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Tom Sietsema
Washington Post Food Critic
Wednesday, July 30, 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.

For more restaurant chatter, join Sietsema's Table, Tom's new discussion group about dining experiences.

The transcript follows.

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Tom Sietsema: NOT BAD FOR A 30-YEAR OLD! According to readers of Travel + Leisure, the No. 1 hotel restaurant in the world is in our own backyard: The Inn at Little Washington gets that rich nod in the August issue of the magazine, elebrating "World's Best Awards." (Hotels are evaluated in five categories: Rooms, location, service, restaurant and value.) Overall, the Inn ranked 63 in the world among the top 100 hotels. Now if only I could afford to actually spend the night there after a meal . . . .

. . . Ris Lacoste says/hopes/prays she's thisclose to signing a lease for her long-planned restaurant at 23rd and L streets NW. "I really want to be the heart of the West End," she told me this morning. Among her other pursuits these days, the veteran chef is spending her Thursdays at DC Central Kitchen, where she dreams up ways to use the donations, raw and prepared, that show up on the charity's doorstep. When life gives her pistachio paste, she makes granola bars to feed breakfast recipients . . .

. . . Just a few months ago, I had the great pleasure of dining with Albert Uster, a former executive chef (at the Washington Hilton) and the founder of Albert Uster Imports in Gaithersburg, known for its Swiss imports. Tragically, the 75-year old Swiss native died over the weekend in a plane crash in the Swiss Alps . . .

Good morning, everyone. Lots of questions and comments are staring me in the face, so let's get started.

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Arlington, Va.: I just want to add one more voice to the chorus singing the praises of Ray's Hell Burger. Went for the first time on Saturday night around 8 - moderate line, but it moved fast. I had one of their recommended burgers (I forget the name, but it was bacon, swiss and mushrooms - I held the onions) cooked medium and it was burger nirvana. My husband literally swooned as he ate his burger. It is a ton of food for so little money - burgers, chips, sodas and tip and we were out of there for $25. There is no better deal in this entire town. GO GO GO!

Tom Sietsema: I'm sure the eatery's fans are thinking "No! No! No!" if only to keep the lines from running out the door.

washingtonpost.com: First Bite: Ray's Hell-Burger

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Capitol Hill: Restaurant Week looks to be boring this season. I was disappointed in running through the list of restaurants. Most of the newer interesting ones I was looking for (e.g., "Source", "West End Cafe") aren't participating. As originally conceived, RW was supposed to be a good way to get a taste of a restaurant you haven't tried previously. Now, it seems to be all the same familiar faces year-in year-out. Are we about to turn this 7-year tradition into a yawn-fest, as has become the case in NYC?

Tom Sietsema: Gosh, I see lots of places I'd want to try out if I wasn't deep, deep into fall dining guide duties right now: Bistro Lepic, Indebleu, Neyla, Oyamel, Rasika, Kaz Sushi Bistro -- to name but a few restaurants.

For those who aren't aware, the promotion runs Aug. 11-17 this summer.

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Washington, D.C.: Tom: I was excited to learn that Michael Mina was opening a place at the Four Seasons. And now...a steakhouse? How deflating. Let's face it: a steakhouse--no matter how grand--is still a steakhouse, and this city has plenty of good ones. I would imagine this is primarily a financial decision ("Everybody loves steakhouses!") but one would think that this city has progressed enough food-wise that Mina would be able to open whatever type of restaurant he wants.

Tom Sietsema: I was surprised with the theme, too. But knowing Mina, I'm betting his restaurant will be an interesting addition to the mix. Still, wouldn't it have been great to get an original idea instead of a branded concept?

washingtonpost.com: Dish: Meaty Matters at the Four Seasons

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Silver Spring, Md.: Tom, What do you think of Co Co. Sala if you've been? The editorial review sounds like it was written without actually trying the place. Other reviews I've read online are very mixed.

Tom Sietsema: Stay tuned. My review of the sweets boutique runs August 17. (The editorial you see online is based on my Dish column, which was a who/what/where report rather than a pre-view or critique.)

I'll share a funny anecdote about the place. In the middle of a heat wave, the servers at Co Co. Sala were treating guests to little experiments from the kitchen. I'm not sure I would call it an amuse bouche, because that night was the only time I saw everyone around me getting the freebie. But it turned out to be .... HOT CHOCOLATE. My friends and I laughed because it was about 90 degrees outside and we were just easing into dinner with white wine.

washingtonpost.com: Dish: Co Co. Sala

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Arlington, Va.: Tom:

Two friends and I went to Cork for the first time this weekend and were not really very impressed. When we got there we were surprised that there was no line, but also all tables were full. The bar was also full, but not packed. We decided to wait at the bar until a spot came open. We simply wanted to sample some of their wines.

The bartender came over and asked somewhat abruptly "what can I get ya" We explained that we had never been there and would like to see a wine list. After he handed it to my friend, he simply stood there and stared as if we needed to make a selection immediately. I got a little uncomfortable with his stare and asked if he could come back once we had a chance to look at the list. Without a word he walked away.

A few minutes later he came back and asked "did you decide?" By that time we had decided to order one of their special flights of wine which was 3 glasses of wine, figuring we could then sample. The bartender told us he couldn't do that because "you have not staked out enough real estate yet" I asked him what he meant and he said it is 3 glasses of wine and unless we are sitting at the bar or a table we didn't have room for 3 glasses. (there were 3 of us) We decided to order a glass of wine each from the list. Isn't this a little odd?

Now 3 seats become available at the bar, so we take them and order a 5 cheese sample and another appitizer. The bartender seemed annoyed. The cheese came out first, delivered by a different person who simply dropped it on the bar and left. We were not told what kind of cheese it was or anything. (the cheese was excellent, but we have no idea what we had)

They were not overly busy, in fact it seemed like a pleasently manageable crowd. We were just surprised and uncomfortable with the bartenders attitude and being made to feel like we were putting him out or something.

Did we just hit a bad night or is that typical. Frankly I am not sure that I will hurry back.

We did not need nor did we demand his undivided attention, but felt that we could have been made to feel more welcome or at least told what we were eating.

Tom Sietsema: You are not the first person to tell me about 'tude at the bar at Cork -- something I've also experienced. It's a shame, as if all its popularity has gone to its head.

Guess what, Cork? You have competition.

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Sietse, MA: Good morning, Tom, and thanks for your fine work.

Is there anyplace in Fairfax other than Artie's that you'd recommend for a nice date? Food isn't a factor, both of us are adventurous eaters, but quiet with a decent selection of wine is important. I've been to Artie's, I like it a lot and it's my default location, but I'm hoping to impress my Love Interest with someplace new.

Thanks again for your guidance!

Tom Sietsema: What about Coastal Flats? Or Sakoontra (not sure about its wine list, though)? Or the newish Villa Mozart?

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Washington, D.C.: What's the best brunch on U St.?

Tom Sietsema: Maybe Marvin? I've never been specifically for brunch, but if the bistro's chicken and waffles are part of the a.m. program, I'm there.

washingtonpost.com: 2008 Review: Marvin

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Missing Colorado Kitchen and my favorite waiter: Tom, I still can't believe that I won't be eating my favorite roast chicken ever again and that Chef disappeared before her regulars could say goodbye. I know that others had problems with the service over the years but we loved it and felt loved by them -- it was like family. I'm especially missing our favorite (bald) waiter -- any idea where he may be????

Tom Sietsema: Maybe Robin or Gillian will see this and share his wherabouts ...

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Chevy Chase, Md.: How do I get on the live discussion?

Tom Sietsema: You're here! You're here!

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Arlington, Va.: This is the guy who went to Cork. So where is the competition? Where would you have gone for a good selection of wine?

Tom Sietsema: Proof. Vinoteca (GREAT staff). Johnny's Half Shell on the Hill. Cashion's bar. Among other places.

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Washington, D.C.: First time poster, long time admirer. I need to make a reservation for a work dinner for 20-22 people in September. Guests are staying at 14th & K and would prefer a restaurant in walking distance. Nothing too exotic, as I don't know that tastes of all my guests. Semi-private to private room for good conversation to take place. Moderately priced. Thinking possibly DC Coast or Ceiba. But am I missing something great?

Tom Sietsema: Ceiba is probably a bit less expensive than DC Coast, I'm thinking. Other restaurants you might consider are Old Ebbitt Grille (which certainly has the space) and Brasserie Beck.

washingtonpost.com: 2007 Review: Brasserie Beck

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I do sense a 'tude, but...: How CAN someone sample a 3-glass flight without a table OR a bar? He was right about that.

Tom Sietsema: Right. You're right. But his whole attitude turned them (and this reader) off.

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Washington, D.C.: Hi Tom! Not to ruin your appetite, but I have recently found hair in my food at several restaurants. Sometimes it is while I am halfway through the meal, and I never know what to do. What would you do in this situation?

Tom Sietsema: I'd remove the strand, place it on a separate plate or in a napkin and alert the waiter.

Curious: You say this has happened multiple times. Do you finish eating the dishes in question or?

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Bethesda Restaurant Week: If anyone is considering participating in Bethesda Restaurant Week this week, I would like to recommend Mon Ami Gabi. I normally have pretty bad experiences during Restaurant Weeks, much like other posters have commented about before, but I think Mon Ami Gabi gets it right. They used it as an opportunity to get new diners to return, rather than a way to fill extra seats during slow times and rush people in and out like cattle. The food was good - I had the onion soup and skate and my husband the crabcake and steak frites - not the best we have ever had, but what made the evening memorable was the service. Even though we didn't order off the restaurant week menu, or waiter brought us complimentary profiteroles, their specialty we were told, for dessert. I was also given an extra pouring of wine when my glass was almost empty, which we were not charged for either. When my husband couldn't decide on what sauce to accompany his steak, the waiter brought him a sampling of each! We were also excited to learn that we had come on jazz night, the band was wonderful. Hopefully they will be able to keep up this gracious service at our next meal, we will definitely return to find out!

Tom Sietsema: It's not always about the food, is it?

Based on the feedback I get from readers, people tend to be forgiving of food flaws if the service is great. But no amount of truffles or caviar can compensate for boorish or inattentive staff.

Mon Ami Gabi, this is your day!

washingtonpost.com: Bethesda's Mon Ami Gabi

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Alexandria, Va.: Hi Tom:

My boss is coming into town and I'd like to take her to a restaurant with some great vegetarian choices. I'm in Old Towne, Alexandria. Prefer something as not expensive as Restaurant Eve. Thanks!

Tom Sietsema: Vermilion always has some interesting meatless options, most recently a chilled roasted pepper soup with summer squash salad; an heirloom tomato salad with burrata (cheese) and garlic breadcrumbs; and ravioli with mushrooms and spinach.

washingtonpost.com: 2007 Fall Dining Guide: Vermilion

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Philadelphia, Pa.: Hi Tom. What can diners do to prevent poor service due to what the waiter/waitress assumes will be a low tip? Tipping lower because of the poor services seems to confirm that assumption, but tipping a higher amount doesn't seem warranted after a meal of poor service. Especially when it's just little things, nothing worth going to a manager over, but things that add up to a below average meal, what can you do?

Also, do you have any basic rules on tipping for solo diners? I try not to go out when it's busy because I don't like sitting at the bar. I usually tip more than 20% and closer to what the tab would have been with two people since I took up a two person table. But, when two people sit at a four person table I doubt they do the same! What's acceptable in this situation?

Thanks for the help. I also enjoy the group topic on tipping.

Tom Sietsema: Ah, but it's the little things that DO count and SHOULD be brought to the attention of a manager. Because, as you know, those "little things" can add up, resulting in --- well, a lower tip for the server.

A smart server never assumes. Mean diners sometimes leave great tips and sweethearts are known to stiff servers, or leave a token dollar. (I was a waiter in college.) I don't think there's any way to get around the *anticipation* of poor service other than to be a gracious guest -- which is what you want to be anyway, right?

As for your tipping strategy, I applaud your generosity. But it sounds like you're tipping out of guilt rather than appreciation for a job well done. Far be it from me to talk you out of playing Daddy Warbucks, though.

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Dining Guide: When is your dining guide due?

Tom Sietsema: Due? Or expected to published?

October 12 is the answer to the latter.

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I miss the Library Lounge: Have you been to the St. Regis to check out the recently reopened bar? It is ugly! They painted all the beautiful wood black, replaced the chandelier with tract lighting. The furniture looks like a mix of a 1960's retro airport lounge and the furniture in Barbie's Dream House. I think the rug looks like someone from Magic Hat brewery was on acid. Another great hotel bar has gone to the wayside for a trendy look that will probably be out of stlye next spring. I'd like to know if you, or any of your readers, feel the same way.

Tom Sietsema: (What rich reporting!) Friends who have toured the guest rooms gave me similar feedback. We can only hope Mr. Rockwell (David not Don) does something nice with the forthcoming Adour restaurant there.

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Since we're talking about burgers: My husband and I recently tried burgers from Urban Burger. They were FANTASTIC. I highly recommend it for anyone living in Md.

Tom Sietsema: I'm a fan of Urban, too, which was doing burgers long before burgers were uber-trendy.

washingtonpost.com: 2007 Review: Urban Burger Company

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Washington, D.C.: Submitting early because I doubt I'll be able to catch the chat. Going to Bogota next week for work and am looking for dining recommendations. I love street food as much as a nice sit down meal, and Colombia's carneval will be happening while I'm there, so there should be ample opportunity for traditional fare. Suggestions?

Tom Sietsema: My good friend and frequent dining companion Lou Cardenas (Hey, bud!) was there in January and recommends two places: Andres ("delicious, eclectic and fun, on the outskirts of Bogata, but everyone knows about it") and Club Columbia, which he describes as "a beautiful old mansion, located in one of the most fashionable neighborhoods in the city, near upscale shopping. It's 'cpomida tipica,' or typical Columbian cooking."

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Adams Morgan: On the front of the Food Section today, the teaser at the bottom of the page informing readers what you will be reviewing this Sunday was confusing. Is there another Corduroy at the Sheraton Four Points or is it referring to Corduroy's replacement? Thanks.

Tom Sietsema: That was an error. Tne new Corduroy is across from the convention center, on 9th St. NW.

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Glover Park: Hi Tom! Very tough dilemma I need your help with. My fiance has established a precedent of completely spoiling me on my birthday. Last year it was French Laundry, the year before it was at the (now closed) Alain Ducasse at the Essex House in New York City. This year, we're headed to Vegas for my (ugh) 30th, and I can't even begin to decide where to go. What are your top three? Please help - we're going for the trifecta. Thanks so much!

Tom Sietsema: My recent trip (two days) to Sin City was kind of a bust, restaurant-wise. But I hear good things about Guy Savoy in Caesar's Palace and Joel Robuchon in the MGM Grand.

Has anyone here been to either?

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Jaleo: Hi Tom,

Just a comment, I guess.

Dined at Jaleo in Bethesda yesterday and was disappointed to see they changed my favorite - patatas bravas. Instead of chunks of potatos, they are now, er, potato chips.

They tell me this is how they are served in another part of Spain, and they always want to try new, unique ideas.

I say yuck! Give me back my old patatas bravas!

I did e-mail the restaurant, and received a (super speedy) response from the GM, which, while mentioned my comments, seemed way too canned to me.

Have you tried the new patatas bravas, and if so, what are your thoughts?

Tom Sietsema: I have not tried the chips at Jaleo.

As for the response from the restaurant, please keep in mind that yours was probably among many email that day. (At least it mentioned the source of your quibble, right?)

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Foggy Bottom, D.C.: It's spelled COLOMBIA, Columbia only refers to the District of . . .

Tom Sietsema: My bad. I should have caught that.

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Recession ?: Are there more restaurant closing in the horizon? It is very sad -- the state of the economy. How can you help struggling restaurateurs who are hanging in....

Tom Sietsema: Eat out, as often as you can afford to .... talk up restaurants that are doing a good job ... send the staff a "thank you" (if you mean it) ... use the tough times to eat lower on the food chain (small ethnic haunts, even good street vendors ) .... Any other ideas?

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Washington, D.C.: Hi Tom. I'm turning 30 next month. Can you please ask Glover Park if her boyfriend has any brothers????

Tom Sietsema: At the risk of stepping on the toes of Date Lab, here's your plea.

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Arlington, Va.: Hey Tom, I came across something unusual while making reservations for RW at Bistrot Lepic on Opentable - a deposit for reservation. Is this normal? I am generally uncomfortable putting credit card information so just wanted to check with you if this place is worth it. Would it be possible to walk in and eat without reservations.

many thanks!

Tom Sietsema: A deposit for a regular reservation? That doesn't sound right, unless you're a large party.

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Meals in Bogota: I lived in Bogota in 2004, and always had a lovely meal at the Italian restaurant Luna in the Zona Rosa.

Also, Crepes and Waffles, a Colombian chain, has amazing desserts and breakfast crepes. And if you go to a traditional Colombian restaurant, order the ajiaco. It's a filling soup of chicken, potatoes, and a corn on the cob you dip into the broth.

But don't drink the aguardiente ("firewater") unless you can spend the next day in bed - a high altitude hangover is the worst pain known to man.

Tom Sietsema: Thanks for the food (and health) suggestions.

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Vancouver, B.C.: People in Vancouver would be surprised to hear that "Columbia" only refers to the District...

Tom Sietsema: Yes they would.

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Washington, D.C.: I am in desperate need of help for this weekend - can you or the chatters recommend good restaurants in Bar Harbor, Maine. We are headed there this weekend with four adults and four children.

Thanks!

Tom Sietsema: Can someone come to a food lover's rescue?

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Washington, DC: I saw Jamie Leeds heading into CommonWealth this morning. There's a menu up in the window and I hope it's not long before the place opens!

Tom Sietsema: You only have to wait seven days: The chef's gastropub (1400 Irving St. NW) is expected to open Aug. 6 for dinner.

The menu I've seen promises lots of British-sounding plates. We're talking frog in a puff, scotch eggs, fish & chips, bangers and mash and treacle tart.

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Washington, D.C.: Is there anything sadder than being totally excited to visit a restaurant with great reviews, and then leaving underwhelmed? I went to Eamonn's this past week for the first time, and it was fine. The cod was kind of doughy (although the fish was nice) and the chips weren't very hot and seemed kind of burnt. It was just disappointing after all my internal excitement.

I will say the guy working behind the counter and delivering the food was absolutely charming and delightful - if only more workers had his attitude. And I liked the Rock Shandy soda a lot

Tom Sietsema: You know what I've noticed? A lot of restaurants seem to be cooking in place lately. I'm talking little places and big-name places. Is it the heat? The recession? Has anyone else noticed this?

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ANALYSIS OF CORK COMPLAINT: Two friends and I went to Cork for the first time this weekend and were not really very impressed. When we got there we were surprised that there was no line, but also all tables were full. The bar was also full, but not packed. We decided to wait at the bar until a spot came open. We simply wanted to sample some of their wines.

*So far, no issue. Full bar, diners wait.

The bartender came over and asked somewhat abruptly "what can I get ya"

*Translation: the bartender came out and around from the back of the bar to help these people, and asked them if they'd like a drink, as opposed to letting them just stand there.

We explained that we had never been there and would like to see a wine list. After he handed it to my friend, he simply stood there and stared as if we needed to make a selection immediately.

* In other words, he didn't walk away and forget about them.

I got a little uncomfortable with his stare and asked if he could come back once we had a chance to look at the list. Without a word he walked away.

* Okay, so, they asked him to leave, and he did. So?

A few minutes later he came back and asked "did you decide?"

* He came back a few minutes later. Meaning, he's paying attention.

By that time we had decided to order one of their special flights of wine which was 3 glasses of wine, figuring we could then sample. The bartender told us he couldn't do that because "you have not staked out enough real estate yet" I asked him what he meant and he said it is 3 glasses of wine and unless we are sitting at the bar or a table we didn't have room for 3 glasses. (there were 3 of us) We decided to order a glass of wine each from the list. Isn't this a little odd?

* It's only odd if the diners didn't miscommunicate their order - if the bartender thought they were each ordering a flight (a perfectly reasonable assumption), i don't blame him for saying there isn't enough room.

Now 3 seats become available at the bar, so we take them and order a 5 cheese sample and another appitizer. The bartender seemed annoyed.

* I seriously doubt the bartender seemed annoyed by a food order.

The cheese came out first, delivered by a different person who simply dropped it on the bar and left.

* Yes. This person is called a runner. At cork, the food is sometimes brought to the outside of the bar and delivered there - just as they do at Palena.

We were not told what kind of cheese it was or anything. (the cheese was excellent, but we have no idea what we had)

* The bartender should have followed up and explained the cheeses. This is the one - and only - problem I see with this story.

They were not overly busy, in fact it seemed like a pleasently manageable crowd. We were just surprised and uncomfortable with the bartenders attitude and being made to feel like we were putting him out or something.

Did we just hit a bad night or is that typical. Frankly I am not sure that I will hurry back.

We did not need nor did we demand his undivided attention, but felt that we could have been made to feel more welcome or at least told what we were eating.

You hit a bad night, and that bad night may have been your own. John, Rachel, and Tom are all excellent bartenders. I will add that i know them only from being a customer, and have never seen them outside of the restaurant world. If tom wants me to, i'll write back and sign my name to this.

Tom Sietsema: Well!

I THINK I know who this is coming from. The problem is, so many of these server-customer issues are coming from one side, and there's not time during a chat to get the other side's version of events. That said, I've twice had/watched weird bar exchanges and my tendency is to believe the poster.

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Jaleo, someone else: I'm with the previous poster - bring back the old patatas bravas! The new chips are crazy disappointing.

Tom Sietsema: Jaleo, this is the fourth such request for bringing back the whole spud. Just fyi.

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Headed to Seattle: Hey Tom! I'm headed to Seattle and really want some great fresh sushi. I've checked your postcards and none of them have a sushi recommendation! Do you or the chatters have a good suggestion for me? I read something in a magazine about Shiro's but wanted to check with you first. Thanks!

Tom Sietsema: Shiro's Sushi in Belltown remains one of the best places to eat raw fish in Seattle. As with most Japanese restaurants, it's most fun if you can get a seat at the sushi counter.

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L'Enfant Plaza: Hi Tom - My guy's birthday is next week and we are planning to meet after work for a stroll through the zoo and then dinner. What's your favorite place to eat in the Woodley Park area? We've already been to Sake Club (which was delicious), but haven't explored any other restaurants in the area. Pesto? Ardeo? Something else entirely? Thanks!

Tom Sietsema: Ardeo is a good choice, especially if the weather's nice, because you can dine on the roof.

Dino is nice, particularly if you care about wine (I haven't tasted the food there lately, however).

I haven't been to Petit Plats in ages, but I've always had at least a satisfying time there. Then there's New Heights, with a new chef (Logan Cox, whose resume includes Palena and the late Colvin Run Tavern) whose work I'm eager to explore.

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Washington, D.C.: Just thought I'd pass on this story --Friends of mine from Missouri were in town for a conference. During some free time on a Thursday, they found themselves in Old Town looking for a late lunch - it was around 2:45pm, there were 6 of them. Dressed very casually and pretty hot from walking around much of the day they figured they'd hit a low key pizza joint. While walking to King St. they stopped in front of Restaurant Eve and looked inside - but realized it had closed for lunch and they were probably too underdressed. Just as they were turning to go try their luck somewhere else - a waiter spots them, invites them to grab a seat at the bar - and they proceed to have the best meal some said they have ever had - not to mention the great service and friendliness of staff. They had never even heard of Restaurant Eve- where they live the Olive Garden is the hot restauarant in town. I have never been there ($$ constraints)- but this experience certainly makes me want to give it a try.

Tom Sietsema: Smart waiter! And lucky, lucky, lucky visitors!

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Bistro Lepic: Tom, they do not take a deposit. They ask for your credit card number and tell you that they'll charge $5/person if you do not cancel before the lunch or dinner shift. No doubt a result of too many people making reservations and not cancelling.

Tom Sietsema: See how a few bad apples spoil it for the rest of us? No-shows are bad news -- for restaurants and for rule-abiding diners alike.

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Re: Restaurants in Bar Harbor, ME: Havana ("American fine dining with Latin flair" - every dish we had was excellent); Trenton Bridge Lobster Pound (very casual dining, outdoor seating an option by the water; FRESH lobster); Reading Room Restaurant at the Bar Harbor Inn (fine dining, very romantic, overlooks Frenchman Bay)

Tom Sietsema: There you go, Maine-bounders.

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Silver Spring, Md.: Tom, how do you tell a lot of restaurants cooking in place from your own being in a bad mood or feeling jaded?

Or is that the difference between a pro critic and the rest of us piehole stuffers?

Tom Sietsema: Ah, good question for . . . next week!

(I'm not jaded, by the way. I still love to go out every night. Sometimes TWICE these days.)

Ciao for now.

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