The Feed is my weekly round up of interesting food-related stories from newspapers, magazines, blogs and websites.
Washington Post Magazine: “What’s missing from D.C.’s food scene? A lot,” by Mark H. Furstenberg.
This is the article everyone is talking about this week: a takedown of D.C.’s food scene written by a local. Furstenberg argues that D.C.’s recent praise as a “world class” food city is undeserved, citing factors such as high prices at farmers markets, poor offerings at chain grocery stores and, critically, a lack of a discernable food culture. While some of these things may be true at times, he’s overreaching. The high prices at farmers markets for example—are farmers markets in New York City not similarly priced? Comments on Yelp seem to indicate that Union Square Greenmarket is pricey but not bad for New York (which means it’s pricy). He names Portland, Oregon, as having a better variety of local supermarkets, but there are more examples of such markets here than he cites, and most Portlanders buy their groceries at large chain stores just like people anywhere else.
His characterization of the D.C. restaurant scene seems particularly unfair to me. While he praises the increase of chef-owned local restaurants, he dismisses some chefs’ practice of opening successive restaurants (he names Neighborhood Restaurant Group’s Birch & Barley and Vermilion as an example, although curiously not D.C.’s king of local proliferation, the venerated José Andrés of Jaleo, Oyamel, Zaytinya, Minibar, Barmini and all his restaurants in other cities like Las Angeles, Las Vegas and Puerto Rico). I disagree with his assertion that such proliferation doesn’t happen as much in other places: I see it all the time. It’s very common in New York (Tom Colicchio, Daniel Boulud, Daniel Humm, Alex Stupak, Harold Dieterle, Andrew Carmellini, Mario Bataly all have their hands in multiple restaurants—and those are just ones that came to mind quickly because I’ve been to many of them). I can think of several notable Portland-based chefs that are doing the same thing. I agree that sometimes this practice can be problematic if quality takes a hit, but for many of the aforementioned chefs (and their diners) it’s working great.
Furstenberg claims that restaurants in the area are concentrated in downtown D.C. and they are too expensive: citing $20 appetizers and $40 entrees. I work in downtown D.C. and eat lunch there everyday. I know there are restaurants at that price, but that’s only a small part of the downtown food story that includes a wide variety of moderately priced establishments, a growing assortment of American and ethnic fast-casual choices and the booming food truck scene, where lunch is easily under $10. He points to high downtown prices as preventing new local talent from taking a foothold there. Is it so bad then, that they might instead set up wonderful neighborhood restaurants throughout the city? When I first moved here in 1999, as a twentysomething, there were few neighborhoods with interesting, affordable food choices—basically Dupont Circle, Cleveland Park, Adams-Morgan and Capitol Hill. Now we have U Street, 14th Street, Columbia Heights, H Street NE, Shaw, Bloomingdale and more--with commercial development continuing to grow throughout the city (the area around the ballpark looks poised to be the next hot area of new restaurants). His article actually makes this point, but then seems dismissive of its significance, whereas I think it’s something that makes D.C.’s food scene really great. When I moved here, I was a bit dismayed to find that restaurants tended to be either too expensive or chains. Today, that’s no longer the case. There is amazing variety here.
I’m not the only one who feels this article unfairly maligns D.C. For a great counterpoint, see Jessica Sidman’s Washington City Paper article. Sam Heirsteiner also comes to the city’s defense in the Huffington Post.
Gawker: “The Pizza Belt: the Most Important Pizza Theory You'll Read,” by Max Read.
Do you ever tire of people who insist that the only good pizza comes from New York? I certainly do. With his theory of “The Pizza Belt,” defined as “the area of the United States where the chance of obtaining an adequate-to-good slice of pizza from a randomly chosen pizzeria is greater than 50 percent,” Read injects some much needed nuance into this discussion. Basically, his theory is that within this belt, roughly southern New Jersey to Providence, Rhode Island, you’re more likely to get good pizza than you would elsewhere (he expands the belt to D.C. and Boston if you drop your chance to 33 percent). I think the concept makes a lot of sense, although I’m sure many will balk at his insistence that the belt not include Chicago or San Francisco.
Washington Post: “Gnocchi: The secrets to making it, from the pros,” by Bonnie S. Benwick.
The last time I made gnocchi, the fabled Italian potato dumplings served with various sauces, I was disappointed with the results: some disintegrated in the pot while boiling. I’ve also been disappointed by leaden store-bought gnocchi that are far from having the ideal “pillowy” texture they should. To get to the bottom of what it takes to make good gnocchi, Benwick consults with several expert cooks, who employ varying techniques but all end up with good results. Don’t miss the video with Ripple chef Marjorie Meek-Bradley. I also love how Benwick, in mentioning “gnocchi day,” gently pokes fun at how ridiculous some food holidays are. The article includes several recipes. For some of my gnocchi recipes, check out Gnocchi with Sausage-Mushroom Ragu, Sweet Potato Gnocchi and Beet Gnocchi with Walnut-Sage Butter (this is the one where some fell apart, but was still tasty—I recommend adding an egg or two egg yolks to the dough to see if that helps keep them together).
Washington Post: “Frozen drinks, beyond the sugar-slush bombs,” by M. Carrie Allan.
When I make margaritas at home with fresh lime juice, Cointreau and choice tequila, I serve them on the rocks. When we go out for Friday night Tex-Mex, we’re all about the frozen “slushy” version. It’s just fun. Allan examines seemingly low-brow frozen drinks (which, like other cocktails, don’t have to be made with sour mix), including the origins of the frozen margarita machine. She also shares a recipe she created for a spicy frozen take on the Paloma, the Chilly Chile Paloma, which I’d love to make soon. I’m really enjoying her writing style too, including fun pop culture references (she describes D.C.’s current heat wave as having “a Ryan Goslingesque level of hotness”).
New York Times: “Restaurant Takeaway: Ravioli With Burrata, Brought Home From Rome,” by Melissa Clark.
Clark makes us instantly jealous of her recent vacation in Rome by telling us about all the burrata she got to eat there. Generously, she shares a recipe for a delectable-sounding ravioli filled with burrata and fresh ricotta and tossed with a nutty basil pesto. Hungry yet?
New York Times: “Chopped Salad Has Become the Lunch of Choice in the Northeast,” by William Grimes.
Chopped salads, basically entrée salads with chopped ingredients, have become all the rage in New York and elsewhere along the Mid-Atlantic to Northeast corridor (although apparently not in California) from restaurants like Chop’t and Just Salad (and the unmentioned but soon to open in New York, Sweetgreen). Grimes traces their origins and charts their meteoric rise, while seeking to explain their appeal. And, I should add, if you’re interested in chopped salads (and other chopped-style dishes) at home, check out KC The Kitchen Chopper’s website for some great ideas.
CNN: “Real or fake sugar: Does it matter?,” by Jacque Wilson, Elizabeth Landau and Jen Christensen.
Wilson and crew provide an informative overview of the different popular sugar substitutes like Sucralose (Splenda) and aspartame (Equal), as well as the latest science on their healthfulness. Their bottom line: they’re really not that bad in moderation. I suspect that won’t be good enough for many skeptics though (potentially including me).
Atlantic Monthly: “The Beauty of Eating at the Bar,” by Alexander Abad-Santos.
Abad-Santos’s essay argues that solo diners get a better experience at the bar than at a table for one, an argument he bases in part on the potential for better service, but also largely on avoiding the social stigma and psychological trauma of dining solo. Personally, I have no problem getting a table for one and I do it for lunch all the time, but I can see that dining at the bar could have its appeal in certain restaurants. I just don’t like eating a meal from a barstool that much.
Bloomberg: “Campari Blitzes Europe with Aperol Spritz to Boost Stock,” by Clementine Fletcher.
Italian aperitivo Aperol has for years been an important growth product for Campari Group, the beverage company behind products like Skyy Vodka and Wild Turkey Bourbon (and of course its namesake Campari). But European sales flagged recently after a dispute in Germany led the product to be pulled from shelves and competition to fill the gap. With the product once again available there, Fletcher discusses what Campari is doing to elevate Aperol’s profile there and elsewhere, such as by promoting its namesake cocktail, the Aperol Spritz. Aperol is one of my favorite aperitifs and I’ve featured it in several cocktails, such as the Light My Fire, Everybody Loves a Gin Blossom and August Sunset.
New York Times Diner's Journal: "A Note to Readers."
Sadly, The New York Times killed its food blog, Diner's Journal, last week. Although they are retaining many of its features on their main Dining page, their daily roundup of interesting food stories, "What We're Reading," seems to have become a casualty of this decision--a fate bemoaned in the comments to the blog's final post by many readers who enjoyed it. I'd become a big fan of "What We're Reading" (and not just because I was featured in it twice). It was a great resource for discovering interesting food stories--one I relied on in part for putting together The Feed. To help fill the void, I'm expanding The Feed and will consider posting it on additional days besides Wednesday (I can't, however, do it daily).