Young and Hungry

Yvette Alexander Takes Exception to the Washingtonian‘s Review of Ray’s the Steaks at East River

Rays East River Ribbon Cut 4-7-2010 – 82_opt

In 2008, a year in which she was fighting for her Ward 7 seat, D.C. Council member Yvette Alexander took a heaping amount of credit for bringing Ray's the Steaks at East River to her district, even though it's not exactly clear what she did directly to help a restaurateur who may be losing money on the project. Alexander naturally turned up at the ribbon cutting ceremony in April, too. And now that the soul-food steakhouse is open, I've even heard stories of the council member showing up and demanding alterations to the interior.

To say that Yvette Alexander is invested in Ray's the Steaks at East River would be an understatement, which may, in part, explain her quick umbrage to Todd Kliman's brief, very positive review of the new steakhouse in the Washingtonian's Cheap Eats issue. (The review doesn't appear to be online yet, but I've pasted it below.) Wrote Alexander in an announcement:

We are proud to have an extremely diverse mix of residents, which include professionals, seniors, and college students like any other part of the city, so to imply that this is a sociological experiment is an insult. Furthermore, I welcome anyone to experience life east of the Anacostia without apprehension It is unwarranted to imply that you can eat good food at your own risk. We should embrace our entire city without bias or preconceived skepticism.

Alexander wasn't the only one to balk at the Washingtonian's words. Blogger "Miss V" took at few shots at the magazine, too, in her Life in the Village blog:

What do you mean by 'those unaccustomed to life East of the River'? Do you mean unaccustomed to seeing so many Black people? Black people don't have the cooties. As a matter of fact I got my cootie shot in 2nd grade (circle-circle-dot-dot, Baby). The whole Insider Tip reads as 'Don't worry, White people. There's security to make sure the scary Black people won't bother you.'

I talked to Kliman about the Ward 7 outrage, and I have to say, he's been extremely gracious in listening to his critics over the issue. He even sat down with Miss V to iron things out.

Frankly, I'm not so convinced he should grovel that much. Yes, the phrasing isn't the best or as precise as it could be; it has an unfortunate anthropological tone to it, which naturally doesn't play in Ward 7, particularly coming from a magazine called the Washingtonian that doesn't consider Anacostia part of its coverage area.

But I've spoken to enough restaurateurs over the years to know that almost none of them want to gamble their investment money in a neighborhood that may not pay off. To a certain degree, Landrum's restaurant in Ward 7 is an experiment. It's a business experiment to try to prove that you can make a go of it in Ward 7. No other restaurateur I've spoken to has had the balls to do what Landrum has. I think Kliman was trying to acknowledge that.

I asked Kliman for a response over the whole brouhaha, and here's what he sent via e-mail:

What I would say — and what I’ve said on my chats — is that it’s a terrific place. And an important place. A potentially landscape-altering place. It is an experiment, but that’s not to take anything away from it — just the opposite. Landrum has budgeted losing five thou a month for three years. That’s not nothing. Most restaurateurs are after sure things, and flatter themselves for their vision in opening in places like Slater’s Lane, in Alexandria. The prices at the new Ray’s are so low and the portions so gargantuan that it’s hard not to see an overt and very earnest, very determined gesture. Finally: It needs to be said that Landrum is doing this as much for the white world west of the river as he is for the black world east of the river — to open eyes, to force change, to rewrite the rules.

Here's the original review from the Cheap Eats issue. Decide for yourself if this merits a rebuke from a council member:

Ray's the Steaks at East River

3905 Dix St., NE

Why Go: This break-the-model enterprise — a sit down restaurant on the neglected eastern side of the Anacostia River from restaurateur Michael Landrum — is a fascinating study in contrasts, not to mention a bold sociological experiment. And guess what — the food's good, too. From gratis salads of iceberg lettuce, tomatoes, and cucumbers to trencherman-style selections of meat to wedges of great pie, a meal here harks back to a no-fuss kind of dining that has all but vanished. You can even find a $5 glass of wine.

What to get: Beer-battered jumbo shrimp, ten to an order; a neat twist on skillet-fried chicken, the bird cold-smoked before hitting the oil; the Presidential burger, the same on served at Ray's Hell-Burger and the lounge at Ray's the Classics; crab royale, a ten-ounce mound of lightly bound jumbo lump that's thrust under the broiler until golden; stellar Key-lime pie; silken mild-chocolate mousse.

Best for: Simply prepared American cooking at a great price.

Insider tip: Landrum fans unaccustomed to life east of Anacostia — and apprehensive about making the trip out there — might be reassured to know that the owner had hired greeters to man the door and watch over the block.

  • J

    " watch over the block " what? lol

  • Simon

    yeah, that "insider tip" is more than a bit across the line.

  • gdmt

    def racist

  • Miss V

    Hi Tim.... I wrote a response on my blog. I find it interesting that you quoted my off the cuff response and not my official letter to the editor.

    The statement "bold sociological experiment" probably would not have garnered the reaction that it did, had the Insider Tip section used different language. We understand that we do have difficult areas on this side of town, but we felt different language could be used.

  • Tim Carman

    Miss V,

    Thanks for writing in. I've just read your response on your own blog. I'll include a link here so people can see your frustration with me and my response above.

    If I had known about your LTE, I would have quoted from it. But I didn't see it. Please paste it here on the blog for people to read.

    Here's Miss V's rejoinder to my blog item:

  • Dwayne

    Racist? LOL ... Classist maybe. MAYbe .....

    Ms. Alexander is race-baiting. Also exploiting Ray's for political gain. Pathetic.

    And everyone over there wonders why they don't have more development and restaurants.

  • Miss V

    @Tim... Here is the link to my LTE:

    @Dwayne.... I agree with you. I don't know that I would say its racist. By the nature of Ward 7 being predominately black, race is always going to be intertwined somehow. I don't think it's classist either, given we do have large pockets of middle class households. I don't know what to call the "-ist", but as a resident of Ward 7, it gets a little annoying that our area always being portrayed as poor, black people who shoot up the neighborhood. There is no denying that we have our share of issues, but we also have some very nice areas. It would be nice is ONE DC publication would put half the energy covering some of our positive events like Jazz in Fort Dupont Park, the Hillcrest Garden Tour, and the Capital Hip Hop Soulfest as they do every crime that happens.

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  • LOL

    Miss V, school them!

    I brought some newer residents to a family friend's house and they were shocked to see well-kept houses and quiet streets when we turned off Penn ave in SE .

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  • Skipper

    Landrum is definitely taking a big risk on this project. What his project needs is additional retail shops nearby to attract more feet on the street.

    Which would no doubt lead to conspiracy theories about The Plan or complaints about gentrification.

    I really wish Yvette Alexander would shut up and try to come up with some legislative accomplishments.

  • Mike Licht

    This brings to mind Ms. Manner's response to anxious suburbanites after she invited them to her DC digs:

    Suburbanites: "Is it safe?"

    Ms. M: "I promise not to hurt you."

    (Or words to that effect).

  • IMGoph

    i'd like to hear more about the rumor that alexander asked for changes in the interior decoration. i mean, if that's true, that's crazy. she has as much right to ask for a change in decor as she does to ask to be named pope.

  • CTR

    Attacking Kliman and Carman on this issue is a little ridiculous. Both have written positively about this project. If you want to get upset about Kliman's reporting of the bouncers at the door, maybe what you're really upset about is that Landrum felt such a position was necessary. He's obviously not the only business owner in the area to feel that way; hence, the perpetually circulating security truck constantly moving through the parking lot outside.

    This is a risk for any restaurateur. If it wasn't, there wouldn't be such a lack of fine dining places in the neighborhood. You can't remove race or class from a bigger analysis, but a simple check of crime stats for the zip code of Ray's East vs. the original provides a clear insight into the need for security -- for the safety not just of diners, but of staff.

    And it was perfectly appropriate to report it. Reporting that the place has security -- which some people have read as a diss -- can also be read as a reassurance to more nervous readers (of any color) of the exact thing Miss V seems to want them to know: that it's possible to venture east of the river and have a nice evening.

  • Miss V

    @Skipper.... Gentrification is unfortunately an overused term. Residents of East of the River DO want economic development and even get this... dog parks (gasp). As an active member of the community it seems like we are always fighting two battles. 1) how the outside perceives us and 2) how we perceive "change". Believe me there are differing views within the community on number 2.

    @CTR... No one is opposed to the mentioning of security. I know that particular neighborhood does have high crime statistics. In my Letter to the Editor, I clearly recognized that I understood the point they were trying to make. It's not what was said but HOW it was said. In meeting with Kliman, we learned that language was edited out, which actually made the entire Insiders Tip section read differently.

    My issue with Carman was the fact that he quoted my off the cuff (which was really tongue-in-cheek) post and not the Letter to the Editor. In the comments you will see Carman admitted he didn't see it.

    There is no love lost for either one of them.

  • CTR

    @Miss V: I would have quoted your off-the-cuff statement as well, because your off-the-cuff statement was hugely quotable: funny, to the point, and had the great line about cooties. You seem to think the writer had some nefarious motive for quoting the one over the other, rather than considering that being quoted is a compliment, an acknowledgment that you wrote something witty, relevant, and worth repeating. You blogged it, put it in the public domain -- where, I assume, you wanted it to be read -- and now are annoyed that someone has quoted you, linked to you, and probably increased your blog traffic.

    And now you've added that you "have no love lost" for either of the two professional, probably busy journalists who -- as far as I can tell from the various postings I've read -- have both treated your concerns very respectfully. Having both written letters to the editor and received them, I can tell you that the kind of respect and attention you've gotten with yours is unusual -- and as far as I can tell from your ongoing posts, totally unreciprocated.

    Frankly, I'm baffled.

  • Miss V

    @CTR... I can see how you would have that perspective. It's a bunch of issues getting muddled together. My response to Tim's article was written before I knew he didn't know about my LTE. He invited me to post the LTE and I did. In my response to you, I was clarifying the issue that I had with Carman, which why I used the past tense when discussing it. Also, in my response to Carman's article I wrote that I had a great conversation with Kliman and I appreciated his time. He gave me his perspective and insight.

    With regards to my recent blog post, it's just a general frustration that I have with media coverage of this side of town. It was just my thoughts from a conversation sparked by Carman, but in no ways was it directed at him specifically. I could have used anything as an example, but I was at Ray's last night. The point of my post was how without the "emotional attachment" (for lack of a better term) one can look at Ray's and see one thing and someone else can see something different. I'm a blogger and I was just blogging my feelings.

    When I say "no love lost" it really is in jest, but since you can only read my words and not hear the tone of my voice or see any gestures your interpretation is different than my intention. Without knowing me you are left to your interpretation. I will concede that was the wrong term to use.

    I think open and honest dialogue from different perspectives helps us all gain understanding.

  • Sharita Termeer

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