855 E St., NW
Washington, DC 20004
Neighborhood: Penn Quarter/Chinatown
Cuisines: Spanish/Portuguese, Modern
Tuesday through Saturday for dinner.
Nearby Metro Stops: Gallery Place-Chinatown, Archives-Navy Memorial-Penn Quarter
Price Range: Very expensive
Noise Level: Chatty
Oaxacan marshmallow; pig-tail-curry panini; chicken shawarma; Thai soup; carrots with coconut; beech-mushroom risotto; oysters with escabeche; squab with oysters and seaweed; “pine snow” with honey; sticky rice with mango.
Cuisine: A freewheeling, genre-defying banquet of 27 experimental courses—conceived by chef José Andrés and protégé Katsuya Fukushima—that play with flavors as they play with your mind. It all starts with a caipirinha gone Weird Science—rocks of cocktail-flavored sorbet that froth and melt at the pour of liquid nitrogen—and careens through hypermodern twists on chicken wings, corn on the cob, even a Philly cheesesteak. The foams-and-“airs” trend may be dying off elsewhere, but here you feel at the forefront of something that transcends fads.
Mood: This restaurant within a restaurant, housed inside Café Atlántico, is a small, six-seat bar at which three chefs prepare each dish in front of you. It’s like a master class in avant-garde cooking, with much of the course coming straight from ElBulli, Andrés mentor Ferran Adriá’s mecca of gastro-science in Spain.
Best for: Adventurous couples, chemistry buffs, foodies looking for something to talk about.
Best dishes: The lineup changes, but look for the Parmesan “Pringle”—a dough of egg whites and shredded Parmesan baked into a chiplike round—with Greek yogurt for dipping; deconstructed clam chowder with clams encased in clam aspic, bacon and caramelized-onion creams, and potato purée; cigala, a sweet, langoustinelike crustacean served with soy “air,” hijiki, and lemon marmalade; Philly cheesesteak: a baguette filled with drippy cheddar cream and topped with slices of Wagyu; a passion-fruit-flavored marshmallow.
Insider tips: Getting in is the hardest part: You have to call the reservationist at 10 am exactly one month prior to the day you want to dine. If you’re flexible, ask to be placed on the waiting list for a couple of specific dates. There are two seatings each night, at 6 and 8:30.