Image: It seemed appropriate to re-use this one. Boris-Karloff at The Dakota.
To begin this week in review of the dining world in D.C and beyond, we start with the obvious: this was a brutal week. Several restaurants and purveyors announced closures either permanent or short-term. But there were some bright spots. So shall we begin, starting with updates to our dining guide…
Updates to D.C. Recommended Restaurant List
Bub and Pop’s – We checked in and expanded our entry for the venerable family-run sandwich shop in Dupont.
Comings and Goings:
Rappahannock Oyster Bar – The original spot in Union Market, indeed one of the anchors of Union Market’s early success is getting booted by Edens, the notoriously tone-deaf developer. “We’re in fantastic shape, the place is doing great—we have no desire to close,” [Rappahannock owner] Croxton says. “We’re flummoxed as to why.” Edens did not comment. While some of the news below feels like a gut-punch, this one feels like a sucker punch by Edens. What was a funky, interesting area that drew people in, is now at risk of becoming a soulless lot of Epcot banality surrounded by glass-enclosed buildings. Rappahannock’s other location at the Wharf remains open.
Magpie & the Tiger – The biggest gut punch this week was the announcement that this exciting spot in Petworth is closing after just a few months. Owner/Chef Caleb Jang did not go into details as to the factors, but Kevin Tien of Moon Rabbit, who backed the restaurant, summarized the issue: “There’s numerous reasons, from rising costs and staffing and permitting from the city,” Tien says, lastly referring to struggles getting a patio permit. “We did good covers there, considering the size of the space… So the guests were there, but it always has to be consistent. Guests have to be there every week.” Another reminder to support what you want to see survive. In the announcement of the closing, Jang and his wife Roren Choi indicated that they have plans to bounce back. We wish them well and hope to be eating their food again soon.
Espita – What opened as a Mezcal-focused spot serving Mexican food, got one re-fresh when the owners brought in a family member to oversee the kitchen, and he tweaked the menu to make it Mexican interpreted through Mid-Atlantic. Now they are ditching the whole concept and starting over, as they told the Washingtonian: “It’s pretty similar to every story you’ve heard, honestly,” co-owner Josh Phillips explains of the closure. “Costs are going up, and revenues aren’t going up with it. So eventually, that line crosses the other. You start to look at the future, and you’re like, ‘This probably is not going to last forever.’ So might as well change it now while we still can.” He went on to note that they bumped up against an an “emotional ceiling” for what diners would pay for Mexican food. Hmm…wonder why. They did not tip their hand as to what is coming next, but said it will fill a niche. It also, presumably, will leverage the bar as a profit-center. Though they may have lingering staffing issues.
Newland – The team from the excellent Beuchert’s took over the Montmartre space and created a high-end, tasting menu spot. Now it is closed after four months. “I think [Newland] ended up being the right concept, wrong time,” says Markert. He says new Covid variants caused costly cancellations each week—matched with rising food costs and labor shortages, it was a tough combination. The restaurant changed course and began offering a la carte service in addition to tasting menus shortly after opening, but Markert says that sales continued to decrease.” It didn’t make our recommended list only because we didn’t get there before it closed. We wish them well and hope this space gets put to good use. Beuchert’s and their sandwich shop Fight Club, that took over Hank’s on the Hill’s space, remain open.
And Then on Top of That! Reverie was hit by a fire. There is a GoFundMe up. It also affected Green Almond Pantry, but it was back up and running a day later (though you should always remember to go there when possible). Unlike Covid, hopefully insurance covers this. But still a tough week.
D.C. Dining News
Also: Not a restaurant, but farmers market favorite Number 1 Sons Pickles is closing down operations.
We replied to Eat DC’s post that we’d like to see a story that digs deep into why closing seem to be piling up now. DCist responded with one, and quoted David, the guy behind Eat DC! Last week we warned that Tom’s estimation that D.C. restaurants fared pretty well during the pandemic was off base and that “there are more places that have been hanging on like Bad Saint but are on the verge of breaking your heart.” We hope next week to be proven wrong. It is also a reminder that in 2020 we took extraordinary steps in the face of a public health crisis and the burden fell heavily on the hospitality industry. That impact continues to reverberate. This is not a 2022 problem alone.
Better News: One piece of good news is the talented team behind the under-rated Nazca Mochica that was in Dupont, have opened in new digs, with an express half of the house and a Chifa menu restaurant in the other half.
Another piece of good news is that Barry Koslow has a new gig!
Great News: Lori Gardner’s site Been There Eaten That celebrates 12 years! She aptly celebrates by doing a write-up of a new restaurant, St. James. As she notes, “I am one of the last ones standing when it comes to maintaining a personal blog to tell my stories. But then I think about restaurants like St. James, which has its own stories to tell. If this post can get some people through the door- and I hope it does- its a worthwhile effort.” Lori is a trusted and valued voice, and we hope to be reading her posts for years to come.
Bad News Depending on Perspective: Georgetown Cupcake gets shut down?
Threats: Washington Post reports on what could be bad news for winemakers in Virginia and many farmers of other crops. A fruit-destroying laternfly is invading from the north.
The Loire River is drying up this summer. This is more than just wine, it is a huge agricultural region for France and Europe.
Boomerang: Honest Tea guy sell company to Coca-Cola. Coca-Cola stops making it. Honest Tea guy goes back into tea business.
Related, the Chronicle looks at Napa’s changing culture [NOTE: link to summaries, stories behind paywall].
Passings: “I’ve been guilty of this mistake myself,” she said. “I never regret the things I’ve bought, but I do regret some things I didn’t buy.” With that attitude, Jan Longone built one of the great collections of cookbooks and related literature. She died at the age of 89. Kim Severson wrote her obituary.
The Emerging Economy: Inflation numbers came out this week and showed that it was easing. It is almost as if the ripple effect of gas prices dropping affected the whole economy. The news above about D.C. restaurants shows that the crises created by the Covid economy are not done yet. Inflation hawks remained worried, and point to sectors that have yet to work out their issues, like rent. Though even reckless rich people may have a come to Jesus moment on the housing front.
Ciao! Domino’s announced they are throwing in the towel on Italy, where the pizza culture is so strong that mediocre interlopers cannot get traction. Strangely they continue to survive in NYC.
Watching the Detectives: Michael Nagrant does a post that raises questions about the power relationships/conflict of interests in the world of food journalism. This pops up from time to time, and the influencer offshoot makes shakedowns a central component. In this case a prominent Chicago journalist asked for food donations for a non-profit she heads. He reached out to the journalist, “Two days later she responded in an email on record saying, ‘The organizations hosting the event will not be accepting donated food. The Chicago Tribune will cover the cost of food for the event.’ I asked why the organizations were no longer accepting donated food, but there was no comment.”
Did the Beard awards feel a little different this year? Big change does not happen with platitudes. It takes work. Serena Maria Daniels, writing in Tostada out of Detroit, gives a glimpse of the work.
We Can Make Each Other Happy: After a couple long rants last week we swore that we’d be more mild this week. The closings nearly pushed us over the edge. But we lasted this long into the post! Stop reading now if you want to be spared the rant.
Nate Freeman, A writer who mostly focuses on art wrote a profile of Carbone and its chef with such shallowness that it could not pool the sauce from a plate of pasta: “All weekend long in Miami—where he relocated with his girlfriend, the powerful TikTok star publicist Cait Bailey, during the pandemic—he was personally plating the rigatoni and flipping the steaks on the grills while also playing politician, greeting VIPs, and introducing the talent onstage.” The piece is so over the top that you can’t help but think the whole thing will come crashing down in a couple years. I mean he started under Batali! The foreboding is tangible. It might help to read along to the below to this song.
“The Carbone celebrity complex has been egged on by the dogged pseudo-reporting of the pandemic-era Page Six meets Gawker Stalker that is @deuxmoi, the gossip-spewing Oz of Instagram. In @deuxmoi world, Carbone is akin to this century’s Deux Magots, with Kim Kardashian and Pete Davidson filling in for Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre.” If Kim and Pete are filling in Simone and Jean-Paul, then it is not really like the Deux Magots in any way. It is more like the Brown Derby or maybe Chez Paul, but without the subtle sophistication.
The investor pitched the chefs: “What about opening what would become the greatest, fanciest red-sauce joint the city has ever seen?” Genius! Never been done! Well, except: “At one point, a friend who represented the building at 181 Thompson Street told Zalaznick about the site, that they were renting the retail space, which for 90 years had been held by a legendary but bygone Greenwich Village red-sauce joint called Rocco Restaurant.” Oh wait, wasn’t there a whole reality show about an upscale Italian red-sauce joint in New York. Wait! The name of the place is coming to me!!
Not to dump on Eater, but they were part of the media feedback loop: “Then the restaurant opened in March 2013, and Eater couldn’t stop writing about it. In Carbone’s first two months of existence, the site published 25 stories about the place, often under the same rubric: ‘Carbone Fever.’ ‘It was one of those restaurants where they got everything right,’ Leventhal said. The commenters kept at it too. ‘Sheeple and celebrities = sweet spot,’ one wrote. ‘An overpriced douchetrap,’ read another. ‘$135 per person for FUCKING SPAGHETTI??? hahahahaha!!! douchebags, all of you!’ went another.”
Just in case, you were wondering, the writer wants you to know he too is a douchebag: “Several Dallas-based art collectors I’d met over the years appear at the Carbone grand opening, and they introduce me to a number of young museum trustees, who introduce me to socialites, who introduce me to the scions of AT&T executives—’All of Dallas seems to be here,’ says one investor as servers whip around with trays of negronis and that ever-present spicy rigatoni vodka.”
The whole thing is a joke, and hat tip to Restaurant Manifesto for flagging it. The piece is all the more amazing for the fact the writer includes the fact that sycophantic “dogged pseudo-reporting” led to Carbone’s rise, but does nothing to look behind the curtain. He merely joins the lollipop guild.
We repeat it again. We are not out of the woods yet, so support the places you want to see survive. If you are looking for ideas of where to dine and support restaurants in D.C., our job (well our pretend job), is to be a dining guide for the District. We have 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 and we may miss something, so check before you go!) in either LIST or MAP format.