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R Family Kitchen & Bar (Formerly TapaBar) - The Roche's Brothers' Comfort Food in the Former BlackFinn Space on Norfolk and Fairmont Avenue, Bethesda - Closed

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Enjoyed my first meal at TapaBar, the new Bethesda restaurant by Alonso Roche, who also owns Bold Bite next door.  The experience was great and I'll certainly head back.  Quick overview of the dishes my group shared:

Embutidos and Queso: Went with the Jamon Serrano, Chorizo, and Mahon for starters.  First is a known quantity.  The second was quite good - really liked how thinly it was sliced so the flavors could just melt on your tongue.  I couldn't remember if I had tried Mahon before, but will certainly get this one again.

Gambas al Ajillo: Well done classic tapa

Albondigas: Meatballs with cucumber julienne and shredded manchego.  Very solid - was a bit skeptical of the cucumber, but it worked well on the dish.

Cauliflower: Rock-solid vegetarian restaurant.  Roasted with smoked paprika and salt flakes.  There was a piquillo pepper sauce that went with this that also went quite well.

Setas a la plancha: Again, just a classic, well done dish.

Drinks: I started with a sidra that was described as being like a dirty martini.  They weren't kidding - the olive flavors were unmistakable.  Not my cup of tea, but was certainly worth trying.  I stuck with wine after that but my dining companion had two of the gin and tonics - one was infused with lemon grass, grapefruit, and basil, the other had orange and mint.  They're not too heavy on the alcohol but were both very good.

Desert: Churros, because sometimes it must be done, and a donut ice cream sundae finished the meal.  

Definitely worth a try for those that haven't been. It's not too big, but certainly a welcome addition to the Woodmont Triangle area, which is extending its lead over central Bethesda in the dining area.

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I was also there this weekend, and largely shared your views - a welcome addition to the area. We tried a few dishes including the chorizo, cauliflower, the setas and the chistorras a la plancha, all of which were solid, if not exceptional. The sauce for the cauliflower was good, but the cauliflower and mushrooms could have used a little more aggressive seasoning as they were a little one-dimensional.

The boquerones y alubias blancas (toasted bread with beans and anchovies) was the highlight for me, along with the drinks, particularly the el retiro gin and tonic.

All in all a good option to have, but not the same consistently high quality as Jaleo. I am looking forward to trying a few more dishes, including more of the meat-based ones.

 

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On 2/1/2018 at 2:28 PM, cocoagirl said:

Can anyone update me on a good bowl of Pho.  I am in Bethesda which is a Pho desert.  No to Rice Paddies Grill.  I thought I heard about a pop up in Bethesda- other wise send me relatively close to B. I don't want to go over the bridge.  Thanks.     

You're thinking of the pop up that came after/during TapaBar.

It has now re-opened as R Family Kitchen and Bar, and supposedly has Pho, although I can't confirm that.

"R Family Kitchen & Bar Opens in Former TapaBar Space" by Joe Zimmermann on bethesdamagazine.com

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Edit: Looks like they only have chicken or veggie pho, which is disappointing.

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On 2/2/2018 at 10:35 AM, mtureck said:

How's that for timing...Sietsema weighs in on the place.

Ouch.

It is an interesting question whether a critic with Sietsema-level influence should bother publishing such a slam on a small, family-run place of little renown, which is sure to hasten its demise.  Shouldn't he save his very scarce slots for the many places that deserve raves and the big-ticket, well-known places that deserve a take-down or a warning to the hordes who are dropping their $$?  

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3 minutes ago, Marty L. said:

It is an interesting question whether a critic with Sietsema-level influence should bother publishing such a slam on a small, family-run place of little renown, which is sure to hasten its demise.  Shouldn't he save his very scarce slots for the many places that deserve raves and the big-ticket, well-known places that deserve a take-down or a warning to the hordes who are dropping their $$?  

I was just pondering the very same thing. What's the point of him reviewing this place? I don't see many food aficionados rushing there to eat the sizzle plates (and certainly not the pho). People who aren't discriminating about food will probably think it's fine. So what does this review accomplish?

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21 minutes ago, dracisk said:

I was just pondering the very same thing. What's the point of him reviewing this place? I don't see many food aficionados rushing there to eat the sizzle plates (and certainly not the pho). People who aren't discriminating about food will probably think it's fine. So what does this review accomplish?

Sietsema in his chats actually says he refrains from running poor reviews of such suburban places. Oh well. In fact, some of the comments on the review take him to task.

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2 minutes ago, Bob Wells said:

Sietsema in his chats actually says he refrains from running poor reviews of such suburban places. Oh well.

He's arguing that this was not a full review.  It says review at the top, but doesn't include a stars ranking.  I can't say I disagreed with his assessment of the pho - too much star anise for me as well.  I did enjoy my meals at TapaBar.  Was sorry to see it go.

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I asked the same question in the comment section of the preview...his answer:

"The previous restaurant in that space, TapaBar, from the same ownership, was a solid, two-star restaurant. I was a fan. Readers might be curious how the follow-up is. I know I was."

I agree with the rest of you...no reason to publish that preview.

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I wrote about R Family Kitchen because it's run by the same owners of the previous restaurant in that space, TapaBar, which I liked and considered to be a solid, two-star establishment. Also because I like to vary cuisine styles, price points and locations from week to week in my First Bite column. This is considered a preview, by the way, not a star-rated critique. I figured readers might be curious about TapaBar's replacement. I know I was.

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15 minutes ago, Tom Sietsema said:

I wrote about R Family Kitchen because it's run by the same owners of the previous restaurant in that space, TapaBar, which I liked and considered to be a solid, two-star establishment. Also because I like to vary cuisine styles, price points and locations from week to week in my First Bite column. This is considered a preview, by the way, not a star-rated critique. I figured readers might be curious about TapaBar's replacement. I know I was.

I understand your reasoning, but it still feels like piling on a small family owned space.

Tapa Bar goes out of business, and you immediately pan their new restaurant.

Maybe it's partly the knowledge that their downtown Bold Bite just closed as well that makes this seem needlessly cruel.

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1 hour ago, Tom Sietsema said:

If these people were newbies, I might have refrained from writing about the place. But they're veterans (and their previous place was good).

That's what I took away from the preview. Bethesda is a tough market. I just thought this was a silly sounding concept. And where does pho fit in with "sizzling platters"?

 

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1 hour ago, mtureck said:

I understand your reasoning, but it still feels like piling on a small family owned space.

Tapa Bar goes out of business, and you immediately pan their new restaurant.

Maybe it's partly the knowledge that their downtown Bold Bite just closed as well that makes this seem needlessly cruel.

If I'm not mistaken, this is a "First Bite" column titled as a "Review," which happened with Chloe last week for what may be the first time. Fridays used to be "Review Day," and Wednesdays (?) were "First Bite Day" - now, it seems like the days may have shifted around, although who knows if it's a permanent strategy thing. ^_^

Maybe it would be more palatable if it were marked as a "First Bite," or an announcement was made as to when to expect what? For example, everyone's used to Wednesday at 11 AM for "Chat Day" (until a certain critic came along and tried to steal the thunder on Tuesdays) - if that were to change, it might cause some confusion at first.

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17 minutes ago, DonRocks said:

If I'm not mistaken, this is a "First Bite" column titled as a "Review," which happened with Chloe last week for what may be the first time. Fridays used to be "Review Day," and Wednesdays (?) were "First Bite Day" - now, it seems like the days may have shifted around, although who knows if it's a permanent strategy thing. ^_^

Maybe it would be more palatable if it were marked as a "First Bite," or an announcement was made as to when to expect what? For example, everyone's used to Wednesday at 11 AM for "Chat Day" (until a certain critic came along and tried to steal the thunder on Tuesdays) - if that were to change, it might cause some confusion at first.

Don -- exactly. I was looking for stars or lack thereof. Confusing.

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22 hours ago, DonRocks said:

If I'm not mistaken, this is a "First Bite" column titled as a "Review," which happened with Chloe last week for what may be the first time. Fridays used to be "Review Day," and Wednesdays (?) were "First Bite Day" - now, it seems like the days may have shifted around, although who knows if it's a permanent strategy thing. ^_^

Maybe it would be more palatable if it were marked as a "First Bite," or an announcement was made as to when to expect what? For example, everyone's used to Wednesday at 11 AM for "Chat Day" (until a certain critic came along and tried to steal the thunder on Tuesdays) - if that were to change, it might cause some confusion at first.

Tom's First Bite columns appear online on Fridays, and in print in the Food section on Wednesdays. His Magazine reviews appear online on Wednesdays (usually) and in print on Sundays. All the "First Bite" pieces are cited as "Reviews" in the header, but as "First Bites" on Tom's own page. Perhaps therein is the confusion; they would do well to make sure that "First Bite" appears somewhere on the actual review page.

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48 minutes ago, Tujague said:

Tom's First Bite columns appear online on Fridays, and in print in the Food section on Wednesdays. His Magazine reviews appear online on Wednesdays (usually) and in print on Sundays. All the "First Bite" pieces are cited as "Reviews" in the header, but as "First Bites" on Tom's own page. Perhaps therein is the confusion; they would do well to make sure that "First Bite" appears somewhere on the actual review page.

It does not matter on what day it appears or whether it's labeled a "Review" or a "First Bite"--regardless of date or title, it will deter countless readers from choosing to try R Family Kitchen, and therefore will accelerate its failure.  And so the question is:  To what end?  After all, I am very confident there are more than 60 places in Bethesda alone (probably more like 200) that are worse than R Family--or worse deals, anyway--and Tom does not bother to harshly critique them.  And if Tom is eager to review places with different "price points"--which would be a *very* welcome development--there are dozens of wonderful, family-run joints that would benefit enormously from a Sietsema rave. 

It's to his credit that Tom has posted here, and offered his reason for this particular column. It's evident that he did not publish it out of hostility or spite or glee, or to take down a sacred cow (see, e.g., Nobu).  Rather, he did so "because it's run by the same owners of the previous restaurant in that space, TapaBar, which I liked and considered to be a solid, two-star establishment."  In other words, because he was understandably disappointed in what he considers a misguided change of focus by the owners. That is to say, it's a lament. I understand the impulse to register such disappointment in public.  But if that's what motivated the column--because he so admired what they did before--then that's simply another reason not to bash them in public.  After all, the owners ain't reverting to TapaBar. And it's not as if there are throngs of TapaBar fans out there who are clamoring to know how the new place is and who would not try it out themselves (indeed, the family abandoned TB because there weren't enough customers).

All of which is to say that the column was not a function of bad motive, or insensitivity. It was simply a case of bad judgment, IMHO. 

All of which is water under the bridge now --the damage has been done (and if Tom's right about the quality, they probably wouldn't have thrived in the long run, anyway).

So let's put this controversy to good use:  In the last year or so, we have really dropped the ball on this site in terms of identifying the unknown, family-run places that truly shine. (There was once more of that sort of thing on Chowhound, but that site is now but a shadow of its former self.)  If we can find such places, and tout them here, perhaps we'll inspire Tom to check them out . . . and rave about some of them.

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My point was solely to Don's expression of confusion over the days on which Tom's reviews appear, and how they are all headed as "Reviews," without a consistent use of "First Bite." This is a legitimate, but wholly separate concern that affects all his review articles, not just this particular endeavor.

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8 hours ago, dracisk said:

Checks and Balances are desperately needed.

I just don't have the time to do it, unless I wanted to neglect something else that needs doing - here it is, Saturday morning at 5:30 AM, and I'm working on organizing the website. You all have no idea how much work I do here - pure insanity, but that's okay: I like being a little bit crazy.

I need five full-time employees, minimum. I am so ashamed of the Baltimore Dining Guide right now, and I can't get to it (that said, monsterriffs is lending a great deal of expertise; I just don't have time to implement his suggestions - I can't remember the last time I wasn't tired).

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I read the Bethesda Magazine article and re-read this thread.  I've come to the conclusion that the main reason this restaurant will likely fail is due due to a poor concept and what appears to be below-average food.  Not due to a bad review from Tom Sietsema.   For what it's worth, the majority of the comments below the Bethesda Magazine article agree with my opinion. 

I'm of the belief that if a restaurant puts out good, creative food at a fair price point, it is more likely to succeed.  That is the primary driver.  Can an early review affect the outcome of success?  Absolutely.  These guys should concentrate on the food and prices and stop complaining about something they can't control (or maybe could have if they made good food?).

The thing that I have not seen mentioned in the thread is though these brothers are by definition a family business, they have four restaurants in Bethesda.   They are seasoned veterans and not some poor first time start-up. Bold Bite has been successful enough that they have opened two more in DC.  202 Donuts is always busy and is ranked highly.  They also just opened TacoArepa in Bethesda.  They look like they are making money hand and foot.  These guys were not born yesterday and know how the game is played.  Family business?  I'd call it family chainlet.

Looking at the menu of R Family, the cornerstone is "sizzle plates" of either salmon, chicken or steak with one side for $17-$20.  Given that many us can probably make something similar for 1/3 the cost, this is not going to fly with the public, who want to go out for something unique and not something they can make at home.  And when the long-time food critic says the food isn't even that good, well, shame on them.

I understand that Tom is not perfect and his reviews have a lot of sway.  But I don't think his reviews are the main driver on whether a restaurant succeeds or not in the vast majority of cases.   He has reviewed many restaurants over the years in the first month or two of operation that have received stellar reviews.  When you are open and charging full prices, you are ready to be reviewed.  That these experienced and successful restaurateurs are whining because of a poor early review is a deflection of blame and disingenuous.    

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