Ray gets these giant bursts of creativity that always follow the same trajectory ~ she comes in mumbling for a few days, then goes into a flurry of chopping, infusing and cooking up a storm. Pacing behind the bar mid-service comes next, as she second guesses every step in every drink she's considering. All this is AFTER she’s researched and ordered a bunch of stuff she can’t source from any of Ryan’s farmers or purveyors. By the time she presents the list to me with ‘certain’ members of staff hovering nearby (they shall remain nameless but you know who you are, Cathryn) we’re all as excited as kids the day before a trip to the fair. Kids who drink.
I’m not sure when the tradition of presenting the new season of cocktails all at once started, but I don’t remember it taking on the formality it has before Ray. It usually takes a few days after the initial tasting to finesse the ingredients, which gives me time to come up with the names, but this week she had me scrambling because the first four were absolutely smashing, ready to go public. Lift #4 takes the current interest in vinegared digestifs to another level with a fennel shrub, cucumber water and verjus around a base of house infused lemon peel vodka. Play the Cat (think Lawrence of Arabia by way of Montaigne), starts out a classic gin with Pimm's Cup, but a lashing of mint syrup and a bright three citrus juice brings it decidedly fruit forward. Casa de Gumby is rosemary infused tequila, shaken with a creamy rice water with cinnamon notes reminiscent of Horchata, but light on the palate, until the peppered syrup hits you. The Neverending Now is strawberry infused vodka with rose water honey, orange bitters, Navarro Gewürztraminer grape juice and a flash of champagne at the finish.
By this weekend Ray, George and Sara, our most excellent bar team, should have the entire 2014 Spring Cocktail Collection ready for you to taste. If you are off spirits but still hanker for a little cocktail time, Ray has also concocted three great NA (non-alcoholic) cocktails for Spring to add to our Lift, Flirt and Slide series. Rum and bourbon cocktails will be added in the next few days. If you want the story behind the names of our cocktails you need to come in.
I’ve worked with a good number of gifted mixologists over the years, but Ray has been the sleeper. She doesn’t play the mad scientist, hang with the boys or throw down in bleary cocktail contests. Self taught, she’s grown into her talent, growing stronger with every season. The full range of house bitters she made last year were a testament to how seriously she takes the art and the science in this profession. What I love best is that for all the time she puts into crafting, she gets that cocktails are fun. They set the mood, but the best of them linger. These do. But don't just take my word for it.
Rhubarb is Back
The botanical description of Rhubarb is a rhizomes with long fleshy petioles, but celery dressed for a night on the town is a more apt description of the plant, which Europeans consider a vegetable but we Americans call a fruit. With its large green leaves and florescent fuchsia stalks, it's tart and slightly bitter if not cooked with something sweet. A vegetable cross-dresser then, that makes a colorful appearance just when you’re sick to death of winter’s gray palette. The plant is ancient ~ used by the Chinese as a laxative before it traveled along the silk route and ingratiated itself into the cuisines of the Middle East and European. Chef pickles and ferments it, serving it in ways you'd never expect, but he admits most of us come by our fond memories of rhubarb (often mixed with strawberries) baked into pies, cakes and cobblers.
At the French Laundry he remembers an Austrian chef who would prop the oven door open with a spoon so he could slowly cook the rhubarb at the lowest possible temp, the best way to sweat the water out and soften the fibrous stalks. This week Octavio poached it in grenadine with a touch of Grand Marnier, then dropped the slivers to sink luxuriously into a baked frangipani tart. The Hazelnut flour brought out a nutty richness.