Image courtesy Washington City Paper

Philadelphia Cheesesteak.  New York Pizza.  Kansas City Barbecue.

You know you’ve found a city’s signature dish when the conversation changes from “what’s to eat?” to “who does it better?”  Back in July, Tim Carman at the Washington City Paper ruffled some feathers when he suggested that DC lacks a signature dish of its own.  What about the half-smoke, especially the chili half-smoke from Ben’s?

As much as I hate to admit it, he makes a compelling argument.  Thankfully,  Carman wasn’t satisfied with just making that downer of a point.  He has since been engaged in an ongoing conversation with readers, chefs and other writers.  The topic: In the absence of a single signature dish, is there a pantheon of can’t-miss plates that locals and visitors alike should seek out to experience the best of what Washington has to offer?

Carman and his audience found plenty of candidates – more than 100 dishes were suggested.  The concept of a DC Dish Hall of Fame was clearly a popular one, and in late October it was announced that the inaugural class would be decided by popular vote from a list of 30 standout items.

With the vote deadline coming up on Friday, we’re in the home stretch.  Of the 30 dishes on the survey, the top 5 will be named to the Hall of Fame.  Currently, those five would be:

  • Half-smoke with chili at Ben’s Chili Bowl, 399 votes
  • Falafel at Amsterdam Falafelshop, 349
  • Hamburger at Five Guys, 223
  • Peruvian chicken at El Pollo Rico, 161
  • Margherita pizza at 2Amys, 148
  • We reached out to Carman to ask him a few questions about the overall concept and where the Hall of Fame will go from here.  Check it out 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.>>

    BlogtoberfestAh, Oktoberfest.  Sure, it’s an almost 200 year-old traditional Bavarian festival that celebrates a royal marriage, but here in America we’ve taken it to its logical conclusion: a month-long excuse to drink German beer, eat sausage and pretzels, and dress like the St. Pauli Girl (Note: Doing so without shaving one’s beard and mustache is likely to earn you more than a few odds looks).

    And now Orr Stuhl, the Washington City Paper’s intrepid Beerspotter, has taken it one step further.  As announced on September 14th, Orr is calling all bloggers – food and otherwise – to rise up with one voice and declare the next few weeks to be BLOGTOBERFEST here in Washington.

    Here at Capital Spice, we love a good collaborative effort among bloggers (especially one that was born of the DC Food Bloggers’ Happy Hour earlier this month), so we’re definitely on board with this idea.  As explained by Orr over at the City Paper, Blogtoberfest represents an invitation for bloggers to dedicate a few posts during the month of October to various aspects of their own personal beer experiences.

    But what to write about, right?  Orr’s glad you asked.  And he wants your input to determine the prompts that bloggers will be encouraged to write about each week. 

    Think you’ve got some good ideas?  Then join Orr (and us) at Axis Bar & Grill on U Street this Wednesday for a planning (and drinking) session.  We’ll be gathering around 6:30 before getting down to business at 7.  And we promise we won’t stop until we’ve come up with a lineup of topics that will have you searching the Interwebs to see what your favorite DC bloggers are saying.

    See you on Wednesday night – and come thirsty!

    Axis Bar & Grill
    1340 U Street, NW
    Washington DC
    6:30 – Happy Hour
    7:00 – Blogtoberfest Planning

    Richard obamaBright and early yesterday (1:04 AM, to be exact), the Washington Post’s “Reliable Source” published a piece examining the Obamas’ restaurant choices and ascribing political import to those decisions.  To bolster the argument, they went to three truly reliable sources: Washington City Paper restaurant critic Tim Carman, freelance food writer Amanda McClement (Metrocurean), and Don Rockwell (of the eponymous message board).

    Although we have the utmost respect for all three, we here at Capital Spice couldn’t help but scratch our heads at the conclusion that the article came to: “a pattern of deliberate and politically aware choices.”  That may be a bit of a stretch.

    The fact of the matter is that the Reliable Source’s premise is based on a rather selective reading of the record.  Sure, the Obamas have hit a couple of DC landmarks and a few places known for their commitment to local and/or seasonal ingredients, but there are a few glaring omissions and a couple of clunkers that make it hard to say that Obama is doing anything more calculated than any other food-lover in Washington.  A closer look at the evidence:

    • Sure, Ben’s Chili Bowl is an icon in the DC dining scene.  But that’s just it: Ben’s Chili Bowl is an icon.  Anthony Bourdain stopped there.  Samantha Brown stopped there.  Our friends from California who were just in for a visit stopped there (at our suggestion).  Add to that the fact that they just celebrated their 50th anniversary, and you’ve got a restaurant that transcends politics.
    • Equinox – It’s possible to read this one the way Carman did in the Reliable Source piece – as “a nod to one of the deans of DC cooking” – but it’s just as likely that this one was chosen for its decade (another anniversary) of quality cooking and its proximity to the White House.  Equinox is one of the closest upscale restaurants to the Obamas’ residence, and it has been a go-to spot for Administration celebrities for years.  No one cheered Tom Ridge or Condoleezza Rice for their political acumen when they dined here.
    • CitronelleArguably the most well-known fine dining restaurant in the city, Citronelle is on most foodies’ to-try list.  Once again, this doesn’t come across as a calculated destination as much as a highly-recommended fixture on the DC dining scene.  If the Obamas are going to be dining out regularly, it’s probably only a matter of time before they cross off the rest of the Washingtonian 100 Best Restaurants list.
    • Damn Fine Looking BurgerRay’s Hell BurgerSeriously?  This was a calculated move to make sure people didn’t make too big a deal over the Citronelle dinner?  Say it ain’t so!  Can’t two bros just decide to take a quick road trip to check out the place that their staffers tell them has the best burgers in the area?  Maybe this was a ‘man of the people’ stunt…but we’d rather believe it wasn’t.
    • Five GuysAnother local burger; another bit of lofty significance?  Do you really think they hit Five Guys because it’s the ‘forerunner for the fresh fast food concept,’ or could it be that they’re now trying to avoid playing favorites in the oh-so-contentious DC burger wars?  If someone had argued the latter point as playing politics with lunch, we’d have been far more likely to buy in.

    But what about some of the Obamas’ choices that don’t fit this theory?  A few of those – not to mention some of their glaring omissions – after the jump. (more…)

    Not really Tim Carman, but you get the idea

    Not really Tim Carman, but you get the idea

    If you were following the Washington City Paper’s blogs on Thursday, February 19th, you were treated to “an average day in the city” – including food writer Tim Carman’s rundown of a day spent with Joe Englert.  Apparently it was a hit, because they’ve decided to take another bite at the apple today.

    This time, the City Paper’s staff has taken an entirely food-focused approach.  You can expect to see photo sets highlighting the contents of their refrigerators (you know you’re curious), street cart serenades, and even an investigative piece into the District’s edible waste (read: a salute to dumpster-diving).

    best-of-dcWill it be The Best of DC?  Probably not.  After all, the point of the effort is to look at food and dining from average, unsung angles…checking in with line cooks instead of executive chefs, for example. 

    There’s certainly no shortage of subject matter, but we want to be helpful in case some of the writers get stuck.  So here’s an “average day for food” at Capital Spice:

    Breakfast: a homemade cappuccino, made with illy espresso and topped with milk frothed using our aerolatte.
    Lunch: a salad with Loudoun lettuce from Endless Summer Harvest and roasted chicken from Capitol Hill Poultry in Eastern Market
    Dinner: Sushi at Momoyama (Boston roll, bulgogi roll, iguana roll)

    Throw in a blog post and a few food-focused press-releases sent our way, and that’s about the extent of it…as long as our willpower holds out and we can refrain from mid-day snacking.

    Hmmm…not exactly exciting, but definitely average.

    What would an average day for food mean for you?  Bonus points if it actually involves you working with food in some capacity!