We understand that making meals sound special week in and week out isn’t easy. But Tom Sietsema, the Washington Post’s longtime food critic, has been using a certain metaphor with increasing frequency, leaving us less than appetized. A brief timeline:
This article appears in our September 2015 issue of Washingtonian.
Washington restaurants have won high praise this year from GQ magazine's Alan Richman. The food critic recently came out with the 25 Most Outstanding Restaurants of 2015, adding to the annual ranking; Komi topped the list in 2013 when a dozen places were included. This year, Rose's Luxury takes number one amidst the national lineup of high-achieving eateries.
Writes Richman: "The cooking is beautifully conceived, playfully amplified, the essence of what modern, casual dining should be," even after standing in line 40 minutes for a table on a rainy night. He especially likes the warm challah bread, beef crudo ("a beaming red beacon for carnivores"), and the veal parmigiana that he dubs "the greatest and probably most massive veal parmigiana ever made."
Richman seems equally impressed with Fiola Mare, which clocks in at number four—and doesn't require braving the elements for delicious pastas and "gorgeous" desserts.
"In an era when dining out can feel like work—the research, the reservations, the waiting—Fiola Mare sweeps you away and reminds you that a meal can still be magical."
While New York, Portland, and San Francisco restaurants make their expected appearances in the lineup, there's one destination that may be surprising to see: Fulton, Maryland. Here Richman finds Ananda, a now not-so-hidden gem of an Indian eatery that he praises for its "faultless simplicity," elegant ambience, and crab malabar.
Welcome, yet gain, to another shortsighted piece on Washington's dining scene from the New York Times. Journalist Jennifer Steinhauer—the same writer who called DC's coffee culture "meh" and named Capitol Hill the dominion of junk-food purveyors—pens another assessment of our culinary landscape. The topic du jour: the recent emergence of neighborhood restaurants.
"For decades, Washington’s dining scene has been made up mostly of two kinds of restaurants," writes Steinhauer. "There are the expense-account steakhouses and hushed white-tablecloth hotel eateries catering to the political class with money to spend. At the other end are the cheap ethnic restaurants dotting the city and its outlying suburbs."
I couldn’t agree more when it comes to the article’s main theme: Washington boasts more destination-worthy neighborhood haunts than ever—wonderful places like the Red Hen and Daikaya. This evolution is worth celebrating (or even noting in the New York Times), and it's a promising progression. But to paint the recent dining past as so black-and-white, or ethnic and white-tablecloth, does a disservice to the many eateries that came before Petworth Citizen and Crane & Turtle, Steinhauer’s harbingers of the city’s dining future.
Just look at the “once-dicey” Adams Morgan, where my parents spent many date nights at La Fourchette in the ’70s, and where Meskerem introduced the greater public to Ethiopian food when it debuted in 1985. We ate at both when I was growing up, as well as at Sushi Ko in Glover Park—Washington’s pioneer sushi restaurant—Johnny’s Half Shell in Dupont (then more casual than the current Capitol Hill iteration), and Austin Grill during the Ann Cashion golden years, before she opened Cashion’s Eat Place.
One of my early childhood food memories is discovering pho at the shuttered Germaine’s on Wisconsin Avenue, which served superb Vietnamese dishes in a fine-dining setting long before Daikaya came along. And while Ben’s Chili Bowl was never the kind of Grey Lady-revered place “where the stroller set settles in with the small-batch-bourbon swilling groovesters for some solid roast chicken,” it’s an iconic “residential neighborhood” restaurant, even by Manhattan standards.
Was there a culinary scene in Harlem before Marcus Samuelsson’s Red Rooster? Did the stroller set and swilling groovesters put Brooklyn on the dining map?
While neighborhood spots like Petworth Citizen may be "the future of dining in Washington, D.C.," they hardly arrived yesterday.
Behold, the squirrel burger challenge—a.k.a. every dog’s biggest dream come true. [Time] —Ann Limpert
Is your home redolent of roasting Indian corn, gourds, and other root vegetables each fall? Then you may be a perfect match for Mr. Autumn Man. [The Onion] —Anna Spiegel
So "putrid soybean goop" doesn't sound like the best way to start the day, but the New York Times roundup of what kids around the world eat for breakfast is pretty hunger-inducing (not to mention adorable). [New York Times] —AS
Plenty of restaurants have fought snotty customers on Yelp, but this may be the best takedown yet. [Eater] —AS
"Next time you drink your pumpkin spice latte, just remember: nothing is real, and nothing matters. Maybe." Perhaps the most esoteric approach to the pumpkin spice phenomenon I have ever encountered. [Critical Theory] —Tanya Pai
So, which intern are we going to send out to pick up Cal Tort’s limited-time only cheeseburger burritos? Obviously we’re going to splurge and add bacon for another dollar. [QSR Magazine] —Benjamin Freed
A group of intelligent law-enforcement officials in Georgia dispatched heavily armed deputies, drug-sniffing dogs, and a helicopter to a retired man’s farm so they could bust him for…okra, which apparently looks like weed. Or Smoke-ra. [First We Feast] —BF
This cleanly designed Upworthy knockoff aims to provide millennials with information that will make their consumer choices more sustainable, especially those about food. You’ll groan loudly when you hear who’s behind it. [Guardian] —BF
Washingtonians are hyped over the new Bullfrog Bagels spot on H Street, but some people will never believe anything can compare to a New York bagel. Well, one guy in Denver might prove them wrong after reverse-engineering the famed NYC water that's supposedly the secret ingredient to a perfect bagel. [The Atlantic Citylab] —Michael Gaynor
Welp, McDonald’s has finally made something scarier than the McRib. [Grub Street]
Chickens today: not your grandmother’s birds. [Vox] —AL
A funeral home, Guantanamo Bay (seriously), and other inappropriate places Starbucks has infiltrated. [Grub Street] —Tanya Pai
BuzzFeed proves yet again that a slice of pizza makes everything better—even (especially?) celebrity selfies. [BuzzFeed] —TP
So this is NSFW, but South Park takes on gluten intolerance. And you thought the Dan Snyder bit was amusing. [Eater] —Anna Spiegel
Eric Asimov's monthly "Wine School" column tackles Champagne, just in time for the holidays. If you think that bottomless bubbly you're consuming at brunch for $15 is "Champagne," better read this. [New York Times] —AS
Pizza cake. Need I say more? [Jezebel] —Alison Kitchens
Denny’s, which is clearly run by two commercial art directors with a huge bag of weed, is going after millennials with a new animated web series starring anthropomorphized breakfast food. “Meet the Slams”? Pass the bong. [Nation’s Restaurant News] —Benjamin Freed
The biggest outrage in Hong Kong right now is the Chinese government’s anti-democratic crackdowns. But this McDonald’s “Batman Burger” is running a close second. [Consumerist] —BF
Follow one man’s self-destruction as he blogs his way through 49 days of eating the Olive Garden’s seven-week unlimited pasta bowl promotion. I picked up on him on day eight; amazingly, he still hadn't consumed 6,000 calories. [The Never Ending Pasta Bowl Blog] —BF
The New York Times just published its latest Washington travel guide, and while 36 hours in the city yielded plenty of good finds, coffee wasn’t one of them. The writer, who sticks to Capitol Hill, H Street, and the Navy Yard for dining, recommends breakfast at the Tune Inn, but not the hot brew. Not just there, but anywhere, really.
“The coffee is meh—a problem throughout much of the city—but the French toast tastes of nutmeg, the Irish omelet with grits is legitimate and the service is professional,” reads the guide.
Maybe try a cup at Peregrine, Pound the Hill, or anywhere besides a spot known for its fried burger? (Side note: nothing against Tune Inn, one of the best dive bars in town, not known for its latte art).
It was not all bad news from the Grey Lady. Culinary highlights include fried oysters at Rose’s Luxury, foie gras from the Atlas Room, Market Lunch’s blueberry pancakes, and dinner at New York import Osteria Morini. It’s up for debate whether the author hit Toki Underground after expressing annoyance at the no-reservations policy and referring to the menu of Taiwanese ramen as “sublime Japanese food” (we can agree on the sublime part). Drinking stops around H Street include tried-and-true places like Biergarten Haus and The Pug.
Good news for the District dining scene: Two DC restaurants are nominees on Bon Appétit’s 50 Best New Restaurants list. The national roundup of “trendsetting” eateries will be narrowed down come August 14 to the Hot 10 list and BA Foodist Andrew Knowlton’s pick for the best new restaurant in America.
Without further ado, the two Washington contenders are Daikaya’s split-level ramen shop and izakaya, and Frederik de Pue’s European-inspired Shaw spot, Table. The first mini review for Daikaya starts with the usual backhanded compliment to the Washington food scene. (“If you think DC’s dining scene begins and ends with men in suits power-lunching . . .”) Still, Knowlton finds plenty to praise at both restaurants, including the barley-miso ramen and beef tongue yakitori from chef Katsuya Fukushima’s kitchen, and the Fracophile fare in an “über-stylish” setting at Table, such as bouillabaisse and duck rillettes.
The Bon Appétit nominations are one of many national accolades for Washington restaurants of late. Esquire included six Washington bars on its Best Bars in America list; Mintwood Place landed among Condé Nast Traveler’s Best New Restaurants 2013; and GQ food writer Alan Richman named several local dishes in his 50 Best Things to Eat and Drink Right Now roundup. Stay tuned to find out whether our top two eateries make it into the finals next week.
This month, GQ food writer Alan Richman shared 50 Best Things to Eat and Drink Right Now—a nation-spanning survey of deliciousness, and a pretty great read at that. Along the way he predicts trends for the coming year (look forward to more buttermilk, house-made vinegar, and abalone), defends truffle oil, and imagines a world in which every hotel stocks “dark-magic McMuffins.”
He also gives a nod to some Washington establishments. At Bryan Voltaggio’s Family Meal, Richman enjoyed some chicken pot pie fritters—“five little fried balls, each a tad larger than a Titleist.” He recognizes the Ramos gin fizz at Barmini. To be celebrated for your Ramos, a notoriously labor-intensive cocktail, is a badge of honor among bartenders, so props to Juan Coronado on that one. And over at Rasika West End, Vikram Sunderam is slaying it in the butternut-squash samosa department, per Richman.
Click through the slideshow and marvel at how much grub Richman must gullet in a given year.
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Earlier this month, Publisher’s Marketplace reported a forthcoming cookbook from the owners of Luke’s Lobster—the New York-based seafood spot with three locations in Washington (in Penn Quarter, Georgetown, and Bethesda). We caught up with Ben Conniff, who co-owns the chain with Maine native and Georgetown grad Luke Holden, to get the details on the forthcoming tome, The Luke’s Lobster Cookbook: Real Food From the Heart of Maine.
How long has the book been in the works?
Just about three years now. It’s been a long process from getting the idea to making it a reality.
What prompted you to write one?
Since we’ve opened, we’ve always thought the rest of the world deserved a better idea of what Maine food is really about. I think when DownEast Magazine named us the Best Maine Food Ambassador Outside of Maine in 2010, we thought, “That really distills exactly what we want to be.” And writing a cookbook is a way that we can do that even better.
Is it all recipes, or a mixture of recipes and stories?
It’s a mixture. So much of every meal is about your scenery and the people around you, and Maine has some of the most unique and inspiring cooks out there. Their stories are as fascinating as their recipes.
Where does the content come from? Family? Restaurants?
A mixture. We’ll include recipes from Luke’s, from our families and friends, and from chefs, home cooks, farmers, and all manner of folks making food all over the state.
What other cookbooks were you inspired by?
So many. In particular, those that have a firm sense of place, people, and story and a dedication to natural, local ingredients. Hugh Acheson’s A New Turn in the South comes to mind. The Frankies Spuntino [Kitchen Companion]. The River Cottage Fish Book. Also great food writing that’s not recipe-related, like Calvin Trillin, Bill Buford, and E.B. White, a great Maine writer himself.
When do you expect it to come out?
You Are What You Eat
As if the coming wave of girl-friendly steakhouses and sports bars wasn’t ridiculous enough, here comes “brogurt”—fat-free Greek yogurt for ab-obsessed dudes who couldn’t possibly be seen housing a tub of Fage. [Grub Street] —Ann Limpert
Perfect for Washington’s political climate, here’s a partisan rundown of food preferences. No surprise that Dems like KFC better than “hate chicken” (a.k.a. Chick-fil-A). Republicans, apparently, like doughnuts. [Eater National] —Anna Spiegel
Finally, some good news: HuffPo ranks hot sauces based on how often they appear on menus and in recipes, and how popular they are. Better news: Four of the top five are in my pantry at home. [Huffington Post] —Sophie Gilbert