Image: Gene Tierney and Jeanne Crain, On set of Leave Her to Heaven (1945).
This week is packed with dining world news. For our website we check in on a couple of favorites with totally different approaches to the menu – except it is clear they both value great cooking. Read to to the end for the cosmic chorizo caper, but don’t skip over the recognition of D.C.’s great women in wine. With that as preview, shall we read on? Let’s…
Updates to D.C. Recommended Restaurant List
Bresca – They switched to a tasting menu format for the time-being. It still remains a creative, engaging, excellent spot.
Baan Siam – The Baan Thai team moved into nicer digs, we finally went for a proper sit-down dinner. There is a reason it is on any short list of best Thai restaurant in the area.
Comings & Goings:
Brasserie Beck – Tom reports in his chat that Cathal Armstrong has already moved on from here after helping with the re-opening. Seems like there is a story there.
D.C. Dining News
Axios reports Bad Saint has not made a profit in two years. “Restaurants aren’t really actually about food; I think they’re actually about people,” Villamora says of her customers and staff. “The energy that we had together … on a night when we had a full dining room – and like the music was playing and people were enjoying the food – I’ll never forget that feeling and I’ll always miss it. Always.”
Meanwhile in the weekly chat, someone almost seemed to be baiting Tom by noting NYC “has now lost over 1,000 restaurants as a result of the pandemic and its economic consequences. Do you know what the impact has been here in DC?” Tom blithely responded, “You know, I think DC has fared pretty well. Far fewer restaurants closed than I expected, and lots of good new places have opened.”
Ummm… Maybe he missed the Bad Saint news. Or ABC Pony, Acqua al 2, American Son, Bistro Bohem, Brothers & Sisters, Cedar, Dio. Surely, he did not forget Johnny’s Half Shell, Montmartre, Poca Madre? I’m sure he can’t forget Pom Pom. Plus, Mirabelle, Nazca Mochica, Sabydee, Room 11! Thamee! Covid defeated Danny Meyer’s Maialino Mare and David Chang’s Momofuku. And those are just a quick look at our list. So it does not include Big Sky that just closed after opening. Columbia Room, (which may be due to reasons other than Covid). But Acacia, Le Grenier, Coconut Club, Napoli Pasta Bar, Tino’s Pizzeria, Bun, B Too? Smoke & Barrel, Donburi and its successor in Adams Morgan? Bethesda Frickin Bagels in Dupont? We lost a number of restaurants with more than a few years under their belts like Cafe Mozart, Cafe Soleil, El Chalan, Tortilla Coast, Rosa Mexicano, Mellow Mushroom, Howard Deli, and Darlington House. Pour one out for Twin’s Jazz too. That is just inside the District lines, and not all of them. NYC had over 25,000 restaurants, so it lost about 2%. Somewhere around 10% of the restaurants on our recommended list closed (though a few, like St. Arnold’s, seem to be trying to come back). Hard to believe that is anyone’s definition of faring pretty well. And make no mistake, there are more places that have been hanging on like Bad Saint but are on the verge of breaking your heart. In fact, Tom notes that the newly re-opened Brasserie Beck is struggling for customers. We do concede that we were braced for worse, but what happened was still pretty bad.
Related, Laura Hayes, formerly of Washington City Paper said she submitted a response on Tom’s chat for the first time, and invited people to guess which one was hers. She later seemed to give away which question she responded to. Hard to believe that when thinking about influential chefs the guy behind Rose’s Luxury and one of the few Michelin 2 stars in town did not jump to mind. Nor did Roberta Donna. How fickle we are.
Compensation: A local story and a national story under this topic. Locally, the disclosures of donations for those opposing Initiative 82 to provide a living wage were released. It is led by the National Restaurant Association, whose opposition is active – though not exactly highlighted – in these fights. Some restaurant groups – more national than local ones – and, of course, Founding Farmers.
The national story is from San Francisco, where the legendary Zuni Cafe eliminated tipping to provide more compensation to the back of the house. Now the servers are complaining that they can’t make ends meet without the tips. The Chronicle story is behind a paywall, but this Twitter thread seems to capture the gist. In the before times, we would often point out that we pay too little for a restaurant meal. This is probably the biggest reason why.
Consider Giving: Another national story that has local impact is the policy of Texas to bus asylum-seeking immigrants to D.C. D.C. chefs are organizing to assist those being shuttled around the country, led by Erik Bruner-Yang and Christian Irabien.
Smug as Bug in Rug: New York City got a Cava and they are obsessed. Perhaps all those odes to corner deli sandwiches glossed over a giant gap in the market. It is our understanding that introduction of Little Sesame to the Big Apple is being held back for fear of what they will do to themselves, as the fragile New Yorker ego can only take so much at once. It is also very close to Westworld Season 4.
It may also be a precursor of what is about to happen in Denver.
Wine People: Tammy Gordon noticed that Tom was stumped to name women sommeliers in the D.C. area during a recent weekly chat. She crowd-sourced a page for reference. Considering the overall state of women in the sommelier community, such a deep pool of talent should be a point of pride for D.C.
Wine Packaging: The thickness of wine bottles, and even their use as packaging is shaping up to be a magnum issue.
Lo/No: Jason Wilson, who writes on spirits, noticed the rise of those arguing for cocktails that have little or no alcohol, and thinks the trend should still be taken seriously. “In this moment, I see something fundamentally different. Even colleagues who for years had been cheerleaders for high-proof alcoholic beverages are now extolling the virtues of being sober-curious and consuming nonalcoholic drinks. I wanted to delve deeper into what exactly was happening and why.” Sadly, as in many things in journalism, the headline is a dud.
Be Better: In Time Out NY, a bartender takes to its pages to make something more of a statement than a plea. He notes that entitled, obnoxious behavior has returned. “Our job is to give you what you want, but we’re not obliged to sacrifice our dignity or safety or judgment. We aim to accommodate you, but that’s at our discretion. Kind words are nice, but compliments don’t pay the rent. We’re here to serve, but we’re nobody’s servant. Don’t agree? There’s the door.”
The Emerging Economy: Speaking of feeling smug, there were two big economic numbers that came out this week. We have contended that the economy coming out of Covid is a fractured one in which large segments can move in independent and opposite directions. This is confusing if you are an economist using traditional models. We have the advantage of a reckless amateur. One sector is the companies that are facing a crunch because the Fed has turned off free money that sustained it for more than a decade and over-inflated the stock market (and housing market). Another sector is oil, which finally got a stable demand pool for travel this summer and took advantage of it to engage in profit-taking. Which brings us to the first big number. Now that the summer travel season is winding down so are oil prices, which have fallen 20% from summer peak. Who could have predicted?
The job market is another element with a mind of its own. The Fed jacked up interest rates to cool inflation, with the expectation it would also cool the job market. It didn’t. At least not yet. And that is the second big number – job growth was strong, wages were strong, and unemployment ticked down. Perhaps because inflation is driven by supply chain issues and the aforementioned gas prices – factors other than wages. And jobs are being driven by demand that is so strong that it adds to inflation, but would have to drop a lot more to impact jobs. In a slumping economy employers seek to shed costs, including labor. They are doing the opposite (except for free money companies or companies that had covid-dependent growth). Which brings us back to our initial hypothesis that the sectors are more driven by independent factors than related ones. Of course, the Fed has the power to merge the factors if it wants.
Most important to flag for the world we cover, the leading jobs sector was leisure & hospitality. Sura Jayaraman argues in the Times, “The restaurant industry’s problem isn’t, at its root, a labor shortage; it’s a wage shortage.” We suspect when restaurants prioritize wages like they do location/rent, they will lure labor.
This does not mean valuing workers is universal. The organic food company Amy’s Kitchen issued this statement: “Since its founding, Amy’s Kitchen has worked to demonstrate there is a different way to do business. We bring thoughtful deliberation and a culture of care when making business decisions.” The statement was issued after they closed down an entire plant in San Jose, Ca. where the workforce was seeking to organize.
Paris Boulangerie Blues: In August, “Parisians escape the city for their month-long annual holidays. And the capital of the baguette — home to more than 1,000 bakeries and patisseries— can feel like a boulangerie desert.”
Taquerias in Texas: Adán Medrano has a five-part series “examining neighborhood changes in Houston and how they affect Mexican American businesses through the lens of five taquerias in the city.” He frames the series: “According to Servín, a genuine taqueria must have three distinguishing characteristics, and these are all reflected in the Houston landmarks I visited for this project: The food is inexpensive, it is fast, and the flavors proclaim valiantly that they are unmistakably Mexican.”
Grain Under the Gun: The first shipment of grain from Ukraine’s Black Sea ports went out after a deal was reached. It is heading to Lebanon, where the situation is bleak.
Media: The future of food social media is message boards?
Ringo Wrote a Song About This: An Italian scuba diver has created an undersea garden.
What Filter Did You Use? French scientist punks world with a slice of chorizo.
Food is Political: Cracker Barrel story.
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