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

Sep 25, 2013

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

Find all of Tom Sietsema's Washington Post work at

Hi Tom - any preference between Elisir v person in the group is slightly hard of hearing so looking for a place where everyone can talk and be heard. Thanks very much!

Well, if you want to check out Azur, you better do so quickly. The seafood restaurant from Frederik De Pue closes this Friday. For more details about why, and what's replacing the place, check out the news on the Going Out Guide


Osteria Elisir has had a few problems of its own lately. Maybe you heard about the recent departure of two employees there?


A suggestion: The Oval Room near the White House has what you're looking for: good food, pleasant digs, and a relatively quiet noise level (60 decibels, last time I checked, which is a normal conversation range).


Good morning, everyone. Thanks for joining me for today's food and restaurant chat. Fire away!



Tom - What do you know about Newton's Table in Bethesda? Some friends are going tonight and I'm trying to do some intelligence gathering for them. Any not-to-miss dishes? THX!

Here's my last report on the place, which is spinning off a new concept this week, Newton's Noodles.

Family coming to visit and we need infant-friendly (10 month old) restaurants on 14th St - Ted's Bulletin (do they take reservations?) and Matchbox come to mind. Any other recommendations?

I took a two year-old to the new Italian restaurant, Ghibellina, recently, and the staff  treated her (and her charges) exceedingly well. You can add that to your list, for sure.  For something even more relaxed, I also enjoy the beer (and barbecue) garden at Garden District  (formerly Standard).

Out of these two places, which would you pick for date night and why: Thally or Baby Wale Thanks!

Thally is fun for its design, the ability to hear each other talk and its stylish-but-restrained cooking. Baby Wale, from the owner of Corduroy,  is more casual, with go-go music, relaxed servers and dishes including tomato soup, lobster sandwiches and cookies for dessert. Love the curvy bar at the latter.

Tom, with the new redesign of space and menu at Restaurant Eve, wlll there continue to be a bar? Will the lickety-split lunch menu be discontinued?

Chef and co-owner Cathal Armstrong didn't mention any changes to the front bar at Restaurant Eve, which is going glam next month (bye, bye bistro) , but I'm informed the lunch deal is very much part of the restaurant's next phase.

What is the best sushi/Japanese place in DC (or VA)? Price not an issue. Is it Sushi Taro?

Izakaya Seki and Makoto are two of my favorite places for raw fish on vinegared rice, with the latter, in the Palisades, being the more formal and traditional of the two. I like Sushi Taro best for the elaborate omakase menu served in the rear of the restaurant.  

Hi Tom - Thank you for all of your work on behalf of your hungry fans. May we expect new reviews of either of these fine restaurants, given the shifting of talents in the kitchens?

I was disappointed not to be able to include the restaurants in my forthcoming dining guide. But yes, I plan to let the new chefs settle in and revisit both Ashby Inn (where the new chef is David Dunlap, late of the Inn at Little Washington) and Patowmack Farm (the roost for Tarver King) at some point.

Hi Tom, Going to be in DC for a long weekend alone soon, and looking for some recommendations for places accommodating a solo (female) diner. I'll be in the Georgetown area most of the time, but am willing to go a bit further afield -- so really anywhere that welcomes solo diners would be terrific.

With a few exceptions, including Bourbon Steak, Georgetown isn't very happening right now.


I'd suggest you  go to the West End (think Rasika West End, Blue Duck Tavern)  or Dupont Circle (Urbana, Mourayo for Greek).


Are you cool with eating at counters? Most of the above have comfortable bars where you can enjoy a meal.

Thanks for the infant-friendly recommendations! Father would LOVE beer garden. Which makes me wonder - what are the rules about bringing a baby into a bar? Under 18 obviously. I hate to call around and ask - "do you take babies?"

The cool thing about Garden District is that most of its seats (picnic benches) are outside.  Who cares if a baby cries a little in the open air?

Tom what's the latest on Sushi Ko? I saw that their space in Glover Park is up for lease.

Sushi-ko is no more, except for in Chevy Chase.  A sad ending for an important DC restaurant, possibly the first sushi source, and definitely the Japanese restaurant with the most interesting wine list, thanks to the drinking habits of its owner.

At dinner last night, ribeye was ordered medium rare; it came out medium well. All we had to do was ask server to look at it - plate was whisked away, complimentary appetizer was provided while we waited for new entré to be served. Excellent service and dishes less formal than Fiola, but very enjoyable.

Good recovery, huh?


I really like Casa Luca -- more than Fiola at the moment, because of the gentler prices and breezier service at the former.

What about Momo Sushi in Old Town Alexandria?

Haven't been. You like the place?

Going to Vermillion for a milestone birthday dinner next week. Is this still a good choice?

Let's just say that despite the departure of long-time chef Tony Chittum, Vermilion remains a strong neighborhood restaurant (good enough to join a mere 40 restaurants in my forthcoming fall dining guide, which comes out Oct. 13).

Do you have three or four suggestions for a pre-theater dinner in Penn Quarter these days?

701 has an actual pre-theater menu going for it. Other places where you can get in and out easily before a peformance include Zaytinya, Jaleo, Oyamel and Sei.

Hi Tom. I'm coming to DC and need to arrange a lunch with business colleagues somewhere near the White House. Some place where we can have a discussion, so not too noisy. What would you recommend? Equinox? I live in Boston now so a little behind on my DC dining. Thanks

Better: Oval Room or Bombay Club across the street.

Top two places we should consider for a mid priced meal?

The aforementioned Vermilion, Lyon Hall in Clarendon and Villa Mozart in Fairfax City all leap to mind.

We're headed to Little Serow Saturday night - very excited. What's the best plan for getting a table? How early should we get there? I think I heard they'll take your name and call you when the table is ready - is that correct? If so, where would you recommend we go while we wait? Thanks!

Every night is different with the line at Little Serow -- and this, straight from one of the servers there.


Your best bet is to go mid-week and have at least one person in your party in line by 4:50 p.m. if you want to eat when the doors open at 5:30.  That's been my (successful) strategy.


Later-comers can put their name on a list, to be called as seats open up.  Nearby, Hank's Oyster Bar has benefitted greatly from Little Serow's line-waiters.

Tom, is it worth the considerable effort to obtain a reservation at Elizabeth's Gone Raw? Thanks.

It was early in the restaurant's life. But my last meal there was an expensive disappointment.

Tom, I've got a business trip to the city of Brotherly Love for about a week. So I have lots of opportunities to sample their cuisine. Where would you go?

For the Travel issue of the Magazine last week, I went to Philly and had an amazing dinner at the new Serpico, perhaps the most anticipated restaurant opening of the year there. Loved the experience. Be sure to make a reservation, or show up early, however!

What is your favorite restaurant in Bethesda these days?

It depends on my mood. For casual (but good) American, I enjoy Food Wine & Co. For serious French, Bistro Provence is my destination.  I like Passage to India for the obvious and Raku for pan-Asian cooking.

Hi Tom - Love all of your dining guides! Do you know yet when your fall dining guide will be released? We'll be doing a lot of traveling in October, and will want to make sure we don't stop our paper for the day it comes out. Thanks!

Oct. 13 is the publication date for the printed product, but the dining guide goes online sometime on Wednesday.

We are having a 90th birthday dinner for our mother of six preferably in Virginia or DC. We will be a group of 20-25. We would like to have a private room, with very good food, reasonably price, nice atmosphere. Suggestions?

You know what might be great, old-fashioned fun? L'Auberge Chez Francois in Great Falls. Such a pretty drive, too.

For some reason, even though I live in Ellicott City MD, I read your praise of Curry Leaf without registering that it was in Maryland. Maybe my subconscious thought it was too good to be true, having such an interesting Indian restaurant outside the immediate DC area. We went there last Friday and are going to be regulars. The lemon rice was simply amazing, and I've been googling ever since to find a recipe (now that fresh curry leaves are readily available around here). Thanks again for going to a strip mall on Rte. 1 halfway to Baltimore, and pooh to those who chastise you for not seeking out such places. They're just wrong.

I adore that little restaurant. So glad you tried it out, and had an experience similar to mine.

Greetings Tom, not a question as much as a hope you will return to Frederick, MD, soon. We must have close to 100 restaurants in the city and some of them are great. I'm a big believer in reviews, particularly multiple ones, such as found on Yelp. Hope to see you up here soon!

Sounds as if I need to get back to Frederick. Previously, I've enjoyed Volt, Family Meal, Wine Kitchen and the Tasting Room there.

Every Christmas, my in-laws give my wife and I a gift certificate to Chez Francois. I’m always happy to receive the gift because Chez Francois is the only place I know of that serves veal sweetbreads. Unfortunately, it looks like they’ve taken them off the menu. So, do you know of any other restaurants that make veal sweetbreads? I’ll still enjoy my meal at Chez Francois but I really need to get my sweetbreads fix at some point this year.

Bourbon Steak and Ripple, both in the District, do a good job with the organ meat, of which I count myself a big fan, too.

It seems like some places design their meals specifically for customers to have leftovers to take home. I am not a fan of taking leftovers home. I don't like to have food sitting out at room temperature for an extended period of time and rarely am in a position to race home and put it in the fridge. Also, I don't think food tastes as good the next day when it has been reheated. Maybe, I just don't know the best way to warm it up. Finally, I would rather save the money and only pay for as much as I can eat. Sometimes, I wish places would offer their lunch size portions at dinner as they are usually smaller and cost less.

I'm a huge fan of leftovers  -- well, if the food was good the *first* time around! -- but even I appreciate sensible portion sizes.  People have to learn that six ounces of meat is sufficient, and we don't need a basketball -size bowl of of pasta  to maintain health.


That's a wrap for today, folks. Thanks for joining me. See you back here, I hope, next Wednesday at 11 a.m.

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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