As Bon Appétit’s Restaurant City of the Year (2016) with one of only a few Michelin guides in the U.S., D.C. is a major league dining destination. Indeed, there are so many exciting options that it can be hard to choose a spot to celebrate with friends or loved ones. For guidance, we asked some top toques where they go for a special meal. Word to the wise—heed their advice.
Chef expert: Fabio Trabocchi
Go-to spot: Kinship, 1015 7th St. NW, 202.737.7700
Trabocchi, whose posh Fiola in Chinatown, Fiola Mare in Georgetown and Del Mar at The Wharf are high on many special occasion lists, enthused about a recent visit to Eric Ziebold’s contemporary American in Shaw, Kinship. Trabocchi said D.C.’s fine dining scene has gotten a “face-lift,” and that Ziebold’s cooking exemplifies these exciting changes. He added that Ziebold, who constantly changes his menu, uses the “best ingredients in refined” dishes; the “technique of execution is perfect”; and the “elegant and comfortable, but not formal” ambiance feels like a “party at his house.”
Chef expert: Eric Ziebold
Go-to spot: Fiola Mare, 3050 K St. NW, 202.628.0065
The Kinship chef returns Trabocchi’s compliment by describing a dinner at the “beautiful” waterside Fiola Mare as having just the “right air of formality”—“elegant enough, with a certain level of comfort and familiarity for a great night out.” As for the food, Ziebold singled out the freshness of the seafood plateau; the “simply grilled” black bass (“one second less, and it would be underdone; one second more, and it would be cooked too much”); and the smoked gnocchi’s “richness of flavor.”
Chef expert: Tim Ma
Go-to spot: Kinship, 1015 7th St. NW, 202.737.7700
The rising star chef/owner of the Asian-accented Kyirisan in Shaw offers another perspective on Ziebold’s Kinship. Old friends from New York City who had heard good things about the restaurant were in town. Checking it out with Ma, they reveled in an “elegant” room with “tables spread out” so they could talk. Ziebold’s cooking technique, Ma explains, is like “art”—the food is “done so properly, seasoned perfectly and every plate is exactly where [Ziebold] wants it to be.” Ma remembered the “beautiful treatment” of a slowly cooked salmon that “balances sweet, sour, salty and bitter” elements—a goal Ma says he strives for in his own cooking.
Chef expert: Frank Ruta
Go-to spot: Plume, 1200 16th St. NW, 202.448.2300
The former White House chef and top toque of Downtown’s acclaimed Mirabelle explained that formal dining need not be intimidating. When he took his sous chef to dine with former colleagues at downtown’s Plume in the Jefferson Hotel, he found that this “very elevated” room, with its “sophisticated attention to detail” and refined level of service, felt “very celebratory” and “fun.”
The ambiance, with its hand-painted French silk wallpaper, was warmed by “welcoming” staff with a “youthful exuberance that loosens things up.” What with “champagne popping” and the “theatrical flair” of dishes like crab consommé prepared tableside, where it is infused like tea with edible flowers, spices and herbs, then poured over crabs, oranges and vegetables, it was an “exhilarating” evening.
Chef expert: Mike Isabella
Go-to spot: Masseria, 1340 4th St. NE, 202.608.1330
The “Top Chef” alum spent a recent evening at Masseria in Northeast, where he and his wife relaxed in the courtyard bar with “great” cocktails by a “talented mixologist.” After, they moved into the “cozy” dining room for elevated versions of classic Italian fare. Isabella says he “grew up with cannoli,” but they were nothing like Nicholas Stefanelli’s fois gras truffle cannoli with its “cracker-like” texture and “beautiful flavors taken to the next level” (available by request). Ditto the “perfectly cooked, melt-in-the-mouth” pasta.
Chef expert: Cedric Maupillier
Go-to spot: The Dabney, 122 Blagden Alley NW, 202.450.1015
Special-occasion dining can also be low key. Maupillier’s inventive, yet deliciously approachable, French-American seasonal fare at his hip Shaw spot, Convivial, reflects his Gallic roots. When his family visited last winter, Maupillier saw it as an opportunity to learn about the “concepts of Mid-Atlantic food” at Jeremiah Langhorne’s The Dabney, also in Shaw. There, they enjoyed the “most beautiful oysters from Virginia with homemade hot sauce,” celery root slowly roasted in the embers of a wood fire that “concentrated the natural flavor of the vegetable,” and the “urban rustic feel” of the open hearth-dominated dining room that Maupillier imagined is like an “old village in the Blue Ridge Mountains.”
Chef expert: Jeremiah Langhorne
Go-to spot: Komi, 1509 17th St. NW, 202.332.9200
Langhorne celebrates at the minimalist Mediterranean, Komi. What is “great” about the Dupont Circle restaurant is that “it’s really simple but provides you with every luxury.” He said he loves the contrast of a parade of “refined small plates” offering “exciting playful twists” with the roasted goat shoulder, served whole at the end with a bunch of condiments. You “use your hands,” he said, for a communal experience.