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THE question has had the Washington restaurant scene buzzing since news in May of the US capital's first Michelin Guide - who will get a coveted star?
"Michelin, they're pretty secretive . . . I don't think anybody has any idea," said Aaron Silverman, the 34-year-old owner and chef of two lauded restaurants in the capital, Rose's Luxury and the newer Pineapple and Pearls.
Restaurants were anxiously awaiting the publication on Thursday of the first Washington restaurant guide by Michelin, the venerable French company that currently covers restaurants in only three US cities: New York, Chicago and San Francisco.
Just a few of the recommended entries in the Washington guide are expected to win a star in the three-star rating system that ranges from very good to exceptional.
With his seasoned view of the scene, Tom Sietsema, The Washington Post's food critic since 2000, ventured a cautious forecast.
"There should be at least two three-star restaurants in the city. I would be surprised if there were any fewer than two; and with luck, we'll have at least four," he said.
Among his picks: Mini Bar of Spanish chef Jose Andres, an "adopted son" of Washington who started out under renowned Catalan chef Ferran Adria and who recently had a costly legal dispute with Donald Trump stemming from the Republican presidential candidate's remarks about immigrants.
Mini Bar will be a strong contender for three stars, Mr Sietsema said. The restaurant features a 30-course menu - dinner for two, including wine, can cost US$1,000.
"I think it's the best avant garde cooking in the country," he said. "It really does transport you, and I think that's what you want for a three-Michelin star restaurant. It can't merely be wonderful - you have to be astonished."
Among Mr Sietsema's other favourites is Rasika, which he calls one of the best Indian restaurants in the country, and Komi, a Greek restaurant whose chef Johnny Monis also has a small Thai restaurant - Little Serow - credited with having launched, with Rose's Luxury, the city's booming food scene.
Another eatery drawing attention is a tiny Filipino place called Bad Saint.
The diversity of cuisines is key to the identity of Washington, a meld of many influences from residents from all over the world.
"That's one of the strong suits of American cooking. We're very good at borrowing around the world and making something our own," said Mr Sietsema.
But certain Washington restaurants "don't put as much value on design or ambiance as they do on the plate", he lamented.
Jason Tilery, a Washington native and passionate foodie, also bets that Mini Bar will get three stars. The 39-year-old employee of a health insurance company invests a substantial part of his wages in dining out, which he chronicles in a blog, Capital Gourmand.
Pineapple and Pearls, which opened this year to rave reviews, is "on a par with any two Michelin star", he said, after dining there twice.
Metier, a recently opened restaurant by renowned chef Eric Ziebold, featuring contemporary American cuisine, also has a chance, Mr Tilery said. But those two may be too new to make the cut, he added.
Among the only known Michelin criteria for earning a star is consistency between visits, the quality of the products, the mastery of flavour and cooking techniques, the personality of the chef reflected in the food, and value for price. AFP
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