Ask Tom: Ris review, high chairs and who pays for a server's mistake
Wednesday, March 24, 2010; 11:00 AM
Washington Post food critic Tom Sietsema dished about high chairs, his Ris review and who pays if the wrong dish ends up on your table on Wednesday, March 24 at 11 a.m. ET.
Silver Spring: Tom not home today? If so, say so....
Tom Sietsema: When it opens this June, the 10,000-square foot, 200-seat Cuba Libre is expected to resemble "an Old Havana street scene," with open windows that will "grab the energy" of its prime location on the corner of 9th and H streets NW.
That's the picture painted by co-owner Barry Gutin, who I spoke to just minutes ago from his base in Philadelphia, home to the original Latin concept. He also announced a chef for the DC restaurant, Jason Kaufman, 31. Kaufman comes to the city from the Cuba Libre in Orlando, Florida, but was also the original's chef when it opened in 2005.
On his menu: Ceviche, ropa veija (of course), a twist on paella, pork ribs and 75 different kinds of rum.
I'm getting hungry. And thirsty.
Sorry for the late start today. Let's rock on.
Richmond, Va.: Not a restaurant question (though I follow you faithfully in anticipation of a move back to D.C.).
This is just a heartfelt thanks to you for sharing your grilled pineapple/ice cream/caramel dessert some months back. Dinner this weekend with this in-laws was entirely from the grill with dessert seeming a challenge until I remembered your recipe. Absolutely wonderful and a surprise for this avowed chocoholic. Even the in-laws (skeptical at the start) were wiping their dishes clean. I look forward to more recipes from you.
Tom Sietsema: If only I had more time to cook!
I'm happy to hear you liked that oh so easy recipe, which I've even served to (approving) fellow food critics.
To learn how to make it, just watch this episode of "TV Dinners:"
washingtonpost.com: Tom Sietsema's TV Dinners: Tom's Favorite Dessert
washington, dc: hey tom, always love to lurk on your chat, but today i have a question -- my brother is going to be in town this weekend (well, rockville) and the only time for us to see him is breakfast/brunch on sunday. do you know of a good dim sum place or breakfast/brunch place (no buffet, please). we'll be with our two boys, 10 & 12, and said brother and his new girlfriend, if that matters. keep up the great work. apologies for no capitals, i'm typing with one hand due to a ski injury. thanks!
Tom Sietsema: (Lower-case works for me!)
For dim sum, I always enjoy A & J, which has two locations, one in Annandale and another in Rockville. The small plates are tasty and the food comes out fast.
Here's wishing you a speedy recovery.
washingtonpost.com: A and J restaurants
Arlington: Have you eaten at Esca in NYC? If not, do you have any recommendations for good seafood there?
Tom Sietsema: I've eaten at the Italian seafood restaurant a LOT over the years. Not only is the seafood impeccable (the menu changes twice a day, reflecting what's fresh in the market), the restaurant is mere blocks from the shows on Broadway. Here's my take, from a few years back:
washingtonpost.com: Homes away from home: Tom on Esca in 2004
Washington, D.C.: Tom, I've been watching the mysterious RIS Is Coming for months from my bus window. Happy to read your review. However, when I looked at the menu online, Ris does not serve cauliflower souffle or chowder, or mention "national" nights. So, either they don't care enough to truly inform their customers, or you got special treatment. Can you, or Ms. Lacoste, clarify which it is? Thank you.
Tom Sietsema: I didn't get special treatment. There is no souffle. I wrote about a cauliflower *quiche* being as *tall* as a souffle. *That* dish is still available on Tuesday nights, which celebrate Parisian bistro food, an occasion flagged on the right side of Ris's Web site (I just checked). As for the chowder, maybe the chef switched it out for something else? Menus are subject to change, after all.
washingtonpost.com: This week's review: Ris
Short shrift for Hooked!: Hi Tom,
Normally I love your restaurant reviews, but wow, I couldn't tell what you thought of Hooked in Sterling. Your article was ridiculously ambiguous, and rather short on words--to make room for the enormous photo? You spent literally half of the very brief piece talking about the decor and management shakeup, a couple of lines about the so-so cooked food (read: avoid. Check), then only 3-4 lines discussing what you said was the best part of Hooked, the sushi. Did you like the place or not--I honestly couldn't tell, which isn't like you. What gives?
Tom Sietsema: Ah, you DID get my (mixed) message about Hooked: Be careful around what's cooked and focus on what's raw. The place is big and ambitious, but the back kitchen needs more focus.
washingtonpost.com: First Bite: Hooked
Alexandria, va: Is it pronounced "City-zen" or "Citizen" ?
Tom Sietsema: City-Zen. (It's a nod to both D.C. and the hotel's Asian roots.)
Nice weekend lunch? : My partner and I can finally get legally married in D.C. -- yay! But we had a big celebration four years ago, and aren't having another party. We are looking for a nice place to go out for lunch after making it official on Saturday. Thoughts?
Tom Sietsema: Congrats there. I'd pick a place that you think will be around for future anniversaries. The patios at the Tabard Inn and Poste come to mind. So does the festive Cafe Atlantico in Penn Quarter.
Baltimore, Md.: Hey Tom,
We will be hosting a cocktail gathering on Friday, May 7, to celebrate our daughter's graduation from American University. There will be about 15 of us. We'd like to do it in the District, and Metro access is important. Where should we go?
Tom Sietsema: Lounges to love: PS 7's in Penn Quarter, Vidalia downtown, Urbana in Dupont Circle, Bluck Duck Tavern in the West End .... anyone else care to weigh in?
Comfort Food: Tom, I've been to nice restaurants (2941 in Falls Church, for example) where the food is very good, the service is very good, ambience very good, etc. However, I feel like the meal itself is not satisfying. I get more "food satisfaction" from say a large bowl of Pho, plate of spaghetti, or fried chicken. Do you sometimes feel this way about a meal, or does the entire package (food, service, ambience, etc.) makes you satisfied?
Tom Sietsema: Honestly? I tend to have more fun eating the way you describe these days. I'm not jaded, but I think simple food, well done, can be just as impressive as something that took a legion of cooks to create (and top with caviar).
Don't get me wrong. There's a place, and an important one, for the likes of 2941, and I worry that we might be losing something special in this recession, as restaurants cut back and lower their ambitions.
But give me a great fruit pie or a stellar barbecue and I'm a happy man.
washingtonpost.com: 2009 Dining Guide: 2941
A really minor pet peeve: Tom, As I type this, I realize it's a bit ridiculous, but it's one of those little things that just stuck with me. Last week, I went out and had a fabulous dinner at a lovely restaurant. They were nice enough to wrap up the portion of my meal that I couldn't eat and put it in a nice bag for me.
When I got home, I realized that the container, which was about 5 times too big for the food, had been sitting propped up sideways because it was too big to sit flat in the bag. All of the food was squished together to one side, and the sauce ended up almost leaking out of the edge.
Not a huge problem -- the food still tasted good the next day, and I'd definitely go back to the restaurant -- but just a sloppier ending than I'd expected from the otherwise sharp and on top of things staff.
Tom Sietsema: Note to restaurants: Buy containers that fit your food.
Something I've noticed, and appreciated, lately are restaurants that give diners their leftovers at the door rather than at the table, so customers don't have to share their table with a package of food while they're still occupying it. Nice touch.
Silver Spring, Md.: Hey Tom,
Now that spring is finally here, I understand fiddleheads are in season. I've always wanted to try them. Do you know of a restaurant where they're being served?
Thanks for the great chats!
Tom Sietsema: I have yet to see fiddleheads or that other harbinger of spring, shad roe, on any menus yet.
Chefs, if you're serving either, fill us in, please.
Washington, D.C.: Tom,
Can you please pass along word to restaurant owners (including chains) that if they have high chairs, please make sure that they are in working condition. Meaning that the straps are still attached and the buckles still work. If your host/hostess brings a high chair to me that doesn't work, I'm going to keep sending him/her back for one that does, and if that keeps them away from the front of the restaurant for several minutes, then that's what it's going to take. And if you don't have a working high chair, then I'm not going to be able to stay and spend my money at your establishment.
Tom Sietsema: Consider your plea passed, Washington.
D.C.: I appreciated your review of Ris but its confusing because it sounded glowing so why not three stars?
Tom Sietsema: Because I think the dining room is seriously underwhelming (a quarter of the rating is determined by ambience) and it's not yet an "excellent" kitchen.
I now wish I had thrown in a bit more food criticism to better explain my rating. Not that I was holding anything back, just that I preferred to use the space to suggest dishes to try rather than avoid.
Shad Roe: I've seen them at the fish counter at Harris Teeter in Potomac Yard.
Tom Sietsema: That's a start. Thanks.
Clarendon Area: Because of your suggestion I have a reservation at Eventide for dinner on Saturday with "The Girls" (4 total). Would you have a suggestion of a place we can get together before dinner (early reservations @ 5:30) approx. 3:30 or 4 p.m. for drinks? We would like a place that could accomodate us while we discuss our trip in May to Lake Annecy (day trips to Evian/Lyon/Chamoniox) and Turin -- so we may need to pull out a map etc. Looked at your postcards but nothing for the area we are traveling :(
Tom Sietsema: Do "The Girls" mind mingling with "The Boys?" Because the greatly expanded Spider Kelly's, which I strolled past last week, is just the pre-dinner ticket I think you're after.
washingtonpost.com: Spider Kelly's reopens, four times bigger
Crystal City: Hi Tom! I wanted your advice on a situation I experienced two weeks ago at the Crystal City Jaleo. We went to one of the bar tables for drinks and light tapas. We had a friendly and attentive water, but he made a mistake and served us the wrong chorizo plate (there are two). Two bites into it, I realized what had happened, and alerted our waiter, who immediately apologized and admitted it was in fact his mistake. No big deal. He then asked if we still wanted the second dish (yes -- the one we were served was not my favorite) and if we wanted to keep the first. Normally, I would have sent it back, but we'd already started eating it -- I KNEW it would just go into the garbage if he took it, so I asked to keep it and we finished it off (I hate to see meat, especially good meat, go to waste).
Anyway, to cut to the chase, both chorizo plates ended up on the bill. I politely asked to have it removed, and he simply said, "No problem," and removed it from the bill. I tipped him a full 20% anyway, but I really didn't savor having to be put in the position to ask and was a little embarrassed in spite of his courteousness. But in my mind, we all knew it was the server's mistake, and I feel like it shouldn't have been on the bill. Normally, I'm not shy about complaining directly to the manager when there's clear wrongdoing, but I just don't know what to think here. It was my first time at Jaleo and it really left a bad taste in my mouth. What say you? Was I wrong to keep the dish?
Tom Sietsema: You were not wrong to keep the dish, which was partially eaten, and I can only assume the waiter made a mistake by charging you for both chorizo plates, something he promptly corrected. I'd let it go.
Cuba Libre: 75 kinds of rum 15 minutes away from me? That's the best news I've gotten in 2 years! Can you ask Mr. Gutin if there's any way to open sooner, say this weekend??
Tom Sietsema: Ha! Can't wait for those big French windows to open myself. And did I mention 21-foot high ceilings inside?
McLean: Had dinner at Vidalia on Saturday night. Both shad roe and fiddleheads on the menu as well as chicken fried morel mushrooms with country ham-black pepper gravy.
Who would have thought of frying morels like popeye's and adding a rich gravy? So good.
Fiddleheads with sweetbreads and the shad was filet pickled and roe as a pudding with bacon. Gotta love spring!!!
Tom Sietsema: Shad roe: Check.
Now where's the rhubarb?
Alexandria, Va.: Vegan options: A dear friend has just become vegan. I want to take her and another (non-vegan) friend to a "treat" restuarant, preferably D.C., tho Bethesda and Alex. area would also work. Am thinking Bombay Club (would call ahead)? Other ideas? She is very self-effacing, so don't want it to be somewhere that it would be an enormous production. Thanks much, and really enjoy the tone/# of responses you get to -- no mean feat -- of your chats. So kudos to your fine producer as well.
Tom Sietsema: I recently took a friend who doesn't eat meat or dairy to the new Kushi on K St. NW. We had a wonderful time there, thanks in part to the vegetarian flags on the menu but also to the setting. If you think Washington is boring, you gotta check out the interior at Kushi. I felt as if I were in Soho. What a crowd! What a space! What a "treat!"
"Let it go": You should have that as a macro on your computer for a great number of the posts you get. How does someone have the energy to simmer over an honest and easily rectified mistake of a harried, hard working (and polite!) waiter?
Tom Sietsema: I almost hit my "Don't sweat the small stiff" key instead.
Excited about Cuba Libre!: My wife and I have eaten at the location on Philadelphia twice and both times had fantastic experiences. I am excited to hear he news!
Tom Sietsema: The concept was created by Guillermo Pernot, an Argetine who has loads of good reviews behind him. He won a past Best Chef/Mid-Atlantic award from James Beard and was also one of Food & Wine's Best New Chefs.
Ashton: We were directed to Esca by the concierge at the Sofitel a few months ago while in NYC. It was underwhelming: food average and service way under par. On the other hand, we had an extraordinary dinner at La Grenouille the following night...great food, impeccable old-school service.
Tom Sietsema: Wow, that has never been my experience at Esca, and I've dined there probably seven times now. But thanks for the field report.
Tom Sietsema: I almost hit my "Don't sweat the small stiff" key instead.: Oh man. You have GOT to proofread your posts. I almost spit out my coffee!
Tom Sietsema: Oh dear! We are all (too) human.
My apologies to all the small stiffs out there.
Librarians Coming to D.C.: The Medical Library Association will be having its annual meeting in D.C. in late May. My wife works for a company that sponsors a scholarship for first-time attendees each year, and since these folks are typically early career and on a tight budget, she takes them out for dinner the first night of the meeting, so that they can be sure to have one great dining experience during the time they're in town. The group is typically 8 to 10 people and since networking is a key component to the dinner, the ability to get everyone around a table or two for conversation is a big plus. And of course the food and service needs to be memorable. I was think of suggesting J&G Steakhouse since they've got a couple of private dining rooms. Are there other places she should investigate?
Tom Sietsema: J & G is wonderful, but why not throw the business to an independent restaurant helmed by a local?
Rasika, has a nice private dining area and some of the best Indian food in the country. Tom Power is a very good American chef; I'm a big fan of his elegant townhouse setting at Corduroy. And what about Michel Richard Central? You walk out of the place, turn left and see the Capitol.
Re: Rockville: For brunch, try Black Market. Never fails! I love the place!
Tom Sietsema: Another good idea (in Garrett Park).
DC: Was Guillermo Pernot the chef behind the defucnt restaurant Passion in Philly?
Tom Sietsema: Indeed he was.
re: "Let it go": I'm the Jaleo OP, and...come on! I didn't know if I was in the wrong or not and wanted your opinion -- I didn't have any complaints about the waiter himself (hello, I tipped him well and was very polite to him). The place was darn near empty (so he was not exactly "harried"), and from the tone of his response, I don't have any doubt his putting the second plate on my bill was intentional. I shouldn't have gotten charged, but...whatever. I just wish I didn't have to ask.
I would, however, like to send that big plate of snark back to where it came from, Tom and Other Poster!
Tom Sietsema: Fair is fair. I didn't mean to be snarky. But in the big ol' scheme of things .... well, I'll just stop there.
Downtown: Did you see Tim Carman's post lamenting repeat nominees for Beard awards (essentially saying they're making it a lifetime acheivement award and not giving others a shot)? If so, your take? In somewhat related news, I went to Komi a few weeks ago and it was nice (roasted goat FTW!), but not on par with some of the best tasting menus in the country. For example, Alinea (Chicago) recently was the best meal of my life.
Tom Sietsema: I believe there's more changing of names from year to year than some people might think. And I think it's pretty cool to see veterans such as Peter Pastan -- who without a publicist but with years of dedication to his credit -- land on that list of finalists.
Arlington, Va.: If I want to take someone out for drinks after the theatre at Kennedy Center where should we go. I would like a place with a nice view of the city or potomac river.
Tom Sietsema: You and everyone else! (That's not being snarky, just honest.) Point of View at the top of the W Hotel is amazing, but also very, very popular. And I hate that little game near the elevators downstairs, where the suits make you wait in line as if POV were some kind of exclusive club.
Deale, Md.: I'm sitting on the back of my boat gnawing on a ham and cheese sandwich and I'm sure I'm having a much happier lunch than the rest of you!
Tom Sietsema: You can't even imagine how jealous I am as I type.
Alexandria: Hi, Tom! Where would you send two women in their 40s for drinks after a Saturday matinee at the Studio Theatre?
Tom Sietsema: Posto, from the folks at Tosca, is just a few steps away. It makes a mean margarita, and while the pizza has not improved since my original review, I like what's new on the spring menu: a custard of asparagus and Parmesan sparked with lemon.
You might also consider the nearby wine-themed Cork and Masa 14, featuring a mile-long bar and some potent tequilas.
Old Town: For girlfriend's birthday, just the two of us, on a Wednesday after work: Bibiana or the prix fixe at Obelisk? We have not been to either restaurant.
Tom Sietsema: I admire both restaurants for different reasons. I'd give Obelisk the nod, however, because Peter Pastan and crew have been doing what they do -- terrific Italian food -- for a very long time now.
I was enormously pleased to see Obelisk among the five finalists in the Best Restaurant/Mid-Atlantic category of the James Beard Foundation's awards earlier this week.
Alexandria, Va.: I know that fast food isn't your usual beat, but I wanted to share some praise for the Potbelly sandwich shop in Old Town Alexandria. Today I placed an online order during the height of their lunch time rush. When I arrived to pick it up, it took nearly ten minutes for someone to acknowledge me and get the order from the counter where it was already prepared (annoying) and when I got it back to the office, one of the two sandwiches was missing (quite annoying).
I faxed them a note indicating my displeasure, and asked that they be more careful in the future. Within two minutes, someone called me and apologized, and told me that he was making the sandwich and would bring it to me. (I hadn't asked for that, and didn't expect it.) When he got to my office about ten minutes later, he'd thrown a bag of cookies in with the sandwich, and gave me a card good for lunch for two the next time I go in.
They certainly more than made up for my annoyance!
Tom Sietsema: Good for Potbelly! Going the extra mile just kept (and probably won) some fans for the sandwich maker.
BTW: Fast food isn't something I devote a lot of keystrokes to, but it's certainly part of my beat and I'm not shy about saying so. As regular chat participants know, for instance, I'm a Popeye's fan.
Alexandria, Va.: I had fiddleheads recently at Firefly. I think they were part of a side dish that came with fish.
Tom Sietsema: Thanks. I gotta get out more! Why am I missing all the fiddleheads?
Arlington, Va.: Dissapointed in the Spider Kelly's news. Liked it the way it was.
Tom Sietsema: The new place is titanic. It goes on and on and on.
Adams Morgan, D.C.: If someone puts something down on my table and I don't want it, I don't eat it. If I eat it all, I expect to pay for it.
Tom Sietsema: Okay. But what if the plate that's put down looks similar to what you ordered, but it's the wrong dish?
D.C.: Since the Beard nominations are out (congrats to all) and most of the Mid-Atlantic chefs nominated are from well DC area again, do you think that the nation "foodies" are ready to make DC a legitamate dining city? Dc has won the last 7 out of 10 mid atlantic awards. Chefs like Ruta, Ziebold, Cooper, Armstrong, Voltaggio, ect. can compete in NYC with the young masters of Humm, Wylle, Liebrant ect.
Difference between NYC and DC IMHO: marketing.
Tom Sietsema: And a million diners.
D.C. has been a "legitimate" place to dine for at least a decade now. All those stories about this being the land of meat and potato eaters is old (and untrue) news.
High chairs: Ok - the request is valid, but why so agressive?
With an attitude like this staff probably wishes you would not stay and spend your money in their establishment.
I can only imagine that you think the wait staff should be happy about cleaning up after your kids.
FWIW, I have 2 kids under 2 and we eat out farly often. I appreciate that kids don't add much to the total tab, they can be noisy and they can make a mess, so I make a point of trying to clean up the food that falls on the floor and making sure that their behavior is good (sadly I walked out with the kids before my entree even arrived the other day because my son was being a pill and left the others at the table to finish their meal in peace). I also tip extra.
It is great to teach your kids at a young age to enjoy good food and to learn how to behave properly, but it is our duty as parents to make this as painless as possible for the restaurant staff and the other diners.
Tom Sietsema: Great post. I bet restaurants love you.
But I think simple food, well done, can be just as impressive as something that took a legion of cooks to create (and top with caviar). : This was the primary point that the late Laurie Colwin used to make in her wonderful food writing. She would whip up amazing, delicious, simple meals in an apartment that measured 7 feet by 25 feet with a tiny kitchen at one end.
Tom Sietsema: Boy, do I love her prose.
Shout-out to Ardeo : Hi Tom,
I just want to give a round of applause to Ardeo. I applaud their mid-size servings at lower prices, in addition to their entree size. It gives folks the option of great food at a reasonable price.
I personally find that I'm more likely to order dessert because I'm not stuffed from a huge portion.
Tom Sietsema: Here's some love for one of the finest neighborhood restaurants in the city. Eating there always makes me wish I could be a regular.
Okay, folks, that's it for today's chat. I stayed on a little longer because I started later this morning, and for that I apologize.
See you, bright and ON TIME, next week.
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. He's on video now as well, with his Tom Sietsema's TV Dinners series. 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.
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