Mon 18 May 2009
There was an interesting story in the New York Times this morning about Darienne M. Page, a young woman whose awesome title is “receptionist of the United States.” Page sits at the desk outside the West Wing of the White House, and, basically, to see the president, you have to pass through her scrutiny first, whether you’re Senator Harry Reid or actor Ben Stiller. As Times reporter Jeff Zeleny writes:
She is on hand to greet nearly every official visitor who has an appointment with the president or his top advisers. She oversees the front of the house at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, serving coffee to former Prime Minister Tony Blair of Britain, making small talk with a delegation from Kazakstan and trying to chew a mouthful of almonds quickly before saying hello to Tiger Woods as he stands at her desk.
Page is also in charge of the presidential boxes at the Kennedy Center.
I found two aspects of this story shocking.
First, Page, who is 27, makes $36,000 a year, which she could probably do as a pizza delivery person. I mean, she must work long hours every day, she has immense responsibility and she has to chat with Republicans and be nice about it. She should be compensated accordingly.
Second — and this is the big one — the minibars in the presidential boxes at the Kennedy Center are stocked with “small bottles of Korbel champagne, white boxes of M&Ms with the presidential seal on them and a few cans of Bud Light.”
Please, Mr. President, we can do better than that! When you or Mrs. Obama send guests in your name to occupy your seats at a theatrical or musical performance, don’t you want to be represented by — and don’t you want this great country of ours to be represented by — the finest products that reflect the diversity and history of American know-how and achievement?
Take the nibbles. Nothing wrong with M&Ms; I love them myself. When drinking beer and sparkling wine, however, the sweetness of candy clashes with the acidity and the fruit of the wine and the bitterness of the beer. Something savory is called for, and I would recommend Vermont Common Crackers, the oldest continuously manufactured food product in the country. Vermont Common Crackers, two inches across, have been produced in the same place since 1828, so visitors to the Kennedy Center presidential boxes could sample not only a cracker that tastes good but get a taste of history with it. Available in regular and cheddar cheese versions.
And the beer?
Sorry, Mr. President, Bud Light may be fine for knocking back suds at a tailgate party — and I even question that — but will not do at all for the presidential boxes at the Kennedy Center. The remedy is serving a beer from one of the breweries that can be found within a short driving distance of Washington, like the Old Dominion Brewing Company in Loudoun County, Virginia. Or, striking closer to home, how about featuring the Foggy Bottom pale ale and lager, made right there in Washington by the historic Olde Heurich Brewing Company, founded in 1873 by German immigrant Christian Heurich. Now there’s a beer with a significant name!
The issue of a good sparkling wine from an American producer is a bit trickier, if we’re trying to be strictly patriotic, because many of the best of them are owned by foreign — not to say French — companies, but they have to pay taxes in this country and they employ thousands of American citizens. Now Korbel is a venerable company, founded by three Czech brothers in Sonoma County and first producing sparkling wine in 1896, but the quality simply is not there, certainly not to serve to the guests of the president of the United States.
The problem is that most producers of sparkling wine in American don’t offer their wares in small-format bottles; they don’t make enough product to make it worth the cost. You won’t find half-bottles from Schramsberg or Argyle. Indeed, Korbel was crafty in seeing the potential for the half-bottle (375 ml) and split (187 ml) markets. However, two producers of well-made (and better) sparkling wines do provide bottles in the necessary sizes — that is, to fit into a minibar — and those are Domaine Chandon and Mumm Napa. Mumm Napa offers its Brut Prestige in splits; Domaine Chandon produces its Chandon Brut Classic in splits and half-bottles and its Chandon Rosé in splits. I would recommend either the Chandon Rosé or the Mumm Napa Brut Prestige for the presidential boxes at the Kennedy center.
And this would be cool and in the interest of diversity! Gruet Winery in New Mexico, a fine producer of champagne method sparkling wines, offers its Brut and its Blanc de Noirs in the half-bottle format. I recommend both of those choices.
Crackers from Vermont, beer from D.C. and sparkling wine from New Mexico. That sounds really American.
And while I don’t mind performing my citizenly duty, as I have here, I have to ask: Do I have to tell you guys everything?
Photo credit: Doug Mills, The New York Times.
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