Freelance Food & Drinks Writer

Holiday hiatus ends in NYC

My cocktailing went on holiday hiatus amid the baking, bows and boxes of Christmas. Sure, there was the odd glass of rum-spiked eggnog, but I was largely out of drinkin’ mode. That all ended with last week’s trip to New York, ostensibly to cheer on the Kansas State Wildcats in the inaugural Pinstripe Bowl. Slogging through the slush our first night in, though, I had a higher mission: to find a great drink.

In the interest of traveling light, I left my camera at home. This photo came from PDT's web site.

PDT (Please Don’t Tell) was our first stop. By modern speakeasy design, it’s hard to find, with an unmarked entrance tucked into the basement-level Crif Dogs. We were lucky—only a 20 minute wait, just enough time for a hot dog and tots. Thus fortified, we squeezed through the tiny phone box, took in the stuffed deer, raccoon and other critters and then settled at the bar.

PDT’s is an extensive menu, but, after much debate, I picked the Norman Inversion, made with Aviation gin, Schonauer Apfel Schnapps, grapefruit juice, Regans’ Orange Bitters and sparkling apple cider. Stirred, then served up in a coupe glass, no garnish other than a sheen of ice fragments sparkling on top. The verdict: nice, a sort of apple-y take on the French 75, but not one I’d order again.

My husband’s Mezcal Mule was tastier. The combination of Del Maguey Mezcal (I didn’t see which one), lime and passion fruit juices and housemade ginger beer, garnished with a cucumber wheel and spiked with chili, was an excellent balance of tart, earthy, spicy and sweet. Then we were off to Death & Company, making those still in the PDT line very happy. Again there was a wait, and we were definitely ready for another round by the time the doorman rang my cell phone.

The interior of Death & Company, swiped from Yelp.

Despite the forbidding name and entrance, Death & Co. is a friendly joint with informative, generous bartenders. My order: the Pressure Drop, made with Ransom Old Tom gin (my current favorite spirit), Meletti amaro, Dolin dry vermouth, Clear Creek pear brandy and Regans’ orange bitters. The husband went for a Rob Roy—Caol Ila 12-year-old Scotch, Carpano Antica vermouth, Toby’s cherry juice, Jerry Thomas Decanter Bitters and Peychaud’s, stirred with a macerated cherry garnish. I’m not usually a fan of ruining my favorite Scotch with cocktail ingredients, but this worked nicely.

Both drinks were memorable, as was the bottle spotting. The bar had arrack, several unfamiliar brands of rhum agricole and genever, a myriad of small bottles filled with house-made syrups and intense liqueurs, unusual bitters and something called Cocchi Americano. Our bartender poured a taster of that last, an Italian aperitif akin to Lillet or dry vermouth but with more of a cinchona bite. When I next asked about the Peruvian pisco on the shelf, he offered to make what he called a Sweet Hereafter, combining Campo de Encanto pisco with Cocchi Americano, a splash of St-Germain Elderflower liqueur, grapefruit bitters and perhaps something else. I wish I had the recipe; it was the best drink of the evening.

Fast forward to Day Two and dinner at Eataly, brought to New York by Mario Batali, Lidia Bastianich, Joe Bastianich, Oscar Farinetti and Slow Food.That skips a lot, I know—sushi at Jewel Bako, including both Maine and Californian uni, sleeping in, MoMA, the K-State game (we lost), some shopping. But if you’ve read this far, Eataly’s what you want to know about.

It’s like an Italian food carnival, with eleven (or 12, depending on the season) restaurants, each celebrating its specialty: meat, cheese, fish, pizza, gelati and so on. A market selling everything on their menus winds through the building. The husband’s high point was finding Baci di Cherasco, the hazelnut chocolates we’ve only had once, in 2000, when we sought them out in Cherasco, Italy, after reading Corby Kummer’s article in The Atlantic about Piedmont’s culinary delights. (Kummer’s since called them “the only chocolates I love.”)

And mine? A glass of Barolo Chinato, a Piedmontese digestif made with Barolo wine that I read about in Boozehound. It’s everything Jason Wilson promised. Rich and dark, astringent in an amaro kind of way, with hints of chocolate, cardamom, citrus…mmm. Delicious enough to forget, momentarily, the $24 a glass price tag. The bartender appreciated my rapture enough to peel the label for me. Only after I got home did I read it closely enough to see the bottle was produced by Giulio Cocchi, who also makes Cocchi Americano—and both are imported by Haus Alpenz, and Kansas City distributors are now bringing in that company’s portfolio, and so maybe we’ll be seeing some of this here soon? One can only hope. If not, I may need to go back to NYC…