Thursday, October 30, 2008

Pranna opening party

Oct. 29

I stopped by Pranna and was surprised at how huge the space was. There was a ground floor, a basement and also a second floor/mezzanine area accessible by several staircases in an intricate glass and steel kind of setup.

Yet with all this space, the place was PACKED.

The restaurant is a Manhattan debut for two of the partners, Rajiv and Payal Sharma, who previously had establishments in Long Island. They are partnered with executive chef Chai Trivedi (Sapa, Sitar Restaurant).

The information provided by Bullfrog and Baum said that Trivedi's menu focuses on flavors from Southern Asia with influences Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam and India.

I did manage to snag two bits of samplings in the hubbub. I tried out a lamb slider with definite Indian spices, another was a fried tofu appetizer with a bit of cilantro on it so I got where they were coming from.

I wound my way up and down between people, ducking under servers' trays. Somehow, like a marathoner, I found a glass of champagne in my hand without any recollection of doing so. I took a breather at the upstairs bar and quickly downed the bubbly stuff so I could grab another drink. I caught only the "Butterfly" in its two-word name over the din, but saw the guy muddle some kiwi before adding liquid and garnishing it with a rose petal. The flavor hinted at there possibly being some rosewater or other floral liqueur added to it. I took a deep breath to get ready to head back downstairs and quite possibly escape when I found out that Jonathan Pogash and Tad Carducci were there.

I told Jonathan of my plans to make an early escape and asked him if he knew who was responsible for the drinks here.

"Oh it's Willy and Aisha," Jonathan said.

"What? Really? I did not know this."

"Yea, Aisha was up here a couple of seconds ago, but Willy should be at the bar downstairs. You know Elba Giron? She's the bar manager."

Ooooh, it all clicked. I remembered Elba telling me about the new place she'd be working for when I saw her at an event for Sobieski Vodka. So this was the place.

I decided to maybe try and catch Willy Shine or Aisha Sharpe from Contemporary Cocktails then tuck and roll out and away from the increasing crowd.

As I wriggled and snaked my way around downstairs I walked right into Akiko Katayama. It was kind of funny, because after referring to Andrew Knowlton as, "You know, one of the judge dudes from Iron Chef: America?" to a non-foodie friend when I was recounting who I saw at the Blue Blazer Mix-Off on Monday, I instantly thought to myself, "Hey, I haven't seen Akiko in forever. I used to run into her ALL the time."

I told Akiko what a coincidence it was since I'd just been thinking about her earlier in the day. How'd she been doing?

"I was up in Washington making wine," she answered.

The past two months she'd been busying getting involved with the wine making process and learning about what actually goes down.

"I now have a better appreciation for what I'm drinking," she said holding up her wine glass.

I circled around trying to approach the downstairs bar a little better from a different angle and found myself again at the exact same spot. This time I managed to spot Willy through the dense crowd, and turned right to see that Jacques Bezuidenhout and Charlotte Voisey.

Willy finally saw me and came over.

"Hey, I found out, like, just ten minutes ago that you guys were doing the drinks here," I said.

Willy said he and Aisha had been working on the menu for about four months now to make sure it went well with the food and the concept. Besides developing drinks, they also trained staff members so that they can serve the drinks properly. They are contacted to work with Pranna for a year and will probably come up with some more cocktails throughout that year.

"This is not a club, it's not a lounge, it's a full restaurant," Willy told me.

I said I'd come back to try out the cocktail menu sometime when the place wasn't too busy. Willy said I needed to come in and try the cocktail with the food since they worked hard to make sure it all worked together.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Blue Blazer Mix-Off at Pegu Club

(videos near the end of this post)

Oct. 27

"...90 percent of the reason I'm here is because I want to see fire," I said to Alex Day as I nursed a Whiskey Smash.

The setting? Pegu Club. Six contenders were set to duel in their mastery of the most basic of elements required for human life. Fire and alcohol.

To kick off Slow Food NYC's first annual "Slow Drink Week," Audrey Saunders was hosting the launch reception at Pegu. Slow Foods NYC announced last week that several restaurants and bars in the city would be participating this week with their own menu of "slow" cocktails.

Pegu was serving its own list of slow cocktails that evening with a list of hors d’oeuvres.

(Part of the proceeds from Slow Drink Week, as well as the ticket sale for the opening reception, will go to benefit Slow Food NYC's Harvest Time Program, including Good Food Education, a Youth Farmstand, and Edible Schoolyards at schools in East Harlem and Williamsburg, Brooklyn.

For a list of participating locations and dates provided by Slow Food NYC, click here.)

Earlier in the evening I greeted Eben Freeman, Alex Day and Joaquin Simo at the door of Pegu as we got ready to enter. I was asked how my cocktail education with Eben was going. I answered that it wasn't going too bad, but practicing with the shaker wasn't going too well because, "it sounds like nothing."

"It's all right as long as it sounds like a good nothing," Eben said with a smile.

Wait, was he just messing with me or did he just drop some kind of Yoda-like aphorism that I needed to get to be the best cocktail shaker EVER? I decided to go with the former to make it easier for everyone involved.

Upstairs the crowd was pretty big, but it wasn't too packed, which was nice. Pinballing around I found myself bumping into folks like John Deragon, Phil Ward, Jim Kearns, Don Lee and Naren Young. I spotted Dale DeGroff in his snazzy red jacket and Dave Wondrich's top hat teetered around in the crowd.

Now that I was feeling better, I figured I could slowly wade back into drinking, but was still mildly worried about my body taking terrible offense to that. I sipped at a French Pearl that went unclaimed. Just then Gary Regan walked by me and cryptically warned, "You behave yourself now."

Though I knew he said that independently of what I was debating in my head, I couldn't help but reluctantly put down the half-empty glass.

After a few words from Audrey Saunders and the drawing of straws, the Blue Blazer Mix-Off started with Dave Wondrich and Jim Meehan. They went for a historical and patriotic theme with their presentation of Jerry Thomas' Spread Eagle Punch. The liquid was Blue Blazerfied then poured into glasses with a gelatin (I didn't catch what was in it, if anybody could let me know what was in the gelatin, that'd be awesome).

The second group to go was Gary Regan and Phil Ward. The two warned that they had not practiced their Blue Blazer beforehand, but had a "special ingredient" on hand that they said was a tip of the hat to Eben Freeman. After a couple of false starts, Phil fortified the mixture a bit more and Eben jumped in to offer the service of a blow torch.

The third team was Dale DeGroff and Kenta Goto. With a recipe concocted by Kenta with the help of Audrey, Dale showed off his liquid fire taming skills as Kenta added some (literal) flare to the presentation by tossing cinnamon powder into the line of fire to create sparks. Instantly, the place was filled with the scent of what seemed like apple pie. The drink was then poured into cored apple halves.

Though these were the three teams announced to compete, Audrey announced yet another surprise team that would be participating.

Johnny Iuzzini and Dave Arnold tried their hand at competing with a more of a "scientific" approach. Dave utilized a kinda sorta technically illegal ingredient of a 120 proof tea-infused vodka of sorts for a Blue Blazer twist on a tea and lemonade drink. Then using a hypodermic needle, the liquid was shot from across the bar into a caraffe/pitcher held by Johnny Iuzzini. His forearm caught on fire. And while it was insanely cool to watch, it did smell like burnt hair at the bar.

But before I go on, I'd like to apologize for my unsteady camera hand and lack of lighting. I'm still not used to capturing video and it was dark in that bar to better capture the flames. Kind of lame excuses, but what can you do. Hey, I'm the one providing a service here with a video for those who couldn't attend. Also, this is a hardy drinking group. There might be some blue language. Maybe not R, but perhaps a PG level. If salty language is not your thing...I really don't know what to tell you.

I didn't stick around to see who ultimately won, because in my mind everyone's a winner...or something like that. Instead I headed over to Death and Company to bug Alex Day (he had to leave in the middle of the Blue Blazer Mix-Off to start his shift) and Thomas Waugh for a bit. I tried to get a head start on trying some new drinks for when the menu update rolls around. Out of the couple I tried, Thomas' Strange Brew won me over. With gin, pineapple juice, lemon juice and falernum it didn't seem like the usual drink I'd go for unless I was in the mood for something light. However, Thomas topped it with a bit of Hop Devil IPA that gave it a hoppy kick. I have to say, the guys at Death and Co. have been doing a pretty decent job of helping me get over my fear of sweet drinks.