Democracy Dies in Darkness

Going Out Guide

The most scathing restaurant reviews Tom Sietsema has ever written

By Becky Krystal, Fritz Hahn

August 29, 2018 at 10:30 AM

The dining room may be busy, but critic Tom Sietsema says guests at La Vie are paying for the waterfront views, not the quality of the food. (Scott Suchman for The Washington Post)

Clueless servers, a wine list with no bottles less than $80, and cooks who don't seem to be tasting the food they send out to diners: These are a few of the reasons La Vie, a splashy and pricey Mediterranean restaurant at the Wharf, earned a zero-star review from Washington Post food critic Tom Sietsema.

This is only the third time Sietsema has given a restaurant a star-less review since unveiling the rating system in 2006; the last recipient was the bustling Foggy Bottom restaurant Founding Farmers, which received a goose egg in 2016. Four stars indicates “an unsurpassed dining experience,” while restaurants that earn zero stars are considered “poor.”

Sometimes, such pans are so bad, they're good — good reading anyway. Here's a collection of, and some choice excerpts from, Sietsema's most withering critiques of all time. (These excerpts reflect the restaurant's condition at the time of the original review, and may not be reflective of the present reality. Several of these restaurants have since closed.)

[Review: La Vie on the Wharf is so bad I’m only writing about it as a warning]

La Vie
Reviewed: 2018
Rating: 0 stars
Sample: A restaurant should make the dessert course worth lingering over. Coconut sorbet should not smack of frozen candle wax. Crepes should not remind you of leather. Once the province of fine dining, molten chocolate cake is now so commonplace, the confection appears on the menu at fast-casual Denny’s — which (for real!) makes a superior version.”

Founding Farmers
Reviewed: 2016
Rating: 0 stars
Sample: “Whoever penned the epic menu, invariably sticky from fingers other than my own, apparently didn't want to leave a soul behind. The portions are enormous, which only magnifies their flaws. Slices of soft, sepia-toned 'Many Vegetable Mushroom Loaf' lead me to believe salt must be a vegetable. Like too many entrees here, the blimp of roast chicken, shot down by woody green beans (with even-woodier stems attached), shows up on the heels of an appetizer of bacon 'lollis.' Essentially bacon strips threaded on skewers, they resemble a cross between jerky and liquefied cinnamon toast. The temptation to finish an order is zero.”

Le Pigalle
Reviewed: 2006
Rating: 0 stars
Sample: “When, following my first experience here, I polled my guests who lived nearby if they'd return on their own dime, everyone shook his head. After a subsequent dinner, at which every plate went back to the kitchen with more than three-quarters of their contents remaining, my most optimistic dining companion could muster only this faint praise: 'At least the water was cold!' Personally, I contemplated asking my editor for hardship pay.”

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The Post's food critic Tom Sietsema granted Founding Farmers, a D.C.-favorite restaurant, zero stars in a recent review. Here's why. (The Washington Post)

La Tagliatella
Reviewed: 2013
Rating: 1/2 star
Sample: “La Tagliatella in Arlington makes a strong case for hazard pay for restaurant critics. The Italian concept, an unfortunate import from Europe that plays up 400 combinations of pasta and sauce, is so distasteful on so many different levels, I was tempted to dismiss it after just one visit. I changed my mind when I considered its prime corner real estate in Clarendon and the Poland-based chain's intention to expand elsewhere in the United States.

“Someone needs to put a stop to this threat to our nation.”

Lauriol Plaza
Reviewed: 2013
Rating: 1/2 star
Sample: “Inattention is a prime seasoning. Fish seviche tastes mostly of lime and comes with a garnish of ... someone else's hair in the toss, which wasn't as off-putting as discovering a wad of chewing gum on the pepper shaker. The dry chicken tamales need every drop of the green sauce nearby. Pollo asado has juiciness in its favor, but not so the Brussels sprouts, so undercooked they defy the fork. A bowl of vivid orange seafood soup bobs with tired mussels, rubbery squid and shrimp that smack of iodine. And the chewy Cuban steak makes me thankful for strong molars. Combination platters, meanwhile, are a strapping yawn.”

Mussel Bar
Reviewed: 2014
Rating: 1/2 star
Sample: “Sadly, some of the same problems that plagued the upstart, which is modeled on the Belgian roadhouses of the chef's youth and now has branches in Arlington and Atlantic City, have stayed on like lingering houseguests who were never welcome in the first place. Oysters on the half shell will not be confused for those cracked open at the trusty Old Ebbitt Grill downtown; Mussel Bar's thin-crusted pizzas are bested by Papa John's (and a topping of not so “spicy lamb” is a ringer for meat from a taco kit). Mussel Bar's roster has been expanded to include main courses of grilled salmon on creamy polenta and specials highlighting herbed rabbit with totems of potato and carrot. Nice ideas, poorly executed.”

Grace's Mandarin
Reviewed: 2009
Rating: 1/2 star
Sample: “A friend whispers his three-word review: 'Asian Cheesecake Factory.'
“That description applies to the food as well as the setting. I play it safe the first dinner and stick with simple stuff. If you've ever wondered how anyone could screw up a chicken satay, let my appetizer at Grace's Mandarin serve as a recipe: The nuggets of chicken taste only of the grill, except when I dunk them in the accompanying peanut sauce (which makes them taste like dessert). Slippery pork dumplings are drowned in a sweet slick of oil, and an $18 shrimp roll named for the restaurant is drenched in what resembles Russian dressing.”

STK
Reviewed: 2015
Rating: 1/2 star
Sample: “Meat, at least of the four-legged variety, is generally not a good reason to drop in. With the exception of a juicy rib-eye, the steaks I've tried are lean on flavor and sometimes overcooked. Whatever you do, resist the temptation to add the brown steak sauce that rides shotgun with some of the cuts, sweet enough to qualify as a dessert topping. STK's arid veal chop is a $55 disappointment upstaged by the grilled sweetbreads that top the meat. Twin mini-burgers, said to be made with designer Wagyu beef, mimic Big Macs for all their cheese and a 'special sauce' that's a ringer for Thousand Island dressing. The distractions make it a challenge to taste the meat.”

Suna
Reviewed: 2013
Rating: 1/2 star (the restaurant closed before the print edition with the starred review was published)
Sample: “By my third visit, I’m tempted to ask for the bill before the tedium — er, tasting — is over. If desserts are not awful, they are strange. The simply billed 'Chocolate' is like raiding the freezer in the dark. I get a taste of something resembling frozen poundcake followed by hard chocolate and orange blossom water. The union does not produce a happy marriage in the mouth. Apple plus cilantro plus sorghum plus malted milk equals 'a lot of work for little reward,' a friend says, taking the words out of my mouth and summing up the entire evening.

“The unfocused Suna calls to mind a pique of mine: restaurants that taste like rehearsals but charge full admission.”

This post was originally published June 8, 2016. It has been updated.


Becky Krystal is a food reporter and the lead writer for Voraciously. After several years as a general assignment reporter in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley, she came to The Washington Post in 2007 to work for TV Week and Sunday Source. Her time at The Post also includes a five-year stint in the Travel section.

Fritz Hahn has covered bars, drinks and nightlife for The Washington Post's Weekend section since 2003, but he also writes about a variety of local entertainment topics.

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Going Out Guide

The most scathing restaurant reviews Tom Sietsema has ever written

By Becky Krystal, Fritz Hahn

August 29, 2018 at 10:30 AM

The dining room may be busy, but critic Tom Sietsema says guests at La Vie are paying for the waterfront views, not the quality of the food. (Scott Suchman for The Washington Post)

Clueless servers, a wine list with no bottles less than $80, and cooks who don't seem to be tasting the food they send out to diners: These are a few of the reasons La Vie, a splashy and pricey Mediterranean restaurant at the Wharf, earned a zero-star review from Washington Post food critic Tom Sietsema.

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