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  Phyllis Richman Live!
Hosted by Phyllis Richman
Washington Post Staff Writer

Thursday, February 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.


Arlington, VA: Hi Plyllis - I look forward to this chat every week! A few chats ago (Feb 4th) you mentioned that DC lacks a traditional Italian neighborhood, compared to Phila., NY and Boston. Being a Charm City native, I am curious what, if any, opinions you have on Baltimore's Little Italy and if you have any favorites there? Thanks!

Phyllis Richman: Good afternoon, everyone. This looks like a good Thursday for staying, turning on your computer and chatting about food. So chime in, please, with questions or comments.

Now, to Baltimore and Italian food. I love Baltimore's Little Italy, but for strolling around, not necessarily for eating. I haven't found any of the restaurants to be more than matter-of-fact tourist-oriented eateries. Have I missed something? Is there one (or more) that is not only personal and homey, but goes beyond the standard spaghetti-lasagna-manicotti litany?

Bethesda, MD: Which D.C. restaurant was
recently featured in the
men's magazine, GQ, as one of
the best new restaurants, and
are you in agreement?
I can't remember the name, but
I've heard it's terrific.

Phyllis Richman: I don't know which restaurant GQ mentioned, but maybe one of you does, and we can discuss it.

Vienna, VA: Do you know when the first issue of the ex-NY Times Food Critic's magazine will come out?

Phyllis Richman: Ruth Reichl is not yet the ex-Times critic but will be soon, in order to take over Gourmet magazine. Nor do I know exactly which issue will be her first, but she is already spending part her her time there and planning issues. So by fall you will certainly see her style begin to affect the magazine.

Adams Morgan: Hi Phyllis!
Your column is the highlight of my week! I know you like to keep this discussion local, but I'm dying to know if you have ventured up to NY to try this Babbo that every foodie seems to be talking about - and the verdict, in a nutshell...

Phyllis Richman: Hey, thanks.

As for BAbbo, I haven't been there yet but I, too, have heard the buzz. I tried to get a reservation, but we were seven people, and it won't seat a party that size.

I did eat at chef Mario Battali's first restaurant, Po. and it was truly dreadful. That might make me mistrust Babbo, but since I was at Po with Ruth Reichl and she agreed with me but things BAbbo is swell, I'd expect it to be a good place to try.

Arlington, VA: I had a lovely Valentines dinner at Sea Catch. The food was nice, the service fantastic. However, I have a bone to pick with them. When I made the reservation, they failed to mention it would be pre fixe. Since it was $55 per person, it would have been nice to know. When I called Stardust, they were nice enough to tell me. But there was no mention at Sea Catch, and I forgot to ask. Dinner cost $200 with wine and tip. Do you agree I should've been informed by the person taking the reservation?

Phyllis Richman: No, we're not done with Valentine's Day yet.

I think a restaurant definitely should tell you ahead that is has a fixed-price menu, particulary when it is usually a la carte. I received a very upset call from someone who had dined at Old Anglers on Valentine's Day and wasn't warned that the menu would be fixed-price at $65 and that there would be only three choices for each course (fewer late in the evening when some ran out).

In general, though, I've heard fewer complaints than in previous years. And the restaurants are jubilant. The reason is, not only was Valentine's Day a very busy night, but FRiday, Saturday and Monday were also busy. Maybe that means that diners spread out their celebrations, some celebrating on Saturday, some on Monday, etc.

Washington, DC: Two questions, 1. What is your view about Thai Kingdom.

2. Is quality of food on Sunday's in restaurant different than other days.

Phyllis Richman: I haven't been to Thai Kingdom in a long time, but just yesterday I was talking to someone who had been there and thought the food was well prepared but bland, perhaps tamed for American palates (or what they think AMerican palates are).

As for restaurants on Sunday, some of them have their second-string chefs on duty, so they might not be up to their peak performance. But sometimes the sous chef on duty is very good and shines without the chef overseeing. In some cases, Sunday is an important night, and the chef is on duty and takes of Monday or Tuesday.

Washington, DC: Anything you can add to the item in last Sunday's paper about the reopening of the Blue Plate under Cashion?

Phyllis Richman: Yes, I can add that I got the name slightly wrong last week, I think. It's going to be called Johnny's Half Shell.

Adams Morgan: I believe the magazine was Esquire, and the restaurant DC Coast

Phyllis Richman: If it was indeed DC Coast, I would agree that it is a terrific new restaurant, one that was excellent right from the beginning.

Betheda, MD: Phyllis,

Loved your recent review of Shanghai Cafe. That's been our favorite Chinese place for a few years. But it never got _real_ good business it seemed. We went by the other day and saw a full house. You should try the Shanghai style Braised Fish next time.

Phyllis Richman: Thanks for your suggestion. The whole fish we had was very good, so I'd be glad to order it prepared any way they do it.

Arlington: I tried Fish Market recently, for the first time. It was terrible. I'd heard such good things, so I was surprised. I had soft shells which were burnt to a crisp, and my date's seafood platter left much to be desired. In addition, the waiter boxed his leftovers in a clear plastic box which left the fish looking so unappealing we decided to leave it behind.

Phyllis Richman: Soft-shells at this time of year? They're bound to be frozen--or else brought from a very long distance.Yours probably wouldn't have been much better even if they hadn't been burnt.

I agree that it is awkward to have your doggie bag in the form of a clear plastic box so that everyone can see what you're taking home. The place should at least provide a bag for the box.

Chevy Chase MD: You are so gracious and knowledgeable, these chats and your column are triple pleasures.

Not a question, a tip --- Smith and Wollensky have opened in Las Vegas and have two "kitchen tables", actually small private rooms with only a glass wall separating the inmates from the cooking. A great experience with exccellent food.

They're opening in DC this Spring. Do you know where? And do you have any similar in-kitchen locations to recommend in the DC area?

Phyllis Richman: Your question is interesting - but of course I couldn't resist posting your praise, either. Thanks.

Smith and Wollensky has been considering Washington for years. So I wouldn't venture a guess as to where and when it will really happen.

As for kitchen tables, there are many, and some are right in the kitchen rather than behind a glass wall. Citronelle, Bis, etc. etc. have them Galileon is opening a teaching kitchen within its dining room this spring. Look for more kitchen tables as chefs realize they are excellent public relations--and good moneymakers.

Washington, DC: What's happening at the same of the late-and-greatly-lamented Larimers and subsequently Market Day?

Phyllis Richman: It is becoming Viareggio, an Italian deli.

Washington, DC: I have had a hard time finding good dives in this town. Every other major city I've lived in has lots of great places with no atmosphere, but damn good food for $5 or so. Got any suggestions?

Phyllis Richman: Try Juanita's on 11th St. downtown.

Washington, DC: Dear Phyllis,
Star of Siam - Adams Morgan - Beautiful Summer evening - Rooftop - Great View - Worst Service of any restaurant anywhere. Why do they keep showing up on your favorites list?

Phyllis Richman: They haven't been on my favorites list for years, if ever. I think you are confusing me with another critic in town.

washington, dc: I am white and I have noticed that when I dine at some Asian restaurants -- not the fancy, touristy places downtown, but the suburban ones that primarily cater to an Asian clientele -- the service is indifferent or brusque, if not downright rude. Have you noticed this? Do you think it's because of an anti-White bias or because the native Asian restaurant culture does not value friendly, helpful service?

Phyllis Richman: Aw, c'mon. While I think it is true that in some ethic restaurants where the staff members don't speak much English they look as if they are catering to their compatriots, it is often because they simply are able to communicate better. RAcism? If you were a waiter serving four tables and one of them spoke only Hungarian, would you be communicating as much with them as with your English-speaking customers?
In sum, I think that what appears to be prefential treatment is often due to awkwardness, shyness and cultural gaps.

Fairfax, VA: My wife and I will celebrate our fifth anniversary on July 4th weekend. Which would you recommend: a weekend spent in Charlottesville at the Clifton or a night spent downtown including a trip to a restaurant like Kinkead's?

Phyllis Richman: Why don't you celebrate your anniversary twice?>

This gets to a crucial question in evaluating restaurants--oro evaluating anything: personal taste. Some people who love Kinkead's might not find Clifton Inn's style appealing, and vice versa. And what makes a celebration is something different from the usual, which for some might be Clifton, for others Kinkead's.

Silver Spring MD: For Washington DC looking for dives - in Baltimore, try Dead Freddies near Angelina's ( I think it's on Harford Rd) Great bar burgers and french fries and gravy. But there are signs admonishing you not to wear your biker colors

Phyllis Richman: Sounds like fun.

Washington dc : Hello I hope all is well. I was just wondering about all of the publicity the chef is getting these days. I was in a restaraunt (cafe Atlantico) the food was great as usual, but what made the experince FABULOUS was the Matre D or the manager I'm not sure of his job title a blond gentlemen none the less. Everytime I go in there he always welcomes me by name and makes me feel special. My question is why are articles never written about the Matre d or the Managers also a very important of the DINING OUT experince. Thanks just wondering

Phyllis Richman: I agree that maitres d' and managers are very important to the dining experience, and it would be good to give them credit. One problem with that is that they change--from day to day, from lunch to evening or from one restaurant to another. Their schedules and changes are less noted and less publicized than the change of chef.

By the way, Cafe Atlantico's chef, Jose Andres, became a father for the first time last weekend. Saturday, I think. I heard that the restaurant weathered Valentine's Day well nevertheless.

Chevy Chase, MD: Good afternoon. You said that Galileo is opening a teaching kitchen this spring. Will this just be for demonstrations or will there be classes? And, do you know of any great chefs who do give classes or day-long seminars or anything now? thanks!

Phyllis Richman: I think the Galileo teaching kitchen will have afternoon classes and evening demos. Some chefs teach at L'Academie de Cuisine. And I think a few have classes in their restaurants. I don't remember who, but you might ask at Citronelle, Melrose and the Hyatt Regency. Or maybe one of you has more precise information.

Arlington, VA: Have you tried or heard anything about the new restaurant Mexicali Blues on Arlington's Wilson Blvd? I drive by frequently, and it always seems crowded.

Phyllis Richman: Yes, it is crowded, and someone wrote a profile of it in the Post's food section (you can find it on this site). I'll be reviewing it in a few weeks.

Washington, D.C.: I really enjoyed your review of Lespinasse. I went there a couple of weeks before the review came out and agree completely with your assessment of the quality. As an added bonus, my fried and I were discussing a shared interest for cooking when the waiter invited us to tour the kitchen after our meal. The tour lasted about 15 minutes and was pretty amazing. Everything back there is top of the line from the 21 foot stove to the All-Clad pots and pans, to the "double skinned 16 gauge stainless steel" cabinet doors (no wobble).

I couldn't help but wonder who will pay for all this. I've been in Gerard's kitchen several times and everything is, shall we say, fully depreciated. There must be a wide disparity in overhead between Lespinasse and its worthy competitors. If their prices are equivalent, they must be "making it up somewhere else." (Obviously not in the crystal, linen and silver department.) Otherwise, something's got to give. I wouldn't be surprised to see those prices creeping up again after a decent interval.

Phyllis Richman: One crucial factor is that Lespinasse is part of a hotel, so the economics are entirely different. Such a grand restaurant is seen as an advantage for the hotel, something that helps boost its room sales and banquet business.

Washington, DC : I beleive I read somewhere that Smith and Wollensky's would be opening on 19th St. in the 2nd floor space formerly occupied by Joseph Banks.

Phyllis Richman: Okay, that's one possibility. Thanks.

McLean, VA: Is there ANYWHERE in Washington where one can find good cannoli?

Phyllis Richman: I was just at the Italian deli at Spout Run and Lee Highway in Arlington. I didn't try the cannoli, but I noticed a sign that said they were homemade.

washington, dc: FYI, a new restaurant has opened in Germaine's spot. It's called Heritage India and is a branch of 2 European locations. Haven't been there but Glover Park could use a good Indian spot.

Phyllis Richman: I heard about it over the weekend; it's just opened, and is said to have a (or the) chef from Bombay Club and apparently his a very handsome restaurant.

Washington, DC: Speaking of Sundays, I've heard that one shouldn't order sushi on Sundays because it's the only day of the week when fresh fish isn't delivered. Any truth in this?

Phyllis Richman: I doubt that sushi restaurants get fish every day. I think that typically they would get it Friday and again on Monday, though that certainly varies from place to place.

Fairfax, VA: You can get good cannoli at Dolce Vita on Lee Highway near the intersection of Rt. 50

Phyllis Richman: Thanks.

Arlington, VA: What in your estimation are some of the best restuarants for seafood in the DC area? I don't want to go to any of the touristy places. My mother is coming from the midwest for a visit and is very excited about having fresh fish.

Phyllis Richman: Look on this site, or leaf through the index of my dining guide. We have quite a few good seafood restaurants these days. The best-known of the good ones are Kinkead's, DC Coast, Pesce---there's a start for you.

Arlington: FYI: The cannoli at the Italian Store are fabulous.
And Mexicali Blues is great-- I've been there half a dozen times and enjoyed many great meals. The owners have a cool background as well. It's an impressive venture for a group of 20-somethings. But be prepared to wait, sometimes an hour or more. They'll do what they can to make it bearable-- with great margaritas and free chips and salsa. Phyllis, I think it's wonderful you're reviewing them. They're babies compared to Whitlows (next door) but they're far better.

Phyllis Richman: Thanks for your suggestions. The question is: will you think it's great I have reviewed them if my opinion is different from yours?

Every restaurant wants to be reviewed, but it wants to be reviewed favorably.

DC: Phyllis, all the better fish purveyors deliver on Saturday in DC

Phyllis Richman: Thanks for the info. I'm not sure whether that means they do or don't in the suburbs, and whether they deliver to restaurants, to all restaurants, or to some?

washington, DC: There's 2 new restaraunts opening in Cleveland Park. One I notice yesterday -- It's a couple doors down from the Greek place and Aleros - It's a Thai Restaraunt. The other is going into the former location of the "Wrap&Roll" Cafe, across from Pizzeria Unos. I believe this, too, is going to be an Asian Restaraunt by the owners of Spices (down the block). Any word or confirmation on either of these restaraunts?

Phyllis Richman: I don't know about the Thai restaurant, but the other one is going to be an Asian seafood restaurant called, as I recall, Yanyi.

Washington, DC: Vace - the Italian Delicatessen has great cannolis.

Phyllis Richman: Yes, I think they are good but, like all that I find in this country, too sweet.

hyattsville, md: Vaccarro's at union station
has the best cannolli in DC

Phyllis Richman: They've been selling them here longer than anybody, I believe.

gaithersburg MD: hi
just to add something to the question about asian restaurant staff. I feel many of them are not good at English and very often their pidgin english could be misconstrued as rudeness. ALso they may not understand the question if it is not the usual ones.

i believe it has nothing to do with who goes there

Phyllis Richman: Exactly.

Rockville, MD: I noticed that there is a photo at the top of the column now, presumably of you--and very mysterious, I might add. Do you enjoy the cloak and dagger aspect of retaining anonymity as a food critic? Also, I believe I have heard you refer to yourself as both a food critic and a restaurant critic. Are they different or essentially the same?

Phyllis Richman: I use the terms food critic and restaurant critic interchangeably, though I agree that is a bit sloppy. Food critic sounds a little broader to me.

As for anonymity, I would rather not have to bother with fake names, disguises and other subtrefuges, but it's a part of the job. And I'd much rather be anonymous in a restaurant than recognized. Then there's likely to be fawning, nervous and obsequeous service, and the meal is likely to take far longer than it should.

College Park, Md.: The best Canolli's are at Vacarro's in Silver Spring. I have tasted them all over the world and noone make them like them. It is the original Vacarro's that used to be at 4th and G. Sts. N.W. Now selling to the public.

Phyllis Richman: It seems that we have plenty of cannoli experts on line with us. Thanks.

Arlington, VA: The other week, someone mentioned a burrito stand at 15th and K. When I went there, I couldn't find it, and the other vendors had never heard of it.

Phyllis Richman: Anyone have a clarification to offer us?

Arlington, VA: I noticed in your review last week your comment that the asparagus was too expensive, and it got me to wondering how a restaurant critic on an expense account can remain sensitive to cost issues. Do you have any strategies or budgetary constraints?

Phyllis Richman: This is a question I've been trying to get to. It's true I'm on an expense account, and there is no specific limit on it. But I always think about how I'd feel about the place--or the dish--if I were paying for it from my own pocket. That's not hard to do.

Alexandria: And you managed not to answer whether the picture up there is of you. Sly.

Phyllis Richman: No, just forgetful. The picture is of me, though I'd be amazed if anyone could pick me out from a dining room with that picture. I've always been careful never to have my photo taken in public, though one editor long ago bought a photo of me from a family party. Fortunately (or unfortunately) I no longer look like that 25-year-old photo.

Washington, DC: About the burrito stand on 15th and K, I've been there several times, though honestly not since the fall. They may have moved or may be taking a winter break. They do make good burritos, though they are rather heavy on the stomach.

Phyllis Richman: Spring is coming. We may be able to verify your opinion soon.

Washington: Do you or your DC campaign veteran readers have any suggestions for restaurants in Iowa or New Hampshire?

Phyllis Richman: I've never heard of any campaign veterans who've had time to eat on the trail.

washington, dc: that burrito vendor is not always there, but usually. They park right next to an expresso cart, next to CVS, and First Union as well.
there's normally a line, and the burrito's are indeed good.

Phyllis Richman: That should pin it down for us.

Fairfax, Va: Because I know that you often recommend Mortons, I wanted to let you know about an experience I recently had there. Last Friday night I ate at Mortons and paid the bill with my debit card.
The next day I discovered that I had been billed twice, once for the total bill and again for the total bill plus the tip, a $224 charge for $102 dinner. When I called the restaurant I was told that this type of thing happen every once in a while, that they would go ahead and fix it and fax me the receipt. I know that everyone makes mistakes, but the person I spoke didn't seem all that concerned at the error nor did he offer any apologies. It was my first time at Morton's and although they did resolve the situation, the experience has
soured me on returning.

Phyllis Richman: Sometimes this happens. Sometimes it happens accidentally. Sometimes it happens not accidentally. I haven't heard of this problem at Morton's but I know of it happening intentionally elsewhere. That's why it's the theme of my new food mystery. (That's a plug. An intentional one.)

Washington,DC: The burrito stand is in the southwest quadrant of 15th and K, in the same block as Chapters bookstore. They are there 90 percent of the time on weekdays during the midday hours. Other carts around there deny their existence to spite them.

Phyllis Richman: Even more detailed info. Thanks.

Bethesda, MD: I enjoyed dinner at El Catalan this week. But in telling us about the specials, the waiter
described perhaps 8 appetizers and entrees in excrutiating detail. While the ingredients help you picture the dish, it's too much to remember. Do restaurants consider it declasse or too much trouble to print a list of specials?

Phyllis Richman: I am annoyed when restaurants offer a long list of specials only orally, not in print. There is no excuse for it nowadays. I am even more annoyed when the specials turn out to be substantially more expensive than the regular menu and you have not been warned of that.

Silver Spring, MD: I know you've said complimentary things about "Les Halles" on Pennsylvania Avenue. Do you find their "logo" with two steer "kissing" chic or amusing? Frankly, I find it a real turn-off and totally unnecesary to illustrate "beef in the French manner." What were the restaurateurs thinking with this one ....?

Phyllis Richman: I wouldn't mind the logo if the restaurant hadn't gone downhill from a very promising first few years.

Time's up. See you here next week. The sun is coming out. Time for lunch.

© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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