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

Nov 08, 2017

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, We had dinner at Metier last weekend for my birthday. While the food was amazing, we thought the service was even better. It was incredible from start to finish, which included Chef Ziebold coming out to wish me a happy birthday. But here's my question. We've had dinner at a few tasting menu restaurants - The Inn, Komi, Metier, etc. and we always leave stuffed. Like to the point of being uncomfortable for a couple hours after the meal. How do you handle this as a food critic? I felt like if I left any food on my plate at any of these restaurants the wait staff would have asked me if something was wrong. Do you eat almost everything, and if not, do you think it raises suspicions that you might be a critic? How many people spend $200 for dinner and don't finish their dish?

Great question. I gave up my membership in the Clean Plate Club years ago, for several reasons: not everything is delicious (worth the calories), there's always another meal around the corner, and I'd be obese if I consumed everything on my table every single meal.  Give or take a veal chop or saag paneer, leftovers typically go home with dining companions.

 

My general strategy is to take a few bites of a dish (you can't always evaluate a recipe in one forkful) and move on to another.  But if something is exceptional, I've been known to finish it.  Just depends on my appetite and my dining schedule. (If I'm doing two dinners, for instance which sometimes happens if I'm on a major deadline or going out of town.) 

 

I'd love to see some of the places you mention winnow the number of courses and maybe charge less for a tasting menu, (or offer guests the choice between short or long). As you suggest, the pleasure you get from a meal tends to drop off as you reach satiation. If chefs were required to sit down and eat as their patrons are expected to do, I can imagine shorter tasting menus. No one wants to feel hostage to something that should be a treat, right?

 

COMING UP: Restaurant veteran Sebastian Zutant and his wife, architect Lauren Winter, are adding something special to the dining scene with a 50-seat, wine-themed bistro called Primrose, expected to open the week before Thanksgiving (knock on wood) at 3000 12th St. NE. 

 

Zutant, formerly a partner in the popular All-Purpose Pizzeria in Shaw and Red Hen in Bloomingdale, plans to highlight natural wines from France, part of the new restaurant’s Gallic focus. “The French do everything better than anyone else: pinot blanc, cheese, fashion,” says Zutant. Primrose will focus on classic French comfort food — steak frites, coq au vin — prepared by chef Eric Schlemmer, previously with Sovereign in Georgetown; the setting, set off with floor-to-ceiling windows, will lean “feminine,” thanks to a palette of lavender and turquoise and light wood floors. And because Zutant says he has so many friends who don’t eat meat, the French onion soup at his new place will get its heft from porcini mushrooms and vegetable stock. 

 

Zutant, who will round out his list with labels from Virginia, has also begun making his own wine at  Early Mountain Vineyards in Madison, Virginia at the foot of the Blue Ridge Mountains. His wares include a dry riesling/syrah blend that offers “a white wine nose” but “drinks like a red wine.” 

 

Primrose is the couple’s first collaboration. “We make a great team,” says Zutant, who adds that Winter, a principal at Streetsense, “taught me a lot.”  Such as? “How to stay on top of contractors.”  

 

SPEAKING OF GRAPES, my review for the Magazine this Sunday (online now) looks at the impressive new Ana at District Winery, yet another winning restaurant with a water view, this one in the Navy Yard.

 


FADE TO BLACK:  After a 10-year run, Villa Mozart, the charming Italian restaurant watched over by chef Andrea Pace, is closing after dinner service Nov. 11. The chef, 51, tells me he’s sold the 55-seat business in Fairfax City to someone who plans to reopen it as a Taiwanese dining room with craft beers.

 

“It’s hard to find good people, especially out here,” says Pace, whose signature rye ravioli with fresh spinach and mountain cheese and flaky apple strudel reflect his background in a part of Italy where German is spoken.

 

  The talented chef is not retiring, fortunately. After a bit of R & R,  Pace hopes to open a place of his own closer to D.C., maybe even in the city. But first, he says he’s who is looking forward to not cooking on New Year’s Eve for the first time in 31 years.

 

 

 

Good morning, gang, and welcome to another 60 minutes of restaurant chat. What's on your mind this morning?

As perhaps one of only a handful of your loyal readers who voted for Donald Trump, I too would like to see the president out and about on the D.C. dining scene. However, can you blame him for sticking to BLT Prime in a safe space? The same restaurant owners (yes, many are very political) and diners who have been complaining President Trump doesn't eat enough in D.C. will be the very same people who protest in front of whatever restaurant he visits. Put yourself in his shoes as someone who won the presidency while garnering just 4.1 percent of Washington voters. Why would he walk into your lion's den?

Fair point, and thanks for writing. (I'd like to think I have readers on both sides of the political aisle.)

 

I, for one, would be excited to see Trump dine outside his comfort zone, as he suggested he would,  although I'm not holding my breath.  POTUS is pretty risk-averse when it comes to spending free hours at other than his own venues. But I'm hopeful!  He might consider dining out with Ivanka, a pretty regular restaurant goer, or his wife and young son, to serve as buffers in any "protest"  he might face.

We have tried to celebrate my birthday on the day, but in the last few years it's become nearly impossible. I think that veterans need acknowledgement, and would not take the free meals and such away from them. This is especially true for the VietNam Vets (and I'm of the age where my peers went to that war). Still, how do we find a way to celebrate an event that is important to us? I don't want to get a free piece of cake or have the whole waitstaff sing happy birthday, I just want to be able to celebrate quietly without being made to feel I am taking space that should go to a veteran?

Where exactly are you going to celebrate your birthday? I ask, because it sounds like you're frequenting chain restaurants that might offer discounts or gratis food to the men and women who have served in the military. There are plenty of restaurants that don't take part in such events. Give me a preferred location and budget and I'll try to make some suggestions. 

Tom, Thank you so much for your Philadelphia recommendations. We went to Dim Sum Garden over the weekend and thoroughly enjoyed it. Tip: go early - we arrived around 11:45 a.m. and had to wait a few minutes. Shortly after the line and wait grew. Local question - I saw that you checked out Succotash in Nat'l Harbor in 2015. Do you have any thoughts on the new DC location that opened up in Sept? Apologies if I've missed a First Bite on that.

Happy to hear you had a good time in Philadelphia, one of my favorite food destinations in the country. As for the second branch of Succotash, I previewed the gift from Edward Lee last month. 

Need a venue near Tysons to celebrate a milestone birthday - our little girl is turning 13! Alas, we are a very complicated party of four. One adult has a significant illness and needs very comfy, preferably couch-like seating. The birthday girl has life-threatening food-allergies to peanuts, tree nuts, and eggs. We have had many successful dining trips to Chef Geoff Tysons (great with allergies); but are looking for something new. Our budget is on the modest side. Any ideas?

I'm going to throw this question out to the crowd today and hope for a suggestion or three before noon. Chatters? 

Tom, did Ruta del Vino, the South American wine bar on restaurant row in Petworth, get any consideration for the fall dining guide? Having eaten there five times since July I think it’s a great combination of excellent food, a unique wine list, good service, and one of the more diverse clienteles seen anywhere in the city. And the space isn’t a shoe box, so their no reservations policy doesn’t force patrons to line up for hours. For me this is the kind of solid, relaxed, go any time place that deserves more attention amid everything hot and new. What say you?

I visit about 100 restaurants to come up with my 50 + favorites for the fall dining guide, and while I've enjoyed Ruta del Vino in the past, a more recent dinner left me wondering what happened in the kitchen. These days, I like the restaurant most for its bar. 

Dear Tom, Along with 30,000 other brain geeks, I am coming to town this weekend to attend a conference. I am so excited to meet up with a colleague I haven't seen in years. We are looking for a great place to reunite to have a good time and great food+drink while doing it. Due to other professional obligations, we are likely only able to get together over drinks and maybe an app/small plates. We are both foodies so price is not a concern. What are your thoughts? Thanks!

Washington has a treasure trove of great watering holes, including these 10 picks from my colleague Fritz Hahn. I'm going to steer you to the just-opened District Wharf, in Southwest, for appetizers and cocktails at Del Mar (Spanish), Kith and Kin (African/Caribbean) and Requin (modern French). All come stocked with stylish bars and a chance to see the hottest attraction in the city right now. 

Your mention of a traditional layer cake at the end of your review of Old Maryland Grill begs an obvious follow up: where in the city can one get a legitimate piece of cake for dessert as part of a quality meal? My wife and I are not fans of the current fashion for dessert as bits of random stuff strewn artfully (or not) over a plate. So where can we eat cake?

You'll find some choice slices at the aforentioned, southern-themed Succotash downtown, which highlights a berg of hummingbird cake, and tried-and-true Buck's Fishing & Camping in Upper Northwest, which serves a dreamy chocolate cake. 

Tom, thanks for making your way up to College Park to review Kapnos and OMG. For those of us who live here, they are great additions to the dining scene. We went to OMG for brunch on Sunday and I'd say your review was accurate - good food with some service issues. I ordered a bloody mary that took 15 minutes to arrive, and we ordered a starter that came shortly after our entrees. Perhaps the oddest part was the music being played. When we arrived is was some Frank Sinatra era stuff that was pretty unobtrusive, but then it took a bit of a turn and we got Def Leopard's "Pour Some Sugar on Me" immediately followed by Loverboy's "Lovin' Every Minute of It." Then it went back to the Sinatra type stuff. There's nothing like Def Leopard to set the Sunday brunch mood. Is the owner into '80s metal hair bands?

I put the question to Mike Franklin, the owner of the tribute to Maryland foodways, who responded with this:

 

"The restaurant's music mix has been 20% Classic Blues, 20% Big Band, 20% Traditional Jazz, 20% Rat Pack and 20% Classic Rock. Apparently the music service has graduated Def Leopard , Loverboy , Motley Crew, Guns and Roses and some others to classic rock status so we will be tinkering with the music mix. (although my being into '80s metal hair bands makes a much better story) We fully acknowledge some  inconsistency in service and we are working hard everyday to correct those issues."

 

Is it frowned upon to get a pre-theater menu deal if I’m not going to a show after? Thinking specifically of the one at Rasika.

Fear not. No one will be at the door to inquire what show you'll be seeing after you partake of a pre-show bargain. Restaurants offer such deals not just as a service to theater patrons, but also as a way to fill seats that otherwise might go empty until later in the evening. 

Really surprised by all of last week's negative comments on Pineapple & Pearls! Every meal I've had there has been incredible and well worth the price. The food is unlike anything I've ever experienced, yet also strangely familiar (*cough cough* their fried "chicken") and the warm, friendly staff make it impossible not have a good time. Seriously, I don't think I've ever had so much fun at a restaurant before. For the chatters who did not like the wine pairings- try sitting at the bar next time and order a few of their killer cocktails instead of doing the full wine-pairing experience! The price point is lower and I think the bar has some of the best seats in the house.

Thanks for sharing.

Hi Tom, Do you have an internship program?... Well, that was actually my second question. I'm conducting research for final project to get my Master's Degree, consisting in creating a comms plan for a client, in my case is an interior designer specialized in restaurants. Since you've eaten in both the pretty and the ugly, I'd love to pick your brain on how do you think interior design influences your overall experience when you go to restaurants whether is for reviewing them or just to meet with friends? All the best, Mariana

Your question would take me an hour (at least!) to address, but I will share that ambience, including design, accounts for about a quarter of my star ratings. Increasingly, I feel people make decisions on where to dine almost as much for the comfort or wow factor of the setting as for the food. And noise, which I've tracked with a sound meter since 2008, continues to be a huge problem for diners. 

I had lunch with a friend from out of town at a popular, established D.C. area pizza place. We had two toddlers with us. We arrived right when it opened at 11am and were seated at a table by the front window. A few minutes later they seat a table of men on lunch break right by us. The whole big restaurant is empty and they seat us right on top of each other. I felt bad for them. Near the end of the meal they seat a poor woman at a table for one wedged between us, the men, and the corner. Why would staff do this? Is it to make the restaurant look bustling to draw in business? Seat tables close for ease of wait staff? How do restaurants determine where and how close to seat guests? Thank you, AL

Without interviewing the restaurant in question, I can't explain the sardine routine you all had to endure. But your query gives me an opportunity to bring up a pet peeve: tight tables, a problem I addressed in a feature story earlier this year. 

Tom, recently visited our new neighborhood spot, Moreland's. Great experience, but I write to note one particular thing: The multiple TV screens were OFF during dinner, rather than turned to ESPN talking heads with the sound down, which is so common today even in finer restaurants. We enjoyed our meal so much more without the pointless visual noise. I am a big sports fan, and look forward to visiting Moreland's some Sunday afternoon to watch an actual game. But during dinner, my mom was right: Turn the TV off, let's enjoy the meal. Thoughts?

TVs are considered a necessity rather than an amenity in a lot of DC restaurants, particularly the large ones downtown, which attract numbers of power brokers and others who have a big appetite for news.

 

That said, I love the idea of diners focusing on what's on the table, and conversation, the latter of which is becoming something of a lost art as all of us spend more time looking into our phones at breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Hi Tom! First off, thank you so much for these weekly chats – they are the highlight of my Wednesday. My dad worked for Jean-Louis Palladin in the Watergate before I was born, and he has instilled a love for food in me and my three siblings since we were little. I am in my mid-twenties, and have 8 friends flying into DC around the holidays. They all love and appreciate good food of all types. I’m looking to make a dinner reservation for 10-12 people on either 12/29 or 12/30 and was hoping you could help. I reached out to Rose’s Luxury (one of my favorite restaurants), and would love to do the roof terrace dinner there, but I’m nervous I may not get a reservation when they open the booking, since I imagine the holidays are an especially busy time, so I’m looking some other options in case that doesn’t work out. Around $100-$130 per person or less would be ideal. Many of them have never been to DC before. Thanks!!

Do tell, who is your dad and what position did he fill at the late, great French restaurant that helped put Washington on the food map so many years ago? 

 

Regarding your question, if you can't snare Rose's single reservation table, I suggest you try the handsome private dining room at Arroz downtown, the kitchen table at Rasika West End, one of the private rooms-with-views-of-the-water at the just-launched Del Mar at the Wharf  or the alcove table at Convivial, where the food is French-American and delicious. 

Have you heard anything about Villa Mozart in Fairfax closing? I am sad and surprised to see one of my favorites go. Are there any other restaurants in the area you can recommend with a similar combination of excellent cuisine and intimate, “friendly” fine dining?

I was sorry to hear the news, too. Villa Mozart was that rare restaurant that had the air of a neighborhood establishment while providing a sense of gentility and very good cooking.

 

Probably the restaurant that comes closest to the model is Tavira, the underground Portuguese dining room in Chevy Chase.   I'm happy to add to the list. Chatters?

Tom, you have steered me right. I had a foodie friend come visit this weekend and we had such high hopes. Working backward: we had a late dinner at Compass Rose, and since Sunday night was so nice, we got to enjoy the excellent meal outside, which was lovely. And on Saturday night, we had reservations with college friends for Sfoglina which treated us to a spectacular meal. We had small plates, entrees, drinks, coffee, and desert, and there wasn't a single flaw. We also went to the Federalist Pig (not my first time - I live in Adams Morgan), which I loved (she did not. To each her own!). We ate so excellently this weekend on your top notch advice, so I wanted to thank you. So: thanks, Tom!

 Thanks for taking the time to write, and for providing some feedback as well. Readers like you are my extra ears and eyes. 

Here is a challenge! Planning a small (30) college reunion next May in DC and need advice on restaurants that could accommodate us. Preferably in DC, not too pricey, nice food. I have Black Salt on my list but would love your ideas...you have an amazing handle on the Washington food scene.Here is the hooker...we are all over 80! So no stairs (or standing in line) but we all love food and adventure.

I relish a challenge, so here goes, in no particular order:  701 in Penn Quarter for modern American cooking in supper clubby environs; Rasika West End for superb modern Indian fare (ask for the "library" seating); Q by Peter Chang in Bethesda for very good Chinese in one of the private rooms to the side.

Is there any update on if/when the DC outpost of Vedge might open? Thanks!

The husband-and-wife team behind the terrific Vedge in Philadelphia should begin construction on their vegan street food bar at 600 H St. NE  beginning Monday, says co-owner Kate Jacoby. "The contractors are promising 10 weeks," she tells me, "which puts our opening at early February."

Hi Tom, Wondering if you have a recommendation for dinner spot before an 8 pm show at the 930 club. We’re parents in upper MoCo so we don’t get to DC much and want to make the best of our night out. We’re pretty adventurous but don’t want to break the bank-think less than $150 bill including drinks. We will also be dressed very casually for the show so nothing that will make us feel weird for wearing jeans. A plus if it has a cool beer or cocktail scene. Thanks so much!

I've got the perfect spot for you: Hazel, an arty dining room on V St. NW with creative food from chef Rob Rubba. Think sea scallop cakes, barbecued carrots and "sticky crunchy" ribs. 

Hi Tom, Long-time admirer of your chats. I live in the MD 'burbs with small kids and can rarely get to the places you recommend, but I love reading about them. Tonight is one of the rare occasions. I'm celebrating my anniversary with my husband, and we're treating ourselves to Fish at the MGM. I see that they have a $75 chef's tasting menu. I've never eaten at a restaurant sufficiently fancy to have such a thing. Is that a can't-miss experience I should absolutely try, or an interesting option that's as good as the other dishes on offer at Fish? Thank you for your insight!

It depends on your budget and your appetite and whether the dishes on the tasting menu appeal to you. The only tasting menu I've had at Fish by Jose Andres is at the Fry Bar counter, specializing in fried dishes (obviously) and prepared by a chef who cooks in front of you. Please let me know about your experience. I've had a number of readers complain about poor service, among other issues, since my rave review.  (Not to rain on your parade, just to temper your expectations.) 

Hey Tom, Long time reader, first time asker. My wife and I have 2 kids under 3 years old, so this forum is generally used for me to live vicariously through you and the chatters. We have friends coming to town from NY this weekend and we’ve just secured a babysitter for a rare Saturday night out. The couple joining us are very picky eaters (no seafood, not very adventurous, steak and Italian are safe). Last time they were in town Bourbon Steak was a hit, but it seems boring to do that again. I’m thinking Central would be appropriate. Any other suggestions? DC or Arlington preferred. Thanks!!

Good for you for trying to show your friends there's more to life (and DC) than a slab of grilled beef! For Italian, try Alta Strada in DC, which I find to be cozy, moderately-priced and delicious, no matter how adventurous a diner you are. If you want to stay in Arlington, Ambar is the way to go. It's loud, but super-hospitable and the Balkan menu, heavy on meat dishes, should appeal to your visitors. 

Lille Julaften in Norway is when most Norwegians take home and decorate their Christmas tree. But for this Norwegian-American family, the tradition is recent years has been a family dinner out at a restaurant. Our criteria have been: 'cozy' (or otherwise good ambiance; and good but not necessarily adventurous food. Almost any cuisine, but no small plates. We've done anywhere from Martin's Tavern and PJ Clarke's in the early years of this tradition, to Osteria Morini, Kingbird, the Riggsby and Tabard Inn. Kids are left at home for this event - so no concerns about that. We will consider repeats, but we've only reached family consensus on the Riggsby for a repeat visit. Other ideas?

What a wonderful tradition!  I think we could all use a little Lille Julaften in our lives.

 

"Cozy" certainly applies to the back room at Stable on H St. NE, the city's lone Swiss restaurant, as well as Iron Gate in Dupont Circlewhose family-style Italian/Greek script can be enjoyed in a space with a hearth. In Georgetown, the long-running La Chaumiere is good for French classics. 

Love the chats, Tom! Not really a question but wanted to share a story relating to a topic from last week. Around 10 plus years ago I was showing some out of town guests around the then-newly reviving H Street corridor and got turned away at the door of The Red and the Black (closed now) because I had lost my driver’s license and had no photo ID. I was in my 40s. Ended up speaking with a manager who was apologetic and nicely explained the problems they could get into. Frustrated at the irrational liquor laws, I somewhat facetiously said I did have a passport at home and maybe I should go home and get it. The manager laughed and said that if I did she would give me a drink on the house. Short story: I did, and she did, and we all had a great time chatting on and off the rest of the evening. I do make sure now I have formal ID when I go out. Addendum: the manager would not accept my Costco card as ID even though it had a picture – no birthdate, I guess – but just a few days earlier, I had been able to board a plane to California using the Costco card as photo ID (yes, it was at the airport when I discovered my license was missing). But that’s an account for another day…

The lesson in these fun little vignettes: never leave the house without proof you are who you. 

Dear Tom, Can you please help us understand why you published an essay recommending DC-area restaurants that serve steak for President Trump to visit? He has repeatedly insulted Washington, DC. The vast majority of voters who live in the DC metro area voted against him a year ago. His showing up -- with the attendant Secret Service inconveniences (which I understand are required for his protection) -- at a local establishment he doesn't already own would make for an uncomfortable evening for the other diners. I know it would ruin my appetite. He should continue to dine at his own hotel's restaurant where he is surrounded by diners who chose to go to a Trump-themed establishment. Or he should dine at the White House where he can get two scoops of ice cream and a burnt steak at the press of a button. Unless you were attempting satire, Tom, your essay fell flat with me.

When POTUS says he's going to start dining out at other than a restaurant in a hotel he owns, that's news. And my job is to cover it. I don't predict he'll be rushing to check out Himitsu or Komi or even Bourbon Steak anytime soon -- this is, after all, a man who frequently says one thing and does another -- so you can rest easy. I *think.*

I ducked into Farmers and Distillers to get out of the rain the other night and, after looking over the place and the menu (nothing the people nearby were eating looked appetizing, so we just looked) think I discovered the secret to their success: they are The Cheesecake Factory with enough gourmet gloss to let people who want to go to The Cheesecake Factory but are cowed by the snobby opinion of people like you (and me, and right-thinking people everywhere) and stay away. They harness an air of "sophistication" (although F&D looked kind of like a cafeteria) and thus give people an excuse to indulge in the determinedly middle-brow fare they really want.

IN-ter-es-ting take on the restaurant. ( I'd like to think I'm "discerning" as opposed to "snobby," however.) Here are my initial thoughts on the establishment. 

Hey Tom, love the chat. Wife is a huge hot cider fan around this time of year and Im a huge booze fan (anytime of year). Any rec's on a bar serving good spiked cider? Thanks!

My colleague Fritz Hahn suggests the original Anxo in Truxton Circle:  "They have good Spanish and American ciders on tap, as well as their own house-made Basque-style cider."

It wasn't that long ago that restaurant reviewers waited a bit (and a few visits) before critiquing a venue. Now even you are very quick to post at least a "first bite" assessment. I recognize that diners are interested in the newest openings, that there is a great deal of competition in this space, and that diners are paying full price at newly opened establishments and should be getting the best they restaurant have to offer even if they are newly opened but.... You and I must have gone to different Kith and Kins! Our experience was a staff in the weeds, servers who didn't know the menu (resorting back to Kwame's story rather than the dishes themselves), a mushroom forest that had dried out as if it had been under a warming lamp for most of its life, and a goat curry that was tepid and bland. Consistency -- the mark of a good restaurant -- is clearly missing here. My guess is that you were ID'd or went at a time when the crowd didn't overwhelming both front and back of the house. I'm hoping that my experience was a reflection of opening week challenges...but it does point out the perils of first impression reviews, does it not?

I think it's generally understood that "First Bite" stands for "early take on a new restaurant."  Also: "your mileage may vary," despite the fact I typically visit First Bite subjects twice.  I know I wasn't immediately recognized on my first visit because I was seated in Siberia, near a server station.  Sorry to hear about your snafus; let's hope the restaurant sees this and acts on the problems. 

My birthday is New Year's Day - you cannot pick your birthday and to complain about the holiday just seems crazy. And I agree with Tom - what on earth has happened that you "don't want to get a free piece of cake or have the whole waitstaff sing happy birthday, I just want to be able to celebrate quietly without being made to feel I am taking space that should go to a veteran"? signed, a Veteran (who never really noticed anything crazy going on on Veteran's day that would prevent someone from enjoying their birthday)

Bless you. 

My friends routinely send back an incorrect order on mistakes that I consider very minor. For example, if an overworked waiter brings me coleslaw instead of a garden salad for my side, I wouldn't even let the waiter know that there was an error. My friends are the exact opposite and say that it is the restaurant's job to get the order right. I don't want to be too harsh, but the only difference I can find between my friends and me are that they never had to deal with the public in a retail setting. Empathy is a good thing.

Minor mistakes happen, true, and while I admire your go-with-the-flow attitude, I have to say, there's a big difference between coleslaw and a garden salad for the customer who is expecting/craving one or the other.  As flexible as I consider myself, I might be inclined to send such a mistake back, too. 

Hi Tom: I sent the below letter to Bindaas and received no response. I'm disappointed with the customer service and would like to know if there was a better way to deal with the situation. Thank you. "Good evening, I would like share my concerns/disappointment during my recent dinner at bindaas on 11/4/2017. I made a reservation for 6 at 8:30pm. I received 2 calls to confirm my reservation and a follow up call when I commented that the dinner was a planned birthday celebration. 4 out of the 6 party members arrived at 8:20 and ordered drinks at the bar. The last 2 party members arrived shortly before 8:30pm. When I went to the host/manager, he commented that we could wait next door and get some drinks while until my party arrived. When I informed him, we were all there, he commented "isn't it great that you're on time and that my table would be ready any minute now. I went to Bardeo and informed my party. We waited to be called. At 8:45 with no further information, I approached the host table again and he again said "any minute now." He was visibly annoyed. Another 10 minutes passed with no update and we approached the host again. The host responded that he couldn't force the table sitting down to leave and "did he want us to make magic happen" I feel like this comment was uncalled for. We pointed out if we had been 30 minutes late, the table would have been given away. Again he reiterated that there was nothing he could do. At this point we suggested that he could make it a little bit better for the table standing waiting in Bardeo. Bindaas sent over popcorn. We were hungry and accepted the popcorn but I did not feel the gesture was adequate after inquiring after a 30 minute wait and then receiving a somewhat sarcastic response. We were called back at a little before 9. The service problems continued during dinner. 2 orders of naan were put in at 9:10 and had not arrived until 10pm. (In that instance, the waitstaff volunteered to take if off the check). I wanted to celebrate a birthday but the attitude of the host/manager combined with the service problems during dinner led to a more restrained dinner. We did not order more dishes because we never received the dishes we had already ordered. The lack of seating management had a ripple effect on the child care hired by the party as well. Instead of 6 people enthusiastically walking out and looking forward to returning to any of your restaurants, we walked out remarking on the response of your staff to reservation/service problems. "

Thanks for the rich detail you provided. I'd be upset, too, if my group showed up on time; was kept waiting 30 minutes with a confirmed reservation; and had a manager go sarcastic on me. Free popcorn does not sound like much of a resolution, either.

 

I reached out to the owner earlier today and got this response: 

 

 

We are deeply disappointed in how our front of house staff handled this situation.  It is distressing to hear that we failed to provide this group with the experience that guests should expect from Bindaas, or from any of our restaurants.  We should have done more to appease this guest.  We try our best to accommodate reservations, but sometimes parties linger longer than expected.  Nevertheless we are responsible to find solutions to honor all reservations, with grace.  We would love the opportunity to reach out to this guest personally to express our regrets and see how we can serve them better in the future.


Thank you for the opportunity to weigh in.

Sincerely,
Ashok Bajaj

Subsequently, I also heard from Michael King, a principal with the restaurant group. The original poster should feel free to reach out to me so I connect you to him. I'm at tom.sietsema@washpost.com

Tom,
I am deeply saddened by the experience this chatter had during their visit to Bindaas in Cleveland Park. On behalf of my team I would like to offer our sincerest apologizes. This is not the type of service that we strive to deliver to our guests, and failed to deliver for this group on Saturday night. I would appreciate the opportunity to connect with the guest directly and wish to invite them back to rebuild our relationship and prove that we are better than what they experienced.
 
Michael King
Knightsbridge Restaurant Group

 

Hi Tom--love your chats! My friends and I were discussing how service in DC restaurants leaves much to be desired--either the case of the vanishing waiter or the one who comes by far too often. Why can't some restaurants use a simple system of pushing a button to signal they need a server? (Similar to the red/green trick at Brazilian steakhouses). Might not be the most elegant, but hey, it'll get the job done. Thoughts?

You might be onto something, although a button/ringer sounds a little -- distant? clinical? anti-social? -- to me.  

 

That said, I could have used the invention at a recent restaurant meal where the waiter spent ALMOST as much time with my party as I did. By the end of the night, I knew everywhere he had lived and worked and what he cooks at home when he's not working.  He wasn't very good at taking hints, either. Long evening. 

A pre-theater menu is a signal that you're expected to vacate the table after a reasonable period (e.g. in time to see a show that starts at 8 p.m. or similar time). I'm sure as long as you don't linger, the restaurant would have no problem with you.

Good point! Pre-theater goers should not camp after dinner, at least not if the restaurant is busy. 

What does a restaurant critic (like you) do when you're sick as a dog with a miserable cold, so your tastebuds and appetite are a bit "off"? I'm sticking to smaller servings of bland food for a few days, but a critic can't do that at a restaurant, can you?

Fortunately, I'm rarely sick, so the problem doesn't come up more than once or twice a year. I also try to stay one or two restaurant visits ahead, for insurance against illness or family emergency or whatever. if I have a serious cold, and I can't taste, I simply don't go out. It wouldn't be fair to restaurants. 

Seems like one of the big issues in politics right now is people not bothering to experience the worlds their political opponents inhabit. Dining out in DC (or literally anywhere that he doesn't own) might be a good start for the President.

GREAT way to look at the situation. We all need to get out of our comfort zones, right? A writing teacher once told my class to go to a magazine rack and buy the publication you'd be least likely to buy, just to see "life" from another point of view. Good advice. 

First of all, thank you for being you and bringing a sense of participation in the dining scene for those of us who can’t afford/don’t have time to enjoy it, and thank you for being someone who brings joy to others by way of your helpful recommendations. It’s quite heart-warming to see the reports back of happy people who have obviously had a joyful time with loved ones. I’ve been sitting on this question for a few weeks, and am very curious as to your take on it. At what point do you give up and stop trying to return an incorrect order? In this case, a drink. I was at Le Diplomate (my one splurge in the city) to celebrate my birthday and ordered a pineapple juice with no ice. A few minutes later, as my waitress approached with the drink, I could see it was full of large ice cubes. I apologized to her, and reminded her that I’d asked for pineapple juice with no ice. A few minutes later she dropped off another drink, now ice-free. I took a sip several minutes after that – it was full of vodka! I caught her eyes and when she came over, I told her, “I’m sorry, but this – well, it’s full of liquor!” A moment of confused looks passed between us until the culprit was revealed: she had heard, “Pineapple and [Grey] Goose!” We laughed, she apologized again, and she came back with a third drink. This time, finally pineapple juice, but now it was full of crushed ice! I didn’t have the heart to ask her for a do over yet again, so I just kept the drink. I tipped her 20% (I was once a waitress, and everyone has off nights), and the next day I emailed Le Dip just to let them know what had happened. I let them know I wasn’t looking for a comp (ice dilutes a drink and is unpleasantly cold, but won’t kill anyone), but that if I were a manager, I’d want to know about it, so that I could perhaps encourage better communication between the waiters and bar staff. [As a heads up, the Le Diplomate Starr Restaurants email will bounce back.] I’m just curious as to what you would have done or how you’d have handled this. Thanks for listening!

I guess what bothers me most about your post is that your email bounced back. For the nth time, restaurants need to assign someone to monitor diner feedback ON A DAILY BASIS. I've lost track of the number of readers who tell me they write or call and never get so much as a "thanks for your feedback" from the place where they just dropped money. 

 

But that wasn't your question. I'd chalk up your ice-packed drink to dumb luck -- and hope the restaurant comped you on the juice.  Unless, of course, you really, REALLY wanted ice-free pineapple juice.  Maybe the fourth time would have been the charm at Le Diplomate.

Not at all unknown in, for example, Asia: The sit-down restaurant inside the Toyota Museum in Nagoya has call-buttons on the tables. And, for that matter, good food too.

Thanks for weighing in. I hear a lunch bell -- or is that my stomach growling? Whatever, it;s time to sign off. See you again next week, and thanks for your time and wisdom. 

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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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