Young and Hungry

Dissecting Tom Sietsema’s 2010 Dining Guide


Red Hook Lobster Pound truck: street food makes the Dining Guide

WaPo's Tom Sietsema released his 2010 Dining Guide online yesterday, and in between other tasks, I've been combing through it to understand how the critic views the current restaurant scene. Before I get to the nuggets that I've mined, though, I should note what Sietsema's MO was for this year's guide:

To make the cut this year, a restaurant didn't just have to be performing well; it had to be a place folks are talking about. That means you won't be reading about all of the area's better-known addresses or popular standbys for sushi, steak or pizza. Chances are, you already know about them. Chef changes excluded a handful of contenders from consideration, as did a noticeable dip in quality at some of the region's most popular (but no longer most praiseworthy) restaurants.

Using this as his guiding criteria, Sietsema shook up his guide from a year ago, sometimes radically so. Among the notable picks, omissions, and star movements:

  • CityZen, chef Eric Ziebold's taste laboratory in the Mandarin Oriental, went from four stars in the 2009 guide to completely off the list this year. This is the biggest fall from grace I can ever recall.
  • Other notables from the 2009 guide that didn't make the cut this year: Marcel's, the restaurant that topped the Zagat food ratings this year, was dropped from Sietsema's guide after earning three stars last year.  Other three-star performers from last year that lost their spots: Present, Corduroy, The Source by Wolfgang Puck, Proof, and Zaytinya. (The Zaytinya snub is understandable.)
  • Other sacred cows that got tipped this year: 2Amys, Four Sisters, and even 2941, which earned three-and-a-half stars from Sietsema last year.
  • Citronelle regained its fourth star after losing it two years ago. Michel Richard's flagship moved up to three-and-a-half stars last year, but made a full recovery this year.
  • Michael Landrum, despite opening the high-profile Ray's the Steaks at East River, has no restaurants on the list. Not even Ray's Hell Burger.
  • Birch & Barley, Estadio, Kushi, Pizzeria Orso, and Masala Art all made impressive debuts, scoring either three or two-and-a-half stars.
  • The Red Hook Lobster Pound truck made an appearance on Sietsema's list, the first time street food has made the cut. It's a very forward-thinking move if you ask me.
  • Similarly, Sietsema gave a huge boost to the craft cocktail movement by awarding three stars to the Columbia Room, mixologist Derek Brown's boozy hideaway, which doesn't even serve formal meals. (Which, frankly, makes me scratch my head why the equally inventive ChurchKey didn't make it.)
  • Sietsema ventured into Baltimore Sun territory by including Cindy Wolf's tasting-menu operation, Charleston, from Charm City.
  • And, in what must be a very satisfying moment for Little Mexico, Taqueria La Placita also made its debut on the Post list. I'd like to think Y&H helped influence that decision.

Photo by Darrow Montgomery

  • winenegress

    Thanks for sharing. Now that I am in Chicago and environs, it's nice to be somewhere with dueling print media and great restaurants that are affordable and accessible. Maybe the next time I'm back home I'll try to track down the truck.

  • Matt47

    This new dining guide is the biggest JOKE I have read in the past 10 years.
    Maybe if I start grilling out of my balcony Mr Tom would be lucky enough to smell the fumes passing by and list me as one of the greates grill places in DC
    Lobster Truck? Are you out of your mind?
    It's time for him to revisit Phyllis again on weekly basis in Takoma Park and hopefully she'll be able to put him on the right truck again and explain what food writing is all about.
    Birch and Barley, Pizzeria Orso, Columbia Room?
    I guarantee you next year we could possibly face entries such as 7/11 Safeway Deli department and even Mc Donald......and why not? This guy writes without logic guidelines so I am ready for anything.
    Mr. Sietsema pack your bags your ideas and your poor taste in dining and do us all a favor go back to San Francisco sipping anisette with your cute little friends
    and send us all a post card no one cares about.

  • tomaj

    I always thought of WaPo's rating guide as the stodgy best-of list, the Guide Michelin, the one that rarely changes through the years, the one where a small group of people debate whether unknown-to-almost-everyone places like Tabard Inn deserves 3.5 or 3.75 stars, the one that raves about the chef's pedigree. Western-centric to a fault, it shows its touch with ethnicity by including the overrated Four Sisters and Jaleo, and its idea of Mexican is Oyamel. So yes, I think this year's edition is a welcome change, though we have to think of it as no longer a best-of, but as a buzz-of. Places like Estadio and Honey Pig are strange additions; is he trying to show his ear is to the ground? Anyway, I'm happier reading about places to which people actually go.

    One remaining complaint: I will maintain that places located in Paris, VA, Clifton, VA, little Washington, and Baltimore, MD, do not belong on a DC-area list.