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

Apr 17, 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, My fiancee and I were thinking of trying to a double date at Spoken English with another couple. We'd like to eat there but aren't super thrilled at the idea of having another group of people that we don't know as forced dining companions. Having a reservation for four instead of two seemed like a way of heading that off. Would that plan work? Or is the seating set up there so that even if our group is four instead of two we're still going to end up having other people we don't know as dining companions?

Fact: The hardest part of my job isn't all the eating, it's the nonstop "entertaining." Going into Spoken English, I wasn't thrilled at the prospect of having to mingle, either, but you know what? I had a ball, all the times I've been, and even shared food and exchanged emails with a few kindred spirits. That said, you can make the evening what you want it to be. No one is going to force you to interact with guests. But you will be close to one another. Plan accordingly. 

 

Following my last discussion, in which I disparaged the dining scene in Shirlington, I heard from a number of readers who offered up options other than the salad bar at Harris Teeter and the Carlyle.  Thanks to chatters for recommending Cheestique, Busboys & Poets and Osteria da Nino in and around the Signature Theater there.

 

So, I'm finished with the spring dining guide, which comes out (in print) on May 5.  Starting tomorrow, I'll be rolling out my Top 10 list of favorite newcomers, one day at a time. My No. 1 pick will be revealed May 1, and the full guide comes out the day after.   

 

Questions? I hope I have some answers. Let's get cracking! I'm looking at dozens and dozens of possible posts ...

I tuned in late for the 4/3 chat but I think this applies: we celebrated my birthday at Honey Pig in Rockville for some Korean bbq. Their menu is all-you-can-eat and they allow you to request two meats at a time so as not to crowd the grill. They do not provide doggie bags and if you don't eat all the food that you order, they charge you $10 per person at the table for wasted food! Basically, they control the pace you eat and really encourage you not to over order. I think this keeps you from overeating as well.

What a great way to express hospitality while keeping appetites in check! I like it, I like it. (The chatter is referencing my Food section story from last month, on out-sized restaurant portions and food waste.)

I know you'll say no but I throw it out here for my own entertainment. How about reviewing the food in DC strip clubs? One time at Camelot, I kid you not, I had incredible salmon with grilled asparagus, broccoli and mashed potatoes. Just an idea ;) . . . . . now back to your regularly scheduled questions.

I've actually reviewed food in a strip club before, albeit years ago, when I was writing for the San Francisco Chronicle. I remember taking a woman on one visit, a gay friend on another, a straight buddy on the last. (Mostly for their reactions to the atmosphere in the club, which had ambitions for its menu.) And I distinctly recall the best dish on the menu: cheesecake, of all things. 

Hi Tom- I had dinner at Bresca on Friday night. The food was excellent, as always, and the service was good - with one exception. I was tasked with ordering the wine, and I selected a $60 bottle of pinot noir. When I ordered it - saying just "the pinot noir" - our server asked if I meant the "Hirsch." I said yes, recalling only one pinot on the menu. Fast forward through several delicious courses (striped bass! ravioli with English peas! white asparagus salad!), and two bottles of wine, and our bill is much more than we expected. It turns out the wine we drank was $146 per bottle - a second pinot noir on the menu. There's no question that I agreed when he asked if I wanted the "Hirsch," but it left us all with a sour taste in our mouth - almost like we'd be tricked into spending $200 more than we intended. I politely asked to confirm the price, we paid and tipped appropriately (18% on the full total), and headed home (on the bus, I might add). We didn't speak to management while we were in the restaurant, but I did send them an email later that evening. My email did not request a refund or anything of the sort, but to let them know that what was otherwise a great meal left us all feeling a little weird and embarrassed - and to suggest that perhaps they speak to their servers to avoid it in the future. As of my writing (I wrote Bresca on Friday night, and its currently Tuesday morning) I haven't heard back. My question to you is this: did our server commit a faux pas? Should he have asked "did you mean X or Y?" where there is a such a disparate price between the bottles? Or does a diner bear all responsibility in this? I value your insight into all things DC dining, and would appreciate your thoughts!

This has happened to me, too, so I sympathize. The lesson here is for *everyone* to be more vigilant. You, thinking there was but one pinot noir on the menu, could have reconfirmed that. The server, knowing there were two pinot noirs, should have mentioned them both (and just to make sure, he should have pointed to them on the list, which would have given you the chance to note the price differential). 

Hi Tom, When I was in Copenhagen last summer, your recommendations of Barr and Palaegade did not disappoint! I am headed to Oslo and Bergen next week and was hoping you may have suggestions in either city. Thank you!

If today's chat is an indication, I need to break out my travel notebooks. Unfortunately, none include itineraries for where you're going. Chatters?

Hi Tom, I'm looking to hold a surprise birthday party for my mom in June. It will be about 30 people. I would love a private or mostly private room for mingling event with heavy food stations, but not a seated dinner. The type of food doesn't matter too much. The vibe is much more important - nice but not fancy or stuffy, good service and warm atmosphere (not really corporate feeling). My parents and most of their friends live in Bethesda, so there or nearby would be ideal. Current contenders are Et Voila, Lia's and Tia Queta but would love any other suggestions! Thanks

Et Voila! has a private room that can accommodate your size group (30 max). You'd have to work out the food details with the Belgian restaurant, beloved for its coziness, mussels, desserts and more. I'd also inquire about renting out I'm Eddie Cano, the Italian charmer near the Chevy Chase circle.

We are going to be in Krakow in 6 weeks or so. Can anyone recommend a place for dinner? We're OK with most anything except shellfish (allergies, alas) but particularly like places where we can get a feeling for the local food culture. Thanks in advance.

Krakow, anyone?

Hi Tom, I really enjoy reading your reviews and would appreciate your recommendations on a few restaurants for a Friday evening family birthday dinner (April 19th) for our soon to be 21 year old daughter. Although our daughter has a fairly adventurous palate, her dad is a conservative eater. Looking for a restaurant in DC or MD, in the $40-$50 price range with at least a few vegetarian options. Thanks so much.

I'm a big fan of the food and the mood at at Momofuku in CityCenterDC, where I recently entertained former astronaut Terry Virts and several generations of his family. They loved the experience, and practically inhaled the Chinese flatbread (with my help, of course). Other restaurants to consider include the waterfront branch of All-Purpose Pizzeria and Zaytinya in Penn Quarter for Greek, Turkish and Lebanese mezze in airy environs.  Dad should be able to  find more than enough to eat at all three suggestions.

I and several of coworkers have now all gone separately to Rooster & Owl and have the same complaint: the portion sizes were too small. None of us have huge appetites, but we all left a little bit hungry and had to supplement our dinners when we got home. Considering the cost, none of us plan to go back, since it was a bit jarring to spend $100+ and then have to go home and eat more... I respect that some people might leave satisfied, but why don't more of these fixed-price restaurants have a bread basket? It seems like a low cost way to make sure that no one leaves hungry, and to let us sop up the (delicious) sauces that might otherwise get left on a plate.

As much as I prefer light to heavy restaurant meals, even I find the portions at Rooster & Owl to be on the small side -- a point I thought I made clear in my review, in which I called  the courses "restrained" and hard to share.

Hi Tom, Which restaurant in the DC area would you suggest as the best choice for introducing someone to Peruvian food?

Open for more than four decades, El Chalan downtown is the grandfather of the bunch, and probably the most cozy.  The menu lists all the classics (ceviche, lomo saltado) and beef hearts, too.

Will be there for all of 24 hours. What are my best bets—food, drink, local color— to sample the best of your one-time city? Thanks!

Just a day? No way! Make the best of  your 24 hours and slurp some oysters at Taylor Shellfish on Capitol Hill, snare a seat at the omakase bar at Sushi Kashiba near Pike Place Market, maybe check out Salare, which I sampled a few years ago. The last weaves African and southern American flavors.

Hi Tom! Thanks, as always, for all the great insight and information. Can I add one more item to the ever-growing list of things we'd like to see on restaurant websites? Mine is when the kitchen closes, if that's different from what's posted as the restaurant's closing time. Maybe I'm alone in this, but if the restaurant lists its dinner hours as 5:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m., I'm not expecting -- as has happened to us several times -- to show up at 9:00 p.m. and be turned away with, "I'm sorry. Our kitchen is closed." When I'm confirming the restaurant's closing time on the website, I'm not looking for when they start running the vacuum cleaner -- I want to know how late I can get some food!

Yes to this!  I suspect kitchens keep published restaurant hours unless business is slow, but it's unfair to those customers who verify online to then show up and be turned away.

Hi Tom! Is it okay to steal restaurant-branded pens that accompany the credit card bill? As a former server who had to provide my own pens, I would never steal a regular pen, but branded pens seem a bit like marketing swag that the restaurant wants you to take (like branded matchbooks).

I think branded pens are safe to take home, but it never hurts to ask before pocketing one. A server could be down to her last instrument and need it back. You never know. 

Have you been to Estuary yet? Beautiful room. Beautiful hotel. Be prepared for sticker shock. I didn’t really look at restaurant prices. Brian was cooking and a group of 5 gave him carte Blanche. IMHO, the dishes were uneven, starters and apps better than the mains, but I would give them time to work out the kinks. But........$75 corkage per bottle. As much as 5x markups on high end California cult wines from the likes of Harlan and Bryant Family. Clearly marketing on,y to POTUS and his cohorts and a very long way from VOLT.

Yep, I've been, and you'll be reading my thoughts in a forthcoming First Bite preview (Friday online, April 24 in the Food section).

I liked Cafe Sorgenfri - right on the harbor.

That's a start!

Thanks for all of your great recommendations! Reading the chat gave me the bright idea to take my folks to both Buck's Fishing and Camping and St Anselm when they were in town last week. A great time was had by all, even less adventurous "meat and potatoes" guests. Both restaurants were fantastic experiences, although we found the desserts at Buck's not quite up to the high standard of the rest of the meal. (We also asked if there was anywhere quieter than our original table at St Anselm, and were moved into the private dining room, which was at least a bit quieter.)

Yay (except for the dessert at Buck's, of course).

Will you be venturing to Italy to review the newest Fiola family restaurant? If so, I'm JEALOUS.

I haven't brought up the idea yet, but the Magazine *does* publish two luxury issues a year now, so it's not out of the question. My last subject was in Barcelona.

 

Speaking of luxury issues, the next one appears April 28.  My review for that week is outside Washington, but nowhere close to Italy.

You ranked it number 9 in your fall dining guide, but I don’t think I’ve seen you mention it much in chats since then when folks are looking for recommendations. Is it still good? I’m taking my mother out for a birthday dinner this month, and she loves Cuban and Puerto Rican food. Do you still recommend Little Havana, or are there others on your list? Thanks!!

I had a very good dinner at Little Havana just a week or so ago. The drinks are ace, the chicken stew especially delicious, and I love the colorful murals on the walls.

I wanted to respond to this chatter from April 3rd regarding certain seating options. As a restaurant manager we typically plan our seating arrangements days ahead of the lunch or dinner. Table assignments depend on the number of reservations, size of the reservations, staff that shift etc. So if a guest walks in and has a particular preference about seating it can be hard to accommodate on the fly as there are ripple effects for the rest of the shift. I would recommend requesting a specific seating arrangement when you make the reservation; that way you get what you want and we can continue to offer great service to all guests.

Thank you for enlightening us.

My husband and I will be celebrating our 21st anniversary at the end of May, and we'd love to eat somewhere where we might have the possibility of eating outside, or at least with a view of somewhere beautiful. I'm a pescatarian, and both of us are getting crotchety enough in our middle age that we don't want someplace too loud. What would you suggest for us?

Fiola Mare -- an Italian seafood restaurant on the Potomac -- is calling your name. Ditto the Spanish-accented Del Mar on the Wharf, whose second-floor seating is some of the city's most sumptuous. Both dining destinations are run but Fabio and Maria Trabocchi.

Hi Tom - my mom is visiting DC next month for her birthday, and she would love nothing more than to to celebrate with an old school French meal. "The kind where they haven't modernized to be healthy, full of cream and butter, with things like squab and sweetbreads, and did I mention cream and butter?" Anywhere you would recommend? Flexible with location, price no object. Thank you!

Two dowagers come to mind. One is La Chaumiere in Georgetown, which has a cheese souffle and sauteed brains on its menu. The other is La Ferme in Chevy Chase, where one of the features is chateaubriand for two. Both are creaky in the right ways.

I love this place, but it IS stunningly loud.

As are, oh, 100 other good restaurants in and around Washington. Pro tip: Go early, or sit on the patio.

Only two? Seems like once a month to me. Personally I find those issues offensive and would rather see the regular Magazine.

"Offensive?" Why is that?

Hi Tom, my husband is graduating from his masters program and his parents are coming to DC to attend the ceremony in May. We'd like to take them to do a tasting menu if we can come up with the right option. My husband and I have done Metier and Masseria, and loved both, but are concerned about those price points for this dinner. Because it's a graduation celebration, we're not sure who is going to pick up the tab, and if my in-laws insist over our objection, we don't want to have picked something that expensive. Our initial thought was Obelisk, but this dinner will be on a Monday night and they're closed. Do you have any suggestions for a restaurant with a tasting menu, not too loud (hearing issues involved as well), $60-$80 range per head for food, takes reservations, and open on Mondays? Thanks!

 You're in luck. The celebratory Marcel's is open on Monday, proves easy on the ears, and if you go early, for the pre-theater, three-course menu, you can dine for as little as $68 a person.

Hi Tom - looking for a great place for lunch for my husband's upcoming 50th birthday. It falls on a Friday and I would love to take him someplace special. DC/MD/VA all OK and no budget restrictions. Any ideas for me? Thanks!

Check out my preview of the new Punjab Grill near Pennsylvania Ave. The contemporary Indian restaurant is a jewel, with a game-changing menu to its credit.

Here's a suggestion: get rid of the high-tops. They're everywhere now and I can't use them and neither can my elderly relatives who like dining out. High chairs/stools are for the bar, not for tables.

One person's idea. (But I can see where restaurants might want a mix of high and low, to give the room a certain look.)

The annoyance of auto-play videos on restaurant websites has been discussed here already, but lately I feel like I've been seeing a new iteration: auto-play videos on eateries' Facebook pages. No no no! It's a real turn-off ... especially if, oh, I don't know, you're trying to surreptitiously check an establishment's menu while in the middle of a meeting ... And the videos I've seen don't add a thing to the information provided on the page -- they're just pretty montages of people sipping wine, etc. Has every restaurateur hired the same bad marketing consultant? Maybe it's just me, but this seems to be a creeping trend.

Here's hoping every restaurateur who reads this chat tweaks his/her social media accordingly.

Hi Tom - traveling their soon - besides my all time favorite - Slanted Door - where else should I go for a meal? We manged to get Liho Liho in last trip - was fantastic!

Zuni Cafe! The BEST. But I also love the cash-only, lunch-only Swan Oyster Depot for seafood and the newish Che Fico for Italian.

My mom's birthday is coming up. She would love to have a view of the water and a private room that can seat 3 dozen. She's fairly flexible on cuisine. Easy parking would be a plus. Any suggestions? Thanks.

Easy parking and water views and a private dining room? (For almost 40 people?)  Oh my. That pretty much rules out anything at the Wharf. Your best bet is in Southeast, at the District Winery above Ana restaurant. I went to a wedding and dinner there once (thank you, Joe Yonan!) and had a wonderful time.

Will be in DC next week, and was recommended. Have you been? What is your take?

Can I be honest? For Spanish, Jaleo and Boqueria are the (much) better bets. Barcelona is Just A Scene.

I'm searching for the perfect restaurant for my boyfriend's 30th birthday. What places in DC would you recommend that could handle a large party of 15+ people? Ideally, I'd like somewhere with shared plates and a great beer or cocktail selection that is not in the $$$ price range, bonus points for non-American cuisine. Dinner would be on a week night not over the weekend. Thanks!

Let's see. Upstairs at Maydan would be a blast, but your chances of getting in on the date you want are about as good as winning a lottery.

 

How about the second floor of Maketto on H St. NE? Great space and fun fusion (Taiwanese and Cambodian). Close to the exhibition kitchen at the new Boqueria in Penn Quarter is space that could accommodate your posse, too.  And don't forget about the loft space at Kaliwa the Wharf, which serves a mix of Korean, Thai and Filipino fare.  Near Chinatown, Poca Madre does interesting modern Mexican, which can be enjoyed in a private space off the main dining room.

Tom, did you hear that Meiwah is closing!? I wasn't too much of a fan of the Chinese restaurant, but it still feels a bit sad to see a DC staple close. I hope something will replace it faster than the large restaurant space still empty after Ping Pong Dim Sum closed.

Yep, the Chinese retreat is shuttering after all these years, on May 14. According to a rep for Larry La's 20 year old restaurant, the lease was no longer financially feasible.  

 

My long-time favorite is Greens, at Fort Mason (easily accessible by cable car). Tom, have you heard anything yet about Portuguese-style Uma Casa, in Noe ("NO-ee") Valley, near the Castro?

LOVE Greens. The view! Haven't been to Uma Casa yet.

What are your most anticipated openings coming in the next, say, 6 months?

I addressed this question at the top of my last discussion:

 

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.

 

Do you get lots of courses gifted to you at restaurants you visit frequently? I’m curious your tipping philosophy on this. I’m lucky enough to frequent many DC restaurants on a regular basis and I’m often gifted a free course or two. Sometimes over $50 worth of food! What’s your tipping advice for these situations. I often tip more than the discount because I appreciate the service, food and the gesture but this seems excessive. What’s the norm?

It really depends on the relationship you have with the restaurant, the type of gift you're getting, who's offering it (chef or server), etc.  I'd figure out a tip on a case by case basis.

 

I do not accept freebies. Almost without exception, if something shows up at my table, I ask for that dish or drink to be added to my bill. Frankly, I find the practice irritating, because more often than not, I don't want the "gift" (or I would have ordered it, right?)

Hi Tom! I'm trying to select a restaurant for dinner on a Saturday night in early June for a group of 12 to 14 people celebrating a bachelorette party. Can you think of a place where a large group can experience creative food in a fun environment (aka a private room is fine, as long as it doesn't exude stuffy "power dining" vibes) without spending more than $75/person including drinks, tax, and tip? A cool neighborhood would be a plus. My current ideas include Tico, Tiger Fork, or Momofuku. Thank you for any advice you can provide!

Those are three terrific choices. Let me make your decision a little harder and thrown in a fourth idea:the decidely non-corporate Brothers and Sisters in the Line hotel. Octopus hot dogs and pastry chef Pichet Ong's desserts!

Hi Tom. Welcome back. I missed you during your mini-hiatus! Here is another plea to restauranters: please make sure your restaurant's website has information that diners want. For example, Kith and Kin's website has pretty pictures of food and drink, but it does not have the restaurant's wine list or the cocktail list posted. That's a mistake in a city where restaurants have highly-regarded cocktail programs (and wine lists). Also, this is a personal preference, but I don't really care about the executive chef's bloodline. I do care whether the cooking (which is done by a team of people) is good. Why is the bloodline (versus the actual food) such a big part of his bio?

You're right regarding the menu. It would be great if Kith & Kin told diners about its liquid assets. But the background on the chef -- and now author -- Kwame Onwuachi, is just a paragraph or so long (and interesting, in my opinion, as it explains the global influences in his cooking). 

Tom, Just found out some friends are in DC. I want to take them to a nice place in town tomorrow evening. What’s available on short notice that won’t be out of reservations?

Um, um .... Chloe? Unconventional Diner? The just-opened Seven Reasons ? (Hot tip on the last suggestion, fyi)

Hi Tom! Do you have any recommendations for date night restaurants with outdoor seating in DC? My boyfriend and I are adventurous eaters and we love good cocktails. We've done Iron Gate, Sfoglina, and Le Diplomate (which were all fantastic) and are looking for something a little different!

Mi Vida on the Wharf, Convivial in Shaw, and the Salt Line overlooking the Anacostia all sport patios, and good food to boot.

Hi Tom: Have been a big fan of Kaliwa since its opening at the Wharf, and have probably been 6 or 7 times already, having sat both at a table and at the bar (as a SW resident, have been waiting for such a good option!) But had what I felt was an odd experience a couple of Sundays ago. Upon walking into the restaurant, the host asked if I had a reservation. I didn't, had just been hanging out at the Wharf, and we decided we wanted a bite to eat. When I answered, he said (firmly) that they were only seating reservations that night and "we'll see you another evening." BTW, the restaurant was maybe 25% full and ample seats at the bar. So I replied, "can we just sit at the bar?" More firmly this time, actually a "very serious" tone: "We'll see you another evening." I felt pretty turned off. There was no rationale obvious to me why they would only be seating reservations, and so I thought maybe they close early on Sundays? But per their website, nope, they should be open until 11! So, to be honest, I'm not sure you will be seeing me another evening. Or at least not for a while. If you just wanted to close early that night, pre-9pm at a Wharf spot seems a little aggressive. As was the tone of that particular host. Anything I'm missing here?

Your experience sounds so off-putting. I was able to share it with one of its principals today, Cathal Armstrong, who sent me the following via text:

 

"We are shocked to hear that any of our employees would speak to one of our guests in this manner. It reflects poorly on all of us. We live to make people happy with our food and hospitality.

 

The only explanation is someone speaking out of place. We will use this guest's experience to better ourselves. Please ask the guest to reach out to me directly so I may invite them back to the hospitality they have come to expect from Kaliwa."

 

If the original poster sees this, feel free to reach out to me (tom.sietsema@washpost.com) and I will make a connection.

 

 

Didn't Tim Carman visit several for their food offerings? I seemed to recall he liked the food at one in Rosslyn.

I think you have your publications confused. Washingtonian breakfasted at Crystal City restaurant

In your last chat you had a chatter ask about Dining in Amsterdam, and another in France, including Paris. We are just now returning from Ansterdam, and can highly recommend 3 places: Daalder, Breda, and Kaagman & Kortegas. All feature a single prix-fixe menu, around 5-7 small plate courses, where you basically just choose the number of courses. Outstanding contemporary Euro cuisine, excellent wines, but on the pricier side—around 60-70 euros + wine. We also found a website from Vicky Hampton, a local food writer, to be very helpful: www.amsterdamfoodie.com. (Her pdf restaurant guide can also downloaded for under $5, and worth every penny.) For Paris, one recommendation: Chez La Vieille, the tiny bistro that is a joint effort of Daniel Rose (Le Coucou in NYC) and mega-Restaurateur Steven Starr (Le Diplomate.) Classic French bistro cooking at very reasonable prices for that city. Read Alexander Lobrano’s love letter to the bistro and its original owner: https://www.alexanderlobrano.com/restaurant-reviews/chez-la-vieilledaniel-rose-revives-a-famous-old-bistro-in-les-halles-paris/

Here you go, Europe-bound travelers (and thank you, fellow chatter).

My wife and I are heading to the South West this weekend. Any recommendations for Sante Fe, NM?

I'm going there myself next month. So far, I've booked tables at veterans Coyote Cafe, Restaurant Martin and Inn of the Anasazi. I also hope to make it to The Shed, considered the standard for blue corn-cheese enchiladas. While it doesn't take reservations, Rancho de Chimayo, a short drive away from Santa Fe, should be on your itinerary. 

Hi Tom, my son's girlfriend is about to graduate from a post-bac program at Goucher. I'd like to give my son money or a gift certificate to take her out somewhere nice to celebrate. They're young and like pretty much everything except for sushi. Something fancier than poor-grad-student fare would be nice.

One of the best restaurants in the Mid-Atlantic is Charleston, which I put in my dining Hall of Fame last fall. #notsushi #notcheap

In my case, that's the dessert menu, which is missing from a surprisingly large number of restaurant websites.

Yes to that, too.

TRavelling to Cartagena over spring break- any suggestions on must-try restaurants? We’ll have our pre-K son with us so while he is both adventurous and a good kid, we’re more likely to be aiming at great lunches/earlyish dinners than late nights.

I gathered some tips from a friend who's been there (gracias, Lou!) and he recommends the following: Juan del Mar for pizza on a rooftop ... Agua del Mar for tapas ... Cafe Havana for mojitos ...Harry Sasson in the Santa Teresa hotel ...  a place called (I think?) Laboratoria for infused rums ... Carmen ... and especially  La Cevicheria.  Also, this food tour comes highly recommended: cartagenaconnections.com Safe travels.

Hey Tom, my girlfriend and I went to the Rooster and the Owl last night for their Try Tuesday Menu. We were pleasantly surprised to learn that it was only $35 for the four courses, but a bit bummed to learn that that meant you were limited to the four experimental dishes that they had available unless you opted for a $50 mixed option, which meant that your table would receive 4 of the experimental dishes and 4 of the regular menu items. We opted for the mixed option since we didn't necessarily want two plates of the same dish for each course. The regular menu items were stupendous - the BBQ carrots, the Buffalo Sunchokes, the Salmon with Falafel, and the donuts. On the other hand, the experimental dishes were definitely not as well rounded as the mains. Having said that, we enjoyed our meal very much, but I was curious if other restaurants do this. We knew going in that they had the trial menu, but would have preferred a bit more of a heads up as to the format. We probably wouldn't have had as favorable of an opinion if it had just been the experimental dishes, as we ranked all of the regular menu items as superior in our post-dinner tabulations.

I think the chef's idea (billed as "What If?") is cool and different: guests get to taste auditions from the kitchen, and for less than the usual price of admission ($65). But yes, it probably helps to know going in that it's not business as usual.

Hi Tom! We went to Hank's Oyster Bar recently and were really unimpressed. The food was pretty good, but the service was blase. The worst was the noise. One person in our party asked where Tom gets his decibel reader because we wanted to see what the level was in the restaurant. It was so loud that we couldn't get out of there fast enough.

I used to use a block-size sound meter. I now rely on several apps. There are dozens from which to choose.

Another option is the garden at L'Auberge Chez Francois. It's first come first serve for seating, but we've not had a problem on weeknights (haven't tried Saturdays).

I haven't been in a few years, but I've heard several complains in recent months. Just fyi.

Would you consider publishing a piece recommending a dozen or so quality quiet (or at least not especially loud) restaurants? Similar to your March article which covered "8 favorite places to eat plus 1 to avoid"?

Thanks for the idea. Until then, there's that option with my fall guide, which will also be available in my forthcoming spring collection.

Hi Tom! My parents want to take my husband and me out to dinner this weekend. We're looking for a place somewhere in Old Town Alexandria (we've been to Virtue and Evening Star, so would prefer somewhere new). Any suggestions? No restrictions, though I am not a seafood fan.

The menu at Vermilion looks tempting right now: anchovy toast with salsa verde, carrot falafel with citrus yogurt and suckling pig with mustard greens are right up my alley.  Chef Thomas Cardarelli recently let me know that the interior has been repainted and sports new wallpaper -- an improvement, in other words, over the tired appearance I found on my last visit.

Hi Tom, Not a question, just thanks. I’m a former DC resident living in Pennsylvania now, but I still love to read your chats for inspiration when I make it back to the area. I love your writing and recommendations! Thanks!

Your post made my day. Thank you. (We're all plants that need a little watering, yes?)

I meant the city, not the restaurant in Baltimore. My bad.

Oh, in the case, Fig is the place you want to gift 'em.

Tom - a couple of weeks ago someone asked about dining in France - Lyon, I think. There are some good blogs based in France your reader (and others) could take a look at - David Lebovitz, Patricia Wells (especially for Paris), and Chocolate and Zucchini (she just posted a guide to Grenoble).

All are good resources, I agree. Thanks for chiming in. I like the post about how to pick a restaurant in Paris, from the author of Chocolate and Zucchini. 

A friend and I have morning reservations at Glenstone later this month. We're looking for a restaurant for lunch afterwards that could be on a Frank Bruni list (and thank you and another reader for sharing that NYT column) for baby boomer diners: welcoming, good food and quiet enough for conversation. Appreciate the help.

Anyone? Before we wrap up?

What complaints? I ate there a few weeks ago, and for better or worse (depending on your perspective), it was exactly the same as the last meal I had there about a decade or so. Really good, simple french food, at what's now a really reasonable price.

A vote of support.

Had the exact opposite experience at Kaliwa. Walked in to kill time and have a drink, were warmly welcomed by the host and offered seats at the bar tables. Had a snack and a drink and enjoyed the experience.

Take a bow, Kaliwa.

I have a big milestone to celebrate with my wife. We went to the Inn at Little Washington for the first time last year and loved every second of it. That seems like the perfect spot for this milestone too, but it also seems crazy to go there twice in one year. Any thoughts?

The Inn at Little Washington changes with the seasons, giving you different reasons to appreciate it. But if you're looking for something other than where you've been, both the aforementioned Charleston in Baltimore and Restaurant at Patowmack Farm are sure bets.

We spent a week in Krakow last fall and loved it. The Restaurant Kogel Mogel is several blocks off the main square and has traditional dishes very well prepared. We loved their roast goose and pierogi. The food in general was very good - try the weekend evening vendors in the small square and fabulous jelly donuts (also off the south end of the market square). enjoy!

Reader to the rescue!

La Limena in Rockville is also good. The cerviche is great.

It's good, yes.

I spent two summers in Krakow in the 1980s and 1990s and have visited often since then, most recently in 2016. The best-known, white-linen restaurant on the old market square is Wierzynek (http://wierzynek.pl/en/), with traditional cuisine and somewhat high prices due to its reputation. In the old town, my old standby is a Hungarian restaurant, Balaton (http://en.balaton.krakow.pl/). I ate there three years ago, and the goulash and potato pancakes are still tasty, and the prices moderate. It is a casual place. Among newer places, we enjoyed the pierogi at Marchewka z Groszkiem (http://marchewkazgroszkiem.pl/) in the Kazimierz district, with lots of modern takes on a traditional dish. Another new/old place is a microbrewery near the train station called Browar Lubicz, a reincarnation of an old 19th Century brewery. (http://www.browar-lubicz.com.pl/)

More on Poland

Rocklands Winery has a rotating series of food trucks, recently had some very excellent tacos there!

That's a start ....

You graciously linked me to previously posted reviews on Chef O'Connell's fine establishment. It was a dream 46th anniversary dinner: treated like royalty, personalized menus, kitchen tour to meet Chef O'Connell and his staff. We left him with a jar of my wife's homemade spiced tomato jam and many thanks to him, and you, for the wonderful occasion. You and your knowledge are a total asset to the Post and its readers.

I'm just doing my job, but ... I'll take the compliment! (Thanks for the feedback, and how cool of you to present the chef with a token of thanks.)

Tom, Re: On restaurants in Shirlington, have you tried Osteria da Nino. It is on Quincy Street around the corner from the row of restaurants on Campbell Avenue. It is owned and run by Nino Pino, a native of Sicily and a veteran of a number of restaurants in the DC area. My wife and I have found it to be very good food with a nice selection of reasonably priced wines, including some good Sicilian reds that Nino has picked out. Nino himself is almost always in the restaurant when we go, and he clearly keeps his eye on everything in terms of quality control and hospitality. As for the overall restaurant scene in Shirlington, as season ticket subscribers to Signature, we end up eating in Shirlington a few times a year and don’t find the experience of eating there as “grim” as you suggest. It certainly is not a destination place to go to for haute cuisine. But for a casual bite to eat after a play, we find it quite adequate. We agree Carlyle is the best of the lot (next to Nino’s now), but other places like, T.H.A.I and Palette, we find better than passable. Just thought I would offer a different perspective Best, Tom Sugrue

Thank you for the additional detail on the osteria (which I'm now curious about), as well as your dining experiences in Shirlington. Very helpful.

My anniversary is coming up, but my husband recently had a stroke, and while he is recovering well, he is now very sensitive to noise. Can you recommend a quiet restaurant for a special occasion with good vegetarian options?

I'm sorry about your husband, but how nice he is recovering and can get out of the house for a meal. My first inclination is to send you two to the original Sfoglina, where the tufted banquettes in the back of the dining room help absorb noise and allow for easy conversation.  There are several "nibbles" and house-made pastas that don't contain meat.

I know high top tables get a lot of hate in this chat, but speaking as one of those YOUNG PEOPLE, my husband and I like them. as do the majority of our friends. sorry folks but the next generation of diners are currently "over" the low tables with white table cloths...

;)

your October review seemed very positive - have you been recently? Anything changed? we have reservations for the end of April

Keep them.

"I do not accept freebies. Almost without exception, if something shows up at my table, I ask for that dish or drink to be added to my bill. Frankly, I find the practice irritating, because more often than not, I don't want the "gift" (or I would have ordered it, right?)" I respectfully disagree - i was at Rose's Luxury a few months ago and our server overheard my table pondering which pasta dish to order. We chose one, but she ended up bringing over a sample of the other one for us to try as well. It was extremely thoughtful and well-received, so i do think it depends on the situation!

It does, you're right. And I've accepted a gratis dish there  (I knew there was an exception!) because the gesture is something everyone at the restaurant enjoys.

I'm part of the next generation of diners, too, and hate high tops. I'm short and always feel unsteady at high tops - both like I'm about to fall off (too far from the ground) and that I can't easily eat (too far from the table). Different strokes for different folks, but don't dismiss everyone who dislikes high tops as not "YOUNG PEOPLE".

Never assume!  You're correct.

Dear Tom, Writing from Bresca management to once again apologized to our guest about the confusion of the wine bottle. I understand our team responded ton Sunday. We offered them a $100 gift card so they can come back and enjoy a bottle of wine on us. Maybe the email went to their spam? Can they kindly check? Again, we are deeply sorry for the confusion and hope they can come back so we can make it up to them.

Good on you, Bresca, for sending the gift card and for replying on the same chat.

We know you like it (Rasika too). But they don't need to be recommended EVERY time, do they? Just sayin'.

YOU said the name of the Indian restaurant, not me. (Note that, Laura Hayes? )

 

As for Zuni Cafe, it's one of my favorite restaurants in the world, for all sorts of reasons, and I'd be remiss not to mention it when readers ask about San Francisco. Not every chatter is a veteran chatter, ya know?

"I do not accept freebies." ALL of your meals are freebies.

False. The Washington Post pays for them. Just like the media company pays for reporters to cover disasters, concerts, interviews with Cher, presidential visits overseas ... catch my drift?

Have you been to restaurants in Nashville before and if so, which ones impressed you?

It's been five years since I've eaten around there, but the "essential" dining destinations are still probably the same as on my last trip: Prince's Hot Chicken Shack or Hattie B's for the obvious tear-inducing chicken; Rolf & Daughters for terrific pasta in what was once the boiler room of a textile mill; Husk for southern fare in a historic mansion; and Lockeland Table in east Nashville, where I had the great pleasure of eating thick-cut house-made bologna warmed in the hickory-fired pizza oven and topped with bright yellow chowchow. 

 

That's a wrap for today, gang. Let's meet again next week, when I plan to reveal my No. 1 favorite new restaurant in my spring dining guide. 

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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