Image: Ervin Marton, Au Petit Bar, Paris (c.1950).
This week we added a day cafe from the Gravitas team that is popping up in multiple locations. We also visited the market that used to be Mola. There were signs of hope on the local dining scene and some ominous clouds at the national level. It is time for the recap of activity on our D.C. dining site and other related news. So, strap in and read on!
Updates to Recommended Restaurant List
Nido – Not so much an addition as a revision to the Mola entry. Same team, same cuisine focus, same spirit, just a shop now instead of a restaurant.
D.C. Dining News
Columbia Room – The venerated cocktail bar is converting some of its space in Blagden Alley to a lo/no-alcohol bar serving vegan Mexican. Owner Derek Brown continues putting some of what he has been preaching into practice. No word on whether to expect a skate park anytime soon.
The Washington City Paper, Laura Hayes does an interview with Anela Malik as she leaves town. As always, Malik has many interesting thoughts. One that struck us was on the role of so-called influencers:
“But as an influencer, I don’t think D.C. is the type of city that I could make a business and do the work I’d like to do. I wonder how many other people, who could be great contributors to the local space, feel the same way because it’s so expensive here. If you think about what influencers do, content costs a lot of money. You have a few options. You can build a platform and then make contacts with PR representatives and restaurants and get most of your food for free. No shame to anyone who does that, but that does limit what you’re exposed to because you’re primarily being exposed to people who already have PR representation. Or you can try to find other ways to fund your content creation, which is the path I’m more interested in.”
Two things jumped out about that statement. First is that Malik seems well on her way to building a model for herself that is not a traditional influencer model, and, in fact, we didn’t really think of her as an influencer. She is doing something more serious than that. Second, it struck just how small a category our little site is – self-supporting with no PR pull.
Coincidentally, Washington City Paper is looking for a freelance writer to do take-out restaurant criticism. This seems like the kind of job that could be a first step on the ladder for someone with an interesting perspective to break through.
Barred in DC catches a trend in the vagaries of modern delivery services – especially Uber Eats. A pizza joint puts notes to customers with time-stamps of when the pizza was ready, to head off criticism when it arrives cold.
Overall, the restaurant industry continues to suffer. Sales leveled off in the last couple months as Delta variant cut demand and staff shortages limited supply. Laura Reiley’s piece notes that putting up with abusive customers continues to deter staff back to the front of the house. Having gotten sucked into watching Below Deck back episodes, we were reminded that gauche behavior of customers existed before 2020, but maybe it has been both exacerbated and now less tolerated.
The role of restaurants and restaurant criticism continues. A couple weeks ago Adam Platt of Grubstreet asked about the place of high-end dining. This week saw the reactionary forces voiced by Steve Cuozzo in the New York Post. As a factual matter, they are probably both right on some level. Platt is right that times change and that there is something obscene about conspicuous consumption in a time of economic (and other) uncertainty for a huge swath of the world’s population. Cuozzo is correct that there remain those who enjoy it and have enough money to subsidize it. Rather than staking out stark position, we continue to wrestle with the question. The idea of a culinary Jeff Koons overpriced absurdity never sat well. The idea of the highest craft being brought to create a unique dining experience still retains it’s allure. Places like minibar are not a step up from Jaleo, they are in a different category. What has developed in the last couple decades is a growing disparity, so that a smaller and smaller segment has access to even occasional moments of luxury. We also need to change our Michelin-based yardstick that says Inn at Little Washington is a “better” restaurant than Thip Khao (which got some national love recently along with Cane). Which brings us back to Anela Malik’s point about diversity of views being heard.
Patricia I. Escárcega in The Counter, argues that criticism must keep up with the changing times. Not only have the economics and stratification been highlighted, so have the endemic problems of the businesses that were papered over: abuse, harassment, depression of staff. Waste and the fragility of sources like fisheries; rent and supply chain problems. Which brings us back to the job opening at WCP.
One part of those changing times is the job market which saw a huge number of people quit. It is hard not to conclude that there is a large restructuring going on in the economy that is disproportionately hitting the food industry, where the aggravating problems were most prevalent.
That was a lot of bloviating by us this week, so thanks for reading this far. If you have, you probably already know that what we do most of the time on this site is a D.C. dining guide that we like to think of as the best way to find a great place to eat in the District. If you live around here, or happen to be coming through, check us out.
Stay safe. Be kind. Get the jab, bring proof and a mask. Tip big.