Thursday, November 4, 2010

A Visit to Vandaag

If you're only interested in drinking, Vandaag is a nice antidote to the darkened drinking dens of the East Village. It's light, spacious and airy, with a vaguely European design befitting the Dutch-Danish thrust of the menu. I know they want you to eat as well—Vandaag is primarily a restaurant, with plenty of fine food. But the large bar, taken on its own, can be a very pleasurable experience.

Unlike any other bar in town, there are categories titles like Genever Cocktails and Akvavit Cocktails on the drink list. There's also a list of Infused Akvavits, which you can order solo or in groups of three ($20) or five ($30). Flavors include strawberry with long pepper and sarawak peppercorn, pineapple, horseradish and dill, Chamomile citron, mustard seed and sultanas, and smoked black cardamom. You'll find more Dutch gin in the Digestif Cocktails section, where genever is mixed with things like Port and Fernet Branca. (One drink, the Dutch Flip, with cream, an egg and espresso, sounds like breakfast to me.)

Taking its appropriate place at the head of the list is the Vandaag Gin Cocktail. This is one of the glories of the cocktail list, a strong statement composed of Bols Genever, Golden Age beer reduction, bitters and a wash of Kirschwasser and Absinthe. The drink is a spin on an Improved Gin Cocktail, a Jerry Thomas special that's beloved in cocktail circles. But it stands on its own. It's distinct and forthright sipping drink, the entrancing lacing of the beer reduction lending the drink its personality. Don't leave without having one.

If you want something less imposing, the Bohemian Spritz may do you. It's made of Gruner Veltliner, Vermouth Blanc, St. Germain, Zirbenz Pine Liqueur, with Sparkling Wine and Grapefruit Zest. It's perfectly refreshing, though I prefer a different pine liqueur drink on the menu—Fir Lining, a spin on the Tantris Sidecar, a creation of Audrey Saunders of Pegu Club. It includes Clear Creek Douglas Fir Eau de Vie (it and the Zirbenz are the only major pine liquors readily available on the American market), Velvet Falernum, lemon juice, a little pineapple juice, and green Chartreuse. The base liquor is a Genevieve Genever-Style Gin which has been steeped in pine needles. True to the drink's name, the glass' rim is lined in a power made of sugar and pine powder. There's a lot more going on here, and it keeps the senses alert. (These drink, by the way, are all the work of beverage director Katie Stipe.)

One should also probably indulge in a Kopstootje while at Vandaag, simply because you won't be able to get one anywhere else. A Kopstootje is a glass of chilled Genever with a beer back. (The name means "Little Head Butt") If you don't specify, you'll get Bols and a glass of Carlsberg. Which is well enough. But, on one occasion, I asked for Cornvign instead of regular Genever. There are a few types of Dutch Genever and Korenwijn ("Cornwine") is the most heady and rustic, as it contained considerably more malt wine. It's generally not available in the U.S., but I saw a bottle on Vandaag's back bar, so I requested it. It made all the difference, adding considerable punch to me head butt.

Finally, I would also like to express my affection for the barkeeps' aprons, which vaguely evoke Delft blue pottery. Very fetching.

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