New York continues through its second “golden age of cocktails,” which involves patrons consuming tiny (albeit excellent) potables with two ounces of alcohol in super-serious drink dens where there’s no standing, smoking, canoodling or fighting.
So when I heard that a version of Long Island iced tea (an industrial-strength mix of gin, vodka, rum, Triple Sec, tequila and cola) was being served at Ma Peche, the new midtown outpost of David Chang’s downtown Momofuku empire, I got my hopes up.
Maybe the drinks of yesteryear could be tweaked, if not necessarily tempered, by adventurous bartenders looking to pair their extra-strong libations with high-quality (not hangover) food.
Another example? How about Tea for the Wry Duke? Cost: $17 at Tudor City’s Convivio. A waitress approaches your table with an iced bottle of Potocki vodka. She pours the spirit until your stem is full. No shaking. No stirring. No dilution.
What’s it garnished with? Nothing.
Six ounces of alcohol. That’s about three times as strong as a typical cocktail. Very “Mad Men.” Trans-Atlantic imbibers will recognize this ritual from Duke’s bar in London. Here the Brit sensation is achieved by first rinsing the glass with bergamot-infused vermouth.
So the Duke smells like Earl Grey tea, tastes like a glacier. If a regular martini magically renders a strong spirit smooth via a marriage of ice and vermouth, the deep freeze here takes the edge off. And then the vodka warms up on the tongue, heating the esophagus with a cool burn.
The chill gives the drink a heavy, viscous texture, letting it stand up to fried pigs head, and fortifying a diner’s constitution between bites of fusilli with pork ragu and caciocavallo cheese fondue.
In Russia, you chase a shot of vodka with something pickled to revive the senses. At Convivio, it’s the opposite. Chef Michael White’s food is so rich that the martini functions like smelling salts, the alcohol preventing a food hangover. It’s perfect.
Brian Miller, who tends bar at Death & Company in the East Village, deserves some credit for bringing Tiki concoctions back from the realm of frat party cocktails to their rightful post as high-end drinks, some of which, when made right, seem to cause hallucinations or partial paralysis.
Take My Zombie, Please
Take his Zombie ($16). If a daiquiri got a julep pregnant while dropping acid in a former French Polynesian nuclear site, their atomic love child would be a Zombie. There’s dark rum, golden rum, absinthe, grenadine, lime juice, bitters, velvet falernum, El Dorado 151 rum (better than Bacardi) and a sprig of mint, all served over crushed ice. Four and a half ounces of action-packed alcohol. The experience? Like a crazy wine: grassy on the nose. Fruit, anise, tannins on the palate. And a biting caramel finish.
Miller says it’s from a 1934 recipe by Hollywood legend Don the Beachcomber. Don would limit patrons to two. I had three.
That included Miller’s gin Zombie (The Winchester, $16) -- a tart, more balanced drink that can be accidentally consumed in ten minutes. Then I had Phil Ward’s tequila Zombie down the block at Mayahuel. Ward calls it the Old Man Miller Swizzle. He supplements the high-proof rum with a dose of reposado and mezcal (the smoky Scotch of tequilas). The heavy, tongue coating mouthfeel is the right pairing for robust mole-braised chicken tamales. I regained control of my speech 12 hours later.
The Short Island iced tea at Ma Peche is Chang’s way of saying that even though he’s now uptown and classy and has backs on his seats, he can still roll with the lawn chair crowd. Welcome to the Chambers Hotel.
Typically, this Amy Fisher of cocktails is supposed to mimic a real iced tea because when you’re bombed, you have no sense of taste and are easily persuaded by the cola’s sweetness.
I’m tempted to call Ma Peche’s version the best one out there, as it’s actually made with decent booze: Plymouth gin, Herradura tequila, Tito’s vodka, Cointreau and Flor De Cana rum.
But remember, we’re painting a face on a dog’s rear end, so the superlative might not be in order. Use the included lemon wedge to cut the sugar. Pair it with the Michelin-worthy riff on frisee aux lardons, served here with guanciale croutons and spicy tripe. As it turns out, the Short Island has just 2.5 ounces of booze. I’ll have a double.
(Ryan Sutton writes about restaurants for Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)