Catch a Rising Star: The 10 Hottest DC Chefs Whose Food You Need to Eat Now

The nation’s capital has produced a number of nationally recognized culinary superstars – from frontrunners like Michel Richard and José Andrés to new school breakouts such as Mike Isabella and Aaron Silverman. But who is going to be the next big thing? Who will capture the hearts and bellies of District diners with their cooking? Inspired by the South, Southeast Asia, and many points in between, these talents are crafting cuisine that’s taking the dining scene to new heights. Here are the 10 hottest DC chefs whose food you need to eat right now. Yes, right now.

Harper McClure of Brabo
Keeping an eye on classic culinary technique – while never failing to add his own show-stealing touches – this artful chef de cuisine puts out plates that honor the past while looking to the future. Wow-worthy dishes of recent memory include bacon-style sturgeon with pickled red pearl onions and Concord grape puree and an espresso braised boneless short rib dusted with cocoa powder and crowned with crunchy cocoa nibs. McClure’s résumé reveals a rich culinary pedigree, including stints at Vidalia, Equinox, and Marcel’s, where he worked for executive chef Robert Wiedmaier, who ultimately placed him in charge of Brabo. Nominated for a RAMMY Award for Rising Culinary Star last year by the Restaurant Association of Metropolitan Washington, he is a talent to watch. Make a reservation at Brabo.

10 Hottest DC Chefs

Brittany Frick of Doi Moi
After earning her degree from the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York, and further pastry training at the Institute of Culinary Education in New York City, Frick began her career at Red Velvet Cupcakery at the height of the cupcake boom, helping bake 3,000 of the sweet treats a day. From there, she worked under executive chef Haidar Karoum at Estadio before moving to his Southeast Asian standout down the street, where she commands the chef de cuisine position. Whenever she composes a new dish for the restaurant – like fried whole porgy amped up with chili rich kapow sauce – she tries to include five elements: salty, sour, bitter, spicy, and sweet. “It’s simple, flavorful food,” she says. “There’s very little fuss behind the preparation. You just let those flavors shine.” Make a reservation at Doi Moi.

Hottest DC Chefs

Alex McCoy of Alfie’s 
You might recognize the fresh-faced talent from Food Network Star. But before he hit the small screen, he was making big waves in D.C. as the chef at the East London-styled Duke’s Grocery in Dupont Circle. Now he’s the chef-owner of Alfie’s, a Southeast Asian joint in Petworth inspired by McCoy’s numerous trips to the region and his longtime love of its food. Two dishes that epitomize the fare are khao soi – a Burmese coconut curry soup with homemade egg noodles and your choice of beef short ribs or chicken wings – and intensely spicy tom saap soup made with leftover offal and plenty of aromatic herbs. This is just the beginning for McCoy. He and his partners have another dozen restaurant concepts in mind and hope to open their next one in about a year and a half. With such an ambitious schedule, will he find time to return to reality television? “The TV thing is fun, but I’m a chef,” he says. “I belong in the kitchen.” Make a reservation at Alfie’s.

Hottest DC Chefs

Brad Deboy of Blue Duck Tavern
Chef de cuisine Brad Deboy has had it with modernist cooking. “We’re moving away from foams, sous vide, and stabilizers,” he says. “Now we’re doing a lot of curing, smoking, pickling, and preserving. I want to go back to the basics.” To that end, he and the team here are making kimchi, vinegars, and charcuterie. He’s clearly having fun. Fried Brussels sprouts are tossed in sriracha-style hot sauce vinaigrette and served on pimento cheese. “It’s inspired by chicken wings,” he says. “We call it ‘Redneck Delight.” Another example of his lightheartedness is the lobe of foie gras served s’mores style on a housemade graham cracker with toasted marshmallow, a square of half-melted dark chocolate, and jalapeno-infused candied grapefruit segments. Make a reservation at Blue Duck Tavern.

Hottest DC Chefs

Thomas Harvey of The Partisan
Following stints at Fabio Trabocchi’s Casa Luca and Palena under Frank Ruta, Harvey now presides over the Penn Quarter meatopia and butchery. He loves having access to the shop’s primest cuts. “It’s not often you get a phone call saying there’s a 180-day aged ribeye available. Would you like to work with it?” says Harvey. “It’s like a playground.” The menu is equally playful. Take his seared duck breast served with Old Fashioned cocktail gastrique. “Mixologists say they get most of their ideas from chefs, so I thought I’d turn that around and get some inspiration from them,” he says. Want to continue the dining experience after you leave? You can take home a breakfast basket, which includes half a pound of house-cured bacon, six farm eggs, four tigelle (Italian griddle-cooked breads not unlike English muffins), and honey hot sauce. Make a reservation at The Partisan.

Hottest DC ChefsContinue Reading

How to Take Delicious Instagram Food Photos: 6 Pro Tips for Shooting Hotter Than Hot Food Porn

As a part of my job as a food writer, I am constantly photographing my meals. In fact, sometimes I feel like I spend more time snapping pictures of my food than I do eating it. The extra effort is worth it. The best shots – the ones that have the power to make viewers literally salivate or exclaim, “I want that in my belly now!” – get posted to my Instagram account @nevinmartell or are sold to a variety of print and online publications.
How to Take Delicious Instagram Photos

I shoot exclusively on my iPhone 6 using the Hipstamatic app because of its versatility and extensive variety of filters. Additionally, using a phone camera allows me to do my work relatively unobtrusively in a restaurant, so I’m not disturbing other guests while I painstakingly document my dishes and drinks.

Though it seems super easy to just whip out your phone and snap a few shots of the steak you’re enjoying, it’s actually quite difficult to make it look good. We’ve all seen the bad shots people keep posting to social media. They’re often poorly lit, out of focus, and have no clear subject. Worst of all, they make the chef’s or mixologist’s hard work look downright unappetizing.

Food photography should inspire a sudden hunger or an unfettered desire. That’s why they call it food porn. So, if you want to shoot wow-worthy pics that rack up the hearts and make your friends envious of your dining regimen, follow along to learn how to take delicious Instagram food photos.

Light

Utilize natural light whenever possible by shooting next to a window or outside. If you can’t shoot during the day, never use a raw flash. Instead, get another diner to cover the front of their iPhone with a white napkin and turn on the flashlight app to create a soft light.

How to Take Delicious Instagram Food Photos

Beautification

Sometimes you need to do a quick mini-makeover of a dish before you photograph it. Wipe smudges and crumbs off the plate, arrange garnishes attractively, and pull sandwich halves apart so the fillings are visible. Remember to take pictures quickly, because ice cream melts, sauces congeal, and greens wilt.Continue Reading

En Fuego! The 100 Hottest Restaurants in America 2016 #OpenTable100

This spring, you’re invited to add some serious  sizzle to your next dining experience at one of the 100 Hottest Restaurants in America 2016. These awards reflect the combined opinions of more than 5 million restaurant reviews submitted by verified OpenTable diners for more than 20,000 restaurants in all 50 states and the District of Columbia.

100 Hottest Restaurants in America 2016

Featuring stylish restaurants from celebrated chefs as well as those popular with celebrity diners, the complete list includes honorees in 27 states, such as Santina in New York, and Talde in Jersey City. California has 25 winning restaurants, followed by New York with 15 and Florida and Illinois with seven each. Texas has five while Colorado and Georgia have four winners apiece. Louisiana, Massachusetts, and Nevada each have three winners. Arizona, Kentucky, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, Ohio, and Utah count two winners per state. Connecticut, Iowa, Indiana, Maryland, New Jersey, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, and Tennessee are also represented.

The winning restaurants are highly regarded for their lively ambience, and many feature vibrant bar and lounge scenes with an after-hours feel. New restaurants made a splash with more than a fifth opening their doors in 2015 alone. While American cuisine was quite popular, Asian, global, Italian, Mexican, and sushi eateries also made strong showings.

Don’t miss our slideshow for a glimpse inside some of this year’s winning restaurants.

Chef Gavin Kaysen of winning restaurant Spoon and Stable in Minneapolis and chef Marcus Samuelsson of Red Rooster Harlem will be taking over our Instagram to celebrate the 100 Hottest Restaurants in America 2016. Be sure to join him! And follow the hashtag #OpenTable100 on Instagram and Twitter as some of our favorite food and lifestyle mavens visit hotspots in select cities.

You can also read about the top trends emerging from the hottest restaurants in America on our Open for Business blog.

Without further ado, we present the 2016 100 Hottest Restaurants in America 2016:Continue Reading

Chef Sarah Grueneberg: The ‘Monteverde’ Behind Chicago’s Hottest Pasta Spot

Just when you think Chicago has enough Italian restaurants, along comes soulful Italian Monteverde, slinging some of the best handmade pastas the city’s seen in years, and you’re suddenly asking yourself how many portions per week of ragu alla napoletana is too many (answer: as many as your bank account will permit).

The creative force behind this four-month-old temple to pasta in Chicago’s West Loop is Spiaggia vet and Top Chef season nine runner-up chef Sarah Grueneberg. She caught up with OpenTable on transitioning from executive chef to her first solo venture, the beauty of pasta made to order, and the importance of creating a strong culture at work.

Chef Sarah Grueneberg

A native of Houston, Texas, Grueneberg has a fascination with food that started early. Because her mom traveled a lot for work, she’d spend her free time cooking chicken fried steak and making pickles with her grandmother or out fishing with her uncle before frying up the day’s catch for dinner. She was about 13 when she decided she wanted to be a chef. “For me, it was always about my family and bringing people together around the table over food, and also realizing that I could actually be a chef,” Grueneberg says. “I realized around that time that not everyone else liked to cook.”

She finished culinary school in 2001, landing her first job as garde manger at the Houston outpost of beloved New Orleans restaurant Brennan’s. There she cut her teeth on French-Creole classics like oyster stew and shrimp remoulade under then-chef Chris Shepherd (who now owns Houston contemporary American hotspot Underbelly). “Chris really took me under his wing; he had a huge impact on me,” she says. Within four years, she’d worked her way up to becoming the restaurant’s youngest (and first) female sous chef at age 22 before deciding it was time for a change.

Taking flight…

She took a job in Chicago as a line cook at Tony Mantuano’s fine-dining Italian institution Spiaggia. But the move from the intensely rich sauces of Texas Creole to the minimalist handling of seasonal and regional Italian ingredients, coupled with her own preconceived notions of Italian cuisine as the red sauce- and mozzarella-laden dishes of her childhood, proved challenging. “I thought I knew what Italian food was, but I really had no idea,” she admits. “It was a real struggle for me at first — the notion of finishing a simple dish with a bit of olive oil and lemon.”

After briefly considering leaving it all to become a flight attendant, Grueneberg let herself fall in love with Italian cuisine — the peppery, fruity flavor of great olive oil, the beauty of al dente pasta made to order, an affair cultivated by annual trips to Italy with the Spiaggia team. It was also during that time that she met longtime friend and future business partner, Meg Sahs.

Chef Sarah Grueneberg

By 2010, she was named Spiaggia’s executive chef. But the confidence she gained competing on Top Chef, on which she reached the finals, and increased conversations with Sahs about opening a restaurant together fueled a growing desire to strike out on her own, which she did in 2013. “Meg and I were having dinner together in California,” she recalls. “It was like a movie moment. I looked at her, she looked at me, and we both said, ‘Let’s do this!’ She started a writing business plan right away for a little pasta-centric concept.”

Asking Grueneberg how she and Sahs came up with the name Monteverde elicits a long, nostalgic laugh followed by an admission that some ask if it’s a Costa Rican restaurant (it shares the name of a mountainous town there). The name is the Italian translation of Grueneberg, or “green mountain”, in German. “The first time I went to Italy, I was in the kitchen with my friend (balsamic vinegar producer) Andrea Bezzecchi. He said, ‘Now in Italy you will be known as Sarah Monteverde,’” she says. “We thought of so many names, but in the end, it had to be Monteverde. Plus, you can take monte or verde lots of other places.”

Pasta as theater

Monteverde’s menu is a tantalizing amalgamation of soulful Italian dishes anchored by handmade fresh and dried pastas, plus a handful of dishes that showcase early influences on Grueneberg’s culinary identity. The sleek, 95-seat space is anchored by a raised workstation behind the bar that quite literally elevates pasta making to theater. Perched at the L-shaped butcher-block bar, you can watch as a veritable army of pasta makers hand-roll ribbons of pappardelle, thumb oricchiette, and sheet, fill, and cut yards of ravioli.

These pastas shine in classic (tipica) dishes, such as pappardelle with meaty beef and lamb ragu and pecorino and nontraditional (atipica) dishes like cannelloni saltimbocca — pasta roulades filled with lamb, prosciutto and sage garnished with fried sage leaves and cauliflower — or cacio whey pepe, with tangy, cheesy ricotta whey standing in for pasta water.

Chef Sarah Grueneberg

In simple tortellini in brodo, mortadella-stuffed pasta swims in rich, long-simmered housemade chicken stock. A refined yet invitingly shareable small plate of Broadbent country ham and mozzarella with local hydroponic tomatoes oozes with Emilia Romagna influence. In an ode to Grueneberg’s grandma, comforting stuffed cabbage — filled with softened cabbage hearts, thyme, Parmesan, egg and Saltines — rests atop earthy porcini bolognese and creamy polenta.

In another homage, this time to the Italian Sunday supper, five-day ragu alla napoletana features fusilli tossed in a pork bone and roasted tomato sauce topped with a hulking red wine-brined, tomato-braised pork shank, housemade sausage, and fat pork and soppressata meatballs. “I wanted to showcase food the way it is classically, but also push the boundaries of an American who studied pasta for years with worldly ingredients and techniques,” Grueneberg says.Continue Reading