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John W.

José Andrés' Minibar

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Will be there tomorrow night, second seating. Any eGulleters joining me?

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Watch for Minibar to be featured on Tony Bourdain's "No Reservations" DC episode. First airs on the Travel Channel at 10 p.m. (eastern) on Monday, Jan. 19. Jose Andres also shows Tony around a local farmer's market.

In other news, after having tried for weeks to score weekend reservations, I somehow managed to get them for the 6 p.m. seating on Valentine's Day! Figured it's going to be way more difficult to get them, after Tony's show airs, so I needed to get off my butt and finally start dialing. I feel incredibly lucky.

Just an update to the reservation procedures mentioned above. Call at 10 a.m. a month to the day before you want your reservation (not 9 a.m., as stated above; and I mean call at 10 a.m. eastern time). So, for reservations on Valentine's Day, I called 10 a.m. today, January 14. Closed Sunday and Monday. Seatings at both 6 and 8:30 p.m. Only 6 seats available, per seating.

If my experience in trying to get Friday or Saturday reservations is any indication of what to expect normally for weekend reservations, expect to do a lot of redialing. If you get the voicemail message, hang up immediately; Minibar does not take reservations by voicemail or internet. On the two occasions I got through and spoke to a human, I was placed second on the waiting list after getting through at 10:05 a.m. for a Friday, but managed to get the last two seats for a Saturday at 10:10 a.m. Probably a number of people asked for 4-person reservations for the Friday where I was waitlisted. But the point is, they fill up early. Just keep dialing!

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I literally had 3 phones going, redialing them all...but once you get in, and others can back me up here....talk about friendly! Dealing w/Bonji was an absolute pleasure, you feel like a Hollywood A-Lister, :biggrin: .

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I definitely agree. Just got off the phone with Bonji and she was an absolute pleasure to chat with. Secured a reservation for Thursday, February 12th, 8:30pm.

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I got a reservation the other day for my first visit to minibar on may 19th at 830. it was the last available seat.

This will be my first visit to DC. So I plan on driving down early from NJ to go to smithsonian during the day, then minibar at night. Can't wait.

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Minibar Revolution – Minibar – Washington, DC

For the culinary community, the 00’s were the Molecular Decade – for butter or for wurst. In the 90s Ferran Adria was still figuring out his chemistry set, but it took Y2K to fashion a craze. One cannot fairly say that Cuisine Agape ever dominated, but many culinary capitals birthed restaurants that played games with your food. From Barcelona to Bray, Paris to New York, from the near west side of Chicago to the near north side of Chicago, experimentation was the game’s name. And, it must be said, that the gourmet decade had it all over the political decade. We can look back with satisfaction and not shame; after all those calories we really need some health care.

To end the decade, I returned to Minibar, Chef José Andrés’ outpost in his Café Atlantico in downtown Washington. Short of underground dining, short of El Bulli, Minibar is the toughest reservation to cadge. It took four mornings, calling at the moment that lines were open finally to snag a spot. (There are two seatings of six each. Sorry, Octomom!) The object is to be up-close-and-personal with the chefs: a sushi counter gone wild. Such a structure makes for agreeable conversation with the staff, but perhaps limits what can be produced by the team of four, working in tight quarters under our hawkish gaze.

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I had eaten at Minibar two years previous and was impressed with the creativity and panache. How did it wear? Was Minibar a two-trick pony? The answer is complicated.

Artistic revolutions have their life cycles. First, there are the pioneers, the rebels. But there are only so many ideas under the dining moon. In time even the most remarkable sparks of deconstructed genius become matters of routine. The craft remains, but the new dishes are often modifications of canonical recipes. The history of aesthetic insurgency is that of trick or tweak. In time, passion becomes passé: been there, ate that. At that moment, others, more traditional, emerge to pluck the best ideas and blend them with the tried and true: that’s what happened with Careme, Escoffier, nouvelle, and fusion.

We are, it seems, in-between the moments of modification and incorporation. Soon chefs will not strain to foam. But by then even the most conventional chef will place pop rocks in their mise en place for that perfect plate.

Minibar remains an essential restaurant and certainly will be eye-opening for anyone who has never been exposed to molecular cuisine. My challenge was to find the lasting memories among the fusty standards (if a mojito bladder can be derided as fusty or as standard). Depending on how one counts, I was served two dozen courses. Eleven “munchies.” Ten “flavors and textures.” Two desserts and one plate of mignardises (or “sweet surprises”).

Andrés and his chefs are still capable of revelations, even if some dishes are more curious than eternal. A description of twenty four dishes seems excessive even for the most bilious blogger (the photos provide evidence of the chef’s handiwork), but there were some goofs. I was not taken with the “Bagels and Lox,” a small hors d’oeuvre that was little more than lox balls in a bready cone. The flourless blue cheese and almond tart was tasty enough, but nothing special, although being served in a bowl of rocks was an enjoyable conceit. The carbonated mojito bladder was fun, but more a cunning culinary stunt than a dish that led to seconds. The same could be said for the parmesan “egg” that was more cute than delicious.

What is necessary in our Tweens is for brave chefs to create brilliant dishes. We have moved beyond being satisfied with the astonishment of the concept (Wow, shards of glass in the fruit salad, so this is a blood orange!) to demanding dishes that are luscious, creative, and brimming with sensation. Fortunately there were several dishes at Minibar that deserve this acclaim. Other dishes deserve nods. A hot and cold Pisco sour, a tempura Brussels sprout, a raw smoked oyster with apple and ginger, an inside out reconstructed guacamole, a charcoal salmon with black garlic and lemon-lime pearls all stood firmly on their own. However, I focus on four dishes that represented for me what molecular cuisine can achieve, but often does not.

First, there was the now obligatory cotton candy display: chefs at the funhouse. But at this carnival, cotton candy eel with shiso leaf, wasabi, and ginger really did transcend. Forgot that it was “cotton candy,” but feel the texture and taste the ingredients. The wispy filaments contributed to the exoticism of this proto-Japanese dish with its symphony of senses. It was brilliant, transcending the brittleness of the conceit.

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Second was Zucchini in Textures, a signature Andrés dish (it was served two years ago). The taste was subtle, not boisterous, and the textures were sublime. It elevated this rather pedestrian summer squash to the winter heights. Each level - the water, the seeds, and a puree - was precisely achieved. It is a contemporary classic: quieter than Keller’s Oysters and Pearls or Carlson’s Quail Egg Ravioli, but just as subversively memorable in its spare delight.

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Third, late in the meal, was Breaded Cigala with Sea Salad (sorrel, I believe). Cigala is a type of Spanish langoustine (perhaps the generic translation of langoustine). Again it was a simple dish, but a pure and wonderful one without fireworks, but with enormous care in the ingredient and the preparation. The salad matched the seafood precisely.

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Finally, the dessert: Thai Cuisine, more molecular than the previous two choices but with the spices of Bangkok banged into surprising shapes and textures: ginger crumbles, cilantro-coconut sorbet, ginger bits. Here was a deconstruction of an impossible construction. This savory sweet was a wonderful fantasia, and a lovely close to a wide array, revealing that molecular cuisine still has much to teach, although perhaps no longer in two dozen courses.

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The rest:

Hot and Cold Pisco Sour

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"Bagels and Lox"

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Boneless Curried Chicken Wing

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Flourless Blue Cheese and Almond Tart

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"Ferrero Rocher" - savory hazelnut and blue cheese

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Mojito Bubble

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Steamed Brioche With Caviar

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Brussels Sprout Tempura Rose

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Dragon's Breath Popcorn

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Guacamole Roll

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Smoked Oyster with Green Apple

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Hand Made Corn with Huitlacoche

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"Sun-Dried" Tomato Salad with Lemon Foam

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Charcoal Salmon Toro with Black Garlic and Lemon-Lime Pearls

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New England Clam Chowder with Bacon Cream and Potato Bits

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Parmesan "Egg" with Migas

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Philly Cheesesteak

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Frozen Yogurt, Honey, Olive Oil

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Mango White Chocolate Box, Smores, Bacon and Chocolate

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Fizzy Ball

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Minibar

Second Floor

405 8th Street NW,

Washington, DC 20004

(202) 393-0812

http://www.cafeatlantico.com/

Vealcheeks

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Honestly, I just ate at minibar a month ago, and I have to say I wasn't really impressed at all.

It's not that the restaurant is bad--I mean, they do things you can't find anywhere else in DC. There were a few knockout dishes, like the frozen tzatziki, but in general the flavors were lacking. Even worse, though the meal is twenty some courses, it will almost surely not fill you up (if you don't have wine like I did)--I ended up going home and having a steak.

Nor was I thrilled by the seating, which was so cramped that I could barely move. At times, the waiters even bumped into me while taking the food away.

I've heard some other complaints from others, too, especially about how they don't change your silverware for the whole set of courses.

That said, I give Jose Andres full credit for making the most inventive, unique dishes in all of DC, with a really great concept. Unfortunately, it's not quite the super experience that I think you can get at a place like Komi.


Edmund Mokhtarian

Food and Wine Blogger

http://www.thefoodbuster.com

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      Chef Grant processing the broccoli

      The stems are placed in a polyethylene bag, along with butter, salt and granulated cane juice. The bag is sealed with a cryovac machine

      The sealed stems are placed in a 170 degree F water to cook, sous vide, until extremely tender; about three hours

      Broccoli stems after cooking
      The crisp bread element is fabricated via the use of an industrial deli slicer. Chef Grant then brushes the sectioned pieces of poached broccoli stem with eggwash, affixes them to the thin planks of brioche and places them in a fry pan with butter.

      Grant's mise...not your ordinary cutting board

      Poached Broccoli Stem and Crisp Bread cooking

      Ready for plating

      A bright green broccoli puree is made with a vita-prep blender. Here, Chef Grant "mohawks" it onto china given to him by Thomas Keller

      Smoked Coho roe has arrived via Fed-Ex, courtesy of Steve Stallard

      Chef Grant devises a plating scheme for the Poached Broccoli Stem while Curtis looks on

      Chef Grant ponders one potential plating of the dish. He called this incarnation 'predictable' and started over.

      Another plating idea. This version is garnished with broccoli petals and ultra-thin slices of connected grapefruit pulp cells. The yellow petals are stand-ins for what will ultimately be broccoli blossoms
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      A third plating configuration for Poached Broccoli Stems; this one featuring the packets of roe wrapped in ultra thin sheets of grapefruit pulp cells
      At this point the team decides to move on and come back to it next week. After some conversation they decide that in the final dish, broccoli will appear in at least 5 forms: poached stems, floret puree, some raw form of the stem, the tiny individual sprouts of broccoli florets, and the blooms. Grant feels that Poached Broccoli Stem could be ready for service, although he still envisions some changes for the dish that will make it even more emblematic of his personal style. “Our dishes continue to evolve after they hit the menu. It is important for us to get to know them better before we can clearly see their weaknesses.”
      The thought for the dried crème brulee originated over a year ago when a regular customer jokingly asked for a crème brulee for dessert. “He said it as joke, I took it as a challenge,” says Grant. "Of course, we never intended to give him a regular crème brulee.” The team tried various techniques to create the powder-filled caramel bubble while at Trio to no avail. An acceptable filling for the Dried Crème Brulee has been developed by the Chef and his team but several different methods, attempted today, to create the orb from caramelized sugar have been less than 100% successful.

      Caramel blob awaiting formation. Chef Curtis kept this pliable by leaving it in a low oven throughout the day

      Chef Grant’s initial idea to use a metal bubble ring and heat gun (normally used for stripping paint) to form the bubbles does not work as hoped. Attempts to fashion them by hand also come up short.
      Says Grant, “At Trio we tried a hair-dryer. When Martin told me about these heat guns which get up to 900 degrees F, I thought we had it for sure. If it was easy everyone would do it I guess.” Eventually, Alinea partner Nick Kokonas garners the task’s best result by positioning a small, warm blob of sugar onto the end of a drinking straw and blowing into the other end. The results are promising. Curtis suggests using a sugar pump to inflate the orbs. That adjustment will be attempted on another day.
      “We intentionally position whimsical bite in the amuse slot, it tends to break the ice and make people laugh. It is a deliberate attempt to craft the experience by positioning the courses in a very pre-meditated order. A great deal of thought goes into the order of the courses, a misalignment may really take away from the meal as a whole.” For PB&J, the grapes are peeled while still on the vine and then dipped into unsweetened peanut butter. They are allowed to set–up, and then they are wrapped with a thin sheet of bread and lightly toasted. When the peeled grapes warm, they become so soft they mimic jelly. The composition is strangely unfamiliar in appearance but instantly reminiscent on the palate. PB&J is, according to Grant, virtually ready for service. There are a couple of aesthetic elements, which need minor tweaks but the Chef feels very good about today’s prototype.

      Chef John peels grapes while still on their stems

      Peeled grapes on their stems with peanut butter coating

      Chef Grant studies the completed PB&J in the Crucial Detail designed piece

      PB&J
      Often, creative impulses come by way of Alinea’s special purveyors. “Terra Spice’s support over the past couple of years has been unprecedented, and it has accelerated with the start of the food lab,” says Grant. “It is great to have relationships with people that think like we do, it can make the creative process so much easier. Often Phil, our contact at Terra, would come into the kitchen at Trio and encourage us to try and stump him on obscure ingredients. We always lost, but not from lack of trying. He even brought in two live chufa plants into the kitchen one day.” The relationship has developed and Terra team has really made an effort to not only search out products that the chefs ask for but also keep an eye out for new ingredients and innovations. In August, Phil brought by some samples of products that he thought the Alinea team might be interested in trying.

      Phil of Terra Spice showing the team some samples

      Coconut powder and other samples
      Grant recalls “the most surprising item to me was the dried coconut powder. When I put a spoonful in my mouth I could not believe the intense flavor and instant creamy texture, it was awesome.” That was the inspiration for what is now Instant Tropical Pudding. The guest is presented with a glass filled with dried ingredients. A member of the service team pours a measured amount of coconut water into the glass and instructs the guest to stir the pudding until a creamy consistency is formed.

      The rum-spiked coconut water being added to the powders
      At the end of the day, the Chefs assess their overall effort as having gone “fairly well.” It’s a mixed bag of results. Clearly, the fact that things have not gone perfectly on Day 1 has not dampened anyone’s spirits. The team has purposely attempted dishes of varying degrees of difficultly in order to maximize their productivity. Says Grant, “Making a bubble of caramel filled with powder…I have devoted the better part of fifteen years to this craft, I have trained with the best chefs alive. I have a good grasp of known technique. The lab's purpose is to create technique based on our vision. Sometimes we will succeed, and sometimes we will fail, but trying is what make us who we are." The team's measured evaluations of their day’s work reflect that philosophy.
      According to Chef Grant, “The purpose of the lab is to create the un-creatable. I know the level at which we can cook. I know the level of technique we already possess. What I am interested in is what we don't know...making a daydream reality.” With little more than 100 days on the calendar between now and Alinea’s opening, the Chef and his team will have their work cut out for them.
      =R=
      A special thanks to eGullet member yellow truffle, who contributed greatly to this piece
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