Straight from print: The chef missing from your DC foodie bucket list
José Andrés aims to tell stories with his unique restaurant experiences
This article originally appeared in The Eagle’s fall 2016 special edition.
Chef José Andrés has taken the world by storm with his unique restaurant experiences. And that’s exactly what a night out at one of his many restaurants is — an experience.
Andrés and his partner Rob Wilder are the co-founders of ThinkFoodGroup, a creative team behind the kitchen doors of over 25 wildly different restaurant concepts. Andrés’ inspiration for his food is in his passion for storytelling, something he incorporates into every menu item, according to a ThinkFoodGroup representative. ThinkFoodGroup works with Andrés to develop and research new, innovative ways to share these stories with the world.
Today Andrés holds the title of Outstanding Chef by the James Beard Foundation, and was named one of Time Magazine’s 100 most influential people in 2012. He is known for advocating to fight hunger issues, and formed World Central Kitchen in 2012, a non-profit aiming to empower communities and improve economies through the power of food. Andrés has been honored with the McCall-Pierpaoli Humanitarian Award and the EY Master Entrepreneur of the Year Award for Greater Washington, among many other honors and distinctions.
With 14 restaurants in the D.C. area alone, it’s hard to keep track of all of Andrés’ restaurants. We compiled a detailed list of his local treasures, so you can check all of Andrés’ experiences off your bucket list.
If you’re looking for a fun night out in Mexico City, but can’t afford the plane tickets, look no further than this young and modern experience. All of Oyamel’s flavors stem from the countryside of Oaxaca, Morelia and Distrito Federal. The menu is great for groups who are into sharing, as it offers mostly small Mexican tasting plates, called antojitos. These plates make it easier to split the check (no more “who ordered what” situations), and gives you a little taste of a variety of Mexican creations.
The small plates include ceviche (marinated seafood salads), ensaladas (salads), verduras (vegetables), mariscos (seafood), carnes (meat), authentic Mexican tacos served in handmade, warm corn tortillas and sopas (soups). The star of the show is the table-side guacamole, crafted fresh with green tomatillo, serrano chile, crumbled queso fresco, and a basket of Oyamel’s tortilla chips. For those who are over 21, you can enjoy the impressive selection of margaritas, cocktails, wines, beers, tequilas, spirits and more.
If you haven’t tried the newest addition to Tenleytown, you’ve truly been missing out. This fast-casual, vegetable focused restaurant originally planted its roots on GW’s campus in early 2015, and has grown into an overnight sensation. The chain quickly expanded to three D.C. locations, as well as one in Maryland and one in Philadelphia.
For those who get a little overwhelmed by options, you’re welcome to order from the chef-inspired combinations. For anyone who wants to be a little more creative or is a little picky, you can create your own grain bowl or salad. Once you’ve chosen your fresh veggies, they are tossed into a steam basket, and then thrown into a bowl with grains, sauces, toppings and a protein for an additional price. If you’re looking for something beyond the grain bowls, try the Beefsteak Tomato Burger, salad or gazpacho.
Chef José Andrés has created something so innovative with China Chilcano, it’s almost impossible to understand until you’ve sat down for a meal. The menu finds a common ground between the traditional cuisine of Peruvian Criollo (Spanish and West African influences) and the Asian flavors of Chinese Chifa (a Peruvian Cantonese mix) and Japanese Nikkei (Japanese Peruvian blend). If you’ve ever wondered what South American-Asian cuisine tastes like, Chef Andrés has your answer.
Every dish plays with the flavors of traditional Peruvian staples, weaving in elements from Japanese and Chinese traditions. But why this combination? According to the menu, “In the late 19th century, Chinese and Japanese settlers traveled to Peru and made it their home, bringing with them time-honored cooking traditions that sparked the beginning of the rich, multicultural offering that is Peruvian cuisine.” This combination brings dishes to your palate such as sashimi (raw fish), nigiri (raw fish with rice), ceviche (marinated seafood salads), anticuchos (skewers), sushi rolls, dim sum, soups and salads, vegetable plates, rice and noodles, meat and seafood. Menu items feature insignias that indicate which country influenced the specific dish.
The incredible flavors of Spain are the stars of this D.C. hot spot. The atmosphere itself overflows with Chef Andrés’ influence, sporting bright red, black, and white color schemes throughout. The tables are printed with funky patterns and block lettering, and the guests are young and full of wine. The restaurant has grown in popularity since its original opening, and now has five locations throughout the U.S and Mexico, with three that are metro accessible from AU in Bethesda, Penn Quarter and Crystal City.
The menu features traditional small Spanish dishes for sharing, called tapas, in addition to paella and more than enough Sangria and Spanish wine to go around. The menu features small dishes of cheese and cured meat tasting, salads and soups, vegetables, meats, fried foods, fish and seafood, and a unique tasting menu opportunity. Plates are served as they are ready, offering guests the chance to sip on their sangria while sharing one small dish at a time. The authentic Spanish ingredients offer an immersive experience for diners. Some of the traditional ingredients include Manchego cheese, quail eggs, squid ink, rabbit confit and house made sausage and chorizo.
Zaytinya’s light blue color scheme places you in the heart of the Mediterranean, which is exactly where you’ll want to be while dining on these Turkish, Greek and Lebanese inspired dishes. The meals are mezze style, which means you can easily share them, or order a few for yourself to taste. People line up for the doors to open at brunch time and stay late in the evening sipping on Mediterranean inspired cocktails.
The first page of Zaytinya’s menu reads, “Food is about making an interaction with ingredients. If you talk to them, they will always tell you a story.” And that rings true with all of Andrés’ Mediterranean specialties. The hommus is not something to miss, and it gives you something smooth and creamy to dip your complimentary endless pita bread in. The bread is light and airy instead of doughy like the Middle Eastern version. Many of the pitas come out just slightly charred and puffy, and pair perfectly with the a la carte spreads or complimentary fresh olive oil. The rest of the dinner menu is broken down into soups and salads, flatbread, vegetable mezze, seafood mezze and meat and poultry mezze.
American Eats Tavern
Though located slightly outside of D.C. at Tyson’s Corner in Virginia, American Eats Tavern showcases Chef Andrés’ ability to craft incredible meals with American influence. The restaurant allows diners to travel through their own country’s heritage, and celebrates how immigrants have helped transform American flavors. Standout dishes that scream “America” are the suckling pig jambalaya, chicken and biscuits and Maine lobster roll.
American Eats Tavern serves delectable breakfast dishes on weekday mornings and brunch on the weekends, highlighting both savory and sweet plates. Lunch and dinner offer seafood, artisanal cheese, country ham, soup and salads, small plates, vegetables, sandwiches, burgers, large plates and rice bowls. A highlight of the menu is the variety of “catsups,” or handmade traditional ketchups, that were common in colonial times. In addition, the menu includes a list of all the local American farmers and purveyors the restaurant sources its ingredients from, sticking with the true American, local theme.
Honorable Mentions: Pepe Food Truck, Minibar and Barmini
Andrés’ food truck, Pepe, gets an honorable mention here, because it rolls around D.C., Maryland and Virginia in varying locations throughout the week. The food truck is under the umbrella of José Andrés Catering, and serves up Spanish influenced sandwiches and soups. The truck is generally around for lunchtime, and the location can be found on the truck’s Twitter and Facebook page.
Minibar is an exclusive “study in an avant-garde cooking” restaurant, seating only six guests per evening for a ticketed, multi course experience. The tasting menu combines art and science to test the limits of where food can take you. Guests are welcome to reserve their tickets 90 days in advance to enjoy the creations, and meals start at $275 per person before beverage pairings. Barmini is the cocktail lounge adjacent to Minibar, which is located on E St. near Chinatown.
What’s next for José Andrés?
If you’re heading out to the National Harbor in the near future, Andrés is working on his newest creation- the seafood focused FISH at MGM National Harbor. The cuisine features local seafood caught in Maryland and the Chesapeake Bay Watershed, and honors world wide cooking techniques, according to a ThinkFoodGroup representative.