Monday, November 26, 2007

minibar by Jose Andres, A Review

You may have to mess with your monitor to see the lighter printed items on the menu pictured above, or you can not bother and read the review below. Printed on acetate, I think, the menu was presented as a souvenir after the meal.

Spoiler warning, I kind of wish I didn't do so much research before going to minibar so that I would have been surprised a little more. It you want to be surprised, and are going anytime soon, you may not want to read this post.

I looked forward to the meal for a long time and I really enjoyed it. While it wasn't flawless, the food was generally really good, and both the co-eater and I felt like we got our money's worth. Here's the review:

We arrived a few minutes late, and the restaurant was considerate enough to wait for us (it's a seating for six). Plus, they didn't make us feel bad by having the other four minibarers seated and waiting for us. When we walked in we were directed upstairs where all six of us were seated and introduced to the two chefs that evening, Jack and John (fake names). Jack presented as something of a mad scientist, where John, with his ponytail and easy smile, would have looked equally at home at an organic food co-op. Jack was in front of the co-eater and me, and John was in front of the other four people (a couple and and the girl's parents). It was pretty clear that the foursome was not looking to add two people to their group, so although we were seated at a bar together, it was basically the co-eater and me with Jack for conversation, and the foursome with John. The foursome got the better deal.

After being seated and made comfortable by Pablo (real name), a great server who helped out with the numerous plate clearings and drink refills, we were asked whether we would prefer sparkling or still water (there was no charge for either)--we chose sparkling, and a glass of a South American Pinot Gris. A wine pairing was available, a new glass every five dishes, but after watching the foursome partake, I don't regret passing on the pairing.

Otherwise, it was set up pretty much like a sushi bar with some neat equipment in the back. Lots of the prep was taken care of ahead of time, and there was a little cooking and much assembling that took place behind the bar. While John seemed to be enjoying himself, I was getting an odd vibe from Jack, and was thinking of George Costanza and his use of the term "delicate genius."

Caipirinha "Nitro" - Envision a Caipirinha, and a strong one at that, in a martini glass topped with Caipirinha sorbet. What I call a sorbet wasn't a sorbet, but it was reminiscent of one. The cocktail was nice, but was a little tough to drink without getting the sorbet-like stuff on your nose, at least for me--I have a big nose. A straw may have been helpful.

Parmesan "Pringle" - Lots of quotes, they continue. This was great. Chips that tasted like really good Pringles with the parm taste not being lost. They were served with a dip that I don't exactly recall, but it was very good.

"Carrot" - What looked like an isosceles triangle wafer of carrot puree (Carrot shaped, get it?) with a very little piece of dill to represent the carrot top. Here is where I began to feel Jack's ire--I asked if the green was carrot green (He wasn't big on explaining on what the dish really was, i.e. without quotes, so I asked questions nicely like we had been invited to. Usually on Jack's dishes, and some of John's, we'd be presented with a plate and provided with its name and the number bites we should eat it in, nothing more before or after.), that's when he informed that it was dill. Oh.

Olive Oil Bon-Bon - Something like a quarter tsp. of olive oil encapsulated in clear, fragile coating. It was good, but it was really just like eating 1/4 tsp. of olive oil.

"Mojito" - A carbonated dose of mojito encapsulated in what kind of resembled an olive. Another pleasant dose of alcohol.

"Bagels & Lox" - Looked to me to be salmon roe in a mini wafer cone. There may have been a small dose of some sort of cheese in there too, but the taste was all salmon, in a good way.

"Cornbread" - Enter Fritos. Whatever was in this, it tasted like a Fritos puff, which isn't so bad. Fritos would appear often in the meal. The explanation for their use was their simple ingredients of Corn, Corn Oil, and Salt, and that the chefs liked Fritos.

Cotton Candy Foie Gras - May have been the best thing of the night. Like a blow pop, but instead of candy covered gum, it was cotton candy covered Foie. The cotton candy was regular cotton candy. The combination was great.

Curried Chicken Wing - It was what it sounds like, sans bone. Honestly, it was good, but I've had better wings. Kind of reminded me of this, but not really.

Steamed Bun with Caviar - Another highlight. A steamed little ball of focaccia, I think, topped with caviar and I believe watermelon air. I didn't think it so much featured the caviar as much as the caviar salted the bun. Very enjoyable nonetheless.

Salmon-Pineapple "Ravioli" with Crispy Quinoa - To start with, I think it was poached Atlantic Salmon. I liked the Quinoa and the sauce that came with the the dish, but could have passed on this one.

"Sun Dried" Tomato Salad - A great, if not very seasonal, dish (I guess sun dried tomatoes are always "in season."). This seemed like a pretty technical dish, and the flavors were great.

Zucchini in Textures - One of the nicest presentations of the evening. It was like a gelled clear zucchini broth with lots of little zucchini seeds suspended in the gel. Beneath the gel was a zucchini puree, which eerily tasted a little bit like peanut butter. This was the first of several dishes where the seasoning seemed a bit off--here there were little salt pockets that weren't too pleasant.

"Caesar Salad" - An organized Caesar Salad. Two little spring rolls of romaine, one topped with with grated cheese, the other with a quail egg yolk, over an anchovy puree kind of thing, and with two croutons that looked like little Chiclets or mints. Here is where I knew Jack was not a CFT fan. I asked whether the yolk on the spring roll was a quail egg. Jack promptly informed me that I was incorrect--he stated that it was in fact a quail egg yolk. This lack of precision in my language would rear its ugly head again later.

"Parmesan" Egg - Very cool dish. Like a raw egg yolk ravioli with the parm being the pasta. It reminded me of grits with an egg over easy, but without the grits.

Sea Urchin "Ceviche" with Hibiscus - This may have been my favorite. It was sea urchin covered with hibiscus air. The hibiscus really complimented the briny urchin.

Corn on the Cob - This was kind of a disappointment. A piece of baby corn on a puree of something. It was almost funny, but I would have liked it better if it was something like "American Barbecue" with a funky mini burger, hotdog, or fried chicken type thing with the corn on the cob on the side. By itself I thought it lacked.

"Guacamole" - Both a great dish and confirmation that I was on Jack's shit list. This looked like a caterpillar sushi roll with the avocado slices on the outside surrounding a filling. Here the filling was tomato and tomato sorbet with some other fixings. Very refreshing, but again a bit out of season I think. Here five of the rolls were rolled moderately well, not sure if they would have passed at a decent sushi bar, but adequate considering. One was slightly messed up, and that's the one that Jack, after trying to fix it for a minute, sent my way. Still, this was very enjoyable, even including the crushed Fritos garnish.

Oyster and Apples - Another highlight for me. Perfectly smoked but not overly cooked oyster with a little dice of apple that was refreshing and added a great clean contrast to the smoke on the oyster.

New England Clam Chowder - Described as New New England Clam Chowder, this was not one of my favorites, but wasn't bad either. Similar concept to the Cesar Salad, but with foams.

Breaded Cigala with Sea Salad - Great if for no other reason than I was pleased to be introduced to the Cigala. What's a Cigala? The folks behind the counter said it was something like a little lobster. Here's another blog's take on it. (After witnessing a slightly suspect morel mushroom conversation, I think it's worth fact checking a few things.) Whatever it is, it was great. The Sea Salad was like a seaweed salad at a sushi place. The Cigala was a little tough to eat with the provided utensils, but it was very good.

"Philly Cheesesteak" - This dish showcased some great meat, and another reason why I wanted to sit at John's side of the bar for a while. I commented that it looked like they were presenting a mini Beef Wellington--I saw a pastry shell, truffles, and beef (and missed the cheese). I asked "Hey, are those mushrooms?" I was told "No," and offered no further explanation. After we were told "Cheesesteak, one bite" I peaked at the truffle slices, which would have benefited from being cut on some type of mandolin, and asked "What are these?" "Truffles" I was told. "No shit" I thought. Maybe I have to learn more about fungus. But more likely Jack was either just being obnoxious or he needed the shroom lesson. I think both the former and latter apply. Either way, the cheesesteak, a take on one of my all time favorite foods, was great. And a mini Wellington would be fun too.

Frozen Yogurt and Honey - Think Baklava without the pastry. First bite was rough, but it improved.

Thai Dessert - Neat dessert with some type of ice cream or sorbet and a thinly rolled rectangle of chunky peanut butter. I thought the peanut butter was like peanut brittle not brittled. It was great with the chile powder that was on the side.

Matcha Ball - Chocolate that looked like a honeycomb powdered with gold. Somewhat extravagant and very good. I've had better pieces of chocolate, but this was more than acceptable.

White Chocolate Black Olive Mango Box - Paper thin crispy mango holding the filling inside. Very cool presentation and pleasant taste.

Saffron Gumdrop in Edible Wrapper - Nice dessert. The wrapper, which I think was gelatin, was neat, but I used to eat the wrapper on Trident gum, so an edible wrapper wasn't too new for me. This was better than Trident though.

Passionfruit Marshmallow - Like a squishy meringue filled with passion fruit. Very good and my favorite dessert.

Carrot Cake Macaroon - Like a macaroon sandwich with a little (carrot based?) filling. The co-eater's favorite dessert.

That's it, finally. I was pleasantly full and left wanting more. Go here if you'd like to see an egulleter's pictures, and here for another blog's, but note that there have been some changes.

I'd love to go back some time in the future, but am also looking forward to getting back to some less avant garde cuisine.

As for "Jack," he seemed more interested in responding to the foursome's questions regarding which famous chefs had eaten at the bar, and how it's nice because the chef's "get it," than talking to the co-eater and me about what we were were actually eating. Luckily, popular newspapers (like the NYT article linked a few posts ago) and websites like this one, these ones, and this one (to name a few), allow pedestrian eaters to better see what's going on with this food movement. And since everyone else was so friendly, as has always been the case in the Jose Andres establishments that I've visited, it's easy to give the one character a pass.

In a nutshell, if you enjoy ordering omakase style in a sushi restaurant and you're curious about molecular gastronomy/food 2.0 (or if you just love food), you'll love minibar.

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