On Tuesday I went to America Eats, the temporary restaurant working in conjunction with the exhibit at the National Archives entitled: What’s cooking Uncle Sam? The restaurant is located in the same space as Cafe Atlantico on 8th and E st. NW. Jose Andres, chef of Cafe Atlantico, America Eats as well as many other restaurants in the DC area and the National Archives have worked together to expose Washingtonians to the fascinating history of American cuisine. How regulation, policy, promotion and production of food has influenced what Americans put on their dinner tables. In the restaurant you’ll notice old photographs and posters from the 1940s and 1950s hanging on the walls and displayed decoratively hanging from the ceiling. All of these materials were donated by the American Archives; I thought this aspect of the restaurant was very special.
Now you guys are going to be so disappointed but I do not take any photos at this unique affair. This dinner was actually the event of my meeting the boyfriend’s parents for the first time. I seriously considered snapping a few shots but thought twice about it. The purpose of the occasion was to meet the parents, make good conversation and enjoy each others company. I couldn’t say “oh hold on just a minute, don’t take a bite yet, let me just take a picture of your food. Oh yeah and I’m Brittany, I’m dating your son, nice to meet you.” You understand what I mean. So please enjoy the wonderful vintage posters instead, and I promise I will not do this again.
I can tell you that the food was very tasty and the presentation of all the food was beautiful. Service was not great and the delivery of a couple of dishes were odd (as if the waitress forgot to put the order in) but the dinner was great, and meeting the boyfriend’s parents could not have gone better. Let me at least tell you what I tried and what you must order if you go to America Eats.
I am going to start with dessert first because my favorite thing on the entire menu was this one dessert. It is called the Vermont Sugar on Snow. Now this dish is so difficult to describe in many ways: one the presentation, two the flavor and three the components of the dish. Now let me backtrack for a moment. Every food item on the menu at America Eats Tavern has a little description of the origin of the dish: when it was invented, the region it was invented in, the popularity of the item, etc. Nowhere in the description does it tell you how the dish is prepared. Our group had to ask lots of questions throughout the evening and the waitress was pretty good about explaining all the dishes to us, all except for this Vermont Snow dish. I mean if the people who work here can’t even articulate how the dish is going to come out, I’m not sure I can do much better I will do BUT I will try my best.
So this is what the dessert looked like: a big mound of shaved ice with little sticks sticking up and something yellow that looks like ice cream underneath the ice. The waiter brings this over in a bowl along with a little dish of hot Vermont syrup. The waiter then pours the hot syrup over the “snow” mound. Okay now for the flavor: the syrup is real maple syrup, so it is thick and very sweet. The shaved ice obviously has no flavor but it does a great job of smoothing out the strong syrup flavor (kind of like a snow cone). The yellow stuff hiding under the ice must have been some lemon cream or ice cream. I couldn’t be sure because the ice cooled everything down. The delicate lemon cream/ice cream component effortlessly brightened the ice and sweet syrup mixture. As the ice melts all the different components of the dish meld together. No single component outshines the other but actually taste better when mixed. Then something crazy happens. All of a sudden you look down and notice that you are not eating a slushy but a gelatin–the components congealed! I don’t know what prompts this composition change but it is most certainly exciting. The “sticks” sticking up out of the “snow” mound tasted of cinnamon sugar and were crunchy but just like other components of this dish I couldn’t make out exactly what the sticks were. This dish was truly an experience and a delightful journey that I highly recommend you take.
Other honorable mentions were the grilled butter oysters, which had such a clean smokey flavor. I loved the chicken wings but if you are not a huge fan of blue cheese you might not enjoy it because the homemade blue cheese sauce is very potent. The Gazpacho was a surprising favorite, the fresh and clean flavors were just irresistible and the presentation was lovely. The waiter brings you a bowl of all the chunky components made up in a pretty design and then pours the puree portion of the soup over the vegetables. And finally the Lobster Newberg was buttery and sweet and lick-your-plate-because-you-want-to-get-every-bit-of-that-sauce delicious. How could appropriately prepared lobster be bad; the entrée dish was just delectable.
Again, I’m sorry that I didn’t take any pictures. I will not do it again, (girl) scout’s honor. I highly recommend that you all go to the National Archives and check out their exhibit: What’s Cooking Uncle Sam? It is really a fabulous exhibit, even if you only go to enjoy the photographs and vintage posters.