Dining during the pandemic

Apr 01, 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: I returned from a winter abroad to find a changed dining world. My first experience was with Seven Readons, where I had not yet dined. Their procedures for takeout were very comforting. ( closed vestibule where they brought you the good in gloved hands) The staff maintains a wonderful attitude and the food was outstanding. One thought about what to order, generally. The dishes I sampled included the mussels appetizer served chilled. Perfect. Roast Chicken - just fine at room temperature and a wonderful sandwich the following day. Least successful- gambas al ajillo. This dish lost in transport. My takeaway is to stick with dishes that don’t need to be eaten fresh from the heat source. Wait until your restaurants of choice reopen for dine in- But there are many options that are either not temperature sensitive or can be easily reheated. Help keep your favorite chef in surviving and tip generously. Round up to the nearest 5 or 0. They deserve it and need it more than you do Jeff Menick Washington, DC

Thanks for your feedback, Jeff. I've had the best luck so far with soup, fried chicken, meatloaf/meatballs and some of the creamier pastas. Less successful: most pizza and salads, which tend to droop in transit. 

 

If you're looking for inspiration, I recently vetted deliveries from Masala Story, Rohobot Ethiopian, Alta Strada, the Arlington branch of Peter Chang and Beau Thai in an online round-up scheduled for publication in the Magazine this Sunday. 

 

Good morning, everyone. You've become my new support group. House arrest is highly over-rated. What's on your mind today? I'm primed with Peet's and Diana Krall. Let's begin.

So what is your April Fool's joke this year, since it coincides with your weekly chat?

No one's getting any joke from me today. But I got one this morning when I read the horoscope for Pisces in the WP: "You'd rather be home than at work today." 

Hi, Tom! I'm heading down to Nashville later this year once all this craziness dies down some. Any restaurant recommendations (nothing more expensive than moderately priced)?

I hate to repeat this, but New York chef Tom Colicchio has said 75 percent of restaurants might not survive the effects of the pandemic. However, I see that one of my favorite places in Nashville, Hattie B's Hot Chicken in Midtown, remains open for takeout. There are five levels of heat listed on the menu, ranging from “Southern,” or no heat, to “Shut the Cluck Up!,” which comes with a burn notice. (Take it from someone who thought that he would show off for some friends by taking the nuclear route: You will cry.)

Hello, My fiancé and I are celebrating our two year anniversary on Thursday. What delivery/take out restaurants would you recommend, we live in Rosslyn.

My first choice, Thompson Italian in nearby Falls Church, is unfortunately closed, even for takeout. How about the restorative signature from Pho 75, which I flagged in an earlier round-up of favorite restaurants, or a Balkan spread (think veal soup, country chicken, baklava, etc.) from the always-reliable Ambar in Clarendon? 

Hi Tom, one of my closest friends (she currently lives in Silver Spring, MD) had to cancel her babymoon due to current circumstances. She and her husband were planning on going to Charleston, SC in mid-April. One of the big reasons they chose Charleston was because of the food. I’ve never been, and don’t know much about the cuisine down there, but do you have any ideas of a restaurant in DC/Silver Spring burbs area that would be good to buy them a gift card to? Anything in the area with a Charleston vibe or connection? Would love to send her a gift card as a small pick me up, so they can treat themselves to some good food while socially isolating or save the gift card until it’s safe to dine in.

Let me direct you to Gus's Fried Chicken in nearby Greenbelt, which my colleague Tim Carman reviewed several years ago, and liked a lot. The eatery is open for takeout and delivery. Fried chicken, okra, mac and cheese and a slice of chess pie will have your friends thinking "Charleston" as they enjoy the spreads.

Hi Tom, My husband and I decided to get delivery from Dolan Uyghur last week, and are so glad we did. The food traveled beautifully, especially the Mom's Lagman - the restaurant packed the noodles and sauce separately which was very thoughtful. The food arrived quickly and was still hot. This restaurant was the perfect choice, since we weren't in the mood for typical delivery cuisine. There's nothing else like Dolan Uyghur in NW DC! Thanks for what you're doing.

I'm pleased to share you discovery with the assembly. My recent happy purchase was an order of stone crab claws with mustard sauce from Joe's Seafood, Prime Steak & Stone Crab downtown DC. The signature dish was beautifully staged in a black box with a gold interior, atop a sealed pillow of ice for keeping the crab chilled en route. That and a bottle of chablis, which Joe's also delivers, made for a nice outdoor picnic earlier this week --- in my backyard, you should know. 

Do you or any of the readers know of a good consolidated list of restaurants doing delivery? Thanks!

This list is what some of my Weekend colleagues have at the moment. As you can see from the strike-outs here and there, the situation remains fluid. The selection will be refreshed, I'm told.

Hi Tom. So happy you are here to entertain us! Observation and a question. Pretty sure everyone, everywhere is watching content created pre-corona and cringing. (Masterchef "washing" his hand after touching raw chicken by running them under water for 2 seconds). I am POSITIVE that once we are able to leave the house again things that I didn't think/care too much about are going worrying me next time I eat in a dining room other than mine. (A person busing other people's plates and then touching something that is mine. A sticky laminated menu. A bar that is wiped down with a an old wet bar rag.) Am I the only one? Do you think restaurants/bars (those that are fortunate enough to survive) will change how they operate, manage, clean and train? Thanks! C

In general, the restaurant industry has long been vigilant about hygiene. But I applaud the extra diligence chefs and others are displaying. At some places, deep-cleaning, or an in-house attempt at it, has become more or less routine.

 

One possible change, when this scare subsides, is lots more space between dining room tables. Sounds good in theory, but given restaurant's low profit margins, it doesn't work for most places. I also wonder: what will become of bread baskets?

Not a question, but some high praise for Erik Bruner-Yang and his team at ABC Pony in Navy Yard, who are creating daily fun and delicious dinners for 2 (usually consisting of entree, side, bread, and drinks) at the incredibly affordable price of $50. I've been impressed with ABC Pony's quality for the price since it opened in December, and am happy to support them and their staff through these times - especially when their food and service is so excellent.

Take a bow, ABC Pony and staff. 

Just a general comment. We've been eating out as much as possible. For an old grunge like me, it's been good. No more dressing up, shaving, hour plus commute time, sweating over parking, sitting too close to someone else, having to take two hours to eat, and not being able to hear. Having said that (I'm not that bad), I do miss the people, staff, sights, and smells. I'd like to give a shout out / recommend Black's, Annabelle, and Little Pearl, who have been very good. And also Five Guys and Potomac Pizza for when we just need calories. Hang in there, hopefully we'll all do our best to support everyone.

Such a good post. Thank you. I can't recall the last time I've gone without shaving, or wearing a suit to work. Forever? I'm getting used to that aspect of the pandemic. Like you, I miss so much more than the food. I'm a very social person and this whole distancing thing makes me feel very lonely. 

Pizza "droops in transit"? If you say so, but isn't pizza the king of delivery foods? I would think that pho and ramen are the worst options. Some places won't allow takeout of those things even in normal times.

I meant to say the SALADS tend to droop in transit. As for pizza, some models are sturdier than others, and I was thinking only of the pies I've seen come and go at Chez Tom in the past two weeks. The pho I've ordered is packaged so that the noodles are separate from the meats and vegetables, ensuring the softness or crispness you expect of the Vietnamese soup. 

Just wanted to give a shout out to Mahdang, a great Korean restaurant in Rockville, which is still serving fantastic (and quite re-heatable) food for extremely reasonable prices. I had a delicious meal from them this past weekend, and they're one of the many many restaurants offering discounts to try to bring enough business in to stay afloat.

Thanks for the tip on the Korean outpost. It looks like Grubhub and Seamless both offer delivery from Rockville. Japchae and bibimbap for lunch maybe!

The best way to help restaurants is to put cash in their hands now. Of course the easiest way is ordering take out or delivery. But I have also been impressed with the creative gift card promotions many restaurants have been publicizing. A local restaurant group in Old Town is selling gift cards online or in person, with 50% of the money going toward their employee fund and a free 20% bonus card for customers (Mia's Italian Kitchen, the best marinara and eggplant parm around). Similar offers are coming from Cheestique, Hard Times Cafe and others in Alexandria. I have four figures worth of gift cards right now from all these great places, most (if not all) of them will stay in business because they are being SMART and adapting to the current situation. The places who offer no promotions and nothing out of the ordinary (and, sadly, I seen several, including delicious favorites, who apparently believe customers have an obligation to them without question) are the ones I fear will fail and fall.

Yes to gift cards! The restaurant industry is a creative force and I'm cheered to see so much innovation out there, from the pooling of resources at the Neighborhood Restaurant Group (check out nrgprovisions.com) to Erik Bruner-Yang's dual-purpose crowdfunding plan for chefs and communities that need food. 

I want to support my local restaurants, I really do, but can the virus live on food? I'm just thinking about someone in the kitchen sneezing or coughing on it. I can handle the packages and bring it home and dump it into my dish or container then discard of the packaging and wash my hands, but I guess the idea of catching the virus when I live alone has turned me into a bit of a germaphobe. I am donating the same amount I used to spend every week dining out to gofundmes and virtual tip jars for all my old servers who have been laid off.

You are smart to be concerned. A piece I read in the WSJ said that if you touch virus particles on raw food and then touch your nose, mouth or eyes, that's a potential source of transmission. But experts say that's unlikely. The important things to do are 1) wash your hands with soap and water and 2) don't eat food with your hands. 

I live in the suburbs of Annapolis. I just to live in NJ. I was craving some great pizza. I ordered a pizza & mozzarella sticks (just to get the price to great the delivery level). They advertised NY style pizza. I thought I would give it a try. The pizza was no better than the frozen pizza or what you get at Chuckie Cheese. The mozzarella sticks were not cooked and barely thawed. During normal times I would call the restaurant & post a negative review on Yelp. It was 7:50pm when I got my meal but that could have been the delivery service fault - over an hour wait. I would only complain about the tasteless & uncooked food. Is it fair to write a bad review on Yelp while restaurants are suffering so during the pandemic? It was an independent pizza restaurant versus a chain.

Gentle reader, we are in the middle of a pandemic. People are dying. All. Over. The. World. 

 

Channel some inner goodness and keep your thoughts to yourself for now. I beg you. 

Tom and the rest of the WP Food staff that may readers and subscribers are working from home and live outside the beltway and we arent going to travel into DC for carry out. So suggestions and reviews for places outside the beltway would be helpful. In the Chantilly/Centreville area I recommend Ciao Italia for carryout and delivery and WIllards for carry out.

Thanks for the suggestion and the helpful recommendations. 

Put 1-2 pieces in a hot frying pan for 2-3 minutes. It will recrisp the bottom, remelt the cheese. Much better than microwave or the oven.

Good advice. Pizza only suffers in the microwave oven, I agree. 

That would make Ethiopian food a bit challenging unless you forgo the injera (but that's a critical part of the meal). What did you do with the Ethiopian food you had delivered?

Honestly? I couldn't believe I ate at least part of the meal with a knife and fork. But, I washed my hands thoroughly both before, during and after the spread. 

The great novel, "A Soldier of the Great War" is set during WWI. One passage is in the dining car of a train in Italy. A diner says, "I don't like my soup." And the server says, "Sir, people are dying. Eat it and like it." Yes, exactly. Although, I kind of feel like that even during normal times.

I need that just now. Thank you.

Franklin's is doing carry out. I haven't had a chance to try it but I know Tom gave them a shout out recently. If you're craving carbs, Bagel Place at UMD is accepting online orders.

Yay, Franklins in Hyatsville, among my top favorite restaurants for the month of kinder, gentler February. The carryout menu looks pretty extensive, offering lamb sliders, crab cake platters, Cuban sandwiches, pizza and more.

My job workload has actually increased since the move to all online, so this opportunity to join in your delightful Chat has been a wonderful treat!!

Silver lining in a dark, dark cloud. Welcome to the party. We're glad to "see" you here.

I know I will not be supporting one restaurant that closed during the Covid 19 crisis. Chasin Tail in Centreville unlike all its competitors closed during the crisis. Everyone else even the smallest mom and pop palce is open. If they reopen I wont go abck had a craving for Fried Oysters on Friday since its Lent

But wait! Every owner has to make that tough decision based on lots of considerations. I wouldn't be so tough on the place if I were you. 

Hi Tom, here in SW DC, I've been trying to order take out at least once a week to keep businesses open in my neighborhood. I fortunately still have a salaried job and have earmarked part of that for neighborhood food. Some of the owners of these spots also live in SW as well so it's doubly important to support my business and personal neighbors. Pearl Street Warehouse has been doing a family meal offering each night, including much appreciated vegetarian options for Lenten Fridays (and take out margaritas!). And Masala Art and Union Pie have been good. I will admit to ordering a cherry blossom shake from Shake Shack last week in a moment of caloric weakness and it was darn good (though doesn't make up for not being able to see the blossoms in east Potomac Park/Hain's Point). Thanks for continuing to do these chats all week. And thank you to my fellow chatters supporting all those in the service industry.

I commend your behavior. Those of us lucky enough to still have jobs and get paid - not always the same thing -- need to prop up the small businesses that fuel us through good times and bad. Treat now as if it's Christmas, right?

Hi Tom, Do you know of any restaurants in DC (or very close) that will be offering Passover menus for carryout or delivery? With Passover just around the corner, I'm hoping for some options that will allow me to both diversify my meals, and support local businesses. Thank you very much!

I see that Susan Gage Catering is offering both Easter and Passover menus. Scroll down to the bottom of the home page for the kosher-style menu, which costs $80 for a spread for four that includes various spreads, a cedar plate, chicken soup and gefilte fish. Other Passover options feature Mediterranean grilled salmon ($27 for two) and prime braised brisket ($32 for two). The catch: orders are due April 2. 

 

Also, per a press release, Heckman’s Catering operates out of Caddies On Cordell in Bethesda with most of the original Heckman’s Delicatessen kitchen staff.  You have until April 3 to order dishes including matzoh ball soup, chopped liver, roasted chicken, kugel and even Passover wine. 

The mention of Masala Art in SW reminded me of a terrific take out dinner we had from the original outpost in NW last week. Everything survived the 20 minute drive home and tasted wonderful. Particularly the cauliflower massallam. Delish.

Indian food -- basmati rice, butter chicken, curries -- travels well. 

For the person upset with your pizza, your Yelp review might harm a business that put themselves and their employees in harm's way to stay open and bring a pizza to your door. And for the person upset at Chasin Tails, maybe the owners are or live with someone who's immunocompromised. Please, give others the grace that you would hope they'd extend to you in these times where we're all navigating through murky waters without a guide.

Amen, brother/sister!

Have been trying to find them on Caviar, but no luck!? Are they no longer delivering?

Owner Ashok Bajaj just texted that the modern Israeli restaurant is no longer open for takeout or delivery. (Sigh.)

It's my husbands birthday tomorrow and we typically go out to a nice dinner. Where should I order from for delivery? We live in Hill East, but with traffic being so light, I am thinking we could maybe get something from downtown delivered over this way. We are open to any types of food.

Support Capitol Hill and order from a local restaurant. One of my votes goes to the always-great Joselito for Spanish. You can even get wine delivered!

 

That's a wrap for today, friends. Let's gather again next Wednesday, same time, same place. Be safe and stay sane. 

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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