First off, let me preface by saying that we had no idea we were going to Minibar, Jose Andres’ crown jewel of his ThinkFoodGroup empire, until two days prior. You see, our friend Casey proposed the venue to celebrate a joint birthday dinner. Her birthday and Rachel’s are about a week apart, so I said “sure, go for it”, pretty much assuming that we would never make the cut given how tough a table at Minibar is.
If you are not aware, Minibar’s reservation system is as follows: you send an email to the restaurant at exactly 10 a.m. on the dot, 30 days prior to when you want to dine there. If you’re one of the lucky few, congratulations, if not, try again for the next day. And the next. And then the next.
Casey, however, was fortunate enough to be placed on the waitlist. Considering that we were a party of four, on a Friday night, I thought there was no chance we would ever make the cut, so I went about with plans for dinner at Makoto for just the two of us. At about midday Wednesday, Casey texts me saying that we got in. I could not believe it. What party of four actually cancels a reservation for Minibar on a Friday night?! Whoever you are, I would personally like to thank you for letting us enjoy one of the most memorable dining experiences we have ever taken part of.
On top of all that, Rachel had no idea where we were going. Like past birthdays, I kept the whole thing a secret. So once I found out about the Minibar news, I promptly had to shuffle plans with our babysitter (thanks again, Brian and Kim!) as well as inform Rachel we were now going out on Friday instead of Thursday.
Minibar’s new location at 9th and E is unmarked, so Rachel still had no clue where we were until the hostess greeted us with “Welcome to Minibar”. Right on cue, Rachel’s mouth dropped to the floor.
Once they took our coats, we were seated in a small vestibule which acted as a greeting area. Our server introduced himself and ran down a listing of no more than four different beverage package options that ranged from $45 to $200 per person. Considering how expensive this meal was going to be from the get-go, we opted to go the a la carte route for booze, but more on that later.
Once we made our beverage selections, our waiter then showed us to the main attraction, Minibar’s dining room. The open kitchen is situated in the center of the room while a bar of six seats is on both the left and right sides, creating an enclosure where Jose Andres’ top chefs work their magic directly in front of you. This isn’t dinner. It’s an all-out production.
I’m going to buck the trend of carefully detailing each plate because, well, there were 27 of them in total. For this post, I’ll simply let the pictures do the talking.
Our first course of the evening was an Oaxacan Snowball cocktail. The twist, however, was that you ate it with your hands. Propped on top of “snow”, it tasted slightly like a margarita.
Up next was one of the most gorgeously arranged presentations of the night, a parmesan leaf and walnut mimetic. And yes, you opened the walnut shell to find the small bite tucked inside the enclosure.
Next was an Asian “Coca de Vidrio”. The translation means “glass” because of how the sugar crystallizes when cooking it.
The next course was a pillow of PB&J. Pretty self-explanatory – in one bite you got a burst of homemade peanut butter with a dash of raspberry jelly on top.
Next was one of the more clever dishes of the evening, dubbed “When Pigs Fly”. Placed inside the box were two apple meringues, shaped liked little pigs, and stuffed with bacon ice cream. Yep, bacon ice cream!
What followed was perhaps one of Jose Andres’ trademark dishes in molecular gastronomy: the foie bomb. You simply popped this delicately-prepared item in your mouth and what followed was a flavor explosion of foie gras. Outstanding.
Next was a churro tendon, Minibar’s rendition of the Mexican staple which was stuffed with beef tendon.
Watching the kitchen carefully prepare an almond tart with blue cheese was a show of in itself. Apologies if I cannot recall every single detail, but liquid nitrogen and cold stones were involved.
Next was a pig tail curry panini. The curried pigtail was sandwiched between two “slices” of butternut squash meringue.
The next plate was their take on chicken “shawarma“. They managed to turn it into a light and airy dish, and the yogurt sauce was a real delight.
What followed was sea urchin ceviche with hibiscus. Not much to report here other than it was one of the least memorable dishes of the evening.
However, the next dish was one of our favorites, both in taste and presentation: baby carrots with coconut. Liquefied baby carrots blended with a light coconut cream. Simple ingredients using advanced cooking techniques yet flawlessly executed.
Just as good was the beech mushroom risotto with shaved black truffles. The cooking pouch was placed in a bowl with our server scissoring the bag, releasing the contents right in front of our eyes. Nice touch.
The smoked oyster escabeche was presented with a tall glass lid covering the plate. Once it was lifted, the aroma of a campfire was released. I don’t know how they did that.
Minibar’s take on fabes con almejas, a traditional Spanish dish, featured liquefied clams and beans. Yes, somehow the kitchen was able to make the entire clam edible.
Dinner soon became breakfast as our next course was a parmesan egg with migas.
The next dish might have been our favorite out of the entire meal – espardenyes with bone marrow. The bone marrow was a terrific complement to the flavorful sea cucumber. An interesting pairing that somehow worked.
Another gorgeous dish, both in presentation as well as flavor, was the olive oil soup with mandarin.
One of the most interactive plates of the evening was dubbed Dragon’s Breath. Featuring a chunk of popcorn placed in liquid nitrogen, you were instructed to put it in your mouth while chewing and staring at your partner. The effect, of course, was the “smoke” from the liquid nitrogen being released from your nostrils. Can’t say I’ve done this in a restaurant before.
We soon entered the dessert portion of the meal, starting with pine snow with honey. Artfully arranged, the “snow” was drizzled with honey creating a winter-esque landscape on your plate. And no, the pine was not edible.
The next dish, however, was perhaps the best dessert of the night: coconut sticky rice with mango. The sticky rice was capped off on both sides with what at first appeared to be mango slices, but was in fact mango sorbet. One of the prettiest courses of the meal.
Soon thereafter, we were escorted from the main dining room into a futuristic lounge that was part EPCOT and part 2001: A Space Odyssey. White walls adorned with hanging plants, a chain curtain, and a foam chair that resembled an apple were just some of the quirky aspects of this chic room.
We were treated to our final bites of the evening in here, all of which were desserts. The first was a pina colada tablet. Apparently all cocktails at Minibar are to be served edible.
Next was a duo of white chocolate lychee with coffee toffee and a sable bonbon.
I really enjoyed their version of TerraMisu. All the flavors found in this traditional dessert were encapsulated in one single bite.
Our final taste of the evening was rhubarb binchotan. Resembling tree bark, it marked the conclusion of, count’em, 27 dishes.
As for wine throughout the evening, Rachel and I decided to order a la carte. While the beverage pairings were out of our price range, wines by the glass were fairly reasonable, some of which were as low as six dollars. Not too shabby considering how expensive the meal was.
And that brings me to my next point: price. This was hands down the most expensive meal I have ever paid for in my entire life. At $225 per person, I honestly feel that no meal should cost that much, no matter what high-tech food wizardry is involved. And yes, while I understand that this is more of an experience than a meal, I’m still in shock at how much the final bill was.
As for the service, what could you say other than it was exceptional. The sommelier was very helpful while the chefs appeared very engaged in explaining the concoctions they were crafting in their kitchen slash laboratory.
In the end, Minibar was truly a memorable experience and I can see why Chef Andres can charge whatever the hell he wants. It’s still the toughest table in town and for good reason. Just don’t expect much new content anytime soon as our restaurant budget is pretty much shot for the rest of the year.