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Contemporary Cocktails

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Reading a review of a new Lower East Side restaurant in the NY Times this morning called JoeDoe, which makes a chopped chicken liver and bacon app and calls it "The Conflicted Jew." http://www.nytimes.com/2009/05/06/dining/0...&ref=dining

What struck me particularly was this, about one of the cocktails on offer: "The Maryland Crab Boil ($10) blends Old Bay seasoning with lime, honey and Siembra Azul tequila for a lip-smacking mid-Atlantic margarita."

Actually, to be a true Thrasherite, she needs to make Old Bay bitters, and top the drink with some tomato foam, to suggest Maryland crab soup.

But the mid-Atlantic margarita actually sounds like it might be tasty--I'd mix the Old Bay with salt for the rim of the glass, the way they mix chile with salt for the margaritas at Oyamel.

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Somewhat motivated by the Gin and Tonic thread and some subsequent comments about liquor infused drinks I tried a few contemporary cocktails that currently embellish the cocktail menus of a few restaurants.  In general I don't try many of these.

At Fireworks in Arlington, facing one who is sitting toward the center of their long bar is an enormous bell jar with an infusion of a dark colored whiskey with various ingredients.  It had been staring me in the face at various lunches when all I drink are cokes.   I heard from the day bartender it sells "like hotcakes".  Its an infusion of bourbon and spices and I believe its the Kentucky Works Cocktail that one can find on their desktop website in the libations section.  I believe the paper version at the bar includes a single large ice cube infused with tea.  In any case the staff manages the infusion for about 2 weeks to have the spices adequately infuse the alcohol.

So I gave it a shot....asked the bartender to skip the special ice cube and just fill it with ice.   Reaction--eh!!.  A sweet drink, wherein the apricot shows through along with other sweet features along with the fizz nature of ginger beer.  Since they don't name the bourbon I suspect its a less than strong distinguished flavored brand.  Anyway, too many different sweet elements that didn't come together for me...and the boozy part felt weak and not distinguishable to me.  Not horrible but I won't order it again.   Good for Fireworks though if it sells like hotcakes and adds some diversity to their strong beer lineup. 

The second cocktail was a drink I believe is called the Sicilian Mule on the Carmine's cocktail menu.  Can't find it on the web, but I did find it complimented on some reviews of the restaurant.  It uses Woodford Reserve Bourbon as a base, I think there is an amaro added to it, possibly lemon juice with ginger flavorings.  They don't use ginger beer, but add a splash of ginger ale.  I skipped the fizz.  

Ooooh.  I liked that cocktail.  Strong  flavor essence of the two liquor components including a nice boozy element. 

I must admit, I had another reason to visit Carmine's on my own.  A grad of the bartending school in Arlington works there and I was intrigued by his story.  He was my bartender that evening.

Michael had worked at a different restaurant and thrived.  Its a restaurant that gets mentioned here.  Its also a restaurant with a bar that frankly our grads have not enjoyed including some very experienced people.  But Michael thrived there.   A year or so later his former manager moved to a manager's position at Carmine's.  She contacted Michael.  She wanted him at her bar.

That is RARE.  Basically she knew he would make her and the restaurant money and would do a bang up/ problem free job.  Frankly not a lot of bartenders get called to other bars by former managers or owners.  Among those that do are the one's that have established a great name in the industry.  Michael is one of them but he works in anonymity.

FYI.  Michael is there Wed-Friday evening shifts.  I took some pictures and video's of him.  Asked one of the managers on duty about him and she smiled and said he is a 10 out of 10.  His coworker that evening said she loved working with him.

So if you are hanging at the Carmine's bar Wed-Friday look for the bartender with a bow tie.  If it is crazy packed, he has his eyes always scanning the place.  You won't be stranded or wait long.  He will fill you in on what is available and treat you well.  Is he making signature drinks??  I don't know.  But he fully understands flavor profiles and every item they have stocked at the bar.  If he is creating drinks I'd expect he has made them, tasted them, adjusted them and will serve up something that is pleasing to the palate.  

As to Carmine's--I enjoy going there.  Its my comfort food and what I grew up with--Italian American food a la the NY region.  It's not the most remarkable dining in the world.  I had an HH bar food at the menu/  parmigiana garlic bread or something--uggh.  Not good.  OTOH I had the lunch/half portion order of their rigatoni sausage country style.   That doesn't even get close to what the Red Hen does ...but it is still reasonably good, its my comfort food...and I took half of it home.  All in all a great time at their bar and I do suggest the Sicilian Mule at their bar.


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Last week the Arlington Bar School was visited by an old grad; probably the most locally esteemed bartender/mixologist from our midst, who remains in the DC area:   Jo-Jo Valenzuela.

If you follow the local cocktail world and its practitioners you probably know of Jo-Jo.  He has created many award winning cocktails, created many cocktail menus, provides splendid service, is a mentor to many in the industry, and is an all around nice guy.

Seeing Jo-Jo and knowing of his skills I was reminded of one line from the "La Vie" review by Sietsema.   The opposite of what Jo-Jo does:


What’s more, simply because drinks are made “with lotsof ingredients,” as one bartender informed us, doesn’t make them better. A blend of bourbon, balsamic reduction, strawberry and more resembles a watery Manhattan.

There are too many of these out in the market.   ugh


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