Ask Tom

Tom Sietsema
Washington Post Food Critic
Wednesday, May 10, 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: Good morning, everyone. What a gorgeous day! I hope you all have plans to eat lunch outside today.

I'm just back from two days in New York, where I attended the 16th annual James Beard Foundation Awards. It was a looooooong Monday night as some 60 awards were doled out to chefs, restaurateurs, food scribes, wine types, service professionals, cookbook authors and others in a ceremony that paid tribute to New Orleans. After the gala, I spotted Fabio Trabocchi, the recipient of the Best Chef: Mid-Atlantic honor, who told me he planned to catch a train back to Washington at 7 a.m. Tuesday in order to cook at Maestro last night. Now THAT'S dedication. Congrats, too, go to local author Joan Nathan, for winning a cookbook award for "The New American Cooking."

Perfect timing: I lunched at the excellent new A Voce restaurant, at 41 Madison Ave., BEFORE Frank Bruni's flattering review in the NY Times today. Bruni gave the Italian newcomer, whose kitchen is watched over by Andrew Carmellini (late of the exceptional, French-themed Cafe Boulud), a rare three stars. The best dish: duck meatballs. "These would be great for a staff meal," I said to my waiter. "They are!" he replied. The room is airy and modern; the service is friendly and smart. Go, go, go if you have plans to be in the Big Apple anytime soon.

Contrary to what you may have heard on the ol' grapevine, chef Eric Ripert of the four-star Le Bernardin in New York is NOT opening a restaurant in a Ritz-Carlton property in Washington anytime soon. "I've signed a letter of intent but not a contract," he told me earlier this morning. "There's no funding yet." While he has done a tasting for financier/hotelier Bill Marriott and has an idea of what he'd like to do here -- an organic cafe, "like New York's Balthazar, only American" -- Ripert said any such project is now unlikely before April 2007. He added that one of his five sous chefs in New York is expected to cook at the future restaurant.

Closer to home, the Old Homestead in Bethesda has grilled its last steak and Washington is losing one of its most engaging sommeliers. Stay tuned, later in the chat, for more details regarding the latter news item.

On to your questions and comments!

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Washington, D.C.: I find it appalling the number of not good restaurants in D.C. who claim to be fully booked when they are in fact empty. May they go the way of all bad restaurants and close.

Tom Sietsema: Can you provide more specifics? This is an interesting topic; appearances can be deceiving.

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Washington, D.C.: Tom, Where is the best place to enjoy soft shell crabs this time of year? I've been craving them since, spring came around.

Tom Sietsema: Gosh, a lot of places are offering soft shell crabs now. The best one in recent memory was slipped inside a BLT -- constructed with fabulously smoky bacon and surprisingly juicy tomatoes -- at Poste in the Hotel Monaco in Penn Quarter. The sandwich, a recent lunch special, comes with a tall cone of fries that are hard to resist, too.

Which reminds me to remind you: Chef Robert Weland is doing some really delicious cooking these days.

washingtonpost.com: Review of Poste .

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Vienna, Va.: Dear Tom, Help! We won at auction a $300 gift certificate to Occidental Restaurant, and we are not regular restaurant go-ers at all. What is the protocol for using this gift certificate? Do we need to use the full amount in one evening, or would a balance be returned on another gift certificate? How long do we have to use it (an issue date but no expiration date is indicated)? Do we just present it when the bill comes, or do we say we're using a gift certificate when we make reservations? It excludes gratuity, so I assume we just tip in cash on the full meal amount..any other advice is appreciated. Thanks so much!

Tom Sietsema: A manager at the restaurant informs me that:

1) The certificate is good for two years from its issue date.

2) You don't have to spend the whole amount; any balance will remain on the certificate, which can be reused.

3) It doesn't matter when you mention that you're using the gift.

4) Tips are not part of the deal. Holders of certificates pay gratuities with cash or credit card.

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Alexandria,VA: Good morning Tom! I want to ask your opinion on a

recent experience I had where it seemed a four top was

transferred from one group to another, bypassing the

host stand and the long line of hungry brunch-go-ers.

A few weekends ago three of us were waiting in the

brunch queue at Luna Grill in Dupont. The hostess told us

it would be about a fifteen minute wait -and, after being

there for fifteen minutes the four top near us was paying

the bill. Then, three of the four got up and left, while one

stayed seated, talking with a few friends who had just

walked in. The friends then sat down at the table and

picked up menus! The hostess saw what was going on

and was discussing what to do with the manager.

Since we were next up I asked the hostess what she

thought could be done. She seemed very sympathetic and

annoyed as well, but said she couldn't really do anything.

What do you think should have been done?

Luckily my brother-in-law is pretty fearless - he actually

approached the table, asked them if they planned to eat,

and told them that there was a line of people who had

arrived before any of them. The guys at the table didn't

really appreciate their poor behavior being pointed out -

saying now they were more inclined than ever to stay

(though they left within about five minutes and we got a

table).

On a side note - I was offered some comic relief shortly

thereafter when the six-top next to us was served all of

their food, by one waiter, who carried SIX PLATES on ONE

ARM, stacked neatly into two, three-plate high piles.

GROSS!!!

Tom Sietsema: The manager should have taken IMMEDIATE action and let the threesome know that the table they occupied was meant for another party. (What, the trio didn't see the line? How boorish.)

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Washington, D.C.: Since everyone seems to get all up in arms about group dining, I'd like to know where a good place would be to take a group of 12. It is my sister's bachelorette party, but we are looking to keep it low key and relaxed. Is there a good spot downtown (Dupont/Adams Morgan) area that might cater to that size group? And wouldn't push us out the door? Or am I chasing a pipe dream...

Tom Sietsema: I'm thinking Perry's, Busboys and Poets, Local 16, Tabaq Bistro or Sette Osteria would be fun for a group such as yours.

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Alexandria, Va.: Hi Tom,

My birthday is coming up and my boyfriend asked where I would like to go to dinner. I would love to go to Restaurant Eve, but that is too expensive for us. Can you suggest something in Old Town that would be a great meal but not too expensive. Thanks!

Tom Sietsema: Altogether now: Majestic Cafe!

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Washington, D.C.: Tom,

Thanks so much for your latest dining postcard, perfect timing as I'm off to Paris today! Are there any other places you couldn't fit in your postcard that I shouldn't miss? Thanks!

Tom Sietsema: Yes: Breakfast at Laduree (don't bother with any other meal) and a seafood snack at the pint-size L'Ecume Saint-Honore, which is a small fish market with a few tables in the rear. Love the live scallops, and the sea urchin, and the oysters and the ...

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Washington, D.C.: Luna Grill & Diner in Dupont

Tom Sietsema: Is this in response to the gaggle of gals looking for a group setting?

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Any word on Ray's Classic?: Tom,

Any word on when (or if at this point) Ray's Classic is due to open in Silver Spring?

Also, you mentioned talking to Fabio Trabocchi at the Beard awards; doesn't that blow your cover for dining at his establishments?

Tom Sietsema: He was clearly aware of who I was - and so was his staff, one of whom greeted me with an (old) alias of mine. Sigh.

I'll let you know when the new Ray's opens. Hang tight.

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Washington, D.C.: Hi Tom! Please please pick me! I've got a simple question. What is your opinion on Corduroy? Can you name a few other restaurants equal to Corduroy? Thanks so much!

Tom Sietsema: I think Tom Power does a mighty fine job of turning out really good food on a consistent basis. Is the room glamorous? No, but it's relatively quiet.

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Washington, D.C.: For the group dining for 12 questioner -- with the bachelorette party -- I have taken groups to Mimi's in Dupont Circle, and not only are the singing waiters entertaining, there are dishes on the menu from $12 to $30, so people can order a big meal or a basic burger, as they choose. I'd recommend it.

Tom Sietsema: Mimi's is more fun for the drinkin' than the eatin'. And you have to compete with the singers! They are loud!

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Centreville, Va.: Hi Tom, what is the best time to go to Szechwan Boy in Fairfax? After reading your short review, I'd love for my husband and daughter to take me there for Mother's Day (not on Mother's Day of course, which is a dining nightmare), but I don't want to wait for hours for a table. Thanks!

Tom Sietsema: You might want to rethink your choice of Chinese restaurants.

Peter Chang, the restaurant's very good chef, left the kitchen at the end of last month, says his former boss, Jerry Lan. "I don't know where he went. Some people said North Carolina." Lan has since hired two Chinese chefs to replace Chang. "It's still good," he told me (for what that's worth).

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Downtown Washington, D.C.: Tom,

I noticed that Mr. Nichols did not mention the James Beard Award nominee (Cindy Wolfe) from Baltimore's Charleston restaurant in this morning's edition of the Post. She certainly deserves mentioning. I just had an extraordinary meal at the establishment approximately 1-week ago - based upon a previous write-up from you. I'm SOOOOO glad that I went up there! The kitchen produced a culinary epiphany. Wow! What an amazing experience. Thanks Tom! Have you re-visted Charleston recently? (I'm trying to figure out a new excuse to go back! Tee Hee Hee!)

Tom Sietsema: Cindy Wolf is indeed an important chef. I've not been back in about eight months, but I look forward to an excuse to return. (Let's see. I start work on the fall dining guide next month!)

washingtonpost.com: Review of Charleston .

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Washington, D.C.: If you were a chef, which kitchens in town would you most like to ply your craft in?

Tom Sietsema: I'd most love to get into the brains -- and the kitchens -- of Frank Ruta, Cathal Armstrong, Michel Richard, Eric Ziebold, Peter Pastan, Andrew Evans and Ann Cashion. Among others.

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Dupont Circle, Washington, D.C.: Hello Mr Sietsema, love your advice, crazy about the

chats. Group of 6 are taking a friend out who's leaving for

greener pastures. She requested Indian food and her usual

haunt for that is Heritage India. The decor there drives me

nuts and we had very bad service last time. Can you

recommend Indian food in the Dupont/U St area that

would be a good sending off? Many many thanks.

Tom Sietsema: I'm very high on Rasika these days, but you'll have to venture to 6th St. NW in Penn Quarter to experience the place.

washingtonpost.com: Review of Rasika .

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Tom Sietsema: This just in: Christopher Hile, the affable and energetic sommelier at Cityzen, is leaving his post "in a matter of weeks," to take a job at a resort in Santa Barbara. "I have a new opportunity on the horizon," he told me just minutes ago.

All of which means, Eric Ziebold is looking for someone to replace him. Any takers out there?

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Fairfax, Va.: Tom,

I need your help, quick, please! My friend is meeting me for lunch in the George Washington Circle/Dupont Circle area. I'll only have about an hour, , but I still want to go somewhere kind of cool. Is this possible?

Thanks!

Tom Sietsema: Circle Bistro, Firefly and Johnny's Half Shell all fall into that category of "cool."

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Delaware: Tom - I recently dined at Everest in Chicago (a great place, by the way, for anyone headed there) and was enjoying myself, when one half of a couple at another table called the maitre d' over, and proceeded to describe 11 separate, numbered points, of disagreement with the food. My favorite, I think, was #5 - the lamb wasn't sufficiently "sumptuous". So, my question is this - when restaurants get those kinds of silly complaints, what happens? Does people snicker in the kitchen? Does it get posted on a wall of shame or something?

Tom Sietsema: Let's ask the chefs and waiters lurking online today!

Everest is one of my favorite restaurants in the country; its chef, Jean Joho, was just made a member of the prestigious Who's Who of food and wine by the James Beard Foundation.

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Washington, D.C.: I had a great experience with a group (baby shower, about 15 people) at the Clyde's downtown on 7th St. Fun atmosphere, good American food, and very accommodating staff - they offered to take photos and to split the check (into about 10 separate bills). I'm sure that it helped that it was a Saturday afternoon when the place was pretty empty.

Tom Sietsema: I'm not hearing great things about the grub over there ....

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Kitchens where Tom would like to be a chef: For those of us who are not familiar with all the chefs in the DC area, could you elaborate with the NAMES of the restaurants where those chefs cook up their delicacies?

Tom Sietsema: In no particular order: Palena, Restaurant Eve, Cashion's Eat Place, Obelisk, Michel Richard Citronelle, the Inn at Easton.

Did I get 'em all?

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Alexandria, Va.: Hi Tom--Judging by pizza quality alone, which do you prefer, Two Amy's or Pizzeria Paradiso?

Thanks!

Tom Sietsema: Two Amys. The crust alone --- crisp, charred, yeasty, thin -- is very much to my taste.

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Washington, D.C. : Dear Tom,

A few weeks ago my husband took me to dinner at a French restaurant for my birthday (he dislikes French cuisine, so it was a really special treat for me!). Unfortunately, we had an incredibly rude waitress - to the point where other patrons gave us apologetic glances. We were not told of the specials, were scoffed at when asking what an item on the menu was, and were not given any wine recommendations with our meal, even though we said we wanted to buy a bottle to celebrate my birthday. On any other occasion I would have said something to the manger, but I didn't want to spoil my evening with a confrontation. It still really grates on me - is there any recourse?

Tom Sietsema: The problem is, your evening was already spoiled by the server's dismissive attitude. Right? You should have brought the problem to a manager's attention immediately.

The next time this happens, try something along the lines of this:

"We're out for a special evening, but we're not getting much help from our waitress. Maybe you could tell us about the specials and suggest a wine to go with dinner? It would be so helpful."

A little civility goes a long way. I can't imagine a manager not wanting to make you happy after an opener such as that one.

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Washington, D.C.: I'm surprised that your chat doesn't have more input from restaurant managers. Seems like we get a lot of reports from customers and venting from waitstaff, but not much about what management does on a day to day basis.

I'm a restaurant manager and I read a transcript of your chat every week to see what you are recommending and to be ready in case my place is listed or noted somehow.

The one piece of advice I would offer to diners is that if they have a comment good or bad that they ASK FOR A MANAGER BEFORE THEY LEAVE. I have a hard working staff, and we take our jobs seriously, but they can get flustered sometimes.

I have years of restaurant experience, and I know that I can fix almost any problem that can arise. Many of our regular customers were won over due to a problem during one of their first visits, or simply because they made a choice to say something about their experience.

I really believe that developing a working relationship with a manager, bartender, or server that you find to be doing the job the right way will help you enjoy eating out so much more. If you have a problem, say so! If everything is great, then say that too.

Tom Sietsema: Ah, you're preaching to the choir with your sentiments. If I've said it once, I've said it a million times: Whenever possible -- there are always exceptions -- customers should deal with problems as they arise. "Later" tends to be "too late."

I encourage and appreciate feedback from restaurant insiders in this forum. Thanks for your post. And come again!

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Baltimore, Md.: Tom - I know you have to eat out a lot (which, really, sounds like the best job ever). Do you cook, though? When you have the chance to have a meal at home, what do you cook? What do you crave?Thanks!

Tom Sietsema: I eat out 13 meals a week on average. Which leaves me VERY little time to cook. However, I had a dinner party recently, where I tested an old family favorite for a Mother's Day column I wrote for this Sunday's Magazine.

Unless it's for a special occasion, the meals I prepare at home tend to be very simple (meatloaf, roast chicken, pasta). I guess I crave simplicity.

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Washington, D.C.: Tom,

I would love your take on this. Usually when we go for Indian we order more than we can eat so that we can have a little of more dished and then take the left overs home. A certain Indian restaurant packaged them up once in the sort of Styrofoam (sp?) containers that fold over but do not seal properly. By the time I got home everything with sauce had gotten all over everything and I was LIVID - I mean fit to be tied - and I had to throw everything out. What would you have done? For what it is worth I never get doggie bags except in this instance and possibly Chinese food because I figure if they are offering it to go it must okay. Thanks.

Tom Sietsema: Next time, why not bring your own plastic containers?

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Washington, D.C.: I think Kramer's could be done in an hour as well...quite a good lunch offering...

Tom Sietsema: Gosh, I haven't eaten there in years. Good idea.

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Vienna, Va.: Tom,

Any word on the new Thai restaurant on 19th and M?

Tom Sietsema: Here's what I thought just as the place opened:

washingtonpost.com: The Weekly Dish on Mai Thai .

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Le Timbre, Paris: Tom--

Last year my wife and I enjoyed a wonderful meal at Le Timbre. We were joking with the waitress that she and the chef looked very much like brother and sister. Later, when we arrived back home and told the story to my father, who had recommended the restaurant to us, we found out that, in fact, the chef and waitress are husband and wife!!

Tom Sietsema: Really? I suspected as much, but when I asked the chef himself, he denied being hitched to any of the three waitresses who work for him (one at a time, since the place is TINY).

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washingtonpost.com: Postcard from Tom: Paris

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Pasadena, Calif.: Hi Tom,

Maybe third time asking's the charm ... I'm running out of

time and hope you can help ...

I want to treat my parents to dinner ($100ish) on their

first trip to San Francisco, someplace near their hotel.

They'll be staying on the Embarcadero waterfront,

supposedly within five minutes of Fisherman's Wharf,

Chinatown, Union Square, Ghirardelli Square and North

Beach.

Anything but Asian; local ingredients a plus; they don't

drink anymore but like the sensibility of a place that cares

about wine.

Please help! (Yes, I read your postcards!) Thanks, Tom!

Tom Sietsema: Send the parental units to Zuni Cafe, Quince or Delfina, all of which are models of their kind.

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Washington, D.C.: Hey Tom:

Here is what we restaurant folk do when someone launches into a supercilious diatribe while we are serving guests: We say, "Thank you very much for your input" and we move on. After service, we relay relevant comments to appropriate staff members. We do not punish guests for having opinions, although we may roll our eyes from time to time, away from public view, of course.

Tom Sietsema: Just what I thought. Merci.

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Washington, D.C.: Here's an annoying experience about reservations (it happened in another state) - we called a restaurant and made reservations for 7:45. We had asked for 7:30 but the person on the phone could only offer us 7:45. When we arrived he told us that we would have to wait until 8pm. We were a little annoyed - he offered no explanation (e.g., "they're just finishing up", "things got delayed") that would have made sense. He did however proceed to insist that when I called him earlier for the reservation that he clearly stated that "no reservation is guaranteed". He lied. He was quite frankly kind of nasty and reluctantly offered us a free drink in the very crowded, noisy, and smoky bar. The stupid thing is that within about 10 minutes we had our table - by 8pm. A little kindness would go a long way - for any hosts out there, a simple understandable explanation would work wonders. And a free drink offer that felt genuine is nice. Being nasty and insisting that "no reservation is guaranteed" is the wrong wrong wrong way to handle things. We ate there (despite me urging my dining partner to spend our money elsewhere) - but won't be going back.

Tom Sietsema: I always appreciate hearing the truth, even if the news isn't what I want to hear. (Airlines are good at this these days:. "Folks, we'll be sitting here for another 20 minutes or so, because a light needs to be changed in the cockpit.")

The host sounds like a dolt.

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Arlington, Va.: Oh, for Tom's sake. Where are people's priorities? I can't imagine getting LIVID over leftovers. "The Styrofoam didn't shut all the way! Arrrrrgh!" Seems more like an inconvenience rather than something to bust a gut over.

Tom Sietsema: I hear you. But haven't you ever REALLY looked forward to that leftover steak or chocolate cake only to find the item was smashed, MIA or not what you requested?

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Washington, D.C.: Visiting NYC with my parents and we'd like to try out a great restaurant that won't break the bank. Any suggestions (American or Italian?)

Tom Sietsema: Three words of advice: Momofuko Noodle Bar!

Actually, make that eight words of advice: Go early or go late.

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Washington, D.C. - Complaints in Restaurants: Hey Tom, a restaurant manager here, and we all receive these types of complaints. Some are certainly warranted, and I always take my customers word for it. If a steak is cooked perfectly medium-rare, and the customer says it's not, I will apologize and get them another. If it takes long to get them a second steak, I'll comp their entree. There are times though when all you can do is simply apologize with a smile. A customer at our restaurant ordered an entree with just the protein on the plate. No vegetables, no starch, no sauce, just the steak. She then proceeded to complain to me that she had gotten a plate of just steak. Even though she had asked for it without anything else, she expected there to be side items to make the plate look better, even though she admitted that she would not have eaten them. In this case, all I could do was apologize and I offered her to ask for me the next time she comes in so that this won't happen again. I know Everest is a great restaurant both in terms of food and service, so I imagine the manager handled it very well.

Tom Sietsema: The female diner sounds like ... well, let's just say the lady has issues.

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Washington, D.C.: Hi Tom,

What in your opinion is the best restaurant that one can go to in shorts and not be turned away/glared at ?

Thanks

Tom Sietsema: The bar at Palena? The patio at Citronelle? An outdoor table at Marcel's?

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Alexandria, Va.: "Livid over leftovers"?!

You raise an interesting point that people should be able to use their own containers.

I agree WHOLEHEARTEDLY (I'm all for a little less styrofoam in the world) - but, unfortunately, I wonder what the health code regs are and whether restaurants are allowed to put leftovers in containers I bring.

Any thoughts?

Tom Sietsema: Does anyone know if this can or can't (legally) be done?

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Re: NYC Pizza: You ever go to Otto in Manhattan? Great pizza.

Tom Sietsema: Actually, I like the Italian snacks better.

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Washington, D.C.: How did you manage to go the James Beard awards. Were you in disguise?

Tom Sietsema: I went as Alton Brown.

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Boise, Idaho: How do you manage to keep your figure with all this eating out? (Love your column!)

Tom Sietsema: I'm not sure that I do! The day I got this job, however, I hired a personal trainer -- I call him my health insurance -- and I go to the gym an average of three days a week.

Still, I need to spend more time on the Stair Master and less time at the table. Or at least EATING at the table.

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Washington, D.C.: Tom - do you have any suggestions on where I can take my husband for his birthday this Saturday May 13. It will be his first birthday that we are celebrating as husband and wife.

Tom Sietsema: I need more details. What does he like? Where are you looking to celebrate? What is your budget?

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Still drying off in Rockville: Tom,

I'd like to hear what you'd do in my shoes. We were seated at for dinner at a restaurant in West Virginia that claimed to have a "pedigreed" chef. Young waitress took our drink orders and came back with a tray from which a glass of wine fully tumbled into my lap. Horrified face and apologies with offer to change tables from our server. What happened next was a couple of towels for me as we sat back and the table was wiped down by the hostess. A comment was made wondering if they needed to offer to clean my slacks, to which I said no as they were washable. I was accommodating and didn't raise a fuss. Perhaps that was an error on my part, since I was certain that there would be some further consideration shown by the management. By the end of dinner I was still not dry, but got "wringed out" when the bill came.... the full bill came... and not a word more was said save for an apology by the server. I don't know if we'll ever go back there, but I'm still really steamed that a place that charges high prices for the region would have such low class. The worst part was that I don't even drink, but got to smell the stuff until we got home!

Tom Sietsema: Poor you! That's happened to me before, only with hot coffee. Not fun.

You mention a "young" waitress. Was the manager ever made aware of what happened? Someone in charge should have attended to the problem from the start, and seen to it that you left on a more positive note.

At the least, the restaurant should have paid for your entree, or even your meal. Considering you weren't drinking, it would not have been a huge outlay for the place.

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Washington, D.C.: Hi Tom!!

My boyfriend and I are big foodies and I'm planning his birthday. I've decided to take him to the tasting room at Restaurant Eve for dinner, but need a place for lunch. Would like to go somewhere we haven't been before, which may be a tall order because we've made a real effort to cover a lot of ground. We've been to Minibar (where he took me for my birthday) CityZen, Cafe Mozu, Palena, Komi, among others... Don't get me wrong, the place doesn't have to be as expen$ive as the aforementioned, but I'm definitely shooting for at least memorable, and of course delicious. I'm thinking possibly of Kaz Sushi Bistro, since we both love sushi and have yet to go. We've been to Sushi Ko hwr. Thanks!!

Tom Sietsema: You and I are on the same page. I like the idea of something light before A Big Deal Meal. Kaz Sushi Bistro would be an excellent choice. So would Makoto.

Another option is Thai; for that, head to the handsome Regent Thai in Dupont Circle or the serene (at lunch) Rice in Logan Circle, both of which offer several lovely soups.

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Dupont Circle, D.C.: Dear Tom,

I don't understand (since you say you get so many questions for your chat) why you chose to publish the "I hate kids" rant in your last chat. We get it. Some diners don't like kids in their restaurants if they aren't sitting like angels eating mutely. We have talked about this ad nauseam in the chat, so why waste limited space on a complaint like that.

I DO have kids and I take them to dinner. We choose places that are known to be family friendly and we go before 6:30 and we try keep the kids quiet. Now please give us a break! If you don't like noisy kids stay away from Mamma Mia and Austin Grill. Both are chains and families eating dinner are what you should expect at those hours. The restaurateurs obviously think that people with kids are good customers or the place wouldn't be "family friendly."

I don't care if the author is a DINK or a SINK, he/she just seemed like a JERK. And I don't see why it deserves space in this chat.

That's MY rant.

Tom Sietsema: My promise to you for today: This will be the only post to mention the topic you say you are tired of hearing about.

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Indian leftovers: The Indian restaurant near my house (deeeelicious, by the way - the one in the White Oak shopping center) uses those styrofoam packages for take-home food, and you know what I do? It's radical - it's crazy - I make sure the container stays level on the way home! Works like a charm!

Tom Sietsema: LOL

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Grocery complaints: Tom, I work in the retail grocery business, and we get the wacky customer too. You smile, do what you can for them, don't try to convince them that what they believe is utter nonsense, and get them out the door. Then you laugh about it after closing.

Tom Sietsema: Share a story or two with us, for next week!

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Poste: I want to second that I love the food at Poste, but the service was so bad on a Sunday morning brunch - plenty of open tables being held for "reservations" that never seemed to show, a hostess forgetting we were there and having to be reminded twice that we were waiting, a cracked tea mug, 3 servers stopping by our table to try and help, but the first taking 10-15 minutes to bring our tea, to our brunch cocktails coming AFTER we were finished with our meal - I'm not sure I'll be back. And that's a shame, because the food was great!

Tom Sietsema: Gosh, that was SO not the case when I dropped by. But thanks for sharing.

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Arlington, Va.: Tom, it strikes me that people seem to be quick to complain. Are they as quick to compliment? While I don't hesitate to speak up if I'm not getting satisfactory service (although "satisfactory service" for me covers a wide range!), I also make sure that I compliment the server on an especially fine job -- and when a server goes above and beyond, I make sure I find the manager to let him or her know as well. If I'm going to hold restaurant staff to a certain standard and expect them to meet it, I think I owe them recognition when they exceed it. Just my 2 cents.

Tom Sietsema: I bet you're a four-star customer.

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Weirton, WV: Styrofoam containers at least are new, clean, and you can transfer your left overs once you get home and toss it. To keep it closed, keep a rubber band or two on your

person or in your purse.

Tom Sietsema: What a smart bunch we have online today.

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Re: Pizza: Dear Tom,

Love the chat. If your pizza person ever finds him/herself in Southern MD and in need of good pizza, they should try Margellina's. The pizza is thin and crispy, beautifully charred. The white pizza is out of this world. My European friends say it the closest they can get to the pizza they remember from Italy. It's a small neighborhood place across the street from the Clinton park & ride lot. Well worth the trip!

P.S. Just a very satisfied customer, promise.

Tom Sietsema: Let's end with a pizza tip. Now I'm REALLY hungry.

Thanks for spending some time with me today. Let's regroup next Wednesday, okay?

Cheers.

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