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Tom Sietsema
Washington Post Food Critic
Wednesday, April 1, 2009; 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: (FOOD) NEWS AT THE TOP OF THE HOUR:

Yesterday, I reported that change is coming to the Mandarin Oriental Hotel, where Cafe MoZU is expected to morph into South by Southwest, possibly as early as June.

And in today's Dish, veteran restaurateur Ashok Bajaj shares a few details about his next venture. His seventh restaurant, scheduled for a September launch, will have an Italian accent.

Finally, arrests have been made of several restaurant workers in a local credit card scam. Was anyone in today's forum affected? Diners need to be vigilant; a friend of mine just last week had his card used without his knowledge after patronizing a popular Thai restaurant in Washington.

Lots to discuss this morning. Let's get going!

washingtonpost.com: Signature Changes at the Mandarin Oriental

Ashok Bajaj Brings on the Pasta

Wired: Washington D.C. Restaurants Become Credit Card Cloning Hot Spots

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Osaka: There is lots of talk here about Bazaar which now has four stars in L.A.. Would you have given it four stars based on your experience? I am sure it is great, but just wondering. As well, have you been to Masa in NYC? If so, what do you think about it? I was thinking of going soon, but hear mixed reviews.

Tom Sietsema: I went to Bazaar twice, and while I had a terrific time, the experience was not without its bumps. I'm guessing I'd give it three stars (an "excellent" rating) had I reviewed the venue for the Post.

Alas, Masa remains on my List of Things To Do. In all honesty, the thought of spending a fortune on food right now is not all that appealing.

washingtonpost.com: First Bite: Bazaar in Los Angeles

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Capitol Hill, D.C.: Had to share early -- today, Roll Call ran a small blurb on local places running some recession specials.

Ironically, the article mentioned that Art and Soul in the Liaison Hotel will have a lunch special and "the goal is to provide diners with the bill and dessert within 45 minutes of being seated." Ironic because the service there for a business lunch last week was TERRIBLE. We waited 30 minutes for our order to be taken, close to an hour for the food to arrive, and then another 30 minutes waiting on the bill, and then probably 20 minutes waiting for them to bring the card back!!! It was ridiculous -- and the food was not good at all. The rockfish tacos were beyond bland, my friend's salad was wilting and almost non-existent and the "green bean casserole" side was completely pointless.

Awful, I don't plan on going back. Have you heard similar tales?

Tom Sietsema: Are you exaggerating a bit? There's no way I'd quietly wait 30 minutes for someone to take my order.

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Suburban D.C.: Tom: My husband and I have a very rare date night this Friday. Where in D.C. proper would you recommend we take advantage of this rare, kid-free night without having reservations so close to the day? I'm pregnant, so please don't direct me to places where I will be distraught by not being able to order exquisite cocktails. We like all kinds of food and price isn't a huge factor, but we'd prefer to keep the cost down as much as possible. Thanks SO much!

Tom Sietsema: Fun, not too pricey and possible to get into at this late date: Cafe Atlantico, Lima, Firefly, Locanda, Mio and Perry's. That help?

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Sign of the times: Filet and lobster for two at The Palm -- $89. I just wanted to put a plug in -- I'm not a shill for the restaurant. Went there for birthday dinner with my girlfriend last week. Dinner was great and the service was fantastic as well. Icing on the cake? The tobacco lobby, all snazzed out in suits on a Sunday night, two tables over, trying to work a (probably nefarious) deal with some diplomats. Thank you for smoking.

Tom Sietsema: Sounds like a delicious Washington experience.

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Penn Quarter - YUM!: Hi Tom- Happy April! What to do if you receive food that is too hot? This may seem like an odd problem, or simple problem. Was at Zola the other day and craving the delicious lobster mac n' cheese, which was brought to me piping, steaming, radiating heat HOT!!! I did not think blowing on my meal was polite or appropriate, and did not want to risk a burned tounge so that I couldn't taste anything for days (which happened anyway). I basically sat as patiently as possible as others around me ate (and finished) their meals, while the dish in front of me still steamed! Any thoughts as to how to handle the situation?

Thanks Tom!

Tom Sietsema: Do you know how many people complain to me about getting cold that's not hot enough? Lots. So your question amuses me.

In my experience, waiters have been good about cautioning me about steaming food. The solution: Take a spoonful of whatever is too hot, let it cool on your plate a moment, then eat it.

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Rasika: Having spent much of his working life in India, my Dad loves Indian food. I was considering taking him to Rasika for his birthday. But, he is deaf in one ear, so noisy restaurants are out. How is Rasika on your noise scale? Thanks.

Tom Sietsema: Rasika is off the charts (well, the last time I measured the sound there, it came in at 85 decibels, which is the equivalent to urban traffic or worse). Rasika's sister restaurant, Bombay Club, is easier on the ears, although it seems to have gotten louder in recent months.

washingtonpost.com: 2008 Dining Guide: Rasika

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Washington, D.C.: Moules and Frites - Hi Tom, thanks for the chats - have you reviewed the Belgian place on MacArthur Blvd. The name is escaping me and I'd like to take some out-of-towners there this weekend. Thanks.

Tom Sietsema: Et Voila! is as good as ever. (Sleeper dish: The hamburger!)

washingtonpost.com: 2008 Review: Et Voila

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Taste of the Nation: Oh Tom, DO TELL!! Did you attend the Taste of the Nation event on Monday? If so, what did you think? I have to say that I was much more impressed with the sweets than the savories (Co Co. Sala in particular)! And I think it's amazing for all of the distinguished chefs to gather for such a great cause! Love ya!

Tom Sietsema: I tend to shy away from public displays of munching and mingling, especially where the industry I cover is concerned. But my online restaurant producer, Julia Beizer, was there, and she twittered the night away for our benefit.

washingtonpost.com: Sweet Tweets from Taste of the Nation

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Penn Quarter: Tom, I had a surprising experience at Ruth's Chris in Tysons last weekend. Normally, we love to go to Ruth's Chris -- good food, good service, nice atmosphere. Well, my husband had water spilled on him. It was an accident, our table was moved, the manager came over. The waiter forgot my drink (didn't even remember I ordered it). And my steak came out wrong. After all that, there was nothing done to "make it up to us." And we didn't think we should say anything. We just thought it would have been appropriate to at least have our drinks comped. Thoughts?

Tom Sietsema: An apology and a round of drinks would have been a nice touch, I agree. (Was your meat under- or over-cooked, by the way?)

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Missing Sushi Taro: Tom... so my husband so kindly got us reservations at the newly reopened Sushi Taro last Friday. We went. The interior is beautiful but can I say how let down I felt? I loved Sushi Taro and have gone there for almost 10 years because i loved its neighborhood sushi place vibe and always fresh fish and its extensive menu. The new menu was limited... we got a sushi tasting and a sashimi tasting. The fish, per usual, was unquestionably fresh but what a giant let down... the selection is so limited, the menu doesn't even tell you what is featured in the tastings (which may be a function of them wanting to only serve what is freshest), but i left bitterly disappointed and not eager to return. If i want a sushi tasting menu, I will hit Makoto... I think Sushi Taro's owners made a giant mistake in taking away the old Taro and replacing it with an upscale stuffy one with little selection and none of the amazing maki rolls, yakitori, or tempura they offered for so long... so my 2 cents and I am curious as to whether others have weighed in with you on this... Signed, Missing my chicken skin yakitori, eel and avocado rolls, and pumpkin tempura in D.C.

Tom Sietsema: You mean to say there's not much more than impeccable raw fish? My sense was that that was part of the dinner, not all of the meal.

washingtonpost.com: October 2008 Dish About Sushi Taro Changes and Details From Last Week's Chat About What Diners Can Expect

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Washington, D.C.: I'm curious how you feel about restaurants and menus that never seem to change. Recently I was at Adour and Central and neither seems to have changed their menus since my visits there last fall.

About the food:

While I thought the food and service at Adour was terrific, there wasn't much on their menu that really excited me on either visit. (We also had a small service issue when the sommelier decanted a bottle without asking; yes we said something at the time though the explanation was more defensive than explanatory.) Central's food seems to have slipped a bit and the portions have shrunk. The roast chicken consisted of a scrawny leg and part of a chicken breast. (Several people ordered the chicken and all were the same size.) Sadly, the chicken was dry and not nearly as good as on our prior visits; on the plus side the burger is still good. I wouldn't have a problem with the smaller portions (I actually prefer them) but I do mind the drop in quality. Amazingly, the noise level seems to have gotten worse.

We stopped going to Cashions years ago because their menu seemed to never change; now I fear that I'll have to strike Central and Adour off too. I eat out regularly and wish that restaurateurs would take this into consideration.

Thanks for all your hard work (eating, writing and exercising).

Tom Sietsema: First, I appreciate the detail with which you lay out your concerns about menus that seem not to budge. Descriptions such as yours are much more helpful to the restaurant, and fellow chatters, than when someone just types "I didn't like it" or "The food was bad."

Regarding menus that don't change: I've complained about the situation in the past, only to have chefs tell me they get in trouble when they take customers' favorites off -- a reality supported by the feedback I get from some diners.

But I have to think the chefs themselves would get bored cooking the same dishes, day after day, week after week, season after season. And a spring menu should read very differently from a fall list, for obvious reasons.

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Washington, D.C.: First of all I want to say how much I enjoy your blog and enjoy reading it every week. In saying that my partner and I take your reviews very seriously and our friends do as well. We all agree that we have to disagree with you on last weeks comments about Casa Oaxaca. We live up the street from there and went there originally because of your postings about the restaurant. We go there at least once a week and as much as three times and everyone that we bring is as impressed with the place as you were when you originally wrote about it. I know Chef Alfio and Karen as well, and know the hard work that the two of them put into the food each and every night. We have some friends that are from Mexico and agree that this is the best Mexican in D.C. and maybe the United States. I think that maybe you went there on an off night but I am one fan that had to tell you to try it again. I have also read some recent reviews on yelp that beg to differ with you. The service here is by far the best in the neighborhood and we love the bartender Luis. Their new mezcal and flavored margaritas menus are second to none in the D.C. area. So I would ask that you please explore Casa Oaxaca again and give your fans the truth about this great neighborhood gem. Thank you for great reviews and keep them coming.

Tom Sietsema: I haven't written off the restaurant forever, but as someone who was an early fan of Casa Oaxaca when it opened, I was disappointed by my last dinner there. Everything was off -- the drinks, the service, the cooking.

But you say you're a regular (and good for you; regulars are frequently rewarded for their patronage).

On a different note, I'm not sure I would rely on Yelp reviews, be they positive or negative. Just my two cents.

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Washington, D.C.: You've asked several times how the economic situation has affected dining habits. I can report that my wife and I haven't eaten at a high end restaurant since November 2007 (a good meal at Blue Duck Tavern). The fanciest we've eaten recently is Central and Et Voila.

What we did do over several months last year into the beginning of this year was go on a pizza crawl, focusing mostly on D.C. spots. To have a consistent comparison, we had a pepperoni pizza at each location. At most places, we also ordered a second pizza with different toppings. Rankings are based solely on pizza, not other foods or drinks.

Still the best -- Pizzeria Paradiso

Very good, eager to go back -- Comet Ping Pong, Red Rocks, Pete's Apizza.

Fine if you're in the neighborhood -- Mia's, Ella's

Disappointing -- Two Amys, Rustico

As often reported here, the Two Amys pizza was soggy. Rustico had tough crust and bland toppings. If we could just get Red Rocks and Pete's to open a location west of the park!

Now in progress -- the burger crawl (already underwhelmed by Ray's Hell-Burger).

Tom Sietsema: I like your idea: Pizza, burger and other cheap food crawls.

Share more detail, please. As in, what makes PP's pie so great? And what disappointed you about the burger at Ray's Hell-Burger, a sandwich I've enjoyed in the past?

I hope you'll consider sharing your culinary adventures with the community here as you eat your way through all those burgers and more.

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Orlando: Hi Tom -- College visit to Georgetown on Monday -- any ideas for a post-visit late lunch for prospective student and parent? Thanks!

Tom Sietsema: On the casual side: Tackle Box on M St.

Fancier: Leopold's in Cady's Alley, Bistro Lepic up Wisconsin.

washingtonpost.com: Tackle Box and Bistrot Lepic

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Alexandria, Va.: Hi. Tom. I always enjoy your chats; my only complaint is that they're too short.

Do you or any of the folks out there know of a local place that makes good Cuban sandwiches? Anywhere within reasonable distance of D.C. would be good. Thanks.

Tom Sietsema: I'm not sure they're convenient to you, but the sandwiches at La Limena in Rockville, Cuba de Ayer in Burtonsville and Cubano's in Silver Spring have all won my praise in the past. Perhaps a fellow chatter can share an example that's closer to you?

washingtonpost.com: 2007 Review: La Limena

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Washington, D.C.: Tom -- I'm getting a little tired of trying to decipher your reviews. I'd really like to be able to read a review and know whether the restaurant is good or bad -- I don't need a lot of flowery prose. So, could you tell us how you really feel about Grace's Mandarin?

Tom Sietsema: Ha! I got a huge response to that critique, mostly from people who had eaten there and had experiences similar to mine. What a poor use of real estate!

washingtonpost.com: This Week's Review: Grace's Mandarin

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Arlington, Va.: Tom, thanks for all that chats, reviews, etc. After reading your review of Grace's Mandarin on Sunday, I was surprised that you gave it half a star. Where did that half star come from? Thanks.

Tom Sietsema: Fair question. I had two or three dishes, mostly prepared by the sushi chefs, that I thought were satisfying. And the view at Grace's is pretty dramatic. But 1/2 star is a half star away from "Poor," which pretty much sums up the behemoth.

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Washington, D.C.: Tom, You gave a restaurant a very bad review this past Sunday. How do restaurateurs respond? Do they try to explain away the deficiencies, ask you back, or complain to your boss about an unfair review?

I imagine you get little pleasure from writing a negative review (or from eating bad food!), so I appreciate that you are moved to do so but irregularly. Thanks.

Tom Sietsema: It all depends on the restaurant. Sometimes, chefs or owners call and thank me for the wake-up call (it's true!). Other times, they complain to me, an editor or the larger food community, although that's rare.

Most of the time, though, I personally hear zip from the places I've given negative reviews.

While I never agree to "meet for coffee," as some restaurateurs have proposed, I do have an Open Phone Policy. I'm happy to take calls from chefs and others who have something they want to say, be it good or bad (or fodder for my Dish column -- hint, hint).

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Rockville: Too hot?

There have been times when I have used some ice from my drink to cool a dish. Ice will cool thirty times its weight when melting. One can be discrete at the same time.

If it is chili hot, use sugar.

Tom Sietsema: I'm not sure I'd toss an ice cube in my pasta, but .... thanks for thinking of a fellow chatter.

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Hall of the States: I had a similar experience with the long wait times at Art and Soul. Lunch for 2 took about 90 minutes. A waitress couldn't tell me anything about the "pick-ups" salad... she read the description off the menu. Turkey and mushroom soup included very dry bits of turkey that tasted more than a few days old. The ravioli was not very good, either -- a strange combination of vegetables in a cream sauce with undercooked raviolis. The fried chicken, which I'd had on a previous visit, was the only memorable/delicious thing I've had to date. I'll probably never go back for lunch and from now on just stick with the fried mac and cheese balls at the bar. It's too bad because Art and Soul has the potential to be a really great eatery.

Tom Sietsema: "Paging Art Smith, page Art Smith ..."

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RE: What to do with hot food? : Was that an April Fool's question?

Tom Sietsema: If it was, I've been punk'd!

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Penn Quarter: The steak was ordered without butter (I know, I was at Ruth's Chris). Came with butter. New steak came out in about 60 seconds, and that one was over-cooked. I'm guessing I got someone else's.

Tom Sietsema: Gotcha. Did you send that back, too? (And come to think of it, I'd love to hear from restaurateurs: How often is it OK for a diner to send something back if, in fact, the dish is improperly prepared?)

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Penn Quarter, D.C.: Every month my department gathers for lunch in D.C. Our office is in the McPherson Square area, but we can travel in D.C. I am in charge of planning this month's -- I want it to be more of a fun D.C. lunch, but they want a place that is around $10/person and no more than $20. I have a hard time finding one since even Cosi salads with a soda cost $10! I love your chat and read it every week, hope you can help!

Tom Sietsema: That's a tough one. How big is your office? Do you mind eating outside?

Off the top of my head, I thinking Casa Blanca or Juice Joint might be able to accomodate your group.

washingtonpost.com: Casa Blanca and Juice Joint

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Sushi Taro again...: Tom Sietsema: You mean to say there's not much more than impeccable raw fish? My sense was that that was part of the dinner, not all of the meal.

With the tasting menu, there was some soup, but it was basically all fish with none of the delectable sides and extras they used to offer. And I have to say, without any maki rolls, and only small bowl of rice offered with one course, I left starving.

Tom Sietsema: I'm sorry to hear that. Thanks for following up.

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Washington, D.C.: Regarding Credit Cards - I was at a restaurant in Logan Circle back in November and had my # stolen. However, I wasn't able to lodge a complaint since the manager was the one who discovered the scam and called my bank to let them know the number had been compromised. I initially was quite upset, but given the vigilance by the restaurant's managers, I'm happy to say I can still patronize one of my favorite places to grab a bite with my brother.

Tom Sietsema: We like alert and pro-active managers!

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Annapolis: Tom -- I second your recommendation of Mio for the pregnant woman who didn't want to go someplace known for their fancy cocktails, since she couldn't imbibe. Mio has wonderful non-alcoholic mojitos that she can drink without feeling deprived -- I used to work almost next door, and it was a favorite place for lunch, for that reason (and for the food).

Tom Sietsema: I second the non-alcoholic drinks at Mio.

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D.C. - For the Georgetown U. Visitor: For a real college experience, go to the Tombs, right off the campus. A nice place for a pub lunch, and very much part of the University scene.

Tom Sietsema: You know, I was going to mention that, but my last meal there was pretty underwhelming. Plus, it's so DARK in that basement.

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Herndon, Va.: Hi Tom, in your chat last week, someone asked about good places to get German food. There's a place a little closer than Hagerstown called Euro Bistro in Herndon. It's awesome food and reasonably priced.

I'm not a publicist or anything, I'm just a dude who likes spaetzle and wanted to share.

Tom Sietsema: I'm a dude who likes those squiggles, too. Vielen Danke!

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Alinea, Chicago: Hi Tom, and thanks for your help over the years in guiding us to good food.

Do you know anything about Alinea in Chicago? About a year ago, Gourmet Magazine named it the best restaurant in the country, and one of the top 3 in the world. I'm going to Chicago in 2 months and I'm interested in checking it out, however dinner for 2 with the wine flight will set you back $600 or thereabouts, so I thought I'd check with your first.

Thanks Tom!

Tom Sietsema: I've eaten at Alinea twice, most recently a month ago. It's an exiting but costly experience. I skipped the wine pairing and just got a bottle for my guest and me. The bill came to just under $600.

Small world: My waiter had previously worked in D.C., at the Oval Room!

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If it was, I've been punk'd! : You must be younger than I originally imagined.

Tom Sietsema: No, I'm just a very hip 72-year-old!

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MacPherson Sq.: Hi Tom -- just a note to say that a friend and I had lunch yesterday at the new Siroc on MacPherson Sq. -- the old Gerard's Place -- and had a lovely time. We shared several small plates, a salad and a bottle of wine, all of which were quite good. Service was great -- attentive without being clingy, and the waitstaff was happy to let us order two separate rounds of small plates, have the kitchen split the salad onto two plates, and let us linger over the last of our wine. We will definitely go back as it was a very nice experience!

Tom Sietsema: Thanks for the field report. I think Siroc's neighbors are happy to have someplace new to go.

washingtonpost.com: First Bite: Siroc

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Japanese Birthday, D.C.: Tom, it's my birthday and I'm on a diet. I'm thinking Japanese food is a good way to go to celebrate and wanted to try the omakase (sp?) -- the chef's table, per say. But where should I go? Makoto? Kotobuki? Sushi Ko? I'll be eating by myself since none of my friends are interested, and I don't drink sake (but enjoy nicely crafted non-alcoholic beverages).

Tom Sietsema: You'll be solo? Terrific! That means you can probably get a stool at the counter at Kaz Sushi Bistro downtown, and watch the chefs prepare your festive, low-cal meal (hold the tempura) before your eyes. Makoto is also a treat, but the "chef's choice" involves more meat and fried stuff than you might want.

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Reston, Va.: What do you do when you just don't like your meal? Recently, I got grilled (heh) by both the server and the manager when I left a nearly full plate and declined to take the leftovers home. There was nothing wrong with the description or the cooking -- I just tried something new to me and it didn't agree with my taste buds. Didn't ask for a new meal, didn't ask for a comp, didn't complain -- just didn't eat much and decided not to waste the packaging to take it home and toss it. Should I have done that instead of leaving it?

What about when I'm allergic to an ingredient not listed in the menu description? I happen to be allergic to rosemary, and while I try to avoid anything labeled "herb" or ask if it's in there before ordering, sometimes it shows up. Often, a dinner companion will trade with me, but last time it was a pasta dish and my companion has celiac. Again, not the kitchen's fault, and I realize the menu can't list EVERY ingredient. My mistake for not asking, so I don't expect anything done, but it's awkward.

Thanks.

Tom Sietsema: If you just don't care for something, it never hurts to be honest:. "There's nothing wrong, it's prepared correctly, I just don't care for the combination" (or whatever). At least the restaurant knows its not at fault, you know?

As for the rosemary allergy, you really need to be proactive, because the herb shows up a LOT and in both savory and sweet dishes.

How do the rest of you deal with food that doesn't appeal to you but is otherwise prepared correctly? Share away.

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Waldorf, Md.: RE: Penn Quarter - The spilling of the water was an accident, (let's be thankful it wasn't red wine or a hot beverage) but your drink order was forgotten and your steak ruined but you thought is was best to remain silent? With the shape our economy is in I want what I pay for when splurging on a night out. Speak up, it could have changed your entire experience.

Tom Sietsema: I tend to agree.

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Sterling, Va.: I doubt the pizza crawler wants to come all the way out here, but if you're ever in Leesburg, Fireworks Pizza is fantastic. Crisp crusts, local ingredients in some creative combinations, nice beer selection, and even some good appetizers and desserts. When I eat out in D.C. I rarely end up getting pizza, so I can't really compare to some of the city's places, but I personally love it.

Tom Sietsema: Fireworks is a new one (for me.) Grazie.

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Good Cuban Sandwich: There's a Cuban food counter (Cafe Havana, I think?) located in the food court underneath the Dickstein Shapiro building on the corner of 18th and I. Also, it's colocated with the Farragut West stop, easily accessible via Orange or Blue line. A sandwich with yellow rice and black beans can be had for about $7. Very tasty. The other Cuban dishes are excellent as well. I work across the street and eat there all the time.

Tom Sietsema: Thanks for pointing us in what sounds like a promising direction.

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Washington, D.C.: Hi Tom, what's your view on restaurants and P.R.? Do they really need representation or should the food just speak for itself?

Tom Sietsema: Now THAT'S a loaded question. There are some very good public relations people out there, but also a lot of mediocre ones. (Actually, that's true of a lot of professions, isn;t it?)

There's this unfortunate misconception by a lot of chefs and restaurants that they can't just pick up a phone (202-334-6923) or e-mail me about what they're up to. That said, good publicists can help businesses by suggesting creative ways to promote themselves and their menus.

We're running out of time. Wish I got this question earlier!

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I don't need a lot of flowery prose.: Well, I do; people's opinions of whether a restaurant is "good or bad" are so individual, and depend on so many differing factors, that I like as exact a description as possible of Tom's experiences so Ican form my own judgment.

Tom Sietsema: I think that chatter wrote that with a wink and a nudge. Because you didn't have to read between any lines about how I felt about Grace's Mandarin.

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Didn't like the food: Happens to me a lot, I'm afraid, and I know that it's just because I'm a picky eater going way back to childhood. I've gotten pretty good at moving food around on my plate in a way that makes it appear I've eaten more than I did! Had to, since more often than not, I have the same experience Reston did; no complaint, no expectation, just my own fault for trying something I did't like, and the waiter and manager wouldn't accept that. The last time, my meal was comped AND they gave me a gift certificate! Nice, sure, but I don't like having that much attention drawn to me, you know?

Tom Sietsema: Your post reminds me how challenging the restaurant business is. You can't win sometimes! (I referring to the questions about hot vs. cold food and now this.)

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DC: Still sick about this. Dining on Penn Ave, at a nice place...great desserts. Hint Hint. Went to the women's room, another lady comes out from other stall....musses her hair....walks out! No wash, no rinse, no wipe, no nothing! Sidiled right back up to the bar! Still turns my stomach thinking about it. This is why i HATE blowers! Thank goodness they had papertowels!

Tom Sietsema: I hear you, D.C. I've seen guys reading the paper and even EATING SNACKS while they're standing in front of urinals.

(Sorry, folks, I realize some of you might be lunching at your desk about now.)

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Didn't Like the Food: If I order something and I find I really don't like it, I act like an adult and either eat it without complaint or order sopmething else at my cost.

Tom Sietsema: That's one solution.

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KL and Jakarta Cuisines: Tom,

Can you recommend any Malaysian and Indonesian restaurants around the D.C. metro area? Last Saturday we had lunch at one on M Street and were not impressed.

Thanks so much. Your chats, postcards and reviews are incredibly helpful.

Tom Sietsema: Straits of Malaya on 18th Street NW has been my go-to restaurant for five spice rolls, laksa -- and Singapore slings -- over the years, but it's been awhile since I last dropped by. Added bonus: A roof-top deck in nice weather.

washingtonpost.com: Straits of Malaya

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Washington, D.C.: Went last week to Potenza. I think it was their fourth night open. Expectations were set accordingly but they really delivered. The pizza was very strong, although a bit too thin and not enough sauce. Not in the Red Rocks or Two Amy's category, but a pretty good contender. Papardelle w/wild boar was the best I have had outside of Tuscany. Tried the roast chicken too which was excellent (not up to the level of Corduroy or Palena, but still quite tasty). The dining room was also nicely done. It had a nice modern feel to it but managed to avoid the bare concrete trend that so many other places have adopted (I'm talking to you Posto and Zatinya). Can't wait to try the bakery.

They definitely need some more time to work out some kinks in service, but Potenza looks to be a nice addition to Italian eating in D.C. My only real complaint is that while they have pici on the menu, they have it paired with a pesto, rather than a nice traditional ragu.

Tom Sietsema: I'm getting hungry reading your review....

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Arlington, Va.: Most of my friends never appreciate my restaurant picks because they are extremely picky and they find them too expensive!! They prefer to go to chains like Ruby Tuesdays or Rock Bottom, and I enjoy places like Tallula, Peacock Cafe, Paolo's, etc. Do you have any recommendations that serve cheaper food and aren't so yuppie that could appeal to them? THANKS!!!

Tom Sietsema: The Washington area has too many good, gently-priced restaurants for your friends to be wasting their time in mediocre chains.

Next outing, consider introducing them to Nando's Peri-Peri in Chinatown, Kabob Palace in Crystal City, Boulevard Woodgrill in Arlington, RedRocks in Columbia Heights, Vaso's Kitchen in Alexandria .... chatters, want to weigh in with your favorite cheap eats?

washingtonpost.com: 2007 Review: Vaso's Kitchen

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McLean, Va.: Hi Tom, have you eaten at the relatively new Vietnamese restaurant 'Present' in Falls Church? My Vietnamese friend went there last week and said it was the best Vietnamese restaurant they've been to, trying to get a second/professional opinion. Thanks!

Tom Sietsema: Without giving too much away, I've been very impressed with much of what I've tasted at the youthful restaurant in Falls Church.

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Philadelphia, Penn.: Former D.C. resident, back in town for just one day and with a short window in the evening before my train back home.

Where should I go for a great glass of wine and maybe a small meal at the bar? I love Central and Palena but am thinking my dream spot would be near Dupont Circle or Union Station so I can maximize my time without missing my train.

Any ideas? Bonus points if it has opened in the past year since I've been off the scene that long.

Tom Sietsema: I adore Proof in Penn Quarter, which is minutes away from Union Station by cab.

washingtonpost.com: 2008 Dining Guide: Proof

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Need to impress a French visitor: I'm entertaining a French visitor and would like ideas for a restaurant in D.C. that would demonstrate great American cooking and wines (and I define American as anything that's not French). Entrees in the 25-30 range is fine. Thanks.

Tom Sietsema: In that price range, I'd suggest introducing your friend to Cashion's Eat Place in Adams Morgan, Johnny's Half Shell on the Hill, 1789 in Gergetown (go early for the pre-theater menu), maybe Tabard Inn in Dupont Circle.

washingtonpost.com: 2008 Dining Guide: Cashion's Eat Place

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Washington, D.C.: I suppose we all have our dining pet peeves, but not sure why Cafe du Parc doesn't seat until noon It's very annoying, bien sur.

Tom Sietsema: I called the French restaurant for an explanation. Because Cafe du Parc serves breakfast until 10:30 a.m., I was told, the staff needs the time before noon to clean, prepare the dining room for lunch service and go on break.

washingtonpost.com: 2007 Review: Cafe du Parc

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Adams Morgan, D.C.: Tom, I'm a huge fan of all your work -- I don't know how you do it all, but I'm grateful you do! I'm looking for the perfect birthday dinner locale for my husband in a couple of weeks. Maryland, Virginia and D.C. are all fine. Price is not a barrier, but I want to stay away from tasting menus, which seems to limits the choices somewhat. We eat all types of food, but I'm interested in trying something unique and fun -- the opposite of a staid steakhouse, let's say! We're too late to get reservations at Restaurant Eve, but I'm considering Vidalia, Palena or The Source. Which of these sound best, or do you have a better recommendation?

Tom Sietsema: You've got a fine short list of choices there, Adams Morgan. Personally, I'd be happy to be taken to any of the three, although The Source might have an edge design-wise.

Other destinations to consider: Volt in Frederick, the renovated Bombay Club, Eventide in Arlington and the recently reviewed Bistro L'Hermitage in Price William.

washingtonpost.com: Last Week's Review: Bistro L'Hermitage

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Consumer: I'm naturally distrustful of PR, so if a restaurant sends out a message via a PR consultant, I'm MUCH less likely to read it. I want to hear from the restaurenteur himself, not his spin doctor. And we can tell. The hint of spin is unmistakable.

Tom Sietsema: And on that note, dear chatters, I'll sign off for today.

I look forward to getting together with you again, virtually, next Wednesday.

Ciao!

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