I was having one of THOSE days last Saturday. I woke up to get ready for 1789, hopped in the shower, and the shower head flew off the spout and hit me in the head. Hard. Then I was running late, after the appropriate amount of panicking and curse words and feeling my head for a bump and wound up forgetting my wallet. Then I couldn’t find a parking spot that wasn’t metered, but I had no money. After finally parking, I burst into 1789′s bakery, which isn’t actually attached to the restaurant, and asked for Cathy, who I knew was already there. Everyone looked at me like I had five heads. Was I not at the right place? 1789 is located a block from Georgetown’s campus, right near The Tombs, and intermingles with the other restaurants located next door. I got flustered and tried to explain in a rush of words, “I’m having the worst morning ever, I got hit in the head, forgot my wallet, there’s no parking, you think I’m crazy right? I’m a writer, I’m here to do a story on 1789, I’m looking for Cathy…” Pastry Chef Travis Olson stood up from putting house made crackers on a rack, looked mildly amused at my storm of words and shook my hand and introduced himself. I unleashed the hurricane again. “I’m sorry, I know I’m crazy, I’m just supposed to be meeting Cathy in here, you probably think I’m insane, is this even 1789?” I trailed off. Thankfully, the kind soul of a woman baking bread in the window turns around, and volunteers that there was in fact, a girl dressed in street clothing who was writing an article that came in a few minutes ago looking for the chef. And then, as if on cue, Cathy walked in the kitchen to find me.
So after that sort of an entrance it was only appropriate that Executive Chef Daniel Giusti throw an egg at me. We were waiting for the potatoes to bake for the gnocchi he was going to show us how to make, and he was gathering up our necessary ingredients. Flour, a bowl, a knife, a cutting board, and eggs. He leaned back against the counter holding the two eggs for our pasta and all of a sudden an egg comes flying out of his hand and hits me in the knee, falling to the floor with a huge thwack and busting open. “Why you gotta throw an egg at me?” I laugh. “Haven’t I been through enough today?” Dan dissolves into laughter. “DID YOU EVEN SEE THAT? That was some Houdini shit right there! I didn’t even do anything! I didn’t even move my hand! We better get you out of the kitchen, this is like the worst place for you to be, there are knives in here.” And that’s what I love about the kitchen at 1789, Cathy and I were automatically comfortable there – we wound up having a really fun morning. I can tell why such good food comes out of the kitchen there.
Dan began his culinary career at the original Clyde’s of Georgetown at age 15 as a prep cook. He’s been in the kitchen ever since. He’s moved around a lot, after we started talking about the show The Office, Dan said he had lived in Scranton. He’s also worked in Las Vegas, with his now sous-chef. Chef Giusti earned a culinary degree from the Culinary Institute of America in 2004, and conducted an externship under Charlie Palmer at Aureole in New York. From April to August 2004, Giusti also spent time in Jesi, Italy, where he took additional culinary classes with a Slow Food program to become a master of regional Italian cooking and further his involvement with the Slow Food movement.
Dan had just hosted a slow food dinner the night before, and talked Cathy and I through some of the ingredients he used. To qualify as slow food, the ingredient (meat, produce, nuts, whatever) must be produced in a clean way that does not harm the environment, animal welfare or health; and that food producers should receive fair compensation for their work. Dan whipped out a bucket of pistachios he had found, and talked about some of the other slow food he’s looking for for his menu. But the most entertaining was this cheese he’d heard about. “It’s yak cheese. Tibetan yaks, they had so many of them and they tried to restart the economy with them…It’s gross.”
The potatoes finally bake and we start to make the gnocchi. “Most people make it wrong, they add too much flour, and then they’re hard and chewy. You need to handle it as little as possible.” He starts cranking the potatoes in the food mill. “A food mill is something everyone should have,” he tells Cathy. “Funny, because I keep needing a conical strainer,” she says. “And that crap is EXPENSIVE,” I say, remembering when Cathy tried to buy one for herself after our first Capital Chefs article and it was $125. “Who has that in their home kitchen,” Dan jokes. “Probably the same people who cook dishwasher fish.” Dishwasher fish people, we decide, are the worst. They’re just trying to show off. You CAN cook fish in the dishwasher, it does get hot enough, but why do that if you can just cook it in the oven like a normal person?
And that’s what 1789 is really all about – well executed classics, with good quality ingredients. The restaurant’s stated concept is “1789 Restaurant’s concept combines simple, traditional cooking methods, highlighting the flavors and integrity of the region’s best ingredients.” You won’t find dishwasher fish there. For the gnocchi recipe come back at 3 p.m. for Cathy’s part II of Capital Chefs.
1789 Restaurant is located at 1226 36th Street, NW and offers complimentary valet parking (except when you really need it at 10 a.m. in the morning when you forgot your wallet) along with dinner service nightly.