The residents of DC won’t say so, but it’s true: America’s capital has a lively food scene, with many excellent restaurants. But none is better than the two that belong to the soon-to-be-sold Trump International Hotel on Pennsylvania Avenue: Sushi Nakazawa and BLT Prime by David Burke. The former offers the finest Japanese food in a city known for its Asian cuisine. The latter is just a truly great restaurant –– and absolutely my kind of place.
Burke’s joint is part of the hotel’s main hall. The building used to be the vast federal post-office before the Trump family converted it. The enormous glass roofed lobby area is a marvel: put politics to one side and admit that it is an extraordinary achievement. The sweet, dutiful staff are quick to tell you about how involved Ivanka Trump was in the design, down to the furnishings in each room. DC snobs sniff at the garish, presidential blue chairs, the elaborate marble and the glossy wood panelling. But if the Obama family launched exactly the same hotel, the same people would fall over themselves to say how beautiful it was. Who cares about taste anyway? A stay at the Trump hotel offers something better: a strangely old-fashioned, 1980s sense of fun. You feel like a child being spoilt rotten.
I had a wonderful stay recently in the hotel: the attention to every detail in my room was impressive, and I took great pleasure in stealing some Trump-branded slippers for my power-mad children. But I’m a gourmand, at heart, and the most amusing part for me was having lunch with David Burke in his restaurant. Born in Brooklyn, raised in Jersey, Burke is today a famous reality TV chef and a legend of the New York food scene. He’s completely unpretentious, obsessed with making food as delicious as possible. He was given the chance to open a restaurant in Trump’s DC hotel because another business dropped out, fearing association with the President’s brand. David had no such misgivings. He’s known Trump since his good ol’ Real Estate Mogul days. He likes the guy.
David regales me with anecdotes about what happens when the President and First Lady come for dinner. On a recent visit, Trump wanted a different steak to his usual, though still well-done, which is how he likes it. But then he sent it back. David was in that night, ‘and I knows the guy, so I go up and I say Mr President –– you have to say that –– what’s the problem?’ Trump said he wasn’t sure about the meat. After some awkward back and forth, he ate the food before being whisked off. David was perturbed, then as he left that night one of the hotel managers passed on a message: ‘Hey, President Trump says “tell David I’m just busting his balls!”’ What japes. It sounds like Goodfellas without the ultra-violence.
David, in proud restaurateur mode, treated me to a proper feast. We began with his signature starter ‘clothesline candied Bacon’, so-called because you clip it off actual clothes pegs. Then we had a lobster bisque, followed by some outrageously good medium-rare (sorry, Donald) porterhouse steak. It came with a lovely, large fluffy popover — what Brits like me call Yorkshire pudding.
For actual pudding, or dessert, David ordered another of his wondrous, child-like inventions: cheesecakes lollipops. I ate three and nearly passed out with joy.