Ask Tom: Bartending Practices, Down Home Cooking and Dress Codes

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Tom Sietsema
Washington Post Food Critic
Wednesday, June 24, 2009; 11:00 AM

Washington Post food critic Tom Sietsema discussed his review of Brabo and took questions on bartending practices, dress codes, dining with children and "down home" cooking on Wednesday, June 24 at 11 a.m. ET.

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Washington, D.C.: My husband and I and another couple met for drinks late last Saturday night at a hotel in Reston Town Center. The other gentleman ordered a drink that the bartender obviously didn't know how to make (the waiter admitted as much when the drink was served.) When our guest tasted it, he said it was wrong and he ordered something simpler, but we still got charged for the first drink. I wanted to protest it, but hubby said let it go. For the future, what do you think?

Tom Sietsema: For the future, I think if a bartender tells you he doesn't know how to make your drink of choice, you ask for something he CAN do.

My question: Were you charged for both the poorly made cocktail AND its replacement? Assuming your guest didn't have more than a taste of the mistake, that's not cool, and you and your spouse should have said so, then and there. Why reward a poor performance?

Happy Wednesday, everyone.

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Tom Sietsema: Confidential to the restaurant worker who wrote in about the service/silverware issues at A Certain Hot Spot in the City. I appreciate yor taking the time to write, but I didn't feel like I could publish your e-mail without getting the owner's side of the story, too.

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Breadline: So now that the whole D.C. world knows that Breadline got shut down for all sorts of unhealthy, icky things, do you think they can recover their business? And are they re-inspected before re-opening so that we can be sure all these problems are corrected? He might have been a pain in the tush, but at least when Mark Furstenberg ran it, he never got closed down.

Tom Sietsema: A restaurant can't re-open before it has addressed the problems that closed it in the first place. Given the Breadline's location (near the World Bank, White House, etc.) I don't think it will see shorter lines when it starts serving food again. Actually, the best time to visit a restaurant that's been closed for health code and other reasons is ... right after it re-opens!

washingtonpost.com: Today's Style story on Breadline: D'ough! A Power-Lunch Spot Unplugged

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Washington, D.C.: Hi Tom! Love your chats and your reviews... you are my go-to guy when I'm looking for places to go or for recommendations for friends.

Which is why I'm asking you for help on this... A friend and I are jonesing to have okonomiyaki again, having had it for the first time in (of all places) Amsterdam. Since Chez Mama San closed down (sadly, we never made it there), I can't seem to find any place in the metro area that serves it! Can you or the peanut gallery help? Thanks!

Tom Sietsema: I've not tried the Japanese seafood pancake there myself, but I know that Asahi in Laurel serves the dish (for $12 at dinner).

Maybe a chatter can help us out with other sources?

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Reston, Va.: Please help me, Tom. My husband and I went out to celebrate our 34th wedding anniversary last weekend at Morton's in Reston. We were dressed up and ready to celebrate. We walked up to the restaurant and there was a man right by the front door smoking in flip flops and shorts. He had to move away from the door in order for us to enter. We were seated at a wonderful table and low and behold the party across from us had, flip flops and shorts on. What has happened to a dress code at fine restaurants? We spent a bundle at dinner and the flip flop and shorts just left me flat. Are any of the foodies bothered by this or do I just need to chill. My husband was not bothered by it, btw. After re-reading this, maybe this is a question for Ms. Manners or the Hax pack.

Tom Sietsema: Actually, yours is a complaint I hear a lot. I raised this subject on my online discussion group recently, and got an eyeful of interesting responses, including this one from someone identifying himself as "knowledge1:"

"If I have to get seriously dressed up, the place I am eating at better deliver big time, or else I am never going back. If I show up in my best you better be on your A game. I am more worried about spilling on my good clothes ;)"

Most of the folks who weighed in, however, felt the same as you do, Reston. One of them wrote: "i hate going to an upscale restaurant and seeing some sloppy looking patrons. yucky bare toes busting out of their flip flops, sweats dragging on the floor. it ruins part of the ambiance."

washingtonpost.com: Sietsema's Table Discussion on Dress Codes

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Falls Church, Va.: OpenTable now takes reservations for the Fourth Estate Restaurant at the National Press Club. I hear they have a new chef now. When are you going to review it?

Tom Sietsema: That's news to me (the chef switch).

Regarding your query, I tend not to mention my plans or publication dates unless a preview or review is imminent.

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Off-the-beaten path : Hi Tom

I love your chats and look forward to them every week. I'm wondering if there's any restaurants that you can think to recommend that are excellent for good down home cooking meals. I've been watching a lot of food network and the shows where they go to local restaurants in search of the down home cooking.

Where is there anything like that in the Va. area? I'm talking like a good country-fried steak with the full fixins complete with an apple pie slice at the end. The key is good cheap food.

Tom Sietsema: Cheap, good, *American* food is harder to come by than you might think. I used to like Del Merei Grille, but the kitchen has grown sloppy, in my opinion. The new General Store has some of what you're after, but it's in Silver Spring.

Can anyone come to OTBP's rescue?

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Capitol Hill: Tom -- I wonder if you or any of your readers have had this problem: Last Thursday night, I had a reservation for two through OpenTable for an excellent restaurant in Portland, Maine. I arrived with my guest at exactly the time on the reservation and had a great meal. The next morning, I got an email from OpenTable saying that my reservation had been cancelled. I called the restaurant and left a message saying that I had in fact dined there and had not cancelled and that the cancellation cost me OpenTable points. The restaurant politely returned my call and acknowledged our presence, but did nothing to reinstate my points. You may say that 100 points is no big loss, but this is not the first time this has happened. Is there any recourse, do you know?

Tom Sietsema: Interesting question! If you email after today's chat, I will endeavor to get an answer for you. Write to me at asktom@washpost.com.

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Washington, D.C.: Hi Tom. Do you think a server should, as a matter of course, state the price of a special when it is described? I know the customer can always ask, but sometimes that comes out awkwardly and the customer may not want to. Case in point: I was part of a group at a downtown restaurant recently. The server lobbied heavily for us to purchase a seafood appetizer platter. We did. It was very average AND very expensive, which we saw for the first time when we received the bill. I wish we would have asked about cost, but again, I feel like we shouldn't have had to. Thanks!

Tom Sietsema: I think I've addressed this problem 100 times now, but it bears highlighting again (obviously). A server should ALWAYS mention the price of a special. The few readers who complain that they *don't* like to be told the cost are in the minority.

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Re: OpenTable: This has happened to me before -- you need to contact OpenTable, not the restaurant, and OpenTable will award you those points, there should be a link in the OpenTable e-mail about your no-show to confirm it.

Tom Sietsema: Thanks.

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Petworth: Tom, Marcel's, Blue Duck, Equinox or Obelisk for a romantic birthday dinner? We eat all and like all. Price no problem.

Tom Sietsema: Either Marcel's or Obelisk get my vote. It depends on what you're hungry for, and what kind of ambience you seek.

washingtonpost.com: 2008 Dining Guide: Marcel's and 2008 Dining Guide: Obelisk

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Washington, D.C.: RE: Dress Code

I was an actor in N.Y. for a while, and when I went to see shows, I always went in jeans. An older lady called me out one day, saying my clothes were "disrespectful to the actors." I rolled my eyes and told her that as an actor, all I cared about was that the audience members were comfortable.

I feel the same ways in restaurants. I guarantee that the chefs want you to be wearing whatever you find comfortable, so that you will enjoy the experience. If you care that much about what other are wearing, go to a restaurant with a strict dress code. All I care about when I go to eat is my food, my table, and how I'm treated...not by how others look.

Tom Sietsema: Fair point. But I still think it shows respect for the restaurant and the patrons when you dress up some. A clean white shirt and khakis aren't too much to ask for, are they?

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Arlington, Va.: Dress Codes: When I got my first job out of college, everyone wore a suit and a tie. Now, its business casual everywhere and people still push that in such a way that companies have to publish pictures of what is acceptable and unacceptable dress. My point is that if a company paying your salary can't get the dress code worked out; a service industry who doesn't want to lose business has very little chance. Moral: When you go out dress for yourself and your partner and don't let things outside of your control ruin a perfectly good evening.....

Tom Sietsema: I'm all for people being comfortable. But if you saw what I saw in several airports over the weekend, you'd want to bring back some dress codes here and there, too. If I'm paying a lot of money for a meal, I don't think I want to sit next to someone who looks like they just rolled out of bed.

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Rockville, Md.: Hi Tom, I know you have answered this question before but do you have any resturant suggestions for Seattle. Looking for places that are in walking distance of the Inn on Market and Pikes Place. Thanks

Tom Sietsema: Mike's in the Market is a must. In the past, I've been a fan of Cafe Campagne and the nearby Shiro's Sushi, too.

washingtonpost.com: Postcard from Tom: Seattle (mentions Mike's) and Another Postcard From Seattle

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Alexandria, Va.: Hello!

I just want to say that I would never recommend Potenza. I wanted to like it, but the service was terrible, the food was average (and salty and butter-soaked) to horrific (bruchetta smothered in cream sauce with just a drizzle of tomato?). Even though it has a lovely bar and great location I can't think of a single reason to return. Dessert and drinks were good, but not THAT good.

Thanks for chatting!

Tom Sietsema: My review of the new Italian restaurant comes out this Sunday in the Magazine, fyi.

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Van Ness Going Downtown: Tom, help for this mama on her night out (submitting early so mommy-brain doesn't make me forget). Am attending a fashion event in Columbia Heights tomorrow night, and am looking for an interesting place in that neighborhood for dinner -- potentially solo, if all of my girls bail on me. Will try anything, really...thanks, as always!

Tom Sietsema: Are you cool with eating pizza? There are two fun spots for such: Pete's Apizza on Irving St. and RedRocks on Park Road.

White clam pizza and very good gelato distinguish the former, while I like the latter for its sausage pie and al fresco seating option.

washingtonpost.com: 2008 First Bite: Pete's New Haven Style Apizza and 2007 Review: RedRocks

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For the future, I think if a bar tender tells you he doesn't know how to make your drink of choice, you ask for something he CAN do.: But it sounds like they didn't know until the drink was served.

Tom Sietsema: You know, I read that post TWICE before I responded. I was picturing the group at a bar, ordering from the bartender. My apologies!

At any rate, I don't think the hosts should have paid for a drink that was inferior.

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Mt. Pleasant, D.C.: I have a friend who is far more interested in women than in food. As a compromise, on his brief foray into Washington next week, I have promised to take him to whatever "good" restaurant has the hottest servers. I don't expect we'll get anything like the cat-suited model wannabes that used to work in the Whiskey Bar in New York long ago, but any suggestions that will make both of us happy would be appreciated.

P.S. He claims that since he's in a relationship, he can't trust himself to go to a club to look at the women. He needs to go someplace where he'll get slapped if he gets too fresh.

Tom Sietsema: Does Camelot serve dinner?

I think I'll need a little help with this one, Nt. Pleasant. Chatters?

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Washington, D.C.: As a server in two restaurants now with high tourist traffic, I can say how you look can affect your service a little. A really good server won't look at you and and discriminate, but we all know in the back of our minds, that the people who come in nice clothes (Jackets, ties, heels, etc.) will probably be a better table than sweaty t- shirts and shorts. You may think this is unfair, but you start to realize the people that took the time to get changed are the ones that generally care about the restaurant experience.

Also -- men please, please don't wear sleeveless. At a lot of restaurants this is a health code violation.

Tom Sietsema: Interesting, interesting.

Sleeveless is a health code violation? That's news to me. What about women who are sleeveless?

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Hot servers: Mt. Pleasant, find a new friend or at least tell him to grow up. those "hot" servers aren't there for his amusement -- they are human beings paid to do a job.

Tom Sietsema: Uh oh. Did I just start something?

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Oakton, Va.: Tom, my bride raised an excellent question Saturday night at dinner: Wine-tasting or wine-appreciation courses are ubiquitous, but where are the food-tasting or food-appreciation courses? Between reading your column and chats, and watching the judges/critics on the various competitive cooking shows (Top Chef, Top Chef Masters, Iron Chef, Chopped, etc.), it seems like we could learn a lot from such a course, if led by an expert chef or critic. Are you aware of such things? Are there any in the D.C. area?

Tom Sietsema: What an interesting idea! Smart bride, there.

I think one reason there aren't many food-appreciation classes is because so many people figure they're educating themselves on their own, every time they dine out. For a lot of consumers, wine is a much more mysterious subject.

The closest Washington has to what you're thinking about are probably chef-led cooking classes, forums where participants can ask about flavors, techniques, etiquette and so on.

If I'm overlooking some useful program out there, I hope someone will enlighten me.

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D.C.: Tom -- I think you meant Matt's in the Market, no?

Tom Sietsema: Yes, yes, Matt's in the Market! Thanks for catching that.

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RE: Mt. Pleasant, D.C.: Take him to McDonald's and get the kids meal, since he sounds like such a child.

Tom Sietsema: LOL

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Bartending: As a I a bartender I don't like to admit when I don't know how to make a drink, yet the guest always comes first so I usually ask if they know what's in it or have the server ask. That situation was a service breakdown. I can't tell you how many times I've had to swallow my pride and ask, especially now with the new interest in classic cocktails. Asking is helpful because a lot of drinks have strange names but are common drinks you make (i.e. Rob Roy).

Caveat to the younger generation though -- most bars aren't your college brickskeller and no, they can't/won't make that one shot you had one time that was red and fruity.

Tom Sietsema: I really appreciate hearing from folks in the industry. Thanks for the feedback.

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Fairfax, Va.: We had a rare date night Saturday night, but unfortunately didn't plan too far in advance and ended up eating at Sea Pearl. What I thought was a fancier restaurant was populated by a lot of shorts-wearers, which keyed me off immediately that this might not be one of my better dining experiences. While the server was excellent, the food was absolutely lacking for the price. For $24 for an entree, I expect more creativity and a better tasting entree than I would have expected at Cheesecake Factory. The fish was fine enough, but the entire plate was just boring, uncreative and not worth the money. The calamari tasted like it came frozen from a bag, with sauce on the side that had no business being paired with calamari. And then $7 for a virgin mojito? Do they want to make sure that us pregnant women just stick to water? That is a sure-fire way of doing it. Needless to say, for over $100 for dinner for two (only 2 alcoholic drinks), we won't be back. Which is a shame, because we live within walking distance of the restaurant. I guess we'll stick to Four Sisters...

Tom Sietsema: So sorry to hear about Sea Pearl.

Let this be a reminder to restaurants: The market for good mocktails is bigger than you think.

washingtonpost.com: First Bite: Sea Pearl

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Re: Brabo: Hi Tom,

I was the poster who asked you about going to Brabo for my wedding anniversary. Now that I've read your review, I've changed our plans, and we are going back to Beck (we aren't too into formal dinners w/the economy the way it is anyway). It's just disappointing to hear that Brabo isn't living up to the standards of the other two Wiedmaier restaurants.

Tom Sietsema: You just saved yourself some money and some disappointment. Congratulations, by the way.

washingtonpost.com: This Week's Review: Brabo

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Washington, D.C.: Tom, There's a new restaurant coming to our neighborhood called Acacia Wellness Bistro. It's taking forever to open, but looks nice inside. Do you know anything about it?

Tom Sietsema: I do not. Which neighborhood? (The name is kind of a turn-off, I have to admit!)

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Bethesda, Md.: Hi, Tom. Assuming we can afford it, which we can, is it appropriate to take well-behaved (honest) 8 and 10 year olds to dinner at the Inn at Little Washington? Thanks.

Tom Sietsema: Something tells me the staff at the Inn would be delighted to entertain two well-behaved children. Personally, I love seeing families eating together.

To get the most fun out of the place, consider starting with cocktails (or Shirley Temples!) in the monkey lounge, savoring dessert in the garden and ending with some face time with the wizard of ahhs (I can't believe I just typed that): chef Patrick O'Connell.

washingtonpost.com: 2008 Dining Guide: The Inn at Little Washington

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Falls Church, Va.: We are dropping the kids off for a party near Pentagon City, so my wife and I get a rare night out for dinner and a movie. We are planning to see the movie in Shirlington so do you have any recommendations for dinner in the Pentagon City, Crystal City or Shirlington areas. We just went to Jaleo with the kids two weeks ago so we don't want to go back.

Thanks for your help.

Tom Sietsema: I'd gravitate to Lebanese Taverna in Pentagon City and Carlyle in Shirlington.

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Washington, D.C.: Hi Tom,

Will you be putting together a Postcard for your recent trip to Berlin? Any recommendations for great restaurants there that are not too expensive? Thanks!

Tom Sietsema: I have a confession to make: My notes from some of my better meals in Berlin are a little, um, hard to read, so I'm putting that destination on the back burner and writing about three good experiences in Savannah instead (July 5 in Travel, for those who want to know).

Warning: Berlin is NOT cheap. But you should definitely make time for lunch in the sprawling emporium known as KaDeWe and dinner at either the old-fashioned Aigner or the just-opened Gendarmerie (which serves a top-notch wiener schnitzel).

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G'town, D.C.: Tom,

Thanks for the article on the new Korean restaurant in D.C. Curious, how does this compare to the other Korean restaurant near Dupont, Mandu? Is Yee Hwa on 21st St NW still open too?

I don't have a car, so I need to eat in D.C. as most all the other Korean restaurants are not Metrorail accessible.

Looking forward checking this new place to get my Kimchi fix!

Tom Sietsema: The reader is referring to today's First Bite column in the Food section, in which I preview the new Arisu. I think it's on par with Yee Hwa and much better than Mandu.

washingtonpost.com: Today's First Bite: Arisu

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Alexandria, Va.: This past Saturday my wife walked up the stairs to Sushi Taro around 4:30 p.m. to inquire about a gift card for my Father's Day gift. She overheard someone saying, "Should we lock the door?"

She got to the entrance and asked if they have gift cards. The reply was "No."

She asked if they had a takeout menu (in place of the gift card to be placed in the Father's Day card). The answer was "We don't have that yet." There was no "Sorry, we just opened and are working out some kinks, but we would love to have you come in etc." Just "No."

No.

So we spent the first $60 of the $200 she was going to spend at Sushi Taro at a nearby (to our home) Korean place Gamasot.

We will probably spend the other $140 on several other dinners out in Ocracoke as we just planned a much-needed vacation.

I asked my wife if the woman at Sushi Taro appeared to be a hostess or a family member of the owners, etc. who just happened to be at the door. She said it seemed as though the person was indeed a hostess.

It must be nice in these times to be able to fly in fresh product from around the country and afford the luxury of indifference and/or incompetence.

There are only about 40 other restaurants from your Dining Guides over the past few years that now bumped ahead of Sushi Taro on our wish list.

"No." is not an option in the hospitality business.

Tom Sietsema: You are not the only reader to complain about "the hostess" at Sushi Taro. Her indifference and lack of warmth are shocking, particularly in light of the recession. There are, as you point out, plenty of delicious alternatives out there.

Has anyone else experienced similar at the "new" Sushi Taro?

washingtonpost.com: 2009 Review: Sushi Taro

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Alexandria, Va.: Tom, Love the chats. Both my parents and my mother-in-law are coming into town this weekend and my wife and I have to pick a spot for dinner. Neither set of parents are bringing anything other than shorts and polo shirts so we need to keep things casual for dinner on Saturday night. Would you consider Ray's the Steaks to be casual enough given how we are going to be dressed or is there somewhere else we should be looking for a low-key dinner?

Thanks!!!

Tom Sietsema: Ray's the Steaks in Arlington would be perfect for your group, provided the group likes beef -- and you've made reservations. (The place books up quickly.) In Northern Virginia, I'd also consider Majestic in Old Town and Me Jana in Arlington for your informally-dressed tribe.

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Arlington, Va.: Hi Tom! I'm taking a friend out for a birthday dinner. I'm trying to pick a place that really captures how great D.C.'s restaurants are since she rarely eats here. She loves all types of food -- especially seafood -- but I want to stay away from Asian because she seems to get that often. Any suggestions? I was thinking Cashion's or Acadiana.

Thanks!!

Tom Sietsema: Sorry to say, but I had a really dreary meal at Cashion's recently. (I'm hoping that was a fluke, but the brunch I ate resembled leftovers.) Acadiana is good, but I'm thinking there might be a place that better suggests Washington in 2009: How about the wine-themed Proof in Penn Quarter? The always-interesting Rasika nearby? The Belgian-accented Et Voila! in the Palisades?

washingtonpost.com: 2008 Dining Guide: Proof

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Duplicate article? Va.: Hello Tom, Are you guys at the Post running out of creative titles for your articles?

In today's leading story about smoking the title reads: Where there's smoke there's flavor............

Did'nt you guys already used it on Teatro Goldoni Dish article few months ago?

Tom Sietsema: I love eagle-eyed readers, but ... come on, now!

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Arlington, Va.: Tom - I love the chats! Wanted to share a recent dining experience with you that I have forgotten to submit though it was several weeks ago.

I went to Present as soon as I saw your review online (I knew once it went to print I would have to wait in line!). I have to say I loved the place and thought it was MUCH better than Four Sisters. As a vegetarian, I'm sure I'm not experiencing either restaurant's best dishes, but I have been unimpressed with Four Sisters. The mixed vegetable dish I got there was so over-sauced with a gelatinous brown goop that I couldn't eat it! The vegetables were soggy and tasteless, and when I only ate two bites before ordering another entree the servers didn't question it, just moved my dish to the side. The vegetarian soup was okay but boring -- I could easily make it myself in a few minutes. Present, on the other hand, gave me an upscale version of veggie lo mein with plenty of vegetables (one of my common complaints when it comes to vegetarian noodle dishes). It was still light, vegetables were crisp, and it was so good the next day that my dining partner ate it for breakfast before I could get to it! I was very happy with everything -- and I overheard the manager talking with the next table and he said everyone there was very excited about getting a good review from you. It's always nice to have a vegetarian-friendly restaurant in the neighborhood and I plan on returning soon.

Tom Sietsema: Thanks for the feedback, but I've not noticed any decline in Four Sisters, which I still like a lot. That said, I'll make it a point to seek out more meatless dishes on my next visit there.

washingtonpost.com: 2008 Review: Four Sisters and 2009 Review: Present

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Re: mojitos : Virgin or regular it still takes time and effort, to make the cocktail, with or without the booze.

Tom Sietsema: Well, sure, but the ingredients are fewer or different, i.e. less costly.

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The Carlyle in Shirlington is BORING ...: Just sayin'.

Tom Sietsema: Well, it sure beats 99 percent of the options in Shirlington!

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Washington, D.C.: I agree that bartenders should ask, but also that patrons should be as specific as possible. Sometimes naming a drink can mean different things to different people. For example, in an article about cocktails I was reading this morning, it referred to "John Collins" as a version of Tom Collins with vodka. However, my bartending book calls a collins with vodka a "Comrade Collins," while a John Collins is made with whiskey. Better to specify if you're asking for something a little unusual.

Tom Sietsema: Yep.

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Mocktails: G'mornin' Tom. Many bars are having to put more bodies behind the bar now that nearly every drink had be muddled with 20 different types of fruit and ingredients. Throw in the extra inventory needed to keep up with 500 different flavored vodkas and rums and all of the candy schnapps to make 1,000's of alcopops. The mojito in ANY fashion is a high maintenance drink. And I, as a bartender, prefer higher pricing to deter people from ordering them. The maintenance involved in the average drink order and the wide variations of recipes and styles are astronomic, and they slow the service down considerably...

Tom Sietsema: Okay, but what about the customer's needs?

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Inn at Little Washington Diner: Please don't bring your kids. While you may be able to afford it -- many people eating there only go for extremely special nights out that they -saved- for. I don't want to see your kids on a night that happens, for me, maybe once in a lifetime.

Tom Sietsema: Not even if they're truly well-behaved?

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Baltimore, Md: Hello Tom, Here's a food critic question I've had for a while: does a restaurant's name effect your opinion of the place? I know food is paramount, but what if a restaurant has a bad/unpronounceable name or one thats not really appropriate? What have been your favorites/least favorites over the years?

Tom Sietsema: I laugh every time I say "Topolobompo" -- which just happens to be my favorite Mexican restaurant in the country. (It's in Chicago.)

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Bad drink: I'd like to know what the gentleman ordered.

Tom Sietsema: Is our chatter still there?

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Bethesda -- Entertaining Emergency: Hi Tom -

I work in Reston, where this week my group is entertaining some -- fabulous -- co-workers from Peru. They always wine and dine us when we visit Lima. We have nothing planned for tonight. Since we have some people driving long distances home, we don't want to go into D.C. or very far for dinner, but we do want to go take them out for a good dinner, preferable along the Reston/Tysons/Great Falls, Virginia, route. "Good dinner" in this group would be not fussy, not rushed, and delicious. Any advice?

Thanks

Tom Sietsema: I bet you'd impress your guests with dinner at Passionfish in Reston. Try to get a seat upstairs, overlooking the main dining room, and head toward the grilled shrimp, whole fried fish and (for the non-fish eaters) excellent grilled chicken on chef Chris Clime's menu.

washingtonpost.com: 2008 Review: PassionFish

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Arlington, Va.: Hi Tom, Posting early to respond to your question several weeks ago regarding a drop-off in quality at Thai Square. Unfortunately, it's true. I live less than a mile from there and was a frequent diner until about a month ago when I ordered soft shell crabs and they arrived at the table greasy and broken to pieces. Other dishes have been equally bad and I've stopped going.

Tom Sietsema: Have you thought about raising the issue with the owners? I really think you'd be doing them -- and US -- a favor.

I just switched dry cleaners lately (a great new place opened up near me) and I'm considering telling my old drop-off place why: "You were never friendly!" "You broke my buttons and didn't fix them!" "Your shop is a mess!"

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Washington, D.C.: I know restaurants never do anything wrong in your book but why do they have staff meetings while they are open and should be taking customers' orders? This happened at Logan Tavern and again yesterday at the Source. That's right up there with Cafe du Parc opening at 12:00, not 11:59. Sheesh.

Tom Sietsema: Say what? If you're a regular follower of mine, surely you know I've been more than a little critical of more than a few restaurant practices over the years. (See: Ask Tom)

As a diner, I've walked into a few staff meetings myself, and I understand how you feel. Bottom line: I think managers should conduct meetings away from customers, where possible, and ahead of opening the doors to lunch or dinner patrons.

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For stumped bartenders everywhere...: I tended bar for years, and most of the time, I made the same 20 to 25 drinks every night. When I would get hit with a weird request, or for one of the "classics" that few people order anymore, I would ask the customer something along the lines of "Now, I've heard of a few different ways of making that drink. How do you prefer it?"

9 times out of 10, it worked like a champ. A quick search of the Web or in various drink recipe books will show that nearly every drink has at least five different recipes.

Still...there was one older lady who wanted her Last Word but couldn't tell me a single ingredient in it.

Tom Sietsema: Funny!

Thanks for sharing your Wednesday morning with me. See you here next week. Adios.

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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 every Wednesday at 11 a.m. ET.

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