24 Best Bars in Washington

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This upscale bistro spices things up behind the wood-topped bar by reaching for ingredients more commonly found in the kitchen—such as black pepper, tamarind, chilies, and the Chinese five-spice powder employed in an old fashioned. Chefs have long paired food with wine, but here bartenders relay to the kitchen which cocktail a customer has ordered, challenging cooks to create a dish to match it.

Best New Restaurant 2016 Rammy Nomination

Best New Restaurant 2016 Rammy Nomination

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Most chefs and restaurateurs will probably tell you their jobs are not just about the recognition, but that doesn’t mean they’re not a little jazzed when they get a nod of approval from one quarter or another. Last night, the Restaurant Association Metropolitan Washington announced its finalists for the 2016 Rammy Awards — which, standard disclaimer, are only open to members of the organization.

And, as we wonder every year, if someone has figured out where the line is between “upscale casual” and “everyday casual,” we’re all ears.

The Rammy winners will be announced at a gala June 12. Here are the restaurant nominees:

New Restaurant of the Year: A restaurant that must have opened between December 1, 2014, and November 30, 2015, and already distinguishes itself as a pacesetter in food, beverage and service.

  • Centrolina
  • Clarity
  • Convivial
  • Maketto
  • Masseria by Nicholas Stefanelli

 

Washingtonian Top 100 2016

Washingtonian Top 100 2016

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By Ann Limpert, Anna Spiegel, Todd Kliman and Cynthia Hacinli

The debut of this Vienna restaurant was among the most feel-good stories of the year. It marked the return of local boy Jonathan Krinn, once the wunderkind chef at 2941. When Krinn left to open the glitzy Inox, in Tysons, he failed—and failed big: a victim of the times (Inox opened in 2008, when the market crashed) and his own bloated dreams. Clarity is a more modest venture, a neighborhood restaurant first and foremost. Ambition has shrunk, to be sure, but the classical chops are still there, and it’s not hard to see that Krinn, working with ex–Central chef Jason Maddens, is relaxed and cooking with passion.

Actually, you can taste it in dish after dish, from seared foie gras with blackberries to a rich two-patty burger that ought to come with four napkins. But among the most appealing aspects of the place are small flourishes—the freshly baked breads and happy-making desserts.

Don’t miss: mussels and Thai-style sausage; gnudi with fava beans; pork chop; fried quail; tarte Tatin; chocolate cake.

2015  Fall Dining Guide

2015 Fall Dining Guide

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By: Tom Sietsema

Seeing double is cause for applause when the subject is Jonathan Krinn and Jason Maddens, chefs who ditched the fine-dining scene for a neighborhood place but never forgot where they came from. So your hamburger is shaped from dry-aged designer beef, and appetizers include foie gras with brioche. (And the cocktails are ace.) Just to be clear, this spot welcomes locals; main courses average an agreeable $20. My cheat sheet would start with meaty mussels flavored with tomatoes, lamb sausage and goat cheese and continue with caramelized scallops, each sweet morsel waving a sail of smoky pancetta. Make the first course rabbit ballotine ringed in berry sauce and the entree lamb shoulder hit with harissa. Ordering dinner is as hard as picking favorites among your own kids. What’s simple is knowing where to sit: the kitchen counter and the chance to watch a couple of stars doing what they do best.

Clarity review: Double the pleasure, double the fun

Clarity review: Double the pleasure, double the fun

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By: Tom Sietsema

3 star  EXCELLENT

Of all the attention-grabbing ideas that have popped up on the dining radar of late — built-in tips at Sally’s Middle Name, cocktails served in coffee presses at Provision No. 14 — the notion at Clarity in Vienna that two heads are better than one has probably earned the most customers.

At this American bistro with aspirations, the open kitchen finds Jonathan Krinn fussing over plates alongside Jason Maddens, chefs who rode the highs and lows of luxury dining over the years, first at 2941 in Falls Church, then at the late Inox in McLean. Krinn had been Maddens’s superior at both restaurants. At Clarity, the men are equals. On any given night, they can be found front and center, bedding anchovy-spiked rockfish on saffron potatoes or high-fiving diners who have enjoyed their previous work and are cheered to be eating it again.

This time around, however, the duo’s main dishes are priced to encourage frequent consumption (entrees average $20), and the ingredients include all parts of whole animals that are broken down in the restaurant by what the menu bills as “meat-guy extraordinaire” Adam Musselman. A veteran of Red Apron, the butcher makes possible the nightly specials of brisket and smoked pork and lamb shoulders — cuts deemed too common for most fine-dining establishments. Wednesday can’t come soon enough for me. That’s when Clarity offers lamb shoulder that benefits from a rub of garlic, cumin and harissa and long, slow roasting in the oven. The meat becomes a feast with the addition of tangy Greek yogurt, preserved lemon and pickled vegetables (ramps in spring). If I close my eyes, I could be eating at Kapnos Taverna, the starry Greek retreat in Clarendon.

Except you ought to keep your eyes open here. The kitchen turns out dishes that can be as beautiful as they are delicious. I’m thinking now of pillowy ricotta gnudi strewn with elephant garlic chips and spring finery — morels, asparagus, fava beans — and slicked with mushroom jus, and four fat scallops, each occupying a quadrant of its own on a square plate. The seafood, presented with crisp pancetta waving from a cut in each caramelized scallop, is served on summery creamed corn and wilted spinach. A little surf, a bite of turf, a note of sweet, a touch of smoke: What a score!

late — built-in tips at Sally’s Middle Name, cocktails served in coffee presses at Provision No. 14 — the notion at Clarity in Vienna that two heads are better than one has probably earned the most customers.

At this American bistro with aspirations, the open kitchen finds Jonathan Krinn fussing over plates alongside Jason Maddens, chefs who rode the highs and lows of luxury dining over the years, first at 2941 in Falls Church, then at the late Inox in McLean. Krinn had been Maddens’s superior at both restaurants. At Clarity, the men are equals. On any given night, they can be found front and center, bedding anchovy-spiked rockfish on saffron potatoes or high-fiving diners who have enjoyed their previous work and are cheered to be eating it again.

This time around, however, the duo’s main dishes are priced to encourage frequent consumption (entrees average $20), and the ingredients include all parts of whole animals that are broken down in the restaurant by what the menu bills as “meat-guy extraordinaire” Adam Musselman. A veteran of Red Apron, the butcher makes possible the nightly specials of brisket and smoked pork and lamb shoulders — cuts deemed too common for most fine-dining establishments. Wednesday can’t come soon enough for me. That’s when Clarity offers lamb shoulder that benefits from a rub of garlic, cumin and harissa and long, slow roasting in the oven. The meat becomes a feast with the addition of tangy Greek yogurt, preserved lemon and pickled vegetables (ramps in spring). If I close my eyes, I could be eating at Kapnos Taverna, the starry Greek retreat in Clarendon.

Except you ought to keep your eyes open here. The kitchen turns out dishes that can be as beautiful as they are delicious. I’m thinking now of pillowy ricotta gnudi strewn with elephant garlic chips and spring finery — morels, asparagus, fava beans — and slicked with mushroom jus, and four fat scallops, each occupying a quadrant of its own on a square plate. The seafood, presented with crisp pancetta waving from a cut in each caramelized scallop, is served on summery creamed corn and wilted spinach. A little surf, a bite of turf, a note of sweet, a touch of smoke: What a score!

Scallops with bacon on corn and spinach becomes a unique spin on surf-and-turf in a small package. (Dixie D. Vereen/For The Washington Post)
Steamed mussels with lamb sausage come together in a lobster broth. (Dixie D. Vereen/For The Washington Post)
More than once, I’ve looked up from my food to see fellow diners passing plates and forks of something they thought their companions shouldn’t miss. My table becomes one big Lazy Susan, too, once a bowl of mussels and an order of soft-shell crabs are brought out. The bivalves are small but meaty, arranged with tangy tomatoes, marbles of lamb sausage, pinches of goat cheese and, in the role of binder, lobster broth. The soft-shell crabs sport nubby coats of freekeh, or green wheat that has been toasted and cracked. The latter appetizer, flanked by diced watermelon, is plucked from a menu category, “Chef’s Corner,” that highlights seasonal ingredients. Another gem in the collection: rabbit ballotine, pink loin and belly in a band of house-made bacon with a berry sauce to ring it.

Locals were thrilled when the former Wolftrap Cafe was purchased by Krinn and Maddens. Burgers and roast chicken from two popular chefs! “Where’s the foie gras?” fans of the men asked shortly after Clarity opened in April. So onto the menu went sautéed duck liver served atop a veneer of brioche with strawberry-balsamic sorbet, a heady throwback to the days of decadence at Inox and 2941.

Of his new audience, Krinn says, “they eat anything” — including a recent special of beef heart terrine that sold out before the night was over.

Like the menu, the space lends itself to different moods. The front room is biggest and, frankly, in need of some mirrors or art to dress up its bare saffron walls. The heart of Clarity is the center of the restaurant, featuring a small bar and a tall communal table followed by the exhibition kitchen with eight stools flanking one side. The counter, which gives patrons a chance to watch meals unfold and engage with the cooks, calls to me most. It’s a two-way street, says Krinn, whose cast mates get close-up “verbal and visual feedback” for their efforts. (The transparency, he adds, requires a poker face when mistakes are made.) Beyond the kitchen is a small private dining room; out front is a patio. Something for every occasion or season, in other words.

As with too many restaurants, Clarity suggests pastry chefs are an endangered species. The restaurant serves a mere four desserts. But even the cliches among them are designed to delight. A molten river of chocolate runs from the dark chocolate cupcake when the confection is split with a fork. Tempering the rush is a scoop of minty ice cream. And burnt caramel lends nuance to vanilla custard, a silken pudding set off with a garnish of glazed cherries. If the choices are few, the execution is on target.

The many fine points make for a very good restaurant. The warm rolls are baked by Krinn’s father, Mal, just as the bread was in 2941’s glory days, while the cocktails mirror those shaken and stirred in Washington’s top bars. (The cardamom Manhattan is especially appealing.) A request for coffee gets you Shark Mountain, from Charlottesville, poured from a French press.

Could I like Clarity more? My ears could. (My decibel count edges close to “extremely loud” one recent weeknight). The bonhomie aside, the restaurant requires leaning in and cupping ears to hear companions. Arrive early, then, if you want to catch the Vienna edition of “Top Chef Masters.”

Restaurant Review: Clarity

Restaurant Review: Clarity

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Jon Krinn was once known for elaborate tasting menus. His new place goes more casual (but keeps the foie gras).

By: Todd Kliman

Jon Krinn came of age, culinarily, in an era of gaudy excess. His first time running a kitchen was at 2941, a restaurant that more than any other defined the boom years of the early 2000s: specialty cuts of beef and monstrous lobes of foie gras in a cavernous dining room as warm with the nouveau riche of the tech set and decorated with lots of big, bad art. The cooking was excellent, however, and Krinn’s warm, personal touches—enlisting his father, a local ophthalmologist, to make the fabulous breads and sending diners home with fresh-spun cotton candy—helped offset the grandiosity.

His next gig was Inox, where the menu was studded with luxuries and charged accordingly. Its misfortune was to arrive just after the economy bottomed out, in early 2009, making it the most conspicuous food-world casualty of the crash. Inox might not have survived even without the lurch toward austerity, given its attempt to plant a flag in the Waterloo of Tysons Corner, where for more than a decade every effort at ambitious fine dining has been dealt an emphatic defeat. (The chefs who have struggled to make it include Bob Kinkead and Michel Richard.)

Krinn’s new place, Clarity, would seem to represent a conspicuous, perhaps chastened, retreat from the excesses of the past. The location is Vienna, a shopping-plaza restaurant on a quiet side street. The dining room isn’t a scene of swells—the crowd on my visits seemed to be made up of the swells’ parents, prosperous and settled men and women who would prefer not to go into DC to be blasted by loud music at dinner and served by waiters who wear their art, not their heart, on their sleeves. The menu includes a burger, a chopped salad, and spaghetti and meatballs (okay, veal meatballs and hand-rolled tagliatelle) and clearly is positioning itself as the kind of place where, if you live nearby, you could come a couple of times a week.

Don’t assume, though, that the chef’s downscaled ambition is synonymous with a halfhearted effort. Partnering with Jason Maddens, who previously helmed the kitchen for Michel Richard at Central, Krinn is working in a more casual vein, but the cooking is smartly conceived and cleanly executed, recalling at times his years spent ringing variations on French techniques.

I wouldn’t have thought to pair foie gras and strawberries, but Krinn has, and the combination is stunning. The dish exploits the fruit’s acidity and floral delicacy to undermine the intensity of the fattened duck liver.

Just as good, on a recent visit, was a plate of asparagus and morels, a duo as favored by chefs as peanut butter and jelly is by kids. This wasn’t how the dish was advertised—the headliner was the wrapperless ravioli called gnudi, but the ricotta dumplings existed to emphasize the freshness of the vegetables.

’Tis the season for soft-shells, with many chefs opting for the safe, generally crowd-pleasing choice of frying them. The preparation here is high-risk—the critters get dusted with pulverized freekeh and sautéed lightly in brown butter—but also high-reward.

To say that nothing else on my visits approached these heights is to give the mistaken impression that Clarity is a solid place that occasionally finds glory, rather than a place where you can roam the menu with confidence—from pretty starters of raw fish to the juicy, two-patty burger to more substantive plates, like a smoked pork shoulder that didn’t lean so hard in the direction of refinement that it ceased to be roadside.

Buttressing the cooking are a terrific wine list and a commitment to desserts that many restaurants can’t be bothered with—most memorably, a cake made of layered crepes.

Clarity didn’t explode out of the gate, and I confess to having had lowered expectations after one visit, when many dishes were under-salted and service lapses ruined the flow. But the place has grown to become something more than it intended: a destination, not merely a neighborhood star.

This article appears in our August 2015 issue of Washingtonian.