We’ve been trying to get a table at minibar by Jose Andres, not really hard, just jumping on the website when we thought about it and then having our hopes dashed three months at a time. I think my husband must have stumbled upon a cancellation because he snagged a table just a few weeks out from our reservation. We chose the bespoke wine pairings with dinner, making the wise decision to spend the night in DC.
We walked to dinner and right past the restaurant. Its signage is as (mini)mal as the logo, but luckily I noticed the detached car door with the sign for valet on the sidewalk as we turned in confusion as Siri announced we had arrived. We found the door and the personalized and attentive service began. Our coats were whisked away, and we were seated by the fireplace with a nice pour of 2006 Dom Perignon and olives—delicious, but the meaty texture of an olive was transformed into thin-walled, gelatinous glob. Two thumbs up for the taste, but that texture is the stuff my nightmares are made of. Oliver, the head sommelier, asked us some questions about what our wine preferences were and we were seated at the table.
I say “the table” because it was the only table in the restaurant. The other patrons sit at a U-shaped bar and the first seating had already begun its tasting menu. A later, second seating was served and we finished at about the same time.
The presentation and food craftsmanship was unparalleled. A specialty cocktail–matcha and gin mare –was served for the first two bites and I still haven’t met a gin drink I didn’t like.
The first tableside pour was a 2007 Domaine William Fevre Vallons Premier Cru (Chablis, France)with a banh mi stuffed with crab and an apple meringue “bun”. The crab was amazing and the meringue bun provided the perfect counterpoint of sweetness and crunch, but the meringue left a weird tacky film on my teeth. The wine was spot on for the course.
The next pour was a 2013 Alphonse Mellot Generation Dix-Neuf Sancerre to go with a Parmesan “Danish” but the stars of the bite were the exceedingly generous shavings of black truffle. The next dish was a snail caviar served in a shell and was brought to the table with a sprig of herbs which were lighted and then blown out tableside. It was like smudging for fine dining.
I’m not sure if it was because we said were partial to Napa or it is always on the wine rotation, but Oliver, who became my favorite sommelier of all time, brought us a pour of 2011 Shafer Hillside Select (Stags Leap District, Napa Valley, USA). I’m learning that I really like some minerality in my Cabs and to me, that keeps cabs from tasting like cherry bombs, and Hillside Select is the perfect Cab.
The next bottle was our least favorite, 1991 Chateau Musar Blanc (Bekaa Valley, Lebanon). Oliver explained that the funk in the wine would balance the gaminess of the following bites. I love doing wine pairings like this even when I end up not caring for the wine because it teaches me in concrete terms what tastes are in the wine and what tastes in the food the wine profile is complementing. For us, the wine stayed pretty funky, but rather than visceral descriptions from tasting notes, we had the opportunity to experience them. Once is all it will take for us on that one.
We moved on to a 2007 Bodegas Y Vinedos Tinto Valbuena Ribero del Duero, and perhaps because my husband had specifically mentioned that I did not care for tempranillo, it was followed closely by a glass for me of 1996 Domaine Michel Gaunoux Corton Renardes Grand Cru (Burgundy, France).
We then had Kikusul Kuramitsu Junmai Daiginjo sake which was quite good, and then a 1990 Chateau Latour Bordeaux.
In deference to my husband’s desire to taste the Latour after it opened some more, Oliver poured us a third glass that we let open throughout the rest of the dinner and would come back to for smells and sips. I admit that I am the worst person for appreciating the nose, but my husband was in raptures as he felt he learned what is really meant by bouquet.
As we wound down through the dessert courses, we had a 2013 Royal Taokaji ‘6 Puttonyos’ (Tokaji, Hungary) that was amazing and another first for us and then a 1937 d’Oliveira Sercial (Madeira, Portugal), which reminded me of Port than Madeira.(Needless to say, the wine selection floored us!)
For wine neophytes like us, the 96 Burgundy and 90 Latour Bordeaux were our introduction to first-growth wines and the great houses and left me more conflicted than the Targaryan family history. On one hand, both wines were drinkable at first pour from the Coravin and blossomed and changed in the glass over a couple of courses. No doubt about it, they were excellent and if I would not ever decline a glass in the future. But…both the grand crus retail for about $1200 and Hillside Select retails for around $225, so my conundrum is, “is the Latour Bordeaux five times better than Hillside Select and is it ten times better than my favorite supermarket Bordeaux?” We could play this game with all wines and price points, but for me it comes down to what wine did I like better. Of course, I’m a little starry-eyed drinking grand crus (two in one night!), but I think if the wines were at an even price point, I would go for the Shafer. Intellectually I get that a Bordeaux or Burgundy and a Cab are very different wines, but with my taste buds and pocketbook, I would want the Hillside Select. While I want to keep trying wines and learning more, I’ve started to accept that maybe I will never appreciate the nuances of aged Burgundy and my tastes are for the bolder rock ‘em-sock’em Napa cabs.