Image: Clark Gable in “Honky Tonk” (1941).
Welcome to our recap of activity on our site along with dining news from D.C. and beyond. This week, D.C. gets ready to vote on wages, we added a couple wine bars to our recommended list, and the food world lost two strong voices. All that and more, including a Bono and Bruce story, so shall we get on with it?
Updates to D.C. Recommended Restaurant List
Flight – The excellent wine bar has gotten better with age, if you pardon the cliché. We were about to add it to our guide right before Covid hit, now we have looped back around to rectify that.
D.C Dining News
Compensation: Of course the biggest news is what hasn’t happened yet. That will be when voters decide Initiative 82 on Tuesday. If you have not made up your mind, there are several overviews, including:
- DCist does a good job of trying to pull together the threads. It includes a link to a 2018 study supporting elimination of the tipped wage.
- Jessica Sidman in Washingtonian.
- Paige Hopkins for Axios, though the pro 82 folks clarify her example pointing out that the offset of tips and wages are averaged.
- Barred in DC did a wrap up and came out against.
- Washington Monthly (the legacy of Charlie Peters lives!) did a deep dive in both the impact and history, though it leaned pro-passage.
- The Post summary.
We also did a deep dive and drew some possibly dubious conclusions in our post last week. In our anecdotal discussions, we would not be surprised if it did not pass. Different times may lead those that supported 77 to flip.
Which in some ways tracks with this really interesting piece in the Washingtonian by Jessica Sidman, about how the Public Option is urging a no vote, despite being a pioneer in moving to a non-tipped model. They moved back recently for reasons the article explains. This story in the Local section of the Post leads with a worker who moved from against to pro.
Pizza, Pizza: Sidman also asked the follow-up question so many of us had after Elissa Silverman responded to an Axios questionnaire by saying she has eaten every pizza in D.C. Sidman asked, really? Silverman explains, pretty much.
In the Food Section: Washington City Paper posted its annual Best of D.C. list, including reader votes. Laura Hayes noted that she was glad non-PR hyped places were included in the WCP’s best of list as determined by their writers. Mere hours later a PR storm swept across the Wharf.
An example of a less robust P.R. push is noted by Eater regarding a new Mexican spot opening in a Dupont Circle hotel. The pictures are provided by the company that operates a very similar spot in Miami. Eater writes, “The new Oaxacan oasis fills a void left behind when Shaw’s Espita Mezcaleria closed this fall to make way for Ghostburger.” That may be more on the nose than intended. The menu looks more generic Mexican that Oaxacan, but it does remind us that there is an actual void in this regard.
Stars: Rick Chessen of Rick Eats DC posted a dissent from Tom’s decision to drop the use of stars. Rick notes that the goal of reviews, and critics, is “making it easier for the broader public to find good restaurants.” Though we agree with dropping the stars, we agree with Rick that the primary purpose is to help people find good restaurants. We believe that Tom’s use of stars was not fulfilling that purpose and, therefore, supported his decision to drop them. But we continue to ponder what shorthand would be most helpful.
Local Stars: Two mixologists from D.C. went on the Netflix competition show, Drink Masters. Both did well, but Lauren “LP” Paylor O’Brien won the whole thing. DCist reports: “While she doesn’t work at one specific bar, O’Brien owns LP Drinks Co., hosting mixology classes, one-on-one trainings, and private events around D.C. and elsewhere. She also advocates for health and wellness for service industry workers through her other company, Focus on Health. O’Brien plans to host pop-up events in D.C. soon, she wrote on her Instagram account.”
Not Gas, I Said Glass: The Russian invasion in Ukraine has lesser-known impacts worldwide. There is a shortage of wine bottles. Europe, “hosts 162 glass plants across 23 countries, all of which must run continuously, and most of which are powered by gas. Glass furnaces can’t be switched off, as the molten glass will solidify and destroy the machinery—which means there’s no way to reduce energy use. And energy prices have risen up to 15 times since the invasion. Industries that rely on glass, from car makers to beer brewers, have reacted by buying everything they can and stockpiling it, according to the Wall Street Journal.”
The Emerging Economy: The Times reports that food prices rose and remained sticky, as consumers were willing to accept the higher prices passed along to cover labor, fuel, and supply-chain costs. “In late October, [Chipotle] said its profit margin widened in the third quarter, since it was able to increase the prices it charges faster than its own costs rose. The company said its prices in the final three months of the year would be nearly 15 percent higher than they were a year earlier.” But mid-range restaurants see a fragmented market: Executives at Darden Restaurants said in September on a call with analysts that households with less than $50,000 in annual income were feeling the overall effects of inflation and eating less frequently at its Olive Garden and Cheddar’s restaurant chains. Rick Cardenas, the chief executive of Darden, said, “We are seeing softness with these consumers while conversely, we are seeing strength with guests in higher income households.”
We would note that the ability for now to pass along costs, but a fragmented market and corporate profit-taking that muddle a simple picture explains, in part, why the impact of Initiative 82 is difficult to judge.
The jobs numbers this week implied that it is still possible for the Fed to pull off a soft-landing, but they are more wiling to overshoot the runway than risk continued inflation.
More Valuable Than Parking: New York City’s experiment with “open streets” which is to say car-free blocks, resulted in a boon for restaurants. “[A] new city report that finds that restaurants and bars on the most successful Open Streets reported stronger sales than those on similar commercial streets with car traffic — and in some cases, did better than they did before the pandemic. Some Open Streets even attracted new restaurants and bars during the first 18 months of Covid-19, when many businesses remained closed or limited their operations.” Someone might need to check in on this guy.
Lost Voices: This week saw the passing of two prominent figures in the world of food writing. Gael Greene, who had some grand adventures before turning to restaurant criticism died at the age of 88. She is remembered for helping shape the genre. It is also a reminder how recently the genre began.
For some of us, Julie Powell’s voice came over the static-y dial-up modems of post 9/11 New York as we read her blog. She died this week at 49. Emily Heil has an appreciation in the Post. Julia Moskin has one in the Times.
Fake Voices: The Times test A.I.-generated recipes.
Heroes: This piece from Gerald Sombright, the first Black male chef to win a Michelin star highlights the power of a role model. He describes the inspiration of discovering the story of Patrick Clark. “I would watch Patrick Clark’s Iron Chef episode and scour the internet for any information about him via cooking forums and lost articles. He looked like me and he was respected by them. My mind was blown.” Mariya Russell of Chicago was apparently the first Black chef to win a U.S. star in 2019, though nearly all the coverage said she was the first Black woman chef to win a star. Charlie Mitchell of Clover Hill in Brooklyn also helmed a Michelin star winner in 2022. If you were curious like we were, we could not find The Grey mentioned in in any fashion by Michelin. Perhaps Georgia’s tourism board has yet to cough up enough shake-down money to get its restaurants covered.
Food Culture: We have been highlighting the role of food in various cultures, but this past week drew attention to the nature of the culture of the food world. The way that the food world communicates with each other and records shifts has been fundamentally changed by the internet (to state the obvious, and underline what Powell’s blog meant). The old glossies either folded up shop or struggle to be relevant. Recipe sourcing has become more democratic. Instagram became a central hub for visual content, but its Meta-problems and shift to video have made it less attractive. Facebook never really seem to click and fuck TikTok. Which left Twitter, especially to share stories about the food world whether on the site or linked. Now that is unstable. We have no insights or forecast, but it seems food is not big enough to drive its own system (unless we start taking the phrase foodporn more literally), but is big enough to find accommodations somewhere. Until then, we will just hang out on our old-school site.
Going in the opposite direction is Eater. The famously online media platform, announced it is partnering with a publisher of real books. “Abrams, known for its state of the art visual books, will be the exclusive home for Eater book publishing in a deal that spans seven books, including three cookbooks and four city guides.” We have doubts about dining guides to cities as a viable commercial enterprise, but we are probably doing it wrong.
Where’s The Beef? The New Republic asks if the “Fake Meat” industry has already hit peak.
Bono and Bruce: As the crucible of fame become more intense, there is something old school about these guys.
Railing: …against the dying of the light feel of a paper menu in your hand.
That’s it. Remember to vote and milk the last joy of these warm days. If you are thinking of dining out and are in D.C., then we can help. 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.