There’s currently a show at the National Archives called What’s Cooking, Uncle Sam? It’s about how government policy and regulation has affected our diets for the past 100+ years. Jose Andres was “an advisor” to the exhibit and created a quiet and short-lived buzz in D.C. when he closed Café Atlantico, opening in its stead a temporary restaurant corresponding to the show called America Eats Tavern. And it opened on the 4th of July—how cute!
I decided to experience the whole package—dinner and a show! Er, I stood in line with the tourists, sweating more than I could conceive, and yawned my way through yet another exhibit on the Mall. This is eat-your-pre-effective-canning-peas entertainment and should come with a warning label.
Then off to America Eats. (One caveat: I was open to this experience because minibar was possibly the best meal of my life. I think Andres’ other restaurants range from nothing special–Zaytinya–to especially bad–Jaleo.) Our host referred to the place as a pop-up, which I found crass. Plenty of people don’t know what that even means. He also confirmed the reports that minibar will re-open in a few weeks and then eventually expand to 18 seats, becoming a moveable feast: drinks on the first floor, dinner on the second, and dessert and drinks on the third.
The menu for America Eats will thrust you back to the Archives as each dish is accompanied by a history rather than an ingredient list. Pickled oysters, clam bake, lobster roll, chicken wings, shrimp and grits, shrimp remoulade, lobster thermidor, Waldorf salads. But don’t get too excited by the bounty, half the items are only available on certain days of the week and inexplicably another half dozen were just unavailable that night—apologies!—including drinks like the oh-so-intricate egg cream. Is this place not yet open or what?
Inspired by the Kennedy’s love of chowder, covered extensively in the exhibit, I ordered the truly terrible fish chowder. For a dish traditionally described as hearty, this version was decidedly anemic. A piece of so-so cod, some diced potatoes, some flecks of bacon, and a handful of raw clams that the server poured lukewarm cream broth over (no more than a cup) for $28. In a shallow bowl, it was cold well before I passed it over to my date, who ate two entrees–$60—and was still hungry afterwards. The desserts, we were warned, were Jose’s take on classics, but the build-up was unnecessary: the strawberry shortcake and cheesecake were entirely average.
The night had one valuable takeaway: The New England Fish Chowder recipe from the Kennedy library. Perhaps Andres would have done better to start here; it certainly would have clocked in at under $28.
Simmer 2 lbs haddock in 2 cups of water for 15 minutes. Reserve the broth and de-bone the fish. Brown 2 oz. diced salt pork and reserve, using the pork fat to sauté 2 diced onions. Add the fish to the pot along with 4 diced potatoes, 1 cup diced celery, 1 bay leaf, crumbled, and the broth, plus as much water as you need to have 3 cups of liquid. Simmer for 30 minutes. Add 1 qt milk and 2 tbsp. butter and cook for 5 minutes more. Salt and pepper and serve with the pork sprinkled on top.