While admittedly it wasn’t in use when I went, Beefsteak is the only restaurant along this strip to even have a small amount of outdoor seating.

Outdoor seating is an often underused amenity of any restaurants. While there are obvious reasons why many avoid them, it’s nice to have the option- and on this front, Beefsteak provides. While the weather on the day these were taken was not the best downtown, it nevertheless looked like an excellent option- if I could afford dining there that day, I likely would have sat here. The fact they provide it while others don’t can be chalked up to several reasons- a self-assigned higher importance, having more sidewalk space, or even laziness on their competitors’ part. Whatever the case, Beefsteak once again stands out from the group of three.

“As much as Andrés wants us to eat better, the man whose kitchens dish out pedigreed ham (at Jaleo) and a meringue “Rubber Ducky” made with foie gras ice cream (at Minibar) knows dining is as much about pleasure as sustenance. Or should be.” -Tom Sietsema, “Beefsteak review: Making vegetables bright, beautiful- and fast,” The Washington Post

Tracking down a picture of Washington Post food critic Tom Sietsema is surprisingly hard (for likely good reason)- the most you can easily find is this caricature he uses on his column.

It’s not an uncommon proposition that America is a food culture- it embodies everything we hold as core values: openness to new things, a celebration of plenty, and a love of basal pleasures. While America cannot claim to have the same fine dining chops as countries like Italy and France, we are the country who invented the omnipresent culinary pornography of fast food. Of course, many have objections to the latter- everything from its unhealthiness and corporate nature to its lack of refinement.

The latter point is more interesting, as it’s the most subjective of these themes. Of course, it’s not hard to see how pervasive the concept of fast food as a “people’s food” has become- one only need to be reminded of the photo ops of Trump with items from McDonalds or KFC to see how this can be used as a rhetorical shorthand for a lack of pretention or elitism on behalf of someone with very little in common with his most receptive audience. Even when eating his famous steaks, he’s known for his quite “uncultured” taste for ketchup as a pairing with this expensive and generally extravagant cut of meat. This was one of the many widely mocked parts of our president’s public persona, and with the fact that this seemed to connect with a certain group of people, it’s perhaps good to reflect on why this is.

Of course, pleasurable food has different meanings to different people. Tom Sietsema, the writer of this piece, is the food critic of the Washington Post- a job entirely about identifying what a subjective taste most would agree with is. This is especially important when it comes to the restaurants he often examines, which can cost a sizable portion of a week’s salary for a simple entree. Of course, in context it’s interesting to consider the fact he equates the pleasure from a fast casual vegetable joint to the items found at an exclusive restaurant where $275 is the cost for an evening. Sietsema clearly likes this place- after all, two stars is nothing to sneeze at. But does what he considers dining for pleasure rather than sustenance even compare to what most American see it as?

José Andrés is DC’s most famous chef, responsible for several of the most notable restaurants in the district. He’s also the founder of the Beefsteak chain.

What I’ve been trying to get at with all this rambling is this: how does the way we approach food shape our perceptions of it and others? Consider the rise of the fast casual restaurant- the only fundamental difference between these places and a fast food joint is higher prices, more high quality ingredients, and a lack of drive ins. Sure, you could argue about seating and interior design, but even a fast food joint could have high quality seating. However, a man like Tom Sietsema would likely never touch a fast food joint with a mile long stick in a professional context, but if a famous chef decides to start a fast casual chain it’s suddenly worth a review and two stars for quality. Why has the consumer with the luxury of picking rejected fast food and embraced fast casual? It’s a mystery which I hope to probe into in my final essay- but until then, I’ll be left contemplating the differences between mere sustenance and gustatory pleasure.

5. Background

A proposed branding for stationary, menu design, and other ephemera, with the illustrations by Brosmind.

Merry+Valenzula. “Beefsteak,” Behance, 10 Oct. 2015, https://www.behance.net/gallery/30211853/Beefsteak. Portfolio.

In this brief portfolio work by the creative agency Merry+Valenzula, we see a brief description of the artistic spirit behind Beefsteak’s unique visual identity, both in its branding and its physical locations. For example, one sees dummy versions of apps, menus, and even stationary, as well as a look at assorted merchandise. As well as this, we are given the basic information of the illustrators of the vegetables who make the restaurant unique- a pair of illustrators from Barcelona known as Brosmind. On top of that, we also see concepts of the interior design, arranged by Capella Garcia Arquitectura, another Barceolan firm. Finally, the portfolio ends with an exterior shot of one of the locations.

While this is sparse for words, knowing who was responsible for the signature parts of the restaurant’s design can be a major boon. In the mapping of commonplaces, the main attraction of BGR and it’s neighbors is the way they all utilize space in the same building to vastly different effect- allowing us to see the way they shape similar canvases to create gestalts of a far different rhetorical nature. And above all, it’s quite evident that this restaurant had both time and money put towards making it unique.

6. Background

The interior of the Logan’s Circle branch of Sweetgreen, as mentioned below. This photograph is attributed to Chris Rief, who appears to have taken it purely for this article.

Sirzyk, Samantha. “Behind the Design: Sweetgreen.” We Love DC, 10 Mar. 2010,  http://www.welovedc.com/2010/03/10/behind-the-design-sweetgreen-at-logan-circle/.

In this analytical work by DC blogger Samantha Sirzyk, she examines the interior design of the Sweetgreen at Logan Circle. After mentioning how her interest was sparked a similar write up in the magazine Metropolis, she begins to examine the new decor of the restaurant in great depth, analyzing all the design elements that brings the restaurant together. She first mentions the people involved- Peter Hapstack III on behalf of Core+ Architecture and Design, and Olivia Wolf and the Unison Design Agency for work on the omnipresent logo. She then breaks down specific design notes: use of lighting, distinctive salvaged hickory paneling, subway tiling on the floor. One thing noted in particular is the use of a mural by a local artist, Tang, on the hallway approaching the restroom. She concludes with a positive acclimation of a unique idea for a QR code in the restaurant, used to deliver a unique message every day.

While not exactly a new article, this was written after the establishment of the Dupont Circle branch of Sweetgreen, which means that most of this information is at least a solid lead if not also applicable. Furthermore, this was the newest information I could find on the restaurant’s interior design- I had little other choice. However, I do believe that this information will ultimately prove its worth.

Beefsteak’s branding uses these charming vegetables as mascots.

The most striking thing about Beefsteak, and the reason I chose it over Sweetgreen today, was this rambunctious group of vegetables. Mostly unnamed, this art style is pervasive over the restaurant- the wallpaper and table settings all incorporate these mascots to greater or lesser degrees. Beefsteak’s edge among the restaurants of PNC Bank, along with decent food, is having by far the best branding. BGR suffers from its indistinct nature, something they’re trying to correct, and I couldn’t tell you the first thing about Sweetgreen other than they serve salads. Right out of the gate, Beefsteak screams a combination of “playful” and “vegetables”- something to differentiate its cooking from the thousands of organic vegan places you find in metropolitan areas.

Beefsteak emphasizes its organic/vegan/green message with the omniversal decorative box- the milk crate.

The milk crate is a quite universal sort of box- I’ve never seen one actually used for milk, but they’re great for storing records, sitting on, just throwing stuff in, or using for art projects like this. Beefsteak (named for the tomato) likes to promote their enviromental-vegetarian method with things like this, presumably to give the feel of creative “reuse.” You can also see a mural of a field, which is meant to give the suggestions of wholesomeness and the organic-movement to a restaurant which likely isn’t, though I may be wrong. You can also see the drinks counter, with assorted beverages and juices, as well as a new bottled gazpacho they’re rolling out.

Beefsteak lets you build your own bowl of vegetables or get one of their own recipes.

Beefsteak, like most fast casual restaurants, takes an assembly line approach to meals- you either get something with an ingredient list already made or pick your own veggies (not in the farming sense) and assorted toppings and bases. One particular innovation is deep-fryer style vegetable boilers, which quite impressed me personally, though I’m easy to please. Like most of these restaurants, they’re quite free-flowing with the condiments, in an attempt to make it a universally edible experience- you can flavor anything to your liking. I will admit that the length of this counter made the whole experience a bit confusing, especially since no staff member was there to immediately get my order.