This is the story of one of the most exciting nights of my life. On 7-14-2017 I was supposed to board a flight to Lisbon for a week in Portugal for work. Unfortunately my flight was canceled and I was devastated because I would be missing my birthday dinner at 100 Maneiras in Lisbon. That’s when fate (and a lot of instant messaging) intervened.
As I waited at the ticket counter I had an idea. What if I did something even more exciting in D.C. to help me get over my disappointment at my canceled plans? Obviously minibar was the first restaurant to come to mind, however, minibar isn’t exactly a last minute destination. People normally get tickets a month in advance and even then the hot times (read: a Friday night at 8pm) usually sell out. But I figured it was worth a shot.
So next I started an all out campaign to get a hold of minibar. I called but there was no answer. I posted on Instagram and tagged all the people who worked there. I emailed someone at Think Food Group. Finally, I found the blog of the General Manager Jhonatan and it had his cellphone number. BINGO! I texted him and guess who called me back shortly thereafter?!
Jhonatan informed me that they had a table!! The original guests were sidetracked by the same storm that grounded my plane. The icing on the cake: the table was the private dining room! It’s normally reserved for 2-6 people but they would let it be just me.
I WAS SO EXCITED!! Mind you this all took place at the ticket counter at Dulles as I waited for over an hour to be re-booked on a flight the next day. As soon as that was taken care of I ran into the airport bathroom to change into my original birthday dinner clothes. I then dashed over to the restaurant from the airport. When I got there Jhonatan was waiting outside for me!
Amazing picture courtesy of Jhonatan! Thank you! Next he escorted me in past the folks waiting in the foyer right into the private dining room.
Here I am at the private dining room (PDR). There was a little library of cookbooks so I perused a bit.
But the most exciting book of all was the Michelin Guide waiting for me at my seat that everyone had signed! I almost cried! As though I weren’t already on cloud nine!!
This was the view from my seat. That’s basically the entire restaurant and the guests sit at the chef’s table you see here. There are four seatings of six people per night for a total of 24 guests plus one seating of the PDR. I was able to watch everything through the big archway entrance to the PDR.
Wax and Honey (Bar Hill vodka, caramelized honey, cup made from wax of the hive). Josh Hermias, the Head Chef, kicked off the meal by mixing up this beautiful cocktail. Part of the process involved heating the wax cup, which really released the flavors. The drink was floral, citrusy, and of course tasted like honey.
Next came the snacks!
Butterfly. This little beet crisp had cheese piped underneath with mandarin dots on the body. It was sweet, savory, and crunchy.
Pizza Margherita. This was like a parmesan crisp with a line of that same cheese from the butterfly, all sprinkled with tomato dust.
Hibiscus Crackling. This was a hibiscus leaf inside a disc of hibiscus tea and drizzled with mezcal. It was sweet, fruity, and a little smoky from the mezcal.
Not shown: Harry’s Berries al-Andalus. I can’t believe I forgot to take a picture of this! It was a strawberry that had been carbonated and injected with Aperol and allspice. The flavor was explosive, fizzy, and syrup-like.
Cogan’s Magnolia Dew Drop. Josh began by bringing over an iPad to show me pictures of the tree where the blossoms were harvested, which belongs to a friend of the restaurant. The liquid in the dew drop was made from cold infusing those Magnolia flowers in simple syrup and then spherifying the resulting juice. Not surprisingly the flavor was sweet and herbal.
Hokkaido Uni in an Iberico Droplet. The uni was in a mixture of soy sauce caramel and wasabi, which was rich and beautiful. This was to die for.
Chicken and Corn. This was described as “Flavors of American Summer” and that was spot on. The drink was a jorchata made with corn, while the chip on the side was actually fried chicken skin topped with BBQ sauce, creamed corn, and corn chip dust. This was pretty delicious! Notice the cup is ceramic but made to look like a tin can? They’re so cute those minibar folks.
Parmesan Spoons. Those spoons are literally made out of Parmesan cheese and one is topped with caviar and balsamic. In the bowl is basil air atop a Parmesan espuma. This dish was fluffy, crunchy, and fun–as well as tasty.
Gin and tonic scented hand towel. I love me a hot towel/finger bowl/any other clean up element at the table and this was no exception. It starts in a teeny tiny compressed ball and they pour hot water on it to make it expand.
Pumpkin Tart. This was fun since they use liquid nitrogen at the table to make it. First they freeze the Michelin star metal form in the liquid nitrogen. Next they dip it in roasted pumpkin seed oil which freezes to form the tart shell. They then squeeze in the yellow kumquat puree and top with a few sea salt crystals. But wait! Then they feed it to you! This was a hoot but also tasted really good: the kumquat was super vibrant and the salt balanced it nicely; I couldn’t really taste the pumpkin.
Caviar and Butter. This was really just caviar and butter, and it was as salty, fatty, and delicious as that sounds. The caviar is also topped with elder flower and sea salt.
Waldorf Salad. This was the “salad” course. The white part outside is a granny smith apple meringue “baguette” that was so good–it was tart at first but mellowed into a sweeter flavor. Inside was a Waldorf salad of walnuts, mayo, celery, and apple, which had sort of a salty mayo flavor overall but with a great crunch from the walnuts and celery. There was also a celery and lettuce granitee inside which added a fun frozen element to both the flavor and texture.
Scottish Langoustine. The tail and knuckles were perfection with hints of olive oil and sea salt. The body of this little guy was filled with a seaweed derivative and topped with parsley air, that latter having a flavor not unlike the garlic herb butter in which you traditionally serve escargot.
Alaskan Dungeness Crab, Broccoli, and Cheddar. The crab was poached in butter and absolutely delicious. The broccoli and cheddar were gnocchi made using a double spherification process where they broccoli and the cheddar portions are piped separately. They’re topped with tiny broccoli florets and were so yummy.
Skate and Lemon Yolks. This was really, really good. The lemon yolks were spherified lemon with a great citrus, fat, and almost sweet flavor. The skate wing was fabulous and I swear something about it tasted like pepperoni. There was a brown butter sauce, seared pearl onions sitting on black garlic, citrus begonia flowers, and onion ash (a play on “blackened” fish and possibly where the pepperoni hint came from). My notes literally say “that’s some good fish!”
Caviar, Caviar, Caviar. Left to right is snail caviar, English peas with arugula blossoms, and tapioca pearls with Thyme air. The snail caviar had a tougher texture that were somewhat hard to pop but tasted salty and good. The tapioca was squishy and fun with the herbal flavor of the air. The peas were a nice al dente and the blossoms tasted like snap peas. It was fun to mix everything up and experience the spectrum of textures. I will say it was a pretty big dish and I couldn’t finish it.
Kumquat Ceviche. This was a palate cleanser but man I could’ve eaten about 10 since it was a kumquat leche de tigre popsicle! Hello my favorite flavors ever! There was also ground corn nuts and puffed quinoa which gave it a nice crunch.
Squab Salmis. Stop–truffle time! This dish consisted of squab and foie gras, topped with hearts of palm and shaved truffles. This was served with a marchand de vin and a squab sauce made from the bones. This was delicious! A bite with all the various flavors and textures was really complex and wonderful. The hearts of palm gave it a nice crunch while the sauces were both rich like a demi-glace but also had a fruity tang that cut through the fat.
Mojito Supreme. This was a fizzy mojito jello shot! Turns out if you make jello with sparkling water it really does taste fizzy (although this was a little more souped up than that). This tasted so good!!
Gorgonzola Dolce. This was basically frozen blue cheese foam and absolutely to die for. They aerate the cheese and freeze it in the aerated state. Talk about literally melting in your mouth!
Fried Donut. This was Krispy Kreme flavored ice cream deep fried in a beignet and as amazing as it sounds.
Little Piggy. This was bacon ice cream in milk chocolate. At first it was super bacon-y but that dissipated a bit to a creamy finish.
Dragon’s Breath. This was passion fruit meringue that’s frozen in liquid nitrogen. You and the chef eat it as the same time, crunching it in your teeth and breathing smoke (dragon’s breath) out of your nose. I swear I burned the inside of my mouth a little on this but it was worth it because it was so fun and interactive. We even made a video!
From top left, clockwise:
Key Lime Pie Bon Bon – Imagine a honey gram shell with liquid key lime pie inside and you have this little piece of heaven.
Hoshi-Kiwi – This was white chocolate covered dried kiwi.
White Chocolate Shiso Leaf – This had sort of a lime, salt, white chocolate, and herbal flavor.
Coriander Abanico – This had caramel toffee and sea salt.
Chalk. This is actually meringue “chalk” in a variety of flavors: raspberry, beet, pineapple, and coconut. It didn’t write that well but man did it taste good!
At this point the main portion of my meal was over so they walked me through the dining room to barmini, the attached but separate bar that’s an experience unto its own.
Divine Wind. The bartender was making this for the gentleman next to me and wanted us all to try it. It’s actually a spin on a kamikaze. The clear liquid in the glass is clarified lime juice into which you pour a sochu and chrysanthemum flower infusion. Then you atomize it with a spritz of citrus peel and Bolivian brandy which they call their “Chanel No. 5.” Overall it was absolutely delicious with almost a peach flavor to it.
Chief Lapu Lapu (Jamaican and white rum, orange, lemon, passion fruit, vanilla, nutmeg). I was excited to hop on the tiki bandwagon and this drink did not disappoint!! It was strong with flavors of citrus and pineapple. The woman next to me actually bought this for me for my birthday–thank you!!
Birthday cotton candy!! What they don’t know is we used to celebrate all birthdays at The Four Seasons when I lived in NY. Cotton candy birthday time is super special to my family!!
Golden Egg – this was actually the last item on the tasting menu from earlier. It’s a chocolate egg wrapped in gold foil. Inside is your check and a mini Lego chef! I’ve been coveting one of these for a while!! And since I have two kids they gave me two! Could these little guys be any cuter? They were a HUGE hit with the kids!!
Left to right: Eric Jeffay, Assistant GM and the person who took care of me throughout the night.
Josh Hermias – Head Chef and the nicest guy. He spent lots of time chatting with me.
Jhonatan Cano – GM and the person who made this all happen!!! Thank you!!
What an absolutely amazing night!! I knew minibar would be awesome whenever I finally went there. However, the whirlwind nature with which this night came together really just added to the allure of this place! And of course everyone made me feel so, so special. The service here I’m sure is always amazing but from the Michelin Guide to wishes of “Happy Birthday” this was a night to remember.
And finally a very special thanks to my mom! This was her birthday gift to me and it was out of this world!!! Love you Baka!