Saturday, October 11, 2014

DC Spotlight: The Minibar Experience

First, my apologies to any regular readers out there who have been wondering where I have been the last couple of months.  To be honest, I've been pondering how to go about my next post, which features a destination restaurant that so many professional food writers already have reviewed (see here, here, and here, for example).

As those reviewers will tell you, at Minibar by Jose Andres, you don't just have dinner - you have "an experience."  And because those reviewers already have covered the basics, I will not attempt to describe the wizardry and performance art of molecular gastronomy (or how I was directed to consume a couple of dishes within seven seconds after they were served, because who knew that food could be so "time sensitive"?).  Nor will I glorify the exclusivity of being one of six people in a private seating who is pampered by a team of highly trained chefs and servers.  And finally, I will not, no matter what, dwell on the the exorbitant cost of the Minibar experience or bemoan that, even after 28 courses, I left feeling a little hungry.  

The wizadry and performance art of molecular gastronomy - in action!  Here they are preparing the first course, a "hot and cold pisco sour" (and the second of many, many more alcoholic drinks to come - the first is that near-empty glass of cava sitting on the counter!)

Here the chefs are creating an "almond tart with blue cheese."

Instead, I will focus on what gets me really excited - a first-class restaurant experience that welcomes vegetarians with open arms.  Of course, given the exorbitant cost (okay, I digress for a word of warning: you may need to take out a second mortgage on your home to cover the bill), any vegetarian willing to spend the amount of money required to participate in the Minibar experience (not to mention the patience and persistence required to score a reservation) should be welcomed with open arms.  But Minibar makes it known up front.  The website states:

"We always strive to make accommodations for our guests' dietary needs or restrictions.  All dietary restrictions and food allergies for the entire party should be noted and specified during the reservation procedure so that we can best accommodate your needs.  In particular cases, a chef may contact you to discuss the restrictions.  In the case of potentially life-threatening food allergies or other serious health issues, please speak directly to manager or chef in advance and explain your situation.  The minibar menu cannot be made to accommodate vegan diners."
While unfortunate for vegans (indeed, cream and cheese were recurring ingredients in a number of dishes), I was over the moon that both my dining partner with food allergies and I could enjoy this experience together (and it may be worth noting that my dining partner's wheat allergy needed very little accommodation, as most of the menu is naturally gluten-free, according to the host).  After a number of detailed email exchanges with the restaurant to discuss our dietary restrictions, the standard 28-course meal was customized specially for us.  So, while a number of the dishes were naturally meat-free and did not need to be modified, a number of others were changed substantially (and even became the objects of envy for several omnivores in our seating).  This "rubber ducky," for example, was filled with green apple sorbet for us instead of foie gras ice cream, as it was for other diners.

The vegetarian "rubber ducky" is filled with green apple sorbet instead of foie gras ice cream.

As other reviewers have written, the focus of each dish is intense flavor and texture.  The evening I was there, there also seemed to be an emphasis on Spanish and Japanese themed ingredients.  Some of the more interesting dishes I experienced are pictured below.

The "frozen lake" is a thin layer of ice dressed with sherry vinegar, freeze dried powders, edible flowers, and whipped cream that sits atop a layer of applewood smoke.

Pesto Fusilli (the fusilli pasta actually is injected with pesto, for a super intense flavor)

Andalucian Tofu

Fabada Asturiana (Spanish bean stew)

Parmesan Egg with Migas

The dishes are served one at a time, as the chefs provide elaborate explantions of each, and the waitstaff serves up drink pairings and attends to your every need.  Right when you think the evening can't get any more magical, the waitstaff welcomes you into the adjacent Barmini (you can read the Washington Post write-up here), a luxurious cocktail bar with the atmosphere of a posh boutique hotel lobby.  There, you will have the opportunity to order more drinks (probably not needed, but what the heck), while the waitstaff showers you with an array of sweets and desserts.

The dessert phase of my Minibar experience (which actually takes place at the adjacent Barmini) included raspberry wasabi bonbons, chocolate minibars, saffron pate with fruit, ice-cream filled doughnuts, and whisky bottles . . . plus coffee, tea, and more drinks!

A cotton candy cake for the members of my seating who were celebrating birthdays

TIP:  To improve your chances of scoring a reservation, let the restaurant know that you are flexible with respect to your preferred date and time.  Also, definitely tell them if you are celebrating a special occasion, so that the guest of honor can be showered with extra special attention.  And finally, for the sake of your fellow Minibar experience goers, treat this upscale, once-in-a-lifetime (for most of us, at least, with regular jobs) adventure with the respect it deserves, and dress to the nines!   

minibar by Jose Andres on Urbanspoon