Minibar, Part trois (et ultime)

by rivka on April 13, 2008 · 2 comments

in various and sundry

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Let’s see, where did we leave off? Have you already forgotten that more tales of molecular gastronomy and showmanship were in store for you? This is the final installment of the Minibar saga. So as not to reveal all my (their) cards, I’ll cover only highlights of the remaining courses, leaving some of the show to your imagination (should you choose to explore this restaurant yourself).

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We begin with what was many folks’ favorite course of the night: “sundried” tomato salad. As may at this point be intuitive, there were no actual sundried tomatoes, but rather man-made, sundried-tomato-tasting-and-looking red ovals (??), composed of sundried tomato puree and other unpronounceable ingredients. Accompanying the SDT-like rounds were perfectly shaped tomato hears, their seeds front and center; micro basil; fantastic greek yogurt; aged balsamic vinegar; herbs; and some form of foam whose flavor eludes me at this point. Each element had its own texture and flavor, at once familiar and totally new; while the resulting dish smacked of a familiar tomato-basil salad, the chefs truly recreated the traditional dish, and dare I say it, their recreation was better than the original. For the sake of full disclosure, I have a longstanding love affair with tomato seeds and was delighted to see them take center stage at Minibar.

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Next up was a very cool take on guacamole: paper-thin slices of avocado were chilled, then molded into a long hollow cylinder, which was served with a tomato sorbet inside. This was garnished with some sort of pepper (jalapeno, perhaps?), micro-squares of real, honest-to-god tomato, and — get this — crushed Fritos, a surprising favorite ingredient among the folks at Minibar.

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This was another whimsical yet clever dish that was impressively presented. I’ll be honest that I prefer real guacamole to the Minibar version – but by any other name, this would have been a great dish.

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A unanimous thumbs up among the group followed the guacamole, in the form of deconstructed potato soup with caramelized onions and clams (for those who’d eat them). The clams were crazy-fresh, only 14 hours old; even the self-proclaimed clam hater among us loved them. The clams were nestled in a whipped potato foam, accompanied by a generous layer of the best caramelized onion puree I’ve ever tasted. Tiny hashbrown-ed potato cubes added the perfect crunch to this briny, smooth dish — both the clam eaters and the non-clam eaters agreed that this dish was really memorable.

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I’ll mention one last savory dish, only because it was such a shocking success. Had you told me that one of my truly favorite dishes would have contained a layer of jellied zucchini seeds suspended over a rich, sweet puree of caramelized zucchini, I’d have laughed in your face. I pestered the chefs unendingly as I ate this dish — how did they make caramel out of just zucchini? How did it taste so darn good? How? How? Yea. I still don’t know. But it was freakin’ amazing.

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Among the dishes I didn’t mention: “philly cheesesteak” (with porcinis for the non-meat eaters), cotton-candy coated eel, conch fritters, and more. Want details? Go to Minibar. :)

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I’ve left room here for dessert, because there were two ridiculous desserts that really blew my mind.

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The first was a seemingly simple combination of yogurt, praline, honey, and olive oil — only the yogurt was recreated as snow, the honey had the texture of rock salt, and the praline was hardened into logs that sat bellied in a pool of grassy Spanish olive oil and fantastic honey. The combination of frozen, tart, unsweetened kernels of yogurt snow and crunchy bites of honey with the smooth, nutty praline and the olive oil was totally amazing (I know, I’ve said amazing too much, but this was blow-my-mind good). I’ve tried to recreate it at home with little success; that snow and the rock-honey really made the dish.

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The other memorable dessert was introduced by the chef as the dessert that blew his mind, and it was indeed special. Eye-squintingly tart tamarind paste and spicy hot chili powder accompanied a spoonful of coconut sorbet cloaked in a layer of frozen pureed peanuts for a thai-inspired sweet. The creamy coconut, sour tamarind, spicy chili powder and nutty peanut combo sounded like something right out of the cookbook Hot Sour Salty Sweet, a beautifully-photographed exploration of Southeast Asian food.

While I won’t spoil it for you, the chefs even came back onstage after the final applause for a little encore:

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In all, it’s fair to say that Minibar was a surreal gastronomic experience — a window into a whole world of food-play with which I was (and still am) pretty unfamiliar. I’d highly recommend finding a very special occasion, and celebrating it at Minibar.

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