Phyllis Richman – Live!
Hosted by Phyllis Richman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, March 18, 1999
By Craig Cola/
Washington Post restaurant critic Phyllis C. Richman recently came to the Web – live on Style Live!
In more than two decades of critiquing Washington restaurants – from the hautest temple of gastronomy to the most obscure off-the-beaten track discovery – Richman has become a household name for everyone in our area who loves to eat.
Every Thursday at noon, Phyllis will be on hand to answer your questions and field your comments about dining out in Washington. And, you can read Phyllis's Sunday reviews on Friday – only on the Web!
Phyllis mentions several restaurants during her discussions. If you are hungry to find out more – prices, location, hours, dress code, etc. – visit our restaurant front, go to the "Find Places & Events" search box, enter a restaurant name or category, select "Search StyleLive" and click "Search Now."
Following is the transcript from this Thursday's discussion.
It looks like you are going to get some of the sunny, Thursday sidewalk dining weather that you so long for. Where would you take some guests in for the weekend for a fun "DC" atmosphere? Nothing clubby or stiff but rather a laid back experience with good food and drinks where you can linger a while without being rushed out the door. Also, what cuisine would you say is unique to the area?
Phyllis Richman: Hello, everyone. Indeed we have our sunny Thursdays back. I hope you're all with your laptops at an outdoor cafe or on the banks of the Potomac.
If you're looking for an outdoor place to lunch,consider the following:
Bacchus (Behtesda branch only), BeDuCi, Bombay Bistro, Bread Line, CF Folks, Cafe Bethesda, Cafe Ole, Cafe Deluxe. . .those are a start. How could I rattle them off like that? I've opened to the Outdoor Dining list in the Washington Post Dining Guide. You can find such a list here on line at washingtonpost.com, too.
At a recent swing night in Glen Echo Park, my wife and I passed what looked like a charming inn right outside of the park. I missed the name, but they had what looked like a romantic restaurant. Any idea what it was or if it's good?
Phyllis Richman: Here's another lovely outdoor dining spot, The Inn at Glen Echo. Great food? Maybe not. But a charming place.
San Francisco, California:
What is going on in my beloved home towns? I grew up in Bethesda, then lived in the District (Glover Park and Georgetown) for many years. I had a lot of great times and great meals in each. Why the staggering and distressing degree of animosity displayed in this space? There is nothin remotely similar here as between S.F., Marin, East Bay, etc. I wouldn't want to be in the same dining room with any of you guys.
Phyllis Richman: I, too, saw that you all got a little heated while I was away last week. Now that I'm back to keep you in line, surely the discourse will maintain a friendly and respectful demeanor. I must say, though, that I roared laughing at some of your comments in last week's Bethesda Battle, and thought maybe I should stay away more often.
Hi Phyllis. Wondering if you (or anyone out there!) have an opinion on hotel restaurants? Not necessarily the well-known places like Citronelle or Lespinasse, but places like Metro Grille or Bello Mondo (both in Marriott hotels). Do locals ever eat at these places? Are there advantages? Which ones are good?
Phyllis Richman: I do eat at these place, though obviously I can't get to all of them. The ones I find indifferent or worse I leave alone, and the good ones I revisit and write about.
Why do you think Prince Georges County has such a dearth of good restaurants? We're really pathetic out there. Besides an occasional ethnic restaurant worthy of mention (Cielito Lindo is one), everything is chains, bland, fried, American-style crud.
Phyllis Richman: I grew up in PG County, and surprising as it may seem, the restaurant scene is better now. That said, it's pretty limited. I think it is hard to get a restaurant scene going. (Look how long it took Bethesda),especially when there is no strong central business neighborhood and/or strong ethnic community. Where the latter is, eg. Langley Park, at least some interesting ethnic dining takes hold.
All that doesn't say much that's useful, except that when any of you finds a good restaurant in PG County, please let me know. That's' how I found Cielito Lindo all those years ago.
My fiance and I introduced our respective best friends, now they are beating us to the altar by "eloping" on a Thursday night this July, with us as sole witnesses at the church and guests for their post-nuptial dinner at Inn at Little Washington (lucky us!). I have been tasked with asking you about the atmosphere of the table in the kitchen vs. another table at the Inn---we would like an intimate sort of setting. I feel that the kitchen table, while special, would be too much the center of action for our preference for this particular occasion. What do you think? Thanks.
Phyllis Richman: There seems to be a lot of interest in chefs' tables these days. Most of them can be seen from the dining room, and you can look at them before you book them. Whether they suit your occasion is a very personal perception.
At the Inn at Little WAshington, the chef's table is quite roomy and well set off from the action, so you can have some conversation while you watch the action. It has a manorial look is is rather grand.
Do restaurants reserve not only their better tables for their best/important customers, but also their better time slots? I cannot get a reservation at L'Auberge Chez Francois between 7-8:30 no matter how far in advance I call. I have been trying for years. Have you ever heard of restaurants doing this?
Phyllis Richman: Some do. At very popular restaurants sometimes no matter how early you call, you'll only be offered reservations before 7 or after 9. Then the middle hour is saved for friends of the house. At Daniel in NY I couldn't get an 8 p.m table (reserving under a fake name, of course), but Al Gore did. Of course. You'd do that too if you had a restaurant. But L'Auberge Chez Francois doesn't budge for anyone. Al Gore would have undoubtedly been dining with me at 9 p.m.
Falls Church, VA:
Since moving from New York, I've been trying to find a good diner in DC. Not the Silver Diner style -- I mean those diners with gigantic menus that serve breakfast all day, have big greek salads, and serve their vegetable side dishes in tiny bowls next to your plate. Do you know what I mean? I've heard of one in Baltimore, but I haven't investigated. Any thoughts?
Phyllis Richman: That's never been a Washington thing. Amphora comes as close as we get to what I think of as New Jersey Greek diners.
Being Italian, being transplanted from the NY area, and with St. Joseph's day being tomorrow, I find myself missing Zeppoli de Giuseppe. These are zeppoli filled with custard and cherries, which are made for the feast of St. Joseph. I've only seen them once around here, at Vaccaro's, and they were the kind filled with sweet riccotta (which I hate) instead of custard. Any ideas? Help!
Phyllis Richman: Okay, that's not a DC thing either. But wait a month for soft-shell crabs and you won't miss NY Italian street food or New Jersey diners.
Do you know who is taking Ruth Reichl (sp?) place as the restaurant critic for the New York Times?
Phyllis Richman: William (Biff) Grimes is becoming the New York Times food critic. He's been on the staff, writing about food and wine and such for awhile. He's a delightful writer, and has done some especially good stories about wine service in restaurants.
I was at the Inn at Little Washington on Valentines Day and a waiter told me that the kitchen tables were not ready yet. Whats up?
Phyllis Richman: The kitchen table is indeed in operation and has been for a year. There is some other part of the renovation that may not be ready yet.
I love this chat, but I have to admit I'm pretty much a chain-restaurant frequenter (Don Pablo's, Ledos, Red Hot & Blue, etc.). We find that the food is generally good and that the prices are reasonable and the portions are large. They are also geared toward serving families, which is important to us because we bring our young children with us when we eat out. When we occasionally go to non-chain restaurants (sometimes using your Dining Guide for suggestions), we generally find the food good, but not necessarily better than the chains. Are we missing something? Is the difference between chain and non-chain restaurants subtle enought to go unnoticed by our admittedly unsophisticated palates? By the way, traveling to Washington is not generally an option for us. We prefer to eat out close to home.
Phyllis Richman: I'm not saying that chain restaurants don't serve any good food or give good value. But they aren't useful or interesting to write about in most cases. They're just places for everyday neighborhood food that is what people know about. Does a book critic review the yellow pages? Would it be useful to write about a succession of nearly-the-same taco parlors? I consider a dining column a place to tell readers something they aren't likely to find out easily and cheaply on their own.
I was very suprised to see your review of Toro Tapas. I ate there on two occasions shortly after it opened, and thought the food was just awful. (Compared to say, Jaleo or Gabriel). I've always agreed w/ you in reviews before-- so I went back this week to try the place again. This time, I enjoyed myself. The food has improved greatly. Just goes to show...
Phyllis Richman: Hooray, I've won you over. Thanks.
Is there a place in Virginia
or in DC to get a great
Ruben? We seem to be
suffering from a lack of good
Phyllis Richman: A great reuben has to start with excellent corned beef. And so far I haven't found any that's better than "decent". But try the Parkway Deli, Mel Krupin's, the Bread Line and--oh, the name of that Rockville deli has unfortunately slipped my mind. Also the one in Potomac. Maybe someone out there can help me on this.
I was at Vidalia last night. The food, of course, was excellent but it looks like the prices are shooting up. It used to be that very few dishes topped the 20 dollar mark. Now virtually all of them do. I've been around enough to say it's not just a one restaurant phenomenom.
Still, with inflation supposedly licked, what is causing the excalation in restaurant pricing?
Phyllis Richman: I'd guess it has been a long time since you were at Vidalia if the prices were under $20. Yes ,restaurant prices have escalated. Have you checked movie prices lately?
glen echo, maryland:
The Inn at Glen Echo has upgraded its food quite nicely in the past year, and has one of the most interesting bars in the area. It is very much like an English pub, and quite friendly.
Phyllis Richman: Thanks for letting us know. Perfect day for it.
For good Prince George's dining try the Calvert House Inn on Route 1 in Riverdale. Its been reliable for years for fresh fish and other specialties. For casual lunches try the cafe in back of Franklin's general store in downtown Hyattsville for original sandwiches and homemade chilis and soups.
Phyllis Richman: Good start. Calvert House is pleasant, old fashioned and home, with food that is satisfying if not outstanding. I haven't tried FRanklin's.
Do you ever write a guide to "kid friendly" restaurants? By this I mean does the restaurant have a kids menu, do they have high chairs, so the wait staff make an effort to bring the kids food first, etc. When dining out with kids, it is helpful to know these things in advance.
Phyllis Richman: I don't specifically collect these, though I occasionally mention those qualities (eg at SAvory in Takoma Park, Monroe's in Alexandria). Chain restaurants tend to cater to children with lots of useful equipment.
TO the person looking for a good deli, have you tried Max's in Wheaton?
Phyllis Richman: Yes, and Max's has the advantage for some that it is kosher, not just kosher-style.
The Deli in Rockville is called "Celebrity Deli" and is open for Breakfast and Lunch only. It is always packed! There Corned Beef is pretty Darn good. It doesn't beat out the Stage Deli in NY!
Phyllis Richman: Yes, thanks. As for the corned beef, I don't think it's better than any other, nor is the bread. So we're stuck with evaluating a sandwich for its generosity.
I was in Spain last week and fell in love with churros. Any idea where I can get them around here?
Phyllis Richman: There is a restaurant on Champlain St. in Adams Morgan that has been serving churros for more than 25 years. It's called Churreria Madrid.
By the way, for the rest of you, churros are small ligiht, crispi tear-shaped doughnuts served hot and sugared, best accompanied by hot chocolate.
The diner in Baltimore is probably the Double T Diner at Rt 40 and Rolling Road in Catonsville. Great for home cooked food and those famous French Fries and gravy. Plus the drive out of town in relaxing.
Just the place to go after hiking in Patapsco St. park.
Phyllis Richman: And today is just that day for that hiking.
The deli in Potomac is called The Potomac Village Deli - good food!
Phyllis Richman: I agree and I thank you.
College Park, MD:
I've lived in PG County for all of my short life. I think that it's definitely got wonderful ethnic places to eat. There's a Korean restaurant near U of M that has a lunch special for something like $7 and you get at least 6 items! How about the Vietnamese and Indian restaurants on 193 in Langley Park? I have a friend who gets up on Saturday mornings only to make a 20 minute drive from Rockville to come to Pho 75 for breakfast.
Phyllis Richman: Good for you for tempting us to PG County to eat. I have heard that the Korean restaurant is good, but I haven't gotten to try it yet. It's called Yi-Jo, and it's in the Days Inn in College Park.
I did try Christopher's in Bowie and found it very pleasant and friendly with some pedestrian cooking and a couple of worthy dishes. The cheese-corn fritters make a good appetizer, and the barbecued ribs are fine (though the falling-oof-the-bone, thick-suaced oven-roasted kind, not real-barbecue ribs).
Throughout the late 1980s and early 1990s I always enjoyed Szechuans restaurant in Chinatown. For many years it had been a consistent pick when the Washingtonian did their annual restaurant issue. My favorite dish there had always been their "crispy shreded beef." Really could not find it anywhere else in the country and it always added a little something extra to my trips to DC. Anyway, I was disappointed when Szechuans closed several years ago. Does any other Chinese restaurant in the area come to mind as one that has a crispy shreded beef entree?
Phyllis Richman: Many restaurants now serve crispy shredded beef, which is thin slivers of meat batter-fried until crunch and tossed with julienned vegetables in a hot-sweet glaze. City Lights of China has been serving it for years.
Thanks for all of the deli
suggestions. However, if the
corned beef isn't great I am
not willing to make the trek
from Falls Church to Wheaton.
And I believe that there is a
Celebrity Deli by Tyson's
Corner. If a great deli does
crop up - please keep us
Phyllis Richman: You'll all be the first to know.
For the person who wanted deli, they will not be able to have a reuben at Max's because kosher dietary laws prohibit mixing milk and meet (don't reubens have cheese in them). But, I would recommend the felafel at Max's. It's the best I've ever had (including from the Middle East). The felafel is made with fava beans, not chic peas...for a superior flavor!
Phyllis Richman: You're right about the milk and meat restriction, and that a reuben at Max's (if it serves one) would have to be just corned beef and kraut.
Great churros are also available at La Pachanga Grill in Odenton. The chef does them up Mexican style, with a bit of cinammon and a small squeeze of chocolate sauce.
Phyllis Richman: That's good to know about. Thanks.
Old Town, VA:
Phyllis, here's something to chew on. I went to the Austin Grill downtown for brunch a Sunday or two ago. The place was doing good business, but I wouldn't say it was jammed. After being seated, our waiter said, "Listen, it's busy today, so I'm probably not going to be as available to you as you might like. So if you see me around, just tap me on the shoulder."
What kind of attitude is that? In essence, he was pre-apologizing for giving bad service. And I was right, too, as our drinks, chips, etc. came really late. The manager ended up serving us, and there was hair in my food, to boot, so they gave me a free meal - but only after I reminded them about the hair, because they charged me for the dish anyway!?!?
If it were me, I would have busted my hump and done whatever it took to give the best possible personal service to each and everyone of my customers... and not "pre-apologized"... not to mention I wouldn't have charged for a tainted meal, which I thought was standard practice. Your thoughts?
Phyllis Richman: This is one of those stories that makes us all want to eat at home.
It appears there has been a change for the worse in the restaurants at the Kennedy Center--the Encore Cafe/Cafeteria now has a much more limited selection, and on several recent visits has been out of both salads and sandwiches. Tried the Hors d'ouverie, and waited (after being seated at 5:30) for 45 minutes for service--nearly missed our 7:00 curtain. So the question is: Any suggestions for other places to eat near the Kennedy Center?
Phyllis Richman: You're not the first to tell me such a sad tale. I don't know about any changes there, but the complaints have increased.
Back to the hotel dining room question. It's really too bad that hotel dining rooms are often overlooked in this city. If you go abroad, they are usually regarded as the very best places to dine. I've always loved Melrose at the Park Hyatt and Jeffrey Buben's latest Bis next to the Hotel George is wonderful. BTW, I heard that he was just nominated again for a James Beard award. Are you involved with the James BEard House at all?
Phyllis Richman: So we do have good hotel restaurants. It's just that you can't depend on a good hotel to have a good restaurant.
I'm on the James Beard restaurant awards committee, which means that we administer the awards and get to vote on them. But hundreds of people vote, so our votes aren't particularly responsible for the choices. Patrick O'Connell is up for the national chef award this year, and both Jeffrey Buben (Bis and Vidalia) and Ris Lacoste (1789) are up for regional chef. Anne Amernick is nominated as best pastry chef, and rising-star chef nominees from here are Jose Andres (Cafe Atlantico and Jaleo) and Sandro Gambo (Lespinasse), both of those categories being national awards. That's what I can remember at the moment.
More PG: Laurel has Pasta Plus, Bowie has Mare e Monte ... same family, same great food and homemade pasta ...
Phyllis Richman: Yes, those are both good places.
To the person looking for food near The Kennedy Center. Have you tried Zuki Moon? It is good and not a very far walk. I have a much harder time finding decent food near Arena Stage.
Phyllis Richman: You have a good point.
As Phyllis has said before, there aren't too many good restaurants near the West End and the Kennedy Center. Although my companion and I had a wonderful pre-opera dinner at Bistro Francais at a bargain price. And it's only a five minute cab ride to the Kennedy Center.
Phyllis Richman: If you're willing to go farther afield, you can dine in all kinds of good places within a few minutes of the KC or Arena.
There is a dearth of good resturants in PG county. One decent place is Hunan Hamlet in Beltsville - good food, good value.
Phyllis Richman: That one's new to me.
Welcome Back...You were missed
Do you know anything about Makoto closing down? Is it permanent...are they relocating...any info? I would be very sad to see them AND Sakura (their other restaraunt) BOTH go out of business.
Phyllis Richman: I just called Makoto. It has not closed down. I have heard other sad news, though: I'm told that Eat First in Chinatown has closed. And its phone is not being answered.
My family and I visit the DC area frequently. As a former DC resident I know some of the truly "interesting" places to take my 9 year old. Places that are very unique and have no equivalent in the research triangle. Two of the best experiences have been the Mongolian BBQ in Chinatown and the Moroccan place downtown. Any other suggestions for a great 9 year old DC experience? We are really trying to broaden her horizons. Thanks
Phyllis Richman: It sounds as if your 9-year-old is ready for all kinds of dining experiences. Browse through the restaurants on this website. Maybe try an Ethiopian restaurant (Addis Ababa for one) where you get to eat with your hands.
This may be heresy since I live in Annapolis, but do you find it amusing that when people visit a city near water, they search out a seafood restaurant in proximity to the water? I do not mean to be so cynical, but it strikes as a quaint notion in these days of transcontinental shipping that people still believe the best seafood is offered by restaurants on the water. As if the catch of the day is tossed from the ship's hold directly into the restaurant's kitchen! So, am I wrong and everyone else is right? Are the best seafood meals really are served at the water's edge?
Phyllis Richman: Good point. Too often, waterfront restaurants concentrate on atmosphere and pull their fish from the freezer. But I, too, love to eat seafood in view of the water. The best I know for doing that in this region is The Narrows on Kent Island, just over the Bay Bridge.
I know this is not the kind of question you are looking for --- but, I remember reading in a column of yours a fews years back a review of a food in Cordele Georgia and we have wondered since then if you are from Cordele? (My wife is from Ashburn).
Phyllis Richman: The mention of Cordele was in my last culinary mystery, The Butter Did It (small plug). I'm not from Cordele, but a good friend of mine is, and I spent a glorious few days dining around there on Georgia barbecue, catfish, fried green tomatoes, peach cobbler. . .
What happened to Mrs. Simpsons?? What will happen to the space?
Phyllis Richman: As far as I can tell, Mrs. Simpson's is gone forever. I keep hearing more and more distraught fans grieving over it. It was a long-running hit and left a lot of sad people behind. My guess is that the space is in some legal limbo.
University Park MD:
Franklin's in Hyattsville (mentioned earlier) has many excellent sandwiches, including a very nice reuben. Do try Franklin's!
Phyllis Richman: One more for PG County. Does that make up for last week's Bethesda Bashing?
Do you have a favorite treat to eat at Eastern Market? Or what about a favorite stand, the cheese, the meats, etc? I'll be housesitting 2 blocks away and hope to get some good stuff.
Phyllis Richman: This is a good time of year for all of us to think about Eastern Market. I love the outdoor food stands and the market restaurant (fine crab cakes, soft-shells in season, even good barbecue sandwiches). The crafts stands are wonderful too, but that's getting off topic.
It's 1 p.m. Time to head for a streetside table with an umbrella and wait for soft-shells to start appearing. In the meantime, don't forget that it's shad season. Your one time a year to learn why some people love shad roe.