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Tom Sietsema
Washington Post Food Critic
Wednesday, June 29, 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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Re: Flying Fish : Hi Tom-

Didn't get a chance to submit last week, but I wanted to share my experience at the Flying Fish in Old Town. Boyfriend & I hit it with another couple about 6 weeks ago. The experience made us not want to go back. Appetizer (sushi) was so-so. I ordered the swordfish special & was told they were out of it- no problem. So I ordered tuna instead. Meal comes & I get the swordfish- great! I comment to the waitress that they must have found an extra, she insists that it is the tuna. Tuna vs. Swordfish?! (I'm not a fisherman, but even I can pick out the obvious!) After looking a bit closer, the waitress admitted that, oh yeah, it IS swordfish.

Problem was the swordfish was supposed to come w/ some kind of rice pancake & this dish was missing it- only had a few veggies aside it. So I asked for the rice pancake & after waiting about 10 minutes for the waitress to return, was finally told that it would take awhile for the kitchen to make it & would I just like a side of sushi rice? Oh, and also that these things were out of her control, they were the kitchen's problem. (!)

We finally spoke to the manager, who just kind of shrugged his shoulders, said they were a new restaurant, still working out the kinks, etc. He did comp dessert for us, but the whole experience & nonchalant attitude of the staff really closed the book on that place, at least for us.

Just my .02...

Tom Sietsema: Guess I'll cross THAT one off my increasingly long list of places to try

Good morning, everyone. Tons of questions today. 

 But first: Is the tea drinker who had trouble ordering iced tea at 701 in the audience today? The manager of the restaurant would like to make amends. Call Matthew Doherty at 202-393-0701

 Let's roll.

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Washington, D.C.: Hi Tom! Love your chats.

Wanted to know if our area's restaurants are posing a dilemma for diners: a relatively small number of good and excellent spots (sometimes "trendy" for lack of a better word) that are so popular they're hard to go to, compared to a huge number of places that are acceptable and decent, but not desirable.

Do you think we've reached this point, and if so, what do you think it would take to get the restaurants in the second tier to raise their game?

Thanks!

Tom Sietsema: Only when people stop patronizing mediocrity will restaurants snap to attention. If diners suddenly abandoned Lauriol Plaza, Annie's, Banana Cafe, Mie N Yu -- and a host of other sub-par establishments -- maybe those restaurants would shift gears. Maybe.

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Burke, Va.: Hi Tom - Thanks for taking this question. In light of the recent discussion of waiters rounding the change that they give back, do people mind if the check is rounded down? I am a waitron at a place that does not deal in cash that often, so when someone does pay in cash and needs change back, I round the total down to the even dollar regardless of the amount. In other words, whether the check is $50.01 or $50.95, in my mind, it is $50 even and I give the change back in whole dollars. I'm curious as to whether this is upsetting to any of your readers on principle, or if this is acceptable. No one has ever complained to me about it. Your thoughts?

Tom Sietsema: Ah, but plenty of people have complained to ME about the practice! It's just easier, for everyone, if the server returns all the change that is owed the customer. When I was a waiter, we were expected to have a certain amount of change on us to handle cash transactions.

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Arlington, Va.: Tom, is it possible to eat sushi on the cheap around here? I've developed quite the taste for it, but my bank account has other ideas. I'd love to find a place that might be short on atmosphere but does the basics well and does not cost a fortune.

Tom Sietsema: Head to Kotobuki on MacArthur Boulevard, where the sushi is a buck a piece and of fine quality. I last wrote about it in March 2004. A gem.

Tom Sietsema: The Kotobuki review

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Washington, D.C.: If you had a choice for a first year anniversary dinner for a couple that loves well seasoned, good portioned food, would you chose The Prime Rib, The Chart House, or other? By the way, the wife is really into dessert!

Tom Sietsema: I wouldn't recommend either restaurant these days. Give me some more perimeters, and I'll try to help you out. There are lots and lots of places that fall into the Big Food Category.

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San Francisco, Calif: Hi Tom, I just wanted to relate a good restaurant story. I was briefly up in Seattle this weekend on route to and from other points in northern Washington state (I flew in and out of Seattle). I knew that I needed to stop in Seattle for dinner when arriving and leaving, to experience a little of another good food city, and checked your Postcard for recommendations. I ended up at Crow, and the experience couldn't have been better. My flight was late, and I was therefore going to be late for my reservation, so I called them when my flight landed and asked if it would be okay if we were about 30 minutes late.

At this point, I was tired and was of half a mind to just get some drive through something and go, but they were SO nice on the phone that I told my traveling buddies that we had to go there. We ended up being more like an hour late for the reservation (with traffic and a little getting lost), and they still held it for us (we called another time on the way), were so nice when we got there, and the service and food was great. Thumbs up to Crow, and thanks for the recommendations, Tom! We ended up eating at Etta's before our flight out, and it was also good, but not great.

Tom Sietsema: Aren't Seattlites nice?

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Arlington, Va.: Hey Tom,

Thanks so much for your chats! I was lucky enough to win a $50 gift certificate to any of the Great American Restaurants at a raffle a couple weeks ago. Now I just have to decide which to go to! I have a car, so distance is not a problem. Which do you suggest? I've never been to any of them. Thanks!

Tom Sietsema: Carlyle in Shirlington (see today's Weekly Dish) and Artie's in Fairfax continue to be delicious destinations.

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Alexandria: Tom - who has the best crab cake in the region?

Tom Sietsema: That's like asking me to name my favorite restaurant! There are many places that do good crab cakes. Give me 10 more years in the job and maybe I'll be able to pick a number one.

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Haymarket, Va.: I'm looking for some classic Buffalo Chicken Wings...you know, deep fried smothered in a bunch of tangy hot sauce and served with some blue cheese. Do you or any of your readers have any suggestions as to where I can get some authentic wings in the DC area?

Tom Sietsema: I dig the wings (but not the mess) at Urban Barbecue in Rockville. If you like 'em meaty and tangy, these are for you.

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Washington, D.C.: Hi, Tom-- Had a wonderful dinner at Citronelle the other night, but one issue arose that I was hoping you could weigh in on. We went because we received a gift certificate for our anniversary, and so since we had the certificate, we decided to splurge and do the tasting menu. The earliest reservation we could get was 9pm, which we were fine with, because the tasting menu is offered for seatings between 6pm and 9pm. We arrived a bit early for our reservation, but were informed our table was not ready, and invited to sit in the lounge. By the time we were seated, our waiter told us it was too late to order the tasting menu.

The dishes we ended up ordering did not disappoint in the least, but my question is, if we had a reservation that fell into their window for the tasting menu, and were seated later through no fault of out own, should the restaurant have allowed us to order it?

Tom Sietsema: In a word, oui. I mean, you showed up early and the restaurant wasn't prepared to seat you, correct? The burden is on them, then.

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Fairfax, Va.: Hey Tom,

I took my Dallas based friends to Zaytinya this weekend. They wanted to go to a hip place in DC so I thought Zaytinya would be the best choice. I explained to them before we went there that the restaurant serves small plates. When the food came they were agast on how small the plates were. I guess I had not made it clear.

I totally loved the food. They were just counting how man plates they needed to order to fill up. Finally when the bill came they marvelled on how it was not as much as they expected. So I had the final laugh.

But seriously, is the small plates concept not in vogue in other cities? Should I refrain to take my friends from other cities to all these amazing DC restaurants that serve small plates? Thanks.

Tom Sietsema: Are your pals from Texas ranch hands or what?

 Small plates are all the rage, just about everywhere, these days. Personally, I love the chance to graze through a menu without stuffing myself (unless I want to, of course).

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Tysons Corner: Tom, how do you react when a bartender, host, or server refers to you as " Chief" or "Boss" or "My Man"? Meanwhile my wife is being refered to as " Sweetie" or " Darling". Now we are not the type of people who are full of ourselves but there does come a time where a simple sir or ma'am would do.

Tom Sietsema: If I'm in a scruffy bar or a diner in the South, no problem; in a "nice" establishment, it can be irritating if used more than once.

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Foggy Bottom: Tom,

A co-worker wants to go to Bertucci's for lunch. Any way to order an extraordinary meal at this ordinary establishment?

Thanks!

Tom Sietsema: Only if you call in for delivery from another restaurant ...

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Herndon, Va.: Hi Tom,

How are you doing?

Are you a big fan of Japanese cuisine?

Tom Sietsema: Well, thank you

Yes, I am.

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Fairfax, Va.: Is it so that once restaurants receive a positive review from critics that they no longer feel the need to be hospitable? My friend and I recently went for dinner at the Thai restaurant "Sakoontra" in Fairfax. We have dined there prior to the review and found the service and food to be good. It was a busy Friday night and we didn't have reservations, we asked the manager/owner of the restaurant if we could wait at the bar for a table. He gruffly told us that the only table available was a two top that was squeezed in between two other tables that were occupied by large groups. We again politely told him that we would be happy to sit at the bar and have a drink and wait for a table. When we went to the bar, the wait staff was very cordial and greeted us warmly. This, however, seemed to annoy the manager/owner who stormed over to us and demanded what kind of table we wanted. My friend again explained that we knew we didn't have reservations, we didn't mind waiting for a table with a little more room. At this point he began yelling at us that the wait "for you will be 35-50 minutes!" When we asked him if he was upset because we were waiting at the bar, he told us to "Get out-I don't need 'your kind' of business!"

Needless to say, we were baffled. We didn't go in demanding a table, we knew the wait would be long and we were happy to sit at the bar and enjoy a drink. Of course we left the restaurant, but not before my friend told him that he was a pathetic little man with anger issues. We left the restaurant perplexed and embarassed. We truly had no idea what had set him off. It's too bad to because Sakoontra, while it isn't the best Thai restaurant, was a convenient place to get a fairly decent meal. Maybe the guy had a bad night or maybe he really doesn't care if he loses 'our kind' of business. After all we were only two people. I guess he felt the review would bring in people to replace us. I will tell you this, it felt horrible to be treated so small. I hope you take some time from your busy schedule to check this out. This guy needs to know that bad night or not, he can't/shouldn't treat anyone the way he treated us.

Thanks for listening!

Tom Sietsema: Wow. Am I hearing the whole story here? This does not sound like the Sakoontra I've experienced half a dozen times before.

Sounds to me like Mr. Angry was having a bad night, as you suggest.

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Chevy Chase, D.C.: Hi Tom - love the chats, thanks so much!

Here's the situation: My dad and his girlfriend will be visiting from L.A. this weekend.

Dad - will eat anything, but refuses to wait (not even at the Custard Hut on Long Beach Island in August!), so we need a place that takes reservations.

Dad's girlfriend - Pretty picky and likes to eat healthy, L.A. type food.

We - have a one year old. He is very easy going and loves restaurants, but is still one.

So, we need a place with somewhat healthy food, that takes reservations and is appropriate for a well behaved one year old. In the past, we did Chef Geoff's, which was perfect, but would like to try somewhere else. Cost is not really an issue. Please please please help!! Thanks.

Tom Sietsema: What about the outdoor terrace at the modern American-themed 15 ria in Logan Circle, the quick-to-serve-you Meiwah (with locations in both Friendship Heights and the West End) or the Austin Grill in either Penn Quarter or Bethesda?

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Capitol Hill: Re: today's Weekly Dish...BRAVO!!! I am so tired of over-hyped new restaurants turning out bland food and, worse, lousy, unprofessional service. Good for you for telling it like it is, and for putting in a nice plug for Carlyle, a worthy old standby!

Tom Sietsema: You can't say I pull punches!

 That was really an awful experience at Extra Virgin. And what I wrote was just the tip of the iceberg! 

 News flash: I understand that Cesare from Tosca is no longer consulting there, though his name appeared on the restaurant's web site as late as Monday afternoon.

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D.C.: I love trying Indian buffets. Even when they are bad, I feel like I've gotten a food bargain. Any among the many around that you like?

Tom Sietsema: Ever been to the Sunday buffet at Bombay Club downtown? It's pretty regal, but priced for commoners.

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Penn Quarter: I recently started a new job in Penn Quarter, and I want some advice on what you would consider the best places for lunch in the Penn Quarter/Chinatown area. What would be your five suggestions for my "weekly regulars" at under $15 per lunch, plus a couple of occasional lunch splurges in the $20-$25 range

Many thanks, Tom.

Tom Sietsema: For cheap, try Kanlaya for Thai, Teaism for pan-Asian, Matchbox for its delicious mini-burgers.

For a bit more, try Jaleo for tapas, Poste for contemporary American, maybe Ginger Cove for Caribbean.

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Capitol Hill: Tom--Sunday evening my partner and I had dinner at Sonoma near the Capitol. In general, I think it is a good addition to the Capitol Hill dining scene. However, I have to admit that the service, however pleasant, was rather amateurish for a restaurant of its sort. For instance, they offer about a dozen cheeses as an appetizer or dessert.

When we asked about the qualities of some of the cheeses, the server gave us a blank look, stumbled through a few general comments, then offered to bring over a more knowledgable manager. Same thing happened with the wide variety of wines by the glass--she tried, but really didn't know much about them. I saw other tables having similar issues with their servers, who weren't familiar with some of the dishes or their ingredients, or couldn't explain the meats in the charcuterie (another of their specialties).

I can tolerate ignorance at some restaurants, but a place like this, which specializes in wines, cheeses, and custom or local ingredients, it seems that they should do a better job of training their servers to speak with some confidence about what they're serving. I don't expect them to be experts in cheese or wine, but to show some semblance of knowledge or understanding makes for a much more pleasant dining experience.

Tom Sietsema: Sounds like the owners of Sonoma should call a staff meeting and require their staff to sip and sample the wares. How hard is that? It only benefits the restaurant, because INFORMED servers make GOOD salespeople.

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Re: Bertucci's: I am a poor entry-level worker who does her best to save her dining-out dollars to go to locally owned, inventive restaurants instead of chains. However, when trying to catch dinner around the Kennedy Center, I really can't afford anything except Bertucci's. While I can't defend the food (although I like it OK), I must say something nice about the place: the Foggy Bottom location really has excellent service. I've been several times, and the maitre d's are friendly, the servers are knowledgeable and fast, and the manager checks in to see if everyone's enjoying their meal. Would that every restaurant were like that. I can't figure it out--I've been to other Bertucci's with mediocre service, so it's not the chain. Anyway, good on them, and I hope Foggy Bottom enjoys his lunch.

Tom Sietsema: In fairness to the fast food feeder, here's another take on the place.

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NYC for the Summer!: RE: Bertucci's - after 2 years of searching I am convinced that, say what you will about the rest of their cuisine, Bertucci's is the ONLY place in D.C. to get a decent pizza.

Tom Sietsema: I beg to differ!

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Clarendon: Tom, four of us went to Flying Fish last week, looking forward to dinner. The server was clearly under the influence. He brought the wrong drinks, twenty minutes after taking the order. He couldn't list the fresh fish they had that day. He served the wrong fish to the table next to us, then told the woman that the fish he had brought her was Mahi--it was a swordfish steak. We walked out, stopped to discuss with the management and their response was complete indifference. We won't be going back.

Tom Sietsema: Ouch.

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Restaurant week? : Hey Tom,

What's the deal with Restaurant week

 The website listing all of the participants has reverted back to last year's dates and no one listed. Will the website be updated or has the week been postponed again? I'd like to start making reservations, but needed the website to tell me who's taking part.

Tom Sietsema: My producer informs me the site is now updated.

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D.C. - Indian Buffet: For a decent, cheap Indian buffet ($8.95 all you can eat), the Ascot on 17th and L is not bad. They're the people behind the tasty carryout Naan and Beyond. It's not Bombay Club, but for the price its tasty enough.

Tom Sietsema: Thanks for the tip.

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16th Street : For the poster looking for wings - while staffing a convention this week, I was completely addicted to the wings served at the Omni Shoreham's Marquee Bar during their Happy Hour. Not only were they plentiful and delicious, they were free!; OK, you might have to buy an overpriced drink or two..

Tom Sietsema: Don't everyone rush the bar at once tonight!

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Leaving Change: I just want to make one remark about the change thing as a server. Say the bill is $20.60 and the person gives me $40. If I don't have coins, I will give $20 back (a 10, a 5, and five 1s). I have had real cheap-os take all $20. I know that the 40 cents is theirs, but 60 cents is mine (not mine, even, the restaurant's). I've politely stopped people when they leave and asked them for the 60 cents, and one person said to me that it was only a little change. If it's a little change, then why can't they leave 40 extra cents

 The thing is, if you're not going to leave me a tip, can you at least pay your entire bill? If you don't pay it, I do.

And one more note on tipping (I thought of this just now), I don't get all the money you leave me. I give at least a third of it to the bar, busser, manager, etc., so even if I'm a bad server, if you don't leave me at least 6%, then I'm paying other people's wages out of my pocket. If you're going to bother to eat out, then why not make the full monetary committment.

Thanks for the rant. If people can complain about their dining experiences last night, then I'll complain about my serving experiences.

Tom Sietsema: Thanks for a peek behind the curtain there.

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D.C.: My goodness, does anyone have anything GOOD to say about servers in DC; Or all we all a bunch of ignorant drunks? Seriously.

Tom Sietsema: Good service DOES exist!

 The bar tenders at Buck's are first-rate: funny and good with the booze.

I've also had great (table) service at 21P, Grace Bamboo, Oyamel, Occidental and Komi lately.

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Re: Charlie Palmer Steak: <br/>Tom:

I am writing in response to a posting last week from a customer at my restaurant, Charlie Palmer Steak. I had tried to reach this customer several times right after her experience. Since then, I have spoken with her and invited her back to the restaurant to give us another chance, which she seems amenable to doing.

When a guest is dissatisfied for any reason, we try to rectify any issues before the guest leaves. I would ask diners to please remember that restaurants at times do make mistakes, and we appreciate the opportunity to fix the problem at hand. I am glad we had the opportunity to try and make that guests evening better than it began. Yet, even though we tried to fix the issue with the steak, it seems we could not make the situation better to the customers' satisfaction. As a gesture of apology, we offered complimentary desserts. When offering complimentary dishes, we always recite ingredients that include common allergens to ensure that we do not subject our guests to any undo harm. We could have asked the guests in advance what they would like to have had, but sometimes it can be a nice gesture to not interrupt conversations and simply bring out desserts.

We do follow the old saying "the customer is always right." That is why we go to great lengths to make each dinning experience at the restaurant pleasurable. That evening, I am sorry to say we could not make that happen to our guests' satisfaction.

We at Charlie Palmer Steak take every comment and use them as a tool to constantly improve our service and product. I have addressed this with our managers. I also would like to thank the readers for all of the supportive comments last week, we appreciate your time.

Cheers,

Bryan Voltaggio
Executive Chef
Charlie Palmer Steak DC

Tom Sietsema: Thanks for the update, chef.

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Alexandria, Va.: Read your review of Del Merei Grille. Thanks for covering it, although now it might be harder to get a bar seat there!

You mentioned some of Mary's family connections in the local restaurant world. Why did you omit the fact that her parents own a great/reliable neighborhood place just down the road: Monroe's?

Was that intentional? Just curious.

Tom Sietsema: It was most definitely NOT intentional. But I needed to cut to the chase after several longish graphs about how tight the restaurant staff was, and why. It was for ease of reading more than anything else.

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Alexandria, Va.: As a former L.A. diner I found their health code display very helpful. There each restaurant puts up their health grade "A", "B",... so you have an idea of how clean the place is. Any chance of that here and is there a way to look up the health code reports? We always seem to hear the closed reports whereas I would prefer to know about a C grade first.

Tom Sietsema: The grading system is news to me! Do tell.

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Cleveland Park, D.C.: Have you ever (knowingly) gotten food poisoning from dining out&#63; If so, were there any warning signs at the time of the meal&#63;

Tom Sietsema: Bad oysters in Old Town. It happened 20 years ago, but I remember it as if it were yesterday.

First, I thought I was going to die. Then, I just WANTED to die!

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Gaithersburg, Md.: "even if I'm a bad server, if you don't leave me at least 6%, then I'm paying other people's wages out of my pocket."

Um, if you give bad service, you should have to pay out of your pocket!

Tom Sietsema: LOL

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Wings: For Herndon, provided he's not interested in heading downtown or to Rockville for some wingage, King's Bite in Sully is a nice "crummy-but-good' spot that will satisfy the urge.

Tom Sietsema: Mmmmmm. Sounds tasty.

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Washington, DC: Tom, I just had to share this bizzare brunch story.

Went with a group of seven people for brunch at Duke's City, on U Street. It was about 11 a.m., we were literally the only customers. Okay, no problem, we wanted a place where we could sit without a wait.

Service, less than stellar, it took about 40-45 minutes for our food to arrive (still the only customers). One of us spilled coffee, we cleaned it up by ourselves, including going to the bar, asking for more napkins, dropping off the coffee-soaked ones. Also, about 10 minutes passed between the first meal being delivered and the last meal being delivered, Okay, no problem, we were not expecting a fancy meal.

Then the bill comes. With built-in gratuity. Okay, no--wait, no, that IS a problem. She added on a 22% tip! We felt that was a little high--particularly for such poor service. Also, it looked like an error. The bill was actually had an 11% tip, multipled by two.

We asked about it, and her response was, "well, the machine is broken, so it automatically multiplies things by two. So if I put in 18%, it becomes 36%!" We asked her to put in 9%, then, so it would end up as 18%. She then responded, inexplicably, "Well, the dinner entrees are more expensive than the breakfast entrees."

What?!?

Eventually we convinced her to calculate an 18% tip by doubling the 9%, but not without quite a bit of negotiating.

Didn't ruin our morning, by any means, but certainly made me less enthusiastic about a return trip!

Tom Sietsema: Crazy! I'm still doing the math, though ....

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Capitol Hill: Tom--In fairness to Sonoma, I should say that the server said that they had had a training session on the cheeses. But I got the feeling that the training didn't take, or needed to go deeper--when asked about various cheeses, she responded "I don't really remember it," or "it didn't leave a real impression on me." Maybe some role-playing or practice runs would help? But, despite her obvious greenness, we still left a 20% tip.

Tom Sietsema: Okay, let me amend my previous statement: Maybe summer school is in order!

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D.C.: I'm probably in the Ford 500 intended market and have considered it but frankly am afraid to go "Ford" having been in the Toyota family since 1988. Just the name Ford reminds me of growing up in the 70s and seeing neighbors working under the hood all summer long.

Tom Sietsema: Folks, these are some of the "questions" I get on Wednesdays....

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Arlington, Va.: Tom, read the Eekly Dish today and had to chuckle. I've been meaning to write you about my first experience at Extra Virgin. My husband and I were excited to try the new Shirlington restaurant, as we frequent that area often for casual dining (I consider Carlyle pretty casual too because the menu has a broad range of selections). Upon arriving there on the Thursday evening, there were 4-5 open tables outside and probably double that number of open tables inside. I was SHOCKED - every other outdoor table from Guapo's to Cap City to Aladdin, etc was full on our walk down. I figured, there had to be something weird/wrong with Extra Virgin. <br/>Well, we figured it out - selection, price points, and service. I tried to order a glass of chardonnay from the bar and was told they only offer one chardonnay by the glass - for $12 - so I ordered a more reasonable Miller Lite (the wine list shows an $8 option by the glass, but I was told they aren't serving that anymore). The seats were were sitting in at the bar left ample space between our stool and the bar booths behind us, however the entire time were sitting there, servers were carrying trays of food over our heads and making us feel like we were in the way. We examined the menu - there were very few slections and the price points seemed $3-5 high for what I would expect. At those prices, I expect an experience and the only experience I got while we were there was immaturity and chaos. We tried the sausage -stuffed vidalia onion appetizer and found in enjoyable, but the entire experience will not have me rushing back there any time soon. It's a shame - we were looking forward to another option in the neighborhood.

Tom Sietsema: The "Eekly" Dish. That was intentional, yes?

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Arlington: Can you please post the link for Restaurant Week info? I can't find it!

Tom Sietsema: Restaurant Week

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Third time's the charm: Hi Tom, I know you get a lot of questions for your weekly chat and need to be selective. I also assume that you do not know of a good colombian restaurant, otherwise you would have answered my request that I submitted the last two weeks. But I would very much appreciate you at least throwing my question out to the chatters to see if they can help in my quest for good authentic Colombian food in the DC/VA area. Thanks so much!

Tom Sietsema: I'm tossing it out to the (smart and savvy) peanut gallery!

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Alexandria, Va.: Hello, Tom:

My partner of 22 years and I are going to be married while we are in Vancouver next month. Several friends will be there, and we want to have a nice dinner following the ceremony. We all love to dine, and price is no object.

The most recent "Postcard from Tom" from Vancouver is from November, 2002. Do you still recommend Lumiere and Ouest? Are they still you top recommendations for Vancouver? Do your chatters have favorites they would like to share? We just want this to be a very special evening.

Thanks!

Tom Sietsema: Twenty two years? Congrats.<br/><br/> Vancouver is a fabulous food city. And Lumiere would be a perfect spot to celebrate your happy occasion. The service is tops, the food is seasonal and innovative.

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Washington, D.C.: My 12-year-old nephew is coming up to visit. Any suggestions on a fun place to bring kids in the area?

Thanks, very much enjoy your reviews.

Tom Sietsema: How about a hot dog at the Spy Museum's cafe? Or Native American food at the new American Indian museum on the Mall? Or brunch at Colorado Kitchen, with its counter seating and whimsical decor?<br/><br/> Any chatters care to pipe up?

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Roseville, Calif.: My family is planning a trip to the D.C. area in July. We're on a tight budget and would like to know if you could suggest a website or other means of securing dining coupons for the D.C. area. <br/>Thank you!

Tom Sietsema: I know of none. Chatters?

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Alexandria, Va.: Hey Tom...love the chats! I'm posting early as I am not able to participate "live." What would be your suggestion(s) as far as places to eat AND get a good view of the fireworks in the District? Thanks!

Tom Sietsema: The Truman Balcony at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.?<br/><br/> In-room dining in a top-floor suite at the Hay Adams?<br/><br/> Seriously, I'm stumped. Good food and a matching view are pretty hard to come by. Close to you, there's Potomac Landing, but I assume you're looking in the District?

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Falls Church Va.: Hi Tom: <br/>Why do some restaurants adamantly refuse to give seperate checks to each of multiple couples at a single table? How hard can it be?

Tom Sietsema: Can we get a restaurateur to address this problem?

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Re: Summer School: I honestly find it hard to believe that any restaurant in D.C. would allow servers to go on the floor without enough training. It has been my experience that servers spend a few days in the kitchen as prep cooks and running food, a few days behind the bar, and at least a week on the floor shadowing and practicing with more experienced servers. It that not typical? Perhaps some restaurants should take note.

Tom Sietsema: Perhaps they should. (The smart ones do.)

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Silver Spring, Md.: G'day -

China Star has gone a little downhill since their wonderful chef left earlier this year (February?), and a lot of dishes disappeared from the menu. The chef has recently turned up at TemptAsian in Alexandria (near Landmark Mall), and has brought at least some of those dishes with him. Early reports on Chowhound are favorable. Have you tried it yet, or heard anything about TemptAsian? (the name is just awful, but I'm willing to overlook it if the Country Young Chicken has made a reappearance)

Tom Sietsema: Early reports from this hired mouth are also favorable. It's true. The original chef from China Star has relocated to Alexandria. Ignore the silly name and taste for yourself.

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Arlington, Va.: Noted on a credit card receipt from Georgetown's Old Glory: "D.C.'s Mecca for barbecue." Not much of a boast, is it? I wonder what the annual pork rib consumption is in Saudi Arabia.

Tom Sietsema: Funny!

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Southern Md.: Hi Tom,

I enjoyed reading your review about Citrus Cafe. I live in Charles County and just a few weeks ago spotted this restaurant... realizing as you point out that it recently was called The Stable. My friend and I considered stopping in but changed our mind not fully aware of whether it was going to be a good meal or not or how the atmosphere would be. Even though you gave it a single-star - satisfactory rating, it may be worth trying. If I do partake of a meal there, I'll email you with my comments.

Thanks again for getting out of the city and into the country. FYI - a couple of other Charles County restaurants worthy of your review would include Gustavo's & The Crossing at Casey Jones, both in La Plata.

Tom Sietsema: Thanks for your thanks. I expected to get some angry emails ("Why did you way out there? I live in Dupont Circle!") but was pleased to get some nice responses from readers who also live out yur way. <br/><br/> If you know how to navigate the menu, Citrus Cafe can be an enjoyable experience. (Just ask the server not to clean neighboring tables with Windex! )

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Fort Worth, Tex.: I enjoy reading these chats, whether you are grumpy or not, or just perceived to be.

But if we don't happen to live where you write about, where should one go to find restaurants in their city that has accommodations such as privite dining room for a small group, or patio seating? Should I contact the local paper's food critic, or the area restaurant associtation? The small weekend guide doesn't seem to always list these. Thanks for your help.

Tom Sietsema: Good morning, Ft. Worth! <br/><br/> Food editors and restaurant critics get calls all the time from readers seeking this or that. I'd certainly contact your local food writers for suggestions. Keep in mind, though, they are some of the busiest people at their publications and tend to be one-man/one-woman shops. In other words, don't keep them on the phone too long! <br/><br/> I had a woman call me a few weeks ago. "I'm a neighbor of INSERT FAMOUS BYLINE HERE and I thought I'd ask you about where to take some visitors." She proceded to ask all sorts of additional questions -- about patios, prices, food selection, etc. -- and called me back two more times after I gave her, like, five recommendations. <br/><br/> I didn't return her fourth call, needless to say. And if she tells INSERT FAMOUS BYLINE that I wasn't helpful, I'll share MY side of the story. ;)

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Washington, D.C.: Hi Tom, just wondering if you have visited Hanks Oyster Bar on Q Street, between 16th and 17th...it looks so inviting. Also, if you have the time, I would love to hear about good waterfront crab shacks (love a good dive like Quarter Deck, but not crowded like St. Michael's Crab Claw).

Thanks for your work.

Tom Sietsema: My review of Hank's is slated to run July 17. <br/><br/> Have you ever been to Jimmy Cantler's in Annapolis or Stoney's Seafood House on Broomes Island? Both count seats on the water and both are great summer fun.

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Petworth, D.C.: Merkado seems to be getting a lot of buzz, as a counterpoint I would like to relate my recent experience there. After waiting 45 minutes at the bar for what we thought was going to be a meal well worth the wait, we ordered 5 of the small plates which all came at about the same time(everything sounded so good we decided to go with small plates and come back to sample the entrees).

Due to the fact that there is a food runner who took away the mostly uneaten dishes...(1 of 5 was fabulous, the rest dreadful) honestly this was the worst meal I have ever paid for...the server was unaware that we had not enjoyed our food.

So, doing what we all agree about in this chat I politely told the server of the problems with the food. After receiving merely a blank stare decided against continuing. Up to this point the service from all the employees at the restaurant had been stellar.

What is the diner to do at this point? Didn't want anything for free...merely wanted to point out that there were some SERIOUS issues with the food I had just been served and would soon be paying for. Left a 20% tip as the service was not the issue. What else should I have done?

Tom Sietsema: I think I would have mentioned something to the manager on the way out -- and in just the diplomatic way you did here. <br/><br/> Has anyone else been to the newcomer in Logan Circle? I've been four times; my review appears this weekend in the Magazine.

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Bethesda, Md.: Hi Tom, <br/>Have you ever dined at any of Gordon Ramsey's restaurants? Is he really worth all the drama and fame? <br/>Thanks!

Tom Sietsema: Several years ago, I had a memorable lunch at the original GR in London, where I made a reservation in my own name, because ... who's going to know me there, right?<br/><br/> My pal and I sat down and were promptly greeted with two flutes of Champagne. "From one Washingtonian to another," said our captain -- who turned out to be Jarad Slipp, an alumnus of Restaurant Nora in Washington!<br/><br/> Slipp, of course, went on to open Nectar and now toils at Ray's the Steaks in Arlington.<br/><br/> GR was first-rate -- and very, very expensive -- as I recall. Definitely a highlight of that particular trip.

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Washington D.C.: Tom, do your editors ever try to tone down your reviews? Or are your free to say anything you want?

Tom Sietsema: As a columnist and a critic, I am in a position to be more opinionated, but I still subscribe to a reporter's standards of fairness, accuracy and such. <br/><br/> Now and then, an editor might not get a joke or ask me to better explain why a restaurant is getting the rating it is, but in general, I'm free to write what I write.

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Vienna Va.: For the person looking for Indian buffet--head out to Virginia for Minerva. The buffet (especially on the weekend) is amazing and extensive. They have locations in Herndon and in Fairfax. It's a great way to try things you've never heard of.

Tom Sietsema: I reviewed the place several years ago. Is it still screening those Bollywod flicks?

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Restaurant Coupons: For a good source of restaurant coupons... www.restaurant.com usually you can pay around $10 for a $25 gift certificate to the restaurant. sometimes they'll have even further discounts on the gift certificates. just be sure to check if there are any restrictions on use for your particular choice.

Tom Sietsema: To the rescue!

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Where's the Titanic??: So Tom, when you decide to share your "Titanic" experience with us, will you identify it as such so that those of us who have been sitting on pins and needles don't miss it? WHEN are you gonna share?????????

Tom Sietsema: Your ship has already sailed.<br/><br/> My review of Leopold's ran a couple Sundays ago.

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Washington, D.C.: Tom, where should I go to find family-oriented Italian restaurant&#63;

Tom Sietsema: By "family-oriented," I take it you're looking for something casual and traditional? I like Famous Luigi's on 19th St. for unfussy pastas myself. Pasta Mia in Adams Morgan is a draw for others, but be prepared to wait in line.

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D.C. - English teacher: Not to be a jerk, but a couple of times in chats you've asked people to give you more perimeters. Don't you mean parameters?

Tom Sietsema: Yes, yes, yes! (My bad, I'm just juggling lots of balls here...)

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Washington, D.C.: Hi Tom,

My birthday is coming up, and I'm looking for a nice restaurant in D.C. to celebrate with some friends (4-6). As we are all very recent colleges grads, ideally, I'm looking for a funky atmosphere, nice drinks, but cheap dishes... preferably in D.C. somewhere. Thanks!

Tom Sietsema: I'm not sure what your definition of "funky" is, but I think you'd have fun at ChiCha Lounge on U St., Singapore Bistro on 19th St., Mimi's in Dupont Circle or Felix in Adams Morgan.

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Loving Sushi Also: For the Shushi craver in Arlington, my suggestion is to do a happy hour at Cafe Asia- suhi's great and the atmosphere if very cool

Tom Sietsema: Another good tip.<br/><br/> Lunch calls. See you next week!

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