Since you called them out by name, methinks you should explain which category they fall into: were they one of the casualties of "a noticeable dip in quality?" or are people just "talking about" Seventh Hill more now?
Dear Mr. Sietsema, My wife and I were surprised by your very positive rating of Jaleo. In our experience, this place has gone downhill over the years. The food has less delicacy in its preparation -- the fried calamari is soggy, and the giant asparagus has a less rich sauce and no salt crusting. In addition, the portions have shrunk tremendously, to the point where we leave hungry. Again, the fried calamari with garlic aioli sauce: years ago, one received a heaping plateful. A couple years ago, that shrunk almost in half. Last week, we received about 7 or 8 pieces, as did our neighboring table. Consider also the apple with manchego salad: one would once delight in big chunks of apple and long strips of cheese; now one subsists on paper-thin shavings of apple and little cubelets of cheese. The melon with prosciutto is prepared similarly -- there is little substance to it, with melon ribbons arranged to maximize volume but minimize food. We no longer take out-of-town guests here as a bragging point for DC cuisine, and with regret, must find a better restaurant.
Just wondering how a place that serves "a small plate from our kitchen" makes the dining guide over new notables such as Ris in the West End where a complete DINING experience is offered.
Tom! I know you'll probably be getting a lot of flack for including BGR, but I wanted to focus specifically on the fact that while their burgers are quite good, the surly and indifferent service and the ketchup caked, trash-piled tables make it a less-than-two-star joint for that alone. At least Ray's doesn't pretend to be hip or particularly helpful, and it is at least always clean. Thoughts?
Can you tell us anything about the ones that didn't make the guide? You mentioned earlier that you had a lot of surprising duds. Spill!
I was underwhelmed by, among other restaurants, Montmarte on the Hill, Masa 14 in Logan Circle, Jackie's in Silver Spring, Liberty Tree in the Atlas District, Passage to India in Bethesda, Eventide (on a return visit, alas) in Arlington, 8407 Kitchen Bar in Silver Spring, Ezme in Dupont Circle, XO Taste in Falls Church, Eola in Dupont Circle, Addie's in Rockville ...
This is just a partial list, but I hope you can see that I did a lot of research in advance of publication of the guide.
Was thrilled to see a local favorite, the Honey Pig, on your Fall Dining Guide. But intrigued at the same time. You said it's not the best Korean in the area. Well then...what is?
In terms of food and service and comfort, I think the handsome Han Gang is where I'd spend my own money.
I included Honey Pig because it's just such a joyful and different way to do the Korean thing. It's a great place to unwind, drink, fill up on grilled pork -- and any time of the day, at that.
Hi Tom, thanks for the dining guide! i have to say that i think its great that you included a food truck and some casual dining options. its much appreciated as i cannot afford expensive restaurants all the time (or ever).
Yet another reason I included the truck, the burger joint, etc: Variety! I think readers would get bored reading about the same subjects year after year. I know *I* would.
What's your feeling about Cava on Capitol Hill?
Hi Tom - Can you explain the review you gave Pacci's in Silver Spring? It's consistently good, my daughter could eat there every week and be happy because we think it's the best pizza in town -- in fact, one of my friends says it's the best pizza she and her husband have had since their trip to Italy. Not only is the pizza fabulous, but the desserts -- especially chef's own the white tiramasu -- are fantastic! Chef Rosario and owner Spiro have made Pacci's a special place with it's warm, friendly, welcoming atmosphere and absolutely delicious food.
Tom, I wanted to let you know how happy I was to see you specifically mention Jennifer Knowle, the wine director at the Inn at Little Washington, in your fall dining guide. My wife and I scrimped and saved in order to spend the night at the Inn at Little Washington for our 10 year anniversary. I brought along a 2000 Bordeaux that I've had stuck away in my pantry. I bought it 8 years ago specifically to open it up for our 10 year anniversary. The thing is, I know nothing about wine. Jennifer not only went out of her way to pick out some great cheeses to have with the wine, she also took time to come up to our room after dinner and decant the wine for us. You were spot on about what a jolly person she was. I was worried that the Inn would look down on us for bringing our own wine, but Jennifer never made me feel that way. In fact, I felt the opposite. Maybe I'm being naive, but I thought Jennifer was really excited to help us make the evening perfect. I think it really says something when you eat one of the best meals of your life and the thing you remember most is the wine director. One other note; the mac and cheese was fantastic, but I still like my moms better.
Have you been to the new P.J. Clarke's? While nothing will match the original location in NYC for atmosphere and the New Yorkiness of the bartenders and wait staff, the food is close to the original. Also, they did a great job with the interior. Tom, when you are free, lunch on me!
Tom, you said you wouldn't have a lot of favorites in the Fall Dining Guide, but how can you leave the Great American Restaurants out completely? They have good food, reasonable prices, interesting ambiance, and outstanding service. I go there as often as I can, given that I'm in Olney & the nearest one is in Tyson's Corner. Or do you only want places with unusual dishes & combinations of foods, most of which sound totally disgusting to me? Or am I not your target reader?
I don't recall saying I wouldn't have a lot of favorites this year, just that the inclusions weren't exclusively favorites. (The restaurants all had to at least be good, however.)
I have a lot of respect for the GAR group, but I didn't have anything new to say about its various restaurants, other than what I've written countless times before.
That said, the Magazine is running a review of GAR's newest title, Ozzie's, next month. It's an Italian restaurant that recently opened in Fairfax.
Tom, for two or three weeks in a row I tried to post that I'd been to Ozzie's & enjoyed it a lot. You never printed it. They have great in-house made bread (not from Best Buns) and outstanding crab cakes. I'd drive out there again any time.
Third time's the charm!
Tom, in response to your request as to whether others have noticed slips at Jaleo: absolutely! For me, the saddest part of the Jaleo experience is not necessarily the smaller portions, but the slip in quality of food preparation and presentation. The food is just not as tasty, and it seems that folks keep going there based on atmosphere (which is, as ever, very lively and fun) and food reputation from years ago. I make it a point never to go there or to take guests, as the food is just mediocre now. I do still love Oyamel, though.
Huh. Sorry to hear that. But it in no way mirrors my experiences there.
"Just wondering how a place that serves "a small plate from our kitchen" makes the dining guide over new notables such as Ris in the West End where a complete DINING experience is offered. " Um, well, because Tom stated up front that his criteria for this dining guide included places that people are buzzing about.
Reader to my rescue! Thanks.
Tom, love the chats. Non-dining guide question. I saw that an empty storefront on Connecticut Ave. just north of Macomb indicates that Tackle Box will be opening this winter. Is this the same as the Tackle Box on M Street? Any other intelligence on this?
I was greatly amused to see you give the Red Hook Lobster truck two stars. Unfortunately I work in Suitland and so have little opportunity to sample any food trucks. Do you see the proliferation of food trucks as a lasting trend or a passing fad? Is it related to the economy?
I think food trucks are here to stay, but I hope they improve in quality. There's a lot of mediocrity out there.
The economy certainly plays a role in the proliferation of food on wheels. For starters, trucks don't have to pay rent for a building. And overhead is completely different.
Really? Can't wait for the Spring Dining Guide and the review of Frank's Hot Dog Stand. Oy.
(Damned if I do, damned in I don't.)
What's wrong with mixing things up a bit from year to year? Food trucks are all the rage right now; I wanted to salute the one I think is doing what it does, best.
Hi Tom, Thought I'd tell you about my first visit to Galileo III on Saturday night. The food was excellent but things don't quite seem to be working right. Our plates were left in front of us and our nearby diners for long periods after we were done with each course. They didn't seem to have the right amount of staff to help with clearing dishes. Also, while we were told we would get "many other little bites between courses" after we asked for an explanation of the prix fixe options (which is a little confusing), we never got any. Finally, we were told that my dining companion's entree was not available just as we were waiting for it to arrive and almost an hour after we ordered it. As a gesture of apology, the waiter later offered my companion a free dessert (even though he had expressly stated he didn't want a dessert and that's why he had ordered three non-dessert courses), to which my companion said he'd take a sambuca. The sambuca showed up on the bill. We thought about saying something but decided instead to pay the bill and leave and likely not go back. For that price, we certainly expect better service and attention. Just thought you'd want to know!
I'm posting last night so that I can raise a glass to you. Thanks for this year's Dining Guide. It's clear you put a whole lot of time and effort into it and I'm already planning out restaurants to visit in the coming months. Here's to eating well in late 2010 and early 2011!
Bless you, reader!
As I tell people, "The joy is in *having* written the guide." It's a long and challenging endeavor every year.
So which restaurant in the District has the best lunch? I'm looking to celebrate with my sweetie...is there one in your dining guide or is there another you would suggest? I just don't want a place that only serves sushi - other than that we're game for anything.
Gosh, there are lots of good lunch spots: Oyamel in Penn Quarter if you want something fun ... the Oval Room downtown if you want a side of celebrity with Tony Conte's innovative American cooking ... Bombay Club across the street for solid Indian cooking and lots of comfort ... the counter at Seventh Hill Pizza on the Hill for a great pie or sandwich ... Depends on your mood, I guess.
I think it is a fine thing that you review cocktail bars, hamburger stands, and food trucks as well as restaurants. But having myself eaten in the past year at such Dining Guide establishments as Red Hook Lobster Truck, BGR, and Komi, I can't understand how you can rate such disparate establishments on the same scale. It's one thing to rate one food truck against others, as your colleague Joe Yonan recently did. It's another attempting to measure on an absolute scale a place where one stands in the hot sun for 50 minutes waiting for food to carry back to one's office (my experience at Red Hook) against a place where one sits in comfort while a parade of staff waits on them (my experience at Komi). Assuming that your stars represent the total dining experience -- and not merely food quality (which wouldn't seem to have much pertinence for the cocktail bar you included), how can your rating system make such comparisons? And how can a place like Red Hook -- which offers excellent food, but a fairly miserable experience overall due to the wait -- merit two stars?
In handing out stars, I compare like venues with like venues.
For example, I ate at a bunch of food trucks in the city and burbs before selecting the lobstermobile as the best of what I experienced in terms of food quality, mostly, but also taking atmosphere (the scene) and service into consideration. The lobster folks seemed friendlier than some of the competition. Despite the lines and the outdoor setting, I thought it was "good" (two stars) compared to its brethern.
Similarly, Columbia Room got three stars because there are only one or two such cocktail experiences in the area that come close to what Derek Brown and company are doing -- and I was comparing *his* venue to his competition: a bar vs. bars, in other words.
Why didn't Volt make the cut?
I opted to feature instead the excellent-bordering-on-superlative cooking I discovered at Charleston in Baltimore. Plus, I didn't want the guide to focus excessively on upscale restaurants.
Volt was among a handful of restaurants I excluded in part not because I had a lesser experience there, but because I felt there wasn't anything fresh to say about the place.
Hi Tom -- big fan of your chats and your advice. I am going on a honeymoon in a couple of weeks to Cape Town, South Africa, and I was wondering if you or any chatters had any recommendations for restaurants to go to, either in the city itself or in the nearby Stellenbosch region, where we'll be spending a couple of days touring vineyards (we'll be staying in Franschoek). We're open to any cuisine but are looking for charming, cute, romantic, and/or memorable places. Money is no limit -- it's our honeymoon, after all :) Thank you so much!
It's on my wish list, but I've never been to Cape Town.
Tom, I dropped the ball and didn't get a print copy of the Dining Guide this weekend. I know it's online, but is there a way to still get a copy? Thanks so much! From what I saw in the online version, I can't wait to dive in.
If you send me a self-addressed stamped envelope, I'll make sure you get a copy of the guide. (But give me some time. I'm heading out of the country tomorrow for a week.)
The Washington Post
1150 15th St. NW
I was suprised that Ris wasn't included. What's the reason for the omission?
About sending things back: what if it is just too salty? I have eaten things that were too salty to me and not really enjoyed them, but then wondered if my gauge for saltiness is just more sensitive. But it really does affect enjoyment of the meal.
If a dish is too salty, that's a problem. You should send the plate back.
You might consider letting your server know when you're ordering that you prefer a light touch with the seasoning. Keep in mind, however, that a lot of restaurant sauces and such tend to be made in advance.
Since I couldn't wait for this dining guide, I made a birthday reservation for Proof based on your 2009 guide. But now Proof didn't make it in 2010! Did I make the wrong call? Did something change?
If they "make it a point to never go there," how do they know what it's serving now?
I think some people base their opinions of places from experiences from long, long ago. With me, at least you know I've been to every restaurant in the guide (and a whole lotta others) within the past five months.
I wouldn't go back if I were you. It's pretty dismal and lackluster there. We ended up going to the bar next door to get better food. Unrelated question that I've always wondered: Do you ever find that restaurants cave under the pressure of your Dining Guide or other glowing reviews?
Do they become different, for better or for worse? Oh yes. Especially if the establishments are small. I'd personally never go to a place that got a rave review for a month or so after the hubbub subsides.
I've been eating at Jaleo's for the last 12 or so years, and have also noticed some up-and-down in quality. The last time I was there, the waitress told me that they were making some adjustments to the menu; apparently, the chef decided to branch out and try some new things, and the regular patrons hit the roof. She said they were working on finding a happy medium.
It's a Catch-22 situation for chefs. To introduce something new, they often have to take something off. That's fine if it's not YOUR favorite dish, right? (You can see where this might lead.)
I think the first Pacci's poster is a plant. Like the second poster, I have also had a lackluster experience there.
Yeah, it sounded a little cheer-leadery to me, too.
Tom, Don't get defensive.--Love the fact that you are including other things in the guide--not just "fine dining". You can't please everyone, but I think you please most of us. Thanks.
Honestly, I'm not defensive. I realize there's no way I can please everyone, but I'd be remiss if I didn't acknowledege some of what's new on the scene. It's a balancing act, the fall guide.
You wrote , " I compare like venues with like venues." How does that help a reader when you rarely review food trucks or bars? If a film critic reviewed one ballet and one musical and gave them a star rating why would one find those ratings helpful, as the reader has no point of comparison.
I included those two places because I thought they were important, adding something different to the scene. Let's just leave it at that.
Over the past year or two, I thought the food at Zaytinya was the best it had ever been there. Has the quality changed at all with the change in chefs?
I was at a craft fair on Saturday; one of the vendors said her husband was exec. chef at Rasika AND she was selling the jars of sauce you mentioned in your review of the place. She herself was selling some lovely glassware; I was just browsing or I would have bought the sauce AND a chip/dip set in emerald green!
Tom, In your chats and in other places you have been highly complenetary of both Marcel's and Brasserie Beck (where I have had incredible dining experiences in the past) but neither was mentioned in your dining guide any reason as to why? This also goes along with Bibiana which has also gotten rave reviews and was not mentioned. I love your chats and dining guide and don't mean to quibble just asking...
I still consider Marcel's a three-star experience, but, like other places that were left out of the guide this year, I didn't really have anything new to say about the restaurant.
As for Bibiana, I had a less than stellar meal with three people a few months back. More recently, however, I returned (after the guide had been put to bed) and had a fabulous dinner at the bar. I'd definitely include Bibiana in the guide if it were going to press today.
Timing is everything, right?
I was really surprised to read your rave about Cuba Libre's food. You must be much better at ordering than I am because I struck out. You mention Pernot's Ceviche cookbook but don't mention whether you tried his famous ceviches. I tried the ceviche flight and found the flavors to be muddled. Also, curious what you think about the prices. Seemed a little steep given the atmosphere and ridiculous noise level.
I hear you (pun intended) about the noise at Cuba Libre. One of the owners called me yesterday with news about forthcoming carpets, drapes and sound-proofing panels. Let's hope they work!
I was lucky to have visited during the end of a promotional period; the restaurant took 25 percent off my food bill, which I thought was a generous thing for a new business to odo.
Funny, the least interesting dish I tried was the pretty but ordinary tuna tartare. There wasn't space to mention it, and besides, the ceviche was still tastier than about 80 percent of the tuna tartares out there.
Tom, I'm sure you're tired of everyone falling over themselves to tell you how great this year's Dining Guide is, so I'll keep that brown nosing to myself (for now)... If you were meeting someone in the Dupont/Logan/U St area for drinks, and wanted to be able to hear each other talk, not be constantly interrupted by well-meaning waitstaff, and possibly have a bite or two of bar-type/appetizer-y food, where would you go?
It's small, but I love the cozy bar at Tabard Inn in Dupont Circle. Nearby is the new and much bigger Casa Nonna, which serves pizzas and nibbles and pours some really good cocktails in its lounge area. (Go for the Aviation.)
I agree with you that the shrimp and lobster rolls are delicious, but I think that the lobster roll truck got lucky when they accidentally didn't give you the whoopie pie you ordered. It is extremely disappointing considering how delicious the rest of their food it and how much they charge for it. It's very dry, not nearly enough frosting, and altogether sub par (my coworkers, husband and I all agree).
Your introduction to the dining guide mentions "old favorites" that have slipped in quality. Would you indicate some of these, so that readers may better know whether leaving something out indicates less endorsement or just not fitting in with this year's theme.
Let's see ....
I think Two Amys is a carbon copy of what it was even last year.
Ray's the Steaks was mostly delicious and attentive when I dropped by with a posse, so much so that one of my companions booked a table for a business dinner the next week. His later experience was markedly different: rushed service, no help with the wine, smaller portions (he sent me a photo from his cell phone!). That story, capped with a bunch of gripes from readers, kept me from including Ray's this year.
Buck's was my biggest disappointment, though. The surly service seems to have crept back into the dining room and the food at my last dinner was a mess: doughy fried oysters, dry duck, wimpy fondue, near-raw potato salad with overly-fatty and too-sweet beef ribs .... No desire to go back *there* for awhile.
Hi Tom - I noticed you don't get out to review Fairfax restaurants. Is that because there aren't many good places to go? I love to dine out and want to know the best places in Fairfax. I rarely go into DC because of high prices, driving and parking issues. Same thing with Arlington. Too far. Thanks Tom - Fairfax Lady
It's not that I didn't get out to Fairfax in the five months leading up to the fall guide, it's just that I didn't experience anything guide-worthy for my theme.
Hey Tom: I enjoyed your Fall Dining Edition and was glad to see that BGR: The Burger Joint made the cut. But, I passed by the Connecticut Avenue location and saw that it had been forced to close by the neighboring law firm due to the grilling smell? Any ideas about this? What's the real story?
We'll be hosting some diehard foodies for a wedding rehearsal dinner. It's a diverse family with guests flying in from the UK and Asia. Can you recommend some spots in the Bethesda-Chevy Chase area for such an occasion?
Eyes across the pond are wondering what happened to Cityzen. I saw the comment your gave the City Paper, but two slightly substandard performances hardly sound like a reason to go from 4 stars to zero. Can you elaborate? Was it because they didn't fit the theme of the guide? And most interestingly, what have you heard from Chef Ziebold?
CityZen didn't drop from four stars to no stars. It just wasn't in the guide.
That said, had I had more memorable experiences at the restaurant, I'm sure I would have made it fit into the theme.
I heard from Mr. Ziebold and another senior staffer from CityZen just after the collection of reviews went online, but I don't think it's right to publicize our conversations without their permission.
Wither 2941? With the late and lamented Inox gone this last spring, where should I now go for my upscale dining in Fairfax, now that you've dropped 2941 from the list?
Oh, I'd still recommend 2941 to people.
Bertrand Chemel is one of the area's top chefs, but a few lackluster dishes on his spring menu (fatty duck on a raft of dull rhubarb comes to mind) and an ongoing problem with tepid food disqualified the restaurant from this round. On a more recent visit, I also couldn't help but notice that the once-glam room has lost some its luster. Further, the service is correct but a little cool.
could your positive dining experiences be due to the fact that you are recognized??
When you're serving hundreds of people a day, it's pretty hard to make dishes special for the unannounced reviewer.
We went to BGR in Arlington and I thought the burgers were better than Ray's. I will say the tables were filthy and no one ever came out to clear them. It was pretty gross.
Gotcha. The tables in Dupont were pretty clean, I have to report.
Google "DeToren vineyards" -- you can tour the vineyards, taste the BEST wine ever (Fusion 5, Z, oh, my mouth is watering now!). Lovely lovely place!
And just as we're winding down here. Thanks.
To those folks who can't get that you compare apples to apples and pork chops to porkchops while utilizing a standardized star system, please try to understand that Tom's got certain taste criteria for "well-prepared" food, "pleasing" atmosphere, etc., no matter the price point. These are qualitative descriptives which are subjective on the best day anyway - even in similar settings. Either you trust Tom's taste/critique or, well, go there yourself and give it a lookiloo and taste. Tom's merely doing a little recon and saving us the trouble. Enjoy!
And bless you, too.
We ate VERY well in Cape Town a few years ago; the best restaurants are excellent and far more affordable than in the U.S., so we were able to have what would be blow-out meals here several times. But the standout - and the best meal of my life - was in nearby Paarl, at the Roggeland Country House - http://www.roggeland.co.za/about.htm
Tom -- loved, loved, loved the guide, but that's not why I'm writing! Last week I had a Very Important Business Lunch at Bibiana. Food was OK, but everything got a little worse when our waiter spilled a drink on My Very Important Business Contact. He said "Sorry" -- nothing more -- and my guest was wet and had a ruined jacket. No one else said anything, no one offered to clean his jacket -- and he had to face a few days of meetings in a jacket with a Big Fat Stain. what were reasonable expectations here? We're not inclined to go back.
That doesn't sound like the restaurant I know. Can you share a name and an email with me? I know Bibiana is going to want to track you down. (Did you point this out to a manager, by the way?)
You couldn't find a single Chinese restaurant to include? Seriously?
Not this season, believe it or not. And boy, did I try.
We spent over three weeks in South Africa for our honeymoon, and I still dream of some of the food there. A sort of hokey, but also fun and romantic thing to do, is go to Moyo, at the Spier vineyards, make sure and ask for a romantic, treetop table. Buffet from all over Africa (not mindblowing, but good food), live music and spectacle. And bonus cheetahs to pet at a conservation park onsite. For excellent food, and the best fish I'd ever eaten, I highly recommend The Codfather outside Capetown - they allow you to choose portions of fresh fish from a case and grill it all up with veggies and a variety of sauces. Amazing! The Africa Cafe in Capetown, also much recommended and a bit touristy, but with surprisingly delicious food, is also a nice place for samplings from all over the continent. But buying your favorite bottle of wine and having a picnic of simple foods in the beautiful wine lands is also not a bad option!! Wish I could join you...
More for the Cape Town-bound.
A poster said: "Really? Can't wait for the Spring Dining Guide and the review of Frank's Hot Dog Stand. Oy." Well, if it is worth eating at, then I'd love for you to bring it to my attention. Your mission is to write about all kinds of dining experiences, not just the white tablecloth ones.
And on that note, I'm off to start packing for my trip.
Thanks for a lively 60 minutes. I'll see you back here Wednesday, Nov. 3.