Adventure to Cafe Atlantico’s Minibar

Minibar (at Café Atlántico)
405 8th Street, NW
(202) 393-0812

FOOD:
4forks2
FOR KIDS: N/A
COST:

To be honest, I had heard of the Minibar because I’ve been following the Washingtonian’s100 Very Best Restaurant List for over a decade; however, only after seeing Executive Chef, José Andrés on Anthony Bordain’s TV show “No Reservations”, in January, did I realize how avant-garde the whole Minibar experience really is.

Menu, Photo by Lindsay Silverstein

Menu, Photo by Lindsay Silverstein

Minibar is distinctive for a number of reasons. First, it is a restaurant within a restaurant, located on the 2nd floor inside Café Atlántico, but with its own kitchen and staff.  Unique to Minibar, diners do not order their dinner; in fact, you aren’t given a menu until the conclusion of your meal. The elaborate twenty-seven course menu is created in advance by Chef José Andrés and prepared right in front of you by two Minibar Chefs.

Photo by Lisa Shapiro

Chef Ryan, Photo by Lisa Shapiro

Also, Minibar only has six seats and two seatings per night. Reservations are tremendously difficult to obtain, in that potential diners must call at precisely 10:00 am thirty days in advance.
After seeing Minibar featured on “No Reservations”, I became obsessed with trying to get a reservation. I even put post-it notes on my refrigerator, set an alert on my work calendar, and saved the number to my cell phone, right above Mom. On my fourth try, I amazingly snared 4 seats. It reminded me of trying to get through to the radio station to score concert tickets, redial, redial, redial; however, it wasn’t quite the Fort Knox that I thought it was going to be. At $120 per person, maybe because the economy is down, people aren’t spending their money on extravagant dinners like Minibar.
When we arrived, one of the servers, Alex, came to discuss with us Minibar’s wine list. This presented the first challenge of the evening. Since you do not know in advance what you will be eating, selecting a wine paring was somewhat of a shot in the dark.  In addition to the customary full bottles and single glasses of wine, Minibar offers a selection of a couple dozen half bottles, and also three prearranged progressions. Their recommendation is that you order either a progression (five different wines, served at predetermined points during the meal for $90 per person) or a couple of half bottles, so as to best enjoy your dining experience. We ordered one full bottle of white and shared. 

Pisco Sour, Photo by Lisa Shapiro

Pisco Sour, Photo by Lisa Shapiro

Every course was an experience in flavor, presentation, or both.  Minibar’s hipster Chefs Brad and Ryan, sporting their designer blue jeans, started off our two-hour journey with several “Munchies”, basically single bite dishes. 
The “Pisco Sour” was a key lime cocktail served in a miniature martini glass, complete with tart meringue on top.   It was deliciously refreshing and definitely one of my favorites of the evening; however, it was the only beverage served (pictured on the left). 

Bonbon, Photo by Lindsay Silverstein

Bonbon, Photo by Lindsay Silverstein

The Olive Oil “Bon-Bon” and the carbonated “Mojito” are essentially large raindrops of liquid held together on your plate through some wizardry of fluid dynamics.  These two dishes were similiar in that they literally explode in your mouth. The Olive Oil bon bon’s thin candied shell was filled with pure olive oil.  The bon bon was served a top of course salt which provided a stark contrast in texture in comparison to silky mooth olive oil (pictured on the right). The Mojitos are slurped down and as it touches the top of your pallet, it bursts and the sensation is an explosion that leaves a hint of mint on your tongue.

Bagels & Lox, Photo by Lindsay Silverstein

Bagels & Lox, Photo by Lindsay Silverstein

Beautifully presented, the “Bagels and Lox” was brightly colored salmon roe with cream cheese wrapped in a thin pastry cone – one paper thin crunch followed immediately with a burst of brine.  It wasn’t one of my favorites probably because I don’t like salmon, roe, or bagels with lox, but it’s noteworthy to mention that the texture of the roe was smooth; there was no crunch or burst like most roe.

Another remarkable presentation was the yogurt-filled steamed brioche bun topped with caviar and lemon “air” which resembled an Asian steamed bun.

Photo by Lindsay Silverstein

Photo by Lindsay Silverstein

The caviar was smooth in texture; not crunchy. Next was the Boneless Chicken Wing, which was one of my favorites. It was delicious but lacked the same creativity as some of the other courses. Afterwards was the “Dragon’s Breath” popcorn which was the most novel of all of the twenty-seven courses – a little ball of caramelized curry popcorn dipped into liquid nitrogen.  As the chef places the popcorn on the counter, he says, “Look at each other”.  As we put it into our mouth, we all burst into laughter as streams of “smoke” drift from our noses.

Eel, Photo by Lindsay Silverstein

Eel, Photo by Lindsay Silverstein

This portion of our dinner concluded with my first favorite dish of the night, the Cotton Candy Eel.  A small portion of shiso-spiced eel, similar to what you might find served with sushi, placed on top of a cucumber and lettuce leaf, wrapped in cotton candy and then seasoned with soy powder.  If it doesn’t sound appetizing … well that is  part of the marvel of Minibar, ingredients are combined together in a most unusual way and assemble something truly divine.

The next portion of our dinner were courses with a focus on “Flavors & Textures”. My favorites were the “Caesar salad”, “Guacamole”, Smoked Oysters with Apples and Juniper, and the Salmon-pineapple Ravioli with quinoa.

Photo by Lindsay Silverstein

Photo by Lindsay Silverstein

The organized Caesar salad was beautifully presented, wrapped in two bite  size rolls. One was topped with a small bright yellow quail egg yolk and the other with shredded Parmesan. Although the Caesar salad is not an original dish, per se, the presentation was artistic and imaginative (see photo on left). The Smoked Oysters with Apples and Juniper was interesting in terms of flavor. You could hardly recognize the taste of the oyster as the tiny juniper berry and apple masks the salty marine taste of the oyster. I was surprised that I was able to handle the smooth slimy texture of the oyster as it slithered down the back of my throat.

The guacamole was strikingly similar to a ceviche dish offered on Café Atlántico’s regular dinner menu. Not entirely original in flavor, but eating the avocado was surprising due to the cold sorbet inside. The tomatoes marinated in red onion oil and drizzled with corn nuts made each bite end with a crunch.
Another one of my favorite courses was the Salmon-pineapple “Ravioli” with Quinoa (pictured on the right). 
"Ravioli", Photo by Lindsay Silverstein

"Ravioli", Photo by Lindsay Silverstein

Although I don’t care for Salmon, this was very mild tasting.  The sweetness of the pineapple was an interesting and delicious combination. The symmetrically presentated raviolis were vividly orange in color with a stark contrasting streak of serrano chili paste.

The New England clam chowder posed a grave challenge for me, as I could barely get down the gooey and lumpy clam. As soon as I bit down on the clam, the texture made me gag. The Breaded Cigala with Sea Salad was a favorite of most of my friends; however, it was not one of my favorites. The delicate foam made from the roasted Cigala heads was too strong for my taste, and overpowered the sweetness of the Cigala.
Thai Dessert, Photo by Lindsay Silverstein

Thai Dessert, Photo by Lindsay Silverstein

Of the “Desserts” served, my favorite was the “Thai” frozen yogurt. The two chefs, Brad and Ryan said that I would need a long list to note all the ingredients that went into it, such as ginger, cayenne pepper, grapefruit, peanuts, curry, coconut, lime, zest, and the list goes on. Another dessert, the Frozen Yogurt and Honey did not go over as well. The yogurt was very fine powder and dissolved immediately when it touched your tongue; however, the combination of the sweet honey and the sour yogurt didn’t work for me. 

A noteworthy dessert was the White Chocolate, Black Olive and Mango Box, party due to the presentation (see photo on right).  The mango “box” was orange yet almost transparent. The mango and the creamy chocolate were a delicious combination and it is quite unusual to find black olives in a dessert.  The Chocolate Covered Corn Nuts were too strong and bitter.

Mango Box, Photo by Lindsay Silverstein

Mango Box, Photo by Lindsay Silverstein

I expected the chocolate to be sweet – somewhat disappointing; however, I didn’t have many complaints. One minor complaint is that because you are sitting at the bar and facing the kitchen, it was difficult for the staff to take away the plates since they have to reach around you or over your back.

Overall, this truly was one of the best and most memorable dining experiences of my life. It’s extremely expensive and quite difficult to obtain a reservation, but in my humble opinion, it’s worth every dollar and every minute of your time. I’d be interested in returning to Minibar for another adventure in a year or two once I knew that some of courses on the menu had changed. Next time, I might spring for the wine pairings just to see how it helps to bring out some of the flavors of the dishes.

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5 Responses

  1. Mmmm. Thanks, Lisa, for a very in-depth review. It has definitely piqued my interest in trying this place out. I look forward to your next review!

  2. Lisa, great write up and the pictures look very tempting but I don’t have the guts to try out of the box things like that. Sounds fun though! Great write up!

  3. Lisa,
    Great website and review. We did the wine parings at minibar and loved it. Our menu was a little different, tho… I think ours was 32 courses!
    I read somewhere that Jose Andreas plans to expand Minibar to the whole of Cafe Atlantico, do you know if this is true?

  4. […] was a greeat surprise that DC’s “golden boy”, José Andrés of Cafe Atlantico’s Minibar lost to Chef Dan Barber of New York’s Blue Hill for the national Outstanding Chef award and to […]

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