Sunday, October 23, 2011

minibar, washington dc, oct. 14

Some blog somewhere recently listed the 11 U.S. restaurants where reservations were hardest to get. It was a little humorous, because I had been to almost half of them. Minibar, Jose Andres' six-seat restaurant within a restaurant was on the list. The process of getting this nearly impossible reservation went much like the others I have gotten. 

I dialed the phone at the appointed hour. It rang. Person picked up.

But instead of just giving me a reservation, she said: 

"Sorry, all the seats for that night are taken already, but we can put you on the waiting list. You're second on the waiting list!"

The nice person made it sound like that was great and likely to be a success. I considered the math, and figured that insomuch as I wanted one-third of the covers they'd be doing that night (six seats, two seatings; so they serve 12 people a night), it was highly unlikely. But I felt confident that if we didn't get in, we'd have fun somewhere else that night. So I shrugged and hoped for the best. 

Three weeks later -- one week before the reservation date -- I got a call that we were in. It was sort of a rush. 

So, with Melanie, Becky and Jeremy, above, all of whom you might recognize from photos of various dinners at my house, we walked downtown, through the National Portrait Museum, up three flights of stairs, to Minibar. 

We were told we could take as many photos as we wanted, which is cool, because not everyone is so accommodating. I've kind of gotten out of the habit of taking photos at restaurants, but since the chefs we're cool with it, and the only other two people at the bar with us also had a camera, I decided to let fire. I didn't take a photo of anything that was time sensitive: i.e., for the most part, melty. But really, the chefs presented each plate on a glass shelf above the bar, and while they explained what it was and how to eat it, there was plenty of time to snap before we needed to eat. 

There were 26 courses. I got photos of most. I will keep descriptions brief.

The first three things came in rapid succession, and I did not get photos. The first was a "cocktail" called the Oaxacan snowball. Irony alert: no snow in Oaxaca. It was a two-bite white ball that tasted like a margarita. 

Next came a "gift" from the chef. It was called the golden nugget, and it was in a jewel box, which we opened and it looked like a chocolate truffle, but was filled with lychee and black garlic. I thought it tasted earthy, like porcini or truffle, but apparently, black garlic. 

Then the Ferro Rocher, which was a chocolateless version of the candy. So, very hazelnutty. 

Then I had my bearings, and started taking photos.

Sea bean tempura. Literally two sea beans, fried. There was an sharp sauce. 

Almond tart with blue cheese. The almond is the half-sphere shell. The blue cheese is the mousse inside. We didn't eat the rocks. Well, I didn't. Jeremy? 

Did not photograph the mint leaf mojito, because it was ice. But I wish I had. It was served on a silver flip flop and a bed of mint. It tasted like a mojito in ice form, and had a syrup on top that tasted like rum concentrate. Very strong. Everyone liked it, but we thought it might have been better if the leaf-shaped ice had been 2-3 smaller leaves, so we could have put a whole leaf in our mouths and let it melt. It was large, there was biting. Minor point.

Steamed pita with avgotaraho. As I google that last word, I learn that it is the Greek version of bottarga, which is cured, pressed roe of tuna or mullet. I felt that the bread was very steam bun-y, but now that I know that, it makes sense that they call it a steamed pita. Nice, aggressive flavor, and a soft bun. Or pita. Whatever. Liked it a lot. Below is a photo of our chefs Charisse and Aitor filling them.

Coco steam bun. Almost didn't take a photo, because it was melty. We were supposed to lick it off the paper. More foam-y than bun-y, a word I thought I made up in the last paragraph, but here it is again already.

Below is a photo I took between courses of some of the stuff that was ready for a subsequent course. I actually have no idea what that is on the plate, but I suspect it might be sea cucumber. But that's later.

Oyster sequence I: An oyster served classically on the half shell with mignonette and a garnish. Well, almost. The oyster was from a chicken, and the garnish was an oyster leaf, a plant that tastes like oyster, apparently. They grow it in Ohio, we were told. Kinda cool. This dish reminded me of the big Top Chef dust-up between Richard Blais and Mike Isabella ... who, coincidentally, used to work for Jose Andres. Hmmmmmmm.

Oyster sequence II: This was an actual oyster, served under a dome that was filled with smoke. I want a smoking gun, though I know I'll never use it. So don't get me one. But I do, because it's cool. And there were little chanterelles. I forget the sauce. I'm not big on raw oysters, but I liked this. 

Zucchini in textures: This was the dish, surprisingly enough, that we were talking about the rest of the night. It was three layers of zucchini. The top was a gel, then a layer of seeds, then a layer of puree. Each tasted distinctly of zucchini, but in a different texture. So, very well named. It was very interesting. Again, I'm not a fan of zucchini, but this was good.

Thai peanut soup: There were two textures of ginger, neither of which I cared for. The frozen peanut puree in the shape of a peanut was really good. I wasn't a fan of the topographical bowl. Made it hard to combine the flavors. Meh.

Sea urchin ceviche with hibiscus: This one was a talker. I've never had sea urchin, because I have never heard a description of it that left me thinking I wanted to. But here it was. It was fine. I had been told the texture was akin to snot. Shrug. Maybe? I liked the hibiscus foam, though. That's the purple cloud. Would be happy with more of that.

Chicken "shawarma": Probably the simplest thing of the night, and maybe my favorite. The chicken is a piece of crispy skin wrapped in the lettuce leaf. The lettuce leaf is secured with what appeared for all the world to be a clear piece of rice paper, but was probably something else. It was structural, not a flavor. You dipped the lettuce into the sauce, which was a yogurt with a super-intense garlic flavor. I'd order this from the minibar food truck, if there was such a thing. 

Fabes con almejas: Beans and clams, or, a study in spherification. The clams were suspended within clam juice and the beans were actually puree, spherified to look like, well, beans. Discuss.

Shrimp & grits: The grits were like large creamy corn gnocchi. Perfect shrimp (I suspect rock, but didn't confirm). I think the broth was chorizo flavored, though I don't remember for sure. It would make sense.

Espardenyes with bone marrow: Espardenyes = sea cucumber. Sea cucumber ≠ vegetable. It's like a sea slug or something. Surprisingly fine, though I am not rushing out for the recipe. And I didn't care for the bas relief plate of the Rockies more the second time.


Charcoal salmon toro with black garlic: Straight forward.

Parmesan egg with migas: From my seat, I could see an immersion circulator behind the barm and see that it was set at 63 degrees (Celsius). So from the time we sat down, I was pretty sure there was a poached egg coming. It was like custard. Always a fan of the egg.

Adam & Eve: I'm not sure what the "bread" of this sandwich was. It was sort of like a meringue, but not sweet. Regardless, it was all about the filling, which was foie gras and apple. So, so rich; so good. Although, on the way home, we were scratching our heads about the name. The apple, we guessed, referred to Eve. Which would make Adam ... a fattened fowl liver? Curious. But when I make my ribs with apple glaze, I'm stealing the name.

This is just a photo of Jeremy staring adoringly at chef Jorge at some point in the meal. If you zoom in, you can see the impure thoughts.

And then it was time for dessert. It is possible the apple and foie was a dessert, actually. But for the purposes of this post, this was the first dessert ...

Vermont snow: There was a metal canister. Charisse and Jorge were looking into it. There was liquid nitrogen, and the associated steam. Then there was scraping. It looked like snow. We were told to wait a minute. Then they poured a maple syrupy thing over the snow. There were maple candies sticking out of the snow, and there were fruity bits -- lychee, I think -- underneath. Light, a lot of fun, a ton of flavor. Liked it a lot.

"Mango" coconut rice: The two things that look like perfectly wedged bits of mango? those are sorbet. Even the skin was painted on to the wedge. Clever. The one in the middle was actual mango, and the funny thing is, that was the confusing part. The rice component was crunchy puffed rice, which was good, but I loooooove me some sticky rice, so that was a bit of a letdown. But the sorbet was great.

Terra(misu): "Eat this in one bite. There's liquid in the center." Cool, but it was pretty big. I managed. Chocolate shell, quick frozen with liquid nitrogen. I presume the flavors of the inner goo were those of tiramisu, but the shell was the whole game. Big chocolatey cool.

Profiterole: A dehydrated meringue that tasted like a passion fruit pina colada. Nice. 

Bacon and chocolate: The bacon was super thin and crispy, and is on the bottom here, so you just see chocolate. Happy.

Fizzy paper: Just a piece of paper, that you are supposed to tear apart and eat. But when it hits the tongue, it gets all effervescenty. Lemon-limey. Very refreshing.

Overall, it was fun, required a lot of thought, a little concentration, and some leaps of faith. I think the best part about it was watching it all happen in front of us. Sometimes when I have people over, I get upset when the plates don't look gorgeous, or when things have cooled by the time I get them out. That's when I'm plating by myself for 8-15 people. Here, there were three people standing over six plates every course. And they all had tweezers. I'm giving myself a break after seeing that.


Jeremy Bowers said...

I almost ate the rocks.

Alan said...

"I'm not big on raw oysters"??? Gasp! How ever have we remained friends?

jim webster said...

actually, i DO like them, but they weird me out a little. and i'm afraid to prepare them. i have trouble taking too seriously anything that i wouldn't prepare. irony: they're raw. i know.

Alan said...

Most of my favorite food memories involve raw shellfish. ... Well, that's overstating it. But several do. Like eating raw clams in front of a seafood shop on Arthur Avenue in the winter. Heaven on a half shell.