Ask Tom: Lunch Deals, Server Hygiene, Oversalting, Las Vegas Dining and Whipped Cream on Cocktails

Tom Sietsema
Washington Post Food Critic
Wednesday, August 12, 2009; 11:00 AM

Washington Post food critic Tom Sietsema discussed his review of Michael's Noodles, lunch deals, server hygiene, oversalting, Las Vegas dining and whipped cream on cocktails on Wednesday, Aug. 12 at 11 a.m. ET.


Bethesda, Md.: Say you go to a bar to eat by yourself (as you have said on occasion you may do). You strike up a conversation with another patron or the bartender, and they naturally ask, "So, what do you do?" How do you answer? Does this give you an opportunity to have a whole array of fictitious professions from which you choose on any given night? Are you like George Costanza -- an architect one day, a marine biologist the next? And, more seriously, has anonymity lost its utility in your profession? Within hours of Sam Sifton being named the NYT's new restaurant critic, there were photos of him on every N.Y. dining Web site.

Tom Sietsema: Funny, I addressed this very topic in my online discussion yesterday ...

If someone asks what I do out of town, I tend to be honest ("I'm a journalist") but only to an extent (I don't tell a stranger what my beat is until I'm ready to leave, especially if I'm in a place that I might be writing about).

If I'm in Washington and someone asks, I tend to respond with a vague answer. "Oh, I just have a boring D.C. gig" or "I do what a lot of people in D.C. do." Most people figure I'm a worker bee, or a lawyer. I've also had more than a few folks ask me if I was Secret Service.

Good morning, everyone. Sietsema's Table: Should Food Reviewers Be Anonymous?


Washington, D.C.: Like everyone else, I'm cutting back on my food budget, and looking for some cheap eats. I LOVE the super grilled cheese at Stoney's, and I'm looking for some other cheap food at places I can go alone without feeling awkward. So, neighbor, what would you suggest for my weekly "going out for dinner" experience?

Tom Sietsema: One of my favorite bargains is the $12 lunch deal at Proof, which I wrote about earlier this summer: diners get to choose one of six entrees accompanied by a glass of house wine. I gravitate to the shrimp burger there.

Anyone else care to share a favorite cheap eat experience?


Ovaphobia, USA: Hi Tom -- I love your chats. Please indulge me in a situation that arose today. I suffer from an unusual aversion to eggs. Please don't ask me to describe the root of the problem; it is deeply Freudian.

I had lunch at PS7 and ordered the cobb salad after reading on the menu that it was composed of "iceburg lettuce, bacon, blue (sic) cheese, avocado, tomato, and chicken." When the salad was served, there was a huge spray of chopped egg all over it. I was horrified, as you might imagine, and made a bit of a scene.

The servers were awesome: They traded the eggful salad out for an eggless one and did it within a few minutes.

But, yes, I'm complaining because of what my guests commented when the original salad was served: "Doesn't a cobb salad always come with egg?" Well, in my experience -- and, as you might imagine, I'm a truthful witness -- no, if there's egg in the salad, the menu says so usually.

So, I'm still a little peeved about the embarrassment: I do not expect everyone to kneel and accept my or others' crazy sensitivities. Doesn't your marriage contract give us some ideas about the lacking.

Tom Sietsema: We covered this topic in last Sunday's Ask Tom column: Restaurants should flag ingredients that tend to cause problems for diners (think nuts and cilantro) but diners with aversions or allergies need to take a pro-active role and ask about the make-up of a dish if there's even the slightest doubt about what it might contain. Ask Tom on Ingredients


Arlington, Va.: Hi Tom. Love the chats.

What are your thoughts on the Columbia Firehouse? I went last week, and it was certainly better than the location (Portners, Bookbinders?) has offered recently. Also glad to see that the cooking half of Mark and Orlando's has caught on somewhere quickly.

Tom Sietsema: Hang tight. I'm previewing the new restaurant, from the Neighborhood Restaurant Group, next Wednesday. But I'll give you an early tip: The crab-sweetened hush puppies are winners. Columbia Firehouse: Planting a Steak in Old Town


Southwest D.C.: Hi Tom,

I wrote in late last week asking about a restaurant that added a tip to a debit card receipt. I was wrong -- it was the BANK that added 20% until the charge cleared (at the correct amount) -- so tell your readers to watch out for that. I guess it's a sign of the tough economic times, that banks assure customers have enough money in the account to cover the charge.

Last night a restaurant put me on hold as I was trying to make a phone reservation, and never returned to the call. Please get the word out that I'm not going to wait forever! There are lots of places out there who WANT to take my reservation!

Tom Sietsema: I've noticed that, too, where the price one pays for a meal doesn't match the amount the credit card carrier initially "charges." In 99 percent of the cases, the actual amount of the bill and tip shows up a day or so later.


Arlington, Va.: Just wanted to add to all the other great comments I've heard about Eventide. I finally checked the place out last night. The space is gorgeous! We were in the downstairs lounge and the service was great, everyone was really friendly and prompt. And even though it was pretty busy, it wasn't too loud and could easily have conversation. Beers are half price at happy hour, but even without the discount they are reasonably priced (for the area)at around $5-$7. And the bbq bison sliders were yummy on their crispy little buns. I can't wait to go back!

Tom Sietsema: Eventide pays close attention to the details. That bar menu, for instance, is a treat. 2009 Review: Eventide


Virginia: Hi Tom -- I read your review of Michael's Noodles this Sunday and it sounded really great! then I realized you only gave it 2 stars. I thought this would have been a 4 star since all your comments were so positive. I'm just curious ..what are your criteria for a 4 star restaurant?

Tom Sietsema: Well, two stars = "good" and there's nothing wrong with that, is there? Michael's is a fine place to eat Chinese and its rating could have been a little higher had everyone on staff been as helpful as the general manager.

Four stars is "superlative" in every sense: food, service, ambiance. Michael's Noodles doesn't qualify. It's good, but not perfect.


Bethesda, Md.: T-Bone, If a long-lost aunt just left you a couple million....would you open your own restaurant? What kind would it be? And what neighborhood would you put it in?

Tom Sietsema: Never say never, except in this case. I'm very happy to be on THIS side of the table, thank you very much.

I'd love to see a good Swedish restaurant open up. Or a modern German one. And the city could use more places like the aforementioned Eventide, with easy prices, good food and sincere service. Selfishly, I'd like to see more in Logan Circle, and the Palisades.


Cabin John, Md.: Tom, Love reading your weekly reviews and other stuff. Do you write the banner headlines for your reviews? They are creative and often amusing. Just curious.

Tom Sietsema: I write the heds for my Dish columns, but an editor does that for me in the Magazine.


Bethesda, Md.: Hi Tom

Any chance you could take a second to remind diners that even in these tough economic times, the rules on tipping haven't changed and that saving money on your meal by cutting back on the tip is not an acceptable option? Whether you like the way tipping occurs in the U.S. or not, if you choose to eat at a restaurant where tipping is the norm, then you complicity agree to tip as is the standard. In D.C./Md./Va., the standard is 18% if not 20%. And that is on the entire bill, including alcohol. If you order a half-price app or some other discount, it is good karma to tip on what you would have paid for the actual price.

Servers are generally paid only a percentage of minimum wage, in Md. it is $3.63, and the tip is supposed to make up the rest. If we got rid of this system of tipping, your meals out would cost substantially more, as the price of the item would now include food cost, overhead and larger salaries, and you would have to pay tax on that total, rather than paying tax on the lesser amount that you do now and not paying tax on the tip. It would add up, and quickly.

So please, tip your servers! And if you can't afford to tip 18% or 20% (I'm referring to standard service, not bad service issues), either order less, so you can, or eat somewhere cheaper (I don't want to say don't eat out, because that is not the solution). But diners should always assume the amount of tip into their total dining budget and order accordingly.

Thanks Tom!

Tom Sietsema: I concur: Tip your waiter what is appropriate. Even in 2009, that means 18 to 20 percent for good-and-better service. (I tip on the sub-total, however.)


Washington, D.C.: Tom, a friend told me of a Portuguese restaurant in Bethesda. I think it is located in the building that houses Chevy Chase Bank. He said the food is great but could not remember the name or exact address. Do you know of this restaurant? If so, what is it called and where is it located?

Tom Sietsema: Your friend is thinking about Tavira, hidden away in the Chevy Chase bank building in Chevy Chase (and well worth any hunt, I might add). I wrote about the restaurant earlier this year, in a column on local dining bargains. Meals for Less: Tavira


Washington, D.C.: Is it possible to persuade many restaurants -- and some critics -- that restrained use of salt will help keep customers healthy? One in four adults has high blood pressure; the rate is higher among African Americans. Yet many restaurants continue to oversalt, and Jane Black in today's review of DC Bread and Brew complained: "Just about everything we sampled could have used a generous sprinkling of salt...." Are people with high blood pressure expected to stay home?

Tom Sietsema: Here's your plea. One of the problems out there is that over time, I think some chefs develop a tolerance for large amounts of salt. I like my food to be properly seasoned, but it's easier to add than to subtract salt on a finished dish.


Rockville/Bethesda: Hi Tom, love your chats! I'm looking for a continental or American restaurant that I can go with my parents to for dinner Saturday night of Labor day weekend. Would like a place they can talk without shouting. Looking in the Rockville or Bethesda area (everyone's staying at the Marriott off Rockville Pike) There'll be about 8 adults. As for price, looking in the $20-$35 range for entrees. (I had suggested Jaleo but they nixed tapas). Thanks!

Tom Sietsema: I'm thinking Woodlands in Bethesda might be your best bet. If the weather is nice, you can dine outside.


Rockville, Md.: Re: Unexpected Ingredient

While dining in Williamsburg at a rated restaurant, I ordered a frozen strawberry daiquiri -- is it wrong to have such a drink before dinner? The drink arrived without warning with a heap of reddi whip, definitely not real whipped cream, on top. I objected but all the restaurant would offer was to have the bartender remove the topping. The server said they always make the drink with a topping! Is this something new? Yuck.

Tom Sietsema: I have never seen a daiquiri with a cloud of whipped cream on it (faux or real). Ever. Anywhere.

Is it wrong to have a frozen strawberry daiquiri before dinner? Not if that's what you want, my friend. I'm not a fan of slushy alcoholic drinks, but I know a lot of people are. To each his own.


4 Star Restaurants: Hi Tom - What restaurants have your given 4 starts to in the past?

Tom Sietsema: The Inn at Little Washington, Restaurant Eve's Tasting Room, Michel Richard Citronelle (demoted last fall to three stars), Komi and CityZen.


Alexandria, Va.: Best cheap lunch: the $13.50 lickety split pick two at the bar at Restaurant Eve. That's been my summer splurge and I have not been disappointed yet.

Tom Sietsema: Details, we want DETAILS!


Julie & Julia : Tom- What s your favorite Julia Child moment?

Tom Sietsema: There are several. One was poignant, however. I was interviewing Julia in her hotel suite in NYC when she was interrupted by a phone call from her husband, Paul, then ailing and in a nursing home. She hung up the phone and asked, "Tom, are you married?" I said I wasn't. "Be AWFULLY careful who you choose," she said. "It's an AWFULLY long haul."


Downtown: I just wanted to mention a few restaurants that I never hear on your chats and get your reaction to them: Nage (on Scott Circle), Lia's (Chevy Chase), Cafe Ole (Tenley) and Spices (Cleveland Park).

Tom Sietsema: Nage. It's fine. I've been once for lunch.

Lia's. Never been. But I get some complaints about it, most of them service-related.

Cafe Ole. It's been years since I dropped by.

Spices. I like it, I like it! It's great for a date or a family gathering. The menu is varied and I've enjoyed the service over the years, too. Spices in Cleveland Park


Anonymous: Presumably an educated diner with a deep seated aversion to eggs would have to know that 99.9% of Cobb salads come with egg. Why not ask specifically if the salad comes with egg.

Tom Sietsema: Yep.


Minneapolis, Minn.: For what it's worth, I've been served huckleberry daiquiris in Northwest Montana (near Glacier National Park) with whipped cream on top.

It's good!

Tom Sietsema: Sounds like liquid pie to me!


Salt City, USA: Tom said:

"Here's your plea. One of the problems out there is that over time, I think some chefs develop a tolerance for large amounts of salt."

I think you're right. My husband is a cook, has been for over 20 years, and I joke that the only food that he doesn't salt (very generously, I might add) is cornflakes. I have high blood pressure and it took me forever to get him to stop salting all of the food when he cooks and let me salt my own food.

Tom Sietsema: Thanks for writing.


Washington, D.C.: Hi Tom,

I love reading your columns and the weekly chat, though I don't often go out to many of the nice restaurants that are sometimes mentioned. However, my birthday is coming up later this month and I want to go out with my wife. We love Italian food and seafood and so I'm considering going to a restaurant like Obelisk, since I know you have mentioned it before. Is that a good choice? To be honest we are often intimidated by some of these nicer restaurants, but on special occasions like to splurge. Thanks!

Tom Sietsema: Obelisk would be a great choice.

I'm curious: Why would you be intimidated by a good restaurant? Is it the price? Most fine-dining places are bending over backwards to make their guests feel comfortable these days. 2008 Dining Guide: Obelisk


San Francisco: I'll have 3 full days in S.F. I plan to walk and eat. One day I'm going to my favorite Japanese noodle place, another day I want to try Greens. Can you recommend a place for my third lunch? I'm thinking maybe someplace in the Mission District, but I'm not fixated on that. I like all kinds of ethnic foods, especially Indian, Mexican, any Asian (not so much sushi), Italian, seafood. I won't have a car. Need to stay in the city.

Tom Sietsema: You're in luck: I just spent four days in San Francisco. One of my favorite meals was lunch overlooking the Bay at the Slanted Door in the Embarcadero: lime-ignited "shaking" beef, spring rolls, spicy broccoli with pressed tofu and minty kona kampachi served in an open, airy -- and loud -- dining room.


Montgomery Village, Md.: Tom -- I really liked your review of Michael's Noodles. I live quite close and think I'll have to check it out (with the right guidance!).

Inspired by last week's "staycation" discussion, when my husband and I couldn't agree on a destination for this year's vacation that we liked enough to spend money on, we decided to spend the money in our own town. Here's the lineup of reservations I booked. I still have a week to make changes -- any suggested swaps? Dishes not to miss? (I plan to go back to your reviews, of course.) Thanks!

- Dinner: Eventide, Rasika, Volt, Black's Bar & Kitchen - Lunch: Restaurant Eve (no dinner available), Central, 2941 (RW prices)

Tom Sietsema: Gosh, can I tag along? You have some delicious eating ahead of you. The only one of your choices that I haven't been to recently is Black's Bar & Kitchen. Does anyone out there have recent experience with the Bethesda seafood restaurant?


Been around too long...: "The bread baker is poised to open a place devoted to street food from around the world, G Street Food, come this fall."

I couldn't help but think of G Street Fabrics when you mentioned this!

Tom Sietsema: Ha! Thanks for weaving a little humor into today's chat.


Alexandria, Va.: Out of town on Wednesday, but wanted to put this on your radar...

Our son is spending a semester abroad the Fall in Warsaw, Poland, and my wife and I want to visit. Do you or your readers have any suggestions as to recommended dining experiences? Thanks, and keep up the good work!

Tom Sietsema: Warsaw, anyone?


Boston, Mass.: Tom --

How soon after a restaurant opens do you think it's fair to judge a place? As a reviewer -- or even just as a customer -- how long is reasonable to work out the kinks of service, presentation, food quality and temperature and timing of service? I love trying new places, but am frequently disappointed in those early days by the glitches and jitters of the first days. How often do places improve from these early missteps?

Tom Sietsema: I don't think you can lump all young restaurants together. Some newbies are the product of veterans with years of experience; others are hatchlings with not a lot of money or deep resumes behind them. Experience, however, doesn't necessarily mean a new restaurant opens gracefully. And lack of experience is sometimes made up for with lots of enthusiasm. So ... it just depends. Each new restaurant is different.

I wait at least a month before making the first of several visits to a new restaurant for a full-fledged review in the Sunday Magazine. And I try to spread out those visits over the course of weeks or sometimes months.


Alexandria, Va.: Just had to share a wonderful experience at Bourbon Steak recently. My husband and I don't get out much (thanks to an active 16-month-old), but we celebrated our five-year anniversary at Bourbon a few weeks ago. I reserved through OpenTable and made a note that we were celebrating our anniversary. We had a very early reservation on a Friday night -- 6:00 -- and arrived even earlier. When we arrived, the hostess greeted us enthusiastically and said we had the best table in the restaurant. I was skeptical, but she was right! Waiting on our table was a gift bag and two cards -- one wishing us a Happy Anniversary and a handwritten note explaining the gift. The gift was a heart-shaped wooden spoon, which was lovely.

They brought over some prosecco for us to sip while perusing the menu. We enjoyed the duck-fat fries and truffle butter rolls, and our meals were fantastic. The cocktails were out of this world. Everything was perfect- service, food, ambiance. We don't have a ton of money to spend on nice restaurants, but we felt like we got our money's worth.

I know it sounds like I'm gushing (I'm not a publicist, just a federal employee), but we really enjoyed our experience and will definitely go back in the future.

Tom Sietsema: Here's a toast (and free publicity!) to one of the city's newest steak houses. Bravo. 2009 Review: Bourbon Steak


Dupont Circle, D.C.: Hi Tom,

I'm hoping you can settle a dispute between a friend and myself. We had dinner at Hook in Georgetown this past Sunday evening. The meal was fantastic, great atmosphere, desserts superb, however everyone at the table took issue with our server. He had an unkept goatee, greasy hair and three of the four of us noticed his awful breath. I wanted to ask to be moved to a different section where we could have been waited by a server with higher hygiene skill set. My friends however were afraid to ask because they didn't want to offend. In the end we didn't ask but had we have asked the majority of our dinner conversation would have how offput we were by the smell of the restaurants waitstaff's breath was. My question for you is do you think it is inappropriate to ask to move tables based on the server's hygiene? Also isn't it the place of the restaurant managers to make sure that the restaurant's waiters and waitresses are presentable?

Tom Sietsema: That's a tough call. But one of you might have asked to talk to a manager discretely and attempt to switch servers.

I like the idea of a supervisor conducting a quick breath/nail/dress check of the entire staff before the restaurant opens for service. It can stave off problems such as the one you just described.


Arlington, Va.: Hi Tom! Just wanted to say thanks so much for taking the time to talk to me at the SF.Food.Wine event. I was the starstruck Washingtonian that chatted with you after the panel event. You recommended La Mar and it was amazing. I have to say you are just as charming in real-life as you are "digitally" and quite handsome too :) My friend (by way of Baltimore) became a fan of you that day and you just solidified your standing in my book! If you're looking for a dining friend ....

Tom Sietsema: Wow. I'm blushing. I enjoyed meeting you as well. (Charming Vietnamese woman? Auditor?) But I HOPE you couldn't see what I looked like beneath my modified disguise for that event.


Washington, D.C.: Tom, I have notice the happy hours at Oyamel increasingly attract more and more people, however the space is fairly limited since their bar is quiet small. When I was there last time it was full and with the tables empty right by the bar, when I asked if it was OK to sit there and enjoy their Happy hour all I got was a clear NO, and the manager was not any better at accommodating my desire to enjoy their HH. Do you think we can suggest them to be a little more flexible?

Tom Sietsema: Consider this a gentle prod to make some extra room for HH celebrants when there's a crowd.. You're right; Oyamel's bar is not very big.


Logan/Dupont: Hola, Wondering if you could recommend a place for a group of 7 in the Logan/Dupont area for a big 4-0 birthday dinner. We need to make reservations for the early side, maybe 6:30 since we have plans to meet up with a larger group for liquid nourishment afterwards. The caveat: birthday person is the pickiest eater ever, but loves eating out at great/fun/cool places. Thanks, you're swell.

Tom Sietsema: I'm thinking the back room at Cork Wine Bar in Logan Circle might be fun. Or the garden at Tabard Inn in Dupont Circle, which has a terrific American menu.


Bethesda, Md.: Headed to New Orleans in October and can't find any "postcard"-- how do we find these on the Washington Post Web site??

Tom Sietsema: It's been a few years since I visited New Orleans. Herbsaint is one of my top picks, though. Here's the link to the Postcard archives.


Petworth: Tom, maybe this shows your tastes in restaurants (or perhaps just cocktails) but every chain restaurant: CheeseCake Benigans Applebees, TJ McSworleys, etc serves their frozen concoctions with an extra dose of FAT!

Tom Sietsema: That's just .... wrong!


Falls Church: whipped cream with a cherry on top was standard issue back in the day when I was making slushy alcoholic beverages behind the bar.

Tom Sietsema: I see I'm being corrected, big time, with regard to dairy on drinks. Personally, I've never ordered such a concoction. I like my booze PURE and mostly unadulterated.


Restaurant Eve: Lickety split:

Tom Sietsema: Merci.

_______________________ Here are links to a 2006 New Orleans Postcard and the archive of Tom's Postcards. For future reference, you can always type "Postcard From Tom" in the search box at the top of any Washington Post page and you'll be given a link to the archive of Tom's Postcards.


Frederick: Yes, on suggestions for good cheap eats. Our dear VOLT has an express lunch for $14. You choose 3 things to eat amongst a list of menu items from cocktails to lamb burgers, salads, desserts. Any additions -- $5 bucks. Fabulous but bar and lounge only. Wish I could take off work more often in order to take advantage!

Tom Sietsema: What a GREAT idea! 2008 Dining Guide: Volt


Columbia Heights, D.C.: Hi Tom,

Love your chats. I'm going to be going on a date night and wanted to get your opinion on if we should go to Posto or Eatonville?

We want to try both but are not sure which should be first on the list.


Tom Sietsema: I'm not hearing good things about Posto these days. It seems the pizzas have gotten worse than before, alas.

So, Eatonville is my choice. 2009 Review: Eatonville


Washington, D.C.: The earlier question about Obelisk reminded me to ask: how does the prix fixe work there? Are there options for the various courses, or is it a fully set menu? I am taking my parents there in a few weeks and they are fairly nonadventurous, so I'm a little worried about them getting stuck with something that they won't be happy with.

Tom Sietsema: When I dined there last year, it was a five-course menu wth choices for most categories. Trust me, the food is exquisite. And recognizable.


Arlington Apology: Tom, I've been fretting over this for a while, and figured this might be a good forum to get it off my chest - to the family dining at Proof on Friday, 1 August (around 8) - my date and I didn't ask for a different table because of your kids! We just didn't want to be seated next to the -high-traffic] service station on the other side. We are both fans of kids -in restaurants and in general] and are embarrassed to think you might have assumed we moved because of your family. Hope you enjoyed your meal!

Tom Sietsema: Just in case "the family" is wondering ...


Silver Spring: Must concur on Herbsaint, which I visited not too long ago. The owner's other restaurant, Cochon, was fabulous too.

Tom Sietsema: Yes!


Whipped Cream on Drinks: All the posts about slushy alcoholic drinks, with or without whipped cream, reminds of the advice my father gave me as I went away to college, lo these (very) many years ago: "Honey, if you're going to drink, don't mess around with fruit juice. Know what you're drinking."

Tom Sietsema: I'll add my father's advice: Stick with one kind of drink. Don't mix! (It took a couple times for me to to fully appreciate the suggestion, but dad was right.)


D.C.: Tom, I enjoyed your postcard about Las Vegas. I dined at Bartolotta last July and would agree that the food is great and the sommelier is fabulous. However, for the cost of the meal, service was horrible. We had the tasting menu and they were told in advance that my husband had an allergy to nuts. All of the deserts had nuts and had to be sent back. Plus, the place was empty when we arrived but we ended up being seated in a place without a view despite those without a reservation before us getting a great seat (we had made reservations far in advance). Finally, why can you never find your TWO waiters when you want to pay the bill and leave?

Tom Sietsema: I've experienced service issues with that restaurant in the past, too. Ironically, my server this round told me he used to work at Tosca in Washington!


Chantilly, Va.: Last Sunday afternoon, we celebrated my birthday at L'Auberge Chez Francois. The room was essentially empty at the time, with only one or two tables taken. We were given a rather small table crammed up against the greeters' desk. We had made a reservation several days ahead so we weren't too happy about this table in the first place, but we went along with it. We were into our meal, discussing some serious family health issues, when a party of six (including a boy of about four years old) was ushered in and seated at a table right next to ours. My chair was a few inches from touching the chair behind me. Our conversation had to be curtailed because nothing was private any more.

The quiet, conversational, elegant dinner we had planned for so long was over, and there was no logical reason for it. The room was still practically empty. We love this restaurant, and we used to go to it when it was in D.C. years ago. Francois Haeringer's love for his mother and her wonderfully inspired recipes is joyful.

This has happened to us before, at other restaurants. Tom, why, when there are other tables of the same size available in the room that are located at a discrete distance, would the host choose one that was so close to ours? I know an effort is made by management to group a waiter's tables close together to ease the waiter's work load, but this was ridiculous. When we go to a restaurant, we expect to be the top concern. This is why we pay the "big bucks."

I guess our only option would be to ask our waiter for another table. However, this action, in itself, would spoil our mood, and it would make the other table's occupants feel uncomfortable. We don't want to ruin anyone else's dinner.

We are sending a copy of this to L'Auberge Chez Francois for their information. We have no problem with the food or the waiter. As usual, both were very good. Thank you.

Tom Sietsema: Given what you describe as an "essentially empty" dining room, it's too bad you didn't request another table the moment you realized you didn't like the first one that was offered to you. And if you were sheepish about vacating the table after your neighbors were seated, all you needed to say to remedy the perceived problem was "I thought we could all use a little more elbow room. I hope you all enjoy your dinner as much as we always have in the past!"


Newington: Hey Tom, really enjoyed your write up of Las Vegas. But how about a gourmand tour of Atlantic City, where granted, the slots aren't as loose, but it is a whole lot closer to D.C.?

Tom Sietsema: Thanks for the feedback. And the proposal.


Capitol Hill: Hi Tom,

Love your postcards. When I went to Puerto Rico a few years ago, we definitely took your dining advice!

I have a question about your 'cards from Vegas. In both the latest and the previous postcards, all of the restaurants are on the Strip. In other cities, you seem to venture into some off the beaten path restaurants. Why the different approach?

I realize that a lot of people don't leave the Strip much during their trip to Vegas. But one option away from that would be appreciated by this frequent visitor to LV. Just my two cents.

Tom Sietsema: But I *did* offer an option off the Strip! It was the very good Raku, a short cab ride from the major casinos.

I actually had another meal away from the tourist zone, but it was nothing to write home about. As even a critic there confessed, "You have to lower your expectations" for most of the options off the Strip. Postcard From Tom: Las Vegas


Takeout: This may not be a question for you, but hopefully chatters or restaurant folk can answer. Do you tip when you pick up a to-go order? I always tip a delivery person when food is brought to me, but not sure what to do when I pick up the food myself. Thoughts?

Tom Sietsema: Yep, it's appropriate to thank whomever (the hostess, bar tender or server) for a take-out order, because one of them has (hopefully) dispatched your request, wrapped it up and made sure to include the appropriate utensils and condiments. The amount of the tip varies according to what you got and how big the order is.


Washington, D.C.: Hi Tom,

I have a question about nicer Italian restaurants. Do you have to order the "paste" and "secondi" (sp?) when there, or can you just order pasta OR the options on the "secondi?" I don't get to eat at expensive restaurants that often and feel intimidated when I do. Would ordering just one of those options be enough for dinner, or are the portions set up so that you need to order both in be full?

Tom Sietsema: No need to feel intimidated! I tend to order an appetizer, either a pasta (full portion) or main course and dessert myself. Three courses total.


Entre nous: Of all the culinary luminaries you've met or wish to meet, who leaves you star-struck? Julia, yes. Who else?

Tom Sietsema: I was surprised at how shy and reserved both Tony Bourdain and Gordon Ramsay were before they hit the big time. Martha Stewart was pretty frosty (but she DID tell me she was getting over the flu). I loved Mimi Sheratyon's feistiness.

Folks, we are running out of time. And I've got a date with a restaurant. See you next Wednesday.


The Neverending Brunch at Potenza: I went for brunch at Potenza, and all I can say is "wow." And that's not a happy "wow."

Our group was stuck there from 12:30 to nearly 4:00, much of that time with no food and empty glasses. Service was friendly but comically hapless, and the wait for our entrees was over an hour. When our food finally did arrive, the "oven-baked eggs" my friend ordered included a coating of raw egg. (Maybe that's how it was supposed to come, but lots of people are grossed out by raw eggs and that's the sort of thing the menu should mention.) The food was OK, but definitely not worth the hassle.

Plus, I have a nitpick! The creamers were these little tiny mugs. Cute, but without a spout they made a mess EVERYWHERE.

I guess my main beef is this: in a nearly empty restaurant, is it so hard to stay on top of things? Why were we served raw food that took ages to arrive?

Tom Sietsema: I'm sad to hear about your experience, which seems to mirror that of a number of readers who have contacted me since the place opened. I was SO looking forward to a fresh Italian idea. A shame.


Hometown, D.C.: Hey,

Why not put a link for Postcards from Tom in a place that's easy to find instead of making us remember search criteria? Convenience for users -- that's the way the Web is supposed to work. Hi there, I didn't mean to imply that this is the only way to find Tom's postcards. You could also just search for Tom Sietsema and find the cards. Or you can find everything you want to know about Tom Sietsema (blog posts, dicussion topics, reviews, chats, etc.) on our spiffy new Tom Sietsema page: On that page you can sign up for an RSS feed that delivers all Tom content to your Google reader. My reason for informing the reader of that search method was simply of the thinking that if you're looking for Postcards from Tom, you can search for Postcards from Tom and they appear. Also, if you have more features you'd like to see, please feel free to e-mail me at julia.beizer (at) Thanks!


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.

Editor's Note: moderators retain editorial control over Discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions. is not responsible for any content posted by third parties.

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