Monday, October 19, 2009

Obama Restaurant Choices Get Top Spots in New Annual Dining Guide From Washington Post's Tom Sietsema

The Obama palate is similar to that of DC's most high-profile food critic...
Some of First Lady Michelle Obama and President Obama's favorite eateries have been further anointed by appearing in the top spots on
Washington Post food critic Tom Sietsema's Best Of lists for his Annual Dining Guide for 2009, which premiered in print yesterday. This is the tenth anniversary of Sietsema's must-read series, and he points out a major difference since he started chronicling the local culi scene: "At the turn of the decade, it would have been difficult to predict farmers being hailed as heroes." Which makes DC an even more thrilling place for the Obamas to call home, since there are so many eateries sourcing organic, sustainable and local foods. Clearly the First Couple has gotten swell foodie advice from their new friends in their new hometown...but there are loads of restaurants in Sietsema's guide that they have yet to explore. But hey, they have over seven more years to dine out, right? Here's a recap of the Obama-Sietsema intersections on his Best Of lists...starting, of course, with the most obvious category.

*Best Burgers: #5 on Sietsema's list is Obama fave Good Stuff Eatery. Under the guidance of Chef/owner Spike Mendelsohn, Good Stuff has become a veritable Obama burger cottage industry, and Spike has been a guest chef at the White House. Mrs. Obama has made two visits to good Stuff (the first on May 8, the second on August 6, ) and the President orders "secret" takeout. Mendelsohn's excellent menu actually features Obama Foodie Homage: The Prez Obama Burger has been around since campaign season, and Spike has newly introduced the Michelle Melt, a healthy turkey burger. The Prez Obama (made with horseradish mayo, red onion marmalade, crumbled blue cheese and bacon) just won top honors at the New York Wine and Food Festival--at which Chef Spike beat fellow White House guest chef Bobby Flay for the top honor (in a contest in which one of the other judges was another White House guest chef--Art Smith. Small world...). No accolades--yet--for the Michelle Melt, though it got a lot of media play. Spike's guest cooking at the White House seems to be having an impact on his culi aesthetic; during an interview in April, he told Ob Fo that he appreciated local sourcing for ingredients, but it wasn't a priority because it was often too expensive. Spike explained that he was a small business man, and he had to "keep check totals in mind." But now, perhaps thanks to the influence of the new White House food agenda, or visits with WH assistant chef Sam Kass, Mendelsohn is talkin' up locability with the best of 'em, in his most recent interviews. There have been no Obama public pizza runs, but Spike's about to open a new venture, We The Pizza...which continues the political theme. Ob Fo is guessing Spike'll be getting an Obama visit for his new project, too. Or at least a take-out order. Good Stuff Eatery is at 303 Pennsylvania Ave S.E., Washington, DC. 20003. Phone: 202-543-8422. (Photo: Mendelsohn and Kass at the White House)

#7 on Best Burgers is Ray's Hell Burger, where President Obama and Vice President Joe Biden stopped for a "surprise lunch" on May 5, 2009, and dined in, as well as brought a bag of take-out burgers back to the White House. The visit brought such a boost in business that Ray's had to hire 25 new employees, and expanded (and is supposedly opening a second eatery in the Adams Morgan neighborhood). The President's request for Dijon mustard became a media scandal, courtesy of Fox broadcast personality Sean Hannity, who dubbed Mr. Obama "President Poupon," in an early salvo in what has become daily Fox attacks on the President (and has led to the current Fox Embargo by the White House). The Presidential trip to Ray's also caused minor outrage in the food safety blogosphere. Not on the top Burger List: Five Guys Burgers and Fries, which both President Obama and Mrs. Obama have visited. By the time President Obama had visited Ray's, there had been so many Obama burger runs that Ob Fo had to discuss personal choice and food policy, Obama-style on Air America radio with Clout! host Richard Greene. Ray's Hell Burger is at 1713 Wilson Blvd., Arlington, VA. Phone: 703-841-0001. (Photo: POTUS and VPOTUS at Ray's)

*Ten Top Tables: #5 on this list is Michel Richard Citronelle, the Georgetown eatery where President and Mrs. Obama had their very first DC Date Night, on May 3, 2009. Going along with Sietsema's comments about Farmer Heros, Citronelle uses locally sourced and organically farmed ingredients for its French-California fusion cuisine. Sietsema cites Table 31 as the best table at Citronelle, in a list that parses where power players should sit to see and be seen when dining in DC; Table 31 is not where the Obamas sat for their date. For last year's Annual Guide, Sietsema docked Citronelle one star, but it hasn't hindered the restaurant's popularity. A year ago, your intrepid blogger (while technically off-duty from writing for Ob Fo's sister blog), had an Is this 1958 or 2008? run-in with the very pretentious Maitre d' at Citronelle, but the food is stunning. Michel Richard Citronelle is at 3000 M St NW, Washington, DC, 20007-3701. Phone: 202-726-5000. (Photo: The First Couple took a stroll on the White House grounds after their date at Citronelle)

Best Cheap Eats: #3 on this list is Ben's Chili Bowl, which goes down in history as the very first DC public restaurant excursion for the Obama Era. President-elect Obama visited Ben's on January 10, 2009, with DC Mayor Adrian Fenty. Visionary founder Ben Ali, a beloved member of the Dc community, passed away on October 7, but his spirit lives on in his restaurant. Ben's Chili Bowl, 1213 U Street N.W., Washington, DC 20009. Phone: 202- 667-0909. (Photo: The President enjoys Ben's signature chili half-smoke)

*Best for Groups: #1 on this list is Acadiana, where Mrs. Obama enjoyed a largely off-the-record lunch on Juy 13, in which she was joined by two unnamed companions. Sietsema notes "the restaurant serves upscale (and pricey) Cajun food in a glorious setting, but it never gets too noisy for conversation." #5 on this list is Jaleo-Downtown, which is part of Chef Jose Andres' local empire. There's been no official Obama visit to Jaleo, although Mrs. Obama and Sam Kass had a private lunch at Oyamel, one of Andres's other eateries. Andres is another favorite guest chef at the White House, he also sources locally and sustainably, and will supposedly be making more public appearances in future cooking projects with Kass. Acadiana is at 901 New York Ave. NW, Washington, DC, 20001. Phone: 202-408-8848. Jaleo is at 480 7th Street, NW, Washington, DC 20004. Phone: 202-628-7949. Oyamel is at 401 7th Street NW, Washington DC, 2004. Phone: 202-628-1005.

*Ten Sweet Endings: #3 on this list is Blue Duck Tavern, where the Obamas celebrated their 17th wedding anniversary, on Oct. 3, 2009, although what they dined on is still top secret. Sietsema notes "It's impossible for diners to ignore one of the finest, fattest apple pies ($8) around. The secret is in the crust, enriched with heavy cream." The Obamas are public pie lovers--at least pies made by Bill Yosses, Exec pastry Chef at the White House, so...perhaps they sampled Blue Duck's pie, too. Blue Duck, naturally, is all about local, organic and sustainable ingredients. *Blue Duck Tavern is in the Park Hyatt in the West End, 24 and M Streets, NW, Washington, DC 20037. Phone: (202) 419-6755. (Photo: The First Couple leaves Blue Duck after their anniversary dinner)

#6
on this list is The Source, where Mrs. Obama hosted a 50th birthday bash for her Social Secretary, Desiree Rogers, on June 16, 2009. Sietsema calls out the "super-moist carrot cake" because it "yields an elegant slab of 15 -- count 'em! -- alternating layers of spiced cake and cream cheese icing." The Source is a Wolfgang Puck creation, with Asian-fusion cuisine, and all about local, organic, and sustainable sourcing, too. It's top-toqued by Scott Drewno. The Source is at 575 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, Washington, DC, Phone 202-637-6100 2001.

#7 on this list is The Majestic, in Old Towne Alexandria, where Mrs. Obama took her mother, Marian Robinson, and a gang of people for a birthday dinner on July 30. Chef Cathal Armstrong is on the list of White House guest chefs, too, and he's been all about local, organic and sustainable ingredients for years. Sietsema loves The Majestic and Armstrong; The Majestic appears in the Dining Guide numerous times, as does one of Armstrong's other eateries, Restaurant Eve, to which Sietsema has previously awarded four out of four stars. *The Majestic is at 911 King Street, Alexandria, VA, 22314. Phone: 703-837-9117. Restaurant Eve is at 110 South Pitt Street, Alexandria, VA, 22314. Phone: 703-706-0450.

*Best Ice Cream: #7 on this list is The Dairy Godmother, where President Obama treated Malia and Sasha to frozen custard on June 20, 2009. The President and First Daughters sampled owner Liz Davis's signature old-school treats, and their order was memorialized on a blackboard, and the chair, at left, was painted in honor of the visit (it says "President Obama sat here"). The President ordered vanilla custard with hot fudge and toasted almonds in a cup; Sasha, ordered a brownie sundae with vanilla custard, hot fudge and chocolate sprinkles; Malia had a waffle cone with vanilla frozen custard. The Obamas were also gifted with Puppy Pops to take home for Bo. The Dairy Godmother is at 2310 Mount Vernon Ave., Alexandria, VA, 22301. Phone 703-683-7767.

*Best Desserts: #1 spot is again held by Blue Duck Tavern, and for this list, Sietsema calls out the old-fashioned sugar cookies and lemon cheesecake, as well as the apple pie. #4 is The Majestic: "During Nana's Sunday Dinner, dessert feels like a home-baked treat from Mom." Mrs. Obama and her group ate at The Majestic on a Thursday.

*Ten Top Cocktails: #1 on this list is The Majestic, and Sietsema cites a very Obamaesque cocktail: The Honolulu. He says "the tropics -- and old Hollywood -- come to mind when sipping...The gin-based drink, with fresh pineapple and lemon juices and angostura bitters, was served at the Brown Derby in Los Angeles." No word on whether or not anyone was sipping a Honolulu at the Obama birthday dinner, but it'd be pretty amusing if they were. Restaurant Eve gets the #8 spot for this list.

*There were no Obama visits to any of the restaurants on Sietsema's other lists, which included Best Restaurant for a Quiet Meal, Best Italian, Best Sushi, Best Romantic Restaurant (although #6 is Restaurant Eve...); Best Seafood, Best View, Best Outdoor Seating, Best Cheese Plate, and Best Takeout. There's also a Best Cupcake list; there have been no public Obama Cupcake runs, although cupcakes are a habit at the White House, and a few of the cupcakeries listed have created Obama cupcakes in the past.

*Cartographies of Chowbama: A Google map with all other DC Obama dining locations is here. Jose Andres's recipes from the Kids Kitchen at the 2009 Easter Egg Roll are here and here; Spike Mendelsohn's recipe for the Michelle Melt is here; his similar turkey burger recipe from the WH Kids Kitchen is here.