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Tom Sietsema
Washington Post Food Critic
Wednesday, August 13, 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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Chevy Chase, Md.: It is exactly 7:58 a.m. and I'm submitting this early because......

Because I'd like to know why people feel the need to announce to you and the world that they are submitting their question early because they will be in a meeting, or they have a medical appointment, or a myriad other reasons. I think that I can speak for most everyone reading when I say: WE DON'T CARE! Just ask your @#%- question or make your comment.

Now that I've gotten that off my chest, I'd just like to say thank you, Mr. Sietsema, for providing these chats every week. It is the highlight of my Wednesday morning. (I know, I don't lead a very exciting life, lol.)

Tom Sietsema: Let me return the bouquet. These chats are often the highlight of my morning, too. I relish the chance to interact with readers.

Chevy Chase's comment gives me an opportunity to remind folks to post AHEAD of the 11 a.m. chat, if possible, particularly if a question concerns a rumor or some such. Early posts give me the time to track down or verify information.

Speaking of verifying the facts, I owe Derek Brown, the ace wine maven at Komi, an apology for my misstating his status at the Dupont Circle restaurant in a recent Dish column. He is still a presence there.

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Good Stuff, Zaytinya...: Tom,

You waited 47 minutes for a mediocre burger?! We had a similar experience Saturday at Good Stuff. We arrived and there were perhaps 10 people in line ahead of us. After 10 minutes the line had not moved, we left. This is a serious process problem at a restuarant that essentially has one item on the menu. We have been served faster at Central.

On another note, have you noticed a real slide in service at Zaytinya lately? The menu has been pared back and the service ranges from indifferent to totally confused. This is not the smooth ship that the Jaleos are. My wife's comment was "Jose would be appalled." Was it just us? We got the impression not. Thanks.

Tom Sietsema: Ah, that was my colleague Jane Black who endured the line at Good Stuff Eatery in today's Firstbite column. (I was "on assignment" as they say.) I'm eager to try the joint's Blazin' Barn hamburger.

As for Zaytinya, I've received similar complaints lately. Not sure what the problem might be. Bummer!

washingtonpost.com: Today's First Bite: Good Stuff Eatery

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Arlington, Va.: I've walked past it often and seen it from a bus but I haven't heard anything about a restaurant called La Perla which is on Pennsylvania Avenue just before it reaches the bridge into Georgetown. No menus and no vibes whatsoever. Is it worth it to satisfy my curiosity by actually eating there?

Tom Sietsema: Admittedly, it's been years since I last ventured there (and left unimpressed). I hear very little about the place, other than it's expensive. Has anyone out there been to La Perla lately? Talk to us. Or TYPE to us.

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Washington, D.C.: I just returned from a dinner at a D.C. restaurant. The restaurant had a Restaurant Week menu, but no one in my party of three ordered from it. As we were waiting for a desert menu following our entrees, the waiter brought us three actual deserts. At this point, we absolutely should have said something since we did not order these (or any) deserts. Confused and befuddled, we assumed the waiter was comping us the deserts although we had no idea why. When the bill arrived, we saw that he had charged us the three deserts, which happened to be $10 apiece. When we questioned the charge, he admitted that he had mistakenly given them to us because of Restaurant Week (he had forgotten we hadn't ordered from the menu), but he did not want to take the charge off since we had eaten the desserts. What should have happened at this point? Should he have removed the charge, or should we have simply paid for the unordered-but-eaten deserts?

P.S. The waiter ultimately had the charges removed, but he let us know in no uncertain terms that he was not happy with this.

Tom Sietsema: The waiter goofed, thrice.

First, he brought out the desserts to the wrong table. Second, he didn't remove the charge for his error. In a perfect world, you might have inquired about getting a course you didn't ask for, but I can't really blame you for what transpired. Your waiter was also wrong to be upset with your request to have the charge taken off the bill.

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Boulder, Colo.: Good morning, Tom. I have your postcard from Seattle and am planning on dining at Matt's when I visit in a couple of weeks. Any other recommendations for my friend and me -- one a carnivore and one a vegetarian? Many thanks!

Tom Sietsema: The menu at Matt's changes with the seasons and what's in the market. But it's a safe bet the two of you will leave smiling.

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DC - San Fran and Racist Waiter Question: Tom, Thanks so much for your postcards. I ate at SPQR last weekend in San Fran and it was every bit as delicious (and crowded) as you mentioned.

I did have a bit of a problem at Town Hall (also SF) on Saturday night and was wondering if I should have done something about it. We had an attentive although slightly strange waiter, and his behavior did not detract from our experience, but it was noteworthy in a bad way.

After taking our order, I asked if we could have some bread for the table. He responded affirmatively and told me that it should have arrived already. He then went on to say that he'd find out the reason for the delay, and resort to "Mexican invective" if needs be. I was pretty offended by the statement, but did not want to say anything and risk an awkward meal, and wasn't sure that saying anything to the manager would have been appropriate. Your thoughts?

Tom Sietsema: What the .... ? I would have said something to a manager on the way out. Something like "Loved the grub but our waiter needs an etiquette lesson." People shouldn't get away saying stuff like that. Grrr.

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Your Postcard Suggestion in Chicago: The Green Zebra: Hey Tom,

Just wanted to take the opportunity to mention how AMAZING the Green Zebra was in Chicago. I went there three weekends ago with my sister/cousins and it was a very pleasant experience. Not only was it great to be somewhere where everything on the menu was an option but the flavors and presentation were phenomenal. So thanks--your postcard was very useful.

Also--it was cool, we went to Rick Bayliss' Frontera Grill the night before and who should be dining in the restaurant next door (the more pricier restaurant of his)--Barack Obama! I would also highly recommend eating at Orange for brunch--their Chai French toast was beyond description. So all around an exciting weekend for food.

Tom Sietsema: Thanks for the thanks and the nod to Orange.

We have LOTS of questions about the Windy City today, so if anyone has been there lately, please spill the beans on where best to eat.

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Dupont Circle: Hi Tom -

I'm wondering if you've tried out either Ray's Hell Burger or Good Stuff Eatery. What are your thoughts with this burger craze and even with Michel Richard jumping in?

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

Tom Sietsema: Burgers suit our times. When the economy sags, I think a lot of us gravitate to what's familiar and comforting and ... cheap!

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Rockville, Md.: Hey Tom, Going to San Fransico in a couple of weeks, wife made reservations at Boulevard and Perbacco, just wondering if she made a good decision or should we be changing to another location. Thanks

Tom Sietsema: I'd delete Perbacco and add SPQR, which I wrote about in my recent Postcard from San Francisco.

washingtonpost.com: Postcard From Tom: San Francisco

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Restaurant Week Kudos to Oyamel: I'm one of those people who usually stays away from Restaurant Week for all of the reasons most people are wary -- limited choices, bad service, etc. But I just had to write in to say that my lunch at Oyamel this week was truly wonderful. We had a choice of 1 tapa each from two lists of four items. I had a wonderful salad of jicama root, mango, cucumbers, jalapenos, queso fresco and sour orange, followed by two perfectly cooked scallops, plus a choice of tacos. My tres leches dessert was so good I was scraping the plate. But what made it even better was that on top of the great food, the service was outstanding - none of that snarkiness I've experienced at other places over the years. I'm wondering if this is a reflection of the current economy and restaurants stepping up to the plate, or just a one-off experience where the restaurant gods looked down on my favorably?

Tom Sietsema: Oyamel certainly doesn't lack for customers. I credit good training.

washingtonpost.com: 2007 Fall Dining Guide: Oyamel

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Farragut North: Kudasai Tom-san! (Please Mr. Tom!) As an admitted sushi-snob please give me more details regarding the training of the new sushi chefs at Sushi-Ko Chevy Chase. Are they classically trained? Do they have any formal sushi training? Aside from the training that you mention in your article, what's their culinary background? I'm not saying such training determines their skills but with a food such as sushi that is highly regarded as fine art and highly revered for its ingredients and preparation these details cannot be ignored. Arigato gozaimasu.

Tom Sietsema: I think I know where this is going, but I don't want to jump to any conclusions. Other than what you read in the Magazine, I didn't delve any further into the chefs' resumes. It's an interesting question, though, one I'd like to follow up on.

washingtonpost.com: This Week's Review: Sushi-Ko in Chevy Chase

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Arlington, Va.: I know it's still August, but we're looking for a restaurant in either Arlington or D.C. -- with a bona fide private room -- for a holiday party in December. An additional requirement to the obvious one of serving really GOOD FOOD is that the restaurant must be close to Metro. Any suggestions from you or your chatters will be greatly appreciated. Thanks for your help.

Tom Sietsema: Bravo to you for thinking ahead. You'd be surprised at how early private dining rooms get booked.

You don't specify the size of your group, but the following places are all near Metro stops and offer good (at the least) cooking: Central, Charlie Palmer, Corduroy, Johnny's Half Shell, Marcel's, Occidental, 701 and Tosca. Reviews for each are online, fyi.

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Restaurant Week: I enjoyed a nice lunch at Hook as part of restaurant week but didn't realize until I got there that three courses and a strict one hour for lunch don't work together very well. Two courses would have been fine. Is this something that restaurants take into account--the fact that some of us can't really have a leisurely lunch on weekdays?

Tom Sietsema: I think a number of people make plans with their jobs to spend more than 60 minutes on lunch during these promotions. At least that's what several readers have told me. If I had a strict time limit, however, I'd inform my waiter, who could inform the kitchen, of the need for speed.

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Washington, D.C.: I was challenged this weekend when a friend asked me to take me out for dinner! I love fine dining -- so I didn't want him to take me to the places I'm used too -- because I knew I was not paying -- and I honestly couldn't think of a place that had a good food with the right price? I just blanked out and hate chain places-- Do you have any suggestion???

Tom Sietsema: How about the bar at Palena? Or the lounge at Marvin? Or Etete for Ethiopian? Or snacks and vino in the wine bar at Two Amy's?

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Hook again: I did tell the waiter and they did a fine job trying to get me out in time, just FYI.

Tom Sietsema: Ah, good to know.

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Washington, D.C.: Tom, Recently I took a couple of people to very nice place in D.C., the name isn't important because this is a generic question. When I called and made the reservation they asked for a credit card, to be charged if we were no shows or late. When I asked, they said that if we were more than 15 minutes late they could consider us no shows and would then charge me $50. This seems reasonable given how many no shows there are in D.C. But when we arrived, 3 minutes ahead of time, we were were told that there would be a 15 to 20 minute wait and were show into the bar. My question is, Shouldn't I expect a $50 credit in the bar or if we walked could I send them a bill for $50?

Tom Sietsema: Ah, but it doesn't work that way!

I don't have a problem with a restaurant asking for a credit card guarantee. No-shows are a huge problem. However, charging a party that is late by more than 15 minutes sounds a tad harsh. Where was this?

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Washington, D.C.: Hi Tom:

Two weeks ago my wife and I hosted two friends from the Bay Area who love great food and have not been in the D.C. area in ten years. They wanted to try new restaurants that would show them the best of what we had to offer. Based on your reviews, we made reservations at The Source, Central and Et Voila! (since we live in the Palisades). The first two more than held up their end, but Et Voila! was a HUGE disappointment. On the plus side, service is professional and gracious, the wine and beer list is impressive and as you noted, the sides (especially the fries) are great. But all of the meat and seafood dishes were barely edible. The ribeye steak was a slab of fat, the mussel appetizer in a pot of sauerkraut tasted of nothing but sauerkraut and the seafood appetizers and entrees tasted like they were old and/or frozen. And the desserts also tasted stale (e.g., the waffle) and the "fresh fruit" tasted like it came out of the freezer half an hour before. We were embarrassed we took our friends there, since none of us enjoyed our meals. My question is: did we catch the kitchen on an awful night or is it possible this place is already slipping? It would be a shame if the latter, since the Palisades needs some great restaurants. But based on our experience, Et Voila! is far from great.

Tom Sietsema: Gosh, the picture you paint of Et Voila! is nothing like my three meals there. And I've heard nothing but raves since my review came out. Has anyone else been there lately? I'd love to get your impressions.

washingtonpost.com: July 2008 Review: Et Voila

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Petworth: So, have you been to 1789 for an early look at the new chef's work? Any thoughts yet?

I loved it when Ris Lacoste cooked there, thought Nathan Beauchump (I'm sure that's not spelled correctly) was okay, but not as stellar. I'm planning to take advantage of their summer special to try out the new guy's cooking, but am wondering if you have any early thoughts on the matter.

washingtonpost.com: First Bite: 1789's New Chef

Tom Sietsema: I like the new chef's work, but I think he needs time to settle in. The service wasn't up to 1789's usual speed, however.

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Boulder, Colo.: Since you were kind enough to answer my question, I will pipe with with suggestions readers are asking for:

San Francisco - I dined at Boulevard this past April. Great food (get the pork chop), service and atmosphere. We loved our waiter but still laugh at his description of one wine: "stoic" Huh?

Chicago - brunch at Frontera Grill was excellent back when I visited in October. We also had dinner at Post House - the drinks were creative and delicious and the food was excellent. We were sorry we had to miss dessert to make a Second City show on time. Great service, too.

Tom Sietsema:"Stoic." I love it.

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Zaytinya: I will second the Zaytinya issue with service -- although I've noticed it ever since I've gone -- about two years now. (I keep going back for that mustard/dill shrimp dish). I always felt that I was being rushed and thought maybe it's because I look young. I took my parents there once and we, of course, had pretty good service.

Tom Sietsema: Hmmmmm.

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Washington, D.C.: TS

I have a reservation at Central tonight. Have you been there lately? Or is it starting to slip (as some of the anonymous commenters on washpost.com suggest)?

Thanks

Tom Sietsema: Central? Slipping? Not in my book. Not long ago I had what might be the best liver and onions, ever, at the bistro. And the service was flawless.

washingtonpost.com: 2007 Dining Guide: Central

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Re: Dessert Mix-Up: Tom, is that poster for real? What happened to being honest and saying: "Hey, we didn't order this"? They assumed the desserts were free, why? Did the waiter do something during the meal for them to deserve it? In the end, they ate the desserts that they knew they didn't order so they should have paid for them.

Tom Sietsema: How do others feel about the situation?

In a not so similar vein, I was at an upscale new restaurant on Saturday and got a bouquet of breadsticks -- just moments before my dessert was supposed to come out. I brought the starch to the young server's attention and she told me, I kid you not, that the post-entree bread sticks were "part of our continuous bread service."

Me thinks she made that up and just brought bread out to the wrong table!

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Windy City Recommendations: My wife and I had a great time in Chicago a few weekends back for our anniversary. We had a fabulous meal at North Pond, on the north pond in Lincoln Park. The staff was attentive and detailed and the food excellent. I mentioned on Open Table that we were celebrating our anniversary and as a nice touch, they printed personalized menus congratulating us - and they printed extra copies for us to bring home. We also had some amazing deep dish pizza at a checkered table clothed place called Pizano's, which a local recommended to us while we were grabbing a beer at a bar near our hotel (we stayed across from the Hancock Building). It was walking distance from our hotel. To top off our great weekend, we wandered into a spectacular meal following the Cubs game at Mia Francesca. It was some of the best Italian we've had in a long time in a hip neighborhood joint, not too far of a walk from Wrigley. There were more highlights but I'll stick with this list... Chicago's a great town for food and fun.

Tom Sietsema: I agree. Chicago is a great restaurant town. Certainly in the Top Five in the U.S.

North Pond has been getting good press. And how cool that the staff printed extra menus, just in case you wrinkled yours, or spilled wine on it, or whatever.

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Washington, D.C.: Hi Tom - Family visiting this weekend -- could you please suggest some downtown spots that serve kid-friendly cuisine? The Ebbitt is a possibility, but we've already been. Thanks!

Tom Sietsema: What about Jaleo? Among the dozens of tapas are lots of child-proof snacks. Plus, it has outdoor seating. Has anyone been to Ella's Pizza lately? That might be another choice. I also like the restaurant in the American Indian museum, Mitsitam.

washingtonpost.com: 2005 Dining Guide: Mitsitam Cafe

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Washington, D.C.: Tom I have a question about Makoto. Last time I was there I was eating at the bar and noticed the party next to us tip the chefs in addition to what they put on their credit cards. Is this customary there?

Thanks

Tom Sietsema: People sometimes tip sushi chefs separately, particularly if they've eaten at the counter. But the cooks never touch the money, at least not while they're handling raw fish.

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Washington, D.C.: Re SF waiter, was he Mexican? Were the diners? We don't have enough info to decide if that was racist.

Tom Sietsema: I don't think it matters, do you? He shouldn't have said what he did.

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Arlington, Va.: Hi Tom -- I'm heading to the Oval Room for restaurant week this week. Do you have any recommendations as to what to order?

Tom Sietsema: I haven't seen the chef's RW menu. But among the dishes I've sampled on his standing menu, and like, are monkfish with artichoke hearts and citrus, and spring pea ravioli with lashings of Parmesan and spicy bites of chorizo.

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Re: Reservation Charges: I can't imagine giving out my credit card for a reservation. It's just as easy to give a fake card number. Why are any customers accepting this practice ? Aren't No-Shows just a characteristic of this industry ?

Tom Sietsema: Some customers AREN'T accepting handing over their credit card numbers; some are dialing the competition instead.

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Washington, D.C.: I think the poster should have alerted the waiter about food they did not order (duh!), especially if those were the desserts that I had ordered and were wondering why they haven't come yet!

Tom Sietsema: So far, the response here has been in favor of the waiter ....

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Re: Dessert Mix-up: I'm with the poster who pointed out that the diners shouldn't have eaten the desserts if they didn't order them, but since they DID eat them, that they should be charged. A few chats ago, I believe someone in the biz wrote in pointing out that people who are not happy with their food or who have been mistakenly served something they didn't order are still charged if they go ahead and eat it anyway. I think this makes sense. If you are not happy with what you got, speak up! Give the restaurant a chance to rectify the problem. But don't just go ahead and eat it and then expect to be comped for something.

Tom Sietsema: I wonder if the dessert eaters thought they were being treated to something extra since it's Restaurant Week? Even though they didn't order off that menu (but probably paid more, in the end)?

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Oval Room: I was just there for lunch - definitely get the Hazelnut Dacquoise - delicious! (save room)

Tom Sietsema: Desserts have provided me with the best memories of the Oval Room on two recent visits.

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Re: Re: Dessert Mix-Up: I concur with "Tom, is that poster for real?" If a waiter brings something to your table that you didn't order you should question it. The statement "...we assumed the waiter was comping us the deserts although we had no idea why" is pretty lame. If you don't know why you are being served something, ask! I would think that would be obvious.

Tom Sietsema: Support for the waiter only grows ....

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Washington, D.C.: Planning a business lunch on the Hill. Is Locanda still recommended? Thanks!

Tom Sietsema: I can't recommend Locanda at this point, I'm sorry to report. The original chef is long gone and the owner and his partner are at odds with one another. What a shame; I adored that Italian restaurant.

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Washington, D.C.: Hi Tom,

My husband and I will be celebrating our anniversary over Labor Day weekend. It's a pretty special anniversary, as it's our 5th wedding anniversary, 10th anniversary since we started dating, and 1st anniversary since we had our daughter. We are not really "foodies," but we wanted to do something special to commemorate the occasion. I had my heart set on the tasting room at Restaurant Eve, but the only available reservations were at 5:00 or 9:30. Moving down our list, we then found out that CityZen and Komi are both closed for a few weeks(!), including Labor Day weekend. My mother-in-law suggested we make a reservation at 2941, which we did, but I don't know much about it. Given the other restaurants on the list, do you think this is a good option for us? Any place you would recommend trying instead?

Many thanks!

Tom Sietsema: I'd stick with your plans for 2941. You will be dazzled by the setting, which overlooks a lake, and chef Bertrand Chemel is doing some very exciting things in the kitchen these days.

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Ella's Pizza...: has always been a favorite of mine downtown, since it's less crowded than Matchbox, but I was there a couple weeks ago and felt that the portions had shrunk significantly - the pizzas seemed smaller and the salad that I used to order for 2 was now barely enough for 1. Close to Ella's, the Spy Museum Cafe is a great spot for kids - lots of kid-friendly food, big booths to sprawl out in, and bright colors. Not haute cuisine, but fun.

Tom Sietsema: Great idea, the Spy Museum Cafe. Thanks.

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Washington, D.C.: A question on the the trends of the business: how does Viridian go under, and virtually across the street Cork can't handle the number of customers it has? They are (were) in the same neighborhood, playing to basically the same crowd. Was Viridian too big? Too early? I liked Viridian a great deal, and while Cork is good, for the wait, I'd rather go to several other tapas joints, or wine bars (Bardero comes to mind).

What am I missing?

Tom Sietsema: I think the personal touch of the owners at Cork has a great deal to do with its success. Keep in mind, Cork is also much smaller, and more focused in its mission.

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Chicago recommendation: Chicago visitors should try to get to Hot Doug's (www.hotdougs.com), otherwise known as "The Sausage Superstore and Encased Meat Emporium."

It's up on the northwest side, but really worth the trip. On Friday and Saturday they have amazing duck fat fries. It's a fun place, good for kids. If there's a line out the door and down the block, don't be alarmed -- it moves fast.

Tom Sietsema: I wrote about the hot dog eatery a few years back. I like it, I like it. And those duck fat fries are indeed decadent.

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Cabin John, Md.: Tom: Thanks for the link to Spike's place. Seems that your editors forgot to put the address in the Food section. You really are needed!!

Tom Sietsema: Good Stuff is at 303 Pennsylvania Ave. SE.

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Brookeville, Md.: Hi Tom - Hope you are enjoying this beautiful summer we are having. One of the things I don't recall coming up much here this summer is Ice Cream. What are some of your favorite Ice Cream joints? It seems in the past few years they are not quite as many places as there used to be. For me its Coldstone and Jimmy Cone up in Damascus. Tried the new Giffords in Rockville the other night and was disappointed. I've had a craving for the past few weeks for some Pistachio. Their pistachio used to be the best. Now its laden with a ton of soggy nuts, not fun. Have a great rest of the summer.

Tom Sietsema: I've limited my ice cream eating mostly to restaurants, but when I was up in Bethesda checking out Redwood recently, I stood in line for the gelato at Dolcezza on Bethesda Lane. I thought the pistachio and grapefruit-campari scoops were especially good.

I also thought the service was agonizingly slow. Customers should be limited to one taste per person -- and know what they're getting when they reach the counter. A trio of women in front of me were sampling this and that and this and that, much to the line's frustration.

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re: desert mix-up: We had a somewhat similar situation. I ordered a Verdejo but was brought, unbeknownst to me, the bottle of wine listed just beneath the Verdejo on the wine list. When I tasted the wine I thought, this doesn't really taste like Verdejos I've had before, but the wine was fine (e.g. I liked it) and went with our order, so I figured I was either wrong or I was just tasting a new take on the grape. Bill came and the price of the wine was $28 more than that listed on the menu. I asked the server about it and that's when we realised he thought I'd ordered the bottle he brought (indeed not a Verdejo). He offered to deduct the difference, but I told him to leave it alone, it was an honest mistake and we did drink the wine he brought (and obviously I hadn't trusted my own taste buds enough to ask further). He nonetheless took $20 off the bill when he ran my charge through (we tipped him on the full tab). Even if he hadn't done that. I'd have paid for what we drank. If tehre were a $50-$100 difference, I might have rethought that though.

Tom Sietsema: Your anecdote reminds me why servers need to show customers the wine label when they deliver the bottle -- and why customers need to pay attention to the graphics.

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Re: Dessert Mix-Up: Contrary to the other posters, I have to side with the diners. This is a slippery slope to go down. What if instead of desserts they were appetizers/bread, something which could much easier be complimentary?

You don't ask the waiter why he brought bread to your table, but if he mistakenly brought a bread-like item to the table, nobody would think to ask "why," and would be outraged if asked to pay.

Just my two cents.

PS - Do you know any good places for bubble tea in the area?

Tom Sietsema: Shanghai Tea House in Georgetown has a dozen or so different flavors of bubble tea.

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Dessert mix-up: I, too, was perplexed and a little annoyed by the desert post. Why didn't they say they hadn't ordered it? You can be sure if the waiter had brought out the wrong food they would have been vocal - why is it different if they bring something you didn't order at all?

Tom Sietsema: Good point ....

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Washington DC: For a "business lunch on Capitol Hill," instead of Locanda, try Montmartre. I always leave smiling.

Tom Sietsema: Moi too.

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am I too late? Chicago!: Definitely have weekend brunch at Cafe Bongo. Mmmmm....the banana pancakes topped with strawberries, banananas and homemade strawberry whipped cream is just the START of the heaven. They also have a lovely strawberry rhubarb french toast with a gingery crust. mmmmmm.....

Tom Sietsema: I'm getting hungry!

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Spike: I went for burgers a few weeks back. Line was out the door, but Spike's dad actually sold my party a sack of unclaimed burgers. Can't believe someone waited in line, ordered, and then left before delivery. In short, Spike's dad is a nice man, Spike is 2Kool4Skool (in a bad way), and the burgers were mediocre at best...medium well to well and thinner than the new angus burger from McClown.

Tom Sietsema: I've heard similar tales, of people waiting and waiting, then leaving amid chaos. Spike seems to be burning through his 15 minutes of fame pretty fast.

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Alexandria, Va.: Hi, Tom --

To celebrate our 26th anniversary today, we had lunch at one of our favorite local spots -- Table Talk on Duke Street in Alexandria and saw a wonderful thing --

It was raining buckets and so, as people finished their lunches, the host walked many, many patrons out to their cars with a huge golf umbrella -- as many folks were older their gait was quite slow, but the host was unfailingly courteous and patient -- despite the fact that his shoes must've gotten soaked.

It was lovely and a wonderful metaphor for 26 years of marriage! Kudos to Table Talk.

Tom Sietsema: What a sweet story! Here's a toast to the host with the most from Table Talk, and a toast to you and your mate.

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Washington, D.C.: Tom -- you mentioned in a previous chat that you might end your "Postcards" feature because of the time and cost involved. So I was wondering a little about the dining critic biz: do you get a set budget from the Post to spend each month/year, and you can spend it however you want? Meaning that going on one "Postcard" trip means that, say, five restaurants that would otherwise be reviewed in the D.C. metro area aren't, because you've spent the same amount of money on one Postcard trip? Or do you always resolve to review X restaurants per month/year, costing $Y, and if you have the time and money to sneak in a side trip elsewhere, you do? Just wondering.

Tom Sietsema: I have a dining budget from the paper for my local restaurant expenses. I pay for the Postcard column expenses -- flights, hotels, cabs, meals (for companions as well as myself) -- myself. The trips aren't cheap; Beijing alone cost about $5,000 for the five-day trip.

I should point out that I never asked for a budget for the column when I proposed it back in 2000.

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Bethesda: Hi Tom, Like everyone else, I love the chats and look forward to them each week! I have a question about how you deal with staying incognito. I have gathered from the chats that you actually dress up in disguise when you eat out for work but how do you pay? Clearly, if you used a credit card that said Tom Sietsema, the jig would be up. Does your companion pay and then you (or the Post) reimburse them? Also, if you eat out when you are not on the clock do you freely use your real name? Just curious how it all works... Thanks and keep the chats coming!

Tom Sietsema: I have dined in all the major establishments in deep disguise over the years, but I don't put on the full gear for every visit. Doing that takes almost an hour and I simply don't have the time -- well, not for 12 restaurant meals a week.

I prefer not to tell you how I pay, given the very public nature of this forum, but restaurants should know that anyone making a reservation in my name is definitely NOT me. And to answer another question, I dine out for fun only a handful of times a year. Most of my meals away from home are for work.

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Burgers are also simple: In a world where too many good eateries are dominated by "cilantro foam" etc.

Tom Sietsema: Hey, has anyone else noticed the sudden reappearance of foams on menus? I though the fad had receded. Unfortunately, some chefs are embracing it in sometimes scary ways. Trust me, barbecue-flavored foam is NOT something you want to put in your mouth.

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Logan Circle, D.C.: On the Cork vs Viridian question: Cork is lot more affordable than Virdian was. It's the kind of place you can drop by (and wait!) and get a glass of wine and some small plates whereas Viridian was more a full plate restaurant. As a Logan Circle resident (13th & R), I think Cork has (or I think it's intent is to have) a more "neighborhoody" vibe. Viridian was more of a destination spot, not a casual neighborhood place. People around here seem to appreciate the former or why would people stand around and wait to eat the wretched food at Saint Ex, which has that similar neighborhood feeling?

Tom Sietsema: Thanks for your thoughts.

And on that note, I'm heading out to lunch. Without a reservation! Or disguise! Just to see how a guy gets treated on RW when he simply shows up!

Have a great weekend, everyone.

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