Knowing that we were going to be in Washington DC for our vacation this year, J and I definitely want to try to get a reservation at Minibar. Minibar is a restaurant within a restaurant, the creation of world-famous chef Jose Andres.
Minibar is tucked away in the back of Andres's Cafe Atlantico. It's just a small bar with only six seats. Each night, they do two seatings only, which means only 12 people can dine there per night. The lucky diners are served 25-30 courses of inventive dishes that are about the size of an amuse bouche. I was really nervous about that number ... I have a fairly small appetite, but I found that the portions and pacing were well done and I didn't get too full. In fact, I have had three course meals where I felt more stuffed than that, so I was relieved that I could easily eat everything.
In order to get a reservation, we had to call the restaurant exactly one month in advance on the dot of when they opened for calls in the morning. It was like a little lottery, and luckily we got lucky on our second day of trying.
As we walked in, we were seated at the regular bar first and assigned a personal waitress. We had to wait a few minutes for the first seating to be concluded and cleaned up, and we learned that our other four diners were a group of women who were just about to graduate from law school. Good luck, ladies! You definitely deserved a nice meal with what you are about to go through.
Below is a slide show containing the pictures of each course and some of the area behind the bar. They are arranged in order of courses or you can click here to see them as a Flicker set. It was an immensely long meal, so I'm going to just do a quick description/blurb about each dish.
- Olive Oil "Bon Bon": This was olive oil that had been made into a candy-like form and then rested on top of a powdered balsamic vinegar. It was really visually stunning and it was a neat little thing to taste, basically just olive oil and vinegar with different textures than you are used to.
- Beet "Tumbleweed": This was beet that had been cut into thin strips and then dried and formed into a ball and dried and made crunchy. It tasted similar to a potato chip and was really beautiful to look at.
- "Mojito": The "mojito" was a sort of jelly that had the flavors of a mojito - mint, lime and sugar, and was kind of effervescent and liquidy in the center. It was tasty and really fun to eat. People make fun of molecular gastronomy, but this is the kind of thing they're really miss out on. Experiencing unexpected textures and aspects of food is really fun as a special experience.
- "Bagels and Lox": This was a play on bagels and lox using a suggestion of the ingredients. The "bagel" was represented by a crunchy cone, the "lox" by the big juicy salmon roe on top, and the cream cheese by the cream inside the cone.
- "Dragon's Breath" Popcorn: This won the prize for the most fun dish of the evening. We were given a small popcorn cake that looked kind of like a mini rice cake and told to eat it right away while looking at each other. (That's why my picture was so bad, I was trying to take it quickly). The cake was frozen with nitrogen and when you ate it, the "smoke" from it would come out of your nose when you breathed out, making you look like a dragon. I really wish I could try this one again, just because it was so fun and cool to breathe smoke like a dragon.
- Boneless Chicken Wing: This was a pretty straightfoward dish. It was exactly what it says, a boneless chicken wing, with thai flavors. Despite the fact that it was one of the most mundane dishes, quite a few people remembered it as a favorite at the end of the night.
- Steamed Brioche Bun with Caviar: This was one of my all-around favorites for the night, because in both execution, presentation, and taste it was really successful. First of all, I love the presentation, the dumpling came out perfectly round and smooth and putting it in the tiny steamer was so cute! It also was a really luxurious dish - brioche and caviar, and it tasted great - rich, but not too much so.
- Blue Cheese and Almond: This was sort of like a little tart, with the blue cheese part within a shell that was made of almond somehow. The shell was rather soft and the flavor of the cheese was fairly mild. I found this dish okay, but not very memorable.
- Cotton Candy Eel: I really can't believe I'm saying this, but this was my very favorite dish of the evening. This was probably the most difficult concept, because it looked just absolutely gross. The cotton candy looked like some massive growth of mold, and it was dusted with some spice so it looked like something that they found under the bed when they moved out of their apartment. But flavorwise, it was amazing. The flavor profile was Japanese, and the eel was juicy and delicious and wrapped in shiso leaf. I absolutely loved this and would definitely eat it again and again.
- "Sun Dried" Tomato Salad: The "sun dried" tomatoes were a kind of gelee of sun-dried tomato. It tasted exactly right but there wasn't much to this dish. It was kind of like the suggestion of a caprese or something. Even with a meal of this type, I like a little something more - this was too much of a "hint" of the real thing.
- Zucchini in Textures: This was an amazing dish, and unfortunately it was designed to be not my thing. I have a slight aversion to zucchini, although I still eat them, but mostly for me it was the texture here. This dish is a work of art, and very painstakingly done and I do appreciate it on that level. The seeds are picked one by one from the zucchini, and then they are surrounded by a zucchini gel which is all layered on top of a zucchini puree.
- Green Almonds and "Raisins": The "raisins" here were actually spherified (and wrinklified) portions of a 1979 port. The green almonds were coated in a marcona almond paste, so that they were almond to the max. I loved the fake raisins, but found the almonds a little bland. This was one of those molecular gastronomy moments where the "fake" thing made you want the real thing more than what you were eating. I would have rather just had the "raisins" with some actual marcona almonds, I think.
- Parmesan "Egg" with Migas: This dish was up at the top of my list for favorites of the meal. It was clever, tasty, and satisfying and I liked it a lot. It appeared to be an egg with a pile of crunchy panko-like bread crumbs, but the egg white was actually made of parmesan and contained a real yolk, that bust out when you put your fork in it like a real egg does. I would definitely have this for breakfast any day.
- Smoked Oysters with Apples and Juniper: I'm an oyster lover, but I think even those who shy away from oysters could deal with this dish. The smoked flavor makes the oyster meat really appealing in a non-fishy way. The apples and juniper were hints of flavor within the foam, really subtle and nice.
- "Guacamole": This was a fun contrast with the rustic guacamole being made by hand at the tables behind us. This "guacamole" was a frozen tomato wrapped around with thin slices of avocado like a sushi roll. It was sprinkled with cilantro and crumbs of tortilla chips. It was pretty delicious and I loved the contrast of textures with the icy tomato, the soft avocado and the crunchy chips.
- Sea Urchin Ceviche with Hibiscus: This was a fresh sea urchin flown in directly from Catalina, with a hibiscus foam. The dish was visually stunning, but I couldn't take the texture. I have unfortunately, a problem with certain textures and this was one of them. I ate about half of this and then had to give the rest to J. He loved it though.
- Salmon-Pineapple "Ravioli" with Crispy Quinoa: This was J's least favorite dish of the night (and when I say that, I mean, least awesome). It was a nice dish, but compared to some of the others it just wasn't a standout at all.
- New England Clam Chowder: This was yet another highlight. Kind of like a chowder deconstructed, with whole clam pieces nestled in a bed of bacon foam and crispy potato bits. Bacon. Foam. You guys. Bacon foam! It was really good. I'm a big fan of bacon foam. Maybe not as crispy-chewy-satisfying as real bacon but yummy nonetheless and I loved how none of the parts was what you would expect.
- Breaded Cigala with Sea Salad: A cigala is kind of like a langoustine. The chefs suggested that it was some miracle shellfish that was richer than a lobster but I can find no information to back that up. My research suggests that it's basically the Portuguese version of a langoustine and is served by non-rich people at holidays. So basically a poor man's lobster. It was delicious anyway, as all such shellfish are if they are not deadly to you, and I liked the crispy chip thing it came with.
- "Philly Cheesesteak": Right before this was served, we were talking to our chef about The Bazaar in Beverly Hills and touting this dish as one of our favorite. Shortly thereafter we came to suspect he was preparing it even as we talked about it. He was. This take on a cheesesteak was actually created by the chefs of Minibar and exported out to The Bazaar. Our chef claimed theirs was better and I have to say he was right. The Bazaar one was very good, but it reminded me very strongly in flavor of one of those "chicken and biscuits" flavored crackers they had in the '70s. This cheesesteak had much more beef on the top which transformed it a lot into something of a much richer flavor.
- Kumquats and Pumpkin Seed Oil: This was probably the most eye-popping of the dishes. The fuschia and yellow swirl with the bright orange kumquat really popped, it looked very cool. It was also a nice palate cleanser, as the kumquat was cold and the citrus helped make the way for dessert.
- Thai Dessert: The thai dessert was called so because it used thai flavors. It was a coconut ice cream with basil and peanut flavors as well, and some kind of curry or spice flavor as well. It was very good, but quickly got upstaged by the next dessert.
- Frozen Yogurt and Honey: This was so much better than Pinkberry. It was a Greek yogurt flash-frozen with nitrogen so it became a cold powder, and then it was piled on a thick honey. It was incredibly delicious and kind of fun to eat in the powdery form.
- Chocolate Covered Corn Nuts, Mango Box, Saffron Gumdrop with Edible Wrapper: This was a finale--a slab of little treats to finish everything off. The corn nuts were homemade and then coated with good chocolate. A little box of mango cream and saffron candies. Everything was edible (except the slab). The candies with edible wrapper were a play on the Japanese candies wrapped in edible rice paper.