My virtual acquaintance, Todd Kliman food editor at the Washingtonian, has oft mentioned that restaurant reviews primarily reflect a “snapshot” and that they have an expiration date. Not that he needs further evidence to bolster the credibility of that position, but my recent meal at Oriental East provides it. OE was once on Washingtonian’s Cheap Eats for twelve years running but Sunday night they were well below par.
Known more for efficient rather than friendly service, this evening neither option seemed to be available. Knowing how time seemingly accelerates when starving, it is worth noting that I received a text message as I sat down and then checked my phone again to learn that it had been 10 minutes before anyone bothered to stop by my table to give me tea and water. It took another 5 minutes for someone to inquire about my order in the not very busy room.
A “Chef’s Special” platter included egg drop soup that needed salt like I still needed the beer I ordered. The eggroll had a part of the wonton that was so hard that it literally hurt my tooth to chew; and the beef dish (sorry, I can’t recall the name) lacked any semblance of the heat that the two peppers printed on the menu promised. Not eating all day will drive even someone who has a professional love for food to do strange things – like mixing in hot mustard to the brown sauce in vain attempt to give this dish some culinary gravitas.
Since I never got my beer, my tab was only about $12 but I still felt foolish for paying for food this bad. Owing to another maxim from you, I shall not cross this place from my list, because every place can have a bad night but still be a good restaurant.
In my personal Burger Rankings, Palena is still in the top spot, followed by Hell Burger, and Toledo Lounge (also on my list for best jukeboxes in town,) however my most recent experience at Morton’s downtown vaults them back into the discussion. Cooked perfectly medium-rare and topped with blue cheese, sautéed onions and bacon, this burger was beefy salvation on a bitterly cold day. Dan, the extremely capable and friendly lunchtime bartender, helped make the experience even better. That I had forgettable lobster bisque didn’t significantly detract from the experience. Soup, burger, and a couple of Bass Ale (Morton’s, please get some interesting beers in your bar) was about $40 pre-tip.
Since I left the restaurant industry and claimed refugee status, I have experienced a few restaurant weeks on the guest side of the table. I have officially declared this experiment a failure. The best places that participate provide hit or miss service depending on the luck of getting a server who embraces the concept rather than disdains it (mostly because, as any first year business student will tell you, the culture of an organization exists top down.) Most places engage in some combination of the following: adding extra tables (hard to enjoy yourself when virtually sitting in the lap of your neighbors,) dumbing down their menus (hard to really appreciate the talent of a kitchen when they deliberately swing for the infield,) reducing portion size, or have excessive up-charges. If a restaurant isn’t willing to view the increased food cost of Restaurant Week as the marketing expense and opportunity that it is, they should resist the strong armed tactics of the Restaurant Association and refuse to participate as I have by removing the list of RW recommendations from my blog.
That the Oval Room waives corkage on Saturday evenings makes a terrific culinary value even better, but I am begging people not to mimic the behavior of the table next to mine who came with two bottles of supermarket plonk in tow. Being gauche at a discount is still gauche.
While DC’s cocktail attention has been deservedly focused on the excellent libations at PX Speakeasy and Gibson, Aroma lounge in Cleveland Park has long merited a place in that conversation – but only on the nights Karen is working. One of the few bartenders in the city capable of making a Santero without instruction, she produces cocktails of great distinction (I am pecking this missive on my computer while enjoying one of them) and is a delight to have on the other side of the bar.
In closing, if I haven’t mentioned lately how much Todd Kliman has added to DC’s culinary landscape, I’m mentioning it now. He and his team are working on the side of food angels, and consistently provide the best restaurant coverage in the region.