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

Nov 06, 2019

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.

Your podcast (?) isn't readily available online, so I'm not sure what you called it. I tuned in and was floored by your disguise, except for the moving mustache! Hilarious! You were pointed out to me by a mutual acquaintance, once removed, at the Pentagon Executive Dining Room circa 2008. If I remember, you gave it a C+. In any case, averaging your appearance then compared to your appearance on the podcast would result in a Picasso. Now I have no idea what you really look like. Do you get your disguises from professionals, e.g., CIA makeup artists, or do you do it all yourself? In any case, you're good, very, very, good. And thanks for all you do, sacrificing your body for us!

Funny! I remember that long-ago meal well. Thanks for bringing it to my attention again. 

 

For my 20th annual dining guide, I was interviewed by the Post's food host, Mary Beth Albright. My employer paid for a professional make-up artist to make me look ... not like me. And I think it sorta worked, with the exception of that AWOL facial hair.  The Q & A is on You Tube, by the way. 

 

P.S. I took Emily Platt and Jake Halpin out for dinner last night. I set them up when I guest-wrote Date Lab for the Oct. 13 Magazine. The two didn't find romance together, but they *did* start up a friendship, which is just as cool. 

 

FOOD FLASHThe co-executive chefs at one of Washington’s most sought-after reservations tell me they’re parting ways with the restaurant they helped open two years ago. Which is another way of announcing that Gerald Addison and Chris Morgan are leaving their live fire show at Maydan on Nov. 19. 


“It’s bittersweet,” says Addison. “There’s no good time to leave a restaurant,” says Morgan. “Our love for Middle Eastern food will never change.” But even before they partnered with Rose Previte to create Maydan, the chefs knew they wanted to eventually open a place of their own, and now that they have a location in the Navy Yard, the time seems right. 


Both 31, the chefs can’t go into a lot of details just now. But their next act, under 100 seats, will be “completely different,” says Morgan. So no live fire. “Not every restaurant can do that.”

 

Clue No. 1:  Their next restaurant will be "something the city doesn't have," says Morgan.  Clue No. 2: The food will be something they’ve never done before in a professional setting but have experimented with on their own, adds Addison.


The forthcoming restaurant is expected to launch next spring and find the two chefs working side by side, like now, but more involved in business matters and service steps than they are now. 

 

As for Maydan, Previte has already tagged a successor in the kitchen: Marcelle Afram, the executive chef at Bluejacket, the microbrewery and restaurant in SE Washington. The flavors will be familiar ones to her. “She’s Syrian/Lebanese and a first generation American,” says her future employer. 


 

Good morning, everyone. Lots of questions to address. Let's get cracking. 

I have noticed that a number of otherwise stellar restaurants are deliberately providing wine pours of 5 to 5.5 oz wine pours instead of the traditional 6 oz. Over the years, my wine pacing has been calibrated to the six ounce pour, and find myself missing that small, yet bothersome discrepancy. I like my wine, but i usually drive after dinner, so try to keep it to one. Most recently, Rooster and Owl and St Anselm are on the skimpy band wagon. That coupled with quite pricey wine lists is extremely annoying. Thoughts?

There is no industry standard that I'm aware of, although five-ounce servings seem to be typical.

 

Pours can vary for a number of reasons, including servers with generous or light hands. Pours designed for tasting menus tend to be smaller, too. I checked in with the restaurants you mention yesterday and learned that Rooster & Owl offers 5 1/2- to 6-ounces and St. Anselm does 5-ounce pours. 

 

Keep in mind, pours look different depending on the size of the stemware. A smaller glass will make it seem like there’s more wine, while a balloon shape will make even a generous pour look inadequate.

Hi Tom, I read a recent review of yours where you mentioned that, when you asked to move tables because yours was a little wobbly, management apologized for the inconvenience by giving your table a free bottle of champagne (and you may have mentioned another freebie as well). You cited this as evidence that management knows how to treat customers well. Did you consider that this gesture was due to someone at the restaurant recognizing you? A bottle of champagne for the minor inconvenience of a slightly wobbly table seems way over the top, and not something I would imagine a “regular” diner to be offered. My wife and I have been out to many places where we’ve had some minor issue, requested to move tables, and didn’t receive anything gratis in return (nor would we expect anything). I know there’s no way to tell for sure (usually), but when writing your reviews do you take into account the possibility that you may have been recognized, and that that would lead to better service than the average diner?

Through the grapevine, I heard Via Sophia has a photo of me in the kitchen. I figured they offered the bubbly (which I declined) because of that. I mentioned the over-the-top gesture partly because it was humorous but mostly because I want to put restaurants on notice: Give me say, a heaping helping of caviar or what not, and I'll write about it with the expectation that unknown diners will get the same treatment in similar circumstances. 

 

Even where I'm recognized, I have ways of judging service that I'm not about to reveal in a public forum. But my big advantage is being able to visit places three or more times (and experience three or more servers) before rating them in the Magazine. 

On Monday my wife took me to Kith/Kin for my birthday (the mushroom forest was my fav dish and Kwame Onwuachi definitely has a hit on his hands). She reads your chat all the time — could you give her some recognition for her superb pick (and all-around awesomeness!)?

Stephanie, you done good by picking Kith/Kin. 

They pour the wine into a measuring flute and pour it into your glass at the table. So the pour is standard.

I was just in Ireland and Italy and had wines by the glass poured all different ways, including simply from the bottle.

Help me, Tom! I moved to the DC part of Chevy Chase from restaurant central just off 14th Street. I’m loving the quiet, watching the leaves change, seeing rabbits and deer. But where do I go to eat? More specifically, places in the vicinity (no need to be actually in CC) that are kid friendly but have good food and preferably aren’t a chicken tenders for kids kind of place.

The two places you're likely to become familiar with, maybe fond of, in the area are Comet Ping Pong for pizza and I'm Eddie Cano for Italian. Friends who live near you seem to enjoy Parthenon for Greek fare, too. 

Do you or your readers have suggestions for mid-range restaurants in Houston TX? Different ethnic food restaurants would be great. I will be there for a weekend while visiting friends with 4 children. The restaurants have to be children friendly for well behaved elementary school aged children.

Houston! One of my favorite food cities. High on my list of places you should try are Cuchara for Mexican; the neon-lit El Real for  Tex-Mex; Killen's Barbecue in nearby Pearland; and Nam Giao for Vietnamese.

Why not just express what you did here - you are driving and would love to savor a full six oz in poss. It's a bit cheeky - but not much of an ask.

Or get a bottle, drink a generous pour and ask for the rest to take home and enjoy the next few days.

Hi Tom, we are so excited, we are going to have our two 20 something kids home for the first time in awhile over thanksgiving weekend. We are cooking thanksgiving dinner but we’d love to take them out to a couple of great restaurants the other nights they are home. Any ideas for good fun places they’d enjoy? Wishing you a wonderful thanksgiving holiday!

Thanks for the well wishes. You don't mention location or where you might have eaten as a family before, but I feel confident your offspring would have fun at Anju, the new Korean outpost in Dupont Circle; Poca Madre for contemporary Mexican in Chinatown; Mama Chang for excellent Chinese in Fairfax; Sababa for Middle Eastern in Cleveland Park; and Unconventional Diner near the convention center for **

Tom--a good friend has had a tough year and had to cancel a family trip to France. She loves everything French, so I wanted to take her out for a great French meal, nothing too expensive. Thoughts on where she'll feel like she's dining along the Seine?

A couple spots come to mind: Le Piquette in Upper NW, whose chef previously cooked at the French embassy, and Chez Billy Sud in Georgetown, whose snug dining room and crisp duck confit are very much to my taste. 

It did. I noticed your fabulous hair was covered up. May I venture to say, though, that you really need to work on the constant verbal tic of "like"? I lost count just a few minutes in. But I really enjoyed the interview!

Duly noted.

Hi Tom- A rave for a new(ish) restaurant in Arlington: Maya Bistro - a family run Turkish and Mediterranean restaurant featuring grilled meats and fish, and regional dishes (spinach pie, moussaka falafel, etc) - opened in April. The food is very fresh, beautifully presented and delicious. It would be great to see a Sietsema/Post review on a this neighborhood start up (5649 Lee Highway, 22207).

Turkish food? I'm there. Thanks for the tip. Maya Bistro is news to me. 

Come Thanksgiving week, I have to stay behind for my family trip to work before meeting up with them for the holiday. Since I am going to be missing fun in the South Florida sun, I thought I'd treat myself out to a nice solo meal. I love sitting at the bar at a nice restaurant on the rare occasion that I get to do it (Rose's, St. Anselm, Unconventional Diner), but am finding myself at a loss as to what to try since it will be a Sunday or Monday evening. Definitely want something interesting (not steak) but where? Little Serrow, Maydan, Dabney- so many great places, but it feels like most places offer either large format, family style entrees or expensive small plates that don't fill you up? I'd very much welcome your thoughts as I'm suffering paralysis by analysis.

My No. 1 top restaurant at the moment, Seven Reasons, is open on Sunday night and has a cool bar. Make sure the Latin American destination on 14th St. NW is part of your plan and at least one course is vegetarian. On Monday, check out out Kinship (love the chicken confit and sautéed porgy)  or Punjab Grill for the scenery and some ginger prawns tingling with lemon, ginger and green chiles. 

Hi Tom, I sent you a longer emailing detailing our experience at the Inn (amazing food, subpar service- wrong dessert brought, food dropped on the table, waiter's finger in the sauce). We didn't say anything to the manager at the time because the mistakes were corrected quickly and who wants to a ruin a special evening with complaints? But is it worth emailing some of our issues later, or does that just come off as sour grapes?

I think it's important to share concerns with those in a position to fix them or make sure they don't happen again. That's not "sour grapes," but constructive criticism.

I so identify with this complaint, and it’s not just limited to wine. Nothing annoys me more than seeing a beer on the menu for average prices, only for it to be served in a small half pint glass. St. Anselm is absolutely guilty of this, along with Sonny’s pizza and a few others. It seems almost like a trend. I guess if they told you upfront you’re not getting a typical pint it’d lessen the blow, but when they surprise you with a tiny glass of beer it’s almost insulting.

A possible solution to the problem is a simple question: "What are your wine/beer pours, please?"

My favorite solo meal is at the single counter seat at Bad Saint!

One of the best perches around, I concur -- provided you can get in!

There are a few examples of fine Lebanese cuisine in our area, but they don't seem to get much mention from you or other food observers. Eastern Mediterranean fusion gets some love, like Zaytinya or Agora, but rarely do we see Me Jana or Lebanese Taverna or Mama Ayesha's get a star treatment. What's the deal?

The deal is: Lebanese Taverna isn't the model it used to be (like Five Guys, it suffered from expansion) and Mama Ayesha's is fine, but not better than that. I've mentioned Me Jana on this chat before, but I haven't been in more than a year. So thank you for the prompt to revisit it.

I usually don't ask about your dining guides because opinions are just that. But one source of genuine puzzlement: there's a restaurant in DC you've reviewed favorably in the past that another local publication just luvs, luvs, luvs, namely Bresca. It's doesn't rate even a single star in the fall guide. Reasons? Also, I know your fallback position is "I had to stop somewhere," but omitting mention of Bob Kincaid is gastronomically criminal.

I admire Bresca and its chef a great deal, which is why I featured the creative American restaurant in my recent monthly round-up of favorite places to eat. But in deciding which restaurants to include in my fall guide, I was looking for both variety and standard bearers and I felt there were one or two other restaurants similar (but better) than Bresca. Competition is fierce in that category.

 

Bob Kinkead was an important force on the scene when I began my tenure. But his subsequent businesses near the Kennedy Center and in Annapolis did not live up to the success of the long-running Kinkead's in Foggy Bottom. 

You mentioned Dublin in your last chat - any tips to share? We are headed there for a visit, including New Year's Eve. At home our big NYE dinner out with our children is usually to Oceanaire (early, and they get compliments on their behavior!). Any suggestions to consider for something similar in Dublin by chance? Thanks!

The place I reviewed for the luxury issue of the Magazine (Nov. 24) looks at the wonderful Chapter One.  See if you can get a table there. On the more casual side, I love love love the Winding Stair for Irish comfort food done right.

I applaud the places that list their pour measure; a wine bar near us has three sizes of pour, so you can order flights, and a nearby brewpub does the same.

Yep. Increasingly popular: half-glasses of wine, which I applaud.

Tom, El Real just closed! Send your Houston-bound questioner to Superica for Tex-Mex instead (or to the Original Ninfa's for fajitas).

Oh no! I'm so very sorry to hear that. Thanks for the update.

Hi Tom, Can you recommend someplace to take my vegetarian daughter for a 17th birthday lunch? Prefer Montgomery County or D.C. Thanks!

Try Zaytinya for meatless mezze in Penn Quarter; Rasika West End for modern Indian; the stylish Julii in North Bethesda; or the light-filled Centrolina in CityCenter for terrific pasta, including buckwheat with spinach, chickpeas and pecorino.

Nostrana Restaurant, here in Portland, Oregon, solves this issue with discreet etched lines on their stemware. Takes the guesswork out of the pour and gives the restaurant a consistent 5 glasses per bottle.

Etchings on the glass make for educated diners -- they know what they're getting -- and more consistency.

We also had service issues at the Inn several years ago, which I detailed in an email after the fact. Got a nice reply and an offer to introduce ourselves the next time we were there. (Given the cost, it was a once-in-a-long-time occasion and we haven't been back, but the gesture was appreciated)

That's the problem with a rare treat. You're not apt to revisit it anytime soon. But good for the Inn for responding.

Seriously? Everyone here is complaining of pours?? If you knew anything about beer you'd know that some beers are meant to be in certain glassware they are not trying to skimp you, also are you looking at percentage? Some higher % beers are in smaller glasses. As for wine, is that extra splash (literally that half-ounce is like a sip) of wine really something to rant about?

Oh, you'd be surprised at the things that get diners riled up! I see this forum as a chance for all of us -- customers, industry workers, critics -- to learn from one another.

My wife and I were reading your first bite of Modena which was positive. Did you ever do a longer review?

Not yet. I mean, the preview ran only last month! I *have* been back since then, however, and have found the cooking to be consistent.

Good morning, Tom - your chat is always a pleasure, not only for content, but because it means we are halfway through the week! Question: I have a business dinner, but a casual, friendly one, and we are looking into either Cleveland Park or its geographically contiguous area of Wisconsin (an annoying limitation, I know). Cactus Cantina and Two Amy are places I associate with having to go to because someone's babysitter cancelled at the last minute. Could you make some suggestions between the two - thinking no more than $50 a person. Thank you again for everything you do!

What about the aforementioned Sababa for Middle Eastern or Indique for creative Indian?

Is there anything to be done in a jam-packed restaurant when you're seated next to a loudmouth boor? We recently had that experience. Mr. Mouth, who had a booming, projecting voice, had been seated only slightly before us as part of a large party at the table right beside us, where as we were a couple celebrating our anniversary, a rare night out with a babysitter and everything. Mr. Mouth opined on a vast number of topics including, alas, his most recent colon cancer screening. It was like the worst free entertainment one could be stuck with. There was nowhere the management could have moved us to, and I am certain we weren't the only ones miserable. Would it be more polite for us to say something to him or to ask the management to, or should we just eat quickly and leave (which we did) and chalk one up to the colorful tapestry that is humanity?

I'd put the responsibility on the management. There's no easy way to handle a situation like this, but it shouldn't fall to the diner to confront an oaf.  ("Sir, it looks like you're having a good time, and that's great. But could you kindly use your indoor voice? We'd certainly appreciate it.")

Not to beat a dead horse, but... This is another reason why I've stopped ordering wine BTG at restaurants. Add to that the possibility of being poured a glass from 2 or 3 day old bottle, and that $15 glass of wine starts to feel less and less appealing. I love wine, and its my go to beverage, but I've started mostly;y ordering beer now, usually from the bottle list, since that solves the freshness and quantity problem. Sad, but after so many disappointing wine experiences I've learned my lesson. If I really want wine I will usually find out from the restaurant if they offer corkage - anything up to $30 is fine with me - and I will bring my own from the cellar!

Nice that you have your own cellar! But I think it's contingent on a diner to express displeasure if something is off.  For instance, I've been known to ask for a fresh bottle to be opened if I sense the pour in my glass has been around for too long.

 

Thanks for the lively chat, folks. I'm off to lunch. Let's do this again next Wednesday, same time.

In This Chat
Tom Sietsema
Tom Sietsema has been the Washington Post food critic since 2000. In leaner years, he worked for the Microsoft Corporation, where he launched sidewalk.com; the Seattle Post-Intelligencer; the San Francisco Chronicle; and the Milwaukee Journal. A graduate of the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University, he has also written for Food & Wine, Gourmet, GQ, Travel & Leisure and other national publications. In 2016, he received an award from the James Beard Foundation for his series identifying and rating the "10 Best Food Cities in America" the previous year.
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