Sushi Ogawa: Off the beaten path and overlooked.
In previous posts, HERE, HERE, HERE, we have broken down this year’s Washingtonian Top 100 Very Best Restaurants in Washington. Today we turn the scrutiny on ourselves. We look at the places that 17degreesdc.com breaks from the consensus of the Washingtonian and the Washington Post. Is it hubris, insights of genius or massive stupidity? You can decide. Below are cases where this site rated either significantly higher or lower than Washingtonian or Washington Post.
Of the 28 restaurants listed below, 24 are places that I believe should be rated higher than the consensus position of Washingtonian and Washington Post chief critic Tom Sietsema. That is not surprising because I created the site to advocate for the restaurants I thought were getting underestimated. Three places Washingtonian and the Post rate highly I agree are good, just not that good. One place they think highly of, but I don’t it think makes the cut.
On the list below, Washingtonian is the 2019 ranking. Tom is Tom Sietsema of the Washington Post. Tim Carman is its other weekly critic who focuses on smaller scale places of which there are a handful on the list below. 17degrees is this site. Our quirky rating system is explained below the list. Here you go:
- Baan Thai – Unreviewed and unrated by the Washingtonian and Washington Post.
No one disputes Baan Thai is good, but it has a hard time making the jump from the “cheap eats” lists. It made the Top 100 for Washingtonian the last two years. I think it should have remained on the list.
- Beuchert’s – Washingtonian: Unranked. Tom: 1.5. 17degrees: Worth Paying for Cab.
This may be the biggest outlier from the group, but I think Beuchert’s is doing solid work and that has been true every time I’ve checked in. Perhaps I need to check in again, but until then I stick to my guns.
- Blue Duck Tavern – Washingtonian #18. Tom: 2.5. 17degrees: Not listed.
Michelin gave it a star too. Nonetheless, this place has never impressed me. I went back last year just to be sure and felt the same sense of frustrating unfulfillment.
- Chercher – Washingtonian: Unranked. Post: unrated. 17degrees: Worth Paying for Cab.
Washingtonian’s favorite Ethiopian was in Maryland, which is probably way things will be going in the future. Though it should be noted that Chercher got both a Cheap Eats nod and #96 last year from Washingtonian. Carman put it on his Ten Best Ethiopian list in 2018. And Michelin is a fan. So, I’m not completely crazy on this, just pushing the envelope a little.
Since moving from downtown to the converted townhouse near the Convention Center, Chef Tom Power may have gotten better as he fell off the radar. One day everyone will figure out that they’ve been missing out. My case for Beuchert’s may be fragile. But the case for Corduroy is strong. Power, like Johnny Monis of Komi, has maintained his focus on just two places which sit next door to each other. Do not take it for granted. Go now.
- Da Hong Pao – Unranked and unrated by both Washingtonian and the Post, but this place is loved by locals. With a real website, they might have a line out the door.
- Del Mar – Washingtonian #14. Tom: 3.0. 17degrees: Worth Taking a Walk.
I think Del Mar serves great food, has great service and is a gorgeous space. The price point for what you get is what keeps me from recommending it higher. I probably need to return and re-think my curmudgeonly ways, because I don’t think they are dropping their prices.
- Federalist Pig – Washingtonian: Unranked. Post: Unrated but Tim Carman says nice things. 17degrees: Worth Paying for Cab.
I don’t think anyone disputes that Federalist Pig is good. I think it is firmly Top 100 material and should be part of that conversation.
- Honeysuckle – Washingtonian: Unranked. Tom: 2.0. 17degrees: Worth Paying for Cab.
Chef Hamilton Johnson is doing great work. Tom knee-capped it in an early review. Since then Honeysuckle has gained strength. Michelin took note, which made me feel more secure in my beliefs that this is a special place. Check out the review here. Give it a try and see who is right.
- Karma – Washingtonian: Unranked but probably just missed. Tom: 2.5. 17degrees: Worth Paying for Cab.
Karma is a hidden gem that I think is closer to Rasika than people realize. But so far, I’m the outlier on that opinion.
- Kith & Kin – Washingtonian #75. Tom: 2.5 (up from 1.5). 17degrees: Worth Paying for Cab.
I think both of them are underrating this place, and I am pretty confident that critics will start to recognize this as more deserving of praise in the next year or two. There is another point that may be worthy of its own post. Reading this recent article about restaurant criticism by Korsha Wilson on Eater.com I kept thinking about D.C. restaurants and criticism (including my own). I also kept thinking about Kith & Kin. We may realize in a couple years that this restaurant is not only excellent, it is important.
- Kyirisan – Washingtonian: Unranked. Tom: 2.5. 17degrees: Worth Paying for Cab.
The buzz may have faded a little on this place, but I think it is still really good.
- Le Diplomate – Washingtonian #23. Tom: 3.0. 17degrees: Worth Taking a Walk.
Maybe there is something I’m missing. LeDip is a crowd pleaser and Top 100 material, but I’m on the other side of the bell curve from others – closer to #77 than #23.
- Le DeSales – Washingtonian: Unranked. Tom: 2.0. 17degrees: Worth Paying for Cab.
Did you know there is a chef with Michelin stars to his credit secretly running a kitchen downtown? You do now. Comparing this place to Le Diplomate, it is Charm v. Brass; Refinement v. Ballast; Personal v. Market-tested. I may be missing something about Le Diplomate, but I think others are missing something about Le DeSales.
- Marcel’s – Washingtonian #36. Tom: 3.0. 17degrees: Splurge Worthy.
Despite its high rating by both the Washingtonian and Tom, I would rate even higher. Much like Corduroy, I think we take Marcel’s for granted. Its absence from the Michelin list is a mark against Michelin more than a mark against Marcel’s. Along with Métier, Fiola, and Plume, Marcel’s is one of the few truly grand dining experiences in D.C.
- Masseria – Washingtonian #21. Tom: 3.0. 17degrees: Splurge Worthy.
Like Marcel’s above, We all agree that Masseria is excellent, but I would rate it one notch higher than either the Post or Washingtonian.
- Mintwood Place – Washingtonian #91. Tom: 2.5. 17degrees: Worth Paying for Cab.
They seem to think this place is slipping, but I have not seen evidence of that.
- Mola – Washingtonian: unranked. Post: 2.0. 17degrees: Worth Paying for Cab.
I think Mola is a hidden gem. Sunny, straightforward, Spanish and deserving of some of Ellē’s overflow. Both Tom and Tim gave it 2 stars.
- Momofuku CCDC – Washingtonian #29. Tom: 3.0. 17degrees: Worth Taking a Walk.
They both were impressed with the re-boot under the new chef. I appreciate the effort to stay fresh, but am less sold on the outcome. Perhaps because I liked the opening menu better.
- Obelisk – Washingtonian #48. Tom: 3.0. 17degrees: Splurge Worthy.
Even at those ratings/rankings, Obelisk remains under-rated. As some top tier places creep towards $1000 for a night out, Obelisk is the splurge worthy spot that is neither stuffy nor exorbitant.
- Red Hen – Washingtonian #70. Tom: 2.0. 17degrees: Worthy Paying for Cab.
I find both Washingtonian and Tom ridiculous in their positions on Red Hen. It is a treasure.
- The Sovereign – Washingtonian: Unranked. Tom: unrated. 17degrees: Worth Paying for Cab.
I might be overrating this place, but not by much. I’d put it in the Top 100. I can’t find a rating, but Tim Carman gave it a good write-up in 2016. Interestingly, Brasserie Beck, another Belgian place, is one we all may be underestimating.
- Sushi Ogawa – Washingtonian: Unranked. Tom: positive First Bite, but unrated. 17degrees: Splurge Worthy.
Thankfully most have not figured out how good this place is, otherwise it’d be impossible to get in. Two people give me solace in my bold declaration: a friend very knowledgeable about Japanese cuisine and sushi-maven Don Rockwell who called the omakase counter at Ogawa: “the best sashimi and sushi I’ve ever had in my life.”
- Taco Bamba – Washingtonian: Unranked (but repeated Cheap Eats rankings). Tom: 2.0. 17degrees: Worth Paying for Cab.
Just because they are tacos, doesn’t mean they don’t deserve respect. Tom’s review of the flagship VA location was positive (and a joint review with Mockingbird Hill!). Carman’s 2018 write-up is also positive. I don’t think there is much divergence on Taco Bamba, but I’m trying to nudge it up a little in respect.
- Taqueria Habanero – Washingtonian: Unranked. Post: Unrated. 17degrees: Worth Paying for Cab.
I may be pushing my luck rating Taco Bamba so high. But Habanero is just overlooked because of a combination of location, decor and cuisine. Washingtonian has said nice things in passing. The lack of a Post rating is deceptive, because Carman shouted from the rooftops about this place in 2014: “Top to bottom, his plates are prepared with the care of a home cook looking to impress visiting guests, starting with the tortilla base and culminating with a final drizzle of salsa. Montero is not reinventing Mexican cuisine for the hipster tribes who collect restaurant experiences like animal trophies. No, he’s channeling the fresh, authentic flavors of Mexico….” If that is not Top 100 material, then I don’t know what is.
- Thai X-ing – Washingtonian: Unranked. Tom: 2.0. 17degrees: Worth Paying for Cab.
This place was once whispered about in reverential tones among those in the know. It is still really good.
- The Source – Washingtonian: Unranked. Tom: unrated under new reigns. 17degrees: Worth Paying for Cab.
I concede it fell off after Drewno left. But not that much.
- Thip Khao – Washingtonian: unranked. Tom: 2.0. 17degrees: Worth Paying for Cab.
This is a special place we are lucky to have.
For reference, the scale we use on our site from highest to lowest is:
- Splurge Worthy (Outstanding)
- Worth Paying for Cab (Excellent) someplace so good I would pay extra to eat there
- Worth Taking a Walk (Very Good) someplace worth the extra effort to get to
- Worth Trying Out (Good) someplace I like and you might too, even if there are caveats.
Thanks for reading this far! The next installment of the series will be the places where there is no consensus among the critics. The fourteen places where we are all over the map.
Speaking of maps, our website has over 200 recommended restaurants in D.C. displayed in LIST or MAP format. You can follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram where we flag updates. Check out our site and let us know what you think. If you like it, spread the word.