Year in Review – 2019

Image: Gertrude Lawrence and Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. in ‘Moonlight is Silver’ by   Dorothy Wilding. Bromide print (1934).

EaterDC did a poll of local food writers and bloggers asking for their take on the D.C. dining scene.  Shockingly, despite the fact we are the 3rd best dining guide in D.C., Eater did not ask our opinion.  Not being asked to join in the reindeer games does sting, but undettered, fortified with an extra serving of eggnog, we pontificate with glee.

Best New Restaurants:  Nearly all of them.  Seriously, there was a bonanza of openings this year and almost all of them that we tried (there are a couple left to hit), managed to shine in one way or another.  Here are examples:  Seven Reasons, Rooster & Owl, Green Almond Pantry, Anju, Shilling Canning Co., and Emilie’s.  Also: Astoria, Nina May, Modena (née Bibiana), Estuary, The Imperial, Tequila & Mezcal, Bombay Street Food.  Still untried by us but no doubt good:  Cielo Rojo, Thamee, Cane, Stellina.  We started this site to tout and track the renaissance in D.C. dining – and to help people find a place in the frenzy.  This seems like the height of the era.

Standby Restaurants (i.e. favorites): Baan Thai, Centrolina, Cork, Estadio, Bresca, Chiko, Chloe, Red Hen, Primrose, Karma Modern Indian, Mola.  The need to stay on top of things and try so many different places makes it difficult to have regulars.  But these are the ones that keep pulling me back.

Biggest Surprise:  There are several thoughts here.  First, is the scale of the churn.  The immense number of places that closed, or opened with fanfare, or opened without fanfare and then blew people away.  We fear how many places will survive in this hyper-active, saturated market?  Second surprise may be how quickly restaurants adapted to dietary restrictions.  “Are there any dietary restrictions or allergies we need to be aware of?” became the new, “we recommend ordering two to three dishes per person.”  But the biggest surprise may have been when looking up the Michelin Guide entry for Le Diplomate, only to find that it is not currently listed.  Talk about snooty French critics!  The move is both brilliant and petty considering the dominance of the restaurant.  It also says something about how mature the D.C. dining scene is.  Michelin is just one more guide – and not even one of the top three!

Best Dining Neighborhood:  Dupont.  I see you rolling your eyes! Yes, Navy Yard, Petworth/Georgia Ave, Union Market, H Street, Columbia Heights, Cardozo (with R&O, Seven Reasons and Maydan!) all had good years.  Yes, there is a lot of mediocrity on Connecticut.  That said, there are a huge number of interesting and good or better than good places in the Dupont area (31 on our list) including:  Nazca Mochica, Duke’s, Sushi Taro, Komi, Little Serow, Hank’s, Mikko, Anju, Bar Charley, The Riggsby, Rakuya, Pesce, Chiko, Obelisk, Pizzeria Paradiso, Sorrelina, St. Arnold’s, Keren, Dupont Market, Iron Gate.  Plus two new places that are still finding their footing but have promise in Version 78 and The Pembroke.  And two places on the edge of the area: Sushi Ogawa and The Imperial. All that, and Frank Ruta on the way.

One Word to Sum Up the Year:  Investors.  They keep feeding the beast, they gave second chances that paid off, they got in spats.  Runner up:  Laotian.

The “Most D.C.” Food Story of the Year: It is either Kwame Onwuachi or José Andrés.  In either case, it is a positive story, which is a nice change.

Eater didn’t ask the writers these questions, but we throw them out:

Cuisine of the Year:  Mid-Atlantic.  Several followed in the path of The Dabney, including Estuary, Shilling Canning Co. and Nina May.

Most Underrated Restaurant: Mirabelle.  We will beat this drum until our arms give out or it closes (and then we will scold everyone for not supporting it).  The turmoil of the first couple years is obscuring what it has become.

Saddest Closing: Honeysuckle.  Proof was sad, but it seemed inevitable.  Honeysuckle’s demise was frustrating and while there are many contributing factors, there is one prime suspect in the death.

Biggest Brewing Issue: Compensation