques.

Can I be frank? I spend 40 or more hours a week in restaurants. The last thing I want to do is watch a TV show about the industry I cover. Other than when Washington-area chefs are involved, I don't bother to tune in.

Tom, wanted to give a quick shout out to a local neighborhood joint that hasn't (and quite frankly shouldn't) hit your radar for what I considered to be a good effort to rectify a mistake. We had a family dinner at Lahinch Tavern and Grill in Potomac a few weeks back, and my father's burger was overcooked -- but not enough for him to feel compelled to send it back, since the party included a 7-year-old grandchild on a school night. My mom mentioned it in a casual way (as my mom would) when the plates were being cleared, and when I returned from the restroom, the manager was sitting in my chair talking to my dad and encouraging him to "let them" buy dessert, and since there were five of us, it should be "at least two". They also took the burger off the bill when it arrived, even though he ate it. Again, the place is nothing spectacular, but for a neighborhood place that depends on regulars and, to some extent, families where the table may have a 60+ year age range, I thought it was worth calling out their effort to ensure that we left satisfied and willing to return, especially seeing some of the debates I see in here about how a restaurant should rectify a customer complaint.

Take a bow, Lahinch Tavern and Grill. Good deed going noticed.

Hi Tom, I read your chats every week and use the recommendations for various outings and events. Most recently, my best friend was in town visiting, and when she comes, we like to take a Friday afternoon off to enjoy a leisurely "ladies who lunch" lunch. Generally, we pick something more fancy than we normally do. This time, I told her we should try Chez Billy Sud because you always recommend it so highly. I just wanted to thank you because everything was fabulous! From the cozy location to the champagne, to the nicoise salad to the gnocchi, it was all top notch. I never would have found this little gem if I hadn't read about it here. Bravo!

You made my day. Merci.

 

On on that note, I need to sign off and finish a story. Thank you for a lively chat, abbreviated as it was, and let's do this again April 17. Ciao for now.

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.
Recent Chats
  • Next: