Image: Terence Le Goubin, Paris (1950).
If The New Yorker can do double issues then so can we! We have a ton of good stuff to make up for missing an update last weekend. So shall we get on with it?! Let’s…
Updates to the D.C. Recommended Restaurant List
New Pages Posted/Updated:
Amsterdam Falafel – The great late-night option in Adams Morgan is also good at other times of day.
Chicken + Whiskey – One of the greatest pairings since Ginger and Fred methodically expands.
Ris – An underrated spot serving deeply satisfying dishes.
Al Volo (Cleveland Park) – Closed this location on the 4th. It never quite took off. The original Osteria remains open in Adams Morgan, as does the related Retrobotega. The excellent Sakusaku Flakerie that used the space in the mornings has found a new location to move to.
Taco Bamba – They are coming back to the District.
D.C. Dining News
The Emerging Local Economy: D.C. Tourism is rebounding, but is still depressed. Numbers that put some of the recent restaurant struggles in perspective, and possibly some cold water on the slate of new restaurants being announced.
Also Axios D.C. pulls data – some of it indirect – on the rate of return to work downtown. The numbers remain low. Axios points to Metro problems, but then concedes the biggest driver of numbers is the Federal Government, which remains well-below full return to office.
To possibly oversimplify, during the pandemic governments imposed costs on business – especially hospitality sector businesses. But those costs were not offset by grants/loans, and now businesses are straining under other factors. So governments are reconsidering the imposed costs of regulations, even in liberal D.C. The frustration of businesses might be summarized by this tweet from a local attorney who works with them.
Taffer’s Tourist Trap: To pick on the newly-opened space is almost like shooting sous-vide prepared fish in a warm water bath. Somehow they got local notables to show up, but the PR push didn’t have much power in the face of reality. Taffer’s Corporate Director of Operations didn’t really disguise his identity when posting fake raves on Yelp, and went out of his way to note the creepy picture. As we noted before, the other two locations are in the ‘burbs. They seem to be hoping the customers will come to them more than hoping to gain a new segment of the local market. They better hope tourism numbers continue to rise or it could be due for a Bar Rescue soon. Note also, it is a franchisee, not Taffer himself, that owns the spot.
Kinship/Metier: We have not seen any updates since the Washingtonian and Post did initial stories on the accusations against Owner/Chef Eric Ziebold, but we would flag that the IG account is down and the FB account shows it as “Temporarily Closed” though Tock shows it is taking reservations. Are they reducing the profile and trying to ride it out?
Compensation: Initiative 82 clears a final hurdle to get on the ballot. As Michael Brice-Saddler and Fritz Hahn report in the Post Metro section, a more public campaign in advance of the election is next, but it lacks the intensity of last time. In fact, it feels inevitable that it will pass, and we still scratch our heads as to why no real attempt was made to find a legislative fix in the intervening years. Maybe the restaurant association is not as influential as perceived.
Petty: It is really tempting to do a regular award for biggest whiner in Tom’s chats. But we are bigger than that. On the other hand, we are happy to point out every time we see Shoto getting criticized for its dress code. Though Tom doesn’t seem to get the fundamental problem.
Just when you think you have a handle on the D.C. food scene, The Times restaurant critic smacks you sideways all the way to McLean.
Asimov wraps up Wine School. This was a huge resource for exploring the world of wine and the thing we suggested most to those wanting to gain more than a cursory understanding. A true service. Thank you, Eric.
Jason Wilson, a former writer for the Post, does a different kind of service. He digs into how wine media is corrupted to the point of buying higher scores and killing bad scores. One of the figures he calls out is Antonio Galloni of Vinous, who played a significant role in highlighting the wines of Santa Barbara that we wrote about last year. We were not compensated.
One way to cut down on restaurant glass/mug theft.
Where the Grapes of Wrath Are Stored: But stopping feral hogs from stealing off the vines is more difficult. BTW, Jeremy Parzen, who wrote the piece, is visiting Italy and reports that the restaurant run by the former chef from Cafe Milano, who returned to Italy last year, is great.
The Emerging Economy: The jobs numbers came out and showed a strong market despite interest rate hikes and talk of recession. In Mankato, Minnesota the market is even more robust: “Even in fast food. If you’re working full-time at McDonald’s, you can make $15 an hour,” Vesey said. “This is a community where if the minimum wage were to go up, I don’t think it would be noticed.”
There is an argument that employers, especially in the hospitality sector, got so used to a steady stream of cheap labor that they started to believe they were entitled to it. There is a similar story in the white collar world where employers believed they could subject workers to the most “efficient” workplaces where you could hear your neighbor’s private conversations, inhale their germs, smell their lunch (or worse) and that workers just had to put up with it. But now they don’t. And they don’t want to. We are waiting on a good standback piece on the impact of the shifting immigrant workforce.
Possibly related in the Post Business/Technology Section: “Google is famous for its cafeterias, which serve its legions of programmers and product managers everything from vegan poke to gourmet tacos — free. But the cooks and servers behind those meals are generally contractors who work for other companies, and do not get the generous perks and benefits reserved for Google employees. So over the past few years, thousands of them have unionized, securing higher wages, retirement benefits and free platinum health care coverage.”
Meanwhile at home: “Josh Roberts didn’t think twice about taking out a loan to pay for groceries.” Priya Krishna’s arresting lede in this Times story.
Supply Chain: “The pizza roll conundrum is a microcosm of an issue that’s affecting the food industry more broadly. Managing soaring prices for most of the ingredients in cookies, chips and pizza is one thing. But for many food executives, the bigger headache now is wondering each week which ingredients will — or won’t — show up at their factories.” Now imagine you only have the resources and market power of an independent restaurant.
Second Order Effects: Tasting menus are popping up at lower price points as chefs look to build in less risk, more predictability during a time of inflation and supply chain issues. Brett Anderson in the Times, does a big story with a poorly-timed dateline for a fine dining discussion: “JACKSON, Miss. — This state’s capital city is an unusual location for a seven-course tasting-menu restaurant.” Anderson notes that D.C. has several places that were ahead of the curve on this idea: “Washington, D.C., also has a rich modern history of paradigm-busting tasting-menu restaurants, from chefs including José Andrés, Johnny Monis, Aaron Silverman and, more recently, Yuan Tang and Chetan Shetty. Last year, Tom Sietsema, The Washington Post’s restaurant critic, named Oyster Oyster his favorite in the city. The 28-seat restaurant, which opened in 2020, serves a $95 tasting menu of chef Rob Rubba’s idiosyncratic, mainly vegetarian food.”
Streateries (aka dining sheds?) were apparently a lot more controversial in NYC than here. Wait til they start talking about bike lanes.
Union Square goes corporate to replace Danny, who converted to the cause a while ago, picking an up by the bootstraps CEO.
Food and Identity: Jaya Saxena looks at whether the word “Fusion” can be revived with a straight face when chefs not only put twists on tradition, but blow past the gate-keepers and start mixing with other cuisines in aggressive ways. “In a whole world of flavor and influence, why limit yourself to what’s been done? Why not try? What these chaotic menus recognize is that there is a vast gray space between cultural appropriation and cultural exchange. And that chefs of color shouldn’t always have to be on the defensive, ‘educating’ and ‘introducing’ and protecting their culture’s cuisines from interlopers with bad intentions when they could be the ones having fun with it.” We would note that there are more than a few D.C. restaurants that are relevant to this conversation, including the Chinese-Korean combo of Chiko, the Japanese interpretation of Italian imported by Tonari, and perhaps the most clear “fusion” in Cranes’ Spanish crossed with Japanese.
French get philosophical over meat and masculinity.
Me Still: Dayna Evans, in Philly Eater, looks at a culture of abuse and harassment at a prominent Philadelphia restaurant group. We would observe that when you concede you grabbed an employee’s butt, then your defense is not going well and it’s best to take some pragmatic advice in all further press engagement. Sadly, by the end you realize all the people who called out the owner’s bad behavior are gone, including the one-time co-owner who tried to fix the problem, and the problem is still in charge. Sometimes a restaurant can ride out such issues, but one story feeds on another story (see above). As we have seen in D.C. there can be a moment when critical mass hits and it all crumbles rather quickly.
To Taste or Not To Taste: How sophisticated can a cookbook reader be expected to be? After the debate about whether we use enough garlic, J.J. Goode in The New Yorker points out that “season to taste” has no meaning for those that don’t know what something should taste like.
Odds & Ends: Tomatoes spilled on the road near Vacaville, only 142 miles away from Gilroy. Then we would have been on to something. Not to be outdone, in Tennessee, a truck dumped a ton of Alfredo. Wait until the trucks are full of purple tomatoes. Or really old corn varieties.
Eater Has A Fixation: “Restaurant bathrooms matter more than ever.”
We warned you it was a lot, but hopefully it helped on a rainy day. 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.