9 James Beard award finalists named in D.C. region, most nods in a decade

The James Beard Foundation named nine restaurants and chefs from D.C. and Maryland as finalists for its prestigious culinary awards — the highest number of finalists from the region to be recognized in more than a decade.

Notably, two members of D.C. Vietnamese restaurant Moon Rabbit were named finalists: Kevin Tien for best chef in the Mid-Atlantic region and Susan Bae for outstanding pastry chef or baker.

The Beard Awards are among the highest national accolades restaurateurs, chefs and restaurants can receive, honoring excellence in cuisine, service, hospitality and business. The finalists were announced Wednesday morning at the Waldorf Astoria hotel in D.C. at what turned out to be an especially celebratory event for locals. There were more finalists from the region than many other highly regarded dining destinations, like San Francisco, Seattle, or Manhattan and Brooklyn combined.

The region’s other nominees for best chefs are Tony Conte of Inferno Pizzeria Napoletana in Darnestown, Md., and Harley Peet of Bas Rouge in Easton, Md. Tien, of Moon Rabbit, was a nominee for rising star chef of the year in 2018 and was a semifinalist for best chef in 2019. The restaurant made local headlines for closing its Wharf location in May 2023 and reopening near Gallery Place in January.

Bae, Moon Rabbit’s pastry chef, says she was shocked to learn of her nomination but also thrilled and hopes for the best at the final award ceremony, which will be held in Chicago on June 8. “It’s a lot of hard work — not just from me but from my colleagues. We gave it our all together, and that’s what projected us in this trajectory,” she said at the ceremony. “I think my desserts are out of the box — I incorporate a lot of savory elements. It’s unique, and I think it’s something everybody might want to experience.”

Michael Rafidi of Navy Yard’s hearthlike Middle Eastern restaurant Albi was named a finalist for the nationwide outstanding chef award. Rafidi, who is also behind Yellow Cafe in Georgetown and Navy Yard, was a finalist in the best chef Mid-Atlantic category in 2023. (Rob Rubba of Oyster Oyster won the 2023 award for outstanding chef, so if Rafidi were to take home the prize, that would be back-to-back wins for District chefs.)

Chef Masako Morishita of Adams Morgan Japanese-fusion restaurant Perry’s earned a nomination in the emerging chef category, which recognizes a chef who the Beard Foundation finds “is likely to make a significant impact in years to come.” Morishita has told The Post’s food critic Tom Sietsema that she prefers to be adventurous with her cooking, a trait she learned from her grandmother. Sietsema found that her dishes, including her heart-shaped okonomiyaki, have injected liveliness into Perry’s, which celebrates 40 years in business in 2024.

The awards also recognized excellence in local spirits: Tail Up Goat in Adams Morgan received a finalist nomination for outstanding wine and other beverages program, and Clavel Mezcaleria in Baltimore earned a nomination for outstanding bar. Both Clavel Mezcaleria and Tail Up Goat have been nominated several times in different categories, though this is Tail Up Goat’s first nomination for spirits, having been nominated previously for the work of its chefs. Owner and beverage director Bill Jensen attributes this year’s nomination to the restaurant’s commitment to finding what he calls “underappreciated” wines.

“We’ve been open for eight years, and our wine program has evolved considerably in that time,” Jensen said. “[What sets us apart is] our willingness to take a chance on lesser-known corners of the wine world and passion for wine as part and parcel of a life well lived. I’m particularly proud of our wine pairings. A lot of sommeliers poo-poo pairings, but it’s one of the things that we’re most proud of. I truly feel like doing a pairing that’s wine or nonalcoholic adds immeasurably to the experience.”

On the business side of the table, Hollis Wells Silverman of Eastern Point Collective earned a nomination for outstanding restaurateur, which honors excellence in restaurant ownership and community building. Eastern Point Collective’s restaurants include the Duck & the Peach and La Collina, the Wells cocktail bar in Eastern Market, and Méli in Adams Morgan.

Lindsey Ofcacek and Edward Lee of the Lee Initiative, a nonprofit dedicated to diversity and inclusion in the restaurant industry, were also honored with the 2024 humanitarian of the year award. Though his original restaurants are in Louisville, Lee is the culinary director of Succotash in Penn Quarter and National Harbor, and the Lee Initiative will open a nonprofit restaurant called M. Frances in the Union Market district later this year.

Fritz Hahn contributed to this report.

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