Image: Vivien Leigh and Warren Beatty, The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone (1961).
We thought this was going to be a light week of content for our weekly recap of dining news, but late additions added some beef. Including a Post editorial on fake beef. The biggest news may be the botched James Beard attempt to do the right thing and the surprisingly stark litmus test it created. There is also a grand study waiting to be written of how a half-century of international conflicts and crises created the local food scene. With that as a preview shall we begin? Let’s…
Updates to D.C. Recommended Restaurant List
The Royal – The all-day corner spot in LeDroit does a good breakfast and surprisingly good dinner – on a recent trip better than we remembered.
Comings & Goings:
D.C. Dining News
Local Food and Global Culture: DCist on the Afghan refugee who started a restaurant in Laurel. “There was a need for a place for the community to get together, for refugees to get together. And I couldn’t think of anywhere better than an environment like this.”
Four Sisters is closing. “The Lai family landed in America in 1981 with two black trash bags, representing all their worldly belongings. Over the course of three decades, they became the first family of Vietnamese cooking in the D.C. area, their restaurants frequented by famous chefs and everyday diners alike.” Carman has been covering them for two decades.
Industry: Anna Spiegel, now at Axios, gets a summary of Le Diplomate’s brunch, with a subtle hat-tip to Axios’s Politico roots about winning the morning. They do a 1000 covers on Sundays.
Do you need a weathervane? Wine and wind.
Food and Culture: “La Dinastia, which opened in 1986, is at the center of an effort by restaurant owners to resuscitate New York City’s Chino Latino food, a slowly dying cuisine that features Chinese dishes like lo mein alongside Latino ones such as palomilla steak cooked in a wok, and mofongo covered in a beef gravy.” The effort referenced is happening on social media.
Food (Supply Chains) and Culture:
How Chinatown supply chains are different. “The consensus among business owners and activists seems to be simple: If you value this community, then come buy great food at great prices, in a system built over generations against all odds.”
Meanwhile in Sunset Park, an improvised Covid-era market creates a backlash and leads to a police confrontation. “In a city where shared resources are scarce, who controls public space? Is a market of 80 vendors a bootstrap response to economic hardship? Or is it a private takeover of a neighborhood park?”
In Italy, the price of pasta is up dramatically even though the price of wheat is falling. Producers blame production costs. The government held an emergency meeting. The Post can’t decide if it is a serious story or joke, and it relies on random social media posts to fill it out. Have social media posts replaced the “man on the street” quotes?
Media: Hanna Raskin writes about what made her start the Food Section. In doing so, she puts her finger on a problem. The freebies are a bad look for food journalism, but the ready-made story is worse. “I don’t expect any thank-you notes from publicists. But for me, the rewards of thorough journalism are greater.” She also unknowingly makes us feel more like real journalists with our weekly updates: “Prior to my arrival, the newspaper’s food section consisted of wire stories cobbled together by whoever had the time.” Mind you, this was in Charleston, South Carolina, a bona fide food city. Yet the paper essentially did less with its food section than we do for free for you, dear gentle reader, every week. We should start charging!
An Alabama finalist for this year’s James Beard award has been disqualified. “Hontzas, who had been a finalist for best chef in the South, confirmed this afternoon that the James Beard Foundation notified him by email Wednesday that he had been disqualified for violating the foundation’s code of ethics. The disqualification follows an independent investigation into an anonymous report that Hontzas had yelled at an employee and at guests in his restaurant, he said.”
But the story did not stop there. Hontzas tried to minimize the specific incidents cited when dealing with reporters, though Yelp and Trip Advisor reviews note the caustic behavior with some frequency over the years, and it is not just about ice machines and open doors. John Currence, who is friends with Hontzas, smashed his James Beard award in protest, then did a post that Anela Malik succinctly explains are about issues bigger than one man’s nomination. Tom Sietsema, stunningly, came out in favor of being an abusive boss, indicating that after the last few years shined a light on toxic restaurant work environments he remains in the dark. Curious to see if the Post leadership has a reaction to that. Finally, the Beard Foundation lived up to its reputation by messing up when trying to do the right thing. Raskin reported that its regional lead quit after being blindsided by the news, as did one of its judges. Both were not protesting the decision on Hontzas apparently, but rather how Beard treated them.
We are willing to start a rumor that Currence and Hontzas will go in together to start a very high-end restaurant located on a small island. There might be one available. Maybe Tom could review it, though he should be careful of any broken emulsion comments.
This article notes that, “The world of fine dining is still a boys’ club: About 6 percent of Michelin-starred restaurants are run by women, according to a 2022 analysis by Chef’s Pencil, an online publication about cooking and the restaurant world.” The rest of the story is about Ana Ros, who built a two-star restaurant in Slovenia. In the Business section of the Times but cross-posted to Food.
One last thing to flag. This three-decade old piece in the Post talked about – and largely excused – the yelling chef phenomenon, but also notes three prominent chefs that did not scream: Ann Cashion, Ris Lacoste, and Nora Pouillon. So clearly, excellence does not require abuse. There is also this sociological observation: “Ironically, while men may put up with a male chef yelling at them, they seem to have a harder time dealing with a woman doing it.”
The Post has an odd editorial on the failure of fake meat to take off. None of their marketing recommendations appear to directly apply to saving the newspaper industry.
A “17-year-old tried to distribute literature sharing her views promoting nondairy milk at her Los Angeles high school, she says,administrators responded that it wasn’t allowed unless she extolled the virtues of cow’s dairy, too. Pro-dairy “Got Milk?” messages were already plastered across the hallways and even repeated on the morning announcements, she said. The directive felt like a violation of her First Amendment rights. So she sued the school district and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which oversees federal school meals policy.“
Living off the land is coming back. “The number of farms in the United States has seen a steep decline, but some have turned to homesteading — in which property owners use home gardening, lumber production and other subsistence skills to take more control over their lives during uncertain times.”
Odds & Ends:
The Times style magazine continues to do interesting work on food. This week, texture and the American palate.
Anna Sulan Masing watches Eurovision and plays assignment editor, reminding us that there are a million possible Food Section stories.
Also from London, “The fierce debate also reflects how, while neither British or American Chinese takeout dishes are considered particularly authentic, they’ve nonetheless become popular enough that, for many British and American TikTokers, defending them is a matter of national honor.” Apparently journalism involves amplifying social media flare-ups now as filler. Cross-posted to the Food Section in the Post.
Fruit roll-ups smuggled into Israel. “High demand apparently fueled by the viral snack has caused the price of Fruit Roll-Ups to soar in Israel. But they remain widely available — and relatively cheap — in the United States, thus tempting some would-be entrepreneurs to stockpile here and transport them overseas where they could fetch a sweet profit.”
That is it for the week. And, no dear reader, we are not planning to charge for this site. We are content to provide our content for free to our dozen – maybe even baker’s dozen – readers. But if you do like our work, give us a follow and encourage others to do so. We are on FB, Insta, and Twitter. Click on the icons at the top or bottom of this page to stay up to date.