Sunday, June 12, 2011

Classical education, Part I

Back in mid-May, I went down to New York for a few days for the Manhattan Cocktail Classic.  I had gone to the previous year's Classic and rather enjoyed it, so I had been looking forward to this year's for a long while.  Unlike last year, I decided to volunteer at the Classic this year as a chance to get more involved and meet more people.  Additionally, the trip can be quite a drain on the pocketbook, with the cost of seminar tickets added on top of the usual transportation and boarding expenses, and volunteering can at least offset the ticket costs.  I am also quite thankful for my dear friend in New York who was kind enough to host me while I was there.

There was a slight snag in the original plan when I learned that the BGSO formal was on the Saturday during the same weekend of the Classic.  Given my obligations to BGSO, I had to skip the Gala, Saturday's events, as well as the majority of Sunday.  Rousing myself out of bed in time to catch a morning bus down, though, did give me the chance to catch the tail end of Sunday's festivities.

When I arrived Sunday afternoon, my first stop after dropping my things off was to stop by the Astor Center, headquarters of the Classic, to check in.  Besides, I was a bit too early to go straight to Angel's Share, but more on that in a bit.  Unfortunately, my timing did not work out well enough for me to sit in on a seminar that afternoon, but I did have a chance to indulge in a couple cocktails and say a quick hello to friends Ted and Jamie Kilgore from St. Louis, who were quite busy as Bar Fellows.

However, I did not linger long because I definitely wanted to stop by Angel's Share.  No trip to New York is truly complete without at least a few hours spent enjoying the absolutely fantastic experience that is a seat at the Angel's Share bar.  I had arrived just as they had opened, so I immediately snagged a seat at the bar right in front of Shingo.  As I had not been since January, there were quite a few cocktails on his menu that were new to me.  Shingo was also working on his new summer seasonal menu and let me take a peek at his draft.

As I had started with gin over at the Classic's main bar, I decided to try the Velvet Scene off his new menu.  Described as a concoction of Tanqueray, kiwi, lavender, grapefruit juice and honey inspired by the pâtissière over at ChikaLicious, this cocktail did not fail to charm.  The use of fresh fruit and herbs is a hallmark of Angel's Share's signature menu, and undoubtedly grounds the seasonality of the menu.  Although I was not able to confirm with Shingo, I would hazard a guess that this cocktail is named after a Coltrane piece, which really would fit the vibe of Angel's Share quite appropriately.

Next, I asked what Shingo was excited about making these days, and he directed me to the Speak Low, made with Pampero Aniversario, Osborne Pedro Ximénez and matcha.  He apparently had some chadō experience, which he demonstrates with a touch of theatrical flair while preparing this delicious cocktail.  The rum donated caramel and vanilla notes, while the sherry brought raisins and a luscious mouthfeel.  What astonished me about this drink was how the matcha grew and evolved in the glass with time.  The last few sips were more balanced and rounded by the tea's tannins than the initial introduction that was dominated by the sweetness of the rum and sherry.  Given Shingo's penchant for naming cocktails after song titles, I would not be surprised if this was named for yet another jazz standard.

Speak Low

After a lovely time at Angel's Share, I had to run off to meet a friend for a Campari fête at the Box.  Before I went there, however, I made a quick stop by Cocoron, a tiny soba shop on Delancey that had recently received a good write-up in the New York Times.  As the evening had gotten cool, I had a tsukemen-style soba, and it was indeed both quite delicious and fortifying.  The broth was richly flavored, and the soba noodles had a great bite that Taiwanese would call Q.

Filling up on soba turned out to be brilliant given my next stop at Campari's "Spirited Fête for the Senses Inspired by Padma Lakshmi."  Hosted by Padma Lakshmi and a cadre of excellent bartenders, Campari was the center of attention with a handful of cocktails that featured it.  After being ushered in by a pair of flappers, I was handed a dainty cup of Campari Punch by Jacques Bezuidenhout.  At this point, my memory began to get fuzzy, and I can't say I remember the details of the punch aside from the thought that I have lodged in my mind that it wasn't quite as balanced as I thought it should be.  By this point, the crowd around the main bar was four deep, and having waited some time to get one of Jim Meehan's East Indian Negronis, my friend and I made our way upstairs.  Apparently there was passed hors d'oeuvres that were paired with each cocktail, but I somehow managed to avoid all of these.

 From Metromix

We were also told that a show was about to start and that balcony seating would offer a good vantage point.  Although the show did not actually begin for another hour, the upstairs bar tended by Francesco Lafranconi was not quite as packed.  The specialty there was the Taj Milan, which I do remember as being strongly flavored with curry and coconut, the Campari getting somewhat lost in the mix.  When the show finally did start, it consisted of a few short burlesque and acrobatic acts that certainly had the audience quick enraptured.  Perhaps the best part of the evening though was perching near Tony Abou-Ganim's section of the bar after the show had ended.  With the crowd beginning to dwindle, Tony kept supplying me with a steady stream of expertly made Negronis until the house lights were turned on to signal the end of the night.  While I had been informed of what the Box experience entailed, I was still somewhat thrown off by everything from the stirrups in the bathroom stalls to the barely clothed contortionist on a trapeze suspended above the bar.  At least the Negronis were damned good.

Final drink tally for that Sunday:
Astor Center main bar
-Gin fizz of some kind
-Corpse reviver #2
Angel's Share
-Velvet Scene
-Speak Low
Campari Fête at the Box
-Campari Punch
-East Indian Negroni
-Taj Milan (2x)
-Negroni (at least 4x)

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