Image: The best part of waking up – Talking Breads at Dupont Farmers Market.
Dearest Gentle Reader, welcome to our holiday-weekend sandwiched recap of dining news from D.C. and elsewhere. Locally, there are a lot of data points that are starting to look like trends, and they are not positive ones. They are part of a national trend of the restaurant industry – and food in general – adapting to a changing and changed world. So, on with the review…
Updates to D.C. Recommended Restaurant List
Any Day Now – Come for the breakfast sandwich, come back for dinner. On the short list for best new spot of the year.
Vera Cocina & Bar – A mash of Mexican and Middle Eastern cuisines in Ivy City. And a lot of vibe.
Comings & Goings:
Tim Carman has a farewell feast at Great Wall.
Oyster Oyster goes one more step than you think possible to be conscientious. “The groundbreaking project is transforming empty glass wine bottles, including Ruinart Blanc Singulier Champagne into beautiful plates from sand. Crafted by local partner Material Things, these plates will serve as a vessel for a course on the restaurant’s tasting menu.”
D.C. Dining News
Milestones & Kudos:
In a few weeks don’t be surprised if someone names a breakfast place the best new restaurant in D.C.
Carman in the Post digs into the impact of crime on restaurants. The story is national in scope, but the neighborhood around Convivial is a key example. It ends on a grim note: “I’m just losing my business slowly,” [Convivial owner Maupillier] said. “The more people are aware of that location being associated with crime, the less energy the restaurant has to survive for the long-term.” “I just need to get out of here,” he added.
The piece comes after Brine and Buttercream announced they are closing and cited crime as a factor. The perception that certain neighborhoods were safe was the goose that laid the golden egg for places like Shaw and H Street. There was also this news for one of the owners of Stable, “Another H Street business owner, Chef David Fritsche of Stable, was recently carjacked at gunpoint near his restaurant; neighbors have organized a GoFundMe to raise money to help him deal with the loss of his car and another (unrelated) injury from earlier this year.”
Also, Bottles, the great little wine bar tucked in the back of a building off of Penn in the West End is closing. Show them some love before they close the doors. We wish the talented team there luck. And Flight! (though you still have a month to show them some love) And Bar Deco! (effective immediately). There are many factors, but it does feel like a trend.
Clyde’s group sued over surcharge fee. “This is the first lawsuit that Travelers United has filed against a restaurant, but it has also taken on MGM Resorts, Hyatt, Hilton, and Sonesta hotels for alleged “drip pricing”—the advertising practice of promoting a lower price with hidden add-ons. This latest lawsuit cites a lunch that Wolfe and Travelers United President Charlie Leocha had at Old Ebbitt Grill in October. They ordered calamari, an autumn market salad, and a grilled steak salad. The bill came to $58.07, before tax, with a $2.10 surcharge.” Because if one thing is going to lower prices it is litigation over $2.10 surcharge.
Restaurant Association on came out with a report on the state of the local industry. The headline they were pushing was about the impact of Initiative 82. Some stunning numbers include, “Three-quarters of the restaurants are less profitable than in pre-pandemic years, down an average of 34%.” And it is not getting better the more we put distance between ourselves and 2020, “More than a third of restaurants experienced a significant drop in sales and traffic over the summer and early fall, often between 30-40%.”
Community: The co-op with a mission. “Members of ReDelicious collect leftover produce, baked goods and other food items that would otherwise be thrown away from two local farmers markets. As six of the members emphasized, both on TikTok and in a Zoom call with me, they take their leftovers — a process called “gleaning” — only after a slate of local nonprofits and food banks have had a first pass at the goods.”
A local beer distributor shut down and the region now has less good imported beer.
Global wine production down. It is part of some larger forces. Younger people are drinking less, and less plonk is being drunk.
The end of Oddbins in the U.K. “The t-shirt-wearing staff were often wine-enthusiastic students who relished the chance to taste and buy at attractive discounts, while customers were the vinous counterparts of the music fans who had fallen love with the Virgin Records stores that allowed them to listen to new releases while lounging on beanbags. Oddbins stores were, in short, great places for wine lovers seeking a place to hang out and for anyone wanting to get their first foot on the ladder into the wine trade.”
Jason Wilson on the barrel-hunting trends in Cognac. “To whiskey drinkers, single-cask offerings may seem like old hat. But it’s a relatively new phenomenon in brandy. Cognac is actually following a model that’s already been successful for Armagnac. Single-barrel Armagnac from négociants like L’Encantada are catching the fancy of American whiskey connoisseurs tired of paying whiskey prices. The problem in Armagnac is that the existing stock of barrels is small and shrinking. That offers an opportunity for Cognac, where there is seemingly endless stock.”
The good news: “[R]esearchers discovered when the participants drank both caffeine and alcohol, the negative impacts each have on sleep were seemingly offset.” But that does not off-set long-term effects. “Over time, it turns into a cycle of self-medication, as some may call it, in the real world where people will experience bad sleep as a result of alcohol-induced REM sleep suppression. And they will try to mitigate that with caffeine use in the daytime.”
The Emerging Economy:
A key inflation indicator came in at a good number. One of the caveats was food. Eating out cost were up, but “at-home” inflation had a slight bump. “Grocery prices rose 0.3% in October, on a monthly basis, up from 0.1% in September. However, on an annual basis “food at home” inflation increased 2.1% in October, down significantly from a pandemic-era peak over 13% in August 2022, according to BLS data.
Once they talked about health care coverage keeping people from leaving a job. Now it is housing preventing them from coming. “Brenda McDonnell sells food, not hotel rooms. But that didn’t stop the owner of four restaurants in Western Maryland from fixing up a motel nearby — just so her staff would have somewhere to live.” Wolfgang Puck told Carman a few years back that restaurant owners might have to get in the real estate business to make the business work.
Sidman on passing along credit card fees. Barred on the rules. Related, the Post does a story on businesses like Ticketmaster and the airlines pushing back on restricting fees. Restaurants followed the model because the model worked, but Ticketmaster and Delta can be jerks because they don’t care if you have a positive connection with them at point of sale, but restaurants do. It is a different dynamic.
Kim Severson on the persistence of drive-through service popularity after the Covid-era. “I think I’m like a lot of people who just don’t necessarily like being social that much anymore.”
An interview with Soleil Ho in Civil Eats. “[M]aybe the positive thing is that more restaurants are going to have to have a clearer vision of what they’re supposed to be. I think that’s good for restaurants, because any sort of project that is done half-heartedly is pretty disappointing to experience.”
What if the consultants are wrong? “Booths, a small chain that has sold groceries in northern England since 1847, … announced this week that it will be getting rid of the self-checkouts in all but two of its 28 stores. They’re bucking a trend that has remade retail shopping around the world over the last 20 years.”
Food & Culture:
The Julia Child foundation award went to Sean Sherman of Minnesota, whose work focuses on making “Indigenous foods more accessible to as many communities as possible” The award was announced over the summer. We missed it, but the the ceremony, done with the Smithsonian, was more recent. A hat tip to Nycci Nellis, who put it on our radar with her podcast.
Delivery apps for Chinese speakers. “The biggest appeal of these apps is that it’s much easier for me to read a Chinese menu than a translated version which often doesn’t explain what a dish actually is.”
Laura Reiley does the big climate change and agriculture story with photojournalist Kadir van Lohuizen. “Many farmers have doubled down on time-honored traditions, keeping a focus on growth and scale and leaving terms like “climate-smart” and “regenerative” practices to activists and politicians. Some have embraced radical new technologies to reinvent the very definition of a farm. And others look nervously to the future, trying to chart a path to profitability and wondering if their children will, or should, take over the land when they’re gone.” Not cross-listed in the food section, but they do want to make sure you don’t miss that David Portnoy story weeks later.
One interesting twist: “The race is on to build the world’s biggest bug farm. A nascent drive to cut greenhouse emissions from animal feed has spawned a new industry, flush with venture capital, that promises to one day produce vast amounts of protein with fewer greenhouse emissions than traditional suppliers.”
“The state of New York sued PepsiCo on Wednesday, accusing the snack and soda giant of choking a river running through the city of Buffalo with Gatorade bottles, Cheetos bags and other single-use plastic packaging from the company’s products.”
Health & Nutrition:
Eating leftover starches is better for you than freshly made. “Cook some pasta or white rice and let it cool overnight in the refrigerator. By the next day, some of the natural starches in the food will have transformed into healthier versions, called resistant starches, which have been linked to a range of health benefits including lower blood sugar, better gut health and a reduced risk of certain types of cancer.” Of course, it might be a little late to serve for dinner.
Also, there is a consensus: “An analysis published Wednesday in the journal BMC Medicine, drawing on data from 37 studies, adds to the evidence that eating fewer animal-based foods — especially processed meats — and replacing them with whole grains, legumes and nuts is linked to a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease and Type 2 diabetes.” One can feel that processed meats are about to have a tough moment.
Saveur returns to print. “We’ll publish only two issues next year, and both will receive the care and effort that previously went into a half-dozen slimmer issues. There will be limited print runs, reducing waste. We’re also simplifying our supply chain dramatically, pivoting to focus primarily on direct-to-reader sales through our website. Retail through brick-and-mortar stores will be selective; you probably won’t find the new SAVEUR at the supermarket or pharmacy—but you very well might spot a copy at your local independent bookstore, specialty food shop, or library.”
Odds & Ends:
A menu from the Titanic goes on auction. Story mostly focuses on the obsessives of the tragedy and the collectors it breeds. But it also highlights that for about 100 years what was considered a fancy dinner did not change.
Wonder what it would be like to be a squirrel? Someone tries eating acorns.
Thanks for clicking through to read this week. We will be off next weekend for Thanksgiving. Best and warmest to all.
Don’t let Black Friday put you too far into the red.