America Eats at Cafe Atlantico

In the space where the sort of uninspiring Cafe Atlantico used to be there’s the Jose Andres benefit pop-up restaurant America Eats, which coincides with the National Archives’ exhibit, What’s Cooking, Uncle Sam?  The restaurants website says it,offers a new take on American classics and celebrate[s] native ingredients and some long forgotten dishes, from burgoo to oysters Rockefeller. With recipes and stories collected through extensive research …”  The Bob and I had been very excited to try it and we had errands to run in Penn Quarter Saturday morning so we decided to pop in for brunch. Overall it was an exciting and pleasurable experience (though far from perfect) and I think we will try to make it back before the 6 months are out.
First, the cocktails were spectacular. A perfect (really the best I’ve had) French 75, an excellent milk punch and a light airy Ramos Gin Fizz that had been shaken enough to practically be an alcoholic foam.
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The starters also delivered. A she crab soup, didn’t have any roe, but it was full of sweet, tender crab and the broth was creamy, but not so creamy that the dairy overwhelmed the really crab-y essence of the soup.  If I had one minor complaint there were too many peppery micro-greens which looked pretty, but in that quantity detracted from the decadent soup.
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The donuts the Bob ordered were light and airy, but would have been better if they were served hot. Also, the sauce that accompanied them was so heavy on the cloves that I couldn’t really enjoy its other flavors. That said, I don’t really love cloves, so perhaps others wouldn’t feel the same way.
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My main was fried chicken.  I love fried chicken.  I really really love it. If I were super rich I would fly to Ad Hoc every other Monday.  So I was excited. And this chicken was tender and crispy, but sadly I was totally unfulfilled. It was bits of chicken pressed into rounds and breaded and fried. I like my fried chicken to have bones, skin and batter. So yeah, it was more like glorified kid food prepared really well. The yellow tomato catsup it came with made me eat more of it than I otherwise would have. Tart and salty it was a lovely sophisticated sauce that still, in some way, managed to evoke the slightest memory of good old Heinz. The blue berry catsup sadly had the same problem as the donut sauce — I think they shared the same base.
The Bob had the Johnny Cakes with butter foam. Of course there had to be foam! Overplayed, I know, but an Andres signature and frankly I could eat a bowl of that foam happily. The cakes were nicely cooked, fluffy and tasty. A really good brunch entree.
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We were pretty full at this point, but the menu was captivating and we were scared of being locked in for days when Irene finally arrived, so we ordered more. I had cheese.  A triple creme brie and something uninspired which came with excellent honeycomb, crunchy candied pecans and a pickled walnut. Cheese is good. This was no exception.
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The Bob had a beautifully presented pineapple upside down cake. He said it was excellent. It sure looked excellent. I love the flowers. We were watching a guy prep for the mini-bar service that night and there were many edible flowers involved in whatever he was doing. I really need to concentrate on finding an occasion to eat dinner there.
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A couple other details. The menu was really exciting to read. Tons of history about each dish, which is really neat and makes for interesting conversation starters. BUT, almost no descriptions of what you’re actually going to get – thus nuggets where one is expecting real chicken etc. Easily fixed though, next time I’m going to ask for descriptions of what I will be eating before I order.
Finally the service. It was just a little odd. Our waitress was nice, but the table behind us was monopolizing her attention and she wasn’t really doing anything to fix the situation. Every time she would head towards our table they would flag her down and she wouldn’t make it. to us.  Not necessarily her fault, but she could have at least come to us directly instead of walking away after speaking with them each time and then trying to comeback only to be waylaid again.  So we had to wait far too long to order both at first and each time drinks were empty.  Additionally, she kind of talked like butlers do in movies, a strange thing to notice, but it was obviously totally put-on so very off putting. She kept saying “right away,” which was particularly annoying because of the overall slowness of the service. Also, instead of just asking what we wanted to order she insisted on asking what we would enjoy. Well I hadn’t eaten it yet, so how was I to know if I would enjoy it? Also I asked her to find out where they sourced their excellent smoky bacon, but she never did.  After that she forgot a round of drinks which of course isn’t a big deal, but was irritating given the otherwise inattentive service. That said, I do think she was trying, so it was difficult to be too annoyed.
We’re hoping to see the Heir Apparent in the next couple weeks and I think we will try to have dinner at America Eats that night. I’m particularly intrigued by the table side absinthe service and some of the exciting dishes that are only on the dinner menu.

 

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