When the President Comes to Dinner: Restaurateurs Dish the Details

blog-potus

Since the 2008 election, the Obamas have made dining in D.C. one of their top recreational priorities. Though the First Lady has a chance to eat out more often, POTUS has been spotted supping everywhere from José Andrés’ Oyamel and Michael Mina’s Bourbon Steak to Blue Duck Tavern and Smith Commons.

Obviously, it’s not an average evening in the dining room when the Leader of the Free World is in the house. The Secret Service’s exact methods for selecting, screening, and securing a restaurant are closely guarded procedures, which the agency doesn’t reveal. Luckily, a pair of restaurateurs was willing to discuss their experiences.

Vetting the establishment begins well before the Leader of the Free World sits down, according to Ashok Bajaj, who has hosted three presidents – the Obamas dined at Rasika West End, George H. W. Bush ate at both the Bombay Club and the Oval Room, and Bill Clinton has visited a number of Bajaj’s restaurants, including Rasika and 701. The day before a presidential visit, Secret Service do a thorough examination of the property. “They want to see everything from the air ducts to how they can get the President out in the case of an emergency and where they’re going to seat him,” says Bajaj.

Numerous high-profile dignitaries require such precautions, so the restaurant still doesn’t know just who is coming to dinner. Key restaurant staff will be officially notified the day of the event, though the visit may be canceled at the last minute due to pressing affairs of state. “You don’t know it’s the President for sure until all of his armor shows up out front,” says Ellen Gray of Equinox, which Barack and Michelle visited while he was President-elect. “You could launch a world war from the artillery he drives around with. Plus, there’s always an ambulance following the motorcade.”

Throughout the meal, Secret Service agents are stationed around and throughout the restaurant. “The kitchen staff loves it,” says Gray. “It’s great for morale. If the agents they get in the way, we just politely ask them to move.”Continue Reading

Washington, D.C. 2017 Michelin-Starred Restaurants: The Inaugural Wins Are In!

Washington, D.C. 2017 Michelin-Starred Restaurants

The nation’s capital isn’t just a hotbed of politics — it’s fast become a flashpoint of culinary talent with a top-notch dining scene that delights locals and travelers alike. On this first year of getting its own guide, we are pleased to highlight the honorees in the MICHELIN Guide Washington D.C. 2017. Twelve restaurants are included. While no establishment achieved the coveted three-star designation, three received two Michelin stars, and nine earned one Michelin star.

Being included in the respected MICHELIN Guide is a sign of excellence and quality. In the U.S., 2017 MICHELIN Guides are forthcoming for Chicago, New York, San Francisco, and we recently highlighted the honorees in London.

Congratulations to all the Washington, D.C. Michelin-starred restaurants on OpenTable, including:Continue Reading

9 Signature Dishes: Edible Icons You Must Not Miss

On rare occasions, a dish transcends the tides of time, the trifles of trends, and sometimes even its inventor to become icons in their own right. Each of these nine signature dishes is a must-order if you’re lucky enough to dine at the restaurant where it was created.

Apple Pie, Blue Duck Tavern, Washington, D.C.
The recipe for this all-American dessert has remained unchanged since chef Brian McBride debuted it in 2006 even though he ultimately left the restaurant. Granny Smith apples sweetened with plenty of brown sugar and cinnamon spiced are enclosed in a butter-rich crust. The big-enough-for-two puck-shaped pie is baked in the wood-burning oven, giving its exterior a golden glow. The flavors evoke autumn, but the spot-on finale is good at any time of year. Make a reservation at Blue Duck Tavern.

Signature Dishes

Chicken for Two, The NoMad, New York, New York
James Beard Award-winning chef Daniel Humm always found roasting chickens a conundrum because white meat and dark meat cook at different rates. To get the dark meat of the legs to the right level of doneness, you have to overcook the white breast meat. So he came up with a clever solution. After guests are presented with the whole roast bird – a bouquet of herbs nestled next to its legs and a beyond decadent foie gras and black truffle brioche stuffing piped under its crackly golden skin – it’s taken back into the kitchen. There the legs are sautéed separately with mushrooms and shallots for just a couple minutes more to ensure they’re done correctly. All the attention to detail adds up to a perfectly cooked dish. Make a reservation at The NoMad.

Signature Dishes

Lamb Carpaccio, The Inn at Little Washington, Washington, Virginia
There are a number of dishes on chef Patrick O’Connell’s menu that could be considered classics at this award-winning gourmand’s redoubt in the Virginia countryside – from the Tin of Sin starter to his clever re-imagination of a butter pecan ice cream sandwich. However, his carpaccio of herb-crusted baby lamb loin served with half scoops of Caesar salad ice cream and brioche croutons may be his most quintessential. Sweet, savory, earthy, and elegant, it’s absolutely unforgettable. Make a reservation at The Inn at Little Washington.

Signature Dishes

Unicorn, Pao by Paul Qui, Miami Beach, Florida
Paul Qui’s cuisine takes its cues from the Philippines, Japan, Spain and beyond at his luxe Miami gastro destination, which debuted earlier this year. However, the Top Chef winner’s standout dish, which has already garnered enough raves to make it an icon, takes an equal amount of inspiration from the $6 million gold-leafed unicorn sculpture by Damien Hirst on display in the dining room. The cleverly conceived Unicorn features tongues of uni on grilled sweet corn pudding (get the name now?) along with touches of sake aioli and arbol chile. Its showstopping presentation in an upside down spiny sea urchin makes it infinitely Instagrammable – if you can stop yourself from immediately taking a bite. Make a reservation at Pao by Paul Qui.

Signature Dishes

Roasted Pig Face, Girl & the Goat, Chicago, Illinois
This well-loved dish from the Stefanie Izard – winner of a James Beard Award and Top Chef – is exactly what it says it is, and yet its flavors are much more complex than the name implies. A pig head is cut up, its meat seasoned with cilantro, lime zest, coriander, salt, and pepper. Rolled up into a log, it’s braised until nearly gelatinous. Two rounds baked to order in the wood fired oven are used to sandwich a thicket of crispy potato sticks. A sunny-side up egg goes on top and there are crisscrossing drizzles of sweet maple gastrique, perky cilantro oil, and tangy tamarind vinaigrette to deepen the flavors. Make a reservation at Girl & the Goat.

Signature DishesContinue Reading

Research + Development: Top Chef Star Mike Isabella Eats NYC

Mike Isabella

It’s just after noon on a sunny, mid-Eighties summer day. The weather is as perfect as it gets in New York City during the summertime. Mike Isabella is in the back of a black SUV headed down Seventh Avenue. Sunglasses firmly in place, he’s wearing jeans and a graphite t-shirt that exposes the tattoos crisscrossing his forearms. Though it’s lunchtime, he’s on his way to visit a couple of coffee shops and an ice cream parlor. It’s not your usual eating agenda, but that’s because Isabella is here to for business rather than pure pleasure.

The chef-restaurateur, who earned widespread acclaim with breakout appearances on Top Chef and Top Chef: All-Stars and recently took home the RAMMY Award for “Restaurateur of the Year” from the Restaurant Association of Metropolitan Washington, is in town for a whirlwind day of epicurean exploration. He has already been to Morocco, Spain, Portugal, Chicago, California, Philadelphia, Dallas, and Los Angeles as a part of his culinary canvassing. There are further trips planned to Cuba, Argentina, and London.

All the trips are research for his ambitious mega food hall Isabella Eatery, which is set open in the Tysons Galleria mall in McLean, Virginia in late summer 2017. The 41,000 square foot, multi-concept endeavor aims to be the crowning – and potentially defining – centerpiece of his growing restaurant empire in the D.C. area, which includes his Italian-American small plates and pizza joint Graffiato, (which also has a location in Richmond, Virginia), forward-thinking Greek eatery Kapnos, lead by fellow Top Chef alum George Pagonis, Medi-minded Requin, helmed by another Top Chef-er, Jennifer Carroll, Yona noodle bar, breezy Mexican cantina Pepita Cantina, and others.

Isabella Eatery will house 10 separate entities, including versions of Graffiato, Kapnos, Yona, Requin, and Pepita, as well as five brand-new concepts: Retro Creamery ice cream parlor, Trim steakhouse, Non-Fiction Coffee, Octagon Bar, and Arroz, a Spanish-Portuguese-Moroccan restaurant. Within the concepts there are variety of service options: full service, fast casual, and grab ‘n’ go. Isabella hopes the heightened service – not to mention the food – will vastly elevate it from your usual mall food courts with their bolted down chairs, plastic trays, and impersonality.

Mike Isabella

Today he’s particularly focused on ideas for the café, creamery, the ramen at Yona, and the bar program at Arroz. “Hopefully, I’ll see some cool presentations, design, uniforms, flavors, service steps, paper goods, and techniques,” says Isabella as we near the Roost coffee shop, our first stop in the East Village.

Inside the rusticated shop with white tile walls, marble countertops and a full bar in the back hiding behind a wooden bar door, we rendezvous with James Horn. The day’s unofficial tour guide previously worked as Isabella’s wine and service director and is now the director of operations of New York City’s Añejo Restaurant Group, which includes two locations of Añejo and Abajo. Everyone orders something different, so we can compare. The most compelling element for Isabella ends up being the double-walled glasses the latte is served in, so he takes a picture, and we Uber over to Big Gay Ice Cream.

Mike Isabella

Unabashedly borrowing its aesthetic vibe Eighties cartoons – think My Little Pony and The Care Bears on MDMA – the small shop is decked out with rainbows, unicorns, and vintage action figures. The truck-turned-brick-and-mortar specializes in soft serve cones and sundaes. We sample the Salty Pimp made with vanilla ice cream, dulce de leche, and sea salt, all covered in a chocolate shell. The treat attracts Mike’s attention, but not because of its flavors – there’s none of the aforementioned salt – but, rather, because of plastic holder it comes in. It has a rim around the edge, so ice cream doesn’t drip on your clothes while you’re eating it. This thoughtful touch is filed away for potential use at Retro Creamery.

Another coffee shop – Third Rail on Sullivan Street – is next up on the agenda after another quick Uber ride. We order several espresso drinks, which don’t so much as impress as amp up our jitters. “I’m jacked up on caffeine and the sugar from that ice cream,” says Isabella. “Let’s walk to the next spot.”Continue Reading