Washington D.C.: Day Two (or, Cafe Atlantico)

Consider this a supersized entry, because it’s a travel post and a restaurant review in one. On my second day in Washington, D.C., I met up with a group of our friends in Dupont Circle to have lunch at Nando’s. The last time I had eaten at Nando’s was in Windsor, England, so I was thrilled to learn they’ve crossed the pond into the U.S. (Hey, Nando’s, now open one up in California, please!)

I split a plate of their chicken wings with Peri-Peri sauce, corn on the cob and mashed potatoes. I would have liked to have a full plate to myself, but I had to save up my appetite for my eagerly anticipated dinner reservation. That being said, Nandos’ mashed potatoes are among the best I’ve ever had. So good that I kind of ate the whole thing before I remembered to take a photo.

About two hours later, my dining companion and I arrived at Cafe Atlantico, Jose Andres’ flagship restaurant. I’m in love with Jose Andres. He’s like a Spanish muppet who gets really, really excited about food, and that in turn makes me really, really excited about food. Oh, and he’s friends with Anthony Bourdain, which certainly doesn’t hurt.

We opted for the chef’s tasting menu, which began with an amuse bouche from Minibar: “sun dried tomato” with mozzarella and olive oil.

"Sun Dried Tomato" with Mozzarella and Olive Oil

The tomato flavor was super intense and the mozzarella ball’s liquid center exploded in my mouth right after I ate it. For as much of a pretentious reputation molecular gastronomy gets, it can really be delicious.

I sipped on my Pisco sour while we waited for our next course to arrive: uni “asado.”

Uni "Asado"

This was easily the most visually striking of all the dishes we were served, and it was fun to eat too. I’ve never eaten uni outside of a sushi setting, but this combination of miso-pineapple dressing, shaved pineapple, and buttery uni worked really well. The crispy quinoa on top added crunch to otherwise very creamy dish.

Foie gras is hard to come by in San Francisco, so I eagerly anticipated our next course: foie gras soup.

Foie Gras Soup

Served with morel mushrooms and “floating islands of corn,” the bits of corn were akin to Corn Nuts (which in keeping with Cafe Atlantico’s Latin theme, is originally Peruvian).

Although its hard to choose, this next course was probably my overall favorite of the evening: grilled octopus.

Grilled Octopus

Served with bacon air (yes, I said bacon air), chorizo and lentils, this octopus was deliciously tender and smoky, which is no small feat. The chorizo was out of this world and I almost wish there was more of it in the soupy lentil base.

While I sipped on my Faux Syrah, Syrah cocktail of Hangar One Straight Vodka, blackberry purée, black pepper and smoke infusion, our scallops arrived.

Scallops

You know when you eat scallops that are extra sweet and succulent? Okay, multiply that times a hundred and you’ll get these scallops. Served with cauliflower purée and American caviar, the entire dish had a sweet and briny flavor, down to the purée.

Our heftiest dish of the evening was the braised beef short ribs and to my delight, they included ramps!

Braised Beef Short Ribs

The beef and ramps came atop a bed of baby turnips and morel mushrooms, proving that comfort food can successfully meet haute cuisine. The ribs were incredibly succulent and needed no knife, while the ramps were slightly crunchy and oniony.

At this point in the meal, I was stuffed, but dessert was yet to come. We were served warm white chocolate mousse, which was more like a sweet soup than a mousse (in a good way).

Warm White Chocolate Mousse

The mousse came with a chocolate ice cream orb and brittle, and the orb immediately melted with a liquid center as soon as I popped it in my mouth. I’m not sure if it was coincidental, but it reminded me of our tomato and mozzarella amuse bouche, and made me feel like I’d come full circle at the end of the meal.

I wish Jose Andres had a restaurant in the Bay Area, because this was one of the best meals I’ve ever tasted and I wish it wasn’t so far from reach. But hey, Andres has just opened The Bazaar in Los Angeles, so maybe a trip down south is in order soon. Either way, my evening at Cafe Atlantico remains one big happy memory.

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