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Minibar at Café Atlántico, 405 Eighth St., N.W. (202) 393-0812 Dinner at Café Atlántico’s Minibar begins with a leap of faith in the form of a foie gras-filled chocolate truffle. “Take it in your mouth and eat it in one bite,” instructs sous-chef Samantha Withall. We obey, eager to prove ourselves worthy of the gastronomic adventure that lies ahead. With just six seats, there is no room for caution at the Minibar. And with just more than two hours to make it through 30 small courses, no time either. The disjointed truffle turned out to be one of the Minibar’s least successful experiments. Having survived it, we dove into an assortment of less intimidating snacks — crisp pork rinds glazed in Vermont maple syrup, pretty lotus chips dusted with licorice-flavored spices, and airy rice snacks dressed up with a dash of nori. The finger foods came with two elf-sized cocktails — a refreshing spritzer of Café Atlántico’s signature mojito and a brilliant passion fruit whiskey sour. Then the parade, too long and elaborate to fully describe, began in earnest. First, the Minibar version of bagel and lox — a delicate pastry cone stuffed with cream cheese and salty salmon roe. Next, the three-chef team working in a prep area behind the bar constructed ravioli of warm salmon encased in thin sheets of pineapple and sprinkled with toasted quinoa. The following plate employed a similar technique using slices of jicama as a wrapper for various fillings. One parcel was stuffed with tuna and cucumber like a sushi roll, while the other — filled with apples, walnuts, and blue cheese — recalled the flavors of Spain. Many dishes start with a familiar recipe like clam chowder or Caesar salad, are broken down for parts, and then reformulated. A standout along those lines was the Minibar interpretation of guacamole — a log of tomato sorbet, wrapped in a thin slice of avocado, and sprinkled with corn chips. It tasted like nothing we’ve ever had, and yet the lingering impression was precisely that left by a bite of guacamole. Other courses in the Minibar repertoire explore the unexpected possibilities of an individual ingredient. For instance, the Minibar’s whimsical “corn on the cob” starts with an ear of baby corn seared in corn oil, laid atop a bed of creamy corn puree, and then garnished with a corn shoot and crushed corn nuts. A casserole composed solely of zucchini done four ways shattered the ho-hum reputation of squash. Yet not every endeavor is such a success. A dish sampling tomato seeds and halved cherry tomatoes seemed like a parody of 1950s diet food. Later on we confronted the lobster injection — a morsel of nearly raw lobster tail speared on a syringe filled with lobster juices and meant to be consumed in one bite. The dish caused us to reflect on how unpleasant lobster would taste if you were stranded on a desert island with no fire or butter. The Minibar opened in June 2003, and the staff meets regularly to invent new concoctions. The $85 tasting menu changes incrementally from season to season, but tends to showcase fresh produce and seafood. Our dinner included just one small meat course and one egg dish. According to Withall, the bias for surf over turf results from limited cooking space behind the Minibar and the greater availability and variety of fresh seafood. Still, having seen what the crew can do with the ingredients on hand — jicama, salmon, melon, yogurt, sea urchin, conch, corn, mango, avocado, oysters — we would love to see what they’d do with bolder flavors like those of duck and sausage. In preparing each night’s menu, the chefs seem to know that any meal would be a letdown without a few wacky dishes. One, described as a deconstructed glass of white wine, was not food so much as artistic expression — featuring a layer of clear grape jelly dotted with lemon zest, mint, vanilla beans, and other ingredients intended to mimic the aroma of white wine. Other amusing concoctions include a velvety “cappuccino” of foie gras and thin slices of beef tenderloin accompanied by a truffle-scented napkin. Diners are instructed to take a whiff of the napkin and then a bite of the meat. If such flights of culinary fancy do not appeal to you, you will probably be happier in Café Atlántico’s main dining room. But if you have an appetite for dining adventure, rest assured you will be in good hands. Vanessa Blum is a senior reporter at Legal Times . Phillip Dubé is an attorney at D.C.’s Covington & Burling.

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