As a chef and restaurateur known for his Spanish culinary empire throughout the U.S. and for his non-profit World Central Kitchen providing meals to people in developing countries struck by natural disasters, José Andrés needs no further introductions. Among many of his restaurants in DC, the crown jewel is undoubtedly the Michelin two-star establishment Minibar. Since arriving in DC last year, my wife Jun and I had checked out many of the fine dining restaurants around the city, with some mixed results (some tremendous, others not as impressive as we had hoped). During our recent visit in September, therefore, we were really hoping that Minibar would surprise us in a good way. The verdict: it was a very good meal, but not quite the showstopper we were hoping.
The tasting menu at Minibar is, if I were to define its cuisine, is Spanish base with Japanese accent and other culinary influences sprinkled in between. You will be greeted with a few bites after sitting down like corn cracker with caviar, maize “butterfly” cookie and soy chicharron (this was my favorite among the three). All of the dishes that follow are in small plate format that allow you to savor the ingenious complexity of flavor and texture behind the kitchen without stretching your stomach too much. One of the best dishes of the night was the impeccably plated cup of nasturtium flower where you can dig up wagyu beef tartare and caviar. Don’t be shy to dig all the way to the bottom to appreciate this beautiful combination.
Some of the dishes, on the other hand, were slightly puzzling. While we understood the intent behind the kitchen to show a contrast in flavor between savory and sweet, the sweet side of the playful take on the toad in the hole toast with egg yolk on top was a bit off with the caviar next to it. Same issue with the next dish where the Tocino de Cielo (think a traditional Spanish flan) rather overpowered the delicate sea urchin that came with it. Other dishes like monkfish and wagyu aburi (think lightly torched wagyu sushi) were solid but not particularly memorable. The one unexpected surprise was a dish called “frozen salad 3.0,” a frosty cucumber salad that worked as a nice transition dish between the savory and dessert courses. On the dessert side, we encountered a nori seaweed wrap (another Japanese inspiration), and then had a very delicious strawberry milk dish (milk sorbet inside a strawberry tuile). After a few other smaller bites, our meal was complete. It was a fairly lengthy affair but given the portion of each dish, we didn’t feel too overwhelmed with all the food.
Not surprisingly, given the profile of the restaurant, getting a reservation at Minibar is going to be a challenge and require advance planning (at noon on the first day of each month, the restaurant will open reservations for the next month). We very much liked the sleek counter space at the restaurant where you feel like you are able to undertake a special culinary journey along with a few other eager diners. I was a bit bummed that the wine list was very much on the high end, especially for Burgundy wines (seriously, only one bottle in three digits and the rest four digits??), but we were lucky to have a phenomenal German pinot noir bottle to complement our meal (also, don’t forget to try one or two inventive cocktails coming from Barmini next door). I wasn’t of course expecting it given his extensive commitments but chef Andrés was not present at the kitchen (a staff member told me she only saw him once since she started working there). If you are looking for a special occasion type of meal in DC, I would say Minibar is a good place to start. Did it have the type of transcendental experience we’ve had at some of our all-time favorite restaurants? That is hard to say, especially at the price tag over $350 per person (after automatic 20% service charge). For now, we will monitor how the food at Minibar evolves and hold off on a re-visit until we know the menu was substantially changed from our visit.
KenScale: 8.25/10 (Jun’s Score: 8.25/10)
Address: 855 E St. NW, Washington, DC 20004
Reservation via Tock