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D.C. Dining
Exploring the best of D.C.'s cuisine
(Published January 23, 2006)

By MARTY PEARL

I am Chef Marty and I want to share good times with you. For those of you who don't know me, I have been the publisher and editor of D.C. Dining magazine for the last two decades, and I have written for a number of other papers and magazines, including industry publications and for the Restaurant Association of Metropolitan Washington. I am the head of the D.C. Dining Society. I have done some radio and have appeared on enough television shows for people to see me on the street and wonder where they know me from. I have had the pleasure of watching the amazing growth of the restaurant industry in this city to the point where we now attract world-class chefs and restaurants at the top end of the dining scale, and we have developed an amazing array of affordable neighborhood and ethnic eateries.

I eat at a lot of local restaurants to chase down the latest "hot" dish and to find out who is still doing the old favorites best, and I travel around the country eating my way through many huge trade shows each year to taste the new products we will be getting the following seasons for restaurant kitchens and the shelves of our grocery and gourmet stores.

I consider myself fortunate to be able to call many chefs and restaurateurs my friends, as most of them are really great people who enjoy making people happy, so I will tell you before I begin to write about individual locations that I would rather share a great experience I had to help you find a new pleasure than to complain that a third-generation family-owned restaurant that has built up a loyal following put too much sauce on the pasta! That is not to say that I won't try to call 'em as I see 'em just that I prefer to spread the word on the good times I have, so it is more likely that most of our future together will be about places that I hope you will want to try.

I believe in value. There are some $100-$200 expense account/special occasion meals that are well worth the price for the food, service, ambiance and entertainment (and, of course, some that are just a waste of good money and the time you spent there). Unfortunately, we are not able to confine our dining just to these finer places, so I also look at the "real world" eating that we do on a daily basis. I want to know who offers the best $9 fried chicken dinner in town and which Chinese restaurant will deliver a reasonably good meal for $12. If you are willing to sacrifice a bit of decor and service, there are some buffets that offer nice selections for not much more than the price of a meal in a fast-food joint, and some in a higher price range that will offer you nearly as good a meal as you can find anywhere. I happen to be a fan of buffets, if they are of good quality not just so I can overeat (which I do too often), but because I like to see the artistic displays of foods and garnishes. I like to be able to sample a wide selection of tastes, and I like to see how much work the chef and his staff put into the dishes that are in front of me. As with any other style of dining, there are some fine buffets and some that are certainly less attractive, but I hope to be able to show you some of those that deserve your consideration.

Another of my biases is in favor of civilized weekend brunches, so I hope to be able to separate the wheat from the chaff in that area. Mostly, however, I am going to try to share with you the everyday, not-too-expensive restaurants (and special food events like charity tastings and such) that give us the most bang for our buck in an area that is being blessed by a healthy and thriving food culture.

In my next column, I will feature chefs who have come to D.C. after working in some of the best and most famous restaurants in America like Nate Bearfield of Smith Point Restaurant, who cooked at Lutece in New York before its sad closing last year, and Jamie Stachowski of Restaurant Kolumbia, who started with the first celebrity chef, Wolfgang Puck, at Ma Maison in Los Angeles a lifetime ago. Beginning next issue, I will show you how to get as much value and pleasure for your dining dollars as possible, so stick around.

I welcome your comments and questions. If there is something you want to know about food and drink, if I don't have the answer, I probably know someone who does. Please write to me in care of the paper or e-mail me. Although I may not be able to answer everything, I will not only publish some letters, but Chef Bearfield has offered a dinner for two complete with wines that he will choose to match his great food at Smith Point to the writer whose letter I consider the most interesting.

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Write to Marty Pearl at ChefMartyDC@aol.com or at The Common Denominator, 3609 Georgia Ave. NW, Suite 100, Washington, D.C. 20010. Messages may be left on his voicemail at (202) 722-6397.

Copyright 2006 The Common Denominator