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Little Pearl
Washington . American

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⭐ | From the team behind hit restaurants, Rose’s Luxury and Pineapple and Pearls, arrives this much-beloved "little pearl. " Its youthful ambience and carriage house setting, which dates back to the Civil War, makes a nice contrast. Inside, it's charming and modern, featuring an atrium-like glass ceiling, pale yellow-painted walls, as well as a bright and expansive patio. By day, this is a sweet and sunny café; come nighttime, the wine begins to flow and the tiny tables overflow with dishes laid out like a hazy culinary dream. Chef Aaron Silverman’s cooking style turns classics on their head in the most inventive ways. To wit, his clever and delicious Angel Eggs highlights deviled egg dupes that employ savory meringue as faux egg whites and are piped with egg yolk comprised of mayonnaise and flakes of sea salt. Fancy tater tots then arrive as perfectly fried squares of golden potatoes, topped with a dot of cod roe hollandaise and chives; while marinated and grilled pineapple sambal-chicken wings delight both sweet and savory fiends. The tasting menu is a steal at $45 for eight courses; and the playfully eclectic wine list makes for a great read and is absolutely worth adding on a pairing.
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BRESCA
Washington

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⭐ | It may be located on bustling 14th Street, but beautiful Bresca far from blends in with the crowd. Instead, this inviting restaurant mixes the warmth of a neighborhood treasure with the talent of a special occasion spot. Inside, whitewashed brick, a living wall crafted of moss and quirky decorative elements create a contemporary ambience, while an amiable staff tends to every detail. The cooking here is at once casual and ambitious, thanks to Chef Ryan Ratino’s time spent in some cutting-edge kitchens—think minibar, for example. Here, his menu is divided into three categories, including snacks, medium plates and large plates intended for sharing. Find a clear sense of artistry and whimsy in such dishes as the foie gras negroni, which is topped with Campari gelée and accompanied by warm madeleines. Squab and lobster united by a rich sauce Américaine turns classic surf and turf on its head; while simple yet impressively executed dishes like pappardelle with lamb ragù dazzle palates with wow-worthy flavor and agreeable prices. Strawberries and cream, where cake batter frozen in liquid nitrogen is unveiled with a dramatic cascade of cool smoke, is a dreamy way to seal this deal.
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Sushi Taro
Washington . Sushi, Japanese, Thai

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⭐ | Sushi aficionados know to give this beloved Dupont Circle gem a pass for its odd location—adjacent to a large-chain pharmacy and accessed by a short flight of steps. However, the interior then opens up into a comfortable and warmly attended dining room. Sushi Taro may offer a solid à la carte and numerous tasting menus, but the overall experience at the omakase counter is truly stellar. Scoring a meal at said counter proves challenging since seats can only be booked online, via e-mail, 30 days in advance. Once secured, a reservation here grants entrée to a cloistered room where Chefs Nobu Yamazaki and Masaya Kitayama cater to a mere handful of diners. Following the construct of kaiseki, the meal is a series of artistically composed courses, such as grilled marinated tuna cheek or squid ink-tinted soft-shell crab tempura. The experience hits its apex come sushi time when the chefs present a stack of boxes stocked with an immense selection of fish arranged by type, and then invite diners to make selections from this bounty, which are then knifed into sashimi. An equally superb nigiri course follows, allowing further opportunity to delve deeper into the jaw-dropping assemblage.
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Fiola Mare
Washington

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⭐ | Polished, with an upscale setting made for brokering deals, this Italian bill of fare is just what the politician ordered. Its central location near the Archives makes it a go-to for the power crowd, and the bar is perfect for blowing off steam after a day of debating. Thanks to elegant cuisine, the somewhat stiff environs and scripted service are soon forgiven; and despite its traditional demeanor, the menu allows for flexibility with the ability to craft your own four- or five-course meal in addition to a grand tasting menu. The cooking style may be anchored in the Italian coastline, but it quickly settles on the shores of the Mid-Atlantic, with a highly conceptual bent to boot. Meals may begin with Peconic Bay scallops brimming with flavor thanks to a sea urchin-panna cotta, sunchokes and black truffles; then linger over the rigatoni alla carbonara tossed with slices of guanciale. But, such delightful palate cleansers as a quenelle of yuzu granité make for a nice segue to what is perhaps the most colorful course of the night. Wrap up with a Sicilian cassata. The wine list is showy, littered with big names, and curated for those with sizable expense accounts and companions to impress.
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Plume
Washington

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⭐ | There is hardly a more civilized dining experience than the one offered at Plume, where you can rest assured of some seriously well-dressed and good-looking company. Tucked inside the stately Jefferson Hotel, where signed documents by President Thomas Jefferson double as design elements, this dining room echoes that mood without ever feeling fusty or musty. Dinner is a well-orchestrated symphony that may commence with an amuse-bouche of chive custard, flecked with crabmeat and artistically presented in a mini jar. This is a sure sign of other, more creative things to come—including a seasonal spectacle of parsnip and Comté ravioli in a charred leek soubise. Then, New Zealand venison served with lingonberry sauce is so good you may even want to take a swipe at sopping up every last drop, while an almond-and-orange confection coupled with a rich chocolate mousse and spiced wine sorbet makes for an exalted finale. The wine list spotlights the world’s top regions, but diners should ask the sommelier about top bottlings from Virginia’s best producers. The late president’s Lafitte may have been a fake, but the Madeira selection is par excellence with vintages that date all the way back to 1720.
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Happy Gyro
Washington

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⭐ | Climb the stairs of a historic Dupont Circle townhouse to find this diminutive restaurant with a focus on drama. The smattering of well-spaced tables and a hushed ambience fashion a very promising date night. Photos are verboten, which is no matter since you’re so busy having a good time in “real” time. The staff is relaxed, engaged, and professional. That said, they provide precious little information on how each evening’s single prix-fixe will unfold—there are no menus, and diners have a minimal glimpse of what is to come next. But relinquishing control to these capable chefs (and sommelier) is the only way to go, as the results are bound to leave you feeling uplifted. Meals begin with small bites that treat the palate to raw, cool and cooked flavors. These have included soft brioche topped with trout roe, sliced sea scallop crudo over a lobster reduction and sweet-savory warm Medjool dates filled with mascarpone and finished with a sprinkle of sea salt. From there, delve into a duo of wonderfully rustic house-made pastas, like ravioli filled with celery root and dressed with morels, favas and bits of lamb’s tongue. Roasted kid goat with fluffy pita conjures the best of Greece.
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Maydan
Washington

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⭐ | Myriad restaurants boast of their live fire and grilling prowess, but few are as brazen as Maydān, whose roaring hearth verges on wildfire and is a veritable showstopper. Of course, the chefs tasked with taming it—and practically cooking in it—are nothing short of culinary zealots. The heat is brutal and cooking method raw and elemental, but the results are pure bliss. Rolled and fresh-baked pita arrives first and is accompanied by condiments like spicy harissa and garlicky tuom. While this can make for a feast on its own, be patient, as they take on a whole new life when wrapped inside the likes of smoked duck breast or roast chicken. Carnivores can't seem to get enough of the hulking lamb shoulder—dark and charred as volcanic rock but so deliciously tender that it can almost be spread like butter. Piled into the fluffy pita with mint and onions, it's a triumph. Guests, many of whom line up well before opening hours, are spared from the heat—seated comfortably in a rustic, bi-level space with patterned wood, exposed brick, and lofty ceilings. Solo diners are welcome, but it's not advised as even the most timid of appetites will want to sample the full breadth and talent of this gutsy kitchen.
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Sushi Nakazawa
Washington

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⭐ | This second outpost of Nakazawa’s critically acclaimed New York sushi house is elegant and intimate, with lots of dark wood and gorgeous gold accents. For the best seat in the house, angle for one of the supple high-backed leather stools that flank the marble counter, where you can see the itamae work their magic as they prepare each course. The show is nearly as entertaining as the food is delicious. The team works in a tidy fashion, their hands moving as silently and seamlessly as a surgeon along meticulously organized counters. Ingredients are sourced both locally and from abroad, and freshness is paramount. Each course is presented like a revelation—the fish paired with perfectly sticky, short-grain rice, served just above room temperature. Think tender, bright orange spring salmon with a glossy streak of soy; firm Japanese cuttlefish, dotted with shiso leaf and plum sauce; as well as Golden Eye snapper, finished with a squeeze of lemon and sea salt. It will take you a couple of hours to work your way through the luxurious 20-course omakase of Chef Daisuke Nakazawa, who trained under the legendary Jiro Ono, but rest assured it is time well spent.
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The Dabney
Washington

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⭐ | The Blagden Alley may have been charmless once, but it now teems with exciting culinary gems. Entering The Dabney is like finding the end of a rainbow. Inside, discover a farmhouse-chic space with an open kitchen, a wood-fired oven and eclectic, well-dressed crowd. This cuisine is suitable for anyone looking to delve into regional, Mid-Atlantic food through a menu that marries traditional and contemporary flavors. Thanks to Chef Jeremiah Langhorne's direction, diners can look forward to a supremely rich, almost buttery scallop crudo dressed with citrus, herbs and peanuts—and when that dish is finished with a shard of sheep's milk cheese, it is a reminder to expect the unexpected here. Group dining is highly recommended, so friends can maximize the number of small plates and even share a few of the mains, including the very homey chicken and dumplings. Don’t miss out on desserts, as they flaunt such classics as apple crumble with house-made ice cream bearing just a hint of Bourbon. Housed nearby, The Dabney Cellar is an ideal spot to while away the waiting time before your meal. Their charcuterie and cheese vie for serious attention—not unlike the wine list of 30-some choices by the glass.
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Rose's Luxury
Washington

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⭐ | To dine now or later, that is the question. Enter Rose’s Luxury and you’ll need to decide whether you’re heading upstairs for drinks or settling in for a meal at one of their nooks. The room exudes fun, especially at the counter facing the kitchen. The décor is decidedly laid-back, with bare wood tables and exposed bulbs that make you feel like you’re in someone’s backyard. This casual mood means you’ll spot all types inside, including couples with tots in tow. Sample the kitchen's greatest work in the tasting menu (also called the luxury menu), which may feature such highlights as caviar, a few items from the regular lineup (like the smoky and spicy campfire carrots), as well as a few creative options, like grilled cucumber with yogurt, sumac, and anchovy, or even a pickle-brined fried chicken. Desserts are similarly stirring, and in fact, diners may even skip dinner for the often unexpected but delicious take on the classics. Sweet and poached cubes of eggplant turn the familiar tarte Tatin on its head, just as the Fernet-Cola tiramisu is unusual and very good. Philanthropists take note—the restaurant donates part of their proceedings to World Food Programs for every meal served.
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Tail Up Goat
Washington

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⭐ | When three alums of Komi and Little Serow combine their talents, the result is bound to be an easygoing favorite, where food, drinks and hospitality mesh effortlessly. The mood here is buzzy and the interior colorful, with watery blue murals and highly attentive servers. Don’t be fooled by the casual vibe though, as this kitchen is notably serious. Tables are filled with dates or celebrants, all leaning over shared plates of Mediterranean specialties. Starters have included the spice-rubbed and gently sweet barbecue carrots, bearing just a hint of hickory smoke. Be sure to indulge in the clever bread courses, like red fife sourdough rubbed in “burnt bread sauce” and brightened by lightly dressed lettuce. Pastas are equally popular in this dining room, especially the delicate triangoli draped with pea-shoot pesto. Do not, under any circumstances, skip their showstopping signature dish—lamb ribs dressed in date-molasses jus, with such juicy and smoky meat that it nearly slides off the bone. A wall of wine bottles frames the semi-open kitchen, showcasing a list of interesting pours ranging from Georgia to Greece. During dessert, don’t forget to inquire about their vintage Madeira and Port.
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Masseria
Washington

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⭐ | With its chic and seamless blend of indoor and outdoor space, Masseria is a clear departure from its simpler surrounds. The classic former warehouse—complete with the requisite exposed ducts, concrete floors and brick walls—has been glammed up with a stainless steel exhibition kitchen, chrome and leather furnishings, pendant lights suspended from nautical rope and an impressive glass-encased wine cellar. It’s all very relaxed, albeit in a well-dressed way, and the feel-good vibe extends to the staff, who clearly like working here as much as diners enjoy lingering over the multicourse meals. Chef/owner Nicholas Stefanelli's Puglian heritage comes through in the menu, which features four or five courses, along with a nightly tasting. The kitchen hits all the right notes balancing trendy and serious. Begin with a cigar box filled with focaccia so sinfully delicious, you’ll be tempted to scarf it all down—but don’t. You’ll want to save room for the spicy fish stew, a thing of beauty practically brimming with tripe and lobster, or house-made maccheroni with a thick and gamey goat ragù. Even dessert strays far from the pack, showcasing beet ice cream instead of the classic tiramisu.
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Kinship
Washington

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⭐ | Kinship is a prominent fixture in DC’s culinary scene, thanks to Chef Eric Ziebold and wife/partner Célia Laurent’s inspired cuisine. They have earned a devoted following of urbane gastronomes and locals who gladly dress to dine here, making it feel like more of an occasion. The location across from The Walter E. Washington Convention Center belies its style, which is airy and sophisticated. In addition to Métier downstairs, the space comprises a book-lined, fireplace-warmed lounge, lively bar, and minimalist-chic dining room. The à la carte isn't just a laundry list of offerings; it's a peek inside Chef Ziebold's heart and mind. While selections from the "Ingredients" and "Indulgence" categories need no explanation, "Craft" items honor tradition and "History" selections pay tribute to sentimental favorites. Pick and choose from the different themes for a bespoke tasting menu that could include sublime, creamy ribbons of squid, a roast chicken that is worth every moment of its 75-minute preparation, or a Maine lobster French toast. Don't forget dessert, especially the Opéra cake, presented as a layered square of light and dark chocolate cake, mousse, and almond feuilletine.
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Gravitas
Washington

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⭐ | Chef Matt Baker is luring diners to Ivy City with this gorgeous spot, which transforms local products into thoughtful, modern, and deeply complex plates. Its décor pays homage to the industrial bones of the setting by way of exposed brick and stark white walls, softened by greenery; fine service and an inviting open kitchen simply add to the appeal. Diners are offered myriad choices for their five-course meal, replete with consistently impressive dishes. Large appetites should put their faith in the chef and let him prepare a seven-course tasting, whereby sustainable ingredients are utilized to prepare items that are at once creative, astutely composed, and highly enjoyable. Dinner might kick off with lightly poached Chesapeake oysters, coupled with morels, ramps, and Madeira foam; or soy- and mirin-marinated tuna tartare spiked with lemon rind. Risi e bisi may then arrive, tucked with English peas, pancetta, and pecorino; while perfectly aged Wagyu ribeye, sprinkled with sea salt, is matched with truffle-mashed potatoes for ultimate decadence. Desserts, like a white chocolate buttermilk cake or raspberry lychee sorbet, display expert flavor combinations and will have you drooling for days.
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minibar by José Andrés
Washington

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⭐⭐ | Two frosted doors mark the entrance to minibar—a restaurant that extends well beyond its diminutive name. The stylish entry lounge is an idyllic stop for a glass of bubbly before heading into the dimly lit laboratory-like dining room. Here, guests are situated at six seats per dining counter, all set around Chef José Andrés' stainless steel workspace that literally makes his world a stage. The lab-like décor isn't a coincidence, since the modern cooking on display here is highly experimental (though deftly avoids mad scientist status). The kitchen takes familiar tastes and ingredients and cheekily transforms them into something new and unexpected. There are those famous liquid olives, of course, as well as meaty morels served with "peas" that are actually "pearls" filled with fragrant pea and mint. Playful course after course reminds one that a snail is not just a snail here, but a dome of Ibérico ham gel, formed like that mollusk, served with rabbit jus and escargot roe. A ring of fried Krispy Kreme donut ice cream is appropriately tongue-in-cheek, but the whimsy never comes at the expense of wit. Despite the sense of humor, this kitchen's serious effort should never be taken lightly.
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