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

Nov 28, 2012

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

Find all of Tom Sietsema's Washington Post work at

Can you tell me what you know about this new addition to the Loudoun County restaurant scene? I think they grabbed a chef from a D.C. restaurant.

The Bungalow Lakehouse is a ginormous restaurant, sports bar and cigar lounge serving titanic portions of American food in Sterling.  The 18,000 (!) square foot building opened this fall with Jason Maddens, the former top toque at Central Michel Richard, as chef.  


Good morning, everyone. Lots to chew over this morning.  Have you heard that Bob Kinkead is closing his seafood restaurant after nearly 20 years? That Edan MacQuaid's plans to open a pizza joint on 14th St. are off?


Or about the forthcoming restaurant on the Hill? The debut of Beuchert’s Saloon  in the new year will find the former chef de cuisine of PS 7’s serving food from a local farm in a former speakeasy. Andrew Markert says much of the American food he’ll be serving in the 47-seat restaurant at 623 Pennsylvania Ave. SE will be plucked from East Oaks Organics Farm, a family business in Poolesville, MD co-owned by Brendan McMahon, one of the Saloon’s  business partners.


Markert, who left PS 7’s three months ago, has spent the time since putting up broccoli kimchee, turning pigs into salami for charcuterie and finessing his roast chicken recipe, which will likely be served with lemon-braised kale, bacon butter toast and “my Mom’s gravy.”  His menu at Beuchert's will be "playful" and include twists on classics as well as "cool" names for dishes,  the chef promises.  Sweets will include "Slice-o-Pie" and "Bananas Foster Twinkies" (long may they live).


Heading up the liquid part of the script: veteran shakers Nathan Berger and McMahon, who plan to incorporate fruit and herbs from East Oaks into their cocktails and offer prosecco on tap.

Another of the project’s principals is Bethesda native August Paro, a former Los Angeles-based set designer for TV commercials and music videos.


Hoping to evoke an old-time saloon “without being hokey or Old West,” Paro says he’s dressing the interior with a marble-topped walnut bar, a brass rail he’s aging himself, subway-style floor tiles used to restore Ellis Island and a soda fountain from the 1890s. Lighting will come by way of some European hand-blown amber chandeliers the designer is pulling out from his personal storage.


Discovered but off display for the moment, says Markert: the original door to the speakeasy.


Look for a Jan. 7 launch date of the restaurant.


WAIT, THERE’S MORE! Chef Ed Witt is out at 701 restaurant  in Penn Quarter. Ashok Bajaj, his employer, says Witt’s contract was coming to an end and the restaurateur  decided not to renew it.  The owner of Knightsbridge Restaurant Group didn’t have to look far for replacements. Tony Conte, Bajaj’s executive chef at the Oval Room, has been put in charge of 701, where Lucas Sousa, a former executive sous chef at Bibiana, has been installed as chef de cuisine. Stepping up to the same job at the Oval Room is James Barton, formerly of Bibiana and Westend Bistro by Eric Ripert.


This is shaping up to be a busy Wednesday. Let's rock 'n' roll, gang. Bring on your questions, comments, rants and raves.

I walked by it for the first time today and saw "WTF" painted on several windows, which according to their website means "Woodward Takeout Food." Serious question: Are they that out of touch they didn't realize what else "WTF" refers to, or have such a great sense of humor that they chose to go with it?

As I mentioned in today's preview of the new restaurant and carry-out from Jeff Buben, no one is likely to forget the name of the latter!

My friend is celebrating her 30th birthday this Saturday, where could we go that is fun and special for her big day? Thanks!

You don't mention location or budget, but I'm sure your friend wouldn't forget toasting her 30th with a body scrub, meditation time and Korean cooking at Spa World in Centreville. 


For something more mainstream in the city, aim for the Asian-inspired Source in Penn Quarter,  a carriage-style booth at Rasika West End or drinks and snacks at Rogue 24, which now offers a 4-course menu in addition to its  epic Progression (16 courses) and Journey lists (24 small plates).

Hi Tom, Thanks for all of your great work; I dine out frequently for business and pleasure, and rely on your recommendations several times a week. My quandary - I've been scolded by waiters at several restaurants lately - for not having visited before, not visiting more often, not saving room for dessert and for being late (my fault and I called in advance, though it was a 9pm reservation, and the dining room had plenty of openings). Each of these situations were beyond a gentle chide, and awkward and uncomfortable for the whole group. I chalked it up to waiters misreading the table, but now that it's happened so often, is there new marketing guidance being circulated that encourages waiters to chastise visitors to make them feel at home? All were upscale restaurants frequently featured in the Post and elsewhere, and with hefty checks. The one manager I pulled aside chalked it up to a mis-read sense of humor. I'm not a sensitive person, but maybe it's time for this fogey to give up hot spots and retire to the Palm with "my" waiter?

Consider your plea for waiters to bite their tongues passed along to the restaurant community. 


Diners get enough chiding in their daily lives; they don't need to hear it when they're paying for hospitality, too.

Long time reader, first time poster. I've been salivating over all the great restaurants you write about and now's my chance...We're coming to visit family in a couple of weeks and have only one Friday night dinner out. You've recommended so many great places that I can't help! There will be from four to eight of us, would like to keep it to about $30 per person, not including drinks/wine. DC/Suburban MD location preferred, as we are staying up in Silver Spring. No preference on cuisine and we're pretty adventurous.

Thirty dollars per person for just the food? Try the newish LacoMelza Ethio Cafe, an arty space in Silver Spring where the entrees average $13 and the lures include a terrific Ethiopian riff on steak tartare.  Another adventure awaits at La Limena, the very good Peruvian-Cuban outpost in Rockville. I love the foamy pisco sours and pork-filled tamales there.

Hi Tom - I am going to try to score a reservation at Minibar for my wife's 30th birthday. I have read about their reservation policy and I know I need to send an email and also provide credit card information. But do you know if I need to include my credit card number in my initial email or can I wait until I'm (hopefully) contacted by them to confirm the reservation? I tried to email them, but my message bounced back. Thanks!

The relocated Minibar, the subject of my Dec. 9 review in the Magazine, now accepts reservation requests only by email,  Once you've secured a date, you'll be asked to return a form, including credit card information, via email or fax.

My husband's a real meat and potatoes sort of guy, and when it comes to his birthday, he wants that comfort food. The various Ray's restaurants are fine, but I'm hoping the branch out a little this year, while still staying around that price point. I'm clueless which options exists inside the Beltway that fit that criteria.

Happy to oblige you both.  Go to the intimate Et Voila! in the Palisades and you'll find a hanger steak with house-cut fries and a salad for him ($20.95) and plenty of options to satisfy your inner gourmet: duck leg confit, grilled trout with Champagne sauce,  scallops with cauliflower mousse and more. Be sure to reserve ahead; the French-Belgian dining room is small and popular.

Are you here yet? If so, don't forget to hit "Publish" or whatever magic button you need to use so that we can see the Q and A's. Thanks.

Sorry, but I was reporting/writing the news at the top of the chat.

Thanks for realizing what a gem we have in our Brookland neighborhood with Menomale. Now if only we could keep the crowds away... (My favorites are the Pollo Verde sandwich or the quatto fromaggi pizza with proscuitto de parma added. Did you get a chance to try the sandwiches?)

I was not a fan of the sandwiches. But the pies and the brews are terrific.

We're going with another couple on the Logan Circle house tour this Sunday. What would be your current 14th St. favorites for an early Sunday dinner afterwards? Currently, we're holding a reservation at Birch and Barley. Happy Holidays to you!

Birch & Barley is a good choice. But I'd be just as happy to eat and drink at the nearby Cork wine bar or  Spanish-themed Estadio.

hi tom, more of a comment than a question, but i figured i would throw it out there. i have been the chef at patowmack farm for 4 years now, and it has been 7 years since you have reviewed us. i've been looking forward to your compliments and criticism since i have arrived here. any plans to stop by? i don't expect you to tell me when, but we would welcome the feedback. thanks

You're correct, chef.  I can't ring you up and say I'm coming out. But I very much appreciate your reaching out to remind me of the time that has passed since my initial critique of your restaurant.  (It's not easy baby sitting 7,000 restaurants in the DC/VA/MD/Post-circulation area!)  

I know New Year's Eve is a crazy night to go out. My husband and I never go out and we usually don't even stay up for midnight. But this year we have a friend who will be in from out of town with his girlfriend and we would love to go out, leave the kids (our eldest is now old enough to babysit the younger ones too!) and have a nice dinner with real-grown ups without being interrupted by children or trying to convince them to eat their vegetables. We are not looking for a big "scene" or a hot-spot, and probably would rather stay on the Virginia side of the river just to keep it simple. Any suggestions for a New Years Eve dinner where we could get away from the kids and have a nice meal (and maybe even get to dress up a little bit)? Thank you so much!

Good for you for planning ahead. While I don't know their holiday plans yet, all the following Virginia restaurants will be serving dinner Dec. 31:  Bistro L'Hermitage in Woodbridge,  Curry Mantra in Fairfax, Liberty Tavern in Arlington, Nostos in Vienna and Villa Mozart in Fairfax. Take your pick of French, Indian, American, Greek and Italian, respectively.

A chef I admire recently opened a new restaurant, and I'd love to try it, but I understand that new places often take a while to get their feet under them. How long do you think is long enough to wait? A month? Two months? Or is there really no rule of thumb, and it's different for every restaurant?

It depends on the restaurant and the talent and how much time the team has rehearsed prior to launch. No matter how much experience a chef may have, however, every new restaurant represents a fresh set of challenges, or so chefs tell me.


Any restaurant types in the audience care to weigh in on the matter? 

So, asked the waiter to order a taxi after a great meal. He came back and said their car, specifically, a black limo, was waiting outside. We were planning on tipping generously but when we arrived at our destination the limo driver charged us twice the amount of the taxi we'd used earlier to get to the restaurant. We paid and tipped but had not expected to be charged. What do you think?

Ouch. The server had no business ordering a limo when you asked for a taxi, and he should have told you what he had done before you stepped outside. I'd complain to a manager at the restaurant if I were you.

I broke up with my Korean boyfriend, but really only miss the Bulgogi. Is there anywhere I can get good Bulgogi in DC (Annandale is great but a real hike)?

Ha! Your best bet in the District is probably the barbecued beef at Mandu in Mt. Vernon Square.

Be careful what you ask for, you might get it!

Hey now!

Hi Tom - My wife and I (both in our 20s) went to The Source this weekend for a special meal. While we enjoyed the food, the service left a lot to be desired, especially when you spend $200 on a meal. Although there was a manager constantly checking on another table and refilling their wine, he never stopped by our table. Our server was mostly attentive, but forgot to bring the side of Shanghai Noodles that we ordered to accompany our entrees. When we were finally able to flag him down (as we were basically finished with our meal), he mentioned it was his fault and that he forgot to put the order in. He returned with the noodles about 5 minutes later (after we were done). Although we enjoyed the noodles, at that point we were barely still hungry (though we managed to order a plate of those delicious chocolate chip cookies). I was surprised that we were still charged for the noodles when the bill came. I didn't want to make a big deal out of it, but I expected more out of a high end restaurant. Do you think this is because we were one of the younger tables there that night or perhaps just an off night in service?

I'd chalk the mistake up to a forgetful, but not ageist, server who definitely should have given you the noodles gratis.  I mean, the guy acknowledged he made a mistake, right?

Tom, I am a server at an upscale Italian restaurant. Our "Italian side salad" costs $6.65, but it is a good size, and contains mixed greens, grape tomatoes, chopped hard boiled egg, onions, radishes, red, green and yellow peppers and green and black olives. Last week a diner protested loudly after I served it, saying she did not like onions, radishes, peppers or olives. Fortunately we were able to make up a replacement salad that she found satisfactory. But please, folks, if you have strong dietary preferences, let us know at the time you place your order! We will try hard to oblige. It should not be s urprising to find olives in an Italian salad.

No it should not, and I second your advice: diners with food allergies/dislikes need to be proactive when placing their orders. Ask questions and/or pipe up.

Hi Tom - Four longtime friends, late 40s, looking for a lunch spot to meet before the holidays. Location is important since we all work downtown/ chinatown and need to stay close so that we don't spend too much time out of the office! We love Rasika, Proof, Zaytinya, but want to try something new (for us) so we are considering Grafiato, Bisteria, Siroc, and Ceiba. What do you recommend?

How about Jaleo, Central, the Source or Oyamel?

Going against season, I'm looking for a great fish taco. I miss Hook, who always fit the bill. Any other suggestions?

Anyone had a memorable fish taco recently?

"Yes, this is my first visit,and if a scolding is what I can expect when I come, it will be my last." (Response to further scolding about lack of sense of humor: "Like I said...")


What to order for a first time visit to Rasika? I love most Indian food, but my partner is on the fence. Are they any must tries? Thanks!

Gosh, I get this question once a week at least. Among the signatures is a silken black cod marinated in dill and honey, but you can't go wrong by just pointing to a dish with ingredients you like and ordering away. There's nothing I don't love at Rasika.

Hi Tom. Love your chats. Just wanted to let you know how well Ashby Inn handled a potentially ruined visit in late October. My mother took me for a birthday lunch on a Saturday. It is an annual tradition and we love the drive out there and the adventurous menu and the good service. We like to sit on the sun porch and when my mom made reservations she requested a table out there. When we arrived we were offered a table inside. We told the waitress that we had requested a table on the sun porch but without apology she said they weren't available and we could sit inside. Her attitude was less than welcoming or accommodating. She said a large group had reserved the porch but didn't have an explanation for why we weren't told that when my mom called to reserve. Unfortunately the waitress ended up being our waitress and we were resigned to an uncomfortable and less than satisfying lunch. However she must have mentioned our situation to the owner because he stopped by our table and apologized and said he would speak to the person who took our reservations, The owner was a gracious as could be and all it took was an apology and some personal attention and our lunch was back on track. He stopped by several times during our lunch to check in (and give us some fascinating info about their local goat vendor). Sometimes just acknowledging a mistake has been made is all it takes. We didn't get or expect a freebie, which I know is often mentioned on your chats. Sometimes a verbal mea culpa is more than enough. And my favorite dish that day was the potato gnocchi with raisin gastrique.

One of the many details the Ashby Inn excels at is hospitality. I'm glad the manager was able to turn your frown upside down before you left.  (Did I just type that? Cringe.)

I am SO disappointed to hear that 8407 let Chef Matamorous go. Apparently it has been a couple of weeks already (which might explain the not-quite-to-par meal we had there fairly recently). We live nearby and 8407 has been our go-to restaurant basically since it opened. Have you heard anything about the future plans for the chef or restaurant?

Pedro Matamoros called me yesterday to say he had been let go three weeks ago by the restaurant's owner, who in three years did not make the chef a partner in the restaurant (by the chef's account).  Matamoros says he'd like to continue cooking in the Silver Spring area, where most of his clientele is from. 

To Mr. Sietsema and the author of "Business Dinner Gone Awry" ... We at Fiola are disappointed that your experience with us did not meet you or your associates' expectations. Pleasecontact Chef Fabio Trabocchi at so that we can understand what went wrong and rectify the situation. We appreciate your feedback and look forward to hearing from you as soon as possible.

The above is a response to a complaint from last week's chat. Let's hope BDGA is reading this.

Why do waitstaff asked if you've dined with them before? If you say no, they generally explain their innovative and unique new dining concept in which you tell them what you'd like to eat, they bring it to you, you eat it, then you pay them. Drives me crazy.

Drives me nuts, too!  A menu shouldn't require too much explaining, right? 


"These are our appetizers, and some people like to start a meal with one ... these are called main courses. They follow appetizers ... Some folks like to end dinner with something sweet. Those are desserts ..."

You should never email your credit card information. The information goes over the internet unprotected. Fax is more secure, phone is better, in person is preferred. I've responded to restaurants that have ask for CC, with a note saying that it is not secure and please call me for the CC info. They have always obliged that request.

The new Minibar does not list a number, but it does have a helpful FAQ on its website.

Firefly's are excellent!

DOH. I had 'em during one of my review lunches at the restaurant not long ago.

Tom, in your opinion, what are some foods you've had enough of seeing on menus? Also, what are some items you hope never go away?

If I see ONE MORE EGG on a dish that doesn't typically come with an egg, I'm gonna, I'm gonna, I'm gonna ... not order it. Enough already with the eggs! As much as I love pork, I'm getting tired of seeing it everywhere, particularly pork belly.


As for dishes I hope never go away?  For starters, I wish pie had more of a presence. Why don't more restaurants bake them?

Instead of "entrees." You make me swoon.

The word "entree" bugs Francophiles especially. Because in France, the word refers to a first course.

I was dining recently at a restaurant, and noticed a sizeable chip in the lip of the (heavy) glass my drink came in. I was wondering how you (or restaurant owners/managers) would handle that. It wasn't bothering me, so I waited until the end of the meal and made a point to tell the waiter, but I'd love your input for next time.

If I had a chip in my glass, I'd let the server know pronto. Because you never know when that chip is going to become a handful of shards and liquid in your lap.  Curious why you waited? What if the glass had been in your drink?

I'm not sure if I've told you, but there's an awesome bartender at the Brixton that makes the best cocktails ever. I think his name is Jack. He's really cute too with his mustache

Not just a pretty face, Jack (Caminos) is a pro. We featured his mug in my Sept. 2 review of Brixton.

I also had a special meal there recently, with two youngish people, and we were treated like VIPs, complete with a plate of homemade chocolate cookies to take home because we had brought the birthday cake for a party later on. So, I would say it's a forgetful server, not an institutional practice.

I agree.

While I am not longer a server, I was quite a good one back then (my tips, schedule, section & regulars "told" me so). The question should be asked with the idea of introducing the guest to the menu by way of a quick "menu stroll" starting with Apps and moving through the menu, the server should point out a house specialty or personal favorite for each course and a bit about why "Our Caprese Salad is is my favorite, the mozzerella melts in your mouth." All this whining about bad servers sometimes makes me think I should abandon my desk job...

The last time a server told me about her favorite dishes, including foie gras, she pointed out two of the most expensive items on the menu. Grrr.

Wanna know how many times I've had to explain that Fogo had no menu in 6 years of working there? Or how many people don't understand that certain ethnic/cultural and chain/group restaurants don't have freedom to substitute or freestyle menu options??

Thanks for sharing the industry view.

If I may add another pet peeve - unconventional drinking vessels. Yes, it's all cute to drink out of a mason jar or a some other weird thing, we get it. But, some drinks (beer, wine, spirits) are traditionally served in specifically shaped drinking glasses for a reason - it enhances the flavors and nose of the drink. Can we get back to drinking out of appropriate glassware?

Iced tea in a mason jar is OK by me. But I don't want my Manhattan in one.

I'm a fan of the blackened fish tacos at Surfside, though the restaurant is more compelling in summer than winter.

Another recommendation, this in Glover Park.

I wanted to acknowledge the management of Zentan, who did an amazing job making us feel welcome two weekends ago. We got seated after a large birthday party table, and within minutes the manager came over to tell us that we had the same waiter as them and to apologize that it might be a few minutes before he came to us. He took our drink order, and offered menu suggestions. He solved the problem before we even noticed it, and we were incredibly patient with our waiter because of the manager's greeting.

Bravo, manager at Zentan! Problem solved before it even started.

Have you dined with us before??-- If it's a small plates restaurant, I always say Yes, even if it's really No. That's because I don't want anyone telling me "we recommend 3-4 dishes per person" and then feeling uncomfortable because I absolutely don't need to order that much nor do any of my party.... Ashby Inn-- So nice to hear their lunch ended up being nice after all. So many people pitch in and answer phones at restaurants. The waitress did the right thing by telling the manager the situation.

Is anyone besides me hankering for a big boy plate that he doesn't feel obliged to share? ;)

Hi Tmo--In your last chat you posted a question along the lines 'Why don't you ever recommedn Dino?' You've posted similar comments in the past. I think these messages are plants. I live in Cleveland Park and while I do not know the Dino owners/managers or anyone in the restaurants business, apparently the Dino people have asked CP residents to write to you praising Dino. Please do not post these kinds of messages (about Dino or other restuarants). BTW, I have dined at Dino about five times and agree with you that it is nothing special and at times mediocre. Now I hear that have a good wine list, but I do not drink so I have no experience with that.

In the rush of a live chat, I am scrolling through dozens of messages and occasionally post what you refer to as plants.  I try to avoid them, but sometimes they slip through. And ... they don't always work!

Send credit card info by e-mail or fax? Neither of those is secure! Someone needs to come up with plan B.

Drop the form off at ThinkFoodGroup headquarters?

Growing up in San Diego and now living in Greenbelt, a definite for Fishnet in Berwyn. Great salmon tacos.

Yes to Fishnet.

... is that the crust, not the filling, is the important part, and a good, tender pie crust needs to be made with either lard (not kosher, and eeek! it's lard!) or trans-fat shortening (eeek! transfats!), both of which are now not popular and in the case of transfats, illegal in Montgomery Country. I'm hoping good pie will make a comeback now that lard is known to contain more healthy fats than harmful.

Thanks for chiming in.

I waited because I've seen MANY MANY glasses chip in an industrial dishwasher (and shatter coming out too), and I'm generally not prone to assume that somethings an issue unless it's actively bothering me (probably a little too much so) . Didn't even occur to me that the chip could be in the drink - I may speak up faster next time.


My boyfriend and I are both 22, and we can vouch for the fact that ageism is a common occurrence at upscale restaurants. We'll get ignored as we try to flag our server down, only to watch her fawn all over the older couple across from us. Makes us even more appreciative of the servers who treat us wonderfully. Good service happens to us infrequently enough that when we actually do get it, we tip very generously. Note to servers -- please be nice to younger diners! You don't know how much money they actually have until the check comes.

And on the flip side, just because someone is mature-looking doesn't guarantee a good tip.


That's a wrap for today, gang. Thanks for a lively hour. See you here next week, I hope.

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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