Turning the Tables
8 ways we're dining differently-from fast-casual to small plates to Instagramming our meals
Opened: 2013 (Cabin John)
Number of locations: one
Fun fact: The restaurant spends $2,200 a month on dried chili peppers from New Mexico.
Opened: 2003 (Northwest Washington), 2011 (Bethesda)
Number of locations: four (three in Northwest D.C.)
Fun fact: Each sandwich shop cooks about 200 pounds of fresh turkey breast per day.
Lebanese Taverna Café
Opened: 1998 (Rockville)
Number of locations: four (three in Montgomery County)
Fun fact: The cafés serve nearly 10 tons of hummus per year.
Panas Gourmet Empanadas
Opened: 2010 (Dupont Circle), 2011 (Bethesda)
Number of locations: two
Fun fact: The empanadas, five inches long and weighing 2.5 ounces, are modeled after those served in Argentina and Uruguay.
Opened: 2007 (Georgetown), 2009 (Bethesda)
Number of locations: 22 (two in Montgomery County)
Fun fact: In December 2013, billionaire Steve Case and his Revolution Growth firm invested $22 million in the company.
Opened: 2008 (Northeast Washington), 2010 (Bethesda)
Number of locations: eight (Washington metropolitan area)
Fun fact: The Bethesda shop serves the most risotto balls; patrons gobble up more than 1,000 per week.
3. Is a Picture Worth 1,000 Bites?
If you’re a fan of social media, you’re guaranteed to see a lot of food photos these days. Maybe it’s a shot of an artfully plated entrée, a freshly baked muffin or even a colorful cocktail commemorating the end of a long workday. No matter. Our desire to share every detail of our lives now extends to what we eat.
These photos aren’t taken by pros; mostly they’re from enthusiastic diners and home cooks like Silver Spring’s April Fulton. About a decade ago, Fulton started documenting her dinners out and the meals she made for her family on her camera phone. “It’s opening a window into my life,” explains the freelance food writer, who posts her artfully executed shots on Twitter @FultonHere. “Plus, I wanted to capture something that’s ephemeral.”
Well-composed pics can get our stomachs rumbling, but ugly images can quickly kill those hunger pangs. Unfortunately, we’re likely to see more bad shots than good. That’s because they’re often taken in dim light—and often after a glass of wine (or two).
When those not-so-Kodak-moments go up on Instagram or Twitter, viewers can be left with a negative impression. “I wish people would think more before posting,” laments Michael Harr, executive chef at Food Wine & Co. in Bethesda. “A crappy shot can make a really good dish look really bad.”
Whether the photos are appetizing or unpalatable, it seems they’re here to stay. “Once Steve Jobs created the iPhone, there’s been no turning back,” says Geoff Tracy, owner of Lia’s in Chevy Chase and other area restaurants. “Now it’s a no-brainer to take a pic and post it to Facebook or Twitter.”
Tracy says he doesn’t mind, though. “If I like it, I’ll retweet it,” he says. “I think it’s great that people want to take photos in my restaurants.”
Shooting Scrumptious Shots
Part-time pro food photographer Alicia Griffin has taken official snapshots for Lia’s in Chevy Chase and for The Source and the Occidental Grill & Seafood in D.C. However, the 29-year-old Rockville resident displays some of her most memorable work on Instagram (@aliciagriffin) and Twitter (@iDineDC).
She shares five easy tips for making food pics pop.
- Take pictures quickly before you eat because desserts can melt, sauces congeal and greens wilt.
- Always go for natural light. Try to get a seat by a window or sit outside; even candlelight will work.
- Find the right perspective. If the dish has a lot of garnishes, hover over the plate to get them all in the shot.
- Don’t use a flash. It washes out the colors in the food and distracts nearby diners.
- Get up close and focus on the food. No one cares about the place setting in the background.
4. Cocktails with a twist
Forget about ordering that rum-and-Coke. Today’s trendy cocktails are much more intriguing than the two-ingredient classic, and likely to be crafted with just as many ingredients from the kitchen as from the bar.
Craft cocktails provide artful alternatives to traditional drinks and neon-colored frozen concoctions made from a mix—with many featuring fresh fruits and herbs, house-infused spirits and handmade specialty ingredients, such as bitters and syrups.
“It’s the difference between baking a pizza from scratch and purchasing a DiGiorno,” says Matt Allred, bar manager at Rockville’s Quench, which offers two dozen cocktails that change seasonally.
The high-quality quaffs can be as complex as any meal. “I look at each drink as a dish rather than a cocktail,” says beverage director Dane Nakamura, who oversees the progressive bar program at Range in Friendship Heights. “I want to take cocktails to the point that you need to be in the kitchen to make them.”
Consider Range’s yellow-hued “Bloody Mary,” made with a 20-ingredient pig’s blood consommé and vodka. Or the oregano-amped “Messing with Samquatch,” featuring house-made roasted squash juice.
And there’s the “Cinnamon and Smoke” cocktail at Bethesda’s Roof, which combines fresh smoked cinnamon chips with Catoctin rye whiskey, cinnamon and orange liqueurs, Chinese Five Spice syrup and a dash of orange bitters. The concoction is served on a handcrafted poplar board with a custom-mesh receptacle for the glass of smoking chips and a carafe containing the rye mixture with an orange peel garnish.
These forward-thinking drinkeries, and other stellar spots such as Jackie’s Sidebar in Silver Spring and Co2 Lounge in Bethesda, may charge more for their creations—often $10 to $15—but you can taste the difference. Now’s the time to upgrade from that vodka soda you’ve been ordering since college.
Fashioning craft cocktails is an art, but that doesn’t mean mixologists can’t have a little fun with their creations. Here are four tipples whose names give us the giggles.
What’s With All the Tattoos?
This cocktail at Range in Friendship Heights features blackberry and lemon, which help balance out doses of rye and the quinine-laced aperitif Byrrh.
At Quench in Rockville, bourbon is mixed with sweet and dry vermouth and a dash of citrus bitters.
I Dream of Gin-ny
Scion in Silver Spring serves up gin perked up by elderflower-accented St. Germain liqueur, and lemon and grapefruit juices.
Weekend at Fernie’s
Redwood Restaurant and Bar in Bethesda combines herbaceous Fernet Branca with rye and lemon juice.