Week in Review – 10/8/2023

Image: Just teasing Fiola. Fredric March, Miriam Hopkins and Gary Cooper, Design for Living (1933).

Dearest Gentle Reader, we have a rather substantial post this week. Last week’s was lighter but had a couple good nuggets (for those that missed it). This week our recap of dining news seems to have hit a bounty of food stories including, it must be conceded, from the Post. So shall we proceed?

Updates to the D.C. Recommended Restaurant List

We did not post any new additions to the list this week or post about revisits.

Comings & Goings

Moon Rabbit is popping up at Bryant St. Market.

Shouk is closing its stall at Union Market. Not sure the economics of Union Market are discernible, but would love to have someone try to explain it.

Popville also reports that Bammy’s is closed. Bammy’s was the first place by the team that later opened Yasmine at Union Market displacing Rappahannock Oyster Co.

Oyster Oyster ended its short-lived experiment with Oyster Garage. Subscription required from Business Journal who it looks like got the scoop.

Pearl Dive may have some interruptions in service. Looks like the neighbor had a fire.

D.C. Dining News

The Wall Street Journal did a story on violent crime in D.C. (paywall). The owner of Right Proper said they are evaluating whether to stay at the location due to drug use. Looks like the lease is up at the end of 2024.

D.C is enforcing the ban on non-cash places. Recall that this policy was an economic justice issue to ensure access to those without credit cards or other means of non-cash payment. It was proposed in 2018 and passed in 2020. Then Covid hit and cashless payment became the norm as public health concerns swelled. Recently crime concerns have also re-emerged (see story above), which was one of the reasons for shops cite for eliminating cash transactions. Enforcement, however, may not be that stringent.

The union drive is over at Compliments Only. Those leading the effort quit and it looks like there was no appetite to push the issue once the owners declined to voluntarily recognize a union, which meant the workers would have to mount an actual campaign.

Media:

Deb Freeman has secured a position at Virginia Public Media as the food editor of Style Weekly. Congratulations to her and well-deserved. She “will lead its coverage of Richmond’s illustrious food and beverage scene, with an emphasis on the intersection of race, culture and food. She is the first African American editor to lead food coverage at a major Richmond outlet.” Flagging for local publications in case they were looking for ideas.

Tom came out with his 24th Fall Dining Guide. He decided to add a Restaurant of the Year and gave the nod to Purple Patch in Mt. Pleasant, a worthy candidate. We speculated earlier this year, wildly and with no actual knowledge, that he might use this dining guide to announce stepping down from his perch at the Post. Our speculation appears unfounded, as no such announcement was made.

Local Food & Culture: The Post asked some locals, including Big Schlim, to explain the allure and meaning of mumbo sauce to the District.

Drink

Wine:

Does Coravin not work after more than a week?

One challenge for wine producers is getting new customers. For those wine not mass marketed the tasting room was a way to find an audience. In recent years the cost and nature of the tasting room has transformed. The standard tasting fee is creeping up to $50 (more in Napa apparently). The nature of the experience is being rounded out and a far cry from the add-on space with some plywood counters of a generation or two ago. The traditional tasting room that catered to serious drinkers and casual day-trippers at the same time is now leaning more into the day-tripper audience. Wineries may have to find a different channel to reach those that might hit five wineries in a day, spitting along the way while it builds out those that settle in for an hour or two. The tasting model of Virginia wineries that built out large patios and rooms seems to be where we are heading. Though we have not tried it yet, the experience at RdV combining a sit-down setting with in-depth wine discussion is one way for certain kind of labels, but not sure it works for the average winery, and the price point does not reach the average consumer.

Wine writers paid to review wines by wineries? The Michelin model is spreading. Jon Bonné flags an interesting aspect to the development: a price tag is getting put on tasting notes – and its not that bad for a writer.

Health: Jason Wilson, whose column is called Everyday Drinking, asks if the days of everyday drinking are coming to an end as alcohol looks more and more like tobacco from a public heath point of view.

Other News

The Emerging Economy:

The big news at the macro level is the jobs report for September which came in strong. “Nonfarm payrolls increased by 336,000 for the month, better than the Dow Jones consensus estimate for 170,000 and more than 100,000 higher than the previous month, the Labor Department said Friday in a much-anticipated report. The unemployment rate was 3.8%, compared to the forecast for 3.7%.”

The leisure and hospitality sector led, adding 96,000 new jobs. Average hourly earnings in the sector were flat on the month, though up 4.7% from a year ago. Continuing a trend, service industries strongly outpaced goods. The National Restaurant Assocation claims that with this month’s numbers the industry has recovered to a jobs level equal to pre-pandemic – though still below where they would have been without the interruption. Even Jason Furman, our benchmark inflation hawk, is impressed. Sadly, our benchmark for optimism and team transition, Paul Krugman, has left Twitter. But before doing so he re-posted Furman so we assume he reads it as positive news too.

Industry:

One of the things about the food industry is the low barrier to entry and the ability to start over despite nearly anything that you have done before. The Post on the chef who went from making “jailhouse pizza” to acclaimed pizza. “Today, pizza is still Carter’s specialty — but rather than improvising it in prison, he’s crafting it as the executive chef of one of Philadelphia’s most popular restaurants, Down North Pizza. The eatery only employs formerly incarcerated people, many of whom struggle to find work once they’re released.”

Helen Rosner takes on the touchy issue of babies in restaurants by celebrating those places where they are understood to be welcome. “Not only did Gus’s have high chairs, they were beautiful high chairs—wooden and minimalist, with black accents—that worked in aesthetic harmony with the rest of the room. I found the chairs to be an oddly touching detail: the restaurant expected babies; they’d planned for babies. We weren’t an imposition; we were welcome.”

Did you miss Katherine Miller at Bold Fork Books?  She also did a podcast interview with Capitol Weekly on chefs and advocacy. 

Northern California culinary legend Michael Chiarello died.

Compensation:

Nick Kokonas, the owner of Alinea, makes clear that eliminating tipped wages can work, but it will be messy. Chicago is considering following Washington’s lead.

Ryan Sutton flags that, “Waffle House employees and supporters in Atlanta rallied this week for better wages, better security, and an end to a very odd tax on employees, USA Today reported. The specific demands, according to a petition by the Union of Southern Service Workers, are a $25/hour minimum, 24/7 security amid threats of in-store violence, and an end to mandatory paycheck deductions for employee meals, regardless of whether staffers take advantage of that offering. That charge is $3.15 per day, according to a Waffle House staffer who posted a TikTok opposing that policy.”

Food & Culture:

The Times has an Opinion piece about the small-scale farmer in Fresno, CA that feeds the Hmong community appetite for a treasured rice. “When they migrated, they brought their rice with them. It was food, of course, but more than that: It held the story of who they were, and served as seeds for their next incarnation.”

Vittles does an issue on Jewish food in London, but the first piece is a standback on “what is British Jewish food really.” “The story of modern British–Jewish food begins not with a bowl of soup, but with a pogrom. Approximately 150,000 Jewish immigrants arrived in Britain between 1880 and 1914, following antisemitic riots, violence and increasingly brutal and repressive laws in Tsarist Russia. It is for this reason that most of the twentieth century’s British–Jewish food has been Ashkenazi – the part of the Jewish diaspora whose roots lie in central and eastern Europe. It is the food of the shtetls (small Jewish villages), based in the ‘Pale of Settlement’ – the parts of the Russian Empire within which Jews were restricted to living, an area which overlaps with modern-day Belarus, Lithuania, Moldova, Ukraine, Poland, Latvia and Romania.”

The collected articles also includes an examination of the rise of food from that end of the Mediterranean and its ties, often unspoken, to Israel. “The emergence of MiddleEastMediLevantianism in the UK can be traced back to 2012, with the publication of Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi’s cookbook Jerusalem.” We also note that it is impossible to mention Israel and not think of the tragedy of the last couple days. It is also difficult to find anything to say that does not sound like platitudes, but we do extend condolences to the victims of the attacks and hope for those whose lives remain in the balance.

A chef pushing the idea of “Third-Culture” cooking is getting creative with Chinese, doing it on social media, and just got his cookbook published. “The whole cultural exchange in the US has generally been distilled through white, male chefs,” he says. “I want to expand that conversation to different ethnic groups. I want communication between the rest of us: the Chinese Americans, Nigerian Americans, Mexican Americans. What I am defining as third-culture cuisine in regard to Chinese food, I would love to see in regards to other cuisines as well.”

G. Daniela Galarza touches on similar ground with her profile of Sandra Gutierrez. Gutierrez has been writing about Latin American food for decades and recently published a magnum opus attempting to capture the full range of the cuisine. The article includes a personal story that is inspiring, but from a food perspective a few things jumped out. One is the dynamic nature of the culture. “The melding of African, Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese, Japanese, Middle Eastern and indigenous ingredients and cuisines — including those of the Aztec, Taino, Matan, Mojo and many other groups — is a through line in the book. Some recipes can be traced back centuries. Others are only a few decades old. Gutierrez writes about the Caribbean coasts of Central America, where the Garifuna use plantains, coconut milk and allspice to flavor many dishes. In Peru, Brazil and other places where Chinese and Japanese immigrants settled, soy sauce and sesame oil factor into stir-fries and roasts.” It is also a reminder of just how recently ingredients and techniques from these (and other) cuisines have been incorporated into the average American diet. It is really the last 20-30 years where home cooks went well beyond the old “international” aisle at the grocery story and that aisle rapidly expanded. Which brings us to the last quote from the story to highlight about how it is necessary to push beyond the biases. Gutierrez’s colleague Toni Tipton-Martin said, “The publishing industry only wanted books about tacos.” As they say, the whole thing is worth a read.

The history of spice trade is the history of violence. Apropos of pumpkin spice latte season.

Related, Anna Sulan Masing who we found through her deep dive into the history of pepper for Whetstone says she is looking to get back to blogging (we wish her luck with that!). She starts with a long piece on dance, food, and why Flashdance is a great food movie (albeit one that has a few moments that are out-of-order for modern viewers). “But the scene I love the most involves the best outfit of the 80s, and lobster. Dressed in a tuxedo Alex sits across from Nick at a fancy restaurant – white tablecloths, silverware, the whole cliched shebang. It is clear at this point the class divide between the two, and this scene allows us to once again see how Alex takes control of a situation that she could be uncomfortable in. She makes the rules, she has agency of her body, and her life, and her desire. Instead of meeting expectations or following etiquette she eats the lobster with her hands; she plays with it, she licks and sucks and bites.”

In Eater, the link between yakitori and sumo in Japan. “I’m cheering for my favorite wrestler with a skewer of grilled chicken. It’s not that I’m hungry. Japan’s ancient sport, it turns out, goes with yakitori the way American baseball goes with hot dogs. Why? Because a wrestler loses if he touches the earthen ring with anything other than the soles of his feet — and chickens always stand on two feet. So when Ura — a short, feisty underdog whose rotund build makes him look like the Michelin man in a pink silk loincloth — hops into the ring, the crowd waving half-eaten chicken sticks is bringing him luck.”

Health & Nutrition:

The Post did a big story on the rise of chronic illness, especially among the poor and rural populations. A big part of the story is heart disease and cancer. A big part of those is obesity.

Also in the Post, studies showing eating vegetables and fibers first at a meal will help cut down on the carbs postponed. “Eating fiber-rich vegetables, protein or fat at the start of a meal, and eating refined carbohydrates like rice, bread or pasta last, can improve blood sugar levels and stimulate higher levels of hormones that promote fullness and satiety.”

Related, genes may play a role in affinity for vegetables.

Laura Reiley, who covers the business of food for the Post, does an opinion piece asking whether the new wave of weight-loss drugs the suppress the desire to eat may take the pleasure out of food. She also revealed she was part of the famous delayed gratification marshmallow test as a child. “About 30 percent of the subjects were able to wait a full 15 minutes to receive their treats. I was not in that 30 percent. I wanted my marshmallow pronto.”

A non-profit advocacy group claims that, “Nine of the 20 experts on the 2025 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee have had conflicts of interest in the food, beverage, pharmaceutical or weight loss industries in the last five years, the report found.” This is apparently an improvement.

Food Sources:

Olive oil prices are rising faster than crude oil, and the near future is more grim.

Farm-raised salmon escape pens in Iceland threatening wild ones. “If they breed, the salmon will lose their ability to survive.”

Arizona moving to end the Saudi farm. “Fondomonte is a wholly owned subsidiary of Riyadh-based food and beverage giant Almarai, which grows water-intensive crops in other regions of the world to avoid depleting the kingdom’s limited supply of the natural resource. Since 2015, one of those regions was the Butler Valley. Agriculture is possible in the valley, smack in the middle of the Sonoran Desert, thanks only to the water drawn through wells like soda through straws. Because of minimal natural recharge and scarce rainfall, water pumped from the basin is essentially mined, with no replacement.”

Media:

Michelin to add hotel ratings. Because it is Michelin, you can almost assume a conflict of interest: “The Michelin Guide website already features a booking platform with more than 5,000 boutique hotels in 120 countries. The company made its first big move into hotels in 2018 when it acquired the online travel agency Tablet, which curated hotels based on anonymous evaluations similar to Michelin’s.”

Odds & Ends:

Farm to Table.

F1 to Table: Formula 1 racer Yuki Tsunoda cooks for his teammate when the series stopped in Japan.

Staff may cut line for bathroom.

Crabs on the lamb.

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Thanks for reading. We will be off next week for travel. But, if you are already thinking ahead to next weekend and looking for a place to eat, then please remember our dining guide for D.C. has 300+ recommended restaurants, sortable by cuisine or neighborhood in either LIST or MAP format.

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Be kind. Be patient. Tip big. Enjoy the arrival of sweater weather.