A Foodie Friendship Blooms at Vinoteca
by leslie quander wooldridge
Gal-about-town Nycci Nellis created her food and wine website, thelistareyouonit.com, 10 years ago, and in February relaunched the successful site, which has more than 37,000 subscribers. Over the last decade, she has become a regular contributor to WTOP radio and hosts “Foodie and the Beast” on Federal News Radio with her husband, David. But Nellis’s long-held passion for all things epicurean has brought in more than just professional reward. Becoming one of DC’s top foodies led to her longtime friendship with Salt & Sundry boutique owner Amanda McClements, a North Carolina transplant, food writer, and former operator of the immensely popular Metrocurean blog.
The two dine out around the District regularly and recently caught up at the sublime, sunny, and European-inspired Vinoteca. When lunch is served—savory bison and pork make appearances—they take bites from each other’s plates and exclaim over the ingredients (such as the ramps that accompany the bison). Capitol File sat down with the duo to hear more about their friendship, their most-visited restaurants, and why they love supporting area eateries like Vinoteca.
When you first saw each other at area events, did you get along?
AMANDA MCCLEMENTS: I think so! There was a group of us [about nine years ago]. We all became friends instantly.
NYCCI NELLIS: You know, when you’re older, you meet people and sort of “date” a little bit before you invest? There was none of that. [Then, in 2008] we got invited on a media trip to Iceland with a lot of local chefs. We were already really close, but I feel like that trip cemented a lot of things, don’t you think?
AM: Yeah, international travel…
NN: Can do that.
AM: Can do that. [Laughs]
NN: It can either put you together or break you apart. But we’re very similar.
AM: Easygoing, and [we] like a lot of the same things, seeking out good food being at the heart of that.
What do you find notable about the DC food scene right now?
NN: [Recently] we have seen so many more restaurant openings. And not just a lot of little neighborhood restaurants, but a lot of big ones. I think after the economy crashed that was really hard to accomplish, but people are feeling more confident. Le Diplomate is such a great example. And Del Campo and Nopa [Kitchen + Bar].
AM: And they’re all packed.
What are you sipping this summer?
AM: We’re both big fans of sparkling wine and Champagne, but my favorite summer cocktail is definitely a Negroni. I love bitter flavors, so Campari, sweet vermouth, gin—it doesn’t get much better. Jeff Faile at Fiola [and] a lot of bartenders are doing really cool takes.
NN: She’s right. Years ago you couldn’t get me to drink a cocktail, and now the cocktail scene here is so fabulous. Adam Bernbach [of Proof and Estadio] has changed my view of a gin and tonic.
Amanda, how did you decide to open Salt & Sundry, your home goods and artisanal food boutique?
AM: I’d been trying to shop for some gifts, and I was a little frustrated at what I couldn’t find. And it occurred to me that this place existed in my mind. And [so] the obvious question became, Why don’t you just make it? I knew about Union Market from my role as a food writer. And I never in a million years thought that I was going to be a part of it. But a really great opportunity came up. I had to get over a ton of fear and doubt, [but] now I have a store.
It’s going well?
AM: The response has been so phenomenal. I feel like what happened with the restaurant scene 10 to 15 years ago is starting to happen with the retail scene. People are starting to put down deeper roots in DC and understand that it is a great, vibrant city. And instead of complaining about what’s not here or what New York has that we don’t have, [they understand that we] should contribute to what we do have.
Do you both think that you’ve forged your own way, career-wise?
NN: Absolutely. But I think that for both of us, we shook a lot of hands. And we didn’t go in expecting anything. I went back in the kitchen and introduced myself and told people what I was doing. I continue to do that today when I hear about a new place or somebody new.
AM: When you’re a woman who is trying to create a business for yourself, there are plenty of obstacles, but there’s also this supportive community of other women who are doing the same. It can be a little frustrating, but then you think of the rewards that come with striking out on your own.
NN: Exciting is definitely the word for it: It’s a roller coaster. I mean, one of the things that I think the two of us can both agree on is that we don’t turn “off.”
AM: There’s no time to turn off when it’s your business. Nobody cares about it like you do.
Nycci, you’re known as a media maven. Did you ever offer Amanda advice?
NN: No, because I think we were both feeling out what we were doing at the same time. [David and I] launched “Foodie and the Beast” almost five years ago.
AM: It should be a national show [with] the caliber of guests that [you] attract....
NN: Thank you, but we are lucky. I have a deep respect for food and love it, and an even deeper respect for the community that provides it to us.
photography by andrew kahl
Celebrating the White House Correspondents’ Association’s annual dinner at Carnegie Library.