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"Bill Clinton Ate Here": A Restaurants' Badge of Honor

From David Segal, New York Times: BILL CLINTON has dined at Bukhara, an upscale restaurant in New Delhi, on just two occasions, but the afterglow of those visits has never worn off. The clientele, it seems, won’t let it.

Mr. Clinton helping a Reykjavik food stand in 2004 establish a worldwide reputation for the best hot dog in town. The former president, it should be noted, is a vegan these days.

Since that first meal, in 2000, so many customers have uttered some variation of “Give us what the president had,” that the restaurant has started serving a mixed-meat sampler — a one-off prepared for Mr. Clinton and his guests — as a nightly special. The Bill Clinton platter, as it is known, is an aromatic spread of mixed meats, lentils and oven-baked bread.

Price: 5,000 rupees, or about $110.

For those who can’t handle that much minced lamb and chicken tandoori, a night at Bukhara can still have a Clintonian cast. Just ask for “the Clinton table,” the six-seater said to be Mr. Clinton’s perch of choice in the middle of the restaurant, with an unhindered view of the open-air kitchen.

But be sure to call ahead.

“People come in all the time and ask for that table,” says Avinash Deshmukh, a manager at the ITC Maurya Hotel, where Bukhara is located. “The strange thing is we’ve never advertised the fact that Mr. Clinton has eaten here. Everybody just seems to know that when they walk in the door.”

It may sound improbable, given the junk-food associations once attached to the man’s name, but few phrases are more bankable to restaurants around the world than this: “Bill Clinton ate here.”

Somehow, the 42nd president has become an arbiter of international fine dining, conferring a sort of informal Michelin star just by showing up. He is doing for restaurants around the world what George Washington once did in America for places to sleep.

Mr. Clinton routinely pops up in guidebooks and newspaper articles about restaurants, invariably with the implication that a beloved gourmand has attached his seal of approval. If you travel enough, you will eventually hear a tip that goes something like: “When you’re in Madrid, try Casa Lucio. Bill Clinton ate there with the King of Spain.” Or “Check out Le Pont de la Tour in London. Bill Clinton loves it.”

How exactly did Mr. Clinton become earth’s No. 1 restaurant maven in the non-United States category?

It’s widely (and correctly) assumed that he has good connections everywhere he visits, so he’s unlikely to wind up at a dud. More than most celebrities, he seems like a person who appreciates good food, and before he had heart surgery, he was known for his wide-ranging appetite.

And when Mr. Clinton visits a restaurant, everybody in the room knows it. Douglas Band, an aide who frequently travels with Mr. Clinton, and who fielded questions for this article on his behalf, says his boss introduces himself to every diner, as well as every waiter and every kitchen staff member. He will always pose for photographs and sign guest books. Someone from his staff will send a thank-you note a few days later.

Anyone who trails in Mr. Clinton’s dining path will eat well, but should know that his taste in restaurants, when he actually selects them, runs to the bright, lively and unfussy. The white table cloth, 10-course prix fixe experience is not his style.

For health reasons, he is a vegan these days, and during recent travels on behalf of Democratic candidates his diet has included miso barley soup, black bean burritos and cauliflower and potato curry, typically prepared by a member of his entourage. Overseas, however, he’s been know to stray.

“He had the filet mignon last time he was here, four months ago,” says Javier Blázquez, the son of the owner of Casa Lucio. “The doctors tell him not to eat it, but he does anyway.”

Celebrity endorsements of every variety — movie stars, famous athletes and anyone else with a high Q rating — provide bragging rights for all kinds of restaurants. It’s also true that Mr. Clinton’s patronage in the United States has provided p.r. boosts for places like Il Mulino in Manhattan and Georgia Brown’s in Washington.

But when it comes to Bill Clinton and overseas restaurants, the upside is on a far greater scale. Managers and owners from Beijing to Iceland and points between say an appearance by Mr. Clinton can be transformational, launching an obscure restaurant to fame and cementing the reputation of well-known favorites. Best of all, the imprimatur seems to last for years.

“We had 25 people from Sweden in here last night,” says Detlef Obermuller, owner of Gugelhof, a Berlin restaurant that was host to Mr. Clinton and Chancellor Gerhard Schröder in 2000.

“I asked one of them, ‘How do you know about this place?’ ” Mr. Obermuller said. “And she took out a newspaper clipping out of her pocket. I can’t read Swedish, but she told me it was all about Bill Clinton eating here. And that meal was a decade ago.”

Not that Mr. Obermuller has forgotten any of the details. He and his staff were given a mere 20-minute heads-up by German security before Mr. Clinton and company arrived. News of the dinner then spread quickly on radio and television, and by the time dessert was served, a crowd of 2,000 had gathered on the sidewalk to greet the man who had declared “Berlin is free!” in a 1994 speech before the Brandenburg Gate.

Read More: New York Times

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