Notes on Northern Virginia Magazine’s 50 Best Restaurants Issue, 2012

The dining editor gives her side of the story on the 50 Best Restaurants issue.

Photo by Stefanie Gans

I started my job as Dining Editor for Northern Virginia Magazine last December.

My first week here my editor told me to begin eating for the 50 Best Restaurants issue. I did. But then I stopped. I had to eat for March’s Cheap Eats issue, and then April’s issue and you can see where this is going. As I would push out multiple reviews per month, I would also try to sneak into the very best of NoVA, taking me from King Street in Old Town Alexandria—where three of the top ten restaurants live—to a winery and farm in Neersville.

On my travels to find 50 restaurants worthy of your dollars, I busted a tire, found myself smashed in the middle of a five-car pile-up on 66, typed notes on my iPad from coffee shops in Culpeper, Middleburg, Fredericksburg and Purcellville, succumbed to line dancing with a co-worker at Mahalo Cove after dinner at Mokomandy, ate two lunches and three dinners in nine hours, and planned a wedding. I am the food critic bride. (Great movie title, huh?)

Today, we release the 50 Best Restaurants list online—although it is still on newsstands and I highly encourage you to buy the real thing. You’re gonna want to keep a copy in the car.

In the time that I gave the last round of edits to the design department to when you can read the issue from your computer, I have a few notes that I think are an important addendum to the coverage. See below.

1. Go to Vermilion now. Chef Tony Chittum will only be cooking at the #2 ranked restaurant through January. Then, he will head into Washington.

2. There is a new chef at Goodstone Inn (#23) in Middleburg. His name is Patrick Ferguson and he’s cooked in D.C. at the Four Seasons Hotel and as far away as Key Largo. I haven’t checked in with the new kitchen, but it’s something to consider before dining, especially with the extremely expensive cost of dinner there.

3. Society Fair changed chefs while in the midst of final production on the issue. I deleted the line—“Chef Trey Massey wears a mic, and with a shy, subtle charm talks through the preparation of a fine, three-course meal”—and had to rearrange the blurb with the stand-in, chef and sommelier John Wabeck. The market+wine bar+event venue also de-escalated the cooking demonstrations (which is what we ranked) from two sittings daily to only one sitting on Fridays.

Meshelle Armstrong, wife of the chef Cathal and lady-in-charge of their restaurant group (#1 Restaurant Eve, #15  The Majestic…)  claims the success of the demos ultimately led to its demise. “We filled the demos and our demands were so high, people wanted to start booking their own private party.” Now, most nights are pre-booked, or offer special events: baking with kids, cocktail classes, making cheese classes, as well as butchery demonstrations which happen the third Monday of every month. Armstrong insists this is a positive  and praises the hungry people of VA: “I believe their palates are far savvier. We give people an excuse not to cross the river.”

4. Both Ford’s Fish Shack (#36) and The Wine Kitchen (#24) are opening new locations. Ford’s is heading to South Riding (in the former  Vintage 51 space) and Wine Kitchen scores its third shop in Purcellville.

5. I would like to thank my fiancé.  For eating with me, for driving hundreds of miles with me while I sat in the passenger seat tweeting and texting, for suffering through bad meals, for savoring good meals, for enduring meals we weren’t hungry for, for reading my drafts and for calling this list “ours.” Because it is.

[Northern Virginia Magazine’s 50 Best Restaurants]