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Tom Sietsema
Washington Post Food Critic
Wednesday, September 24, 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: The review that you won't read in the Oct. 12 Washington Post Dining Guide:

WESTEND BISTRO BY ERIC RIPERT (2 1/2 STARS)

It's a hotel restaurant named after a celebrity chef who doesn't cook there. Don't let those facts keep you from this high-spirited, amber-hued dining room in the Ritz-Carlton, home to a Ripert acolyte, Leonardo Marino, who spent 5 1/2 years at the master's revered seafood restaurant, Le Bernardin in New York. That education reveals itself in Marino's excellent salmon, cooked so that the fish falls apart at the touch of a tine, and served well by a simple bed of wilted iceberg lettuce, English peas and smoky bites of bacon. But the guy knows his turf as well as his surf, evinced in part by a tender leg of lamb paired with basil-brightened white beans, and a couscous ramped up with a spicy-sweet tomato sauce and grilled strips of zucchini. This being a bistro, there are also a (glorious) roast chicken, breezy service and comforting desserts, including a fine rice pudding dressed up with fruit compote and two thin tuiles. Rabbit rillettes need every bit of their garnish -- matchsticks of apple, radish and celery -- to give them some oomph, and wine might be warm to the touch. But the stars outnumber the black holes. The most coveted seats are the booths hugging the windows, which provide a show of street theater and a bit of relief from the racket. Go early if you care what your companions have to say. Go late if you want to experience how far nightlife has evolved in this neck of the woods.

We had lovely art to accompany the review, too, but you won't see that in print either. Because last week, the chef and some of his crew were suspended from the kitchen for what one source calls their "disrespectful ways." For more on the developing story, check out my post on the GOG blog yesterday.

washingtonpost.com: Staff Shake-Up at Westend Bistro

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Washington, D.C.: Tom,

Before your chat begins, I just wanted to say that Leo, Ricky and I worked incredibly hard this past year to turn the Westend Bistro into a major success. We cared deeply about the restaurant and strove for perfect food under difficult circumstances. In the end, The Ritz had other ideas about food and what it took to run a great restaurant. Eric Ripert's name was on the sign but the Ritz always called the shots _ for better or worse. So we parted ways. All three of us. I think it was best for everyone.

Robert Berry Former executive sous chef, Westend Bistro by Eric Ripert.

Tom Sietsema: Thanks for taking the time to write, Robert. I'll be interested to know where everyone ends up.

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Downtown: Hey Tom -- Parking in downtown Washington during the middle of the work day can be a stresser outer. A co-worker and I debated earlier this week whether valet parking is available for lunch at downtown restaurants. I said: Don't look for valet parking except at the most expensive places before 5:00 p.m. Am I right about that? Or are there some reasonably priced restaurants where the staff will take care of you from the curb on in the middle of the day? And, if there are such joints, are there possibly one or two that not only park the car but also don't charge for patrons for valet when they drop some cash for a meal?

Tom Sietsema: If anyone knows of a good, moderately-priced downtown restaurant that offers gratis (!) valet parking at lunch (!), I'd love to hear from you. But I'm guessing the request will be met with silence.

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Los Angeles, Calif.: Tom, I read your Postcard from Portland with great interest since I'll be there next month. Did you dine at Fore Street? I've got reservations there and am wondering if I should switch to one of your choices instead....

Tom Sietsema: Funny you should ask. I *did* eat at Fore Street and I loved the way the place looked and felt. But I wasn't dazzled by the cooking, frankly. And since the restaurant has gotten a ton of ink, I opted to write about some other places that I was more enthusiastic about.

washingtonpost.com: Postcard From Tom: Portland, Maine

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Rockville, Md.: We have a client dinner at Westend Bistro later this week. Should I be concerned about the recent kitchen turnover that you reported?

Tom Sietsema: Right now, I can't say how the food is at Westend Bistro. But if I were in your shoes, I'd reserve elsewhere. I wouldn't gamble with a client dinner. Plus, the restaurant is super-noisy.

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Cleveland Park: Morning, Tom!

I was strolling by one of your oft-recommended spots in Cleveland Park last night and saw a diner with a dog on her lap at one of the outdoor tables (definitely not a guide dog of any kind). The dog was resting against the table, touching the silverware et al. I'm disappointed -- this is one of my favorite restaurants, but I find that disgusting and don't think I care to return...no amount of dishwashing makes up for the fact that an animal made contact with a plate and a table. And the Health Department can't allow this, right? Your take?

Tom Sietsema: I'm pretty relaxed about animals and restaurants. Maybe that's because they seem to coexist pretty well in many of the places I've eaten in Europe but also because I've seen too much crude behavior from two-legged diners over the years, like the woman who sat next to me recently and slowly, slowly, slowly licked all five fingers, one by one, while she was eating barbecue. Now THAT'S a turn-off! Besides, in this situation, the pooch was outside.

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Lived here 30 years and still don't know what to do!: Scenario: Friend visiting in late October is available only for breakfast. She's staying at the Marriott Renaissance on 9th Street NW across from Mt. Vernon Square. Question: Any suggestions for something yummy in the morning that would save us from dining at the hotel? (I know nothing about the hotel's restaurant but have found most to be too much price and not enough quality.) Thanks, Tom. You're the best!

Tom Sietsema: Your best bet is to meet at Teaism on 8th St. NW. I'm a big fan of the Asian-style restaurant's cilantro scrambled eggs with smoked salmon and the chicken sausage served with naan. It opens at 7:30 on weekdays and has the bonus of being close to the Mall. A two-fer!

washingtonpost.com: Penn Quarter Teasim

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Tom Sietsema: This just in: The recently reviewed Hilltoppers at the Goodstone Inn & Estate has a new chef. Tarver King, 30, plans to take over kitchen duties beginning Oct. 8.

Currently the head chef at Woodlands Resort & Inn outside Charleston, S.C., Tarver is already working with Hilltopper's gardener to grow autumn vegetables and a wood-maker to come up with some nifty service pieces.

washingtonpost.com: Hilltoppers at the Goodstone Inn and Estate

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Washington, D.C.: Hi Tom! I know you don't normally do this but I thought I'd give it a shot. This week mark's Share Our Strength's first ever Great American Dine Out. Nearly 4000 restaurants around the country are participating in this landmark program by giving a portion of proceeds all week to Share Our Strength to help in our efforts to end childhood hunger in America. Over 150 DC area restaurants are participating and many are restaurants that we discuss on your chat each week. Examples include Vidalia, Bistro Bis, Rasika, Ardeo, Casa Oaxaca, Dino, McCormick & Schmicks etc. Please encourage your readers to go to www.greatamericandineout.org and type in their zip code to see all participating restaurants and dine out this week for this great cause! Thanks in advance!

Tom Sietsema: You're right. I tend to shy away from promoting events ijn this forum. But SOS is a terrific organization -- and who's against fighting childhood hunger? Thanks for the reminder and the link.

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Shanghai Tea House: In your review this past Sunday, you mention that "oddly the restaurant only offers cocktail size napkins." Having yourself traveled to China recently, surely you know that this is typical throughout China - even in sophisticated places like Beijing and Shanghai, thus making the place even more genuine (especially if said cocktail napkins are single ply and don't absorb anything)!

Tom Sietsema: You know, I don't recall seeing cocktail napkins once during the many meals I ate in Beijing. But that's not to say they're not common.

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Two Lights: Tom, two things you may want to add about the Lobster Shack. It is BYOB and you'll want to have a jacket or sweater in the car just in case, even in July.

Tom Sietsema: Portland was unseasonably warm when I was there, in the 80s. But yes, a jacket would be a good accompaniment to a lobster roll eaten outside there. I wasn't drinking at lunch, but appreciate the tip.

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Ballston, Va.: Hey Cleveland park bet you dint know a dog's mouth has less bacteria in it then the human mouth.

And the dishwasher water has to reach a certain temperature or the place is shut down. This temperature kills everything.

Its more likely that you pick up some bug from the satff then this dog.

And dogs should be allowed anywhere a human dines! My collies are quiet, friendly, can order in Gaelic, use their indoor voice and only talk on the iPhones where appropriate!

Tom Sietsema: LOL

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Logan Circle: Cleveland Park, good idea! Can you please let me know where you'll now be eating? After all, no amount of dishwashing makes up for the fact that a paranoid moron who doesn't realize that humans are also "animals" touched a plate there!

Tom Sietsema: Easy now, easy! Let's not get (too) snarky here.

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Washington, D.C.: Any suggestions of a not too pricey place to grab dinner after an exhibit at the Corcoran?

Tom Sietsema: Cafe du Parc is just a baguette's toss from the museum.

washingtonpost.com: 2007 Review: Cafe du Parc

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Prince William County, Va.: Submitting for a friend, who doesn't speak English well, but he was moved by his experience:

Tom,

I work as a busboy in a casual Tex/Mex family friendly restaurant. Recently a couple came in with a little baby who was just learning to eat solid food. The baby made a mess -- cereal on the floor, chips, etc., but nothing I hadn't seen before. What struck me, though was that they tipped the waiter 20%, but then the dad came over to me as I as cleaning another table and asked me if I cleaned all the tables -- I said yes, and he handed me ten dollars, pointed to the mess, and said, "Sorry!" It is my job to clean all the tables equally, and it wasn't necessary for him to tip me directly (I share with the waiter) but it was really nice.

Tom Sietsema: What a day-brightener. One, it's nice to hear from people whose hard work I admire and two, I love the example set by "dad." Thanks for sharing.

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"No amount of dishwashing"???: Re: the dog at the outside table...seriously? No amount of dishwashing makes up for the fact that the dog touched the plate? Lady, please. There is bacteria on EVERYTHING. That's why dishes get washed. If people pet their dogs at home, and then go out to dinner and use plates, do you not want to use those plates either?

Tom Sietsema: Uh oh. I see an avalanche of responses coming my way ...

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Response to Cleveland Park Dog at outdoor table: It's an OUTDOOR table. Believe me there are worse things on outdoor tables than a dog being in the near vicinity of the table. Ever tried to eat at a park bench - the same stuff happens to outdoor tables as park benches but they clean them more often. You may be able to keep the dogs away but not the birds (or their poo) or other critters. If you're sceamish about eating out in nature then eat inside.

Tom Sietsema: I told you!

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re: dogs: Dogs have cleaner mouths than humans. If you're disgusted by silverware that has been handled by a dog (and washed), then it only follows that you should be disgusted by silverware handled by humans, too. Which pretty much means you couldn't eat anywhere...

Tom Sietsema: I think we get the point now.

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Wow!: Did you get to yell "stop the presses!" in regard to Westend Bistro and the Dining Guide? That would have been fun.

Tom Sietsema: Well, we weren't QUITE at that stage, but yes, I did send out a bunch of emails to my Magazine colleagues to let them know we needed new art and possibly a review of another restaurant.

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re: licking your fingers: Isn't eating BBQ the one time it should be allowed? And maybe when eating crabs to get all the old bay seasoning out of your cuticles. Ow.

Tom Sietsema: A little lickin' is OK by me. But this gal was really over-doing it, to the point I thought her beau would get up and leave the table in disgust.

You had to be there. She was licking her fingers veeeeerrrrrry slowly, one after the other.

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Response to Cleveland Park Dog : To his/her slight, ever so slight defense, (even though I too think he/she is a moron), As my father used to respond when we said that dogs have less germs than humans - Yes, but they have DIFFERENT germs.

That said. Dishwasher will clean them. Too bad can't run the waitrons through the dishwasher too.

Tom Sietsema: Kids, you are cracking me up this morning.

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Washington, D.C.: You mini "review that never was" of Westend got me thinking about chicken. Specifically, that I religiously avoid it in restaurants due to a lifetime of bland chicken dishes. Suddenly, I feel like one of those people that hate all "seafood" because it's too "fishy." Where can I get a good roast chicken that will change my mind (recent trips to a few rotisserie places haven't)? And are there any other exciting preparations that I shouldn't miss? I'd be interested in both high-end places and mid-priced, everyday kind of places.

Tom Sietsema: Off the top of my head, the roast chicken at the bar at Palena is sure to change your mind if not your life. Chatters, what say you?

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Valet Parking: Maybe the person looking for free valet parking could consider taking Metro, a cab or even a bus to his/her destination.

I know I sound patronizing and "holier-than-thou" but am I the only one who actually enjoys a stroll after a meal, rather than door-to-door service.

The price of oil, environmental concerns and the obesity crisis all suggest you leave the car at home.

Tom Sietsema: You're preaching to the choir here. But there might be a valid reason for the poster to seek out lunch-time parking service.

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Arlington, Va.: Hi Tom:

Just returned from a four-day eating fest in Portland, Maine. We managed to hit Forestreet, Hugo's, Bresca, 555, and Two Lights Lobster Shack. Too bad we missed Evangeline on this trip. Have to agree with you on Forestreet - the space and vibe were great there but surprisingly our most memorable dish was a side - organic carrots with toasted pecan butter. However, we were totally blown away by Bresca. Still can't understand how the chef manages to turn out such brilliant flavors and food (and offer an incredible wine list) in a restaurant with only 5 tables - it was an amazing experience!

Tom Sietsema: Bresca. I'll add it to my list for "next time."

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Dogs: I understand that the table was outside, but IT'S A RESTAURANT! For humans! Not the doggie diner!

Tom Sietsema: I hear you, I hear you.

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Washington, D.C.: I'm sad to hear that the only reason to go to Westend no longer exists. I was never impressed much by the atmosphere, decor, or service staff. I was extremely impressed with the food each and every time I dined there of the 15+ times since it opened. They were lucky to have a nice, cushy, corporate budget to retain the talent they had in that kitchen. I have no fear that the chefs will move on to better things and look forward to dining when and wherever they end up next.

Tom Sietsema: My hunch is that at least one of them will end up in New York.

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Vienna, Va.: Tom,

I've tried to submit several times this morning, but the servers have been busy. I want to know why New Orleans isn't in your top 5? My husband and I just recently went back in celebration of our 5 year anniversary. It was amazing...everything from the restaurants ambiance, to service and of course food. We're going to make it a yearly trip now.

So, can you give us insight to your reasoning?

Love the chats and now the Table!!

Thanks!

washingtonpost.com: Sietsema's Table: Top Five Restaurant Cities

Tom Sietsema: Well, I would have put New Orleans on the list, near the top, before Katrina. But it has yet to fully recover. I'm hopeful, though.

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FingerLick'in: I'm grossed out by finger licking too. The worst is though people who clean under their nails with their teeth. Yuck! On the flip side they probably never get sick because they have developed antibodies for every germ out there.

Tom Sietsema: Right-o.

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Roast chicken?: It is really low price, but I always liked Pollo Rico in Wheaton. You have to like that kind of hole in the wall ambiance though.

Tom Sietsema: I like its chicken, too.

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Oh, Tom: Your naivete is really sweet. You thought her beau would leave disgusted because "She was licking her fingers veeeeerrrrrry slowly, one after the other"? Honey, she wasn't cleaning. This was for the BENEFIT of the beau.

Tom Sietsema: No, it wasn't, I swear!

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Bethesda, Md.: Tom, did you read the email I sent a couple of weeks ago? I had a singularly bad experience at Granville Moore's. Not only did we have to put up with a lout at another table making comments that might make participants at an orgy blush, but I was treated to a rain of trash from the kitchen above. First, a raw french fry landed on me. Later, as the kitchen was cleaning up, someone had the good sense to sweep the back stairs -- sending the rubbish on my head and food. I yelled for him/her to stop, with little effect. We told the waitress, who just didn't seem to interested -- no real apology. Near the end of our meal it happened again. When she brought the check, the waitress mumbled an apology "about the circumstances". I had to shower when I got home, but mostly I resented that no real remorse was shown. It should go without saying that I left no tip, but I was amazed they had the nerve to give me a bill in the first place. I wrote you to ask about the etiquette here. When is it acceptable for a customer to make a scene -- demand to see a manager -- or simply walk out?

Tom Sietsema: I think your experience qualifies as a good reason to chat up a manager! I wouldn't just walk out on a check, though, without talking to someone in charge.

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City Mouse: Tom, I can't tell you how much persuading it takes a city mouse like myself to go all the way to Wheaton, Md., to eat out. But I did last night. Not only that -- I came home raving about where we ate. It's called Taverna Kefi. It's Greek food and pretty new, but the presentation, flavors and friendliness of the staff and ownership defied every prejudice I had about the remote burbs. The meal was flawless. Are you getting any other feedback about this awesome upstart?

Tom Sietsema: I love Greek food and was excited to try Kefi. But my experience didn't live up to yours, I'm sorry to report. The Greek-style chicken wings were dull, a lamb dish was tough and spinach-stuffed trout was just OK. Kefi is a pleasant room, though, and the service was enthusiastic.

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Cleveland Park Resident: As a former server, I can tell you that restaurants HATE it when people call in sick. Therefore, servers are semi-forced to come in to work sick unless they can find someone to cover their shift. I can't tell you how many times I worked through colds, viruses, even strep throat - just because I didn't want to get reprimanded.

That ought to put at ease the fact that a dog may have touched your table. Now that diner will never go anywhere.

Tom Sietsema: NOW, I'm feeling queasy.

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Capitol Hill: Any word on whether Locanda might be on its way to a come back?

Tom Sietsema: I'm happy to report that the original chef, Brian Barszcz, has returned to the kitchen after an absence of about four months. I admired his first tour of duty and look forward to trying his new fall menu. His pastas in particular were always strong suits.

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Chantilly, Va.: Tom: I am a restaurant lover and a dog lover. They can co-exist.

About ten years ago I got to visit Paris for my first and only time (so far). One of of our restaurant stops was a place that specialized in raclette (a Swiss melted cheese specialty). A couple came in with their dog and sat down at a nearby table.

Now remember, this restaurant basically serves cheese on a plate, so you'd think a dog would go nuts. The dog lay down under the table, the waiter brought a bowl of water for the dog, and the dog promptly fell asleep. End of story.

Tom Sietsema: European pets, like European children, seem to be better behaved.

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Washington, D.C.: Whatever happened to Sushi Ko (at Glover Park)? Its always been one of our favorites -- we ate there a couple of weeks ago and was surprised by the quality of their sushi. The rice was mushy, the fish looked stale and tasted bland.

Tom Sietsema: My recent meal there was not stellar, either. It's still a good place to eat, but it lacks the sparkle I've come to expect.

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Ballston: Prolly too late for today, but any recs for good tapas? Never been impressed by Jaleo or La Tasca. Willing to go a bit afield. Chatters?

Tom Sietsema: La Tasca I can understand. But Jaleo? I think it's tops. If you want to try something different, though, head to the romantic bar at Taberna del Alabardero downtown. The place feels like Madrid!

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SW DC: Naieve, heheheh. Someone doesn't know our Tom very well.

Odd though it may sound, I actually had really good roast chicken at Old Country Buffet. Low-end place, I know, but it was really good. Well flavored and juicy without being greasy.

Tom Sietsema: Old Country Buffet. Where is it, please?

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Arlington, Va.: In 1976 I had dinner in a Brussels suburb in what was then the only three star restaurant outside France. Everything was amazing, the food, the selection of real perfume in the ladies room and the group at the next table to us: an elderly couple and two Dobermans. Dobermans were seated on the chairs, wore napkins around their necks and were served a variety of meats and thinly sliced and elegantly arranged charcuterie. The food would be placed in front of all four of them, and as the couple finished their plates, the man would give a command and the dogs would clear their plates with one swipe and look up. He looked very proud. The waiters told us they were regulars. We were expected to either not notice or admire.

Tom Sietsema: Okay, I'm not THAT naive. You're pulling my leg.

And IF this is true, I'd love to know what the dogs drank. Same thing as the owners?

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Downtown: Tom - for your reader's information, the reason I requested mid-day valet is for when out-of-town guests unfamiliar with downtown D.C. come into the city to join me for lunch. I can't assure in some neighborhoods that they will not incur problems finding metered marking, and I don't necessarily know where the nearest parking lot is to a restaurant we might be dining at. In situations such as these, the valet option comes in very handy from the perspective of the lunch-planner, who is in no position to dictate the mode of transportation chosen by my guest.

Tom Sietsema: Gotcha.

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Reston, Va.: Group of six going to the Newseum on Sunday. We plan to eat lunch at their cafeteria and then to have dinner nearby. Any suggestions for a place closeby (walking or taxi)? Italian would be nice, but also "American" or seafood. Thanks. Looking forward to your new Dining Guide!

Tom Sietsema: I'd hail a cab and head to either Johnny's Half Shell on the Hill for seafood or Al Tiramisu in Dupont Circle for pasta.

Thanks for mentioning my dining guide. I'm thisclose to wrapping up the beast. Friday is my drop date.

washingtonpost.com: Johnny's Half Shell and Al Tiramisu

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Wheaton, Md.: Hi Tom. I live in Wheaton, Md., and am a huge fan of Hollywood East. Is it worth trucking down to Glover Park to visit the Shanghai Tea House, or am I better served staying in my own hood?

Tom Sietsema: It's been a few years since I last at at Hollywood East, which I very much liked when I was there. STH is a more sedate experience, with a smaller menu and a focus on tea (both hot and bubble tea). I guess it depends on what you're looking for.

washingtonpost.com: This Week's Review: Shanghai Tea House

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Washington, D.C.: Hi Tom,

One of my bosses wants to reward me with a nice lunch. I don't go out much in D.C. so I was wondering if you had a few suggestions around Metro Center/Gallery Place. I love Greek and Sushi if that helps.

Thanks

Tom Sietsema: Gosh, I think it's been WEEKS since I've mentioned the place (inside joke there), but Zaytinya and its mile-long mezze selection is where you want to land for Greek in that part of town. The best sushi in the area is further away, bit worth it, at Kaz Sushi Bistro on I St. NW.

washingtonpost.com: The oft-mentioned Zaytinya and Kaz Sushi Bistro

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Alexandria, Va.: Hi Tom,

My boyfriend just got a new job that is sending us to San Francisco! I'd love to celebrate by heading out for dim sum. Any recommendations for a D.C./ NoVa place?

You're fabulous. Thanks!

Tom Sietsema: A & J in Annadale is probably one of the best sources in Northern Virginia. It's a small place and doesn't serve its snacks on carts, however. For that kind of service, you have to go to Fortune in Falls Church, where the cooking is a bit less even but the choices are greater.

washingtonpost.com: A & J Restaurant in Annandale and Fortune in Falls Church

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European pets, like European children, seem to be better behaved?: I grew up in Europe and I was completely obnoxious as a child.

I remain obnoxious as an adult and enjoy shattering other people's widely held beliefs and preconceptions.

Ciao!

Tom Sietsema: I knew I'd get grief for typing those words.

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meal gone to the dogs: I actually agree with your response to the diner (the dog cooties are not going to leap onto her plate), but I did have to, once again, debunk the "dog's mouth is cleaner" myth. Folks, that is simply NOT TRUE http://urbanlegends.about.com/od/dogs/a/dog_breath.htm

Tom Sietsema: Yeah, I've always been skeptical of that claim, too.

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Don`t you have anything else to do ?: Tom, Is this not a food chat? all you let talk about is a dog and the other diners who like their dogs lick their plate. Tom, you need to pull yourself together.

Tom Sietsema: Duly noted! But I'm getting a TON of pet comments.

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Laurel, Md.: There is an Old Country Buffet in Laurel, Md., on 198 - Same strip mall as Sullivan's Steak House.

Tom Sietsema: We chicken lovers thank you.

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Buenos Aires:: Heading to B.A. and Mendoza for two weeks, any recommendations Tom? I don't see a Postcard.

Tom Sietsema: Actually, there IS a Postcard from Argentina:

washingtonpost.com: Postcard From Tom: Buenos Aires

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Alexandria: Hi Tom! My wife is taking a major career-furthering exam on Friday. She will know if she passed or failed immediately after she finishes. If (when!) she passes, we would like to go out for a celebratory dinner. If not, we would stay at home. So, I don't want to make reservations in case we have to cancel. Where is a nice, fun place that we could go celebrate on Friday night without reservations? Virginia or D.C. please.

Tom Sietsema: If I were you, I'd head to the bars at either 2941 in Falls Church, Restaurant Eve in Old Town or Cityzen in the city. The bars are definitely "fun," and the food is more than "nice." Best of luck to your mate, by the way.

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Washington, D.C.: Tom:

First, thank you for giving Adour the appropriate level of attention. The literal and metaphorical drooling of others belittles our city and its wonderful resident chefs.

Second, any suggestions for Prague? I am hoping for local/national food at non-King's ransom prices.

Thanks

Tom Sietsema: Adour is an important restaurant, and I've written about it in past restaurant columns and online, but any rush to judgement would be premature. I do look forward to my first meal there -- eventually.

I've never been to Prague. Maybe the crowd here can help you out today. Chatters?

washingtonpost.com: The Dish on Adour

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Washington, DC: Hi Tom - I have no doubt yo uhave addressed this in the past, cut would you be good enough to recommend 2-3 favorite Vietnamese spots in the Arlington/Falls Church area? I have a hankerin'

Tom Sietsema: Let's see. There are Four Sisters and Saigon Cafe and .... and .... this really great place for Vietnamese sandwiches, the name of which escapes me at the moment. But it's in a stall in Eden Center.

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Al Tiramisu : Any advice on the dress code there? One website says "dressy." Does that mean business dressy or what? Jacket needed? etc... Thanks Tom!

Tom Sietsema: Nice shirt and pants are fine. No need to wear a tie or jacket, based on my many meals there over the years.

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Eye Street: Hi Tom,

I e-mailed you about my experience at Co Co. Sala regarding chocolate milk. In sum, it isn't on the menu, but when I inquired, they agreed to make it. When I got the check, I found that one 12-oz. glass of choc milk was priced at $6.00. With 10% tax and 20% tip, that milk cost me $7.92!!

That was outrageous, but generally, beverages -- even nonalcoholic ones -- are eating up a huge part of my dining budget. Is anyone out there just drinking water now? Why do restaurants gouge us in this area?

Tom Sietsema: I'm guessing they added designer chocolate to that glass of milk, but even so, $8 for chocolate milk is pretty ridiculous. The waiter should have mentioned the price and given you the option of saying no.

Your question is a good one: Anyone out there watching what they drink to keep down restaurant tabs?

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Washington D.C.: Dear Tom,

I wanted to take this opportunity to reach out to you and your readers and respond to some complaints made a few weeks back about Zaytinya. First off, let me introduce myself. I am the new General Manager at Zaytinya. I am new to the DC area and a new follower of your chat. On behalf of Jose Andres, the team at ThinkFoodGroup and my staff here at the restaurant, I wanted to let you all know that we hear the concerns you share about Zaytinya and that we take them all very seriously. I have been charged with the task to up our game and to get Zaytinya on track with the gracious service, impeccable food, and exciting environment that we've built our reputation on over the years. Head Chef Mike Isabella and I would like you to know you have our full attention. See you all soon! Thank you, Steve Uhr

Tom Sietsema: Thanks for introducing yourself, sir. Please tell us where you're coming from.

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Capitol Hill: Good morning and welcome back!! Am looking for a suggestion for the Old Town area. Am taking a friend out next Saturday to celebrate his one year of NOT smoking. Going to do the cheesy ghost walk (with the caveat that he can scream loudly now) and then out to dinner. Am on a budget but would like something with good flavors since he also can taste, smell and appreciate things more. Thanks!!

Tom Sietsema: What a nice gesture! Cheap and tasty, huh? I'm thinking either Taqueria Poblano or Vaso's Kitchen might do the trick.

washingtonpost.com: Review: Vaso's Kitchen

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Alexandria Rocks: Just a plug for Alexandria restaurants. We've lived in Del Ray for 9 years and have finally found that staying in our neighborhood or walking into Old Town can be a better dinner option than going into D.C. We had a really nice meal at Vermillion on Saturday night and have also recently eaten at Hank's Oyster, Restaurant Eve, Cheesetique, Del Merei Grill and La Strada. Great to feel like we finally have lots of great area dining options! Hooray!

Tom Sietsema: With gas prices the way they are, I'm sure you DO appreciate all the new (and tried-and-true) options there. I've heard mixed reports about La Strada. Curious what you had and liked?

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Arlington, Va.: Hi, Tom.

I have a friend coming into town this weekend with her new boyfriend, and am planning a dinner out with about 8 people. Looking for something in D.C., reasonably priced, with good, unfancy American food. Trying to satisfy a palette that thinks sushi is way too weird and exotic. Any suggestions?

Thanks!!

Tom Sietsema: Not long ago, I took a similar-sounding crowd to Comet Ping Pong way up on Conn. Ave. NW. They loved the game-themed ambience, the pies and the chocolate cake for dessert. I was thrilled to find a spicy chickpea salad on the menu, but there are tamer greens for less adventurous types. And you might want to avoid ordering the pizza topped with soft-shell crabs with this group.

washingtonpost.com: 2007 Review: Comet Ping Pong

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Four Sisters: has closed in anticipation of moving!

Tom Sietsema: Good to know. Thanks for sharing the news.

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Hungry in Logan: Hey Tom,

Any word on when Viridian's replacement (i.e., Tosca #2) will open?

Thanks!!!

Tom Sietsema: October, I'm told. And it won't be Tosca 2 but rather, a casual Italian restaurant with a wood-fired oven.

And that concludes today's Pet Chat. I mean, FOOD chat.

Thanks for a lively hour, folks. See you here again next week.

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