Thursday, April 1, 2010

That's What She Fed goes to minbar: Part 2

"Thai Dessert"

Minibar was simply amazing. For us to attempt to describe each serving consumed, we think, would be a disservice to the minibar experience. Eating at minibar is about appreciating the whole undertaking, not simply the enjoyment of each dish. Minibar’s three chefs don’t simply cook, they execute a perfectly choreographed culinary ballet. They madly assemble plates with surgical precision using science lab instruments while engaging in a lively discussion with diners. Servings come so fast that you are unable to physically and mentally digest each dish fully. The flavor of dish A still lingers strongly on your tongue as the chefs are handing you dish B. It is impossible to fully understand the complexity of each dish in the couple of minutes between servings. At one point we asked what was in the Thai dessert (pictured above). One of the chefs asked if we really wanted to know all of the ingredients, of course we did. The peanut butter crumb that we thought was at the base of the plate actually had 4 layers of flavor beneath it. Our minds couldn’t keep up as he quickly rattled off all the other ingredients, he didn’t even bother explaining what was in the coconut ice cream.

To fully appreciate minibar we had to abandon everything we thought we knew about food. Trying to make sense of the craziness that was transpiring before us was a battle not worth fighting. As cliché as it sounds, we simply had to get lost in the moment. It reminded me of the dinner scene in Hook when Peter couldn’t see the feast before him until he abandoned his adult preconceptions and embraced the imaginative power of Neverland. Minibar was truly magical.

We arrived at Café Atlantico half an hour early and sat at the bar downstairs. (Check out our old post for an account of the reservation process) While at the bar, our waiter presented us with an extensive wine list with glass, half bottle, full bottle and flight options. We played it safe (aka cheap) ordering just one glass of Riesling each, with the plan to order a second during dinner. We soon learned that ordering a lot of drinks before the meal is a sucker bet. The food comes at such a fast pace and you are so memorized by the chefs activities that you don’t really have the time to drink 4 glasses. To be honest, no additional purchase of alcohol is really necessary. During our visit, the chefs served cocktails as two of the courses. This is one of the things in life that you should try to do as sober as possible.

"Philly Cheesesteak"

A little after 8:30 pm we were led up to the second floor and seated at minibar. The bar is vaguely reminiscent of a sushi bar, it has a cooler the full length of the bar. But, pipettes and eye droppers filled with colorful sauces and reductions replace the raw fish of a sushi bar. Conventional kitchen appliances were replaced by two hot plates, a toaster over, and a cotton candy machine. The chefs used tweezers and slotted spoons for the majority of the preparations. All the while plaster molds of Jose Andre’s hands stood watch, perched on a back wall shelf.

If we were to sum up minibar in one word, that word would be deconstruction. We were familiar with the name of most every dish, but our conceptions of those dishes were never represented on the plates presented to us. The chefs take familiar dishes, like New England clam chowder (below), deconstruct them into its basic essences, and then reconstruct it into their own mad scientist interpretation. Chowder broth becomes an incredibly light foam called air. Individual flavors from the chowder are separated into sauces and reductions which are delicately arranged on the plate. You will quickly learn that nothing is as it seems at minibar. What looks and tastes like bacon flakes floating on the air are really tiny pieces of potato. The bacon flavor comes from a sauce hiding out at the bottom of the plate. Each dish is truly a deceptive work of art; the only sense to be trusted at minibar is taste.

"New England Clam Chowder"

The three chefs (Brad, Jorge, and Nate) were all under 30, not what we were expecting. Only one of them had gone to culinary school, he chose the CIA over law/med school. One of the chefs was a bond trader in NYC for two years before deciding to follow his passion to cook. That really made That’s What She Fed revaluate our positions as young consultants approaching our second year anniversary. All of the chefs were very nice and engaging, they encouraged a lively dialogue and for us to take pictures. During dessert, one of the other diners dropped her s’more. Without hesitation one of the chefs quickly whipped (well, actually blowtorched *video*) her up another.

The waiter was also extremely nice and very helpful. At one point I asked him where the bathroom was. He led me all the way to the bathroom door. The service up to that point had been so superb that I half expected him to come in and give me a hand.

Our dreams of becoming minibar chefs were slightly dampened when we asked about the chef’s typical hours, 10am-1am Tuesday through Saturday. But I guess that goes for anyone in the food business. The 12 meals served nightly take all day to prepare. Some poor member of the Café Atlantico staff has to spend two hours each day harvesting seeds from zucchinis for a dish that will be eaten in less than a minute. Coincidently, this was the only dish that we were told to take the time to savor.


The chefs employed three unusual techniques pretty frequently throughout the evening: creating flavored ‘air’, cooking with liquid nitrogen, and creating bubbles of flavored liquids encapsulated by a thin gelatinous membrane.

I made the mistake about a third of the way through the meal saying to my counterpart that there was a lot of foam. I said this loud enough for one of the chefs to overhear. I was politely corrected that we were actually eating air, foam is much denser, and there wasn’t in fact that much air on the menu. I panicked and replied, “Well its more air than I’m normally used to.” Stupid. Next course: Essence of Chuck’s Foot in his Mouth. We’re going to need a palate cleanser after that one.

"Kumquats and Pumpkin Seeds" Palate Cleanser

Air is essentially a flavor rich liquid that the chefs create in their science lab. The liquid is combined with a protein that gives it enough strength to form bubbles when agitated through a device that looks like a rediwhip canister on steroids. This process is very similar to the formation of sea foam or bubble baths.

Liquid Nitrogen:
Liquid nitrogen was used to quickly freeze several liquids. At one point the chefs used liquid nitrogen to make ice cream after they said that their ice-cream machine was broken (research later proved that this is a common classroom demonstration). Liquid nitrogen is a clear liquid that is -350 degrees Fahrenheit. It evaporates so fast that it is harmless to consume food that is cooked (cooled?) with the freezing liquid. However, it was recommended that we not swallow a cup of it. Check out this video of liquid nitrogen cooking 'air', notice the suped up rediwhip container.

Perhaps the coolest technique was the creation of liquid bubbles encapsulated in a gelatinous membrane. They have two liquids that when combined form a gelatin. One of the liquids is mixed into a liquid dish, like the mojito (below) and baby carrots (bottom), and the other is mixed into a bath solution. The liquid dish is dropped into the bath and the two liquids react, creating a gelatin membrane that encapsulates the liquid dish. “Cooking times” range from 30 seconds for the mojito to several minutes for other dishes. These bubbles easily burst in your mouth sending intensely flavorful liquid to all corners of your mouth. My biggest disappointment of the night was that we didn't get to see this technique executed, all bubbles were premade.


                                                           "Organic Carrots with Coconut"

I will admit, around course 12 or 13 I was hoping for the chefs to pass a regular sized bacon cheeseburger over the bar. We had the 8:30 seating and didn’t have anything to eat beforehand. To their credit, by the end of the meal I was a comfortable full. However, we had just eaten 27 courses (check out the full menu) of dishes with tons of ingredients and reductions, most of which neither of us had ever consumed. Who has ever eaten a cucumber flower or seaweed gelatin anyways? The overwhelming exposure to new foodstuffs proved too much for the other blogger. She spent the better part of the next day deconstructing our meal from her mouth into the toilet. I guess that the price some of us pay for a lesson in molecular gastronomy.

The last course was by far the most impressive. The chefs managed to serve us my own bank account, deconstructed of course, inside of a hollowed out egg shell. I guess the chefs figured that that is the best way to present my palate such a bitter ingredient. I knew going in how much it was going to be, but there was still some shock after I dusted off the eggshell pieces and unrolled the check.

Eating at minibar is not an easy endeavor. It requires a will and dedication that most food enthusiasts don’t possess. We believe that the experience is well worth the effort and we absolutely loved almost everything put on our plates, Not every dish was a home run, depending on your tastes there will be a couple parts of dishes that will fall short. If you live in the area and minibar is on your DC bucket list we recommend that you set your alarm for 10am and start calling.

**If you have any specific questions about minibar, please feel free to email us at  We realize their own website does not reveal much.

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