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Phyllis Richman Live!

Hosted by Phyllis Richman
Washington Post Staff Writer

Thursday, Febuary 4, 1999


By Craig Cola/
Washington Post food critic Phyllis C. Richman recently came to the Internet 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 chat.


Alexandria: re: food carts, what difference does it make, health-wise, whether food was cooked on the cart or not? Similarly, how come you can only serve steak tartare if the beef was ground in the restaurant?

Phyllis Richman: Hello, everyone, for our second or third rainy Thursday lunchtime chat. At least with weather like this, I'm not wishing we were all gathering at a sidewalk cafe for this chat. Nope, it's so cozy being at home with my computer that I'm almost glad for the damp weather.

Nor are we out surveying sidewalk food carts. But for the next fine day: I think (but am not sure) that the reason for not allowing cooking on carts here in DC is that raw food spoils more easily than cooked, so the govt. doesn't want raw food on carts. Someone correct me if I've misinterpreted this.

As for beef tartare, the main danger in ground meat is that the surface of meat is where any contamintion would be carried, and in cooking the heat kills that surface contaminiation. With ground meat, there are many surfaces, all of which can pick up contamination. Thus, in cooking a burger rare, contamination of the interior surfaces hasn't occurred. The situation with all-raw beef (tartar steak) is a little different in that the surface isn't cooked either, but the meat can be washed, and the possibility of contamination is less with fewer surfaces. So I would only eat raw beef that I am sure is clean and that has been cut up or ground (in a CLEAN grinder) only at the last minute.

washington, dc: My girlfriend and I are looking for African food other than Ethiopian and Moroccan. Can you suggest any other African restaurants with tasty food?

Phyllis Richman: I haven't yet been to the new Ghana Cafe on 18th St. in Adams Morgan, but I've looked at the menu on the door, and it looks very interesting. I've also liked a small carryout named Sumah's on the 1700 block of 7th St. NW.

Old Town Alexandria, VA: Phyllis,

Some weeks ago someone mentioned that they had gotten bad food and service at Bilbo Baggins in old town.

The restaurant changed hands sometime this fall, and the food ( and service ) are much improved.

Also, my wife and I are headed to New York -- do you have any opinion on March and Montrachet?

Phyllis Richman: I haven't heard this news, so I'm glad for you to pass it along to all of us.

Nor have I been to Montrachet since it changed chefs. I've heard good reports of it and of March from sources I consider reliable.

Germantown, MD: I recently moved to germantown from bethesda...needless to say, I can't find a good restaurant in germantown, but do you have any suggestions for nearby Frederick? Thanks

Phyllis Richman: In GErmantown, I've been told, there's a good Japanese restaurant called Yuraku. It's run by a father and son. It sounded awfully appealing to me.

Washington DC: Wow! You're still a fan of the original Ledos?!?!?!? I grew up eating Ledo's pizza and loved it but find that it has (sadly) gone downhill at the original location and at the newer ones as well.

Phyllis Richman: I know the newer Ledo branches aren't what the old one is (was?), but since I haven't been the original in a couple of years, I can't vouch for its current state.

Washington DC: Hi Phyllis,
This past Saturday evening my boyfriend and I had reservations at a recently re-opened restaurant in Cleveland Park. Our reservation had been misplaced and we had to wait 20 minutes for our table. The food was excellent but the service was miserable. The waiter was so gruff with us, we felt like we were at a diner. Twenty-five minutes after the table had been cleared, we had to flag down the waiter to ask if we could order dessert. My boyfriend left a respectable tip, but wrote on the bill "service was poor." I disagree with his manner of expression his dissatisfaction; I think he should have asked to speak to the manager. What do you think is the best way to handle this sort of situation?

Phyllis Richman: There is no single good answer to this question, but you are always doing a favor to the future customers and to the manager (who might not necessarily recognize it as a favor) when you report problems directly.

Last night a fellow reporter told me of her recent visits to Nam Viet in Cleveland Park, a restaurant she and I have both liked a lot. The first incident seemed to her an instance of discrimination, but it's hard to know what to make of it. The second time, though, was clearer. She was lunching alone and asked to be seated at a different table - one for four (it was late, and the dining room was nearly empty). She was refused. Then a couple came in, and they were seated just where she'd asked to sit--also at a table for four. She won't go back; the restaurant has lost a customer, and probably doesn't know why.

THe questions are always whether the situation could have had some other interpretation (so complaining to the management allows an explanation) and whether mistreatment is the work of one bad waiter or a policy of the management. It's easier to deal with a problem by avoiding direct confrontation but both the diner and the management have more to learn by direct communication.

Herndon, VA: This is for Forestville, MD. There is such a place, but it is in Sterling VA. It is called the Buffalo Wing Factory. It serves close to 30 different flavors and degrees of hot. It would be quite a trek for you, but the place has everything you were asking for.

Phyllis Richman: I hope the Buffalo wing fanciers have tuned in again this week. Thanks for the information.

Washington DC: P,

one thing I love about dc are the little nooks and crannies of fine restaurants. my fave example of this is glover park, do you have one?>

Phyllis Richman: I think the section of Wheaton around Colesville and University is full of interesting little dining surprises. Adams Morgan is an old favorite. Wilson Blvd. in Arlington has long been a fascinating dining strip. While Chinatown is declining, more little places are sprouting up in the surroundings--4th to 6th Sts. and south of MCI Arena on 7th St. Silver Spring seems to have a resurgence of small restaurants. These are what make a city continually intriguing.

Laurel, MD: Naturally, you often write about the wine served by a restaurant. I'm not a wine drinker, but I wonder if you have any thoughts on beer (I'm talking about good beer, not the typical mass-market American straw-colored stuff). Do you you ever order it when you review a restaurant? Can beer complement a meal as well as wine?

Phyllis Richman: Certainly beer drinkers think so. And so do I. I generally prefer wine and for me it especially enhances a meal. But for spicy foods beer is often a better choice, and in hot weather I often prefer beer. Nowadays restaurants stock a wide variety of wonderful beers (have you been to the Brickskeller, which has about the largest beer selection in existence and some good burgers to go with it?). I iused to think that the best beers were German, English, and Southeast Asian. Now I think AMerican microbrews are probably the greatest selection of fine beers in the world.

Germantown, MD: I have not been a part of your on-line chat previously. So I'm not sure if you've addressed this previously. I wanted to know some Middle-Eastern type restaurants that you would recommend. Also, I had heard of a restaurant called Le Tarbouche. What, if any, thoughts do you have on it (if you've had a chance to try it?)

Phyllis Richman: My review of Le Tarbouche is coming up, as I recall, this weekend (which means it will be on line tomorrow). As for other Middle EAStern restaurants, the area is full of them (BAcchus, Nizam, Lebanese TAverna, etc. etc. etc.). Check the Style Live listings.

Rosslyn, Va: Do you think that restaurants should be required to display their menus near the front door so that prospective diners can see the specific dishes that day as well as the prices? I know that it is true in Paris but no that often here.

Phyllis Richman: Required? No. But it certainly is useful. I look at the menus at restaurant entrances, often when the restaurant is closed and there would be no opportunity to go in and ask to see a menu.

Adams Morgan: Hi Phyllis,

I eat out about 5 nights a week and have gotten to know the restaurants around Dupont and Adams Morgan very well. I do have a suggestion for you and your readers. Before going in the front door of a restaurant, you may want to check out their back door. It's frightening what you may find. For instance, the new "trendy" restaurant on Connecticut Ave (Roman Numerals 1223) seems to store it's dirty dishes, wine glasses and linens outside their back door. I have noted other restaurants that store perishables outside until they are ready to use. Perhaps you should do a review of what's out back before you do a review of the food!

Thank you for your column!

Phyllis Richman: This sounds like an idea that could spoil many a meal. Many years ago I did a story for a magazine on restaurants that used frozen prepared foods. I scoured back alleys to see what kind of trash was behind restaurant kitchens, and found some surprisingly high-level restaurants that had discarded frozen chicken cordon bleu, beef bourguignone and such.

Washington,DC: Over the years, I've noted the relationship between waves of refugees to DC, and the opening of restaurants as they become somewhat more established (e.g.,Vietnamese, Ethiopian). Along those lines, have any Bosnian restuarants opened?

Phyllis Richman: The last Yugoslav restaurant we had was one on the site where Nora is now. So it's been a long time. I'd welcome them.

D.C . from D.C.: Hi Phyllis. I was reading in the NY Times yesterday about fine restaurants in NYC that pool tips and distribute them to the servers. Do you think this is a common practice in DC? Which method do you think is better- pooling tips or allowing the individual server to collect his/her own tips. Thanks!

Phyllis Richman: I think most restaurants pool tips. That is really fairer to all the waiters (and busboys, etc.) since the size of the tip can be luck of the draw. I think waiters are still motivated, because if they regularly are undertipped the rest of the staff get the message that they are not serving well enough to pull big tips.

Laurel, Maryland: The best Ledo pizza we have found is at Station House in Fulton (Howard County south of Columbia). The crust is always nicely flaky and generally a bit thicker than at other Ledos nearby.

Phyllis Richman: I'm sure there is some variation, just as there is from one chain bagel place to another (particularly in terms of which allow the bagels--or pizzas--to bake long enough to get properly browned).

Arlington, VA: I think I remember your article on restaurants using frozen foods. It had, I think, my all-time favorite quote from your column when a waiter was told that the food didn't taste cooked and he said, "The chef followed the instructions on the package."

Phyllis Richman: Your memory is better than mine. Thanks for sending that along. I'm not sure I deserve the credit, but I'll take it at least temporarily.

Riverwoods, IL: I rarely get to DC anymore, so I'm not as interested in the restaurants as I am in your books. Do you have another book in the works?

Phyllis Richman: Okay, get ready for this week's BSP: Yes, my second culinary mystery, MURDER ON THE GRAVY TRAIN, will be in the stores in July. Thanks for asking.

Now back to our regularly scheduled program.

Washington, DC: I've been living here for 10 years and have yet to find a neighborhood Italian restaurant with good unpretentious Southern Italian food: you know, the kind of restaurants that seem to be on every corner in Philadelphia, New York and Boston. Are there any here??

Phyllis Richman: I've got one coming up for you next month.

Still, this is not a city with traditional Italian neighborhood (or even non-traditional ones). So our Italian restaurants are brought here rather than grown here. I think that makes the difference between DC, Phila, NY and Boston regarding Italian restaurants. Now Vietnamese and Thai and Afghan and Ethiopian restaurants, they are a different matter.

Washington, DC: A group of us went to a restaurant that just opened in Bethesda last Saturday night. It was their first weekend open and needless to say, there were some problems. It took a long time to get the food, the food wasn't cooked well, etc. Our biggest complaint was that it was really over-priced for what they gave you. We took it in stride and enjoyed spending time together, but a lot of people there were angry and belligerent. The owner was appologetic and asked that we come back when they've worked out the kinks. We decided that even without the "kinks" we wouldn't want to go back. But I feel sorry for this guy...should we have given him constructive advice on how he could improve the place? I didn't want to seem like I was complaining. How should a diner react in a situation like that?

Phyllis Richman: You can't be sure a manager will welcome suggestions, but he or she should. If you make them very specific, the point is more likely to be considered.

A few restaurants offer special reduced prices while they get their act together. More might survive if they got across the point to new customers that they didn't think they were up to their best yet and gave the customer a break because of that.

Washington, DC: Re the person looking for African food: On 18th street in Adams Morgan, I like Bukom Cafe (good food and ambience, and a band plays on weekend nights) and Casa Africana (very authentic food). Both these places serve mainly West African dishes. Try the huge Ngoma beers at Casa Africana.

Phyllis Richman: Good suggestions. Thanks.

Mt. Airy, MD: Many years back I went to a party at the Marrakesh (sp?) in DC and one of the courses was a whole roasted chicken with olives, lemons (preserved?) and cumin. I've never been back and I think I've seen you write here that the Marrakesh isn't what it used to be. However, my real question is where else in the Metro area might I get such a Morrocan dish and do you know what it's called?

Phyllis Richman: I haven't said that Marrakesh isn't what it used to be. As far as I know, it is still good. EVen so, there are a few other Morrocan restaurants: Casablanca in Arlington, and probably still one in Alexandria and one in Georgetown (okay, their names have slipped my mind).

Bethesda, Md: This is for Riverwoods, IL - Probably my all time favorite restaurant in Chicago - Cafe 28 on Irving Park Rd at Ravenswood - Cuban and South American - Outstanding!. Hit the Edens and go south for a real treat!!

Phyllis Richman: That's a fair trade for sending along such a welcome question.

seattle, washington: Is the Senate dining room open to the public? What are the specialities there? Do you know how you get permission to eat there?

Phyllis Richman: I think it is open to the public, and while it's never been known for particularly good food, its bean soup is a longtime tradition.

Washington, DC: Phyllis,

Do you know of any books that trace the history of fine restaurants in America?

Phyllis Richman: There are several. The newest and a very interesting one addresses the history of New York restaurants. It's by Michael and Ariane Batterberry, who run Food Arts Magazine.

Somewhere, USA: This is for Germantown, Md.
Frederick Maryland has two of the best fried Chicken places around. First in Old Town Frederick on West Patrick Street is Watsons which has been around since '66...then on Main Street is the Orchid Rest. It has fantastic home made soups, salads with lots of goodies in them and home made dressings and all kinds of sandwiches on hearty breads. They even serve a couple of Stir-Fry dishes that I'm going to try next time. I believe the Orchard is only open for Lunch. There is also a good Italian Restaurant and a micro-brewery Restaurant on Main Street. The other Chicken Place is Dan Dee's Restaurant in Gambrill National Park. Go past route 40 until you see signs of Gambril park. It's about 4 or 5 miles down the road. It is family style, and for about $10 to $12 they bring you a platter of fried chicken, baked potato, corn, apple fritters, etc. You get a relish tray to enjoy first.
I've been going to Frederick for 20 years. Enjoy!!!

Phyllis Richman: Get out your pencils. This sounds like a useful list. I've been to Dan Dee and have liked it (not worth a special trip, perhaps). I think someone has touted WAtson's to us before.

silver spring MD: I know there are only a few of them, but have you ever reviewed kosher restaurants

Phyllis Richman: I have on occasion written about them but there aren't many. The JCC on 16th St. has a restaurant, and in Wheaton there's Max's and perhaps one other. There was (is?) a kosher Chinese restaurant around Rockville or Potomac.

Washington, DC: I was at the Capitol on a recent weekend and the Senate dining room was open to the public.

The menu looked fairly uninteresting, though, aside from the bean soup.

Phyllis Richman: Thanks for verifying this for us.

Washington Dc: This may be more of a comment than a question, but I 'm wondering what has happened to the Tabard Inn? I have always had a wonderful experience there, but was let down on New Year's Eve. Poor service, mediocre food and a less-than-helpful wait staff will make me think twice before going to the Tabard again. What's your impression?

Phyllis Richman: What have I always told you about going out to dinner on New Years Eve? The same thing I'll tell those people who, late in Feb.., complain about their Valentines Day dinners. Those evenings often show restaurants at their worst.

Hoyas, Rule: Just wanted to let you know that the Moroccan place in Georgetown closed down some months ago.

Phyllis Richman: Ah, I was afraid of that. We could use a GREAT Morroccan restaurant. The first one on that site in Georgetown was indeed great. The successor never hit its stride.

Mt. Rainier MD. : Those politicians like the politics spicy and the food bland. An American tradition if ever there was one...

Phyllis Richman: Well said.

potomac, md: Have you or will you ever review restaurants on North Carolina's Outer Banks?

Phyllis Richman: As soon as the sun comes out. Maybe later this afternoon.

Washington DC: I have some friends coming to stay with me over President's Day/Valentine's Day weekend. I'd like to take them out to dinner, but I fear the restaurants will be over-run with couples on the 13th. Do you think this is an accurate assumption? I've never experienced a Sunday Valentine's Day in the DC area.

Phyllis Richman: Yes, it is a fair assumption. You'd do them a big favor by making dinner for them.

Providence, RI: I was recently in Spain where I had grilled prawns for dinner. When they came they still had the heads and tails on them. Is there a proper etiquette for removing all of this before eating? Some parts are easy enough with fork and knife, but other parts... It seemed fingers might not be the best yet were somewhat necessary. This was a semi-fancy seafood restaurant. but is it common for shrimp to still have the shell?
Thanks, I really enjoy these chats.

Phyllis Richman: Shrimp simply taste best when they are cooked in the shell. In such a case, it is perfectly acceptable--in fact, necessary--to eat them with your hands.

Frederick, MD: Reference Watsons for fried chicken in Frederick. Believe Watsons is out of business..Chapter 11

Phyllis Richman: Oops.

Rockville, MD: I heard that Pesce has Jamie Stachowski as chef now. What will you expect from him?

Phyllis Richman: I haven't had Jamie Stachowski's food in years, but a decade ago when I first tried a restaurant where he was chef, I found him definitely talented. Glad to have him back. I'll be eager to see how he's doing at Pesce.

Annandale, VA: I am curious about what makes you pick a restaurant for review rather than many others. Certainly you get approached by many restaurant owners and chefs who would like you to review their restaurants or cooking?

Phyllis Richman: I keep a list. A long list. I try to first get to whatever restaurant are prominent, already talked-about (though I wait a couple of months before I review them). I go to restaurants that sound good in some way--a chef I know of, or an interesting cuisine. I try whatever restaurants I have time to get to, and don't bother to review those that turn out to be insignificant and bad. I am far more likely to review restaurants in the city than in the suburbs, because they are more central and thus of interest to the greatest number of readers. But I do seek out suburban restaurants that would be interesting to readers who might have to travel some distance to try them.

I always have many, many more restaurants on my list than I could possibly try. On the other hand, I am always very eager to have new and wonderful-sounding possibilities to try.

Gaithersburg, MD.: I just called Watson's and they are still open...Thank God!! They did not go Chapter 11.

Phyllis Richman: Thanks for doing that leg work for us. And I'm particularly glad we could correct this error before we signed off.

It just goes to show: This is a conversation, not journalism. Don't take everything you read here as verified truth. I'm not doing the checking I'd do for something in print. And forgive the misspellings, too.

Let me know next week how you've liked WAtson's fried chicken.

Goodbye til then.

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