Saturday, July 28, 2007

minibar redux

Last night we went back to minibar. While my first trip since last summer, it was Adam's third of this summer...including having gone the night before! I know I wrote about it last summer, but despite some repeats, there are lots of new things and also pictures this time! It's the same six seats, though we were the first party to have actual chairs (apparently cast offs from Zaytinya) instead of the annoyingly-backless stools. Quite a comfort improvement.
We started with the "passion fruit 'tequila sunrise'" cocktail. Ryan, the chef at our end of the bar (Michael, who served us last year, was at the other end) said that real tequila sunrise is oj, grenadine, and tequila. This one had a lovely fruity foam on top, a few sprinkled passion fruit seeds, and a sort of thickened grenadine syrup at the bottom. Didn't really taste tequila-y, but I don't really like tequila, so not complaining. Tasty.
Next we got two little crispy snacks, one new and one a repeat. The "crispy apples" were basically thinly sliced, dehydrated apples, one lined with saffron and the other with fennel seed. Simple but clean flavors, very nice. The "tumbleweed of beet," the repeat, was as I remembered - intense beet flavor, fun texture.

The "olive oil bon bon" was one of my faves from last year, still great this year (though I think a little smaller). Sweet shell with the oily (mmm) center. I asked how they're made, and apparently they take a layer of the isomel (or whatever it is), place it over a little ring mold, and then the weight of the oil droppered on top pulls the sheet into the drop shape. I mentioned that I vaguely remembered Marcel on last season's top chef doing something similar, but it didn't work. Ryan sort of smirked and pointed out that it was humid in DC and they managed to make it work, and said that Marcel ought to come learn how to do the techniques from the people who know how. Apparently the minibar chefs had gone the Aspen Classic (or whatever it's called) and met the Top Chef candidates. Sounds like Marcel is, as expected, sort of an arrogant jerk (as is Ilan), who doesn't really know how to do the technical stuff as well as he fronted (which makes sense, given how often his attempts seemed to fail). I complained that I'd never liked Ilan, and all his best "creative" ideas were just off the Casa Mono menu anyway. Ryan said that Sam was apparently very nice, which was cool, since I love him for being talented (not to mention hot).

Anyway, back to the courses, since I'll go on a tangent again soon anyway. Next we got the "mojito" (another repeat, but a good one), which used the spherification technique and was vaguely sparkling when it exploded. I was commenting to Alex and Dina that I'd bought Adam the Texturas chemicals for his birthday last year (so, more than seven months ago), but that we hadn't used them yet b/c don't have an electronic scale. Ryan offered that there's a shop on 12th where I could get well as porno and a tattoo (apparently it's actually a head shop). He was really nice and full of useful tidbits. :)

The next course was "bagels & lox," which was a crispy cone filled with a light cream cheese (chived, I think) and salmon roe. Good, but as Alex pointed out, not as good as the NYC-original and partly suffers from the inability to get all the flavors in each bite. Dina, who doesn't eat seafood, got some sort of tomato cone that looked pretty good (possibly better?).
The "cornbread" was the first new-this-year dish since the apple slices, and it was surprisingly light! A very light, slightly crunchy layer on the bottom, then a corn cream, then little bits of crushed corn chips (Fritos!) on top. Alex was the first to ask if they were Fritos, which Dina and I cautiously echoing that we'd thought the same.

Next came the "cotton candy avocado," a substitution for one of the minibar signatures, the cotton candy foie gras. Good, but again mostly exciting for its cotton candy content. Ryan said the best place to get a little home cotton candy machine would actually be ebay (hint hint, my birthday is in November).

The "conch fritter," a staple order when we eat brunch at Cafe Atlantico, was as good as ever. Alex is also a big fan, having had them as a dinner appetizer there. Fried dough outside, liquid conch chowder center.

This was some sort of "ravioli"...while I remember really liking it, I can't remember what was in it. It was a substitution, so the menu was no help at all. The ravioli skin was mango flavored (it could have been thinly sliced mango, but don't think so). I feel like the inside was some sort of seafoody cream or foam. Ugh, I have a bad memory. Edit: Adam says that the seafood used was anchovy, which sounds right now that he mentions it. Surprisingly good, not excessively anchovy-y at all.
I don't remember having liked the "salmon-pineapple 'ravioli' with crispy quinoa" as much last year as I did this year. The bits of cooked salmon were covered in a sliver of pineapple. I believe the green foam was avocado, and then supremes of orange. The quinoa was sprinkled on top. Eaten all together, each bite was delicious.

Next came what's probably minibar's signature dish, the "deconstructed glass of white wine." The flavors on the wine gelee, from right to left (the order in which we were instructed to eat) were: lemon zest, orange zest, apple (I wasn't sure between pear and apple, and others had thought pear - oops), coconut, mint, pineapple, passion fruit, almond (we didn't get this, though it was obviously nutty - walnut was the favorite guess), pomegranate (Kathy was the only one to correctly guess this one - the rest of us were guessing berries), cinnamon, and vanilla. Lots of fun trying to guess everything.

The "zucchini in textures," like the salmon ravioli, was something that I had last year and had remembered not loving. Gelee of zucchini water on top, soft suspension of zucchini seeds next (apparently the zucchini is steamed, and then they hand pick uniformly-sized seeds!), and then a zucchini cream on the bottom. The dish was clearly zucchini-flavored, but also a lot creamier than I'd remembered it being last year, which made it much more delicious for me. I asked Ryan if the recipe had changed, but he said that it hadn't. Who knows.
The "'sun dried tomato' salad" was one of the best of the new dishes we tried. The "tomatoes" were actually spherified sun dried tomatoes, which were then dehydrated so they had an intense tomato flavor but not the bursting, liquid center. The white spheres (no dehydration on these) were greek yogurt, and the air was lemon. Apparently air is so light that when you turn a spoonful of it upside down, it won't fall off (unlike a foam). So, of course, we all had to test this, and it's true. The little purple blossoms on top were chive blossoms, which have an intense chive flavor, in addition to being very pretty.
The deconstructed "ceasar salad," another repeat, was eaten sushi-style. Little lettuce rolls, topped with shavings of parmesan on one stack and a raw quail egg yolk on another. Fun twist on familiar flavors.

The "egg 63 degrees with caviar" had been one of my favorites last year, but I actually think that Dina might have gotten a better substitution - hers was covered with a layer of black truffle shavings instead of the caviar. Ryan peeled the very softly-boiled quail egg with a knife, without puncturing the egg inside! Very impressive skills. Attempts at home to boil an egg at a low temperature have never worked properly. The picture is after I'd taken a bite, breaking the yolk inside. I thought it was a cooler picture than just the layer of black caviar in the dish.

The "sea urchin 'ceviche'" was not one of my favorites. The air on top was hibiscus (so Adam tells me, I hadn't remembered), which was sort of fun to eat, but the urchin in the bottom didn't make much of an impression. Beautiful, though, in it's lovely glass bowl. I love the dishes and utensils both here and at El Bulli (which, in some cases, were the same).

The "corn on the cob" was another tasty repeat, and Ryan pointed out that everything in the dish was corn. Baby corn on a corn liquid, crunchy little kernels on top. Even the corn shoot along side had a light but clearly corny flavor.
The "guacamole" was another fun repeat. A tomato sorbet was piped onto the thinly slice avocado, which was then rolled around it (kind of like making sushi). It was garnished with tiny diced tomatoes, crushed Fritos, micro cilantro, and more of the chive blossoms (where can I get some of these?!).

I think I liked the smoked "smoked oyster and apples" reasonably well, though I don't remember that much about it. I do remember that the oyster had a bit of an odd flavor (as though it wasn't entirely raw), and I loved the bits of smoked oyster on top. Tasted kind of like bits of bacon (love the smokiness), which I miss greatly (c'mon food scientists, grow me some pork fat in a lab!).

Instead of the "New England clam chowder," which contained bacon, we got a liquid potato tortilla. Apparently they could have just done the chowder without the bacon, but since Adam had tried it the night before, they were nice enough to give him (and consequently Dina and me) something different. The so-called tortilla was very tasty, so I wasn't really disappointed. The foamy top layer tasted an awful lot like the potato foam from the brunch menu, but as I love that dish (which vanilla), I certainly liked it again. Basically, imagine the lightest, creamiest mashed potatoes possible. The bottom layer was a sort of roasted onion paste or puree, and it was garnished with tiny diced potatoes and what I think Ryan said was chive oil.

The "breaded cigala with sea salad" was one of Alex's least favorite, because he objected that it was too salty. I think I liked it more than he did, though the seaweed/sea bream salad was, obviously, salty. The cigala itself was nicely cooked, and I continue to love the smoked sea salt on top (though it only made this dish more salty). Apparently they smoke the salt in house in an electric smoker. Another excellent potential gift for me. :)

The last savory dish was the "philly cheesesteak." The crispy cone was filled with a soft sort of cream cheese (not sure exactly what kind of cheese), and our version was covered in a layer of shaved black truffle instead of the wagyu beef. I liked this last year, and I liked it this year. Alex, who lived in Philly for many years (Penn undergrad), gave this his cheesesteak-loving stamp of approval (though he did confirm that the best authentic version should use what is essentially cheese wizz, as I remember from my childhood NYC street fair cheesesteaks). Mmm, processed cheese product (cheese-in-a-can is an under-appreciated trashy treat).

The first dessert was the "pistachio-beets and mixed berries." In addition to being vividly beautiful, it was delicious. The little rectangles of light, crunchy beet flavor had a great texture. Apparently they make meringues, then dehydrate and slice them. Dehydration was big on this year's menu (and Ryan said they're trying to move away from spherification). Delicious, creamy pistachio flavor on the bottom layer, nice (raspberry?) sorbet on top, plus a bit of fresh blackberry on the side. Pistachio nuts added a harder crunch.

The "thai dessert" was one of my favorite dishes of the entire meal. It was absolutely fantastic! Coconut sorbet sat under a peanut wafer, a squiggle of not-too-heavy peanut butter, and chopped nuts. The tamarind swirl ringing the sorbet added a slightly sour, citrusy contrast, although wikipedia informs me that the fruit is actually a pod-like legume. A sprinkling of cayenne pepper on the edge of the plate added a powerful kick to any bit that included it. I think the micro herb was cilantro, but I don't remember. So amazing, though.
Unfortunately, the printed menu told us that we had missed out on the "matcha ball." When we asked, Ryan said that it couldn't be made in the humidity. Apparently it would have been a sort of ball of cotton candy rolled in matcha. Sounds really cool, and I was sorry to have missed it.

The little petit fours at the ended included a "saffron gumdrop," "maracuya marshmallow," and "pina colada injection." The gumdrop was good, with the expected jellied texture. Maracuya is another name for passion fruit, and a bit of passion fruit syrup was injected into the marshmallow (lovely soft texture) before serving. Dina was excited to finally get the pipette, which we had seen through the glass all evening. It really tasted like a pina colada, with the pipette contents being heavily coconut flavored and mixing well with the fresh pineapple. A much better end than last year's cough drop lollypop.
<-- picture of Ryan
While we were waiting for/paying the check, we were chatting
with Ryan some more. I could see some micro herbs growing on the window sill, and he told us that one of the plants (which was flowering near the top) was something that he'd been growing for fun, called stevia, although they hadn't used it in anything. He told us that it was a very sweet herb, sweeter than sugar, and let us try the blossoms. It was extremely sweet, though with a bit of a slightly bitter aftertaste. Very interesting though.
One of the nice things about having all six seats is that I didn't feel worried about disturbing others with the camera. Random other pictures taken throughout the evening:
Alex and Dina -->
<-- Paul and Kathy. Aren't they adorable? (correct answer: yes)
Adam, and Alex -->
Good company + fun food = great evening. Can't wait to go back! (Maybe can arrange a dinner during fly-out week, which I imagine will take me to DC?)


Blogger Donna said...

What a fascinating restaurant. That really sounds like a food experience vs "dinner". Nice pix but where is your beautiful face? It was great seeing you today. Love, Donna

10:55 PM  

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