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

Jan 29, 2014

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

Find all of Tom Sietsema's Washington Post work at

Last review appears to be from 2005. Wondering if it's still that good. Also, what's the point of posting a menu on your web site with no prices? Maybe they only care about people for whom prices are irrelevant?


Are you looking for a singular steak house experience?   Capital Grille feels and tastes dated to me these days. Right now, the best over-all meat-and-wine program is at Bourbon Steak in Georgetown. Strong drinks, service, steaks, sides -- and more than just good beef on the menu, making the restaurant attractive to non-meat eaters.


As for CG not posting prices, I agree, the missing information is frustrating.  If it helps, with wine, tax and tip, you can generally expect to pay about $100 at most area steak houses.


THE PEOPLE HAVE SPOKEN: Following some "research with guests" at Rogue 24 this winter, chef R.J. Cooper says he's making a few tweaks at his futuristic American restaurant. Notably, he’s dropping his 16-course “Progession” menu and replacing it with a 10-dish “Jaunt.” And for the first time, he’s also opening for dinner on Sundays.


Cooper says chats with the young professionals who live nearby and frequent Rogue 24 resulted in the changes.  "We had an onslought of requests to make our craft more accessible."


The $70 Jaunt, offered every night the restaurant is open, features three snacks, four savory dishes, some cheese and two desserts. The adventurous diner with time on his hands can continue to indulge in the 24-course “Journey,” which costs $125 and takes about three hours to consume.


In reaction to diners who wanted to experience Cooper’s novelties but not stay the night, the chef instituted a four-course menu for $50 in 2012. The fixed price collection is served Sunday and Tuesday through Thursday.


Bargain-minded bar enthusiasts haven’t been left out of the fun. For them, there’s a deal called 4 X 4, staged at Rogue 24’s four-stool bar and orchestrated by “cheftender” Bryan Tetorakis. His recipe includes four snacks washed back with four drinks for (take a guess) $44.

Good morning, gang. Bring on your questions and comments.

Tom, a year or so ago you shared a recipe for one of your favorite appetizers. (It wasn't the blue cheese sticks.) I think it involved something leafy. . . . If you can figure out what I'm talking about, could I please have the recipe?

Maybe you're thinking of  the Belgian endive spears I sometimes serve at home? I don't recall publishing a recipe for the snack, but here's what I do: swab each spear with a little olive oil, add a mandarin orange or two, a crumble of feta or goat cheese and a few almond slivers. A crack of pepper is optional.  Serve the edible scoops on a tray, arranging them like petals on a flower.

Hi Tom! Someone was very kind to me this week and I would like to send them a $200 gift certificate to a nice restaurant in Virginia or DC. Can you suggest a place where $200 would make for a memorable meal for 2? Thank you so much for helping me to thank someone else! :)

Gosh, I can think of lots of places. Off the top of my head, the following restaurants come to mind: Vermilion in Old Town, Villa Mozart in Fairfax City, Bibiana downtown, Et Voila! in the Palisades, the new La Piquette near National Cathedral, Rose's Luxury on the Hill ... that enough?

Good Morning, I'll be visiting Paris in March and I would love to have a "once in a lifetime" type meal (not going to worry about cost-but will go for lunch instead of dinner). Please recommend something wonderful. Your past recommendations have always been spot on. Thanks for your help.

You're wise to dine at a temple of haute cuisine for lunch. That way, you can walk off the excess, or some of it, instead of heading straight to bed.


My last spectacular meal at a Michelin three star in France was at Le Cinq in the George V hotel.  I enjoyed it so much, I sent my parents there for their 50th anniversary.  For something more contemporary, try Spring, which is run by an American chef  and was the best meal of my trip to Paris last April.


Do any chatters care to chime in?

Heading to a warmer climate next week (thanks goodness)!! Do you or any of the chatters have suggestions for good dinners in this area? Thanks so much!

Lucky you! I've never been to Phoenix, but insiders rave about Barrio Cafe and the trail-blazing Pizzeria Bianco, among other places.

Tom- A long while ago you reported that Masala Art would open a new outpost in SW DC. Any word on when that might happen? Trekking to Tenleytown from Capitol Hill makes me so hungry I have to order twice as much rock salt and cilantro naan. As always, thanks for your great work! My friends are tired of hearing, "well, Tom Sietsema said…." Problem is, you're (almost) always right!

The owner of  Masala Art, Atul Bhola, tells me he plans to start construction on a second restaurant of the same name in SW next month and open two months later. Sounds ambitious to me, but I wish him luck.

It was no Rasika or even Masala Art, but Indian Delight closed yesterday after about 30 years in the Pavillion at the old Post Office on Pennsylvania. If you knew what to order, it was absolutely delicious. With the Trumps taking over the building to build a new hotel, everything's shutting down, and yesterday was the Shah family's last day. I'll really miss going over there mid-week, hoping that that the Wednesday special, a South Indian thali, would contain Doler Shah's incredible mirchi ka salan. All of her regulars will miss her greatly!

Thanks for sharing the news. While we're on the subject, Osteria Elisir also shuttered over the weekend.

Tom - It's been a few years since your Postcard from Portland, do you have any new info on where to eat? Do you know anything about "Beast"? Thanks!

Among the choice tables in Portland, I'm told, are Roe, The Country Cat and Clyde Common (for cocktails). I was at Beast once and didn't care for it. 

What's wrong with liking molten chocolate cake? Some restaurants, not chains usually though, make it really really really good! I'll take melted gooey chocolate over some chi chi thai-foam dessert anyday!

There's nothing wrong with enjoying chocolate cake with a liquid center.  It's just that I've eaten too many bastardized versions of the first-rate original. I seldom eat a slice that I don't compare it, unfavorably, to the classic at JoJo in New York.

Tom, I apologize as I know such topic has been discussed before. My husband and I are going to the Jefferson in Richmond this weekend as we have done many times before. We want to have dinner out Friday and Saturday but within walking distance of the hotel (or a short cab ride from).Can you or anyone recommend two places for dinner? I'm thinking mexican (great margaritas are a plus) for Friday and something a little more special (but not stuffy or too dressy) for Saturday (I'm thinking seafood/raw bar, steaks for that one). This weekend is special as we have been going through a rough time and are getting away to see if we can reconnect. Thank you!

For some inspiration, I encourage you to check out my Postcard from Richmond.  Sorry, I'm unfamiliar with the Mexican and steak scenes there.

Some friends and I went to Alba Osteria on Friday and were wildly disappointed. The food was mediocre at best - even the meatballs, which you liked, were pretty bland. The pizza was fine, but flavorless. I just felt like everything was halfway there - good idea but nothing popped. Even the ambiance felt muddled (is it supposed to feel like an upscale sports bar?). Your review seemed complimentary though - am I missing something? I just keep hearing chants of "Overrated" in my head...

Huh. Not sure what to say, other than my (multiple) meals at the new Italian outpost were really pleasing and I warmed up to the orange palette immediately.


Did you try any of the dishes I wrote about: tripe soup, rabbit salad, bruleed polenta? I agree, the pizza isn't consistent at the osteria.

The Williams-Sonoma appetizer cookbook has a variation on this, which involved chopping smoked salmon, a bell pepper, onion, and capers, and again the cracked black pepper. out of this world, and so simple.

So simple, so pretty. You can make the snack in asdvance and it doesn't require any utensils to eat.

Hi Tom! You always seem to have plans for lunch following your chat, yet I seldom if ever read anything about lunch service in your reviews. Just curious, do you head to favorite restaurants after the chat or the ones you are currently reviewing? And what are some of your current favorite places for lunch?

Where possible, I try to make one of my multiple review visits to a restaurant during lunch, because the vibe and the menu tend to be different than at dinner. Sometimes I mention the fact, sometimes I don't. It just depends.


Among the spots I've enjoyed for lunch recently are Casa Luca, Bombay Club, Zentan, Siroc and Westend Bistro.

Four snacks and four drinks? Hope nobody's driving home.

Uber to the rescue!

Nice dinner last night at Mintwood Cafe, but the maitre d' kept calling me My Dear, which is hardly the equivalent of Sir, the honorific used for my husband. I am partly just complaining and partly asking for advice - I suppose I could just loudly call him Sweetie in response, but two wrongs don't make a right. Tom, please pass the word that this type of term is not appreciated - can't he just consistently say Miss or Ma'am? This is a more universal problem than just this restaurant.

Consider your request passed along.


Restaurants, it's probably in your favor to stick to the tried-and-true words when addressing (ahem) ladies and gentlemen in your establishments.

Hi Tom. I'm submitting this question early as I have a regular staff meeting during the chats. I am looking to take my parents out to dinner to say thank you for various things. We are all adventurous eaters, but the problem is that both my parents have to watch their salt/sodium intake for health reasons. So we can't go somewhere that uses a lot of high sodium ingredients (like soy sauce) or somewhere that douses their food with salt. Do you have any suggestions? Somewhere in NOVA would be preferred, but we can travel to DC, with around $50 per person including drinks. Past places we've enjoyed are the Evening Star Cafe and the Liberty Tavern if that helps.

I'm inclined to send you to Bistro Vivant in McLean, which recently acquired a new chef, or Majestic in Old Town Alexandria.  Wherever you book, let the restaurant know you have to go light on the salt and inquire about dishes with minimal sodium. 

Hi Tom -- I wanted to get my question in early. I've been invited to lunch at La Tomate tomorrow, and I wondered what you thought of the restaurant. I've never been, but the reviews on Yelp range the gamut from awful to good. Your thoughts? Any good dishes to get (I'm mostly vegetarian, but love fish)? Thanks in advance.

I haven't been there in ages. Can anyone share a recent experience?

Hi Tom, Love the chats. Any recommendations for good eats in the Arlington/Ballston area? Thanks.

My current favorite there is Water & Wall, with cooking from Tim Ma. I'm a fool for his Burmese chicken salad, crackling duck confit and veal sweetbreads served with crisp fried kale. 

Hi Tom-- I absolutely love the chats! My boyfriend is taking me to Le Diplomate this Friday for a belated birthday celebration, and I wanted to know what we should definitely not miss out on. Neither of us are picky eaters (although I do have a slight distaste for anise/fennel), but I was just wondering if you or the chatters had any recommendations? Thanks!

A few of the many hits on the menu include the shellfish platter, the omelet, steak au poivre and apple tart.  Really, it's hard to go wrong at the French extravaganza.

The online menus BY LOCATION in PDF have prices.

Good to know. Thanks.

It seems most places are already booked for Valentine's Day. Do you have any suggestions for perhaps less trendy places that may still have reservations? Or do you know of any places near Penn Quarter that have good takeout or delivery for a meal at home? Thanks.

I say this every year, and I know it probably isn't what you want to hear, but for the best dining experience, you really should consider going  just before or just after the actual occasion, when prices are sometimes jacked up, amateurs crowd on the scene and expectations are unrealistically high. 


As for take-out or delivery in Penn Quarter, I'm stumped. But you can count on the better restaurants to be super-busy with Valentine's Day diners.   Maybe something French from Paul, the bakery?  Indian from Merzi? Southwestern from Austin Grill?  Barbecue from Hill Country?



Hi, tom, What are your favorite dishes at Siroc and Casa Luca? Thanks!

At Casa Luca, I head for the meatballs, seafood risotto and monkfish Milanese; at Siroc,  I'm partial to the pastas and daily specials.

I had a very pleasant dinner there about a month ago. I too wasn't exactly thrilled when I found out I was eating there, but enjoyed my meal nonetheless. It is really not as bland as people on Yelp are saying.

And you had what for dinner, please?

You must go to the ice cream store Salt & Straw for some truly unique flavors. I don't care for the pear stout & blue cheese flavor, but their other beer-flavored and non-beer-flavored ice creams are wonderful. Do go to the Saturday Farmers Market on the campus of Portland State. You'll think you've died and gone to heaven.

Yes to the Saturday farmers market!

I understand the OP problem with "My dear," but "miss" can be too diminutive and assumes marital status and plenty of women bristle at "ma'am" as well. A friend recently went on a facebook rant about being called "ma'am." I spend a lot of time in military and law enforcement circles so I am used and appreciate "ma'am," but I was surprised how many people agreed with her that it was an insult. My guess is that the maitre d' was trying to avoid the potential problems with miss and ma'am.

You can't win, right? 

In April 2012 I had a fantastic meal at The Mission in Old Town Scottsdale. The pork shoulder tacos were amazing (they appear to still be on the menu) and the service impeccable. My only complaint was the tables were a bit too small for all the food!

Pork shoulder tacos. Mmmmmmm.

I get what the original chatter is saying about the vibe of the restaurant. It looks amazing, like a great high-end restaurant. But my dinner around 7 pm a few weeks ago was punctuated with loud cheering coming from sports fans seated at the bar. I've also eaten at the bar and really enjoy it (great tap list) but loud sports fans aren't what you expect in that space.

Gotcha. I can picture the scene better now. I'm afraid TVs are seen as a necessity in most DC restaurants. Heaven forbid we miss a Justin Bieber update!

You won't find either of those within walking distance of the Jefferson Hotel, but a 10-minute cab ride will take you to Carytown, where you can get both - Nacho Mama's for Mexican, and Water Coastal Kitchen for seafood. I've never eaten at Nacho Mama's, but I can verify that Water is a classy, intimate, and excellent seafood place (that also serves steak).

Thanks for the suggestions.

Call me "Ms." (mizz) It works for any status (I am married but am not a Mrs., as I kept my own name).

But you just *know* some women aren't going to like that, either ...

Tom, I happened to drive past the Taberna del Alabardero last night, and recalled that I had been there maybe 15 years ago. At the time, I think it was considered some of the best Spanish cooking outside of Spain (this was before the Jose Andres empire), but I don't think I've ever heard you mention it. What's the story there these days?

I go there from time to time, hoping for something delicious to write about. But the food at the Spanish beauty hasn't been good for seasons now.  A caveat is the tiny tapas bar. Love that nook.

Hi Tom. I wanted to give a shout out to Urbana, where we dined Saturday night, for a good deal and an enjoyable meal. $35 for 4 courses and a selection of $35 wines by the bottle. We scored a red wine from Chinon in Loire, France. The deal was four courses, all from the regular menu and with a good number of options. Not everything was a hit (my octopus spent a bit too much time on La Plancha), but there were some My favorites were a creditable salmon tartare, some of the best tagliatelle I've eaten (with lamb ragu), and a cheese option for dessert. I often pass on RW as the dessert course is something I would prefer to skip. My better half loved her kale & frisé salad (a coddled egg made it perfect) and a warm pear dessert. I lent her a bit of my blue cheese to accompany it. I didn't come in with high expectations, but will return.

I'm fond of Urbana as well. Great staff, interesting food, not too expensive, something for every appetite.

I have a baby face and get "sweetie", "honey", and the occasional condescending shoulder-touch. And, like the OP, this happened to me at Mintwood (among many, many other establishments). To the restaurants reading this, please instruct your staff to never, ever refer to your patrons in condescending tones. I don't care how old you think I must be, I certainly don't appreciate it!

Thanks, doll.

Salt and Straw is great and walking distance from Pok-Pok, the famed and excellent Thai joint where at least you can sip a drink on the sidewalk while waiting for a table (take that, Johnny M.!). Later you can write a essay wondering why the two most famous Thai restaurants in America have Anglo chefs. Also, Little Bird is not only better than any bistro we have in DC, but has a late-ish menu that is perfect if you're ariving in Portland from the East Coast after the normal dinner hour. Pizza mavens will want to try Apizza Scholl's, often found on nbational "best of" lists and home of the Pizza Nazi. \

I'm nodding my head as I'm reading your suggestions and asides.

On a recent trip to Paris, we revisited some of your past recommendations, Drouant and Les Fines Gueules, both of which continue to hold up. And I have a couple to suggest for your next trip and for other chatters: Chez Denise - La Tour de Montlhéry (that's the name(s) of one place) and Le Mesturet. Both were excellent, casual, and not ridiculously expensive. We're already looking forward to our next trip!

I'm also pleased to hear the past recommendations are still good. Thanks for writing in. (Oui to Chez Denis.)

Hello from one of the lucky ones stuck at home here in Icelanta ! We're going to a Sunday matinee at The Kennedy Center and expect to get out around 5. Any place in particular for these tourists to grab an early dinner ? Anything to avoid ? Thanks as always and for the brunch tips last week.

I was pleasantly surprised by the recent dinner I had at the rooftop restaurant there. So that's an idea. 


Nearby, there's the perfectly pleasant District Commons. Otherwise, hop in a cab and go to 701 or Central or Blue Duck Tavern.

But don't worry, I am here! Mine is that almost always when I (a woman) eat with a female friend, we get shoved into a tiny two top, while around us we see sets of two men placed at four tops or booths. Some places (like Acadiana) even have a long banquette of two tops that are usually 100% women. I finally asked at one downtown restaurant and was told by the hostess that their management rule was to never place two men in suits at a two top (which she explained as she attempted to pigeonhole my friend and I into a tiny table inches from the next). I understand fitting the group to the table size, but this is something else.

I smell a story in your post .... for real?

And DON'T touch me. *I* get to decide who touches me.

No touching.


And please, no crouching to take an order, either. Also, don't grade me on my order. And another thing, why do I need to know your name? 


Not long ago, I had a server introduce hersef and tell me she was there to give me "great service."  (To which I thought:  Just do it, woman!)

How about "Your Most Eminent Highness" instead? Give me a break - why do people have to create unnecessary controversy? The person is just trying to be polite, and I'm sure isn't purposely using a greeting that shows how much they look down on you. Good grief...

First World problems, right?


On that fussy note, I bid you all a good lunch and a delicious rest of the week. Hope to see you back here next Wednesday, same time.

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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