The Photographer\'s GalleryOn Sunday night, the Restaurant Association of Metropolitan Washington (slogan: “Dine Out.  Dine Often.  Dine Deliciously.”) held their annual awards gala at the Marriott Wardman Park.  Local chefs, celebrity and otherwise, were joined by other RAMW Members and assorted food-loving guests to honor some of the best that the Washington restaurant scene has to offer.

Don’t worry – we weren’t there, either.

But now that everything is said and done, we’re happy to take a look at the list of winners and weigh in with our own thoughts.

The 2008 RAMMY winners, as announced by RAMW:

Neighborhood Gathering Place of the Year: Hank’s Oyster Bar – DC
Hottest Bar Scene of the Year: Central Michel Richard
Power Spot of the Year: The Oceanaire Seafood Room
Voters’ Choice Restaurant of the Year: The Monocle on Capitol Hill
New Restaurant of the Year: The Source by Wolfgang Puck
Fine Dining Restaurant of the Year: Equinox
Upscale Casual Restaurant of the Year: Poste Moderne Brasserie
Chef of the Year: Eric Ziebold, CityZen
Restaurant Employee of the Year: Joel Guagliano, Zaytinya
Pastry Chef of the Year: Heather Chittum, Hook
Wine and Beverage Program of the Year: Passion Food Hospitality
Restaurant Manager of the Year: Molly McWhorter, Chef Geoff’s Downtown
Rising Culinary Star of the Year: Barton Seaver, Hook

Did you do your foodie duty and vote online for the first four categories?  They were all decided by public vote, unlike the remaining nine awards that were decided by an anonymous panel of food writers and hospitality industry insiders.

If you missed the voting, which took place from May 18th to May 30th at the RAMW website, you have no one to blame but yourself (and everyone who voted for the winners) if your favorites didn’t win.  A run-down of the also-rans in the open voting categories and some of our favorites among the winners after the jump.

Hank’s Oyster Bar claimed the win in the “Neighborhood Gathering Place” category, beating out Ardeo (Cleveland Park), Belga Cafe (Barracks Row – 8th Street, SE), Billy Martin’s Tavern (Georgetown) and Mark & Orlando’s (Georgetown Waterfront).  While some of these are definitely neighborhood favorites, Hank’s Oyster Bar strikes me as the only one with the combination of local fans and city-wide appeal.  Can’t say I’m all that surprised by the win. 

The Photographer\'s GalleryHottest Bar Scene of the year, however, struck me as a five-way toss-up, without an obvious loser among the nominees.  With Brasserie Beck, Central Michel Richard, Poste Moderne Brasserie, Proof, and The Source by Wolfgang Puck all in contention, I’d be really curious to see just how narrow Central’s margin of victory was.  Each establishment brings something new to the DC bar scene.  Personally, I would have loved to see Poste win for their inventive and well-crafted cocktails, but I’m not complaining that Central took it.  The fact that the Poste team went home with the award for Upscale Casual Restaurant of the Year probably helped to soften the blow, as well.

Through my day job, I’ve had the opportunity to eat at all but one of the contenders for Power Spot of the Year.  Given its competition – Charlie Palmer Steak, Bistro Bis, the Monocle and Seasons, I credit Oceanaire’s win to geography.  As the only downtown establishment on the list, it likely benefitted from Bistro Bis and Charlie Palmer’s competition for the Hill vote.  That’s not to say that the Oceanaire is a slouch in the expense account lunch arena, by any stretch of the imagination.  Chain restaurant or not, they offer quality seafood on par with local favorites like Kinkead’s and Hook.  Their prices may be sky-high, but at least they have the decency to back them up with something worth eating.  Frankly, I think this category suffered from the absence of some true Power Lunch spots – most notably the Capital Grille, the Caucus Room and Morton’s (the Connecticut Avenue location).

That brings us to the final category of the four – Voters’ Choice Restaurant of the Year.  The Monocle.

Seriously?  The Monocle?  Restaurant of the Year?  You have to be kidding me!

Somehow, I find it hard to believe that most Washington foodies have eaten or ever plan to eat at the Monocle, let alone consider it the pinnacle of Washington’s emerging culinary scene.  Although they do accept reservations through OpenTable, you won’t find them among the top 10 most reserved DC restaurants on the site (not surprisingly, they don’t appear on the ‘Best Overall’ list).

I have eaten at the Monocle on more than one occasion, again in the context of my job.  They are a throwback to a bygone era of three-martini lunches, liver & onions and wedge salads (I know, I know…Spike is “bringing the wedge back and he promises it will be awesome).  A point in their favor – a fiercely loyal clientele, many of whom have been lunching and supping there for close to fifty years (since they opened their doors back in 1960).  But these are not, for the most part, the tastemakers I want to be taking my dining cues from.

Could the field of write-ins have been so diluted as to allow their fierce partisans (from both sides of the aisle) to propel the Monocle to victory?  All I know is that I’m going to be talking up my choice to anyone who will listen next year, in the hopes of avoiding another embarassment like this.

The Photographer\'s GalleryThankfully, I found myself in much closer agreement with the choices of the anonymous panel who awarded the remainder of the categories.  Barton Seaver, whose departure from Hook was announced just last week, definitely deserved the nod as Rising Culinary Star of the Year (though it will be interesting to see what he does with the award and where he will be cooking next).  Hook’s Heather Chittum also took home the award for Pastry Chef of the Year – one taste of the desserts at the otherwise light and lean seafood establishment will tell you why.

I’ve already mentioned my satisfaction with seeing Poste honored for Upscale Casual dining, and I have to say I can appreciate the selection of the Passion Food Hospitality Group (whose restaurants include Ceiba, TenPenh, Acadiana and DC Coast) as the Wine and Beverage Program of the Year.

Am I thrilled to see The Source win for New Restaurant of the Year?  Not really, but it’s no fault of theirs.  It’s just that I find myself frustrated by the attention and praise lavished on the outposts being opened by nationally famous celebrity chefs like Wolfgang Puck and Eric Ripert.  I mean, come on – were they really so amazing right out of the gate as to warrant places within the top 15 of Washingtonian’s Top 100 restaurants within months of their opening?  I’d prefer to see attention go to locally-grown successes.  Central’s win at the Beard awards this year was a win for DC…would we really feel the same way if WestEnd Bistro were honored next year?

But enough about me…what did you think?  Which wins had you cheering and which left you scratching your heads?  And what can we expect to see next year?

Actually, I may be able to share some news about that last question sooner rather than later.  Stay tuned…