Down and Dirty With the Sarkos at Big Ben’s

It is already old news, the Sarkos’ recent visit to the US to slum it in Obama-ville, but my once reliable and speedy DC contacts aren’t what they used to be.
Nonetheless, I can’t resist the opportunity to give equal discursion to the culinary predilections on US shores of the increasingly indigestable, hyperactive Napoleonic wanabee (give the man some Ritalin!) after giving coverage to the widely-beloved (well, more or less) O-man when he and Michelle visited Paris (see last June’s post).

For those who have followed the trajectory of Sarko’s career, you are already aware that his relationship with living beef and farmers (we’ll get to the cover girl models soon enough) has not been a smooth one. Back in February 2008, there was that nasty incident at the annual Paris Agriculture Show—one of the yearly highlights of the French political scene—Nicky lost his temper when a farmer refused to dirty his hand by shaking Sarko’s, throwing fuel on the fire that Sarko cannot connect with rural France. (It didn’t help matters that his predecessor, Jacques Chirac, would spend countless hours of his presidency schmoozing with cows and tasting produce on the farm.) Okay, he may have told the ‘stupid asshole’ to ‘fuck off’, but once cooler heads prevailed, Sarko was pushing hard for French cuisine to be listed by the UN agency Unesco, as part of the world’s cultural heritage.

All this is simply pedantic background leading up to the recent US visit. Ever eager to create a good impression with anyone other than farmers, we might well have expected the Sarkos to make a pit stop for Le Big Mac at a DC McDonald’s, just to make clear, ‘yo, Americans, no hard feelings over that freedom fries imbroglio.’ But where the Sarkos go, the Sarkos go in style, so forget the McDo idea, and say ‘bonjour’ to Ben’s Chili Bowl, a Washington landmark since 1958, a claim boldly displayed on the restaurant’s façade. Leading up to a black tie dinner at the White House, the Sarkos chowed down for lunch at the shabby U Street venue with Ben’s specialties, chili dogs and half-smokes (hotdogs with a somewhat spicy, cholesterol laden sausage center).

Ben’s may have a storied history (see the restaurant’s website), but let’s face it, a fast-food joint is a fast-food joint, and I can’t find evidence of anyone waxing euphoric over Ben’s burgers and dogs. This assessment from Richard Adams’ blog at, is hardly flattering, but probably pretty accurate:

Sadly, the only problem with Ben's Chili Bowl is that while the atmosphere is great, the food is mediocre, even by fast food
standards. The signature "chili" is oily and very salty, and is itself mild but
served at a ferociously hot temperature. Le Monde's Washington correspondent summed it up pretty well: "une institution devenue assez touristique où l'on mange des hot-dogs".

I realize, you are about to pass out from all the suspense, but now it is time to get down to everybody’s favorite question, ‘Just who is boning Carla on the side?’ Kidding! And no, for the last time, it was not me who set off those nasty rumors about extramarital sexual shenanigans emanating from the Elysée Palace. No, I am sure the question on everyone’s minds is, “So what the hell did they eat at Ben’s already, mon dieu?!” A simple question, I grant you, but as always seems to be the case in Washington, things are never what they seem, where there are at least three sides to every story. In this case, those sides appear to be fries, chips, and soda.

An initial report from TMZ claimed that Sarko ordered a chili dog, fries, and a Coke, while his favorite off the runway French pop singer opted for a turkey burger, which she apparently didn’t eat. As a nice embellishment to this unconfirmed report, TMZ had the prez leaving a $100 tip. Au contraire, according to the Washington Post, which asserted that both Sarko and his third lady had a “chili burger and a half-smoke,” while one of Sarko’s offspring from a previous marriage ordered a burger. Then there was the New York Times’ The Caucus,” which boasted of learning directly from Ben’s manager Doris Pollard, who served the French visitors: “The Sarkozys, accompanied by Mr. Sarkozy’s two sons by a previous marriage, had — get this — two half smokes each.” Flash!! Ex-Model, Svelt Yeh-Yeh Girl Gorges on Two, That’s Right Two, Half Dogs. Ooh la la. And didn’t the Huffington Post report that there was only one son, 12-year-old petit Louie, who lives with model #1 Cecilia Attias in New York, who was joined not by his brother, but by a friend? Details, details. Let’s face it, whatever they ate, and whoever was with them, it was greasy and not too healthy, and the preponderance of evidence suggests Carla had more than her fare share, as in ‘seconds.’ (Every time I tried to reach her personal number, she hung up on me. I say it again, I did not start those rumors!). According to Ms. Pollard, the former model “looked wonderful, in gray slacks and a black top. She’s so tall and stately and pretty.” (Is beauty in the eyes of the beholder or what?) But keep eating those double half smokes, my dear, and we’ll see what happens to that figure.

Meanwhile, back at the White House, Nickie’s American counterpart had a healthier lunch, what exactly I cannot say because I am not at liberty to disclose state secrets. When informed of the Sarko’s jaunt to Ben’s, Obama seemed impressed. Rather than ho hum the visit with a “been there, done that” (see accompanying photo of BO wolfing one down at Ben's), the svelt President commended the Sarkozys on their "discriminating palate."

If you are the French president accompanied by svelt wife numero trois, and you “drop all pretense” to visit a famous hotdog spot for lunch, isn’t that pretty pretentious after all? But let’s face it, it’s a far cry from old St. Nicolas’ favorite haunt in the French capital, the Michelin 3-star Hotel Bristol, where Elysée’s most admired chef, Eric Fréchon, holds court.

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