Sunday, October 24, 2010

Cafe Atlantico - 10/10/2010

405 8th Street NW
Washington, DC 20004
(202) 393-0812

minibar is arguably the hardest reservation to get in DC; I literally called the restaurant over 1,000 times without ever getting through to a reservationist. With all the hype surrounding those six seats around that tiny bar it is often easy to overlook the restaurant that houses the minibar. Cafe Atlantico features "Nuevo Latino" cuisine, a contemporary take on classic Latin American cooking techniques that seems to straddle the boundaries between the avant garde minibar and some of Chef Andres' more traditional restaurants like Jaleo or Oyamel.

On Sunday the restaurant features something it calls "Latino Dim Sum" which allows diners to share a bevy of small plates or enjoy 14 courses in a more structured tasting menu format.

Endive with queso fresco espuma, walnuts and oranges
Lush and juicy, the endive was a light clean start to the meal. The bitterness of the endive and fresco is effectively tempered by the sweetness of the fruit and mellow nuttiness of the walnut.

Pineapple shavings with corn nuts and tamarind oil
A plate with a pile of pineapple slivers wouldn't normally qualify as a course in my opinion; though I warmed to the dish, enjoying the savoriness that the corn nuts and tamarind oil added to the tang of the pineapple.

Mango anchovy ravioli
I was a bit wary of combining mango with anchovy, expecting the fishiness of the anchovy to clash with the fruit. However the mousse was markedly subdued with more of a smoky hammy essence that did pair harmoniously with the mango's tropical sweetness.

Tuna ceviche with coconut
What would have been a very good but unremarkable tuna ceviche was made much stronger by the addition of a delightful textural wrinkle in the form of a thin jicama wrapper

Conch fritters with a liquid center
This course didn't look like much but the crispy exterior hid a center of creamy bechamel laden with a pronounced brine and a light spiciness.

Hot & cold foie gras and corn soup
Though I've had this course numerous times at The Bazaar, I didn't mind seeing it again here. The temperature contrast and crumbled corn nuts gives a playful feel to the rich essence of the foie.

Potato & vanilla mousse with caviar
I appreciated the flawlessly smooth texture on the potato with this course, the vanilla adds a nuanced aromatic sweetness while the forceful salinity of the caviar compliments the starchy gravity of the potato.

Pineapple-unagi with avocado sauce
Though the meal has been solid to this point, this was the first truly spectacular course. The unagi might have be the most tender succulent eel I've ever eaten and the charred pineapple adds a saccharine caramelization that substitutes for the eel sauce served at sushi restaurants. The avocado sauce is a bit off putting on its own but provides a vegetal foil to balance the heaviness of the eel and pineapple.

Coconut rice, crispy rice & ginger
Made with Arbollo rice (a common choice for risotto) the crux of this dish was almost like a sweet congee. The crispy rice which was present for texture, was made by overcooking the rice, dehydrating it for three days, then deep frying it. The coconut gave the dish a mild savory/sweetness that I found disconcerting. The dish didn't have enough flavor to stand on its own and what it did have was neither here nor there.

Grilled skirt steak "Carne Asada"
The courses had been getting steadily larger over the course of the meal but when I saw the plate of "Carne Asada" I was stunned. The beef was cooked rare which is a nice change from the overly dry preparations I typically have. Though there wasn't much to this dish in terms of complexity which left the focus on the superlative texture and flavor of the beef.

Fried egg with black beans & pork
An interesting take on pork and beans, in fact the pork is all but invisible but certainly makes its presence felt in terms of flavor. I don't normally care for beans but this was exceptional, the smoky temper of the beans is augmented with the potent savoriness from the pork confit.

Pork belly confit with passion fruit oil
This might be the single best piece of pork belly I've ever tasted. The skin is covered with a thin layer of sugar then bruleed providing a spectacular brittle crunch and delectable burnt sweetness. The pork offered the perfect ratio of fat to lean resulting in a mix that is unctuous but with enough porcine sapor that it doesn't feel heavy. The passion fruit oil is a thing of pure beauty, its ephemeral burst of acidity

Mushrooms with egg 63
The egg in the beans course was an afterthought the egg here was critical to making the course. Cooked for an hour at 63 degrees the egg has a consistency between custard and syrup that enveloped the earthy mushrooms in a hearty warm coating of pure silken magic.

Pan dulce with cinnamon syrup
Dessert looked laughably simple but proved to be quite delicious like a variation on a churro. The bread was toasted to a nice airy consistency while the layer of syrup was basically a rich cinnamon jam between the slices.

The meal started out a bit lackluster and rushed, the both the quality and pace improved with time. By and large the food was very good and a couple of the courses were truly exceptional and at $35 a wonderful way to experience much of what Cafe Atlantico has to offer. Though I didn't get a seat at minibar, the Latino Dim Sum proved to be a very enjoyable consolation prize which left me eager to try the dinner menu later in the week.


Jeff Overley said...

Egg 63 sounds heavenly. Ditto for the unagi and pork belly. And only $35 for 14 courses? Sold.

Jai said...

dude looks friggin awesome and steal of a deal!

Epicuryan said...

Those three courses you named were easily the best of the meal. I actually went back for dinner and was disappointed. The lunch menu is better in terms of both quality and price.

Next time you are out be sure to hit this place up for lunch then go to Rasika for dinner.