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I ate at the Sushi Damo restaurant in the new Rockville downtown center yesterday. The place is attractive, with one exception. There is an enormous Japanese flag along the far wall that cannot fail to cause some of us who lost relatives in the Pacific to whince.

The food for the price is disappointing. The shashimi lunch is $15.50 and one gets about 7 small pieces of fish. The restaurant charges $2.50 for a tea and $7.50 for a small sake. My partner and I did not get good responses on refilling either the water or the tea. In general, the service and presentation are ordinary and not up to the prices. During the hour or so we spent there at lunch (on a Thursday at noon) we saw only about 4 tables occupied. It is hard to imagine the place lasting.

If you want a great Japanese restaurant in the area, one that has been in operation at least 3 years, try Ziki's in Gaithersburg, at the corner of 370 and Fields Road. The sushi is the best in the entire Washington Metropolitan Area, all the food is well-priced - and there are ample choices, and the service and management are considerate and quite friendly. Most, if not all, customers return. The bar features happy hour during the week, with extremely low bar tabs on the well-made drinks.

Service in Suburban Maryland

Many of the restaurants in suburban Maryland use unprofessional waiters - some seem barely 18, but there are broader problems.

The three scenarios occurred within one week.

At the Gaithersburg Kentlands' Bonefish, a trendy spot specializing in martinis, I recently ordred a [regular vodka] martini. The young girl waiting bar tables returned and asked if I wanted red vermouth or white vermouth. When I appeared stumped (red vermouth?), she stated emphatically that "we do not put vermouth in any martinis unless the customer specifically asks for it!" I ordered coffee. (I am 60, and not that demanding. OK, so that is a big part of the problem of course; recognizing my limitations, I am taking steps to dine out as infrequently as possible.)

I went to a Bethesda restaurant (Centro) and asked for an Old Fashioned; the yougster disappeared then returned in a few minutes and pronounced proudly: "We don't carry bitters!" I left.

Latter in the week, I had lunch at Amici Miei, a noted Italian neighborhood upscale restuarant. The trout came with bad olive oil. I fetched the proprietor through the busboy (I didn't know the busboy from the waiter) and got the main man, who lectured me on "Don't tell the busboy, he is non-verbal." and then told me in no uncertain terms that he and the chef use only the finest ingredients. So I was wrong on two counts, embarrassed - as the tables nearby caught it all - and a little sick from having tasted the olive oil. There was no attempt to remove the trout from the bill and I and my friend skulked out.

I used to dine at some pretty fair restaurants, like Lion D'Or, Le Bec Fin in Philly, and I still like Jean Michel in Bethesda, so I am not new to dining. But I see a trend. Any comments?