Three Alexandria chefs walked away with the top awards at the Rammys Sunday night, with Cathal Armstrong's Restaurant Eve, BRABO by Robert Weidmaier and Tony Chittum of Vermilion picking up Fine Dining Restaurant of the Year, Chef of the Year and Rising Culinary Star of the Year, respectively.
Once not too long ago a backwater on the D.C.-area dining scene, Sunday night's glittery 2009 Restaurants Awards by the Restaurant Association of Metropolitan Washington further solidified the seat taken at the head of the culinary table by now-renowned Alexandria chefs in recent years.
It was the third time Restaurant Eve had been nominated for the Fine Dining Award, but the first time the restaurant's taken the award for top fine dining in the D.C. area. "Only a handful of spots -- Restaurant Eve and The Inn at Little Washington tie for best -- can compete with New York’s finest," gushed celebrated New York Times food critic Marian Burros.
“I was born in Ireland but made in the USA," said Armstrong, a Dublin native who speaks four languages, if you include Irish. Armstrong was flanked on stage by his wife and business partner Mishelle and sommelier Todd Thrasher, also a partner. "I'm just so blessed to have such a top-notch staff and a loving and supportive wife behind me," Armstrong said.
The husband and wife team created Eve six years ago with passion based on their experience and a name lent by their first child. The historic warehouse building at 110 S. Pitt Street in Old Town, once home to a Mexican tapas restaurant, has been converted into a quaint yet sophisticated 100-seat restaurant offering two unique dining experiences in separate rooms, “The Chef’s Tasting Room” and “The Bistro.”
Armstrong is known for a strong commitment to sourcing the best ingredients that local farmers can provide, and often on Sundays can be seen loading up vans full of schoolbuses to take to their farm in the Virginia countryside. The upscale bistro appeals to the neighborhood and boasts both flavor and selection with choices such as Bouillabaisse, Braised Shortribs and Salt Baked Prawns.
Thrasher's "Edenesque" cocktails, are pure innovation by Thrasher, Eve's sommelier, partner and general manager. Thrasher hatched Food and Wine's Best New Wine List 2005.
Not to be outdone, Belgian-born culinary giant Robert Wiedmaier brought his "foodheart" and passion for classic French cooking to Old Town in April, opening BRABO by Robert Wiedmaier in the new ultra-luxe Lorien Hotel and Spa at 1600 King Street. It was a return to his Alexandria roots for Wiedmaier, who once worked at the Morrison House’s restaurant when it was Le Chardon d’Or in the early 1980s.
"I started working as a saucier here and commuted from my home in Chevy Chase," Wiedmaier recalled recently. "I remember I took my breaks sleeping in my car behind the hotel. I’ve always liked Alexandria and I’m so charged up to be back here."
Neighborhood Restaurant Group's Anthony Chittum of Vermillion took Rising Culinary Star honors at the Rammys. Vermilion itself has been nominated for “Fine Dining Restaurant of the Year,” a pretty neat trick for a little neighborhood bistro with a 32-year-old chef.
Chittum hasn’t strayed too far from the sparkling Chesapeake Bay coastal waters, where he was raised on local foods from boyhood, to carve out his niche in Old Town.
Over the past two years he has crafted a highly original menu, drawn from his years of study with the likes of Donald Link and Todd Gray. Over dinner last week at Vermillion, Chittum said he has been visiting farms and growers and discovering and sourcing local ingredients for Vermilion.
On June 20, Chittum will prepare a Virginia Farmland Solstice Supper from ingredients grown in Loudoun County. Set in a peach orchard the multi-course dinner, with wine pairings from Horton Vineyards, will be accompanied by music, horseshoes and hayrides. You can find out more at www.vermilionrestaurant.com.
Read more of LocalKicks.com's coverage of the Rammys by clicking here.
John Arundel contributed to reporting.
THE 2009 RAMMY AWARDS
This year's RAMMY Awards winners are as follows:
Chef of the Year - Robert Wiedmaier
Wiedmaier is the chef of Brabo and Brabo Tasting Room, both located in Old Town.
Fine Dining Restaurant - Restaurant Eve
The 100-seat, upscale American cuisine restaurant in Old Town won this award for the third time.
Rasika, Washington, DC
Rising Culinary Star
Chef Anthony Chittum of Vermillion, Old Town
Best New Restaurant
Cork, Washington, DC
Power Spot of the Year
Central Michel Richard, Washington, DC
Neighborhood Gathering Spot
The Liberty Tavern, Washington, DC
Hottest Restaurant Bar Scene
Co Co Sala – Washington, DC
Pastry Chef of the Year
Kate Jansen – Willow – Arlington, VA
Belair Produce Inc., Watermark Foods
Wine and Beverage Program
CityZen – Washington, DC
Restaurant Employee of the Year
Juan Francisco Lopez, Marcel’s Brasserie Beck, Washington, DC
Restaurant Manager of the Year
Ryland Johnson – Zola, Washington, DC
Your Favorite Restaurant
Teatro Goldoni, Washington, DC
Duke Zeibert Capitol Achievement Award
WHERE Magazine Visitors’ Choice Award
The Prime Rib, Washington, DC
2009 RAMMY Honorary Award
Martin’s Tavern, Washington, DC
2009 RAMMY Honorary Award