In a city loaded with diverse restaurants, from New American chic and upscale Italian to sandwich shops and burritos on the run, finding the best places to eat can be a real puzzle. Where's the best restaurant for a first date or an anniversary? Father's Day? What's the best burger joint? Who has the best service?
Ask Tom. Tom Sietsema, The Washington Post's food critic, is on hand Wednesdays at 11 a.m. ET to answer your questions, listen to your suggestions and even entertain your complaints about Washington dining. Sietsema, a veteran food writer, has sampled the wares and worked as a critic in Washington, Seattle, San Francisco and Milwaukee, and can talk restaurants with the best of 'em. Tom's Sunday magazine reviews, as well as his "Ask Tom" column, are available early on the Web.
The transcript follows.
Editor's Note: Washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Live Online discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions.
Logan Circle, Washington, D.C.:
I adore your chats and quote you to all my friends. (They think I am insane.)
I love sushi but my significant other doesn't. Could you recommend a restaurant where I can enjoy excellent sushi and he can get something else that's actually substantial? Most places only seem to specialize in sushi and then offer a handful of appetizer-type stuff. Thanks!;!;
Tom Sietsema: Actually, both Sushi-Ko and Kaz Sushi Bistro offer plenty of dishes that don't involve raw fish.
Good morning, everyone. Feels like summer!
No question, just some well-deserved praise for the Old Hickory Grill in Loehmann's Plaza for solving the perennial bad table problem in a creative and gracious way. Two of us went there for dinner on a very busy Friday night, when one of the only tables open was the one the host (owner?) admitted was the worst seat in the house -- a tiny two-top floating practically on top of the kitchen pick-up area.
The restaurant's solution is to dub this the "half-price" table -- 50% off your bill as a thank-you for putting up with a bit of discomfort and chaos. As we still received friendly, efficient, full-price service and got a fun view of their busy kitchen to boot, it was an easy and enjoyable decision for us to make. We left full and happy -- and made sure to tip our waitress based on the pre-discount value of our check.
Tom Sietsema: What a SMART restaurant. What a GREAT customer.
Win-win situation there. But if the table is that bad, I wonder why no one thought to just remove it?
Foggy Bottom, Washington, D.C.:
I submitted this lengthy post to the chat late last week and it didn't make it, so I decided to try again. My cousin, his wife and their 10-year old from NJ were visiting my husband and me two weeks ago. We are all real foodies and always take each other to great places when visiting one another. After spending Saturday among the masses on the Mall, I promised the group authentic DC breakfast experience away from the tourists on Sunday morning at Colorado Kitchen. I had heard of chef Gillian Flynn's outstanding food and impeccable reputation in this chat and from friends, so I thought it would be a great experience. Too bad we never got inside.
Colorado Kitchen opens at 11 a.m. for breakfast, and we arrived at 11:10. Four groups of four or less people each were waiting outside when we arrived. My husband put our name on the list, indicating we were a party of five. It was a gorgeous day, and we were happy to stand outside chatting in the sunshine while waiting for a table. Within 20 minutes, all four of the groups ahead of us had been seated. By this time, several other groups ranging in size from two to four people arrived and were also waiting outside. When the first of the groups arriving after us was seated, my husband went inside to check our status. The hostess assured him she had not forgotten us, and that there was a five-top with food on the table already, so it shouldn't be long. Several other parties were called between 11:40 and 11:50. My husband again went inside. The hostess nodded to indicate she knew we were still waiting. He saw the five-top was still seated and that the parties of two, three and four arriving after us that had been seated in various configurations at the two-tops, including two pairs of two-tops with people so newly seated that their menus were still open. He then asked about other seating options in the restaurant. She told him there was only one five-top in the restaurant. He suggested we could squeeze into the booths. The hostess seemed surprised at the suggestion that a fifth person could squeeze in, in spite of the fact that already seated at one of the tables were four adults and a baby in an ample baby seat. She agreed to let us squeeze in if the booth opened up first. By 12:15 (more than an hour after our arrival), we'd had enough. We decided even if a table became available immediately, we did not want to give our business to Colorado Kitchen. By this time, more parties of four or less arriving after us had been seated. My husband went inside, but had to wait for the hostess because she deliberately avoided him for a few minutes. When he finally got to speak to her to say we were leaving, she seemed surprised, and informed him that the five-top had not turned, and it was out of her hands. He in turn asked her why she hadn't been willing to push together two of the two-tops to accommodate our group. She initially seemed shocked at the idea, then fell back on an illegal fire hazard defense, indicating that she was strictly forbidden from doing so. She repeated this line again and again. We noted that this was a very young woman working in perhaps her first restaurant gig. We wondered if she hadn't been told "this table seats five", and it never occurred to her that she should think outside that construct. She finally asked if he wanted to speak to someone in the kitchen (it may have been Gillian). He declined, explaining that Colorado Kitchen had wasted enough of his morning, and we left.
Tom, I know that Sunday morning breakfast is a leisurely meal, and I do not begrudge any patron wanting to sip their coffee and read the newspaper. But isn't it absurd for a restaurant to be unwilling to simply push two small tables together to accommodate a group slightly larger than usual when the ideal table doesn't open when expected (we were five, not 12 after all)? Many restaurants have their entire business models built around two-tops that allow for maximum flexibility (Jaleo and every good deli in the world come to mind). In most cases, fire codes restrict maximum seating, not seating configurations (save seats that would protrude into lanes of egress). Even if the outwardly absurd explanation is correct, isn't it appropriate for Colorado Kitchen to have a policy of warning any party larger than four persons that their ability to accommodate such parties is limited, and the wait might be in excess of what one might expect? I know I will never return to Colorado Kitchen, and I will tell others I know that a restaurant with such poor customer service does not deserve their money either.
Because I hate to be so critical, let me say we decided on the fly to go to Raku in Dupont Circle instead. It was 12:30 and time for lunch after all. I know you prefer the one in Bethesda, but I must say the food, service and patio atmosphere were nearly flawless. The waiter was so attentive, and got the 10-year-old's food out very fast while the adults relaxed with drinks and edamame. It was exactly what we needed. Kudos also to Five Guys in Chinatown and Zaytina (who incidentally, also had a wait, but who set expectations such that our time at the bar was spent relaxing with drinks and good conversation, and not with constant concern that the restaurant was totally unaware of our desire to give them our hard-earned money) for two other stellar meals during the weekend.
Thanks for the avenue for venting my frustration. Keep up the great work!
Tom Sietsema: I wonder if Colorado Kitchen cares to respond? (I agree: a sign warning large parties about long waits or some such would be helpful.)
This is a comment, not a question.
Your characterization of Carol Greenwood last week was pretty rude and I think you owe her an apology. Until you have walked in her shoes, making comments about her other than her cooking abilities is uncalled for and highly unprofessional. I've heard plenty of things about you and your personality but wouldn't advertise them in such a forum (unless provoked, like I have been).
Just food for thought Mr. Sietsema.
Tom Sietsema: I admire Carole Greenwood and I don't think that what I wrote last week was disrespectful. She's a first-rate cook. But she is not always a gracious host. I have dozens of emails -- complaints from diners -- to support that, by the way.
I'm not sure what you've heard about me, or from whom, but I always try to conduct myself professionally. In and out of restaurants.
Kalorama, Washington, D.C.:
Not to get us back on the jeans/no jeans track, but somewhat along those lines, I hope you and the chatters can weigh in on the following scenario. A few months back, my date and I were dining at 1789, his favorite spot, and during the course of the meal he became uncomfortably warm. Rather than ask that the air conditioning be adjusted (our fellow diners looked perfectly comfortable), he removed his jacket. Our question: was this proper in a "jackets required" setting? What else could he have done?
p.s. Any tips on how we get in to Restaurant Eve's tasting room? They were booked a full month in advance!
Tom Sietsema: Interesting question! If you wear a jacket TO a restaurant and want to take it off once you're seated, is that permissible? I'd love to hear a restaurateur's take on this.
Sorry, I can only suggest you stay flexible when trying to book a table at Eve -- maybe you can ask to be put on a waiting list?
Hey Tom....love the chats and your little "blurbs" on WTOP. What's your opinion of Papa Razzi in Georgetown? I've heard good and bad, looked at their menu online, etc. I'm looking to take some family members from out-of-town to a decent Italian restaurant that isn't too pricey. Thanks!;
Tom Sietsema: You know, I've never eaten there. For good, moderately-priced Italian, I really like Al Tiramisu (just be sure to as the prices on the specials!) and Roberto Donna's Osteria at Galileo.
Jim Bethesda, MD:
I know you addressed this question in a prior chat but I can't find it. I'm going to Minibar this weekend for my fiancee's birthday and was wondering what to drink if I didn't want to get the pairing. Any suggestions?
Oh, and for your first poster, Perry's does both sushi and an American menu (though admittedly the sushi isn't as good as the two giants of DC sushi you mentioned) and has arguably the best rooftop dining in the city.
Tom Sietsema: Champagne goes well with minibar's eclectic menu. And thanks for reminding us about Perry's.
Moving to DC:
I grew up in DC, but it's been 10 years since I've lived there. I'm moving back this summer, and I am hoping to live in a neighborhood in DC itself with lots of neighborhood restaurants within walking distance. What's your best suggestions for such a neighborhood? Thanks.
Tom Sietsema: That stretch on P St. NW, between 20th-21st is wonderful: Al Tiramisu, Johnny's Half Sell, 21P, Paradiso, Obelisk, Pesce ...
What are your views on "blog" food sites? Do you think some of the posters are getting a little carried away with their views/opinions? Just from experience they seem very one-sided.
Tom Sietsema: It really depends on who is doing the blogging.
Speaking of online food discussions, Don Rockwell, a former egullet host, has just launched a fun one: DonRockwell.com. Don is a fine writer, has good taste and eats out almost as much as I do. If you care about food in Washington, his is a site to monitor.
I used to hostess at a place where we wrote down descriptions of people so that we could identify them and tell them that their table is ready. My advice to "older parents" of last week is to be glad it wasn't worse. I used to guard my waiting list sheet with my life so that people wouldn't see what I wrote. Not very mature, looking back on it, but I was a college student and I was very polite to their faces.
Tom Sietsema: A friend who didn't even read last week's chat -- the horror of it all! -- told me this weekend that he recently saw how a hostess described him on her waiting list: "Red shirt. Big nose." He wasn't pleased.
I took my beau to the wonderful Restaurant Eve for the tasting menu on his birthday. The food was great, but the pre-dinner cocktail with fresh strawberries was amazing!; Service impeccable. Absolutely a high 3 star rating. I was a little disappointed in that it was the boy's birthday, but unlike all the other birthday's in the room, he somehow got skipped for the little candle and scone mix gift from the restaurant. (I think everyone must go there for a birthday!;) But as the boy in question didn't mind one iota, neither did I. We're going back on Friday just for the strawberry cocktail.
In turn, I'll very highly recommend the pork spring rolls at Four Sisters in Eden Center. The pho is pretty good, but the pork rolls have me coming back!;
Thanks for all the stellar advice, Tom.
Tom Sietsema: You are welcome.
Help I'm stumped - need to take my girl to a nice birthday dinner but I'm sick of the usual places... any ideas for something not-too-over-the-top on a Friday night??
Tom Sietsema: What are the "usual places" you wish to avoid?
Re: Your upcoming trip to Paris:
As a native Parisian and a fan of yours, I am very intrigued by which restaurants you plan on trying there.
If I may, I would like to humbly recommend La Table de Lucullus, a tiny seafood gastronomical restaurant in the unassuming parts of the 17th (129 rue Legendre), one of my favorite places to bring guests.
Tom Sietsema: Thanks for the suggestion. I am just now doing research for my May trip to Paris. One reservation I've already made: Taillevant. I'm eager to try the grand daddy of the Parisian three stars.
Tom, please help! I've got a craving for "Gai Hor Bai Toey" (chicken in aromatic pandan leaves), a dish I discovered on a recent trip to Thailand. None of my Arlington standbys (Bangkok 54, Singh Thai, Sala Thai) offer it but I'm willing to crisscross the metro to find it. Any tips?!
Tom Sietsema: Chatters?
I didn't get a chance to participate last week, so I'm adding my two bits.
I'm one of the people who found the review of the Baltimore restaurant a bit useless. It's not that I think Baltimore has a bad dining scene. It's not that I don't want to know about it. I just think that Baltimore has a very good newspaper to serve its restaurant patrons. When I go there, I check the Sun for dining recs, just as I check the Trib when I go to Chicago, the Examiner when I go to San Francisco. And I wouldn't expect the Examiner to write about San Jose restaurants. I'd expect the Mercury News to do that. I don't mind reviews of the Inns at Little Washington and Easton because they don't have comparable-market papers available to cover them.
We only get about 1.5 reviews of the DC area a week in the Post, so those are precious. I am certainly more apt to read, and to care, when the restaurant review is marginally local.
But, then, you're the lucky guy with a column in the Post, not me so I guess we'll just have to agree to disagree!
Keep up the good work!
Tom Sietsema: I was surprised at the "I can't believe he wasted space on a Baltimore restaurant!" reaction to my review of Pazo. However, I was pleased to get a LOT more positive feedback from readers who either live close to the area or want to know about good places to eat there, for whatever reason.
I intend to review restaurants beyond the immediate Washington area as I see fit. I certainly think a three-star destination less than 40 minutes from downtown is worth the attention of my readers.
Silver Spring, MD:
Tom, Three couples (without the kids!;)are heading to Annapolis Saturday night to celebrate the three ladies' birthdays. I couldn't get a reservation at O'Learys (except for 5 or well after 9). Any suggestions for a nice, fun, casual dinner spot within walking distance of the City Dock. Thanks!;
Tom Sietsema: I CAN'T BELIEVE YOU'RE ASKING ME TO SUGGEST A GOOD PLACE IN ANNAPOLIS! I'M THE WASHINGTON POST CRITIC, NOT THE ANNAPOLIS CRITIC!
(Whew, that felt better.)
Honestly, I need to explore the city a bit more. Do any chatters have recommendations?
By the way, the "screaming" introduction is just a joke. I'm poking gentle fun of people who want me to limit my reviews to their back yards.
We LOVE you, Tom!;!;:
Who was that grouch going on about Carole?!;
Don't let her get to ya...your work is admired and loved in this town!;!;
Tom Sietsema: Thanks, Mom. Or is this Dad? Or my brother?
Downtown Washington, D.C.:
Hey Tom: re jackets on or off? in 1789: I just wanted to share that my husband took me to 1789 for my birthday last year, which is right at the end of August -- we walked to the restaurant following drinks in G'town, and by the time we arrived at the top of the "Exorcist staircase," we were hot, bothered and melting away. My husband (who is Irish, and not used to DC humidity AT ALL) had forgotten that he needed a jacket and gave the hostess quite a frazzled look when she handed him said article. She very kindly said that if he could wear it into the dining room and then put it on the back of his chair, that would be fine with them. So I don't know about other establishments, but, as with everything Ris Lacoste puts her hand to, 1789's policy was classy, considerate, and a pleasure. PS I am not a publicist!
Tom Sietsema: GREAT solution.
Just curious... Britain is not well-known for its great food... so how did a pub in England come to be ranked by Restaurant magazine as the best restaurant in the world?!; Have you been to or do you have plans to go to The Fat Duck? I'm flabbergasted!;
Tom Sietsema: Fat Duck is a pretty amazing restaurant, but the best in the world? I, too, am surprised.
London is full of great places to eat these days, but you'd better be on an unlimited expense account to eat there. The prices are sky-high, I discovered earlier this year.
I'm a regular reader of this column and I always get irritated at those who ask the same questions again and again. But now that I need an idea, I'm drawing a blank. Any suggestions for good casual brunch in NoVA, especially in Tyson's/FFX area? And, for the love of God, when are the web-masters going to make these chats searchable by keyword? It's a treasure-trove of information!;!;
Tom Sietsema: Brunch in Northern Virginia? I'm thinking Artie's, Boulevard Woodgrill, Majestic Cafe, maybe Southside 815.
For all of you who tell Tom to stop suggesting the same places such as Palena, there is a reason he suggests them. Last night my friend and I went to Palena and we had an incredible time. We took Tom's advice and sat at the bar and ordered off the cafe menu. The bartender (either Kirk or Curt) made our night. Not only did he know each dish that was being prepared, he also guided us to the perfect wine. The roasted chicken was to die for and the fried platter to start was perfection. Too many times this chat is about the most inane complaints. This is to tell Palena, well done, you will have my repeat business.
Tom Sietsema: Thanks for the show of support there!
Logan Circle, Washington, D.C. :
Good morning, Tom,
My husband has been very stressed at work, and I would like to treat him to a special dinner Thursday night. We are open to any cuisine, but I would like to keep it at or below $80 for food and a couple glasses of wine and would prefer something in the Downtown area. Your advice is always appreciated!;
Tom Sietsema: What about Corduroy on 12th & K streets? Bombay Club on Connecticut Ave? The bar at Ten Penh?
I'm taking a friend to a celebratory breakfast on a weekday next week. Any suggestions for where we can get something lovely before 10am on a Monday? Dupont area preferred, but not picky...Thanks in advance. Your suggestions have never steered me wrong!;
Tom Sietsema: A "lovely" breakfast on a weekday is a toughie!
I'd try Seasons in Georgetown or Melrose in the West End.
Tom, sorry to sound daft, but in your Dish today, you wrote:
"The all-purpose restaurant serves breakfast Tuesday through Sunday and welcomes customers who just want dessert and coffee."
Then you talk about bratwurst. Um... So they also serve lunch and dinner?
Tom Sietsema: Indeed they do. I was simply highlighting a few things the new cafe was offering that Washington lacks: a place for breakfast, a spot for just dessert.
Any ideas for good dinner for two in Georgetown?? I seem to remember you suggesting one newish place a few weeks ago, but can't remember the name. I know you've also said 21 P and at some point, I will try that too.
Tom Sietsema: Bistro Francais is pretty reliable. So is the dressier 1789. Further up Wisconsin, I also like Bistrot Lepic for French cooking and Sushi-Ko for the obvious.
Adams Morgan, Washington, D.C.:
Having only recently become a regular reader of your chat, I noticed quickly that you frequently recommend the Little Fountain Cafe. So when my mom came to visit a few weeks ago, I took her there for dinner (on a Friday). I don't want to be one of those people that is always complaining about every little thing at a restaurant - I am usually a very happy little bee when I eat out. But something odd happened - I had a reservation for two people. My boyfriend was able to join us, so I changed the reservation for three. It was a very miserable rainy cold night - to set the scene. Anyway we got there, and they sat us immediately next to the door, when there was another table right behind our table, further away from the door. I asked if we could have that table. They said no. A table for four arrived about 10 minutes later, and they got the table. This seems odd to me. Why shouldn't people with reservations be entitled to the best available table when they arrive first? It has had me scratching my head. Is it something about etiquette? Is it cause I changed my initial reservation? Any advice appreciated. The food was not memorable. Not bad, but I couldn't tell you what I had.
Anyway! thanks - love the chat.
Tom Sietsema: The staff there tends to be accommodating, so I'm surprised you weren't allowed to move. Maybe the quartet that followed you requested said table? Frankly, I can't give you an explanation without talking to the staff.
1. My wife graduates from medical school May 22 (Sunday). We need to find a place that will take reservations for a party of 7 in Washington or NoVA that is not too expensive and is casual. Suggestions?
2. My wife and I, after 4 years in the area, are moving to Ann Arbor, MI shortly after her graduation. Ann Arbor is not particularly known for great restaurants. What is one place we absolutely should dine at before we leave that won't break the bank?
Tom Sietsema: 1) Try Firefly in Dupont Circle, Minh's in Arlington, Layalina in Arlinton or Bistro Francais in Georgetown.
2) My vote goes to Zaytinya, the bar at Palena or Two Amy's pizzeria.
Curious in Chinatown:
Just walked by the old Nick and Stef's at the MCI Center and saw a sign for its replacement: "Drinx. Where to Eat." Heard anything about it? Type of food, atmosphere, when it's scheduled to open?
Tom Sietsema: That's news to me. Does anyone else know about Nick & Stef's replacement?
Have you or any of the chatters been to the new place at the Rio shopping center in Gaithersburg? It was mentioned in the chat a few weeks ago, but I can't manage to track down the name in the archive. Can anyone help out with the name and their impressions of the place? Thanks.
Tom Sietsema: My review of Cafe Spice is slated to run May 1. I won't say more, since I don't want to scoop myself. Sorry!
Tom, love the chat sometimes its like a reality show!;!; Submitting early as I'm going out of town. We've got reservations this weekend for Felidia's in NYC- Lidia Bastianich's restaurant. I've heard fantastic and so-so and wanted to know your thoughts- have you heard anything about this one? Any menu suggestions?
Tom Sietsema: It's been a few years since I've dined there. When SHE is doing the cooking, the experience can be wonderful. Has anyone out there been to her restaurant of late?
Tabard Inn -- Wash DC:
This is Jeremiah from the Tabard Inn. I have a feeling this announcement belongs on "On the Fridge" but thought maybe you would pass it on in your chat room anyway.
On Tuesday April 26th from 6pm to 8pm there will be a reception for Slow Food Founder Carlo Petrini in Room 24 of the Tabard Inn. The reception is open to the public. $35 for Slow-food members; $50 for non-members. There will be a delicious assortment of passed hors d'oeuvres and Italian wines to enjoy. Call 202 785 1277 to make a reservation.
Tom Sietsema: I generally refrain from posting plugs for restaurant events, but Slow Food is a worthwhile cause.
We had an uncharacteristically bad experience at Artie's for Easter brunch - long wait for everything (it wasn't even very busy), hard poached eggs, forgetting to place kids' orders, etc. So, we wrote a letter to the manager detailing our complaints. Within a week, we got a very nice letter from Artie's apologizing for everything, accompanied with a gift certificate to be used for a subsequent visit. Needless to say, we're very impressed and won't hesitate to go there many more times!;
Tom Sietsema: The speedy and generous response to your complaint doesn't surprise me. Great American Restaurants, based in Northern Virginia, do a terrific job of taking care of their customers.
Tom, was recently in London and took your (and Gourmet's) recommendation to check out Moro. Went for lunch w/my parents and brother. Absolutely awesome food!; We each had a different dish and each one was tasty w/delicious sides that complemented the main dish nicely. We all gave each other little tastes of the food and everyone liked all of it (a challenge in my family). So, anyone going to London, go to Moro!; It's a nice walk from the British Museum if you're looking to pair it w/site-seeing.
Tom Sietsema: Ah, I'm glad the restaurant worked out for you!
Just back from Reykjavik:
For the Iceland traveller from last week....be prepared for some serious sticker shock in Reykjavik. It was prohibitively expensive for me. We're talking $60US for a burger and pizza lunch at a sit-down restaurant. Something that's a little nicer will easily be $100 US. The terrible exchange rate coupled with the fact that everything is expensive to begin with makes it hard. Cafe Solon was decent..we ate there with no alcohol, no appetizers, and no dessert and it was $80 US. Sorry I can't give more recs...I didn't get to try too many places!;
Oh, and be prepared for interesting combos...for instance, every breakfast I got came with a tossed salad. Coffee was fantastic everywhere.
Tom Sietsema: This detailed missive arrived last week:
I'm a loyal reader of your chats, but couldn't make last Wednesday, so I read it on Thursday. I saw the question about Reykjavik restaurants and since I just got back from Reykjavik where I celebrated my 30th bday, I thought I would share some restaurant recommendations for the other chatter. Maybe you can post the recommendations at the beginning of the next chat?
I believe the chatter was interested in restaurants where two can dine for under $100. First, a word of caution, those restaurants are rare. Everyone says Iceland is expensive once you get there, and its completely true! We ate most of our meals at the moderate restaurants (moderate being about $40/person) so we'd have more money to spend on daytrips (and splurging on art - there are a lot of great local artists and galleries there).
My two favorite meals were at Vegamot (Vegamotastigur 4), where we had an excellent pasta with lobster and blue cheese and wonderful lamb stew, and Pasta Basta (Klapparstigur 38), an Italian restaurant. Both the pasta with lobster and the lamb stew are common Icelandic dishes that you can find in many places.
Iceland had wonderful lamb, very tender, and you can typically find the lamb stew most everywhere - even at the cafeteria type places you stop at for lunch on day trips. You also have to try the hot dogs sold by street carts - they're made of lamb and come with a honey mustard - yum! Kaffi Brennslan (Posthusstraeti 9) is also a good bet for sandwiches and light meals.
All of these restaurants are near the intersection with Laugavegur, the main street through town. Of the three brands of Icelandic beer, Viking is the best. And I recommend that you stay away from the brennivin (caraway flavored schnapps) - its typically used as a chaser after eating hakarl (putrified shark meat) if that gives you an idea. And on your way back to the US, stop in the duty free store and get a bottle of Kvoldsol, and Icelandic wine made of crowberries and blueberries (they can't grow grapes there!). And finally, the meals served on Icelandair are some of the best airplane meals I've had.
Sorry for the long email...feel free to edit as necessary if you decide to post! As you can tell, I absolutely loved Iceland and think its a must-visit type of place!
Dakar, Senegal (West Africa):
I noticed you write regularly on restaurants for both the Village Voice in NYC and the Washington Post. Where do you live?
Tom Sietsema: Actually, you are confusing me with Robert Sietsema (no relation, believe it or not), the food critic for the Village Voice.
Thanks for posting my question last week, but since there were no takers I'm trying again (I have a few weeks to go). Business trip to Ottawa in mid-May -- Sunday night through Wednesday. Will be staying downtown near the ByWard Market and Rideau Center. Suggestions for moderate dining options (the closer, the better)? Any cuisine is fine. Thanks!;
Tom Sietsema: The following response came in after my chat last week:
Years ago I used to travel to Ottawa frequently for work.
Two fun bets for dinner are: Good Morning Vietnam, a tiny dump on Rideau St - has a huge menu, but the owner seems to have only one dish available at a time, but always delicious. And even when asking for water, he'd say "No water. Beer." We loved it.
Also loved Domus - esp for breakfast. Still miss it after all these years. In the best part of the city (OK, the only good part of Ottawa), Byward Market. Restaurant is next to - and part of - a kitchenwares store - a great combo.
Cleveland Park, Washington, D.C.:
Stumbled, literally, across Hearth in NYC after it was open one month. Ate in front of the kitchen with the original Chef serving - and it (food + 'experience') was fabulous! Don't know if it's in the top ten, but seeing your list (without Hearth) reminded me that it's absolutely worth going back to.
Tom Sietsema: I like Hearth, but I don't love it. The restaurant has plenty of fans, though.
Downtown, Washington, D.C.:
Dear Tom, I wanted to revisit an issue that comes up in this forum from time to time. It is understandable that guests do not understand why they can not always be seated immediately without reservations, or early for their reservations, when they see open tables in a dining room. What they do not realize however is the importance of a measured and even seating or "flow" has on a successful dining experience. Seating a certain percentage of the dining room at a time (even a few as 10 minutes apart) allows everyone from the server to the kitchen staff to work as productively and efficiently as possible. In short the difference between "polished" and "harried".
Also, we in the restaurants consider a reservation a commitment. An agreement made to provide a table at the agreed upon time. When someone without a reservation is asked to wait, it is most often to honor that commitment. If by chance the waiting party is then seated at the table they observed standing empty, more than likely the party holding the reservation "no showed" or failed to cancel their reservation. The irony is of course that the restaurant ends up looking like the bad guy because they were trying to do the right thing and keep their word.
A wise veteran of the "business" once said the key to being a successful floor manager is to alway remember that for the guests, perception is reality. My hope is that this helps people understand that when it comes to running a restaurant, there is usually a lot more to the scenario that meets the eye.
Thank you for posting this.
Tom Sietsema: Thanks for enlightening us today.
On the flip side, there ARE restaurants that intentionally over-book, under the assumption that there will be X number of people who don't show up for their reservations and don't bother cancelling. Problems arise, of course, when everyone who has made a reservation DOES show up. This happened recently at a restaurant I reviewed favorably, with disastrous results for the restaurant.
Tom - I'm working from home these days and thankfully not punching the clock. I now have the chance to take 2 hour lunches and thought this would be a great opportunity to sample different restaurants around DC. Can you suggest restaurants that will give me a good taste for their dinner menu but at a lunch price? Dupont, Adams Morgan, Woodley, U Street, downtown (K St) areas would work.
Tom Sietsema: Le Paradou in Penn Quarter leaps to mind.
I know you'll get a million variations of this question today so it doesn't matter if you answer mine or someone else's (oh, who am I kidding - yes it does; pick me!; pick me!;) but where do you recommend to sit outside after work and enjoy a good cocktail and an interesting appetizer or two? Downtown, upper NW or MD, please. Does Palena have outside seating?
Tom Sietsema: Palena has a few tables outside but they're within a baguette's toss of a gas station.
You might try Ten Penh, 701, Les Halles, Straits of Malaysia, the aforementioned Perry's, Addie's in Rockville, Black's in Bethesda or the new branch of Hollywood East Cafe in Wheaton.
There are eight of us going to the Mike Tyson
fight on Saturday June 11th at the MCI center. What are some of your suggestions to go to eat dinner before the fight in the area surrounding the MCI center. I am trying
Zola. Do not know much about this place.
Thanks David B
Tom Sietsema: Zola is a good choice. So are Jaleo, Andale, Zaytinya, Poste and Cafe Atlantico.
I have somewhat of an etiquette question for you. If there a minimum amount of money you will leave for a tip?
If you are dining in a restaurant that is relatively inexpensive (say, for lunch) and the total comes to a very small amount, do you automatically leave, say , $3, even though the total was $7? I ask because I always do this, but some friends think it's silly to leave way over 20%. I say it's fine because the staff still serves me, no matter if it's eggs or steak.
What do you think?
Tom Sietsema: Gosh, it really depends on the restaurant. Tipping $3 on a $7 lunch seems excessive, though. (I'd probably tip $1.50) You must have been a server in another life.
I'm going up to Philly next week. Any suggestions? Where's the best cheesesteak? The best Italian?
Tom Sietsema: Can you wait? I'm visiting Philly this weekend.
As long as its fresh, isn't lobster really just lobster?
Tom Sietsema: Uh, yes.
Tom Sietsema: So sorry, gang, but we are experiencing technical difficulties right now. No power in our offices in Arlington, I'm told.
So ... I'll see you here next week.