Food Fridays: America Eats

Spanish chef José Andrés, a force of nature in the culinary world (Time just named him among its annual 100 most influential people in the world) and an enduring presence in this nation’s capital, founded America Eats Tavern less than a year ago in the space formerly occupied by his popular Café Atlantico (405 8th Street, NW). He announced that America Eats would be open for only one year, an uncommon approach in the restaurant business, but apparently a sound one, considering all those people wrapped around the sidewalk waiting to get in.

The restaurant was inspired by the Works Progress Administration writers’ project of the 1930s, with fare derived from classic American recipes. It’s also linked thematically with an exhibition at the near-by National Archives, “What’s Cooking, Uncle Sam?: The Government’s Effect on the American Diet,” with some profits from the restaurant dedicated to the Archives.

This is a genuinely unique idea for presenting food and, ironically, one that seems not to have occurred to American restaurateurs in this historically-minded city.

The food – like the descriptions and historic provenance – is thorough and imaginative, and absolutely delicious: grilled butter oysters (New York, 1825); vermicelli prepared like pudding (Philadelphia, 1802); hush puppies with homemade sorghum butter (the South, generally), shrimp étouffée (lower Mississippi delta), BBQ beef short-ribs with Hoppin’ John (Carolinas, 1847), and pecan pie (southeastern seaboard, 1700s).

Joan Miro's "Head of a Catalan Peasant." (Courtesy National Gallery of Art, Washington)

If you want to try these tasty treats and Andrés’s iterations of other classic American dishes you’ll have to do so before July 4th, when America Eats Tavern is scheduled to close, before — Presto! — opening as something else.

Meanwhile, just a skip down Pennsylvania Avenue at the National Gallery of Art, Andrés is putting his masterful mark on dishes from Catalonia to complement the current exhibit there, “Joan Miro: The Ladder of Escape” (through August 12). This rare gathering of the artist’s fascinating oeuvre is rooted in the sensuality and romance not of America but of Miro’s – and Andrés’ – native land, and is not to be missed. Neither are the delectable dishes on display at the gallery’s Garden Café.

James Conaway is a featured contributor on Intelligent Travel, and writes freelance for National Geographic Traveler and other publications devoted to travel, history, and culture. Read more from James on his wine blog.

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