Obama’s choice of Bud Light as the beer he will imbibe with Henry Louis Gates Jr. and James Crowley at what we sincerely hope will be the resolution to Gatesgate reminds us that everything the president does is freighted with symbolic import. It’s been a while since the Obamas’ first “date night” as President and First Lady of the United States, when they famously dined at Blue Hill and caught a show on Broadway. Along with the private jet to and from, it was your garden-variety presidential closer date — and so very politically correct in its selection of New York’s reigning locavore institution. Since the administration has at least another three-plus years ahead of it and Michelle isn’t going to wait that long for Date Two, where should the Obamas go on their next ‘date night’? To answer a question of such national import, we asked chefs and writers from around the country to weigh in. Here’s what they had to say:
Art Smith, Table 52, Chicago: “They should eat at one of America’s new grassroots restaurants, where there are not big advertising budgets with publicists or celebrity chefs: ‘the Burger Bus’ in Santa Barbara. This adorable couple serve grass-fed beef, with delicious organic fixings from the Santa Barbara Farmers Market. In L.A., there is a wonderful truck that makes the hottest meal on wheels, Korean BBQ tacos — a Top Chef Masters favorite food on the run, all delicious and organic. Americans work hard and most don’t have time to sit, but eat their meals in motion. Be a part of this underground movement, where fresh comes to you at very affordable prices.”
Danny Meyer, Gramercy Tavern, New York: “If I lived in D.C. and could take my wife anywhere for a romantic dinner, I’d head over to the Inn at Little Washington. He and Michelle could stop along the way to shake some hands and shore up his Virginia support. If they want to go a bit further out of D.C., I’d suggest heading to Charleston, South Carolina, and I’d probably want them to try FIG, although there are at least five other spots they’d also enjoy in that fantastic town if they couldn’t snag a reservation at their first choice.”
Adam Platt, New York Magazine: “After their last excruciatingly prim, locavore-approved, politically correct date night at Blue Hill, I think it’s time for the president and First Lady to let their hair down a little. I’d suggest a trip to the famous brisket mecca, Kreuz Market, in Lockhart, Texas, where the truck-size (and, yes, Republican) patrons eat mountains of delectably greasy, corn-fed beef off of sheets of butcher paper. Or for something more upmarket, they could fly to Wolfgang Puck’s swank new steakhouse in L.A., called Cut, which I hear is more or less the same beefeater concept, in slightly more salubrious surroundings.”
Kate Krader, Food & Wine Magazine: “Frankie’s Spuntino. Not just because it’s my neighborhood place and the food is so excellent, but also because it’s cash-only so the president wouldn’t be spending money he didn’t have. And they don’t use a lot of cooking equipment, so it’s kind of eco. He’d have to eat outside because it’s especially romantic for a date (the best outdoor space in NYC, tied with the Locanda Verde courtyard), and also because there’s tons of room for all his Secret Service.”
David Burke, Fishtail, New York: “River Café for its food, view, and history. Fishtail because it’s new and hot, has celebrity clientele, an outdoor garden, a private table for two that the Obamas could share, and we offer 85 to 90 percent sustainable seafood on the menu. And finally, JG Melon because we know Obama likes a good burger, and JG Melon’s are my favorite.”
Vinny Dotolo and Jon Shook, Animal Restaurant, Los Angeles: Vinny: “I think Komi in D.C., because it’s local and word is that the food is amazing. If not that, then maybe a food tour of New Orleans — we need to fix that place!" Jon: "I would tell the Obamas to go eat at a public-school cafeteria in middle America. Because he needs to be reminded of the shit we are serving the future of this country. Maybe they will have the school band play some music, if their funding did not get cut.”
David Frum, columnist: “If I were president, I’d take my wife on a sunset helicopter ride up the Potomac River. But that plan may emit too much carbon dioxide to suit the Obamas … so my backup suggestion would be to send them to one of the very few restaurants in Washington to take to heart Mrs. Obama’s campaign for sustainable and local foods, Dino on upper Connecticut Avenue.
“In a city where most upscale restaurants cater to expense-account diners who like their steaks big and their Cabernet bigger, owner Dean Gold provides something that feels a lot more like rustic Tuscany than Table 1 in Powertown. Every peach or tomato in the joint comes from down the road — and nothing is served when it is not in season. As for those things not available down the road — prosciutto, olive oil, and cheeses — they are personally selected by Dean on his regular travels to Italy. His burrata could substitute for ice cream.
“The Obamas are not drinkers, I am told. Too bad — Dean is the best wine taster in the city, who quickly discerns exactly what his regulars like, and his amazing choices arrive with the recommendation: ’You’ll like this.’ And you will, too. And best of all for the Obamas: Except on the nights when Mrs. Frum and I are observing our date night, everybody in the joint will have voted for the president.”
And for our part, we’ll suggest Cochon in New Orleans, a restaurant that in geography and style is in many ways an antidote to Blue Hill. Donald Link’s Cajun joint is one of the best casual American restaurants in the country, serving rich, meaty, unpretentious southern food. Plus, it’s in a city that can always use good buzz generated around it. And holy hell, those biscuits are good. Then, perhaps, some jazz on Bourbon Street.
What say you? Where should Barack and Michelle go next? Your suggestions invited in the comments.