Jose Andres' flagship Minibar has been on my must-do list for a while, especially after my two incredible experiences at its "cousin" - é by Jose Andres. Cut from the same cloth - few seats, bar around the kitchen, food prepared in front of you - I came with high hopes and expectations for this place. It gets rave reviews everywhere you look.
I need to split this review in half. The first half is this as an isolated experience. The second is in comparison to é.
While the food is Japanese-inspired (instead of Spanish), Minibar has so many similarities. Youthful, vibrant, engaging chefs. Top-notch service. Flare and dramatic molecular gastronomy. Premium ingredients like truffle and A4 wagyu. (They serve A4 for the same reason as CTBF - it just tastes better than A5.)
Service is impeccable. As one example - I asked about "Aonori" (the taco). The chef explained it was sea lettuce and gave me the spelling, which turned out to be incorrect. A few minutes later, a server came up and clarified the spelling of the word for me, wanting to assure that I had the correct spelling. That level of commitment to assuring that each guest has exactly what they want is what makes dining at this level so special.
While the food was beautiful and (mostly) delicious, I found much of it to be underwhelming when compared to é. It was half as many courses yet é makes you groan with each course. Not so much these dishes. There was a little more "kitchy for kitchy's sake" to me. The Toad In the Hole is a terrific example of this, coming off as a concept they tried to achieve, rather than focused on a more delicious dish. The cucumber dessert as well - terrific concept, but underdelivered on flavor.
Even the frozen "sesame tart" (the video of the presentation is below) should have been mind-blowing, and it wasn't - in flavor nor really in concept. Contrast that to é, where liquid nitrogen is used to present a frozen sangria. On point for the cuisine, inventive and completely delicious. Here was far more show for not nearly the result.
As you can see below, the dishes are gorgeous and generous. The chefs work with the coordination of a high-end sports team. Given that this is the flagship, I thought this would somehow eclipse é, and it doesn't hold a candle to it. If you have one place to go in DC proper, it should be Pineapple and Pearls. (By chance, I sat next to the girlfriend of their CDC here at Minibar.)
It's a solid 2 star experience. True - my expectations were through the roof. But it pains me to say that Minibar does not reach the heights it should. Would that it did.
Replying to Steven Smith