If you're looking for a dining experience unlike any other, you must try MiniBar. MiniBar is a six seat restaurant located on the second level of Cafe Atlantico at 8th and D streets NW. There are only 2 seatings each night (12 diners total) so you usually have to book reservations a month in advance.
The Warm Up
The experience starts at the downstairs bar where your server will help you choose a wine pairing. I opted for the sparkling wine/champagne pairing which included some very interesting drinks including a sparkling red wine. Be careful with this pairing as all of the bubbles can go to your head quickly. Pace yourself!
The MiniBar Experience
As soon as all 6 diners have arrived, the server takes you upstairs to a sushi bar-like counter where two chefs are waiting to greet you. The chefs introduce themselves and encourage diners to ask questions and make it an interactive experience. Because of the uniqueness of the food, the chefs will tell you how to eat each course (i.e., "eat this in one bite"). As soon as you are seated, the show begins. The chefs set to work prepping over 25 small dishes that are unlike anything you've ever eaten or seen before. From the Dragon's Breath Popcorn (with liquid nitrogen smoke that pours from your nose as you eat it) to the eel with cotton candy, each dish is a contrast in temperatures, textures, and flavors.
B and I tried everything they put in front of us. We loved some of it (the "philly cheesesteak," thai dessert, and pisco sour) and kept an open mind about some other courses (the aforementioned cotton candy eel and foie gras "cappucino"). It was definitely an experience unlike any other. After a parade of desserts, the server brings over an egg and smashes it on the counter in front of you revealing the check!
The Post Game Report
MiniBar is for those looking for a completely unique experience (and looking to part with a lot of cash). Overall, the service and food were outstanding. We both left stuffed (and pretty tipsy after the wine pairing). My only complaint has nothing to do with the chefs or the servers. I gave B a gift certificate to MiniBar for his birthday and when I purchased it I asked the manager how much I'd need to give to cover 2 meals, 2 wine pairings, tax and tip. He recommended $400. When the bill came, I realized it was about $400 excluding tip. So, minus a few points for underestimating the cost and leaving a tipsy J to calculate the tip.
You can check out the current MiniBar menu and some pics of the food by clicking here.
Second Thoughts from B
Minibar is easily the most expensive meal I've ever had, but it was more than a meal... it was an experience. The evening could have been just as appropriately titled, "Food as Art." I felt each of the 25+ dishes were artistic creations to see, touch, and taste, and all made better by being able to interact with the "artists" while they did their magic. While many dishes you'll try at other restaurants are created around flavor, many of those at Minibar seemed to put advanced cooking techniques at its core. It is no surprise that chefs from around the world come to study at Minibar for months at a time. Finally, it should also be noted that the premium wine flight matched the quality of the food and is not to be missed.
Clearly, Minibar isn't for everyone and there is no amount of description or praise that will change that. But for those people who love interesting food, this is worth saving your pennies for.