Throughout the year, Restaurant Editor Bill Addison will travel the country to chronicle what's happening in America's dining scene and to formulate his list of the essential 38 restaurants in America. Follow his progress in this travelogue/review series, The Road to the 38, and check back at the end of the year to find out which restaurants made the cut.
As six of us, the evening's first klatch of diners at Minibar, filed in from a waiting lounge to the main dining room, executive sous chef Johnny Spero stood behind the pale oak counter where we took our seats. He was making us a welcome cocktail, a hot and cold iteration of the pisco sour. The first step for the drink: a sorbet made from pisco and lime syrup, frozen in seconds by a modernist cook's handiest chemical element, liquid nitrogen. The freezing mist rolled out of a canister, as thick as fog on a summer afternoon in San Francisco. For a moment the vapors completely engulfed Spero — we could only see his short-sleeved arm continuing to whip the mixture. The drink turned out smashingly—warmed egg white foam melted the sorbet to make it drinkable—and the bit of spectacle relaxed the crowd. The next few hours would be anything but stuffy.