The nation’s capital still isn’t a mecca for destination dining; that’s according to Michelin, one of the world’s oldest and most recognized restaurant publications. The Red Guide’s anonymous inspectors, during their sophomore year in Washington D.C. couldn’t find a single restaurant meriting three stars, an accolade that signifies “exceptional cuisine, worth a special journey.”
But if that’s the obvious narrative, here’s a more striking one: For a second straight year, every single Michelin-starred head chef in the District is a man, while every starred restaurant serves cuisine that is predominantly European, American, or in the case of Sushi Taro, Japanese. None of Washington’s strong bench of Ethiopian, Vietnamese, Korean, Indian, Thai, Middle Eastern, or Filipino spots are represented on the starred selections; they are rather largely relegated to Michelin’s “cheap eats” Bib Gourmand list.
The only two restaurants added to Washington’s single-starred ranks this year were expensive tasting menu venues: Eric Ziebold’s French-American Metier ($200, service-included), and Johnny Monis’ Mediterranean-themed Komi ($150). Those minor upgrades bring the total number of starred restaurants to 14, the lowest for any of the four regions that Michelin covers in the U.S.
Guide director Michael Ellis says seven restaurants have been added to the overall guide — including homegrown The Bird and New York export The Smith — raising the roster of local eateries to 108. But he acknowledged that there’s plenty more work to do.
“I want to see more attention to D.C.,” he tells Eater, citing competing priorities such as unveiling a new guide to Bangkok (scheduled to debut December 6) and revisiting Sao Paolo as logistical stumbling blocks. “We have to go to battle with the army we have, not the army we wish we had,” he says of the constant struggle to allocate time, money, and inspectors.
No new restaurants were admitted to the two-star club this year, whose members remain a trio of expensive prix fixe spots: Aaron Silverman’s Pineapple and Pearls, Patrick O'Connell's Virginia countryside spot, the Inn at Little Washington, and Minibar by José Andrés.
Washington remains the only U.S. city Michelin rates that doesn’t have a three star restaurant. Both New York and San Francisco have six restaurants apiece with three stars, while Chicago has two. There are only about 100 restaurants worldwide with three stars.
Ellis insists that D.C. is on the right track. “All three of the two-stars are fantastic restaurants. All show signs of moving to three stars,” he says, adding that “the general cooking level in Washington is excellent.”
Two stars mean "excellent cooking, worth a detour,” while one star means "high quality cooking, worth a stop.”
Here are a few observations about this year’s extraordinarily short list, followed by the full list itself:
- Here’s what Ellis had to say when asked about the absence of female chefs among the starred selections: “We do not have any type of quota in any way, whether it’s gender or race or religion. That’s something we don’t really take into consideration. We can’t use that as a criteria ... We can’t integrate that into the selection process.”
- Bringing in Komi took longer because of the restaurant’s strict adherence to a multi-course experience. “All of those dishes have to be at the strong star level,” Ellis says. “There has to be consistency throughout.”
- Ellis hailed Eric Ziebold as a talented chef. So why’d it take formal Metier 12 months to join come-as-you-are sibling Kinship? “It has to be a unanimous decision,” he says of the exhaustive rating process.
- Centrolina’s Amy Brandwein ranks among the more notable omissions in the Italian category, as does Fabio Trabocchi’s Fiola Mare.
- Rasika, the Indian restaurant helmed by James Beard Award-winning chef Vikram Sunderam that’s one of under 10 Washington venues to receive glowing reviews from Washington Post restaurant critic Tom Sietsema, was overlooked for a star for a second straight year.
- When pressed about what Bib Gourmand restaurants can do to become recognized in the official guide, Ellis says focusing on quality products, consistency, value, and service all factor into it. “The message we have for all chefs is: Fill your restaurants up with happy people who want to come back. If you do that, we will find you,” he says.
- José Andrés, who’s been feeding 100,000 people a day in Puerto Rico through his charitable World Central Kitchen, was likely a leading candidate to have been elevated to three stars. His Minibar is widely considered to rank with Chicago’s Alinea and San Francisco’s Atelier Crenn as one of the country’s top practitioners of avant-garde cuisine.
- On the comprehensiveness of the guide, Ellis said: “Like any organization we don’t have unlimited resources. We don’t pretend to be able to put every single restaurant that deserves to be in the guide in the guide.”
Michelin’s Washington 2018 Starred Selections:
- Not a single restaurant.
- The Inn at Little Washington
- Pineapple and Pearls
- Blue Duck Tavern
- The Dabney
- Komi (new)
- Metier (new)
- Rose’s Luxury
- Sushi Taro
- Tail Up Goat