Tuesday's release of the second Michelin Guide for Washington prompts the question, at least for those of us who love to eat in the nation's capital: Are the famously anonymous inspectors dining in the same market we are?
The list of starred restaurants increased by only two this year (yawn), for a total of 14. New to the club: Komi, the ode to modern Greek cooking from Johnny Monis in Dupont Circle, and Métier, the fine-dining lair by Eric Ziebold near the convention center. The restaurants, both helmed by James Beard Award-winning chefs, received one star, defined by Michelin as "high-quality cooking, worth a detour."
Like last year, no local establishment garnered the French guide's highest honor of three stars, which translates to "exceptional cuisine, worth a special journey."
As before, only three places received two stars: Minibar by José Andrés, Pineapple and Pearls, and the Inn at Little Washington — the only venue outside the city proper — were toasted for their "excellent cuisine," also "worth a detour."
And, in a sorry repeat of 2016, some of the crown jewels in the city were overlooked, starwise. The head-scratching omissions include Rasika in Penn Quarter, still the finest modern Indian restaurant of my acquaintance in the United States; Rasika West End, its flashier near-equal across town; Bad Saint in Columbia Heights, the Filipino exemplar showered with accolades from critics around the country; and Himitsu, the contemporary Japanese outpost in Petworth beloved as much for its drinks and hospitality as for its Kobe steak with white kimchi and buttery furikake-sprinkled rice.
"By definition, Year 2 is not going to have the same coverage as Year 1," Michael Ellis, international director for the Michelin Guides told The Washington Post on Tuesday. To the taste arbiter's credit, inspectors visit candidate restaurants multiple times. To its shame, Michelin has barely scratched the surface of Washington's dynamic restaurant scene.
Because? "We did not have the resources to go beyond the areas we covered last year," says Ellis. "We only have so many boots on the ground in terms of the inspection team" — which sounds a bit like a theater critic walking out of a play at intermission or a football beat writer leaving a game at halftime. They're missing the full show.
Komi and Métier were both awarded four stars, my highest rating, in The Post's 2017 fall dining guide, and are justly deserving of their fresh recognition. Komi's luscious and epic Mediterranean tasting menu is presented in a recently made-over dining room; the sophisticated yet whimsical script at Métier has included duck foie gras whose grill marks are matched by stripes of brioche crumbs, and a dessert delivered atop a Parisian street sign.
The restaurants stalled at two Michelin stars rank as some of the country's most imaginative and influential. There's no better avant-garde kitchen than the spectacle known as Minibar, and few standard-bearers of fine dining as delicious and innovative as Pineapple and Pearls. As for the Inn at Little Washington, poised to celebrate its 40th anniversary next year, what more could the detail-conscious chef-owner Patrick O'Connell and company do to impress diners? My No. 1 favorite dining destination this year already hangs a chandelier in its chicken coop and offers with breakfast a jam-and-jelly menu.
Meanwhile, Plume in the Jefferson Hotel remains a curious holdover from last year's Michelin star-rated restaurants in Washington. The dining room is among the city's most posh, and while the food has improved of late, it is an inconsistent experience for which you hope someone else is paying.
In a lame move, Michelin, which has published guides in America for a dozen years, now gives restaurants that are not distinguished with a star or a Bib Gourmand a pat on the back just for appearing on its list. The plate-shaped symbol is called "L'Assiette Michelin" and covers 72 eateries. Nobody wins when everybody wins, at least in this contest.
Asked by The Post to address the sighs heard around town when chefs with stars in their eyes received word today about their status, Ellis — who calls the overall dining scene in Washington "phenomenal" — says, "I don't think it's necessarily a good idea for them to get hung up on stars."
Especially from strangers.
My one-word review of Michelin's half-baked take on the scene I cover: boring.