The Wrap-Up: The Week in Food

Sommelier news, coffee shop closings and openings, and lots more in this week’s foodie wrap-up.

On Tuesday, DCist reported the latest restaurant victim of the sad economy: Mocha Hut. The independent coffee shop was one of our favorite affordable weekend-brunch spots—we’ll miss the Belgian waffles and eggs on toast. There will be new owners come April, although it’s not clear if it’ll still be a coffee shop.

Citronelle’s star sommelier, Mark Slater, is leaving the four-star restaurant to take over the wine program at Michael Landrum’s Ray’s empire. He’ll focus mostly on Ray’s the Steaks. Landrum told Tim Carman at the Washington City Paper that Slater will triple the size of the current wine list. A commenter guessed that Slater and Landrum will open a wine bar and call it Ray’s a Glass.

On Corby Kummer’s new food blog for The Atlantic, journalist Terrence Henry gave his own take on the Slater news, likening it to “Steve Jobs leaving Apple to go develop next-gen products for a tech start-up in Mumbai.” But, he says, Slater’s move says something about the future of restaurants in the midst of a recession. Which prompts him to mention Ballston’s Pupatella cart, which Henry says serves “one of the best pizzas in town.”  

Meanwhile, another big-name sommelier is landing at Citronelle: Kathryn Morgan, who’s worked at Occidental, Tosca, and most recently, 2941.

Soon-to-be restaurants often suffer the curse of the opening-date-announcement: As soon as the owners tell the public they’ll be ready for business, plans get delayed. Such is the case for the Neighborhood Restaurant Group, which announced April 2008 as the opening date for Birch & Barley/ChurchKey, a three-level restaurant to replace the vacated Dakota Cowgirl near Logan Circle. When April 2008 came and went, the owners said that construction would be complete by October 2008. Still nothing. Tim Carman asked NRG co-owner Michael Babin to explain the delay, and it’s the usual: permits, construction, plumbing. Babin guesses we’ll see the place open by summer. We’re guessing that means summer 2010.  

Logan Circle will soon have an indie coffee shop, reports Metrocurean. Mid-City Cafe will reportedly open in April and serve Counter Culture coffee (the fair-trade company also supplies Big Bear Cafe and Cowgirl Creamery). This is owner Mick Mier’s second business in less than a year: Last fall he opened 1905 near the U Street corridor.

Today, First Lady Michelle Obama will begin digging a plot on the White House lawn for a vegetable garden. Since President Obama’s victory in November, locavores have been clamoring for him to plant fresh produce in front of his new home. Perhaps the loudest voice belonged to Alice Waters, the longtime revolutionary behind the local-eating movement. Last Sunday, in an interview on 60 Minutes, Waters said she’s “been talking nonstop about an edible landscape at the White House” and that it’ll say something about the “nourishment of the nation.” One vegetable you won’t see in the garden? Beets. President Obama doesn’t care for them.

Jose Andres, the DC-based Spanish chef whose empire includes Jaleo, Zaytinya, Oyamel, Cafe Atlantico, and Minibar, recently opened The Bazaar in Los Angeles. And the jury has spoken: New York Times critic Frank Bruni praised what he called a “phantasmagorical” restaurant for its nods to both ultra-modern, Minibar-like gastronomy and more traditional cooking. Corby Kummer, on the other hand, was less than impressed with the service that was only amicable once the staff realized a member of his dinner party knew a guy who knows a guy. He did note briefly, however, that the food was fantastic.

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