Ask Tom, Answer Gansie

rat. food critic
Anton Ego, Food Critic, Ratatouille

Hi all. Welcome to the next edition of Ask a Professional, Answer a Blogger.

one / “mom, dad, well, i’m not pregnant”

Downtown/The Hill: Hey Tom! I need your expert guidance. My boyfriend and I need to tell my parents that we are (gulp!) moving in together. They will be in town in a few weeks and we thought we tell them over dinner. I sent the menu of Central to my Dad and he balked. Can you recommend the perfect, moderately priced, meat and potatoes or Italian restaurant we could go to? They will be staying near Galludet and I work downtown, so in the vicinity of either would be great.

Thanks so much!!!

Tom Sietsema: Try the revamped Dish in Foggy Bottom, Sette Osteria in Dupont Circle, maybe the new Marvin on 14th St. NW, near V.

gansie: aaaahhhh. I super sympathize with this girl. Dropping the whole “living in sin” bomb was NOT on my list of favorite things to discuss with the parental units. All I can say is, I hope her boyfriend doesn’t have to go under the knife when parents finally visit. My suggested restaurant for this occasion: Bistrot du Coin. It’s affordable, absolutely delicious and will supply enough noise to block out any awkward silences.

two / dining with animals is quite common in Europe

New York, NY: Dear Tom:

Visiting D.C. last weekend, I was enjoying a fine meal at Hook on M St. in Georgetown with three friends — we were the last four in the upstairs dining room, close to midnight — enjoying dessert when over by the window, under a table, I spied a large white rat. I called over a staff member and told him what I had seen; he went over and confirmed that there was indeed a rat there.

His explanation was “construction”‘ next door. No apology. No offer to buy us a drink or dessert or to even send over a more senior staff or manager.

I live in New York and do not spook easily — this is just an unacceptable situation.

Tom Sietsema: Yep, a manager should have been called in to address the issue. Even a “I’m so sorry, let me look into the problem” from someone senior would have been nice.

A question for lurking restaurateurs: What kind of compensation, if any, does such an incident merit?


Capitol Hill, D.C.: Would you really want free food from a restaurant that had a rat in it?

Tom Sietsema: I’d vote for a cocktail myself. Something strong.

gansie: I think I’m with Tom on this one – one dirty martini for the girl who’s standing on her chair, screaming about the rat.80’d take an after dinner 10 year tawny port. Dad gansie – a dessert to go.

three / i think a muzzle might work

Arlington, Va.: Tom:

I’d like to know why there seems to be so much hostility toward even well-behaved children dining out in this area. I know you’ve discussed this before, but my recent experience has left me more than a bit puzzled. My wife and 3-year-old were dining at a very casual Mexican restaurant last week. My son had eaten his dinner and had read a few books and colored, but after an hour, we broke out his mini-DVD player (with headphones). No one around us seemed to notice or care. A guy sitting about 30 feet away from my table came over to our table after finishing his meal. He slammed the display screen shut and told me and my wife that we should “Get the h— out of here, and don’t come back until your little s— can eat without disturbing me.” I thought he may have been drunk, but his waiter later told me that he’d only ordered two beers. When I stood up he asked me if I wanted to step outside. The manager intervened and threatened to call the police before the guy stormed out. Can you or any of the other chatters here tell me how they could possibly get upset like this?

Tom Sietsema: It appears that road rage has entered the dining room. Scary.

His behavior was way out of bounds, which makes me wonder: Am I getting the full story here? Did something else transpire?


well-behaved child : While clearly the other diner was in the wrong for trying to pick a fight, “well behaved” can mean different things to different people.

To a father used to kid noise and mess, “well behaved” can mean the kid didn’t knock over the table. That same “well behaved” kid can be loud and distracting to another person in the restaurant.

Tom Sietsema: Right. Which is one reason I asked if there was anything the poster was leaving out.


kids eating out: Tom,

I’ve also seen the nasty looks and heard the complaints that I dare to bring my child out to eat. In our family, “well-behaved” means speaking at a normal tone of voice, minimal (one) complaints about the vegetables, no running around, no crazy body movements. I’ll grant you, my son’s conversation relies heavily on Hot Wheels and Bionicles, and if I was a stranger listening to the talk, I might get irritated. But the answer to that is to mind your own business, not demand that children be kept out of restaurants. Is the problem that people can hear children at all? Are they offended by the higher pitch of their voices? It’s true that it is too easy to hear little kids, but that doesn’t mean they are being bad.

Especially in casual restaurants, I wish people would relax a little. If you really don’t want to see or hear other people’s children, no matter how well-behaved, then stop coming to cheap restaurants before 8pm. Sorry.

Tom Sietsema: Well said

gansie: Okay, so I’m clearly not a parent. I also don’t have any friends that have children. Well, I actually just went to a baby shower for one of my co-workers, so that might be a lie. And on the baby shower thing, Yok’s was a co-ed, Saturday night shower – with plenty of beer and wine. Drinking Coronas and not having to “ooh” and “aah” at baby strollers and breast pumps was a great time – really.Back to kids at restaurants. Well, I can’t remember the last time I ate with or around kiddies. I’m such a snot, going to the best places to eat in the city (courtesy of 80’s parents – thank you!) that I honestly don’t know how I would have handled the above situation. Although I’m sure rolled eyes would have been included in a litany of obnoxious, selfish 20-something huffing and puffing.

four / you can add this one right after “veggie”

One in my menagerie of pet peeves: Tom, the Baltimore Sun restaurant critic Elizabeth Large gave voice to a complaint I’ve had since I first heard the term: why do restaurateurs think that the ghastly term “gastro pub” evokes gourmet instead of medical images? I don’t think “gastronomical” when I see “gastro” — I think “gastrointestinal.” What do you think?

Tom Sietsema: I think you’re over-thinking!

Just kidding.

I’m fine with gastro-pub. I’ve never thought of the term in any other way than as relating to food — in this case, elevated pub grub.


“Gastro”: Finally — someone else that dislikes that term! I always think a “gastro-pub” should serve Pepto-Bismol.

Tom Sietsema: Funny!

ganise: I actually also think gastro-pub sounds like some sort of abdominal ailment.

But, I defer to our beer critic, Tim, on this one.

five / i’d like maggie gyllenhaal to play me

Arlington, Va.: Hi Tom!What are your favorite food/restaurant movies? In the past couple months my chef husband and I have watched “Waiting” (hilarious, though sort of inappropriate), “Ratatouille” (cute) and “The Big Night,” which is my husband’s old favorite from culinary school. The first scene in particular is so true and reminded me of your chat. (in an Italian restaurant, a woman orders risotto. When it is served she demands the side of spaghetti that she is sure is supposed to accompany it.) Have you seen these, and are there any others that have reminded you of your job?

Tom Sietsema: I saw Ratatouille for the first time, just a month or so ago. LOVED it — even though I thought the critic was a caricature. (Films tend to portray chefs more accurately than they do reviewers. Remember the Julia Roberts movie, where she played a critic and told her friend during one dinner she thought the meal was “perfection” or whatever? And what she was going to say in her review? No critic would talk aloud about that kind of stuff, certainly not in the company of eavesdropping waiters.)

Other favorite food flicks: Tampopo, Babette’s Feast, Like Water for Chocolate, Sideways, the Wizard of Oz (I always wanted to try Aunt Em’s crullers, which she doles out to the farm hands in an early scene).

gansie: Lots of fodder here.

One, I didn’t love Ratatouille. It was cute enough, but I liked The Incredibles way more. And when 80 and I had mice in the apartment, I kept thinking they’d be all over my kitchen, cooking and eating all of my food while I was sleeping.

Two, the Julia movie he’s referring to is like the best movie ever – My Best Friend’s Wedding. Dermot Mulroney is totally hott and I love his deep voice and how he whisperingly signs “The Way You Look Tonight” to Julia as they sail under an overpass. Ugh. Pure chills. But yes, maybe, Julia does not pass as a food critic. Well, shit, maybe she does, if I get to write about food why shouldn’t she.

Three, Sideways is one of my favorite movies. I love Virginia Madsen’s sexy monologue describing the journey of grapes.

Four, the mention of Wizard of Oz is telling, to say the least. It’s also my mom’s favorite movie, no connection intended.

Full Transcript.

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  • 80 Proof February 28, 2008  

    Behavior of kids in restaurants is a tough call. Parents sometimes think whatever their kids do is cute. Like the time a kid tried to recite the alphabet, but thought it consisted of 26 t’s. T T T T T T, all said in a high-pitched voice. Sorry parents, not cute. Incredibly annoying.

  • BS February 28, 2008  

    I can’t believe you mentioned Marvin without bringing up a certain someone yelling at their bouncer:
    “I’m a food critic – I will ruin you!”

  • JoeHoya February 28, 2008  

    As someone who lives just a few blocks from Gallaudet, I’m disappointed that Tom couldn’t think of any place worth eating in my neck of the woods. I would have even accepted anything on Capitol Hill as a decent attempt!

    That being said, if this woman’s parents are staying “near Gallaudet,” the deck is stacked against her to begin with. New York Avenue may have a big new Marriott in the works, but we’re not exactly flush with hotels that I would recommend to friends (or casual acquaintances) at the moment.

  • gansie February 28, 2008  

    and i clearly whispered that to the bouncer in the most professional manner possible.

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