Minibar by José Andrés is one of the most exclusive restaurants in Washington, D.C., and the entire country. Renowned for its inventiveness, as well as the shroud of mystery that surrounds the establishment, Minibar is seen as a haven for foodies and adventurous eaters looking to indulge. But with so much left unrevealed to the public, what can you really expect when you visit the restaurant, and is it worth the lofty price of admission?
The fact that the food you’re served at Minibar is innovative and artful is no secret. Still, the level of sheer inventiveness and creativity is hard to grasp. Minibar is not just a restaurant, and its diners don’t just eat a meal. It’s a form of entertainment, and guests partake in a unique and all-encompassing sensory experience.
You’ll sample food that makes you laugh and food that could lead to hours of conversation and analysis. Some dishes may leave you puzzled, and others may leave you awestruck, with no recourse but to sit back and revel in whatever it is that you just enjoyed.
There are delicious pairings of ingredients you never could have imagined together. Types of food you didn’t realize were possible. Presentations you could never create on your own. More flavor jam-packed into a tiny morsel of food on a plate than you can even wrap your head around.
The Dining Experience
Minibar seats 12 guests at a time at two long counters overlooking the kitchen, staggered with seatings of six at once starting 30 minutes from one another — 6 p.m. and 6:30 p.m., then 9 p.m. and 9:30 p.m.
In its own way, Minibar takes you through a “traditional” meal in the most untraditional way possible. That means starting with bites that call to mind bread and cheese plates before progressing through salads and soups, and then entrees and multiple rounds of dessert. It’s a journey like none other, but that “traditional” track of a multi-course meal remains.
The menu’s always changing, but you can expect a meal of about 25 courses. Some courses may be a single bite, while others are more robust.
On a recent visit, the menu included dishes such as the Rubber Ducky, a duck-shaped meringue stuffed with foie gras ice cream; a Waldorf salad served in sandwich form between two hunks of dehydrated apple meringue “bread” with frozen bits of lettuce, celery and nuts stuffed inside; pressed flowers encased in a sheet of sugar and served from a book; a churro stuffed with luscious, creamy beef tendon; the Frozen Lake, a soup-like dish consisting of a layer of ice concealing smoke, trout roe, and whipped cream; sea cucumber with a hunk of bone marrow and a plate-licking good sauce; an almond tart in the form of a dry-ice-frozen bowl stuffed with a blue cheese cream; and to close things out, mini chocolate doughnuts stuffed with ice cream instead of dough, which you’ll swear was actually a Krispy Kreme in disguise. But that was only eight courses of 25, of course.
There’s painstaking detail in every aspect of your experience. Not only the flavors you’re tasting, but the conception of the dishes, the drinks they’re paired with, the plates they’re served on, and the utensils (or lack thereof) you’re provided. You’ll receive intricate descriptions and when necessary, instructions, for each dish you enjoy, and chefs and servers are there for you to ask questions of and interact with.
In fact, a quick look around will reveal that there are more chefs, servers, and support staff on hand than there are diners. That may just include chef Andrés as well. If he’s in town, it’s likely he’ll be popping in, whether he’s creating something new or just checking in on the scene.
At Minibar, you don’t even get seated at a single table. You’ll begin your meal in the “living room” before moving to the counters in the kitchen and closing out your adventure at the adjacent Barmini cocktail lounge, where you’ll enjoy your final bites of dessert and coffee and have the opportunity to continue the festivities with more imbibing and indulging.
There’s no back of the house or hidden chefs at work — everything in the kitchen is taking place right in front of you. Having a ringside seat to the painstaking detail that chefs put into a single bite of food for each and every dish, layering in myriad sauces, toppings, and other ingredients, is akin to watching breathtaking art in motion.
Minibar caters to you entirely in any way that it can. If you’re a vegetarian or have a particular allergy or any other food restrictions, unique versions of each dish being served will be provided just for you. Celebrating an occasion? Every person working there will be sure to mention it. You’ll take home a copy of the special menu served on the day you came, and if you’re lucky, you may even be able to sneak away with a handwritten recipe of a dish you really enjoyed and just have to try to replicate at home.
Minibar is a once in a lifetime kind of experience. Is it for everyone? Do you get the most bang for your buck? Maybe not. But for any foodie, or simply a lover of food, fun, and new experiences, it’s something you’ll need to see to believe and something you’ll never regret.
*This article was first published on Yahoo Voices on October 27, 2013.