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Washington’s Top Japanese Restaurants: The Omakase Case

In today’s Entertainment Guide, Tom Sietsema wrote about 3 Japanese restaurants in Washington, D.C. area: Sushi-Ko in Glover Park, Kaz Sushi Bistro downtown and Makoto on MacArthur Boulevard.

Some people ask about where to go for sushi. If you’re looking for top-notch places, these are my absolute favorites. Each are definitely unique to it’s own style. Tom S. certainly captured it exactly for what it is.

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I'm not the biggest fan of Tom Sietsema's dining reviews. Very rarely do I find his experience and appreciation (or lack thereof) of the food, service and decor of a restaurant to be similar to what I find when I go somewhere he's reviewed.

So it was a particular pleasure for me to see his column this past Sunday where he didn't review any restaurant. He simply wrote about Mother's Day, and his mom, his childhood, and how food and cooking connected them. I thought the article was fantastic. I may not believe that Tom Sietsema is a good restaurant reviewer. But based on that article, I'll say he's a great food writer. I, for one, would like to see him venture into more articles like last Sunday's.

[Don, there's probably a more suitable thread for this, but I'm unsure which one]

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Every week a 2 star review.

July 16 Indigo Landing 2 stars

July 9 Upper Crust 2 stars

July 2 Breadline 0 stars

July 2 Galileo Lunch Grill 0 stars

July 2 Cuba de Ayer 0 stars

July 2 Deli City 0 stars

July 2 Lebanese Butcher 0 stars

July 2 Malaysia Kopitiam 0 stars

July 2 nhu Lan 0 stars

June 25 Bistro at Eve 3 stars

June 25 Majestic Café 2 stars

June 25 Taverna Cretekou 1.5 stars

Jun 18 1789 3 Stars

June 11 Bazin's on Church 2 stars

June 4 Rockfish 2 stars

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July 16 Indigo Landing 2 stars

July 9 Upper Crust 2 stars

July 2 Breadline 0 stars

July 2 Galileo Lunch Grill 0 stars

July 2 Cuba de Ayer 0 stars

July 2 Deli City 0 stars

July 2 Lebanese Butcher 0 stars

July 2 Malaysia Kopitiam 0 stars

July 2 nhu Lan 0 stars

June 25 Bistro at Eve 3 stars

June 25 Majestic Café 2 stars

June 25 Taverna Cretekou 1.5 stars

Jun 18 1789 3 Stars

June 11 Bazin's on Church 2 stars

June 4 Rockfish 2 stars

Alternately, you could say that he's given a 2 star review 5 of the last 7 weeks.

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May 28 Ardeo: 2.5

May 21 Lima: 2

May 14 [No review]

May 7 [No review]

April 30 Viridian: 2

April 23 Willard Room: 1.5

April 16 Simply Home: 2

April 9 Birreria Paradiso: 2

April 2 100 King: 2.5

March 26 [Out of town restaurants-no stars given]

March 19 Faryab: 2

March 19 Grapeseed: 1.5

March 19 Passage to India: 2

March 12: Sette Bello: 2

March 5 Fogo de Chao: 2

February 26 David Craig: 2.5

February 19 Rasika: 2.5

February 12 [Romantic restaurants-no stars given]

January 29 Oya: 2.5

January 22 Acadiana: 2

Janaury 15 Cafe de Paris: 2

January 15 Evening Star Cafe: 2

January 15 Farenheit: 1.5

January 8 L'Auberge Provencale: 2.5

So basically, in 2006, Eve and 1789 are the only restaurants to break outside of the 1.5-2.5 star box with THREE WHOLE stars (not 3.5! or god forbid 4!). Depressing that DC's scene is apparently so consistently middling. I think I'd spew my Sunday coffee if I ever got to read about an area restaurant that was considered significantly better or worse than average. Or maybe average is just what gets reviewed?

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Or maybe average is just what gets reviewed?

Are there any deserving restaurants that have gone unreviewed?

I'd like to see a little more variation in the ratings too - mostly more ones and threes - but are there any deserving four stars in that list? Which ones should be higher?

I'd argue that Rasika deserves three stars, and I haven't been to a lot of the ones on the list, but based on discussion here and elesewhere I don't think any really stand out above the rest of the crowd.

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Depressing that DC's scene is apparently so consistently middling.

Consistent, yes, but middling? I think you might be confusing restaurant reviewer stars with ratings of the on-a-scale-from-zero-to-ten-with-zero-being-poor-and-ten-being-excellent variety. Most reviewers, as far as I can tell, use stars approximately the same way your first grade teacher might have used stars. Do well, get a star. Do exceptionally well, get a gold star. Etc etc. On a four-star system, a rating of two stars does not mark the halfway point between epiphanous and inedible. Do so-so...that's a bit trickier. Michelin simply ignores the existence of such restaurants. A zero star rating in a newspaper, however, might mean anything from "meh" to "avoid like the plague", depending on the reviewer.

I blame professional food critics everywhere, and Michelin in particular, for using an information design that is short on intuitive context and is easily misinterpreted. I wonder if Edward Tufte has ever suggested an better alternative...

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With the notable exception of Black Salt (two stars from Tom-Rammy for best new restaurant of the year from others) which I felt was worth three stars (I couldn't resist!) I have agreed with him almost across the board for the restaurants that I have been to. I think there is another perspective to this which most do not seem to focus on: four stars represent an absolutely superlative national-even world class experience. For me there are only three restaurants in the area that are on this level: Maestro, Laboratorio and Citronelle. As much as I like CityZen, 2941 and Eve they are still a step or two below these three. Still, three stars is quite an accomplishment. But I want to emphasize my comment above: my raves about those three above are not just hometown chauvinism. They are THAT good. I believe all three are among America's best.

Four stars have to be earned...with time and with repeated excellence.

Maestro may even now be four and a half stars....

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Consistent, yes, but middling? I think you might be confusing restaurant reviewer stars with ratings of the on-a-scale-from-zero-to-ten-with-zero-being-poor-and-ten-being-excellent variety.
I think you've hit the nail on the head with this. When Sietsema first unveiled his system, I seem to recall that a 1 star restaurant was worth going to if it was in your neighborhood, a 2 star restaurant was worth a trip across town or even across state lines for, a 3 star restaurant was among the best in the area, and a 4 star restaurant was an exceptional restaurant - among the best in the country. Zero star places tended to be popular places that he found middling or downright bad like Two Quail.

Of course they may mean completely different things at this point.

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Consistent, yes, but middling? I think you might be confusing restaurant reviewer stars with ratings of the on-a-scale-from-zero-to-ten-with-zero-being-poor-and-ten-being-excellent variety.
No, I'm not. I just find it queer that the vast majority of restaurants in DC--a city Sietsema himself calls distinguished, food-wise--are ranked at essentially the same very narrow level of quality.
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I think you've hit the nail on the head with this. When Sietsema first unveiled his system, I seem to recall that a 1 star restaurant was worth going to if it was in your neighborhood, a 2 star restaurant was worth a trip across town or even across state lines for, a 3 star restaurant was among the best in the area, and a 4 star restaurant was an exceptional restaurant - among the best in the country.
So...the same way Michelin does/did. Buy more tires, kids!
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No, I'm not. I just find it queer that the vast majority of restaurants in DC--a city Sietsema himself calls distinguished, food-wise--are ranked at essentially the same very narrow level of quality.

Are you reading the reviews or just keeping track of the stars? If the latter, of course it seems narrow. If there were just stars (or diamonds or beans or whatever) awarded, you would lump everything together. But the reviews tell the more full story of the reviewer's experiences at the restaurant. Some two-stars had good food and good service, some had great food and bad service. Some were just cute, cozy joints that were great, but don't aspire to or achieve any much creativity, but do a good job and are worth visiting.

If we look at the list, I see a good variety of locations, cuisines and experiences. Most were two stars - Good. Do we really need a food critic to tell us that Maestro and Citronelle are fantastic every week? I think it's great that Tom isn't just reviewing only the top restaurants which most people only visit for special occasions if they can afford it.

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Do we really need a food critic to tell us that Maestro and Citronelle are fantastic every week? I think it's great that Tom isn't just reviewing only the top restaurants which most people only visit for special occasions if they can afford it.
Nor, apparently, do we need a critic telling us about bad restaurants we shouldn't bother with. Seems they're all okee doke around here!
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Tom Sietsema: I am an optimist by nature (I know, I know, journalists are supposed to be sour and skeptical. "If your mother tells you she loves you," a writing coach once told his students, "check it out.") I go into every new restaurant hoping to like the place.

Sometimes reality intervenes, though, as it does this Sunday. For the first time since I introduced the star system three years ago, I'm giving a restaurant zero stars - a "poor" rating.

With so many choices out there, I think it's as important to know what to avoid as it is what to seek out. Especially if that restaurant is in a well-known neighborhood or has some "names" or pedigree attached to it.

From Tom's chat today... Can't wait to see what restaurant it is :-)

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Sometimes reality intervenes, though, as it does this Sunday. For the first time since I introduced the star system three years ago, I'm giving a restaurant zero stars - a "poor" rating.

With so many choices out there, I think it's as important to know what to avoid as it is what to seek out.

Hallelujiah. It's about bloody time he realized that.
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From Tom's chat today... Can't wait to see what restaurant it is :-)

We could play a game - name that restaurant.

It needs to be high profile, opened or changed chefs/menus recntly, but at least two months ago. And not been reviewed yet.

Oh and it needs to suck.

Looking back through the recent thread - I came across Nage. Pretty uniformly poor reviews here, but it has gotten an Eve Ziebert review and she liked it. I don't think Tom goes back to places already reviewed by others.

So what is your guess? Step right up. Win a prize (or not).

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Is this the first time or are there other places with a zero rating?

Yes, this should be interesting for sure!

Didn't he give Zero to Two Quail when he introduced the system in his Dining Guide way back when? I think this will be the first body slam since then. Maybe the new Clyde's based on his comments? Or is that too obvious?

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Would he bother with a new outpost of a chain? Vin in Baltimore has been open about two months and has been getting awful reviews on chowhound.

I agree. I don't know about Vin, but I took a look at the comments on chowhound. Boy oh boy! It sounds exquisitely unpleasant.

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Would he bother with a new outpost of a chain? Vin in Baltimore has been open about two months and has been getting awful reviews on chowhound.
I'd hope he could find a "poor" restaurant in the District to review. Telling me which restaurants to not go to in Baltimore doesn't help me that much because, you know, I don't go to almost all of them on a daily basis. And when I want to eat there, I'd look in, you know, the Baltimore newspaper.

Perhaps there are just no "poor" restaurants in DC?

[pause]

:):lol::)

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How bad could a place be to get zero stars from Tom? It must be pretty damn bad, for him to write about. I always thought that he just did not do reviews on the really bad places. I was looking forward to another two star review this week.

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I had a chilling thought just now, but a) I can't imagine he'd be so cold as to give Agraria a full review considering their situation, and B) also, it doesn't suck. Too soon for Blue Duck... he's hinted that Jimmy's on K Street may not live up to his first good experience there... his comments about "well-known neighborhood" and "pedigree" give some clue, but not enough.

Clyde's does seem the likely front-runner, thanks to chat comments like "the expansive new Clyde's is pretty dismal" and "I simply deplore some of the shoddy cooking going on at the locally owned chain's newest branch, in Chinatown." Oooh, burn.

It occurs to me I'm spending too much time and effort thinking about this, but I've got to admit, I'm extremely curious.

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I'd hope he could find a "poor" restaurant in the District to review. Telling me which restaurants to not go to in Baltimore doesn't help me that much because, you know, I don't go to almost all of them on a daily basis. And when I want to eat there, I'd look in, you know, the Baltimore newspaper.

Perhaps there are just no "poor" restaurants in DC?

[pause]

:):lol::)

That's what makes it so perfect! He satisfies the people that whine about how he never reviews restaurants towards Baltimore (hello! It's the WASHINGTON post) and satisfies the folks who say he rates everyone too high.

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I had a chilling thought just now, but a) I can't imagine he'd be so cold as to give Agraria a full review considering their situation, and :) also, it doesn't suck. Too soon for Blue Duck... he's hinted that Jimmy's on K Street may not live up to his first good experience there... his comments about "well-known neighborhood" and "pedigree" give some clue, but not enough.

Clyde's does seem the likely front-runner, thanks to chat comments like "the expansive new Clyde's is pretty dismal" and "I simply deplore some of the shoddy cooking going on at the locally owned chain's newest branch, in Chinatown." Oooh, burn.

It occurs to me I'm spending too much time and effort thinking about this, but I've got to admit, I'm extremely curious.

It would be a let down if it is Clydes, we all knows it sucks. Sounds like Tom is trying to sell papers. That Clydes has been open for a while, If he was going to reveiw it he would have already done so. I just hope he does not bash the place like he did Extra Virgin, It was not a full review but it was pretty harsh.

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We could play a game - name that restaurant.

It needs to be high profile, opened or changed chefs/menus recntly, but at least two months ago. And not been reviewed yet.

Oh and it needs to suck.

So what is your guess? Step right up. Win a prize (or not).

What about that new PGA-themed restaurant on Rockville Pike, in Congressional Plaza? I've heard a couple bad things; much what you would have expected from a place that focused on its theme vs producing good food.

It is in a prominent location, with tens of thousands of people driving by daily wondering if the place is any good.

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What about that new PGA-themed restaurant on Rockville Pike, in Congressional Plaza? I've heard a couple bad things; much what you would have expected from a place that focused on its theme vs producing good food.

It is in a prominent location, with tens of thousands of people driving by daily wondering if the place is any good.

I apologize, but how could anyone be wondering if a "PGA-themed restaurant" could be any good?

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Too soon for Blue Duck... .
Also, Blue Duck doesn't suck. I had dinner there on Monday night as well and was pleasantly surpised by the quality of the food. Service was a llittle rocky, but something that will smooth out with time. The house made bratwurst with sauerkraut was superb, tasted like the brats mdt and crescentfresh brought to the picnic.
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