Magical Mystery Tour: Behind the Scenes at Minibar by José Andrés

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“This is the part of the day most people don’t ever get to see,” says head chef Josh Hermias, as he ushers me into Minibar by José Andrés, the what-you-see-isn’t-always-what-you-get wonderland of molecular gastronomy and avant-garde cooking. It’s the shining crown jewel of the Spanish-born, James Beard Award-winning chef’s restaurant empire, which includes D.C. standard setters Jaleo, Zaytinya, and Oyamel, China Poblano in Las Vegas, Miami’s Bazaar Mar, and others.

On this late August afternoon, Minibar’s open kitchen, the counter surrounding it where will guests will sit that evening, and the semi-private dining area off to the side – dubbed José’s Table – are all ablaze with activity. (Not much can happen in the incredibly compact, unexposed back area of the restaurant, as there’s only room enough for a small counter, two ovens, an impressively tiny walk-in freezer, and the washing station). Approximately a dozen staffers are getting ready for tonight’s epic epicurean experience when 24 diners will enjoy a 26 to 28-course tasting menu. Hermias estimates it takes in excess of 140 man-hours just to make the six-hour dinner service happen. A crew of half a dozen begins working at 7AM; the last team member doesn’t go home until 3AM the following morning.

Clad in black aprons over white shirts, the cooks are currently prepping an array of components. Wending our way through the kitchen, we see chicken skins frying, chocolate eggshells being poured, and the legs of langoustines being snipped off with a small pair of scissors. One staffer shaves mounds of black truffles. Meanwhile, the orchids that decorate the space during dinner service rest in the window to get some light.

As we’re walking around, a cook presents Hermias and me with slices of super juicy watermelon to approve for use. The rosy wedges will be infused with tequila and Grand Marnier, and then served on a salt block. “It’s like a margarita,” says Hermias, who gives them the thumbs up, “but instead of a salted rim, your plate is the salt.”

A dry erase board catalogs all the work that needs to be done today: 30 marinated rabbits, 26 blowfish, 105 cauliflower leaves; the list goes on. A nearby chalkboard bears a quote from recently departed chef Michel Richard, “People love to get something that looks like one thing and tastes like something totally different. That’s truly magical.”

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Introducing OpenTable Guest Center

Personalized hospitality is now beautifully simple with Guest Center. Guest Center seamlessly merges the leading restaurant reservation network with complete front-of-house management tools. In the video below, Matt Roberts, CEO, Joseph Essas, CTO, and Jon Morin, Product Lead, deliver the thinking, design and demo of the new, cloud-based, hospitality solution by OpenTable.

To experience Guest Center, a solution designed to make tailored hospitality even easier, please email sales@opentable.com.

Tweet of the Week: Restaurants Reach More Diners with Holiday + Seasonal Promotions

Believe it or not, the holiday season is almost here. We’ve got Thanksgiving in Canada on Monday. And, Thanksgiving comes to the states on November 28– as does Hannukah (a convergence being called Thanksgivukkah, according to The Wall Street Journal), followed by all of the fun of Christmas and New Year’s Eve. If you’re a planner like I am, you’re probably already giving a lot of thought to your holiday dining. At OpenTable, we try to make it easy for diners to find a terrific table for every holiday through special promotion pages. We urge our restaurant partners to share their information on their holiday and seasonal offerings early and often, just like the folks at The Russian House in Austin, Texas (aka @RussianHouseATX) have. Restaurants can easily and quickly join these free promotions and reach more holiday diners by visiting Restaurant Center.

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Dining Poll: Is There an Ideal Age for Kids to Start Dining Out with Mom and Dad?

Whenever we ask about kids and restaurants, we get varying (and passionate!) opinions. So, we’re asking about them again. Should children begin going to restaurants as soon as their parents can tote them in a comfy baby carrier? Are toddlers too young — or just right? Does kindergarten help kids sit through a long meal? Weigh in below!