I’m cleaning out my closet, and so for the post-Labor Day menu review, let’s look at some interesting menu odds and ends that are emerging as the end of summer looms.
Blenders can be your friend, depending on your bar or restaurant’s concept – bartenders love to hate this machine more than any other, but customers love a slushy concoction. Avoid making strawberry daiquiris out of season and enlist a blender in a manner like at Havana Central in New York, where the batido, Spanish for beaten, is popular. The traditional Cuban treat is a blend of fruit pulp - Havana Central offers guava, coconut, mango and passion fruit - ice, water or milk, and rum or vodka. Easy to batch, easy to use as a base for experimentation for really potent and interesting blended drinks.
Shrubs – fruit-vinegar inspired refreshers – are bubbling up this summer, especially recently in New Orleans at the new cocktail bar Bellocq. In the Denver area, Chef Mark Fisher has merged the shrub idea with Southeast Asian influences by introducing vinegar-spiked cocktails inspired by vinegar he found bottled as a “health drink” at an Asian market in Denver. That gave birth to three new house vinegar drinks that he’s paired with food items, including a Blueberry Lemonade made with blueberry vinegar from soaked berries, muddled lemons and vodka, served with pork banh mi sliders; and a Blackberry Bramble, made with blackberry vinegar and honey-infused bourbon and matched with short rib tacos. Asian restaurants are especially showing interest in the possibilities of vinegar – Portland’s Pok Pok has been selling vinegar to drink since 2005, even bottled in four flavors – apple, honey, tamarind and pomegranate - as Pok Pok Som.
In Washington, DC, the menu at Lincoln’s is chilling summer’s produce on its way into non-alcohol cocktails. Ice cubes made with fruits and vegetables do the trick, as in The Storyteller, made with agave syrup, egg white, orange juice, and peach ice. Blueberry-filled ice cubes appear in the Summer Cottage, and beet greens are appearing as well. Produce is also a favorite of LA’s Matthew Biancaniello, now plying his trade at the Luxe City Center Hotel’s FigOly (as well as the Library at tk), where his Pimm’s Cup introduces radish, rhubarb, shiso and lime to cucumber. Like at Library Bar, he’s serving the Roquette, a gin, arugula, agave and lime juice favorite; and a strawberry-gin concoction dashed with 25-year-old balsamic vinegar, The Last Tango in Modena.
Boston bar star Brother Cleve has put his mark on the cocktail menu at newly-opened First Printer, where oldies like the Journalist (gin and French and Italian vermouth) and the Boulevardier (Four Roses bourbon, Gran Classico and Italian vermouth) join newer drink ideas like Tomata du Plenty (tomato-flavored vodka, basil-infused French vermouth, smoke and celery bitters) and a desert drink that could inspire a blended ice cream drink for the adventurous blenderologist – cane sugar Coke, Fernet Branca and caramelized vanilla ice cream.