September 25th, 2006
A tale of two Mai Tais
I ordered Mai Tais at two different places this week: first at Eastern Standard (Kenmore Sq.), then at Peking Tom’s (Chauncy St. near Downtown Crossing). A Mai Tai would be just another sweet rum punch if not for two mysterious ingredients: Orgeat and falernum. What and what? you ask. Read on.
The milky-colored orgeat (pronounced OR-zha) is a “generic syrup of almonds, orange flower water and sometimes barley water often used in tropical and other cocktails,” according to the Cocktail Database. You may have seen orgeat at one of those coffee houses where they mix flavored syrups with soda water. The database describes falernum as a non- or lightly alcoholic sugar syrup with a “subtle sweet/tart/spicy character” and “used almost exclusively in rum-based tropical drinks.” These ingredients elevate the Mai Tai — otherwise made of light and dark rum, lime juice, orange curacao and grenadine — from a drink for girly-girls to a drink you’d buy for the Girl from Ipanema.
Both bars serve the Sweet Tart-pink cocktail on ice in the traditional double rocks glass. The Peking Tom’s Mai Tai ($7) was yummy, but Eastern Standard’s ($10) was better. I suspect that the former omits the falernum, as that ingredient is hard to find and usually must be mail-ordered. Eastern Standard mail-orders several hard-to-find ingredients, like orange bitters. Its Mai Tai wasn’t as sweet as Peking Tom’s, but it had more going on, including a candy note that reminded me of Smarties.