Ask Tom

Tom Sietsema
Washington Post Food Critic
Wednesday, January 4, 2006; 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. You can access his Postcards from Tom to read his recommendations for other cities, read his dining column or read transcripts of previous "Ask Tom" chats . Tom's Sunday magazine reviews, as well as his "Ask Tom" column, are available early on the Web.

The transcript follows.

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Tom Sietsema: News flash: After just a year in the kitchen, chef Paul Luna left the Oval Room in downtown Washington yesterday. He plans to teach cooking classes and serve as a personal chef, and also produce his own line of sauces and dressings. Luna (reachable at lunacooks@yahoo.com) is being replaced by Matt Secich, the former chef de cuisine of the popular Ryland Inn in Whitehouse, New Jersey.

Happy 2006, everyone. And on with da show!

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Arlington, Va.: Good morning and Happy New Year Tom,

In honor of the many new years resolutions to slim down, where can we go out and enjoy a great tasting healthy meal? It seems hard to order healthy meals out at restaurants because many "good for you" dishes seems unappetizing and bland. Can you help us out with some suggestions? Thanks!

Tom Sietsema: Personally, I vote for sushi. Just stay away from the tempura and go easy on the sake.

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Arlington, Va.: You know you're in trouble on New Years Eve at an expensive restaurant when the loud mouth at the next table announces "Let's not do the wine pairings with dinner because that means we can't have anything to drink until the food comes."

And it went downhill from there . . . .

Tom Sietsema: Which reminds me why I love to stay at home December 31.

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Dining Guide: I'm not likely to see this posted, but I'd love a response. Don't take this as a personal attack - heh, got your attention - but what's the value of a book of restaurant reviews? It seems to me the greatest value of a restaurant review is its timeliness, and anything over, say, 6 months old is suspect. Restaurants rise and fall, or more like, ebb and flow with menu changes, staff changes, a rough patch in the personal life of a chef, etc. You could praise a place only to have it fall in quality in a matter of months, or, to a bigger detriment to the business, you could pan a place or damn it with faint praise only to have it make a turn-around and regain or surpass its assessment - in fact, it could have done so in the interim between your visit and book publishing, because we all know how long it takes to put a book together, have it edited, and published.

I guess what I'm saying is that a book of reviews has a very short shelf-life, and I can't see the point in buying such a thing.

I will, of course, continue to read CURRENT reviews. I DO like you, Tom!

Tom Sietsema: Good question. (Surprise! I posted it!)

You're right: Most reviews have a shelf life of about six months. Restaurants are prone to change menus, chefs, interiors and even locations as time marches on.

That's where a critic comes in, someone who is trained to detect patterns and offer forecasts based on experience and opinion. I have a long history with Washington restaurants and I revisited about 90 percent of the places in my new book, to give readers as fresh a take on the scene as I possibly could. The fact the latest addition has a wealth of new titles -- and helpful listings! -- hopefully makes it worth the $11.95 tab (which is a buck cheaper than the compilation with the burgundy cover).

That's the short response.

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Bolling Air Force Base: Hi Tom and happy new year!

My big 5-0 birthday is in February so the love of my life and I are planning a special night out. Do any of the premier restaurants in the area have a vegan tasting menu?

thanks so much!

Tom Sietsema: Vegan? You'd be wise to arrange such a menu well in advance. If anyone is up to the challenge, it would be Michel Richard, Patrick O'Connell, Eric Ziebold or Fabio Trabocchi.

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Washington, D.C.: THANK YOU so much for your review of Charleston in Baltimore! My husband and I went just before New Year's, and had one of the best meals we have had in a long time. And the wine list! To be able to choose by the glass in 3oz and 6oz pours lets you design (with expert guidance, if you wish) a customized flight of wines to go with your meal! Now, we're busy saving up to go again...

Tom Sietsema: Yep. Charleston is a winner.

Did you see the foodie trend that made Style's annual In/Out list? "Wine by the glass" is out; "wine by the splash" is hot, hot, hot.

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Highs and Lows: Tom,

we have dealt with some highs and lows in the restaurant world over the past few weeks. First bad, Matchbox must have the worst lunchtime service I have ever experienced. This is third time is the charm for molasses. Even though their mini-burgers are delectable, two hours for lunch, arriving at 11:45, is insane. Even the hostess was in slow mo.

On the fabulous note. Spent a fortune, but had the experience of a lifetime doing the tasting at Komi, with wine pairings. Four hour dinner and we remember every single bite. The service was exceptional, to the point that they wrote down all of our mini meals, as well as all of the wines that we had over the course of the evening. Definitely a big hit across the board!

Tom Sietsema: Thanks for the field reports. I keep hearing from readers and friends how exceptional Komi continues to be.

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Alexandria, Va.: Tom, thinking about going to the Majestic Cafe in Old Town Alexandria, but seem to remember something about the head chef leaving from a past chat. Any news on whether it's still worth a trip? Thanks!

Tom Sietsema: Joe Raffa, a longtime sidekick of chef Susan Lindeborg, is doing some great work at the cafe. I like that he's added more southern accents to an already fine menu. Go!

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Rockville, Md.: Tom - just a quick note to say thanks. We spent New Year's eve at the Inn at Easton, both staying there and dining there. We had a great weekend, a great meal, and a great view from their dining room on the community celebration at midnight where in the middle of the street, instead of dropping a disco ball, they dropped a large sculpture of a crab!! It was a memorable location and we wouldn't have known about it if it weren't for you. Cheers!

Tom Sietsema: LOVE the image of the crab dangling from on high.

I'm so happy you had a good New Year's Eve there. Dinner sounds like fun.

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Georgetown, Washington, D.C.: Tom,

I work in Georgetown and I recently went to Leopold's for lunch. It was completely empty and the service was very good. I know in your review you said that the service was horrendous , but was that mainly for dinner or did that include your trips during lunch as well? It WAS and expensive lunch, but overall I was very pleased and I'm wondering if I should dare return during dinner.

Tom Sietsema: I visited four times, twice for lunch. If the service has indeed improved, great.

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Eastern Market, Washington, D.C.: Tom--I got your revised DC Dining Guide for Christmas and I'm enjoying going through the new additions and updates on old favorites. I noticed that a few places that you have not yet reviewed in your column, such as Acadiana, do pop up here. Will you be providing longer reviews of some of these places on upcoming Sundays?

Tom Sietsema: Yes. I scrambled to visit new places like Acadiana (Zengo, Willow and others) at least twice before writing mini-reviews for the book.

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20905: Hi Tom, What is going on with TenPenh? I haven't dined there since last summer, but a friend recently had dinner there and said the food has gone downhill. Should I bother returning?

Tom Sietsema: I downgraded Ten Pehn (to 1 1/2 stars) in my new restaurant guide. There's very little to like on the menu these days. I wonder if the owners have been distracted by the launch of Acadiana?

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Chevy Chase, Md.: Hey Tom,

We had a grand New Year's eve dinner at Palena. But I wanted to ask what you thought of the trend of collecting all kinds of weird food and weird combinations of food for special meals.

Things were good, and at $95 per head just for food there is a new level of expectation, but I wonder why chefs need to add "Sea Urchin sauce" or "crispy pig ear" or leg of partridge, etc. to call it a special occasion.

Good food, poor service. The waiter TWICE poured flat water into my glass of sparkling water that he had opened and poured. I still thought it was worth it however.

Tom Sietsema: Actually, all those odd parts (offal and innards) are very much in vogue now. In other parts of the world, they're considered delicacies.

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Washington, D.C.: Hi Tom-

With restaurant week coming up, I was curious - do you visit restaurants during restaurant week to see if they offer the same in food quality, service, etc. as they do during non-restaurant weeks? Some say food quality and service are lacking during such times, but I can't imagine it's like that with top establishments.

Tom Sietsema: Wanna bet? Restaurants get SLAMMED during Restaurant Week. Even some of the so-called "better" establishments can have a tough time handling the masses.

Do I plan on visiting any of the participants next week? I'll let you guess.

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Vegan tasting menus: You should call Perry's, Equinox and Nora's. They have vegan food. Plus a lot of places are very willing to accommodate you if they get advance notice.

Tom Sietsema: Restaurant Nora is expensive -- and slapdash.

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The Bookstore: I bought your Dining Guide and will buy the next one too. Two fallacies in your commenter's criticism: (1) The decline in usefulness is gradual -- very gradual. In fact, after 6 months, most of your reviews will continue to be as accurate as they began. (2) You don't re-review every restaurant every 6 months. So, for the vast majority of entries, the Dining Guide will continue to represent the state-of-your-art so far as the public knows for a long time.

Tom Sietsema: Thanks, Mom! (Or Suzanne, or Ken, or Felix, or whatever friend sent this in.)

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Washington, D.C.: Hey Tom! Happy new year.

Re: the book. I received your book as a Christmas gift from friends of mine. I've already read a lot of it, and really dig it. Of course, I can (and have) check your current reviews online to read to friends as we make plans. But how impressive am I when I go to my bookshelf and pull out a book to find a review?? That makes it WELL worth the $11.95 that my friends spent on me!

Looking forward to the 51 chats this year!

Tom Sietsema: You just made my day. Merci.

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Chantilly, Va.: Tom -

Recently me and my wife went to the Bombay Club. The food was mediocre at best at an inflated price. How does the restaurant ends up being in many best lists, in spite of this - I can't understand. Have you had a chance to dine at Mr. Bajaj's other Indian restaurant - the Rasika? How does it compare to the club?

Tom Sietsema: I like the Bombay Club. It's a beautiful space and the menu features some new dishes that really set it apart from the crowd. But I do find that some of the recipes are pretty tame. Part of that, I think, is explained by the older and more conservative clientele that frequents the space. Honestly, I think owner Ashok Bajaj doesn't want to scare his guests off with anything too unusual. (Rumor has the kitchen staff eats the really good stuff.)

Rasika is too new to review, but I enjoyed my first experience there. The food is interesting, the setting sexy.

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Arlington, Va.: Hi Tom. I had a strange dining experience that I wanted to share with readers, and would be interested to hear your thoughts.

Just before Christmas, two friends and I ate at Faccia Luna in Arlington. We've had wonderful food and service there many times before, but this time, the server was just terrible (unfriendly, lots of waiting, poor timing of taking order, etc). As such, we left a bad tip--$2 on $48.

So here's where it gets weird: we leave the restaurant, and are halfway down the block, when our server comes out of the restaurant and flags us down. In a confrontational way, he asked if we had meant to leave him $2. We explained that yes, we had, because the service was poor. He began berating us, and explaining why in fact his service was good. It was not only uncomfortable, but intimidating. We immediately went back inside to speak to the manager, who handled himself professionally, assuring us that his staff is not supposed to question tips or leave the premises. He then gave us a generous gift certificate to return. All the while, the waiter is standing there, staring us down and trying to defend himself to the manager.

I've waited tables for years, and received a few bad tips in my day (some deserved, some not) and many great ones. From this experience I've learned two things: 1. NEVER question a tip, because it's the quickest way to be fired, on the spot; and 2. A tip is earned, not owed to you automatically just for showing up at a table.

How do you feel about leaving bad tips? Do you think that, as a server, it would ever be appropriate to question a tip or be rude to one of your guests? Thanks!

Tom Sietsema: Yeow!

First, kudos to the manager for handling such a tricky situation so well.

Second, tips are a way for the diner to thank the server for his or her efforts. Good service should generally be rewarded with between 15 and 20 percent gratuity; poor service should obviously be followed with a lesser tip. And under very few circumstances should a staff member challenge a diner for leaving what he or she considers to be less than the proper amount. In other words, I'm in your corner.

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Clarksville, Md.: Would like to know about the restaurant in Silver Spring, Maryland, "Mrs. K's Tollhouse restaurant"

Tom Sietsema: Gosh, I've never been. Any chatters want to weigh in with their impressions?

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Washington, D.C.: Would you like to weigh in on this week's big foodie controversy? A blogger (dcfoodies) took photos of Carole Greenwood's food at Buck's. After dessert, she told him not to. The next day he was served with a cease-and-desist letter telling him he could be sued if he posted the pictures. He has not posted them, or his review, but he has posted the letter.

Curious to hear your thoughts (and I've tried to recount the incident in as neutral a tone as I can! I am not either of the parties involved.)

Tom Sietsema: I think the whole thing is pretty darn amusing.

The blogger is a nice young man who just wants to record a meal he's enjoyed. The chef is an exceptional cook known for her (how do I say it?) occasional odd encounters with customers.

Maybe the blogger shouldn't have been so obvious. Maybe the chef should have left him alone. Maybe this is a tempest in a teapot.

Maybe it's time for another question ...

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Vegan tasting menu: 2941 has a great vegetarian tasting menu, and I imagine they might be willing to make it vegan given a few days notice.

Tom Sietsema: Yep. I bet chef Jonathan Krinn would do a swell job.

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Washington, D.C.: Tom,

I bought a gift certificate and booked an Extreme Cooking Class with Chef Luna at the Oval Room in February. I'm really disappointed to hear that he's left, given that I wanted my fiance to experience cooking with him. Has the Oval Room told you what they're doing about this? Nobody has contacted me yet to tell me the chef won't be there, or to ask me if I'm still interested. Thanks for the "News Flash," though (Did they expect me to just find out the news "on arrival"?). I'm upset that I had to find out this news through you and not the restaurant ...

Signed,

Really upset, disappointed and feeling kind of ripped off...

Tom Sietsema: Ashok Bajaj informs me the restaurant intends to honor those gift certificates -- as did chef Luna, in a separate exchange. But I bet the new chef will be your instructor for the meal.

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Downtown: You don't need to go to Palena or spend much for crispy pig ear - you can get a great crispy pig ear taco in Bladensburg!

Tom Sietsema: Where? Where?

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Vegan Tasting Menu?: You might want to try a personal chef!

Tom Sietsema: There you go!

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Cabin John, Md.: Tom, Happy New Year! I hope 2006 turns out to be an exciting eating year for all of us. We certainly are looking forward to your helping us discover new (and old) gems. Now for the question. Our last three experiences at Jackie's have been quite disappointing. At first we chalked it up to an off-day or two. But three in a row? Even fried chicken Wednesday was a let-down. I am wondering whether others had similar experiences?

Tom Sietsema: I'm sorry to hear that. Can you provide more detail?

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Washington, D.C.: For Bolling Air Force Base Vegan:

We are largely but not strictly vegetarians, and our meal last week at Vegetate was one of the best vegetarian meals we have ever had at a restaurant (bested perhaps only by Greens best). If they work out their wine issues by February, despite how much I also enjoyed CityZen, I'd choose Vegetate.

Tom Sietsema: Man, based on one meal at Vegetate, I certainly wouldn't put it anywhere near Cityzen.

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Virginian: Thanks for your recommendation of Del Merei -- it's not far from us, but I had not realized that things had changed in that little strip mall. Your food recommendations were right on, but I was especially impressed with the wine list. Lots of good choices -- I've tried three and tasted two others ordered by my dinner companion -- and they are very reasonable in price.

Tom Sietsema: One of the positive changes on the dining scene is even small, moderately-priced spots offering good wine choices and value. I hope the trend continues.

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Chantilly, Va.: Tom: I enjoyed your review of L'Auberge Provencale, where my wife and I spent our wedding night many moons ago, but I think you were a bit chintzy with the stars.

There is a BIG difference in perception between 2 1/2 stars and 3 and your review certainly seemed like a 3-star review.

Tom Sietsema: You must have stopped reading half-way through the review. Did you catch the part about over-produced plates? And the overly-familiar service?

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Silver Spring: Mrs. K's is one of those Restaurants That Time Forgot - perfectly good fancy food in an older style, and decorated as though 800 grandmothers put their doilies in one room but got slightly updated.

In short, if you want that experience (and the food is not bad, just not stylish) go right ahead. expensive, though.

Tom Sietsema: LOL

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Arlington, Va.: My Rasika experience - for starters I was having lunch solo at the bar and wanted a copy of the Post to read. I asked the bartender where I could get one. He said I should take a seat and he'd take care of it. He took some change out of the tip jar and went out, bought a Post and brought it back for me. THAT is service.

The food is bar none, the best Indian food I've had in DC. (including Heritage, Indique) Many of the dishes are unique among restaurants here. The paratha was the best I've had. (Sorry mom.)

The environs are definitely the most upscale, though I found the bar space to be lacking.

Two complaints: I ordered one dish and the bartender must have put in an order for the small size instead of the regular. The other is cost - lunch for 1 (w/o drinks or dessert) was about $35 all in.

Oh, and their Web site is terrible.

Tom Sietsema: Thanks for the report. Keep in mind, Rasika is still new.

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W, DC: Speaking of Acadiana, just thought I would share with you our experience there a few weeks ago.

We had brought our New Orleanian foodie friends there for dinner. We were very impressed with their creativity while keeping true to the flavors of the cuisine. The night went well until dessert came. Every one of our desserts flopped, big time. We are aware that the pasty chef had worked at Windsor Court before (even though we wouldn't consider WC to be a true New Orleanian representation), he mangled what could have been a great lemon doberge cake. Even the bread pudding failed to warm us up. We thought it was interesting, that the desserts were the luster lacked.

Tom Sietsema: But ya gotta love the ending: "heavenly hash" with the bill.

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Sushi being diet food: Honestly I hear this all the time and it bugs me. People go out and they eat 30,000 pieces of sushi at one sitting and they think it's light. Sushi has all white rice and no fiber, so it's not really completely healthy. In Japan they eat about 1/2 the amount of sushi pieces we eat at one sitting. (10 pieces or so, vs. about 15-20). All I'm saying is, portion size is important too.

Signed,

Someone who did get fat at first living in Japan!

Tom Sietsema: Thanks for the reminder. I dislike large portions and tend to eat no more than half a dozen pieces of sushi at a time. Throw in a bowl of miso, maybe a seaweed salad, and you have a pretty lean and healthful meal, though, right?

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Washington, D.C.: or maybe Carol Greenwood should not do anything that puts her in contact with the public...

Tom Sietsema: I thought that's why she put James Alefantis up front?

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Happy or sad?: A friend just spilled the beans that my bachelorette dinner is at Sonoma. Should I be happy or sad about this?

Tom Sietsema: I'd be happy if someone took me to Sonoma on the Hill. It's a star in a pretty empty sky over there.

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Crispy pig ear tacos: La Placita Taqueria just down Edmonston Rd. from La Sirenita. The crispy whole pig is on a rotisserie waiting - put on tacos to order. Ask for the ear (oreja?) or point.

Tom Sietsema: I hear running feet and racing cars ...

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Washington, D.C.: Hi Tom,

Are you ever wrong? Like if you can't stand a restaurant, or had a horrific experience, then is it possible that I could go and have a great meal? Sometimes I'd just like like to try a new restaurant, but I get scared off by your review...

Tom Sietsema: Taste is very personal. I try to take that into account when I write my reviews. Keep in mind, I don't visit a place just once; my critiques are based on three or more experiences with a given restaurant.

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Washington, D.C.: Re - Chasing down a tip.

I am a server and have ONCE followed a customer out the door to question a tip. The service I provided this particular customer was good, esp with the numerous questions and demands from her during the course of the meal. There was one item on the menu which we were out of (I let the customers know before they order). Anyway - I think she left a 5% tip. I asked her (politely) if there was a problem with the service (she made no mention of it to the manager or to me while at the restaurant) and she said no "it was because you didn't have the item I wanted on the menu". For every customer who leaves a bad tip for truly bad service there is one who punishes a hard working attentive server for things beyond his or her control.

By the way, my manager supported my decision to question the patron and all the other servers I work with applauded it.

Tom Sietsema: As I hinted, there are always exceptions to the rules. This was certainly one of them.

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Baton Rouge, La.: Since the hurricane, most of the places in your New Orleans post card are closed. Can you or any of the readers recommend good places to eat in Baton Rouge or New Orleans? Thanks

Tom Sietsema: I'm considering a visit in March. Can you hold out til then?

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Restaurant Week: What are your top 3 picks for Restaurant Week? Specific lunch and dinner picks? Obviously places like IndeBlue and Gallileo were instantly booked, but I'd still like to try interesting restaurants that I wouldn't otherwise visit.

Tom Sietsema: For those who don't know, Restaurant Week runs Jan. 9-15 this winter.

From the list of participants I've seen, I'd make a beeline for the following: Notti Bianche, Vidalia, Charlie Palmer Steak (lunch only), Colvin Run Tavern, Kaz Sushi Bistro, Majestic Cafe, Sushi-Ko and 1789, the last to see what the new chef is doing.

The deals are considerable: Three-course lunches go for $20.06, dinners sell for $30.06. The promotion is a fun way to explore places you normally couldn't afford, or to check out restaurants you're curious about but haven't tried.

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Alexandria, Va.: Delayed since next week is a break:

Last chat, an Arlington chatter asked about breakfast places.

Some Northern VA recommendations:

The Royal (near Old Town Alexandria on St Asaph) - a good Sunday brunch (and, I assume, good brkfst on other days)

Mancini's - corner of Mt Vernon Ave and Monroe Ave again, good Sunday breakfast (no brunch)

Peacock Cafe in Georgetown - good but $$$$$

only suggestions.

I generally agree that there are limited places for early risers ESPECIALLY on the weekends (!).

BTW you should check out "The Great Good Place" by Roy Oldenburg. Might evoke nostalgic thoughts and provide some commentary.

Great chats

Hope your Christmas, and any other holidays, treat you well!

Tom Sietsema: Ah, we can always use good breakfast suggestions here. Thanks.

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Washington, D.C.: Interested news out there in regards to Ten-Penh, we just ate at Acadiana and had the worst service we've ever had in Washington DC and vicinity. We were in the back at their large table (about 10 of us), and it took the server 30 minutes to bring us our wine. She also was assigned to 4 other 4 tops nearby, which in total is one person attending 5 large tables at the same time. There's just no way good service will be provided in that situation, not good enough for a quality restaurant anyway. And the managers were not stepping up to help either, even after we complained about the wine taking so long. It got delivered after our appetizers. I don't mind a long meal, but not one that keeps me waiting with absolutely no service for half an hour. By the way, I love DC Coast and think it has great service, so I hope their other 2 restaurants are not performing as poorly recently.

Tom Sietsema: I haven't been to DC Coast since it got a new chef (from Palette in the Madison Hotel).

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re: sea urchin: I just wanted to note that some of the strange foods are even common here - uni (sea urchin) is my all-time favorite nigiri. It must be in season, because the two pieces I just had at Sushi Aoi were the best I ever had!

Tom Sietsema: I LOVE sea urchin -- when it's fresh, that is.

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re: Sushi: According to CalorieKing.com, each piece of sushi averages 40 calories, 5-ish grams of carbs, and a little less that 2 g. of protein. Compared to most foods, it's still a deal.

And, I do eat a ton of pieces at a time, but it's my treat dinner (once a month or so). Yes, I appreciate it's not how it's done in Japan. Then again, we don't have top-quality sushi at every other restaurant, do we?

How about this for New Years Resolutions: as long a people are being quiet and respectful in restaurants, and not demanding the world, live and let eat!

Tom Sietsema: Live and let eat -- I like that, I like that! (Just remember to also turn off your cell phones and leave the screamin' munchkins at home ....)

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Mrs. K's:: We went there last year for dinner and the food was not that great. The manager was breathing down the neck of our poor waiter, who was getting so flustered. Felt bad for him.

I wouldn't go back for dinner, but the place is PACKED for Sunday brunch - and it's pretty expensive - $35 per head or so. Must be good to draw in that kind of crowd every Sunday of the year. At least, you'd think.....

Tom Sietsema: Well, there are lines at McDonald's, too ...

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Washington, D.C.: This chat reported a while back that Ris Lacoste was leaving 1789 at the end of the year. Did that happen? Who's in charge now? And where did she go?

Tom Sietsema: Here's the scoop from not too long ago:

Producer: The Weekly Dish on 1789

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New Orleans: For the Baton Rouge poster who was looking for New Orleans restaurants (by the way, I grew up in Baton Rouge!!) -- if you're willing to pay big bucks, try Cuvee, on Magazine Street in the CBD. It's open (I had my birthday dinner there the week after Christmas), serving a complete menu, and absolutely phenomenal. One of the finest meals I've ever had.

Tom Sietsema: Reader to the rescue!

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Cabin John, Md.: Re Jackie's: Sure. I'll put several of them together. The chicken was dry and the portions (all four of us ordered it)were skimpy on two occasions. The mini-hamburgers were not hot. (We've had them before and the are great when they are hot.) The service was extremely slow on two occasions and when the food finally came, the servers seemed to have no idea who ordered what. The waffle was ice cold.

Tom Sietsema: This is a prime example of the evidence I look for when people complain about sub-par restaurant experiences. Thanks.

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Chantilly, Va.: Re: L'Auberge Provencale. Yeah, I read the whole thing. I just felt that those negatives didn't justify knocking the overall score down to 2.5. Just my $0.02, of course.

By the way, you've gotta tell us whether the server who was planning on dancing naked on the beach in Jamaica is someone we'd WANT to see dancing naked on the beach.

Tom Sietsema: Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

(Seriously, she was a sweet 'n' petite gal.)

And on that racy note, I bid you farewell til next week.

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Washington, D.C.: Tom,

Happy New Year! I really enjoy the chats. I realize that part of being a food critic is eating things that you may not be particularly crazy about. However, is there a food that you absolutely WON'T eat?

Tom Sietsema: My words. Most of the time.

Outta here.

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