Raising The Bar
Westchester’s hardest working mixologists raid kitchen, pantry, and field.
Photo by Michael Polito
Photography by Michael Polito
It used to be so easy. Back in the day, bartenders had everything at their fingertips—and it all came from bottles and jars. Want citrus? Use Rose’s Lime Juice. Want fruit? Maraschino cherries. If you were lucky, bartenders poured their O.J. from a carton and sliced the occasional fresh lime.
That all changed with the advent of “mixologists.” Not content with the bartender’s narrow boundaries, today’s mixologists are busting into kitchens, pantries, spice racks—they’re even hitting the fields—in search of rare, exotic ingredients and ever-brighter flavor combinations. They’re infusing liquors with spices and roots, they’re simmering house-made syrups, and they’re using handfuls of fresh fruit and fragrant herbs. Tying one on has never tasted so good.
Beyond taste, the new cocktails are about branding, too. We’re seeing organic restaurants serving organic cocktails, Moroccan restaurants serving spiced cocktails, and farm-to-table restaurants designing drinks around their home-grown produce. And needless to say, it’s good riddance to tiny plastic swords and lab-spawned maraschino cherries: these cocktails are as thoughtfully styled as the restaurants that serve them.
So the next time you go out for a drink, make sure your mixologist works for his money. Try some of these world-roaming, palate-pleasing, high-maintenance quaffs.
Everyone’s favorite organic takeout just got a whole lot better. Comfort Lounge owners John and Angel Halko’s newest venture is like Comfort’s sophisticated
Ras el hanout is the most complex of Morocco’s heady spice mixtures. Translated as “head of the shop,” ras el hanout’s ingredients can be as varied as the spice vendors selling it. Often containing up to 50 aromatic spices, ras el hanout routinely features ginger, anise, cinnamon, nutmeg, peppercorns, cloves, cardamom, lavender, rose petals, nigella, mace, galangal, and tumeric. It’s like an entire Moroccan spice bazaar harnessed in a jar.
Zitoune’s owner (and Marrakech native) Alain Bennouna has paired fragrant ras el hanout with juniper-scented gin, dreamy rose water, and a dash of fiery Tabasco. The resulting libation is as subtle, complex, and intoxicating as a fragrant Moroccan evening.
Dark and Stormy
Don’t look for soda-gun squirts of wan Canada Dry at Crabtree’s. Instead, this centuries-old Chappaqua landmark is concocting its own ginger beer from fresh ginger root, brown sugar, and water—a process that results in a fiery, spicy beverage that challenges the mixer’s supporting role. To cool the heat (and provide the buzz), Crabtree’s adds darkly spicy Gosling’s Black Seal rum, and the labor doesn’t stop there: this classic Bermudan quaff is garnished with ginger stalks that have been candied in the Kittle House’s own kitchen.
Crabtree’s Kittle House
Cocktails don’t get more painstaking than this. The Unbloody Mary at Blue Hill requires a two-day process—not counting the time it takes to grow the vegetables, of course. It starts with Stone Barns cucumbers and tomatoes, which are chopped and hung overnight in cheesecloth to extract their clear, flavorful waters. Meanwhile, fresh, fiery horseradish juice is cooked into a gelée, which, when cool, is cut into perfect piquant replicas of ice cubes. Finally, the extracted vegetable waters, fresh hot chiles, and freshly ground black pepper are muddled together in a shaker with premium vodka. Shaken with ice and poured into a highball then garnished with a horeseradish “ice cube” and a tomato-and-basil skewer, the result is a clear, elegant take on a Bloody Mary—and a cocktail that tastes like the purest distillation of summer.
Blue Hill at Stone Barns
Coming Up Roses
Westchester Magazine’s Best New Restaurant of the Year serves a glamorous Champagne cocktail to match its stunning views. 42’s Coming Up Roses starts with fresh, romantic red-rose petals, which are muddled with rose water to release their flavor, fragrance, and subtle blush. The cocktail’s body (and glamour) comes from crisp Jacquart Champagne, and its berry kick, from Bacardi Razz—a naturally flavored raspberry rum.
Making Mojitos is not for the lazy, which is why there are so many dull Mojitos out there. Get the real deal at Coco Rumba’s, where loads of fresh lime sections, limejuice, cane syrup, brown sugar, sugarcane, and handfuls of fresh mint are bashed and bruised to within an inch of their lives by an energetic, bloody minded, muddle-stick-wielding bartender. This time-consuming (and exhausting) process must be repeated for each Mojito—scores of times each night—which is why this step is skipped at other bars. Sadly, violent muddling is the only way to release the lime’s delicate, fragrant oils and the mi nt’s complex, grassy flavors.
At Coco Rumba’s, the classic Mojito starts with the pounding described above. When the lime and mint are broken to a fragrant pulp, sweet, light rum
Cardamom and Raspberry Batida
Batida (Portuguese for “shaken”) is the word for a family of Brazillian cocktails made with cashaça, a spirit distilled from sugarcane juice. (Rum—the other sugar distillation—actually is made from molasses.) While you may have had a Caipirinha, the most popular Brazillian drink made with cashaça, chances are, you’ve never had a cardamom-and-raspberry Batida. Concocted by Palomino mixologists Eric Patterson and Stan Fivekiller, this complex cocktail starts with cardamom pods, which Patterson toasts to extract their fragrant oils. The aromatic pods are then simmered in house-made sugar syrup, which, when cool, is combined with freshly puréed raspberries, lemon juice, and Beleza Pura cachaça. This cachaça blend was synthesized by Olie Berlic, Greenwich-based, award-winning sommelier and America’s only full-time cachaça importer. Before blending his own, Berlic spent three years researching in Brazil and tasted more than 800 cachaças. Beleza Pura is the result of his labors, and both Patterson and Chef Rafael Palomino believe it’s the best un-aged cachaça on the market.
Cardamom and Raspberry Batida
2 oz Beleza Pura Cachaça
½ oz raspberry purée
½ oz cardamom-infused
½ oz fresh lemon juice
Stir with ice, strain, and serve; garnish with a lemon twist.
Cardamom Simple Syrup
1 cup sugar
1 cup water
1 cup cardamom seeds
Make the simple syrup by heating, in a pan, 1 cup sugar and 1 cup of water. Sprinkle 1 cup cardamom seeds on a cookie sheet and place in a pre-heated oven at 350°F
for 5 to 7 minutes (this opens the shells). Add seeds to simmering simple syrup for 5 to 7 minutes. Strain the seeds out and let cool. May be stored refrigerated in a bottle.