Ask Tom

Tom Sietsema
Washington Post Food Critic
Wednesday, June 27, 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, First Bite and the 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: WE'LL DRINK TO THAT: The highly-anticipated Proof is finally opening its doors to the general public on Thursday, July 5. But several hundred "friends and family" will get first crack at the wine-themed restaurant in Penn Quarter, which will be conducting mock service this coming Saturday through Tuesday.

Proof is located at 775 G St. NW; for reservations, call 202-737-7663.

washingtonpost.com: The Dish on Proof.

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Washington, D.C.: Any word from Tom over at Corduroy where/when they will moving?

Tom Sietsema:"The rumor is true," Power tells me.

The chef plans to give his landlord notice (this post could be it, actually) July 10 and say good-bye to the hotel space on 11th & K streets in January -- in part to keep his staff for a planned February 2008 opening at 1122 9th St, in the Shaw neighborhood.

His forthcoming venture -- a three-story historic building, with 58 seats on the first floor and private rooms above it -- will be called Corduroy and stick with the same menu, at least to begin.

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Washington, D.C.: Tom,

My girlfriend is currently spending the summer in D.C. for an internship, and I am going to visit her next week and would like to propose to her. I have been trying to research possibly places, but not having much luck as its hard to pick and choose restaurants via internet search engines.

I was thinking of a nice dinner at a mexican restaurant, preferably close to a park or bridge near the water where I can pop the question after dinner. Any ideas or suggestions where this could be accomplished? It doesnt have to be a "fancy" restaurant. Just something good and it would be nice if it had a romantic setting (which I know is tough to find for a mexican restaurant).

On another note, we are going to be there for the 4th of July festivities, and heard that there are rooftop bars / restaurants that allow you to see the fireworks without the large crowds on the street level. Any suggestions?

Tom Sietsema: I'm reviewing the new Casa Oaxaca on 18th St. NW in the Magazine this Sunday. That's one option, and it's close-ish to Rock Creek Park.

As for Fourth of July rooftop venues, I'd start with Perry's in Adams Morgan.

Best of luck, by the way!

washingtonpost.com: The Dish on Casa Oaxaca.

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PRAGUE, Czech Republic in 6 hours: Oh, I hope you post this today! I'm heading to Prague for two weeks as of this evening, and I don't see any of your Postcards for this region. Not that the Czech Republic is known for outstanding gourmet cuisine, but would you or any of the chatters have a restaurant or dish recommendation? D┬┐kuji!

Tom Sietsema: Quick! Who can come to the aid of our soon-to-depart fellow chatter this morning?

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Alexandria, Va.: Ti Tom,

About Il Mulino, My wife and I went to a small italian restaurant in NYC called Il Moulino. She claims the new place here in DC, Il Mulino, is part of their wave of expansion. I disagree, we have a menu with Il Moulino printed on the front, signed by Will Ferrell who was seated next to us. What's the story of Il Moulino Il Mulino?

Tom Sietsema: If you and your wife ate Italian on West 3rd St (Greenwich Village), you ate at Il Mulino, which is, in fact, the first in a far-flung chain of restaurants.

washingtonpost.com: Review of Il Mulino.

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Washington, D.C.: Tom, I would like to pass on -- free of charge! -- this idea for an article. Find a couple (or a few) people who are decidedly NOT foodies. People who mainly eat out of cans, microwaveable dishes, and paper wrappers. People who don't read your reviews, in other words. And take them on a culinary tour of the foodie "hot spots" in town. Feed them the tasting menu at Komi; duck confit at Eve; "Breakfast" at Citronelle; etc. And see what happens. See if their reactions are "Meh, whatever," or "Holy lord, look at what I've been missing!" Would their views on food change?

I think it would be really interesting to the foodie crowd.

Tom Sietsema: I guess this forum is NOT the place I'd be looking for volunteers for such a story, right?

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Washington, D.C.: Hi Tom,

Writing in early to ensure this post makes it!! I had a great dining experience at a popular Chinatown restaurant with a group of 9 friends for a birthday party...until the check came.

We had ordered 9 shots of "buttery nipples" for the birthday celebration, and when the bill came, we were charged for 29 shots of Baileys which was about $250!! We called the waitress over assuming she entered a 2 in before the 9 by accident when ringing us up, and she said the shot is a double and we looked at her and said, even if it's a double we should be charged 18 not 29, but it was not a double shot. She was like OK, I'll go fix it then comes back with the bill, and we are now charged 22 shots-- still doesn't add up. We ask for the manager who comes over and tells us the waitress didn't know at the time that the shot consists of two different kinds of alcohol, and they charged us for both kinds. We had one shot still on the table and showed it to her (it was VERY small) and said if you used two kinds, it was two half pours. She still insisted we had to pay for a double shot. Let me just preface this by saying we were with a bar owner and someone else in the industry who has NEVER heard of this before. We told her they should have come back and said something when the waitress found out we would be charged as a double because we would have ordered something else. She basically told us too bad and we had to pay, after going back and forth for about 10 minutes, and a bar owner telling her that he serves them and has never charged double or heard of anything like this she screams "Obviously you want them taken off so that's what I'll do" and as she walks away from a table, adds in "Jesus F---ing Christ!" She brings the bill back, and charged us for 10 shots, which I think at this point was the lowest possible move she could have ever done considering our order was for 9.

Honestly, as much as I love the food there, I don't know how I can bring myself to return because she treated us so poorly (mind you were were already paying a $500 bill) and the fact that she sat there and argued with us and raised her voice.

I just wanted to get your opinion and the chatters as to what you would have done in this situation, and if you think we overreacted or had the right to be upset and fight the extra charges for the shot.

Tom Sietsema: What a way to ruin a night out!

That waitress doesn't sound like she's long for the industry -- for starters, she can't do math -- and the manager could have nipped (no pun intended) the problem in the bud by charging the group for single shots as a goodwill gesture. Why? Because the server should have known the cost of such a drink, and she should have let YOU known the amount -- $250 for nine buttery nipples is a LOT of money.

As a matter of principle, I would have requested to see the manager again and asked for the 10th shot to be removed from the bill.

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Cleveland, OH: Hi, Tom. I am a long-time, devoted fan (really and truly -- not just trying to get you to answer my question). Here's my query: I recently moved out of DC and am returning for a short weekend trip. What's your favorite place in DC for late-night (around 11 pm) drinks and snacks? Foggy Bottom/Georgetown area would be a plus. Thanks in advance!

Tom Sietsema: The kitchen of the recently reviewed Hook in Georgetown stays open til midnight on Friday. Head for the crudo and focus on the wine card.

washingtonpost.com: Review of Hook.

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Bethesda, Md.: Just a comment about "comping" for some kind of bad dining experience, since some of the regulars here seem to think it's a natural right of dining out. The other night several of us went to one of the local, big name steakhouses. One of our party's filet was unusually tough and when she casually mentioned that to the waiter, he immediately offered to get a new piece of meat or a different entre. Her new (and perfectly done) filet was brought out in short order by the manager himself. We wouldn't have thought anything more of it 'til the check came and the waiter announced that they'd comped dessert for the entire party, probably at a cost higher than the original steak. I protested that it was unnecessary, and felt somewhat embarrassed. They insisted; and the tip reflected what the bill should have been with the desserts. Obviously, the restaurant made some friends, but I can't help thinking that the practice and expectations have gotten out of hand. One way or the other, all of us are bearing the costs of those free meals and perks in our checks.

Tom Sietsema: I like your attitude! No industry is more generous, sometimes to a fault, than the restaurant business. But I have to say, that was one smart manager; the meat market is a very crowded one, as I'm sure you already know. No one wants to lose customers.

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2 recommendations in Prague!:#1 Pravda in Old Town

#2 Gitanes near the American Embassy (my favorite place with fantastic food and the kindest owners)!

Tom Sietsema: Here you go, Prague poster!

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Barton Seaver: Please, please, pleeeeease tell me he's single and looking!!!

Tom Sietsema: I will only confirm that he's a solo act. (Man, that guy elicits more fan mail....)

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Alexandria, Va.: Re Prague, There are some great restaurants in Prague, which by the way is a beautiful city. My favorite was Kampa Park right under the famous Charles Bridge, Rybi Trh in the Old Town was also great for fish.

Best regards, Cathal.

Tom Sietsema: From a man (chef Cathal Armstrong) who knows his fish (among other ingredients). Thank you, sir.

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Washington, D.C.: Hi Tom!!!!

I'm meeting a friend for dinner tonight in Adams Morgan - can you give us some options for a place with good food that isn't too expensive?

Thanks!

Tom Sietsema: Try the convivial new Las Canteras, a Peruvian spot at 2307 18th St. NW.

washingtonpost.com: Ask Tom: Las Canteras.

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Prague bound: I was in Prague several years ago, before the invasion of the Euro. We had an amazing French dinner of several courses atop the building designed by Frank Gehry, right on the river (nicknamed the "Fred & Ginger"). It had a great view of the river and castle and the service was fantastic.

If it's still there, there's also a great family-run Italian place at Namesty Meru, facing the square.

Tom Sietsema: Wow. You chatters are a wealth of information. But I always knew that ...

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Rockville, Md.: Hi Tom,

Any recommendations for Seattle? From a websearch it looks like you once liked Place Pigalle.... still a favorite? Any other recommendations for the downtown area? Thanks!

Tom Sietsema: My food pals in the Emerald City are currently raving about the just-opened Cafe Presse, a spinoff of the very good Le Pichet (included in a Postcard round-up); Tavolata, an Italian hotspot; and Brico, a wine bar in the Queen Anne Hill neighborhood. Among others.

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PG County, Md.: Is it acceptable to eat sushi with your fingers? I can use chopsticks but it seems much more natural just to pick it up and eat it.

Thanks,

Tom Sietsema: Yep, fingers are fine.

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Washington, D.C.: Good Morning Tom,

Thanks for taking my question. I will be in Paris in late July for my 30th birthday and I'm not sure your postcard will be out in time to score good reservations. Are you willing to give out any clues ahead of time?

Thanks!

Tom Sietsema: THE hot ticket right now is Le Comptoir (9 Carrefour de L'Odeon; 01-44-27-07-97), the breezy bistro created by Paris's "it" chef, Yves Camdeborde. The best time to go is during the week, and for dinner, which is when the chef pulls out all the stops for a six-course meal, affordably priced at around $60 a head. The restaurant is also open for lunch, but lunch is a lesser event.

My Paris column runs in August, by the way.

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OBX Restaurants: From last week's discussion, we have a beach house in Kitty Hawk and some of the better restuarants in the Outer Banks are: Ocean Boulevard in Kitty Hawk, MP 1 Beach Road (great food, wine list, service); Flying Fish, Kill Devil Hills, Bypass; Rundown Cafe, Beach Road across from Hilton (casual and creative). High Cotton has good barbecue and fried chicken. Kill Devils has great frozen custard and good burgers and fries. Coastal Provisions is a relatively new gourmet market, like a mini Balducci's, that is good for prepared meals, sandwiches and meats.

Tom Sietsema: Thanks for sharing what sound like delicious tips.

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Washington, D.C.: It must have been at least a year and a half ago I remember reading a review on a Greek/Mediterranean restaurant. It only accepted reservations up to a certain amount of people and it was assumed that you would spend the evening there. Basically, you decided when it was time to leave. Does this sound familiar, I'm trying to find the name? Thanks.

Tom Sietsema: This isn't ringing any bells. Does a chatter have the answer?

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Washington, D.C.: Tom,

What do you do when you have a very valid complaint where the restaurant just plain messed up (on something I actually consider egregious) and the restaurant MANAGER doesn't doesn't appologize or acknowledge the issue. Is there anyone ABOVE them in a restaurant-- would an owner care to hear about it? Is that appropriate? How do you get in touch with one? It's very disheartening as I've been to this place almost once a week since it opened and do, in fact, really like the food (and bar service) so I don't really want to just stop going there. I'm just very very frustrated and can't imagine that what happened is really acceptable. Thoughts?

Tom Sietsema: Absolutely, I think the owners of most restaurants would want to know about any problems a diner has with service (staff or food). But first: You DID give the manager a chance to correct your problem, right? And are you certain the manager was THE manager?

To get the name of a higher authority, you could casually ask a server (or me, by writing to asktom@washpost.com).

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40th Birthday celebration: Any ideas for a restaurant to celebrate a 40th birthday this fall? Looking to sit 10 adults in a private or semi-private room. The guest of honor is really into wine and food. She's got a couple of food allergies that the restaurant must be willing to work with us on. She loves a good steak house, Italian (if it's risotto), Mexican, Thai, and Indian. Thanks!

Tom Sietsema: Your wish is my command:

Steak: Capital Grille

Italian: Al Tiramisu

Mexican: Casa Oaxaca or Oyamel

Thai: Bangkok 54

Indian: Rasika

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Alexandria, Va.: Just wanted to pass along brief thoughts on a nice dinner out last weekend in Old Town. Vermilion was nice-- but thats about it. The food wasn't stellar; the wine was excellent, and the service was good, but the food was a disappointment. Parpadelle was underdone, bison was chewy, and the portions were small for the price. Desserts were better-- the berries with rhubarb water and funnel cake was a treat.

PX, in my opinion, is not worth the trouble. Trying to have an intimate, private moment in the blue room is impossible, and the drinks, while tasty, are a little strange and not particularly potent. Its a fun night out, and I appreciate inexplicably being un-charged for one of my cocktails, but I wouldn't make it my go-to special occassion place.

Just passing along my thoughts. Thanks, Tom, love the chats!

Tom Sietsema: Thanks for the feedback.

Two comments:

1) My review of Vermilion was based on three visits and I didn't have your experience with the food (or I would have reported that).

2) A cocktail doesn't have to be potent to be great.

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For Prague Bound Traveler...: I was in Prague in early January, so the weather was most likely a bit chillier than it will on your upcoming trip, so you may not be up for a hearty meal.

However, if you are willing to consider a big meal, one of the most interesting meals I had over there was a "pig's knee". They actually serve you the full joint on a cutting board with potatoes and cabbage on the side.

I had this dish twice, since it was really fun to eat.

The food there is good, a lot of it is quite filling, however we focused on "traditional" restaurants. It is a great city and you should be able to find a variety of cuisines.

But try the pig's knee for an unusual treat.

Tom Sietsema: Pigs knee it is!

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RE: Buttery Nipples: I've bartended in DC for nearly 10 years in three quadrants of the city (NE, NW and SE) and that is the most ridiculous thing I've ever heard.

A shot is a shot. The price for their shot should reflect the types of liquor in the partial shot pours which comprise the total shot.

A buttery nipple with butterscotch, irish cream and regular cream (half-n-half), chilled, shaken and strained into a normal sized shot glass should not be any more than $7.

Unbelievable. Seriously, unbelievable!

Tom Sietsema: Thanks for the industry perspective.

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Second look at Lauriol?: On the bus this morning, I heard a young woman rave about Lauriol Plaza.

Being a Washingtonian of nearly 10 years who has been to that hotspot several times before permanently abandoning it to pudgy tourists and suburbanites, I rolled my eyes mentally. Maybe physically a little bit too.

But admittedly, I haven't been there in a while. Has it gotten better? Does it serve cuisine now instead of glorified Chi-Chi's fare?

Or is my contempt still justified?

Tom Sietsema: I share your contempt.

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Re: Barton Seaver: Hey people, he just opened a restaurant, probally not a lot of time to devote to anyone.

PS Never date a chef!

Tom Sietsema:"Never date a chef."

Please explain to the class.

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Bay Area, Calif.: Tom,

We're about to move back to the Bay Area. Our soon-to-be apartment manager claims to know many, many big names in the food industry (Alan Wong and Alice Waters, for example). He told us he can get his tenants into the top restaurants in almost any city in the world. Obviously, we're not going to hop on a plane to London to test out his claims, but we were thinking of asking him for help getting a last-minute reservation to Chez Panisse, just to see if he's possibly telling the truth. Can you think of any better ideas?

Tom Sietsema: Ask him to get you a 7:30 reservation on a Saturday night at the French Laundry in Napa Valley. THAT should prove or disprove his clout!

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Washington, D.C.: I assume Barton Seaver "elicits more fan mail" for his looks than his cooking. I had a thoroughly mediocre experience at Hook. The crudos were bland. The amberjack was over cooked. Not to mention that, when seated on the second floor at 10 PM, the streetlamp lights up the joint such that one feels like he is being interrogated.

Tom Sietsema: Did you say anything to the restaurant?

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(awestruck voice) Wow!: Cathal posted in YOUR chat! Wow!

I love all your places Cathal!

Tom Sietsema: You'd be surprised who lurks in this forum!

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No Names: I wish folks would name the restaurants they either complain about or those they rave about. Given the service the party with the "buttery nipples" received, I don't want to give that restaurant my business but I have no idea which restaurant it was. Also, as for the party that got the generously-comped desserts - that's a place I'd like to go to - because they understand good service. Without their names being used - it doesn't do the rest of us much good.

Your thoughts?

Tom Sietsema: I understand your point. But I have to add that these questions and comments are coming in from anonymous posters in most cases, and I frequently worry about posters bashing a place - or praising a place -- without knowing who's behind the words. What if a customer simply had it out for a chef or a restaurant? What if a publicist wanted to get his or her restaurant mentioned? It can be tricky.

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Washington, D.C.: Note to "Robert", who ordered and paid for a sackful of delicious food at Eamonn's on Saturday but apparently wandered off, never to return, leaving his food on the counter and forcing the server to yell his name periodically over the course of an hour:

What were you thinking?

Tom Sietsema: I guess "Robert" wasn't that hungry after all....

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Arlington, Va.: Tom, first off, thanks for all the great (and oft-unappreciated!) tips...you truly are a DC treasure.

My question centers around DuPont circle. My new boss recently moved there and I've been trying to find places where we can meet for a quick dinner but also discuss business. Something with the atmosphere of Firefly (which we both have enjoyed)...is there any place you would be able to recommend?

Tom Sietsema: (A "treasure," huh? You just made my day.)

I think the cozy (but crowded) new Circa and the Greek-themed Mourayo, both on Connecticut Ave., have what you're seeking.

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Washington, D.C.: Tom:

My wife's birthday is coming up soon and I wanted to get your opinion. Am considering 2941, Obelisk, or Restaurant Eve.

We haven't been to 2941 or Eve in the past, but have loved our previous summer meal at Obelisk--although that was almost 2 years ago.

Thanks.

Tom Sietsema: I haven't been to 2941 recently, but based on my last dinner at Obelisk, I'd give Restaurant Eve the nod for a special occasion.

washingtonpost.com: Review of Restaurant Eve.

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Washington, D.C.: Hi Tom - I'm celebrating a birthday in the coming weeks, and I was wondering if you would recommend going to Ray's the Classics or Central for dinner?

Tom Sietsema: Of the two, Central gets my vote; I'm getting very mixed reports on RTC these days.

washingtonpost.com: Review of Central Michel Richard.

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Rome, Geo.: I find that with portions getting larger and larger at some restaurants, the portions on the children's menu seem just right. Recently, I learned that the Outback chain has no problem with adults ordering off the children's menu, and I am wondering how other restaurants feel about this.

Tom Sietsema: In my experience, most restaurants do not allow adults to order off kids' menus -- and don't like it when grown-ups attempt to do so. If you don't want to eat so much, ask to have leftovers wrapped to go. I know some people (dieters) who actually have half the entree removed right from the start, so they won't be tempted to over-eat.

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Washington, D.C.:"It must have been at least a year and a half ago I remember reading a review on a Greek/Mediterranean restaurant. It only accepted reservations up to a certain amount of people and it was assumed that you would spend the evening there. Basically, you decided when it was time to leave. Does this sound familiar, I'm trying to find the name? Thanks."

This person is almost certainly talking about Komi, and I'm surprised that didn't ring a bell for you.

Tom Sietsema: Chalk it up to jet lag! Komi it most certaily must be...

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Re: Never Date a Chef: Help me, please! I'm a professional chef and, yes the hours can be crazy, but I swear I need a date and can hopefully meet someone who can put up with the lifestyle. Besides...who better to cook a wonderful, romantic dinner for two when possible? BTW, love the chats here!

Tom Sietsema: Hey, is this Ask Tom or Match.com? ;)

Tell us about yourself. Maybe we can find a connection for you.

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Re: Barton Seaver: Ok I'll stick my neck out. If you are looking for a "normal" relationship (whatever that is), you won't find it dating a chef. The hours are long, long people we are a bit strange and a lot of us are very dedicated to perfecting/honing our craft. That does not leave a great deal of time for a social life. Forget holidays, evenings and most special occasions the kitchen almost always wins. One would have to be fiercely independent and have their own interests to have hopes of survial. It's diffficult is all I'm saying (not impossible) but very difficult. Check out the divorce rate among those in the profession.

Tom Sietsema: Hey, this description matches a lot of food writers I know, too! lol

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Proposing in D.C.: Tom, please pass on to the guy who wants to propose in DC... How about a nice dinner at Oyamel, and then walk over to the Navy Memorial? It's beautiful at night, and the rushing water creates some privacy for a quiet moment (smile).

Tom Sietsema: Tacos and fountains and amazing facades sound like a dreamy recipe to me.

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Bethesda, Md.:"I understand your point. But I have to add that these questions and comments are coming in from anonymous posters in most cases, and I frequently worry about posters bashing a place - or praising a place -- without knowing who's behind the words."

Are you saying that the writer has named the restaurant, but you remove the names of restaurants from these posts?

Tom Sietsema: NO! In both cases, the people writing in have not included the names of the restaurants. I don't edit incoming missives -- and I don't want to have to start to, either.

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small portion meals: If you don't like leftovers, and some people don't, and you can't order off of the children's menu, don't forget you can construct a wonderful small meal - and cheaper too! - from most restaurant's appetizer menu. I've ordered an appetizer and a small house salad and it's been a great meal.

Tom Sietsema: I'm an appetizer fan myself, and I often find starters are the high points of a meal.

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Re; Lauriol Plaza: Come on Tom, Lauriol Plaza isn't that bad to deserve such contempt! Admittedly, the place can get filled with too many popped collars on certain nights, and when the wait for a table is estimated in hours rather than minutes, one should seek refuge across the street at Straits of Malaya. However, the fully satisfying fajitas and multiple levels of outdoor seating make it a good place to visit when the crowds are light.

Tom Sietsema: In fairness to the restaurant's many fans, I'm posting this counter point.

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Buttery Nipple, D.C.: I worked at a bar in Georgetown (where the drinks ain't cheap) for many years and I have NEVER heard of anything like that! If a drink has more than one alcohol in it, you just get less of both - it is not like you are given the equivalent of two shots. I have served many VERY expensive drinks where an additional charge was added because the person wanted, say, an extra shot in their Irish Coffee, so they were charged for the extra shot. Additionally, a good bartender would have told the server how to ring it up to change it correctly and a good server would have questioned why nine shots would cost $250!

Tom Sietsema: Uh ..... yeah!

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Washington, D.C.: I want to know the name of the place that charged so much for the shots. I'm all for being discrete, but sometimes a place makes a statement and I don't want to frequent it.

Tom Sietsema: Okay, so which restaurant was this?

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Washington, D.C.: Prague restaurants:

Four Seasons for elegance;

Kampa Park for the view;

U Maltezskych Rytiru for the food and authenticity (it's in a converted wine cellar and is wonderful)

Tom Sietsema: I think our friend now has a week's worth of dining suggestions.

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Re: Never Date a Chef: They are overworked and often underpaid. Date a chef if you are looking forward to dates at 11pm (at the earliest) and random calls from the boss on their days off.

Tom Sietsema: Now I know why the owner of CF Folks is only open for lunch, and only on weekdays.

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Re:Never Date a Chef: That last poster about dating a chef sounds like a whiner. It's true that the hours are long and that most of us let the kitchen "win", but some of us do have unique hours as well (ie personal chefs, corporate chefs, etc) that allow us to have a somewhat "normal" lifestyle. Even a restaurant chef can make time for a good relationship if he/she truly wants one. Don't having a "life" and cooking share the same concept....balance?

Tom Sietsema: Good points!

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Re: Barton Seaver: Now getting a chef/food critic romance going would be the epitome of a conflict of interest wouldn't it? Are you free tonight? LOL

Tom Sietsema: That happened to me once, early in my career, and I went straight to my editor and explained the situation. (Hey, real life intervened!) Needless to say, I refrained from ever mentioning my significant other's businesses. Much to the significant other's regret.

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Airport Food: Last Friday, I had a very mediocre and overpriced meal at BWI while my flight was delayed. If you HAD to eat at each of the area's three airports, what would you pick?

Tom Sietsema: Thanks to delays at National Airport, I've had some respectable sushi at Matsutake and very good oysters and chowder at Legal Sea Food.

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Washington, D.C.: Tom,

After reading your review of Brasserie Beck, I decided to make reservations there for my birthday dinner. I know I will love the food there but I need some assurance that my parents, who are not adventurous, will find something on the menu to eat. Since the menu is not published on their website, can you help me out? Thanks so much.

Tom Sietsema: As I point out in my review of Beck, Belgian food is pretty subtle (in other words, "safe" for the parental units). I think there's plenty on the menu to appeal to conservatives and liberals -- eaters, that is -- alike.

washingtonpost.com: Review of Brasserie Beck.

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Washington, D.C.: I feel the need to pass along a tip I picked up at Bayona on my trip to New Orleans. When I arrived as a walk-in dinner guest (reservations seem optional post-Katrina), staff asked for my phone number -- and then explained that they ask for the information was in case guests leave anything at my table and they need to contact them. Given the number of tourists they must get (who can often be out of sorts generally, even before they hit Bourbon Street), it's an excellent idea -- I can easily imagine guests who otherwise might not even notice an item missing until they are back in their home city. DC restauranteurs should take note...

By the way, the greeting at the front door was only the start of the good service at the understated (and sometimes overlooked) French Quarter gem -- and far better than the constant upselling I got from the wait staff at Galatoire's. I'd recommend the establishment next time you're headed back for a Postcard. Now if only I could find a good muffaletta in DC for lunch to satisfy my NOLA-induced craving...

Tom Sietsema: What a great idea! I'm sure I'd still have my blue Alain Mikli glasses if a Certain Restaurant In Rome had used that technique ...

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Dating:"Never date a chef" seems to be a very strange theme in the chat today. I am a daytime/office professional. I can't just hear people all over town saying "never date a 9-5er office person. They can't go out past 8 pm, wake up way to early, complain about office politics all the time, and complian about the size of their cubicle."

People need to chill!

Tom Sietsema: lol

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the Dish article: The Chopt Creative Salad place sounds good, especially if they stay true to fresh and organic, but it's hardly an original idea. Reading it made me immediately think of the chopped (and other forms)salad stands in many food courts around here - there's one in Reagan bldg, and there was one in the Old Post Office, where you walk up and pick a salad or ingredients and they make it for you - in fact, I've seen them in many a mall.

I certainly hope there's a difference, but the thought behind the operation seems the same. So, I was a little surprised that was the subject of the column today.

Tom Sietsema: I didn't claim Chop't was totally original, but I DO think the small chain's focus on quality ingredients and making things from scratch sets it apart from a lot of the competition.

washingtonpost.com: The Dish on Chop't Creative Salad Co.

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Washington, D.C.: Good Morning Tom,

No question, just a plea for diners to be responsible and show up on time for reservations, especially if you are attending with a large group. I was recently involved in a dining experience that had joiners showing up 21/2 hours after the reservation time. Every one was finished with entrees and on dessert and the joiners insisted on eating. Have we gotten so far away from decent manners and civil behavoir that no one bats and eye. I was appalled. Thanks for the rant opportunity. Have a great day.

Tom Sietsema: People who show up for a reservation 150 minutes late, without a very good excuse and without bestowing humble apologies, wouldn't be welcome at my table.

Sometimes people need to learn a Life Lesson, and unless someone is brave enough to confront these mannerless louts, the offenders will never know how much of a pain they are.

I feel better now.

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Bethesda, Md.: Hi Tom,

I'm looking for the best meal in Bethesda...should I go for David Craig, or Grapeseed? Is there another choice I'm missing?

thanks!

Tom Sietsema: I continue to be impressed with the food and the service at the pan-Asian Raku on Woodmont Ave.

washingtonpost.com: Review of Raku.

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Washington, D.C.: Hi Tom-

This past weekend, my husband and I went to the Occidental Grill for dinner. My husband ordered the special of the day and I ordered off the menu. Entrees are priced $25-$37. Imagine our surprise when the check came and his entree cost $51!! The waiter had given NO indication that the special cost 50% MORE than the highest priced entree on the menu. And we didn't ask because we assumed it would fall in the range of the entrees on the menu. I took your advice and spoke to the manager on the spot indicating our surprise and disappointment that the waiter had not told us of the price. The manager, while nice about it, acted as if it had never crossed his mind we should have been told about the price. In hindsight, we should have asked the price before ordering and will always do so from now on. My question is though is it common for a special to cost so much more? And should the waiter have told us the price?

thanks.

Tom Sietsema: Shame on the Occidental. It was the server's responsibility to state the price of the special. And the manager really ought to know better than to act as if a customer might not care about the price of a dish, particularly a dish that was so much more than its competition.

I'm curious what the special was: Dover sole? Kobe beef? Chicken breast dressed in beluga?

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Washington, D.C.: My husband and I frequent the front room of Palena and usually have a good time. Recently, on a busy night, one of their back room waiters serviced us and was both rude and neglectful. We asked for our appetizers before the meal, but everything arrived at the same time. Our waiter did not check on us once during the meal, and we had to flag him down at the end just to get the bill. When the waiter returned with our bill, I told him I was disappointed with the service for the aforementioned reasons. His response was to scoff at us and say that had I wanted service during the meal (my husband wanted a second glass of wine, but he never got it, and I had to flag down food runners to refill my water), we should have flagged down another waiter and asked (even though no other waiters were ever in our vicinity). My husband and I were both a little shocked at his rude tone and condescention. We left and have decided to frequent other Cleveland Park restaurants now instead - Lavandou, especially, has great service and food. But I still am annoyed and befuddled - were our complaints out of line? Would it have helped to speak to a manager? I am terrible with confrontation and don't know what to do in these situations. Advice?

Tom Sietsema: I'm sorry to hear about your unfortunate service experience at one of my favorite restaurants -- and I'm afraid it's not the only such complaint to come my way.

By all means, you should have piped up as the problems were unfolding. By remaining quiet, you aren't giving the manager a chance to remedy the poor service.

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Omaha, Neb.: Good morning Tom,

You should come out to Omaha, Nebraska sometime. Besides being home to our famous steaks, we have grown into a regular food lovers paradise with virtually every type of food imaginable. No one ever things about the central U.S. for food. You could jump on a nonstop Midwest flight from DCA and spend a couple days.

Tom Sietsema: I'm game!

So tell me: Which of your restaurants say "Omaha" best? Where would you choose to eat if you had been away for several years and wanted to feel at home again?

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Anonymous: On May 25th my husband and I were supposed to fly out of Washington Dulles to Charleston SC, direct and returning on May 29th in celebration of our first wedding anniversary. Our flight was supposed to leave at 12:15 pm from Dulles. Around 11:50 the screens indicated that there was a 20 minute delay. 10 minutes later we were told the flight was cancelled because "we forgot to book a crew" and sent to customer service. After over an hour waiting in the customer service line, we were told that there were no more flights available until Sunday or Monday, and since we were coming back Tuesday that wouldn't have helped. The closest they could get us was Charlotte NC which is a 5 hour drive from Charleston. Washington Dulles is an eight hour drive to Charleston, but because we had lost so much time we agreed to take the Charlotte flight which left 3 hours later. We called Charlotte and reserved a car, couldn't find a hotel because it was a big NASCAR race weekend, so we were going to rent a car and drive part way until we could find a hotel. When we asked "customer service" if United would pick up the rental car we were told "I don't know but they should." Arriving at the gate 20 minutes prior to the Charlotte flight taking off we were told it was too late to board and there were no seats! So we cancelled the rental car and went home, our vacation ruined. Our baggage however did go on vacation, one to Charlotte and one to Myrtle beach. The Charlotte bag took 2 days to get back and the Myrtle beach bag 3 days. We had to make multiple phone calls to find the bags and multiple calls to get them delivered....we were told we would have to pick them up at the airport, even though they were lost and we never went anywhere. When I called customer service about some "service" I was told I couldn't get my mileage back, United wouldn't reimburse me for the hotel ($250 since it was a holiday weekend night) or give us 2 free tickets because our vacation was ruined because United "forgot to book a crew." To add even more insult to injury, I called United on Saturday the 25th (one day after we were supposed to leave) and told that for $715.00 a ticket we could fly to Charleston that day! So I guess we would have needed to buy another two tickets to get there, even though the reason we weren't there wasn't due to weather or us.

So, we were without our vacation, lost two vacation days, $250.00 on a hotel and no luggage for 2-3 days, and a lot of frustration. Our "romantic get a way" was totally ruined and we were not compensated due to United "forgetting to book a crew" and not willing to make it up to us at another time.

Tom Sietsema: Having recently endured a seven-hour flight delay at JFK -- and having missed a big deal meal in Paris as a result of that delay -- you have my sympathies.

Also, I think you're logged on to the wrong chat ....

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Proposing in D.C.: Mexican food, margaritas, romantice views... don't forget to pass on the beans. Maybe cut back on the onions, too.

Tom Sietsema: Such a spoil sport you are! (But GOOD advice.)

Okay, it's time to wrap up today's chat. Thanks for keeping me company (and also amused and informed). See you next week.

P.S. To Erin: Safe travels and dine well in Paris!

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