Professional, unbiased reviews of all kosher restaurants located in the State of Maryland and the District of Columbia.

Monday, September 05, 2011

Umami Bistro is not family friendly

The following letter was sent to the restaurant and to the Star-K who declined to take action since this was not a "kashrut violation."

Dear Star-K,

Last week, my wife and I, along with my 1.5 year old toddler and my mother-in-law, ate at Umami Bistro. We entered the restaurant at approximately 6:30 p.m. We were told to sit in a booth near the back of the restaurant, and then were switched to a small table near the front by the owner’s wife. My daughter was seated in a high-chair at the table. At that time, the restaurant was relatively busy. The service was poor (we had to repeatedly ask various people for utensils, napkins, water, etc.), but we enjoyed our meal without complaints.

Throughout the meal, we fed my daughter bits and pieces of food, some of which inevitably fell on the restaurant floor. Although we initially tried picking up some of the food, we decided to wait until after the meal to clean up the mess. Several times, the owner's wife walked by and cleaned up the food particles herself. One time she walked over and rudely (and loudly) yelled at my wife: “what are you doing? People will see that! Why don’t you clean up after her!” After cleaning up the food, she stalked away. I called the owner's wife over and asked her to treat my wife with respect and courtesy. She yelled something unintelligible at me in a foreign language and walked away again.

I was personally shocked and disgusted by the conduct of the owner’s wife in public. What right does she have to chide us when she placed us in a high traffic/high visibility area? I was also outraged by the allegation that we were at fault for the situation. Bistro is billed as a family restaurant and all are permitted entrance, including toddlers. Toddlers make messes; that is their nature. Finally, I was extremely embarrassed and humiliated by her actions in front of my relatives, who are not observant. As a result of this incident, they likely will have a overall negative view of Jewish restaurants in Baltimore. This situation was a major chillul hashem.

Umami Bistro’s conduct was unacceptable. Umami Bistro is certified by the Star-K, and therefore represents the Star-K to Jews and the general public alike. A restaurant should never mistreat its customers, and a kosher restaurant even more so has that obligation.

How do you plan to handle this situation? Please advise.

Thanks for your attention to this matter.



Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Eli's Restaurant (in DC) - 5.8/10 Hamburgers

It has been way too long since we posted here. 4 years goes by quickly! A few quick updates: Brasserie closed. Umami opened. Mama Leah's moved to a new location (next to Goldbergs). Cinnabon at Towson mall is no longer kosher (sad!). We recently visited Eli's in DC and I felt that I should provide a review. Eli's is a quaint restaurant in Washington, D.C., our nation's capital, near Dupont Circle on 20th Street. There is a carry-out section immediately next to the restaurant, although we did not visit this area.

Food Quality: We ordered 1) a "New Yorker" - an overstuffed pastrami sandwich with french fries (ordinarily comes with corned beef and pastrami, but we substituted the corned beef for double pastrami), 2) one regular sized corned beef sandwich with a salad), 3) a bowl of soup of the day (tomato and rice soup), and 4) fresh potato pancakes with a salad. We were advised to avoid the steak. The tomato soup was tasty and juicy. Everyone enjoyed tasting it. The pastrami was a significant disappointment. Although we recognize that grilling pastrami often tends to dry out the meat, the pastrami was almost entirely devoid of juice. It was quite clearly overcooked and were not appealing. That's not to say they were not tasty altogether - the taste was acceptable but would have been far better had the meat been cooked properly. The bread was grilled as well and was crispy and fresh - it would have been nice to have the choice of grilled bread, as some prefer only their meat grilled. The meat came with a small container of coleslaw which was moist and tasty. Unfortunately as detailed later, we could not tell the difference in size between the "overstuffed" pastrami and the regular corned beef sandwiches. The corned beef was slightly juicier than the pastrami, but again, not extremely appetizing. The french fries were acceptable but not particularly juicy. The Old Bay seasoning on the fries (again, while a staple in the Baltimore/DC metro area, should still be provided as an option) was tasty although at times we felt as if I had bit into a red hot pepper. Do they mix the Old Bay with spices? We did not ask. The french fries felt and tasted as if they had been sitting in storage for too long. Some were cooked, some were overcooked, some were stale. Likewise, the salad that came with both meals was bland. Although it was accompanied by russian dressing, it was not particularly crisp. Aside from the tomato soup, the potato pancakes were the highlight of the meal. They tasted like fresh potatos, were juicy and perfectly cooked, and came with the option of apple sauce or sour cream. We requested both which was provided. 5 Hamburgers.

Service: We give this section the lowest rating possible. We believe there was only a single waitress on duty this day. Although one person observed two other potential waitresses, they did not serve us (or anyone for that matter). We politely informed our waitress that we were in a rush and asked her if 30 minutes was a reasonable amount of time to eat and leave. She somewhat rudely (obviously an an accurate factual statement, but not the one we were looking for) replied: "when the food is ready." Our waitress showed up three times on her own accord. Once to show us to our seat (she left immediately afterward and didnt escort us to a nicer table by the window - we took intiative and moved there on our own), once to take our order (after we waited about 15 minutes), and once to bring us the food. She didnt bother to see if we needed more water (we did), if we needed more eating utensils (we did), if we needed more napkins (we did), if she mixed up our order (she did), if we needed the bill (we did), or if we wanted take-away containers (we did). She spent most of our meal avoiding us as like the plague. As for order correctness, everyone received what they ordered, except we requested french fries in lieu of a salad for one of the sandwiches (standard choice for a pastrami sandwich at Eli's), yet we were brought a salad as if we had never ordered the fries. To correct my order, one of us had to stand up to find the waitress since she was nowhere to be seen. This waitress received no tip from me - she earned her pay (by seating us and taking our order) but did not earn a tip (generally paid for service above and beyond, not for the barest minimum service). We might get some flak for this, given that waiters and waitresses generally earn a minimum salary and subsist on tips, but given the outrageously poor service we experienced at Eli's, we felt withholding the tip to be proper in this rare and exigent situation. 1 Hamburgers.

Cleanliness: The restaurant seemed clean. We did not detect any noteworthy concerns in this area. 9 Hamburgers.

Atmosphere: By 6pm on a Sunday evening, the tiny restaurant was packed. This may be good for the owner, but not for the customers. Given that the restaurant is small to begin with, jamming customers into a tiny space is never pleasant. As for the restaurant itself, we liked the quaint feel of "authentic DC" with brick finishings (painted on!) and maple. We chose a nice seat by the window which gave us a nice and sunny view of DC. 7 Hamburgers.

Price: The prices are pretty high, even for a DC area restaurant. This may be due to Eli's near monopoly in the area. We ordered an "overstuffed" pastrami sandwich which was about $14 dollars. Normally, we would expect to pay a premium for this, but we could not tell the difference between one sandwich and the other. Perhaps there were a few extra slices of meat - which we could not visually differentiate, nor was it worth the extra $2 surcharge in my opinion. 7 Hamburgers.

Overall, 5.8 Hamburgers. Unfortunately for denizens of the DC metro area, there are not too many options for kosher food. Evidently there are only 2 options! If you are willing to venture out to Silver Spring or larger areas of Jewish repute, such as Baltimore, you will find a lot more variety and restaurants - as always, competition usually forces restaurants to work harder to provide quality product. That appears not the case here.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Some updates:

We're getting a Kosher Subway (when Moshiach comes!) When it opens, I will check it out and post a review here.

Goldbergs is moving to a different shopping center. I dont think much will change, but I hope that they still have that window where you can see them making the bagels... That is fascinating.

The Brasserie now has new ownership. The owner of Max's, I believe, will be operating the Brasserie now. I will check it out and post a review here.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Max's - 8.5/10 Hamburgers

Ben and a friend ate at Max’s which has been a staple of the Jewish community for a over a decade now. Prior to Max’s, there was a toy store in that location. Max’s is conveniently located on University Blvd. in Wheaton which is a 7 mile drive from Rockville, and an even closer drive from Kemp Mill. Max’s has been a favorite of many for good reason.

Food Quality: Max’s is arguably one of the best-tasting kosher places to eat in the area and certainly in Montgomery County. Their schwarma is second to none this side of the Atlantic as they use real lamb meat versus chicken or other beef. They have many options ranging from the typical Mediterranean fare, to the classic American hamburger. Their falafel is quite delicious with the balls being not too coarse and not too soft. You will find that Max’s gives you nice sized portions as they give you an entire pita filled to the brim with over 10 different toppings of your choice. The chili could be better as it seems a bit sparse in texture and flavoring
but goes down the throat with a soothing warmth. Despite having quite a variety, you will find that Max’s really does deliver on their food overall. 9 Hamburgers.

Service: What I really like about Max’s is that you can custom order your food without a problem and the wait isn’t too long. They do have a rather unique way of doing it though. Typically, you will find yourself paying for your food prior to eating it, as Max’s does not try to present itself as a traditional sit-down restaurant. You will find that it can get pretty busy
at times but if you’re willing to wait in line for 5 minutes at most, your food will be hand delivered to you with a smile. The layout of the condiments and other necessities is not ideal but serves its purposes. 9 Hamburgers.

Cleanliness: The restaurant is usually clean but because of the large numbers of families with young children it serves, it can at times get a bit messy on the tables and seats. During the time I was there I did not observe any food on the floors but there were some trays left on tables and
a few leftover food products on the table. 8 Hamburgers.

Atmosphere: The restaurant is an informal place to go to when you don’t feel like cooking at home and wish to grab a fairly quick bite. The seats are booth style with some chairs and tables scattered around. Kids love this place as they have various arcade games available to play and at times it can get a bit noisy. I was not impressed with seeing some heavily used containers, which seemed a bit dirty, being used to transport water from the sink to the water dispenser for consumption. You will find that Max's has a very sociable atmosphere, as everyone seems to know each other. This helps to brighten the mood further when one walks in. Max's is, in essence, the neighborhood hangout place. 8 Hamburgers

Price: The prices are reasonable overall with most items available under $10 which plays very nicely into the hands of the typical Jewish family. 8.5 Hamburgers.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Just thought I'd let you know, for those of you who are in the D.C. metro area, there is a new service opening up - Capital Kosher - wherein they will deliver your food to you. This is akin to the Peapod service that the supermarket offers, but in the Kosher style. L'Chaim!!

Thursday, February 23, 2006

The Knishe Shoppe - 9.6/10 Hamburgers

The Knishe Shoppe is small, but carries a hefty punch. It’s not a place that you would want to take your whole family to eat, but for a nice third or fourth date, it’s decent. The Knishe Shoppe is truly a diamond in the rough for subs.

Food Quality: The Knishe Shoppe is renown for its subs. There are several types of bread to choose from, but the best is clearly the sourdough bread. Bread is made fresh daily, and repeatedly throughout the day. You can always count on a fresh loaf of bread when you go. I’ve never had a stale sandwich at the Knishe Shoppe, and I’ve been eating there regularly for several years. The meat is always fresh as well. Comparing the meat to other places like 7 Mile and Accents, the meat is tasty and fresh. Again, I’ve never had a bad sub at the Knishe shoppe. In fact, we used the Knishe Shoppe for our Super Bowl party, and was quite pleased. The 3 foot sub came on a large wooden plate and was stacked with a variety of meats, vegetables. The bread itself was custom ordered from New York, and the sub was appetizing to all the guests, who offered their praises. However, the other items served, including fried chicken, hotdog rolls, and beef, are not quite as tasty. On several occasions, the fried chicken has not been tender, and has hinted at sitting around for some time. For the subs alone, I give this place 10 hamburgers. If you were going to eat something other than a sub, I’d give the food quality 7 hamburgers

Service Quality: The service is fine when the store is empty. If it gets busy, and during peak hours it usually does, then you can expect to wait some time for someone to take your order. However, there are usually 4-6 individuals behind the counter who can take your order, an unusual aspect for such a small store. Most places only maintain 1-3 individuals to take an order. If you have time, converse with the individuals behind the counter, as some of them have been around the area for quite some time. There is a brother/sister tandem who have been working in the same shopping center for over 30 years, and they can certainly tell some stories. 10 hamburgers.

Cleanliness: The restaurant is clean at all times. The floor is kept swept and the tables are cleaned off after each customer. 9 hamburgers.

Atmosphere: The Knishe Shoppe is small. If I were the owner, I’d expand into a larger store and provide subs along with other quality items. Right now, a lunch counter runs the entire length of the somewhat small store, and there is not much walking room between the individual tables and the counter. However, there is some appeal to being able to walk in and just sit down and delve into a delicious sub. Perhaps the charm of the store comes from its intimacy. 7 Hamburgers

Price: The only negative about the subs is that they are slightly overpriced. The average cost for a sub is about $10. However, if you consider the amount of meat that comes with each sub, as well as the fact that every sub is fresh and tasty, you’re certainly paying for what you get. Other stores, you might get skimped on the quantity of meat, and the food might not be so fresh. 9 Hamburgers

Friday, November 04, 2005


Apologies for the failure to post. It's been a busy time and we just havent had a chance. However, please keep an eye out for the next review, which will likely be on the Knish Shoppe.

Someone emailed me today and posed two interesting questions. Yankel [name changed] asks: "I believe 921 outside Baltimore has been closed for more than a few months now. Business dispute, apparently. Oh, and the idea that you'd accept free Kosher meals from restaurants in exchange for reviews? Unethical, no?"

I'd like to quickly answer his questions and perhaps this applies to anyone else who might have similar queries. As to the most unfortunate closure of Cafe 921, yes, technically it was a business dispute. The scuttlebutt around town is that the 2 owners of 921 and brasserie were involved in a lawsuit and split the ownership of both stores, and the person who became owner of 921 closed it down because it was too costly to maintain it while fighting the legal battle. Dont quote me on this asnwer, but I was told this story by a former employee of Cafe 921 so I think it has some credibility.

In response to Yankel's second question, I feel it is not unethical to accept a free review. It would be unethical if we were to give them better reviews as a result of their free offer. Here, the free meal will not have any effect on our review. We would, however, note on the website that the business gave us a free meal so that all readers are informed appropriately and could perhaps, take the review with a grain of salt if they so chose. We aren't rich, so eating out at every eatery in Baltimore is not really something that we can do so easily, so accepting a meal in return for a review is fair as long as the business acknowledges that this does not change any facet of our objectivity. Besides, nobody has offered any free meals anyways, so its not likely to affect our reviews anyways!

Shabbat Shalom!