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

Oct 02, 2013

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

Find all of Tom Sietsema's Washington Post work at

Hi- Happy Wednesday! Any word on when the new Mandalay in Shaw will open? I've been eagerly awaiting it! Also, I heard a rumor that this one would be more of pre-fix menu then a regular menu you choose off you know if this is the case? Thanks!

Perfect timing. I wrote about why the Burmese restaurant has yet to open just yesterday for the Going Out Guide. Fingers crossed, you can expect to dig into a tea leaf salad as soon as Wednesday of next week, the owner told me.


So ... how's everyone doing this morning? How many of you are home because of the government shutdown -- and how are you coping, food-wise?  Share away.


I lunched at the young Ted's Bulletin on 14th St. NW yesterday. The place was JAMMED with diners, and I asked my waiter who all the people were.


"Government workers," he told me. "And they're all getting drunk.  One guy is on his second Manhattan." 


This was at 12:10.


Let's rock & roll.

Hi Tom, as my parents will be in Washington DC for 4 days, they asked me to make reservations for diner for every day of the week. Since I only recently moved to the city, I have not tried as many places as I wished I had. Having read lots of reviews, I did make a shortlist. What do you think about the following list: Makoto, Little Serrow, Kapnos and Cityzen. My father being a food critic himself, the pressure is on. Thank you, Charles

(Do I know your father?)


You have a good list there, but you should be aware that Little Serow does not take reservations. I might also throw in a little Italian (Obelisk in Dupont Circle) and a drink or two at Barmini in Penn Quarter.

Hi Tom, We are putting together a small 50th anniversary party for our parents later this month. There will be 8 of us, so we're looking for a place where those with hearing challenges will be able to hear the conversation (or a private room), and also for good food that is not outrageously priced (although not a chain or hole in the wall). And also, being what can only be described as "semi-foodies" (yes, I know that word has been banned from this chat), our parents don't want a "fuddy duddy" place..or Chinese food. Oh, and while we prefer MD, we can travel. This may sound like a phony request, but I assure you it's not..I hope you're up to the challenge! Thank you!

The southern-themed Vidalia would be perfect for your group. The food is terrific, the service is polished and no one has to raise his or her voice to be heard.  The menu has plenty to appease both the foodists and the conservative eaters in your party.

Hi Tom, I'm submitting on Monday so if there is a miraculous resolution to this Congressional madness, my question may be moot. But if the government shuts down, many of us are going to find ourselves with time on our hands but with very (very) lean budgets. Any suggestions for fun cheap eats in DC for the furloughed? Lunch deals? Happy hours? Hole-in-the-wall steals? Thanks!

Maura Judkis to the rescue! Here's my Weekend colleague's updated list of  dining tips for "nonessential" government workers looking for cheap relief.

Anyplace in striking distance of Penn Quarter - we can drive - but unfortunately Rasika is out of price range. Or any ethnic except Ethiopian. Taking an out-of-towner who requested Asian/Indian/African for tonight.

The food around Penn Quarter is, for the most part, not going to be inexpensive.  In nearby Chinatown, you might consider Pho DC for the obvious Vietnamese noodle soup in stylish digs.


If you don't mind driving to Glover Park, Malgudi in Glover Park is worth the trek. Very good southern Indian cooking.  While possibly more than you want to spend, have you been to the new Doi Moi on 14th St.? Great Vietnamese and Thai flavors there. 

If you're planning on mentioning food/drink specials during the shutdown, Cork Wine Bar is offering happy hour pricing on wine all day until the shutdown ends, and 10% off wine, beer and retail items at Cork Market to federal workers (ID required).

Good to know! Thanks for sharing the tip.

Hi Tom! I have yet to see any reviews on Mothership. Have you been? I'm headed there for dinner this weekend and would like to know what I'm in for!

My Food section colleague Tim Carman weighed in on Mothership back in May. Here are his thoughts on the food truck that grew into a sit-down place to eat.

Just came back from a trip to Croatia where I discovered octopus salad - had it nearly every day comparing preparation styles from one end of the country to the other. Until this trip, I'd only eaten fried calamari so never really noticed if it was on the menu in other forms. So where would you recommend I visit to keep the octopus love affair/vacation vibe alive (so to speak)? Thanks!

Octopus has become pretty trend in the last few years. I've enjoyed it locally at such diverse establishments as the Red Hen in Bloomingdale, where wine-marinated baby octopus is crisped on the grill; Food Wine & Co. in Bethesda, .... ; and Kapnos on 14th St. NW, which serves a smoky and tender tentacle on a swipe of yogurt tweaked with green harissa.

Tom, there's another sushi spot located directly above Makoto... Kotobuki. Have you had a chance to compare the two? That's recently been worth visiting since Sushi-Ko has closed down and Makoto is a more formal dining experience.

It's been awhile since I sampled the 20 or so kinds of sushi at Kotobuki, which I gave two stars to ... back in 2006. But I enjoyed the experience then.

Due to a variety of circumstances, I'll be alone this year on my birthday, which is next week. Rather sit at home, I would like to go out some place where I can be solo without it being awkward. Also, with potential government shut-down looming I'd prefer to keep my tab around $50. I'm open to any cuisine. Any suggestions?

I hope I'm not too late to answer your request (and good for you for treating yourself to a nice dinner).


  Your chances of having a memorable time are excellent at Kapnos on 14th St., where you can see dinner made before your eyes in front of the open kitchen; the Cafe at Palena in Cleveland Park, where I recently enjoyed a great gimlet with terrific bucatini tossed with squid, mussels and toasted breadcrumbs; and Doi Moi, the new Thai-Vietnamese hot spot from the owner of Estadio and Proof


$70 baseline for a fixed price menu of Burmese food? In Shaw? Uh, no.

Aung Myint, the owner of Mandalay, says he based that price in part on feedback from customers, and it's not set in stone. Keep in mind, the restaurateur also wants to offer a less expensive menu just for neighbors.

Tom, We're having a colleague from NYC down for a conference on Tuesday and a small group of us wanted to take him to a decent restaurant, without spending an arm and a leg. He is staying at the St. Regis Hotel and will arrive at his hotel by 7:30 pm Monday evening, so a 8:00 reservation for about 6 is in order. Suggestions?

I'd stroll over to the Latin American Mio on Vermont and L St. or the Bombay Club on lower Conn. Ave.  Also close (and reliable) is Siroc for house-made pasta and Mediterranean-style cooking. 

Hi Tom! Love your chats and columns. A friend is in town this week for the first time since leaving DC a year ago. Loads of new places to take her in the Logan/downtown area but I'm having trouble finding ones that are open for lunch on a weekday. Where should we go? Thanks!!

Is "new" what you're after? If so, Matchbox and Ted's Bulletin on 14th St. NW are recent additions to the neighborhood; both serve lunch. B Too does as well, but its Belgian cooking is just so-so. 


In Logan Circle, Zentan has a new chef,  Jennifer Nguyen, who is doing some interesting pan-Asian food.  I especially like her lunch-time duck Reuben with kimchi and rock shrimp tacos.

Hi Tom. What can you tell us about Mix Bar & Grill which recently replaced Bezu in Potomac Village?

I haven't reached out to the restaurant since I wrote about the switch in July. Here's the opening menu.


Anyone out there checked out Mix?

My husband and I are going to Barmini and the end of the month as a last hurrah before I have knee surgery (boo!). I know they serve some snacks, but do you think we will need dinner after? And where would you suggest we go for something in that area, probably on the lighter side both food and budget wise?

Barmini has some terrific bar food, including a riff on a lobster roll and a beefy banh mi (in the form of a burger).  Close by and fun: Barmini's siblings, Zaytinya (for mezze) and Oyamel (for Mexican, including good salads and seviches).

The other Tom (sports chatter Tom Boswell) chatted for 2 1/2 hours Monday. He began at 11 and ended at 1:30, in which time he gave numerous and well-thought-out answers about baseball, football, hockey, the America's Cup, etc. You, on the other hand, chat a mere hour and have to fly off for lunch. Why can't you (a) not make lunch plans on Wednesday or (b) schedule your lunch an hour later? Don't your readers deserve as much as Boswell's? Also the Reliable Source and Tracee Hamilton often go way over an hour.

Um, well, lemme think about that. I certainly don't want to come across as a slacker here at the WP!


Just fyi:  On average, I spend an hour or two pre-answering questions -- checking out rumors, looking up information --   posted in advance of my 11 a.m. start time on Wednesdays.  So it's not as if I'm devoting only 60 minutes to readers on chat day.

Hi Tom, a good friend moved from DC to the food mecca of San Francisco, but will be back for his big birthday this year! I want to show him and his wife that DC is moving on up in the restaurant world. Any great recommendations that can accommodate a party of about 12 that are moderately priced, but still deliver on great food and atmosphere? They are pretty adventurous eaters, but we'll keep it somewhat tame to please everyone's palate. In the past he has loved Rasika and Birch and Barley if that is any help. LOVE your writing! Keep up the great work!

Thanks for the kind words.


Ghibellina is great fun for a group, especially a group that likes pizza and Italian small plates.  Kapnos is deafening, but I really enjoy its modern take on Greek flavors. The Fiola spinoff, Casa Luca, is another favorite for upscale Italian but in a breezy setting. And don't forget Daikaya, across from the Verizon Center, for Japanese pub grub and fun drinks.

Hi Tom, no you wont know my father. My parents live in Europe. I am aware of the Little Serrow reservations policy. I like the thought of a cocktail or 2 at Barmini ... will definitly check out Obelisk. For the casual lunches i thought of Graffiato, Ambar and Blue duck tavern. Could you give me 1 more recommendation for a fish and steak restaurant? I am between Blacksalt and Azur for fish, but no clue regarding the steak place yet. thank you very much

Azur closed over the weekend. For fish, check out the Oval Room, Mintwood Place or Palena --- not seafood venues per se, but I've had good seafood preparations at all in the last six months. For steak, Del Campo, the new South American grill from chef Victor Albisu, would be appropriate.

Hi Tom, Love the chats! I'm curious about something. When you review a restaurant, Are there any foods you can't stomach? I love French food, and whenever I've ordered veal kidneys, there is always Someone At the table who says "eww"! My view is don't Knock it until you try it! I am rare in that I love liver, kidneys, marrow, but I am amazed by other people's reactions!

I love organ meats, liver and sweetbreads most of all.


There are very few dishes I really don't care for. While I'm not crazy about fennel or zucchini, I eat both on a pretty regular basis as part of my job.

Sometimes I (or probably other people as well) want to make a comment or ask a question based on another comment or question earlier in the chat, but we run into "Sorry, I'm out of time." I'd love you to go at least another half hour. Is that REALLY too much to ask?

Okay, what's your follow-up question or comment? ;)

Vidalia has no open tables for a group of our size for two months...can you suggest a back-up plan? Thanks so much!

The main floor at 1789? The private dining room on the second floor at Corduroy? The supper clubby 701 in Penn Quarter?

thank you so much for your recommendations. they are much appreciated. I am sure my parent will be delighted with the choices I/we made. in case you travel to France and Belgium and you need some insight, it would be my pleasure to help you out. PS: You are right about your comment about B-too, its only so-so (Being from Belgium myself I wished I could have said it was great though) Love reading your posts!!

You just made my day. I hope your dad has a delicious visit.

I am so depressed about this government shutdown. My husband and I are both furloughed, and even with the discounts being offered at some restaurants, I just can't see going out and spending any amount of extra money until we know when we'll get our next pay check. Part of me also wants to stick it to the man as much as possible in hopes that decreased restaurant revenues will get more people outraged about this ridiculousness. But I also don't want good restaurants to suffer. What do you suggest for getting out of this funk?

Interesting dilemma. Maybe you can support the restaurants that are helping out you and other furloughed workers with their meal deals?  In other words, spend what you can at businesses that are offering you a break?  I hate to see restaurants penalized for government inaction. 

got to check out Piola just below Florida on 14th, 40% discount for shutdown, unlimited pizza on weekends and happy hour large pizza for $7, can't beat that.

Thanks for sharing.

I don't always imagine you're off to a lunch appointment right then, but rather that this is a polite way of ending the chat on schedule. I appreciate when the trains on time, so thanks for that, Mr. Sietsema.

Bless you.

While I do love chats that go long (love me some Carolyn Hax), you are very efficient and speedy in your responses. I like to think that though you may only spend an hour on the chat, you give enough answers quickly enough that you have both the quality and quantity of other chants that go on for two hours! I think you're fine!


Super Happy with all the different spots opening around Merrifield, went to Ovvio Osteria for blrunch this past Sunday, and I agree that the food is very good. Our party had several dishes, mussles, octopus, eggs benedict and the omellet- all super delicious. The service was great as well, one drawback, the kitchen's timing. We only recieve two out of our four entrees, and it took more than 5 mins to get the remaining entrees out-at which point the first two were done with their meal. I hope the kitchen gets their process together, as I will love to become a regular.

I was very impressed with my meals at Ovvio. What a treat to find such personal cooking and design in an area populated with a lot of chains.

The hour you give us is out of your own time. We aren't entitled to it. So thank you.

No one here is required to host a chat, but I wouldn't dream of not participating. I love hearing about your dining adventures (good and bad) and what 's on your mind from week to week.  You're a very smart and engaged community. I always learn something from you.

Your counterpart Todd Kliman devotes at a minimum 2hrs every week for his chat..... Jus sayin

Bully for Mr. Kliman! (And I type that with all due respect.)  But you know, I have as many as four deadlines a week sometimes. And on a daily basis, I probably answer 10 to 20 questions from readers apart from this discussion. So it's not as if I'm not communicating with readers on a regular basis.

Everyone needs to befriend a furloughed employee and buy them dinner! I'm buying drinks or dinner for my furloughed friends. I've got a couple of dates this week and next. I can't imagine if I were furloughed that I'd want to spend any money, even $10, on dining out.

Fabulous idea. You sound like an awesome friend.

Where should I get a quick lunch to celebrate my new gig?

Congrats! If you want to stay in the 'hood, go to Pizzeria Paradiso, Leopold's Kafe or Peacock Cafe.

I've had superlative meals at Kapnos and LeDip...kind of a disappointment at Range... what do you think has been the most exciting addition this year so far?

Gosh. Lots of contenders. Le Diplomate opened with a splash and continued making good impressions long after the reviewers and bloggers had their say. Etto was a charmer from Day 1, too. 


What sayeth the audience today?

While Boz is a gem -- he sometimes takes many minutes to answer. And while Kliman may put in more time, I'm sure you answer more questions in one hour than he does in four hours.'re up to 30 answers in 50 minutes now!

I'm trying! I'm trying!

Tom - in Paris now. Your favorites?

Aside from Spring, which is owned by an American chef,  my favorite meal back in April (April in Paris!) was at the casual  wine-themed Le 6 Paul Bert.  Otherwise, I didn't eat particularly memorably that trip.

Isnt rude to his readers and his post in his chat dont come off with any attitude like yours. If you were half the writer Mr Boswell is and had half the knowledge about restaurants and dining as compared to his about sports you would be the top restaurant critic in the US and EU and have your own prime time network food show. You dont and your posts on this chat are at times snarky and arrogant!

Huh. I'll try to edit my snark better.

Is the European restaurant critic's offspring still online? Maybe s/he can offer quick suggestions to the person who just wrote in for Paris recommendations.... (We're one big, happy community of food lovers, you know.)

Reader, are you still with us?

Hi Tom, hope it's not too late to ask a question. I want to buy a gift card for lunch/dinner for my ex-boss and his family. They live in leesburg. So, I was wondering if I should go with Volt or some place in DC that is like a destination dining. My budget is about 250 to 300. Are there any inns around that they can go for dinner and stay a night that I can pick within my stated budget? Your input is greatly appreciated.

The Ashby Inn in Paris, Va. has a new chef, but has always been reliable. Here in the city, you might think about a gift certificate to Obelisk, Blue Duck Tavern, Marcel's or the original Rasika.

An hour is fine. There is not a lack of resources out there for restaurant recommendations. You aren't a concierge service, and don't get paid for the chat. People certainly seem entitled to your time.

You're right. Hosts were originally paid extra for the chat. That hasn't been the case for a number of years now, though. Still happy to do it.

Hear it may morph into a "Eataly" type of concept... true? I'm also wondering why more concept places like that haven't cropped up around town...

Azur is morphing into a concept called Menu.

I just wanted to say that I really enjoy your chats and appreciate your time and comments (and humor!), and I'm not even in the DC area! I think your chats are interesting and entertaining and I like following along, even if I may never eat at any of the restaurants you discuss. So thanks!

You made my WEEK, sir (or ma'am).

Guessing those with the sense of entitlement of your time also don't buy the physical paper but expect to read every article for free. Some of us appreciate what you do. Let them try it themselves if they think they can do better (as they surely do!).

Everyone's a critic, right?


So. Last night. I'm getting ready to leave a big deal restaurant and a waiter comes up to me at the podium and says, "You left your notes at the table. Do you want me to bring them to you?"  If this were a tweet, the hashtag would be #criticwalkofshame.


Just thought I'd share that tidbit with you.

Going next week - booked at Les Bouquinistes, Comptoir & Les Taste Vin

Comptoir! Love it.

Restaurant Tom doesnt have to include stats in his chats or remember the record of 1951 Senators or Ny football Giants. Its a lot easier to host a reastaurant chat than a Sports chat since most folks dont even know what 86 means in a restaurant.

Hosting a restaurant chat isn't by any means "easier" than another chat. What you don't see is me checking out gossip once the chat goes live, or trying to get a restaurant's reaction to a diner's complex problem or ... well, there's just a lot of work involved that audence members don't know about.



And on that note, I bid you all a great rest of the week. Let's adopt a furloughed worker, continue patronizing our restaurants and chillax (as my niece would say) until next Wednesday.

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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