Washington Lawyer - September 2016 - 16

BEHIND THE KITCHEN DOOR The explosion of restaurants isn't simmering down anytime soon as chefs work to deliver high-quality food that meets evolving diner demands. More adventurous and social diners, for example, have created a market for communal dining. These restaurants, with tables big enough to seat 20 to 30 customers, have cropped up everywhere from Singapore to Buenos Aires to Salzberg. Chef Mike Isabella "There used to be two types of restaurants out there. There was fast food and there was the sit-down, full-service restaurant," Morris, the restaurant law attorney, says. Not anymore. Today there are pop-up kitchens, food trucks, fast-casual and upscale casual restaurants, fine dining establishments, tasting menus, supper clubs, and more. Customers want creative cocktail lists and a robust beer menu. They want to know what's in their food and where it comes from. They want different dining experiences. They want choice. To keep his ideas fresh, Isabella travels around the world researching cuisines, ingredients, and flavors. This past year he trekked through Portugal, Spain, and Morocco, checking out markets, restaurants, and bars. "It's seeing the drink program, seeing the food, seeing the presentation, seeing the wineries, going to tonic developers in Spain," says Isabella. "Those are things I strive for - seeing and learning new things. Putting it in my journal and keeping it going." With every trip comes ideas to alter his menus and potential restaurant concepts. "We experiment and change things up all the time," he says. Meek-Bradley has worked as executive chef at Ripple for three years, but the restaurant opened in 2010. "When you are running a restaurant that is six years old, it's [about] staying relevant. Everyone wants to talk about the new and shiny. You have to keep reinventing yourself to be part of the city," she says. A recent visit to Cosme restaurant in New York City had her rethinking her menu, and a jaunt as guest chef at a 16 WASHINGTON LAWYER * SEPTEMBER 2016 * Patrón Secret Dining Society event prompted her to delve into Mexican cuisine. A meal at Thai restaurant Thip Khao made her want to experiment with heat in her food, while a short trip to a farmers market brings a rush of ideas. "I get inspired by what's around me. My sous chefs get mad at me because I order crazy large farm orders. [They ask] 'What are you going to do with all of this?' I always find something that's fun," she says. SERVE UP DIVERSE FLAVORS The booming local restaurant scene is hitting two new milestones. In August, the magazine Bon Appétit named Washington, D.C., the Restaurant City of the Year, and this October marks the arrival of the Michelin Guide, which rates the top restaurants in the world. "I don't think I ever thought that would happen, and that wouldn't have happened without so many amazing things happening here," says Meek-Bradley. "It pushes you to be better. It pushes you to work harder." But with greater choices come greater confusion in zoning regulations as cities struggle to keep pace with expanding restaurant concepts. In early August, Meek-Bradley hit a roadblock when the D.C. government deemed her upcoming sandwich shop, Smoked & Stacked, a fast food joint. The problem? Zoning regulations first created in 1985 restrict fast food restaurants from opening along 9th Street NW in the Shaw neighborhood. Those restrictions were modified in 2007 with three specific criteria that would qualify an establishment as fast food. Under the amended rules, any establishment that meets any one of the three criteria - a drive-through window, upfront payment for food, and use of disposable tableware - is considered fast food. Smoked & Stacked, like many fast casuals, is set up to have customers order and pay for food at the same time. The city's zoning regulations are set to change again in September, allowing for greater flexibility in the definition of a fast food restaurant. The city has identified five characteristics of a fast food establishment: prepares food on a production line, serves standardized food shipped from a central location, provides trash cans in the dining area for customers to clear their tables, offers seating for diners, and serves food on disposable tableware. Unlike the 2007 rules, however, the latest regulations do not automatically place a restaurant in Photo: Greg Powers http://www.dcbar.org http://www.dcbar.org/

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