The Washington Post

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

Oct 16, 2013

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

Find all of Tom Sietsema's Washington Post work at

OK, I will tell you what I think (in this format, since there are no comments on your list). Your DC centric focus is a disservice to Post readers. For example, Jaleo has multiple locations, but you only list the Street location. Not everyone who writes you for advice lives in DC, Arlington or Bethesda. Everyone cannot go to 14th Street or H Street. Broaden your horizons, are asked for an assistant who is willing to do so.

I'm sorry my new guide wasn't tailored to your specific taste.  But it was a list of my personal favorites and I'm unwilling to write fiction for the sake of convenience. The truth is, many of the best places to eat right now are located  in the city.


P.S. The Jaleo downtown is superior to its suburban branches.


Happy Wednesday, gang.  Today is the chat I typically devote to taking your questions and comments about my latest fall dining guide, but I'm happy to address  other subjects, too.


Let's rock and roll.

Once again Tom gives top ratings to a number of restaurants that his own decibel chart shows practically require shouting in order to attempt a conversation. How can a restaurant be considered "superlative" or even "excellent" when the ambiance is so uninviting?

If I took away stars based on sound checks, the dining guide would be a lot thinner than it is. The reality is, some of our best restautrants are among the noisiest. I'm beginning to feel like a broken record, harping about the problem, but until diners raise more of a fuss with the offenders -- take their money and their appetites elsewhere -- restaurants don't have much incentive to change. 


Sound -- music, conversation -- is relative. Not everyone destests a degree of  buzz. And, to be honest, decibel readings change throughout a meal, based on a number of details. If you want peace with dinner, I suggest dining on the early side of the week and the evening. 

Hey Tom I loved the exposé on service at Range and came away with two things: 1 - Is video surveillance commonplace at restaurants because I'm kind of creeped out about this. Range is off my list just for that. and... 2 - I think you should do at least one deep-cover visit to all your restaurants (or at least the high-end ones) now that you've seen what as difference it makes being a nobody.

The first time I was made aware of serious video surveillance in a restaurant was seven or so years ago at a then-new Italian restaurant in Arlington (the name escapes me).  It creeped me out then, and it creeps me out now.  I didn't go into more detail about my last evening at Range, in part because I didn't want whoever there to go back through the tape and identify me.


The get-up takes some time to put on, and it's not the most comfortable way to eat, but I will definitely use the costume again, certainly whenever I have doubts about a restaurant's service.

[getting my question in waaay in advance!] Perhaps the most striking thing in the dining guide is the appearance of Barmini. No, not Minibar, Barmini. What does this mean? Are the cocktails there so special that they cross a line into the category of "cuisine" and are subject to your review and consideration, as opposed to other bars, which only get the occasional mention in your weekly chat? Are the cocktails particularly unique in flavor or perhaps in intent, not like other cocktails around? It seems like an odd inclusion to me.

Huh? I write about good cocktails all the time! Maybe you missed the feature I did on six of DC's best mixologists in March or my review of the newish Mockingbird Hill in August. Heck, I've even praised the liquids in restaurants where I don't particularly care for the cooking. There's also precedence for featuring a bar. In 2010, I wrote about the Columbia Room in that year's dining guide.


One of the many things I love about Barmini is that the experience is  relatively accessible -- certainly easier to get into than Minibar -- and it does drinks and its (admittedly brief)  modernist menu extremely well.  The cocktails are truly novel; for proof, check out this video featuring  Barmini's Juan Coronado whipping up the Highlander.

What's your top 5 on H St NE?

In no particular order, and with qualifiers:


Ethiopic (but not as good as last year)


Boundary Road (for drinks only)


Toki Underground (but hate the wait!)


Atlas Room (but it needs to refresh its menu)


Le Grenier (mostly for the atmosphere)



Tom, Great job on the dining guide. I felt that this one was your best yet, due to the diversity of restaurants, cuisines and price points you covered therein. You work so hard for us, Tom, and we are very lucky to have you. That also goes to your write-up on Range. It was courageous of you to test many readers' hypothesis (and I am one of those readers who write into your chat and bust your chops about this issue, Tom) that you are treated far better than the hoi poloi when you are recognized, and then write about it honestly. Ok, that sentence was too long. Two questions: what led you to do it, and what has been Range's reaction? With respect, A fan

Given all the reader feedback I got after my initial three-star review, my editor and I thought it would be useful to return to Range as an unkown. Joe Yonan had the brilliant idea of turning my re-review into a sidebar, a separate feature.


Chef-owner Bryan Voltaggio was quick to get back to me after the review went online. He's a pro. So did his publicist. I suspect they and the staff are working on the service issues.

Hello Tom, I am both a regular reader of your chats and a restaurant manager in the city. I'm hoping that either you or your readers can help me with something. I'm trying to figure out why people think it is ok to bring cupcakes from another restaurant into an establishment (either a bar or a restaurant) and eat them there. It seems to me that at least once a week someone tries to bring cupcakes in and they always look at me like I'm crazy when I tell them we don't allow outside food in the restaurant. The reasons we don't allow outside food in the restaurant are numerous but here are two good ones: A. health, if someone eats in our restaurant and then has a cupcake they brought in that happens to have rotten buttercream on it chances are they are going to think the food sickness they get the next day came from my food, not the rotten cupcake. B. we sell desserts! I can't think of a lawyer, a doctor, or an auto mechanic who would let someone use their competition's products in their establishments, so why do lawyers, doctors and auto mechanics think it is ok to do so to restaurants? Am I way out of touch here or no? Anyone who calls in and asks if they can bring in cupcakes we tell no, but most people we find just bring them in without even thinking about it and our shocked when we won't let them serve the cupcakes. Thanks in advance.

Bringing outside food or drink into an establishment that sells food and drink is wrong, wrong, WRONG, and it's something that I've witnessed with surprising regularity, especially at brunch.


Ladies and gentlemen, kindly finish your Starbuck's and pumpkin muffins before you step foot into a public dining room.

I thought your review of Range in the dining suite was spot on. We had a similar experience. We made a reservation (and noted that it was our anniversary dinner!) and were led to our table in the far back room corner. I refused the table and asked to be moved to the seats along the kitchen bar in the front room. Once seated, our service was fantastic! My guess is that the guests in the front room get better service for some reason. So, although the food was incredible, I always caution my friends to sit in the front of the restaurant for the best experience.

I don't believe anyone at Range intentionally gives anyone lesser service, but it does seem that the pretty people and The Knowns get tables overlooking the  iluminated wall outside the restaurant. 


On my last visit, incognito, I was struck by how corporate the back of the restaurant looks. It's almost Marriott in its blandness.

It seems to me that most of your reviews of area restaurants over the past couple of years rate the sound levels as excessive, especially for new or renovated eateries. When I go out to eat with friends and the restaurant is incredibly loud I find it difficult to really enjoy my meal and carry on a conversation. In fact, one recent outing in a highly rated place was so noisy I couldn’t hear the person across the table from me. We ended up eating quickly and leaving sooner than we had planned (and no, we rarely, if ever, linger after our meal is finished). I doubt I will go back there or recommend the place. Do you think owners really care about the noise or do they secretly want it to keep customers from relaxing and taking longer to eat thus turning over tables more frequently? This trend is making me prefer dinner parties in my own home instead of going out.

I hear you!


There are several reasons for the ongoing noise problems, some of which you mention.


For starters, a lot of  new restaurants are opening in old spaces, interiors with acres of hard surfaces. Think brick, concrete, hard wood. 


Second, (good) sound-proofing isn't cheap. Restaurant  owners confronted with spending money on creating a muted environment frequently opt instead for a new piece of kitchen equipment or another line cook or whatever.


Third, and I don't know if this is a conscious move on the part of  restaurant operators, noisy restaurants tend to result in faster turnovers of tables. Diners tend not to linger in clamorous environments, in other words.

Tom, good job on the dining guide. It is obvious you put a lot of thought into your work. I wanted to follow-up on my question from last week in which I asked which Voltaggio restaurant should I choose, Range or Volt. You advised me to wait to read your guide. You seem hesitant about Range in your review. Am I misreading your review? Thanks for all of your hard work.

I really like the cooking at Range, but as I stated in my review, the experience is better  if they know you.  And I wouldn't want to eat in the rear of the restaurant again. 


That said, my hunch is that the staff  will be working extra hard now not to play favorites, or at least pay more attention to everyone, not just a select few.

Hi Tom - I just booked an anniversary dinner at BLT Steak for a couple of weeks from now but have read that their chef just left. My wife and I are looking for a nice steakhouse. Should we keep the reservation or try another venue?

Honestly? There are better steakhouses in town. I'd start with Bourbon Steak in Georgetown, then the recently renovated J & G Steakhouse  in the W Hotel.

Tom - Was delighted to read your First Bite on Rose's Luxury this morning. We have stopped in twice and have had great experiences both times. So refreshing to have fun, unique, GOOD food on Barrack's Row.. and casual enough I can see us going couple times enough if they mix up the menu. Kudo's to Chef Silverman and I hope they keep up the good work.

The most exciting place in town right now is Rose's Luxury. A breath of fresh air.

How many times have you been to Rose's to already be smitten, declaring it as the best restaurant in Capitol Hill?

I went once for dinner. But I've eaten widely on the Hill over the years.  I don't understand how such smart people put up with such mediocre-to-middling food in their neighborhood. It's the Bethesda of DC.

I love Toki Underground, but after reading about the Eric Bruner-Yang pleading guilty to assault a while back I've been avoiding his business. I mean, what does that say about his ethics, professionalism, and the way he treats people? Do you think not eating at his restaurants is the right approach, even if I love the ramen? Should a chef's behavior outside the kitchen, if appalling enough, even be a factor into what's happening in the kitchen?

Very interesting question, and thanks for posing it.


The short answer: if I wrote only about perfect chefs and restaurateurs, I wouldn't have much material!  I'm joking -- sort of -- but my job is evaluating food, service and atmosphere, not a subject's personal life, unless that personal life somehow effects the restaurant experience.


Also, keep in mind, there are often two or more sides to a given situation. I'm reminded of this all the time when I investigate reader/restaurant problems.


Readers, feel free to chime in with your thoughts.

You seem to have declared 14th Street the center of DC's dining universe. Do you regret your move away from Logan Circle, or are you still spending all your time here? Either way, let me say you did a great job on this year's guide!

I loved living in Logan Circle, but I'm glad I moved to Crestwood. It's not close to any significant restaurants, but I dig having a yard and a big kitchen and neighbors I actually know and count as friends.

Tom, thanks again for a beautiful all around dining guide. Lots of new places that I will be visiting. Sad though that 2 of my favorites in NOVA were excluded from your fall dining: Villa Mozart, never disappointing and very consistent, and 2941, I love it more since they renovated the place and menu!! Keep up the great work and ignore the grumpy ones:)

Thanks for the kind words.


I went to both Villa Mozart and 2941 prior to the publication of the guide, hoping to include them. But they were eclipsed by some of the better work at other  establishments. Next year, maybe?

It's sad that only 1 Maryland restaurant made it and Woodberry is all the way in Baltimore. Were there any contenders that were close?

Food, Wine & Co. in Bethesda almost made it, but I had a lackluster dinner there in late summer  and opted against including it.


I probably went to 30 or 40 additional restaurants, aside from the ones in the guide. Three of the contenders will be featured in this coming Sunday's column, which I affectionally call my "leftovers" edition. They include Jackie's in Silver Spring, Montmartre on the Hill and the Source next to the Newseum.

Hi Tom! As a frequent diner, sometimes I see staff at one restaurant that I recognize from a different establishment -is it beyond the pale to acknowledge that I remember them or is it considered a faux pas? Thanks!

I think the staff would welcome a shout-out -- provided, of course, you remember them in a positive rather than a negative way. 


Good:  "Say, aren't you the server who introduced me to Gigondas at that French restaurant in Georgetown?"


Bad: "Aren't you the dude who tried to pick up my wife when I went to get my car after dinner downtown last month?"

where one accuses others of what one is doing oneself. "Your dining guide is limited and provincial because it didn't include my personal favorites!"


Tom, I saw your glowing review of Jaleo. I know Spanish cuisine as used to live there for a long time. I also have been going to Jaleo since the beginning. Since the renovation, I stopped. What changed? Well, the restaurant no longer serves bread, even for a small charge. I had to order a "pan con tomate" in its place. One of the pleasures I get from eating Spanish food is the ability to soak up the great sauces. So I moved on, which is too bad.

You stopped going to a restaurant, one of our best, because it no longer serves bread? Wow, that takes discipline!  You're missing out on a lot of good small plates.

Who would be your top 5 picks for your Dining Guide Hall of Fame, if you had such a thing... I think mine would be Inn at Little Washington, 1789, Lewnes's Steakhouse (Annapolis), Tosca, Vidalia and Kincaid's (in its prime/10 + years ago). OK, that was 6 but who's counting?!

As in "Best Restaurants Over the Years? "


  Definitely, the Inn would fall in that group. As would Vidalia. Obelisk is a worthy contender, although I really wish the kitchen would pare back on its antipasti and beef up its main courses, which tend not to be as strong as what starts and ends the meal. It's dark now, but boy oh boy, Michel Richard Citronelle was a dazzler in its heyday.  Then maybe Rasika, the best Indian restaurant this city has ever known?


Chatters, which five restaurants would you list?

No Banana Leaves?

No. It's certainly a sweet little neighborhood spot, but it also has fierce competition in the Asian department.

They changed it within the last year. No longer is it arranged by protein type, with three sizes in each category.. Now divided into traditional courses. I miss the old one.

I thought the original strategy was kind of lame. And the service was always kind of off. A little loopy.

Tom- In general, loved the dining guide... Thanks for a new look at some old places and a good look at some newer ones! One question though. As much as I LOVE Woodberry Kitchen (whenever I am in Balto on the weekends, I try to eat brunch at is always amazing), did you consider Charleston for your list? Albeit they are totally different dining experiences, for some diners in the DC area, it is going to take a FABULOUS meal to get them to Baltimore....and Charleston is consistently that fabulous meal in my opinion. (Although, if i had my druthers, I would be fine if much of DC wasn't aware of how good some of the Baltimore dining scene is right now....easier for those of us in the know!)

I didn't make it to Charleston this year, but I definitely plan to return in the near future. It was last featured in my fall guide three years ago.

Wow, I was surprised at the restaurants that didn't make your list such as Fiola, Obelisk and Zaytinya. Can you explain why these didn't make it? Just a suggestion, how about a dining guide for DC, MD and VA? Have three separate dining guides?

Fiola remains a winning restaurant, but I prefer its sibling, which is of similar high quality but less expensive.  Obelisk is still a three-star experience, but it doesn't change much from year to year;  the dining room also needs an upgrade, given the restaurant's prices. And while I still enjoy Zaytinya, I think Jaleo is a more exciting destination for small plates.  I guess I felt I had more to say -- something fresh -- with the restaurants that basically took their places this season.


Three guides!?? One already takes me five months from start to finish!  I don't think my heart or my liver could stand three surveys.

I work very close to where STK is coming soon, just south of Dupont Circle, in the former Casa Nonna space. I am wondering about their concept of female-focused steakhouse and specifically how welcome men will be there. I know they have tried this elsewhere. I would love to support local restaurants (and Casa Nonna had a great bar), but won't go if they don't want me.

It's 2013. Steakhouses here are certainly friendly to both sexes, don't you think?

Tom, I'd like to get a dear friend a rather extravagant gift certificate for a meal in the general DC area as a wedding gift. Would have loved Inn at Little Washington, but with dinner for two $500 or so plus the room being double that price, that puts it out of reach. Another friend suggested Komi, but I've never tried it. What would be your choice if a friend wanted to get you such a gift (in the $500-700 range)?

Well, Komi is among my favorite places to eat in the city.  The modern Greek restaurant in Dupont Circle gets four stars, my highest rating, as does another restaurant you should consider, CityZen in the Mandarin Oriental hotel.

The Atlas Room has a newly redesigned menu in the last month or so (no longer arranged by protein, now arranged by appetizer and entree). You should check it out again!

I shall!

I've noticed in the past that you've (very nicely) dismissed readers who've said they've gotten bad tables because they weren't dressed the "right" way, didn't look a certain way, etc. You said diners are seated based on servers' availability among other things and diners should just politely ask to be moved if they'd like. So it was interesting to note that you got a bad table at Range and your request to move wasn't well-received. I hope you now can see that this is something that actually does happen, not just at Range, and is really unacceptable.

Oh, I know it happens. And your mileage may vary. But one man's awful table is sometimes another diner's favorite.

Apparently the bozos on the Hill might actually be about to reach a deal. And, thus, all the furloughed chatters here today might actually be able to afford to eat out again very soon.

Fingers crossed!

What is your favorite Indian in the city?

It depends on my mood and my appetite. Malgudi some days, Rasika other times, Bombay Club on occasions. 

Are you sure Range really should even get 2.5 stars? Most of your 2 star places that I've been to would top it. I'd agree the food is good, but most of the rest of the place is pretty non-descript in my mind. I am really unimpressed when I hear something like "we have 9 different kitchens, so there's no way that we'll be able to actually serve your dishes in any kind of order." The place would be a lot better if it were half the size.

I concur. Range may very well be too big to do what it wants to do. But the cooking and the cocktails and the wine service -- well, if you're known -- are very good to excellent, and food generally accounts for roughly half of my end rating. 


Little inside story:  In disguise, I intentionally purchased a bottle of wine on the pricey side at Range, thinking that the cost would get me a little more face time/story time  with the sommelier. Didn't happen. In fact, we ended up pouring our own wine for the duration of the night after he left the table. 

I was surprised to see barmini receiving 3 stars in this year's dining guide, especially since you gave minibar a "mere" 2.5 stars and a mostly lackluster review last year. Have you been to minibar since your original review? Is barmini really better than minibar?

Nope, I haven't returned to Minibar since my last critique (two stars, by the way).  As with any establishment I write about, I was comparing Barmini less to its adjacent restaurant than to other cocktail purveyors around Washington.  Hence the three stars, or "excellent" rating, I gave it.

Would you ever give up the reviews and open your own restaurant? Clearly, you have seen what works and doesn't work and would be able to bring the best ideas together into creating a new restaurant.

Truly the last thing I would ever do is open my own dining room. Restaurant work is incredibly difficult. You're working when everyone else is playing (Christmas/Saturday night). The money isn't great. A million things can -- and sometimes do! -- go wrong on any given day.  I greatly admire the chefs, servers and operators who did the job well.

Tom, Your dining guide, as much as we all love you, has the makings of the most conservative, no ruffles, no wrinkles, no thrills and shows just what the DC food scene is: A Mecca of Conservative Eating! Lets us start with the 4 star picks: The Inn of LIttle Washington: Anomaly, a menu that has been the same forever, a great and fantastic restaurant for more then 30 plus years but has never come around to the modern ages. Komi: The menu has not changed since their Chef has been in his twenties. Great, consistent but again no edge. And as pompous service as Per Se in NYC. CityZen: Great service, however the menu options rotate through the seasons, you can call what will be on the menu just by the temperature outside. This restaurant does not think out of the box and you need an IV to stay awake. Rasika: This restaurant wouldn't be a two star in major cities. Loud inconsistent service, and just dirty, tattered with again a never changing, conservative menu. LeDip: Walt Disney World is looking for its bistro. The restaurant is more of a movie set, with high dollars and boring, conservative food you can get at many bistros around the country, world and DC. Vidalia: Again, another conservative pick. Staples on the menu and no creativity of the food. Blue Duck Tavern: Again, conservative as ever, the menu is influenced by Vidalia because of the training of their chefs. Roberto's 4: This isn't even a restaurant. A small counter is not and should never be compared to a restaurant. How is the entire establishment, not just portion of it? BAD times have changed!!! Etto pizza: Not even close to comparison to a place like Roberta's in Brooklyn and service is horrible. Where is the respect of the craft and creation? MiniBar and Rogue24: two of the most outrageous and out of the box dining experiences in the country? Do you not get that they are pushing the envelopes and develops the cutting edge this city needs? Marcel's: Conservative as it is, the best service and consistent French-Flemish food in the city, with a team going out of their way to guest service. Feels more of a vendetta against the chef/owner then an unbiased opinion. Fiola: The best Italian in the city? Service and style that is unparalleled in any other Italian restaurants. Conservative opinions does not drive this city to the high altitudes of the culinary mecca's as it should. There are choices that should be printed for the general public to promote this city's finest restaurants. Instead you choose, like the leaders on the hill, find the easy way out and not to ruffle the tides. Is it time for change? Like we need in the houses in DC?

Wow. Lots of questions therein. 


I hardly think my guide is a conservative collection. I mean, look at all the trail-blazers I explored,  including Daikaya, Doi Moi, Kapnos, Del Campo, Ambar, Woodberry Kitchen and Barmini, a sibling to Minibar


Just because a place has been around for years doesn't mean I should exclude it, certainly not when it's doing important work, as I think the chefs are at  Vidalia and the Inn, for instance. As far as Rasika is concerned, show me a better modern Indian restaurant in New York. It doesn't exist. New York doesn't have a place like Komi, either, and I've eaten in all the Big Apple's Greek establishments.



I think Marcel's is terrific. So is Fiola. But the competition for inclusion in the guide was stiff this year, and I felt there were other restaurants that  were fresher and of more use or interest this season. 


Finally, this isn't a guide to the BEST restaurants per se, but my personal FAVORITES at THIS TIME.  Subject to change, in other words, in the year ahead.

You have an interesting last name Tom and I was wondering about its origins/your heritage.

I'm German. My last name (pronounced SEET-suh-ma)  is Frisian.

Tom, after reading the Dining Guide and all the subsequent comments today, I really have to wonder why anyone would go to Range. No matter how good the food is, it won't be enjoyable if the service is negligent and you are put an industrial looking back room. There are just so many other restaurants with good food which seem to value their customers.

Interesting point.

Have a 7:30 reservation for Barmin in a couple weeks. Any can't miss orders (food or drink)? and is it enough food to fill up, or do you suggest going somewhere after for dessert and such?..

The food menu isn't very long, but what there is, is mostly rich.  We didn't need to go elsewhere for more to eat after four or five small plates at Barmini. Definitely, someone should order the Highlander as a cocktail, the feature in the video we made to grace the review.  All the classics are done well here, too. Spring for the daiquiri, which head bar maven Juan Coronado told me is his  favorite traditional drink.

I really like the design of the online fall dining guide. It's so much easier to scroll quickly down the list and get the highlights of each restaurant rather than click through a slideshow. Kudos to you for the work and the WaPo web team for the design.

Thanks for the feedback. I'll be sure to share it with our ace designers and online editors.

If my wife or my birthdays are during the week we go out for a fancy celebration dinner over the weekend and a casual dinner with our teenaged kids. When I make a reservation using Opentable or CityEats I mention if it is someone’s birthday. This year for my wife’s 50th, we went to Ashby Inn which was wonderful. To make the occasion even more special they wished her a happy birthday when she sat done and brought us birthday chocolates at the end – which was a very nice if simple touch. On the day of her actual birthday we went to Kapnos. They did nothing and said nothing. While it was busy when we left, when we arrived it was pretty empty. As we left, we were asked how everything was. I said that while the food was very good, I was disappointed that they ignored her 50th birthday. They said sorry but didn’t really seem to care. While I understand that they don’t want to give out free food, I do think that they could afford to give a free dessert on a bill of $186 before tip. More importantly, we did order dessert and they could have added a candle for 50 cents and a “Happy Birthday” is absolutely free. Restaurants should remember that if it was not for the birthday, we would not be in their place spending any money in the first place. Shouldn't they review all the of the night's reservations at the start of the evening to look for the "special messages" that we are invited to add to our reservations? I would appreciate your view on this. If I am being unreasonable, please let me know.

If  it's any comfort, Kapnos blew a chance to impress former Washington Post critic Phyllis Richman, too, who over the phone recently arranged to treat her daughter and son-in-law, Libby and Brian,  to a dinner celebrating their 10th anniversary. 


With her permission, I'm printing part of an email she sent me:


I called Kapnos and asked the woman who identified herself as the manager to charge my Amex for Libby and Brian's anniversary dinner. I suggested the waiter offer them a drink and explain that the drink and their dinner were a gift from Phyllis and Bob. Just to make sure, I called later and told them to be sure to add 20% tip. Same manager -- we recognized each other's voice -- said not to worry, all was taken care of.


"Thanks for the prosecco," Libby emailed me the next day. I called her and discovered that their waitress had merely brought them each a glass of prosecco and announced that it was from "Shirley."  Libby figured that must be me.


I called the restaurant and left a voicemail message. I called Mike and ditto. The manager I'd talked to the day before called back and said that she'd left a detailed note for the waitress and she didn't know what happened. "I'm sorry,"  she said. I know that often restaurant staff have never learned those words, so I told her I appreciated that she apologized. Then Mike called. I told him the story and said I appreciated that the manager had said she was sorry -- which doesn't always happen (and didn't happen with him) -- and I wanted to make sure this didn't happen again.  "Do you want me to put it on your credit card now?"  he responded. I told him that made the gift seem too commercial, and I would send them to another restaurant as a gift instead.


I ended up with an awkward goodbye, a bill for $21.12 for two glasses of prosecco and a bad taste in my mouth."

I have a freind from out of town coming to dinner next week. She is staying at the Marriott near Metro Center. Where is a good place for dinner, somewhat quiet for catch up conversation? We are open to types of food and looking at a meal that won't cost more than $160 for the two of us(1 appetizer, 2 entrees, 1 dessert, 2 glasses of wine).

Nearish: Casa Luca for Italian, Siroc for Mediterranean, 701 for modern American or Zentan for pan-Asian.

Count me among those who have stopped going to places I otherwise really like because of the noise. You point out correctly I think that restaurateurs like noise because it creates an energy level that might be perceived as "good" and because they believe that it turns tables. I'll say this: I'm never going back to any restaurant that thinks jangled nerves are good nor will I go back to one that wants me to leave and has a strategy in place for getting me to do so. Thanks for including sound level info in your reviews. It keeps me away from places I don't want to go. Hey owners! Are you listening out there?

What you need to do is TELL restaurants you aren't returning until they do something about the sound levels. If you simply go elsewhere and say nothing, no one will be encouraged to turn down the volume.

Tom will make excuses but his biases prevent him from being a fair and unbiased review. He will not review restaurants located outside the beltway in certain areas. Just look at his history of reviews and Dining Guides. Its been a problem for decades but his superiors at the WP overlook it. The WP needs a restaurant reviewer who does let his biases especially his political ones interfere with his job.

And my biases are ...?

I just got back from Key West and wanted to send in a few unsolicited recommendations to anyone that might be going there. I had searched a few chats and gotten some good recommendations from them, but we found a few restaurants that were not mentioned. La Creperie (does not seem to be affiliated with the restaurants of the same name in this region) was wonderful. It is right across the street from Blue Heaven, which we did not try because I will not wait in line for 1.5 hrs for breakfast. Hogfish Grill on Stock Island (closest key to Key West) had amazing casual food. Situated on a dock, and was the only meal that really reminded me of the old Florida that I grew up in. The truly standout meal that we had was at Louie's Backyard. Beautiful waterfront location, and as far from Duval as possible on the island. The food was truly spectacular. I had seared foie gras on a rosemary waffle, and yellow-tail snapper over purple mashed potatoes, with a tomato chutney and avocado cream. Louie's was a meal that I thought could definitely hold it's own in the DC fine dining scene (the only one really). While I'm at it, thanks for the Fall Dining guide, it's a nice reminder that my wife and I have more restaurants to hit when branching out from our favorites. I love the insight that you and the chatters provide.

Thanks for the fresh suggestions for Key West and for the kind words about the guide. Much obliged. 

I've been traveling for work a lot, and had no idea the dining guide was imminent! What a delicious surprise in my Saturday delivery (I'm one of the few people <30 who gets home delivery, I think.) I particularly appreciated your article about going back multiple times to Range and trying different disguises. It was fun in a James Bond kind of way, and also provided great insight into the challenges of your job. And as a bonus, every time someone comes to the chat to complain that you must have been recognized because their experience was so much more terrrrible compared to yours, we have a quick and easy link with which to dispatch the subject.

Your post made my week. Thanks for writing in.

I can't believe you included that place. My experience was with very mediocre food and schlocky service. I wouldn't go back even if someone else offered to pay my way. I can think of so many really interesting fine and casual restaurants in the neighborhood. DGS was a total disappointment.

Did you like any of the other 39 places I wrote about?

A few friends are coming over on Saturday before Snallygaster so we can get some food in our stomachs before the big fest. I live near the 10th and U metro station, and plan on taking a bus to the festival, so I don't want to stray too far to get some good food. I'd like to go to a sitdown place that won't be too expensive, or take too long. All I can think of is Florida Ave Grill or Busboys & Poets, but I've been to both many times. Anything else in that area, or further down 14th that will give us a good, quick, and relatively inexpensive ($10-15/plate) bite to eat?

Try the newish Ted's Bulletin or its sibling, Matchbox, both on Fourteenth St.

i get a real kick out of the people who chastise you for not naming this or that restaurant, not going to this or that town, being "conservative" when that is certainly a subjective word ... but what i really enjoy is the idiots who get on you for not including this restaurant or another because it is "better," when you've made very clear these are not bests, but favorites. I think most of these carpers have no where else to carp so they go online where they can be anonymous and talk about stuff they don't know. By the way, Rasika is loud because it's tremendously popular because the food is outrageously good and so is the service. And now, the carpers who once waited an unacceptable 3 minutes for their water at Rasika so the service must therefore be bad ... sigh ...

You know what would be really interesting? If posters had to use their real names here and elsewhere online.

Really enjoyed this year's dining guide, especially the focus on DC's crop of amazing new restaurants. A surprising omission was Table, a place that's getting a lot of acclaim. I saw it didn't appear in today's "also rans" either. Was there a particular reason? I enjoyed a great dinner there, although I thought the service needed work and the food, while good, wasn't above and beyond what I can get elsewhere.

In my opinion, the cooking went downhill after the initial flattering review.

I have great respect for you but for the life of me I can't imagine how DGS made it onto your list. The one meal I had there not long ago was the worst -- the very worst -- meal I've had in a restaurant in my 35+ years in Washington. The matzoh ball was nice but the "soup" was merely hot water--with no salt. The stuffed cabbage was covered with something like Grape Nuts, rendering it inedible. When I shared my concern the waiter merely rolled his eyes and didn't offer to get me anything else or take it off the bill even though I'd only taken a couple bites. With so many fine dining establishments in the area I can't imagine how DGS scored on your radar. Just sayin'.

Thanks for sharing. Obviously, I had a different experience at the delicastessen, which I returned to twice before writing it up for the guide.  I think the chopped chicken liver or schnitzel might have changed your mind about the place.

Tom, THANK YOU for your hard work at making sure you weren't recognized at Range. I have had bad service every time I was there, and I am really disappointed about it, because I live nearby and the food is fantastic. I actually had the opposite problem, though -- it took way too long between courses so we sat hungry for much of the time waiting for more food. I also sat in Siberia and was wondering if they just didn't pay as much attention back there. I very nicely said something to the waitress about the wait between courses and she was not apologetic at all, but defensive. So frustrating because I the food is so good. Also a side note - I wrote a manager a very nice note the next day with a very detailed description of my evening and what went wrong, and never received a reply. Not sure how restaurants of Range's caliber can let that happen. But I guess they don't care in the end, because they certainly have bodies filling seats.

Yours is one of many missives I've received regarding the good food/bad service conclusion diners have found at Range. It's a shame, really.  The kitchen team is really talented.


While the restaurant has been busy the last two times I dropped by, I've noticed it's much easier to get a reservation on Open Table of late, even for prime times.

Hi Tom! Really dug your new Dining Guide; thanks for your work! I'm heading to Nashville this weekend...would love to hear your recommendations. Based on your Postcard from 2011, I'll definitely check out Prince's. Anything else? Thanks!

The places foodists are really excited about in Nashville these days include Catbird Seat, City House (which I've been to and enjoyed), Rolf and Daughters and Capitol Grille (a southern concept, not the national steak chain).

Last week you referred a chatter looking for Ethiopian in Silver Spring to LacoMelza, but the restaurant is closed. I live in the area and they are doing some kind of renovations in there. I have been enjoying Gebeta (a few blocks up Georgia Ave) in the meantime.

Bummer! Thanks for the update, though.

Come on Tommy you work for the WP.

I'm posting this only to show the audience what dingbats exist online.  And by the way, there should be commas between "on" and "Tommy."


"Now be off, before somebody drops a house on you, too!"

First wedding anniversary is coming up, he's partial to steak and I'm up for anything not pasta, we've dined at Bourbon Steak, J&G, Bobby Van's, PS7, and Vidalia in years past for celebrations, looking for something on the quieter side . Thought about the Tabard Inn but know they've had a change-up with chefs. DC is preferred and thank you in advance!

Have you been to Le Diplomate in Logan Circle ? It serves a terrific steak frites. I think your husband and you would also enjoy the meat-centric South American grill, Del Campo, where PS 7's used to be. (Can you tell I'm trying to steer you toward some of the city's fresher attractions?)

Tom, I understand you don't want to ignore criticism, but really - please don't give the obvious crankypantses "airtime". Said one: "The WP needs a restaurant reviewer who does let his biases especially his political ones interfere with his job. " Yeah, I can't tell you the number of times I've read one of your posts and thought - well, this guy obviously didn't care for the flatbread because he's a ... wait, which political bent is it that doesn't care for flatbread? Really, let them stew. They don't cite facts/examples and they don't add anything to the conversation, so don't give them the satisfaction. Please.

Okay, no more crankies for today.


Crankies, you're 86ed!

"Foodists" is much sillier than "foodies" because it's pretentious.

Gosh, you can't win around here....

I'm wondering if you develop emotional calluses *before* you release the Guides. Some of the comments today are brutal!

I can take it. But thanks for the support.

Hi Tom - I was happy to see Meaza among your current 40 favorites. It's one of mine, too. I agree generally that the service "moves in and out of focus." But the fact that Meaza herself makes it a point to greet every single table bumps up the service rating a level or two. She makes sure that people understand the menu and order dishes that they'll be happy with. I wish all restaurant owners expressed such an interest!

A number of  restaurant owners do take the time to instruct/pamper/greet their audiences. Ashok Bajaj (Oval Room, Rasika, 701, etc.) is a master as far as that aspect of the business is concerned. He's seemingly everywhere, and knows everyone.   The co-owner of Malgudi in Glover Park, Mitul Tuli,  is another example of an ace host.

Our office (small law firm) is looking for a fun location for a holiday party this year that won't break the bank. We expect about 30 to 35 people. Anywhere in DC would work. Any suggestions? Thanks!

Consider the second floor at Ambar on the Hill, the patio at Bar Charley on 18th St. NW (which looks as if it can be tented), the upstairs space at DGS Delicatessen downtown and Comet Ping Pong, the pizzeria, in Upper NW.

We tried Baby Wale over the weekend and the service needs some improvement (very very slow and seemed disorganized). In particular, when we asked for the cookies, the waitress brought over a plate and told us to pick which ones we'd like and she mentioned the options were the only ones still left. Then she used her bare hands (no tongs or anything) to put the cookies directly onto the table (no plates or napkins were offered). I liked my grilled cheese sandwich, but not enough to go back after that.

Eewwww. Keep your hands off the cookies, Baby Wale!

I am one of your many readers from far away (San Francisco). When I next go to DC, I will be eating in DC - not the hinterlands. Love your work, Tom!

Very kind of you to type that, and from several time zones away.

Tom, I second your recommendation of City House. It is probably too late to get a reservation at Catbird Seat for this weekend. The chatter should also consider Etch.

Yes to Etch. It's getting good press, too.

It drives me INSANE when someone refers to you as Tommy or Tim Carman as Timmy on these chats. So disrespectful.

You should see what they call me OFF the chat!

Tom, I was disappointed, but not surprised, to see you'd dropped Range a half-star. I know you've heard complaints, and I appreciated your attention to get to the bottom of it. But every time I've been, it's been great. I thought the multiple kitchens could be a red flag, but I've tried a variety of dishes and always been impressed. I'm no wine snob, but got excellent help from the sommelier. Both times I was seated in the back dining room, but I didn't mind that, since it seemed quieter than the front spaces which, while nice, face a shopping mall. Despite its apparent unevenness, I think Range is a great hat-trick for the far-reaches of Upper NW DC, a section of town with few good choices north of Cleveland Park.

A vote of confidence for Range.

Tom you state: "until diners raise more of a fuss with the offenders -- take their money and their appetites elsewhere -- restaurants don't have much incentive to change" Isn't this a chicken and egg problem? You like and recommend noisy restaurants, and people want to go to places you recommend, so they don't take their money and their appetites elsewhere, so restaurants keep being noisy and if they're good you recommend them and the cycle continues. I mean, this is impractical, but if you just refused to review any restaurant over a certain decibel level things would change very quickly.

If I refused to review restaurants that rated greater than, say, 75 decibels on my sound meter, you'd see pages of white space in the Food section and the Magazine in about a week. Almost all the good new restaurants are noisy.

This might be a time to use trusted friends/assistants to see what happens. If a restaurant recognizes you, they can up the serve, but can't really up the food (the menu is what the menu is and they really can't revamp for one critic coming in). While we appreciate your input on service, it is the tasting of food part where your specific input is needed. Why not have a 4th visit (done by an assistant or co-worker) where they go in and focus solely on service. How were they treated as regular folks who are not know for being a part of a review.

I actually do that on occasion, send in trusted friends or colleagues to places I'm curious about, service-wise.

Tom, you are an asset to the Washington Post, to the readers of the print and online outlets (including this one), and to people throughout the restaurant industry from Richmond to Baltimore. I don't care what anyone else says. You rock.

No, YOU rock. Thanks much.

Yes, that is the actual name of a dish on 701's website. I'll e-mail and tell them, but in the meantime, can we all have a chuckle at "beef CRAPaccio"?

Oh, dear.

The diner was looking for something on the quieter side and you recommend Le Diplomate??? It is ear-drum bursting LOUD in there. I had to scream at my dining companion the entire evening. That plus $30 for what is, essentially, French beef stew (beef bourguignon)? I don't get the hype at all (though the hose-made breads and pastries are great).

Hmmm. Haven't had that "hose-made" bread. I'm intrigued!

Restaurants charge 1.50 to serve a birthday cake at restaurants. I'm sure people who bring in cupcakes are using it as a substitute for a birthday cake. Unless the restaurant sells cakes or cupcakes for special occasions, I think they should accomodate.

People who want cupcakes for dessert in a restaurant should  1) go to a restaurant where cupcakes are on the dessert menu or 2) be willing to pay the plate charge for serving an outside dessert or 3) ask if the pastry chef can accommodate a cupcake request.

or at a restaurant that makes them. You wouldn't bring in your own appetizer, would you?


I work in the building where Range is. Some time ago, I went there for a lunch with a group that included a woman on crutches. The host initially tried giving us a table that was about as far from the entrance as you can get. When my boss asked if we could be seated closer so that the person on crutches wouldn't have to go so far, she complied, but she grumbled about it (the dining room was fairly empty at the time). It left a terrible impression on all of us.


Tom, how come you talk at length of the efforts you made to not be recognized at Range so you can properly judge service, but then in the Jaleo review you talk about how Chef Andres instantly recognized you, brought you a cheese sample, etc. Wouldn't it be fairer to do something similar at Jaleo on a night Jose isn't there? You have said in the past that he is a friend and that's fine, but isn't it helpful to your readers to report from a perspective they're more likely to have (ie, the anonymous diner)? Also, in the Vermilion review you mention a gratis gift from the that something afforded to all diners there? I haven't been, but just curious if it was also a product of you being recognized. Thanks for your reply.

While I have enormous respect for Mr. Andres, we are not friends, in the sense we hang out or break bread or do business or socialize.


With the Jaleo review, I wanted to show the chef's expansiveness and spirit, as I've done in the past with other restaurants  (see my old reviews of Al Tiramisu, for instance, or Citronelle). By throwing out the colorful details of, and being completely honest about, my last experience at Jaleo -- yes, I was "made," and this is what transpired --  I hoped it would at least provide a fun read.


That's a wrap for today, folks. I'm heading out for a Manhattan or three. Jeff Faile, are you working today?



Hi - I enjoy your reviews and especially liked the 10 dishes/$10. Fun and a nice nod to good dishes that are less expensive. Thanks for that. I'll echo other comments that over the past months (weeks?) there seem to be an increasing number of critical (of you) posts and an increasing number of responses to those from you. Those comments aren't much fun to read, and make me less inclined to check out the chats. I'd welcome fewer of those posts, if possible. And, I certainly know you'll still get them, but perhaps not posting them might lighten the tone a bit. We are just chatting about restaurants after all (no disrespect intended to your work!). Thanks.

Duly noted. Thanks.

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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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