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

Oct 17, 2018

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

Find all of Tom Sietsema's Washington Post work at washingtonpost.com/tomsietsema.

Hi Tom, My sister in law is coming up for the weekend from North Carolina to get away from the after match of Florence for a while. Since we are all off on Friday I thought it would be a fun idea to go to one of the places in DC where you need to stand in line to get in, but I am having a hard time deciding on where. I think I have it narrowed down between Rose's Luxury and Bad Saint, but can't decide which. If all else is the same will I end up spending more money on one rather than the other? Thanks!!!

This is a first: a request for a restaurant where lines are the norm. Good for you for taking advantage of a Friday off to experience one of the District's no-reservation gems.

 

With drinks, tax and tip, you're apt to spend about the same amount at both Bad Saint and Rose's Luxury. If it helps, the former is much smaller, and thus more of a challenge, to access unless you are in line two or three hours ahead of opening time.  Let me make your decision more difficult and propose a third option: Little Serow, for some of the best Thai cooking I've had in this country.

 

Happy Wednesday, everyone. Before we get started, I wanted to share a response I received from the chef-owner of the new Reverie in Georgetown, following a complaint from an early customer in last week's chat. Johnny Spero writes:

 

  "We’re happy to lead the chat on October 10th, and score best celery root dish, but sorry our diners had a negative experience. My staff and I are working hard to make every diner’s experience exceptional and we know that means shoring up every detail—from the window treatments we’re installing to obscure the alleyway to adding bread we had originally planned (it took a little extra time to perfect). We think every return visit they have will be better by design, but that doesn’t excuse us missing the little details on their visit so we’d love to invite them back to dine with us. Can you please ask them to write in and share their contact with us?

As for the website, we realize Google is leading with a link on Drink Company and not our actual website, 
www.reveriedc.com [reveriedc.com]. We’re sorry for the inconvenience and have created a link on the page that will lead guests to our email and Tock reservations."

 

NEWS FLASH: Kith and Kin in the Wharf is good again.  I've been there three times recently, and have experienced some thrilling African-Caribbean cooking. The restaurant, featuring chef  Kwame Onwuachi, is the subject of my Sunday review in the Magazine.

 

What's on your mind? Share away. My fall dining guide came out last week with some fun enhancements, including filters to better find exactly the restaurant you want.

 

I always wonder,when you list Charleston as one of Washington's best restaurants, why you never list Magdalena, in the Ivy Hotel. I've been in my life to many fabulous restaurants. I consider Magdalena even better than Charleston. Another terrific restaurant in the Baltimore/Washington area is Linwoods in Owings Mills. By the way, I am glad that you no longer list Woodberry Kitchen. I always found that overrated. Thanks for keeping us informed about the restaurant scene. I envy your job! 

I put Charleston in my new Hall of Fame not just for its long run, but for it's consistency in terms of food, service and atmosphere. Magdalena, which I previewed two years ago, has looks going for it, but otherwise isn't in the same league as Charleston.  Thanks for the suggestion of Linwoods. 

I love this place - but I hate that they changed my favorite pizza (Etna) - smoked mozz is not my thing. Also wish Pastan would bring back the "Hipster Cuvee" - a terrific wine identified as 100% Barbera and fully of stemmy deliciousness - and it was (every wine geek I turned onto it loved it).

I sympathize with restaurants: Make the smallest change, and someone is apt to complain. Maybe you can request the new version of the pizza without the ingredient you don't care for, if in fact substitutions are cool at Two Amys?  I'm just happy the place reopened, after a flood in July that pretty much destroyed the basement.

My son’s girlfriend and parents are coming to visit at Thanksgiving. They are Puerto Rican and we’d like to find a Puerto Rican restaurant to try while they’re here. Can you make a recommendation?

By the time your visitors arrive, High Street Cafe should be open in Georgetown.  It's owner, Manuel Iguina, who ran the late Mio downtown, plans to serve a few Puerto Rican dishes, including whole roast pig on weekends.   Expected to roll out yet this month, the forthcoming brasserie replaces Paolo’s (1303 Wisconsin Ave. NW) and installs chef Vincent Torres in the kitchen. 

Hey Tom, Thank you so much for doing these weekly chats. This is the first time I've ever had a question for you and the other chatters. For my birthday in December, I would love to eat pasta finished tableside in a wheel of cheese, but I don't know of any restaurants in DC (or the 'burbs) that offer this. I've never even seen it live but it looks amazing. Do you (or other chatters) have any ideas for this or a similarly cheesy birthday experience? I've also been thinking about going to Stable for raclette. My book club had brunch there earlier this year and it was delicious. Thanks so much!

The last time I saw pasta being finished in a wheel of Parmesan was at the society magnate, Cafe Milano in Georgetown. I'd start your search for something "cheesy" there.

Tom, you're hard work is appreciated as always. It seems like restaurateurs attention cycles from neighborhood to neighborhood... first it was 14th street (now that is saturated) then Shaw and the Wharf. What's next? Where do you feel like needs some love?

Have you seen the views from Anacostia? Beautiful.

Our club (about 80 people) is looking for a place in the Dupont Circle area for our holiday dinner in December. We've looked at downtown restaurants but they're hyper-expensive. Any thoughts on a nice but less pricey restaurant, maybe in the Dupont Circle area? Thanks.

How about La Tomate, the charming Italian restaurant on Connecticut Ave.? I've seen big groups take over the space before, and a recent quick lunch there reminded me what a goodie the oldie is.

Hi Tom - I love your chats and your dining guide! I was so thrilled to see that Elephant Jumps made the cut this year. We ate there just a week ago with our two sons, ages 3 and 1, and our meal was absolutely fantastic. Our waitress was amazing with the boys, and brought their non-spicy pad thai very quickly so they could start eating (she suggested that she do this without us needing to ask!). As you can imagine, our food was amazing, too. Anyways, just wanted to highlight how kid-friendly they are, since I know you often get requests from people like me for kid-friendly restaurants!

Good to know, and thanks for writing. For sure, the food comes out fast at Elephant Jumps in Falls Church.

In the last chat or two, someone mentioned how many restaurants do not put their wine list on their site - AMEN! Can I add to that, restaurants that automatically play music when you reach their site? I get that restaurants immediately want to present their mood or setting - usually jazz or Vivaldi. But in reality, all this does is tell my colleagues at work that I'm not working. So I log off immediately. Not helpful!

This topic comes up a lot. Thanks for giving me another opportunity to inform restaurants to put ALL their lists online and to drop any music or special effects from their websites. (Who wants to get a reprimand for making a reservation, after all?)

Rumors that staffers are being given termination/;ayoff notices?

I have not heard that. It's a sprawling operation, however, with a lot of competition around it.

Hi Tom, I really enjoy these chats. I went to All-Purpose in Shaw recently because of your recommendation and loved it. I will definitely be going back. My boyfriend and I really like cheese fondue and have been to the Melting Pot many times. Are there any other restaurants in N.W. D.C or Arlington that have great cheese fondue?

Cold weather brings out the fondue pots at the cozy Stable on H St. NE.  I'm drawn to the back room of the Swiss restaurant, which feels downright Alpine with its peaked ceiling and cowhide pillows. 

Hi there- my good friend is having a birthday - she wants a chic setting, wonderful food, (preference Italian- but not a deal breaker)- also allows for a party of 5 a week from Sunday - RPM?

My favorite spot for Italian right now is the airy, spare Centrolina, which was No. 3 on the recent Top 10 list of favorite restaurants. 

Some field reporting from the three lined restaurants that were mentioned, in case it makes a difference. The last 2 times I went to Little Serow (mid week on nice days) I got there 30 minutes ahead of time and was in the first seating; one time I was even 2nd in line. The last few times I went to Roses, it was a similar story, and most recently I showed up on a rainy Tuesday at 5.30 and walked right in. Last summer, I tried to eat at the Bad Saint (again mid week, nice day). When I got there 1.5h before they opened, I was 40th in line and didn't get a table. Unless Bad Saint's line has change dramatically, and maybe it has now that the initial buzz has died down, and unless you are willing to commit a lot of time to the line, there is a chance you show up, wait in line and don't eat. You probably won't run into a similar problem at Little Serow and Rose's if you get there 1+ hours ahead of time. Since there are a lot of friends holding lines for others, and paid line holders it's difficult to gauge how many seats are actually being waited for.

GREAT post. We owe you.

Hey Tom! My wife and I are going to an event at GWU and we're going to want to grab dinner afterwards. Any recommendations for somewhere to eat nearby? We're both adventurous eaters and we have a medium budget. Thanks for your help!

You're in luck. The small plates Indian purveyor, Bindaas, has a colorful branch near the campus. I'm partial to the steamed rice cakes called uttapam, the salmon kebabab and the gingery lamb meatballs, among other choices.

Tom - now that it's getting colder, I've been getting a craving for chocolate cake. Where should I go to get my fix?

The homey, old-fashioned variety? There's no better than the wedge served at Buck's Fishing & Camping near the original Politics & Prose in Upper NW.

When did you start loving it and what changed? It used to be among your least liked restaurants...

I re-reviewed it in last year's spring dining guide.

Against all odd, my wife and I are going to be celebrating our 20th Anniversary in about 6 weeks. The Anniversary is in the middle the the week, and will also be 1 week before my 55th birthday -- first roundish number post cancer. So I want to do this right. Problem is my wife hates spending big bucks on food. If it were me, I might spring for the Inn at little Washington or similar. Wife would be unhappy at that price point, so that will not happen). If we do it on our anniversary (Wed) we will probably be limited to central Fairfax County (Tysons/McLean/Vienna/Fairfax/Reston) because of obligations the next day. Alternatively, we can plan for the following weekend. One though I am having is Del Mar and then spend the night down by the Wharf, based on the recent dining guide. That would be more consistent with our price point. And it is closer to waterfront, which my wife loves. Is there anything else we should consider?

First, congrats on surviving cancer. Best news of all, I'm sure.  Del Mar would be a splurge, but definitely worth it, for waterfront location as much as the food, decor and service. There's nothing remotely comparable to the Spanish draw in NoVa.

Hi Tom - My wife and I typically eat in the usual DC neighborhoods but were wondering if you have any recommendations for more rural/farm-to-table-ish restaurants that might be within an hour drive of DC. Thanks!

Some of the places I used to recommend have slipped.  One that has not is the three-star Restaurant at Patowmack Farm in Lovettsville, Va.  Tarver King is the talent in the kitchen, and he cooks mostly with what he grows or raises in the surrounding fields.

Hi Tom, I'm looking to make a Thanksgiving dinner reservation for a party of four and could use a few recommendations. We'd prefer traditional fare (turkey, etc.) and aren't picky about price point. Thank you!

I haven't seen many T-Day menus yet, but based on restaurants that served a holiday menu last year, and my personal good (or better) workweek experiences with them, the following restaurants are worth investigating: 1789 in Georgetown (followed by a walk afterwards), Le Diplomate on 14th St. NW., the Oval Room near the White House, Kith and Kin in the Wharf and Rare Steakhouse & Tavern downtown.

 

Mintwood Place sent me a menu earlier this week. The Adams Morgan restaurant is doing a three-course spread for $55 (for adults) from noon to 8 p.m.

I hate the word "grab" used as a verb in relation to food and drink. "Grab lunch" "grab coffee", etc. It conjures up images of people violently snatching sandwiches out of a waiter's hand. I know this is silly, yes. But I can't help it. It makes me cringe. Lol

Your "grab" is my "veggie."

Hi Tom, 1st time visit to London....looking for restaurant recommendations for a solo diner...should I stick with a bar or table? I'm willing to splurge. Thanks!

It's been around forever, and you might be skeptical of Italian in England, but trust me when I tell you the River Cafe is one of the best meals you can hope to have there. For something local, seek out the gastropub Harwood Arms for modern British cooking. (It has a fun bar, as I recall. Been a few years.)

You are given one final meal. You can only choose one appetizer, one entree, one dessert. For the record mine is: French onion soup from Mon a mi gabi, peking duck from Shanghai village, and my wifes warm brownie a la mode! Tom- whatcha got?

Whoa! Tough question. Off the top of my head this nanosecond, I'd probably ask for a Caesar salad from Zuni Cafe in San Francisco, a perfect omelet from Le Diplomate and Dorothy Sietsemas's World's Fair Cake.

I would recommend any of the Ottolenghi locations for a casual meal, or a picnic lunch.

Yes! (It's been awhile since I've eaten in London.)

To the chatter looking for fondue, BLT Steak has amazing fondue on the menu both savory and dessert!

Nice to know. Thanks.

My dad's was always "get a bite to eat." He always said he wanted more than just a bite.

Ha!

London is obviously famous for its Indian food, and Dishoom is a wonderful example — its conceit is that it's modeled on an old style of Parsi cafes that used to flourish in the old Bombay (at least generation or two prior to the name change). Casual street food, delightful ambience. Other delightful places worth poking into if you're walking past include L. Terroni, a charming little Italian deli, and The Eagle on Farringdon Road, a comfortable neighborhood pub whose food might make it a gastropub, but whose casual ambience would tend to mitigate against a more hifalutin noun. Mele e Pere is a really wonderful Italian vermouth bar with a delightfully punny name — it's a basement bar, and Mele e Pere is Italian for "apples and pears," which is Cockney rhyming slang for "stairs."

This audience is a wealth of knowledge.

Mine is tasty. I don't know why, but I really hate that word.

I try to avoid it as well.

I wouldn't want to get in the way of a splurge at Del Mar and a stay at the Wharf, but if they're looking to stay close to home, 2941 is a lovely place for an anniversary dinner. We've also been blown away by their special dinners, which I would highly recommend if one falls on their anniversary.

I like the look of the restaurant more than the cooking these days. I actually checked out 2941 for my fall guide, and found it ... fine, but not worth the journey.

Hi Tom! My boyfriend and I are going to Jaleo on friday - i've been wanting to go forever and finally made the plunge after your review in the fall dining guide. But I'm wondering what to order! Everything looks so good. Do you recommend one of the tasting menus or is it better to pick and choose what sounds good? There are so many good options, I'm almost overwhelmed.

Assemble a meal from something meaty, something fishy, a salad of some sort and something fried. Jose Andres loves to (and excels at) frying. Then repeat, until you're full.

Mine is "do." I'll do a Miller Lite. I'll do the calamari. I'll do a martini. Sheesh.

I'm compiling a list, so as not to offend any of you. I vow never, ever to use "toothsome."

"Yummy" It should be banned to anyone over 12 years

Along with "nummy."

Tom, I know you steered people away from Blue Duck recently, but I had their chocolate cake a couple of weeks ago (with smoked vanilla ice cream and duck fat caramel) and it was DIVINE. Chocolate Cake chatter should go get it!

How could anyone fail with smoked ice cream and duck fat anything? Thank you.

 

That's a wrap for today. Let's do this again next Wednesday, same time. Chow for now!

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 sidewalk.com; 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.
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