Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Sazerac Solitaire: Eat Street Social

So in my previous post I got too sidetracked by the origins of the Sazerac to describe my Sazerac experience at Eat Street Social. Since we here at Vagabond Appetite are nothing if not desirous of an experiential analysis of a culinary or mixological (just made that one up) affair, I am going to devote this whole post to Eat Street Social and their delicious take on the Sazerac.

As I had previously mentioned in my previous post, I visited Eat Street Social after a long day of Art-A-Whirling last week and it was devilishly muggy outside. Let me mention first that this was my third attempt at going to ESS, the first two having been foiled by their complete lack of signage which I totally appreciate, but made it especially difficult to locate from the street. Despite this fact, they were packed, clearly others were much more astute than I.

One thing I like to see when I walk in the door of a new restaurant is a staff that is methodically hauling ass. Especially behind the bar, and ESS features a pretty incredible bar, the bartenders were obviously old hands at efficiently moving at top speed. To me this implies a healthy respect for the craft of bartending itself which is not only mixology, but also customer service, both from the tender's perspective and keeping the server well up to date.

The bar itself is enormous, taking up a good third of the front room, it dominates the initial view of the restaurant which must be on purpose. It's got about 25, 30 seats and at least 3 bartenders behind it, one of whom, from what I saw, only worked the craft well, which is pretty amazing.

As there were five of us, we snagged a booth on the north side of the barroom where we could see most of the action, but also had enough privacy from the high-backed booths that we didn't feel as though we were completely out in the open. The vibe was a wide-open take on Speakeasy Nouveau. Intimate but busy. Where nobody knows your name unless you want them to.

And the Sazerac. It diverges just barely from the classic recipe, replacing the sugar cube with fennel pollen syrup. I tend to shy away from using simple syrups in drinks that are not served on the rocks, it can thicken the drink to a point where it resembles, well, syrup. That combined with absinthe can give a Sazerac an almost Robitussin-y feel. I hope I don't need to explain to you that Robitussin-y should be avoided at all costs. However, as I had mentioned before, the guys at ESS are pros and they did not disappoint here. The drink was very well balanced, just a hint of anise, Bulleitt Rye, served extra cold.

They even went so far as to deliver half of the drink in a separate vessel so that it would remain cold while I drank the first half. Now that's thinking. My only gripe with the Fennel Pollen Sazerac lies in the name. If fennel pollen is going to be your opening drink descriptor, you'd imagine that there would be some kind of fennel flavor to the drink, or perhaps I don't know what fennel pollen tastes like. Unless it tastes like the other ingredients in a Sazerac, however, it wasn't able to make its presence known in my drink. What I had at Eat Street Social was a well made Sazerac without any bells and whistles, which suits me just fine.

Eat Street Social
18 W. 26th Street

Sazerac Solitaire

Friday night I finally made my way to Eat Street Social after a long day of Art-A-Whirl-ing in the muggy 90 degree heat of Northeast. I arrived, as is my wont, thirsty. After hearing from many sources that ESS' craft cocktail menu was a force to be reckoned with, I was not disappointed with my options.

While I am not opposed to any particular kinds of alcohol I definitely tend to immediately go for the whiskey cocktails. ESS' menu shares my proclivities and has four or five whiskey cocktails to choose from. My problem, then, was finding a whiskey cocktail that would at once be savory while still refreshing in the swampy 9 o'clock heat. What better, then, to fight off the sweaty bayou blues than the official cocktail of New Orleans?

The Sazerac, one of the oldest known cocktails, gets its name from the original type of brandy which was used in the cocktail, Sazerac-de-Forge et Fils. In 1838, a creole apothecary named Antoine Amedie Peychaud created a specific brand of toddy using Sazerac-de-Forge et Fils brandy and his family's own special bitters recipe. Fifty years later, the Sazerac was immensely popular in Louisiana and throughout the south, two notable changes happened to the official recipe, transforming it into the cocktail we drink today. First the base liquor was changed from brandy to Kentucky rye bourbon, giving the cocktail a slightly more aggressive and alcoholic flavor. Second, an absinthe (or similar anisette flavored liqueur, such as the New Orleans based Herbesainte) rinse of the glass gave the cocktail a slight licorice nose which, in my opinion, is what makes this drink so refreshing.

So what's the main idea behind a Sazerac, you may ask? There are several components to the drink, all of which are essential. The drink requires two glasses, one empty and one filled to the brim with ice. Set the glass of ice aside, I will even put the glass of ice in the freezer to get it nice and cold. Next, take a sugar cube (white sugar is just fine) and add several dashes of Peychaud's Bitters to the cube. Bitters bottles are usually outfitted with an inset pour regulator so just give it a good two or three shakes. Then crush the bitters soaked sugarcube, I usually use my muddler, but you should be able to use the back of a spoon to similar effect. Add 1 1/2 oz of rye whiskey on top of the bitters and crushed sugar, stir. Here's where it gets kind of tricky. If you've been keeping your other glass in the freezer, transfer the ice into the glass with the bourbon and bitters mixture and quickly coat the inside of the freezer glass with absinthe. The idea here is to make the cocktail cold without letting any of the ice actually melt into the drink, diluting the cocktail. I find that doing a quick swirl around the inside of the glass and pouring out the remaining absinthe (I like to save mine in a separate glass for later, but the point is you should only have a light coating of absinthe on the inside of your chilled glass) gives me enough time to give the cocktail a quick stir with a bar spoon, just one or two will suffice. Strain your mixture into the chilled, absinthe rinsed glass et voila! Sazerac time!

And here's the proportions:
1 1/2 oz rye bourbon
3 dashes Peychaud's Bitters
one sugar cube
1/2 oz absinthe

Just to get you in the mood for Sazeracs, some turn of the century Bechet:

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Sonora Grill

It's been a while since I've been to a restaurant that really knocked me out. Enter 112 Eatery's slinger of drinks, Ben Wright, who dragged me to Midtown Global Market for lunch last week for some South American fare that was truly above and beyond.

Sonora Grill is the brainchild of Alejandro Castillon who cut his teeth at the formidable Bar La Grassa. Now running the show at Sonora Grill, Castillon and crew serve up mouth-watering lunch fare at a modest price.

I had the turkey chorizo (!) bocadillo, a Latin-tinged barbecue style sandwich, piled high with smoky, tender meat and capped with sauteed onions. As a connoisseur of most things meat and sandwich related, the bocadillo is right in my wheelhouse.

I also picked up a couple carmelos which are small, cheap tacos that still pack a flavorful punch. At just 2.50, you can afford to supplement your lunchtime decadence with some skirt steak, pork guajillo or 12 hour roasted lengua (mmm, lengua) without breaking the bank.

All in all, I left Sonora Grill adequately stuffed for just about 10 bucks. Not bad for a weekday lunch.

One thing that I (amazingly) managed to resist, but for which I am bound to return, is their home made, bacon wrapped hot dog. How I was able to convince myself to save this experience for another day is a mystery for the ages. Rest assured, I will be back. Oh yes, I will be back.

Sonora Grill
Midtown Global Market
920 E. Lake