Over the course of a COVID-19 pandemic that has forced restaurants to adapt on the fly, assume entirely new identities, or close altogether, clandestine Michelin Guide inspectors have been judging D.C.’s eating and drinking venues for coveted star status. According to multiple reports, the French tire company will release an updated list of honorees next week, and will announce the D.C. restaurants receiving stars on Thursday, April 22. Bib Gourmand winners, typically more casual restaurants that represent outstanding value, will be named on Tuesday, April 20. The guide will be entirely digital under a banner Michelin is calling “Still Serving.”
Gwendal Poullennec, Michelin’s international director for its culinary guides, tells the New York Times that 80 percent of the starred restaurants are open and serving today. Michelin usually releases its guides in the fall, and Poullennec teased that Michelin was “benevolent as to the selections” by allowing more restaurants more time to adapt to the public health crisis. That comment also makes it fair to wonder if the company will take away any stars while the restaurants vying for the business-boosting honor have operated under extraordinarily difficult conditions.
Michelin’s anonymous chief inspector for North America tells the Washington Post that inspectors dined on-site at restaurants with measures familiar to anyone who has visited a restaurant recently: masks, plexiglass dividers, and patio seating. Neither the Times nor the Post mentioned if restaurants that have been avoiding on-site dining will be considered.
For example, D.C.’s Komi holds one star for the superb service and Greek-leaning Mediterranean tasting menus it dishes out in normal times. But during the pandemic, the restaurant was one of the city’s earliest examples of a full-scale pivot, reviving a former pop-up to reinvent itself as casual, vegetable-centered Happy Gyro with takeout only.
Minibar by José Andrés, which maintains two stars for irreverent modernist tasting menus, has remained closed throughout the public health crisis, but attached “cocktail lab” Barmini has hosted indoor tastings since October 2020.
Two-starred Pineapple & Pearls, the ultra-luxe prix fixe option from chef Aaron Silverman, has also remained closed throughout the pandemic, but one-starred siblings Rose’s Luxury and Little Pearl have hosted diners. Plume, which offered its mid-Atlantic haute cuisine inside the Jefferson Hotel downtown, has also remained closed.
A handful of high-end D.C. restaurants that opened during the pandemic (or shortly before) align with the preferences of Michelin inspectors for typically Euro-centric meals designed by male chefs, with a few outliers in rarefied Japanese and Middle Eastern cuisines.
Hopefuls could include Levantine stunner Albi; Jônt, the new companion tasting counter to one-starred Bresca on the 14th Street; pan-Latin Seven Reasons, named Esquire’s No. 1 best new restaurant in America late in 2019; “Spanish kaiseki” spot Cranes, in Penn Quarter; and Xiquet, chef Danny Lledó’s Glover Park restaurant for Valencian-style paella and wood-grilled coastal Spanish dishes.
Michelin will follow the D.C. guide update by releasing its guides for Chicago and New York on April 29 and May 6, respectively.