The cover story is about the "Best Restaurants for Wine Lovers". The Wine Spectator list is divided up by rankings and does not read like a phone directory, which is helpful. These are the categories -- there are of course more details as to the judging but I've included one or two criteria within each tier:
- Award of Excellence (tier one: wine lists with well-chosen selection of quality producers and at least 100 selections);
- Best of Award of Excellence (tier two: restaurants that exceed the tier one requirements, wine lists have variety and depth, and offer 400 or more selections, some more than 1,000; and
- Grand Award (tier three: restaurants with "uncompromising, passionate devotion" to their wine program, with more than 1,500 selections, and selection of mature vintages)
New winners and upgrades are also noted. Additionally -- and just in time for a tanking economy -- the magazine points out restaurants that "feature inexpensive wine pricing".
There are 40 DC restaurants on the list, but no Grand Award winners. There was one upgrade: Adour at the St. Regis, which went from tier one to tier two (Best of Award of Excellence). I ate at Adour shortly after it opened in 2008 but didn't feel like drinking. It may have had to do with the fact that I was pregnant but didn't know it. I remember the cellar being impressive and Eric happy with the wine.
New to the List
New to the list this year are Bibiana Osteria Enoteca, Cityzen, Cure Bar & Bistro, The Jockey Club, Kellari Taverna, and Plume. I've not tired Cure, Kellari, or Plume, and of the others I can confirm that the wine selection is good.
The Jockey Club is at the Fairfax Hotel in Dupont Circle across from the Indian Embassy and the Phillips Collection, and has been around through several iterations of the hotel. When I go there now, I eat and drink in the lounge, which evokes a Washington-politico vibe. The bartender makes up incredible old school cocktails. My favorite is champagne with creme de violette with several sugared violette petals floating around in the glass. The taste of the champagne, creme de violette, and the slight crunch of the sugared violette petal is delightful, especially in the summer.
Under the second tier category (Best of Award of Excellence), Wine Spectator lists Adour, BLT Steak, Bourbon Steak, The Capital Grille, Charlie Palmer Steak, Cityzen, Plume, and Proof. I recently dined at Proof and did the tasting menu. The wine was fantastic. My only problem with Proof is that for some reason the sommelier changed midcourse. There is something comforting about a sommelier staying with you throughout the whole meal.
I've not eaten at Bourbon Steak but have visited the bar; on a Friday evening, unfortunately. The place was packed and quite the scene. I was with five other people and didn't hear a word they said.
Tier one consists of: Ardeo Restaurant, Bibiana, Blacksalt, Bobby Van's Grill, Bobby Van's Steakhouse, The Bombay Club, Brasserie Beck, Cafe Atlantico, Clyde's of Georgetown, Cure Bar & Bistro, Fogo de Chao, Hook Restaurant, Jaleo, The Jockey Club, Kellarie Taverna, Legal Sea Foods, Mei N Yu, Morton's The Steakhouse (two locations), Occidental Grill & Seafood, Old Ebbit Grill, The Oval Room, Oya Restaurant & Lounge, The Palm, Poste Moderne Brasserie, The Prime Rib, Rasika Restaurant, Ruth's Chris Steakhouse (two locations), 701, 1789 Restaurant, and Smith & Wollensky.
I've dined at all the Ashok Bajaj restaurants and had my wedding reception at The Bombay Club -- all have a good collection of wine, the wine at Rasika being my favorite. I highly recommend doing Mini Bar, the chef's table at Cafe Atlantico. Mini Bar seats only six and offers wine or champagne pairings with a creative 30-course tasting menu. I recently went to Mei N Yu and was not impressed. The space is warm and inviting, but I found the service lacking in those qualities. I had dinner and cocktails at the bar; I'll give it another chance for the wine.
Where is Citronelle?
I found surprising that the Wine Spectator list did not include Michele Richard's Citronelle. The restaurant has a stellar wine list. The last time I ate there, sommelier Mark Slater -- who since has gone to Ray's the Steaks in Arlington, Virginia -- was pairing wine for us at the chef's table and brought out, among other solid estates, Chateau Latour. I had high expectations of the $350 per person chef's table menu, and the Chateau Latour was icing on the cake.
There are several other notable restaurants missing and I'm guessing they did not want to participate or were disqualified for whatever reason.