Ask Tom - Againn again and getting carded

Aug 18, 2010

Washington Post food critic Tom Sietsema answers your questions, listens to your suggestions and even entertains your complaints about Washington dining.

Find all of Tom Sietsema's Washington Post work at

HOW BAZAAR!: Like the Energizer Bunny, Jose Andres keeps going and going and going.  Earlier this morning, I learned that the busy Spanish chef is teaming up with Philippe Starck to open a second Bazaar restaurant in the former (insert drum roll here) Ritz Plaza Hotel in Miami.


Why not DC?


 For starters, Andres says he has a big fan base in "the door to Latin America" and Miami has long been on his radar. The celeb chef (who called in from Spain)  adds that the concept "plays well in a hotel environment" and "hotels in DC are more traditional." 


The Miami Bazaar, which will include a pool and face the Atlantic, will be slightly smaller than the original in Los Angeles. It will also be tailored to the community, although Andres says time and research will dictate what the menu and interior in South Beach will be.  


  In conjunction with SLS Hotels, the South Beach Bazaar is expected to open in spring 2012;  no chef has been appointed as lead, says Andres.


So ... how's Restaurant Week been treating everyone?

Seriously, you couldn't answer my simple question about the dining scene in Detroit yesterday? Instead, you had to answer a dozen different questions on the same topic (proposing in a restaurant)? WTF's wrong with you these days?

Sorry, WTF, but I get hundreds of questions to this chat each week. Your best chance of getting a reply is to post  in advance of  the 11 a.m. start time, so I can do any necessary research (which I would need to in the case of Detroit). 


Also, you get more attention with honey than with vinegar.  At least here.

Hi Tom, I am huge fan and this is the 1st time I am posting a question. My boyfriend and I love Japanese food. He lived for 6 years in Japan so he knows what is authentic and what is not and I am an extreme foodie. There is nothing I won't eat. We have a sudden craving for the unusual yakitori dishes such as chicken heart, chicken gizzard yakitoris. I am hoping you can point us in the right direction of where we can find it. Anywhere in DC or VA. Thank you!

Have you been to Kushi yet? The new Japanese retreat on K St. NW features a big charcoal grill that allows diners to watch their skewered meat, vegetables -- and chicken! -- sizzle to doneness.  The poultry choices run from breast and liver to thigh and skin.

It's Restaurant Week--what at the guidelines for tipping?

I'd tip as I always do: 20 percent on the pre-tax total, with a few extra bucks thrown in for good measure (RW is an endurance contest for restaurant staffs, most of whom work very hard to makes the masses happy.)

Tom, you seem to know a lot about servers and bartenders and I'm hoping you can help me deal with the issue of being asked for i.d. when I order an alcoholic drink. I am 41, female, and may pass for being somewhere in my 30s. There is NO WAY that I look under 21. I'm only asked for an i.d. when out with girlfriends or solo, never with my husband. (And rarely in liquor and grocery stores, where tipping isn't part of the equation!) It seems to me that the servers are making an attempt at insincere flattery for a larger tip. I hate this ploy: it's embarrassing, obvious, and phony. So how do I respond? I don't want to come across as stern and humorless, especially at the beginning of an evening!

Honestly, I don't think anyone enjoys the "Can I see your driver's license?' routine and I can't imagine there's a lot of money to be made off of asking single women to produce evidence of being legal to drink. 


Think about it: the process actually takes away time that could be better spent pouring your wine or mixing your cocktail. Also, by NOT asking, restaurant workers  may find themselves in trouble for possibly selling to under-age patrons. (It's happened, right here in DC.)


My advice: Don't sweat the small stuff, hon. 

Tom, Maybe third time's a charm, so I'll try my question again! I have a bit off time off because I'm switching jobs. What restaurants in or near DC would you recommend as can't-miss for lunch while I have the time? Thanks! Love your chats!

Ding! Ding! Ding! Ding!Ding!


(That's the sound of  your lucky day.)


If you want to treat yourself big, take a drive to Old Town and settle into lunch in the Bistro at Restaurant Eve. If I were closer, I'd be more of a regular there. Let me amend that: If I were closer and I were allowed to play favorites, I'd spend more time and money at the Bistro.

I've been to the Aggain downtown, but not the one in Rockville, although I live in Gaithersburg and certainly don't belong to the demographic to which the downtown restaurant appeals (I'm in my 60's, but I do like scotch). After reading your first bite, I probably will drive right on by the Rockville Aggain. There are plenty of restaurants that "cook to the suburbs" and many of them are chains (e.g. Houstons). I choose to spend my money on something special.

Frankly, I think the owners would have been better off calling it something other than Againn (Tavern) and not even bothering to offer anything British. Still,  I admire their attempt to bring a taste of Againn to Rockville. In the end, of course, you want people to buy into what you're selling. Sounds to me like the old Houston's crowd is a tough audience.

I am wondering whether to give Estadio a second chance. The food was fine, with the exception of the gristly chicken, and the sangria was underwhelming. I was reminded how often folks write to you to say that service compromised their meal, and in our case it was true. The food was delivered before the drinks, we were charged for items we thought were complementary, and service was intrusive. (The busboy was holding one of my plates as I finished eating from it so he could clear it as soon as I was done.) With so many places to eat, I'm not inclined to return. though people seem so excited about Estadio that I am wondering whether our experience was unusual. Does it warrant a second look?

I'd definitely give Estadio another chance. It's new, after all, and hot, hot, hot. There's no excuse for plate snatching, but I'm wondering if you could elaborate on food that you thought was gratis that wasn't?

I have to say I'm a little horrified by Mark Weiss's comment that he's cooking for the burbs and therefore needs to tone things down. Really? I've lived in the District and in MoCo, and think I get better, more interesting ethnic food in Montgomery County. Just head over to Wheaton (where I live) and you can find top-rate bangers and mash or fish and chips at Royal Mile, fantastic sushi a couple of blocks away at Moby Dick, unbelievable Thai food at both Nava Thai and Ruan Thai and to die for Chinese food at Hollywood East. And in each restaurant, you'll people of all ethnicities. It's fine if Weiss wants to try and make his place appealing to a certain segment of the population that wants steaks and sandwiches, but I think he's grossly underestimating the appetites of people living in "the suburbs."

Gotcha. Having spent a considerable amount of time eating in Silver Spring, Wheaton and Rockville recently, I totally agree with you. However, I should point out that those comments by Weiss (and chef Wes Morton) were based on feedback from customers in the tavern's first few months.

Can someone please tell me how $35.00 for dinner is a bargain. For example, if I were to go to a medium priced restaurant, which most of the places are. I could easily get a $25.00 entree, split a $10.00 appetizer, and a $10.00 dessert with my dinning partner.. Or a single diner could get a $20.00 entree, and $10.00 appetizer, and a $5.00 dessert. So what's the big deal?

Gosh, where to begin here?


One of the cool things about Restaurant Week is the chance it gives diners to explore a restaurant they might be unfamiliar with, or could not afford under normal circumstances.  If done well by the establishment, that $35 dinner is a deal if you take into consideration the chef's skill, the service, the setting, etc.


Short reply to a question that deserves more consideration.

I am a server and would never card someone to "flatter" them. I card because ABRA/ABC are ruthless and I and the restaurant that employs me cannot afford the fines and the loss of liquor sales that can occur with one slip up. Sometimes it's just better to card everyone.

Well said. Thanks for chiming in.

Hi Tom, Rewriting since my comment disappeared when I hit sent - are you censoring negative comments? I have been to Againn 3 times with my wife so far, and love the place. I lived in the area for about 20 years now, and we're very happy to have a nonchain place that offers real food (other than Black Market there is nothing else!). I'm not sure why you want all restaurants to look the same! We like that they offer something different than downtown, we don't have big lawyers salaries, and don't need to impress congressmen. We just want to go out and eat good simple food, so I am very happy to see things I know and like on the menu. Overall, Im a little surprised and disappointed that you slammed our new favorite place. These are gutsy people who are opening a business in tough times, employing people, and supporting local economy (how come you never mention that everything is from the local farms?), and you could be a little more merciful to a business open for a month. We don't think it is fair to criticize a new business so much when there are clearly good things happening. All 3 times we've been there we had great food and service, yes, couple little things here and there, but when we asked for something they always addressed it, and a manager always came by to check on us. So, we will go back againn, and take our friends with us, you like it or not!

Whoa there! I didn't trash the place, and I like parts of it (that shepherd's pie, for instance). I also appreciate the fact it's *not* part of a big chain.


But when four people spend almost a hundred bucks a head on a place, as my party did at AT, I expect more finesse from the staff, steak to be cooked as we ask for it, drinks to show up before we've eaten our apetizers, etc.

They have to ask if you look under 35. And servers face big penalties if they get their restaurants' licenses yanked. Take it as a compliment and stop assuming the worst about everyone.


Full menu, bonus small appetizer, generously poured "half" glasses, and the food and service were just great. We live in the neighborhood and frequent Eat Bar, and it was a real treat to experience Tallula as well.

How smart to offer the full script. And who doesn't like a generous wine pour?

My boyfriend has made reservations at a restaurant in Georgetown for Restaurant Week for our anniversary. The restaurant is a surprise, but where should I be hoping for? Thanks!

Does Citronelle participate in the promotion?


If not, Bourbon Steak would be a prime place to toast one another.

WTF is wrong with people that they feel entitled to berate the Post's food critic for not answering their question? So rude. And I'm not just talking about "WTF" from earlier in this chat. Tom, you get some of the nastiest people writing in, but you do a nice job of handling them with grace. I suspect that many of them are the sorts that are rude to servers and make flight attendants want to pull a Steven Slater. You folks need to take a long, hard look at how you treat people.

I have pretty thick skin, but thanks for the support, friend. This can be a tough crowd some days!

I don't look at RW as a lesson in economics or a financial windfall to me. I assume the prices are reasonably set by the participants to cover the range of dining experiences. I do look at RW for, as you said, an incentive to try a place or two and get a taste of the kitchen/experience which I might otherwise just not have tried.

You sound like the kind of diner restaurants want to see fill their seats during the promotion. In other words, you "get" the idea.

Tom, I applaud your patience with rude people. When I was a restaurant server I faced the same issues from people who feel a sense of entitlement out there. Parents didn't raise 'em right and I would hate to see their table manners. Thanks for the great Chats!

Bless you.

Dear Tom, I often get carded (asked for an ID) when go to a bar, purchase alcohol, etc. Let's put it this way--I am way beyond the drinking age, so I chuckle to myself when I am asked for an ID. Although I could pass for being a lot younger than I actually am, I still don't think I could pass for being underage. But that isn't the point and doesn't really matter. I never get mad at the people requesting--or assume that they are seeking a larger tip, due to flattery. I take it as they are doing their job and have a bigger demon to answer to if they do not do their job. While I don't doubt that some may be pursuing a bigger tip, the reality is here in DC businesses can get into a lot of problems if they do not card and if they let underage people drink or buy alcohol. I respect that--because it's the law, it could be of serious detriment to the business and people are just trying to do their job correctly. I won't punish them for that. I see it as de rigeur, part of the process of going out to drink. No big deal. We know that they are strict/tough here in the DC area; why not respect that. Also, it helps to think about that there are plenty of people who dress up to appear more mature or look older than the legal drinking age--being carded doesn't mean that one looks young and is chock-full-of flattery. Thanks for letting me share my perspective on the ID issue.

And thank *you* for writing such a thoughtful post.

I can't imagine a bartender being so cheesy as to think he/she is "flattering" a patron by asking for ID. Having worked as a bartender in San Francisco some time back, in a place that catered largely to young professionals, I just carded everyone. It saved the whole "why me and not her" whining and let the crowd know I took my job seriously. Patrons who think it's fun to "get served" or pass a drink along to an underage friend have no idea of the serious problems this can cause the restaurant or worker.

Thanks for sharing.

Hey Tom, longtime reader here. Just wanted to say that I've noticed a bit of an edge to your responses over the past few months. You're getting your Wilbon up a bit with chatters sometimes it seems. Maybe it's time for a bit of a break?

Really? (I think a little 'edge" now and then is OK, or?)

We had ordered mussels, which came with two slices of bread. I'd asked if we might have some more bread, which he brought out with a side of olive oil. I only would have appreciated a mention of the charge when I requested it. Instead, it was implied when he brought it out with a side of olive oil.

Thanks for clarifying.

Hi Tom- I must comment about your love and promotion of Restaurant Eve. My husband and I celebrated my 40th birthday in the Tasting Room and we're incredibly disappointed. We went all out with the nine courses and wine pairings. While there were a few "wow" dishes, many of the dishes were under seasoned and didn't pop. There were no off menu items created by the chef. The wine pairings consisted of a lot of $30-50 bottle Virginia wines, nothing spectacular. The service was spotty and even slow at times. It was a strange coreography that didn't feel welcoming and warm at all. Plus the other tables are too close, so you hear the same dish described three or more times by the captain or wait staff plus your neighbors conversations ( or cuss words in our case). For the $700 we spent, we will not be back which is a shame because I really wanted to love it and have a special night.

Oh dear. That's not good. For $700, you want a lot of "wow."  I agree about the table spacing there; it can be tight.

Was an unfortunate turn of phrase. But, I think what he was trying to say is that the Houston's at that location had a loyal following and people were upset that it left. I'd been to that Houston's a few times, and it was almost always packed, especially in the bar area. I think they are trying to mix in more of the grill offerings (steaks and such) than just the English food from the DC location. I wouldn't avoid the restaurant just because the owner used an unfortunate phrase.

I thought about that as I interviewed the owner, and again (no pun intended!) when I read it on paper. The "burbs," as we know, have some pretty sophisticated diners -- and just because one lives in the city doesn't mean he has an adventurous palate.

The woman gets carded when she's with her female friends because underage women have makeup and a much wider range of clothing options with which they can change their appearances. When she's with her friends, server thinks, "Better check because maybe they are working hard to look older." Her husband probably looks his age, so when she's with him a server thinks "Two people in their mid-30s, don't need to ID them."

Such a smart crowd here. Thanks.

Dear Tom, This is Mark Weiss of Whisk Group, responding to comments about AGAINN Tavern. Thank you for First Bite. Some of your comments are fairly put, as you mentioned, we have a brand new kitchen and are working through the inconsistencies to address some of the concerns such as mushy peas and the pork chop. As for the menu, we respectfully stayed in line with the feedback we received prior and post opening, and are adjusting our menus to offer a more comprehensive version as we go into our 6th week of operation. Some of our regulars have also seen couple things change, and we appreciate all our customers who have been patient and went through the change with us, giving us consistent feedback. We appreciate your candor and comments, and aware that we have some work to do. We have a long way ahead of us, and always look forward to comments and suggestions from our customers so we can make the adjustments necessary. Mark Weiss, CEO Whisk Group

Thank you, sir, for taking the time to explain the situation at AT and for doing so in real time. Much appreciated.

Hopefully the last post about this today...The powers that be several times a year send out minors who look much older in sting operations to ensure restaurants are being diligent about serving under-age guests. Servers or bartenders not asking for ID during these operations are led away in HANDCUFFS! Not a good look, for the server or the restaurant. Lest we forget how many colleges and universities are in the area. Keep your ID handy and stop taking everything too personally, one day NO ONE will ask:(

I'm chuckling now.

My sense is it depends a lot on the location. A couple of weeks ago we were dining with our daughter in what to me is rural Maryland; she didn't have her ID with her, but when I said to the waitress, "She's our daughter, and she is over 21," the waitress said she would have to check with the manager, but then came back, apparently without having checked, and poured wine for my daughter. I'd wager the level of enforcement where we were isn't the same as in the DC area. Last week in McLean the same thing happened and the waiter refused to serve her. We said, essentially, no problem, don't worry about it. And I can't blame him -- it could be his job, and the restaurant's liquor license.

Interesting. Thanks for sharing.

Tom. I will be celebrating my birthday in early October. Could you recommend a restaurant with varied vegetarian options in either DC or N. VA? I have previously enjoyed Rasika, Eventide & Zaytinya. Thanks!

It sounds as if you like Indian. I'd definitely add Masala Art, which has about a dozen meatless dishes on its menu, to your list of candidates. (New on the menu: spicy zucchini tossed with sweet bell peppers. And don't miss the zesty potato cake, either. Mmmmm.)

Hi Tom, Thanks for doing the chats, they are so helpful! Looking for a recommendation for a fancy anniversary dinner. I bought a new dress and want to make sure we go somewhere where I won't feel overdressed. Cost isn't a concern, although if I'm going to be spending a lot I want to make sure that the food and experience (my husband and I are pushing 40 but look younger which sometimes negatively affects the service we receive) match the price. I was thinking CityZen, what do you think? Thanks!

The sleek CityZen is a great choice. But if you want a few options, consider Bourbon Steak in the Four Seasons hotel, Marcel's in the West End and Restaurant Eve in Old Town.


I'm curious:  Can you provide details about those restaurant experiences where you say your youthful appearances have resulted in less-than-great service?

Hi Tom! Love your chats; they're the highlight of my Wednesday. :) Quick question for you - some friends are coming in to town next week - they're staying in the West End and have asked us to pick a place for dinner. We'll be four adults (late 20s) with a baby, so they want to eat on the early side (6:00 or so). I haven't eaten out that early in a while, and I don't really know what restaurants are amenable to having babies along - while still being fun places with good food (the four adults are very food-centric). My first thoughts were Mourayo, Hook, Bistro du Coin - kind of all over the place (geographically and food-wise). Any suggestions? Thanks!

If you want to stay in the West End, I'd suggest Westend Bistro by Eric Ripert. (The booths near the windows are especially comfortable.)  I had a terrific garlic soup with shrimp toast and soft shell crabs on a raft of asparagus earlier this summer.

Do restaurant hostesses generally share in the tip pool? We were very impressed with the hostess at the restaurant we went to last night, who was able to give us our table early and made sure it was a quiet one. Or would it have been appropriate to tip her directly?

Every restaurant operates a little differently (and you don't mention the name of the business).  Regardless,  I think it's perfectly fine to thank someone personally with a discrete direct tip.

Hi Tom, My 10th wedding anniversary is coming up, and my wife is a slightly picky eater. I'd like to take her someplace romantic where she can get dressed up. Ideally this place would have soft music or a quiet dining room and not have any babies/kids. Anywhere in DC/VA/MD is fine. As far as food goes: Steak, Italian, Jaleo style Spanish, mainstream Chinese, or fish would be fine. Any ideas? I hope I'm not being too vague. Thanks!

Plume in the Jefferson Hotel is sumptuous and quiet.  As far as appearances go, it's as close to a Parisian temple of haute cuisine as you'll find in the city. I also like the cool elegance of Corduroy's townhouse setting near the convention center, and there may be no finer Italian around than the cooking at Obelisk in Dupont Circle, although dinner unfolds in a fairly spare package.

Hey, Tom. We went to Poste for the first time the other day and ate at the bar - what a disappointment. The drinks were average, the oysters were not good and the burger was full of gristle and generally unappetizing. What gives?

Did you say anything to your waiter or manager?

Tom, I had lunch at The Palm at Tysons Corner as part of Restaurant Week this week. There were radishes and pickles in bowls on the table to snack on. I've never seen this before (particularly the radishes). Why radishes?? Is this a new trend or am I just a chain restaurant bumpkin?

It's basically an old-fashioned welcome from the restaurant. (Relish trays are big in the Midwest, where I'm from.)  Oceanaire Seafood Room does something similar. Nice touch, in my opinion.

Hi Tom -- I am organizing a volunteer event for my office in October and it turns out we'll be working a few blocks away from Ray's the Steaks East River. I'd love to be able to arrange a celebratory lunch there for the team and support a business in the neighborhood rather than come back downtown, but can't seem to find an email address or website anywhere. Do you know how I could get in touch? I'm thinking we may need to rent the place out since we'll be a fairly large group. Or, if this doesn't work out, can you think of any other places in the area we could have our lunch? Nothing fancy -- just some satisfying eats after a long morning of outdoor labor. Thanks!

Amazingly, none of the Ray's restaurants have websites. Your best bet is to dial East River directly (202-396-7297) and ask for a manager.

Hi Tom! Love your column and chats. My 40th birthday is on Saturday and my husband is taking me out to lunch. We love Present (and live in Falls Church) but are there any other great ethnic places in Arlington/Falls Church we may have missed? Thanks!!

My last (recent) meal at Present was SUCH a disappointment. I can no longer recommend it, alas.


You know what's fun? La Caraquena, the cheerful Bolivian/Venezuelan place in Falls Church. Love the arepas and saltenas in particular.

We have a generous gift certicate for Komi's, but my wife is a little fussy, do you think there will be enough choices to please her?

Does you wife *have* to be your guest? Komi's food is too wonderful to be (insert more civilized word than "wasted") on someone who might not like raw fish or suckling pig or whatever. 

I went to diner at Aggain Rockville and had the fish and chips and was not impressed - I probably won't return to the "cook to the suburbs" flavors. I'd much rather go to Addie's just down the road.

Although I have to say, Addie's isn't as good as I remember it from last year. The menu and execution were both less exciting during my recent dinner there.

I think Estadio is an awesome place for sitting at the bar and nibbling on some food with great drinks. I went it to check out the place alone one day, and after 3 drinks and about 10 pinxos, walked away very (very) happy! And I had gone in just for a drink and checking out the place. Also, I think Againn in ROckville is the only comaprable restaurant to downtown in that area (I live there and work downtown) so I love the place for what it is worth!

Two thumbs up for AT and Estadio.

Oh, I'll go with! I am cute, will eat anything and am GREAT at making polite conversation. (Sorry, had to try to get in on that...)

But are you 21 or older? (Sorry, just had to get that one in, too.)

I'd like to know why this girl doesn't carry her ID w/her.

GOOD question!


Mom, are you still with us?

I LOVED Komi and I don't eat meat.

Ah, good to know.

Hi Tom, treating my parents to dinner. They want to go to either Chez Panisse Cafe, Boulevard, Zuni, or Greens. Which would you recommend? Other ideas? Many thanks.

Zuni is one of my favorite restaurants -- anywhere. And I much prefer the cafe at CP to the formal restaurant on the main floor, in part because upstairs you have the bonus of choices.

Hi Tom! Posting early to avoid the rush. Love, love, love your work! My big brother is coming into town on Sunday and wants to meet us for an "interesting" meal. He has been here many, many times on business and enjoys the dining scene. Where to take him this time? I don't think he has been to Rasika, so that is on the list. He is fond of Jose Andres' restaurants, but I think he has eaten at them all. Any suggestions? I would appreciate any new faves you might suggest. Many thanks! Little sister in Reston

Of the new crop of restaurants, you might try the Spanished-themed Estadio in Logan Circle (go early to avoid the hordes); the very good Ethiopic on H St. NE (where you eat the meal with your hands); and Bistro Provence in Bethesda (for the chance to enjoy Yannick Cam's fabulous roast chicken, among other dishes).


Thanks for the kind words, by the way.

This would have been unusual in 1999. In 2010 it's just unacceptable. I will almost never go to a restaurant without a website. Even if it's just a basic site, it's a reassurance that the restaurant actually exists and that I have the correct address. If I really cared, I could call to verify, but it's easier to just pick a different place that cares about keeping potential customers informed.

On the other hand, you DO get a choice of two sides -- even with sandwiches -- at Ray's East River.


Whew. I'm exhausted. All this typing has made me hungry. I think there might be a food truck in my future. What'll it be today: Lobster? Cupcakes? Something Indian?


See you next week, gang.

My son eats dinner with us often. Funny thing however. From the time he was 14 he has sported a full beard. When I ordered a bottle of wine, the server always brought three glasses, and he was never asked for ID, and we ate out often in many places in DC. As soon as he turned 21, he started getting asked all the time.

A full beard at 14? Me thinks someone is pulling my leg ....

1. Two posts in the same chat calling the place Aggain instead of Againn - smells fishy to me. One vote per person, guys! 2. Tom, you're breaking my heart. You want to thank the hostess with a *discreet* extra tip. Discreet: subtle, unobtrusive. Discrete: distinct, separable. Thanks!

I know better, I really do! Sorry about the misspelling.

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 moderates the Sietsema's Table discussion group. His new video series, Tom Sietsema's TV Dinners, pulls back the curtain on a critic's life -- in and out of the dining room.
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