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

Feb 20, 2013

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

Find all of Tom Sietsema's Washington Post work at

Besides the best chef mid-atlantic, which of the other semi-finalist in dc do you think have the best chance of making the short list this year?

For obvious professional reasons, I don't feel comfortable addressing who has the best shot at the awards, but I'm happy to entertain suggestions from the chat audience.


I noticed lots of congrats to chefs and restaurants yesterday on Twitter. Not to burst anyone’s bubble, but the initial long list of (20 or so) names represent *candidates* not *nominees*. Nominees are the five chef and restaurant names that will appear on the second and final ballot, after voting by former winners, JBF restaurant award committee members and regional panelists. While it’s nice to be recognized on the first list, the second list flags true nominees for the awards.


Lots of area names on the list of semi-finalists:  Mintwood Place and Baltimore’s Pabu in the Best New Restaurant category;  Restaurant Eve and Woodberry Kitchen in the Best Bar Program category; Tiffany MacIsaac  up for Outstanding Pastry Chef; Vidalia being considered for Outstanding Restaurant;  Ashok Bajaj in the Outstanding Restaurateur division;  Hari Cameron of A(muse) in Rehoboth Beach in the Rising Star Chef of the Year group; and Charleston and CityZen up for Outstanding Wine Program.


Washington is also well-represented in the Best Chef/Mid-Atlantic category.  The talent on the list includes Cathal Armstrong from Restaurant Eve, Ian Boden from Glass Haus Kitchen, Tony Chittum from Vermilion, Tony Conte from Oval Room, Spike Gjerde from Woodberry Kitchen, Maupillier from Mintwood Place, Johnny Monis from Komi, Vikram Sunderam from Rasika and Cindy Wolf from Charleston in Baltimore.


Congrats to all those being considered for the honors.


THIS JUST IN:  The owner of the wine-themed Ripple in Cleveland Park, Roger Marmet, tells me he has a new chef. She is Marjorie Meek-Bradley, the chef de cuisine at Graffiato, who beat out more than 75 applicants to take the place of Logan Cox in the kitchen.


A California native, Meek-Bradley previously worked at Zaytinya and Per Se, Thomas Keller's four-star restaurant in NYC, where she served as chef de partie.


As reported earlier, Cox is leaving Ripple to move to the Pacific Northwest. His replacement starts March 15.



Good morning, everyone. Let's rock & roll.

Tom, I am only going to be in the DC area for a little while longer and I will be flying solo for this time. Do you have any suggestions for where I should try. I am pretty much willing to go anywhere in the area for a good meal and I don't have any dietary restrictions. Thanks!

You don't say where you've been already, but you owe it to yourself before you leave the  to watch sushi being assembled before your eyes at the counter at Izakaya Seki; slurp ramen on a ledge at Toki Underground; have some drinks and oysters at the bar at Hank's on the Hill;  watch Anthony Pilla spin pizza feet from a stool at Urbana; order a thali at the posh Bombay Club;  and, and ... how's that for a farewell tour?

Tom, I wish this question would be erased from the lexicons of local wait staff! Almost always asked at restaurants featuring international cuisine, if I truthfully answer "no", even if I am very familiar with the cuisine (but haven't dined at that particular establishment), the result 100% of the time is a long-winded, dumbed-down explanation of the menu like one would give to an elementary school child. I would not mind this so much as a formality except that I feel that a lot of times it sets the tone for the service throughout the rest of the experience (i.e. a lot of hand-holding and patronizing). Restaurants need to realize that D.C. is a city full of worldly people and pretty savvy eaters, and that their establishments are not the only places on earth serving the specific cuisine. Thoughts on this pet peeve of mine? Should I just lighten up?

I sympathize, because I, too, am beyond tired of hearing the question. But keep in mind, for all the "worldly people" and "savvy eaters" that populate this wonderful city of ours, there are also plenty of tourists and non-foodists who don't know injera from an icepick. They might need or enjoy an introduction to the menu. Moreover, servers sometimes don't have a choice in the matter:  Their bosses require them to ask the question. 

Hello Tom, I just wanted to thank you. For years I've read your column and chats... based on your Postcards and other recommendations, I've visited Dosa in San Francisco, Cochon in New Orleans, Half and Half in St. Louis, and The Refinery in Tampa. Two weeks ago we landed in Las Vegas and immediately dashed to China Poblano! Your recommendations never get double-checked before we go, and have never disappointed... I grew up in the Maryland suburbs and my 1st generation immigrant mother would sooner die than let me eat out instead of home-cooking, so I don't get to your home bases at all. But this is my chance to offer up a pick of my own, to your reader from last week who asked about Santiago, Chile. De Cangrejo a Conejo (ie from crab to rabbit) in the Providencia neighborhood, is one of my favorite places in the world, and I've dreamed of flying back down for dinner!! Its unmarked from the street but easy to find from their website. Please check it out. And thanks again, Tom.

Thanks for the kind words and thanks for the Chile recommendation, which makes me want to hop on a plane.

Last week's question about Baltimore irritated me (a native Baltimorean) for two reasons. First, the chatter's arrogant and ignorant "due to the scariness of much of Baltimore" insult. Second, your eye-rolling recommendation of a Wolf-Foreman restaurant. Why didn't you include Woodberry Kitchen, your other favorite Baltimore restaurant that you frequently tout? I have nothing against these restaurants, which are excellent. And in fairness to you, Tom, you don't write for a Baltimore publication, so I don't expect you to know that restaurant scene as well as DC's. Thus, I request that in the future you ask your chatters who know Baltimore's many fine restaurants (in many of Baltimore's very "unscary" neighborhoods) to assist you with Baltimore inquiries. We'll be happy to tell your chatters where to get the best crab cake, etc., provided they don't disrespect Charm City. Oh, and how 'bout them Ravens, Hon!

No slight intended, at least on my part.


I didn't mention Woodberry Kitchen because, well, I think I flag the restaurant a lot here and I wanted to spread the love around.  I mentioned the Foreman- and Wolf-owned Johnny's, because folks in Baltimore are going there in droves. Interest is high.  In the recent past, I've sung the praises of  the independant Chameleon Cafe, which is outside the tourist zone -- and delicious.


Baltimore, if you're logged on here, tell us about a few places you think we should check out in your fair city.

Hi Tom, I'm a new associate who just was just invited to go out to dinner with a powerful partner at my law firm, her husband and my husband. To make a high pressure dinner more nerve wracking, I was told to pick the restaurant (anything in the DC area). All cuisines are on the table and the budget is essentially limitless, but I want somewhere that has great ambiance - sophisticated but not stuffy. Any suggestions?

You're sure to make a good impression with PP by suggesting Blue Duck Tavern in the West End, where the best tables are in view of the open kitchen;  Bourbon Steak in Georgetown, a favorite of John Kerry's and about so much more than grilled meat; or the buzzy and beautiful Fiola near Pennsylvania Ave. NW. Good luck!

Teaism has a great veggie burger made with adzuki beans and brown rice

Thanks for responding to a poster's request, submitted last week, for meatless burgers in the area. I'm a fan of the food at Teaism, but have yet to try your suggestion.

It would be nice if restaurants had good websites with photos of the standout dishes. Then I wouldn't feel any need to take a picture to show my far away family or friends the truly thrilling thing that I ate!

Yours is an interesting solution to what some see as the "problem" of diners wanting to record their every bite and chefs who don't always appreciate the images they see of their work online. 

Has Ancora opened? I read in your interview with Bob Kinkead that he was aiming for a February opening. I was just at the Kennedy Center but forgot to check. It will be nice to have more options in that neighborhood, although I had a very good dinner last night at District Commons.

Mr. Kinkead's latest project is open.  I have yet to dine there, though. Anybody been in?

Tom, I've never been to DC (although I hope to make it some day), but I love reading your chats. It's a weekly vicarious culinary journey I can take while sitting in my office in SF. Good work, sir!

Good (early) morning, Bay Area citizen!  You're posting from my old stomping grounds. I'm heading back for a dine-around next month. Where must I eat, please?

My answer: No, but I am familiar with the cuisine.

Short and sweet. I like it.

My parents live in Chicago and like to go out for dinner. They tell me about their experiences on a regular basis. One thing they don't like are the places that won't take reservations for two, only for larger groups. I understand that putting two people at a table that seats four costs a restaurant to loose two seats of income, but they must realize that couples like to go out for a quiet meal without having to invite another couple. Besides showing up before the regular dinner hour or having to wait for a seat, is there something else they could do to get a table?

Restaurants that only take reservations for "large" parties generally start at six diners, not four.  At least that's been my experience. If anyone has tips for getting two-tops in places that don't take reservations for small parties, share away.

Just wanted to give a shout out to Little Serow for an incredible Valentine's Day meal. Got in line at 4:30 and by opening the line was all the way down the block, but the funky atmosphere, excellent service and fantastic meal made it well worth the wait and certainly justified the hype in my mind.

I don't get into too many lines, but I make an exception for Little Serow. Totally worth the effort, I agree.

hi Tom, a friend is bringing a group (15) of German graduate students to DC for an educational visit. I am suggesting that they also take the opportunity to enjoy the food of DC as well. Do you have suggestions for what restaurants would be good to experience either American food or other food done well in DC? Since they are students i'm sure they'd appreciate a few moderately priced options. (I was thinking Zaytinya, Oyamel, Ethiopic)

Good choices all. In addition to those worldly destinations, however, I would recommend something with local flavor --  say, Art & Soul for southern cooking,  Perry's for plain-but-good American fare, Standard BBQ in Logan Circle for the obvious (well, provided the outdoor joint is open for the visit) or Old Ebbitt Grill near the White House for oysters.

Hey Tom I ate at a local restaurant's "power lunch" deal recently, which was 3 courses for $19.90. I was not sure how much to tip given the total price of each of our dishes offered a la carte well surpassed the $19.90 price tag, and tipping our standard 20% for the amount of food we got, at the price it was at, seemed off. We tipped a little more than 20% on the total bill, but wondered what the appropriate amount is in these situations. Thanks

A steal! And a good one, I trust, delivered with a smile? Twenty percent is fair, but I would have left closer to 25 percent under the circumstances. (A power lunch to me implies a nice setting and a savvy dining room crew.)

This is not a question, simply passing on our experience. I think we just did our last Valentines Day dinner in a restaurant. We had reservations at Marcel's at 6:00, and while the food was excellent, we felt rushed the whole time. We were required to order all our choices at the start and the courses were brought out very promptly. We were never without a plate in front of us. The servers "constantly" were at our side asking if we were enjoying our food and if we would like the plate removed, and we were out of the restaurant in less than 2 hours, and $400+ per couple. We had never been to Marcels, but have eaten Valentines Day meals in previous years at Komi and Obelisk and did not feel the same pressure.

Nobody likes to feel rushed, especially at that price point. Sorry to hear about the speed with which you experienced one of the best restaurants in town.


Valentine's Day is one of those occasions this diner prefers to stay away from restaurants, which I did again this year. 

I feel like I get this question at restaurants of all cuisines, even traditional American. If I've never been, it's nice to hear what the chef is especially proud of (or more likely, just what's popular). If I'm a regular, it's nice that they offer me the opportunity to skip the intro. They are just tailoring their message to their guests. Seems like good service to me.

Some people like the question, and here's why.

Dear Tom, We dined at the Inn at Little Washington with my brother-in-law and his wife last week to celebrate our respective anniversaries. The meal was as good as one might expect, but what stood out for me was how they handled a mistake with one of the appetizers. The server simply left the mistaken plate and told us to enjoy it while a fresh one was made. [I'm glad as I was curious about the lamb carpaccio.] My wife had been on the fence with her second course, changing her order as the waiter was leaving. They thoughtfully brought the extra one for the table to share. The extra cost could not have been that great, but made an impression on all of us.

One reason the destination restaurant gets four stars. Thanks for sharing your rave.

I agree about the eye-rollingness of people who record their every bite on line, but what's with the chefs? You'd think theyd' be flattered. Are they afraid someone will copy their high concept?

Some chefs tell me amateur photographs are an injustice to their food.  I can see where poor lighting, etc. can make a dish look unappetizing, or less than what the chef  wants the public to see.

Tom- I am a professional server with great experience (and I consider reading these chats as great training to do my job). I know that some of the things we say get tiresome,, they certainly are tiresome to say to each and every guest. The truth is, our bosses require us to say them AND lots of them are proven to work. This group has a very high restaurant IQ, but if you didn't know what you were about to eat, the server can put you at ease...asking the diners a question to gauge their comfort level helps put them at ease and enjoy the experience more.

Duly noted. Thanks for enlightening us.

Dear Tom, I take this opportunity to remind your readers world is not always as black and white as it may seem, and please don't judge before you know (re: comments on taking photos in restaurants during last week's chat) I've been taking photos of meals for years now, even before twitter/facebook happened. My primary goal has always been to remember a moment that was special to me, not as a Valentines Day kind of special, but there are a lot of times when food is the best part of my day (on purpose, as it is sometimes the only part I can control) and I want to remember it. I am not on facebook, and I rarely share those photos on twitter or e-mail, or yelp for that matter. I've been asked time and time again to write a blog, because I've been the go-to person when someone needs to know a good place for celebration/date/visitor out of town, etc and my friends want to know about my experiences more often. But I don't take photos for any of those reasons. I simply cherish the photos as a reminder of the moment for myself, so much so that I can smell and taste the food when I look at the photo, and that's the main reason. For the record, I have a very small, black camera, which always has the flash off, and it takes me about 5 sec to take a photo when I do. I don't take photos of what I've seen before, or are average for my standard (I've seen a lot), but when someone makes an effort in terms of presentation or taste, to me, it needs to last longer than that moment, and that's what I care about... I never planned it to be that way, but all these photos came in very handy last year, when I was about to lose my mind in the waiting room of the ICU after my father's brain surgery, waiting in a cramped place with others in a similar situation, with barely any oxygen in the room, and clearly very dreadful conditions when everything I knew as "normal" in life seemed non-existent and everything smelled like chemistry lab. These photos were my only proof that there was life outside that hospital... Couple months later, after my father passed away and my aunt was diagnosed with terminal cancer, these photos of "good moments" kept me going as a reminder of life does and must go on. With cancer running in my family, I am concerned that one day I might lose my sense of taste and smell, and those photos will be the only way I can “taste” or “smell” as they do bring back the moment for me. Also, I know of people who take photos to share with their dietitian/nutritionist in order to regulate their diet either for weight loss or to deal with chronic diseases. Sometimes, a good plate of food delivered with a smile can mean more than an expensive vacation in an exotic locale, or mean as much as looking at a wonderful painting, or being in a unique palace in terms of evoking emotions and for me that's what the picture captures... In sum, I believe that we are not to judge others' behavior as long as they don't interfere with our experience and/or the establishment's regulations, and/or the unwritten rules of public behavior (for example I never talk on the phone in a restaurant, or turn my phone on in a movie theater) If we can simply respect each other, we all can coexist. Let's not be too quick to judge, and let everyone live what matters to them as long as we don't cross the boundaries of respect. Is that too much to ask?

Wow. Anyone who can read your message without getting a little misty-eyed  ...


Thanks for taking the time to write and to remind us that there are often two, three, seven different ways of viewing situations.

I generally don't mind this question, as they may have particular specialties they want to point out. I get annoyed when my no is followed with an explanation about how they serve small plates and we'll need to order X number to if the small plates concept is so new and uncommon that the average diner isn't already aware of how it works.

You and I are obviously regular restaurant patrons, though. Some people who eat out less often might need the coaching.

I'd like to take my husband (who loves thai food) to Little Serow for his birthday (which is on a Wednesday in April). What's the best course of action? Be in line at 5:30 (or earlier) or wait until closer to 7:30 or 8pm to try and get in the "second seating"? Thanks - excited to try it!

The restaurant opens at 5:30. If you want to eat then, you better be in line by 5 p.m. for a mid-week dinner.  If you want to dine later, you should still go on the early side (6 or so) and get your name on a waiting list. Any other Little Serow fans care to chime in with suggestions?

Tom - Here's story from the front lines that I thought you might be interested in. I was tasked to find a private room for about a dozen people for a birthday party (I'm a different person who asked the question last week!). Anyhow, I contacted two places last monday night via email (per their instructions). I got a response from Range the next morning with menus, prices, minimums, etc. The other place, run by a famous French chef took until Friday night to respond to me! Four full days later! And this was for a March 1st event, so time was of the essence. By the time I heard back from them, my friend had already picked a place and they were out of luck. So kudos to Range for the quick response and shame on Central for their slow response. Opps! Didn't mean to name them. But really, what kind of way to do business is that?!?? Four days to answer a question they probably get daily?!?! Come on!

Take a bow, Range!

Take a slap, Central!

Hi Tom, how was your move? You know, it's funny. We're not buds - in fact, we've never met. Yet I care about your personal stuff because you care so much about us, your readers. So there!

I'm touched by your post. Made my day.


The move was thrilling and challenging and exhausting and sad. I'll miss Logan Circle but Crestwood is so incredibly friendly. One new neighbor brought over a loaf of fresh-baked bread with jam he made from his own fig tree; another brought wine; a third volunteered to walk my dog anytime I was away.  I already feel very much at home.

Reminds me a of a neighborhood Indian place that started under the apparent assumption that Americans consider anything beyond salt and pepper to be "spicy." But the solution to OP's dilemma is to reply to the question with "No, but I'm a big fan of X cuisine" or "No, but I really enjoy the small plate concept." "No, but I've been looking forward to adding you to my stable of sushi places." It's not that hard to communicate that you're not a newbie.


Tom, firends who used to live here will be visiting in a couple of weeks and we thought we might take them to H Street for dinner to see all the changes that have been happening in DC. I know you're a big fan of Ethiopic, but what other restaurants on that strip are doing a good job these days?

I haven't been to the Atlas Room in some time, but I very much like the ramen and the cocktails at Toki Underground. Unfortunately, Toki is a mere 30 seats and fills up as soon as it opens for dinner. Another option is the French-themed Le Grenier.

Hi Tom! We're contemplating a trip to Spain (mostly Madrid, maybe Granada) later this year with our 5 year old. He has a pretty good palate, but we'd like to expose him to the kind of food we're likely to see there *before* we go. Can you recommend some restaurants that we can take him to? Thanks!

Yor best bet is Jaleo in Penn Quarter, for a tapas experience.

So annoyed by this question. If my wife says no, we usually get "This is our menu. There are appetizers here, under the heading appetizers. Entrees are under the heading entrees. This menu which says Wine List in 48 pt font on the top is, in fact, the wine list." At places like Jaleo this question is ok, but at a standard American place like Copper Canyon Grill or Founding Farmers?

The kind of intro you describe is EXACTLY what I don't like: stating the clearly obvious.

As one of the dreaded PR people who are always mentioned in hushed tones in this chat, I wanted to put my 2 cents in about food images. We love having pictures of the restaurant's food sent out into the universe, and we have to admit that most dining rooms are not really conducive to getting a great food shot. The one thing that really takes us over the edge however is the abundance of half eaten dishes. Nothing looks appetizing at that point. Thanks for letting me rant!

"Dreaded?"  I think most of DC's publicists do a mighty fine job, actually. Thanks for writing.

From what I usually read in your chats, you never take readers as companion diners with you. However, I promise I wouldn't talk about food! I'm a law school student and can talk much about law, travels, and books. I love reading and miss talking about books like I used to in college! All joking (somewhat) aside, I love your chats and look forward to reading them every week! Thank you for your time and for sharing your experiences!

Thank you for the kind words.


While I'm always incorporating new people into my dining rotation,  it's easier to go out and sample menus with the 40 or so friends and associates I consider my regular companions. They know the drill, they're not fussy, I don't have to be talkative, they'll gpo anywhere -- it's just easier. 

Not a foodie question, but there's a frozen yogurt place near me that requires their cashiers to tell their customers when they leave "Have a smiley day!" It actually makes me somewhat depressed, to be honest.

Tell me you're joking. That's so wrong: Have a smiley day.

As a regular reader, I can't help but feel left out of the Little Serow-mania... see, while my usual dinner companion could probably suck on a blowtorch without more than a slight sweat, I don't enjoy very piquant foods. My highest spiciness tolerance is at mid-kimchee range or so, and even then, I only tolerate it... I don't really enjoy it. It seems to me that LS would not be a good fit, since I understand the kitchen's concept it "You'll eat what we give you," and what they give is the same to everyone. Is that a fair assessment?

Um, that kind of sums up the menu. Not everything is blistering, and there's a nice latering of flavors, but there's an abundance of heat in LS's Thai cooking.

Another server here... I always couldn't stand when my table would be greeted with a "would you like a glass of wine today?" It seemed like a transparent atempt to raise check averages...until I switched restaurants, was required to proposition guests and found that more people offer wine if it is offered. The power of suggestion is an amazing thing!

Logic behind the script!

I, too, hate the simplistic tour of the menu, especially when it includes a five minute definition of "small plates" (ahem, Cava). If they must ask the question, could they maybe follow it up with, "would you like an explanation of our menu?"

What I'm experiencing more of these days are servers who distribute long or complicated menus and give diners roughly five seconds to study them. "Ready to order?"  (No I'm not!)

Hi Tom, thanks for your emphatic response a couple of weeks ago to the waiter who enquired about a couple splitting a meal during RW. (it was something along the lines of, "no, no, no," with additional commentary). We were out with another couple one night that week who did that and I was *mortified.* He ordered the 3-course RW meal, she ordered ... a salad. To me this was tacky beyond belief, and I could tell the waiter was taken aback but didn't challenge it, and really, what could he do? These are old dear friends and I didn't say anything, but made a mental note: never have dinner in a restaurant with them again.

I'd feel the same way.

I'm ashamed to admit that I watched Undercover Boss when the business was a fast-casual restaurant chain that requires its workers to shout "Welcome to Mo's" every time a customer walks in the door. The food looked good, but if one ever opened here, I'd be too self-conscious to visit. They might as well hang an "Extroverts Only" sign on the door.

Love it!

Yeah, I can't participate either, as I can't eat seafood. It's sad.

Wouldn't it be great if LS did a meatless night every few months, or an easy-on-the-heat menu now and then?  I'm probably dreaming, but ...

Hi, Tom - any recommendations for a classic tableside caesar in DC/NoVa? Or, if the tableside options have all gone the way of the dodo, who's serving the best one these days? Thanks!

Majestic in Old Town rolls a cart up to your table and does the classic justice.

Woodmont Grille in Bethesda has the BEST veggie burger. I like it and I'm not even vegetarian!

I dig that restaurant for the simple stuff.

I get that restaurants/waiters don't like it because it brings down the check (and therefore tip) but really, three courses is more than me or my husband are likely to be able to eat in one sitting. I'll often order an app or a salad as my meal (and probably get a few bites from my dining companions) I'm not trying to be stingy or save money - I'm trying to not stuff myself and not eat more than I need (because I'll end up overstuffed if I just order and count on leftovers). Please don't vilify us - we tip well, we just can't eat that much! Should we just not go out to eat?

Another learning moment for us.

Tom, I'm taking my fun, suburban boss out to dinner this week and can't decide where to go that's good, nice, but not-too-stodgy downtown or in Dupont. I'd love to take her to Table (which was amazing), but don't want to keep her waiting for us to be seated.

A certain CEO of a certain large newspaper frequents the Greek-themed Mourayo in Dupont Circle, which I always find comfortable and gracious. Other choices: Urbana in the Palomar Hotel, Mio for Latin American and Sushi Taro for raw fish.

Count me among those irritated by this question...And I do agree that being a frequent diner my IQ is higher, HOWEVER, being told that the restaurant suggests "3-4 plates per person" really irks me. It is always too much food and my defenses go immediately up. If it's truly a tapas experience, then I will just order more if need be. Please don't bully us into ordering too much all at once... Whew. I feel better.

That's why we're here, Gentle Poster.

This is too funny. Are the wines all served in brown paper bags?

Actually, Ripple is a serious kitchen with a serious wine list. But I like your sense of humor!

I was one of those 5 courses is good, 7 is better, kind of guys. My wife however, couldn't finish three courses if you put a gun to her head. When we dined out it was always a meal for me and normally a salad and an appetizer for her as here entree. Lately however, I've been taking some medicine that greatly suppresses my appetite. While I still love to eat out, I find I have to order much, much less than before. I think the couple that wanted to split a meal were being polite to dine out with their friends, but should never have been made to feel bad about not wanting or needing a three course meal. After all, the restaurant is there to make sure the diner's needs and wants are accommodated, not the other way around.

Again, I appreciate that there are numerous ways to look at situations.

I usually just say yes. Or to be ornery, say no, but I want to see how you stack up to my favorite place in Dehli, or Madrid, or Saigon, or Kyoto, etc.

Oooooooo, gettin' all fancy on us, huh?

Why are you encouraging someone to bring a 5 year old to Jaleo. 5 year olds should be reserved to McDonalds and Applebees. I don't want some kid running around while I'm trying to enjoy my meal.

Because tapas are fun, they come out fast, there's lots of variety --- and why shouldn't well-behaved children be seen in public dining rooms?

It's annoying. Very. But that's the way it goes, especially in corporate restaurants. I worked for a "fine-dining" corporate restaurant and everything was scripted and planned right down to how many times you approached the table. Yet as bad as it could be, it does allow the restaurant to control the quality level of service.


Deadhead alert!


While it doesn't top my list of favorite questions to be asked, to be fair, the staff probably want to gauge or set the stage for the meal service (are you a repeat customer, are you familiar with small plates (not a set traditional three-course menu) to help you customize a meal composed of small plates, certain ethnicity type of food (known to be especially spicy, etc.). Let's say it's a cuisine diner is familiar with but has not yet dined at particular establishment - could one answer "I'm familiar with Northern Vietnamese cuisine but this is my first time dining at xxx restaurant." Straightforward and helpful (hopefully) in avoiding a dumb-downed, patronizing explanation of the menu and dinner service. All that said, though, isn't it easier to just answer the question simple and straightforward than getting worked up? I don't mean to criticize the OP, but it seems as if more energy might be expended by getting bunched up instead of just answering the question in a straight manner.

To avoid such questions, perhaps we need to print up signs that we can wear to different restaurants. One could read: "I know my Thai and like it on the wild side." Another could say: "Never had Icelandic food, but I'm game for anything!" A third could point out: "I (heart) Ethiopian. Bring on the kitfo!" And so on ...


Thanks for joining me today, gang. I look forward to chatting with you again next Wednesday, same time, same station.

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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