Image: Olivia de Havilland and Joan Fontaine (1940s).
Apologies for getting this out late today. We were doing a deep dive on Initiative 82, that we will post in next week’s Week in Review. But there is all kinds of fun interesting stuff for this week. Lots of activity on our site. Some very D.C. stories, and a bit of a rambling thought on what happens when media outlets lose confidence in their story-telling ability. So shall we get on with it? Let’s…
Updates to D.C. Recommended Restaurant List
Old Europe – It took us a while to add this place, which remains the standard bearer for German cuisine for the District.
Buck’ Fishing & Camping – The neighborhood anchor for classic American fare is still going strong.
Dukem – The Ethiopian mainstay on U Street, also is still going strong.
D.C. Dining News
Compensation: It is extraordinary statement of Barred in DC’s reach and the paucity of good analysis on Initiative 82 that his very thoughtful piece is a top result on Google and possibly the most influential voice on the topic. He ultimately comes out against 82, focusing on governance and the aggressive nature of Initiative 82 implementation. He notes the strong arguments against tipped minimum wage:
“To me, a tip credit allowing employers of workers who make tips to be legally excused from paying directly the same minimum wages of all other professions, allowing customers to make up the difference with tips (which are supposed to be voluntary, gratuities to reward good service) is pretty nuts. If we were implementing a system from scratch today, I find it hard to believe that a proponent of a tipped minimum wage wouldn’t be laughed off the scene.”
But he will be voting no. “The first reason is essentially philosophical – I think initiatives/referenda are generally stupid and terrible ideas.” His second reason is on the merits. “[T]he period of implementation appears to be unprecedented in modern US history. I think the speed of the implementation will lead to a short/medium term closure of more bars/restaurants than otherwise and servers/bartenders will lose income on the whole compared to a non-Initiative 82 world.” If you haven’t read it, and are a D.C. voter, it is worth reading the whole thing.
Some Hope: Last year Laura Hayes did a story about the efforts of Skyler Kelley to open “a coffee shop by day and a wine lounge in the evenings with regular live music.” The place would be called Brij, because it represented a bridge to her real goal to open a “drop-in day center for unhoused single mothers named Emma’s Place.” Now things are looking good.
The Children of Gentrification: Fifteen years ago there were these kids that lived in a couple group houses on U Street, and they were precocious and full of themselves in a very D.C. way. Well, they clearly didn’t amount to anything because they are still reliving the old days, but now record their late-night bull sessions instead of live-blogging.
Coffee Chains: Apparently all the jokes we used up on Tatte are also applicable to Blank Street.
Crisis in Criticism: Some snark on Twitter is another indication of a brewing crisis for the wine criticism world. John Gilman takes a shot at James Suckling, “I have always admired James Suckling’s business acumen, as his penchant for scoring wines a few points higher than everyone else insures that his reviews get used far more often by wineries in POS [Point of Sale] material & keeps his bank account robust. But, it’d be nice if they were accurate.” You may recall a questioning of Antonio Galoni at Vinous. And last week we flagged that Wine Enthusiast is cutting down on the regions it regularly reviews. The movie industry went through this, with Peter Travers of Rolling Stone being a mocked culprit. The result was not the re-emergence of respected critics, it was the rise of Rotten Tomatoes. Be warned wine world.
Earnest v. Earnings: Jordan Michelman in Bon Appétit takes a shot at the natural wine phenomenon. “Handmade, small production, heart-on-sleeve winemaking has long been one of the hallmarks of natural wine—far more important than any sulfur level or vineyard claim, to say nothing of hoary, useless tasting terms like funky or weird. And yet, there’s that nasty business of seeing the same bottles everywhere, from big cities to small towns, performed on Instagram and stocked neatly on bottle shelves framed in salvaged wood. To go back to the music analogy, when an “alternative” album sells a million copies, how can it possibly still be considered alt?” If that sounds like someone who lived in a group house in 2008, hold on! He quotes Jenny Eagleton, a journalist and sommelier, for the idea that “[t]here’s wine drinkers who just want to drink some fun wine, and there are wine drinkers working toward a deeper interest. Both are valid and fine.” From that he draws this conclusion, “What I think she’s saying is that we’ve been hopelessly reductionist—both mimetic and memetic—and above all else, annoyingly and predictably capitalist about what natural wine is supposed to be and how it’s sold.” The reduction pun might have been slyly intentional. We added the definitional links. We would also note that just because you can make a neo-socialist critique of everything does not mean it is the the most apt critique. Though we appreciate the irony that it is in BA. (also, “performed” on IG? That is nearly as annoying as the overuse of “performative”).
Food and Culture: Mashama Bailey, of The Grey in Savannah, reflects on food intersections of the African diaspora while cooking a fundraiser meal in Negril, Jamaica. “There’s a clear shared history between Bailey’s approach and the Jamaican cooking that can be seen in these dishes. But ultimately, she’s creating her own version of Southern food and doing what many Black chefs around the world, known and unknown, have done for centuries: adapting to location and space, applying techniques to familiar and unfamiliar ingredients, coaxing deliciousness out of what’s around them.”
Priya Krishna, in The Times, writes on the role of sweets in this week’s Diwali celebrations. We wish a joyous day to those who are celebrating.
The Emerging Economy: The National Restaurant Association reports that sales were up in September over August, but claim that inflation adjusted they were down from the previous quarter. But that seems like bad analysis because it means restaurants were largely able to pass along increased costs.
Solutions: Grocery stores, simple food, underserved communities as a motivation. “When I decided to open Honeysuckle Provisions as a grocery store, it was to simplify this exchange. My wife, Cybille Aude-Tate and I wanted to close the distance between simple food, necessity, and desire.”
A Year Under the Tuscan Sun: A related thought is that just like cuisines can create a market that was not obvious before, relying on the same-old formula obscures the chance to find interesting things right under your nose. Bettina Makalintal, in Eater, writes that she is Italy-ed out with the food shows that trod the same ground. We agree, even if we are a sucker for them. She flags the production company’s blurb for the new Alison Roman show that includes a trip to the Amalfi Coast. It is hard not to notice the topics that company has also done. They are guaranteed winners for eyeballs, even if the stories are warmed-over leftovers: The Windsors! The Kennedys! Italy (with Tucci, who also went to Amalfi)! First Ladies! To which you could add Roman herself.
Even within the Italy construct, Makalintal’s point is made. Tucci’s show has gotten more interesting after the first season’s obvious stops in Naples and Emilia-Romagna because he found unfamiliar material and had to build stories from scratch. It was not the same-old, same-old. That is the point. Outlets do another Kennedy/Windsors/Italy series when they don’t have faith in their ability to tell a new story. But a news network that can’t tell stories has bigger problems than its Sunday night filler. What the best Tucci episodes have, as well as Carlton McCoy’s series (also on CNN), and Stephen Satterfield’s High on the Hog, was a personal response that breathed life into the story. It is why Bourdain’s shows worked, because he found stories and had a personality that could respond to them with real emotions. At least Roman is not going to India…we hope.
As long as we are on the soapbox, apropos of the Krishna piece cited above about Diwali, (and the PR debacle of the Great British Baking Show doing Mexican), there are a handful of countries whose food has become part of the greater American palate in the last few decades, but unlike European counterparts France, Italy, and even Spain, have not gotten the in-depth treatment in popular culture. There is a growing gap between food writers who will drop references to regional cuisines in India, Thailand, Mexico and other places presuming knowledge by readers, and the actual knowledge of readers and eaters. There are millions of Americans, even those who spend a great amount of time eating and reading about food, who do not have the same fluency to readily distinguish northern Thai, or Punjabi Indian, or Oaxacan Mexican as we do the difference between Provençal and Lyonnaise, or Roman and Sicilian. There is an opening there. The popularity of these cuisines give a hook, we know there is great content, there are great voices, but does anyone have the confidence to do it. For executives looking for reassurance, we would point to Samin Nosrat’s Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat, where it got more interesting after Episode 1 in Italy, when she went to Japan, Mexico, and then cooked with her mom at home.
Corden Blues. James Corden, when off camera, is reportedly an asshole. So much so that owner Keith McNally banned him from Balthazar for being abusive to the staff. The ban was short-lived when Corden called McNally to apologize and genuflect (which says something about McNally too), but then Corden took it back in the Times, making McNally update his post. Reiner’s take is that it is endemic to the system. Tom’s take is you need to be civil when raising problems, but treats it as an etiquette issue instead of an asshole issue. There is not a better way to be an asshole, there is only not being an asshole. The Onion’s take is that where there is smoke there is fire. We would also suggest this is a data point on the Initiative 82 debate.
Criticism: Following the leads of other critics in San Francisco, Los Angeles, and (now) D.C., the Philadelphia Inquirer restaurant critic announced he is doing away with ratings (he used bells in lieu of stars). The reaction appears to be generally positive.
The Toast Lives: There is now an avocado surplus.
The Answer Must Be Yes: Consumer Reports asks whether cheese is good for you?
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