Ask Tom

Tom Sietsema
Washington Post Food Critic
Wednesday, July 13, 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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Washington, D.C.: Tom: When's the next "big deal" restaurant going to open in town? The last one, I guess, was CityZen. Is there anything similar to that on the horizon?

Tom Sietsema: There are a few Big Deals coming up, but nothing so grand as CityZen.

In Penn Quarter, Richard Sandoval is expected to set sail later this year with something Latin in flavor; the group that owns DC Coast/Ten Penh and Ceiba are coming up with a Louisiana-style concept near the late city museum; and (cough cough) is rumored to be opening a pizza place next to his popular (cough cough) restaurant up on Connecticut Ave. I'm "coughing" because I can't confirm the details. And far be it from me to spread rumors!

Good morning, everyone.

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Washington, D.C.: I'm sure the Restaurant Week questions will be flooding your inbox this week, but I've had some bad luck in the past, that I'm hoping maybe the peanut gallery can help me with this time around! Has anyone out there found a restaurant that serves good vegetarian food for restaurant week? I'm hoping for places that serve more than just steamed vegetables or the side dishes from other meals all haphazardly combined on one plate. I also find that at a lot places, it is actually less expensive to order the vegetarian options from the regular menu, than it is from the restaurant week menu.

So do you or any vegetarians have suggestions that might overcome these setbacks?

Tom Sietsema: Chatters?

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Alexandria, Va.: Here's a story of customer service. In December 1999 we had an unfortunate dining experience at Mike's American Grill in Springfield. As best I can remember they forgot to bring our soup and it arrived at the same time as the entree. We said we didn't want the soup at that point. Then when I cut into my steak it was underdone and I had to send it back to be cooked a little more. These are hardly high crimes and we didn't complain. Yet, a manager stopped by our table, apologized, and gave us a $50 gift certificate for our next visit. Fast forward six years: we're cleaning out a kitchen drawer and find the gift certificate. We went to Mike's and asked if it was still valid. Not only did they honor it, they apologized again for whatever happened long ago, and when our bill fell short of the $50 (you can't apply it to alcohol) they asked us if we preferred to either order dessert or keep the certificate and bring it back next time with friends. While Great American Restaurants have good basic food and occasional service snafus, as opposed to gourmet and trendy foods with impeccable service, their friendliness and grace under fire have kept me a loyal customer at several of their restaurants over the years.

Tom Sietsema: I'm beginning to think EVERY restaurant should send its dining room staff to a Great American Restaurant for training. The locally owned chain does a first-rate job with its service.

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Dupont Circle: Hi Tom,

I just wanted to echo your sentiments of praise for the new Mark and Orlando's in Dupont Circle. I was pleasantly surprised to see the small, yet "happy" dining room completely filled, so obviously word is catching on. I ordered the prawns which were delicious, and my roommate had the crab cakes that were equally good. Your readers (myself included) are always inquiring about good, yet not terribly overpriced meals. While certainly not cheap (the entrees ranged between $16-$21) the atmosphere and creativity of the menu made it feel like we would be paying much more elsewhere. In fact, both Mark and Orlando were making the rounds in the dining room, checking on tables and introducing themselves. Additionally, the wines by the glass were very generously poured; a gesture that I certainly appreciate. While I am sometimes hesitant to share these neighborhood gems, this space has changed and been vacant for far too long that it needs a permanent tenant.

Keep up the great work!;

Tom Sietsema: Mark and Orlando's seems to be filing a niche in its neighborhood, doesn't it?

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Cleveland Park: Have you tried Dino yet and if so what do you think? It has to be better than the other Italian in the neighborhood

Tom Sietsema: Indeed it is. I wrote about the fresh face in today's Weekly Dish column. It needs work, but it brims with promise. I appreciate the thought the owner is putting into his food, his wine service and his staff.

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Wash, D.C.: Hi Tom, as the server who last week expressed a desire to work where the big money is, I have to take a slight offense at the gm who assumed I am a mediocre server. It was rather presumptuous of her/him to judge my skills as a server based on my desire to make more money. I too realize that there is more than money to make a job satisfying but a yearning for more money does not make a poor server. In fact, I think it can be a motivating factor for better service, more wine knowledge, etc.

Yes, support from management, a compatibility with other workers, these all combine to make a server's job enjoyable. But let's face it, a professional server (which I have been for over 10 years) is not to be condemned for searching for a better paying position.

To the gm, maybe I'll come in and apply and see if I can get you to hire me. One question (and how does the gm address this one when she/he gets it?), how much money will I be making?

Cheers!

Tom Sietsema: At least your honest!

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Dupont Circle: I just wanted to give some praise where praise is due. I have made it a habit to got to Pizza Paradiso in Dupont for an almost-weekly pizza fix. I always am by myself and offer to sit at the counter to free up tables. They usually seat me a window seat table anyway and never make me feel rushed or uncomfortable that I am taking up room as a single diner. And they are simply the friendliest group of servers around. It really makes a difference to me that I feel like I am valued as a customer. Great job, Pizza Paradiso!;

Tom Sietsema: Hear that, solo diners?

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Washington, D.C.: Tom, I was having dinner in one of the top steakhouses in D.C. over the weekend, when in the middle of my dinner a customer at another table noticed and pointed out to me a large roach running across the floor and under my table.

When I mentioned this to my waiter he passed the info to the manager. The manager came over to our table and asked if we weren't sure it was just a water bug? "Is that better," I asked. I thought the manager should have either picked up our tab or made some adjustment to the bill- what do you think?

Tom Sietsema: The host was wrong not to acknowledge your concern, but the restaurant doesn't owe you a gratis meal just because you saw a bug. I'm sorry, but bugs happen. They're not pretty, and they should be pointed out and removed from sight, but to expect a free meal is over the top.

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Washington, D.C.: Tom,

My husband and I had our anniversary dinner at the CityZen at the Mandarin Oriental hotel. Although we enjoyed the food immensely, there were two glaring mishaps, where I got drenched by a glass tipped over, and my husband found a rock (yes a real rock) in his dessert.

Is it wrong for me to have expected something from the restaurant? I realize the menu is prix fixe,... but given the caliber of the restaurant I expected impeccable service...

I would love to hear what you opinion of this situation.

Tom Sietsema: What did the restaurant do to make up for the spilled water and the rock in the dessert? Was there any attempt to smooth over those slips (which are human)?

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Georgetown: Sea Catch seems to have been through some changes. Looks like Jeff Shively's no longer the head chef there. Anyone know what's up with changes to the menu and the Executive Chef at Sea Catch? The crab cakes are different (still good but different) and the pumpkin/pecan tart is gone.

Tom Sietsema: Sorry to report, chef Shively took his pecan pie recipe with him when he left the kitchen in February. His replacement is George Chaffman, who worked at the Ritz Carlton in Pentagon City (and previously, under Gerard Pangaud at Gerard's Place). Has anyone been in recently for a meal?

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Washington, D.C.: What are your opinions of:

Cafe Mozart and Cafe Saint-Ex?

Thank you.

Tom Sietsema: Cafe Mozart: Decent German cooking.

Cafe St. Ex: Better for sipping than supping.

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Washington, D.C.: Any place you can recommend for authentic Polish food - a home style place would really be great!

Thanks!

Tom Sietsema: I guess you missed my recent review of W Domku in Petworth.

Here it is:

Tom Sietsema: My review

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College Park: Can you define "Great American Restaurant?"

Tom Sietsema: GAR operates such popular eateries as Artie's, Sweetwater Tavern and Carlyle in Northern Virginia. All do a stellar job of handling and feeding the masses.

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Shaw: Tom and other chatters,

Thanks for the time. Do you know on what corners of this city I can get some good street food. No more of the legendary half smokes which I have already had too many of in my lifetime. I am looking for a good gyro, sausage, or cheesesteak. You know what I mean. I have lived here my life and I can't recall ever noticing a gyro cart,etc. Thanks

Tom Sietsema: Do you like burritos? There's a guy on the corner of Connecticut and K who does a nice job with the flavors and bundling.

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Re: Sea Catch: Forgive the naive question but...do chef's "own" their recipes? He took his pecan pie recipe but nobody there knew how to make it? How does that all work?

Tom Sietsema: I was joking there. But the dessert -- based on a Shively family recipe -- has been removed from Sea Catch's menu. No, chefs don't "own" their recipes per se.

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Bethesda, Md.: Maybe a roach on the floor is OK, but how about a roach in the teapot (a few years ago in a certain Chinese restaurant)?

Tom Sietsema: Now THAT is gross. And THAT deserves some compensation (besides a replaced pot of tea).

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To the solo diner at Pizzeria Paradiso: Your business is just as important whether you're alone or with a pal. Why feel bad for "taking up room as a single diner."??? Please. It doesn't matter if you're a party of one or a party of 6.

I dine solo a lot. I prefer to sit at the bar only because there's rarely a wait if the place is crowded OR because I can get quicker service. But for those times I do sit at a table - hey, I'm a paying customer. I have as much right to sit at a table as anyone else. I certainly don't "feel bad for taking up space".

Tom Sietsema: Fair point! And I second your recommendation: when dining alone, sitting at the bar tends to be more interesting than sitting at a table.

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Chevy Chase: Tom-

which restaurant should I go to during the Bethesda restaurant week?

Tom Sietsema: If they're participating, Rock Creek, Raku and Jaleo would be my first choices.

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Washington D.C.: To balance out some of the "constructive criticism" submissions, thought I'd throw in some applause for Palena. (Not that they need it.) I went there last week with someone as a gift to them and it was really a wonderful treat. It's pricey, but it's quite obvious the skill and ingredients you're paying for. I ordered more adventurously than usual and swooned over a roasted and fresh beet and lobster salad. Never thought I liked beets, but I never had them in such a tempting combo. The atmosphere was lovely and comfortable. And the service was great- attentive, but not smothering; informed but not intimidating or arrogant. Bravo.

Tom Sietsema: I'm glad to hear that. However, I am getting more than a few complaints about slapdash service at that otherwise fine restaurant in Cleveland Park.

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McLean, Va.: I am going to Paris in two weeks. Will be there only Wednesday - Friday. Evenings already arranged with business dinners/events. But I'm free during the daytime. Recommendations for lunch? I've a preference for bistrot / brasserie environs. Think Brasserie Jo in Chicago... Thanks!

Tom Sietsema: La Regalade is not in a pretty neighborhood (the 14th), but I love the lusty cooking. Lunch starts out with a rich pork terrine, from which you're allowed to take as much as you like, and continues blissfully from there.

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Washington, D.C.: I hear the Beacon Bar and Grill downtown has just hired a new executive chef. Any thoughts on how it rates as a hotel restaurant? I've only ever been to the bar and was curious if the food is something worth checking out!;

Tom Sietsema: I liked much of former chef Ron Reda's American-style food -- but not the goofy service -- when I reviewed Beacon earlier this year (and gave it one star).

Reda was recently replaced by the chef of the Landmark restaurant in the Melrose Hotel, James Balster. He told me he plans to add more fusion elements and healthier items to the script. As in: Chilean sea bass with roasted tomatoes and a spiced ginger sauce.

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Cleveland Park, Washington, D.C.: Tom -

In today's Weekly Dish, you wrote: "The choices start with crostini -- crisped bread topped with whipped cod, roasted vegetables or chicken pate -- and move on to cicchetti, the little snacks so beloved by Venetians in their wine bars."

Now, of course, being very familiar with the cuisine of Venice as I am, I know what cicchetti are, but for all those poor slobs out there who aren't as informed, perhaps you should explain what cicchetti are?

Tom Sietsema: I thought I was pretty clear: cicchetti are small plates, or bites, of food. They are to Venetians what tapas are to Spaniards.

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Dim Sum: Please take my question this time!;!;

What are the best places for Dim Sum in the area? I have tried Good Fortune in Wheaton which is good, but am hoping to find an even-larger selection elsewhere.

Thanks

Tom Sietsema: I also like Fortune in Falls Church. But my current favorite is the newish Hollywood East on the Boulevard in Wheaton.

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Restaurant Week Vegetarian Suggestion: 15ria provided a nice vegetarian option in the form of its mix and match FIVE side dish as a RW main course option. These included Mac & Cheese, Onion Rings, Brussel Sprouts, Mased Potatoes. It was not only vegetarian friendly, but quite fun and filling.

Tom Sietsema: The problem is, those are all side dishes -- and chef Jamie Leeds has left to open her own place, Hank's Oyster Bar, in Dupont Circle.

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Washington, D.C.: Street food: the best burrito guy is at 15th and K. Accept no substitutes. The medium with refried and Blair's Mango is a taste experience not to be missed.

Tom Sietsema: Yes, yes, I meant 15th & K streets. Sorry!

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Fairfax, Va.: Hi Tom,

What is your opinion of Coastal Flats Restaurant in Fairfax?

Tom Sietsema: It's LOUD. And BUSY. And sometimes delicious.

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RE: Alexandria, Va.: : I may sound like a grinch here, but you redeemed a 6 year old gift certificate? The restaurant was very gracious, but still...

Would you have done this to any of type of establishment? I guess I amazed at what some people expect restaurants to "honor."

Tom Sietsema: Yeah, six years is a reaaaaaal stretch!

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I'm lost: where can I find the link to the weekly dish?

Tom Sietsema: Here is the link to The Weekly Dish . You can find it on the Food and Dining front .

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Md.: How do you deal with a place that won't accommodate their OWN mistakes? My waitress forgot (and admitted she forgot) to put in our order for the appetizer. I asked about it prior to the meals arriving, at which point she did put in the order. She came back to say our meals were up. I told her to have the kitchen remake the meals after we'd had our appetizer. The chef refused - said he'd hold it, but that the meals would suffer for it. So, she brought the meals, then the appetizer about 10 minutes later. I was appalled, and as much as I like the place, I won't go back. For them to refuse to remake the meal when their own staff caused the problem seems a little off. I was shocked that they flat out refused to remake it (and while the owner came over, he stood by the chef's decision).

Moral: you can't get upset, and don't ask to be comped anything - just don't go back, and make sure that they know why. They won't CARE, but make sure they know. then go find the other (many) lovely places out there.

Tom Sietsema: Something tells me this restaurant -- and its staff -- aren't going to be around for long. The best thing to do in a situation like that is to fess up, apologize and try to make good.

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D.C.: I've been trying to find good BBQ in the area, with little success. Do you know of anyplace? If not, can you throw the question out to the very intelligent, gifted, worldly, knowledgeable, wonderful people in your audience? Please?

Tom Sietsema: Well, it sure isn't at Old Glory, which I used to like but recently revisited to find pale imitations of what it used to serve.

Funny thing: My pal and I left a whole basket of wings uneaten and our waiter asked if we minded GIVING THEM AWAY to the next table, to a bunch of ravenous college guys! Yech.

But back to your question. Who's had great 'cue recently?

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Washington, D.C.: Is there any place in or around D.C. where I can get kolaches?

Tom Sietsema: Has any chatter seen the Czech pastries around here? They typically come with fruit or cheese fillings.

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Arlington, Va.: I may be the last person in the Washington area to figure this out, but how do you pronounce your name? Most conversations I have about local restaurants includes something like, "I read the review by Tom Site-seema...Seat-sema...that guy in the Post."

Tom Sietsema: Thanks for asking. My name is pronounced SEET-suh-ma.

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Washington, D.C.: The Passion at Zola, the Mojito at Cafe Atlantico, the Blackberry Mojito at Indebleu, the Lychee Bubbles at Indique, the "Apple Martini" at CityZen... sometimes the cocktails are more memorable than the food.

Tom Sietsema: But just as expensive as some of their entrees, huh?

I recently paid $18 for a libation in a popular Washington watering hole. EEEK.

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Arlington, Va.: Great BBQ? ROCKLANDS.

Tom Sietsema: I need to get back there. It's bee awhile.

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Old Glory: Giving away wings to the next table? That is about as repulsive as I think a restaurant could be. You should have told those ravenous college kids to get a job and then taken the wings to give to a homeless person. The chutzpah of those kids!;

Tom Sietsema: Well, the waiter INITIATED it. The "kids" merely accepted the offer.

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Solo Vegetarian Bug Lover: I was dining solo the other night, and felt rushed so I invited

the cockroach on the floor to join me. Since they had a

vegetarian menu for Restaurant week, he accepted. The

management then comped my entire meal because the sun

had set a bit too quickly.

I will still never go back.

Tom Sietsema: I think I know who this is. And yes, you made me laugh.

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Washington, D.C.: Re: Beacon Bar & Grill

I have had lunch there on several occasions in the past few weeks as one of my client's offices is now nearby ... yesterday I enjoyed one of the new salads added to the menu by the new Exec Chef. It was the perfect price, perfect size and I would definitely return to try another one of his creations.

Unfortunately I can not say the service was quite as delightful as the new food.

Tom Sietsema: Ah, so they're STILL working out the kinks then ...

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Mike's Followup: I had a similar experience with a Great American Restaurant... I had been eating the same salad at Sweetwater Tavern for years upon years and was surprised recently when I went in and order the salad and it came back completely different than what I knew it to be. They had apparently changed the salad menu on me and I didn't realize it.

I submitted a comment on their website asking about the change and how disappointed I was and didn't respect any kind of response. I got a signed letter from the manager as well as a $25 gift card for a future meal. I wasn't planning to go back, but with that kind of a response, I'll definitely give it another go.

Kudos to Great American...

Tom Sietsema: Hear, hear!

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Disappointed with Neyla's trustworthiness: Mr. Sietsema,

I tell this story to warn your readers about trusting restaurant websites and on-line reservation systems.

I also was wondering what you thought of this situation and whether I'm overreacting to what in my view is an absolutely horrible way to treat customers:

On Father's Day last month, my family made a reservation at Neyla's, which we had found on the web and thought its brunch menu sounded great. The Web site said they would start serving brunch on Sundays in June, so I made a reservation through their online link for Father's Day for 11 a.m. without any problem. However, when we arrived, the restaurant was closed. When I spoke with a manager a couple of days later, he apologized profusely and said they had not yet opened for brunch despite the message on their website and ability to make a reservation through their online link. He said they would change their website, which they never did. He then invited my family to come as guests of the restaurant to make up for the situation, and I asked him to send me a letter confirming that offer. It has now been almost a month and no letter. I called the restaurant too to follow up and no one has called me back. In my opinion, this is no way to treat customers, and I'm so disappointed because I've always heard such wonderful things about it.

But I've learned the lesson not to trust a restaurant's website and that making a reservation through the restaurant's website is not the simple thing it should be.

Tom Sietsema: Yep, restaurant websites can not always be trusted. Businesses REALLY need to have a staff member dedicated to keeping information correct and up-to-date. Having learned the hard way, I now make a point to reconfirm important information -- and asking for the staff member's name --BEFORE I head out to a restaurant.

Neyla did not handle this unfortunate situation very well. Shame on the restaurant for promising something -- a reservation, a gift to make up for being closed -- and not delivering.

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Washington D.C.: Tom,

First off, I'm a big fan, keep up the good work. Ok, out of all the restaurants in D.C., have you encountered service as poor as that of Belga Cafe? I've lived in DC for 20 years and have never had worse service or heard as many complaints from friends.

Tom Sietsema: As a matter of fact, I found worse service at the recently reviewed Leopold's Kafe in Georgetown.

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Arlington, Va.: Tom, if Leopold's Kafe was so bad, how come it still got one star, whereas your somewhat favorable review of Grace Bamboo did not garner any higher rating? (Meanwhile there are some restaurants that have gotten no stars!;)

Tom Sietsema: I awarded one star -- a satisfactory rating -- to Leopold's because I really liked the design and some of the food was interesting.

I awarded one star to Grace Bamboo because, while the service was endearing and the setting was inviting, a lot of the food was standard. Grace Bamboo isn't breaking any new ground, and tastes about average for area Chinese restaurants, which is what was comparing it to. (Hollywood East on the Boulevard, for instance, is better. I gave it two stars, a "good" rating.)

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Help extend my honeymoon?: Tom, I've tried asking this a few times, but I'm hoping persistence pays off.

My question: After a 2-week honeymoon on Crete, my bride and I would really like to find a local restaurant that serves good Cretan (or at least Greek) food, preferably inside the beltway. What do you, or your loyal readers, recommend?

Tom Sietsema: Didn't I answer this last week?

Zaytinya is tops for Greek (and Lebanese and Turkish fare), followed by Mourayo in Dupont Circle and Mykonos Grill in Rockville.

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Wash D.C.: No identifiers, but just some silly gossip -- while dining in a lovely D.C. restaurant this past weekend, I saw the chef sitting with a pal at an empty table... reading aloud from the menu of another local restaurant. Guess he was curious.

Tom Sietsema: Cute.

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Bug Lover: You don't know me, but I am glad I made you laugh. People

are nuts, I don't know how you do this every week--patience

of Job.

Tom Sietsema: It can be a challenge some Wednesdays, but I'd hate to drop this format. Thanks.

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Washington: Can you recommend a good watering hole for happy hour in Crystal City?

Tom Sietsema: It doesn't get more colorful than at Oyamel. I'm partial to its specialty margaritas myself.

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Website Updates: When it comes to updating restaurant websites, I have to say, the worst offender may be Palena. Shame that a restaurant of that caliber has such a lousy site. Get the word to them, will ya?

Tom Sietsema: Frank, you there?

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Washington D.C.: A few chats back people were posting about small children in restaurants and how disruptive they can be. I thought I'd share an experience I had this past week- I was having drinks at David Greggory when a woman came in with her toddler, ostensibly to pick up some food to-go. Long story short, Mom wasn't watching her kid, and he managed to pull the fire alarm in the front hall. Sirens and lights went off until the fire department showed up to turn it off. We thought it was amusing, but my guess is that more than a few dining guests had their meal disrupted! At least the mom was suitably mortified...

Tom Sietsema: And the other kids were outside, waiting in her trunk, right?

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Washington, D.C.: Tom,

What am I missing here -- why do I need to leave a tip for carry out? While I certainly appreciate someone ringing up my check, does that truly constitute service worthy of a gratuity? Am I a cheapskate???

Tom Sietsema: More goes into carryout than just "ringing up the check." Typically, a server or host has to put the food and utensils together -- and sometimes assemble the food. So I always tip on carry-out (the tip varies according to the establishment).

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Washington, D.C.: Tom: Birthday lunch or dinner coming up, and I've narrowed it down to 4 places to which I've never been: Bucks, Etrusco, Ginger Cove or Komi. I know they are all over the map, but what should I choose for a festive meal in the middle of summer?

Tom Sietsema: Buck's is always a treat. I like the arty interior, the great cocktails and whatever chef Carole Greenwood is doing to whatever is in season.

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District of Columbia: Hello Tom,

I'm a regular reader but this is my first posting. First, let me say THANKS for all your good work. As you've said many times, D.C. is a great place to eat. It is! And we've a great guide in you. Keep it up!

My comment today is about your readers, more specifically the chatters that post on your Wednesday live chats. There's an element that's mostly missing from these exchanges and that is discussion about FOOD.

I think it's obvious to regular diners that there's an element of theater to a good restaurant experience. Of course the decor and the service are integral but that's not why we go, is it? Surely the FOOD's the thing!

A good chef is an artist like any other and his/her cooking will be appreciated most by those with a trained pallette. We look to our food expert, you Tom. to help us educate ourselves and make informed choices regarding our fine dining. With each review you show us how to make all the little judgments that add up to a memorable meal. The ingredients, the flavors, the combinations that make a dish a success, or not.

Being able to ask our objective expert a question directly is a remarkable resource. Everyone participating would benefit from an exchange of ideas that concerned the true subject.

Each week I read the text of your chats and feel the resource is squandered with all the tittle-tattle. A bartender is grumpy, a waiter is clueless, a floor manager was indifferent, kids, dogs, what do I tip? Good god.

Comments regarding the FOOD are confined to, 'we had a great meal' or 'what a terrible meal'. OK, but what did you THINK?

Sure, an occasional question of etiquette answered by an expert is helpful. But...Hello, what was the FOOD like?

M.F.K. Fisher can describe drinking a glass of milk in a way that is enticing. Calvin Trillin will make you want to go and eat third world cuisine from a cart in Queens.

Eating is a sensual experience and good talk about FOOD can lead us to delights that make life, especially city life, so much richer.

If I'm at the racetrack, placing a bet on a horse, do I care if the trash cans are too full or the beer costs a dollar too much. Sure, empty trash cans are nice and cheaper beer is always welcome but what I want to know is; can he run? If so, I can put up with a lot.

I realize that eating in restaurants is not about world peace or anything beyond the momentary. However, as city dwellers we spend a lot of time and money in restaurants. It seems a pity, that with a resource like your live chats at hand we don't use it more effectively to optimize our investment.

Chatters; Quit carping! Keep your eye on the ball!

I suppose this is too long to post Tom. It's as short as I could make it. I know you're a believer in good editing. By all means feel free to cut it if you think it'll do in a shorter form. Otherwise, it'll be our secret.

Thanks for the space to rant and have a nice meal.....

Tom Sietsema: First, thanks for the kind words.

Some chats do indeed seem to brim with gripes, but complaints (and how to deal with them) shouldn't be excluded from a restaurant forum. If I have the chance to spread some helpful information or shed light on a problem, don't you think that's a good thing?

On the other hand, any complaint should be a full account. I find people tend to leave out important details, especially if the facts reflect poorly on themselves. The same goes for readers who praise a place: tell us exactly WHAT made the meal so memorable.

I used to think food was all. I don't anymore. People go to restaurants for many reasons: service, ambience, etc.

In the end, I prefer a mix of questions and comments as opposed to a single theme in this hour we have on Wednesday.

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Vegetarian Options --Restaurant Week: Try TenPehn. Their whole menu is available and includes a vegetarian option.

Tom Sietsema: The whole menu? If true, I'm impressed!

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Alexandria, Va.: What's your take on Vermilion Restaurant on King St? I think they recently changed chefs.

Tom Sietsema: I smell a publicist! lol This is like, the 15th "Vermilion" question today. (I haven't been since Bobby Beard took over the kitchen, by the way, so I'm not yet qualified to answer.)

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Falls Church Va.: Tom How do you find/pick new restaurants to visit. Sorry this question is late I hate my computer!!

Tom Sietsema: I hear about them from readers ... I discover them on my restaurant rounds ... chefs or owners occasionally send me a letter or menu .... there are many ways, actually, of "finding" places.

As I've mentioned previously, I aim for a mix of neighborhoods, cuisine styles and price ranges from week to week.

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Not so Happy with GAR: I must be the exception to the great service rule. At Sunday Brunch at the Carlyle a few weeks ago to confirm that the sticky buns had pecans and not walnuts, as I am extremely allergic to walnuts. After asking four times, I finally spoke with a manager - who also rudely brushed me off.

One place I will never go back...

Tom Sietsema: There are always exceptions to the rules, right?

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Arlington, Va.: Following up on the chat about the "mind-reading" wait staff at Charlie Palmer's, I'm pleased to share the following experience I had at the Lebanese Taverna on Washington Blvd in Arlington last Friday night. I took my fiancee there for dinner, knowing she enjoys exotic food more than I do. I decided to be bold, ordering a lamb dish that sounded great on paper. When it arrived, I realized my gamble had backfired. The dish itself was very well-prepared, but it simply didn't suit my palate. I ate the lamb, but left most of the meal on my plate. The waiter seemingly 'weighed' my plate when he came to clear the dishes.

Sensing I had not eaten much, he asked if I enjoyed the meal. I smiled, and after a momentary pause, I told him, "Yes, it was delicious, thank you." After all, it was a fine dish that just didn't appeal to me. Moments later, the waiter returned with a flan-based dessert and two forks, compliments of the house. We were extremely impressed with this gracious gesture, and left a hefty tip accordingly. Moral of the story: Some waiters and waitresses are indeed "just that good" and can seemingly read minds. We'll be going back to Lebanese Taverna because of it.

Tom Sietsema: I'm always happy to share incidences of good service here. Thanks for the smile.

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D.C.: Hi Tom! I really hope you can answer my question. I made a reservation for the tasting room at Restaurant Eve and was really excited about it, until I heard that it's "just not what it used to be." Is this true? I'll go anyway, because I've been wanting to check it out for a long time. Should my expectations be lowered a bit? I don't want to be disappointed. You're the best. Thanks!

Tom Sietsema: I have heard nothing from readers about any decline in quality at Eve, either in the bistro or the chef's tasting room. I say, full speed ahead!

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Arlington: Love the chat.

I'm going to be in San Antonio this weekend. Any recommendations?

Tom Sietsema: Sorry, I've never been there. Chatters?

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60th B-Day for Dad: Hi Tom,

I have made a reservation at 1789 for a Saturday evening meal for 5 adults to celebrate my father's 60th birthday. He is a huge history buff and loves good food and wine and is one of those people that loves to "get to know" his server as he feels that is all part of the experience. We want to have a great meal and not feel rushed through it and plan to stay a while (which I have told the restaurant). Have I chosen correctly or should I look elsewhere for this celebratory meal. We have a few weeks so hopefully a reservation during the summer won't be too hard to come by.

Thanks!

Tom Sietsema: I think you'll be just fine, particularly if you dine early -- Saturdays tend to be busy, obviously -- and provided you get a table on the ground floor rather than upstairs.

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Springfield, Va.: Dear Tom,

A couple of weeks ago my husband and I went to dinner at the Little Fountain Cafe. We have been there multiple times and love the food, ambience, service, etc. Unfortunately, this last time, we were seated next to a very large flower arrangement filled with lilies (?). The fragrance was overwhelming and perfumed our entire meal. We were unable to enjoy our food. We were unable to be reseated as the place was full, and the server did apologize. Can you spread the word to restaurants not to have such large flower arrangements (though lovely) so close to the diners?

Tom Sietsema: And might I add: waiters should go easy on the cologne and perfume!

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Arlington, Va.: I'm leaving for two weeks in Seattle, Victoria, BC and Portland next week and I would like to have some dining suggestions. Any last minute suggestions for any of these cities? Thanks.

Tom Sietsema: I've not been to Victoria, but in Seattle, you'll want reservations for Lampreia, Lark and Macrina Bakery (the last for breakfast); in Portland, I like Wildwood a lot, and if you happen to be there on a Saturday, don't miss the first-class farmers market there.

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Dessert Help, Washington D.C.: Have a meeting submitting early... Hubby's birthday is the same week as Restaurant Week. I have dinner reservations at The Caucus Room, but wanted to go somewhere else for dessert and after dinner drink. Any suggestions in the ever popular Penn Quarter? If not there, Metro accessible? I'm familiar with your reviews of most of the restaurants, but only for dinner... I'm really hoping to make this a very special birthday! Thanks.

Tom Sietsema: That's tricky, because if the past is any indication, the participating restaurants are going to be busy. Do you mind doing drinks and dessert at the bar instead of a table in the dining room? In Penn Quarter, you might try Poste or Le Paradou. A short Metro ride away, try 21 P or the Tabard Inn in Dupont Circle.

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Rosslyn, Va.: Tom,

Please, please, please answer this! My boyfriend's birthday is next week and he absolutely loves seafood (oysters, salmon you name it). Where should I take him for a memorable dinner? Kinkead's, Oceanaire (which I've been to without him and liked) or is there any other place that would be better? (I understand it won't be cheap and I'm fine with that).

Thank you so much.

Tom Sietsema: Those are two fine choices. You might also throw Pesce into your mix of possibilities.

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Re: Vegetarian Restaurant Week: I have had nice (vegetarian) restaurant week visits to Palette, Rosa Mexicano, and Melrose. All were accommodating and offered me the standard vegetarian option on their regular menu as a substitution. (I say standard, because there is usually only one vegetarian entree available at most restaurants with seasonal/periodically changing menus.) Of those three, only at Melrose did I actually save money by participating in the restaurant week promotion, as a vegetarian entree is rarely more than $15 anyway. The selections included a vegetarian napoleon (Palette), enchiladas suizas (Rosa Mexicano), and sauteed seasonal mushrooms (Melrose).

Tom Sietsema: Thanks for the suggestions (and keep in mind, Melrose is poised to close if it hasn't already).

That wraps up another hour of food talk. Thanks, folks. Se you next week!

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