If outsiders were cynical about Michelin’s decision to publish a dining guide in Washington—basically calling D.C. the kind of retrograde, black-tie cow that appeals to French sensibilities—locals were almost giddy. In making the District only the fourth U.S. city with a Michelin Guide, the tire company confirmed what many here have known for years: The D.C. dining scene has come into its own.
Long ridiculed as a town with unlimited bank and a limited palate, addicted to red wine and meat, Washington has nurtured a new generation of chefs dedicated to quirky, personalized cuisines that draw from culinary traditions near and far. These cooks take risks once considered unthinkable in this steakhouse town, whether it’s James Beard Award winner Johnny Monis opening a subterranean spot, Little Serow, devoted to north eastern Thai cooking, or former McCrady’s chef de cuisine Jeremiah Langhorne exploring the flora and fauna of the Mid-Atlantic at the Dabney.
The free-wheeling style of Washington’s dining scene has become, in a sense, self-replicating. The success of Little Serow has inspired others to follow Monis’ lead and open their own authentic Thai eateries. Likewise, the instant fame of Rose’s Luxury, the Barracks Row restaurant where people will wait in line for hours to sample the carefully engineered mashups (think: spaghetti with spicy strawberry sauce), gave chef Aaron Silverman the confidence to up the ante with his new fine-dining restaurant, Pineapple and Pearls. He calls it “Rose’s super fine-tuned.”
Add it all up, and Washington is slowly, inexorably morphing into a U.S. dining destination. Seven short years ago, a former New York Times food critic couldn’t even name enough restaurants to fill a top 10 list. (Her compilation for Politico stopped at eight.) Today, I think a similar exercise would prove a far harder task. I know it was for me.