Washington, D.C. has always been known for its museums and cultural offerings. More recently, this town has become a food mecca and a place that has inspired new concepts and innovative ideas from chefs and restaurateurs. America Eats Tavern, a new "pop-up" restaurant that has temporarily taken the space of the former Cafe Atlantico has beautifully fused together the best of Washington by offering a menu that is based on a current exhibit at the National Archives, and that showcases some of the most traditional and classic American dishes in a creative way. America Eats Tavern appropriately opened on July 4th and will run through January of 2012 in coordination with the exhibit at the National Archives called "What's Cooking Uncle Sam? The Government's Effect on the American Diet". Chef Jose Andres is passionate about this new venture and proceeds from the restaurant will be donated in order to support the National Archives. Last night I was lucky to attend a press dinner where we were given the opportunity to try many of the signature dishes on the menu, and to hear from the chef himself as well as the ThinkFoodGroup regarding their efforts surrounding this project. The experience at America Eats is playful and educational as it provides a little bit of history and description with each dish that you order providing context and conversation for the diner.
I started with a cocktail that was quite tasty, but so strong that I had to limit my intake. It was called the Philadelphia Fish House Punch and contained Cognac, peach brandy, and rum... need I say more? Thankfully I was able to coat my stomach with some substantial appetizers that included the fried chicken with blueberry catsup and the hush puppies with homeamde corn butter and american sturgeon caviar. Both appetizers deserve a "wow" for the level of deliciousness. The chicken was so delightfully crunchy with little grease, and the small dab of blueberry flavor on top added a great zing to the bite. The hush puppies were warm, buttery, and provided a sophisticated twist on a typically casual southern dish. Before I knew it we were taking our seats and bracing ourselves for a lovely evening filled with cleverly crafted food.
Each individual received over nine dishes throughout the evening (the portion sizes were small, but there was a lot of variety). Some of my favorites included the shrimp in grapefruit cocktail, peanut soup, crab with old bay air, and the buffalo wings. Irma Rombauer is cited on the menu next to the shrimp in grapefruit cocktail dish noting that "Rombauer was a St. Louis widow who self-published The Joy of Cooking as she struggled to support her family. The book sold in the millions through the 20th century, with its simple, conversational recipes. This fresh salad, from Rombauer's first edition, reflects the great journey of the American grapefruit. A century before The Joy of Cooking, they traveled from Barbados to Florida, and then -- with the help of Spanish missionairies -- to Texas, where the Ruby Red was born". It is stories like this that fill the pages of the menu at America Eats, and Chef Jose even brought around the original copy of Rombauer's book to share with us as we ate this dish.
The buffalo wing was probably my favorite bite of the night. It was a boneless nugget covered in a spicy sauce with a light bleu cheese dressing that had just the right amount of kick to it. The peanut soup was refreshing and the menu credits George Washington Carver from 1914 on this dish. It was served cold and had a mix of creamy stock as well as crushed peanuts to allow for some great texture. Finally, the desserts of key lime pie and cheesecake both were presented in mousse consistencies rather than the typical solids making it a lot easier to finish the whole thing after a long night of eating.
America Eats Tavern will be around through early 2012 along with the exhibit which makes for a fun Washington afternoon of museum going followed by a meal at the restaurant to get a taste for what you just learned about. It is unclear at this time what Jose Andres has in store for the space come next year, but in the meantime this is a welcomed addition that fuses food and education which seems "oh-so-appropriate" for Washington.
America Eats Tavern
405 8th Street NW
Washington, DC 20004