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Mar 22, 2013 03:48 AM

Someone must be eating there...

I've lived in this area (Maryland burbs of DC) since 1986. There are some restaurants that have been around since I moved here, or before, and I don't know a soul who has ever been to any of them. Yet they survive in what is always a brutal business. A few years back, out of curiosity, I went to one of them - Les Vieux Logis on Old Georgetown Road. Old was the operative word. We were the only people under 80. Tommy Joe's is another. Trattoria Sorrento. Aji Nippon. Steamer's (I tried this one 20+ years ago; I am astonished that they are still in business). Guardado's.

I'm not saying that these places are not good. I'm saying that in all these years, knowing all these people who eat out all the time, I don't know of anyone who has been to these places, which seems sort of improbable.

Anyone else notice this kind of place/phenomenon?

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  1. More important, would you go back the LVL? Is the quality of the food, service and experience more important or the trendiness? Some the "hot" new spots are also quite mediocre, but the fuss made over them at times is embarrassing.

    41 Replies
    1. re: law_doc89

      This. I'm always up for a nice high-end meal, but having been burned by so much overpriced mediocrity, I find myself retreating to less buzzworthy fare: simple, unpretentious food served by people who've been doing it for a long time, and don't think they have to crank the stereo up to 120dB to generate "buzz." I'm talking "inauthentic" Chinese-American food, Italian-American food, divey diners, classic bistro fare, etc. Maybe the 80-somethings know something we don't? Or maybe they just want dinner without a lot of buzz?

      And when I hear an eatery described as "trendy," that's my cue to stay the hell away.

      1. re: monkeyrotica

        I have to agree that there is way too much poseur trendiness around these parts, and some of the tried and true places become more appealing as a result. I read some pretentious reactions to the latest “hot” place, and it is all back story about the chef, or the concept, but then nothing that tells you about the food. If the reaction to a restaurant is about the glitz, but the impression of the food reporting is superficial, I tend to believe the emperor might not be wearing any clothes. Some people, after all, buy brand names for safety. If a lot of old people have been going back to a place for a long time, it could be that they like it because it is good, or they are afraid to try something new, or who knows why? But to choose where to dine because you feel that the clientele are somehow not cool is silly. One of the best meals I ever had was in a biker bar in southern Virginia.

        1. re: law_doc89

          For me, it's about the food. Period. But, you never know about a place until you try it. There are places I've been going to for decades because they're still good and they're still there.

      2. re: law_doc89

        Nope. It was barely mediocre. I thought Sietsema's review (May 2012) was kind. Overly kind. I suppose that too makes me wonder how it survives. It isn't cheap.

        And with all the great crab houses nearby, and given the price of crabs, why would you ever go someplace mediocre at best (Steamers)?

        Yet they survive.

        1. re: Just Visiting

          I'm guessing Steamers survives due to the porch -- it certainly cannot be the food or the [lack of] service

          1. re: Just Visiting

            Just curious, what was it about it that made you feel it was mediocre?

            1. re: law_doc89

              It was quite a while ago, but as I recall, the dining room had an unpleasant smell and the clams were off. I didn't get the sense of freshness that I look for in a place that specializes in seafood. But I did love that porch.

              1. re: Teddybear

                Oh, I thought you were referring to LVL.

              2. re: law_doc89

                OK sorry for the confusion. The "just mediocre" and the reference to Sietsema's May 2012 review were about Le Vieux Logis.

                Then the other part of my comment was about Steamers.
                And Teddybear's comment actually caused me to remember that long-ago trip to Steamers. It smelled bad and the seafood did not seem fresh. Or even close to fresh.

                1. re: Just Visiting

                  Steamers seems to be for college students on Saturday night. You know, those who want to remember the haze of spring break.

                  LVL, ate there twice, having memorable duck, while my companion had the Dover sole, which left me for a hankering. I then went back there, had the Dover sole, and it was poorly, slightly undercooked, and not well deboned. The service was friendly and attentive, but I left with the impression it is a very uneven place.

                  It brings to mind La Ferme, another geriatric restaurant. I went there for a society dinner, and we each ordered steaks to be cooked in different ways. Everyone at my table got medium regardless of what had been ordered, and I remember the veggies cooked to mush. Perhaps the worst restaurant in the DC area, but raves and lauded in things like Zagat,

                  1. re: law_doc89

                    We are in violent agreement on La Ferme. I loved it years ago, even though it was always more for the older set. But back then, the food was always great. I hadn't been there for at least a decade when, about two years ago, I took an elderly friend there for dinner because she also used to love it. It was dreadful. The vegetables were as you said - mush. Tasteless mush. Her venison was inedible. My meal had so little flavor that I can't even remember what I had. The service was terrible. She didn't want to be near the piano so we asked for a table far away from the piano. They walked us to a table near the piano. We had to ask them to move us. They never checked on us once. I asked to have just one flavor of the sorbet and they told us they couldn't do that as it would screw up availability for later customers. I looked around. It was 8 p.m. on a Sunday night and the place was nearly empty. What later customers?

                    1. re: Just Visiting

                      Sounds like we are violently AGREEING about LaFerme. It is dreadful but, somehow, well loved by a lot of people.

                      1. re: law_doc89

                        you can always depend on any Clyde's restaurant for great food & service, especially Tower Oaks in Rockville or forever-there Old Ebbits.

                        1. re: MjDematteis

                          Well, I'm not sure I would have included any of the Clydes restaurants in this "someone must be eating there" category to begin with. We've found that Clydes operations go up-and-down. We happen to like the one in Tysons but we have had some really lousy meals and some really enjoyable meals. Tower Oaks is uninspired; nothing wrong but just not good value and the decor is distractingly kitschy. They should have dialed that down a bit.

                          1. re: Just Visiting

                            sorry, disagree. A Tower Oaks chef was featured on Food Network & is nominated for Chef of the year. We eat there often and the food is great, well plated and delicious. The decor is beautiful. Go & see.

                            1. re: MjDematteis

                              Actually, being featured on Food Network pretty much says it all. Not exactly an honor these days. And it is Restaurant Association of Maryland Chef of the Year. The winners are chosen by customer voting, not by other chefs. Decor is a matter of personal taste, but to me, it feels like someone tried too hard. Oh, it is a British theme! Tally ho! Haul out the fox hunting bugle and tack it to the wall!


                              It's rustic! Quick! Glue some snowshoes to the wall!


                              1. re: Just Visiting

                                Celebrity and competence are not the same are they?

                                Read a study on preference years ago where people were presented with reviews of restaurants, some good, some bad. After a time interval, they were asked to pick a place to eat from a list that contained the names of the previous restaurants mixed with other ones. The participants picked the ones they had heard of before, and the bad reviewed ones were chosen equally with the good, but the new ones were overwhelmingly/ People seek what they have heard of and fear the unknown and do not make choices based on quality at all for the most part.

                                1. re: law_doc89

                                  "People seek what they have heard of and fear the unknown and do not make choices based on quality at all for the most part."

                                  I doubt that's true on this forum. I'm always skeptical of generalizations, but particularly so here.

                                  1. re: Hobbert

                                    Of course, all psychology studies elucidate general probabilities, but even on this site, one can see that there are many people who follow trends, and they cannot tell you why. The old people who go back to these dated, tired restaurants no doubt ossified in their preferences years ago, but many younger people are ossifying in their preferences now. Why else would Clyde's prosper?

                                    1. re: law_doc89

                                      Perhaps because the food is good? It may not be your preference but its condescending to declare that anyone who eats at Clyde's, for example, is some sort of lemming with standards that don't live up to yours. There are many restaurants and dishes I don't care for but I don't feel superior to those who do- we just have different tastes.

                                      1. re: Hobbert

                                        "I doubt that's true on this forum."


                                      2. re: law_doc89

                                        Why does Clyde's prosper? Probably because they have food that is generally inoffensive and a liquor license. That's about all it really takes.

                                        1. re: flavrmeistr

                                          You've hit it squarely on the head;
                                          Said it better than I have said!
                                          "Inoffensive" is the key:
                                          And leads to mediocrity.

                                      3. re: Hobbert

                                        This is the Clyde's Willow Creek Farm dinner menu. It's got the usual standards plus some more interesting stuff. (Nice cheeses.) Obviously it's not all cutting edge, but anyone who cannot go here with some less adventurous eaters and find something acceptable and even interesting would fit the definition of "food snob" to a T.


                                        1. re: Bob W

                                          Oh, I completely agree. I've been to that Clyde's a couple times and was always perfectly happy. I can't understand this requirement that every single meal be sublime and utter perfection. It must be exhausting.

                              2. re: MjDematteis

                                'Great' food at Clyde's? Is it also 'amazing?'

                                1. re: Steve

                                  In my now 20+ experience with Clyde's, I'd say the food is never amazing, rarely great, usually good to very good, and never rotten.

                                  Our worst experience was at the Tysons Clyde's -- the service was awful.

                                  Now we usually go to the Willow Creek Farm, which has been very dependable.

                                  1. re: Bob W

                                    My worst Clyde's experience was Georgetown. Second worse was Chinablock. Tyson's was fine. Neither over nor underwhelming. The best you could say was that I was whelmed. Clyde's is where I go when I want to feel whelmed.

                                    1. re: monkeyrotica

                                      Great word! I will be stealing it. And yes, that is exactly how I feel about Clyde's.

                                      1. re: Just Visiting

                                        Weird to see all the hatred for Clyde's. I've had a few good meals at their places. I liked the pork chop I had at the Chevy Chase location a few years back and I've had good bites in the bar before the occasional Wizards' game in Chinatown. Service was always fine and while it's not the best food in DC, I found it to be tasty. Seriously, what's wrong with you people? You honestly don't understand how a restaurant that consistently makes good middlebrow food survives? Are you that out of touch with what most folks can afford and find enjoyable? Guess what, most restaurants don't turn out AMAZING food on a nightly basis. Sometimes being consistently good-enough means success.

                                        1. re: The Big Crunch

                                          When my brothers visit, we go to some place like Hong Kong Palace. When my in-laws visit we go to a place like Clyde's.

                                          There are always going to be people on websites like this that simply cannot admit that they could get a good meal at a popular place. Perhaps they have never noticed that even the esteemed Chowhound has a "Chains" board.

                                          1. re: Bob W

                                            Yep. You can do better, but you certainly could do a lot worse.

                                            1. re: flavrmeistr

                                              yes, the worst one can say about any of the Clyde's is yawn, not for my birthday, please, but otherwise sure, I'll go.

                                              1. re: hill food

                                                Unless you want 6 types of oysters, perfectly cleanly shucked, and served quickly, by a decent bartender, with a cold, tasty, craft beer, in a wonderful setting, and 1/2 off $ between 11am and 4pm on weekends. Where do I sign up!

                                                1. re: Pappy

                                                  I said I'd go, it's just not the sort of place that pops into mind for an "event"

                                            1. re: The Big Crunch

                                              I don't see any hatred for Clyde's in this thread. I see people describing their experiences, which is basically "food is usually OK, sometimes really good, sometimes not, and not very creative." Not just "Clyde's bites." And of course my comment about the banal yet too-much decor at Tower Oaks, which is hardly hatred.

                                              You are setting up a straw man argument here where none exists. No one is saying that middlebrow food isn't OK.

                                              And actually, as I said before, it is rather surprising that someone even mentioned Clyde's in this thread.

                                              1. re: Just Visiting

                                                Clyde's works it's way into a lot of threads on this board, usually by people who don't like it very much.

                                                "I am of two minds on the subject, more or less in agreement with each other."--Peter Ustinov

                                                1. re: Just Visiting

                                                  Well, there was a comment that lumped Clyde's in with "tired, ossified" restaurants, and it is not that. That menu I posted upthread includes pork belly and excellent cheeses such as Cabot Clothbound, so give them some credit for trying to keep up. 8<D

                                    2. re: law_doc89

                                      La Ferme died a slow, agonizing, painful and finally deserved death. But as Just Visiting mentions, it served well in the 90's, only to become an unrecognizable shell in the 2000s.

                        2. I've been to Trattoria Sorrento -- although not recently. But as I recall it was a good value. Like Il Panetteria across the street, it's mainstream Italian that is well prepared at a fair price. Not an occasion restaurant, but a pleasant enough place to meet friends and enjoy a meal without breaking the bank.

                          1. When did Guardado's open? 10 years ago? I think it's a great place-- for a while I thought it was one of the hidden gems of Bethesda and I still like to go.

                            I've only been to Aji Nippon a couple of times but I liked it and I know people who swear by it.

                            There are certainly places I've never been (Monte Carlo, Olazzo, Cesco, Assagi) but I guess I don't assume that I would know everyone who goes out to eat in the area.

                            3 Replies
                            1. re: Doh

                              I don't assume that I would or do know everyone who goes out to eat in this area. I just find it surprising that I know so many people who eat out frequently - at least 3x week - and have done so for years. And, of course, you can also get a sense of where people are eating by looking at this board and other local food boards. Certain places seem never to be mentioned.

                              So perhaps it is an index of trendiness - the same kind of people who post are the kind of people who are not likely to be going to these places. Auto-correlation, in other words.

                              1. re: Doh

                                Olazzo is always packed. Its good enough red sauce Italian.

                                1. re: reiflame

                                  Agreed. They make some tasty meatballs as well as a perfectly good lasagna. Prices are cheap and the staff has always been friendly. The Washingtonian has included it a number of times in the 100 Best Cheap Eats issue.

                              2. You just need to hang out with more 80-year-olds.


                                  My wife and I get to Rehoboth every other month or so, and always walk by Red Square just to see if anyone is in there.

                                  We've never seen anyone eating there. Pretty much convinced it's some sort of mob front.