Saturday, April 12, 2008

Standing for about four hours at Bar Milano

or Everybody Loves Tony Abou-Ganim

April 11

Really, they do. And how can't you? He's super nice and chill.

I heard that there was a friends and family opening on the 10th, but the problem with soft openings is that a restaurant can have one, or maybe more. They might think one soft opening is OK, but then go back and close it all down for a couple of days to tweak things before deciding to do an opening proper. I guess I could've called to check or something, but I figured that if it was open, it was. In the case that it wasn't, I'd rather have the total plausible deniability of "Aw shucks, you guys aren't open? I didn't know that..." if I waltzed into the middle of a soft opening. I prefer to go with the Daniel Day-Lewis school of method acting when it comes to restaurant opening crashings.

Lucky for me, I guess Bar Milano decided one night was enough and I walked into a restaurant that was in full swing. I asked for a seat at the bar but was told the bar seats were all full. I was taken to a communal standing table in the middle of the bar but decided I wasn't going to ferry myself between the table and the bar. So I took my chances with not being able to get a seat and squeezed myself into a corner end so that I could be in the direct line of where the drinks were coming from and get a chance to chat with Tony.

Tony said that the bar had just gotten its liquor license at 4:30 pm the previous day, so this was the staff's first time serving actual guests. It was a good thing that liquor license came through because the bar was packed. During a quick breather between drinks three and four, I stepped out to the main dining area and it was definitely calmer than the bar.

"Wow, they weren't kidding when they put the 'bar' in front of 'Bar Milano,'" I thought. Sadly, I amuse myself a lot with internal dialogue. The bar area is out front and on display. It's the most noticeable thing about the place from the outside with its large window front that seems to say "Hey, passersby. Check out or cool pretty bar. Look at all these people having a drink. Don't you want to be one of these people? Wouldn't you like to come in and relax with a drink?"

Thanks to the large windows and lighting, the bar is brighter than if you were sitting in the dining area.

Other details about the bar? The glassware was designed especially for Bar Milano and handcrafted and blown in Poland. The glasses look great, but a word of warning, if you get anything served in an Old-Fashioned glass (like say the Sunshine), you are buying yourself two tickets to the gun show. OK, well, I guess one ticket, since you'll be mainly working out your drinking arm. These things are *heavy*. Not enough to impair your drinking, but still, noticeably so. I liked the heft though.

Also, no bottled water. The place is hooked up with spigots that provide cool flat and sparkling water on tap.

Tony also wrangled some natural undyed golden cherries rather than using the typical dyed, preserved, atomic red Maraschino cherry, to use as garnishes for some of his cocktails. I was lucky to have one in my first drink, a Corpse Reviver No. 2. Tony dropped a cherry into the drink and it sat nestled at the narrow bottom of the cocktail glass. It was an interesting garnish because it didn't necessarily pop out, but would make its presence known when you'd move the glass a little. It'd slowly rotate into your line of vision like a baleful sun. Quite fitting for a drink with a name like Corpse Reviver.

And I totally ate it, because I'm the type of person who eats garnishes. It was very mild and just lightly sweet. It had just a slight bit of fruitiness to it so that if you were to accidentally bit down on it (instead of fishing it out and chomping down on it like I did) it wouldn't kill your tongue to the flavor of the drink. None of that cough medicine or strong sweet flavors. And let me just say, the garnishes were delicious. Even the orange slice for the Sunshine was tasty. It wasn't some errant slice all dry and sad, it was juicy and tasted like an orange.

The evening started off with anise flavors. The cocktail menu was still AWOL, so I decided to put my fate in the hands of the people making the drinks to start off. Tony put down a Corpse Reviver No. 2 in front of me. I seem to get started off with that a lot. Allan the bar manager made me a Rattlesnake. It was the first time I'd had a Rattlesnake. Allan said he liked to call it an "unholy lovechild of a Sazerac and a Whisky Sour." Did I mention that Allan is fun to listen to? Well, he is. I wasn't trying to bother him while he did his work thing, but I couldn't resist pestering him with a few questions.

The cocktail wasn't very sweet at all, and definitely sour, but at the same time a little smoky thanks to the rye whiskey and anise from the Pernod.

Tony also made a lot of fizzes for Bar Milano. I had two. The Veneto and Milano both were cocktails full of orange flavor, but sort of on opposite sides of the spectrum for orange. The former was "light and fun" as Tony said, with some Aperol and fizz from a little Prosecco. The latter packed a heavier, more bitter punch with Campari.

Looking over my notes, I realize there's a lot of oranges going on. There was also quite a bit of Aperol slinging behind the bar. Tony enjoys using Campari and bitters, so the use of Aperol might not be surprising, but there's actually a reason behind it. Tony said the Aperol is a sort of tip of the hat to the Northern Italian cuisine of the restaurant. I also noticed his use of honey in some of the cocktails and asked if he preferred using it over simple syrup, but he responded that it was simply because he found that honey went well with Aperol.

And while all this Aperol might seem like too much aperitif for one person to take, it rears its head in different ways. For example, the Purgatory was a sunny almost tropical cocktail using citrus vodka, Aperol, elderflower liqueur, lime juice and fresh mango puree. The Aperol seemed to help keep the whole thing grounded from floating away on a sweet cloud of mango and elderflower. The burnt orange peel's a nice touch as well. And for those of you who might be interested, this drink came about thanks to an episode of Iron Chef America, when Tony had to mix drinks using the secret ingredient...(all together now, in the chairman's voice) MAAAAAANGOOOOOOO!!!!

I realized that I had been standing at the bar for several hours at this point and decided I needed to make my way out and let some other people have a chance to drink. As I was about to leave Tony asked me, "Did you have a Sunshine yet?"

I answered that no, I had not, and Tony told me I couldn't leave before trying that. He really didn't need to twist my arm, so I sat down and took a sip of the cocktail and again, found it an amazingly sunny drink. I know I used that adjective already for the Purgatory, but this one really deserves it. That "Sunshine" business was no joke.

Tony said he'll probably be around until the end of the month before heading back to Las Vegas, so stop on by if you want to talk to the man himself about his drinks. If you miss him this time around, he'll be back. He said he'd at least try to make it back here quarterly. Also, see if you can get a hit of the rosemary-infused gin that he's using for one of his cocktails. I didn't get to try the actual cocktail this time around, but I'm definitely making another stop there in the near future after having had a bit of the gin. The infusion made it so that the rosemary sort of just exploded as it hit your tongue. However, it wasn't so much you tasted it, but the smell of rosemary rolls through your mouth.

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