Image: Jean Cocteau at the Cannes Film Festival (1959).
It was thankfully a relatively slow week when it comes to D.C. restaurants, with no notable closures, and we did not add any places to our recommended list, though we did revisit an old friend. There were a couple interesting think pieces about food and society and an insightful interview about the restaurant industry in D.C. So shall we get on with the week that was?
Updates to the D.C. Recommended Restaurant List
Brasserie Beck – The ode to moules frites and Belgian beer reopened over the summer and is still going strong, just in time for hearty food weather.
D.C. Dining News
Good News: First supermarket east of the river in 15 years.
The Emerging Economy: Axios’ local coverage has been better than expected, but it missed the lede here. If post-back-to-school and employer finger-wagging doesn’t budge the numbers of people returning to the office above 50%, then it may be time to start planning for a lasting structural change.
Happy Trails: Outgoing Restaurant Association of Metropolitan Washington CEO Kathy Hollinger does an exit interview with Washingtonian. Her run included a great boom and then the bust of Covid. She provides an ominous summary: “Operators are saying they are at about 70-percent of where they were in 2019 when it comes to revenue coming in. There are layered consequences and challenges that they are still dealing with. Debt is one of them, making up for whatever allowances were given to them for rent. This is kind of the makeup year.” She also gives a very human insight into the last couple years recalling, “the stories and the calls and the emails and connecting with people even if I was driving by in my car and we were talking curbside— a lot of the stories were heartbreaking. And that takes a toll on you and others whether you’re aware of that or not.”
Natural-ish? The Times, in the wellness section, asks if natural wine is better for you. Which is kinda like asking if organically raised beef is better for you on a double cheeseburger. Probably, but you are already committed to the bit.
Jason Wilson flagged a piece he wrote earlier this year that is a bit of a pre-buttal: “And frankly, that’s fine. Natural wine itself isn’t going to go away. Growing grapes organically and/or biodynamically, taking a hands-off approach in the cellar, fermenting with wild yeasts, eschewing additives, leaving wine unfined and unfiltered—these are all excellent techniques that more wineries should adopt. What feels tired is everything else about natural wine: the scene, the discourse, the silly anti-natural-wine arguments from entrenched old wine writers, the overblown virtuousness from the natural-wine doctrinaires in response. Natural wine doesn’t need to be defensive or revolutionary anymore. It firmly exists as a category. Natural wine would undoubtedly benefit from a dumb phase.” By dumb he doesn’t mean stupid, he means like the phase in maturation when a wine shuts down for a while before blossoming again as an aged wine.
The Business Side: Several stories touch on the industry as an industry for better or worse. Adam Reiner in Bon Appétit talks about the impact of big name franchises coming to town, like Carbone. “Independent restaurants used to feel pressure to compete with multinational chains like Ruth’s Chris and Olive Garden—now they also have to contend with the Hakkasans and Carbones of the world.”
D.C. certainly has some big name imports, but it has also been notoriously difficult on those who slap up a fancy marquee and believe their name alone will do the trick. Lets hope Tom Colicchio has learned that lesson. Considering the location, we would not be surprised the new restaurant is just a steakhouse, which would be a waste.
Toast is one year after its IPO, and Kristen Hawley reports growth. “In the first three months of the year, Toast added over 5,000 restaurant locations. In the second quarter, April, May, and June, Toast added over 6,000 locations, breaking its own quarterly record. In total, 68,000 restaurant locations are using Toast right now. (There are an estimated 850,000 or so restaurants in the U.S.)”
A $100 million “pump and dump” scheme centered around a deli? (need to register to read).
The Food Section Is More Than Recipes: Helen Rosner of the New Yorker is interviewed by Navneet Alang about writing about food. The opening question and answer highlights both the goal and the problem of our humble little website: “[T]he service model of criticism is very pure: you have a limited amount of money, you have a limited amount of time, and we are paying someone to consume all of it so that you can know which ones are worth your time. The problem is that people are people. One person’s view is always going to be limited by the fact that it is one person’s view, regardless of who that person is.” But from there, it goes into a couple really interesting ideas. One is that food sections have lost their guideposts and have yet to figure out what to write about now: “What happened in the last twenty or thirty years was the creation of the concept of food as cultural category, as opposed to cooking and entertaining on one hand, and dining out on the other. I remember the New York Times had two different sections — one for dining out and one for dining in — and now they have one section called “Food.” And that really encapsulates it. Now, there’s food as a cultural phenomenon.” One response is essentially what Rosner writes about, “I think that writing about food that is underappreciated, even if it is extraordinarily popular, gives us space to talk about our daily lives in a way that writing about things that are special, and only things that are special, does not. And to give the quotidian and the unspecial the same regard and the same grace we give to celebration food or expensive food or rare food and the experiences that attend them.” Another possible response is what we often cite as food stories not in the food section, that is, how food is not just what is on the plate, but hundreds of stories about how that plate got there. Many of those stories will quickly go beyond the world of “food” to economics, law, public policy, labor, and the larger culture – good and bad – that the food world is part of. The kind of stories that Tim Carman or Laura Reiley in the Post sometimes covers and Laura Hayes frequently did when she was at WCP, but that are largely outside the purview of D.C.’s food media.
…Or Not: Rosner’s approach could help someone put Bourdain in perspective. This book, unfortunately, is more ghoulish voyeurism than insightful.
Why Deny the Obvious: Eating crappy food is bad for you.
The practice of making the rookie pick up the tab for a big meal in the NFL seems to fall particularly hard on those in larger cities where meals run more expensive and the wine list can be absurd.
IP Law’s Dead Hand: “Sonora Taqueria Ltd’s use of ‘taqueria’ without Worldwide Taqueria Ltd’s consent constitutes trademark infringement.” We would note the empire is not longer worldwide. Though the real take-away is that Britain needs more taquerias.
Letting Go of the 19th Century: In Australia, an apprenticeship program, that includes restaurants, is under fire for abusive behavior. “I really think it’s the whole system. It needs to be ripped apart and fixed. I don’t think another committee is going to fix it, it needs to be changed,” said one former aspiring chef. We offer this free suggestion, if you are an industry that has made abuse central to training and promotion process, it is time to fix it (ahem, law) before someone does it for you.
Food and Culture I: The Librarian of Congress may not let you play the Madison flute, but she will give you Rosa Park’s Peanut Butter Pancakes recipe!
Food and Culture II: We have flagged the simmering discussion of food, culture, and identity. Ligaya Mishan, writing T Magazine, delves into the topic of appropriation. “Culture is not static, and within a country or a community there are countless variations on and innovations in tradition (which might be even more vigorously internally policed than the experimentation of outsiders).” While the piece starts with discussing music and art, it inevitably ends up discussing food. It flirts with a resolution, but concludes by reaffirming the tension: “There is an appeal to the boundaryless world, where we might walk at will, eat and dress, make art, write music and spin stories following whatever whim takes hold, free of the burden of identity. Of course, boundarylessness is a privilege for those who don’t have to contend with real boundaries.”
In case you didn’t know, our site’s primary purpose is to be a dining guide for Washington, D.C. We have 300+ recommended restaurants. You can sort by cuisine, neighborhood, and current operating status (dine-in and/or take-out, etc. – though things are in flux and we may miss something, so check before you go!) in either LIST or MAP format. So if you are gonna be in town, check us out.