- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 29, 2006

As skies were rocking with thunder and lightning Sunday night, more than 1,600 restaurant employees and other foodies — many dressed like rock stars in honor of the event’s “Washington restaurants rock” theme — ate, drank and were merry during the 24th annual Rammy Awards Gala at the Marriott Wardman Park Hotel in Woodley Park.

“This is a very exciting time. Metropolitan Washington has become a gastronomic destination,” said Lynne Breaux, president of the Restaurant Association Metropolitan Washington, the group behind the Rammys, which celebrate the best and the brightest on the Washington-area restaurant scene.

But why this explosion of good restaurants now?

“I think it’s synergy: talented people, the great hotel scene, the Metro, the overall fiscal health of the city. We’ve really blossomed … or, I should say, we rock,” said Ms. Breaux, dressed in sequined flared pants and a silvery jacket.

Among the top culinary “rock stars” were Jose Andres (Chef of the Year), Maestro (Fine Dining Restaurant of the Year), Sweetwater Tavern (Favorite Restaurant of the Year), the Capital Grille (Power Spot of the Year), BlackSalt Fish Market & Restaurant (New Restaurant of the Year) and Johnny Monis (Rising Culinary Star of the Year).

Another award winner was Bob Pincus, chairman of Fidelity Trust Bank, who’s credited with helping more than 300 restaurants get established in the area over the past 35 years.

“What was it like back in the ‘70s? It was bad. They didn’t even know where the kitchen was,” Mr. Pincus said, referring to restaurant management at that time.

The giant event ballroom featured tables with zebra-print and red velvet tablecloths and a stage where the rock band Right On played heavy-base tunes such as “Play That Funky Music.”

“Now, restaurants are run by professionals. They’re well-managed, and guests have a great experience from food to service to decor,” Mr. Pincus added.

Though the improvement is immense, he doesn’t think Washington can touch the nation’s premier culinary destination — New York City — anytime soon.

Gala chairman Gus DiMillo disagrees.

“I think we’re already on par with San Francisco and Chicago,” Mr. DiMillo said, “and we have so much young talent. Look at people like Johnny Monis. I think we’re going to overtake New York in a few years.”

D.C. Council member Carol Schwartz agreed and said she enjoys not only the award-winning fine dining in the area.

“I love the mom-and-pop places in Adams Morgan, where I live, places I can walk to and I can get an entree for $8.99,” Ms. Schwartz said. “I think we have the best restaurants in the country.”

Iceland’s Ambassador Helgi Agustsson took it a step further.

“I think Washington has some of the best food in the world,” Mr. Agustsson said. “And the variety is tremendous.”

Others who ate the night away — the offerings were better-than-average gala food except for the chewy sirloin steak — included D.C. Council members Jack Evans and David A. Catania, and Chilean ambassador Andres Bianchi.

Various local media personalities attending included Sue Palka, Fox 5 meteorologist; James Adams, reporter for NBC 4; food writer Phyllis Richman; Norah O’Donnell, “Today Show” correspondent; Nancy Bagley of Washington Life magazine; and Dana Cowin, editor in chief of the Food and Wine magazine.

The event was expected to raise up to $200,000 for displaced restaurant workers impacted by Hurricane Katrina and for the Restaurant Association Metropolitan Washington’s Education Foundation, which helps area high school students pursue careers in the restaurant business.

Visit www.ramw.org for a complete list of Rammy winners.

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