DC is full of ridiculous excuses for food or drink deals: a Trump associate indictment, so-called National Margarita Day, wind. But nothing is more misguided than the onslaught of cherry cocktails, cookies, and tacos (yes, tacos) that accompany cherry blossom season.
First off, the cherries you’ll find on menus don’t come from the kind of trees you’ll find around the Tidal Basin, which don’t typically produce fruit. Tourists don’t swarm here for the National Cherry Festival. (Go to Michigan for that.) Selling cherry cupcakes for the Cherry Blossom Festival is like bringing a bag of ice to an ice cream party. You’re close, sort of?, yet you clearly misread the invite.
Plus, if cherry blossom promotions are all about local pride, cherries are a terrible way to show it. The fruit doesn’t come into season in this region until June, so what you’re getting is likely jarred, imported, or completely artificial. It’s not so different from restaurants paying homage to the DC-area by offering a special menu item with crab… from Indonesia.
To help you navigate the cough syrup-tasting drinks and unnecessarily adorned desserts, here’s a ranking of tolerable and but, let’s be honest, mostly terrible types of cherry blossom specials:
TOLERABLE: The special contains actual cherry blossoms or some Japanese influence.
Washington’s cherry blossom trees were a gift to the US from Japan in 1912, and the festival around them celebrates the friendship between the two countries. So anything that at least acknowledges the cultural and historical context gets some credit. The traditional Japanese tea ceremony at the Park Hyatt sounds decent. We will also put the Cherry Blossom Pop-Up Bar in the “tolerable” category, mainly because it has Japanese whisky and a cool 10-foot Godzilla robot.
TERRIBLE: It’s got cherries in it for the sake of cherries.
At least cherry-filled doughnuts are already a thing (granted, the worst kind of doughnuts). But during cherry blossom season, cherries end up in all kinds dishes and drinks for thematic reasons rather than culinary ones. Save the cherry gastrique on your fried chicken and waffles, Kingbird, and give us some maple syrup. And does every course on the prix-fixe meal really need cherries in it, Oval Room?
REALLY TERRIBLE: This drink is pink! Literally, that’s it.
Sorry, but adding hibiscus liquor and red salt to a margarita does not make it a cherry blossom cocktail (ahem, Masa 14). Nor does mixing strawberry vodka and cranberry juice make a Cherry Blossom Cosmo (*cough* Hyatt Place). It’s basically like competing on the Bachelor and getting a First Impression Tulip. At least Starbucks was wise enough to discontinue its travesty of a “Cherry Blossom” Frappuccio made with… strawberry.
SUPREMELY TERRIBLE: Cherry Coke is basically cherry blossom-themed, right?
Cherry Coke is as related to cherry blossoms as I am to Oprah. Nonetheless, Kennedy Center’s KC Café is celebrating peak bloom with a special menu that includes spiced barbecue chicken with Cherry Coke sauce. (Slightly better: a sakura shortcake for dessert with cherry mousse and salt-preserved cherry blossoms.)
Equally bad is anything that’s artificially flavored cherry. Have transatlantic partnerships been reduced to Red Dye No. 40? At least something made with real cherries might actually taste decent. But nothing is worse than fake cherry flavor. Everyone knows if you have a pack of Starbursts or Jolly Ranchers, cherry is the last flavor left.