Squeezing lemons, and tight squeezes: Readers on water service and table hogs

(Edwin Fotheringham)
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By Tom Sietsema
Sunday, August 22, 2010

A periodic peek at the Post food critic's e-mail, voice mail and inbox

After a reader complained in a recent online food chat about the lack of highchairs at Rasika, the posh Indian restaurant in Penn Quarter, I heard from Paula Raymond-Trafton of Burke. "I have small children who no longer need highchairs," she writes, "but when we travel, I ask restaurants if they have highchairs. It's an excellent way to find out if they're child-friendly. The lack of equipment is a hint, and quite a reasonable one."

I tested her idea by calling some of the most formal restaurants in the area. Sure enough, CityZen and Makoto don't stock highchairs. (Marcel's has them, but they're available only for private functions.) To my surprise, however, Michel Richard Citronelle, Plume, the Prime Rib, 1789 and 2941 keep highchairs. The news might not be music to the ears of diners who want to get away from tiny customers, but it says something about restaurants wooing a future generation of epicures.

"Now that the Commonwealth of Virginia permits unconcealed as well as concealed weapons in establishments serving alcohol, I find myself unwilling to patronize any establishment where guns may be present," writes Catherine Mitchell of Alexandria. "I am terrified by people carrying guns and would certainly not be able to enjoy a meal or cocktail in a restaurant where guns may be present." Her pitch: "I very much appreciate the 'noise level' ratings you now include in your reviews; I am requesting that you also include 'gun' warnings."

It's an interesting suggestion, but because the issue isn't universal, I don't think it warrants flagging in the sidebar alongside my review. What I would advise: Like any other diner with a special need or concern, Mitchell should check with a restaurant ahead of visiting. The new law doesn't prevent restaurateurs or bar owners from banning guns on their premises, and they can post signs forbidding them, according to the Virginia attorney general's office.

"Since Les Halles and La Rue 123 have closed, and short of a trip to France, can you recommend a local restaurant that serves the traditional escargots?" asks Clifton reader Lisa Cunningham. She's looking for snails baked using "the traditional recipe with butter, garlic and maybe some parsley. Too many restaurants add other ingredients and ruin the dish."

Cunningham and other like-minded purists will be glad to know that all of the following establishments do it her way: Bistro d'Oc (202-393-5444) in downtown Washington, Bistro L'Hermitage (703-499-9550) in Woodbridge, La Chaumiere (202-338-1784) in Georgetown, L'Auberge Chez Fran?ois (703-759-3800) in Great Falls and Praline (301-229-8180) in Bethesda.

"I go to plenty of places to eat, and most everywhere I go, the server usually brings a glass of water with a lemon slice on the rim when I sit down," writes Ron Zellar of Glenn Dale. "When I'm at a grill or a bar, I don't have any trouble grabbing the lemon slice, wringing it to within an inch of its existence and draining the juices into my water. However, when I'm at a nice restaurant, the kind with cloth napkins and the two forks by the plate, I feel a bit reluctant to manhandle my food." Zellar asks: "What do you do, Tom? Do you eschew the lemon altogether? Do you have a well-practiced fork technique? Or do you just dive in, whole hog, lemon juice flying?"

If given a choice, I opt for a wedge of citrus rather than a slice, and I cup my hand around the wedge when I squeeze it to avoid spritzing my guests or the table. Then I deposit the rind on my bread plate. Slices, as Zellar notes, are somewhat trickier. I typically retrieve them with my fingers or a fork and give them a short twist just above the glass. (Regardless of the form of the garnish, thoughtful restaurants know to remove the bitter seeds from the lemon before serving it.)

Yet another reminder that the early bird gets the worm: "I was blessed with a very large gift certificate to Inox. Sadly, I just discovered that the restaurant closed before I had the opportunity to use it," e-mails a reader who asked for anonymity so as not to disappoint the generous gift-giver, described as a follower of this column. "Do you have any advice? Or am I just out of luck?"

There's no way to bring the luxury dining room, which closed in May, back to life, but Jon Mathieson, chef and co-owner of the McLean restaurant, held out a sliver of hope when he told me that "if and when I do open a place in the area, I'll honor the gift certificate."

Dozens of readers responded to a recent "Ask Tom" column in which a customer at Panera in Timonium complained about the chain's policy of not asking people who aren't eating to vacate tables. (The offender in question was working on a laptop during a busy lunch.)

Lauren Ruby of Silver Spring writes: "I think Panera needs to resolve its identity crisis. Is it a restaurant, coffeehouse, study hall, computer lab, public meeting place or --?" She thinks the eatery should consider charging "laptoppers a small fee after they exceed a free half-hour of WiFi access" or "reconfigure its restaurants so that there are smaller, individual seats with WiFi connectivity and booths and tables without it."

The funniest story about someone camping out at a Panera was sent in by Art Taylor of Burke, who witnessed the following with his wife, Tara Laskowski: "At Panera in Fairfax one day -- during a busy lunchtime -- the woman beside us had commandeered a four-top for herself, her computer, her paperwork and a large rolling suitcase that blocked the area between her table and ours. (She didn't offer to move it as I tried to maneuver into our seat.) She was neither eating nor drinking anything from Panera, merely conducting phone calls and e-mails for her business as a wedding photographer. Soon after we sat down, she motioned to the busy barista to come over (she was seated right by the counter) and asked him to please plug in her laptop behind the counter, since her battery was running down, and spent several minutes trying to get the cord to reach properly! But the real kicker? Halfway through our meal she dug into the rolling suitcase and pulled out her lunch: a sandwich she'd made at home."

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