Image: Enzo Sellerio, Shipyard Workers (Palermo, Sicily. 1962).
Spring is almost here dearest readers, though winter hardly left its mark on these parts. Ironically, California which only has the two seasons of sun and rain actually got a real winter. Soon the tourists will be upon us. With that in mind, we continue to freshen our D.C. dining guide. There is lots of news about the D.C. industry economy, including some dark clouds and looking for silver linings. Plus a roundup of national and some international news. So let us proceed!
Updates to the D.C. Recommended Restaurant List
Bar Spero – The second spot from Johnny Spero is creative, intellectual, and fun.
For Bar Spero, how to categorize its style of cuisine was a challenge – Spanish? New American? N/A? But the bigger challenge may be what to call the neighborhood where it is located. Does Mt. Vernon include both the square and the triangle? Does the triangle cross Mass Ave? Where does Chinatown end? Where does the apron of Capitol Hill end? Calling it Capitol Crossing when that is a single development and no help to those from out-of-town doesn’t make sense. We have a bunch of places listed near there and realized we have not been consistent. Will need to clean it up soon.
D.C. Dining News
Three chefs, two from D.C., presented at SXSW (cute name) on how to build a better restaurant world. Marcelle Afram, Christian Irabien, Melissa Miranda discussed “the need to create restaurants as community-driven spaces, advocacy for a type of co-op structured ownership, and an overall better quality of life for everyone in the industry.””
A local restaurant owner raises flags on fees. “In an industry long resistant to raising prices, many owners decided service charges were a better option for the bottom line. But this approach is both an unsustainable way to address background inflation and a crude method of pricing across a menu. More important, it is corrosive to one of the core features of our industry: trust.” Ticketmaster’s monopoly position means it does not care about customer loyalty, so it can price-gouge even more effectively than oil companies. Restaurants face a competitive market, so they may not even be able to recoup costs, even with fees.
Speaking of price gouging and also not contributing to a better quality of life are the delivery apps. The D.C. Council reversed the 15% cap on fees and said the apps could charge more for more services. The more service is actually listing the restaurant on the app. For Uber, “The lowest cost plan of 15% limits the number of people who will see the restaurant on the app because customers could only see a business when they search for it by name, according to the email shared with DCist/WAMU.” Two of the sponsors of lifting the cap now express regret. Charles Allen said “It’s time to close this loophole.” Kenyan McDuffie, however, isn’t ready to go beyond finger-wagging. The DCist article cites Barred in DC’s analysis that pointed to Mary Cheh’s warning when it was considered that “the system set up by this bill would allow [apps] to create a ‘race to the bottom’ scenario” where the “15% tier would turn into a sham offering, and the 25% tier would effectively become the most basic level of service.” The Post covered the national story, but we could not find local coverage on this development.
A Del Ray restaurants changes to be a taqueria, but the sign of the times was the message explaining the change. “You would think after all of these efforts I would be happy that Stomping Ground survived the pandemic. But that’s all we did, we survived. We didn’t flourish. We didn’t grow. We got hard. We lost the magic that made our 1400 square feet a place you wanted to come every day. Everything feels a little less bright.” She calls out the fraying of modern society. “Our community has been replaced with the post Covid guest. A guest that has grown accustomed to having Michelin starred food delivered to them at exactly the time of their choosing by a driver who braved the worst possible conditions. They call to ask for refunds if delivered food is even just the slightest bit subpar to the in house dining experience. They leave one star online reviews if they can’t get a favorite menu item. They bemoan about the prices; not knowing our core values to source the best product we can afford and to pay our staff the most we can. They let the food get cold as the “camera eats first”. They send DMs asking you to repost their content. They ask for gluten free.”
Nourish D.C. awards $500,000 in grants to support food services businesses in wards 5, 7 and 8 (paywall)
Peter Chang opened his 14th restaurant. Tom appears intent on reviewing all of them. It was only 13 years ago that Calvin Trillin wrote the legendary piece on how Chang evaded his followers. He changed his mind and started putting his name on restaurants soon after.
Food truck owners are in a bind.
Wine and Diplomacy: From Jane Anson. “Beyond the importance of wine-infused informal settings, governments also organise events to highlight their cultural identity through wine and food.”
Where the Grapes of Wrath Are Stored: “The Thomas Jefferson Foundation, which owns and operates Monticello, acquired the nearby Jefferson Vineyards.“
The Emerging Economy:
The Consumer Price Index, a measure of inflation, came in with an inconclusive number. Krugman said, “not great but not grim.” Furman says, “still way too high and no sign of falling.”
Interestingly, the upward pressure has shifted almost entirely to services and away from goods. Food prices are down. “Eleven straight monthly declines have pushed food prices down 19 percent from a peak last March, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations said Friday.” Though may remain elevated from pre-supply chain bottleneck times.
Mexico’s economy is developing from agriculture to industry and it is impacting farm labor. “According to Taylor’s research, the number of farmworkers coming out of rural Mexico is decreasing by an estimated 150,000 a year. That means U.S. and Mexican farmers will have to increasingly compete for a dwindling pool of labor.” Cindy Carcamo in the L.A. Times does a story about how U.S.-born labor is unlikely to fill in the gap.
Food support story we missed last week about Kentucky as benefits run out.
Food and Culture: In the Times Magazine (with the full glossy treatment), a piece about how Jewish bakers are connecting to tradition but often with twists that draw upon the many places the diaspora has landed over the centuries. “What had once been a slow culinary transformation accelerated when Jewish people from around the world began migrating to Israel throughout the 20th century, bringing with them the Jewish microcuisines of North Africa, the Middle East, Europe and the Americas. It wasn’t long before geographically disparate flavors — tahini and chocolate; cream cheese and date syrup — landed in the same mixing bowl.” Inevitably there is a debate about messing with tradition, but the bakers respond in the same way so many others do when facing that critique. “Often, Heller says, her food is described as ‘Jew-ish’ — inspired by but not really of the culture. She finds that offensive. ‘What we do is rooted in history,’ she says. ‘Creativity doesn’t make it any less Jewish.’ In fact, if the past is any indication, the ability to adapt might be the most Jewish quality of all.”
Him Too? Yes.
Not Eating Lobster to Save the Whales: “A coalition of organizations, including the Maine Lobstermen’s Association and the Maine Coast Fishermen’s Association, filed the defamation suit Monday against the Monterey Bay Aquarium Foundation after it placed the American lobster, a species found on the Atlantic coast that makes up most of the U.S. market, on its “red list” of seafood for consumers to avoid in September. Seafood Watch, the conservation group operated by the aquarium, made the move because of the threat posed to right whales by fishing gear entanglement used to harvest lobster.”
Using All the Food in the Fridge: Tejal Rao on wise cooking. “No-waste cooking is just another way of maximizing the pleasures of your food, of making the most out of the least. It’s not a trend — it’s what cooking is, most of the time, without requiring any kind of special name.” Rao’s piece was prompted by Tamar Adler’s new book. She has a piece in the Post Opinion section. “We need to change our approach from a moralistic one to a practical human one that treats edible ingredients as what they are: food.”
Odds & Ends:
Former D.C. resident makes it big in N.Y.
When the marketing department thinks about nutrition: Add a Fourth Meal!
Bemoaning the loss of the neighborhood diner in Britain.
The Food section did note the suit against Buffalo Wild Wings that its boneless wings are not wings.
Asimov tells a joke, and we laughed: There’s an old joke about a street with four restaurants side-by-side. The first has a sign saying, “Best Food in the City,” and its tables are sparsely populated. The second says, “Best Food in the Country,” and even fewer people are inside. The third says, “Best Food in the World,” and it’s empty. The fourth says, “Best Food on the Block,” and it’s packed.
That’s it for this week. Thanks for reading. If you are thinking of dining out in D.C. check out our site. Our site has 300+ recommended restaurants for the District. You can sort by cuisine or neighborhood in either LIST or MAP format.
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