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

Thursday, February 25, 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.


alexandria, Va. : You spoke of the dearth of top quality restaurants in Baltimore's "Little Italy." We have been to Boccaccio's several times. It's Northern Italian plus Firenzie. Superb veal, quiet and excellent service, and no squally tenors.

Phyllis Richman: Good afternoon. This is our first snowy Thursday since I started this chat line, so I hope you are all settled in a warm and cozy place, ready to fire questions my way.

First, thanks to the Alexandria chatter for opinions on Baltimore restaurants.

Second, reporter Pat Lopes Harris of the Washington Business Journal has filled us in on details of the upcoming Smith & Wllensky. She says it's going into the old Joseph A Bank store on 20th (is that K or L? I've forgotten).

Third, Ellen Kassoff-Gray, wife of Galileo chef Todd Gray (who is planning to open his own restaurant in the spring) has sent us a list of chefs who are giving demos at FResh Fields (remember last week when chatters wanted to know about chef demos?):

At the Georgetown Fresh Fields, 7 to 9 p.m. you can watch demos by Alex Napoli, sous chef of Kinkead's on Tues., March 2, Jacques Van Staden of Cafe Ole on Tues. March 9, Morou of Red Sage on Tues. March 16, Dean Winning of Mendocino Grill on Tues. March 23, and John Wabeck of New Heiths on Tues. March 30.

At the Arlingotn Fresh Fields, also 7-9 p.m., there will be demos by Gregg Dubreuil of the Bread Line Mon. March 8, Todd Gray of Galileo Mon. March 15, Dahmane Benarbane of Marvelous Market Mon. March 22, Bill Jacksokn of CArlyle GRand CAfe Thurs March 25 and Alex Nappoli again ion mon. March 29. Also a demo of pasta for kids March 10, 11am to 1 p..m.

Arlington, VA: Phyllis,

What's the deal with the disguise? Do you still have a problem with restaurant owners/wait staff recognizing you?

Phyllis Richman: Still? Of course - in fact, ever more. The longer a critic is in the job (and I've been in this one for nearly forever), the more likely he or she is to be recognized in restaurants. Thus, when I appear in public or on TV I wear a disguise. EVen so, I am recognized about half the time (not as often as restaurateurs think I am ) and have to take that into account in my reviews.

Washington, D.C.: Hi! I friend recently told me about a vegan Chinese restaurant in Montgomery County - fake shrimp, fake pork, etc. As a kosher vegetarian, it sounded great! Do you know the name? Have you heard anything about it? Thanks!

Phyllis Richman: You're probably talking about The VEgetable GArden in Rockville.

Gaithersburg, MD: Is the demo of pasta for kids a demo for adults that showcases pasta that kids will eat, or a demo for kids to watch how to make pasta?

Phyllis Richman: I don't know much about it, but it is billed as Healthy Pasta for Kids, demonstrated by Cesare Lanfranconi of Galileo.

palm coast , fla: Have U ever tried a "Little
Tavern" hamburger?

If not why not? If U have, what do U think?

Phyllis Richman: I grew up on LIttle Tavern hamburgers (10 cents, with fried onions on little soft rolls). They were great--flavorful meat, hand-shaped--and a bargain. I haven't tried them in years, though the last time I did (five years ago, maybe), they didn't taste as wonderful as I'd remembered them.

washington dc: I love gumbo, but the "cajun" restaurants around here seem to offer a watered-down version. Any suggestions?

Phyllis Richman: There's a place on 8th St. SE, near the Marine BArracks. It's called Louisiana Cafe, and it's gumbo was potent the last time I tried it a couple of years ago.

Alexandria, VA: In a neighborhood like Dupont Circle, where restaurants come and go, what accounts for the staying power of places like Childe Harolde that haven't seemed to change their menus in years?

Phyllis Richman: Low rent or owning the building has to have a lot to do with its longevity.

rockville, md: there's another vegetarian chinese restaurant in rockville that the person may have thinking of called yuen foo (?). take 355 north, it's on the east side probably just past the intersection with rte. 28

Phyllis Richman: Thanks for the suggestion.

Washington, DC: Greetings! My husband and I find that although Washington has a great many restaurants, D.C. has few, if any, "great" restaurants. The biggest problem seems to be consistency; one time a place is good, the next time it's average at best. "Kinkead's" is a rare exception; you can order the same dish at each visit and not be disappointed. Would you share with us those restaurants in D.C. that you consider to be "great" or at least consistently good?

Phyllis Richman: I've never had a disappointing meal at the Inn at Little Washington, Obelisk or Rocklands. And that's just off the top of my head. Given time, I could list many more.

Washington, D.C.: Speaking of hamburgers, what are your favorite burger places (inexpensive or otherwise)?

Phyllis Richman: It's hard to remember all the good burgers, too. I've had a terrific one at Ardeo and I kind of like the quirky ones at Bon Appetit just down the block from Kinkead's. And don't forget Five Brothers in Arlington.

Washington, DC: A few weeks back you reviewed the "Himalayan Grill". My friend told me that it had been shut down due to operating w/out a license. Can you confirm this? If it is true, then was it just timing
that the review appeared in the WP Magazine?

In any event I wanted to try it based on your review. It sounded exciting.

Phyllis Richman: I don't know anything about a license problem. I was taken aback to find it listed among the places cited in the list of closings the week before the review came out (of course the review had been written weeks before since it takes about 4 weeks for it to get in print). But I' have heard nothing since, and I assume I would have heard if it were still closed.

McLean, VA: Phyllis, I appreciate very much that you take the time to be online to talk food with us. Question: Do you agree that the Primavera pizza (cheese, tomatoes and spinach, no sauce and lots of garlic) at Joe's Pizza and Pasta is a pizza from heaven? Also, I have now been to Kotobuki, a Japanese restaurant that just opened a couple of months ago, several times, and think that it is much better than Tachibana, which frequently makes Top 100 lists in the DC area (if readers go, order the delux sushi; unlike many Japanese restaurants in the area, Chef Abe gives you BETTER fish, not MORE fish, for the delux set). When will new Japanese restaurants such as Kotobuki get their day in the sun?

Phyllis Richman: It just did, from you.

I've heard other good reports about Kotobuki. But I don't know Joe's pizza.

And I refuse to take responsibility for Washingtonian Magazine's list of the top 100.

Frederick, MD: Do you find French Foie Gras superior to American.

Phyllis Richman: Interesting question for us foie gras lovers. I used to think French was better, but the American has improved so that I consider them pretty close by now.

rockville, md: can't go wrong with a burger from tick tock on university blvd in langley park. there was an article about it in yesterday's food section. great value !!

Phyllis Richman: I haven't been there since I was a teenager and had to sneak there against my parents' approval. Is it still the kind of place you wouldn't want your teenager to hang out?

washington, dc: Have you ever had chicken bog and if so do you know of a place to get it around here?

Phyllis Richman: Wow! What's a chicken bog?

Washington, DC: I enjoyed your reviews of bookstore coffee bars a few weeks back. Will you be doing any similar reviews of casual/informal dining spots again?

Phyllis Richman: I alwaus sprinkle in a few casual and informal spots among the fancy ones (see this Sunday's review, where nothing costs as much as $10). Sometimes I put them in Turning Tables rather than making them the whole review.

Potomac, MD: I know you warn us not to go out on New Year's, but I did! And got stranded without a cab at 2 am. Fortunately, I was saved by the manager (?) at New Heights. He saw my friend and me standing out in the frigid cold, invited us in to warm up, gave us drinks and called us a cab. Another gentlemen (the owner, maybe) instructed us to come back if we had any problems on our way home. To say the folks of New Heights were nice and went out of their way to help us is a major understatement, especially considering we hadn't even dined there. I can't wait to go back and actually eat dinner there based on my wonderful experience!

P.S. Love ya'!

Phyllis Richman: Thanks for your belated New Years report. I am still being inundated with complaints about all kinds of restaurants' Valentines Day dinners. You were lucky and New Heights was wonderful.

washington, dc: Chicken bog: chicken, rice, mushrooms, spicy sausage, and mysterious spices I don't have a clue about. Big Southern group dish at churches, political functions, sort of like a fish fry....

Phyllis Richman: Can't wait for my next Southern church supper.

Arlington: Re burgers: I think you meant
Five Guys in Arlington (the best burgers anywhere), also have a location in Alexandria.
Also, Whitlows on Wilson has good burgers which are half price on Monday nights.

Re Sushi: Where is this place-- Kotobano??
And how expensive is it?

Phyllis Richman: Thanks for correcting me. I just typed faster than my mind was working.

Kotobuki is 1315 Old Chain Bridge Rd. in McLean.
I don't what its prices are, but you don't want sushi that's priced too cheap, I assure you.

silver spring, md.: I now work in Georgetown, between the Washington Harbor and M St. (near 31st and M). If I had a kingdom, I'd give it for a place that serves lunch for $5 or less. A real lunch, like soup and sandwich, or burger and fries. .... Also, I know only one Thai restaurant in Georgetown. Are there more?

Phyllis Richman: I only know one Thai restaurant in Georgetown, and it wasn't one I considered worth a column. As for cheap lunches in Georgetown, try Moby Dick.

Annandale: Hi Phyllis,

Isn't a bog a rice dish, like low country pilaus, etc?
Anyway, do you know whether Enriqueta's is still around and if so, is it still good?
Those great baked mussels...!

Phyllis Richman: Thanks for your additional info.

Enriqueta's is still around, but it's not the Enriqueta's it once was.

rockville, md: re: the tick tock

it's not a dangerous dive like in the old days. pg cops hang out there all the time which has a chilling effect on some of our more exuberant citizens. the place looks pretty clean too(although it's quite dark in there...)

Phyllis Richman: So what are renegade teenagers to do nowadays?

Chesapeake Beach, MD: Have you ever been to Calvert County to dine? If so, what do you recommend?

Phyllis Richman: I yearn to return to the Frying Pan.

Upper Marlboro, MD: If you have ever lived in the South, you would know what a chicken bog is....I can't imagine a restaurant in DC that would serve an authentic chicken bog...The best is the one you make at home and invite your friends....

Phyllis Richman: Lucky friends you have.

Washington, DC: My sister recently visited 1223 and I told her that alot of folks had written in about this new restaurant. She enjoyed the food, but was quite surprised with the attitude of the staff. She and her husband ordered a glass of wine which cost about $7.00/glass, but the glass was only half full. Do you think they're using oversized wine glasses or is that the norm because I recall that happening at BET on Jazz one evening. Also, she said the lamb chops were quite tasty, but still not cooked to her specifications. I have some friends coming into town from New York and would like to take them to a really nice restaurant considering all that they have to choose from in NY. Would this be a good place or would we do better at DC Coast since I've heard such wonderful things about it. My truly all time favorite is Kinkead's but I am trying to be a little more creative. Help.

Phyllis Richman: To the restaurant's defense, a wine glass should not be filled. It needs space for the aromas to collect. Thus what seem like half a glass of wine is really a full portion--as long as the glass is large. Half a small glass would be simply half a glass.

As for 1223 (MCCXXIII, as it calls itself), my review will come out in late March. I'm afraid you'll just have to wait and see.

Falls Church, Virginia: Given the recent news about the proposed re-sale of the Woodies building by the Washington Opera to developer Douglas Jemal, do you have any thoughts about the kinds of eateries you believe would be welcome additions to the Downtown-Metro Center area over the next couple of years?

Phyllis Richman: We could use more ethnic restaurants downtown, reasonably priced and personalized lunch places. And how about a first-class Scandinavian restaurant? Anyone else want to chime in with ideas for Mr. Jemal?

I hope we don't waste the space on more chain restaurants.

Alexandria, VA: How much weight do you give to value when reviewing a meal? For instance, might you recommend a good steak that only cost $15, while critizing a better, but only marginally so, steak that cost three times as much on a menu.

Phyllis Richman: Value is an important consideration. A $100 meal must meet higher standards than a $50 one in my book.

St. Andrews, Scotland: first of all, I enjoy both your reviews and these chats. Hearing about food is great fun. Over the summer I'll be back at home in Washingotn. Do you have a sort of "hit list" of must eat restaurants? Money isn't a huge issue as I'm perfectly happy spending large chunks of my summer pay on food. However, I would like to sample a wide range of cuisine, and eat at top quality places. Thanks.

Phyllis Richman: That's why our website it here. Click on Style Live and read through the 50 favorites or the new edition of my dining guide book (which is on line here). It's much more useful to read it for yourself than for me to come up with a few names.

Washington, DC: I live right between Dupont and Adams Morgan. It is a great location for eating out, but I also like to cook, and it is an abysmal location for food shopping. (Especially since the departure of Market Day.) I make frequent trips into Georgetown to shop at Dean & Deluca, but am I overlooking some neighborhood treasure?

Phyllis Richman: You're so right. I, too, miss Market Day. The best Dupont Circle can offer is the 19th St. Safeway (and the seafood at Pesce). As for May 2, though, you'll have access to the truly wonderful Sunday morning farmer's market, where there will be all kinds of first-rate produce as well as a few locally raised meats and eggs.

Rockville, MD: Hi! What's the best cheap meal you ever had and where did you have it?


Phyllis Richman: On a road between Annecy, France,and Geneva, at a small restaurant in someone's liviing room, where the trout came from the stream just outside the door.

Washington, DC: How about a review of area bars and bar food? Lot of changes since your 96 review of the Brickskellar (their food has really gone downhill) That in mind, the Doyle Hotel (newly of Dupont Circle) has a bar, Biddie Mulligan's, which serves the creamiest Guinness in the States (and it even beats a few I had in Ireland!) The food is serviceable (though the mixed nuts are excellent) but the beer really makes the place worth a visit.

Phyllis Richman: The Doyle Hotel's new Irish restaurants are too new for me to review them, but I agree that bar food is a worthwhile topic. I disagree about Brickskeller, though. Unless it's changed in the last couple of months, its burger made with beer and caraway seeds is still one worthy of that insufficient list I made at the beginning of this chat.

Colorado Springs, CO: I'm just a computing-topic writer, observing. But I am curious, Phyllis, do you find these online chats helpful for your own research?

Phyllis Richman: I occasionally get a suggestion that I add to my list, but mostly I consider the chats fun and a way to get some sense of what interests other people.

NY: Response to restaurants needed in DC - How about a real 24 hour diner - where one can order what they like, when they like.

Phyllis Richman: I vote yes.

Rockville, MD: Ummmm--OK, where was the best cheap meal you have had AROUND HERE?


Phyllis Richman: In my own kitchen.

Bethesda, MD: I HAVE lived in the South - 13 years in Atlanta - but never heard of a chicken bog. Guess they don't serve it iin Buckhead.
About the Tick Tock. In the late forties, my two uncles stopped at the Tick Tock before buying a Christmas Tree, and when they finally made it back home (hours later) they had picked out a pretty sorry tree. Just another local anecdote about a long time institution

Phyllis Richman: That's the sort of place it was.

catlett,va: At the National Gallery buffet cafeteria ,the"deli station" they serve a potato salad with sweet potatoes that is outstanding. Any chance of getting the recipe?

Phyllis Richman: Restaurant will often give you the recipe if you just call them.

Silver Spring: Hi Phyllis!
Two weeks ago I had a wonderful dinner at Taberna Del Alabardero but:

When we were first seated, the waiter rapidly appeared with an already-opened liter bottle of mineral water and poured it into our glasses without comment. The bottle was placed on the table, and our glasses were refilled as needed during the meal. We were never asked if we wanted to order the water, or if we wanted tap water instead. No wine was brought to the table until we ordered it.

I was quite taken aback when I received the bill and there was a $6.25 charge for bottled water. I considered myself fortunate that I had not been charged for the breads we consumed as well!

It may be the custom in Spain to anticipate a charge for an unsolicited item provided to the diner, but this is not Spain.

The menu was silent on this issue. I blame the waiter for not communicating the restaurant's policy and whereas I would have normally left a 20% tip, I recouped the cost of the water from the tip. (It still came to more than 15%.)

What do you think about restaurants in the US that do this?

Phyllis Richman: I think you should have complained and requested that the charge be removed from your bill. Or at least called the manager afterwards and complained.

Washington, DC: Four of us celebrated my birthday this week at DC Coast. We really enjoyed all the food except I thought the smoked lobster dish I got was borderline awful. The lobster
tasted of ammonia; the spinach
looked and tasted freeze dried; the flavors were mostly of salt/soy sauce. What should I have done? I didn't want to send it back and mar the celebration but I was deeply disappointed.

Phyllis Richman: I can't vouch for the lobster you had, but I would guess that what you considered freeze-dried spinach was deep-fried spinach, which comes out so thin and crisp that it practically disintegrates. Most people I know love it but if it is not what you were expecting, and you are feeling negative because of the lobster, that could guide your evaluation.

In any case, you could call over the waiter or manager and ask him what the dish is supposed to be like, and even suggest he taste it to see whether there is something wrong with it.

Washington, DC: So would it really help if we picketed in front of the Post building with signs saying, "Give Richman a Raise?"

Obviously I just finished your book, loved it and want to know when the next one is out.

Also, you mentioned Ardeo has changed chefs... who is the new one, where did David Nugent (?) go and are you familiar with the new guy/gal?


Phyllis Richman: I'd even serve coffee.

Thanks for your boosterism. In case you've missed my other moments of self-promotion, my next food mystery, MURDER ON THE GRAVY TRAIN, will be in the stores in July.

Now, on to the serious stuff: I don't know where DAvid Nugent went and I haven't tried Ardeo since the change, but the same people who have liked the place before still seem to like it, and I've heard no complaints.

Arlington VA: I think good Eastern European or German/Austrian restaurants would be a good addition downtown in the Woodies building.

Phyllis Richman: Yes, yes, and more yes.

Washington, DC: I admire your evenhandedness in dealing with dining problems -- you often point out the restaurant's side of the matter.

However, as in the case of the unordered water above, it is my opinion that I, the customer, should not have to go out of my way to speak to a manager, make phone calls, or otherwise spend my time correcting a restaurant's obvious abuses of my good will.

I too would have deducted the cost of an unordered item from the waiter's tip, and if this hurts the waiter, that's between him and his employer.

Phyllis Richman: You have a good point. That would be very effective, but only if you explain to the waiter and the manager why the tip has been reduced.

Rockville, MD: Boy, you're tough! OK, where have you enjoyed your favorite, cheap meal around here IN A RESTAURANT?

--Thanks again!

Phyllis Richman: Okay, I'll be more direct. I like the chopped steak and the vegetables and the custards at Sholl's cafeteria, I think the buffet at Caravan is a great bargain, I'm impressed with what Eat First can serve at very modest prices, I think the chicken at Crisp and Juicy is a dellicious bargain, I think the drunken noodles at Pan Asian can't be beat at the price, and the meal-size soup at Pho 75 in Arlington is one of the world's great bargains.

And I could go on, but we're out of time. So, until next week. . .

© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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