Image: Thelma Ritter and James Stewart, Production Still from Rear Window (Alfred Hitchcock, 1954) via We Had Faces Then.
Lots of news this week including big thoughts on fine dining. We added a new place to our dining guide, and realized there is a trend of neighborhood spots punching above their weight. Lots of good news about places and people coming back, so, read on!
Updates to the Recommended Restaurant List
Daru – The little spot at the end of H Street delivered one of the best meals of the year.
Seki – The venerable spot just off U Street gets a write up.
D.C. Dining News
On top of finding a new favorite in Daru, and welcoming the return of an old favorite in Obelisk, we were excited of news that Eat DC broke that Chef Frederik de Pue of Table fame and currently at Flamant in Annapolis, is coming back to the district.
DBGB DC will be a “pop up” of the Cafe Boulud chain. Not clear if the pop-up designation is to indicate a trial run? An attempt to salvage the remaining time on the lease? A holding pattern for something else? Poking around the Cafe Boulud site, the concept tilts a little more refined in presentation than DBGB, often has a more serious lounge-y cocktail aspect (with alcohol’s higher margin?) and a more modern aesthetic. Though, so far it does not look like the old-school bistro decor is getting swapped out.
While many struggle with supply chain issues (including as a cause for the delayed opening of ChurchKey), the Post had to make a correction about Sweeney Todd’s distribution network for meat products for London pies. It was actually much more limited than initially described, which if you know the story, that is a good thing.
We have a few thoughts on the Post restaurant critics, but before we get to that, we need to note that the Washington City Paper’s take-out critic, Crystal Fernanders, had her first piece this week about a sandwich spot in Congress Heights. Besides being a good read it highlights exactly why this position fills a need, like a good crab cake sandwich.
While we frequently tease the Post around here, it is necessary to highlight Tim Carman’s review of Pogiboy. In the art world there is a phenomenon of the right critic for an artist. A critic who both understands the work and can help others appreciate it more deeply than a less well-matched critic. The Pogiboy review is Carman pulling on all his strengths to make a casual take-out spot reveal its genius and highlight his own talent and passion.
Thoughts on Fine Dining: Tom Sietsema’s bundled review of several high-end dining spots touched on topics we have been addressing recently. So pardon us while we “tuck in” to it a bit. Tom frames the positive reviews as a rebuttal to an argument Adam Platt made in New York magazine. Tom claims Platt “practically declared fine dining dead in Manhattan.” Which isn’t really fair to Platt’s argument, which is:
“Bloviating critics like me have been predicting the demise of what used to be called ‘haute cuisine’ for decades now, but as the great COVID hurricane eases slowly off the coast, leaving all sorts of wreckage and chaos in its wake, the old gourmet model of fine dining has never seemed so disconnected, irrelevant, and out of touch.”
Platt also directly criticizes the stale tasting menu model that arose in the wake of French Laundry’s dominance, he quotes an unnamed “gourmet” saying they are all telling the same story now. “They serve the same caviar or oysters to start, the same butter-poached-lobster course and then beef or duck to finish — we’ve seen it all before, and now the prices are crazier than ever. I just feel like the world has moved on.”
Which for us is the opening for the restaurants Tom is highlighting. Yes, he includes Marcel’s and Eric Zeibold’s Métier, which fit a classic model. But Zeibold, we would argue, offers something above and beyond and refuses to succumb to staleness (even as a French Laundry alum). While Marcel’s also refuses in its own way to cave to conventions, which is why Michelin has spitefully refused to give it a star. Tom also includes places like Imperfecto, Xiquet and Jônt. Plus a re-done Fiola that has refreshed itself by focusing on local sourcing. In doing so, Tom does not rebut the Platt’s point, but does offer a way that expensive places can remain relevant, which is by offering something unique and worth a splurge.
Interestingly, the insight that clarifies the Platt/Sietsema divide comes from the NY Times wine critic Eric Asimov who in attempting to nail down what makes a wine great argues that context is key. He uses the analogy of Michelin-starred dining: “A meal at the sort of restaurants that end up on Top 50 lists can be sublime. But it must be with the right people and on the right occasion, otherwise they are time-consuming, overly complicated and fatiguing, paradoxically great yet nightmarish.” Platt’s point is that dining in the time of Corona makes the “right occasion” for high-end dining less common. As we move to return to our first concert, or show, or museum, or large family gathering, many realize there are things that we crave and treasure more than the constructed experience of a tasting menu. Even those of us who obsess and treasure such meals must acknowledge it does not have the same pull it had pre-pandemic. Which is why many who read both Tim’s and Tom’s reviews were probably more excited by Pogiboy than any of the six fine dining spots.
One last note. Tom does put his finger on something we flagged a couple weeks ago. In the middle of what Platt called the hurricane of Covid, D.C. got not one but several new very expensive places. Given the circumstances, the economics of that seem strange. One thing missing from Tom’s pieces is an explanation of how these places manage to open, re-open, or stay alive. That is a story we’d like to read.
We missed a couple stories last week in our quick version of Week in Review for the holiday weekend. There were a few notable things to flag:
Local food blogger Lori Gardner was profiled. We have always admired Lori’s work as one of the long-standing bloggers who cares about the food and the industry without artifice. If you don’t already, give her a follow.
The Social Beast/Town Hall spot closed this past week. A Washingtonian story noted that high costs of the space: “The space was huge, the electrical bills were huge, the rents were huge,” Gordon says of the former Town Hall venue. “We just couldn’t quite make the numbers work for us.”
In keeping with the season of giving, PoPville highlighted the Go Fund Me page for Noah Ramirez, a chef at The Commodore, who was struck riding his bike. According to the family, he will have a long road back to recovery and he has two daughters. Consider giving.
Other Dining News
In our continuing series: Food Stories not in the Post Food Section, Laura Reiley looks at the troubles facing a small Georgia school district trying to serve healthy food. On our recent trip to Atlanta to visit family for Thanksgiving, it was startling how little space there was in the big supermarket for fruits and vegetables – but there was a whole aisle – a very long aisle – of sugar drinks. There were more varieties of orange soda than there were varieties of actual citrus. In Georgia! which is an agricultural state next to Florida! Sometimes the supply chain problem is not on the supply side.
As a follow up to the Doi Moi surcharge story from last week. There was an interesting response on the twitter threads from a consumer psychologist who said: “In general partitioned prices are highly effective at encouraging us to spend more – even though virtually every consumer hates them. Researchers have shown partitioned prices lead to an average of 9% increase in customer preference when compared to an all-inclusive price.” This would seem to explain much of contemporary pricing including airlines, condos, and cars.
When is plagarism of recipes copyright violation? Why are recipes not protected by intellectual property laws? A fascinating story in the Times. Also keep a copy handy so when someone starts to complain about the introductory material to a recipe being too long you can beat them about the head with it.
Old Time DC twitter found a picture of vineyards in D.C. by the old Soldiers Home, and an urban wine garden at the turn of the 20th century. Who knew?
That is enough for the week. As always, if you don’t want to miss any of this great content, then be sure to follow up on social media. We are on FB, Insta, and Twitter. Click on the icons at the top or bottom of this page to stay up to date.
Looking for a place to dine out, then our dining guide to D.C. is there for you with 300 recommended restaurants in our dining guide that you can sort by cuisine, neighborhood, and current operating status (dine-in and/or take-out, etc.) in either LIST or MAP format.
Be safe. Be polite. Get the shot.