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Eater's Guide to Tom Sietsema's Fall 2011 Dining Guide

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Photo courtesy CityZen

Tom Sietsema dropped his monster 2011 Fall Dining Guide yesterday, which he explains is all about the restaurants at which he'd like to be a regular if he wasn't, you know, paid to visit different restaurants all the time. Considering that the theme to last year's guide was restaurants that insiders love, it shouldn't come as a huge surprise that a huge chunk of the guide has changed from last year. In fact, the critic almost completely wiped the slate from last year when it comes to the restaurants earning two and two-and-a-half stars. Here are a few observations from the 2011 guide:

1) Comebacks: CityZen is back on the list with its 4 stars after having skipped a year in 2010.
2) Receiving bumps up: Oval Room (3.5 stars), Bibiana (3 stars), Et Voila (3 stars), Vermilion (3 stars), Woodberry Kitchen (3 stars), Atlas Room (2.5 stars), Perry's (2.5 stars).
3) Growth spurts: Sietsema first reviewed the Atlas Room back in February of this year and gave it 2 stars, but the restaurant already earned that bump up. Likewise, Perry's had earned its 2 stars just this January with a kitchen revamp, but it's already up to 2.5 stars.
4) Moving down: It had been awhile since Sietsema took a look at La Canela, but this time it's down to 2 stars as opposed to 2.5 in 2009.
5) Returning to the list: CityZen, Vidalia, Burma Road, CF Folks, La Canela, Tavira, Marcel's, Woodberry Kitchen, Blacksalt.
6) Newcomers: Graffiato, Atlas Room, Nostos, Ripple, Virtue Feed & Grain, Elephant Jumps, Fast Gourmet, Bangkok Golden Thai, Pete's Apizza, R&R Taqueria, Ren's Ramen, ShopHouse Southeast Asian Kitchen, The Standard, Bibiana.
7) Notably missing: Neither one of last year's 3.5-star restaurants made the list this year, including Minibar and Charleston in Baltimore. The Minibar absence can perhaps be explained by the fact that the six-seater had been closed for some time during the Cafe Atlantico transition into America Eats Tavern.
8) Tom Sietsema's street cred: There aren't any food trucks on the list this year, but Sietsema did include two restaurants housed in gas stations. One would be the R&R Taqueria that Todd Kliman raved about earlier this year, and the other one is Fast Gourmet, which became a really big Thing on the blogs this year and will probably now lose all its hipster cred as that one underground restaurant that everyone actually knows about. As he explains in his intro, the inclusion of gas stations is a nod to "...the economic times — cooking wherever real estate allows — and the reality that there’s much to admire about what’s “lower” on the food chain."
9) Tom Sietsema really likes Chipotle's new potential chain restaurant ShopHouse Southeast Asian Kitchen: He writes that it is both "the best fast-food idea in years" and "fast food that shows care" — though this is not all that surprising after his favorable First Bite review of the restaurant.
10) There's a companion reader poll: It indicates that 64.7 percent of Washington Post readers have a restaurant they frequent and the number one thing that draws them to said restaurant is a "welcoming staff."
11) The paper also solicits favorites from local personalities: Pastry chef Tiffany MacIsaac likes Han Gang, Four Sisters and the bar at Vermilion; the Redskins' Santana Moss is a total jock who likes the Cheesecake Factory, PF Chang's and maybe Capital Grille or Fogo de Chao when he's in the city; bartender Alexandra Nichols likes the awesome bars at Room 11 and Bar Pilar; and someone needs to find Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton some good escargots, OK?
12) Fun with infographics: There is some word cloud action going on here, but it's kind of curious as to why Maple Avenue Restaurant is one of the largest words on the cloud given that it is neither in the dining guide nor a restaurant that Sietsema has seemingly reviewed.
13) Inclusions: Last year, Birch & Barley got the solo nod in the dining guide, but this year it is joined by sister bar ChurchKey.
14) Oopsies: No doubt that the technical wizards over at the Post are exhausted after putting this whole enormous and impressive package together and bravo for their efforts. Sincerely. That looks like it was hard. So, we hate to be huge jerks but: There are categories for both Asian and Thai cuisines, with Bangkok Golden Thai included under Asian, but not Thai. Also, when you search by star rating, the Oval Room is listed twice.
15) Top Cheftestapants: Sietsema's review of CityZen includes a shoutout for the pastry stylings of DC's current representative on Top Chef Just Desserts Matthew Petersen. Mike Isabella's Graffiato fares well, too, with those 2.5 stars it earned last month.

And that's about it. Anything missing here? Let us know in the comments. And, again, kudos to Sietsema and his team at the Post for undoubtedly working nonstop on this guide. Go have a drink.

UPDATE: Going Out Guide Dining Editor (and aforementioned technical wizard) Justin Rude dropped Eater a line. It turns out that the inclusion of ChurchKey was a technical glitch — Sietsema only reviewed Birch & Barley. It's been corrected in the Post's guide as well as Eater's. Also, Rude explains that Bangkok Golden Thai "made the guide on the strength of its Lao food," which is why it's filed under the Asian category. So that makes sense. And finally, the logic behind the word cloud: "The word cloud was generated from the responses to the non-scientific user poll. Interestingly we had over 1,200 responses, but no restaurant got more than 20 votes. Clyde’s and Maple Avenue were two of only a handful of restaurants to get more than 10."

· 2011 Fall Dining Guide [WaPo]

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