New Restaurants, Washington D.C.
In the meantime, America waits–for its $15 appetizers. On Saturday evening, my second night in D.C., we visited José Andrés’ latest restaurant America Eats. I have to say I was underwhelmed.
Having lived in D.C. and eaten in his restaurants countless times, my expectations were high. I had also heard it was impossible to get a reservation on a weekend night, which made me infinitely more curious. The restaurant itself was busy, but we easily found seats in the bar at 7:00 p.m. We had dinner plans, so we ordered some appetizers just to check it out.
A she crab soup that was otherwise delicious–velvety, sea salty, with delicate crab flavor–was served cold, unfortunately. And my dish of fried green tomatoes and shrimp was undercooked. The retro cocktails were outstanding, and the service was excellent at the bar where we sat. The bartender bought us a round while we waited for our food to be cooked again, and he was friendly and attentive, but I doubt I’d go back.
The restaurant was opened in conjunction with the food exhibit “What’s Cooking Uncle Sam?” at the National Archives. (incidentally, Andrés is the consulting chef on this exhibit). The exhibit was fantastic. I went the next day, and enjoyed it very much. It explores the government’s role in American food history, and it’s full fascinating bits of information from how seeds were preserved from Thomas Jefferson’ farm, to what was on the menu at historic White House dinners.
But back to America Eats. The restaurant is located in the building on D Street near the Archives building and the national mall where Café Atlantico and Mini Bar used to be. The switch has caused much intrigue and speculation. Café was closed to open America eats, which left many fans of the restaurant (which has been around for more than ten years, first in Adams Morgan and then at D Street) wondering if this was a permanent change. The latest word is that Minibar, but not necessarily Café, will reopen in a different location.
I am particularly interested in this story because I worked at Café the year that Mini Bar opened. This posed a problem for me that night on another front. The space that houses America Eats lacked atmosphere. The walls were white and pretty bare and the open concept space, which spans three levels, felt vacuous and empty. In the time of Café, the restaurant was colorful, festive, always packed, and great music was always playing. It had a distinct identity, which was part of its draw.
Like Café, Andrés other D.C. restaurants–tapas restaurant Jaleo next door and Zaytinya in Chinatown–both have distinct personalities which are part of their attraction. Café Atlantico was festive, and though not fine-dining, nice enough for a special occasion. Jaleo is fun, casual and great for groups. And Zaytinya is modern and elegant, the perfect place for a date. In contrast, America Eats needs to find its identify.