When Forbes magazine labeled Washington the "coolest" city in the country, the announcement raised more questions than it settled. Questions such as: Since when is Forbes the arbiter of hip? And doesn't the very act of Forbes declaring you cool immediately cancel out said coolness?
Well, Washingtonians can put that behind them now. As of this morning, the District is now officially home to the best new restaurant in America, as selected by Andrew Knowlton, restaurant editor for Bon Appetit, a magazine with some cred in deciding such matters. After visiting hundreds of restaurants and whittling the nominees down to 50 (among them, Derek Brown's boozy triumvirate in Shaw, including Southern Efficiency and Eat the Rich). Knowlton bestowed the top spot upon Rose's Luxury, chef and owner Aaron Silverman's relaxed, boundary-blurring establishment on Barracks Row.
While Silverman "is clearly concerned with the food that goes out on his plates, he pays even closer attention to the people eating it," Knowlton writes in the September issue of Bon Appetit. "And that's when it hits me: Rose's isn't just in the restaurant business; it's in the making-people-happy business."
"If that feels like a revelation in dining," Knowlton continues, "it should. It did to me, and it's why Rose's tops our list of this year's best new restaurants."
On the phone, Knowlton sheds more light on his pick. He says he knew after his first meal that Rose's was something special. It wasn't just that he liked the laidback vibe or that the kitchen sent him a free dish (like it does for all solo diners). And it wasn't just that Knowlton, after polishing off Silverman's pork and lychee salad, had to reconsider an ingredient he used to avoid. "I don’t like lychee, but I like lychees now," Knowlton says.
No, what impressed Knowlton most was Silverman's dedication to hospitality, his desire to satisfy the diner first and not the chef's ego. Knowlton says he was skeptical about Rose's defining philosophy, but after dining four times at the place and spending a day shadowing Silverman, he walked away convinced the restaurant walks the walk. More than that, he sees a potential trend in Rose's approach.
Rose's, Knowlton says, represents a "shift in dining back to where hospitality matters a little bit more than getting [a chef's] point across or proving what a hot shot I am."
The Bon Appetit editor believes restaurants lost their way in recent years, placing too much emphasis on a chef's creativity and too little on hospitality and the diner experience. Rose's, Knowlton says, represents a return to a "more well-rounded" restaurant, which he hopes "will usher in a new wave" of similar places.
And, yes, Knowlton took Silverman's no-reservation policy into consideration when putting Rose's atop his list of best new restaurants, which the editor calls his most personal yet. "It's a contentious thing. I get it," he says about no reservations. "There's a reason that people are waiting in line, and it's because it's worth it."
Incidentally, this is not the first time a D.C. restaurant has made Knowlton's top 10 list of best new restaurants. Little Serow, James Beard Award winner Johnny Monis's subterranean spot dedicated to Northern Thai cuisine, placed No. 7 on Knowlton's list in 2012.
That makes a pair of top 10 finishes in three years. Does that mean D.C. actually is cool?