Ask Tom

Tom Sietsema
Washington Post Food Critic
Wednesday, April 16, 2008; 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: CALLING ALL PIZZA HOUNDS: The original Pizzeria Paradiso on P Street in Dupont Circle is expected to move -- practically around the corner (whew!), to the Blaine Mansion at 2000 Mass. Ave. NW.

Renovation is already underway, reports owner Ruth Gresser, and so is the ABC transfer. "I have a fantasy about being open by November," the pizzeria's 17th anniversary, she says.

"The move answers a lot of questions we get from customers," Gresser tells me. The forthcoming venue will have 70 seats inside -- double the current number -- as well as 30 or seats on a patio. Like the Paradiso on M St. in Georgetown, the new place will also offer a beer program.

No word yet on what will become of the original quarters; Gresser's lease there runs to 2011.

Happy Wednesday, everyone. Let's start talking food and restaurants.

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El Paso, Tex.: In follow up to lighting complaints by some of your chatters last week, I, too, get irritated by restaurant lighting. Why would anybody think it's a great idea to sitck a light bulb in between your diners, 6 to 12 inches above their eyeballs? I routinely unscrew the bulbs half a turn. Light goes out. Problem solved.

Tom Sietsema: I got a fair number of complaints about improper lighting last week, but most of the e-mail concerned dim rather than bright dining rooms. Your solution is clever, but watch out: bulbs can get hot, ya know?

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Arlington, Va.: A poster wrote something last week that bugged me, so I had to comment. He/she was complaining about something you said about the restaurants coming into National Harbor and said "I thought journalists were supposed to be objective!" Well, poster, news reporters are supposed to be objective, but Tom is a columnist and a critic. It is his JOB to give his opinion. That's what they pay him to do. The Post, and every other newspaper, employs a number of people to give their opinions on various subjects. Theses are set apart from news stories under headings like "Essay" and "Analysis," or have their own names like "The Color of Money," or highlight the writer's name like "Courtland Milloy." It seems that too often these days people mistake commentary for fact, and that can make things awfully messy.

Thanks Tom! Keep up the good work!

Tom Sietsema: Why, uh, thank you for coming to my rescue there!

Yes, I'm paid for my opinions. (And yes, those opinions better be based on facts or experience.)

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Washington, D.C.: I am looking for a restaurant in Old Town to hold my wedding rehearsal dinner (about 20 people) in the fall. I really want a place with an intimate feel and would prefer a private space if possible. I love your chat, and always follow your dining advice to a tee (and you've never let me down!!)

Tom Sietsema: I'm thinking upstairs at Vermilion might be your best/easiest bet. (If the food were better at Bookbinder's, that would be a prime destination. Love that space!)

washingtonpost.com: Review: Vermilion

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Silver Spring, Md.: Tom,

My mom and several of her friends are coming to town this weekend, and she has offered to take me and my girlfriend out to dinner. Can you recommend a place downtown for six or so? She's shooting for $15-$20 a plate.

Thanks.

Tom Sietsema: How about Sette Osteria for pizza al fresco? The handsome Thai Regent for the obvious? Mourayo for delicious Greek in what could pass for the interior of a yacht?

washingtonpost.com: Mourayo

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Vicarious living . . . : So tell . . . what was the Inn's 30th birthday celebration like? The food? The wine? The guests? Did you see Ruth?

Tom Sietsema: You'll have to ask someone who actually went, I'm afraid. I wasn't there. (Too many chefs, you know?)

washingtonpost.com: Charity Gala to Mark Inn's 30th Anniversary and Reliable Source: Sorry, You're Not on the List

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Clyde's Restaurants: Hi Tom, thanks for doing these chats each week. I really look forward to them. What do you think of the Clyde's restaurant group? Are they all hits, or are only a couple worthy of your recommendation? Particularly interested in your opinion of the newer places like the Tower Oaks Lodge in Rockville. Thanks!

Tom Sietsema: The short answer: I loved the Clyde's restaurants of my youth and my memories. But as far as I can see (and taste), the company has grown into an empire best known for jaw-dropping spaces and big portions of not-so-swell cooking. But I still love slurpin' oysters and wine at the bar at Old Ebbitt!

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Washington, D.C.: Hi Tom! I want to share with you a perfect example of how a restaurant can take a bad experience and turn it into something good. A few months ago, I had a bad experience at Tosca. This is a restaurant I have been to on multiple occasions and I didn't think our experience wasn't up to par with what I had come to expect from the restaurant. I won't go into details, but I e-mailed Paolo Sacco, their owner and manager, and explained why I wasn't happy. He graciously invited my boyfriend and me to come back to the restaurant as his guests. We went for our anniversary and Paolo took fantastic care of us. Glasses of champagne were brought over right after we arrived, as well as special desserts for our anniversary. Needless to say, we were so pleased with the experience. I just wanted to give them credit in a public forum and share with you how a restaurant can turn a negative into a positive. Paolo, thank you again!

Tom Sietsema: I'm happy to oblige, although the generosity of the restaurant makes me wonder what transpired on your earlier visit. Was it just a meal that didn't live up to your expectations or something else? And just out of curiousity, are you a frequent diner there?

washingtonpost.com: 2007 Dining Guide: Ristorante Tosca

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Food and Wine skips D.C.?: Hey Tom,

I'm was disappointed that the latest Food and Wine magazine list of "Go-To Restaurants" around the world didn't include Washington, D.C.! (But it included Phoenix?) With all that's going on here, what an oversight!

Tom Sietsema: I haven't seen that issue, but I can't imagine something in Phoenix out-inking something in the District!

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L.A. trip please help -- Washington, D.C.: I have to go to Los Angeles for work next week and they've arranged for us to dine at our choice of one of four restaurants: Ago, BLT, Maestro's Steakhouse, or Craft. I'm leaning towards Craft, but really would like your opinion. Thanks Tom, don't know what I'd do without your chats! Keep up the great work.

Tom Sietsema: I've not eaten at any of your four choices. Maybe a chatter has?

Too bad one of the options isn't Citrus at Social Hollywood, Michel Richard's new restaurant, which just got a three-star rave from the Los Angeles Times. (Go, Michel!)

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Dim Sum fanatic: Tom, love your chats! I frequently eat dim sum in some local restaurants. I enjoy restaurants like Oriental East in Silver Spring which is always packed with Asian families. I never see other diners leaving a tip on the table for the waiters. Does one NOT tip for dim sum? I always tip, but wondered about this practice.

Tom Sietsema: I tip for all my restaurant meals, dim sum included.

I wonder if what you're seeing has to do with the culture. I remember someone telling me it wasn't necessary (or standard practice) to tip in restaurants in China, for instance, although I saw tipping being done during my trip to Shanghai last year.

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Alexandria, Va.: I wrote in a few weeks back (didn't get posted) about a terrible experience my boyfriend and I had at Guajillo in Arlington. It was the worst meal either of us had in a long time ¿- cold, bland enchiladas and refried beans (rice was hot, however) and too sweet margaritas. After wait staff cleared our plates, we sat at an empty table for almost 15 minutes while they ate their meals until we finally requested the check. We considered complaining about the cold food, but it wouldn't have changed the taste, so we just ate and got the heck out of there. I wouldn't recommend the restaurant to anyone.

In contrast, last night we tried Los Tios in Alexandria and had a great meal. Food was as close to authentic Mexican as we've found in area. Waitstaff was very friendly and margaritas were great. The live musician is a nice touch. Next time we want Mexican food in the D.C. area, Los Tios will be our choice!

Tom Sietsema: Has anyone else noticed a decline in what used to be among my favorite sources for Mexican food close to the city?

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Washington, D.C.: Tom -- with beautiful weather now and hopefully for a while before summer humidity, what would you suggest as a romantic restaurant in D.C. with outside seating? Thanks for you help!

Tom Sietsema: Everyone's idea of romance is a bit different, but I think you could find what you're looking for at the Bombay Club, Hank's Oyster Bar, Marcel's, the Occidental, the garden at Poste, the Tabard Inn, 2941 in Falls Church and Zaytinya in Penn Quarter. How's that?

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Alexandria, Va.: Have you heard anything about the new restaurant in the Alexandria Hotel Monaco -- Jackson 20? Is it worth checking out?

Tom Sietsema: Been there, done that.

washingtonpost.com: First Bite: Jackson 20

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Arlington, Va.: Tom,

This week I took a family member to Harry's Tap Room in Clarendon for dinner. When we received our check, it was correct and I put down my credit card. When the waitress returned, the charges to my card were about $10 less than our itemized receipt. I noticed that the table numbers on the receipts were different, and that the waitress had accidentally charged us for someone else's (less expensive) meal. I tried to get our waitress' attention, but when I was unable to I stopped a manager who was walking by. I alerted him to the error and he came back shortly after with our corrected check for the full price of our meal.

While I know I did the right thing by being honest, could I have expected the manager to knock the difference off of our bill since it was the waitress' error?

Tom Sietsema: You did the right thing. And while it would have been nice for the manager to recognize such, he was not obligated to charge you less for being honest. A sincere "thank you" from the restaurant should have sufficed -- and he DID thank you, didn't he?

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Leesburg, Va.: I enjoyed listening to your NPR broadcast last week. It was a great addition to you noise level column. I appreciated the chance to actually hear the noise levels. And I must say -- you sound very handsome!

Tom Sietsema: You're very kind to say that, but as the phrase goes, I think I have a face for radio.

washingtonpost.com: No Appetite for Noise

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Business lunch in Woodley Park?: Tom, I'll be meeting a long-time business acquaintance for lunch in the Woodley Park/Zoo area next week but am stumped as to where to go -- do you or the peanuts have any suggestions? Not super-dressy, but a step up from your neighborhood taco joint. Thanks so much!!

Tom Sietsema: What about French fare in a townhouse setting, a.k.a. Petit Plats? I believe they also have a patio, weather permitting.

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Washington, D.C.: The chatter's comment about the Food & Wine list made me think - are there any publications whose restaurant lists you trust? I used to work for a large city guide and have to say those lists were often written by freelancers who were obviously just taking the best known (and not always still at the top of their game) names or throwing a bone to advertisers, etc. etc. In the end I usually stick with the local food critic's advice. What do you think?

Tom Sietsema: Call me biased, but I tend to rely on newspaper reviewers more than magazine critics, in part for the reasons you give. I base this on my experience with both kinds of publications when I'm on the road -- and also on what I know about some of the folks doing the writing for magazines. There are major exceptions to that "rule," of course, but newspapers are less likely to be influenced by advertising and ulterior motives and more likely to be critical.

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Live 2 Eat: Hi Tom,

No need to post this. I just wanted to let you know about a food blog that I just started. I would absolutely love to know what you think of it (and would greatly appreciate it as well).

Check it out: www.live2eatdc.blogspot.com

Wed. mornings are the best!!! I eat lunch at my desk, and reading your chat while eating is the best part of my workday.

Tom Sietsema: Fun name! I look forward to checking out your blog. Welcome to the club.

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It's Hot in Here, D.C.: Tom, have you ever experienced a waiter/ess who had a persperation problem? What's the protocol for a issue such as this (if one exists)? I recently ate at a restaurant during the mid-afternoon and our waiter, although very nice, was sweating heavily. This was probably due to the fact that he was taking care of three small outside tables in addition to multiple tables in the main dining room. All I could end up thinking was that his persperation dripped into our food -- very unappetizing. Would you bring this to the manager's attention?

Tom Sietsema: I would! I'd also be diplomatic about it. (Man, the stuff managers go through sometimes . . . .)

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Annapolis, Md.: Tom - any suggestions for dining in Vancouver? I'm going to be there in a few weeks. I'm especially interested in Chinese or other Asian restaurants.

Tom Sietsema: There's an old Postcard column devoted to Vancouver in the Post's Travel section archives. But just by chance, I sat next to a former pastry chef from Vancouver at a restaurant recently, and she was raving about a place that all her peers go: Pelican, late-night for lobster and crab as I recall.

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While I know I did the right thing by being honest, could I have expected the manager to knock the difference off of our bill since it was the waitress' error?: What? You want to be rewarded for honesty? The waitress made a mistake, and it was corrected. Give it a rest.

Tom Sietsema: I'm a big believer in karma myself. That's "reward" enough for me.

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Tipping for dim sum: My Chinese-American family always tips for dim sum as we would for regular table service. But we always pay by credit card, adding the tip on the receipt. How in the world would someone sitting at a neighboring table expect to SEE the tip except when it's paid in cash?

Tom Sietsema: Duh! (Tom slaps his forehead).

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Tokyo, Japan: I hope your new decibel reading does not affect your overall star rating?

Tom Sietsema: Hello, Tokyo!

Fear not. A restaurant can sound like a construction site and still earn three or more stars. I added the sound checks to give readers more help in picking restaurants.

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Cleveland Park, Washington, D.C.: Dean from Dino here. Loved your listing of reader comments and questions piece. Cakage is a small occurence with us, but corkage is a larger one. Last night a group of young diners came in with, not a bottle of old Barolo but a slew of inexpensive bottles of mass produced wine. Rather than look down on them or feel insulted that they chose to bring wine you can find in a supermarket or a mass discounter, I felt honored. Maybe bringing in that wine was the difference between their coming in at all or not. Not everyone can afford the full experience at a restaurant. Maybe next time, they will come for a Wednesday wine flight or will splurge for a bottle from our list.

But if you do want to bring a bottle of old Barolo, 1982 Giacomo Conterno Barolo is drinking really nicely right now . . . .

Tom Sietsema: Thanks for chiming in, Mr. Gold. I'm getting thirsty!

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NW Washington, D.C.: Dear Tom,

I'd like to understand how you would have handled a situation that occured to my party of six (at a dinner I was hosting) at Dino last week.

There were so many mis-teps including a RUSH to be seated (we all showed up 20 minutes early and would have preferred a bar perch to the upstairs table for a drink), a dirty plate on the table, an inatttentive server, etc. Though the food was DELICIOUS!

In any event, two members of our party had a full glass of wine each from their early arrival, and I ordered a bottle of white from their extensive "book." The server came back to our table with an ice bath, opened the bottle, poured a taste of wine for me to sample and proceeded to put the bottle in the bath explaining that he had taken the bottle from the rack, and it would need 10-15 minutes to cool down.

I was flummoxed, as I was tasting the wine as he was telling me this. I then asked if he might be able to offer us all glasses a chilled wine so we would not have to wait out a wineless and whiney 10-15 minutes. He looked at me like I was drunk (sadly, I was completely sober), and then I decided I could refuse the wine, which I did. I asked if he could recommend a similar price point/style of wine that was cold (I did not want to sift through the bible one more time), which he did nearly 10 minutes later.

What would you have done? Was I being ridiculous? How should the situation been handled by them/me?

Thanks!

Winey Wednesday

Tom Sietsema: Warm wine. One of my pet peeves, too.

Is Mr. Gold still around to address this issue himself?

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Rehearsal Dinner - Old Town: I had mine upstairs at Portners and it was fantastic. We had more than 20 people though -- probably closer to 50.

Tom Sietsema: But Portners is no more.

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Could I have expected the manager to knock the difference off of our bill since it was the waitress' error?: Does your bank give you $10 every time you pass on robbing them?

Tom Sietsema: Now THAT'S funny ....

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Rehearsal dinner in Old Town: We just had ours at Morrison House. It was LOVELY. Staff was fabulous and food was great. Plus, some guests discovered the new craft wine-making place across Alfred Street (Carafe?) and were inspired to plan a trip to Va. wineries over the weekend after the wedding with a bunch of guests and the wedding party (other than us). (No, I am not affiliated with either place, just was impressed)

Tom Sietsema: Thanks for the suggestion.

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Pizzeria Paradiso: Ooooh - to link this with a previous major topic of conversation, will you be able to hear yourself think at the new Pizzeria Paradiso? I love their food, and it's a convenient location, but I've stopped going because I literally can't hear my lunching companions. I can hear the person directly across the table, but not next to me or diagonal.

Tom Sietsema: Hey, Ruth! Don't forget to add some noise absorbers while you're putting in the oven and chairs, OK?

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L.A. Bound...: I had an amazing supper at Craft two weeks ago, and I always try to make it to its sister, Craftsteak, when in N.Y. Tom C. really does train his staffs well in terms of service and hospitality. Upon hearing how much I missed a dessert that I had on my last trip to L.A., the staff arranged for it to be made especially for me. The meal overall was solid, simple and non-fussy.

Tom Sietsema: I hope our friend going to L.A. sees this.

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washingtonpost.com: Hi Tom chatters! We're experiencing some technical difficulties today -- I know some of you aren't able to see Tom's responses. We should have this fixed as soon as possible. Apologies for the inconvenience (and thanks for those of you who let us know!)

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Alexandria, Va.: Have you heard anything about the new restaurant in the Alexandria Hotel Monaco - Jackson 20? Is it worth checking out?

Tom Sietsema: Been there, done that.

washingtonpost.com: First Bite: Jackson 20

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Husband's deploying to Afghanistan!: Tom-

LOVE, just LOVE the chats!!! My husband is a retired military contractor, getting ready to deploy to a Forward Operating Base in June. Ironically, he never had that opportunity in uniform . . . but I digress. What can you recommend for GOOD Afghani food? We live in Alexandria, and have tried the place on Jeff Davis, but were less than impressed. Cost isn't a factor, a wonderful experience for him and a few friends is! Thanks much.

Tom Sietsema: Your spouse will love Bamian in Falls Church. It's big and beautiful, with lots of good stuff on the menu.

washingtonpost.com: 2006 Dining Guide: Bamian

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Bethesda, Md.: Just found out about a business trip to Kansas City in a few weeks. Any chance you have a Postcard From K.C.?

Tom Sietsema: Alas, I've never been to Kansas City. Perhaps a chatter can weigh in with some suggestions?

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U Street, Washington, D.C.: Hi Tom. I wanted to share the experience I had at Al Crostino last Friday night.

My boyfriend and I each ordered one of the pasta specials for the evening. I ordered the butternut squash ravioli and he ordered the seafood linguine. Both dishes were mediocre. My ravioli were rolled too thickly, and the butter sauce was too heavy (without a hint of the sage mentioned in the description.) His pasta was better, but the seafood was overcooked. We had not eaten at Al Crostino before, so we were glad to have tried it but figured we probably would not return.

When the bill came, we were surprised to see that my ravioli cost $22 and his linguine cost $28 while every other pasta dish on the menu was listed at $15. Our specials sounded quite similar to some of the other pastas on the menu, so I can't imagine why there would be such a difference in price. We're accustomed to paying more for specials, but we were surprised to see such a difference in price at Al Crostino. Do you have any idea why there would be such a disparity in prices?

Tom Sietsema: Obviously, the waiter didn't reveal the cost of the night's specials. And obviously, you didn't ask.

(Sigh.)

The lesson here: Never assume the price of a special is going to be in line with dishes on the standing menu.

I can understand why the seafood pasta might be more expensive, but I'm mystified by the higher cost of the squash ravioli.

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Washington, D.C.: I have a 9 p.m. reservation at CityZen coming up and have a question about dining near "closing" time at restaurants. CityZen's website indicates that it closes at 9:30.

What has been your experience with the quality of food and service when you have one of the last reservations of the night?

CityZen's bar doesn't close until 11:30, so I'm assuming that CityZen cuts off reservations at 9:30 to give all diners the opportunity to enjoy a complete dining experience without feeling rushed.

Tom Sietsema: In the case of Cityzen, I wouldn't worry. The people making your meal are going to stay with you through the last course. 9:30 probably refers to the last seating opportunity in the dining room proper.

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Penn Quarter, Washington, D.C.: Hi Tom. Kinda funny story about Gillian Clark. My ex took me to Colorado Kitchen a few years ago for breakfast, before I really got into the "foodie" thing (sorry!)and didn't know any better. I ordered bacon and eggs. We were seated next to the kitchen and when the food came out, I asked for hot sauce, which I put on everything. Needless to say, the look that came out of the kitchen is seared in my memory forever and I haven't made that mistake since. I guess the good ones deserve to be that fussy.

Thanks for the chats. They make my week!

Tom Sietsema: The Look.

I'm sure other chefs glare at diner's quirks, too. We just can't see 'em up close!

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'Rewarding' honesty: I think it's all in the delivery ... .

So funnily enough almost exactly the same thing happened to me at Kramerbooks the other day. (They rang through the wrong amount on our credit card. We noticed that the the charge was less than the bill. They'd rung through the amount on the bill for someone who'd been at the table earlier -- it was less).

We didn't expect to be comped the extra but we were simply delighted by the waiter thanking us effusively and curteously. Good manners goes a long way to giving a karmic glow.

Tom Sietsema: You betcha!

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Help for visitors: Submitting WAY ahead of time because I'm afraid I'll forget to do so . . . .

Friends are taking their 13-year-old daughter on a trip to D.C. in a couple of weeks, and have asked me for restaurant suggestions. All three of them are total foodies and will eat any type of cuisine, but the budget is an issue. I've given them this list (so far): Ben's Chili Bowl, Palena, Jaleo, Zaytinia and Moby Dick's. They're staying near the Verizon Center, if that matters, and will be doing the usual touristy things since their daughter has never been there. Please help me add to the list for them! They're great friends and since I don't live in D.C. any more I'm feeling the pressure to come through for them. Thanks, Tom! -A Faithful Reader

Tom Sietsema: You've done some nice work! A few caveats, however: I regret to say Ben's is most interesting for its place in history and Palena's *bar* should be your friends' destination, as the more formal dining room in the rear is a lot pricier. Also, you forgot to tell them about DC's great pizza joints. They include Two Amys, Comet Ping Pong and Pizza Paradiso. And what about Ethiopian? Etete on 9th St. gets my vote there.

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Hungry D.C. gal transplanted to the Eastern Shore: Tom, love ya, mean it. Wednesdays wouldn't be the same without you! Two thoughts for you: First I just want to re-iterate what a couple of reasonable chatters posted recently. Why do folks feel the need to correct you or others, when the mistake is not some glaring error directly related to the food chat or info about the restaurant? Why do they like to "catch" someone in a mis-type? I have a friend who does that all the time, and I just don't respond to those tsk-tsk e-mails. I KNOW how to spell, just don't consider myself the most accomplished typist!!!

Anywho, my real comment has to do with restaurants on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. I caught your mention of Scossa recently and I know you've reviewed Restaurant Local in the past. But are there others you would like to try? Need a dining pal over here? Do you have plans to come to the upcoming St. Michael's Food and Wine Festival? It's the last weekend in April...

Thanks in advance for taking my question and comment. And seriously, if you need a tour guide over here, I'm your gal!

Tom Sietsema: In the rush and the crush of this forum, I'm bound to make mistakes, and I prefer them to be spelling rather than factual errors. As I've told chatters numerous times before, I'm not the world's fastest typist and I also try to address as many questions as I can during the hour. Sometimes my fingers goof up. I do, however, appreciate those "reasonable" posters who correct me now and then. They keep me on my toes!

Eastern Shore, you must have me miked. I've been spending time in your neck of the woods lately and plan to report on my dining adventures in the weeks and months to come. But tell me, what do YOU like over there?

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Silver Spring, Md.: Hi Tom,

Entertaining an out-of-town friend soon and plan to take her to Georgetown for an evening of shopping and eating. I can't afford the likes of Citronelle but am looking for somewhere sorta trendy with moderate prices. Sushi-Ko is a bit out of the way. Any suggestions?

Thanks!

Tom Sietsema: Le Pain Quotidien, the newish cafe-bakery import from Belgium, fits both "trendy" and "moderate."

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Penn Quarter, Washington, D.C.: Just wanted to report on a great experience this past weekend. My husband and I hosted a celebratory dinner in the private room at Rasika on Friday, and I'd highly recommend it. The food was delicious and plentiful, served family-style for the most part, and the servers were competent, polite (that sounds like faint praise, but really, that's a very good thing), and attentive but unobtrusive. Also, it truly is a private room, with a sliding door that closes. The decor of the room still makes it a little noisy when everyone's making merry, but you don't get the clatter of the rest of the restaurant. The only catch is that you have to have juuuust the right size party. They asked us to guarantee 14 people (after all, it WAS a Friday night), which is exactly how many adults we had -- we also had two toddlers, which would have made any more adults difficult to accommodate. With no kids, though, you could fit 16. Anyway, thanks Rasika, we had a great time!

Tom Sietsema: Rasika hardly needs more press. I'm posting this to alert readers to private dining possibilities as we approach college graduations, MOther's Day and other occasions that beg for restaurants.

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Third time's a charm: Tom, I know you get similar questions all the time, but hoping you can help just this one more time -- vegetarian-friendly spot for a group of six well-behaved senior prom-goers? Indian is out, and they say they like Italian, but I'm cringing at the thought of anyone slurping spaghetti in formalwear!

Tom Sietsema: Uh, quick, what part of the area are we thinking about?

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Graduation Dinner: I'm planning ahead and hope you can help. I have 10-11 for dinner in downtown D.C., moderate price, not too noisy, not too dressy, three generations (including two diners in their 80s) and one vegetarian.

Since your noise ratings are new...do you think Central Michel Richard be too noisy for us? We're also considering 701 and Oval Room, but other suggestions are welcome -- Latin or Indian.

Tom Sietsema: Having recently dined at 701 under its new chef, Bobby Varua, I'm inclined to suggest that restaurant over the others. There's something for everyone on 701's menu -- and the bonus of a room of your own, facing the Navy Memorial, if you're quick to reserve it.

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Arlington, Va.: I was just in Guajillo last week and the food was fine. Except it was too crowded, so maybe the food wasn't fine. Yeah. That's it, that's the ticket!;

Tom Sietsema: Gracias.

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Cleveland, Ohio: If you moved away from D.C. three years ago and were returning for a long weekend, where would you eat in Old Town Alexandria for a Sunday lunch?

Price is not an object, but the ability to wear semi-casual clothes is preferable, since we'll be walking around our old neighborhood.

Tom Sietsema: I will always have a soft spot for Majestic, I think.

washingtonpost.com: 2007 Dining Guide: Majestic

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Arlington, Va.: Dear Tom,

While eating at a restaurant, I noticed that our waitress had inadvertently forgot to tie her shoe. She brushed by so quickly that I had to wave down the manager to alert him of the situation. He thanked me for dousing out a potential accident from happening. I was wondering, shouldn't I have expected that he reimburse me for all of the plates that the waitress might have dropped?

In what other industry do patrons expect to be compensated for doing the right thing? If a cashier gives you too much change and you alert the manager, do you expect him to give you half?

Tom Sietsema: Good point.

I have a busy day ahead -- lunch! dinner! -- and I'm sure you do, too. Thanks for a lively hour, everyone. See you back here next Wednesday.

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