The Wash
Cranes restaurant in Washington DC
Cranes restaurant in Washington, DC's Penn Quarter (Oliver Ward/The Wash)

Losing a Michelin star spurs new motivation at Cranes

The restaurant is refining its menu and reimagining dishes in a push for excellence.

Adrian Davila, junior sous chef at Cranes, a Spanish-Japanese fusion restaurant in Washington’s Penn Quarter, was crushed when the 2023 Michelin Guide was released earlier this month. He had just returned from a work trip to California with Barcelona-born executive chef Pepe Moncayo, and the loss of Cranes’ Michelin star was a stinging greeting. As word spread, condolence texts poured in from friends and family.

“It sucks,” Davila said. “I felt like I failed Chef Pepe to certain degree.”

Cranes is the fourth Washington restaurant to lose a star since the coveted awards resumed following a pandemic hiatus. It was the only restaurant to lose its star in the November 2023 guide. Two of the 2022 losses—Plume and Komi—had permanently closed or significantly changed their business operations before inspection. Only Sushi Taro, which lost its star last year, was in a position to defend its award.

“Everyone was kind of sad and brought down,” Davila said. He recalls Moncayo sitting everyone down following the announcement and reminding them that although having a star was welcome, it wasn’t the end goal. Moncayo implored his chefs to think about the loss of the star as an opportunity to reset and to be creative without the pressure of retaining a star hanging over them.

“There was also a lot of motivation that came out of it,” Davila said of the meeting.

Studies have shown that consumer expectations inevitably increase once a restaurant receives a Michelin star. Patrons are more likely to have negative feelings when restaurant experiences fail to live up to their Michelin reputations. Craving relief, some chefs in recent years have even returned their stars and stepped away from haute cuisine, including French chef Sébastian Bras and Swede Magnus Nilsson.

Moncayo did not respond to repeated interview requests for this story.

Davila joined Cranes as a line cook in April 2022, less than a year after the restaurant received its first Michelin star. Just a month after he arrived, the restaurant retained its star in the 2022 guide published on May 4.

“Of course, I didn't really feel like I contributed much because I had just started,” Davila said, but even though he didn’t make a major contribution, working at a Michelin-star restaurant had exceeded any expectations Davila had for his culinary career.

“It was it was always like a fantasy,” Davila said, “I never thought it was going to be me. I never thought I was ever going to go up to a Michelin-star restaurant.”

During his time as a line cook, then a station lead, Davila worked with Moncayo on a couple of dishes that were added to the menu, demonstrating his culinary promise and knack for development. At the beginning of 2023, Davila was promoted to junior sous chef, although he has since taken on the responsibilities of an acting sous chef, handling a lot of the research and development, Davila says.

“Going from just being a line cook or a lead line is a completely different world,” Davila says.

For Davila, 2023 has been a learning experience. He now understands how to push a team without leaving them unmotivated and stressed. He learned how to listen and when to let someone try something on their own and when to intervene with assistance. He also learned how to take responsibility for his mistakes.

“We had a lot of change in the restaurant, whether it was management or personnel,” Davila said. “We all just had a lot of change that was happening all in the same time. And then a lot of cooks were able to keep up, others weren't.”

Cranes’ former sous chef, Marc-Adam Rodriguez, left earlier this year, telling the Wash only that “Cranes had to release some staff during the slow season, myself included.” He only assumed the sous chef position in May, according to his LinkedIn page.

Cranes restaurant door in Washington DC
Cranes restaurant (Oliver Ward/The Wash)

Michelin stars are awarded against five criteria: the chef’s skill, the personality in the cuisine, ingredient quality, value for money, and consistency. Keeping consistency, Davila said, has been a struggle this year.

As soon as Cranes lost the star on Nov. 7, Davila and Moncayo began making changes. The day after they returned from California, they started work on a whole new menu, Davila says.

“We already started sort of changing, like small things here and there that we weren't necessarily happy with,” Davila said, “making sure that we just check on like the minor details, quality and error and everything else.”

Part of this effort was to show the staff that they weren’t giving up and were motivated to get the restaurant back to where it was. “Not necessarily getting the star back,” Davila said, “just making sure that every little detail of the food and ingredients really shines through.” He added that he is now “more motivated than ever.”

“We are working towards just getting back to our, not to say roots, but just getting back on track on things,” Davila added, “making sure that we're able to keep our quality regardless and just make every experience for customers who do come and eat at Cranes the best possible.”

The Wash spoke to several diners who visited the restaurant on a recent Friday evening. Many were shocked to hear that the restaurant had lost its Michelin star. Zach Loeffler, a Navy Yard resident, said that the shrimp tempura—served with lime aioli—was the best he’d ever had. Meredith Shields, also of Navy Yard, was equally impressed.

“One of the more interesting meals I’ve had in a long time,” Shields mused. “The best part was the dessert,” she said emphatically.

Oliver Ward

Oliver Ward is a graduate journalism student at American University, with an interest in economics reporting. In his day job, he covers U.S. trade policy and contributes to The Wash on the weekend.

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