Ask Tom: Where to find dessert in Georgetown, a single seat in Paris & a festive spot in Honolulu

Feb 19, 2020

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.

Tom, Why is it so difficult to book solo reservations at some restaurants? One example, Elle. Tried to book, no availability at all. But party of 2 available numerous nights. Not every solo diner wants to eat at the bar if they are not drinking, but feels like more restaurants are pushing solo diners to the bar. I get it, not as profitable as a party of 2, but is this bad form? I know plenty of solo diners who eat out plenty and spend a decent bit on food, so seems shortsighted to make it much harder for them than a 2 top

I went on Open Table this morning to see if I could find a reservation for one tonight, and I found dozens of options. Same for Resy. So I went straight to Elle to see what the issue might be. Co-owner Nick Pimentel responded via email earlier this morning:

 

"This question actually came up last night where a solo diner had no choice but to make a reservation for a party of 2.  The guest called after making the reservation to let us know they would be dining solo and also mentioned that there was no option on our Resy page for a solo diner.  Amazingly, this was the first time (that I am aware of) that this was brought to our attention, and sadly, we were oblivious to the situation.  We contacted Resy last night and they gave us instructions on how to change this setting which is now live.  Thank you to the guest that gave us this feedback!

 

THE WEEK IN REVIEWS: For my Sunday column in the Magazine, I look at the newly reopened Hanumanh in the District. Love the space. Love the drinks. Love the three-star (you read that right) Laotian cooking.

 

I just now got the office. Apologies if I'm a little slow to start and link to relevant columns. Let's get crackin'!

Hi Tom, I’m tasked with planning a dinner (20-30 people) for my dept at work. Anywhere in DC (metro accessible preferred). Cost is not an issue, but somewhere that can accommodate a variety of tastes and can ensure focused attention on a variety of food allergies. Semi private area preferred but not required. Thoughts?

I know I mention it a lot in this forum, but the Oval Room does a great job with groups of your size. It's near the White House and serves a delicious and creative American menu. And just last night I was reminded what a treat it is to dine at lobbyist favorite Tosca downtown, which comes with multiple party spaces and is particularly successful with pastas.

My fiancé and I are planning an elopement to Honolulu in May, and we're looking for a spot for a celebratory lunch to follow. We both love Japanese food, though we're open to other styles, and we're willing to spend about $100 a person. Any ideas?

My friend and fellow critic, David Hagedorn, tipped me off to the creative American Senia in downtown Honolulu, which just happens to serve lunch as well as dinner. Congratulations and safe travels.

Hi Tom - Thanks for all that you do improve my culinary life. You've never steered me wrong - - from San Francisco to NYC and beyond. Staying closer to home...a few of my gal friends and I are planning a dinner out soon. We'd like to stick to DC or Northern VA. One of us is gluten free and another is pescatarian. Price is not much of a concern, but we don't want to get to P&P or Metier levels. Plus, we're looking for a place that's a little more low-key and fun. Good drinks are a must. Look forward to hearing what you recommend.

Low-key, with gluten-free and fish options? You'll find what you're looking for at Centrolina (Italian), Chloe (international), Compass Rose (also global) and the Mexican-themed Anafre. "Delicious" and "fun" apply to all four, too.

Hi Tom- Faithful reader here. I made a reservation way back in November for Nina May, which is coming up on a Saturday in March; do you have any updates from anyone about the restaurant e.g., is it still a good bet? Any ingredients in March we shouldn't miss if they're being used in a dish? Thanks!

Great timing. I just yesterday filed my review of the new farm-to-table restaurant from two former Equinox vets. Since my preview in November, I've been three times. A few pieces of advice: say yes to drinks, the porchetta, baked Alaska and a table upstairs.

I want to give a huge shoutout to Rooster & Owl. We dined there on Valentine’s Day. They had a special $85 menu that night with an optional $85 wine pairing rather than their normal $35 beverage pairing, something that was not apparent when we made the reservation nor communicated to us until the day before. We decided to dine there anyway. The food was wonderful, but I did decide to reach out afterwords just to let them know we were disappointed at the lack of notice. I got a response from Carey Tang almost instantly apologizing for the lack of notice and stating that the food would be on them the next time we dine there. I want to give major props to Carey for going above and beyond. We look forward to dining there again soon.

Now *that's* a smart way to correct a slip. Good call Rooster & Owl

We just planned a private event at Rose's Luxury and they were incredibly responsive and attentive to food allergies (celiac, specifically).

Another superb idea.

Hi, Tom, You often talk about the need to talk to a manager when something has gone wrong at a restaurant, but I also like to let the manager know when things have gone well. I had lunch at the Old Ebbitt Grill yesterday with some out-of-town friends. The food was good and the service was great. When I commented on that, the waitress asked if I would mind telling her manager that. Not at all, I said, and a short while later the manager stopped by for a chat. His few minutes at our table enhanced the experience of feeling welcome and helped our time there end on a high note. I often think that restaurant work is a thankless task and it's important to let people know when their efforts are appreciated.

We are all plants that need a little watering, right? Good for you for taking the time to acknowledge the efforts of the staff at one of the busiest restaurants in the country.

Hi Tom, I'm a huge fan of your reviews and trust your judgment here: where in DC should my spouse and I celebrate our anniversary next month? We're adventurous eaters who enjoy spicy foods and places that take reservations, and we don't do Italian or Mexican. In the past year, we have loved Tail up Goat, The Dabney, Momofuku, Thai X-ing, Little Pearl, & Anju (and liked but didn't love Rooster & Owl, Kinship, & St. Anselm). We're not big on cocktails, but a fantastic beer or wine list would be a huge plus. If inspiration doesn't strike, we'll probably head back to The Dabney since it was our favorite from last year.

You can't go wrong with the Dabney, the Mid-Atlantic standard bearer in Blagden Alley. But if you're looking to spice up your dining routine, I encourage you to explore the formal Punjab Grill downtown for modern Indian or  Seven Reasons for creative Latin American dishes on 14th St. NW or

Hey Tom! I'm graduating in May and was wondering if you knew of any options for a good place to take a large group out to celebrate. Preferably in the NoVa area. No real food restrictions, besides needing some non-seafood options. Would be a party of about 15 and if there is a backroom, that's a plus. Preferably not too expensive, about mid-range. Thank you!

There are a couple private dining options at the friendly Randy's Prime Seafood & Steak in Vienna, owned by the local Great American Restaurants group. While some of the seafood dishes are among my favorites, the nicely marbled prime rib-eye comes in the color you want and the french fries go fast thanks to a hot bath in duck fat.

Tom, While my wife and I keep kosher, we read your reviews and chat regularly. This week we've had some friends in town who are big-time foodies from LA. After leaving the zoo they asked for a good place to eat. Thanks to your chats, we sent them to Jaleo in DC, and they loved it. We received a few texts from them saying that it was a "terrific recommendation", the service was excellent and so was the food. They specifically commented on how even the fried food didn't feel heavy. Also, they felt the price point was amazing, five dishes for $60 including tip (no drinks). Thank you for keeping us up to date, so we can ensure all of our guests can eat well!

You are kind to write. Your post underscores how I feel about the long-running tapas purveyor, which I feature in my Washington hall of fame in the fall dining guide.

I'll be traveling to Paris for a 7 days on business. There won't be too much work, so I should have time to eat well. But, I'll also be traveling alone. I saw your recommendations for Pavyllion and Le Bon Georges at the end of last week's chat -- they are definitely on my list. I'm posting early in the hope that you might have additional recommendations for the solo traveler? I'm open to all cuisines and prices, and my only allergy is long tasting menus. Thanks!

I caught Paris-based critic Alec Lobrano just as he was about to board a train for Brussels a few minutes ago. He recommends La Scene, "which just won 2 Michelin stars," and A L'Epi d'Or, "an old bistro in Les Halles that Jean-Francois Piège just revised and revived."

 

You can find more of his good advice on his blog:

www.alexanderlobrano.com

We dined last night at Rooster & Owl -- and in addition to the terrific four course/four choice dinner, were pleased to learn that they offer 1/2 size wine servings (i.e., a 3 oz or so pour). I love this practice. Can you confirm that this is the restaurant policy? And which other restaurants offer this service?

The pours for the restaurant's wine pairing option run between 3- and 3 1/2 ounces, chef-owner Yuan Tang confirms. Wines by the glass (a la carte) are 5 1/2 to 6 ounces.

I just had my first ever trip to Thailand cancelled due to the Corona virus. Major bummer. Where can I go this weekend to get some real Thai food? I'm in Montgomery County but will travel to get some! Thanks

How unfortunate. Are you able and willing to line up for a seat in a no-reservations undergound restaurant in the District? I ask, because grazing at Little Serow in Dupont Circle transports me to Chiang Mai every time I visit -- not often enough, alas.

love your chats Tom!...going to Maialino Mare tonight...have you been yet? if so, what do you recommend?

Been there, eaten that (and I liked the menu and the attention inside the Thompson hotel). Spring for the fried artichokes and peppery chicken, among other draws in the new Danny Meyer-run venue.

Tom - I want to send a shout out to Jack Rose for giving me a particularly wonderful Birthday dinner. Everyone there was spot on. There was a delightful happy birthday card left waiting for me on the table (despite me imploring my Babycakes not to tell them that it was a birthday dinner) which underscored the simple touches that made the night - a Thursday before a complicated Friday work day - completely special. The cocktails were great (I mean, really great!) and the cheese garnish in my beet salad was one of the best. I didn't particularly care for collard greens on my massive pork shank (best leftovers ever!) but that was to my taste, not their mistakes. I just want to say what a bunch of little nice touches and steps they made that made a middle aged woman's birthday a special occassion.

Pleased to send some love in the direction of Jack Rose Dining Saloon. There was a card waiting for you on the table? Awesome touch.

FYI, The Eastern in Capitol Hill/Eastern Market offers half-pours on all wines by the glass, and always have some cool "off-menu" items by the glass and half-pours. One of the reasons my husband and I love the place

Reader to the rescue! Good to know about the Eastern.

Tom, my wife and I had a delicious dinner at Central Michel Richard last evening. The food was delicious and well presented, the servers on point. But. Two issues.. I made the reservation Jan 5, knowing it might be busy Feb. 14, but we had a show to attend around the corner, and it’s a lovely place. When we arrived, though we found we only had a two entree, two appetizer menu to choose from. And while they were good, it really wasn’t what I hoped for after looking at the menu online. Did the restaurant have an obligation to let me know when they instituted the single menu only? It certainly wasn’t mentioned when I booked 5 weeks previous. Second - the wine list on the web site had many more affordable choices than what we found there last night. I ended up buying a bottle at $80, but was expecting far more options under $60, as promised by the online list. It was delicious, which always solves lot of problems. So, the restaurant was lovely altogether, but I do feel a little let down by the limited menu, and different wine list.

I got in touch with the restaurant's managing partner, Mark Sandground, Jr.,  for a response. Here's his email:

 

"We tried to confirm with all the reservations for V-Day that there was only a prix-fixe that night but evidently we failed to inform everyone (your diner was not the only one who had this complaint.)  We learned our lesson that many customers come to Central for their favorites (even on Valentine’s Day) and so  next year we will offer the full menu at V Day as well as the prix-fixe.

 

As to the wine issue, we do have many bottles under $60 as well as by the glass offerings as low $10-12 a glass.  We will make sure that the website is updated with the most current list.

 

Again, please convey our apologies for the disappointment and we hope that the diner will return (if they contact Isabelle directly we will take care of them). We are glad that their experience was otherwise delicious."

 

TOM HERE: The reference to Isabelle is Isabelle Dubois , Central's general manager. She can be reached at idubois@centralmichelrichard.com

Hi - any suggestions for a place I dessert I can order to go in Georgetown? I'm not in the mood for cupcakes (B&W) or french pastry (Paul etc) and don't have time for a sit down meal but could use a pick me up! I'm flexible about type of dessert & price!

Head to the lounge at Fiola Mare on the waterfront and face the difficult decision: will it be the dark chocolate terrine with frozen mint pearls or one of the city's loftiest tiramisus? (Both are $14, by the way.)

One wouldn't go to a restaurant on Thanksgiving, Christmas or possibly New Years without expecting their might be a fixed menu. Maybe everyone making Valentine's Day reservations should just be sure to confirm going forward.

Now that's a good idea! But sometimes, even when you call ahead, things don't pan out the way you think they will. After confirming with one new restaurant that they'd be serving their regular menu the day after Valentine's, I showed up to find ... the Valentine's Day menu! ;(  To its credit, the restaurant served some a la carte dishes, but the miscommunication was unfortunate, for both of us.

We've found that many restaurants -- especially smaller, neighborhood ones -- are happy to pour half glasses, especially to customers who are regulars. It never hurts to ask.

Agreed!

Ruan Thai and Thai Taste by Kob (both in Wheaton) are both considered authentic and good. Tim Carman has also recommended Thai Cuisine (Rockville).

Thanks for weighing in. I have to disagree with you about Ruan Thai, however, which was disappointing (and not so friendly) on a recent visit.

Not To Go Out on Valentine's Day. Even when it's a Friday. Of a three-day weekend. Just sayin'.

I'm in your court. I stayed home and ate (spicy) Popeyes chicken with a bottle of Pol Roger and "Parasite." Delicious times three!

Hi Tom. Taking a quick trip to Baltimore for one night in April. What place would you recommend for the one dinner we are there? Is Alma Cocina Latina still a good bet, or is there another place you would recommend? Staying near Inner Harbor so someplace near there would be ideal, but not a deal breaker. Any type of food and price point is fine. Thanks!

I've been spending a fair amount of time in Charm City the past few months, scouting restaurants for potential review. Alma Cocina Latina continues to impress me enough that I included it in my December round-up of favorites. If you're looking for something new, however, there's the terrific Le Comptoir de Vin, where the lone complaint might be the difficulty in snagging a reservation.  The place is *tiny.*

 

That's a wrap for today. Let's meet again next Wednesday, same time, same station. Ciao for now.

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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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