Written by Anita
Photos by Greg
March 5, 2016
Chef Jose Adorno is not afraid of a challenge. He won his battle on the Food Network’s Cutthroat Kitchen, has appeared on Beat Bobby Flay, and aspires to next compete on Chopped. So it is perhaps no surprise that he left his established position as chef de cuisine at Top Chef alumni Mike Isabella’s popular Graffiato to become chef and partner at the recently revamped Mix Bar and Grille in downtown Silver Spring.
His first challenge? Drawing people in. But chef Adorno isn’t worried. He notes that his mentors (one of whom is Top Chef Season 7 winner Kevin Sbraga) taught him to go into areas that “need a fire.” He sees great potential in this part of Silver Spring and is excited about doing his own thing there. Indeed, the restaurant already has attracted a loyal group of regulars during his tenure.
His second challenge? Creating a place that is not just a restaurant but a venue. Chef Adorno wants to make the most out of the space, and is seeking opportunities to host art and community events, DJs, business meetings, and private functions. (Would-be organizers take note: he’s even open to arrangements that allow hosts to get a cut of the bar.) Cooking classes may eventually follow.
So, does chef Adorno rise to the challenge? We were recently invited to sample Mix and found that chef Adorno’s eclectic global menu of mezzes, pizzas, and bistro fare delivers a knockout punch to the palate.
Start your meal with a cocktail at Mix’s expansive 45-foot-long bar. The list changes seasonally, but our current favorites include the Honey Ginger Caipirinha—a blend of Leblon Cachaça, gingery Domaine De Canton, fresh lime juice, and honey—and the sweet-and-sour Dirty Disaronno—Makers Mark, peach schnapps, Disaronno, housemade sour mix, and ginger ale. Those bellying up to the bar on Thursdays can enjoy all-day happy hour. Nine TV screens offer a great game-watching venue.
For mezzes, chef Adorno elevates typical bar food fare. Hummus can be ho-hum, but chef Adorno’s is lush and smooth, with a nice kick from harissa, fresh mint leaves, roasted garlic cloves, and a sprinkling of pine nuts. It comes with pillowy zatar-dusted laffa bread that will keep you reaching for more. Another standout? Shrimp taquitos that fold slightly blackened Korean-style grilled shrimp into a corn taco shell over fresh guacamole and adorns them with a zesty mango-lime slaw.
Follow these opening bites with some selections from the bistro menu. Chef Adorno says he likes to cook the way he eats, and cites the fried chicken as a prime example. We swooned over its crisp Bonchon-like exterior (he says the secret is in the cook time and temperature and the use of seasoned flour and water instead of buttermilk). It comes nestled in a bed of creamy Yukon gold mashed potatoes with zingy garlic tobacco butter. Make sure to order a side of the crispy Brussels sprouts bathed in Vietnamese nuoc cham sauce and tahina and made oh-so-not-veg with meaty pancetta. Pescatarians should opt for the flakey whole grilled Branzino, accompanied with an Israeli slaw and thick labneh.
Be sure to save room for dessert—chef Adorno pulls double-duty as pastry chef and delivers some of the best sweet treats we’ve tried in a while. His pumpkin pie is iced with a cinnamon cream cheese Chantilly and held within a paper-thin graham cracker crust. The homey brick oven apple pie is light, airy, and not-too-sweet. Both are accompanied by ice creams from neighboring Moorenko’s.
Want to mix up your weekly routine? Then stop by Mix Bar and Grille for Tuesday’s Wine & Oyster Night (half price bottles of wine and $1 oysters), Wednesday’s Burger Day ($8 cheddar burger with fries), Thirsty Thursdays (happy hour all day long), or Friday’s TGICF (Chesapeake cheese fries, pizza fries, or cheese fries for $10).