The Washington Post

Readers ask (and tell) Tom: On transferring bar tabs, writing about foie gras and more

A periodic peek at the Post food critic’s
e-mail, voice mail and inbox.

A letter from an Oakton, Va., reader starts off with honey and segues into a plea not to review certain foods.

“My husband and I usually enjoy your review of local restaurants and have followed your advice in many cases and have been very pleased with your recommendations,” writes Joan Kenneke. “Even though we are not vegetarians, we do not eat veal or foie gras as the animals involved suffer very much,” she continues, referencing literature she enclosed with her note. “I think there are so many wonderful foods to choose from in our lives that not eating [the aforementioned] foods is not much of a loss in light of the pain suffered for our culinary enjoyment.”

Although I appreciate Kenneke’s point of view, and I agree that there are lots of great dishes to write about, the job of the critic of a general-interest publication is to eat the breadth of a given menu and provide his audience a sense of what it’s like, based on informed opinion. Readers can then draw their own conclusions. It’s not my job to tell people what to eat and what to avoid. And if I did, where would I stop? The list of potentially unwelcome subjects could easily include alcohol, meat, anything with sugar or gluten or nuts … and on and on. Moreover, there are fans of veal, foie gras, etc. who want to read about those dishes.

That said, I do pay attention to issues raised by readers. When they ranted about clamorous dining rooms, I instituted a sound check. More recently, I’ve been on the hunt for more vegetarian dishes — and not just because my editor eschews meat. Even some of us card-carrying carnivores appreciate variety in our diets.


After complaining in my online chat about a bartender who seemed miffed after I asked — at a restaurant host’s prompt — to have my bar tab transferred to my dinner check, Bob Jordan, a self-described “concerned bartender” from 1789 restaurant in Georgetown — sent me a letter. “While there is never an excuse for rudeness in the hospitality industry, I feel it’s important for the public to realize that servers, like bartenders, work for tips.” Jordan estimates “less than five percent of guests whose bar tabs transfer to the dining room leave any compensation at the bar. In most cases, they assume the tips are split. In my case, as in most restaurants I’m aware of, it is not so.”

The restaurant insider adds, “Just as you would never ask to transfer your dinner tab to the bar if you intended to have a nightcap afterwards, it is important to ‘acknowledge’ your mixologist’s work.” As a baseline, I tip at least a buck for a glass of wine or a standard cocktail, 20 percent for a more complicated drink.


Not a month passes that I don’t hear from the recipient of a gift certificate who discovers the present has expired, or worse, that the restaurant has shuttered. On a recent online chat, an anonymous poster expressed dismay that she was in the possession of a gift certificate to the late Michel Richard Citronelle in Georgetown.

A little digging turned up a solution. Interstate Hotels and Resorts, which managed the Latham Hotel, home to Citronelle until the restaurant closed in July 2012, is reimbursing would-be patrons of the modern French dining room who can provide copies of both the back and front of the unused gift certificates, says Fadi Ramadan, senior vice president of finance for the Arlington-based company. Card holders should also state whether they are the gift-givers or receivers. Only those certificates with expiration dates for after the time the restaurant closed two years ago will be honored, says Ramadan.

For reimbursement, contact Ramadan at fadi.ramadan@
or 703-387-3295. And for future protection, holders of gift certificates to any dining venue would be wise to mark expiration dates on their calendars.


Annoyed when a server asks you for a driver’s license when you order an alcoholic beverage and you’re clearly older than 21? Me, too — at least until my Weekend colleague Fritz Hahn, after a recent online dining discussion, pointed to a city code concerning the sale of booze in restaurants: “A licensee shall refuse to sell, serve or deliver an alcoholic beverage to any person who, upon request of the licensee, fails to produce a valid identification document,” reads the code.

The stakes for a restaurant that doesn’t verify drinking ages can run high: a $1,000 minimum fine and a five-day suspension for first-time violators.


In the Better Late Than Never Department, I found a printout of an e-mail I tucked away almost a year ago from reader Bunny Weinstein. Over a dinner celebrating her (“56th!”) anniversary with her husband at Le Diplomate on 14th Street NW, they were seated next to a young couple who asked them how they made it so long.

“After they left,” reported Weinstein, “the waiter came over and said (the young couple) had ordered two desserts for us, with sparklers, of course!” Since the restaurant wouldn’t reveal the names of the gracious strangers, Weinstein says, “our only solution is to hopefully have the opportunity to do the same some day and surprise other people.”

I reached out to Weinstein for an update ahead of her 57th anniversary in August. “We did pay it forward,” she wrote back. “We were in Rio in December for my birthday and heard the couple next to us say it was their 50th anniversary.” Courtesy of the Weinsteins, dessert was brought out for the strangers, who Bunny recalls were from Ottawa. “They were so tickled. I told them they had to continue the chain!”

The regular Dining column returns next week with a review of Parts & Labor in Baltimore.





Sound check:

Weaned on a beige buffet a la “Fargo” in Minnesota, Tom Sietsema is the food critic for The Washington Post. This is his second tour of duty at the Post. Sietsema got his first taste in the ‘80s, when he was hired by his predecessor to answer phones, write some, and test the bulk of the Food section’s recipes. That’s how he learned to clean squid, bake colonial cakes and distinguish between nutmeg and mace.



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