Image: Robert Doisneau, Isabelle Huppert (1985).
Dearest Gentle Reader, we have returned from the holiday break with a packed update for you. Along with a recap of activity on our site from just before Christmas through this week, there is also other D.C. dining news of note. Plus, nationally and internationally some big economic trends – including one from a couple centuries ago. Intrigued? Then let’s proceed with this weeks update!
Updates to D.C. Recommended Restaurant List
Rania – The short-lived Punjab Grill gets a makeover. It is still very good. Others seem to agree.
Irregardless – A tasting-menu restaurant that highlights the quality of Virginia Wine on H Street. And it works!
Fancy Radish – Before the holidays, we paid a visit to the great spot also on H Street doing vegan. The menu is pretty stable and it is still worth a trip out of the way.
Comings and Goings:
DC Noodles – The big bowls spot on U has closed.
Maxwell Park – They are repurposing the Navy Yard location to be a cocktail bar. They also opened up a bar near 9:30 Club that focuses on sparkling wines and other fizzy things.
Thai X-ing – The venerable spot is moving back into its historic home on Florida Ave.
Tigerella – Popville reported indirectly that the winter break for the cafe half of Tigerella is really a long goodbye. Bullfrog Bagels will take over the space. The restaurant half of Tigerella remains open (and we would not be surprised to see it absorb some of the cafe functions).
While the last few years hit some restaurants hard, others managed to expand. We spent a good chunk of time adding locations to our LIST and MAP for Roaming Rooster, Call Your Mother (and will now have to update again soon!), and Immigrant Food. We also await the return of Taco Bamba to the District.
D.C. Dining News
Do Not Do This: A poster in Tom’s chat revealed that she grew so impatient at the time it took to get the check, that she just left. So, Tom did a whole story about it that took a few surprising turns, including this dark insight from a local owner of a chain restaurant of where they would go for a possible solution: “Legally, you can not make the server pay. You can discipline the server if they didn’t follow procedures that lead to the walk out.” Thank goodness for the law. Tom even expresses sympathy for the poster: “Raise your hand if you’ve ever been tempted to pull a Mosher [the dine-and-ditcher]. (Mine is up.) For a lot of restaurant patrons, waiting for a check ranks right down there with unreliable websites, noisy dining rooms and tight tables.” Tight tables! unreliable websites! Oh the humanity! Of course many of us have been “tempted” to do many things, but we are sentient humans with at least a small moral compass. We should note that the customer in question did contact the restaurant and settle up. But we remind you, Tip Big, Be Kind, Be Patient and remember the tight labor market has hit the restaurant industry hardest (see below).
Support What You Love: Speaking of showing a little love, Matt Adler of Caruso’s Grocery and NRG, notes that these first two weeks of the year are the most grim for the restaurant industry. For the past two years, we have been encouraging readers to support the restaurants they want to see survive. This is still true, per the economic news cited below. As Adler says, no big splurge needed, just order something – even take-out – tip a little extra and help them through a slow time.
The Emerging Economy: Mayor Bowser announced that expanding housing downtown would be a major focus of her third term. The evolving nature of downtown has direct implications for the dining world. Also food related, she wants to “build the best, most robust, free, before-and-after-school program in the nation.”
The Restaurant Association of Metropolitan Washington’s new chief is the former “Night Mayor.” His priorities are dealing with the implementation of Initiative 82, the worker shortage and workforce development, and making RAMW’s membership more diverse and inclusive. The new director of the Mayor’s Office of Nightlife and Culture is Salah Czapary.
Cheesy Story: Four women making cheese a thing in D.C. Who knew we had such a bad reputation when it came to cheese?
2023 Goals: Maybe if we get over 1000 Twitter or IG followers we’ll make the cut for next year’s Eater’s survey of “restaurant experts!” Setting aside our ego, the survey includes a number of voices that we respect. It also shows a strong affection for pizza and a surprising respect for Georgetown as a dining destination. The most important takeaway though is that Queen’s English has been vastly undercovered for how well-regarded it is.
Wine Industry Culture: While the investor-class put their names on wines for the last few decades, it is those who work with the wine that, more and more, defined them, especially as the focus as shifted from the cellar to the vineyard as the place where excellence is defined. Over the last couple decades, giving the Hispanic community a direct stake the industry has gained ground. Hispanics in Wine, a group, with a D.C. connection, is seeking to “help Latinos rise through the industry ranks” and “highlight them as they’re ascending.” The L.A. Times does a bigger story – behind paywall, but a few nuggets are in this twitter feed: “When Amelia Morán Ceja of Ceja Vineyards started, she was told by a renowned winemaker that marketing to Latinos & other people of color didn’t make sense because they ‘didn’t have discretionary income for luxury products.’”
Collecting: For those of us with enough wine to call a collection, but well-short of having a cellar, some advice from a professional wine consultant: “prioritize which wines should be drunk in which order,” because “many wines sit on shelves for years past the point when they should have.” Also, store them properly so they don’t go bad waiting for their moment in the glass. For those with cellars, this 1% advice: “Because she has managed so many out-of-control collections, Smith has a solid system for organizing yours, along with useful tips like buying an iPad specifically to use for your wine collection and keeping it in the cellar. Here’s another: hide your valuable wines, just in case somebody sneaks into your cellar looking for the Screaming Eagle. Also, don’t trust people with cellar access.” You know you have made it in life when you have to consider who has cellar access.
Sweet Stories: We are all for a sweet “Silent Night” wartime story, but the Post probably could have chosen a better picture to not leave the impression of cannibalism for this one. Though the “Go get Hermann,” line is worth the read.
Also Sweet: Panettone. “Naturally leavened panettone must hang upside down to cool, to preserve the rise and the domed shape.” Who knew?
Sweet but Dangerous? Trader Joe’s is being sued over some of its chocolate products, the suits “allege the grocery chain failed to disclose to consumers that the two chocolate products contain dangerous levels of cadmium and lead.”
Do Not Do This II: “The operator of a North Carolina Chick-fil-A restaurant has been hit with a four-figure fine for paying workers in chicken vouchers instead of legal tender.” And, yes, we saw what you did there.
Or this. Though apparently mayo egg nog is not as bad as it sounds.
The Emerging Economy: GDP numbers were upgraded for the third quarter and inflation continued to come to heel in the last report. Despite increases in interest rates, the labor market remained strong in December with unemployment ticking down slightly to 3.5%. It is almost as if there is a direct correlation between one sector and inflation, that does not touch many other sectors.
Within the restaurant industry, happy talk runs into a stark reality. “New data from Alignable finds that 52% of independent restaurant owners couldn’t afford to pay December rent, up 10% from November’s numbers and marking the highest level in 2022. Small restaurant owners are struggling more than the average small business, with overall rent delinquencies for December at 40%.” That said, the hospitality sector continues to claw back pandemic job losses. In December, it “added a healthy 67,000 jobs, below its average of 79,000 per month in 2022. But the sector was still 5.5 percent below its prepandemic level, with more than 900,000 fewer workers.”
The Emerging Global Economy: In post-Brexit Britain, there is a lack of restaurant staff that used to come from the rest of Europe looking for jobs.
In a story not in the food section of the Post, there is a Koshary crisis in Egypt. The carb-heavy staple of the Egyptian diet is impacted by inflation. “Until recently, Ramadan said, he could buy a ton of rice for around 8,000 Egyptian pounds. Now, he said, it costs 18,000 pounds. The cost of his pasta supply has jumped by 6,000 pounds. Even the plastic containers and bags used to package the meals are pricier than before.” If you are curious, Koshary can be found locally at Fava Pot.
The Emerged Global Economy: Anna Sulan Masing, writing in the Guardian, notes the role played by pepper in the age of colonialism. She intertwines her own story: “As for my own connection, Sarawak is a state of Malaysia on the island of Borneo, and its pepper has been a tool to look into my heritage. I have re-seen the spaces of my childhood as spaces of labour. I have also found that the trade routes of today are still as opaque and shrouded in mystery as they were 500 years ago. When questioning Sarawak pepper importers and suppliers in the UK and Europe, I was met with vague answers, ghosted or flatly refused any information.” For more, check out her Whetstone-sponsored podcast, Taste of Place.
Somewhat related, is the news that the man who made Chicken Tikka Masala a phenomenon passed. Ali Ahmed Aslam, who claimed to have invented the dish that took over Great Britain, died at the age of 77.
And to stretch the idea even further, Padma Lakshmi’s stepfather grows curry leaves for commercial sale in California.
Industry News: Kristen Hawley at Expedite notes how big chains co-opt the idea of “local” to thwart initiatives to protect fast-food workers. The post also includes info on recent attempts to recover fees charged by delivery companies.
Nick Kokonas steps away from Tock after a good run.
Media: As Daniel Hernandez takes over editing the L.A. Times food section, he sets a tone of healthy curiosity: “As we retool and relaunch the food coverage at the Los Angeles Times, I want to ask our readers and audiences to embrace their knowledge gaps and their food failures. Impostor syndrome is a myth we’re better off retiring. In truth, we are all, each one of us, an impostor to the food-obsessed self that once existed only in one’s ambitions.”
Thanks for reading this far! We hope your new year is off to a great start. As always, please keep in mind that if you are in or around the District, our site is a resource for finding a great place to eat. We have 300+ recommended restaurants in our dining guide. You can sort by cuisine or neighborhood in either LIST or MAP format.
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