As per Eater tradition, it's time to overanalyze Washington Post critic Tom Sietsema's 2013 Fall Dining Guide, which went online yesterday. The guide features 40 of the critics favorite restaurants, and the emphasis this year seems to be on the new. Here are some other observations.
1) The guide reflects some changes in ratings compared to reviews that appeared in the Washington Post earlier this year. DGS Delicatessen and Estadio each earn an additional half star; restaurants such as Daikaya and Range dropped a half star from earlier reviews. Oval Room is down a full star from the 2012 guide (to 2.5 stars).
2) Fifteen restaurants return to the guide this year: Blue Duck Tavern, CityZen, the Inn at Little Washington, Oval Room, Woodberry Kitchen, Vermillion, Bourbon Steak, Et Voila, Komi, Rasika Penn Quarter, Izakaya Seki, Mintwood, Vidalia, Jaleo, and Little Serow.
3) Of the 25 new additions to the guide this year, a good chunk of them are new to the city, period, including Malgudi, Ambar, Barmini, Casa Luca, Daikaya, Del Campo, DGS Delicatessen, Doi Moi, Etto, GBD, Kapnos, Le Diplomate, Range and Red Hen. Other interesting new picks include suburban international standouts Bangkok Golden, Kogiya and Meaza, Sietsema's longtime favorite Garden District (formerly Standard) and a restaurant within a restaurant, Roberto's 4 at Al Dente.
4) Notably absent from the guide this year: Restaurant Eve, The Source, Central, Toki Underground and Obelisk. Zaytinya didn't make the cut, but Jose Andres did not go unrecognized in the guide to say the least, as Barmini, Jaleo and Oyamel all appear.
5) The majority of the guide features restaurants located in D.C. proper, though six Virginia restaurants made the cut. The only Maryland place featured, Woodberry Kitchen, is in further-flung Baltimore.
6) 14th Street and Penn Quarter live up to their reputations as hot restaurant neighborhoods, with seven and six restaurants featured, respectively. The Atlas District did not, as no H Street restaurants are in the guide (in previous years, such places as Toki and Ethopic have gotten a nod).
7) A new chef didn't hurt such restaurants as Vermillion and Bourbon Steak, which both made the guide again under new leadership. Sietsema says of the former, "Chittum is missed, but his successor, William Morris, is a rising star."
8) Sometimes casual is better (Casa Luca replaces Fiola as far as Fabio Trabocchi's restaurants are concerned), but not inherently, as Palena's Dining Room beats out its cafe to appear in the guide.
9) A running thread throughout the reviews: stellar service matters. Examples: "Blue Duck's service remains some of the most polished in the city"..."There's no denying the warmth and hospitality of the team led by the hostess with the mostest, Maria Trabocchi..."Andy Myers slips humor and history into every wine he pours, and the uniformed servers, led by host Jarad Slipp, seem to know what you need before you do..."[Monis'] extraordinary food is staged in a Spartan yellow room by servers who weave warmth with wit."
10) Killer comfort food: Make some time to try such dishes as DGS's chicken liver ("the best I've had outside someone's home"), Standard's hamburger and Mintwood Place's chocolate sundae.
11) They're blushing: Some strong words of praise for such places as Et Voila! ("Every neighborhood deserves an Et Voila!, a source of steamed mussels and beer-based beef stew that is priced for regular workdays but could just as easily host a celebration" and Woodberry Kitchen ("The best restaurant in Baltimore gets to that lofty place by not just meeting, but exceeding, expectations from year to year").
12) The Guide is not without some digs. Sietsema says Estadio doesn't have the range of tapas competitor Jaleo ("and flaws like grit in otherwise tasty, chili-punched sauteed kale get in the way of greater applause"). Kapnos' chicken souvlaki tastes "both burned and raw", and the Oval Room's wine list, interior and bread breakfast needs work. Perhaps the worst criticism is reserved for Range, where Sietsema goes to great lengths to avoid being recognized — and receives much worse service when he does.
13) News bite: In his blurb about The Inn at Little Washington, the critic says, "chat with the star of the show in his grand kitchen — a fillip extended to every diner — reveals plans to add six guest rooms across the street in April."