For the past few months, Washington Post food critic Tom Sietsema has been hard at work assessing the Washington region's best restaurants for his fall dining guide. The area has seen a boom in innovative Asian restaurants, Sietsema said, but the year's most notable developments have been in high-end dining.
“The region's more formal places are all cooking as if they're chasing after Michelin stars — and some are,” Sietsema said. “Our high-end places tend to be as fun as they are delicious. The lofty level of cooking and the absence of pretension are truly impressive.”
Here are his top 10 favorites of the season, chosen in part for their distinctive service, ambiance or both. Click on the restaurant's name for the review.
You can count on one hand the number of ingredients in most pastas at Sfoglina, and the noodles are made fresh in a room adjoining the dining area. At his Van Ness restaurant, chef Fabio Trabocchi eschews the more opulent tendencies of Fiola and Fiola Mare for simple, pared-down preparations of classic Italian dishes. The results are so striking that you might be tempted to take a snapshot before devouring them. 4445 Connecticut Ave. NW.
Waterside views? Check. Just-caught seafood? Check. Nautical decor? Check. The only thing missing at the Salt Line is the sound of seagull squawks. From chef Kyle Bailey, formerly of Birch & Barley, comes this casual destination-dining spot with such menu hits as seafood charcuterie, rockfish crudo and Nashville hot soft-shell crab. Landlubbers will appreciate the New England Smash burger, which Sietsema found to be one of the best in town. 79 Potomac Ave. SE.
Everything about ChiKo screams casual — except the food's quality. The counter-service restaurant on Barracks Row serves Korean and Chinese dishes finessed by chefs Scott Drewno (formerly of the Source from Wolfgang Puck) and Danny Lee (of Korean favorite Mandu). The menu is packed with such lovingly made dishes as furikake butter rice topped with brisket and a lamb stir-fry so excellent, Sietsema offers to buy you dinner if you can find a finer one. 423 Eighth St. SE.
7. Tiger Fork
Hidden within Blagden Alley, Tiger Fork is a Chinese restaurant so vibrant and aromatic you’d think you stepped into a Hong Kong night market. The open kitchen is helmed by Irvin van Oordt, an alum of the Source and Rogue 24, which happens to be the building’s previous tenant. Don't miss the barbecue plate piled with pork belly, pork shoulder and soya chicken. Behind 922 N St. NW in Blagden Alley.
6. Bad Saint
Pray to the line gods that you’re one of 24 lucky diners to land a seat in Bad Saint. The small, no-reservations Filipino restaurant in Columbia Heights can be a challenge to get into, but chef Tom Cunanan’s dishes inspired by family recipes are worth the wait — and the national acclaim. Vegetarians will appreciate the shredded banana hearts and coconut milk with long peppers, cane vinegar and ginger. 3226 11th St. NW.
No detail is overlooked at Métier, chef Eric Ziebold’s sleek restaurant beneath Kinship. The chef takes flavor risks that pay off: banana and sea urchin strike a pleasant chord; tomatoes and pink peppercorns bring a dessert to life; and avocado toast gets even better with dashi jelly. If you’re in the mood for a gourmet meal with top-notch service (and low decibels), Métier is the way to go. 1015 Seventh St. NW.
José Andrés’s culinary playground serves one dazzling dish after another, including edible Parmesan spoons meant for scooping up basil foam and balsamic vinegar “caviar.” Unlike many gastronomic spectacles, Andrés’s actually taste good, which is part of the reason Sietsema says it's worth dropping the $275 per person for this stellar prix-fixe meal. 855 E St. NW.
What Himitsu lacks in size it makes up for in flavor. The shoe box of a restaurant in Petworth serves jewel-like cuts of raw fish as well as cooked winners like fried red drum in green curry. It can be difficult to choose from chef Kevin Tien’s dishes, so don’t hesitate to tell your server how hungry you are and follow the chef’s whims. 828 Upshur St. NW.
This thrill-inducing restaurant from Rose’s Luxury chef Aaron Silverman flips the dining experience on its head, beginning with a prepay model. Plating is playful, including an “afternoon tea” portion that includes elevated finger foods like a foie gras canele and sorrel and roe tuile. The menu-free meal keeps you guessing. 715 Eighth St. SE.
Dining at the Inn at Little Washington is a journey, and not just because it’s a 90-minute drive outside of the District. Servers at Patrick O’Connell’s combination restaurant-hotel put on a transportive show with such dishes as lamb carpaccio with Caesar salad ice cream; foie gras custard; and a chocolate sphere served with a tiny golden hammer for accessing the ice cream inside. At nearly 40 years old, this spot's looking better than ever. 309 Middle St., Washington, Va.