Hot Plates and Other Gripes

By Tom Sietsema
Sunday, December 23, 2007

Every Wednesday morning, I log on to find as many as 300 questions or comments waiting for a response on my online food chat.

Besides the fact that I'm a slow typist, some questions require more time or research than I'm immediately able to deliver. And, unlike Santa, who can count on a support team of elves, I'm a one-mouth operation. So there are always dozens of questions and comments left over after the hour-long discussion, not to mention the e-mail that piles up when readers write via Ask Tom.

One way to chip away at the mountain of communication is to devote a column to some of your rants, raves and wonderings. Dig in:

STAN COLLENDER AND HIS WIFE were disappointed to learn, after they arrived for Thanksgiving dinner at 2941 in Falls Church, "that Jonathan Krinn was no longer associated with the restaurant and that his dad, the one who had been doing all the baking of that wonderful bread, had left as well," Stan wrote. The McLean reader asked, "Shouldn't a restaurant like 2941, which is known for the work of its celebrity chef, have some responsibility to its patrons to let them know that the chef is no longer there? Broadway shows, with their celebrities, always let it be known when the star has left or is being replaced. If restaurants trade on the celebrity of their chefs, shouldn't they do the same?"

Mary Alexander, the restaurant's president, responded that 2941 wasn't hiding the news of Krinn's departure in October, or the arrival of interim and permanent chefs (Scott Bryan, late of Veritas in New York, and Bertrand Chemel, formerly of Cafe Boulud in New York). "We tried to get the word out about our chef change in every way via [The Post's online Food Flash], a press release, e-newsletter and even a postcard mailed to 9,000 of our regular customers," she e-mailed me. An olive branch was extended: Alexander invited the Collenders to return to the restaurant as its guests "while Scott is manning the kitchen," with the hope that the couple "will change their minds about the restaurant."

DURING ONE CHAT, a participant asked whether reservations were necessary for the area's hottest speakeasy -- that would be PX in Old Town. Shortly after I signed off, I got an update from its chief mixologist, Todd Thrasher. Reservations for a seat in the swank lounge, which is open from 6 p.m. to 1:30 a.m. Wednesday through Saturday, are now being accepted two weeks to the day of the date you wish to visit; calls to 703-299-8385 are later returned by a PX host. Walk-ins are still welcome, however, at one of eight stools at the bar or one of 10 seats in the "Blue Room."

Gentlemen are required to wear jackets, and hats should be removed upon entry, Thrasher reminded would-be patrons. As in the past, he has whipped up a few cocktails to suit the season. I can't wait to try the "fig tree" -- pureed preserved figs and fig bitters swirled with Spanish brandy.

HARDLY A WEEK GOES BY that I'm not asked by a restaurateur -- or more commonly, a fan or a relative of a restaurateur -- how a place can get reviewed in these pages. Obviously, it helps to be new or to offer something different, but the Magazine's monthly mix of critiques typically highlights restaurants that vary by cooking style, location and price. Few people want to read about Indian buffets or Penn Quarter hot spots four weeks in a row, after all. And at least half a dozen times a year, I like to serve up fresh appraisals of previously reviewed restaurants. As for the logistics, the best way for a restaurant to get my attention is to send me an e-mail (asktom@washpost.com) or letter (1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071) with a brief description of the business and a copy of the menu. None of that guarantees a review, but it does put a business on my radar screen.

CHRISTINE GARDNER REMINDS US that less can be more. The Washington reader was thrilled to find half-glass pours of wine at the new Hudson Restaurant & Lounge in the West End. "I had half a glass of white with my salad and then half a glass of red with my entree -- perfect!" she wrote in an e-mail. "If there are other restaurants offering half glasses," she concluded, "we want to try them." Among the numerous restaurants offering 2.5- to 3-ounce splashes of their wines are the lounge above Bistrot Lepic in Georgetown; in Cleveland Park; EatBar in Arlington; Grapeseed in Bethesda; Iron Bridge Wine Company in Columbia and Warrenton; Sonoma on Capitol Hill; and PS 7's and 701, both in Penn Quarter.

NOTE TO DINERS: " Please be specific about the timing of your meal," a restaurant employee implored during one food forum. "In the instance that a server does not ask you, please make it clear that you are not in a hurry, going to a movie/play/etc., or do or do not have somewhere to be. Servers are in charge of 'reading' your table," the worker went on, "but we are not mind readers! And, if you tell me that you are in a hurry, don't either order your steaks well-done or complain that you are just finishing your [appetizer] when your main course comes out. That might be the only way we can get you out on time."

IT MUST BE THE TORRENT of new Italian dining rooms on the scene that prompted an anonymous chat participant to wonder about the difference among "trattoria," "osteria" and "ristorante." Traditionally, a ristorante was considered more formal than either a trattoria or osteria, terms generally used to describe smaller, homier, budget-friendly establishments. These days, the distinctions have blurred; the food served in a trattoria or osteria can be both stylish and expensive.

FINALLY, HERE'S A PLEA from a parent for waiters to use some common sense when they're serving little patrons: "I've been curious to understand why most restaurants serve orders for children with a warning, 'That plate is very hot,'" wrote Susan Wheeler of Vienna. "This holds true whether the children ordered off a children's menu or off the regular menu. While I understand the need to keep food hot under heat lamps (and assume this is why the plate is very hot), it would make sense to move orders for children onto cooler plates before serving. Have you ever tried to keep a hungry 4-year-old from touching his plate while eating his chicken fingers? It is a nearly impossible task, and we frequently end up with hot fingers."

Her solution: "I usually end up asking for another plate," Wheeler said, which is sometimes brought to her -- hot.

Got a dining question? Send your thoughts, wishes and, yes, even gripes to asktom@washpost.com or to Ask Tom, The Washington Post Magazine, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071. Please include daytime telephone number.

To chat with Tom Sietsema online, go to washingtonpost.com on Wednesdays at 11 a.m.


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