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Tom Sietsema
Washington Post Food Critic
Wednesday, April 8, 2009 11:00 AM

Washington Post food critic Tom Sietsema discusses his recent review of Sei and took your dining questions on Wednesday, April 8 at 11 a.m. ET.

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Arlington, Va.: Tom: I wanted to thank you for your recommendation on Eventide a few weeks back. While they still have some timing issues to work out (1/2 of our party's hot dishes came out lukewarm to cold) the space was fantastic and very well thought out and the food was excellent. I see some good competition building between Eventide and Liberty Tavern. Which brings me to my question, you never really mention Liberty in these chats and I see that you didn't do a Sunday review of the place. Is there a reason why? Have you ever eaten there? I do look forward to their upcoming bakery!

Thanks and keep up the good work.

Tom Sietsema: That whole block in Clarendon is fast becoming a food fan's destination, isn't it?

My former Post colleague, Eve Zibart, reviewed Liberty for the Weekend section a few years back. I subsequently ate there once, for Sunday brunch, and had an OK time. But I'm eager to go back and see what's cookin' anew.

Lots to talk about today: A veteran chef closes his restaurant in Washington later this month! A bakery is slated to take over the popular Murky Coffee spot in Arlington!

Further, Sonoma on the Hill just hired a new top toque, Nicholas Sharpe, to replace Drew Trautman. Sharpe has cooked at Vidalia and Maestro, among other noteworthy kitchens, and went to NYC to help Fabio Trabocchi at the late, great Fiamma. Most recently, he could be seen at Mio downtown, where he served as sous chef.

Happy Hump Day, everyone. Thanks for showing up. Let's rock and roll ...

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Visiting for Cherry Blossoms: Hi Tom. I just wanted to tell you about a pleasant experience I had during dinner while I was in D.C. last Friday. Especially because this topic has come up before in your chats. At the Avenue Grill in the JW Marriott (12th and Penn) I ordered a glass of 2004 Simi Cabernet, one of my favorites. The waiter took forever to bring it, but then I realized what took so long. He actually went to the bar, which was across the lobby, got the bottle, and brought it to the table to show me that he was pouring me the good stuff, and not a cheaper substitute. I was pleasantly surprised, especially since I don't get too thrilled about hotel restaurants. Needless to say, my pleasure was reflected in his tip.

Tom Sietsema: Nice touch, I concur! I always appreciate seeing the label of the wine I'm being served by the glass, too. (In a few cases, seeing the bottle has probably explained why I've also passed on a glass -- say, when I'm getting what looks to be the last several ounces of a bottle whose contents taste as if they've been exposed to too much air or too much heat.)

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Washington, D.C.: I wanted to chime in regarding last week's mention of restaurants using PR Firms. I used to work at a restaurant PR Firm and I know a lot of people found it odd for restaurants to use one, but restaurants don't always have the time to promote themselves. We would help the restaurant come up with creative events, spread the name of their chef, alert media outlets and diners to specials at the restaurant, etc. It's not a bad thing and shouldn't be frowned upon.

And for the record, I know there's a lot of speculation, but we NEVER would self promote in your chat pretending to be a customer.

Tom Sietsema: I hope I wasn't misunderstood last week. I certainly wasn't bashing the PR business. All I wanted people here to know is that I'm happy to be contacted via email or by phone by restaurateurs interested in sharing news about their menus, their specials, their staff, whatever.

Some PR firms do a stellar job of helping their clients get just what they need, be it business or buzz in the media. A very few have admitted coming on here to promote their clients without identifying themselves, and while I appreciate the candor, I wish there was some easy way for me to know who is who in the audience.

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Washington, D.C.: Regarding the post today about the woman failing to wash her hands -- that is a big pet peeve of mine! But I wanted to mention that recently, at a restaurant in Penn Quarter (perhaps the same), I saw someone do that in the ladies room. On a second trip to the ladies room, I realized that the stall she had used (the stall with disabled access) had its own sink! (presumably for better wheelchair access) I have since seen this in another local restaurant and just wanted to point it out. I found myself explaining to the ladies waiting in line that I had, in fact, washed my hands.

Tom Sietsema: The moral of the story: Don't be too quick to judge.

Also: There are spies everywhere.

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Washington, D.C.: Hi Tom, I would love your advice on how to handle a dining situation. My boyfriend and I are semi-frequent customers at a high-end area restaurant. We probably eat dinner there an average of once a month, although there are some months when we go more often. We usually dine alone, but sometimes bring friends with us. Many of the staff recognize us; however, we always seem to get a bad table when we are seated. I understand that when the restaurant is busy, there is often no avoiding this. However, we had a late dinner there this past weekend and the restaurant was not full. We were placed at a table that fit tightly between two others, both of which had parties at them. There was no privacy. Other tables that were quieter and more spacious sat empty for the entire time we were there.

I'm not sure how to deal with this situation. I am always reluctant to ask for a different table, because I feel that I don't know what's going on behind the scenes and whether a particular table is reserved for someone who has yet to arrive. But we never get a good seat at this restaurant, and it is beginning to turn me off. In fact, a few months ago one of the hostesses said to us, as she put us at a bad table, "One day, I'll put you in one of the nice booths, you come here so often and never get a good table!" That day has yet to arrive.

Thanks for any advice you can offer. I hate being a difficult customer.

Tom Sietsema: All you have to do is ask for another table if you get one you don't care for. Most restaurants are happy to do this provided "something better" is in fact available. You didn't ask me, but that hostess is crazy for telling you she's leading you to an inferior seat!

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Mt. Pleasant: As someone who regularly checks in on the dining scenes in other cities, what do you feel our area is missing? We have a lot of good choices these days but I'm sure there's a cuisine or type of restaurant you'd think we could benefit from having more or better options?

Tom Sietsema: I'd love to have some good Russian (Georgian) food here. I wish we had better delis. We're awash in decent-to-very good Thai restaurants, but where's the interesting Chinese? (I went to Mark's Duck House yet again recently to see if it was any better than my last indifferent meal there. Alas, it wasn't. And the Peking duck is dry and dull.)

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Washington, D.C.: Just wondered if you have an idea what to do. I complained when a local hotel restaurant burned my breakfast three times in one week and since then, they've treated me like a pariah. What should I do?

Tom Sietsema: Um, change venues? That's not exactly a great track record, three burned breakfasts.

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Washington, DC: Hi Tom. I read your review of SEI this weekend and couldn't agree more about the food and drinks- I've really enjoyed both. So did it only receive 2.5 stars because of the noise level? It was definitely a bit noisy the few times I've been there, but lunch (not surprisingly) wasn't as bad. Did you get a chance to check out their gold bar? More restaurant owners should realize that incredible details like that are noticed and do draw us back.

Tom Sietsema: I thought the service was a little pushy and a few dishes were also off (those pork tacos come to mind). But I'm betting the restaurant only improves with time.

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Baltimore, Md.: Hi Tom, love love your chat!

The Korean BBQ place in Annandale you reviewed couple months back, is it suitable for couple toddlers in high chairs?

Thanks!

Tom Sietsema: My colleague Candy Sagon reviewed Honey Pig. It's small and noisy and probably not the best place to bring wee ones. Gotta be honest!

washingtonpost.com: Candy's Review of Honey Pig Gooldaegee Korean Grill

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Sei what?: Tom,

I was under the impression Sei wasn't open yet. If that's true, how did you review it?

If not...my boyfriend lied just to get out of taking me there. Where is more expensive and better tasting than Sei that he can take me to make up for it?

Tom Sietsema: Hahahahahah.

I adore Sei. I like the way it looks and I love the way (most of it) tastes.

But if you want to make the BF pay for his sin, make him take you to Makoto in the Palisades. And remind him to wear clean socks ...

washingtonpost.com: This Week's Review: Sei

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Dupont Circle: Hi Tom, I have a question about whether parents should pick up scraps of food on the floor that their toddler/infant has thrown. I had a discussion with my brother who has a son, and he thinks that it's ok for him to leave the restaurant without picking up after his son's mess, because it's the waitstaff's job to do that. Your two cents? Thank you!

Tom Sietsema: I think your bro is wrong, wrong, wrong. A parent of a child throwing food has a responsibility to clean/pick up what he or she can see. Waiters shouldn't be abused in that fashion.

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Pet peeves: Hi, Tom.

As a reader of yours and someone who appreciates your reviews and considers them when picking a place to go, I've seen your and readers pet peeves and I'd like to share mine.

I really hate when someone writes in and says, "...price is not an object" or "expense not a factor" or however that idea is phrased. And, no, I'm not jealous. While it would be easy to dismiss my comment as one of jealousy, it is not. To me, comments such as those are chock full of arrogant bragging, self-serving entitlement and maybe not even true at all (the beauty of so-called online anonymity). I think there are lots of ways to express that all types of restaurants could be considered in an answer without being so tacky.

Thanks for letting me rant/share.

Tom Sietsema: I hear you, but when offering restaurant advice, it helps me to know what someone's budget is. To my ears, "price is no object" is not bragging, it's just giving me information.

But maybe the gang can think of a better alternative?

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bad tables: People always seem to take it personally when they get a table they don't like. Well, someone has to sit there, and unless you speak up, it's going to be you. There is absolutely nothing wrong with asking, "Could we sit somewhere with a little more space?" If you look around and see a table that's unoccupied and you want it, you can say, "Is there any chance we could sit over there instead? It looks quieter/sunnier/less crowded/more comfortable." If it's reserved, they'll say so. But if they can accommodate you, they probably will.

Tom Sietsema: Exactly.

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Capitol Hill: For the semi-regular who keeps getting the bad table, one non-confrontational option would be to request a booth at the time the reservation is made. They're obviously known to the house, and that might do it.

I also hate speaking up about things, but in the situation with that hostess, I believe I would have used that opportunity to request a booth for that night, on the spot. The hostess -is- the one who brought up the subject.

Tom Sietsema: Yup. And just to make sure they get a desired booth, the folks should consider putting in the request as far ahead of time as possible, asking for the name of the person they're making the request with and reconfirmng that request before heading out. (You can never be too diligent.)

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Whether parents should pick up scraps of food on the floor that their toddler/infant has thrown. : Bro is right if he's willing to leave an enormous tip. Otherwise, he should be banned from restaurants. (From the parent of a former toddler.)

Tom Sietsema: Well, I still don't think it's right. (I've seen some toddlers toss A LOT of food around in my day.) And how is a waiter expected to forecast how much of a gratuity he's going to get?

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Washington, D.C.: I ate last night at Founding Farmers and while my overall experience was excellent, I have a few small complaints. 1) Restaurants need to describe their food better. I order the brie, apple, and onion flatbread. I assumed that it was going to come out on bread of some sort of pita/naan consistency with the toppings baked in. What was served was 9 pieces of crostini. While delicious, it was not what I was expecting and not what one thinks of when ordering "flatbread." 2) Dessert- As one of the only restaurants I've been to lately with red velvet cake, I was excited for dessert. The waitstaff should warn you, however, that the cake is best shared with friends, as the slice I was brought was roughly the size of my head. We would have split desserts instead of ordering our own if we'd known. After attacking it for 5 minutes, I felt as though I'd barely made a dent. Neither one of these were worthy of a complaint to the manager, as I really enjoyed my meal, but I was not sure how to convey the flatbread confusion or how overwhelming the dessert was...

Tom Sietsema: What you just described to me is EXACTLY the kind of feedback restaurants want to hear. Don't be so shy next time; you might save someone else from ordering a titanic dessert for one.

Your missive reminds me of something Miss Piggy once advised: "Never eat anything larger than your head."

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Washington, D.C.: Hey Tom! Not a food-related comment, but just wanted you to know because I remember you saying in one chat that you read all of the comments. I'm a college student and read your chats when I procrastinate and I love them! I don't know why but they always make me happy -- maybe it's the thought of food, maybe it's the comments the peanuts write, or maybe it's your responses. I hope it keeps up -- it makes my procrastination enjoyable!

Tom Sietsema: Gosh, I'm thrilled to receive your feedback, but I don't want to be responsible for any dip in your GPA, Washington. So consider this your lunch break. Then get back to the books (do not pass Go, do not collect $100 ..)

Seriously, the participants and their questions and comments are what make this such a fun hour for me (and others, I hope).

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Uptown: Hi Tom,

I can't remember - are jeans acceptable at Central or should I dress up?

Thanks!

Tom Sietsema: I've seeen people in all manner of dress at Michel Richard's bistro. But I'd be inclined to add a jacket or a nice shirt to those jeans if I were you.

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Alexandria, Va.: Hi Tom -

Hopefully the third time is the charm. Do you or any of your chatters have places to recommend in Boston? We're heading up for an anniversary weekend and are hoping for some really excellent food.

Thanks!!

Tom Sietsema: I haven't been to Boston in about two years, but I've really enjoyed Clio, No 9 Park, Oleana and Lumiere (in nearby Newton) in the past. Meanwhile, food friends have raved to me about L'Espalier and Oya in the Leather District.

Anyone else care to weigh in?

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"price is no object": How about "cost is not the deciding factor"?

Tom Sietsema: That has a nice ring to it ....

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Price is right, DC: Persons wishing to explain that they are able and willing to fund a blowout meal should use the phrase, "whatever it takes, dude," as this frames their ability to spend money as a practical matter -- "i don't want to light twenties on fire, but I want to make the meal special --" rather a reflection of their success and wonderfulness. Also makes it sound like they might be fun to, like, party with after, you know.

Tom Sietsema: I bet you're fun to dine out with, Price Is Right.

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Washington, D.C.: Hi Tom -- Saw your Postcard from Napa, but wondering if you (or the chatters) have any suggestions for some great spots to dine in neighboring Sonoma county? Thanks!

Tom Sietsema: I was in Healdsburg several years back and had a dynamite meal at Cyrus, among other destinations. Has anyone else been to Sonoma more recently?

washingtonpost.com: 2006 Postcard From Tom: Healdsburg

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Moment of truth: This weekend, a party of friends discussed our first adult "A-ha" moments with food. For one, it was discovering that asparagus didn't come in a can and neither did other vegetables. For another, it was the taste of his first, good beer. For me, it was foie gras. Politically incorrect, but nothing else has ever been so silky or memorable.

What was your first adult "A-ha" palate-popping moment with food? Why? How did it affect you? Or are you saving all that for your memoirs?

Tom Sietsema: What an interesting question!

Back when I was testing recipes for the Food section (we're talking the mid-80s here), I had many aha! moments as I learned how to cook on the Post's dime.

One of them was when I made pizza from scratch using Alice Water's recipe. It called for fresh oregano, which I had never tasted before. I vowed then and there never to use dried herbs if fresh were available.

Another aha! moment was when I made graham crackers using a recipe from Marion Cunningham, the modern-day Fannie Farmer. Her thick and slightly nutty-tasting crackers were so far removed from the commercial variety, and so delicious, I remember thinking to myself, "So THIS is what they're actually supposed to taste like!"

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re bad table: We're regulars at a restaurant as well - probably going as often as the other writer. We often get our usual table which we love with our usual waiter (they fought over who got us) - whom we also love. We continue to go because the food is good and they clearly demonstrate - from the get-go - that they value us. Why would you continue to go to a restaurant that regularly gives you a lousy table? That's a pretty bad first impression to make repeatedly.

Tom Sietsema: That's what I was thinking, too.

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NYC: As a former Washingtonian...I really miss your advice. Frank Bruni does not hold a candle...That said, I thought I'd throw this one out there knowing you visit NYC occasionally. Do you have any restaurant recommendations in NYC for a group dinner for about 10 adult family members to celebrate a special occasion? Bonus points if it's Italian. Thanks!

Tom Sietsema: Go easy on my pal Frank! He doesn't have a chat like this, but I think he does an admirable job of giving readers useful dining info in his online blog (and in print, of course).

;)

Scarpetta in Chelsea might be where you want to dine with your tribe. The talented Scott Conant cooks there, and the restaurant is a looker.

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Mark's Duck House: I totally agree. Had dim sum there Sunday. The place was packed. The wait was long. The service was pushy. The food was so-so at best and the price went up since my last visit a while back. They should not be called "Ceap Eats" any more. Writing this in hope they shape up.

Tom Sietsema: Plus, the floor was littered with dim sum debris. Yuck.

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A question of Pro-nun-ciati,ON: Tom,

How exactly do you pronounce chef Michel Richard's name? Is it Michael Richard or Michelle Ree-shard?

Tom Sietsema: Mee-shell Ree-shard.

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Need to know!: Give us more from your teaser.... what chef is closing his kitchen at the end of the month?

Tom Sietsema: Yannick Cam is bidding adieu to Le Paradou.

washingtonpost.com: Food Flash: Luxury Takes a Holiday at Le Paradou

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Re: "price is no object": Its not bragging, it's just stating part of the situation. Many people entertain people for work, and most of the time, price is not really a factor. If asked for an good Indian restaurant and you recommended Rasika, without taking price into account it might not fit what one was looking for.

How about "PINAO"; Price Is Not An Object...

Tom Sietsema: Pinao. Sounds like a cocktail you might order at Cafe Atlantico.

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Bloomingdale: Fundraiser question: Tom, do you know of any restaurants in D.C. near metro that has a room that could be used for a fundraiser? I've checked a few places and they are charging over $1,000 for the room.

Tom Sietsema: What size room are you thinking of? And for what purpose?

Note to restaurants: Now would be a good time to let me know what kinds of private spaces you have, and at what price.

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Great Falls, Va: Hi Tom - Any thoughts yet on Fire and Sage? It just opened and I'm wondering what the word is.

Thanks!

Tom Sietsema: Hang tight. I'm previewing the revamped hotel restaurant in the next few weeks.

Service could use some tweaking, however. I had a waitress who came up to my table and with no other greeting blurted out "What do you want?"

How UnMarriott, I thought to myself.

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Marks Duck House: After hearing all the hype about how great this place was for dim sum, we tried it.....so, so disappointed. It was so crowded that we waited an hour (we love dim sum and were excited to try this raved about place)and the only seat that came available was right in the waiting area....carts passed us by and when they did come to us, folks who were waiting had to get out of the way....it was like eating in front of an audience....the dim sum was all fried and wasn't that good.....we waited in vane for some of our favorites but alas they never showed up.....from now on it's back across the street to Fortune!

Tom Sietsema: Forgot to mention: Half the dim sum I got was cold. And it wasn't meant to be.

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Arlington, VA: Regarding Mark's Duck House -

Tom Sietsema: Plus, the floor was littered with dim sum debris. Yuck.

Maybe from someone who didn't clean up after his/her toddler....

Tom Sietsema: Ha!

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Arlington, Va.: Question about portion size. Went to Rasika last weekend. It is by far my wife's favorite restaurant. I also have to say that it is one of my very favorites. Everything we ordered was delicious (crispy spinach, banana savory appetizer, palak, garlic naan, and more). The service was the best I have had in years. I do not say that lightly. I was a server for more than ten years and pay close attention. The service at Rasika is really perfect.

For my entree I ordered the shrimp curry. It was perfectly cooked and the curry sauce was delicious. Now the question. The entree costs $22. There were only four shrimp (big ones, but still) in the entree. There was nothing else. It was four big shrimp in sauce with rice on the side for $22. I really enjoyed it. But, I thought that four shrimp was a little skimpy. My wife and I discussed how many shrimp should there have been. I think at least six, maybe seven. I would think in this economy restaurants are concerned with portion control, but also about giving customers good value. Four shrimp is too few for an entree. A great restaurant does not serve four shrimp on accident. I would bet that they always serve four shrimp with this entree. It is too few. In this economy I want to get good value out of my meals. Do you consider this when reviewing restaurants?

I write this because Rasika is a really special restaurant. It is always busy, so maybe they do not need to make any changes. But, they should think about the portion sizes versus the cost of dishes. What do you think?

Tom Sietsema: Portion size is in the eye of the beholder. I personally prefer smaller plates, but I attribute some of that to what I do for work.

The seafood used by chef Vikram Sunderam is black tiger shrimp and, as you point out, generous in size. Sunderam told me that those four pieces add up to between seven and eight ounces of protein, which is sufficient for me when rice is factored in.

Did you mention anything to your server? Sunderam said he would have added more shrimp, gratis, had he heard anyone complain about the size of the dish. I pointed out his generosity might cost him, literally, and he both laughed and agreed.

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Clarendon: Great update yesterday on Bayou Bakery, my husband (he grew up in Kenner, La.) and I are really looking forward to it. The article said opening in June, what are the chances that I'll be able to get a doberge cake for my husband's birthday on June 9th?

Tom Sietsema: Bad news/good news: Pastry chef David Guas tells me BB probably won't launch until mid-June, BUT he says he can bake you a doberge cake if you contact him at his web site: www.damgoodsweet.com

(See how easy it is to get your wish when you post a little early?)

For those who don't know, a doberge cake is a confection that orginated in New Orleans and involves multiple layers of cake and pudding (chocolate, lemon, sometimes a combination of the two).

washingtonpost.com: Dish: Sugar Highs in Arlington

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Pirate Bar: Tom, what's the deal with the pirate bar (FX?) on King street? I'd like to take my boyfriend there next week, but I don't want to embarrass him by taking him some place where we might not be admitted. If we go it'll be early and we'll dress appropriately. Is it worth it or should we just go for a beer at Murphy's?

Tom Sietsema: It's worth the possibility that you might not get in, yes, because few watering holes are as dedicated to the cocktail craft as PX. One of the reasons you might not gain entrance is if the bar has been booked for a private party -- it's happened to me -- or there's no free seat available at the time you arrive. But the keeper of the door is by now means obnoxious about it.

washingtonpost.com: Tom's Review of PX

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Second Bite: Kitchen: Hi Tom,

Unfortunately, I have to agree with your review of Kitchen in Glover Park. The bar is a great place to grab a drink while watching passers-by from the large, generally open front window, but my husband and I had a pretty poor dining experience. The food was so-so...definitely "passable" had the service been even close to mediocre, but such was not the case. They were out of several things (french fries being one of them?), and our waitress couldn't a) produce a wine list or b) tell me with any certainty what kinds or labels they had. When I expressed my curiosity about this, she explained that, "They're trying to recycle the wines left over from Ceviche before creating their own list." Granted, we went during the restaurant's first month, but please, as a waiter, please do not ever utter the word "recycle" to a patron when referring to things culinary. Like I said, the food was so-so, and had the service been great, we probably would have returned....but it was all we could do to not get up after the wine debacle and run across to Sushi-Ko. We have higher hopes for Barton Seaver's new joint!

Tom Sietsema: Gosh, was I sitting next to you when you dined at Kitchen? Because they were out of much of what I wanted when I was in on multiple occasions, too. The menu read well, but I wondered if anyone bothered to taste-drive the chef's efforts ahead of going public.

washingtonpost.com: Today's First Bite: Kitchen

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Tipping Etiquette: I'm not sure if this question should go to you or Miss Manners. I had surgery recently, and in order to make sure that I eat well and don't gain weight while I am convalescing and banned from the gym, I've been getting my dinners from a personal chef service. The food turns up every night in front of my apartment in cooler bags. I have never met or seen the delivery person. The food is simple, the portions are not large, and it runs about $35 for two, including taxes and the delivery/service charges. (It is less food than I would get from a local restaurant, but as I noted, it is calorie-controlled.) What's the tipping etiquette? Do I leave a tip for the delivery person every night? At the end of the week? How much? Thanks.

Tom Sietsema: I'd be inclined to leave a brief note of thanks (if in fact you like the food) and maybe $15 or $20 at the end of the week. But that depends on a couple of factors. Is the chef dropping this stuff off? Are there multiple delivery folks? I guess I need more information from you.

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Washington, D.C.: Tom:

Can you name one restaurant where you had one of the worst meals you ever experienced; where the food, service and decor were just terrible?

Tom Sietsema: And here I thought we'd just talk nice for 60 minutes ..

One of the worst experiences I had in recent memory -- well, besides Kitchen in Glover Park, which I wrote about in today's First Bite column -- was at the late Le Pigalle in Dupont Circle. A friend who dined with me on my last visit there, an eternal optimist, summed up dinner by saying "At least the water was cold."

The line became the headline of my review.

washingtonpost.com: Le Pigalle: At Least the Water Is Cold

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Today's First Bite: Just so happened to have a nice dinner at the bar at Kitchen in Glover Park Saturday, watching Michigan State upset UConn. Great time. Great buffalo chicken salad to start and the special salmon with crab stuffing was excellent. The dish had some nice veggies, including little sauteed okra slices. Very creative. I liked the place. Sorry you killed it today.

Tom Sietsema: I don't believe critics can "kill" a business. If a place is really good, it will survive and even thrive.

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Arlington, Va.: Hi Tom,

Just wanted to share a recent dining experience at Brabo in Old Town.

Despite trying several times to book a table before 9 p.m., the restaurant informed me that they were entirely booked. Our party decided to arrive at the bar around 7:45, and noticed that not even half of the tables were occupied. The host still informed us that we couldn't be seated until 9:00 p.m. Finally, at 8:30, we checked in again, and they seated us right away. Oddly, at no point in the evening were more than half of the tables filled.

Which brings me to the service. I'm not sure if I've ever experienced more bizarre service at a nice restaurant. After waiting more than 25 minutes for our appetizers, my friend asked our waitress if they would be arriving soon. The waitress then proceeded to ask our table if we've "ever asked a French chef the same question twice," and insisted that she wasn't about to inquire about our appetizers for fear of crossing him. She also insisted that we were making her nervous by even asking about the apps, and joked that she might need to start drinking our wine to calm down.

The pacing of the rest of our meal was off, too. For example, we ordered four desserts, tea and cordials, and we received our desserts about 10 minutes before our drinks. We had to ask other servers several times to please find our waitress...and the response was that she's making tea, and "our tea takes a while to make." During this time, we wanted to flag down our waitress because the lemon tart was not at all what she had described. While our waitress was MIA, we had to ask another server if it would be okay to switch desserts, which the other server did w/out question. When our waitress returned, she was clearly perturbed about us switching desserts, and she made a snide comment to one of our party who hadn't touched his dessert yet (because he was waiting for his wife's other dessert to arrive) that he clearly didn't like his dessert either!

The food was good, but it wasn't enough to make up for the poor service. I'm left to wonder if the restaurant is leaving so many tables open because they know the service is sub-par and the kitchen can't keep up? We at no point felt welcome, and we were exhausted by the time we left (around 11:30). Unless I read and hear comments to the contrary, I don't think any of us will be returning.

Tom Sietsema: I've been hearing similar stories from other readers, sorry to say. The waitress in questions sounds goofy. TMI (Too Much Information)

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richmond: 4 shrimp would appear very skimpy to me for an entree; particularly a $22 entree. 4 shrimp is what I'd expect on an appitizer, or on a surf and turf entree WITH a filet mignon beside them!

Tom Sietsema: But black tiger shrimp are pretty big, as mentioned

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PX Lounge: You're supposed to email a reservation a week or two ahead of time

Tom Sietsema: So much for spontanaiety, huh? I was not aware of that.

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Aha!: The first time I enjoyed eating fish was in France when I was an exchange student in high school. They asked me if there was anything I didn't like to eat when I first arrived, and I mentioned I didn't care for fish. The mom looked stricken, and explained that they ate a lot of trout. So, I agreed to try it and I LOVED it. The key? It was fresh. I learned I just don't like frozen, processed fish sticks, which is what my family ate when we ate fish.

Tom Sietsema: I'd love to have seen you eat your first trout. It's one of my favorite fish.

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Foggy Bottom, D.C.: Hi Tom. What are your thoughts on Founding Farmers? I have been there a few times and have not been impressed with their service or their food. But I have friends that absolutely LOVE it. What are your thoughts?

Tom Sietsema: I've only been there twice, and early after the place opened. So I hesitate to say much about the restaurant mear the World Bank right now. I do find it amazing at how hard it is to get a reservation there, though. If you don't plan ahead, the options tend to be 5 p.m. or after 9 p.m.

washingtonpost.com: First Bite: Founding Farmers

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Budgetville: Hi Tom,

In these tough economic times, is there a Web site or list on this site of restaurant specials, cheap eats, etc.? We still want to go out to eat, but we can no longer spend $100 a person. One thing we have been doing to cut the costs is order soft drinks with dinner, and having a glass of wine/beer at home. I know it doesn't make the waiter happy, but it allows us to be there. Thanks!

washingtonpost.com: Going Out Guide Best Best for Cheap Eats and Best Bets for Pre-Theater Menus

Tom Sietsema: Just like the best waiters, our online gurus have already anticipated your needs.

I like your idea of having a cocktail or wine or beer at home before going out. I'm actually doing that in reverse tonight, as the restaurant I'm going to doesn't offer much in the way of the strong stuff. (Plus, I've been playing around with some classic cocktail recipes at home. Something to look forward to after dinner.)

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Arlington: I'm a restaurant manager and I've had some success in getting my host staff to recognize regular guests, then try to help get them a table that is adequate. Open table does help us track customers and, if used correctly, can track seating preferences as well.

In addition, I ask my regulars, even if they don't have a reservation, to call me and tell me when they are coming over. Even 15 minutes notice can help me sort things out before you arrive.

Tom Sietsema: Thanks for sharing, Arlington.

Gotta dash, gang. I have a review of a lovely new Mediterranean restaurant to finish and a deadline for this Sunday's Postcard from Los Angeles. And lunch!

Until next week, ciao.

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A veteran food writer, Sietsema has worked as a critic in Washington, Seattle, San Francisco and Milwaukee and covers the local scene in his Dining, First Bite and Dish columns and moderates the Sietsema's Table discussion group. Join his live Q& A each Wednesday at 11 a.m. ET.

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