Even though I know that David Shaw recently wrote in the LATimes that the advent of restaurant featuring small plates shows a trend in hurried dining etcetera, really... I like tasting lots of different things, and can and will order the equivalent of a regular meal in small dishes. Luckily, my boyfriend feels the same way, and so the two of us dragged his roommate along to Minibar on Cahuenga, near Universal City.
Our reservations were for 8:15, and we called saying that we'd be a couple of minutes late as we were stuck in Hollywood Bowl traffic. We got there at 8:20 - all the outdoor dining was full, but the inside seemed relatively empty. But we were told that we'd have to wait a little while our table was cleared off, so we sat at the bar and ordered a drink. They premake their mojitos in a big vat, combining the mint, sugar and limes beforehand; adding the rum and club soda afterwards. While time-efficient, this means that the mint, by the time it makes it to your glass, is bruised and starting to brown, and if they don't add enough of the mint-lime mixture, you can have a very disproportionate drink indeed.
After 20 minutes - we were still sitting at the bar, so we inquired as to why we were there, when it looked like there were three gigantic rows of tables full. Oh, those are for a large party, we were told; our table was still occupied by its previous party. Excuse me? I feel that it would have been more appropriate for the host to tell us this after we'd been waiting, say, 5 minutes, instead of us having to ask after 20. I haven't had to wait for a table this long while holding reservations in... I really don't know. Just as we were about to be seated at a table for 2 (and having the third person squish in somewhere), that party finally moved and we were finally seated there, another 15 minutes later.
That was the worst lapse in service. Our waitress - while she couldn't remember the specials for the life of her, and said things like, "well, it has a mushroom thingy on top," was very endearing and excellent throughout - if not a little too fast, even.
So small plates it was. Hopefully I can remember what we ordered (again, I blame the alcohol for any holes in my memory):
*Arugula salad with.. grapefruit sections, um, a cheese reminiscent of parmesean, and.. yeah. I can't remember. I'm sorry.
*Venison with a kind of cranberry/port reduction. It came very rare (but I like that), and was extremely tasty. Four slices that were in the small-small/medium range.
*Dungeness crab fritters - six teeny fritters, along with a dipping sauce. Not bad, but they were so small that the fried aspect overtook the crab.
*Duck confit eggroll, served with a tamarind sauce (I think). This was perhaps my favourite dish of the night. Then again, I'm a big duck fan, and they did it quite nicely here.
*A meze trio, with hummus, guacamole and another sweeter dip, served with pita - both plain and fried. Nothing fance, but it was good.
*Shrimp ceviche, which none of us were tremendous fans of. Served with thin slices of fried plaintains, it contained a little too much coconut milk for our tastes.
*Steak wrapped around cheese and, oh dear, something else. Four came, each about two bites, on very long skewers. But it was definitely good and moist, and not overcooked as sometimes these dishes can be.
And for dessert:
*Brown sugar crumble, uh, with some kind of fruit, I'm sure, which was by far and away our collective favourite dessert.
*Guava cheesecake, which had a cute name that included the word Harlem in it. This was good, but a touch too tangy for my tastes.
The dishes come out as soon as they're ready, and sometimes surprisingly fast. So if you only want a few at a time - only order a few at a time, otherwise you'll be overwhelmed.
And in this case, while presentation was lovely, small indeed means small. While at the top of the menu it says that each dish serves 2 - well, perhaps 2 not-very-hungry people. And there were 3 of us, and we *were hungry. Given that, and the prices - it became a rather expensive restaurant at which to dine. While you might spend a little more at, say, AOC, the quality of the food there just blows you away, as does the fact that the servings are more generous than at Minibar. The food was quite good, but not mindblowing in its innovation/taste.
At around 9:45, 10PM, a DJ started cranking the music, and loudly. This is a good place for groups (especially if not everyone is big eater), as the decor is rather funky and lends itself well to a festive atmosphere.
In a touch of lovely irony, we were dawdling a tad over our last drinks, the check already having been taken away, when a guy came up to us and told us that he had been waiting over an hour to be seated, and that we were the three beings keeping him from achieving this goal. He'd buy us drinks, we'd share the table, whatever, as long as his party got seated. It was perhaps around 10:15PM at this point, not much later. This after he had been standing at the end of our couch, KICKING IT repeatedly (I'm not sure if this was unconsciously done or not.). While rather tasteless on this particular person's part, I think this rankles much more of the restaurant's problem and the inability of its staff to properly figure out seating, than our sitting too long after a meal. (As I see it, 2 hours is a perfectly respectable amount of time for dining.) In any care, perhaps the hosts shouldn't blame the patrons and should accept the fault themselves.
I'd go back. Perhaps. Maybe after a few more months, when hopefully they've figured seating out better. And only if I wanted a few nibbles, and not a large meal. It is a fun party atmosphere, though.