New York Food Snobs: They Love Us. They Love Us Not.
Obama's inauguration has given the New York Times and one of its former minions plenty of opportunity to opine on the District's ever-evolving restaurant scene.
First came this polite nod on Sunday, in which the once Gray Lady dubbed D.C. one of "44 Places to Go in 2009." The District's main selling point? "[O]ne of the best reasons to visit the nation's capital this year is its suddenly lively food scene." The piece mentioned Michel Richard, of course, as if he just moved to town.
Then came today's long feature by Kim Severson, in which the reporter profiles our burgeoning neighborhood restaurant scenes in Columbia Heights, Shaw, Petworth, and H Street NE. "Washington neighborhoods that for years were considered too dangerous or too poor for a viable sit-down restaurant," Severson writes, "are suddenly entertaining quite a few."
You could argue that the piece implied that the quality of the restaurants in each 'hood is higher than the reality. I mean, you can count the ones worth visting on one hand (well, if you had six fingers): CommonWealth, RedRocks, Dr. Granville Moore's, W Domku, Cork, and Marvin. You could also argue that the Times regurgitated that tired old cliche about the divide between official D.C. and neighborhood D.C., a divide that can be as porous as the U.S.-Mexican border. But still, the feature did single out a few of the city's best neighborhood restaurants, which no doubt will help business at those places in the coming days.
Now in between those two articles, Politico ran this piece of barely serviceable service journalism about D.C.'s Top 10 restaurants. Well, it was supposed to be about D.C.'s Top 10 restaurants, but poor, beleagured Marian Burros, a former Times food writer, could find only eight worth hyping. Writes Burros:
One thing, though, has not changed. Having lived in both New York and Washington for the past 27 years, I find it is still true that only a handful of restaurants here — Restaurant Eve and The Inn at Little Washington (tied for best), CityZen and Citronelle, when Michel Richard is in residence — can compete with New York’s finest.
There are others that are generally very good, and many of those have good to great wine lists, but finding the area’s 10 best restaurants took some digging. And when faced with having to rate them, the top 10 list shrank to eight.
Burros' velvet-wrapped hatchet job caused at least one indignant local foodie to write to Politico. Mike Bober, the author of the Capital Spice blog, shared his letter to the editor with me. It reads:
I was almost as disappointed by Marian Burros' "Hot Tables" article in your special inaugural issue as Ms. Burros is with the state of dining in Washington relative to that of New York.
Her inability to set aside her Big Apple bias in a piece where it had little to no relevance ruined an otherwise insightful article.
What use do visitors to DC for this momentous event have with the knowledge that "only a handful of restaurants here...can compete with New York's finest?" Perhaps if she had been looking for longer than a month, she might have been able to find 10 truly enjoyable experiences, instead of lamenting her inability to find more than 8 that reminded her of New York's premier establishments.
As someone who works in politics and writes a local food blog, I can assure you that it is possible to celebrate the best of Washington's dining scene without even mentioning New York – and this would have been a far more positive piece if Ms. Burros had kept the focus on DC.
I hope in the future you'll look to those of us here in Washington who can write critically about local restaurants without looking down our noses. We would welcome the opportunity to introduce visitors to some of the best dining experiences in the city, instead of having them settle for national chains and fast food when they come to town.
My response to Burros' piece? It's not the first time she's played that NYC superiority card. Recall this dust-up from 2007. At this point, I have to think Burros is just baiting Washingtonians to bare our provincial fangs. No need to do that now. Not when you have Burros' former paper singing our praises.