Ethiopia born, Sweden-raised chef Marcus Samuelsson was instrumental in changing the Harlem dining scene with his Red Rooster and Sweetbird Rotisserie. Tackling new turf, he opened Marcus at the MGM Grand National Harbor in the nation's capitol this past December.
"New York and D.C. are closer than ever because the food scene has evolved tremendously in D.C.," says the chef. "There are New York-style restaurants like Rose's Luxury and Bad Saint, and if you go to Le Diplomate in D.C. it's just like walking into Balthazar in New York."
Samuelsson says dining in D.C. is earlier than in New York, but the ethnic food scene is actually more exciting than in the Big Apple. "In some ways D.C. feels more like Queens than Manhattan because there is so much ethnic food," he says. "It's more diverse than you would imagine because of all the embassies, and there is an ambition level that is higher. Ethiopian food, for instance, is better than in New York."
As for VIP moments, D.C rivals New York in that department as well. "When we opened Red Rooster, our first customers were Keith Richards and Ron Wood. In D.C., we prepared the first state dinner for President Obama. In New York, you have more VIPS in theater and the arts, but we get some entertainers in D.C. and, I don't know, is Sean Spicer a VIP?"
Longtime New York chef David Burke, who recently opened Tavern 62 on Manhattan's Upper East Side, also has a restaurant in D.C.: BLT Prime in the Trump Hotel, which he opened last September. "I had a restaurant in D.C. 20 years ago, and the difference between what I saw then and what I see now is incredible," he notes. "Then it was mostly congressmen and lobbyists dining at steakhouses, but now there is a new generation of foodies. D.C. is a little more formal than New York and there are larger parties - and there's a sense of excitement when familiar faces you see on the news walk in the door. Newt Gingrich has been in there and people shake his hand, and of course, the president. When he walks in everyone stands up and claps. Well, maybe not everyone."
A version of this story first appeared in the April 13 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.