Grant Lee Crilly, Chris Young, and Ryan Matthew Smith—guys whose name you might have heard in conjunction with a little book they helped develop called Modernist Cuisine—are able to break down their techniques into friendly, easy advice to improve cocktail flavor, including basics on ice, ratios to use if you're improvising a cocktail, and essential tools to have at home.
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The Dai-drop ($7 each; 6 for $35) is a high-minded take on a decidedly low brow imbiber's pasttime. Using a compound of calcium chloride and sodium alginate (a naturally occurring substance derived from brown algae), the sake is encapsulated within a thin film that bursts under light pressure. Just be careful when you drink it.
When I hear that a bar or restaurant is using things like liquid nitrogen and centrifuges, my immediate reaction is to roll my eyes and think "gimmick." But to think that of Booker & Dax would be judging too soon. Despite their use of high-tech equipment, they remain a bar completely grounded in quality ingredients, balanced flavors, and a healthy respect for the classics. As Dave says, he's not into the "shotgun" style of bartending—that is, mixing a dozen different ingredients together—you're far more likely to find two to four ingredients cocktails at Booker & Dax. For him, technology is much more about purifying flavors and speeding up work flow than fancy special effects (of course, you get a bit of that too).
I've always been a big fan of Dave Arnold, the French Culinary Institute instructor/cook/mad scientist/artist who's been a major player in the modern technology-driven food movement for at least a decade or so. His writings in his Cooking Issues blog on cocktails have been especially intriguing, tackling the science of ice, dilution, chilling, flavor concentration, and shaking like no other mixologist on the planet.
Never before has an evening at a cocktail bar been such a theatrical experience. My expectations were high after hearing the hype surrounding Aviary, the recently-opened hotspot of chef Grant Achatz and business partner Nick Kokonas (other projects include Alinea and Next). Visions of smoke, mirrors, and white-coats working in laboratories floated through my head...It turns out I wasn't that far off.
With Mike Yen behind the bar at Ave 5, strange and wonderful things are happening. In addition to cranking out killer cocktails, he has created a collection of intriguing molecular interpretations of classic drinks like the bloody mary, mojito, and bellini.