The Obamas Eat Their Way Through DC

By Lisa Dawn Shapiro

First Eater, Chowhound-in-Chief, Executive Dining Officer, President Barack Obama has earned many o’nickname for his know how: how to dig in. Since moving to Washington, DC from Chicago, the Obamas have been out on the town quite a bit, sampling new restaurants or dining out with staff and friends. Keeping with their tradition of Friday Night date, since before White House days, the Obamas have ventured out to some of DC’s top restaurants. But when left to his own devises, it’s clear that the President prefers a juicy burger and chili considering the long list of burger joints he’s visited. Obama has also patronized local mom-and-pop places, such as the iconic Ben’s Chili Bowl. The eateries the Obamas visited reported an unprecedented increase of business, instantly turning local establishments into international icons. Co-owner of Ben’s Chili Bowl said, “Since President Obama came, the line may have gotten longer but the look and feel of Ben’s will never change.” If you’re in the nation’s capital and you’re looking to learn more about the President and First Lady, what better way to do that than through food?

Ben’s Chili Bowl: Before his inauguration, President Obama’s first dining excursion was a surprise visit to the Washington, DC landmark, Ben’s Chili Bowl. Many Washingtonians said it was a sign of what was to come that his first public restaurant outing was a place that’s entirely ‚Äòof the people’. The Shaw institution that just celebrated its 50th anniversary was frequented by jazz greats including Duke Ellington, Nat King Cole, Ella Fitzgerald and Miles Davis. Other notable historical figures such as Martin Luther King, Jr. and Bill Cosby were regulars. During President Obama’s first visit to Ben’s Chili Bowl he ordered the specialty Chili Half Smoke (a quarter pound half pork and beef smoked sausage on a steamed bun) with mustard, onions, and chili sauce. He also ordered cheese fries. It’s a must-visit for anyone who’s looking for DC’s iconic dish. 1213 U St., NW, Washington, DC 20009. Closest metro: U Street. Phone: (202) 667-0909. www.benschilibowl.com

Equinox: Just before the inauguration, the First couple dined at Equinox restaurant situated just blocks away from the White House. For more than a decade, Equinox has remained committed to using locally sourced ingredients and supporting local farmers. Chef/co-owner Todd Gray uses only the freshest, local dairy products as well as his own line of Black Angus beef from Warrenton, Virginia. Chef Gray said, “They’re creating a huge buzz. They’re out dining -- supporting small family businesses, local-run businesses that in the end are the backbone of the American economy. If that doesn’t give people hope, I don’t know what will.” 818 Connecticut Ave., NW Washington, DC 20006. Closest metro: Farragut West. Phone (202) 331-8118. www.equinoxrestaurant.com

Blue Duck Tavern: The Obamas celebrated Michel Richard, Citronelle Citronelle - 72 Hour Braised Shortribs their 17th wedding anniversary in October 2009 at the Blue Duck Tavern, an award-winning restaurant tucked inside the sleek, modern urban Park Hyatt hotel. According to station chef, Joe Strybel, the President and Mrs. Obama enjoyed the crab cakes and seafood pasta during their dinner; however, one the restaurant’s best dishes is the Bone Marrow appetizer which has been dubbed by diners as “meat butter”. You too will feel like a VIP with a superb view of Executive Chef Brian McBride at work in the large open kitchen that features American cooking, with a special focus on roasting, braising, and smoking. Blue Duck Tavern offers a seasonal menu using the freshest ingredients sourced from regional farmers and purveyors, including local Virginia wines. Park Hyatt in the West End, 24 and M Streets, NW, Washington, DC 20037. Closest Metro: Union Station. Phone: (202) 419-6755. www.blueducktavern.com

Komi: The First couple dined solo at Komi in Dupont Circle in May, which is one of DC’s top restaurants and most difficult to get a reservation, unless you’re the President. Earning some of the highest honors, Chef Johnny Monis, just 24 years of age, opened Komi, which specializes in modern Greek/ Mediterranean cuisine. The small dining room, seats only 30, offering an extraordinary personal dining experience with top-notch service. Moni offers a set menu for $125, beginning with a series of mezzethakia (small tastes) such as Ahi tuna or black grouper with house cured olives and Meyer lemon and progressing to more robust flavors, including home-made pasta and a family-style entree, such as roasted suckling pig followed by cheese and dessert. If you can get a reservation, it will be the meal of a lifetime. 1509 17th Street Washington, DC 20036. Closest Metro: Dupont Circle. Phone: (202) 332-9200. www.komirestaurant.com

Michel Richard, Citronelle: The most highly esteemed dignitaries travel from all over the world to dine at internationally acclaimed Chef Michel Richard’s restaurant, Citronelle, an innovative French restaurant specializing in modern artistic avant-garde techniques. Citronelle, located at the Latham hotel in Georgetown, is well known for various “signature” dishes, including Richard’s 72 hour braised short ribs, which the President ordered during his visit. Mrs. Obama ordered the lobster burger which is not on the regular menu but Richard said, “She asked for it and it was impossible to refuse the queen of this country.” They shared the soft shell crab tempura with eggplant appetizer and the cr√®me br√ªlée for dessert. Executive Chef David Deshaies recalls the evening, “I was anxious! It is not every day that you cook for the most powerful man on a planet!” Citronelle is very expensive and enforces their dress code. Dining at Citronelle is an unparalleled experience worth every dollar. Latham hotel, Georgetown, 3000 M St., NW Washington, DC 20007. Closest Metro: Foggy Bottom/GWU. Phone: (202) 726-5000 www.citronelledc.com

Restaurant Nora: On January 16, 2010, the President held a “surprise” birthday dinner for Mrs. Obama at Restaurant Nora in Dupont Circle, a pillar in the DC restaurant industry for its commitment to healthy, sustainable, and organic food. Noticing a theme? It is more than probable that the President chose Restaurant Nora due to Mrs. Obama’s interest in organic sustainable agriculture. Restaurant Nora first opened in 1979, and owner/chef Nora Pouillon has been a pioneer in the organic and sustainable movement. In 1999, it became the first certified organic restaurant in America. Executive Chef Lambert cooked a special lamb dish for Mrs. Obama and pan-seared Maine lobster and saffron risotto for the President paired with an organic California Sauvignon Blanc. 2132 Florida Avenue N.W., Washington, D.C. 20008. Closest Metro: Dupont Circle. Phone: 202-462-5142. www.noras.com

Ray’s Hell Burger: President Obama and Vice President Joe Biden created quite a stir when they dined in for lunch in May 2009 at Ray’s Hell Burger. Mr. Obama ordered the basic cheddar cheese burger, medium well and asked for Dijon mustard. He paid cash and stood in line and waited...like everyone else. The President’s request for Dijon mustard became a media scandal and lead to a new nickname, “President Poupon.” The Presidential trip to Ray’s caused such a boost in business that it led owner, Michael Landrum to expand his empire. 1713 N Wilson Blvd. Arlington, Virginia 22201. Phone: (703) 841-0001

Good Stuff Eatery: Evidently, President Obama isn’t the only one who craves a good burger. The First Lady has already made two visits to Good Stuff. Perhaps she and the POTUS can compare notes. Former Top Chef contestant Spike Mendelsohn has a Prez Obama Burger on the menu, which has been around since campaign season and is made with horseradish mayo, red onion marmalade, crumbled blue cheese and bacon. In addition, Spike has newly introduced the Michelle Melt, a healthy turkey burger that he created in collaboration with White House chef Sam Kass. 303 Pennsylvania Ave., SE, Washington, DC. 20003. Closest Metro: Capitol South. Phone: (202) 543-8222 www.goodstuffeatery.com