Image: Paris (1928). Unknown photographer.
Dear Gentle Reader, it is time for our recap of activity on our site and other dining news. This week we check in on two spots that took long hiatuses in the wake of the pandemic but we are glad to see back. There is lots of local dining news, including a passing of the guard when it comes to local breweries and the long road back for Georgetown. In national and international dining news, Noma is still closing and the National Restaurant Association raises new questions about itself. So with that as a preview, shall we proceed? Let’s…
Updates to D.C. Recommended Restaurant List
Birch & Barley – Back to a more New American/Americana menu after reopening late last year, but still a treat. And beer.
St. Arnold’s – The long-shuttered bar south of Dupont came back to life in late 2022.
Comings and Goings:
Yellow – With the Georgetown location open, and the Union Market location coming, they are looking for a new, more stable home for the original location. So the Navy Yard location is closed for the near term after today, until they find a new spot.
D.C. Dining News
Compensation: Initiative 82 will be delayed in implementation. “The D.C. Council unanimously approved emergency legislation Tuesday postponing the implementation of ballot-approved Initiative 82 by a few months. D.C. employers are now required to raise the wages of their tipped workers from $5.35 per hour to $6 beginning in May. Tipped workers will then see their wages rise again in July to $8 per hour.”
The Emerging Local Economy: The city worked with a local entrepreneur to open a strip mall in Langdon. Angel Gregorio of Spice Suite is the owner and initial occupant that is focused on businesses owned by Black women. “We have a lot of conversation about affordable housing, but we don’t talk enough about making commercial space affordable for Black women. And so since no one is talking about it, I’m just going to do it and let people talk about it,” says Gregorio.
Nonetheless (or possibly because), Jessica Sidman makes the case that Georgetown is cool again. Her story has several nuggets that explain why the commercial real estate market, of all people, is leading to a possible resurgence. Forty years ago, the nightlife scene was so cool you could make a movie about the bars of Georgetown, and a ubiquitous poster. Thirty years ago, locals imposed a liquor license moratorium that helped kill of the Georgetown of St. Elmo’s Fire. But they missed out on the restaurant boom that turned 14th Street and H Street over. Even lifting the moratorium didn’t matter, because as Sidman’s previous reporting found, citing Ian Hilton, “the overwhelming factor keeping new restaurants out is actually high rents.” Now Sidman says some landlords are re-thinking the high-rent approach for a more mixed environment (not to mention fewer vacant shops). Real estate agent, John Asadoorian “has seen an intentional effort by at least a few Georgetown property owners to build back differently in the wake of the pandemic. In 2020, when businesses shuttered and storefront were boarded up, Asadoorian took a walk through the neighborhood with prominent landlord Richard Levy. They started talking about what a comeback—or rather ‘the next Georgetown’—could look like. In the years since, Asadoorian has been working with Levy to bring that vision to his properties.” One landlord has helped recruit Reverie, Ama Ami, and Yellow. So, shed no tears for Niketown, but cross your fingers that something better might actually be coming.
Future of Local Beer: Michael Stein in WCP, looks at the vacuum left by the closing of 3 Stars Brewing. “I think it signals that we’re coming to the end of Chapter 1 in the modern D.C. brewing story,” says James Warner, owner and founder of City-State Brewing Company. “If [3 Stars] couldn’t make it work, is that a single case or is it foreboding?” Stein notes that when 3 Stars started in 2011 it was one of three production breweries in the area but, “In 2023, more than two dozen breweries are operating in greater D.C. and even more are operating in the further reaches of Maryland and Virginia. Nationally, similar numbers play out. When 3 Stars’ physical brewery began making beer in 2012, it was one of 2,670 breweries in the U.S., according to the Brewers Association. In 2022, the Brewers Association reported 9,500 total U.S. breweries.” Perhaps it is not so much a death knell for craft beer as a signal of shaking out.
Beltway Brewing in Loudon also announced they are closing. They also opened in 2011. Jacob Berg in DC Beer has some context: With a 30 barrel system, Beltway was “built for distribution, not just taproom sales,” notes [founder Sten] Sellier. During the pandemic “the larger craft breweries, the regional craft breweries, and the macros [think Bud, Miller, and Coors, plus seltzer and canned cocktails] squeezed mid-sized breweries like us pretty hard” with regards to distribution and off-premise sales, says Sellier. As the pandemic waned “the opportunities present in the pre-covid environment never came back for breweries of our size.”
When the Wine Drinks: An inundation of precipitation has helped the California wine industry when it needed it. The rains have been good for the amount and when they hit: “Because the vines have not yet reached “bud break,” the moment leaves begin to emerge, their sturdy, woody trunks are able to withstand an extraordinary amount of standing water. And the soil, after years of drought, has been able to drink up much of the precipitation, draining the pools before disease or other ailments take hold.” The story also notes that ponds may be a more common site among the vines in the future.
The Emerging Wine Economy: Dave McIntyre, in the Post, identifies trends for the wine world: higher prices, simpler packaging, reduced sales and low to no alcohol percentages.
Alcohol and Health: The Times does a survey of literature on the health impacts of alcohol and comes up with the emerging consensus: Recent research makes it clear that any amount of drinking can be detrimental. The impact is apparently on DNA, “It fundamentally affects DNA, and that’s why it affects so many organ systems,” Dr. Naimi said. Over the course of a lifetime, chronic consumption “damages tissues over time.” Even cutting back a little helps. “Generally, though, their advice is, ‘Drink less, live longer,’ Dr. Naimi said. ‘That’s basically what it boils down to.’”
Alcohol is not going the way of cigarettes, but it is on a downward trend.
More from the Guardian. Citing Dr. Amy Pennay, a senior research fellow at appropriately-named La Trobe University’s Centre for Alcohol Policy in Melbourne, “In rich countries we are certainly seeing a decline in young people drinking,” Pennay says. “The US was the first place to peak, back in 1999. In Iceland, Sweden and Scandinavia, the reduction started in 2001. Western Europe, Canada, Australia and New Zealand followed, before most of Europe by the mid-2000s caught up.”
And in the Post Wellness section, the emerging literature of sobriety from women writers. “After spending some time with Quit Lit, I understood the appeal. There’s probably a reason that only 7.7 percent of people with serious drinking problems seek help — it can be humiliating to label yourself as an alcoholic. When a witty, wise woman is telling you about her journey, it seems like one you want to be on.”
Refined Palates: Fireball Cinnamon Whisky is not the same as Fireball Cinnamon. Not a mistake we are likely to make.
Industry: The New York Times does a big piece that raises many serious issues about the National Restaurant Association.
“For years, the restaurant association and its affiliates have used ServSafe [a mandatory course that restaurants workers pay $15 to take] to create an arrangement with few parallels in Washington, where labor unwittingly helps to pay for management’s lobbying. First, in 2007, the restaurant owners took control of a training business. Then they helped lobby states to mandate the kind of training they already provided — producing a flood of paying customers. More than 3.6 million workers have taken this training, providing about $25 million in revenue to the restaurant industry’s lobbying arm since 2010. That was more than the National Restaurant Association spent on lobbying in the same period.” The primary message of NRA’s lobbying is to keep labor costs low by opposing increasing the minimum wage, keeping tipped wages, increasing visas for foreign workers, and tax credits and cuts.
The Emerging Economy: Beef commodity prices are down to pre-2022 levels, but not pre-pandemic levels.
Noma, No Mas: In the Noma closing coverage we missed this piece by Rax King that talked about the shift from fine dining to casual and highlighted D.C.’s own Komi that switched to Happy Gyro. Chef Johnny Monis is quoted, “We haven’t connected with fine dining for a long while. It’s not where our hearts are, or how we enjoy eating. Over the past few years, we’ve tried to create a place where we can pursue whatever stokes our passion and gets us and our team excited. A place that energizes us instead of depletes us.” Despite delving into the soul- and body-crushing aspect of fine dining, King ends on a positive note about why the restaurant world is still desirable as a place to work. “Maybe it doesn’t matter whether you’re tweezing, foaming, frying, shaping meatballs, or playing with your food in one of infinitely many other ways. What matters is that you still feel gratified when you feed someone a plate of your food, whatever it looks like.”
Lauded North Carolina chef Vivian Howard raises the prospect that the golden era of fine dining may be over. She writes, “I love where the last 30 reckless years pushed the experience of dining out. But, in that time, our industry has failed to similarly push our business model to sustainability.” She also has thought through how to move forward, which involves cutting back on service, among other things.
Counter/Cafeteria/Food Hall service took off during the pandemic. Can it be a model still?
D.C.’s Rob Rubba of Oyster Oyster posted some thoughts about what the moment means for the word sustainability. It is not just the environment it is the people. The industry is tough on bodies. How do you sustain your people? How do you create opportunities to work in the industry without being on the line?
Finally, Alan Sytsma at Grub Street hosted a discussion among writers about what it all means. None, except Sytsma had actually been to Noma, but he explained he went years ago. “I went once very early in its life, when it was an extremely different, much more humble operation. I remember our dessert course was a simple bread-and-beer porridge with rhubarb and whipped cream. I don’t think I ate a single reindeer penis the whole night.” It is almost as if Noma, which was founded on a sustainable, foraging ethic chose to abandon that for something unsustainable.
Compensation: A long post on why the tipped-wage is bad and the challenge of paying staff from a independent restaurant owner in Brooklyn.
Sanitation: A study found that the most likely spot to harbor germs is the spice rack. We use seasoning when handling things like raw meat, but don’t wipe them down. “Benjamin Chapman, the head of the department of agricultural and human sciences at North Carolina State University and a senior author of the study, said he doesn’t think people need to immediately douse their spice racks in bleach. Many pathogens become less potent on surfaces, he noted.” But wash your hands!
The mystery of how rat poison got into a Taco Bell burrito.
Odds and Ends: Oyster mushrooms’ secret lives as killers.
Happy Lunar New Year to those celebrating. Thanks for reading. Please check out the rest of our site, which is a dining guide for D.C. We have 300+ recommended restaurants in our dining guide. You can sort by cuisine or neighborhood in either LIST or MAP format.