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Stacked salad, sprinkled with issues

Scott Christiansen
Anchorage Press
October 21, 2009

Anyone who thought a Pebble Mine bumper sticker, pro or con, would lose its timeliness after the clean water initiative took a drubbing at the polls in August of 2008 just didn't know how many fronts a war over Alaska resources can have. Besides bumpers and ballot boxes, current battles are waged in quasi-judicial hearings at the Alaska Public Office Commission and through the quasi-truth-telling image advertisements on TV.

Trout Unlimited, the national nonprofit of fly-fisherman, has another front: the quasi-cultured environs known as restaurant dining rooms.

This week the fisherman are promoting wild salmon at the dinner table in 14 restaurants in Washington D.C., where diners near the center of U.S. political power can get a slab of grilled salmon with a side-order of anti-Pebble propaganda. (Similar strategies have been used in Washington State and California to boost Trout Unlimited causes.)

Flashlight hadn't heard of any of the 14 D.C.-area dining rooms, so we contacted Tim Carman, food writer at Washington City Paper and author of the blog Young & Hungry, which claims to be "the dish on D.C. eats." Carman says Trout Unlimited's list of 14 is representative of the area. He'd also felt the Pebble campaign push at his desk. Carman cautioned that he doesn't pay attention to politicos while he's dining out—his mind is on other stuff, like tastes, atmosphere and service—but he did offer a few insights into the list.

Tom Seaver, the chef at Blue Ridge Restaurant, is known for doing his homework on fisheries and seems to be fittingly paired with the Trout Unlimited campaign, says Carman. "He's been certainly the local face for sustainable seafood," Carmen says about Seaver.

Equinox Restaurant, a fine dining joint owned by Todd and Ellen Gray, seems like a natural because it's connected by its location to the very seat of power. "It's literally two or three blocks from the White House, I think it's the first restaurant that Obama went to besides Ben's Chili Bowl," Carman says. "Politicians probably go to that, but I don't keep track of those things." He added that Todd Gray has won a few foodie awards but also has a date with Michele Obama to discuss nutrition for schoolchildren.

The fisherman and Poste Moderne Brassiere also seem to be a complimentary pair. The restaurant is inside the Monaco Hotel, a boutique hotel inside a building from 1839 that once housed D.C.'s General Post Office. There's simply no counting the number of hopeful messages to the empowered elite that have traveled through that place.

Carman says Poste Moderne is a natural because it's so environmentally friendly. The restaurant boasts its own chef's garden on the patio—so locavore—and even installed a water filter system so plastic, glass and bottled water shipped around the world is absent from the menu. "Their chef actually rides his bike to work," Carman says.

Conspicuously absent from the Trout list is Tosca, the Italian restaurant featured in the Washington Post last month as a magnet for powerful lobbyists. (The Post reported that Tom Daschle convinced Barack Obama to launch his run for the presidency over dinner at the exclusive chef's table inside Tosca's kitchen.)

"Washington is blessed with many, many restaurants," says Trout Unlimited spokeswoman Elizabeth Dubovsky, adding it would be nearly impossible to include everything.

The nonprofit has also hosted Anchorage-area food events tied to its anti-Pebble campaign—TU calls it the "Bristol Bay Campaign." Last summer they gave away salmon samples at South Anchorage Farmer's market.

Paula Dobbyn, TU's Alaska spokeswoman, says the fact that some Alaskans support Pebble Mine won't stop Trout Unlimited from reaching out to Alaska chefs and restaurants.

"Everybody likes food," Dobbyn says, adding dinner is a natural place for people to connect.

"Trout Unlimited is of the opinion that this mine poses unacceptable risks to the salmon fishery."