Summer hit with force recently, so a quick peak at some menus designed for the sultry months seems in order. Chicago, of course, is known for blistering summers. Koi in Evanston, Ill., offers Monday $5 Asian Mojitos featuring fresh fruit, including strawberry, raspberry, mango and pear. The fruits are muddled with fresh mint, ginger syrup, mint syrup and fresh lime juice then mixed with light rum and poured over ice with a splash of soda water. Meanwhile, Luxbar celebrates summer with local Farmer’s Market Blueberry Açai Bellinis in celebration of National Blueberry Month.
Still in Chicago, summer shareables are a feature over at Frontier, which has not only two kinds of Sangria, but also pitchers of Hurricanes (Bacardi Light and Dark Rum, orange juice, grapefruit juice, pineapple juice and grenadine) or Frontier Punch Bowls (Sailor Jerry Rum, pineapple juice, coconut milk, ginger liqueur and fresh pineapple). I don’t know why more bars don’t opt for seasonal pitcher service; except for the potential for over service (not insignificant, but manageable), I can’t think of any downside. Frontier is not the only pitcher-happy place: Tokio Pub in Schaumburg, Ill., offers group servings of Sake Sangria, Yuzu Margaritas and Ginger Mojitos, along with cocktails and a bomb menu, including Sake Bombs, O-Bombs, Car Bombs and Jello Bombs. (See this week’s “Asked and Answered” for more info).
Other newly opened Chicago spots take a more international view of imbibing: At Roka Akor, dozens of sakes are featured, as well as house-infused sojus served over chipped ice and cocktails such as Bing Cherry and Black Peppercorn Soju Manhattan (house infused Tyku Shochu, Punt E Mes, Angostura bitters and cherry syrup, finished with a Luxardo Marasca cherry) and “THE ONE” (Bombay Sapphire Gin, Junmai Sake, Del Maguey Vida Mezcal, housemade seaweed-infused soy syrup, ginger, fresh lemon juice). (Rob Holder is the beverage director for JNK Concepts Restaurants, owner of Roka Akor.)
Sazerac in Seattle is the latest operation to go all-out with ice for its summer fare. Each day this month, the restaurant is serving up a different version of the semi-frozen dessert grainta with flavor options like pomegranate with grape and rosemary and lemon verbena with coconut and pineapple. The restaurant also plans to include a Margarita granita served with a shot of tequila. Sazerac isn’t the only ice-minded place: Holstein’s in Las Vegas has a new "sorbet" shake made with watermelon and bubblegum vodka, then blended with liquid nitrogen.
“The shake is made fresh to order from actual fresh watermelon fruit," Executive Chef Anthony Meidenbauer says. "The nitrogen is used to freeze the fresh watermelon and vodka very quickly and turn it into a frozen treat. We were already using [the nitrogen] for the meringues and such, and I wanted to use it in some other items since we have it in the kitchen. So, I challenged the pastry chef to come up with a shake that’s made fresh with nitrogen, and since it was beginning of summer, what better then sweet and refreshing watermelon?”
The fresh diced watermelon is put in a blender with a shot of bubblegum vodka, then a 1/2 cup of liquid nitrogen is added and the blender is turned on high. The mixture immediately begins to freeze, instantly spinning a fresh sorbet.
“This technique allows you to quickly change the texture of the ingredients while keeping the great natural flavor intact,” Meidenbauer says.
Another sign of summer is community-supported agriculture, which allows consumers (or restaurants) and farmers to connect: Anyone can sign up for a season’s worth of produce for a certain fixed price in advance. In Ann Arbor, Mich., Grange Kitchen and Bar has started a Community Supported Cocktail program, in which customers can drink with the seasons. Guests pay up front to help procure fresh fruit and produce from local farms to enjoy later, such as house-brandied cherries (a year’s worth of cherries for Manhattans must be bought and processed during a three-week harvest season) and pickled garlic scapes, at a discount.
New openings, of course, still rejuvenate the scene; Restaurant R'evolution in New Orleans will feature chef-driven, seasonal cocktails inspired by Pre-Prohibition-era libations, focusing on "Gilded Age" cocktails, reimagined and emphasizing fresh ingredients. The establishment also will look to the summer bounty from the farm: Offerings will range from riffs on the Sazerac to cocktails made with Creole bitters, Cherry Bounce, absinthe and chef-crafted ratafias infused with flavors from camellia and persimmon. A large portion of fresh produce and herbs used at Restaurant R'evolution will be grown at Chef John Folse's White Oak Plantation in Baton Rouge, La. (Molly Wismeier is Restaurant R'evolution's director of wine and spirits.)