> SlowTrav > USA > Restaurants > Reviews > District of Columbia

Washington: minibar

405 8th Street NW , Phone: 202-393-0812
Closing day: Sunday and Monday

Reviewed by: Shannon from CA, review #3203

When: 2009

A truly remarkable, special occasion place to eat in DC (if you can get in.)

You can’t really call minibar a restaurant. It’s a bar, sort of like a sushi bar, that seats six people and is on the third floor of Jose Andres’ restaurant Café Atlantico. I became intrigued with minibar after seeing it on Anthony Bourdain’s “No Reservations” – I already loved Jose Andres (because of HIS show “Made in Spain”) and I really wanted to eat there. It’s not so easy to get a reservation, however. There are two seatings per night, five nights a week, and the phone lines open at 10 AM Eastern time (7 AM for me). You have to call ONE MONTH in advance of when you want to eat there. I tried one day, got a busy signal for nine minutes, then made it through and got on the waiting list. The next day, I had two phones going and got through and got a reservation for my birthday one month later. I can’t tell you how excited I was. Jose Andres cooked for Ferran Adrià when he was young at El Bulli in Spain – one of the most famous and creative chefs in the world. I have never been into the molecular gastronomy that at least partly originated at El Bulli, but I sure wanted to try it at minibar.

Eating at minibar is quite the experience. I was worried because I had worked myself up into such a frenzy about it that I was afraid I would be disappointed. Thank goodness, I was not. The evening goes like this:

You wait downstairs in the bar of Café Atlantico until it’s your time to go up. The waiter who serves you comes down before this and goes over the wine you’ll drink for the evening – sparkling and whites are recommended, since you’ll get 27 – 30 small plates of food in the course of two hours. At the appointed time, all six people who are eating at minibar are gathered, brought upstairs and sat at the minibar. You are in one of the dining rooms of Café Atlantico, but your back is to the diners in that room.

There are two chefs in front of you who prepare and serve the food, sushi style. The waiter and a busboy bring wine and water and clear plates behind you. One of the chefs told me it takes four people all day prepping the food for the twelve who will eat it that night. The menu is split into three categories: Munchies, Flavors & Textures, and Dessert.

Before I even get into the food a note about the wine. I am squeamish about spending a ton of money on wine in a restaurant and the wines on the list were pretty expensive. Thankfully since it was my birthday my friends bought the wine, and they did not hold back. We had a bottle of sparkling Gruner Veltliner in the bar before we came up (only $49, I picked this one LOL). During dinner, we had two remarkable bottles of white wine – a blend of Ribolla, Malvasia, and Riesling from the Jermann winery in Friuli Venezia Giulia and then a Sancerre “Edmond” from Alphonse Mellota. They were not cheap but I will never, ever forget those wines and especially with the food. It was a revelation. This was the first day in many, many years that I did not drink red wine and I can see myself becoming a white wine snob, should I ever hit the lottery.

We had some incredible bites during the evening, some that were merely good, and some that I didn’t like too much. First we had a little pisco sour cocktail with some foam on top – nothing truly special, but good. Then, the olive oil “bon bon.” Wow! A little orb, sweet and hard, that holds some good, fruity olive oil – a remarkable presentation and flavors combinations you aren’t ready for. Then the “beet tumbleweed” – a crispy ball of beet that you eat in one bite (yummy) and “bagels and lox” – a little cone with the cream cheese and lox inside like a bite sized ice cream come. Next came “blue cheese and almond” – a very cold, almost frozen blue cheese thing in a crust of some sort. I did not like this one, but my companions loved it.

After that one of the most impressive bites of the night – “Dragon’s breath popcorn” –a little square of popcorn, sort of salty sweet, that had been injected with liquid nitrogen so when you eat it, smoke appears to come out of your nose and mouth. Some of my other favorites were: a little steamed brioche bun with caviar, served in a tiny bamboo steamer, eel (sort of like BBQ eel you’d get in a sushi place) that was served inside of a “cotton candy” gray cloud (remarkable!), an “egg” made out of parmesan cheese (seriously, this tasted just like an egg) and breaded cigala (kind of like crayfish or lobster) with sea bream salad. Everything was interesting – sea urchin ceviche, for instance. The final savory dish was a “Philly Cheesesteak” – a little pastry tube with cheese piped into the middle, topped with thin slices of pastrami.

Desserts were incredible. There was a Thai dessert that was a creamy delicious plate of Thai flavors – sweet, tart, spicy, all at the same time, and a really amazing “frozen” yogurt with honey. The yogurt was freeze dried and powdery and paired with the honey, it was an amazing experience just to bite into the stuff.

There was an awful lot to this meal that I am not even writing about here. Suffice to say, all of us were totally into it and had a blast. The prix fixe menu is $120 per person – a bargain. Wines will add a bit but there is a $40 pairing option.

At the end of the meal they give you a copy of the menu and the wines that you drank. A nice touch because after all that, it is a little difficult to remember everything.

This was such an awesome experience – dinner “theatre” and just a heck of a lot of fun.

This review is the opinion of a Slow Travel member and not of slowtrav.com.

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