For the three or so hours it takes to experience the spectacle known as Minibar by José Andrés, you will likely sip a pisco sour that’s both hot and cold, snack on a toy-size “Rubber Ducky” made of dried apple meringue, eat a tropical herb salad in the cup of a fried pig’s ear, discover the affinity sea cucumbers have for bone marrow, and use tweezers to cook dumplings so thin you can read through them. An evening in this performance space, which resembles an operating theater save for the upturned golden boats floating above your head, requires a diner to test limits and suspend beliefs. “Bite the head off, so it doesn’t run around.” That’s one of Minibar’s multiple engaging chefs telling you how to approach that fluffy yellow duck, the center of which contains a rich bite of foie gras ice cream. Just when you think the most intriguing science class of your life is coming to an end, a server escorts you to the neighboring Barmini for something sweet and precious. Among the many small amusements are tiny whiskey bottles with the texture of gummy bears and the flavor of a bar shot. The check for two may edge into the low four digits if you spring for the priciest liquid pairings; $200 gets you rare wines, fun cocktails, sake and fascinating commentary. But, like everything else in this adult wonderland, the bill is part of the show. Last spring, the slip of paper had to be retrieved from inside a nesting doll. Most recently, the tab was hidden in a cloud of cotton candy. Minibar is many things. Most of all, it’s magical.
2014 Spring Dining Guide
By Tom Sietsema
May 15, 2014
Check your food inhibitions at the door. Tonight, you’ll be eating a zesty slice of margherita pizza on a crust so thin you can read through it, corkscrew “pasta” injected with the most vivid pesto ever, and chocolate-covered doughnut ice cream. They will all be game-changers — that fusilli is made with water and a gelling agent, each noodle filled using a syringe — and luscious. No matter where you’ve dined before, nothing will prepare a Minibar virgin for the wonders of chef Jose Andrés’s spectacular, 20-something-course dinner theater. Set in a futuristic white room, Minibar is dominated by an open kitchen and a fleet of cooks who perform for no more than a dozen diners sitting at counters on either side of them. From the moment you’re greeted with cava in a small lounge, you’ll be challenged to try new things; in this case, lightly roasted flower petals pressed between clear sheets of potato starch paper scented with rosewater. (The snack is served between the pages of a book.) In the dining room, time flies when you’re eating a Vietnamese-style herb salad in the shell of a fried pig’s ear, granita flavored like gazpacho and a soup of coconut water and shrimp broth with dumplings so sheer, they cook the second they hit the hot broth. Diners are encouraged to ask questions. “How do you think up these things?” a man on the edge of his seat asks. “Gin and tonics!” Ruben Garcia, the head of R&D, shoots back. “Do you cook like this at home?’” the woman next to me wants to know. “Yes,” says executive sous chef Johnny Spero. “Every day I wake up and eat 28 egg courses.” He’s joking, of course. His point is, this is food that’s about as far away from steak and potatoes as it gets, the result of intense rethinking of common textures and flavors. Desserts follow in the room next door, the glam Barmini, which is also where you fetch your bill from inside a nesting doll. If you had asked me in December 2012, after Minibar relocated from the second floor of the former Cafe Atlantico, if the show was worth the cost — as much as $600 a person if you opt for the top-flight wine pairings — I would have hesitated. Back then, Andrés, a Spanish Willy Wonka, was serving too many familiar tricks and an excess of sweet courses. Now? To the moon!