Ask Tom

Tom Sietsema
Washington Post Food Critic
Wednesday, May 18, 2005; 11:00 AM

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.

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washingtonpost.com: The link to Tom's Postcards .

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Washington, D.C.: Tom, have you ever tried Filomena? I've heard from a friend that it's the best Italian place in the area, so I was surprised to see the review in the Post is not by you. Can you recommend it or discourage us from going? We have a reservation there tomorrow night. Thanks!;

Tom Sietsema: I have been to Filomena -- and it is most definitely NOT one of Washington's best Italian restaurants. The place is overdressed and touristy, with food to match that image.

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Green DC: Hi Tom,

When and where was the last time you ordered a vegetarian meal? How was is?

Thanks!;

Tom Sietsema: Sunday, May 1. If I told you what I ate, however, you'd probably know where I was, and THAT shall remain a secret -- for now.

Good morning, all.

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Arlington, VA: Hi Tom,

I'm trying to find your recent article on omakase at the 3 Japanese restaurants but can't seem to track it down. The reviews listed for the 3 restaurants are all very old.

Can you or your trusty producer find a link to the article?

Thanks

washingtonpost.com: Here you are.

Tom Sietsema: Enjoy. I did.

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Charleston, SC: Morning Tom!; I'm off to Charleston, SC next weekend and need restaurant advice!; Have you been and can recommend anywhere? I'm looking for somewhere not to miss that would give me some good southern food (entrees anywhere from say $20-$40 okay). Also if anyone knows any cheap eats not to miss either that would be great. Thanks for all your great work!;!;

Tom Sietsema: The one place you HAVE to visit is Hominey Grill. Check out my earlier Postcard for more ideas.

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Bethesda, MD: What's the word on the Tabard Inn?

Tom Sietsema: I like it, especially now that the back patio is open. The food continues to be fresh and interesting, if a tad pricey given the slightly worn-looking interior.

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Petworth, DC: Hi Tom!; I am about to head into a meeting, but am a bit desperate for some advice. Friends will be visiting next week with their newborn and we're looking for a place to have a nice, weeknight dinner but that is also baby-friendly (please don't say 2 Amys, we always feel so rushed there) and downtownish. Any kind of food will work - I've been thinking an early table at Zaytinya could work. Any other ideas from you would be greatly appreciated!;

Tom Sietsema: Zaytinya is a fine choice -- plus, it offers patio seating! You might also consider the patio at the Oval Room, which just launched a new bar menu: 14 small plates and wines to match.

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Manassas: Hi Tom. Thought I'd report on our visit to the Inn at Little Washington two weeks ago. It has taken me a while to process the experience to put it into words. First off, the service was inspirational. Flawless in fact. But what is the deal with the food and the dining space. While precious, the food lacked the punch and verve that one would expect from such a price tag. The funny thing is my husband swears the menu was almost identical to the last time we were there three years earlier. Could that be? That brings me to the dining room. Could you cram more tables in a space? I don't believe you can!; Literally could have a conversation with our neighbors and not speak above a whisper. Oh well. We have done it twice... On a brighter note, we tried to get into Four and Twenty Blackbirds but they were booked up so we were able to go to their neighbors the Public House and had a fabulous meal on their deck overlooking the garden. Wow, what a weekend maker. We figured we could eat 8 times at either Four and Twenty Blackbirds or the Public House for the same money as the Inn at Little Washington. Sorry to ramble. Have a great day!;

Tom Sietsema: Thanks for the feedback.

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If not Filomena...: What about Odeon for casual Italian? I can't afford to go to Galileo very often, and am not looking for more than good basic Italian food that I can afford on a regular basis.

Tom Sietsema: No, no, no. Try instead Etrusco, Al Tiramisu or even Sesto Senso.

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Young and Broke, Washington DC: Tom, (love your chats, I know you hear that often).

I am young and don't have tons of $$$ but would like to go out tonight with a "friend" and spend no more than $85. Thoughts? The cuisine really doesn't matter more so the surroundings.

Tom Sietsema: Thanks.

You can get in and out of the colorful Spices in Cleveland Park, the tapas bar at the grandly formal Taberna del Alabardero downtown or the handsome Thai Regent in Dupont Circle for that amount.

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Arlington, VA: Tom, what is the dining etiquette when the bill has a tip line and then another line marked "additional tip"? I had never seen that before my delicious meal at Oyamel.

Tom Sietsema: I must have missed that when I dined there. If I've already filled in a gratuity, there's no need to do it again.

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Washington, DC: Tom - This is not exactly a dining question, but I'm hoping you can help. I think I would like to become a pastry chef. I love to bake and cook but have no professional experience. Do you need experience working in a professional kitchen to enter a culinary/pastry arts program? I looked at L'academie de Cuisine in Maryland b/c their program is only 30 weeks and involves an externship. I already have a college and law degree, so a 4 year program is not feasible. I would be making a complete career change, so I'd need to be employed again as soon as possible. Also, I know talking to people in the field would be advised, but I don't know any and I would assume that cold-calling restaurants and asking to talk to their pastry chefs would not yield successful results. Any suggestions for an aspiring pastry chef?

Tom Sietsema: If you're *really* serious, you should talk to those people whose pastry work you admire. Example: Offer to buy them a drink and ask for no more than 30 minutes of their time. Some kitchens are willing to take on people with no experience.

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For Filomena Chatter: What about Sette, it's not expensive or cheesy.

Tom Sietsema: Yep, Sette is better than Filomena and Odeon, too.

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Huh?: Did Taberna del Alabardero slash their prices? Because I can't see dinner for two anywhere near $85 at that place, nice as it is...

Tom Sietsema: I said TAPAS BAR, not the dining room. Dinner in the restaurant goes for about $100 or more a person.

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Washington, D.C.: What do you think Washington is seriously lacking in its dining scene?

Tom Sietsema: After last night's horrible experience, I'd have to say "good service."

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Silver Spring, MD: Your opinion of J. Paul's in G'Town. Thanks in advance.

Tom Sietsema: Meet Market - and critic-proof!

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Washington, DC: Good Morning Tom,

Wine tasters often carry their own spitoons into wineries in order to avoid becoming intoxicated while tasting through a producer's portfolio.

Have you ever thought of doing a similar thing in restaurants to keep your weight in check?

DR

Tom Sietsema: Haven't you seen my little black tote?

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For casual Italian...: ...what about Luigi's?

Tom Sietsema: Yes, but it's more in the red-checkered-table-cloth-and- huge-plates-of-pasta mold than the other, trendier examples.

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Alexandria, VA: Hi Tom, please help!;

Where would you take a respected cookbook author to dinner on a Sunday evening?

Many thanks!;

Tom Sietsema: It depends on who it is. Details, details!

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Re: Tapas Bar: My bad!;

Tom Sietsema: No more sherry for you!

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Washington, DC: Where would you go for good sushi (in DC) in a place that's not going to be too big/loud/crowded?

Tom Sietsema: Kotobuki on MacArthur Boulevard

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Last night???: oooohhhh, care to share more about last night's meal? for our own good of course....:x

Tom Sietsema: You'll read about my trip on the Titanic in god time ...

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Washington, D.C.: Any lunch hour tips for K/L St. interns? Even a coffee shop suggestion would be great!;

Tom Sietsema: Honestly? I dig the burrito cart next to the CVS on 15th and K myself. You can then find yourselves a green patch in the park across the street.

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Bethesda, MD: Rumor has it there's a new steakhouse in Bethesda. Any plans for a review? Any initial feedback from folks?

Tom Sietsema: Simmer down! Simmer down!

Old Homestead, an import from New York, opened only Monday, in the Chevy Chase Bank Building at 7501 Wisconsin Ave.

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Alexandria, VA: Tom, please help!;!; What is Buck's Fishing and Camping? I'm imagining a theme place with moose heads on the walls that talk? Can you please explain what the place is really like and what I can expect? Is this somewhere I can take my foodie husband for his birthday, or is it more cheesey and strange? Thank you!;

Tom Sietsema: Check out my online review. "Cheesy" is not how I'd describe that handsome oasis next to Politics and Prose.

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Laurel, MD: Hi Tom!; Can you recommend a place that serves good eggs Benedict in MD? It seems all the good breakfast/brunch spots are in D.C. Thanks.

Tom Sietsema: Has anyone out there had good eggs benedict in Maryland?

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Fair Lakes, VA: Tom, my husband and I have enjoyed two lunches at 2 Amy's during the past few months. Both times we ordered a bottle of wine that was suggested to us by the waitstaff there. We LOVE this wine and would like to be able to enjoy it at home. Does 2 Amy's have a website? I would like to email them to find out where they get this particular wine from. Thank you. BTW - We agree with you that they have some of the best pizza in the area!; The combinations of toppings are deliciously interesting and the crust is wonderful!;

Tom Sietsema: Why not just ask the manager who his supplier is, and then call the distributor to see if said vino is sold locally in a retail shop?

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"in god time"?: That sounds like it might be a while.

Tom Sietsema: Oops, that should have been GOOD time.

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Washington, D.C.: Short and sweet: Where's the best place to eat in Columbia? Or isn't there such a thing?

Tom Sietsema: I'm still looking for it!

Seriously, Cafe de Paris does a nice job with French fare.

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Alexandria, VA: Best places for steak tartare? It's been taken off of too many menus...

Tom Sietsema: Actually, I see the classic on MORE menus these days. Bistro Francais does a nice version, Charlie Palmer Steak's is more nouvelle ...

Funny aside: At a party last week, a man I met told me he was interested in trying steak tartare for the first time at a new restaurant, but he was surprised when his server didn't ask how he wanted it done ...

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Vienna, VA: Any insight into the new restaurant coming to the old Nectar space? I just saw a ad in the program at the Kennedy Center.

Tom Sietsema: It's gone Italian on us.

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Jackie's in Silver Spring: Went there for dinner on Sunday and was served a literally really hot Shiraz. Come to discover that the "cellar" is a cabinet (not temperature controlled) that backs onto the kitchen (the oven, I think). Yuck. Can you tell them to move that thing and/or maybe get a little EuroCave. Thanks.

Tom Sietsema: "Hey, Jackie, can ya move the wine cabinet?"

There. Done. Let's see if she heard us.

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DC 20011: How about Sorrisso in Cleveland Park for casual Italian?

Tom Sietsema: Run, run, run in the opposite direction!

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re: last week's discussion on rounding checks: Good morning, Tom:

I ate at Straits of Malaya over the weekend and asked the manager (who I later found out was the owner) about the extra 2 cents added to my bill as "Rounding". He chuckled and said that they use the same software for the restaurant checks as the bar - it's software designed for the bar. They can't make it not round. He said that they average less than 40 cents a night from rounding and that spare change is added to the Buddha statue at the front door.

I guess it's not a "new phenom" but rather a quirk from a small neighborhood restaurant.

.

Tom Sietsema: Thank for investigating the matter for us.

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Additional tip: I'm just guessing here, but I will bet the "additional tip" line is used for people in large parties who have an automatic 18% gratuity added to their check but want to add more for great service.

Tom Sietsema: Could be!

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Washington, D.C.:

Tom, you need to start paying for some of your own meals to get you back to reality. A poster asks for "good basic Italian food that I can afford on a regular basis" and you send him/her to Etrusco and Al Tiramisu? I do not know a single soul who could afford to go to either of those places on a regular basis. Or who would call them "basic" for that matter. Please keep in mind that not everyone's meals are expensed.

Tom Sietsema: I must have misread the post. Etrusco and Al Tiramisu are more than "basic," I agree. But you can dine at each place somewhat affordably if you sidestep the obvious luxuries, like veal chops and Dover sole. I think the entree avg at Al Tiramisu is $17 for very high-quality cooking.

You raise an interesting point, though. I'm curious what everyone thinks is a cheap meal for two for dinner and what's considered expensive?

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Upper NW: For the person looking for steak tartare - Bistro Bis' is delicious

Tom Sietsema: Oui!

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Re: Becoming a Pastry chef: There are so many ways to skin the cat here. You could call around to the restaurants and ask if they have any openings...or...what I, and most people in the field, would advise is that you call up a pastry chef you admire and ask to trail them for a couple shifts. Note that it is w/o compensation, but most places graciously accept anyone with an interest/passion for the field, and it's free for them. Plus you get a taste of what a kitchen is like and see if it is what you want. You can even do this without quitting your current job.

There are many options for school too. I am currently a work study student at the Institute for Culinary Education in NYC. After I complete my work study, I will be able to enroll in the program, free of charge. It's what drew me to this program and away from my gov't job in DC.

Best of Luck!;

Tom Sietsema: Thanks for taking the time to offer even better advice.

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NoVa: Just curious... when you're having a bad day, what's your quick fix?

Tom Sietsema: You mean food-wise?

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Arlington: Hi Tom, What is the best Indian food restaurant in Arlington?

Tom Sietsema: Probably Delhi Club, right near the Clarendon Metro

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Washington, DC: Good Morning,

Hubby and I went to Ben's Chili Bowl on Friday night to eat their world famous chili hamburgers and chili hotdogs. We were extremely disappointed. We have been customers at this wonderful restaurant for years and the food was awful. Can someone let me know what is going on?

Tom Sietsema: I know of no major changes to Ben's, but frankly, I've always appreciated the eatery more for its place in the community, and its history, than for its cooking.

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Washington, DC: I've just recently moved to the Chinatown area and was wondering which, of the seemingly millions, of Chinese restaurants should I visit and which should I avoid?

Tom Sietsema: Full Kee and Eat First have been pretty reliable in the past, but I haven't dropped by either restaurant in at least six months. A lot of restaurant types gravitate to The New Big Wong (it's been "New" for ages now!) after they leave their own kitchens, but I think they either know the owners or know how best to order (mostly fresh seafood). My daytime explorations there have been less than stellar. Plus, the place looks like it needs a good wash!

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Alexandria, VA: Good morning, Tom!; I lived in Philly prior to moving down here, and I wanted to add a few things to your list in Philly: Tangerine (modern Moroccan), Fork (awesome, upscale American), and Mexican Post (cheap margarita pitchers and a good time). I like Budakhan also, but it was kind of predictable to go there; these others (well, the first two at least) definitely hold up against B-khan. Thanks for letting me add my 2 cents!; Oh, and can't forget Frank's (best cheesesteaks) north on 611!;

Tom Sietsema: Sounds like I need to return for another taste of Philly! Thanks for the recommendations.

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Falls Church, VA: Etiquette question for you- I was delighted to read that 2941 will offer outdoor dining. That is the type of restaurant that I would normally get a babysitter for and enjoy with only adult companions. But the outdoor area/menu sounds much more casual- could I bring my well behaved toddler there if we dined early- 5-5:30?

Tom Sietsema: Absolutely! 2941 offers one of the prettiest outdoor dining experiences around. Just make sure you visit on a day that looks sunny, and you and your charge should be fine.

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Carrots and (Sticks? - Bamboo?): Tom-

Please extend my thanks to the chatter last week who recommended Teaism for a private event. I wasn't the last minute bridal shower, but I was in a similar bind. Dresden at Teaism took really great care of me on short notice, the cost was totally reasonable, the food was amazing and my ladies had a great time. If anyone else is looking for a semi-private table and great food, go there, but make sure to ask for the platform area downstairs.

But now a question/complaint. I had made reservations for dinner that night at SeaCatch, and had had them for several weeks. When a last minute out of towner came along, I called Saturday around noon to try and extend my reservation from 6 people to 7. The answer was a resounding no. While I was taken aback at their inability to squeeze one more of us in, I am willing to have someone knowledgeable tell me I am wrong. What I was more disturbed by was the staffs' belligerence. They were abrupt, dismissive and completely unwilling to help. Needless to say, I will not attempt to return. On the upside, the rain that same night kept so many people in, we were able to score a table at the bistro at Restaurant Eve. So minus a little stress, we totally won out on that one in the end!;

Bon Appetit!;

Tom Sietsema: Wait, Sea Catch couldn't accommodate an extra mouth, but SEVEN of you managed to score a seat at the still-hot Restaurant Eve!? Amazing luck there.

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Brooklyn, New York: Hi Tom-

My friend recently ordered TAKE-OUT from Nobu Next Door, much to his surprise, he was charged a 10% "processing fee". Don't you find this outrageous? Is this a new trend for take-out? Thanks.

Tom Sietsema: That's a new one to me, though I must admit, I don't do much carry-out. Has anyone else had a "processing fee" tacked on to such orders?

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Arlington, VA--A Question of Refills: Hi Tom:

My boyfriend and I recently had dinner at the Boulevard Woodgrill in Clarendon, VA. We were in the mood for plain old American fare. We both had sandwiches and fries. The boyfriend ordered a beer, I got a Diet Coke. Now Tom, I realize that we weren't eating at the Inn at Little Washington or Restaurant Eve, but I was truly surprised at the overall lack of service from our (supposed) waitress.

Although my Diet Coke was practically empty (save for a miniscule amount of watery soda due to ice melt), she NEVER offered to give me a refill, not ONCE. She NEVER checked in on us so I couldn't even ask for a refill. On several occasions we tried to flag her down but we were patently and blatantly ignored with each attempt (the restaurant was not busy). When we were ready for the check we FINALLY got her attention (She must have had a "Duh-I-think-I'm-supposed-to-be-like-I-dunno-working-maybe?" moment) and she brought us our bill.

I asked her why she was so hard to flag down, why she ignored our attempts to flag her down, and why she never bothered to refill my Diet Coke. She ignored the first two questions and told me that she never refills a drink unless the glass is COMPLETELY empty. For a second, I thought that Ashton Kutcher was going to pop out from behind a potted plant and tell me that I had just been punk'd. Since I am neither famous nor infamous and since Ashton Kutcher couldn't give a flying fig about my refill woes, I snapped back to reality quite quickly.

I asked the waitress if she was serious. She said yes. She told me that it was restaurant policy not to refill a soda unless the customer's glass was completely empty (a Boulevard Woodgrill manager who I spoke to after our meal said this wasn't true) Hmmmmm. I told her that the idea of not refilling someone's soda until the individual had emptied his/her glass probably had to be the dumbest thing I had ever heard a waitress say. She told me that she didn't like disturbing customers by constantly bothering them with queries. I told her that it would never be a bother for a waitress to check in on a table even ONCE during a meal (which she never did). She continued to insist that it is not her policy to ask customers if they want anything during a meal.

Tom, I am a 25 year old law student. Although I have never waited tables, I have DOZENS of friends who have waited tables in the past or still wait tables today. Although I am personally on a tight budget, I am a big, BIG tipper because I know how frustrating waiting tables can be. Tom, we tipped the girl. I am not out to be stingy. But I am writing because waiters and waitresses who might be reading this need to know that not offering to refill a soda even ONCE during a meal, is, for me, a big reason NOT to give a waiter/waitress my usual 20-30% tip (believe me, we didn't tip her anywhere near 20%).

I can understand not automatically refilling an alcoholic beverage because of the liability involved. But Diet Coke? For crying out loud!; A customer shouldn't have to wait until their soda has morphed into an unpalatable mixture of soda and melted ice before receiving a refill. In addition, once the customer has voiced the complaint, it is incredibly unprofessional for a waitress to INSIST that he or she was doing the right thing, despite the customer's protests otherwise.

Tom, we didn't make a scene or raise our voices because I didn't want to embarrass this green waitress or make other patrons feel uncomfortable. We even talked to a restaurant manager before we left and told him that we enjoyed our food (despite our general lack of service). But the experience with the waitress? Sheeeeesh!;

Tom Sietsema: I hope your missive gets passed around at restaurant staff meetings everywhere today. Your server sounds a lot like the ENTIRE STAFF of a restaurant that I'm in the process of reviewing: clueless. Asking diners if they're content or need anything is hardly intrusive.

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Annandale, VA: Since apparently "omakase" doesn't appear on the menu, how do you order it? What was the price of the omakase meals that you had at each of the three restaurants? Inquiring minds want to know!;!;!;

Tom Sietsema: Uh, did you READ the review? Prices are listed therein.

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Tokyo, Japan: I enjoy your columns very much and look forward to returning home (some day) and dining out according to your suggestions (Makoto is first on the list).

Any suggestions for Tokyo? The food here truly is wonderful and I agree with Anthony Bourdain who said "no cuisine, broadly speaking, makes as much sense: the simplest, cleanest, freshest elements of gustatory pleasure, stripped down and refined to their most essential." For that reason I am always looking for new places to try. Thanks in advance.

Tom Sietsema: Sorry, I've never been to Tokyo. But aren't YOU in a better position to tell US where to eat over there? ;)

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Washington dc:

Hi Tom. I am helping a friend plan a surprise party for his wife and we are hoping you will be able to help with location! We are looking for a place in either DC or NoVa to hold a cocktail party for about 30ish people. Looking for something somewhat hip that won't break the bank. Would prefer an early evening on a Saturday night if we can find a place with a room to reserve. Hoping for good hors d'oeuvres and wine. As an example of ideas that we are considering: Firefly (room too small?) and Zola (a tad pricey). Thanks in advance...

Tom Sietsema: What about the roof at either Perry's or Straits of Malaysia? That would be different. Or the bar at Circle Bistro?

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Re: the person that wants you to start paying for your meals: We can all go to TGIFridays and do our own review, but we rely on you to test the 15-$$$$ dollar restaurants so that we can make the most of our "big nights out." Keep doing what you are doing.

Thanks,

Tom Sietsema: I plan to (and thanks for the show of support).

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Cheap vs. expensive: I think dinner for two with a few drinks or a bottle of wine would be considered "cheap" at around $50 and start to get expensive at around $200. My husband and I expect a $100 check when we go out every two weeks or so. That's the price range we are most interested in.

For what it's worth.

Tom Sietsema: Interesting.

In Washington proper, I think it's a challenge for two diners -- people who drink, eat at least two courses and who tip 15-20 percent -- to get out of a "good" restaurant for less than $100.

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Anonymous: so if you allow us the opportunity to mention the names of restaurants for good and bad experiences, why do you not do the same, such as your earlier comment on the 'bad service' last night, or the restaurant owner who tells everyone who you are to his/her staff or even guests. let us know tom, we need to know, we want to know, its our destiny as readers of your column.

Tom Sietsema: I often DO mention the names of places where I've encountered bad service, but in this case, I don't want to scoop myself. You'll be reading about it all shortly ....

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Washington, DC: If you're suggesting burritos for the K St./L St. intern, don't forget the Well Dressed Burrito!; They crank out some tasty eats, Tom.

Tom Sietsema: Indeed they do.

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Washington, DC: Hi Tom - I am New York naive but going up soon for a Broadway show. What's good in that area that won't break the bank? No sushi but everything else is game. Thanks!;

Tom Sietsema: Check out my recent round-up of restaurant reviews, from the April 17 Travel section.

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"Opera AKA Kuna": What's going on there? We read your review before deciding to give the new incarnation a try last week. I was particularly interested in the steak tartare. Wasn't on the menu. You said that you never saw pasta-well that's almost all there was. It wasn't that crowded and the waitress couldn't keep any of our order straight. But the drinks were yummy!;!;!;

Tom Sietsema: Hmmm. Rumor has it that Opera has returned to its Italian roots, but I have yet to verify that myself.

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Anonymous: Hi Tom,

I'd love your opinion on something that happened to my husband and I while having dinner last Saturday night. I am 8 months pregnant and it's quite obvious. My husband ordered a beer and I ordered a non-alcoholic beer with our dinner, which the waiter brought in the bottles and poured into beer glasses. The waiter took the bottles away. A couple was then seated next to us (the tables were close as they are in what seems to be all restaurants these days). The woman noticed my "beer" and began staring at me pointedly and making rude noises. I finally looked over at her and she mouthed "I can't believe you are drinking that. Shame on you". I was flabbergasted. Her husband started shaking his head at me. I tried to ignore this ignorant couple, but they literally stared and commented at me for a good 5 minutes. My husband turned to them and stated that it wasn't any of their business what I was drinking and to please mind their own business. This just increased the level of the comments/stares. I asked our waiter if he could reseat either us or them - he said that was not an option, as the restaurant was full. I asked to speak to the manager and he said he "could not control guest behavior" and would not ask them to refrain, nor would he move us.

Tom, what should have been a relaxing evening out was absolutely ruined for us. I wanted to just pay and get out of there but didn't want to give these idiots the satisfaction. My question to you is should the restaurant have handled it differently? Do they have an obligation to make sure all of their guests are happy? I will certainly not be returning there after what I felt was an outright dismissal of my feelings and comfort.

Thank you for your response, have a nice day!;

Tom Sietsema: How unfortunate!

I'm not sure what the staff should have said to the boorish couple -- "Please, mind your own business" just doesn't sound very diplomatic -- but they did have an obligation to see to your comfort. If they couldn't move you, they should have offered to comp part or all of your meal, since your night out was, as you say, ruined.

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Columbia, MD: Ohh, how could I forget Noodles Corner and Trattoria Enrico? Or for burritos Frico Burritos? Or the Iron Gate Wine Bar?

But still no late night dining around here for the bowlers.

Tom Sietsema: You're making me hungry.

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Kingstowne, VA: Just an amusing thought we had this weekend on wait staff checking in on diners:

At the classy places (Inn at Little Washington, Oceanaire, Boar's Head Inn), the wait staff asks if there is something more they can do for you.

At the run-of-the-mill places (Outback, etc.), they ask "Is everything OK?"

It occurred to us that there is a reason why the classy places' wait staff is so confident that everything is "OK" that they don't need to ask that inane question.

Tom Sietsema: Aha!

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Re: Restaurant bills: As a under paid gov't worker dating an under paid non-profit employee: (average high for two, w/out alcoholic drinks, appetizers or desert)

Fast food: $15

Dine-in weekday dinner: $30

Nice weekend dinner: $50

Special occasion: $100

I enjoy your reviews, but you see why I can rarely take your advice.

Tom Sietsema: Hey, no fair! I *DO* write about places the two of you can afford. A couple tricks for staying in budget: go easy on the vino, split an appetizer, forgo the designer water -- and move on to ice cream somewhere else come dessert.

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Alexandria, VA: Hi Tom!;

I have Friday off and I want to go to a fantastic restaurant in the city whose dinner menu I can't afford. What do you recommend?

Tom Sietsema: If you haven't been, try Le Paradou in Penn Quarter, which has a fixed price menu.

Off I go, kids. See you next Wednesday.

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