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

Thursday, March 4, 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.


Arlingon, VA: LOVE your column! Just wanted to submit some bad news re: last week's burger discussion, namely, Five Guys is no more. I don't know about the Alexandria location, but the one in Arlington (next to the bakery) has been closed for some time now.

Phyllis Richman: Good afternoon, and welcome to another (surprisingly)sunny Thursday and our chat line.

Let's turn some bad news into good news. First, thanks to this Arlington chatter for the kind words.

The news on the hamburger front is not dire. True, the Columbia Pike location of Five Guys has closed. But the three other branches (2 on King St. in Alexandria, 1 in Springfield) are alive and well and flipping burgers.

Now, more good news, especially for downtown dwellers. Word is getting around that Fresh Fields has acquired a location on P St. between 14th and 15th NW, and will open a new store there in a couple of years.

Tom in Arlington: Hi, Phyllis...just a bit of news for fans of Village Bistro...their original Moroccan-born chef, whose distinctive style you have always liked, has moved to Bistro Bistro Shirlington. The new menu already strongly bears his imprint with more to come....

Phyllis Richman: Has anybody out there tried the new revised Bistro Bistro in Shirlington and want to comment on it? I'd been told that the two Bistro Bistros (the other is in Reston) have new chefs and that each chef is developing his own menu overlaid on the Bistro Bistro staples (don't get rid of the oyster and leek and bacon stew!). I haven't gotten to try them yet.

Amherst, MA: Dear Phyllis,
As a DC native away at college, I really enjoy keeping up with Washington's restaurant scene through your chats.
While home on a recent visit, I really enjoyed a dinner at the Capitol View Club atop the Hyatt Regency. Their oysters stuffed with crabmeat were great, as were their lamb chops, and my date's "classis combination(filet mignon and crabcake)" were also well prepared. The wine list was also very reasonable. I was wondering why this spot, with its great views of the illuminated capitol dome, never gets top ratings. Thanks.

Phyllis Richman: I have occasionally written--rather favorably--about the Capitol View. It can be an excellent restaurant, but sometimes the service is awkward and not all the dishes work as well as the ones you've tried. I recall some particularly good vegetables there as well as those lamb chops you've liked. Keep in mind that it is a hotel, with hotel prices, but it is far better than the standard chain hotel restaurant.

Reston, VA: I have friends coming in from out of the country. It was suggested that I take them (5 adults & 3 kids) to Phillips Restaurant at the Wharf in DC. I was told the food(buffet) was good and that the prices were reasonable. Is this a good idea, or would you suggest something else. I'm trying to stay sort of Eastern Shore>

Phyllis Richman: Phillips wouldn't be my choice. It's often crowded with tour-bus visitors and emphasizes quantity and such glamorous ingredients as frozen lobster tails over quality. Although it has its great advantage of being on the waterfront, it can't hold a candle to such seafood restaurants as Kinkead's, Pesce, or even Legal Sea Food (which has its own deficiencies, but at least the seafood itself if first-class).

Washington, DC: Hi Phyllis..I saw you at the Smithsonian's Dining Out panel. You critics gave the restaurantuers credit for having a hard job but I'm not sure they gave you similar respect. Sure, they admit they need you and do everything they can to get a good review. But overall, how do you think the owners feel about the critics? Can they be as successful in a world with no food critics?

Phyllis Richman: I suppose restaurateurs who get good reviews favor critics, but I wouldn't be surprised if all restaurateurs would like to ban critics even if they do recognize that critics help evoke interest in restaurants as a whole. In any case, it is painful to face being criticized in public.

Falls Church, VA: Dear Phyllis,
Whatever happened to Le Caprice's promise to reopen, perhaps near Tysons Corner? I hope the owner didn't decide to stay in Alsace......thanks!

Phyllis Richman: I haven't heard any news, but it seems obvious that we won't be seeing Le Caprice in Tysons--or maybe anywhere else. Too bad. I miss the restaurant.

sterling VA: Phyllis,
Thanks for the chats, they are great! I have a question about portion size. Myself and some friends recently went to Catalan (El Catalan sp?) and were disappointed with the portion size we received. I ate bread, an appetized and my dinner and left hungry, which was also quite disappointing because it was very expensive. How do restaurants survive by serving such small dinners for such large prices? Also, when our server explained the specials they did not quote the price. My friends told me that this was a "city" place not like those in the suburbs. But they put prices on the menus, how are specials any different? Thank you!

Phyllis Richman: I particularly applaud your point about prices being on the menu, so why not revealed for the specials? I object to not letting diners know the prices particularly when the specials are more expensive than the printed entrees.

There is nothing wrong with asking prices.

As for portion size at El Catalan, I'm surprised. I haven't been there in months (not since it turned part-French), but the restaurant always served hefty portions. My guess is that it won't survive if it underfeeds people.

Bethesda, MD: For Reston VA:
if you have out of town guests and want to do Eastern shore, I recommend 2 places. Fisherman's Inn on Kent Island, right off rt 50 and Kentmoor Marina Restaurant, also on Kent Island, below rt 50 about 5 miles. Great food and right on the Bay, and probably much better prices for the real thing.

Phyllis Richman: Thanks for the suggestions (though Fisherman's Inn wouldn't be my choice; I was disappointed when I tried it a year or so ago).

The place I would suggest is just down the street: The Narrows. Great crab cakes, generally excellent food, fine view and awfully nice service. In soft-shell season, I also like Angler's Inn down the street. But soft-shells are its best item by far.

Friends tell me that Holly's, on the other side of Rte 50, is a good homey place.

Arlington: In Turning Tables this Sunday you mentioned Tryst. I wasn't sure what your point was really, mentioning that alcohol is served starting at 10. The place is as much a bar as a coffehouse. I was wondering what you thought of the food and service tho. I've enjoyed the food immensely, the owners are very friendly, the bartenders are quick, and they're very good about carding everyone (unusual in Adams Morgan).

Phyllis Richman: I was just noting the amusing fact that at Tryst people start drinking alochol just when lots of others are having their first cup of espresso. Lame joke, perhaps.

I wanted to like Tryst. I was delighted to sink into a sofa and read a book while I lunched. The place is cute and fun. But the food I had was not even nearly good. The soup was inedible (undrinkable?), the sandwich fillings were cheapstake quality and the bread was fluff. Maybe I hit a bad day, but I couldn't get myself to go back.

reston, va: Phyllis--this is an event I look FW to each week. Keep up the great work! Have you tried the New Zealand venison called cervena? Are there restaurants around here serving it? Is it better than 'get it from the woods yourself' venison--or just different. thanks!

Phyllis Richman: Thanks. Nice of you to say so.

I've only seen cervina intermittently on menus. It is good stuff but I wouldn't say it 's better than local venison.

Alexandria, VA: Is there a place you would recommend to get great veal? I spent some time in communist eastern Europe and always had great veal, but cannot find the same quality here.

Phyllis Richman: Italian restaurants are the most reliable places to eat veal here. Galileo, Obelisk, I Ricchi, Cesco, Villa Franco--the better the restaurant, the better the veal, in general.

Washington, DC: What do you do with an out-of-town guest who requests lobster but when you suggest Kinkeads or Pesce, they say "oh, not that fancy?" And Phyllis, it's not fair for you answer, "send them to Boston." PS...I'm new to town myself and very dependent on your reviews. Thanks.

Phyllis Richman: Pesce is hardly fancy with its unupholstered wooden chairs and bare painted tables. But of course you can find excellent lobster at Legal Sea Food (expensive but not fancy),probably at Geo. Seafood (on 19th St.) and at many Chinese restaurants. The trick is to look for a place that has live lobster in tanks, and to check whether the water looks clear and the lobsters look energetic.

Arlington, Va: Phyllis-

These chats are a great service. I love sushi, but must confess to not knowing the difference between sushi and sashimi. Can you enlighten us? Thanks.

Phyllis Richman: Thank you, thank you.

It's simple: sushi is fish on top of or rolled into rice. Sashimi is just slices of fish, without the rice.

Upper Marlboro, MD: Hi Phyllis, I agree with Kent Narrows, have never had a bad meal there, great food, great service and resonably priced...Also, tried the Frying Pan in Lusby, MD that you recommended last were right on!!! a Southern Maryland best kept secret!!!But, I am afraid not any more...Thanks for the Tip....

Phyllis Richman: Glad to have your feedback. Too bad the Frying Pan is just a trek from DC.

Springfield, VA: Phyllis - For good, inexpensive lobster, how about Lighthouse Inn in Rosslyn?

Phyllis Richman: Hey, thanks. That's just the kind of place I was wracking my brain for. The Lighthouse does a great job with lobster (i.e., gets it fresh and cooks it simply) and offers it at a relative bargain.

annandale,VA: Hi phyllis

Thanks for your reviews. I find them very useful.

Can you please tell me what the best Ethiopian restaurant is in The DC area? I want to take my friend who is coming from out of town? We both LOVE Ethiopian food. Thanks!

Phyllis Richman: I wish there still was a best Ethiopian restaurant. Meskerem's food is more bland than it used to be, Fasika is all right but not a standout, Demera is pretty good. But there is no Mamma Desta's anymore. Have I missed somebody's favorite?

silver spring, md.: hi. I've not been to McCormick & Schmidt or M&S Grill. I'm not rich, but will pay for good food. Hate smoke, but don't crave ambience. How do the two compare in fare and prices?

Phyllis Richman: They're chain restaurants. M&S is cheaper. Enough said.

Annandale,VA: Hi Phyllis,
I'm going to New York this weekend and wanted to try the Mexican restaurant Zarela.
Have you tried it?

Phyllis Richman: Great food. Take earplugs.

Monika, Washington, DC: Since somebody mentioned easterns Europe and great veal already.... As a devoted Pole, I dislike most of the Russian cooking- are there any good "other eastern European" restaurants/eateries in the Metro area, or should I stick to my home cooking?

Phyllis Richman: Many Washingtonians would be thrilled to have good Polish cooking at home. I don't know where to find it in restaurants here, nor Hungarian.

Arlington, Va.: This is interesting -- first time I've caught you while it's "live." Anyway, you reviewed places (mostly or all hotels) to enjoy a true afternoon tea, earlier this year (first review of the year?) but I have lost track of the review. What are your latest thoughts?

Phyllis Richman: This brings up some other sad news: Pastry chef Jill Rose is leaving Lespinasse. I still expect its tea to be superb, though. I also like the Park Hyatt and the Four Seasons. Then there's the very British Henley Park. For non-hotel teas, Asian style, try Teaism and Ching Ching Cha.

And come back live again.

Arlington: Re; Ethiopian. Try Red Sea on 18th St. It's inexpensive and good.

Phyllis Richman: It's inexpensive and it used to be good.

Rockville, Maryland: Why does Bethesda boast so many restaurants, when many of them are over-rated and over-priced?

Phyllis Richman: Not enough Bethesdans come downtown to dine.

Arlington, Va: You looked down your nose at McCormick and Schmick as a chain restaurant. Does being part of a chain automatically make its food inferior? You seem to like Morton's which is clearly a chain. So is the Palm.

Phyllis Richman: You're right. I was just using flippant shorthand. There are chain restaurants that suffer from chain-restaurantdom (mass production, sameness, everything tasting anonymous, tasting cooked-by-rote rather than personal). And there are others that operate with an independent style, where there seem to be chefs rather than just recipe-followers. Morton's is a chain but the branches differ in quality and each has its own personality. Most important, its meat is outstanding and cooked by people on-site who know how to do it. I also think the Daily Grill can compete with individual restaurants of its type. Ditto Rio Grande Cafe. So not all chain restaurants suffer from being part of a chain.

bethesda, md: Bethesda has a wide variety of choices in every price range. I couldn't imagine going downtown too often when I can have great Thai, Vietnamese, Mexican, American...the list goes on. And the prices are cheap (California Tortilla is fab on a budget) to expensive (Cesco) It's hard to justify trying to find parking, paying big prices when I can walk to any restaurant (and not drink and drive). As for Rockville, stay there and enjoy your chain restaurants.

Phyllis Richman: I'd say it's a lot easier to park downtown than in BEthesda. And I challenge you to find me a BEthesda restaurant that doesn't have a better (and possibly cheaper) counterpart downtown.

Bethesda, MD: You say BETHESDA is overrated and overpriced? Sounds like downtown to me!!

Phyllis Richman: Another voice heard.

Montgomery Alabama: Phyllis--What a joy to luck upon this chat. From DC went to Dayton OH where food critic was obsessed with calamari and didn't like brunches, so didn't review. Now in the south with food critic doing cutsie reviews ...but admittedly not much to review. I look foward to joining your chats just for the pleasure of the reading. Thanx.

Phyllis Richman: Welcome, Alabama.

Washington, DC: There's that Ethiopian restaurant near the corner of Reservoir and Foxhall (Entotto's?) that you reviewed once. It's excellent but the atmosphere isn't great.

Phyllis Richman: I keep forgetting Entotto's because it is in a neighborhood where there are no other restaurants. But last time I was there, I did think its cooking had a special lilt. I'm glad to hear it's still thriving.

Washington DC: Phyllis, have you heard the followup on Sholls, whether or not it's going to stay because of the increase in their rent?

Phyllis Richman: We won't know until at least the end of the month. THere is a committee of volunteers trying to save Sholl's.

Arlington, VA: Does Bethesda have any restaurants that people from Arlington or the District would actually travel out there to eat in?

Phyllis Richman: I throw out this question for you BEthesdans who are signed on.

Arlington VA: The Lighthouse Tavern at 1901 N. Fort Myer Drive in Arlington has closed and the new restaurant is a Tex-Mex place.

Phyllis Richman: Oh, too bad. We;ll have to find another reliable, modestly priced lobster source.

Washington, DC: In response to a question about the difference between sushi and sashimi, you said that sushi was rice with fish on top and sashimi was sliced fish. I always thought "sushi" referred to the seasoned rice, regardless of whether you put fish, cucumbers, or something else on top.

Phyllis Richman: You're absolutely right. I was rushing through that answer and skipping the details.

Washington, DC: having moved here from the west coast I have tried many of the McCormick & Schmick's and each has some what different menu catering to the style of the chef--by the way neither is too smoky.

Phyllis Richman: Glad to have another input on the topic.

Arlington: Re: Tryst. I wouldn't order soup at a bar-- the chances it's homemade are low. And if I wanted sandwiches, I'd go to a deli. When I went there, in the evening, i got bar food- dips/ quesadillas/ etc. It was well-presented and very good.

Phyllis Richman: I can believe the bar food is good (how bad can a quesadilla be?). But I was told the soup was homemade (I haven't had a canned soup that bad). And if a place serves sandwiches, it can't be excuse their quality by claiming it's not a sandwich place.

That said, I'd be glad to return to Tryst for drinks and indestructable bar food. I liked the atmosphere a lot.

bethesda, md: I would drive from Los Angeles for the paella at Cottonwood Cafe in Bethesda!

Phyllis Richman: You'd be awfully hungry by the time you got there, so it's bound to taste good.

Seriously, Cottonwood Cafe is one of the restaurants that makes BEthesda a worthwhile destinations. So is Tara Thai, Cesco--and others that don't come to mind this instant. Ther is good eating in BEthesda, but I wish it wasn't so overwhelmed by disappointing restaurants.

Bethesda: Le Miche and Cesco come to mind. Great food, atmosphere! Regardless of where you live they are worth the drive.

Phyllis Richman: I'm being drowned in Bethesda defenders, so I'll just post a few:

Bethesda, MD: For Arlington - that's a question that only someone from DC or Arlington to answer, how far they would drive. But you only need to go to Bethesda on a Friday or Saturday night to see the crowds. DC loves to bash the burbs and anything in it, while not all places are great, there are standouts. And plenty of those who go to Bethesda on weekends could afford to dine in DC, they choose to stay local. DC has a lot of hype - if you don't believe it, try any place around K street.

Phyllis Richman: Keep 'em coming.

Bethesda, MD: Yes!!! Thara Thai is better than any Thai I've had in the District. People travel to go to Rio GRande (although personally I can't figure out why) and for reasonable Indian, I have not found anything better than Haandi!

Phyllis Richman: More, more.

Bethesda, MD: Probably not because you have an abundance of Asian restaurants there. Plus Rio Grande is in VA. Red Tomato is one of my favorites (but not downtown -- ugh). Nam's, Oodles Noodles (but, yes Phyllis, you can go downtown). Best pizza Pines of Rome (and cheap). This is just the beginning. Come over the bridge and enjoy.

Phyllis Richman: I''m not endorsing, I'm just passing these along.

Potomac, MD: I'll say it too!
Bethesda is overrated and overpriced and I'd rather look for parking any day (OR NIGHT) downtown than in Bethesda. Give me the city restaurants any day!

Phyllis Richman: Glad to have some balance here.

Bethesda, MD: For Chinese food and ambiance, I love Foong Ling. And I definitely think it's worth the metro ride from DC, and so do my DC friends.

Phyllis Richman: You're not the first to tell me this.

Washington, D.C.: Re Bethesda: I live downtown, and I used to go to Matuba in Bethesda often, and always had to fight for parking and wait for a table. Now I go to the one on Columbia Pike, same great fish, less crowded, better service.

Phyllis Richman: Good--another suburb heard from.

I must say, when I dine in BEthesda I take the Metro. The parking daunts me.

Washington, DC:

RE: Ethiopian food: As an Ethiopian myself, the best Ethiopian restaurant is Addis Abeba on 18th st. The food is excellent espeically the vegeterian combo. The last time I went to Fasika, the food was terrible. I haven't tried Demera though.

Question for you Phyllis: I have been to cafe Milano in Georgetown many times and I thought it was one of the best Italian restaurant in town but you never mention it.. Any thoughts on that?

Phyllis Richman: Addis Ababa should have been in the above list - I forgot it. It is also good, though again not above the crowd.

Re Cafe Milano, I have listed it among my 50 Favorites for several years. What more can I say?

dc: another Bethesda advantage -- sales tax is only 5% while its ten percent on meal in DC!

Phyllis Richman: Now we're getting to the important stuff.

Rockville, MD: After Obelisk, Buon Giorno in Bethesda is my favorite Italian restaurant. Sure, it's not as fancy as a lot of DC Italians (Galileo, I Ricchi, etc.), but it is much more consistent, the service is exceptional, and the old fashioned, comfortable feel is hard to find anywhere else.

Phyllis Richman: I'm glad to hear another Bethesda suggestion.

Potomac, MD: Foong Lin! Matuba! It's so interesting how different people have such varying opinions. For me- Foong Lin and Matuba just about epitomize the meaning of Mediocre yet they still draw in the crowds. Perplexing!

Phyllis Richman: That's what keeps restaurant critics employed.

Bethesda, MD: Re: Bethesda restauants: How about Faryab? It is excellent (although a bit pricey) and I know of no other Afghan restaurants in the metro area

Phyllis Richman: There are several other Afghan restaurants in the area, but I agree, Faryab does BEthesda proud. It's one of the best.

Washington, DC: Enough about Bethesda v. DC. The downtown restaurants are filled with suburbanites, anyway, so you might as well be in Bethesda.

Phyllis Richman: I can't even think of an answer to that.

Instead, I'll say goodbye. Time's up.

I'm going to be away next week, so unless you all want to slug it out on your own next Thursday, there will be no chat line. Come back in two weeks and--who knows?--maybe we'll trash Gaithersburg. Dump on Springfield. Moan about noplace to eat in Alexandria. Or maybe Herndon.

Your neighborhood could be next.

© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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