Tuesday, April 29, 2014

A trip to the Minibar

Recently, Gary and I received an invitation to dine at one of Washington, DC's most exclusive restaurants, Minibar.  Our friends, Billy and Pam, were celebrating their birthday month.  Being the unabashedly self-described foodies that they are, they have made a tradition of celebrating all special occasions by dining at some of our area's more exclusive restaurants.  Lucky for us, the couple they were supposed to go with cancelled at the last minute, and Gary (who is not a foodie) called me from work to ask if I'd like to go to "some place called Minibar".  Well, yeah!  I quickly got off the phone and began my desperate search for a last-minute sitter for the youngest, transportation home for the soccer player, and a prayer that the stars would align and I'd be on my way to DC the next night. Did you hear the angels singing over my house last week?

Hot and Cold Pisco Sour
Parmesan Canele

Minibar was created by Jose Andres, a winner of the 2011 Outstanding Chef Award from the James Beard Foundation.  The restaurant is small and quaint, only seating a few people at a time around what can best be described as a bar. It's not a bar like you'd go to for drinks. It's more like a kitchen counter bar, giving you the feel that you are in someone's kitchen, albeit a very nice high-tech kitchen, but a kitchen where the food is being prepared right in front of you.  The night we went there were the four of us, two women, and a group of four men.  And, that was full capacity.

Late-Night Chicken Shawarma (and, yes, even the "plastic" wrap was edible)

The concept of Minibar is what I can only describe as a culinary science lab.  We were served twenty-five (yes, twenty-five) different dishes.  Each item was prepared in front of us and plated on small plates.  The purpose was to give you a taste of each item.  It wasn't meant to be a meal, but we felt like we had had one by the end.  Our host was also the chef and he described in detail each item we were being served and how it was being prepared.  And, when I say it was like a science lab, one example was when we were served a Pesto Fusilli. The fusilli pasta was made using a board with the swirl of several corkscrews drilled into it so that each little noodle was hollow inside. He then showed us how he took a needle syringe and injected the basil right inside of the fusilli. Amazing!

Pesto Fusilli

For me, what I enjoyed the most was the concept of the restaurant.  Because I love food, flavors, and cooking, the idea behind Minibar is a fabulous opportunity for any chef.  I know that behind the kitchen, as chefs across the world are dreaming up new and interesting recipes and testing out flavor combinations that will taste great but also be different, they also have to use trial and error to find the combinations that succeed for their audience.
Fabada Asturiana

Beech Mushroom Papillot with Truffle
Jose Andres took the "testing lab" and brought it out of the kitchen. The chefs can look at our faces when we try something new and different. They can tell what works and what does not. They can get instant feedback from the tasters sitting right at their kitchen counter.  The best part is that they can then go back to their kitchens and create actual entrees, sides, and appetizers that you might find in another restaurant. They will know whether that idea they just concocted actually will work.

Espardenyes with Bone Marrow
For Gary, well, let's just say he knew I'd love to go to Minibar.  He probably would have enjoyed more of an actual restaurant with four courses and more meat.  He also would have rather bought me a nice new purse for the same amount it cost for this once-in-a-lifetime experience.  But, the man loves me. He also knows what makes me happy.

After Eight (Chocolate Mint)

Would I go again? Probably not. Well, maybe one more time just to see what is different. As with most "experiences", Minibar is a foodie paradise not to be repeated.  It is kind of like going to the top of the Eiffel Tower in Paris or riding on The Tower of Terror at Disney World.  You've already done it once. You stood in line forever just to do it that once. Do you really want to stand in line all over again, especially when you know that first-time thrill will be gone?
Andalucian Tofu

Vietnamese Pig Ear
Minibar is about the experience and exploration of tastes and flavor combinations that cannot be replicated on subsequent visits. You can't go back in a month and expect to see one of your favorites on the menu. Yet, as a cook and food lover, it was an experience of a lifetime. And, I'm not just saying that. If you are a food lover and will try almost anything, it is definitely worth it.  We ate everything from a Vietnamese Pig Ear (a glorified pork rind, according to Gary but one of my absolute favorites of the night) to a Spot Prawn with Apple Miso. See! Apple and Miso. I wouldn't have thought of putting those two flavors together and it worked and worked well!

Yuzu-Mallow, Sesame Pocky Stick, Raspberry Wasabi Bon Bon
Did you ever think raspberries and wasabi together in bon bon? Oh, yes, indeed!

It was a night of inspiration for this humble home cook. Now I have all kinds of brilliant ideas to test out on my little minions.  If only I could charge them the same rates to taste my food.  Hmmmm......
Babushka Nesting Dolls brought our checks