Guess first impressions really do matter. Todd Kliman's formal review of Mala Tang for this month's issue of the Washingtonian is more or less the same as the mini-review he wrote back in May for his online chat. You know, back in May, one week after the restaurant opened. There is, of course, a little more fleshing out of the concept, and this time Kliman can officially give the Clarendon Szechuan restaurant 2.5 stars for its hot pots and street food.
Kliman begins both reviews discussing the hazards of Westernizing something like the Szechuan hot pot, which he fleshes out in the magazine with some context about chefs like Wolfgang Puck and Rick Bayless interpreting Asian and Mexican cuisine. He also gives a little more attention this time to the collaboration between chef Liu Chaosheng and brothers Oren and Tomer Molovinsky in their attempts to take hot pots trendy. Both reviews mention that the challenge "was to Westernize the hot-pot meal without sacrificing its essential character."
Both reviews also have variations on the thought that the use of individual-sized hot pots rather than the usual communal pot turns "a free-for-all of an experience into something more subdued." Back in May, Kliman talked up the "richly marbled" pork and now he adds to that the "glisteningly fresh" calamari and a raft of vegetable options — oh, and he also now finds that the individual-sized pots are good for two people to share.
But, as Kliman writes word-for-word in both reviews, "Hot pot isn’t the only reason to come. It might not even be the best reason." He cleans up the prose a little bit for the magazine, but essentially for both reviews he praises the wood-ear mushrooms, pork dumplings, dan dan noodles and scallion pancakes that make up this portion of the menu.
His only real complaint in both reviews is the same story about a waitress giving faulty cooking advice that, if followed, would have turned his pork "into something akin to licorice." Or "boiled licorice," depending whether you listen to present-day-Kliman or May-Kliman. [Washingtonian]
Once again, service is the issue at hand this week as Candy Sagon steps in for Tom Sietsema in this Sunday's review of Harth. She gives the new Hilton McLean Tysons Corner hotel restaurant two stars — and its the service that holds the restaurant back from scoring even higher.
Sagon admits she's persuaded by chef Thomas Elder's declarations that this is not just a hotel restaurant and writes that "Elder and his chef de cuisine, Philip Thompson, have a soothingly light touch: with the vinaigrettes on the salads, the butter sauce for the vegetables, the fish and seafood dishes that are some of the best entrees on the menu." She praises the pan-seared Virginia flounder and a deconstructed Maine lobster lasagna.
There are a couple of clunkers on the menu, but Sagon mostly reserves her complaints for the service here: "The staff is certainly friendly, but it misses on such basics as keeping water glasses filled, pouring wine, refilling coffee, clearing dishes. The attention level during a breakfast visit was even worse. We finally complained, and on our last dinner visit, things had improved." [WaPo]
THE BLOGS: DC-Wrapped Dates finds Zentan is not as great as expected, probably wouldn't return to Willow but finds Oh Fish worth the expense; We Love DC takes a first look at Station 4 and then catches up with Acqua al 2 after its first year in business.