Tuesday, May 22, 2012

A few favorite warm-weather cocktails & bites

Now that the rain is decidedly gone for good and the sun's coming out in full force, it's time for drinks and bites to get a summer-ready makeover too. Having sampled quite a bit of each all over town, these are some of my favorite sips and nibbles worth slapping some SPF and making a trip for.

Drago Centro

Shotgun Wedding 
In what I consider a bar's equivalent to breakfast-for-dinner, I loved Drago Centro's Shotgun Wedding, a breezy drink combining Laird's bonded apple brandy, prosecco, lemon, granny smith apples, maple sugar and a dash of baked apple bitters. Before you dismiss this as being too sugary-sweet based off the component list, I assure you it's not. The maple sugar balances out the potency of the apple brandy (which clocks in at 100 proof - yowza!) and if anything, this taste like mimosa's cheekier, apple-y cousin. 
And to go with this effervescent beverage, an equally refreshing plate of Crystal Point oysters with a cooling cucumber mignonette (for a very reasonable $5, I might add.) Sip on the cocktail, slurp down an oyster, repeat.

Also, my runner-up favorite cocktail @ Drago is the Night and the City, made with Old Tom Gin, mushroom bitters, squid ink, habanero & heirloom tomato shrubs, black pepper and fresh horseradish. For me, it tasted like another brunchtime favorite - Bloody Mary - but considerably more complex and a lot more easy to drink (since it lacked the gloppy texture & overwhelmingly sourness of tomato juice.)

Bar 1886
MacArthur Park Swizzle 
While my friend Conbon is all over their bottled Rum Whistle (at a media tasting with Gourmet Pigs, we had a collective 4 bottles... on top of everything else we tried *ahem*), my personal favorite is the MacArthur Park Swizzle, a tropical-themed drink with a blend of rums, lime juice, allspice dram, freshly-grated nutmeg, their secret Tiki mix and plenty of crushed ice to keep it chilled. Even though 1886 is in Pasadena, smelling the sweet-spicy fragrance and sipping on this thirst-quenching cocktail instantly transports me to an island beach (with their patio fireplace as a luau pit.)
Roasted Lamb Necks w Afghan Bread & Dips 
And in a slightly eccentric twist, the bite I loved there is the Roasted Lamb Necks with Afghan. Definitely unexpected given the Americana vibe of the Raymond Restaurant (where 1886's at,) though I will say its menu have recently been pushing the envelope (other globally-inspired dishes served at the bar include dim sum shrimp toast sandwich and grilled hamachi collar with shishito peppers.) The neck pieces are wonderfully seasoned (reminiscent of an Indian curry) and perfectly roasted, slightly charred and crispy on the outside and falling-off-the-bone tender within. The warm and soft bread was great with the accompanying condiments (my favorite is the harissa mayo.)

Asia de Cuba*
Hemingway Thyme 
Here, I found their Hemingway Thyme disarmingly delicious. There's not much to say--it's a well-done classic with a simple twist, DonQ aged rum with cane syrup, maraschino liqueur and lime juice topped with thyme foam and sprig. I'm just surprised at how this savory herb added another layer of complexity and elevated the drink.
Scallop & Dragonfruit Tataki 
Foodwise, my pick is their scallop tataki with dragon fruit. Each scallop is barely seared and then sliced in half into two discs, letting you feel both the caramelized-crispy side and the creamy raw side upon the first bite. The gelatinous, slightly-sweet dragonfruit slices worked well as a foil, and both were dressed in a sauce of aged rum, soy and ginger and topped with finger lime caviar, which nicely complemented the fruit and scallops without overpowering them. 

(FYI, for the indecisive, I also love their ceviche trio--which lets you mix & match assorted seafood ceviches.)

9th & Broad 
Just because summer's around doesn't mean there's no room for spirit-forward cocktails, and Umamicatessen's 9th and Broad proved just that, a Manhattan variation with apricot liqueur in addition to Woodford Reserve bourbon, Carpano Antica vermouth and Sailor Jerry's decanter bitters. It was incredibly smooth and only has a hint of stone fruit aroma, but it's enough to lighten up this cocktail meant for chillier times (I had this for a weekend lunch, when the temperature was in the 90s!)
Smushed Potatoes 
And as much as I'd like to recommend their Calbi burger, with the patty drenched in that sweet-spicy-soy Korean BBQ marinade and topped with crispy onion strings, it was a special of the day burger and I have no idea if it'll resurface anytime soon. But l also enjoyed their Smushed Potatoes, with Dutch Yellow Creamer potatoes barely smashed then twice fried before being plated over a smear of aioli. I love how the twice-fried skin has almost the crispness of a potato chip, quickly yielding the fluffy starchy interior (which goes great with the aioli, tasting almost like a standard baked potato.)

Lemongrass-Lychee Mojito 
From their Hanoi-Havana Test Kitchen menu (which runs through the end of June), I found their Lemongrass-Lychee Mojito to be a real treat. Like the Hemingway Thyme, it's a straightforward twist off a standard drink, but it's very well executed. I am surprised at how the lychee and lemongrass flavors stood out, but at the same time they harmonized well with the mint & lime notes. And, no surprise here, it was incredibly refreshing and pretty much quaff-able.
Lemongrass Arroz con Pollo 
Foodwise, I love their Lemongrass Arroz Con Pollo. A wonderful testament to their fusion of Cuban and Vietnamese cuisine, I simply loved the combination of tastes and smells here - from the lemongrass-flavored chicken (surprisingly succulent and tender for breast meat, too!) to the mango salsa to the coconut-scented rice. The result is a wonderful balance of contrasts, being fresh and light, yet very indulgent at the same time.

The Hungry Cat
4 on the Floor 
A longtime favorite for seafood and beverages (I still remember my crab fest carnage there a few years ago,) and while I love their seasonal-produce-driven cocktail program -- the 4 on the Floor is worthy of trying too. Another Manhattan spin (see at trend here?) with Buffalo Trace Bourbon and Pig's Nose Scotch, Carpano Antica and Maraska Maraschino (currently Luxardo's lesser known rival.) It's wonderfully balanced (a little oak, a little smoke, a little fruit equals a lot of fun for the nose & tastebuds) and incredibly smooth.
Shrimp, Scallop, Calamari Ceviche 
Of course, it's practically sacrilege not to order seafood here; so I opted for something from their constantly changing raw bar menu. This time, it's a shrimp, scallop and calamari ceviche with green garlic, fried tofu, yuzu, wasabi and sesame crisps. Whereas the cocktail is a subtle blending of smells and tastes, where you can't quite tell where one ends and the other begins, this ceviche is a fiesta of flavors. All the components asserted their individuality (the varying firmness of the "cooked" seafood and fried tofu, the pungence of the garlic, brightness of the yuzu, etc.) but made for fun combos as mixed and matched the different items with each bite, barely tied together with the vibrant ceviche juices.

Bringing my roundup full circle, while I loved this restaurant's assorted seasonal concoctions, I fell back on an longtime favorite, the Barbacoa. This has been around for as long as the restaurant's been opened, and smoky-spicy combo of chipotle, ginger and mezcal never fails to dazzle my tastebuds. As an added perk, it still comes with slice of beef jerky to chew on.
Viera Arabesque 
But if you want a more substantial bite, go with the Viera Arabesque, a scallop dish that exemplifies the Moorish & North African influences in Spanish cuisine. Perfectly seared scallops are dressed in salty-sour preserved lemon, atop a bed of luscious eggplant, with stenciled dusting of Ras el hanout to give the dish as much spicy-fragrant kick as you'd like.

Or, if feel a bit splurgier (as Conbon, Jennio and I were feeling that day), spring for their Jamon Iberico de Bellota Pata Negra

*Note: Asia de Cuba & Zengo tastings were based off hosted media events. I've also tasted 1886's drinks & foods at a hosted event, but have subsequently re-tried them on my own.

Drago Centro
525 South Flower Street  
Los Angeles, CA 90071
(213) 228-8998

Bar 1886 (@ Raymond Restaurant)
1250 South Fair Oaks Avenue
Pasadena, CA
(626) 441-3136

Asia de Cuba (@ Mondrian LA)
8440 Sunset Blvd.
West Hollywood, CA
(323) 848-600

852 S. Broadway
Los Angeles, CA 90014
(213) 413-8626

395 Santa Monica Place  
Santa Monica, CA 90401
(310) 899-1000

The Hungry Cat
1535 Vine St
Los Angeles, CA
(323) 462-2155

1050 S. Flower St #102 
Los Angeles, Ca 
(213) 749-1460


Candice Anderson said...

Nothing says warm weather like an outdoor celebration.

Candice Anderson
Microsoft POS


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