This first-time guest bitch moved to DC from Houston about two weeks ago. Y’all, I’ve been warned to be quite wary of anything around these parts advertising itself as Latino cuisine. What does Nuevo Latino mean, and what could it mean in DC? I imagine a souped-up, fancified version of traditional bodega fare (traditional Latin food with a contemporary twist), but only appropriate served on white-linen tablecloths.
At a Saturday brunch at Café Atlantico in Penn Quarter, our motley crew inhaled the pretty plates, all full of a random assortment of Latin American ingredients. What’s in that? Should we get the menu back? Who cares? It’s so good.
We decided to melt outside on the patio and people-watch, rather than take a table inside the colorful, two-story restaurant. The staff accommodated by rearranging many large umbrellas to provide the most shade possible. As soon as we opened the menu, we realized we came a day too early: the “world famous” Café Atlantico Latino Dim Sum Brunch is on Sundays. We fail.
But @TheRobbStory had already begun brunching with a Bloody Mary, and fellow brunchers @UnsuckDCmetro and @BeccaClaraLove were ordering cocktails too. Lo que será, será! But expect a return visit by the Bitches on a Sunday.
The drinks were perfect on paper, but in person the Bloody Mary was a little bland, the Pisco Sour too sour, and the Mimosa had to be ordered special ‘cause it wasn’t even on the menu.
To get started on the grub, we requested the spicy level of their fresh guacamole. I was looking for something caliente; who doesn’t want a little sexy spice with their Saturday brunch? The guac was made tableside, and it had a bit of a kick, but it wasn’t anything that would make you sweat. And, the best part was the queso fresco sprinkled on top – for an extra charge.
I had heard (or rather, researched via “60 Minutes”) that the chef at this joint, Jose Andres, is into molecular gastronomy fare. Basically, crafting bizarre creations by messing with the science of each dish’s ingredients, or something along those lines.
The smoked salmon dish I ordered was a kitchen-chemistry-project example: it was like lox deconstructed. Four egg pouches of sorts filled with salmon mousse and mixed up with Latin flair, with random bits like arugula, pineapple and mango, and topped with caviar. Throw in toast, a salad with smoked salmon, and slight befuddlement as I grabbed the menu to figure out what everything was I had ordered.
By far, the most interesting and yum-factor dish on the table was the Eggs Benedicto. This is like how the dish should have been made if Benedict Arnold had been a traitor named Benedicto Arturo. It’s made with pork belly pupusa, egg 63 and avocado hollandaise. I thought these were spectacular, and super inventive. The pork came mixed in, which we weren’t expecting. And it was topped with a refreshing frisee – everything might have even been better as leftovers the next day.
The other two dishes the table ordered were good, but nothing special. The Steak and Egg Quesadilla, made with skirt steak, onions, avocado and Chihuahua cheese, was something I could have easily whipped up at home, but I kept going back for more bites, ’cause you can’t really go wrong when eating anything semi-resembling breakfast taco. Nom. Nom. And the crab cake salad was standard fare for any ol’ restaurant. Some tropical fruits thrown on top made it Nuevo Latino.
After two pisco sours and a few bites of everything, I had plenty of room and lots of hopes for dessert. How to choose? Impossible. We restrained and ordered just one for the table: the chocolate cake with banana, which was warm and made with Venezuelan chocolate flan, banana foam, and banana-lime salad.
Banana foam, you say? That’s what I mean if you are still wondering about molecular gastronomy. Sounded awesome-sauce (my new word) to me. Why not try putting every ingredient on the plate onto one fork and sinking into expected delciousness? Because, you will make a face like I did.
Well, probably not, because most people can control their reactions to their surprise at the banana foam, lime and rich chocolate so not mixing well together. I suggest trying the items individually first and going forth with your palate experiment.
The Bitches say: B, good service, and I’m interested in going back there for dinner on the second-floor or maybe Sunday Latin Dim Sum (eek?!?), but not a top pick for a Saturday brunch.
405 8th St. N.W.