New York: Booker and Dax Delivers High Tech, Delicious Cocktails

Nick torching a cocktail

I could spend a whole week in New York and not get to all the restaurants and cocktail bars on my shortlist. But Booker and Dax was one of those do-or-die bars and well, I’m just glad that I made it back to the East Village on my last night on the island.

Lady of the Night (Reposado tequila, tomato water, horseradish, sriracha, worcestershire)

They’re flashy cocktails, but not purely for showman’s sake. (And what a show they put on.) These cocktails are, most importantly, delicious – and thought-provokingly so.

With Momofuku Milk Bar shuffled across the street for this few months-old cocktail bar, a torch, centrifuge and carbonating-shaker-contraptions (as they are scientifically called) are found on the same counters once occupied by crack pie and cereal milk soft serve machines. Booker and Dax is a collaborative effort by David Chang and Dave Arnold with the latter bringing his brand new methods to the table.

Liquid nitrogen application

The resulting cocktail menu is one that can be divided into fifths. That is: Bubbles, stirred, shaken, on the rock and Red Hot Poker. And if you’re interested in what you’re drinking in the least, you best be sitting at the bar if only to witness the wizardry of the process. For instance, if you ever thought water and ice was enough to chill your glass whilst the bartender makes your cocktail, think again, because only liquid nitrogen does the trick at Booker and Dax.

The Lady of the Night was effectively a liquid Bloody Mary – one to be enjoyed all times of the day. Horseradish tincture is in the cocktail, which was created by first muddling fresh horseradish with vodka and then re-distilling it. Sriracha essence? Basically the liquid resulting from centrifigual force enacted upon the infamous rooster sauce. The result was a Bloody Mary full of clarity. No pulp to be found – just all-out flavor.

Bangkok Daiquiri

Of course, I had to see the Red Hot Poker in action, so I ordered a Friend of the Devil, or what I’d call a “Torched Boulevardier,” made with rye, campari, sweet vermouth and pernod bitters. As I was curious if the alcohol might be burnt off as a result of the torching action, Sother Teague reassured me that each cocktail is indeed made with more spirits to compensate. Served in a ceramic cup, the resulting cocktail was warm and comforting with a touch of carmelization to taste. And it was strong.

A super simple but delicious cocktail my friend Greg ordered was the Bangkok Daiquiri, made with white rum, lime and Thai basil. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to try any of the cocktails made with carbonation but was lucky to witness a fellow guest’s cocktail get shaken. She assured me that it was carbonated and delicious.

Next time, New York. Next time.

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Sun – Thur

6 PM – 2 AM

Fri – Sat

6 PM – 3 AM

Booker and Dax
Momofuku
207 2nd Avenue
New York, NY 10003

Hemingway’s Lounge: Where Elementary to Elegant Imbibers Mix

Whistle Pig Rye Manhattan

A few weeks ago, I had the privilege of joining Dan of Thirsty in LA, Caroline on Crack and John of Social Domain LA in taste-testing Hemingway’s Lounge Director of Cocktails Alex Straus’ new winter cocktail menu. Alex’s renditions of winter cheer did not disappoint.

Hemingway's Nog

For one, my favorite drink on that menu has to be the Hemingway’s Nog, made with Atlantico Rum, Licor 43, creme fraiche, Tiki bitters, grated nutmeg and love. It’s the perfect adult nog that is extra comforting to your palate yet won’t give you that stomach ache like you got at your grandmother’s after too many glasses. Atlantico, a blend of Dominican Republic small batch rum, is the perfect spirit and the creme fraiche is the perfect substitute for the milk and cream. The cocktail is so light yet savory to the froth.

If you’re looking for something more aromatic and English, go with the Chamomile-infused Gin Martini, made complete with chamomile-infused Junipero, Dolin Blanc vermouth, Regan’s Orange Bitters and flamed orange. The florals are accentuated nicely by the citrus, making this particular gin martini another one of my favorites on the new menu.

Whiskey Warmer

Feeling like a hot toddy? The Whiskey Warmer is most excellent. Made with Elijah Craig 12, St. Elizabeth allspice dram, maple syrup, fresh lemon juice, hot water and ground cinnamon, the warm drink takes me from Hollywood to Mammoth in one sip. In fact, I believe I’ll be bringing more than my snowboard on my next trip up and will try to re-create this deliciously comforting, soothing cocktail.

Speaking of favorites in general, there were so many other cocktails that were superbly made for us – like the Moveable Feast (rye whiskey, sage, berry, honey, lemon and The Bon Vivants Tomahawk Bitters) and an impromptu cocktail with Coruba Dark Rum, Appleton Estate Reserve, Smith & Cross, lemon, lime, pineapple and and St. Vincent’s Orgeat – but I really have to cut to the chase. We all had to have a Manhattan, and it was my first time having it made with Whistle Pig Rye. It was incredible, and I’ll leave it at the fact that I have had it 3 times since this tasting.

Interior of Hemingway's Lounge (Photo credit: Hemingway's)

I’d be remiss to omit that Hemingway’s Lounge is a rather unique space to enjoy great cocktails for all the wrong reasons. Okay, here’s one right reason: The interior is beautiful, with books and typewriters lining the walls straight up to the ceilings. Here’s another: Muriel Hemingway expressly gave the bar her blessing to use the family name, giving credence that the bar is an appropriate tribute and not a knock-off. And now for the rest: It’s on Hollywood Boulevard, where no drinking establishment is exempt from patrons who willingly line up 5 deep to order “vodka-sodas with a splash of Red Bull” (I personally witnessed this on a Saturday night I was seeking some entertainment in the English language on the day I had flown back in from Taiwan). But Alex Straus is a mixologist-bartender who thrives in this industry and environment – even when it’s 10 deep. After all, one’s shaker arms can only take so much. As one who avoids reservations and bars in general on Friday and Saturday nights (amateur hour), I have to say that it is completely worth it to see Alex or one of his guys on the weekday (Tuesdays, Wednesdays) and/or as early in the night as possible. For beer drinkers, Hemingway’s has only taps, no bottles – with a non-Hollywood price point ($5-6), to boot (list). The bar’s soundtrack is solid, with classic rock, funk and even jazz dominating the playlist. Impressive.

If someone told me that my new favorite neighborhood cocktail bar would be on Hollywood Blvd., I would have scoffed at one point. But for the first time since moving to Hollywood (and luckily walking distance to Hemingway’s), I felt that the people in the 20 foot line outside this bar were sitting on a goldmine – and not just another joint pumping out spicy tuna at 180 BPM. It’s not my fault if they don’t recognize it; save those shaker arms for me, please!

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Tuesday – Friday

8 PM – 2 AM

Saturday

10 PM -2 AM

Closed Sundays and Mondays

Hemingway’s Lounge
6356 Hollywood Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA 90028
323.469.0040

The Franks of Frankies Spuntino Visit Animal

Meatballs With Pinenuts and Raisins

I admit, I had never visited Frankies Spuntino in Brooklyn – nor Manhattan – but I was intrigued when I received a copy of their cookbook in the mail. How fascinating the story is, of how The Franks (Falcinelli and Castronovo, if I must be specific) had actually grown up in the same neighborhood, just to reconnect later on by sheer coincidence of running into each other on the street. As always, food brings people together.

Caesar Salad

Before that reconnection, both had worked in Michelin-starred French restaurants before coming back to Manhattan to work under big names like David Bouley and Charlie Palmer – and then ran their own kitchens to the tune of Moomba and Bistro Jean-Claude. But the drive to create their own Italian-American endeavor and get back to the home-styled cooking of their youth – without the gimmicks like red-checkered tablecloths yet with the affordability of a neighborhood hangout – rang loud and clear. It would have to be Brooklyn; later, their success would allow them to expand to the island and import their own olive oil.

Gnocchi alla Marinara with Fresh Ricotta

And now, the cookbook. What a beautiful styling it beholds, as if a volume in a series of classic novels. And the world tour that would bring them to a one-off at Animal on Fairfax, Los Angeles – with a certain New York Times article on medicinal appetite aids that would bring he, Vinny, Don and Roy Choi together (all were present during the Franks’ dinner).

The cheese and salumi plate, complete with fresh olives, roasted mushrooms and browned cauliflower was solid, as was the bread – especially when dipped in the Franks’ olive oil. Whether that olive oil passed the “extra virgin” test that’s been in the news lately remains to be seen, but it was some of the most flavorful I’ve tasted in awhile.

The Caesar salad was fresh, delicious and … made with Hellmann’s. Yes, Hellmann’s. Apparently, this very recipe was rejected by Koo Koo Roo (Falcinelli used to be a consultant for them) but I can guess that all Frankies Spuntino customers are ever so thankful.

House-made Cavatelli with Faiccos Hot Sausage and Browned Sage Butter

My favorite, however, had to be the Cavatelli with Faiccos Hot Sausage and Browned Sage Butter (recipe). Not too heavy but having plenty of flavor – including the kick at the end thanks to the sausage – the Cavatelli were ever so fun to bite, with a perfect, almost-gummy consistency.

Red Wine Prunes With Marscarpone

It is hard, though, to decide which meatballs I liked better – but the beef meatballs made with garlic, bread crumbs, pinenuts, raisins – and topped with Pecorino – probably won out on the pork braciola variety since I’m a mere traditionalist. But both are awesome, moist and baked, in keeping with the Franks’ desire to create hearty but not overwhelming dishes. The classic Gnocchi alla Marinara fit the same bill – with the vibrant tomato sauce really bringing out fresh flavors on the perfect canvas that was the gnocchi. I don’t remember appreciating gnocchi as much as the Franks’, much less one that was simply dressed with marinara, yet enhanced with a rich ricotta. Then again, margherita pizza is my favorite because it’s simple.

And the dessert. The cheesecake was heavenly – not too rich and having a perfect, creamy consistency. But the real favorite was the prunes steeped in red wine and paired with marscarpone. I love wine and cheese but I could not have imagined this perfect marriage. It was a savory dessert thanks to the creamy-wet cheese but also subtly sweetened by the prunes. The richness of the dessert was perfectly accentuated by the red wine those prunes were soaked in. I would go to New York just to order this dessert after the pinenut-raisin meatballs and Cavatelli!

I can tell the Franks’ Frankies Spuntinos are both special, neighborhood spots just from having tried their food. The prices are remarkably low for the quality – especially given their New York locations. I wonder if I might blend in if I tried…(doubt it).

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Frankies Spuntino Website

Frankies 457
457 Court Street
Brooklyn, NY 11231-4010
718.403.0033

Frankies 17
17 Clinton Street
New York, NY 10002-1718
212.253.2303