100 Best Restaurants 2009: Minibar

No. 3: Minibar

Cuisine: Some of the nation’s most visionary and rewarding cooking can be found at culinary whiz José Andrés’s restaurant/laboratory, where three chefs concoct 30 or so lilliputian courses—from the amusingly ridiculous (a compressed square of popcorn deep-frozen in liquid nitrogen that lets you blow “smoke” out your nose dragon style) to the sublime (custard-filled brioche bun with caviar).

Mood: Dining at the six-seat restaurant on the second floor of Café Atlántico is akin to eating at a sushi bar—diners sit on stools and watch as food is prepared. But here the morsels are presented with military precision, complete with instructions: “Eat this in one bite.”

Best for: Culinary adventurers; food snobs; anyone willing to see dinner as the entertainment and not the fuel-up before the show.

Best dishes: The menu evolves constantly, but recent tastes included olive-oil bonbons that burst open on the tongue; “tumbleweed of beet”; cotton-candy-swathed eel; faux sun-dried tomatoes made with tomato juice; salmon-pineapple “ravioli” with crispy quinoa; roasted Asian baby corn with sweet-corn purée; Thai frozen yogurt with honey and crushed peanuts.

Insider tips: The reservations process seems designed to weed out all but the most persistent. You have to call at exactly 10 am one month in advance and be prepared to hit the redial button. Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays are nominally easier gets than weekends, and there’s always the waiting list.

Service: *** (three stars).

Open Tuesday through Saturday for dinner.

See all of 2009's 100 Best Restaurants

Ann Limpert
Executive Food Editor/Critic

Ann Limpert joined Washingtonian in late 2003. She was previously an editorial assistant at Entertainment Weekly and a cook in New York restaurant kitchens, and she is a graduate of the Institute of Culinary Education. She lives in Petworth.