Usually this B&K Eat but in this case it’s B eats and B is very thankful that K let me do this without her 🙂
A few months back I knew I would be in Washington D.C. this week for a conference and working from the office here so I had started to do research one weekend on places to eat while in DC. I was starting to keep a list of sorts which got longer the more I talked to people who live in the area and then one day it occurred to me that MiniBar, which was closed the last time KMJ and I were here in 2011 might be open so I figured what the heck I’ll see if they’re open. Much to my surprise I got a reservation.
What is MiniBar, well I think their website describes it well: “minibar by José Andrés is a study in avant-garde cooking and one of the nation’s most exciting dining experiences. An imaginative menu offered in an intimate setting, the creations combine art and science as well as tradition and technique. Here you will be taken on a culinary journey. Each bite is designed to thrill the senses by pushing the limits of what we have come to expect, and what is possible from food”.
It’s worth noting that MiniBar is a somewhat unique place, many courses, some just a bite, some more substantial but all of them have some sense of whimsy and like to play with your palette and mind by changing textures and temperatures and through artistic styling. They also only seat 18-24 people a night in groups of six, so reservations are tough to come by.
Anyhow, I arrived a bit early for dinner and walking into the building you find yourself in a cream colored room with no apparent doors then the hostess just appears from one side which is BarMini and found me a stool. Getting settled in I asked for a suggestion based on bourbon and found myself with a “Old Pal” of Rye, Campari and another liquor that I can’t remember, along with an amuse of chamomile, chai and vodka (excellent). A bar that serves an amuse drink? Cool. The bar area is really modern looking, lots of stark white and for the size of the place a pretty large bar and service staff, this I was about to learn would be a trend for the night.
A short time later I was escorted back through the mysterious entrance room through another door you wouldn’t have knowing was there into the waiting area just outside MiniBar. I met my dining companions there, a trio from Virginia and North Carolina and we sat there finishing off drinks and they delivered a quick snack to start things off. Puffed rice crackers with a freeze dried Nori powder. Salty, slightly chewy and pretty good, we all agreed that a bag full of them would have been nice. The room was a bit crazy, I was sitting in this chair meant to look like it was made of marble with a big clock on the wall behind me and large golden egg shaped lamp over my shoulder.
Now for the main event, we were ushered into the dining room which has two big bar style tables with a kitchen between them. The chefs introduced themselves and let us this would be as interactive as we wanted it to be; encouraged all questions and let us know that most of the dishes would be prepared on the table in front of us. I counted 9 chefs (that I could see, I think there was at least one more in a back kitchen) plus several wine stewards in the room to serve 12 people. The six people at the other table had started their dinner about 30-40 minutes prior to our seating.
Dinner started with a series of snacks:
Starting from the left with Oaxacan Marshmallow “cocktail”, pretty much what it says; some lime, cilantro and mezcal in marshmallow form finished off in liquid nitrogen, cool, gummy and yum. Next up was the Asian “Coca de Vidrio” kind of a rice cracker with some sesame and other seasonings meant to sound like glass breaking when you eat it, that wasn’t the case IMO but still very good. Parmesan Leaf with some lemon curd and cream followed next. These you cold eat by the pound, salty and some acid and citrus. This was followed by a Popcorn Empanada. Finally When Pigs Fly little meringue pigs with some coffee and cool bacon ice cream in the center. Everyone agreed that we would have preferred all of these snacks to be served in bulk, one just wasn’t enough.
Onto the “appetizers” we started off with what the chef described as a time sensitive dish called the Foie Bomb which was a warm Foie Gras foam encapsulated in a slightly sweet gelatin, the whole thing was shaped like a small pear and had all the richness and fatty taste of foie gras without the heavy feeling that comes from eating it. This was followed with a Churro Tendon and like you would expect from a churro it was warm and crispy with some cinnamon and sugar but instead of a doughy center there was some warm, delicious veal tendon that must have been cooked down for hours.
Next up was the Almond Tart with Blue Cheese in this case the tart was a formed with a flourless dough in an egg mold then dipped in nitrogen and filled with a blue cheese mouse. Just, wow. The Waldorf Salad was served in a “baguette” made of dehydrated apple meringue, with some walnut puree, maybe a little peanut along with the chicken, grapes and what not you would expect.
The next two courses began the transition in the main courses starting with Chicken Shawarma made with a spring roll wrapper, some lettuce and herbs with crispy chicken skin and a yogurt sauce that was so light and airy I almost thought it was a whip cream. This was followed by Thai Soup with some micro herbs served on the side to blend in before eating. The soup was a classic broth with some coconut cream and the “noodle” was a vegetable of some sort that had been cooked down then set back into a noodle like form with some kitchen chemistry. Both were great, it was like the perfect little bowl of soup and as usual, seconds would have been rapidly consumed.
Baby Carrots with Coconut and Curry came up next, these were in reality pureed carrot spheres in the style of the Olive Spheres made famous at El Bulli and were dressed with the coconut cream, harissa and shaved beet, or was it radish. Really good combination either way with the beet/radish adding the crunch that would have been in the carrot. A smokey dome covering a bowl was next to arrive and upon removing the dome it revealed Smoked Oysters with Ecabeche which was topped with some brown butter foam, this is now my 2nd favorite oyster dish after the sage/tequila grilled oysters at Williows Inn. The oysters and mushrooms were lightly smoked with applewood and had so much flavor.
This mysterious bag was delivered and as they chefs came around to cut open the bag and shave black truffle over the top they announced it as a Beech Mushroom Risotto but with a small twist; there was no rice. This was just the caps of some very small mushrooms that had been cooked with stock, broth, wine; all the usual ingredients within this bag to intensify the flavor and they succeeded. So much flavor and the truffle was just the right amount to accentuate the mushroom without overpowering the dish.
Rounding off this portion of the meal was a a traditional dish from the north of Spain where Chef Jose Andres is from but of course it’s not that simple Fabes con Almejas is a soup with white beans and clams but in this version the beans were pureed and in the same spherical form that the carrots took earlier in the night. This one was good but not my favorite, I thought the clams were maybe a bit bitter and flavor of the beans was really pushed up a notch in this preparation which made them almost to strong. Still a solid dish though.
Moving along the next dish was Spot Prawn with some Peanut butter and Honey sounds a bit weird, but it totally worked and was gone all to soon. Now for something totally unexpected Espardenyes with Bone Marrow, so you’re saying “what is espardenyes”? It’s more commonly known as Sea Cucumber and this dish, again with some brown butter foam was pretty amazing. The Sea Cucumber has a similar texture to the marrow but without the richness so the two really play well on each other and the sauce was superb. Next up a Roasted Squab with Oysters and Seaweed this was served with some raspberry sauce and just perfectly cooked, deep red meat with a nice carmelized outer layer and the cool seaweed to top it off.
The final dinner course was a throwback, one that was on the original MiniBar tasting menu that was brought back to celebrate their tenth year. Normally once a dish is retired that’s it but I’m so glad they brought back this rif on the Philly Cheesesteak. What you have here is some thin sliced kobe style beef over a “shell” of french bread (think baguette crust with a hollow center) and the middle is filled with a warm aged cheddar and cream foam. It’s messy, cheesy, meaty and you want about 10 of them but sadly there was only one.
Onward to the palette cleansers…
First up, Dragons Breath kettle corn which is a little cube of kettle corn doused in liquid nitrogen so when you eat it the nitrogen “smoke” comes right out your nose. I wish I had video, it was delicious and hilarious at the same time and there were just smiles all around the table. There’s a video here that someone shot a few years ago at the old MiniBar location. The Dragons Breath was followed with a Hot Toddy shot of corn liquor and black tea which heated us right back up. Now it’s time for Christmas in July, a granita of green apple and I *think* maybe some cucumber and some other green vegetable topped with a buttermilk snow. Last but certainly not least was Coconut Sticky Rice with Mango and no, those aren’t sliced mangos, just some nicely formed “slices” of mango sorbet that were sprayed with some different colored cocoa butter to give the illusion of the fruit skin. This was one of my favorites, it’s super refreshing and a great way to close out this portion of the meal
Coming full circle on the night we were all escorted back over to Bar Mini where I was given the same stool at the bar where I had started out three hours prior and a selection of dessert bites began to appear.
The first two were a mostly frozen Pina’ Colada Tablet that seemed to be a pineapple gel surrounded by a frozen coconut cream, it was of course delicious. Then came the Sable’ Bon Bon that reminded me of a rich butter cookie with a fresh apricot filling.
Now a quick dose of chocolate starting with the TerraMisu which is as you might guess a play on Tiramisu that looked more like a clod of dirt but tasted like a perfect Tiramisu. Then came the Jurassic Park a coffee and dark chocolate concoction that was great but to me not over the top. Now something new that was debuting this month the Matcha Mochi that resembled a traditional Mochi rice cake but it was just a thin shell almost like a Macron that was filled with lychee.
All good things must come to an end and so I came to the final bite of the evening Chicharron that was covered in white chocolate, a sweet, salty, crispy, creamy bite of goodness to round off the night.
Lest I forget to mention it, there was a beverage pairing with this and I had opted for the “Experience” which is the lower priced of the two options although I am really curious what you get with the more expensive “Jose’s Selections”. Here’s the list, all of these were good and couple were REALLY good, notably the Hexamer and the Poma Austea. So in order of appearance:
Hidalgo Sherry Amontillado “Napoleón” Jerez, Spain
2011 Hexamer Meddersheimer Rheingrafenberg Riesling Quarzit Nahe, Germany
2012 Bodegas Muga Rosado Rioja, Spain
Thai Basil “Iced Tea”
2010 François Mikulski Chardonnay Bourgogne, France
2011 Alphonse Mellot Sauvignon Blanc “La Moussière ” Sancerre, France
2010 Monasterio de Corias “Seis Octavos” Cangas, Spain
Poma Áustea Sida de Asturias, Spain
2010 Cristom Pinot Noir Mt. Jefferson Cuvée Willamette Valley, OR
Straffe Hendrick Belgian Triple Ale
Corn Whiskey Hot Toddy
2006 Linden Late Harvest Vidal Linden, VA
Lustau Pedro Ximénez “San Emilio” Sherry Jerez, Spain
The maître d’ was nice enough to email out the list after noticing that I was furiously trying to type some notes, yet another great touch to the exceptional service at Mini Bar.
Overall I was pretty thrilled the experience at MiniBar, the dishes were first and foremost delicious but also creative and playful; just a pleasure to eat. Being able to sit right in the kitchen and watch the talented team of artists at work creating the endless parade of art on a plate right in front of us and interact, ask questions and see the delighted reactions all around made this a dinner I won’t forget. The best part? Should
I we 🙂 be lucky enough to come back sometime the menu will be different. After this week they close for their annual sabbatical in the style of El Bulli to develop a whole new menu for the next season.