"In Washington, you have some great restaurants, and I'm going to start going to them," the president said during an interview with "The Larry O'Connor Show" on Thursday. Ten months into his administration, Trump has dined in only one restaurant, BLT Prime, the steakhouse ensconced in Trump International Hotel.
In an uncommon stroke of comity, the president also revealed on the radio show that the White House was his No. 1 place to eat in a city he has derided as the Swamp. “I’ll tell you, my favorite restaurant . . . rather than insulting anyone, I will say: I love the food at the White House. The White House is the greatest restaurant.”
Of recent Oval Office occupants, the teetotaling 45th president, who has yet to host a state dinner, has expressed little interest in food beyond the occasional shout-out to meatloaf, a dish he offers on the menu of his club at Mar-a-Lago, has enjoyed at the White House and has foisted on dining companions, including New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R).
His longtime butler in Palm Beach, Fla., told the New York Times that Trump prefers his steak cooked so thoroughly that “it would rock on the plate.”
On the campaign trail, Trump was famous for dispatching Big Macs and Filet-O-Fish sandwiches, washed back with oceans of Diet Coke, and for calling Oreos the “craziest” thing he ate on the road. Donald Trump Jr. refers to his father as “a burgers-and-pizza kind of guy.” Daughter Ivanka Trump worries about her dad’s tendency to treat a meal like a race, “but it’s the only speed he knows,” she told Barbara Walters.
President Trump’s sudden, positive attention to the local food scene is curious. This is a man who once denied the quality of the dining establishments in a deposition against New York restaurateur Geoffrey Zakarian, who pulled out of a project at the Trump hotel. Said Trump in the summer of 2016: “There aren’t many in Washington, believe me.”
Maybe POTUS was tired of hearing how much fun his predecessor was having around town, at such hot spots as Rasika West End. Perhaps Ivanka Trump's excursions to Fiola Mare, Le Diplomate and other popular restaurants planted seeds of interest.
Whatever the cause, Trump sounds ready to pounce following his return from his state visits to Asia, which began Sunday in Tokyo (and included a pre-golf hamburger made with American beef).
On “The Larry O’Connor Show,” he said, “I was accused the other day, well, when I leave the White House, which is seldom, I always go to my hotel on Pennsylvania Avenue, and they say, ‘He should go to other places.’ And I never thought of it, and I’m going to start doing it.”
Where his motorcade ends up is TBD, but the dining destination is likely to speak volumes about the state of his taste. The big question: Can you take the teenager out of the man?
Should Trump decide to take baby steps from his routine and select a steakhouse other than his own, he’ll have the benefit of a herd of choices.
Prime Rib? A bit old-fashioned, especially if the style-conscious first lady tags along.
Closest to 1600 Pennsylvania Ave., and among the best at what they deliver, are the contemporary Bourbon Steak in the Four Seasons hotel in Georgetown and the softly lighted Mastro's downtown, which comes with the bonus of live music and a Key lime pie that might put Trump in a Florida state of mind.
The president might also consider the expansive new Rare Steakhouse on I Street NW, where he can presumably get his choice of entree cooked shades darker than the title suggests. A reservation at Rare, an import from Wisconsin, could be seen as a sign of gratitude to a state that helped put him in office.
Come to think of it, Trump could engender some goodwill with Congress and invite Paul D. Ryan, speaker of the House of Representatives and from "America's Dairyland," along for the ride! (Then follow up with Kentuckian Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader, with a visit to Succotash downtown, whose chef, Edward Lee, recently relocated from Louisville. And so on across the power lines.)
If he wants to score food points among the electorate, however, he needs the Secret Service to stop traffic and wand restaurantgoers in such worldly parts of the city as Shaw, Penn Quarter, 14th Street NW, H Street NE or — freshest of all — the epic and evolving Wharf.
On Sunday, the president got some experience eating (slightly) outside the box when Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe hosted him at a teppanyaki grill in Tokyo, the glitzy Ginza Ukai Tei, for a salad of scallops and white truffles, steak and a chocolate sundae. (POTUS is partial to ice cream; two scoops are better than one.)
The dinner was heavy on designer labels, with the beef coming from prized Tajima cows and the scallops, revered for their sweetness, from Hokkaido.
Trump’s willingness to venture out of his house for a meal back in the District is music to the ears of anyone who believes in the power of food to effect change.
Better late than never, right? But he should be prepared for muted, if any, applause in whatever dining rooms he eventually holds court.
Ninety percent of voters in Washington, after all, looked at the menu last November and asked for Hillary Clinton.
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