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pltrgyst's Profile

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New cheese shop in Sarasota

We've been in several times since March. Very nice cheeses, imports as well as domestic. Prices are no higher than we're used to at home (DC), and lower than ordering from Artisanal in New York. Condition and maturity (ripening) are excellent. We'll be down in Lakewood Ranch full-time from about March 2013, so we're really hoping this place is successful! Nice people, too!

Sep 12, 2012
pltrgyst in Florida

Excellent supper at Lavandou (Cleveland Park)

We've been going to Lavandou occasionally for many years, and this was the best food we've ever had there, on a crowded Friday night, to boot. The sole negative point was a "risotto" made with inappropriate long-grain rice, rather than carnaroli, vialone nano, or arborio, but it was still tasty, if disappointing. The pate campagne was excellent, and the cheeses, in particular, were well selected and served at the correct room temperature.

Againn DC update

Started on the wrong foot with a lost reservation, which had been made and confirmed directly with restaurant by telephone.

The food quality was excellent (esp. pork belly and hanger steak), but some menu descriptions (i.e. smoked salmon, which is a ground patty) are misleading. The side Welsh Rarebit was plebeian and should be avoided (yes, I am Welsh).

Comparatively decent wine markup (2.5x retail).

The table was simply too small for two to enjoy a full supper with wine (we had to relocate our bread basket and other items to the windowsill), which made the entire meal awkward.

The content of the "Private Scotch Lockers" tends toward Johnny Walker Black -- pretty funny! Apparently they don't have a very discerning clientele.

Nice bar, but not a place we'll be heading back to for a meal.

Lahiere's, Princeton (closed)

I'm a lot olfer than you are, and the A&B was on the opposite side from Lahiere's long before 1985. 8;)

Nov 22, 2011
pltrgyst in New Jersey

Cafe Soleil: Good intent, poor execution.

Limited, reasonably priced wine list -- we ordered a Gruner and a zin, but were served a cab from the same vineyard. The red was not opened immediately as requested, and they had no decanter, so we asked for a pitcher and decanted it ourselves. Baked brie sub-par, rubbery rind, domestic? Smoked salmon supermarket-like, but nice presentation. Pistachio crusted salmon fine; lamb shank needed a bit more braising time, but acceptable. Frites excellent. Mashed potatoes crusted from sitting under warmer too long, not good.

Well-meaning server overheard that it was my birthday (we were grabbing dinner before an Improv show) and brought us unbidden a small chocolate cake with candle -- I HATE THAT! It offends me no end. And to top it off, the cake was awful -- ate one bite and quit. We never got to see the dessert menu. We will probably never go back for dinner.

Note to restaurants: Please ditch the birthday cakes. Some of us don't appreciate it at all. If we wanted something special done, we'd arrange it with the restaurant beforehand. If we can afford two bottles of wine, we can afford to buy our own desserts.

Laguna Beach: 5-1/2 (Feet)?

DC guy looking for a little help from LA area locals. My wife and I used to love a place in Laguna Beach called 5-1/2 or 5-1/2'. They served some terrific Asian fusion food.

I can't find any current Web reference to it. Can anyone tell me if it's gone for sure, and perhaps when it folded, and who the chef or principal was, and if he's landed anywhere else in the area?

(I'll check back here when I think of it, but an email copy of any information to chowhound(at) with any information would be appreciated.)

Thanks -- Larry

Apr 25, 2011
pltrgyst in Los Angeles Area

Need recommendations for good eats around the inner harbor..Homewood Suites

"Certain menu items appear everywhere, but the executive chef at each location has a lot of control over the menu... They put out a consistently good product."

Agreed. We've eaten at almost every Roy's location -- plus two that are now closed -- and have never had a disappointment, other than the fact that most are not open for lunch. Three years ago we were told that we were about to get a Roy's in DC, but I guess the economy put the kibosh on that.

First visit to Bistro Cacao

I had wanted to try Bistro Cacao, and OpenTable's Spotlight featured
them this week, so I plunked down my $25 for the $50 credit. Before
the Spotlight even filled, I made a reservation for last night. The
offer filled, and I was able to print out the voucher about two hours
before leaving for downtown.

Metro got us there a bit early, so Schneider's it was. Fifteen minutes
later, with one Cognac tasted and two bottles of Cognac and Calvados
richer, we headed down the block at 6:30 for an early supper.

There were a couple of tables already occupied, and we were seated in
one of the curtained-off two-tops in the easternmost dining room. The
chairs were overstuffed easy chairs, a bit too low for the table height,
even for me at 6'3"+. Using the loose pillows at our backs as seat
cushions took care of that problem.

When our server brought menus, I have him the OpenTable voucher and
asked if we were the first users (I'm sure we were). He didn't recognize
the voucher, and asked if we had anything that looked "like a check"
(They're pretty obviously used to Groupons and the like.) I said we
didn't, and he went off to verify with someone else. A few minutes
later, he returned and told us it was fine.

We ordered pheasant pate ($8) and smoked salmon (a daily special, $12)
to start, with rack of lamb ($21) and an onglet ($19) to follow, a glass
of Lauverjat Sancerre (2009, $10) to accompany the salmon, and a bottle
of Paveil de Luze Margaux (2006, $67).

The Sancerre arrived immediately, followed by the appetizers about five
minutes later. But it didn't seem to occur to our server that a glass
of the Margaux was needed to accompany the pate, so I had to flag him
down again. A few minutes later that was sorted out, although it took
two requests before my wife was given the wine to approve, since I was
already working on the Sancerre.

The pheasant pate was accompanied by baby greens. It had a very smooth
texture, as opposed to being a coarse country pate, and was delicious.

The smoked salmon was accompanied by very small, tender capers and a
mound of arugula with a very light vinaigrette. It was absolutely superb
-- possibly the best I've had in the last two years. My only criticism
would be that it was accompanied by too much arugula.

The main dishes arrived a bit too quickly on the heels of the starters,
but their quality overcame that minor irritation. The rack of lamb was
outstanding, tender and juicy, perfectly medium rare, with a hint of
mustard on the crust. It was accompanied by a cake of sauteed mashed
potato, which I found a bit dry, rather than buttery/creamy, and six
spears of perfectly roasted asparagus.

My onglet was au pointe as requested, with a deeply seared crust, and an
excellent red wine and shallot reduction. The onglet was in two
similarly-sized thick pieces, which is optimal. I wasn't sure if the
frites were freshly cut or not, but they were around 3/16" square and
perfectly cooked. I snarfed them all down, which is something I very
rarely do. Two small ramekins of catsup and mustard were provided; I
assume these are concessions to American taste, but it was disappointing
to see them.

We ordered a cheese plate, which included Roquefort, Camembert, Petit
Basque, and Le Chevrot (goat), accompanied by plump red seedless grapes
and thinly-sliced apple. (Their Web site lists St. Andre as well, but
none was served.) The cheese was served too cold; we waited five minutes
or so for them to warm a bit, but they still suffered as a result. The
Camembert in particular was a bit inferior, and the Roquefort was
decidedly handicapped by our having nothing appropriate to drink with
it. (I'd generally prefer that after-dinner cheese courses do not
include blue cheeses, since their taste seldom complements the flavors
remaining in the mouth after a meal.)

For dessert, we had profiteroles ($8; like the onglet and cheese,
mandatory on the first visit to any French bistro) and a trio of sorbets
($7), raspberry, mango, and lemon. The sorbets were very good, but I
don't think they were house made; they tasted to me exactly like Haagen
Dasz. The profiteroles were not very good at all. They tasted warm in
spots, cool in spots, as though they'd just been warmed in a microwave.
The pastry cream was all right, but the chocolate sauce was not as dark
and flavorful as I would expect to find in France (or at home).

We skipped after dinner drinks and coffee. The drinks menu did not offer
Calvados, and I felt the Cognacs, etc. were somewhat overpriced,
starting at $13 for a plebian vsop. This was a bit surprising, since the
wine list is well-chosen and nicely priced. (But since we have well over
100 single malts and an assortment of Armagnac, Calvados, Cognac, etc.
at home just a Metro ride away, that was fine with us.)

My sole exception taken to the wine list was that it includes only one
malbec, and that Argentinian. What? Onglet and no Cahors? Sacre bleu!

Overall, there were a few holes in the service, but the staff was
friendly, and things will only improve. The food was very good overall,
comparable to Bistro d'Oc and Montmartre, but in a slightly more formal

The check came to $166 plus tax, less the $50 certificate. Not bad for
a first visit to a relatively new restaurant. We'll be back.

Bistro Cacao
320 Massachusetts Avenue, NE, Washington, DC 20002

Anyone been to Cork's (Federal Hill) lately?

The menu changes too frequently for specialty dishes. But the food quality is very reliable, particularly when Jerry himself is cooking.

Another recommendation in that neighborhood would be Bluegrass Tavern, where Corks' former sommelier, Chris Coker, now operates.

Chinese in D.C. that isn't Full Kee

Annandale? Probably Peking Gourmet Inn. It and Peking Duck (less expensive, run by Chang's son), on US 1 about four miles below the Beltway, are the best Peking duck in the DC area, IMO.

Peking Gourmet Inn
6029 Leesburg Pike, Falls Church, VA 22041

NYC Hounds Coming to DC for 4 Days

Nit: 3-1/2 blocks. 8;)

Dinner at Grand Cru, Ballston

Drawn by the wine pricing, we had dinner at Grand Cru on Sunday night. I made a reservation for three at 6:30 through OpenTable, and we met our friend visiting from Denver there at 6:20.

It's a smaller place than I expected, and the tables are to one side of the room, not much separated from the wine stacks in the middle, with the bar and a few raised bar tables to the right. The bar has a large TV showing the Food Channel. The noise level is very high with the place two-thirds full.

Despite the fact that there were a couple of four-tops set and vacant, the hostess said they didn't have our table yet, so I asked her to call us when it was ready, and we headed for the bar.

The first thing we learned was that they don't have a wine list. The only way to select wine is to walk around the wine stacks and select and pick up your own bottles. Unfortunately, the wines are not very well organized -- there is duplication between wine regions grouped on the racks, and wines from the same regions displayed on the wall. And it's awkward at best, since the labels (and prices) are tiny, and you have to bend over to read each one. So I picked up a nice Gigondas and a Cotes de Blaye from a producer I didn't know, and returned to the bar.

My wife, meanwhile, had ordered a couple of appetizer dishes (the bruschetta got raves). The waitress gave us wine glasses, but seemed surprised that we might want two glasses each for the two wines.

And there we sat, from 6:20 until 7:10 -- 40 minutes after our reservation time. At that point, the waitress led us, carrying our bottles and glasses, to our table in the dining area. Well, not really. She gave us a table wedged between the raised bar tables and the door, with the space around one side of the table impeded by assorted hardware on the floor. Frankly, from my stroll around the wine stacks, the main dining area didn't seem much better, so we just settled in to order.

Our guest ordered their mac and cheese, which turned out to be penne/ziti rather than elbow macaroni. he enjoyed it; it looked like a small portion, but he said it was filling. My wife had the mussels, again a small portion (about 12-15) in a broth made spicy from chorizo. I had the charcuterie platter and the cheese platter. The waitress couldn't tell me what meats were on the charcuterie platter, or what the specific cheeses were, beyond "brie, blue, goat, and one more", and didn't offer to find out. Fine. Just do it at this point.

The meats turned out to be a thickly cut, fatty prosciutto; two salamis/sopressata; and a few paper-thin strips of the chorizo. The cheeses were a small lump of an innocuous chevre, a thin slice of Petite Basque, two thin slices of a hideously smoky firm cheese, one eight-inch-thick very small slice of an undistinguished brie, and two thin slices of a blue whose taste was so chemical that it could have functioned as paint stripper.

Each dish was accompanied by three slices of different breads -- a decent rosemary bread, a tasteless brown bread, and what was once a slice of white country loaf fried to a zwiebeck-like state of crunch. Sadly, there was nothing approximating a normal baguette in sight.

We shared two of their Belgian chocolate mousses for dessert. They were quite rich and good, but the filling of the accompanying pirouettes was inferior milk chocolate. Plain cookies would be much better.

The Gigondas (Guigal, 2005) was excellent, as expected. The Cotes de Blaye (also a 2005, not good enough for me to remember the producer) had a bit of an edge to it that never quite went away. It might have had a chance had it been decanted, but there were no decanters available. Odd, that, for a wine bar.

So there were good and bad points. The atmosphere, while loud, is enjoyable. The seating is a bit cramped. The food was, in general, quite good. The cheese selection needs improvement, and the cheeses need to be served at the proper temperature. The wine selection is quite limited, but the prices are good, and the corkage fee was only $5 per bottle.

But being seated that late for an early reservation, at such an undesirable table, and served by wait staff pretty much ignorant of the foods they're serving, doesn't impress me. My wife says she'd go back, but I'm not inclined to return, except perhaps for a bottle of wine at the bar.

Grand Cru Wine Bar & Bistro
4401 Wilson Blvd., Arlington, VA 22203

Spezie Disaster / Smith and Wollensky Disappointment

Yes, but even in the center it's creamy, unlike the airiness of a ricotta-dominated cheesecake. It gets very dense indeed at the periphery, and it's typically around two inches high, rather than the 3-1/2 inches of this version.

Spezie Disaster / Smith and Wollensky Disappointment

No rudeness inferred. But 1) we had plenty of time -- over two hours -- when we arrived; 2) the server was *not* running behind; they were not that full 3) the server definitely knew we were his table. He had brought us the RW menus, and responded to my inquiry about the regular menu by bringing me that one as well. And he was an older gentleman, which generally means a pro, and portends good service to come. But if he didn't know that we had closed our menus and wine list before the other table was even seated, then Spezie's staff is has a much bigger problem than just that one waiter.

On OpenTable, there were two problems: 1) Their "no show" entry under your account does not provide any means for you to respond directly from the Web site, and 2) their no-show email, which provides you that capability, was not sent (or at least not received). I had to use their "Help" link to request a re-send on the notification.

We've done all those others you mention; I just wanted to try Spezie because it's there. Same for iRicchi. You win some, you lose some.

BTW, Nancy is my wife -- not sure how here name got here. I'll have to check the account settings. -- Larry

Spezie Disaster / Smith and Wollensky Disappointment

I generally avoid RW like the plague as well, but we had to eat somewhere before this show, or be condemned to eating the food at the comedy club. My wife has enjoyed several lunches at S&W in the past year. Her fillet was actually quite large; the sole problem was its appearance.The service there was very accomodating, and they appreciated the fact that by that time we were time-cramped. I'm sure that if I had said something, they'd have made it right, but at that point, we didn't have time, so I ate for sustenance, not satisfaction. 8;)

Spezie Disaster / Smith and Wollensky Disappointment

My wife and I were going to see John Oliver at the Comedy Club last night. We reserved via OpenTable a couple of weeks before at nearby Spezie, which looked interesting and had a bit of a Roberto Donna pedigree.

We showed up five minutes before our 8 p.m. reservation time, checked in at the maitre d' stand, were seated, received menus, bread and water. We were then ignored for a half-hour, never even getting to order wine. When our waiter finally reappeared, he took the orders of an adjacent table who had been seated *after* we closed our menus and wine list, before approaching us. I asked him why he had taken that table's orders before ours, and he had no reply. That was it. As we left, I asked at the maitre d' stand for the manager, and explained to him why we were leaving. My wife works a block away, but I seriously doubt that they'll ever receive any of our business.

To cap it off, they lied to OpenTable and reported that we never showed up. Nice people, eh?

So we strolled over to Smith and Wollensky, which had plenty of empty tables, and were seated immediately. ( I should probably mention in advance that I generally despise steakhouses.)

My wife ordered from the Restaurant Week menu at $35, having the Wollensky salad, a fillet of beef, and chocolate cake for dessert. I ordered from the regular menu, their signature split pea soup ($7.50), and the "Butcher's Cut" prime rib ($35). Not having enough time before the show to drink our usual bottle, we ordered two glasses of a chenin blanc / viognier blend, and two glasses of an Argentine malbec (or "melbec", as the wine list calls it).

Of course, it being the night from hell, our waiter returned a few minutes later (8:45) to tell me that they were out of prime rib. So I settled for their veal chop rib eye ($36), medium rare, and an order of fries.

My wife's salad and my pea soup were excellent. The fries were excellent. Both meats were disappointing. My wife's fillet tasted fine, and was done nicely medium rare inside, but the outside was an unappetizing uniform grey, with no marks whatsoever. My veal chop had faint marking on the outside, but no seared crust whatsoever. Inside, it was rare or bleu, nowhere near the specified medium rare. The cut itself was small and not of very good quality, riddled with sinew.

As the dishes were cleared, my wife's cake was delivered. I was never offered a dessert menu or asked if I wanted to order a dessert, so I hailed the waitress and asked for a slice of plain "New York" cheesecake.

The cheesecake was not at all New York style -- Lindys and Katz's have nothing to fear. It was good, with a good, straightforward graham cracker crust, though heavier on the ricotta and thus lighter in texture than true New York style. My wife's chocolate cake was decent, although odd in one regard -- for Restaurant Week, (without advising that they were doing this), they took their regular four-layer chocolate cake and only served the top two layers of a normal slice. How cheap -- and dishonest - is that? (Yes, I did view the entire normal slice displayed on their dessert cart in the rear of the dining room.)

So we had the dining night from hell. Coupled with our disappointment with the food at i Ricchi, that area of downtown doesn't look very promising.

Fortunately, John Oliver was incredibly funny, and rescued the evening. Highly recommended if you get a chance to see him do stand-up. Just eat first at one of your tried-and-true restaurants.

Need a restaurant near the harbor in baltimore!

Charleston is great, but not quirky. For something more interesting, you might try Roy's Restaurant, across the square from Charleston. Or better yet, to get "cozy" in there too, try Corks, on Federal Hill. Very small, terrific food, sensational all-American wine list, staff who care.

One Day and Night in DC

Restaurant Eve is 14 blocks, nine-tenths of a mile, from King Street Metro. There is a free trolley up and down King St. at certain hours.

Good Butcher in NOVA?

The place is very small, run by an expat Brit. But he's very accomodating. Doesn't have much in stock, but he'll order you anything. Buy there a time or two, and he'll take your orders by phone. He has been getting us some very nice slabs of pork belly recently. Yummm!

Good Butcher in NOVA?

Good tips -- but I'd go even further: We age and dry our beef on a cooling rack in the refrigerator for at least five days, turning it every day, before cooking. We cook rib roasts at 170 to 200 deg. F (i.e., the lowest temp. your oven will hold reliably), until they reach 120 internal, and then rest for half an hour before serving. The result is a nice crust with the inside a perfect pink from edge to edge, as good as you will find anywhere.

Les Halles closing

But Bistro D'Oc, like most others in DC, does not serve all afternoon on Saturday and Sunday. Les Halles was close to unique in this regard. Bistro Francais is another. Where else can we go around the mall for our lazy weekend afternoon meals?

Les Halles closing

Pity. We loved going there for the pate, rilletes, onglet, and a bottle of Cahors on Saturday afternoons. Back when they opened, they had the best cheese selection in DC, a very good selection of Calvados, and a great retail butcher shop in what later became the party room. Plus a blond curly-haired waiter from Texas who spoke perfect French, for entertainment. 8;)

Bistro D'Oc is good, but the tourist hordes on that block are intolerable -- far worse than we ever saw at Les Halles. We'll really miss the place.

Cafe Normandie in Annapolis

We've been going there occasionally for over 20 years, the last time about two weeks ago, before a show at Ram's Head. The place has definitely gone downhill. The atmosphere and smells are fine, but the food is a solid notch below, say, Le Refuge in Old Town Alexandria. It's going to be very difficult for us to go back, given other options in Annapolis. Les Folies Brasserie is a far superior choice.

Prime Rib in Northern Virginia

Surprisingly enough, Outback Steakhouse does a quite creditable prime rib for very little money.

Supper at i Ricchi

On Monday night, tempted by Open Table's "Appetite Stimulus Plan" ($24 for two courses at lunch; $35 for three courses at supper) promotion and the fact that my wife has recently taken a new job nearby, we made an early reservation, 6:30, at the highly-regarded Italian restaurant i Ricchi in Washington DC. My wife and I checked our coats and were seated at a table for two, immediately parallel to and two feet away from another such table. This wouldn't normally be a problem, but these particular neighbors not only spent much of the evening gabbing on their cell phones, they even ran a charging cord from their table to a nearby outlet. The place filled up fast, which was a bit surprising on a rainy, cold Monday evening.

It's a very attractive dining room, with an open kitchen. Unfortunately, the opening to the kitchen is quite high, so all you can see are the heads and shoulders of the kitchen staff -- not even enough to tell where the various stations are located.

The list of Italian wines is quite extensive, offering more lesser-known varietals and regions than usual. Nice large wine glasses were delivered, along with very small water tumblers, which must have been topped up ten times during our meal. We ordered a decently priced, inexpensive 2003 primitivo ($59), and settled back with the menus.

While other restaurants in the area were touting the "Appetite Stimulus Plan" in their windows, nothing was in evidence at i Ricchi, and we never saw or were offered the promotional menus, so I can't comment on their offerings.

We were provided with a basket of mixed breads, olive oil, and balsamic vinegar. The olive oil was particularly good, rich and fruity; the vinegar was good, but nothing outstanding, approximating what we use at home for cooking. A focaccia-like bread was well received, but the slices of typical Italian bread were inferior -- heavily crusted, with a very bland interior of overly fine crumb.

We shared a plate of proscuitto with "Florentine bread fritters," which turned out to be beignet-like in shape and size, and tasted midway between pizza dough and pita bread. The ham was really excellent, but was accompanied by chunks of melon so unripe they never should have been served by a restaurant of this repute.

We next shared a dish of risotto with braised veal and mushrooms. The dish had a perfect autumn flavor, but the rice was far overcooked, so much so that I have no idea whether the rice was arborio, carnaroli, or vialone nano, Italian or American. The grains were so large and plump that they almost looked like barley; from the size alone, it must have been arborio.

Both these dishes were split by our waiter between our plates, so that we didn't have to wrestle with the sharing.

I was tempted to try i Ricchi's brick chicken, to see how it stacked up against what we make at home, but we were warned by our waiter that that dish was not a strength of the kitchen. So my wife had their "half chicken basted with lemon, fresh sage leaves and olive oil grilled over oak coals," while I ordered a veal chop done in a style (something like "Cielina"?) which is not on the Web site menu.

The chicken dish was served with absolutely wonderful roasted potatoes, but the chicken itself, while quite moist and tasty, despite the lemon slice on top, gave up no flavor of lemon or sage.

The waiter had warned that the veal chop would be "cooked through," which I took to be a by-product of the style claimed on the menu, but it turned out to be simply grilled, with no discernible added spicing, herbs, or flavor. As a result, the chop was medium well-done and quite dry. Had it been medium-rare to medium, it might have been enjoyable. It was accompanied by a large block of fried polenta, which was very good indeed.

Both dishes included warm but virtually raw carrot slices coated with a butter sauce. They looked appealing, but tasted like large slices of the same synthetic "carrot" material invariably found in fried rice dishes at every Chinese restaurant. (Some day I'm going to figure out where they mine that stuff...)

We skipped the cheeses, which consisted of an Italian blue, which would have been appalling with the last of the primitivo, and the usual hard Italian cheeses that neither of us finds appealing after supper, and plunged straight into dessert: a four-cheese "torte di formaggio" and a dish of house-made lemon sorbet. The sorbet was excellent, but a very small portion; the cheesecake, despite the enticing description, was indistinguishable from any well-made ricotta cheesecake, with a crust laden with unannounced walnuts.

Capping the meal with acceptable Illy espresso, we decided to quit while we were ahead (we were ahead, weren't we?), and headed home for Calvados and Cognac. The total bill was $211 plus tip.

Our verdict: a very attractive dining room, but bathrooms that need sprucing up; a decent meal, but a solid disappointment overall. Despite the stellar reputation, the food was ordinary -- every dish we were served was either inferior to a similar dish at another area restaurant (e.g., the veal chop at Da Domenico), or inferior to what I make at home (e.g., the risotto). It also didn't help that my chair was rammed by the staff six or seven times during the meal -- maybe it's me, since the same thing happened the last time we dined at Citronelle. Considering the price and level of food quality, I'm afraid we won't return.

Best Burger in DC area

(Hi, Bill!) Fuddruckers went through about a one year period when the weren't allowed to cook to order. Their business dropped off drastically, and several years ago they went back to producing rare and medium-rare right on-the-button. If the downtown locations are overcooking, they're simply screwing up.

Other great burgers (fresh beef, charred/crusty outside, rare to medium-rare inside): Hamburger Hamlet, Chadwick's in Old Town, Ted's Montana Grill, Clyde's, District Chop House.

Well-done shoe soles dripping with grease, likely to put you on the john in discomfort in two hours or less (as they did to me last week): Five Guys.

Best Pizza in DC?

Ledo's is definitely an acquired taste -- a local specialty dish, like deep-dish Chicago pie, nothing like Napolitan pizza. It's an aberration, as is Generous George's (ugh!). They're in a class with Five Guys burgers (which is, essentially, for shoe-eaters: people who don't like good burgers).

2 Amys, Paradiso, and Vace are competitive. Around Alexandria, Faccia Luna and Quattro Formagii turn out decent New York style pies. A.V. Ristorante (still open?) has always had great crust, and always put too much on top of it. There is no excellent grilled pizza (Al Forno style) except at our house. 8;)

I would disagree with the OP and say that the critical elements of pizza are the dough quality, the dough preparation (thickness, etc.), and the cheese. The sauce is almost incidental on a proper Napolitan or New York pie. The sauce could be either tomato paste-based, or fresh tomato chunks, but the key point is that it should be sparingly applied. Even an outright white or four-cheese pizza can be fabulous.

Rustico, Alexandria

First, there really is no "neighborhood ambience" around Rustico. Apart from a very few on-street spaces, you must park behind the buildings with the dumpsters and walk around to the restaurant. All that's there is Rustico and Buzz, the pretentious pseudo-bakery across the street, and a couple of other shops that close early. There is really no neighborhood in the Old Town sense -- it's an industrial area that is being developed. (To be fair, a la Lucia is in a developing commercial/residential area as well, a decent walk north from the heart of old town.)

The food has been good lately, and the beer, as others have mentioned, is outstanding. The wine selection is pedestrian. In addition to the bar and its seating area, there are (4?) seats at a counter overlooking the kitchen, which are our favorites. As you enter the front door, the bar area is to your right, and the main dining area to your left, so, yes, it is separate.

Any Decent Beignets?

We haven't found anything around DC or Baltimore like Cafe du Mond or Cafe Beignet's beignets, so we make our own. They're very easy, whether you use Cafe du Mond's boxed mix or a scratch recipe, and you can eat as many as you want! 8;)

a la Lucia or Rustico

He does. And he knows how to rip you off on California wines in his adjacent wine shop, so beware. The food is consistently good at a la Lucia, but we find the back room, although quiet, to be quite sterile (as in boring). The life of the restaurant is in the front dining room.