Image: A bicycle messenger on his way (Stockholm, 1946).
Dear Gentle Reader, there is a ton of news this week in the dining world. Some of it major, but much of it indicative of major trends. Some of it showing signs of things we thought we had put behind us. But we start with updates to our site as we always do, but read on to be in the know!
Updates to the D.C. Recommended Restaurant List
Taïm – The NY-based falafel shop closed its Georgetown location, but the Dupont one is still open and good.
Compliments Only – The pandemic era pop-up selling subs moved into the old Sorellina spot on P Street.
D.C. Dining News
Down Notes: In D.C. dining news we start with some sad news. Reports of a few more closures, not all confirmed: Le Mirch in Dupont, Red Apron in Union Market, and the replacement for 1905 in Shaw (which in a twist will become an Ethiopian spot). There are hints that DBGB may close, or maybe get a makeover, maybe to Cafe Boulud as it previously teased?
Matteo Catalani, who was part of the team behind Al Volo and struck out on his own with Retrobottega, died much too young.
Some news seemed to come from a time-warp from before 2020. We assumed that Chefs Marjorie Meek-Bradley, Danny Lee, and Michael Rafidi would get special treatment at any restaurant in D.C., but not this. Shoto apparently has a strange dress code that does not distinguish between flip flops and sandals. They also apparently have a secret dress code, which might get them in some trouble.
And there is this post about a prominent D.C. chef. We have no additional insights, and it could go a few different ways but hard to believe it will just go away.
Influencers’ Power. Tom related on Twitter that he was dining at the bar of a restaurant when the staff abandoned him to greet customers coming through the door with great attention. Tom asked, “Investors?” “Social influencers,” a manager replied.
Bad Editorial Calls: Reading the BA diary of the week in the life of a young, well-off D.C. resident who eats out nearly every night made us think that the power of influencers should not be undervalued. The roll call of places she eats at includes a lot of IG favorites: Le Dip, Tatte, Shoto, Lupo Verde, Souvlaki, Aslin, Bourbon Steak. Even Lyon Hall is introduced via the king of DC IG dining: “’It’s like Le Diplomate,’ is the description that my boyfriend thinks is going to win me over, and he’s right.” The BA piece has been scrutinized and mocked almost from the second it came out. We continue to believe that the story is less about the diarist and more about BA’s editorial process that let it go forward.
Speaking of bad editorial calls, who decided that the Post needed to send someone to Vegas to review Martha Stewart’s new faux-home-y restaurant? The writer says, “I had feared a vanity trap.” But was this just the journalistic version of a click bait trap?
Good Editorial Calls: Washingtonian asked several disability advocates to provide perspectives on dining in D.C. Not clearly laid out but implied is that the ADA requirements for new buildings make a major difference. “Certain neighborhoods, like Logan Circle and NoMa, teeming with newer buildings, are more likely to be accessible to Ives-Rublee than Georgetown or the H Street Corridor.” Also, though D.C. is home to Gallaudet, it is not Rochester-like when it comes to playing a good host.
Even Better: Rick, of Rick Eats DC fame, comes back from a sabbatical to highlight a slew of good places, old and new, around D.C. Give it a read and give him a follow.
The Emerging Economy: To be fair, the same writer of the Martha Stewart piece, Richard Morgan, wrote this good piece: “Knead [restaurant group] is part of a radical, once-in-a-lifetime shift in the restaurant industry’s business model as it struggles with nothing short of an existential reckoning.” This is a story well-told about a topic worth covering. In fact, this graf is full of weeks’ worth of stories:
“The nation’s 11.6 million food service workers, including managers, earn an average of $18.48 an hour and work an average of 25.7 hours a week, according to May 2022 data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. A January BLS report flagged that the restaurant industry’s year-over-year quit rate jumped from 4.8 percent to 6.9 percent — a larger increase than in any other job sector — yet the hiring rate remained steady at 8.1 percent. As a result, restaurant job openings increased from 5.8 to 8.4 percent. At the same time, a May survey by Alignable, a small-business referral network, found that 41 percent of U.S. restaurants couldn’t pay rent that month. A recent report from the American Farm Bureau Federation found that year-over-year food costs had increased by 17 percent. And an April CNBC poll found that 53 percent of Americans had already cut back on dining to save money.”
One quibble with Morgan’s piece is that he cites Danny Meyer saying restaurants need to do better by their staffs, and Morgan notes that “many of the restaurant industry’s wounds that have been laid bare are self-inflicted.” He fails to note that Meyer was a notorious self-inflicter in 2020 when he was quick to lay off nearly his entire workforce.
Another story from the Post to flag, it was a bad week for Wendy’s.
Comings and Goings: Nate Mook, the CEO of World Central Kitchen is moving on. Carman’s piece hints at underlying drama, but can’t get it on the record: “Mook said that, regardless of the announcement’s opaque tone, he and WCK split on good terms. Both sides knew it was time to move on, although Mook said he will stay on for an unknown period to guide the transition.”
Chef Kwame Onwuachi is going back into the kitchen, taking over a space inside the Lincoln Center complex.
Eat DC flags that a Yellow and and another Rafidi spot are coming to Union Market.
Napoleon’s Dumb Legacy: Wine-growing lands in France are governed by laws two centuries old that have not been updated to match the 20th century. So the 21st is really hard.
Smarter Drinking: Asimov makes a case to drink wine better and more deliberately, while noting that the vast majority of wine consumed in the U.S. does not match this practice.
Maybe hypnosis would help: “While under hypnosis, I experienced the same merlot whose profuse tasting notes I cited above. As I took in the aromas with my frontal cortex on leave, I imagined … a wooden trellis climbing up the side of the glass, entwined with red licorice candy, leading directly up my nose.”
Less Smart Writing: The wine site, Pix.com appears to be shutting down its editorial side. They did a lot of good writing on wine for the brief period it was up.
Lo/No: Vogue of all places asks, “Has Everyone Stopped Drinking?” Of course the answer is not, but Tamar Adler does some taste-testing on the wave of non-alcoholic drinks.
Beer Culture: A couple weeks ago we flagged efforts to highlight women sommeliers in D.C. In the world of craft beer, the gender gap to close is probably even larger.
The impact of a “bro” culture has many consequences, including leading to product concentration that makes breweries vulnerable to market shifts. Greater diversity would help on both fronts.
Deflating: Hanna Raskin reports on racist attacks against a Gullah-owned restaurant (subscription required). We should also flag her Food Section turns one. She is celebrating by paying a decent rate for contributors. Consider supporting her efforts.
Re-inflating: One reason why restaurants matter. “Keith Corbin wasn’t looking for a career as a chef when he went to work for Roy Choi and Daniel Patterson at their Watts neighborhood restaurant, Locol. ‘I was just coming home from prison… It was about paying bills,’ he says.”
Unconflating: Tejal Rao in the Times looks at the distinct cuisine of Taiwan: “But considering Taiwan only in terms of its relationship to China is limiting. Taiwan’s cuisine has been shaped by many cultural forces, including the island’s Indigenous tribes, who have lived and cooked with its native ingredients for thousands of years; long-established groups of Fujianese and Hakka people; a period of Japanese colonial rule; and the wave of refugees who started arriving from China in 1949, bringing along regional foods that they adapted over time.” Curious to dig a little deeper on this, consider starting with Maketto.
Investigating: Priya Krishna talks about bacteria and digestion and the thing many suffering eaters may have missed.
Speaking of eating and suffering, T Magazine does a big story on chili peppers: “Notably, the more chiles we eat, ‘the less it hurts,’ says Johnson, 35. Our minds stop insisting, ‘This is pain,’ so we can pay more attention to actual taste, noticing, maybe for the first time, all the other flavors chiles bring to a dish, relegating flame to the backdrop.”
A Chicken In Every Post: “’Then I was watching ‘Master Chef’ on TV and I realized that a lot of people watch that show, but they’re reviewing the kind of food that most people don’t eat,’ he said. His lack of culinary training didn’t give him pause. He’d watched “Catch Me if You Can,” a Steven Spielberg film about a real-life con man who posed as a prosecutor, an airline pilot and a physician, among other guises. The lesson: Credentials are unnecessary if you know how to fake it.” [NOTE: that may not be the actual life lesson from the movie, but our credentials are not much more established than the above-quoted Mr. Quashie, though with less impressive results]. Read to the end for the British equivalent of Stamp.
Bloviating: We missed this last week. On his way out the door, the Whole Foods CEO messes with his core customer base and creates a nightmare for his PR team. “[Socialists are] marching through the institutions. They’re…taking over education. It looks like they’ve taken over a lot of the corporations. It looks like they’ve taken over the military. And it’s just continuing. You know, I’m a capitalist at heart, and I believe in liberty and capitalism. Those are my twin values. And I feel like, you know, with the way freedom of speech is today, the movement on gun control, a lot of the liberties that I’ve taken for granted most of my life, I think, are under threat.” Post-Amazon the only thing reason we go to Whole Foods is fish and goat cheese from Firefly Farms.
Related, Laura Hayes can’t turn off her reporter instincts and asks, what if the ballyhooed Wegman’s isn’t good?
Dehydrating: France’s severe drought shut down production of a cheese that had continued through two world wars, the fall of the Roman Empire, and the end of the Holy Roman Empire.
Compensating: Eater asks if we are too skimpy with garlic. It is our contention that many recipes call for too much garlic. Also remove any green center. And give yourself extra time to sauté onions.
Substituting: What if in the future plant-based protein substitutes become easier to access and cheaper?
Salvaging: “With grocery prices 13.1 percent higher than a year ago, according to the Consumer Price Index for July, a new batch of customers has discovered the joys and pitfalls of shopping at salvage food stores, where a crushed box is never a problem, package dates are mere suggestions and questionable marketing attempts (Hostess SnoBall-flavored coffee pods?) go to die.”
Relating: This might be our favorite Twitter post ever.
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