Wednesday, February 10, 2010

'Old Shanghai on the Bowery' at Madam Geneva and talking ice with Mr. Ueno

Round 2! Tuesday night was "Old Shanghai on the Bowery" at Madam Geneva, the second event in the three-day line up for the New York City Cocktail All-Stars tour.

The cool surprise of the evening was Mr. Ueno showing off some of his ice carving. I cornered him after his time behind the bar to ask him a quick couple of questions (unfortunately, leaving Kenta Goto standing by holding a heavy bucket of ice and things. Sorry about that, Kenta...)

"Ice balls are popular in Japan, but ice companies started making them after they became popular," Mr. Ueno said, but nonetheless as a bit of eye candy, it's still a draw because, "It is something you can't create in your own home."

However, he added, "The main eye candy in a drink is the liquid."

Kenta chimed in, that the carved ice are part of the package of providing an experience for the guest. "People come into his bar looking for this experience."

I couldn't help but notice that Mr. Ueno wielded a small knife when carving the ice from it's base square shape. I asked him about this, since most people (OK, me) are probably more familiar with the ice pick.

"I haven't carved with an ice pick recently...maybe not for the last 10 years," Mr. Ueno answered.

While he still trains young bartenders to start off with an ice pick, he stopped using an ice pick himself because the results can sometimes be a bumpy surface.

As for the knife he uses, it's a folded iron knife, "the same material as a Japanese sword, so it's really sharp, but it also rusts really easily."

This means proper care, and making sure to wipe water off of the knife immediately after use.

Believe it or not, Mr. Ueno made this tool himself. It started off as "15 cm fruit knife," but through eight years of sharpening, he brought it down to its current 4-5 cm length.

Kenta explained that the ice Mr. Ueno uses is frozen about 2-3 days. At least three days being the optimal length of time. In Japan, ice is bought from a vendor who brings in blocks of the stuff.

"After three days there are no bubbles...the ice is harder and clearer and that is the ice he uses," Kenta said.

As Mr. Ueno explained, the ice is so clear that when in the glass, you should be able to see through to the bottom of the glass and read the logo of the bar on the napkin.

Mr. Ueno also shined light onto a diamond shaped ice he carved (it was shaped kind of like an old single cut, or the candy gem in a ringpop). This, he explained is also part of presentation.

"Like how a diamond is cut, the edges have a reflection," Mr. Ueno said, and explaining that with bars usually being dark, it's hard to see how beautiful the ice can be. So he helps demonstrate using a laser pointer or pen light.

A line up of 9 bartenders took turns serving their concoctions to a packed house.


Parkside Fizz: Buddha's Hand vodka, lemon, orgeat syrup, club soda, mint

Indochine: Aged rum, Domaine de Canton, pineapple, pastis, lemon bitters

Gin & Leaf: Vodka, sake, kaffir lime, yuzu, ginger, soda

Delhi Daisy: Tequila, elderflower, lemon, curry simple syrup, aromatic bitters

Tunnel Vision: Cachaca, sherry, lime, creme de peche, Angostura bitters

Pepper Smash: Gin, red bell pepper, lemon, mint, honey

Full Bloom: Scotch, cherry blossom liqueur, anisette

Trans Continental Clipper: Five spice Pisco, lemon, house made grenadine, Absinthe rinse

Buckshot: Bourbon, dry vermouth, orchard apricot, orange bitters

The theme of the evening seemed to be "BIG BOLD FLAVAH." Misty's drink had sweet and tangy amped up to an 11. The curry simple syrup added a little something without making the drink taste exactly like curry. Marshall's drink, on the other hand, didn't shy away from its spice base. It totally punches you in the face. The menu said "five spice pisco" but at the time I was getting more of a garam masala feel. I couldn't help but puzzle over this a bit. I finally figured out that when I read the "five spice" I instantly thought of Chinese five spice, but I was totally forgetting about panch phoron. How dumb of me. I need to ask Marshall this the next time I see him or over Facebook or something (or, I don't know, leave a comment. Hint, hint).

Did everyone agree to a dress code beforehand? All the folks scheduled to be behind the bar came in dressed pretty snazzily.

Epilogue: When I left Madam Geneva's I left with the fire of mezcal burning in my belly. Just as I was about to leave I was pulled into doing a shot of mezcal with Misty Kalkofnen, Alex Day and John Deragon.

This made me think. You know, I've been recently playing Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Summoner on the PS2 (I sometimes like to kick it old school like that), and I'd forgotten how flippin' hard that game was. I couldn't walk even two or three steps before finding myself in a battle.

Wait, wait. I had a point in mentioning waaaassss...oh! OK, so, yea, as I was walking away from Madam Geneva with mezcal heating me all up in my midsection like a boiler, I realized that bar events are like playing a RPG. The more you walk around without a glass in your hand, the more you're just asking to trigger a battle sequence, a.k.a., having a drink put in your hand.

I mean, the way that mezcal encounter went down it would've gone something like this:

Little icon of me wandering around a map, all of the sudden!

[Sonya encounters a band from the Order of Booze]

Oh, noooooo! I totally don't have the experience points to get through this AND I'm outnumbered.

[Dram of mezcal thrown!..-10 HP!...+10 STR! +10 MP!]

Because if anything, mezcal would probably boost your magic points/mana and overall strength, but with the unfortunate side effect of taking some health points/stamina, amirite?

I littered glasses all over the bar all evening since I couldn't juggle a drink and a camera. I'd put down a glass, only to have another one thrust in my hand just a couple of minutes later.

I have to admit, it's kind of freakin' awesome.

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