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Josh

"What's Missing From DC's Food Scene? A Lot"� by Mark Furstenberg on washingtonpost.com

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This article is so incoherent in its criticism that it doesn't warrant a coherent response...but I'll waste 2 minutes on one anyway.

Let's start here:

"Great food cities are ones with a discernible tradition, ones that have good grocery stores and markets; many small stores run by people with single-minded devotion to food craft — to charcuterie, coffee, bread, cheese and ice cream — and relatively easy access to really good produce and other ingredients."

Just to make it tough, I'll stick to an area 1 square mile from my house in NE DC.

Charcuterie: Red Apron

Coffee: Peregrine, Sidamo, Vigilante (hopefully coming soon)

Bread: Lyon Bakery, Batter Bowl Bakery, Frenchies

Cheese: Righteous Cheese, Cowgirl Creamery (1.9 miles from my house...the horror!!!)

Ice Cream: Pitango Gelato, Dolcezza, Trickling Springs Creamery

Produce: Almaala Farms, Eastern Shore Organic, H St. Farmer's Market, Join a freaking CSA

As for a discernible tradition, I would offer that DC's seems to be journalists who ignorantly rant about the food scene of a city they clearly have no current knowledge of.

Great food cities have restaurants offering varied cuisines at varied price levels, neighborhood restaurants and special-occasion restaurants. They have chefs committed to their cities and focused on their restaurants, and — most important — a sophisticated and demanding clientele intolerant of bad service and bad food.

Again, let's stick to NE/SE DC:

Inexpensive: A Litteri, Mangialardo and Sons, Shawafel, Chupacabra, Neopol Smokery, Buffalo and Bergen, Red Apron, Taylor Gourmet, Taylor Charles Steak and Ice, Taste of Jamaica, Jam Duong Style, Little Ricky's, H & Pizza, Tortilla Cafe, Market Lunch

Neighborhood: Red Hen, Boundary Road, Le Grenier, Hanks on the Hill, Beuchert's Saloon, Belga Cafe, Granville Moore's, Menomale, Toki Underground, Tash, Montmartre, Ethiopic

Special Occasion: Atlas Room (could also fit in neighborhood). Head over the the dreaded NW, and you get The Source, Fiola, Corduroy, etc.

Look, I moved here after living in the East Village of NYC for almost 10 years. I love the food scene in that city, and in that neighborhood in particular. DC is not NY, and I would hate it if it tried to be. DC is DC, and the food scene here is something to be proud of.

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I like Tom as a food critic -- though, less these days -- but that article was theft: some poor freelancer (or, half the people on this board) could have used the $500 (if I remember correctly) check and the byline to feed their friends and advance their career, and written a wildly more interesting and informative piece than this. There hasn't been so much yawn-inducing navel gazing in the Food Section since Joe Yonan compared his "coming out" as a vegetarian to coming out as gay.

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Furstenberg's main complaint seems to be the priceness of the kinds of food experiences he counts as good, and in and around DC, that is a fair point -- up to a point. If he expanded his horizon to the close-in suburbs he would find places like Great Wall and all the other Asian stores that sell exotic produce at reasonable prices, the numerous Indian, Latino and other grocery stores that cater to particular ethnic gorups (some of which can be found in the District itself). But he has always been a contrarian and has made great contributions to the food culture of DC, and I suggest that this article was written to stimulate some debate and raise consciousness, so I will give him some credit even if there is a lot to argue with in his piece.

Unlike the other cities that Furstenberg cites for their good food cultures, today's Washington is a relatively recent creation -- something that developed during the past 40 years or so. Also we have a much smaller population than most of those other cities which can therefore support more "Central Markets" or similar ventures. Given those relative disadvantages, the Washington food scene ain't so bad and it keeps improving.

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But he has always been a contrarian and has made great contributions to the food culture of DC, and I suggest that this article was written to stimulate some debate and raise consciousness, so I will give him some credit even if there is a lot to argue with in his piece.

I'm not sure what to credit him with. This article was not written with intellectual curiosity, or in the spirit of debating the DC food culture. If a healthy debate ensues, it is in spite of viewpoints like Furstenburg's, not because of them.

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Obviously, there are lots of great restaurants in the area with every conceivable price point.

But DC certainly lacks any sort or regional culture or identity.

If you disagree, answer me this...if a friend was coming in from out of town and asked you to take them somewhere that was uniquely DC, where would you go?

And yes, I agree with Furstenburg...if you're going to answer Ben's Chili Bowl, don't bother playing. :)

I'd probably go out to Eden Center.

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...if a friend was coming in from out of town and asked you to take them somewhere that was uniquely DC, where would you go?

I honestly have to say I don't know what to make of a question like this. Where would I bring someone in NYC who asked the same question? No idea. An old school pizzeria like Di Fara? An old school steakhouse like Keens? A celebrated "special occasion" place like EMP or Daniel? A divey Japanese place in the East Village? One of the many amazing ethnic joints in Queens? A bagel shop? What exactly is New York's cultural identity? What is Chicago's? Houston's? St. Louis has a regional specialty of toasted ravioli and terrible thin crust pizza, so I guess they have DC beat.

I'm more interested in eating good food made by people who love to make good food, and DC has plenty of that.

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I think the fact that people are going goo goo ga ga over Le Diplomate, an import from Philly, is telling about DC's dining scene. You still can't get a decent plateau de fruits de mer in this town. DC's Chinatown is a joke and most recommended cuisine in DC is Ethiopian. Arghhh!!!!

There are some very good restaurants in DC but variety and depth are both lacking.

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DC's Chinatown is a joke

Rockville is DC's real Chinatown, just like Flushing is NYC's real Chinatown.

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I'm more interested in eating good food made by people who love to make good food, and DC has plenty of that.

Every decent size city has plenty of that.

What do you think DC has that elevates it over any other medium to large city?

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What do you think DC has that elevates it over any other medium to large city?

Nothing. But then, I don't see article after article decrying Houston's or Portland's or wherever's terrible food scene.

My point isn't that DC is the world's top dining destination...it's that it isn't the cultural backwater it's been made out to be since forever. I was really, really dreading moving here 3 years ago because of all the negative things I'd heard about DC. I've been happy to find that by and large, most of those were wrong.

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My point isn't that DC is the world's top dining destination...it's that it isn't the cultural backwater it's been made out to be since forever.

Made out to be by whom, in recent years?

Certainly not today's piece, which pointed out several great restaurants and markets in DC. It was, based on my reading, taking on the suggestion that DC has somehow become a world class food city or has a "really wonderful food culture." IMO, it's a stretch to say that either is true, otherwise just about every big city could lay claim to being well above average, at which point these adjectives begin to lose any meaning. There's no shame in being a good food city that's come a long way in the past decade and still trying to get better. As suggested above, DC needs better variety and depth to be in the same conversation as NYC, SF, et al.

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I'm more interested in eating good food made by people who love to make good food, and DC has plenty of that.

Every decent size city has plenty of that.

What do you think DC has that elevates it over any other medium to large city?

I agree with Josh and think if you compare quality and breadth of cuisines here to other cities of similar size, the most obvious and different thing is the improvement more so than the absolute level. The DC area is radically different (and better) than it was 10 or 12 years ago. The difference being much more obvious and marked than most any other city. Which makes some sense given the economic malaise of the past several years and this area's ability to largely buck that trend in terms of real estate values and employment. We're on the map for restauranteurs looking for attractive markets now in a way that wasn't as true years ago. FWIW.

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Mr. Furtstenberg was and remains a welcome voice in the slow, steady march of DC's food culture towards something everyone can celebrate and treasure.

He could stand a better editor, though. The goalposts shift in this piece almost by the paragraph.

So LA is to be celebrated for making people travel all over in search of good cuisine, but in DC that's a bad thing? And must a city be judged by their downtown, touristy options? Oh wait I guess not because there is lip service paid to other parts of DC here, but not by name? I don't judge New York by what I can eat in Times Square. To be honest, the real points worth discussing in his article (local markets, butchers/fishmongers, DC's proliferation of multi-restaurant fiefdoms) are drowned out in the real estate bitching - which strikes me as the frustrations of someone who has been trying for a long time to open his own place only to not want to pay the market rate for downtown square footage.

Oh, and the "CAN YOU GUYS BELIEVE WHAT PEOPLE PAY FOR COCKTAILS AND THEY CALL THEMSELVES MIXOLOGISTS" aside was done years ago. Please, everyone just stop. That carries as much weight as when people make up Starbucks drink names to mock coffee culture ("I bet he drinks a mochachocofrappamisto LOL LOL LOL").

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I'm not adding much to this conversation really, but can I just say that it really irks me when the Dupont Circle farmers market is referenced to be representative of the markets in our area. The product at that market, while wonderful, is outrageously priced. But, there are tons of markets in our city and surrounding suburbs offering really wonderful produce, pastured meat and dairy, and artisan/small batch/home made/whatever you want to call it products for much more reasonable prices. And that may be part of the issue with this article, broad generalizations that aren't necessarily representative of what's going on in the DC area.

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I agree with most of what MF says in his article, though I also agree with what others have said in this thread, that his criteria seem a bit shifty and he contradicts himself a few times. But his central points are valid: out-of-town, chain-like development has dominated the restaurant scene recently in a city that can only take so much of it before it seems homogenized; good market options are a recent and still underdeveloped aspect of food life here; finding decent cheese, meat and other staples in shops dedicated to them is difficult and only recently beginning to improve. I think it's important to recognize the standard he his setting and that he says DC so far has failed to achieve: a great restaurant city. DC isn't one, and it's not bitter and mean-spirited to observe this while recognizing the vast and genuine improvements the city has made toward that standard in only the past few decades. Perhaps his article hit a nerve because we justifiably have a lot to be proud of in how DC's food culture has improved and continues to improve. (There is also the broader, and broadly American, problem that the capital's cultural significance has always disappointed those who expect it to be commensurate with its political power.) His piece rains on this parade but rightfully points out that DC still has a way to go before it can call itself a great or world-class food city.

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Made out to be by whom, in recent years?

Well, from most everyone who found out I was moving here. That has been DC's reputation, at least in NY. Articles like Furstenburg's add to that reputation, at the expense of the hard work of our local chefs and entrepreneurs.

I listed some very specific rebuttals to Furstenburg's laments in my 1st post. It obviously really got under my skin that he would make such criticisms of DC when all of what he is ostensibly seeking can be found within walking distance of one neighborhood. Instead of griping about what is wrong about DC, and then listing some places that are promising, how about flipping the order? Start off by praising those people and places who are getting things right, urge Washingtonians to frequent those places and then suggest ways to improve. That seems more likely to lead to the DC scene he dreams of.

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Well, from most everyone who found out I was moving here. That has been DC's reputation, at least in NY. Articles like Furstenburg's add to that reputation, at the expense of the hard work of our local chefs and entrepreneurs.

I listed some very specific rebuttals to Furstenburg's laments in my 1st post. It obviously really got under my skin that he would make such criticisms of DC when all of what he is ostensibly seeking can be found within walking distance of one neighborhood. Instead of griping about what is wrong about DC, and then listing some places that are promising, how about flipping the order? Start off by praising those people and places who are getting things right, urge Washingtonians to frequent those places and then suggest ways to improve. That seems more likely to lead to the DC scene he dreams of.

I'm not sure how an article criticizing DC for not being world class somehow harms the city's reputation. I think the mere fact that it took on the claim suggests that the city is anything but a backwater food-wise. More importantly, what credibility exists in the uninformed views of NYers about DC carry, if any? Especially when most of them probably haven't seen firsthand the improvements here in recent years. I have a hard time believing that DC's "reputation" around the country is nearly as bad as you put it.

To be clear, I don't agree with everything that Furstenberg said, or how he made the arguments. But I also don't think the general thesis was off base either.

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I must commend Furstenberg for one thing: He writes Great food cities have restaurants offering varied cuisines at varied price and I was sure the next word was going to be points, but he did the right thing and wrote levels. Go thou and do likewise.

More broadly, I would really prefer never to hear anything ever again about whether Washington is a "great" or "world-class" food city. This ersatz issue has come up in the press or online every fifteen minutes or so for the last twenty years, and I think we've had quite enough of it.

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Whatever their viewpoints, I think almost all the posts in this thread give interesting interpretations of MF's article and the DC food scene. Although I don't share many of Josh's objections to the article, I found his views as a former New Yorker and the positive impressions he has gained despite the badmouthing of DC interesting and revealing. There is much in DC food culture to be thankful for, and that is something MF and his critics here seem to agree on. It's just a matter of emphasis. MF chose to focus on the empty half of the glass, and in a situation where the glass is gradually filling up, that can be seen as an ill-mannered swipe. Although tiresome to some, debating the question of whether DC is or can become a great food city is a sign of civic interest in a healthy and growing gastronomic culture. If this thread is any indication, MF's article contributed to that debate.

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I wonder how much Furstenburg intended to provoke versus actually believing all the viewpoints he expressed? As with any "bombshell" piece like this, articles, debate and online activity follows and that's of course what WaPo is after. I'm contributing to that trend here.

I have much respect for MF (whom I don't know) as a baker. That aside, I think the article includes some serious and good points along with at least as many (likely more) that border on the ridiculous.

For example, I'd agree with MF that it'd be nice to have more brick-and-mortar places (i.e., beyond all the great farmers' markets) with everyday fresh. quality produce on offer. We're lucky to have a few great fishmongers but but those are relatively rare and probably insufficient for the size of the city.

I agree with the double standard critique noted above about restaurants and stores being spread out enough to require some driving (MF's comparison of DC to LA). He also seems to just skip entirely over small purveyors that don't support the critical thesis (e.g., LeoNora and Arrowwine in Arlington, Stachowski in Georgetown, Dolcezza throughout the city and suburbs). Also, I don't know how anyone can say there "isn't any good coffee" in this city? Are you freakin' serious? There has been a veritable explosion of great, small, independent coffee shops in this city over just the past 6 or 7 years. All of them sell bagged beans from the best roasters in the US or do a fantastic job as roaster/retailers selling their own? Has he ever been to Qualia? Filter? Dolcezza? The Coffee Bar? Big Bear? Peregrine? etc, etc. And those examples are just a subset of the great coffee purveyors in DC wtihout ranging out to NoVa, where there are several more. One of them (Peregrine) is at Union Market, which MF thinks "has promise." Guess he didn't get a coffee when doing his research there. And, is it really a serious charge to knock all mixologists and everything they do under the simplistic banner of the "$18 dollar cocktail?" Derek Brown? Chantal Tseng? Jeff Faille? Gina Chersevani? I'm not even much of a cocktail drinker but I know who those folks are and their talent. I know and appreciate their multifaceted and incredibly positive impact on DC. Did MF talk to or consider any of them?

I'd say 'C'mon man!,' and write more but I really question whether this Sunday Magazine cover piece is meant seriously. I think it's just about stirring up the blogosphere and, if that's right, mission accomplished and the clicks and unique visitor counts should get a temporary bump they can celebrate on 15th St.

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those outraged by Furstenburg's article, have any of you been to Charleston lately? Or, Jesus, even Richmond? I think he's on to something, with regard to rents and their impact on the specialty grocer, cheesemonger, baker (I think we can all agree he knows something about that) brewer (which he didn't mention but you have to really want to brew beer in DC to have done so, Fritz Hahn's article to the contrary notwithstanding) or young innovative genius restaurateur without a shit-ton of capital (bye bye, pizza man, we'll miss you).

I think if you live in a city with the population of Washington and the second cheesemaker you can come up with in rebuttal to his point is a Cowgirl Creamery from Point Reyes with a retail outlet 2 miles from your house, you're making his point. OTOH, things are certainly getting better, but the question one might ask is, are they getting better everywhere else,too, but at a faster pace?

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I'd say 'C'mon man!,' and write more but I really question whether this Sunday Magazine cover piece is meant seriously. I think it's just about stirring up the blogosphere...

I'd say that's a conspiracy theory in the making. People can disagree about MF's article, but must we drag it down to this level, where there always must be a convenient agenda and ulterior motive to an argument for it to be refuted? That's more typically Washington than the food culture MF is criticizing.

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One of them (Peregrine) is at Union Market, which MF thinks "has promise." Guess he didn't get a coffee when doing his research there.

All debating aside, this comment cracked me up. :lol:

(I also thought the coffee comment was nuts.)

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