Wednesday, August 22, 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.
Bethesda, Md.: Tom,
What do you think about the overall quality of the food and dining experience in Georgetown. I have recently felt that a good amount of restaurants in G-town are really over-rated, even the ones that are supposed to be good. If you had to judge each section of DC by the restaurants, which section do you think is the best? I think that Penn Quarter is the overall winner and Georgetown would not even be in the top 5.
Tom Sietsema: Interesting question -- and one that I wish I had more time to address this morning. (Remember, I start looking at questions and comments Tuesday afternoon! The early birds get my attention first.)
I agree with you: Georgetown is, with a few exceptions, a pretty average place to eat these days. Past favorites, including 1789 and Bistro Francais, don't taste as good as they once did. Hook is the best of the newcomers in its Zip Code.
Penn Quarter has an abundance of places to eat, but some of the restaurants there are resting on their laurels, too, I've discovered as I make the rounds for my forthcoming (Oct. 14) dining guide.
I'd love to hear from today's audience. Which neighborhood do YOU like to dine in, and why?
Happy Hump Day, everyone. Following last week's chat, in which I reported the departure of pastry chef David Guas from the Passion Food Group (he's launching his own business), I heard from several people who wanted to reach out to him. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Let's get stareted ...
washingtonpost.com: Ask Tom (Aug. 15, 2007)
Johannesburg, SA: Actually, my daughter live in Joburg and has visited Cape Town several times. I passed on last week's request for Cape Town restaurants, here is her response, "I'd suggest Haiku if they enjoy asian (it's asian tapas, in a trendy sort of space, super yummy); Le Med for chill cocktails on the beach; and probably those places in Cape Quarter - The Nose, that sushi/fish place there, etc. And La Colombe, of course, for a special dinner...."
Tom Sietsema: I received a swarm of suggestions for dining in Capetown after last week's chat. Here's a sampling, with my thanks to the posters who took time to share some possibilities:
Cape Town Area Dining: To the person traveling to Cape Town, many of the vineyards have good restaurants and casual lawn picnics. We had Le Pique Nique lunch at Boschendal in Franschoek and would definitely recommend the experience. After being seated at your elegant outdoor table, they take your wine order and then bring you a basket filled with all sorts of European- style breads, spreads, tartlets, salads, cheeses, cold cuts, and baked goods. It doesn't get much better than enjoying fresh food & good wine on a nice day in this spectacular setting!
Just got a chance to read the chat transcript now - the Cape Town travelers should try out Imvelo Xhosa Restaurant at the V&A Waterfront. Yes, it's in the most tourist-y part of town, but it
provides a spread of traditional foods from the Xhosa people (i.e.
pap eaten with your hands. And meat. Looooots of meat.) The best part
is that even though it's on the waterfront, the restaurant and staff
are decked out in traditional decor/dress, the wait staff really
takes time to explain what you're eating and will give you a couple
of free history lessons about the Xhosa people. Plus, at least last
time I was there (a bit ago, admittedly) they got a lot of their
supplies from the local population and pumped money back into village
Also, Mama Africa on Long Street (? I think) was fabulous, more
upscale, but again traditional foods. With the exchange rate in
Americans' favor, the honeymooning couple should also try Blowfish,
which overlooks parts of Table Mountain.
This is making me want to go back to South Africa......
Arlington, Va.: For the Capetown query:
Lupo's for a very fresh buffet of Cape Malay/Mediterranean inspired cuisine. This was really fantastic and great for non-touristy eats.
Harrie's Pancakes at the waterfront for cheap, filled crepes. Also on the waterfront, Baia, is good for fine seafood.
At the waterfront, avoid Capetown Fish Market. It was blah and offered nothing terribly unique.
Jake's in the Village is a good casual place with a wide variety of entrees and desserts including the popular cape brandy malva pudding.
Madame Zingara's is a popular place. They are known for crazy hats and chocolate chili steak, which was pretty good.
If venturing into Franschoek wine country, Le Bon Vivant is not to be missed for dinner. It is an intimate setting where the chef prepares the items behind a glass window for viewing pleasure. The tasting menu there was a once in a lifetime experience. La Petite Ferme is a great lunch establishment in that area as well.
I spent 2 weeks in South Africa and I was honestly amazed at the food. My husband and I were constantly delighted, especially with the low costs of food and wine.
For Cape Town: For the person from last week's chat looking for Cape Town restaurants, I highly recommend 95 Keerom (that's both the name and the address). Both food and service at this stylish modern restaurant are outstanding. The charming Italian chef/ owner came to our table to describe the daily specials and answer questions about the menu. We really enjoyed the wildebeest medallions, handmade butternut ravioli, and the semifreddo dessert. The wine list offered an extensive selection from local vineyards. And the prices were very reasonable for such high quality dining.
One thing to note is that the restaurant is located in the downtown city bowl, which can appear deserted and unwelcoming after business hours. Your hotel should be able to arrange for a ride or maybe ask the restaurant if you need help with transportation.
Washington, D.C.: I just wanted to respond to last week's question about Capetown dining. I was there this summer and there is great dining! For tasty Indian food in a hip atmosphere go to Bukhara. For Ethiopian try Addis in Cape. We saved the more fine dining for the Winelands and had fantastic dinners at Le Quartier Francais and Reubens, both in Franschhoek. Enjoy!
Va.: For the person going to Capetown. Ginja on Castle Street is awesome! Reservations a must though. Haiku is also fun and food is delicious
CapeTown, SA: Hello! So excited to see the Cape Town post in your chat today. I just got back and we had a fabulous time. The food there is fantastic and very affordable. Restaurants encourage drinking SA wine and most have a $5 corking fee (if that with the exchange rate). For meat/wine lovers I highly recommend Belthazar Restaurant and Wine Bar at the V&A Waterfront. They have great steaks, game meat (try the game kabob with Kudu, chemsbok, etc) and over 180 wines by the glass. Def talk to the sommelier and find some great SA reds. For a lighter meal try Balducci's Sushi bar - also great wines and good fish. For a good but touristy meal the Africa Cafe is a must. They have a drum set during the meal and have dishes from all over Africa. Lastly - don't miss a meal in Camps Bay - we just went to one of the cafes overlooking the beach. We didn't care about the food the view was breathtaking! If you make it to Knysna - Firefly and Lush are a must!
Washington, D.C.: Hi Tom,
Please help! I want to get my boss a gift certificate to a restaurant as a thank-you (I'm leaving this week). Any suggestions for a nice place with good food and wine, preferably close to the Chevy Chase/Bethesda area?
Thanks so much!!!
Tom Sietsema: No doubt your boss will remember you warmly if you send him to dinner at David Craig Bethesda on St. Elmo Ave.
washingtonpost.com: Review of David Craig.
Chevy Chase, D.C.: It came into an email this morning stating that Colvin Run Tavern is closing as of September 1. We had been planning our Holiday party there. They did offer us the private dining space at Kinkead's in DC. Apparently it was only announced on Monday and the website makes no mention of it. Have you heard anything?
Tom Sietsema: News flash: I've just confirmed that Bob Kinkead's Colvin Run Tavern is likely to serve its last meal Sept. 1. "That's how it's looking," says general manager Julie Fiorino. She attributes the potential closure to "location and parking issues." According to Fiorino, CRT is going to relocate. ("Have any good spots in mind?" she asked me on the phone.)
washingtonpost.com: Review: Colvin Run Tavern.
Help! Dining Suggestion Needed for this Friday: Hi Tom! Any ideas for dining this Friday? We're meeting a friend at the Renaissance¿ Washington DC Hotel at 999 Ninth Street NW and are looking for an inexpensive to moderately priced restaurant within walking distance or a quick car drive. We love everything and being that we're coming from the Eastern Shore and we are somewhat deprived of ethnic food would love that (but seafood, Italian are great too). Ideas? I want to make a reservation today!! Thanks and love your chats.
Tom Sietsema: My vote goes to the Indian-themed Rasika on 6th and D streets, which only gets better with each season. But you might also explore Spain at Jaleo, at 7th and E streets, or Mexico at Oyamel, near the Navy Memorial off Pennsylvania Ave. NW
Washington, D.C.: I'm a host at a local fine dining restaurant, and I need to vent a little here
When diners with reservations arrive late:
First, you had a contract with us, and you're not honoring it. Ten or even fifteen minutes late, I understand. Traffic alone can cause that (though if you live here you should know better and give yourself more time), and sometimes life gets in the way and you can't find your keys. But thirty minutes late? Or even more than that, and no call? If you were going to your mom's house and you were that late, you'd call her. Why not a busy restaurant full of reservations? I know we're not your family, but again, contract. Honor it. Everyone has a cell phone these days, and if you don't know the number, 411 still exists.
Second, if you're more than 30 minutes late, please don't be mean or act offended when we ask you to wait for a bit in the bar. Many restaurants have seating times, and you may have missed the window for yours. We're still going to seat you, but since you made us wait, we might have to make you wait. We're not being mean, we know you're hungry, but you weren't here when you were supposed to be. Deal with the consequences of that like an adult, please.
Third, if you arrive on time but your friends arrive late, it's the same difference, because we all know you're not going to order until everyone is seated. We don't like to seat parties that aren't complete, but we'll do it if you insist. It makes the servers have to work twice as hard at least, greeting each person when they're seated, taking separate drink orders, etc. It makes the hosts work harder, taking individuals to a table rather than one group. And if you are the type who orders food without waiting for your guests, you're not much better, because now the kitchen has to deal with orders coming at different times for the same table. Hopefully the server has found out if they really want to eat without their guest or if they just want to place their order in advance...
Lastly, and I know this doesn't apply to the readers of this chat, but you are not the only diners in our restaurant! Not only that, you're probably not the only ones slated to eat at your table tonight!! Again, restaurants have seating times, and especially if they're smaller, they need every reservation they have. If you have a 6:00 dinner time, and you show up at 6:30, you've just made everyone's life more difficult than it needs to be. Now the hosts have to scramble to figure out where to seat the reservation coming in at 8:30 (because we know 4 people won't be done in 2 hours) who will inevitably arrive right on time or early. Most likely we send them to the bar, which is fine, until a half hour goes by and we still don't have a table ready for them because that first group was late! If enough time goes by, the restaurant will buy that second group food or drinks in an attempt to apologize. So now that first group has made us lose money AND allienate our other customers.
If only we could tell the truth: "We don't have your table ready because a bunch of rude jerks figure they can do whatever they want and nobody else matters, so they came late and now they won't leave." Because those late folks also always linger all night, having a good ol' time with each other, never considering there might be another group of friends starving away in the bar
Please, loyal chat readers, tell your family, tell your friends, even tell your enemies, to be on time for dinner reservations! And consider that there might be people planning to eat after you, too
Tom Sietsema: You get the gold star for the month with your excellent post. Thanks for taking the time to detail WHY customers showing up on time matters so much to restaurants -- which, in the end, are businesses.
I hope your missive makes its way to lots of eyeballs.
Washington, D.C.: My husband and I went to the new Rock Creek - Mazza on Friday night. We had a great meal. Having the nutritional facts on the menu did make my husband change his entree since he was picking the highest fat content dish for an appetizer. My first comment is that a couple who was sitting one table away from us got up and left after 20 minutes of no one coming to their table to take even a drink order. Secondly the food coming out of the kitchen was very unevenly timed. We got our appetizers quickly but waited a while about 25 minutes for our entree which was warm so it wasn't sitting under a warming lamp. I know that they are relatively new but timing needs to be better. The space is cool.
Tom Sietsema: Let's hope the owners see your post. Rock Creek is a nice idea.
washingtonpost.com: First Bite: Rock Creek Mazza.
Washington, D.C.: What are your first impressions of Proof?
Tom Sietsema: You want to get there early if you hope to get a stool at the bar ....
washingtonpost.com: The Dish on Proof.
Bethesda, Md.: Tom,
Can you help me with a restaurant etiquette question? A couple weeks ago after a long walk on the C&O Canal my wife and I stopped by Old Angler's Inn a little before noon and asked to be seated. There must have been 30-40 empty tables on the patio (Tues. afternoon) but when we said we'd like drinks, the maitre d' refused to seat us. We quietly went away but I feel as if this was a rather rude dismissive thing to do, as there was a great deal of available seating, but I'd be interested in your take on it. (BTW, we have frequented the Inn several times before and have had wondeful times there.)
Tom Sietsema: Your reception doesn't surprise me at all ...
washingtonpost.com: Review: Old Angler's Inn.
Washington, D.C.: Hi Tom, I'm a local touring the White House with friends. Is there a good place with a bar around there that's not a tourist trap we can enjoy afterwards?
Tom Sietsema: The Occidental has a nice bar (and isn't a tourist trap).
washingtonpost.com: Review: The Occidental.
Rockville, Md.: Tom: There is a restaurant "chain" (and I use that term liberally as it doesn't come across as a chain) in Orlando and Atlanta called Seasons 52...all dishes are under 475 calories...and only usues fresh local products...
My question to you....do you think a restaurant of this type would work in the DC Market...or would it get lost amongst all the other types of restaurants we currently have...
Personally I think it would work....especially since the food is amazing...but I'm wondering if people will look at the concept as too gimmicky...
Thanks for taking my question..
Tom Sietsema: Did you catch my post above? At least early on, Rock Creek at Mazza demonstrates that a restaurant can cut the fat, keep the flavor -- and do both without making the experience feel like a gimmick.
Curious . . . : Did you visit Maestro on Chef Trabocchi's final dinner this Saturday? I refrained from crying during the meal, but I will will dearly miss his creations.
Tom Sietsema: I'll let you in on something: I had a reservation at Maestro the day the chef called to tell me he was resigning -- a reservation that I subsequently cancelled (so many other restaurants to get to before the fall dining guide, you know?)
Tell us, though: What was the last dinner like?
washingtonpost.com: Review: Maestro.
Alexandria, Va.: Hi Tom,
I would love a suggestion from you on this one. My husband and I received some bad news recently and my uncles have generously reacted by offering to treat us to dinner. One uncle wants to pay for our dinner on our last-minute vacation to Aruba over Labor Day. The other wants us to have a big blow out dinner, on him, here in DC or in Baltimore. Aruba suggestions are welcome but mainly the question is, where should we head for a big blow-out dinner? Eve? Citronelle? I feel like that's taking advantage of his generosity. Other ideas? Feel free to edit this down if you choose to post it.
Tom Sietsema: I know nothing about where to eat in Aruba, but I know you can't go wrong with dinner at either Restaurant Eve or Citronelle. Such a difficult decision! You might have to simply flip a quarter in order to choose.
Washington, D.C.: great place to have brunch with a water view! Please tom my boyfriend is coming from LA and I want to impress him with what dc has to offer!---please help
Tom Sietsema: I'm not sure you can have both a great water view AND good food. Recent reports from visitors to Indigo Landing in Alexandria are mixed and my personal experience at Agraria in Georgetown, also overlooking the Potomac, left me not wanting to return for brunch.
Can anyone out there chime in with better ideas?
Colvin Run Tavern is Closing?!!: Oh no! We LOVE that place for special occasions - we just went there a few weeks ago and had a wonderful time.
Maybe they could move into the former Harry's Essential Grill place. Although that space is doomed -restaurants never last there. There's also the space that Monteray Fish Co. was going to go in on Tysons Blvd., but it never seems to have gone in.
Tom Sietsema: For selfish reasons, I hope CRT relocates to Logan Circle. Now THERE'S a neighborhood that would welcome a good place to wine and dine.
(Whaddaya say, Bob?)
Re: Colvin Run relo and sushi, Va.: come to Alexandria! There is going to be lots of investment in the waterfront (allegedly) and we need quality restaurants to come in, not more chains and blah tourist fish spots. There are spaces available, I am sure and we really want some interesting options to add to the few gems we have.
ON that note, and on a very different type of food, I tried the sushi at Bumblefish on Washington (corner with King) and people who are always asking where to get sushi should try here. It was the freshest I have had in the long time, and the cukes were crunchy and clearly farm fresh. While was sitting there eating, a large delivery of produce arrived, and it was from a farmer out in the Warrenton area, so a nice reason to go there (support local foods!). Anyway, not a fancy place, but a definite one to keep in mind for lunch.
Tom Sietsema: Thanks for the sushi suggestion.
Arlington, Va.: Tom, what's up with the continually degrading service and waiter horror stories at Bebo. I mean, I love the food but it's not worth the hassle...
Tom Sietsema: In my (soon to be) eight years in this job, I've never received as many complaints about a single restaurant as I have with Bebo. It's unfortunate, because Roberto Donna is a terrific chef.
Re:the host's post: The post from the restaurant hosts makes good points, but
the hostile tone really rubs me the wrong way -- if he or she
is that irritated, I have trouble imagining that it's not
showing a little bit to customers. The business is
Tom Sietsema: Maybe he or she sent that after a particularly brutal work day?
West End, D.C.: Hi Tom,
It's my first post after years of reading you religiously! My husband and I had a debate last week while eating dinner at the bar at Clyde's (G'town.) There was a woman next to us on her cell phone talking loudly. I think that even if you are at the bar, cell phones should be used discreetly, at most. Hubby disagrees, says that people eat at the bar for a less formal/no rules types of environment. Would love to hear your opinion!
Tom Sietsema: I think cell phones should be used with restraint in restaurants, if at all. (A quick "hey, I'm in the bar" is fine; a lengthy chat is not.)
I try to use my cell phone outside the restaurant, or away from where people are eating and drinking -- including at the bar. The need for manners doesn't end if you leave a formal part of the restaurant for an informal spot.
Warrenton, Va.: Regarding Aurba -- My husband and I spent 8 days there and were really disappointed in the food. We were under the impression that it was supposed to be the best in the carribean. It was american/continental food circa 1978 -- Everything is clunky, odd and covered in gouda. Your best bet is to get out of the tourist end of the island and head for the fish shacks.
Tom Sietsema: That's been my luck on other islands, too. Thanks for the honesty.
Arlington, Va.: funny, I didn't find the host's post hostile at all--I thought it was calm, reasoned, and fair (I am not a host, and do not work in restaurant business). It is the hospitality business, yes, but that doesn't mean put up with being a doormat business. The behavior I see on a daily basis on the Metro proves to me that people really have forgotten simple respect, consideration, and courtesy toward others. Very sad (and I am not a cranky oldster, either. I am a 30 yo woman)
Tom Sietsema: To the host's rescue!
Arlington, Va.: (followup on Bebo) I agree, Tom, I'm from Roberto's home town, Turin, and I have known him since 1986, so I'm torn. BTW, I get much better service at the bar; same menu. Ciao!
Tom Sietsema: Yep, the bar has better service, I concur.
Last Supper at Maestro: Tom, you give so much to us, so I am following up on your request for more details on Maestro's final meal.
The dinner was 8 courses, all chef's choice. One pre-dinner taster was oysters with champagne foam. There was a lovely crudo (better than I've had at Hook), a wagyu beef tartare with light-as-airparmesan shavings, and a braised artichoke consumme with foie gras. The lobster ravioli course flecked with ginger tastes was better than anything I have eaten before. A turbot with smoked hay sauce, which tasted like a very refined barbecue sauce, was delightful. We also enjoyed a lovely veal breast with alba hazelnuts. There was a cheese course and then tiramisu with cappuccino foam for dessert. And post-dessert gifts included miniature molte chocolate cakes, madeleines with chocolate dipping sauce, and mini strawberry sorbet ice cream cones. I will remember that meal forever.
Tom Sietsema: Why do I feel like crying right now?
Grazie, for the details of your last meal at Maestro. Fabio will be much-missed from the scene.
Boulder, Co.: Tom,
I just wanted to let you know that I am another satisfied customer of Frasca. The service was just incredible and our meal - oh my! Frico caldo, fried Hawiian sea bass, poached lobster and fresh local vegetables with house made angel hair and blood orange sorbet, plus the amazing wine list - so wonderful.
I would also like to endorse the chicken fried chicken with chedder mashed potatoes at West End, the mussels in chimichurri sauce and garlicky shrimp tacos at Centro and the cheeseburger I had at Tom's, although I think I gained four pounds.
Thanks again for the excellent recommendation!
Tom Sietsema: You are welcome. Who knew that Denver's best restaurant is in Boulder?
washingtonpost.com: Postcard from Tom: Denver.
Springfield, Va.: Tom:
I notice, more and more, that casual and family restaurants ignore the practice of boys of all ages wearing their grubby ball caps at the table while they eat. Fully 20% and more of the male diners between 9 and 79 keeo their logo caps on at the table on the local scene where we dine. I understand now why some restaurants are forced to put signs up saying "Shirt and Shoes Required," but can you and others of influence start encouraging a "no ball hat" culture for Washington? Perhaps this sign might suffice:"Shirt and shoes required. Tank tops on men are iffy. Ball hats may be checked at the door."
Tom Sietsema: I'm not a fan of ball caps on anyone over, oh, two years old in a restaurant.
Guys, if you're losing your hair, deal with it another way. And if you're trying to make a statement, fashion or otherwise, the only thing you're telling diners when you wear a cap indoors is that you're not a gentleman.
Alexandria, Va.: A few friends and I went to Farah Olivia for dinner the Thursday night of restaurant week. The food was delicious, but I can't say I had an enjoyable meal as I was trying to forget my encounter with the waiter earlier. Before the waiter began taking our orders he explained we could order off the entire menu -- the tasting menu and the regular menu. Two of the ladies before me ordered the three-course tasting menu. I was the third of four to order. I ordered an entree off the regular menu since I wasn't that hungry and planned to pass on the appetizer. The waiter asked what I would have for an appetizer. I explained I would skip the appetizer and save room for dessert. He replied, "The chef prefers that everyone at the table order the same number of meals so that everyone at the table is eating and no one has an empty plate. I was floored and speachless. I've never been told such a thing in a restaurant. In order to avoid confrontation I went ahead and ordered off the tasting menu. I picked at the appetizer and the dessert, and enjoyed the entree, but I was still seething over the nerve of that waiter. What's your opinion?
Tom Sietsema: For organizational purposes, I can understand (but don't necessarily agree with) a chef who wants everyone to order a multi-course tasting menu. It would be awkward for one guest to get, say, six courses while another just got two. But the way you describe the waiter's response to your request would put me off, too.
Washington, D.C.: I have a question about seating. If I enter a restaurant and the restaurant tries to seat me at a table I dislike, and I ask to be seated at another table which is available, should I expect the restaurant to honor my request?
I ask because I was at Acadiana a few months ago and I wanted to be seated in a booth by the window that was available. But when I asked about it the person seating me said that my party could not. It was not as if that portion of the restaurant was roped off or anything -- others were sitting around that table. I was a bit put off by the fact that he would not seat us there (if it matters there were 3 of us, it was not like there were just 2 of us or something so that we were taking more seating up than we should have). When I asked why we were not to be seated there, they guy said "first come first served" which made no sense to me whatsoever.
Tom Sietsema: Restaurant patrons have a right to request a table more to their liking. But they need to keep in mind that they might have some competition for a booth table (or a perch near a window, etc.) in the form of people who have called ahead and requested such. And some places don't like to seat two people at spots for four or more.
I'm not sure what the problem was at Acadiana, but I don't buy the "first come-first served" response. (Because YOU were THERE first, correct?)
the host's post 2: or maybe the host holds his tongue night after night and needed this space to vent...
Tom Sietsema: And this is the place to vent! Consider me/this forum your restaurant shrink.
Vienna, Va.: Speaking as someone who lives on the west side of Tysons Corner -- and who could WALK to Colvin Run Tavern -- I am very sad. Please tell Bob to stay out here somewhere. I'm sure Maestro is excellent but we could still use one more knock-your-socks off restaurant in this neck of the woods.
Tom Sietsema: Okay, chef, you have a choice: please your fans in Tysons or please the DC food crowd. What will it be?
Re: Bar by White House: Go to Off the Record (in the basement of the Hay Adams Hotel). Classic DC at its best.
Tom Sietsema: I've yet to drop by.
Maybe he or she sent that after a particularly brutal work day? : Yeah, but I agree with the poster who thinks it was unusually hostile. And too long. After reading a few sentences I had to move on to the next post. If you want to make a point that will be remembered, be polite and concise.
Tom Sietsema: I actually appreciated the detail.
Washington, D.C.: You ducked my question. How's the food at Proof?
Tom Sietsema: Sorry, but you'll have to wait for my review later this fall. I can't give away EVERYTHING here!
Northwest, D.C.: I appreciate the insight from the poster who commented on "difficult" diners and the challenges that face servers and hosts/hostesses.
My wife and I are pretty punctual, tip well and treat people with respect so I don't feel personally slighted by the post, but I couldn't help notice repeated references to how certain behavior causes "extra work" and "pressure" for wait staff.
If I am organizing a large dinner and am likely spending THOUSANDS of dollars on the meal, drinks, wine etc I just can't get too worried about potentially inconveniencing staff. I agree that people should be helpful and respectful and not expect staff to move mountains for them, but servers should also understand that one of the perks of eating out is to avoid all the hassles of cooking and organizing a party in the home. Sure, I'd never turn up to my mother's house 30 minutes late without any explanation, but nor would my mother charge me $100 for a bottle of wine I could buy retail for $35.
Tom Sietsema: I'm smiling. And nodding.
Brunch with a water view...: H2O is surprisingly quite nice!
Tom Sietsema: And why is that?
Washington, D.C.: Have you done any postcards for Brussels? I searched but could not find any. Thanks
Tom Sietsema: Here are some restaurant suggestions for Brussels:
washingtonpost.com: Postcard from Tom: Brussels.
Dunn Loring, Va.: Tom: Sunday, based on your review, we decided to visit Comet Ping Pong when they opened. All printed information said that they open at 3 and indeed, when we arrived at 2:50 the sign on the door said "Now open Sundays at 3." When they didn't open at that time, we waited and at 3:15 decided to telephone. Their answering machine said they opened Sundays at 3:30. Okay, By this time a small crowd had gathered and after 3:30 began banging on the windows. Someone came to the window and held up five fingers. "Five minutes or five o'clock?" someone shouted but got no response. Our party of three left after that guessing it was five p.m. Pretty shoddy performance. Guess I'll never know about the quality of the pizza.
Tom Sietsema: So now we know: The doors at Comet open on Sunday at 3:30. (Too bad the staff person didn't just come out and say, "Welcome, we'll be open in five minutes and thanks for your patience.")
Alexandria, Va.: Hi Tom, I know you must receive many questions about how to handle a meal coming too slowly, but have you ever had to address how to handle a meal being served way too quickly?
My fiancee and I recently treated her mom to dinner at a top-end steakhouse. We didn't order any appetizers. Instead, each of us preferred to order sides with our steaks. Much to our surprise, our steaks arrived at our table a mere three minutes after ordering! The steaks arrived so quickly that our utensils weren't on the table, the wine hadn't been served and even the bread had failed to find its way to our table. Our waiter seemed to be as befuddled as we were about how quickly our meals arrived.
To be clear, the proper steaks were delivered at the proper temperature, so an incorrect order was not an issue.
I know that, most of the time, I would appreciate such quick service. In this case, though, we wanted and expected to enjoy a nice, leisurely meal -- particularly if were were paying $80 to $100 a head to do so. As we ate our meals, we all, correctly or not, began to suspect that we were getting a bum's rush, perhaps since it had to be clear to the restaurant that we weren't the typical expense-account diners this restaurant usually caters to. After all, we hadn't ordered appetizers, and we had ordered one of the only two bottles of wine on the menu under $100. All told, we were finished with dinner a mere half-hour after being seated at a restaurant at which one would expect to enjoy a meal over 60 to 90 minutes at least.
We did eventually ask to speak with the manager after our meal, and we politely explained our confusion/displeasure about the way-too-rapid service. To his credit, he wound up comping the wine without us asking him to do so (and this satisfactory post-meal response explains why I am choosing not to publicly name/shame the restaurant). But I remain confused as to how we should have reacted upon the food arriving way too quickly. What should we have done?
Tom Sietsema: Your steaks arrived THREE MINUTES after you ordered them? That's crazy. And I trust your sense of timing, given the helpful details (the wine and even the bread basket had't arrived).
You should have piped up right away, of course. But kudos to the manager who smoothed things over so well, and unprompted. Next time you might tell your waiter as you close your menu that you're looking forward to a leisurely meal (if in fact you are), just to stress a point.
Washington D.C.: I'd like to take my husband to I Ricchi for his birthday.
Haven't been there in years. What do you think?
Tom Sietsema: I think you might consider another upscale Italian restaurant.
Palena would be my first choice. Al Tiramisu would be my second. And while I like Dino in Cleveland Park --- which recently introduced a new chef, Stephan Boillon from Chef Allen's in Aventura, Florida -- its very good heirloom tomato salad, whole grilled fish and balsamic-drizzled steak are served in a loud environment that might not be conducive to a romantic birthday dinner.
washingtonpost.com: Review of Palena.
Washington, D.C: When running late (any amount of time over 10 min), I find that a courtesy call can be mutually beneficial. It serves both the restaurant's and patrons' interests by providing a realistic timeframe to make necessary adjustments to accomodate the latecomers.
Tom Sietsema: Yes!
Shirlington, Va.: Tom--
Thanks in advance for answering my question. I was thinking of journeying up to Cuba de Ayer this weekend. Is it really worth the trip or should I stick with Cubano's instead?
while are on the topic, is there ANY good Cuban food in Virgina? I keep on waiting to see something but nothing seems to ever show up.
Tom Sietsema: I'd give the nod to Cuba de Ayer. As for good Cuban cooking in Virginia, I'm stumped. Maybe a chatter can come to our rescue.
washingtonpost.com: Review: Cuba de Ayer.
Washington, D.C.: Dear Tom: I hear you talk about San Fran alot (you worked there?), and I am wondering: Does it depress you to have to cover the dismal DC dining scene? DC has terrible restaurants. About the only bright spots are Michel Richard, Inn at Little Wash., Bread Line croissants, Moby Dick's chicken kebabs, and our close proximity to NYC. Compared to the West Coast (including Vegas) and NYC, we suck. One can't even find a decent taco in this place (and no, Taqueria Poblano, or Nacionale, are not even decent). Sigh.
Tom Sietsema: I guess you didn't read my 2006 fall dining guide, in which I ranked Washington as one of the top restaurant towns in the country? ;)
San Francisco rates higher than we do, I agree, but Vegas is a special case. There's lots of exquisite, high-end dining possibilities in Sin City -- but far fewer quality venues for people who don't have $500 to spare for dinner per person.
washingtonpost.com: 2006 Fall Dining Guide
third time's the charm?: I am going to Munich, Salzburg and Vienna in October, any suggestions for restaurants in any/all of those cities?
Tom Sietsema: Chatters?
Middletown, Md.: In a fine dining restaurant what is proper etiquette, when it comes to dunking your bread, in a sauce that's just to good to leave on the plate? Mom always said "if you can't dunk it, it's not worth eating".
Tom Sietsema: I'm a sauce-mopper, too. In a really nice place, I spear a piece of bread on my fork and swab away.
Washington, D.C.: Tom,
I was recently invited to a dinner party at Central in celebration of my friend's 42nd birthday. The guest list included 12 of the "birthday boy's" closest friends. We were told to arrive early since it was a surprise party. When I got there I was very pleased to find out that the back room was reserved for us and had a wonderful view of the immaculately clean kitchen. The room was very nice and the staff was excellent. The menu had been prearranged prior to include my friends favorite dishes on the menu. About 5 of the guests arrived on time before the guest of honor arrived. A couple of the others arrived after the fact. However, what was very upsetting to me was the conduct of two guests who failed to arrive at all. They phoned and said they would be "on their way" and should arrive an hour late. When we informed the staff at Central they were very accommodating and delayed the start of the meal while ensuring that guests that were present were served some light fare and drinks while we waited for these elusive guests. After approximately 1 1/2 hours of waiting the manager politely asked if we wanted to wait a little longer. At that point, we phoned the guests several more times and they didn't pick up their cell phones. We all agreed we were starving and asked the waiter to serve the meal. About 20 mins later (almost 2 hours of wait time), the manager came in with a bottle of champagne and a message from the guests expressing their regrets because they would not show.
I just want to point out that this isn't the first time these folks cancel at the last moment. However, in this instance they impacted the flow of the meal service and mood of the party because it was a prearranged meal. Not to mention placing a burden on the wait staff and management. I found out later that there really wasn't an emergency or life threatening illness involved for the no show. Simply, "too tired" to go to dinner. I think this behavior is very prevalent lately and is in poor taste. Not to mention the fact that when you establish a contract with a restaurant for private dining rooms there is a set minimum cost. What do you think of this situation? By the way, Central was great!!
Tom Sietsema: I don't know where to start with this one.
1) The no-shows should be dropped from future party lists.
2) Kudos to Central for making the best of an unfortunate situation.
3) Sending champagne to a party that you were invited to -- and failed to appear at because you were "too tired" -- is lame, lame, lame.
4) Friends don't keep friends waiting two hours.
5) Friends like these should be dropped from your circle -- after you ask them to pay the host for their share of the event, of course!
Old Angler's Inn Maitre D': Old Angler's was my first job 30 years ago, I was a busboy. The present Maitre D' was a waiter back then, maybe he's been there too long.
On the other hand, the overall demeanor there has always gruff and they've never cottoned to folks coming from the C&O Canal. You may recall the incident where a Supreme Court justice and several Senators were refused entry. They had just completed a hike from Georgetown and I guess it showed in their appearance. The owner called them a "bunch of bums" and told them to vamoose.
Oh, I dropped an overloaded tray of dishes down that spiral staircase once. They took my share of the tips that night to cover the damage. I still laugh at the pettiness.
Tom Sietsema: Sounds like OAI has been ungracious for ... decades! At least it's consistent, right?
Washington, D.C.: Beck Brasserie - is it worth the extra money to dine at the Chef's Table in the kitchen?
Tom Sietsema: It's not actually IN the kitchen, but just outside it. How much is the sur-charge?
Thank you...:...to the posters, and to you, for your comments on cell phones. I compeltely agree, but ask: what can we do? Complain to the management? A great dinner at David Craig's recently was marred after a woman went on and on attached to her cell.
Also, thanks re the baseball cap comments. May I add tank tops on men, especially, are inappropriate restauant attire? (and pretty much all the time, for most men, anyway)
Tom Sietsema: If enough diners protest, I think restaurants will put the kabosh on cell phones in their dining rooms. And even muscle heads shouldn't be wearing tank tops anywhere but at Hooters.
Arlington, Va.: For Colvin Run relocation, and any others looking for space, there are SEVERAL fairly recently unoccupied spaces on Wilson Blvd. in Clarendon in the 2 block area between Clarendon Ballroom and Sette Bello. I would LOVE to see some bars/restaurants take up some of those spaces.
Tom Sietsema: Wow, it sounds like CRT would have a built-in audience just about anywhere!
Colesville, Md.: In the restaurant business here.
The reason we do not seat parties until they all show up, or why we sometimes have to make a party wait when they are late for their reservation does not have to do with the extra work for the staff such parties impose. It has to do with the quality of the food coming out of the kitchen.
When we get busy, the kitchen can only put out so many plates in a given half hour and still maintain quality. When a party arrives partial and I seat them, then we lose control over how many plates the kitchen will have to turn out in that given half hour. This may not be a problem on a slower night so I will go ahead and seat you, but on a busy night we just cannot do it (exceptions are made for the elderly, sick and pregnant).
If you are late (more than 15 minutes is our standard) and I have already seated the maximum number of people my restaurant can handle given my staffing for the night, I may need you to wait for a bit EVEN though I have open tables. Or I may need those tables to seat folk showing up on time for their table. If you are more than 15 minutes late I may have even given away your table to a walk in party.
But its a two way street. If we are running late and you have to wait more than 15 minutes for your reservation, you can expect some free sparkling wine and possibly free apps or more. Even if we are late because the first party on your table was 30 minutes late for their reservation. That's how we run our business.
Believe me, I would rather get you seated as quick as I can, but I cannot magically make more tables appear or get the kitchen to expand.
Tom Sietsema: Good (inforemed) reply. Thanks for sharing with the class.
Washington, D.C.: Brasserie Beck - $85 for 5 courses; its about $20 more than doing them a-la-carte.
Tom Sietsema: Nah. As long as you don't have to sit in those glassed-in rooms in the back, anywhere else should be OK.
Re: dinner party at Central : I say don't wait to eat for more than 1/2 hour. Why inconvenience everyone else and the honoree? If they arrived late and you were already eating, I wouldn't feel bad about that.
Tom Sietsema: There's no way I would have been that patient.
for Vienna: My husband and I were in Vienna back in 2003, and had some of the most amazing food.
Try Sopile (Istrian/Croatian food). It's slightly south of the Ring if I remember...particularly memorable here was the Croatian prosecco and cured ham appetizer....
Also try, for a genuine Vienna neighborhood cafe, the Gasthaus Ubl (at Pressgasse 26). I had wonderful creme of pumpkin soup, palatschniken (sp?) which were crepes with apricot and chestnuts, and other wonderful home-made dishes. We liked it so much we went there for a second night.
HAVE FUN! Vienna is amazing. Even the coffee at the local chain conveneince stores is served in china cups.....
Tom Sietsema: Vielen Danke!
Dunn Loring again: No, No. Last Sunday they opened at 5 pm. After 3:30 we went up the street and had a mediocre meal at American City Diner. When we drove back by we noticed it was open and checked. It had opened at 5 P.M. (Wouldn't want any chatters to have the same expereience!!)
Tom Sietsema: Ah, thanks for setting the record straight!
Washington, D.C.: Someone in your chat two weeks ago spoke of a "phantom" reservation taker at Matchbox, which does not take same-day reservations. I think I know what happened. They dialed the wrong number -- probably forgot the 202 area code and they were calling from Virginia. I am also a phantom reservation taker. My cell phone number is the same number as a popular restaurant in Virginia (except with a 202 area code), and I get at least 1 call a day for it. I usually take a reservation. It's easier than explaining they have the wrong number and hopefully it teaches them not to do it again.
Tom Sietsema: Please tell me you're joking -- and if you're not, please consider the consequences. Do you realize how many special occasions your once-a-day reservation taking might ruin? Or how tough you might be making it for the staff at the front desk?
Tysons Corner, Va.: I recently had a stellar meal, both in terms of food and service, at 1789 in Georgetown. Your advice to seek out a ground-level table is a bit baffling. I suppose one person's "intimate" is another person's "cramped" but we were seated in the upper-most level and found our large round table near the window overlooking the quaint side-street in this historic neighborhood to be charming and elegant. The light-filled room was lined with framed antique prints, and flowers filled vases on each of the linen-topped tables. And (unlike the small rooms downstairs) there was ample spacing between tables to allow for more than whispered conversation!
Tom Sietsema: While I've long wished 1789 would redo their upper floors, and stated so in print, my problem with the restaurant these days has nothing to do with where I'm seated, but with a kitchen that appears to be cooking on one cylinder.
Washington, D.C.: Tom, love you chats! Is there a German deli in the DC metro? Back in SoCal, I used to go religiously to the Alpine Village in Torrance, where they make their own sausages and cold meats (including Bierschinken, Bavarian Weisswurst, Leberkaese and much more!!).
Tom Sietsema: There's a place called the German Gourmet (in NoVa?) that has a great rep. Closer to you, there's Cafe Mozart, but I haven't been there in years.
Washington, D.C.: Tom, please tell us what you know, if anything, about the new chef at Granville Moore's.
Tom Sietsema: I will. Next week. In the Food section. Promise.
Silver Spring, Md.: Hi Tom-
Not so much a food question as a food accompaniment question. My husband love everything about living in Downtown Silver Spring except the fact that there is -no where- to sit and have a nice glass of wine. Do you know of any plans in the works to bring any restaurant with an honest-to-goodness bar to the area? Is it too much to ask for a glass of wine that doesn't come from a jug?
Tom Sietsema: Nearby, Jackie's has a groovy bar that doesn't feature wine from a jug ....
washingtonpost.com: Review of Jackie's.
Austria restaurants: In Vienna I dined twice in one trip at zu Den Drei Hacken, which is close to the cathedral. We also had a great meal at the Spanish restaurant in the House of Music museum. In Salzburg we had a great meal at a Hotel that advertises mostly organic food, but the name excapes me.
Mostly, we went with Rick Steves' suggestions and they were spot on!
Tom Sietsema: Good (or should I say "gut") to know.
Bethesda, Md.: Tom, just back from Ocean City, and want to commend to you Liquid Assets, at 94th St. and Coastal Highway. A great cheese board (yes, real cheese, served with a fanned Granny smith, raspberries, dried cherries, etc). Who's a thunk it in OC? Also, connected to a nice wine store and any wine in the store can be had with dinner for $10 corkage. Fine deal. Rest of menu we tried was excellent, particularly bistro steak with chorizo potato hash.
Tom Sietsema: Chorizo potato hash -- and maybe a rioja? -- sounds mighty tasty about now. Thanks for the tip.
For the potentially Aruba bound: Just was there on my honeymoon in June and I recommend the restaurant Papiamento. The ambiance was great- we sat outside in the garden courtyard of the old farmhouse next to the pool. The food was delicious-- I'm still remembering my appetizer of scallops immersed in a bowl of gouda. The service is a little slow just fyi but you are on "island time."
Tom Sietsema: Scallops and gouda? (Hmmmm.)
On that cheesey note, I need to say good-bye.
It was fun chatting with you this morning. See you next Wednesday!
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