2015 was a big year for food and drink in the District. It was the year of family-style dishes, vegetable-centric menus, Filipino food, and the sushi burrito. It was the year David Chang brought Momofuku to Washington, and the year Fig & Olive tried (unsuccessfully) to kill off all its customers. But that’s all old news now. The new year promises to bring new culinary innovations and inclinations to Washington. Here’s a look at ten food and drink trends you’ll have to endure in 2016:
More holiday themed bars
In December, Shaw’s Mockingbird Hill temporarily transformed itself into Miracle on Seventh Street, a Christmas-themed bar that drew enormous crowds. We expect other bars to follow suit and try to capitalize on timely holiday cheer. One has already been confirmed. This month, U Street’s Marvin will take its trademark appropriation to new heights, becoming a Martin Luther King Jr. Day-themed bar called I Have a Drink that will be judged not by the color of its owners’ skin (The Hiltons, white) but by the content of their cocktails.
Arguing about diners like we argue about dive bars
For years we’ve suffered through (and eagerly participated in) the endless debates about what it takes to be a real dive bar. But with at least four new diners opening in DC in 2016, our arguments over authenticity will soon be about what it takes to be a real greasy spoon. We can hear it now:
With padded red booths and classic counters, the new Slim’s Diner in Petworth promises all the feel of golden age American diner culture, but will it stay open late enough to be a real diner?
The people behind Sticky Fingers bring their vegan fare to the diner game on H Street with the opening of Fare Well. But doesn’t a real diner have to have real eggs and bacon?
Blue Diner comes to H Street too. But can a real American diner really be connected to a fake English pub?
The Unconventional Diner opens in Shaw with higher end offerings and atmosphere, but a real diner, like a real dive bar, is supposed to be cheap and kind of shitty.
So, if you’re a hardened local baby boomer, you’ll naturally conclude that there hasn’t been a real diner in Washington since the 1970s and just continue going to Tastees in Bethesda or Silver Spring. Lord knows you wouldn’t be caught dead at a Silver Diner. That’s not a real diner!
The Chipotlization of American food service continued unabated in 2015, and nowhere were fast-casual establishments more in vogue than in Washington. But enough is enough. In 2016, District diners will grow tired of Cava Grills, &pizzas, and Taylor Gourmets and start looking for full table service again. But they won’t be ready to give up the short wait times fast-casual restaurants have spoiled them with. Enter fast-formal dining, a burgeoning trend where sit down eateries like Le Diplomate and Pearl Dive get you in, seated, served, and billed in under fifteen minutes. Gone are the days of perusing the menu and waiting for water refills; once you’re seated and given a menu, you order your full course meal immediately, and it’s brought to you within a few minutes. Impossible, you may be thinking. How can luxury restaurants hope to accommodate orders for complex dishes in mere moments? The answer is simple: pre-made meal components, shipped from New York, and ready to re-heat on command. The future of fine dining is here, and it’s fast.
Making 2017 reservations at Pineapple and Pearls
It takes hours to wait for a meal at Rose’s Luxury; it may take years to wait for one at Pineapple and Pearls. Yes, finally, there will be an Aaron Silverman restaurant that takes reservations. But not on Mondays. Or Saturday, or Sunday. And no longer in 2016. They haven’t opened yet, but they’re booked through the year. A party of two can still get a table in 14-15 months, but 2017 is going fast.
Family-style dining options for lonely singles
Whole animals on a spit at Iron Gate. Giant platters at Maketto. Yes, 2015 marked the end of the small plate craze and heralded the arrival of big, bountiful, family-style options for groups of 2-6 diners. But in 2016, that arbitrary and discriminatory 2-6 diner barrier will fall and restaurants will start serving family-style platters to lonely parties of one. Because depressive overeating is more fun in public!
The farm-to-table movement has revolutionized the logistics of food. In 2016 it will change how we look at restaurant workers too. The concept is simple: farm-to-table seasonal employees. Literally. In the summer and fall, they’re low-paid migrant workers on local farms, while in the winter and spring, they come work as low-paid busboys and dishwashers in Washington restaurants. Diners will thus enjoy the peace of mind of knowing exactly where their quasi-slave restaurant labor is sourced from.
Way too many chocolate factories
You’re going to be so sick of standalone chocolate factories by the end of the year. When Harper Macaw opened in December next to DC Brau and started offering tastings and tours, it sounded like a fun, original addition to Washington’s food scene. But with nine—count em nine!—new factories slated to open in 2016, you’re going to be left begging for more speakeasies and steakhouses. Forthcoming factories include, but are not limited to: Chocolate City in Anacostia, opening in February; Atlantic Melting in North End Shaw, opening in March; Cocoa Co. in Parkview, opening in May; and Choc-Lite, a vegan faux milk chocolate producer, opening on H Street this summer.
Choosing restaurants for the plates, not the food
Food was once again the central focus of the dining world in 2015. But in 2016, it’s all about the plates. As restaurateurs and artists continue to collaborate on increasingly elaborate china and silverware, the fare at top eateries will soon be an afterthought for many artistic-minded diners, who will literally order their favorite dishes, the food that comes with them be damned.
Fig & Olive Economics
In 2014, customer service was what made a good restaurant great. But the biggest food story of 2015 was Fig & Olive proving you can treat Washington’s diners and food media with complete contempt and still thrive. It was a game changer. Here’s a place that poisoned its patrons with salmonella, refused to apologize for it, and responded by raising its prices. A place that charged over $25 for risotto that it turns out was pre-made in New York. A place that uses Hellman’s mayonnaise in its aioli. And yet, they’re still a restaurant! Expect other eateries to imitate this innovative approach and treat wealthy Washingtonians like shit in 2016. After Fig & Olive, they know it doesn’t matter. If you charge enough, Washington diners will eat anything.
Biting off fingertips
We’re calling it early: If 2015 was the year of tiki bars, then 2016 will be the year of drunken maniacs biting off people’s fingers. Happy new year!