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Cafe Atlantico


Jason Perlow
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Money and the right sense of timing.

Let me ask this--how many stories of "brilliant" chefs have we come across who couldn't impose the practical limitations on themselves in order to run successful restaurants in a sustained fashion putting money away the whole time?

It may just be Jose is patient and practical as a fox beyond his young years and that there's more agreement in these posts that we realize.

Steve Klc

Pastry chef-Restaurant Consultant

Oyamel : Zaytinya : Cafe Atlantico : Jaleo

chef@pastryarts.com

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Sure, but it's not my job to worry about his bank account. That's his problem. As a consumer and critic, my job is to yell and scream until anybody can -- for whatever the price of dinner is -- experience the unedited, unrestricted brilliance of this guy's cooking. So while I'm fully on board as a Jose champion and evangelist, I plan to yell and scream at him, the public, and the DC and national media, until he has the restaurant he deserves.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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As Fat Guy pointed out, this restaurant is not one of the harder tables in town to get. When I was in DC a couple of months ago, I was able to walk in at 6:30 on a Thursday without a reservation. When I left shortly after 8, the place was still half-empty. I thought the place was outstanding. Steve really didn't even talk about their drinks -- I had the best mojito I've ever been served and then a somewhat cloying, but highly refreshing, passionfruit cocktail. Yeah, it was a girly drink, but I enjoyed it anyhow. I have 4 kids, so I don't have to worry about my masculinity. :wink:

Dean McCord

VarmintBites

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One of the more interesting features of the Washington Post's food section web site is that users can post their own reviews. It's always instructive to see what Washington diners think and whether it jives with my impressions. Here's the entry for Cafe Atlantico.

As you can see, it gets 2 stars out of 4 from Post readers. The reviews are split between very favorable and very unfavorable ones. Some of the bad reviews cite small portions for the price. If you look through the Post user reviews in general, you will see this complaint over and over and over again. It's as if price per pound is the metric of quality in this town. I pretty much universally dismiss these. The other complaints all seem to have to do with service. I haven't personally had a problem with service there, but others seem to have.

Chief Scientist / Amateur Cook

MadVal, Seattle, WA

Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code

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Some of the bad reviews cite small portions for the price.  If you look through the Post user reviews in general, you will see this complaint over and over and over again.

Thats not a comment to be taken lightly though. I did feel my entree at Cafe Atlantico, their pork chop, was a bit skimpy, being served only a single chop. Overall I would have been happier by just eating their appetizers.

Jason Perlow

Co-Founder, The Society for Culinary Arts & Letters

offthebroiler.com - Food Blog | View my food photos on Instagram

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The value in that instance really depends on the quality of the pork. I mean, it wouldn't be at all surprising to go into a big discount meat market and find mediocre pork chops on sale for $1.99 per pound. I assume that's the quality level of the average pork chop in a cheap Latino restaurant where you get three pork chops in a $13 entree. And if you find that quality of ingredient at a fine dining establishment, in a $22 entree (which is where Cafe entrees tend to fall) you could reasonably expect about three pounds of pork plus a bunch of veg and the restaurant could still meet a 33% food cost. At the same time, if you want to get the best pork chops from Niman Ranch each chop will run you $11 just as a raw ingredient, so you can't even afford to serve one of those as an entree for less that $33 and that assumes the garnishes are essentially cost-free. I don't know what kind of pork they use at Cafe, though. Is one Niman Ranch pork chop better than three generic pork chops? It's hard to answer that question. It depends on your priorities. In the Greater New York Metro restaurant market you'll have no trouble finding plenty of people to take up either side of that argument, which is why cheap Latino restaurants can thrive alongside Patria-like Nuevo Latino places that do charge in the $30 range for some entrees. I think in Washington, DC, though, the overwhelming answer is probably just "no."

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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Yeah, but if it was a "niman ranch" pork chop it would be a different story and probably billed as such. As far as I remember they werent special pork chops, but they were quite good though.

I've got no problem spending 30 odd dollars for exemplary pork chops, and I have done so.

Jason Perlow

Co-Founder, The Society for Culinary Arts & Letters

offthebroiler.com - Food Blog | View my food photos on Instagram

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We were out last night until 3:30 am, eating and drinking and had a 12:15 reservation at Cafe Atlantico. Normally, no restaurant could even begin to challenge and excite two exhausted palates. Not only did Cafe Atlantico excite, it far exceeded any and all expectations. We essentially ate the menu --- accessible yet creative food done with flair and precision. You feel the energy and the excitement in the air from everyone. It was a pleasure to meet Steve, talk with Katsuya, Jose and Jimmy and be part of this wonderful culinary ride. This was an A+ experience

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This weekend we brought some vegetarian guests to Cafe Atlantico for brunch. We had the vegetarian tasting menu. I had enjoyed dinner at Cafe Atlantico before, but the bruch was, without question, even better. There were one or two places, like the potato foam, where I might have appreciated a bit of animal protien, but other than that it was fantastic.

The meal was structured around a series of collections of small dishes. Two to four dishes would be presented at a time, in a succession designed to provide a full spectrum experience in each course. Many of the dishes we had have been discussed above, but I'll mention a few that I think merit special attention.

First, there was the pinapple with olive oil and cripsy plantains. The pinapple was shaved paper thin, then formed into bite-sized flowers reminiscent of the ginger one sees with sushi. It was drizzled with a nice fruity olive oil and then sprinked with crispy bits of fried plantian. It was eaten with chopsticks, dim-sum dumpling style. The crunch accent over a smooth underlying texture was a motif repeated in a number of other dishes, and it worked really well in most all of them. The sweetness of the pinapple and the fruitiness of the olive oil worked well together, blending into a new and interesting flavor in which each did its part.

Another really special dish was the famous jicama-arugala roll. It may be blasphemous to say so, but the roll itself was not the special part. Instead, it was the accompanying salad of sweet corn, cabralas cheese and crispy quinoa that did it for me. Again, it was a set of textures and flavors working together to create something really new and interesting.

I also really enjoyed was the egg with veracruz sauce. This was a soft fried egg over a dense ragu of tomato and olives. Cracking the yolk and allowing it to meld with the vegetables creates a beautiful thick velvety consitency.

Huitlacoche quesadillas and guacamole made table-side were two dishes that stood out on the menu for their simplicity, but they were excellent examples of their genres. A thick custardy Brazillian french toast filled with a mild cheese was also a favorite at the table.

I rarely ever go out for brunch because it is generally predictable and uninteresting, not to mention poorly executed. That is absolutely not the case here. Faced with the choice of brunch at Cafe Atlantico or dinner almost anywhere else in town, I'd take the brunch. It is an incredibly exciting meal.

Chief Scientist / Amateur Cook

MadVal, Seattle, WA

Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code

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  • 1 month later...
  • 7 months later...
my wife was in dc earlier this week and i told her that this was the place to go. she went with her boss and both loved it. thanks everyone.

What'd she have? Anything stand out?

peak performance is predicated on proper pan preparation...

-- A.B.

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I just received the Jan issue of Bon Appetit; there's an article about Jose Andres, the exec chef at Cafe Atlantico. Haven't read it yet, but I certainly look forward to doing so! I live in Northern NJ and am always amazed by how often I see the restaurant mentioned in national publications (including, in recent memory, the NY Times magazine)! Great food, great atmosphere, and well worth the cost. The last time I was in D.C. on business, I convinced a small group to go, we had the tasting menu, and a fabulous night.

If you have the opportunity to eat there, don't miss it!

"I'm not eating it...my tongue is just looking at it!" --My then-3.5 year-old niece, who was NOT eating a piece of gum

"Wow--this is a fancy restaurant! They keep bringing us more water and we didn't even ask for it!" --My 5.75 year-old niece, about Bread Bar

"He's jumped the flounder, as you might say."

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It's interesting as far as food fashions go. Spanish food is now all the rage. Latin is still hot as well.

That doesn't detract from Cafe Atlantico, which has been good for a long time. But the place is certainly enjoying a new surge of publicity that coincides with the culinary fashions.

Part of the secret of success in life is to eat what you like and let the food fight it out inside.

Mark Twain (1835 - 1910)

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  • 2 months later...
I understand that the conch fritters that are part of the mini-bar menu are also on the regular menu. They are quite good.

Even if they are only half as good as they were at Mini Bar, they would still be unbelievable. Oh my lord they were good.

I am daydreaming of them right now........

True Heroism is remarkably sober, very undramatic.

It is not the urge to surpass all others at whatever cost,

but the urge to serve others at whatever cost. -Arthur Ashe

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actually, mine were better at Atlantico--couldn't quite understand Hillvalley's rave about them until I ordered a plate on Friday night. Ah....the liquid conch filling is liquid!! it had somehow been left out of the one I had at the minibar. :raz:

That's one of the things at Atlantico that I love most, though--they screw up, but the place feels so familial that the screw-ups largely endear it.

Atlantico was my 'first' restaurant in D.C. My mother had stumbled onto it during a conference visit, and we went soon after I moved here. It was back in the day when they served gussied-up regional specialties. The food was lovely, the waitstaff were kind, and an ongoing love affair was formed.

Birthdays? Atlantico. Best friend's parents visiting from rural Georgia, never having eaten anyplace fancier than Red Lobster? Atlantico. (As we sat down, her father nervously whispered that I'd have to show them how to eat in a restaurant like this....then our waiter arrived, his rabbit appeared, and all nervousness evaporated). Bad date? Atlantico mojito. Bad theatre show? Late Atlantico dinner. Watching their food get better and better and better over the years was just a wonderful bonus.

Even when it's off--and my few experiences there at the tail end of the service periods have been largely off, with lukewarm food and harried waiters--it's comforting. There's some sort of alchemy between the kitchen, the food, and the staff that makes the place feel like my aunt's house might feel if she could cook anything other than fish balls.

They do screw up, but they apologize quickly and sincerely. Our first try for a minibar reservation two weeks ago was thwarted when we arrived, on time, to be told that we were seated in the restaurant! The complimentary (and fantastic) glass of champagne during the rescheduled minibar session went a long way towards restitution. Our duck confit last week arrived with a very curious clear wrapping--after picking it out and weighing the likelihood of a deconstructed duck/spinach/cellophane dish, we told our waiter, who apologized and whisked it away and then sent the maitre'd to apologize and explain that a sheet of crisp gelatin had somehow fallen into a dish. They were so sincerely concerned that we couldn't quite figure out how to tell them that the gelatin worried us far less than the fact that we never received our second entree--and the familial magic thing worked so well that we felt quite awful when we received the bill and realized that they weren't charging us for dinner or dessert.

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You still have to wonder though, why they still make so many mistakes? This is an established restaurant with a local celebrity chef. Why does the public put up with the gliches and come back for more?

I'm hesitant to go for dinner since it seems that mistakes/problems are so common. babka, in your case I understand your love with the place. It is part of your history. But for the average diner? I'm undecided.

True Heroism is remarkably sober, very undramatic.

It is not the urge to surpass all others at whatever cost,

but the urge to serve others at whatever cost. -Arthur Ashe

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Tonight was Café Atlantico, followed by a terrific dessert, followed by a late-night check-in at Rumba Café (perhaps more on the fine Rumba Café in an upcoming post).

The guacamole at Atlantico is the best I've had in Washington, the conch fritters (discussed earlier in this thread) are as good as you could possibly imagine, the scallops in a coconut crispy rice with ginger squid and squid-ink oil were disappointing, the scallops being overcooked and the sauce being too monolithic and dull, the foie gras in Torrontes with brioche is quite good but not special, the marinated quail with mango/anchovy raviolis and balsamic reduction is superb, and an incredible value at nine dollars. All dishes ordered as small plates, and I'm reminded once again what a terrific place this is to catch an early dinner at the bar.

The wine program is one of the best in Washington, but has a fatal flaw. Francisco Astudillo is a talented young sommelier who has assembled the single most interesting list of South American wines I have ever seen. Witness: 37 Chilean Cabernet Sauvignons, 16 Argentine Cabernet Sauvignons, 27 Argentine Malbecs, not to mention 30 sparkling wines (most of them Champagne including interesting pulls such as the LaSalle Chigny-Les-Roses Premier Cru for sixty dollars. Then there are the wines by the glass: 18 different varietals offered, almost all of them having at least two selections apiece - even unusual stuff by the glass such as Godello, Tokai-Furmint, Verdehlo, Torrontes, a German Pinot Gris. Nothing by the glass is priced at more than $10.00 - it's a fabulous by-the-glass list accompanying an interesting list in general, and the sommelier is engaging, knowledgable and eager to please, so what's the fatal flaw?

Well, you'll just have to read the next thread, because in this one, I'm not going to say anything but praise about Café Atlantico, so there!

Cheers,

Rocks!

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  • 1 month later...

An old friend was in town from NYC this evening and wanted a nice dinner.

Being the self-sacrificial type, I offered to let him take me to Atlantico.

afterwards, he cleared his throat, in that lovely self-conscious manner that men can assume.

"I just wanted you to know that tonight was a very special evening for me."

"Oh?"

"I've always believed that Washington restaurants were awful. They're Southern, and they glop sauce all over everything."

And?

"I was wrong."

the fun part, though, was that I went to Atlantico for brunch a month ago and tasted a gazzilion plates of individual dishes ... some worked, some (grilled watermelon) didn't.

but the grilled watermelon surfaced again tonight with the pheasant and oh my, that did worked. it's like struggling through a very pleasant dictionary and then, suddenly, understanding Proust.

or at least Antoine de Saint Exupery.

(and, confidential to our waiter---you were right, my stomach really _did_ want the conch fritters again, and they were just as fantastic as they were the last time, and I'm so impressed that you picked that up from my subconscious when my tongue fairly clearly asked for the marinated foie gras. :raz: )

Edited by babka (log)
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