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Ask Tom

Tom Sietsema
Wednesday, July 14, 2010; 11:00 AM

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Tom Sietsema: Nonna is expected to start serving chef Amy Brandwein's food in Dupont Circle next month. "I'm in the middle of hiring right now," Cam tells me. Rock on.

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Pizzeria Orso's Steep Price Point: Hey Tom--love your chats. My husband and I are Falls Church natives and ate at Pizzeria Orso for the first time for Sunday lunch, and while the food was great, I'm worried that the restaurant won't succeed in the long run because of its price point--for two small (the "12 inch" description is pushing it!) pizzas (the Filetto and the Orso) and a $5 Peroni draft, we spent $47 including tax and tip. That is just wayyy too much for such a small amount of food, especially in Falls Church. I'm submitting this comment in case the owners are reading the chat and consider reducing their prices a bit--we want restaurants like this to stick around, but just can't stomach spending 50 bucks on two tiny pizzas and a beer!! It's the economy, stupid!! :)

Tom Sietsema: Here's your plea. But the prices at Orso, whose (traditional) 12-inch pizzas run from $7 to $15, are more or less in line with the Neapolitan competition. Seventh Hill Pizza sells its 8-inch rounds for $9.95 to $10.95. And Pacci's in Silver Spring, the 12-inch pizzas go for between $8 and $13.50.

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quick lunch near ritz carlton: Hi Tom--thanks for your AMAZING chats!! Can you please help-- conference coming up soon at the Ritz Carlton on 22nd st nw-- only an hour for lunch-- I know there are a lot of great restaurants nearby there but anything you can recommend with just an hour break for lunch??

Tom Sietsema: I keep hearing good things about Ris, which is steps away from your meeting room. Go for the chicken pot pie or the tuna nicoise tartine on the lunch menu, and enjoy them at the bar if there are no free tables.

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LA Foodie Visiting: Sorry for the use of the word "foodie" maybe I shoudl have put "good eater", but either way I have a visitor from LA staying with me this weekend and I am looking for a good, moderately priced place to take her near Georegtown tomorrow night for dinner. We will also have my 14 month old with us (she is well behaved and a great eatter). Any recommendations for a visitor who swears LA has the best restaurants in the world? (what can I say? she is slightly misguided)

Tom Sietsema: "ethnic" cooking. And let's not forget Tokyo ...Where to impress your friend and accommodate your child? I never fail to have a great time at Et Voila! in the Palisades, which serves very good Belgian food -- something you don't run into much in LA.

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Reservations: Hi Tom! I've been mulling this one over for some time now: Since you can't reveal your identity, how exactly do you score reservations at the restaurants that are hard to get into?

Tom Sietsema: (Don't you hate the music and/or advertisements that precede a live voice on too many reservation lines?) I find it useful to personally experience the hassle of snaring a hot table.

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State College, PA: Howdy, Tom. I was recently in Falls Church and had the great pleasure of dining at a Thai restaurant called Elephant Jumps. It's located in the Yorktown Shopping Center at Route 50 and Gallows. The food was fabulous and beautifully presented. The staff was great, and very patient with my toddler (who loves Thai food and ate everything on his plate). The place is pretty small (ten tables, maybe?), but it was some of the best Thai food I've ever eaten. I highly recommend it. Thanks for the chats.

Tom Sietsema: I've been hearing good reports from other readers about this place. Thanks for what sounds like a promising tip.

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Jaleo and Spain's victory: Hi Tom - Spain won, so my recent receipt from Jaleo says the next dinner is on them. Tried calling them to ask details, but no one was available. (Did not call during lunch or dinner rush, I promise). Do you know what I need to do to redeem it? Just present it next time I'm there?

Tom Sietsema: Generous of Jaleo, huh? A stipulation: The date and time of purchase must have been on a game day prior to 5 p.m.

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Solo Dining: Thanks for taking my question, Tom!! Hope you can offer some insight. Amongst my friends I'm really the only one interested in food, and I'm an adventurous eater; I often dine solo, having learned that, at least for me, being able to savor a wonderful meal by myself is very often preferable to dining with a friend who couldn't really care less. However, at the more specialized end of the dining spectrum, I get the impression that the meals are designed with two or more in mind. My question is: in places like Minibar, Komi, or CityZen, for example, would it be really out of place/awkward/to make a reservation for one? Please help, Tom - I would love to experience these places, but my "soloness" keeps me from making a reservation. Your thoughts?

Tom Sietsema: I like your style. Why let friends who don't share your passion deter you from a great meal?I can't imagine Komi turning down a reservation for one. It wouldn't hurt to ask. I'd love to hear how the restaurant responds.

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Washington, DC: I had a really frustrating experience with Zaytinya recently. I had dinner there 2 weeks ago and noticed I was charged twice. I called Thursday morning and spoke with someone and a manager was supposed to call me back, no one did. I called back Friday and left a message in the morning, no one called so I just called again around 5. I spoke with a manager and she promised to call me back or have someone call by the end of the night and once again, no one called me back. It did end up being 2 pending charges and one dropped but they could have at least explained that to me or pretended to care. I felt like I was being a bother to the restaurant and inconveniencing them, when I was the one inconvenienced. It was before a holiday weekend so I did have the pending charge held for 5 days which is annoying with a debit card and I think the restaurant should have shown a little more interest in wanting to help me out or getting to the bottom of it. Its unfortunate because I love their food but was extremely disappointed with their customer service. What do you think is the best way to handle these situations?

Tom Sietsema: I sympathize.I'm sure the restaurant was busy and as you point out, the double charge occured during a holiday weekend. Still, you were out some money because of a mistake made by the restaurant and Zaytinya should have made you more of a priority. If you don't already, keep a log of diners' calls, make sure everyone on the front lines knows where it is, and try to get back to customers in a timely fashion. Stuff like the above can leave a bad taste in patrons' mouths.

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noras: Sorry this is a little late. I read your recent review of Noras in Dupont and felt that your comments were accurate, but that the chef/owner of this DC establishment deserves praise for more than just serving fine food. Washington DC has truly become a farm to table restaurant city and it has spread from the district out to Virginia and Maryland. Nora introduced us to local purveyors such as Tuscarora, Path Valley and smaller amish producers that now stock the shelves of many of DC's finer establishments. She was light years ahead of the game and now that we have finally caught up it has almost become expected to source locally and serve sustainable product on our menus. Nora has helped these small purveyors blossom and grow for the years to come. The management of Noras also treats their employees with great respect as many of them have been with her for twenty or so years. They have been able to raise families, buy homes all while having job security. Having been a chef for her in the past the Nora team paid my way to Europe twice to gain experience in two and three star michelin kitchens. They always supported my growth and that of the others in the kitchen and front of the house. I have gone on now to run a very succesful kitchen in DC in which almost all product was from our region. This experience then paved my way to Tokyo and now as a chef with one of the most powerful groups in America where Noras influence still gives me the tools to offer a unique perspective on sourcing. Noras gave myself and many others the opportunity to grow and move on to a budding chef career. Who knew that our region produces an abundance of wild mushrooms, livestock, dairy and produce. She did and now so does every chef in the DC area. Nora deserves more recognition for her three decades of work in providing us with the ability to connect with our farming nieghbors.

Tom Sietsema: First, thanks for taking the time to write such a detailed and civil defense of one of Washington's culinary leaders. The menu isn't well-edited and the place lacks consistency. I say all this, having dined there three times in the past year.

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Breakfast Pizza: Tom,Didn't you ask for recs for the best pizza to eat for breakfast the next day? I just had a sausage pizza from Pupatella that was great cold the next day. Their homemade sausage is very good, with lots of flavor and texture. I didn't think the crust was going to stand up well the next day, but it did, a little chewy, but I think that is par for the course on cold pizza.

Tom Sietsema: the "SW Waterfront" scattered with anchovies, olives and basil.

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Cape Cod dining?: I'm going there at the end of next week. Would love some recommendations, from you or from the chatters. We eat anything and everything. Raw, cooked, you name it. (We're staying in Orleans, if it makes a difference; but we usually go up and down the Cape all week, so location isn't so important.) Not sure if we're going to the islands, but if anyone has a recommendation there, happy to take it!Thanks,Loyal reader

Tom Sietsema: Cape Cod, anyone? I've never been.

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Estadio, Logan Circle: Tom, huge fan of the chats. So what's up with the new Estadio on 14th Street in Logan Circle? I live in the neighborhood and have been walking by for the past couple of months eagerly anticipating yummy Spanish tapas in the 'hood. However, I was totally halted in my tracks upon seeing the absolutely hideous furnishings move in! Thick, overpowering wooden tables paired with giant, carved, overstuffed chairs?! What is this, Medieval Times? The Renaissance Fair? All the same, I'm eager to try the food. Let's hope the chef isn't also the interior decorator!

Tom Sietsema: Me-ow! I think he spent a pretty penny dressing the interior with all those 19th-century Spanish tiles, iron chandeliers, custom-designed group tables and marble counters.Estadio opened to the public yesterday, by the way.

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Buddha Bar: Hi! What has the buzz been on Buddha Bar since your first bite? Do you (and the other chatters) recommend Buddha Bar for dinner or for just dessert/drinks for 4 women who love to try new things?

Tom Sietsema: I've not heard a thing about the place since I previewed it, but just driving by, it looks somewhat busy. Chatters? Anyone been in lately?

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Reviews: How often do you offer a review, when in fact you are known asTom Sietsema?

Tom Sietsema: Say that again, please?

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Closing Times: Tom - I work downtown and am often dashing out to get dinner to bring back to my desk or take home (depressing, I know). This summer, I am repeatedly running into a problem where I show up to an eatery 15-20 minutes before closing time to find the doors locked. Usually the staff inside are cleaning up and refuse to let me in, even though their posted hours say they should be open.Do restaurants have to abide by their posted hours, or am I just out of luck? The worst offender is Cosi, but it's happened at several different establishments.

Tom Sietsema: places are closing early repeatedly, however, you really owe it to yourself and others to bring the matter to the attention of a manager, or maybe even the corporate office (if it's a chain).

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Conch: Hi Tom,Any restaurant in the area that offers conch- fritters, chowder or cracked? I haven't been to the Bahamas but I'm dying to satiate my love of conch?

Tom Sietsema: I saw conch fritters on the menu at Cafe Atlantico last week.

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High chairs in restaurants: My husband and I went to Rasika for dinner with my mother and 1-year-old daughter Saturday night, after having made reservations in June. When we got there, at 5:30, and asked for a high chair for our baby, we were told they didn't have high chairs or booster seats, so we kept our baby on our laps the whole dinner, which was stressful and unpleasant. I was surprised and disappointed that they didn't have anything for children, and thought they should then have a no-children policy if they weren't prepared to accomodate little ones. What do you think?

Tom Sietsema: When you made the reservation, did you inquire about a high-chair for your baby? Rasika doesn't strike me as the sort of place that sees a lot of infants.

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Eating in Fort Lauderdale : Tom, Do you or the chatters have any Fort Lauderdale restaurant recommendations? Heading there for work next week. Any input is appreciated!

Tom Sietsema: Paging Fort Lauderdale chowhounds! Paging Fort Lauderdale chowhounds!

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Brunch at Bistro Provence: I noticed that the new Bethesda Yannick Cam restaurant has brunch on Saturday, but there is no brunch menu on their website. Have you tried it? Does anyone know what they are serving for brunch?

Tom Sietsema: Cam tells me he plans to introduce a small brunch menu (picture crepes and egg dishes) to Bistro Provence by the end of the month. It will be in addition to the restaurant's lunch selections.

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Silver Spring: Any comments on the buffet at Spice X-ing? I'm going there in a couple weeks and I was disappointed the buffet wasn't mentioned in your review. Should I skip it entirely and order off the menu?

Tom Sietsema: Unfortunately, all my experiences at Spice X-ing involved dinner. Maybe a chatter can weigh in about the noontime buffet?

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Richmond VA: We'll be there this weekend for a couple of nights. Where should we dine? Open to almost anything

Tom Sietsema: Here's what I liked most when I was down there last.

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Tipping: I've tried asking this before, but have not had any luck. When did the tip for "average" service go up to 20%? For most of my life, it was 15%, and more or less depending on underwhelming or fantastic. And for the record, if I'm eating at a low-end joint, I'm likely to go 30%+, simply because I know the wait staff is getting peanuts for a paycheck.

Tom Sietsema: Just to be clear: I tend to leave 20 percent for "good" service, 15 percent for "average" attention.

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Places closing early: Give the people at Cosi a break. They work harder for less money than you likely do. If they're closing early, tip your hat and get some chinese takeout.

Tom Sietsema: Um, that really doesn't solve the problem.

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High Chairs in Restaurants: I'm not the original poster (I don't even have kids), but it reminded me of a question I've had in the past. When I have eaten out with friends with children in the past we always identify ourselves as a party of X with Y adults and Z children. Several times over the years we been surprised to find out no high chairs or booster seats are available (either because the restaurant doesn't have them or they are all in use). On at least two occasions we have had to leave for another establishment because of the lack of appropriate seating. I've always expected that if we bring the issue to the host's attention when requesting a table that the host then out to inform us upfront if the restaurant may not be able to accommodate us. Is this an unreasonable expectation?As a sidenote, I have always used similar phrasing when dining out with relatives using wheelchairs or walkers and the hosts have always volunteered if they would be unable to accommodate.

Tom Sietsema: Thanks for writing. Your post reminds me that if you want good service, if you don't want any unpleasant surprises, it always pays to be pro-active. As in, call the chef if you have dietary restrictions. Phone ahead of any visit if you or a guest needs special seating. And so on. (My question: How many high chairs is one restaurant expected to stock if it's not a "family" kind of place?)

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for cape cod: The best lobster roll (I've found) is the friendly fisherman -- a shack off Rte. 6 in Eastham. Some of the best ice cream I've had anywhere is a couple doors down (I think it's called Nauset ice cream).enjoy!

Tom Sietsema: My kind of meal: Lobster and ice cream.Thanks for the tips.

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Cape Cod Dining: There's a terrific family-run Vietnamese restaurant in South Yarmouth on Route 28 called Thuan Loi.

Tom Sietsema: For when you get tired of lobster and ice cream, right?

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Conch: Teddy's Roti Shop (just North of Walter Reed on Georgia) has lots of Conch on the menu. Not as high end, but it's cheap and tasty!

Tom Sietsema: Mmmm. I know Teddy's has its fans.

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Restaurant Price Points: Tom, you disputed the Fall's Church poster's concern about Pizzeria Orso's prices with examples of 1 DC restaurant that has a long-time following, 2 new places, both of which is are in pretty high-income neighborhood; and 1 example in Silver Spring (no indication of how long that one's been around). You don't know whether Il Canale or Seventh Hill will survive at those price points, and expectations and incomes in Falls Church aren't the same as what they are in Georgetown or Capitol Hill. You shouldn't have been so dismissive of the poster's concern.

Tom Sietsema:

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I may be too late : but for your solo diner, I had a great meal at City Zen's bar. It was three courses plus wine pairings for $75 when I did it ,and they paid great attention to me. I keep meaning to do it again!

Tom Sietsema: Agreed! I actually have more fun at the bar (and with its menu) than in the dining room, but I think the poster was looking to be seated in the restaurant proper, and eat from the more formal menu.

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Estadio: Hi Tom, Mark Kuller from Estadio/Proof here. Clearly one can't please all tastes, particularly where design is concerned. But i am particularly proud of the design and feel of Estadio. I think it is stunning and the early response has been almost universally ecstatic. Though the poster may prefer a more modern, austere feel, Estadio's decor tries to replicate the feel and look of what I generally experienced in the pintxo and tapas bars of Spain. I take full blame for the custom tables from the Medieval NYC Design Center, and chairs custom made in Colombia patterned after a chair I saw in Madrid. I suspect the poster will be much more comfortable at the bar on sleek steel and wood swivel stools custom made in Richmond by a stock car builder. And fear not, Chefs Karoum and Bautista had no involvement in designing the dining room!

Tom Sietsema: Spoken like a true diplomat. Gracias, Mr. Kuller.

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Cape Cod: Definitely go to Lindsey's and get the lobster (baked stuffed is my favorite) or the fried clam platter. My family has gone there for about 35 years, and still love ithttp://www.lindseysfamilyrestaurant.com/The Clam Shack in Falmouth is also AWESOME

Tom Sietsema: This apple I'm muching on is definitely not doing the trick today. I'm craving .... shore food!

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DC: Hi Tom, I was walking by Logan Circle and I saw this new restaurant on 14th st b/n P and Church-- but I can't remember the name--I starts with an E-- Can you please help me out---and also if its any good

Tom Sietsema: Estadio, mentioned above (several times)?

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High chairs: It's up to the guests to ask about high chairs at the time of the reservation. (if it's not a typical restaurant for children.)HOWEVER, it's up to the host or manager to work with that party. At my restaurant, for instance, we only have two high chairs that are rarely used. But if we anticipate more than two kids, we borrow from neighboring restaurants and/or hotels.Planning! It makes everyone's life easier!

Tom Sietsema: Smart man (or woman).

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Lunch Buffet at Spice Xing: I've had the buffet at Spice Xing twice, and been very happy with it both times. There's a good variety of food, and all of it delicious. They keep it hot and well stocked. There's no need to eat off the menu at lunch time.

Tom Sietsema: To our rescue. Thanks.

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Sunday Brunch idea?: Hi Tom! Love your chats & reviews. Last Sunday, my group of friends and I ate at Ted's Bulletin for brunch. Although we waited an hour (we had 12 people), we had relatively good service and good food. Do you have any suggestion to Sunday Brunch around Capitol Hill area? Thanks!

Tom Sietsema: There's always a crowd of folks at Belga Cafe, and for pretty good reason in the a.m.

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Bombay Club: Although not mentioned too often on this chat, I would just like to thank the Bombay Club for their exceptional service last night. Not only was the food delicious (the lentils were amazing--I stole my husbands portion too) but we had a White House tour to get to and it was pouring last night, and the host gave us his umbrella so I wouldn't get wet.Thank you so much. Also, I love the live piano player, such a great, classy touch.I just wish tourists would dress up a little bit more for such a fine establishment....

Tom Sietsema: I agree with you: Bombay Club is such a classy, classy operation.

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Bethesda, MD: Have you made it back to Bistro Provence yet? I was kinda disappointed in it. It's a beautiful little place with great service, but the food is just "fine"...nothing exciting. In fact, it's the first time I've ever had to ask for salt in a restaurant, as much of the food was really under seasoned. The portion sizes are also very small, which is fine if you like to go the whole appetizer/entree/dessert route, but it adds up.I can see the place doing well there, it fills a need left by the departure of Le Miche, but I'd say it's not quite as good as either Bistro du Coin or Monmartre...both of which are a few dollars cheaper as well. They also spotlight one of your pet peeves...they have a lot of specials, all of which are significantly more than the average appetizers and entrees.

Tom Sietsema: I share your frustration re: the list of specials!

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London restaurants: Hi Tom- We always rely on your postcards when visiting a city you've eaten through but I can't find a London postcard. I thought you'd been there this spring? Am looking for suggestions when there in early September- especially one for a special meal for my husband's birthday. He'll be stuck on a transcontinental flight for his actual birthday, so I wanted to make up for it by getting a reservation somewhere fantastic. Any price okay- cuisine okay, really, and in particular I was wondering about one of Gordon Ramsay's restaurants. (all hype, or fab?) To give you an idea of what we like and why we love you, Fond in Philly was perfect. But open to anything. Thank you.

Tom Sietsema: After getting ashed out of London in April (remember the soot-spewing Icelandic volcano?), I finally made it to England earlier this month. Stay tuned: I plan to write about the (food) highlights later this month, in the Travel section.

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Inox closing - 2941 as substitute: Hi Tom! My father-in-law will be in town at month's end, and his visit covers his 65th birthday. My husband and I secured a babysitter for the evening, and want to take my mother-in-law and father-in-law out to celebrate the occassion. We live in Falls Church, and are looking to stay relatively nearby (i.e. probably not heading into DC). I tried to make reservations at Inox, but must have missed the boat that the restaurant closed! I have reservations at 2941, which I went to in April for my husband's birthday. I think 2941 is great, but is there someplace we're missing out on in the Falls Church/Tyson's/McLean/Vienna area that would knock our socks off? Thanks Tom!

Tom Sietsema: Considering Michel Richard's place has yet to open in the Ritz in Tysons, I think you've found the perfect place to celebrate your father-in-law's big day.2941 claims a great view, a top chef and, as of April, a new sommelier. He's Matthew Carroll, the former cellar master of the Inn at Little Washington (which stocks an estimated 12,000 bottles).

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Pick my Birthday Dinner Restaurant! : Deciding between The Source and Liberty Tavern. (I've never been to either.) The Source is obviously more of a special occasion restaurant, but there's something about the fresh-sounding menu at Liberty Tavern that's pulling me in, too. Please decide for me, Tom!

Tom Sietsema:

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Where is the cheese?: I know you are always encouraging diners to speak up when there is a problem but where is the line? For instance, I ordered a steak salad with lots of ingredients...one of which was to be blue cheese. The salad was enormous, so at first I thought the cheese had fallen to the bottom and I would come across it shortly, but no. Sadly, there was no cheese. By the time the waiter came by to ask, the salad was half gone and it seemed silly to ask about my cheese. Tom, I respect your judgment in these matters. What was a girl to do?

Tom Sietsema: I think I would have raised my hand after noticing the absence of the cheese a few bites in rather than waiting, praying and hoping that the ingredient was *somewhere* in the mound. And, being a blue cheese fancier, I would have mentioned the oversight to the waiter when he eventually came around, so I could enjoy the rest of the salad as it was meant to be served.

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washington Dc: a local hotel restaurant does the specials orally then when it comes, it isn't what they said which might be understandable if they didn't charge me. I've asked them to print the daily specials but that doesn't seem to help, since whatever the menu price is, they seem to charge more thinking no one will notice that. Help.

Tom Sietsema: Not good! Did you bring the disparity to the attention of a manager?

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Tipping: I am confused about what to do at restaurants where you order at the counter, but they bring your food to your table. I was recently at a restaurant where I also had to go to help myself at the soda fountain myself and had to pull my own silverware from a nearby table. Is a tip expected? If so, how much?

Tom Sietsema: So you're doing everything but carrying your order from kitchen to table? In a case like that, I'd probably put a buck or two in a tip jar if one is sitting out.

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Outside the Beltway in VA: We seem to be the poor step child when it comes to reviews and First bite columns. 92% of your reviews and First Bite columns are DC, MD and close in VA. Even MD outside the beltway gets more reviews etc. Scared to venture out my way. CCW scaring you?

Tom Sietsema: If you only knew how hard I try to play fair ....The reality is, most of the restaurants of greatest interest to most of my readers are close to the District. Hermitage. Or Ashby Inn ... well, I hope you catch my drift.

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Washington D.C.: I went to Ethiopic last weekend. WOW! This was the best Ethiopian food that I've had. The Kitfo had a great texture and plenty of spice. I agree that the tables are a bit too small. But the food is worth it.

Tom Sietsema: Thanks for the feedback.I always worry, whenever I give a small mom & pop some well-deserved stars, that the place will change for the different in the wake of the publicity. Happy to see you enjoyed Ethiopic as much as I did, small tables aside.

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Ft Lauderdale: If you're in the mood for traditional Jewish Deli, there's a great place that I'm pretty sure is called The Deli Den. Have the stuffed cabbage rolls. Obama ate there when he was campaigning.

Tom Sietsema: Mover over, lobster. Stuffed cabbage rolls are now competing for my attention.Gotta dash, folks. Thanks for a lively hour. I'll see you here again next week.

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