Ahead of its publication of starred restaurants in Washington Oct. 13, the Michelin Guide on Thursday revealed the names of 19 establishments it considers both delicious and reasonably priced. Having eaten in all but one of them (the Ethiopian-themed Das in Georgetown, not exactly ground zero for meals eaten with injera), I can only wonder if the famously anonymous inspectors included a single local voice.
Michelin’s collection of cheap eats gives a thumbs-up to some beloved destinations, including Maketto on H Street NE, Pearl Dive Oyster Palace near Logan Circle, and Jaleo in Penn Quarter. I have no quibble with their inclusion. All are good-to-great spots for Taiwanese/Cambodian fare, seafood and Spanish tapas, respectively.
On the other hand, even though Bad Saint co-owner Genevieve Villamora called her restaurant’s inclusion “really thrilling,” I think the place deserves better. Outside of a home, I doubt there’s better Filipino cooking anywhere in the country. If the long lines and raves from local critics aren’t evidence enough, Bon Appétit hailed Bad Saint as its No. 2 best new restaurant in the country this summer. To lump the gem, as gracious as it is luscious, in this category is to deprive it of a star or more; Bib Gourmand restaurants can’t appear on the starred list, and no starred restaurant (even if it’s affordable) can be named one of the Bib Gourmands. (The cheaper places can “graduate,” though, as Pok Pok NY did in Michelin’s New York City guides, moving from Bib Gourmand to one star in 2015.)
The list also promotes some head scratchers. Bidwell in Union Market? Royal in Ledroit? Having encountered fried (!) deviled eggs and disappointing roast chicken at the former and blank arepas and acrid fish at the latter, I’m not inclined to return to either venue. Neither one is the best source of fuel in its neighborhood, let alone the city.
Other names on the roster suggest the inspectors ate at the restaurants in their prime rather than recently. Both Thip Khao (Laotian) and Two Amys (pizza) show signs of resting on their laurels these days.
Then there’s the matter of price. Michelin defines Bib Gourmand choices as restaurants where diners can have two courses plus a glass of wine or dessert for under $40 before tax and tip. That’s almost possible at Zaytinya, the popular mezze purveyor in Penn Quarter, where the check average is $41, but simply untrue of other places, according to the restaurants I contacted. At both Red Hen, the Italian darling in Bloomingdale, and Kyirisan, the youthful fusion eatery in Shaw, the per-person average is at least $10 more.
The inclusions, omissions and questionable math in Michelin’s roll call of cheap eats should be cause for pause among discerning local diners as their pricier establishments await accolades (or not) next week.
What we have now are odd bedfellows, seemingly brought together by outsiders.