One week after Bon Appetit magazine named Washington the “Restaurant City of The Year” and just days after the death of pioneering chef Michel Richard — whose “Central” is literally across the street from Donald Trump’s new hotel — the Republican presidential nominee is dissing D.C.’s culinary scene.
Asked whether liberals would frequent his establishment, the billionaire reasoned, “They want to go to a great restaurant. … There aren’t that many in Washington, believe me. There aren’t that many in Washington, as you know.”
In fairness, Trump’s comments were actually made during a taped deposition regarding his hotel project. But the timing of the publication of these comments (his criticism of D.C. restaurants in the deposition transcript was first noticed by the Washingtonian) couldn’t be worse.
Since June, Trump’s campaign has collapsed due to off-message comments — namely, his penchant for publicly criticizing others. What’s more, Trump’s condemnation looks much sillier than it might have appeared, even a couple of months ago. According to the most recent Bon Appetit magazine, the D.C. food scene is “blowing up” and “bubbling with momentum.”
I’m just a humble political writer, which might be why I see a political lesson in all of this. Trump’s criticism of the local food scene is really a microcosm of larger problems having to do with: (a) a penchant for cheap and gaudy things over quality (see Trump’s love for well-done steaks and fast food), (b) his braggadocio that always requires putting others down to build himself up, and (c) his incessant desire for revenge and the settling of scores (see the much-publicized dispute with D.C. food legend Jose Andres).
Of course, taking cheap shots at Washington is a proud tradition. Trump would hardly be the first populist to take a swipe at the nation’s capital. Then again, how many outsiders open huge hotels in the District?
It turns out that Trump’s political rhetoric isn’t the only thing that suggests he’s a vulgarian. President Obama might be wrong about a lot of things, but one big thing he’s right about is food. The first lady (who has a bit more time on her hands) seems to have an even more impressive palate. As Eater recently noted, “This year, she’s visited critical darling Rose’s Luxury and Georgetown newcomer Chez Billy Sud (twice).”
Now, you might think that this is all just proof that Trump is a man of the people, while the Obamas are elitists. But there are governing implications. In his excellent book “Hardball,” Chris Matthews writes that “the first thing Reagan did after being elected was attend a series of well-planned gatherings in the homes of the capital’s most prominent journalists, lawyers and business people.”
Matthews continues: “‘I decided it was time to serve notice that we’re residents,’ Reagan told The Washington Post’s Elisabeth Bumiller. ‘We wanted to get to know some people in Washington.’ They went to dinner at the home of conservative columnist George Will, where they met Katharine Graham, publisher of the Post and bete noire of recent Republican administrations. Next, they attended a party thrown by Mrs. Graham at her home in Georgetown. All this sent a clear signal: The Reagans and their people had come to join Washington society, not scorn it.”
In the unlikely event that a President Trump decides to take a page from the Reagan-Obama playbook (both ran as outsiders!), the following are a few places he should visit:
– Central, the James Beard Award-winning restaurant, is Michel Richard’s “American bistro, with a French accent.” Executive chef David Deshaies’ creations are terrific, And they are famous for their take on fried chicken. Make sure to get the soft-shell crab while you still can. Ask for Frank.
– Georgetown’s Chez Billy Sud is Parisian elegant, without being stuffy. Get the truite Grenobloise or the confit de canard.
– Oyamel is Jose Andres’ bustling Mexican street-food restaurant. It’s a great lunch spot, and you can’t go wrong with anything on the menu. Wash it all down with my favorite drink, the Sagrado Corazon (“Chinaco ‘Verde’ Blanco Tequila with cilantro and toasted coriander, served over hibiscus ice.”)
– Located in the now trendy Shaw neighborhood, All Purpose is a spin on New Jersey pizza joints. Order the stracciatella bruschetta (blistered sweet corn, fresno chili cilantro, bread and butter pickles), the eggplant parm, and the Cossimo pizza (roasted mushrooms, taleggio, scallions, preserved truffle sauce, grana). Make sure to try sommelier Sebastian’s rosé this summer.
– I dined at Tail Up Goat last week and liked it so much that I made a reservation before departing. (Make sure to try the cucumber + melon and the corn ravioli.)
You can thank me later, Mr. Trump.