In a situation that’s more lease revival than lease renewal, Georgetown’s venerable La Chaumière restaurant announced it will serve its loyal patrons their beloved cassoulet, quenelles, and calf’s liver for another ten years. The co-owner of the French restaurant, Martin Lumet, said he’s not kidding about the cassoulet. “If one day I am out of cassoulet, I get phone calls, e-mails,” he says. “They want to know, ‘How could you be out of cassoulet?’”
La Chaumière was opened in 1976 by Gerard Pain, who sold it to Lumet and chef Patrick Orange in 2006. They renewed the lease in 2011, but then had to deal with tax issues that arose between the building’s owner and the city. The restaurant’s fate was in doubt. Now, Lumet says, the landlord has resolved the issues with the DC Office of Tax and Revenue, and it’s all clear for the next decade.
In the list of Georgetown restaurants, La Chaumière is the quiet power spot, the hangout of the cave dwellers and old guard. It’s one of the last of the white-tablecloth bistros, where provenance is more important than flash. On any given night, sitting at one of the choice tables near the fireplace might be Secretary of State John Kerry, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, lawyers Brendan Sullivan, Bob Bennett, or Tommy Boggs, architect Hugh Jacobsen, or Ben Bradlee and Sally Quinn. One famous night, Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta-Jones walked in and settled in a banquette in the back.
Now that Lumet is assured of his lease for another ten years, we wondered whether he plans any changes. Lumet is adamant: No. He says his customers know what they like. “It’s true. My clientele doesn’t like change. I’ve received very severe warnings from them. I guess we won’t be serving sushi anytime soon.”
Takoma Park is about to get a new neighborhood—and possibly destination—restaurant. Restaurateur Jeff Black, who’s behind BlackSalt and Pearl Dive, among others, has teamed up with longtime chef and Takoma Park native Danny Wells for a seventh venture. Here’s what to look for in the funky space.
A collaborative menu
You’ll find influences from both Black and Wells on the menu. As at every Black Restaurant Group spot, the kitchen houses a wood-burning grill, local bivalves star on the raw bar, and Addie’s mussels are a mainstay. Wells started as a line cook at the now-closed Rockville restaurant and worked his way up through the ranks at BlackSalt, eventually becoming executive chef at Pearl Dive. Signatures from each stop are present, including Pearl Dive’s wood-grilled oysters with garlic-red-chili butter. Wells says his own style is influenced by ten years with the company, meaning robustly flavored dishes such as whole black bass with pancetta and smoked greens, Portuguese-style fish stew with roasted shellfish and chilies, and citrus-brined brick chicken.
Vegetarian and vegan offerings
Fitting for the neighborhood—and a time when “meat as garnish” is a culinary trend—you’ll find plenty of ways to eat your vegetables. Options change seasonally. You may find roasted acorn squash with chestnuts and brown butter, a smoked-vegetable-studded johnnycake with poblano cream, or an ancient-grain salad tossed with pomegranate seeds and pistachios. Certain veggie items may look like they’re better suited for omnivores—say, braised kale and garbanzo beans with Surryano ham—but Wells says the dishes can be ordered sans meat and/or dairy to taste.
Takoma Park style and a Cash bathroom
One of Washington’s funkier neighborhoods calls for a restaurant with a similar aesthetic. Designer Molly Allen and the team traveled about the East Coast, hunting for vintage finds and salvaged wood. To that end you’ll find (slightly) unlevel floors of North Carolina reclaimed pine, banquets fashioned from reupholstered Victorian sofas, and a classic stereo filled with vintage toys, which Black happens to collect. Johnny Cash fans should head to the unisex bathroom—which isn’t as weird as it sounds—where the musician’s image is plastered on the walls and his music plays exclusively.
A Fascist Killer cocktail—and beer, of course
Noting that a bar stocks craft brews these days is like mentioning the soda on tap. Still, bar manager Brett Robison is more of an expert than most, having worked at a local brewery, written a beer blog (Divine Brew), and continued as an active home-brewer. Cocktail fans aren’t left dry, with a lineup of drinks named after the politically “free-spirited” nature of the neighborhood. Think along the lines of the Fascist Killer and former Takoma Park mayor Sammie Abbott.
Outdoor music and (fingers crossed), a double-decker food bus
While a December opening isn’t ideal for al fresco dining, Republic will debut with a back patio equipped with heat lamps that will eventually seat around 40 diners. Once dinner and the soon-to-come lunch and brunch services are running smoothly, you’ll find live music in the restaurant and outdoors. The patio looks out onto a spacious lot, and Black is currently plotting options for it. Among the considerations: a double-decker bus, a regular bus outfitted with a dining table, or a food truck that’ll hit the streets for lunch. Black is pretty tight-lipped about the concept (and no, it won’t be po’ boys), but says he’s currently partnering with two former college friends for a quick-service operation in his home state of Texas that could be adapted to street vending when it arrives in Washington. We’ll keep our fingers crossed for a wagon blasting Cash and serving Sammie Abbotts.
Happy Thursday, food truck followers! It’s snowing in some areas down South, so take advantage of this beautiful day in DC and enjoy specials such as stuffed meatballs with prosciutto and mozzarella from Ball or Nothing, smoky Angus brisket from BBQ Bus, or soft-baked gingerbread cookies with ginger-molasses glaze from Sweetbites Truck.
So there’s a Sriracha packet going for $10,000 on eBay. And no, it has never touched a celebrity hand. [Grub Street] —Anna Spiegel
Apparently there’s a Mystery Tipper—or tippers—giving away great gobs of money to waiters and waitresses across the country. Like, $3,000-a-pop gobs of money. And signing the bill—this is the creepy part, at least to me—“tips for Jesus.” There’s even a Twitter handle. Are we to believe that in an age of doctored photographs and crass and cynical Photoshopped stunts there is some do-gooding Claus out there, and that this is not just some desperate straining after virality? [Eater National] —Todd Kliman
More receipts: Some restaurants are now using them to guilt diners into eating better. Note to Fox: it’s not “eating healthier,” it’s “eating more healthfully” [Fox News] —TK
If you steal $26K of arguably the best bourbon made, don’t sell it. The joyous lifetime of drinking it is worth more than that. [The Wire] —Chris Campbell
Shameless plug: In time for holiday shopping, the excellent, award-winning blog the Gray Report has put together a list of books about wine—not a year’s best, since most of these books were published over the past decade, and not a compendium to help readers learn more about wine. Just “great, fun to read” books. Anyway, The Wild Vine is one of them. Thank you, Gray Report. I’m honored to be included. [The Gray Report] —TK
The culinary world lost a great member this week. Judy Rodgers of San Francisco’s Zuni Cafe passed at 57 after fighting cancer. The LA Times pays tribute to the influential chef. [LA Times] —AS
Eater National also takes a look at her beloved cookbook, and gathers reflections from fellow chefs and writers. [Eater National] —AS
Behold: amazing shadow art made of trash (and sometimes foodstuffs). [This Is Marvelous] —CC
Food or art? Jeff Gordinier takes a look at masterful plating (plus a slideshow for your afternoon entertainment). [New York Times] —AS
Millennials have even more backup to their whining: Research shows their terrible eating habits start before they’re born. [NYT] —CC
One thing that never ceases to blow my mind is the struggle for those on food stamps to eat a legitimate meal. It reminds me to not get hung up about the 75th restaurant to open on 14th Street. [Burlington Free Press] —CC
Happy Wednesday, food truck followers! Head to DC Ballers for some split-pea soup or Hungry Heart to spice things up with some katsu curry, and get into the holiday spirit with some rum and eggnog cupcakes from Sweetbites Truck.
Former White House chef John Moeller served three presidents during his stint in the kitchen at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue from 1992 to 2005: George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush. In that time he saw the expansion of American cuisine, the effects of 9/11, and the rising political role of chefs. All of that and more is detailed in his new memoir/cookbook, Dining at the White House. We spoke with the Lancaster, Pennsylvania, native about First Families’ likes and dislikes, cooking for picky foreign dignitaries, and the dish that won over both a Democratic and a Republican President.
What was the most challenging aspect of putting together this memoir/cookbook?
The most challenging part is laying it out and constructing a story and letting it flow. I was then able to throw in a lot of historical information, so I could combine historical facts with the story. Once we started doing that, the fun part was reliving the whole thing again.
George H.W. Bush banned broccoli from his menus. Were there ever other blacklisted foods?
Not really. We heard more about the favorites. As time went by, we incorporated a lot of vegetables into the menus. The ’90s were a fun time. We were going through a revolution in terms of cuisine, and there were a lot of new products. Chelsea [Clinton] didn’t like mushrooms, so we tried to stay away from those. The Clintons loved artichokes. Actually, all the families did.
You served both Bush administrations and the Clintons. Who had the most adventurous tastes?
I would probably say Bush Sr. They were very well-traveled, and we never wrote up menus ahead of time. We did that for the other Bushes and the Clintons. For Bush Sr., we just knew the parameters of things. There was the whole broccoli thing, but if you see everything they did eat, it outweighed everything else. I came from French kitchens and did everything I’d normally do—calf’s liver, oysters on the half shell, a Japanese-themed meal with sushi rolls and miso soup. When you’re cooking for the same people every day, you’re always looking for more things to work with.
How much creative license do you have as a White House chef, versus cooking from a canon of pre-approved recipes?
There’re two aspects of it. You’re basically a private chef cooking for the family. You learn what their likes and dislikes are, you write down notes, look at every plate that comes back; they push carrots to the side, they don’t like peas, etc. You try different things, but you have to know the parameters to work around. The other aspect is officially writing for state dinners and events. We’re officially a banquet house. There are no two menus that are exactly the same. I could work with local ingredients, seasonal ingredients. That’s the beauty of cooking—you look for inspiration everywhere.
What were the most interesting likes or dislikes you were told about?
Foreign dignitaries would come in, and I’d wait for their dietary restrictions, allergies, or preferences to start writing menus. The most unusual was the Prime Minister of Italy. He came in about ten years ago. The form said, “Does not like garlic, onions, and tomatoes.” I thought, “You have to be kidding! He can’t be Italian!” I think I made chicken-fried steak and mashed potatoes.
You have a section in the book dedicated to 9/11. How did you see security change when it came to food?
Security in the property changed, and that also affected the food. We have ways of getting food in there—there’re no trucks backing up to the White House on a daily basis—so we had to go pick things up. We had a meeting with the Secret Service and FBI in the weeks after 9/11 looking at everything we do. There’s no harm done now, but they basically said, “We have reason to believe they’ll try to deliver something through the food network.” We changed our way of procuring food and how we did things.
How do you think the role of the White House chef has changed in the past eight years?
From the time I went in and came out, it became more political. Do you remember what happened the day after president-elect Clinton became President Clinton? A letter was sent by Alice Waters, plus a petition signed by other chefs. It primarily said, “It’s time we have an American chef in the White House.” One of the reasons I was picked was that I was American with a French background.
You have a great story in the book about the adventures of finding fresh dover sole for Nancy Reagan when she visited. Did you field other interesting requests?
I wasn’t going to serve the former First Lady a frozen piece of sole! You just have to put out fires sometimes. There’ve been a number of times when I had to run out and pick things up just to make meals happen. Once the First Lady and President Clinton were heading out for church on a Sunday morning about 10:30, and she turns to the usher and says, “We’ll be back in an hour with about 20 for brunch.” I can’t remember half the things I did—an egg soufflé, maybe—but you just have produce it and make it happen. You need a wide range of cooking abilities so you can satisfy their needs.
Did you notice a difference in taste between Republicans and Democrats?
No, they’re all pretty hungry people. One winter day in ’96 I did a Pennsylvania Dutch-style chicken pot pie, where you cook the noodles into it. I love it, and it’s very flavorful. I made it for President Clinton, and found him over the bowl, wolfing it down. I could see the top of his eyeballs. He gave me the thumbs up and said, “This is the kind of food I like.” It became part of the rotation. Ironically, when George W. Bush came in, I made the same style of pot pie. I found him leaning over the bowl; he gave me a thumbs up and said almost the exact same thing: “John, this is the kind of food I like.”
Happy Tuesday, food truck followers! Keep on truckin’ through the week with specials such as bison burgers from Food for the Soul, fish and chips from Spitfire, or one of six lasagna options at Basil Thyme.
Chef party: Graffiato hosts its monthly industry takeover night (a.k.a. Monday rager) from 10 to 1. Contributing chefs and barkeeps include Boqueria chef Greg Basalla, Top Chef season six competitor Eli Kirshtein, the crew from Level in Annapolis, and more. There’s a $10 cash cover at the door, with partial proceeds going towards Martha’s Table.
Ugly sweater party: Let the holiday festivities begin. The Loews Madison Hotel hosts an ugly sweater party in its PostScript Lounge on Monday from 4:30 to 7:30. Come for happy hour prices; stay to post Instagram photos of guests in their unattractive attire—$1 will be donated to the Capital Area Food Bank for every pic.
Scotch tasting: Get a taste of the peaty stuff during a Scotch tasting at Cordial in Union Market on Tuesday from 7:30 to 9. Keepers of the Quaich member Ed Kohl leads the seminar, which includes tastings of whisky and snacks from neighboring vendor Neopol Savory Smokery. Another perk: Bottles will be offered at a 10 percent discount. Reservations are $45.
Snack for good: The annual Celebration of Hope fundraiser for RAINN, an anti-sexual violence organization, is on Wednesday at the Long View Gallery between 6:30 and 8:30. Participating restaurants serving cocktails and hors d’oeuvres include Corduroy, Restaurant Nora, and more. Tickets start at $75 for young professionals and $150 for general admission.
Repeal Day party: What better way to celebrate the end of prohibition than by drinking? Jack Rose hosts its annual Repeal Day party on Thursday, and the g̶o̶o̶d̶ even better news: There’s no fixed price. Just dress in your old-timey best and prepare for classic cocktails, burlesque dancers, 1930s-inspired bar snacks, and specially priced cigars.
Remember Movember: Celebrate the end of Movember and freshly shaven faces at Del Frisco’s Grille on Thursday from 5 to 8. The restaurant marks the conclusion of yet another successful campaign with drink specials, complimentary snacks (mini shaved-steak sandwiches! “mo-shroom” flatbreads!), and a raffle.
Virginia is for wine lovers: Sample Virginian vino on Saturday during a tasting hosted by the Washington Wine Academy at Studio Jade Crystal City from 6 to 10. You’ll find varietals from ten vineyards, including Barboursville Winery, Chrysalis Vineyards, Pearmund Cellars, and more. Tickets ($55) are available online.
Calling aspiring food writers: The Smithsonian Associates hosts a seminar called Food Writing: A Practical Introduction on Saturday from 9:30 to 4:30 ($130 general admission). You’ll learn about different forms of food writing—from formal reviews to daily blogs—from a number of experts, including cookbook author Monica Bhide.
Holiday cookies: Get baking on Sunday at the Hill Center from 2 to 4, where Washington Post writers and recipe testers lead a course on holiday cookie making. On the menu: fennel macarons, pear-gingerbread s’mores, and more. Tickets are $65, and available online.
Missed your usual set of lunch trucks surrounding Franklin Square on Monday? It’s likely due to the District’s new food truck regulations regarding mobile roadway-vending (MRV) locations, which became active on December 1. Under the new rules, food trucks must enter a lottery system each month and are randomly assigned spots at eight vending locations. While many food truck operators feel optimistic about the changes, others say it could negatively impact business.
The designated areas—Farragut Square, Franklin Square, Union Station, State Department, L’Enfant Plaza, Navy Yard, Metro Center, and George Washington University—are DC’s hotspots for food truck traffic. Trucks have been assigned a different location for each day.
Doug Povich, chairman of the Food Truck Association and co-owner of the Red Hook Lobster Pound trucks, says he and others in the association believe the MRV zones are good for the city.
“There were definitely issues on the streets as a result of too many trucks in the most popular areas causing problems with respect to parking and congestion, and something had to be done,” he says. “We think this solution, if implemented properly, should work pretty well.”
Other owners, including TaKorean’s Mike Lenard, are concerned about the implementation of these regulations.
“I think it takes a lot of government management in order to pull this off and that’s the part that I’m suspect about,” says Lenard, who founded the Food Truck Association. “There will need to be proper enforcement.”
Approximately 200 food trucks are licensed in DC, 107 of which have been allocated spots. There are a total of 95 parking spaces available per day; some food trucks were randomly given spots for four days a week, while others received five. Food trucks that missed the deadline for December will not be able to park at or within 200 feet of prime areas like Farragut Square, and are subject to a $1,000 fine if they do.
Since the lottery is held on a monthly basis, truck owners have the chance to apply toward the end of this month to secure a spot in February. Until then, unauthorized vendors will have to find places to park outside the MRV areas.
“It’s going to affect us very badly,” says Pervais Hamza, the operator of Halal Grill, who missed the deadline. “We don’t know what we are going to do until January. A lot of other trucks are giving up.”
Cirque Cuisine shut down last week, citing the new regulations as the main reason. Co-owners Sean Swartz and Jessica Shields applied for the lottery, but after getting the results, they decided it wasn’t worth it.
“We have spent three years cultivating our fan base at certain locations,” says Swartz. “Now we were being placed in areas we have never been or don’t like.”
Burgorilla is another food truck that has been operating on a business model built around a geographic schedule.
“We come to Farragut on Monday and have been coming for a year and a half. Most of my customers are regulars,” says Robert Estep, owner of Burgorilla and What the Pho?
Estep says what he loses in business may be balanced by savings on parking tickets. The new system allows food trucks that won the lottery to park in their locations for up to four hours—roughly the length of a regular lunch service. Owners pay $125 for the month if they accept their parking assignments, and don’t have to worry about meters.
“In between all my vehicles, I probably receive $1,000 worth of tickets a month,” Estep says.
Time will determine how the new rules will impact the food truck industry as a whole. Stay tuned for more developments.
What better way to spend a post-holiday Monday than online shopping? A number of sites offer discounts—or at least free shipping—through midnight today. We’ve collected a few of our favorites for cooking and entertaining, so you can finally snag that KitchenAid stand mixer or set of vintage cocktail glasses at a discount.
You’ll have to sign up for a free membership to access this site, but the collection of mostly small-batch spirits is worth it. All are priced below retail value, so you’ll save on that bottle of Ardbeg single-malt for the boss.
The deal: Spirits are offered below retail price normally, plus free shipping today for orders over $100.
“Tools for the serious chef” is the tagline of this online retailer, and you’ll find the accessories at a pretty steep discount today. We like the looks of an All Clad three-quart sauté pan, Le Creuset stock pot, and Chantal fondue set.
The deal: Varies by item.
In the market for fresh truffles, caviar, or a charcuterie gift basket? You’ll find all of the above and more from this fine-foods purveyor, including a free-range goose for a Christmas roast.
The deal: Use the promo code SAVEMORE at checkout for up to 20 percent off.
Epicurious isn’t just for recipes and helpful/amusing reviews. The online shop includes an array of cooking tools and pantry items; you’ll find cyber specials on KitchenAid stand mixers, Riedel glassware, Calphalon pans, and more.
The deal: Varies by item.
This online retailer specializes in homey items; Rachael Ray and the Cake Boss are among the affiliated brands. Shop for the likes of retro Looney Tunes pint glasses, deep fryers, and decorative aprons.
The deal: Save up to 70 percent through December 3.
If you’re more of an entertainer than a home cook, you’ll love the various tabletop finds on this site—think vintage bamboo trays, antique silver barware, and various glass cloches.
The deal: Sadly no steep discounts, but you’ll receive a gift and free shipping on every order.
Ask a chef where to buy a great knife, and chances are Korin will top the list. Browse the gorgeous Western-style and traditional Japanese knives, including gift-friendly utility blades and all-out splurges. (Wish-listed: a $5,175 tuna knife for celebratory carving rituals.)
The deal: The holiday knife sale last through December, with 15 percent off blades.
Provisions by Food 52
We love this James Beard Award-winning publication’s website, which recently launched an online kitchen-and-home shop. You’ll find everything from vintage copper cookware to spice sets, barware (a Mason jar shaker, anyone?), and more.
The deal: Free shipping and a gift for any order over $75.
Sur La Table
This national retailer offers a range of deep discounts, including marked-down Wusthof knife sets, All-Clad slow cookers, and Starbucks espresso makers.
The deal: Up to 70 percent off certain items, and free shipping on all orders over $59.
Get a taste of New York with a variety of edibles from this Upper West Side institution. Gift baskets are a top options for the holidays, filled with the likes of smoked fish and bagels, kosher pastries, or Zabar’s brand coffees.
The deal: Get 10 percent off site-wide until midnight.