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Washington, DC Says Farewell To Perhaps Its Greatest All-Around Restaurant Talent

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The conversation before Christmas went like this:

"Can I break it, John?"

"Nah. Nobody cares."

"Yes, they care a great deal, and they're going to want a chance to say goodbye."

"I don't want to deal with all this stuff before the holidays."

In typical John Wabeck fashion, his quiet, self-effacing demeanor denied the sad truth that DC was on the verge of losing what I consider to possibly be its greatest restaurant talent: there is no one single person that I'm aware of who is a better chef, sommelier, and front of the house presence than John Wabeck. Yes, some are his equal in one of those categories, and it might be the very rare talent who's his equal in two, but nobody is his equal in all three. In baseball terms, he would be the greatest utility player who ever lived, and an eventual Hall of Famer.

January 31st will be John's final day at Society Fair, where he has quietly been cooking on Thursday and Friday evenings for the past few weeks. Thursday is "Steak Night," with both John and Cathal grilling cuts of beef; Friday is the Demo Kitchen - you can find more about these two evenings on Society Fair's website, and you'll have a few more opportunities (but only a few) to experience John's cooking.

John and Melissa Horst are moving to Pittsburgh - Melissa (coming from Virtue Feed and Grain) is already there, and is the GM at what I think is (don't quote me on this because John wasn't quite sure of the name) the magnificent Salt of the Earth (take a look at my write-up there). Although I haven't been to some of the new guard, this was easily the best meal I've ever had in Pittsburgh.

John will become sommelier at Spoon which has an excellent reputation. I asked him, "Will you chef there?" "Nope, their chef is Brian Pekarcik," and he's better than me." "Will you cook back-up?" "Nope." "Run the front of the house?" "Nope, I'm just going to be sommelier - it's a dream job."

I wonder if Spoon fully realizes just what a talent they're about to pick up in John Wabeck. His tastes in wine have evolved so much in the 10+ years I've known him. He ferrets out these fantastic, obscure, inexpensive wines from around the world that are calibrated *exactly* to my palate, and he is as good at this as anyone. Spoon, if you're out there reading this, you have a truly gifted professional coming your way. Your win, our loss.

Although John and I have lost touch in recent years (he is, after all, in a wonderful relationship with Melissa), he has never once lost my respect. I am well aware of what this city is losing, and although he has kept a quiet demeanor of late, he has kept getting better and better at what he does. "I've never cooked this well before," was one of the last things he said to me last night, as we were finishing our wonderful dinner at Society Fair.

If anyone from dr.com wishes to pay homage to John, may I suggest organizing something in haste? Otherwise, it would be more than fitting for everyone to visit Society Fair individually, this month, before this great talent moves onward and upward to Pittsburgh. We'll miss you, John, more than you know.

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I ran into John over Thanksgiving and, on hearing that he was again behind the line, tried to get a rez in the demo kitchen. Alas, then as now (and I just checked every Thursday and Friday through the end of the month) reservations are not available.

Guess I'll have to settle for wine degustation instead.

Best of luck luck to a great chef and a great fucking guy. And a lucky fucking guy -- I'd follow Melissa a lot farther than Pittsburgh if I was him.

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Farewell John. Firefly during the tenure of Mr. Wabeck was the site of many an early DR gathering, both formal and informal. And you were pretty much guaranteed to run into a DR member at the bar any day of the week. If you scroll through the early pages of the Firefly thread you will find one constant, John's work with lamb. Delicious stuff.

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My husband and I were having dinner at Firefly quite a few years ago and were seated at a table next to the kitchen. John came and stood in the doorway and chatted with us off and on during most of our meal. We talked about this board, food of course and wine too. He really made that meal memorable. I've enjoyed noting John's progress through the DC restaurant scene since then and am sad to hear he's moving away. But, we wish him all the best in Pittsburgh.

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I went to high school with Brian Pekarcik and played sports with him (he was a year older and much better than I). I've been impressed with the positive pub he's received in the Pittsburgh media and do know other Murrysvillians who have enjoyed meals at his restaurants. I hope all works out for everyone.



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