Image: Marlene Dietrich in Stage Fright (Alfred Hitchcock, 1950).
Happy Palindrome Day! This week was a little light on volume of news and activity on our site, but there are still several nuggets of interest. So, we’d suggest scrolling a little further.
Updates to Recommended Restaurant List
Teaism – We updated our page on this homegrown chain serving some calm in an intense city.
D.C. Dining News
This Meddlesome Pandemic: Again, D.C. policy changes are the biggest news of the week. In response to Mayor Bowser’s move to lift both the vaccination requirement and the mask requirement (next week), restaurants are scrambling, with many choosing to keep the requirements in place. The industry as a whole lobbied to lift the requirements and successfully blocked a Council move to restore them.
Michael Loria, in the Washington City Paper, looks at the robust testing restaurants are doing to keep their remaining staff up and functioning. “Between the dearth of workers and sometimes unpredictable supply of tests, District restaurants have found themselves in a tough spot as they try to remain open.”
Watching the Detectives: Meanwhile Tom has thoughts on how to improve service, which he says is an important issue right now for diners based on input for his weekly chats. Some of Tom’s ideas are not without consideration, but it didn’t exactly go over well. In part, because of the reason highlighted in the story above that makes it read like suggestions for re-arranging the deckchairs. It also should be noted that those who write in on Tom’s chats tend to include a lot of whiners. Or, as put in an article flagged by Derek Brown, when you wonder why you are not getting good service, the answer may be simple: “Good old Adam Smith and his invisible hand of supply and demand works both ways, and the reason why you won’t get what you want will be staring right back in the mirror.” Perhaps the real story is just how good service has remained despite all the obstacles. Putting on our assignments editor hat: how do places with good service and morale do it?
Builders: Andra “AJ” Johnson is still pushing, still collecting stories, still telling stories. She has been a dual-hatted figure in the D.C. dining scene as both someone who works the shifts and remains a voice for change. Laura Hayes catches up with Johnson in her story this week in the Washington City Paper.
The Post Business section has a story by David Wessel of Brookings about the effort it took to open City-State Brewing in the middle of a pandemic. Wessel’s wrote a book about Opportunity Zones (OZ), which are tax breaks to invest in poor areas. The article is essentially a catalogue of ways that City-State’s founder James Warner secured funding: “In all, Warner raised $281,250 in OZ money during the first half of 2021. The OZ investors collectively own about 8.7 percent of the brewery. Including the OZ investors, Warner has raised $1.13 million in equity from 66 individuals, including two members of his family. He has borrowed a total of $686,500, not counting equipment leases, and has $850,000 in landlord-financed improvements to the property.” City-State is not expected to turn a profit for another three to four years.
The economy during the pandemic produced many head-scratching statistics, including one from the City-State story. “The pandemic saw an unexpected surge in business start-ups amid the economic disruption caused by covid-19. For the past year and a half, the number of businesses started each month has been running about 35 percent above pre-pandemic levels, according to Census Bureau data.”
Support What You Want to Survive: Reading the story we couldn’t help but think of a 2019 story Laura Hayes did in WCP on how difficult it is for young women entrepreneurs to get access to capital.
We forgot to flag this great story from last week, also in WCP, about veterans finding some satisfaction in the world of cooking.
Which brings us to this story in the Daily Beast about how a few cities’ alt-weekly papers survived when so many others went under in the past few years. They key is often donations from readers. So, this is a not-so-gentle reminder to donate. We always say support what you love when it comes to restaurants, the same goes for what you read.
Detectives on the Case: Tim Carman unearths a story about beloved former Post restaurant critic Phyllis Richman’s father. Carman says in passing that he found the story “in researching her background.” This could be for several reasons, but we’d read a Carman story about Richman without any hook necessary.
Bubbly: How a Champagne house that once provided shelter from World War I explosions is facing the future. And yes, their bottles are available in several D.C. stores.
Trade Threatens Toast: A massive crisis was averted this week. Okay, maybe not massive. The U.S. Government announced a ban on imports of avocados from Mexico, which are about 80% of the U.S. market. The ban came in response to a threat against U.S. food inspectors in Mexico who work to keep the food chain certified as safe. The Times has this quote: “This was a nice story about how a group of agribusinessmen and farmers used scientific methods to reduce pest risk and allow trade to occur where there wouldn’t normally be an opportunity,” Mr. Orden said. “It was a nice story until the drug cartels got involved.” By week’s end the ban had been lifted and imports resumed. If you were wondering whether the avocado toast phenomenon had an impact on the U.S. diet, it did: The per capita annual consumption of avocados is nine pounds (and growing). In 2010, it was four pounds.
The Post-Structuralist Food Section: Ligaya Mishan, writing in the Times Style Magazine, traces the evolution of the “food writer.” Along the way she references ancient Greek parodies of Homer, the ways progressive reformers undermine their own efforts, how food journalism emerged from the “women’s pages” of the paper, and the bite of M.F.K. Fisher (which itself is not above scrutiny). Mishan brings a Marxist angle that in itself sounds nostalgic in its phrasing: “So when we write about food, we are already writing about class struggle.”
She zeroes in on something we have been tracking recently: the reluctance of “food” sections to deal with messier issues that might upset the sensibility of readers who follow the predicable line of stories from the grilling issue in summer to Thanksgiving and then the big finish of the holiday cookie issue. “Still, when contemporary food writers (and, I suppose, I am one) stray from celebrating flavors to probe the larger issues surrounding the parade of dishes to our tables — exploitation of labor, abuse of animals, climate change, the homogenizing of cuisines and cultures under globalization, systemic injustices that allow millions of people to go hungry each year — some readers complain. Food should not be political, they insist. Food is universal; food unites us. Let us have our cake in peace.” Something to ponder as you eat your toast sans avocado.
Finding Adult Friends: “My wife says I’m getting weird,” Kimball typed on sheets of paper, which he then taped to telephone poles around the Bernal Heights neighborhood. “She says I need to make friends. So I’m making pancakes.” He provided an address, a time and other details, and added: “Come by and say hi and have some pancakes with me.” It worked.
Influencers on Waterskis, Shark in Sight: “I was not obliterated [at American Girl Cafe],” Ms. Griffin clarified in a Zoom interview. “It’s just better to say that for the clicks.”
“This is The Show”: Finally, if having Barred in DC flag Alicia Kennedy was not enough of a surprise confluence, the “occasionally insightful” F1 podcast, The Parc Fermé did a show on the food programs within F1 teams talking to Wayne Sullivan, a chef for Williams. On rare occasions we have let slip our interest in F1, but we did not see that coming as a topic for in-depth consideration. Listen to hear about how kitchens are built each week, then broken down and shipped to the next location.
Even light weeks end up being rather substantial these days – we hit Adam Smith and Marx and the Fonz! Remember to give us a follow if you read this far and might want to do it again. We are on FB, Insta, and Twitter. Click on the icons at the top or bottom of this page to stay up to date.
If it wasn’t clear, the primary purpose of this site is to be a dining guide for the District. We have 300 recommended restaurants that you can sort by cuisine, neighborhood, and current operating status (dine-in and/or take-out, etc. – though things are in flux currently so check before you go!) in either LIST or MAP format.
Have a great week. Support what you want to see survive. Appreciate good service. Maybe make some pancakes for someone.