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A lax dress code, chef-made snacks, and a few celebrity cameos helped this relaxed party stand out from the formal pack. By Jessica Voelker
Scott Drewno, Todd Gray, Mike Isabella, Art Smith, and Rock Harper created tasty bites to benefit charities of their choice. Photographs by Jeff Martin.

An anything-goes dress code inspired guests to wear what they liked—setting the mood for an uncommonly relaxed event.
Dress code for the late-night Chefs Ball at Art and Soul on Saturday: “Celebration; everything goes, from black tie to no tie.” This lax policy inspired a diverse collection of ensembles—young women in slinky, sequined minidresses mingled with older couples arriving from balls in tailored tuxedos and floor-skimming gowns with jeweled collars. Among those in jeans: Café Belga toque and recent Top Chef contender Bart Vandaele, who also wore his chef’s coat as he bopped along to Rihanna’s “We Found Love” on a dance floor flanked by pink-lit pillars.

Sartorial ogling aside, the food was the big draw at the charity event, co-chaired by Art and Soul owner Art Smith and his executive chef, Wes Morton. Big names such as Mike Isabella (Graffiato), Scott Drewno (the Source), Erik Bruner-Yang (Toki Underground), Todd Gray (Equinox), and Rock Harper of DC Central Kitchen each created bites to raise money for causes like the Cambodian Children's Fund and the Prevent Cancer Foundation. Smith and Morton gifted their donations to Smith’s organization Common Threads, which teaches underprivileged children about health and nutrition.

Chefs Drewno and Isabella shared a laugh in the lobby outside the event.
Isabella’s mini roasted lamb gyros—a delicious hint of what we can expect at his forthcoming 14th Street restaurant Kapnos—stood out among the snacks, which included crawfish étouffée mini pies by Morton, Gray’s “modern-day” brisket, and Chinese dumpling soup by Drewno. Some guests remarked that the culinary offerings seemed light for a so-called chefs ball, but it didn’t hurt the friendly, celebratory mood of the mostly young crowd, who formed a constant scrum around a bar stocked with beer, wine, Bulleit bourbon, and the makings of mimosas—quite a boozy spread for a party with the relatively low price tag of $75 (VIP tickets cost $125).

Relaxed as it was, the ball did have its glitzy moments: Redheaded Modern Family star Jesse Tyler Ferguson (staff wore bow ties from the actor’s pro-gay-marriage organization) showed up, as did Smith’s friend Gayle King and Illinois governor Pat Quinn.

Posted at 10:50 AM/ET, 01/20/2013 | Permalink | Comments ()
We chat with the Baltimore-based Charm City Cakes owner about creating a cake for the President. By Anna Spiegel

Official inauguration cake baker Duff Goldman. Image courtesy of s_bukley/

Baltimore’s Charm City Cakes and chef-owner Duff Goldman are no strangers to the spotlight—you can catch them each week on the Food Network’s popular reality show Ace of Cakes—but today brought news of the ultimate honor: Goldman and his crew were tapped to design the official cake for the Commander-in-Chief’s Ball on Monday. The nine-tiered confection will be served at one of the only two official inaugural balls, boasting an elaborate design and variety of flavors including lemon-poppyseed, red velvet, pineapple-coconut, and pumpkin-chocolate-chip. We chatted with Goldman about the process of designing the cake of the weekend, how many hours it takes to assemble, and what confection he’d want if he were elected President.

What did you do when you first heard the news you’d be chosen to design the official inaugural cake?

It’s so exciting. Every baker in the world, or at least every baker in the United States, really wants this job. It’s a huge honor. It feels really good that the [Inaugural] Committee had enough faith [that we’d] do something fantastic, and we’re not going to let them down.

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Posted at 05:45 PM/ET, 01/18/2013 | Permalink | Comments ()
Want to eat at a presidentially vetted restaurant? You may still be able to snag a table at one of these spots. By Anna Spiegel
A table is readied for dinner service at Blue Duck Tavern. Photograph by Scott Suchman.

So you didn’t score a ticket to an inaugural ball or one of the exclusive dinners around town. No big deal. One of the wonderful things about a First Couple that gets out and about in the restaurant scene is that you can have the same dining experience as Barack and Michelle any night of the week (minus the Secret Service, food testers, motorcade, etc.). And lucky for procrastinators, that night could be this weekend.

We checked in with a number of restaurants approved by the President and/or First Lady. While most don’t have prime-time reservations—especially on Saturday, when many places are fully booked—tables are still open and waiting. Diners willing to eat early (think 6) or late (after 9) are especially in luck, as are those not balling on Monday, when plenty of reservations are available across the board. Also don’t forget to check our big Inauguration Guide for other deals, parties, and events.

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Posted at 04:50 PM/ET, 01/18/2013 | Permalink | Comments ()
This time, we’ve organized them by neighborhood. By Jessica Voelker
P.J. Clarke’s welcomes Inauguration weekend with a burger and beer combo. Photograph courtesy of P.J. Clarke’s.

Are you ready? It’s going to be a big weekend. We’ve already filled you in on brunch happenings, how to eat like Obama, how to throw a DIY inaugural party, places to drink late, and a whole mess of specials—and now we have more! Here are additional cocktails, menus, and other offerings, organized by neighborhood. Have fun.

Adams Morgan

Head to the Adams Morgan hangout to sample any of four $7 tiki drinks—a Mai Tai, a Dark and Stormy, a rye-based Eastern Sour, and a Navy cider with rum, fresh lime juice, and hot cider.


At Robert Wiedmaier’s upscale restaurant in Old Town Alexandria’s Lorien Hotel, you can get a Commander-in-Chief cocktail created by sommelier Matthew Carroll. The combo of Dewar’s Scotch whisky, Cockburn’s Special Reserve port, Dolin dry vermouth, and orange bitters costs $12 and will be available through February.

Capitol Hill

Belga Cafe
Top Chef: Seattle contestant Bart Vandaele has drink specials—including a blueberry vodka number inspired by the First Lady—along with dishes such as both hot and cold foie gras, oeufs brouilles and salmon, and Lobster for Michelle with fresh herbs, garlic butter, and saffron risotto. Hmm, does someone have a crush?

Columbia Heights

The Coupe
Among the bars serving booze until 4 AM on inauguration weekend is this Columbia Heights spot, which will also have face painting for the kiddies during brunch Saturday through Monday. More adult offerings include the rum-based Obama-rama and a rickey variation in honor of 44. Look for a $12 beer and burger (also available in veggie) special, too.

A free Mai Tai, soupy lobster paella, so many more cocktails. >>>>

Posted at 01:30 PM/ET, 01/18/2013 | Permalink | Comments ()
A national celebration AND a long weekend? This calls for a midday feast. By Anna Spiegel
Celebrate Obama's second term with a brunch the First Lady would love: a veggie-loaded egg white omelet at Founding Farmers. Photograph by Scott Suchman.

Sure, Monday is President Obama’s big day. But it’s also a three-day weekend, and a bounty of bars are open until 4 AM, giving you the right to roll out of bed and head to brunch like any good American. Several spots are offering special midday meals—especially those close to the White House and Mall—including service on Saturday, Sunday, and Monday.


The Penn Quarter restaurant will open on Monday to serve its brunch menu. Options include shrimp and grits, a wild mushroom omelet, and wild game sausage and eggs.

Price: À la carte
Hours: 11 to 3 Saturday and Sunday, 7 to 4 on Monday

Co Co. Sala

The Penn Quarter chocoholic’s paradise offers Saturday, Sunday, and Monday brunch over inauguration weekend, with both sweet and savory options. Dishes on the two-course set menu range from citrus-ricotta pancakes with berry compote to “grown-up” grilled cheese on truffled brioche. 

Price: $26 for main course and dessert
Hours: 11 to 3 Saturday and Sunday, 10 to 3 Monday


Just a few blocks from the White House, Todd and Ellen Gray are throwing a brunch bash featuring favorite foods of both Obama and Martin Luther King. The three-course menu includes options such as the Obama family chili with smoked cheddar, MLK’s fried chicken with salt-cured pickles and slow-cooked greens, and Georgia pecan pie à la mode. 

Price: $35 for three courses
Hours: Monday from 11 to 2

Dim sum, $2 mimosas, cinnamon rolls in a skillet >>>>

Posted at 09:30 AM/ET, 01/15/2013 | Permalink | Comments ()
Bonus: Beer guru Greg Engert weighs in on the best beers to sub in for White House Honey Ale. By Anna Spiegel
Make a Chicago-style deep dish the centerpiece of your inauguration shindig. Photograph courtesy of Shutterstock.

Missing the big bucks and black-tie gear required to attend a presidential ball? That shouldn’t stop you from getting into the spirit over inauguration weekend. Grab a few friends and party like the 47 percent—entitled to (delicious) food and drink. We’ve rounded up White House-themed eats and sips for throwing your own festivities, from gallons of Ben’s chili to Chicago dogs to stand-in brews for the President’s much-prized Honey Ale. 


Unfortunately, most of us can’t get our hands on White House Honey Ale (unless you want to brew your own or pay $1,200 for a solo). Thankfully Greg Engert, Neighborhood Restaurant Group’s beer-man-about-town, has some informed advice about how to source a replacement.

“Though the White House prominently mentions the honeyed aspect of their brew, honey wouldn’t really come through in the flavor of the ale itself,” says Engert. “In the recipe, honey is a fermentable sugar source . . . but leaves little—if any—honeyed sweetness on the palate.” Therefore, “the beer would probably look and taste more like a British-style bitter or pale ale due to the light amber hue and balance of malt and hop.” 

Engert suggests substituting American brews Brooklyn Pennant Pale Ale, Schlafly Pale Ale, and Goose Island Honkers Ale, all available at local shops. From across the pond, he recommends the readily available Old Speckled Hen. Look for these beers at Rodman’s, De Vinos, and other such shops.

Deep dish, dawgs, burgers>>>>

Posted at 05:10 PM/ET, 01/11/2013 | Permalink | Comments ()
These spots can stay open until 4 AM during Inauguration Week. By Jessica Voelker
Masa 14 can keep the lights on late for the Inauguration. Photograph by Chris Leaman.

Inauguration Week begins on January 14, and you know what that means: It’s time to toast the president with lots of late-night boozing.

From the 14th through the 22nd, DC’s Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Association has approved 154 District bars and venues to serve alcohol until 4 AM. We hit up ABRA to find out where this wee-hour imbibing will take place. The list—alphabetized for your reading pleasure—follows. Oh and hey, do not forget to bookmark our complete guide to Inauguration 2013, which has info on everything you need to navigate the momentous occasion. 

This way to the list. >>>>

Posted at 10:00 AM/ET, 01/11/2013 | Permalink | Comments ()
Everything you need to know about where to dine out before and during the big weekend. By Jessica Voelker
Cashion’s celebrates the inauguration with a Hawaiian-themed prix-fixe menu. Photograph courtesy of Flickr user afagen.

January 21 marks the public inauguration of President Obama’s second term, and lots of local restaurants are celebrating with special drinks, tasting menus, and—in one case—a twofer hot dog special.

A few related reminders: First, Art and Soul is throwing a late-night party with a bunch of big-name chefs—get tickets as soon as possible if you want to go. Second, don’t forget this list of Obama-inspired consumables we put together for your dining pleasure. Also, look out for a number of bars staying open until 4 AM in honor of the events (Thanks, ABRA!), and 25 food trucks get access to the “exclusion zone.”

Champagne lovers should head to Proof in Penn Quarter, which is shaving one third off the price of sparklers by the glass and bottle during inauguration celebrations (Friday through Monday).

On January 21, Cashion’s offers its regular menu along with a three-course, Barack Obama-themed prix-fixe for $40.14. Expect: tuna poke in a Bibb lettuce cup; dry-aged beef strip loin with creamed spinach and a crispy potato cake; and Hawaiian pineapple upside-down cake. An optional wine pairing is $20.13.

Just down the street from Cashion’s, Napoleon Bistro will mix a special $10 cocktail during inauguration weekend: the Black Forest Berry Bonapartini. That’s made with St. Dalfour berry jam, Absolut vodka, and a splash of Black Forest iced tea. 

Popular 14th Street beer bar ChurchKey hosts an Inaugural Brewers Ball on the 21st, welcoming brewers—and beer—from a bunch of craft beermakers. Among the guests: Rob Tod of Allagash Brewing Company, Sean Lily Wilson of Fullsteam, Dan Kopman of Schlafly, Mark Thompson of Star Hill, Jim Caruso of Flying Dog, Hugh Sisson of Heavy Seas, DC Brau’s Mike McGarvey from 3 Stars Brewing. Food will come courtesy of executive chef Kyle Bailey and pastry chef Tiffany MacIsaac and include oysters, charcuterie, brat burger sliders, and flatbreads. Tickets cost $150—get some now by calling 202-567-2576.

Fiola, normally closed on Sunday, will make an exception on the 20th. While there, try the El Presidente: light rum, dry vermouth, curaçao, and real grenadine. It’s $15 normally, but just $6 during happy hour (4 to 6 on weekdays). Get that from the 17th through the 22nd.

Lunch special at 701, Chicago-style dogs, and sushi and Champagne at the Source.

Posted at 11:45 AM/ET, 01/07/2013 | Permalink | Comments ()
Chicago dogs, savory-sweet desserts, and a “West Wing”–inspired meal at home. By Jessica Voelker
A Chicago-style sausage from Haute Dog & Fries. What better way to celebrate term two? Photograph by Andrew Propp.

Recently, Washingtonian critic Todd Kliman briefed the President on strategies for tackling the local dining scene in term two. But we can also take advice from the President on how to eat well around town. So if you’re not inclined to cough up the cash for an inaugural ball, here are ten much cheaper ways to celebrate Obama’s second term—all inspired by POTUS himself.

10) Brew your own beer (not really). Then share the recipe . . . reluctantly.

Here’s how to home brew, POTUS-style: 1) Get someone else to do it. 2) Talk up how good it is. 3) When your people demand a recipe, say nothing for a while. 4) Finally, when demand reaches a fever pitch, release the recipe.

If you’re sincerely interested in amateur beermaking, visit the homebrewing shop at 3 Stars Brewing Company (6400 Chillum Pl., NW). It’s stocked with all the equipment you need and manned by some serious enthusiasts. Or you could get this White House Honey Ale kit from Northern Brewer.

9) Go to Ray’s Hell-Burger. Twice.

As Kliman pointed out in his aforementioned memo, Ray’s is the only local restaurant that got two presidential visits in the first term. And as devoted minions of the Mack, we totally get it.

8) Savor dessert.

Obama was way ahead of the curve on the salted caramel trend, having long ago discovered Seattle-based Fran’s Chocolates, which specializes in the savory-sweet treats. You can order those online, or go local by trying excellent Washington versions at Fleurir (in Alexandria and Georgetown) or Co Co. Sala in Penn Quarter.

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Posted at 01:05 PM/ET, 01/03/2013 | Permalink | Comments ()
Fill up on treats from Scott Drewno, Erik Bruner-Yang, Mike Isabella, and more at this wee hours inaugural event. By Jessica Voelker

Art Smith and Wes Morton. Photograph by Moshe Zusman Photography.

The inauguration looms, and restaurateurs are shaking off the holiday hangovers to start prepping for their presidential parties. Among them: Art and SoulArt Smith’s Southern-leaning restaurant in the Liaison Hotel on Capitol Hill—which will host a late night chef’s ball on January 19 where local toques will whip up treats in the wee hours.

Art and Soul chef Wes Morton is teaming up with Smith to co-chair the event. The two men are donating their time and resources to benefit Common Threads, the Smith-founded charity that teaches nutrition and well-being to underprivileged kids. Proceeds from the party will go to additional charities picked by the five guest chefs participating. They are: Toki Underground’s Erik Bruner-Yang; Mike Isabella (Graffiato, Bandolero); Scott Drewno of the Source; Rock Harper, director of kitchen operations for D.C. Central Kitchen; and Todd Gray of Equinox and Watershed.

The chef’s ball will be one of the last chances to see Art and Soul in its current iteration—it closes January 22 for a renovation by Seattle firm Dawson Design Associates.

Ticket info after the jump.

Posted at 03:20 PM/ET, 12/27/2012 | Permalink | Comments ()