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

Aug 29, 2012

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

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Tom - a couple months ago my wife and I were eating at Spiaggia in Chicago to celebrate our first night out after our baby was born. It was a great meal, but at the end of it, after the check had been paid, my wife pushed the chair out to stand up, and the leg sheared off and cracked in half, and she toppled to the ground. (She weighs 125 pounds, so it was definitely a faulty chair!) No one was hurt, we kind of had a laugh, and the waiter was effusive in his apology. Afterward, the maitre d' came by to tell me I should ask for him if we come back. All in all, we found the response from the restaurant sufficient to make us remember the whole night fondly. However, at $1000 for dinner, this is a once-every-couple-years dinner for us, and we don't see ourselves going back any time soon. My question, I guess, is what should we have done? I'm fairly certain that if the chair had broken before we paid, they would have comped us... something. But I certainly wouldn't have expected them to go back and un-charge us for the champagne after they ran my card or anything. Friends tell us we should have called the next day to ask what he was willing to do for us, but that seemed really awkward to me- I contend I should have asked them to give us the broken chair as a souvenir. It was two months ago now, so it's all academic, but I'd love your advice, you know, in case this happens again.

What a story! And what a bill! I can only assume you drank extraordinarly well for your big night out.


This is tricky, for all the reasons you point out:  the chair broke as you were departing, no one was injured (thank goodness), no clothes were ruined and the restaurant apologized in proper fashion.


I'm not sure if you live in Chicago or just happened to be there for a nice dinner, but if you don't plan to return to Spiaggia soon, or ever, I'd forget about following up on the restaurant's gesture (which is ... what exactly?) 


On the other hand, if you can find a way to go back within, say, six months or so -- maybe just for a bite to eat with a glass of wine --  it would no doubt behoove you to call the manager in advance, remind him of your tale and see what happens.


P.S. Love your sense of humor, asking for the broken chair as a souvenir. You sound like my kind of diners.


Happy Wednesday, chatters. I won't be hosting a discussion September 5 -- the Association of Food Journalists is meeting in DC for its annual convention then -- but I plan to be back Sept. 12.


Let's begin.

Tom - the most bizarre thing happened at Bucks. An older gentleman was at a table with his wife and began coughing, it was definitely noticeable but we didn't think much of it until his server asked if anyone knew the heimlich. My husband said that since the man was coughing air was flowing and the heimlich was not necessary. The waiter repeatedly asked the man if he was okay and was told yes (although the man was still coughing). Then the waiter tried to forcibly perform the heimlick - for which he was pushed away - and then called 911. By the time the ambulance arrived the man was completely fine and drinking his wine. Both he and his wife were mortified that the paramedics had arrived. We sat at the bar and had a lovely meal but I was pained at this couple's obvious embarrassment.

Sounds like a scene. (I'll be chewing my food and sipping my wine sloooooowly tonight.)

Love your chats Tom. Wanted to see if you or any of the fellow chatters had any suggestions for great things to eat in Ecuador (specifically Quito). Thank you!


Forgive me if I've submitted this before - so many computer problems, I can't remember! Is there a reason you don't recommend Circle Bistro to the Kennedy Center crowd? I've been very pleased with both the bar and the dining room menus, and it's such an easy walk.

The only reason I haven't suggested Circle Bistro of late is because I haven't dined at the West End restaurant within the past year or so.  I don't know whether it's good or not, in other words. Thanks for encouraging me to check in on the place.

Tom - how is it that you always seem to agree with chatters that it is just impossible for others not to like Indian food? I never hear any argument or criticism about people who dislike other types of food. There are often comments along the lines of even people who claim to dislike Indian food still enjoy Rasika. I have eaten Indian food in India. I hated almost all of it (only enjoyed naan, rice, and a few extremely bland vegetable dishes). Please explain to me why I would like Rasika so much when even in India, I did not enjoy Indian food.

The topic that will not die!


Let me state, once again, that I think *some* folks who say they don't care for Indian food are basing their opinion on 1) a narrow range of dishes or 2) inferior purveyors of the cuisine, which is vast and varied and so, so, so much more than curry and samosas and rice and lentils.


Curious where you ate abroad? It's certainly possible to get middling Indian cooking in India. (But that's true of any country. )


Do you have a favorite dim sum place in northern Virginia these days?

Probably the always-crowded A & J, which has a sibling in Rockville. (Be advised: neither source is a cart-style dim sum.)

Tom, we recently went on vacation to OR and went to Gruner after seeing your postcard from Portland. Delicious! We actually missed the lunch but feasted on a number of appetizers. Our next trip is to Charleston where we hear the food is fabulous - have you been and do you have any other recommendations? (Saw you have a postcard but its from 2007) Thanks for your fabulous articles and chats!

Gruner is one of my fondest memories of Portland, an incredible food destination.


My colleague, Tim Carman, was in Charleston over the weekend. He provided the following commentary:


"Husk is the one place you should not miss, if you can snag a reservation. Sean Brock's kitchen is turning out some exceptional dishes, notably a chilled peach soup spiked with country ham (and a splash of sparkling cider), crispy pig-ear lettuce wraps (I would have been happy just to eat a platter of these "Kentuckyaki" delights) and a generous portion of South Carolina shrimp and grits with Surry sausage and charred peppers. Also, don't miss the skillet cornbread, which is crusty and warm and decidedly NOT sweet, like the cakes so often passed off as cornbread around here. The Rare Wine Co.'s historic Charleston Madeira is worth sampling, too, since it's based on the sercial grape that has long fallen out of favor among most producers.

I didn't eat as widely at Fig, but the dish that stood out for me was chef Mike Lata's suckling pig confit, which is a terrine-like block of the most succulent and savory slow-cooked pork that you've ever tasted. I stopped mid-bite a couple of times just to savor the chef's ability to draw out and emphasize the essential porkiness of the dish. The only problem with Fig is trying to snag a reservation. The place is typically booked a month out. You have to try to grab a seat at the small bar if you don't have a reservation.

Finally, I'd suggest a stop at The Grocery, which is chef Kevin Johnson's new place carved out of an old furniture store. Johnson was once a sous chef in Patrick O'Connell's kitchen at the Inn at Little Washington. His style at The Grocery is more homey and Southern, with an emphasis on pork and pickled vegetables and charcuterie. I found his watermelon gazpacho with stone crab and serrano pepper perfectly balanced, even if I thought the occasional blasts of what tasted like horseradish occasionally muffled the more humble charms of his seared scallops and pork belly plate. I wish I had had time to eat more widely on his menu. Much of it sounded mouth watering. "

Hi Tom - We had dinner at Rasika West End recently. We wanted to try as many things as possible, so we opted to make a meal of starters rather than choosing an entree. We asked the waiter if this was OK, and he responded like it was the most normal thing ever. When they brought the food out, however, the servers complained that there wasn't enough room on the table and that we had "ordered too much food." Now, the person I was dining with is on the heavy side, and this embarrassed her (though I do not think it was the server's intention to comment on her weight). I was under the impression that this was a common practice. I'll chalk the server's comments up to interpersonal awkwardness, but I think it could have been handled more smoothly. Does ordering a meal of appetizers make things more difficult for kitchen and service staff, are we guilty faux-passery?

If you're in the wrong, so am I.


Appetizers, in my experience, tend to be some of the most interesting dishes on the menu, in part because a diner is less likely to become bored by them when they're only a few bites big. 


A thoughtful waiter would have asked, "Would you like these space out?" -- served as if the selections were courses -- instead of showing up with all the appetizers at once.


Chefs, how do you feel about folks who order only first courses?

I'd love to have foodie birthday celebration for myself and between 5-8 friends in November that won't break the bank. I was thinking of something along the lines of the chef's table at Pearl Dive Oyster Palace where we wouldn't be restricted to a super expensive set menu and could have a unique and interesting experience, but that's limited to only four diners. Is there anything similar in the same price range? Or some other food-centric experience that might fit the bill?

How about eating with your fingers at Ethiopic on H St. NE? Or grabbing a picnic table under the open sky at Standard Barbecue? The new Izakaya Seki near U St. NW is lovely, and if you watch your sake consumption, you shouldn't have to break a budget.

I laughed at this when my parents were taken there for their anniversary, but they said it exceeded oceanaire and they really liked it. I can't believe Reston or Sterling don't have nice places for the high incomes out in that area.

I liked Passionfish when it launched, but it's a shadow of what it used to be.  That area deserves better, I agree.

Hi Tom, A few Mondays from now I will be celebrating my 30-faux birthday. I luckily already have the day off from work. I would love to find a place to go to lunch with my boyfriend in the DC proper area. Maybe some place that has a lunch special or pre-fixe menu etc. We will already be dining at Graffiato, Mintwood, and Rasika West End at other points in the week/weekend. Thanks for your help!

Ah, the possibilities! Have you been to the festive Jaleo in Penn Quarter since it's been redecorated? Or the intime tapas bar at the grandly formal Taberna del Alabardero downtown?  I dropped by Pesce in Dupont Circle after too long an absence  recently and really enjoyed my fish lunch there. And the Oval Room near the real Oval Room is always a treat. You might even catch sight of a VIP there -- other than the birthday girl, of course!

Hi Tom, I used RW as an excuse to visit Fiola again. I had been there previously and had been impressed with the food and service. Unfortunately, this time around I had a very disappointing experience. First, the RW menu was very limited (and different than what was posted online). Second, the service was very lacking. We felt like we were trying to be rushed out of there as fast as possible. Disappointing to say the least, esp. after my first visit. Needless to say, I will NOT be returning to Fiola or recommending it after this subpar experience.

I'm sorry to hear that about one of our more glam places to eat in Washington.

Hi Tom - thanks for taking my question. I was recently going out to a nice dinner with a friend, and, as I've been watching my calories, called ahead to ask if they knew approximate calorie counts in some of their dishes. I didn't expect them to at all - I think going out to dinner you generally accept that you're not really dieting - but then I thought, if they're making all the food, shouldn't the chef have SOME idea of the nutritional value? Even though the food is just pretty good, I find myself wanting to go to Seasons 52 more often because I know what I'm getting my body into.

I'd love input from restaurants. If  the good-for-you Seasons 52 can offer calorie counts, why couldn't an independent restaurant?  (In advance of any answers, I suspect there's not a lot of demand for such information.)

Love your chats. Heading to San Francisco for a long weekend in October. Any updates to your 2009 postcard? thanks.

I had fun at the much-hyped Mission Chinese back in February and thought the food and the service at Park Tavern in North Beach were worth my time. (Sorry, I don't have my file in front of me or I'd offer more specifics.)

I'm trying to make brunch plans for this Saturday, but I'm having trouble coming up with a good restaurant. We both living in Arlington, but are happy to travel into DC. A few limitations include one vegetarian, metro accessible, and a person with an injured foot that can't do stairs or very limited stairs. Where would you go?

Ardeo + Bardeo, which serves excellent salads -- chickpeas with lemon zest, beets with sour cherries -- is right near the Cleveland Park metro stop. Hank's Oyster Bar -- the new one, on the Hill -- might also work;  it offers French toast with bananas, a few egg dishes and granola for your vegetarian companion.  And don't forget the large and airy and delicious Zaytinya, one of my fall backs,  near the Gallery Place metro stop.

Dear Tom, Why don't restaurants take the time to clean the walls next to their tables? It is unappetizing -- to say the least -- to see the sauces, gravies and bits of food left by previous diners clinging to the walls and their decorations. I have seen this repeatedly in both high end and modestly priced restaurants. If they can't maintain the public dining space, what does it say about the cleanliness of the kitchen? Ellen Alexandria

I've noticed this problem, too, a lot. Whoever is in charge of cleaning the restaurant needs to wipe down more than just the seats and tables, and a manager or waiter should take it upon himself to inspect each setting before service.

Hi Tom - I'm heading to Birch and Barley for the first tonight and am pretty excited. Any tips on what food to order and how to navigate that massive beer list? Thanks!

These days, the beer program is the best part of Birch & Barley, whose chefs seem to be cooking in place:  I was recently surprised at how little the menu had changed since my last visit, a year ago (and what I had wasn't nearly as exciting). 


That said, try to request a few minutes with beer sommelier Greg Engert, who supervises the suds for all the Neighborhood Restaurant Group establishments.

I was surprised by your positive review. Maybe it's because I hate waiting in line, but I was annoyed by the too-cute process for getting the pizza. The wait was 30 minutes to order and there were only probably 10-12 people in front of me. Then, yes, the pizza cooks super fast, but I was watching it sit on a counter while I waited for all the post prep that has to go on. By the time I got my pizza it was cold. I heated it up and it was delicious, but what a crappy process to get it. Great pizza, crappy experience.

I didn't so much review the signature product at H &pizza as I flagged the attention the new business is paying to the deaf community.  I agree, it's kind of a pain waiting in line!

2 weeks ago I ate at the Crystal Thai in Arlington, VA. They charged 20% tip over the gross amount of the bill (tax included). Because I was inviting a group of people I felt not comfortable to confront them. Can they charge without my permission (20% or 18%)? Is it legal to charge the tip for the taxes also? It was expensive!

You don't say how large your group was; a party of six or more generally includes a service charge.

You could have pulled a server aside and made your point without too much commotion, I bet.


Tom - Having trouble locating your food travel guide. We are flying to London tonight! Do you have any recommendations on what to eat? We are pretty much adventurous eaters so would love to try some local foods as well as anything else. And what type of food should we be looking for? I am not familiar with British cuisine. Looking for both high dining and cheap eats. Thank you!

Hopefully you can peruse my Postcard from London before jetting off today. Lucky you!

Tom, thank you for all you do for us. I'm heading to Carmines in a few weeks for a group outing. I've been there once before and it was fine, but excessive. How do you recommend approaching the menu with a small group of 10 or so people. Thanks!

I'd probably order no more than four entrees for your group. Everything at Carmine's is, as you already know, super-sized.  Pace yourself.

Tom, am I the only one that is taken aback at the price of cocktails? Paying $12-14 dollars per drink seems excessive and unnecessary. I am an amateur mixologist at home, so I know what the high end alcohol and mixers used cost retail, and the markup just seems outrageous. What are your thoughts?

One of the reasons I like Liberty Tavern so much is because the Arlington restaurant makes one of my favorite libations, a Hemingway daiquiri, for under two digits. And it's a serious cocktail.


When you're purchasing something in a restaurant, bear in mind you are paying not just for the product, but for the talent that goes into it, the special ingredients that may well cost a small fortune, the stemware, which could be vintage and must be washed by hand -- a lot of things.


Still, I sympathize, and I'd love to hear from the members of the industry on why drinks seem to be getting pricier.

I have a friend who cannot eat cumin; it causes digestive upsets for her. I normally agree with you, Tom, but I do think there are more such people around that you could make allowances for.

And I do, I do!

I think you'd be setting restaurants up for far more responsibility than a staff could handle if, say, they cook like most people and don't measure every tablespoon of oil or pat of butter (which can throw fat and calorie counts off). What if the cut of beef is a bitter fattier than the one they used as their baseline for calculating the nutritional value. They would then be responsible for the information they are putting out there and, if this audience is any indication, will be lambasted for making the tiniest of mistakes. Order grilled fish and steamed veggies and you'll be fine.

Or just a smaller cut of beef! Or salad instead of fries! Or fruit for dessert! Or bread with butter! Or ... no bread!


Most of us have much more control over our diets -- heck, our lives -- than we believe to be true.

I think chefs do not need to provide, or feel obligated to provide, such information. They can tell diners the ingredients in the food and how it is prepared, but the actual count is (a) a function of how much is put on the plate, and (b) how much the diner puts in his or her mouth.

Thanks for er, weighing in.

Tell the manager about these clueless servers. I'm shocked that they thought it was OK to say that.

I agree. Because wouldn't most restaurants want to sell more rather than less food and drink?  Those appetizers can add up, after all.

Hi Tom: How far ahead would you call the chef at a restaurant to discuss detailed food restrictions? I have to attend a series of lunches for work and would like to minimize the disruption at the table. Unfortunately, it's not just "I can't eat x or y" but down to being able to eat only certain brands of certain ingredients, due to how they are processed. How do I best navigate this?

I'd call as soon as you know where you're going to be dining and again a day ahead of the visit. Restaurants get lots of calls, as you might imagine, and things can fall through the cracks. The last thing you want is a plate of food you can't eat, right?

I read your review on Bandolero and agree with your review. I have personally dined there three times and agree the place is dark, EXTREMELY loud to the point where I lost my voice trying to converse with the person at the other end of the table (party of 6) I am suprised you did give it two stars. I would have given it 1.5. There are way more misses on that menu than there are hits. There is no consistency coming from the kitchen. One night the crab taco was on point the next experience it was stale taco shells with no heat. The Goat Nachos are a complete fail. the cheese had formed a shell on top of the chips that you could lift off and if one wanted could have worn as a hat. Now, I do applaud Isabella for striking while the iron is hot and expanding his business and wanting to grow his restaurant empire but at the same time I feel he is expanding too quickly for his own good. He is a talented chef but he should be more focused on making these two places the best they can be before rushing to open another spot (14th & U). If I remember correctly his mentor Jose Andres for the longest period of time only had Jaleo and Zaytinya before he want on an expansion spree.

 Mike Isabella is a talented chef. I loved the stuff he did at Zaytinya.


I liked most of what I had at Bandolero -- slightly different concept, of course, and I didn't have the goat dish  --  including the exceptional cocktails, which are certainly part of the experience.


But I hated entering that dark cave, and worse was the noise at full tilt. Lest you think I'm an old joy-kill, I went one visit with a 20something party girl (okay, my niece) who also couldn't wait to leave because of the intensity of the black and the din.


The same thing you do at any restaurant... be glad nobody was hurt and you had a wonderful meal. Gah. Your wife is fine. You wife's meal wasn't ruined. Your wife's clothes weren't ruined. Comped is short for compensated. What do you - or more specifically your wife - need to be compensated for? I'd hate to be a restauranteur.

Me too! You're at the mercy of sooo maaaany people!


The original poster sounds straight-up, though. I can sniff would-be restaurant robbers from miles away after all these years.

I don't like "Indian" food either, but what I really mean is that I don't like the typical fare served here in the U.S. And what I really mean is that I don't like food with soft textures (like daal) that gets mushed together with other foods and eaten mashed in bread. But guess what? India is huge. There is an incredible variety of cuisine. Sometimes, you just have to know what to ask for. For me, it's pani puri (gol guppas). Yum!

Thanks for the input. Much obliged.

Tom, What do you know about Pulpo, located in Cleveland Park? I have the opportunity to buy a half-price coupon to dine there. Thanks!

Let's put it this way:  My one meal there was so disappointing -- the signature octopus looked like a prop from an old sci-fi movie, the ceviches were a travesty  -- I didn't even bother to write it up as a First Bite preview. 

So a dinner has an excellent meal at Fiola, and likely sees no reason to post about it here. Has a poor restaurant week experience, posts to make sure the world knows poster will "NOT" return or recommend. Nothing like the internet, huh?

I think Fiola gets plenty of attention here -- mostly positive -- but I hear ya about the kkkk-krazy Internetz. 

Can't imagine a visit to Charleston without dining at Hominy Grill. It was relatively unknown -- except to locals -- when I was first there several years ago. Better known now -- and for good reason. To me it's quintessential Charleston.

I breakfasted and lunched thee years ago, for a longago Postcard, and agree with you about its merits.

ciao Tomaso, You might already have touched on this, but I have been out of the country for a while. How do you like the recently redone Jaleo downtown? I am guessing the food is more or less the same, so I mean with regards to the atmosphere. I used to like to meet friends at the bar and relax, sometimes watch a ball game on the bar tv. Does the new Jaleo still have a bar area that is similar to the old one? The old setup reminded me a bit of the bars in Granada and Sevilla. ciao, bar-guy

I re-reviewed the Spanish small plates purveyor in my most recent spring guide.  It's only getting better with age.

Could you start noting in your reviews a restaurant's accessibility for people in wheelchairs or otherwise mobility handicapped?

I used to offer that feature with my column, but I think it's up to the individual to call the restaurant in advance.  People have different requirements, after all.

I recommend visiting an outlet of Ottolenghi (there are several) for a selection of awesome salads and cold and hot dishes, for eating in or taking out. It's expensive but so worth it. For cheap eats on the go, I like the West Cornwall Pasty Company, for a traditional pasty (a pastry pocket filled with meat and/or vegetables). It's a chain and commonly found in train stations.

Thanks for adding to the list.

For the London-bound traveler: my wife and I just returned from 10 days in London and can suggest a number of great restaurants, including Trishna for top-rate Indian (think Rasika), Moro for Moroccan and Andalusian-inspired British cooking, Hunan for a creative tasting menu (the maitre 'd asks diners what they don't like and then a series of 15 or 20 creatively cooked small dishes begin to appear: think of a Hunan version of Komi), Cotidie in Marylebone High Street for elegant and creative Italian, or The Ledbury for creative modern British Cooking.

Maybe I should think about hopping on tonight's flight, too!  Sounds like a delicious itinerary.

Did you ever contact them to verify the incident? Or merely to see if they had a manager named Jose Belloni aka Joe Baloney? Just curious......

I did not, because the question came to me while the chat was live. I appreciate your sense of caution, though! I almost always investigate stories/rumors like that ahead of 11 a.m. on Wednesday.   (That, in part, is what sets the Washington Post apart from you-know-what.)

Had a very satisfying if not adventurous meal at LIttle Fountain Cafe last night. The food is well-prepared and the venue is lovely and quiet. Have you been, Tom?

Years ago. It's fallen off my radar.

Sounds like a new waiter to me who did not do the math of the total number of dishes and the size of the table. It is also a learning experience for the OP. If you are ordering six dishes between two people at a small table, you should know you should space it out. I know several people who order only appetizers as their meal. They usually order two as an appetizer, then say they want the others as their meal.

I like the strategy: two apps followed by two apps.

I think there would be demand if people knew they could get it, and knew why they need to ask. I've been participating in some fitness forums recently, and a lot of people are under the impression that foods are prepared according to some "standard recipe," and the calories in one cook's preparation of spaghetti and meatballs is pretty much the same as another's. Of course that's not true at all, and I'm starting to wonder how many diets fail because people count calories as though every food is prepared according to some low-cal recipe they've seen.

All true. One of the hardest details to nail in a restaurant is consistency. The best kitchens can turn out dishes that are mirrors of each other.

When writing in a comment about poor service, or a food issue at a restaurant, why do so many people deliberately leave out the name of the establishment? We're all here to find out about the restaurants about town, and would be aided by actually knowing what happened where. I understand that we don't want to castigate a place for one bad night, but maybe we're all going to the same places. Maybe there is a theme here. Is there an etiquette I'm missing? I don't want to unfairly demonize any restaurants, but it would be more helpful to know where you guys are eating.

I like naming names, too, as long as the poster backs up a rant or a rave with documentation: details. Just saying the service was "awful" or the food was "bad" is unhelpful -- and unfair to the restaurant, frankly.

So this time I'd like to rave about Elisir. Was there Saturday night, had the tasting menu and was blown away. I can't remember being as delighted with a new restaurant since I visited Komi for the first time. Loved Elisir.

What specifically did you like about the experience? (See above.)

One of the biggest driver of prices--any prices--is what people are willing to pay. If enough people pay $15 for a cocktail, the going rate for cocktails becomes $15, whether the preparation and service costs $1 or $12.

Correct. If nobody paid $17 for a drink (as I did just last weekend, and nowhere fancy) cocktail prices would likely come down.

Yet another reason that I still miss Rock Creek in Bethesda -- the food was great (not so at its successor, Newton's Table), and they had calorie and other nutritional information on a sheet at the back of the menu, so you could make informed choices if you wanted to (and there were many healthy dishes) or ignore it completely if you preferred. Sigh...

RIP Rock Creek.

The last time I was in Paris a few years ago, a simple gin and tonic at Le Bristol Hotel bar was 23 Euros - about $30 at the time.


You mentioned last week that if people want restaurants in NoVA reviewed, we should tell you of the good ones. If you're looking for a neighborhood place with great sandwiches & pizza, there are 4 locations of Santini's Deli, and it's as close to NY as you'll find in NoVa. Check it out. Also, a little place called Delia's in Sterling does a great gyro and Sweet Ginger in Vienna does great asian & sushi.

Bless you.

Good, successful restaurants are conscious of how much of each ingredient goes into a dish. It's called cost control. Executive chefs might find that the product of their line chefs gets more consistent if they made calorie counts available--use them to discourage unauthorized innovation. A simple disclaimer that "nutritional values are approximate" would suffice to cover minor variations.

Another thought.

Sounds like it was designed to be a nightclub rather than a restaurant. If that's the crowd he's looking for...

 ... he got it! I realize Georgetown tends to skew young, but still.

Years ago (15? before kids, anyway) my husband and I were in Asheville. A friend had told us we had to go to the Grove Park Inn and enjoy the sunset with a glass of wine. Well, the wine was fine and the autumn sunset spectacular over the Smokies, but our waitress was tres annoyed that we weren't having dinner (the deck was almost empty and we weren't holding up a table that needed to be used). She sniffed when delivering the glasses and simply never returned. I wanted to stiff the place, but my husband simply laid down a Benjamin (more than twice the price of the wine) as we left and suggested that might be a better lesson than anger and confrontation. I don't know if it worked, but it did save the evening (with dinner at an establishment downtown) for us.

Your mate sounds like one awesome dude. Can we clone him?

Just want to share a different experience that was handled so well at the Bombay Club. Years ago, I went there with a friend for Sun. brunch, and the coffee afterwards was served by the waiter with a French press--which had a small crack. When he pushed the plunger, the coffee pot exploded all over me. I was not hurt, but they were *so* solicitous! They comped our entire meal and told me to send the bill for the dry cleaning. The cost of the cleaning was minimal, so I mailed them the bill and told them to give the money to our waiter (who was so traumatized that he wouldn't do the press at the table any more). They called later to thank me for my "kind gesture," and then I received a gift certificate for brunch for 4. When we redeemed it, we felt like VIPs--and no coffee mishaps. It reminds me that I haven't been there in a while, and love their gracious service.

I *love* service stories such as that one. Bravo, Bombay Club! A class act, for sure. (And how cool of you to be so, well, cool about the incident.)

Specifically.... The service was very nice but laid back. The Hudson Valley Brulee was out of this world. The hand made spaghetti melted in our mouthes. The soup with the red pepper gelatin and lobster was amazing. The wine pairing were superb and we thought the price was great. A seven course tasting menu for $75 seemd like a good value. Less enthused with the pheasant and dessert but still good. We kept saying wow with each dish until the last two which were good, but didn't blow us away. We left feeling like we'd made a great find and my wife is taking friends back with her in a couple of weeks.

NOW you're talkin' (typin')!

If you're that serious about a reduction diet, spaghetti and meatballs is probably not a good choice. If you stick to grilled, steamed, and unsauced, you're probably going to be okay.

But everything in moderation, right?

Hi Tom -- First, I'm so delighted to have Eamonn's and TNT on Columbia Pike. I've been twice already! Second, I want to plug Karamara Ethiopian Restaurant a little further west on the Pike. Delicious food and the nicest service I've ever had (probably not the best service, but they were so darn nice and friendly that it was such a pleasant experience). That spot where Sangam used to be is like death, so I'm really hoping they survive!

The new Eamonn's I know. Karamara is new to me. Appreciate the tip.

The waiter was no doubt thinking of the nightmare if he hadn't called 911 and there actually had been a serious problem. I wouldn't blame the poor guy.

And I'm not.

Hey Tom, I am looking for a cheapish, sit-down restaurant near GW tonight. District Commons and Tonic always tend to be more expensive than you'd anticipate and I hate Founding Farmers. Any ideas?

How about some gumbo or a po'boy at the nearish Bayou on Penn?

Hi Tom, Hoping for a great recommendation from you... My parents will celebrate their 50th anniversary on Dec. 30 (the day before new year's eve, thankfully!). I'm trying to find a nice place for about 12 people to gather to celebrate (either on the 30th or the 29th). Ideally, it will have a small room we could use for the event, primarily because one of the attendees will be 2.5, and while he's well-behaved, he can only sit happily for so long. I'm hopeful that with an out of the way table/room, we could set him on the floor with some toys for some extra happy time from him. (We are willing to get a babysitter, though, if nothing comes to mind for you, but the grandparents would like him to be there if possible.) We'd prefer Northern Virginia (from Arlington to Clifton), though we would consider southern Maryland (Bethesda side). Possiby DC if there is close parking (several attendees can't walk far or do stairs). The majority of the attendees prefer familiar cuisines like American, Italian or French. I think Indian, Mexican, etc, would be too spicy/exotic for the majority. I appreciate any recommendation you might have!! Thanks!

In Washington, the Italian-themed Bibiana has a generous space behind some beaded curtains and J & G Steakhouse has a semi-private room that a friend raved about it to me (she took her tribe there for a spring graduation).

There is a great little neighborhood place near my office called Axian. They have amazing BiBimBop, Noodle Soup and Yakisoba. They are relatively new and have great Yelp reviews, but I have never heard you mention if you have been there. Check it out. The chef is really friendly (she makes all of the sauces and noodle broth from scratch), the place is really clean and nice and the food is excellent. I hear the sandwiches are good too, but I just get the Asian food. Have you been, but chosen not to write about it? Check it out.

Love Korean cooking. Thanks for bringing Axian Food Factory to my attention.  (It's located at 1915 I ST. NW)


That's a wrap for today, folks. Thanks for spending some time with me. I'll be back here to take your questions and comments Wednesday, Sept. 12.  Ciao!

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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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