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Lettres de Mon Moulin


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I urge you to take longer look at Don's profile. You've heard it from me. He's member No. 2, NUMBER TWO.

So the question is forming in my mouth...

Who is MEMBER No. 1?

La chèvre entendit derrière elle un bruit de feuilles. Elle se retourna et vit dans l'ombre deux oreilles courtes, toutes droites, avec deux yeux qui reluisaient. C'était le loup.

Énorme, immobile, assis sur son train de derrière, il était là regardant la petite chèvre blanche et la dégustant par avance. Comme il savait bien qu'il la mangerait, le loup ne se pressait pas; seulement, quand elle se retourna, il se mit à rire méchammement..

- Ha! ha! ha! la petite chèvre de M. Seguin! et il passa sa grosse langue rouge sur ses babines d'amadou.

Blanquette se sentait perdu… Un moment en se rappelant l'histoire de la vielle Renaude, qui s'était battue toute la nuit pour être mangée le matin, elle se dit qu'il vaudrait peut-être mieux se laisser manger tout de suite; puis, s'étant ravisée, elle tomba en garde, la tête basse et la corne en avant, comme une brave chèvre de M. Seguin qu'elle était… Non pas qu'elle êut l'espoir de tuer le loup - les chèvres ne tuent pas le loup – mais seulement pour voir si elle pourrait tenir aussi longtemps que la Renaude…

Alors le monstre s'avança, et les petites cornes entrérent en danse.

Ah! La brave chevrette, comme elle y allait de bon cœur! Plus de dix fois, je ne mens pas, Gringoire, elle força le loup à reculer pour reprendre haleine. Pendant ces trêves d'une minute, la gourmande cueillait en hâte encore un brin de sa chère herbe; puis elle retournait au combat, la bouche pleine… Cela dura toute la nuit. De temps en temps, la chèvre de M. Seguin regardait les étoiles danser dans le ciel clair, et elle se disait:

- Oh! pourvu que je tienne jusqu'à l'aube…

L'une après l'autre, les étoiles s'éteignirent. Blanquette redoubla de coups de cornes, le loup de coups de dents… Une lueur pâle parut dans l'horizon… Le chant d'un coq enroué monta d'une métairie.

- Enfin! dit la pauvre bête, qui n'attendait plus que le jour pour mourir; et elle s'allongea par terre dans sa belle fourrure blanche toute tachée de sang…

Alors le loup se jeta sur la petite chèvre et la mangea.

-- Alphonse Daudet, from La Chèvre de Monsieur Seguin

Lutter contre le loup.

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Five Guys a wolf in sheep's clothing, looking the same as it used to but cooking their burgers to well-done, offering lousy cheese and mediocre rolls not that the ones from Brenner's were ever that good, Pie-tanza sausage, onion and pepper pizza not-at-all bad within the semi-gooey genre, Kotobuki continues to amaze with its $1.00 scallops and $1.75 toro, Adega Wine Cellars a diamond in the sterile, corporate rough and a good sandwich spot for lunch, serving up good panini, beer and wine with a $4 corkage fee if you purchase the bottle on-premises, Sweetwater Tavern racked with inconsistency and bad beer due to reckless overexpansion, Steve Klc’s desserts remain models of quality and value at Oyamel, most recently the Goat-Milk Cajeta preceded by the engaging Oceloti cocktail (passion fruit, ginger and jalapeno with tequila), Taqueria El Poblano sits atop the heap for comfort-zone family SoCal Mexican, hearty and filling but clean, Bistro Bis for a cheese course and dessert a wonderful way to end an evening having some of the best of both in town, an initial visit to Mark and Orlando’s tentatively disappoints, especially the cold foods, but subsequent reports prove encouraging, Montmartre Restaurant Francais serving up a satisfying and perfectly executed scallop dish with surprisingly good sweet-pea risotto, the charcuterie plate at Palena is one of the singularly great food items in the city, Market Salamander a pleasant stop for a roast beef and cheddar sandwich on the deck with some Route 11 potato chips and a designer soft drink, Sonoma for a glass of Gavi and a hearty, generous bruschetta made with forest-mushroom ragu and local goat cheese a perfect use of $16, how was your week

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Marcel's remains a benchmark for elegant, nearly flawless service, dill and cardomom aquavits at W Domku are a thrilling aperitif at this important restaurant in Petworth, out of over a dozen softshell crabs tried this year, the gem at Colorado Kitchen falls second only to the $21 insanity served at Citronelle Lounge which is simply the best version I've ever tried, China Star's Fish With Sour Mustard served with twice (yes, twice) as much fish as before, with equal heat but less persistence and complexity if you can call such aggressive cuisine complex, the prepared food section at the Sterling Wegman's must surely be the highest number of covers served in all of Loudoun County but don't miss the egg salad, and don't believe the guidebooks about La Petite Auberge in Fredericksburg go instead to Blake Bethem's Bistro Bethem (formerly Bistro 309) right next door, where the chef worked with Jay Comfort at what is clearly the better of the two establishments, the food at Sonoma is almost unrecognizable on a third visit, a previously terrific forest-mushroom ragu and wild boar sausage and morel pizza falling far short of the brilliant versions tried before and yet the chocolate cake was wonderful, a visit to Merkado Kitchen the latest in a string of mediocre-to-bad meals at recently opened establishments (along with Etrusco, 21P and Mark and Orlando's), Tallula arguably the most wine-friendly restaurant in all of Northern Virginia, avoid the dried out ho(-ho) at Old Homestead, how was your week

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Meeting Chris Bianco

It was our final day together in the desert. My son and I had just finished dinner at Pizzeria Bianco, and we were about to walk out of the restaurant.

The manager had come over to say goodbye, and as we thanked her for our supper, we began chatting politely. A man behind the counter, kneading dough, his hands covered with flour like he had plunged them into the oven and grabbed at the white ashes, looked up and smiled.

Returning the smile, I turned back toward the manager.

"Is the chef in tonight?"

I saw something out of the corner of my eye, but when I glanced to my left, I saw only the sun against the window. I looked back toward my right, and for a second time, my eyes were drawn to the man behind the counter.

"He's right here."

"Where?"

"Right here."

It was Chris Bianco.

Taken by surprise, I nervously thanked him, and aware that the restaurant was becoming crowded, asked for a piece of paper so I could write him a brief note. Somewhat taken by surprise himself, he tore off a page from a tablet, and I went outside and sat down at a small table with my son by my side.

I began writing with a sense of purpose, wanting to convey in just a few lines the essence of the whole meal. Just as I had started the second sentence, something rose in my field of vision, and when I lifted my eyes, the chef was standing in front of me, dressed in white and framed across the window of the restaurant, looking at me with a great deal of concern.

He needed to know we were all right. I quickly reassured him, and he then sat down and began talking with us, the crowd of people forming at the door behind him. It was a lot to digest in a very short time: thinking about all the accomplishments of the past that would soon be forgotten, worrying about unsolvable problems that require an immediate answer, lovingly serving those who are too young and will not remember, counting and recounting everything that could possibly go wrong in the future, finding the right balance of fennel in the sausage, wondering how to lift half the sack of flour, without letting the other half drop down.

"The sun comes in from the southwest, through this window, right onto the red wines," he said.

We talked for several more minutes, and then there was a pause in the conversation. At that moment, we both knew that he needed to get back inside, and that my son and I needed to begin our long trip home. He smiled and said goodbye, patted my son on the shoulder, and then disappeared into the restaurant.

Walking back to the car, the need to recount everything about the meal quickly faded into the bleached sun. Just before pulling away, I turned toward my right and brushed from my son's dark blue shirt a final gift from the man left behind, the counter, the man left, needing, the man with the flower on his hands.

-- written for my wife Karen Rockwell, who died in my arms on August 8th, 2002.

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Meals at Sunflower Vegetarian Restaurant remain the only known exercise in sustainable gluttony, with the Golden Nuggets indistinguishable from tender chicken wrapped in bacon - it remains one of my favorite places for lunch carryout, and is the only place I know of to gorge and still feel healthy afterwards, sunday and monday nights can be difficult for restaurants with one primary cook, and so it was for Bombay Curry Company as reliable standbys such as Butter Chicken and Goan Fish Curry were underseasoned and not up to their usual homey dig-a-doo, but meals here are generally satisfying and of high quality, to steal a paraphrase from Jacques Gastreaux, Cathal Armstrong at Restaurant Eve has half-literally made silk from a sow's ear with his Braised Hogshead, and Todd Thrasher's amazing cocktail Pear of Desire - with a wafer of foie gras on top - would cost $20 in a trendy Manhattan restaurant, and would only be half as good. Still looking for the magic that goes into Palena's chicken? Order the Steamed Pork Hock at A&J, which has similar aromatics and almost surely contains a spice overlap. And speaking of Palena, I broke down and had a burger and fries (I always feel guilty when I get the burger and fries there), and it was simply the best I've ever had anywhere. Sorry, Frank, but sometimes you just gotta satisfy that primal craving. Bethesda's David Craig is making an attempt at fine dining with a menu that reads beautifully, and dishes that show refinement along with their flaws - Local Pumpkin Ravioli was ridden with amaretto, and the otherwise wonderful components of the Duck Three Ways were bathing in too much broth for their own good - probably by design, but it's still a mistake. The bread is boring, the wine list is incredibly bad, and yet I'll eagerly seek out this charming little pillbox in the future. Why? Talent in the kitchen. Alexandria's Cafe Monti is an interesting fleabag - a mix of Italian and Austrian cooking ranging from bargains to daily specials in the upper teens. A pepperoni, sausage and green pepper pizza was clean and pretty good - a hypothetical cross between The Italian Store and Pie-tanza - and the bottled beer selection is better than you'd think. I'm not sure why I didn't expect more from Spring Valley's Dahlia, because it was consistently good from appetizers through dessert. In comparison with David Craig this week, the food at Dahlia isn't as ambitious or impressive, but it was more safe and consistent - all except for the ghastly selection of pizzas, which despite the clashing combos, results in well-made pies. A pleasant surprise, albeit one tainted by yet another bad beer and wine selection. Desserts are good here too, how was your week.

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Next time you're thinking about Bistrot du Coin on a Sunday evening, think about Mourayo instead, this week there was a page of specials that included boneless, diced quail with chopped tomatoes, eggplants, Gaviera cheese, and oregano/lemon sauce, get anything that looks long-cooked, and also anything that's wrapped in the paper-thin house-made phyllo dough, if you like the fizzy Aglianico at 2 Amy's, you'll love the Aghioritiko from Lafazanis (the top wine on the right page), great chefs spawn great chefs, but a kitchen doesn't easily recover from the loss of Brendan Cox, Nathan Anda and Tony Chittum, and Equinox sous-chef Ethan McKee hasn't quite mastered the full range of Todd Gray's bass-tone dishes, doing better work with pasta and meat than fish, but Gray has been at the restaurant on each of my last four visits, most recently featuring a delicious housemade foie gras sausage as one of the first courses, the genuine respect and affection Gray's employees have for him is impressive, sommelier Kathy Morgan at 2941 has been typing furiously reorganizing the winelist, but yikes watch that cut-and-paste function on the 1946 and 1962 Lafite, the new menu at Gerard's Place will begin a week later than planned on Monday, March 6th, and will consist largely of similar dishes but at a gentler price point, be sure and get the Sauteed Black Grouper which is only on the menu if Gerard cooks it himself and that makes a world of difference in this kitchen, one of best dishes I've had in months, 13 out of 16 men in the dining room were wearing dinner jackets and the ultimate success of Gerard's Place will be based on their willingness to encourage more casual dress in the evenings, time will tell, Jaleo (DC) may not be a temple of fine dining, but it can sure be a satisfying and comforting place to eat, and is one of the best gathering places in town for uncritical quaffing, especially at its price point, the oil used in the sauteed mushrooms and snails was not good, but the bacon and date fritters remain addictive, if yeasty, I have yet to have one dish at Willow that wasn't hamfisted, most recently a potato gnocchi gratin that was drowning in goo, a lifeless caesar salad, and an otherwise beautiful looking fried chicken that was muddy and dull, too many dishes here abuse lemon, not as an acidic counterpoint, but as a confectionary scent almost like a Betty Crocker pudding cake, you'll be much happier next door at Rio Grande Cafe because at least your expectations won't be raised there, how was your week.

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Straits of Malaya again fell victim to the absence of its primary cook, with usual standby dishes being gloppy and mushy, on four visits now the food has been, in order, 1) great 2) bad 3) great 4) bad, contrast with Malaysia Kopitiam, which is leaps-and-bounds more interesting than Straits of Malaya regardless of the day, the Achar is downright profound here in comparison, also the Roti Canai is a flatter, less puffy version than you may be used to, the Chicken Rendang has druggingly complex spicing, plus what’s not to like about dishes named Watt Tan Hor Fun and Pork and Mai Fun, GREEK VILLAGE is the largest restaurant in Colesville (granted, not saying much), its tiny entrance belying a cavernous interior seating over 130 people, but this is standard, mediocre, strip-mall Greek fare and not worth a special effort to seek out, the "fresh flounder" may have been fresh when it was caught, but not by the time it arrived at the table, the beers at Franklin’s are some of the best in the area, tending to be very strong and aggressive in their hopping, very good within this genre though I'd like to see a full-flavored lager thrown into the mix, the general store here is unique, fascinating, and worth a visit if you're anywhere near Hyattsville, I always considered myself pretty up on the local dining scene, but I never realized that the antipasto buffet at PISTONE'S ITALIAN INN at Seven Corners is "considered by many to be one of the best in the country," and from the looks of things, all of them have a last name of Pistone, avoid the antipasto buffet if you're forced to go, and stick with safety dishes such as lasagna and basic pizza, chef RJ Cooper at Vidalia is one of the best cooks in town, although he's forced to work with a very conservative dining clientele, there are three levels of dining here: the regular menu, the chef's specials, and then whatever RJ feels like cooking that night, simply ask your server to have him make a tasting menu, I checked and he’ll happily do this for anyone who asks, and it’s the best way to unleash his considerable talent, get the 2002 Heidi Schrock Furmint for $48 to have with your meal, the next time you get a hankering for a double cheeseburger at 2 AM, try instead a carryout order of Hwe Dup Bap at Yechon, slices of fresh raw fish served over chopped lettuce and sticky short-grain rice with a mix-in cup of sweet-hot chili garlic sauce, it’s a large portion and worth a scarf except for the damnable surimi sticks which, even in times of despair and famine, are below the minimum standard for human consumption, how was your week.
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Chefs often talk about holidays and weekends being "Amateur Nights" at restaurants, but from a diner's perspective, that epithet applies to Sunday and Monday evenings, generally the chef's night off, and so it was at BlackSalt, with both an Atlantic Skate Wing, lobster-and-French-lentil cassoulet with lobster glace and a Wild Carolina Rockfish, served with organic mushroom marsala fondue, butternut squash, and haricots verts falling victim to poor saucing and, in the case of the rockfish and the lobster meat, overcooking, until-and-unless restaurants offer warnings or discounts when the backup conductor is leading the orchestra, the same standards should continue to apply, bar service is genuinely friendly and professional as always, talking about a Belgian Quadrupel on the menu at Birreria Paradiso, an undersexed Thor Cheston writes, “Imbibing one of these wonderful ales is like holding a liquor-filled soft caramel in your mouth and feeling it slowly melt,” an Arrosto di Verdure (roast vegetable) Panini ($6.95) comes on a homemade bun but was served cold and isn’t quite as integrated as it could be, Panjshir II is civilized but empty inside, serving healthy vegetarian fare such as the kadu chalow (sauteed pumpkin) and shalgham chalow (sauteed turnip in brown sugar), the Afghan naan here is a waste of calories, but the chalows themselves are guilt-free, perhaps even bland, Szechuan Boy has leapt into the forefront of area Chinese restaurants, with chef Peter Chang back offering up his considerable talents, do not ignore an innocuous-sounding bowl of dumplings in broth, as the dumplings are subtle and complex, and the broth rich and concentrated with chicken stock, “the $45 three-course menu at the bar is the best deal in town on Saturday nights,” Eric Ziebold told me at CityZen Lounge, because the restaurant is closed the next two days, the diner will get more food than on other nights, take your chances and beg the bartender for some Parker House rolls, my multi-year streak of failures at Obelisk continues, with both the furniture and clientele looking as worn-out as ever, the very night they were short-listed for a Beard Award, the chef had left early, even though he had supposedly ‘been there all day preparing the food,’ which was tired and dull, although Obelisk used to be my favorite restaurant in DC (let’s not forget you had the brilliant Pastan and Ruta in the two-person kitchen at one point), I haven’t had one single great dish here in so long I can’t even remember when it was, they aren’t terribly fond of serving miniburgers at the bar at Charlie Palmer Steak, and it’s just as well as the lounge menu is something of an afterthought, the lobster corndogs ($9.00) sounding a lot better than they are, although a little bird tells me that the charcuterie plate ($11.00) is a great deal and enough for two people, ordering from the main menu here is the way to go, a duo of seared duck breast and confit atop root vegetables is everything you could possibly want, remember each table is allowed to bring up to two bottles of American wine without any corkage fees, you can also bring your own bottle at the bar, but please remember to tip the excellent bartenders well if you do, the Torchon of Foie Gras with Fig and Sorrel ($14) at Corduroy is a requirement even though it’s relatively expensive for an appetizer there, Tom Power takes an entire lobe of foie gras, rolls it, poaches it, and cuts out seven helpings, wrapped in a seedy fig roll-up and served with macerated fig bits and a tiny mound of sorrel, it’s one of the purest examples of this classic dish around, late on a crowded Saturday evening, Tom came out and asked me to guess how many of these he served that night, “Two,” he said, and then pointed to my friend and said “One,” and then pointed to me and said “Two,” do yourself a favor and order this, how was your week.

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Rustico was in the final phases of its soft opening (not mock opening) when I visited, serving a partial menu to patrons clearly eager for a decent restaurant to open in their neighborhood, it will have some glitches to overcome (the pizzas being one of them), but the outstanding selection of beers should be enough to satisfy customers willing to stick with a few safe-and-simple offerings for now, a good wine to order there is the Montirius, a beautiful earthy red from Vacqueyras in the Southern Rhone Valley, keep the early enthusiasm in check for Bazin's on Church in Vienna, as the new restaurant has many rough edges to smooth, two big ones being the underachieving wine list and the disappointingly conservative menu, if someone took a chance with an uncompromising menu in Vienna, it could attract people from all over the area, but for now the Viennese will be stuck with stuffed flounder, crabcakes, pork chops, flatiron steak, et al, do not come here looking for David Craig because you'll be disappointed, when you want to power up your laptop and sip some wine with bar snacks, few places in town are more quirkilized than the lounge at Tabard Inn, where you can nibble on a house-made country pork terrine and enjoy a half-bottle of Pierre Peters champagne by the fireplace, the fireplace at THE GUARDS is a cozy surprise after walking past the nasty bar area, where they've been serving overcooked eggs Benedict since 1966, probably also the last time they got a delivery on their ham, trends be damned, and the un-trendiest trendy place in town is Leopold Kafe + Konditorei on a weeknight, the corner fourtop perfect for lording over the attractive space, the service up from below-ground, and the smoked fish plate ordered with the pickled cucumber salad a refreshing one-two punch, it isn't often when I have an overcooked chicken that I still like, but Leopold's version is well-worth getting, the mussels were old, overcooked, and inedible, not unlike the corned beef at Chef Theo’s, where I was recently urged to try the ruben (this is the last time I trust my mom), Chef Theo’s is a cross between Silver Diner and Big Boy’s, and should be avoided unless you like iceburg lettuce, frozen steak fries, stale rolls, and a lot of people having really bad food for lunch, at 12:30 PM on a Saturday, I counted 246 people in the dining area of MITSITAM CAFE, along with 64 people in the self-service ordering area, and 81 people waiting in line out the door, it’s a government-run institution serving hoards of tourists inside the Museum of the American Indian, and now I’d like you to forget about all of that, drop everything you’re doing, and make a special effort to come here, the food is better and more interesting than it has any right to be, when you get inside the ordering area, take your time and walk around, order whatever looks and sounds appealing, and wait to get your hot items until just before you walk over to the cashier, the contrast between Mitsitam Cafe and CASCADE CAFE (the underground cafe between the two National Galleries of Art) is as jolting as a moustache on the Mona Lisa, a half-order of red-beet risotto with English peas is a perfect pairing with a glass of 2004 Kir-Yanni Akakies Rose, and one of the best dishes I’ve yet had at Notti Bianche, which remains one of my favorite places to sneak in the back door and catch a game on TV, some of the dishes here can be terrific when the able Tony Chittum isn’t concentrating on his Dish down the street (not the one in the Latham), Danny Boylen is a charismatic star who can singlehandedly make a good meal great, respected and tough, but not as tough as the octopus which needs to go away, I hadn't eaten at Arlington's LOST DOG CAFE in years, and I had vague recollections of having my high expectations dashed there in the past, and now I remember why: it has an appealing grunge-ball character, a big menu that looks promising, and a great selection of beers to-go, the problem is their pizza oven, an open-air conveyor belt system, that makes their bready dough unevenly cooked, and the notion of “gourmet pizza” - your choice of 30 food-service toppings - came-and-went twenty years ago, I’ll continue to support places like this because of the local character, but the pizza here is no better than the big national chains, right next door is the quintessential neighborhood restaurant, THAI NOY, which is good enough for local residents to support, but not special enough to warrant a cross-town journey, a duck pod pong and chicken ginger may not take any risks, but they’re both reliable, clean, and satisfying, if I lived nearby, I’d get carryout here on a regular basis, have a chuckle at their "open kitchen" when you go, there are two often-overlooked fundamentals that elevate Marcel’s above almost every other restaurant in town, the service is simultaneously formal and unpretentious - and I’m willing to bet this somehow ties into their high staff-retention rate - it appears effortless but isn’t, and the illusion of being effortless can also describe their elegant, consistently well-executed sauces, saucing being the most important thing in terms of what makes or breaks a dish, the bar here remains one of the best places in town to dine like a baron without experiencing financial melena, the wine list now has 70 different bottles costing $40 or less, how was your week.
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If you’ve procrastinated in getting your homework done over the weekend, Busboys & Poets should be your Sunday-night library, with free wireless internet and a crowd so full of life that you’ll forget you have to work tomorrow, a bowl of consistently good Harira (a Morroccan bean soup) being one of the few safe bets on the menu, when I wrote the ‘Best Of’ wine piece in January, I hadn’t originally intended for it to be an exhaustive (and exhausting) reference, but with two weeks to go, I decided to go for it thinking I could pull it off, and in retrospect I think I caught most everything, but I flat-out missed Zaytinya which deserved to be included, although the markups on their wines are pretty standard, they feature a fine selection of Greek and Turkish bottlings that are good values for the money, the design, atmosphere, and crowd remain vibrant but the food remains just as it has always been: exactly what you'd expect at an upscale restaurant at the International Food Court at Disneyworld, including this time around, the desserts, no small plate could be more satisfying than a pupusa revuelta ($1.30) at JUANITA’S KITCHEN in Wheaton, which was on another planet compared to the lousy version at the tired BURRITO BROTHERS chain, which used to be consistently good from location-to-location in the mid 1990s, the food now being sodium-laden slop, nobody talks about China Star anymore, but the Szechuan menu (available as a .pdf file on their website) is still capable of producing dishes of interest, the Shredded Chicken with Leek ($8.95) and Shredded Beef with Chinese Celery ($8.95) much better and more interesting than your standard strip-mall Chinese fare, Hans Hess is going to be making the patties slightly thinner at Elevation Burger, so that his cooks don’t need to press them with a spatula, the french fries are great these days, and a Big Phat Burger is worth the effort if you’re anywhere near West Falls Church Metro, Sunnyside Farms isn’t offering organic ground beef anymore, so Hans is now buying it directly from their former supplier at a higher price, SOO RAH is a relatively new Korean restaurant in Annandale, having replaced BookChangDong Tofu (Mrs. Book Chang Dong has apparently left the area), but despite being a late-night dining option during the week, I’m afraid the charismatic owner can’t compensate for the wan broths and frozen seafood, a much better option is EL POLLO CAMPERO, which must surely be my favorite fast-food fried chicken in the area, salty as hell, even the rice, beans, and plaintains are pretty decent here, if you’re going to get a slice at zpizza, look for the ones with minimal cheese that has been well-browned, in much better balance than the whitish extra-cheese versions, an order of Sichuan Pickles ($1.95) should accompany every meal at China Gourmet, the cool crunch lending some necessary relief to the fiery dishes of Peter Chang, if you think $3.00 is too much money for a Fish Stick, then you haven’t had the one at Tallula, a fried strip of brandade served with gribiche (a fancy name for tartar sauce) that can be good enough to order several and have as your main protein, I’m a big fan of Nathan Anda (an AndaHugga?), but he seems to be almost too good for this bustling restaurant-bar (I counted over 125 people in three rooms on Thursday night), I wonder if he’s torn between keeping his artist’s pride intact (the menu remains large and ambitious) and succumbing to the crank-and-burn realities of this wildly inconsistent zoo, make it a priority to visit Michel Richard Citronelle Lounge, where anyone with a collared shirt and decent pair of jeans can have one of the most beautiful bowls of soup I’ve ever seen, English peas are in season for only a short time, and for $16 you can get a big, white bowl placed in front of you, with a mirepoix of lightly-poached English peas, lobster mousse, and squid-ink brioche, and then a piping-hot mixture of English-pea puree and lobster consomme ladled on top, the intensely green soup making a beautiful cover to the pinkish lobster mousse and black squid-ink brioche, I cannot emphasize enough what a great soup this is, and with a basket of bread and glass of wine, you can enjoy this artistry for around $30, not cheap, but a required expense for anyone serious about food here, if you find yourself at Ray’s The Steaks, try a bottle of 2003 Rancho Galante, a Cabernet Sauvignon blended from several vineyards in Carmel Valley, I was skeptical when Michael Landrum recommended this, but he was right about it, not at all heavy or cumbersome, and can carry you through the meal from start to finish, how was your week.

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Add Jackie's to your list of decent places to eat on a Sunday night, the bar service friendly and Jackie Greenbaum herself tending the door, skip the overcooked, refrigerated-cheese, shittibun miniburgers, and head to dishes simply prepared with quality ingredients such as Turnips Roasted in Duck Fat ($4.00 for a side dish), chefs should be flocking to Heritage India (Glover Park) on Monday evenings, although the downstairs is an empty cave, the service upstairs is vastly improved, the wines are half-price on Mondays - a solid 2003 Cotes du Rhone Blanc (from the Gigondas region) is only $14 – and the food fabulous start-to-finish: Dahi Bhalle, Goa Fish Curry, Lamb Vindaloo, Baigan Mirchi Ka Salan, Naan, Peshawari Nan, Pudina Parantha, Chawal, Raita, Pickle, no flaws to be found, as opposed to Tabaq Bistro which hit rock bottom on every single course, including previous favorites such as Hummos with Sausage and Su Borek, the Lobster Risotto which the server urged us to try, was like some sort of bad paella with dried out, shriveled, overcooked lobster meat, before you accuse anyone of irrational exuberance about BOMBAY in White Oak, try some of the down-home cooking there, gutteral but clean, fabulous vegetable pakora, and the Bombay Biryani ($15.95) so well-executed and jam-packed with lamb, shrimp, and chicken that you’ll happily have the leftovers for lunch the next day, Ichiban has a reputation for good, inexpensive sushi, but it doesn’t seem so good or inexpensive to me, the menu is full of standard-issue sushi at $4.00 for a two-piece order, and “lunch specials” such as $6.75 for two lame rolls (California, Yellowtail, Tuna, Cucumber, Eel, etc.), sushi rice is an underrated and fundamental component to any good attempt at sushi, and the rice here was ordinary, contrast with Kaz Sushi Bistro, which takes great care with its sushi rice, some of the best I’ve ever had, Uni Wrapped in Baby Calamari, with truffle-soy sauce and quail egg ($15) is Okochi The Artist in full bloom, a visually beautiful presentation of uni buried inside a bird’s nest of shredded calamari with the quail egg resting on top, a little less truffle oil and this would be a great dish (if there are any investors out there who’d like to partner with me in building a giant missile, and rocketing the world’s remaining supply of truffle oil off to Pluto, please contact me at your leisure), Okochi is well-liked by his peers, and it’s not surprising that both Ris Lacoste and Mark Furstenburg were dining here in separate parties, Minh’s gets a fair amount of attention from restaurant critics, but is still flying too low under the radar here, given that it’s inexpensive, near a Metro, and consistently good, it merits much more verbage than it’s getting, for about the 10th consecutive time, the "Cổ Ngư" Shrimp Cakes (Deep fried shredded yam and shrimp served w/ dipping sauce and aromatic greens to use as a taco shell) was worth ordering, and the Clay-Pot Caramel Catfish is so far superior to the dilute, sugary version offered at the overrated Four Sisters (this generation’s Queen Bee) that it hardly seems like the same dish, plus the owner has a seriously cool beard, I can’t speak for all the branches of Moby Dick House of Kabob, but I’ve had the carryout lunch specials at the McLean branch more times than I can count over the years, and they’ve never disappointed me, a different special each weekday, inexpensive, plentiful, I urge you to try these, call (703) 448-8448, ask for “a special,” and go pick up your order, you’ll thank me I promise, park in the office lot to the left of the building, Giovanni Diotaiuti takes an enormous pride in Al Crostino, as he should, the space is charming, the wine list is competent and fairly priced, the service is superior without being pretentious, and the food is good - not great, but good – and for the price the entire dining experience will leave a smile on your face, you’ll have a bountiful plate of food if you order the Rib Eye Steak, Tuscan Style ($15.50), and you’ll wish there were more potatoes on the plate, where do you go for a last-minute reservation on a Friday night if you want great food without dressing up, you go to one of the best restaurants in town, Circle Bistro, where the master poissonier Brendan Cox executes fish as well as anyone in DC, trout, halibut, and rockfish were all lovingly prepared and perfectly cooked, you just don’t find this level of care exercised by any chef, anywhere, who doesn’t respect what they’re putting into the pan, but Brendan I must caution you about succumbing to the latest Trite Food Item, what can only be called “The Scraped Sperm Cell,” clearly evident in your Alaskan Halibut, refer to the first and third pictures in this posting for an example, how was your week.

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Fire up your laptop, have a cup of coffee, and enjoy a wireless brunch at The U-Street Mocha Hut, the fried chicken and waffles ($9.50) is a horizontal seven-decker sandwich, alternating between a quartered Belgian waffle and flattened disks of fried chicken, maple syrup can hide the salt, but you’ll be desiccated a few hours later, Indique Heights is one of the few restaurants in the area where you can get lost both going there, and also once in there, the fine chicken biryani much like you’ll find at its elder sibling in Cleveland Park, both in form (a cylindrical shape) and flavor, it’s a good time to catch this newcomer on a Sunday night, of all the things I love about Restaurant Eve, I may just love the service the most, a beautifully human ballet that’s tuxedo in execution but flannel in texture, Cathal Armstrong is hell-bent driven like few chefs I’ve ever seen, this restaurant is deservedly beginning to get national attention, and the time to enjoy it is now while it begins to peak, I don’t think they can keep this up for five more years because they’re all going to have heart attacks, some say that dining at CityZen Lounge is like standing up at a Wagner opera: if you choose to endure multi-hour discomfort, you can dine like Pavarotti, the Soft-Boiled Path Valley Farms Hen Egg, surrounded by CityZen-Cured Shoat Leg, Fondue, and Morel Mushrooms (pictured in this posting) calls for a bread dunking if not a Mohel, sometimes the playful Eric Ziebold is so cryptic that I can’t figure out what he’s riffing (ask him about his Yeungling popover sometime), but this was pure childhood comfort raised to gourmet urgency, nobody serves more raw seafood than Old Ebbitt Grill, but there’s no question that restaurant professionals cut this place extra slack for being open late, all raw-bar items being half-priced from 11 PM – 2 AM, most recently a half-priced #4 walrus platter featured good (but frozen) shrimp, inedible clams, and lousy Wellfleet oysters, the oysters here can be very good, but they can also be pretty bad, and you just never know in advance, half-priced raw bar is not a bargain if the quality isn't there, I’ve always found the Seven Corners Fortune to do a solid job with non-adventurous dishes (think chicken and vegetables, beef with broccoli, etc.), certain things succumb to excessive corn starching such as the otherwise interesting Shredded Duck and Shredded Abalone Soup ($14 for two) and the Half-chicken with Chinese watercress, anything salt-baked here is worth ordering, I don’t want to get my hopes up yet, but there’s a chance Dean Gold will no longer need to clap with one hand in a dark room, though I’ve had very good individual dishes at Dino in the past (I’ve particularly enjoyed the Lasagnette al Ragu), new chef Daniel Amaya produced one that I can happily say was great, Maiale al Girarrosto ($21), a sliced Niman-Ranch rotisserie pork loin, rubbed with coriander and fennel, and served with a white bean ragout, very encouraging, Dino remains a wine-lover's paradise, alert, alert, consider enjoying your next happy hour at Poste where talented young chef Rob Weland is examining, garnishing, and expediting every dish that comes from the kitchen, make sure to order the Lemon Roasted Chicken, with escarole, white beans, sausage, and parmesan, which is simply one of the greatest roasted chickens I’ve ever had, and at $15, one of the single best dishes at its price-point in the entire city, a triumph for both chef and diner, how was your week.

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If I were pressed to name the most important restaurant in the Washington area, I might just name 2 Amys, where I’ve eaten more than anywhere else, a model for any chef wishing to open a “second restaurant” - a simple concept, executed well, that can be produced without constant supervision over the years and therefore doesn’t over-dilute and destroy the flagship, it takes a single beloved thing, pizza, and does it better, much better, than anyone else around while somehow cranking out incredibly high volume, the wine list is thoughtful and inexpensive, a national-class restaurant that’s a tourist destination, but also an unfussy neighborhood gathering place for families with strollers, inexpensive, consistently good, and wildly popular without relying on anything other than its product, 2 Amys is an ongoing testament to the genius of Peter Pastan, I’m happy to report on a tremendous sandwich, the Roasted Earl, a simple, healthy roasted pork sandwich, served up by Steve Dugan at his feisty and defiant sandwich shop, Earl’s Sandwiches, which is quietly thumbing its nose at the sterile parody that Clarendon is quickly becoming, this restaurant needs to be supported, and speaking of sterile parodies, Ten Pehn is a soulless food factory that cranks out a theme-park variation of the same tired fair produced by its long-and-inexplicably overrated siblings, plenty of chefs I know will be silently nodding their heads in agreement but will never admit it publicly, nothing against the individuals here, but an establishment simply cannot serve this many covers and produce anything of interest unless it's narrow and focused like 2 Amys, contrast with Buck’s Fishing and Camping, which revels in its glorious imperfections, the most annoying of which is that the appetizers haven’t changed in seemingly two years, there are all sorts of things foodies can throw darts at, and that’s exactly why I love Buck’s, because the food is actually worth discussing and analyzing, and at day’s end it’s very, very good cooking, it was a pleasure to meet James Alefantis’ dad, who was bursting at the seams with pride for his son, try finding that at the bar at Ten Pehn, it’s easy to overlook the cheese course at Corduroy, which is hidden on the dessert menu for $10, but Tom Power is sourcing from Artisanal in New York, and is offering perfectly handled and matured cheeses, most recently serving an Epoisses de Bourgogne, a Robiola la Rosa, and an Abbaye de Belloc, nothing fancy here, just a few really good cheeses at a fair price, it’s hard to quibble with La Sirenita in Riverdale when it’s so inexpensive, but the tacos on my most recent visit were filled with really dry meat, and the ceviche, like most ceviches in the area, was an expensive mistake, $15 for a small (which was not small) and $25 for a large, ceviches are best left for restaurants by the sea, female diners should not dine here alone, Noriake “Nori” Yasutake recently came to Perry’s from his uncle’s restaurant in Bethesda, Matuba, and brings with him a bundle of energy, an empty-restaurant, Monday-night, $35 chef’s omakase giving him a chance to showcase his artistic talents and enthusiasm, which are reflected in the presentation and symphonic flow of the sashimi and sushi, all lovingly assembled and served one at a time, one piece of sushi having a perfectly integrated, thin slice of green olive resting on top, the problems here are the quality of fish and the sushi rice itself, which is too pasty for its own good, Yasutake is a commanding and gracious presence behind the sushi bar, but needs to take responsibility for purveying better fish and making better sushi rice, this is worth knowing about, but only for Yasutake’s creative skills, the quality of food at Foti’s is falling faster than the price of a condominium on K Street, an empty restaurant mid-week, with no more than twenty covers served, was notable for serving what may be the single worst duck breast I’ve ever eaten, with grayish streaks running through the meat which had the consistency of processed ham, the lobster claw served with the Johnny Cakes was overcooked and rubbery, I had both of these courses in December and both were superb, this food should have never left the kitchen, the meal saved by well-meaning, gracious, service and the efforts of knowledgeable sommelier Tyler Packwood, who expertly matched inexpensive, obscure wines by the glass with each course, I fear for the future of Foti’s, based on this meal, it’s too expensive to survive on locals from Culpepper, and it isn’t good enough to attract the mid-week Washington DC crowd, we’ll know more in a couple of years, Frank Maragos was nowhere to be seen and sous-chef Daniel Amaya just left so perhaps the number three chef was running the show, but the problems with the food here went beyond a bad night in the kitchen, even the dessert was mediocre at best, head straight for the Liptauer Crostini ($9.00) at Leopold Kafe + Konditorei, an Austrian cheese spread with peas, fava beans, and pecorino cheese, served mounded on crostini, a knife-and-fork dish, matched perfectly by a glass of Austrian Gruner Veltliner or Riesling, good, vibrant mid-week crowd, I hadn’t had a bagel at CHESAPEAKE BAGEL BAKERY in years, but I tried one based on a favorable Washingtonian review, fresh-baked though it may have been, it wasn’t much better than a frozen Lender’s, twenty years ago, the drive down to The Inn at Little Washington was a pleasure, with the feeling of escape beginning somewhere around I-66 and Route 123, now it’s a backbreaking, laborious drive all the way to Gainsville, with traffic jams continuing all the way down to Warrenton, it’s no longer fun to get there, everything about the Inn is magical, except for the food, which is distressingly ordinary, and the service, the servers being well-trained in hospitality and genuinely friendly, but surprisingly befuddled and bumbling at times, Chicken A La King at Colorado Kitchen was one of the greatest dishes I’ve had from talented cook Gillian Clark, served in thin, homemade phyllo cups, she should consider making this one of her signature dishes, at $7.95, it was better than any single thing (*) I had less than 24-hours before at Inn at Little Washington, did I just say that? yes, I did, and it’s about damned time someone did, Cesare Lanfranconi is no longer working full-time at Tosca, so it’s chef Massimmo Fabbri’s kitchen these days, and a housemade Taglierini with Maine lobster in a tomato-lobster sauce with spring artichokes, a special on the April artichoke-tasting menu, was one of the great pasta dishes I’ve had in recent memory, the quality of the lobster claw being night-and-day better than the one I had recently at Foti’s, what a great dish this was, a Risotto with Ramps and Sea Urchin was merely decent in comparison, and a strawberry cobbler was simply not any good, a mixed showing for Tosca, whose wine list is still speckled with bottles worth ordering, believe what you read about Taqueria Distrito Federal, where slow-cooked meats are the star of the show, three tacos for five dollars presented with love on a styrofoam plate, all of which were better than the tacos I recently had at La Sirenita, purists may wish for fresh masa in the tortillas, but this is the Earl’s Sandwiches of Columbia Heights, a terrific find with a warm, welcoming owner in Luis Marroquin who has lived in the area for almost 30 years, and who patiently walked me through the menu and gave me a free refill on my horchata, how was your fortnight.

(*) Scratch that - I just had the basket of mignardises, and they're awesome!

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I always enjoy the rolls at Sushi-Ko, and am particularly fond of light-colored seafood with thin slivers of jalapeno and cilantro, sometimes rock shrimp, this time it was escolar, the jalapeno and cilantro providing both crunch and acidity to work with the white fish and soy sauce, a hearty meal of four rolls (twenty-four pieces) is less than $25, and a beer or glass of Red Burgundy can round out the meal for under $40 including tax and tip, Koji Terano generally works on Sunday evenings and Sushi-Ko remains one of the best places in town to finish off the weekend, I’m not sure where Etete gets their elegant injera, but it seems milder and slightly more porous than many others I’ve had, a single meat course with multiple vegetables is a good way to order here, the carrots, potatoes, and greens acting as lithe foils for the interesting variety of sauces, and minimizing the dirigibility that results from the inevitable overeating here, the injera tripling in size once it enters your system, it’s hard not to gravitate towards the onglet at Ray's The Steaks, but Michael Landrum’s $50 chateaubriand-for-two special tempted me into it, do not hesitate to order this because it isn’t a fatty cut, it’s seasoned and cooked beautifully, I often prefer leaner cuts for sopping up sauces, and the mushroom-brandy sauce now being offered at Ray’s is the perfect accompaniment to this regal cut of meat which, like the filet mignon, provides for a riveting lunch the next day served cold rather than reheated, a post-midnight sautéed pavé at Bistrot du Coin ($18.75) was downright McDonaldian in comparison, served with stale bread and frozen french-fries, a half-bottle of 1990 Chateau Simard (Saint-Emilion) is a must purchase at $22, but I do wish they wouldn’t serve it at 75 degrees, I always enjoy Bistrot du Coin, but think of it as more of a friendly meeting house than anything culinary, something like a Kiwanis Lodge with an old manchot whipping up some rabbit-n-spaetzle for the boys, or perhaps more accurately the Odd Fellows or even the Royal Order of Water Buffaloes, at least it stays open late unlike Sette Osteria, and Michel Verdon is known for happily and consistently serving right up until his advertised closing time, he is and always has been a fine and gracious host, like Bistrot du Coin, Tallula does right by the casual wine drinker, offering more inexpensive bottles than any restaurant in town, a succulent 2003 Montirius Vacqueyras is only $10 over retail priced at $33, but be careful buying by the glass here, the same wine sells for $16 a glass which is a ripoff, make sure to order your bottle of wine as soon as you arrive because they’re stored, sigh, at room temperature, and need some time in the chiller, BOMBAY in White Oak Shopping Center (NH Ave and Route 29) is not as refined as either Passage to India or Heritage Glover Park, but in terms of down-home Indian cooking, it doesn’t get much better in these parts, the pakoras, tandoori chicken, and biryanis are as good as anyones around, only the naan falls short for some reason, I had mentioned earlier to our server, an elegant, stately, older gentleman, that it was my mom’s birthday, the kitchen later sent her out a complimentary piece of ‘birthday cake,’ an order of gulab jamun, afterwards our server came over to the table, and in the same understated, dignified manner he had shown the entire meal, looked at my mom and said quietly, “may God bless you on your birthday,” and you as well sir, bring a big appetite to Del Merei Grille, where chef Eric Reid is serving up monster portions of southern-based comfort food, by all means get the frickles and mustardy deviled eggs, but whatever you do don’t miss the fantastic BCA Dip, a de-licious cup of bacon, crabmeat, and artichokes (primarily artichokes) to slather on slices of toasted bread, I could nitpick about a few things (the mac-n-cheese should leech out some of the salt from the "cajun dust" in the pork chop), but I won’t, because Del Merei Grille is everything you could ask for in a neighborhood restaurant, a place with a warm atmosphere, friendly service, and good cooking, where I’d repeatedly bring family and friends for a tonic of hospitality, southern bounty, and a ton of leftovers to take home, next time I'm staying for the tempting-looking desserts, this time I was overruled and headed to The Dairy Godmother, where Liz Davis was busy dishing up her eggily-dense, creamy Mexican Chocolate custard and icy-tart Mint-Lime sorbet, how was your week.

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From The Topeka State Journal,

September 11, 1968

Mediterranean Plane Crash Is Fatal to 95

NICE, France (AP) - An Air France Caravelle jet liner crashed into the Mediterranean Sea today killing all 95 persons aboard, including Gen. Rene Cogny, who commanded French troops in North Vietnam at the time Dien Bien Phu fell, the airline said.

The plane, just recently put into service, was on a flight from Ajaccio, Corsica, to Nice, on the Riviera. Shortly before the crash, the pilot messaged: "Fire aboard!"

The wreckage of the plane was located 12 miles off the Riviera coast.

The pilot of the plane, which was approaching Nice for a landing at its seaside airport, shouted one last message into his radio: "There is still fire aboard. We..." and his voice broke off.

Several residents of the Riviera reported seeing a huge black column of smoke rising from the sea off Cap d'Antibes.

A search by sea and air was begun in rainy weather. One plane signalled that there appeared to be lifeboats around the wreckage, but this was not confirmed.

There were 89 passengers - apparently mostly French - and six crewmembers aboard the plane. Among the dead there were said to be 13 children.

---

And an angel was born in Nice later that day.

Happy birthday K, wherever you are.

D

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L'AUBERGE CHEZ FRANCOIS has ridden on a wave of inertia for years, with nobody coming right out and saying that it’s a glorified dinosaur, in terms of culinary interest it is surpassed by dozens of restaurants in the area, a “local” tomato salad was nothing more than slices of hard, pale, Safeway-style tomatoes that were more akin to a dinner theater in Des Moines than a $100-per-diner restaurant in Great Falls, the beauty of L'Auberge lies in everything but the food, with the rustic elegance, gracious service, and safe harbor provided to wealthy senior citizens making it a rewarding overall dining experience, and let’s not forget that while the ingredients and execution may be pedestrian, the recipes themselves are ambitious, even though a bacon-wrapped scallop may be unidentifiable as anything but a chicken nugget, a black bass is still beautifully presented in a puff pastry in the shape of a fish, this is a family-owned restaurant that serves as a peaceful retreat, and still serves an elegant soufflé and baked Alaska, never mind that they may do 300+ covers on a Saturday, I keep deluding myself into thinking I’m going to like something at Zola, the menu currently highlights a Mosaic of Beets, saying that it’s "Inspired by the reopening of the National Portrait Gallery: gold and red beets, arugula, goat parmesan and walnut vinaigrette," gag me with a toilet snake, this was a plate of cold, crudely sliced supermarket beets, slathered in something beet-like in color but with the taste of Aunt Millie's applesauce, and is probably the only beet dish I’ve had in 2006 that I didn’t finish, and was just as bad as the tomato salad at L’Auberge, “You've got to try the sliders," an affable sous chef said to me when I was sitting at the bar, Crispy Veal Meatloaf Sliders were two miniburgers containing sliced, well-done meatloaf, dressed up with a mayonnaise-y potato salad and served with a pimento-cheese spread, for the inflated price of $15, and yet when I ordered a glass of rosé, they poured a generous fill of 2004 Domaine de Tempier Bandol, a fabulous wine that’s as good as anything being poured in town, at $16 a glass, it had better be good and it is, speaking of which Citronelle Lounge and Terrace is pouring the 1999 Freddy Mugnier Chambolle-Musigny by the glass for $21 which seems like a crazy amount of money at first glance, but the pour size is an enormous six ounces which is one-quarter of a bottle, and the bottle price is $85, an elegant red Burgundy with enough bottle age so that it’s beginning to show some secondary complexity, across the street is a future star chef, Barry Koslow has finally gotten his own kitchen, taking over as Chef de Cuisine of Mendocino Grille and Wine Bar, a Poached Maine Lobster with matsutake mushrooms, sea beans, and sake-soy butter ($14) and a salad of House-Smoked Black Cod with belgian endive, sweet-and-sour red onions, candied walnuts, and citrus ($12) were both perfectly executed dishes, diners having a full meal here should not hesitate to order the sommelier’s wine pairing for $30, courtesy of the talented GM/Sommelier Troy Bock, PHO XE HUA is one of the more interesting Pho houses in town, a few stores to the right of Four Sisters in Eden Center, it's a mom-and-pop Pho house that's a touch smaller, more casual, a bit more slow-paced and funky, and houses what must surely be the finest collection of Vietnamese Military History books in the area. The quality of the fatty brisket and raw tai is a bit higher than the norm, and they serve both beer (!) and sawtooth herb, but the broth reveals its sodium as it dessicates you a few hours later, ultimately falling short of Pho 75, Pho 50, and Pho Tay Ho which to my mind still stand on the podium as Pho Medalists, PS7 is a troublesome space, falling into the MCI-Center trap of “more architecture than is recommended,” but a smoked oxtail consomme ($10) and lobster-mushroom carpaccio ($12) were both good and worth trying, despite the actual food cost of the latter probably being 15 cents (shaved mushrooms, a few tempura haricots verts, and some wilted greens), the bar itself, the actual bar, not the bar area, is a cross between something out of the Flintstones and the Jetsons, the kitchen itself is quite large, surely one of the biggest around MCI Center, I hadn't heard anything about Ella's pizza in awhile, so I ducked in and ordered a Smutty Nose IPA and a pizza to go, but was dismayed to find the kitchen closed, especially when I looked at my watch and it was 9:03 PM, speaking of pizza, what’s coming out of Urbana is disappointing in terms of a flabby, soulless crust, the strength being the presentation (on a wooden plank) and the cutting (an oval cut into traditional rectangular slices), certain things here show great promise such as the delicious pea agnolotti, but the veal-cheek-stuffed ravioli were all wrong, with the ravioli too al dente, and the mish-mash of ingredients on the plate not being in sync, a perfectly executed sable fish was sitting atop a bacony hash which outmuscled the flaky fish and didn’t justify the $26 price, the service has been consistently friendly and professional here and I think chef Richie Brandenburg has enough talent to work his way through the inconsistencies, sometimes homemade pasta does make a huge difference, and do you know how everyone in the world is looking for that great little mom-and-pop restaurant that does really good pasta, well look no further than Falls Church at ARGIA, right on the corner of Route 29 and Route 7, where the other night I competed with the pre-theater crowd waiting to get into the Dead Kennedys concert at the State Theater, it has been a long time since I’ve had better-executed, more satisfying homemade pastas than Argia’s lasagna and, believe it or not, spaghetti with Bolognese sauce, a $6.95 side dish that’s well worth it, Argia’s has flown under the radar for too long, and with fabulously unpretentious service, a good wine-by-the-glass program, and even top-notch, housemade tiramisu, this is a restaurant I’d frequent all the time if I were a local, go to Argia and enjoy it, housemade bread means something too, and you’ll never find it at BAHN MI DC SANDWICH, a large Vietnamese sandwich house in Falls Church that serves tasty sandwiches on nine-inch-long bread, as industrial and just plain bad as bread can be, filled with inexpensive meat, and garnished with Sysco carrots, a sugary-vinegar-marinated root of some sort, and a couple of jalapenos, it’s hard to complain about a filling sandwich that costs $2.75, so I won’t, and if you’re looking for a quick, clean, tasty lunch, stop by Bahn Mi and support a family-owned business, it may be a bit premature to call horizontally sliced bone marrow trite, but that's how they're serving a very good rendition at Montsouris, along with bottles of red wine that are fully ten degrees too warm, inexcusable for a new restaurant that just made renovations, many familiar faces at Montmartre Restaurant Francais are working the floor here including cordial GM Veronique Onteniente, and I’m hopeful that the execution of the cooking will improve in the upcoming weeks, if you’re pining away for Moorenko’s Ice Cream Café in the Dupont Circle area, stop by Pesce for dessert, where they’re offering eight flavors of Susan Soorenko’s high-butterfat ice creams and sorbets, and if you’re ever hungry while driving around the Virginia beltway at 2 AM, program Yechon into your cellphone and order a Bul Gogi to go ($15.95 for a generous portion), it carries out well and is only hampered by the inherent difficulties of shifting gears while using chopsticks, count me as a fan of Chubby’s Southern Style Barbecue in Emmitsburg, Maryland, where owner Tom Caulfield is doing a good job smoking dry baby backs and a very fatty beef brisket, try the fried potatoes with sausage and onions and the slow-smoked baked beans as side orders, if you’re ever anywhere north of Frederick, this is worth a detour, the time to go to PX is right now, because I’m telling you in advance that the national press is going to get ahold of this place and there will be lines out the door, although they close at 2 AM, the strategy is to get there early while its empty, belt down 4-5 drinks, then shuffle downstairs to Eamonn’s, A Dublin Chipper before it closes at 10 PM, and order a large cod and a small order of chips, reveling in the interesting sauces, the curry sauce going particularly well with the fine fried skate, my personal rule of thumb is “fifty dollars of drinks at PX, ten dollars of food at Eamonn’s,” taken on their own, these are each unique experiences in the Washington area, utterly and completely different from one another, taken as a single entity, the strange, heterogeneous interplay of PX and Eamonn’s is the single most interesting thing to open in the Washington area in, well, maybe ever, how was your week.

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What do vinho verde, scheurebe, gruner veltliner, semillion, counoise, monica, and Calvados have in common, they’re all wines that sommelier Doug Mohr of Vidalia paired with a fall tasting menu prepared by talented chef R J Cooper, I’m convinced Mohr goes out of his way to serve me the most esoteric things he can come up with, but I must say he can pair a wine like few people I’ve ever seen, a passionate sommelier in charge of one of the best wine programs in town, and completely in sync with Cooper’s interesting autumn menu, it bears repeating that the best way to dine at Vidalia is to have Cooper go off-menu, and cook whatever he feels like cooking, he’ll do it for anyone who asks, and it works out to about $15 a course, Viridian has greatly improved during the tenure of Antonio Burrell, the sleek dining room was always attractive, the service always friendly and efficient, but now the food is equally elegant, the platings are busy with many ingredients, but each tends to have its own space so the diner can mix-and-match, chilled watermelon soup with grapefruit, cilantro and yogurt lime sorbet ($7) seemed a bit past season, but the sorbet was fascinating, and the grapefruit was an absolutely perfect match for a bottle of 2005 Chateau Soucherie Anjou (a Chenin Blanc imported by Neal Rosenthal, $32), squash on pastry with onions, tomatoes, herbs, Keswick Creamery ricotta ($9) was Burrell at his best, an intricate dish that stood up well to the chef’s austere style, the only drawback was the pastry itself which was a touch burnt, American red snapper with fennel, onion, bacon, preserved lemon, and salsa verde ($24) was the dish of the night, the snapper perfectly cooked with crispy skin, the lemon and salsa verde providing a thrilling acidic counterpoint to the smokiness of the bacon, organic chicken, roasted with stuffed leg, farm potato-egg salad, chicken jus ($20) is a good introduction to the style of Burrell, a complicated dish that comes off as spare and elegantly plated, I’ve always had mixed feelings about Rasika, mainly because there are so many things about it that I like, the atmosphere is lively but refreshingly civilized, the service has always been first-rate, and the prices can be surprisingly gentle, but my problem lies with the cooking itself, as everything comes across to me with an assembled feel, talking about the dal makhani, my server said to me, “the chef lets this cook for three hours,” but this is a dish that several other restaurants in the area, such as Bombay Curry Company and Passage To India, let cook for much longer, a good way for two people to dine here is to order one vegetarian tasting menu ($36) and one non-vegetarian tasting menu ($50) and share the two, the vegetarian courses are generally better than meats here, which can be dry and overcooked albeit masked by saucing, the wine list was always too expensive, and is now declining in quality after the departure of Sebastian Zutant, my first bite of food at Sushi-Ko this week was, gulp, geoduck sashimi, which Koji Terano masterfully plated alongside orange clam, Maine scallop, Spanish mackeral, Japanese jackfish, Japanese sea bream, fatty yellowtail, lean tuna, medium-fatty tuna, and fatty tuna, and advised eating it in exactly that order (clams, shellfish, whitefish, tuna from lean to fat), if you haven’t sat in front of Koji yet and ordered a chef’s sashimi plate ($28.95), you’re missing one of the great dining experiences in town, I hadn’t been to KAZAN in McLean for twelve years, and, God willing, it will be twelve more before I return, open since 1980, this is an overpriced Turkish restaurant with food that is cruise-ship bad, a donner kabob special was interesting only for the yogurt, and the Anatolian Chicken was large chunks of flavorless chicken served over farfalle pasta in a nasty dark brown sauce, the “Kazan’s Catering” van out in front should be your clue to go elsewhere, a waste of precious time and money, the only good thing I can say about Kazan is that the staff made an effort to greet its regular diners, mainly senior citizens who seemed comfortable being there, beers at Kazan, even Budweiser, cost $6.00, not even affording me the smallest bit of compensatory solace during my long, sad evening of culinary vapidity, take the wine list seriously at the new Johnny’s Half Shell, there are good, affordable wines by the glass, a fine little selection of half-bottles, and the list itself is organized in a very readable, easy-to-understand format, early Friday evening there was a mob scene at the bar, with people standing four and five deep, and save room for a fabulous wedge of Valerie Hill’s coconut passionfruit layer cake, I pulled up to The Argonaut Tavern and parked on Maryland Ave just south of H Street, walking over I noticed DAAVI’S WEST AFRICAN RESTAURANT right next door and then went into Argonaut and stood at the bar, staring down at someone’s plate of awful looking french fries, I walked around and counted 28 people, all white, then left and went next door to poke my head into Daavi’s, completely empty except for two customers and the two proprietors, one of them an older man fumbling with a mop and pail, cursing about the plumbing in what I assume was Ghanaian, the other a frumpy woman in an apron and a bandana, just as my comfort level was nearing an all-time low, the woman flashed me a big smile and said “come on in!” so I walked up to the counter and looked at the menu and saw a bewildering array of emo-tuo and peanut butter soup, whiting fish stew, kenkey, shito, boiled yam, blue fish and croaker, jollof rice, goat soup, woakeye and cow feet stew, banku, kakro, and aboboe, and then I thought about The Argonaut, filled with young hipsters, eating cheeseburgers, and seeking precisely the same level of comfort as the wealthy older clientele walking into Kazan, and said “I’d like something a West African would eat,” not yet noticing the flag from Ghana on the wall, “You want fufu?” she said, “have a seat,” and then disappeared into the kitchen, coming back ten minutes later with a giant ball of fufu served alongside a big bowl of rich, medium-spicy, long-cooked chicken stew, she was tickled that I enjoyed it so much, “you come back again, okay?” she said flashing one last smile as I walked out, when I headed down Maryland Avenue on the way to my car, I saw a frighteningly large rat running down the sidewalk, coming from the direction of The Argonaut, heading in the direction of Daavi’s, “I guess I’m not the only one with good taste,” I thought to myself, Le Bar at Hotel Sofitel showed great promise when it first opened, serving up elegant little dishes in an attractive lounge, no longer, this place has taken on a creepy vibe and the menu has gone south, as I sat and had some frozen sweet-potato french fries, surrounded by older hotel guests having a couple of scotches, I couldn’t wait to get out of there, I found myself wandering around Springfield one afternoon figuring I was condemned to mediocrity, and stumbled across an obscure little place called MENA MARKET, in a little townhouse in the corner of West Springfield Center (the shopping center near Whole Foods with a clock tower on it), when I walked inside it was empty, but it quickly dawned on me that this was a little Ethiopian operation, and they make their own injera, in fact they make it in a large-enough quantity to wholesale it, I was so happy to find this, not because it was injera (it could have been saltenas or even a decent pub), but because I had discovered some small shard of meaning in a sterile sea of soccer moms and minivans, I walked over and saw a lady ladling the liquid out of an enormous, industrial-sized plastic trashcan, simultaneously manning about six large griddles, and churning out freshly made injera, I bought two of them ($1.20) and they were delicious, several Ethiopian customers came in and were buying it by the bag, the $45 three-course menu at CityZen Lounge remains the best high-end deal in the area right now, Eric Ziebold, whom I consider a personal friend at this point (disclosure here), knew I was coming in, and was undoubtedly hovering over the execution of my dishes with a microscope, nevertheless, I can say that the two best meals I’ve had in 2006 have been at CityZen, and that right now, Eric Ziebold, when he’s on his game, is the best chef in the Washington DC area, in terms of him being regarded as one of the greatest chefs in the world, the question is “when,” and perhaps “where,” but certainly not “if,” remember I said this in five years, how was your week.

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You've probably never heard of FAIRFAX DELI AND PIZZA, but it has been in operation since 1952, in a decrepit stripmall not far from German Gourmet on Lee Highway in Falls Church, making it one of the Oldest Restaurants in the Area, sometimes these 1950s pizza shops have a good, hot oven, but this joint uses a timed conveyor-belt system, albeit a big, industrial one, and the pizza here is as bad as pizza can be, it's 7-11 bad, I had heard blips of praise for Red Ginger Bistro from time-to-time, but had never dined there, at 7:30 on a Sunday evening I walked into an empty restaurant, with only chef Howsoon Cham and the bartender in the building, for over an hour, I was the only diner, and that made me even more determined to like, and hopefully champion, Red Ginger, I ordered the Jamaican Jerk Chicken Lollipops ($7) and Adobo Spiced Duck Breast ($18), to my distress, I kept hearing the beep-beep-beep, power, ding of a microwave coming from the kitchen, the lollipops were nothing more than two frozen drumsticks taking a bath in sauce, the duck breast was just awful, having excessive gristle, not fat, but gristle, and was the worst version I've had since the gray, inedible disaster I ordered at Foti's in early May, I left a 30% tip knowing I may never return, the actual menu is priced about 20% lower than what's listed on their website, which I fear is a death knell given that nobody was in the restaurant, I almost desperately wanted to love Red Ginger Bistro, but it was not to be, I hadn't been to Dolcezza in close to a year, mainly because of the blimpage factor, the ice cream looks beautiful, creamy and swirled in the trays just like the best Italian Gelati, but a medium cup of Tahitian Vanilla Bean and Pistachio confirmed my previous impression that this ice cream is badly overrated, it's too sweet, there's too much air, it's served too cold, and there's no depth of flavor, while driving home in a dark car, I couldn't even distinguish the vanilla from the pistachio, it's cold and it's sweet and it's nothing more than that, Ceiba is a restaurant that, while better than the odious norm, is of little or no interest to anyone who cares about the beauty, the humanity, of food, even the cracker-things that come with the eggplant dip have become thick, hard, cumin-laden, and soulless, the very good empanadas, gazpacho, and queso fundido - which has turned tomato-y and orange over the years - were the best bets, and if you’ll notice that they’re all gooey and wet, that might lend some insight not only into why they’re the safest things to order here, but also into why Ceiba, gooey by nature, may be a safer choice than the other Passion Food restaurants, such as Ten Penh, Asian cuisine not being as forgiving as Mexican, the desserts, corporate and wan, were a testament that there are no great pastry chefs, only great pastry cooks, I do hope David Guas and Steve Klc are reading this, and also Michel Richard, whose Breakfast at Citronelle keeps becoming more perfect-looking as the months and years go by, cleverly designed to photograph well in a cookbook, it could hang on the wall at MoMA, and perhaps it should, but it has become a DID (Dish In Decline), having gone from something visually beautiful and delicious, to something visually beautiful and utterly boring to eat, Richard spends a lot of time out on the terrace these days discussing business, I recently walked by and he was chatting with Mark Furstenburg, no official word yet on whether Furstenburg will be involved with the breads at the soon-to-open Central, “That’s not your credit card,” a friend said to me when I was paying a bill one evening, and sure enough, it wasn’t, to my horror, I quickly put two-and-two together, and realized that I had been given back the wrong credit card the night before at Pizzeria Paradiso, I drove over to Georgetown after dinner, asked to see a manager, and explained my predicament, “Are you Don,” she asked, and when I said yes, she smiled and gave me a big hug with an obvious sense of cleansing relief, “We’ve been trying to track you down all day, we’re so sorry about all of this,” to me it was just not a big deal, a simple mistake, but apparently the gentleman whose card I received was a bit less jovial about it, to put it mildly, I wondered if perhaps we had mistakenly paid each others bill, but another manager said, “no, we didn’t charge either of you,” which was unnecessary, “we hope you’ll give us another chance,” he added, but they have nothing to worry about, as this small, gracious gesture more than compensated for a mistake which could have been made by any busy restaurant, small, gracious gestures were commonplace at Notti Bianche under the stewardship of Danny Boylen, whom I saw at the bar this week at PS7, at some point I handed him a dollar to change because I only had enough money in the meter to last until 8:45, and the meters were in operation until 9:30, "Why don't you let us do it for you?" he asked me, and, a bit stunned, I said that was really considerate, but there's no way I'm going to have you guys do that, I'm down south of H Street, to which he responded, "Would you let us do it if I promised you I'd do it for any other customer?" I looked at him for a couple of seconds, convinced myself that he meant it, then reluctantly nodded my head and said sure, thanks, Matchbox is no longer a matchbox, the recent expansion having taken the seating from 75 to 200, a remarkable feat of architecture, it’s interesting to walk into the old space and notice the portal to the right of the bar, walk in and stroll to the end of the multi-level wrap-around addition, feasting your eyes on the patio in these last few days of Indian summer, the new space will be ramping up into full gear in the coming weeks, and everything will be changing, a second pizza oven will become operational, and the kitchen is racing to find the staff to meet the additional capacity, who knows what will become of the miniburgers and pizza, but for now, I’m happy to report that they’re as good as ever, it’s imperative, repeat, imperative, to ask for the miniburgers medium-rare, because the default is well-done as the table next to mine demonstrated, but they’ll cook them like you ask, the onion straws are, as they generally are, throwaways, I’ve had good onion straws at Matchbox once or twice in the past, but the current versions are empty calories, the pizzas remain some of the best in town, with a thin, chewy crust and downhome toppings just the way you want them, I worry about the future of one of my favorite burger and pizza haunts, because the question in my mind is how much, if any, the food will decline in the immediate future, because I assure you that the expansion, more than doubling the size of the restaurant, will not improve the quality of what’s coming out of the kitchen, Restaurant Kolumbia remains one of the more underrated restaurants in town, chef Jamie Stachowski is a formidable talent in the kitchen, capable of turning out interesting, well-executed dishes but sometimes falling prey to being too ambitious for his own good, Restaurant Kolumbia is a large space, and I just get the feeling that Stachowski is back in the kitchen, trying to conquer the world all by himself, the dishes are quite complex and the menu is ambitious, but Kolumbia’s strengths lie in its more straightforward offerings, the pierogies, the incredible charcuterie plate which, on a recent visit, was its fabulous self once again, the best kielbasa in town, it’s important to remember that despite its location on K Street, Restaurant Kolumbia is a chef-owned, mom-n-pop operation run by Jamie and Carolyn Stachowski, and is precisely the type of establishment that deserves our support, there cannot be a better deal than the happy-hour tapas at Taberna del Alabardero, half-price between 3-7 PM Monday through Friday, which makes them range in price from $3.00 for the patatas bravas up to about $8.00, a hearty piquillo peppers stuffed with oxtail is an amazing $4.25 during happy hour, the wines by-the-glass here are exceptional and almost all less than $10 for a generous pour, a lamb shank braised in red wine entree isn’t cheap at $34, but it’s a lovely presentation, brought out in a clay vessel and dished tableside, an ample portion of well-cooked lamb, the food here isn’t cutting-edge (this particular dish was served with a whole potato the size of a tennis ball), but it can be well-executed, the service is as elegant and polished as anywhere in town, and you can never go wrong with the tapas bar, even at full price, “You always come in here on our worst nights,” a frenetic John Wabeck told me as he was rushing by, Wabeck was hard at work in the kitchen during a packed Saturday night at Firefly, hopping around and getting an aerobic workout equal to any at the gym, I chose an Epoisses de Bourgogne, Selles-sur-Cher, and a Tomme de Savoie for my three-cheese plate ($7.00), and all three cheeses were in perfect shape, served at the correct temperature, “Would you care for some dessert,” the bartender asked me afterwards, “Yes,” I replied, “I’d like another three-cheese plate, this time with a triple order of Epoisses,” how was your week.

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A couple of crêpes this week, a French Ham and Gruyère at L’ENFANT in south Adams Morgan, and a Crêpe Parisienne at Le Pigalle, L’Enfants was $9.50, served with a mustard-cream sauce and a salad, and was quite good, Le Pigalle’s was $6.95, filled with ham, mushrooms, and béchamel, and was quite bad, although it was served with decent haricots verts and in defense of Le Pigalle, this was a weekend brunch, brought to life by a patio, sixty-five-degree weather, and full sun, still it was absolutely slathered in béchamel, probably by some fifteen-year-old working brunch, L’Enfant’s wine list is smaller, cheaper, and better than Le Pigalle’s, a Kermit Lynch Côtes du Rhone was only $24 a bottle and worth ordering although it needed ten minutes in the freezer, I had never eaten a jumbo slice at PIZZA MART in Adams Morgan, at least not that I can remember, or will admit to, but this week I walked in stone-sober, took stock of what I was about to do, and walked right back out, down the street, and into Bourbon, where I was regaled by the ninety different bourbons, whiskeys, and ryes on their drink list, I had been several times to the Glover Park location but never to the one in Adams Morgan, and I like it every bit as much, an important bar on several levels, not the least of which is that it can lubricate you to the point of being able to endure a nasty jumbo slice from Pizza Mart, a two-plate flopover that must weigh three pounds, coming from a 36-inch round pie, masochism defined, with no redeeming virtues whatsoever, I’d take even a Julia’s Empanada over this, and that’s saying something, I had several “as good as they get” dishes this week, one of which was Todd Gray’s gnocchi at Equinox, a drop-to-your-knees, thank-God-you’re-alive gnocchi that was taken over the top by being finished in a skillet, Gray can cook circles around just about everyone in town when he wants to, a pork-belly dish was nearly as good as the gnocchi, but Equinox is hampered by needing to accommodate an older clientele, and dishes such as the duo of beef can fall into the trap of stoic, herbaceous reduction that comes across as heavy and dull, and desperately in need of a brightness on the forepalate, lemongrass, lime, anything with some acidity to liven it up, there’s almost no Asian treble in these dishes, leaving them little margin for error, Equinox needs two things to climb back to the top, a renovation (which is coming), and a second great cook in the kitchen, it’s a busy restaurant and the very talented Gray can’t do it all himself, another great Equinox pasta was the egg fettuccini with shaved Alba truffle, yes, it’s that time again, I talked with Todd Thrasher at PX a couple evenings later and mentioned that I had my first Alban whites of the season at Equinox for a $30 supplement, and he looked stunned and said “$30?”, yeah, I said, it’s expensive isn’t it, but he shook his head no, and told me, to my astonishment, that the current supplement for truffles at Restaurant Eve is $100, but, he added, you get a lot of truffle, I’ve only visited Oya twice, but I’ve enjoyed every single course I’ve tried, although I haven’t had the sushi, which is a big part of their menu, the bartenders aren’t used to serving diners looking for a great meal, so if you sit at the bar, you’ll need to put up with slapdash service and worse, the pulsating techo-trash music blaring from the speakers, but the food is worth it, don’t forget Jonathan Seningen came from Le Paradou, and it shows in his French-rooted cooking, one bite of the Cream of Crab soup with white asparagus and crème fraiche ($8) made me wonder why I haven't been here in so long, an Escargot Roquefort Soufflé with watercress purée and garlic ($9) was a bowling-pin arrangement of ten escargots, served alongside a very mild Roquefort soufflé, the two French classics working well in tandem, and the laconically named Duck, with miso, sticky rice and green onions ($14) was a well-seared sliced breast, accompanied by perfect little green onions, hampered only by the sticky rice which wasn’t really sticky rice, but more of an over-moisturized short-grain which, though flawed, did not ruin the dish, Seningen runs one of the very best kitchens around MCI Center, speaking of which, Poste delivered, even in the absence of Robert Weland, a tuna tartare appetizer ($15), three cones of hand-cut tuna belly with crème fraiche and caviar, sounds so-so, but the tuna was bound by a light curry sauce, and the dish as a whole reminded me of an amuse-gueule I might see at Maestro, complex and exciting enough so that we ordered another one between our second and third courses, a halibut main was undercooked to the point of being raw in the middle, and anyone but me would have sent it back, but it actually made for excellent sashimi, a pork chop, on the other hand, was overcooked, but had an intensely interesting flavor profile, despite the missteps in cooking, this was yet another solid showing for Poste, final respects to Joe Raffa at Majestic Café, whose last day was October 15th, and when I asked for the chef to choose whichever entrée he felt like cooking, Raffa chose the crabcakes, and I’m glad he did, it was a wonderful meal, and I’ll miss Raffa's cooking at Majestic, fear not, however, after a much-needed vacation in Hawaii, he’ll be back in the Washington area, we’ll look forward to seeing where you turn up, Joe, another truly memorable dish this week was the fried chicken ($16.95) at Ray’s The Classics, which is as druggingly addictive and just plain roll-up-your-sleeves delicious as any I’ve ever tasted, it’s neither deep-fried nor pan-fried, but fried in this chicken-frier-skillet thing, covered two-thirds of the way up in oil so that the center is cooking regardless of which side is face-down, it’s going to be very, very difficult not to order this each time I go to Ray’s The Classics, congratulations also to newlywed Michael Hartzer, married just last weekend to his lovely bride Justyne, I’ve said a lot of things in the past about Tom Power at Corduroy, but I’ve never once said he was a trendsetter, but it’s time to start a trend, right here, right now, every chef in town seems to be using quail eggs these days, and let’s face it, the only reason we all order these dishes is because we want some egg yolk leaking onto our dishes, but as we all know, quail eggs are for dainty little simps, and Power has taken a primal human need to it’s logical conclusion, serving a Brobdingnagian Duck! Egg! on top of his duck confit salad ($14), served with chanterelles and frisée sitting on top of a tiny reduction of veal stock, the duck egg is the size of your fist, and the yolk itself is the size of a small plum, make it your life’s goal to get to Corduroy as soon as possible and order this terrifically satisfying salad, and remember that you've read this as duck eggs, glorious duck eggs, begin to appear on menus all over town, how was your week.

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Who needs a restaurant when you can have picnic leftovers delivered, what a feast, everything thrown together in plastic containers, I’m not sure who made what but man was it good, you guys sure know how to eat well, I can’t stay away from the homemade pastas at Argia's, the Spaghetti Alla Bolognese ($14.95) is everything you could hope for and more, it was the last evening on the menu for the ethereal Capellini Fresca, lightly dressed with olive oil, salt, pepper, chopped garlic and tomatoes, homemade mozzarella, and fresh basil, you’ll have to wait until next summer to see how good it was, Argia’s decent little wine list was out of several selections and needs updating, don’t expect a second store to open for Cheesetique in the immediate future, but do try the Coolea, a raw-milk Gouda-style cheese, which goes perfectly with the (rather ample) bun in the oven, “I’ve never eaten cat food, but this tastes like I think cat food smells like it would taste,” those nearly unintelligible words perfectly described the horrific ankimo ($8.00) at Sake Club, easily the worst I’ve ever had, four large disks, I believe there may have been some ankimo in it, or at least something that used to be ankimo, but it had an unsettling, mosaic texture and a taste like cheap canned salmon, it was disgusting, a spicy tuna roll was some sort of pasty vegetable puree, perhaps containing some red pepper, with tiny bits of tuna barely discernible, and the rice hard around the edges, the only passable item was the Yaki mayo Hotate, emphasis on “mayo,” which was a scallop salad with a little tobiko for crunch, the enormous sake list is vastly overpriced and poorly presented, which is a shame because the sakes here could be the one redeeming virtue of this pretentious little hellhole, but pretense can be a wonderful thing, especially when artfully presented tongue-in-cheek like it is at Comet Ping Pong, a brilliant parody of the old, worn-down, bowling-alley, comfort stuff we all enjoyed as kids, cloaked in a ping-pong motif that makes you feel like you woke up in some sort of David Lynch film, the details here can be downright hilarious, such as the benches which have been intentionally planed down to simulate, in James Alefantis’ own words, “butt grooves” from decades of use, the salads are served in cheap, wobbly, composite wooden bowls, and I’m convinced that Carole Greenwood is going so far as to intentionally overdress them to recall the sloppily sauced versions of our youth, except that her dressing is made with the highest quality ingredients around, ask for plates with your pizza, and your server will bring you out two thin, cheap little dixie-cup-style paper plates no more than four inches in diameter, as for the pizza itself, each pie is made differently, with five ounces of dough stretched out to whatever shape is appropriate, one of my pies with smoked mozzarella and greens ($11) was great, marred only by a bit too much charring in two of the slices, and a special white clam pizza ($18) was, without question, my favorite pizza in recent memory, it was eye-poppingly good, don’t be fooled by the cheap little ketchup-and-mustard squirt jars that Greenwood uses to spew pizza sauce onto her dough, because what they contains is homemade-in-the-summer basil puree (in the mustard squirt jar) and tomato sauce (in the ketchup squirt jar) containing tomatoes, garlic, olive oil, salt, and honey, the tomatoes were canned by Greenwood herself, she purchased 4,200 pounds of of Mark Toigo’s locally grown San Marzano tomatoes, and canned them at Nicky Stello’s cannery in Punxatawney, PA, you’re paying more for your pizza here but you’re getting a quality of product you simply won’t find anywhere else, I still remain undefeated after thirty minutes of post-pizza ping-pong, CROSSFIRE is a brand new, Five-Guys knock-off in Bethesda on the corner of Old Georgetown Road and Commerce Street, right next to Chipotle Grill which will be its primary competitor for lunch, it copied Five Guys in many ways, serving overcooked burgers made with fresh, not frozen, ground beef, pretty decent kosher hot dogs, fries cooked in peanut oil from freshly cut potatoes, the sacks of potatoes stacked behind the counter, and of course, really bad cheese, Crossfire isn’t so terrible but it’s no better than a typical Five Guys either, wash it all down with a glass of perfectly drinkable 2003 Maison Nicholas Chardonnay ($4), not much can keep me away from my nightly Tour of Duty, but when a couple Burgundy fanatics dangle a carrot before me, I succumb to temptation and relinquish my evening to their control, then again who’s going to turn down a 1993 Coche-Dury Meursault 1er Cru “Les Pèrrieres, 2004 Mugneret-Gibourg Echezeaux, 1991 Roumier Bonnes-Mares, 1964 Leroy Grands-Echezeaux, and 1987 Georges Jayer Echezeaux, not me, that’s for sure, I have yet to find good Pho in Eden Center, PHO HAI DUONG is a small Pho house in one of the interior corridors, whenever I get top scents of sweet clovey-smelling anise in the broth without a lot of supporting depth, I generally assume the Pho is made from a starter mix, and that I’ll be savagely thirsty several hours later because of all the sodium, no exception here, the Peking Duck ($14.95 for a half duck) at Mark’s Duck House gets a lot of attention, and was quite good this visit, the pancakes passing the “shortening smell test” which is not always the case here and elsewhere, but this gigantic menu is worth deeper exploration, Sliced Pork with Mustard Greens Soup ($5.50) had good smokey depth and was enough for four people to share, Kingdom Pork Chops ($10.95) was a huge platter of breaded, baked, center-cut pork chops with “an exotic brown vinegar sauce” which is best dabbed sparingly because it can be cloying, Sauteed Chive Blossoms with Chinese Anchovies was a very interesting dish that was quite good despite the oiliness growing tiresome after awhile, Mark’s Duck House is packed on weekend evenings, and deservedly so, where else can a wine lover so cheaply enjoy a Chambertin with their braised fish head of grouper ;-), I was invited to (and insisted on paying for) the debut of a new menu featuring dishes from Fabio Trabocchi’s cookbook, “Cucina of Le Marche,” which hit the bookstores on October 17th, along with their other prix-fixe menus (Creazione, Tradizione, etc.), Maestro has added a brand new one, “Le Marche,” five courses for $125 including Frivolezze (Cucina of Le Marche Antipasti, fried green olives “Ascolana style” and crispy squash blossoms), call it “Frivolezze” if you want but it hardly seemed frivolous to me, especially with a good glass of Champagne, Orate all’ Anconitana (Grilled Dorade Royale, Salsa del Papa), perfectly cooked Dorade with the thick crispy skin sopping up the peasant sauce of bread, white wine, eggs, anchovies, I don’t know whose “papa” came up with this sauce but it sure wasn’t mine, Passatelli all-Urbinate (Passatelli, Double Consommé, Truffle, Parmigiano) was heavy on the truffle, resting atop passatelli in broth and mixed with some Parmigiano, I was bent over the bowl having an inward excitation, managed to tear off a tiny bit of truffle right before the server came with the second consommé, which he poured over the entire dish, I bent over again, and the smell of the glorious Alba white truffles had been muted, sabotage, I mentioned to Vincent Feraud that the second consommé changed the dish from a truffle dish to a consommé dish, he shrugged his shoulders and said that truffles are plentiful in Le Marche, yet I was undaunted, because I had taken the tiny shard of truffle I tore off, and placed it inside my nostril where it remained for the rest of the evening, a reverse gourmet nose-pick with which all serious diners should acquaint themselves, I Vincisgrassi (Marche Lasagna) is a deceptively complex dish presented in a simple cylinder, for the ragu and béchamel, I count 26 ingredients in the cookbook, everything in harmony, everything adding its own small voice to the whole, it was an amazingly detailed work, imagine Giuseppe’s Braciole (Dad’s Grilled Pork Chop) as not just a pork chop, but a Fabio! pork chop baked with a marinade of lemon zest, orange, rosemary, cloves, salt, pepper, you get the picture, I Dolci (a triple plate of La Ciambella, il Lattarolo, and la Crema Fritta) wrapped up an evening which was Maestro at its finest, firing on all cylinders, and fully worthy of all praise that can be heaped upon it, the great, creative genius of Trabocchi now looking backward and drawing from his childhood, how was your week.

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I keep telling myself, “I’ve just had my last outdoor meal of the year,” and then the pleasant autumn weather continues for another week, most recently a ham and swiss crêpe ($5) on the patio of Snap, I keep reading all these mean little things about Snap, but my crêpe was simple and good, not gunked up like some are wont to be, Margarita Uricoechea happily chatted with me as she (wo)manned the griddle, and the wobbly plastic table on the patio was a perfect place to while away fifteen minutes on a sunny Sunday afternoon, both times I’ve seen Brian McBride outside of Blue Duck Tavern, he was sitting at the bar at Marcel’s, there’s no question in my mind that his House Made Braised Bratwurst ($19), served with beer- and white-wine- braised sauerkraut, is a tribute to - or perhaps a direct assault on - Robert Weidmaier’s excellent boudin blanc, three sausages made with chicken and veal, bound together and given a silken texture by chicken mousse, a perfect foil for the BDT fries ($8), thick, rectangular wedges of potato cooked three times, first boiled, then fried earlier in the day, and then fried a second time in oil cut with duck fat just before serving, the Jumbo Lump Crabcake with Remoulade Sauce ($14 for one, $26 for two) is made with Louisiana crabmeat, it's worth ordering, bar service has improved, only a portion of the menu is available at the bar, the bar at Acadiana is a welcoming, fun place to dine, the selection of Bourbons is outstanding, and why not have one with the Braised Berkshire Bacon ($21), served with baby fall vegetables, sweet potato gratin, and, appropriately, Bourbon jus, a good, solid rendition of pork belly with just the right amount of fat on top, it comes with a good biscuit too, although the combo accoutrement of “cajun cream cheese with mayhaw jelly” doesn’t work, best to use the biscuit in its native state to dab your sauce, WILDFLOUR BAKERY AND CAFE is a nondescript storefront in a nondescript strip mall near the East Falls Church Metro, but I’ve found their panini ($5.50) to be a good lunch option, mainly because the bread is good, they’re pre-made, but freshly grilled without anything slathered on them, and they aren’t overstuffed, so they come across as clean despite their ample size, the cookies here range from good to fantastic, and they often have free samples, a freshly baked “cereal cookie” was the single best cookie I’ve had in ages, although I’d been to Wildflour before, I didn’t know until this week it’s an outpost of a larger catering operation based in Sterling, and I had no idea it’s also a non-profit company whose larger role is to give the developmentally disabled a hand up, please give them your support, click here for more details, a preliminary visit to Bebo Trattoria indicates that it has instantly leapt onto the stage alongside the most exciting restaurants in town, the great Roberto Donna is manning the stoves, and some of the dishes he’s putting out are so good you just can’t believe you’re eating them, particular standouts were the charcuterie plate, the veal carpaccio, Belgian endive and radicchio salad, tripe with tomato sauce, homemade sausage, the reported service problems here are very real, and Bebo desperately needs strong leadership in the front of the house, but you’ll quickly forget about any service flaws when you taste what’s on your plate, wines by the glass are inexpensive and quite good, and even the excellent Barolo at the top end ($15) is fairly priced, put Bebo on your regular rotation, it doesn’t get much worse than at Mario’s Pizza House, which has been disgusting people since 1957, order a large “Old Fashioned” and they’ll open up the oven, which has an enormous rectangular sheet of pizza sitting in it, already having been baked twice, then they’ll yank pre-cooked sausage patties out of a plastic tub, place one patty on nine of the square slices, then shut the oven to let it heat up for awhile, cut it off, and throw it into a box for your take-out enjoyment, the only thing nastier than the pizza is the attached Carvel Ice Cream stand, a sickening aroma wafting toward the unsuspecting patron as he walks through the front door, the colors of the ice cream not found anywhere in nature, except perhaps in certain molds and various rainforest fungi, get away from this dump and head down for The Poet ($8.95) at Busboys & Poets, a perfectly decent pie made with portabello, red pepper, and mozzarella, a server I know there was eating The BS ($8.95) with bacon, shrimp, and leek, and told me it’s his favorite, I have to admit it looked pretty good, much better than the tired Prosciutto e Funghi ($12.95 for a small) at Coppi’s Organic, Coppi’s is a place I want to love, but an appetizer of roasted root vegetables was quite poor, the vegetables being cooked earlier in the day and simply reheated, mushy and dull, topped with powdered Parmesan cheese which was off-putting in its own right, the atmosphere at Coppi’s is charming, but it’s important to get a booth here because the tables along the side wall are crammed too closely together, Coppi’s appears to be coasting, I had been urged by a reliable source to try a Grilled Ostrich Burger ($11) at Bourbon, it’s a fantastic burger, one of the very best in town, this must be a full half-pound of Ostrich meat, and as long as you don’t ketchup it, it’s a perfect match with a glass of Bourbon, they recommend medium but I ordered mine rare and I’m glad I did, it’s extremely low in fat and is best enjoyed barely cooked, this burger is worth a special trip, R J Cooper brought out a beautiful white-ceramic covered dish at Vidalia, “this one’s on us,” he said, and when I started to protest he lifted the lid, sitting before me was 1/3 of a hotdog, a chili dog to be exact, air-freighted that very day from Lafayette Coney Island in Detroit, you see it was the fifth game of the World Series, and poor, downtrodden Doug Mohr was sent a care package from a friend, hoping to bring some luck to his beloved Detroit Tigers, but it was not to be, the Cardinals wrapped up the series later that night, and all that was left for Mohr was absolute despair, bitter memories, and the cold comfort of a chili dog, how was your week.

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I’d like to say hello to everyone at our latest (and only) affiliate, the venerable yet penurious WETA, where I’ll be helping kick off the Brand! New! DC Dining website with weekly simul-postings of Lettres de Mon Moulin.

I'm also happy to help WETA promote “Neighborhood Eats,” a one-hour show featuring over 30 area restaurants in 60 minutes - a Minibar-like romp through the culinary backbones of our most vital communities. It will be televised on Thursday, November 16th, at 8:00 PM.

We now return you to our regularly scheduled program...

Even on an off night, Thai Square is the best Thai restaurant in the area, Nam Sod ($7.95) was particularly fierce in its high-toned heat, a thin, watery heat that finds its way through every microscopic pore and punishes you mightily, the only relief comes from sucking on an ice cube, Sun-Dried Beef ($7.95) was a great dish, delivered with the surface oils still bubbling, and served with a little dipping bowl of Sriracha-based sauce, Roasted Duck in Red Curry Sauce ($10.95) needed more wedges of tomato to balance the pineapple and duck in this classic dish, the tomato contributes a stoic quality that was lacking here, slow-cooked Pig-Knuckle Stew ($11.95) was fabulous as always, haunting with its scents of four-spice and cinnamon, the dish of red pepper dipping sauce sent this dish off the charts, obligatoire, Pad Ped Pla Dook ($10.50) is a classic catfish and Thai eggplant dish that isn’t as spicy as it looks, the eggplants were cooked to a perfect al dente, but the catfish was not the best quality this time around, given that it was pretty much unidentifiable as catfish, the rice was painfully bad, if you’re looking for the perfect first-date restaurant, head straight to Bistrot Lepic Wine Bar, a quiet, comfortable, upstairs lounge with sofas and an almost Moroccan feel to it, decent wines, no need for entrees here, there are plenty of small plates for sharing such as the Beet and Farm Goat Cheese Terrine ($8.50), really more of a layered Napoleon, a fine Octopus Carpaccio with Seaweed ($9.50), and an Onion Tart with Bacon in Puff Pastry($8.00), all three served with plenty of greens so don’t order any salads, this food won’t win any awards, but it’s not at all bad, you’ll smile at the cartoonish paintings of pigs poking fun of the restaurant with their “Bistrot Le Pig” motif, there are some seriously skeevy Irish pubs in town, and THE AULD SHEBEEN in Old Town Fairfax is no exception, a large two-level pub, with a huge, smoke-filled bar upstairs and several flat-screen TVs, a Smithwick’s was old, a Boddington’s well-poured, the self-defeating homemade sausage in the Asiago Irish Sausage Rolls ($6.95) is so bad it would make even Jimmy Dean cringe, a Cahill’s Irish Stout Burger ($10.95) sounded gloppy and it was, an overcooked meat patty topped with Cahill’s Irish Stout Cheese, served over instant mashed potatoes and frozen peas, and slathered with a “rich brown gravy” that was congealing with alarming rapidity, a terrible meal, this smokehole is open until 2 AM nightly, an almost urgent need for a reliable lunch the next day, I headed straight for Moby Dick for one of their outstanding Persian lunch specials, on Wednesdays it’s Khoresht Bademjan ($6.99), a large portion of sauteed eggplant, chunks of beef, onion and tomato, braised and served with steamed Basmati rice and a half-piece of bread, Moby’s has expanded and gotten more corporate in recent years (there are now eight locations, even one in Ashburn), but the McLean branch has remained a bastion of quality with it’s daily lunch specials, the bread here isn’t as consistent as it used to be, nor is the cooking at Marcel’s, I wonder if trying to open Beck’s (Robert Wiedmaier’s second restaurant slated to open downtown) is having a draining effect on the kitchen here, on a Thursday night the food should have been perfect, but two of Wiedmaier’s bailiwicks, his classic Boudin Blanc ($17) and a tureen of Chestnut Soup with Venison Sausage ($16), were mal-cooked, the boudin being dryer than normal, and the soup, usually ladled up piping hot, served merely warm, everything is relative and yes, I’m holding Marcel’s to a higher standard here because it’s expensive and has the potential to be great, at these prices (entrees run in the mid-30s), there’s almost no margin for error, the service was flawless just as it always is, as good as any in town, “We just ordered them,” Stacy Hennesey said to me at Stacy’s Coffee Parlor, referring to the fabulous cupcakes baked by Falls Church baker Robyn Savage, “wait here, I’ll run and get them,” then she took off down the block only to return in ten minutes with a boxful, try finding that at Starbucks, the great historian-mixologist Derek Brown handed me a drink called “The Adonis Cocktail" ($13), invented at the Old Waldorf-Astoria hotel, and now being served at Michel Richard Citronelle Lounge, my task was to figure out the base, I checked every neuron in my memory, but came up empty, when he told me it was made with Sherry, I screamed “Yes! Sherry!” well, I didn’t really scream that, but I sort of did in my head, it’s made with 3 ounces of Lustau “Jurana” Fino Sherry, an ounce of sweet vermouth, 3 dashes of orange bitters, and the coup de grace, a burnt orange peel macerated in Grand Marnier, if you’ve had a bad day, this drink will make everything better, the Taiwanese Hamburger ($2.95) at Bob's Noodle 66 is Americanized in name only, a “Chinese pancake” (really a steamed bun) folded over a few chunks of fatty pork and a bit of sour mustard, sprinkled with a tiny bit of “peanut powder” which is a dead ringer for a Planters Peanut Bar scraped on a cheese grater, the Taiwanese Thick Noodle Soup ($5.50) came in something resembling a mixing bowl, I picked it up and it weighed between five and ten pounds, a thick, dark, corn-starched chicken broth filled with good, heavy, homemade noodles, shreds of pork and vegetables, easily enough soup for four people, it pays to remember the Noodle in Bob’s Noodle 66, don’t look for Sette Bello to be on any “Best Of” Wine Programs anytime soon, with over eighty wines, this may be the largest list in the city that doesn’t include any vintage designations, that’s just plain lazy, a large Antipasti platter ($19) was a pleasant surprise, loaded with cheeses, meats, seafood, and interesting vegetables, plenty for three people, don’t let the price of this scare you, it’s worth ordering, the pizzas have traditionally been quite good as well, but this time around a white pie with sausage, broccoli rabe, and pepper flakes tasted of nothing but cheese and dough, a caesar salad was boring, and a lasagna consisted of noodles, too much tomato sauce, and seemingly not much of anything else, Sette Bello has slipped, four dollars doesn’t take you very far these days, but it does buy you an addictive plate of four baked-to-order Andouille Sausage and White Cheddar Biscuits at Ray’s The Classics, served with a little bowl of spicy pepper and cheese fondue for dipping which I wish was served hot, if these biscuits see enough oven time, they’re as good as biscuits can be, and perfect with a glass of Champagne, unfortunately the price has risen 15% on the small-grower Champagnes here within the past two weeks, and they’re no longer a bargain, the signature Crab Royale ($29.95) is a huge mound of “Maryland” crabmeat, ten-ounces worth, although I wouldn’t guess the crab is from Chesapeake waters, it’s still a great, important dish that I crave regularly, there are two ways to experience The Italian Store, either grab a pre-made Milano, or gut out the wait and get a sandwich made to-order, if you go for the pre-made, you’ll wonder why there were so many people there, because the sandwich has sat out and become soggy in the roll, but if you order a Bresaola and Sopressata on a soft roll, with provolone, sweet peppers, oil, and oregano, you’ll get not only a freshly made sandwich, but also freshly sliced meat, and it makes all the difference in the world, a small sandwich here is plenty for one, a large enough for two, and a bag of Martin’s Kettle-Cook’d potato chips will furnish the critically important crunch, Carole Greenwood and James Alefantis are getting more than they bargained for at Comet Ping Pong, a curious mix of the ultra-hip and the ultra-domestic, families with children were out in force at 6:30 PM, the pizza here is terrific and becoming more consistent as the days go by, the wines need to improve but at least they’re cheap, five dollars a glass, we’ll wait to see what happens when Roberto Donna gets his pizza oven up and running at Bebo Trattoria, but for now, along with 2 Amys, Comet Ping Pong is one of only two pizzas in the Washington DC area to merit national attention, I remain undefeated in ping pong here, my most recent victim being nine-year-old Matt Rockwell, “It’s like eating at an amusement park,” I said to him on the way out, “Yes,” he replied, “except the food is good and they don’t have any rides,” how was your week.

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Kheder Rababeh, the owner of THE LEBANESE BUTCHER, has been in Falls Church since 1988, also owning a slaughterhouse and butcher shop out in Warrenton, he sells whole lambs, goats, and veal, as well as all the parts (the naughty bits are $2.99 a pound), everything conforms to Islamic Halal standards, a Lamb Shish Kabob ($11.99) and a Chicken Tawook ($11.99) were almost identical except for the meat, both were great kabobs, artfully plated with an impressive number of accoutrements, the chicken was good enough where I’m wondering if he also slaughters his own chickens, a Lamb Feteh ($9.95) was crispy pieces of pita, mixed with chunks of lamb, slathered in yogurt and garlic, essentially a Turkish Donner Kabob, this lamb was extraordinary, really so good that you want it unadorned, if you buy the prepackaged breads next door at the store, make sure to visually inspect them for freshness, Mr. Rababeh, a gracious and welcoming host, told me that his Warrenton slaughterhouse will gladly butcher animals brought in by hunters, although I suspect you should call before just showing up in your pickup truck, get a carryout order of Makanek ($5.99), terrific housemade mini-link sausages to fry up in your breakfast omelette (doesn’t that sound good?), a Jumbo Lump Crab Cocktail ($15.85) at Jimmy’s on K Street was an iced metal bowl of cold, tasteless lumps of crabmeat mixed with a little cocktail sauce, a boring, limpid dish, especially at the price which is really pushing it for what is basically a scoopful of frozen crabmeat, the restaurant is surprisingly large inside, packed with suits as it was Election Day, toasting in either celebration or disappointment over a weak, overpriced wine list, Mayorga Coffee Roasters now has retail outlets in eight locations, even in Pittsburgh Airport, but the Silver Spring location is where you want to head on a weekend with your laptop, a cavernous 6,200-square-foot warehouse filled with plush chairs, free wi-fi, in-house roasted coffee, acceptable beers at the bar, and a pretty meager Sunday brunch buffet served 10:30-3:00 ($12.99), it’s a fun place to hang out and catch your morning jolt, as the seasons have changed I’m finding myself drawn towards lasagna, several versions of late ranging from the unearthly (at Maestro) to the unworthy (at Sette Bello), and San Vito Ristorante Italiano is serving a very good one at their Springfield location, a down-home, grandma-styled Lasagna Pasticciata ($9.25 at lunch) with fresh noodles, ricotta, an ocean of meat sauce, and plenty of melted mozerella on top, if you like lasagna as pig-out comfort food, this is the one for you, Sunday and Monday dining options are limited because of restaurants either being closed or without their chef, but Restaurant Eve remains a great upscale option on Mondays, generally having a well-staffed kitchen, this Monday Cathal Armstrong, Todd Thrasher, and (sous chef) Dan Fisher were all working, Thrasher said he was going to ‘take me outside of my box’ and pulled a bottle of 2002 Casa Castillo “Las Gravas”Monastrell (Mourvedre) from the Jumilla region of Spain (pricey at $60), the wine pairing perfectly with Armstrong’s Roseda Farm Steak Tartare with Pumpernickel ($13.50), the steak hand-chopped and the bread housemade, and the homey Braised Pennsylvania Rabbit with Root Vegetables and Pommery Mustard ($29), the Bistro here is expensive, but bar patrons can also mix-and-match from the much more affordable bar menu housing several choices under $10, Armstrong doesn’t just pay lip service when it comes to supporting small local farms, he walks the walk, Restaurant Eve is currently offering a Chesapeake Bay rockfish, whereas the version currently served during lunch at Tosca ($21) is from North Carolina, and is pleasant enough, albeit somewhat dull, it came with a bubbling bowl of tasteless cauliflower gratin, and was only given life by a bed of black kale with caramelized onions, a half-order of Buckwheat Tagliatelle, with Swiss Chard, potatoes, fresh sage, and aged cow cheese melted with roasted garlic ($9.00) sounded interesting, but was too heavy and gooey, a rare bad showing of the usually fine pastas here, this food was too expensive for what it was, but the service was elegant and gracious as always, Haidar Karoum has inexplicably languished in obscurity as chef at Asia Nora, but his last day will be December 31st, and he’ll be getting more exposure as he opens Mark Kuller’s new restaurant, Proof, sometime in the spring of 2007, all bets are off after Karoum leaves here, but there’s still time to get his Warm Chocolate Five Spice Cake ($9.00), served with Vietnamese coffee ice cream (made down the street at Nora), and a sesame tuile, perfect with a glass of Bourbon after an evening on the town, I’ve had some really good meals lately at Tallula, which is why I was surprised that all proteins one evening including the foie gras, the miniburger, the duck, the pork cheeks, and the salmon, were overcooked, it turns out that Anda was away cooking at a charity event, so I snuck back in two days later and re-ordered the biggest culprit, the Roasted Muscovy Duck, with cripy leg confit, citrus-carrot puree, sauteed Swiss Chard, and star anise gastrique ($24), and it was like night-and-day, a de-licious, suck-the-duck-off-the-bone dish that’s a testament to the simple truth that every great football team needs a quarterback, consider calling before you come here to see if Anda is working, and if you go, ask your server to “have chef Anda recommend what he thinks is good tonight,” your query may not actually get to him, but it will send a message that you’re a serious diner, PEDRO AND VINNY’S BURRITO CART is just off the northwest corner of McPherson Square, but there’s no Pedro, and there’s no Vinny, John Ryder has worked this popular cart for nine years, serving only vegetarian bean burritos (the beans themselves are vegan), with about 50 sauces to choose from, he’ll make your life easier by asking you, “on a scale of 1-10, how hot do you want your sauce,” and then “do you want fruity or non-fruity,” and then he’ll pick for you, make sure to request his homemade mango-habanero sauce, grab a handful of free tortilla chips to throw into your bag, then head over to McPherson Square and chow down on a bench, this may be the only food cart in town with its own website, Zaytinya was packed on a Thursday evening, with all tables full, and over 90 people crammed into the bar area, the Taramosalata ($4.50) here doesn't seem to be made in-house, I prefer a more fibrous, potatoey version than this, which has the consistency of whipped butter, Midye ($7.00) was two skewers of five fried mussels each, served with “Tarator” walnut sauce, you don’t see fried mussels very often, but this dish is a winner and well-worth ordering again, the bartender urged me to try Steve Klc’s Pumpkin Cake ($7.95), a recent addition to the dessert menu, and I’m glad he did because it was Klc at his best, a complex assortment of textures, temperatures, and sweetness levels, somehow perfectly assembled in a kitchen that must have been slammed, yes, Zaytinya is a food factory, but in its defense, fully 47 out of the 78 dishes on the menu were priced at $6.95 or less, and no other restaurant in town can crank out so many thousands of dishes per day at this level of quality, The original Silver Spring TASTEE DINER opened in 1935, and was rebuilt in 1946 where it stood for 54 years, in 2000 it was trucked to a new location to make room for the new Discovery Channel building, the surprising thing is how large it is inside, but it shouldn’t be surprising that a Western Omelet was overcooked, the good news being that it wasn’t at all greasy, and the Home Fried Potatoes were actually pretty good, with a few squirts of Texas Pete, a Sam Adams, a flat-screen TV and a jukebox, you could do a lot worse than this at 3 in the morning, I happened to be strolling up 18th Street and saw that Mandu was having its grand opening, both the upstairs and downstairs dining rooms were full, while it’s not appropriate to say much about a restaurant’s opening night, I can say with confidence that Mandu is serving a small menu for now, which consists of “Korean dishes that non-Koreans might enjoy,” favorites such as scallion pancakes and bibim bap, the Dolsot Bibim Bap ($11.95) is not worth the upcharge over the regular version because the stone pot isn’t really stone and it doesn’t continue heating the dish, I wonder if Mandu is being initially cautious in serving only mild food, mild to the point of being bland, but the presentations were elegant, and the kitchen showed great trust in humanity by taping a $100 bill to the wall, apparently their first customer got them off to a pretty good start, I wonder if the hoards of diners at Sushi Taro realize that their edamame isn’t supposed to be brown at the tips and seams, although it had improved since my last visit when it was also growing fur, a Live Octopus Sashimi ($12.50) was the first great dish I’ve ever had here, spankingly fresh octopus, thinly sliced into perhaps fifteen rounds, beautifully plated with a small julienne of radish, lemon and wasabi, and well-worth the splurge, however a Live Eel (Prepared Here) Sushi ($9.75) fell short, two pieces of overcooked eel without any depth of flavor, at almost five dollars a bite, this seemed frivolous, two rolls were as bad as you’d get in a grocery store, an Alaska Roll ($4.50) with salmon and avocado, and a Yellowtail and Scallion Roll ($5.50) were both served too cold, and the rice was dense, overcooked, and dry, Sushi Taro is an attractive restaurant, and I can see its appeal, but the food here has never lived up to its popularity, If you haven’t discovered happy hour at Taberna del Alabardero, the time is now, all tapas are half-price at the bar, and the wines offered by-the-glass, if you factor in the price-to-quality ratio, are the best in the city, an order of Verduras a la plancha con refrito de ajo ($7.00), a fancy name for grilled vegetables with exquisite little garlic crisps on top, is a mere $3.75 during happy hour, attention destitute vegetarians looking to impress a date: sneak in here the day before, introduce yourself to the outstanding bartender Manolo Gracia, then bring your date back the next evening at 6 PM, and voila, you’re Don Juan on the cheap, Belga Café deserves more attention than it gets, a fine, peppy little restaurant in Barracks Row with a fascinating menu, the best selection of Belgian beers in the area, and a solid wine list that chef Bart Vandaele has wisely built around local importers Olivier Daubresse and Laurent Givry, a Lauwe Aspergesalade ($9.95) is salmon cooked mi-cuit, served with lightly baked asparagus, some barely dressed frisee, and adorned with a tiny base of coriander butter, it’s good and it’s healthy, Waterzooi Van Vis ($19.95) is a stew of fish and root vegetables, served in a broth accented with anise, if anything, the dishes here are slightly (and refreshingly) undersalted, Vandaele is a serious chef, and he’s running a very good restaurant that seems to be getting better as time goes by, it’s ironic that the name waterzooi translates to “watery mess,” which aptly describes many of the neighboring establishments on Barracks Row, but certainly not Belga Café, how was your week.

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Dining at Dino during “Wine Madness” is a great deal, all wines over $50 are 1/3 off on Sunday and Monday evenings, and Dino has one of the best wine lists in the city to begin with, an outstanding 2001 Marcarini Barolo “La Serra” was discounted from $81 to $54, putting it right about the retail level, if there’s a better $50 bottle of wine available in the area, I’d like to know what it is, the “Menu della Serra” is 3 courses for $20 before 7:15 PM Sunday through Thursday, a Proscuitto - Pio Tosini is a small, unadorned plate with about six slices of the palest of proscuitti, thin and delicate, Zucca - sweet dumpling squash, winter veggie hash, 3-cheese polenta was the dish of the night, a half squash, roasted, stuffed with diced root vegetables, and served with some of the best polenta I’ve had in ages, a great dish that’s a must for vegetarians, Dolce Firenze was a perfectly honorable bread pudding, twenty dollars for this meal is a steal, walk into CUBAN CORNER and you’ll forget you’re in a strip mall on a whirring section of Hungerford Drive, Frituras de Yuca Rellena con Picadillo ($3.99) were two large yuca fritters lightly stuffed with seasoned shredded beef, worth ordering and good enough to have without any sauce, Puerco Asado ($13.29) is touted as “the specialty of the house” and was tasty and satisfying slices of marinated pork, a bit overcooked, it needed some habanero sauce for guts, more interesting was our server’s suggestion of the Milanese de Pollo ($13.29), a flattened, well-seasoned, fried chicken breast, nix the dried out Moros y Cristianos and get separate sides of black beans with white or yellow rice, consider the Guyaba y Queso Empanada ($3.99) for dessert even though it’s listed as an appetizer, the guava, Swiss cheese, and fried dough making a perfect (and inexpensive) version of a cheese course served with chutney, above all else, make sure to ask your server about the Fi-Che Special, it’s impressive that 2 Amys can keep serving such wonderful little plates given the high volume there, Sardine al Forno ($7.95) was six roasted sardines, pairing perfectly with Fried Tiny Potatoes with Sexy Salt and Aioli ($7.95), I felt like I was on the Mediterranean, a special pizza of Lobster Sauce, mussels, clams, squid, garlic, and chives ($13.25) had no cheese and no tomatoes, just fresh shellfish taking a bath in a good, rich lobster sauce ladled over pizza crust and baked in the oven, it was a fascinating, drippy mess-of-a-pie that I’ll seek out in the future, Vanilla Bean Panna Cotta with Caramel Sauce and Gingersnaps ($5.95) was as good as any panna cotta I’ve had in ages, and the Rum Raisin Ice Cream ($3.95) would have been its equal had it not been served so cold, I had heard rumors that Butterfield 9 is making a comeback under chef Michael Harr, but it wasn’t apparent to me, Ricotta and Pumpkin Gnocchi ($11) was dense and served very hot over a bed of Path Valley shelling beans and topped with a foam of ginger emulsion, the combination tasted as odd as it sounds, Barbecued Eel and Black Cod ($13) was one bite of very good eel, and a terrifically rare (really, raw) piece of black cod that was unfortunately sitting atop too much miso glaze, served with burnt honey crispy rutabaga hearts and a small wild herb salad, it was close to being a very good dish, Roasted Pheasant ($12) served with black trumpets, red bor kale, jus and chestnut emulsion, was a miss, the pheasant hot on the bone but the skin floppy and limp, these three small plates were too busy for their own good, and have made me gun-shy about committing to the entrees at this expensive restaurant, which tend to hover in the low-to-mid-$30s, the best thing about RED DOG CAFE is their terrific fresh-squeezed fruit and vegetable juices, some of the best I’ve ever had, at $3.95 for a large, I’d be drinking one of these for lunch almost every day if I worked nearby, and there’s another winner on the menu, the redDog Chili ($6.95), made with chunks of chuck steak, ancho puree and black beans, this mild, flavorful chili is one of the very best I’ve found in the Washington area, make sure to get this next time you go, the sandwich breads here are good, the Muffeleta Sandwich ($10.75) stuffed with Italian meats, cheese, and olive spread, it’s assertive and a bit much for lunch, equally large is a Roasted Lemon Chicken Ripieghi ($9.95), a folded-over pizza crust surrounding what must be twelve ounces of shredded chicken meat, slathered in a cucumber-yogurt dressing and topped with watercress, it would have been better if the chicken had a bit more flavor, Red Dog Café is expensive for lunch, as the menu isn’t discounted from dinner, but it’s one of your best options on the East-West Highway corridor between Silver Spring and Bethesda, CASSATT’S is in the charming Lee Heights Shopping Center in Arlington, perhaps the only New-Zealand-themed restuarant in the area, it’s very much of a grill at heart, with standard fare such as salmon, meatloaf, scallops, and chicken breast being adorned with chutneys which I suppose is the Kiwi theme at play, Kiwi Meat and Vegetable Pies ($9.50) are served with a small salad and mango chutney, a version with chicken and vegetables was akin to Chicken a la King in an empanada, next time I’ll try the lamb, ask bartender Juan Morales to pour you a Flat White ($2.98) after your meal, the wine list at Charlie Palmer Steak is nutso expensive, but there are two things working in the diners favor: you can bring up to two bottles of your own wine (free if they’re American wines, $25 corkage fee if not), and more importantly, sommelier Nadine Brown, who steered me to an elegant, delicately oaked bottle of 2003 Lemelson Vineyards Chardonnay from Willamette Valley ($52), a great match for the Atlantic Salmon ($27), served atop sweet-corn ravioli with a ragu of leek and baby corn and clam-shell mushrooms, at $27, this dish was a rare failure, the relatively small plank of salmon being overcooked, the mushrooms over-fried in oil that needed to be changed, and the ragu itself downright bland, much better were the two side dishes, Baby Bok Choy ($5) and Potato and Parsnip au Gratin ($7), I’m not sure which of the side dishes contain meat products, but I suspect a vegetarian could cobble together a pretty satisfying meal here for well under $30, if you’re longing for great deli in this area, you’re in trouble, but a hot corned beef on rye ($6.95) at Deli City comes close, it took forever to get the sandwich, but it was worth the wait, a two-inch-thick mound of warm, fatty, flavorful corned beef piled on two pieces of grocery-store rye bread, a little mustard is all it needed, no sandwich is over $6.95, and no entree is over $9.95, when you order here, note the box of tissues near the TV set, with the note scrawled on it “Cowboys Fans Take One,” I snagged Johnny Fulchino when he was walking by me at Johnny’s Half Shell and asked him if I should try a glass of Muscadet with the Oyster Stew ($8), he thought for a second, and said “No, no, it’s a rich stew,” instead pointing me toward a glass of Chardonnay from the Maconnais, the stew itself is a bowl of about ten oysters sitting in a very thin broth, the primary flavor being leeks and onions, when he came by again, I told him I thought it would go well with a glass of Sherry, “Yes! Sherry!” he said, “That would be perfect!” all of this passion and enthusiasm is funneled into Fulchino’s well-chosen selection of wines by the glass, it was a great night for BlackSalt, Seafood Remoulade ($4) was made with white shrimp, day-boat scallops, and jumbo lump crab, BlackSalt excels in the freshness of its seafood, and simple, unadorned dishes show the restaurant at its best, Serrano Ham wrapped Gulf Shrimp with ajo blanco were $3 a shrimp and worth the splurge because of the smackingly fresh shrimp, a small plate of Pacific Butterfish with Mushroom Fondue and Smoked Onion Quinoa ($14) was well-conceived and executed, the butterfish beautifully seared on top, the crispy shield locking in all the flavors of this underrated fish, Organic Salmon with Beluga Lentil Cassoulet, Duck Confit, and Cauliflower was expensive at $27, but this generous portion of perfectly cooked salmon was a lot better than the version I got at Charlie Palmer Steak, whoever was poissonnier this night needs to be tenured, how was your week.

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Sunday nights are a good choice to visit Ray's The Steaks, since Ray’s The Classics is closed that evening, there’s a good bet you’ll see Michael Landrum here, seafood-based appetizers here were better under the skilled supervision of Michael Hartzer, but the Hanger Steak ($19.95) was as it always is, long-aged, flavorful, and perfect with Bearnaise sauce as a foil, order it rare or medium-rare tops, the housemade bread here is always a pleasant surprise, it’s critical function being to sop up whatever sauce is left while tearing through your meal, Ray’s The Steaks remains one of the quirkiest and most important neighborhood restaurants in town, a destination and a local treasure, even when Buck’s Fishing and Camping misses, it misses honorably, Buck’s “World Famous” Mussels ($18) are as good as it gets in these parts, usually mussels sitting on top are dry, and ones in the bottom have drowned in a pool of whatever, but these seem almost individually brushed, Crispy Cornmeal Oysters with Creamy Spinach and Dill-Lime Mayonnaise ($22) were too thickly coated and not hot enough, and the Mayonnaise was too acidic and dominating, but the oysters themselves were great as always, Wood-Grilled Fresh Shrimp and Spicy Sausages with Byrd Mill Grits ($25) tasted too much of char, but the grits were world-beating, nobody makes better cakes than Greenwood, and the Very Good Chocolate Cake ($9) was a rich, evil ganache-like thing that could take down Grendel, but the amazing Caramel Apple Cake ($9) is what I’ll be ordering again, Buck’s can get expensive, but it’s always honest and satisfying, even on the occasion when it isn’t excellent, and nobody supports local, sustainable farming more than Carole Greenwood, “No, no, no,” you have to get the SUPER Grilled Cheese, a friend once told me, after I groused about the lousy grilled cheese sandwich at the old Stoney’s Bar and Grill, so this time, I did, despite it’s dubious location across from Whole Foods on P Street, the new Stoney’s still manages to carry a pretty nice, even a semi-divey, feel to it, the beer selection is well worth investigating, and if you can accept that you’re eating American cheese, the Super Grilled Cheese ($7) really is a great sandwich, made with onions and bacon on thickly sliced Uptown Bakers bread, the very friendly, loquacious Tony Harris has been co-owner of Stoney’s since 1968 (he also co-owns Tunnicliff’s on Capitol Hill, by the way), and he insists that the large uncut blocks of American cheese he gets are vastly superior to the pre-cut, pre-wrapped versions, fortunately the sandwich is also available with cheddar which is what I’ll get on mine next time, the French fries are what you’d find in a bowling alley, I had nearly written off Willow based on two previous visits, but no longer, when I dipped the Fried Fontina and Proscuitto Fritters ($8) in their tomato and smoked-paprika fondue, I nodded to myself in approval, but things kept getting even better, if you’re looking for a great gnocchi dish, look no further than the Potato Gnocchi and Little Neck Clam Gratin ($9), Tracy O’Grady’s riff on clam chowder that’s elevated through the ceiling, spiked with potato, sweet garlic, parmesan and chervil, and served with a couple thin pieces of grilled ciabatta for dunking, this dish was so good that I’ll go back just for a double-order with a glass of Entre-Deux-Mers ($8), while the complex potato-wrapped rockfish entrée ($24) was another winner, with its endless strand of potato spooled around the fish keeping in heat and moisture, the highlight of the meal may have been the outstanding server Yves, a gentleman who worked for Gerard Pangaud for five years, dating all the way back to the days of the Ritz-Carlton in Pentagon City, it was a hearteningly good showing for Willow, which is now fully and squarely back on my radar, I always pull for the little guy, and I almost got up and did a little dance when I tasted my Vialone Risotto ($16 for a half-order) at David Craig, made with lobster, prosciutto, artichokes, fava beans, and parmesan, it’s as good as it sounds, all the pastas here are housemade, and the Wild Mushroom and Ricotta Ravioli ($14 for a half-order) was a bowlful of good, firm, al dente ravioli sitting atop a pool of brodo spiked with parmigiano reggiano and charred rosemary butter, the pastas here are not optional, and on this evening they fared better than the main courses, the better of which was a Whole Roasted, Herb Crusted Loup de Mer ($26), served with braised fennel, local (?) tomatoes, and a caper beurre blanc, it was very good fish that I’d order again, but I can’t help but feel this could have been outstanding and it wasn’t, the big miss of the evening was the Braised Veal Cheeks ($26), enormous, garlic-ridden cheeks sitting atop a parmesan semolina gnocchi which came across as stolid and dull, sitting in a dark veal reduction which was too citric and bitter for its own good, so it was a mixed evening for David Craig, but good enough overall so that I’ll happily return, and I’ll be supporting an independently owned business instead of a soulless, corporate chain when I do, I always cringed whenever I walked into Oyamel and saw the “little old ladies” making tortillas in the Station Of Exploitation, Oyamel is gone, and so are the little old ladies, but now we have Roberto Donna himself in their stead, putting on a show for the customers at Bebo Trattoria, bar service has graduated from indifferent to clueless, with my bartender insisting that my Risotto of the Day ($13.50) was made with pistachio and gorgonzola, even when the orange-colored rice was sitting right in front of him (it was made with butternut squash, mascarpone, and pork sausage, and would have been very good had it not been overcooked), the Veal Scallopini ($15.50) is a satisfying dish, and a better deal than the Polpettini ($12) which come out to three dollars for each small meatball, the wine list at Bebo is fantastic, full of well-chosen, well-priced wines, and would be reason alone to come here even if the food weren’t as good as it is, as I was sitting at the bar, I couldn’t help contrasting Roberto’s smiling stage show with what was really happening in the kitchen: Amy Brandwein was in there yelling, sweating, orchestrating a small army of line cooks, and handling so many dishes that she looked like she was playing some sort of amped-up speedball-induced hypersonic version of Whack-A-Mole, make no mistake about it, this is Roberto’s restaurant, but on this night the kitchen was 100% Amy Brandwein, as I was walking out, I knocked on the window and waved hello to a friend, then walked past a neighboring restaurant, the one with Chino’s picture in the window, and thought to myself how refreshing it was to see someone as famous and talented as Chef Donna present and accounted for at his restaurant, how was your week.

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Al Crostino was showing some promise for a few months, but now seems to be heading in the wrong direction, as I sat at the bar all I could think about was the techno-thumping music blaring in my ear, and the glass of red wine which was served at eighty degrees and needed to be stuck in the freezer for ten minutes, while the entree pricing is still seductive, an unadorned, overcooked Broiled Salmon ($14) just isn’t worth the trouble of eating, and the Ribeye Steak, Tuscan Style ($15.50), a tremendously gutsy and satisfying dish the last time I had it, now seemed like a cafeteria-inspired afterthought, note to management at Al Crostino: lose the pulsating music if you want to be taken seriously as a restaurant, you’ve probably never heard of Andrew Policelli, but file the name in your memory, because he’s the latest in a remarkable string of pastry chefs at Bistro Bis, sometimes I’ll start my meal with a dessert (well, why shouldn’t I?), and Policelli’s Gâteau au Chèvre ($9.75) was one of the best cheesecakes I’ve had all year, a cylindrical goat-cheese cake, served at nearly room temperature (which is crucial) with an earthy fall fruit compote and candied walnuts, nuts thrown onto a dessert plate can be annoying, but in this case they were a vital part of the plate, if you like the fried chicken at Flavors Soul Food in Falls Church, you’ll love Carlos’ Fried Chicken ($10.99) at MADAM’S ORGAN, billed as their “house specialty” and served with two sides - in this case collard greens and mac-and-cheese - it comes with a warning that it takes awhile to prepare (always a good thing with fried chicken), so I ordered, and waited for what must have been thirty minutes, all the while figuring I’d eventually receive an outsized plate of greasy food, but what showed up was the best surprise I had all week, not only was the chicken masterfully seasoned and fried, the collards and mac-and-cheese weren’t gloppy at all, while this plate of food must have weighed five pounds, it came across as greaseless and darned near refined, you might think of Madam’s Organ as a total dive (which is exactly what it is), but someone in this kitchen is putting out some surprisingly good cooking, I can’t say that PS7 wins the gold medal for the single biggest flop ever to open in Washington, DC - that honor currently goes to Agraria, with Zengo bringing home the silver - but it’s certainly trying to vie with Indebleu and Oyamel for the bronze, the latter seemingly a victim of speculative real estate as much as anything else, and yet I’m naive enough to think that PS7 can eventually right itself, mainly because of the culinary skills of Peter Smith, almost universally respected by chefs around town as a major talent in the kitchen, but for now I just don’t like what I see here, most recently an overpriced Spicy Tuna Tartare ($12.50), marinated with yuzu lime and sweet soy, cucumber lemon grass granité and sesame cracker, a tortured little plate which, on the palate, came across as not much more than a small mound of very ordinary tuna with a cracker, even more disappointing was the Popcorn Crusted (uh, hello?) Halibut ($23.00), with tonka-bean emulsion, arugula flan, honey cap mushrooms, and cipollini onion ragoût, the halibut being geographically separated from the flan, mushrooms, and ragoût by a large and intimidating ridge running down the center of the plate, the halibut itself was dried out and overcooked, but all three vegetables on the other side of the mountain range showed amazing refinement and execution, with well-cooked fish, a more integrated presentation, and the silly popcorn idea jettisoned, this could still be a great dish, but it’s also a microcosm of the fundamental changes that will need to be made if PS7 is ever to take its place among the city’s great restaurants, in my next life I’m coming back as a restaurant consultant: I’m certain that someone who knew what they were doing could have spent just a few hours here early on and saved this establishment a million dollars in mistakes, decent lunch options are few in Potomac Village, but you could do worse than grabbing some take-out from River Falls Seafood Company, about half of which is a prepared foods counter, better than your average Whole Foods and about on a par with Balducci’s, a Grilled Tuna Burger with an Asian Glaze ($7.95) is served cold, without bun, and tastes pretty good if, and only if, you like the taste of refrigerated, veal-based meatloaf, I defy anyone tasting this double-blind to identify it as tuna, River Falls Seafood has branded its crabcakes ($9.95) as being from the “Cadillac Crab Cake Company” and is shipping them via the internet, they’re large and pretty good, and you’ll get a choice of cocktail sauce or tartar sauce when you order, the very good housemade tartar sauce is the way to go, Cee is the new Thai restaurant that opened in the old China Gourmet space (remember this was Peter Chang’s last stop), the wine list here is surprisingly decent, almost at the level of what Paya Thai’s used to be, and the beer list is even better with twenty to choose from including Eggenberg and a couple from Weihenstephen, the owners came from Crystal Thai in Falls Church, and that imprint is very much on some of the dishes which tend to gravitate toward being sweet, Steamed Dumplings ($7) were slices of shrimp-and-pork sausage, stuffed into a good, tough dumpling with dipping sauce, Pad Thai Chicken ($11) was a good version, fairly clean and not too sweet, it benefitted from a bit of hot sauce, Roasted Duck in Curry ($15) is remarkably similar to the version I remember from Crystal Thai, a very good dish with slices of duck bathing in red curry paste with pineapple chunks, basil leaves, a bit of chili pepper, tomatoes, and coconut milk, Fried Bananas and ice cream in syrup ($5.50) were miniature bananas in funnel-cakey batter with a drizzle of honey and a scoop of store-bought ice cream, somebody pumped some money into this restaurant, and for now, Cee appears to sit right alongside Paya Thai and Crystal Thai as good, solid examples of westernized Thai food in northern Virginia, Bob Kinkead recently said, in the new DC Chefs magazine, that “I’ve taken some things off the menu in the past and I’ve been accosted on the street,” and it’s true that he has chosen for the menu at Kinkead’s to be stuck in time, catering to the expectations of tourists and the unadventurous, people searching for reliable comfort more than any sort of groundbreaking culinary event, which is why I was so dazzled and overjoyed by the Shaved Tennessee Ham with Deviled Eggs, “Croque Monsieur,” Frisée Salad and Dijon Dressing ($11), the single greatest dish I’ve had at Kinkead’s in years, as simple and traditional as it may sound, it’s also downright trendy, taking the charcuterie and egg crazes to a new level and more importantly, it was delicious, well conceived and executed, and an absolute pleasure to eat, a perfect dance partner to the Italian Wedding Soup with Barlotti Beans, Mustard Greens and Basil Pesto ($9), which by itself is dull albeit homey, these two dishes together were superb, and I hope the “ham, egg, and cheese” makes its way onto the regular menu for all eternity, Lobster Medallions in a Sherry Marscapone Cream with Baby Roasted Bell Peppers and Four Cheese Agnolottis ($17) felt like driving home after the fireworks were over, partly because I didn’t need any more food, but mainly because the lobster medallions were overcooked and tough, why go to the outlying suburbs for a hideous strip mall when you’ve got one right here on Sangamore Road, Praline Bakery and Restaurant opens at 8 AM for breakfast and has a pretty good pain au chocolat and butter croissant, both made in-house and both some of the better versions in these parts, I like everything about the pissaladière except the name, because it isn’t even remotely close to being a pissaladière, rather, it’s a french-bread pizza with tomatoes, cheese, olives, onions and anchovies, and it’s also quite good, it reminds me of pizza I’d used to see at Ann Amernick’s old bakery in Cleveland Park, I’m not crazy about the ambiance of the downstairs area of Praline when it comes to lollygagging over a newspaper, and the baguettes are purchased from The Baguette Factory in Vienna, but the early hours and the pastries are enough of a draw to come here and enjoy breakfast, I hadn’t been to TIA QUETA since the 1980s, and now I remember why, it’s a charming little cantina with a rooftop deck, but the atmosphere is where it all ends, you’ll start with a basket of round, industrial tortilla chips served with a salsa that was made - or perhaps I should say “opened” - earlier in the day, Queso Fundido ($5.95) was an intensely herbaceous, gelatinous blob of gooey cheese and sausage bits, served in a hot mini-skillet, but with the same lousy chips, Crema de Frijoles Negros ($3.25) was thin, watery, and bland, the most palatable dish was the Puerco Yucateco ($13.95) which was fairly large chunks of pork (it’s difficult to ruin chunks of pork) in a citrus-based tomato sauce and a little pile of refried beans adorned with, guess what, yep, two of those same lousy chips, and then there’s Palena, the tonic for whatever culinary atrocities might have recently been thrust upon you, the front room was slammed at 7:30 on a Saturday night, and burger-after-burger was coming up from the kitchen, as good as the burgers are at Palena (and they are indeed the best in town), it pains me to see people continuing to order them at the expense of all the other glorious dishes here, dishes which show Palena in all its florid splendor, dishes which work out to only $15 each based on the five-course menu, dishes such as Tartar of Wild Long Island Rockfish, with citrus, capers and olivada crostini, an astoundingly refreshing first course with a hefty portion of rockfish that tasted like it had been in the sea just hours before, there were only several fried capers but they were ridiculously good, the Charcuterie ($14) this evening was outside the norm, two terrines with Scottish hare and pork liver, served with a fantastic polenta and an amazing side dish of mostarda and marinated greens, and then came what was arguably my favorite dish of the night, basically a bowl of Pho under the guise of Petite Pot Au Feu, a consomme containing brisket, veal tongue, crepes (for the noodles), slivers of foie gras and fall vegetables, the consomme alone could have made my knees buckle, but the dish as a whole was easily Michelin two-star quality, I just sat there shaking my head in disbelief while eating it, and then the polar opposite arrived, a bowl of Pumpernickel Bread Soup, a rustic soup made with house cured cabbage, homemade pumpernickel bread, a round of housemade testa in the center, and a drizzle of fonduta, it was a fascinating, hearty soup, and to this day I can’t quite figure out what it was based on, if I can find any fault in Palena’s cooking, I can sometimes find it in the fish dishes, and though the Merluzzo (Mediterranean Hake) may have been the weak link of the evening, that’s like saying someone finished in fifth place in the Olympics, it was served with honshimeji mushrooms, cardoons, and most importantly, razor clams, that having been said, the Spanish Loup de Mer and Gulf Shrimp was a stunning piece of fish, slow braised in olive oil (yeah, baby!), and seasoned with homemade fennel pollen and rosemary, served with fennel, glazed turnips and figs, I only got a taste of this dish and wish I had ordered one for myself, and of course nobody’s life is complete without venison, Forest and Farm is pan-roasted New Zealand venison with a generous slab of housemade bacon, served with a fan-tas-tic duchesse potato, braised red cabbage, and a prune-Armagnac sauce, I was waving the white flag when it came time for dessert, and mercifully received Ann Amernick’s Peanut Butter and “Jelly”, a small plate of peanut-butter truffles (really, a dollop of homemade peanut butter sitting atop peanut cookies), and served alongside pear pâtes de fruit, I ended up rolling out of Palena, stuffed to the gills, and as I was driving home I thought to myself that so many people calling themselves “chef” should be ashamed to use that term, they should be ashamed when culinary artistry is capable of being produced at this level by someone who neither seeks the limelight nor insists on stamping an oversized ego onto his work, by someone who chooses to remain behind the scenes, quietly cooking and composing dishes unlike anyone else, by someone who is revered by his peers and who will long be remembered as one of the most talented and hardest-working cooks Washington DC has ever known, the great master, Chef Frank Ruta, how was your week.
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I have some good news, and I have some bad news: The good news is that Kotobuki is no longer a secret, and that chef Hisao Abe is finally getting the recognition he deserves for running the greatest bargain sushi restaurant in the Washington area, the bad news is that Kotobuki is no longer a secret, and on any given evening, there may be a line halfway down the stairs, I arrived at 5:15 PM on a Sunday afternoon, people had started to trickle in, the phones were starting to ring, Eleanor Rigby was playing in the background, and by the time I left with my carryout order at 5:30 three chefs were working the sushi bar, I went home and gorged on some of the best scallops, flounder, white tuna, eel, and rolls in town, it’s amazing that the sushi here remains a dollar a piece, and I stay up nights fretting about how long that can possibly last, every once in awhile you stumble across a food-and-drink pairing that’s perfect, and so it was at Rustico, a decadent pizza with Duck Confit, grilled onions, arugula, and brie ($15) isn’t going to work with an ice-cold Bud, but it was truly special with a bottle of Boon Geuze, a bitter, lemony, earthy-mushroomy lambic that’s as sour as any beer you’ll ever drink, almost tasting something like a Persian doogh, frighteningly priced at $17 for a 12-ounce bottle and darned near undrinkable on its own, but just plain stunning with the fat of the duck and brie, and especially with the slight sweetness of the grilled onions, it’s worth the splurge in the name of scientific exploration, Ann Cashion won the 2004 James Beard Award for Best Chef in the Mid-Atlantic Region for her terrific neighborhood restaurant, Cashion’s Eat Place, but what made Cashion’s such a special place was Ann Cashion herself, these days, you’re not very likely to see her in the kitchen because she’s so busy with other projects, and the restaurant has suffered because of it, a Charcuterie Plate with Head Cheese, Foie Gras Torchon, and Pork Rillettes ($10) was a meager presentation of foie gras and substandard rillettes, and was saved by the head cheese alone, which had an interesting cooked-down mosaic-pot-pie complexity to it, Fried Sardines with Arugula, Oranges, Arebequina Olives and Fennel ($9.50) was a dish both acceptable and forgettable, Greek Style Fisherman’s stew with Mussels, Red Mullet, and Lobster ($12.00) had a decent broth but just didn’t seem lovingly integrated with the seafood, the star of the evening was the Roasted Wild Kentucky Turkey Breast ($22), served with parsnips, salsify, baby onions, chanterelles, and pancetta in a turkey jus, it was really a very simple dish, with the sliced breast presented on top at a perfect medium-rare, Cashion’s Eat Place is still a very good restaurant, but it’s no longer the cross-town destination that it was ten years ago, “I swear this place was good when it first opened, and Ann Cashion was the head chef,” a friend just told me, but he wasn’t talking about Cashion’s Eat Place, he was talking about Austin Grill, which has shrunk from being a single, good restaurant in 1988 to being a chain of six locations serving disgusting, industrial food products for the uncritical masses, exhibit A, the Texas Sampler ($14.29) at the Silver Spring location, “a platter of wings, taquitos, beef nachos, chorizo quesadillas, and queso,” was about ten-pounds of cholesterol-ridden glop, to this day I cannot figure out what was inside the taquitos, nor do I want to know, however dismissing this food as “pig slop” wouldn’t be accurate, mainly because I would never knowingly eat any pork product where the pig had been inhumanely treated by being raised on this swill, the last two times I had been to Ella’s, it was shortly after 9 PM, and I was surprised that their kitchen was closed both times, but now that I’ve been again, it’s probably a safe bet that their evening clientele has chosen to get their pizzas down the street at Matchbox, the crust used to be thin and delicious, and now it’s just boring, a Sopressata ($12.95) was topped with bland chunks of sausage, shaved fennel, flavorless roasted peppers, a sweet tomato sauce, and parmesan, a Calzone special ($12.95) was clean, but ultimately too clean as it, too, was bland, and the Fresh Seared Salmon Nicoise Salad ($11.50) needs a hyphen between “fresh” and “seared,” I was optimistic about the housemade desserts, as Ella’s touts having their own pastry chef, but the Ice Creams ($4.50) were too cold and too sweet (although the mint chocolate chip was good), and the Assortment of Biscotti ($2.25) was a plate of, soft, sweet, dense, doughy cookies that were simply not worth eating, Morou Ouattara has assumed an enormous responsibility at the newly opened Farrah Olivia, because the dishes he’s offering are so complex and nuanced that I’m skeptical they could be properly executed in his absence, the Black-Eyed Pea Fritters ($9) are even better than they were at Signatures, mealy and flavorful, served with refried (yes, refried) tomato and tail-pepper honey, the flavorful tail-pepper being imported from Africa, Hangar Tartare ($12) was two small cylinders of a beautiful, red, hand-chopped steak served with a presentation of “65 egg” (65 degrees is the temperature at which an egg will congeal), grated radish, and a hefty streak of berbere oil, which I thought overwhelmed the delicate beef, it was a bold dish that needs some tweaking in order to be integrated, the Anise Spiced Salmon ($24) was a spectacular dish, served with a little pile of yucca couscous with a surprising crunch to it, and a “smoked shrimp essence” which was a terrific foil to the anise in the salmon, this fish was perfectly executed, and as a result was one of the best plates of food I’ve had in quite awhile, it needs to be said that the wine list at Farrah Olivia is quite possibly the single worst of any area restaurant aspiring to serve cuisine at this level, for now it’s best to stick with Flying Dog Classic Pale Ale ($4.50), a local microbrew from Frederick which, fortunately, worked better with the intricate spicing of these dishes than any wine could have, eveyone loves Pho 75, especially the one in Arlington which seems to invariably have broths of great depth, but not many people know about their addicting “Black Bean” dessert, a sweet rice-based paste mixed with black-eyed peas and (on request) topped with a layer of condensed milk, perfect to pick up at the register while you pay your bill and scarf on the ride home in order to cool the fire induced by the Sriracha hot sauce you squirted into your Pho, I really like the organization of the one-page Fall dinner menu at Firefly, Roasted Yellow Beets ($9), served with creamy horseradish dill dressing and market greens, needs to be priced lower, the Cured Salmon Gravlax ($9.50), with roasted lemons and fennel, was great as always, with the fennel an important textural component, Seared Salmon ($17), with Spanish garlic sauce and potato gnocchi, was a good, well-cooked piece of salmon, but the gnocchi came across as too large and pasty, the peasant Spanish garlic sauce seemed almost yogurt-like, which made it an absolute delight alongside the dish of the night, Gratinee of Flounder and Cauliflower ($16) with curry-lemon sabayon, a heavily Indian-influenced dish that reminds me how much I miss John Wabeck’s curried eggplant, Slow-Cooked Pork ($19) with garlic mashed potatoes and whole-grain mustard is good and satisfying, but the Roasted Half Free-Range Chicken ($19.50) with garlic fries falls solidly in the “great” category, one of the best roast chickens in town, the fries themselves ordinary but the garlic adding an interesting twist, Firefly’s cheese course is underrated, the cheeses always well-chosen, in good shape, and properly served near room temperature, Wabeck is a talented chef, having a keen sense of how to combine flavors, and I’d love to see what he could do if he ever got his own restaurant, as I’m typing this, I’m suddently realizing why I wasn’t attacked by a vampire as I slept that evening, how was your week.

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There is no more interesting restaurant in the Washington area than Passage To India, simple things like a Fritter Platter ($5.25) may sound mundane, but each one – onion, pepper, spinach, corn, potato, cauliflower - is more perfectly fried than the last, this is one menu where you can pretty much throw a dart and hit a bulls-eye, but regardless of what you order, you have to get the Sada Chawal (steamed basmati, $2.95), the Pickle Platter ($2.00), and the amazing, groundbreaking Garlic Naan ($3.50), one of the finest breads I have ever eaten, this week I overheard a famous restaurateur grousing about Barton Seaver ‘stealing her thunder’ when it comes to promoting sustainable seafood, maybe so, but at Café Saint-Ex he’s showing that you don’t need to charge $35 a plate to do it, don’t hesitate to order the simple sounding Organic Arugula Salad ($7), with shaved fennel, onion, and pecorino cheese, it’s great arugula, simply prepared and dressed, and every bit the equal of the Tuscarora Beet Salad ($8), with an orange vinaigrette and a single, teasingly good goat cheese croquette, the wood-grilled fishes here are always worth trying, but an entrée portion of the Potato Gnocchi ($15) nearly had me jumping up and down with glee, served with chestnut, sage, and a bit of Taleggio, it would make a perfect $22 vegetarian dinner with the arugula salad serving as a first course, another place that promotes sustainable and naturally raised food is Harry’s Essential Grille, a cavernous restaurant that received a good deal of press when it first opened, and clearly had lots of money pumped into it, the problem here is the level of cooking itself which, while I wouldn’t call it “Essentially Swill,” is something you might expect while on vacation, when serendipity has been kind enough to furnish your Holiday Inn with a decent grill, an inexperienced but eager crew, and good, strong drinks to make you forget about your limpid, tasteless Classic Caesar Salad ($6), speaking of hotel restaurants, Tony Chittum is an excellent cook, and is the life blood of Notti Bianche, which suffers greatly when he isn’t there, to the point where it can be downright mediocre, I’ve had strikingly good risottos here in the past, even in Chittum’s absence, but not this time around, the half-portion with two large, salty, head-on shrimp sitting atop the Arugula, Pine Nut and Tomato Risotto ($14) was overcooked and lifeless, I’ve been burned by the Charred Octopus ($10) twice now, and cannot see ever ordering it again, the Grilled Pork Loin ($26) with black mission figs, crispy proscuitto and braised kale sounded good, but was emblematically tired and boring, even on an off night, Notti Bianche is saved by its pastas, a half order of the housemade Agnolotti ($9) with roasted kabocha squash, crushed amaretti and sage butter is consistently good (albeit very sweet), and the boxed Garganelli ($8) with brussel sprout petals, very good, mild sausage and roasted garlic cream is always reliable here, most interesting was a special of Malfatti (expensive at $14 for a half-order), a spinach gnocchi that I’ve not seen anywhere else in this area, it’s served with porcinis and a mascarpone sauce, and is one of two dishes that Chittum served at the StarChefs Gala on December 13th, despite being among some elite company that evening, he put out some of the very best plates of food there, his Virginia Rockfish with Celery, Clams, and Chowder Froth being flat-out superb, the menu at Notti Bianche is changing this week, and you should not miss this dish if it’s on there, I don’t treat steakhouses like others do, for me they’re not so much “dining” as they are “feeding,” an infrequent, expensive splurge, a protein-bomb calorie-replenishing scarf serving as a reward for an extra-hard workout earlier that day, that having been said, despite its wine list being blatantly overpriced, BLT Steak was one of the best steakhouse meals I’ve ever had, dinner starts with an amuse-gueule, followed by a “popover” - a gigantic rendition of the classic Burgundian hors d’oeuvre gougères, which, despite its Cretaceous size, should be eaten immediately before it cools, the 22-ounce Rib Eye ($45) comes out in a cast-iron pan, perfectly charred and cooked exactly medium-rare, topped with a tiny cylinder of herbed butter and served with a side of Béarnaise ($3), the Baked Potato ($8) is a giant Russet, accompanied by a ramekin of European butter and a presentation of sour cream, cheddar, chives, and bacon that’s well-worth eating, Grilled Asparagus ($9) are equally large, beautifully cooked, and elegant in their cut and presentation, $62 is fiendishly expensive for a steak, baked potato and asparagus, and I truly don’t know how people can dine like this on a regular basis without ending up destitute and corpulent, regardless, BLT Steak has, for the time being, replaced Charlie Palmer Steak as my favorite upscale steakhouse in Washington DC, how was your week.

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Savvy sushi lovers have long known to request the two seats in front of Koji Terano at Sushi-Ko, but it may become more difficult in the near future, Sushi-Ko hopes to unveil Kappo Koji in a few weeks, sectioning off the area nearest the kitchen and offering a prix-fixe tasting menu limited to two or three diners, the entire meal prepared by Terano himself, Sushi-Ko’s second restaurant in Friendship Heights is behind schedule, and we’ll wait to see what happens to Terano when it finally does open, but for at least several months, Kappo Koji could be one of the hottest tickets in town, the main reason I almost never order squid and cuttlefish in DC restaurants is because they’re rarely fresh and usually mal-cooked, having more in common with shoe leather than any type of sea creature, but when Règine Palladin recommended the sepia ($8.95) – a Meditteranean cuttlefish – at Pesce, I ordered it without batting an eye, when Règine says to do something, I do it, and I’m glad I did, a simple, beautifully splayed cephalopod, served in a spicy tomato sauce, it had the texture of an unripe cherry tomato, a firmness that refused to give, but when it finally did, it burst forward with a wonderment of the sea, this is nothing like “salty, frozen, fried calamari” or whatever you fear it might be, a platter of housemade dumplings ($11.95) stuffed with shrimp, crab and pork were made by “a Chinese lady who is friends with the chef,” and were as honest and homey as you could find at any noodle house, the most wonderful thing about Pesce is the grande dame herself, Règine Palladin, a major figure in Washington DC’s culinary history, Pesce is one of the most underrated, under-appreciated restaurants in town, Colm Dillon is the charismatic and successful owner of Falls Church’s IRELAND’S FOUR PROVINCES (Munster, Ulster, Leinster, and Connaught in case you’ve forgotten or never known), a wildly busy mahogany-and-brass pub at the intersection of Route 7 and Route 29, if it was empty, it might come across as sterile and varnished, but it’s never empty, always filled with its gloriously jubilant and motley clientele of bar-rats, families with children, beer lovers, solo diners, and most recently a large deaf contingent conversing in sign language with one of the staff, they pour a good Guiness and the Smithwick’s is always a thumbs-up, a Shepherd’s Pie ($10.95) with ground beef, peas, carrots, and onions, topped with homemade mashed potatoes was ramekin-hot, hearty, and filling, an expensive special of Feoil (Gallic for “meat”), a traditional Irish Lamb Stew ($14.95) with lamb cubes mixed in with carrots, celery, and onion in a lamb sauce, served with housemade mashed potatoes was very similar to the shepherd’s pie, perhaps even better because of the lamb, the service here is warm and friendly, and it’s not hard to see why this place is so popular, the food here will never win any awards, but it sure is a welcoming place to dunk your soda bread into your gravy-rich bowl of stew, the Dupont Circle branch of Heritage India is simply awful, but the Glover Park location is one of the very best restaurants in all of Washington, retaining some talented cooks from the days when Sudhir Seth was running the kitchen, Seth has moved on to Passage To India in Bethesda, surpassing Heritage India in both creativity and consistency of execution, but this is still my second favorite destination in town for an upscale Indian dinner, on Monday nights the wines are half-price, and you can get a perfectly good bottle of Cotes du Rhone Blanc for the amazing price of $14, the bar area downstairs retains its creepy feel, it’s cavernous, empty, and often staffed by a single person with nothing to do, the waitstaff upstairs has taken some criticism in the past, but during three visits in the past year, I’ve only experienced first-rate service, many people don’t distinguish between “The Tasting Room” at Restaurant Eve and “The Bistro,” but the two are very different levels of dining, The Tasting Room being one of the most luxurious, expensive destination dining spots in town, the Bistro’s strengths lie in its service and its devotion to artisanal ingredients, the housemade Charcuterie Plate ($14) is a magnificent appetizer, enough for two people and second only to Frank Ruta’s, a Plate of Seven Cheeses ($21) sounds expensive until you try it, the cheeses perfectly aged, all sourced from Cheesetique, and served at the proper temperature, even the butter here is above the ordinary, I’ve often wondered why the cooking itself can sometimes fall into an herbaceous, reductive bottomland, and it’s because Armstrong’s cuisine is so unapologetically uncompromising – there are almost no Asian influences here – and if the execution isn’t perfect for each dish, there’s precious little wiggle room in terms of lightness, for example, a recent Parsnip Velouté ($9) tasted like a warm bowl of heavy cream and not much else, paradoxically the heaviest-sounding dishes here are the most refined, if you order foie gras, game, and organ meats, the level of execution magically becomes world class and ethereal, Restaurant Eve remains one of my favorite haunts, especially the rustic, welcoming bar area, since November 6th I’ve reviewed 73 restaurants for WETA, and it’s not a coincidence that Restaurant Eve is the first one I’ve been back to a second time, Patrick Higgins is co-owner of Jackie’s, and is responsible for their wine list which is a pleasant surprise, he has shown great foresight in offering four different selections of less-expensive Petits Chateaux from the great, outrageously priced 2005 Bordeaux vintage, all for under $35 a bottle, a 2005 Vieux Cassan, from the Médoc region, cost only $28 and drank like a $60 bottle of wine, if you order an Elvis Miniburger ($3), make sure to request that it’s cooked medium-rare, and make sure to act quickly in scraping off any excess pimento cheese spread which can cool the patty excessively since it’s served at refrigerator temperature, I’ve had a lot of good food this year, but nothing more satisfying than the Truffle Fried Egg at CityZen, Eric Ziebold stores his Alba White Truffles with his eggs and butter, and the truffle scent permeates everything including the eggshells, imagine a bowl of creamy Anson Mill Grits made with that truffle-scented butter, specked with tiny bits of dry-aged shoat leg (a shoat is a 25-40 pound pig), freshly frizzled until hot and crisp, teamed with a few bites of fresh Arrowleaf spinach, the whole thing capped with a perfectly fried, truffle-scented egg, the yolk hot and runny, and then for the coup de grace, freshly shaved Alba white truffle on top, I’ve had more elegant dishes, I’ve had more elaborate dishes, I’ve had more dramatic dishes, but I’ve had no dish that I enjoyed eating – actually rolling up my sleeves and eating – any more than this, I still wonder, however, why I got such dirty looks when I asked for a bottle of ketchup, how was your week.

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Koji Terano mentioned that one of his favorite places to dine was Blue Ocean in Fairfax, so I’ve been intrigued about trying a full dinner there ever since, it’s owned by two Japanese gentlemen, a Mr. Kato and a Mr. Fukuyama, with Kato generally working the sushi station and Fukuyama preparing the hot foods, ask for the Japanese-only chalkboard, which is both inexpensive and impressive, with small plates in the $4-7 range and larger plates $12-14. Everything is here from broiled fish to cow tongue, and the only way to know is to ask, two amuse-gueules arrived, and while the bamboo shoots were quite good, the other one was a bit more troubling, it was some type of unknown stuffed dumpling, the outer layer perhaps consisting of potatoes and corn meal, but the stuffing was, to my horror, a dead ringer for canned corned beef, the courses began arriving and they were impressive, a whole aji (jackfish), cut up in front of us by Mr. Kato and then sent back into the kitchen for Mr. Fukuyama to prepare, five minutes later an artful plate of sashimi was presented, with the tail portion of the aji crisped and fried, a magnificent presentation of this simple fish, certain courses were better than others, for example, a fried kalamari was almost surely purchased frozen and pre-breaded, but even though it was a holiday, the sushi itself was quite good, the tako and toro were fresh, and even the uni - a dangerous choice on a Sunday evening - was sweet and custardy, if you come to Blue Ocean, be sure and ask for the Japanese menu and indicate to the staff you’re an adventurous diner, and you’ll be well-rewarded for your efforts, the secret is out about the $45 three-course deal at CityZen Lounge, the exact same dishes they’re serving in the main dining room, but with a limited selection and no Parker House rolls, I’ve eaten at CityZen enough now where I think I’ve begun to tap into the soul of Eric Ziebold’s complex, multi-faceted cooking, and I find him at his most fascinating when he’s not afraid to exercise his superior intellect, even though I may not always understand what he’s trying to reach for, it’s easy to love shoat belly with salt, butter, and chives, but more of a challenge to open up your mind to a toro T-bone or veal liver sashimi, ultimately it’s this type of whacko cliff-hanging wizardry that will vault Ziebold to the pinnacle where he belongs, there are two Persian options in downtown McLean, Moby Dick and AMOO’S KABOB, and not surprisingly there is some overlap in the menus, while Moby’s offers down-home Persian dishes only during lunch, Amoo’s serves them all day long, a Ghaymeh ($7.50) is an interesting stew of split peas and beef cubes served in a tomato sauce with saffron and dried lime, accented by a few fresh-cut fried potatoes, it’s a better option than the Baghali Polo ($8.50) a dish of fava beans and rice with a ton of dill, topped with a chicken kabob, Moby’s version is far superior because they use bone-in slow-baked chicken, and add the all-important tah-digh (the crusty layer of rice scraped from the bottom of the pot), Amoo’s also uses purchased bread rather than freshly baked nan, perhaps the strong point of Amoo’s is their Joojeh Kabob with Bone ($11.95), a flavorful whole young Cornish hen, cut into eight pieces and served with rice and tomatoes, Amoo’s is not as good as Moby’s, but it isn’t bad either, I’m convinced people avoid traveling to Black Market Bistro because they think Garrett Park is a province in Burkina Faso, but it’s right in between Connecticut Avenue and Rockville Pike, not far from the beltway, a cup of Butternut Squash Soup ($4) was pleasant if bland, basically pureed squash served with a few thinly sliced almonds, a special of Seafood Stew ($25) wasn’t terrible, but the broth was thin and did not taste long-cooked, the seafood seemed to be thrown on top as an afterthought, and while the mussels, shrimp, and squid were fresh, the cubes of salmon and tuna were catastrophic, dried out, tough, and cooked beyond recognition, I honestly thought (and hoped) that the tuna was chorizo when I saw it, but no, it was just grayish-brown tuna, hoping that the meal would be saved by the desserts, I ordered a Caramel Apple Crisp ($8.00) which turned out to be a large ramekin, top-heated before service, and covered with a dollop of pretty good ice cream, the “crisp” was ridden with oats, so much so that the entire dish tasted like a bowl of excessively sweet, thick, dense apple-oatmeal gruel, I took about four bites and could eat no more, everyone knows Brendan Cox of Circle Bistro is a great fish cook (and an avid fisherman, by the way), but it’s important to remember that Cox came from Equinox, and before that Galileo, and it naturally follows that his pasta dishes are some of the best anywhere, a Pappardelle with Duck Ragout ($9) is on both the bar menu and the dining room menu as an appetizer, and is one of the best pasta courses you’ll find anywhere, the ribbons of pappardelle wrapping themselves around chunks of long-cooked duck ragout like a python (yes I know that was lame but I'm writing this on New Year’s Day and I’m tired), this dish is so good that you’ll stare at it in wonderment after the first bite, in a state of joyous disbelief that you get to eat an entire bowl for such a low price, a master of charcuterie, terrines, and foie gras, Cox also offers a Beef Tartare ($9) that's as good as you’ll find anywhere in town, he has recently taken charge of making his own desserts (with a little help from Heather Chittum), and they are excellent and well-worth ordering, Cox fully deserves his own restaurant, but for now, just be thankful that you can enjoy such fabulous cooking in such a casual, inexpensive setting as Circle Bistro, D’Acqua just opened in the old Signatures space on 8th and Pennsylvania, a collaboration between restaurateur Francesco Ricchi and chef Enzo Febbraro who comes from Filomena, an early visit showed promise, but also a very expensive restaurant, Assaggi di Carpacci ($18), a carpaccio of scallop, halibut, salmon, and tuna, was smacking fresh and clean, ice cold, and drowning in olive oil with salt, pepper, and scallions, this worked out to about $1 per bite, as each portion was about four small bites worth, I’ll let you decide if it was worth the price, Ossobuco d’Agnello ($23) was, according to the menu, a “slow-cooked” lamb shank with tomato, celery and onion, so how slow-cooked was it? I overheard Francesco Ricchi telling someone that it was “cooked for 90 minutes,” nevertheless, it was quite good and I’d order it again, Rapini All’Aglio ($6) was a tired little plate of sautéed broccoli rabe, and since everything is a la carte (the lamb shank needed a vegetable), all of a sudden that inexpensive $23 entree rocketed up to $29, add some potato and now it’s $35, Gelati e Sorbetti ($8) was a housemade trio of hazelnut gelato, strawberry (in December?) sorbet, and lemon sorbet, served in a homemade almond tulip, it was okay but nothing I’d rush back for, the biggest draw here may be the most expensive one, an assortment of whole fish sitting on ice and priced by the pound (hovering in the $40-per-pound range) for the diner to select and have cooked in any of several styles, Christmas dinner at Corduroy (you didn't really think I'd stay in, did you?) was everything I hoped it could be and more, Tom Power was fully in the holiday spirit, serving a Roast Goose with Foie Gras Sauce and Root Vegetable Mash as part of his $45, three-course menu, if you’ve never tried roast goose, it’s a dark meat like duck, only gamier, not as dark as venison but perhaps even more striking in flavor, it was a fascinating dish that went brilliantly with the foie gras sauce, I stole some of my mom’s cranberry sauce which came with what she called “the best turkey I’ve ever eaten in my life,” a roast free-range bird with sausage stuffing, giblet gravy, root-vegetable mash, green beans, (pilfered) cranberry sauce, and mashed potatoes, it was a complex composition, and was so good it was off the charts, usually these notes are for “Sunday through Saturday only,” but I’ll also include my New Year’s Eve dinner here, as I made another visit to Corduroy and started off with my second bowl of the week of Power’s incredible Parsnip Soup with Tarragon ($7), a soup of amazing depth and complexity, and the perfect lead-in to my final dish of the year, a Cheeseburger and French Fries ($11), happily scarfed down with a double-decanted bottle of 1970 Ducru-Beaucaillou, how was your week.

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If you’ve never been to the National Museum of the American Indian, it’s worth visiting just to have lunch at Mitsitam Cafe, I recently claimed Zaytinya serves the highest quality food in the city given the massive numbers of plates it churns out, but I had forgotten about Mitsitam, which has both higher volume and better food, the rule of thumb here is that if it looks good, it is good, if you order fried chicken fingers and french fries you may as well go to McDonald’s, but from the Northern Woodlands region, a Persimmon Glazed Venison Saddle Stuffed With Wild Mushrooms, with two side orders of Apple Cider Glazed Acorn Squash and Sunchoke Potato Puree, were the equal to what you could get at, well, let’s just say a lot of upscale restaurants in this town would be downright humiliated if I made the comparisons, as you read this, Central Michel Richard is now open for business, I went to an “unofficial” opening there last week, so I won't say anything at all about the food get the shrimp porcupines, but I will say that it’s a large, handsome dining room that will be serving many of the favorites currently served in the upstairs lounge at Citronelle get the corned beef and cabbage, and that the wine list is well-chosen and fairly priced by the bottle get the 2005 Diochon Moulin-a-Vent, as for the desserts, call me a heretic, but I’ve never been a fan of Michel Richard’s desserts get the chocolate hazelnut bar, as I’ve always found most of them visually beautiful, but ultimately boring and even laborious to eat, given that Central Michel Richard is flanked by Fogo de Chao and the always-crowded Ten Penh, it should do quite well in this space, and maybe next time I’ll be able to talk about the food itself, even I get tired of hearing myself rave about the food at Palena, but it’s more important to chronicle every move Frank Ruta makes than it is to run around town looking for pennies in every landfill, so you’ll just have to bear with me, one thing many people don’t realize is that even if you sit in the front Café at Palena, you can still order from the main dining room menu, and that the first two pages of items are generally priced $14 or less, making them no more expensive than the café menu (check with your server to be sure), this week’s Charcuterie had three selections: a terrine of foie gras and partridge, housemade sopressata, and pate campagne, served with the best polenta I’ve ever eaten and a little baby bok choy, Fresh French Sardines were served two ways, on a flaky pastry tart, and in a Roman style sweet and sour marinade, if this dish is on the menu when you go, get it because it’s incredibly good, Braised Beef Shortribs with “Sauerbraten,” glazed root vegetables, quince, and chestnuts made a mockery out of a “72-hour slow-cooked shortrib” dish I had earlier in the week, which was prepared using the sous vide technique, I once heard a famous area chef comparing sous vide cooking to “Stouffer’s boil in bag,” and while I wouldn’t go that far, there’s no question that it takes comparatively little talent to execute something sous vide, it may be “safe” to do things this way, especially when you have inexperienced line cooks working for you, and the results are not only foolproof but also reliably tasty, but when you have shortribs braised the way Ruta’s kitchen braises them, executed by someone who has cooking technique rather than someone who simply knows how to drop a plastic bag in warm water, it’s the difference between hearing a live, slightly flawed performance of a violinist in a concert hall and a digitally remastered recording of the same violinist on CD, there’s no question as to which of the two sounds more “perfect,” and there’s also no question as to which of the two is better, Peking Cheers recently hired the chef from Joe’s Noodle House, and is now serving up very good Szechuan cuisine, you’ll need to ask for the Chinese menu, but fortunately it has English translations for all the dishes (this was apparently not the case two weeks ago), first and foremost, get something to cool the fire such as Spicy Sweet and Sour Cabbage ($2.50), don’t let the “spicy” adjective scare you here, it’s a cold dish and is much needed, Spicy and Sour Fish Filet ($10.95), Steamed Pork Belly with Preserved Vegetables ($9.95), and Bean Curd Szechuan with Pork ($7.95) all make for a good, spicy combination of flavors that fit in well with the delicious but mild Hot and Sour Shredded Potato, this is solid Szechuan cooking worth seeking out, and I wonder how much Joe’s Noodle House is suffering from the loss of this talented cook, the food at Dogfish Head Brew Pub in Rehoboth Beach is inedibly bad, so don’t get your hopes up for the Gaithersburg branch to be any better, nevertheless, on Monday nights they have half-price burgers and three-dollar pints, so you can get a bacon cheeseburger and a pint of very good 60 minute IPA for only seven dollars, my first meal under new chef Barry Koslow at Mendocino Grille was so good that I was actually worried about what would happen to his old restaurant Circle Bistro, but this week when I stopped in a second time, nearly everything that arrived from the kitchen was off, enough so that it didn’t make any sense to me (although admittedly out of four people, I was in a minority of one), I walked out of the dinner perplexed, perplexed enough so that I made a return visit two nights later “in the name of science,” thinking that if I reordered a few of the dishes, things would be as they should, and yet it was not to be, a Big Eye Tuna Carpaccio with cucumber seaweed salad, sesame, and yuzu vinaigrette ($13) was seven disks of very ordinary, tasteless tuna, slathered with sesame oil, and redeemed only somewhat by the seaweed salad, Sauteed Prawns with soft leeks, blood orange, cashews, and tarragon emulsion ($12) was an odd dish consisting of three head-on, terribly salty prawns sitting on a bed of very good leeks, but inexplicably accompanied by a couple of cashews just thrown onto the plate, likewise a couple wedges of blood orange, the dish was ill-conceived and poorly executed, Crispy Skin Black Sea Bass with cockles, chorizo, fennel, onion, and saffron shellfish broth ($29) was slightly better this time around, but incorrectly cooked as the fish itself was dried out, not even saved by its broth, when the talented Troy Bock isn’t at Mendocino to pair wines, the drinking situation is hopeless, as their pedestrian selection of American alcoholic monsters is largely a minefield, so the meal wasn’t even saved by the wines, the menu, the actual menu itself, is ridiculous in the way it’s organized, with the overrated cheese course, often served too cold, taking up the entire bottom-half of the page, as much room as the appetizers, salads, and entrees combined, I walked out confused, without answers, with a lot less money, and wondering to myself what the owners can possibly be thinking opening a third restaurant when they need to be spending their time and money shoring up operations at their first two, I’ve been tracking Koslow’s career for long enough now to know that he’s a great cook and knows how to run a kitchen, so whatever problems are here can not all rest on his shoulders, something is amiss at Mendocino Grille right now, and I don’t know what it is, if you’ve ever wondered what became of Ann Amernick’s defunct bakery in Cleveland Park, it’s now FreshMed, a Middle-Eastern carryout designed to handle large volumes of walk-in customers, and serving hommos and housemade pies from a display case, as well as standards such as shawarma, kababs, and gyros from a large grill, I tried a Spinach Pie and a Meat Pie (both $1.10) which were made from homemade dough and were really not all that bad, that is, until they stuck them into the microwave, a five minute walk from the main entrance to the zoo, this is a far, distant cry from the glories of the old Amernick bakery, but still beats a soggy hotdog from one of the zoo’s restaurants, although if you’re going to walk up to here for a quick carryout meal, there’s no reason not to walk ten feet further and go to Vace, Kasha’s Kitchen is a lunch counter serving natural, organic, healthy foods in a little Falls Church strip mall, it’s a family owned business and is worthy of your support, the food is always interesting and honest, even if it’s not always perfect, an entire pint of Carrot Lemon Curry Soup ($4.99) is almost surely vegan, and goes well with a Tofu Delight sandwich ($5.99, and also vegan), but there are other interesting items here such as a Baked Atlantic Salmon sandwich, various lunch specials such as lasagna, and delicious organic cookies baked fresh every day, given that this tiny operation is competing with zpizza, Roebeck’s, and Quizno’s in the same strip mall, it should be considered the culinary equivalent of an endangered species, not unlike the cheetah or the Bengal tiger, please give this important oasis of humanity your support the next time you have lunch on Leesburg Pike, you’ll be helping to support a small, family-owned operation, and I promise you that you’ll enjoy it, and speaking of small, family-owned operations, Del Merei Grille is the consummate neighborhood restaurant, often greeting its customers by name, offering up friendly service, an inexpensive children’s menu, big plates of well-made comfort food, and inevitably, doggy bags for lunch the next day, you can’t go wrong here with grilled items such as the Kansas City Cut Strip ($25) with Bearnaise sauce, and sides of smashed potatoes with bacon and sour cream, and grilled asparagus, but whatever you do, make sure to order the BCA Dip ($9) as an appetizer, an addictive dip of bacon, crab, and artichoke, served piping hot with slices of toasted baguette, Azucar is a Salvadoran-Mexican restaurant in Aspen Hill, and is well worth knowing about if you’ve never tried it, the chips and salsa are both very good, the chips made in-house and the salsa mild, almost fruity although nothing like the excessively fruity version you endure at Taqueria Poblano, a very good Ceviche de Pescado ($7.95) is made with flounder, and is a huge portion of fish, easily enough for two people, Gallina India ($9.95) is a country chicken soup, also enough for two people, served in a big bowl with half a boiled chicken, a good stocky broth, yuca, carrots, and even a wedge of corn thrown in, skip the ordinary black beans and dump your white rice into the soup (nobody will tell on you), Trucha Frita a la Salvadorena ($13.95) is a pan-fried whole trout covered with large cuts of fried onion, red and green pepper, another well-executed dish, Azucar is a very good Salvadoran restaurant, and I wish there wasn’t the financial necessity to call itself “Salvadoran-Mexican” and offer the standard Tex-Mex glop along with the good stuff, this is not unlike a Korean restaurant calling itself “Korean-Japanese” and serving bad sushi along with it’s Kimchi Jige, while I have nothing bad to say about Azucar, I should point out that Zagat’s gives it 26 points for food, putting it at precisely the same level as CityZen and Palena, and one point ahead of Corduroy, it’s time someone told the truth about the Washington, DC Zagat’s guide: While I can’t say that it’s the most ignorant, stupid, uninformed, amateurish, know-nothing piece of trash I’ve ever seen in my entire life, that’s only because I’ve yet to live my entire life, how was your week?

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I’ve had very good roast chicken at Leopold Kafe + Konditorei, but the last two times I’ve tried it, it has been nothing special at all, on the menu as Brathendl ($17), it’s served with escarolle and what they call a “mustard chicken jus,” which is nothing more than a little coarse-grained mustard mixed in with whatever chicken drippings are on the plate, the dish was soggy and boring, Tyrolian Wine Soup ($8) was a puree of potatoes and artichokes with butter croutons and pumpkinseed oil, and it too was flavorless and dull, Leopold’s Goulasch ($19) is dried out cubes of beef stewed in a paprika-tomato sauce, with onions and cornichons, it’s inoffensive but not worth seeking out, the cooking at Leopold’s is nothing special, but the service is much improved over what it was a year ago, and the selection of beers (Weihenstefan, Stiegl, Kapsreiter Landbier) and wines (Brundlmayer, Tegernseerhof, Salomon) are very good and reasonably priced, the vibe here is cold and depressing at night, and Leopold’s is best enjoyed in full sunlight, perhaps for breakfast or lunch, with throngs of pedestrians passing by the glass windows, Jack’s Restaurant and Bar has recently opened in the ill-fated space most recently occupied by Le Pigalle and before that Pepper’s, although the interior is vastly improved over what was at Le Pigalle, an early visit revealed significant problems with the menu, which reads like it was designed by a recent CIA graduate with a grammar problem (Onion soup: “Melted gruyere keeps it in its bowl ... bubbling and brown and ready for your soup spoon and appetite.”), the Tomato Bisque ($7) was very good, with a smokey depth to it, the Lump Crab And Spinach Dip with Pita Crisps ($7) was scorchingly hot, and tasty in a bar-snack sort of way, the Calamari with Remoulade seemed like it was bought frozen and perhaps even pre-breaded, and the disastrous Lamb Shank ($16) must have weighed five pounds, completely overcooked and dried out, sitting atop a bed of mushy risotto, at least 80% of it was left on the plate, on the way out I said to my two dining companions, “so, will you ever come back,” and without hesitation, they both shook their heads no, incidentally, “Jack’s” refers to “Jack Daniels,” and the restaurant is decorated with this motif throughout, MARCHONE’S has been in Wheaton since 1955, selling coldcuts, cheeses, and all the standard Italian brands such as de Cecco and Sun of Italy, although Marchone’s is perhaps best known for their 3- and 6-foot party subs, the small Italian Sausage Melt ($5.25) is quite good within its genre, served hot on a standard sub roll with onions, peppers, melted provolone, and tomato sauce, the two large cuts of sausage are excellent, and even the small sub is plenty enough for an ample lunch, for better or for worse, I’ve been to Artie’s many times over the years, out of all the Great American Restaurant group restaurants, it remains my favorite in terms of ambiance, having a nice bar and a remarkable amount of booths, the service is robotic but efficient, and the food is nowhere near as consistent as many people claim it is, for example, the donut holes in the bread basket are larger and drier than what they used to be, the short-smoked salmon filet has always been a very tasty piece of fish, and when you order a steak medium-rare at Artie’s, it actually comes out medium-rare, the loaded baked potato here ($3) has always had an odd, doughy smell, and I’ve never been able to pin it down, although perhaps it’s the salt rub they put on the skin, Artie’s does manage to put out safe, reasonably priced food that appeals to many people, it isn’t a dining destination, but rather a place to “go out to eat” when you don’t feel like cooking or doing the dishes, all of the Artie’s-brand beers, which are brewed at Sweetwater Tavern, are completely devoid of flavor, the bar at Marcel’s is among the nicest in town, with food that sometimes matches its polished ambiance and unfailingly great service, Smoked Scottish Salmon with hackleback caviar, potato blini, quail egg, and creme fraiche, was a terrific dish, one of the best smoked salmon dishes I’ve had in ages, but it was very tiny, and at $26, incredibly overpriced, Kobe Beef Tartare (yet another abuse of the word Kobe) with quail egg and grilled baguette ($18) was fabulous, generously portioned, and worth the money, it was the transition into cooked food where the problems began (although in fairness, Robert Wiedmaier was not in the restaurant), Creamy Polenta with poached egg, (it was an eggy evening) wild mushrooms, and shaved parmesan was heavy and reductive, and Ravioli of Duck Confit with green peppercorn sauce ($16) had terrific pasta, but the terribly fatty confit was cold, and the peppercorn sauce was herbaceous and dull, Marcel’s is still a very good restaurant, and a warm, welcoming place to dine, but the food itself is a shadow of what it was several years ago, Melissa Ballinger has recently opened Mia’s Pizzas on Cordell Avenue, and it’s already a wildly popular destination in quality-starved Bethesda, the architecture reminds me of a hypothetical cross between 2 Amys and David Craig, and some aspects of the food hint at Pizzeria Paradiso, Ballinger having come from there, and having brought along two of their cooks, it seems to me like Mia’s correctly anticipated large volumes of people early on, so they took care of the architecture and got the crank-em-out system down first, now I’m hoping they’ll begin to backfill the quality of the food itself, Deviled Eggs ($3.95) were four hollowed egg whites, squirted with a pastry bag full of very good filling, an Arugula Salad with Tuna ($7.25) with white beans, shaved fennel and orange sounded good, but like all the other salads, was simply thrown into a bowl and mixed together, coming out overdressed and limp (the fennel was added on top), these salads would be better off being composed like the ones at 2 Amys, a Mia’s pizza (with Hamm) ($7.95 + $1.25) is topped with crushed tomato, fresh mozzarella, and extra virgin olive oil, and was perfectly decent if a bit bland, the Arrabbiata ($9.50), topped with cherry tomatoes, broccolini, hot pepper, garlic, extra virgin olive oil, and an added topping of sausage ($1.25) just didn’t work, the toppings coming across as flaccid, what gives me hope about Mia’s is Mia herself: Ballinger is a magnetic, nurturing presence in the dining room, and is taking obvious pride in the handsome little restaurant she has opened, there is simply no doubting her intent to do well by her customers, and I’m hopeful that in time, Mia’s Pizzas will become one of the premier pizza destinations in town, how was your week.

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I’m a big fan of Hans Hess and his hideaway burger joint Elevation Burger, which is why I was so disappointed with my three-level Vertigo Burger ($6.91), essentially a Big Phat Burger with an extra patty, the default toppings are Elevation Sauce (psst ... it’s just thousand-island dressing), lettuce, cheese, pickle, only tomato instead of onion distinguishes the toppings from those in the original Big Mac, the patties came out cooked well-done and gray, and I was kicking myself for not asking to have them cooked medium-rare, however after the meal, when I asked if this was possible, I was told, to my horror, that it is not, please say it ain’t so Hans, the fries here are done in olive oil and were good, although not as hot or crispy as they’ve been in the past, a single serving for $2.29 is plenty for two people to share, I suspect at some point Elevation Burger will expand or franchise, and I see no reason why it shouldn’t, but I do hope that rigid quality controls will be put into place long before that ever happens, Hong Kong Palace has recently changed ownership, and its kitchen is now staffed with a pair of Chengdu-trained Szechuan chefs, serving up some of the best Szechuan cooking in the area, ordering over the phone is difficult here, as the person who answers may not understand much English, and the menu you can find on the internet isn’t necessarily accurate, Ma La Pork is fiery, but tamed by the Chengdu Spicy Cold Noodle ($4.95) and Green Onion Pancake ($2.95), the Salt and Pepper Bullfrog goes beautifully with the Fried Chinese Watercress with Garlic ($8.50), but beware, you’ll be in training for the oral olympics as you wiggle your tongue around trying to separate the frog bones from the meat, Monday nights at Hank’s Oyster Bar are better than ever, and the reason can be summed up in two words, Karen Hayes, Hayes used to be sous-chef at Melrose, and before that Marcel’s, and she is more than capable of running Hank’s tiny kitchen, so you can pretty much be assured that between her and Jamie Leeds, you’ll have your bases covered here seven nights a week, a special of New England Clam Chowder ($8) was very good with a mild broth that benefitted from oyster crackers, a Meat And Two nightly special of Braised shortribs, mac and cheese, and sesame snap peas ($17) was a great deal at the price, comforting and satisfying deep down at the cellular level, mahi-mahi is a very difficult fish to execute, the inside easily becoming dry and grainy, but Hayes put out a really good version ($18), pan-seared and served with a fennel-apple puree and an excellent side of French lentils ($4), the inside of the fish retaining all its glorious moisture with the flesh having a good sear, compare with the version I had three nights later at Lightfoot, which had the same flavor profile you’d find in an overcooked piece of tuna, Oysters Rockefeller, Lightfoot Style ($10) may have just been the single saltiest dish I’ve ever had at a restaurant, advertised as having “fresh spinach, cream, applewood smoked bacon, sambuca, and parmesan cheese, served with a cucumber orange ginger salad,” it sounded intriguing, but was so tongue-shrivelingly salty that the oysters themselves were undetectable except by sight, maybe a piece of country ham could be saltier than this dish, but not much else, I remember liking the Wild Mushroom Strudel ($9) a couple years back, and this version was quite good too, served with goat cheese and pieces of fresh sage in a sage-cream sauce with roasted walnuts, it was the highlight of an otherwise stolid meal, Lightfoot is a beautiful, expensive restaurant in Leesburg, housed inside an old, historic bank, and it’s not surprising that they have an adequate representation of Virginia wines on their list, an interesting comparison can be made between two Virginia Viogniers offered at Lightfoot, the 2005 Horton ($33) and the 2004 Chrysalis ($49), the Chrysalis a bigger, weightier wine with obvious new oak, and the Horton almost entirely fruit-driven, with the residual sugar making it at least a percent lower in alcohol, these are two of the most highly reputable wines made in Virginia, which, alas, shows just how far we have to go to catch up with our brethren in the Rhone Valley, the Fair Lakes Whole Foods opened last Wednesday, the first Whole Foods in the United States to be licensed as a restaurant, there are numerous food counters and stations, including one near the cheese display case that specializes in grilled sandwiches, a French Ham and Cheese ($6) was made with gruyere on thick challah, and was a very good sandwich, the rice station is distressingly run by Genji, the company who replaced Sushi-Ko as the Whole Foods sushi contractor, and who is responsible for turning their sushi from “pretty good” into “really bad,” nevertheless they serve reasonably priced sake by the glass, the pizza counter displays numerous pies, all visually appealing but that’s about as far as it goes, a slice of pepperoni and a slice of sausage with rapini ($4.99 each) had good toppings which is what you’d expect from Whole Foods, but the crust was tasteless, dense and dry despite being cooked in a massive wood-burning oven, sharing the other side of the oven, which is perhaps ten-feet deep, is a sit-down osteria/enoteca serving various pastas and interesting wines such as 2003 Produttori di Barbaresco ($11), before sitting down in the osteria with the sandwich, two slices of pizza and a glass of wine, I ran around to the various stations, pulling out my charge card on three separate occasions, and when I ordered a second glass of wine, I had to pull it out a fourth time, this setup is very much like Wegman’s, albeit with better food and decent, well-priced wines, if you’re shopping here, you could do a whole lot worse than staying an extra thirty minutes and having dinner, that having been said, I simply cannot see making this into any sort of destination unless I was in the immediate vicinity, aside from the food (which is perfectly fine), the total dining experience is about as much fun as, well, going grocery shopping, how was your week.

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I had last visited 100 King in July, and had been eagerly looking forward to a repeat visit, on an empty weeknight it took fully twenty minutes to get a glass of wine, “where’s the tapas menu,” I asked the server, not recognizing what was just handed to me, “oh, we changed a couple weeks ago, we have a French chef and he wanted to make the menu more French,” so now I’m sitting there staring down such French classics as “Cheeseburger,” “Mixed Grille,” “Greek Salad,” “Seafood Angel Hair Pasta,” "Grilled Salmon," "Pork Chop," and “Crab Rigatoni,” a Lobster Chowder ($6) tasted of fish stock but was lifeless and bland, Onion Soup Gratinee ($5) was exactly what you’d expect in a hotel, a salty broth covered with gooey cheese, the server touted the Tilapia Fiah and Chips ($13) as having fresh tilapia, but it didn’t, and the French fries were as bad as frozen French fries can be, “do you make the ravioli here,” I asked him, and he assured me they did, but then I said “are you sure” and he replied, “well, we buy it already made, but we cook it here," Sautéed Sea Scallops ($21) were fibrous and overcooked, served atop a bed of rice with a sherry sauce, I found out later that the restaurant had just changed ownership two weeks before, 100 King was a very good restaurant, one of the best and most interesting in Alexandria, but now it’s done, finished, kaput, if you miss your grandma’s cooking in Manila, head directly to the tiny lunch counter in the rear of MANILA ORIENTAL, a Philippine grocery store right next to Toys-R-Us off Route 7, a dingy little place stocked with interesting foodstuffs and bustling with Filipinos, the lunch counter takes short-orders beginning at noon, and also features long-cooked steam-table items you just won’t find anywhere else, Paksiw na Bangus is an acidic stew made with milkfish (Bangus), literally the national fish of the Philippines, served with plain white rice, it makes for an interesting, healthy lunch at only $4.75, rotisserie chicken is a personal thing, everyone has their own favorite, and mine has consistently been the Lee Heights Shopping Center branch of CRISP & JUICY, if you’re getting carryout, a whole chicken is a good way to go here ($10.19), always with yucca ($2.49) not french fries, and with both the pink and yellow sauces, preferably a couple extra tublets of each, the total fat content in this little dunkfest is unspeakable, but it’s worth the extra thirty minutes on the Stairmaster, although I’m afraid to say even that’s not enough to compensate, it’s becoming tough to get a seat for the half-price tapas happy hour (3-7 PM weekdays) at Taberna del Alabardero, but even if you pay full-price at 8 PM it’s still worth it, Salpicón de Marisco ($9.75) is a cold, refreshing salad of marinated octopus, scallops, mussels, shrimp, green peppers and onions, the Gambas al Ajillo was disappointing this time around, tasteless and bland, with the flavor seemingly boiled away from the shrimp, if you like squid ink, get the Chipirones en su Tinta, squid stuffed with ground squid, in a dangerously dark, intensely inky sauce, all served over a garlic parsley rice, the comfort dish of the night was a Chistorra Chorizo served with organic fried eggs and fried potatoes ($11), it was breakfast on a plate, Taberna del Alabardero style, and one of the most primitively satisfying plates of food in town, Callos a la Madrileña ($10.50) is a traditional, long-cooked veal-tripe stew, a showcase to the unsung virtues of tripe, and perfect with a rich glass of Oloroso, Iron Bridge Wine Company is a diamond on the rough culinary road of Route 108, an incredible bustle of people, I had to drive around for fifteen minutes to find a parking space in their large lot, the wines here are all priced $10 above retail (they used to be $5 above retail), and the diner can take opened or unopened bottles home after dinner, the wines themselves are decent, not great, served in nice stemware, and are indicative of a well-meaning program run by someone who simply needs more experience, the food can be quite good, even though it tends to be a bit busy, overly sauced, and too sweet, Jumbo Scallops ($12) with parsnips, baby spinach and an orange maple vinaigrette were three large scallops, fresh but overcooked, the sliced parsnips coming across very much as potatoes, you’ll love the Venison Chili with smoked cheddar cornbread ($9), a hearty, beanless, Cincinnati-style chili chock full of pulled venison, I’d get this again in a heartbeat, Washingtonians may scoff at this place, having many better options to choose from, but everything is relative, and this is pretty much as good as it gets in Columbia, everything about AMSTERDAM FALAFELSHOP is good, except for the bland falafel, the frozen french fries, and the industrial pita bread, which is sourced from the Alexandria bakery, King of Pita, nevertheless, these items are mere conduits for the real reason to come here which is the fixins bar, a remarkable array of sauces, vegetables, and various other accompaniments that singlehandedly make Amsterdam Falafaelshop a worthwhile stop, and also the best late-night carryout in Adams Morgan, New Yorkers may scoff at this place, having many better options to choose from, but everything is relative, and this is pretty much as good as it gets in Washington, DC, I had yet another in a fine string of meals at Equinox, the January 22nd menu looks and reads beautifully, and a four-course tasting ($70) confirmed that Equinox is back on top of its game, different chefs have different strengths, and at Equinox it pays to “go heavy early,” the Citrus Salmon Gravlax with winter citrus, shaved fennel, frisée salad, and lemon-thyme brioche was good, but lacked a certain sparkle, it was the lightest of the first courses, and next time I’ll go with the foie gras or chestnut soup, Wild Mushroom Pierogies with Black Truffle Sauce came on a “traditional fonduta,” with caramelized onion, crispy sage, and shaved black Perigord truffle ($15 supplement on the tasting menu), this was a fabulous dish that reminds me that I’ve never had a bad pasta at Equinox, Bacon Wrapped Monkfish with Maine Lobster was another triumph, served atop baby bok choy, rissole potatoes and shellfish cream, it was reminiscent of Komi’s speck-wrapped white tuna, except this was a superior dish, more complex and intricate, Herb Roasted Rib Rack of Cervena Venison “Pissaladière” was served alongside smoked venison sausage, a caramelized onion pissaladière with some red-wine Picholine olive jus as an echo on the plate, it was a bone-suckingly good dish, if this meal sounds great, that’s because it was, so many chefs in town are effective on a small-scale, exercising their full strength on tiny dishes with great intricacy and detail, but at Equinox you’ll find just the opposite, just as the great Persian miniaturist Bihzad must be considered among the finest artists in all of human history, so must the great landscape painter J.M.W. Turner, whose brilliance came forth most while working on a full scale, here in downtown Washington, if you’re looking for carpaccio or sashimi, there are many good restaurants to choose from, but when there’s an entrée on the line, Todd Gray is the person you want painting the canvas, how was your week.

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It’s difficult to get a seat at Kotobuki these days, but that shouldn’t stop you from getting carryout, for whatever reason Kotobuki tends to excel at light-colored seafood, as the scallops, white tuna, and flounder consistently outshine their salmon and tuna, sixteen-pieces of sushi ($1 each) plus two rolls ($2.30 each) cost me less than $25 including tip, Kotobuki remains the most remarkable sushi value in all of Washington DC, and even disregarding price, the scallops, flounder, and eel are the best I’ve had in this city, it’s important to judge Central Michel Richard not as a “Michel Richard” restaurant, but as a downtown bistro, and if you do you’ll be quite pleased, Central is still working on curing their meats for the charcuterie plate ($18), but even the ones they’re offering now are quite good, the 72-hour sous-vide short ribs ($25) is a real crowd pleaser, served with a little salad and a decadent pool of buttery mashed potatoes, sides of macaroni and cheese ($4) and creamed spinach ($4) work well with this, both made with gruyere and both worth ordering, the Kit-Kat bar ($8) keeps changing on me, this time it was particularly large, too mousseux, and I didn’t like it, I remain in a distinct minority not caring for the desserts either here or at Citronelle lounge, theoretically impressive though they may be, for now, Central is the best dining option around Federal Triangle Metro, and only time will tell if it will evolve into a great restaurant, there is only one reason to eat at Famous Luigi’s, and that’s for pizza, open since 1943, most of what you’ll get here is standard red-and-white-checked tablecloth fare, boxed pastas, frozen vegetables, bad wine, and pleasant if mediocre food in general, but the pizzas here are worth ordering, a four-topping, three-person combo with sausage, pepperoni, meatballs, and onions and red peppers on half ($24) was cut into six large pieces, and is the type of pizza that everybody likes even if nobody raves about, the crust is very dry and dense at the edges, and Luigi’s is one of the few pizzas that actually benefits from microwave treatment the following day, the crust becoming moister and breadier after being zapped, at one point my nine-year-old dining companion enthusiastically looked up and said, “this is so much better than Pizza Hut!”, and I thought to myself, succinct, accurate, non-confrontational, I’ll use it, you can tell a lot about a steakhouse from a simple baked potato, and at Smith and Wollensky, mine came out mushy and browning around the skin, a sure sign that it had been overcooked and probably sitting around, when my server came over I asked him if I could get a potato that had just come out of the oven, he went to check, and when he returned he said that the kitchen cooked them all in one batch, and that they’d all be the same, this was at around 8 PM so feel free to induce when they were cooked, the jumbo asparagus were tough, tasteless, and also browning, which means they had been pared long before being served and were sitting around, the steaks here are advertised as being “USDA prime, dry-aged, and butchered in house,” perhaps so, but I could not taste any dry aging in the Bone-in Ribeye ($43), a large steak so ridden with gristle that it was a chore to eat, nobody likes fatty meat more than I do, but just because something is fatty doesn’t make it good, throw in their laughable, overpriced wine list chalk full of big, brawny, industrial California reds, and you quickly realize you’re sitting in the middle of a $100+ joke, and unfortunately, the joke is being played on you, the crew at CityZen recently returned from Japan, and brought back with them a small amount of Miyagi beef, which they preferred over several others they tried, including some from Kobe, it’s all gone now, but I got a chance to try an order, and it was a life-changing experience, not only the best beef I’ve ever tasted, but perhaps the single greatest individual food item I’ve ever eaten, uncooked, it had the appearance of a piece of fatty tuna, a pale pink streaked with innumerable little white veins of fat, evenly distributed and running throughout, simply grilled with just a touch of lemon zest and sea salt, I almost didn’t want to try it, but then I was given the smallest steak knife I’ve ever seen, no larger than a pencil, and with a blade as sharp as a razor, cutting against the grain (always), I was able to easily shave off slices as thin as carpaccio, so thin they were nearly translucent, the flavor was incredibly intense, nutty, and beefy, and the steak is so rich that a tiny, tiny portion is more than enough, this steak weighed 75 grams, about 2.6 ounces, and was the perfect size, and to answer your question, yes, steak of this quality is frightfully expensive, a $25 supplement to the tasting menu which probably makes it a $50-60 course, is it worth it, if you ever get the chance to have a steak of this quality, beg, borrow, steal, do whatever you need to do, but you’ve got to experience this one time in your life, one thing you must always remember is the absolute importance of grading, Japanese steaks are graded on a scale with Grade 12 being the highest, this particular piece of beef was a Grade 10 which is quite high, a lot of Kobe beef, and I’m talking about real, Japanese Kobe beef and not American Wagyu, is sold here at much lower grades, as low as Grade 5, the difference in both price and quality is enormous, Grade 5 may wholesale for $20-30 a pound, Grade 10 for $65, Grade 12 for $100 and up, if you ever order Kobe beef in this country, don’t assume for a minute that all Kobe is alike, insist on knowing the Grade before putting down your hard-earned dollars, because low-grade Kobe is not as special as you might think, Pho lovers will be crestfallen to hear that the new PHO 88 that just opened in Falls Church is entirely unrelated to the Pho 88 in Beltsville, the broth here tastes as if it’s made from a starter mix, without much flavor other than sodium, the plate of sprouts is skimpy, with only a few leaves of basil, and this may just be the first Pho house I’ve come across without any fish sauce on the tables, a large Number 1 ($6.95) is “the one with everything in it,” but even the fatty cuts of meat weren’t enough to overcome this very neutral tasting and uninteresting bowl of soup, Pho addicts should be looking elsewhere for their fix, for Cantonese seafood, there isn’t much better in this area than Fortune, the first thing you’ll notice when you walk in are the always-clean fish tanks, filled with lobsters, crabs, geoducks, and whatever else they may happen to have that day, contrast this with the oft-murky tanks of tilapia and eel across the street at Mark’s Duck House, the seafood at Fortune can also be very expensive, a simply sautéed Sea Cucumber with Seasonal Greens ($30), in this case baby bok choy, was a smart way to prepare this most underrated of sea creatures, with the sauce served on the side, the grape-sized wedges of sea cucumber could be enjoyed unadorned, or, as they’re so inclined to do, soak up the sauce and take on the flavor of whatever they’re served with, the “special tomato sauce” used for the Filet Steak, Cantonese Style ($14.50) is hauntingly similar to ketchup, making this the perfect dish for a fussy child or unadventurous relatives, the fruit doesn’t fall far from the tree, and Jonathan Krinn’s Salsify Truffle Soup at 2941 is a strong nod to one of his mentors, Gerard Pangaud, our table got into a heated debate over whether the base was chicken stock or vegetable stock, and of course the one chef at our table was the one that correctly guessed it, completely vegan except for a dollop of cream, one of the best soups in town, and a glorious way to highlight the fresh truffles, a full-blown, multi-course tasting menu here reaffirmed that when 2941 is firing on all cylinders, it’s as good as any restaurant in town, Jonathan Krinn may be the star, but he has quite a talented supporting cast, Jon Mathieson is one of only a few chefs-de-cuisine in town who could open their own restaurant and instantly be considered among the elite, remember his name because you’ll be hearing about him in the future, Kathy Morgan is right up there with the best sommeliers in town, a major talent both in terms of academic knowledge and tasting ability, Morgan presides over a top-5 wine program in Washington DC, the unheralded Rachid LaKroune needs to be recognized as one of the most polished, professional Maitre D’s in the business, Jonathan Krinn’s father, Mal Krinn, bakes the bread here which is leaps-and-bounds better than anything else offered in the Washington area, add this all up and you’ve arrived at an incredible total dining experience (priced accordingly, by the way), throw in the dramatic architecture of 2941 and you’ve got yourself a restaurant unlike any other in the country, how was your week.

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The often-futile search for good, honest pub food ends at Temperance Hall, where they use actual tuna in their Tuna Melt ($8.50), house-cured and poached, tossed with fine-herb and lemon mayo, topped with real cheddar, and served on semolina bread baked by Lyon Bakery, the Garlic Fries ($1.50 extra) are worth the upcharge, basically standard frozen fries tossed with (lots of) garlic and parsley, the combination going extremely well with one of Temperance Hall’s superb Rye whiskeys, a glass of Black Maple Hill Single Barrel 18-year-old is a worthwhile splurge, expensive at $16, it’s best to consider it an investment in your general education and well-being, make sure not to leave without ordering the Four-Meat Chili ($6.50), a hearty bowl of ground beef, Italian sausage, smoked pork, and diced chuck served with sour cream, cheddar, and red onions, there’s a lot to like about Famoso, the staff is polished, polite, and welcoming, and the dining room is comfortable and very attractive, a house-dried Bresaola ($17) sits atop a half-volleyball-sized mountain of mixed greens that look like they tonged them out of the bin at Whole Foods, the Bresaola itself is very good, about five or six thinly shaved slices, but what they enticingly describe as a “cheese terrine made with caramelized figs, walnuts, mascarpone, and gorgonzola cheese” is a matchbox-sized throwaway, refrigerator-cold, bland, and not even worth eating, in essence you’re paying seventeen bucks for a few slices of Bresaola, “2001 Winner of the ‘Golden Spoon’ – best risotto in Canada!” is how they describe their version with pheasant ragout and black-truffle paste ($30), the presentation is impressive, a cart is wheeled out containing the just-cooked pot of Baldo rice mixed with the pheasant ragout and (presumably) black-truffle paste, in this case slightly overcooked, but there’s an entire hollowed-out wheel of Parmigiano-Reggiano on the cart (and I’m talking at least a 50-pound cut), in which they pour a clear liqueur, and then light it on fire, as the foot-high flame dies down, they dump in the risotto and cream it with a couple of spoons right before your eyes, the top layer of Parmigiano blending into the risotto, having melted from the heat, then they spoon it into your bowl, shave some really bad, frozen, dried-out Umbrian black truffle on top, deliver your bowl with a smile, and wheel away the cart, this is not the best risotto I’ve ever had by any means, but it’s not bad either, and if you consider it an expensive version of IMAX, then it’s worth the price, the wines are mediocre and expensive, but to the bartender’s credit (and yes, they wheeled that cart out to the bar), he gave me a large top-off when I finished my glass but hadn’t yet finished my entrée, which I think is pretty indicative of the level of customer service here, he also told me that on busy evenings, they often cream the risotto in the kitchen, so make sure to ask before ordering it if you want the full production, it was a fortunate miscommunication that saved the meal at Sakana, I had ordered an appetizer sashimi ($6.50) followed by kama (broiled yellowtail jaw, $7.50) and then unatama don (eel and egg over rice, $10.75), the sashimi arrived and was just awful, two pieces each of fake crab stick, very old-looking giant clam, barely passable red snapper, and tuna with so much red dye pumped into it that it was dark purple, I ate the snapper and giant clam, then asked my server if I could just have the kama, and cancel the unatama don, she misunderstood me and thought I was asking for the kama right away, so rather than resubmit the request, I simply braced myself for two more courses of anguish, but it turns out I’m glad I did, because the kama is worth getting, traditionally a throwaway cut, the jaw meat is something you need to work for, but fatty, interesting, and brought to life by a brush of sweet sauce, the unatama don was even better, a little bubbling bowl of rice, sauteed onions, and eel-and-egg omelette, this meal was a reminder that “neighborhood” Japanese restaurants like Sakana often don’t procure the best sashimi, and sashimi really needs to be in the “super-fresh or not-at-all” category, but that doesn’t mean they can’t broil or grill up a decent plate of hot food, next visit to Sakana, my strategy will be to go with cooked items from start to finish, it was triple witching hour at Firefly, with this interminable cold snap, a sneak-away Friday afternoon, and a glass of Bourbon coming into convergence over a Slow Cooked Pork Cheek Taco ($9) made with braised cheeks, chopped, seasoned with chipotle, cilantro and goat cheese, rolled into a flour tortilla, and served with a sauce of charred tomatoes, Mexican oregano, cumin, onions, garlic, lime, super-reduced fond de porc (as a seasoning, not a liquid), and pico de gallo, John Wabeck should register these tacos with the FDA and have them dispensed as prescriptions for whatever ails you, Montsouris is a restaurant that needs to be enjoyed for what it is, namely a bustling bistro without any ambition of grandeur, the restaurant is vastly more attractive than its predecessor, the old Johnny’s Half Shell, the wines are very good and fairly priced, and I’m delighted to report that the reds are now being served at the proper temperature (not many restaurants are willing to make this improvement), if you can live with industrial baguettes, frozen French fries, medium-quality meats, and pre-made desserts, the cooking here can be good enough for you walk away from your meal happy to return, MARKET SALAMANDER is a combination gourmet food store, lunch spot, and catering operation, and a recent visit left me with the strong impression that the emphasis is put on the catering, standing right on Route 50 in Middleburg, Market Salamander has announced plans to expand to Palm Beach, Florida, and apparently intends to open a downtown branch right next door to Equinox, if the downtown branch opens, I’m optimistic the prepared foods will be better than what they are now, mainly due to higher turnover, as it currently stands, Market Salamander is worth remembering for a sandwich if you’re driving through Middleburg, but is not worth a trip from Washington (unless you want to take a Sunday drive through bucolic Chantilly), there is absolutely room for another on-the-go upscale-sandwich spot in the city, but while you’re waiting, you’ll do just fine at Breadline or Dean & DeLuca, The Reef advertises its commitment to free-range, organic, sustainable foods, and while I have no first-hand knowledge of the degree of their commitment, it’s clear from their menu that they’re at least paying attention, and they deserve to be applauded for doing so, Hemp-Seed Hummus ($6.95) is pretty standard stuff, except that they finish it with hemp-seed oil, which is a dead ringer for a thick, nutty Spanish olive oil, served with well-toasted pita wedges, celery, and carrot sticks, it’s worth trying only as an introduction to hemp oil, Fish and Chips ($10.95) are three Allagash-battered filets of Pacific (not over-fished Atlantic) cod, served with fried potato wedges that were clearly house-sliced, the batter was really too thick, but that’s an acceptable casualty of The Reef not having purchased them pre-battered from the wholesaler, knock ‘em down with a couple Bollekes of DeKoninck ($6, $1-2 off before 7:30 PM), and you’ve got yourself a decent, if not memorable, round of pub grub, I’ve been to Sonoma Restaurant and Wine Bar many times in the past, but the food on my most recent visit was better than ever, Linguine Carbonara ($12) is served with housemade bacon, grana padano, chanterelles (omitted upon request), and most importantly, that trendiest of trends, the ever-satisfying organic egg, served raw on top and cooked as you mix it in with the rest of the dish, this was a terrific bowl of pasta, but then again I’m a sucker for breakfast food, and this was essentially bacon, egg, cheese, and toast in a bowl, a Whole-Roasted Striped Bass ($21) was perfectly cooked and presented, fixed with lemons (some of them stuffed inside the fish), oregano, and McEvoy Ranch olive oil (which is an organic oil from California), sides of Roasted Rosemary New Potatoes ($4) and a compelling Grilled Rapini ($6) with lemon and chili went nicely with the Bass, our server (Mark H) was friendly and professional, and a couple glasses of 2005 Terlan “Terlaner” ($8), a blend of Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, and Pinot Bianco from Aldo Aldige, rounded out a meal pretty much without any flaws, an excellent showing for Sonoma, how was your week.

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The Mahi-Mahi Ceviche ($12) at Zengo is more of a cold soup, served inside half a coconut with a large soup spoon, it’s a few chunks of Mahi-mahi, immersed in a chilled broth of coconut, served with a couple slices of roasted plantain, if you pick out the fish with a fork, it’s a good ceviche albeit terribly skimpy, if you consider it as a soup, however, it comes across as some sort of failed lab experiment, the Won Ton Tacos ($11) are much better mashed up with a knife and fork and enjoyed as a very good, refreshing take on a taco salad, five little fried shells, each containing some pretty decent chunks of grilled ahi tuna, sushi rice, a bit of pickled ginger, and mango salsa, all affixed to the plate by being stuck into a little blob of guacamole, if you pick them up and eat them as tacos you miss out on the guacamole, so go ahead and mix it all up and dig in, and whatever you do, avoid the Seared Foie Gras ($17), which is perhaps the skimpiest portion of foie gras I’ve ever encountered at a restaurant, two pieces, one about the size of a nickel, the other about the size of a quarter, both overcooked, and looking microscopic sitting atop a little piece of pan de elote, with some diced apple and habanero-hibiscus sauce drizzled about, even if this dish were priced ten dollars less, it would be too expensive, but even this seems like a bargain compared to the biggest rip-off I've seen in awhile, the “Kobe beef” which their menu advertises at, hold onto your hats, TEN DOLLARS AN OUNCE, with a three-ounce minimum, although Zengo’s website notes that the “Kobe” comes from Oregon, their printed menu made no reference to the country of origin, it was only when I asked the server where the beef was from when she went back to the kitchen and confirmed it was American, as far as I know, Zengo isn’t violating any laws here, but at best, this is a no-holds-barred, take-your-money-and-smile marketing effort that will relieve you of $80 for ordering a mere eight-ounces of plain old American Wagyu, I repeat, this is NOT Kobe beef, shame on you, Zengo, I hadn’t been to LA COTE D’OR CAFE in a good ten years, it was formerly located in a charming room where its less-expensive sibling, Bistro des Celestins, now sits, but has been since moved into the newer addition off the back of the house, the cooking is pretty much as I remember from before, old-school French presented in formal, romantic surroundings, the execution ranges from mediocre to quite good, the only offerings this past week were from a modified Valentine’s Day menu, the bread is frozen, but at least freshly oven-warmed if stymied by ice-cold pats of butter, Onion Soup ($6.50) was pretty ordinary, but extremely satisfying on an icy-cold evening, even better was the Hot Goat Cheese Salade ($6.95) with warm goat cheese served atop toasted bread accompanying properly dressed greens, Rainbow Trout Stuffed With Crab ($29.50) surprised me because I wasn’t expecting much, but it was a pleasant, well-executed dish served in a champagne-cream sauce, Breast of Duck Benjamin ($28.50) was somewhat banquet-like, with wilted haricots verts and only medium-quality duck, but there was clearly some care taken in the preparation, for example, the tips were removed from the haricots verts, the carrots were attractively pared, and the potatoes were fried in good, fresh oil, the wines by the bottle here are much too expensive, and you’re far better off ordering by the glass, you’ll be pleased if you stick with the Laforet white and red Burgundys, Laforet being the brand name for Joseph Drouhin’s decent, drinkable, low-end Bourgognes blanc and rouge, La Cote D’Or Café is super expensive, and the food is merely good not great, but at least it delivers with a pleasant atmosphere, attentive service, and a romantic coziness not often found inside the beltway, Café Bonaparte in Georgetown has opened a sibling restaurant, Napoleon, in the old Mantis space at the corner of Columbia Road and Mintwood Place in Adams Morgan, the interior, garish that it may be, is much more comfortable than the sit-up-straight linear-techno metallica of Mantis, a pleasant surprise was the wines by the glass, which are pretty good and worth ordering, unfortunately, the food on my first visit was nothing special at all, an incredibly expensive Steak Frites ($21.95) was a few sad little strips of what the restaurant touts as Terras Major, with a pile of frites which would have been good had the oil been changed, a Blanquette de Veau wasn’t so much bad as it was blah, and the general mediocrity of the food was only mitigated by a very friendly and professional server, on the way out, I picked up a promotional postcard entitled “Meet The Bonapartes,” which shows the family in a hilariously formal picture accompanied by the caption “Some Dynasties Die Out … Others Open Restaurants,” I wish the Bonapartes well in their dynastic forays, but when I saw this I couldn’t help but think of Mr. Hatfield walking over the mountain and lobbing an M-80 at the McCoy’s house, Palena has finally found some competition for best hamburger in town, and it’s the Hamburger with Bacon and Cheese at Central Michel Richard ($17), maybe it’s just because I’ve enjoyed the great version at Palena so many times in my life, but the next time I get a hankering for a burger, I’m heading back to Central, a Chicken Pot Pie ($20) was an incredible dish, faux-baked with the crust placed on top hiding a beautifully chopped plate of vegetables and chicken strips which had some of the same flavors as the experimental fried chicken balls they were featuring at Citronelle Lounge last year, sides of Mashed Potatoes and Brussels Sprouts ($6 each) are a perfect accompaniment to the pot pie, this food doesn’t “read” like its much to get excited about, but it is, and Central is fast becoming one of my favorite places in town to dine, there is no question that the restaurant is pushing itself during these first few months in order to obtain favorable reviews from critics, but that’s the way the game is played and everyone in town does it, and based on this most recent meal, Central Michel Richard is a Michelin-one-star quality restaurant masquerading as a casual American Bistro, the latest work of art from Michel Richard Citronelle is the Opera Cake, which is a dead visual ringer for the classic French dessert, except that the body of the “cake” consists of numerous thin, alternating layers of a light-colored “meringue” of pureed celeriac, and a dark-colored mousse of foie gras, the “icing” is a layer of fresh, black Perigord truffle glazed with black-truffle gelee, on the side is a little pile of “sticks,” consisting of celeriac remoulade and black truffle, dressed with a small amount of black-truffle vinaigrette, there is absolutely no truffle oil to be found in this dish, which is completely savory, a breathtaking accomplishment by one of the world’s greatest conceptual chefs, one of the greatest dishes I’ve had in recent memory was a ground-breaking, revelatory Pan-Sauteed Calf Brain from Restaurant Eve, who took delivery of a whole “Randall Lineback” calf from Chapel Hill Farm in Berryville, this is an original colonial species that was on the verge of extinction until a few years ago, but is recovering in large part to the efforts of this farm, click here for more information, the calf was raised for five months on milk and three months on pasture, and was slaughtered seven days before at 800 pounds, the brain (about the size of a baseball, or slightly larger than mine) was lightly dusted with flour, pan-sautéed, and served with braised leeks, a leek velouté, and shaved black Perigord truffles, the freshness and upbringing of this calf made all the difference in the world, as this dish had the texture and consistency of a firm custard, it was without question the finest calf’s brain I have ever tasted, and showed once again that Cathal Armstrong has the ability to work magic with organ meats like nobody else in this area, a few weeks ago I mentioned that Amsterdam Falafelshop is “pretty much as good as it gets in Washington, DC,” and it turns out I was wrong, because I had never tried the Falafel ($5.75) at Max’s Kosher Cafe until this week, and it is a far, far superior version, the falafel itself is only lightly battered, and beautifully soft and flavorful on the inside, unlike the crunchy, flavorless rendition at Amsterdam, the pita itself is purchased, but is large, supple, and stuffed with an assortment of toppings from the very good fixins bar, because of the way it’s cut and stuffed, it’s as spill-proof and secure as a marsupial’s pouch, if you’re in search of good falafel, Max’s Kosher Café is worth going out of your way for, it's frightening how many times I’ve been to PX, and for all the wonderful Todd-Thrasher-designed cocktails I’ve enjoyed there, one thing has remained constant, I don’t think I’ve ever gone and not gotten a Sweet Basil ($11), an absolutely addicting drink made with 1 ½ ounces of simple syrup infused with Davon Crest Farms opal basil, 3 ounces of Lillet Blanc, a splash of Hendrick’s Gin, and a few drops of housemade orange water, all topped with a thunderous clap of fresh basil, I usually don’t chase after sweet cocktails, but boy oh boy I sure chase after this like a greyhound running after a rabbit, for a long time, I’ve been hesitant to write a glowing review of Dino, partially because the owner is so active on the website (and I’ve been careful about remaining neutral), but mostly because the restaurant used to suffer from inconsistency, however the last two visits have shown that Dino is no longer just a great place to drink wine, but has blossomed into an excellent restaurant as well, Croquettes di Bosina ($6) were robiola cheese, anchovy, and parsley rolled into panko and deep-fried, the runniness of the cheese preventing any dryness, and the saltiness of the anchovy cutting through all the fat, Polenta with “house-cured Pancetta” ($10) was a decadent little dish smothered in pomodoro and bursting with meat (the “Pancetta” is actually Niman Ranch pork belly), this was just what the doctor ordered on a cold, snowy evening, Fritti di Mare ($8) was a fried sardine with fried baby anchovies, served with a spicy tomato and anchovy sauce, Barbabietole ($11) is a fancy name for a beet and goat-cheese salad, but it was a very good version served with excellent oil (the oils at Dino are always first-rate), if you’re a vegan (and after this week, I’m thinking of becoming one), order the Timbale di Farro ($8), a cylinder of farro, served at room temperature, mixed with sliced veggies and artichoke, and finished with a lemon olio herb dressing which lends an acidic complexity to a grain which has a tendency to be dangerously monolithic, except for the Polenta dish, this entire meal was without red meat, and Dino is one restaurant that does more than pay lip service to vegetarians, if I wasn’t running around trying to keep up with every place in town, Dino would be in my regular rotation, how was your week.

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It was a three-hour, round-table, lazy-susan, multi-wine Sunday-afternoon lunchfest at Marks Duck House, with plate after plate of steamed dumplings followed by a whole roasted suckling pig, perfectly cooked with layers of crispy skin, a little fat in the middle, and tender, succulent meat underneath, finally picked clean after about two hours, right down to the maraschino cherries stuck into the eyes, I never eat like this during the day, but with this crew of hardcore pirates, there wasn’t much choice, dinner that evening was not even in the realm of possibility, if you have a large group eating like a pack of hyenas for several hours, it’s best to prearrange the menu which, fortunately, the organizer had the foresight to do, and he could not have picked a more appropriate or enjoyable venue than Mark’s Duck House, PIKE IV is a tiny Bolivian dive in a strip mall on Little River Turnpike in Annandale, where hungry workers, families, dates, and businessmen come to relax, have a beer, and gorge on enormous platters of food while watching Spanish-language television, there are many things on this menu worth exploring, but you have to explore one item at a time because the portions are so large, Picante Mixto ($11.95) is a mountain of beef tongue and chicken served with rice, potatoes, a spiced Bolivian sauce, and most unusually, black chuños, tiny freeze-dried potatoes which are a specialty of high Andean regions, while I was happily scarfing down this meal, I was thinking to myself how successful some of these multi-million-dollar, themed-amusement-park restaurants downtown could be if they only served food with this much authenticity and guts, not just financially successful, but also critically successful, and then I realized the reason they don’t is because they can’t afford to do it, and so they’re stuck with their wan, bland, assembly-line imitations of the real thing, Pike IV is the fourth incarnation of El Pike (Seven Corners), Pike II (downtown Silver Spring), and presumably there’s also a Pike III somewhere too, it’s the real deal, and worth your time and effort to find if you want to experience the satisfying glories of authentic Bolivian food, Indigo Landing got a lot of press when it first opened, but you haven’t heard about it much this winter, and that’s too bad because it’s really good right now, an ice-cold Wednesday evening saw a mostly empty restaurant, the wines are worthwhile, even by the glass, our server was delightful, and the food surpassed any expectations I had coming in, starting with a delicious, unexpected, amuse-gueule of lobster salad on top of a cucumber, the meal kept its high standards all the way through, a Chicken and Dumplings appetizer ($10) is enough for a small meal, served with roasted shallots, mushrooms and truffle velouté, Country Fried Rabbit ($24) was not only a tasty dish, but it was multifaceted and almost complex, with two crosshairs of deep-fried white meat sitting atop a softer, on-bone dark meat cut, served with cleverly cut winter squash, sweet tart apple, and bacon stew, it was a dish I’ll happily order again in the future, Country Ham and Cheddar Grits ($7) is a large, pasty, evil bowl of grits, bogged down with so much ham and cheese that even for heavy food, it comes across as heavy, not that it was bad, mind you, just so extreme that you’ve got to be truly hungry to enjoy it, “good service is more important than good food,” a trusted insider once told me, and so it was at Cafe Milano where the consummate professional Janya, who got her start at Citronelle, orchestrated a meal from start-to-finish with her usual perfect service, pouring drinks at the right time, clearing plates at the right moment, doing things exactly when they should be done, remembering peoples names after only hearing them once, appearing when she was needed and staying invisible when she wasn’t, all the while juggling fifty other things and somehow turning mediocre food into very much of an enjoyable dining experience, and there’s no doubting that the food itself is mediocre, not to mention painfully expensive, Via Bagutta ($16) is a pizza with buffalo mozzarella, cherry tomatoes, and arugula with shaved parmesan, it's perfectly fine except for the crust, which is flat and dull, Gnocchi Ferragamo ($19) is a big bowl of pasty, gummy, heavy gnocchi with tomato, mozzarella, and basil, it’s not special at all, and diners will be much better off trying one of Milano’s other fresh-made pastas, Whole Roasted Branzino is a complete rip-off at $39, there’s nothing “wrong” with it except the price, which is fully fifteen dollars too high for the quality and amount of fish that shows up although, getting back to the service, Milano gets full credit and bonus points for splitting both the gnocchi and the branzino without being asked, and for presenting the fish before taking it back and filleting it, I can carp about the food and certainly the prices at Café Milano, but many customers here have money to burn, a couple martinis under their belts, and they just don’t care about either one, this is the final time I’ll be writing about John Wabeck at Firefly, because he’ll be moving on in a few weeks after several successful years there as chef, Wabeck is a personal friend and sixteen of us gathered for a farewell dinner which started at 5:30 PM and ran for several hours, my favorite course of the evening was very emblematic of Wabeck’s “refined guttural” cooking style, Duck Confit Bread Pudding topped with Salt-Cured Foie Gras, wheat-bread allowed to get stale, custardized with gruyere, leeks, duck confit, parsley, chives, thyme, eggs, and garlic, and topped with a slice of foie gras torchon left to cure overnight in salt and allspice, it’s a fantastic dish, simple and satisfying on the most primal level, but also tricky to pull off at this level of balance and, dare I say it, finesse, it was a good run at Firefly, John, we’ll miss you there and will look forward to seeing where you end up next, few restaurants have gotten more internet buzz lately than M'Dawg Haute Dawgs, a new late-night hot dog joint across the street from, and owned by, Amsterdam Falafelshop, M’Dawg has loudly trumpeted to the press that it would be serving upscale sausages and hot dogs homemade by Greggory Hill, owner of David Greggory restaurant downtown, and well-known for his outstanding roasted suckling pigs, but the truth of the matter is that as of last week, an employee told me that every hot dog and sausage on their menu was being purchased from a wholesaler, and not one is being handmade, he added that ‘as soon as the mechanism is in place, we hope to feature one homemade hot dog on our menu to go along with the rest,’ but for now, you won’t find any, and the hot dogs are no better than you’d find in the gourmet section of Costco, furthermore, the buns are plain old grocery-store quality, and the french fries are cheap, frozen, crinkle-cuts that are truly no better than you would find in an elementary-school cafeteria, worst of all is the price for all this blatant hype and failed expectation, $6.73 for the hot dog and worse still, $2.77 for a little tray of fries, which can be priced as high as $5 if you order them with chili and cheese, the only reason to come here is to order the hot dogs “uptown” for an extra dollar, which means you can load then up at the excellent fixins bar with caramelized onions, sauerkraut, mushrooms, various mustards and sauces, and a whole array of other goodies, this is absolutely the most worthwhile part of the restaurant and it’s obligatory to drop the extra dollar if you come, maybe one day M’Dawg will live up to its promises, but for now it’s nothing more - and I mean this almost literally - than a bunch of baloney, how was your week.

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I can’t reconcile the differences of opinion among knowledgeable chefs when it comes to 2 Amys, some swear by the restaurant, others claim it’s overrated, complaining about everything from the crust not being blistered to the desserts receiving too much attention, having been to 2 Amys at least fifty times, my love for the restaurant is unwavering, but there’s no question that the desserts were mediocre on my most recent visit, the ice creams cold, dense, and a dead-ringer for store-bought, but the pizza was great (and the naysayer I was with admitted it), the Norcia (with salami and roasted peppers) is consistently good here, and the perfect pizza for a first-timer to try,why on earth would you go to Yechon at 2 AM when you could go at 4:30, I finally stripped myself of my bulgogi habit and went straight for the Jang Au Gui ($18.95), a tasty, comforting dish of broiled, marinated eel over rice, I’m not going to sit here and say that Yechon is the best Korean restaurant in Annandale (it isn’t), but there’s nothing quite like being there in the middle of the night, wondering how the other twenty diners have been occupying themselves for the past eight hours, if you do come here, stick with the Korean portions of the menu, and avoid anything labeled “Japanese,” especially the sushi which will leave you feeling shortchanged and glum, speaking of sushi, I tried a few pieces at CAFÉ ASIA in Courthouse, and while everything was edible, nothing at all was good including the rice, there is no reason to come here for sushi unless you’re already at happy hour, where many of the pieces are $1 each, Café Asia is a bar, first and foremost, and the fish in the sushi is very thinly cut, not the freshest in the world, run-of-the-mill in terms of variety, and worth no effort whatsoever to seek out, even if there are few alternatives in the immediate area, of course even mediocre sushi couldn’t have set my standards low enough not to be disappointed by the pizza at Piola, the first DC-area outpost of an Italy-based pizza chain, I had heard through the grapevine that a noteworthy chef heralded the Margherita as “the best in town,” apparently adding that nothing else at the restaurant is any good, there were two Margheritas on the menu, one being offered Neopolitan style (with a thicker crust), so we ordered both to be safe, and both were simply dreadful, plain, boring, and truly no better than Domino’s, not only is the pizza at Piola not any good, the front lounge area gets my vote as the single ugliest piece of interior design in human history, the McLean branch of Moby Dick is showing visual signs of corporate funding, with a fancier menu, and an expanding list of offerings that are perhaps made possible by the chain having twelve area locations, the chicken kabob was as good as ever with it’s well-flavored boneless chunks of white meat, but the bread this time around was taken out of the oven too soon, and was a bit floppy-doughy, one thing I’ve noticed here is the high staff-retention rate, there are people working the register whom I’ve been seeing for years, and they’re always efficient and friendly, I have to say that, in general, I’m impressed by how well the McLean branch has held onto its level of quality despite the relatively rapid proliferation of other Moby Dicks in the area, I had been to House of Lion many years ago with a Chinese family, and vaguely remembered liking it, in the Comfort Inn near Route 50 and I-66, it’s a large, sprawling, multi-floored restaurant that caters largely to hotel guests, when I asked if they had a separate Chinese menu, our very pleasant server expressed surprise, then went to bring it to the table, but when I looked at it, it wasn’t much more than a subset of the full menu, with the most blatantly Americanized dishes being omitted, I went ahead and ordered the two most unusual-sounding dishes I could find, which weren’t very unusual, Crispy Salty Shrimp ($12.95) and Shredded Pork with Preserved Cabbage ($8.95), the shrimp was nothing more than batter-dipped, frozen fried shrimp, and the shredded pork was exactly what you’d find in every strip-mall restaurant in America, with the exception of the sour, acidic preserved cabbage, House of Lion is passable for Americanized Chinese, but not special at all, and with the recent emergence of authentic, regional Chinese cooking in the Washington area, this restaurant has become marginalized and insignificant, perhaps it was my inability to find a great Asian meal this week that led me to order what I did at Colvin Run Tavern, Crispy Thai-style Squid with green-papaya salad and thai dipping sauce ($11) was some of the best and freshest squid I’ve had in awhile, unfortunately it was compromised by tasteless batter and a boringly bland dipping sauce, Chatham Cod with spicy Brazilian-style coconut broth, mussels, crispy yucca and lime also had dazzlingly fresh seafood, with both the cod and mussels spankingly fresh, but once again the dish was neutered because of the kitchen’s refusal to make the preparation more gutsy, both of these dishes were going-through-the-motions ethnic, and it’s a shame because they could be fantastic with just a few tweaks, unfortunately, with the unadventurous diners at Colvin Run Tavern, it’s not going to happen, so just be thankful the seafood is so enticingly fresh and enjoy it for what it is, pastry chef David Collier’s Warm Pecan Tart ($9) with maple ice cream and caramel was well-executed and satisfying, the best things to drink here are the Sherrys offered by the glass, which are served in small wine glasses rather than traditional copitas, and because of that are generously poured and a good value for the money, I’m not trying to start a hamburger war between Michel Richard and Frank Ruta, but my recent comment about Central Michel Richard drew some fire from an industry insider whom I like and respect, ‘so, Don, first you say it’s just a bistro, then you claim it’s a Michelin one-star masquerading as a bistro,’ which is it, and the answer is that it depends on the night, and this past Saturday evening I went to Central after an exhausting, eighteen-hour day of traveling, and I went straight for the bacon cheeseburger, once again it was fantastic, worth every penny, and exactly what I wanted, it’s a great hamburger, but if I wanted to nitpick (which I don’t), I could also say that it was hastily assembled as the restaurant was slammed with diners, it had too much mayonnaise, too much cheese, not quite enough meat, too many potato tuiles, and would never have made it out of Palena’s kitchen, but again, I’m not in the mood to nitpick, and won’t mention any of this, because it really is a fantastic hamburger, go and see for yourself, how was your week.

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COSTA VERDE is a casual Peruvian restaurant at one of the craziest intersections in Arlington, where Kirkwood Rd merges into Jackson St, Fairfax Drive turns onto 10th Street, and both Washington Boulevard and Wilson Boulevard somehow become intertwined in the whole ball of string, it’s a moderately large, homey operation that has been around for a long time, and has a long, ambitious menu, the cooking here can be quite good, a Papa Relleña ($6.95) is a dig-in loaf of fresh mashed potatoes wrapped around shredded beef, wrapped in flour and fried, the Tamal con Salsa Criolla ($6.95) is a really good corn-paste tamale, stuffed with pork and steamed inside a banana leaf, which saturates the corn paste with flavor, both of these appetizers are very tasty, worth ordering, and leagues better than Parrillada a la Costa Verde ($16.95), a big platter of various meats, our server asked us how we wanted the meats cooked, and expressed surprise when we said medium-rare, nevertheless, everything showed up overcooked except for the chicken of all things, which was a disturbing pinkish-red in the middle and was left unfinished, the pork chop was the worst of a bad lot, completely dried out and tasting like it had freezer burn, Seco de Res ($10.95) is a plate of stewed shortribs, really bad shortribs, full of fat and gristle, served in a dark green sauce that was supposedly cilantro and spices, it wasn’t worth eating except as filler, our server told us that there was no fresh fish that evening, despite many items on the menu being specifically marked “fresh,” I had no idea that they would slip in a 15% tip as a hard-to-read line item on the check (this was for a party of three), and then when the credit-card slip arrived, the space to fill in the tip was left blank, so diners here are in danger of inadvertently double tipping, and I suspect this happens quite often, the Tamal con Salsa Criolla at Costa Verde had a much better depth of flavor than the Tamales Verdes ($5.50) at the newly reopened Oyamel, which looks very much at home in the old Andale space, like it should have been located here all along, Salmon Ceviche ($8) isn’t cheap for such a tiny portion, but it’s brought to life by fresh passion fruit, red onions, and micro cilantro, a Tortilla Soup ($7.50) was a pretty good take on this classic dish, and an Oxtail Taco ($3.00 for one small taco), was quite good, using fresh masa and a slice of pineapple to highlight the somewhat skimpy portion of oxtail, I like what I see at the new Oyamel, Joe Raffa is a fine chef and I think the restaurant will do quite well in this space, I also like that Jose Andres seems to be concentrating his operations in one geographical location (the throwaway Bethesda and Crystal City Jaleos notwithstanding), all-in-all the new Oyamel appears to be a savvy move for the Proximo Restaurant group, and I happily look forward to returning, note to management, “HP” was an excellent server, it’s important to distinguish between “good ingredients” and “good cooking,” and at Oceanaire Seafood Room, you’ll get the former more often than the latter, a dozen raw Washington-state oysters (six Dabob Bay, six Quilcene, $2.35 each) were all in fine shape and presented well, a bowl of Prince Edward Island Mussels ($10.95 for 40 mussels) was passable and fairly priced, and a special of South Carolina Shad was a big, fresh portion of this important seasonal fish, lightly dusted, pan sautéed (and very much saturated) with olive oil and tragically overcooked despite our pleading that they keep it “as close to raw as the kitchen will allow,” the side orders here are bulk filler, but a nice surprise is a little presentation of pickled herring that arrives at the beginning of each meal, Oceanaire Seafood Room is very expensive, and that expense can be directly assigned to the freshness and quality of the seafood, and not for any type of world-beating culinary skills behind the kitchen door, there are two ways to think of Colorado Kitchen, the first is as a neighborhood restaurant, and the second is as a dining destination, I prefer the “dining destination” school of thought partially because of the ambitious menu, but mainly due to the superior cooking skills of Gillian Clark, and it’s because of this that I can say that dinner this week fell short of the glorious heights that this restaurant so often achieves, a broad sample of the menu included a baked sweet-potato salad ($8.25), a tortured little chicken leg done as a sort-of confit ($12.75), good homemade pasta with oyster mushrooms ($12.75), a pork chop ($17.95), and shrimp encircling a bed of somewhat pasty risotto ($21.50), while everything was good, nothing grabbed me as outstanding, and “outstanding” is exactly what I’ve come to expect from Colorado Kitchen, I sometimes wonder if Clark is trying to take on the world with her ambitious menu, and hope that one day I can see her with some more help in the kitchen, and perhaps a bigger kitchen, the wines here are painfully ordinary and expensive at $7.50 for a small goblet, but diners can bring in their own bottle for a $15 corkage fee, despite what I would call an “off night,” Colorado Kitchen remains one of my personal favorite restaurants in town, it had been much too long since I’d been in, and I’m eager to return in the near future, with my expectations every bit as high as they’ve been in the past, as Ray's The Classics continues its inevitable post-Hartzer contraction towards something akin to an upscale Ray’s The Steaks II, Michael Landrum is battling it out on the grill, very much in command of operations, and exuding an Energizer-bunny aura of doggedness, I’m in the minority in never having loved the Devlishly Good Eggs ($5.95), a clever presentation of steak tartare with all the trimmings, served in four hollowed-out boiled egg whites, the couple times I’ve had it, it has simply been too cold and bland, a minor quibble because Ray’s The Classics appears to be humming along nicely, concentrating on its strengths (Landrum’s terrific steaks, the delicious Crab Royale), and the customers I’ve chatted with seem thrilled to have such an important, independently owned restaurant available in chain-ridden downtown Silver Spring, I’m not convinced that Argia's is an across-the-board good restaurant, mainly because I can’t tear myself away from ordering pasta-as-comfort-food each time I go in, most recently a family-sized Lasagne Con Carne ($25.95) served with a well-executed Caesar Classico salad with housemade dressing ($6.95, enough for two to share), you can generally find a decent, generously poured glass of wine here for eight or nine dollars, but there are some semi-clunks mixed in with the good stuff, so it pays to read the descriptions on the menu, which tend to be fairly accurate, few restaurants have been as consistent for me as Delhi Club, and for all the dozens of things I’ve ordered there in the past, often for carryout, I don’t think I’ve ever had a single bad dish, always focus your sights on the tandoor here, Tandoori Chicken Wings ($5.50) are marinated in fresh-ground ginger, garlic, and spices, and have precisely the zesty flavor you hope they’ll have, you may overlook the Tandoori Salmon ($13.50), but don’t, because it is intense and flavorful, somehow coming across as perfectly cooked despite being hot throughout, this is a dish not to miss, the breads here are always good, and it’s a good idea to ask which types of stuffed naans are available on any given night, the Achar (pickles, $1.50) are worth ordering here, as is a Vegetable Biryani ($11.50), Delhi Club may not be the valedictorian of its class, but it makes the honor roll, time and time again, every time I go to Palena, I walk out swearing up and down that such-and-such course was one of the greatest things I’ve ever eaten, and the Juniper Scented Chicken Consommé is no exception, a chicken consommé may not sound like much, but this thing was somewhere between Neptune and Andromeda, served with a poached quail egg, duck confit, a couple pieces of truffled troffiette pasta (the only extraneous ingredient), and slivers of foie gras, my extremely knowledgeable dining companion almost underwent a religious conversion after trying this, an earth-shattering effort by Frank Ruta, incidentally, not to rekindle the non-existent Hamburger Wars between Central and Palena, but the cheeseburger I had this go-round was superior to any that I’ve had at Central, advantage Palena, how was your week.

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I remember us walking through the airport. You were going back to France, and I was struggling trying to carry your two impossibly heavy suitcases. As we headed towards the gate, it hit me, suddenly, and like a ton of bricks: You were leaving, and you weren't coming back.

"Are you really going?" I asked.

You looked over at me with complete indifference, shrugged your shoulders, gave a slight nod, and said with a heartless nonchalance, "Yes."

I began to get upset, and said, "Why are you leaving?"

You ignored me and kept walking.

I dropped the suitcases and called to you. "What did I do?" I began pleading, "WHY ARE YOU LEAVING ME?"

It was still dark when I woke up. You were right next to me, on the nightstand, having died the week before in the very spot where I lay shivering. I pulled up the comforter, rolled over, clutched onto a pillow, and began weeping.

We were about to get married, and you thought you might be getting a sore throat. You wanted a dream wedding, so you went to the doctor, just to be extra sure - he said you were fine. 'Oh, and as long as I'm here,' you added, 'can you have a quick look at this?'

'Worry about your honeymoon,' he laughed, and then ordered a routine test just to give you some peace of mind.

The next week we found ourselves sitting in Room 101. After we waited for what seemed like an eternity, the door slowly opened. The oncologist walked in, shut the door, and then came over and took a seat right in front of us. He sat silent for several seconds, taking measure of what was in front of him.

"How much do you guys know about this stuff?" he asked.

I had spent the past few days tethered to the internet, trying unsuccessfully to come up with a benign explanation of your test results, refusing to acknowledge the same dead end I kept running into.

"A little bit," I lied, and then proceeded to recite several possibilities of what it could be.

One by one he eliminated them, until only one remained.

"But even if that's true, she still has a 30% chance of living five years, right?"

He looked at us like he bore the weight of the world on his shoulders. Slowly, sadly, he extended his arm out to the side, and then without saying another word, he turned his thumb down to the ground.

That evening, in a panic, I faxed all your test results to my brother. He called me an hour later, and told me exactly what I would have told him: He gently advised me to postpone the wedding until things got resolved. "Even in a best-case scenario," he said, "your life is going to be a living Hell."

A few months later he told me that as he stood in front of the fax machine, looking at the test results coming in, he was thinking to himself, "this is the single worst thing I've seen in my entire medical career."

Of course, we completely denied the situation, and three days later we got married as planned. You were young and healthy, everything would be fine, and the Turks and Caicos could wait a few months - we spent our honeymoon in the ICU of Johns Hopkins.

A week after the first dream, we were again walking through the airport. You were going back to France with your dad, your mom and aunt were to follow in another week, and I was to come later that month for your funeral.

They escorted us through security, and we waited with your dad until the plane boarded.

"Courage, Don," he said to me in French, before kissing me on both cheeks.

"Courage, Daniel... take good care of Karen." I looked down at the package I was carrying.

"And I'll see you in France," I said, just before giving you back to your father.

I remember once we were sitting on the couch quietly watching television, something we never did. The moment itself was nothing eventful - really, just a typical activity that boring married couples so often do.

While we were sitting there, a wave of uneasiness began coming over me. I wasn't sure what it was, but it was dawning on me that something wasn't right. When the moment of realization came, I looked down, and slowly said to myself, "Oh..."

I looked over at you, and you had already turned towards me because you knew exactly what I was going to say. Resigned and frightened, I whispered to you, "I have to wake up now."

You looked into my eyes, giving me your angelic little smile, nodding almost imperceptively, and you whispered back to me, "It's okay." We leaned forward, put our arms around each other, and embraced in silence.

I woke up, and was immersed in what I can only describe as a supernatural euphoria, a state of complete tranquility that can only be experienced by someone who has seen the afterlife. When my time came to go, you sent me back in peace. It was the greatest gift you could have given me.

Happy anniversary, K. Feel free to drop in tonight if you aren't out flying around trying to save some planet. I'll be sound asleep, and I'll be waiting for you.

-- Written April 27, 2007 in loving memory of Karen Valentine Pissavy Rockwell,

September 11, 1968 - August 8, 2002

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One of the most important individual dishes in town is the Butcher’s Board at Restaurant Kolumbia, which chef Jamie Stachowski assembles from 100% house-made charcuterie, $39 might seem like a gamble, but if you’re with two-or-more people, this is a full meal, and represents Stachowski’s gift to the dining public, every single meat on this plate is smoked or preserved on-premises, and the selection changes according to what’s ready to offer, recently eleven different choices were on an enormous board, a board you could easily nosh for two hours over drinks, look at this, Merguez, Hard Genoa Salami, Kielbasa with Polish pickles (the best Kielbasa you will ever eat), Duck Galantine with pistachio and candied cherries, Chicken Liver Butter Parfait, Boudin Rouge, Smoked Lamb Shoulder with pesto drizzle, Beef Bresaola with Roasted Fingerling Potato, Tete de Veau Terrine with Melon Mostarda, Smoked Salmon Tartare with potato pancake and cucumber parfait, and Beef Pepperoni, what I love about this butcher board is the humanity behind it all, Jamie and Carolyn Stachowski are running a mom-and-pop operation on the heart of K Street downtown, the flaws in this charcuterie only exist because Stachowski sometimes overreaches and falls short, some things being oversmoked and coming across as heavyhanded (the salmon is a good example), but taken as a whole, in terms of value for the dollar, this is the best charcuterie plate in town, although not as unearthly as Palena’s, which is a single-serving and offered only on occasion, and perhaps not as polished as the fine version at Restaurant Eve, nevertheless, Restaurant Kolumbia needs to be supported by anyone who cares about family-run restaurants, and this monumental butcher board is your logical starting point, with Sushi-Ko opening a large, second location in Friendship Heights sometime later this year, the dream of Kappo Koji appears to be that of the pipe variety, in other words it doesn’t look like it’s going to happen, but you can emulate it by calling Sushi-Ko and requesting the two seats in front of Koji Terano, who got down, dirty, and binary this week with a two-by-two matrix of sashimi, the rows being yellowtail and tuna, the columns being belly and fin, Terano shows no let-up in his creativity, but you can bank on him becoming swamped and exhausted when the new restaurant opens, so if you’ve been planning to schedule a little tete-a-tete with him at the sushi bar, do it sooner rather than later, Thai Square has never been better than on my most recent visit, #37 Roasted Duck in Red Curry Sauce, when it’s done right, has a reductive depth-charge of flavor that’s highlighted, not dominated, by the small bits of pineapple, #44 Crispy Honey-Roasted Duck With Basil needs to be eaten immediately, the crispy fried basil, which in this dish is a mere secondary component, is better than the overrated fried spinach appetizer at Rasika, #59 Pig Knuckle Stew has this juniper-like bouquet that permeates the slow-roasted pork, I’ve had this dish ten times and it has always been interesting, often thrilling, #79 Pad Thai is sweetish, not overtly sweet like you’ll find at Busara and company, perhaps not the biggest strength here, #69 Potpourri Seafood With Rice ($11.50) is served in a clay pot, and although the menu describes basil and chili peppers as the primary flavor components, there’s something else herbaceous in this dish that makes me want to order it again, everything except #33 Green Curry with Chicken ($9.95) was good-to-great, do yourself a favor and avoid the insultingly Westernized, dumbed-down Bangkok 54, and spend your time and money down the street at Thai Square, there are several new restaurants in town that seem constantly packed with people, Johnny’s Half Shell being one of them, and I’m sorry to say that if the herds of people there dined like me the other night, then they didn’t dine well, the Fritto Misto with Seafood and Vegetables ($21) remained half-eaten when they cleared the plate, it was served in varying temperatures ranging from lukewarm to hot, the batter was different for the vegetables than the seafood, having a baking-soda-like bitterness to it, it was heavy and leaden enough for us to change our entrée orders away from crabcakes, which we feared would be too heavy and salty, instead we got a dried out Spicy Broiled Whole Maine Lobster ($28) and overcooked Sauteed Filet of Halibut ($26), there is no doubt in my mind that on this night, I could have gotten better seafood at McCormick and Schmick’s, and that isn’t saying much, even the desserts, which were highlights of my last visit here, were nothing special, the Vouvray, which was described something like ‘crisp and minerally,’ had so much residual sugar that it could have been a dessert wine, a bad, bad night for Johnny’s Half Shell, the Pulled Pork BBQ Sliders (3 for $9) weren’t available on my most recent visit to Eleventh Street Lounge, which was a small-scaled tragedy since it’s one of the best of its kind in town, well-worth ordering with the homemade Yukon Gold potato chips, but fortunately the One-One Burger ($11) with smoked cheddar, tempura onions, pickle, and aioli stepped in and saved the day, this is a fantastic hamburger, worth going out of your way to find, make sure to order it medium-rare, Antonio Burrell has made Eleventh Street Lounge into one of the best restaurants in Arlington, and it’s a good alternative (as well as direct competition) to EatBar down the street, nab a couple seats on the sidewalk and enjoy this run of good weather we’ve been having, I want to like Lazy Sundae more than I did last week, it has that run-down, family-owned charm to it, and I even won a free game on the Simpson’s pinball machine, but I’m afraid the ice cream I had came across to me as no better than mid-range grocery store stuff, it was way too cold, and the Orange Chocolate Chip I had contained exactly one chocolate chip, and yet they sell Teaberry gum, so all is forgiven, if you want to go on a Laugen run, head for The Swiss Bakery in Burke, the Laugen Roll