A Boy Wonders Small Packages


Where: Washington, D.C., U.S.A.

Like many star chefs these days, José Andrés seems to be everywhere at once -- accepting awards, promoting his cookbooks and television shows, working to feed the homeless, overseeing his seven (count 'em, seven) restaurants in the Washington area. Considering that he's still only in his thirties, it's pretty impressive. When does he even find time to sleep?

But when all is said and done, Spanish born Andrés, like his mentor Ferran Adrià, doesn't want to stray too far from the stove. He stepped away from day-to-day cooking at his first smash-hit of a restaurant since turning over the reins of the fiesta-like Café Atlantico to his talented chef de cuisine Katsuya Fukushima. But you can usually find him right upstairs at Minibar, a restaurant-within a-restaurant where he serves an incredible tasting menu of 25 to 30 small dishes for a single six-seat table 5 nights a week.

Counting on a self-selecting audience of curious gourmets, the Minibar goes for avant-garde cooking, the kind that may be a bit too daring for the three-level party that goes on every night in Café Atlantico and its super-popular spinoffs Oyamel and Zaytinya. Though Andrés describes his style as Nuevo Latino, the emphasis is way more on the "nuevo" up here on the second floor. It's full of head games like "bacon and eggs" (kurobuta pork belly confit with a soft egg, lentils, tamarind, and a puff of maple-flavored "air"); the "deconstructed glass of white wine" (a rectangular tile dotted with discreet flavor elements like grass, vanilla, and lemon); the huge transparent bubble called "light bulb of flavor"; a series of "meat and potatoes" ice cubes; foie gras in a coccoon of cotton candy; filaments of beet whipped into a tumbleweed. Items like seared prawn with sea asparagus, a glass of vanilla and potato foam topped with caviar, or salmon-and-pineapple raviolis seem downright simple in comparison, though still delectable.

Information:
405 8th St. NW; tel. 202/393-0812; www.cafeatlantico.com/minibar.

Nearest Airports:
Reagan National (3 miles/5km); Dulles International (26 miles/41km); Baltimore-Washington International (35 miles/56km).

Where to Stay:
Four Points by Sheraton, 1201 K St. NW (tel. 202/289-7600; www.fourpoints.com/washingtondcdowntown). Georgetown Suites, 1111 30th St. NW (tel. 202/298-1600; www.georgetownsuites.com).