Bon Appétit magazine has named Washington its restaurant city of the year.
“Oh, my gosh,” says Genevieve Villamora, co-owner of Bad Saint, who’s still recovering from last week’s news that the magazine had named her tiny Filipino eatery one of its top 50 new restaurants of the year, along with locals the Dabney and Tail Up Goat. “That is so exciting. Wow.”
Rose’s Luxury chef Aaron Silverman says he’s not surprised by the honor “Everyone in D.C. is killing it right now,” says Silverman. His restaurant was named the 2014 new restaurant of the year by the magazine: a “game-changer,” he says.
Washington Post food critic Tom Sietsema says the award shows that “the national media are discovering what those of us who live here, and care about eating well, have known for the past few years: Washington is a food mecca that gets more mouthwatering by the season. One-of-a-kind meals can be enjoyed at all price levels, and some of what the city’s chefs are doing is being emulated elsewhere in the country. Given the current political environment, it’s especially encouraging to see Washington getting toasted rather than roasted.”
Bon Appétit deputy editor Andrew Knowlton says he experienced genuine excellence during his 10 or so days and 30 to 40 meals in the nation’s capital.
In addition to the three aforementioned top-50 spots, Knowlton says, his local favorites also included Silverman’s (now four-star) Pineapple and Pearls, Eric Ziebold’s Kinship and Alex McCoy’s recently closed and relocating Alfie’s.
There were no criteria or boxes that needed to be checked in awarding the honor, Knowlton says. “It’s just a gut feeling. When you walk into a city you’ve been to several times before, you can kind of feel something bubbling up. There’s a palpable enthusiasm, which many cities lack at certain times.” (Last year’s winner was San Francisco.)
“It just seems like it’s the right time for D.C.,” he adds. Others agree: In May, the prestigious Michelin Guide announced that it would publish its first survey of Washington this fall.
Among what impresses Knowlton about the city is a willingness to experiment and open “cool, rad restaurants,” including Bad Saint and the Dabney, the latter of which has a commitment to cooking over a live fire.
“That’s nuts,” Knowlton says of the work chef-owner Jeremiah Langhorne is doing around the Dabney’s open hearth. “That wouldn’t happen in a lot of other cities.”
Villamora agrees that the city is full of buzz surrounding relative newcomers who are pursuing their culinary passions, but she also gives credit to veterans such as José Andrés (Jaleo, Minibar, Zaytinya, etc.), Peter Pastan (Obelisk, 2 Amys, Etto) and Johnny Monis and Anne Marler (Komi, Little Serow), “who have been toiling for a long while and sowed the seeds” of the dining renaissance we’re experiencing.
Knowlton says he thinks the most movement has transpired in the past three or four years, with Washington moving beyond the confines of its power-lunch or big-box restaurant reputation to cover not only new cuisines but also new neighborhoods.
Villamora says the short-term effect of Bon Appétit’s recognition might be longer lines at spots like hers; long-term, it might be an increasing awareness that Washington is more than just a place to visit the monuments, museums or a tourist’s congressman. She sees knowledge of our food scene already spreading, when Bad Saint hosts diners from out of town who come prepared with a list of restaurants they want to visit.
Knowlton guesses many people around the country still aren’t aware of Washington’s exciting culinary scene, and he says he’d like this honor to change that.
“I think what I’m hopefully bringing to the table is a national perspective of at least reaffirming what Washington, D.C., people already know,” he says.
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