Even more than in its previous incarnation inside Café Atlántico, the latest staging of José Andrés’s Minibar—in a space that engulfs you in gone-to-heaven white—showcases a highly manipulated cuisine, with liquid nitrogen, water baths, and powders creating edibles so intense they taste like extracts. Still, it’s a tease for the diner, a denial of the simple pleasures of chowing down. And the cost—$225 for food—makes it the most expensive dinner in the area.
Bryan Voltaggio clearly intends to show you the full extent of what he can do at this 14,000-square-foot space in Chevy Chase Pavilion, which employs a butcher and chocolatier. You can dine on kimchee pasta with uni or down a Neapolitan-style pizza. The challenge for Voltaggio—a former Top Chef contestant who owns three restaurants in Frederick—will be in keeping so many balls in the air at once.
If you think it’s daring to launch an all-tasting-menu restaurant in recessionary times, then get a load of the dishes themselves at Johnny Spero’s Capitol Hill arriviste. Candied root vegetables kick things off. Meringues resembling shards of marble send you home. You won’t know what’s coming, and when it does come, chances are you won’t know what you’re looking at. It’s a beguiling, sometimes baffling, night out. But the talent is undeniable, and the operation is sure to evolve and mature.
4. Wildwood Kitchen
Robert Wiedmaier’s latest venture occupies the middle ground between Marcel’s, his posh DC flagship, and Mussel Bar & Grille, his clamorous Bethesda hot spot. The chef has cut down on butter and cream—a shift for a man who made his rep with boudin blanc and other caloric Continental classics. The surprise, early on, is that the food hardly suffers. Pestos and caponatas abound, but it’s the technical rigor of the kitchen that elevates dishes like lamb meatballs above the norm.
5. Woodward Table
Jeffrey Buben’s third restaurant couldn’t be more different from his Bistro Bis or Vidalia in mission or mood. The place calls to mind an upmarket Hot Shoppes: unassuming and dependable. The something-for-everyone menu emphasizes hearty portions of unfussy fare—a lamb T-bone with pearl onions or corned beef with potatoes. But the price for such simplicity is high, especially when others in its class offer more in the way of daring or pampering.