A Sliver of the Sweet Life: DC Restaurants

Concerns such as transparency and accountability may not be forefront within the halls of government but they certainly are when government goes to dine.

Sweetgreen Touted as "an ecofriendly salad-centric resto" in Daily Candy, Sweetgreen has taken DC by storm. First opened in DC in 2007 with a blizzard of media attention: US Weekly for healthful organic munching, ArchitectureDC's accolades for Sweetgreen's award for Sustainable Design, and the Washington Post's review of the inaugural Sweetlife Festival 2011, to name a few.

This media attention is richly deserved. As Bo Burlingham of Inc Magazine talks about in his book, Small Giants, certain establishments have a palpable mojo - and Sweetgreen's got it. From the warmth of the recycled wood for walls and benches, vibrant green leaf-esque designs on the walls, and the line of passionate salad co-creators that will walk you through their organic offerings - this is a place for health, for salad, for lunch & dinner weekly. Communal benches or small tables made from recycled wood add to the common joie de vivre.

Nicolas Jammet, Jonathan Neman, and Nathaniel Ru spent their undergraduate years at Georgetown tired of food options near campus. Their desire to create a haven for daily eating bloomed into Sweetgreen with 8 locations in the DC area and 2 more in Philadelphia. According to Jammet there are plans for expansion within their current markets as well as into new territory.

Do you choose one of their 8 signature salads? Or do you take the plunge into the make-your-own salads and wraps? A selection of greens to start - then an overwhelming choice of veggies from standbys such as cucumber and chickpeas to spicy organic quinoa or fennel - then goat cheese from Firefly Farms or perhaps tofu from JC Bean Sprouts - finally to the crunch and dressing arena - all tastes are covered.

Last, and some would say first and only, is the organic yogurt from Stonyfield Farms, "branded Sweetflow, [marrying] the texture of soft serve with the sharp tang of Greek yogurt," according to the Washingtonian.com: Best Cool Treats. Sweetflow hits the streets with their Sweetflow Mobile Truck (you can find them at @SweetflowMobile on Twitter).

As Jammet shares, "traceability and transparency is a big part of our success. We serve a very educated consumer. Our messaging is very transparent - the customers have a lot of trust in us and they want to eat with us. Real Time Farms is good way to explore eating healthy, locally, and to eat organic!"

Check out Sweetgreen's farm-linked menu!

Equinox The Restaurant Association of Metropolitan Washington (RAMW) has been a mainstay of the Washington dining scene since 1920 and they give awards, dubbed RAMMY awards. Two weeks ago, Chef Todd Gray of Equinox was awarded Chef of the Year at the RAMMY awards. This is the fifth coveted RAMMY award Equinox has garnered since its lauded opening in 1999 (including best new restaurant, best pastry chef, manager of the year to Gray's wife and business partner Ellen Kassoff Gray, and best fine dining restaurant).

The RAMMY awards joust for space on a mantelpiece already groaning with salutations for excellence and fine dining. The awards are rivaled only by the media attention Equinox has garnered over the years from the Today Show (for recipes) to CNN (for Chef Gray's work with school lunches). Equinox was described by The Los Angeles Times as "a chic and sleek restaurant...an established staple... and the beginning of the Obama's love affair with Washington restaurants."

Chef Gray's long relationship with area farmers and his and Kassoff Gray's commitment to local sourcing means the restaurant receives food from a smorgasbord of different farmers and suppliers.

Check out Equinox's farm-linked menu!

Founding Farmers The first LEED Gold Certified restaurant in our nation's capital opened September 2008. A 2011 RAMMY for Best Beverage/Mixology Program joined the many awards Founding Farmers has garnered, including many for its green and sustainable practices. This 100% carbon neutral restaurant goes the extra mile to address all facets of the guests' experience. Even the way Founding Farmers approaches educating their diners - offering both a comfortable book nook one can sit and thumb through titles by authors Michael Pollen and Vice President Al Gore, as well as scannable QR codes on the rotating crop list placed on each table - shows their commitment to great service.

Founding Farmer's latest venture is establishing an urban apiary in collaboration with George Washington University to provide honey to the restaurant once the hives are established. The hives are "a natural extension of Founding Farmers' mission to minimize its impact on the environment through sustainable practices," says Dan Simons, Concept Developer and Managing Partner of the restaurant. The six beehives and their inhabitants will be studied by the Biology Department and Founding Farmers set up an annual scholarship for an undergraduate student to tend for the hives.

Owned by the 42,000 family farmers of the North Dakota Farmers Union, Founding Farmers has created a menu as varied as the nation's landscape. Yankee Pot Roast rubs elbows with Shrimp & Grits. All of their pasta, breads, dressings, and desserts are made in house.

Check out Founding Farmer's farm-linked menu!

The White House Due to understandable security concerns the White House does not release information about all of their food sources. However, anything served on state china from the White House Kitchen garden can be recorded. Check out the latest State Dinner featuring items from the White House Kitchen Garden!

A very special thank you to Eddie Gehman Kohan of ObamaFoodOrama for all of her help!

Shoutouts to: Againn For serving banana toffee pie and for having a pig charcuterie map on their shirts, this contemporary British Gastro-Pub makes their own charcuterie. Chicken Liver Mousse, anyone?

Bar Pilar & Cafe Saint-Ex Chef Justin of Bar Pilar welcomed me back to his kitchen as he was peeling onions just in from Tuscarora Organic Growers Cooperative. What are you going to do with them, I asked? "I never know, we will have to see what works!" He smiled gleefully before sharing with me why tomato puree was being filtered through cheesecloth behind him, "it makes a more intense flavor."

Coppi's Organic Restaurant As Carlos Amaya, the owner says to me, "I don't only source from the farmers markets, I talk to the farmers in January and we go through their seed catalogues together." The relatively small prep area at the back of the dining room is the extent of the kitchen - the only oven is the wood fired oven. Transparency and trust are the name of the game, as Amaya talks about juggling incoming ingredients: "four of my farmers have keys to my restaurant to drop off their produce, I'll come in the morning and there will be produce waiting for me on tables from their early morning deliveries."

Sonoma From their recent Tuscarora Farm Dinner, to the many farm dinners where they showcase their suppliers, Sonoma is solidifying its place for transparency and great sourcing on the Hill. Chef Mike's menu features, "local pork, local lamb, local beef" instead of listing cuts "because you never know what will be available from day to day."

Here is the piece on the Real Time Farms blog.

Washington DC's local food landscape and FRESHFARM Markets

I am happy to report our capital city, the thriving metropolis of Washington DC, shuts down roads and stops traffic for local food - and it all began with FRESHFARM markets.

The 501c3 organization runs 11 farmers markets in DC, Maryland, and Virginia. One of the two FRESHFARM Directors, Ann Yonkers, recently shared with me the history and the workings of this dynamic organization.

A native Washingtonian, Yonkers purchased Pot Pie Farm with her husband in 1991 in St. Michaels, MD and quickly became confronted by the local food scene. As Yonkers described it, "the Eastern Shore is such a weird setting. It used to be like New Jersey - almost all of the food for restaurants from Philadelphia, Baltimore and Washington came from there. With the advent of chicken farms, it just produces wheat, corn, and soybeans - which are all used to feed chickens. I would go to the farm stands and restaurants and all of the produce was from California. I said this is really crazy. So I started a little business, picking up produce and dropping it off."

Yonkers was thus fertile and energetic ground for when FRESHFARM Board Member Nora Pouillon, of Nora's, struck by the dynamic NYC Greenmarkets, suggested to her friend to start similar markets in DC.

Yonkers and her Co-Director, Bernadine (Bernie) Prince, opened the first two markets (Dupont Circle and St. Michaels) under the American Farmland Trust umbrella in 1997. (Farmers markets are often run under the aegis of a larger organization until they decide to take the time and money to become their own 501c3. It is much easier to be a line item in a church balance sheet, for example, during the first few bumpy years of attracting customers and growers.)

In 2002-3, FRESHFARM filed for 501c3 status and opened their third market - Penn Quarter. "It was a struggle" Yonkers recalled, "and part of the big struggle was getting that first market open with the permits to shut down the street." The Penn Quarter FRESHFARM market location is awesome - tents and shoppers are cradled on a closed off block of 8th St NW between the Navy Memorial and the National Portrait Gallery, looking straight down the hill to the National Archives (erected in 1931 on the former site of Washington DC's Center Market).

FRESHFARM is committed to tracking the numbers to illustrate that the local food movement is not a passing trend. "We count our customers every half hour. We also take a percentage fee of gross sales, which has made it possible to track how we are doing." As she continued, Yonkers sounded sad. "Most markets have no idea. All over the country there is this giant movement and everyone says - oh it is so great. But it is all anecdotal, not really great in terms of saying this is a serious activity."

So let us talk 2010 numbers. Over 360,000 shoppers purchased food from the 150 plus farmers and producers selling only what they grow, raise, catch or make at FRESHFARM markets. Over 9000 acres of Chesapeake Bay watershed is farmed to support that local demand. More than $19,000 in free food vouchers was donated to low-income shoppers - several of their markets accept WIC, Senior Coupons, and Food Stamps/SNAP Benefits. (Mark Bittman did a great piece on WIC recently in the NY Times.) Over 50,000 pounds of fresh food were donated to their gleaning partners (DC Central Kitchen among others).

I agree with Yonkers's statement that: "every market has its own vibe and quality." Dupont Circle on Sunday is a maelstrom of activity and people. The buildings at Penn Quarter (Thursday) shade the chefs from local restaurants as they roll their carts up and down the street. Saturday Silver Spring's central fountain spills cheer and community into the pedestrian village. I like markets where you can spend time chatting with the growers - perhaps Michael James, of Blueberry Hill, at H Street (Saturday) or Mary Haskins, of Haskins Family Farm, at Foggy Bottom (Wednesday).

Farmers markets are a distillation of the demand and supply relationship between consumers and producers. As Attila Agoston, of Mountain View Farm, shared with me: "it takes four parts - the market, the restaurant, the grower, and the consumer to support one another. We try to respond to what people want and bring stuff that other people don't have."

"We have seen a huge innovation in terms of what comes to market then when we started. Fruit, vegetables, flowers and plants - that was it - and now you can feed yourself." Yonkers smiled. "The whole diversification - we never had any meat, any cheese, and milk - now we have all of these protein products that come year round." Whether preserving food through cheese making or sauerkraut, growers are responding to the year-long demand, and FRESHFARM responded in 2010 by extending the market season to year long for Dupont and Silver Spring.

"I am so glad, I can hardly believe it!" Expounded Yonkers, "I wanted to start a farmers market in a town where policy is made. The world is coming around. The little food movement is the most innovative sector, by far."

Here is the article on Real Time Farms!

Ann Arbor Adieu on Annarbor.com

On Sunday, I watched two of my "girls" deflowered by a rooster.

I had been feeling wary of this upcoming event and my role as a chicken pimp, but we had no choice. Either we were going to kill the girls and bring them with us to our temporary rental home in the freezer, or we were going to give them to friends who have many chickens in their flock.

It seemed highly ridiculous that killing a living creature was deemed better than letting nature take its course – so our girls were introduced to their new flock. Five minutes later, two of our girls were ruffling their feathers, seemingly unperturbed by the 10-second coitus.

Saying goodbye to our chickens was the last in a long list of adieus as we leave this wonderful town.

We have lived here six years, and I feel I only know 40 percent of what makes Ann Arbor wonderful, especially in the realm of food.

As food is the only carnal thing humans can do in public, I salute all those who pursue this world. I am grateful to you all. This world of feeding our bodies, our health, our souls.

Here is the article on Annarbor.om

What I didn't write in this article was the sense of vertigo that accompanied the list upon list upon list as we sold our house and left. Leaving a town where one has lived for 6 years, leaving a town where one went through residency, through oncology office visits, and through falling in love (with the food world, with one's husband, with the reality of the miraculous).

Onward to the next adventure!