When the President Comes to Dinner: Restaurateurs Dish the Details

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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

Chef Watch: José Andrés Gets a Prize; The Obamas’ Favorite Chef; Michael Mina’s New Venture, and More

* José Andrés (The Bazaar by José Andrés) will receive the 2010 grand prize from the Vilcek Foundation, “which annually honors the contributions of foreign-born Americans in the areas of art, culture and science” on April 7th at the Mandarin Oriental in New York. [Washington Post]

* Restaurateur Donatella Arpaia (Mia Donna) can cook. No, really. She’s got a book coming out and everything. [The New York Times]

* Dan Barber (Blue Hill at Stone Barns) discusses sustainable fish at TED. [Daily Blender]

* Mario Batali (Lupa) and Emeril Lagasse (Emeril’s Restaurant) dined at The Publican. [Grub Street Chicago]

* The POTUS is a foodie, and Chicago chef Rick Bayless (Topolobampo) is one of his faves. [The Guardian]

* “No Reservations” Anthony Bourdain (Les Halles) dishes on his latest pursuits to Jennifer Heigl. [Daily Blender]

* Washington, D.C. chefs Mike Isabella (Zaytinya), Art Smith (Art and Soul) , and Bryan Voltaggio (VOLT) work hard to extend their “Top Chef” fame. [Washington Business Journal]

* Chef Michael Mina is set to take over Aqua, where he first made a splash years ago. [San Francisco Chronicle]

* Chef Michael Psilakis (Kefi) has ended his association with Anthos in Manhattan and is rumored to be looking to open another restaurant in Brooklyn. [The New York Times]

* Reality-TV star/chef Gordon Ramsay (Gordon Ramsay) at Boka in Chicago [Grub Street Chicago]

* “Top Chef” season 6 winner Michael Voltaggio, chef de cuisine at The Dining Room at The Langham, talks about his future and what he plans to do with his prize money. [Food & Wine]

* Hoss Zaré (Zare at Fly Trap) is preparing a feast for the Persian New Year, which begins on March 20. [San Francisco Chronicle]