About a month ago, I was scanning this board for restaurant ideas for a jaunt into DC, and came across mention of the Latino Minibar at Cafe Atlantico - a relatively new venture (5 weeks old, we found out at dinner) - but there wasn't much other information on the Internet.. and while I'm usually one for researching a restaurant to death before making reservations, I decided to throw caution to the wind and just take it on faith.
We should've known we were in for a treat when I called the restaurant earlier in the day (since I forgot what time I had made reservations for) and the hostess said, "Oh! You're at the Minibar!" This exclamation was repeated when we showed up for our reservation. Haven't seen such enthusiasm in awhile - and it was certainly indicative of the experience we'd soon be having.
Even though we arrived 15 minutes early, we were seated right away at the Minibar, a 6-seat counter on the 2nd floor. The other four seats were already filled with diners halfway through their dinner. The Minibar, as described on the website, is the chef's "Latino Omasake." $65/head, not including tax, drinks, tip.
Since we were seated at one end of the Minibar, we more or less interacted with only one of the chefs - Joshua, I think, was his name. We started out with two mojitos, even though we were told that it was recommended that we have champagne/sparkling wine throughout the entire meal. (We eventually got to that part.) We were then handed two little canisters that looked like breath sprays - they were filled with mojitos, a couple of sprays and we got a "taste" of the drink - which were great, made with real sugar cane and all.
The courses. Thirty-three of them. (Apparently they started with soe 60-odd, but weeded quite a few out.) I don't even know where to begin - describing them all would take forever. It was very conceptual dining. A couple of bites of this-or-that, making the expected unexpected. Not too surprising, perhaps, seeing that Jose Andre spent time at El Bulli, in Spain. For example, taking the usual dishes and breaking them down into their individual elements, then "re-texturizing" each separate piece and putting them back together - the deconstructed clam chowder *tasted like clam chowder, but the mouth-feel wasn't the same. A caprese salad was a tomato ball, with a squishy dropper filled with mozzarella stuck in it - put ball in mouth, then squeeze the cheese in. Or putting random things together - foie gras and cotton candy. Hot mint soup layered over cold pea soup - the consistencies were the same, but the flavours and temperatures certainly weren't. My favourite was the watermelon flight - four cubes of watermelon, each hollowed out with a mini melon-baller. The first was filled with balsamic and olive oil, the second with "tomato hearts" (tomato seeds), the third balsamic and trout roe, the last finely grated parmesan cheese. I was also a big fan of the meat and potatoes: mashed potatoes, topped with something that looked like pancetta (but wasn't).. and we were handed a truffle-scented tissue to sniff as we ate.
The creations were magnificent, little works of art created before us. (As my boyfriend said, "It's like the Food Network, but just for you.") The level of detail in the presentation was certainly very impressive. Interaction with the chef was fun, amusing, educational. Service was fabulous - I cannot stress that enough. Our dinner lasted about 2.5 hours. You'd definitely have to be an adventurous eater to dine here - willing to play and experiment with your food ways you probably never thought of at home. I don't know if I'd return again soon - it was an experience, and one not to be repeated too often for fear of outright exhausting the palate - but it was definitely worth it, especially if you're looking for a "different" (for lack of better word) dining adventure.