I’ve been eagerly anticipating an evening at barmini since the very first time I had a Gin Tónica à la José at Bazaar in Miami one year ago. It once represented to me the pinnacle of the G and T, the highest peak to which the drink could be developed. There were aromatic juniper berries rolling between fine cubes of ice and petals of elderflower floated over the top as a clever reminder of the floral essence that gives gin its distinctive flavor. These tricks were all new to a more innocent me. The various gins and tonic that make up Bazaar’s collection are garnished with whatever signature ingredient the gin itself is characterized by. Hendrick’s has cucumber. Plymouth has lemon. While there, I also tried a dream-like concoction of orange rum and passionfruit air. It left me feeling mighty spoiled.
So when the opportunity presented itself (without a rez, in the form of an in-person invite from J.A. while at Zaytinya) I was filled with enthusiasm and felt grateful for my good fortune. With me were DSLR-toting food writers who would appreciate the experience just as much. We were greeted with a beautiful porcelain bowl filled with a peach-toned soup of booze with flowers suspended across the surface. The punch was ladled into equally beautiful porcelain tea cups that were milky-white and comfortable to hold. Not one of us requested a menu to order from; we all kind of knew exactly what we were looking for. The stuff we had heard of around town, designer snacks that have been written up ad nauseam. “Have you had the José’s Philly Cheesesteak? Rose’s Luxury popcorn soup?” These questions replace ones like, “Have you seen The Lion King on Broadway?” or “Ever been to Coachella?” in my palate-centric world. “…Because I have,” tends to fill me with a sense of accomplishment. This may shock and appall: I didn’t care for the Foieffle. As this is perhaps barmini’s most beloved invention, I owe an explanation: I didn’t enjoy it because of personal preference. The snack in question is a miniature waffle stuffed with silken foie gras and topped with crunchy toasted peanuts and honey. It’s a sweet and salty play on savory, smoky foie. It’s also a fun, young use of a sometimes stuffy and bourgeois ingredient. I appreciate that. But I’m a foie purist, and I still haven’t had enough of the stuff to not cherish it like gold. For me slipping something so delicate into a puffy cumulus of dough, no matter how airy and porous the latter may be, is a waste of something precious. As is, the pâté melts and drips dejectedly out of its yeasty pillow, retaining some of its flavor but none of its frothy texture. While the nuttiness of the peanuts pairs well with the mineral twang of the liver, the honey overpowers it to where it is barely perceptible. I found it surprising that something as delicate as honey could mask a flavor as charismatic as that of foie, but I guess that clean, light, floral dulzor was bright enough to clean up the murky, visceral thang that I cherish so. The dish is otherwise beautifully executed – the waffle fluffy and comforting, the foie buttery and rich, the peanuts toasted to a perfect crunch and the honey packed with natural sweetness. Just not a fan of the combo. The Grilled Cheese, on the other hand, really hit the spot and was deeply satisfying despite the miniature size. The sandies are made with a sharp white cheddar, some luscious, well melting triple-cream and Valdeón. The latter is one of my favorite cheeses out there, a Spanish cow-and-goat blue wrapped in sycamore maple leaves. It’s salty and pungent, though not quite as crazy as its big bro, the Cabrales. The Valdeón adds a wonderful funk and a nice azure hue to the cross-section of the little sandwich. The thing is also laced with white truffle oil, an ingredient that I’m usually pretty jaded about but which works with the craziness of the Valdeón fantastically and elevates the dish as it was intended to do. The sandie came with a little pool of golden mustard, whose white hot heat reminded me of the Russian stuff I grew up on. It was not what I was expecting from the color. A pleasant surprise. Our punch contained reposado tequila, grapefruit juice and some agave syrup to leave ya hangover-free. It’s a beautifully balanced, spring-time punch whose greatest virtue is its simplicity. The presentation doesn’t hurt either. I also had one or two gin and tonics made with Hendrick’s and Fever Tree, of which my friend remarked that it might be the best G&T she’s ever had. It was up there – crisp and aromatic, floral yet mineral with a hint of “green” from the Hendrick’s cucumber essence.
It was a much more casual experience than what I had envisioned, with playful snacks and tactfully crafted drinks that kept me lighthearted from beginning to end. A good representation of the man behind it all.