The Washington Post

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

Jun 14, 2017

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.

Tom, thank you for the excellent article about the trend of the lack of space between restaurant tables. I wrote into the chat a few weeks ago complaining about The Smith's seating and how difficult it is to have a semi-private conversation, and I know others have complained about this trend, so I appreciate your more lengthy investigation of it. I get that the restaurant business is just that; a business, and that these businesses have to weigh the number of customers they need to serve against their bottom line. But they are also in the hospitality industry and (hopefully) care about people's satisfaction while dining out. While I won't hold my breath that this trend will change anytime soon, I am hopeful that because of your article more than a few restaurants might be investigating how to give their diners a bit more breathing room.

Thanks for the kind words. That was a fun story to report (and boy, did I get looks from servers and managers when they spotted me with a tape measure in my hand). 

 

A few places surprised me: Both Himitsu and Bindaas, small as they are, offered more space between tables than I would have guesses (about 15 inches each). 

 

The economic impact of removing even a single table in a restaurant such as All-Purpose was made crystal clear when co-owner Mike Friedman told me it would be a loss in "hundreds of thousands of dollars" a year.

 

I get it: restaurants need to make money. But comfort needs to be factored into the equation, too.

 

ONLINE NOW: The subject of this Sunday's review is Nasime, a tiny little Japanese restaurant in Old Town Alexandria, where owner Yuh Shimomura is the lone cook behind the counter.  I'm a big fan of his always-changing tasting menus, not to mention his wonderful counterpart in the dining room, server Vara Wachrathit.

 

Good morning, everyone. Tell me what's on your mind, food-wise, today. I'm all ears.

Tom, I was very saddened to find out Ripple is closing June 24. Unfortunately, we had reservations for July 1! My boyfriend and I live right down the street and have been there a few times--first under Marjorie Meek-Bradley's purview. On your recommendation, we tried it again once Ryan Ratino took over. Although our experience with MMB was pleasant, we both loved our two experiences with Chef Ratino at the helm. I have told everybody who will listen about how much I enjoyed the revamped Ripple and I definitely want to see what Chef Ratino is doing next--any information on that? Thanks!

Good news: The chef is currently in Europe (Paris followed by Madrid), researching restaurants for his next establishment, which is expected to open someplace downtown and offer a menu that will change daily, depending on what's in the market. His aim, according to his spokeswoman, Maru Valdes: "Good food, minus the fuss." Ratino is currently looking for investors and aims for a fall opening. Stay tuned.

A Union Square Café line cook recently had an interesting piece on Grubstreet, the New York Magazine food site. He talked about how after they reopened, every night they would reserve "the finest portion of every single component of a dish" for Pete Wells in case that was the night he dined there. Any insight as to whether restaurants here in town do the same thing for your visits?

I know some restaurants have my photo and the names I use (and even the names of friends whose names I use) and I've heard stories from insiders who have told me my plates undergo thorough examination by the chef before they reach my table. But I haven't heard of restaurants setting aside elements of a dish just for my order.

 

Giving preferntial treatment to a reviewer can backfire on a restaurant, by the way, because if a critic gets, say, a half-cup of caviar on his plate, he's apt to write about that -- and readers are going to expect the same presentation.  One thing in my favor: multiple visits. I don't eat at a restaurant just once, which gives me the chance to see a restaurant on a slow night and a busy one, to experience different parts of a dining room, get different servers -- and reorder dishes, to check for consistency.

Tom, I was dining out the other day when, as happens occasionally, the kitchen erroneously sent an extra order of a dish to our table. We pointed out the mistake, but the server offered it to us anyway. When the bill came, we were surprised to see the extra dish included. The server happily removed the charge at our request. Was it appropriate for us to ask that the charge be removed? We did, after all, eat the food. On the other hand, it hardly seems like the restaurant would have taken the dish back and then been able to sell it to someone else had we refused the plate. Thanks!

Your waiter goofed. When a dish is sent to the wrong table, the recipients point out the error and the server more or less "gifts" it to them anyway, there should be no charge. Case closed. 

Read your article about the lack of table space, and 100% agree! My dad and I went to a small restaurant outside Philly the other night, and the restaurant had diners but wasn't packed. We were seated at a four-person table and started looking at the menu, ordering, etc. Not long after we ordered, the hostess brought two women over and sat them immediately next to us (as part of the four-person table), though we clearly didn't know them and there were plenty of other spaces available. My dad and I looked at each other, both thinking, "What? This makes no sense." It was a weird experience and totally unnecessary on the restaurant's end.

A communal table for -- four? That's a new one!

Hello Tom. My dad loves pastrami (and corned beef), so I'd like to treat him to a sandwich for Father's Day. We've been to DGS deli (Mosaic) already. I'm in Arlington and am thinking maybe Stachowski's or Smoked and Stacked, but would like your recommendation. Thank you!

Spring for "The Messy," a riff on a Rueben, at Smoked and Stacked.  For $13, you get pastrami on rye with sauerkraut, Thousand Island dressing and Comte cheese. True to its name, the rib-sticker begs for extra napkins, maybe a wet wipe or two.

Hi Tom- I know you've touched on this topic a bit in past chats, but I just wanted to know your philosophy on when a restaurant is truly ready for a review (such as your First Bite column). Given the dining-out culture of today where everyone wants to know the hottest new restaurants, how do you personally balance commenting on a restaurant's early (and often sloppy) stages with expectations you may have for that given restaurant down the road? Like any good wine or cheese, restaurants tend to get better with age, yet in today's age of technology we tend to want to know what is new. I'm wondering how you have adapted to these many challenges/new perspectives in your food critic career.

I no longer feel compelled to wait for a new restaurant to settle in before making a preview visit. If a business is charging full fare for a meal, I consider it fair game (even on the first day, although I seldom drop in on a place *quite* that soon).  Keep in mind, First Bite columns, unlike Magazine critiques, are not star-rated. And I almost always visit a new establishment twice before writing even a preview, which I think is pretty fair.

While I love the convivial nature of beer gardens, bars, and shared tables, if you're going to have separate tables then you need to be able to get in and out of them without forcing me to move my water glass and or cover my food from someone's growing behind. The tables at all purpose, at least those abuttting the restaurant's northern wall, are so tight,y packed that during my last visit I had to give dirty stares, contrary to the "convivial nature" the chef aims to host, to get my neighbors to suck it in and they walked by.

In fairness, most of the restaurants where I found especially tight seating also included areas of the dining room that were more spacious (see: the booths at All-Purpose). Not all the seats in the examples I used in my story were thisclose to one another. But a lot were!

Tom - thank you for your thoughtful piece about restaurants turning into sardine cans. As someone who eats out with other people to actually talk, not just stare at each other, close tables drive me nuts. Inclusion of The Smith got my attention because after two recent lunches there at tiny tables where my dining companions and I still had to actually yell at each other to have a conversation, I may not go back (although their burger was awesome). A "fun environment" might include patrons actually being able to talk to each other. FWIW, I'm a late-30s female who eats out a lot for work. I've now got a list of restaurants where I can actually take or meet business associates and have a conversation.

Thanks for your comments. Small tables, set close to on anther, is but one of the design drawbacks at the Smith; the restarant's menus are the size of small posters, too.

 

Would you be willing to share your list of relatively comfortable restaurants for doing business, too? 

Hi Tom! My friend and I are going out for a fancy dinner on our upcoming trip out west (Canlis in Seattle, can't wait!) and were already eyeing the menu in anticipation. There is a tasting menu or you can pick 4 courses from a similar menu. If there is an option on the other menu that looks delicious, is it a faux pas to order the tasting menu and that one item a la carte? Or is it gauche to add something on to the tasting menu that the chef has specially designed? Am I just overthinking this too much?

As long as you are willing to pay for the extra dish, I see no reason why a chef would say no to the request. Canlis and I go waaaaaay back, to when I was food critic for the since-shuttered Seattle Post-Intelligencer.  The view is amazing.

Hi Tom- I recently had a dining experience where a medium size cockroach was trying to flip over on a dining room floor at a restaurant. The restaurant was busy, and I felt awkward to alert a manager, and also felt a little strange to tell them to clean it up when I could have myself. Any advice on how to approach a...unique situation such as this one as a diner? (Fortunately, management saw the unease on our faces and overheard our conversation, leading them to promptly and quietly get rid of the pest.)

A good restaurant doesn't want to read on Yelp about a problem. It wants to nip an issue in the bud before a diner leaves. You made your displeasure clear, more or less, and a manager reacted swiftly to contain (eradicate?) the problem.  But the best approach is the most direct: "Excuse me, I know you're busy, but we have a little problem here." 

RAKU in Bethesda is the worst. No space to speak of between 2-tops inside in the window. I HATE it. Love you and bringing this up (yet again)

Have you ever brought the problem to the attention of Raku? Or refused to sit in a particularly tight spot?

Hi Tom, Thanks for these chats--I know everyone always says this, but I really enjoy them! Last evening my dad and I had a weird experience at the Partisan and I wanted to get your take on it. We had an early dinner at 5:45 before going to see a play around the corner. Because it was so early, the restaurant was basically empty and music was on, but at a low volume and not intrusive. A little bit later the music suddenly became super loud, to the point my dad and I had to lean in and raise our voices to hear one another. I asked our server if it was possible to turn music down since it was clearly turned up and she came back and said unfortunately management and the owners have a policy of wanting the music at that volume, regardless of requests from guests or how full the restaurant was. She offered to bring manager over and when he came he said the same thing. This is the volume they like at the bar, and they didn't really want to change it. He finally was like, we can see what we can do and turn it down a bit, and then he came back to check in with us--it didn't sound like it was turned down that much, but also by that point I wanted to move on from the issue and focus on the food. The whole thing just felt really off-putting and weird. I'm used to loud restaurants (and I'm pretty young!), but it was like being in a music venue, not a restaurant. The manager also mentioned that the AV was same for bar and restaurant areas and that they liked the loud music for the bar. Ugh. Our server was lovely, and the food was great but I was so turned off by manager's approach and their music policy. Shouldn't guests' comfort be a priority?? Thanks!

Shame on the Partisan -- especially given the hour at which you were dining (the early side). I can understand restaurants wanting to create a certain vibe, but they should be able to modulate the volume in different parts of the establishment. 

I enjoyed article on restaurant space. You can also add to this checklist the growing terrible situation of waiters asking to take your plate from you before others are finished at the table or before you are finished. This week we have decided never to return to Hanks Oyster Bar in Alexandria because of all of these - they try every 15 minutes to take your plate, you can't have conversation at table easily, and tables crammed together. Good coffe nonexistent because, hey, you might want to stay at that table another 10 minutes to drink it.

Plate snatchers are a growing problem, I agree, especially in the small plates places where tables often aren't big enough to accommodate everything that's been ordered. (So diners  end up giving away salt shakers and flowers and such to make space.)

Hi Tom! Thanks for all the recommendations over the years. I'm planning an anniversary dinner and would love to make an extra special reservation. We've done (and loved) Rose's Luxury and Pineapple and Pearls. Our all time favorites were the French Laundry in Yountsville and Le Bernadin in NYC, so we are big foodies and price is not a consideration. I was thinking Minibar but wondered if there were other fun and exciting tasting menu options to consider these days. Thanks!

I love the futuristic Minibar by Jose Andres. No one does avant garde in this country better than that restaurant.  Given your affection for the French Laundry and Le Bernardin, however, the romantic Inn at Little Washington sounds closer to what you want for this occasion. 

Hi Tom, I am obsessed with guacamole and honestly put it on everything. In recommendations for places that have truly outstanding guac? Also, in other cities, I've come across bottomless guac, do you (throwing this out there for the chatters too) know of any places with unlimited guac in this area? Thanks!

Right now, with avocado prices at a record high, is not the best time to be looking for bottomless guac. A number of places do the dip well,  though, among them the colorful La Puerta Verde in Ivy City. The chef there, Carlos Camacho, grills his avocados before mashing them, which lends a subtle smokiness to his luscious  guacamole.

My family recently went to Fogo de Chão in Tysons for dinner on a Saturday evening. My complaint isn't about the food (which was as was expected) or the service (which was slow, but not terrible), but rather the parking situation. The restaurant is in a new building with a garage next door. We skipped the valet and parked ourselves. Imagine our surprise after our $$$$ meal to find that we owed $12 for our parking! This is in Tysons on a Saturday evening. It's exorbitant and unacceptable. I won't be going back to this location. I've emailed the company about it, but haven't heard back, and to be honest, don't expect that I will hear back. To be sure, my complaint automatically signed me up for email spam, but no real response from an actual human or manager of the Tysons location.

Twelve bucks is steep for parking in the burbs, I agree. (Having just paid $25 to park at the Kennedy Center for a matinee performance of the New York ballet, you also have my sympathies.)

 

I looked at the restaurant's website, which mentions a choice of parking options (valet or self-park), but doesn't attach a price for either.  It would behoove Fogo de Chao to list the cost, for the reason you just offer:  no restaurant wants a customer to leave angry or upset, especially for a detail that might be out of the establishment's control

Just wanted you to know your article got a positive shout out on the local news here in New York (NY1). The trend is frustratingly present here in New York and you seem to have struck a chord.

Thanks for pointing out the mention. The problem of tight tables is especially acute in big walking cities with high rents:  Chicago, San Francisco, New York, etc.

Now it will be even harder to get into!

Right, but at least the Japanese charmer takes reservations.

Hi Tom, Over Memorial Day weekend I stopped at Muscle Bar in Ballston for their happy hour deal, which is very good. During the visit I noticed the bar was dirty, where a customer had left had not been wiped up, the folder the bill came in was sticky with splotches on it, and, as I was leaving, I noticed that the entry carpet was filthy. The gist of my note to the restaurant via their website, was that the restaurant was noticeably dirty and they should look into it. I was on my way out when I put it all together and sent them a note. I do not expect anything except a response, which I have not gotten. I can't be the only person to have noticed the dirt and general uncleanliness. I do wonder, if that's what the public area looks like, what do the customers not see? Do they have an obligation to acknowledge? thanks!

If I've said it once, I've said it a thousand times: restaurants need to task a staff member or two to monitor social media and guest communication in general. 

 

Diners who take the time to write a message (rant or rave) deserve the courtesy of a reply.  Depending on the rant or rave, they should give a business at least a few days to reply.

Hi Tom. I was really looking forward to trying Fish for the first time as I love all of Jose Andres' restaurants. However, while the food was excellent, I was extremely disappointed in the service. There were little things like having to stand in the aisle for 5 minutes because our table wasn't cleared when the hostess walked us out to it or not having plates and silverware cleared between courses. The worst part was watching our server chat with (presumably) friends at the raw bar while ignoring our table. We refilled our wine glasses the entire night and one dish for the opening course (both were raw dishes) came out 20 minutes after the first. Anyway, I know you have also commented on the service, so I wanted to let you know it does not seem to have improved yet. This is the only time I have ever received less than excellent service at any Jose Andres restaurant.

Argh. You are among many readers to tell me how much they've enjoyed the cooking at Fish by Jose Andres, but who have issues with the service. Fingers crossed, the powers that be see this and try to remedy the problem. 

While we didn't give much thought before to where we are seated in restaurants, with the uptick of violence in Washington (and our world), it did make us wonder -- do you (or others you know) ask for specific seating in restaurants, both for safety and privacy concerns? Also, I am guessing noting the exits in a particular establishment when entering is particularly helpful.

While I'm partial to booths, which offer a semblance of privacy, I don't think much about my personal safety when dining away from home. (The Metro? That's another matter ...)

We have started carrying noise cancelling headphones and wearing them in too loud situations. These are the big over the ear Bose ones for airplanes, and they stand out. We don't care. Preserving our hearing is more important.

You're joking -- right?

Hi, Tom. I appreciated your column about the tightly-spaced tables in restaurants. It's annoying for able-bodied people, but it makes life even more challenging for the disabled. My husband is in a wheelchair, and we routinely have to ask people to move or pull closer to their tables just to maneuver through a restaurant. People are quite accommodating, but it is frustrating. No one likes to feel like their presence causes problems. On a somewhat-related note, I always appreciate it when restaurateurs and bar owners provide alternatives to bar-height tables so that my husband and others with mobility issues can feel welcome. Thanks for your rant!

You are most welcome. Thanks for chiming in.

Tom, any suggestions for a pre-theater dinner near the Kennedy Center for a solo diner tomorrow night? Thanks!

I'd be inclined to order a few small plates at the bar at  Rasika West End. Better yet, the restaurant's pre-theater menu is three courses (with a choice of four appetizers and five main courses) for $35 before 6:30 p.m.

I'm also really bummed about Ripple closing, mostly because of their cocktails! It was the go-to date night for me and my husband. Where would you recommend going for the high quality cocktails? We always really loved the bartender's choice/customized drink option at Ripple and would love to find a replacement!

In the neighborhood, Ardeo does a nice job with its drinks. So does Indique, which makes a fine tamarind margarita.

I wrote in about a year ago after visiting Kapnos on a night when it was nearly empty and having the staff repeatedly snatch away, or try to snatch away, our plates and drinks before we were finished with them. I was there on an equally empty night recently, and just wanted to report that they have largely fixed the problem. We were pleased with both the service and the food.

Thanks for the feedback. Take a bow, Kapnos Kouzina.

Which restaurants are currently serving soft shell crab dishes? Preferably located in Montgomery County/DC. Thank you!

I've had a number of nice treatments lately: the open-faced soft shell crab seasoned "Nashville hot" at the Salt Line near Nationals Park is terrific if you like your seafood on the wild side. On the fancier front  is the open-faced soft shell crab, dusted with rice flour, at Mirabelle downtown, which serves the delicacy with remoulade.

So sad to hear the news about Ripple closing later this month. We went last night to enjoy a final dinner and thank the wonderful servers. I'd love to have the opportunity to purchase some of the art in there - if you hear about any sales, can you post? (I asked the staff and they didn't know what would happen to the items inside.)

Owner Roger Marmet says he hadn't planned on selling anything, but he's open to discussing the matter. Many of the pieces at Ripple were painted by his wife, who also did the interior design; other works, including the silhouettes, were collected during the couple's trips to New Orleans.  Best way to inquire is via email: info@rippledc.com.

Tom, I received a lovely thank you gift in the form of a $100 gift certificate to a French restaurant in Georgetown. I had a delicious dinner with my son. But the bill was for just over $80 and they said I could not get my $15+ back to use at another time. Is this typical? Should I have asked to speak to a manager/owner?

The recipient of a gift certificate should be able to use the full amount of the gift. What better way to get a guest back than to entice them with a meal at a reduced cost (thanks to the balance)? Yes, you should have talked to a supervisor.

No we aren't joking. We have found that live music in many of the local restaurants is at painful levels, and we usually avoid thee locations. Sometimes, we are in the middle of a meal when the live music starts, so the headphones....................

Do you remove them to place your order or talk to one another?

My husband and I are taking a day off from work while the kids are occupied to celebrate finally getting to the end of what has been an exceptionally difficult school year. We're looking for an exceptionally decadent lunch. Where should we look?

I must sound like a broken record, but Mirabelle near the White House has in its favor excellent bread, lovely cocktails, booths that wrap you in a hug and a handsome dessert trolley. How's that for decadent?

Hi Tom! My family and I are looking to celebrate my new job this weekend. We are looking for somewhere with a nice atmosphere that's nice but not too upscale. We have grown a little tired of eating East Asian and Indian food (though we love it!) and are hoping to try something else, perhaps casual French, Italian or American. We would like to have some consideration for our wallets and are looking to spend no more than $20-25 a person (without drinks). Also, we are not really a fan of small plates, we would prefer full-sized entrees with decent-sized but not overwhelming portions. And we often find that our experience at any restaurant is made significantly better with really great, gratis bread and find it disappointing when this is not the case. We live in Northern Virginia but are willing to travel into DC. Any suggestions? Thanks so much in advance!

I think I have what you want: Alta Strada, the sunny Italian restaurant in City Vista in Washington. It's a pizza and pasta house with plenty of style and a few novelties, including "crunchy" meatballs, to recommend it.

Hi Tom, I have had an issue for this for years, and I blame it somewhat on ambient noise level deafening out my conversation. I thought it me. I now always ask not to be seated at a banquette. So restaurants get, and some don't. I appreciate those that do. Opentable.com has a special instructions field where I make this request.

Useful tip. Thanks for mentioning it.

Ha! I once had a big, green cabbage worm in my salad. I tried to cover it with a leaf and get the server to discreetly take it away without skeezing out the rest of the people at my very large table. The server kept saying, What is the problem with the salad? When she finally understood, she said, very loudly, Eeewww! Where?

Graceful! (Not.)

As an aside to this, a lady friend and I were in London some time ago sitting at tables along the wall where there may have been about a foot of space between. As we were talking about something she said, "I think I'll stay a virgin until I get married." The guy in the next table opposite me smiled and then nearly choked on his food after she said it. He clearly heard what she said.

Not quite as funny, but just the other day, I overheard one half of an obvious blind date say to the other, "You look just like you did on video chat!"

Hi Tom, Having enjoyed the Philly outpost, we stopped by Pizzeria Vetri on Friday night. The pizza was tasty and there was a great special on beer and wine for their one-year DC anniversary, can't complain there. But the service led to the looooongest dinner I've ever had in DC. After our initial food and drinks order, our waitress was never seen again. We flagged down a different waitress to order another round of drinks - she asked us if our waitress was the other, initial woman, we said yes, and she rolled her eyes and said, "yeah, she's new." We then had to violently flag down someone to ask to see the dessert menu, then the same maneuver (eye contact was not enough, this involved arm gestures and aggressive head nods, to which most of the staff seemed to purposefully look down) to order dessert and a final round of drinks. The dessert never came, though the wine did. Finally we flagged someone down to get the check - we were mischarged on 4 of the items (it was about a $25 difference). We got someone's attention, explained the issue, and he offered to fix the bill. It came back - he only fixed one of the mis-charges! My husband finally asked for the manager (who we had seen was waiting tables all night and frankly, part of the staff looking down and avoiding eye contact as we tried to flag someone down). He corrected the bill, no apologies and nothing comped (that's fine, we didn't ask and just wanted to leave at this point). The kicker to all of this is that during the bill snafu, a waiter came over with a pizza in a to-go box and said, "so sorry about the wait, here's a pizza for you guys." We were confused - it felt like a goodwill gesture, but would have rather had a pizza taken off our bill than given a random free to go pizza. We let it sit on the table while we worked out the bill situation. Then 25 or so minutes later, we notice a couple a few tables over ask the manager what ever happened to the pizza they ordered to go. Someone mistakenly gave us the pizza! We offered it to the couple (we hadn't touched it) but they understandably declined and asked the manager to just forget it and take it off their bill. I think that it must be exceptionally difficult to hire and keep good servers in the DC market, because I have never seen such all-around incompetence at a restaurant here.

That story -- thanks for the many descriptive details, by the way -- pretty much mirrors my experience with the imported pizzeria. Which is why I didn't even bother to preview it. The District has plenty of good pie. Unless it gets its act together, Vetri doesn't strike me as a place that's going to be around long.

Hi Tom, Asking for my husband going on a work trip soon to Brussels. Looking for a nicer restaurant to entertain potential clients, not stuffy but with a fun atmosphere. I don't recall if you've been there recently. Thank you!!

I've not been recently, but I'll throw the question out to the crowd to see if anyone has recent intel on Brussels. 

From Operation Security and Risk Management Training I like a table where I can see everyone coming and leaving and prefer to have my back against the wall. I want to be able to observe everything. And yeah I do this at Mcd's and when my girlfriend I went to Per Se last month. Old habits die hard.

Former FBI, are you?

So what kind of response, if any, did you get from restaurants after your article on the cramped quarters at so many restaurants?

I only heard from one restaurant (but more than 600 readers) mentioned in the story: Joselito. Owner Javier Candon emailed to say, " I wanted to let you know that after removing the 2 tables at Joselito, the distance between the side by side tables is approximately 2 feet. It has improved considerably with the flow of the restaurant but still feels intimate and cafe-like."

As a DC transplant who's been living in Manhattan for the past 8 years, I have to say all the talk of being too close to other diners is...funny. At this point I hardly notice the fact that there are strangers dining inches away from me having their own conversations.

It all becomes white noise up there?

Thank you for your reviews of Ambar- they were the reason we went last Sunday and had one of the best and most memorable meals in years. We were a party of two and next time I'd go with a bigger group to try more plates without risk of bursting, but we managed to get through enough that the $35 fixed rate felt like a steal and I would've happily paid more. Our waitress was incredible- she offered to "take us on a journey" and do all the ordering for us and wow did she. We only asked for one dish she hadn't included (the short rib stew) and she paced the dishes perfectly, including tips such as saving some of the dips and cheeses to try with later dishes they she'd remind us of (one such kebab / cheese combo was truly revelatory). Right around the time we started to seriously slow and feel meat-heavy (dish 9) she arrived with welcoming ly light mussels and the news if we had more room she had more ideas but that we'd completed her "intro tour" of the menu. We couldn't do more despite her very persuasive dessert descriptions but she cajoled us into promising to save room next time. She was so outstanding & the pricing so reasonable for the quality and quantity the 50% tip we left was an easy decision. The wine was also excellent- I'd never heard of any of them but would seek them out for home consumption. Long story short, it was a night to remember and I'm already plotting how soon I can get back with more friends.

Yay, Ambar! I wish the Balkan eatery were closer to me. I'd be there a lot.

The folks at Black Salt on MacArthur Blvd in DC will cook their fresh soft shell crabs in various ways; they are outstanding. I particularly enjoyed their Thai treatment! If they are not on the menu, just ask.

Thanks for bringing the dish to our attention.

Thank you Tom! For the reviews, the chats, the good humor. Your article concerning restaurant real estate hit so many right notes. For non-hip people such as myself and my spouse, this is something that drives us away from some restaurants. And since, in our limited experience, these seem to be the same places that have horrific noise levels, we find we are eating out less often. We have several friends who have come to similar conclusions. Restaurant decisions makers would be well advised to review some of their seating and acoustics decisions. We can only hope that some of them are reading this discussion and that changes will be made. Thanks again!

Thanks for taking the time to write and share your thoughts. You have lots of company in the many diners I hear from -- not all seniors, by the way -- who crave good food, acoustics that don't require anyone to shout to be heard and sufficient elbow room.  

Hi Tom, thanks for taking my question. I'm looking for great and inventive cocktails. What places are currently serving up great drinks in an interesting atmosphere?

Count me a big fan of Tiger Fork, the Hong Kong-style eatery in Blagden Alley. The bar is typically swarmed for a reason: great drinks, many of which rely on Chinese medicinals.

Hi Tom, love your chats (and you are so right about table space)! My sister and her husband are going to be visiting me in DC. They used to live here and love good food. I want to take them out to one great meal to show them how far the DC dining scene has come. Is there one restaurant/meal that you think encapsulates DC dining? Any food/price ok (less than Komi or Pineapple and Pearls), in DC please, must take reservations. Thanks in advance!

Just to make the decision more difficult, here's my list of my top 10 favorite newcomers on the scene.

The boss and his family are coming into DC to visit his daughter who is interning on the Hill. They're staying at the Four Seasons, and would like Italian one night. Which sounds easy, but their younger son is super-picky, so requires simple pastas/pizzas, etc, and Dad is super-healthy, so will want excellent grilled fish, etc. Mom likes simple preparations. Where would you send them?

Except for pizza, downtown's Tosca has what your boss and his tribe want -- whole-wheat pasta with a simple wash of tomato sauce, grilled fish with vegetables -- plus an insider-y Washington clientele. The Italian stalwart is where I recently overheard one woman ask her companion, "When do you testify?"

 

That's a wrap for today, folks. Thanks for showing up. Let's do it again next Wednesday at 11 a.m.

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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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