Last night’s RAMMY Awards gala was like prom for Washington’s restaurant industry—and not just because the proliferation of tuxes, gowns, and Michael Jackson tunes. The awards ceremony felt a little dated and out of touch, with restaurants that have been open since 2015 eligible for New Restaurant of the Year, and gaping omissions in certain categories (no mention of the Columbia Room a.k.a. the “Best American Cocktail Bar” for best cocktail program?).
Blame the rules. Nominees must be paying members of the Restaurant Association Metropolitan Washington—a group that many top restaurants and bars haven’t joined. In several cases, a restaurant must have been open for two years to qualify. And in one of the more under-the-radar conditions, no winners can be nominated again within five years.
So what would Washington’s biggest hospitality awards look like if you pulled all the restrictions and opened it up to all? Here’s a sampling of our alternate reality:
Chef of the Year: Aaron Silverman
A conversation about the best chefs in Washington without mentioning chef/owner Aaron Silverman of Rose’s Luxury and Pineapple and Pearls seems odd. Neither restaurant is a paying RAMW member so has never been included. Still, we think the Rockville native has paid his fair dues in putting his hometown on the culinary map.
New Restaurant of the Year: Himitsu
We love Hazel (the real winner of this category), but when the conversation is about what’s new and hot, a year-plus old eatery doesn’t feel quite as relevant. What about Himitsu, which is just less than nine months old and already garnered a James Beard nod and a place on Eater’s “12 Best New Restaurants in America” list? (Also: it’s where we want to be eating right now.)
Formal Fine Dining Restaurant of the Year: Mirabelle
If there’s a stately newcomer that embodies this category, it’s chef Frank Ruta’s nouvelle-French dining room by the White House.
Casual Restaurant of the Year: All-Purpose
The Shaw pizzeria is too new to be considered for this category. (However, it was a nominee for best new restaurant). That’s a shame, because it seems like this year’s best casual restaurant to us (that chili honey pizza, those garlic knots…).
Upscale Casual Restaurant of the Year: Tail Up Goat
Honestly, we don’t even know what “upscale casual” really means. Is it the mullet of restaurants (business in the front, party in the back)? Maybe it’s somewhere you can wear jeans, but still do it up with an incredible bottle of wine. And for that, we’d go Goat (not a RAMW member) any day.
Rising Culinary Star of the Year: Tom Cunanan
Bad Saint chef Tom Cunanan isn’t eligible for an award because the restaurant isn’t an RAMW member, but he’s certainly a talent on the rise.
Restaurateur of the Year: Mike Isabella
Isabella won Restaurateur of the Year last year, but in this lawless land, we’ll argue that he’s worthy of the title again—maybe even more so than 2016. With the recent arrival of finer-dining Arroz, his diverse portfolio spans over five cuisines, from Asian to Mexican, and varies in concepts from Nationals Park kiosks to casual eateries and, dare we say, “upscale casual” places. The fact they’re all solid-to-excellent is a feat.