January 15th the LATimes ran an article about the mixmastering skills of Matthew Biancaniello, now working at the Library Bar in the Hollywood Roosevelt. My good friend S immediately Facebooked me, asking if we could take a break from trying every wine bar on the east side to stop in at Matt's bar and sample some of his libations. Yes, yes we can. I can honestly say that his work has upleveled the cocktail experience at the Roosevelt. S called in ahead of time to make sure Matt was at the helm that evening. I strolled in at 6:30, asked permission to take snaps, and we started chatting about cocktails, bartenders and the availability of beautiful seasonal ingredients in Los Angeles. Matt's charming, excited about the drinks program behind his bar, and knowledgable. He told a naughty joke respectfully, which I find gentlemanly and um, kinda hot.
I started by telling Matt I would have two cocktails and he should decide what they were going to be. In the middle of mixing the below gorgeous Bloody Mary, he handed me a sidecar for sampling. It's outstanding.
Matt's herbal mise-en-place. I spy with my little eye something that begins with a C, A, B, and an S. Clockwise from the top left; cucumber, arugula, basil and sage.
While strawberry season starts in Southern California in January in Oxnard, San Diego and Orange County, I have yet to see any berries at my local Farmer's Market. I am guessing these are Southern Hemisphere berries...wherever, they are gorgeous.
Fresh produce above. Coconut shavings, bell pepper, Serrano chiles.
Exotic goods. Starting from the left; kaffir lime leaves, kumquats, curry leaves, and dehydrated blood orange slices. Matt dehydrates a couple kinds of fruits for use in cocktails in the kitchen of the Roosevelt. One slice adorned my cocktail later in the evening and it was sweetly fantastic tasting.
Bitters of the world united take over.
Everything looks irresistible. In order to choose, I simply asked Matt to make me whatever he is most excited about right now. It is rare that I do this with a bartender. My tastes can be pretty specific. I only like sweet drinks if it is sweet from something natural like fruit juice, agave, honey or puree. I detest sweet n' sour and most liqueurs. After tasting several of Matt's drinks and one from the hands of a colleague I was reminded of the cocktail style of Pablo Moix. Pablo calls this style of using Farmer's Market driven produce, herbs and juices California Fresh. (I understand from the rumor mill that Moix will be mixing at an up and coming rum bar on the west side, far west. I am thrilled Matt is closer to home.)
My first drink. The Roquette. Hendrick's Gin with arugula, mint, fresh lime and agave nectar. This drink will be featured in Bon Appetit April 2010. And I may be attempting its recreation at home for Super Bowl Sunday. It is amazing. Arugula is very present, with its intense herbal flavor balanced nicely by the natural sweet of the mint and agave. So green, so vegetal, yes not off putting in a salady way.
Before the bar was busy, Matt was having fun sharing some of the specialties of the house with S and I. They carry Genevieve gin, a Holland style gin reproducing a very early gin style that calls for distilling in a pot still using grain mash and later adding juniper and other botanicals.
Above, an antique pot still. Image courtesy of Outlook Business.
S's first drink, The Last Tango in Modena. Hendrick's gin, strawberries, aged balsmaic vinegar, St. Germaine foam. Out of nitro containers to make all of his foams that night, Matt offered S a sidecar of cherry foam he was using for a different drink. The cherry and the strawberry didn't really go well together, but it was fun to taste. And I would definitely make this at home. The balsamic Matt used was dark and thick, like my heart. And the resulting drink is darkly nectarous. Something special. Last Tango in Modena won Matt highest honors above all other cocktail dignitaries who participated in a Chartreuse cocktail making competition at the Doheny last fall. He was up against shakers and stirrers such as Chris Bostick and Matty Eggleston of The Varnish, Gus McShane of Copa d'Oro. And Mr. Biancaniello swept the competition in the final round with this recipe.
The above portion of the menu nods at some classic drinks with a twist, a sazerac and a martini. Not a huge fan of the sazerac, I wonder if the flavor would be improved upon by adding the absinthe foam. I am intrigued by the Umamu Martini. Basil Hayden Bourbon infused with shiitake mushrooms. And I plan to bring D by one of these Friday evenings for the Ham on Rye. Prosciutto infused Basil Hayden's with black walnut maple liqueur and cornichons? This could not be more up D's bourbon alley.
My next drink was the Chili Margarita. Patron silver (why? iono), blood orange juice (usually pomegranate juice, but the pom is out of season and b.o. is in), lime, agave and cayenne pepper. I can handle some heat (I found the Bloody Mary not very spicy at all) and this was deliciously tingly. This is the second drink I am considering making this weekend to drink while I sit on my butt with the rest of the United States watching grown men in tight pants toss around the pig skin. Blood orange spicy margarita or arugula/gin concoction? Right now it's a toss up!
S's last drink, the Indian Summer. Matt's LATimes interview focused on how he plans to make the Indian Summer in an emu egg in the coming weeks. Click here for the recipe, emu egg not really necessary for cocktail nirvana. A pungently beautiful drink. The cherry foam he had shared earlier has a tastier home on top of this drink.
Matt explains to S how the nitro charger works. In Matt's blog, The Ultimate Cocktail, he writes back on September 19th about creating some of the very cocktails I got to taste this week. That's kind of exciting. I like to follow creativity to its natural conclusion.
This last cocktail that S and I shared before returning to my hovel for a disappointing meal (I cooked using the book of a very famous LA chef and the meal was decidedly meh) was actually the creation of Matt's colleague. He was hanging out behind the bar with us, and if I recall correctly they said this drink made high ranking in that Chartreuse contest last fall at The Doheny. There was actual curry powder in this one, it is an unusual sultry cocktail...I couldn't tell if S liked it or not because she let me drink most of it. I loved it and am going to ask for the recipe when I return to The Roosevelt for more of Matt's drinks later this week.
In the name of full disclosure for the nosey folks at the FTC, S and I paid for all drinks except the last one. The last one was on the house at the pleasure of Matthew and his friendly colleagues.