Image: Greta Garbo and Ramon Novarro in Mata Hari (1931).
There was lots of local dining news in D.C. this week. So, dearest reader, thank you for checking in on this holiday weekend. We also added a couple places to the dining guide. There was sad news in the wine world and a take-down of NYC dining giant. Want to read on? Let’s.
Updates to the D.C. Recommended Restaurant List
Fava Pot – Egyptian casual in three locations, fresh and popping flavors that upgrade the familiar.
Sticx & Stonz – The cute Asian street food spot also has a cool wine bar upstairs. A solid addition to the area.
D.C. Dining News
Comings and Goings: Smoke & Barrel in Adams Morgan closed. The churn is not over.
In a turn of events that writes its own headlines, José Andrés has reached an agreement to open a version of his high-end Bazaar restaurant in the Old Ben Franklin Post Office Building, that was recently leased by the Waldorf-Astoria.
Watching the Detectives: A great critic not only has alert senses and discerning judgment, but a passion about the subject. Tim Carman in the Post this week dropped his list of best tacos in the region. Each taco is expertly dissected and then lovingly re-assembled into a delicious whole for the reader to consider. He also highlights the rise of in-house tortillas, among other things: “This list may have a bias for tacos wrapped in homemade tortillas, but it has other agendas, too: I wanted to showcase a wide variety of tacos, including ones that may be only loosely connected to Mexican street food. What’s more, I wanted to spread the love. With so many good-to-great tacos in the region, I saw no reason to limit my picks to a handful of taquerias, though that would have been easy to do and easy to justify.”
Jessica Sidman (welcome back!) took the occasion of Adam Platt’s stepping aside as chief restaurant critic for New York magazine after 22 years to ask our own long-standing critic Tom Sietsema if he was considering stepping aside. Tom graciously responded that he is not ready to step down and may be holding out to match Phyllis Richman’s 24-year run. But he also, possibly, gave a hint: “I have stories that aren’t necessarily reviews that I want to write and themes that I care about.” Tom has already scaled back from his industrious pace of a Sunday review, a First Bite, and a weekly chat, giving an opening for the Post to use the First Bite space to add new voices while giving Tom time to write stand-back pieces. We’ll keep throwing the Post editors ideas. No charge, but donations accepted.
The Emerging Industry: Tom’s weekly chat had interesting news that Brasserie Beck, upon its reopening raised prices $1.50 across the board. This will test the theory that people balk more at increases in base prices over extra fees. The news was in response to a whiny reader complaining about assorted fees that restaurants charge, and ended with this apogee of entitlement and obtuseness: “Don’t look to me to solve your business model problems.” We applaud Tom for his patience and forbearance in answering these questions. Our response would have included expletives and a suggestion that the next time the reader wants to complain about how restaurants are handling the biggest disruption to their world since World War II, they should shove a dinner roll in their mouth to prevent them from saying anything more, drop a $20 bill for good measure, and go back to their blog. Or at least that is what we tell ourselves when such thoughts cross our mind. We would also note that it is not that hard to sort out. If the restaurant says they included a “service fee” of something like 20-22%, then you are not expected to tip more (though we often add a few extra bucks these days). If they don’t, regardless of the other fees they may add, then tip 20%. Tip 20% on the whole bill. That is the answer. It’s not hard.
While we’re at it, we’d also like to reprimand the reader who said Tom should have reviewed a restaurant sooner so that they did not need to experience a bad meal there. Though we have not written it up yet, we would note that the restaurant in question is excellent, and using the chat to take a pot-shot on a place without further explanation is wrong. We may need more dinner rolls around here.
Alicia Kennedy interviewed Rob Rubba about Oyster Oyster. It gets into a lot of interesting issues. “I mean, my restaurant is across the street from a giant supermarket, which is funny, and those shelves were completely empty [at the height of Covid measures]. And I have my farmers sending me, Listen, can you send out CSAs to some of your guests or whatever, because I just can’t sell any product right now. I mean, that’s heartbreaking: We have local food that’s healthy, that’s grown well, and there’s no contracts to put it on the shelves in these markets and communities.” Worth a gander.
Josh Jensen – As we first explored the world of wine, there were wines that were distinct, that were delicious, and wines that highlighted the difference between a well-crafted product and one that was merely produced. But the first wine that we fell in love with was Calera Pinor Noir. Josh Jensen founded Calera in the 70s, after finding a hill in the middle of nowhere relative to California wine country. But it had limestone and he made it work. Driving up the winding road to visit the winery felt magical. A few years back he sold the company and retired. Wine has been made for thousands of years, yet there is something ephemeral about it that makes it romantic. News of his passing underlined his place in the pantheon and the ephemeral nature of it all.
A Moldovan winery has created a freedom blend to support Ukrainian refugees.
Jancis Robinson lauds a couple of German winemakers who took the time to highlight up-and-comers and suggests others should follow in their footsteps.
The Emerging Economy: As if the mounting bills from the Covid-era and failure to get federal relief were not enough, the impact of inflation as gas prices push up costs across the board for the sake of profit-taking is now hitting the service industries, including restaurants: “Restaurant dining data from the reservation platform Open Table, meanwhile, shows that the number of people eating at restaurants fell 11 percent in the week ending June 16, compared with the same week in 2019.”
Food, Memory and War: Anna Voloshyna, writing in the Post, recounts how her childhood memories of root cellars in Ukraine now overlap with thoughts of relatives seeking safety in the below-ground structures because of war. “Nine people were trapped 12 feet below the ground in a room no larger than a typical walk-in refrigerator at a restaurant, surrounded by jars of pickles, vessels with sauerkraut, and sacks of potatoes and beets. My family stayed there for two weeks, wrapping themselves in blankets, shivering from cold and terror.”
Emperor Wears Prada: In a moment of comeuppance, Daniel Humm of Eleven Madison Park is being roasted (paywall) like an ill-seasoned beat placed directly (no paywall summary) into the coals. One of the many staff that have abandoned the place is quoted in the big Business Insider take down as saying, “It was definitely the most egotistical restaurant I’ve ever been in in my life.”
Watching the Detectives (Nationally): Brian Reinhart is the dining critic for D Magazine in Dallas and a James Beard judge. He has an interesting piece where he walks through how he thought about the Texas finalists that he and other critics voted on. He then spills the beans that indicates the entire judging process is, if not an outright sham, at least highly suspicious: “Here’s the punchline: I didn’t have to go to all five restaurants in order to vote. I wasn’t even supposed to…. I was supposed to just go back to [the finalist in Dallas] a couple of times. Then all the judges were meant to hop on a conference call and discuss their local places, and we were supposed to vote based on what other judges told us about their own cities.” What the actual [inserting dinner roll]. Restaurant critics are required to visit a restaurant several times before reviewing it, yet judges for the most prestigious restaurant award don’t have to go once before voting?
The Case for Mandated Siesta; against Brownbags: In France a lunchtime break is mandated by law and eating at your desk interdit. It was a public health rule to allow time to air out factories and other work places of germs. It became a cultural institution, then was briefly suspended for Covid, but now it is back. For many white collar folks this resulting insight is genius: “Consider a recent protest at Bruegel’s institute, France’s National Research Institute for Agriculture, Food and Environment, over the proposed introduction of American-style brown-bag seminars. ‘Lunchtime seminars were considered as socially regressive, intellectually insufficient and so on,’ he says, ‘because you needed a break in your work time!'”
You Must Chill: Finally, a non-food story but with resonance in the dining world. The Washington Post classical music critic Michael Andor Brodeur takes the audience at the Kennedy Center to task for being disruptive and disrespectful. It is not just that we have forgotten to turn off cell phones, but that we have become jerks. Selfish, petulant, impulsive jerks. It shows up in how we drive, how we interact on social media, and how we act in restaurants (see the follow-up comments in Tom’s chat referenced above), and the lack of patience for Tom’s readers. While we look back on 50 years ago to important moments, there is no need to replicate the “Me Decade.”
That was a long one this week! Enjoy your weekend, the beautiful weather, and we suggest you take a least a moment to reflect on the meaning of the day.
And, if we didn’t drop enough hints in today’s post, keep in mind that if you are looking for a place to dine in the District, our D.C. dining guide has 300+ recommended restaurants. 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.