Image: Giuseppe De Nittis, Breakfast in the Garden (1884)
Thank you for reading our weekly recap of dining news from D.C. and further abroad. No big economic news, so it is dining dining news week here, including continued thoughts on the rise of Resy, a closed place we sincerely hope comes back, and DCist stepping up. For our D.C. dining guide, we revisit a downtown trendsetter. Enough of the set-up, shall we proceed?
Updates to the D.C. Recommended Restaurant List
Soi 38 – The venerable Thai spot downtown is coming up on a decade and still doing good work.
Comings and Goings:
D.C. Dining News
Goings and Goings Big:
The Underground Food Court is closing. We were not alone in being fans of Sincerely Breakfast and hope they find a new home.
Cava is going big. “It’s the first restaurant company so far this year to take the first step toward a public market debut, following a drought of IPOs in 2022.”
DCist Filling the Laura Hayes Void? When Laura Hayes was at Washington City Paper we often would note that she wrote stories that belong in the Food section of major outlets, but were often not covered. The past few days DCist has been bringing the thunder:
Amanda Michelle Gomez flagged a a new bill to bring nutritious food to D.C. jail.
Gomez also looks at the grind of owning a small restaurant, with news that the owners of Mark’s Kitchen is retiring. “Choe didn’t expect his son, Peter, to work at the restaurant nor did he expect him to take over his business, ‘because I know it’s very hard,’ he says.”
Margaret Barthel brings us up to date on a long simmering story. The ironically-named Union Kitchen has reached a settlement with its workers over its union-busting techniques. “The National Labor Relations Board settlement agreement requires the restaurant to pay nearly $25,000 in backpay and frontpay to five workers who were fired or faced discipline, apparently in retaliation for their participation in the union drive.”
Barthel also gets the story that workers at local Farmers Markets have organized. “Roughly 25 workers who run the markets themselves, not the individual vendor booths, will be included in the new union.”
Even Overheard gets into the act: “Everybody wants to save the world. Nobody wants to do the dishes.”
Keep up the good work! And we wish Laura the best with the emotional swings of the Super Bowl today.
A Taste of the Good Life: Barred in D.C. provides a public service of how to get Washingtonian Top 100 food without a big tab and/or reservation.
Bang, Bang Maxwell’s Silver Hammer: A spot failed to protect its social media handles. It became a reddit thread that people got the popcorn out for.
Circling Back on Beer: A nanobrewery from a Persian homebrewer takes off, returning beer to its ancient roots – both as a creation of the Middle East and a product made by women. “Growing up in her family’s kitchens in and around Atlanta, Tabatabai learned to flavor dishes with traditional Iranian ingredients; barberries for rice, dried black limes and pomegranate molasses for stews. But Baba Joon’s ab jo — and simply the idea of Iranian beer — was a more elusive recipe.” Available in Brooklyn and D.C. only currently.
Media: “I feel like nothing is uncriticizable. If I hear that, it just makes me more curious.” Soleil Ho’s tenure as restaurant critic at the San Francisco Chronicle started with a boom and then, one year in, everything went to hell. She moves on after four years (login rqd.), sounding somewhat content.
The Emerging Economy:
The National Restaurant Association tries to put a sunny face on jobs numbers, but buries the lede. While the sector is almost back to pre-pandemic levels (though below projected growth), the one piece of the sector lagging still is full-time restaurant employment – the sector it represents: “As of December 2022, fullservice restaurant staffing levels were 311,000 jobs (or 6%) below pre-coronavirus readings in February 2020.” As noted in other reporting, when restaurants fired instead of retaining workers in those first few months, they freed them from a job that many decided to never return to.
One of the things the Covid economy did is reveal costs not disclosed. A big one was labor, where many came to realize that tips are part of staff income that customers cover, not a bonus. Credit card fees are another. It would be ironic if the post-Covid economy brought back cash.
Food and Culture:
According to BA, “People Still Love Fine Dining—They Just Feel Guilty About It Now.” Or not, “At least for now, it’s not so much that no one is going to fine dining spots—it’s that, given the moral conundrum, customers just don’t want to brag about it anymore.”
T Magazine does a long look at what hospitality means post-pandemic. It includes commissioned art, neo-Marxist critiques, linguistic history, and ends with a plea. “Is this not the arc of a life, to slowly become aware of the people around us and the labor required to make our survival and happiness possible — the spills quietly mopped up, the food materializing as if out of thin air on the table — and to learn, if we can, to do the same for others?” We lost some piece of our humanity in the last few years. Hopefully, we can get it back.
While the fate of Chinatowns looks grim, they are better off than Little Italy. A cheese shop that was open for 130 years has gone a whey. The Times notes that they owed $600,000 in back rent. Long Island is to blame: “Over time, as Italian food became popular across the country, tourists came to Italian neighborhoods like Little Italy. But over the decades, the neighborhood’s Italian descendants began to leave, Mr. Snyder said. Today, many suburban stores carry the specialty foods that shoppers used to seek out at places like Alleva Dairy.”
Kristen Hawley at Expedite talks about Resy not taking over contrary to popular belief. “Even former anonymous walk-ins are routinely asked for their phone number — as a host recently explained, ‘It’s a Resy thing.’ But it’s actually a data thing, fast becoming industry standard, just like any other tech feature or marketing spin once touted as hot or even transformative. One company isn’t setting the standard, it’s just playing the game.”
Meanwhile the other Sietsema on Resy as frenemy.
Odds and Ends:
The man who made the McDonald’s Museum, among other things.
No Kids Allowed. New Jersey restaurant bans kids.
You also will get notified when we update our D.C. dining guide. Our site has 300+ recommended restaurants in our dining guide for the District. You can sort by cuisine or neighborhood in either LIST or MAP format.
Finally, we’ve stopped doing weekly art posts, but would flag that the exhibit closes at the Phillip’s that the image at the top is taken from.