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José Andrés' Minibar


John W.
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  • 2 months later...
  • 1 month later...

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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  • 2 months later...

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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  • 8 months later...

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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  • 5 months later...

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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