Wednesday, April 30, 2008

The 3rd Annual Clement Cocktail Challenge

April 29

PDT swept up prizes when Don Lee and Daniel Eun placed second and first place, respectively, for the Rhum Clement cocktail challenge. Daniel made a drink called Bitches Brew, using Clement Premiere Canne, fresh lime juice, Pampero Anniversario, St. Elizabeth All-Spice Dram, demerara syrup and an egg. Don's Sargasso is made with Clement V.S.O.P., Lustau East India Sherry, Aperol, dash of angostura bitters and garnished with an orange twist. Lydia Reissmuller of Elettaria got third place with her Sweetie Pie, a drink made with Clement V.S.O.P., St. Elizabeth Allspice Dram, fresh pressed apple juice, angostura bitters, a pinch of salt and garnished with salt-tipped apple slice.

Daniel wasn't there to accept his prize, an all expense paid trip to Martinique, because he had to go back to work. "He's not here?" Jim Meehan asked almost incredulous as he made his way up to receive the prize on Daniel's behalf.

"Yea, he went back to work," Don answered.

"What? I can't believe he's not here." Jim said.

"Wait, aren't you his boss?" someone asked Jim as the room broke out laughing.

And those were just three drinks out of all the drinks mixed by 18 (some submitted two recipes, while others just one) mixologists/bartenders for the evening. The Astor Center was packed to the gills with bartender that I knew and new ones for me to meet.

I drafted my friend Marc Almendarez to come take photos for me. We've done the "Wonder Twin Powers, activate!" thing before for concerts (Marc: "In the form of a pretty decent photographer!" Me: "In the form of a wannabe concert writer who goes to shows and writes about them for fun every now and then, but hasn't had anything professionally published in that realm!"), so I knew I could trust him to snap some nice photos so I could concentrate on the note taking and writing. It also doesn't hurt that he takes way better pictures than I do, has a nicer camera than I do, and is willing to work for food and drink. Actually, now that I look a bit more closely at the pictures, some of them look like...

...Clement Cocktail Challenge edition baseball cards!! Collect them all!

Alex Day, Death and Co.

Joaquin Simo, Death and Co.

Tarcisio Costa, Alfama

Besides the bartenders participating in the challenging, the judges of the competition included Jim Meehan, Julie Reiner, Tony Abou-Ganim, Jerry Banks and last year's winner, Tad Carducci. There were plenty of familiar faces weaving in and out of the crowd as well.

I spotted Willy Shine and said hi to Aisha Sharpe and Leo DeGroff. At first I thought they were all in attendance, but then Leo told me that the Bar Alcohol Resource was holding classes just next door (quite literally next door, since the classes are being held in the same building), so some people were popping in from there to check things out.

Later when I ran into Kenta Goto from Pegu Club, who I hadn't seen in a while, he said that he too had just come from next door.

Contestants showed a wide range of variety in flavor as well as cocktail styling. Some showed off their bar chef techniques through housemade ingredients. For example, Damon from Death and Co. created a kumquat syrup for his Doctor D's Beach Planter (Rhum Clement X.O., demerara syrup, fresh lime juice, kumquat syrup, herbsaint, Angostura bitters). Kumquat peels were macerated in high-proof demerara rum, and some kumquats were pressed and the juice added to simple syrup. The two were then combined and strained to create the syrup.

Fresh fruit made its appearance in a variety of ways in several cocktails. Abel (Dylan Prime) served the Martinique Passion that had muddled fresh strawberries and white peppercorn as the base. Jacquelyn Leon's (Martinique Cafe) Cava Fresca had muddled Bartlett Pear (and was garnished with a pear petal. The Blackberry Smash by Brain Matthys from Izakaya Ten had the flavor combination of muddled fresh blackberries and shiso leaf. Ethan Kelly from Brandy Library created a surprisingly not so sweet banana cocktail that muddled bananas. Elba Giron from Bar Milano made what seemed to be a rum version of a Bellini using not only Clement's Premiere Canne, but the Creole Shrubb as well to combine with the white peach puree, prosecco and a bit of lime juice.

While some played with fruit, Don Lee created a streamlined, spirits-based cocktail. He explained that he wanted to create something a little different and also used sherry to make the cocktail a bit lighter for the summer.

Something entirely different was Maria Polise's (Sansom Street Oyster House, Philadelphia) Hot Seersucker Fizz. The combination of heavy cream as well as egg white gave a really luxurious mouthfeel to the drink that contrasted sharply with the tart and throat-tingling flavors of Clement Premiere Canne, Creole Shrubb, fresh squeezed lemon juice, fresh jalapenos and a garnish of cinnamon-heavy aromatic bitters.

(You can view more photos from the event by clicking here. Though I just realized I need to help Marc label these photos.)

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Charles in charge (of my drinks for tonight)

April 28

It was the culmination of several things on a gloomy, chilly, rainy Monday, that lead to me getting a run in my stocking. I was fixing my stockings before heading out when my finger poked through the fabric, leaving a run that ran for several inches. I said to myself, "This is a sign. I need to get a drink."

Stopping by Death & Co. was supposed to be just for fun, but also I knew Charles Vexenat was the visiting bartender. I was stopped at the door for an id check as well as a quick "Is there room at the bar?" check.

The latter worried me and made me wonder if my initial hypothesis that rain would make people want to go home was incorrect, but once my disgraced hosiery and I stepped inside, I saw that I had gambled wisely. There were several seats open at the bar and a few tables open. I scooched into a seat at the bar and smiled and waved to Mr. Joaquin Simo. Then I looked over to the tall familiar-looking blond guy.

"Hey!" Charles said as soon as he spotted me. He came out from behind the bar to give me the oh so French greeting of a kiss on each cheek.

There was a slight disconnect in seeing him here in New York behind Death and Co.'s bar with his Lonsdale apron on. The last time I saw him was several months ago in London. If you happen to find yourself in London, keep in mind that he no longer works at the Lonsdale, though he will give you their menu if you stop by Death and Co. while he's behind the bar.

It took me a while to decided what I wanted. The Lonsdale's menu is kind of the size of a modest novella, so when Charles asked me what I'd like to have the first time I answered plaintively, "I don't knoooowww. There's too many!"

"You had everything already?" he asked me jokingly. He probably remembered all the drinks he funneled into me the last time we met.

"Yea, you should really study that. There's going to be a quiz later on," Joaquin said from the other side of the bar.

This is what happens when your bartenders are not busy.

I finally asked to be started off with a Perfect Lady (gin, lemon juice, sugar, egg white, peach liqueur). A version of the White Lady, but with peach liqueur instead of Cointreau.

Charles was talking to Joaquin about the White Lady and said there's one original version made without gin and with creme de menthe instead. Charles offered to shake one up for Joaquin and the bar was turned upside down to look for white creme de menthe (which was found a little while later).

For the second cocktail I told Joaquin I'd like something with brown spirits. He asked me if wanted something stirred or shaken, and I answered stirred.

The customers sitting next to me went through the same list of questions and one of them asked what different the stirred or shaken made. Joaquin explained that shaken drinks involve juice while stirred drinks are all spirits.

"Does that mean stirred drinks are stronger?" the guy asked.

Joaquin said that definitely was not always the case.

Taking my requests into account, Joaquin made me his version of the Brooklyn called Carroll Gardens (a neighborhood in Brooklyn, for those of you reading who are not from around here). Joaquin said he figured he should create a cocktail named for his neighborhood.

Also, for some reason, the past couple days I've come across several mentions of the Kids in the Hall skit "Girl Drink Drunk." Last night it was Joaquin who brought it up. One table had issued a challenge that Charles make "the girliest vodka drink" he could make. As soon as Joaquin started asking Charles, "Do you know Kids in the Hall?" I knew where he was going.

"One of my favorite part of that skit was the names of the drinks. Like the Tahitian Tee-Hee and the Chocolate Choo-Choo," I chimed in. Actually that whole skit is a seamless exercise in the absurd, from the look of concern that the coworkers have on their faces when they hear a blender in the broom closet, to Dave Foley scrambling around on the floor of a supply closet looking for a little paper umbrella.

The last drink of the evening was a Bramble made by Charles. It came in a tall glass with lots of crushed ice so I've renamed it in my head as "The Neverending Drink." It was tasty but I'd sip and sip and there'd still be liquid from the melting ice and it was a tall glass that seemed to go on forever. As I was sipping away, Phil Ward walked in.

"Hey, we met in Vail," he said.

"Yes we did," I smiled and answered in kind. I don't know if the straw was still in my mouth at that point.

I even got to see Mr. Alex Day again, who arrived right as I was about to leave, and if I stuck around longer I probably would've seen Mr. Jim Meehan as well, but it was late, and I needed to be up early the next day.

Though Phil previously told me Charles would be at Death & Co. until the 30th, Charles said the 29th would be his last night at Death & Co. before he heads off to Kentucky and elsewhere. So definitely try to get in on the 29th in case it really is his last night, but give a call on the 30th to see if he decided to pop in for one last shift. Oh, and do see if you can catch Charles doing a long pour. It's hypnotic watching the stream of liquid, though I wouldn't advise anybody with a small bladder to watch (or listen) too intently.