May 21st, 2006
I had drinks at Bar Lola (160 Commonwealth Ave.) and Bar 10 (in the Westin hotel) this past week. At the Spanish-themed Bar Lola, I did not try the house cocktail, the Lolita: Stoli Perik (peach), Gran Torres (a Spanish orange-flavored cordial) and mango juice topped with cava and garnished with an edible orchid flower. It sounded like just another fruity vodka drink to me. Instead, I opted for the Don Quixote martini: tequila, Cointreau, lime juice, and sangria. I guessed that it would be the least-sweet cocktail on the menu. The drink was a beautiful reddish-purple color, and that’s unfortunately all it had going for it. It was too sweet and not very well chilled. It kind of reminded me of a summertime punch my mom used to make when I was a kid: Minute Maid lemonade and Welch’s grape juice. Now that was a good drink. And it didn’t cost $12. Next time I visit Bar Lola, I’ll stick to the sangria on its own, which was pretty good, or just play it safe and order wine or cava by the glass to accompany the tasty tapas.
Bar 10 describes its vibe as “casual sophistication.” I’ll go along with that as far as decor goes. The place has a polished, grownup, hotel lounge feel. The soft lighting and plush, semicircular booths make you feel like a fashionable urbanite, as do the gigantic martinis. The problem with gigantic martinis is — do I really have to state the obvious? — that drinking eight ounces of gin or vodka in one sitting is bad for your health. Even worse, the alcohol warms up before you finish the drink, which is as unpleasant as drinking lukewarm coffee. The Bombay Sapphire martini I ordered was not only automatically served dry (everybody just assumes you want a dry martini, because it sounds cool or something), but it wasn’t thoroughly chilled. If there’s any drink on earth whose quality depends on the proper temperature, it’s the martini. It’s pretty simple, yet very few bars get this. Moreover, I had read that Bar 10 was a good place to get a classic cocktail. Oooh, I thought, maybe they serve up a good Negroni or French 75. No such luck. This is one of the many places in Boston where vodka martinis and Cosmos constitute “classic” cocktails.
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May 19th, 2006
Fast Company’s May cover story is on food, which the magazine says “has become the great American art form — and a wildly innovative business.” There’s a thoughtful, thorough and positive article on Homaro Cantu, chef of Moto restaurant in Chicago, who cooks with liquid nitrogen and lasers and who “wants to use his strange brew of self-taught rocket science and professional culinary training to change the way the world thinks about food.” Cantu’s take on the peanut butter and jelly sandwich is pictured; the sandwich filling sits atop a small rectangle of bread and consists of peanut butter encased in a “hemisphere” of frozen jelly. His restaurant features a grand tasting menu for $160 a head.
In the same issue is a funny, snarky one-page article called “Mix Mastery – The cult of the cocktail runs amok.” It pokes fun at the seriousness with which some have come to view the art of mixing a drink. “Handcrafted cocktails, once a lost art, have resurfaced as absurdist comedy, with top-shelf bartenders — ‘cocktail consultants’ in this brave new world — making thousands of dollars a day peddling the likes of the Earl Grey MarTEAni (tea-infused gin, egg white, lemon juice, and simple syrup) or the ‘sake martini with lychee puree and muddled cucumbers.’ The things fetch up to $20 apiece…”
I’ll be the first to agree that a $20 Earl Grey MarTEAni is a sucker’s drink. And I still have a hard time keeping a straight face when someone refers to a bartender as a mixologist. But then I got to thinking: why is it OK to get all gee-whiz over a celebrity chef and his “wildly innovative menu” but snicker at a “cocktail consultant” who’s doing something similar with booze — that is, inventing new and unusual drinks and earning fame and fortune in the process? Is a $20 cocktail any more “absurdist comedy” than a $160 tasting menu featuring liquid nitrogen-cooled PB&J?
Posted in Booze in the news, Cocktails | No Comments »
May 16th, 2006
Left to right: MOTAC founders Gary Regan, Audrey Sanders, Jared Brown, Phil Greene, David Wondrich, Eben Klemm, Anistatia Miller, John Myers (hidden), Jill DeGroff.
May 13, 2006 was the 200th anniversary of the cocktail. Actually, it was the 200th anniversary of the first time the term “cock tail” appeared in print, according to the Museum of the American Cocktail (MOTAC). I went to New York to join in one of two anniversary celebrations taking place simultaneously that day: one at the new Manhattan bar Balance (215 W. 28th St.) and one at Commander’s Palace in Las Vegas, where most of the items once housed in MOTAC’s original New Orleans location now reside. At Balance, there was a small, satellite display of MOTAC artifacts, including a gleaming silver-plated Boston shaker set courtesy of David Wondrich, one of the museum’s founding members and the drinks writer for Esquire.
David happened to be standing right next to me as I ordered my first drink at the bar. Tickled to meet the guy, I put out my hand and introduced myself as a freelance writer from Boston. He mentioned the latest issue of Esquire with the annual roundup of the World’s Best Bars and apologized for the scant coverage of Boston, vowing to make up for it in the future. OK, David, I guess I won’t have you fired. He asked me what I was working on. “Uh, a web site,” is all I could come up with. Wow, way to impress the Esquire guy.
There were cocktail demos: David did a Rob Roy, Audrey Sanders of Pegu Club fame made a French Pearl (gin, Pernod, lime juice, simple syrup, mint), Gary Regan mixed a Bacardi Cocktail and announced, to loud cheers, that he had just become a U.S. citizen after 32 years in this country. Dale “King Cocktail” DeGroff was at the Vegas celebration (a live feed of which was played on a video screen), but his wife, Jill, and two sons were working the New York event. “Would you like to meet some of the mixologists?” Jill asked and introduced me to MOTAC founding member (the museum has a lot of founding members, who essentially fomented the cocktail revolution through chats on Robert Hess’ site drinkboy.com) and Portland, Maine, bartender — uh, mixologist — John Myers, who dreams up the drinks at a new restaurant called Oolong. One of the DeGroff lads was mixing drinks with fresh-faced, twinkle-eyed aplomb. As he smoothly stirred a Rob Roy, someone remarked that he had the same unhurried polish behind the bar as his father.
After the event, the core MOTAC bunch, plus a few others, regrouped at Audrey Sanders’ West Houston Street lounge Pegu Club. (Audrey bowed out, but who could blame her; it was the poor woman’s night off). Hanging out at a place where you can order Brooklyns, Scoff Laws, Corpse Reviver 2′s, and all manner of other vintage cocktails without the bartenders batting an eye is a real treat. The best drink I had there was a house specialty, the Fitty-Fitty: half gin (Plymouth, I believe), half dry vermouth, a dash of orange bitters, and a lemon twist, served in a glass that felt like it had been formed from an icicle. It had a cleansing effect, like a swim in a glacial pond.
Posted in Cocktails, NYC | No Comments »