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

Jul 20, 2016

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.

Last Friday, July 13th, friends were taking me to Kinship for my birthday. Approximately at 5:00 PM this section of the city suffered a blackout and when we arrived at the restaurant we were informed that we would need to book a reservation elsewhere. No attempt was made by the restaurant to secure reservations at other restaurants prior to our arrival and needless to say nothing of any consequence was available. We wound up having dinner at Centrolina. Should the restaurant have had other reservation options available for us prior to our arrival and would a complementary drink been out of the question while the staff tried to secure a reservation for us elsewhere? I realize the electrical failure was out of the staff's control but I felt the barest minimum of effort by the staff. Very disappointing evening.

If what I'm reading is the full and accurate account of your attempt to eat at Kinship, I'm in your camp -- to an extent.

 

Yes,  it would have been nice of the restaurant to reach out to other establishments for available tables, but what if they weren't places you wanted to dine?  As for welcoming you with a gratis drink, I'm not sure how that would work if the bar was as unlit (and devoid of juice)  as I imagine it was.  On the other hand, the hosts should have been sympathetic to your situation even as they were dealing with a big problem of their own. Everyone makes mistakes or has unfortunate things happen to them. How they recover says a lot about them.

 

Good morning, everyone. If I'm slower than usual this morning, it's because I was up much of last night trying to dry out my basement after a floodlet.  No fun!  But I didn't want to miss a chance to talk shop and address your rants and raves. So, let's do it.

 

POST-CHAT UPDATE FROM TOM: As it turns out, management at Kinship DID reach out to other restaurants to connect reservation-holders with another, comparable dining room following the loss of power at Kinship. The restaurant also served 30 gratis drinks to guests who opted to stay at Kinship to see if its power could be restored. If the original poster could email me (tom.sietsema@washpost.com) , I’d like to connect you with the establishment.   

I was out for lunch with a bigger group yesterday, and not feeling well. I didn't eat my meal, and the waitstaff noticed, and asked if it was OK. I told them it was fine, but a little two sweet for my taste. They took it off the check, and I'm feeling guilty. I didn't like it because I wasn't feeling well, and I'm particularly sensitive to sweets, not because there was anything wrong with the meal. What should I have done?

It's not entirely clear whether you didn't like the dish because you weren't feeling well or because it was on the sweet side or a combination of the two. (I read your post three times.)

 

If you simply didn't eat because you felt sick, you should have been more honest with the server. Because saying something is sweet has ramifications for the cooks, who very well may have stopped what they were doing to investigate the issue. 

Tom we are in DC for the next couple of days including tennis on Thursday...we r curious about the hottest restaurants from your perspective, in the Georgetown area... Joel from CT

On the casual side, I like Chez Billy Sud for French bistro fare and the new Zannchi for Korean small plates.  Moving up the price and style scale, there's the Grill Room, a lovely hotel restaurant headed by former White House chef Frank Ruta.  

 

In nearby Glover Park, you might also check out the freshly-minted Casolare, yet another Italian dining room from Boston chef Michael Schlow.

Hey Tom we are from potomac we are in Charleston on vaca and following your itinerary. Went to fig and Belmont so far ordinary tonite just wanted to say thx it's been unbelievable! Julie and bill

Lovely to hear, and thanks for writing. Charleston is one of my favorite food destinations in the country. Find time, if you can, to drive to Sullivan's Island and try the cooking at the Obstinate Daughter, as delicious as its name is funny.

My wife and I had a reservation for dinner this past Friday at Kyirisan. The restaurant's power was out when we arrived, but they said they were able to continue dinner service, so we were seated and placed a food and drink order. However, as the second of four dishes we ordered had been brought to the table the fire alarm went off due to smoke from the kitchen and the restaurant was ordered by the building management to stop service. After standing outside for several minutes the alarm shut off and we were invited to go back to our seats and our waiting second dish. Before we could even dig into the waiting dish on the table our waiter informed us that we would have to leave and presented us with a bill for the dishes that had been brought out. While we paid the bill without raising a fuss, after being rushed through our drinks and two dishes, how should the restaurant have handled the situation? We felt bad breaking our reservation so gave them the benefit of the doubt, but after being told to leave and charged in full for an incomplete meal it left a bad taste in our mouths. What should customers expect from a restaurant under these circumstances?

My sympathies to both you and the owners. The evening sounds like a bust for everyone. If I'm understanding this correctly, you consumed your drinks and exactly one dish, which Kyirisan has the right to bill you for. But to charge you for dishes you ordered but never got to eat?  That leaves a sour taste in my mouth as well. At the least, it feels ungracious.

 

Restaurateurs, I'd love to collect your thoughts on the matter. It seems to be the topic du jour.

So the restaurant was out of business for the night and without power and you exoect them to read your mind in order to scurry around and make a ket res at the place you'd like? Get real. The most they should have done is to make another res at their place for a future date and, maybe, promise you dessert ior a round of drinks then.

Right, I pointed out that the restaurant was under stress and probably less than inviting, even for a drink, under the circumstances. But surely it wouldn't hurt for a business to keep a list of alternative restaurants for those times when misfortune strikes. (Next time, maybe?)

Hi Tom, and Happy Wednesday. I know you've already made many positive comments about the above, but when will we see your official review?

My critique, based on three visits to the sister to Rose's Luxury, is scheduled to appear in the Magazine on Aug. 7 and a few days earlier online.

Any specific fast food stuff that you have a weakness for? I adore chick fil A's peach shakes in the summer.

Let's just say I've been known to drop by Popeye's for spicy chicken, biscuits and coleslaw following a few unhappy restaurant review visits over the years.

What's baffling about Slim's is that virtually all of Paul Ruppert's other ventures - Petworth Citizen, Crane and Turtle, Room 11, The Passenger, etc. - have all been known for above-average food and drink and quality service, and are generally pleasant places to visit. Based on his track record, I'm hopeful that things at Slim's will get ironed out. But as of now, it's kind of a mess - especially the poor service. Any word on why they've had such a hard time there?

Beats me. I've tried to eat at the diner four (count 'em!) times now, and invariably there's an issue: someone didn't show up for a shift so no one can sit at the counter, there's no A/C, blah blah blah.  Never mind the lines out the door. Slim's is not ready for prime time.

Tom - Thanks for all you do to help us eat well in DC! I'm looking for a vegetarian-friendly restaurant other than Indian cuisine to visit with a good friend for a celebration. We're happy to go anywhere in DC, although it's a major plus if we don't have to scream at each other over our cocktails (come on restaurant designers, people go out to eat to enjoy the company as much as the food!)

I know I mention it a lot here, but Zaytinya in Penn Quarter is perfect for what you seek, provided you sit away from the noisy main dining room. Before a restaurant dinner at Garrison, I would have steered you there, too, but the vegetable-forward restaurant has lost its luster since my original rave.

If their computers were down, they may not have had access to their reservations list - they may not have know what time you were arriving, how many, etc until you literally showed up. (Or even if you booked via phone, perhaps they couldn't access every one else's info and didn't have an accurate count or full view of the night in order to rebook everyone on the spot)

Fair points. Thanks for chiming in.

Many years ago, My wife and I had a reservation at L'Auberge Chez Francois and unbeknownst to us, they had lost power. Rather than turn us away, we and all the diners were given gratis, a meal of roast veal that had already been prepared. This is what classy restaurants do.

A nice gesture, sure, but not every restaurant can be expected to be so prepared for an emergency.

Had a delicious dinner as usual at Tadich this past Saturday and was surprised to see not much of a crowd. Are they doing a brisker business at lunch or did the family press around opening time hurt them too much to recover from? I'd hate to see the place close -- there's nowhere else really like it in DC, and I need my sand dab fix.

People have such short memories, I don't think the family feud associated with the spin-off of the San Francisco institution accounts for the quiet dining room.  I haven't been back since my review, and maybe that explains the hush: the Tadich faces a lot of competition, not just in its neighborhood, but throughout the city.

On your recommendation Tom, our party of 4 went to The Boulevard last week in San Francisco at 1 Mission Avenue and we all agreed it was one of the best meals any of us have ever had. Thank you so much for that tip! It's now on our 'most favorite' lists when in California - Duane C.

Love that restaurant. Love that city (my former home). Thanks for the feedback.

Hi Tom, have you been to this new hot spot yet? I had dinner at RPM last Wednesday and the place was PACKED. We arrived at 7:40 for an 8pm reservation planning to get a drink at the bar - which we did as the hostess told us we would be seated closer to our reservation time. We went back to the hostess a few minutes after 8 since we hadn't hear anything - full party was there and we were told it would be a few more minutes so we're awkwardly standing by the hostess stand and time just keeps rolling by. We're a party of 4, one of which is 6 months pregnant so her husband says something again, no compassion just they are doing what they can. We were seated 35 minutes past our reservation time! Am I wrong in being mad they didn't do anything for us? No app while we waited or once seated, no drinks, etc comped. Considering they charge for bread, they could have at least greeted us with free bread knowing we were starving by the time we sat down. I will say we really liked the food but I think I'll wait for the hype to die down and them to work through kinks before returning. Just curious how you handle waits that long past the reservation time. Thanks!

Thirty minutes is a loooooong time to wait for a reserved table. The restaurant should have offered you a gratis snack or some vino to tide you over.  It's the gracious thing to do, given your promptness and patience.

Reading some of these posts makes me so grateful that my small restaurant has such understanding and patient diners. We had to close unexpectedly for several days because our chef had a serious accident, and people couldn't have been kinder and more sympathetic when we told them we couldn't honor their reservation. [Stuff] happens, people. I expect that if you had a flat tire on your way to a dinner reservation, you'd expect the restaurant to be gracious about your cancellation. It goes both ways. Believe me, no restaurant owner *ever* wants to be closed unexpectedly.

Thank you for writing. We all need to be more understanding.

I enjoyed your review of Bantam King and am eager to try it. As always, your review was informative: we probably would have failed on our first visit to notice from the menu that strawberry jam ("spiked with toasted Sichuan peppercorns") accompanies the fried chicken dinner. But does the photo of that dinner really show the silvery tray sitting on the floor? Please, tell me that's an optical illusion. The graphics are terrific, but food on the floor is unappetizing. I criticize only because your reviews have consistently been top notch.

Are you seeing this online? None of the food is photographed on the floor. What might be confusing you are the cafeteria trays, affixed to the wall, at Bantam King.

I notice that your reviews sometimes note when restaurants are particularly accommodating to gluten free diners. Do you frequently dine with somebody is gluten free? As somebody whose partner has celiac disease, I always appreciate hearing that a kitchen staff is particularly inviting and prepared. The world can be a scary and alienating place when food can hurt you without people knowing it, and places that take care to segregate food prep and offer diverse GF options are so appreciated (although it's obviously not an option for every kitchen). I have planned dates and milestone dinners around those simple one-line acknowledgements in your reviews! Thank you for all that you do.

One of my best friends can't tolerate gluten and we dine together frequently. So, it's an issue I'm familiar with. Most recently, we broke bread at Mastro's -- not as good as I remember it, but still worthy of a shout-out for its gluten-free menu.  (Can you tell I'm returning to one-time favorites, to vet them for the fall dining guide?)

I live near the restaurant and like it fine. However, a delicious, hearty fish stew just doesn't strike my fancy when the temperature is over 90 degrees. I tend to have certain area restaurants I'm drawn to in the summer and others in the winter; maybe if other people feel the same way it might explain why the place seemed quiet. And yes, I know they have salads and other lighter fare on the menu, but it's the Portuguese fisherman's stew that makes me want to go there!

Good point, and I agree: some restaurants are definitely more attractive in different seasons.

It's in paper post, not online.

Oh! I see what you mean. Um, lemme ask the photo editor and get back to you next week. The tray DOES appear to be resting on tiles.

Thoughts on a good lunch today on Capitol Hill? Thanks!

You know what's delicious and different? Ambar, the handsome Balkan outpost on Eighth St. SE.

Thanks for the great discussions and restaurant reviews, Tom. I have found your reviews more reliable than any other source for Washington DC area restaurants. I'm travelling to Sarasota, Florida in August for my mother's 75th birthday and looking for a restaurant to celebrate. I'm guessing that you've never reviewed restaurants in the area, but I'm wondering if your readers have any ideas. The two I'm considering are Mozaic and Marcello Ristorante. Any input from you or your readers would be greatly appreciated.

My good pal Ken E. is from that part of the world. He recommends Michael's on East and the Bijou Cafe, but adds, "no one actually GOES to Florida in July or August."  

Hi Tom, my boss is requesting me to find a restaurant to go to during lunch next week as a "goodbye" meal before I finish my internship. I'm completely at a loss - any recommendations for something that is not-too-fancy and in DC?

As in downtown? Central Michel Richard would make a nice end-off, as would the festive Oyamel (Mexican) in Penn Quarter.

 

That's a wrap for this week, folks. See you back here next Wednesday. Meanwhile, eat well and play nice.

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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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