Image: Inge Morath, Rue Visconti, Paris (1954).
This week has little breaking news in the dining world, but a lot of stand-back pieces to make you think. For our D.C. dining guide we added a spot, revisited a spot, and note changes at a couple other spots. So shall we get on with it? Let’s…
Updates to D.C. Recommended Restaurant List
Boogy & Peel – It got attention for what seemed like a gimmick of putting Big Mac ingredients on a pizza. But don’t let the fun deceive you, this Dupont spot is doing serious work.
Bindaas – Now with two and half locations, the homage to Indian street food remains solid.
Maxwell Park – The great wine bar in Shaw bids adieu to Chef Masako Morishita, who came in last year with a distinct, impressive, and tasty menu. We wish Morishita the best, and we hope Maxwell is willing to continue with another chef being able to put a personal stamp on the menu.
Little Serow – The beloved Thai restaurant has been doing take-out since the pandemic started with no dine-in. Now they are on extended hiatus. It’s older sibling Komi has been operating as Happy Gyro doing take-out only (plus Happy Ice Cream stand). Stay tuned, there could be really cool news in the future. Or not, but we remain optimistic on this one.
D.C. Dining News
Kind Move: Reverie took a blow when fire hit. In a gracious move, minibar let Chef Spero and his team take over for a month to help put some money in the staffs’ pockets. In better news, Bar Spero is opening.
Spread Thin?: Ryan Ratino of Bresca and Jônt is also taking on a project at the Wharf that is will serve his take on, “Continental Cuisine, focusing on the foundational cooking of Europe and France.” As mentioned above, Johnny Spero of Reverie opens up Bar Spero this week in the no-man’s land between Chinatown and Union Station. Nicholas Stefanelli added the food service in a new NoMa hotel to his small, but burgeoning empire (Masseria, Officina, Philotimo). And the team behind 7 Reasons and Imperfecto are adding responsibility for food and drink service at the West End Ritz (formerly West End Bistro) and a new restaurant in Chevy Chase. This is all background to ask when do you no longer expect a chef to be personally involved, day-to-day, in a marquee spot? When does it stop being a direct extension of a chef’s personality and become something closer to a reflection? We do not begrudge these chefs’ success, though the ghost of Mike Isabella haunts every story of rapid expansion. And José Andrés stands as an example of a chef who can pull it off. So we wish them well and, at the same time, admit that we might be holding our breath a little. And also wondering when we will truly appreciate Tom Power’s quiet contribution.
Compensation: Speaking of Andrés, his company showed up as a donor to the Initiative 82 opposition. He also opposed the previous incarnation, but then expressed support for ending tipped wages. He now appears to be back in the “No” camp, albeit not very vocal about it.
Resource: Before she left town, Anela Malik posted a guide to Black-owned & Black-led dining in the D.C. area. Now, with the help of the City Paper’s Crystal Fernanders, the guide has been updated.
The Times Covers Both Sides of the Coin: A Times piece examines the toll that alcohol takes on American public health, looking through the lens of Oregon. The story focuses on one solution, higher taxes, which in Oregon are very low on alcoholic beverages.
The Times also profiles Bertha González Nieves, who broke through in the male-dominated world of tequila by creating a coveted, high-end version. “I used to joke I had to grow a mustache.”
Problematic Pioneer: Fred Franzia, the winemaker behind Two-buck Chuck, died this week. As one commentator said of his work, “I thought it was imaginative, creative, somewhat distasteful but ultimately quite successful.”
Other Dining News
The Emerging Industry: Can taking early time slots help save restaurants. This piece in Food & Wine argues so.
Restaurant sales rebounded in August according to one study. The study cited consumer confidence as driving the numbers.
Chris Crowley, at Grub Street, does his take on a topic we hit last week: why are restaurants moving to tasting menus? “Now, with chefs beset by skyrocketing prices and ongoing labor shortages, the usual way of doing business is untenable. To cope, restaurants have slashed menus, simplified garnishes, and introduced streamlined recipes that can be sent out to dining rooms immediately — that is, if they can find enough cooks to hire in the first place.”
Serving Others: Crowley mentioned that potatoes were becoming scarce because Russia and Ukraine combined produce about ten percent of the world’s crop. Meanwhile, in Ukraine, the Ukrainians made significant gains in the last week or so, and WCK quickly follows.
Pushing Back: Tejal Rao talks about the annoyance of those who respond to home-cooked meals posted on social media with immediate demands. What does it take to be that guy? “You just have to believe that every time you see an image of food, you’re also owed a recipe, then insist on it.”
Alicia Kennedy, pushes back on the social media aesthetic. “This sameness then echoes through what is a successful aesthetic, which then gets emulated in a trickle-down pattern. This is the food content ouroborous: what is original will be replicated so much that it will become dull.” She asks, “Can we appreciate a lifestyle without wanting to consume destructively to replicate it? Can we show our own lives, as ordinary as they most of the time are?”
Adam Reiner of Restaurant Manifesto pushes back on customers who believe that they are entitled to something not on the menu. “The rigid division of labor in a kitchen brigade means that any disruption of normal operation can throw things out of whack.” “This is why chefs say no so often. One special request isn’t a problem; special requests for an entire dining room of people at the same time is a recipe for disaster.”
Food & Identity: Adrian Miller (Soul Food Scholar) dissects the Black community’s connection to pork: “Group identity is fluid, especially when it’s tied to culture and food. It’s formed by a complicated mix of good and bad things that happen over time. We, as individuals, repeatedly evaluate this mix and then decide how we connect our identity to the larger group’s. When it comes to eating pork, that means I’m just as Black for enjoying it as those who avoid it all together are. In this case, Black cards are for dealing, not revoking.”
Prequel and Postscript: Filmmaker Ben Proudfoot profiles Sally Schmitt, the woman who ran the French Laundry before Keller. “Me, Sally Schmitt, one of the first California cooks to cook real California food.” She ran it with her husband and family for 16 years before selling to Keller. She passed away earlier this year.
Fairy Tale Endings: This week on the IG, Amanda Hesser wrote a long post detailing the role she played in helping her husband, Tad Friend, write his own memoir focused on his relationship with his father. Most who follow the food world and had ties to early 20th century New York will recall Hesser wrote a book building on her Times’ writings, about the early romance with Friend called Cooking for Mr. Latte. Hesser writes on IG, “Unintentionally, “In the Early Times” [Friend’s book] became that sequel [to Mr. Latte]. It is about our family and our marriage, and how things didn’t unfold in the way we’d intended. It’s a difficult story, but one that I hope readers will also find uplifting. Even though Tad and I have had a very happy marriage in so many ways, Tad was not faithful to me, and never really had been. I discovered this last year shortly after he finished his final draft. Everything about my life, as I’d known it for the past 20 years, shifted.” The Hesser/Latte relationship was one of two recounted by women food writers in that era. The other being the Julie/Julia one made into a movie with an appropriately endearing actor playing the supportive partner to Julie as she cooks her way through Julia Child’s masterpiece. Of course that one also took a turn when she cheated on the supportive partner, then wrote a book about the affair and butchering. Which is not to dispel the magic of romantic stories, but a reminder that life rarely gets a Hollywood script review to take out the bad parts or end the movie before things get tough. So maybe add a pinch of salt to the fairy tales, because as many chefs will instruct, we are probably underseasoning. And, to be fair, Hesser did start up Food52 from scratch and sell it for a huge chunk of money, which is the fairy tale we like to focus on when it comes to our scrappy little site.
Please remember that our site’s primary purpose is to be a dining guide for Washington, D.C. 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. So if you are gonna be in town, check us out.