July 20th, 2006
Imagine if the only type of meat you could get in a restaurant was chicken. You could get it cooked in innumerable ways: roasted with herbs, boneless and sauteed in a Saltimbocca, stewed with Moroccan spices, shredded in a rillette, smoked and smothered in barbecue sauce. Nothing wrong with any of these preparations. Except that none of them taste like beef, pork or lamb. Nope, sorry — in this new chicken-centric cuisine, the rich, distinctive flavors of a rib-eye steak, pork spareribs, and lamb shank are deemed too frighteningly, um, meat-like for the sophisticated modern palate.
Just substitute “chicken” with “vodka,” and you’ll get an idea of what going out for cocktails is like these days. Vodka has seemingly taken hostage the imagination of all who serve or drink liquor. It is a blank canvas onto which any of-the-moment ingredient, be it basil or blueberries, can be painted, so that people who don’t like the taste of spirits can pretend they’re drinking a sophisticated, adult beverage. Bourbon, gin, brandy, rum … they taste too much like, um, booze. They’re nowhere to be found on the modern cocktail menu, except in token old-school offerings like the Manhattan (whiskey) and the Sidecar (brandy), and in the ubiquitous Mojito (rum), a.k.a. “the new Margarita.”
It seems that every hot new restaurant that opens up in Boston touts its “innovative cocktail menu.” Generally, that’s code for a bunch of drinks based on plain or flavored vodka and containing various combinations of fruits, herbs, essences and liqueurs.
A perfect example of the state of the art can be found at the Living Room on Atlantic Ave. in Boston. According to stuff@night‘s recent Summer Cocktail issue, the Living Room is mixing three usual suspects — Skyy Berry Vodka, Apple Pucker and sour mix — with acai berry juice, which apparently has “more antioxidants than blueberries and pomegranates.” Too bad any cancer-fighting properties this drink might have are negated by the green dye in the Apple Pucker. Another Living Room special, the Bubble Tea Martini, comes from the “adapt the latest soft-drink craze into an alcoholic drink” school of mixology. If you have a hangover right now, stop reading, because you might hurl when I list the ingredients in this one: strawberry soy milk, pearl tapioca (i.e. the glutinous “bubbles” in bubble tea) and Absolut Vanilla. God. This makes Jell-o shots seem cool.
Next – Vodka R.I.P., part 2: How did it come to this?