I've had some pretty good drinks in the past couple weeks, and wanted to showcase cocktails from three of the more interesting places I've had them.
Thursday night, I had the Summer Silk (formerly the "Maïs d'Été") at Marseille in Manhattan, as part of their Corn Festival -- all the restaurants in the Tour de France Restaurant Group were celebrating sweet corn this week, one of my favorite parts of any summer. The menu includes several corn-based dishes (I greatly enjoyed the charred corn salad and the roasted scallops with jalapeno-corn mousseline and popcorn beurre blanc), but also features two corn drinks. Aviram Turgeman, Beverage Director for the Tour de France Restaurant Group, told me that since the chefs were featuring corn in their menus, he thought he'd come up with a corn-based cocktail.
The Summer Silk is a bourbon sour, and I thought the most interesting twist was that the drink is sweetened with a housemade corn-silk syrup -- not the high-fructose variety that sweetens sodas and the like, but a simple syrup that tastes like just-picked sweet corn. Turgeman said that he originally experimented with corn purees, but that "the starchiness of the corn in a puree almost gave it a dairy consistency" that was undesirable in a drink. Going back to the drawing board, he "basically took the silk from the husk and cooked it with water and sugar. And surprisingly enough, the syrup smells and tastes like freshly-boiled corn. Mixing that with bourbon, which is made mostly of corn, was a given to me. The oloroso sherry is in the drink mainly to give it an oxidated note, and it's a way to facilitate the alcohol there; I could have gone with 2 oz. bourbon, but the bourbon would have dominated it, and I wanted to give it a little more roundness and nuttiness. The pineapple juice gives it the texture and the froth, and the Peychaud's bitters were because they're all-American, just like the corn." The drink's garnished with a few caramelized popcorn kernels, another unusual touch: "I tried to slice the cob and make a wheel on the edge of the glass as a garnish, but that was a little over the top, and I wanted an edible garnish", Turgeman noted.
I didn't quite find the sherry flavor in there, but I get that it modifies the drink, and it does kind of harmonize the various moving parts. Turgeman noted that he has to be careful when he makes the syrup, because some batches come out with more or less corn flavor, so he reduces it as necessary to make the sweetness and corn flavor consistent across the batches.
- 1 1/2 oz. Woodford Reserve bourbon
- 1 oz. housemade corn silk syrup*
- 3/4 oz. fresh lemon juice
- 1/2 oz. pineapple juice
- 1/2 oz. Lustau oloroso sherry
Shake well with ice and double-strain into a chilled cocktail glass, and finish with 3-4 small dashes of Peychaud's bitters floated atop the froth. Float 2-3 caramelized popcorn kernels as a garnish.
*Corn Silk Syrup
Combine 1 quart (400g) fresh corn silk, 1 quart water, and 1 quart sugar, and stir occasionally while bringing to a boil. Once boiled, lower the temperature to a very low simmer for 5 minutes, then remove from stove, cover with foil for 30 minutes, strain into a clean container and label. The liquid should be amber and smell like corn, and will keep in the refrigerator for 2 days.
Turgeman also came up with a non-alcoholic corn-mint lemonade which I didn't try, but which sounds good: place 10 fresh mint leaves in a mixing glass, add 1 1/4 oz. of the corn-silk syrup, and muddle well. Add 1 oz. fresh lemon juice, 1 1/2 oz. cold water, and 1/2 oz. pineapple juice. Shake well with ice, and strain into an ice-filled highball glass. Garnish with a mint leaf sandwiched between two caramelized corn kernels on a cocktail pick and serve with a straw.
The Corn Festival ends after tonight, but Turgeman says the Summer Silk and Corn-Mint Lemonade will both be available at Marseille and Cafe d'Alsace for at least a few more weeks, until the end of summer.
The evening had a back-to-school theme, and I started with Marrero's Orientation Swizzle (formerly known as "The Grapes of Wrath"), a crisp, light refreshing swizzle with Macchu Pisco, Riesling, a hibiscus/lemon verbena syrup, and lime juice, garnished with a mint leaf. I love wine-based cocktails, and using complex flavors like Riesling is a real winner in my book. My friend's Recess Fix by Kearns was stellar: gin, blanco vermouth, St. Germain, lemon juice, ginger, and rose petals, served on crushed ice in a large rocks glass. It was floral, but the ginger brought it some bite and structure. In a night full of outstanding drinks, this was perhaps my favorite.
Our second round was equally impressive. The Study Hall was applejack, rum, and sweet vermouth, served on a big rock -- boozy, seriously aromatic (honestly - this drink smelled fantastic), and intense. And the Extracurricular brought us home, with bourbon, St. Germain, grenadine, and mint. (And was there a splash of soda? It was a bit fizzy.) Very nice drinks, and part of the proceeds went to charity! Don't miss their talk with Momofuku bar manager John DeBary.
Also, a couple of weeks ago I was in Las Vegas for TCONA, and had a wonderful dinner at China Poblano with friends. We were really impressed with their drinks as well; the theme of the restaurant is Chinese-food-meets-Mexican-food, and the beverage menu is divided into China-influenced and Mexican-influenced sections. I was delighted to get a perfectly-made Singapore Sling (a real one, with gin and Cherry Heering and everything, not the abominations sometimes sold as such)...and you can even get them by the pitcher, should you so desire. As the Paloma por Mi Amante is one of my favorite drinks, I was impressed to see a "China Paloma" on the menu (but perplexed to see it in the China-influenced section of the cocktail list) with reposado and grapefruit-lavender syrup. My friend Scott loved his Oaxacan Old-Fashioned, when I wasn't cadging sips from it; this modern classic by Phil Ward was lovely, balanced, and fragrant. My second cocktail, the off-menu special "When Pigs Drink" (riffing off the "When Pigs Fly", the steamed pork buns) was a marvel: bacon-infused Atlanticó rum, housemade ancho chile liqueur, sweet vermouth, and lemon juice. Perfectly balanced, this creative drink was a good complement to our poached-quail-egg-topped siu mai. (!) Beverage manager Ricky told me that the When Pigs Drink was a creation of Juan Coronado, beverage director for Jose Andres' ThinkFoodGroup. And my friend Kristy's Mexican Gin & Tonic was herbal and a touch sweet, with elderflower liqueur, cilantro, and marigold.
Before dessert, the restaurant staff very kindly sent out a Salt Air Margarita for us to taste. I usually hate salt-rimmed Margaritas, as the salt is uneven from sip to sip and throws off the balance with the intense salt. (I will throw a pinch of kosher salt or a few drops of salt solution in the shaker when making Margaritas, and kosher salt definitely goes into my Palomas, and it can bring out all sorts of yumminess in Martinis even, but I'm not a fan of rimming glasses with it.) This version addressed that problem perfectly -- a conical stemless glass contained a very well-mixed Margarita topped with a big dollop of "salt air", an emulsified foamed solution of lime juice and salt. You drink the cocktail through the salt air, which salts it to perfection, and some of the foam remains in the glass when you're done.
Three very different, but equally awesome, drinking experiences at interesting drinking and eating establishments in three weeks. Seems like a pretty good track record to me. I wonder if it's notable that all three of these places were restaurants with interesting and innovative bar programs? Have I been missing out up till now in favor of cocktail bars, or is this a new trend? Either way, I think some further investigation is in order.