Restaurants that didn’t make it
Never had a chance
In my 30+ years here, Washington, D.C., has come a long way from an arid food desert where grocery shoppers murdered each other with illicit handguns for the last wilted broccoli head and jar of Skippy Super Chunk well past its shelf life.
The new DC is a celebrated, literally jaw-dropping and jaw-raising (as in chewing) global cuisine destination. Even the neighborhood 7-11 here has locavore sustainably farmed bok choy. Even baby bok choy, also known as the veal of vegetables.
Washington is now a place not just to gaze at the monuments or see the swamp Trump is draining, but to eat even better in the Amex-breaking way than in the famed New York or Paris.
In naming Washington its “Restaurant City of the Year” in 2016, Bon Appétit gushed:
“Yes, D.C. has long been a city that could out power-lunch any place in the country, and great meals could be had at many of the big-box restaurants in the center of town. But now D.C. has more than that: It finally has a ton of great neighborhood restaurants. And they are sprouting up in areas that you would not have imagined ten years ago — neighborhoods like Shaw, Columbia Heights, Barracks Row, and Petworth.
“[T]here’s an energy and excitement surrounding all the new places that is palpable. D.C. is bubbling with momentum. You go in to one place, and you hear about another exciting spot just down the street. The table next to you isn’t only talking politics; they’re discussing last night’s cacio e pepe, too.”
You might also hear the diners next to you boasting how they got their tables in less than six months. That’s how booked the good places are. If you OpenTable on Tuesday for a reservation on Saturday, and it’s available, you don’t want it.
But for every Dabney, Bad Saint, Rose’s Luxury, Maketto, Kinship, Convivial, Tail-Up Goat, Daikaya and other hot DC eateries you now need Georgetown Prep/Yale/GOP legacy/Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh-loyal references to get in, dozens of amazing restaurants don’t make it past year one and investor patience.
Why? The fierce competition for discerning, moneyed diners and talented chefs doesn’t help.
But many restaurants die because their names, concepts and “branding” fall short.
Sam & Ella’s. Sound it out. When people got it, they didn’t go. Some thought the name was winky and learned the hard way that it wasn’t.
Those who didn’t get it went on to experience GI issues, and not the kind the Nazi Germans faced at the Normandy landing. Sometimes worse.
Illegal Seafood. Cheap and not ashamed of why.
Ruth’s Chris Bob Bill Chuck Fred Ed Mike Jack. Too many investors brought in to rescue the Ruth’s Chris franchise destroyed it by demanding naming rights. They all lost their shirts. On the upside, they rescued people who were naked from the pants up and needed shirts.
Café Ipecac. Named after the delicious, health-giving syrup that’s even more irresistible than balsamic reduction, aka, the “new ketchup,” while also a leading expectorant and emetic, this French-styled bistro failed due to urgent questions such as “où sont les toilettes? it could not answer fast enough.
Bistro Vermine. Also with a delightfully insouciant continental savoir-faire, this authentic replication of the old Parisian Left Bank hole-in-the-wall struggled with, how you say, “vector control,” or contrôle des rats, evidenced by the many holes in the walls.
Typee House of Poi. This Polynesian-themed franchise extension of the region’s famed Moby Dick House of Kabob failed for the lack of popular interest in authentic lau-lau, lomi-lomi and pu-pu platter, “so nice we named them twice!”
Diners also complained the chicken long rice wasn’t rice at all, but bean thread noodles.
Even worse, the drinking straws remained plastic even after NPR started giving away stainless-steel straws with special cleaning brush and carrying case for a $9 monthly sustaining donor pledge.
Come Back One Year! While seemingly referencing the Seinfeld-famed “Soup Nazi” quote and meme, the Millennial owners never saw a single Seinfeld and were being literal: We’re so amazing and in demand that we can’t take any reservations for at least a year.
That is, until newer buzzier restaurants literally “ate our lunch,” making us beg people to come and even stand on sidewalks beseeching passers-by to come in and offering coupons, promo codes, deals and AARP discounts. Best of all: free valet!
Hate You/Need You. Not named for toxic relationships. After waiting a year for a reservation at 4:30 p.m. because anything at a reasonable time for dinner is booked for a year, diners were expected to be thrilled to get a table, enjoy the attitude, suck up to the staff, and scan the room for celebrities who are never in Washington nor eat dinner at 4:30 p.m.
(Nota bene: U.S. Senators are not celebrities in Washington even if they become multimillionaire industry lobbyists, convicted felons or #MeToo poster children. Exception: Al Franken because he was hilarious on SNL.)
Warning: This place can be high-falutin, even if nobody there plays the flute highly or otherwise.
The valet sniffs, the maître d’ sniffs, the host sniffs, the sommelier sniffs, the waiter sniffs, the restroom attendant sniffs, and the guy who refills your DC tap water with the perfect whisper of chlorination sniffs.
They all have allergies, but that’s not the problem. They know you suffered to be there and will address you and your “situation” accordingly.
Then they’ll go home to their squalid walk-up studio apartments to collapse in a cheap Ikea bed with their dessert: A soup spoon loaded with old Skippy Super Chunk.
Knowing this, your vengeance is sweeter than any amazing $23 dessert. Yet you feel guilty, just like after eating an amazing $23 dessert.
Trump International Hotel/BLT Prime by David Burke. This is real place, thriving, and a major destination for both shamelessly craven Republicans and stupid liberal protesters.
BLT Prime by David Burke “showcases classic steakhouse fare with inspiring ingredients, creative whimsy, and modern accents,” per the website.
Everything about President Donald J. Trump screams “creative whimsy,” so the branding is perfect.
But Chef Burke is a culinary visionary who’s always looking over the horizon. So he’s already planning the sequel to his delicious “Trump Accomplished More Than Almost Any Administration in the History of Our Country” 16 oz. red-state steak burger with real American cheese and side of Lipitor.
Burke is work-shopping his next triumph, “The Actually Bald Trump Looks Even More Hilarious in Orange Prison Garb” special.
It’s a gluten-free sustainably-farmed locavore carrot-based vegan “sublime delight” for the mean, nasty, ugly Democrat liberals when they and Deep State co-conspirators impeach, kangaroo and jail Trump to make Washington the next new socialist paradise.
I’m already drooling.
Jeffrey Denny is a Washington writer