Saturday, October 3, 2009

Restaurant Review - Cafe Atlantico

This is an odd week for me. My best friend is in town. She lives out of the country, so when she's here, it's a mad whirlwind of fitting everything in and seeing all of her/our friends. She's a crazy foodie and has no problem spending $400 for a good meal. She's also an unabashed omnivore and thinks the whole vegan thing is a little whack-a-doo, but is supportive of me. We're going out for at least 5 meals at high-end restaurants in the next 5 days in the Washington DC area, so I'll be writing reviews of them and their vegan friendliness as part of my Vegan MoFo entries. Although after she leaves next week, there will be no more, because she's the one with the insane disposible income and I don't go to these types of places without her. I apologize in advance for no pictures, but the only camera I have is a big honkin' DSLR. It does not fit into my evening bag. And my cell phone's camera capabilities are not even worth mentioning. So, sorry. Use your imaginations.

Tonight we went with another friend to Café Atlántico. It was a spur of the moment decision, we didn't really have anything planned for tonight after this 3rd friend arrived in town, so I didn't have any time to research its menu or veggie options before going. I've also never been there before, although I quite enjoy some of its sister restaurants - Jaleo and Zaytinya especially. It's located in Penn Quarter, on 8th Street between D and E. Right across from the downtown branch of Teaism, my very favorite lunch spot in DC. That 8th Street corridor, of course, is also the home to the downtown farmers' market every Thursday (until December, I think). Right away, I'm a fan of the location. Café Atlántico cuisine is desribed as "Nuevo Latino" and it is the home to the Latino Dim Sum brunch on Sundays, which looks interested (and offers a vegetarian tasting menu for that, apparently).

My BF ordered us an assortment of cocktails to share when we got there. One was the "Magic Mojito" where they poured the liquid over spun cotton candy in the glass which of course melted, one was a margarita with "salt and lime air" foam on top (I loved that one), and a third was the Pisco Sour which I didn't try because it has egg whites in it.

Once seated, we had guacamole made at the table and it was absolutely perfect. Guacamole is one of the greatest culinary inventions ever, in my opinion. Looking over the menu, there was nothing that was vegan as listed (not even a salad or appetizer), but a few things with just cheese. To be safe, I asked the waiter if there was anything I could order off-menu and he said they had a whole separate vegetarian menu but when he went to get one, he learned that there had been a few changes so it was outdated. He verbally told me about a few different things they could do. That's what I love about going to an actual culinary type restaurant. As much as this place was meat-centric - the special, which one of my friends ordered, was lamb chops with lamb confit and lamb something else - the chefs almost treat creating a vegan dish as a challenge. Whereas the cook at the local chain has to be instructed exactly how you want something, at a place like that I feel confident saying "No meat, meat products such as broth, no dairy, no eggs" and letting the chef run with it. Oh, I just looked at the FAQ on the website and it has this section:
I am a vegetarian. Can I eat at Café Atlántico? I have food allergies. Can I eat at Café Atlántico? I have celiac disease and can’t eat gluten. Can I eat at Café Atlántico?
The menu at Café Atlántico is varied and provides diners with a wide array of choices to meet the needs of vegetarians, vegans, people who don't eat shellfish, etc. We always strive to make reasonable accommodations for our guests' dietary needs or restrictions. Ask your host or server for our special menu which notes dishes suitable for guests suffering many common food allergies and gluten free items. Your server also has thorough knowledge of Café Atlántico’s menu and can help you identify choices that work for you.

In the case of potentially life-threatening food allergies or other serious health issues, your best bet is to call Café Atlántico in advance and explain your situation. Speak to the manager or chef. They'll be happy to work with you and help you make appropriate selections or make special arrangements if necessary.
Love it. Anyway, I ended up ordering a salad off the regular menu just without the cheese. It had arugula with roasted butternut and acorn squash and roasted pumpkin seeds. It was delicious, so perfectly fall-ish. For my entree, I picked one of the options the waiter had verbally told to me so I don't remember the details of what he said was in it. But basically there were cauliflower "steaks" (cauliflower florets sliced vertically) seared, over a bed of some sort of couscous. There were clearly herbs and flavored oils involved, but I couldn't tell you what they were. I do know they were incredibly flavorful. The cauliflower was awesome, I am definitely going to try that method of cooking it. It was crisp and chewy and not at all mushy like it can sometimes be. Both dishes were evocotive of the fall season, and all the vegetables involved were so fresh.

Afterwards I really wanted some coffee since I had a bit of a long drive back home, but I need milk/cream in my coffee and I thought it would be a longshot to get any non-dairy options. What is the solution for that, experienced vegans? Do they make Silk creamer in those little aseptic pouches for me to carry around in my purse? I had some green tea instead and picked some fresh raspberries off my friend's ice cream plate.

The conversation was pretty vegan-tastic, too. Like I said, my best friend is one of those who says "look at your teeth, we are made to eat meat" and she's also a fitness nut so she's all protein-obsessed. But our 3rd friend was really curious about my recent conversion and asked a lot of questions about veganism and the ethics behind it. She has a very beloved dog and has realized the silly distinction of why we eat some animals but not others. After the discussion, she proceded to down the lamb special, though, so who knows if it's something she'll ever act on.

Anyway, I thought the whole experience was great. It might not be the first place a vegan thinks of going in DC. I mean, come on, they have a FOIE GRAS SOUP as one of their publicized specialities. But they're adaptable, accomodating, and they know food, so I would recommend it for a vegan looking for a nice dinner in downtown DC.

Up tomorrow, drinks at PX and dinner at The Majestic in Alexandria VA! Except I just remembered I'm spending the night at the hotel with the girls after dinner tomorrow, so the review probably won't be up until Sunday at the earliest. I might try to blog about something else in the morning tomorrow. Happy MoFo'ing!

No comments:

Post a Comment