Washington, D.C.: Our Food Capital, Too?

us capitol1 Washington, D.C.: Our Food Capital, Too?What’s the food capital of America? Is it New York? San Francisco? Chicago? Los Angeles? Perhaps it’s Washington, D.C. The District of Columbia is our permanent national capital and the epicenter of American politics, but this planned city has plans to become a dining destination. In fact, some would argue that it already is. The Atlantic Food Channel name checks several fine-dining restaurants that are just as a big a draw for tourists as the Capitol or the Washington Monument, including Rasika, Indique, Restaurant Eve, Corduroy, Vidalia, Dino, Commonwealth, BRABO, Blue Duck Tavern, Vermilion, and also notes the area’s thriving farmer’s markets and street-food scene.

This summer, if traditional tourism tires your feet, consider taking a gastronomical tour of this town. After all, you can do much of it sitting down.

Fast Company’s 10 Most Creative People in Food: And the Winners Are…

jean georges Fast Companys 10 Most Creative People in Food: And the Winners Are...Fast Company magazine released its list of the 10 most creative people in food. In addition to OpenTable CEO Jeff Jordan, chef-restaurateurs Jean-Georges Vongerichten and Dan Barber made the list.

Vongerichten’s restaurants include Chambers Kitchen, Jean Georges, JoJo, Market by Jean Georges, Matsugen, Mercer Kitchen, Nougatine at Jean Georges, Perry Street, Spice Market, Vong, Vong’s Thai Kitchen, and others. He plans to add 50 new restaurants to his dining dynasty in the next five years. Barber, a stalwart in the local foods movement, runs Blue Hill (where the First Couple recently dined) and Blue Hill at Stone Barns.

Congratulations to all the winners. Be sure to visit Barber’s and Vongerichten’s restaurants to see why their creativity is a credit to the industry.

Restaurant Lighting: How Low Should It Go?

darkrestaurant Restaurant Lighting: How Low Should It Go?There’s nothing worse than a restaurant with extremely bright lighting — except for a restaurant with lighting so low that diners can neither read their menus nor see what’s on their plates. San Francisco Chronicle restaurant reviewer Michael Bauer addresses this very complaint on his blog and fields a clever suggestion from a frustrated reader who is sick of squinting.

I’m comfortable addressing the issue of too-bright lighting with restaurant management if it’s really detracting from a meal. However, I fear sounding like a square if I ask that the lights be turned up. In truth, too, if a restaurant’s lighting is excessively low, it’s probably by deliberate design and my complaints would likely fall on deaf ears.

Low lighting makes everyone and everything look more attractive, but I think we should all be able to read our menus and fully appreciate the appearance of our meals. How about you?

Kids’ Restaurant Week 2009: Chicago and New York

kidrestoweek2009 Kids Restaurant Week 2009: Chicago and New YorkSave money while going out for dinner with the little ones this week in Chicago and New York. Kids’ Restaurant Week, sponsored by Cookie and Gourmet magazines, started yesterday. Book an early dinner seating (between 5PM and 7PM) at a participating restaurant and enjoy a special prix-fixe menu. Adults pay $29 while kids 11 and under pay their age.

Running through June 28, Kids’ Restaurant Week is a way to dine out for less while also doing good: A portion of the proceeds will benefit local charities in each city.

Reserve a table for the Chicago Kids’ Restaurant Week or the New York Kids’ Restaurant Week today.

Are Restaurants Trying to Influence What You Order?

menu Are Restaurants Trying to Influence What You Order?This week, Grub Street calls out restaurants for trying to manipulate what diners order via carefully designed and well-written menus. Um, I should really hope they’re doing that. Give me a menu that sells me on how scrumptious an entrée is or a server who swears by a certain dish any day. Are you worried that you’re being unduly influenced? Find out what tactics to look out for – and learn which restaurants are using them.

Turning Down a Table: Confessions of a ‘Picky Seater’

tables Turning Down a Table: Confessions of a Picky SeaterIt’s no secret that I love dining out. But it’s about the whole experience, not just the fact that I’m not preparing my own meal or even serving it. It’s the setting. And, for me, a big part of that setting is where I’m sitting. The right table can make a meal one to remember – or one to forget. Obviously, then, from time to time, I request a different table than the one I am first offered. In fact, I did so two nights ago while dining at Scarpetta, a very well-reviewed and busy Italian restaurant in Manhattan’s trendy Meatpacking District. The place was almost entirely filled at 7PM (on a Wednesday!) and, as someone who has been a hostess, I could see I’d thrown a tiny monkey wrench into the front desk’s well-oiled seating plans. However, they were quite gracious in accommodating our request. We happily waited at the bar, and in just 20 minutes we were presented with a perfect table (at which we enjoyed a wonderful meal).

Of course, my instincts aren’t always correct. I once switched tables twice in the same evening (from one table to another – and back again), much to our server’s great chagrin. I don’t recommend doing this, unless you want to drive the front-of-house staff crazy, but after settling in to the first (and better, in hindsight) table, my friends and I ordered two bottles of wine and several courses each. Had we been unhappy with our seats, we probably would have spent far less on food and wine and never returned. Now, that restaurant has become a familiar favorite.

I wondered how restaurateurs view “picky seaters” like me, so I asked one. Rob Wilder, CEO of ThinkFoodGroup, whose Washington, D.C. area restaurants include Café Atlantico, Jaleo Bethesda, Jaleo Crystal City, Jaleo DC, Oyamel, and Zaytinya, reassured me, “Switching tables is never an issue! The only problem is when we don’t know and can’t fix it — leaving the guest unhappy. A good table to one diner might be a bad table to another and vice versa. And, once we know our customers preferences, we can make a note in our Opentable system.”

The next time you want to switch tables, use these tips to make sure things go smoothly.

  • Be polite when requesting another table.
  • Let the host know – tactfully – why you don’t like the table (so you don’t wind up with an equally displeasing table).
  • Don’t demand a specific table. Even if it’s empty, it doesn’t mean it’s available.
  • Be patient. You may have to wait a while until a more suitable table opens up.
  • Grab a seat at the bar. A cocktail can help pass the time and you can probably order an appetizer if you’re starving.

Eating out on Father’s Day: Dining Deals for Dad

fathersday Eating out on Fathers Day: Dining Deals for DadMove over, Mom. This Sunday is Father’s Day. And, since the fastest way to a man’s heart is through his stomach, treating dad to a meal will guarantee he loves his gift (Does he really need another tie? Probably not! Ditto on the golf balls.).

Unlike Mother’s Day, which seems irrevocably yoked to brunch, Father’s Day dining deals tend to be a bit more diverse. From discounted dinners featuring juicy steaks to complimentary cocktails, restaurants are doing right by dad. Caprino’s in the San Francisco area is discounting dad’s dinner meal by 50%! At Café Ba Ba Reba in Las Vegas, dads dining out receive a $25 gift certificate for a future visit. Looking for a little luxury? At Del Frisco’s Double Eagle Steakhouse in Denver, your father can really put his feet up. His three-course, prix-fixe meal includes a free car detail while dining and a complimentary cigar. And, at each of Havana Central’s three New York locations (Times Square, Union Square , and  The West End ), a prix-fixe special entrée, a hand-rolled cigar, bottomless beer, and a family portrait await fathers.

Thinking of taking the festivities outside in honor of the first day of summer? Dad can get a break from the grill at Jedediah’s at Jedediah Hawkins Inn in Jamesport, New York, which will host an outdoor pig roast with bocce ball and horseshoes.

Check out all the dining deals restaurants in your area are offering by clicking on the “Father’s Day-June 21/Special Menus & Offers” button on your OpenTable start page. When dining out, be sure to mention OpenTable to your server to take advantage of these specials.

Do You Know Which Fork to Use (and Does It Even Matter)?

cutlery1 Do You Know Which Fork to Use (and Does It Even Matter)?If the Obamas invited you to a state dinner at the White House, would you know which fork or spoon to use for each course? Perhaps not (Hint: Start on the outside and work your way in), but Chow’s Helena Echlin wonders if this even matters anymore – at least in restaurants. As a big fan of tasting menus, I’m finding that many restaurants replace the cutlery with every course, so there’s no opportunity for a fork faux pas. Five-course meals aside, restaurateurs have become so accommodating to diners, that you can be sure no one will bat an eye if you wish to eat your entire entrée with a teaspoon. However, if any of us ever get to dine with the POTUS and the First Lady, let’s be sure we know a salad fork from a seafood fork.

Restaurant Review Roundup: Word on the Street

Trying to decide where to eat? Want a little professional help? Read about these recently (and positively) reviewed restaurants — and book a table to judge for yourself.

Hard Times in the Big Easy

bigeasy Hard Times in the Big EasyIt’s been nearly four years since Hurricane Katrina devastated much of New Orleans (among other places). Rebuilding efforts have long been underway, and, in fact, even more restaurants have since opened in this city of food and fun. But, it’s still not a cakewalk for many of the city’s longtime restaurateurs. CNN spotlights the everyday challenges at Mat & Naddie’s, a neighborhood gem (according to OpenTable diners) that serves modern Louisiana food. Next time you’re in the Big Easy, book at table and sample chef/owner Stephen Schwarz ‘s modern Louisiana food.