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thomas matthews' blog

D.C. Dine-Around, Part 1

A look at the progression of chef José Andrés, in a single night
Photo by: Thomas Matthews
Chef José Andrés (center) and his wine director, Andy Myers (right), enjoy the Wine Spectator Grand Tour with a friend.

Posted: May 16, 2016 1:00pm ET

I was tasting my way through the Spanish wines at the Wine Spectator Grand Tour in Washington, D.C., last month, when I noticed a knot of enthusiastic people, voices lively and cameras flashing. In the middle of it was José Andrés, chef and entrepreneur.

“Hey, Thomas!” Andrés called me over. “Good wines here! They’re making me hungry. Are you hungry?”

Yes, I was hungry; tasting wine inevitably stimulates the appetite. But Andrés had to get back to work before the event ended.

“I have an idea,” he said. “Why don’t you stay in Washington tomorrow and do a kind of progressive dinner at my restaurants? They’re all close enough to walk from one to the next; we’ll give you a little taste in each place, and you’ll get an idea of what we’re doing in this city.”

Sold.

Andrés is the driving force behind ThinkFoodGroup, which created and runs more than 20 restaurants in D.C., Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Miami and beyond. He’s bursting with energy, overflowing with ideas, generous and philanthropic, curious and insatiable.

In 2015, 11 of his restaurants earned Wine Spectator Restaurant Awards for their wine lists. He was on the cover of the June 30, 2011, issue. He’s one of the chefs who make my wine-and-food matching seminar at the annual Wine Experience so entertaining.

But back in February, when we ran into each other at the South Beach Wine & Food Festival, Andrés had reminded me that I wasn’t always a fan. I tried his food for the first time in the 1990s, at Café Atlantico, a casual restaurant with a fusion menu and a trendy crowd. It was not a great meal, and I wrote him a detailed critique. That critique, he told me in Miami, was the motivation that fueled his ascent. Back in D.C., he wanted to prove that he had overcome those early shortcomings.

I suspected he also wanted revenge, served both cold and hot.

Tomorrow: What happened when I put myself in José Andrés' hands for a night

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