405 Eighth St. N.W.
Washington, DC 20004
CUISINE Modern American, International, Fusion
PRICE $$$$ (Over $31)
HOURS Open for dinner, Tuesday through Sunday.
NVM AWARDS None
NEARBY METRO None
By Warren Rojas
What do a toaster oven, a 1970s cotton candy machine, surgical-grade forceps, snack-size bags of Fritos and fog-spewing canisters of liquid nitrogen all have in common?
They are the industrial lode being spun into epicurean gold at the modern-day alchemist’s table known as minibar.
At work in the ultimate open kitchen, minibar toques channel equal parts James Beard and P.T. Barnum.
The gastronomic gurus seem determined to educate as they captivate, reveling most the moments when cherished seasonal ingredients (“green” almonds, seafood curio) or convention-smashing deconstructions (the stir-to-assemble New England clam chowder, an inside-out Philly cheesesteak) transform an expectant patron’s visage into a wide-eyed mask of shock and awe.
“I love to see the look … that moment of wow!” owner/founder Jose Andrés shares.
And getting there is all part of the fun.
“I’m done guessing. I can’t even get the basic ones,” one flabbergasted diner griped after being duped by camouflaged chicken. “NASA food!” another ejaculated as the multi-course extravaganza (circa 30, one- or two-bite courses) unfolds.
minibar’s current crop of culinary tacticians include: José Andrés (restaurateur), Ruben Garcia (Think Food Group creative director), Katsuya Fukushima (TFG head of culinary special projects), Terri Cutrino (Café Atlantico executive chef) and dedicated minibar chefs Lyndon Doka, Ryan Moore and Brad Race.
The pioneering toques express no reservations about discussing their groundbreaking techniques—short of giving away the carefully calculated cooking formulas, of course—and seem only too happy to dart across the globe from dish to dish.
“We’re not really bound by any specific style of cuisine,” Doka says of their come-one, come-all cooking approach.
The carbonated mojito reveals an engineering marvel that encapsulates the mint-spiked refresher in a semi-permeable membrane that allows CO2 in but keeps the Caribbeanesque tonic firmly in place.
A snazzy cone of bulging salmon roe (a sea burst in each iridescent egg) topped with a crispy tile of cream cheese blasts traditional bagels and lox out of the water.
Flash-frozen almond milk is fashioned into a makeshift bowl and filled with smoky-tangy blue cheese shavings, all of which melds into a dairy-releasing deluge once introduced to the naturally warm tongue.
The hand of man encroaches on Helios’ domain via a transmutative salad of tomato puree that’s been spherified and desiccated to mimic the powerfully concentrated flavors of traditional sun-dried tomatoes; oddly enough, the chemically produced proxy tastes more like tomato than any from-the-vine specimen I’ve ever tried, while a surrounding lake of Greek yogurt brings the dish full circle.
Overlapping flashes of coconut sorbet, granulated peanuts, fiery cayenne and aromatic basil convince the mind it’s just another plate of pad Thai, even as your eyes and taste buds work to connect the dots between the ingenuously arranged dessert.
Solidified honey and yogurt powders are heaped atop one another and pseudo-activated by a squirt of olive oil—it takes a moment for your flavor receptors to catch on, but the expressive powders do their respective bases justice—meshing everything into a Jetsonian sweet that’s not to be missed.