Thursday, January 15, 2009

Fine Dinin': The Inaugural Edition

A couple a recent articles about fine dining with an Obama twist (because every news story for the next week has to involve Obama in some way).

In this piece from the NYTimes, Washington restauranteurs consider whether Obama will revive Washington's fine dining scene, after eight years of a president who never once ate at a restaurant within the District. Gone are the Clintonista restaurants like the once popular (and famous) Red Sage. The Bush years, in contrast, have been notable mainly for the popularity of steakhouses (you know corporate lobbyists and their red meat).

Obama, in contrast, knows something about good food. His favorites in Chicago (a first-rate restaurant town, actually--second only to NYC in this country) are not incredibly adventurous (leaning toward Italian and Latin/Mexican), but they are, by all accounts, gastronomically distinguished. As celebrity chef Rick Bayless, chef at Obama's favorite Topolobampo, notes of Obama's culinary attitude:

“They really enjoy sitting around the table exploring the different flavors — they always eat tasting menus,” Mr. Bayless said in an interview. “He’s not one who sort of plunks down and says, ‘I’ll have the beef.’ He asks questions.”
That's good news--both because it's the right way to eat and because it offers a nice metaphor for Obama's openness to experience and new ideas. (Even so, Fosco is still not a fan of supposedly "upscale" Mexican restaurants like Topolobampo after once eating a terribly mediocre meal at the Border Grill.)

In DC, there is already a chef lining up to take Bayless's place as Barack's favorite. That would be wannabe celebrity-chef José Andrés:
José Andrés, one of Washington’s most prodigious restaurateurs, said he was hoping one of his Latin American-influenced establishments — like Café Atlántico or Oyamel — could become Mr. Obama’s Topolobampo away from Topolobampo. He said he had already checked with Mr. Bayless for a sense of Mr. Obama’s dining habits.
Fosco had a meal at Café Atlántico this past summer when he was in DC and he was actually quite disappointed. The dining room was crowded and so loud it was difficult to hear one's dinner companions. The waitstaff was alternately snotty and bored (and not particularly competent). And the food was not that good (especially the Jerk Chicken "Mofongo"). The vaunted mojitos? Well, the Magic Mojito (a "cotton candy deconstruction of the classic mojito") was fun to look at (see below), until the cotton candy melted into the drink; then, it just tasted like a typical mojito.

But hey, I'm sure Obama won't have to worry about the loud dining room nor the bad service. I also suspect the food may be a bit better on any night he eats there. And who knows? He may be able to get a reservation at minibar, which is where the culinary fireworks are anyway...

Speaking of Obama (were we?), the High Priestess of New American Cuisine, Berkeley's own Alice Waters, is preparing an inaugural dinner in DC on Monday. As the HuffPo article notes, Waters is famous for her commitment to "local/organic/seasonal/sustainable food." Her preliminary menu includes
Chesapeake Bay oysters and crostini; rockfish soup and a confit of saffron-spiked tomatoes, though if the fish don't look so great, she'll shift to winter vegetables; shoulder of local lamb with salsa verde, and an apple tart.
Sounds quite lovely, actually. To drink, Waters must momentarily suspend her culinary doctrine:
Yes, she knows the Veuve Cliquot Champagne, made in France and provided by the vineyard for the toast to President-elect Obama, is hardly carbon neutral.

"You try to eat as locally as possible but then you make exceptions" for such long-distance staples as olive oil and good bubbly.
Well, as we all know, Fosco can't disagree with Veuve Clicquot.

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