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Mike Willison
October 27, 2014 | Mike Willison

Do more by doing less

A recent restaurant visit proved to be a profound exercise in archaeology when faced with the vast hieroglyphics of the cocktail list. It had been crafted, curated, locally-sourced, painstakingly-procured, and whimsically presented by the list’s adorable docent, of course. Ingredients were pre-prohibition, pre-Pasteur, and pre-historic, all obtained with the aid of a grizzled, old shaman at no small amount of risk to the establishment’s ingredient farmer, and they had bottles of Pappy Van Winkle that you could look at, and one you could pay to smell.

Cynicism aside, the list was filled with baffling details. Each drink was built upon the general theory that a very many bizarre things could be mixed together to make one very good thing. Further, their particular bailiwick was the mystifying use of Things We Turned Into Other Things™; things such as: “Hood Strawberry and mint-infused Mosel Riesling gelée powder” (powder!) and “Hay smoked watercress and endive gin distillate”. All of this is true. Now, this is very inventive, I grant you, and this probably tastes very good. Probably (maybe).

I am not in the habit of squishing any creative endeavor, and these creations could very well be a good thing in and of themselves, however, when a laundry list of aromatic liqueurs, tinctures, oils, and curlicues of exotic flora are added, then shaken or stirred over an ice cube carved out of Pleistocene glacial remains, and snuggled into a 1890’s coupe, it is precious beyond precious. It’s like watching a soccer riot; so much is happening but you can’t really pick any of it out and then the stadium collapses. A far cry from spirit, sugar, water, and bitters.

Call me old-fashioned, but I really don’t think making a drink with 25 ingredients, transmogrified into superhero versions of themselves, despite their impeccable provenance, is a thing that is or can be good. In fact, what rankles me the most is that many of these ingredients, such as wine, spirits, and bitters, have already been painstakingly curated and Turned Into Other Things™ for you! How very novel. A wine, beer and spirits list that is tight, clean, well-chosen, cozy, and a bit edgy is a thing of beauty when done right. When done wrong, dinner lasts a century.


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