Minibar proves that the term "culinary art" is not a metaphor.
Wife and I joined another couple at Minibar Saturday night. It was an extraordinary experience which no one seriously interested in food should miss. The inventiveness displayed in many of the dishes is itself enough to impress. But the food does not merely look good--much of it is quite delicious.
We sat at the copper-coated bar before spring-mounted chargers. Behind the bar, friendly chefs Josh and Edgar prepared our meals. Later on, they were joined by Cafe Atlantico's head chef, Katsuya Fukushima. (Minibar seats 6 persons at a time--that's quite a chef-to-diner ratio.)
We were served around 35 small courses during our 2 and a half hours there. It went by so fast! Many of you will have heard of some of the inventions we were served, but I have to share some details. I'll limit myself to just five of the courses:
- Chocolate Foie Gras Tamarind Truffle: In his review, Sietsema trashes this dish. I like him, but he is wrong on this one. It is a single-bite explosion of complex, rich, deliciousness.
- Lobster Americaine: a dish that uses the "toothpick-syringe" device (which allows you to eat something solid while injecting a liquid into your mouth, all with your mouth politely closed), it involves chewing a tender, sweet morsel of lobster while simultaneously splashing your mouth with lobster 'essence.'
- Caesar Salad: two thimble-sized jicama wraps, consumed nearly simultaneously. The first features a quail egg over anchovies, the second, finely grated parmesan over romaine. The salad is "mixed" in your mouth. Awesome.
- Corn and Foie Gras Soup: Cool, whipped, corn soup floating above steaming hot liquid foie gras--a super-rich indulgence.
- Wild Pink Scallops: slices of scallop atop a pool of beet ice, splashed with lime.
I could go on and on. Each of us liked most of the dishes we were served, and some of them were outstanding. Personally, about three dishes didn't do it for me, but I think that has more to do with my personal tastes than with their preparation (e.g., I'm not a fan of raw clams, so the deconstructed New England clam chowder was not my favorite).
Of course, when you are served 35 courses it is difficult to match a wine. We asked about this problem, and they suggested a sparkling wine. Champagne it was, and it worked perfectly. It would be interesting, but a lot of work, to come up with a wine-pairing for each of these courses. Jose Andres, if you are reading this, I hereby volunteer to do this work.
Service is on the casual side. For the most part, we dealt directly with the chefs, who would hand us our plates. A server cleared our plates and kept the Champagne flowing. To some extent, the experience depends on your attitude. The chefs are willing to speak to you about the food and other things if you engage them. They are also very accomodating. One member of our party does not eat beef or pork products, or foie gras. They happily substituted similar dishes for her as we went along. (We did let them know about this when we made the reservation).
Two members of our party are not particularly adventurous eaters. And there are some things I just would not order voluntarily. But in the spirit of the evening and the restaurant, we were all moved to try new things. We were glad we did.
As we ate we talked--mostly about food. Obvious comparisons came up. Innovation is the name of the game here, so the relavant local competitors are Fabio Trabocchi of Maestro and Michel Richard of Citronelle. I love Maestro. I am much less fond of Citronelle, where I believe deliciousness is too often sacrificed to cleverness or creativity. I suspect that some think that the same description applies to Minibar, but I disagree. For creativity, Minibar is on par with Citronelle, though each restaurant is playful in its own ways. For deliciousness, I put Minibar and Maestro on roughly equal footing. That's not to say that every dish at Minibar is as delicious as every dish at Maestro, or vice versa--each restaurant has its strengths. Plus, Maestro and Minibar are two very different kinds of dining experiences. Though all the men dining at the Minibar counter were in jackets, this was a much more light-hearted and casual atmosophere than Maestro.
At $65 per person, Minibar is a bargain.
If you are at all interested in food, and you can afford this kind of meal, you must go to Minibar. I know that Chowhound.com is sometimes about finding the best version of a familiar dish. But it is also sometimes about trying something new or different. This is one of those times. If it sounds "too new" to you, keep in mind that humans have been walking this earth, and eating on it, for around 100,000 years. As different as the food at Minibar may seem to be from what you are accustomed to, in comparison to the diversity of foods consumed across the earth throughout this long history, it isn't that strange at all. Go.
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