Wednesday, January 27, 2010

RW 2010 Part 2 – Café Atlantico

For my second foray into Winter 2010 Restaurant Week, I really wanted to go somewhere I’d never been but had always wanted to try. Rasika was booked (damn you, Rasika, and your awesome popularity!), but I managed to find a table for four at a decent time at Café Atlantico. This Latin-themed restaurant is one of the many excellent offerings that innovative Spanish food weirdo Jose Andres has given Washington DC. It’s also the home of Minibar, a six-seat tasting “room” where the Andres team showcases their mad molecular gastronomy skillz (yo). Minibar is next to impossible to get into, and it’s wicked expensive, but I was happy enough to be going to its host restaurant.

I got off the Metro on this cold, blustery Wednesday night and made my way to where I thought the restaurant was supposed to be. However, Café Atlantico is on one of those weird Brigadoon streets that DC has so many of—streets that don’t appear where they’re supposed to, change in the middle of an intersection, disappear entirely—so I got a little turned around. Fortunately, I was early, so no big, but unfortunately, I was in some kickass heels, so that was a little more walking than I’d wanted to do. Anyway, I finally found it and the place was buzzing, but after the hostess took my coat I managed to snag a barstool so I could have a cocktail and wait for the rest of the gang.

As mentioned above, Jose Andres is known for his crazy experimenting with food, and this goes for cocktails as well. The bar features something called the “Magic Mojito,” and it is by far one of the cooler things I’ve ever seen. The mixologist (so much more than just a bartender) sticks a big wad of cotton candy in an up glass, mixes the mojito concoction, and then pours it over the cotton candy, causing it to disappear in an instant. So cool. And not overly sweet, surprisingly. Gary ordered one of these when he got there. I had a pisco sour, which was yummy and strong, and Sister Terrifyah had a caipirinha. She’s crazy like that.

Heather and Roland arrived (poor Ali was sick with a particularly tenacious cold), and as the place had gotten very busy since I first checked in with the hostess, there was a bit of a wait for our table. No big deal, though—gave us time another cocktail at the bar! After about 20 minutes the hostess came and got us and led us to our table on the top floor of the restaurant—and we could look directly into Minibar! That’s about as close as I’m going to get any time soon, so it was pretty cool.

Our very friendly waiter, Bob (that wasn’t his name, but I don’t remember what it was) showed up to give us the RW menu, which was pretty short—just four starters, four entrees, and two desserts to choose from. That was a little disappointing, but what was on there looked pretty friggin’ good, so we got over it.

Gary ordered the celery root soup, which prompted a discussion about the difference between celery root and celeriac. (Turns out they’re the same thing. We learned!). The presentation was a nearly empty bowl with a dollop of yogurt sprinkled with a tiny bit of caviar, into which Bob then poured the creamy soup. Gary made many yummy sounds. Heather and Roland both ordered the tuna ceviche with coconut milk and avocado and made them disappear (more magic!). I got the Dominican conch fritters. I had had fried conch in a bar in Ft. Lauderdale which were awesome, but these were so much awesomer. Inside the lightly fried coating was a piece of the shellfish, and somehow some kind of chowder/gravy liquid. How you fry liquid, I don’t know, but it was amazing. They came with what looked like little steamed dumplings, but the “skin” was actually made from jicama and the filling was crazy creamy avocado goo.

Oh, I forgot—we started the whole thing off with guacamole that was made fresh at our table. Other places do this as well, but this was so much better. Rosa Mexicano can go straight to hell.

For entrées, we were all leaning towards meat. I was vacillating between the duck and the flatiron steak, but in the end the beef won out. You guys. It was CRAZY good. The meat sat on a fluffy pile of potato “espuma”—basically really whipped potato puree—and was accompanied by haricots verte with sautéed mushrooms, garlic, and plenty of butter, I’m here to tell you. The meat was cooked beautifully, with just enough char from the grill. Gary and Heather also got the steak, while Roland went for the duck confit with Brussels sprouts, apples, and raisins. Yumblies.

The dessert choices were warm chocolate cake or sorbet. The hell? We all ordered the cake, because we are not insane. (In fact, Bob told us that he had served something like 94 tables, and only 12 or so ordered the sorbet for dessert.) Don’t get me wrong—I love a sorbet, but not when the words “warm” and “chocolate” are on the menu, and especially since I had shortchanged myself at Kellari Taverna.

Check this business out:

That island of chocolate cake, sitting the middle of a chocolate mousse sea, was actually a volcano with flowing chocolate lava inside. Uh muh gah. The banana goo I did not care for, but the rest was incredible, and very nearly killed me.

It was a great evening, for which I was very glad. Our waiter was friendly and attentive without being obnoxious or hovery, and was happy to explain what the Minibar guy was doing when he came up to get some dry ice. The food was just lovely, even though the choices were few. And the company, of course, was terrific.

Wines (chosen by Roland, who I will always defer to):
Alcena Monastrell 2007, a Spanish Jumilla aged in oak
Crios Cabernet Sauvignon from Mendoza, Argentina

I’m looking forward to going back to Café Atlantico, especially for their Latin “dim sum” brunch. I’ll let you know.


  1. To be clear, I think the Alcena Monastrell was my idea, which Roland nicely did not shoot down and tell me I was crazy to even thnk about ordering. But what a fun evening that was. Great recap Jen. Gary

  2. I could hardly read the rest of the post thinking about the Magic Mojito . . . really cotton candy? In your drink? That sounds all kind of awesome, in a dentist on speed dial sort of way.