It’s no secret that Drago Centro is one of my favorite places to drink and eat. And then drink, again. But it just wouldn’t be the same without Jaymee Mandeville at the helm of each seasonal cocktail menu. And the latest is a doozy. It’s inspirational with each cocktail proving their point of view and collectively, it’s her strongest menu yet. Though there’s diversity, each drink is well-balanced, with many even evolving through the end of each sip.
I’ve made some notes, with a pictorial at the bottom to aid you. So get thee to Drago Centro.
“Five years ago at Tales [of the Cocktail], it was just a small group of us from L.A. The guys from Portland, New York, OH MAN SAN FRANCISCO … would ask, ‘Where are you from?’ … ‘L.A.? Oh, that’s nice. How’s the bottle service?'” – Aidan Demarest, Tello Demarest Liquid Assets
“The Varnish didn’t just win. All of us, all of L.A. won.” – Cedd Moses, 213 Nightlife
I’ll never forget my first time in New Orleans this past weekend at the 10th Anniversary of Tales of the Cocktail. There’s something about getting to witness your favorite bartenders in your home city come together to celebrate their craft with their big shot counterparts from other cities. Going from seminar to tasting room to industry party to Spirited Dinner (while catching some not-to-miss eats of the city in between) in the humid, 90° swelt of The French Quarter was a new junket to me, but the presence of Los Angeles was unmistakeable, making Tales all the less intimidating and more familiar, much faster.
We are all bartenders, brand ambassadors, educators, writers, photographers and more – with many wearing more than one hat – and as with every year at The Spirited Awards on the last night of Tales, the best of the best are officially recognized. A winner in each category is announced after an initial top ten finalists are narrowed down to four. Though Eric Alperin and The Varnish have been our bastions of Los Angeles in these awards for the past couple years, it was the 2012 Spirited Awards when the L.A. bar community finally felt taken seriously.
There was a plethora of Top 10 finalists representing Los Angeles, announced back in May. Their mentions are below, with the Top 4 denoted by an asterisk: Eric Alperin(*) and Vincenzo Marianella of Copa d’Oro were recognized in the American Bartender of the Year category. The Huston Brothers and Steve Livigni’s and of course Pablo Moix’s Harvard & Stone and 213 Nightlife’s The Varnish(*) were both nominated for Best American Cocktail Bar(*) and World’s Best New Cocktail Bar.
Tonight, Drago Centro will unveil their Spring cocktail menu and it’s a pretty exciting one to boot. Ten new signature drinks by Jaymee Mandeville and Jen Len are available tonight for $8 each. There were 3 in particular that I fell in love with, which I feel compelled to share here.
Since I’m partial to Negronis, the Nebbia Rossa (that is, red hog in Italian) is a nice spin on one with a smoky kick. This cocktail has Del Maguey Vida Mezcal to thank for its slight peaty notes, but the drink is also so well balanced that it’s not the first thing you will notice. The drink also has Campari, Bittermens Citron Sauvage and Dolin Blanc and to be honest – this is probably the drink of which I would have ordered another, if only I didn’t have all the others to try… If you can’t decide between an aperitif and digestif, you won’t ever have to make up your mind with the Nebbia Rossa.
Another favorite of mine was the Ver La Luz Del Dia, made with Kappa Pisco, Lillet Blanc, Hangar vodka, Bombay Sapphier and basil. It’s a completely aromatic drink and, contrary to its appearance, not to be passed off as a light drink. It’s beautifully strong in girth yet nuanced in flavor. A really sophisticated drink for those who love their spirits.
The Night and the City is a kind of avant garde Bloody Mary – both in color, presentation and taste. Made with Hayman’s Old Tom Gin (I’ve always loved gin instead of vodka in my Bloody Marys, anyway), Bittermens Hellfire, Miracle Mile Candy Cap Mushroom Bitters, Heirloom Tomato Shrub, black pepper and squid ink syrup & freshly grated horseradish, the Night and the City gives off this savoryness that duels perfectly with its pickled radish garnish. The candy cap mushroom bitters were absolutely delicious. While some may shy away from the color of the liquids, the taste of the cocktail itself was enough to make me turn those sips over in my mouth until none was left. Prepare to reconsider the standard Bloody Mary like you never have, before.
So head to downtown LA tonight to try a few of these favorites off the new Spring cocktail menu. Order some pork cracklins, flatbreads and/or oysters while you’re at it – the bar bites at Drago are legit.
All cocktails were hosted.
Wednesday, March 28, 2012
$8 on preview night
$12 all other times
Drago Centro 525 S. Flower Street Los Angeles, CA 90071 213.228.8998
There’s something really exciting going on behind the bar at a certain restaurant in Downtown LA. No, it’s not the craftiness of a Michael Shearin, who has since left for a brand ambassador position – but the hardly rookie beginnings of Jaymee Mandeville as dreamer of the newest winter cocktail menu at Drago Centro.
It’s a menu that has really good range, while at the same time having solid representations in each corner. To be honest, there was only one of ten cocktails on the list that I disliked and over a handful that I would easily order for my friends on recommendation of the spirit they preferred or myself based on that day’s mood. There were even more cocktails I was excited about than I shared an indifferent opinion about.
For instance, the Bols Genever-based Rode Duvel lived up to the high expectations I had for it. It’s enhanced with St. Maria Al Monte Amaro, which is a more bitter amaro and goes so well with the Bols and Miracle Mile Sour Cherry bitters. Be sure not to ignore the dried cherry garnish, as your drink only tastes better paired with each bite of the skewer. It was quite the cocktail to reinforce my love of Bols.
For that friend who may shame you by ordering that Cosmopolitan, order him/her a Grimhilda instead. Made with Laird’s Bonded Apple Brandy, Parma, Housemade Chipotle Infused Honey and lemon, its sugar rim is actually an asset and not an obstruction to the cocktail (it has just enough). The chipotle honey does enough to help keep its sugary profile intact but interesting, and you may just wow that craving for cranberry out of your friend.
The every man’s fizzy cocktail would have to be Fated Seeds. This is a cocktail that’s sure to convert former gin avoiders. Persimmons in this cocktail were practically pickled and given a sort of vinegared acidity, without which would’ve made the persimmons evaporate. The basil shrub was a nice aromatic note while a soda topping gave it its effervescence.
An unexpected favorite of the night was the Western All’italiana, made with High West Double Rye, Cointreau, St. Elizabeth All Spice Dram, cranberry and oregano infused molasses, and a Gala apple peel garnish. The cocktail really showcases the all spice, cranberry and oregano beautifully. Of course, it goes without saying that I will ever have the double rye in my corner – so while it gets more than its fair shake, I have to stress that all the infused flavors do well to complement.
The Breaking Castagne is Drago’s winter egg nog – only better. The VSOP gives it that warmth and the mezcal just the right amount of smokyness, but the chestnut syrup is, of course, the real, winter-y centerpiece here.
And then there were the drinks that steadfastly held their corner. The Dead Man’s Tale is the menu’s tiki drink and a play on the Fog Cutter – made with Wray and Nephew Overproof Rum, Bombay Dry Gin, Bertagnolli Grappa, Oloroso Sherry, Bietterman’s Amer Nouvelle, St. Vincent’s Orgeat, lemon, orange and Galliano mist. It was delicious, even though tiki drinks aren’t usually my go-to.
The Remedy X holds its own as the ginger lovers’ cocktail. Made with rosemary infused Bushmill’s Blackbush Irish Whiskey, ginger infused agave and lemon – the rosemary gave this drink a nice, floral twist. And of course, it had the essential candied ginger garnish.
The spicy cocktail of the bunch is the silver Screen Quotations, made with 123 Organic Blanco Tequila, housemade thai chili/cinnamon syrup, red bell pepper, mint, lime and saffron salt. The mint is a nice, aromatic twist that gives the whole cocktail a refreshing take.
But if you’re looking for that quintessential, surprise-me hot toddy, look no further than Eve’s Demise, made with Black Grouse Scotch, Belle de Brillet Pear Cognac, housemade hibiscus apple cider (mmm) and maple syrup. The delicious garnish alone deserves its own double take, but I honestly had a hard time putting this cute little jar-encased hot sipper down.
Fortunately, you can taste all of these tonight at the winter menu cocktail launch for $8 each. Bring the gang, since there’s a drink on the menu for everyone. This delicious menu is sure to delight and satiate your craving for that perfect winter cocktail.
Winter cocktail menu tasting was hosted.
Wednesday, December 28, 2011
6 PM – Close: $8 each
$12 each all other times
Drago Centro 525 S. Flower Street Los Angeles, CA 90071 213.228.8998