Best New American Cuisine

Best: PS 7’s
777 I St. NW, (202) 742-8550
2nd Best: Vidalia
1990 M St. NW, (202) 659-1990
Ask average diners what “New American” cuisine is, and odds are they’ll stare blankly back at you, like some pre-verbal infant. The most generous description equates New American with the melting-pot country from which it derives its name; practitioners of the cuisine, in other words, borrow techniques, ingredients, and ideas from all over the world and combine them into something unique, usually at a steep cost to you. But aside from this huddled-masses approach to cooking, where exactly is the American flavor? Our country’s regional cooking is often obliterated in favor of highly personal, chef-driven dishes. Not so with the New American menus conceived by Peter Smith at PS 7’s and R.J. Cooper at Vidalia. They respect American regional cuisine—even American backyard foods like hot dogs and hamburgers—while moving it forward in bold, often distinctive ways. Smith is the more geek/innovator of the two chefs, but Cooper has a knack for updating American classics like chicken-fried steak and lobster rolls that use refined ingredients but still manage to maintain the sloppy pleasures of the originals. When it was around, Cooper’s Reuben, house-made from top to bottom, was the messiest, most delicious sandwich I think I’ve ever tasted.