Friday, September 26, 2008

Allen & Delancey's new cocktail menu

I met up with Alex Day at Allen & Delancey to talk about the new cocktail menu he created. I got a taste of it at Death & Co. a little while ago, then had a more blurry hectic try of the menu at the Star Chefs After After party.

On the day I visited, newly recruited Maxwell Britten of Brooklyn's Jack the Horse Tavern was busy behind the bar. Alex was there to train Maxwell since he'd only signed on to consult with revamping the restaurant's bar program. The menu's official debut was at the Star Chef's party, so it was still brand new. He had just finished the last drink on the menu, the Atlantic Ruin variations, a week and a half before the debut.

Alex explained that cocktails sometimes get categorized with terms that don't exist in the true culinary world. He wanted to reflect that with his menu as well as get away from the what he described as the "ego issue" that sometimes comes with giving cocktails clever names well as making a more well-rounded cocktail menu that was accessible and not intimidating for the customers.

"It's drinking. It's about more than making a name for yourself." Alex said.

For the new Allen & Delancey cocktail menu, Alex lists five different categories of drinks, each with two variations that are connected by a theme.

"Sometimes you're in the mood for something boozy or sometimes you're in the mood for something refreshing," Alex said about the dual-nature of each drink category.

As the preamble to his menu states: "Instead of simply providing a catalog of drinks, our cocktail menu is a little different...No. 1 is light and festive, with citrus and fruit meant to refresh the mind and whet the appetite, while No. 2 showcase base spirit, a stirred cocktail best enjoyed with thought, time and good conversation."

He explained, "The first four are connected by base...also with modifiers such as spice or rinse."

For example, the William and Mary variations both contain gin, but overall connecting theme of the drinks, so to speak, is listed as "Juniper, spice and alchemy."

Variation one contains gin, lime, yellow Chartreuse, Maraschino liqueur, rose and lavender bitters, while the second is gin, vermouth bianco, green Chartreuse and a dash of cinnamon bark tincture.

Before the revamp, the previous menu was "pretty basic," but Alex said he worked out the numbers to show the exact cost of how using a variety of ingredients doesn't have to mean very expensive ingredients and cocktails without much return. Even with pricier modifiers, the menu balances itself out.

"Some drinks are more expensive, but it's paid for by other ones and the menu," Alex said. "And the menu has a lot of different things."

"I wanted to do something different. I don't want to give them a list and a Kold-Draft machine and end it there."

According to Alex, his intentions with this "first experiment" of a format was to make it easier for the customers as well as for any bartender who would be working with this menu in the future.

While for a cocktail enthusiast it'd be easy to point out exactly what they wanted or what they are looking for, for those who are not well-versed in cocktail geekery the menu gives them a basic structure of flavor and components that makes it easier for them figure out what they enjoy. From there, they have a better way of conveying what they want to their bartender.

At the same time, the revamped menu along with changes in the bar works as a jumping off point for any bartender who will work with the menu and the restaurant. However, you could see his fingerprints here and there, from housemade tinctures and bitters to the use of maple syrup.

Alex said he luckily got a lot of freedom in doing what he wanted to do, but he still worked with what was already in the bar. He filled in the shelves behind the bar with more bottles. Glasses line the wall and tools such as jiggers and shakers are front and center where the guests can see the bartender working on their drinks. The changes are both aesthetic and practical.

The menu itself is using a wide variety of spirits and ingredients, but fuller stocked shelves appeals to the eye with the different bottles with different contents and labels. Alex added that the stacked glasses are all used for the drinks, but they also add to the atmosphere. The guests have something interesting to look at while hinting to the fact that this is a professional bar and what htye can expect, whether it's by seeing what spirits are on-hand or that juices are fresh-squeezed from the juicer in the center of the bar.

How's the response so far?

"Pretty good," Alex answered.

The important thing was, "Overall, people are more enthusiastic about cocktails here."

Allen & Delancey's new menu:
~Juniper, Spice and Alchemy~

1 Gin, lime, yellow Chartreuse, Maraschino, rose and lavender bitters2 Gin, vermouth bianco, green Chartreuse, dash cinnamon bark tincture

~Cain, Molasses and Heritage~

1 Tea infused white rum, Batavia Arrack, lemon, maple2 Aged rum, Batavia Arrack, demerara, Angostura bitters, roast coco bean tincture, orange twist

~Grain, Oak and Revolution~

1 Bourbon, Amaro, lemon, honeyed ginger syrup2 Rye, Amaro, sherry, elderflower, Benedictine, aromatic bitters

~Agave, Pacific Winds and the Jimadors~

1 Blanco tequila, acacia honey, lime, Angostura bitters, rinse of Luxardo bitter2 Reposado tequila, antica, green Chartreuse, orange bitters, rinse of Campari, orange twist

~Wormwood and Company~

1 Old Tom Gin, lemon, egg white, absinthe, bitter orange foam, seltzer2 Reposado tequila, Isly whisky, agave nectar, absinthe, Peychaud's and Angostura bitters, discarded lemon twist

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