Wednesday, October 28, 2009

From the Rangoon Ruby to the Nantucket Cosmopolitan

Last weekend, during the nor'easter that dumped premature snow on Boston, we headed to the beach for the season's last clam roll and warm weather cocktail. Logical, right? We ended up at Hemisphere in Sandwich, Massachusetts, first town over the Sagamore Bridge. The waterfront restaurant rattled in the wind. Patio chairs flew by the windows. On recommendation, I ordered a Nantucket Cosmo. It was summer a few hours longer.

There are so many variations on the cosmopolitan these days that the Sex and the City beverage of choice seems a vintage drink in comparison. What started as a simple drink in a sophisticated glass — Absolut Citron, a splash of Triple Sec or Cointreau, a drop of lime juice and just enough cranberry to make it pink — comes in many flavors and bears little resemblance to the original cocktail other than the martini glass.

Heavy on the cranberry, the Nantucket Cosmo is an ironic transformation of the Cosmo which is itself a relative of the ye olde Cape Codder. And here I was — on Cape Cod.

The original Cape Codder dates back to somewhere in the early 1960s, probably originating at Trader Vic's. Then the cranberry and vodka cooler was called a Rangoon Ruby, and to this day it is on the Trader Vic's strong drink menu made for "Pirates, Buccaneers and Beachcombers." As advertised, it is "no sissy drink." Do you hear that, Carrie and Co.?

By 1965 Ocean Spray saw a business opportunity and put Cape Codder drink recipes on its juice labels calling for vodka or rum and Ocean Spray Cranberry Cocktail. The beverage then spent a brief time as a "Harpoon" which introduced fresh lime instead of Rose's lime juice. The Harpoon is how vodka and cranberry appears in the exhaustively detailed Mad Men minutiae. Fans of the show may remember the Harpoon cocktails daughter Sally made Don Draper - 90% vodka, 10% cranberry. The name Harpoon is probably in reference to the arrow-through-the-head feeling Don Draper experienced the morning after.

Vodka and cranberry is back to being a Cape Codder now, and a drink with much more vodka than cranberry is a cosmo. Sally Draper was so much ahead of her time.

Hemisphere's Nantucket Cosmo

* 3 oz.Triple 8 cranberry vodka
* 1 oz. triple sec
* Splash of cranberry
* Fresh lime slice as garnish

The Nantucket Cosmo is marked by its vodka, Triple 8 Cranberry Vodka, distilled on Nantucket. I applaud the use of local product, but in this particular drink, the cranberry vodka was redundant. It may be sacrilegious to say this while on the Cape, but there was just too much cranberry!

I moved inland one mile, away from the 30 mph winds, to the Belfry, a former Catholic church renovated into a gorgeous restaurant, also in Sandwich. It was a busy bar, filled by Cape Cod's Restaurant Week. I managed to find a seat and ordered a pomegranate cosmo continuing with the theme of the night. Or was it described as a pomegranate martini? Who knows? When so far off the beaten cocktail path, does it matter if it is called a cosmo or a martini? In my biased paradigm, a drink containing vodka, lime juice, and triple sec with a splash of cranberry is a cosmopolitan.

The Belfry's Pomegranate Martini/Cosmopolitan

* 3 oz. Clear Pomegranate Vodka
* 1 oz. Triple Sec
* 1 oz. Pomegranate Liqueur
* Splash of cranberry
* Fresh lime juice

Chris Wilson is the meticulous visionary/owner of the Belfry and its neighbor The Painted Lady. As crowded as his restaurant was, he still had time to come to the bar and ask me how my drink was. How often does that happen? Restaurant owners will frequently stop by a table and inquire after a meal, but to ask about a drink? Such a gesture makes me, as Patti Page sang, fall in love with Old Cape Cod.

Chris, the cocktail was refreshing. The pianist played "Autumn Leaves." The fireplace warmed up the storm outside. Everything was perfect.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

A Manhattan in Manhattan

Walking into T-Bar Steak & Lounge on the Upper East Side of Manhattan is like walking into a Noel Coward play – or rather walking into a Woody Allen movie describing a Noel Coward play: "someone should be mixing martinis."

Instead they were mixing Manhattans. Seemingly appropriate except…

Is a Manhattan made with Canadian Whiskey a Manhattan – even if it's made in Manhattan?

Maybe it should be something like a Saskatchewan? But that's hard to order after a couple of drinks.

Commonly made with Canadian Whiskey because that's what is at hand, Manhattans if at all possibleshould be made with rye. Accompanying the rye will be the requisite short dash of sweet vermouth and the picturesque maraschino cherry. Occasionally you will come across a Bourbon Manhattan, but that sounds like an oxymoron, doesn't it?

There's some dispute as to the origins of the name Manhattan for this strong, masculine drink – whether it is for the borough itself or a derivation on the name Martinez for the vermouth – but there's no argument that this is a cocktail your grandparents made by the pitcher. At 4 p.m. Manhattans were put in the fridge. At 5 p.m., they were consumed.

T-bar is a steak house with more fish and vegetarian courses than steaks. The menu is for the Upper East Side type – you know – the larger the Manhattan apartment, the thinner the occupant. With my steak (seeing as how I neither have a Manhattan apartment nor am thin), I ordered a jalapeno margarita. T-Bar was T-short on anything but sweet cocktails on their signature menu, so I thought the jalapeno concoction would be a nice balance to my carnivore leanings. It was.

Jalapeno Margarita

- El Tesoro Platinum Tequila
- Triple Sec
- A healthy portion of sliced jalapenos
- Fresh lime juice

And instead of the sickeningly sweet simple syrup you might find in other margaritas, T-Bar used Sprite because "it's a natural!"

It took a couple of sips to get past the pepper shock, but by the end of the drink and the middle of the steak, it was a drink and dinner made in heaven.

T-Bar is a very noisy bar, not like a Noel Coward play at all, now that you mention it. All the bon mots are lost in the din. You'll need to learn to lip read. But there's probably an app for that now.

The end.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The Anthony Bourdain of Cocktails

Sometimes I have to down a cocktail against my better judgement so that you don't have to. Well, not that you would necessarily drink an Aviation Cocktail in the Jet Blue Lounge of JFK Int'l airport, but just in the slight case that you would, I threw myself in front of that bullet for you.

Notice the paper cup. That's so you can take it on the plane with you - against airline policy, you see.

I learned to do this after a conversation with a airline steward. Steward? Is that the right word? Anyway, we brought Bloody Marys on board after a particularly grueling visit to Haiti. Can you blame us?

Steward: You can't bring those on board with you!

Me: The bartender told us we could.

Steward: Well, of course HE would say that.

The Avation Cocktail: Hendrick's Gin, Maraschino Liqueur, fresh lemon juice. Dreadful. If only I had listened to American Airlines.

Speaking of Anthony Bourdain, we made a special trip to Schwabl's this past week-end. It was featured on Bourdain's No Reservations, and I experienced great pains of guilt at never visiting it myself....considering it is three miles from the family home.

Here are my dining companions. The lovely Jack and the lovelier Caroline.

At Schwabl's, justly famous for its roast beef on a kummelweck roll, Columbus Day falls between its two signature cocktails. The Ebeneezer Punch is available from Memorial Day to Labor Day, and the Tom and Jerry - featured on the Bourdain segment - is served from Thanksgiving Eve to St. Patrick's Day.

Bad timing for a visit but the food was wonderful, and the glass of Peter Brum Riesling was a nice consolation.

Here is the Bourdain segment: Part 1 and Part 2

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Kill-Devil Punch

A lot has been made of the newly restored Minetta Tavern in Greenwich Village. It's all deserved. At least from a cocktail p.o.v.

Take the Kill-Devil Punch for example. Diplomatico Rum from Venezuela, Dumante Pistachio Liqueur (yes, Pistachio!), citrus juice, AND dark rum-soaked raisins.

Service was cordial, enthusiastic even. I was there with some of the cast from a neighboring theatre production. It was a Sunday afternoon so I didn't have to deal with any of the noise that the reviews for the Minetta have complained about. One review said it was the noisiest restaurant he/she had ever been in.

Isn't that why Sunday afternoons in bars were created?

Next time, I'll try the food.