The Washington, DC dining scene has always attracted celebrity chefs and restaurateurs (and chefs-cum-restaurateurs) through the years. As the seat of the U.S. government, the city has always been a hot-bed for the fine dining set with restaurants helmed by James Beard Foundation darlings and Michelin-starred luminaries. Through the years we have seen stars like Todd English and Alain Ducasse pass through (both of their DC outposts, Olives and Adour respectively, closed doors in recent years; but English resurfaced with MXDC). Wolfgang Puck, Michael Mina and famed restaurateur Stephen Starr all have ties to The District through The Source, Bourbon Steak at the Four Seasons in Georgetown, and Le Diplomate respectively. And then the DC area’s own celeb-chefs like Jose Andres, Michel Richard and RJ Cooper have been at the top of the food scene for many years, and making room for the reality TV chef set (a la “Top Chef”) to help make things more interesting.
DC’s dining landscape, while conservative at best, has always welcomed a spattering of culinary artists amidst a sea of old school steak houses, stuffy (and dated) French “bistros,” and Chesapeake Bay-inspired seafood spots –all of which may have been great once-upon-a-time. But despite the promise of local talent, alongside the entrance of large-scale national chains (and low-scale international ones), the dining scene hadn’t blossomed well… until lately.
Despite the over-saturation of mediocre Mexican-style restaurants, and the drone-ish list of “gastropubs,” DC has experienced a food-evolution in recent years. Though the city is still many light years behind the food scenes of New York or San Francisco, there is promise. Ramen has finally arrived, and the cupcake craze proliferated for a while (although, again, DC was extremely tardy to that party). Korean food grows past BBQ (think sundubu), and quality French and Italian spots are opening left and right. From Greek mezze to Spanish tapas to izakaya-style Japanese fare to Baltic flavors… the DC dining scene is changing and progressing in a very exciting way.
Recently, Washingtonian magazine shared that DC’s new CityCenterDC enclave (located just steps from Chinatown, Penn Quarter and the Convention Center) will be welcoming two more acclaimed chefs to the area. Northern Virginia native and New York star chef, David Chang, is slated to open an outpost of his famed Momofuku empire. The Momofuku family currently includes a noodle bar, a ssäm bar, and a “milk” (dessert) bar among other concepts in Manhattan, and has grown with international locations in Toronto and Sydney. Momofuku Ko, in New York City, currently has a Michelin 2-star rating.
Joining Chef Chang in CityCenterDC will be French culinary master, Chef Daniel Boulud. With restaurants in Montreal, London, Singapore and New York City (among other cities internationally and in the U.S.), Daniel Boulud is a force in the world of food and restaurants. His eponymous New York restaurant, Daniel, is decorated with a Michelin 3-star rating. The plan is for Boulud to bring his East Village DBGB Kitchen, a personal favorite of mine, to The District. Daniel Boulud is no stranger to DC, having been once appointed as private chef to the European Commission here.
With so much star-power in or coming to the DC food scene as of late, there is no question that the dining landscape of the city will only continue to flourish. Alongside the celebrity chefs are a slew of local cooks and chefs popping up with an array of eateries, both formal and casual, that only encourages locals to take part in an assortment of dining options. From craft cocktails and libations to farm-to-table delicacies, the DC dining scene is definitely something to look out for.
Check out Todd Kliman’s “Best Bites” exclusive on David Chang’s confirmation to bring Momofuku to DC.