I first heard of José Andrés from friends in a supper club I’m in. They told me about Jaleo, a Spanish restaurant in Washington, DC and how good the food was. Since my wife and I love Spanish food we gave it a try. Jaleo was a great introduction to the world of José Andrés. The food was excellent, as was the service.
My next experience with José Andrés was at the International Association of Culinary Professionals- (IACP), meeting in Washington, DC 2 years ago. José was the keynote speaker and kept the audience’s attention with stories of how he went to Haiti after the hurricane devastated the island and he wanted to help. José went to Haiti and helped locals with donated cooking stoves. Natives were cutting down what was left of the forest to cook meals. This deforestation caused extensive runoff polluting the waters around Haiti many needed for fishing and feed their families. With the cooking stove José donated Haitians were able to cook using clean fuel and spare the forest more clearing. He also told us of an employee at Jaleo that had been a construction worker helping to build Jaleo. Once the job was done he asked José for a job in the restaurant. This young man worked his way from dishwasher to chef over the course of the next few years and still works for José to this day.
After the keynote address at IACP I wanted to try each and every one of the José Andrés, Think Food Group, restaurants in DC. Since then my wife and I have gone to the following: Zaytinia-inspired by Turkish, Greek and Lebanese cultures, Beefsteak-healthy vegetable based foods, Oyamel-Mexican, China Chilcano- a Peruvian style restaurant.
At China Chilcano we learned about the blending of Peruvian, Spanish, Chinese and Japanese foods common to Peru. We tried the Aji de Gallina-a traditional chicken stew which combines so many delicious flavors in on plate it was enjoyable but hard to describe. We tried several small plate items like Dancing Yucca where crispy fried yucca holds a dance troop of bonito flakes entertaining lucky diners. The bonito flakes are used extensively in Japanese foods and blend well with the yucca. With ceviche, sushi, dim sum and traditional Peruvian cuisine diners are treated to a meal like no other in a colorful place feeling like a South American festival.
Stepping into Oyamel is like being in a Mexican café, but in the middle of DC. The bar area beckons with colorful pottery, flowers and a fruit drink of the day dispenser. The dining room is buzzing with happy customers, wait staff circulating with drinks and food, plus the aromas of chilies! In the corner is a ceviche station where a cook sends out dish after dish of delectable raw fish concoctions.
Our waiter prepared just about the best tableside guacamole I’d ever had. The whole meal was excellent and I enjoyed trying the grasshopper taco! I’d recommend the grasshopper taco for the adventures in ethnic foods, but close your eyes if you are squeamish.
Zatinya wowed us with the chef’s tasting menu. For $55 we had a Mediterranean food tour starting with the best humus I’ve had in the Mid-Atlantic. The humus was creamy, with smoky tahini flavors combining to conquer our taste buds into complete submission. The stuffed grape leaves came with most delicious yogurt side you can imagine. It was cone shaped and rather solid but tasted more like sour cream. The Garides Me Anitho combined fresh giant shrimp with lemon, mustard and garlic with dill that was insanely good. We were glad the sea scallops were small because we were filling up and didn’t want to miss a thing. The seasonal mushrooms and dates made for a nice-lighter dish in between the meat dishes. For desert they surprised us by bringing all four which were impossible to finish, but delicious.
Beefsteak has become one of my go-to lunch spots in DC since my first visit last year. Here you get to choose from a multitude of veggies, chicken sausage, hard boiled eggs, grains, sauces and toppings to engineer your own unique meal. Or you can choose one of the popular combinations if thinking is too hard with all the choices? It’s fast food with a healthy twist. With locations in Bethesda, MD, Philadelphia, PA and 3 locations in DC check it out if you get a chance.
In the restaurant world where many fail and disappear in the first 2 years it’s great to see a success story like José Andrés. I’ve noticed the employees are happy and efficient. They seem to work well as a team and those I’ve spoken with tell me most stay on for years due to good benefits and working conditions. His restaurants have spread across the US like wildfire and I wish him well. My only complaint is he hasn’t opened a restaurant closer to my home. Give one of his eateries a try and see what all the fuss is about. You will be glad you did.