Thursday, January 19, 2012

And Cocktails Get Even More Complicated

There seem to be two divergent trends going among in the cocktail bars opening recently. One set (Mother's Ruin, Basik) is trying to simplify and render more humble the consumer's craft cocktail experience, while the other (Aviary, Rogue 24) is ramping up the level of ornate experimentation and invention exponentially.

Squarely falling in the second category is Booker and Dax, the new collaboration between superstar chef David Chang and cocktaildom's benevolent mad scientist Dave Arnold, the French Culinary Institute‘s director of culinary technology who has more technology toys that did Fred McMurray in his Disney years. Arnold preaches the simplicity of complication. For him, the old cocktail methods are inefficient and can be solved with a bunch of tubing, gases and open flames. It sounds terribly geeky (and it is), but in Arnold's hand is often infectiously endearing.

Liquid nitrogen, a Red Hot Poker, a centrifuge and a rotory evaporator are Arnold's bar tools of choice. I wrote an article in the New York Times about the bar's imminent opening (see below), but there are a few featured drinks that I couldn't fit into the text. There will be a carbonated Gin & Tonic; and a carbonated drink called Chartruth, a mix of green Chartreuse and lime. Maria de la Noche will be a clear riff on the Bloody Mary, a blend of clarified cherry tomatoes, clarified Worchester sauce, clarified Siricha sauce (all rendered so in the centrigue); a horseradish liquid produced by the rotovap; and tequila. It's light and elegant, an evening version of the classic brunch drink.

There will also be a drink made of rum and actual banana juice ("Nobody's got banana juice!" cried Arnold with glee), topped with salt, candied ginger and coconut ice cubes. It's a clear drink—perhaps a first for any cocktail involving bananas. To make this, Arnold blends in three ripe bananas into a bottle of Zacapa 23 rum, adds an enzyme, passes the potion through the centrifuge and rebottles it.

The simplest drink on the menu by far will be something called the Nederlander—nothing more than Bols genever, a quarter ounce of Angostura and a little simple syrup. It's fantastic.

Here's the article:

High-Tech Cocktail Lounge Is Opening at Momofuku Ssam Bar
A little liquid nitrogen with your manhattan? Warm up that drink with a foot-tall flame?
Booker & Dax, a new bar that places technology squarely in the service of mixology, has you covered.
Situated in the back of David Chang’s Momofuku Ssam Bar in the East Village, where the original Milk Bar once was, the new bar is a collaboration between Mr. Chang and French Culinary Institute‘s director of culinary technology, Dave Arnold. It is set to open Friday.
Over the last few years, Mr. Arnold has won a reputation as the cocktail demimonde’s own Mr. Wizard, passing alcohol through a variety of elaborate gizmos and coming out with something purer, more potent, and arguably better on the other end. His experiments have influenced many modern bartenders, but Booker & Dax will be the first tavern where he’ll have direct control over the drinks program. The bar also shares a name with a new company run by Mr. Arnold and Mr. Chang that will build cooking equipment. (The names Booker and Dax themselves refer to Mr. Arnold’s two sons.)
“For the last seven years at the French Culinary Institute, I’ve been trying to show you can use new technologies without being terribly wacky,” Mr. Arnold said. “I don’t think we should be in a business of pushing outside people’s comfort zones here. I’m more interested in slam-dunk delicious.” He added, “I want you to feel happy to be here. I don’t want you to feel like a lab rat we’re testing on.”
You may, however, want to put on a lab coat, and perhaps some goggles, when the bartender sticks a device called a Red Hot Poker, heated up to 1,500 degrees, into a mixing glass of Pernod, lime juice, sugar and water. This results in a libation called the French Colombian. “The burning takes the ingredients to a new place,” Mr. Arnold said. The poker, which he custom-made, is modeled after the hot irons early American innkeepers would stick into customers’ cups to heat up their drinks.
Mr. Arnold finds the way most bars chill their glassware inconsistent and a waste of space. So the vessels at Booker & Dax will be cooled on the spot by a shot of liquid nitrogen, a wisp of frozen mist sent chasing around the rim.
“The glass just sits there becoming awesome while we make the drink,” he said. Into it may go Mr. Arnold’s vision of a manhattan, which he admits may be controversial. “Stirring a drink is just chilling and diluting, without adding texture. It is prone to error and takes a long time if you’re stirring a lot of drinks. Why wouldn’t I dilute that thing beforehand, chill it to the perfect temperature in a bottle, bring you a coupe chilled with liquid nitrogen, and crack the bottle and pour it in?” he asked. “I can serve you that drink in under 30 seconds and it’s going to be perfect every time without variance.” (The bar will make you a stirred manhattan if you want it.)
Other techniques to be regularly used include cocktail carbonation, and drinks made with the help of a rotary evaporator and centrifuge. Just don’t call it molecular gastronomy. “It makes me violently ill to think someone would call this that,” Mr. Arnold said. “It doesn’t sound delicious. And it’s inaccurate.”
The debut menu will feature 16 cocktails, each at $14. “Whether it works or doesn’t work,” Mr. Chang said, “that’s what this restaurant has always been — taking a chance on something new.”

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