Restaurants Get Innovative With Their Cocktail Programs
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Left to Right Clockwise: The 808; Linus Van Pelt; Judgement of Paris. Photos by
You’ll sense a mystical aura at Saint Germain, where bird-caged chandeliers crown fin de siècle opulence, befitting the eponymous 18th century Count. Then you espy what must be George Jetson’s kitchen behind the marble-top bar, and things turn vertiginous. Relax. The staff’s supernal hospitality balances all.
“They call him the mad scientist,” says general manager Jacquelyn Esquivel of chef-owner David Hledik, pointing out the homogenizer and rotary evaporator with their concomitant wands, flasks and coils, cool modernist tools turning out classically-inspired food and beverage. Esquivel looks like an alchemist herself lighting the burner beneath a siphon to render Judgement of Paris, a hot toddy reimagined with tea, applejack brandy, gin, Cointreau, honey, lemon and sliced ginger.
“Pumpkin is overplayed this time of year,” she says. So they were iffy about Linus Van Pelt, featuring pumpkin-imbued rye. But the spirit they produce is subtle, and rather than hog the spotlight like a plump diva, it harmonizes when shaken with bitters and house-made allspice dram (light rum, allspice berries, green cardamom, cinnamon, brown sugar). Just before serving, Esquivel pops a coupe into a see-through box that favors a David Blaine prop to smoke it. Voila! A nose that’s pure campfire nostalgia. Amazingly, after one drink, the backstory of centrifuges, instantaneous infusion and bubble-imploding cavitation makes sense (view the Linus Van Pelt recipe here).
The 808 also exemplifies Saint Germain’s fresh, seasonal, from-scratch spin. Sweet, earthy beets are juiced, then alloyed with ginger, simple syrup, lemon juice, bourbon and nitro-muddled thyme. It resembles a ruby mum poured into a glass chilled by a swirl of liquid nitrogen, the gaseous wisps amplifying the venue’s otherworldliness.
Saint Germain’s labor-intensive, legerdemain-demanding cocktails deliver intense flavor combinations. Each sip is an experience, with the bonus of equipping you to help your kid ace AP chemistry.
255 Granby St., Norfolk. 757-321-9445. SaintGermainNorfolk.com
Left to Right: IG Noble, Vida Bandida, Rosetta Toned. Photos by Jim Pile.
“So many times, hotel bars are nothing special. Just a place to pass the time over a Budweiser until your room is ready,” laments Josh Seaburg. “But in the Golden Age of Cocktails, hotel bars were the place to be.”
Seaburg and what he calls the largest collection of educated bartenders around are making Saltine, The Main’s seafood restaurant/raw bar, just that with their zinc bar-cum-apothecary.
A separatory funnel ensures there’s no fruit detritus in the house strawberry cordial giving the daiquiri-esque Rosetta Toned (Flor de Caña Extra Dry Rum, lime, absinthe, coriander) its soft pink hue. Drops of a tincture dubbed “Ignition” (Belle Isle 100 Proof Moonshine crammed with thin-sliced peppers) merge with Vida Mezcal, Dry Curacao, lime and bitters in Vida Bandida. It means “thug life” explains the erudite Seaburg who’s big into wordplay and West Coast hip hop (get the recipe here).
Despite seeming newfangled-ness, simplicity rules. Every ingredient serves a purpose; no napkin garnish (the derisive term Seaburg and team coined for fruit skewers plucked out elsewhere).
And while Seaburg hopes imbibers explore beguiling new flavor combinations—say, in the arguably healthy, albeit Macchu Pisco boasting, IG Noble (IG for Instagram because of its photogenic emerald shade, Noble for Nobility Juice—kale, spinach and other veggies juiced by Fruitive, also on The Main’s ground level), he’s not out to convert or “preach the word of obscure bitters.” His credo: We don’t serve cocktails; we serve people. He abhors dirty vodka martinis, but if you want it, you got it. (Besides, he’s mindfully selected olives to make great ones.)
Years ago, an Esquire interview with Adam Stemmler inspired him. He emailed the grog-guru: “I want to be you when I grow up.” Stemmler mentored him (“I learned aggressively and asked very nicely,” Seaburg says). Now Seaburg’s own consultancy, Model Citizen LLC, is raising the bar locally.
100 E. Main St., Norfolk. 757-763-6280. SaltineNorfolk.com