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

Aug 22, 2012

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

Find all of Tom Sietsema's Washington Post work at

I heard from one of the servers at a GAR that there will be one coming to Montgomery County. There's nothing on the website about this. Can you find out any details? Now that my daughter no longer lives in Northern Virginia, I may not be able to get to any of my favorites as often. At least we got to Coastal Flats, Jackson's, & Mike's this past week so I could get my deviled eggs & chopped salad & banana pudding fix!

"We've signed a letter of intent" for what is now "a dirt field"  (Crown Farm) in Gaithersburg that's being developed by JBG Rosenfeld, confirms Randy Norton, co-chairman of Great American Restaurants. "We're optimistic," he adds.


If all goes according to plan, the first GAR in Maryland  will be a 250-seat, 10,000-square foot dining room and kitchen based on the company's fish-themed Coastal Fl ats.  Norton is aiming for a spring 2014 roll-out.


You have one more Sunday to celebrate summer at Cashion's Eat Place, which is wrapping up its end-of-the-week barbecue menu Aug. 26. For just $30, you get deviled eggs, fried chicken drumsticks and pulled pork, house-baked Parker House rolls, corn on the cob, green beans, funnel cake with vanilla ice cream and Bulleit blueberry punch. (Anyone else getting hungry reading that?)


Good morning, everyone. Let's rock 'n' roll.

What can you do when you turn up at a restauant that is recommended but the noise level is so high that you cannot hold a decent conversation ?

You can 1) ask the staff to please lower the volume 2) request a seat in a quieter part of the dining room 3) leave the restaurant for someplace where you can talk, but not before letting a manager know why.

Tom, Which restaurants have rooms to ent to accomodate about 40 people for a Birthday party? Don't necessarily want to be seated at a table, more cocktail party style with appetizers.

I get this question a lot. Among the many locations to consider are the Library Room at Rasika West End, the  wine bar above Bistrot Lepic Cafe Milano in Georgetown, Fiola in Penn Quarter, the back room at Marcel's, the second floor of Bayou on Penn, the Oval Room downtown, 701 in Penn Quarter, Vidalia in the West End and the upstairs lounge at Chez Billy in Petworth.  Lots of  different cuisine styles and price ranges within the bunch. Hope the list helps.

Tom, A couple of weeks ago you responded to my query for the latest and greatest in DC and you sent us to Mintwood. We LOVED it! The lively atmosphere was fun and location a great excuse to check out the latest in Adams Morgan. Most of all, the cuisine was stunning. The beat mountain pie was outstanding, and we loved our forays into the surf and turf on the menu. Hoya Saxa Tom!

Hi Tom - no question just a note that I went to lunch with a colleague at Kellari Taverna on K St yesterday, having never before been there before. What a pleasant surprise! Decent Restuarant Week menu, good food, nice ambiance, and we could actually HEAR each other speak. Kudos to them - I will go back.

Here's my take on the Greek restaurant.

Why is it so hard for restaurants to offer both good food and service? Are most places being run by people who don't understand customer service and cooking? I understand that the fast food places hire the cheapest labor and buy the cheapest ingredients. I know that I can cook a better meal at home than I am often served, but I am only making one meal and not trying to prepare several different meals for a crowd of people. Maybe too many people go into the restaurant business thinking they are a good cook at home and don't realize the added challenges of running a business and serving customers.

Million dollar question there, but some restaurateurs excel at delivering both good cooking and informed hospitality. Exhibit A: Ashok Bajaj, Jose Andres, Cathal Armstrong  for starters. 


I always compare running a restaurant to live theater. So many things can go wrong, because there are so many moving parts, but it's how a cast reacts to events (good or bad) that determines their professionalism.

Tom, I had the roasted chicken at Palena Cafe for the first time over the weekend, and it was incredible. Do you know how it's seasoned? Brined/injected? If you have any insights, I would appreciate it if you'd share. Thanks.

Palena chef-owner Frank Ruta shares that he uses 2 1/2 - to 3-pound chickens from an Amish farm in Pennsylvania, which he brines with sweet spices and garlic -- "more herbs in summer, more citrus in winter" -- then cooks  "hot and quick" in an oven fueled with a combination of hickory, oak and fruit wood.

Hi Tom, I have a question regarding etiquette when a meal goes wrong. On Monday night, my husband and I went for a last meal during our vacation to a highly recommended and relatively expensive restaurant. The food was wonderful! Some of the best I've eaten in a long while. The service started out okay (though there was some definite upselling and a slight feeling that we weren't spending enough in the server's opinion). But after our food arrived, it went downhill fast! Wine glasses emptied with no offer of additional drinks. Water glasses emptied halfway through the meal with no refills. 15 minutes before plates cleared. Another 15 before dessert menus offered, all while the server was busy with tables in our immediate vicinity but never glancing over at us and avoiding eye contact. Well, we weren't impressed and we declined dessert and asked for the check. The server caught wind that we were unhappy and offered to bring us chocolates to go. We declined (I'm not allowed to have chocolate). Cue the manager coming over. They wound up taking the wine off our bill in lieu of the gratis chocolates and were very apologetic. We appreciated the response though the evening still had been pretty significantly marred. Which is all a very long way of asking, should we have just accepted the chocolates? And should we have tipped on the bill, pre-removal of the wine? (We wound up tipping 20% on the reduced amount.) I was certainly going to talk to the manager before we left (something I've learned from these chats) but we weren't looking for anything free. Thanks for your insight.

I would have declined the chocolates, accepted the gratis wine and tipped 15 percent rather than 20 percent on the final bill -- the last because you were unhappy with much of the service.


If this ever happens again, do the restaurant and yourselves a favor and bring the miscues to the attention to someone in charge as they are happening. By waiting until the very end of the meal, you didn't give the manager a chance to make amends (like switch servers) and you ended up leaving the establishment with a sour taste in your mouths.

Tom, Next week is my husband's birthday. While he enjoys a delicious dinner, he's truly impressed by being on-trend/ being the first to experience a new restaurant. Any suggestions for somewhere that has a bit of a new/ novelty factor and has delicious food, a slightly romantic vibe and takes reservations? Thanks!

Have you been to Little Serow, the cool underground Thai hot spot from Johny Monis? Or Rogue 24, the avant garde creation of RJ Cooper? Not new, but I adore Woodberry Kitchen in Baltimore if you're up for some destination dining.


Chatters, where would you send a trend-seeking food lover?

THANK you. Voting with your feet is most effective when the management knows why. As long as one can be sure that the manager informs the owners.

Uh huh.

Four of us had a wonderful RW dining experience at the Bombay Club Saturday night. A generous selection of choices for each course, delicious food and very professional service. We can't wait to go back.

That makes five of us.

Hi Tom, my partner's 30th is the second week of September. We've been to most or all of the nice restaurants in DC but I was thinking a special night out of town either on Friday or Saturday would be a nice way to celebrate. I was thinking maybe the Ashby Inn? Any other hidden gems? We don't need to be able to stay there. Thanks!

I have very fond (food and wine) memories of the Ashby Inn and have sent family and friends there for overnight stays in years past. If you want to be closer to water, think about Bartlett Pear Inn in Easton.

Tom: I read the transcript of last week's chat with the back and forth about dress codes and wanted to chime in. Coincidentally, I had just been to the Oregon Grill, a very traditional restaurant in northern Baltimore County horse country. I knew about the jacket requirement and was surprised to see a man at the table behind mine who was just wearing a white shirt, no jacket. Lo, five minutes after I sat down, the waiter walked over to the man and quietly (but loud enough for me to eavesdrop) said that he would have to put his sportcoat back on. The waiter said, "I don't mind, but the owner insists on it." As we were leaving, my girlfriend looked into the closet where they keep jackets for men who arrive without knowing the rules. "Well," she said, "at least they're from Jos. A Bank."

Love it. Thanks for sharing.

Hi Tom- I moved from alexandria 2 yrs ago and have lost touch w/the dining scene so i'd love your suggestions for my return trip. The plan is to do a tourist afternoon on saturday on the Mall. I appreciate fine dining, farm to table, healthier options, possibly outside but doesn't have to be. I may be solo so am also open to places that have more interesting bar menus. Thanks a bunch!

Near the Mall, I'm a fan of the Asian brunch at the Source next to the Newseum, tacos and ceviche at Oyamel and the delightful Garden Cafe in the National Gallery of Art, which just concluded its Spanish buffet in concert with the Miro exhibit there.

Dear Tom: Avid reader of this chat and your reviews with a quick postcard-style question for you - my wife and I are traveling to Hilton Head Island this weekend so where should we eat? FYI, we're both adventurous eaters and will take any and all suggestions you may have. Thanks very much.

Hilton Head, anyone? Sadly, I've never been.

Looking for a fish restaurant (in DC or NoVa) for my mom's 70th birthday dinner. We do not eat any seafood (as we keep kosher-style) but we do enjoy other fish. Ideas? Price is not to big an issue, but too noisy is. Thank you!!

I would go to the palatial J & G Steakhouse in the W hotel just for its signature halibut set off with a cool celery top and a racy base of black beans and chilies. Another option is Kellari Taverna on K St. NW for fresh fish selected from a bed of ice and Greek hospitality.

Tom I used my typical method for surviving restaurant week, I stayed home. Too much bridge and tunnel crowd for me. But I am in a big funk. I did a bit of traveling this summer; 3 weeks in China, Thailand, Singapore, and Indonesia for work. Then there was the 3 week vacation in Greece; Athens, Santorini, and Crete. Plus bonus 3 day trips to SF, NYC, and Paris. Needles to say I have eaten well. But now I’m stuck on where to go here in DC. Most of the really good places here try to take you somewhere else, but I’ve been there. So where can I go in the metro area that says “this is what Washington DC is about”? I’ve done Joel Robuchon’s in Paris, street food in Bangkok, fresh grilled grouper on the beach in Greece, and shawarma that runs down to your elbows in Paris. Is there no place in DC that rather than reminding me of how close it is to somewhere else, will make me want to tell my friends in Beijing, Paris, and Athens about it? I doubt I’ll get much sympathy from your readers, but YOU understand my problem.

I envy your summer! What exactly do you do that allows for so much far-flung travel? Work for National Geographic?


Your question is an intriguing one. Next to the Palm downtown, C.F.Folks strikes me as a classic DC dining experience, in part because of its crusty owner, but also because of its timeless diner feel.  Lawyers, secretaries, construction types, tourists -- you see them all at the Formica counter or small outside patio, eating crab cakes, chicken salad sandwiches or pork tacos, one of the cafe's daily non-American specials.


Chatters, let's grow a list. Where do you go for a true taste of the nation's capital?

My husband and I just relocated to Reston from Arlington. We have a lovely new home, but miss our old haunts. Where would you suggest we become "regulars"?

Reston ain't Arlington, but I think you should make friends with the family-run, Mediterranean-style El Manantial, located in a strip mall, and possibly Jackson's Mighty Fine Food, from the aforementioned GAR,  in the Reston Town Center.


What am I missing (that's good), chatters?

I know I'm beating a dead horse here, but I have to vent. Saturday evening my girlfriend and I went to Ruth's Chris. Having a nice quiet evening when all of a sudden a family with 4 kids come running through in flip flops and t-shirts and board shorts. Can we have a new rule - if there is no kids menu, no kids are allowed

That would be difficult to enforce, for a number of reasons, but you might be surprised by how many children  who dine out don't want to see the kiddie menu. They'd rather order what the adults are ordering.

2 of our last best meals were at Food and Wine. Everything was excellent

I'm an admirer of  much of  chef Michael Harr's menu, too. I haven't been to Food Wine & Co. since it hired a new pastry chef, Jason Gehring, formerly with Fiola in DC.

Hi Tom, We're looking at a few places for an anniversary dinner in Old Town. We're not very fussy, previously we've enjoyed everything from Rasika to Rays the Steaks, to Central and Graffiato for celebratory occasions. Our hope is to spend around $200, including wine. Vermillion and Brabo both have availability - do you suggest one over another? Am I missing any other good options? (We are saving Restaurant Eve for another time). Thanks for your help!

I definitely prefer Vermilion over Brabo -- but get the former before Tony Chittum leaves for DC! -- and would add to your list of options in Old Town the slightly less formal bistro at Restaurant Eve.

I'm guessing there a lot of spots in Amsterdam you don't want to miss -- any suggestions on the "can't miss" dining spots?

Two of my all-time favorites there are De Kas, a handsome greenhouse in the middle of a park, and Caffe Toscanini for fish and pasta as good as I've enjoyed in Italy. Trust me, you're in for some memorable food at both restaurants.


For a taste of Dutch cooking -- harder to find than you might imagine -- be sure to find time for the cozy Greetje, where (hint, hint) table No. 7 frames a view of the canal.

Giving 15% tom just means the server thinks you were. If the service is really bad I write stiff in the tip box and speak to the manager. I have had servers change all zeroes.

In this case, I don't think the service was so bad it merited no tip at all. I can't remember the last time I even did that, left nothing for gratuity.

NO ONE is complaining about kids in restaurants per se. They are complaining about badly behaved kids in restaurants, and parents who don't make any attempt to control them. There's a difference here that people are ignoring.

Well, I've heard from at least a few readers who don't like seeing children in "adult" restaurants, period.

For service like that described in the original post, I'd give 12%, not 15; too many people still think 15 is the norm now. 12% makes the point.

Better answer than mine. Thanks.

Our parents took us out and if looked like we were going to act up we would be told you are going out to car immediately. That made us behave and we never did find out what would happen in the car. I take my grandson who will be 5yo in Dec out to eat at Clydes, Ruth Chris, Mortons , the GAR, Outback, Hooters,and even Palena. He knows how to behave. Blame the parents not their spawn.

Did I read that correctly? You take your five-year-old to, um, Hooters?!

Only one paragraph out of five is actually about the food? Is the menu that limited or unimpressive?

Ah, I very much liked what I ate at the tiny new Japanese outpost: the vinegary mackerel, the nutty-sweet vegetable salad, the crisp tempura-bound shrimp and carrots, as well as the sashimi, including tender octopus and meaty tuna. The fluffy skewered chicken reminded me of boudin. (That clear things up?)

Hi Tom: Is there an industry standard regarding tip sharing? Do tips left at the table get shared between the host/hostess, waiter, server, and/or bus person, or are they kept by the table waiter only?

It varies from restaurant to restaurant. I advocate pooling tips -- and sharing a portion with the cooks! -- because it makes everyone hustle a little more. 

Since it has been mentioned a couple of times already today, I have to share an experience my cousin and her boyfriend had two years ago. They flew in from Seattle and met friends there for dinner. The server gushed about a special fish flown in from Greece. Four people were sold on his recommendation and ordered it. They were surprised when they got the check and the fish cost $160. While $40/pp might not seem a lot, seeing $160 for one fish was quite a surprise.

It depends on the size and the type of the fish, of course -- Dover sole is going to cost a lot more than salmon, for instance -- and what it comes with the catch. Did the waiter mention a price per pound or otherwise suggest the cost of the fish in advance?

Huh Tom?

You know, no one is forcing you to lurk here. Don't you have anything better to do than waste our time with the same question every week? For reals?

My husband and I are taking his parents out for a special "thank you" dinner. We'd like to pick a place in DC that is upscale but also comfortable and fairly quiet. It has to have an accommodating staff/kitchen as he sometimes requests substitutions and always asks for "no butter." Other than that, we all have adventurous palates. Any ideas?

Plume in the Jefferson Hotel is gorgeous and stocks a  "safe" (conventional) menu. 701 near the Navy Memorial offers a pleasant supper clubby ambience that your father-in-law might appreciate. (Juast be sure to ask for a table away from the bar, which can get noisy.)

Hi Tom, Any news on the reopening of the Georgetown institution? Sadly I had reservaations for dinner there on July 13. Cudos for Mr. Richard personally calling to give me the sad news about the flooding.

Nothing new, that I'm aware of, regarding the reopening of Michel Richard's starry restaurant. Very cool to hear that he called you himself to share the unfortunate news.

Why would you share with the host or hostess. I always found as a a server taking the cute ones out worked the best.

Some of those hosts work pretty darn hard, that's why!

I am of an age where little kids tend to grate on me (high voices, constant questions) but have no problem with them being in restaurants if the parents are properly trained. My son (now in his 20s) dined with us in fine restaurants from the time he was about 6. He disdained the kids menu from the time he was 7. He also knew that inappropriate behavior would mean that we would take him out of the restaurant immediately and he learned quickly that Daddy did not like to have to abandon a good meal because he couldn't keep quiet. We always took something with us to keep him entertained when he was younger if the meal would go over an hour. I find that a bigger problem in restaurants isn't kids, it is parents who don't seem to understand that not everyone is used to tuning out noisy and rambunctious children and would prefer to not to have to. Parents who do not teach their children how to behave in public, restaurant or not, should be banned from the restaurant, not the child. I'm more offended by that loud table of folks who have been drinking for a while and seem to think it is ok to talk and laugh loudly enough that the entire restaurant hears them. Other than that, life is good and I certainly hope that people who enjoy fine dining teach their children to do so too but also how to behave. That way when they grow up, they know how to behave.

Well put! Let this be the last word on kids and restaurants, at least for the remainder of the hour today.

Tom –Obviously, the public is divided on the topic - as we are on more important issues. I like the Baltimore restaurant’s approach, but it seems a little heavy handed for here? Are there any nice places in Washington where people dress up, either voluntarily or under a restaurant’s, possibly gentle, nudging? Or other ways restaurateurs have found to serve those who feel dressing up is part of the experience as well as respectful to the establishment and other diners? Possibly a “casual” or “no casual” section?

Diners at 1789 and Prime Rib are still encouraged to dress appropriately for the occasion, although their fashion codes have been relaxed over the years. Any others out there?

Hi Tom! I know your recommendations tend to be on the culinary and/or price side of things, but my partner is getting his first full wax job this Saturday, and we are looking for a place to celebrate afterwards! I know sometimes the high-end restaurants have wooden chairs and the like, but can you think of a nice fancy place that has plush padded seating? We have a car so Metro access isn't necessary or anything. Thanks!

I'm going to go out on a limb and address your question, on the the remote chance you are being straight up (as opposed to, you know, not straight up). Among your many options are a booth at Palena, Fiola, Masala Art, Bourbon Steak, Central Michel Richard ... that enough?

Pooling tips with people who are not regularly paid in tips (e.g. cooks) is illegal and possibly criminal wage theft.

Well, oops!  Wishful thinking then. Don't want to break any laws here.

Sharing tips with the cooks violates federal labor law. Only employees involved with direct service to the table may share in the tips. The tips belong to the servers and bussers etc, but the restaurant may choose to have a pooled tip situation and a tip out to the support team who interact at the table {bussers and runners}

Duly noted. (Love, love, love having so many legal beagles in this forum.)

Hi, Tom - love the chats. Enjoyed the Tampa article and will be visiting soon. Do you or any chatters have suggestions for a good seafood place in Tampa? No price range really, but food-wise nothing fancy - just good, solid seafood prepared simply. Thanks!

Good seafood (a good fsh house) is not something I came across in my 72-hour eatathon in Tampa. Let's hope a chatter can help out yet this morning.

Kudos to Kinkeads and Willow for offering such extensive and varied restaurant week menus. In my mind, the whole idea behind restaurant week is to sample a restaurant to know if you would like to go back during normal business times. As such, I'm shocked and disappointed by Oceanaire's offerings. Really, the choice of clam chowder, a house salad or a ceasar salad for the first course? and not even special looking salads or chowder. We were all disappointed. The dessert offerings were just as meager-sorbet, ice cream or key lime bar. Restaurants really do themselves a disservice by not putting their best menus out there during restaurant week---I have no interest in going back to Oceanaire but I can't stop raving about Kinkeads and Willow.

I hope the management at Oceanaire sees your complaint -- and does something different the next promotion.

Hi Tom, my boyfriend and I are craving French but we're too lazy to leave Capitol Hill. Where would you rather go, Montmartre or Bistro Cacao?

Montmartre -- or Bistro Bis, also on the Hill.

This is the WASHINGTON Post, not the Outside-the-Beltway Post. Sorry you're so bitter about that.

(Tom is loooking for the emoticon with a tongue sticking out of a face.)

I want to like the place. I really do however my last experience left me feeling not so happy. I've been three times, the first two for breakfast. Saturday my companion and I went for a late lunch, it was not crowded and we were seated right away. Not being able to eat large amounts of food at one time I usually order several appetizers instead. We ordered the chicken pot pies to share and then my friend ordered soup and a sandwich and I order two apps. The pot pie nuggets came out quicky and you are right- quite delicious. And then we waited and we waited and we waited. We watched while other people were seated around us, ordered, received their food, ate and left and still nothing. After a cursory "I'm sorry" from our waitperson she avoided eye contact after that. I finally stopped her and asked "was it something we ordered" and she said no that the kitchen was very "green" and I'm sure she didn't mean environmentally and then said she would say something to the manager. I thought we'd at least get some kind of explanation from him. Never came to our table. Our food eventually arrived. Fried green tomatoes would have embarrassed my Mississippi bred Mother but the pimento cheese would have made her proud. It was pretty much a whole meal with the grilled sausage accompaniment and the fantastic, although way too many, house pickled vegetables and not enough of the delish homemade crackers to go with the huge portion of rich, bacon studded pimento cheese. So I guess they have a way to go - fine tune some dishes and more customer service training. I didn't know if it was because of the way we ordered or what but it did put a damper on an otherwise pleasant dining experience. Just sayin'....................

I understand Family Meal has been extremely busy since it opened. Higher-ups are listening and learning, though. Stay tuned, for instance, for improved desserts in the weeks to come.

Rest.Week.. Some restaurants do it SO very, very well. Friday night at RIS: Great energy, charming and gracious service, (a special thanks to Wine Mgr Leah for suggesting the Luberon), and a stunning beet salad and a rich, juicy, tender lamb shank (OK-- that was off-RW menu, but a mere $10.00 more). Sunday night at the Oval Room: Gracious, smooth, and excellent service... What an intensely tomato-ey-clear broth tomato "soup" -- and huge scallops on a rich and creamy crab bisque. Thank you to both venues. You made it clear why we should return during a regular week... Good show!

Ris and Oval Room, take a bow.


I haven't received as many Restaurant Week reports as I usually do this time of the year. More people out of town, maybe? Fewer rants this time around?

I had lousy service last night. Server was MIA for long periods of time. The pizza we ordered for the kiddo as soon as we sat down (expressly stating we were ordering it ASAP for the kiddo) came out with the rest of the food which had been ordered about 15 minutes after, and it showed up totally burnt so we had to send it back. Server was again MIA, and when he finally brought the check, charged us for two pizzas and then took forever to correct it. All of this is fine, whatever, but here's my question -- if I tipped about 15% (compared to my standard 20%), did I need to explain why? Or should I expect him to have "gotten it" and not just thought I was a cheap bastard?

Wow. That sounds more like a 10 percent tip to me.


I hope you let a manager know why you were disappointed?

No until restaurants outside the beltway in NOVA get a fair shake from you I will continue to harass you! Be fair and I go away! Shame you are a biased liberal bigot.

Good Lord, sir. I aim for fairness, here and elsewhere in my life. Definitely not biased when it comes to geography!

I was recently treated (very generously, I might add) to dinner by a friend's parents at Founding Farmers. While I wouldn't choose to go there myself due to several bad experiences there in the past few years, I couldn't turn down a free meal. We dined on a Tuesday night and the place was PACKED, with many people waiting for tables in the foyer and bar. As I expected, the food was sub-par and the service was lacking. Do you have any idea why this place remains so popular? Given that everyone I know has had bad meals there, it simply boggles the mind that they're able to keep packing guests in.

I'm thinking location, location, location account for the success of one of the most mediocre dining destinations in town.

From a first time visitor: Perfect! Great service, great food, great price. Everything restaurant week should be, and the crispy spinach was a revelation. Thanks for your continuing recommendations for this place, and anyone who avoids it because "I don't like Indian food" is missing brilliant eating.

You are preaching to the choir!

Love your work and, as a lurker and a reader, have stumbled on a basic question. Over the past three weeks or so, we've really looked forward to meals at Ris, Newton's Table, l'Auberge Chez Francois, Bistro Provence, and Capitol Grille. We've also been to A & J Noodles, La Limena, and Positano, Ris still employs too many spices, sauces, and exotic ingredients; the only outstanding dishes at l"Auberge were the veal kidneys, the sweetbreads, and the bread pudding --- the old standbys like veal scallopini and dover sole were ordinary and the traditional packaged four-course meal for big money doesn't fit our needs today; Newton's bison was tough, and the service was so bad the maitre d' had to pitch in; Chef Cam's Bistro was, as always, bi-polar with excellent food and the worst front of the room; Capitol Grille offered good meat and a cut-down staff --- no busspeople, fewer servers and helpers. So much for the whining --- A & J, Limena, and Positano gave us what we came for --- fine food, good service, and, most of all, a spirit that pervades in everyone with whom we came in contact. So, my question --- where among the finer places in town can we find that spirit? Where are they still on the make, and not just riding the curve that got them where they are today? Great sophisiticated food and the kind of positive energy that makes us glad to be there?

Gee, I wish I had a good answer for you, because I feel your pain. In the dozen years I've been working on fall dining guides, this has been the least delicious research season. A lot of previous favorites seem to be cooking in place, and the problem is especially noticeable at some of the costlier restaurants. I'm having a lot more fun eating low on the food chain. While it's too soon to predict, my 2012 dining guide, out Oct. 21, is likely to reflect that.

And a majority of the paid subscribers to the WP live outside the beltway in NOVA. TOm has no problems patronizing restaurants outside the beltway in MD in disproprotinate numbers when compared to NOVA. A nice hand gesture from NYC to you both!

Tell you what. Send me a list of five places in Virginia you think I should be eating at right now, restaurants that would be of great interest to WP readers.

The family is showing up to celebrate opening day for the City Year corps members (my son is one of them this year), which will be Sept. 7 in Freedom Plaza around lunch time. Would like to thank them for their support with a nice lunch, although we might have a toddler in tow. Any suggestions for ideal spots with/without kids?

Your best bet is the lively Cafe du Parc --- right at 14th and Pennsylvania Ave. -- and its wide-ranging menu, which includes roast chicken, a hamburger, steamed mussels and sauteed trout. On a pleasant day, you can even sit outside!

I wonder if there is money to be made by a tech savvy industrious person willing to update restaurants' on line menus? It would save the restaurant having to do it. The more restaurants you enlist, the more money you would make.

Calling all online entrepreneurs!

Twice in my life I've left a 5 cent tip on an expensive meal. Both times the service was not only awful, but intentionally so. (Once at the Capital Grille when everybody chose to cater to a VIP's every whim while ignoring everyone else, the other at a tapas place when our server stood 10 feet from our table flirting with another server the whole evening.) When I have to bus my own table I don't have to tip. And no, I didn't bother talking to the manager because the problem was obvious.

Curious if the servers at either restaurant said anything to you as you were departing?

Mediocre for the most part. Best bet: Roastfish; Shrimp Shack. Alexanders best for high end, Oyster Factory for the view.

And just as we're in the final stretch today. Thanks.

I did a quick preview trip. A "top" caterer told me he likes Frenchie's for a great grouper sandwich and a cold beer on the water.

Bless you.

Good Morning Tom! Relatively quiet, so I could actually participate in the chat live, for a change! I do hope you get a chance to visit my hometown in the coming months- LOADS of exciting gastronaut initiatives and I'd be thrilled and delighted to act as your guide to one of my favorite cities on the case you haven't already guessed, Mike's deployed again and I could use the distraction!

Hey, Marci, great to hear from you! I have AA on my bucket list.  (Now that I read that, it sounds funny.) Please send Mike my best.

The kiddo fell asleep at the table by the end of dinner, so we did not talk to the manager (just too hard at the time). I'm going to send an email today, though.

Good for you for following up!

I once left a tip of one cent. And never went back. And the place closed soon after. Awful experience.

A gripe as haiku.

Sorry, you're cutting off your (and our) nose to spite your face. Saying "it's obvious" doesn't help the manager see that he's going to lose business. What is so difficult about telling the manager of uyour experience?

I agree. Not all managers are all-seeing, and they can't be everywhere at once. (Except, of course, for Ashok Bajaj. I swear, the restaurateur is actually triplets.)

My biggest pet peeve is restaurants that have the AC set so low that my food gets cold even before I can eat half of it. I have asked at times to be moved to a table where the cold air is not blowing down on me.

Never mind handing out black napkins for guests wearing black. What about shawls for women and plaid blankets for men in over-air-conditioned restaurants?

Hi Tom, I wanted to let you know about the wonderful meal we had at Elisir for Restaurant Week. This was my first time dining there and I was excited to see that they offered a generous amount of choices in each category of the menu (appetizer, entree and dessert). In addition, I didn't get the feeling that they were giving us a wimpy Restaurant Week menu--instead the options were reflective I imagine of the chef's usual cooking. There were a few optional upcharges to change the dishes ie add caviar or truffles etc to a dish, but we didn't really feel any of that was needed. The service was right on and the environment was perfect for catching up with a good friend in a high end but not stuffy environment. I will certainly be back for future meals (also they have an amazing sounding $19 2 course lunch at their bar!)...which I guess is the real purpose of Restaurant Week right?

Indeed it is. Bravo, Elisir.

Within the last several years, I've had to ask managers of restaurants to turn the music down because the volume made it hard to carry on a decent conversation. What is it with restaurants (not bars) and loud music? Have you seen this in your experience? Recently there was an article in the City Paper about it, and I understand that the new asthetics of places now (glass, steel, concrete) make the noise reverberate more but then, just turn the music down. I like loud music like the rest of the world but not when I'm trying to have a meal and a conversation with someone.

One of the biggest reactions I ever got from readers was when I instituted sound checks in 2008. The problem, alas, has only gotten worse since then. Just wait until you read this Sunday's review.


And that's a wrap for today, gang. I look forward to chatting again next Wednesday, same time. Have a delicious rest of the week. 

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Tom Sietsema
Weaned on a beige buffet a la "Fargo" in Minnesota, Tom Sietsema is the food critic for The Washington Post. In thinner days, he was a critic for Microsoft Corp.'s and the Seattle Post-Intelligencer; and a food reporter for the San Francisco Chronicle.

This is his second tour of duty at the Post. Sietsema got his first taste in the '80s, when he was hired by his predecessor to answer phones, write some, and test the bulk of the Food section's recipes. That's how he learned to clean squid, bake colonial cakes and distinguish between nutmeg and mace.

He covers the local scene in his Dining, First Bite and Dish columns; keeps tabs on the world at large in his Postcard From Tom column and contributes tasty morsels to the Going Out Guide blog.
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