Ask Tom: Good pie, seasonal snacks and chefs with tempers

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Tom Sietsema
Washington Post Food Critic
Wednesday, May 12, 2010; 11:00 AM

Washington Post food critic Tom Sietsema dished about good pie, seasonal snacks and chefs with tempers Wednesday, May 12 at 11 a.m. ET.

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Tom Sietsema: LOTS OF FOOD NEWS TO CHEW OVER today: For openers, the Jockey Club is rethinking its concept -- yet again. The troubled hotel restaurant is losing its talented chef, Levi Mezick, later this week. I dined there three times in recent months. Gotta say, the food was quite good but the service was laughable. Mezick deserves better.

Second, Cafe Atlantico has a new chef, Richard Brandenburg. He's hardly a stranger to the ThinkFoodGroup philosophy, given that he helped launched Jose Andres's Bazaar in Los Angeles and later served as the group's kitchen director, supervising and advising chefs, among other duties.

Brandenburg, 36, jokes that his new gig allows him to get callouses on his hands from knives again, rather than from computer keyboards. He starts Friday. Cool addition to the Cafe's Friday night Farmer's Market Dinners are Farm to Glass cocktails (of course!)

This week it will be Cool Hand Cuke, made with tarragon-infused vodka, cucumber juice, black pepper, thyme juice.... anyone else getting thirsty?

And finally, while neither Michael Landrum nor Frank Morales wanted to say anything to me on the record (at least by my 11 a.m. chat time), chef Morales is no longer associated with the Ray's collection of restaurants.

Let's rock!

washingtonpost.com: Today's Dish: A departure at the Jockey Club and Tom's February news on Frank Morales at Ray's

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Kensington, Md.: Hi Tom -- My husband and I are going to try omakase tonight. How do you pronounce "omakase"?

Tom Sietsema: Oh-ma-kah-say

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Washington, D.C.: Hi Tom,

Have you been to Dangerously Delicious Pies, the new "pie bar" in Northeast? The original, in Baltimore, has been featured in no less than three different Food Network shows. Does it live up to the hype?

Tom Sietsema: I dropped by when I was scouting some restaurants in the Atlas District. Love the idea; the execution needs work, however. The two pies I sampled were pretty ordinary.

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Georgetown, D.C.: Tom, have you been back to J&G Steak since your fall dining guide review? I'm headed there tonight -- any recommendations from the menu!?! Thanks.

Tom Sietsema: I've not been back since my last review visit. But I continue to hear good things about the place.

washingtonpost.com: 2009 Fall Dining Guide: J and G Steakhouse

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Washington, D.C.: Is better to cook fresh corn with or with out the husk?

Tom Sietsema: I boil my corn without the husk. Chatters?

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Washington, D.C.: Hi Tom. Would love to get your comments re: yesterday's NYT blog post from Ron Lieber about how he got kicked out of Restaurant Marc Forgione on Saturday night for confronting the chef about how he was loudly berating a staffer. Unfortunately for Forgione, he didn't realize that the diner he kicked out was a NYT writer. Oops!! But frankly, he made his own bed, I think. His conduct was outrageous and inexcusable. I respect Ron Lieber for sticking up for someone who was obviously being bullied. Have you ever witnessed anything like this, Tom? What would you have done?

Tom Sietsema: Have I ever witnessed screaming chefs? Yes, but fortunately not that often in my 10 years as a critic here at the Post.

As awful as the chef might have been to his staffer, I'm not sure I would have gone back to talk to the chef in his workspace. That's pushing it. I certainly would have let a manager know how uncomfortable I was, then let him or her try to smooth things over for those in the dining room. I would also have been as nice as possible to the poor server who got the verbal dressing down!

washingtonpost.com: Ron Lieber: Why I Got Kicked Out of a Restaurant on Saturday Night

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Washington, D.C.:

Hi Tom: I love your column! I was hoping that you could provide some advice on choosing a restaurant. My coworker is getting married and we are taking him and his fiance out to a nice dinner to celebrate. We tried to make reservations at Rasika and Oyamel but both places are booked (dinner is next Wednesday, party of eight). We are looking for something similar to those -- fun, celebratory atmosphere, delicious food and all around nice. We have a back-up reservation at Zengo, but the dining area there is a bit too "cafeteria" for what we want. Do you have any suggestions for a great restaurant in Washington, D.C.? Thank you!

Tom Sietsema: What about Rasika's sibling, the Oval Room? It has a private area in the back of the main dining room that's really attractive. Another option is the sleek and delicious Corduroy near the convention center. Go there, then head to the nearby Passenger afterwards for drinks if you like.

washingtonpost.com: 2007 Fall Dining Guide: The Oval Room, 2009 Fall Dining Guide: Corduroy and The Passenger

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TV dinners:: Tom, I love your TV dinner videos. When can I look forward to the next installment?

Tom Sietsema: Ah, I'm taping two more segments this week. I think the next one is scheduled to run May 19.

washingtonpost.com: Tom Sietsema's TV Dinners

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Springfield, Va.: Hey Tom, love the chats! I'm trying to remember the name of an Indian restaurant you reviewed in the past months (I think on it was on Duke St). Is this ringing any bells? Looking for an Indian place for my birthday with girlfriends in Alex/Arlington. How is the one in Shirlington? Other suggestions would be great. Thanks in advance!

Tom Sietsema: Gosh, the only good restaurant in Shirlington, which is packed with places to eat, is the American-themed Carlyle.

The Indian joint I can recommend in Arlington is the small Delhi Club, steps away from the Clarendon metro. It's not all that fancy, but the cooking is true.

washingtonpost.com: 2005 Dining Guide: Delhi Club

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Washington, D.C.: Just a fun update for all the Top Chef fans out there, a friend of mine works at the C.I.A. (Langley) and ran into Padma (plus baby), Tom Colicchio, Wylie Dufresne, and Eric Ripert coming into the lobby last week. Staff were informed filming would be taking place on the grounds. I love that Top Chef DC is taking advantage of all our area has to offer!

Tom Sietsema: Could the White House residence be far behind?

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Foggy Bottom: Tom - My wife and I are planning to celebrate our first wedding anniversary with dinner at the Inn at Little Washington. Should we splurge for the chef's table, the kitchen table, or would dining there be luxury enough? Thanks!

Tom Sietsema: Congrats, Foggy Bottom. For a first visit to the Inn, you want to dine in the sumptuous dining rooms up front. A table facing the garden would be lovely right now. But if you can't manage that, at least have dessert outdoors, if the weather permits.

washingtonpost.com: 2009 Dining Guide: The Inn at Little Washington

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Washington, D.C.: Any news about the newly opened Buddha Bar?

Tom Sietsema: Other than it's opened you mean? I have yet to drop by.

washingtonpost.com: Tom on Buddha Bar's arrival

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Speaking of Pies: Why is it that so few restaurants offer pies as part of their dessert menus? Almost every retaurant this side of Asia offers cake yet so few offer pie. Which, if you can tell, I much prefer. Especially fruit pies.

Tom Sietsema: You are preaching to the choir, my friend. Bring on da pies, restaurants! My last really good slice was at Buck's Fishing & Camping.

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Cooking Corn: Remove husk for boiling, leave it on for roasting (soak ears in water first).

Tom Sietsema: Yep.

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Tipping for bad service: Hi Tom, I know I'm a couple of weeks behind the ball with this one, but I wanted to share. A group of 6 friends went to Central a few weeks ago--late reservations, around 10:00 or so on a Saturday night. Now, I love Central, probably have been 5 or 6 times in the past year. And never have I seen such poor service. The waitress could not have cared less about us--took 20 minutes to bring drinks and take an appetizer order, just very unresponsive throughout the night, brought out one dish a full 5 minutes after everyone else had been served, and just seemed to disappear altogether afterwards. Having been to Central many times before, I recognized this as unusual for the restaurant, where I generally see really good service. Being in a big group, none of us wanted the hassle of talking to a manager, so we ended up tipping about 10%. I told a few people about this a few days later, and some were absolutely appalled that we tipped so little, but honestly, I felt totally justified doing this--when you're spending hundreds of dollars on a meal, you expect to be treated well, not like you're a burden on the wait staff.

Tom Sietsema: I agree, you shouldn't tip 20 percent for inferior service. But you really owed it to the restaurant (and to other diners) to flag the service problems. One of you could have addressed the issue away from the table, so as not to make a public fuss.

Hmmmm. I see other complaints re: Central awaiting me here today.

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Pies: Went to Blue Duck Tavern for the first time a couple weeks ago; they had a good apple pie.

Tom Sietsema: Duh! Of course. And it's a whopper, best shared by the table.

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Speaking of PIes Redux: So Tom,

You're saying there isn't some kind of reason other than they think people don't want them ?

I was assuming that somehow it was harder or more expensive than cake or they didn't refrigerate as well as some kind of technical thing that made it harder.

Tom Sietsema: I think pies are tricky. Not the fillings so much, but the crust. A lot of bakers don't achieve those wonderful, flaky, butter, thin crusts I like so much.

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Clifton, Va. : Corn on the grill with the husks soaked in rum or untaxed VA corn liquor.

Tom Sietsema: Um, rum? Seriously?

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Buck's Fishing and Camping: Friends have secured a table for us at Buck's. Have you dined there since Chef Greenwood's departure? What's your take on the current Buck's?

Tom Sietsema: Let's just say the mood is more relaxed, and so are the prices. (I'd say more, but I'm re-reviewing the place for my spring dining guide, coming out May 23.)

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Corn: Cook with husk on in the microwave for 3 minutes. Delish!

Tom Sietsema: Thanks for the tip.

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Arlington, Va.: Hi Tom. Hoping you can help. My SO and I have an anniversary coming up next week. We want to go out and celebrate and we have no idea where to go. We want to do something sort of casual and light (we just got back from a week long cruise so a really fancy heavy expensive meal is not quite what we are looking for). We want somewhere laid back, moderately priced, casual, but also special, pretty much the opposite of what most people want on an anniversary! DC or NoVA. Only restrictions are that I cannot eat seafood or red meat and he does not like Indian or similar cuisines.

Tom Sietsema: Go to either the sushi counter or the grill bar at the new Kushi. They're casual, the food is light and if you don't order excessive amounts of extra-fatty tuna, sea urchin or sake, you won't have to break the bank.

washingtonpost.com: First Bite: Kushi

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Corn: I love it grilled. Take the silk off first, leave the husks on.

Tom Sietsema: This is turning into the Food chat (not that there's anything wrong with that ...)

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Rum on Corn: Doesn't that have a tendency to turn into corn flambe ?

Tom Sietsema: Or a corn cordial?

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Arlington, Va.: Hi Tom, love your chats! What do you think of Kora in Crystal City? I was there over the weekend and I thought the food was not worth the price and the servers were grumpy. The place looked nice though!

Tom Sietsema: Ah, so things haven't changed much since my review!

washingtonpost.com: 2010 Review: Kora

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Arlington, Va.: Excuse me, maybe the staffer deserved it from the chef. What you wanted it to be taken in the back. Restaurants especially the top notch ones don't work that way. Stop with the touchy freely lets all get together kumba ah stuff. This is the real world. The chef was right the NYT dude should have shut up sat down and ate his food. Stupid liberal MSM types.

Tom Sietsema: Whoa there, buddy! I was in your corner, for the most part, until you added "stupid, liberal MSM types." Believe it or not, you can't (or shouldn't) lump the mainstream press into a single category.

Now where's my shotgun, dammit!

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Pie: Overwood in Old Town actually has really good pie -- the key lime is not too tart nor too sweet and the Elvis Pie (choc, bananas, and peanut butter) is decedent. I'm very picky about my pies as I use to work in a bakery and their chocolate fudge pie is by far the best ever, but Overwood has impressed me.

Tom Sietsema: Another chatter suggests the mixed berry pie at EatBar in Arlington.

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Fairfax, Va.: Re Kushi response: she said she didn't eat seafood!

Tom Sietsema: Oops! But then there's the option of the meat from the grill. (I took a vegan to Kushi, by the way, and he dug the meal.)

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Grilled corn: Personally, I find grilled corn is best done without the husk. Coating the corn with butter, salt, and pepper before grilling provides a nice roasted, buttery, well-seasoned, smokey treat that almost tastes like popcorn. Keeping the husk on basically just gets you steamed corn.

Sounds like you'll need a fire extinguisher nearby if you soak it in rum though.

Tom Sietsema: I am SO ready for some corn on the cob right now.

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Grasshopper Pie: My mom makes the best chess and pecan pies...biased opinion but they make you drool. You can find her in her house in Alexandria. She also has made some pretty addictive grasshopper pies that make you feel like a kid again. Should she start a pie business?

Tom Sietsema: Grasshopper pie! My mom used to make that, too.

Speaking of pecan pie, Vidalia does a model one.

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Great Slice of Blueberry Pie: Tackle Box last Satuday night to go. UMMMM. I couldn't understand how it was so tasty. Juicy blueberries, no glop, sweet but now overthetop

Tom Sietsema: Now that I think of it ... yes!

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Bethesda, Md.: Re:Pie. I know Elvis is dead, but I didn't know his pie was! It's decAdent, not decEdent!

Tom Sietsema: Love the copy editors among us.

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Arlington, Va.: Tom- Do we know if Richard Brandenburg is a local boy? If it's who I am thinking of, he may have grown up in Reston.

Tom Sietsema: Dunno. But he's also cooked at Le Bernardin in New York and Fifth Floor and One Market in San Francisco.

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Alexandria, VA: Hi Tom, I'm hoping to surprise my partner tonight with a wonderful springtime amuse bouche when he arrives home from work. Any adventurous ideas? He deserves a reward for last night. Thanks.

Tom Sietsema: Nice idea (and what happened last night, wonders the nosy reporter).

Chatters, help me out here. Something with morels, perhaps? Or rhubarb?

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Fairfax, Va.: Grasshopper pie. We have a family story about that. When my cousin was a rookie cook she had us over for dinner and made a grasshopper pie from a recipe that evidently called for some flavor of instant pudding. Well, she inadvertently used regular pudding, didn't cook it, and served us a "pie" with a filling that was totally liquid and inedible. Very embarrassing! We still remind her of it occasionally.

Tom Sietsema: Julia Child said you should never apologize for cooking slips. Following that rule, your cousin should have given everyone spoons to eat dessert.

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Excuse me maybe the staffer deserved it from the chef. : That's not the point (and what has any of it to do w/the supposedly liberal MSM?). The scene was killing the experience for the entire restaurant, from Lieber's description. Why should the patrons suffer this discomfort even if the staffer did deserve a scolding? Out-of-control chefs need to learn to act like professionals and consider the customers...who are their reason for employment, after all.

Tom Sietsema: There are ways to impress upon staff that they've done something wrong. Screaming at them within hearing range of customers is bad management. I get that diners were uncomfortable. But I still would have taken the matter up with a manager.

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amuse: Get some morels, soak them in salt water for 20 minutes, dry really well, dredge in flour then seasoned beaten egg, then sautee in butter until crisp!

Tom Sietsema: Morel fritters! Or maybe a fritta.

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Parenthood, D.C.: No, not a question about kids at restaurants. My husband and I just became parents, so we don't eat out in the evenings much because it interferes with bedtime. Instead, we've made a standing date for lunch once a month -- good food, adult conversation, no worries about the babysitter. But it seems like some places we love aren't so great for lunch (lots of sandwiches, not much of the dinner menu) and some places we didn't go much have great lunch menus (love the lunch menu at Zola). If you had to do most of your restaurant dining at lunchtime and were putting together a schedule of places where you could get delicious food without either feeling rushed or being gone from the office for hours, what would be on your list? Bonus points for the Penn Quarter, which is easy to get to from our offices. Thank you!

Tom Sietsema: Rasika, 701, Cafe Atlantico, Sei .... that help?

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Chef chewing on staff: "Maybe he deserved it"? What nonsense! So what if he did, I'm there to enjoy a meal and I don't want to hear you yelling at your staff. A restaruant is in the "hospitality" business. Hearing you yell isn't condusive and anyway it is unprofessional. I spent 22 years in the military by the way, but I never yelled at my subordinates. A good manager doesn't have to.

Tom Sietsema: Right on.

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Amuse Boche: What about asparagus covered in proscuitto and roasted? Or strawberries and marscapone bite?

Tom Sietsema: Clever thinkers here. Both sound lovely. (I'd put the strawberry in a deep soup spoon, like the ones you see in Chinese restaurants.)

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Silver Spring, Md.: I know this is late, but any current can't miss restaurants in Chicago?

Tom Sietsema: Avec, Publican and Topolobompo (for stellar Mexican) all come to mind.

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Bethesda, Md.: Morning Tom, Help, your expertise is needed. My anniversary is the end of the month (mid-week)and I am looking for a nice restaurant in the Chinatown area to metro down and meet my wonderful hubby for dinner. Nothing too fancy but nice enough to celebrate the occasion. He doesn't do sushi and I don't do anything spicy. What can you recommend? Thank you and you are a food God.

Tom Sietsema: I'm thinking Zengo (pan-Asian), Poste (modern American) and Cafe Atlantico (upscale Latin American) all have what you're looking for. And don't forget 701. If money is a consideration, reserve early and order the pre-theater menu there.

(Food god, huh? I'll take it!)

washingtonpost.com: 2005 Review: Zengo, 2009 Dining Guide: Poste Moderne Brasserie, 2006 Fall Dining Guide: Cafe Atlantico and 2010 Review: 701

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Arlington, Va.: Hi Tom. I'd like to try a few of the restaurants that you recommended in your Postcard from Paris but don't speak French. Will this be an issue at any of those places? Is there a proper way to make reservations for the non-French speaking?

Tom Sietsema: To make reservations ahead of your trip, and you should, consider enlisting the aid of the concierge of the hotel you'll be staying at, or a French-speaking friend or colleague based here.

To navigate Parisian menus, I suggest you buy a pocket guide that lists French food terms. Most of the places I've written about employ at least one person, if not more, who speak English. But it doesn't hurt for YOU to do a little homework and learn the basics, like how to greet someone at the door or say thank you.

Bon chance!

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Washington, D.C.: Tom, Prague IS one of the most beautiful cities in the world and has some wonderful restaurants. Our favorites are:

Bellevue My first choice for food with a memorable view ( an excellent view of Prague Castle). Very complex international menu and first class ervice.

Kampa Park - We very much enjoyed this place as well Address: Na Kampe 8/b, Malá Strana,

V ZÁTI¿Í - Our favorite for mostly non-czech food; nouvelle cuisine and great wines. Also owned by same folks as Belleview Betlémské nám. Email: vzatisi@zatisigroup.cz www: www.zatisigroup.cz

washingtonpost.com: Our Prague-bound chatters thank you!

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Parents' lunch date: Zaytinya!

Tom Sietsema: But it's kind of rushed, no?

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Washington D.C.: Anonymous: In response to last weeks discussion about waiters strongarming for tips, how do you feel about confronting a "regular" who always leaves 10% or less?

HI Tom, I worked as waiter for many years and can understand a server's frustration with low/no tips from a guest; however I have never once seen or heard a server complain either here or in any other forum about a guest leaving an exceptionally large tip. I am still in the business and see literally thousands of guest checks every year and time has taught me two things if nothing else. The dining publics generosity far out ways their stinginess, and more often than not a poor tip IS a reflection of poor service ( I can not tell you how many times a server has brought a poor tip to my attention, only for me to receive a call or note later from the same guest). Sometimes the server is unaware of the guests perception (a problem in itself), sometimes it is not their fault (slow food coming from a slow kitchen), sometimes the guest is being unreasonable or even ridiculous. The point is however that those in the hospitality industry who work for tips enter into the business with the understanding that this is how the tip system works in this country and restaurant patrons are not obligated/ required to leave gratuities. Questioning a tip for any other reason (and only without referencing the tip itself) than to find out if the guests is leaving unsatisfied is always going to be counter productive for the guest, the server, the establishment and the industry as a whole. Servers need to know and understand this yes sometimes it sucks, but how often does it really happen; more often than not a server has had a hard shift (it's a hard job) and this compounds the frustration leading to this sort of question. Yes it can suck, but no one forces anyone to work in the restaurant industry; so suck it up if you choose to do so; find out if there was a problem (and fix it or let a manager do it for you and learn from it) or chalk it up to another day in the industry and console yourself the next time someone leaves you 25% or an extra hundred on top of a check.

Tom Sietsema: Thanks so much for the excellent post. I love how much we all learn from each other in this forum.

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Amuse bouche: One of my favorites for when the weather turns warmer are Asian style Spring rolls. Take rice wrappers and soak in water until soft. Fill with your choice of shredded napa cabbage, carrots, ginger, asparagus, red peppers, and other veggies of choose (shredded shitake's sound good) and a light drizzle of a sweet sauce like a plum sauce, hoysin or something different like a duck sauce or peanut sauce, then wrap like a sushi hand roll (cone like). You can make them ahead and then chill them and bring them out when needed, with a little more sauce on the side.

Tom Sietsema: Merci. And I bet you could pluck most of the ingredients for the filling from a good salad bar.

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More pie: Excellent Key lime and coconut cream pies at Ray's the Classics.

Tom Sietsema: Our list is growing by the minute ...

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Anonymous: Tom - sorry this is late and sorry if you already posted something about it. My son in law tells me he's working (as in building) a restaurant in Bethesda for Robert Weidmeier and TLC is filming it. Just an FYI he also told me the place has a seafood theme.

Tom Sietsema: Mussel Bar, perhaps?

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re: pie: ever try to make a pie? whoever said the phrase easy as pie obviously never did. i think restaurants offer more cakes because they are easier to make and frosting can hide lots of flaws.

Tom Sietsema: And on that sweet note (couldn't resist!), I bid you all a great remainder of the week. See you back here next Wednesday.

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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. 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.

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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