Cocktails have come a long way from the traditional rum and coke or Seagram’s and seven combos. Modern cocktail concoctions often include items not usually found in mixed drinks, such as flowers, fruits and even savory items.
James Bond might have preferred his martini shaken, not stirred, but these days muddled cocktails have become de rigueur. Bartenders have become mixologists, and mixologists are turning into bar chefs.
Cocktail trends are as tricky to forecast as the weather, but some local restaurants have seen some recent moves to certain types of cocktails and spirits.
Over at Red O in Fashion Island, Manager Ray Wilkins noted that there has been a dramatic rise in the popularity of drinks featuring dark spirits such as bourbon and rye. He also noted tequila consumption has shot way up, a fact that’s become quite clear to SOL Cocina.
Colin Pflugradt, beverage director for SOL Cocina, says tequila is rivaling vodka in popularity. He has nearly 100 different tequilas behind the SOL bar, but it’s the fascinating variety of mixed drinks featuring tequila that take center stage.
“We instituted a farmer’s market tequila, which gives us more of an ability to try things out and see what works,” he explained. “We did a blackberry ginger margarita in September that sold hundreds, so we added it to the menu. Right now we have a special one with muddled strawberries and blackberries, Don Julio, lime juice, and agave, then topped with champagne. It’s a really balanced drink.”
Pflugradt said he uses all sorts of interesting ingredients for his cocktails—fruits and herbs, hibiscus and lavender, and various liquors.
Over at Provenance, which opens in March where Sage Restaurant used to be in Eastbluff, chef Cathy Pavlos has a garden where her bar chefs can pick ingredients as needed for the unusual list of vintage cocktail, some of which date back to the 1800s.
Among the classic cocktails: Corpse Revive (1902) with gin, cointreau, lillet blanc, lemon juice and absinthe, Flying Dutchman (1930) with orange gin, orange juice, lemon juice, and bitters, and Knickerbocker a la Monsieur (1869) with Virgin Islands rum, orange curacao, raspberry syrup, lemon juice, orange, and pineapple. They’ll also have a signature bloody Mary with house bloody Mary mix, chipotle, vodka, and a handful of items fresh from the garden.
Getting thirsty? Check out OC Cocktail Week, which runs March 2 – 8. Nearly 50 restaurants throughout OC are participating, including seven in Newport Beach. Most of the restaurants are offering cocktail and food pairings for $20.14, but these aren’t your daddy’s cocktails!
Here’s a quick rundown of local offerings:
TAMARIND OF LONDON
Newport Beach’s famous Indian restaurants has some fun pairings. You can order the Aviation (gin, maraschino, lemon, crème de violette) paired with Lahori fish and Chips, Kali’s Kiss (vodka, elderflower, lemon, pineapple) paired with Bihar tandoori steak, or 1850s Sazeric (cognac, peychaud’s bitters, raw sugar) paired with smoked garlic chicken.
Newport Beach’s newest restaurant with a Mexican twist is offering a Topolo margarita (El Agave Silver Tequila, JDK & Sons O3 Orange Liqueur, and house made Limonada) paired with Yucatecan shrimp and calamari ceviche, an Alacran margarita (Hornitos Reposado, JDK & Sons O3 Orange Liqueur, VeeV Acai spirit, house made Limonada and Serrano Chile syrup) paired with sweet plantain sopes and thick cream with queso añejo, or El Chamuco (Maestro Dobel Diamond tequila, house made grenadine, fresh lime juice, and Angostura Bitters) paired with dungeness crab tostaditas.
LARK CREEK NEWPORT BEACH
Lark Creek in Fashion Island has a trio of cocktail and food pairings: “Rain in Spain” (dry acidic and smoky apertif made with dry vermouth, mezcal, pear liqueur, sea salt and paprika) paired with manila clams in a white wine sauce with garlic, “Private Dancer” (strawberry infused Hendricks gin, lillet blanc and lemon juice all topped off with brut champagne) paired with lamb carpaccio with sweet raddish and pickled baby beets, or “Way of the Gaucho” (Bullet bourbon, malbec infused simple syrup, and classic bitters) paired with steak tartar filet mignon with dijon capers, Maldon sea salt, raw egg yolk and crostini.
Our favorite seafood restaurant with larger-than-life cocktails has a great deal: a signature cocktail plus two happy hour food items for $20.14. Choose from 13 different cocktails (our favorites are the Captain’s mai tai with Cruzan coconut rum and Captain Morgan spiced rum, the cucumber mojito, the pomegranate martini, and the strawberry smash with Blue Ice vodka and fresh strawberries). Among the 14 happy hour food items are Bluewater garlic fries, grilled fish tacos, oyster shooters, salt & pepper shrimp, and baked crab artichoke dip.
Tommy Bahama has a knack for combining the traditional with the not-so-traditional. Among the offerings: The “Tried & True” (Grey Goose cherry noir, lemon, simple syrup, grapefruit juice, cherry & grapefruit bitters) paired with burrata bruschetta, “Raspberries & Rye” (old Overholdt, raspberries, orange juice, lime, simple syrup, and orange bitters) paired with herb and goat cheese dip, and “Rum Babalu” with Kirk & Sweeney 12 year, lime, maple syrup, and ginger beer) paired with filet mignon chimichurri.
Wildfish has two fun cocktail pairings: The Vesper (Grey Goose & Bombay sapphire gin, M&R Bianco) paired with steak and lobster tartare with shaved truffles, and The Modern Margarita (Corzo reposado tequila, Cointreau, ruby red Grapefruit juice and fresh lime) paired with two jumbo scallops with brown butter.
Instead of a cocktail, SOL offers a snifter of Partida Elegante, which is normally $42. This tequila is harvested by hand, then aged in American oak barrels. It’s paired with a side of housemade warm tostadas and fresh housemade salsas.
For more info on OC Cocktail week, visit OCCocktailWeek.com.