Lest you forget that A.G. Kitchen is the work of TV chef Alex Garcia, all you need to do is look around the new American and Latin restaurant in Silver Spring. Garcia’s smiling, goateed mug is on the patio umbrellas and dividers, the entryway wall, even the water glasses.
The Havana-born Garcia made his name in New York at restaurants Erizo Latino, Calle Ocho and Babalu, and on the small screen hosting “Melting Pot” on Food Network and “Nuestra Cocina” on Vme, the Spanish-language affiliate of PBS.
A.G. Kitchen is a twin to Garcia’s New York restaurant of the same name, with an identical mix of American comfort food and accessible Latin favorites: Think tacos, arepas and seviche sharing the table with grilled cheese, bacon-wrapped dates and turkey burgers with cranberry sauce. Chef Charles Wynn handles kitchen duties when Garcia is back in New York.
Use Garcia’s Cuban heritage as your menu guide. Opt for the Cubano, the traditional pork loin, ham, melted Swiss, mustard and pickle sandwich on slightly sweet Cuban bread. The same goes for the Cuban Classic for Two, a shareable platter of rice, beans, plantains, tamales and ropa vieja, or shredded braised short ribs. It could use a bit more seasoning, but I’m almost afraid to say that about a dish here, where many other offerings are too salty, too sweet or sometimes both.
Pineapple and pomegranate, or papaya and mint, are unnecessary adornments to guacamole, which becomes more of a dessert than an appetizer in their presence. And the self-declared “tableside” guacamole was delivered already mashed and mixed, the requested medium spice level imperceptible. A too-salty paella studded with crab, lobster, clams and other sea- and land-dwelling creatures left us gulping water. And when a friend tried the punny, medicinal-tasting Thai Me Down cocktail, made of pineapple and Thai basil-infused tequila and green Chartreuse, she quipped, “I’m using my safe word.”
The cheese-stuffed Inside Out burger’s texture and moisture levels suffer from the requirement that the meat is cooked medium-well, and the Samba Chicken, served with sweet and spicy house-made sauces, is bested by Nando’s, the restaurant’s fast-casual, budget-friendly neighbor across the street.
With an aqua, orange and yellow color scheme, the room is bright and cheery but gives off a slight cafeteria vibe. Patio seating next to Silver Spring’s kid-magnet interactive fountain is preferable, thanks to a pressed-tin ceiling that makes the room so loud our server misheard us.
You won’t be able to resist looking at the dessert menu here — not because of its contents, but because of its presentation. On every table sits a red plastic toy View-Master, the retro personal slideshow device that might bring back childhood memories. Except instead of scenes from around the world, you’ll click through photos of apple pie a la mode, chocolate empanadas, flan resting on a puddle of raspberry sauce and Banana Mania, which reveals itself to be a not-so-manic slice of banana bread topped with bananas Foster and ice cream. A better choice comes in liquid form: a rich, rum-spiked banana-butterscotch milkshake.
The View-Masters are among the most novel (and most stolen) menu presentations in all of Washington. It’s too bad the same can’t be said about the rest of A.G. Kitchen’s offerings.
931 Ellsworth Dr., Silver Spring. 301-588-9400. www.agkitchen.com. Entrees, $13 to $29.