First Lady Michelle Obama and President Obama had their first presidential Valentine's dinner at Table Fifty-Two, a Chicago eatery owned by Chef Art Smith. Smith cooked a lot for the Obamas pre-presidency, and was briefly on some of the absurd fantasy foodie lists as a candidate for the fictitious new White House Chef. He was also previously fellow Chicagoan Oprah Winfrey's private chef. (At left, the President and First Lady bring leftovers home)
Table Fifty-two is in a carriage house that managed to survive the Great Chicago Fire, and is a lovely blend of clean modern furniture and cozy plush touches. It also has a small private dining room, which made it perfect for the First Couple. Even better? Menu prices are not insanely expensive in the regular scheme of dining out--Table Fifty-two is far less pricey than the upscale Spiaggia, which is where the Obamas usually celebrate special occasions. What with the President's stumping around the country to convince the citizenry that the Economic Stimulus package is a brilliant idea, the restaurant choice was probably made very carefully. The message to the nervous masses: Keep spending, but spend within your means. Or--here's a creative thought--maybe Mr. and Mrs. Obama just wanted some cheese biscuits and pan-fried catfish.
Table Fifty-two's food is jacked Southern regional cuisine. It's all about post-modern embroideries on traditional fare, with some international elements tossed in. For instance, there's buttermilk fried chicken offered, but then there's also a pistachio crusted chicken with lo mein noodles. Ingredients are sourced locally and organically when possible, and this is noted on the menu, but please don't interpret this to mean that the President is going to immediately transform all agriculture into pure organics and toss every bit of Stim package funding toward promoing the entire revamp of Ag (all in good time, but not this year...). And the President eats plenty of junk too; when he ate at Ben's Chili Bowl in DC, his most recent public down-market food foray, no one started worrying that he was plunging the economy backward into bad Big Ag practices. Sometimes eating is just eating, and has no policy implications, even if the president is doing it, and even if the Secretary of Agriculture is going on the record with his habits. See the Table Fifty-two menus here. (T52, in pic)
Chef Art Smith (at left) also has a restaurant in Washington, Art and Soul, but the President and First Lady haven't visited it since moving to DC. And they probably won't, since they have to spread the love in their new hometown. Obama Foodorama has had the pleasure of dining at both Table Fifty-two and Art and Soul, and awards each restaurant 4 1/2 Arugula Leaves out of a possible 6 on the Chowbama rating scale.
*Photo of Mr. and Mrs. Obama from Reuters; Table Fifty-two pic from Tammy Green, aka Zesmerelda on Flickr.