This restaurant is in Tom Sietsema’s inaugural Hall of Fame.
True story: I once sat next to a couple who met on a blind date at this, one of the country’s most experimental restaurants. Over the phone, her date later told me, the woman swore she was adventurous, “a real foodie.” She lied. The night did not go well. If only her date had painted a full picture. Take a circus, a magic show, a roller coaster, theater-in-the-round, a science class and a chef whose imagination knows no bounds, and you’ve got something approaching Minibar by José Andrés. Is it for you? The answer depends on your willingness to pluck from real branches faux “butterflies” made of freeze-dried beet powder and Greek yogurt; use only your mouth to accept a pumpkin seed tartlet from the tip of a slender spatula, held by a chef; and reconsider what constitutes a Vietnamese sandwich. The banh mi here consists of fresh crab, herbs and pickled vegetables inside a fragile “baguette” created from meringue and apple water. (Eden Center, you’ve got competition.) Braised lamb neck flavored with garlic and herbs sounds Old World, but tastes contemporary with the addition of goat milk froth, a sauce designed to smell like fresh pita. What can sound freakish is often wonderful, and the chefs cooking in front of you make for genial guides throughout the night. Thirty (little) courses long, the dining adventure, starting in a futuristic dining room and concluding with a fleet of fun desserts in Barmini next door, is not for the faint of heart or the light of wallet. Tack on the most expensive of the four wine pairings, “bespoke,” and you’re looking at (big gulp) $1,000 a head. But what a trip!
Minibar: 855 E St. NW. 202-393-0812. minibarbyjoseandres.com.
Open: Dinner Tuesday-Saturday.
Prices: Prix fixe $275.
Sound check: 73 decibels / Must speak with raised voice.
This review appeared in The Washington Post’s 2017 Fall Dining Guide as No. 4 on Tom’s Top 10.
If you want to taste the future, Minibar is the place
There are other mind-bending restaurants in the country — Alinea in Chicago, Vespertine in Los Angeles — but the truth is, their tricks don’t taste as good as those at this futuristic theater in the round. There are equally costly magic shows, but none that will leave you as giddy after having dropped $1,000 for two. Even the hand-rinsing ritual is different here; instead of the moist towels everyone else proffers, guests are introduced to a bowl of cool Japanese stones massaged with house-made herb oil. Just when I think José Andrés and his fleet of talented chefs can’t possibly improve on their last performance, they prove me wrong. Of the 30 or so mini courses on a recent menu, only a few were repeats — the world’s sheerest pizza margherita, mojitos designed to be eaten off lime wedges — from the year before. And some of the new ideas were as impressive as anything that has ever come out of the kitchen, which shares some of its recipes via line drawings on the chalkboard walls. Before the fun is over, you may have scooped up basil foam and balsamic vinegar “caviar” with edible Parmesan spoons; dispatched a langoustine still wriggling from its trip from Scotland; laughed at the spheres of pureed broccoli and cheddary potatoes in an enlightened version of Stouffer’s, this one upgraded (to the moon) with Dungeness crab; and discovered the affinity white chocolate has for shiso leaves. Yet another of the many details that sets Minibar apart from its avant-garde peers is the willingness of the staff, led by head chef Joshua Hermias, who cook in front of no more than a dozen diners at two counters, to pull back the curtain on how they make some of their magic. If you’ve never watched cups spun from beeswax — you know, for beeswax ice cream — you’re in for a marvel.
The Top 10 restaurants of 2017:
The following review appeared in The Washington Post’s 2016 Fall Dining Guide.
The more I eat in like-minded spectacles elsewhere in the country, the more I agree with Dorothy: There’s no place like home. Where else but Minibar does a chef instruct you to “eat” a margarita in the shape of a watermelon slice, or reach across a counter to feed you a tiny pumpkin seed tart off a slender spatula? For sure, this real-life fantasy from José Andrés is an expensive proposition: Dinner for two can cost as much as $1,200 if you splurge on the premium wine pairings. To get in the proper mind-set, think of the 30-course (or so) show as vacation or time travel. Because that’s exactly how it feels when you’re eating beet and yogurt transformed into stained glass; golden croquettes — tapioca cooked in ham consommé — dropped off in the palm of a hand sculpture; and “steamed mussels” that look and taste like the real deal, except their shells come courtesy of frozen squid ink. Only here would a person eat “corn on the cob” with a spoon. (It’s made with meringue.) Did I mention that the mind games are typically as pleasing as they are punny? A dozen people guide you through the evening, which starts with champagne in a snow-white salon, moves on to a futuristic food lab and concludes with dessert at the neighboring Barmini, the city’s chicest lounge. Minibar is many things. Most of all, it’s an exceptional blast.
The following review was originally published Oct. 8, 2015 as part of The Washington Post’s 2015 Fall Dining Guide.
Fasten your seat belts. It’s going to be a jumpy night. No two deliveries are ever the same at Minibar, the intimate restaurant from José Andrés that adds up to a comedy show, a science demonstration and one of the most original dinners staged in this country. Over the course of a few hours, everything you think you know about food is likely to be challenged. A snack that appears to be bark turns out to be dehydrated black garlic (it’s delicious), and a planter of fresh white carnations includes a convincing “flower” tweaked from fried rice paper piped with yogurt froth. One course you’re being fed a savory, one-bite pumpkin seed tart off a long spatula, another moment you’re lapping up rabbit with red curry and litchis. Come dessert, praline “peanuts” gush bourbon when cracked open, and asparagus turns out to have an affinity for white chocolate. Seriously. In lesser hands, Minibar might be an expensive gimmick. As served by Andrés and company, it’s a taste of the future in real time.