Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Sarkozys Have Best of American Cuisine: Lunch At Ben's Chili Bowl, Dinner At The White House

At afternoon press conference, Presidents discuss chili half-smokes & Iran sanctions...
French President Nicolas Sarkozy was in Washington on Tuesday to meet with President Obama, and his day was bookmarked by two very special dining experiences. Perhaps President Obama is eating chili dogs by proxy, following the news that he has borderline high cholesterol due to his diet. Or perhaps it's that DC's Ben's Chili Bowl is the pinnacle of American cuisine, and President Obama wanted to make sure that President Sarkozy got to experience it in all its glory. Either way, Sarkozy and his wife, Carla Bruni-Sarkozy, visited the legendary U street eatery for lunch, on the recommendation of President Obama. In the evening, they had dinner at the White House. (Above: The Sarkozys outside of Ben's)

Both presidents mentioned the double culinary extravaganza during their afternoon joint news conference at the White House, which will now make Ben's, open since 1958, even more of a tourist destination, since the presser was televised internationally.

"Now, I have to point out that the French are properly famous for their cuisine, and so the fact that Nicolas went to Ben’s Chili Bowl for lunch -- I think -- shows his discriminating palate," President Obama said. "My understanding is he had a half-smoke, so he was sampling the local wares. And we appreciate that very much."

"And insofar as the President has revealed a secret -- namely, where I had lunch today -- I should say that I have a good friend in Washington who had actually recommended that restaurant," Sarkozy said.

Ben's was one of the first restaurants President-elect Obama visited when he moved to town, right before the inauguration. A photograph of the outing is now featured prominently on one wall. The eatery has been a bastion of social justice advocacy over the years, thanks to recently deceased founder Ben Ali. But since the President's visit, Ben's has been even more popular, and expanded to the storefront next door, as well as retooled their website to include mail orders for their offerings.

"When I walked in I saw a huge photograph of President Obama," Sarkozy said. "And I’m afraid that when you go back to that restaurant you may see a smaller photograph of the French President."

The signature house dish is the chili-half smoke, which is a quarter pound half-pork, half-beef smoked sausage on a steamed bun, smothered in spicy chili and topped with mustard and onions. The Sarkozys shared a half smoke, and the president also ate a chili cheese burger, while Mrs. Sarkozy enjoyed a hot dog with mustard and pickles. Two of the Sarkozy's sons were along for the lunch festivities, and both ordered double servings of half-smokes and cheeseburgers. Of course President Obama had the house special, too, back when he visited. (Above: President Obama during his visit to Ben's in January 2009)

The Sarkozys have private dinner with the Obamas...
The Sarkozy American dinner experience could not have been more different than lunch. In the evening, President and Mrs. Sarkozy dined privately with the President and First Lady Michelle Obama. President Obama noted, in the same news conference, that the dinner was a way of thanking the Sarkozys for a swell Obama Family visit to France last June. (Above, this Oval Office photo is the official White House photo released for the Sarkozy visit)

"This visit is an opportunity to return the hospitality that the President and the French people have shown to me during my visits to France," President Obama said.

"And that includes our family’s wonderful visit to Paris last summer. Michelle and I will never forget the opportunity to introduce our daughters for the first time to the City of Lights. And I don’t think that Sasha will ever forget celebrating her 8th birthday at the Élysée Palace with the President of France. That's a pretty fancy way for an 8-year-old to spend their birthday."

As is protocol for closed-press dinners, no menu details or photos of the private dinner were released to media. But since the White House chefs were cooking, no doubt it was healthy, delicious, and utilized produce from the recent winter harvest of the Kitchen Garden.

The news conference:

*White House video and photo. Ben's photos via Reuters.