Cathal Armstrong on Food Critics
Next week, we here at WCP will drop our annual Best of D.C. issue, which has required a lot of remedial eating on my part, including a recent dinner in the Tasting Room at Restaurant Eve. Carrie and I dined there on Saturday, and the only strange thing about the experience was that neither one of us caught even a glimpse of chef Cathal Armstrong.
I half-wondered if Armstrong didn't give himself a Saturday night off to enjoy some pre-St. Paddy's Day Irish triplets. I needed to find out, of course, if he was in the kitchen or not, so I phoned the chef and asked him that very question.
Armstrong was there all right. He even knew I was there because of general manager/sommelier Todd Thrasher, with whom I've broken bread in the past. So what was the chef doing?
He was washing dishes. For two and a half hours.
The chef/owner has strong feelings about restaurants offering false representations to food critics — and he refuses to do it at his own place. When a critic steps into his dining room, Armstrong won't go into panic mode. He won't futz nervously over every plate. He won't force his team to refire a dish if he think it's not perfect enough for a critic's pampered palate. Nor will he send out any specially prepared dishes that no one else in the dining room can sample. He won't suck up to the critic tableside, either.
Armstrong, in other words, won't dominate a kitchen when a critic walks into the restaurant.
"That's not a fair representation of Restaurant Eve," he tells me over the phone, "because Restaurant Eve is a team of people."
Armstrong wants a critic to do one thing: write a true reflection of the Restaurant Eve experience, not a heightened one that no other diner will ever experience.
The chef admits, when pressed, that he was "paying attention" to what was going on in his kitchen during his time at the wash station. But, by and large, he "stayed washing dishes" during my visit.
I'll tell you what I told him: I love that.
I love that because it says a number of good things about Armstrong and Restaurant Eve:
- Armstrong trusts his staff. What could show your trust more than stepping completely away from the line when a critic walks in?
- There is not a hierarchy of diners at Restaurant Eve, unlike so many other dining rooms in the metro area.
- Despite his fame, Armstrong is not above dirty manual labor.
- It might even say that Armstrong doesn't respect critics, but I don't want to think about that too much.