washingtonpost.com
Ask Tom
Pizza and Bartenders

Tom Sietsema
Washington Post Food Critic
Wednesday, September 19, 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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Washington, D.C.: Hi Tom! You're a must read for me and my government drone friends. Only way we get through the week. Anyway, I'm going to Prime Rib in DC tomorrow night. Is it as good as it once was, or should I temper my expectations? Also, is jacket/tie still required? Will I be assaulted with creamed spinach if I de-tie 3/4 of the way through the meal? Thanks.

Tom Sietsema: The Prime Rib, dipped in amber and my first review as food critic, is still great fun after all these decades. But you have to know what to order --- crab imperial, the signature prime beast -- and you can't go into the dining room without proper attire, which is why the cloak room stocks all sizes of blue blazers and ties. According to a waiter, one guy supposedly found a rare black AMEX card in his loaner!

washingtonpost.com: Review: Prime Rib.

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Washington, D.C.: If you needed great pizza and had to choose, which of these would you go to first?

1. Comet Ping Pong

2. Red Rocks

3. 2 Amys

4. Bebo Trattoria

Tom Sietsema: I'd pick Door Number 3 for a variety of reasons, some of which include a crust and toppings.

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Washington, D.C.: Tom,

A quick story I thought you would appreciate.

My friend and I are huge fans of yours! We began to notice after eating a few meals out together that we both always checked your column before attending a restaurant! We constantly say 'well Tom says...'

A few weeks ago said friend was on a road trip with her sister and ended up in Philly. She sent me a text message asking if I had any suggestions of where to eat...since I have only been to the city of brotherly love once I did what any fan of yours would do, I looked up your postcards and texted her back your suggestions and the restaurant locations.

Thanks to you and the wonders of technology my friend and her sister enjoyed a delish lunch at Amada.

Thanks again for all your great work/advice/insight!

Tom Sietsema: Your post just made my day. Thanks for taking the time to write. One of the things I like best about my job is my relationship -- online, on the phone, sometimes in person --with readers. I'm a lucky and grateful critic.

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Arlington, Va.: Do restaurants want to know if you're there to celebrate a special occasion? And if so, how do you let the establishment know? And what should a diner do if the experience is disappointing? Recently, my husband and I went to Citronelle for our 20th anniversary. We were seated at 9:00 and our server went into detail about the chef's tasting menu. However, when she returned 15 minutes later to take our order, we were basically told we could not order it because of the time. It made me wonder why she bothered to mention the tasting menu to us, and then we had to scramble to find something from the a la carte menu to order. Frankly, it put a damper on our evening and while the food was good, it certainly wasn't memorable. Mimi Veis

Tom Sietsema: I'm frankly surprised that a restaurant of Citronelle's calibre would tease you, then turn around and not be able to deliver the goods. Did you ask anyone about the discrepancy? I would have.

As I go about making reservations, I've noticed that more restaurants -- and not just haute ones -- are asking me if I'm celebrating anything special. Nice touch -- provided they somehow remember, of course.

washingtonpost.com: Review of Citronelle.

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Washington, D.C.: Thanks for doing these discussions. They are a great resource for everything restaurant related.

Do you have any recommendations for Indian take out? My girlfriend and I are often craving Indian after a long day of work when we don't want to cook at home, but it seems like a lot of the places around - Rasika, Bombay Club, etc. - are on the nicer side. Any place for decent (doesn't need to be great) Indian take out? Bonus points if it is on the Hill or in the general vicinity of U St. Thanks again.

Tom Sietsema: Some people like White Tiger on the Hill. (I think the food there is just OK.) While it's not exactly where you want it to be, Nirvana on K St. NW does a great job with its meatless Indian meals.

washingtonpost.com: Review of Nirvana.

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Washington, D.C.: Tom,

I love Jaleo and head there often to have a few tapas and a half carafe of sangria at the bar. My only problem is that twice I have been charged more for the sangria than the menu price. If I recall correctly, I was charged $12.50 and the menu listed a price that was less than that. I should have mentioned it at the restaurant but hate confrontation...Thanks.

Tom Sietsema: Pointing out an error on a bill is hardly "confrontation." Especially if the over-charge has happened twice, you owe it to yourself and other diners to pipe up and talk to both the server and manager.

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Alexandria, Va.: Hey Tom...love the chats. Is Matchbox slipping on food quality and service? I was there a few nights ago and the waitress seemed to be in a different world i.e. not a whole lot of personality, barely spoke other than taking the order, not even a "thank you for coming" when the check was presented. The food was ok..not as good as previous visits there...seems like the chef/kitchen is tired of the same menu and there really wasn't anything "special" about the specials. Your opinion?

Tom Sietsema: Gosh, are the burgers and pies still good? I haven't been back since my (fairly recent) update of the place. But your service experience seems to mirror that of other diners. (See my later post on Matchbox.)

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Philadelphia, Pa.: Hi Tom--

I'm a former Washingtonian who's coming back to town for a visit with a new friend I'd like to impress. How's Cafe Atlantico these days? I was a fan in my DC days. If it's not as I remember, can you suggest an alternative? Thanks!

Tom Sietsema: Cafe Atlantico is fine, but not as exciting as it once was. (The same is true of Zaytinya, too, I'm afraid. But Jaleo, the original, is as delicious as ever. We're talking about chef Jose Andres' mini-empire, of course.)

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Washington, D.C.: Hi Tom!

What's the deal with Etrusco (in dupont circle)? I had an amazing dinner there a month or so ago - it was delicious. How come I never see it recommended by you (or anyone else!). Was I there on a rare good night or is it merely overlooked?

Tom Sietsema: I *was* recommending the Italian stalwart a few years back, but that was under another chef. Sounds like there's fresh reason for me to return for a check-up.

washingtonpost.com: Review: Etrusco.

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Downtown: Was thrilled to read that Hook is going to open a casual "clam shack" type of place! I do SO miss the New England seafood. In the meantime, is there anywhere that can serve up some good fried big-bellied clams?

Tom Sietsema: Belly up to the bar at Kinkead's and look at its list of classic dishes. One of them, justifiably, are the clams you're looking for.

washingtonpost.com: The Dish on Tackle Box.

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Washington, D.C.: Looking for a restaurant that would accomodate a group looking to have a private space and light meal, but the ability to bring our own bartender to serve up speciality drinks. Suggestions?

Tom Sietsema: Not to offend you or anything, but why would you want to bring your own bartender to a restaurant? Isn't that a bit like bringing your own waiter or busboy?

Also: How many people are we talking about, and how "light" do you want the food to be? Your question makes me think money is a big issue here.

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Washington, D.C.: I've got a quick meeting in the McPherson Square area this afternoon. Any idea for a good and cheap lunch spot?

Tom Sietsema: I gravitate to Teaism when "cheap" and "good" and "quick" are on my lips.

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Burbank, Ca.: Hi Tom:

As always, adore your comments and reviews.

I observed a rather distrubing incident yesterday and wanted to share....there is a local watering hole that is known for its homemade soups and fresh breads. Maybe due to the change in the weather, there was quite a crowd for lunch yesterday. The lady seated next to me came in rather late in the afternoon and ordered one of the soups, only to be told apologetically and nicely that they had run out of that variety. The lady went ballistic and started acting up. The Manager came over, was also apologetc and recommended an alternative. The customer went off, mostly saying that she came in specifically for that one type, etc. etc. To appease her, her eventual order was comped. I admired the great service, but when is it okay to act ike a child to get a free lunch? As adults, shouldn't we understand that sometimes we don't always get out way and deal with it? I left very sad for the state of our society.

Tom Sietsema: Man, I could write a book on all the boorish behavior I see in restaurants. Frankly, I hate to see bad actions "rewarded" by freebies. Kudos to the manager (I think) for feeding the pit bull.

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Alexandria, Va.: Tom, what is going on with Jaleo? My husband and I went there a few weeks ago, and ended up leaving before we even ordered food. I was jonesing for some sangria, and I was told that I could only order a pitcher -- no orders by the glass or the half carafe. Not only is this policy ridiculous since we left (and went next door to Bebo where we had a lovely meal), but it is dangerous. My husband doesn't drink, and I certainly can't finish an entire carafe by myself. They lost a very loyal customer.

Tom Sietsema: You are not the only drinkers to complain to me about the "only by the pitcher" sangria at Jaleo.

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Bring our own bartender: A whole new meaning to BYOB.

Tom Sietsema: Uh, YEAH.

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Baltimore, Md.: To the person who wants to bring their own bartender; that seems to me a little tacky. If there are specialty drinks that you want, send the banquet room manager a list of required drinks, so the bartender there knows exactly what drinks you want.

Tom Sietsema: You're preaching to the choir here.

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McLean, Va.: Not an excuse for a place like Citronelle, but it could be that the server had lost track of the time. I know when I was a server, it was 6:00 and the next time I turned around it was 9:00. That's how it gets in some restaurants and I'm sure no server was sitting around cooling their heels in a place like that.

Of course, she should have profusely apologized, but I know where she was coming from!

Tom Sietsema: I remember that feeling, too! One minute it's 6:30 on a Saturday, the next it's after midnight, and you're unwadding fives and tens from your apron and counting the night's haul. Ah, college days ...

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Washington, D.C.: Best food in Dupont Circle can be found at _____?

Tom Sietsema: Right now? Mourayo is pretty good. In general, I'm sort of down on Dupont these days. Lots of middling food to be found in a once-vibrant part of town.

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Casual Inidan Place: : Deli Dhaba in Arlington has yummy food and a casual setting

Tom Sietsema: Right, but the poster was asking about DC.

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Washington, D.C.: On the special occasion: When I made reservation at Palena for my wife's birthday, they asked if it was a special occasion. When we sat down, they offered us each a glass of champagne, and when my wife declined the alcohol, brought her a juice cocktail. With our desert course, they brought a small square of birthday cake. It was a lovely end to a great meal.

Tom Sietsema: How nice!

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Washington, D.C.: Tom,

It's my partner's birthday in 3 weeks. I had reservations at Proof until last night. The restaurant called me to cancel because they had booked a party that's taking over the restaurant for the evening. I'm at a loss as to know where to go next for this birthday celebration in Washington, DC. Ambience and food are important. Cost not so much.

Tom Sietsema: You know what's delicious (again)? Blue Duck Tavern in the West End. Ristorante Tosca for elegant Italian downtown. And for unabashed decadence, you can't go wrong with the tradition-minded Prime Rib.

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Pit bulls: Are actually very sweet dogs who love people, their reputation for fighting notwithstanding. So not a good label for a boorish customer. But I'd love to come up with a code word for customers like the Soup Lady. We could spread it via your chat! "Wow, look at that code-word-here. Wait til I write to Tom's column about that one!"

Tom Sietsema: Originally, I was going to type piranha, but I forgot how to spell it ...

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Silver Spring, Md.: Tom,

Your column and chats are a must read for me and I love them. However, it may just be a misperception on my part, but you seem to review very few restaurants in Maryland compared to DC and VA. While I understand the DC centric slant, I refuse to cede to that state on the other side of the river that there are not plenty of good places to eat here, and not just in Bethesda.

Tom Sietsema: Actually, if you examine a year's worth of reviews, you'll see that I include a Maryland example at least once a month, sometimes more. Most recently, I updated Addie's in Rockville and early next month, I'll be looking at a place outside Annapolis.

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Washington, D.C.: LOVE the chats! I just wanted to share the latest of several (3) bad experiences at The Heights restaurant. What is the problem here? I know that this is a relatively new restaurant but the owner has other restaurants and should have a good understanding of what it takes to open a new one. We (a table of 4) waited forever for our drinks to be delivered only to have the server spill a portion of the wine onto the table and then pretend that it hadn't happened until we asked that he wipe it up. The chicken dishes were dry, tasteless and uninspired (both rotisserie and southern fried were ordered). The pasta dish was runny, bland and overcooked. Stay FAR away from the crab cakes. As noted previously, this was our 4th visit and unfortunately, last, to The Heights. I'm especially disappointed as this is my neighborhood and I was looking forward to a great place to have a neighborhood meal. I believe in being supportive to the newcomers to this area but enough is enough.

Tom Sietsema: Let's hope the owner, David Winer, reads your plea -- which is not the only complaint I've received from visitors there.

washingtonpost.com: First Bite of Logan @ the Heights.

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Capitol Hill, D.C.: Hi Tom,

I need a place where I can bring my own bartender, waiter, busboy and possibly my own personal chef. Just in case there is a problem I'd like to bring my own Manager also; is there a restaurant in DC that can accomodate me??

Tom Sietsema: Thanks for the good laugh there.

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Special celebrations: I'm going to express what I bet will be a very unpopular opinion. I don't think restaurants should be expected to provide anything just because diners are celebrating a special occasion. Good food, good service, yes. And if diners are celebrating, choose the venue on atmosphere, nostalgia, memories, whatever. But making it special is on you. Maybe it's just me, but I find it a little unseemly when a chef or waitperson I don't know intrudes on my birthday, promotion, whatever. Maybe intrudes is a little harsh, but I just don't see how it can be relevant to them in any genuine way. Am I truly along in this?

Tom Sietsema: I'm sure you have SOME company, but I do believe you're in the minority. Most diners like to be pampered on their big day, be it a promotion or a birthday or whatever.

When you stop to think of the practice, though, it's kind of funny. Can you imagine a dentisat giving you a break on your cleaning or a stylist giving you a perm for free because it was your birthday? Restaurants are exceedingly generous businesses.

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Huh?: Granted, I know nothing about the restaurant business, but how can a place take reservations and then cancel them when a better "offer" comes along? How come the restaurant didn't say, "sorry, that night isn't available, how about this one" to the party planner?

Tom Sietsema: Maybe it was an offer they couldn't refuse? (Trust me, it happens.)

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Upperville, Va.: Yeah Pit Bulls are okay around people but you cant trust them around other dogs. I am not about to lose my two Champion herding collies to a pit bull so if the dog shows any aggression towards my collies it gets several deer slugs. I have well over $20k invested in their training and they help me run the farm.

Tom Sietsema: Okay, class, back to the topic at hand!

FOOD!

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Germantown, Md.: Good morning, Tom.

After reading your review about John Armijo's store in New Mexico, you have me craving a good tamale. Where can we find comparable tamales here in this area? Where would you recommend?

Thanks

Tom Sietsema: In the past few years, I've enjoyed the tamales at Casa Oaxaca in Adams Morgan, Samantha's in Silver Spring, Guajillo in Arlington, Lima downtown and even Kinkead's, which was (maybe still is) offering a fish dish with very good sweet potato tamales.

washingtonpost.com: Savoring the Unexpected.

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Confess!: So, what's your guilty pleasure? Kraft macaroni and cheese? Half smokes from the sketchiest cart you can find? The Oreo pizza from Dominos?

Tom Sietsema: Honestly? A family-size bag of peanut M & Ms. For obvious reasons, I don't dare keep 'em in my house.

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Columbia, Md.: Who is answering the phone at Matchbox?

We have tickets to an upcoming show at the Verizon Center and want to hit Matchbox first for their delicious baby burgers and pizza. My husband called Matchbox to ask if he could make reservations for a party of 4. The witty young woman from Matchbox abruptly responded with, "We only take reservations for parties of 6 or more. Come back when you have more friends." I understand that she was trying to be funny, but she caught my husband totally off guard and left him speechless.

Matchbox may want to consider giving phone duty to someone with a little more maturity. It's tough to overlook crappy service even if the food is delicious.

Thanks for letting me vent Tom. I love your work.

Tom Sietsema: You gotta be kidding me! That is SO rude.

It reminds me of the time I decided to go to Sunday brunch at the last minute and didn't bother asking anyone to join me. I walked into the then-new neighborhood hit to hear this from the host: "Table for one? No friends?"

washingtonpost.com: Review of Matchbox.

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RE: adult temper tantrums: My favorite boorish customer during my years as a host at a popular high-volume Arlington restaurant was the lady who complained to me and a manager that there were no seats available at the bar when she arrived at 7:30 on a Thursday evening. I wasn't sure how to react - apologize for being busy?! We ended up seating her ASAP (there was a wait, but we bumped her to the top of the list) and comping her dinner...on her way out the door, when I inquired about her enjoyment of dinner, she said something about not caring as long as she didn't have to wait. Unbelievable.

Tom Sietsema: Why didn't someone put this woman out of everyone's misery and just tell her she might feel more comfortable elsewhere?

"Buh-bye!"

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Matchbox scoop: I know that the manager who had been there since the beginning left back in the spring. Could explain the recent decline in service...

Tom Sietsema: You aren't the manager's girlfriend, are you?

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Washington, D.C.: Tom,

Teaism is not "cheap" (for what it is), is reasonably "quick", and not terribly "good". PQ location has persistent odor of dishwater. Breadline is a far superior option in that neighborhood with these criteria, and it's fast despite the crowds.

There's always Pedro and Vinny's burrito cart on 15th and K. Outstanding veggie burritos from a rare great DC street vendor.

Tom Sietsema: But I LOVE the aroma of dish water!

Yep, Breadline is good, but it ain't what it used to be. There has been unfortunate cost-cutting over there.

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Delhi Dhaba: Take it from someone who grew up eating Indian food -- Delhi Dhaba is terrible.

Tom Sietsema: Okay, but the suggestion didn't come from me.

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Arlington, Va.: I'm trying to convince my boyfriend that we should visit Paris. Which French restaurant in town would make my case most persuasively?

Tom Sietsema: Montmarte should get him in the mood ...

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kabul, afghanistan: Tom's last postcard from Rome dates from June 2003. More recent recommendations would be welcome.

Tom Sietsema: Are you in the military and going on leave? Just curious.

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Alexandria, Va.: The issue of the sangria by the pitcher at Jaleo is an issue with a prohibition-era law on the books in the state of Virginia, which forced them to change their recipe, and they are only allowed to serve it by the pitcher now. It's something about not being allowed to mix spirits and wine. This is only at the Jaleo in VA; DC and MD locations are serving the originial recipe.

Tom Sietsema: You sound like you know what you're talking about. Too bad the servers in Va aren't letting their patrons in on the absurd factoid.

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Rockville, Md.: So, when Minibar was but a fledgling, it was $65 to enjoy the show. Just noticed that the price is now up to (gasp) $120. Haven't been there in a couple of years, but could the food/experience now possibly be twice as good as it was then? Or is this simply a matter of supply and demand? (Kind of like when Zaytinya's prices started to creep up while the selection/quality flatlined - or even went down a bit.) Graci!

Tom Sietsema: Let's see. A pal and I ate at Minibar just last week and dropped $432 on dinner, including wine pairings. So, yes, prices have shot up. If you look at the experience as "Dinner and a Movie" or "Dinner and 30 Movies" it's easier to digest.

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Washington, D.C.: I was really annoyed to hear that Proof cancelled that other diner's reservation for a party. I've had more than one "awkward" service encouter at that place, and it's really starting to irk me. The guy who runs it in particular.

I don't think I'll be back.

Tom Sietsema: Ouch! However, Proof is not the only place that has done this. Not that I approve of the practice, just that there's precendence.

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Washington, D.C.: What is it with these rude remarks from servers? I ordered a muffin at a bakery cafe the other day and the server said, "oh, breakfast of champions."

Tom Sietsema: I can top that: When one of my friends had to leave early from a restaurant dinner, and another took his place, my waiter at a soon-to-be-reviewed restaurant said: "I thought that was going to be a three-way!"

Uh, yeah ...

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Washington Navy Yard: Tom,

Thank you so much for the Wednesday chats they really make the day enjoyable! With a hint of fall in the air I was wondering where you go when you have a craving for a bowl of hearty soup?? We don't really seem to have one "go to" place for soup in the D.C. area and I was wondering if you could recommend a place? Thanks!

Tom Sietsema: Lots of places dish up good bowls. I actually highlighted soup destinations last winter. Here are some ideas:

washingtonpost.com: Winter Getaways in a Bowl.

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Washington, D.C.: For a work dinner for 7 people next week, I am looking for a relatively upscale restaurant, quiet and private enough for a "big ask," and of course with good food, near the Hotel Palomar (21st and P). I know that you are not a fan of its restaurant Urbana. The list of options I have come up with so far is Firefly, Sette, Etrusco, Pesce and Obelisk. Do you recommend any of these above the others or one I have not mentioned? Type of cuisine is not as issue as long as it fits the other criteria and takes reservations. Thank you!

Tom Sietsema: You're too late for Obelisk, Firefly is iffy, Sette is too loud, Pesce is too public ... I guess that leaves you with Etrusco, whose space I've always admired.

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Indian food inquiry: I actually order take out from Aatish on the Hill (600 Block of Penn Ave, SE), which is both Pakistani and Indian, every couple weeks on my way home from work. The food is pretty darn good, bread is solid, and it travels home well. The eggplant (baigan bharta) is my favorite.

Tom Sietsema: To the rescue! Thanks.

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Columbus, OH: Cancelled Reservation by Proof:

On one of my first visits to the DC area my partner had made a reservation at The Inn at Little Washington. As we were getting dressed for the evening, the phone rang, and it was IALW, cancelling our reservation. They said they had "more than an expected number of Inn guests who wished to dine." Give me a break. To this day (almost 5 years later), I can't make myself try it again.

Tom Sietsema: Really? I find that hard to imagine, but ...

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Rockville, Md.: People can be funny!???? Overheard at Urban Burger Company the other day, a lady said she would not be back because the burgers were "Too Beefy" Go figure. Thanks for the weekly chat.

Tom Sietsema: That takes the cake!

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Washington, D.C.: Hi Tom,

Per last week's discussion about talking to managers when there is a problem.

Managers: if a diner takes the trouble to bring something to your attention, it would be nice to exhibit more concern than merely a nod and a thank you. A friend and I were at Open City for brunch and waited for our food for over an hour. We repeatedly checked in with the waitress who said she was checking on it and then that the kitchen had "lost" our order. When the wrong food was brought to our table an hour and 15 minutes later (completely burgers instead of an omlette and a reuben), we decided to leave. However, I waited around to let the manager know about the experience. Her response was lackluster to say the least. It is too bad because she lost two intensely loyal customers.

Anyway, just some food for thought.

Thanks!

Tom Sietsema: Listening -- really listening -- costs nothing, and it means everything.

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Falls Church, Va.: Tom:

Last week, I had a fantastic and cheap lunch last week at the Korean bulgogi cart you reviewed in your recent column...I was so happy when I saw your favorable comments on their food--the people who run it were so nice to me when I asked to try the kimchee. They also told me that they were planning on serving bimbimbap (a rice bowl with vegetables) and California roll, beginning this week (haven't yet had the chance to walk up there to verify this). It's wonderful to have filling, fresh Korean food nearby during the day! Thanks for the heads up, and I was wondering:

can you keep us updated when new food carts (as previewed in the Food section's recent article) get up and running? Even if just in this chat? Apparently there is a Wings and Waffles southern food cart coming near to my office soon....

Tom Sietsema: Wings and waffles? On a cart? I'm all over that one.

Yes, yes, I'll keep you posted on delicious cart sightings. Just promise me you'll share YOUR finds, too.

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Washington, D.C.: So, how is the newly renovated Spezie with its new chef at the wheel?

Tom Sietsema: Has it reopened yet?

washingtonpost.com: The Dish on Spezie.

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Beer Pairings: Much as I love wine, its nice to shake it up. I know that Rustico does beer pairings. Are there any others that do it particularly well? Any of the new belgian places perhaps?

Tom Sietsema: It's nice to see suds get their due, isn't it?

I think Pizza Paradiso does a great job in G'town, as does the new Granville Moore's in the Atlas District. And the primary reason to go to Beck right now is for the eye candy and whatever suggestions its excellent beer specialist might offer.

washingtonpost.com: First Bite of Granville Moore's.

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Washington, D.C.: I'm looking for some good Portuguese food. Does it exist in the DC area?

Tom Sietsema: It does! I'm a long-time fan of the cooking at the underground Tavira in Chevy Chase.

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Betheda, Md.: Hi Tom,

Maybe this isn't a real "foodie" question, but I would still appreciate it if you could stand up for ordinary diners and say something about restaurants that have started taking the price of drinks off their menus.

I notice this at a lot of places recently (Austin Grill and Rock Bottom Brewery come to mind offhand), and I can't see any justification for it when the prices can be as much or more than the food items.

Tom Sietsema: That's an unfortunate trend that I've obviously missed. You're right to gripe about it.

Cease and desist, offending restaurants!

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Washington, D.C.: I have a question about subtle slights in service. My husband took me to Marcel's on Monday evening for our 2nd wedding anniversary. He picked that as a combination reminder of our first trip to Europe (Brussels) and where we spent part of our honeymoon (Paris). The food was quite tasty and the dining room was lovely, but I don't quite know how to put it but the service was slightly off. It wasn't bad, just off. For example, every other table got an amuse-bouche except us. We had to ask for a wine list when other tables had it presented to them. While we never actually had to hunt down a waiter, I did notice we didn't get quite as much attention as other patrons. I love being with my husband and the food was delicious, it just rankled slightly. It was enough that my husband who is very laid-back and fairly unflappable (I am much more emotional) was slightly annoyed about it. Should we have said anything and if yes, what should we have said?

Tom Sietsema: When you're paying as much as you're paying for dinner at Marcel's ($150 a head, on my last visit), you're entitled to more pampering than you and your mate received.

Something I've done in the past, at similar restaurants, is slip away from my tablemates and have a little chat with whoever is in charge. "Hey, I'm loving the food, but we don't feel like we're getting the level of service we've come to expect from this restaurant." Said diplomatically, and with a bit of honey involved, the trick has worked for me.

washingtonpost.com: Review of Marcel's.

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Washington, D.C.: Hey Tom,

Its my anniversary today and we're going to be down in Georgetown do you have a good place in the GT/Foggy Bottom area where we can go for an early celebratory dinner with a 2 year old? Loved Hook and they were pretty kind with our kid there, but we still got the occasional stares. Thanks in advance!

Tom Sietsema: What about Leopold's Kafe in Cady's Alley, Cafe Divan near the Social Safeway, Heritage India in Glover Park or Pizzeria Paradiso near the Key Bridge?

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Reston, Va.: Last month my husband and I visited Portland OR and had the most unique meal at Le Pigeon. The chef really knows how to experiment with different foods - mixing and matching odd combinations to create thrilling flavors. Reminds me of Area in Montreal (which I recommended you review a year or so ago). Anyway, here's my question - I'm planning a birthday party for 8 and would love to go to a restaurant with the same kind of creativity in DC. Any suggestions? Thanks much!

Tom Sietsema: I know the restaurant you're talking about, having been there during a Postcard column tour. While they're not exactly the same, Farrah Olivia in Alexandria, like Le Pigeon,is known for its creative ingredient combinations.

washingtonpost.com: Postcard From Tom: Portland, Ore and review of Farrah Olivia.

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Washington, D.C.: When is your fall dining guide coming out in the Sunday Magazine?

Thank you

Tom Sietsema: October 14 -- if I can just ... finish ... typing ... up ... the ... last ... few ... reviews today. Seriously, I went to a LOT of restaurants for this issue. All I really want is a naked green salad at this point.

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In the pumpkin patch: Sir! Love the chats and the reviews...

The chill in the air and the appearance of pumpkin bagels at Einstein brothers got me thinking about my favorite time of year, fall, and its signature ingredient, pumpkin.

I am a pumpkin-a-holic, my favorites include the aforementioned bagels, the pumpkin cookies at best buns, the pumpkin brad from Gracie's Pastries and the pumpkin waffles at Four and Twenty (which is no longer with us... -sniff- -sniff-).

Regardless, I was hoping that you could point me in the direction of even more interesting options to enjoy my favorite ingredient this fall, especially where i could find a replacement for my beloved pumpkin waffles.

By the way, how much longer until the dining guide comes out? We are waiting!

Thanks in advance for answering my question.

Tom Sietsema: Thoughts on pumpkin, gleaned from last year's eating: cake at Occidental, soup at David Craig Bethesda, and sauteed pumpkin with yogurt at Afghan Grill, Bamian and Faryab, three respectable Afghan retreats.

Over and out for today, folks. See you next week!

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Rude in D.C.: On a trip to Five Guys once, my order number was 69. When it was called, the employee calling it said "69 - best number in the world!"

Uh, awkward...

Tom Sietsema: Indeed! "Here's your burger ... Mom."

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Washington, D.C.: At CVS once, on impulse, I picked up a candy bar at checkout. The cashier had trouble scanning the bar in, and said "Guess this is CVS's way of telling you that you probably shouldn't be eating this."

Uh, yeah, just give me the Snickers.

Tom Sietsema: And last but not least, this!

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