Monday, August 31, 2009

Restaurant Week Aug '09 Part 2....

Cue Cafe Atlantico

I'm not sure if you all are like me. My guess is that none of you are like me, but may have a few common habits with me. One is watching television that I never thought I'd watch as a child: History channel, Discovery channel, HGTV, the food network and especially the travel channel. Anthony Bourdain's No Reservations is as good as programming comes in my opinion. He travels the world learning of different cultures, focusing on their culinary traditions. Recently, he came to DC during season 4 and visited a few local establishments you may have heard of: Ben's Chili Bowl, Busboys and Poets, Eamonn's to name a few. But, most importantly, at least for the purposes of this post, Mini Bar.

Minibar is a restaurant within a restaurant (kind of cool concept if you like that elitist type of thing) that is upscale in every possible way other than appearance. The restaurant it's in was the destination of my 2nd of three restaurant week reservations, Cafe Atlantico. The restaurant is located off of 8th and Pennsylvania which is hidden by a large fountain/outdoor area. Pennsylvania Avenue has a number of great restaurants that you should check out if you're ever in the city and want to try out a quality dining establishment. To name a few that I've been to, I would probably revisit Central, 701 restaurant and Chef Geoff's in that order.

Centralized by a Latin American theme, the restaurant spans three stories and is much smaller than one would assume when walking in. You are greeted immediately upon entry with what seemed to be 3 hostesses and a general manager (I'm sure this was just the case because it was restaurant week and it was even more high traffic than usual). You walk up a flight of steps and immediately see into an open kitchen with several chefs hard at work. Similar to Central, I like the idea of an open kitchen. It seems to be the recent trend and I approve. It seems silly, but it almost shows a confidence in what you're doing, even if no one really pays attention to what the chefs are doing. The tables are tight and the ambiance is lively. It being not the quietest restaurant, it almost adds to, not detracts from the experience. On the second floor, in the corner is an additional small kitchen, this, is Mini Bar. There are 6 seats located there and reservations are near impossible to get. With 2 separate reservations times a night, an intimate group setting for you and a date or small group of friends. This is a post about Cafe Atlantico, so I'll save more discussion for after I am able to procure a reservation.

Luckily thanks to yours truly, I was able to get a reservation for 10. I was shocked when I could not make the reservation on open table, but it seems the restaurant does not allow reservations of over 6 or 8 to be saved online. A couple phone calls later, we get a table on the third floor right by a back kitchen and we are on the side, almost getting a more private setting. The artwork on the walls were great, simplistic and somehow giving off a South American vibe. So after some good talk, it was time to start with the meal.

Starting off with some drinks, we pick out a couple of bottles of cheap wine, a malbec and a pinot noir, that everyone joins in to taste. Two of the girls order signature cocktails: an infamous passion fruit martini (orange rum and passion fruit juice with a ginger jalapeno infusion). I had a taste and I generally like 'stiff' drinks over sweet ones, but this one was a winner. No shock to anyone, Jon got a sweet martini as well, this one was of the magic variety. The Magic Mojito is poured atop a tuft of cotton candy, adding a sweet replacement to the traditional sugar cane. I must admit, it was pretty cool to see. After enjoying a few spirits, it was time to hit the menu...

The Appetizer

Carrot Soup: organic Tuscarora carrots, passion fruit

Heirloom Tomato Salad: watermelon, Cotija cheese, sherry dressing

Tuna Ceviche: coconut milk, avacado

Dominican Conch Fritters: jicama-avocado raviolis, passion fruit oil

At first glance, I really took a liking to the Tuna Ceviche. I love raw fish and love any sort of tartare dish. That being said, coconut milk scares me a bit. Not really anything scary about it, but it reminds me of thai food and how thickening it can be and wanted something a little less dairy. With my options now limited to three, I went with the Conch Fritters. I've only had conch once before at the airport at BWI (probably not the best location) but figured it sounded intriguing. I cannot emphasize enough how good of a decision this was. The fritters came out, I believe 3 or 4 puffy crunch pieces on a plate. It looked a little lackluster to be honest, but once you cut it open, you instantly began to salivate. The conch was prepared to perfection, a beigish color of sauce flooding out, balanced so well with the fried shell. Perhaps it was the passion fruit oil (I've never used or had this before), but it was a phenomenal start to the meal.

The Entree

Duck Confit: brussels sprouts, apples, raisins, pine nuts

Portobello Mushroom: huitlacoche, Chihauhua cheese, roasted beets, beet oil

Braised Beef Short Ribs: grilled eggplant, squash

Salmon, Veracruz Style: tomoatoes, olives, onions, and capers fresh lime and avacado

Grilled Skirt Steak
: mushrooms, green beans, truffled potato espuma

Being able to choose from an option of five different entrees showed me that Cafe Atlantico wasn't a restaurant that participated in restaurant week to merely get bodies into and out of the restaurant, but it was to impress those that came in. Providing a full gamut of types of food, I decided to select the Skirt Steak. It's funny because I chose the Skirt Steak because of an earlier experience at Georgia Brown's. I wasn't completely sold on any one particular dish, and defaulted to the skirt steak. A similar situation happened at Georgia Brown's, but i did NOT select the skirt steak. It turned out to be delicious and exceeded everyone's expectation. Although my steak was quite tasty, I was not wow'd. The food was tasty and the sides were crunchy and provided a little spice. The meat itself was very familiar and used a flavor I could not pinpoint. That being said, it wasn't a new flavor for my taste buds to dance around about. The green beans were in fact solid, however, definitely complimenting the steak well and adding to the overall satisfaction to the meal. The table actually did a great job of trying everything but the mushrooms and if I were to have another go at ordering, I'd order anything BUT the skirt steak. The salmon looked quite appetizing with a lemonish foam on top of the cut of fish. Cafe Atlantico is known for its use of texture with foods and restaurant was no different. The braised short ribs looked flavorful and seemed to fall right off the bone. Robby's duck confit was a large portion, with a colorful array of vegetables acting as a bed underneath. Again, don't get me wrong, I was not disappointed with my meal. It was one of those situations where you don't dislike your food, but all you are interested in is eating everyone else's dishes.

The Dessert

Warm Chocolate Cake
: warm chocolate cake, banana

Sorbet of the Day
: Mango

The dessert came and the chocolate cake was filled with warm chocolate fudge. The portion was sizeable and the cake was moist. Assuming that they probably served this to everyone that was in the restaurant, having so many well baked desserts is kind of impressive. A few people tried out the sorbet and enjoyed the mango, but I will admit seeing orange ice cream was kind of funny.

So that was it, Cafe Atlantico. It was tasty, good lively date spot, but I probably won't go back until I get a reservation at Mini Bar. Although the restaurant was high on the ambiance, I think the food was above average, but not exceptional. Maybe its the Latin American tinge, maybe it was just that it was restaurant week and the chef's didn't bring their 'A' game. I would never say that I won't go there again for dinner, but I'd probably choose to go to the plethora of new restaurants that I have yet to visit before making a repeat appearance.


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