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José Andrés' Minibar


John W.
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My man DonRocks and I went to the mini bar at Cafe Atlantico last night. Wow. We left convinced that it was the most important meal in the city last night. At least the most important to us.

34 little tastes. all relevant, almost a Japanese purity to a whole lot of the flavors. Most of the flavors are familiar too, just presented in a manner that is thought-provoking. Highlights: Chocolate truffle with foie gras and tamarind (sour, bitter, sweet). Conch fritters with liquid center. An injection of hot mozzarella soup and basil (caprese salad like not many people have had). Deconstructed clam chowder.

To be honest, too many people practice this stuff without knowing what they are doing and it comes off badly. I've said this a lot, if you reach for the foamer, you had better have worked for the man. It's well known Jose worked for Ferran, but Kats (the kind of new chef) also spent a year with him. I look forward to seeing what that place will produce as it matures.

Only knock (and it's just rocks and I being a pain in the ass) is that we where looking hard for riesling or something else. But it's not that big a deal because it's all about the food anyway. For the record, we drank a cava and a Sauvignon Blanc, which provided plenty of great inspired matches, but our opinion was that could have gone in a few different directions. Funny thing is, to finish my meal, I had a glass of Malbec, and the super-tobacco finish in the wine was like having a cigar after a great meal. That in keeping with the brain-pushing experience we had last night.

Steve Klc, your desserts worked seamlessly with the meal, just like you like them. The mango soup with mint ice and pop rocks was killer.

Go. Go now.

Firefly Restaurant

Washington, DC

Not the body of a man from earth, not the face of the one you love

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Sounds good. Also, as I recall, Atlantico's corkage is $15, so bring your fine rieslings to your heart's content.

Silly procedural questions:

1. Price?

2. Need a reservation? Do they take reservations?

3. Amount of time?

Jake

Jake Parrott

Ledroit Brands, LLC

Bringing new and rare spirits to Washington DC.

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Sorry. My original post got lost last night.

$65 bucks.

There are six stools, so I would make reservations. I would say they are required at this point. But I called the night before, so it's not that hard. Yet.

Another thing I didn't mention was the pace. It's obvious that a lot of thought went into that as well. The pace was perfect. There is no more than seconds or a minute between courses (it seemed). We sat about 9:30, and were done around 11.

As for the corkage issue, who knew? I think there is a whole unexplored avenue about the food and wine matches. Next time, it's riesling a-go-go. I was really thinking about stuff like viuras and the like, stuff that fits the Latino/Spanish concept. Oh well.

Edited by John W. (log)

Firefly Restaurant

Washington, DC

Not the body of a man from earth, not the face of the one you love

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Cafe Atlantico's dim-sum brunch on Saturdays and Sundays is a gas. And at just $35. The best Adria-influenced food I have tasted on this side of the pond. And a barrel of fun. Drink their super Latin cocktails and stop worrying about which wine goes with this food. Now, you guys have me wanting to get back to D.C.

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The minibar at Café Atlantico is an amazing experience that anyone serious about food must try once (you folks may wish to get your reservations in now because this is going to be the biggest thing in DC since the Monument).

No matter what I say here, you owe it to yourself to go - this is something to experience, to learn from and to make up your own mind about.

Yes, some 34 tastes or thereabouts, beginning with a Binaca spray-can full of mojito, and ending with a spoonful of Listerine sorbet 90 minutes later. In between, you'll find rapid-fire courses full of all the audacity and verve that you could possibly imagine. Some work, some don't, and all are thought-provoking and whimsical.

There is no sense in breaking down each of these because the depth of each individual item is not the important thing here: the courses come at you too fast for reflection, for scrutiny, for analysis. This meal is a roller coaster, a surfboard riding the waves of flavor, texture and temperature without the time allowed to peak under the water to see what's happening. It's tres macro in that the big picture is what you should walk away with, not minute details of each 90-second course. This was a challenge for me because I like to think about what I'm eating, but this is the cuisine of first impact and slapdash analysis. Only at the end should you think back and reflect.

The actual dishes - and I suspect I'll take heat for saying this - are not important. Nor is the concept behind each individual dish important. The important thing here is the concept behind the meal as a whole. Not having been to El Bulli, I have never experienced anything like this before. Once you've done it, you won't want to do it again, at least not for a long while, but everyone needs to do it once. There are 270 million people in the United States, and it will take a good long time to fit each of them into this little six-seat minibar, so Café Atlantico should prepare themselves to be deluged.

You have to feel a twinge of pity for any first-time visitor to London that doesn't see the Tower of London, if not for the crown jewels and the contrived whimsy of the Beefeater tour guides, then for the sheer amazement of being there, and it's the same way with anyone serious about food: they simply have to have a meal at the minibar at Café Atlantico. But just as a London tourist wouldn't feel any need to return there (only a masochist would return a second time), I doubt I'll be back to the minibar anytime soon. It doesn't really matter what they're going to do with the harvest this autumn - I already know what the meal is going to be, and at this point, it's just a matter of filling in the proper details with the proper ingredients. And I don't feel the need to find out what strange ingredient will be combined with my squash this fall.

Regarding the wines with this meal, the restaurant desperately needs to turn towards Germany for Kabinett-level Riesling (hey guys, Terry Theise does live in this area, y'know!), and also for some lightweight red Bourgognes. Having four bottles open at once would highlight the little tasting game, say a Sauvignon Blanc, an Austrian Gruner Veltliner (preferably with some age), a Pinot Noir from Burgundy and a Riesling from Germany. Absent that, there are so many tastes, combinations, temperatures being hurled at you that you're probably best off drinking still bottled water at room temperature and just riding with the food.

So, did I like it? Well, that depends what 'it' is. I loved the dining experience in its entirety, I loved the novelty, I loved the back-and-forth between server-and-diner, I loved the sheer innovation and I loved that I was early in catching this destination meal that is going to be wildly popular, and there's no way it won't be (repeat: reserve now!).

Almost every dish brought forth a 'wow, this is really interesting' from me, but not-so-many dishes warmed my soul, or made me want to have them again. I was on my toes the entire meal, but it was a rare moment in the meal when I'd say to myself, 'Man I've just GOT to have another one of those!' Again, I stress that it's the meal itself - not the components - that is the important and radical thing (unless you consider foie gras wrapped in cotton candy important and radical. Well, okay, it may be radical, but it's certainly not important).

But did I like it? Put it this way: now that I know what it entails, I would look back two days ago and say to myself, 'yes, this is the one place you need to experience, more than any other place in the Washington area.' Now that I've had it, it would not be in my top 50 for visiting a second time (though I'm Jonesin' to try the weekend brunch). So, you should consider this posting to be a plug for the minibar at Café Atlantico. I urge you, gentle reader, to go, go with an open mind, and by all means make your own decisions which could easily be quite different than mine are. We're in uncharted territory with this place, and it cannot be "ranked" with the other restaurants in the city.

Oh and Steve, your mango dessert was indeed brilliant - I felt like fireworks were going off inside my head. Given my advanced sagesse as a result of this experience, you may now call me PopRocks.

Cheers,

Rocks.

Edited by DonRocks (log)
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Don that's a great post.

But it makes the experience seem like another important DC experience - the Holocaust Museum. It's interesting and something everyone should do, but it is ultimately draining and certainly not uplifiting.

I'm guessing that that is probably not the impression you were trying to give. Is it at least a 'fun' experience? Or is it simply a matter of taking your lumps in the name of culinary education?

(And please no one get angry with me for the Holocaust meseum reference. I'm not trying to trivialize the subject matter)

Bill Russell

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Don that's a great post. 

But it makes the experience seem like another important DC experience - the Holocaust Museum. 

Oh, please! This ain't the Holocaust Museum. If you want to experience Cafe Atlantico without trying 34 dishes, do the Latino dim-sum brunch on Saturdays and Sundays. It is sit down and not at the mini-bar. I had a blast. It was great fun, whimsical, delicious and a wonderful way to spend a rainy Saturday afternoon. I would go back in a minute and though I agree with my friend DonRocks that it is not something you want to do everyday, I would certainly go back a few times. The Ferran Adria experience and DonRocks's experience at the mini-bar has to do with a surfeit of these "tapas with attitude," but if you sample a dozen of these dishes with some of Cafe Atlantico's wonderful Latino cocktails, it is a blast.

Edited by Gerry Dawes (log)
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I'm guessing that that is probably not the impression you were trying to give.  Is it at least a 'fun' experience?  Or is it simply a matter of taking your lumps in the name of culinary education?

Bilrus;

It's a great time. The interaction alone with Kats and his two assistants is great - they do a really good job of explaining what's going on, but not in an overt, "hi my name is Bob and I'll be cooking your food tonight" manner. The experience goes by quickly, not at all painful to sit there for 2 hours or so. If it was only a cerebral experience, it would be quite boring after 20 minutes. The food actually tastes good. REAL good. What's not fun about eating a medallon of lobster and then injecting lobster stock with a tiny (I don't know), turkey baster into your mouth, or spraying a mojito into your maw with a spritzer? Or cotton candy with foie gras? I had an awesome time, maybe more than people who don't cook for a living because there is a whole hell of a lot of technique going on. I left giggling like a kid on XMAS morning.

That said, there are a lot of repeated ingredients, but so what? If you don't like mango and jicima, maybe stay home, because you'll eat a lot of that. But if you eat sushi, you'll eat a lot of rice too. The repeated ingredients are still interesting and different. I am in total agreement with donrocks as to not going back for a spell, because they don't have plans to change anything for awhile. Which is fine. There's only six stools and a lot of people still to come.

Firefly Restaurant

Washington, DC

Not the body of a man from earth, not the face of the one you love

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Is it at least a 'fun' experience? 

Bilrus,

Consider that one of the following is true:

1) Débec Fin - Kats serves us one of those large, white plastic soup spoons, and instructs us to 'walk with it to the bathroom, stick it all the way in the back of your throats, and ... gag yourselves!' "But why," I ask. At that point, I get backhanded by JohnW, who turns toward me with his head hung low, beet-red, ashamed to even look at the chef, and admonishes me in a raspy whisper, "Umami, you Philistine."

2) Cinq Sens Saint-Saens Sans Sens - Kats offers us a plate, then prompts his assistants to walk around behind us and place the headphones on. Sure enough, Saint-Saens' second piano concerto is now playing in our ears. We look at Kats who smiles and nods, and we begin nibbling our course. I look over at JohnW, and he's counting to himself on the fingers of his left hand, and I can see him mouthing to himself, "Taste ... smell ... sight ...."

3) Serviette Truffée - Kats advises us to 'take a bite of this course and then ... smell your napkin! ' I reply, "But why?" "Because it's truffled!" So we're sitting there, whiffing our napkins after each bite of food, and JohnW turns to the chef and asks, "Are these white or black truffles?"

Now, you tell me whether or not it was fun!

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Is it at least a 'fun' experience? 

Bilrus,

Consider that one of the following is true:

1) Débec Fin - Kats serves us one of those large, white plastic soup spoons, and instructs us to 'walk with it to the bathroom, stick it all the way in the back of your throats, and ... gag yourselves!' "But why," I ask. At that point, I get backhanded by JohnW, who turns toward me with his head hung low, beet-red, ashamed to even look at the chef, and admonishes me in a raspy whisper, "Umami, you Philistine."

2) Cinq Sens Saint-Saens Sans Sens - Kats offers us a plate, then prompts his assistants to walk around behind us and place the headphones on. Sure enough, Saint-Saens' second piano concerto is now playing in our ears. We look at Kats who smiles and nods, and we begin nibbling our course. I look over at JohnW, and he's counting to himself on the fingers of his left hand, and I can see him mouthing to himself, "Taste ... smell ... sight ...."

3) Serviette Truffée - Kats advises us to 'take a bite of this course and then ... smell your napkin! ' I reply, "But why?" "Because it's truffled!" So we're sitting there, whiffing our napkins after each bite of food, and JohnW turns to the chef and asks, "Are these white or black truffles?"

Now, you tell me whether or not it was fun!

Gimme a damned steak and baked potato and cut the crap. What is fun about sucking slime out of a glassene envelope or watching someone shootup your lobster claw with a syringe? Sick fun, maybe.

Mark

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Is it at least a 'fun' experience? 

Bilrus,

Consider that one of the following is true:

1) Débec Fin - Kats serves us one of those large, white plastic soup spoons, and instructs us to 'walk with it to the bathroom, stick it all the way in the back of your throats, and ... gag yourselves!' "But why," I ask. At that point, I get backhanded by JohnW, who turns toward me with his head hung low, beet-red, ashamed to even look at the chef, and admonishes me in a raspy whisper, "Umami, you Philistine."

2) Cinq Sens Saint-Saens Sans Sens - Kats offers us a plate, then prompts his assistants to walk around behind us and place the headphones on. Sure enough, Saint-Saens' second piano concerto is now playing in our ears. We look at Kats who smiles and nods, and we begin nibbling our course. I look over at JohnW, and he's counting to himself on the fingers of his left hand, and I can see him mouthing to himself, "Taste ... smell ... sight ...."

3) Serviette Truffée - Kats advises us to 'take a bite of this course and then ... smell your napkin! ' I reply, "But why?" "Because it's truffled!" So we're sitting there, whiffing our napkins after each bite of food, and JohnW turns to the chef and asks, "Are these white or black truffles?"

Now, you tell me whether or not it was fun!

Gimme a damned steak and baked potato and cut the crap. What is fun about sucking slime out of a glassene envelope or watching someone shootup your lobster claw with a syringe? Sick fun, maybe.

Well, I can make a pretty servicable steak and potato at home, but I'm not sure that I could pull off a tasty slime envelope.

Bill Russell

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Bill Russell wrote:

"Well, I can make a pretty servicable steak and potato at home, but I'm not sure that I could pull off a tasty slime envelope. "

Bill,

If someone handed you a testube and said "Essence of the Ocean", and it was calamari, sea urchin and one oyster put in a blender, would you eat it? Right, neither would I. Wabeck would. Once. :cool:

Mark

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Bill,

If someone handed you a testube and said "Essence of the Ocean", and it was calamari, sea urchin and one oyster put in a blender, would you eat it? Right, neither would I. Wabeck would. Once.  :cool:

At WD50 in NYC, you can get a flattened oyster. Word on the street is it tastes like an oyster, but it's flat.

I haven't been to the new mini-bar, but I've been to brunch and Cafe Atlantico. There, the Adria techniques are anything but gimmicks. The shot of potato vanilla foam with caviar is the dish that turned me from a skeptic to a supporter of this movement.

Chief Scientist / Amateur Cook

MadVal, Seattle, WA

Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code

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The potato-vanilla foam with caviar tastes like...(aah, it's not funny anymore).

Potato-vanilla foam with caviar. That's what it tastes like.

Guess what the foie gras cotton candy tastes like...(definitely not a Rocco beach party).

Edited by John W. (log)

Firefly Restaurant

Washington, DC

Not the body of a man from earth, not the face of the one you love

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Gimme a damned steak and baked potato and cut the crap. What is fun about sucking slime out of a glassene envelope or watching someone shootup your lobster claw with a syringe? Sick fun, maybe.

I hear you Mark. To hell with gimmickry, I say!

By the way, how's that "Virtual Paella" coming along at Citronelle? :raz:

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Gimme a damned steak and baked potato and cut the crap. What is fun about sucking slime out of a glassene envelope or watching someone shootup your lobster claw with a syringe? Sick fun, maybe.

I hear you Mark. To hell with gimmickry, I say!

By the way, how's that "Virtual Paella" coming along at Citronelle? :raz:

Well, Rocks, you ate it. Tell the boys here. I think it is awesome.

Mark

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  • 3 weeks later...

My wife and I were at the minibar last night. The Big Guy was there too, but he was eating with a couple of his mates.

It was brilliant. The flavors, the interaction with the "cooks," the give-and-take on flavor combinations (we spent a lot of time talking about the best ways to take the combos to more conventional forms for home entertaining), the new and improved list of champagnes (but, come on, ya gotta have a few rieslings). So take the following "criticisms" with this paragraph in mind.

The first bit, a chocolate truffle filled with foie gras and tamarind, was too cold.

The foie with vanilla cotton candy could have used a bit of pepper. How long until we see that cotton candy perfumed with truffle instead of vanilla??

The jicama wraps/purses fall a little flat, especially those wherein the jicama is wrapped around arugula. The textures are too close and the whole things feels a little wan.

No cheese course (other than the cabrales in one of the salad and some grated parmesan)...I'm thinking whipped taleggio with pop rocks or something :-).

In short, while the $65 price point is useful for engaging the public, it seems like there could be some real fireworks here at about $85 or $90, with the same inventiveness applied to more and different ingredients.

But it was highly, highly enjoyable. Can't wait until they start changing it around every few days, so we can go back!

Jake

Jake Parrott

Ledroit Brands, LLC

Bringing new and rare spirits to Washington DC.

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  • 2 weeks later...

First, some disclaimers:

1. I have never been to El Bulli.

2. I have never been to Trio.

3. I have never been to WD50.

And now, to the meat of the matter:

The minibar at Cafe Atlantico presents the most profound challenge to the fundamentals of dining out that I have ever experienced. It has opened my eyes in a way that very few other experiences ever have. I am reticent to believe that the emporer is wearing a new suit of clothes, for I have found his wares the pinnacle of sensuousness and fashion.

As I said to my dining companion while we were still sitting at the bar, it was like watching a color television for the first time after having only ever seen black and white. The average viewer, and I include myself in this category, simply could not fathom what the experience would be like.

I will post some pictures soon, but they cannot conceivably do justice to what is going on at the minibar. If you don't already have a booking, pick up the phone and arrange one for the earliest possible moment.

Chief Scientist / Amateur Cook

MadVal, Seattle, WA

Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code

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Upon arrival at the minibar, we were presented with a small bowl of chicken popcorn.

i139.jpg

As a guest, I looked at this bowl, just as you are looking at it on the screen now, and thought to myself that it was simply a bowl of popcorn with chicken powder on it. Where is the novelty in that? True, you don't see powdered chicken on many menus, but surely the good people at Knorr and Lipton's have long since perfected the art of powdering chicken.

Then I tasted it, and found myself challenged to think about the experience a little bit more. What exactly are Jose and Kats up to? They have produced a dried essence, in powdered form, quite likely by employing processes normally reserved for industrial-scale food production. Now I understood, and throughout the meal the message was reinforced: what is happening at the minibar is that tools and techniques from industry and laboratory processes are being employed to transform the form, the function, and the meaning of food.

But why would one expect these industrial processes produce something that is any more pleasurable to consume than factory-produced mass dreck? That's like asking why Payard makes better pastry than Hostess. It's because behind the process there is a creative vision.

The vision isn't about shocking, joking, or deceiving the diner. It's about pushing the boundaries of the dining experience. This requires abandoning the idea that the stock pot, the saute pan, and the chefs knife alone are up to the task. The new tools of the trade aren't found at the local restaurant supply store, they are found on the pages of the latest Edmund Scientific catalog. Those who employ them are changing the culinary landscape forever, one bowl of popcorn at a time.

Chief Scientist / Amateur Cook

MadVal, Seattle, WA

Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code

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In some cases, the chefs behind the minibar aren't alone in employing new techniques to put the dishes together. Several of them, like this Caesar salad, require final assembly by the diner.

i140.jpg

In this case assembly consists of picking up one of the jicama and lettuce rolls and using it to break the egg yolk and then stir the dressing together. When the dressing is combined and has coated the bottom half of the roll, you pop it in your mouth.

Very few of the courses require the use of traditional silverware, and none is provided (unless you count a stainless steel spork as tradional).

In order to give you a sense of scale, that is a quail egg, not a chicken egg.

Chief Scientist / Amateur Cook

MadVal, Seattle, WA

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Here are two of the mango ravioli that others have mentioned in this thread. The one on the left is stuffed with avacado, and the one on the right contains anchovy foam. Each is a single bite, but each goes through a series of flavor transformations in your mouth. First you taste the wrapper, then the filling as it squirts out, and finally, the combination of the two.

i145.jpg

Chief Scientist / Amateur Cook

MadVal, Seattle, WA

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Yo Vengroff,

I want a picture of that truffled napkin. :smile:

Rocks

OK, here's a truffle huffer.

i150.jpg

And here is the meat and potatoes dish that was served with the napkin.

i149.jpg

This dish required use of the spork to lift from the plate.

I don't recall whether the woman to my right at the bar ate the beef, but I do know that her days of vegetarianism came to an abrupt end when she sampled the foie gras truffle.

Chief Scientist / Amateur Cook

MadVal, Seattle, WA

Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code

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