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

Dec 10, 2014

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, Had planned to take overseas guest to Komi for celebration, but closed for winter break during their visit. Any suggestions for fabulous, leisurely dining? Thanks, Nicole

You know what's delicious and leisurely? A perch at the six-seat counter at Sushi Taro in Dupont Circle, home to a $140 per person omakase (chef's choice) menu. Also, the soon-to-be-reviewed Nonna's Kitchen at 12th and U streets. Also, Obelisk, Peter Pastan's tried-and-true Italian dining room on P St. NW. Also, Marcel's in the West End, newly handsome after a recent make-over.

 

THIS JUST IN: Two questions food fans want answers to now that the four-star CityZen is no more:  What’s the next move for chef Eric Ziebold and will he put his beloved Parker House rolls on his next menu?

 

September 2015 sounds like a long way off, but that’s Ziebold’s optimistic forecast for when he and his wife, Celia Laurent Ziebold, plan to open two distinct dining rooms under one roof at 1015 Seventh St. NW. The more casual of the pair will be the 80-seat Kinship on the ground floor; below it will be an intimate “jewel box,” yet to be named, where Ziebold hopes to raise the bar for luxury dining.

 

The chef wants Kinship to have the air of a dinner party. Menu selections will fall under four headings -- ingredients, craft, history and decadence – pegged, respectively, to what’s in season, technique, classic dishes and treats such as foie gras and truffles. “I’m not radically changing my cooking style,” says the chef. Diners will be free to mix and match from the different categories and create their own tasting menus, or order a la carte. The name Kinship is meant to evoke family and the melting pot of flavors that modern American cuisine has become.

 

Accessed by an elevator, the below-ground space will showcase a salon, or lounge, with a fireplace; a 36-seat, dinner-only dining room; and a $150 (or so) tasting menu. To distinguish the experience from the competition, Ziebold plans to offer enhanced coffee service and table-side cooking among other amenities.

 

Washington designer Darryl Carter, owner of an eponymous boutique on 9th St. NW, has been recruited to create both interiors.

 

As for whether or not he’ll be serving those already-missed rolls again, Ziebold says he’s torn between giving future customers what they want and introducing them to something novel.  In other words, he says, “The verdict is out.”

 

 

 

 

Jake Addeo

WAIT, THERE’S MORE!:  Jake Addeo (pictured above) is the new chef at Bibiana, reports owner Ashok Bajaj. Born in Puglia, the fresh addition to the upscale Italian retreat most recently cooked in Hong Kong, at Trattoria Doppio Zero and BLT Steak. Earlier, Addeo worked for 15 years in New York in such prestigious kitchens as Esca and Felidia, where he served as executive sous chef.

Addeo follows Nicholas Stefanelli, who recently left Bibiana to open a place of his own at 1344 Fourth St. NE, in conjunction with Edens Realty Inc., the developers of the popular Union Market. The first free-standing restaurant outside the market will be called Masseria, a reference to the charming country houses, many on working farms, throughout Puglia. “Fifteen years in the making,” cracks the owner of the forthcoming 60-seat dining room, which will feature an exhibition kitchen and patio seating. Look for a spring 2015 launch – and for Stefanelli to appear as a guest chef or at pop ups before then.

 

Last but not least, former Inox owner Jonathan Krinn tells me he's opening a modern American restaurant in the former Wolftrap Cafe at 442 Maple Ave. E. in Vienna.  "Fun, affordable, built for every occasion," Clarity  is expected to start serving spice-crusted lamb shoulder and octopus kabobs "before February," says Krinn, who has partnered with former Central chef Jason Maddens.

 

Good morning, everyone. Lots to chew over today. Let’s rock and roll.

 

Tom, looking for a good BBQ place, other than Hill Country, in the DMV area....got anything? I'd like to stay away from the Mission BBQ chain as well.

The tiny DCity Smokehouse is great for brisket, chopped pork and smoked turkey, but with just a few seats against a wall, it's more of a carry-out than a sit-down place to eat.

Well aware of your general dislike for going out to dinner on NYE, does having reservations at Central for their "Citronelle at Central" change your mind at all? Or will we still end up spending way too much money on a mediocre meal?

Now *that's* a menu that whets my appetite.

 

David Deshaies, a veteran of Citronelle, is a terrific chef and Dec. 31 is a chance to revisit some of the dishes he and his one-time boss, Michel Richard, made popular at what was once one of the region's top restaurants.  Patrons should be tickled to see the lobster "porcupine" and the edible snowball again, at least for a night.

Hello. I will be treating my 9-year old niece to a nice dinner in the NOVA/DC area as part of her Christmas gift. She loves a good meatball (i.e., meatball subs, spaghetti and meatballs). Could you recommend a few places I should consider? Thank you!

Probably my favorite meatballs are the marbles made with beef and pork at Casa Luca downtown, which serves them in a skillet dressed with lemon zest and glossy parsley.  While they're  not always on the menu, the chef will make them if you ask -- and you and your niece should.

Tom, I'm a big fan and am finally writing about your catering feature. I was disappointed with your review of Occasions, which you gave lavish praise to for service but not the food. I've found their food consistently fantastic, and their service amazing, so the overall grade was a surprise. There are 2 issues in particular I was wondering about. First, you have mentioned Susan Gage and sometimes Federal City since soon after you started your column. Since the event was at your home is it possible that unlike others they knew who they were serving? Second, you would never do a restaurant review without visiting multiple times. Does it make sense to judge based on a single tasting (of some, but apparently not the ones you gave the highest grades to)? Thanks!

This post sounds suspiciously like the complaints my editor received from Occasions and Windows, caterers that didn't perform very well on the nights I  hired them.

 

For the record: While I've hired Susan Gage and Federal City for private events in the past, the parties were years ago and staged either in a residence I no longer live in or another site. I bent over backward to conceal my identity from the caterers I used for my story in the Magazine.

 

Given the cost and the logistics -- the script I followed for each of the catered meals and the reality that no two catered events are similar -- I feel I gave the companies more than a fair shot. 

 

My husband & I love Kloby's Smokehouse on Montpelier Road in Laurel. I love the brisket with original sauce, but they have a choice of sauces. The pulled pork is also excellent, and the fries are thin & crispy.

Thanks for the tip!

Tom, any suggestions for a place near the Farragut area for quick but tasty dinner on Thursday? We have a lecture at National Geographic that evening and will need to eat nearby. We're open to any type of food, but need to have vegetarian options.

If my job didn't require me to eat in different places all the time, I think I'd become a semi-regular at the neighborly Siroc on 15th St. downtown. The Italian-influenced menu has sufficient for the diner who doesn't eat meat, including polenta with mushroom ragu and butternut squash pasta.

just a caution for the person taking his/her niece out for upscale meatballs - when I was about 9, my father took me to a really nice Italian restaurant in Manhattan, when my mother was away for some reason. I loved ravioli, and ordered it, but was very disappointed when it came, because it didn't taste like the ravioli I had at home. Which was straight from Chef Boyardee

I hear you! That thought occurred to me about the time I hit "send."

Hi Tom - Where in the district can I find an awesome rice pudding? My mom and dad are coming to town this weekend, and my mom's favorite dessert which she always wants but cannot find is rice pudding. Thank you.

Does mom mind it it comes in a nontraditional flavor? If not, consider Osteria Morini in SE DC for rice pudding accessorized with honey-roasted peanuts, a layer of chocolate crema and a scoop of Concord grape sorbet.

Just want to give my thanks to all the servers, Maitre'ds, cooks, managers, bartenders, bus boys and everyone else who works so hard and often don't get the time off to spend with family and loved ones during the holidays. Just know that at least one person appreciates all your hard work and effort and I hope you know it by my tips.

Make that *two* appreciative diners.

Hi Tom, Want to try tasting menu at Iron Gate for a cozy winter date night, but the main course option looks to be beef. Nothing else is listed. I do not eat red meat. What is the best way to request another option? I want to be as least disruptive as possible. Should I call the restaurant in advance? thx!

By all means, call Iron Gate, explain your situation (you can't be the only non-beef eater) and keep your fingers crossed.

Heading to Jaleo for lunch in a few minutes, any can't miss suggestions?

I'm a fool for the simple but luscious bread smeared with crushed tomatoes and anchovies .... the calamari sandwich ... the gin and tonic (at dinner) ... the tuna salad ... the sangria .... the garlicky shrimp ... the potato omelet ....

Um, Siroc has one starter and one pasta dish for vegetarians (nothing under entrees). Sure, you can get fed there if you are vegetarian, but there are not a lot of options.

But you can also get some dishes there sans meat. Just ask.

Hi, Tom, Can you recommend a restaurant downtown for tomorrow night. My sister is in town for a few days. Thus far we've enjoyed Cedar, Chef Geoff's and the Capitol Grille. The only real requirement is nothing too spicey. Thoughts?

Given where you've been, you might enjoy Del Frisco's Double Eagle in the new CityCenter DC or Pinea in the W Hotel, home to chef Barry Koslow, formerly of DGS Delicatesen.

Hi Tom, I have reservations for dinner at Rasika West End. What are some can't miss appetizers or entrees? Open to meat/vegetarian, not a big seafood fan. Thanks!

Lots of ideas await in my review of the modern Indian restaurant.

We had a celebratory dinner there last Saturday night. The food was outstanding. The service was cheerful but completely inept. And the chairs should be used for kindling on the open fire. Seriously, do restaurant designers even bother to sit in the chairs before ordering hundreds of them?

If I've said it once, I've said it a hundred times: Before they buy anything, restaurants need to take everything -- utensils, chairs, lights, tables -- for a test drive. Because only after you sit in a chair for an hour (for instance) do you know whether its as comfortable as it is stylish.

Big fan of yours and these chats Tom. Having a birthday dinner for my wife a week from Friday and need a good recommendation for a place to go with a party of 7 that's reasonably priced (entrees from $15-25). American, French, or Italian preferred. Thanks!

Try Boss Shepherd's or Jack Rose Dining Saloon for American, Chez Billy Sud for French and Al Tiramisu or the edgier Red Hen for Italian.

For the reader who asked about having their wedding at a local restaurant, I'd recommend checking out the Open Table - they have a section that allows you to search for restaurants (who are on OT, of course) that do private events. You can filter by event size, etc. We found our wedding venue (The Darlington House) that way and were happy with our choice!

Great suggestion. Thanks for sharing.

and he LOVES steak tartare. I don't think I've seen it anywhere, but some place must do it. Do you know?

One model among many: the diced raw beef at the new DBGB downtown.

Urban Bar-B-Que in the Hillandale Center in is cheap and cheerful and great!

Cheap and cheerful -- just what you want from your barbecue joint, right?

Don't you get annoyed when people ask questions like that? Folks - look at Tom's reviews before asking your question - it's not that hard.

Bless you. (Although, menus can and do change and I like to share current favorite dishes when I'm able.)

Tom- I spoke with several of the staff an Mandarin Oriental last weekend- I was escorting some talent for Sunday's show at the Kennedy Center. They said that there have been no decisions about the space's future, but they do want to do something different. Eric will be a very hard act to follow and they don't even want to attempt that. We went one last time to celebrate my husband's birthday on Veteran's Day with a couple friends- it was splendid as ever. While I'll mourn CityZen, I'm excited about your description of Chef and Mrs. Ziebold's new space, I am very much looking forward to what will replace this sublime restaurant!

It's a gorgeous space over there. I hope the hotel takes its time to come up with someone worthy of the setting (as a competitor, Capella, has done with its Grill Room. Have you heard the news? Frank Ruta is taking over the Georgetown dining room.)

Willard's on Willard Avenue near the Dulles Expo Center is authentic and terrific!

You are a wealth of bbq info today.

That takes the cake for nonsensical names. I'd love to figure out how to have a decadent dish without any ingredients (or craft in its making). I forget if it was you who recently bemoaned the proliferation of menu headings that give little clue as to what lies underneath. Something indicating size, ingredients (fish vs. meat), and whether or not it's savory is far more to my liking.

In this case, I'm sure the headings will be clear once they are dishes listed beneath them.

Hi there. Wondering if you could give a recommendation for a nice dinner gift to give a good client in appreciation for 2014? Anything in the DC/NOVA would work. We were thinking roughly $250 total.

I'd love it if someone presented me with a voucher for a meal at the aforementioned Marcel's in the city or Trummer's on Main in Clifton.

Hi Tom, I am becoming increasingly concerned about the dwindling number of restaurants where one can actually have a conversation with someone across the table without yelling. I know this topic has been addressed multiple times in previous chats, and some good suggestions have been dispensed regarding how to help combat the problem, but I am interested in why you think this has become more noticeable in recent years. Is it because the acoustics are worse in restaurants? Tables are closer together? Nobody knows how to use his or her indoor voice anymore? What are your thoughts?

Short answer to a question that deserves more time: Sound-proofing costs money ... people, especially youngsters, prefer buzz over silence ...a lot of  inherited interiors tend to be brick or exposed wood that owners don't want to mess with ...  tables seem to be more scrunched together than ever before .... more of us are using our phones in restaurants ....

Do you have a restaurant you would recommend in Shirlington? We like good healthy food, preferably sans French fries. Thanks

Shirlington, alas, is the Bethesda of Northern Virginia. I keep eating over there (and leave hungry for better quality).

All children judge restaurant meals by comparing them to their mom's cooking. I can remember my parents telling me that I wasn't going to get "home cooking" at restaurants, but something new and different, and that helped temper my expectations. So maybe the nine-year-old needs a similar caution.

Your parents sound awesome.

The endive salad. So simple. So delicious.

Si!

I have a 3-year-old son who for the first time is reeeaaally into Christmas, and a big part of it is Christmas decorating. We're going to see the White House Christmas tree tonight, and I was wondering which restaurant in downtown you think has the best Christmas decorations--the more elaborate the better (think Filomena's, but more tasteful than that is OK, too). We're headed back home to Capitol Hill afterward, so anything between there and the White House would work. Also, child-friendly staff is great--we're dining on the early side (5:30-6), so hopefully we wouldn't be bothering primetime diners anyway--but we're open to cuisine. This kid requested, and received, octopus for his birthday dinner this year.

One of the coolest Christmas decorations anywhere is edible: the $10 snowball made of meringue and vanilla ice cream (and more) at Michel Richard Central. I can't guarantee lots of red and green on the walls, but I bet your kid will get a kick of of the seasonal treasure on the menu.

We were planning to have dinner at Boss Shepherds tonight after the Nutcracker but they are closed for a private party! Any suggestions for a casual and festive late dinner within a few blocks of the Warner? Thanks so much!

Try Cafe du Parc or the Occidental Grill, both in the area.

In last week's chat you mentioned a restauranteur who is probably not a fan of yours. Have there been any owners/chefs who you've had good, constructive conversations with about negative aspects of a review? Not that they have to agree with you, but that they took it well. Thanks!

Lots of chefs have called me following less than glowing reviews over the years; for privacy purposes, I won't mention their names. Some callers agree with my assessments of their work; others think I might have something against them, which is never the case, because I take pains not to get close to the people whose work I cover. But I always learn from those exchanges.

 

I maintain an "open phone" policy, because I think it's important for the subjects of my columns to be able to communicate with me if they want to.

Hey Tom - I can't tell you how much I love these chats, big highlight in my week. My fiance has a milestone birthday coming up and I'd really like to take her somewhere that is an experience where you participate or interact with cooks and chefs. I think Minibar and Rogue 24 are out of my price range (lets try to stick to about $300 with wine and tip), but I'm hearing about lots of interesting options. Given the choice between Fish Nook, Nonna's Kitchen, Seasonal Pantry and Roberto's 8, where would you go? Anything I'm not thinking of? Cuisine and Location are very flexible - thanks so much!

Take her to Sushi Taro (see the first post) or Roberto's 8 or Barmini, the cool bar adjoining Minibar and priced just right.

Does Mrs. K's Toll House in Silver Spring still go all out decorating for Christmas? It used to be famous for that.

Thanks for the memory jog.

 

That's a wrap for today. Thanks for the good company. Let's do it again Dec. 17.

My mom was a terrible cook. Going to a restaurant was welcome relief! I had to temper my expectations when eating at home!

Love it.

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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 sidewalk.com 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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