“RESERVE NOW,” read the notice in the calendar listings of the Food Section. “Washington Post Cookbook Panel…Daniel Zwerdling…Phyllis Richman…Bonnie S. Benwick…Joe Yonan…Tom Sietsema…Tim Carman…Taste of Barracks Row…Dave McIntyre…wine tasting…FREE” (!) I reached for the phone and made my reservation. On June 20, I Metro’ed down to the Hill Center at the Old Naval Hospital, clutching my copy of the book, and found a seat among many other food groupies.
The past and present WaPo food stars filed in. You could finger Tom Sietsema as the current restaurant critic – he was in mufti. And Bonnie was really rockin’ those shoes! Daniel Zwerdling, the moderator, has written about food topics himself. He had many leading questions prepared for the panelists, which led to a fascinating, wide-ranging discussion.
Phyllis Richman’s stories about the early days of the Post food section and her association with it were fascinating – some “only in Washington” anecdotes, like getting a phone message from Ethel Kennedy wanting advice on the best place to hold a rehearsal dinner for her son. When asked if she had the power to shut down a restaurant with a bad review, she replied, “If I had, there’d be a lot fewer restaurants!”
Joe Yonan’s new cookbook will be vegetable-based, in tune with his new orientation. “It was my second coming-out,” he claimed. “My friends said: ‘It’s just a phase,’ and, ‘Maybe you just haven’t met the right bacon!'”
Tom Sietsema is in the witness protection program. He has about 10 credit cards in different names, some with androgynous names so the woman at the table can pay for the meal. He has gotten help from the CIA (not the culinary one) with disguises. How does he feel about amateur reviewers on Yelp (and blogs)? “Great – it brings more people to the party!” Thanks, Tom!
Tim loves to find little ethnic restaurants and write about them. He asked me after the panel about any possibilities in Olney, and I mentioned Pho and Grill, a terrific place not just for the pho (which you can find everywhere), but the warm bowls of noodles-with-salad-and-grilled meats.
Bonnie talked about the cookbook; more about that in Part 2. Meanwhile, there was the reception.
The Barracks Row neighborhood has experienced an amazing rebirth since I used to work in the Navy Yard forty years ago. Four of the restaurants from there, and a wine source, had set up tasting stations as lagniappe.
Belga Cafe offered truffled eggs with braised pork belly and spinach flan. Dynamite. The tastings from Lavagna included Papa Weavers’ porchetta, applewood smoked Maryland blue crab and North Carolina trout rillette. Notice two trends here: cured pork products, and identifying your products’ source.
Cava Mezze was also there, serving something fried which I did not manage to document before I forgot (sorry, Cava!), and Zest had crab gazpacho with Ahi tuna tartare.
I met Maggie Myszka of the Hill Center, who told me that the Old Naval Hospital Foundation was formed to establish an educational and event venue in the historic building. They’re doing a fine job of it. As I was leaving, I noticed a board listing the daily activities. Very impressive, as is their large demonstration kitchen!
Going home on the Metro, there was a woman wearing a dress patterned with coffee beans.
Next post: A review of the book.