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Unfortunate Minibar Experience

Well, last night we went to minibar for the first time. The food was ok in some parts, good in a few parts and meh in a couple of other parts. The service is lacking to say the least, the wine pairings didn't match the meal particularly well, and what's with them not using clean silverware between courses? A chef wouldn't taste an appetizer with the same spoon he would use to taste a soup, so why does he ask the paying customer to do the same?

I sent a fairly cordial e-mail to Chef Andres only to get a pretty rude response back.

I fail to see why this place gets such high ratings.

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  1. Oh well, I guess it's not for everyone. If you had searched Chowhound, at least you might have found the following report warning you about the wine pairing:

    http://www.chowhound.com/topics/show/...

    1. The thing is, I love the concept- I ate at Moto last week in Chicago and adored it. The service just stunk and many of the foods were just uncreative at best. It wasn't a terrible experience, but surely not an experience worth 300+ dollars for 2.

      4 Replies
      1. re: jpschust

        We always get clean silverware with each course of the tasting menu at Restaurant Eve. And the wine pairings are never less than excellent. I'm a little less inclined to try Minibar at this point.

        1. re: monkeyrotica

          I only have 4 restaurants that I would consider in the top tier of DC dining and Restaurant Eve is one of them. I'm trying to get a reservation in the bistro room right now for my date and myself. I've heard nothing but the best of Restaurant Eve and I look forward to dining there.

          1. re: monkeyrotica

            The experience at Restaurant Eve is completely different from Minibar. Minibar is absolutely unique in DC dining - might not be to one's taste or fancy.......but IMO you just can't compare it to any other meal in and around town...including al tasting menus. I love love love Minibar, but can also see how it just won't work well for everyone.

            1. re: Geoff

              Like I said, my problem is not so much with the food- it has good and bad parts to be expected with a 30 course meal, but one can compare service.

              Here are a few things I outlined in my letter to Chef Andres:

              1. No one asked for our coats when we came in the door. It wasn't until we were upstairs that it was even considered- we had 2 large attache bags from work.

              2. We were shuffled off to the bar with piss poor service from the bartender.

              3. The used utensils weren't changed out between courses. I still feel this is a neccesity.

              4. The staff was less than happy to talk about the meal with us even though they said they encouraged questions.

              5. The wine pairings as mentioned before didn't match the meal.

              These are all things that are 100% comprable to Restaurant Eve or any other restaurant.

              What's more unfortunate is that I got a rude letter back from Chef Andres.

              If you love Minibar I can think of 2-3 other places around the country I think you'd enjoy more.

        2. A couple of points in response. First, you can't compare Minibar to the tasting menus at anyplace else in DC. It's 32 courses, that come in a pretty constant stream. Trying to replace silverware 31 times would make the whole experience insufferable. And the food is simply amazing. It's truly unique and interesting for this city.

          And I'm not dissing Restaurant Eve, which I love, or anywhere else. It's just that Minibar is totally different and requires a different service model.

          1. The thing is that the food wasn't simply amazing. There were parts that were and there were parts that werent.

            And yes, you can replace silverware quickly and not make it noticable- you always have 2 pieces at your fingertips. It should have been replaced after every few courses since some are finger courses.

            It requires a different service model, but it still requires attentive service which wasn't delivered.

            The food is unique for this city, but it's not like the food isn't being done elsewhere and has no comparison. Is it a branch out for DC, yes, but is it spectacular, based on my experience last night- no.

            1. You know what, I've thought about this for a few days now, and I think I'm even more mad than when I received the letter from Chef Andres initially. To be rude to someone who just dropped over 300 on a meal at your place where the meal wasn't particularly good and the service was fair to poor is in terrible taste. There's a right way and a wrong way to deal with customers who are unhappy. Chef Andres apparently needs to learn what the right way is.

              1. Thanks for the response AlliantK. You know the thing is I think it still exists, you just have to seek it out. I've eaten at Dino up in Cleveland Park a LOT. One of the first times I was there my food wasn't good at all nor was my service. I sent a reasonable letter to the owner (Dean) and he responded about as nicely and genuinely as possible and offered to have me back at his cost. He also outlined what would be done to make sure all my concerns were met. From that point on I've become a regular to Dino. It's all about taking care of the little things initially and if things aren't taking care of initially it's about approaching things the right way afterwards.

                1. The food at the Minibar is amazing and a totally different experience than any other DC restuarant; it is similar to Moto or El Bulli. I agree that the wine tastings or wine flight at the Minibar is a waste. Just order by the glass. The food is innovative but not to everyone's taste; it is unfortuante that you didn't enjoy it all. I do not think that changing silverware 32 times is necessary or approriate. This is a very different experience from an ordinary tasting menu with 10 or less courses. Plus half the Minibar courses are finger food or served in a shot glass, spoon, etc anyway.

                  I don't recall where the coatcheck is at Cafe Atlantico but I have never had a problem. It is inexcusable that Chef Andres did not reply in a courteous and friendly manner. Of course I have seen neither your email nor his but you are the customer have the right to be treated with respect and courtesy.

                  That said, I still look forward to returning to the Minibar. The menu doesn't change rapidly so an annual trip is sufficient. I also heartily recommend the weekend brunch with small plates of latino fare; it is very good. The ordinary dinner menu is ho-hum.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: Dakota Guy

                    I don't know that I'd go so far as to say the food is amazing, but in parts it is very good. I understand it not being to everyone's taste, but it is quite a bit in my style of liking.

                    Well as you said, with the finger foods and shot glasses and whatnot it isn't necessary to change 32 times- it would probably have been closer to 10-15 times. And I think it would have been completely appropriate. It's one thing to use the same fork on a dish that is meant to blend together, its another thing to do on dishes meant to be separate. That's why we have salad forks and dinner forks and dessert forks.

                    I ran my letter by 3 different people in the industry (2 critics and 1 chef) before I sent it and all thought it was pretty appropriate-- so I wasn't going way out on a limb.

                    All he really had to say was "Thanks, we'll take it into consideration" if he didn't want to say anything constructive. I know I'm in the vocal minority but I'd strongly think twice before going to Minibar.

                  2. I had a similar experience at minibar. Subpar service for the high prices.
                    As for the food, well, I just don't get it. Some of the dishes, like the deconstructed white wine, were pretty interesting. I’d try them again. Others, like the cracklings were good by any standard. But too many of them seemed more like chemistry experiments than food. "Cantaloupe Ravioli"? What the hell? It’s neat to watch being made but it tastes awful. I was brave enough to try grasshopper when Andres put it on his menu at Oyamel. This isn’t a matter of not liking culinary adventure. It’s a matter of recognizing the truth. Minibar and its ilk are bad. Bad. Bad. Bad. Frankly, most of the food is awful.
                    It strikes me that this nouveau gastronomy—a term I’ve seen used to refer to El Bulli and the Fat Duck—is the culinary equivalent of atonal modern symphonic music, 90 percent of the poetry that comes out of academe, and a great deal of “serious” theater that gets produced today. It’s created for a small, elite critical audience that may not even really like the product but just enjoys the exclusivity of it all.
                    Tom Sietsema alone has given more ink to Minibar, I would wager, than just about any other place in town. I’ve seen it mentioned in in-flight magazines and guidebooks from all over the place. It’s famous. For all this, it can only accommodate a few couples at a time, does one seating a night, and, last I checked, is open less than half the nights of the year. It’s not even full when it’s open. I’d imagine that it has fewer than 1,000 customers a year. If it were really meeting any market need, it would have grown. It hasn’t. Reservations aren’t even hard to get. It's designed only to make Andres famous with critics. . .the fact it serves food is secondary.
                    I just thank god that the restaurant business is mostly a matter of market forces rather than critical opinion.
                    Minibar is awful and I seriously hope it closes.

                    3 Replies
                    1. re: dr3rdeye

                      We're all entitled to our likes and dislikes, and obviously you dislike. That's all well and good....but, if this chat community is going to be legitimate and useful to all who choose to participate (whether posting or lurking), we should at least strive to know what we're talking about. I'm wondering if you've been there more than the one time you hated; I've found it interesting and have enjoyed most of the offerings. I've been there a couple of times a year since it opened, and it has been full each time I've been there. And it was definitely difficult, for what it's worth, to get a reservation. And it's closed in August, but open the rest of the year.

                      1. re: dr3rdeye

                        I think you hit a number of important points- I think my main point about subpar service you've echoed here. No need to expand.

                        The point you make that is worth discussing is the point about molecular gastronomy (which this is just a subset of, not the entire realm). I think the general realm of it is really interesting and there are places that are doing this well (see Moto for example). I just think in this instance it's poorly executed. In some dishes the focus is on the flavor, in some dishes the focus is the creativity, but it seems somewhat rare that the focus is on combining the two. I'd much rather see 10 well thought out, very creative larger dishes than 33 dishes where 20 of them are just ok.

                        As per the size of it, apparently the entire 2nd floor of Atlantico is going to change over to be minibar style. I think it's a pretty risky move that won't pay off in the long run, but hey it ain't my business decision.

                        That said- I don't want to see it close- it's nice to see someone trying something different in DC, but that said there is no excuse for poor service at this high of a cost, and there is no excuse to EVER be rude to your customer when he ist rying to be helpful and relay a bad experience.

                        1. re: jpschust

                          Molecular gastronomy reminds me of that Onion headline:

                          "Concept Rock Band Theoretically Good"

                          I understand WHY I'm supposed to enjoy a deconstructed dish, but that doesn't mean I HAVE to like it.

                      2. Well, nobody said you had to like the place, but hoping that it closes is taking your personal taste to an extreme level.

                        I was surprised at Minibar that I thoroughly enjoyed 29 of the 31 dishes I had. When I focused on the delicious flavors, it didn't seem experimental at all to me; it just made sense.