Monday, November 11, 2013

barmini - 10/30/2013

855 E St NW
Washington, DC 20004
(202) 393-4451

After finishing the previous evening at barmini and sampling one of their classic cocktails I decided a more detailed tasting was in order. Apparently people start drinking late in DC, with my 6:00 reservation I pretty much had the run of the place for the first 30 minutes of my visit. After grabbing a seat at the bar, Carlie, who would be my bartender for the evening, spent a few minutes figuring out my drink preferences in order to craft a customized cocktail tasting.

Besides a small plaque next to the door, there isn't much to identify barmini, I suspect this is an intentional choice to keep the riff-raff out. While barmini does accept walk-ins there isn't a whole lot of space and the restaurant recommends making reservations in advance. The interior is markedly different than minibar, with a bright white bar and an eclectic mix of furniture the space manages to feel modern and clean yet gaudy at the same time.

Apertif - sweet vermouth, orange juice, cherry beer
The cocktail tasting began with a small apertif to whet the palate. The drink has a sweet vinousness laced with a slightly herbaceous verve a great combination to get the juices flowing

South Side - gin, lime, sugar, mint
I was able to have a detailed discussion about my drink preferences to help her structure the tasting that was to come. My first cocktail was a riff on the gin gimlet, The cocktail explodes with fresh citrus sweetness to start with the aromatics of the gin and mint showing up on the finish.

"Bagels and Lox" - cream cheese, dill, salmon roe, sesame seeds
While barmini is mainly about the cocktails, they do have a small list of snacks. The first of the little snacks to arrive was the "Bagel and Lox," an old friend from The Bazaar. Consisting of a toasty crunchy shell filled with a mixture of cream cheese and salmon roe, the resulting flavor is indeed reminiscent of a bagel infused with the smoky saline essence of the salon roe and finished with the fresh zing of dill.

Nitro Caipirinha - cachaça, lime, sugar, liquid nitrogen
For my second cocktail, Carlie whipped up an old Andres favorite of mine: the Nitro Caipirinha. The drink follows the classic recipe, but a quick swirl in liquid nitrogen gives it a smooth creamy texture, basically an alcoholic sorbet. The resulting treat is brisk and refreshing with a slight Thai-like cast thanks to the use of Kaffir lime rather than the domestic variety.

Smoked Forbidden Oysters - apple mignonette
I found myself a bit perplexed by this dish, I figured the smoked oysters would be unabashedly briney and pungent but the flavor was actually quite nuanced. The salinity was matched by a light sweetness and touch of vegetal bitterness and tinged with a fruity astringency from the mignonette. Texturally these were some of the largest oysters I've encountered and had the meaty creamy body typically found on larger oysters.

Thai Chicharrones - crispy pork skin, kaffir lime, ginger, tamarind, yogurt dip
Next up was a huge bowl of chicharrones, while typically more of a game day snack with beer, they paired quite well with the Caipirinha. The fantastically crunchy little pigskins pack plenty of rich porcine savor along with a classically Thai spicy-sour bite from the coasting of lemon zest and chili. Accompanying the chicharrones was a tamarind yogurt dip, smoky and sweet with a grippy almost tannic twang to them.

Tequila Smash - tequila reposado, aperol, muddled lemon
My next cocktail involved a bit of freestyling, a tequila-based riff on the classic smash cocktail which itself was a derivation of the Julep. Similar to the Zapata's horse but without the orgeat, egg white and angostura bitters the drink is cool fresh and light with a bit of bitter aromatics on the midpalate.

Uni Panini - sea urchin, aioli, romesco sauce, sansho peppercorn, caramelized brioche
Being an uni fan this was a must try for me. While not the best example of sea urchin I've ever tasted, the roe imparts a pleasing salinity that has a fantastic interplay with the herbs and pickled vegetables.

Lobster Roll - canadian blue lobster, mayo espuma, pickled celery
The lobster roll was probably my favorite of the bar snacks and it all starts with the perfectly cooked butter poached lobster. The thick chunks of lobster meat are ever so slightly translucent with a quivering taut snappy texture. The mayo espuma is a bit heavy but imparts a lusciously creamy mouth feel and richness that augments the buttery house-made brioche. The sprigs of pickled celery and greens might not look like much but they provide just enough bitterness to balance the dish.

Port Wine Sangaree - ruby port, lemon, sugar
Moving on to my fifth drink of the hour, Carlie wisely decided to switch to a low-spirit cocktail. With a heavy infusion of port, the cocktail unsurprisingly has a very fruit forward character with a bit of spiced warmth from the dusting of nutmeg on the surface.

Pan de Cristal con Jamón Ibérico de Bellota - toasted bread, fermín ibérico de bellota ham
This was a classic Spanish snack pairing a crusty porous Spanish artisan bread with the gold standard of hams. There is a touch of fruity olive oil but the dish is really all about the ham, pungent and meaty with a slick fatty oiliness and lithe sensual mouth feel.

Grilled Cheese - valdeon, cowgirl creamery mt. tam, sharp cheddar, truffle
Not having been a fan of cheese growing up, grilled cheese doesn't inspire the comforting childhood memories that the dish seems to do in everyone else, but I still quite enjoyed this grown-up take on the sandwich. The pungent blue and fatty lushness of the Mt. Tam triple cream build upon the familiar flavors of the sharp cheddar and a splash of white truffle oil elevates the dish with a touch of elegance.

Vieux Carré - rye, cognac, sweet vermouth, benedictine, peychaud's, angostura bitters
Invented in 1938 by Walter Bergeron of the Monteleone Hotel is named after New Orelean's French Quarter. Fittingly, this mix of whiskey and cognac is heavy on the booze layered with a touch of sweetness.

Bánh Mì Burger - beef short rib, bone marrow, pickled vegetables
Another must order snack, the perfectly shaped slider comes in a classic cardboard fast food carton. Despite its dainty size, the slider packs an immensely beefy juicy savor that somehow feels weightless despite the inclusion of bone marrow thanks to the judicious use of pickled vegetables.

Some Like it Hot - tequila reposado, grapefruit, lime, chili honey
A supplement to the official cocktail tasting, I was looking for a savory cocktail to conclude the evening and the chili honey fit the bill perfectly. This cocktail is indeed the perfect drink for those who like it hot. There is some citrus and sweetness at the start but the drink finishes with a pronounced burn. Though I enjoyed the cocktail, the heat would have been too much if paired with the food.

Pumpkin Flip - pumpkin bourbon, allspice dram, maple syrup, galiano, egg
My final cocktail of the evening comes from the flip class, first used in 1695 to describe a mix of beer, rum, and sugar heated with a red-hot iron the drink evolved over time, trading the beer for egg and ditching the heat. The modern recipe calls for pouring the drink between two glasses to produce a smooth froth. Indeed there is a fair amount of thickness and texture to the drink, coupled with a ripe wintery sweetness from the pumpkin, allspice and maple.

"Foieffle" - mini waffle, foie gras, peanut butter, honey
Though technically a savory course, Carlie decided to bring this out as a dessert. Inside the crisp hollowed shell of the waffle is a sublime foie foam, airy and light but still loaded with richness tinged with nutty-sweetness from the honey and peanut butter drizzle.

Ice Cream Sandwich - cocoa cookie, bourbon ice cream, vanilla
A fairly simple ice cream sandwich, there is a faint whiff of bourbon but its mostly chocolate and vanilla.

barmini might not have the innovation or reputation of its older sibling minibar, the but the staff lavishes the same care and attention to detail into each of the the cocktails. Diners have a bit more freedom than they do at minibar, but for the best experience I recommend letting the bartenders work their magic to create a comprehensive tasting of classic and modern cocktails.

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