What's Missing From DC's Food Scene - A Lot" that has tongues wagging and fingers tweeting. By happenstance, we had dinner with him shortly before the article came out, and got a quick preview of his critique.
As a major player on DC's dining scene - he founded Marvelous Market and then Breadline (although he no longer is part of either enterprise) - Furstenberg focuses on the underlying food culture as evidenced, among other things, by an array of markets and independent specialty grocery stores. DC’s burgeoning farmers’ market scene, some suburban specialty stores and the new Union Market are encouraging signs, he says, but they are expensive. Interestingly, in our most recent Washington, DC/Baltimore Restaurants Survey, a majority of reviewers (58%) said they were willing to pay more for locally sourced, organic or sustainably raised foods.
He recognizes that there are excellent restaurants run by talented chefs and entrepreneurs, but that is not enough, he says, to make DC a great food city. Zeroing in on issues like service - the number one complaint identified by participants in the Zagat Survey - he finds a “sophisticated and demanding clientele” a prerequisite. Another is an identifiable “food culture," such as the ones in New Orleans and San Francisco, and in cities with iconic dishes like Baltimore’s crabs and Kansas City’s barbecue.
Furstenberg, who has been looking for a location for a new bakery in the city, points out that the area’s robust economy and demographics that are attracting big name culinary talents, mean high rents and start-up costs. These entry costs crowd out small entrepreneurs, he says, as do developers' demands for collateral and security. Moreover, he says, absentee chefs and owners can’t stay in touch with their clientele, a view seemingly shared by a majority of Zagat surveyors, who when asked “does having a famous chef influence your decision to dine at a restaurant?” Responded with it “had no effect” (57%).
Compared to his vision of a rise of small, independently operated food establishments throughout the city, Furstenberg says DC still has a way to go. Whether or not you agree with him about what makes a great food city, he certainly dishes up plenty of food for thought. We'd love to hear your opinions in the comments.