Image: Dana Andrews and Gene Tierney, Laura (Otto Preminger, 1944).
We return from our summer break the same weekend as F1 does. So lots to catch up on, but little activity on our site to report. So let’s get on with the recap of the last week (and a couple weeks before that) dining news from D.C. and elsewhere.
Updates to the D.C. Recommend Restaurant List
Yellow – The Navy Yard location is reopening for weekend service.
Great Wall – Tim Carman has covered the twists and turns of the excellent spot on 14th. He reports the couple that own it are now looking forward to retirement.
Bindaas – The Cleveland Park location is closing to make way for a wine bar. Other locations remain open.
D.C. Dining News
The biggest news was not so much breaking news as a thoughtfully-reported piece on the state of relations between restaurants and their customers. Jessica Sidman talked to frustrated diners and restaurants owners and staff. The Covid era loosened some part of our humanity and we need to be thoughtful and intentional about showing patience and empathy to get back to more common civility. In the dining world that burden falls on customers more heavily to realize in the vast majority of cases restaurants are doing the best they can and customer entitlement needs to be kept in check. Matt Adler of Caruso’s Grocery posted his perspective.
The D.C. Attorney General issued guidelines for additional fees to make clear (or at least slightly more clear) what kinds of disclosures are required for the add-ons restaurants are charging for various reasons. “The AG’s office on Wednesday offered examples of service fee disclosures that comply with local consumer protection law, marking the first time the local government has offered specific language on how a restaurant might want to approach the contentious service fee.” The article notes that the Restaurant Association of Metropolitan Washington is working with the D.C. Council. “Meanwhile, the D.C. Council is working through legislation that would define restaurant service fees, among other things. That bill is backed by RAMW, but has received pushback from organizers of Initiative 82, which passed in November and phases out tipped minimum wage. The OAG also criticized the bill for tethering incentives to service fees.” Of course, if they had done such cooperative legislating a couple years ago they might have avoided Initiative 82.
Swahili Village is sued by the D.C. Attorney General for wage theft. “The lawsuit alleges the defendants consistently paid many servers as little as $5 per hour (including tips) — or nothing at all — starting in 2020, when D.C.’s minimum wage stood at $14. Per a lengthy pre-suit investigation, the defendants underpaid some individual employees by more than $5,000 as the restaurant got busier in 2021 and 2022. The suit also alleges failure to pay overtime wages — despite some employees logging over 60-hour work weeks — as well as failure to distribute tips, maintain accurate payroll records, and offer paid sick leave.”
The restaurateur who own Ristorante Piccolo in Georgetown, among other spots, pleaded guilty to misusing Covid relief funds for personal gain. Gholam “Tony” Kowkabi and his wife, Karen Kowkabi, “also admitted to evading $1.35 million in taxes from 1998 to 2018 on Piccolo and two of their now-closed D.C. restaurants, Catch 15 and Tuscana West.”
Washingtonian did its annual issue of places where you can stretch your dining dollar. We applaud the retirement of the “Cheap Eats” name and for re-thinking the list.
During the Covid era Tom became consistently positive in his reviews for the Post. He is reverting back, with knocking a place with good food for service mishaps just weeks after opening, and this week warning all the diners who might go to Olney to try a local spot that they overfried the calamari and were slow on delivering the focaccia. We should also flag that his weekly chat is getting some routine scrutiny.
Barred in DC tracked the interesting case of District Winery that stored wine offsite in Virginia. D.C. rules require storage in the District and was cited for the violation. District Winery appealed and lost. Having the winery in the District is essentially a gimmick and the company has facilities in other states, raising the question of whether it is easier to pare back production to what can be stored onsite and produce the rest offsite or to find a storage facility in D.C.
Health: Alcohol-related deaths up for women. “Over the past 15 years, alcohol-related deaths have steadily increased in the United States and, historically, more men have died from alcohol-related causes. That’s still the case, this study shows, but the gap is narrowing. From 2018 to 2020, alcohol-related deaths increased by 12.5 percent per year for men, but by 14.7 percent per year for women. The study highlighted rising rates among older women, in particular: From 2012 to 2020, alcohol-related deaths among women 65 and older increased by 6.7 percent per year, compared with an increase of 5.2 percent per year for men in the same age range.”
Wine: France is going to pay to eliminate surplus wine. “In June, the European Union initially gave France about $172 million to destroy nearly 80 million gallons of wine, and the French government announced additional funds this week. Producers will use the funds to distill their wine into pure alcohol to be used for other products, such as cleaning supplies or perfume.” Consumption is down, costs are up.
War: Campari is still doing business in Russia. Its products are now being boycotted in Ukraine. No Aperol Spritzes in Kyiv.
Fragile Masculinity: Is holding a certain kind of cocktail glass like wearing pink in the old days?
The Emerging Economy:
36% of restaurants were behind on rent in July. That is a staggering number, but it is actually down from 52% in December. When combined with increased supply costs and labor coming out of the covid economy last in 2022 it is extraordinary that more places have not closed.
Can the four-day workweek work for restaurants? “While other types of businesses are clamoring to return to prepandemic norms, Hearthside is one of an emerging class of restaurants around the country — from New York City to Nashville to Los Angeles — that are paring back their hours to create a more sustainable schedule for their employees and draw wary veteran workers back to the business.”
Inflation on food prices and restaurant prices eased in July. “Food inflation has slowed in recent months, bringing relief to grocery shoppers who have been pinched by higher prices. Still, food prices are much higher than they were a year ago, and costs have been climbing at a faster rate than normal. In the year through July, food prices rose 4.9 percent, down from 5.7 percent in June.”
Laura Reiley in the Post notes that fast food surged in the post-Covid economy. “In the second quarter of 2023, sales at fast-food and quick-serve restaurants like McDonald’s and Starbucks increased by an average of 5.75 percent over the same quarter last year, according to company earnings reports for 43 major restaurant chains. Sit-down casual and fine-dining chains, meanwhile, saw an average increase in sales of 2.38 percent.”
Restaurants stocking Narcan is the new choking safety class. Alexandria is proactively offering training. Apropos of the Sidman article noted above, the fascinating and valuable thing about the world of food is that it is so interwoven with the rest of life.
Chef-Owner dispute closes three star Chef’s Table at Brooklyn Fare. This looks like a simple story of a big-time chef looking to springboard to his own place and his current boss is ticked off. But it is now wrapped in a lot of grander accusations.
Celebrity cashing in on ghost kitchen labeling catches up with celebrity. “Among the most prominent of these was MrBeast Burger, whose face is the YouTuber MrBeast, known for his elaborate “stunt philanthropy,” in which he gives away huge cash prizes and extravagant gifts to the delight of his 172 million followers. But now the star is suing the company he partnered with for his restaurant brand, claiming Florida-based Virtual Dining Concepts — which also provides the logistics behind many other celebrity food-delivery offerings — has let quality slip and is serving customers inferior food. MrBeast, whose real name is Jimmy Donaldson, … [said] the negative reviews online from customers are harming his reputation. In the Virtual Dining Concepts model, existing restaurants or other commercial kitchens can produce food branded under various names and offer them for delivery alongside their own menus, giving a portion of the sales revenue to the company.”
Food and Culture:
The role of food in defining what it means to be Taiwanese in the Times Business section.
We finished The Bear and found the way it treated high-end dining the most interesting thing. It did not sugar-coat it, but it did try to salvage what makes it good. As the Times critic wrote: “The business of feeding people eats people. “The Bear” has no illusions about that, but it is also unashamed to see a value in it. A great restaurant, it argues, is about care. Caring for the customer, making the guest feel cared for — characters talk about service like it’s a religious vocation. Sydney expresses this in action in a marvelous scene where she fixes an omelet for Carmy’s pregnant, queasy sister, Sugar (Abby Elliott), whisking the eggs through a sieve, sprinkling fine-cut chives, and showering the plate in crushed sour-cream-and-onion potato chips. But there’s also taking care, learning discipline, doing things the hard way because it’s the right way. In his Danish sojourn, we watch Marcus try to scoop a perfect quenelle while his mentor tells him, over and over, that it’s not good enough. This kind of scrutiny can be abusive — we saw this in Season 1 flashbacks to Carmy being terrorized by a past boss (Joel McHale). But here it is simply firm and honest. Try again, try again. It’s unsparing, but it comes with the belief that you can do better because you are better.” As for season 3, our biggest hope is for some expediter on expediter romance for Richie and Jess. Also, the White Squall poster makes sense after the finale.
With so many food sections relying on social media trends to provide story ideas, the Times does a long piece on the role of social media in creating food stories. “But TikTok’s algorithm doesn’t reward originality, diversity or complexity. The thing that trending recipes — like Baked By Melissa’s green goddess salad dressing, or cottage cheese ice cream, or butter boards — have in common is that they’re “low-cost and easy to execute,” said Ms. Liu, the social media research scientist. That’s the catch of going viral: The lowest common denominator will always prevail at the expense of innovation and individuality.”
This is already had its social media moment and we’ve moved on, but for the record, Tammie Teclemariam bemoaned the prominence/reliance on burrata. “Like steak for two, a raw-bar tower, or Very Nice Bread with “house” butter, “burrata with …” is serviceable, and totally unsurprising. I don’t blame restaurateurs — many of whom are only just starting to recover from the financial toll of the pandemic — for banking on easy crowd-pleasers, but I find myself wishing more people would try to do something different.”
Diamond Crystal Kosher Salt does a packaging/marketing make-over to eat into Morton’s huge share of the non-professional cooks. “After decades focused on supplying the food-service industry, Diamond Crystal has decided to pass the salt to home cooks by giving the heritage brand founded in 1886 a glow up. A redesigned box began replacing the old design quietly last fall. And in June, Diamond Crystal, with its more modern packaging, hit shelves at national retailers like Trader Joe’s for the first time, to great fervor.”
Blue crabs are threatening shellfish in Italy. “Fishing communities in the affected regions have been advised to capture as many blue crabs as they can in at attempt to control their population. In the Po River delta, however, such efforts have proven largely ineffective. About 326 tonnes of the aggressive invasive species have already been caught in Veneto this year, including 84 tonnes in Scardovari and 29 tonnes in Pila just in August. According to the fishers’ association Fedagripesca-Confcooperative, the crabs have already caused economic damage put at about €100m (£85m) in Italy as a whole, and have devoured up to 90% of young clams in the Po delta, causing severe damage to future production.”
People are resistant to eat seafood from near the Fukushima disaster site. “Experts say Japan’s discharge into the ocean of treated radioactive wastewater from the ruined Fukushima nuclear power plant, which began on Thursday, does not and will not pose health risks to people who eat seafood. But even though the scientific evidence bears that out, not everyone is convinced.”
Odds & Ends:
This seems like Foxtrot fulfilling its true purpose. “It was a chance encounter. I was drinking a bottle of rosé and she bought a 6 pack of Ranch Water from the market.”
Yellen took shrooms. Maybe it would also work for Larry?
As always, thanks for reading this far. We are glad to be back. Hopefully we can bang out a couple posts about restaurants we’ve recently tried soon. In the meantime, don’t forget the primary purpose of this site is a dining guide for the District. We have 300+ recommended restaurants sortable by cuisine or neighborhood in either LIST or MAP format.
And with an extra bit of emphasis: Be Kind. Be Patient. Tip Big. Stay Cool.