Uncovering the Sparkle Behind Fine Dining at Michellin Star Restaurants

Back in the Day, I didn’t know what Fine Dining was..

As a child and as a teenager, I only knew dosa, idli, goat curry and all South Indian cuisine. I also knew easy American dishes like lasagna, burgers, and casseroles too. Fine dining back in the day would be a big Mac or a stack of pancakes from IHOP. Some may say my world was limited back then but I am happy to share that I realize the world is indeed round. After going to college and living in the city, I was more open to fine dining. My first fine dining experience was at Chef Cindy Wolf’s The Charleston when I was 21 years old.

Although The Charleston is not a Michelin star restaurant, this is the number one high-end, fine dining restaurant in the city back then. It was the place where dreams were made of. Chef Cindy Wolf, a nine-times James Beard Foundation finalist for best chef, melded french fundamentals and low country cooking of South Carolina to dream up of one of a kind mini dishes.

When I was 21, I was a fish out of water when it came to what to wear but not on dining etiquette. I did read a fine dining book, took a short college course on business etiquette two years before this meal. I remembered each fork, spoon, and knife and what each utensil truly met. Proper etiquette was always ingrained in my head. I didn’t know much about fashion back then. I remember picking out a dress from the junior section that was silvery, pleated, and sparkly that was around $12.50 on clearance.

It’s the kind of dress you wear to a high school homecoming dance, not to a fine dining establishment. I also didn’t know the fine art of using conditioner in the shower, so I had frizzy, flat ironed hair, wet and wild painted nails, and cover girl foundation on. My jewelry choice was from Claires and I had a basic phone with limited picture capability, thus I don’t have solid proof of this college nightmare to share with you all. Also keep in mind that my range of fine dining back then was between Mcnuggets and Olive Garden’s lasagna dishes.

I remember walking into The Charleston and being floored by the interior, kind service, and seating arrangements. There was a lit candle, a beautifully ordained menu, low lights, and ample supply of champagne. I felt like a princess despite my backward apparel, because of the treatment, food, and rules I remembered. It was that moment that sparked a change in me, that made me want to unearth the sparkle in all aspects of fine dining. Especially with Michellin star restaurants…

I made a trip out to Jose Andres MiniBar in October 2019. Yes, before Covid quarantine run amock with our lives. I wore my Vince Camuto silk shirt, had my hair styled and dyed a few days before at Today’s Image, and wore legit jewelry. It may have taken awhile, but I know how to dress for a night out at a Michelin star restaurant.

What is a Michelin Star Restaurant?

Do you know what a Michelin star restaurant is? It’s the pinnacle of the fine dining experience. Restaurants that earn a Michelin star represent a high standard that is globally regarded by top chefs around the world. The Michelin star system was first introduced in 1926 denoting one star as being “very good”. Around 1933, two and three star ratings were introduced. Two stars represented “excellent cuisine that is worth a detour” (like a 3-4 drive just to dine out in NYC) and three stars represented “exceptional cuisine that is worth a special journey (a plane trip to France or Japan).

Originally, the Michelin guide was published annually since 1900 to help motorists find hotels, mechanics, and any other detours on their travels. Rapid popularity for this marketing scheme picked up and annointed michelin inspectors were designated to create a stringent system to ensure only the best restaurants were selected each year. Some may call the Michelin guide the bible on fine dining.

So Michelin star ratings are not based on customer reviews. A yelper is not equivalent to an inspector so to speak. Undercover food experts who are passionate, knowledgeable about food and detail oriented make the mark into being a bona fide Michelin Inspector.

Restaurants are inspected on cooking technique, ingredients, cooking technique and taste. Restaurant owners are not told when inspections take place, however that same inspector will return 3-6 times to double check on their reportings. For restaurants that offer quality food at a fraction of the cost, a Bib Gurmound is awarded to restaurants. Most restaurants inspected will not meet Michelin standard and even restaurants that have earned a star in the past, can easily lose it due to missteps.

How Covid-19 changed the Michelin Star Dining Scene

Before the pandemic, food lovers would need to coordinate a reservation (sometimes months in advance) and put down a credit card in case of a no-show for the reservation. After quarantine, take out is the only way to go. Several Michelin star restaurants (restaurants all around) were temporarily closed. In order to stay afloat many Michelin star restaurants resorted to reducing their multi-plate menu into a delectable take out menu.

The official Michelin guide has actually developed an international barometer to analyze Covid-19’s impact on Michelin starred restaurants. There’s an interactive map, bar graph, and statistics to closely measure which restaurants are ready for business.

Naturally, whichever restaurants are open must follow safety protocol. The CDC also developed guidelines for Restaurants and Bar Operators in case those establishments were ready for business.

Over the past year or so, Covid-19 has killed several restaurant establishments worldwide. Despite the shackled businesses, steep unemployment, and folks being 6 feet apart from the world, Michelin is still obsessing over star ratings. Despite tens of thousands of restaurants closings, Michelin is continuing to award or remove stars and publish its stringent reviews across the world. Recently, as of April 20, 2021, Michelin released its list of 2021 stars for D.C restaurants that swiftly navigated the pandemic and even a list Bib Gurmound winners!

Unfortunately, Maryland does not have any Michelin star restaurants to boast about. The closest ones I have been to was the Charleston and Volt in Frederick, Maryland. What’s great about Volt is that food lovers are offered twice to three times as many plates as a regular Michelin star.

So here are the Michelin Star Restaurants for 2021Many are pandemic friendly.

April 20, 2021 The Michelin guide released 11 new Michelin-Approved DC restaurants. Here’s a current listing for both Michelin and even Bib Gurmound restaurants with a sprinkling of my own personal experiences dotted in for Michelin restaurants I visited in the past.

Three Stars

The Inn at Little Washington: This restaurant is rich with history, antiques, and a wonderful table staff. The food was great but I especially loved the tour of the restaurant facilities too. Each dish was served on silver and gold antiques from the 18th/19th century too. Although Michelin does not grade on ambience, I can attest the inside and outside corridors of this restaurant are the ones of dreams. I wore an Anthropology jacket I found at 2nd avenue, and some trippy jewelry from when I traveled to New Mexico. On that day, I was not on my A-game when it came to dining but this kind server claimed it was entirely his fault for the mess he made. I felt special that day. It’s little moments like this that makes dining at a Michelin all the more memorable. As soon as I ate here, I drove straight down to New York City to cover New York Fashion week. The Inn at Little Washington was the perfect meld of old and new with a twist of comfort.

Two Stars

Jônt (new): I legit want to try this place out! Chef Ryan Ratino is very famous for being only 30 and for crafting so many delicious meals.

Minibar: I waited a very long time to check out Minibar. Getting a reservation takes months in advance, and not only does this place have two Michelin stars, it has 4 stars from the Washington post in 2019 but also was the number 1 best restaurant in 2019 by Washingtonian. Ironically enough, October 2019 was when I made my foray into Jose Andres masterpiece. I think several years prior, around 2 a.m, I walked into Barmini to see what the hype was (no reservation) and I was able to snag a seat, multiple appetizers, and imbibe one (out of 100) unconventional cocktails. I was inspired by that magical experience to wait for Minibar, a personal favorite of mine.

Pineapple & Pearls: February 2019 I went here for my birthday. It was a little hard to get seating since I got my reservation in a bit late but the experience was fun. Unfortunately, due to the pandemic, this establishment is temporarily closed but you can visit Rose’s luxury or Little Pearl instead for yummy takeout and coffee options.

One Stars

Sushi Nakazawa

The Dabney: I have been here a few times over the years. What’s great about this restaurant is how quickly it adapted to the pandemic and created pre-fixed meals that are affordable and sourcing local ingredients.

Bresca: Along with having a great take-out menu, this modern take on French influenced food leaves a lasting impression. I have only been here once but would love to go back again.

Fiola: I remember having delicious seafood by the waterfront. This is the perfect anniversary place for couples, fyi.

Kinship: I really like the desserts! The opera cake mixes in light and dark flavors into a symphonic taste. Kinship is also famous for their roast chicken with lemon-garlic panade, foie gras with poached apple, darden ham and clove madeleines too.

Komi: Although dining services has been suspended, take out is still an option. Chef Johnny Monis is masterful with his mediterranean inspired cuisines. Meals begins with small bites, and later conclude with dishes such as sliced sea scallop crudo over a lobster reduction. I only remember tasting the best of Greece when I dined here years ago.

Tail Up Goat: Great customer service is the first thing I think of when it comes to dining at Tail Up Goat. The roasted pork loin is beyond enticing, and the bread makes you feel like carbs don’t even exist.

Maydan

Plume: I felt like an aristocrat when I first went to Plume. The elegant setting, well dressed wait staff, and established guests. I swear the one time I went there, senators, and political officials were right across from me due to the four piece suits and the american flag pins they wore. Dinner is composed of a five course meal ranging from vegetarian options, spice wine sorbet, and polenta dressed up with a broth of blackberry leaf.

Rose’s Luxury: I wore a golden rose dress in order to dine here. I swear! Scroll down to see some yummy pictures from Rose’s Luxury. Your eyes will get hungry.

Métier: I haven’t been here in awhile but you cannot go wrong with its 7-course fixed meal. I really enjoyed the Foie Gras Crostini and also the quail.

Sushi Taro

Masseria

Little Pearl

Gravitas

Rooster & Owl (new)

Xiquet (new)

Cranes (new)

El Cielo D.C. (new)


Mala Project in New York City is a fun Bib Gurmound if you are into authentic chinese food. I was pulling my best Padma Lakshmi face when I was tasting the chicken feet and pig ears. It was beyond delicious.

Check out 2021’s Bib Gurmound Restaurants Affordable and pandemic friendly

I will admit, I do need to try more Bib Gurmound restaurants. Once quarantine is over, I do plan to add these places into a gastronimical food bucket list. If any of you have visited these Bib Gurmound establishments, I would love to hear from you all on your thoughts.

American Son

Astoria DC

Bidwell: Union market is the “It” place to be on Sundays in D.C. Bidwell is an excellent brunch place.

Cane

Chercher: D. C is famous for its many Ethiopian restaurants but Chercher was THE BEST. Best Injera and lamb ever.

China Chilcano

Chloe: Although Covid-19 only restricts Chloe to have delivery and carryout options. You can still order faves such as Norwegian Salmon, Carmelized Cauliflower, and Shrimp & Andouille Gumbo.

Das

*Ellē

Fancy Radish

Federalist Pig

Hanumanh

Hazel

*Hitching Post

Ivy City Smokehouse: Fresh seafood at its finest. Smoked to perfection. All meals are sustainably sourced, and you can actually order some of their fish online here.

Jaleo: Authentic spanish tapas served in a romantic setting. You cannot go wrong with the paella, sangria and Spanish cheeses.

Kaliwa

*Karma Modern Indian

Laos in Town

Lapis

*Makan

Maketto: It’s not always easy to find Cambodian or Taiwanese cuisine. I recommend trying the pork steamed bao, the spicy beef and rice bowl, and the roast duck.

Napoli Pasta Bar: The three course dinner menu is highly recommended. Try the parmigiana di melanzana, rigatoni genovese, and the pastieri.

Ottoman Taverna

Oyamel: This was where I tried grasshopper for the first time. Lemon flavored, in fact.

Pearl Dive Oyster Palace

Primrose

*Queen’s English

*Residents Cafe & Bar

Sababa

Sfoglina: A place for true pasta lovers. All pasta is authentically made

Stellina Pizzeria

Succotash

Taqueria Habanero

The Red Hen

Thip Khao: As a lover of all different ethnic cuisine, I can attest you truly get authentic Lao cuisine here. Try the Tam Som, Moak with salmon, and have the Khao long for dessert.

Timber Pizza Co

Toki Underground: Ramen. OMG! I recommend anything fatty and porkbased. Tonkatsu, anyone?

Unconventional Diner

Zaytinya: When I think of Zaytinya, I think of college. Whenever some of us drove up to Washington D.C, this was the go to place to eat.

Zenebech

How to dine at a Michelin Star Restaurant?

It may seem intimidating at first to dine at a Michelin Star Restaurant but with enough prep work, you will be a pro.

If you ever need help learning the ins and outs of the Michelin Star world, I highly recommend visiting the website Fine Dining Lovers. Although I am a seasoned pro in this field, this website has comprehensive guides, tips, and steps on mastering all things Michelin Star. The etiquette tips are entirely borrowed from this website:

1.) Do your online research of the restaurant ahead of time. The more prepared you are, the more you can enjoy what you are eating. Think of it this way, when you go to an art museum, when you read the descriptions by the oil pastel painting and also follow a tour guide, you appreciate the art more. It’s the same concept with Michelin fine dining.

2.) Keep a clean appearance. Remember to dress nice because it’s a way of paying respect as a patron of a culinary artistic establishment. If you are worried about cost, check out local thrift stores, paint your nails using Essie, and invest in Nexxus Shampoo products. You will look like a million on less.

3.) Reserve your table ahead of time. I assure you, it’s nearly impossible to walk into any Michelin star and to snag a seat. Call ahead of time and mark your calendars.

4.) Brush up on your table manners. If you do not know how to eat properly, how to use utensils, or even how to communicate with staff, please check out this youtube video on Dining Etiquette here.

5.) You will not be charged for “extras” such as breads, complimentary champagne, petite fours with your coffee, and even breads. If you do ask for an aperitif of your choosing, be aware of charges.

6.) The Wait staff is always around so be polite and prepared for them to ask you at all times if you need anything.

7.) Don’t be afraid to ask questions on dishes with vague terms. Asking questions is the best way to further educate yourself on dishes with hard to pronounce terms, wine selections, and everything else in between.

8.) Do not cause a scene if the chef is not there. The more popular the chef is, the less chance he will be there when you dine out.

9.) Remember that Michelin star restaurants are designed to educate your palate, not to fill your belly. Do not be a whiner and complain that you are still hungry. You are suppose to nibble at each dish, savor the taste, and denote the complexities. Scarfing each plate down without appreciating the beauty of the arrangement, freshness of the ingredients, and the art of the taste is uncouth. You are better than that.

Pineapple & Pearls was a great two star Michelin to try out. Several meat courses in an intimate setting plus a luxurious bathroom that one can take semi-akward selfies in. I had so much fun!

Here are major takeaways

After reading this post, you should be able to…

1.) Gain confidence within yourself to venture into Michelin star dining. If a girl with zero fine dining experience can jump into this, so can you.

2.) Know which Michelin and Bib Gurmound star restaurants are denoted in the D.C area.

3.) Have knowledge on why Michelin star restaurants are highly sought after.

4.) Know proper etiquette rules before dining out.

5.) Make reservations ahead of time. No matter what!

Here I am at Rose’s luxury. It was an intimate setting, and I thoroughly enjoyed the brisket, ice cream, and salads. I literally wore a gold rose dress to dress the part.

Have you ever dined at a Michelin Star restaurant? What was your experience like? Do you have any quirky stories you would love to share! Sound off!

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