In Washington, Team Trump Inherits a Foodie City in Its Prime
It's an open secret that a first family—and its attendant entourage—affects the Washington dining scene more than the most powerful restaurant critic does. When the president dines at a place such as the exquisite Greek spot Komi, it's a selling point unlike any other. So, after two terms of economic recovery and the influence of a first family that enjoyed eating out, Washington is having what is regarded by chefs as its best food era ever.
Now comes a president whose taste tends toward classic dining rooms such as 21 Club and fast-food chains, having celebrated his Republican nomination win with a McDonald's burger. (We know where he goes for taco bowls.) We're betting that Trump sightings will be more prolific at a traditional steakhouse like Old Ebbitt's Grill, or—not surprisingly—at BLT Prime by David Burke at the Trump International Hotel. But the restaurant infrastructure is at hand in Washington, and members of the Trump administration who are new to town will enjoy a wide array of culinary options.
You may even see a Trump at these places; her first name will probably be Ivanka.
Down an easy-to-miss street called Blagden Alley that dates back to the Civil War lies an old row house where you’ll find this fab mid-Atlantic-themed tavern. Jeremiah Langhorne fries catfish till it's crispy and tucks it into tender house-made sweet potato rolls. He uses his wood hearth as often as possible, cooking winter squash in the fire to be accompanied by smoky feta, and roasting pork loin that's served with brown butter jus. He also makes such compelling snacks as fried catfish sliders on sweet potato rolls. Desserts, like the chocolate shortbread-studded bourbon brown-sugar ice cream sundae, are similarly weighty, and the well-considered bar program spotlights beer, cider, and mead from the area. 122 Blagden Alley NW.
Thomas Keller protege Eric Ziebold (who helmed the popular City Zen at Washington’s Mandarin Oriental) runs this romantic restaurant with his wife Célia. Ziebold likes to put an indulgent spin on classics: Caviar with potato chips is an $80 snack; the caviar is ossetra, the chips made from Yukon Gold potatoes.
The restaurant is already renowned for its chicken, stuffed under the skin with buttery, lemon-garlic crumbs and served with French-style roast potatoes.
Downstairs, accessible by elevator, is the intimate tasting menu spot Métier. 1015 7th St. NW.
When he opened his family-style, no-reservations spot Rose’s Luxury in 2013, chef Aaron Silverman almost singlehandedly put Washington on the country’s culinary radar. His new Capitol Hill spot, Pineapple and Pearls, is a coffee shop that during the day serves its namesake sugar-studded pastry and a superior fried chicken sandwich. At night, Silverman presents a 13-course meal that goes for $250, tip and drinks included. Everything after the introductory chic aperitif—from the tender, black pepper milk-bread rolls with foie gras butter to a seafood red curry that's powered through a Japanese coffee siphon—is meticulous and delicious. 715 Eighth St. SE.
For years, chef Nicholas Stefanelli prepared his primo pastas at Bibiana in a primo location downtown. Now, he's helping turn the gritty Union Market area into a foodie destination.
Hidden behind a bare wooden wall that manages to be dramatic, Masseria is divided into three areas, including a courtyard, and a bar with a colorful blue-tiled floor that makes you feel there's a sunny beach nearby.
Stefanelli still specializes in pastas such as linguine with an Italian take on XO sauce—with plenty of oil, garlic and pepperoncini—and sublime pasta purses, stuffed with an exceptionally creamy buffalo ricotta filling. 1340 4th St. NE.
Start with the name, a reference to a saying from the Virgin Islands that clarifies the difference between a goat and a sheep ("Tail down? Sheep."). The menu isn’t Caribbean, though; it’s a wonderful mix of Mediterranean flavors from chef Jon Sybert, who cooked at Komi.
He matches juicy, fatty lamb ribs that have been roasted, then grilled, with seasonally changing sides such as salsa verde. He's also a bread master: Just sample the delectable tangy and doughy seaweed sourdough, topped with whipped lardo and pickled sardines.
The concise wine list is overseen by Sybert’s wife Jill Tyler, who has sourced such gems as Austria’s Schloss Gobelsburg Riesling Tradition—a must imbibe. 1827 Adams Mill Road NW.
Every once in a while, a restaurant puts an entire cuisine on people's culinary radar. So it is with Bad Saint in Adams Morgan, which has made a national case for Filipino food and become the city's latest dining room to line up for. At the tiny spot, where family photos decorate the walls, Tom Cunanan prepares such dishes as a high-rising pile of deep-fried shredded sweet potato and carrot fritters (ukoy), and clams and sausage in house XO sauce with Chinese doughnuts. There's a conveniently located bar at the end of the block called Room 11; you will, no doubt, have time to kill. 3226 11th Street NW.
In the past, drinking in Washington meant conquering a giant steakhouse martini. Things began changing in 2009, when bartender extraordinaire Derek Brown opened his first place, the Passenger. Earlier this year, he reopened his destination bar, Columbia Room, on Blagden Alley, a few doors down from the Dabney, above.
There are three different spaces to enjoy the superior drinks, including the prix fixe Tasting Room, with its omakase-style cocktail menu, and the stylish Spirits Library, which serves the steady cocktail (a mix of gin, dry vermouth, Chartreuse, and a few drops of extra virgin olive oil), as well as half-dozen old fashioned variations. 124 Blagden Alley NW.
Where to Stay
As with Washington's restaurants, the district's hotel scene is expanding by the minute. The nation's capital has seen an unprecedented boom, with more than 5,000 hotel rooms opening or under construction from 2016 to 2017. (That might not be the most current count). Here are three notable ones to know:
The Watergate: After undergoing a $200 million renovation that kept it closed for nine years, this vast property reopened last year. The place that's synonymous with the impeachment of President Richard Nixon makes the most of its '70's vibe, with rooms that have the look of a chic Italian cruise ship and groovy umbrellas decorated with sketches by Mad Men costume designer Janie Bryant.
The Next Whisky Bar in the lobby has a curling wall comprising full whisky bottles and notable geometric red chairs.
Trump International Hotel: Now comes a hotel with an even stronger presidential association than the Watergate: The just-opened property in the castle-like Old Post Office building has 263 high-ceilinged rooms and a bold blue and white design. The Spa by Ivanka Trump has yet to welcome guests; but the modern steakhouse, BLT Prime by David Burke, has started serving customers such dishes as the Clock Tower seafood extravaganza with lobster, oysters, shrimp, and crab. There's also salt-baked crispy chicken and lots and lots of beef. Be prepared to spend, though: Since last fall, the cocktail prices have shot up to a base of $24 (and go up to $100).
The Line DC: Set to open in March, this hotel from the Sydell Group is located in an old church with a grand entrance and 60-foot vaulted ceilings. In addition to 220 charming rooms, the hotel has views of the Washington Monument—and, more unconventionally, contains a broadcast radio station. Notable for foodies are its restaurants: A Rake's Progress, from destination chef Spike Gjerde of Woodberry Kitchen in Baltimore, and Spoken English, a tasting menu spot from Washington chef Erik Bruner-Yang, who is also rethinking the hotel lobby restaurant with a place called Brothers and Sisters.