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: Some of the nation’s most visionary and rewarding cooking can be found at culinary whiz José Andrés’s restaurant/laboratory, where three chefs concoct 30 or so lilliputian courses—from the amusingly ridiculous (a compressed square of popcorn deep-frozen in liquid nitrogen that lets you blow “smoke” out your nose dragon style) to the sublime (custard-filled brioche bun with caviar).
Mood: Dining at the six-seat restaurant on the second floor of Café Atlántico is akin to eating at a sushi bar—diners sit on stools and watch as food is prepared. But here the morsels are presented with military precision, complete with instructions: “Eat this in one bite.”
Best for: Culinary adventurers; food snobs; anyone willing to see dinner as the entertainment and not the fuel-up before the show.
Best dishes: The menu evolves constantly, but recent tastes included olive-oil bonbons that burst open on the tongue; “tumbleweed of beet”; cotton-candy-swathed eel; faux sun-dried tomatoes made with tomato juice; salmon-pineapple “ravioli” with crispy quinoa; roasted Asian baby corn with sweet-corn purée; Thai frozen yogurt with honey and crushed peanuts.
Insider tips: The reservations process seems designed to weed out all but the most persistent. You have to call at exactly 10 am one month in advance and be prepared to hit the redial button. Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays are nominally easier gets than weekends, and there’s always the waiting list.
Service: *** (three stars).
Open Tuesday through Saturday for dinner.