Ask Tom: Roscoe's, service, solo dining

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Tom Sietsema
Washington Post Food Critic
Wednesday, November 4, 2009; 11:00 AM

Washington Post food critic Tom Sietsema discussed his review of Roscoe's, pet peeves about service and solo dining on Wednesday, Nov. 4 at 11 a.m. ET.

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Washington, D.C.: Hey Tom, Just wondering if you saw the NYTimes list of 100 things restaurant staffers should never do.

I tend to agree with most but some are a little over the top like "Number 40. Never say, "Good choice," implying that other choices are bad." Not sure I would mind if wait staff said this to me or somebody I was dining with. Thoughts on this list of forbidden behaviors?

Tom Sietsema: I think the whole WORLD saw that list. It made me smile and even laugh in recognition. I found myself nodding in agreement, over and over again, with the author.

No. 8, for instance, instructs servers "Do not interrupt a conversation. For any reason. Especially not to recite specials. Wait for the right moment." (AMEN, BROTHER!)

"Never touch a customer," goes No. 32. "No excuses. Do not do it. Do not brush them, move them, wipe them or dust them." (DUST them, eh? Makes me wonder how long the meal took.)

I loved No. 23: "If someone likes a wine, steam the label off the bottle and give it to the guest with the bill." Nice touch, I agree, and something similar to what Plume in the Jefferson does, by handing guests a list of what wines they drank when they leave.

Good morning, everyone. Welcome to another 60 minutes or so of restaurant chatter. Where have you eaten that's good lately? What's on your mind? I'm still dreaming about the terrific banh mi (Vietnamese sandwich) I ate yesterday at the new G Street Food downtown ....

washingtonpost.com: Good to Go: G Street Food

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Washington, D.C.: From the New York Times list of "do nots", what's wrong with a server telling the guests his or her name? They aren't robots bringing out food.

I think a similar list could be made for restaurant patrons.

Tom Sietsema: Let's take a vote: Do you want to know the name of your server or not (and why)?

Ask and ye shall receive: My column for Nov. 22 is not a review, but a guide on how to be a better diner.

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Annapolis, Md.: Tom, Two positive reports -- Addie's and the new Taylor's deli. Addie's -- dined on Monday night -- excellent. We got caught in traffic and arrived 30-minutes late. We called to update them. Regardless, they could not have been nicer and the place was jammed (Lyle Lovett at Strathmore -- amazing). Great menu, wine and service. Taylor's -- visited on Tuesday. It's as great as the original. Great sausage and peppers sandwich. The fried ravioli was tasty as well. Cool casual dining. I am getting hungry just writing this... Tom, I hope folks are nicer to you this week. I know you are not thin-skinned but it's unwarranted and getting old. Take care.

Tom Sietsema: One of my big fears after the fall guide goes public is hearing about featured restaurants resting on their laurels. I'm pleased, then, to hear that Addie's lives up to your expectations. As for Taylor's, I have to make it to the original before taste-testing the spinoff. (I know, I know, shame on me.)

washingtonpost.com: 2009 Fall Dining Guide: Addie's

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Washington, D.C.: On the NYT list: "2. Do not make a singleton feel bad." I so agree! I know it's nitpicky, but I get annoyed when I'm dining by myself and I walk in and the host says "Just the one?" as if that's so unusual. They just got "one" instead of "none," and should be happy about it.

Tom Sietsema: Ha! I can still hear the host at a D.C. restaurant greeting this solo brunch diner a few years ago with "What? No friends?"

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Teaism: Tom,

I used to be a big Teaism fan, but no longer. They need to get a consultant in there to show them that their process of ordering food is horrendous.

I spent $30 on a celebratory lunch between a coworker and myself (entrees, cookie to split, tea for both!), and she forgot to ask for no dressing on her salad. I asked if there was any way they could just give us a dressing with no salad after the fact. Completely understandable if they said no. But she didn't. She started yelling at me that they needed to throw it out if she didn't want it, and "why did she want it without dressing??" I said, ok, nevermind, we'll just take it how it is. The woman kept shouting "Why? Why does she need it without dressing???"

This was the lunch rush. My friend was on a diet. I was so embarrassed. I kept saying, forget it, just give me the salad please. Forget it, forget it. The woman kept pressing me until I shouted at her "PLEASE JUST FORGET IT. WE'LL TAKE THE SALAD."

I've seen better customer service at a McDonald's. I was absolutely embarrassed and horrified. Never going there again.

Tom Sietsema: Ouch! Which location was this? (My fave is in Penn Quarter.)

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Takoma Park, Md.: Hey Tom-

As a Takoma Park resident I read with great interest your review of Roscoe's on Sunday. Unfortunately, I think you were spot-on. Great atmosphere, great for the neighborhood, mediocre food. My question: can we hope your review will spur the owners to make some positive changes? How do places respond typically when your compelled to give less-then-stellar reviews? Thanks!

Tom Sietsema: Having heard good things about it, I was really looking forward to Roscoe's. I totally understand its appeal -- there's basically zero competition nearby -- but the food is pretty lackluster.

Every restaurant is different and I can't speak for Roscoe's. After the dining guide, however, I heard from at least a dozen restaurants asking why they weren't included; they seemed sincere in wanting to make changes for the better.

washingtonpost.com: This week's review: Roscoe's

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McLean, Va.: Hi Tom,

My question is mostly to satisfy a curiosity I have: what does somebody like you, who's accustomed to eating (often) fantastic food, eat on the road? I don't mean once you reach your destination, but in the interim? After traveling quite a bit in the past few months -- driving cross country and flying all over -- I saw entirely too many fast food signs and the though of eating at a Burger King or Wendy's makes me want to gag. Do you ever eat in a McDonald's? Would you ever sit down at an Applebee's? What would you recommend for those of us who usually equate "chain restaurant" with "ewww"?

Not your typical question -- I know! But I have been wondering for a while...

Tom Sietsema: I eat fast food now and then, mostly in airports when I've got a layover. I like McD's for its fries, Uno's for its deep-dish pizza, although I try hard to eat better than that. In Europe, I always gravitate to the seafood bars (but those aren't typically chains). Just fyi: Restaurant critics eat PLENTY of mediocre food in the couurse of a year, far more than most civilians, I think.

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Please! 70th Birthday! New York! Help!: Hi, Tom -- My dad is turning 70 tomorrow. Rather than getting him more stuff that he doesn't need, I thought I would get him and my mom a gift certificate for a nice restaurant in New York when they go up in December. They are staying at 43rd street between 5th and 6th Avenues. He likes: steaks, scotch, and pasta. Think "Mad Men"-era atmosphere. Any suggestions would be appreciated enormously! Thank you!

Tom Sietsema: 21 is where you want to send mom and dad. I can't think of a better throwback in the Big Apple.

washingtonpost.com: Tom's 2006 review of 21 Club

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Washington, D.C.: I'm stuck in Jury Duty today, any good places to grab lunch around here? The courthouse is near the Archives metro stop. Thanks!

Tom Sietsema: The bars at Cafe Atlantico or 701 are both terrific (and speedy).

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Monrovia, Md.: I went to Addie's for lunch, shortly after your review. The food was good, but you were absolutely right about the noise level! We could not wait to finish our food & get out. We spoke to the hostess about it, but she said there was nothing that could be done. I will wait until spring to go again, so we can sit outside.

Tom Sietsema: Ah, but there are plenty of solutions: padding under the tables, fabric panels for the walls or ceiling ...

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22202: Perhaps a single "good choice" is unobjectionable, but more than once when my husband and I have gone out, everything he ordered was a "good choice." We always have interpreted this as a not-so-subtle attempt by the server to massage the ego of the person the server assumes is paying the bill (and deciding the tip). This does not leave a good impression.

Tom Sietsema: Catch that, waiters?

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D.C.: Tom,

Thank you for all your advice and wit. You are truly a treasure! (Have I sucked up enough to get you to answer my question?) My husband and I have decided (I realized semi-last-minute) to forgo cooking for Thanksgiving and just go out. Any recommendations of who will cook us a yummy turkey?

Thanks!

Tom Sietsema: If I weren't already the guest of one of the best home cooks I know November 26, I'd probably book a table at 2941 in Falls Church. The view alone is magical.

washingtonpost.com: 2009 Fall Dining Guide: 2941

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Washington, D.C.: Hi Tom....seeking your sage advice and/or help from others. Taking my wife to Las Vegas in a couple of weeks to celebrate a special birthday. She is a true "foodie" with over 20 years running a catering business. I'd like the trip to include one or more "wow" dinners...any suggestions? -A seeker of culinary wisdom.

Tom Sietsema: Think French. Friends rave about Guy Savoy in Caesar's Palace and I can personally vouch for the jewel box known as Joel Robuchon in the MGM Grand.

washingtonpost.com: Tom's Vegas Postcard: Joel Robuchon (bottom of this page)

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D.C.: Given the wild ride over in the Style newsroom last Friday, have you ever instigated any "food fights" we should know about?

Tom Sietsema: In the newsroom? No, thank goodness. Outside the office? Well, there was that time ....

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Server's name: I knew this list would start a flame war. Personally I agree with every item on it. Restaurant owners and managers really need to train their staff to this list, rather than to whatever corporate fad is on at the moment (Tchotchkes in "Office Space" comes to mind). I don't want to know my server's name because I don't expect to have to use it. If they're attentive in an unobtrusive way, they'll see me look up to find them and respond. If management insists that I know my server's name, management can pay for little name pins.

Tom Sietsema: The people speak out:

My server's name: If "Henri" is going to dedicate himself to my table, I don't mind knowing his name. But if I'm going to give Henri my order and someone else brings my cocktail, suggests my wine, presents my dinner plate, removes my empties, etc., then I'd just as soon not know. If my dinner is going to be a parade of strangers, I don't need the introduction.

Server's name: I do not want to know my server's name. Does the server want to know mine? Of course not. It would be a different story if the eatery were a place I frequented, and the wait person was one that served me often ... maybe. Knowing that Joe or Barbara is serving me will not make for a better experience for me or a larger tip for them.

Arlington, Va.: I do not want to be called my name by a server unless I am in the private dining room because I do not want other diners to know my name.

Alexandria, Va.: Calling a customer by name is fine in my book if it's done formally as "Mr./Ms. SoAndSo". Calling someone by their first name that you've never met comes across as phony and disrespectful b/c it suggests you have a familiarity with the person that doesn't exist. This used to be called manners.

Arlington: A server who briefly introduces himself or herself is really a non-issue. Server: "Good evening. My name is ____ and I'll be your server tonight." What is so offensive or off-putting? It's not like the server is asking to be your friend or being overly familar. Geez...

Please,: no name. Just provide quiet, efficient, intelligent service, and I will tip you well.

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Just the One ?: Yes, I'm a complete loser but I'm still hungry.

Tom Sietsema: LOL

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Wines: We usually ask for the names of wines we had during a pairing, etc. to be written. At Per Se, they had our menus and typed up, printed wine lists waiting for us in folders at the host stand upon our exit. It was great. As was everything else there.

Tom Sietsema: Yep, Per Se does it right. For a price.

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McLean, Va.: While dining out with my parents and husband a month or so ago, the waiter said "Good choice" when I ordered crabcakes. He then proceeded to take my father's order. As he moved on to my husband, my father joked, "What, mine isn't a good choice, too?" The waiter was completely flustered and then told him that yes, his choice was good too.

Tom Sietsema: Yet another reason not to rate diners' menu selections, huh?

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#10: "Do not inject your personal favorites when explaining the specials."

Can't help but envision servers with needles spurting their favorites over a table of diners while reciting specials!!!

Tom Sietsema: Your post cracks me up. You're taking the rule too literally, friend.

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Silver Spring, Md.: Hey Tom -- my in-laws are coming to town and we're looking for a somewhere to have an early dinner before seeing the Capitol Steps at the Reagan Building. A few requirements: not too pricey, on the quiet side and nothing even slightly spicy (no Mexican, for example). What would you recommend in that area?

Tom Sietsema: Cafe du Parc is within strolling distance and also within your budget and seasonining ranges.

washingtonpost.com: 2007 Review: Cafe du Parc

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New York, N.Y.: Email address for Tom Sietsema. Thank you.

washingtonpost.com: asktom (at) washpost.com

Tom Sietsema: One of the best ways to reach me, fyi.

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Re: dining alone: It could be worse: In "Forgetting Sarah Marshall," the host offered the main character a magazine when he showed up at the restaurant to eat by himself. "Won't you be bored?"

Tom Sietsema: True story: A hotel restaurant once offered me a LAPTOP to use during my solo lunch there!

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Server: I feel like introducing myself at the table is a waste of words. I feel better talking to you about what you should eat and drink, and honestly, I need to do it fast, so diners can enjoy their company, and I can wait on my other tables.

Tom Sietsema: Yes!

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Sam from West Palm Beach: Yes, I want to know the servers name. One, so if he/she dissapears I can ask for them by name not "the girl with the glasses." Two, if the server is great I can request that servers section when I make a reservation. I'm a nice guy and like to meet people so its natural to want to know someone's name that you are talking to. Now, if they go into their life story that's a bit much.

Tom Sietsema: Fair points, Sam.

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Just the one?: I always feel like answering "no me and my 6 foot rabbit harvey"

Tom Sietsema: Comedy Central here today!

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Annapolis, Md.: Tom, double shame on you for not trying Taylor's. If it is an incentive, I will buy you lunch. Disclaimer: I am not associated with Taylor's just a guy who likes a good sandwich.

Tom Sietsema: Deal! Now tell me your name. Or not.

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Arlington, Va.: I like the NY Times list, but I think he should also publish a list of 100 things the customer should and shouldn't do, such as:

1. Don't snap your fingers to get the attention of a servier, they are not dogs.

2. If you have food allergy, be sure to ask the waiter what's in each dish before ordering.

3. If you're running more than 5 minutes late, call the restaurant and let them know.

I'm sure others can make this a lengthy list.

Tom Sietsema: Keep talking, Arlington, keep talking ...

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Little Pet Peeve: Maybe it is nitpicking, but I am a female adult, and my daughter is an adult, and when the server says, "What would you GUYS like tonight?" I tend to say, "Not to be called a guy, thank you." It seems a little disrespectful.

Tom Sietsema: When I highlighted your peeve in a long-ago Ask Tom column, I heard from dozens of readers who felt as you do, including a lot of men.

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Washington, D.C.: While dining at Potenza, I asked the waiter for a refill of the house wine I was drinking. He suggested a glass of something else and let me taste it first. It was delicious so I agreed. Several glasses later, I am looking at the check realizing that the new wine, the one suggested by the waiter, is substantially more expensive than the original wine I was drinking. He never mentioned the price of the new wine and I never asked assuming suggestions are usually in the same ballpark or remarked on if not. Is that an incorrect assumption I had or was the waiter remiss in not mentioning it?

Tom Sietsema: I think it's up to the waiter to let you know when something he's suggesting is going to run you considerably more than what you already have. Did you say anything aftewards?

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Arlington, Va.: Hi Tom,

I'm heading to the Kennedy Center on Saturday night, and my group would like to get celebratory drinks afterward (engagements, passing the bar, and just general merriment). Is there any place relatively close by to grab some nice cocktails?

Tom Sietsema: The bars at Westend Bistro, Hudson and (the more formal) Marcel's all beckon nearby.

washingtonpost.com: 2009 Fall Dining Guide: Westend Bistro

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Re: "guys": Is it better for them to say, "What would you ladies like tonight?" Geniunely curious, since that alternative sounds a bit insincere to me.

Tom Sietsema: "What would you like this evening?" makes the most sense to me, and it's neutral.

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Anonymous: HELP? Once again we draw to a close and my perfectly polite request for a recommendation has been consigned to the trash can. Any tips, hints on how or what to ask to get an answer?

Tom Sietsema: Yep. I won't sign off until I see your question.

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Annapolis: Where would you eat in Annapolis? How about two answers? One for a splurge and two for good, inexpensive food.

Tom Sietsema: I've always enjoyed the steak at the family-owned Lewnes' and the seafood at the nearby O'Learys (never mind the Irish name). As for good and cheap, I'm thinking Rockfish in Eastport might fit the bill.

Do any chatters care to weigh in on the matter?

washingtonpost.com: Lewnes' Steak House and O'Leary's

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D.C. to Geneva : I was the one who asked for recommendations in Geneva and want to thank all those out there who did respond. Geneva is a beautiful city with great restaurants, the best I went to in the city was Bistrot du Boeuf Rouge. Many thanks!

Tom Sietsema: Glad to hear this group was helpful. No surprise, really; it's a well-travelled bunch.

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Reston, Va.: Tom, in your review of Jackson's Mighty Fine Food last March, you wrote that you hoped the restaurant would soon live up to its name. Can you confirm whether it has, or can you recommend anywhere else worth eating in the Reston/Herndon area? Thanks!

Tom Sietsema: I've not been back to JMFF since I reviewed it, but I welcome any feedback from chatters who have eaten there recently. Meanwhile, I continue to hear nice things about PassionFish in the Reston Town Center.

washingtonpost.com: 2009 Review: PassionFish

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Olney, Md.: Hi Tom, Love your chats/reviews. Sorry for a negative but two things about serving meals to children: 1. Please Do NOT put a plate in front of them with their favorite chicken/noodles/fries whatever and then say, "This plate is EXTREMELY hot..." 2. Please do NOT offer my child dessert before or while they are eating -- all bets are off by that time. Silly, yes, but for a nice evening out, details make a difference.

Tom Sietsema: I hear you on the dessert query, but what do you mean by not telling a child that something is hot? (I imagine you want the waiter to serve the food on an unheated plate, or position the food away from the kid or ...?)

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Washington, D.C.: I feel like a broken record, but I love the chats! Hoping you can answer my question... So I'm planning to get married in D.C. next year and I'm really only interested in having a small 40-person reception dinner at a nice hotel or restaurant. We're considering the Hay-Adams, Adour and Marcel's as options. Any opinion on which you feel would put out the best food for this kind of event? Thanks so much!

Tom Sietsema: For me, it would be a toss-up between Adour and Marcel's, but you might also want to check out the renovated Jefferson Hotel, home to the new Plume, before signing on any dotted line.

washingtonpost.com: First Bite: Plume at the Jefferson Hotel

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Washington, D.C.: Tom, re your "ABSOLUTELY NOT" comment about Dupont Italian Kitchen -- my girlfriend and I occasionally go to D.I.K. whenever we want "dive-y" Italian food and el cheapo wine. We know it's not really that good, but it's sort of become a place we go if one of us has had a bad day and we just want to chill. Based on your reaction, is there something larger that we should be concerned about? Or was that just a reaction against the food and service, both of which we realize are not really that great?

Tom Sietsema: Dupont Italian Kitchen serves some of the biggest, blandest food I've ever encountered. It makes Bucca di Beppo look like Obelisk.

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Not interrupting a conversation: If all waiters followed the rule not to interrupt a conversation, I would never get any service. When I'm out to dinner with friends, there are very few silences.

Tom Sietsema: Maybe restaurants should put out those green and red blocks used in Argentine steak houses; red means, "no meat now," while green signals "bring on the beef!" Only here, the red would mean "don't bother us" and green would be "we need service."

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An overweight diner: Hostess: Ask if we would prefer a table or a booth in a non-judgemental way. Please!

Tom Sietsema: Good point.

Folks, I didn't get to even a quarter of all your questions today. So sorry. Please remember, the BEST way to get a response from me is to post EARLY, before the chat goes live at 11 a.m. Coz it's a speeding train from then until noon.

Chow for now. See you next week. And if you have any suggestions for ME, in Palm Springs, send 'em my way before Friday. I want to avoid eating just palm shakes.

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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. Find all of Tom Sietsema's Washington Post writing at washingtonpost.com/tomsietsema. Join his live Q&A every Wednesday at 11 a.m. ET.

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


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