Blinded by Stars

A stylized DC flag with three red stars on the top and 2 red stripes on the bottom. It's u.

Oh, my babies, let’s act like we been somewhere, okay?

There was much anticipation when Michelin announced that it would bring it’s food judgement crewe to D.C. to let us know if we have good food. By awarding stars. One, two or three. Or maybe none. This anxiety started in May.

After Bon Appétit named D.C. it’s restaurant city of the year, the opening up of a series of highly priced and highly sought after dining rooms, and the encroaching hipterization of our fair city (like where do they find all those guys with the well trimmed oil groomed beards–some with black boxy framed glasses and all with plaid shirts–to wait on our tables at the laid back fine-dining halls?) you’d think people would feel confident that D.C. had made it in the foodie category.

D.C. dining is longer an afterthought of stuffy steak houses and seafood restaurants that did the fish version of those steakhouses–side of creamed spinach, anyone? The variety and quality of D.C. fare and the range of locations have definitely been kicked up a notch. Fine dining on First near Rhode Island Ave? Petworth? Brookland? And the former streetwalker circuit near Logan Circle with dozens of fun, interesting and, in some cases, delicious bistros and taverns and counters and bars?

So this morning there was even more anticipation and some anticipatory handwringing. Today was the day that we’d know who “won.” Whatever that means.

And it hit with much hoopla. One chef proudly tweeted his honor early–TWO stars! The rest seemed to appropriately hold off until the official announcement of a dozen restaurants that were deemed high enough on the spectacular scale to be included in a thin blue book. [The Doc has dined at four of these, in full disclosure.]

Some thought that the list was wrong either by exclusion, inclusion or delusion. That the secret society of inspectors just don’t get us and who we are.

But seriously, ain’t no Stay-Puft Marshmallow looking quink can put my knickers in a knot. Let’s maintain our pride. We are a town that is more than the marble buildings on Pennsylvania Avenue.

We are Washingtonians with a baseball team on the way to the World Series (fingers crossed), a football team with an embarrassing name, awesome public libraries, beer and whiskey dive bars, theatre, dance, sixteen art museums, ten colleges and universities (seriously!), a zoo with pandas and a malfunctioning subway system. Also a ton of named neighborhoods where real people garden, have cookouts, argue and fight, walk their dogs, prep for marathons, go to church and make and raise babies.

Eat where you want. Respect yourself. There’s plenty good food in town. All stars!

Coconut Sorbet

A split coconut. That is all.

It was the last, albeit inadvertent, straw. I was walking down the hall—the one with the wood-lite, parquet floor versus the carpeted hall—to get a morning coffee. I think that my short, squat spiral notebook was in my hand. My phone was on top, but surely grasped by at least one finger. Until it jumped.

Like a squirrely, inelegant fish, it leapt from my pond. It somehow gained acceleration as it left my control. Maybe the wind from my gait? Regardless, it breached my hand and clattered to the floor and awkwardly slid, like that odd fish, along the floor. Poor fish. Poor phone.

It had been kinda cracked in a few places before, based on other unwitting tosses. Fissures on the edges, and just along those edges. Not a rupture in the main, and certainly nothing that interrupted function.

This time, it was different.

I picked it up. It had been on the ground many times. At least eighty. Perhaps as many as six-thousand, three-hundred and sixty-two. Somewhere in that range. So imagine my surprise, nay, my shock!, at seeing the sets of intermittent stripes and the faded Kodachrome reflection of what had been my wallpaper of my family affectionally giving me the finger. I swiped, and it seemed to work. I put my notebook and phone on the counter. I got my coffee.

After my minutes with the Keurig and the addition of milk, I retrieved my goods and saw that the phone was worse. Finger swiping had no effect. Pushing down on the screen made it a little brighter, but just a little, and it did not improve the capacitive response. When is the next iPhone release?

I was hoping to get another year from this device and the new ones aren’t due until late September. I need a working phone now. Like literally now. Screen replacement time.

Working downtown in a decently-sized, walking city means you are just scant blocks from a solution. I looked at the clock (not on the phone since that was a disaster) and the google and saw a solution within blocks and within the hour.

I dropped very carefully deposited my phone at the screen repair joint and was promised a fix in forty minutes. Great! I told the nice man, Jeff, who was jonesing for a transfer to this new store, I’d be back after lunch.

I very uncomfortably walked down the street. I would normally open an app on my phone to nudge my brain for food options. Instead I had to go naked. I headed south a block then east. The food trucks had good smelling fried chicken, but you know how I feel about them.

Lightbulb! It’s restaurant week and there is a famous chef restaurant that has a great riff on fried chicken and this was was the summer doldrums that spawned “restaurant week.” Three courses for a sweet prix fixe. I had the time and the price would be right. I was stuck using the DocThink GPS in my head, but fortunately it still worked. The dining room didn’t have a table for me, but there was a spot at the bar.

Somehow, sitting at the blonde wood bar and looking at the special menu, the idea of fried chicken seemed better as an idea. The yellow gazpacho first course seemed to be begging me to have the rare and peppered tuna on some “pepedille.” I know that’s not a word or a food, but the word on the menu was unknown to me. It tasted good, though.

I didn’t chose dessert until after my entree. If there was key lime pie or lemon icebox pie, it would have so been that. Hot lava chocolate goop sounded gross. Something with grapefruit and basil sounded too adventurous. The shortbread cookie thing a bit too pedestrian. So I zeroed in on the coconut sorbet with chocolate and almonds and something I can’t remember.

I’m not generally a coconut fan. Baby Bear, on the other hand, hashtag loves coconut [#lovescoconut]. Maybe I was missing him when I ordered that and a coffee. And I thank you, Baby Bear, because it was good.

As the bartender took away my dessert plate, we both opined on the terrificness, or is that deliciousness?, of the coconut sorbet. He told me that the Boss-Chef ate lunch at the restaurant three or four times each week and always, always, always ordered the coconut sorbet.

He would order one scoop and finish it and always, always, always order a second, which he would also dispatch in it’s entirety. One time, the bartender ordered him a second scoop in anticipation. He was upbraided. The Boss-Chef wanted to order it himself.

We wondered, together, why he ordered first one scoop and then the second. I wondered if it was because he didn’t want to eat melted coconut sorbet? But the bartender didn’t think that was it. It was a pattern, and it was his control over that pattern. Maybe he teased himself to see if he could resist the second scoop? Maybe he wanted to make sure he had the time to finish what was in front of him? Maybe he made up a game that nobody else could play?

I wondered why I would order one, and then the other. I wouldn’t, but it was a decent mental explore. Because the only way I could understand the Boss-Chef was to try and think about what it would mean to me. What are my tics? My sport that only I play for only my known reasons?

He was always challenging his patrons and himself. He said “In cooking, as in love, you always have to try new things to keep it interesting.” I like it when things are interesting. In the kitchen, and in other rooms, too.

He will be missed. Maybe I will go back and order a scoop of coconut sorbet. And then another. For fun.

Peace to you, Michel Richard.  I hope that your gifts are appreciated in this next life as I appreciated them today.

Is That It?

Generic ketchup and roll of papertowels at the most nondescript restaurant.

It’d be hard to imagine a more generic joint. More generic than a hospital waiting room. More generic than a 70’s bus station. More generic than an underfunded rural elementary school. More generic than hundreds of cookie cutter houses along tracks of a former dairy farm.

The color palette is unremarkable. The tables are a blond shellacked wood. The red brown chairs look like they were purchased at a hotel overstock sale. The walls are a yellowy cream. The lighting does nothing to enhance the color. It is neither bright nor dull. There is a maroon border around the wall. It’s almost the same color as the chairs. Almost. Must be a standard issue. No color matching.

Even more generic are the walls. There is nothing on them. No posters. No velvet paintings. No year at a glance calendars. No neon. No Christmas lights. No tchotchkes. Not even an official occupancy sign. There was, however, a fire alarm. A generic one.

There’s a shellacked table that’s pulled up next to the counter. It has a row of tabasco bottles, a row of yellow mustard bottles and a row of ketchup bottles. There is also a pile of napkins. No napkin holder, just a pile of napkins. There is a plain sign with the menu. It’s not even hung. It sits on top of the shelacked table next to the counter and leans on the yellowy cream wall. On the other side of the counter is a soda fridge. Like at 7-11. Or at a 7-11 knock off.

Oh, and that counter? It is more like a small bar in someone’s basement. It’s maybe four feet long with a cash register. It’s all yellowy cream colored. It disappears into the walls. If there wasn’t a very big man in a black shirt behind it, you likely would not see it. You’d just think a cash register was levitating.

And another thing, this is a hamburger shoppe. They sell hamburgers and fries and shakes (and half liter sodas from the self-serve cooler). But it doesn’t smell like meat or grease or grill or onions. It really doesn’t emit any smells of food or of cooking. It smells of nothing. Do they even cook here?

Maybe I should have left, but I decided to get a burger. To see if this place was real or if it was like the fake town set up for the bad guys to raid in Blazing Saddles. I picked a soda out of the cooler, paid my money, took my number and sat down in front of the window at the generic table with a generic roll of plain white paper towels and a bottle of ketchup.

The big man in the black shirt brought out my hamburger in his hand. It was in a nondescript gray–or is that an ugly khaki?–clamshell box that was good for composting. I thought that maybe this same guy also cooked the food.

Anyway, the moment of truth came as I opened the box to see a good looking sandwich. The bottom bun was soaked and soggy from the beef juices. And the burger itself tasted fine. Not amazing, but a few steps above generic. But evaluating the entire experience, and adding the $7.99 before tax for the burger to the calculations (I am not including the soda price), I’m left without anything to draw me back.

In fact, the memory is becoming less clear, duller and fading. I hope that I remember to remember that this place isn’t memorable. But I bet that I’ll forget and stumble back into this unremarkable scene.