Tom Sietsema's full, two star review of José Andrés's new China Chilcano is out in the Washington Post Magazine and he spends a lot of his word count on the restaurant's striking decor. Not only does he find the interior and the menu layout so overwhelming it drives him to drink pisco sours, Sietsema also has a complaint about the seating. He writes:
Whipped up by the same Spanish designer who gave Washington the whimsical Jaleo and Minibar, Juli Capella, China Chilcano has the most uncomfortable seating of any new restaurant. The banquettes are plumped with so many pillows, diners feel trapped, while the trim booths seem designed with human reeds in mind. (Suck in your gut if you’re not Kate Moss.) [WaPo]
Sietsema calls out some delights on the menu at China Chilcano, like cilantro-spiked lamb potstickers, sea urchin on potatoes and skewers of grilled shiitakes, chicken thigh and marinated duck tongues. But he also writes, "If I could ask a favor of the kitchen, it would be for the cooks to taste their work more. Salt bullies a few dishes at China Chilcano."
Meanwhile, Sietsema thinks the new SER in Ballston is easy to like, just like the words that make up the names of its initials (Simple Easy Real). He writes in his First Bite review, "Good Spanish cooking isn’t common in Washington. And for a place that’s been open only a month, this one comes with the surprise of good service."
Todd Kliman appreciates the bold flavors of Laos at Columbia Height's new Thip Khao. He writes in his Washingtonian review:
What makes a Lao meal so thrilling is the way it seems to expand the dynamic range of a standard-issue Thai meal. Everything feels intensified, sharpened, like a recording in which the bass and treble are both turned up to max. Dishes aren’t hot and sour and pungent. They’re HOT and SOUR and PUNGENT. [Washingtonian]
Grand Trunk, as described by Maura Judkis in the Washington Post's $20 Diner column, sounds like a very special place indeed:
That’s all before you walk down the vertigo-inducing see-through staircase to an underground lair with light-up floors that gives off the simultaneous vibes of Bollywood movie, Las Vegas nightclub and set of "2001: A Space Odyssey." Because there are more than 70 TVs playing at any given time, the room is frenzied with distraction. "Are you watching the floor or the wall?" asked one friend. With each one on a different channel, programming ranges from "The Bachelor" to the movie "Baby Mama" to all of the off-putting pharmaceutical commercials that air after prime time: "Side effects may include dizziness." That’s for sure. One of my fellow diners dubbed it "the panic room." [WaPo]
With a scene like that, the food is almost inconsequential. Judkis writes "...something seems to suffer in this style-over-substance setting. If the flavors were right, the textures weren’t — and vice-versa." [WaPo]