Sunday, March 14, 2010

Kushi - A Promising Work in Progress

I met some friends at the recently opened Kushi near 5th and K NW. Kushi is a great sophisticated addition to the growing neighborhood of Mt. Vernon Triangle. For a good first-take on the restaurant itself BrightestYoungThings has written a piece with a good overview.

Since Kushi is all the buzz right now it was full which didn't bother me as there was plenty of room in their spacious bar section as we waited for a table. I met Younes who is the resident mixologist. We asked to see their specialty cocktail list and he said that he hadn't put one together yet but was already working on a few original, nameless ideas which he was eager to let us sample.

The first nameless drink consisted of Bombay gin, Cointreau, honey, kumquat, lemon juice and egg white. By incorporating egg white into the drink, it's appearance was a milky-white - almost the appearance of something like a white-Russian. What I tasted was quite the opposite. It was very light and clean. The kumquat and Cointreau gave it a bit of tropical flavor and the gin blended in well balanced by the honey and lemon juice. The egg white gave the drink a bit of body but one that didn't linger. A thick sliver of orange zest along with the lemon juice gave it a crisp, bright finish. This will be a great summer-time drink.

The second nameless drink Younes made incorporated cilantro into the mix. I'm always a fan of using herbs in cocktails which can add a whole new dimension to a cocktail. Along with the cilantro came fresh ginger, lime juice, vodka, sake and club soda. Younes warned me that he would have preferred to have also used ginger beer which he was out of and that the carbonation was out in the club soda. What he produced was another light and clean-textured cocktail. The general flavor came off as a highly-evolved mojito. The cilantro gave it a sweet, grassy taste and the vodka and sake did not overwhelm the palate at all. Though I was warned it would be flat, I think too much club soda was added. It diluted the flavors. The ginger was lost and the lime was weak. I look forward to trying it again with the ginger beer and might recommend to up the ante with the lime and ginger to add a bit more pop to the palate. Overall, it has great potential.

As for the restaurant, it definitely needs to work out the kinks with service and delivery. I think it's pointless though to critique an establishment literally days after it has opened. Any new business will have to get its bearings and polish the edges. The atmosphere is open, fun and sophisticated but not snobby. The decor is a minimalist, modern-Asian look with an open kitchen. We went on a Saturday and they had a DJ playing a great mix of songs. I have to give the DJ props for playing some Kate Bush which I hadn't heard in years.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Cocktail and Food Pairings

I wrote a while back about what I think is the ultimate food compliment to a classic gin martini - a roast beef sandwich with a good smear of blue cheese dressing and horseradish. For me the martini serves as a sort of palate cleanser with benefits for the rich, robust blue cheese complimented by the buttery roast beef.

The Washington Post recently wrote an article on how bars and restaurants in DC, especially those that like to think of themselves as cocktails gurus, have introduced cocktail-food pairings. The piece brings together some arguments of those for and those against the idea. There is a side that argues that cocktails are too overpowering with their level of alcohol as opposed to wine. Or the flavors of a spirit might be too robust, such as tequila. Or are food-cocktail pairings simply unfamiliar to the mainstream who has been conditioned to think that wine is a food's best friend? It's true that cocktails are usually not served with a main meal (the article points out that margaritas seem to be really the exception to the rule) but historically cocktails came accompanied with small bites.

The piece highlights cocktail-food pairings at The Passenger's Columbia Room, Proof, PS7's, Restaurant Eve, and Rasika.

So much to drink, so little time.

Monday, March 1, 2010


I've returned to The Passenger. Given that it's just a few blocks from where I live and my intent to explore bars as thoroughly as I can, I returned to be surprised. The Passenger takes pride in its ability to make recommendations for cocktails not commonly known based on your tastes. I told our friendly server that my choice spirit is gin. He gave me a few options and I chose "Aviation." The Passenger's Aviation is a medley of Plymouth Gin, maraschino liqueur, lemon juice and violet liqueur. I had never had maraschino or violet liqueur and I was hoping it didn't mean my drink would be candy-sweet.

Upon researching maraschino liqueur it was noted not to confuse it with maraschino cherries. It is rather a "relatively dry liqueur made from Marasca cherries, including the crushed pits which give it a subtle bitter almond flavor. The cherries are processed and distilled much like brandy, and later combined with a pure cane syrup before it is aged and filtered" as noted at the webtender. Violet liqueur seems to have roots in Toulouse, France and was a popular ingredient in the 20s and 30s. It has recently been reintroduced back in the States and is gaining popularity. Lisa Bramen of "Food and Think" on has written a great piece on the background of violet liqueur and the revival of floral flavors in the US. It also mentions the Aviation, which apparently dates back to 1916. The Atlantic has also written a piece on the rise of the importation of rare spirits in the US, Creme de Violette being one of them. Apparently Creme de Violette and violet liqueur are one in the same.

The Aviation provided to me at The Passenger was something completely new for me. Its presentation was striking. It came in a martini glass and the drink had an almost steel color to it - a sort of gray/metallic hue. At the very bottom of the glass sat a ruby-red cherry. It took my taste buds a while to orient themselves, but what they tasted was amazing. It was not overly sweet at all. It had a balance of bitterness from the maraschino that complimented the sweet floral notes. You could taste the gin which served as a binder of all the ingredients. The lemon juice gave the drink a nice acidity and a clean finish.