Burmese cooking might come across at first like a curious mash-up of Chinese, Thai, and Indian influences, but it takes only a few samplings of the salads, casseroles, and noodle dishes at this quietly ambitious restaurant to discover that the comparatively obscure cuisine is wholly its own. Each plate delivers a symphony of textures and flavors—sweet, salty, spicy, soft, crunchy—sometimes in a single mouthful. The well-lit dining room, with its framed tapestries and native calligraphy, exudes calm, and the gracious staff keeps things running smoothly. 617 S. Frederick Ave., Gaithersburg; 301-963-1429.
José Andrés’s pan-Latin hot spot has been upstaged by the hyper-creative and often exquisite Minibar upstairs, and Atlántico sometimes comes across as a laboratory for that experimental six-seater, where cooks try out new deconstructions, foams, gelées (lately in soup form), and other reinventions (a cauliflower couscous). When Atlántico is off, you’re aware of the gears grinding. When it’s on—and both are possible in a single meal—there are moments of wonderful eating. But the determined hustle of the staff in pitching the made-to-order, $13 guacamole is a disquieting note. 405 Eighth St., NW; 202-393-0812.
It’s with the daily specials that the kitchen, under the direction of Davide Megna, stretches out and often succeeds, as with a house-made boar sausage with juniper. Co-owner Roberto Deias works the room, cuffing shoulders and welcoming back regulars, many of them Potomac residents who have turned the restaurant into a second kitchen. If you like atmosphere, come early; the dining room tends to empty by 9:30 on a Friday. Still, unlike many of Washington’s top Italian restaurants, it’s never stuffy. 1093 Seven Locks Rd., Potomac; 301-545-0966.
This article appears in the February, 2010 issue of The Washingtonian.
Follow the Best Bites Bloggers on Twitter at twitter.com/bestbitesblog