Washingtonian’s 100 Very Best Restaurants List 2013 Released
Last year when the 2012 Washingtonian’s 100 Very Best Restaurants list was published, I conducted a five-year analysis of the restaurants ranked as the top ten, celebrating its five-year anniversary of the first appearance of the ranking in 2007.
The format has changed these last few years and in my humble opinion, not for the better. I loved that they decided to rank all 100 restaurants in 2007. I was upset in 2011 when they stopped ranking all 100 and just stopped at the Top 40. In 2012, only the Top 10 were ranked. This year there are no changes, for which I’m grateful. I will say that I think their little graph of traditional/causal high end is very clever. I will say that I prefer the ranking of the top ten than nothing at all, when they just used the star system. As far back as 1998, only stars were awarded to restaurants, there were no rankings provided. “Blue Ribbon Winners” were awarded three or four stars, and recognized as the Crème de la Crème. Just to give you some perspective, in 1998, Austin Grill (yes, the chain) was awarded two stars along with Jaleo (crazy, right?!). Vidalia, The Inn at Little Washington, and Galileo was at the top with four years.
When I got my issue a few days ago, I devoured it, mostly interested in the ingoing/outgoing list. I was shocked about some of the outgoing restaurants that I love, like Equinox, yet not surprised with others on the incoming list, such as Pabu, which I’ve had the pleasure of dining at twice, once with Michael Mina himself, Willow, where I’ve dined annually for years, Westend Bistro, one of my faves, Kaz Sushi Bistro, my choice for the best sushi in DC, and of course, Mintwood Place, my new favorite. Of the 100 on the 2013 list, I have only been to 54% (could be better).
In 2012, my analysis of the Top 10 since 2007, yielded that the same top ten restaurants have appeared, with one or two exceptions. Up until this year, the Very Best list had remained about the same since 2007. A few restaurants moved up or down a notch or two; however, in 2013, there were a few surprises, such as Little Serow, a basement level Thai joint taking DC by storm, Minibar and Citronelle off the list entirely for due to its closing for renovations. Zaytinya is on the list and Proof! Wow!
The 2013 Top Ten list is the following (and previous years rank)
- The Inn at Little Washington: (2012 – #2); (2011 – #2); (2010 – #11); (2009 – #8); (2008 – #6); (2007 – #7) – The Inn has remained in the Top Ten for the last five years, except in 2010 when it slipped to #11. It is quite a feat to jump in one year from #11 to #2. Quite impressive, indeed. I have never dined at the Inn, but it has been planned for years and then something always comes up. Perhaps for my ten year wedding anniversary this year (Dec. 2013).
- Komi: (2012 – #1); (2011 – #1); (2010 – #1); (2009 – #1); (2008 – #3); (2007 – #10) – Komi has remained in the Top Ten for the last five years. I just dined at Komi, in December for our wedding anniversary and I think it was a great meal, but both my husband and both agree that we weren’t completely blown away. My husband was a fan of the crudo courses; however, I’m not wowed by raw fish, regardless of its freshness. Also, I’m not a huge fan of roe, and it adorned at least two courses. I enjoyed the rabbit liver mousse although I don’t usually prefer liver or generally eat rabbit. My favorite dish was the gnocchi. It was to die for, honestly. Not like Komi needs defending, but I’ve noticed a trend that when I visit these high end restaurants during the winter time, I’m always disappointed. Same thing happened when I visited VOLT last year. I vowed to return when it wasn’t winter. Perhaps, I will return to Komi in the spring or summer.
- Cityzen: (2012 – #7);(2011 – #8); (2010 – #10); (2009 – #4); (2008 – #2); (2007 – #3) – Cityzen, located in the opulent Mandarin Oriental Hotel, has been consistently in the Top Ten list for the last sixyears. It appeared as if Cityzen was slipping; however, executive chef Ziebold must have redeemed himself, as Cityzen climbed a whopping four notches from last year! I went for my birthday in January 2008 (when it was #2) and wrote an abbreviated review (after the fact) since I was recovering from the birth of my 2nd child, my daughter born in February. I haven’t been back, but I’d like to try it again. I’ve come a long way since 2008, and dining at Cityzen was definitely an experience from which I learned a lot about fine dining. I believe that their Parker House rolls have become an industry standard. Kudos to them!
- Fiola: (2012- #9) - In April 2011, executive chef Fabio Trabocchi opened his restaurant, yet managed to be ranked in the Top Ten list in just a matter of months. While this is quite impressive, it is not that surprising, since this is not his first appearance on the Top Ten list. In 2007, when he was at the helm of Maestro in the Ritz-Carlton in Tysons Corner, Maestro was ranked #2. Maestro entered the list for the first time in 2002. Clearly chef Trabocchi is a very talented chef. In August 2012, I dined at Fiola for DC Restaurant Week and wrote a detailed review. We had a lovely dinner and I’d love to return again soon.
- Marcel’s: (2012- #9) ;(2011 – #7); (2010 – #17); (2009 – #17); (2008 – #19); (2007 – #9) – Marcel’s has been in an out of the Top Ten list over the course of the last six years; however, Marcel’s leaped from #9 from last year four spots. Chef Robert Wiedmaier also owns and operates, Mussel Bar & Grille, Brabo which opened in February 2009, Brasserie Beck in April 2007, and his newest, Wildwood Kitchen, a Mediterranean eatery which opened in November 2012 in Bethesda, MD. In just a few months, obviously the editors have high hopes, as it was listed as one of the “5 Places to Watch”. I have enjoyed many fine meals at all of Wiedmaier’s restaurants. Only time will tell if these will be as successful as Marcel’s, his first “born”.
- Adour: (2012 – unranked); (2011 – #5); (2010 – #50) ; (2009 – #71) – Located in the luxurious St. Regis hotel, Adour Alain Ducasse’s five year old DC restaurant is back on top. While it’s not the first time appearing on the Very Best List (Adour entered in 2009), this is only the second time that Adour has made it in the top ten. Last year it was given three stars, but didn’t make it to the top ten. Executive Chef Sebastien Rondier, who was promoted last year, must be doing something right. Washingtonian editors tout his praises saying that he is, “executing his master’s vision with precision and stunning finesse,” (Washingtonian, February 2013, p. 67). Now that’s a compliment. I haven’t been back in at least two years, but not because I didn’t love it the first time, but now I guess it’s time time to return.
- Little Serow: (2012 – unranked) - This James Beard nominated tiny basement restaurant churning out traditional dishes from Issan and the northeastern region of Thailand is the latest endeavor from Johnny Monis, the chef/owner of Komi (ranked #2) and is taking DC by storm. Since opening in November 2011, his sour and spicy regional cuisine is causing many food critics to re-conceptualize exceptional in the DC dining scene. Many fine dining restaurateurs and chefs are scratching their heads wondering how pork rinds, spicy cucumber salads and lemongrass-flavored pork sausage could be good enough to bump some of DC’s institutions off the top of the list. The answer? I don’t know … I’ve never been. I don’t know if I ever will. With an allergy to all chili peppers, it would be risky, but some of the best food writers in the world think it’s the all the rage.
- Blue Duck Tavern: (2012 – unranked); (2011 – above 40) ; (2010 – #25); (2009 – #42); (2008 – #12); (2007 – #18) - My most recent dining experience with my husband to celebrate my birthday was at Blue Duck Tavern, located in the regal Park Hyatt hotel. With longtime chef Brian McBride’s departure and the recent appointment of executive chef Sebastein Archambault, Blue Duck didn’t skip a beat. With its polished farmhouse menu, it has quickly risen back to the top of DC’s dining scene, another score for the farm-to-table movement rocketing up more than 40+ notches to #8 in 2013. While the menu changes seasonally, I thoroughly enjoyed the succulent Roasted Muscovy Duck Breast with pumpkin relish and devoured the tender Braised Beef Rib and whipped sweet potatoes. Actually, my husband and I both agreed that we enjoyed our meal more than at Komi. Each to their own. Whatever floats your boat … and all that.
- Zaytinya: (2012 – unranked); (2011 – #21); (2010 – #16); (2009 – #37); (2008 – #28); (2007 – #39) – Well known as the Mediterranean hotspot in Penn Quarter by many young professionals, Zaytinya offers an innovative mezze menu inspired by Turkish, Greek and Lebanese cuisine. After Mike Isabella left in 2011 to open his first restaurant, Graffiato, award-winning chef/restaurateur José Andrés’ tapped Michael Costa to head the kitchen and, “has maintained the consistency and creativity demanded by his perfectionist boss,” (Washingtonian, January 2011, p. 83). Since 2007, when the Washingtonian editors started to rank restaurants, Zaytinya started out in the top 40 and generally made its way north unless last year which wasn’t ranked in the top 40; however, within one year Zaytinya has risen all the way to the top ten. Chef Costa must be doing something right. In fact, Washingtonian says, “You could dine daily for a couple of weeks without repeating a single dish. And unlike other addresses where small plates rule, there’s little filler. Nearly every bite is a success,” (Washingtonian, February 2013, p. 69).
- Proof: (2012 – unranked); (2011 – #31); (2010 – #27); (2009 – #59); (2008 – #83) – Proprietor Mark Kuller knew the potential of Proof from the beginning, appointing Chef Haidar Karoum, at the helm of the kitchen since day one (he also oversees Estadio). Chef Karoum has taken a once thought of wine bar to a true DC dining destination. While wine-centric, Proof showcases local, organic and sustainable ingredients on its modern American menu, including an extensive international selection of cheese and charcuterie, perfectly paired with a wine list boasting more than 40 by-the-glass selections and 1,000 different bottles. Proof first appeared on the 100 Very Best list in 2008 after opening in 2007 and has risen through the ranks every since.
Previously Ranked in Top 10 prior to 2013:
Citronelle Michel Richard: (2012 – #3) ;(2011 – #6); (2010 – #5); (2009 – #2); (2008 – #1); (2007 – #1) – Citronelle has remained in the Top Ten for the last five years; however this year it is not even listed at all in the list. Due to extensive water damage, The Latham Hotel and the restaurant temporarily closed as of Thursday, July 12, 2012. I wonder if it will return … there has been rumors for years about its closing. I have had the privilege to dine at the Chef’s table twice and even spend an entire day in the kitchen to observe. I personally believe that not only is Citronelle one of the very best restaurants in DC, it is one of the very best in the nation.
Minibar by Jose Andres: (2013 – unranked); (2012 – #4); (2011 – #4); (2010 – #2); (2009 – #3); (2008 – #5); (2007 – #5) – Not only has Minibar been included in the Top Ten for the last five years, it has been consistently ranked in the Top Five! In March 2009, I visited the world renown Minibar (when it was just 6 seats). To this day, I still consider it to be one of the best and most memorable dining experiences of my life. Minibar will move from its former space inside Cafe Atlantico to its new space at 855 E. St., NW and will offer 12 seats. There will be seatings at 6, 6:30, 8:30, and 9 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays. Things are also a little pricier for the new 20-plus dish tasting (decreased from 30-ish). Instead of $150 per person, the menu is $225 (excluding tax and tip). Drink pairings ail be offered for an additional $75, $120, or $200.
Palena and Palena Cafe: (2013 – unranked); (2012 – #5); (2011 – #11); (2010 – #18); (2009 – #5); (2008 – #7); (2007 – #4) – Palena has been in an out of the Top Ten list over the course of the last five years. In 2012, Palena rose from #11 in 2011 up 6 notches to number 5 in just one year. I have never been to Palena, but it is very high on my list to dine there. I have heard such incredible things about Chef Frank Ruta, such as how talented and humble he is and that Palena has arguably the very best burger in the nation’s capital.
Rasika: (2013 – unranked); (2012 – #7); (2011 – #9); (2010 – #8); (2009 – #18); (2008 – #41); (2007 – #58) – Owned by 2012 Restaurateur of the Year, Ashok Bajaj, who has earned coveted James Beard Foundation nominations for service and also was named one of the 50 Most Powerful People in Washington by GQ magazine in 2009. The same year that Rasika seemed to rise to the top. Bajaj has a memory like a steel vault and is one of the most charming men I know. Bajaj is also the owner of Bombay Club, 701, The Oval Room, and the Ardeo+Bardeo. Rasika has come a long way in the last five years; From #58 to #7, to be exact. In 2012, I finally got the opportunity to dine at Rasika, and it was completely amazing. The palak chaat is to die for, as well as, the black cod lightly sauced with star anise, dill, and honey. I can’t wait to return.
Vidalia: (2013 – unranked); (2012 – #10); (2011 – #13); (2010 – #12); (2009 – #7); (2008 – #8); (2007 – #11) – Vidalia has gone through some changes over the course of the past several years, especially the abrupt departure the longtime chef, RJ Cooper. The sous was promoted and seems that all is well in the kitchen once more. Vidalia moved up 3 notches to number 10 in 2012; however is unranked in 2013.
So how many of the 100 Very Best have you been to? How do you feel about the change in format from Top 40 ranked to just the Top 10? I’d love to hear your comments.