Hi Tom! Big fan. Few questions 1) Do you talk to fellow foodies on Twitter? 2) What do you think is the most overrated restaurant in dc? 3) Overpriced?
1) I do! I get a ton of direct messages on Twitter and while I can't answer them all, I try to help out folks looking for good food or whatever. I'm @tomsietsema, by the way.
2) Over-rated? I've always felt that Restaurant Nora is held in higher esteem outside the local market than it is here at home.
3) Hmmmm. Help me out here, chatters? Which restaurants would YOU nominate as most over-priced? The new Bistro Provence could be a contender.
Happy Hump Day, everyone. I'm delighted to have Kathy Morgan, the wine director at Michel Richard Citronelle in Georgetown, as my special guest today. Send your wine questions her way during the next hour.
Let's rock and roll!
I'd be interested in both your thoughts on changes in wine service over the past several years or so. It is clearly the case that more restaurants place more emphasis on wine service, the evidence/result being wine lists of greater variety and quality/value, more restaurants employing sommeliers (and some employing multiple sommeliers), better education of servers regarding wine, and (my favorite) a great expansion in popularity and quality of by-the-glass programs. Agree/disagree? I guess my point is that "it's all good" - can you think of any aspect of restaurant wine service that isn't better than it was a decade ago?
Hi - thanks for the great question. I believe that you're absolutely right (in the DC area, at least), and it has a lot to do with guests such as yourself. The more interested and adventurous you are, the more interesting our lists can be! As I remember it, 10 years agao everyone's list was pretty much the same - and now there are many diverse and exciting wine lists all over the area. No down side as far as I can see.
How do I become a sommelier?
Hello. This is an interesting question, because there really is no direct path. Firstly, though, it is a service position, and it is rarely (if ever) one's first job in a restaurant. Most of us start off as servers, bussers or bartenders. I studied really hard, and someone noticed my passion and gave me my first break. (Sarah Pratt, if you're out there - thank you!)
Tom, Where do you draw the line between quality and convenience? For example, I live very close to the stretch of 17th St. that holds Dupont Italian Kitchen, Frontera Cantina, Trio, etc. I almost never choose to go to any of these places, but wonder if on those times when I don't want to spend a lot of money on Hank's or Komi, or don't want to cook and just want someone to bring me something to eat, if it would be worth a trip. I assume the food wouldn't be so bad as to make me want my money back, but I also wouldn't go into it with any expectations of great food. Where is that line for you--if a restaurant is mediocre but around the corner, will you go?
The expertise of someone like Kathy will make a wine lover out of you. I never knew why people like wine. It wasn't until a true profession helped us select a wine with our meal. OMG!! What a difference.
Thanks! Sommeliers love to see that "lightbulb" go off. I'm sure you made someone's night.
Tom, maybe older articles from your Postcard have been removed from the archive? I am looking for a restaurant you once introduced in Paris. It is located near the Pompidou, kind of rustic country look... it serves a dish of mashed potatoes with cheese, which I still dream about. I remembered you wrote something like: you need to walk back to Pompidou to burn off the big bowl of chocolate mousse that gave you. I have been there, and want to introduce it to friends who are going to Paris in 3 weeks. Thanks.
Ah, what a good memory you have! That description fits Ambassade D'Auvergne, in the 3rd arrondissement.
I've not been to the restaurant for at least six years (the column ran in 2001, by the way), so I have no idea if the south-central cooking and cozy setting are as good now as then. Those wonderful whipped potatoes (cheese and garlic) are known as aligot, by the way.
I'm meeting some friends in Bethesda for brunch on Saturday. Any suggestions for a kid-friendly place that can accommodate a group of about 8-10 people?
I adore Praline on Sangamore Road. It has the space you need, and some terrific French-themed cooking. The kids should get a kick out of the colorful bakery case on the ground floor of the place. The sprawling Redwood, on Bethesda Row, is another option: The buffet brunch (mini bagels, omelets, French toast, salads) costs $10.95 for kids 12 and under, $19.95 for adults.
Tom - I have a milestone birthday coming up in January and I'm looking for a special birthday dinner with my SO. We'd love somewhere in the DC metro area or within a few hours drive that has a nice overnight option. What are some of your favorites? Thanks!
Ms. Morgan, thank you for taking questions. Tom addressed this issue for me in a chat last year, but I'd be interested in your perspective. While eating at a very upscale restaurant in Philadelphia, I was served two bad wines, one corked, and one oxidized. They were part of a wine flight accompanying the tasting menu, and neither finding was subtle. First of all, should "off" wine even make it to the table at a premier establishment with a sommelier? Secondly, how do you recommend dealing with the issue? I asked for the sommelier, and requested that he try it "to see if it's supposed to taste this way", and Tom felt that was a reasonable strategy. What would you recommend? And what are the patron's options if you disagree with him or her?
Also, a great question - and I'm sorry this happened to you. In a perfect world, no "off" wine should ever reach the table, which is why we typically taste each bottle before we serve it. However, especially on a busy night, it's not possible for me to taste every single bottle that goes out, so I can see how one can, regrettably, slip through the cracks. Had I been the sommeleir, I would definitly have wanted to hear from you immediately. That way, I could not only make amends and make sure all your wines were sound, but also take the offending bottle off the floor so it was not served to someone else.
Kathy, I am big wine enthusiast (been drinking it at every family meal since I'm about 15) but I'm on a tight budget--while I know there are some great cheaper wines, when I'm in the store, I'm always clueless as to how to differentiate between those great bottles and the mediocre ones. Can you give me a few names that are consistently good? (I prefer red but I enjoy white as well and would like a few options for each)
I find that find that looking for a favorite importer makes it easier to find consistant value and quality. Check out the back label and experiment with Vintage 59 (French), European Cellars (French and Spanish), Classical Wines of Spain and Jorge Ordonez (Spanish) and Winebow and Vias (Italian). Also, Terry Theise for German, Austrian and Champagne. Good luck and thanks for drinking wine!
Hi Tom, I am considering getting my parents a gift certificate to the Inn at LIttle Washington. Can you give me an idea what the cost of a meal might be, including wine? I checked the website but the smaple menu does not include prices. Thanks!
Any restaurant tips for our upcoming trip to Hanoi, Saigon, and Siem Reap? Perhaps fellow chatters have suggestions for "can't miss" culinary experiences?
I've never been to either country (alas).
Maybe someone from today's audience can chime in with ideas?
What advise do you have for someone who is trying to start a home wine cellar on a fairly limited budget? Thank you.
Definitely consider how you like to eat, and how you like to entertain in order to map out what types of wines to look for and what percentage of "everyday" choices vs. "special occasion" choices. Bring this information to a good wine shop, and develop a relationship with someone who works there. You don't need to get caught up in all the hype to have a nice collection of wines.
Kathy, great to see you at Citronelle - I was a customer/client of yours back at 2941 and always wondered where you ended up. I will be in to see you at Citronelle soon! My question is - as a sommelier is it an irritation for you to advise customers on wines by the glass? Because as a diner who is most often with only another guest, buying a bottle, let alone multiple bottles, isn't really an option.
Wonderful! I look forward to seeing you again! Most of us are very proud of our by-the-glass selections, and are happy to advise anyone who wants our help, so don't worry!
Tom, huge fan, great work. I went to Lyon Hall for the first time the other day and loved it. I mentioned your name to our server and she said she waited on you at some point. Do you usually divulge your identity after your dining experience/review is complete? Also, I went to Birch and Barley the other day and experienced the tasting menu with the beer pairing. I almost always order wine pairings when offered as the combinations can be quite fascinating. Well I would say that the beer pairing was quite intriguing in that the usual astringency or acid natural to beer is taken out of the equation allowing the true flavors to shine through. Have you found the same?
I never (well, RARELY) introduce myself to restaurant workers. She may just have known I was there, but there was no formal "Hi, my name is ..." at Lyon Hall.
Have you noticed how tiny the wine selection is at Birch & Barley? One reason to go with the restaurant's excellent suds program. I always learn something new whenever I opt for beer there. The staff really knows its stuff.
Tom, Tom, I know the importance of your retaining your anonimity as a reviewer. How do you manage to do this when you invite chefs and other food people to your chats? Do you drop a curtain between youand your guest to preserve your integrity?
Kathy - My wife and I love having wine with a meal, but we don't know the first thing about how to navigate a wine list or have a fruitful conversation with a sommelier. Could you give us novices to upscale dining a little primer in selecting/getting assistance with selecting wine for a nice evening out. May just a few key points to get us started.
The good news is, it's easier than you think - we want to help you have a great dining experience! The best ways to help us help you are 1) have an idea of what you like - either a description or a specific example of something you have liked in the past and 2) if price is an issue, and you don't want to say it out loud, just drag your finger along an item until it rests on the price. Say something like "this looks interesting, what do you think?" That way we know exactly where you are comfortable. Does that help?
Your last meal cost $615.85. Ummm, for how many people?
We were two diners. (Details, details, huh?)
The wine was fairly special, as I recall. (Don't have my notes here.) A couple could probably dine well here for $500 or so.
A couple years ago, I had a glass of semillon at a restaurant. I don't think it was a blend (or if it was blended with another varietal, then it was a small percentage). The restaurant no longer has the wine on its list and I haven't been able to find anything but semillon/chard blends. Any suggestions? Thanks.
100% Semillons are very rare. I know that Signorello makes one, and there are a handful from Australia. If you don't like the sem/chard blends, you could try a White Bordeaux, which is Semillon. Sauvignon Blanc. You could also try asking for a rich, oaky non-chardonnay white and see if you find your next favorite.
In previous chats you have said that you know some restaurateurs and chefs and they know you. If the chefs recognize you while you are there don't you think your identity goes with quality of service and food you receive? I think perhaps once a chef knows what you look like perhaps a review is bias since they will most likely send the best of the best to you for a good review?
You know, it's funny. Just because someone is recognized as a critic doesn't mean he automatically gets better food.
Oh, the food might be more carefully arranged, it might come with an extra flourish or two, but chefs should know that if I'M getting white truffles on my food, for instance, I'm going to write about it, and READERS are ging to expect the same. So it doesn't help restaurants to treat me any better than anyone else.
Also, I go three to five times to a restaurant that's up for review in the Magazine. On at least some of those visits, I'm either not recognized or recognized after the food is out. I also pay close attention to what's going on around the dining room, not just at my table.
For a while now with regard to wine I've been focusing on value, which has made exploring Spanish wines an interesting endeavor with their reputation for quality price-points. Any particular standouts that you recommend?
You are right - Spanish wines do offer an excellent value. As I mentioned to a previous chatter, finding a favorite importer helps the quest tremendouly. Jorge Ordonez and European Cellars offer a large selection at a low price point. And those importers have very different styles, so you are likely to gravitate towards one or the other.
I am going to be solo in DC the week between xmas and new years. Is Kushi a good option for a solo diner? What other places in mid-town would be good options for a solo diner sitting at the bar?
Tom and Kathy, Thank you for taking my question. It would be nice if there would be someone as nice as Kathy at all the restaurants that I go to, but frankly, there aren't a lot of wine directors/somms, and I'm pretty intimidated at times in ordering wine at a meal. Is there an online guide that can help with wine pronounciation, tasting notes, and pairing suggestions?
Thank you! I can't think of anything on line, but Andrea Immer and Evan Goldstein have both written amazing food-wine pairing books that are very easy to use. Don't worry about your pronounciation - it's not my forte either!
Tom - Thanks to your Dining Guide, I've really become interested in the DC food scene and have gone to a lot of the restaurants you recommended. I often take pictures of my food to share with my friends and family, so they are aware of my new found love! All that to set up the fact that I need to make an appetizer this holiday for my family and I'm worried their expectations are higher now because of all of my stories/photos of amazing food. The problem is that I love the adventure of eating, but I'm not a cook. So I'm wondering if you (or the chatters) have a recommendation for me of an appetizer I can make (that isn't insanely intricate) that will meet their expectations. I know you rarely talk about cooking your own food or recipes, but I just thought I'd ask since you're my 'go-to' for all food related questions! :) Thanks in advance!
Take a spear of belgian endive and brush it with a bit of good olive oil. Tuck some mandarin orange segments, a crumble of feta cheese and a few almond slices inside the edible scoop. Season with salt and pepper and serve, hopefully to smiles all around.
Kathy, Just want to say how appreciative my fiance and I were of yours and Citronelle's service. I came there shortly after getting engaged and you found an excellent wine for us without making price awkward.
Thank you so much! That is my favorite part of the job, and I'm thrilled that you were happy. I hope to see you again soon.
I'd like to make an appeal to all restaurant owners. Now that the season of the wet, slushy mess and the need for coats is upon us, I beg you, PLEASE, ensure that your restroom doors have hooks for our coats and bags. I don't know how many times I've had to sling my coat over the door and balance my bag while trying to use the facilities, to avoid putting my belongings on the floor. Any time of year it's a challenge, but in winter we need a civilized place to hang our coats and bags. And even those with a coat check option, it doesn't give us a place to hang our purses, or help if we have our coats with us after picking them up. So PLEASE take this simple step to save us all from the bathroom floor!
I imagine restaurant managers heading to hardware stores after the lunch rush today.
Am I think only one who doesn't like New Heights? I had a Mother's Day brunch there were the server was giving some tables amuse bouche when they sat down, but one was never brought to our table, the servers actually downright snotty to my sweet old-timey mother (for ordering a Virgin Bloody Mary), and the food was not good. My Croque Mousier was so greasy I couldn't hold it in my hands.
In fairness to restaurants, Mother's Day -- one of the top five occasions for dining out during the year -- is probably not the ideal time to evaluate them. (Even so, no one's mother should feel slighted on her big day, right? )
What is the general etiquette for a Sommelier tasting a customers wine? I was recently at a nice restaurant here in DC. I called ahead to inquire about corkage. I brought a 20 year old Bordeaux to celebrate an occasion and asked the sommelier to decant the wine while we enjoyed a half bottle of white off their wine list. I saw in the background, the sommelier tasting the wine before she decanted it. I was a little taken aback and thought at least I should be asked to see if it was acceptable. What are your thoughts?
I would have tasted the wine as well - and then brought you a taste. That way, if something is wrong with the bottle, the host and sommeleir can discuss it discretely, avoiding any potential embarrasment in front of guests.
Hi Kathy! I've always wondered - is it acceptable to send wine back just because you don't like it? When you order a bottle and they pour that first taste, is there a polite way to say that you just don't care for it and would like another selection?
Emily Post would tell you no - I would say it depends. The last thing we want is for you to be miserable; we are in the hospitality business after all. The first thing to do is ask the somm to taste it and make sure it is sound - maybe you don't like it because it's corked. If I recommended the wine, I would take it back (luckily, that almost never happens), otherwise, it's a tough call.
I was in both last year and for Hanoi I would recommend Highway 4 (sit on the roof desk and get the catfish rolls). Lonely planet had a couple of recommendations that were good and still not too touristy. For Siem Reap the restaurants were okay but for the best food hit the markets and eat from the vendors.
That's a start. Thanks.
The Food chat with the other writers from the section who put together the recipes is at 12 - ask there. They've got good tips and an active community who will give you other selections.
Overrated: Rasika (sorry Tom!) Overpriced: Citronelle (sorry Kathy!)
Thanks for your honesty.
What don't you like about Rasika, though? I'm curious.
Tom - For a number of weeks I submitted a real question asking about bringing a child to certain DC restaurants. You never posted them. Fine, maybe they didn't make the grade. Then I read, in last week's chat, yet ANOTHER "we're going to Inn at Little Washington!! What will it be like?!?!" questions. Is it really necessary to continually post these questions, which are more of a "look at me!!!" than any type of useful question? -Frustrated-
Here's your chance. Your question, please?
are you supposed to eat it with your hands?
Not if it's too greasy!
I think you could go either way with that sandwich. It IS fried, after all.
Just wanted to express appreciation... I've struggled with how to converse with a sommelier and loved Kathy Morgan's response. When I was at CityZen I asked our server if we could chat with the sommelier and she said, "Oh, well, I can help with that." We never saw the sommelier. I was worried that was a faux pas, but in retrospect, if I wanted to chat with the sommelier, why would a server deny that request? I had no idea how to react so I let it go.
I'm so sorry you missed the opportunity to chat with Andy Myers. Not having been there, I can't say why this happened, but it is quite possible, that he was super busy and the server was just trying to make sure you were served quickly. Sometimes, if you are in the middle of decanting, you really can't go anywhere. Saying that you are willing to be patient in order to meet one of the best sommeliers in the city would might worked...
Kathy: Thanks for being the guest today. We has been getting bored just chatting with Tom, so it is good to see fresh blood. (Only kidding, Tom.) My question is, what is the deal with sommeliers' tasting some of the wine? The sommelier at several places I have been to recently have been observed tasting a portion of the bottle. Is this becoming a common practice?
We only take a tiny bit to make sure the wine is sound. Most of the time it's fine but in some cases we drink bad wine so you don't have to!
unfortunately my trip to DC has long passed. But thanks for the opportunity.
Sorry about that. But you move to the front of the line if you identify yourself in a future chat, ok?
I am the center of the universe. Please answer all my questions first. Thanks.
I can understand a reader's complaint. But I aim to take questions of general interest (and a mix of them at that).
Dear Kathy - In an effort to learn more about wine, my husband and I coordinate a Wine Club. It has about 17 members. We used Andrea Immer Robinson's great book Great Wine Made Simply as our textbook for the first 2 years. We need another great tutorial for the third year, and we're stuck on picking a book! Thank you!
Evan Goldstein's Daring Pairings
Tom, thanks for posting my response about Rasika being the most overrated restaurant; I didn't think you'd do it. It's not that I don't like Rasika -- I do. The food is good. That's it. Good. Not great, not wonderful, not transcendent, the way that you sometimes describe it. The ambience is ok, but as you've noted it's very loud. And the service can be uneven. Sometimes it's good, but sometimes one gets a snooty or neglectful server. Recently you wrote that it's the best Indian restaurant in the country. I struggle to see and experience this restaurant the way you do, Tom, and I wonder whether you get special treatment because they recognize you. Thanks for all the great work you do.
Fair points. But I've sent many, many people there -- strangers to the staff --- over the years and I've received very few complaints about the restaurant. It's one of the few four-star places that is open for lunch as well as dinner, a plus in my book.
Tom, this isn't so much for you as it is for your producer. Literally every day there is at least one erroneous link on the Q&A list. Today, when I click on the Food chat, it brings me here. This is pretty basic stuff, and it seems like there should be someone whose job it is to make sure all the links (there aren't that many! like 8 per day, max!) are all working and directing people to the right things. These chats should be WashPo's competitive edge (the content is amazing and no one else is doing anything like it) but the production has just been really shoddy lately. Thanks!
Let's hope your complaint is read by the powers that be. Thanks for writing. And my apologies.
are my favorite! Any recommendations?
Haven't seen anything on today's chat about American wines, we bottle some really great wines here, i.e. Opus One and there are many others from across the country. Personally I only order American wines when I eat out here. When in France I order French wines, in Spain, Spanish wines, etc. I hope that Citronelle carries a huge stock of American wines including some of the good ones from Virginia.
Yes, Citronelle has a terrific selection of wines from California (Opus included), Oregon, Washington and a few from Virginia. The food (and the chef), are French, though - so that is the focus.
Dear Ms. Morgan: When I eat out I gall at wine prices that are 2 to 3 times the price of what they run in local wine stores. I never order anything but the lower-priced wines on a wine list. They're usually quite nice. Most of my friends do the same. Avoid the other wines unless you're on an expense account. I think restaurants would sell more wine if they lowered their prices to no more than double retail. I don't expect them to match retail; I understand they have to make a profit. But I think wine demand in restaurants is elastic, as economists would say. Lower the price and see more sales. What's your take?
"Nor more than double retail" is pretty common these days. Many restaurants tend to use higher markups on the lower priced wines, however.
My question is, what is the deal with chefs' tasting some of the food they are preparing? Is this becoming a common practice? -- My take: Of course they are tasting it! They are professionals and it is their job to make sure it tastes right.
Chefs have always tasted their cooking. Sommeliers sipping wine purchased by a customer, in view of diners, is a more recent thing, at least here in the US.
Kthy: Since you're here, what's the official defiiniton? Is it when the wine is opened, and cork gets into it? If so, other than unpleasant pieces of cork, why would that make a wine bad? Thanks!
When a wine is "corked" it is contaminated by a compound called TCA - give the wine an unpleasant musty flavor and steals the fruit. Bits of cork in your wine is also undesirable, but we can fix that!
I have to disagree - I think the food at Rasika is way beyond just good. And Citronelle is definitely not cheap, but it's worth every penny and you get what you pay for. The cake that Michel Richard made for our wedding party a few of years ago was a work of art!
I agree -- and not just because a Citronelle rep is my guest this morning. Just as you pay more for a Picasso than a print hanging above a bed at Motel 6, creative and highly technical food is going to cost more.
What do you think of sommeliers that wear a lot of perfume. I was at a restaurant in Virginia some time ago and their sommelier wore so much Fendi perfume that it not only ruined the wine experience but didn't help with dinner either. Should't sommeliers know not to wear really strong odors???
Sommeliers should not wear perfume.
Hi Kathy, I am drawn to "by the glass" options for a number of different reasons. While I think there are a number of restaurants that have decent to pretty good "by the glass" options, I still wonder if I am getting the short end of the stick. Obviously, by the glass means that a new bottle is not being opened for my pour, unless I happen to time it right. Sometimes, you also want the wine to breath, and so on. Is this right? Am I getting the "lesser" choice wines? Do restaurants list more sturdy wines for their by the glass list, so that if the wine is open, it won't go downhill as rapidly? Is the turnover so quick that my question really isn't an issue? Please tell me that no wine by the glass is poured from bottles that have been opened the day before or the week before? Thanks.
One thing somms consider with by-the-glass selections, is that they don't go downhill too quickly. Nothing should be too old when it is served to you, but if you think it is - defintely bring it to the sommeleir's attention.
You DO take a mix of questions! And if someone is about to drop $500 for dinner, I see nothing wrong with writing in here to make sure he/she gets the most out of it. I don't see how you're showing off if the forum is anonymous. One could just as easily turn it around on the grumpy poster and say we've had far too many questions about taking kids out to dinner. Some questions are going to be repeated. Get over it.
Bless you for understanding.
I can understand why a sommelier would not want to taste a wine that is brought in, because he/she is not responsible for it. But, what I do is offer a sip as I did the other night at Bourbon Steak with a magnum of 2000 CDP Grenache Cuvee and the sommelier was most appreciative and gave me her view (and very good service). By the way, the rest of the meal was mediocre and overpriced, but Tom doesn't want to talk about that.
Patricia Ely is an excellent sommelier. I'm glad you had a good wine experience.
Not just in the restrooms either - hooks at the bar are a wonderful thing and make keeping your bag safe MUCH easier.
The expanded Palena is a disaster. The new space is soul-less and noisy, the old cafe space now seems dim and tired -- a parking place for the older set -- and the connection between the two makes no sense. The food is still wonderful, but the cafe menu is more restricted -- they will not allow you to order off the restaurant menu as they used to do -- and they even charge for bread. We have been regulars there since it opened. But we are now in search of a new neighborhood restaurant with a better atmosphere and equally good food. You should review it soon and warn others.
I wouldn't call the larger Palena a "disaster," but I agree, it could use more than the warmth provided by an exhibition kitchen in its new digs. How do others feel?
Actually, hold that thought for today. We're out of time. I'd like to thank Kathy Morgan, big-time, for sharing her expertise with us this morning. Chatters, if there are others in the food field you'd like to see share this chat with me, please send me their names.
Until next Wednesday, dine well.