Monday, November 16, 2015

Marcel's by Robert Wiedmaier, Washington DC

Marcel’s by Robert Wiedmaier, Washington DC, 10/29/15, $155/7 courses (excluding taxes & gratuity)
Marcel’s is considered the best French restaurant in Washington DC area. I therefore, made a reservation. It is located in Georgetown section of DC. The menu listed 4-5 dishes available under each course, each guest can select from 3-7 courses by choosing one item out of each course, or choosing two dishes out of one particular course. I chose the 7-course tasting menu, one dish out of each course.

Marcel’s served its house-made potato rolls and 3 different types of butter – sweet cream, pistachio and fig. Potato rolls were freshly baked, however, I missed the old fashioned baguette. It started with an Amuse Bouche.  
Amuse Bouche - A veal croquette, fried golden brown, over lemon aioli and topped with chives. It tasted good, but certainly was not a palette opener.

1st Course – Premier – The Magic Box – Lobster, Pickled Ginger, Avocado, Hamachi, Grilled Octopus, Crème Fraiche with Trout Roe
It was served in a bowl with six equal cells, each filled with one of the dishes. Starting from the 1 o’clock position was lobster salad, clockwise for the rest. Lobster salad was fresh, Hamachi was fresh, although can supplement with a bit of more flavor, and trout roe was sweet. But, octopus was chewy like rubber. I signaled my server that it was not chewable and I was offered a substitute course. I chose soufflé instead.

2nd Course – Fruits de Mer – Pan Seared Scallop Wrapped in Duck Prosciutto, Napa Cabbage, Julienne Apple, Black Garlic

It was a fairly large sized sea scallop sitting on top of sautéed Napa cabbage. I couldn’t not believe that one of the servers called it California cabbage. I had to ask him what California cabbage is. Scallop was wrapped by duck prosciutto, nicely cured and flavored, and scallop was sweet and tender. It was an excellently prepared dish. Often times, seared scallop was served in citric-based sauce. Here at Marcel’s, it used black garlic sauce to complement the prosciutto’s cured taste. This was my 2nd favorite dish in this meal.

3rd Course – Crispy Filet Dover Sole, Butternut Squash Purée, Caramelized Pearl Onions, Sauce Meunière

I was informed by my server that this dish is one of Marcel’s signature dishes. It was fried, slightly breaded, filet of Dover sole. Fish was crispy outside, although a bit greasy. But, butternut squash purée and caramelized pearl onions were so delicious. Marcel’s has made slight variation serving this dish. Usually, Meunière sauce refers to fillets of sole that are floured and sautéed quickly, then finished with lemon juice, parsley and browned butter.

4th Course – Foie Gras – Foie Gras & Crimini Mushroom, Butternut Squash Purée, Seared Foie Gras, Mushroom Consommé Froth

Foie Gras was served in two different way in this course. On the left side, seared foie gras was topped by mushroom consommé foam. While on the right hand side, foie gras and mushroom were folded inside a pocket made of pasta dough. Pasta sat on top of butternut squash purée and topped with micro green and diced squash and mushroom.

5th Course – Volaille – Marcel’s Classic Boudin Blanc, Black Truffle Mushroom Purèe, Caramelized Onions, Lardons of Bacon

I have read quite a few good comments about this signature dish and was very eager to try it. According to the Head chef, it was white meat sausage made of chicken (40%), duck, pheasant, foie gras (30%) and cream. It required two rounds of grinding, followed by manual refining. Then, cream was gradually beaten into grinded meat. The smooth mixture was fed into the casing to create the desired shape and size. After sausage was cooked, the casing was then removed. It was extremely labor intensive. In this course, Boudin Blanc was served with black truffle mushroom purèe to further enhance the taste. All dynamisms devoted to make this white meat sausage was worthwhile. It was my favorite dish in this meal.
6th Course – Viandes – Martin’s Angus Filet Mignon, Cauliflower, Brown Butter, Horseradish, Potato Purée, Cippolini Onions, Cabernet Sauce

Marcel’s acquired its meat supply from Martin’s farm. Martin’s sure provided excellent quality meat. Its filet mignon was very tender and sumptuous, almost melt in your mouth. Cabernet sauce, along with brown butter and horseradish, was with the right consistency and taste.

Substitute – Gruyère Cheese Soufflé, Epoisses Crème Fraiche, Chive

This is my substitute course. When my server brought it to table, it looked slightly burned. A chunk of triple cream cheese was served on the side in case you prefer cheesier flavored soufflé. This soufflé was overcooked, I would much prefer the gruyère cheese soufflé served at Benoit in NYC. 

7th Course – Chocolate, Blackberry Tart, Raspberry Cheesecake, Coconut Macaroon, Chocolate Caramel Ice Cream

Marcel’s doesn’t have a course for palette cleanser. This is my desert course. I saw other flavored sorbet on the desert menu and requested cassis sorbet (on the right hand side of photo) as a substitute for chocolate caramel ice cream. It turned out “cassis sorbet” was smooth and with pungent flavor, and was the best item in the desert plate.

Petit FourFinally my meal was concluded with four bite-size treats: blackberry tart, raspberry cheesecake, coconut macaroon, chocolate caramel square
During the meal, the Head chef came to my table because of my issue of chewy grilled octopus. I asked him about “Russian Beluga” listed on the menu and the fact that Beluga has been banned from US more than 10 years ago. He informed me what listed on the menu is hybrid beluga – ½ Ossetra and ½ Beluga. This hybrid sturgeon doesn’t inhabit in Caspian Sea like the original Beluga sturgeon. Surprisingly, its new home resides in Northeastern Asia.

I enjoyed my meal at Marcel’s in some way. I did have some nicely prepared dishes. Although it is rated as the best French restaurant in Washington DC area, it is no better than some of the fine dining French restaurants in NYC.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Minibar by Jose Andrés, Washington DC

Minibar by Jose Andrés, Washington DC, 10/28/15, $250/25 dishes (excluding taxes & gratuity)

Ever since I saw the episode of Chef Jose Andrés in “60 minutes”, I have been longing for dining at Minibar. I was happy to get a reservation at the Minibar about three weeks in advance. On 10/28, I arrived ½ hour early just to make sure that I would not be penalized for being late. The door was opened 15 minutes before the appointment time at 6 pm. I was greeted to the waiting room which is decorated with contemporary furnishing themed in black and white color.

Soon, when five guests were there, we were led into the Minibar which has two bar counters and each counter can accommodate 5 or 6 guests. Our group who came in for the 6pm seating were all arranged by one counter.

I used dishes instead of courses to describe the content of this meal because some courses had multiple dishes and it was the number of dishes, not the number of courses, which were included in the final counting. Each guest in a group most likely had the same tasting menu providing he/she did not have any food allergy issues.

1st Course – 1st dish - Lemon Verbena Slushy

It was a palette opener adorned with a cucumber blossom. As I got seated by the counter, the 1st thing I noticed was the haze (smoke) coming out a large pot. It was the wonder of nitrogen to cool some ingredients. This dish was comprised of lemon juice, lemon verbena, crushed frozen cucumber, yuzu and sake. It was very refreshing.

1st Course – 2nd dish – Goldfish Cracker

It was gold fish biscuit with aged cheddar cheese filling inside.
1st Course – 3rd dish – Pineapple Shortbread

Fine pineapple bits were mixed with whipped butter and cream, accompanied by shortbread. 
1st Course – 4th dish – Chicken Shawarma

It was chicken fat cracker, it was crunchier and tastier than the ordinary crackers, with a layer of cheese, sun dried tomato and micro-green.
1st Course – 5th dish – Black Garlic Bark

It was roasted garlic tree bark. It was not burned, but your mouth can tell it was garlic.

Among these 5 dishes served in the 1st course, my favorite was lemon verbena slushy.

2nd Course – Watermelon Margarita

Water ice (in white tiny particles) on top of an icicle flavored with Margarita and Mezcal, adorned with mint leaves. Like its cousin tequila, Mezcal is distilled from fermented juice – piña – of agave. However, Mezcal makers roasted the piña in earthen mounds over pits of hot rocks and thus give Mezcal a distinctive smokiness flavor. Water ice was made by adding water into liquid nitrogen. It was like a magic when Head Chef Josh demonstrated it upon my request. Watermelon Margarita ice was so balanced and tasty. It was a very successful and creative dish, and was my 2nd favorite dish in this meal.

3rd Course – Frozen Almond Sandwich

It was whipped and foamy tomato juice (in white color) made as layers, and almond cream filling was sandwiched in between the tomato layers. Dried tomato powders were sprinkled on top for decoration. It certainly involved a lot of work.

4th Course - Burger

It was a burger bun with wagyu beef and sea urchin sandwiched in between buns. Sea urchin and wagyu were both half-raw. In addition, it has got soy sauce and vinegar flavored seaweeds on top of sea urchin and yeast-flavored meringue at the bottom (the semi-translucent layer at the bottom). This was the 1st time that I had beef and sea urchin in one dish. Although this was not my favorite dish, it had a well-balanced taste.

 5th Course – Gorgonzola
It looked like a piece of Gorgonzola cheese sponge cake. It was made by pumping extremely cold air into a vacuum sealed bag, the small chunk of cheese would expand hundreds of times to look like a piece of sponge cake. I had something similar at Noma 2 ½ years ago.

Finger cleaner – a plate with a white tab (not edible), lemon verbena leaf, lemon and cucumber blossom. When I opened the tab, it was a small towel to clean my fingers.

6th Course – Asparagus con Mayonesa

This dish had many ingredients, as I saw a few chefs arranged the various items into each plate. First, a round ring was placed on each plate. Then, one after another, each ingredient was gradually placed in the middle. This dish had cashew, bread crumb, miso cream, cashew cream, asparagus, and finger lime juice. Finally, some nasturtium leaves were randomly placed for decoration.  Finger lime is a new produce that I have never had before. It has got tiny half-transparent pearls inside and a sweeter taste than lemon. However, your mouth will feel the taste of sweetness and sourness.

7th Course – Fusilli al Pesto

House-cured mullet, roasted pine nuts, lemon peel, quail egg (half-cooked with soft yolk), Parmigiano cheese, some micro-green and a special type of pasta. This pasta shaped like thin swivel screws. To satisfy my curiosity, Chef Josh demonstrated how to make this pasta. First, chilled the mold in sub-zero temperature, then coated with a layer of non-flavored gelatin. Removed this gelatin from the mold and surgically used needle fill the gelatin pasta with substance (whichever color or ingredient). To enhance flavor, Head Chef Josh soaked these gelatin pasta in Parmigiano cheese broth for a while. I really liked Head Chef Josh’s attention on both enhancement of the taste and transformation of forms for visual pleasure in food preparation.
8th Course – Potato Gnocchi with Ibérico Broth

There were three types of gnocchi, each made from different types of potato. Inside of each piece of gnocchi, it was filled with light potato purée. Gnocchi was served in condensed Ibérico ham soup to enhance the flavor. In addition, we got a treat; Head Chef Josh came around to shave some white truffles into each guest’s plate. I missed the white truffles when I visited Italy in late September because this year’s harvest was later than usual due to the dry climate in summer. I thought I might not have the opportunity to have it this year. I was delighted to have this pasta dish with white truffles. Gnocchi was so light in texture and so sumptuous when served with white truffles. This was my favorite dish in this meal.

9th Course – Charred Monkfish and Lemon Yolks

Charred monk fish was served with man-made yolk from real egg yolk and lemon. These man-made yolks tasted like half-cooked egg yolk. They looked really cute. In addition, sautéed onion and black onion powder were also on the side to accomplish the taste.

10th Course – Like Water for Chocolate

It was quail breast (resembles white chocolate) served with blackberry sauce and blackberry in rose water. Quail breast was very tender.

11th Course – Thai Rabbit

Braised rabbit was served with roasted Asian pear. It was braised and prepared with Thai style sauce, with peanut foam on the side. One guest felt guilty to eat rabbit.

12th Course – Pumpkin Seed Tart

Pumpkin seed oil was mixed with Mandarin purée place in a bowl. Here we go again with the Molecular Gastronomy. A mold with star-shaped tip was placed into a nitrogen filled bowl. Immediately this tip was dipped into the mixture of pumpkin seed and Mandarin purée. Almost instantaneously, a crust was formed and was able to be separated from the mold. Chef Josh would then place this piece on each guest’s tongue. I guessed this course was considered a palette cleanser.

13th Course – Parmesan Shaved Ice

Parmigiano cheese was cooked in water. Thru the cooking process, it would separate into three layers of products – fat, water and protein. This dish utilized only the frozen Parmigiano water and shaved the ice into flakes. The Parmigiano flakes were served with roasted bell tomatoes (red and yellow), micro-green and a few drops of 20-year aged Balsamic vinegar (a gift from Chef Massimo Bottura of Osteria Francescana.) It was a very pleasant palette cleanser for getting ready for the desert. It was my 3rd favorite dish in this meal.

14th Course – This is not Carrot Cake

It was a health-conscious desert without too much calories. Two mini-tower shaped carrot sorbet sitting on yogurt and topped with ginger bread crumbs. Micro green was placed on top of carrot sorbet for the appearance of a carrot.

15th Course – Piña Colada Tablet

Piña Colada custard filling was wrapped inside marshmallow. We were invited to spend the rest of the meal at Barmini which is adjacent to Minibar. Each of us was offered a piece of tablet on our way to Barmini.

Both Minibar and Barmini belonged to Chef Jose Andrés’s Think Food Group. Minibar is more high-end fine dining and Barmini is like a snack bar for casual dining. Barmini usually doesn’t require reservation and often is packed. On 10/28, an evening under the influence of hurricane Patricia, Barmini was less crowded than usual. Thus, our group was given the opportunity to hang out there.                                                       

16th Course – Caterpillar

This course was made of passion fruit flavored marshmallow shaped like a caterpillar, with cayenne pepper and chili flakes on the side.

17th Course – Éclair

A small éclair with custard filling and chocolate glazing.

18th Course – Doughnuts

Krispy Cream donuts were crumbled and turned into ice cream shaped like a donut.

19th Course – White Chocolate Asparagus

Roasted green asparagus (edible) was coated with white chocolate accompanied by a cute ceramic puppy in the plate (not edible).
20th Course – Liquid Bourbon Peanut

It shaped like a peanut in brown color. It was full of surprise inside – bourbon. We were warned in advance to take it in only one bite.

21st Course – Cherry Bomb

It was the sister of liquid bourbon peanut, a cherry shaped candy filled with cherry liquor.

We were treated with extra amenity since we were the 1st group Minibar served that evening. We were offered a plate of grilled sandwiches. These bit-size sandwiches were special because they were served with white truffles (it is the season) sauce. Surely yummy.

I enjoyed my experience at Minibar. Food was scrumptious and elaborately prepared. Head Chef Josh was very creative, friendly, and attentive to guest’s inquiries. He not only dedicated his talent in enhancing the visual presentation by using cutting-edge equipment, he also made sure that the taste was improved and balanced in the re-invention process.