Ask Tom - Rusty Holman to open Bayou

Dec 08, 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

GOING PUBLIC: Last year, he dramatically opened and departed Eatonville off  U St NW. This year, he was half of a food truck partnership, Fry Captain, currently taking a winter siesta from bronzing hand-cut potatoes.

For his next act, chef Rusty Holman is joining a former employer, The Rookery, an invitation-only club in Foggy Bottom, go public with a New Orleans-flavored restaurant, Bayou, set to open at 2519 Pennsylvania Ave. NW on one of the busiest nights of the year: New Year’s Eve. If it’s any consolation for the chef, who turned 37 just yesterday, Bayou won’t re-open for regular service until the middle of the first week in January.  

The Rookery opened in February 2008 and counted 185 members, according to co-owner Bo Blair. ‘We never lost money,” he says, “but we were treading water.”  Blair hopes the concept switch, which involves adding lunch service, yields a larger audience. Enticing customers will be po boys, gumbo, shrimp and grits and live jazz during dinner (followed by other acts on the establishment’s newly mirrored-and-expanded stage).

The Rookery will close after dinner Dec. 18 to pave the way for Blair’s idea, “Surfside meets Acadiana.” Those are references, respectively, to the restaurateur’s casual tropical joint in Glover Park and Passion Food Hospitality’s upscale nod to Louisiana near the convention center.

The name of the future eatery might ring familiar – too familiar – for chef David Guas of the recently-opened Bayou Bakery in Arlington.

“Obviously unfortunate,” says Blair, who hopes people can keep their bayous straight.



Happy Hump Day, everyone. Thanks for showing up on this blustery December morning.

Still worth making it a destination, Tom? I've read some mixed reviews lately. I plan to hit the others from your 2008 postcard, though

My last meal at Fore Street was two years ago. I liked, but didn't love, the restaurant and left it off my recommended list.


Portland, Maine, is great fun if you're a food lover. Be sure to check out the excellent book store, Rebelais, between meals. And don't leave without buying a souvenier from Browne Trading Market, the excellent seafood purveyor.

Hi Tom, Love your chats! My husband and I are lucky enough to be able to go to the Inn at Little Washington for the first time at the end of the month thanks to a bonus we were not expecting. We have always wanted to go, but have never been to a restaurant of this caliber before. I admit to feeling a little nervous. Can you give us an idea of what to expect? What was your first five-star dining experience like?

Don't be nervous. Despite all the gilt and the tapestry, the Inn is a remarkably festive (read: fun) four-star event.


  Yes, there's lots of coddling, and lots of decisions to be made, but keep in mind: The restaurant has a grand sense of humor. I mean, what other destination dining room serves its cheese selections atop a faux cow that moos?


I'd definitely start the evening off with drinks in the lounge (where "movie" popcorn comes with a garnish of shaved truffles) and end it with a tour of Patrick O'Connell's impressive kitchen.


Congrats on the bonus and if you can, send me your feedback after the Big Night.

Good evening, rather good morning Tom, one of Washington restaurants managers here with a few reminders for everyone out there. First, this is a big season for DC Alcohol board to bust restaurants, bartenders and servers so please bring your ID, and if you forget dont berate the staff, its not their fault, they are following the law. Secondly, if you arent feeling well please tell someone in the restaurant that you need some help cleaning up, we dont want others to see the mess you made. Lastly traffic is really bad this time of year so please plan ahead and show up to your reservations on time, please dont punish those who arrive after you by being late, its not fair to those customers or the restaurant. Thats all for now, thank you for your cooperation and understanding, please help us take care of you.

Catch that, diners?

1) Bring ID.

2) Don't go to places when you're unwell (or "hide" messes if you venture out anyway).

3) Honor your reservations by budgetting traffic into the equation.


Thanks for writing in, Mr. Insider.

Hi Tom, This weekend I tried out Nando's, a new piri-piri place in downtown Silver Spring. Cute place with good food, but it's one of those places where you order and pay at the counter, get your own drink and condiments. Then a server brings your food to you and checks back to see if you want anything else. So it isn't totally self-serve, but it isn't full table service either. What are the tipping expectations in a place like that? I want to do the right thing, but obviously I'm not going to tip like in a normal restaurant.

Depending on the service, the size of my group and the check total at a place like that, I tend to tip starting from a buck or two on up.


Chatters, how about you?

Hi Tom, This is something that I have wondered about since an earlier chat when you mentioned that you've gone pretty far outside DC looking for restaurants to review, but haven't found much worth publishing reviews on. That makes a lot of sense to me in that there's no reason to publish a negative or lukewarm review of a place that probably doesn't aspire to a WP rave, but it made me wonder then what places are worth publishing more negative reviews on - those that have buzz you feel should be refuted, or do you just try to be more comprehensive inside the metro area? Do you generally get to pick which restaurants you publish about?

Yes, I'm The Decider, as our former prez was fond of saying. I come up with the lists for what I review, and when, in the Sunday Magazine.


If it's big and bad -- like Buddha Bar -- that's fair game, in my opinion. So are places that I think are over-rated: Restaurant Nora, featured in my spring dining guide, leaps to mind.


If I find several small places that might not merit a full review on their own, sometimes I'll bunch them together in one issue. (Stay tuned.)

Hi, Tom, I'm taking out of town guests to the Oval Room for dinner tonight, and one of them inquired if there is a dress code. I checked the website, and there's no mention of one. My friends will wear jackets, but is it safe to assume a tie is not required? Do most restaurants with dress codes state them on thier websites? Thanks!

You're safe wearing just a jacket --  well, with PANTS, that is -- at the Oval Room. (Lucky you, by the way. Tony Conte is a terrific chef.)


There are very few places that require ties anymore; restaurants that prefer their customers dress a certain way typically announce that online. But I'd rather be a bit over- than under-dressed.

Tom, love the chat and constantly read it to see whats happening out there. You do a great job. I have recently moved my restaurant from Middleburg to Bethesda and am desperately trying to get the post to update my info on the web. Who can I contact. I have submitted the change in info request online but nothing has happened. can you help?

Sorry for your trouble. Send the changes you want to make to me at I'll make sure they're routed to the right person.

I also usually give a buck or so per person, also depending on the kind of service--did they just bring your food? Or did they refill you water, bring you bread, etc.

Right, the more they take care of me, the higher the tip.

Going through bank papers yesterday and found old Xmas party paper. It said "dress optional." What's that all about?

Boy, could you ever have fun following THAT one.

To me, the message says one of two things:


1) You can wear a dress if you want


2) You can go naked if you want


How long will you stay with the Washington Post? I guess I'm asking because I'm experiencing a time in my career where I think I've done enough and need to move on. Do you feel like you need to move on to another city? I'm not looking to get rid of you, but do you feel a need for a whole new city worth of restaurants to visit and review while at the same time allowing the Post to give us locals someone with a new or different perspective?

Are you reading my mind?

Personally, I don't like the service concept at Nando's. The one in Chinatown just always seems a mess. The host seats you, then you get up and order yourself, then the server brings the food and ostensibly waits on you after the initial ordering. It's just confusing.

I whole-heartedly agree with you. Either offer (full) service or don't.

Went to Zola Friday night to try the new tasting menu - had a great experience. I wouldn't say EVERY dish was great, but between our entertaining and appreciative waiter (shout out to Daniel), tasty cocktails, their very affordable corkage fee (we brought 2 bottles and they could not have been more gracious about it), and their, uh, support for us passing the plates around so that we could try everything, it was a lot of fun. Already recommended it to a couple looking to celebrate a courthouse wedding. Highlights were the rutabaga soup, the beef, the goat ricotta dumplings, the "liver and onions". The only lowlight was the chicken, and we gave that feedback and understood that it was passed onto the chef. Even sous vide needs to be watched, people. Really a great experience start to finish. Kudos to them for the overhaul.

Thanks for the feedback. For those readers who don't know, Zola remade itself recently.

Tom - Where would you go for a solo meal in Georgetown? My ideal equivalent is the bar at Palena.

Sorry, but there's nothing close to Palena in Georgetown. While I'm a fan of the bistro fare at Bistro Lepic, the dining room is cramped. If I were you, I'd get a salad and a pie at the wood bar of Pizzeria Paradiso.

Tom - please don't leave! Michael Wilbon's departure is enough bad news for the day.

Honestly, I'm very happy here. This is pretty much my dream job. I do think it's important, however, to mix things up a bit from year to year. It's good for the writer and it's good for the audience.


Which leads to MY question: If you could change anything (add/subtract) about the way we cover restaurants or the food scene, what would it be? (I have some ideas, but I'd love to hear from you.)

what about Mendocino?

Thanks for the reminder. I have to get back there.

Tom, love your reviews. Any chance you can review more than 1 restaurant per week? We have so many that are opening plus it is always good to see a review from a place that has been reviewed in the past. Maybe you could do one in DC and one from MD/Va each week? Sorry to suggest to add to your workload ;)

Hey now, I've been looking for ways to cut BACK rather than add more on my over-flowing plate!


I'm already doing a review (in the Magazine) and a preview (in Food) each week. I still need time to write Dish, Ask Tom, the Postcard column, contribute to the Going Out Gurus and host this discussion. Oh yeah, there's a spring dining guide in my future, too.


I hope to do in the months ahead what I've done in the past, though, and spotlight two like restaurants on the same week (two sushi joints, two steak places, etc)

Hello Tom, My uncle in town, and I really want to impress him about dining in DC. He has been all over the world and never impressed about the dining experience in DC. He always raves about Italy, Dubai and the other places. What is one place that will blow his mind off. We dined at Tosca, J&G, Bibiana and can't think of good one this time around... with a great ambiance.. How is Kellari Taverna? You think I will win this time around? He has not been to Greece but back home he belongs to a Greek members only club and I've had the food and its not good.

Kellari is a looker, but I prefer the cooking at the places you've already visited to that of the Greek outpost.


Has your uncle been to Rasika for the country's best Indian? That could be an adventure. The room at Plume is opulent, but I haven't eaten there since it opened. I like the pools of space between the tables, though, and the sense of Washington the design delivers.

What is going on over at Galileo III? I am hearing the same old rumors again. That sure didn't take long. I could not imagine why/how he could revert to the same old practices after suffering large legal defeats over the same issues, but I assume anything is possible. I just hope that it is not true, because a lot of people make their living working at that place.

"A lot of people make their living working at that place?"


Oh, yeah?


In case you missed it, Galileo III  chef Roberto Donna was my guest on the chat last week. 


Next week, Kathy Morgan, the wine director at Michel Richard Citronelle, has graciously agreed to take your queries.

I saw your name in the Reliable Source column the other day regarding the fire alarm going off during the Oklahoma! performance. I was wondering - did you sample Jose Andres menu at the Arena Theater or eat elsewhere?

I did not. I dined elsewhere (Sou'wester).


But you know what happened? I pre-ordered drinks for my group, which the bar tenders set out before intermission on open tables outside the theater doors. Someone stole my champagne!  Arena needs to employ guards to watch for such theft, me thinks.

How about instead of just one "small shop" review each week in the food section the Post does 3. One for Maryland, one for DC and one for Virginia.

You do know, don't you, they I'm already eating out 12 meals a week? (Just sayin'.)

Tom- I am a server at a moderately priced restaurant out in a Montgomery County exburb and I had a really good experience with a particularly thoughtful customer last night. A group of three ladies took there time through their meal in my section, spending about two and a half hours at my table. When the restaurant is full, this can be a little bit frustrating because an occupied table that is not ordering more food or drinks essentially costs the server money. Since the restaurant wasn't full, nobody else really needed the seat and it was really no big deal. They left me an appropriate tip and I didn't think much more of it. Lo and behold one of the ladies returned 20 minutes later and handed me an additional tip for "camping out so long". Not wishing to be rude and count it in front of her I slipped it in my pocket and thanked her graciously, not until she left did I see that she left me about 40% of the bill amount after previously giving me a 20% tip. It was extremely generous and certainly not necessary, but it is worth noting that this level of kindness really makes a tough job a lot easier and it is appreciated on the highest level. Thanks Tom!

That is such a lovely story to share.


Not all diners are cut from the same cloth, for sure. 

Hi Tom, What are your 4or 5 favorite restaurants in Montgomery County? I live in Rockville, and my sister will be coming to visit right after the New Year. I'd like to take her out at least a couple of times. Of course, I have some personal favorites, but was wondering what yours are!

Off the top of my head:


Tavira (Portuguese) in Chevy Chase


Michael's Noodles (Chinese) in Rockville


Jackie's (American) in Silver Spring


Woodmont (burgers/steaks/free parking!) in Bethesda

Have you ever been sitting a restaurant working on a review and had another local critic doing the same, and if so did you collaborate?

It happens, but not often. Most recently, I was seated at the new Michel in Tysons Corner and looked up to see two other critics across the room. Tiny world.


I never collaborate with the competition, though. In fact, I try not to read what they've written about a restaurant until *after* I've penned my critique.

Hi Tom- I am getting an unanticipated trip to LV. I read your previous advice, but the places are not quite me. What do you think of Lotus of Siam, which Gourmet gave great reviews to? Other bets? We can go off-strip w/o difficulty. Thank you.

The place I really like, and the go-to spot for a lot of the top chefs on the Strip, is a tiny Japanese retreat called Raku. It's just a short taxi ride from the major hotels.  I included the place in my most recent Postcard from Vegas.

On Saturday morning I'm taking my two girls - 7 & 14 - to the Kennedy Center for a show that will end right about lunch time. The plan is to walk over to see the Christmas Trees on the Elipse after the show. I'm trying to find somewhere to take them for lunch. The younger is a somewhat picky eater, so i don't want to take her somewhere that it's going to cost $15 or $20 for lunch that she may or may not eat. Other than the Smithsonians, is there anything in that vacinity that is open on Saturday?

Try Cafe du Parc, a short stroll from the Christmas tree. The lunch menu runs to ham-and-Gruyere cheese sandwiches, roast chicken and sides from which you might create a meal for Miss Fussy: mashed potatoes, egg pasta, french fries, etc. Two of you could easily share an entree, by the way. 

Hi Tom! My husband and I are planning a mini-getaway, splurging on a room this Saturday night at the gorgeous Jefferson hotel. We can't afford to eat at Plume (that's a little too much of a splurge on top of the room splurge) but I'd like to try to get a reservation (or at least plan to eat) someplace equally great. Around that area, we've been to Cork (loved it!) and upstairs at Birch and Barley (not so great bar food, although the brews were impressive). Any ideas for us for dinner Saturday night and/or brunch on Sunday nearby the hotel? We're open to all types of cuisine but would like to keep the tab to no more than $75-100 for dinner and $30 or so for brunch. Also, any ideas on spots for before- or after-dinner drinks? We've been to the bar at the Jefferson and loved it (that orange glass!) but wondering about other nearby spots. Thanks so much!!

Within walking distance of the hotel is the very good Estadio, but it doesn't take reservations for two after 6 p.m.  So you'd have to go there early. What about Masa 14 and some Latin-Asian small plates instead?  Or Zentan for some sushi in moody environs?


For brunch, you might consider Cafe St.-Ex in Logan Circle; for pre-dinner drinks, and especially in this weather, the fire and a couch at Tabard Inn call to me.

how about making the chat 2 hour long? or writing more? 16 posts in 45 minues, come on!!

Fine, I'll skip lunch. ;)

How pronounced? A-gehn'? A-gayn'? A-guin'? Other?

Even *I* have to remind myself that the downtown British gastropub with a branch in Rockville is pronounced Ah-gwin.


And that's a wrap for today, kids. Please join me, and my guest Kathy Morgan from Citronelle, 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 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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