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

Jun 20, 2018

Washington Post food critic Tom Sietsema entertains your dining questions, rants and raves.

Find all of Tom Sietsema's Washington Post work at

A few weeks ago, my wife and I hosted a couple of friends at a restaurant which has received your praises recently. I had dined there in the winter, and found your review spot on. While the service and drinks was fantastic again the second time, the food was most definitely not. As a reader of your columns, I know the right thing to do is to bring this to the restaurant's attention right then and there. But since I was hosting and didn't want to ruin others experience, especially if they were enjoying the food, I didn't say anything then and instead called the restaurant to voice my concern with the quality of the meal. They were very receptive to my comments and followed up a few days later, asking for me and my wife and my guests to return so that they may show us that my experience that night was an aberration. My question is should I expect the entire meal to be complimentary? Like I said the service and drinks were excellent last time, so I have no problem paying for that again. Also, should I expect all of our meals to be complimentary or just mine (and maybe my wife's)? What's the best way of resolving this? Thanks.

That's a very generous offer from the restaurant in question -- provided it is, in fact, gratis. No sense going into the experience not knowing.  I'd call the contact, thank the restaurant for the chance to make things right, and ask: "Just so we're clear here, is this a gift for the group, just for my wife and I, or simply an opportunity to see what the kitchen can really do?"


Have you heard? The results are in, and  minimum-wage Initiative 77 -- poised to require businesses to increase pay so all workers earn at least $15 an hour by 2025 -- passed last nightALSO: New York import Sushi Nakazawa opened in the Trump International hotel earlier this month. Here's my initial impression 

Good new for Italian food loversSan Lorenzo passed its health inspection yesterday; chef-owner  Massimo Fabbri, formerly with Tosca downtown, intends to open (in the former Thally space) for dinner on Monday.



Coming up on Sunday in the Magazine:  a review of Duck Duck Goose in Bethesda, where the chef has a nice way with roasted Japanese eggplant, scallops in a wreath of Israeli couscous and dry-aged duck with beet puree.


On a house-keeping note, I'll be away June 27 and July 4 is a holiday. So our next chance to talk will be July 11.  Tell me what's on your mind this morning, food-wise.

What are your thoughts on MXDC calling the police on DSA protesters interrupting Kristjen Nielsen's dinner? I know they won't starve if they can't eat out, but personally I findfeeding Nazis indefensible.

My honest initial thought? Why is she eating in such a terrible restaurant -- and a Mexican establishment at that? I'm all for civil disobedience, but the protesters interrupted more than just one cabinet secretary's dinner.


My second reaction:  Maybe better to protest outside, as the secretary exited?  The in-house protest sure got a lot of publicity, though.

Hi Tom, With the World's 50 Best Restaurants list just announced, what do you think of no DC area restaurants making it? Are we just not there yet, or do you think there are DC restaurants that deserve to make the list? And if so, which ones?

While the 50 Best list is not without its controversies -- foremost its "Best Female Chef" award -- the roster is undeniably influential. The No. 1 spot this year goes to an Italian restaurant, Osteria Francescana in Modena.  (I've been to three of the Top 10 establishments and highly recommend Central in Lima, Peru, one of the most fascinating places I've ever eaten.)


Given the competition on the rest of the list, I could see at least one Washington restaurant in the collection. That would be the avant-garde Minibar by Jose Andres in Penn Quarter -- a superior dining experience to say, Alinea in Chicago, based on my two dinners at the No. 34-ranking restaurant.

Hi Tom, what do you suggest doing if a waiter insists that you try something (in my case, an add-on ingredient to a dish) and "just tell him if you don't like it"--and then you don't like it? The simple answer feels like "just tell him!", but by that point I had already eaten part of the meal and everyone else at the table was already in the middle of eating. Plus, part of me feels like not liking it ultimately falls on me, since I decided to order it, although the waiter was pushing it pretty hard. Is there a graceful way to handle this?

I'm in the "Just tell him!" camp, especially since the server pushed the item and told you to tell him if you didn't care for it. 


A lighthearted complaint would have been appropriate here: "So, you told me to tell you if I didn't like this and honestly, I don't. Just following waiter's orders!"


(My questions: Why didn't he follow up and why did *you* eat part of the dish you didn't like?)

Hi Tom! I am a parent of 5-year-old twins, and we reward our children achieving a goal by going to a "fancy dinner" (and "fancy" means dressing up and eating at a sit-down restaurant). Do you have any recommendations? We like some place that has some comfort serving children, and can accommodate dinner at 5:30 or 6:00 - when it's quieter so our children have a chance to practice their polite dinner manners. Thank you!

Try Joselito Casa De Comidas on the Hill. I had my best meal yet there recently, and I know the Spanish establishment to be good with young families.


P.S. You sound like awesome parents.

Hi Tom, thanks for your wonderful weekly chats! I'm three months pregnant, and all I can think about is pizza. Pizza, pizza, pizza. I'm especially craving wood-fired pizza with the perfect mix of crunch and dough. Where should I go while my craving persists? I'd like to indulge my craving at the best spots around DC. All-Purpose is definitely top of my list. Thanks again!

My colleague Tim Carman ranked the top 10 margherita pizzas last year; Inferno in Darnestown came out No. 1.  Other sources you should check out include Menomale on 12th St. NE and Timber Pizza in Petworth, which is my go-to pie place, and not just because it's close to where I live. 

Made a reservation for wife's birthday about 5 days before the Monday reservation and requested a table upstairs on the patio at the time I made the reservation. Called that Monday to put the request in again, just in case. It was a wonderful night to dine outside. Upon arrival we were told the upstairs was closed for a private party. The restaurant clearly had this on the books before we made the reservation and when I called the day of the reservation they certainly should have told me that the upstairs would be closed. It pathetic they didn't they didn't and smacks of just generating revenue. I don"t think this was an oversight, perhaps just bad management -- clearly frustrated. I had the option to walk away and go somewhere else but it was a birthday celebration so I didn't. They have lost us forever as customers as I feel deceived, twice. Adios Mi Vida

Good for you for reconfirming your seating choice the day of your reservation -- and boo! his! to Mi Vida for ignoring or forgetting your special request. Certainly on the day of the booking, staff would have known about a private party. Did you speak with a manager or anyone who could have righted the wrong? 

Hi Tom-- my husband and I moved away from the DC area to Pittsburgh about a year and a half ago. He recently booked a "baby"moon for us in Alexandria, so we'll be back in our old neighborhood in September! We'd really like to head into DC one night for a special dinner, but there are just SO MANY new places that have opened since we left in Dec. 2016 that I'm looking to your for some recommendations. We've been to Rasika, Le Diplomate, the Dabney and minibar; our perennial favorite remains Little Serrow. No food allergies or aversions, other than I am pregnant and thus cannot drink alcohol or eat raw fish (sad and SAD!), and would rather have a reservation then wait in line as I do not know how (not sure the best way to put this, so here it goes...) "large and in charge" I will be come September. Thank you in advance!

You're right. The scene has changed dramatically (and for the better) since you lived here. Of the great places that take reservations, and might offer something special beyond food, Del Mar on the ever-expanding Wharf certainly fits the bill: Spanish fare by way of chef Fabio Trabocchi, and on the waterfront. 

Hi Tom, I will be in Barcelona very soon and was hoping for some of your favorite places. I know you enjoyed Disfrutar, which I think we can get into for lunch, but not dinner. Is lunch still a good choice? Any other recommendations for a great dinner spot?

I went for lunch -- and loved it. I was there from 1 p.m. til almost 5 p.m, so be warned. My second favorite spot for dinner right now is Dos Prebots.

What happened to Noma?

The Nordic wonder, which I reviewed in February, the month it reopened in a new location in Copenhagen, was too new to be considered this year.

Best places to eat here in this up and coming neighbourhood?

My No. 1 favorite place to eat there is at the plant-based Fancy Radish. Other good-or-better dining destinations include Ethiopic for Ethiopian, Maketto for Taiwanese-Cambodian and Stable for a rare taste of Switzerland. 

For the chatter asking about Middleburg- Brassicas in Aldine is a terrific sandwich stop. They grow a lot of their own produce or obtain from local farms and are continually revising their menu with what’s in season. Also suggest going down to Marshall for both Field & Main and Red Truck Bakery.

Thanks for the additional ideas. I second your hat tip to Field & Main

When does the Fall Dining Guide come out??? Can't wait for it!!!

The fall guide -- my 19th -- comes out October 14. Can you believe I've already started drawing up lists of candidates?

We're getting back to Union Station pretty early on a Saturday morning and we'd like to get brunch in the district before heading home to the suburbs. Do you have any places to recommend for 7am on a Saturday? It seems like that's too early for a lot of the brunches we'd normally try to hit. Thanks!

Restaurants within hotels are your best bets. Tabard Inn in Dupont Circle serves breakfast  -- think donuts, corned beef hash and eggs Benedict -- as early as 7 a.m. on the weekend, as does the more theatrical Kingbird in the Watergate, which lists Belgian waffles, an English muffin sandwich and stone-ground oatmeal among the eye-openers.

Hi Tom, just wondered what’s considered a “standard” wine pour in restaurants....4, 5, 6 ounces? We’ve noticed lately the prices are going up while the amount of wine in the glass is gong down. Any observations?

Pouring isn't an exact science, but the industry standard is between five and six ounces. Keep in mind,  those amounts can look puny in larger stemware.

Right now what's on my mind is not liking the food doesn't mean the food should be free...I mean barring an obvious hygiene issue and also not complaining? As an example, I recently dined at a new restaurant in Columbia MD, Cured. I really wanted to like it because it was independent, but the food I ordered sucked technically (e.g., broccoli puree instead of broccoli soup). I did not complain, but I decided to go back for brunch the very next day to give them a second chance. Things were better. I paid both times. Like, there's no guarantee I will like everything I'm served or put in my mouth.

The original poster wasn't looking for a free dinner and in fact said he was willing to pay for a do-over; the restaurant extended the invitation to return. There's a difference. (As for that puree you didn't like, you should have piped up, if only to save future diners the disappointment.)

We have been taking our twins to Firefly near Dupont Circle from since they were that age (now 12). It still has a good kids' menu and the decorate your own cookie has always been a highlight.

Good to know. I haven't been in several years (only because there are too many new places to cover).

We are planning a staycation for our anniversary this year and were thinking of doing a tour of Jose Andres' restaurants - we love that he is a committed humanitarian and does so much good in the world and that's the kind of businessperson we want to support. Also, his food is delicious. We have two dinners and two brunch/lunches. Minibar is going to be one dinner, but we are having trouble deciding for the others. So we were wondering - what would Tom do? (Will WWTD become a thing?)

What a wonderful idea. I like the way you think, voting with your pocketbook. Jaleo, which just celebrated its 25th anniversary, is always a treat. And in Georgetown, there's the third iteration of America Eats Tavern, serving all sorts of comfort food, from fried chicken to lemon meringue tart.

Tom, For years, I've been following you from a distance. For the first time in decades, my better half and I got to be in the District without any family or business responsibilities, so I actually got to choose the restaurant we would go to. Based on your recommendations , we went to La Chaumière, where we had a fabulous dinner (best duck I've ever had -- and I've eaten a lot of duck!). Thank you for all your hard work (and eating :-) over the years.

Thank you for taking the time to write!

I am finishing up an assignment overseas and heading home in August. We've lived in VA before, but this time I'm renting in Rockville, near the town center. I'm looking mostly for recommendations for places where spouse and I, now empty-nesters, might become regulars during the week. Also happy for ideas on 1 or 2 not-to-be missed places for special occasions during the year.

You don't say where you're returning from, but places you might want to check out after you're settled in include Chettinadu Indian Cuisine, specializing in the flavors of South India, and Kuya Ja’s Lechon Belly, a fast-casual storefront with very good Filipino cooking. For something dressier, I'm partial to the Italian fare and warm hospitality at Il Pizzico

Hi, Tom. I was the person who first wrote in last week to say that Komi was still at the top of its game. You agreed, but said that dining there made for a very long evening. We noticed another couple who were in and out in under two hours. We actually asked our waiter about it. He said they had a limited amount of time, and Komi adjusted the pace of their courses accordingly. They said they enjoyed themselves immensely. They must have listened to a very wise restaurant reviewer who said to alert the staff at the beginning of a meal if there is anything they should know!!

Or maybe they absolutely, positively had to be out in two hours. Either way, good for the diners to say so upfront and good for the best modern Greek restaurant of my acquaintance for accommodating their wishes.

My dinner host last night chose RARE Tavern based on your glowing review a few months ago. In ordering the aged NY strip, he asked several questions to ensure it was prepared appropriately. Arriving at the table, it visually looked very very dry and after cutting into it, the observation was accurate. The manager walked over to the table moments after the food was placed (great job) and we questioned the preparation. There was no offer to exchange it but I asked her to check with the chef and see if he/she had an opinion and/or was pleased with what he/she had sent out, but never heard back so my host ate it ( all of it). Our hints and comments were as obvious as the dry visual and I noticed that our table of 2 was potentially the topic of discussion so I feel it was a collective decision not to extend any corrections. We finished the entree, ordered additional wine and cocktails plus desserts and tipped 20%. Walking out, I was frustrated that my host ate something unsatisfactory, and more frustrated at myself for not being more assertive, but I didn't want to hijack a pleasant conversation by making a larger issue of a negative assertion. There were only a few tables occupied through the entire evening and we had at least 2 lengthy and friendly discussions with both the server and the MOD. The rest of our dinner was fine. What would have been the appropriate verbiage to concisely convey the steak was not prepared to my expectation? The empty dining room and poor steak preparation caused me to take a peak at the ever busy Joes Steak and Seafood after dinner and just a few blocks away, and yes, it was completely packed on a Monday evening. The manager will remember us and I do not want to be a offered a return visit - I'm mostly wanting to hear from you and your readers about how they feel is the best way return an expensive cut of meat in a steakhouse.

Thanks to this early, pre-chat submission (hint, hint), I was able to reach out to the Tavern at Rare Steak and Seafood for a response yesterday. The following comes from managing director Justin Abad:


Thank you for contacting me and allowing us an opportunity to respond to our guests' less than stellar experience on Monday night (June 18th).
First and foremost, we take great pride at creating a dining experience for our guests that define and exceed their expectations by providing smart and intuitive service, as well as offering a product of the highest quality.  From this reader's perspective, we failed to do that this time around and that's the bottom line.  As such, we need to do better.
However, I would point out that the steak in question was actually our dry-aged Sirloin, not a NY Strip, as we do not serve one at the Tavern. Perhaps, that's where we could have done a better job from the start: Making sure that the guest understood that the cut was different than a luxury NY Strip, thus better managing his/their expectations. 
Secondly, I am surprised that the guests' (did they both try it?) thought it was " very very dry"- we finish each steak with a compound of rendered beef fat and butter before serving; and from the accounts of the manager and server in question, the appropriateness of the temperature was confirmed before ordering and after the meals arrived (as reported by the guest). In the 6+ months of offering our Blue Steak Platters, the Sirloin is one of the most popular amongst other guests, so this really does come as a surprise to us!
Likewise, all of our beef is sourced from the highest quality purveyors (in this case LaFrieda Meats []) and carefully butchered, aged, and stored in-house. It's a program we take great pride in, and one that Executive Chef Marc Hennessy has spent years perfecting.
Even still, had the guest's dissatisfaction been clearly communicated to our staff, I have zero doubt that we would have done everything at our disposal to address their concerns quickly, efficiently, and without further incident.  
As the reader points out they did not want to "hijack a pleasant [evening]" however, I would suggest that simply stating the steak was not prepared as expected (for whatever the reason) would have allowed us to address the situation quickly and discretely, and would have left the guest with a better taste in his mouth (literally and figuratively). Despite best efforts and intentions, sometimes it's just now what we expected or like- and that's 100% O.K.! But as you've pointed out in past chats and columns, a guest has some role in helping us understand what they are/were expecting.

Great hospitality is a dialogue- sometimes verbal, but often non-verbal. It's our responsibility to pickup on those cues from our guests and we did not do that well this time. However, I think most readers, diners, and operators will agree: reading minds is a skill we will never master fully, so best to state the obvious at times.

At the end of the day, I can assure you that no one is more disappointed when hearing about experiences like this than us- and it is because we genuinely strive to make each evening special for our guests because, frankly, they deserve it!

And even though the reader stated he does not want to be offered a return visit, it would be remiss of me not to- so I do hope he allows us a chance to provide the experience I know we are capable of at RARE!


Just a flag, since this comes up fairly often in the chat--if you order the churros at Little Pearl as a group of two, they thoughtfully let you know that they come in groups of 3 and ask if you'd like to make it 4 so it's easier to split. It's a little thing, but such a nice touch!

Uh huh. 

You neatly sidestepped answering the OP's question...What do you think of them calling the police? Please can we keep politics out of this? Safe Spaces, Nazis. Ugh.

There's no evidence in the story that cops were called, only this:  "Neither Nielsen’s security nor management at the restaurant attempted to intervene or stop the protesters."

Did I miss a review? I've adored that place for the 22 1/2 years I've been in the region and still stop in on the rare occasions I get to that side of the beltway!

I haven't reviewed the place in eons, but I ate there recently and really enjoyed the hospitality.

Anyone have recommendations for St. Louis or Louisville? Any type of food is fine, but prefer not too fancy, since I will not have very fancy attire. I have friends in Kansas City, so have a long list of BBQ recs for that city, but more BBQ would be a fine thing.

My trusted source in St. Louis is Ian Froeb, the restaurant critic with the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Here's his Top 100 list from March. Maybe a reader can chime in with suggestions for Louisville?

Been on the road for a couple of weeks, Vietnam and China (amazing street food) and catching up on your chats. I saw the one about the retaurant that wanted $125 to hold a reservation in case of a no show. I have had a couple of places ask for a credit card and say they would charge me some amount if I didn't show. I asked them how late I could be before they charged me, I then I told them I would deduct from the bill the same amount if I showed up on time and wasn't seated in that time. Needless to say I didn't get reservations at those places.

Well, that's one way of not eating in some of the best restaurants around. (I don't begrudge businesses for asking for credit card numbers to hold reservations. Too many bad apples have spoiled it for the rest of us, I'm afraid.)

Hi Tom, What happened to those online videos you used to do, featuring useful topics such as "how to eat sushi."? They were entertaining and informative, and surely protected your anonymity - all we saw were your hands and crisp shirt cuffs. They were really great!

Those "TV Dinners" were an early video experiment. As you can see from one episode, in which I make a favorite dessert at home, the production values were a little less than Grade-A. But I enjoyed doing them and ... who knows?  I just completed a video for the WP on being a food critic. Stay tuned for the results. 

I'm sure many people had the same thought I had..."There's Mexican in the city? Is it any good?" Obviously earlier you said this one is sub par, any recommendations for Mexican food around here?

We have abundant good Mexican! Think Oyamel in Penn Quarter, Espita Mezcaleria in Shaw,  Taco Bamba from chef Victor Albisu, the aforemetioned Mi Vida at the Wharf ... and on.

Hi Tom, thank you so much for doing these chats! I don’t live in DC anymore and still love to read them. That being said, I’ll be in town this weekend, am hoping to take my dad out to dinner after the Nats game, and the Saltline is booked. Any suggestions for places in the neighborhood that take reservations and won’t mind that we’re in Nats gear?

Right next to Salt Line is the very good All-Purpose Pizzeria, a spinoff of the popular American-Italian restaurant in Shaw. 

Many years ago, as I was learning about fine dining in the SF Bay Area, I discovered and fell in love with a German restaurant called Beethoven. Ever since, I've really enjoyed German cuisine, but wherever I've lived it's been difficult to find really good German food. Here in DC, I've tried Old Europe which I thought was just ok. A friend of mine recently recommended a place called Cafe Berlin. Are you familiar with it?

I haven't been to Cafe Berlin in forever, so I can't comment. Downtown's Cafe Mozart, where I dined a few months ago, is just sad. My colleague Maura Judkis wrote a feature on the sad state of (German) affairs, which explains your dilemma.

I expect different things from a wee mom and pop restaurant than I do from somewhere I would host people. The OP was looking for consistency - and mentioned this to management. He wasn't looking for a freebie - expecting consistently was reasonable.

I concur.

Hi Tom- I know this has been asked before and I apologize for repeating this. What do you do when you order and dish and you don't like the taste of it? I tried to expand my horizons at a Thai restaurant and I didn't like the dish I ordered. I don't think anything was wrong with it, I just didn't like it. I ate some of it just to be sure I had given it a thorough try. I didn't want to hurt the owner's feelings so I made up an excuse that my work had texted me to come back from lunch early. I did accept the leftovers in a box and I did leave a 25% tip for the server. It was just me. Is there a better way to say "i am sorry, I just don't like the dish" and not hurt the chef's feelings? Maybe I am being too nice, but I don't want to be mean- karma you know.

If there's nothing technically wrong with the dish, it's perfectly fine for you to 1) simply not like it and 2) decline to give feedback if you think the chef's feelings will be hurt. (Free lunch for someone back in the office = good karma)

I was recently enjoying a custard at Milwaukee Frozen Custard in Chantilly when I noticed a framed news article on the wall...written by none other than Tom Sietsma in 1988 for the Milwaukee Journal! Nice to see how far you've come from writing about custard in Wisconsin. :-D Thanks for all you do!

Ha! That was from my first year as food editor of the newspaper. I have fond memories of my two years in Wisconsin (and nearby Chicago).  All those brats. All that cheese. All the beer!

Hi, Tom--what's your pick for pre-theater dining near Arena Stage these days?

The best nearby spots are Masala Art for Indian, Hank's Oyster Bar for casual seafood and Osteria Morini for Italian.

I was just at Cafe Berlin a few weeks ago and thought it was delicious. Great beers too.

Danke for the feedback.

I'm sure several of these are on Ian's list, but Olive & Oak is a lovely dinner and at the top of many lists these days. Pastaria is great for pasta. For BBQ, can't go wrong with Pappy's (Southern is next door and has amazing hot fried chicken too) or Salt & Smoke.

Thanks for chiming in.

We have a 17 year old from Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School staying with us while he works in DC for the summer. He happens to be adventurous when it comes to food and we'd like to take him to lots of fun restaurants in DC. He loves trying new ethnic foods and is wowed by the variety in DC. We've thought about taking him down to the new wharf area, and out to Eden Center. Any other suggestions for fun nights out?

When in Washington, a visitor really ought to try Ethiopian Some of the best examples are in the suburbs, including Makeda in Alexandria and Bete in Silver Spring. Also fun: the Hong Kong-style menu at Tiger Fork,  tucked inside Blagden Alley in the District.

Tom, I wanted to get in this "thank you" before you are off for a few weeks. Recently I made your mother's 3-bean salad recipe that was in the Post. Simply delicious and perfect for a summer BBQ. Please thank her for sharing her recipe with us. It's a keeper.

Dorothy Sietsema will be delighted to hear the easy, make-ahead recipe was a hit.

Hi, Tom. I really enjoy your column, even if I don't live in DC or visit that often. We were in a loud restaurant, and I called the manager to the table. I said, We have a bet that if you turn down the music, no one will notice or complain." We were told that the charge for turning down the music was 15K, to buy out the restaurant, because the chef likes to rock out! Other than leave (we had ordered our first course) what could we do?

Are you pulling my leg with this one? Unbelievable.

One point missing from his article is that we tip out our support staff (bussers/barbacks/food runners/etc...) based on our actual sales and NOT out income. When servers and bar staff get stiffed, it actually COSTS us $$$ out of pocket to pay that part of their incomes, and the IRS assumes we got paid on that sale as well.... Just an FYI.....

Thanks for chiming in, just as I'm poised to sign off.

Hi Tom! First of all, thanks for all that you do. Your wisdom has guided me for many years through many cities! My question is how else I could have handled a recent dinner at Sushi Capitol. It was my second time there, went with one other person. We did the omakase, and as recommended, saved the uni for last during the platter of nigiri. My dining companion isn't an enthusiastic as me about uni, so I took a bite. And I immediately knew it was not right. It was incredibly pungent, and I gagged. I had to chug water (and sake!!) to get that taste out of my mouth. This is definitely not my first time eating uni (I live across from Sushi Taro and obsess over any opportunity to have it). This piece at Sushi Capitol was just so awful. I told the waiter, and he just smiled and said "yes. Yes that is uni." He kept repeating that. I also asked if the second piece was from the same specimen, and he said yes. So we did not eat it and he removed the platter. I'm not sure what else I should have done here, but it the piece was just so horrible, and he could not understand that I did not think he should be serving that piece to other customers.

Fresh uni resembles an ocean breeze. Ripe sea urchin goes down like acid reflux (if I can be so frank).

Your response to the comment about CC to hold reservation seems to ignore the that there are two sides to the coin. Yes there are lots of people who are no shows, there are seems to be a growing risk of having to wait for your reservation when you show up on time. Comping a drink at the bar really doesn't cut it. My time is valuable too.

Everyone -- restaurants, diners -- gets a 15 (sometimes 20) minute grace period. At least in my world. How long is too long?

The earlier conversations reminded me of another type of awkward situation when you're in a group. Most times when specials are orally listed, the server does not state the prices, leaving it to the customer to ask. That's manageable when it's just my spouse and me, but it's very uncomfortable when we're in a group. And even worse is when when of the other people in our group order something that I suspect is priced much higher than other entrees but that person does not ask about prices. And I end up paying because we're splitting the bill (yes, I knew someone in my group could order something much more expensive when we're splitting the bill, but in this scenario, the person doing so did not even know he was doing so). Any thoughts on how to handle this situation?

If the server doesn't specify a price -- bad form in my book --  a guest needs to ask. No shame in that. No surprises afterwards, either.

Try the food reviews at There's no Tom Sietsema on staff, but they are usually more interesting than the ones in the C-J.

In the nick of time!

Etiquette question about tasting menus, especially at a chef's table. Obviously, tasting menus are not for picky eaters, but what if you're generally adventurous but just don't like or can't eat one particular course. For instance, reading your first bite column about Sushi Nakazawa, the first thing that came to mind is that it sounded divine but I would not want to eat the pictured egg custard. Is it considered rude to refuse one course or to just let it sit uneaten?

Patrons of most tasting menu experiences are typically asked (either via email or in person) if there's anything they can't or won't eat, at which point, the patrons should weigh in. This can be tricky, however, when diners don't get to see menus in advance, as in the case of Sushi Nakazawa.


Restaurants are in the business of making guests happy, not upset. Don't eat the egg custard if you don't care for it. But I can see where the kitchen would be eager to swap in something different, given even a bit of advance notice. 


That's a wrap for today, folks. Thanks for participating. Let's do it again on July 11, same time. Chow 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; 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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