Visits to eateries of White House guest chefs & foodie landmarks...
First Lady Michelle Obama has been in New York with daughters Malia and Sasha, and First Grandmother Marian Robinson since the weekend. The girls are on Spring Break, and they've been enjoying cultural attractions and widely sampling the food offerings of the city that regards itself as America's culinary capital.
The Big Apple visit is a good illustration that the nation's Twinkie Defender in Chief really does believe that treats have a place in everyone's lives. The trip has included stops for candy, cupcakes, tea cakes, pizza, ice cream, and plenty of barbecue. The Obama party visited the restaurants of two culinary masters who have been guest chefs at the White House, Bobby Flay and Marcus Samuelsson, as well as other outlets that are the highlights of foodie New York: The Russian Tea Room, Dylan's Candy Bar, Grimaldi's Pizzeria, The Brooklyn Ice Cream Factory, Magnolia Bakery, and Dinosaur Bar-B-Que. The nation's Twinkie Defender in Chief makes good
In keeping with protocol, the East Wing is providing no details for the private vacation visit, but of course local blogs and media, Eater NY--and Twitter--are filling in the historic food record. The Secret Service street shutdowns involved in the Spring Break tour have not bothered New Yorkers, apparently: There are reports of much cheering each time the Obama party enters and exits local eateries.
Update 1: Pizza Wars: Chicago vs. New York. The visit to Grimaldi's Pizzeria, detailed below, has caused a *controversy* according to the blog Gothamist. Pizzeria waiter Rafal Harajda was telling media that Mrs. Obama said his pizza was better than Chicago pizza, and the Chicago Tribune went after him for clarification. Haraja told the Trib "No, what she said was, 'It's the best pizza, and I'm from Chicago.'" Gothamist pointed out that the comment is essentially the same as saying New York has better pizza than Chicago, and added, darkly, that it's "just the kind of Biden-esque remark that could cost the President the support of Illinois Democrats and derail the completion of health care reform." Um, okay.
NBC Chicago is running the story as "Michelle Obama Turns Her Back On Chicago...Pizza."
The full foodie rundown:
On Wednesday, Mrs. Obama, the girls, Mrs. Robinson, and three school pals visited Grimaldi's Pizzeria, which is located at the foot of the Brooklyn Bridge. The legendary joint has been dubbed by Zagat's as the best in town. The New York Daily News got all the details of the visit from waiter Rafal Harajda, who served the First Lady and her party, which also included two staffers. They sat at three tables, covered with red and white checked tablecloths, and ten Secret Service agents were positioned around the room. Four pizza pies were ordered: A plain, a pepperoni and sausage, a Margherita, and one with mushrooms, peppers and onions. (Above: Mrs. Obama outside Grimaldi's)
Harajda told NYDN that everyone "loved" the pizzas, and quipped "I think they even said it was better than Chicago pizza," taking a shot at the Obama hometown, which is known for its pizza.
He also described the Obama girls as "great ... super polite and super well-behaved."
Twitter user @brossramirez posted a video moment of Mrs. Obama at Grimaldi's:
"I was very surprised because... she was down to earth," Harajda said about Mrs. Obama. "I was nervous at first, but she makes you comfortable right away."
Grimaldi's manager Joe Silvestri gushed "Mrs. Obama looked awesome, great, even better in person than on TV...It was the First Lady of the United States of America here. How wonderful is that? We were blessed and so is she." Citizen customers were in the restaurant, but kept their distance. The First Lady did, however, autograph a menu for the owners.
After Grimaldi's, it was off to the Brooklyn Ice Cream Factory. Owner Mark Thompson told Gothamist that Mrs. Obama, Mrs. Robinson, the girls & their pals "loved it" and he revealed that the First Lady ordered chocolate, while the kids enjoyed vanilla, chocolate chunk, and strawberry.
Gothamist asked Thompson if he snapped a photo to put up on the wall, and he said "No, that's probably why they enjoyed it."
The day in Brooklyn included a trip to the newly opened Brooklyn Bridge Park, which was shut down while the Obamas were there, as well as a tour of the Sesame Street studio. Last Fall, Mrs. Obama was the guest star for Sesame Street's fortieth anniversary episode, during which she planted a vegetable garden with the furry characters and some 'street' kids.
On Tuesday, the Obama party was in Harlem, where they dined at Dinosaur Bar-B-Que, which has the motto "If you leave here hungry it's your fault!" White House guest chef Marcus Samuelsson, who created the menu for the State Dinner, just opened a new restaurant in Harlem, Red Rooster, but Mrs. Obama and a group dined at his Manhattan eatery, Aquavit, in the evening, according to the New York Post. She enjoyed the chef's tasting menu at the three-star Scandinavian restaurant. No word if Samuelsson was present, however. The culture angle: The group toured the Studio Theater and Apollo Theater.
On Monday, the Obama group visited the Russian Tea Room for lunch. The red and gold drenched restaurant is an icon of Old New York, but routinely gets low ratings from hipsters who track the city's food. The special children's tea menu includes finger sandwiches and tiny treats like red velvet cupcakes and chocolate mousse. The culture angle: The Obamas saw a preview of the new Broadway musical The Addams Family, and visited the Empire State Building and the Natural History Museum.
On Sunday, the Obama party visited Mesa Grill, an eatery in Chelsea that's owned by someone who's been a White House guest chef twice: Bobby Flay. The legendary grill meister and Food Network star BBQ'd on the South Lawn last June with President Obama during a Father's Day event, and in October, he visited to rummage in the Kitchen Garden, for the special White House episode of Iron Chef America. Flay was paired with White House Executive Chef Cristeta Comerford for the competition, and they were the winners.
Flay was of course present for the Obama visit, according to Eater NY, as was Next Food Network Star's Bob Tuschman. Mrs. Obama and company exited their brunch to cheers from the crowd gathered outside.
After enjoying Flay's chow, the Obamas saw the Broadway musical Memphis, and then hit Magnolia Bakery, which was also shut down to accommodate the visit. The famous NY bakery is credited with setting off the American cupcake craze ten years ago, which still endures today. There's typically a line out the door, and Twitter users grumbled that the Obama visit made the hour-long wait even longer. All the same, Mrs. Obama was cheered as she left, again.
On Saturday, Mrs. Obama and her party stopped in at Dylan's Candy Bar, a three-story monument to sugar, complete with a sundae bar, that's owned by Ralph Lauren's daughter, Dylan. In addition to its own line of chocolate, and candy sold by the pound, the sweet shop is a paradise for old-school candy lovers, and sells treats that are icons of ancient American childhoods, like Sugar Daddys and Beemans Black Jack gum. Right now, it's all about Easter at Dylan's, and Marshmallow Peeps in rainbow colors and chocolate lambs are a dominating theme. The Obama culture angle for the day: A trip to see Blue Man Group on Broadway. (In photo: Mrs. Obama at Dylan's)
*Top photo: NYDN/Sabo of Mrs. Obama; outside Grimaldi's by Tom Callan, The Brooklyn Paper; Brooklyn Ice Cream Factory courtesy of; Mrs. Obama from AP; video from @brossramirez; Mrs. Obama at Dylan's from @dustintorres