Fall Dining Guide 2014

Fall Dining Guide 2014

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Uncork the champagne, raise an IPA, pour a designer cocktail: 2014 has shaped up to be one of the most thrilling years in recent memory for those of us who live to eat and drink. Who knew that a little place on Capitol Hill would become one of the hottest draws — in the country? (Take a bow, Rose’s Luxury.) New York has started eyeing us in a serious way, too. Welcome to Washington, Daniel Boulud. We look forward to seeing you, David Chang.

New can be great. Or not. Time will tell. Until then, I’m here to serve you a heaping helping of my favorite restaurants. Some picks are old, some are young; all make my life more delicious. In this, my 15th Annual Fall Dining Guide, you’ll find answers to all sorts of questions. Whether you’re looking for the best place to seal a deal, toast an anniversary, travel to India, experience Japan, pick up barbecue, feast on baked Alaska, sup on a farm or fish on the Potomac, this collection is here to help.

For the first time, I’ve ranked my top 10 favorites. They’re where I most want to go for a meal when I’m off­-duty. The rest of my bests — mostly in Washington, because that’s where the action is — follow alphabetically. Every restaurant was visited, sometimes more than once, in the past four months. Far be it from me to push leftovers on you.

Favorites are highly personal. To qualify, a restaurant had to call to me in some way. Was it where I hungered to go on date night? Was it where I gravitated even if my employer wasn’t footing the bill? Did a place make my day with great cooking, a room with a view or abundant hospitality? To disqualify itself, a former favorite had to have slipped in some noticeable way, changed course or, in a few sad cases, ceased serving. (May you rest in peace, Palena.) The following restaurants are where I long to eat right now.

Go forth and conquer, food lovers.

Related: Tom Sietsema’s fantasy dinner menu

1. Rasika

Chef Vikram Sunderam and restaurateur Ashok Bajaj changed the game when they unveiled this spice-colored dining room in Penn Quarter nine years ago. Today, it's home to the most fabulous Indian cooking in the country. Read more...

Broccoli cashewnut poriyal, with coconut mustard seeds, ginger and green chili. [Joseph Victor Stefanchik/For The Washington Post]

2. Mintwood Place

A few novelty items got diners hooked on this three-year-old Adams Morgan establishment, but if you want to know what separates chef Cedric Maupillier from so many of his peers, ask for his chicken liver tartine. Read more...

Chopped chicken liver tartine. [Joseph Victor Stefanchik/For The Washington Post]

3. Rose’s Luxury

Uncommon hospitality is one of the many luxuries extended by Rose's, the quirky handiwork of a son of Maryland, Aaron Silverman, who ditched accounting for cooking. Read more...

Fusilli with golden raisins. [Joseph Victor Stefanchik/For The Washington Post]

4. Red Hen

Chef Michael Friedman's smoke-perfumed retreat has matured from its early months. Pair the kitchen's deft combinations with something to sip on from resident wine wiz Sebastian Zutant. Read more...

Chickpea and beluga lentil salad with trevisano, smoked mozzarella, finochietta and oregano vinaigrette. [Joseph Victor Stefanchik/For The Washington Post]

5. Inn at Little Washington

Chef Patrick O’Connell and staff refuse to settle for mere excellence. Save room for the exemplary desserts, the most memorable of which may be a meet-and-greet in the chef's dramatic kitchen. Read more...

Southern butter-pecan ice cream sandwich with bittersweet chocolate and hot caramel sauce. [Joseph Victor Stefanchik/For The Washington Post]

6. Little Serow

This Thai treasure chest, from Komi chef Johnny Monis, marches to the beat (and heat) of its own drum. Gaining entry to the source of the hot and sour flavors of northeastern Thailand is worth the trouble. Read more...

Laap gai Chiang Mai, served with chicken, offal and lanna spices. [Joseph Victor Stefanchik/For The Washington Post]

7. Fiola Mare

It's cool to dine in Georgetown again, thanks to chef Fabio Trabocchi's sweeping waterfront ode to the Adriatic; short of a monument, you’d be hard-pressed to find a better public view. Read more...

Rockfish with porcini mushrooms and foie gras. [Joseph Victor Stefanchik/For The Washington Post]

8. The Partisan

Executive chef Ed Witt treats vegetables, pasta, fish and fowl with the same care he expends on beef and pork. Start with a cocktail while you wait for a board of sausages, arranged on the menu under helpful profiles as if they were wines. Read more...

Carrot fusilli, with kimchi sausage, Thai chilis, cucumber, and cilantro. [Joseph Victor Stefanchik/For The Washington Post]

9. Le Diplomate

For top-notch French fare, Le Diplomate is much more convenient than a trip to Paris. Thankfully, food isn’t the brasserie’s only appeal, with staff who treat you like a friend of the house. Read more...

Escargots with parsley-garlic butter, puff pastry and champignons de Paris. [Joseph Victor Stefanchik/For The Washington Post]

10. Boss Shepherd’s

Breakout chef Jeremy Waybright has the confidence to offer grilled trout with its head on and fried pig ears as part of a rockin’ arugula salad (not to mention first-class fried chicken) while cooking close to tourist haunts. Read more...

12-hour brined fried chicken with biscuits and dipping sauces. [Joseph Victor Stefanchik/For The Washington Post]

Cashion’s Eat Place

A new menu format offers seven categories of enticements. Pastas are a strong suit of chef John Manolatos, and so is the service, which lets you try tastes of different wines before committing to one. Read more...

[Evy Mages/For The Washington Post]

Corduroy

Chef Tom Power's Shaw flagship is a luxury restaurant with a dash of pomp. A bargain awaits upstairs, on the bar menu: three courses for $30, every dish as polished as what’s playing downstairs. Read more...

[Evy Mages/For The Washington Post]

DCity Smokehouse

Exemplary barbecue from chef-turned-pitmaster Robert Sonderman, whose red-limned brisket and smoky chopped pork should have you clamoring form one of the tiny enclave's six stools. Read more...

The Brisket Champ sandwich, with sliced brisket, crispy onions and pickles on Texas toast. [Joseph Victor Stefanchik/For The Washington Post]

Del Campo

Not even the carrot cake escapes a brush with fire at Victor Albisu's smoky tribute to Latin and South America. Meat dominates the menu, but an Italian-inspired pasqualina tart is a highlight for vegetarians and carnivores alike. Read more...

Beef short ribs with charred red peppers, and bone marrow with chimichurri sauce. [Scott Suchman/For The Washington Post]

Doi Moi

This homage to Thai and Vietnamese cuisine is the product of chef Haidar Karoum, previously of Estadio and Proof, who grew up eating the Eastern cuisines in Northern Virginia. Read more...

Crab fried rice at Doi Moi. [Amanda Voisard/For The Washington Post]

Et Voila!

Chef Claudio Pirollo's meals inspire daydreams of Belgium: Think moules-frites, beef stew flavored with flat-iron steak and dark beer, and duck breast with asparagus and orange sauce. Read more...

Et Voila's rabbit leg. [Sean McCormick/For The Washington Post]

Green Pig Bistro

There's something hearty on the menu for everyone at this Arlington dining room, from pig tostadas and mushroom risotto to a slab of barramundi that would look at home on a linen-draped table somewhere downtown. Read more...

A kale Caesar with white anchovies. [Joseph Victor Stefanchik/For The Washington Post]

Iron Gate

Chef Tony Chittum breathed new life into the historic property when the Neighborhood Restaurant Group took over the Dupont Circle institution, which went dark four years ago after an 87-year run. Read more...

Gemelli pasta, braised rabbit, olive and cherry tomato.[Joseph Victor Stefanchik/For The Washington Post]

Jack Rose Dining Saloon

South Carolina native Russell Jones, formerly a sous-chef at Restaurant Eve, serves food to rival the dashing bar's stellar whiskey selection. Read more...

Fried chicken livers, crispy shallots, yakitori and apple cider vinegar [Joseph Victor Stefanchik/For The Washington Post]

Jaleo

Newcomers have a tendency to trump the tried-and-true, but this Penn Quarter standout remains one of the most spirited restaurants in town, with tapas and drinks to match. Read more...

Salmon tartare cones with trout roe. [Joseph Victor Stefanchik/For The Washington Post]

Joe’s Seafood, Prime Steak & Stone Crab

Service is top-notch at this Miami Beach import, which has quickly become a place for this town's power brokers to seal deals over classic cocktails, fresh oysters and bone-in rib-eyes. Read more...

[Scott Suchman/For The Washington Post]

Komi

It may dent your bank account, but the memory of a night at the contemporary Greek restaurant, helmed by chef Johnny Monis with some of the most dedicated servers in town, is priceless. Read more...

[Scott Suchman/Komi]

Minibar

Think of Minibar, with its dazzling cast of chefs, as more of a performance space than a restaurant. The price for two diners will be considerable, but even the theatrically delivered bill is part of the show here. Read more...

Tiny cookie doughnuts at Minibar. [Joseph Victor Stefanchik/For The Washington Post]

Mio

The July arrival of chef Roberto Hernandez means there are fresh reasons to explore this fizzy downtown dining room, which is like a trip to San Juan in downtown D.C. Read more...

[Dayna Smith/For The Washington Post]

Obelisk

Though owner Peter Pastan's dining room could use some fresh art and a new coat of paint, continuity is one of Obelisk's best virtues. Pastas, especially gnocchi with pesto, are almost always the standout. Read more...

[Evy Mages/For The Washington Post]

Oval Room

While a million-dollar facelift has revitalized this White House neighbor with fresh lighting, cool art and a hip new bar, chef Tony Conte remains a craftsman at the top of his game. Read more...

Kazu marinated duck, with bulb onion kimchi, smoked dates and foie gras ravioli. [Joseph Victor Stefanchik/For The Washington Post]

Oyamel

A rare source of memorable Mexican cooking in Washington, the Jose Andres property serves small plates in a colorful setting that never fails to provide a lift. Read more...

Tres leches cake with rum-milk espuma, pineapple salsa and caramel ice cream. [Joseph Victor Stefanchik/For The Washington Post]

The Restaurant at Patowmack Farm

This early farm-to-table destination in northern Loudoun County hits all the right buttons, with 40 acres of land from which chef Tarver King chooses the restaurant's produce. Read more...

[Scott Suchman/For The Washington Post]

Ripple

The drinking is as engaging as the cooking at this cozy Cleveland Park spot, thanks to wine director Danny Fisher and executive chef Marjorie Meek-Bradley. Read more...

Seared halibut with morel mushrooms, fava beans and spring onion. [Joseph Victor Stefanchik/For The Washington Post]

Rural Society

The best items on chef Jose Garces's menu come from the $20,000 wood-fired grill: cuts of grass-fed rib-eye and thinly cut short ribs that rely on little more than salt, pepper and smoke for flavor. Read more...

Octopus carpaccio. [Greg Powers/For The Washington Post]

Soi 38

Named after one of Bangkok's most popular night markets, this Thai gem brings the heat, with chili-laced steamed shrimp and blazing yellow curry. You'll be thirsty for a Singha, but Soi 38 takes its cocktails seriously, too. Read more...

Curry with chicken legs, noodles and sour cabbage. [Scott Suchman/For The Washington Post]

Sushi Taro

For Japan to feel any closer, you’d have to be hoisting chopsticks in Tokyo. The omakase starts at $140 a person, but nowhere do the hours pass as serenely as they do in this hushed setting. Read more...

An array of sashimi at Sushi Taro. [Joseph Victor Stefanchik/For The Washington Post]

Thai Square

You won't find atmosphere here, but you will encounter some of the most accomplished Thai cooking in the area, from owner Sunthorn Rojural and his wife and chef, Mataporn. Read more...

Crispy whole flounder, with fresh basil and chili-tamarind sauce. [Joseph Victor Stefanchik/For The Washington Post]

Vidalia

What’s most delicious about Jeff Buben's restaurant (apart from the baked-to-order bread basket that threatens to fill you up as you're perusing the menu) is its two decades of consistency. Read more...

Georgia pecan pie, with a praline lace crumble, caramel and bourbon ice cream. [Joseph Victor Stefanchik/For The Washington Post]

Water & Wall

Chef Tim Ma sends out dishes as fetching as you might find at some of Washington’s top tables, with the added temptation of half-price bottles of wine on Sunday and Monday nights. Read more...

Duck confit. [Scott Suchman/For The Washington Post]

Woodberry Kitchen

In a light-filled foundry-turned-farmhouse, chef Spike Gjerde's billboard of a menu pays homage to farmers and Charm City's immigrant communities. Read more...

A brown-butter ice cream sundae, with hot fudge, toasted marshmallow and wet peanuts. [Joseph Victor Stefanchik/For The Washington Post]

Zaytinya

Good things come in small packages at Zaytinya. Chef Michael Costa's menu of mezze offers tastes of Greece, Lebanon and Turkey, while the dining room brings the sea to mind. Read more...

[Joseph Victor Stefanchik/For The Washington Post]

The Ratings Code

Satisfactory
Restaurants that are useful to know about if you are nearby; they may have only a few dishes or a single quality, such as a view or atmosphere, to distinguish them.
Good
Restaurants with generally appealing cooking, service and settings; they tend to be worth driving across town for.
Excellent
Rewarding destinations, no matter where you're coming from; they typically blend high-quality cooking with the environs and service to match.
Superlative
An unsurpassed dining experience; these restaurants do what they do extraordinarily well.

Decibels Key

Quiet:
Under 60 decibels.
Conversation is easy:
60-70 decibels.
Must speak with raised voice:
71-80 decibels.
Extremely loud:
Over 80 decibels.