Image: Walter Pidgeon and Ginger Rogers, Week-End At The Waldorf, 1945
This week’s recap of dining news and updates to our D.C. dining guide is meaty and juicy, though maybe only California Orange juicy, not Florida Orange juicy. Read on to get the reference!
Updates to D.C. Recommended Restaurant List
Albi – We finally went for a proper sit-down dinner at Albi, and it was amazing.
Le De Sales – The modern French bistro tucked away on a side street across from the Mayflower reopened a couple weeks ago. Curiously, they added sushi. We have yet to revisit.
D.C. Dining News
The biggest news for us was José Andrés gave us a plug. Welcome to new followers and readers, and thanks again Chef for the kind words.
Watching the Detectives: Washingtonian decided to not bring back the Top 100 format for its annual dining issue yet. This year they are going with 100 Reasons to Love Our Fierce Food Scene. Now available to subscribers and on the newstand. We applaud their choice.
In contrast, national guide The Infatuation (a heartfelt idea that went to soulless hype product in 9 years and is now owned by the passionate food company JP Morgan Chase) is bringing back its 10 point rating system: “every rating you see on The Infatuation today is based on or verified by a visit that happened during the past year, most of them during the second half of 2021 or later.” This is largely irrelevant for D.C., because the local Infatuation page has not been updated in quite a while (the fourth most recent story is about The Riggsby in Dupont). In fact, as of this morning, none of the links were active. Two years ago they were looking to fill the local critic position. Which is more than a year after the incumbent left, despite pretending to generate new content into 2021. There is a reason we believed there was space for a better dining guide in D.C.
Real Estate Moves: We have been dubious of attempts by out-of-town restaurant groups to throw up a restaurant in D.C. and just assume that we rubes would be willing to take the knockoff version of some cool New York thing. D.C. is not forgiving to out-of-town celebrity chefs who mail it in. It is also interesting that two out-of-town ventures that seemed to have stuck and done well came from Atlanta. This week, news broke that two different New York-based restaurant groups will be opening multiple spots in D.C. First, it looks like we will get a Pastis – not a Minetta Tavern? – from McNally/Starr in Union Market. This is probably a more transferable concept but if this were a movie it might be called Le Diplomate II: Double Dipping.
Meanwhile, one of the most attractive buildings that managed to evade developers for years finally succumbs. The old Federal-American National Bank building at 14th and G, that nearly became iconic as the former Hahn Shoes store sitting vacant for more than two decades, will now house three different restaurant concepts backed by another N.Y. restaurant group called, ominously The Group. The flagship spot will be an outpost of the La Grande Boucherie mini-chain that has five locations in N.Y.C. They will also open a Japanese spot and an Italian spot, with one facing G and the other 14th. The announcement as conveyed by Eater DC, notes that one of the locations of Boucherie was used to film the Sex in the City reboot and that the D.C. location will be near the White House. Some credit must be given to their moxie opening so close to the space formally held by Maison Kayser, but if the press release focuses on fictional television characters instead of the real team they will bring in and their approach to food, then the presumption must be that this will be an upscale Cheesecake Factory tourist trap. That said, it will be nice to see the space finally re-purposed and alive and we are even more excited to see what the next tenants do with it in a few years.
And Eat DC reports more re-purposed bank building news, this one being snagged by the group behind Taylor Gourmet.
For many, the most exciting real estate moves is Le Tejana moving to brick & mortar by taking over the space recently held by Sabydee in Mt. Pleasant.
DC on TV: Lisa Ling has a new show on HBO Max that looks at the Asian-American community through the lens of food. One of the episodes focuses on the Korean food of our own region and the Lee family, including a segment shot at Anju. The local podcast Dish City also looked at some of this history in its last season that focused on take-out. As of a few days ago, they were looking to build their team for the next season if you might be interested.
We never promised you rose garden, but Laura Hayes digs into the blossoming connection between restaurants and flowers. It goes beyond a few arrangements placed around the room.
Tamar Haspel has an article stating the obvious that most of us wish were not true. Alcohol is not good for you. Perhaps because its most important ingredient is also poisonous. Yes, we enjoy it anyway, but a reminder to drink smart if you do.
Industry Economics: Laura Reiley, who often focuses on Florida food topics for the Post Business section, looks at the problem of increasing costs of orange juice that Florida growers have a dominant position in. California oranges are apparently better for eating than squishing. There are fascinating statistics in the piece, including a collapse in demand pre-Covid and a slight rebound. While Florida growers are blaming seasonal damage to crops, the story notes that they have cut their stock of trees by about 1/6th in recent years. Of course, seasonal fluctuations can be offset imports, but Reiley points out that Florida is an active advocate for using trade laws to protect the producers. At least the orange growers don’t have the issues that the tomato growers have.
Reiley also looks at a national story about the inducements that restaurants are using to recruit and train staff, including increased salary and other benefits. She also notes that traditional minor benefits like the free post-shift drink are fading as overall wellness concepts takes root, something local author/bar owner Derek Brown flagged as well. None of this is surprising to those that have been following the issue closely, but the cumulative numbers that Reiley reports are striking for showing just how quickly things can change: “84 percent of restaurants reported raising wages, according to the National Restaurant Association, with hospitality industry workers now earning an average of $19.57 per hour, a 13 percent increase from a year ago, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.”
As Restaurant Manifesto notes however, any wage increases are coming in the context of increased inflation, which is hitting employees and employers alike in the independent restaurant sector. On top of that, the last two months have been brutal in general for restaurants. Support the places you love.
More Watching the Detectives: Restaurant Manifesto also drops a thought in his feed: Food critics should have term limits. In recent years, the lead critic in San Francisco turned over with much success. Tragically, the L.A. Times had to replace its lead critic. Chicago is also going through a change. In New York, Wells and Platt have been in place longer that you might think. But of course it is D.C. that has had two back-to-back long-running critics holding down the lead spot at the Post.
Food Policy: Perhaps the most interesting idea this week is from Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian who argues the nation needs a food czar and the best person for the job is Andrew Zimmern.
PR Machine: The Times of London has a story (paywall) about the search for the next cookbook star to supplant Jamie and Nigella. The title is “The inside story of the cookbook boom — how Jamie Oliver made millions.” But Jamie Goode on Twitter pulls out the key stat: “More than 5,000 cookery titles were released into the UK market in 2020, but only 556 sold more than 100 copies and only 48 sold more than 5,000.” There is a story about how modern publishing forgot how to sell books that can’t sell themselves.
Top Chef is coming back for another season. We watched for the first time in a long time last season, but then they totally dropped the ball handling a clear problem with the winning chef from Texas. So obviously, they are going to Texas for the upcoming season. While we have great respect for the culinary destination that Houston has become, we will not be watching.
We mentioned that we started this site because we believed D.C. could use more voices when it came to dining guides. We are pleased that we have now made it three years, learning a lot along the way. Thanks to all who have supported, followed, read, and or dined with us.
And of course our primary purpose is to be a dining guide for the District. We have 300 recommended restaurants that you can sort by cuisine, neighborhood, and current operating status (dine-in and/or take-out, etc. – though things are in flux currently so check before you go!) in either LIST or MAP format.
Be kind and patient. Get the shot. Carry proof.