Barmini by Chef Jose Andres — a Review

Last night, I received my belated Valentine’s Day gift from my wife: reservations at Chef Jose Andres’s (twitter) latest creation, Barmini. Not to confused with the very exclusive restaurant Minibar (where the Obamas celebrated Valentine’s Day), Barmini is a cocktail bar that also offers some snacks and sweets to munch on while you soak in the atmosphere.

And that atmosphere is unique, to say the least. However, that’s to be expected when Chef Andres is involved. The hyperkinetic, encyclopedic, food sorcerer (who you might recognize from his various appearances on Anthony Bourdain’s former show No Reservations or from his more subdued cameo on the Simpsons) has created a space that is attractive, amusing, and a bit odd. Perfect, in other words, if your conversation should ever lag.

When we arrived, we pressed a door buzzer and waited for the host to greet us, confirm our reservation, and lead us through a second set of doors to Barmini itself. As you can see in the photo provided in this article by the Washington Post’s Going Out Gurus, the interior is mostly white, with little flashes of color.

It’s clean and sparse. The room has a modern feel when I first entered, but as I picked out more details, I questioned that original conclusion. I mean, the highball glasses look like the ones my grandfather used. And my grandmother might recognize the decorative cookbooks from her childhood.

I realized that a more appropriate description would be to picture what a futurist from the 1960s would have thought the future would look like. I mean, only a futurist (or Chef Andres and his cocktail innovator Juan Coronado) would outfit a bar with a rotary vaccuum to quickly distill and infuse spirits. In other words, think along the lines of a spaceport bar Barbarella would have visited.

And I don’t mean that in a bad way. It added another layer of fun. The two sets of doors became an airlock in my mind, and the window looking into the dark brick and steel of Minibar was like looking out into space. On top of that sci-fi look, you also had a layer of whimsy. The sculpted hands along the wall look like the coat racks from Willy Wonka. The sofa designed to look like a cactus is an odd contradiction. But what else would you expect from Chef Andres?

But enough with the decor. Let’s get down to the menu. We were greeted with a small starter: a combination of whiskey, ginger, lemon, and soda. It was a delicious, small sip to get your attention and prepare you for what came next. The menu has 100 cocktails, divided between classics (printed in black) and originals (printed in grey). Obviously, we stuck to the grey.

Laura had a Lavender Ricky and a Scandinavian Cup (a wonderful blend of, among other things, aquavit, vermouth, grapefruit bitters, and absinthe. Oh, the “viking syrup” in it is made from chamomile tea, not vikings). Both were light, refreshing, and will be perfect when the weather warms up.

I had the Jersey Lightning and the Black Shack (you can go back to that Post article for the complete drink listings and ingredients). The Jersey Lightning was incredibly good–sweet and creamy, but still light. The Black Shack was my introduction to fernet, and I was surprised by this drink’s bitter, herbal, and floral notes. And as I drank it, the berries became more prominent–a second surprise. It wasn’t bad, it’s just not the flavors I tend to put at the top of my list.

As for the food, we skipped the snacks and went straight to the sweets. We had a 25 Second Bizcocho (a light, spongy pastry with lemon accents and a cream filling) and a lemongrass panna cotta, which were both delicious. In fact, we considered ordering another round of them. I’m sure we’ll be back to try the snacks soon enough.

The staff were friendly, informative, and worked as a team with precision and fluidity. They were happy to answer any question, chat with guests, and even provide a little taste of this or that if you were unsure. Barmini has only been open for a few days, but this team looked as if they had been working together for a while. The result was drink after drink that were creative, unique, even daring–and yet each was made exactly the same. Were they bartenders or were they space-age androids? I’ll have to visit again to be sure.

Last I checked, Barmini is booked through April, but I hear whisperings of a few cancellations and rare openings for those who wish to stop in early or late. I would suggest keeping a close eye on their website. Oh, and for friends and family who want to stop by Barmini when they visit, take note–advance warning would be much appreciated.

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