First Lady has visited the restaurant before; steak and birthday cake in the candlelit private dining room...
President Obama on Tuesday evening escorted First Lady Michelle Obama to DC's BLT Steak restaurant to celebrate her 48th birthday, her third in the White House. They were joined by ten friends for the 2 1/2 hour steak dinner party in an intimate private dining room, which ended with a candle-topped Red Velvet birthday cake. Guests included Senior Advisor Valerie Jarrett and Attorney General Eric Holder and his wife Dr. Sharon Malone. (Above: The President and Mrs. Obama this afternoon at the White House)
Mrs. Obama is something of a regular at BLT Steak, which features a $28 "Obama Burger" on the lunch menu, and is located just a few blocks from the White House.
"The First Lady dines with us quite regularly," BLT assistant general manager Matt Wright, who did double duty as a server for the birthday party, told Obama Foodorama. Mrs. Obama last had dinner at BLT with a girlfriend on January 6th, he said.
Steak is an Obama favorite for special occasions: It was served as the entree for every high profile White House dinner in 2011. And steak is what everyone celebrating Mrs. Obama's birthday ordered, according to Wright. The First Lady was clad in black for her birthday outfit--"with pearls," said Wright, and the party was all smiles as they arrived for the 7:00 PM dinner.
"When we first married, it was a little controversial that she was 20 years younger than me, but now it seems to have worked out OK," the President joked on Tuesday afternoon, by way of noting that his wife is fabulous at 48.
The First Lady's birthday menu...
For dinner, the President and Mrs. Obama both enjoyed American Wagyu Top Cap, which is served in a 10 0z portion ($81). Executive Chef Victor Albisu personally did the cooking, which earned him a hug and warm thanks from the First Lady at the end of the evening. Side dishes were family style for the table, and included French Fries, Mashed Potatoes, Caramelized Brussel Sprouts with Bacon, Creamed Spinach, and Hen of the Woods Mushrooms. Appetizers ordered for the table to share were also steak: The American Wagyu Skirt Steak (10 0z, $55) and 28-Day Dry Aged New York Strip (16 0z, $46). House-made sauces are served with the steaks, and include Horseradish, Peppercorn, 3 Mustards, and "Steak" sauce.
The house signature bread is a huge, fluffy Popover, served piping hot to guests after ordering, accompanied by a salt shaker the size of a pint of milk. The Obama party enjoyed red and white wine with their dinner, Wright said. He was joined by two other managers who performed the duties of servers.
The birthday cake was Red Velvet, which is not on the BLT menu but served because it is "a favorite" of the First Lady's, Wright said. There was no inscription on top, thanks to a crumb topping, and the cake was accompanied by Cream Cheese Ice Cream. Mrs. Obama closed her eyes and made a wish before blowing out the candles to cheers from her guests.
"She got them all out in one puff," Wright said, and speculated on the First Lady's unspoken wish: "Given that it's 2012, we can guess what it might be."
The Obamas greet fellow diners...
To get to the private dining room requires walking through BLT's main dining room, and the President and Mrs. Obama, as they made their exit shortly after 9:30 PM, shook hands and greeted well-wishers in the by-then packed restaurant. The President also got up once during the dinner and walked into the main dining room, where he shook hands and chatted with guests.
"They were very gracious on the way out," Wright said--which included Mrs. Obama's hug for Chef Albisu and her words of thanks. Wright was unsure who paid the bill for the evening.
No wrapped gifts were spotted, and First Grandmother Marian Robinson was not among the guests for her daughter's party, as she has been for the First Lady's past birthday celebrations at Washington restaurants. In 2011, the Obams dined at The Source; in 2010 they celebrated at Restaurant Nora; and in 2009, before the inauguration, they visited Equinox. More here about Obama birthday dinners past. Tuesday afternoon, as she joined the President in welcoming 2011 World Series champs the St. Louis Cardinals to the White House, Mrs. Obama was presented with a baseball bat and "44" jersey as birthday gifts.
Heavy security presence...including in the kitchen
BLT remained open to diners during the Obama party, but Secret Service were everywhere, including in the kitchen, observing Albisu cooking, Wright said. Other patrons were not wanded as they entered during the evening, nor did they pass through a metal detector at the entrance--just those entering the private dining room in the back of the restaurant were screened.
The private dining room was reserved in advance for an unnamed VIP party, and management wasn't positive that it would be the Obamas until the President's security detail showed up about a half hour ahead of the visit, Wright said. Management were not surprised, however: Mrs. Obama's birthday was headline news.
"We didn't know who was coming, but we put two and two together," Wright said.
BLT Steak, originally the brainchild of French chef/entrepreneur Laurent Tourondel, features burgers on the lunch menu honoring the President, part of a daily rotation on the "Political Burger Board." The "Obama Burger" has an 8 oz Kobe American Beef patty with cheddar cheese, bacon, burnt tomato ketchup, and scallion mustard.
Mrs. Obama's "secret" visits with friends to BLT Steak were revealed in April of 2011, when hockey superstar Alex Ovechkin, captain of the Washington Capitals, tweeted a photo of himself and the First Lady, cozy in a booth. They weren't dining together, just snapping photos. An East Wing spokesman told Obama Foodorama that Mrs. Obama had dined there "incognito," a la her Target runs. (Above: Ovechkin and Mrs. Obama)
Mrs. Obama's birthday party was the first Presidential dinner outing in the District for 2012. The President celebrated his 50th birthday with a big private White House party on August 4th, 2011. Daughter Malia turned 13 on July 4th, 2011. Daughter Sasha turned ten on June 10, 2011, and celebrated with a party at Georgetown Cupcake.
The motorcade arrived back at the White House at 9:42 PM. During the dinner, a large protest from Occupy DC was going on in front of the White House, and "smoking objects" had been thrown over the North fence. The White House went into lockdown mode, with all of Pennsylvania Avenue closed. The two Occupy DC encampments in the District are both within blocks of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. The President's press pool was detained on campus after returning from the dinner--where they were held across the street during the party--and were allowed to leave the White House 45 minutes later, exiting through the Eisenhower Executive Office Building entrance on 17th street. Pool did not see the Presidential party before or after the dinner.
Info: BLT Steak is at 1625 Eye Street, Washington, DC, 2005. Phone: 202.689.8999. The dinner menu.
*Updated at 11:30 PM.
*In the photo at top, the President and Mrs. Obama are at the White House, during an event to honor the 2011 World Series Champion St. Louis Cardinals. Photos by AP/pool; Ovechkin photo by Alex Ovechkin