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

Jan 22, 2014

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

Find all of Tom Sietsema's Washington Post work at

What would you do if you saw someone so drunk they had to be carried out of the bar and subsequently fell flat on the sidewalk outside of a very reputable 4-star restaurant?

What would I do? Probably help the guy up and call him a cab.


What would I think? A responsible party inside the restaurant should have noticed the gentleman's intoxitcated state and cut him off.  But I don't have any details to go on. Was he tipsy before he even got to the bar, for instance?  Was his drunkeness apparent inside?



Brrrrr. Good morning, everyone. I'm just back from sunny San Francisco, where I spent the week checking out some of the new hot spots (Cavalier, Trick Dog, Tosca, TBD) and catching up with some long-time favorites (Bar Tartine, Original Joe's, Zuni Cafe). I'll be filing a Postcard from San Francisco for the Travel section mid-February.


I'm curious where and what you all ate yesterday.  The snow storm prompted a cancellation from the restaurant I had booked at, so I ended up going home and heating up some chicken soup my SO had stowed in the freezer. That and some corn muffins and a couple of glasses of viognier and I was a happy camper (if a writer on a tighter deadline).


IN THE NEWS: My preview of the new Fainting Goat on U St. NW ... chef shuffles at both Blue Duck Tavern and the forthcoming Fiola Mare from Fabio Trabocchi ... changes at Bluejacket, near the Navy Yard ... a look at the new Republic in Takoma Park, from chef Jeff Black ... a sneak peak at Joe's Stone Crab on 15th St. NW.



Hi Tom. Have you been to this new modern Mexican down by Nat's Park yet?

I have. Initial reaction: Someone needs to remove the salt shaker from the kitchen. Everything I had there was doused with the stuff.

Thank you for continuing to provide such a great forum for discussion! We jumped on the change for a Restaurant Week reservations at Rasika (a restaurant week frequent independently of RW), and we were actually...really disappointed. How do you describe menu items - what is essential and what can you leave out? Our table took issue with a dessert described as a 'Molton Chocolate Cake' - our expectations? A warm, rich, chocolate cake with a gooey center. The reality? A hard, cold, orange-flavored chocolate cake. Should the restaurant have mentioned the orange flavor in the menu? Should the waiter? The desserts remained untouched on our table, and our waiter joked that 'we must be full,' and we said, 'actually, no - we didn't enjoy the unexpected orange flavor.' Our waiter said - oh, it's orange? I had no idea. It was a very un-rasika like meal!

I looked for molten chocolate cake on Rasika's website but didn't find it, or anything close to resembling  the dessert.  Maybe it was just a RW selection? 


Whatever the case, if the confection was described as "molten," you're right to expect a warm and gooey center.  And if an orange flavor was part of the deal, that should have been flagged as well.  Not everyone likes his chocolate messed/mixed with.


As for your service, the waiter doesn't sound like anyone I've ever encountered at the four-star Indian destination.

Hi Tom, First, thank you so much for your hard work and honest reviews. Consider me a true fan. I do note that you have been favorably impressed with The Source, and I don’t understand it. I’ve eaten there three times and was disappointed each time. I gave it one last chance for lunch during the last Restaurant Week. My appetizer was three steamed dumplings of a quality I would expect from the Chinese carry-out, floating in soy sauce and spiced with a few dried red pepper flakes. My entrée was “Braised Spare Ribs with Root Vegetables.” It was a bowl of thick brown gravy with a few small pieces of carrots, onions, broccoli and cauliflower; no rib and no recognizable meat. The carrot cake was the best of the meal, and it was dry. Before you ask, no, I didn’t complain; the noise level was so high it would not have been possible to do so without causing a major scene. I just left disgusted and promising myself to never go back. I usually agree with your reviews, but I just don’t get The Source.

You must have missed my most recent update on the pan-Asian restaurant, which didn't make my 2013 fall dining guide. I think the experience has become really expensive, the cooking less careful.

Tom, this past weekend was the perfect example of why I am a huge fan of you. My husband and I wanted a low-key date in the Dupont area and I searched your past chats for a few recommendations. we ended up doing a HH at DGS - drinks, atmosphere and loaded latke was all perfect, then dinner at Mourayo. the octopus appetizer at Mourayo deserves a special shout-out, it came in a spiral on top of an inky sauce and with a salsa and fava dip that was fresh and a perfect taste and texture compliment. We don't have a lot of money to spend on evenings out, so when we decide to splurge its so wonderful to get your recommendations and know we'll have a nice evening. Keep up the great work!

Your evening sounds like fun! Thanks for the feedback and the kind words.

Tom, what do you think of Mandalay DC's decision to only offer a tasting menu- I went and thought the food was good, but I don't want 7 courses, and it was very expensive. There was NO ONE else in the restaurant the whole time I was there. I think they would do better to move to a traditional menu style. Have you been? I want them to succeed, badly, but I think the concept is weak 1) in that location, and 2) at that price.

 I totally agree with you.


I had a luscious meal at Mandalay shortly after the Burmese restaurant opened, but like you, my party was the only one dining there, and like you, I thought the many courses were too much food.  The owner ought to rethink the tasting menu concept there.

This may have been answered (had trouble searching) or not be of enough general interest, but I'm desperate: daughter wants to dress up and take half a dozen friends for a fancy 16th birthday dinner, NoVa or DC. Problem is that fancy places serve fancy food, and not all her friends are that adventurous. Thought the Doubletree's Skydome in Crystal City would have great views, but the menu was a little too eclectic, probably to weed out teens, and I hate to find out that their food was just politely pushed around on their plates. Any place that comes to mind with dress-up atmosphere but Clyde's/Arties-type menus? This would also be a good trial run for some relatives due to visit later in the year.

701 in Penn Quarter strikes me as a restaurant the girls might enjoy. The dinner choices include roast chicken, steak and pastas (with contemporary touches) and the restaurant has live music Thursday through Saturday.


Hipper, in Cleveland Park:  Ripple, which is headed by a talented female chef, Marjorie Meek-Bradley, and has arty, semi-private spaces available for parties.

My husband & I had just driven from Miami to Orlando and obtained a 6:30 reservation at the California Grille atop the Contemporary in Disneyworld. (Side note: the dress code had been relaxed to resort casual but the prices had not been correspondingly reduced!) Our server was friendly, helpful, and very chatty to us and to all his tables. Because he took his time getting orders in, I figure we were there at least half an hour longer than we needed to be. We did enjoy the food and the magnificent view of the Magic Kingdom, but we were also tired from the drive, which had included a stop at Lake Mary for some business. We did nothing and gave him a good tip, but should we have perhaps mentioned it to someone on the way out, or commented by email, or something? Others may have felt the same way, and it's also to the restaurant's advantage to turn over the tables more quickly.

I think the location, in Disneyworld, suggests that people might be interested in a leisurely meal.  Sounds as if your server was good, but you didn't care for the chattiness, in which case, you could have let him know, up front, that you'd had a long day and didn't want to linger.

Tom, I'm a LONG time reader, but I violated a Sietsema Principle last night. My penance is to confess to the chatters. Had dinner at a reasonably upscale steak house, and ordered a $60 bottle of wine. There was a faint waft of wet leaves as I took my first sip, but I thought it might clear....and I didn't say anything. Dinner went on, we each had a glass, but the corked taste persisted. I finally ended up asking the waitress to remove it and bring another bottle....but it was 2/3 gone. They were gracious, but expecting the restaurant to comp it at that point is, of course, just not right. So the waitress felt bad, the experience was soured, and I paid for an off wine. One of Tom's top five rules! If something's not right...speak up. And speak up early, don't wait! There....I feel better.

Wine changes over time (in the bottle, in the glass).  On those occasions where I'm suspect of what I've ordered, I'll have a trusted companion try the wine, too, and invite the server or sommelier to taste. No one wants to sip an inferior wine with dinner, right?

Hi Tom, Thanks as always for doing these chats! I'm planning a big splurge dinner for a birthday at the end of February. I have reservations at Minibar -- where neither of us has eaten -- but am hesitant because your last review didn't sound very impressed, and they just raised the price. I thought about trying Rogue 24, but am nervous with the lawsuits that the chef will be gone by the end of February. What would you recommend? The birthday diner is a very good home cook, and I want to take him somewhere where he can't end the meal by saying it was very good, but he could do something similar at home. Thanks!

I'd opt for the four-course menu at Rogue 24 and splurge on some of the restaurant's great cocktails.  And I say that only because I haven't been to Minibar since my initial review, and I appreciate the streamlined option chef R.J. Cooper offers in addition to his lengthier tasting menus.

Tom, you used to rave about Breadline, saying it had some of the best sandwiches and soups around. However, I haven't heard you give it a shout out in quite some time, if not years. Has your opinion changed?

The owner/master baker changed. Mark Furstenberg hasn't been involved in the business since 2005.

From all the complaints I've seen, I really don't get the point of RW. You might get to try a fancier restaurant than you usually frequent, but the crowds and the fact that what you see on the menu may very well not represent the usual offerings -- I just don't think it's worth the trouble.

It pays to do some research and find out what restaurants are featuring for the winter and summer promotions. I'd run from a place offering, say, a choice between soup or salad as an appetizer, which to me shows zero creativity or an openess to new guests.

Hi Tom, Going to Vegas for the first and probably last time. I want to maximize my dining experiences. I have dinners covered, but I'm having trouble finding big deal places open for lunch. You got anything?

Lunch, especially if you hope to avoid buffets, is hard to find in Sin City. A notable exception: Estiatorio Milos in the Cosmopolitan, which offers a three-course lunch deal for $22.14 seven days a week.

I assume you saw Peter Wells' review of the new Richard restaurant. Your article seemed kind in comparison. Did you know that Wells came to DC to compare Central with the new place?

I did, but only after the fact.


Pete and I reviewed two different places, however. I looked at the Gallery and its tasting menu, while he focused on the more casual bistro. Both restaurants are near each other in the Palace hotel.

My daughter had her 16 party at the Mansion O and their menu is very teen friendly but the place is fancy. Mansion O is on the expensive side. The alternative is where i took my daughter and her 7 friends recently for her 17th. Farmers Fishers and Bakers in Georgetown was excellent offering "adult" food and teen friendly food. We offered the girls to order what ever they wanted and most ordered pizza, burgers, etc. Can't change kids.

Ha! Thanks for the suggestions.

Answering your question: warm slow cooked oatmeal with toasted hazelnuts and cocoa powder for breakfast, green smoothie (kale) for lunch, pan fried salmon with creamed spinach and steamed broccoli. We considered getting the pizza at Whole Foods, but decided against it! It was a good thing we shopped over the weekend, and it was nice to be able to cook leisurely on a weekday!

Is this the First Lady chiming in?

Hi, Tom, Welcome back! I wrote in a few weeks ago with a question about where to take my wife for our anniversary, and you recommended Iron Gate. Thank you for the recommendation, it was wonderful! We started at the bar and tried some really interesting cocktails first, who knew that a cocktail could include greek yogurt and taste that good? The restaurant itself was great; loved the building, the room was warm and welcoming. They sat us next to the fireplace, which was very romantic and nice on a cold night. We got the full tasting menu with the wine pairings, which was excellent, but the best part of the entire experience was the service. They took such great care of us! The staff was perceptive, warm, attentive, omnipresent but invisible. The sommelier managed the delicate balance of giving us enough information on each wine but not taking so long that it felt like an interruption, which I appreciate. We actually had an error with a dish (too salty) and 1) they noticed my wife wasn't eating it and 2) immediately asked if they could fix it. I couldnt have asked for a better resolution, they handled it flawlessly. Our favorite food/beverage items were the greek yogurt cocktail, the sparkling wine from Greece that was grown on the side of a volcano, and the lamb three ways (ragu, chop & sausage). They had a nice flight of wines paired with the dishes; I rarely try Greek/ Southern Italian wines, so that was a nice change. Sorry to gush, but wanted you to know how much we enjoyed the restaurant and thank you again for your suggestion! Also, a few weeks ago in this chat the topic came up about how restaurants treat different types of people--I saw the staff treat everyone to the same flawless attention, including a young LGBT mixed race couple. We'll be back to enjoy many more dinners at Iron Gate.

I think you just made Iron Gate's day.  Thanks for writing (and making me hungry).

The other night, I was eating at a restaurant where you order and pay at the counter and they bring the food to your table. I realized that one of the reasons why I enjoyed eating there was because it was faster than another place with the same basic food where you order at the table and the wait staff brings the bill at the end of the meal. Since I ordered right when I arrived and didn't have to wait for the check at the end of the meal, it was 20 minutes faster. Since I often dine alone, I don't need to sit around waiting for the staff to make time to visite my table. I wish there were more places like this.

The issue I have with that style of service is it requires diners to return to the counter if they need something extra (a side dish, dessert, wine, whatever).  In such situations, pre-paying ends up being less convenient.

We went to Mintwood for RW and had a great time. They offered quite a lot of choices (most of which were on the regular menu), so it actually felt like a decent value. Everything was delicious, but sadly I don't know that we'll be back. Even though the dining room was not totally full, it was so, so, so loud. They have foam under the tables, but it doesn't seem to be helping. I love that you include that info in your reviews, but I mostly just hope that the trend in restaurant design swings back to materials that are quieter.

I'm going to start wearing my Bose headphone to dinner more often.  The noise levels just seem to be getting worse ...

I have a friend who is having surgery today. She'll be home tonight, but won't be up and about for a week or so. I was thinking that if I was in her position, a delivery meal would probably be most appreciated. Can you recommend anywhere that I might be able to get her a gift certificate for a good delivery meal? I live in Arlington, but generally am not wowed by the delivery options.

What a thoughtful gesture.


Any Arlington readers care to weigh in with ideas for delivery sources?

We made ginger cookies and ate them with hot gluhwein.

Ginger cookies! With spiced mulled wine!  You're my kind of revelers.


(I had a hot dog and fries yesterday for lunch, at Central.)



When I was just out of college, I tried a lot of places during RW. The ones I liked were the first places to make the regular rotation as my dining out budget expanded. I occasionally do RW as a means to try a new place, but definitely not as much as I used to. We all know that RW is not a normal week for restaurants, but a good restaurant doesn't usually become terrible during RW, and vice versa.

Well said!

Hi Tom! I'm looking for a place to help throw a jack and jill bridal shower, for about 30 to 40 people, sometime in April. My brother and his fiancee are on a budget, so it seems like something that doesn't charge a room rental fee but instead a food minimum might be the best idea, but I'm open to any suggestions you might have. It'd probably be a Saturday late afternoon (trying to avoid brunch and dinner crowds), so bar isn't a huge priority, though it would be nice to have some beer/wine/champagne available. Thank you!

Have you tried Comet Ping Pong up on Conn. Ave? Pizza and beer could be fun. 


I'm unsure where you hope to stage this.

I was a bit confused by the item in today's paper. I thought Cathal Armonstrong was no longer involved with Society Fair, but know of his involvement with Eamonn's (and have gone to the one in Old Town). Could you clarify the ownership/management structure of the establishments?

Armstrong is very much involved with Society Fair.  You must be thinking of Virtue Feed & Grain, which the chef opened but now has no stake in.

I always look forward to RW and always enjoy it. This time it was twice to Vidalia and once to Range. Both had very extensive menus, as usual, and despite the crowds, both maintained excellent service with a smile. Apparently not many folks are aware that Vidalia does a mini-RW year-round with a 3 course lunch for $19.90 (plus occasional supplements) with 3 choices in each course. I think it gives the chef a chance to try some new things and is always a good value. They post the menu on Monday on their Facebook page. Looking forward to the summer RW already.

Thanks for the feedback.

Try small caterers. i have a friend who is a caterer and you can specify dietary restrictions etc and have them make food for a day/week etc. Just an idea.

Great idea! Can you share a name or two, though?

How about The Majestic or Evening Star in Alexandria; Tallula or Eventide in Arlington. My recollection of these places is that they offer approachable food and destination dining.

I don't think of Evening Star as being particularly fancy, and the cooking at Tallula has been mediocre (well, when I was in last, about six months ago).  Eventide could be fun. So could Majestic.

We had dinner at Aqua Al 2 on Friday. I noticed that the wine we ordered was not the 07 in the menu, but a 2010. I alerted the waiter to the difference, wanting to know what was up. Anyway, it was a mistake on the menu. We were fine. The wine was terrific. The manager and waiter went to waaaay out of their way to make it up to us. Comped dessert and they offered the same wine 2006 for free. We declined as we were almost done with the bottle and it seemed like overkill. They promised us the bottle for free on our next visit. Just wanted your diners to know how one restaurant handled a tough situation and how much we love going there.

With wine, a few years can make a big difference. Interesting to hear how the Italian restaurant on the Hill handled your situation. Very generously, I'd say!


Speaking of going out of one's way for customers, a colleague told me he recently went to Barcelona (the new restaurant on 14th St.), where a server accidentally spilled water all over one shoe.  Not only did the restaurant go across the street to replace the wet socks, it comped his dinner *and* gave him a gift certificate. Makes me like the restaurant despite its food.

Hi Tom. I'm a big fan! This is the first year my partner and I have been together on Valentine's Day (after years of dating) so I want to make it a special night. The caveat - he's vegetarian. It doesn't have to be a vegetarian-only place, but something that has more than one veggie option. Any suggestions would be appreciated!

I'd gravitate to the bar at Rasika, Zaytinya or Jaleo, all of which have a nice buzz and plenty on the menu for those who don't eat meat.

Tom, no question, just wanted to sing your praises! I managed to nab a reservation last week to Coqueta in SF based on your recommendation. Absolutely fantastic! The service, the food, the whole experience was top notch with out being pretentious. Jose Andres has some serious competition (and frankly has been surpassed in my humble opinion) in Coqueta. Thanks for the great recs, and keep em coming!

When were you there? I was with a table of eight just last Thursday ....

The questioner didn't mention location, but if he/she is near either Tysons or Chevy Chase, Maggiano's and Clyde's both have a variety of private rooms that would be ideal for this kind of event. Since the food at both is budget-friendly but not absolutely fabulous AND you're trying to avoid dinner, I'd opt for a cocktail party from 4-7 PM with hors d'oeuvres. To keep costs reasonable, don't do a full open bar, just beer, wine and maybe a signature cocktail or two. A lot of restaurants will jump at the chance to make some $$ during what is normally a slow time of the day on a Saturday.

Thanks for the suggestions (and again, if the OP is online now, a location would be helpful).

Orange? Is that what it was? Thanks for writing in. Far and away the worst thing I ever had at Rasika..I was wondering what the off flavor was. With that said, their RW lunches are among the best deals in the city.

At any rate, molten chocolate cakes have become so  common, I've seen them on fast-food menus.  (Did anyone ever try the standard-bearer at Jo Jo in NYC, one of the early sources of the confection?)

Anywhere in DC is fine, though if the venue was worth it, Old Town or Bethesda might be options, too. Thanks!

I'm thinking a Hilton Bros restaurant might be good, maybe Chez Billy or Brixton. Another option: the second floor of the youthful Fainting Goat.

Be careful if ordering anything fried at Jaleo... the last time I was there the waiter told me that they fry both meats and vegetables in the same fryer. In addition, I was very disappointed in Jaleo since they had taken a number of vegan items off the menu, so I didn't have that much to choose from.

Good advice. But with 70+ items on the tapas menu, I have to believe a vegetarian can still party there.

Whose cooking would you most like to be able to emulate at home, albeit presumably in a scaled-down fashion?

You mean, which chef do I wish I cooked like? I'm a big fan of  Tom Power (Corduroy), Frank Ruta (Palena),  Cedric Mauipillier (Mintwood) and Claudio Pirollo(Et Voila!) among others to numerous to list here.

Hi Tom, Taking the family to Richmond over the weekend. We'd prefer places that are family friendly. Was thinking of Comfort one night for dinner, and then a lunch at Peter Chang's place. Anything else you'd recommend? Thanks!

Here's what I dig in Richmond these days.

Tom - the link provided took me to a review with three stars. Based on my last experience there, I wouldn't give it one star. Just sayin . . . BUT - I do still very much appreciate all of your reviews.

Here's the proper link:  the Source.

Homemade soup - kimchi-tofu soup for lunch and stew made with beef cheeks, mushrooms and carrots for dinner.

Sounds perfect: heat and meat.

Most of the day - embarrassingly bad - hot cocoa (with mini-marshmallows), pumpkin pie pop tarts, left over Christmas candies, chips & dip. I didn't get my act together until dinner when I managed to make a brussels sprout and mushroom hash and roasted fingerling potatoes. By then I really needed a change of pace from a day of sugar and carbs.

I appreciate the honesty.

Braised lamb shanks, herbed spaetzle, carrot salad, focaccia, coconut cream cake with pecan ganache; was a lovely day in the kitchen. Had a J Christopher Pinot Noir and smiles at the table.

Ambitious! I'm impressed. (Got any leftovers?)

Hi Tom- I'm a huge fan and read your online chat weekly. My baby daughter moved away this year and I was very sad. I miss her immensely but I know she's following her dream. She sold everything she owned and moved to San Francisco. She has secured a job at Nico in San Francisco and told me last week she saw you. I got very excited thinking that a little part of what I like here, went to see her. Yes, I know, I was grasping but I did feel like you brought a little bit of "home" to her. By the time you may go there again, I hope my adorable-lesbian-comedian daughter will be all settled in and you can catch her performing comedy or catch her new web show.. and I'm sure if you go back to Nico, you can still see here there as well.

How did she know I was at Nico Saturday night?! What a small, small world. The restaurant has an everyone-waits-on-everyone approach to service, so surely she must have waited on me.


Everywhere I went in SF last week, I felt a DC connection. At TBD, for instance, my bar tender told me she used to cook at Bourbon Steak. Which is better, cooking or serving, I asked. "Servers make more money," she said.

Hi Tom. Why, oh why, do restaurants make the pleasure of dining out such a horrendous experience, when you have to scream at someone across the table from you to be heard? It's become awful, and I've made the executive decision *not* to go back to any restaurant that requires a bull horn to communicate. Thoughts?

I hope dozens of restaurateurs feel guilty reading your post -- and then do something about the noise pollution.

It's your hair. Your hair is legendary.

But of course!

Tuna noodle casserole with lots of peas, carrots, and onions for dinner. So warm and comforting. Added sriracha to give it a kick.

Sounds .... not like mom's version!


We put fish sauce in our chicken soup. I love the depth it gives the broth.

Recipe! Please! Meet me over at the Free Range chat and post it.

And just before we say good-bye today ...

I live in Alexandria and love all of Cathal Armstrong's offerings. I thought the item about Eamonn's in Arlington was pretty funny - it's a fish & chips place, so OF COURSE things are fried! Don't eat there everyday and enjoy it for what it is.

I know, I know, but would it kill them to offer one nice leafy green or something remotely redeeming?

Tom - One of our faves, Liberty Tavern, does a thriving carryout business, which which we partook of once - when we did not feel like dining out. Not sure if they actually deliver

Love Liberty Tavern (well, often enough).


That's a wrap for today, folks. See you back here next Wednesday, I hope.  In the meantime, stay warm & eat well.

In This Chat
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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