Tag Archives: bitters

Chicago Drinkie: Achatz’s Aviary and Cantu’s iNG offer experimental experiences in the Windy City

10 Nov

Since the last time I was in Chicago, two cutting-edge venues opened right around the corner from each other in the West Loop area: The Aviary from Grant Achatz of Alinea—next to his aptly named Next restaurant—and iNG Restaurant from Homaro Cantu of Moto, which is also nearby. I scored a reservation for The Aviary at 8:00 and showed up early to try one of the famed “flavor changing cocktails” at iNG. I sat at a long red counter in the stark minimalist space and selected a Smoked Manhattan, made with Bulleit Bourbon, sweet vermouth and Angostura bitters, with a rinse of Arbeg single malt Scotch, which is the “peatiest and smokiest of all the Islay malts,” according to the whisky’s website. The cocktail was indeed smoky.

My husband Jeb and my friend Kenan arrived, and we were handed the list of flavor changing cocktails, along with a bowl of cranberry cheddar popcorn. Head bartender Mario Catayong explained the concept behind this special menu: First, we sip our drinks to experience the original flavor, then we pop the “miracle berry” pill and let it dissolve, coating our mouths with the protein miraculin, which comes from a small African fruit.

The pill suppresses the tongue’s sour and bitter taste receptors, making the flavor of the cocktails change. To provide a sharp contrast, Mario gave us some lemon wedges, which tasted like hard lemon candy after taking the miracle berry pill. We ordered our cocktails, and Mario prepared the drinks in a laboratory-like room with a red porthole window.

I couldn’t decide between the Strawberry-Rhubarb Pie or the PB&J, but eventually opted for the latter. The cocktail featured Frangelico, rum, crème de cassis and vertjus (a tart green grape juice), served in a Martini glass with a rim of caramel and crushed peanuts. It was nutty and salty-sweet, but the flavor didn’t really change much after taking the miracle berry.

Kenan had the Skinny Margarita Under a Tequila Sunrise, which mixed Tequila, lime and orange juices—sans sugar—served with a “pipette” dropper. The sourness was definitely subdued, allowing the sweetness to come through.

After my friend Leah showed up, we sucked down our drinks and headed to The Aviary. Thankfully, the host was able to accommodate a last-minute addition to the party of three. I recognized the space from its old days as a bottle service-style nightclub called The Office. The current décor is a vast improvement, though it’s a little more “luxe hotel lobby” than “contemporary cocktail lounge” due to the high-backed booth seating, pewter upholstery and crystal chandeliers. No matter—we were there for the drinks, not the design. Instead of a bartender manning a bar, chefs prepare the cocktails in a kitchen that’s sectioned off by a steel fence.

The libation list is divided into two parts—à la carte cocktails and a three-course tasting menu. Since most of the drinks cost around $18, I went for the $45 prix-fixe (I’m always looking for a deal). The server delivered a complimentary round of amuse-bouche and glasses of water, each containing a single large ice shard—one of the more than 20 different types of ice used to cool and flavor the drinks. Our cocktails came out almost immediately. For my appetizer course, I chose the Quince, a light carbonated concoction of Pisco, quince juice and ginger syrup, served in a soda bottle wrapped in a brown paper bag. Leah selected the Chartreuse, which comprised three small servings of Green and Yellow Chartreuses mixed with blueberry, honeydew and pineapple juices and chilled with mint ice cubes, presented in a Chartreuse V.E.P. box on a bed of fresh herbs.

Kenan ordered the Oolong, which is a mixture of gin and pear brandy that’s heated in a two-tiered glass beaker over an open flame at the table, then steeped with tea, herbs, nuts and dried fruit. Science!

Jeb got the infamous In the Rocks, which is an Old Fashioned inside a sphere of ice that must be broken using a mini slingshot. (I would have taken a photo, but The Aviary doesn’t allow flash photography, so I had to sneak shots when the staff wasn’t looking.) My main course was the Peach, a bold blend of wheat whiskey, white Port, peach purée, maple syrup and sweet annie, served in a highball glass filled with tiny frozen Angostura balls.

For his second drink, Jeb opted for the Cranberry, made with 12-year-old Bourbon and cranberry ice cubes, topped with chervil foam. It was very pretty.

And finally, my dessert course was the sweet, fizzy Cream Soda, a “distilled” combo of aged rum, Licor 43, vanilla and vanilla ice—Ice Baby!

The bill totaled $136 (tip included)—well worth it, in my opinion. In fact, I’m going again in December!

© 2011 Amber Drea and New York Drinkie. Unauthorized use or duplication of images and text without express and written permission is strictly prohibited. Excerpts may be quoted, provided that clear credit is given to Amber Drea and New York Drinkie with links directing to the original content.


Bittersweet Refreshment: Amor y Amargo showcases Brooklyn-made bitters

13 Aug

Bitters are the secret ingredient that make any cocktail better. These potent tinctures serve the same purpose in drinks that spices do in cuisine. Likewise, any bar worth its salt (pun intended) will have at least Angostura aromatic bitters on hand, if not a few selections from bitters makers like Fee Brothers, The Bitter Truth and Buffalo Trace Distillery, which produces the essential Sazerac ingredient Peychaud’s bitters and mixologist Gary Regan’s Orange Bitters No. 6.

Amor y Amargo in the East Village is dedicated to the stuff. With a name that means “love and bitterness” in Spanish, the venue is owned by Bittermens—which produces small-batch bitters in Red Hook, Brooklyn—in partnership with the folks behind Death + Co., Mayahuel , Cienfuegos, et al. Naturally, Amor y Amargo serves cocktails (mostly $12) that feature an array of the Bittermens products, including Hellfire Shrub, Boston Bittahs and Spiced Cranberry Citrate, in addition to classic and signature drinks like the Negroni and The Redemption, the latter of which the menu declares “could be the drink that redeems Jägermeister in the eyes of the cocktail world.” The bar also offers amaro flights, such as the $16 Francofile that comprises tastes of Yellow, Green and V.E.P. Chartreuses, and two libations on tap: house-made, Spanish-style sweet vermouth and the Americano cocktail—which was popular with American tourists visiting Italy in the early 1900s—made with Campari, sweet vermouth and club soda.

Last week, I met my friend Carly, a food photographer and blogger who can be found at Eye for Style, at Amor y Amargo for a couple cocktails. We decided to try two selections from the “Fizzy Drinks” category. Carly chose the Bittermens House Gin and Tonic, comprising gin, tonic water, maraschino liqueur and Bittermens Hopped Grapefruit Bitters. I took a sip, and it was one of the tastiest G&Ts I’ve ever had—light and refreshing, with a good balance of citrus and sweetness.

I went for the Orchard Street Cel’ry Soda, despite the bartender’s warning that it’s on the dry side. The drink mixes applejack, genever, club soda and two types of cocktail extracts: Bittermens Orchard Street Celery Shrub—named for the Lower East Side street and featuring the tastes of apple, celery and vinegar—and Bittermens Peppercake Gingerbread Bitters, which evokes the flavors of the Norwegian Christmas cookie. While it was indeed dry, the blend of spices and vegetal notes combined with the subtle fruit of the applejack and the earthy genever for a refreshing beverage.

Since I’m a gin lover, the bartender recommended that I try a classic Martinez as well. The deliciously boozy concoction of gin, maraschino liqueur, sweet vermouth and Angostura bitters went down nice and easy.

The intimate atmosphere, vintage décor and friendly staff at Amor y Amargo definitely won me over. The tasting room also serves Spanish tapas that pair well with the bitter drinks. And while you’re there, you can pick up a few tools from the general store for your home bar.

© Amber Drea and New York Drinkie, 2011. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of images and text without express and written permission is strictly prohibited. Excerpts may be used, provided that clear credit is given to Amber Drea and New York Drinkie with links directing to the original content.