Drink of the week: Pisco Criolla
Where you can find it: Graham Elliot
The damage: $11
Why here? When a new restaurant receives a ton of hype, it scares me off faster than a rumored E. coli outbreak. Why? It's not the difficulty of getting a reservation that bugs me about dining at the trendy new restaurant in town; it's the inevitable letdown. I'm physically incapable of going out to eat without reading every review of the place beforehand. So, by the time I sat down at Graham Elliot, perhaps the most anticipated opening of the year and thus one of the most written about, my brain was already overloaded with info on what to order and what to expect. And how enjoyable can an experience be when all you can think about is a Yelper's comment on how the Cheez-It risotto changed his life? Thankfully, GE ended up more or less living up to all the fanfare, and even earned seriously high marks in an area that the foodies have been fairly mum about: the cocktails.
How it went down: GE's mixologist, Lynn House, has put together a cocktail menu free of copy-cat creations and boring combos. I was lucky enough to walk into the restaurant after the four other members of my dining party had already ordered their first round, meaning I could sample before making a selection. Though I had a hard time deciding between a Leblon cachaca, muddled basil and ginger beer creation and the Pisco Criolla, the latter sold me with its pairing of pisco, a Peruvian brandy distilled from grapes, and Aperol, an Italian aperitif I drank before nearly every meal on a recent trip to Italy.
Mixing the two with a strawberry-rhubarb puree and sparkling wine resulted in a deliciously bubbly little number that was more bitter than sweet. The raspberry-color concoction served in a coupe glass was like a less-girly strawberry daiquiri, with the rhubarb notes of the Aperol intensifying the puree's flavor and a touch of citrus rounding out the fruit notes. My dining pals likened the drink to the childhood treat Fun Dip, when you'd lick a stick and use your saliva to scoop up candy-flavored sugar. I didn't quite get that comparison, but I do think I had as much fun finishing the Pisco Criolla as I did with the Dip back in the day.
Would I want to become a regular? While every cocktail we sampled was spot-on, the food was more hit-and-miss. We all fought over the fluffy pillows of asparagus-studded gnocchi and thought the buttery skate was one of the best fish dishes we've had in ages. But, the Cheez-It risotto was just OK, as was the ceviche and chicken entree. But then the desserts came; the frozen corn custard tasted unbelievably creamy, with a perfect sweet and savory balance and freeze-dried kernels adding a bit of crunch. It was the one part of the meal I had zero expectations for, and that made it all the better.
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.