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José Andrés to Open 'Cocktail Lab,' Barmini

José Andrés to Open 'Cocktail Lab,' Barmini


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You won't believe what Andrés has up his sleeve

The newest project from José Andrés, Barmini.

After many days of anticipation, José Andrés has announced his newest project — and it's one we can certainly toast to. Popping up next door to minibar, Andrés will open "Barmini," a "culinary cocktail lab," on Feb. 15. (Consider it a Valentine's Day present for your cocktail-loving heart.)

Eater reports that Barmini will have 100 seasonally changing cocktails on the menu; and in fitting Andrés form, the drinks will have plenty of infusions, emulsifiers, carbonation, espumas, and extractions. Some sneak peeks of the cocktail menu: the "Mezcaleros Brew," a mezcal, kina, honey, and Belgian tripel beer cocktail, and the "Big in Japan," a cocktail with Japanese whiskey, salers and suze, and a mezcal marshmallow.

Barmini will also have some barfood, including a butternut squash meringue and an interesting take on the Philly cheesesteak. With cocktails ranging from $14 to $20, and bar foods ranging from $6 to $20, it's clear that Barmini is the more affordable option compared to minibar — that is, if you can get a table. And with that, we'll leave you with an Andrés quote that is sure to become a classic in a short manner of time: "You can eat to live, but also, you can drink to survive."

José Andrés presents barmini from ThinkFoodGroup on Vimeo.


The seasonal menu, broken down by spirit, will include more than 100 cocktails. Expect plenty of modernist techniques and ingredients, including “airs” that capture aromas and flavors in their bubbles and emulsifiers like whey that add texture to the drinks. Carbonation, espumas, extractions, infusions, and barrel aging will also be in the mixologists’ arsenal.

The cocktail program will be overseen by ThinkFoodGroup’s “cocktail innovator” Juan Coronado, along with research and development director Ruben Garcia. Among their creations is La Sevillana”with Pedro Ximenez sherry, apple jack, and Yellow Chartreuse smoked and served in a capped mason jar. There’s also a drink called “Big in Japan” with a mescal marshmallow, Japanese whiskey, and Salers and Suze aperitifs as well as a the “Rye Here” with passion fruit salt, cayenne spice rub, lemon juice, maple syrup Kasteel cherry beer, and barrel-aged bitters. Prices will range from $14 to $20.

The cocktails will be served in a collection of antique glassware in more than 30 different styles. The glasses, most of which date back to the 1930s, were found in glass shops, antique shops, and glass collections around the country.

There’s also a bar snacks menu ($5 to $16), which includes mac uni, minibar Philly cheesesteak, butternut squash meringue with yogurt and honey, and Pan de Cristal with tomato an Iberico ham.

Like minibar, the space was imagined by Spanish architect Juli Capella with the help of Georgetown-based architecture and design firm CORE. White pod counters make up the bar, and antique glassware, vintage barware, and classic cocktail books line the white wall behind the bar. You’ll also find Spanish designer Cerruti Baleri‘s funky furniture with photo-realistic fabric, including a cactus sofa and fruit ottomans.


José Andrés’s Barmini Is Reopening With a Throwback Menu From Minibar’s Early Days

José Andrés’s Michelin-starred Minibar and accompanying modernist cocktail room, Barmini, have been closed since March due to Covid. In preparation for reopening the avant-garde Penn Quarter venues, Think Food Group will launch a “reminiscence menu” in Barmini on October 28. The pop-up will feature classic Barmini concoctions and throwback dishes from Minibar’s nascent days inside Andrés’s long gone Café Atlántico.

Tickets ($125 per person) for the tasting will go on sale Friday at 10 AM via Tock. Bookings will be available from October 28 to November 11, and pending interest, may be available for another two week block. For drinks, guests can expect six creative Barmini classics like the “Floral Cloud,” a billowing riff on an Aviation with gin, citrus, crème de violette, and dry ice “clouds.” The multi-course food menu, snacks and bites through dessert, will include the kind of modernist inventions that put Minibar on the map nearly 20 years ago, such as a bite-size “Philly cheesesteak” where an airy, cheddar cream-filled mini pita is dabbed with onion jam and wrapped with shaved wagyu. (Fun fact: the dish was originally conceived at Atlántico as a way to use pita from neighboring Zaytinya.)

A number of Andrés’s DC restaurants have reopened in the pandemic, including Oyamel, Jaleo, and Zaytinya. Meanwhile China Chilcano remains temporarily closed, while America Eats Tavern in Georgetown permanently shuttered. In Bethesda, Andrés plans to transform the longtime Jaleo location into Spanish Diner, a branch of his all-day Spanish comfort food concept that opened inside New York’s Little Spain food hall. Check back for more reopening information about Minibar soon.

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Anna Spiegel covers the dining and drinking scene in her native DC. Prior to joining Washingtonian in 2010, she attended the French Culinary Institute and Columbia University’s MFA program in New York, and held various cooking and writing positions in NYC and in St. John, US Virgin Islands.


José Andrés to Open All-Day Cafe Alongside Chicago River

In May, José Andrés visited Chicago, and the famous person chef stopped at Fatso’s Final Stand for a Chicago-style canine in between dropping off meals at among the metropolis’s communities hit hardest by COVID-19. Whereas the chef’s charity work has taken priority in the course of the pandemic, plans have been nonetheless in movement in Chicago for a series of projects, the primary within the midwest for the D.C.-based Andrés.

Andrés has a worldwide profile, and is understood for his humanitarian efforts along with his charity, World Central Kitchen. He announced back in September 2019 that he had plans for his first Chicago restaurant, however the pandemic altered that schedule and everybody else’s. Now, Andrés’ ThinkFoodGroup — in partnership with Chicago’s Gibsons Restaurant Group — are able to share particulars on among the chef’s Chicago tasks inside the brand new Financial institution of America tower, 110 N. Wacker Drive. The primary to open will probably be an all-day riverside cafe referred to as Joe’s by the River. In accordance with a information launch, Joe’s ought to open this summer season.

The Gibsons mission might take the highlight off a separate mission. In September 2019, Andrés announced that he was bringing Jaleo, his tapas restaurant, to River North inside the previous Naha area. The discharge clarifies that the Chicago port of Jaleo — which has places in Bethesda, Maryland Arlington, Virginia Las Vegas and at Walt Disney World in Florida — also needs to open over the summer season at 500 N. Clark Road.

Contained in the Wacker Drive constructing, Andrés will convey his Bazaar model — which has places in Vegas and South Seaside — to Chicago. Whereas the Florida location serves seafood, Bazaar Meat will focus on pink meat like its Vegas counterpart that shares the identical title. Andrés has tapped a fellow Spaniard, Lázaro Rosa-Violán, to design the Chicago restaurant.

A rendering of the riverside area at 110 N. Wacker Drive. Nick Ulivieri Images

Andres’ camp additionally introduced that Bar Mar, a “devoted cocktail expertise,” will arrive contained in the Wacker Drive tower. Andrés and Gibsons who’re additionally dealing with catering for the tower’s 10,000-square-foot non-public occasion area. ThinkFoodGroup additionally hinted at extra bulletins they’ve leased 17,200-square-foot of tower area, which is billed because the tallest workplace constructing within the metropolis with 55 walkable flooring.

Gibsons, the homeowners of the enduring Gold Coast steakhouse recognized for big parts and an old-school vibe, is spreading its wings a bit with collaborating with Andrés.

“The chance to associate with chef José Andrés and ThinkFoodGroup in our house metropolis in a sensational new constructing on the river is thrilling, and we predict it’s a pure, complementary partnership that may lead to unbelievable new eating experiences for Chicagoans,” Gibsons Steve Lombardo says in an announcement.

Joe’s by the River, 110 N. Wacker Drive, deliberate for a summer season opening Bazaar Meat and Bar Mar, 110 N. Wacker Drive, opening date not out there. Jaleo, 500 N. Clark Road deliberate for a summer season opening.


Share All sharing options for: Andrés To Bring Crazy Cocktail Program to Barmini

José Andrés will bring a touch of the Minibar spirit to the masses with Barmini, a cocktail lab adjacent to the tasting menu-centric restaurant that will open Feb. 15.

"You can eat to live, but also, you can drink to survive," said Andrés of the concept, which will feature a rotating menu of about 100 experimental cocktails. Bartenders will use molecular gastronomy staple techniques like airs and foams to bring a twist to classic drinks like Rusty Nails and Whiskey Sours. There will also be entirely new creations, such as the "Mezcaleros Brew," which uses mescal, kina, honey syrup, Belgian triple beer and an orange twist.

The concept, according to the chef, is partially inspired by his memories of peering through the window of the French restaurant La Grenouille in New York, back when he was younger and in the Navy, and couldn't afford the place. The chef thought at the time, "Wow, I don't belong there, and if I did belong there, I didn't have the money," he said.

So Barmini, while still requiring advance reservations, will offer cocktails priced between $14 and $20, while bar snacks will range from $5 to $16, making it an alternative to the $225-per-head Minibar. Details on how to make reservations weren't immediately available.

There is a window that peers into Minibar, visible from the bar. Minibar customers will continue to finish their evening in the space, as they have since the restaurant opened. Drinks are served in a number of unique antique glasses that the chef has collected over the years.

Juan Coronado of ThinkFoodGroup will oversee the cocktail program with the company's research and development director Ruben Garcia. Some of the bar snacks will be past Minibar creations, such as Andrés' spin on the Philly cheesesteak.

Andrés had been promoting the concept through a #Josehasasecret Twitter campaign leading up to the unveiling of the bar Monday evening. The chef coordinated with Spanish designer, Juli Capella, as well as local architecture firm CORE — both worked on Minibar and the revamped Jaleo as well. Focal points include a flower-shaped booth, a cactus-shaped couch and a wall behind the bar featuring antique glassware.


Bar as Laboratory

Barmini, the crafty bar in Washington, D.C., adjacent to chef José Andrés’ two-Michelin-starred molecular-gastronomy restaurant, minibar, is described by cocktail innovator Miguel Lancha as a “cocktail lab where creativity meets innovation.” The staff began using beakers back in 2013. “They felt natural and comfortable for us in the spirit of the science that’s behind many of the things we do behind the bar,” he says.

Lancha turns to beakers for stirred drinks using unconventional glassware has always been part of the bar’s concept, he says, citing the antique and rocket-ship-shaped glasses that are both on display and used for guests. According to Lancha, beakers with a wide open mouth are very convenient and easy to stir and pour. Not to mention that their scratch-resistant glass allows for both an accurate reading and a clear view of whatever’s being mixed.

Glass beakers also come in handy for doling out juice, tea and other ingredients for cocktail builds. And adding dry ice emits ethereal “aromatic clouds” that can be employed to finish a drink in front of the guest. Servers at barmini drive home the laboratory vibe by presenting the check at the end of the evening in a small beaker.


José Andrés’s Smash Hit Spanish Diner Opens in Bethesda With All-Day Comfort Fare

José Andrés is ready to unveil his latest restaurant, Spanish Diner, in downtown Bethesda on Thursday, May 13. The 108-seat, all-day eatery is a spinoff of Andrés’ diner in New York’s Mercado Little Spain food hall, and is taking over the former Jaleo space on Woodmont Avenue.

The colorful space includes distanced seating and custom foosball tables. Photograph courtesy of ThinkFoodGroup

Spanish Diner is Andrés’s homiest concept on several levels. The chef-turned-humanitarian has called Bethesda home for years with his wife, Patricia, and three daughters, Carlota, Ines, and Lucia. During the pandemic, fans got a view into his family’s kitchen while Andrés and his daughters demonstrated easy recipes like brisket and eggs while belting out showtunes from Hamilton. One of their quarantine cooking dishes, lentejas (lentil stew) can be found on the diner’s lengthy menu. The restaurant’s comfort fare, while cheffy enough to match Spanish architect Juli Capella’s vibrant space, nods to both Andrés’s adopted US home and Asturias, the northwest region of Spain where he was born.

A section of grandmother-style comfort dishes include baked pastas. Photograph by Liz Clayman

Unique to the Bethesda location are dishes from the mountainous region, such as smoky fabana bean stew with cured meats (morcilla, chorizo, and smoked Ibérico pork bacon). A menu section of “la cocina de la Abuela” (“our grandmother’s cuisine”) contains stews, meatballs, and pastas like canelones gratinados con foie, wide noodles stuffed with chicken, pork, and duck foie gras, and baked in a blanket of béchamel sauce.

One menu section is devoted to fried eggs over crispy potatoes with optional breakfast meats. Photograph courtesy of ThinkFoodGroup

There are also simpler indulgences. Head Chef Daniel Lugo, who’s worked with Andrés’s ThinkFoodGroup over the past five years at Jaleo, has become a master of egg cookery for Spanish Diner. One section of the menu is entirely devoted to olive oil-fried eggs over crispy potatoes—a nod to Casa Lucio, a Madrid institution famous for its huevos rotos (and bull-tail stew) since 1974. Diners can pick between two and six eggs and add Spanish breakfast meats like morcilla (blood sausage) or jamón. There are vegetarian options with avocado and eggs, and diners can customize platters with add-ons like Spanish tomato bread. And if you’re looking for a lunch-meets-breakfast mashup, combo platters like plancha-seared squid or spiced pork loin with fried eggs, potatoes, and chicken croquettes are a good way to go.

The former Jaleo space was revamped by Spanish designer Juli Capella . Photograph courtesy of ThinkFoodGroup

ThinkFoodGroup cocktail innovator Miguel Lancha is behind the drinks if you’re craving something stronger than La Colombe coffees. Jaleo-style sangria—and sangria happy hour—are back, served in three styles (red, rosé, and cava) by the glass or pitcher. Cocktails are heavy on vermouths and sherries, and include riffs on Spanish classics like kalimotxo (red wine, Coca-Cola, Magdala orange liqueur, and Cynar artichoke liqueur). Being an Andrés operation, there are of course several styles of gin-and-tonics to sip on the 48-seat patio.

Spanish snacks include mussels en escabeche over potato chips with hot sauce—great with a Spanish beer or cider. Photograph by Liz Clayman

Spanish Diner. 7271 Woodmont Ave., Bethesda. Open Wednesday through Sunday, 11:30 AM to 9 PM.

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A Toast to 20 Beverage Programs

Chefs influencing sips behind the rail, while sommeliers and mixologists slip into the kitchen, are increasingly common practices—especially among restaurants that are recognized for giving diners outstanding culinary experiences. Collaboration between chefs and beverage professionals is the watchword, and all of the restaurants on FSR’s list of 20 Best Beverage Programs closely integrate wine, beer, and spirits with their food menus. From fine dining to family-friendly casual dining, common themes among the best beverage programs include exploration, passion, attention to detail, and fun. But having fun is serious business, and in a world of wine connoisseurs, cocktail celebrities, and craft beer enthusiasts—presentation and performance is all part of the commitment to give each guest a wonderfully engaging and memorable experience.

Chefs influencing sips behind the rail, while sommeliers and mixologists slip into the kitchen, are increasingly common practices—especially among restaurants that are recognized for giving diners outstanding culinary experiences. Collaboration between chefs and beverage professionals is the watchword, and all of the restaurants on FSR’s list of 20 Best Beverage Programs closely integrate wine, beer, and spirits with their food menus. From fine dining to family-friendly casual dining, common themes among the best beverage programs include exploration, passion, attention to detail, and fun. H But having fun is serious business, and in a world of wine connoisseurs, cocktail celebrities, and craft beer enthusiasts—presentation and performance is all part of the commitment to give each guest a wonderfully engaging and memorable experience.

Consider the beverage strategy at restaurants within the prestigious Dinex Group, where close collaboration between chef/owner Daniel Boulud, wine director Daniel Johnnes, and the chefs, sommeliers, and bartenders in each of the group’s restaurants brings a unique wine personality to each location.

“We tailor the wine selection to the style of each restaurant,” says Johnnes. At all of the group’s restaurants, wines are chosen to harmonize with the food, the feel, and the price points of the various restaurant brands, from casual dining to fine dining.

“Wine is very important to Daniel, it’s very much a part of who he is and he takes wine very seriously—but on a daily basis, the chefs and sommeliers make decisions about pairings,” notes Johnnes. “One of the most important aspects of my job is building the sommelier team—I want sommeliers who really love wine, who want to continue to explore, discover, and communicate their enthusiasm about wine.”

Although 70 percent of the wines in Dinex restaurants are from France and much of the remaining 30 percent come from the U.S., exploration underscores the Dinex wine program. Johnnes says consumers are increasingly “more willing and open to experiment with new wines,” a trend influenced dramatically by globalization and the fact that wines are sourced worldwide. “We’re seeing great wines from regions that 10 or 15 years ago no one would have considered.”

Ultimately the wine list in each restaurant is the result of a largely collaborative effort between Johnnes and his team, including considerable influence from Boulud. Johnnes says all the chefs and sommeliers work together closely, not independent of one another or in parallel, but grouped together in a collaborative review.

Abbot’s Cellar
San Francisco

A culinary triumvirate—Chef Adam Dulye, a CIA graduate Cellarmaster Christian Albertson and self-proclaimed beer geek Mike Reis—focus on the interaction of California cuisine with craft beer and wine. Barmini
Washington

JUAN CORONADO, cocktail innovator for Chef José Andrés’ Think Food Group, says chefs and bartenders collaborate at the group’s culinary cocktail lab, barmini, where the “parade” of imaginative creations changes weekly. Birch & Barley
Washington

Selections rotate daily through the list of 555 beers, and GREG EGNERT, beer director of Neighborhood Restaurant Group, enjoys pairing a continually rotating beer menu with an equally dynamic food menu. Blackberry Farm
Walland, TN

Accolades abound for this fine-dining retreat and its expansive wine offering. Sommelier ANDY CHABOT’s team was a James Beard finalist this year and Chef Joseph Lenn won James Beard Best Chef Southeast. The Boarding House
Chicago

Proprietor and Master Sommelier, ALPANA SINGH, has taken the Windy City wine scene to new heights with the opening of her first restaurant, The Boarding House, where food and beverage integrate beautifully.

Delight is in the Details

A similarly collaborative process takes place when Carlo Splendorini, head mixologist for the Michael Mina Group, starts to think about crafting new cocktails. Invariably, his first step is to talk to chefs about the ingredients they are using. “I want to match the concept the chef has for the food in the cocktails, so we can give our guests a more unique experience in our restaurants,” he says.

To that end, diners will not see the same cocktail menu replicated from one Mina restaurant to the next. Each of the 17 restaurants in the group has a completely different cocktail program, and Splendorini may craft 50 or 60 new cocktails from one base spirit, before settling on the seven or eight best choices.

It’s a very hands-on process that requires Splendorini’s time and personal passion. “Whenever there is a change in one of our restaurant’s beverage program, I always go to the restaurant for tastings,” he says.

A new practice—reiterating the group’s commitment to give each guest the best possible experience—is the addition of complementary cocktail treats.

“As a special thank you for our guests we are going to present candy cocktails after the meal,” says Splendorini. “And as a special welcome to help clear our guests’ palates, we are creating cocktail sorbets [also complementary], with a white spirits base and perhaps flavored with dill or ginger.”

Exceptional dining experiences are all about these personalized details, and he says the most interesting aspect of his job, and the most fun, is getting to know the chefs and their concepts—then coming up with multiple ideas for new cocktails.

Another visionary master of ideas, Juan Coronado, cocktail innovator for Chef José Andrés’ Think Food Group, oversees the cocktail program for all of the group’s concepts, including barmini, the culinary cocktail lab that opened earlier this year adjacent to Andrés’ acclaimed minibar restaurant.

Barmini provides a forum where chefs and bartenders collaborate and the menu—which Coronado describes as “a parade” of fun and imaginative cocktails—changes weekly.

“My mood of the day has a lot to do with my decisions,” he says, noting the pleasure he takes from leveraging seasonal fruits such as peaches, cherries, and berries. But he pays particular homage to ice as a staple for maintaining the integrity of a cocktail’s design.

Canon
Seattle

Claiming the western hemisphere’s largest spirit collection, Canon has a fun and inventive approach to Spirits Flights and was awarded World’s Best Drink Selection at this year’s Tales of the Cocktail. The Cedar Social
Dallas

Lead bartender Michael Martensen changes the signature cocktail weekly and, using local ingredients, he creates handcrafted drinks that complement Chef John Tesar’s menu of modern comfort foods. Cook & Brown
Providence, RI

Taking a chapter from European gastropubs, the food is pairied with esoteric Old World wines as well as with handcrafted cocktails and small-batch beers. The Dead Rabbit
New York City

SEAN MULDOON, founder/general manager, and JACK MCGARRY, bar manager, unite whisky, punches, and craft beer with Irish-American cuisine at the World’s Best New Cocktail Bar—awarded at this year’s Tales of the Cocktail. The Dinex Group
New York City

Wine director DANIEL JOHNNES collaborates closely with chefs, bartenders, and sommeliers at each of Chef Daniel Boulud’s restaurants to deliver a unique wine personality and individualized beverage program in every location.

“In Japan, ice is the soul of the cocktail and good ice is very important because it affects the temperature, the dilution, and the taste,” Coronado says.

Using special Japanese tools, Coronado starts with a 50-pound block of ice that he cuts in half and then works from there, often crafting hand-cut spheres. “Cocktails are totally different when you use custom-cut ice instead of commercial ice.”

Not every bartender is versed in the art and science of ice, but Coronado insists bartenders understand the interaction of ice with spirits—hence barmini’s extensive training program. But when he is recruiting mixology talent, it’s really more about the passion than the prior training.

“Most are here because they love what they are doing,” explains Coronado. “One was not even a bartender before she came here, but that’s okay because we train and, in our company, hospitality is the first thing. [Bartenders] all know how to make cocktails, but they may not remember to smile. The cocktail tastes better with a smile.”

Like Splendorini and Johnnes, Coronado is striving for that overall perfected experience. “It’s about presentation and performance,” he says. “The garnish is important. Cocktails must be well-dressed because the guests are dressed up and out to have a good time. The drinks have to taste good, and they have to look good.”

And the bartender’s personal connection is important too. “I love stirring cocktails—but don’t look at a cocktail when you’re stirring, make eye contact with the guest.”

As he looks to the coming holiday season, Coronado anticipates serving more pre-batched cocktails in bottles, as well as cocktails on draft. He also expects to see more sugar substitutes in play—honey, maple syrup, and agave nectar.

Beer Rises in the Ranks

Traditionally a pub staple that was limited to pairings with burgers and appetizers, beer is now rivaling wine and cocktails as a sophisticated choice for pairing with upscale, gourmet menu items. At Birch & Barley in Washington, craft beer has been elevated to a lead role and the food often draws inspiration from the beer.

“Every night we offer a tasting menu where the food is paired with beer not wine,” explains Greg Engert, beer director for the Neighborhood Restaurant Group, which owns and operates 10 concepts including Birch & Barley. “In those instances, the food menu is determined first, based on what is local and fresh, and then I look at our list of 555 beers to decide what will pair best. Other times, we host beer dinners and I’ll select five, six, maybe seven beers from a brewery and our chef will craft dishes based on what will pair well with those beers.”

Element 47
Aspen, CO

CARLTON MCCOY, Master Sommelier, runs an impressive program with 20 percent of the wine list, which is valued at $1.7 million, undergoing an aging process, and bottles from under $100 to over $2,000. Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse & Wine Bar
Newport Beach, CA

With its proprietary digital wine list, served tableside on an iPad, director of wine MAEVE PESQUERA says Fleming’s brings wine to life and gives guests a new way to engage with wines. Michael Mina Group
San Francisco

Each Mina restaurant has a unique cocktail program and CARLO SPLENDORINI, head mixologist, says the first step in crafting new drinks is to talk with the chefs about their ingredients. Nellcote
Chicago

Specializing in kitchen-crafted cocktails and Midwestern-inspired small plates, the restaurant’s Kitchen Cocktails program was created jointly by executive chef Jared Van Camp and Nellcote’s mixology team. Red Robin Gourmet Burgers
Denver

Beer is Red Robin’s best-selling alcohol category and the Blue Moon beer-can cocktail was summer’s best-selling cocktail, although margaritas—like this Platinum Patron Margarita—typically lead the cocktail category.

The beer list rotates daily, with 30 to 40 new beers appearing weekly and an estimated 1,500 to 2,000 beers coming into the fold annually. “Some of those might be seasonal beers that are returning, but we have well over 1,000 new, different beers annually,” Engert explains. “Bottle beers can age well, but when it comes to our draft and tap list, I’m focusing on beers that should be fresher and move more quickly—and then we educate our servers to push those beers when they [need to be] sold and served.”

The fun for Engert is working to pair a continually changing food menu with a rotating beer menu. He abandoned a career as an English professor to study wine and food pairings, and how flavors interact, then began to apply that knowledge to craft beer and food.

“Beer can be exceptional with food for a lot of reasons. Beer is almost exclusively carbonated, and carbonation cleanses the palate,” he says. Also, because beer is grain-based, Engert explains that the malty sweetness produced by fermentation often harmonizes with the flavors of food, where wines may interact with flavors but not harmonize.

“There are so many ways beer and food can pair together—one is harmony, where we find similar flavors and match the beer and food. Another is using an old form of beer called Rauchbier that incorporates smoked malts, so these beers taste quite smoky on the palate, almost like bacon. If you eat raw fish while drinking smoked beer it [produces] a really cool flavor interaction.”

Contrasting flavors play well together as well. Engert points to refreshingly mild wheat beers, like a tart Berliner Weisse, that pairs nicely with something briny like steamed clams. “They mellow in one another’s presence and you get this amazing balance of acid and salt so that’s a cool complement by contrast,” he says.

Beers that are particularly hoppy—like pale ales and IPAs—are among the more difficult to pair because Engert warns their “bitterness can overpower the palate.” Typically, these beers were paired with rich meats or aged cheese, but recently he’s begun to pair them with rich desserts—like carrot cake with vanilla frosting and a fruity hop-forward beer. Or, pairing an IPA with a rich chocolate cake “makes the beer less bitter and the cake linger on the palate for an intriguing interplay between the flavors.”

Restaurant Eve
Alexandria, VA
TODD THRASHER
, general manager, sommelier, and liquid savant, is committed to crafting artisanal cocktails with unique ingredients that will leave guests cherishing their beverage memories as much as their food experience. Rivera
Los Angeles

A distinctive translation of Latino culture into food and beverage characterizes the artistry of bartender Julian Cox and chef/owner John Rivera Sedlar. The Barbacoa, shown here, is a blend of mezcal, chipotle, ginger, lime, and beef jerky. Sable Kitchen & Bar
Chicago

Head bartender MIKE RYAN started his career as a sous chef—just one reason why Sable is a leading gastro-lounge, where handcrafted cocktails fully complement the culinary expertise of chef Heather Terhune. Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens
San Diego

A brewery that’s scored excellence with food and restaurant operations, the one-acre beer garden and open-air patio have become culinary desitinations for discriminating diners. Trick Dog Bar
San Francisco

Since opening in early January, this newcomer has been teaching lots of old bar dogs new tricks. It’s one to watch, especially because of its ability to beautifully integrate food pairings into a setting that’s so about the bar.

Excellence in Numbers

If it was hard for beer to be taken seriously as a sophisticated choice in upscale restaurants, it may be even more surprising when chain restaurants establish beverage programs that equal—and in some instances usurp—the beverage programs of chef-owned, fine-dining restaurants. But among the FSR 20 Best Beverage Programs, Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse & Wine Bar warrants recognition for a comprehensive, contemporary, and innovative wine program that fully engages and empowers diners to explore new varietals. And Red Robin Gourmet Burgers earned a place in this elite group for its ability to elevate an adult beverage menu while staying true to its family-friendly, casual-dining atmosphere.

Across its 65 locations in 28 states, Fleming’s beverage program includes both consistent offerings and localized choices. Among the Fleming’s 100—a wine-by-the-glass collection—approximately 80 wines are consistent throughout the company and 20 are selected by the local wine manager. On average, 30 to 50 of the 80 national core wines will change each year.

“The integrity of the program is key,” says Maeve Pesquera, director of wine. “All of our wine is stored and served at the appropriate temperatures, whites at 45° [Fahrenheit] and reds at 60° [Fahrenheit]. We also preserve the wines correctly because with 100 wines by the glass there could be spoilage and waste—so we use a flash-vacuum system after every single pour to keep oxygen out of the bottle.”

Noting that diners, who were reluctant to splurge on new wines during the recession, now appear eager to explore new varietals, Fleming’s introduced a propriety wine app in May that puts a digital wine list, via an iPad, on every table.

“Our winepad is an amazing way to bring wine to life for our guests,” Pesquera explains. “Every wine has a label and tasting notes, and wines are sorted by varietal, by region, by country, or diners can sort creatively, like by mood. They can email labels and tasting notes from the winepad to themselves or to friends, so we are seeing guests engage in a different way with wine.”

As much fun as the winepad is to play with, the real objective is to get the conversation rolling. “The winepad is not designed to replace the server it’s designed to enhance the conversation with the server and the diner’s engagement with wine,” says Pesquera.

Engaging diners with the beverage menu is also a focus at Red Robin, where Denny Marie Post, senior vice president, chief menu and marketing officer, says: “There is nothing inconsistent with serving great burgers and beer in a family-focused restaurant. We can be every bit as inventive in our bar as with our burgers.”

Ironically, Red Robin started as a tavern, and the original name included Great Burgers & Spirits Emporium. “Years ago, management threw a blanket over the bar and renamed the company without the reference to spirits,” says Post. “When our new CEO came three years ago, we brought back old favorites—including a happy hour and merchandising beverages on the tables.”

One challenge is implementing a beverage program consistently across 475 locations. The beverage team collaborates with the test kitchen, studying chef ingredients to cross-reference flavors in the bar. “We have to be creative, but keep it simple so we execute 100 percent of the time at every location,” says Donna Ruch, master mixologist. “Mostly we want bartenders who have fun in their job and can give our guests a fun experience,” she says.

Post adamantly agrees: “We’re in a dog fight for market share in the casual-dining [sector], and the person behind the bar absolutely affects the feel and energy of the restaurant. It has to be someone who loves being there and whose energy shows.”

Beer is Red Robin’s biggest-selling alcohol category, with a selection of 18 to 22 bottle beers plus up to 16 beers on draft including regional and local favorites. Jill Hendrick, senior beverage manager, says each bartender and manager understands what beers are selling in the local area and makes the decision about which local brews to stock.

The summer’s big hit was “beer-can cocktails,” and the Blue Moon version quickly became the chain’s best-selling cocktail. During the holiday season, Red Robin brings back tried-and-true favorites—like the popular Gingerbread milkshake, served nonalcoholic or with a splash of bourbon. Last year saw the introduction of an Oktoberfest beer shake—which will return this season along with a Spiced Pumpkin Pie milkshake that may be augmented with a shot of marshmallow vodka.


Cocktails: If it tastes good on the plate, will it taste good in the glass?

Think of your favorite dish. Try to conjure its flavors: the long braise of wine, herbs and tomatoes the faint nasal prick of wasabi in a perfect piece of sushi the lemony tang of a vinaigrette bracing against peppery arugula and the crunchy, umami smirk of Parmesan.

Now, consider: Would you want to drink that dish?

I’ve been pondering that question over the past months as I’ve almost inadvertently stalked Juan Coronado, cocktail innovator for José Andrés’s restaurant group, from one truffle drink to the next.

In Vegas this past October, my husband and I visited Andrés’s Bazaar Meat at the SLS Casino, and while the ball to my chain was chatting up the chefs and ogling the meat displays, I was getting all bloodhound (sniff sniff sniff) on a drink called Truffles & Bees. A few months later, during a cocktail class at Barmini, the cocktail lab next to Andrés’s extravagant Minibar here in the District, I got a chance to assemble its kissing cousin, the D.O.C.

It was that drink — a mix of truffle honey, pear vodka, lemon and champagne — that really got me thinking about the flavors we find appealing in food and how those cravings carry over into beverages. Beyond the realm of classy cocktails, PepsiCo recently was the butt of a lot of mocking online commentary when it confirmed that rumors of a Doritos-flavored Mountain Dew were not a prank. The company was testing the flavor, tentatively called Dewitos I’m guessing “Pop for Potheads” didn’t get approved by Legal.

The general reaction seemed to be a kind of intrigued repulsion.

But why? People love Doritos, yet the idea of a Doritos-flavored soda gives us the fantods. I suspect it has to do with anticipation and psychological incongruity: A Dorito should meet certain expectations, not just in its taste, but also in its aroma and texture. To imagine one in a bottle agitates the mind in a way that’s not entirely pleasant.

Finding the heady smell of truffle in what appeared to be a light, fizzy cocktail struck me in much the same way. The few times I’ve seen truffles in cocktails, they’ve tended to be in wood-aged spirits. (If you’ve bar-crawled in Seattle, you might have had the pleasure of sipping Jamie Boudreau’s iconic Truffle Old Fashioned at Canon. Made with truffle-infused cognac, it’s been returning yearly during truffle season Boudreau says the truffles add an earthiness to the brandy that almost mimics extra aging.)

But truffles are rare and incredibly expensive, and their smell, that instantly recognizable truffle funk, is hard to balance against other flavors. That’s why truffles tend to turn up in rich, savory dishes that can hold up to and complement that earthy scent: softly scrambled eggs, cheese-rich pastas.

The smell of truffles isn’t far from the smell of bodies intermingling: at once desirable and faintly gross. (Feel free to fan yourself delicately at this point.) Those truffle-hunting pigs are not immune to this the chemical compounds that compose truffle smell are also found in the saliva of male boars.

When I first nosed the truffley drinks at Bazaar Meat and Barmini, I found the smell off-putting. But I sniffed again, and they began to grow on me, much the way some of Andrés’s uncanny molecular gastronomy creations do. The first reaction to a dish that looks like one thing but tastes and smells like another is a kind of shock. In successful dishes — and successful drinks — that shock gives way to delight.

When I talked to Coronado about the D.O.C., he confirmed what I’d half suspected: It had been inspired by food, a salad he’d had that included pears, truffle oil and blue cheese.

So how do you convert such a dish into a beverage that echoes its flavors, yet really works as a drink? Coronado thought about the high notes. “I wanted to come up with something that had those popping flavors,” he says. “The sugar in the honey acts as a bonding agent to tie things together. And I don’t want to hide my truffles. They’re expensive. That’s why I’m using a vodka instead of dark spirits. . . . I’m just using a little citrus and a neutral spirit to not hide anything. The cocktail is about the truffles and the pears and the honey.”

Although the drink as a whole is surprising, it’s also recognizable. “I don’t try to find the next flavor that doesn’t exist, that only comes from a distant land in the Himalayas that the monkeys forgot to eat,” Coronado says. “It’s not about that. It’s about using flavors that everyone knows and connects with.”

Barmini makes its own truffle honey, but you can find truffle honey at specialty grocery stores. While its price will tell you something, better to simply look for “truffles” on the ingredient list (as opposed to “truffle aroma,” “truffle flavoring” or, if you happen upon an honest and verbose one, “2,4-dithiapentane, a chemical compound that captures a single molecular component of truffles but is no more composed of actual truffle than Magritte’s picture of a pipe was made of wood.”)

What you get in the D.O.C. is the perfect New Year’s Eve toaster: The bubbles lift the aroma of pear and truffle honey to your nose, promising something that is at once startling, familiar, sweet and deeply sensual. If your new year contains such notes as these, it should be a good one indeed.

Allan is a Takoma Park writer and editor her Spirits column appears every few weeks. Follow her on Twitter: @Carrie_the_Red.


(Deb Lindsey for The Washington Post)

Spring Herb Cocktails

Cilantro Martini © Lauren FeigheryAcross the country, bartenders are moving away from heavy, earthy cocktails and replacing them with bright and bracing drinks made with fresh herbs. At Austin&rsquos Drink.Well, co-owner Jessica Sanders and her bar staff created three tinctures (rosemary, cilantro and basil) to star in off-the-menu herbal gin martinis. Each tincture&mdashmade with quality vodka infused in a jar packed with herbs&mdashcomplements a specific gin and vermouth. MORE >

Cilantro Martini © Lauren Feighery

Across the country, bartenders are moving away from heavy, earthy cocktails and replacing them with bright and bracing drinks made with fresh herbs. At Austin’s Drink.Well, co-owner Jessica Sanders and her bar staff created three tinctures (rosemary, cilantro and basil) to star in off-the-menu herbal gin martinis. Each tincture—made with quality vodka infused in a jar packed with herbs𠅌omplements a specific gin and vermouth.

Sanders’s favorite is the cilantro martini. She pairs the house-made tincture with Death’s Door gin from Wisconsin. “It has three primary botanicals: juniper, coriander and fennel,” Sanders says. “We saw the coriander and thought cilantro was the natural way to go.”(Coriander often refers to the seeds of the cilantro plant.) Inspired by the classic Latin combination of cilantro and orange flavors, Sanders chose Cocchi Americano, an aperitif flavored with orange peel, to use in place of vermouth in the cocktail. “It’s a little on the sweeter side of a dry martini,” Sanders says. 𠇋ut it still has that nice cold brightness that people are going to expect from a martini.” Here, more tasty seasonal cocktails made with herbs.

Barmini Washington, DC
José Andrés’s new cocktail lab serves a Lavender Rickey as an homage to the city’s signature drink, the Rickey, which was first made in the late 1800s, according to David Wondrich’s cocktail guide Imbibe! At Barmini, bartenders stir Bombay Sapphire gin with fresh lime juice, then strain it into a highball glass filled with ice and top it with house-made, ginger-tinged lavender soda. The fizzy, floral cocktail is served garnished with a lime wheel and a sprig of lavender.

Clarkson New York City
Vibrantly violet-hued, lavender- and herb-infused, the Provencale cocktail stars on the menu at this new retro American restaurant. Bartenders infuse Fords gin with lavender, and dry vermouth with herbes de Provence, then stir in Cointreau. After it’s strained into a chilled cocktail glass, the crisp, floral drink is garnished with an orange twist.

Zahav Philadelphia
Michael Solomonov’s high-end take on an Israeli street food spot serves a springtime whiskey sour called the Lemonnana. “Think mint-lemonade spiked with bourbon,” says sommelier Brian Kane. Bartenders muddle mint with Jim Beam bourbon, then pour in fresh lemon juice and a house-made verbena simple syrup, give it a shake and serve it over ice in a highball glass.

Squeaky Bean Denver
This recently renovated Denver standby offers a produce-packed tequila cocktail on its new spring menu. The Beet Street combines Ocho Plata blanco tequila, fresh basil, sorrel, beet juice (pressed daily) and egg white. The herbal, lightly sweet drink is shaken, then double-strained into a cocktail glass.


Watch the video: Ingredients for Change with Chef José Andrés


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