Food Porn: America Eats Tavern

We are, to put it mildly, kinda hermit-like. Or maybe it’s more accurate to say we’re homebodies. We like to spend our time at home, with each other and Petunia – as sad as that sounds.

Our idea of a rocking good time on a Friday night is grilling some meat, cracking open a nice bottle of red and cleaning off the DVR or working our way through the pile of magazines we subscribe to.

To whit: we’ve lived in adorable Old Town for a year now, and I can count on one hand how many times we’ve walked over to King Street for dinner or even drinks. I honestly can’t remember the last time we went to a movie in a theater. It might have been Transformers II. I don’t know.

What I’m saying is: We’re happy little hermit crabs when we have nowhere to go.

However, last Saturday was an exception. We actually got dressed in nice clothes, left the house, and went to dinner. WITH people! But not just any people—two of our favorite people, Matt and Melissa. They’re pretty much the only folks that can get us out and into the wild city of Washington DC on a Saturday night.

We were all pretty excited because we had 7:30 dinner reservations at Jose Andres’ new pop-up concept restaurant, America Eats Tavern. Here’s a description from the website:

“America Eats offers a new take on American classics and celebrate native ingredients and some long forgotten dishes, from burgoo to oysters Rockefeller. With recipes and stories collected through extensive research, and with help from the National Archives and a culinary advisory council of chefs and scholars, the menu showcases the fascinating history of our nation one plate at a time, whether it’s the origins of New England clam chowder or the introduction of grapefruit to America.”

It’s a cool concept and a well-done space covering multiple floors (I think 3?) and featuring a very cool wood window frame and black and white photo centerpiece-mobile-chandelier installation running up through the staircase. Bad description. Here’s a picture:  

We got to the restaurant a bit early to get some drinks at the bar – and because we were ridiculously excited to be out and mingling with other people. At the bar, I had a Southside, which is gin, mint, and lemon, and let me tell you, it was, to quote Martyn Lawrence Bullard of Million Dollar Decorator’s fame, deeeelishous. And they were served in the most adorable green raised relief glasses. If my purse had been bigger, I would swiped a few.

It was a teensy bit dark in there.

Our table was a bit delayed. OK, more than a bit delayed. And the hostess really got our hopes up when she came over to seat us at the downstairs casual dining section, only to realize that we had reservations at the upstairs portion of the restaurant. Upon realizing her mistake, she had to send us back to the bar to keep waiting. And drinking delicious Southsides.

We were finally seated and raring to order. Because we had waited so long for our table, the hostess immediately sent over a bread basket and an order of hush puppies while we began reviewing the history tome that is the menu. I gotta say, as a history geek, I really liked the details and stories on the menu. And our waitress was very knowledgeable and helpful. However, I found it odd (and in the case of the oysters Rockefeller AND the chicken potpie, very disappointing) that a lot of the listed dishes were only available one or two nights a week.

We ordered a dozen oysters to start and they were great. They came with a couple of different types of infused vinegars, but no other sauces or accompaniments. We then ordered appetizers for the table – specifically the boneless buffalo wings and shrimp remoulade and fried green tomatoes. They were both so, so good, but teeny, teeny tiny. Definitely just one bite a piece. I really wish I hadn’t shared them with anyone.

Need about 10 more of these, please.

Things got a bit complicated from here. Two people ordered the she-crab soup, which we wanted after the appetizers, but the waiters delivering the soup were quite insistent that the soup was also an appetizer and should be served at the same time. We explained that we knew that, but we wanted it separately, perhaps even with the main courses. Mass confusion resulted. Much internal consultation amongst the staff and bewildered glances our way. They tried to deliver the soup to the table again, and were sent away again, hands heavy with soup while we finished our tiny appetizers. In defense of the odd timing, we had oysters as well, but no one tried to serve those at the same time as the appetizers. Weird.

XFE also saw a nearby table being served a dish of abalone, which we were initially told was not available. When we asked about the other table getting one, it was explained that they were friends of the chef and were doing a special tasting menu. But our waitress, who again, was very sweet, went back and brought one to our table, no charge, which I thought was more than a little nice. And, it was excellent. It was delicious and chewy and served with a pepper and smoke foam.

Our mains soon arrived. I had the lobster Newberg which was pretty much great. The sauce was to die for. Again, that sherry! Gotta love it.

Best thing of the night.

 M&M split the shrimp and pork jambalaya for two. The presentation was adorable – it was served out of a little cast iron pot. I had a few bites, but wasn’t too impressed with the flavors, in part because they put the trinity of celery, onion and bell pepper on the side (served cold), which to me, is just sacrilege. How you gonna make a roux without the trinity?? (In my best Cajun accent) Plus, there was no kick in it. Although the sausage was very good. XFE had a good-looking Cobb salad and a few bites of everybody elses’ mains.

We decided to split a couple of deserts—the real disappointment of the evening. We ordered a pineapple upside down cake (it was bad– very dry, the opposite of what a pineapple upside down cake should be) and a head-scratching New York cheesecake.

We had played with the idea of the key lime pie (deconstructed), but since I hate citrusy desserts, we abandoned that option. We were told that the New York cheesecake was very different than a regular cheesecake and we should expect a light fluffy filling with a hint of lemon, not the dense fillings we’re used to. Fine, I can deal with a hint of lemon, and I generally love cheesecake.

Well, the filling we got tasted suspiciously like key lime mousse. Not “hint of lemon,”—but straight up lime. As a citrus dessert hater, I know the difference and I can taste/distinguish the two a mile away. And comparing it to another table’s key lime pie, it was hard to see any physical difference between the two whipped fillings.

When we pointed it out to the waitress, she said that she had warned us it was different than what we’re used to. That was it. No offer to take it back to the kitchen and question it, or taste it, even.

We all suspect that the filling foam cans got mixed up and we did not at all have a cheesecake filling. As someone who hates key lime pie, I’m pretty certain that’s exactly what we got.

So all and all it was a good meal, foodwise, except the desserts, and some of the appetizer portion sizes. The service was pretty hit or miss, some really excellent moments (mmm, abalone), and some weird ones (complete dessert misfire). We won’t be making another trip to America Eats Tavern, however. We’ll try to come back when the new, expanded Minibar reopens. (By the way, how fun would it be to work for Jose Andres’ company, ThinkFoodTank? It’s a culinary think tank that where Andres and his creative team develop new ideas. Hello? Dream job? Me calling.)

All and all, the company really made the night. Any night with Matt and Melissa, and of course, XFE, is worth curling my eyelashes for.  

What about you dear readers? What gets you out of the house? Any good meals recently? I think we’re on a bit of a bad streak lately, what with Alinea and now America Eats – or maybe we’re just way too finicky and should keep our butts at home!

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