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Washington DC As A World-Class Dining Town


Joe H
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This is really a separate topic for when I have the time to get into it BUT I was born here in '47 and have lived here all of my life both in the city and in Montgomery county, now in Reston. I remember when there were temporary buildings on the MALL, when Saturday night meant driving from Silver Spring to Benny's for a four inch high fresh fried perch fish sandwich and french fries fried in lard at the Maine Avenue waterfront, later to stop at the Krispy Kreme at Georgia and East West when the "Hot" light went on. This was the mid 1950's.

Along with O'Donnell's on Pennsylvania Avenue this was the best DC had then. For Italian in the '60's and '70's we went to Baltimore, specifically to Maria's 300 in Little Italy, maybe Vellegia's, maybe Sabatino's. La Salle du Bois was the "cutting edge" French along with San Souci which later opened. Before there was L'auberge Chez Francois he had a restaurant downtown. DC took a step up with Cantina d'italia and later, Lion d'Or opened. Phyllis Richman (who grew up here and scored brownie points with me personally because she remembered Jerry's Sub Shop when it was on Kennedy St., NW with Weile's nearby (before both moved to Wheaton and Langley Park respectively) took over at the Post from a food snob whose name I long ago forgot.

DC grew and she did too. Over the years she became one of the very best in America. As she did she began to promote the restaurants in this city, giving them attention sometimes on a national plane that they had not previously received. In the late '70s' Roberto Donna came here as a 20 year old (or thereabouts) and started at Romeo and Juliet. Later he opened Galileo on P street, then Francesco Ricchi started I Ricchi and DC, for the first time, had two national class Italian restaurants. Along with Lion d'Or this city actually had "cuisine" and restaurants that neither Phyllis or anyone else had to apologize for.

At some point Washington became known nationally for ethnic restaurants. San Francisco and New York based organizations and writers "allowed" this since it was not a threat nor a challenge to them or their "talent pools." (i.e. chefs such as Roberto who have those who grow in his kitchen stay on and move to their own restaurant, carrying the level of excellence they learned from him.) As long as DC did not win the Rising Star award, as long as a Washington chef did not win the national Beard award (I may be wrong but I do not believe that Jean Louis ever won this.), the desciples of Roberto, Michel and Fabio could be lured to the city where they were told they would receiv more recognition and have a better chance. It's permissable for them to win regional awards (DC usually has three or four of the five regional nominees every year!), but counterproductive for Beard to have DC challenge NY while SF is the other coast.

Phyllis promoted/educated/screamed the excellence of Jean Louis. Just as you note that the Chronicle does today with their restaurant and food scene. DC does NOT do that. And, I believe they should. Because with the three restaurants I noted above along with the talent of several others we are on the cusp of being one of America's four best restaurant cities. With Baltimore we are the third lagest population base in America. Without Baltimore, DC is now OVER six million people, more than the Bay area.

I am suggesting if you factor in Charleston, Black Olive, Charles County bbq joints, a dozen crab houses from Cantler's to Waterman's to Popes Creek, seafood from Jerry's in Seabrook to the Narrows to Suicide Bridge, the emerging excellence of the VA wineries (in a setting that really is reminiscent of Tuscany) along with the refound excellence of The Inn at Little Washington, The Inn at Easton, the efforts of Restaurant Eve, the potential of CityZen (a REAL credit that he moved back here and not to NY), farmer's markets all over the area, 10-12 or more varieties of sweet white corn, Rucker farm goat cheese (when it was for sale), organic vegetables in the Blue Ridge valley, Sommerfield Farms, Lewes Dairy pasteurized cream and milk and on and on. I am not suggesting, I am saying that WE are on par with anywhere else in America now. We may not have as many world class restaurants but we do have them. And we have the food sources and the markets to buy them.

I believe the San Francisco Chronicle has assumed the correct role. I expect the same of the Washington Post. I also expect the same of the DC government who similarly have overlooked our emerging local excellence. But just as Phyllis Richman, a native Washingtonian grew with this city, so can someone else. We are worthy of being promoted.

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Flip several coins while also considering that your own Charleston is a national class restaurant only a short rung below the three above.  Bocaccio, Alberto's, there is nothing in Baltimore that could even begin to give you an idea of the excellence at DC's two Italian landmarks.

Oh, I'm fully and painfully aware that Charleston is Baltimore's only and perhaps arguably "national class" restaurant. Italian, forget it. I was part of the Baltimore contingent at the first CH Lab dinner a few years ago and while I really enjoyed the food I didn't so much enjoy the waiters who I actually thought may paw me if I made eye contact or got up to watch the goings on in the kitchen. But, I'm still interested in trying Maestro with the hope that the servers there are a little less randy.

I left the other board with over 150 e-mails for future dinners. This is after they deleted a post of mine defending DC from someone who attacked the city. After four years and over 5,000 posts I could not excuse their allowing the attack to remain. If I am too passionate in this thread it is because I know what a restaurant wasteland this was growing up here; today we have something special. Your question about Citronelle along with Maestro hit a nerve. Sorry for so much verbiage but I love this city and what it has become. The other board allowing the attack to remain and deleting my response only reinforced this.

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I've seen the Chronicle too many times have columns like "100 reasons why we are the best dining city in the country" or similar for my taste, but I guess if you read it it's true.

Yes, we are worthy of being promoted, more now than ever. And with the likes of MR et al, it's no longer the "big fish, small pond" syndrome. And it's only going to get better.

Firefly Restaurant

Washington, DC

Not the body of a man from earth, not the face of the one you love

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I've seen the Chronicle too many times have columns like "100 reasons why we are the best dining city in the country" or similar for my taste, but I guess if you read it it's true.

Yes, we are worthy of being promoted, more now than ever. And with the likes of MR et al, it's no longer the "big fish, small pond" syndrome. And it's only going to get better.

And, one day soon, Fabio (or his protege) will win on his first try, Michel and Roberto will receive the recognition they have both long deserved nationally and yourself will have a city that you feel proud that you chose to remain in and make your mark and be recognized for. I should also note here that my sister once had one of DC's 50 best according to Phyllis. Still, despite a bankruptcy, she (and I) are still here, still proud of where we grew up. Today, that which was despair has given way to very real success and, as the city has grown, so have some of us.

For all of those who promote DC as a wonderful town for "ethnic" restaurants I am the person, perhaps the only person who will interpret this as a slight. We are about much more than just this. There is very real world class excellence here. Over the years my passport, largely because of my business, has added many pages-over one hundred entrees just in the last eight or nine years. Yet there is not a single city anywhere that I have returned from for business or pleasure that I have preferred over D. C. And dinners at Germany's three star Schwarzwaldstube and Im Schiffchen, Italy's Le Calandre and Dal Pescatore, France's Gagnaire/Ducasse/Arpege, England's Gordon Ramsey on Hospital Road, Spain's Santimaria-all with three Michelin stars-have only told me that we have as good that is set on the table. Not the French Laundry, nor Eiginsinn Farm nor the Herb Farm has anything on us. While we do not have (nor anyone else in North America) the service that the top Europeans do, we DO have the taste, the texture and the creativity equal to their best.

All Washington needs is someone to trumpet it as Phyllis Richman once did. The Chronicle got it right. The Post should, too.

Edited by Joe H (log)
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So then please explain why he highlights the same places over and over?  He is obviously honest.  He is certainly not lazy. 

Incidentally, I have lived in DC for 20 years and know something about the growth of this town.  Perhaps, as a resident of Adams Morgan, I don't think of DC as a "metropolitan area", but as a city.  A cozy little city.

A "cozy little city" that I was born in 57 years ago and am not going to let you belittle or demean. This is a world class city equal to any other on earth. Whether you want to recognize this or not is not important to me. You can describe us as "small" or a "cozy little city" but frankly this is a definition that exists in your mind and not in reality. I am proud to live here, proud to have grown up here. For the six million plus of us that live in the metro area most of us are truly proud of what Washington, D. C. has become. Several weeks ago I went to my 40 year high school reunion from Montgomery Blair in Silver Spring, class of '64. With a graduating class of about 1,000 most of us still live here. Goldie Hawn, Connie Chung, Ben Stein-I went to school with all of them. Then, forty years ago, D. C. was not thought of as a small town. It is not today. Rather, many, most of them like myself have a great deal of pride in what our graduating class has become part of-one of the greatest cities on earth. When I walk on the Mall or around the Tidal Basin or on Capitol Hill I cannot tell you how grateful I feel for having grown up here. I love this city.

A "small city," indeed. My hometown. All six million of us.

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A "cozy little city" that I was born in 57 years ago and am not going to let you belittle or demean.  This is a world class city equal to any other on earth.  Whether you want to recognize this or not is not important to me.  You can describe us as "small" or a "cozy little city" but frankly this is a definition that exists in your mind and not in reality.  I am proud to live here, proud to have grown up here.  For the six million plus of us that live in the metro area most of us are truly proud of what Washington, D. C. has become.  Several weeks ago I went to my 40 year high school reunion from Montgomery Blair in Silver Spring, class of '64.  With a graduating class of about 1,000 most of us still live here.  Goldie Hawn, Connie Chung, Ben Stein-I went to school with all of them.  Then, forty years ago, D. C. was not thought of as a small town.  It is not today.  Rather, many, most of them like myself have a great deal of pride in what our graduating class has become part of-one of the greatest cities on earth. When I walk on the Mall or around the Tidal Basin or on Capitol Hill I cannot tell you how grateful I feel for having grown up here.  I love this city.

A "small city," indeed.  My hometown.  All six million of us.

There are 570,898 people living in Washington, DC., making it the 19th largest city in the US. Perhaps I have answered my own question.

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There are 570,898 people living in Washington, DC., making it the 19th largest city in the US.  Perhaps I have answered my own question.

Hmmm, so only the metro city limits count for dining around here? Guess that's why 2 of the most recent restaurants that Sietsema reviewed were in Silver Spring MD (Mandalay & Jackie's) :wink:

"What, after all, is more seductive than the prospect of sinning in libraries?"

Michael Dirda, An Open Book

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I think you've tapped into something valid Danny--there's a disconnect here in DC which stems from how generously or narrowly one defines our region--which can lead to under-valuing or over-valuing our culinary scene. Some define it very broadly, though not me--and as I perceive, not you either. I prefer to do it practically and narrowly. That means Baltimore is out--for all intents and purposes--for most of us Baltimore is off our culinary map, off of our radar. So, too, is Richmond, the eastern shore, Annapolis, Fredericksburg. We're unwilling to drive around the Beltway from Arlington to Bethesda let alone to B'mor. It's a different city, a different market, a different sensibility and it'll either stand on its own and ascend as a distinct food town like Philadelphia or Portland or insert name here--with its own charms and values or it won't. For me, a place like Mannequin Pis in Olney is just about as far as I'm confortable including in our market. But our "market" and our "region" are not necessarily the same thing--should the Inn at Little Washington be considered a DC metropolitan area restaurant? Not really--unless you're the type to consider the French Laundry a San Francisco restaurant. And I don't.

There's also a disconnect media-wise, which influences our perceptions, though I understand why--in times of declining circulation the Post wants to sell papers and serve the "region"--the bigger their reach, the bigger their circulation, and potentially the bigger their influence. And that's fine with me when Tom covers some distant Inn in hicksville Maryland or when Eve Zibart stretches a bit, as she did when she "discovered" Jay Comfort cooking at Bistro 309, though through my eyes we're still a smaller town when it comes to serious food--I've worked and dined in Chicago/NYC/SF as many others here have and I inescapably come back to this: that we lack the competition and depth of those cities in the to mid to high end and as a result we don't have as much interesting cooking on and we don't have as many chefs with interesting ideas. We've got the plethora of ethnic options, though most are just average, and we certainly have a lot of American comfort food and New American comfort food, but we sustain very few higher end, chef-owned or interesting restaurants--certainly very few out in the burbs--many of those that have not closed or moved into town have made it so far by dumbing down and becoming more conservative, though recently this is changing--we'll see how well places like Eve and Oyamel and others do trying to do interesting work out in the burbs, how well the newer Silver Spring-area restaurants do, as EllenH points out. For our "town" to grow in stature these restaurants have to succeed and propogate others. Hopefully it will be a harbinger of more things to come and more growth.

However, I think Joe is also right on one of his larger points--no matter how narrowly one defines our market--that our elite chefs and restaurants do largely hold their own head-to-head against the best competition in those other cities--from Michel to Fabio to Jose at minibar to what Roberto is trying to do at his Lab to newbies like Nectar, Eve and CityZen--it's just that we don't have the depth of those cities. Say a few months ago you put together a subjective Chicago best four list of Tru, Trio, Trotter, and Ambria or Everest--I think DC could match up very well with that list; the difference would be Chicagoans could legitimately bring a second four and a third four and maybe even a fourth group of four nipping at their heels--depending on how you shaped the criteria--whereas we really couldn't come close. That's why Tom may seem to mention the same places over and over again--at whatever price point: there are fewer legitimate challengers to those he mentions here than in the bigger/arguably better food towns. That's the reason and it has nothing to do with Tom being a critic, an advocate or a promoter. Though this is starting to change here--it's become less easy to coast and/or rest on your laurels here as it was, say, from '95 to '02--and I think Tom has done a very good job chronicling this change for the better and not devolving into a homer or worse, into someone who over-values his scene, who pre-judges or who wields power unfairly whether by design or not. (Can you imagine anyone trying to write a hit piece on Tom like Maile Carpenter did in San Francisco Magazine with "Eating in Michael Bauer's Town"--and then adding insult to injury by having it stick by winning a Beard Jounalism Award for it? I think that was 2002, the year Steve Shaw also won a journalism Beard for his "A Week in the Gramercy Tavern Kitchen.")

Being a critic should mean getting it right first--and Tom does that very well--but he can only "get it right" with what he has before him--and then largely leaving the talk of whether DC is a world-class dining town to others to debate. He's not actually in a good position to know how DC stacks up world-wide, like all "local" critics (and most chefs) he doesn't eat often enough in other cities and has to eat too often in his own!

Steve Klc

Pastry chef-Restaurant Consultant

Oyamel : Zaytinya : Cafe Atlantico : Jaleo

chef@pastryarts.com

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If I see that Sietsema is reviewing a restaurant in the 'burbs, I only read it to see how he shoehorns in a mention of Roberto Donna. Just kidding. While I have lived in both Rockville and Alexandria (many years ago), I like to eat out in the city. I'm not a snob. It's just that I am not interested in a night out in the 'burbs. There are city people, and there are people who get in their cars and drive. A nice neighjborhood place in the 'burbs is one thing, but I live in Adams Morgan-there are dozens of fun and tasty places to eat within a ten minute walk!

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If I see that Sietsema is reviewing a restaurant in the 'burbs, I only read it to see how he shoehorns in a mention of Roberto Donna.  Just kidding.  While I have lived in both Rockville and Alexandria (many years ago), I like to eat out in the city.  I'm not a snob.  It's just that I am not interested in a night out in the 'burbs.  There are city people, and there are people who get in their cars and drive.  A nice neighjborhood place in the 'burbs is one thing, but I live in Adams Morgan-there are dozens of fun and tasty places to eat within a ten minute walk!

But that attitude that the center of the universe is located somewhere along Connecticut Avenue might be part of what is holding back the development of more good restaurants in the suburbs and makes DC feel like the small town that you are being critical of.

Bill Russell

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If I see that Sietsema is reviewing a restaurant in the 'burbs, I only read it to see how he shoehorns in a mention of Roberto Donna.  Just kidding.  While I have lived in both Rockville and Alexandria (many years ago), I like to eat out in the city.  I'm not a snob.  It's just that I am not interested in a night out in the 'burbs.  There are city people, and there are people who get in their cars and drive.  A nice neighjborhood place in the 'burbs is one thing, but I live in Adams Morgan-there are dozens of fun and tasty places to eat within a ten minute walk!

But that attitude that the center of the universe is located somewhere along Connecticut Avenue might be part of what is holding back the development of more good restaurants in the suburbs and makes DC feel like the small town that you are being critical of.

Please don't exaggerate what I said. I am not being critical of DC by saying that it is a small town, I am saying it is what it is. That's called reality. City people will rarely travel to the 'burbs for dinner. And it's called the Washington Post, not the Metro Area Post, so when they pander to their suburban readers, I understand; it's just boring to most city-dwellers. Unless there is a mention of Roberto Donna. Just kidding.

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"Miami Danny" you are touching my buttons and I cannot but help respond to you with your combined insistence of the size of Washington at the expense of the more than 5.5 million people who surround it while also discounting these same 5.5 million as contributing to or being part of what most people associate with Washington, D. C.

I believe the essence of what you are saying is that the incorporated city of Washington is all that matters and anything outside of this is superfluous. That all culture, all depth, all individuality, all that which I rave about in the hometown I was born in receive nothing from the area outside of this to enhance or even claim to be part of it.

For the same reason that Wegman's is strictly a suburban phenominon and, at that, supplants and abuses individual producers and retailers that survive within the city. That big box centers are the nightmare incarnate of the suburbs and the countless, endless supply of cloned outlets of Red Lobster, McDonald's et al litter virtually every commercial block of blighted landscape outside of, say, Eastern or Southern avenue. Individuality is stymied, squashed and discouraged, even unwanted by developers of suburban enclaves of conformity.

In short, like so many that live in D. C. and almost every other modern American city whether the suburb is Alexandria, Santa Clarita, Santa Clara or Ft. Lee it pales in the face of all that matters, the city.

When I "venture" into D. C. once a week or so to eat, walk, go to the theatre or even, to visit a doctor my neighbors are aghast with mouths open to their belt buckle. Don't I know how dangerous, how dirty, how awful Washington, D. C. is? It is all they can do to muster the courage and strength and daily trek on the Metro downtown and, as soon as work is over, they get the Hell out.

Even W has noted he much prefers his Crawford homestead to the blight of D. C.

Imagine how I react to this if you can!

I find them to be remarkably just like you. In fact so similar that the dissimilarity of a zip code is all that I can glean as a difference. (separating out any political discussion)

There are also those who live in Bethesda, in Potomac, Chevy Chase and Germantown and think of a trip to either D. C. or Northern Virginia as many might fear a trip to Baghdad. My sister, who lives in "North" Bethesda, considers Reston to be beyond the nether lands. In fact she won't drive in Northern Virginia believing that drivers on the Beltway are worse there than anywhere else! When I tell her that my neighbors, who don't drive into D. C. unless they have to, because they don't have to go to "North Bethesda" they simply don't go. Ever.

For that matter I don't know of a single person in Reston that I can cite for having mentioned to me that they have had dinner at a restaurant in Bethesda in the last, oh, five or six years. The few that have crossed the Cabin John bridge into Maryland did so only because the GW parkway was closed and they had no alternative. (Needless to say they became remarkably, frighteningly lost in the backwoods of Glen Echo.)

I have a friend in Crofton, a very good friend, who once lived in Oakton. He goes out to dinner in Baltimore, watches WJZ, roots for the Baltimore Orioles and despite the Washington city limit being closer to him than the Baltimore city limit is convinced that DC no longer exists in his life.

God forbid he should drive to Bethesda, or to Germantown, or to Reston.

I would submit that he, like my neighbors, is very similar to you as is my sister: they ALL know that I am crazy to go into D. C. after dark!

But I do.

And I see one of out every 15 cars at Wegman's with Maryland tags, one out of five cars at Neiman Marcus in Tyson's with DC tags, I note that Bob Kinkead opened a second restaurant in Tyson's as did Fabio when he moved from London. Both the Inn at Little Washington and L'auberge Chez Francois have DC roots; Michel Richard still talks about Waterford just as he did when we was still in L.A. When friends have joined us for dinner in Washington (when I drive!) they note what an absolutely beautiful city it is at night. When friends who live in D. C. have come to our house in Reston they've mentioned that Reston is truly beautiful. My friend in Crofton, on a rare and recent visit here, actually admitted that he missed living in Oakton after three glasses of wine.

Just as I sometimes miss living near Wisconsin and Porter. Of course, then, I missed living in Silver Spring where I grew up and, when I moved to Virginia felt compelled to apologize to all of my Maryland friends for "crossing the river." My new Virginia friends, then, said they'd never met anyone who had moved form Montgomery to Fairfax county.

What all of this verbiage means is that for you, Adams Morgan is the epicenter of all that is good and worthwhile about D. C. And other nearby neighborhoods, too.

But like all of those who live around you and may have never been to Adams Morgan nor ever crossed the river for any reason you are missing a lot. Just as they are.

Washington is about far more than just what is found in the incorporated city limits. It IS about the Blueridge mountains and the Chesapeake Bay. Perhaps Baltimore is a separate city and separate culture and separate consideration but PART of the Bay belongs to the DC metropolitan area. That part, Charles County, Calvert County and St. Mary's County are among the fastest growing parts of our area. Just as Loudoun, Frederick and Spotsylvania. All places that few people who live there ever go downtown. Just as Danny and so many city "dwellers" rarely leave the city.

For me, having lived in the city, in Maryland and in Virginia I still stand by what I said in the first post above:

"I am suggesting if you factor in Charleston, Black Olive, Charles County bbq joints, a dozen crab houses from Cantler's to Waterman's to Popes Creek, seafood from Jerry's in Seabrook to the Narrows to Suicide Bridge, the emerging excellence of the VA wineries (in a setting that really is reminiscent of Tuscany) along with the refound excellence of The Inn at Little Washington, The Inn at Easton, the efforts of Restaurant Eve, the potential of CityZen (a REAL credit that he moved back here and not to NY), farmer's markets all over the area, 10-12 or more varieties of sweet white corn, Rucker farm goat cheese (when it was for sale), organic vegetables in the Blue Ridge valley, Sommerfield Farms, Lewes Dairy pasteurized cream and milk and on and on. I am not suggesting, I am saying that WE are on par with anywhere else in America now. We may not have as many world class restaurants but we do have them. And we have the food sources and the markets to buy them."

Perhaps we eliminate Charleston and The Black Olive but all of the rest remain as part of our area just as San Francisco claims Chez Panisse and Acme bread (Berkeley), Chicago Le Francais (Wheeling), New Orleans Le Ruth (years ago many called it the city's best restaurant) and Mosca's (both well away from the Quarter) and South Florda includes Norman's in Coral Gables with Miami Beach in the same breath with Coconut Grove.

Here there is real excellence in Tysons, Washington (VA), Flint Hill, Easton and elsewhere, surrounding DC and lending to the overall image as does Old Town and Annapolis and Middleburg. I agree that we do not have the depth of four or five other American cities but we DO have the excellence.

It just does not stop at Eastern Avenue or the Potomac river.

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My Friend-I am not making a value judgement on "city vs. suburbs". I was not dropped out of the sky into Adams Morgan, I decided to move there because I like nightlife and I like the amenities of the city. I was born in the suburbs of NYC, lived in that city for some years, and have lived in the suburbs of DC and in AM for 20 years. I also have a place in Miami, that is in the city, but full of trees and barking dogs (and, yes, crowing roosters!) Even my 80-something mother used to wonder about the grace of the city, but after many visits she really understood its charms. The Eritrean and Salvadoran restaurants are something else, as when I was in Miami at a National Food and Wine show, and no one knew what a Pupusa was! And forget about Injera!

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Thanks for the nice words. They are sincerely appreciated. I probably have been too "thin skinned" about DC because it was this topic that steered me away from the other board which I decided to leave. It's not that I miss the other board-rather, that I miss many of the people, a number of whom already post on here. I am indebted to that board for allowing me to meet many who are good friends today. I am also sincerely indebted to eG for allowing me a forum to share these friendships as well as to develop new ones. And, to those who moderate on this website, there is tolerance and, I believe, a genuine concern for those who post and care for their hometowns.

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Joe,

Great post. I join you in one of those who "crossed the river." I find myself walking around DC quite often and feel safer at night walking the streets in DC than I have felt walking through Paris during the day. I think that the people who have the idea of Washington being a violent and dirty city are basing that on what they see on TV. The news does not show Penn Quarter after dark, but does show Barry Farms, the West End only makes it on the news when there is a protest at the World Bank, I think that all of this leads to a suburban perception of DC being a bad place.

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Steve, five or six years ago I sold a ride to Parc Asterix just outside of Paris. Over the several years it took to make the sale I became friends with their manager. I invited him and his wife to join us in Paris for a dinner to celebrate it's opening. While he told me that he would appreciate being able to join us his wife was going to decline. He said that she never ventured into Paris from their suburban home, believing it to be dirty, infested with street crime and horrendous traffic.

I was actually shocked! Her image of Paris was not the image I had nor of my neighbors who were jealous when I said that I was flying to Paris on business. (Even though I was usually over and back literally within 24 hours.) But he said that most of his neighbors felt that way, rarely did any of them go anywhere near the city.

I told this story to another friend of mine who lived in the 7th arr. He said that it didn't surprise him since most of those who lived outside the city lacked the taste and sophistication to even begin to appreciate anything in the city, let alone relate to it. He even went on to rail against Carrefour and Auchan, the hyperstores that he said threated the very existence of the boulangerie, butcher, wine shop and small market that he stopped at every night on his way home.

Even on the other side of an ocean the same attitudes remarkably (to me)flourish. And I didn't mention a word about the attitudes of most Manhattanites to those who live in New Jersey.

Edited by Joe H (log)
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Joe,

That's a pretty funny story. I ran into the same reactions when i lived in Paris. I think that it is a pretty universal reaction.

To take this onto a different route, since I'm sitting at home nursing the first (of many yet to come) cold passed onto me by Peanut, I've been considering the question of why DC has a restaurant scene that is not as deep at the top end as other cities of a similar size and wealth.

Two thoughts pop into my head.

1) At its base, DC is just not culturally driven. The prime concerns of the largest part of the monied class in and around DC are not theater and dining, but politics and policy. I am not saying that DC doesn't have some world class cultural institutions, but that in the minds of many of the people who could support top end restaurants, cuisine is secondary. I think of an acquaintance of mine who spent a ridiculous amount of money to go to the Kennedy Center Honors. She saw it more as a networking event more than anything else. Nothing wrong with that, but I think that it is a good example of the DC mindset.

2) Money in DC is so spread out. DC has no real center that can compare with, for example, Manhattan. Much less something as compact as the UWS or UES. How many top end places can downtown DC support? Are there enough wealthy people in Georgetown to support another Citronelle-level restaurant?

Just a couple of thoughts.

If someone writes a book about restaurants and nobody reads it, will it produce a 10 page thread?

Joe W

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2) Money in DC is so spread out. DC has no real center that can compare with, for example, Manhattan. Much less something as compact as the UWS or UES. How many top end places can downtown DC support? Are there enough wealthy people in Georgetown to support another Citronelle-level restaurant?

That is part of the reason I am surprised that there aren't more higher-end and nicer neighborhood type places in the suburbs. I am constantly amazed at the new developments in "the upper brackets" being built even further out than where I am (decidedly not in "the upper brackets". Don't these people eat out? Are they house poor (if you have a million dollars to spend on a house don't you probably have some other money stashed away somewhere?)? Are they all stuck at home with children less adventurous and mobile than Peanut? Or do they all eat at TGI Friday's and Macaroni grill too because money can't necessarily buy you good taste?

Edited by bilrus (log)

Bill Russell

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This recent thread expands on some of the issues you raised, Bill. It also shows how hard it is to talk about supposedly trivial topics like eating habits without rapidly getting into some pretty heavy underlying concepts like national (or at least regional) identity, class differences and economic inequality. All of which should be, um, meat and potatoes for the DC contingent, right? :smile: Edited by iamthestretch (log)

"Mine goes off like a rocket." -- Tom Sietsema, Washington Post, Feb. 16.

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A "small city," indeed.  My hometown.  All six million of us.

Just FYI: Seven million, according to the 2000 Census. And the Washington-Baltimore area (named contrary to the standard Census Bureau practice of listing the largest central city first; maybe a little hometown pride on the Bureau's part?) is the fourth largest metropolitan area in the country; I hope this wasn't a case of coastal Midwest-dissing, as I suspect the metro you left out was Chicago.

But as for the "cozy little city" part: I live in the fifth-biggest city in America, the core city in the sixth biggest metro (six million inhabitants, about a million fewer than the Bay Area). Like so many other non-natives, I have come to love this city and believe it's an underrated gem. But I also recognize that in many ways, it's not really a big city but rather 150 small towns occupying the same political space.

That small-town feel is one of the things many new Philadelphians like about the place (though it does have its drawbacks, needless to say). I would not consider it a slight in the least for someone to refer to Washington as a cozy little city, if by "little" he refers to the sense of intimacy that develops in close-knit city neighborhoods.

OTOH, Washington is the biggest company town in America. I suspect that it is the type of talent drawn to work for that "company" and its suppliers (supplicants?) that has helped fuel the fine dining surge there.

And I have had more than my share of wonderful meals in Washington restaurants on my visits there. Nonetheless, I still notice one thing that appears to be lacking, and I would appreciate being corrected on it if it does: a good indigenous food or cheap eats culture. Unless you want to appropriate next-door-neighbor Baltimore's crab houses and Old Bay as Washingtonian, that is. What is the DC equivalent? The Little Taverns are no more, so that's out, as are the Marriotts' Hot Shoppes. What occupies this place in the DC dining firmament?

(In Philadelphia, this is the territory occupied by the Holy Trinity of the cheesesteak, the hoagie and the soft pretzel--the last of these a peculiarly indigestible delicacy unless you happen to purchase one from the Fisher's stand in the Pennsylvania Dutch section of the Reading Terminal Market.)

Edited to elaborate a bit further: I can think of very few cities that have top-flight fine dining establishments that do not also have some sort of more plebian indigenous food traditions to draw on. New York pizzerias, Chicago hot dog and Italian beef stands, Kansas City barbecue joints, and the aforementioned crab shacks and cheesesteak shops all fit into this pattern. (Well, almost all: I would not put the fine dining scene in my hometown of Kansas City on the same plane as those of the other cities we're talking about, including Washington--even though the American Restaurant there holds its own with the best anywhere.)

Washington does not appear to me to have this sort of tradition in its culinary history. That may have something to do with the circumstances that led to its formation and the time period in which it experienced the greatest growth (namely, the New Deal era and afterwards). Since Washington was not established as a hub for trade or industry the way most of our larger cities were, there is less of a working-class food tradition to draw on, and that, I suspect, is why some might view the city's rise as a dining destination as having a bit of unreality about it--like so much else of life "inside the Beltway" viewed from a sufficient distance beyond it.

Edited by MarketStEl (log)

Sandy Smith, Exile on Oxford Circle, Philadelphia

"95% of success in life is showing up." --Woody Allen

My foodblogs: 1 | 2 | 3

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Nonetheless, I still notice one thing that appears to be lacking, and I would appreciate being corrected on it if it does:  a good indigenous food or cheap eats culture.  Unless you want to appropriate next-door-neighbor Baltimore's crab houses and Old Bay as Washingtonian, that is.  What is the DC equivalent?  

I think this is where the DC area's reputation as an "ethnic food" city comes into play. Small ethnic places with a variety (if not a quality) that you wouldn't see in most cities is our "local" cheap-eats niche. Its just that the working class tradition isn't native to the area, but more likely from Southesat Asia or Africa or Central America.

And this is an arena where the 'burbs are probably surpassing the city as more immigrants move farther and farther away from the district limits and create their own neighborhoods in Virginia and Maryland.

Edited by bilrus (log)

Bill Russell

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Sandy,

It is my understanding that the Census actually chooses the names of an area by the city with the most influence on the population patterns. While the city of Washington is smaller than Baltimore the majority of the regions population is centered around Washington. In all other regions the larger city plays this role.

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Sandy,

It is my understanding that the Census actually chooses the names of an area by the city with the most influence on the population patterns.  While the city of Washington is smaller than Baltimore the majority of the regions population is centered around Washington.  In all other regions the larger city plays this role.

Thanks for the clarification, and in light of how the San Francisco-Oakland-San Jose metropolitan area is named (San Jose is now the biggest of the three), it makes sense.

Of course, in my hometown, the policy still leaves things unclear, as both core cities have the same name. The Bureau tries to solve this problem by listing Missouri first in the state portion, but it seems to me that many people do not pick up this clue.

Sandy Smith, Exile on Oxford Circle, Philadelphia

"95% of success in life is showing up." --Woody Allen

My foodblogs: 1 | 2 | 3

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