Drink of the week: Asian Garden Martini
Where you can find it: Le Colonial
The damage: $11.
Why here? I usually cringe when I pay top-dollar for the kind of food that can be had for much less when eaten elsewhere. This principle applies most often to ethnic eats, like the time a six-course dinner at Topolobampo left me pining for my favorite taqueria. But sometimes, particularly when celebrating a special occasion, you've got to apply the old real estate mantra 'location, location, location' to your dining plans. Sure, my friends and I could have taken our bride-to-be buddy for Vietnamese fare on Argyle Street, and we all would have relished every bite. But the sultry ambience of Le Colonial took the night to a whole different level—and choosing from an impressive list of cocktails rather than brown bagging our booze upped the class factor a bit, too.
How it went down: I've been on a cocktails-spiked-with-ginger kick for a few months now, so the bartenders at Le Colonial's upstairs lounge didn't have a tough sell when they started praising the Asian Garden. A blend of two-and-a-half ounces of Finlandia Vodka, a hefty pour of limoncello, a splash of lime and an ounce of made-in-house ginger mix, the martini represented the pure flavors of ginger better than any of its rivals thus far. And it was clearly the ginger mix that sent it over the wow-worthy edge.
For the mix, the bartender boils five to seven hunks of fresh ginger, cut into one quarter- or half-inch pieces, in a few cups of water with a cup of sugar mixed in. After the liquid reduces for seven minutes, it's strained and thrown into a blender with five ounces of crystallized ginger. This seems to be the most effective way to highlight ginger's spicy flavor without grating it right into the drink, which tastes fine but results in annoying pulp-like threads in every sip. Plus, the sugar in the mix balanced out the acidity of the lime and limoncello, resulting in a peppery, slightly sweet drink with a mild hint of citrus.
Would I want to become a regular? Even though the Asian Garden would've paired beautifully with Le Colonial's Vietnamese fare, it was gone long before our appetizers arrived. We started with perfectly cooked shrimp, skewered on thick sticks of sugar cane, and rice paper stuffed with veggies that came with a zesty plum sauce. I opted for the ga xao cari, curried chicken, eggplant, mango and cashews, for my entree. The buttery mango tamed the bite of the yellow curry and the crunchy cashews added a nice texture to the stewed veggies. Still, at $19, the dish didn't taste all that special.
Just before I started to lament our dinner choice, I looked around and was once again reminded of why we chose to splurge. Le Colonial's candle-lit environs, with black-and-white photos, orchids, large palms and plush couches, make you feel like you’ve stepped into a French-colonial building in Hanoi. A trip halfway around the world most certainly justifies throwing down some extra funds.
Dana Kavan scours the city for drink deals so good you'll offer to buy a round and creative libations that outshine your average on-the-rocks concoctions. Want to give Dana tips on where to rack up a bar tab? Share your finds before her next night out.