The Washington Post

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

Apr 03, 2013

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

Find all of Tom Sietsema's Washington Post work at

Tom - was wondering your opinion of resturants taking to social media to shame reservation no shows: Thanks!

I'm of a couple minds on the issue.


On the one hand, I thought the restaurant (Red Medicine in LA) was gutsy for drawing attention to diners who cancel at the last minute or not at all.  Because those types of diners are why the rest of us are often required to eat at 5:30 p.m. or after 9 p.m. in some of our favorite restaurants. Or wait for a party that has no intention of showing up.


On the other hand, I think posting names of  people who don't show up might also scare off some business. Would-be diners might have every intention of being on time, but what if something beyond their control comes up, and they get called out publically for it?  The idea is a risky one.


As far as I've read, none of the no-shows have spoken up publically for being named. Either they didn't hear about what happened or they don't care.



Happy Hump Day, everyone. It finally feels like spring outside. Whoo-hoo!  So, where have you been eating? What's on your mind? Tell all.


Just in, a note from Alexandria chef Cathal Armstrong of Restaurant Eve --- and formerly associated with Virtue Feed and Grain:


To All Our Loyal Patrons:


Please be advised that Eat Good Food Group has transitioned the operation and management of Virtue Feed and Grain to 106 Union Dublin effective April 1, 2013.


Eat Food Group thanks its loyal patrons and wishes Virtue Feed and Grain continued success as they both continue to service the Alexandria community in their respective ventures.


My husband and I are going to Baltimore to see a show in May for our anniversary and would like to go to dinner somewhere for dinner that is good food but can accommodate a theater schedule (show starts at 8 at the Hippodrome). Thanks!!

I'm a fan of Pabu, the upscale Japanese tavern in the Four Seasons Hotel in Baltimore.  Its menu of small plates and sushi would make a light segue to an evening performance. Pabu's lounge also opens at a helpful 5 p.m.

Hi - I'm headed to London in a couple of weeks and thought I remembered a Postcard from London, but now I can't find it. Do you have any recommendations for me? I'll be solo on a work-paid trip, so something mid-range is what I'm looking for. Thanks!

Here's my last dispatch from across the pond: Postcard from Tom: London.

Hi Tom, I'm graduating from law school in mid-May and am trying to book some reservations for dinner and brunch for my family. There will be 8 of us. Any recommendations for nice, good restaurants that aren't too loud? Thanks!

A friend of mine took her graduate son and guests to J & G Steakhouse, where they enjoyed a set menu and an attractive private room. You might want to start there. 

Hi Tom – My dear cousin is coming from her home in a small Midwestern town to visit me next week. She visits every year, and food is always the highlight of the trip. She is an adventurous eater and particularly loves to try things that from her perspective are unusual or exotic. (Unfortunately for me, she does not drink so interesting cocktails are not a draw for her.) She has loved Rasika, Han Gang, Oyamel, Teaism, and even the crepe cart at Eastern Market. I am thinking Little Serow (though that might be crossed off the list because it’s such a hassle to get a table), Ethiopic, Ching Ching Cha, Nando’s, and Sakuramen. Do you have any suggestions? Thanks!

I'd definitely add Izakaya Seki (Japanese), Jaleo (Spanish small plates) and the freshly minted Ambar  (Serbian) to your cousin's dining schedule. The last option  is one of the few truly interesting and delicious destinations on the Hill.

Oops, trying again Hi Tom Where would you direct a solo diner who is looking for a pleasant spot to spend with the Sunday paper, coffee, and good food? Outdoor courtyard would be nice. Not quiet like the grave - would be nice to feel I'm in the middle of people/atmosphere... but not Masa 14 (as much as I love their Sunday brunch with friends - too loud to concentrate and way too dark to read). I'm picturing something similar to Balthazar in NYC - enough room to spread out with the paper and food - although an outdoor spot would be really nice. Muchas Gracias!

Wow, you're asking for a lot there: good food, table big enough to spread out the Sunday paper, quiet but not too quiet, a "scene," possibly a patio  ...


Blue Duck in the West End comes to mind first -- a perch near its outdoor fountain would be ideal on a sunny Sunday -- followed by Bombay Club, which offers a lovely Indian buffet and includes al fresco seating near the White House.


Chatters, weigh in with other ideas if you'd like.

We are meeting our son's girlfriend's parents for the first time on Sunday 4/14/13 and made reservations at Zaytinya. Does the decibel level there allow for easy conversation (without having to scream). We'd like to talk and hear one another speak. Do you have any other suggestions for a relaxing Greek /Thai/Vietnamese restaurant in DC or Arlington that might not be so loud. Many thanks, Heidi from Springfield

Good morning, Heidi.  As much as I like Zaytinya, the Greek dining destination last measured 87 decibels on my sound meter. That's the equivalent of truck traffic or a train whistle. 


 Your group would be better off at Mourayo, my go-to for traditional Greek in Dupont Circle; Minh's for Vietnamese in Arlington or the new Beau Thai in Shaw. 

Tom, I thought it was remarkable that you suggested that someone speak to a parent about correcting what they perceive to be unacceptable behavior from a child. Are you opening the field for me to suggest to every diner how I believe they could improve their behavior as well?

Well ... no. But in that case, where a child was encouraged to play with a bunch of creamers and began licking them, some sort of  "Pardon me?' look or quip seems to be in order. I mean,  the situation more or less  morphed into a public safety issue, right?

Hi! I am doing brunch in Alexandria this Sunday with a group of girlfriends...where would be a good place to go? There are 5 of us. Chadwicks, Jackson 20, and Chart House have all been suggested, mostly due to their supposed good deals on mimosas. We really want somewhere where we can drink a lot of mimosas for cheap, but obviously we want good food too!

Great cheap mimosas in Old Town, anyone?

Tom, submitting early. I will be in town at the Convention center for the annual meeting of the AACR (American Association for Cancer Research) from April 6-10. When it comes to lunch and dinner, Convention center food is expensive and limited choices. Can you recommend places to eat, both lunch and dinner, that are within walking distance? Thanks.

I'd head to Sushi AOI or Bibiana for lunch, maybe the Passenger for drinks and (very) casual dinner.  For a splurge, Corduroy is good again.

Last week you again posted some very mean messages about mothers (threatening to send them to prisons etc). I understand that there are many intolerant people in this world who like to make gross generalizations, but do you really need to give them a public platform? You wouldn't post these types of messages ranting against people of different races, sexual orientation, or disabilities. You say that you get more messages than you can respond to in the hour. Please focus on something like dining. You don't need to spread the hate by posting hate messages.

I prefer not to "spread the hate" in this forum, but I try not to restrict discussion topics, either. If someone becomes rude or worse, I'm apt to cut him or her off,  simply by refraining from posting additional bile.


  So, duly noted.

For my son's 17th birthday we treated the family and one of his friends to Marcel's. This was our first visit and we were impressed by the food and service, although for the price we've had better at other top-end DC restaurants. We ordered a bottle of pinot noir and the waiter forgot it, not bringing it until we'd finished the first course. When he came he told us that the bottle we'd ordered was not available but he was suggesting a different, more expensive bottle. When we got the check, he charged us the higher price, not the price of the bottle we'd ordered. When this has happened at other restaurants, they've always charged the lower price. In terms of the total check, it was not a big deal, but it does make me think less of Marcel's. Sure, they can't stock every wine on their list every night, but I thought they should have brought a bottle for the same price or absorbed the difference themselves. How is this usually handled?

 You're right: Restaurants sometimes run out of stock.


 But. The gracious thing for Marcel's to have done would have been to charge you the price of the pinot noir you requested, for two reasons: the server didn't deliver the wine in a timely fashion and he didn't offer at least one same- or lower-priced alternative to the pricier bottle he produced.


In most top restaurants of my acquaintance, the sommelier has always offered the wine of his selection at (about or the same) the price point initiated by the diner.

In response to last week's post asking how many tables a server takes, it's not just the number of tables. Most restaurants set servers sections so that they don't exceed 20 covers if all tables are max seated. However, if the server gets "slam dunked" -- meaning that s/he is seated multiple tables at the same time, service suffers. Causes of slam dunking include incompetent seaters and/or greedy management who would rather seat someone immediately and give them bad service than make the party wait for a table when the staff or kitchen is at capacity. So, diners, sometimes when you're told there is a wait and you see empty tables, you're waiting because the restaurant cares about the service you get.

Thanks for enlightening us.

Hey Tom I will be celebrating my 30th birthday in Boston in a couple weeks. One of the meals will be at no9 park. Looking for a fun, tasty place to go for another dinner with a few friends. We want to make reservations, so neptune oyster is out. Something under 100 a person. Thanks!

Congrats! Hungry Mother in Kendall Square is where you want to book. The restaurant has a cozy feel, terrific drinks and a winning southern menu to recommend it. Nice contrast to No. 9 Park, too.

Someone asked about Paris dining last week, and is going before you do in April. I was there in January, and had amazing and delightful meals at Spring (chef Daniel Rose is a charmer), Frenchie, Ze Kitchen Galerie, Verjus, Chez L'Ami Louis and old favorite Benoit. Can't wait to see your faves!

That's a mostly good list you have. I've heard mixed things about the veteran Chez L'Ami, but Frenchie and Spring have received lots of raves from my food friends. I have fond memories of the timeless Benoit, where the ceiling is painted to look like the sky and the specialties include duck a l'orange and dessert souffles.

Hi Tom, I'm interested in checking out Barmini. Given your less than stellar review of minibar, I was wondering if you have any early impressions of the place? Is it worth checking out?

I've yet to book for drinks at Barmini, but my Weekend colleague (and gracious chat producer) Maura Judkis filed this preview in February.

I just wanted to give a shout out to Ted's. We had reservations for 6 on Friday at 10:00am. There are only two tables for 6 that I could see, and when we arrived, one had just finished eating. However, the group proceeded to take out a laptop and continued to sit and sit and sit. The hostess asked if we could squeeze into a booth with an added chair, and we were willing to do so, as we had two little kids with us. It was a little crowded, but ok. As soon as we sat down, the manager came over, apologized, and comped us a plate of pop-tarts. This was so nice and unnecessary - but instead of being mildly annoyed, we left with great feelings about Ted's. When we left an hour later, the group at the table was just leaving! And there were dozens of people waiting for a table. I feel badly for management when they are stuck with campers who won't leave.

Me too. It's not as if  management can ask them to move to the bar, either, given the time of day. 

A round of applause for the staff at Ted's Bulletin and a tsk-tsk to the thoughtless lingerers!

Hi Tom- I live right by the convention center- the diner has to try sundevich for lunch! Close, filling, and delicious! I would also recommend Veranda for dinner- not fancy but also not too expensive, and quality food every time I go.

I knew I'd forget one or two good ideas. Thanks.

Hi Tom, Love your chats! I am looking for a restaurant in DC that does not serve alcohol for a nice meal. If it had a private area for about a dozen people, that would be even better. Thanks!

No restaurant leaps to mind. I'm curious, though: Why are you looking for a place that doesn't serve alcohol?  You can always choose not to drink, obviously.

Tom--I wrote a few weeks back about my upcoming trip to Istanbul and south west Turkey. Just returned and I have to report I was blown away by Turkish cuisine. Yes, we made it to Ciya! Question: where in the DC metro area would you recommend we go for authentic Turkish food. Price not a factor in our decision. Cheers!

My favorite Turkish food in the city is on the menu at Zaytinya. Among the restaurant's many small plates are pastirma (cured beef loin), pide (flat bread) and braised lamb. Cafe Divan in Georgetown is more exclusively Turkish, but I haven't been there in over a year and can't vouch for the cooking at this time. 

Help us, Tom! I'm an omnivorous liquor-lover who's dating a tee-totaling vegetarian. What restaurants can you recommend that either accommodate both of us or show me that vegetarianism is an acceptable option? Dupont/Logan/U Street preferred, but we're willing to travel to save the relationship. Thanks!

Malgudi, which I reviewed for today's First Bite column, would be a happy meeting ground. There's lots for both the vegetarian and carnivore to explore, the setting is stylish and whoever mixes drinks knows how to do a proper gimlet.  But Malgudi is in Glover Park.


Closer to where you want to find yourself Urbana, Banana Leaves and (how could I forget?)  Estadio, which Food editor Joe Yonan and I wrote about for a recent look at eating meatless in the city.

I live across the street from Little Serow and always see people wandering in later in the evening without having to wait in the ritual opening-time line. Do the owners discourage this or something, or is there some other reason so many people like to wait in the line?

If you want to dine early, you have to wait in line. LS doesn't take reservations. As for those people who appear to be later walk-ins, I bet they are responding from a "Your table is ready" call from the staff.

Per the discussions of shad in recent weeks, it's currently on the menu at Mintwood Place, both a filet and roe. I'd highly, highly recommend it.

I'm there!

So what's the word, or was that just a tease?

The chef and his (Eat Good Food Group) business partners are probably not allowed to say much about the separation.  I'd wager there will be qualitative changes at Virtue, however, if Armstrong and company aren't leading the troops there.

Hi Tom. Here's one question I don't believe I've encountered in years of reading your articles and chats: what do you do when been given a uneven table, one that tips toward you when you lean on it, then tips up again when you remove your arm? That drives me bonkers. My wife thinks it should be brought to the wait staff's attention. I tend to try to avoid fuss, and just fix it myself with a napkin or folded piece of paper.

A lot of restaurants stock -- what are they called, anchors or balancers? -- that level uneven tables.


As someone who has had food and drink slide on him because he didn't pipe up about a shifting table, I suggest you bring the problem to the attention of a server.

In your travels, have you found that expectations for what constitutes "good" service vary by region or by urban v rural areas? I recently had a meal out at a small midwestern town, and the service, at least by DC standards, was abysmal. Over half an hour to get drinks (just sodas), meals came out piecemeal, etc etc etc. Nobody seemed fazed by it, but if that happened here your e-mail and Yelp would be out of control. Are we too picky or demanding around here?

Good and bad service appear everywhere. I wouldn't say urbanites have an edge, either. Some of the less impressive service I've encountered on the road has been in Amsterdam and Rome, for instance.

I love Loving Hut on Lee Hwy in Falls Church. They have great Vietnamese food (and other options). Bonus that they do take out and are on my way home from work!

Loving Hut sounds like a, a ...  (well, I guess I should keep those thoughts to myself). Thanks for the suggestion!

Or they haven't spoken up because they're ... ashamed, or at least embarrassed, and savvy enough to realize that public mea culpa just links their name to bad behavior twice. That doesn't mean some of them haven't learned their lesson.

Possibly. When I caught Red Medicine's finger-pointing tweets, the last names of the reservation-holders had yet to be erased. Ouch. 

What do you think the etiquette should be for waiting in line to get in for one of their seatings? My first time dining there, my wife and I showed up about 30 minutes early to wait in line and seemed comfortably within the number they'd let in for the first seating. As it got closer to the opening time, more and more folks started joining a companion in line in front of us, until we started to get worried. At 5:25, a car pulled up and let out 3 folks who joined up with a friend who was about 10th in line. It turned out that was all it took, and my wife and I got pushed back to the next seating. It turned out well, since we just went around the corner and had some oysters and drinks, but I still was a little irritated by these people who hadn't seemed to "earn" their spot in line. I'm sure people could come up with plenty of excuses why they couldn't wait in line (emergency, elderly, health problems) but that certainly wasn't the case with the people that I saw. I don't have a problem with one person jumping in with the rest of their group that had been standing there, but one person holding it for a group of 4 seems to be pushing it. Am I being unreasonable here? I don't blame Little Serrow in the least and actually prefer their policy, since I feel it's fairer than having the quickest fingers on the phone to make a reservation, but I wish I people didn't seem to be taking advantage of the situation.

Has anyone else encountered a problem with this at Little Serow? As someone who has had a friend "save" a place in line for him, I recognize eye darts from the folks in the line behind us. Should there be a limit to how many people can have a spot in line saved for them, and whose responsibility would that be to announce such a rule?

I'm looking forward to your next Postcard (and to my next trip there!), but I have to say that my one experience with Benoit was less than stellar -- not because of the food, but because of the snooty attitude. (I eat out a lot, at many of your recommended spots, and in many different cities -- so I'm not new at this and I'm pretty sure I didn't do anything to deserve it.) If I'm going to spend that much money, I'd rather do it at the always-welcoming Drouant. And I am eager to return yet again to Les Fines Gueules.

Oui to both your recommendations. I've really enjoyed my meals at Drouant and Les Fines Gueles.

Ask for a table upstairs. I have found it much quieter. Agree Tom?

Upstairs at Zaytinya? Less noisy, yes, but not *that* much easier to hear one another.

Not sure about the cheap mimosa's but Columbia Fiehouse has a great brunch.

Good to know, thanks.

Moved from DC 5 years ago and miss all the great restaurants, we will be back for a friends wedding this weekend. Children are staying with the grandparents. Where can we go for a nice leisurely lunch? Preferably without making reservations since our schedule is a little chaotic. Staying at the W Washington DC.

You don't say what kind of food you prefer or what your budget is. Within strolling distance of your hotel you could try Siroc. Even better, though, are Central Michel Richard and the rebranded Italian restaurant from Enzo Fargione, Osteria Elisir.

To me good service includes checking to see if I need refills of my iced tea or soda, and, if I do, taking care of it. It includes removing my plate promptly if it's obviously empty or pushed to the side. And I don't like to wait for the check when I'm finished. I prefer to have the server drop it off with a smile and a "whenever you're ready--no rush."

Lots of diners hate getting a check before it's requested. They feel rushed when it happens. Just saying! But thanks for sharing your thoughts on service.

I've found Virtue to have lousy service and mediocre food, so I'm hoping maybe someone else who might not be stretched so thin can do a better job of it!

Actually, Armstrong is a good juggler of  multiple projects.

I'm visiting my sister at UVA soon. Any suggestions for dinner in Charlottsville? Nothing too dressy please.

I recently praised Glass Haus Kitchen in Charlottesville, but it might be fancier than what you want.  For good southern vibes, try Whiskey Jar; Zinc is fun for French-Mediterranean fare.

Tom, you have suggested Mourayo before and I've always been curious. Finally tried it this past Saturday and I want to thank you for the suggestion. Liked it so much that I'm taking a party of 6 there this coming weekend. It doesn't pretend to be what it's not. It's just a good Greek restaurant that serves tasty and flavorful cusine. Thanks again.

So glad you enjoyed Mourayo as much as I do.  You sum it up well: a great neighborhood business.

Lost Dog Cafe in Arlington! It isn't fancy, just a deli, but they have delicious pizzas and sandwiches that run the gamut from meat lovers to vegetarian. They also have great milkshakes and a huge beer selection.

Reader to the rescue!

I'm a fan of Johnny Monis's work, but I'm not sure what to make of a situation I found myself in at Litle Serow a few weeks ago. I understand everything there is served family style, and I'm used to serving myself from a communal plate. But then the soup came out in... one bowl. There was no way to ladle a serving onto the (tiny, flat) personal plate we each had, so the apparent expectation was that everyone dips their spoon into the communal bowl. Repeatedly. When we asked our server about this arrangement, we received a polite response that this was how it was done, but she seemed ever-so-slightly perplexed that anyone would find this to be the least bit unusual. Am I making too much of this? And will we be expected to share water glasses soon?

All you had to do was ask for additional small bowls and the server would have brought them out.  Little Serow wants you to eat the way they do in NE Thailand, communally.

There are still people--Muslims, Mormons, devout Baptists--who believe alcohol is in itself an evil and don't want to support establishments that promote it. It's the same as boycotting an establishment that permits smoking or sells tobacco--some folks believe that drinking is harmful in itself, to everyone, just like tobacco.

Of course. Unfortunately, I can't think of a restaurant, for a group, that doesn't serve alcohol.

Funny thing - I never use my real name when making a reservation (thank you to my parents for giving me a name that is both difficult to say & spell). For times when i don't need to be official, I use a fake name (variation) that I chose during college when it was just easier. This type of action makes me stick to the act of not giving my real name (BTW I don't skip reservations)

Hey, we have something in common: I never use my true name when making restaurant reservations, either!

Table is right next door.

LOVE Table. At least in its early days.

Just like anywhere else, the people who want better service know to avoid that restaurant; the people who continue to eat there don't mind. The difference is that they don't need Yelp! or a food critic to spread the word--they have a very functional grape vine.

You betcha.

The sharing of the communal soup bowl could lead to the sharing of diseases. It's not a good idea . Little Serow should know better.

Me thinks the hot soup might ward off any danger?

We like to take out-of-town visitors on "theme" tours of DC, including both activities & dining. For example, we're going to do a monarch butterfly theme this weekend: see "The Flight of the Butterflies" IMAX movie at Smithsonian Natural History Museum & then eat at Oyamel. Movie is about migration of monarchs & restaurant is named after Mexican trees where the butterflies overwinter. And Oyamel menu is a conversation piece with grasshopper cocktails & grasshopper tacos. Question for you, Tom, is do you have any suggestions for "themes" that include a restaurant that actually has good food, like Oyamel? Anything except the overdone cherry blossom theme. TU

Time is running out, but ....


Hey, what about the ever-changing menu at the Garden Cafe in the National Gallery of Art?


I have a lunch date, gang. Thanks for a lively hour of food chat. I look forward to another 60 minutes with you next Wednesday, same time.

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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