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Fearless Critic restaurant review
Upmarket restaurant

Tue–Sat 6:00pm–8:30pm

Features Date-friendly, good wines
Bar Beer, wine, liquor
Credit cards Visa, MC, AmEx
Reservations Essential


Penn Quarter
405 8th St. NW
Washington, DC
(202) 393-0812
Washington, DC’s bold entry into the new culinary millennium

When, to get a reservation, customers are required to call exactly one month before the date of their seating—sometime between 10:00am and 10:02am—for the privilege of paying, all told, about $200 per head for a meal that’s eaten at a counter, the meal had better be really, really good.

So here are the three big questions: (1) Could Minibar, José Andrés’s six-seat flagship hidden within Café Atlántico, really be good enough to justify the pomp and perseverance? (2) Isn’t Ferrán Adriá’s school of so-called “molecular gastronomy”—after which Minibar is modeled—just a dying fad, anyway? (3) Even when we’re handed about 30 bite-sized courses in two hours, can we possibly justify paying such prices?

Our answers: (1) yes, it could; (2) yes, but who cares; and (3) yes we can!

What’s really impressive here is the sensory experience often outshines the sci-fi pyrotechnics. A lot of the dishes rotate, but some consistent mainstays include the “olive oil bon-bon,” a teardrop-shaped, salt-flecked, paper-thin hard candy shell containing a teaspoonful of grassy Spanish olive oil that’s meant to be eaten in one bite. “Cotton candy eel” is surrounded in a halo of airy spun-sugar candy and wrapped in nori like a hand roll; it’s a sweet-savory match for the ages.

Even when the gimmick overshadows the taste, at least the gimmick is good. In “dragon’s breath popcorn,” for instance, you’re instructed to blow out through your nostrils after popping the dry-ice-bathed kernels, turning your mouth into a smoke machine.

It’s that sort of unique culinary moment that makes Minibar not just fun, but actually worth the money. And the setting is better than sitting in a sushi-bar-ish counter might suggest; it’s not soft, but it’s intimate, with clean lines and glass-fronted cases. Each seat offers a front-row view of the delicately orchestrated ballet of each preparation, cooks swerving around each other, telling you how many bites you’re meant to expend on each dish. Even if their attitude is sometimes pretentious (it’s not “seaweed,” it’s “sea greens,” you might be reminded) and often distracted, it’s something that serving 30 courses in two hours can excuse, and their depth of knowledge and commitment is clear.

The concise, New-World-heavy wine list tends to rocket the check further into the stratosphere, but there are some decent deals hidden within—like a reasonably priced Crémant d’Alsace rosé that, if your 10am timing is exactly right, you might just have the privilege of consuming with some of your 30 memorable courses.

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