How do you approach pairing drinks with food?
I spent the past few years in Stony Brook as the manager of Mirabelle Tavern, putting together a tasting menu was a weekly adventure. To be honest, I tended to bypass using cocktails in pairings…because Guy [Reuge, executive chef of Mirabelle Tavern] taught me the romance of fine dining, where French cuisine and wine are one. Now, I’m not as reluctant…I’ve learned that a well-built cocktail does complement a dish and can build harmony. Also, cocktails are far less rigid than a bottle of wine, and can be created and modified to match perfectly with a dish. I think bar guests want to experience that same culinary art in their glass.
How did you plan cocktails for Salt & Barrel’s shellfish-focused menu?
One example is that I tried to think about the mineral and acidic notes of wine that pair so well with seafood, then bring that to a gin or vodka-based cocktail. There’s nothing better than a gin martini to enjoy with a shrimp cocktail; the botanicals of the gin pair beautifully with the subtle and briny flavors of the shrimp. The tricky part is finding the right mixer. You’ll find a lot of fresh citrus being used on our cocktail list, since those bright notes pair beautifully with most seafood. The general focus on our current list is the classics…Hemingway Daiquiri to a Yellow Jacket to a Sazerac.
Are oysters a tougher pairing?
There’s definitely something about oysters that excites the palate in a way that doesn’t happen with other shellfish…each variety has subtle nuances to appreciate. Like our Kusshi and Kumamoto varieties from the West Coast, they offer mild brininess with a sweet, fruity and vegetal finish. Our local Lucky 13s [from the] Sexton Islands on the other hand, hold meat [that’s] more plump than most West Coast varietals and are known for their high salinity. The neutral nature of vodka, specifically, provides a lot of room to create great cocktails.
What’s your latest creation?
The Laundress Sour is a recent one using vodka as a base that gives a lot of room to play with. It’s a complex drink on the palate from the accompanying ingredients: the brightness of the lemon, the calming nature of the chamomile, the floral notes of the elderflower liqueur. There’s also an airy luxuriousness that comes through with the addition of an egg white. The chamomile flavor sits on the forefront. I serve the drink in a gold-rimmed coupe glass, topped off with Angostura bitters and some dried chamomile for garnish.
1oz lemon juice
3/4 oz pasteurized egg white
1/2 oz St. Germaine
1/2 oz chamomile syrup
Add lemon juice, egg, St. Germaine and chamomile syrup to cocktail shaker. Shake dry and once again with ice. Double strain into glass. Garnish with dried chamomile flowers and angostura bitters.
Place equal parts water and extra fine sugar into a pot. Bring to a boil, stirring until sugar dissolves. Turn off heat and add chamomile or chamomile tea bags to taste. Cover and refrigerate until syrup is cool.