On Tuesday I was an invited guest at Café Atlántico for the restaurant’s special Carnaval Celebration Menu. I arrived early and found myself at the bar talking to one of the bartenders about the restaurant’s cocktails, and this seemed to set the tone for the night (surprised?). I could happily have sat at the bar all night, sipping excellent cocktails and talking to the bartenders about various spirits (want to out yourself as a cocktail nerd? Ask them about that bottle of Falernum and how it compares to the one you have at home, not to mention the house-made stuff at PX).
This being a dinner and all, the Social Chair and I were eventually escorted to a table with Lisa Shapiro of Dining in DC and Rachel Tepper of The Feast, along with their guests. We ordered another round of drinks and made our selections from the special menu. The Social Chair had the Adobo Tuna appetizer and the Café’s deconstructed Feijoada, which they were calling Feijao Tropeiro, and I had the black eyed pea and shrimp fritter (Camarones de Acaraje con Vatape), followed by the flat iron steak (Churrasco a la parilla). Dessert was an ice made with Novo Fogo cachaça, passion fruit and banana, topped with coconut foam. The food was good, but only with flashes of the brilliance we’ve come to expect from José Andrés.
The foam on the Feijao was sublime; the Feijao itself lost something in the deconstruction (and I feel like this is a complaint I’ve heard from many a judge on Top Chef). The tuna appetizer was perfectly prepared, but not anything new or surprising. And my steak was only properly cooked on one end (the overcooked end was still moist, but didn’t have the fine texture of the medium rare on the other end). The final flash of brilliance was the dessert, which was a surprising combination of silky foam, ice, fruit and air, with the cachaça, fruit and coconut coming together only on the tongue. It was an excellent way to end the meal.
The dinner was followed by music and Brazilian dancing featuring women in showy feathered costumes, who pulled guests from their seats to dance. The music started just after we had finished our dessert, but we noticed that the couple at an adjacent table had finished dining long before us and didn’t seem much pleased by their own wait (although in the end they won some dance classes in the raffle, so I presume all was forgiven).
The consensus at our table seemed to be that the cocktails were the biggest successes of the evening. I tried the caipirinha both with the house cachaça and the “upgrade” to Leblon (I preferred the first one, made with Cachaça Pitú, to the Leblon). The Clementine caipirinha, featuring muddled Clementine segments in addition to limes, was also a huge hit. We also branched out past the carnaval menu, with the Social Chair trying the Magic Mojito (made with cotton candy, dissolved in front of you) and the Pisco Sour on one dining partner’s recommendation, while another dining partner pronounced the Café’s Artini entry “perfect” (more about that from me when we do our Artini roundup this Friday). And for my final round I ordered the bartender’s choice, which resulted in a delicious cousin of a Bee’s Knees made with both bourbon and gin.
At the end of the night the Social Chair and I swung back by the bar, where bartender Trevor Werner invited us to join him for another round. We couldn’t take him up on it Tuesday night, but I’ve invited him to join us for a round to be detailed here. Look for it later this month.