The Wrap-Up: The Week in Food

By: Kate Nerenberg

• Forget the healthy diet—President-elect Barack Obama’s first foray into the local dining scene came this past Saturday, when he and DC mayor Adrian Fenty stopped into Ben’s Chili Bowl and Obama tucked into a chili half-smoke and an order of cheese fries. DCist reported that Obama washed it down with a sweet tea and that he gave the cashier a $20 bill for a $12 tab.

• At the end of December, Ben’s Chili Bowl added the Obama family to the list of people who can eat for free at the iconic restaurant. It was previously a list of one—Bill Cosby. The day after Obama’s visit to Ben’s, Cosby appeared on Meet the Press and kvetched that the President-elect didn’t deserve the honor of free grub because he didn’t know what a half-smoke was. Can you recite the exact recipe, Dr. Huxtable?

• CBS reported that last night, the future (as in five days from now) President again showed his support for his new town’s restaurants. This time, he walked just a few blocks from Blair House to Equinox restaurant, known for its locally sourced ingredients. While outgoing President George W. Bush was giving a farewell speech, the Washington Post says, Obama celebrated wife Michelle’s birthday, which is tomorrow, with 11 other guests. That’s two restaurants in a week—and it took Bush eight years to dine out that many times. Change!

• Of all the hoopla surrounding Obama since his election, foodies have been waiting to find out who—if anyone—he would appoint as the White House chef. Gourmet editor Ruth Reichl, restaurateur Danny Meyer, and locavore queen Alice Waters urged him to use his pick as a statement about eating locally. Others predicted a celebrity: Art Smith, the Chicago-based owner of DC’s Art and Soul, and Chicago chef Rick Bayless were thrown onto the list of possibilities. But it was Palena chef/owner Frank Ruta, who worked in the White House kitchen during the Carter era, who predicted the rather unexciting outcome. Cristeta Comerford, the current chef for the Bushes, will keep her post.

• Even New York is feeling inauguration fever. The New York Times couldn’t stop talking about our dining scene:

- In its Wednesday paper, the dining section pays homage to up-and-coming DC neighborhoods by spotlighting Gillian Clark and her planned restaurants in Petworth and Anacostia. Reporter Kim Severson gives the nod to little hole-in-the-wall joints such as Taqueria Distrito Federal and Sweet Mango Cafe as well as hot spots such as Marvin and Cork.

- In the same section, reporter Jim Rutenberg takes a guess at Obama’s influence on the dining scene and errs on the side of positive. He quotes Kevin Madden, a former spokesman for Republican Mitt Romney, who also mentions Cork as the place to be.

- Today, Cork landed another nod from the paper, this time in the travel section’s 36 Hours feature. Helene Cooper suggests the Logan Circle wine bar as a good bet for dinner and says it has “the best fries in town.” She also recommends eating at Florida Avenue Grill and Art and Soul and drinking at Local 16 and Chi Cha Lounge.

- Although the Times listed Washington as one of the 44 best places to visit this year—because of its “suddenly lively food scene”—Adam Nagourney published an article yesterday saying that Washington’s restaurant scene is still struggling. In his guide to restaurants for inauguration visitors, he suggests Cork (again?!), Cashion’s Eat Place, Posto, and more.

- Marian Burros writes about the international flavor in Penn Quarter and gives readers a lesson in pronouncing Central (“as if it had an “e” at the end”). Proof, Zaytinya, TenPenh, Rasika, and others also get a mention.

- And David Carr chimes in on the legend that is Ben’s Chili Bowl.

• Earlier this week in a story for Politico, Burros took a similar stance to Nagourney’s when she said that Washington has a few good restaurants but not many great ones. She ranks what she thinks are Washington’s ten best restaurants but says putting the list together “took some digging.” She touts the usual suspects—the Inn at Little Washington, CityZen, Citronelle, Restaurant Eve, and Palena—plus some newcomers such as the Source, Proof, and Westend Bistro. But that's only eight, Burros.

• Eater reports that Soho restaurant Fiamma, headed by former Maestro chef Fabio Trabocchi, has closed. New York Times food critic Frank Bruni caught up with Trabocchi by phone on Wednesday, and the chef said that the upscale Italian dining room couldn’t stay afloat with the down economy.

Metrocurean tells us that the vacant Gerard Panguad Bistro space will reopen today as Siroc, a seasonal Mediterranean restaurant. Martin Lackovic, who’s worked at Galileo, I Matti, and the Caucus Room, will head the ktichen.

• Tom Sietsema reports that Glover Park’s Ceviche, the Peruvian restaurant with a sibling in Silver Spring, closed earlier this month. Today, owner Mauricio Fraga-Rosenfeld will reopen the space as Kitchen, a Southern-inspired spot serving dishes such as fried chicken and peach cobbler.

• Sei, a new Penn Quarter sushi restaurant from the owners of Oya, opened its doors Monday. The sushi chef, Noriaki Yasutake, and the head chef, Avinesh Rana, both came from Perry’s in DC’s Adams Morgan.

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