Ask Tom: The 2020 Fall Dining Guide is out

Oct 07, 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.

Hi Tom! Thanks for all you do each week to keep up with these chats, they are a highlight of my week, now more than ever. Due to COVID and living out of state from family, my husband and I will be staying home by ourselves for Thanksgiving this year. Due to my pregnancy, we are not comfortable dining out so I'm curious if you know of any great suggestions for take-out for the occasion? I saw that Seven Reasons will be doing one, but it is for 6 people so hoping to find something just as delicious but for only 2. Thanks!

We haven't even gotten to Halloween yet! But I digress.

 

Restaurants, if any of you are planning on offering T-Day feasts for two this year (and what a good idea that is), please let me know and I'll post the news here.

 

FOOD FLASH: The Wharf is poised for a fresh restaurant from a respected chef. Kevin Tien, the talent behind the late Himitsu and the ongoing Emilie’s, tells me he’s taking over the Kith/Kin space in the InterContinental hotel as early as the end of October. His latest project, the 48-seat Moon Rabbit, takes its name from Vietnamese folk lore and will highlight elevated, French-inflected versions of family recipes, says the chef. 


“This is a new beginning for me and my cooking,” says Tien. While he says he initially had no interest in joining a hotel, the owners are giving him free rein to do his own food. Moon Rabbit, he says, is like having “my own restaurant without the hassle of running a business” during a global pandemic. Plus, “the view’s not bad.” 

 

 Wish him well. Not only is he opening a new establishment, he’s getting married on Monday, to the woman whose name was featured at his last job, Emily Potter.  The small family event will include Tien’s out-of-town mother and grandmother, who will be among the first to taste dishes from his forthcoming menu. “My toughest critics,” figures the chef. 

 

CREAM OF THE CROP: Were you worried there wouldn't be a fall dining guide this month? I had my doubts earlier this year. But I'm pleased to roll out my 21st annual collection today, a celebration of restaurants that not only have good taste and consistency in their favor, but are shining a light on the path forward.  And here's my essay from yesterday, looking at some of the creative approaches area restaurants are taking during the crisis. I welcome your thoughts.  

 

Let's get cracking. 

Who's got the best (to go) tiramisu in the DMV?

I don't recall a standout, but Centrolina in CityCenter, I Ricchi and Happy Gyro in Dupont Circle, Il Pizzico in Rockville and Thompson Italian in Falls Church all offer good versions of the popular Italian finish, which my colleague Olga Massov recently wrote about in Food. 

Since April a friend and I have been going on long walks — 6-10 miles — every week. We typically go on Saturday and cap it off either lunch at a local spot. We both live on Capitol Hill and after exhausting all of our choices, we’ve experimented with downtown (Central); Georgetown (Sundevich) and this Friday we’re headed to Great Falls to avoid some of the Saturday crowds. Any recommendations in that neck of the woods? Thanks!

I've got the perfect bucolic spot for you: Jacque's Brasserie, sibling to the revered L’Auberge Chez Francois in Great Falls. Take your pick of the cozy dining room, now just a dozen seats, or the outdoor patio, where some tables are arranged beneath a tented roof and others dot the lawn. Wherever you settle feels like going back in time, a sense aided and abetted by servers in red vests and a menu that embraces such antiques as lobster thermidor. 

Now that it is chilly in the morning, having coffee on the patio of a coffee shop in the morning is becoming difficult. Are you aware of any coffee shops that have heaters outside? Arlington/northern Virginia or Palisades are in DC would be perfect.

I'll pitch your question to the audience and see what I get back. I'm a coffee-at-home kind of guy myself. 

Hi Tom, webjust got engaged and were generously gifted a dinner of our choice to celebrate. We're looking for a restaurant not too far from West End (say, Georgetown to Dupont Circle), preferably with outdoor dining. Where would you recommend?

You have some nice options in that swath of real estate, including Chez Billy Sud in Georgetown, Rasika West End and, ritziest of all, the recently reopened Marcel's, one of my hall of fame picks. 

Hey Tom - long time reader so thanks for all you do and for adapting to these unusual times in a way that makes restauranting still fun. My fiancé and I try to support local restaurants through takeout every week and we let a lot of hiccups slide because well it’s a weird time, but tonight after a rough day at work we went for an outdoor patio cocktail nearby (restaurant to remain unnamed) and the server carded JUST my fiancé and not me (in our party of two). Now I don’t look especially old and he could pass as a little young, but the point it is it’s just a rude practice and the server should know better. Even if I looked like his grandma, carding me too would have gone over easy and we could have enjoyed the night. Instead it stung and colored the experience for both of us, so we’ll just plan to take our business elsewhere. Servers and managers - please teach your people and practice tact! In these times a lot of logistical snafus are easily forgiven and forgotten but small, positive, basic human interactions can go a long way (either way). Thanks!

I don't feel quite as strongly as you do about not carding an entire party, although in this scenario, where there are just the two of you -- and I assume you are similar in age -- requesting both IDs seems like the smart thing to do: treat everyone equal. 

To the reader last week who was looking for a place for a tea party, in The Before Times Blue Duck Tavern at the Park Hyatt on M St had a wide (and wild) tea selection (all different kinds of teas, all different price points). And I'm sure they have a decent champagne selection too!

Like a number of high-end hotels that used to offer afternoon tea menus, the Park Hyatt has suspended the amenity during the pandemic. But as you point out (and I confirmed earlier today with the BDT), the restaurant offers a wide array of teas and throughout the day. 

I miss the weekend brunch at the Great American Restaurants. Any idea if they plan to bring it back at any of their locations?

I reached out to the company this morning and it appears they have what you want, albeit in abbreviated form: 

 

Artie's, Carlyle, Jackson's, and Coastal Flats Gaithersburg offers abbreviated brunch menus- featuring select favorites that continue to be offered. This is  available on Saturdays and Sundays 11:30AM-3:00PM. 
Arties, Jacksons, and Coastal Flats Gaithersburg offers the brunch items, below, along with the regular lunch menu as well. This includes: 
  • Crab Benedict 
  • Eggs Scramble
  • Chicken and Waffles
And, at Carlyle the brunch items include items, below, along with the regular lunch menu as well. These brunch items include: 
  • Crab Benedict
  • Eggs Scamble
  • Filet and Eggs
The Best Buns Pop-Up is active at certain Great American Restaurants locations - this allows for breakfast items to be offered to guests. Locations below:  
  • Silverado [Annadale] 
  • Jackson's [Reston] 
  • Ozzie's [Fairfax Corner] 
  • Mike's American [Springfield] 
  • Good Eats Emporium [Sterling - situated within the newly opened Good Eats Emporium]
  • NOTE: Stand alone locations of Best Buns include Arlington and Tysons Corner

-

A few weeks ago I had a reservation at an expensive big deal restaurant, and when I made it I specifically requested outside dinning. Th person taking the reservation said, I have a table for two outside. That afternoon, when they called to confirm, I said "I just want to confirm we are sitting outside." The person on the phone said "I do not have that noted here and we are not seating people outside tonight because of storms in the area." So I cancelled the reservation. I will note that it was 1. Not stormy, and 2. She was very rude when she spoke to me. Anyway, we scrambled and made a reservation somewhere else, outside, at a lesser expensive, lesser big deal restaurant. About 30 minutes later, she called back and said "There was a misunderstanding and we can accommodate you outside." At this point in time I was so annoyed with the whole situation I told her we had made another reservation. Her response to me was "well, my manager wanted me to call you back." Am I wrong to think that the manager should have called me back? This is a very expensive restaurant. We ended up having a lovely meal somewhere else but this restaurant has lost my business forever.

I can understand your frustration, both with the unmet promise of an outdoor table and the host's lack of tact. But! I like that a manager had the host call you back, because what if you really, really wanted to dine there? The host erred, however,  (and again) in bringing her manager into the situation. 

 

We're eight months into the pandemic. Restaurants are trying to do their best. But anecdotes such as yours are useful reminders that people still expect good service, especially from higher-end establishments. 

Hi Tom, I wanted to share a few great outdoor dining we've had recently. One was at Rooster and Owl. We went a few weeks ago for our anniversary and ate on the patio. Tables were well spaced apart, every table got a bottle of a hand sanitizer to take home and they even had bug spray available to combat the mosquitos. We were also happy to have the same server we had the first time we dined there a few years ago - that always seems like the sign of a well run place. The second place is Esaan in McLean. It's a small family place with delicious northern Thai food and a few outdoor tables. They're doing a great job with distancing, cleaning and mask wearing, and again, hand sanitizer on every tables. We've making the journey out from Maryland every couple of weeks because we like the place so much, especially their sweet sticky rice with custard which is unlike any other that I've had.

Kudos to both restaurants for observing safe practices, and thank you for flagging them. Rooster & Owl is among the 27 businesses I highlight in my new fall dining guide. 

Any inside word on when either might reopen?

Chef-owner Aaron Silverman texts me with with some good news regarding Pineapple & Pearls: "We are currently in the planning phases of reopening P&P right now. While we don’t have an exact date yet, we are targeting very early in 2021." He teases: "We have some big changes planned (but I can’t share yet)."

 

Good news for whoever asked about Thanksgiving takeout for two:  Silverman's Rose's Luxury will be offering just that this season. Look for updates on the restaurant's website and Instagram later this week, in fact. 

I live around the corner from Rumi's Kitchen and they have a decent herd of heaters that I see them storing outside. :) I haven't visited yet (partially since they don't take specific outdoor reservations) but am meaning to based on your recommendations and am glad they are weather-ready!

I'm happy to add to our list of establishments with heaters the delicious new Persian restaurant in Mount Vernon Square. Other dining destinations with warmers include Salt Line in the Navy Yard, Espita in Shaw and the aforementioned Centrolina in CityCenter. 

Hi Tom, thanks for all your guidance over the years! I'm hoping you can help with a birthday request. My son is turning 5 in two weeks, and in lieu of a traditional party (waves vaguely at state of the world), he has requested a special Saturday birthday lunch at a restaurant that can make his favorites: octopus and squid. Fried, grilled, ceviche- he loves them all. Any suggestions for a place with outdoor dining that would help make a 5 year old's birthday special? We are in DC but can travel to NoVa or PG County. Price isn't a factor so much as friendliness and willingness to make a kid feel welcome on his birthday.

I want to meet your son! He sounds adorable. Happy birthday to him. 

 

For octopus, try .... readers, help me out here! I'm blanking. For squid, consider a short road trip to Girasole in The Plains, where the textbook-perfect calamari fritti is best eaten on the handsome outdoor patio. 

 

Update: Chef Amy Brandwein tells me her Piccolina in CityCenter grills octopus and serves it on a brioche roll with mozzarella and tomato cotechinata (pork skin). "We can make them a reservation if they are interested outside," she kindly offers. 

Is there any food or cuisine that you just don't like, but you respect it and have to review it, but don't particularly look forward to it.?

I think there's something to like about every cuisine. But I'm not overly fond of bold licorice flavors in a dish. A little fennel and pernod go a long way for me, for instance. And zucchini just bores me. I find it shoots blanks a lot of time. 

Tom, Thanks for adapting to all the new ways of restaurants, and helping all the rest of us to figure it out. I was thinking about ordering something fancy in celebration of a friend’s wedding, and wondered if you had any suggestions for what might be fun. I was thinking Rose’s at Home and some Columbia Room cocktails, but is there a fun experience I should be thinking about? Decent online cocktail classes or something? I’d appreciate any suggestions you have!

Rose's at Home was a big hit at my house. I'd happily pay for the pleasure (two nights' worth of meals for two) again. Fiola Mare, Kinship, Bombay Club and Annabelle also do high-end take-out exceptionally  well. 

You laugh! But I was going to post about this same question as well. I think we all just want this year to get over with already. Obviously, most of us are going to be eating in this year. And, I assume we are going to need to get our delivery "reservations" early on. It would be great if there was a list of options. I could try to cook a turkey myself, but I don't think the fire department would appreciate that.

Ha! This will definitely be the Year of the Smaller Thanksgiving. I'll pass along suggestions as restaurants let me know their plans. 

Yes - the issue here was how the person on the phone handled the whole thing. If I was the manager, I wouldn't have been happy with that at all. Customer service is of paramount support at a high end restaurant. When things like this happen to me, it's not the mistake it's how it's handled.

Exactly! I've noticed in-person service in particular has really slipped since March. It's an adjustment, even in supposedly better places.

I really felt the manager should have called me back as opposed to the host saying "well the manager really wanted me to do it." It was obvious she did not want to be making this phone call.

Gotcha. But the manager might have been juggling a hundred other things. Restaurant staffs are smaller these days, FYI.

Sometimes you have a weirdly long gap between questions. Even as much as 9 minutes. What's the deal?

Nine minutes? My apologies. Sometimes, I'm reporting something out, however. That's why love, love, love getting questions submitted to me early. 

For Octopus, I recommend Sfoglina! Multiple locations and outdoor seating. Iron Gate also has a good grilled octopus dish. For outdoor heaters, Sababa and Bindaas in Cleveland Park can be added to the running list!

Thank you for the multiple good ideas.

Planning an outing to Annapolis. Any recommendation for a good restaurant to dine outside that is open for lunch?

Not sure if it offers al fresco seating, but Preserve is open for lunch. 

I feel that way about yellow squash. And I got sick of pernod when we lived in the UK and every single fancy dish had Sauce Veronique on it. I actually don't mind an apple-fennel slaw because the vegetable itself is delicate, but enough with the licorice in all my food!

Have a seat next to me!

The Liberty Tavern in Clarendon also has a delicious octopus and calamari, with outdoor seating

The list grows by the minute. Thank you kindly. 

I am getting a bit frustrated with the need to make pandemic excuses for very pricey restaurants' poor service. There are a lot of things that can be excused re: pandemic including takeout, lack of reservations, limited menus, changing reservations based on weather at the last minute, etc. But, service is not one of them. One of my expectations when going to a Michelin starred restaurant or otherwise pricey restaurant is the service. I appreciate the food but more so appreciate the attentive but not obtrusive service. This starts with navigating the website, communications with the restaurant beforehand with questions and making reservations. It extends throughout the meal and includes any follow up that the restaurant chooses to do. It's possible that the questioner was frustrated and let that color their perception of being called back. But, "well, my manager wanted me to call you back" seems obviously rude. Alternatives might be, "I'm sorry about the confusion and hope you have a good meal." or "I hope you can dine with us another time - we're still working out some of the kinks with our system." I would love to know the name of this restaurant because it sounds like the place that judges me for looking very young and thinks I can't afford their restaurant and consequently giving me poor service.

You raise some good points here. Just because we're dealing with a pandemic doesn't excuse any lack of manners. 

 

Gotta run, folks. Please join me next week, after you've had time to digest the dining guide and I'll be taking more questions about it. Be safe out there!

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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