THE CULINARY culture of, Washington in the past week has lost two of its artists, Hito Suyehiro and Paul De Lisle
Hito Suyehiro's reputation as a wine collector and host had preceded him by years before I finally met him in his own back yard. Rockville was the last place one would expect to find an authentic luau, yet there it was every year, with a pit dug in the earth and a suckling pig sealed under tarpaulins, but coming after so much food and wine that the roast pig was nearly dessert.
That was how Hito and Masako Suyehiro entertained: always with surprises, never in less than the most generous proportions. And never washed down with less than the most enticing wines from his personal wine cellar, which grew to be one of this country's most extraordinary.
Hito collected and Masako cooked, often with guest chefs such as Jean Pierre Goyenvalle, Bill Rice, Mark Caraluzzi. In fact, the Suyehiro kitchen typically looked like an overstaffed laboratory, buzzing with half a dozen professional and amateur chefs experimenting and inventing and finally presenting to the guests--and children and relatives and out-of-town visitors--a parade of extraordinary food. The wines were stiff competition for the food; the last time I was there Suyehiro was serving a wine from 1928, the year of his birth.
When he died last week, an important element of Washington's culinary inventiveness and oenophilic conviviality was lost, for Suyehiro was a gastronomic catalyst.
Washington also lost a catalyst in the dining room with the death of Paul DeLisle. The maitre d'hotel who had already become a legend, DeLisle presided first at the old Rive Gauche, then at the old Sans Souci, finally at the Jockey Club. Restaurants have grown famous for their food or their decor or their setting; DeLisle made the Sans Souci famous for its artful manipulation of seats and tables so that each day's lunch was an accurate political map of Washington. People go to some restaurants just to eat, to others just to relax or to bask in elegance; people went to the Sans Souci when DeLisle was host just to be seated. He will always be considered the maitre d's maitre d'.