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It’s Hard to Go Wrong at Johnny’s Half-Shell, Says Sietsema

The week in restaurant reviews

Johnny’s Half-Shell
R. Lopez

After being disappointed by The Shaw Bijou last week, Tom Sietsema’s First Bite duties bring him to The Back Room at Kingbird. The new option at the Watergate is much more of a hit, with a dramatic bouillabaisse, an appealing rib-cap steak, and a celebratory feel. “Throughout dinner, the service runs as smooth as silk, with Santoro making a point to visit each table. Compared to the bustling Kingbird, through which patrons pass en route to the tasting experience, the Backroom is sedate — which should not be confused with boring,” he writes. [WaPo]

Meanwhile, the critic’s full review is a rave for the relocated Johnny’s Half-Shell. The three-star review says it’s hard to go wrong there. “You probably want to know what to eat. The easy answer would be ‘just about anything,’ but the effort put into the menu deserves more elaboration,” he writes. Go for squid, crab cakes (a “near perfect” dish), and don’t be afraid to stray from the seafood, either. “There’s nothing showy about Cashion’s cooking. Her reserve speaks volumes. It’s as if all she wants to do is cook to make you happy. Slips are few and easily fixable,” he said. [WaPo]

Travel with the $20 Diner to Rockville’s Thai Cuisine. Tim Carman finds blood-spiked soup and plenty of fire at the restaurant, an offshoot of an original in Olney.

“Wherever the family draws inspiration, their best dishes are often found in the specialties section of the menu. The Crying Tiger doesn’t look like much on the plate, little more than a timber pile of marinated strips of rib-eye. On their own, the meat sticks are modest pleasures, their slight chew providing ample time to ruminate over the flavors of the sweet, savory marinade. But when scooped up with a piping-hot clump of sticky rice and dunked into the accompanying nam jim jaew sauce, an impenetrable concoction of pure pungency, the steak assumes a new identity. What was once a sketch has become a fully composed work of art.”

The restaurant does not pound its own curry pastes, he warns, but they do spike existing ones. Find Chinese influences in several of the dishes here, too, he writes. [WaPo]

Arlington Magazine has a first taste of the new Ambar. Rina Rapuano advises diners to wait a bit before rushing to the Capitol Hill offshoot. “This restaurant clearly has the potential to be a neighborhood go-to, but the management and kitchen are still working out a lot of kinks. Nobody answered the phone during business hours when we tried to make a reservation; we didn’t get one of the dishes we ordered; food came out of the kitchen very, very slowly; and there was no toilet paper in the ladies’ room. Give it a month or so.” [AM]

Don Rockwell visits China Chilcano. His dumplings weren’t al dente, but he likes the Peruvian chicken stew and tuna ceviche. “China Chilcano is an excellent choice for diverse groups of diners, as Peruvian cuisine tends to be quite mild – mixed in with overtones of Chinese and Japanese, there is something at this restaurant for (if you’ll forgive the cliché) diners from 8 to 80,” he writes. [DR]

THE BLOGS: Bitches Who Brunch give Alta Strada’s morning offerings a B+...Been There Eaten Yet sees attention to detail at Wildwood Kitchen.

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