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

Oct 10, 2018

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

Find all of Tom Sietsema's Washington Post work at

Hi! We went to Reverie last night to celebrate our anniversary, and I have to say that they're not off to the best start... First, I had read that the restaurant is supposed to be more accessible (i.e., less expensive) fine dining -- it's not. The menu lists about 12 items all together, you can't tell whether they are small plates or entrees or what. We asked the waitress. She said the top 4 or 5 were small plates, the rest you could order as entrees. So, we ordered all the small plates and then the halibut (which we were told was an entree). The halibut was not an entree. It was four bites of fish, in a pretty good sauce, with nothing else on the plate. It was the same size as the items described as "small plates" just much more expensive. Some of the sauces were delicious, but there was no bread (and none to order), so you're left with a delicious plate of sauce and nothing to do with it. They really needed bread. I did have the best celery root I've ever had, but again, we had to send back a plate swimming with sauce. This was actually the first time I've ever left a restaurant hungry. And as a side note, if you have a table by the window, you see huge rats running into a trap all night. I'm not saying that's the restaurant's fault. But, it is distracting? While I was excited to try a new place, and thrilled that they took reservations, it was overall a complete disappointment. Not a good anniversary celebration! Just wanted to send in an early report!

Oh, dear. Thanks for the field report. There are things a chef-owner can address (i.e. bread and portion sizes) and things that are less in his control (four-legged passersby). I know  Reverie, from chef Johnny Spero, has a lot of fans wishing him well.


 For what it's worth, I'm also not a fan of a roster of dishes strung together on a menu, with no clear idea of what size they are. The presentation isn't very diner-friendly. 


Happy Wednesday, everybody. Yesterday, ahead of the fall dining guide, which goes online Thursday, I rolled out my entire Top 10 list of favorite restaurants.  Some of you were surprised not to see a well-known name or three on the roster.


Today, I'm introducing something new, a Hall of Fame, that might explain the seeming omission. I thought I'd honor 10 restaurants that set the dining standard in the DMV. Feel free to share your thoughts.


Lots to discuss today. Let's rock & roll.

Hi Tom - I always look forward to your top 10 list and only have one suggestion. The reviews were tacked on to last year's review, so the comment section was closed. The comments add a lot of value to the review - hearing from actual boots on the ground that provide more detail about the restaurant. Maybe they can do something about that?

The powers that be are aware of the problem and will find a solution. (The comments section generally closes after a certain period of time,  typically a few weeks or so). Fingers crossed, the glitch is soon fixed. I, too, appreciate what readers have to say. 

I was just curious about the line in your short review regarding the take home cookie dough: "The unbaked chocolate chip cookie inside (with baking instructions) is the only head-scratcher of the night." I dined there last month and my wife and I absolutely adored the cookies the next day. Were the cookies just not to your taste, or was it the idea of a bake-at-home gift itself that you took issue with?

I just thought it was kind of goofy, offering people who shelled out a lot of money for an otherwise stellar evening an unbaked cookie. (For one thing, why not just finish it in the oven? Why make diners work?) I heard similar from several recent patrons of Pineapple and Pearls, so I know I'm not alone. Obviously, the quirk didn't keep me from giving the destination my No. 2 spot on my Top 10 list this week. 

Hi Tom, My husband and I recently went to Mi Vida based on your recommendation and although we loved the food (the guac, mole, roast chicken, and goat cheese flan were fantastic, among other things) we (30-somethings) could barely see anything! We were seated on the second floor and it was so dim that we had to use our cell phone flashlights to read the menu and see our food (and we weren't the only ones in the dining room resorting to this tactic!). The women's bathroom was similarly (not) lit, heaven help you if you needed to use the baby changing station, it was so dark you might lose the baby! We're all for ambiance, but lease, please turn up the lights just a bit!

You are preaching to the choir. My second biggest design pet peeve, after noisy dining rooms, is dim restaurants. The flashlight on my phone is getting an unfortunate work-out of late. 

Any recommendations for can't miss places in Athens? It's for our honeymoon so our budget is flexible. No allergies and we aren't picky eaters. Thanks!

Athens, anyone? The closest I've been to Greece is Macedonia.

Hi Tom -- big fan of your work and these chats. Apologies if this has been explained in previous chats, but some friends and I were curious: is there a relationship between your starred reviews and your top 10 rankings? For example, we noticed that #1 received 3 starts, while #2 received 4. Is there a correlation? While I'm here -- shoutout to Rose's for their anniversary menu last week. It was great to have some old favorites back, and a fun experience.

Fair question.


The Top 10 list is highly personal, a collection of current favorites that have less to do with star ratings than with my gut reaction to them. Pineapple and Pearls gets four stars for setting the bar for innovative fine dining, but I could see myself at (and send diners to) Del Mar more often for sublime service, Spanish food and ambience. 


I may be from the San Francisco Bay Area but I don't miss a Chat. Last weeks' comments regarding bare wood table tops have stayed with me. It's understandable that restaurants try to restrict costs and minimize turn-over times by avoiding table cloths. Two ways to avoid placing flatware - knives, forks, spoons - directly on questionable wood table surfaces: 1) Placing the flatware on clean cloth napkins. Many restaurants do this though doing so makes it impossible to place said napkin on lap until a dish (eg, appetizer, butter/main dish plates) is provided. Still, a clean cloth napkin beneath the flatware is a cut above placing it on bare wood. Cloth napkins, even polyester, are improvements over flimsy paper ones, and 2. Paper table covers. Using them does add some expense for restaurants but it must be far less costly than dealing with fabric table cloths. Using a paper cover provides a clean, refreshing touch that adds to the overall ambience. Your chats (one reader referred to your "chants"!) are a Must! Thank you. Barbara Witte/

Hello, San Francisco! Glad to have you joining us. Thanks for offering solutions to the "problem" of naked tables, although I can imagine someone now chiming in on wasting paper, etc.

Hi Tom! Love your posts and look forward to them every week. I've been considering going vegan/vegetarian (I already eat vegetarian ~5x a week cheese is probably my hardest thing to kick). But have you had any amazing vegan meals lately somewhere that's not fast casual like Chaia or Cava? I know any place has a salad that could work, but was wondering if you had come across any outstanding vegan dishes in your foray into DC's rich dining scene. Thanks

Have you read my review of Fancy Radish in the Atlas District? It's one of the best examples of plant-based cooking on the East Coast. I like that it doesn't hit anyone over the head with a mission statement, but just quietly goes about serving interesting food that happens to be free of meat and dairy products. 

Hi Tom, My husband and I plan to take advantage of our in-law visit (i.e. free baby sitter) to head out for a nice meal in DC! I was initially going to book something at Rasika, but then realized there are so many new places to try that we've missed out on the past 3 years...but where to start?! No food restrictions other than a few things I have to avoid as I'm pregnant again (but a place that mixes mocktails would be nice) and it'd likely be a weeknight. We also want to be able to hear ourselves talk.Can you help narrow down some new options for us?

 Happy to oblige. Chloe (contemporary American) makes a good date night destination, especially if you dine on the early side. Same for Poca Madre, the lovely new Mexican retreat from Victor Albisu.

Hi Tom! Long-time reader of your column/live chats, first time writing in. I had a bit of an... usual experience at Ambar in Clarendon recently. I was there with friends for brunch this past weekend, and went to use the ladies room. As soon as the stall door closed behind me, I saw the handle was missing and the door was stuck! Another guest tried to help me open the door, but it wouldn't budge--and there aren't any gaps under the staff doors, just a few feet of clearance between the wall to the next staff and the ceiling. A staff member brought a chair into the adjacent stall, and I climbed onto the back of the toilet, shimmied over the wall, and the staff member helped me down onto the chair. I suppose this sort of thing happens sometimes, but I was really disappointed that I didn't receive any kind of apology from the restaurant! I didn't alert the manager to what happened (I know you say that's key when you have a negative experience), but I figured this was the sort of thing the staff would tell their manager about immediately. I stayed at my table for 10 minutes after this to finish paying my bill, but no one acknowledged what happened. What do you think--is this on the restaurant for not training their staff to alert management about something like this, or on me for not telling the manager myself?

Because you submitted this early in the week (hint, hint), I was able to submit your complaint to the owner of Ambar, who investigated the matter with his staff. Here's a response from founder Ivan Iricanin.


Hi Tom,
Sorry for my delay in responding but I wanted to do my homework looking into this incident at AMBAR thoroughly. It is completely our fault. We failed to deliver our signature hospitality. I watched our surveillance cameras to check where my management was within the restaurant. I can see that we failed on this effort. Our team sincerely apologizes that this guest was trapped in the bathroom at AMBAR and we did not express our concern again once she returned to her party. 
This was also an oversight on our part not recognizing that the lock was broken during brunch shift on this bathroom stall door. Our staff member notified out manager on duty the minute we learned of the incident. Our manager and Ambar employees worked quickly to free the guest and expressed concern for the incident as they freed her. Both apologized to her for the mishap making sure she was okay and unharmed. 
Unfortunately, AMBAR’s manager then directed his full attention to replacing the lock so another guest would not get trapped in this stall, so the mishap would not be repeated. To that end, he took care of lock and the server went back to taking care of guests in their station. After the lock was fixed, our manager went to check on the table and the group had left. This was a big oversight on our part. The manager should have gone to the table again making sure that guest leaves restaurant happy as a top priority.  We regret the guest left us feeling disappointed which is justly deserved, as she had a bad experience during our watch!.  
We would like to offer this guest the opportunity to come back with the full party of six and have brunch as our guests. Please convey our apologizes we know that every guest comes first at AMBAR, and we were remiss on checking the bathroom locks on stalls, and then not getting back to the guest to make sure they were comfortable before departing. We pledge to do better and hope they will come back again as our guests.

Ivan Iricanin
CEO | Founder

Several years back kid#1 and I were dining in West Hartford. The table next to us was parents and two 20+ yo sons. One of the sons spent the entire meal discussing how he twisted his ankle running, how it hurt, how much he ran etc. Finally the mother asked to look at his ankle. It was so dark she couldn't see much but being a mom she was prepared - she dug a flashlight out of her purse. By this time we were enjoying the show and she started talking to us. Son with bad ankle finally fled in embarrassment.


Next weekend our good friend from the Netherlands will visit with his son, whose 29th birthday is Saturday so they'd like to take us to dinner. The birthday boy likes Mexican food. Since they're paying, I'd like to offer them choices at different price points. What are you favorite Mexican restaurants? In addition to your favorites, could you recommend a couple that are mid-range or less expensive? Thank you!

Introduce your visitors to the basket tacos at Mezcalero, which gets Tim Carman's stamp of approval. For something loftier, there's the very good Mi Vida, which has the bonus of being on the waterfront -- a two-fer! 

For an amazing vegan meal try Elizabeth's Gone Raw. We had our wedding reception there last year -- amazing.

I enjoy the townhouse experience a lot, but it's also a tasting menu, very expensive and offered one night a week or so.

This is not really a solution, unless you give the guests a second napkin to use for themselves. Otherwise, the flatware goes onto the table surface as soon as the napkin goes onto the guest's lap.

Duly noted.

What would your top spots be for a fancy brunch in DC (or VA)? I'd love to hear a few options. Thanks!

How fancy is fancy? What are you looking for?

Hi Tom I haven't been able to read your chats as often as I like recently but I truly love them! I often dine alone - both for lunch and dinner. However I never sit at the bar. I enjoy either people watching or simply having the time to read my kindle. I'm single, over 60 (slightly) and female. Is it unusual to request a table when dining alone as opposed to eating at the bar? I've never encountered issues - although a few times I've had to ask not to be seated right next to the entrance to the kitchen. Just curious since you rarely suggest table service to solo diners.

Solo diners deserve to sit at a table if they prefer. Eating alone, I just find it more interesting to belly up to the bar more often than not. As a reporter, I feel I can observe more, and better, partly because I'm in closer proximity to other customers than I would be at a table. That's just me.  Individuals should sit where they want. 

Hi, Tom. About a year or so ago you answered someone's question on the best Italian in New York City, besides Del Posto. I think it was near Times Square. Do you recall what the name of the place is?

Esca, maybe? I recommend the restaurant to people going to Broadway shows a lot. (For what it's worth, the name is "bait" -- fresh fish and seafood -- in Italian.)

You didn't receive an apology BECAUSE YOU DIDN'T ASK TO SPEAK TO A MANAGER! Sheesh. The manager set his/her priority to fixing the stall door which was more important at that moment. "If you see something, say something" isn't only for Metro.

I can see where a guest might have gotten lost in the shuffle, and anyway, the OP had left the building, sounds like. But I appreciate the owner's concern and follow-up invitation to return. (Stuff happens, folks.)

I was surprised to learn that Taylor Gourmet went out of business. I know it had its controversy, but those sandwiches were excellent. So it got me thinking, what are your favorite DC fast casual restaurants (i.e. Cava, &Pizza, Beefsteak)? And have you thought of ranking DC's best fast casual restaurants like you reviewed the top 10 chain restaurants last year?

Interesting idea, and thanks for suggesting it. Honestly, I was never a big fan of Taylor Gourmet, which shuttered last month. Possibly because I'm drawn less to sandwiches than bowls, I'm inclined to drop by Beefsteak,  Rasa and Sweetgreen when I'm looking for something fast, casual and delicious. (One of the three even appears in my fall dining guide, which goes online tomorrow. Can you guess which one?)

Because you leave the restaurant stuffed and want the cookie to be fresh when you eat it a day (or more) later. I assume there's nothing magical about their oven.

I've heard the arguments for the unbaked cookie. I still think it's an odd thing to give a guest after an otherwise transporting meal.

Speaking of Reverie, their email address doesn't work, nothing in their FAQ says when they release reservations on Tock....not surprised previous reader had a bad time

Let's hope someone from Reverie sees this, and responds?

I want to commend the staff at Element 47 in Aspen for fixing an error and then some. We recently moved to Colorado from DC and chose to spend our 40th anniversary in Aspen. We were staying at the Little Nell, home of Element 47, and arranged a reservation through the concierge. When we arrived, we were given a note confirming our reservation. Just one problem -- the restaurant was not open the night we were supposed to dine there, which we learned by accident that morning. I called down to the restaurant to confirm they were closed and then spoke with the concierge, who apologized and offered to book us a table at nearby Cache-Cache. We were disappointed but said okay and went off for a hike. When we returned, we had a message that the restaurant wanted to it up to us. They opened the restaurant just for the two of us and Cesar, their chef, prepared a completely new off-the-menu tasting menu. Eric Elliott, the sommelier created special wine pairings and served us. It was a phenomenal once in marriage (at least so far) experience. Aspen is not in DC but the Little Nell and Element 47 went so far out of their way to rectify a mistake I thought it was worth reporting.

You were the sole patrons that night? That's unbelievable! And so heartening. I want to fly to Aspen just to eat at Element 47 now. (Q: Did you tip 20 percent? More? Just curious.) Happy 40th, by the way. 

I missed the chat on Oct. 3, but I too am a gluten free diner. I wanted to offer some support to the chatter and tell them that DC is very GF friendly, but also wanted to offer some advice. 1) Always ask if something fried (french fries, tortilla chips) is fried in a separate fryer from items that contain gluten (like chicken fingers). 2) The same goes for ordering gluten free pasta: confirm it is boiled in it's own pot and not in the boiler boiling regular pasta. 3) Ask about soy sauce. Surprise!--it contains wheat and is one of those hidden items that could cost you dearly the next day/week(s). 4) Make it clear that you understand that cross contamination is a thing that could happen, but be firm if/when the salad comes out with croutons that it absolutely must be remade. 5) If you are worried about travel overseas, try FARE's travel cards, which I've found extremely helpful. 6) While we're on travel overseas, the EU (bless it) has strict regulations, which means that even in rural Sicily you can get a safe (and delicious) meal. Don't be alarmed when the owner insists on cooking you both gluten free pasta and gluten free pizza because they're so proud of their offerings. I do not regret eating both. I've been GF for 7 years now, and it's not always easy, but it's not too hard and not too limiting if you approach the situations with planning and a pleasant attitude. Plus: You will never fill up on the bread basket so you can always enjoy your meal! Best wishes GF diner!

Excellent advice. Thanks for taking the time to share it all. 

Coming from a non-vegan, Fancy Radish was still the best meal I've had in three years in DC (the Dabney was a close second). Regarding the comment on Elizabeth's Gone Raw, I'm not sure how P&P can be #2 overall but Elizabeth's described as "very expensive." For $75/person? The dinner there left me feeling fully satisfied, which I consider reasonable for a festive night out. Many, many of your top recommendations, Tom, see diners paying more than $75 out of pocket for a single meal. Del Mar, Komi, Sushi Taro, Metier, Marcel's ... not to mention Minibar or P&P topping out over $300/ person.

Dinner at EGR escalates quickly with drinks, wine, etc.  But compared to the other places you mentioned, it could be considered more of a "deal," I suppose.

My main issue w/ the cookie dough is not having to cook it yourself, but rather that the end result is nothing special. Don't get me wrong, it's a good cookie, but it evokes Mrs. Fields more than a 4-star dining experience.

There's that as well. It's a perfectly fine cookie. But nothing nearly as wonderful as a diner would expect after a dinner there.

In recent meals there, I have enjoyed the wonderful, creative food and drinks, relaxed atmosphere, and conscientious and kind hospitality there -- just as much as during the years when you consistently sang the place's praises. What has changed for you?

Stay tuned. The complete dining guide comes out tomorrow  -- and Rose's Luxury is a bit young to be in a hall of fame at the moment, no?

Thanks for doing these chats! We have tickets to an evening performance at Ford's Theatre on Thursday, and were looking for early dining options. I don't think we can do the pre theatre menu at Central unless we can substitute a vegetarian main for one of us. Do you have any suggestions?

The swank 701 in Penn Quarter has what you want: a three-course pre-theater menu for $35. A glance at the current online menu shows you could enjoy a meatless menu of sunchoke soup or roasted cauliflower salad followed by artichoke agnolotti and a choice of three desserts. Caveat: You must order before 6:30 p.m. 

My only quibble with the list is that you put Jaleo on there. Really? Jaleo's food hasn't been relevant for a long time. The last time I ate there I felt the chef was going through the motions. I know that you have a keen fondness for this place, but does Jose Andres really deserve two restaurants on a top 10 list? He's a wonderful chef, and humanitarian. But Jaleo has reached its sell by date.

When is the last time you visited? What did you eat? I go three, four times a year to Jaleo, and I always leave impressed by the variety and consistency. And I get mostly positive feedback from readers and others I send there.

I went to Bucks once and was mystified as to why you raved about it. Good, yes, but it's essentially home cooking, albeit cooked better than I could ever cook at home. Reading your new review, I think I get it: "My rare night off from professional grazing tends to find me in the honey-lit dining room of this casual American restaurant..." When you want a break from the usual, you're craving simplicity, because your usual is exotic. My usual is simple home cooking, so when I go out, I'm looking for unusual flavors and the kind of cooking techniques (deep frying) and ingredients that I can't or won't get at home.

Bingo! You answered your own question. Buck's, for me, is a break from the new, new, new.

Maybe it's just me but I am incredibly bothered by the waiter/waitress who asks questions like I and fellow guests are children: "What would WE like to drink tonight? Will WE be having appetizers? How did WE find the wine?" (Actually it's only waitresses in my experience.) It happened again at Barcelona on Wisconsin. Are they taught to say that? Can they be untaught? If it really bothers me would I be wrong to reduce the tip?

Consider your peeve passed along. But unless you've asked the server to cease and desist (and then they continue), I think it would be churlish to reduce your gratuity. 

I was thrilled to see Centrolina mentioned in your Fall Dining Guide, as I had just made a reservation for Friday night! My husband and I will be toddler free for an entire day/2 nights next weekend for our Anniversary and will be in DC trying to enjoy the nightlife and unstructured days. What we really, truly, want to do is to explore good food/drink on Saturday night without an itinerary. Is that possible? Can we wander to a neighborhood somewhere around 5 pm and find a place where we can find dinner, walk to dessert, and grab a drink after without expecting 2 hour waits? I am all for overscheduling, but I want to find something delicious/explore without having to make reservations way ahead of time. We'll be staying near the White House and are willing to walk/uber nearby, but would prefer to stay nearish to our digs. Any neighborhood/street areas we could explore to take in the food scene and mild nightlife without calling ahead? I considered H-street corridor, but darn if there isn't a giant street festival that we want to avoid at all costs.

Near where you will be staying, the Jefferson hotel is good for cocktails, either at the intime bar near Plume restaurant or in the livelier wood-wrapped space beyond. From there, you could walk or Uber to Rasika West End, followed by dessert at the more sedate Marcel's -- one of my Hall of Famers -- for something from the French restaurant's new pastry chef. 

I was very excited to see so many new places on the list. (I was actually very excited to see that Kuya Ja’s Lechon Belly made the cut at #10.) But where is Inn at Little Washington? I haven't been but based on all your reviews over the years I was surprised not only that it wasn't #1, but that it wasn't even on list. Was there a criteria change or have other restaurants been raising the bar?

Earlier this morning, I released a new feature, a Hall of Fame celebrating 10 distinguished restaurants that have stood the test of time. That's where you'll find the Inn at Little Washington.

So excited to be visiting Tail Up Goat for dinner! Any must-orders you'd recommend?

The menu changes frequently there, but you always want to order 1)  a pasta and 2)  a dish from the "bread" category.

I ate lunch at Q by Peter Chang in Bethesda on Monday, and my lunch companion and I both chose entrees in the "lunch" section of the menu. After placing our orders, our server informed us that each entree would cost an additional six dollars because we were dining on a "holiday." We were stunned. Tom, is this a common or acceptable phenomenon? Thanks!

I'd be surprised as well. I've never heard of a restaurant -- any restaurant -- tacking on extra for a standard dish just because it's a holiday. Special menus are one thing. This is another. And boo to the server who informed you of the up charge *after* you ordered. No fair. I would have complained to a manager. 

What should a diner do when finding a foreign object in food at a DC restaurant (part of a lauded DC restaurant group) -- when the restaurant manager refuses to identify herself to the truthful diner, denies that there could be (for example) plastic inside a food item served, threatens to call the police, and bars the harmed diner from the restaurant? Thank you,

It sounds as if the situation escalated rapidly and dramatically after you pointed out the foreign object in your food. I can't imagine why a manager wouldn't identify herself, nor what transpired to make the restaurant consider calling police. Am I getting all the important details here?


But to your question, you could try to bring your story to the attention of a publicist or the owner of the restaurant group, email contacts for which are easily found online.  (I'd start with the publicist.)

Hi Tom, a couple times a year, an out of town friend visits DC for work and asks us to make a reservation somewhere "fabulous and buzzy." He lives in a small town in the midwest without a lot of fine dining, so he relishes the pomp and circumstance and a killer wine list when he travels. The past couple times he's come, we've done Fiola and Del Mar, both met with rave reviews. The one catch: we're usually joined by a few of his colleagues with slightly less adventurous palates, so tasting menus are out. We were thinking Kinship, but wondered if you had any ideas we were overlooking...

"Fabulous and buzzy" certainly applies to the Asian-themed  Momofuku under newish chef Tae Strain and the more casual Little Havana, a Cuban-Caribbean storefront on 14th St. NW. Both are on my list of Top 10 favorites this season. For something more formal, but "safe," I'd consider Sfoglina, with branches on Connecticut Ave. NW and New York Ave. NW.

It's been years since I ate there. I remember that the food was fine. But I went there multiple times, and never had good service. It was always haphazard, and you couldn't be sure if you'd receive your entire order. I never went back. The point is, when this happens at a good restaurant, they can lose a customer for life. (It also doesn't help that my husband doesn't really like to go to small plates places.)

Your husband must stay home to eat a lot ...

OP, do you like Ethiopian? My favorite vegan meal is the vegetarian platter at any Ethiopian restaurant (just ate at Chercher, delicious!). Almost all of the dishes are vegan, so for the few that are vegetarian, you can omit? Not fast casual, but a lower price point than Fancy Radish?

I almost always order a vegetarian sampler at an Ethiopian restaurant. (My forthcoming guide has a good example, btw.)

I think churlish is a kind way of describing someone who would reduce gratuity for something like that, especially considering how common the use of 'we' is in dining settings.

Honestly, I can think of a lot more things to be concerned about in a restaurant than being addressed as "we," but hey, I welcome all rants and raves in this forum. (Well, MOST of them.)

THIS. It's cowardly to reduce a tip when you haven't made any attempt to indicate to the waitstaff why you're doing so.

Hadn't thought of that. But yes.

All you do was pick on the guy who doesn't like to order a bunch of small items instead of one entree? You might lose a reader for life with that kind of crap.

Huh? I wasn't being snarky. I was simply (honestly) thinking that so many restaurants are serving small plates, I bet he doesn't go out much. (Oh, the perils of a live discussion!)

Tom, your entertaining and informative writing is a huge gift to the restaurant community – we owe you major gratitude! But when you turn from food to culinary morality, we see a little Stockholm syndrome going on: you show more empathy for restaurant owners than for us customers. Specifically, when a meal goes wrong, you want the customer to talk with the management immediately rather than writing a critical on-line review. Giving the restaurant a chance to fix the problem is surely good for the restaurant, but behold: I have just laid down a major wad of cash for a meal that just wasn’t worth it. Now instead of going home and writing a (scrupulously honest) Yelp review, you want me to expostulate with the manager, while my party studies their shoes and pretends not to know me. You want me to explain to Chef Andrés that his scallops are bland? That’s not my job (but they are). Please: observe the direction in which the money is flowing, and consider who owes additional effort to whom. And then, tell us about the food!

Thanks for the feedback. But trust me, I see myself as an advocate for diners, not for restaurants. 


My thinking, in brief: How can restaurants correct something if they don't get feedback -- or feedback AFTER the fact, when it's much more difficult to smooth things over and *also* prevent a similar problem for future guests. 


One problem is, there are often several sides to some situations, and I'm often privy to just the one presented to me. I can't tell you how many times a reader has complained about something, I've reached out to the restaurant, and the restaurant fills in details left out by the diner. As in, verbal assaults, etc. So that's always in my mind when I'm responding -- often quickly -- to these posts. I really want to be fair to all involved.


Humor in the days of people trying desperately to find offense in every passing comment


I'm responding to my post about Jaleo. The last time I ate there was 2007. We had the small plates with a group of out of town friends. And the food was mediocre, and the vibe at the DC location was flat. I have never gone back. And like I said I took people there all the time after it first opened. And am a fan of many of Jose's restaurants. There are too many really good restaurants to eat in DC -- even on multiple occassions a year -- to spend time there. Thanks for responding. Love your chats. Never miss them.

But your last experience was  .... ELEVEN YEARS AGO!? I can't imagine holding a grudge that long. Do yourself a favor and dine there. But I hear you about choices. DC diners have an embarrassment of riches these days.

I immediately thought of Tom being tied to the railroad tracks and in the distance is an oncoming train! Speaking of which, do you know a good place for Seafood near NYC Penn Station?

Ha! I know that feeling well!


I *do* know a great place for seafood near Penn Station. It's a mile away --  at Grand Central Oyster Bar & Restaurant. I'm a fool for the pan roast.


If you complain to the manager in real time - you might not have to lay down a wad of cash (it get comped) or you don't mind (the issue was resolved well and graciously) so you don't mind paying the wad of cash. If this doesn't happen, then you can complain to yelp - and the added mention of how management didn't take care of it carries more weight to your review

Thanks for chiming in.

Um, no. It's a live chat. Over text. You can read it anyway you want, but take everything nuance/typo with the knowledge that it's quick typing (minus Hax). If you want to read snarky, go to Hank's chat! It's great! (I mean that sincerely, Hank's chats are fun!)

God bless you. And God bless America!

I laughed at what was obviously a joke directed at the prevalence of small plates in the current DC dining scene. Please don't stop cracking jokes because some of us are too sensitive - notably it's often the same ones who have no problem bashing a restaurant anonymously.


Do you consider the economic power you wield over a restaurant when reviewing a restaurant or compiling one of your guides? A good review from you can ensure reservations are booked for months, while a bad review can empty out a place faster than a hair on a plate. I know you have said that you consider a restaurant's popularity or importance before you write a review, but does it come into play while you are writing? If so, how? Thanks for the insight.

I have a responsibility to be fair, accurate and engaging -- because if something doesn't read well, the rest doesn't matter.  (In short,  I rarely think of any "power" I might have.)

I have to agree with people about not returning to some restaurants after a bad experience. I went to the Inn at Little Washington about 15 years ago. The drive from DC was long, the bill was outrageously expensive, the service surly and the food mediocre. I have never returned. Why? There are other, much better restaurants in and closer to DC. A friend who went with me that fateful night did go back three years ago. She said that she had the same experience, except that the bill was even higher. Some places just get one chance.

Something to think about --- and for restaurants to think about, for sure.

In all fairness to restaurants, you should absolutely complain to the manager first and have them make things right. Would you take an issue with your partner or spouse to social media before talking it over with them? Probably not, so why would you complain online about a business before complaining to them directly? Going to user reviewer sites first is just being bratty. Which is why I don't trust those types of review sites.

Uh huh.

yes! i'm also curious about good brunch places---not as expensive as the four seasons brunch buffet but nice and elegant.

I'm a big fan of the always-interesting food at Convivial, from the talented Cedric Maupillier. Also (for brunch) Momofuku and Rasika West End!


That's a wrap for today, gang. Be sure to check out the full dining guide tomorrow. Let's meet again next Wednesday, same time. Thanks for joining me -- and keeping me on my toes!

In This Chat
Tom Sietsema
Tom Sietsema has been the Washington Post food critic since 2000. In leaner years, he worked for the Microsoft Corporation, where he launched; the Seattle Post-Intelligencer; the San Francisco Chronicle; and the Milwaukee Journal. A graduate of the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University, he has also written for Food & Wine, Gourmet, GQ, Travel & Leisure and other national publications. In 2016, he received an award from the James Beard Foundation for his series identifying and rating the "10 Best Food Cities in America" the previous year.
Recent Chats
  • Next: