A tour of D.C.’s food scene wouldn’t be complete without examining Chef José Andrés‘ restaurant empire. The Think Food Group owns five highly lauded eateries in the metropolitan area: Minibar by Jose Andrés, Café Atlántico, Oyamel, Jaleo, and Zaytinya. Located within walking distance of one another in Penn Quarter, each restaurant has a different vibe and a distinct culinary viewpoint.
On our second day in the city, we enjoyed a progressive lunch at Chef Andrés’ restaurants. My feelings were lukewarm at best after dining at The Bazaar by José Andrés in Los Angeles, so this tour offered the perfect opportunity to experience the chef’s cuisine on his home turf. I was hoping to be wowed.
Minibar by José Andrés
With Minibar tucked into the second floor of Café Atlántico, our first two stops turned out to be one in the same. The six seat Minibar (yep, just six seats!) serves an avant-garde tasting menu with upwards of 30 courses. “This is food that owes as much to art and science as it does to gastronomy, food that is as much about the brain and eye as it is about the tongue and stomach, food that forces the diner to rethink food and its presentation,” states the restaurant’s website.
As a tremendous fan of Spanish molecular gastronomy, I was most excited to experience Minibar. Unfortunately, we were only given a taste, literally and figuratively, of what the restaurant had to offer.
“Olives Ferran Adria” arrived on a porcelain spoon in a shallow pool of olive oil. The spherified green olive encompassed all the qualities of a great olive, minus the proper texture. I’ve experienced these spheres dozens of times, but the sensation of the thin membrane popping and unleashing a flood of flavored liquid never gets old. [Watch Ferran Adria and José Andrés explain the spherification process here.]
Continue reading ‘José Andrés Washington D.C. Restaurant Tour: Minibar, Café Atlántico, Oyamel, Jaleo, Zaytinya’
After The Astronomer and I left the sunny shores of Valencia, we hopped a train to Girona, where our only order of business was to dine at El Celler De Can Roca. Even though this was our third three-star Michelin meal in the span of two weeks, I eagerly anticipated it as if it were the first.
Founded in 1986, El Celler de Can Roca gives new meaning to the term “family restaurant.” The place is run by three brothers [Joan Roca heads up the kitchen, Josep Roca is the maitre d’ and head sommelier, and Jordi Roca is the pastry chef], but the food is far from homey, and the space is decidedly modern.
In 2007, the restaurant relocated a hundred meters from the original grounds. Here, the chefs work in a state-of-the-art kitchen cum lab, while the sommelier manages a wine cellar that offers customers an audio-visual journey through five key wine regions.
In the custom-built space, diners are treated to a gorgeous dining room with an abundance of natural light pouring in. The miniature arboretum in the center offers a tranquil and understated view. As The Astronomer and I settled into our table and perused the menu, we were served complimentary glasses of Cava (Finca Viladellops 08 D.O. Penedes).
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The Astronomer and I dined at Arzak on our final evening in San Sebastian. Of the trio of high end modern restaurants on our itinerary, I was anticipating this one the most. Juan Mari Arzak, the restaurant’s chef and owner, is regarded as one of the great masters of New Basque cuisine. I’ve been gawking at photos of his food for years, so it was extremely exciting to finally step into his den and let the magic begin.
The building where the restaurant is located has been in the Arzak family since it was built in 1897. Constructed by Juan Mari’s grandparents, the space was initially used as a wine inn and tavern. Juan Mari’s parents eventually took it over and converted it into a restaurant specializing in celebratory banquets.
In 1966, after completing his education and a stint in the military, Juan Mari returned to the kitchen where he grew up and began developing his signature cuisine alongside his mother, whom he credits as “the one that revealed all the secrets of gastronomy.” Under Juan Mari’s watch, Arzak became the first Spanish restaurant to earn three Michelin stars in 1989. Today, kitchen duties are shared between Juan Mari and his daughter Elena, and all three Michelin stars remain intact.
While the restaurant’s exterior is a bit dated, the interior is black, white, and modern all over. Each table was adorned simply with a single white iris.
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Spain really was the perfect place for us to honeymoon. While The Astronomer enjoyed practicing his rusty Spanish and whooping it up at rowdy futbol games [See: FC Barcelona and Real Madrid], I had the pleasure of taking in some spectacular art and eating at the world’s greatest restaurants. Of all the places on our culinary itinerary, it was a trio of thoroughly modern restaurants that I was most stoked about. I’ve always adored the playful, innovative, and twisted genre of molecular gastronomy, and experiencing it on its home turf was a dream come true.
Our first stop on the cutting-edge cookery tour was at Chef Pedro Subijana’s 35-year-old restaurant Akelarre in San Sebastian. Located high above the Bay of Biscay, Akelarre boasts a magnificent view. Taking in the ocean in between bites made the dining experience all the more wonderful. A table by the window is a must.
The dining room was comfortable and understated, while the service was efficient and quite friendly for a 3-star Michelin rated restaurant. I love fine dining but hate stuffy atmospheres. Akelarre hit all the right notes to make me feel at ease. I also appreciated that there were a handful of English speaking staffers who could answer my questions (sometimes cryptically) about ingredients and techniques.
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