Bar Reports: “molecular” cocktails at Booker & Dax and WD-50 in New York, and Barmini in DC

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This past February, I went on an eating and drinking tour up and down the east coast of the United States. As part of that tour, I made stops at three bars associated with “molecular” cuisine. Here’s a look at some of their drinks and my recommendations.

Booker & Dax

A joint venture between food technology guru Dave Arnold and celebrity chef  Dave Chang, Booker & Dax bar hides inside Chang’s Ssäm Bar. And by hides behind, I mean the space seems to have been carved out of what could have been a kitchen prep area. The bar does not allow standing-room customers, but the vibe is dark, packed, and a little industrial. The decor-if you can call it that-is industrial metal and plastic bins.

But if you’re looking for a show, you’ll find one. Simply chilling a glass involves clouds of liquid nitrogen, fizzy drinks (for which there is a dedicated spot on the menu) requires a collapsed plastic bottle, and don’t even get me started on the flaming hot poker.

I tried three of the most talked-about drinks at the bar: the Bangkok Daiquiri, the Chartuth, and one of those hot-poker drinks, the French Colombian. Dave has been a huge inspiration to me, through his weekly invigorating blend of science and enthusiasm at the Cooking Issues radio show.

While all three drinks were delicious, the French Colombian really knocked my socks off.

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Barmini

Celebrity chef and restauranter José Andrés  is best-known for his molecular/ modernist take on Spanish cuisine. At Barmini, the menu boasts both classic drinks and innovative inventions.

A few quick notes:

  • Barmini is reservation-only. To enter, find the tiny discreet doorbell hidden in the wall. Don’t freak out if the GM doesn’t answer right away – he’s probably busy with other customers. I thought this set up was a bit awkward, but the experience was worth it.
  • Also, if the GM says he can’t seat you in a particular place even though the bar is half-empty, he’s not trying to be a jerk – Minibar customers are served their last course in Barmini, and they have priority on seating. So, depending on where guests are in their dinner and how many guests are in a party, you may get bumped.

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The night begins with a miniature amuse cocktail. In this case, a light and tart sip with elderflower and lemon.

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My first drink: a swizzle called the “Black Shack” featuring my favorite Italian amaro, Fernet Branca.

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My wife’s first drink – an expertly made Fizz a la Violette. I suspect the team doped the egg foam with a touch of xanthan, but I’m not sure.

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All of the prices at Barmini are very reasonable for what you get. Drinks run from about $10 to $18 for the more complex drinks (barrel-aged presidente, anyone?) and bar snacks are just $4. Above, delicious little marshmallow bites. We also had the delicious lime-dusted cracklings (not pictured).

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Although the bar managers told me that the aim of the bar was not “molecular mixology,” if you look closely at the above picture and this promotional picture, you’ll notice graduated cylinders, ISI siphons, and even a rotovap (rotary evaporator) chilling out on the counter. I also think I spotted an ultrasonic homogenizer, but I’m not sure that’s what it was.

The only more experimental drink I tried was the Widow’s Kiss, a brandy-based cocktail featuring yellow chartreuse that was smoked with a Polyscience Smoking Gun. While it was good, the smoke flavor was overpowering, as many of my own experiments smoking drinks have ended up. Although smoking a drink a la minute looks cool, for balance, I would recommend sticking with smoking individual ingredients and combining them later on.

WD-50

I’d heard several times before visiting New York that the drinks at WD-50 were underrated. Luckily, I’d already made reservations to try chef Wylie Dufresne’s new tasting menu, so I got a chance to try some cocktails as well.

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I mentioned above how easy it is to over-smoke a cocktail a la minute. As a counterexample, the “Unquiet American” at WD-50 gets the balance just right. A take on an Americano, this fizzy aperitif features Campari and smoked vermouth. The smoke is not too strong because it’s only in the vermouth.

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This wasn’t a proper cocktail, but one of our dessert courses featured chartreuse foam (the white foam) paired with pineapple, coconut, and a cucumber-flavored ice sheet (see below). It was phenomenal and made me really wish I had come up with something using chartreuse foam for the book.

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My party also tried the “Innuendo,” a tequila cocktail made with jackfruit and elderflower (not pictured). It was surprisingly complex for a fruity drink.

I would definitely WD-50 again for drinks, given the chance.

 

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