As part of Cocktail Power Hour, we asked mixologist at the upcoming Saxon + Parole Naren Young to try two new curious cocktails at new NYC restaurants.
"Has anyone ever finished one of these?" I ask our friendly server, of the Grilled Cheese Martini put in front of me. "Oh yeah, some people have even had two." She’s a really bad liar. I know it. She knows it. That aside, the Cellar at Beecher’s on 20th and Broadway is a fantastic space, looking all the part like an industrial drawing room that perhaps Evelyn Nesbit might have a enjoyed a glass of French bubbles in (she does, after all, have a cocktail named after her on the menu here). There are comfortable banquettes along one wall – some upholstered in cowhide – coupled with warm and rich tones and wood finishes, some wrought iron here, some exposed brick there, all atop polished concrete floors. It’s date heaven.
But I digress. I’m sent here – I’m beginning to think as a cruel joke – to try the aforementioned concoction that after several attempts, I just can’t get down. In fact the tiny sips that I have swallowed I’m having trouble keeping down. I’m not told who created it. I am told, however, that it is essentially, literally, a grilled cheese sandwich that has been infused into vodka (stay with me here), shaken with muddled basil and tomatoes and strained into a cocktail glass that has been rimmed with, wait for it . . . . reduced balsamic vinegar and crushed dried prosciutto. Oh, and there’s a small ice cube made of tomato juice bobbing on the surface which is superfluous anyway. The vinegar is running down the stem of the glass, onto my fingers and I am offered no napkin. There’s not even a tablecloth I can discreetly wipe them on. Fail.
In theory it sounds appealing. I mean, seriously, who doesn’t love a grilled cheese? It’s about as American as apple pie, which, depending on which bar you’re at, has also had mixed reviews when the suffix ‘tini’ has been added to it. Ironically, among their selection of 15 wonderful cheeses, there’s not a grilled cheese to be found in the building and sadly, this has no traces of grilled cheese on the palate at all. Sometimes, case in point, classic dishes and liquor should just not bathe together.
Downtown at White & Church, Christina Bini has garnered a lot of attention for her wacky drinks that just might include Parmesan shavings, cow’s milk ricotta or – here we go again: balsamic reduction. There is even a section titled ‘Insects’, where you also might find solace in a concoction with dried grasshoppers. You certainly won’t find it in the Why Not? - Don Julio and Cointreau blended with lime, sugar, salt and avocado into a mousse-like foam the texture of baby food. It looks like a spirulina milkshake and is served in a beautiful, if a little weird looking space age receptacle and topped with Mexican dried spicy worms that are actually quite delicious, adding a unique salty tang and slight crunch. The drink itself though is overly salted and has a funky unappealing aftertaste. I can’t finish it. She probably thinks I’m freaked out by the bugs, which are actually the best part.
I follow with the Rosemary: cinnamon-infused rum, apple juice, lemon and toasted honeybees, three little guys balancing precariously on top of a pineapple leaf. This is much better. Nothing amazing but it is tart, light and elegant in its subtle nuances, and more importantly, I can actually finish this one. The bees themselves have almost no flavor but that would be to miss the point entirely. I’ll have a Negroni, please.
—Naren Young is a NYC based bartender and drinks writer who spends all of his pocket money on Gin Martinis and Margaritas. Usually in that order. He is also the guy behind Fork and Shaker.