Check out our map of sites associated with Top Chef DC, updated each week

Top Chef is playing with our emotions.  Or at least they’re trying to, though many Washingtonians seem less than enthralled by the current season despite its being filmed right here in our backyard.  After a week where there was next to no Washington connection, we’re back in full force with a lobbyist-influenced Quickfire and a “power lunch” elimination challenge, both of which featured famous-for-DC types.

So why doesn’t this season have folks on the edges of their seats?  This may be Top Chef’s most diverse pool of cheftestants, but they still come across as pretty vanilla.  The field is still too unwieldy to care about everyone, and the Angelo vs. Kenny drama really isn’t all that compelling.

But we here at Capital Spice are watching with a different eye, looking out for the ways in which the producers remind viewers that they spent six weeks or so filming in the Nation’s Capital this spring.  The clips of landmarks and monuments help, sure, but we all know that DC provides near limitless fodder for challenge themes and pun-heavy episode titles.

This week we opened with a challenge that did a great job of marrying “official Washington” with Top Chef in the form of a “Toothpick Rule” challenge judged by a Member of Congress.  Afterwards, it was on to one of Washington’s storied white tablecloth restaurants, the Palm, for a Power Lunch served to a Senator, a top lobbyist and a host of NBC hosts.

After the jump find out more about the Toothpick Rule (we’ll keep it short, we promise) and all the special guests (more…)

<<EDIT 2:53 PM, 5/28/10: I’ve been informed that Agora’s chef is now Ghassan Jarrouj, who comes to Agora from Sitti in Raleigh, NC.  Jarrouj has 35 years’ experience heading up kitchens with a wide range of Mediterranean influences including Neyla in Georgetown and Taverna Kefi in Wheaton.  My apologies for the confusion.>>

There’s a reason I got as excited as I did when I discovered Urfa Tomato Kabob in Penn Quarter last year – Turkish cuisine is still woefully underrepresented in the DC dining scene.  But not for long.  This week, a taste of Turkey arrived in Dupont Circle in the form of Agora.

If you’ve ever made the trip out to Vienna to taste the authentic Turkish flavors at Nizam’s, you’ll be thrilled to know that Chef Rasit Gulsen is heading up the kitchen in the new 17th Street restaurant.  And if you’ve found yourself wondering how Turks can live almost exclusively on kabob and pide, Agora has the answer you’ve been looking for: seafood.  The riches of the Mediterranean make up a sizable portion of Agora’s menu in a variety of presentations that is likely to surprise most DC diners.

I stopped by Agora just as they were putting the finishing touches on the decor and the kitchen, getting ready for their big opening this week.  While I was there I had a chance to take a look around, take some pictures, and even get a look at their menu.

After the jump, check out some of what Agora is bringing to the marketplace. (more…)

<<EDIT 12:24 PM, 5/13/10 – Sorry for the confusion – I listed the address as NE, not NW, but I’ve corrected it.

UPDATE 12:20 PM, 5/13/10 – Check out Buddha Bar’s dinner menu, just in!>>

If you’ve ridden the Circulator from Union Station to Georgetown or driven along Massachusetts Avenue near Chinatown at any point in the past year or so, you’ve been tantalized with a large advertisement for Buddha Bar in the ground-floor windows of 455.  The gigantic space has been a work in progress for almost twice that long, but the wait is finally over.  Buddha Bar opened for dinner service last night and is now ready for business.

Maybe you’re familiar with their popular series of music compilations.  Perhaps you’ve paid a visit to Little Buddha in Las Vegas or the original Buddha Bar in Paris.  Or maybe the Washington outpost of this global lounge and restaurant concept (branded as “eatertainment”) is your first experience with the concept.  Whatever your level of familiarity with Buddha Bar, prepare to be impressed.

After the jump, take an early look at the space with photos while you’re making your plans for this weekend. (more…)

Can it be that just a few short years ago there wasn’t a single gastropub in all of Washington?  These days, the concept of high-quality food in a laid-back setting is cropping up all over town.  NOT that we’re complaining.

Gastropubs may be the best culinary trend to come out of the UK since cheddar cheese.  Even so, the first one of note here in Washington was Granville Moore’s, the “gastropub with a healthy Belgian fetish” on the H Street Corridor.  Not far behind was Commonwealth Gastropub, Chef Jamie Leeds’ homage to the original British article in Columbia Heights.  The newest addition to the genre, Againn, brings some welcome flavor downtown.

To the uninitiated, Againn may seem like more of the same.  Couple the popularity of the concept with a name that appears to be a misspelling of “again” and you’ve got a recipe for an easy joke.  But step inside for a bite and it’s easy to see that Againn is an original among its peers.

Just past the hostess stand, on your way to the bar, you’ll arrive at the raw bar.  Try to get by without drooling over some freshly shucked oysters.  Or settle in for the long haul with an aptly named Pint of Prawns (peeled shrimp served in a pint glass with lemon and Marie Rose sauce).  But don’t get too distracted…the ‘pub’ part of ‘gastropub’ still awaits.

We checked out Againn with some friends who appreciate a good pint – an arrangement I highly recommend.  Some highlights among our appetizers, entrees and desserts – and a chance for you to check out Againn for yourself – after the jump. (more…)

<<EDIT: 12/20/09 8:00 PM: Thanks to everyone who helped us put this list together yesterday.  Hope you enjoyed the snow and were able to show some love to your local establishments who stayed open!>>

So we’ve made our peace with the fact that we’re not going to be able to make it over to Corduroy for our planned birthday dinner tonight.  Even though Chef Tom Power and his intrepid crew are open for business, we’re taking the mayor’s (and everyone else’s) advice and staying off the roads.

But we’ve still got to get out there and celebrate somewhere, right?  And so do you.

If you’re planning to keep it local and check out one of your neighborhood establishments, you should probably check first and see if they’re open before you bundle up and head out.

We’re here to help.  We’ll be updating this post with a list of restaurants are definitely open or closed tonight as we hear of them.  Know of others?  Let us know in the comments section.


Ben’s Chili Bowl
Bistro Bis
Bistro Cacao
Brasserie Beck
Busboys and Poets
Capital Lounge
ChurchKey (Birch & Barley not serving dinner)
El Tamarindo
Evening Star Cafe
Granville Moore’s
H Street Country Club (El Norte menu only)
Liberty Tavern
Little Miss Whiskey’s Golden Dollar
Logan Tavern
Lost Dog Cafe
The Passenger
Peregrine Espresso (open til 7)
Pete’s Apizza
Piola (open til 8)
Ray’s the Steaks
Red Derby
Red Rocks
Room 11
Taylor Gourmet (K Street NW open til 9 PM; H Street NE open til 3 AM!!!)
Tunnicliff’s (open til 11)
Urbana (bottomless bellinis til 6 PM)


Ben’s Next Door
Birch & Barley
Bistrot Lepic
Bourbon Steak
Central Michel Richard
Clyde’s Gallery Place
Columbia Firehouse
Cork Market
Good Stuff Eatery
The Grille at the Morrison House
Kemble Park Tavern
Leopold’s Kafe & Konditorei
L2 Lounge
The Majestic
Occidental Grill & Seafood
Restaurant Eve
Ristorante Tosca
Screwtop Wine Bar
Sova Espresso & Wine
Sticky Rice
Trummer’s On Main (closed for brunch tomorrow, too)

An increasingly diverse selection of restaurants is opening along the H Street Corridor, and the most recent addition offers an authentic taste of Morocco in an intimate setting.  Alami Rahim’s Souk is less than a month old, and it’s already making a name for itself among the likes of Granville Moore’s, Taylor Gourmet and Sticky Rice.  If you’re looking for traditional hummus or homemade baklava, Souk is worth a look.

On a recent Wednesday night, we headed down the block to seek out Souk.  We read some positive reviews over at FrozenTropics, but we wanted to see for ourselves.  I’m a sucker for good, rich hummus (got the taste for it at Perfect Pita in Old Town), and I’ve been trying to find a place that could match that creamy consistency.  A few tastes in, I could tell that I was dealing with a real contender.

More from Morocco after the jump. (more…)

Bests Map

Click on the image to go to our Google Map that locates all of the critics' picks for best restaurants in DC.

Back in January, we had the crazy idea of taking the list of all of the bars and restaurants that were keeping extended hours for the President’s Inaugural weekend and putting them up on a Google Map.  Visitors and locals alike could find the nearest place to grab nachos and a beer at 4 in the morning.  It was a big hit, garnering mentions by the Washington Post, NBC4 and several other news outlets.

With the announcement of Tom Sietsema’s annual Fall Dining Guide in the Washington Post last month, we found ourselves comparing it to similar lists like Tim Carman’s 50 Best Restaurants list in the Washington City Paper and Washingtonian magazine’s annual 100 Best Restaurants list.  We were eager to see which restaurants were universally celebrated and which ones were personal favorites for each critic.  As we were looking at the lists side by side, inspiration struck.

Wouldn’t it be helpful if all of these lists were available in one place?  We could check out everything that Tom, Tim and Todd (Kliman at Washingtonian) had to say about an establishment all at once.

And then we went to that nerdy map-loving place we frequently do.  Wouldn’t it be interesting to put all of their favorites into one map, so people could find the critics’ favorites in their neighborhood?

So we put in some quality time and put together our “Best Restaurants in Washington” map.  It features all of the restaurants covered in each of the three lists mentioned above, as well as the places that received the top 40 Food category scores in Zagat’s 2009/2010 DC guide.

If an establishment shows up on more than one list, it’s represented by a fork-and-knife symbol.  If it’s unique to Carman’s list, it’ll have a blue tag.  Washingtonian-only places get a red tag.  Sietsema’s singular favorites are tagged in green.  And Zagat outliers get a purple tag.  Click on a restaurant’s tag to find all of the lists they appear on – complete with links to the specific reviews from each.

We thought about including the highest-rated restaurants on UrbanSpoon, but we rejected the idea when we saw that the list seemed a bit…skewed.

Take a look at the map – use it to find a favorite nearby or to see how the critics’ picks are distributed throughout the region.

And if you’ve got suggestions on other lists whose picks we might add to the map, please let us know.  We intend to update the map when the lists are updated (ie, when Washingtonian’s Top 100 Restaurants of 2010 is released).


<<UPDATE 11/9/09 4:59 PM – A reader pointed out the absence of Northern Virginia Magazine’s Top 50 from this map.  We will definitely be adding them, but we’re waiting until their list goes up on their website (it’s currently only available in the newest print edition).  Rather than putting up their 2008 list, we figured we’d wait and compare apples to apples.>>