Chef Fabio Trabacchi is the mastermind behind Fiola. He is among the top chefs in Washington.
Tue, Mar 13, 2012
Great Plates 2012
100 of our favorite places to eat around town.
If the dining trends around town are any indication, money must still be a bit tight out there, because the restaurants that recently opened seem to fall into three categories: eateries spearheaded by headliners (Isabella! Black! Monis! Andrés! Cooper!) who could take their names and reputations to banks and backers; gussied-up fast-food concepts (sushi, soups, salads, sandwiches and burgers! burgers! burgers!) and hip, low-frill, taste bud-tantalizing destinations that are so space-challenged you sometimes have to leave your name on a list and go elsewhere to wait out the wait list.
But you don’t have to leave us your number to find out the hottest spots of 2012: We’re telling you right now.
Fiola (fioladc.com), right. Chef Fabio Trabocchi tries to be casual, but can’t contain his refinement. No problem there, as I can live with crab toast, dates stuffed with foie gras mousse, and dreamy lobster ravioli.
Virtue Feed and Grain (virtuefeedandgrain.com). Chef Cathal Armstrong replaced a bookstore near the Alexandria waterfront with a bi-level gold mine, his version of a gastropub matched with Todd Thrasher’s cocktails and hoptails.
Graffiato (graffiatodc.com). “Top Chef” alum Mike Isabella’s small-plates-meet-pizza joint behind the Verizon Center is an instant hit. The pepperoni sauce is already the stuff of legend.
Rogue 24 (rogue24.com). Percolate P.T. Barnum, Chef Auguste Escoffier and Ferran Adrià with an immersion circulator, and you wind up with chef RJ Cooper’s 24-course, theater-in-the-round “interactive culinary experience.”
Pearl Dive Oyster Palace (pearldivedc.com). Chef Jeff Black adds a Logan Circle restaurant to his empire (BlackSalt, Addie’s, Black Market Bistro, et al.), serving up oysters in every conceivable fashion. If you want to skip the long wait for a table, just pull up to the bar that opens up to the sidewalk and slurp away.
Watershed (toddgrayswa tershed.com) Chef Todd Gray brings his flair to the up-and-coming NoMa neighborhood, a stone’s throw from Union Station and the Capitol. The emphasis is on Chesapeake cooking, but the gumbo rocks. Best feature: the large, comfy outdoor patio.
District Commons (district commonsdc.com) and Burger, Tap and Shake (burgertap shake.com). Passion Food Hospitality wizards Jeff Tunks, Gus DiMillo and David Wizenberg (DC Coast, PassionFish, et al.) bring their smarts to
Washington Circle with two restaurants: an American tavern and a burger joint.
Little Serow (littleserow.com) Uber-talented chef of top-rated Komi brings his (Johnny) Monis touch to a hidden-away downstairs eatery serving a $45 multicourse, family-style prix-fixe menu filled with tongue-tingling Thai sensations.
Quality Fast Food
Soupergirl (thesoupergirl.com). It’s the age-old story: ex-stand-up comedienne opens Takoma Park eatery serving kosher vegan soups and delicious side salads. Owner Sara Polon also sells her soups via multiple outposts throughout the D.C. metropolitan area.
Tackle Box (tackleboxres taurant.com). With locations in Georgetown and Cleveland Park, Tackle Box offers clam chowder, grilled/fried fish and seafood, lobster rolls, seafood platters and to-go lobster pots.
Oh Fish! (ohfish.com). Chef Kaz Okochi’s brilliant downtown fast-food sushi concept, where you can select protein and vegetable fillings for personalized maki, or choose standardized menu items. The kira kira—spicy tuna, lettuce, scallions and cucumber with sesame seeds and wasabi soy sauce—works for me.
Rabbit (rabbitsgrill.com). Match the owners of Red Velvet Cupcakery and TangySweet yogurt with consulting chef Katsuya Fukushima and you get crafty salads fashioned with grilled-to-order toppings, terrific grilled sandwiches and a bonus of peanut-buttery chocolate cupcakes.
Sundevich (sundevich.com). D.C. insiders know about this shop, tucked in an alley near the Convention Center. Globally inspired sandwiches are the main attraction, such as the Kingston, with jerk chicken, pineapple salsa, slaw and garlic mayo on baguette.
J&G Steakhouse: JG2GO (jg steakhousewashingtondc.com) “Take Jean-Georges With You!” the menu commands. (That’s Vongerichten, as in the chef.) It’s J&G Steakhouse’s snazzy take-out lunch menu of salads and sandwiches that you can easily run in and pick up, because they’ve reserved a Pennsylvania Avenue parking space to allow you to do just that. Smart!
Markets With Great Takeout
Cork Market and Tasting Room (corkdc.com). Roasted whole chicken and amazing fried chicken, sandwiches, cheeses and charcuterie, quiche, Catalan meatball, bacon cheddar scones.
Seasonal Pantry (season alpantry.com). Chef Daniel O’Brien’s brilliant bratwurst, duck confit, cheeses, meatballs, house-made charcuterie and Bolognese sauce.
The Source (wolfgangpuck.com). Chef Scott Drewno offers his version of dim sum ($40 for eight offerings) from noon to 3 p.m. Duck bao buns, pomegranate mimosas—then a trip to the Newseum, right next door.
Honey Pig (eathoneypig.com). This Korean barbecue hotspot in Annandale is open 24 hours a day and is always packed at night. Leave coats in the car—you will reek when you leave, but you’ll be happy.
Teaism (teaism.com). Slip into this Penn Quarter star for a lovely pot of tea, a bento box and a salty oat cookie. (Or hit the Phillips Gallery and head to Teaism’s R Street location near Dupont Circle.)
Mark’s Duck House (marks duckhouse.com). Gather a group and head to this Falls Church institution on Saturday or Sunday for dim sum, Peking duck, roast pig and countless Hong Kong-style delicacies, all served on giant lazy Susans.
Mala Tang (mala-tang.com). Chef Liu’s ma la hot pot is packed with sensory delights, even if the heat might induce a flop sweat. It’s not for the faint of heart (order the milder version), but it’s a great way to while away a weekend afternoon in Arlington.
6 Great Options for Steak
Medium Rare (medium rarerestaurant.com). Here’s the formula at this Cleveland Park steak joint: bread, green salad, sirloin cap steak and French fries (plus seconds!) for $19.50.
Ray’s the Steaks (rays thesteaks.com). Michael Landrum’s original outpost in Arlington—it ain’t fancy, but the value is undeniable, especially on sommelier Mark Slater’s hand-picked wine list.
Bourbon Steak (bourbon steakdc.com), left. Chef Michael Mina’s signature butter-poached steaks served up by chef Adam Sobel in Georgetown’s Four Season’s Hotel.
Charlie Palmer (charliepal mer.com). The porterhouse for two with chanterelle mushrooms, bacon lardons and pearl onions is the bomb at this mover-and-shaker eatery at the foot of the Capitol. Let sommelier Nadine Brown match your meal with a California cabernet from her American wine list.
BLT Steak (bltsteak.com). White House politicos only need to walk a few blocks to feel the love from chef Victor Albisu, starting off with warm, softball-sized cheese popovers.
Acqua al 2 (acquaal2dc.com). On Capitol Hill, this neighborhood Italian restaurant serves a smashing 50-ounce bistecca alla Fiorentina that easily serves four people.
Best Hipster Dives
Toki Underground (tokiunderground.com), right. Leave your cell number at the door and go across the street to Smith Commons for drinks while waiting for the one of the prized spots in this tiny H Street ramen boite, where you won’t mind sitting on a stool and staring at a wall to down pork dumplings and noodle soups.
Standard (stan darddc.com). Brisket barbecue, beer, made-to-order doughnuts and outdoor seating on picnic benches is sheer fun at this 14th Street gathering spot.
Bar Pilar (barpilar.com). Also on 14th Street, chef Justin Bittner keeps ’em coming back for roasted potatoes with malt aioli, Spanish tortilla and other deliciousness.
Café St. Ex (saint -ex.com). Chef Billy Klein’s American bistro fare gets thumbs up from Logan and Dupont Circlers.
Granville Moore’s (granvillemoores.com). Non-claustrophobes squeeze into this H Street bar for excellent bowls of mussels.
Nora (noras.com). There’s a reason why Nora Pouillon’s Dupont Circle restaurant is still going strong after more than 30 years. She trumpeted organically grown food before anyone else in D.C. and remains a leader of the good food movement.
Perry’s (perrys adamsmorgan.com). Thanks to the consulting advice of his good friend, Mark Furstenberg, Saied Azali’s restaurant remains an Adams Morgan staple. The capacious rooftop bar and dining room are a big draw in good weather.
Cashion’s Eat Place (cashionseatplace.com). Chef John Manolatos serves beautifully prepared, up-to-date food in this beloved Adams Morgan neighborhood restaurant.
Tabard Inn (tabardinn.com). Whether in the cozy fireplace lounge in winter or on the private summertime patio, this Dupont Circle restaurant has managed to remain au courant in the food and cocktail categories for decades. Brunch is particularly splendid.
Kaz Sushi Bistro (kazsushi.com). Sitting at Kaz Okochi’s sushi bar and having one pristine plate after the next passed to you is still one of the supreme dining pleasures to be had in D.C., as is the experience at Sushi-Ko (sushikorestaurants.com), with Koji Terano doling out the goodies.
Proof (proofdc.com), right. Chef Haidar Karoum’s spot-on palate matched with owner Mark Kuller’s wine pizzazz make this Penn Quarter restaurant a sure bet for pleasure.
2 Amys (2amyspizza.com). Peter Pastan’s Cleveland Park Neapolitan pizzeria shines in its simplicity. Don’t miss the various antipasti and salumi.
Obelisk (202/872-1180). Peter Pastan’s Dupont Circle prix-fixe restaurant is an ode to the rewards of preparing high-quality ingredients with simplicity, alacrity and restraint.
Komi (komirestau rant.com). It’s worth the effort it takes to get a table at chef Johnny Monis’ understated Dupont Circle restaurant, where 15 enticing courses make a couple of hours pass like minutes.
Connecticut Avenue, Cleveland Park
Dino (dino-dc.com). Dean Gold’s comforting Italian fare and well-chosen wine list make this a go-to spot any day of the week.
Palena and Palena Cafe (palenarestaurant.com). Chef Frank Ruta is simply a shining star. The cafe’s hamburger and roast chicken are legendary, but treat yourself to the restaurant in the back from time to time.
Ardeo + Bardeo (ardeobardeo.com), left. Another reliable source from impresario Ashok Bajaj.
Ripple (rippledc.com). Chef Logan Cox is a true talent, but the cheese program is one of the bright spots at this wine bar turned restaurant.
Indique (indique.com). Looking for a bit of the old vindaloo? Chef K.N. Vinod’s restaurants (also in Friendship Heights) will satisfy the urge.
Connecticut Avenue, Downtown
Casa Nonna (casa nonna.com) Chef Amy Brandwein’s homemade pastas are de rigueur here, right.
Bombay Club (bombayclubdc.com). One of two of Ashok Bajaj’s Connecticut power spots. Don’t be surprised to see a senator lapping up lamb rogan josh at the table next to you.
Oval Room (oval room.com). Chef Tony Conte’s modern American cooking keeps the politicos coming back.
Equinox (equinox restaurant.com). Todd and Ellen Gray’s quietly chic dining room and farm-to-table menu remain popular with White House staffers.
Oyamel (oyamel.com). Authentic Mexican fare from José Andrés never fails to please.
Hill Country (hillcountrywdc.com). Terrific barbecue and a happening Wednesday night karaoke.
Jaleo (jaleo.com). José Andrés got the small-plate concept right, everybody copied it, and he still does it better than anyone else, at all of his Jaleo locations (Penn Quarter, Bethesda, Crystal City) and at Greco-Turk enclave Zaytinya (zaytinya.com).
Rasika (rasikares taurant.com). Widely listed as one of D.C.’s top restaurants,
Ashok Bajaj’s updated Indian eatery is chic, elegant and always memorable.
14th Street, Logan Circle
Birch and Barley (birchandbarley.com), left. Award-winning chefs Kyle Bailey (Rising Culinary Star, 2011) and his wife, Tiffany MacIsaac (Pastry Chef of the Year, 2011), make a powerful team here. Sunday brunch is a standout: corned beef hash with fried duck eggs and warm brioche sticky buns? Oh, yeah!
Estadio (estadio-dc.com). Chef Haidar Karoum’s tapas and mixologist Adam Bernbach’s cocktails rock the house.
Cork (corkdc.com). Diane Gross and Khalid Pitts scored a coup by hiring chef Robert Weland. We’re looking forward to new dishes there, but he better keep his hands off the avocado toast with pistachio oil and sea salt.
Posto (postodc.com). Straightforward Italian trattoria cooking: arugula salad, pappardelle with veal ragout, pan-seared branzino e basta!
Café St. Ex (saint-ex.com). American bistro in a bar setting with consistently strong results on the plate and on tap.
On the Money in Arlington
Lyon Hall (lyonhall arlington.com). Americanized Alsatian brasserie: bratwurst and spaetzle!
Tallula (tallulares taurant.com). Chef Brian Wilson’s solid, locally sourced American cooking.
Eventide (eventide restaurant.com). The dramatic room, with its midnight-blue velvet upholstery and portieres, sets the scene for a nice dinner out for adults.
Rustico (rusticores taurant.com). Steve Mannino’s Italian-
inspired menu (eggplant parm!) and an extensive beer menu.
Liberty Tavern (thelibertytavern.com). Liam LaCivita’s American cooking—gotta love a menu that has a whole section entitled “Macaroni.”
On the Money in Alexandria
Vermilion (vermilion restaurant.com). Chef Tony Chittum’s locally sourced cooking always hits the mark.
Brabo and Brabo Tasting Room (bra borestaurant.com). We especially love Robert Wiedmaier’s Tasting Room for the thin-crusted wood-fired tarts and pots of steaming mussels.
Meshelle and Cathal Armstrong’s string of winners line King Street: Restaurant Eve (restauranteve.com), an upscale, yet unpretentious restaurant; Virtue Feed and Grain (vir tuefeedandgrain.com), a chic gastropub; The Majestic (majesticcafe.com), an American bistro; Eamonn’s Dublin Chipper (eamonnsdub linchipper.com), a fun fast-food fish ’n’ chips concept; and P/X, the upstairs speakeasy where Todd Thrasher’s cocktails still outshine most others in the Washington area.
Worth the Trip
PassionFish (passion fishreston.com). Chef Jeff Tunks’ fabulous fish and seafood menu shines in Reston, Va.
Mussel Bar (mus selbar.com). Robert Wiedmaier’s booming bar is bold, brassy, noisy and fun—a perfect stopping point after a movie on Bethesda Row.
8407 Kitchen Bar (8407kb.com). Pedro Matamoros buys directly from the farmers market right next to the Silver Spring, Md., restaurant and cranks out some of the best food in the D.C. area, from pork belly confit croquettes to outstanding crab cakes.
Et Voila (etvoiladc.com). There’s no direct way to get from Adams Morgan to the Palisades, but the gratin of ham and endive and famed beef carbonnade make the trek for Claudio Pirollo’s Belgian cooking worthwhile. As a bonus, I stop at BlackSalt’s fish market on the way home and pick something up for dinner the next day.
Volt (voltrestaurant.com). “Top Chef” superstar Bryan Voltaggio’s menu twinkles brightly in Frederick, Md. Going for brunch makes a nice day trip from D.C.
The Wine Kitchen (thewinekitchen.com). Sophisticated American bistro/wine bar in Frederick or Leesburg, Va.
Sheppard Mansion (sheppardmansion.com). Chef Andy Little’s new Pennsylvania Dutch cuisine shines in Hanover, Pa.
Woodberry Kitchen (woodberrykitchen.com). Spike Gjerde’s poetic devotion to local sourcing speaks beauty on his plates, in an utterly guileless environment in Baltimore.
Inn at Little Washington (theinnatlittle washington.com). Chef Patrick O’Connell never fails to mesmerize. He is, quite simply, in a league all his own out there in Brigadoon.
The Clifton Inn (cliftoninn.net). Tucker Yoder cooks it like it is in Charlottesville, Va., in a charming inn. Perfect romantic getaway.
Dishes We Love
Burrata, lasagna and crab toast at Fiola (fioladc.com)
Lasagne at Bibiana (bibianadc.com)
Bacon-roasted pecans at Ripple (rip pledc.com)
Arm-drip roast beef sandwich at Bayou Bakery (bayoubak eryva.com).
Corn agnolotti at Graffiato (graffiatodc.com)
Laap pla duk (catfish, shallots, chiles) at Little Serow (littlese row.com)
Chicken curry hakata at Toki Underground (tokiunder ground.com)
Brisket sandwich at Standard (standarddc.com)
Pork shoulder drencher at Bar Pilar (barpilar.com)
Chicken potpie at Virtue Feed and Grain (virtuefeedandgrain.com)
C.E.B.L.T. (catfish, egg, etc.) sandwich and Tchoupitoulas oysters at Pearl Dive Oyster Palace (pearldivedc.com)
Six Buck Chuck burger at Burger, Tap and Shake (burgertap shake.com)
Onion soup burger at Poste Moderne Brasserie (postebras serie.com)
Red lentil soup with cumin and apricot at Soupergirl (thesouper girl.com)
Baked oysters at Watershed (toddgrays watershed.com)
Bucket of fried chicken from Central (centralmichelrichard.com)
Sautéed artichoke and roasted peppers at Cork (corkdc.com)
Whole wheat spaghetti alla chitarra with roasted cauliflower at Casa Nonna (casa nonna.com)
Jack Rose Dining Saloon (jackrosediningsa loon.com). Three floors of nooks and crannies, a 52-foot long bar, a rooftop lounge and an astounding collection of bourbons and single-malt scotches.
Columbia Room in the Passenger (passengerdc.com). Derek Brown’s gem of a private bar hidden away in the back of the Passenger. Great place to impress a date.
New Heights (newheightsrestau rant.com). The cozy rosewood Babinga Bar features a panoply of gins you’ve never heard of. Ron Tanaka’s cooking makes the buzz all the more blissful.
Lost Society (lostsociety-dc.com). Second-floor bar overlooking the action at 14th and U attracts a sophisticated, diverse young crowd dressed to the nines—and it’s a steakhouse to boot.
6 Terrific Hotel Restaurants
Adour in the Saint Regis
Plume in the Jefferson Hotel downtown
(jeffersondc.com) and its super cozy,
ultra-chill lounge, Quill.
CityZen in the Mandarin Oriental in Southwest D.C. (mandarinoriental.com/washington)
Bourbon Steak in the
Four Seasons in Georgetown
Westend Bistro in the Ritz-Carlton in D.C.’s West End (westendbistrodc.com)
Blue Duck Tavern in the Park Hyatt downtown D.C. (blueducktavern.com)
6 French Dreams
Chef Michel Richard at Citronelle (citronelledc.com), Central (centralmichelrichard.com) and Michel at the Ritz-Carlton Tysons Corner (ritzcarlton.com)
Chef Jeff Buben at Vidalia (vidaliadc.com)
and Bistro Bis (bistrobis.com)
Chef Ris Lacoste at Ris (risdc.com)
Chef Yannick Cam at Bistro Provence
Chef Robert Wiedmaier at Marcel’s
Chefs Christophe and Michelle Poteaux
at Bastille (bastillerestaurant.com)