Ask Tom

Tom Sietsema
Washington Post Food Critic
Wednesday, February 21, 2007; 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 and the Weekly Dish 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: THIS JUST IN: Michael Hartzer -- until recently the chef of Ray's the Classics in Silver Spring (and before that, Michel Richard Citronelle) -- still dreams of opening a place of his own. "But that takes a long time, a year or two," to come up with investors, a game plan and a site, he says, "and I can't really not have a job for a year or two." So Hartzer recently accepted the lead kitchen position at the minimalist Viridian in Logan Circle -- making him the fourth chef in the restaurant's young life. (It turned a year old in November.)

Given the high turnover, isn't that a little like taking over the wheel house of the Titanic?

"As everyone knows, (Viridian) has had its ups and downs," concedes Hartzer. Still, he thinks the restaurant has several things going for it: A brand-new general manager, Kevin Blonshein, who has experience at Equinox, the late Nectar and Butterfield 9; a "beautiful" blank canvas of an interior; and a majority owner, developer Giorgio Furioso, who isn't a restaurant group, isn't a hotel and "doesn't a have a lot of opinions" as far as what Hartzer puts on his menu. In other words, says the new hire, "I can make it my own -- make it great."

For the moment, Hartzer is doing his own take on the menu he inherited, in part to use up what was left behind and in part to make it easy on the staff during the transition. He predicts it will be at least a few weeks before he has the opportunity to offer a menu that is completely his own.

In other words, he wants us to give him a chance to settle in.

For his part, Furioso says he was impressed with "the ease with which (Hartzer) could be so creative" as well as the chef's background. Of all the restaurants in the city, "I eat the most at Citronelle," says Furioso. "And he came with great recommendations."

Maybe the fourth time's the charm?

It's a busy, busy news day, kids. Onward!

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Alexandria, Va. : Tom -

Thanks for your chats and recommendations. I love getting new ideas from you and the readers. I bet you have addressed this before, but wanted to see if you can steer me in the right direction. This past week was our first Valentines Day as a married couple. I was really sick and had to go to the hospital the weekend before V-Day. My husband was wonderful and dropped everything to take care of me, drove me in the middle of the night to the ER and kept my spirits up through a very rough time. I know most if not all spouse would do the same, but he really was a trooper and was very strong for me when I needed him. I felt badly that I did not have anything for him on the 14th, and want to make it up to him. He loves beef and as a Texan, would love a good steak. What in your opinion is the best steak house in DC? I want to surprise him with a night out when I am feeling better. I do not want to go to Rays, as we do not want to be on a schedule. Thanks so much and keep up the great work!

Tom Sietsema: My favorite, all-around, non-Ray's place for steak right now is Capital Grille at 601 Penn. Ave. NW.

washingtonpost.com: Review of the Capital Grille.

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Washington, D.C.: Tom,

I love a good Cuban sandwich and have sampled most offered in DC and MD, usually with disappointing results. I just tried Merkado's version of the sandwich and was pleasantly surprised--have you tried their sandwich and what was your impression? Their fries are okay but the sandwich is worth another trip.

Tom Sietsema: Good to know! I haven't been to Merkado in a long, long time. However, I can personally vouch for the Cuban served on Thursdays (only) at Breadline downtown.

Any other model sandwiches we should know about out there?

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Anonymous: Hi Tom! Can you please remind all the chefs out there reading that it's now Lent, and that they will therefore have big runs on the fish and meatless entrees on their menus on Fridays? It's never fun to go out at 7:30 on a Friday and have them already out of those!

Tom Sietsema: Chefs, are you listening?

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Arlington, Va.: Hi Tom! I was wondering if you had any recommendations for a lovely dinner for two in Portland, Oregon? I was thinking about planning a date night (i.e. getting a gift certificate to a nice restaurant) for friends as a belated wedding gift. Any suggestions would be appreciated!

Tom Sietsema: Great timing. I was in Portland earlier this month. I'll be writing about some of my meals there for a future Postcard column in the Travel section, but let me toss out a couple of hot spots in advance: Local gastronauts love, love, love the newish Le Pigeon (503-546-8796), whose young and talented chef, Gabriel Rucker, is doing innards, offal and whatever is seasonal proud in a shoebox of a dining room. And if you want something uber trendy, look no further than the glam 23 Hoyt Restaurant & Bar (503-445-7400) and its Mediterranean-minded menu. The latter is also great for late-night cocktails and small plates, by the way.

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Houston, TX: Heading up to NYC this weekend to see friends - we love to explore the latest and greatest hotspots when it comes to cuisine. Any recommendations? Any cuisine is of interest but we love Asian in particular and moderate / expensive price range. Hoya Saxa!!

Tom Sietsema: If you dig Asian, THE restaurant to head for is the new Momofuko Ssam Bar in the East Village, which I wrote about in a recent Postcard column. Caveat: It just got a well-deserved rave in today's NYT from Frank Bruni, so plan accordingly.

washingtonpost.com: Postcard from Tom: New York.

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animals in restaurants: Years ago I was in a Paris restaurant when a dog walked through the open front door and sat down at my feet. Shortly after, a couple from the states was seated next to me. They went on and on about how uncouth it was, how unsanitary, etc., etc., and how dare I have a dog at the table. After awhile the dog woke up from his power nap, got to his feet and walked back out the front door. It's amazing what you hear when people don't think you understand their language.

Tom Sietsema: I am constantly amazed at what people choose to say in public. Especially on their cell phones, a device that only serves to amplify their banal/wild/gross conversations.

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McLean, Va.: I just wanted to share my experience at Central this past weekend. My wife and I had dinner at the bar at about 7:30 on Saturday night. We were seated near the service end of the bar, which I find to be one of the most interesting spots to sit in a restaurant. While we were sitting there, two servers had a very minor disagreement that really did not even phase my wife and I. However, our bartender must have pointed what we witnessed to one of the floor managers. We were subsequently approached by two different managers to apologize for what we had to witness, even though we insisted it really was no big deal. They bought my wife and I a round of after dinner drinks and the amazing Kit Kat for dessert. It really is the most cared for I have felt in a restaurant in a long time. The best part of the whole scenario is the fact that the management team was completely proactive as opposed to simply reacting to a guests complaint. Oh yeah, the food was absolutely amazing as well. Keep up the good work!

Tom Sietsema: Thanks for sharing your story.

I have one of my own regarding Central and this past weekend. It seems someone who identified herself as "Tom Sietsema's secretary" called the new restaurant to book a table for four at 8 p.m. -- and got the reservation, despite a fully committed dining room.

There were just three problems. One, I was out of the country last weekend (Buenos Aires) and made note of that on last Wednesday's chat. Two, I don't have a secretary. And three, as long as I have this job, I will never use my own name to make a reservation in a Washington area restaurant. Nor will anyone who is a regular dining companion.

Fortunately, a manager noticed the reservation and kept an eye out for the "Sietsema" party. And fortunately, the liars never showed up.

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Washington, D.C.: It's graduation reservation time! Really! My boyfriend is graduating from GW and his mother asked me to make a reservation at the perfect restaurant. She's not very adventurous in terms of food, so I'm thinking steakhouse/American. She's also on a bit of a budget, so BLT Steak (as much as I'm desperate to go) is probably too expensive. Anywhere in metro DC is great. I read your chats every week (they seriously perk up my Wednesday morning), and I've wracked my brain, and I just can't seem to find the perfect answer. Thanks so much!

Tom Sietsema: How about the aforementioned Central? Or Corduroy? Or Oya, which recently added a fixed price, three-course dinner menu for $30 -- even though Restaurant Week is weeks behind us? (Okay, the last might be extreme for Mom, but what a cool dining room! And what a deal!)

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Bad Taste in My Mouth: Tom--

Do you have any tricks of the trade re: food that leaves a nasty taste in your mouth? My SO and I splurged on a bottle of wine at DC Coast on V-Day. I was in grape heaven until my app showed up. The celery slaw that accompanied the fried oysters had red onion in it that was so strong, it was all I could taste for the rest of the meal, the night, all the way till lunch the next day. It torpedoed my palate.

Has this ever happened to you? Do you know of some kind of trick to cleanse your palate after a particularly strong spice or taste? I tried bread and about a gallon of water, but nothing helped. Kinda gave an unpleasant edge to an otherwise lovely meal -- especially the wine, which ended up tasting like onion.

Tom Sietsema: Lemon or parsley have worked for me in the past. Is Heloise out there today?

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Vegetarian in Old Town: Vegetate in D.C. announced today it finally received a liquor license. Now about the food...

Tom Sietsema: If this is true, good for them! (And I agree with you about the food, which made me happy to be a meat eater the last time I dropped in.)

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Cuban Sandwich: Caribbean Breeze on Fairfax in Ballston might just scratch that itch!

Tom Sietsema: Thanks for chiming in. I haven't tried theirs.

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Centreville, Va.: Hi Tom, Is there a restaurant in the area that serves Hawaiian food? Thanks!

Tom Sietsema: I'm stumped. Chatters? Where can one find poi and Spam sushi, anyway?

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Arlington/Buenos Aires: Tom,

I hope you had a great visit to Buenos Aires. I'm an American living in BA and would love to hear a little bit about your trip. Where was the best steak you ate? Did you take the plunge and visit Cabana Las Lilas? Or La Cabrera? Or Osaka?

Wondering if you're back in DC,

Expat Carnivore

Tom Sietsema: Despite its rep as a place for tourists, the best steak dinner I had in Buenos Aires was at Cabana las Lilas. I was prepared not to like it, but a few of my food friends insisted that I at least try it out, and I was glad I did.

Here's why: the fabled grass-fed beef comes from the owner's own ranches, the wine list is extraordinary, the service is friendly and efficient, the view from the (outdoor) tables is of a canal, and the sides were all better than at the competition (and yes, I checked out several meat markets in the few days I was away).

Best spot for nibbles and drinks: the arty, Scandanavian-themed Olsen in Palermo Hollywood, where I encountered some vacationing Post readers who were kind enough to buy me an aquavit and dessert!

Best meal: My last one, at one of only 14 seats in the warm and handsome Patagonia Sur, in BA's La Boca neighborhood. Dig that Patagonian lamb and king crab and a bottle of syrah -- at lunch!

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Washington, D.C.: Tom, three times over the last few months I have had problems when I ordered a steak "medium." The steak has come out rare and sometimes close to raw. This has happened at places like BLT, Buck's and even at the Custom House in Chicago, which should know better. When I sent them back, they came out blackened and overdone. Not a fine result. Should I insist on a new steak, or should I order fish? How would you suggest dealing with the problem?

Tom Sietsema: First, I'd ask my waiter how the restaurant defined "medium" -- and hold the kitchen to that standard. A good steakhouse will specify how rare, medium-rare and so on are going to look on your plate. (You want a slight blush, right?)

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Alexandria, Va.: Mr. Sietsema: Finally went to Restaurant Eve and it was wonderful. The icing on the cake, if you will, was in the men's room, where a beautifully handwritten sign issued what is usually a standard message for employees. The sign read: "Gentleman - If you are an employee of the restaurant, you must wash your hands before returning to work. Thank you." They think of everything, no?

Tom Sietsema: They do! They do!

My only fear is that the already hard-working team behind Eve's two restaurants; PX; the Irish-on-the-run spot and now The Majestic will tire out or over-extend themselves. But if anyone can do all that, this crew can.

washingtonpost.com: The Weekly Dish on The Majestic.

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Washington, D.C.: Tom, I was recently strolling through my neighborhood one night on my way to dinner. I passed by a popular restaurant along the way, one which we both enjoy. About fifty feet past this restaurant, which shall remain nameless, I saw its owner on the sidewalk speaking with a chef or other kitchen staff. Not speaking. Yelling. Cursing. Expletives flying like beads on bourbon street. He wasn't yelling at the staff member, but was complaining about someone else.

I was completely mortified--not that I'm a puritan, but because the neighborhood knows this owner and I doubt anyone wants to see him like this. Couldn't he have gone behind the restaurant or somewhere else private?

Tom, please remind restaurant owners and chefs that people know what they look like, and it doesn't bode well when we see them like this in public!

Tom Sietsema: Sidewalk Rage. The latest restaurant trend?

Let's hope the restaurateur sees himself today -- and keeps his tantrums confined to out-of-view places from now on.

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Arlington, Va.: Hi Tom. Love your chats! I know you get lots of these, but I have another complaint about the service at Bebo Trattoria. I ate lunch there on Monday with a friend. I ordered a pasta dish that was under-seasoned (and no salt and pepper on the table!!) but pretty good. My friend had the pork loin sandwich which was very good. He asked for two of the add-ons for the sandwich, and when the sandwich arrived, neither of them were on there. My friend did not realize this until he had eaten a few bites. He told the waiter that he was missing the add-ons and the waiter said he would fix it. My friend got his sandwich back with the add-ons quite quickly....only it was the SAME sandwich, bite marks and all. I had NEVER seen something like that in my life. When a restaurant messes up an order and takes it back to the kitchen to fix, they are supposed to make a new one, no??

Overall, the food was good, but the service was extremely slow.

Tom Sietsema: Ew. Maybe. Are we talking little bites or big bites or? Had I been the chef, I might have trimmed the bite marks before slipping in the missing ingredients.

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Capital Hill : Il Mulino's of New York in DC, any thoughts?

Tom Sietsema: Italian restaurants are not as numerous as say, steak houses here. I say, bring on the gnocchi and barolo!

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Harpers Ferry, WV: During the most recent Restaurant Week, we went to an Italian place on 19th St., NW and had a mediocre meal. I wrote a note to the chef---no response whatsoever. It is arrogant behavior like that ensures that I will never return to that place. Mr. Meyer's book should be read by all aspiring chefs and managers!

Tom Sietsema: Mail gets misplaced. People go on vacation. Stuff gets in the way. I'd follow up, if only to verify that the restaurant received your complaint. But I also support you: restaurants need to have a system in place to handle complaints.

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Medium steak: The reader who ordered the medium steak will appreciate this item I once saw in, of all places, Mad magazine:

Customer orders steak and says "well done."

Waiter brings rare steak.

Customer calls waiter over. "Excuse me, didn't you hear me say 'well done'?"

Waiter gets big smile. "Why, yes, sir, and thank you so very much. It's all too unusual that we receive such compliments."

Tom Sietsema: LOL

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Alexandria, Va.: Hi Tom. I really just wanted to pick your brain. I recently made my exit from an eight year career in restaurant management; I still have friends in the business. I am concerned about a few people who are still working for a restaurant that I am convinced is doomed(even though it has been there for 24 years, they did a whopping 9,000 dollars this past week compared to the 24,000 last year at this time when I managed it). Despite my attempts to convince them (I got out of this one, but I've seen my share go under), they won't listen to me. Although servers and bartenders are always in demand, the time that it takes to get good shifts/sections (and therefore money) can be quite extensive. As mentioned, I have my own tell-tale signs that I look out for, but I am curious which ones flash neons in front of you. Should you post/answer this, I would like to direct my friends to read it, so that they don't feel as though I'm trying to shove my recent move down their throats. Thank you.

Tom Sietsema: For starters, two-for-one entrees always make me suspicious about the health of a restaurant. So does the need to paper foyers with rave reviews dating back to the 70s. Anyone else care to weigh in?

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Ann Arbor, MI: Tom-

I LIVE for these chats! Actually, that's a bit of an exaggeration, but I SO really enjoy them! I'm a transplanted Michigander, but recent family events have me returning to the Motor City every month. I've been to the Coyote Club and Whitney in Detroit. The new restaurants in Ann Arbor are too full of themselves and leave me cold- the standbys- Earle and Gandy Dancer are still delightful, but I crave something new- do you or readers have any suggestions? When home, I try to have one really good meal out- price isn't an issue. Thanks!

Tom Sietsema: I've never been. Chatters?

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Washington, D.C.: Hi Tom - Any thoughts on where to get the best pastrami in the area?

Also, my wife and I ate at Blue Duck Tavern a couple weeks back. It was phenomenal - thanks for the great advice (as always)! Service was attentive, comfortable, and relaxed. We brought a special bottle of wine from home that they promptly decanted and served once we had finished our cocktails and dinner had arrived. The NY strip, fries, and apple pie were perfect indulgences for a mid-winter break from our diets! I think of it as a perfect place to bring someone who might not have the most adventurous palate, but who you'd like to impress nonetheless - great execution of delicious, rustic American fare.

Tom Sietsema: For all things deli, my vote in the District goes to Deli City, at 2200 Bladensburg Road NE.

Glad to hear you had a good time at BDT, which continues to be one of my favorite places to eat as well.

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I don't get it.: If they were someone else's bite marks... now THAT would be gross. But he's supposed to get a whole new sandwich just because the chef added a couple things to it?

Tom Sietsema: That's why I suggested trimming the chew marks, just to make the returning dish more attractive.

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A tip for Tom: Please stop using "LOL." I think it's kind of girly and it grates me every time. I don't know a single mature, handsome man that uses that phrase, and since that's how I picture you, you must stop.

Tom Sietsema: Ouch! Well, alrighty then! But I know plenty of guys who use those letters to convey "laughing out loud."

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Cuban Sandwich: Dunkin Donuts has a pressed version...

Tom Sietsema: You gotta be kidding me...

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Washington, D.C.: I had a funny thing happen this weekend. I was eating dinner at a bar with some friends. The bartender reached into our edamame and helped himself to some. He then asked, 'you don't mind if take some of these, right??' We were speechless, yet mildly amused.

Tom Sietsema: I hope his paws were clean. (Speaking of which, have you ever noticed how many servers either don't keep their nails trimmed and/or clean? There ought to be an inspection of mitts before the staff goes out on the floor.)

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Cuban sandwich: The Caribbean Grill on Lee Hwy and N. George Mason Dr in Arlington has great sandwiches. The place isn't pretty, but the food is great.

Tom Sietsema:"Pretty" I don't need. "Great," on the other hand, and as it pertains to the menu, is more my style.

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Detroit dining: My favorite restaurant in Detroit is Seldom Blues in the RenCen. In Greektown, try Fishbones or any of the many great Greek restaurants (New Hellas is my favorite). And also in Greektown, PizzaPapalis for excellent (but very filling!) Chicago-style pizza.

Tom Sietsema: Reader to the rescue!

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Dying Restaurants:1. Bad wine with huge markup (ie, two-buck chuck or similar).

2. Odd hours. Suddenly closed for lunch some days, closing early for dinner.

3. No menu alterations as the seasons change, as if creative direction has disappeared.

4. Very cheap ingredients, dressed up.

Tom Sietsema: Yikes. I see a lot of 1, 3 and 4 on my usual restaurant rounds ...

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Alexandria, Va.: My Paris restaurant story is when a glamorous woman dined with a toy dog sitting in her handbag. It seemed so French!

Tom Sietsema: A gal pal did that to me once, when I took her to dinner at Palena. Half-way through the meal, I noticed her purse was moving.

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Alexandria, Va.: What do you think of Olives? I received a $150 gift certificate to the restaurant.

Tom Sietsema: Big portions. Nice staff. Fun counter.

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Re: Il Mulino: My husband and I once had an extraordinary meal there when he was a law student at NYU. Is there really a version opening here? I would be thrilled...

Tom Sietsema: Yep, we have an Il Mulino coming our way Feb. 26, on Vermont between L and M streets.

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Washington, D.C.: The fact that someone goes out of their way to point out your use of LOL makes me LOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOL!!!!!!!! Everyone uses that!

Give me a break--talk food, people!

Tom Sietsema: Are you a girlie man?

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Vienna, Va.: Here's a second vote for the Caribbean Grill. I have actually never had the sandwich, but the chicken platters they do are so good. The price is the same for lunch and dinner, and two people can get out of there for less than $15. It is awesome.

Tom Sietsema: Am I the only one getting hungry here?

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Georgetown, Washington, D.C.: Have you been back to Johnny's since your review in November? I love the bar there during the week--great food and drink, a lively atmosphere with a diverse group of people, and great staff. Also, what's with the rumors about Cashion's being up for sale?

Tom Sietsema: I've been back for breakfast, which was delicious.

As for the rumors, they are just rumors for the moment. Or so "senior administration officials" have told me.

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washingtonpost.com: The Weekly Dish on Johnny's Half Shell.

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Washington, D.C.: Interesting timing mentioning Viridian, we just went there this weekend. I liked it a lot, food was great and pretty reasonably priced, but there was one weirdness. The menu listed items like this: "BLT(bold) smoked salmon, avocado, some other stuff" meaning it was a BLT with smoked salmon, but the description sounded like it's own sandwich, not in addition to the BLT. I recognize that this title+further description format is common, but it caused a lot of confusion and for the plate to be sent back twice even after asking the waitress for some help understanding the menu and telling her no bacon. The display of the menus was neat, but more clarity would have been a huge help! Even so, that was the only negative. Oh, but one interesting tidbit: they have soundproofing under the tables. Didn't expect to feel those eggshells, but that was actually pretty neat.

Tom Sietsema: The reason you liked it so much was probably because Hartzer was cooking there. But keep in mind, HE JUST STARTED and he has yet to LAUNCH HIS OWN MENU.

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for the Ann Arbor chatter: I know it's not "fine dining," but I could eat very meal at Zingerman's for a week and be a very, very happy camper. You are so lucky to be so close to those Reubens....

Tom Sietsema: Ah, yes. People get all warm and fuzzy when they speak of that institution.

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Washington, D.C.: Hey Tom - My sister will be visiting soon, and bringing along my six year old nephew. It's their first visit to DC, and they wanted to sample some of the local restaurants. Any suggestions for a non-chain restaurant downtown that welcomes kids? Thanks-

Tom Sietsema: Think pizza (Paradiso in G'town, Sette Osteria in Dupont Circle or Two Amys in Upper NW).

Think noodles (Spices near the Zoo)

Think fast and fresh and really different (Mitsitam Native Foods Cafe on the Mall)

Good luck!

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Arlington, Va.: Oh, Tom. "Gal pal"? Like, gag me with a spoon.

Tom Sietsema: People, people, people. Cut me some slack today!

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Rancid Napkins: I don't recall seeing this issue mentioned before but I seem to be noticing it more frequently - even in some "nicer" restaurants: Cloth napkins that are past their prime and have a noticeable odor. Truthfully, I'd prefer a good quality paper napkin to some of the cloth ones I've had.

Tom Sietsema: Is that cleaning fluid you're smelling or something from someone's previous meal? The best you can do is point the problem out to the restaurants in question.

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Little Gastronauts: My son's 1st grade class is visiting the White House. His teacher called me for a restaurant recommendation for lunch. My first thought was Old Ebbitt -- close by George's place and the Clyde's chain has a great children's meal. What are your thoughts? Keep up the great work. Take care.

Tom Sietsema: Old Ebbitt is a great choice, in terms of menu range, size and proximity to 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. You know what else might be fun? Matchbox in Chinatown, for pizza and burgers.

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eh, speak up: Tom, I never miss one of your chats or columns. Thank you so much for all of the great tips! My question: my parents and my future in-laws will be meeting soon for the first time over dinner in a DC or northern VA restaurant. In your reviews, you often point out restaurants with noisy acoustics, but how about some yummy places with great acoustics? My dad's a bit hard of hearing, and I fear a meal in which he has to ask me to repeat what everyone is saying-- this would surely make for an awkward evening. Could you recommend a restaurant with terrific cuisine, which is lively, but not loud? Thanks!

Tom Sietsema:"Lively but not loud." I'm not sure that's possible, unless you happen upon a roomful of mimes. That said, 1789, Palena, the Oval Room, Bombay Club, Charlie Palmer Steak, 2941 and Vidalia should all be considered candidates for dining with dad.

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Washington, D.C. and Boston: I really hope this gets posted on Wednesday's discussion... I'll try to tune in and maybe send something again just in case.

My bf and I are long-distance and he took me to Carlyle in Arlington as a surprise belated V-day celebration for dinner on Friday, Feb 16th. He and I had an absolute BLAST and the service and food was delicious.

Specifically: he had the surf & turf special, I had the seared tuna, and we shared the warm goat-cheese and pecan salad. ALL of it was delicious. Our server Christopher (I hope he gets some sort of special acknowledgement!) was funny and charming and gave us just the right amount of attention. When we were completely torn as to which dessert to order, Christopher brought us two--with the second wrapped the go...and both were on the house.

I would most definitely go back to Carlyle for the fun atmosphere, delicious food, and great service. Thank you!

Tom Sietsema: That's a really sweet story, but I'm surprised. Like other Great American Restaurants, Carlyle has a policy of not offering carry-out and only wrapping leftovers. The (short) reason: The restaurant wants its food to look and taste the way it looks and tastes when it initially exits the kitchen.

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

I am a huge carnivore but now that it is Lent, I need to change my diet on Fridays. What are the best places where I can go for great meatless meals (seafood is okay).

Tom Sietsema: How about the recently reviewed Pesce in Dupont Circle?

washingtonpost.com: Review of Pesce.

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Monrovia, Md.: Hi Tom,

Is it unreasonable to expect a hot entree to be served hot rather than lukewarm or cold?

What is the correct protocol when your hot entree arrives cold and your partners arrives hot?

I believe that management would prefer you to let them know if there is a problem, but it is always disruptive and upsetting to have to do this. Surely a good chef would not allow cold food be served in the first place.

I was recently served a cold entree and the waitress offered to "warm it up" for me. I don't like "warmed up" food and had I gone ahead with this my husband would have had the option of eating his dinner alone while it still was hot, or having his dinner "kept warm" while mine was "warmed up" or letting his dinner go cold while my meal was reheated, none of which are acceptable.

Is it reasonable to send both entrees back and ask they they be redone and served hot and fresh?

Susan

Tom Sietsema: A truly good restaurant will 1) want to know there's a problem, 2) apologize for said problem and 3) ask what it can do to rectify the problem. In this case, that would have meant removing both your entrees and coming back with freshly prepared ones. I disagree with you, however, that some dishes can't be "warmed up" and still be good. Think mashed potatoes. Or creamed spinach. Or most soups or stews.

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Alexandria, Va.: I'm just wondering if you've heard any feedback from DC proprietors on how business has been since the smoke-free law took effect. I've enjoyed eating out in DC quite a bit more.

(Last year when I was in Scotland, I noted that the smokers would matter-of-factly excuse themselves, say "I'm nipping outside for a fag," and go have a smoke as if it were a lifelong routine....no reason why that can't succeed here.)

Tom Sietsema: Any restaurateurs care to tell us if business is up or down these days?

"Nipping outside for a fag." Those crazy Scottsmen.

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Washington, D.C.: I don't understand why people feel the need to comment on your English usage! You have every right to say what you want without worrying that someone is going to say, oh I don't like it when you use that word. Now, the discussion about "foodie" was a little different because was more about the term than you using a particular word. Regardless, please don't listen to people like that. It is not their concern. Also, this is the only chat I've ever seen this happen.

Tom Sietsema: Thanks, Mom!

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Washington, D.C.: My parents are coming to town during the Cherry Blossoms and I'm looking for a great place to eat (food taste above all), preferably in the District, that could accommodate a group of 8. The trouble is we have assorted diets including no pasta and no spicy foods but all a love for fabulous dining.

Tom Sietsema: Kudos for planning ahead! Do you have a budget or a location in mind? I ask, because there are any number of "great" restaurants I can steer you to and most of them are in a position to offer what you want. The key here is to call ahead of your arrival and talk to a manager (or chef) so you can relay your dietary restrictions -- and the restaurant can meet your wishes.

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Falls Church, Va.: Tom Sietsema: The reason you liked it so much was probably because Hartzer was cooking there. But keep in mind, HE JUST STARTED and he has yet to LAUNCH HIS OWN MENU.

geez Tom. you don't have to yell at the poor soul.

Tom Sietsema: I didn't intend to scream, only to EMPHASIZE. But I'll try to monitor my use of CAPS from now on.

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Re: 6 yr old: When my kids were little, Tony Chengs Mongolian BBQ was always a favorite. They got to pick out what they wanted to eat, it was cooked right there(dinner and a show!), and there was ice cream and a (fortune)cookie for dessert. It's still a fav for them, now in their teens and 20's!

Tom Sietsema: Good idea. And let's not forget the ever-reliable Melting Pot.

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L Street: Hate to be such a Debbie Downer but I sure hope I'm not lunching at Old Ebbitt when a bunch of 1st graders come in.

And to think, my mother always packed my lunch on field trips!

Tom Sietsema: Don't forget: OEG counts atrium seating and several private dining rooms...

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West End : What's going on with new restaurants in the West End. Any scoops on Ris Lacoste and Eric Ripert's restaurant?

Tom Sietsema: Patience, patience. Ms. Lacoste promises to let us know when her place will actually happen and Mr. Ripert only recently inked a deal with the Ritz-Carlton. Ripert has yet to christen the "casual" restaurant, which will be headed by one of his chefs at Le Bernardin, but he tells me it will likely be "(Something) by Eric Ripert."

And that's it for today. See you again next week, I hope.

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