Elections Inspire Menu Additions

D.C. Restaurants Plan Around Presidential Theme

Posted April 26, 2004 at 11:15am

In a city where even what you choose to call your fries — French or freedom — can have profound political implications, it’s hardly surprising that during a presidential election year restaurateurs would be on the prowl for creative ways to appeal to the varied yens of the capital’s partisan palates.

With that in mind, Roll Call surveyed some of the District’s hottest dining spots for a sneak peek at the politically themed menus and offerings planned to highlight November’s impending Bush-Kerry showdown.

During this most political of seasons, hard-core junkies should be right at home at The Monocle (107 D St. NE), located less than a block from the Hart Senate Office Building, where the Valanos family has been feeding hungry Members and their staff for more than 40 years.

Current owner John Valanos draws on his wide circle of politico-culinary contacts to inform his election week menu, which allows diners the chance to vote with their stomachs. In 2000, Valanos consulted the chef at the governor’s mansion in Austin for hints as to then-Gov. George W. Bush’s (R) meal of choice.

“His favorite dish at the mansion was a coffee-infused red wine sauce with filet mignon,” said Valanos. (Extreme Bushies will be pleased to learn that the coffee used in the dish is none other than the president’s reportedly favorite morning blend: a mix of Colombian supreme dark and supreme medium beans. Moreover, the meal is also served with a favorite of first lady Laura Bush’s: potatoes Romanoff.)

Look for Valanos to reprise the $25 “Filet Mignon W Style,” during the week leading up to Election Day, which the loyal GOPer can pair with a Bush cosmopolitan martini.

To pinpoint the culinary preferences of the Democratic presidential hopeful, Valanos turned to a senior Kerry staffer, who advised him that the Massachusetts Senator was partial to an herb-crusted halibut with chardonnay sauce, which Valanos plans to offer for $19. For ber-Dems, the Kerry meal can be washed down with the Kerry drink, a Samuel Adams Boston Lager.

And on the night of Nov. 2, the restaurant will buzz with up-to-the-minute election returns, said Valanos.

“We have a network of people that feeds us exit polling that calls the restaurant,” he noted. During the evening, the maitre d’ will circulate throughout the red, white and blue bunting-decked dining room updating patrons on their races of interest.

Just west of the Capitol, new kid on the block Charlie Palmer Steak (101 Constitution Ave. NW), which moved to the Hill about a year ago, will debut a yet-to-be-determined pair of donkey and elephant drinks for the summer presidential nominating conventions, which will remain on the menu for both the convention and election weeks. A chalkboard in the bar will be used to keep tabs on which drink is more popular with customers.

“We might even use the wines of Massachusetts and the wines of Texas and keep track,” enthused the steak house’s Austrian-born General Manager Gerald Moesslinger, who said he’s looking forward to the craziness of the American election season.

Near the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue, Chef Geoff’s Downtown (13th Street between E and F streets Northwest) will kick off its own straw poll of guests three weeks before Election Day with special cocktails to aid in the decision-making process. In addition to Bush, Kerry and Nader, however, there are plans to include the eponymous chef himself, Geoff Tracy, on the ballot.

“I think I have a perfect platform of great food, libation and merriment,” quipped Tracy, who has pledged to name the generically dubbed “White House Scramble” after the presidential victor for the duration of his term. All who participate in his straw poll will be invited to an election-night party at the restaurant.

Once the conventions conclude in early September, look for the Old Ebbitt Grill (675 15th St. NW) to trade the “Woman with Cockatoo” painting in its lobby for an enormous 7-by-10-foot election board, on which the restaurant will track the presidential preferences of its patrons.

“For every check that gets paid we hand out a ballot,” said Assistant General Manager Kyle Gaffney. In 2000, Gaffney said diners “had it right,” with Gore winning the most votes.

Although the perennially popular saloon doesn’t plan to deviate from its classic all-American fare during the election, party-line imbibers will be pleased to know that while the restaurant’s clientele is generally “very nonpartisan,” two of its four bars do tend to split down the political aisle, with the “back bar much more Republican” and “the corner bar more Democratic,” said Gaffney.

On Inauguration Day, however, Old Ebbitt takes a strictly winner-take-all approach, with the party in control of the White House earning the right to rent out the restaurant’s prime real estate for the day.

“The parade route goes right by,” explained Gaffney.

But if you can’t wait till the summer conventions or the fall elections to get into the spirit, some establishments have already begun infusing their menus with political flavor.

Since the onslaught of the February primary season, the Four Seasons’ Garden Terrace Lounge (2800 Pennsylvania Ave. NW) has offered “A Democratic Straw Poll of Cocktails,” which initially included specialty drinks for each of the Party of Jackson’s presidential contenders. As the candidates have dropped out of the race, the cocktails have been crossed off the menu, though guests can still order their defeated heroes’ namesake libations.

To date, the cocktails have been narrowed down to the “Kerry Catch Up,” a mix of tequila, cointreau, fresh raspberries and lime, and the ever-quirky Kucinich-inspired “Ku Ku Who,” made with passion fruit puree, vodka and lime.

Once Kerry receives his party’s official nod in July, his drink will go head to head with President Bush’s “George W. MD,” a brew of white tequila, vodka, gin, rum and spiced iced tea, with the winner announced on Election Day based on total drink orders. Also on tap for the big night are menu items invoking the candidates’ home states. Patrons will be able to nibble on Bush-inspired Tex-Mex selections alongside New England-style Kerry tidbits, while watching the results on one of the terrace’s two high-definition 37-inch flat plasma televisions.

Not to be outdone by its equally high-class competitor, beginning June 1 The Ritz Carlton Georgetown’s Degrees Bar (3100 South St. NW) will offer a trio of drinks in red, white and blue (at $12 a pop) for the patriotically partisan. Red will be represented by the “Kerry Berry Cocktail,” a swirl of Grey Goose L’Orange, Absolut Currant and cranberry juice; White, by the GOPartini, a vodka martini with Hangar vodka; and blue, by the “Patriot Blue Martini,” a gin martini topped with a dash of tonic water and a drop of blue curacao.

Finally to capitalize “on all the political fervor going on in the city,” Occidental Grille (1475 Pennsylvania Ave. NW) General Manager Chris George this month rolled out a new happy hour menu, which will remain in place indefinitely. The Congressionally inspired drinks run the gamut from the “Capitol Hill Margarita,” a mixture of Cuervo Gold tequila, cointreau and orange juice to “Below the Beltway,” a blend of Bacardi Rum, blue curacao and pineapple juice floated with Malibu Rum. A spruced-up new bar menu, which includes lobster tempura, crispy shrimp and vegetable roll, and calamari fritti has also been introduced.

Irrespective of the heightened partisanship of a presidential election year, George said he’s doing his part to help bridge the political divide by reaching out to a variety of Democratic Members at a time when his restaurant is known for its more reliably Republican clientele.

“I’d like to do things with the Congressional Black Caucus,” George said of his current outreach efforts. “It’s always about building relationships.”