Why Are There Only Two New Michelin-Starred Restaurants in the 2018 DC Guide?

The new red book's release is anticlimactic, with few changes from the launch last year.
Why Are There Only Two New Michelin-Starred Restaurants in the 2018 DC Guide?
Komi is one of two new Michelin-starred restaurants in DC. Photograph by Scott Suchman.

The 2018 DC Michelin star ranking has arrived. And if you were expecting major changes, you’ll be disappointed. 

Only two new restaurants joined the prestigious starred list this year: Komi, chef Johnny Monis’s veteran Greek/Mediterranean tasting room in Dupont Circle (which many felt was slighted in the original red book). And Métier, chef Eric Ziebold‘s elegant prix-fixe dining experience, which was too new last year to be in contention. Both earned a single star.

Besides these additions, the ranking remains the exact same—no drop-offs or upgrades, and yet again, no ultra-prestigious, three-star names. Only seven new restaurants were added to the 2018 guide in total, including three Bib Gourmand honorees and two “plate” mentions. The latter is Michelin’s lowest-level designation (“restaurants where the inspectors have discovered quality food”), and this year included New York chain the Smith and “beak-to-toe” restaurant the Bird.

The new rankings seem particularly anticlimactic after Michelin’s inaugural release—especially since Michelin international director Michael Ellis expressed hopes to grow the size and scope of DC’s red book in future editions. DC has the fewest number of starred restaurants and the slimmest print guide of all the US versions, which publish yearly in New York, Chicago, and San Francisco. It also has the narrowest focus: restaurants in the District, with the noted exception of the Inn at Little Washington, an hour-plus drive away in Virginia. And compared to others locales, the star list is fairly static. New York, for example, gained 13 new Michelin-starred restaurants last year, and saw a number of losses and gains.

Still, Ellis says the lack of a shakeup isn’t uncommon for a new Michelin city. A condensed team of six  international inspectors reviewed—and re-reviewed—around DC, but Ellis says most of the heavy lifting had been done” the first year.

There’s always that big bang of a first edition, and then by definition, we can’t double the number of starred restaurants,” says Ellis. “Not if we’ve done our job properly the first year.”

Resources were also a major factor when it came to growing DC’s guide (or not). Michelin is, after all, a tire business first and foremost that’s as concerned with profits as it is with culinary prestige. The company launched four new city guides in 2017—Shanghai, Seoul, Singapore, and DC—and has another big one on the way: Bangkok, which will be released in December.

“Bangkok is a huge city and a huge food culture, so it was a considerable drain on resources,” says Ellis, who added Michelin is also working on other unannounced projects. “I have to say that we hoped this year to go into Alexandria or Bethesda or Chevy Chase, but we just couldn’t for the simple reason we had another product that came to fruition. Unfortunately like any organization we don’t have unlimited resources, so we had to shuffle our deck a little bit.”

As for gaining a three star restaurant, that’s more of a question of talent. Michelin’s highest honor is a notoriously tricky one to snag—attained by the likes of the country’s top chefs like Jean-Georges Vongerichten and Thomas Keller. Even DC’s food community, with its chorus of hometown pride, hasn’t been particularly vocal—or surprised—about the lack of a three-star award.

“It’s extremely difficult,” says Ellis. “To get the third star we have multiple visits by multiple inspectors of different nationalities, and they all have to be unanimous.”

That doesn’t mean there’s no hope for the evolution of Michelin in DC.

“Take Shanghai, which has a metropolitan area of 25 million people,” says Ellis. “They have an incredible food culture. They’re obsessed with eating. They had one three-star restaurant in their first year. For DC to have three two stars was a huge success. And when the time is right, we’ll make that ultimate recognition.”

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Anna Spiegel
Food Editor

Anna Spiegel covers the dining and drinking scene in her native DC. Prior to joining Washingtonian in 2010, she attended the French Culinary Institute and Columbia University’s MFA program in New York, and held various cooking and writing positions in NYC and in St. John, US Virgin Islands.