Tuesday, May 17, 2011

MxMo LVII: Flores de Mayo – English Garden

Mixology Monday time again, and I'm running low on time so I'll keep this sort and sweet. This month's theme is Flores de Mayo, dubbed by Dave at The Barman Cometh. Dave declares:
The challenge is to feature a cocktail that highlights a floral flavor profile or includes a floral derived ingredient, whether home-made or off the shelf.  With the ever expanding catalogue of spirits (and the kitchen labs of home enthusiasts), there’s a whole host of directions for you to choose from – elderflower liqueur, creme de violette, chamomile infused gin, hibiscus grenadine, rosewater, lavender syrup – or to create.
Floral flavors can be delicate, so I didn't want to over think this one; I'm keeping it simple, but amping up the florals. Floral gin, floral vermouth, floral bitters, and floral garnish. The gin I chose is Bulldog, as it counts among its botanicals both poppy and lavender. I reached for Dolin Blanc vermouth, which, while I confess to not know what flavors it may use, it always brings floral thoughts to my mind upon tasting it. Then I grabbed the A.B. Smeby Nasturtium-Cumin Bitters for some mellow spice. I had initially hoped to garnish with fresh Nasturtium, bu failed to procure some in time. I therefore went scavenging in my garden and found some not quite fully bloomed chive blossoms, which in the end I think worked out quite well, with their peppery notes echoing the hint of spice from the nasturtium. Putting them all together, I give you the English Garden:
English Garden
Lightly muddle chive blossoms, then stir with other ingredients and strain, garnish with fresh chive blossom

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Amor y Amargo - Cocktails and Bittermens Experimental Series

A while back a few friends and I popped into Amor y Amargo to see what was happening with the old Carteles sandwich shop space and to check out some of the  Bittermens Experimental Series flavorings that are only available there. We were treated to an excellent time, with our cocktails slung by none other than Avery Glasser himself, who along with his wife are the ones behind the Bittermens line.  More details here.
We started out sampling the cocktails that used some of the more interesting ingredients from their Experimental line, including not only bitters but Shrubs and citrates as well. First up for me was this:
Françause Four-Play
  • Bonal Quinquina
  • Yellow Chartreuse
  • Cognac
  • Lillet Blanc
  • soda
  • Bittermens Hellfire Shrub
(I've been making this at home using equal parts of the first four and leaving out the soda, yum.)
Meanwhile my friend tried this:
À L’Ancienne
  • Cognac old fashioned
  • Bittermens Spiced Cranberry Citrate
  • Xocolatl Mole Bitters
These were both excellent, and all the more interesting due to the added dimensions from the new unique ingredients. For those unfamiliar with these types of products, a Shrub is a flavoring with vinegar used as a base to deliver the flavor, while a citrate contains the acidic citric acid to help tie a drink together, as opposed to bitters which use alcohol to deliver a bittering agents and other flavors. (Update: I originally wrote only the bitters use alcohol as a base, but frederic corrected me in the comments pointing out these shrubs and citrates also use alcohol as a base.)
The Hellfire is a Habanero Shrub, or as Avery put it a hot sauce specifically for drinks. The Hellfire Shrub does capture the heat from the fiery pepper, but not overpoweringly so. What I was most struck by when tasting a drop straight was how well it captured the lovely fruit notes of the habanero that pepper aficionados so enjoy.
The Spiced Cranberry Cream Citrate is another nice product that can add some bright notes a a little zing to a cocktail with a few drops.
It was at this point that Avery mentioned that what was left one the shelf behind us was all that was left of the first batch of the experimental series. Noting that a few of them only had a single lonely bottle left on the shelf, I quickly grabbed these three to claim for my own:
The last of the Hellfire Shrub, Peppercake, and Squirrel Nut Bitters.

The empty spots on the shelves after I did my initial damage:

Of course I didn't stop there and I ended up taking home one of each from the experimental series to play with at home:
Here's the whole Bittermens Experimental Series lineup:
  • Hellfire Habanero Shrub
  • Spiced Cranberry Cream Citrate
  • Orange Cream Citrate
  • Orchard Street Celery Shrub
  • Peppercake Gingerbread Bitters
  • Squirrel Nut Pecan Vanilla Bitters
These were all new to me, but Frederic from cocktail virgin slut tells me the Squirrelnut and Peppercake have been in Boston for a while; in fact Peppercake were made for Craigie on Main. I suppose that's why it says on the bottle "A cult favorite from 2007." These guys should keep me busy tinkering at home for a while.

Of interest also is how they prepare the stirred drinks: they stir the ingredients together without ice, and then add one large ice cube and serve, so the drink as presented is room temp and strong, but as it sits in front of you it evolves in the glass as the ice melts, thus simultaneously cooling and diluting the drink. It makes for an interesting experience, and you get a continuum of drinks and you can pick your ideal spot to savor. Avery figures that back in the day ice was a scarce commodity and they were not about to stir with ice and then dump out a bunch of frozen jewels for every drink and this method is more authentic. Avery noted that he has at times received complaints that a drink was too strong, at which point he had to instruct the customer to give it a minute and it would work out ok. I kinda liked the experience. Also note the space has at most a dozen or so seats so it's intimate enough to chat easily with the barkeep if that's your thing, I encourage it.

We also tried several more cocktails (another friend joined us after the first round), see the opening menu here:
Bittermens House Gin and Tonic
  • gin
  • tonic water
  • maraschino
  • Bittermens Hopped Grapefruit Bitters
A very nice take, the hopped grapefruit bitters are even better than the excellent grapefruit bitters they produced during the Bitter Truth partnership.
Orchard Street Cel’ry Soda
  • Applejack
  • Genever
  • club soda
  • Bittermens Orchard St. Celery Shrub
  • Bittermens Peppercake Bitters
I'm still trying to figure out what I think of this drink, since I lacked a frame of reference to compare it to. As Avery said, you really need to like celery to enjoy it. I liked it, but probably need to try it more times before I wrap my head around it.
Tequila Gibson
  • House-made amber vermouth
  • Reposado Tequila
  • Cocktail Onion
  • Bittermens Boston Bittahs
  • Bittermens Orchard St. Celery Shrub
The Tequila Gibson was a highlight of the night, I definitely need to try the house made vermouths straight next time I drop in.
A few snacks are also offered, but since we were headed to dine upon many many different parts of cow at Takashi, we only tried the crispy garbanzos with morcilla, which proved a tasty snack. Fyi, the Ribeye and sweetbreads are the winners at Takashi:

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Laurent Gras dinner at BLT Fish - a few days left to try it

Last night a few friends and I went over to BLT Fish to sample a dinner from Laurent Gras, who was taking over the kitchen for a special meal Monday night. I had read about the dinner, but by the time I got around to calling for a reservation it was booked up, so I settled for making a reservation on Tuesday night, as the menu will be available as a special through this Saturday the 7th, although Gras was only going to be in the house for Monday night. I was quite excited about the opportunity to try the cooking of Laurent Gras, as I had seen his Michelin 3-star cooking at L2O in Chicago via his blog and on this segment from No Reservations where Bourdain and Eric Ripet feast and I was sold, but he left before I got a chance to make it over there. Chicago's loss is our gain however, as he now plans to open a restaurant here in NY after doing a few more pop ups and enjoying the summer. As luck would have it, I saw this BLT Fish tweet mentioning they had some cancellations, and this time I was quick enough to change my reservation to Monday to be there for the main event.
We only got to try a handful of items and not a 22-course marathon they enjoyed on No Reservations, but everything was great and only got me more excited about the chef's eventual new restaurant. We started with a nice amuse of mushroom dashi with lobster and ramps, before moving on the the main menu:
While everything was excellent, my favorite was the first course of Black Bass Sashimi with Ossetra Caviar Vinaigrette, nori, red Sorrel & baby Shiso:
The Bass was clean and sweet, the caviar added a subtle brininess, and the herbs and nori added just the right touch of texture and light flavor to bring everything together while keeping the pristine fish shining to the front.

Next we had the Shellfish Fricassee with a Harissa Bouillon poured table side. The clam, scallop,shrimp, and lobster were each cooked very delicately and perfectly for the protein they are. In particular, the clam and scallop were barely cooked, the scallop retained the lusciousness of a raw scallop while gaining a hint of firmness, while the clam was just gently warmed. This was the favorite course of some of my companions. The Spanish Garnacha rosé was an excellent foil to this dish.
For the last savory course we had the Arctic Char Schnitzel with Letttuce, Pinot Noir Essence & Morels.I wasn't sure what to expect reading the menu, but the Schnitzel referred to the topping crusted atop the fish, adding both flavor and texture. The Char was another example of restraint and precision in applying heat to the seafood, just cooked through but meltingly moist and soft. Another winner. The Patagonian Pinot Noir's young 2009 vintage belied its quality; it tasted to me significantly older given how well it's flavors came together. Note to self, I should see if I can pick up some of this "Barda" Bodega Chacra 2009.
We ended with the geometric box of chocolate containing several layers of goodness, paired with port. I especially enjoyed the fresh blueberries and jam betwixt chocolate ganache layers.
Even though Laurent Gras will not be in the kitchen for the rest of the week, these dishes will be offered as blackboard specials through Sat the 7th; you will not be sorry if you partake. I'm just looking forward to the opening of his new restaurant here, although if he does more pop ups I'll try those as well.

Oh, another tip, if you go, stopping by the Raines Law Room across the street for a pre-dinner cocktail would not be a mistake. I had an excellent Grapefruit Tom Collins using Beefeater 24 Bitters I spied behind the bar and wanted them to make me something using them.

Here's the No Reservations clip if you want more food porn and to see why I was so interested. If Eric Ripert likes seafood this much, you know it's good: