Brunch at Cafe Atlantico

Cafe Atlantico
405 8th St. NW
Washington, DC, 20004
(202) 393-0812

View from our table

I am writing this review almost immediately after having the chef tasting brunch at Cafe Atlantico. As I walked into the Georgetown Law library (where I am now located), I felt like I was walking in a cloud of foie gras and champagne. This is by far, hands down, the best brunch I’ve ever had, and Cafe Atlantico is definitely the number 1 restaurant I’ve visited in DC. (Note: if you look at the Wish List page, there are quite a few top restaurants that I haven’t yet tasted. Of the ones I have been to, however, this is number 1.) If you have a chance to experience the nuevo latino dum sum brunch at Cafe Atlantico, I highly recommend it. For what you pay, you’re definitely getting a steal: amazing food, great service, and with the chef’s tasting menu you get to re-taste any dishes that you liked. This re-tasting option proved very beneficial for the foie gras soup, which on the first time around we let sit for too long and get luke warm.

Listed below is the order of the tasting menu, a picture of each dish followed by the name and a short description. The title of each dish will be followed by a number that corresponds to the group in which the dish came out. For instance, all the goup 1s came out together, and so on. At the end I will have some general remarks on the meal as a whole.

Watermelon and tomato skewers (1)

The watermelong itself was sweet with a nice firm texture, and the tomato matched the texture of the watermelon almost perfectly. Very light on the whole.

Oyster with mango-lime oil (1)

Probably some of the best oysters I’ve ever had. The mango really highlighted the silky texture of the oyster. The only quib I have with this dish is that my oyster was a little too attached to the shell and I had a hard time eating it, but the combination of flavors was really delicate and elegant.

Mango-anchovy ravioli (1)

This was the first really exciting dish of the menu. The “pasta” of the raviolo was actually thinly shaved mango, filled with an anchovy foam over a base of mango puree. I was a little scared that my ravioli was going to pop by the time I got it into my mouth, but the combination of flavors was truly exquisite. The ravioli itself was like a little soft pillow that burst with the salty anchovy foam, which was counterbalanced with the sweet richness of the mango puree. Everything melded together so well, and this one was truly exceptional.

Tuna ceviche with coconut (1)

This tuna ceviche was cooked with jicama and topped with finely chopped corn nuts and a few pieces of diced red onion. I appreciated how the tuna still had a firm texture and was relatively mild. The corn nuts offered a nice crunch and alternative texture.

Potato & vanilla mousse with American caviar (2)

This was another breathtakingly exceptional dish. The potato mousse is plainly the best mashed potatos I’ve ever had, ever. The vanilla came from a vanilla oil that was poured on top of the mousse, and when it infused with the potato the flavor was subtle but definite. At times you would get a little punch of vanilla. The caviar was resting at the bottom of the glass like little black jewels and little hidden surprises. This ranks in one of my favorites for the meal.

Hot & cold foie gras and corn soup

The first time this dish came out, we already had enough on our table to occupy our time that it sat out for a little while, causing the hot and cold elements to blend together. It was still very good, but the dramatic contrast wasn’t there. When we ordered this again at the end of our meal, however, we really got to appreciate the hot and cold elements. The bottom was hot and rich, while the top was cold and airy. Both elements were very light, something that you normally do not experience with foie gras. The soup was topped with crunchy bits of corn. This dish was exceptional, and conveyed the richness and depth of flavor of foie gras with an entirely new texture. Another favorite.

Conch fritters with a liquid center (2)

This picture just doesn’t do this dish justice, and it’s unfortunate that I did not get a shot of the inside after I took my first bite. The outside of the fritter tastes exactly like a classic corndog outside, and brought flooding back lots of old memories of my childhood. The inside was truly amazing. The conch itself was cut up into smaller pieces that were floating in a rich, liquid, warm center.

Pineapple-unagi with avocado sauce (3)

In contrast with the conch fritters, this dish looked better than it tasted. Not that it was bad, it just didn’t rise to the same level of exceptional as the other dishes. Although the pineapple played well off the unagi and softened the saltiness of the eel, the eel itself was a little too fishy, and the avocado didn’t really come out like I would have liked. All in all, the flavors didn’t marry completely together, and the flow of the flavors just wasn’t there.

Grilled skirt steak “Carne Asada” (3)

Easily the best steak I’ve ever had, or at least tied with #1 with the 72 hour short ribs at Central. How can I completely describe this steak? I don’t think I have the words capable of doing so. The texture was phenomenal and melted in your mouth. The flavor was exceptional. Everything was juicy and cooked absolutely perfectly. If perfection were a steak, this might very well be it. A very high ranking favorite for the whole meal.

Cocount rice, crispy rice & ginger (3)

The texture of this rice was almost like rice pudding, but not too sweet. The ginger was subtle but suffused very well throughout the entire rice, adding just enough sweetness without taking it to the realm of dessert. The crunchy rice offered a nice flavor contrast, and paired nicely with the hot temperature of the coconut rice. A favorite. I wish I had a big tub of this waiting for me whenever I came home from law school.

Duck confit with passion fruit oil (4)

I’m posting two pictures of this because I want you to see the caramelization on the outside of the duck. This dish was absolutely fabulous. The skin of the duck had a great crunch with a sweet caramelization that was just to die for. The inside of the duck was luscious, moist, and almost buttery, and the meat just fell right off the bone. The cruncy caramalized skin blended perfectly with the moist softness of the duck meat, and this is yet another dish that I could eat over an over again. Huge favorite. I don’t remember much of the passion fruit oil, but the outside tasted like honey and vanilla. Exquisite.

Fried egg with mashed black beans & pork (4)

It’s hard to go wrong with refried beans. I don’t know if these can necessarily be characterized as refried beans, but they were very similar. The exceptional part of this dish was the fried egg itself. Someday, if I’m lucky enough, I will get lessons on cooking fried eggs from the chef here, because they are always perfect. The outside of the egg is crunchy but very thin, and the yolk bursts with bright color and flavor. Mixed all together, everything was very good. I completely missed out on the fact that there was pork in this dish. Maybe it was not included today?

Seated cigala with vanilla oil (4)

Like the unagi, this was another dip from the high level of exception that most of the dishes carried. Nevertheless, it was still very good. The cigala itself was cooked perfectly without being tough and rubbery, and the vanilla played well with the buttery-ness of the meat.

Pan dulce with cinnamon syrup (5, final)

This is what I take as Cafe Atlantico’s ode to french toast. It was sweet and soft with a nice crunch, but it left something to be desired. I guess I could have ordered a dessert or something after all of this, but I was looking forward to a little but more of a wow factor in the final dish. Regardless, it was still good, but not exceptional.

Overall, this was the most fun and imaginative brunch I have ever had. The service was great and our waiter was very attentive. The only problem I had with the service was that the woman refilling the water glasses completely got in my way while I was trying to eat the cigala, but other than that the service was smooth. We got to try so many different flavors and textures; some were real surprises and some were just perfection on classics. Not only did the dishes themselves have a great balance, but the flow of the menu and the balance of the dishes as a whole was exceptional. The last dish was anticlimactic, and only a few of the other dishes were not as exceptional as the rest, but these are the only “issues” I had. Jay asked me if I would rank this 4.5 or 5 stars, and I would have to say 4 3/4 stars.

If you are looking for an inventive and progressive meal that tasted great but does not stray too far from the classics, I highly recommend this brunch. I will definitely go back again, and again, and again ….


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September 2008
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