Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Vegetarian food and American gin

Counter hosted an event last night for Bluecoat Gin, an American dry gin from Philadelphia.

Counter provided food paired with gin cocktails created by their pixieish bar manager Tonia Guffey. Even though I list myself as carnivore first, I personally have nothing against vegetarian cuisine and even enjoy partaking now and then. However I was intrigued with this combination of vegetarian food and cocktails since when it comes to drinking alcohol, my stomach tends to steer me towards fried chicken, tacos or burgers in its aftermath.

When I got there I was handed a Blue Rose (gin, lavender liqueur, dry vermouth and rosemary). It had a very floral scent to it. Before taking a sip my brain assumed it would be sweet because it decided to connect the smell with something like a creme de violette or violet syrup. Instead the liquid itself was clean and not sweet at all. Tonia later explained that the drink was a take on a classic martini.

I got a chance to chat with owner Deborah Gavito before they sat us down for the dinner. Keeping true to its food philosophy, Counter's beverage program also features organic spirits as well as organic and biodynamic wines that were a part of the beverage menu since the place opened six years ago. Deborah also pointed out the bottles of house-made triple sec. There are a lot of house-made drink ingredients at Counter to make sure the end product fits the goals of the restaurant in providing earth friendly cuisine and drink.

Over an appetizer of bitter green salad with zucchini, fennel, orange & pistachio with gin-citrus vinaigrette, our drink was the Spicy Cucumber Gimlet. A combination of jalapeno-infused gin, muddled cucumber and jalapeno, fresh lime juice & agave nectar. Tonia received particularly rave reviews from people dining for this drink. It was a bit of sweet and spicy, some savory from the cucumber and jalapeno, while you had both heat and cool vegetable flavors duking it out in one glass. Tonia said that she personally really enjoyed spices and wanted to create a drink with a little kick to it.

I asked Andrew Auwerda, president of Philadelphia Distilling, about what made Bluecoat Gin particularly American besides the fact that it was made here. He explained that the idea wasn't just that it was made in America, but also the gin's flavor profile takes into account the American palette, as well as what he said were more American flavors, which is predominantly citrus. Besides juniper, the gin is also has a citrus finish to it that's a combination of sweet orange, lemon peels, and some other combination top secret organic citrus peels that I wasn't supposed to know about.

The entree of braised seitan in juniper-red wine sauce with seared mushrooms, garlic mashed potatoes & sauteed escarole, was paired with a Claret Philly (gin, brandy, lemongrass liqueur, juniper syrup, Malbec and a splash of lemon).

Finally, the dessert of Drunken Fruit (seasonal fruit poached in gin-infused syrup, served with lemon biscotti) was a double-dose of warm gin with its pairing of a Poached Ginger Toddy. The toddy was made with gin, red wine, pear reduction, ginger liqueur and chai syrup. Tonia said that the plating for the dessert was a moment of her and the chef being on the same page. They had a chance to taste each others creations, but both independently decided to use a white teacup.

I met Yuri Kato, publisher of Cocktail Times, and got a chance to ask her a bit about the Marie Brizard Cocktail Challenge. I had only heard of it recently thanks to Facebook updates and I was curious about how the thing was going down. The contest is technically two-pronged. On one side, the people can make their voices heard and cast votes to decide who wins the Hospitality Award (one for the East Coast, another for the West), but then there's the regional finals where winners get to go on to France for the 26th Marie Brizard International Bartending Seminar and Competition. So this thing's got a lot of layers to it, but for those of you out there in Internetland, go and vote for your favorite bartender and his/her hospitality.

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