a Cheap Holiday

Cheap Holiday

Welcome to a cheap holiday in my life. At least you get to go home at the end of the day!

Tuesday, September 30, 2003

Spent this past weekend in DC, amusing and comforting poor Princess. Her husband is off on a 6-week business trip in Europe and she's sick of having to cope with everything alone. I know this makes Princess sound like she's incapable, but she's not. She's lived on her own before, she knows how to get things done. But I'm sure she feels she didn't get married just to have hubby run off, even if it is for business. And her having to deal with roof damage as a result of Hurricane Isabel--and the subsequent dousing of her collection of Prada shoes and Yohji Yamamoto business wear--has done little to lighten her spirits. So I made the drive down to cheer her up.

Before I embarked, I warned her that I could not spend a lot of money or eat a lot of food, as I'm off to London this week for the Rubber Ball. Why do I even attempt to set these parameters? They were quickly disregarded, like a dust mote on the spring breeze. For lunch on Saturday, she carts me off to Mixtec in Adams Morgan, for what she considers to be the best home-cooked Mexican food in DC. And I must agree, it's fine stuff. Even in the midst of stuffing ourselves on beef soft tacos, she exclaims there is a posh tasting dinner created by chef Jose Andres at the Cafe Atlantico Minibar that we simply must go to and immediately begins dialing the number on her cell phone. As befits Fate, we secure the last two seats for the 6pm seating. Ironically, even as we are driving to the restaurant almost 3 hours later, Princess is still complaining that she is full from our late lunch. "You better cowboy up!" I howl mercilessly. "At the prices we're going to be paying for this thing, you better get your chow on again!"

We park ourselves briefly at the downstairs bar until the maitre d' ushers all attendees to the Minibar upstairs. The Minibar is exactly as the name implies: a small bar with six stools, strongly resembling your standard sushi bar. Behind the bar stood two young, and quite cute, sous chefs. Princess and I manage to sit ourselves down in front of the cutest and chattiest one. Beginning with a tiny saucer of chicken curry flavored popcorn (freshly popped as the chef peered over his shoulder to chat with us), the meal then proceeded through 33 "bites" of food. Basically, a high-falutin tapas event. Given that chef Jose Andres opened the highly successful tapas bar, Jaleo, in DC, this is not unexpected.

What is unexpected is how well many of the more bizarre-sounding "bites" actually tasted. A dark chocolate truffle with a center of foie gras and tamarind? Tasty. Bites of watermelon with olive oil and balsamic vinegar topped with such items as trout roe or parmesan. Divine. A skewer of foie gras wrapped with freshly made vanilla cotton candy? Utterly bizarre and pretty darn good. Each bite is prepared by hand before you, as if custom-ordered. Then, the sous chefs present each selection to the guest simultaneously, as if setting a stage. Given this intimate setting, it was not unusual for guests to chew a bite, contemplate its uniqueness, then quiz one of the sous chef or the other executive chef, Katsuya Fukushima, about the inspiration for the bite or about its preparation. This occasionally leads to some bantering about, all of which is nearly immediately extinguished when Jose Andres himself walks onto the scene. Suddenly, the very chatty sous chefs appear studious, acutely aware that their Master is peering over their shoulder. Not that everyone suddenly become dour, just...more...sedate.

One may not imagine that 33 little "bites" could fill one up, even in the absence of a huge Mexican lunch. Even though the variety of the bites does much to whet the appetite, the leisurely pace of service does much to encourage satiety. It had been awhile since I actually spent two whole hours eating a dinner and it was certainly the most foie gras and caviar that I've had in a good ten years. For a very special evening where dinner is the show, I highly recommend the Minibar's tasting dinner.


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