Tom Sietsema's 2009 Fall Dining Guide: Introduction

Five tastemakers weigh in on changes in the Washington dining scene.
Sunday, October 18, 2009

Nine dining guides ago, steakhouses were big news, some of the most exciting food in town was Italian, and a chef named José Andrés was focused on small plates, a few of which he promoted as if they were a religion.

"Try them, and your life will change forever," the menu at Spanish-themed Jaleo promised anyone ordering grilled bread slathered with a paste of fresh tomatoes and dressed with silvery anchovies.

Now, 4,000 or so restaurant meals later, I sometimes feel as if I'm still eating like it's 2000.

Steakhouses remain in the headlines, although these days, high-end chains have given way to meat served by a local entrepreneur or a marquee chef's acolyte from out of town.

Reports that Roberto Donna hopes to resurrect the late, great Laboratorio del Galileo downtown have been preceded by the very real launch of Italian trendsetters such as downtown's new Bibiana Osteria-Enoteca, helmed by the ambitious Nicholas Stefanelli. As for Andrés, he's now collecting stars on both coasts and is as passionate as ever about his food, which has expanded to include Mediterranean, Mexican and what's best summed up as Cirque du Soleil on a plate.

Plenty on the dining scene has also changed, so much of it for the better. Just look in your wine (or beer) glass, likely to be filled with something special. Or examine your plate, probably dressed with something local or sustainable. At the turn of the decade, it would have been difficult to predict so many female sommeliers, farmers being hailed as heroes, destination suburban restaurants and celebrity chefs lured to Washington because Washington is a top food city. A four-star Indian eatery? Improbable, at least until Vikram Sunderam jetted in from London four years ago and turned on the tandoor at Rasika.

For this, my 10th anniversary issue of the Annual Dining Guide, I wanted to toast both the past and the present, and point out what's consistently interesting and delicious right now. (Like milk and horoscopes, restaurant reviews have short shelf lives.) The places described herein are a highly personal mix that reflects a range of cuisines, prices and locations: one critic's attempt to winnow hundreds of possibilities into a short list of favorites he'd send to a friend. Consider the reviews my thanks to you for being such loyal readers and active participants in the celebration that Washington eating has become.

Ten guides already? Why, it seems like only yesterday that I had just one chin.

Browse the 50 reviews that make up Tom Sietsema's 10th Annual Dining Guide.

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