If you’ve ever come home from a bar with clothes reeking and eyes burning from secondhand smoke, you’re probably among the many who have welcomed public smoking bans. But don’t let that aversion carry over to the latest mixology trend: bartenders using tobacco as a flavor source.
“Tobacco works well with a wide variety of spirits,” notes William Elliott, head bartender at Brooklyn’s New Orleans–influenced bar Maison Premiere, “but it is certainly most at home with brown, barrel-aged bottles.”
Elliott’s take on the trend has resulted in the Hercules Club, his riff on an Old Fashioned, which he finishes with a spritz of a housemade Cuban tobacco leaf tincture applied with an atomizer. Meanwhile, Ryan Seng, the head bartender at Sacramento’s Grange Restaurant & Bar, is experimenting with tobacco in a tea-like tincture, which he creates by steeping a pouch of pipe tobacco in a liter of brandy for an hour. The stuff is potent enough that he uses an eyedropper to dispense it into his On the Lam, which pairs the infusion with brandy, angostura bitters and Galliano Ristretto, a coffee liqueur from Italy.
At San Francisco’s Dirty Habit, the Leather & Lace pairs rye, sherry, Licor 43 and a few dashes of housemade tobacco bitters, which is made with a single tobacco leaf, cinnamon, cardamom, star anise, cloves, cinchona bark, quassia root, and orange and lemon peel. Dirty Habit bartender Brian Means says, “I like to use tobacco bitters because it adds not only bitterness but texture and smoky flavors to the cocktail.”
Best of all, mixologists are exclusively using whole tobacco leaves or pipe tobacco, which are typically free of the harmful additives—like tar, arsenic and ammonia—that help give cigarettes their deserved bad name. Also, no secondhand smoke.
NEW YORK CITY – In recent years, the soul-food classic chicken and waffles has seen its fair share of experimental recreations, with “chicken-fried” proteins like quail, duck and even rabbit proving worthy stand-ins for the original. But now chefs are straying even further afield, using waffles in wildly inventive dishes that take advantage of their crispy, salty, buttery punch.
At New York City’s Ivan Ramen, chef Ivan Orkin tops his Lancaster Okonomiyaki—a Japanese-inspired waffle made with scrapple, a Pennsylvania Dutch staple of pork scraps and cornmeal—with charred cabbage, pickled apples and maple kewpie mayo. At D.C.’s Belga Café, chef Bart Vandaele honors his homeland with haute riffs on the Belgian classic, such as a puff-pastry waffle with crab and saffron sauce and a blood-sausage waffle with grilled duck breast, seared foie gras, cocoa nibs, beets, turnips and cherry herb sauce. For his aptly named Foie-ffle, chef Jarett Appell, at Manhattan’s Stella 34 Trattoria, mixes foie gras directly into the batter and then serves it with housemade duck sausage and a maple-sherry gastrique. “It was an easy connection, really, as foie lends itself so well to sweet items and is flexible with butter,” says Appell. If you think that’s decadent, try Faith & Flower’s take in Downtown LA, a bone marrow waffle smothered in chipped beef gravy.
So why are we all of a sudden living in the golden-brown age of this homey classic? Many chefs say waffles are the perfect blank canvas for any flavor combination, but Vandaele thinks there’s something deeper going on. “A Brussels waffle makes me think about my grandma and my own parents,” he says. “It brings back warm memories.”
Earthy, versatile and umami-rich, there’s something magical about mushrooms. So it’s no surprise that flavor-packed fungi have made their way to the world of mixology in the form of unexpectedly savory cocktails.
Take, for example, the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel’s Umami Manhattan, which gets its faintly maple-syrupy flavor from sweet candy cap mushrooms, or the eggnog-like Matsutake Flip at Boston’s Erbaluce, which combines matsutake-infused bourbon with honey, lemon, nutmeg and a whole duck egg. For the Champion Justino at New York City’s Booker and Dax, fruity, vanilla-inflected cognac is blended with shiitakes and then clarified and processed in a centrifuge.
At Dallas’ Victor Tangos, the foray into mushroom mixology began with a chat between manager Matthew Ragan, bar manager Alex Fletcher and chef Kirstyn Brewer. “Chef had just gotten in a ton of fun wild mushrooms, and we’d just introduced some earthy, funky beers,” says Ragan. “So we thought, ‘How could you bring that flavor to a cocktail?’”
The group found a bag of dried shiitakes in the kitchen, and the rest is history. “We decided soy sauce seemed like an intuitive pairing, and a brown spirit felt natural,” Ragan says. Fletcher chose a single-malt Japanese whiskey and carried the theme through to the end, garnishing the rim with sesame seeds and naming the drink for a Tokyo-set movie starring Ragan and Fletcher’s favorite actor, Bill Murray. The Lost in Translation was born.
The drink’s been described as an “umami bomb” and an “ambrosial mélange.” “It’s a cacophony of aromas,” Ragan says, laughing, “but most of all, it’s just a balanced, delicate, delicious cocktail.”
• 2 oz. Yamazaki or Nikka Taketsuru 12-year single-malt Japanese whiskey
• ½ oz. Cocchi Americano
• ¾ oz. mushroom-thyme demerara sugar syrup (recipe below)
• Black and white sesame seeds
• Orange peel
Combine whiskey, Cocchi Americano and syrup, add ice and stir. Rim a coupe glass with a mixture of black and white sesame seeds and a pinch of salt. Strike a match six inches above the glass, then squeeze the orange peel over the flame to release oils, which will briefly ignite. Pour the drink into the glass. Garnish with a candied shiitake mushroom on a toothpick. (Photo by Mei-Chun Jau)
Mushroom-Thyme Demerara Sugar Syrup
Yields ½ liter
• About 3 oz. dried shiitake mushrooms
• 1 cup demerara sugar
• 1 cup water cup soy sauce
• 3 sprigs fresh thyme
Combine the ingredients in a pot and cook down over medium heat until the mixture reaches the consistency of syrup. Pour through a chinois to remove solids and refrigerate until ready to use.
GERMANY – Caviar often fetches more than $100 per ounce in the U.S. But the luxury product has exacted an even higher price on the sturgeons that produce it. In addition to pollution and declining habitats, increasing demand for caviar has put many species of the fish in danger of extinction.
That’s where an industry-changing innovation from German scientist Angela Köhler comes in. After nearly a decade of experimentation, Köhler has patented a no-kill egg-harvesting method called Vivace that uses a signaling protein to stimulate the fish to release eggs into the body cavity. The eggs are then gently massaged out. She says the process can be repeated about every 15 months throughout a fish’s lifetime, which in some species can top 150 years.
“If we can make caviar producing more economical than it is now, then we can minimize pressure on the wild populations,” she says. With increased supplies, prices of no-kill caviar could undercut the market for illegal wild caviar. Deborah Keane, owner of Sausalito’s California Caviar Company, the U.S. importer of Vivace, predicts Köhler’s method could “change the entire future of the caviar industry.”
“This parallels the evolution of the wine industry in Napa and Sonoma,” she says. “You’ll see the exact same thing happen with caviar. It will be an everyday indulgence.”
You can try Vivace at Keane’s tasting room, for $125 an ounce, or at Las Vegas’ Rose.Rabbit.Lie, where chef Wesley Holton features it in a caviar flight. Unlike traditional caviar, Vivace boasts a firmer texture and a pronounced burst in themouth—what foodies call the “Caspian pop.”
“It’s the future of caviar,” Holton says. “It’s a great way to treat the fish and be sustainable for years to come.”