(For those who haven't been following, a bunch of friends and I went out to dinner last week at Minibar and had a $$delightful$$ meal; I'm documenting our adventure, course by course, on NDP. You can see part one here.)
Our story resumes with one of the evening's most whimsical dishes: "dragon's breath" popcorn. We were each handed a ball of popcorn (kettle corn, actually -- sweet and salty and delicious all over) submerged in liquid nitrogen. We were instructed to exhale when we ate it, so that upon chewing and breathing, we actually exhaled, um, smoke. What DB popcorn lacked in actual culinary innovation, it made up for in giggle factor. D literally couldn't keep a straight face as I tried to photograph, so I ended up with a bunch of blurry pictures in which the smoke is visible only because I know it's there.
All silliness aside, the next course was one of my favorites of the evening. Simply titled "blue cheese and almond," what actually arrived at our places was a semi-spherical golf-ball-sized bowl made entirely of pureed, frozen, and molded marcona almonds, filled with blue cheese and topped with maybe some honey? and some
bread crumbs shaved toasted almonds (thanks, E), I think?..argggh I'm totally empathizing with food critics right now; I claim to have loved a dish but the ingredients are somewhat a blur? Sounds fishy, I know. But get this: the dish was freezing. Literally, it was so cold that it almost stung the teeth. Which was unexpected, and wonderful. See, blue cheese is very sharp, and very rich; it needs something to cut the richness, to mitigate the intensity. Usually, that something is either acidic or sweet. But in Minibar's take on blue cheese, the temperature was the mitigating element, and it worked perfectly. The almond dish -- made of pure marcona almonds, blended, then frozen to hold their shape -- was also served frozen, and its texture was delightful, both smooth from the natural fat and coarse from the bits of almonds. To my palate, the dish was a smashing success.
This dish really revolutionized the way I tend to think about how flavors and textures work together. Instead of simply assuming that certain foods, dishes, and courses should automatically be served hot or cold, try switching up the temperature of a dish in unconventional ways. For example, I've typically served pea soup hot; with summer steadily approaching, I'm going to omit the chicken broth, opt for a mirepoix base instead (carrots, onions, and celery), add some nutmeg, and try serving it cold. How will you manipulate temperature creatively? Leave a comment and let me know...
I'll end this post with a nod to Minibar's flexibility. When our group reserved seats (exactly 30 days in advance, at exactly
10 9 am, per Minibar's rules), the restaurant contacted us for a detailed description of our eating restrictions. This flexibility may have bit them in the butt, as half of our group kept kosher, another segment ate no pork and selected seafood, and one lonely diner was game for anything. But Minibar kindly obliged by sometimes serving the different groups entirely different foods for a particular course. This next dish was one such example.
The kosh folks ate a man-made olive, created using the same sodium alginate as was used to make the contained mojito. The olive was served with a small sliver of orange, and tasted distinctly of green olive (which I love). It was actually reminiscent of a virgin dirty martini (which sounds like a total oxymoron), tasting strongly of fresh olive juice. Meanwhile, the other folks ate a conch fritter with a liquid conch chowder center, which was a very innovative take on a typical fritter.
My mind's a-brewin' with ways to employ this technique. For example, when making risotto fritters (aka supplí or arancini), stuff them with a bit of mozzarella cheese and some marinara sauce (as they do at one of my fave pizza joints, Two Amys) which will ooze and drip deliciously when you bite into them.
'Til next time, keep that drool in your mouth :)