The capital of the United States has some great restaurants, but it’s not yet one of our country’s top culinary capitals; that’s effectively what Michelin’s famously anonymous inspectors concluded today when they declined to award the top honor of three stars to any restaurant in its inaugural Washington D.C. guide.
The Red Guide, as it’s commonly known, handed out a trio of two-star ratings, its second highest honor, as well as nine one-star accolades.
The lack of a three-star restaurant “has very much to do with the fact that it’s our first edition,” Michael Ellis, the guide’s director, told Eater this morning. “All of the pieces didn’t necessarily come together,” he added, while noting that all of the two stars spots “flirted” with three.
One of the three (very expensive) establishments to earn two stars was Minibar by José Andrés, one of the country’s most respected bastions of avant-garde wizardry; the kitchen has been known to serve rubber ducky meringues filled with foie gras ice cream.
Also earning two stars was Pineapple & Pearls, a relatively young 13-course tasting menu spot by the Rose’s Luxury team, as well as The Inn at Little Washington, Patrick O’Connell’s classic American restaurant in the Virginia countryside.
Ellis points out that it’s not uncommon for debut guides to lack a three-starred restaurant, and added that only just over a hundred restaurants worldwide are currently honored with that status.
That said, Washington is now the only U.S. city Michelin rates that doesn’t have a three star restaurant, an accolade that signifies, in the words of the guide, “exceptional cuisine, worth a special journey.” Two stars mean "excellent cuisine, worth a detour,” while one star means "a very good restaurant in its category."
The nine restaurants awarded one star were: Rose’s Luxury, Blue Duck Tavern, The Dabney, Fiola by Fabio Trabocchi, Kinship, Masseria, Plume, Sushi Taro, and Tail Up Goat.
Here are some additional observations about the 2017 Michelin Guide for Washington D.C.:
- The guide was a big win for Aaron Silverman, a D.C. dining scene darling and the only local chef to wind up with three Michelin stars, albeit split between two different venues (Pineapples & Pearls and Rose’s Luxury).
- The biggest snub from Michelin was for Johnny Monis, the chef behind two of D.C.’s most lauded and ambitious restaurants: the intimate Komi, which serves a $150 Mediterranean tasting menu, and the Northern Thai-inspired Little Serow, which serves a nightly menu priced at $49. “Komi was a tough choice,” Ellis said when asked about the restaurant’s omissions from the starred ranks. “These are very talented chefs. We found inconsistencies.”
Withholding a third star from Minibar was a bit of a surprise given that Andrés was one of the earliest el Bulli alums to open up a stateside tasting menu restaurant and preach a gospel of progressive, scientific, whimsical cookery. Alinea in Chicago is currently the only modernist U.S. restaurant to hold three stars. Still, the award provides international validation for Andrés. He also saw four of his restaurants honored on last week’s Bib Gourmand cheap eats list.
- The Inn at Little Washington in Virginia was an unexpected addition to the starred ranks, not because it’s undeserving (if anything, it feels the most “Michelin-friendly” of any D.C.-area restaurant), but because Michelin originally said that it would only feature restaurants in D.C. proper.
- Michelin told Eater that the guide “absolutely” made an exception by overlooking the geographic bounds of the guide and including The Inn, citing chef Patrick O’Connell’s longstanding contributions to modern American cooking in the area. So despite The Inn’s Virginia locale, “We very much view it as part of the D.C. dining scene,” guide director Ellis said.
- It was a good year for hot newcomers. Jeremiah Langhorne’s hyper-local The Dabney, Eric Ziebold’s transporting Kinship, all-around knockout Tail Up Goat, and Nick Stefanelli’s splashy Masseria all made the list (Filipino-focused Bad Saint, relegated to Bib Gourmand, was the most conspicuous absence among D.C. newcomers).
- Given Michelin’s general (but not exclusive) tendency to favor more high-end restaurants, it was interesting that the more casual of Eric Ziebold’s new concepts, Kinship, was awarded a star over the tasting menu-centric Metier.
- Speaking of prices: The three two-star winners also happen to be three of the region’s most expensive restaurants. Pineapple & Pearls serves a $250 menu, inclusive of beverage, service, and tax (a price that can actually make it cheaper than the starless Komi). The Inn at Little Washington runs $188-$218 before gratuity. Minibar charges $275 before tax and tip.
- Sushi Taro is D.C.’s most critically-acclaimed sushi restaurant (though Sushiko is a worthy competitor), so its inclusion on the guide wasn’t a big surprise, even if it wasn’t a given. Fabio Trabocchi’s Fiola is often overshadowed by its newer and buzzier sister restaurant Fiola Mare, which did not receive a star. Hotel restaurants Blue Duck Tavern and Plume were the biggest surprises of the stars: each has a solid reputation and emphasizes good service, but neither is a fixture on the city’s top restaurant shortlists.
- Rasika, a four-star D.C. restaurant and arguably one of the top destinations for Indian food in the country, received no stars. By comparison, New York has two Michelin-starred South Asian spots: Tulsi and Junoon.
- Estadio’s lack of a star isn’t necessarily shocking in itself, but demonstrates that Michelin inspectors ranked New York import Boqueria as a superior Spanish restaurant to it by awarding the latter a Bib Gourmand nod — a strange decision.
- More traditional high-end D.C. restaurants that didn’t make the starred ranks: Marcel’s in Foggy Bottom, and 1789 in Georgetown.
- Despite the district’s myriad Ethiopian and Southeast Asian restaurants, no restaurants from those cuisines made it into the starred ranks, although two Ethiopian spots and four Southeast Asian destinations made it into the Bib Gourmand category.
- Other, more long-shot possibilities that also didn’t end up making the cut: Scott Drewno’s The Source, Cedric Maupillier’s Convivial, newcomer Espita Mezcaleria.