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thomas matthews' blog

D.C. Dine-Around, Part 2

Exploring the many facets of José Andrés’ cuisine
Photo by: David Yellen

Posted: May 17, 2016 10:30am ET

Yesterday, I explained what prompted chef José Andrés to invite me to dine at several of his Washington, D.C., restaurants in one evening. [Full disclosure: I was Andrés’ guest for the evening.] Here's what transpired:

Tables groaned with dishes, wineglasses were always full, and we staggered from one restaurant to the next.

We began at Minibar, a jewel-box setting for a magician’s cuisine. The normal meal is about 20 tiny courses, served to 28 people per night.

We had a half-dozen bites—bursts of flavor, all cold, bold and surprising. A bowl of mussel shells included a few that were edible, somehow made from the mussel meat, molded and colored to look like the shells. They melted in the mouth. We washed everything down with Champagne and set off in high spirits.

Most of Andrés’ restaurants are located within a few blocks of each other downtown; at each, a manager guided us to the next. Everyone was enthusiastic and articulate about their restaurants' missions; many had been with Andrés for 10 years or more.

The second stop was Zaytinya, a bustling, loud and happy spot that often serves 1,000 people in an evening. The theme is Greek, and our table was covered with hummus, falafel, spanakopita and taramosalata (cured fish roe). A 2015 white from Gavalas winery on Santorini, made from the indigenous Katsano grape, was fresh and floral, a delicious accompaniment.

Next came Jaleo, focused on Spanish cuisine, and the closest to Andrés’ origins. Andy Myers, ThinkFoodGroup's wine director, opened a bottle of 2010 Quinta da Muradella Alanda. “I’m a Francophile,” he said, “but I consider Galicia the most exciting region in the world for white wines right now.”

A blend of Doña Blanca, Treixadura, Verdello and rare Monstruosa de Monterrei, this white from northwestern Spain's Monterrei appellation is expressive and savory. It marries herbal and briny notes that matched beautifully with raw oysters, chicken croquetas and exquisite pata negra salt-cured ham.

We staggered from there to China Chilcano. People were waiting three deep at the bar to try Peruvian fare influenced by the Chinese and Japanese who have long settled in the South American country. We sampled ceviches, many kinds of dumplings and a dish of fried rice with 20 vegetables called “aeropuerto,” because, apparently, you can put anything in it and it still takes off.

We barely achieved cruising altitude on our way to Oyamel, which offers Mexican food and flights of tequilas. All we could manage was a bowl of guacamole and a final taste of Champagne, as music pulsed around us and an old silent film played on a big screen above the bar.

After dozens of tastes from widely dispersed and creatively interpreted cultures, we felt disoriented, but happy.

Our progressive dinner made two things clear. First, all of Andrés’ restaurants share an ability to make people happy. Second, each achieves it in its own way, with distinctive characters and cuisines. I was happy that the wine programs all support the regional nature of the menus, with imagination and balance.

I don’t have a clear memory of that unsatisfactory dinner so long ago, but no matter how much it actually motivated Andrés, he is clearly working at a very high level today.

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