By PJ Thomas
There is a blues song that says, “You’re gonna miss me when I’m gone.” Those words will never ring more true than when the Obamas leave the White House in January. When the handsome couple entered the White House, Barack Obama was the youngest president to take office since John F. Kennedy.
They blew in from Windy City Chicago — spirited, attractive, stylish. Not since Jackie Kennedy and the era of Camelot had there been such excitement over a first lady. Mrs. Kennedy inspired women with ’60s fashion designers Cassini, Dior and Chanel. Now in strutted Michelle Obama in 2009, the first African-American first lady, runway chic at 5’11”, a beautiful figure, expertly coiffed and with credentials as impressive as her mate.
Suddenly, everyone was on “Michelle watch.” What was she wearing today? Who was the designer? Is it
appropriate to “bare” arms at certain social functions? Does this mean we could finally throw away those ill-fitting panty hose?
By contrast, their predecessors, President George W. Bush and First Lady Laura Bush, had ushered in their administration with boots and bow tie balls, but then quickly settled down to a quiet life at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave., where they reportedly went to bed by 9 p.m. No beer and burgers, no champagne with the friends — President Bush didn’t drink alcohol — and they made it a point to hop on Air Force One and head to Texas as often as possible, where Bush seemed happiest chopping wood.
The Obamas have done much to elevate the Washington, D.C. social scene and where “the lady” lunches is particularly of interest. So if the public wants to duplicate Michelle’s style, of course they also want to dine where she dines.
The couple seem to always celebrate their birthday and wedding anniversary by dining out. The Obamas have been spotted at a range of restaurants, from casual burger joints such as Five Guys, where the president satisfies his love for red meat, to Ben’s Chili Bowl, African-American owned and a U Street fixture for five decades.
Michelle, who seems to enjoy getting out of the White House, can be seen around town having lunch or drinks with girlfriends.
Fortunately for Washington, the Obamas will remain in the District until younger daughter Sasha graduates from high school. So the Obama watch will continue.
Here are a few places where you, too, can dine like Michelle.
1. The Source by celebrity chef Wolfgang Puck is an Asian restaurant and was the spot for Mrs. O’s 47th birthday. It has a lounge and dining room where diners can feast on a custom-designed hot pot table for four or chose the chef’s special tasting menu for two.
Chef Drewno prepares a rather unusual menu that can include a 20-hour aromatic broth made with chicken feet, pork ribs, beef and chicken bones, whole chicken, Sichuan peppercorns, chilies and chili oil. A traditional Chinese hot pot is prepared using wagyu beef, pork belly, local rockfish, wild mushrooms, noodles and dumplings. Mondays are $5 dumpling nights. And if you’re looking for something a little less adventurous, there is always the pizza.
575 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, Washington, D.C. 20565. (202) 637-6100. www.wolfgangpuck.com/restaurants/fine-dining/3941
2. It has been reported the Obamas celebrated another birthday for Michelle at the relaxed bistro, Equinox, led by Chef Todd Gray, where much of the menu will appeal to vegan diners. The couple dined intimately at the back of the restaurant and Michelle had the deliciously simple mac and cheese. In spite of her legendary, high-powered workout routines, Michelle loves French fries. Try the fries here with a generous slathering of truffle oil.
The draperies, hardwood floors and fireplace add to the warmth and intimacy, making this a superb choice for a date night. Ask for corner table number 21, which is reportedly where the Obamas sat. 818 Connecticut Ave. NW, Washington, D.C. 20006. (202) 331-8118. www.equinoxrestaurant.com
Lunch Monday-Friday, 11:30 a.m.-2 p.m.
Dinner Monday-Saturday, 5:30-9:30 p.m.
Brunch Sunday, 11 a.m.-1 p.m.
3. Mrs. Obama spreads the restaurant love around and the presidential motorcade has whisked across the Potomac to dine at Restaurant Eve, located in Alexandria, Virginia. The historic waterfront city is only 15 minutes from the White House (that’s for the rest of us who don’t have a motorcade clearing traffic out of the way). Currently, you can dine on a three-course, prix fixe lunch menu while the fresh garden supply lasts for just $28 (excludes tax, gratuity and beverage). Otherwise, you can expect to select from a lunch menu in which a selection of prawns is $18 and vegetable and starches are a la carte for an annoyingly $6 each.
110 South Pitt St., Alexandria, Virginia 22314. (703) 706-0450. www.restauranteve.com
Monday-Friday, 11:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m.
4. The first lady has also dined at Good Stuff Eatery, run by three generations of the Mendelsohn family. Chef Spike Mendelsohn purportedly prepared a burger for her and has since created the Prez Obama Burger with a topping of Roquefort cheese, bacon and a red onion marmalade and a Michelle Melt, a healthier turkey burger with caramelized onions and Swiss cheese for just $7.65. Watching our carbs? Shun the bun and have your burger lettuce-wrapped instead.
303 Pennsylvania Ave. SE, Washington, D.C. 20003. Closest Metro: Capitol South. (202) 543-8222. www.goodstuffeatery.com.
Monday-Saturday, 11 a.m.–10 p.m.
5. When the first lady ordered the fish special while dining at Art & Soul, many diners said, “I’ll have what she’s having.” Led by Chef Douglas Alexander, the kitchen serves a menu of Southern warmth, hospitality and simple, delicious dishes made with ingredients from farms and artisans that reflect sustainably sourced food.
Playful touches of hand-painted farm signs and traditional folk art are scattered throughout. Weather permitting, a patio provides al fresco dining.
“We want guests to feel as good about our business practices as they do about the food we serve,” said Chef Douglas Alexander.
Try the Geechie Boy Grits, the Crab & Cornbread Stuffed Trout, Smoked Scottish Salmon, Cornmeal Crusted Virginia Catfish or Four Grain Risotto. Sides can include sea island red peas or fried okra. Entrees range from $29-$43. Enjoy the Sunday brunch with dishes prepared family-style.
415 New Jersey Ave. NW, Washington, D.C. 20001 (202) 393-7777. www.artandsouldc.com
6. The first lady and the president have dined at Bourbon Steak House, a high-end restaurant located in the Four Seasons Hotel in northwest Washington. The Obamas celebrated their 20th anniversary there and enjoyed it so much they did it twice, returning in 2014 to celebrate their 22nd anniversary.
Under the direction of Executive Chef Michael Mina, the menu offers a vast selection of entrees, and you can choose from corn-fed, grass-fed or dry-aged beef. A 40-ounce rib eye goes for a whopping $135. I wonder if doggie bags were taken back to the White House. Less-expensive items are on the menu, including an interesting selection of seafood. Bourbon Steak House has fabulous, diet-buster desserts. Try the key lime pie. Or, if you simply have no room for dessert, the chef will prepare you a bag of his signature chocolate chip cookies for later. A master mixologist prepares beautiful drinks that you can enjoy on the outdoor dining terrace. Word of warning: go easy on the soft, warm bread and French fry appetizers before dinner.
2800 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, Washington, D.C. 20007. (202) 944-2026. www.bourbonsteakdc.com
Lunch: Monday-Friday, 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m.
Dinner: Sunday-Thursday, 6-10 p.m., Friday, 6-10:30 p.m., Saturday, 5:30-10:30 p.m.
Attire: Business Casual
7. The Zentan is a modern Japanese restaurant located on Thomas Circle, at the Kimpton Donovan
Hotel. Under the direction of acclaimed Executive Chef Yo Matsuzaki, the restaurant serves a hip, flavorful zakaya-style cuisine. The dinner menu features maki, kushi from a custom-built robata grill and a wide variety of playful plates.
In addition to sake, the bar features a Japanese whiskey program, which includes sake-tasting flights. A cocktail list designed by Jon Harris focuses on house-made syrups, bitters and infusions prepared to put an Asian spin on the classics. Michelle Obama dined here with her aide and two other female guests.
1155 14th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20005. (202) 379-4366. www.zentanrestaurant.com
8. Mulebone restaurant takes its name from the play “Mule Bone: A Comedy of Negro Life,” written by legendary African-American writers Langston Hughes and Zora Neale Hurston. The play led to a feud between the two, who never spoke again after its writing.
Mrs. Obama has dined here several times, according to the hushed whispers of the waitstaff. The restaurant is casual and serves a free computer workspace during the day. Enjoy an easy-on-the-pocket Southern menu that includes items such as Buttermilk Fried Chicken and Skillet Pancake for just $14, or the Mulebone Burger for $12. The burger is topped with onion and oxtail marmalade. Desserts can include a slice of sweet potato, bourbon and pecan pie. Now how’s that for a taste of the South?
2121 14th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20009. (202) 332-9672. www.mulebonedc.com
On the opposite corner is Busboys & Poets restaurant, lounge and bookstore, which owner Adam Shallal, also the owner of Mulebone, named as a tribute to Richard Wright, who worked as a busboy prior to his success as a writer. Mulebone and Busboys, two old friends, together at last. 2021 14th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20009. (202) 387-7638. www.busboysandpoets.com