Thursday, February 18, 2010

DC James Beard Award Semi-Finalists Are Mostly Accessible Restaurants

The James Beard Foundation announced their list of semifinalists today for the 2010 James Beard Awards, the most prestigious food awards out there. I wrote about the semi-finalists and then finalists last year, here and here, and if you compare this years list to last, there are a lot of reappearances locally - so hopefully some will break through this time.

The local semifinalists are:

Outstanding Restaurateur: Ashok Bajaj (701, Ardeo, Bardeo, Bibiana, Bombay Club, Oval Room, Rasika)
Outstanding Chef: José Andrés (for Minibar)
Outstanding Restaurant: Vidalia
Rising Star Chef Of The Year: Johnny Monis (Komi)
Best New Restaurant: Eventide, J&G Steakhouse, Trummer's On Main
Outstanding Pastry Chef: Amanda Cook (CityZen)
Outstanding Wine Service: Restaurant Eve
Outstanding Wine And Spirits Program: Derek Brown (The Passenger)
Outstanding Service: Marcel's
Best Chef, Mid-Atlantic: Cathal Armstrong (Restaurant Eve), Tony Conte (The Oval Room), Peter Pastan (Obelisk), Vikram Sunderam (Rasika), Bryan Voltaggio (Volt)

My initial reaction is that a number of these restaurants are accessible to the public, and that is a great thing. Ashok Bajaj's restaurants might not be cheap but they aren't cost-prohibitive (except maybe 701), and most all of them are excellent. Especially Rasika.

Aside from restaurateur of the year, a number of the chefs and restaurants nominated have more casual bar or cafe dining options, making some of DC's best spots accessible to diners without spending a ton. The bar at Vidalia (nominated for restaurant of the year) is a great option, offering their iconic shrimp n grits and a delicious cheeseburger (Roughly $15 each I believe), in addition to free bite-size appetizers and even free wine tastings during happy hour.

CityZen, home to one of my best 2 meals in DC last year, has a bar menu for (Three courses for $50) which is way more reasonable than the dining room or tasting menus. Restaurant Eve has a bistro and lounge in addition to the more formal expensive dining room, and while Rasika doesn't have a special menu that I'm aware of, it won't cost you an arm and a leg (and is completely worth it).

As for the libations, Derek Brown's Passenger is absolutely worth trying. The drinks are not cheap (Roughly $13 a piece), but if for only one drink it is worth the trip. If you're looking for a more exclusive and involved experience, try his other bar, the speakeasy The Gibson. I wrote a post about it here.

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