I know that PDT is one of the best places to drink in New York City, the United States, maybe even the world (more on that in F&W's Go List in the upcoming May issue). And I can get into a lot of trouble drinking the Paddington, which includes, among other things, rum, Lillet and orange marmalade; it's also a favorite of an F&W Best New Chef 2009 because he used to wear Paddington bear pajamas—more on that in the upcoming July issue).
But I'm here to talk about other things at PDT, not just the celeb clientele I promised PDT's star mixologist Jim Meehan I wouldn't name here. (I can say, though, that there's no VIP entrance. Pop stars and their girlfriends have to walk through the phone booth just like everyone else.) For one thing, PDT has added to its roster of feel-good foods (fried hot dogs, Tater Tots with cheese sauce and jalapeños) a new item that happens to be one of my all-time favorite desserts: the black-and-white cookie. Don't think about the lame, dusty plastic-wrapped versions at bodega checkouts. Think of a truly excellent, freshly baked, perfectly frosted black-and-white cookie made by Rockland Bakery, which also makes PDT's hot dog buns. And if cookies as a cocktail chaser seem a little weird to you, there's a new hot dog that will be debuting on the PDT menu this weekend: The Sam Mason dog, named for and created by the supercool chef-owner of New York City's Tailor, will be topped with huitlacoche (the Mexican corn-fungus delicacy) and coated in tequila corn-bread batter. Sam Mason himself may be at PDT for the unveiling of the huitlacoche corndog. Look for him walking through the phone booth.
The final lesson from John Gertsen, bar manager of Drink in Boston, was about the evolution of the cocktail. I learned that part of the beauty of a cocktail is its history, its roots. Just like a great recipe, a great cocktail can often be traced back to a classic. Case in point: Drink’s signature, the Fort Point.
Five years ago, when Gertsen was living in New York, he ordered a classic Manhattan at the venerable cocktail den Milk & Honey, then requested a second drink. "I didn't want another Manhattan, so I asked for something similar, and the bartender just nailed my flavor profile," says Gertsen. The natural choice was a Brooklyn, a variation of the Manhattan. But the cocktail craftsman behind the bar, Enzo Enrico, put a spin on the Brooklyn, creating the Red Hook, in honor of the South Brooklyn neighborhood.
This modern Brooklyn variant has spawned several interesting neighborhood-inspired derivations, including the the Chartreuse-spiked Greenpoint, the Slope, the Bensonhurst and Death & Co.’s Cobble Hill.
Gertsen looked to these drinks as inspiration for his Fort Point, named after Boston’s warehouse district turned up-and-coming arts 'hood.
The Fort Point
2 ounces Rittenhouse Rye
1/2 ounce Punt e Mes
1/4 ounce Benedictine
Pour all ingredients over hand-cracked ice in a chilled glass pitcher. Stir thoroughly but gently, being careful not to incorporate too much air into the liquid. Pour slowly into a pre-chilled cocktail glass. Serve with a Benedictine flavored cherry on the side.
John Gertsen, bar manager at Drink in Boston, insisted that if I was serious about becoming a cocktail connoisseur, then I absolutely had to learn to make a proper martini—proper meaning the late-19th-century martini, as opposed to the 20th-century version. I’d nearly mastered mixing a pretty damn good martini using Noilly Prat vermouth. But it looks like I’ll have to remaster the drink, since Noilly Prat is reverting to its original, European recipe. The new Noilly Prat formula was brought to my attention in a piece by Eric Felten in the Wall Street Journal, which ponders the fate of the American martini in the face of this sweeter, cloudier vermouth. Felten’s take: “World-weary sophisticates for whom the martini is a violet-hour balm will want to look elsewhere for the cocktail component, perhaps trying the dry French vermouths from Boissiere or Dolin.” Looks like I’ll need to restock my bar.
I celebrated the new year in Boston, which gave me the opportunity to check out Barbara Lynch’s innovative new cocktail bar, Drink. The genius of Drink is that there is no actual drink list—daunting to the cocktail novice, but at the same time, extremely helpful in my pursuit of cocktail knowledge. The lack of choice forced me to ask questions and interact with the bartenders. Bar manager John Gertsen helped me better understand my go-to cocktail, the gin and tonic. I wanted to know what, in his opinion, is required to elevate a G&T to perfection. His expert opinion:
1) A good, aggressive gin that won’t be overwhelmed by the tonic water. While English gins are always best with a classic G&T, Drink also stocks Anchor Brewing Co.’s Junípero, which has a great, junipery snap.
2) Tonic water that has a bit of a bite to it. Gertsen makes a light-pink-colored tonic water at Drink with citrus peel, citric acid, cinchona bark and quassia chips, which have a resinous, piney quality.
F&W's fabulous Washington, DC correspondent Amanda McClements gave me the idea of hosting a Hawaiian luau on inauguration night. I was thinking of serving a Polynesian-themed tiki cocktail like the Mai Tai but have always found the drink a bit too sweet and fruity. If I was serious about becoming a sophisticated cocktail drinker, could I really get away with serving this? Continuing my 2009 mixology appreciation mission, I called Jennifer Colliau, the trendsetting Bay Area bartender at the Slanted Door and Charles Phan's soon-to-open Chinese restaurant, Heaven's Dog. San Francisco is hot on the heels of NYC's mixology scene and Colliau is leading the chase with her fierce obsession with exceptional ingredients.
Colliau said that the 1944 Trader Vic Mai Tai was actually one of her favorite cocktails. However, for years, she shunned the drink and even refused to serve it at the Slanted Door. A great Mai Tai needs orgeat (almond syrup), and in her opinion there was no good commercial orgeat on the market. The solution: She’d make her own. Colliau’s orgeat is made from real almonds, so it has fat and proteins (unlike commercial varieties made with sugar syrup and almond extract) that add a full-bodied, lush richness to the drink. Colliau started making other elusive pre-Prohibition cocktail ingredients like pineapple gum syrup (which I learned adds viscosity to Pisco punch) and a seasonal raspberry gum syrup, and is distributing them to top Bay Area bartenders through her company Small Hand Foods.
Unfortunately for me, Colliau’s orgeat and other ingredients are available only in the Bay Area (score one for the San Fran cocktail scene). They’re available at Cask, the new artisanal spirits store from the team behind the swanky speakeasy Bourbon & Branch, as well as the Jug Shop. Colliau is hoping to start distributing on the East Coast next year.
Click here for her serious-minded Mai Tai recipe.
One of my many new year’s resolutions includes learning to embrace the cocktail. The inspiration: 1) A late night at NYC bar PDT, where mixologist extraordinaire Jim Meehan carefully crafted me a Green Deacon only to have me take a few sips, hang my head and sheepishly ask for a beer; and 2) My miserable score on F&W's spirits quiz. Despite Food & Wine’s trendspotting cocktail coverage and NYC’s radical mixology scene I’ve been slow to find a true appreciation for perfectly made drinks, simply because I never order them.
But I took advantage of the busy end-of-year social scene, and made a concerted effort to expand my mixology knowledge. I’m already off to a pretty good start after trying a fabulous new cocktail at NYC's L’Artusi, my favorite West Village restaurant. I love listening to wine director/owner Joe Campanale tell compelling stories about the esoteric Italian wines he’s always pouring, but on recent visits I've found myself ordering the Jester, a delicious, slightly tart cocktail crafted by Campanale and assistant beverage director Aaron Sherman. The two young talents were experimenting with some of their favorite Italian spirits and came up with this riff on the Negroni Sbagliato. Sbagliato means "wrong" or "incorrect" because you use a sparkling white wine (Campanale is slightly obsessed with white lambrusco, which he uses here) instead of the usual gin. The L'Artsui tweak swaps out the standard campari with amari, a bitter Italian after-dinner drink. The result is my first love affair with a cocktail.
by Aaron Sherman and Joe Campanale
1oz. Ramazzotti Amaro
1oz. Carpano Antico vermouth
.5oz lemon juice
Lini Lambrusco Bianco or dry sparkling white wine
Add Ramazzotti, Carpano Antica Formula and lemon juice to a mixing glass filled with ice. Stir. Strain into chilled Champagne flute, top with Lambrusco Bianco and garnish with lemon peel.
I've already hit the slopes twice this season and have at least three more trips planned for 2009. Here are the newest après-ski hangouts I'll be visiting after spending a day in the snowboard park.
*The Hourglass, the laid-back bar in the spectacular new Stowe Mountain Resort at the base of Mt. Mansfield in Vermont, has an awesome selection of regional microwbrews (the signature Hourglass Ale is made exclusively for the resort by Rock Art Brewery) and an überlocal bar menu from chef Sean Buchanan, which includes dishes like dry-rubbed Misty Knoll chicken wings with mint-yogurt sauce and flatbread topped with delicious artisanal ingredients like Grafton aged cheddar and Maple Brook Farm mozzarella.
*The new $1 billion Snowmass Base Village in Aspen, Colorado, has a handful of hot new post-ski spots, including Liquid Sky at the base of the new gondola, plus two new restaurants in the pipes from Jeffrey Klein, founder of Aspen’s Matsuhisa.
*The 8100 Mountainside Bar and Grill in the new Park Hyatt Beaver Creek in Colorado is conveniently located at the base of Beaver Creek Mountain. Its 20-seat bar has a small-plates menu featuring local ingredients (buffalo from Great Range Buffalo Farms in Colorado; salmon and halibut flown in daily from Seattle’s Pikes Place Fish Market), as well as local Colorado wines, microbrews and local organic spirits. Chef Reese Hay is gong to be making marshmallows in flavors like Grand Marnier for toasting during s’mores happy hour at the outdoor fire pit.
*I fell in love with Moody’s in Truckee, California, a few years back and am thrilled to learn that its supertalented chef, Mark Estee, is opening a second restaurant, Baxter’s, at the Village at Northstar in Tahoe, California. Expect the same selection of exceptional house-made charcuterie and salumi, as well as an extensive list of eaux-de-vie, a wine list heavy on Pinot Noirs and dangerously good cocktails like Baxter’s Naughty Cider–a concoction of unfiltered organic apple juice, Charbay Tahitian vanilla rum and brown sugar topped with spiced-rum whipped cream.
Recently, writer Jonathan Miles pondered that traditional holiday drink: mulled wine. It's fragrant, it's soothing and it’s the official beverage of Charles Dickens's “A Christmas Carol.” The only problem? No one actually craves it. "Mulled wine, like roast goose, is one of those holiday confections that often sounds better than it tastes," Miles writes. Fortunately, he offers some lust-worthy permutations, including a cold punch by former F&W staffer and current Tasting Table editor Nick Fauchald, made primarily with Zinfandel, Becherovka (a cinnamon-and-anise-flavored liqueur from the Czech Republic) and homemade spiced plum syrup.
Personally, I don't have anything against mulled wine. It's eggnog that I've never been able to get around. I've always found it too gloppy, like cloyingly sweet dead weight in the mouth. My modest proposal? Switch to coquito, a Latin take on eggnog with serious coconut flavor, rum and hints of cinnamon and vanilla. Now that's what I consider crave-worthy.
Just in case President Bush’s efforts to ease holiday hassles at the airport aren’t foolproof F&W’s Senior Online Editor Rachel Wharton has devised the ultimate airport dining survival guide so you can at least eat and drink well while you wait for delayed flights or lost luggage.
Anyone flying through Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson International should check out the truly revolutionary airport restaurant, One Flew South (near gate G6, in terminal E). Chef Todd Richards wanted to give international travelers a taste of real American food as well as ingredients from local purveyors and he’s created a Southern-influenced menu of dishes like snapper seared in rendered bacon fat with jumbo lump crab grits and Benton’s bacon and Sweet Grass Dairy goat cheese salad. The restaurant also provides a bit of American cocktail history: a 1920s-inspired drink list developed by mixologist Jerry Slater.
Richards and team have to deal with their own airport-security hassles. Every knife in the kitchen must be chained to a fixture, and security conducts monthly “knife counts” to make sure none have gone missing. And pastry torches are banned, so don’t expect crème brulee on the dessert menu.